The Neighborhood 

It’s 5:30 Friday evening. I got home a little early, changed clothes, and poured myself a glass of wine. The temperature outside has been in the 60s the past couple of days, so I turned off the air-conditioner and opened some windows.

I live in the top two floors of a row of two-over-two townhomes. All the units have garages which back to central parking, around a treed, grassy island.

From my open dining room window, I hear little kids ramming around with what sound like plastic wheeled toys. (Parents, you know that sound!) I hear a mom. From this distance, she sounds like the muffled mumbles of any adult in the classic Charlie brown cartoons. The children are shrieking with glee, yelling rules at each other for whatever game they are making up in the moment. As all good suburban cul-de-sac kids do, they occasionally bellow the warning, CAAAAARRRRRR!

These sounds transport me back almost 20 years, when I had two small kids. When the boys were very little, we lived in a townhouse community, smaller, but not unlike the one I’m living in now. Instead of out back, the parking and island were in the center, viewable from the fronts of the houses. If enough adults stood guard, the kids could ride their large plastic wheeled vehicles around the island.

It was in this way that we met most of our neighbors in the community where we first lived, and again when we moved to a more expansive suburb. Now, some evenings when I drive my car into the parking area, I see orange cones set up, and those signs that say “children at play”, and adults standing around, sharing a beverage, while they keep one eye on the posse of children. I remember the drill: one parent would take a turn, giving the other one a spell, and promise to run the children, hard, until they were tired. This was in an effort to ensure an early (or at least timely), drama-free bedtime. Our measure of success was the low bar of “safe and happy” on those nights and anything beyond that, with regard to the kids, was gravy.

I mostly feel happy that the days of large plastic wheel toys and shrieking children are behind me, but I would be lying if I didn’t add that the sounds I’m hearing now make me the tiniest bit wistful. My little boys were just so cute. And fun! Exhausting too. But remarkable. They were (and are still) a source of pride and joy.

There is a sense of community that parents of similarly aged children develop. I don’t have that connection with any of my current neighbors. Now, I am (probably?) that scary old lady who smiles a little too broadly, and is a little too forthcoming with the unsolicited advice.

When we were in the thick of it, I could barely imagine a day when I wouldn’t find Hot Wheels cars and LEGO blocks and empty chip bags and Capri Sun pouches all over my house. But now here I am, with a 7th grader who needs no toys, rides a “big boy” bike to school, and even puts most of his trash into the garbage cans in the house. His older brothers spend more time now at their dad’s house than at mine, but I see them regularly, and we have completely adult conversations. And occasionally drink a beer together! (What?!)

I remember as my kids were growing up, thinking how each stage is the best, as you get to it. All the stages are special for unique reasons, but the one I was in at the moment always seemed the best to me. Little kids, like the ones I hear shrieking right now, can be exhausting, but their smiles and joy are completely genuine. My favorite age range is still from 7 to 11, but I’m still really enjoying Eli even as an adolescent in middle school. (But I will readily accept your prayers for us both.)

Yes, my life has changed significantly over the past two decades, and I’ve been through many stages. But in this moment, I can say with certainty, as I look ahead to all that awaits, that this is, without a doubt, the best stage yet.

Why I Love Social Media

WHEN I STARTED BLOGGING IN the prehistoric era 2008, I posted almost daily. I had so much I wanted to say, and to preserve. Initially, I wrote because I wanted to capture some of my favorite anecdotes for my kids to read someday. But as I wrote, a small and mildly disturbed following built up, and people started commenting. The feedback was exciting! It led me to comment on my commenters' blogs, and thus I connected with people, virtually at first, then I met some of them "IRL" (in real life, as we say). In fact, today I count some of them among my best pals.

Years passed. Life happened. I blogged less. (So did lots of people.) During this time, Facebook surged in popularity. My online connecting gradually migrated from the blogosphere to Facebook, almost exclusively. I have a love-hate thing with Twitter, I have a Tumblr but I don't think I'm doing it right… I post the occasional photo on Instagram, but I'm on Facebook a lot.  I admit, I like the instant gratification the comments provide. It's more immediate than what I experienced when I was a frequent blogger, and I connect with far more people through Facebook than I ever did through this blog.

Lately, I'm reading lots of things about how social media in general is ruining society. It's making us rude. It's inhibiting our ability to really connect, on a human level, with other humans. It turns us into cyber-road-ragers, bullies from behind our tiny screens. And I do believe grains of truth exist here.

BUT: I also think there is much good to be harnessed in social media. Several recent events come to mind.

First, my 25th (!) college reunion. (I still can't believe it's been that many years.) I have maintained contact with a handful of classmates from Dickinson College's esteemed class of '89, and because of our Facebook connections, when we reunited in June, it was as if we picked up without missing a beat. We already knew what each other looked like. We didn't have to go through the tedious exchange of minutiae (where do you live, are you married, how many kids, what do you do, are your parents still alive…). We already had things to talk about. I had the good fortune become reacquainted with several classmates. We've continued our conversations via Facebook, and while we might not see each other again until 2019 (gulp!), we'll be up to speed when we meet next.

Second, there was the informal high school gathering in July. Some of us who graduated in the 1980s met up for a mini-reunion. It was hosted by a classmate I have not seen since I left town in 1985, but with whom I've resumed contact and have had regular exchanges through Facebook. It didin't feel like we hadn't seen each other for 29 years! It was as if we'd seen each other just last week. And again, I came away with a few new connections with whom I look forward to connecting, even if it's only virtual for the next few years.

Third, The sad news of a former boss's untimely death came my way last week via Facebook, and I used Facebook to spread the news. While you wouldn't want to find out about the death of a close relative through social media, I was able to efficiently reach a number of former coworkers from the 1990s through Facebook. And when we met up at the viewing, it was nice to see them all, despite the sad circumstances of our coming together.

Fourth, we are currently trying to harness the power of social media to help locate our neighbor, John Rogers, who has been missing since August 21. There's no better, more efficient way to reach lots of people. It's one of many tactics being employed by Team Rogers, of course. Please, spread the word! There's a Facebook Group now – look for "Find John Rogers." And you can follow @FindJohnRogers on Twitter, too. I believe we need to get this in front of as many eyeballs as possible.

Facebook is like a mini reunion. You celebrate milestones. You commiserate. Sympathize. Giggle. You share information. You crowdsource. Share recipes. You maintain connections. I just have to believe those connections MATTER. 

Of course, things can get complicated when exes / coworkers / your own kids are your Facebook connections. And, there are users who are abusers. They tear down; they cyber-bully; they brag; they one-up. So block them, or unfriend them. Be selective with your sharing. You wouldn't allow that in real life, would you? And yes, the potential exists to stick your virtual foot in your virtual mouth if you become careless with your privacy settings. But that can happen in real life, too.

I am in awe of the ability to harness social media for the greater good. There are so many wonderful examples, but Momastery comes immediately to mind. Here's a blogger turned philanthropist – her Monkee See, Monkee Do foundation that has sponsored Love Flash Mobs to show people that They Matter, Love Wins, We Care. And the recent craze over the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is another amazing example, raising over $100 Million for ALS research!

Despite my tendency towards healthy skepticism, I'm basically an optimist. I almost always want to give folks the benefit of the doubt, to believe they intend to do good. I believe we can use social media for so much good. Let's not let the abusers ruin it for the rest of us.

 

FML (the “The Sky Is Falling” edition)

See this?

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Know what that is? Let me back it up for you:

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If you guessed "dead, hollowed-out tree trunk", congratulate yourself on being correct!

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On Easter Sunday, shortly after this –

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–a wicked thunderstorm ripped through and did this:

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Yes, Mother Nature, that capricious bitch, must have thought we were becoming a little to optimistic, six weeks after the fire. We've been closely watching the trees in our back yard – where the fire spent most of its time – with interest, wondering whether their leaves would emerge or not. Things don't look promising. Many of the trees where leaves were beginning to come out looked a little, well, droopy. Wilted. Tired. (Just like me.) We suspected that the fire damaged the trees to the point where they might not all survive. We'll know more after a "tree guy" comes to check them out later this week. But if that's what's going on inside the trees we thought were going to survive?

FML.

Mama N and her straight-line wind couldn't just drop that weakened tree any old place; no, she she sent it crashing into our dear neighbor's Brand New Fence. The one he just put up because the other one had BURNED DOWN.

ACES!

And that's not to mention the other huge branch that plummeted to the ground during the same storm. Oh sure, it only took out three of our fence rails in the front of the house, but STILL. Are we done yet? Our house still isn't finished, and now the sky is falling.

If you need me, I'll be over here in the corner, hiding.

It's been three days since that happened, and while we haven't yet begun clean-up, we had pretty much resolved ourselves to the task ahead. We had A Plan. And then guess what happened? Tonight, more rain, a little more wind, and BAM –

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A branch fell and knocked our mailbox all cockeyed!

More clean-up, more work to do, more money to spend.

FML.

But you know what, it will all be fine. Our house is almost done inside – we have new French doors and carpeting. The floors in the family room and kitchen will be done this weekend, the windows will go in next week, the new shed should be up soon. The siding is on out back and just needs to be painted. The dumpster is gone! The new sofa is ready and we're getting a new TV, too – both of which should be delivered within the next couple of weeks. The fence (our fence) is up and looks really good, and I have big plans for planting a bunch of things to make it look pretty outside…

…Right after we fire up the chainsaws and clean up that big-ass tree.

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 Firewood, anyone?