Emptying My Bucket List

OK, I can cross this off now.

OK, I can cross this off now.

A bucket list is important in shaping what we strive for and reminds us of the variety of experiences that we might lose sight of as we go through the routine of daily life. We get excited when we find something we want to add to it and savor the ability to cross an item off as accomplished. I realized recently that my bucket list needed emptying.

It came innocently enough. Now, don’t sneer, but I have been a Barry Manilow fan since college. He did write some songs that resonated with me at the time. And mostly they cheered me up. Bandstand, It’s a Miracle, even the one with his jingles (Advertising major, remember). Although, if I never hear Copacabana again, that would be fine. Seeing Barry in a live performance was one of those items my bucket carried. So it’s his last concert tour and he’s stopping in my city. My last chance to see him and cross this off my list.

I decided it’s not important to me now.

I am starting my Shelf List.

A Shelf List is for the time in your life when you gasp at your upcoming birthday and have no idea how time passed so quickly. A Shelf List is a way to get things off the wish list and focus on what’s important to get done. Not so much to experience or learn as to share, create, contribute. A time to realize that while it may be still possible to learn to tap dance, is it still a worthy pursuit?

Mr. Manilow is going on my shelf, along with running for a political office, and owning a vast collection of cute shoes. Things I no longer care about or realize it’s too late to really do anything with. Am I really going to read/re-read those books? Does anyone really care what’s on my feet?

Am I passionate about it? Will it help someone? Everything else goes up on the shelf and out of the way. I’ll leave those things for someone else to do.

The View From Here

IMG_0558It’s the Friday after Thanksgiving and I am avoiding stores. Shopping is stressful enough, and as a perpetually overstimulated introvert, I savor a day to recharge at home. It’s morning and still dark. I have the little white twinkle lights on because they make me smile and think of the millions of the same twinkle lights in the trees along Michigan Avenue. Living in an apartment again – and love it. The kitchen is perfect. The layout feels spacious. Possessions have been trimmed to the favorites. It’s quiet and peaceful here. As I look around, every item has a story. Drinking my Starbucks Morning Joe coffee, comfy in my favorite chair, I’m thankful for all I have and for everything, and everyone that have brought me to this place.

The rest of my day will be planning the next three weeks of classes until Christmas Break. I am teaching U.S History and World History high school classes this semester for a dear friend who had back surgery. (I told him it’s a good thing he teaches history because if he taught algebra, he’d be on his own!) It is a challenge that is taking almost all my waking hours and all my brain capacity. It is good. It is good to be challenged and learning everyday. Every night I’m up working until I stumble – really, stumble into bed. Every morning I’m up before my alarm goes off at 5am, ready for another day.

Growing Carefully

Last Monday night I went to another Byron Township Board meeting. Yes, I know, I should just get Cable. This promised to be well-attended with heated discussions. The Board was to approve, or not, the rezoning application for Tanger Outlet Mall that would officially move Byron Center out of the “rural” classification. The meeting started at 7pm with a packed room and a group of men in business suits representing Tanger. The regular Call To Order and Approval of the Minutes led to New Business.

The group representing Tanger gave a presentation explaining what had been discussed at the Planning meeting and how the mall would be situated at 84th Street and US 131 (one mile from where I grew up and about a quarter mile from my elementary school). I expected huge pushback when it came to the public hearing part. Most people were for it – it would bring jobs -just so no fast food places came with it, if Alles Drive could be made a cul-de-sac, and if it would bring in lots of tax revenue. Everyone was very polite and had obviously taken much time to gather their thoughts. Then the Byron Township lawyer stated that just that afternoon he had received petitions from two businesses on properties next to the proposed mall site and there had to be a settlement procedure before the board could vote on anything, so tabled.

Now it’s about 8pm. All the Tanger people and interested parties leave. Still a pretty full room. The next item is a rezoning application to build apartments. Now comes the real passion. Interesting dynamics here. For the mall discussion, the people who came and spoke for or against the mall had all lived here forever. The apartment discussion was different. Now the apartments (gated community with pool, pet spa, granite counters and stainless steel appliances) would be 256 units (studio, 1,2,3,and 4 bedrooms) on a plot of land bordered by Byron Center Avenue, M6, a hospital and a church. Oh, and a recently built, lovely single family home development: VanSingel Farms.

Perhaps I should mention that one of the Board members is John VanSingel. A little history. John’s father was President of Byron Center State Bank when I was in school. It was the only bank in town and funded many of the town’s activities. John has been very successful on his own and has contributed much to the direction, growth, and success of Byron Center. VanSingel Farms is the poster child of the wealth and stability that has taken Byron from the thrifty, conservative, farm village of my youth to the thrifty, conservative, prestigious town that I have returned to.

The Springs group presents their vision for the site. This is valuable land now – certainly wasn’t before M6 and the hospitals were built. Byron is a single family detached house place. “Owning” your house and a “good place to raise kids” are two of the highest values here. Renting and raising kids – not so much.

There were two arguments against building the Springs Apartment Complex. The first: is this the best use of the land, tax-wise? Would business/professional offices be better for taxes and for developing an area that recently was all farm land? Second: renters are scum, their kids will break our schools, and they will strain our police and fire department resources. Shall I go on? They have no “values”, have no interest in what they vote for, pay no taxes, and in months it will be subsidized housing and Byron Center will have become “Kentwood” – which apparently is the code word for “trashy renters destroying any town they inhabit and possibly bringing on the Apocalypse”.

One after another, they got up to speak out against the proposed apartment development. They stated their name and address (VanSingel Farms) and then noted that they had recently (some just a few months ago) moved here from Kentwood or other parts of the country and came to have a nice house in a nice area with good schools and while they just got here and were nice, well, renters would destroy property values, traffic patterns, school excellence, and would generally need tax dollars that these homeowners would have to pay.

As a renter for most of my life, I was shocked at how my housing choice branded me a drag on the community. I know many renters who have made positive contributions to society. Some have stayed renters and some have advanced to the desired mortgage situation. Another phenomena that not many understand in this area is that not everyone marries and not everyone has children -ever. In my years in Chicago, a minority of my friends/colleagues were married. Of those married, only a few had children, either by choice or circumstance.  (Here, I don’t know anyone that didn’t marry and/or have children.)  People moved around – around the city, to different states. It was easier to follow career paths and opportunities without a house to buy/sell/maintain. There are two hospitals in walking distance (except you’d have to walk across a highway) of the proposed apartments. Sounds perfect for medical staff that are training or on a rotation of a couple months or years. They probably don’t have kids, are professionals that are working more than 8 hour days and don’t know if they will be staying beyond their term.

After the public had spoken, the Township lawyer spoke again. And once again, this time a sort of bureaucratic glitch, the vote could not be taken and had to be tabled.

It’s now 9pm. I have to leave, because dogs must be let out and teenager accounted for. There are still six items of business that I would have liked to stayed for. Pretty much everyone else left, too. They have dogs and kids to put to bed. I don’t know how much longer the meeting went but I have sat through some or their sewer discussions and they might still be there.

Local Governing, like Math, is hard – but important.

In keeping with my curiosity about Byron Center and how it’s changed over the last 30 years, I went to a Township Board meeting.

Byron Township Hall - still like new.

Byron Township Hall – still like new.

The first thing I noticed as I walked up to the “new” building, was that I don’t recall ever seeing a building in Chicago that had a place to wipe the mud off my shoes before I entered. Just part of the overall clean and orderly look of a town still dominated by Dutch sensibilities.

No smoking and clean your shoes/boots before entering.

No smoking and clean your shoes/boots before entering.

I was the first visitor in the meeting room and was soon joined by a high school government class. They sat in back at some tables. They had brought laptops and iPads and I’m certain were totally paying attention to the meeting for the entire hour. It was a good meeting to show the details of local government and the passion of issues that strike home – or in this case homes.
An upscale development was entering phase two and there was an issue about lot size. (Forty years ago “upscale” and “Byron Center” would not ever be used in the same sentence.) The builder/developer had come with architectural posters and a lawyer. The President of the Homeowners association was also present. The lawyer spoke on how there had been no promise of specific lot size and the builder needed to add 6 more lots to make the development profitable for him. The HOA president countered that all 37 buyers involved had the same understanding of the larger lots and had all come to meetings in the past explaining that. The board voted 5 to 2 in favor of the homeowners.
Next was something involving drain maintenance. It was especially appropriate as that morning we had 5 inches of rain in 3 hours. The Drain Guy said this was a 500 year event. (Really? We had that in Chicago every couple years. Highways flooded, O’Hare closed, power out for days.) I was amazed by the precise formulas that took into account how much of the drain was in each township or county it went through, size of homeowner lot, and I think if you were at the end of the drain or beginning. It would cost each Byron homeowner along the drain an assessment of $3 – which could be spread over 2 years. I tried to imagine how long it took to work the original formula and then get it passed by the governing entities. I thought if I had been in on those meetings I be the one spinning around in my chair with pencils stuck up my nose. Guess my dream of being in politics was correctly abandoned. The measure passed.
Thank you Audrey and the Board for dealing with boring but really important stuff and also making decisions that Solomon might have wanted to take a pass on.

This is the entrance of the women's restroom. This wreath would also look great on my front door.

This is the entrance of the women’s restroom. This wreath would also look great on my front door.


Office Gypsy

I’m writing this from probably the ideal spot for an introvert to be writing. I have a comfortable chair with support for my lower back, a clean, uncluttered space, and the quiet of a college library from 100 years ago.


Beyond my immediate space is more quiet and sleek furniture in my favorite colors. There is beautiful abstract art and free coffee that is quite good.

I think back to some of my other work environments. People crammed too close together in cubicles using speaker phones, tiny smoke-filled rooms with several people all talking at once, retail “break rooms” which means you rearrange some travel-weary boxes of product to create a surface to set your sandwich on. And always the uncomfortable chairs and bad lighting and overhead music that you hate, or the jarring crackle and crash of the intercom.
This is a much better way to work, although I do feel a little conspicuous because I have papers and notebooks and everyone else seems to be sufficient with their laptops and phones. I believe they have phones – haven’t heard any yet and I’ve been here for hours. Perhaps it’s finally the world I’ve longed for – no phones, just text and email.
I’m not in a coffee shop or Barnes & Noble. I’m in (just visiting) the headquarters of a large corporation. I felt I had to wear Big-Girl shoes (translation: They have high heels and the ability to turn my toes a lovely blue).

It’s all very quiet and civilized here. There is no shouting, or crowding, or anyone running through the space shrieking about an imminent deadline or missed sales goals. The cafe serves its custom meals on real plates and there are glass glasses and metal utensils.
I just went to the “nourishment bar”. It sounds like what laboratory rats press for food but it’s really a place to purchase coffee and energy drinks and energy bars. Except, almost like a covert activity, there were fresh chocolate no-bake cookies ready and a line was forming as word spread.
I have been working today in the “focus zone”, really, there’s a sign.


SC sign

There are areas for groups to meet, whiteboard, or telepresence. Also areas to work alone in essentially a cone of silence. I look around my little work space and feel that I am probably lowering the property values with my laptop, papers, phone, notebooks, purse, tote bag, coffee mug, and sweater strewn about me. I reason that I would be neater if I were in one of the areas with bright celery green or raspberry pink. I am in a white area – to focus.
Part of the ability to focus here – as opposed to my home office – is that there are none of the usual distractions (wonder how the dogs are doing?) and I am not checking Facebook – in case someone walks behind me and sees me checking Facebook.

It’s very calming here and few sparkly things to distract.

I kinda miss the shrieking.



Learning the customs of the local tribes

I have lived in this house almost 5 months and I am still discovering light switches.
It seems like a simple thing, but when everything is a new thing, it can get overwhelming. Since I moved back to Michigan there is so much to learn – to just get through daily life. The first is the left turn thing. Around here there are few direct left turns; you must drive past the intersection and then make the turn. There is often an extra light involved. At intersections where they do allow you to make a left turn, there is generally a left turn light that flashes red. Handy when there is not much traffic; not so much when really busy. Of course it’s never really busy here. Not like the Kennedy or 294. The first couple months here when I saw the flashing red left turn lights ahead, I always thought a train crossing was coming.
They also don’t use salt on the roads here. In Chicago, what looks like a half inch of snow on the roads is usually just salt. I’m understanding how the population density affects local services. When you have all single family homes, the local tax base is much less than side-by-side hi-rise condos. I never see a snow plow or a police car; not so many can be afforded.
Then there’s learning the ways of the tribes. There’s the ways of the household tribe. That’s for future blogs (and future therapy sessions). There’s my new in-laws. Today, at lunch, I sat and marveled at the delicate diplomacy of what layer of cousins to stop at to invite to the May wedding. This was a two hour process and I am fairly certain it is not resolved yet. Not ever having cousins, I have never had to have this discussion. The rule I formulated in my head was: “If you don’t know if their children are married yet or not, you don’t keep in touch enough to invite them”. But then I am big on making these kinds of rules.
There’s learning the ways of the Catholic tribe. At least they understand and give lessons. I’m learning to trust the process and realize the process is sometimes the whole point. There are many rules and procedures that I want to rush through because I like my rules better. So I am learning to surrender my will – in teeny-tiny bits right now. There are a bunch of good people supporting me in this. And they have quite a job.
And then there’s the Aldi tribe. I’m not an Aldi person; I’m a Meijer person. Aldi is like the old Soviet Union and Meijer is the United States in terms of selection and pure joy of groceries. I’ve been to Aldi several times and have not quite got the choreography at the check-out down. Everything is scanned and dumped into a cart that is not the one you used and then you go over to a ledge and pull the groceries out and put them in the bags you remembered to bring. It reminds me of after you get through security at the airport and you have to hurry and find any surface to put stuff on and lean against as you re-dress yourself. I have yet to do the shopping cart rental process solo. Looking forward to that milestone.