The Art & Science of Loving Where You Live


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.


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!




See also:

Q&A With Academy of Motion Pictures Librarian Louise Hilton

Louise Hilton

When I met Louise Hilton at an Emily Giffin book signing at Barnes and Noble, The Grove a few weeks ago, I learned about one of the coolest jobs I’d ever heard of: Librarian at the research library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 

Louise moved to Los Angeles from Louisiana last fall for her job as a Research Specialist at the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library. I met with her last week at Joan’s on Third to hear her take on work-life balance:

  • How did you identify your passions and follow your dreams?

I grew up in a bookish family. My dad’s a retired history professor and my mom works in a library and has for years. I’ve always been interested in that.

I actually majored in French. I’ve always loved French–since I was 5 years old–and I lived in France for 3 years. I was always convinced that I was going to be a French professor.

Then I heard about the degree in Library and Information Sciences (MLIS), and I thought it would be a practical degree to have. I went back to school for it.

So it did take a turn.

I’ve always loved the movies, and I was the first intern at the Margaret Herrick Library 6 summers ago when I was in grad school at LSU. I loved it and loved the work they do there. I was determined to find my way back

And lo and behold, last spring there was a Reference Librarian post listed, and I applied and got it.

We’re the research library at the Academy. We have personal papers of people who have worked in the industry. So we have big name stars like Gregory Peck, Katherine Hepburn, Alfred hitchock: their letters, scrapbooks… We have everything related to the history of cinema. It’s kind of the holy grail of cinema studies. We also have a  graphic arts departments, poster collections, everything.

I love it.

It’s exciting that my email address is And we’re fortunate that the whole staff gets to go to the Academy Awards every year. I call it my pinch-me job.

I wake up, and I’m happy to go to work. Whereas before, I was tired and not really enthused anymore, and just ready for something new.

And there are people who have been there 30 years and made their entire career there, which really speaks highly of the place; that you would want to spend your entire life’s work there.

  • What does the term “work-life balance” mean to you? 

Just not being a martyr, I feel, is important. It’s easy to get wrapped up in your work to the point where you’re always checking your work email and your phone, and you go to bed with your device. It’s easy to get sucked into the 24/7 mode. Which there isn’t anything wrong with, if that’s what you feel you need to do.

And in this day and age, we’re expected to always be checking in. But at the same time, I don’t think anyone on their deathbed says, “Oh, I wish I spent more time at the office.”

It’s so important to find something that fulfills you outside of work, whether it’s a hobby, or a relationship, or whatever it might. It’s important to make it separate.

But I also would say, I feel you’re really in the lucky few if you love your job. I’m in that position now, and I feel really grateful. So I think there’s something to be said for not being afraid to work. Without being a traitor to my generation, I feel like us younger folks sometimes are hungry without wanting to do the work. I think it’s important to put in the time and do the work, and then just leave it at the office.

It’s easier said than done.

  • Do you think “work-life balance” is possible?

I think it’s possible. I’m talking like I’ve achieved this great balance, and I haven’t. It’s been a hectic year for me since I moved across the country, and it’s not easy to change everything about your life. I was 32 when I moved out here. You’re trying to acclimate to a new city, make friends, maybe find someone to date, and get used to work…

And I still have my hobbies. I do adult coloring. I joined a book club, and I’m trying to find people with similar interests and finding friendships. So I’m still working on achieving that work-life balance. But I do think it’s possible; and I think since I’m fulfilled professionally now, the rest will fall into place. So halfway there [laughs].

  • What do you wish you do differently in how you manage your day and time? 

I am big proponent of lists [laughs]. But at the same time, if at the end of the day your list is just sitting there, it can stress you out. So I think it is important to have a weekly task list. Plan it out on Monday, and then check in on Wednesday to see how you are doing, and then check it on Friday.

Sometimes, if you bite off more than you can chew, you let the ball drop. I feel like I’m always pretty confident in my skills and my workload, but then sometimes you realize, “I’ve taken on too much…” And you feel like you let others and yourself down. So I feel like that’s always been a struggle, prioritizing. I always get stuff done, but sometimes it’s at the very last minute.

  • What do you feel you don’t have enough time for, or wish you could tackle better?

I’ve enjoyed exploring the city, since I’m still getting used it. But something always comes up. I feel like I should plan more time dedicated to picking another spot or neighborhood I’ve never been to and go explore it.

  • Do you have advice for someone starting a new endeavor and grappling with issues of following her passions, doing meaningful work and making a difference, while managing her time to find some “balance?”

I mean I feel like all those clichés are true for a reason. Remind yourself that the sun will come out tomorrow.

When I was thinking about moving out here, and the stress and expense and everything, I told myself, “Why not?” At the end of the day, you’re going to be 50 or 60, and regret is a sad thing. It’s not an excuse to run amok, but if you think you’re talking yourself out of something, keep going.

Take a break, and then go out for a walk, or dinner with friends, and then keep going.

My mom always used to tell me that there’s always a fresh start in a new day. Even if you’ve had the worst possible day, you go to sleep, and you wake up, and it’s a fresh start.

If I’m stressed out, I call my mom and she says, “Go read a book and go to bed, and you start over tomorrow, no matter how bad it might be.”