We’re back…and we’re not going anywhere.

My husband and I were in Louisville this weekend for a conference and got to have lunch with a friend who used to live here in Middletown.  We got to talking about the city and where it is today, where it used to be (just a few months ago!) and where it’s going.  We talked about what brought us here, and the life we’ve gotten to live and see lived by our friends and neighbors.  Most importantly, we talked about the nature of revitalization.

Now, I started this blog in the hopes of seeing Middletown “revitalized”.  And what I meant by revitalization was this: a booming downtown, full of small businesses and dreams fulfilled; racial harmony and integration of our neighborhoods; the obliteration of the drug abuse in the families in Middletown; a nationally recognized and celebrated public school system.  I still want those things, friends.  I always will, and I know you do too.  Those are principles that I hope we all fight for with every ounce of vision and passion we have.  But these good and possible things are not going to blossom overnight, and I need to confess something: I expected change to happen without any real work.  And neighbors, I am sorry for that.

I’m sorry I’ve been so selfish in my dreams for the city.  I’m sorry for hoping that Middletown hits a sudden and severe growth spurt so that we get lots of media coverage praising us for how hard we’ve been working and promoting all of the cool new places to eat and drink and be entertained.  I’m sorry that I so quickly got frustrated for no one jumping on board after reading one blog post from a mouthy (and largely ignorant) 23-year-old girl.  Most of all, I’m sorry for thinking, even for a half of a second, for giving up and moving somewhere with a farm-to-table New American restaurant and a yoga studio.

I’m writing today to say that we’re here, and we have no plans of going anywhere.

Wendell Berry gave a lecture about place few years ago titled It All Turns on Affection.  In the lecture, he talks about the mundane days he and his father and his grandfather lived in their small, lack-luster Kentucky hometown.  He paints a picture of the grueling, often unnoticed work of his farming family and the beauty of the legacy they left behind.    Read this excerpt:

We have one memory of [my grandfather] that seems, more than any other, to identify him as a sticker. He owned his farm, having bought out the other heirs, for more than fifty years. About forty of those years were in hard times, and he lived almost continuously in the distress of debt. Whatever has happened in what economists call “the economy,” it is generally true that the land economy has been discounted or ignored. My grandfather lived his life in an economic shadow. In an urbanizing and industrializing age, he was the wrong kind of man. In one of his difficult years he plowed a field on the lower part of a long slope and planted it in corn. While the soil was exposed, a heavy rain fell and the field was seriously eroded. This was heartbreak for my grandfather, and he devoted the rest of his life, first to healing the scars and then to his obligation of care. In keeping with the sticker’s commitment, he neither left behind the damage he had done nor forgot about it, but stayed to repair it, insofar as soil loss can be repaired. My father, I think, had his father’s error in mind when he would speak of farmers attempting, always uselessly if not tragically, “to plow their way out of debt.” From that time, my grandfather and my father were soil conservationists, a commitment that they handed on to my brother and to me.

Berry goes on to discuss vision, the true goodness of imagination and the drive of working toward what you do not yet have.  But, my friends, let’s take just a moment to be reminded that our talk and our imaginations can only take us so far.  I could write ten posts a day about the vision I have for this city and see the downtown storefronts be filled with nothing but my own hot air.  My vision is virtually nothing without action.

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The solemn reality is that even with our best intentions, without plowing there will be no harvest.  And here’s the thing about plowing: it takes a long time and you have to do it every single year.  And it is tiring and really difficult, especially if the soil is hard as a rock and when the people lining the field are telling you that your work in vain. But, my friends, I don’t believe that!  I believe there is deep, true hope for this city.  I don’t know what revitalization should and could look like here.  But I do know that grand statements of intent do nothing without sustained presence and action.  I don’t want to be a televangelist cheerleader for this city, preaching grand statements of “what if!” from somewhere far away without any real skin in the game.

So we’re buying a house facing Sunset Park, and I’m going grocery shopping with a friend tomorrow at Kroger or maybe Marsh, and having some friends over for dinner.  And I’m going to get my coffee at Triple Moon, and buy another candle at Society.  And I’ll go to city council meetings and vote in elections and smile at you on the sidewalk.  Lord willing, we’ll bring our children home to that house facing Sunset Park and teach them that when things are tough, we don’t run away to someplace trendier, we walk with purpose back to the barn and put our hands to the plow.  And I will pray every single day that this city grows further away from bitterness and heartache and broken dreams and closer to hope and wellness.

So unless the Good Lord calls me out or calls me home, I’ll be here. Even if it doesn’t seem like anything is changing, we’re choosing to be “stickers”.  And I really hope you join us.

ps: There are good things that are happening!  Did you read this article by Rick McCrabb about how we got to put a “yield to pedestrians” sign downtown because there are pedestrians downtown?!!  And a big welcome and congratulations to our friends at Flores Leather Works who just opened their storefront downtown!  LOTS to be celebrating!

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Xalepeños

Before I begin, I need to acknowledge Mr. & Mrs. Michael Pruett (and little Em) for turning us onto this place.  You promised and Xalepeños delivered.  Now move back to Ohio and eat some Mexican food with us.


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My husband and I heard about “that new Mexican place on Breiel” a few times before decided to walk there and see what was goin’ on.  “It tastes really authentic.” The walk was pretty long, but we were glad to have walked off some energy before stuffing ourselves full.

Norman Sosa and his wife, Flor, opened this little place in November and have totally floored us with their food.  David, my husband, and I were immediately taken by their rewards program – Go five times, get 20% off your bill (all of it!  Even your margarita!)  That alone would have kept us coming back, but the food is really why we’ve stayed.

Now, you may be saying, “another Mexican place?  So what?”  But this isn’t just another Mexican place!  We’ve had incredible customer service every time, and, of course, our food has been out of this world.  David got a platter overflowing with carne asada tacos last night.  It takes a lot to make my husband comment on his food.  For his entire fist taco, though, he made comments after every bite (usually a low groan, followed by “mhmm, yeah, this is insane”).

Xalepeños prides themselves on authentic, well-made food.  I’ve never been to Mexico, but it certainly tastes fresher and more loved than other Mexican food I’ve had in my many days of ordering guac that I’m pretty sure was squeezed out of a baggie.

So, would you join us sometime?  Give them a call, stop in for lunch, try their chicken entomatadas (to die for!)  Cheers!

Triple Moon Coffee Company

I’m back!  Hello!  After a long, long time of thinking about this blog and my hopes and dreams for our city, I am so excited to be back at it, writing about this town, even if it is a little less frequent.

If you need me between posts, you’ll find me at Triple Moon Coffee Co. downtown. Have you been yet?  If not – get down there!  I’ve set up shop and don’t plan on leaving any time soon.

I got to sit down a week or so ago with Heather Gibson, the owner and dreamer behind TMCC and was so, so inspired and encouraged by her story.  I’m honored to share it with you!

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Heather Gibson was born and raised in Middletown, Ohio.  20 years ago, during a trip to Tennessee, she walked into a little coffee shop and a little light bulb flickered on in her heart: she wanted to bring this home with her.  “I wanted the atmosphere,” she said.  “Coffee shops are really about community.  The coffee is great, but it’s not really about the coffee.”

17 years later, the dream hadn’t dimmed and a building downtown was open.  For three years, though, no doors opened.

Finally, one day, she prayed, “If this is the right time, God, slap me in the face with it, would you?”  The next day, her business partner handed me an envelope full of retirement money from AK steel with just enough to buy all the necessary equipment to open Triple Moon.  There was a rainbow in the sky that afternoon.

Let’s pretend that sign reads “Middletown is better” (because it is).

Heather and her growing staff are really cool.  Like..really cool.  And they’re nice.  And they give good suggestions and don’t judge you for knowing nothing about coffee (anybody feel me, here?  Like…I’m sorry I don’t know the ratio of milk to foam to espresso in a latte versus a macchiato give me a break I was an art major.)

Heather told me a few things about her coffee shop that I think are really true of it.  First, she said, “You’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with.”  Well, Heather, you’ve got a pretty fabulous team of baristas and cooks and friends behind that counter, so you’re doin’ alright.

She also said, “We want to offer a consistently good product.  That’s my word, and if I go back on it, it’s my reputation that’s on the line.”  Mmm.  Yeah.  I can get behind that.  If you haven’t caught on by now, I’m really into small businesses.  I think they’re the best.  Here’s the hard part about small businesses though.  Sometimes, the people who run them just aren’t very good at it.  Sometimes, small business owners take their employees for granted and they expect good things to fall from the sky, and when that doesn’t happen, they kick and scream and then no one wants to go into their shop or studio or office.

That’s just not going to be an issue for TMCC.  The team there is ready and willing to work really, really hard (and really, really early).  Why?  Because they’re taking this thing personally.  They’re taking Middletown personally!  Remember what Heather said?  It isn’t about the coffee!  It’s about the community.  Here come the water works.  These people are doing it right.  These people are for our city.  And what’s better?  They do it with a smile and make a delicious almond milk latte.

photo-1418479631014-8cbf89db3431Get your coffee downtown, people.  See you soon.

New Guest Post Series : Kayla Cassidy

Hi guys!  Happy Friday!  I’m here today with excitement beaming out of my eyeballs as I get to introduce you to one of my very dearest friends, Kayla Cassidy, who is going to be with us regularly at Goodness Collective!  She’s going to be writing specifically to the Church – Christians, I mean.  Now, don’t let that scare you away.  We’re not going to bang our Bibles on your cyber-heads.  And, if you’re not into reading about this stuff, you don’t have to!  But, this is a big part of the way we see true revitalization for Middletown and I’d hate to never talk about it at all!  
So!  Without further ado, here’s Kayla!
Can we just pause for a minute and give a resounding ‘amen’ to what my great friend Katie has been doing here!? It is so refreshing to hear and see what is going on in our midst and to be motivated to get up and join this movement! This is our broken and beautiful city, and we are not here without purpose. As Katie spoke about in her most recent post, one or two people cannot do this alone. If people don’t get on board, this movement will fizzle out and that would be tragic. We can stand on a mountain top and shout about all these exciting things but if at the end up the day people just look up and stare and nod their heads in agreement and then walk back home, it’s not going to work. We’re going to end up going back down the mountain defeated and discouraged. BUT, if people nod their heads in agreement and then make the climb up to join in (probably the more tiring and uncomfortable option, but so much more glory-filled), then we will become a force to be reckoned with. We will start making waves in this city. Are you getting the metaphor here? Goodness collective is meant to invite you up the mountain!

So, here is my call to action, and it is to myself just as much as anyone.

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We are not on hold. This is an endeavor to light a fire under myself and my community that chases us out of our safety nets and burns down the fences that we have built around our hearts and our lives.

I first heard this sentiment of “not being on hold” as a call to single women to stop thinking that our lives start the day we put on a white dress and get a new last name. I, along with a lot of other single Christian women need to be reminded of this truth continually. However, I think that this concept applies to us as a church body in a much broader way. We are plagued by a toxic air that makes us feel like our lives won’t really start until we buy that house, move to that city, have that child, or find that spouse. We are bored and impatient and tired of waiting which has led to a “daily grind” mindset of going to work, coming home, making dinner, hanging out with those who are easy to hang out with, occasionally binge watching Netflix, and then going to bed. Often we think, “We’ll make time to love the poor, preach the gospel, write that book, join that movement or start that ministry later, when our lives actually start.” We are living like our stories, experiences, passions and voices are not very valuable.

So I am here to tell you, YOU ARE NOT ON HOLD, and your voice is more than valuable, it is necessary. You are not in the waiting room of your life. Right now, in this very second the God of the universe is on your side. He has and will provide all that you need to walk in His will for your life. So, what is it is that God has been whispering in your ear? Does he want you to befriend that person? Consider adopting or becoming a foster parent? Sell all your things and move across the world for the sake of the gospel? Start supporting that missionary who sent you another letter this month? Stop hanging out with the same exact people every weekend and love the depressed and broken Christian who feels alone? Start writing? Join the music team? Get on board with DMI (or whatever else) and sacrifice more of your time for the sake of the redemption of the broken souls in our city? I could go on forever, but I’ll spare you. I am pleading with you to dream big, because God is big and He is promising to do more than we can ask or imagine. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” That’s what Jesus said.

We need to stop scrambling to save our comfortable, safe lives and be willing to lose everything for Him. If we are not willing, we need to take another closer look at what God (or god) we are worshiping.

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My hope is that this will be a space for people from our church to share their stories. I’d like to start a blog within a blog. Katie is looking outward in our city and talking to people about the ways that we can start changing the conversation about Middletown through recognizing and joining what is already happening here. This is crucial and has been so encouraging and eye-opening for me. However, I believe we need to simultaneously look inward. We need to know who is in our church, how they are gifted and what they want to do.

So, Oaks member, no matter where you are, I want to hear and to tell your story. Chimamanda Adiche (who, by the way, is a BOSS) gave a TED talk about the “danger of a single story.” She talks about the power of stories and how important it is that we not only tolerate other people’s experiences but that we seek to understand, encourage and celebrate those who are different than us. The mom, the wife, the single woman or man who desires to be married (and the ones who might not desire that right now), the engaged, the person who wants to move to a different country, the person who wants to live in Middletown forever, the person who doesn’t live in Middletown, the person who is not really sure what they want to do but are trying to figure out… They are all our stories and they are all equally important and glorifying to God! If you don’t feel like you belong or fit into the mold (newsflash: there is no mold), or if you feel like you are swimming against the current, I want to talk to you. I want to hear your story and celebrate it. More than that, I want to do anything I can to equip, encourage and support you in whatever exciting, scary thing God might be calling you to. You are so valuable and needed in our midst.

One of my biggest fears is that we will conform out of fear, or worse, stand on the sidelines out of laziness, forfeiting the beautiful, exciting story that God wants to weave in our lives. He is a master composer orchestrating a symphony that will scream out his glory, but He wants us to play the instruments he has given us. A symphony made up of the same instruments would be boring, and God is not boring. At the end of the day, this song of glory will play with or without us, but please don’t decline the most important invitation you’ve ever received.  Your unique gifts and passions are needed! This is a call to stand up and be who God has made you, unapologetically. Do not bury your talents, because if you do you are robbing the kingdom of God and frankly, you are being disobedient.

Do I sound like a broken record yet? I’m okay with that. I want to see people who go against the grain in a way that relies on God to show up. I want to start a revolution of inclusion instead of exclusivity. Lets find out what Jeremiah meant when he said that the Word of God felt like a fire shut up in his bones that he could not hold in. And AGAIN I will say, we can’t do it on our own. Please join me in telling your story and being proud of it. Join me in being the change in our culture, in stepping outside of our comfort zone and letting our lives start now instead of later. We are not on hold, let’s stop acting like we are. I would love to hear what you see in our midst and how you feel about it. I want to know what God is calling you to and how we as a church can help you do it. I want to share that here in the hopes that a diverse people can come together for one purpose while seeking to not only understand but celebrate our differences. Get in touch with me!

If you still don’t really feel excited, watch this Coach Taylor speech. And if Coach Taylor can’t even motivate you, then I’m pretty much out of options and just trusting the Holy Spirit.

Our Part in Middletown Revitalization

Good morning, neighbors!

I had an awesome, awesome opportunity last week to sit down with the brand new director of Downtown Middletown, Inc., Miss Mallory Greenham.  You may have read the recent interview she had with the Journal in which she gives explains the structure of DMI and lays out her belief in the revitalization of the city.

If you’re unfamiliar with Downtown Middletown, Inc., here’s a crash course in what you need to know.  DMI was born a few years ago after the City of Middletown and the Community Building Institute came together, ran a study, and came to the conclusion that “if Middletown is to ‘survive’ as community in the next 50 years, the attitude has to focus on the positive attributes and involve a wide cross-section of the community.”  DMI is operating under the framework set up by the National Main Street Program.  The Main Street Program is a nationally recognized and proven four-point system of city revitalization that we get to use as a model of restructuring the economy, aesthetic and pride in our city.  We’ve got a really good thing set up here.

But we have a problem.  There are plenty of people in Middletown that will applaud the idea of revitalization and say that they believe in the future of the city.  And then there’s a group of people that’s willing to help.  But that group of people is already helping with everything else in the city.  Everyone else seems to be hiding, too busy, or just unwilling to get their hands dirty.

In my time here in Middletown, I’ve learned a lot about the process of revitalization – it’s really hard, it takes time, and it takes a lot of people to really make an impact.  Middletown has a lot of potential, we all agree on that.  You wouldn’t be reading this blog if you didn’t agree with that.  Here’s where the disconnect happens : action taken upon belief & passion.

At the very beginning of the Goodness Collective, I addressed the people who just don’t believe in the city.  Those people exist and that’s just something we’re going to have to deal with.  The bigger problem, though, are those of us who read this blog, read the articles, agree with them (even brag about them) and then don’t do anything about it.

We’re all guilty of it in some way or another, especially dreamers like me.  I hear about an exciting thing going on and I over-promise and then forget about it and ignore the emails and never show up to meetings.  And then I let down the people who are actually passionate (passionate enough to take action!) about whatever the exciting thing is and make their jobs harder.  During my meeting with Mallory, she asked me if I knew if there were any young people in Middletown that were passionate about its revival.  I told her, yes!  Of course!  And then she asked, Where are they?

And then my heart imploded.

I think there are a lot of reasons for the lack of involvement and commitment in the overall revitalization process in Middletown.  We’re all busy, and we don’t want to commit to another thing that will fill up our calendars.  I get that!  Trust me.  But if that’s what you’re thinking, I challenge you to look at your calendar honestly, and see what you’d really be giving up to be involved in what you say you’re passionate about.  If it’s time with your family, stay home.  Really.  We cannot run ourselves in the ground and forfeit our lives.  But if you’re worried about missing out on those three hours of television you watch every night, we have a problem.  True, honest passion always warrants sacrifice.  So, I ask you, what are you willing and able to sacrifice to see Middletown come back to life?  Can you sacrifice one evening a month to get involved in a committee with DMI?  Can you sacrifice one of your flashy date nights in Cincinnati to support a local business instead?  (News flash, we have really good restaurants in Middletown so you’d only be sacrificing your ability to brag by saying you went to that really trendy café that was really loud and full of people that made you question if you were cool or not.  And you also save gas.  And money.)

And, guys, if I’m being frank, I’m gonna need some help here.

When I launched Goodness Collective, I was starry eyed with my fist proudly in the air, ready to lead a charge forward into the future of a booming city.  We – you and I, together – love this city.  We are proud of this city.  We believe in this city.  Right?  Of course!

But my arm is getting tired.  And, just like you, I’m busy!  So I can’t be at every event and restaurant and on every committee and writing all the time – even though I desperately wish I could!  I want GC to be a collective celebration of the city.  I cannot celebrate the entire city on my own!  Do you have a story to share?  Yeah, you do.  Do you have a brag on the fries you got at Murphy’s Landing last week during happy hour?  Of course you do, they are delicious.  Are you having an event you want to advertise?  Post it here!  Goodness Collective is not and can not be one person.  I need your help, Middletown.

Mallory at DMI launched a site with a foundation really similar to that of GC in Marietta, Ohio called Clutch.  Check it out if you have some time.  They have tons of contributors who send in their favorite recipes, event calendars, stories, reviews, photographs – and really anything else they enjoy.  It’s low pressure.  It’s a celebration of the city.  Send me your stuff!  Please!  I can’t do this alone.

If you believe in Middletown and want to see it changed, you have the most beautiful opportunity to hop on the train before it gets rolling too fast that you’ll just miss it.  Start this thing with us.  I know it’s a risk, but we’d all still be in Europe dying of the plague if everyone just stayed where they were comfortable.

Learning Simplicity

Welcome to springtime, Middletown!  I know today is pretty dreary, but rain trumps snow in my book today!  Lots to celebrate.

Something I decided early on in the Goodness Collective journey was that I wouldn’t post things unless I felt inspired & had content to post.  Well, turns out February was altogether uninspiring for me.  So, my sincerest apologies for not being more active.  I still stand by not posting for the sake of posting, though – the goal of the Goodness Collective movement is simply to celebrate Middletown as I experience it.

That being said – I’m just one human being!  I need and want to know what’s going on around town!  If you know of events, speakers, businesses, meetings, etc. that you think this community needs to hear about, would you let me know?  Leave me a comment or email me (you can find my email on the Contact page, or just click here!)

In my last post, I mentioned a watercolor artist named Dave Bailey and promised to speak on him more in another post!  So here I am.  Though I didn’t get to spend much time with him in preparation for this post, I was struck by his work (so lovely!) and was inspired by his inspiration : the Amish community.

While he was giving me a tour of his studio, Dave told me a beautiful story of his friend, who was Amish, who stopped everything he was doing, gathered his family and helped him move.  He told me how touched he was, surprised even, by their generosity and willingness to serve him.  And it got me thinking: what is it that keeps all of us from doing things like Dave’s friends?

I’m sure there are a lot of answers: selfishness, laziness, general busyness, having pets, etc.  But one thing rides on the back of all of those things: our attachment to stuff, whether material possessions or less tangible emotional comforts or statuses.  The world, our community, is glaringly hesitant to give up things in order to help fellow man because in giving of our time, effort, money, etc., we fear missing the opportunity to get more for ourselves (more time, more money, more recognition, I could go on.)

But there’s something so evocative, something so alluring about lives of simplicity, isn’t there?  Sure, electricity is great and so is indoor plumbing (pardon my absolute ignorance of the Amish lifestyle!), but doesn’t it kind of sound awesome to just be done with all the junk we cram ourselves into and full of and just exist? Haven’t you ever wished to be back somewhere, sometime that was simpler?  Maybe your childhood.  I sure have.

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In my online life (which is growing deeper and broader and, frankly, more consuming), I’m realizing this shift toward simplicity and, I have to say, it is so refreshing.  Take, for example, the recent trend of a capsule wardrobe (37 items of clothing per season, one shopping trip, that’s it].  I found out about it from one of my favorite bloggers and have totally embraced the idea and practice.  It’s tough, especially the part where you get rid of all of your clothes that you feel make you “cool”.  But once I got into the swing of things, I’ve felt so free!  It takes planning, budgeting and a lot of self-control (like not trying on all of the beautiful things at Anthropologie even though I desperately want to!)  All in pursuit of living a simpler, more intentional life.

Or, for those of you less fashion-inclined, take the entire industry of organic farming!  Now, I will absolutely not claim to be an expert, and I know that organic farming is a humongous beast I could never totally understand, but isn’t the entire purpose of farming without chemicals to simplify our diet, our bodies and our overall health?  It spun everything we knew and loved about convenience (which is much different from simplicity!) around and around until we realized Wait, they’re right!  I shouldn’t be packing my body full of fertilizers and food coloring!  Simplifying is cool.  Trendy, even.  And I think I’m okay with that.

Even visual marketing and entertainment have tapped into the simplifying movement – from the simple, one-image logos of major companies to the single-camera style of filming.  We are drawn to simplicity.  Why?  I’m going to dare to say because it’s just better for us.

So, I’m going to keep practicing my self-control and keep things simple, without stepping up on any more soap boxes and be finished.  Don’t forget to let me know about things, events or people you think need to be written about.

Pendleton 1 | Bob Hayden & Believing in People

Last week, on a very cold Friday afternoon, I crunched through the snow and ice to the Pendleton Art Center.  I’d had a tough day, a tough week, actually (still hadn’t shaken those February blues), and was in desperate need of inspiration.  I found it in studio 110.

I stopped by the café to ask where I could find the studio of Robert (Bob) Hayden, was given directions, and slowly wandered that way.  I poked my head in and was welcomed in by Mr. Hayden and his friend (and another Pendleton artist) David Bailey.  Both of these gentlemen are long-time Middletown residents, both have a history of working at Armco, both became full-time artists as adults, both teach art classes at the Pendleton – they have a lot in common.

We shook hands, I sat down and we started talking about art, because, of course, that’s what you do when you’re in an art center.  Despite all their similarities, these artists have totally different focuses.  Bob does a little bit of everything (ink drawings of homes, acrylic and oil paintings, colored pencil drawings, caricatures, you name it), while Dave specializes in watercolor paintings.  I’m going to speak a little bit more about Dave in a later post, but check out his work if you can!  It’s really beautiful.

I play this game with myself when I talk to artists.  I like to pick out aspects of their personality, the way they speak, etc. and correlate it to their work.  Sometimes it flops (especially when the artists is super internal and has this crazy internal monologue that needs to be outwardly expressed because their demeanor couldn’t possibly carry the weight of it), but that was not the case with Bob.  The walls of Bob’s studio are full of color; rich, deep color.  His work is honest, full of meaning, unapologetic.  Bob is honest, full of meaning, unapologetic. Beside each of his framed pieces is a brief description of the piece.  Here’s an example:

rosergbAh, The lady with the rose tattoo!  Ten years out of college, absolutely no direction in life… I was a sales rep for Armco Steel Corp (It will always be Armco to me – that was a much better company than the current version).  Painting in my spare time.  That was my 1984!  “Workin’ hard for a livin’ ” (see the hard working guys trudging off . . . to what?) . . .   “Livin’ in the fast lane”( love the train!)  . . . The Brick Wall – The rigidity of corporate life   . . .   The invisible guy – That’s me just wanting to be noticed and feeling as though I’m not (poor, poor pitiful me).  Finally, the dice and the tattooed lady – Love is so sweet, and often fleeting, so it’s always roll of the dice.  But no matter the roll, the fragrance of love always smells so very sweet!

See what I mean?  Nothing is unintentional.  Isn’t that beautiful?

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When I asked Bob what his favorite part of being an artist was.  His answer was teaching art classes to his students.  Bob was a substitute teacher for a long time, education is in his blood.  He loves kids, he loves giving what he knows away to people who need to learn it.  And here’s something else I love about Bob – he sees people for who they are right now, not who they should be or what he hopes they can become.

Bob told me a few stories about kids he’s been able to teach over the years.  A common theme of his tales were what the kids were like, where they came from – he knew these kids.  They are his priority, not the lessons he teaches, not getting paid for his time – making sure these kids knew that they were cared for, though, is nonnegotiable.

One of his students, a boy in middle school, had a really, really tough home life.  He also loved creating.  Bob saw that, developed a plan to get through the students’ thick exterior and got to work.  The boy created and kept coming around, which, if you know anything about young people with profound trust issues, you’ll know is a miracle.  Eventually, the boy’s circumstances won, he was plunged deep into a really scary, really dark place and moved far away.  Bob’s heart is still broken.  Why?  Because he cared so deeply for that boy and truly believed that he was worth time and effort.  Bob believed that his student, even though he came from a shattered family full of abuse and untruths, had infinite potential to know what it means to be happy.  That, my friends, is what a good educator looks like.

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I studied art therapy in college, and my senior project thesis read something like this :

We were all born with the ability and the desire to express ourselves.  Every single one of us understood (whether consciously or not) that coloring and drawing and painting with our fingers felt good, because we do with those materials anything we wanted and, in some way, express who we were through the lines and our decision to color within them or not.  At some point, the “logically thinking world” taught us that creativity and self-expression is reserved for free-thinking artist types, and that if we want to have food in our cupboards we need to learn statistics (my worst grade in college) – so we put down the paint brushes and adopt the belief that “I can’t draw”.  We deny ourselves the fundamental, universal, absolute need of self-expression because we “don’t know how” to express ourselves in any way emojis.

People like Bob are the reason I love Middletown.  There are plenty of buildings, businesses, even people in this city that have been pushed down and trampled on, bulldozed and left out in the cold; buildings, businesses and people that have been labeled “just too far gone to be able to salvage”.  And then there are people like Bob who say “oh you mean this building?  The one with the beautiful shadows that are cast in all the right places?  The one with all that history and all those stories?  That’s what you can’t salvage?  No problem, I’ll do it.  It’s okay if it takes a while, I’m willing to wait.  I’ll be here.”

This city, these businesses, all these people are worth our time and our energy and our money and our love.  Bob, thanks for dishing out enormous helpings of patience and care.  Your life is art and I am grateful to gaze upon it.

Pendleton Series!

Happy 100th-snow-day-in-a-row Saturday!

What a week it’s been.  I got my first ever case of the winter blues this week – anyone else with me?  Today, though, isn’t so bad.  My husband and a few friends are thawing in my living room from a gam of snow football, we’re heating up water for hot chocolate and tea, I’m still in my pajamas, and just remembered that I have chai latte K-cups!

photo-1418479631014-8cbf89db3431I am super excited to introduce a series that I’ll be walking through for the next while : A series of interviews with members of the creative community in Middletown.  I’ll be sitting down and chatting with a number of artists at the Pendleton (interviews have already begun!  So fun!)

With that, keep your eyes and ears open for goodness around town & share it with us!  Let’s make this weekend a Goodness Weekend (that might be a good hashtag! #goodnessweekend).  Share images of your snowy weekend because there is goodness even in February.

And if you need a little pick me up, just imagine that you are underneath this orange tree in the sunshine.zU6fwmDaSVWZdCXcZfot_IMG_3838

View from Above : Breakfast with Mayor Mulligan

(Disclaimer: I’m feeling extra-long winded today.  Proceed with caution.)


Happy weekend, Middletown!  We made it through another week alive and that is reason enough to celebrate (can I get an amen?)

As promised, today I’m bringing you my discussion with the mayor of the city Middletown, Mr. Larry Mulligan, Jr.  Mr. Mulligan was elected onto city council in 2007 and jumped up into the mayor’s office a year later.  He grew up and raised his own family here in Middletown.  He loves it here and truly believes in the city and its future.  He’s a good guy and I’m glad to know him.

Mr. Mulligan and I sat down over coffee (at Java Johnny’s – check it out!) last week.  We met early in the morning, like real adults (Mr. Mulligan is totally a real adult. I, on the other hand, needed some serious help from my coffee).  As I sat down, I realized that I was completely out of my element and that interviewing the mayor is something completely out of my league.  So I stumbled around small talk for a while until I finally explained what I hoped to discuss :

The future of Middletown as seen by its leaders.

What’s happening that hints at revitalization?  Who are the key players?  What are we fighting against?  Are there specific areas of Middletown that show distinct promise? (Am I sounding like an eager puppy dog yet?)

Here’s what the mayor had to say.

There are so many good things happening.  I know, I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but it’s true!  I was so grateful to hear the mayor’s excitement over projects happening by the highway and downtown and in the industrial area and all over our city.  I left our meeting more hopeful than I arrived and really what more can I ask for?

As I navigate the vast community of Middletown supporters, I’m learning so much of how the real world works.  I am an admitted idealist.  I see problems, I see how they could be fixed, and I see what things could be like if we’d all just work together.  What I don’t see (whether intentionally or not), is the work necessary to meet the end.  I am not a logistics person.  I am not a middle-man person.  I see point A and point B and I expect people to just jump between the two without complaining or taking too long.  Anyone else with me?  I am impatient and it is exactly that, the mayor said, that is pulling the revitalization efforts backward : impatience.  Let me explain.

My ideal Middletown is one that is thriving with very diverse, very successful small businesses.  But what sustains small businesses?  People that spend their money there.  Where to people get money?  From their jobs – and there just aren’t a ton of those in Middletown right now.  So right now, what does Middletown need?  Not a trendy downtown shopping area.  We need sustainable industries with lots of jobs with fair pay for our friends and neighbors.  And, from what Mr. Mulligan said, we’ve got some promising projects already underway.

When I asked him what he was excited about, he mentioned the East End of Middletown and our Downtown sector.

On the East End, you’ll find Kroger Marketplace (and fashion center), Atrium Medical Center, lots of restaurants and an ocean of parking lot.  You may have seen that Burlington Coat Factory is opening up its doors this spring!  Score!  Mr. Mulligan also mentioned the possibility of the development of professional office and medical space in that area.  He said that though the Towne Mall may not seem like it’s making much progress, it is!  He believes deeply in the new ownership and is confident that good things will come from that building.  With the aging population of Middletown, Mr. Mulligan predicts expansion of Atrium Medical Center and that means (you guessed it..) more jobs!

Downtown, I realized, is a much more difficult battle to be fought.  There is so much history there, as we discussed in my last post.  And with history comes a flood of human emotion and opinions on what should be done next.  We talked about the fear of the “let’s make downtown trendy” mindset (you can read my rant about that here), and we touched on the possibility of displacing downtown residents in order to make room for businesses – which really sounds horrible to me.  Luckily, though, that hasn’t had to happen yet.  Mr. Mulligan applauded those business owners who are taking “leaps of faith” in opening up shop downtown.

He said something during our meeting together that I haven’t been able to get out of my head since.  While we were talking about the fear of losing vision in the process of revitalization, he said,

We are on the cusp of a turning point.  Things are beginning to change. The biggest thing, really, is that we have to serve our own.

Amen, Mr. Mayor!  We must serve our own.  We must think about what is best for our city – for the individual people in this city, their families, their well-being.  We cannot lose sight of what we’re working for, we cannot veer far from our path to admire and envy the shiny things happening in other cities.  Other cities are not our city so let’s stop trying to force ourselves into those jeans from high school that just don’t fit anymore.  Sure, there were really good things that were happening, but if we get caught up in making Middletown what it used to be, we’re just losing time.

Let me talk to the young people for a minute, though (preaching to myself here, too).  We have to be patient, guys.  Things are happening, but we need to be okay with waiting a little while for the foundation to be built.  A few times during my conversation with Mr. Mulligan, I threw around the term “cardboard houses” and “cardboard neighborhoods” (you know, the expansive neighborhoods built in the late 90s/early 2000s that literally popped up overnight).  These houses and neighborhoods are so poorly built – I’ve heard of siding and roofs literally flying off in a gentle gust of wind.  But they were trendy and in demand so up they went.  They’re cheap, which is appealing, right?  But you got what you pay for – a really crappy house.  We don’t want a cardboard city so hold your horses!

Also – we need to listen to the stories of what Middletown used to be like.  We cannot write off memories of the past and ridicule our elders for not being willing to move forward.  This is important stuff and it cannot be replaced by google searches.

Sorry for the soapbox.  I promise it’s almost over.

Really good things are happening.  There are a lot of people that are passionate about the revitalization of this city – but we have to listen to each other to get somewhere.  I think that’s happening, but if it isn’t, I think I want to make it happen.   More on that to come.

I love you, Middletown!