The Art & Science of Loving Where You Live

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Do you love where you live?

In an increasingly mobile world, so many of us leave the place in which we grew up for college, work, relationships, and a variety of other reasons. Author Melody Warnick moved 6 times in her adult life, and upon finding herself in Blacksburg, Virginia in her mid-thirties, she began to wonder what it would take to feel settled in one place.

The result is her book, This Is Where You Belong, which was my new book club‘s first selection to read as a group. We all agreed it was a quick, easy read with great information, interesting research and useful tips. Warnick describes a lot of actionable steps you can take to become more rooted in the city you live in. Some happen naturally, some simply take time. But others require effort.

One of her findings is that walking more can help you get to know a new place. I had already experienced this through my twice daily walks with Minjay. (I’d add that getting a dog can really help you feel rooted anywhere.)

Some of her suggestions can be done easily– find a great nature spot and go for a hike! Others may require you to come out of your shell, like inviting neighbors over for dinner.

My favorite chapter in the book was the “Buy Local” chapter. It’s filled with charming stories of real-person connections that can be made by using your dollars at a local small business. For example, Warnick tells the story of Stacy Mitchell (author of Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses), whose brother bought her a book for Christmas from her favorite Portland, Maine bookstore. He made the purchase online, and then got a call a few minutes later from someone in the shop to let him know that his sister already had the book. (That story really tugged at my heartstrings).

I had never considered the “multiplier effect” of shopping local. Warnick explains that 14% of revenue from big-box retailers stays in the local economy, while 52% of the revenue of small businesses circulates locally. That seems like a really good investment in your community. Add that to the chance to make good connections and new friendships, and it’s seems so worth it.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who just moved to a new city, or anyone who feels like they want to belong more in a place they live, which would be a big contributor to work-life balance.

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At the end of each chapter, Warnick includes a simple “Love Your City Checklist.” I marked this one:

“Learn the names of the flora and fauna in your area. Check out a book on the subject, or connect with the Master Naturalists or Master Gardners in your town.”

After walks with Minjay in my neighborhood, I had already started to do this, for a children’s book I’m writing. For example, I found this fun map a couple of years ago. This was a great reminder that I’d like to (and should) do more.

Some other steps I’ll be taking after reading the book:

  • Seek out small businesses more and buy local as often as I can. Immediate changes I can make: the pet store and christmas gifts.
  • Go on more hikes nearby (Minjay will especially like this), and find more nature spots.
  • Search for more landmarks in my neighborhood. I had started to do this in Santa Monica, but after moving 3 months ago (just 10 minutes away), I need to do it again in my new immediate neighborhood.
  • Write my city councilman about our street corner, on which I’ve seen so many unnecessary accidents happen in just the last 3 months. It needs a stop sign, or at the very least a speed-limit sign with some more enforcement.
  • Learn more about Robyn Bomar’s “The Birthday Project,” and do it in January when I turn 30!

 

 

 


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The Gift of Dogs: Serenity & Connection

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I can’t resist a book about a dog. I was especially intrigued by Let Me Tell You About Jasper… because it it is written by Dana Perino, co-host of Fox New Channel’s “The Five” and former White House Press Secretary for President George W. Bush.

I was even more intrigued when I came across her book tour schedule and found that she would be at the Nixon Presidential Library in Orange County, about an hour away from where I live.

In the spirit of work-life balance, one of my goals is to seek out different kinds of events to attend, to learn new things, and to get out of the everyday haze.

And in the spirit of learning and growing from this past election, I’m seeking out ways to get out of the “echo chamber” (see John Oliver last Sunday and Nick Kristof today) that I’m obviously in, as all of my Facebook friends voted for Hillary Clinton (or at least those who posted about it), and most of the people I follow on Twitter predicted that she would (and should) win. (For the record, I consider myself an Independent).

I drove down to the Nixon Presidential Library, led by curiosity and by that bond dog lovers share. It was an interesting conversation between Perino and Richard Grenell, both dog lovers. I was most intrigued to be with people outside of my own social group, and hear their perspective on current affairs, our country, and the world. It was eye opening in many ways, and I’m grateful for that.

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The event was in a replica of the White House East Room.

With the exception of a few comments about politics, Perino and Grenell talked mostly about each of their dogs, Jasper and Lola, and how dogs are both great equalizers and great stabilizers.

Perino said that her favorite place in New York City is the dog park. In a busy life filled with stress, that’s where she finds serenity. “For me, it means you’re not really worried about yesterday or tomorrow. You’re just there. And that’s where I get that kind of peace,” she said.

She expanded on how dogs are equalizers: “I find we connect with other humans through our dogs. And I don’t think that’s just us, I think it goes for people all over the world… I’ve seen the power of dogs to comfort those who are lonely.” (A portion of the proceeds of Let Me Tell You About Jasper goes to Companions for Heroes).

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This is reinforced in the book, which is all about the impact Jasper, and all the dogs she’s loved in her life, have had on her. She writes:

“I’ve long used dogs as a buffer between my work and personal life, though I didn’t realize it until I sat down and really thought about how much I appreciate dogs. On my way to work, I see dogs out for their afternoon walks and it always makes me smile. Dogs have a way of softening my hard edges.

And I’ve found that no matter what the controversies or issues of the day that we discuss–and argue about–on television and online, dogs are the great equalizer. Just when it feels like we are so polarized as a country between right and left, and that we can’t get along, remember that we have a few things in common–and for millions of us, that is our love for pets. Sometimes, if you can’t get along with anyone or you have strife in a relationship, find common ground through your dogs: hit the dog park and reconnect.”

Grenell shared how his dog is a great stabilizer in his life, especially during this stressful election season. “Sometimes I would take an extra walk just so I could see my dog interact with the world,” he said, describing how he would unwind at night after getting home.

During the Q&A portion, I actually got to ask a question– about work-life balance, of course. I asked her how she manages to have a busy and successful career and spend time with her dog and husband. She said she simply couldn’t do it without her husband Peter and his support and the partnership they have. 

“My favorite piece of advice from my first book is that being loved is not a career-limiting decision,” she said. “Another thing that I really believe is having a dog really helped strengthen my marriage.”

The final question from the audience was about how people of different political views get offended by each other, and therefore there’s a breakdown in communication between them. The answer? 

“Maybe everybody should just get a dog.”

And those were literally the last words of the discussion. 

The book is a touching tribute to the love of, and for, dogs, what they can teach us, how they can help us to slow down and appreciate life, and how they can bring us together even if we disagree on politics or other issues.