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I live in a really awesome town.

Many of my readers are from Goshen, and know what I’m talking about. For the rest of you, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

I’ve lived in several places in Indiana, Michigan and Tennessee. Goshen is by far my favorite place to live.

Goshen is the right mix of hipsters and homebodies; progressives and conservatives; and ludites and techies. Goshen is home to Amish, Mennonite, Hispanic, and other communities.  Elkhart County is home to creative folks including artists and entrepreneurs. We have a vibrant artist community with guilds for pottery, jewelry, photography, painting, and woodworking. We have a rich culture.

While our economy was in the dumps during the recession, Goshen was growing it’s downtown with tons of new stores opening up on Main Street. How many communities can say that?

My husband likes to say this of Goshen, “We have one of everything you need for a good place to live: one great bookstore, one great bar, one great coffee shop.”

You get the picture.

I am not a rat.

Here’s what I really love about Goshen: We aren’t in a rat race around here.

People always wave you on at four way stops–sometimes to the point of ridiculousness. What’s so great about that?

It’s a symbol of being neighborly, friendly, and kind.

When you wave on another car, you aren’t judging their political position, their race, their religion, their gender, their job, their place in society. You’re just being friendly and putting someone else before yourself.

I like that people around here are okay with losing the five seconds that it takes to let someone else go first.

Bridge the gap.

So, my friend Claudia and I have been talking some about social capital. Claudia explained to me that social capital is the value or benefit that communities gain from cooperating and supporting one another. There are two types of social capital: bonding and bridging.

The way I understand it, is that bonding is within groups that already have something in common. Claudia and I became friends as we carpooled together, ate together, and shared recipes. We are friends and have the bonding type of capital.

The value here is that we know we can count on one another. I watched her dog one day while she was out of town. When she wanted to immediately make up for it, I said don’t sweat it, because friends give and take. Sure enough, we had dinner at their house a few weeks later–social capital.

The other type of capital is bridging capital. Bridging social capital is when groups of unlike people come together, give and take, and find common ground. Goshen has a variety of rich cultures represented, but we are often floating around in our own inner circles.

Bridging capital is waving on stranger and putting them first.

Since Claudia introduced me to the idea of bridging capital, I’ve been intrigued. I keep trying to think of more ways to bridge the communities within our community. Each community has a richness to it. Our community is already pretty great. Imagine what it would be like if our micro-communities started sharing our strengths with one another.

We’ve already proved that we are a resilient community as we continued to grow together through a recession. But there were still people hurting and isolated–and that hurts us all in the end.

What would this community look like if we start reaching outside of our comfort zones?

What if we invite an English as a second language speaking neighbor to dinner? What if we help a neighbor rake his yard even though there was an opposing political sign out front? What if we find questions to ask people when we first meet that don’t depend on their job or status and cut to who they are as a person? What if we take time to listen?

How can we be intentional of expanding our own social groups to include others that aren’t exactly like ourselves?

This way of looking at the world has been kind of fun. In the last few weeks since Claudia and I had our conversation about social capital, I’m finding myself slowing down and listening to others.

What do you think? How can we build social capital in our communities? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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© Jenny Frech 2010

My husband and I both had a great evening with our friends last night.

We each invited a small circle of our guy and girl friends over for dinner.  He and his friends played board games, and my friends went to see a movie.

It sounds pretty ordinary.  It was.

The biggest difference between our two circles is that my husband’s friends have been buddies since high school and junior high.  They’ve been friends for 25 years.

My high school chums are from my workplace, so we’ve only known one another for about three years.

Jeremy knows his friend’s families, their moms and dads, brothers and sisters.  He’s been around for most of their major life changes: graduation parties, weddings, and births.  They share inside jokes.  There is a level of comfort, that even when time passes, they still really know one another.

For many of my friends, I barely know their significant others, and probably have never met their parents.  I still edit myself before sending emails or facebook statuses, thinking, “Will this offend my friend?”  In the three years that I’ve known my school friends, we’ve only just scratched the surface of life events.

We’re still in the peeling back the onion stage.

My friends are always surprising me.  Last night upon finding out  that one of my friends has been gardening, I immediately set to work digging flower starts for her–in the dark.  I assumed she wouldn’t want any because she’s not so outdoorsy.   But she was giddy over free flowers, and I was in my element trying to remember where the fun flowers were planted.  Another layer of this friend was was exposed.

You can’t have fantastically interesting layers, unless you’re deep.

Making friends for me is a difficult process.

I have three strikes against me in the making friends department.  One, I’m an introvert, and am perfectly happy to stay at home.  Two, I am shy and awkward in new social settings.  Three, I’ve moved around a lot in my childhood and adulthood.  The longest I’ve lived in any one town since I was a little kid, is six years.  Deep friendships are next to impossible to cultivate when you move around a lot.

Calling acquaintances up for coffee feels weird to me, so I don’t do it.  When I talk to people, I want to have meaningful conversations.  It’s difficult to do that with an acquaintance.  But on the flip side, I can’t have meaningful conversations, until I’ve gotten past the stranger stage.  And that takes a lot of energy for introvert.

To find people that are simpatico takes time.

I’m picky.  I want friends that are genuine, deep, and passionate.

So, I’ve griped and complained about making friends a bit, but for the most part, I have been very fortunate.  I have met some truly amazing people on my life journey so far.  I have friends that have a bit of my heart in Michigan, California, Illinois, Indiana, the East Coast, and Tennessee.  People that have truly brought their whole selves to a friendship, and are still out there living passionate lives.  I know they still care about me, and I still care about them too.  They’re just not in my area code anymore.

Fingers crossed, this is my last city change in my adult life.

Maybe now I can put down some roots.  Maybe the friends that I’m forming now will still be my friends 25 years from now when I’m 60.  We will be older, yes, but our lives will be better because of our friends, and we’ll have our own set of inside jokes, because we are simpatico. 😉

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”
– Anais Nin

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One of my favorite flowers to share, Love-in-a-Mist

Looking for inspiration

I’m reading a book called, “The Happiness Project”.  In one of the chapters, the author, Gretchen Rubin, suggests that we should look to the things that we do in our spare time as inspiration.

One of my favorite things to do is, garden.  But even more fun than that is sharing flowers from my garden.

In past neighborhoods, I’ve arranged flower exchanges to swap flowers with friends and neighbors.  They are super easy to plan, and I usually end up with some pretty great new finds.  This year, I tried to plan one, and only one of my friends showed up.

Hey, that’s okay.  More great plants for me!

My friend Julie brought over bronze fennel, a rose, oregano, and walking onions.

I then took Julie around my house and we dug up anything that I had enough to share, and that struck her fancy.

When you love to garden, most everything strikes your fancy.

A couple of days ago, my friend Rachel came over, and again we strolled around the flowers, digging up flowers to spice up her beds.

Since I can’t possibly share all of my flowers with my readers, I thought I might share the what, why, and where to plant of some of my favorites.

First up…

Love-in-a-Mist

a.k.a. Nigella damascena, Devil-in-the-bush

Love-in-a-Mist flowers, these are a cross between Persian Jewels and Miss Jekyl

I got my first start of this plant about eight years ago from a neighbor with a wild backyard full of cottage garden flowers.  She was moving, and wanted to make sure that starts of her plants got to those of us in the neighborhood that would treasure them.

I planted the start in a partially shaded area underneath a rose bush by a shed.

The plants grew well, and each year reseeded themselves.  The variety that I got was all periwinkle blue.

I love the blue and magenta. Most of the flowers this year were white though.

Last summer, I purchased a couple of starts from Prairie Trail farm in Goshen.  I believe I got a Miss Jekyl and a Persian Jewels.  The starts were tiny at the beginning of the summer, but by mid-summer, the starts were about a foot in diameter (the whole plant, not the stem!).  They flowered beautifully, and reseeded themselves in my flowerbed.  I did save seeds too, to share and plant in other places.

I love self-sowing annuals.  It’s what cottage gardens rely on.

My former neighbor, and flower mentor Jeanette, taught me to delight in the gift of flowers coming up in unexpected places.  Because of her, I dead-head (cut off the old flowers) much less than I used to, so the seeds can feed the birds and the flowers can decide where they would like to grow next year.

This year, the love-in-a-mist was a little too close to the front of the border.  They are a bit taller than the perennials, that the year before were in front of the nigella.

The flowers are completely unique.  They have a ferny green backdrop behind delicate petals, and green curls coming from the center of the flower.  When the flower is spent, an alien looking pod forms.  The pods are full of loose little black seeds.  I recommend just leaving the pods on the plant.  In the winter, it will create a lot of interest when the other flowers have gone away.

But, the pods can be just as fun brought inside and dried.

What if you don’t have friends that have a start of Love-in-a-Mist for you?

A pack of seeds will do. (The sample seed shop has them, and I love their seeds.  Or, if you have some seeds that you would like to trade, I could save some for you this year.)

Just scatter the seeds in spring or summer where you would like them to grow, an violá, you have some plants.  They will grow in the sun and partial shade.

Now get cracking, and go outside and plant something!

Love-in-a-Mist in all its podded glory

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Site Stats Speak to Me

My blog stats allow me to see what Google search terms get visitors to my site.  Sometimes they are plain and generic, like “gardening” or “step-families“.  Sometimes I’m surprised with hot topics.  Some of my most visited posts are about meat chickens, and water.  And I’m amazed that my blog is high enough up on the search list to keep getting hits for John Denver.

Every now and again, there are searches for, “my step-kids hate me,” or “What do I do about …”. In those cases, I wish I could send a direct message to the person that was seeking out that information, and tell them that everything’s going to be okay.

My favorite search term so far has been, “How to engage a shy and dorky man in conversation”.

This geek's taken; hands off ladies! (self-portrait by Jeremy)

I have a bit of expertise in this area.  Although, my husband is not shy, I am.  But I think I did a pretty good job of engaging him in conversation.

Through nerd analysis with my husband that I have come to understand the geek way.

Here is my advice to women out there that wish they could talk to that shy, handsome dork, dweeb, nerd or geek.

Tip #1 Refer to all dorks as “Geek”

Men that fit into the dweeb/dork/nerd/geek category almost always prefer to be called “geek”.  The other terms can be considered offensive in some circles.  Nerds are lower in social status than geeks, dorks are lower than nerds, and dweebs are the lowest form.  The term “geek” will make them feel sexy and virile.  I will refer to this group of men as geeks from here out, as to avoid offending anyone.

Tip #2 Identify Your Geek

There are several types of geeks.  It is best to identify the type of geek you are dealing with before starting a conversation.

Photo and shirt from etsy shop Deadworry. Click on the photo to go to their store.

Technology geek: These men love gadgets.  They have the latest smart phone and tablet, and will want to “Tweet” you.  They are being outgoing, not trying to invite you up to their apartment.  This type of geek is not always in the dorky category.  If they have a hip hairstyle and nice shoes, they might not truly be a geek, and this post will not apply to you.

Gamer geek:  There are several species of geeks within the genus “gamer”:  the online gamer, the board gamer, and the role player.  In many cases they will overlap.  If you are unsure, refer to them as “gamer” as this is generic enough to use until you establish which area they like best.  Online gamers will usually play W.O.W. (World of Warcraft) or some other online interactive game.  Board gamers play fancy games from Germany.  Boardgamegeek.com is a good place to go to see what’s hot so you can have an engaging conversation.  Role players play games like D & D (Dungeons and Dragons).  If your guy talks about rolling 20s and smiting you, it’s not a bad thing.

Sport geek: Not all sports fans are geeks.  The geeks are the ones that memorize sports facts, and enjoy talking about stats, more than watching the game.

Movie geek:  This subset of geeks memorizes lines, over-analyzes plots, and looks for filming mistakes.

Music geek: Music geeks pride themselves in following unknown bands and putting down mainstream music.

Comic book/fantasy fiction geek:  If you are in love with one of these men, you better start reading.  Your man and his friends will spend most of their time talking about books, and the movies and t.v. series based on these books.

Reinactment geek:  Many men and women like to dress up and reinact different time periods including but not limited to: the renaissance,  mountain men, civil war, or the SCA, Society of Creative Anachronism.

Hippy geek: These men generally walk around barefoot or wear dreadlocks.  They listen to obscure music.  Many are concerned with peace and justice issues, or the environment. If you don’t recycle or wear hemp fabrics, you may need to start.

All other geeks:  I can’t possibly list all types of geeks here, but it is helpful to know that there are others.

Tip #3 Ask Geeky Questions

If you have identified that the man in which you are interested in, is indeed a geek, start with any of the following questions, filling in the blank for what ever they geek out about:

What is your favorite spell?

Tell me about the last time you leveled up.

Can you tell me a little of the history of the internet?

If a cylon and a storm trooper were to get in a fight, which one would win?

If you were stranded on a desert island, which issue of Iron Man would you have to have with you?

If you were going to a costume party, who would you go as?  If I was going with you, who would you want me to go as? (Slave Girl Leia doesn’t count)

Nerd shirt from ATOB shop on etsy.com. Click on photo to go to their store.

If you could go out to dinner with Neil Gaiman, Gary Gygax’s ghost or Wil Wheaton, who would it be?

Which superpower is the most powerful: teleportation, superspeed, or x-ray vision?

Tip #4 Dress like a Geek

Wear a geeky t-shirt.  Find out what the man you love is into, then buy and wear a t-shirt that speaks to him.  Etsy.comis a great place to look.  Geeky t-shirts are a whole industry.  I guarantee he will notice.

Tip #5 Discretely “Out” Your Geek

Not all geeks are completely “out”.  Some have to hide their geekiness from friends and coworkers.  Start using lines from movies, comic books, or refer to yourself as an elf wizard.  Give your guy permission to make the connection without outing himself to others.

Tip #6 Join a Geeky Group

Get into something geeky.  Geeky realms are usually crawling with men.  There are plenty of women too, but the odds will be in your favor.  Not all geeks live in their parent’s basement.  There are some really great catches out there.  If you haven’t yet identified a geek that you would like to date, choose your geek realm carefully, because you will be spending lots of time talking about this topic, attending conventions and/or ren faires.

Tip #7 Read XKCD

Billed as a webcomic of “romance, sarcasm, math, and language”, this is a comic that most traditional geeks read.  It will certainly earn you brownie points, and give you and overview of some of the nerdier points of geekdom.

Be patient.  While you may be just the woman the geeky man needs, you may not be noticed because of your man’s obsession with his passion.  Join in the geeky fun where you can.  If you don’t get noticed by geek #1, someone else is sure to notice.

XKCD Webcomic. This one is called, "Improvised".

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This week while planting tomatoes and digging in the dirt, I’ve also been digging up old feelings, dreams, and disappointments.

Tomatoes are a running theme in my life.

And I don’t even like tomatoes.

I hate the texture. They taste tart and plain. And to swallow one, gross.

But I love to grow them. At least I think I do. I grow them every year, so I must, right?

For the last 6 years I’ve grown colorful heirloom tomatoes from seed.

There are some bittersweet memories that my new friends and family don’t yet know.   Let’s back up this story.

On June 1, 2005, my thirty-first birthday, my ex-husband and I purchased 22 acres of farm land at an auction. The place was further out from our jobs than we had been looking, but the land was absolutely beautiful. It had rolling hills, some trees, lots of room for pastures and gardens, a nice spot for building a house, and a wetland full of frogs across the road.

I dreamed of being a farmer.

In second grade, I surprised myself with a drawing of a farmer, to the age-old question of “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Since then, it’s been a dream of mine.

Immediately after the auction. I set out to plan how I could make enough money to live off the land and stay home with my daughter full-time.

I planned the crops that I could grow, and where to market my produce.

I had a goal of setting up a CSA (customer supported agriculture) where customers would come out to the farm to pick up produce once a week. I planned for sheep that we would put on the land, and I started making contacts.

The first year, as our new house was being built, I started about 500 tomato plants in the windows of my downtown house. I rotated the plants several times a day so they would all get enough light. About 300 of the plants made it into the field. By the end of July, I was going to the farmer’s markets with 50 varieties of tomatoes.

On a good day at the market, I would make about $100-$150. That seems pretty good, until you figure the actual time that goes into the whole process. Between weeding, tying up plants, tilling, picking, sorting, sitting at the market, and paying for supplies and market fees, I probably made about $3.50-$5.00 per hour.

The next year, I began selling tomato plants.

The tomatoes grew in little pots, which required lots more time, space, and energy. It’s not easy to fill little plastic pots with dirt and shove a plant in each one. (Okay, so it’s kind of easy, it just takes a lot of time).

It extended my season, and I probably increased my income by about $300 for the year.

While I transplanted baby tomatoes, my daughter played Polly Pockets.

When I weeded in the garden, she made dolls from weeds, and played Marco Polo in the corn. She hated waiting for me to finish my work. And I was too tired and busy to play.

Finally one day I woke up and realized that this dream of mine wasn’t working.

If it was just me, it would be okay to keep trying.

But it wasn’t just me. The main goal of trying to get this farm off the ground and running was so I could spend more time with my daughter. Except that I was spending less time.

My dream isn”t just to be a farmer anymore. My new dream is to be the best mom I can be.

So that final summer before my divorce I let the tomatoes rot in the field.

I planted them.

But I didn’t weed them

I didn’t try to sell any.

The plants just withered away.

The tomatoes rotted, but I didn’t care.

I didn’t care, because the relationship with my daughter didn’t rot.

I dug into finding a job that paid well enough to support her, giving up on my dream of being home with her full-time. A few hours a day with her was better than no time with her.   Any of the farm stuff would be hobby only, and I would only do the parts of it that we liked to do together.

The dream of spending more time with her is still alive.

In fact, I can see myself on the other side of busyness, being able work for myself inside the home, and maybe part-time for others.

The problem is that to get to that point, I have to spend extra energy and time away from her after work to make it happen. It’s really a catch 22.

There are business ideas rattling around in my head and dreamer’s heart.

But I still have a really hard time trusting my judgment. I feel like I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way.  Some of them have felt like bad decisions. But without those mistakes, I suppose I wouldn’t be who I am today.

Being distrustful of my judgement,  doesn’t make the decision process any easier.

I grew tomatoes again this year. I lazily planted them in trays, and kind of neglected them.   I never transplanted them (transplanted plants become sturdier from the stress- another metaphor I suppose.) Some of this year’s tomato plants are wimpy. Some of the didn’t get hardened off enough. I didn’t plant all of my favorite varieties.   To grow tomatoes properly would have required missing out on The Muppet Show with Ellie, or playing that game of Othello, drawing fairies together, or helping her clean her room.

If any of those wimpy tomatoes grow, we’ll take a Saturday to make Salsa as a family.

This summer is shaping up to be a crazy one. If the going gets too tough, I am not opposed to letting the tomatoes rot.

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photo from pack 101 flickr

Tonight I’m writing this post while I’m watching my daughter tear up the track at a pinewood derby race. She and her dad made a rockin’ pink car. So far, she’s won the first two rounds by several car lengths.

Last year, she was crushed when her matchbox car didn’t win. She and her dad tested dozens of cars to find the fastest one.  After all that testing, I’m sure there was no doubt in her mind that she would win.

There have been times in my life, that I knew I couldn’t lose,

like the time my friends and I traveled from Michigan State and spent the night in a University of Michigan quad. It was the Michigan State versus Michigan football game. I was sure that we would win. After all, we won the year before. I was cocky and did a whole lot of trash talking to my Wolverine friends. I left the stadium with my tail between my legs after eating a slice of humble pie.

There are things in my life that I feel like I could never lose, like my: family, career, middle class lifestyle, freedoms, and my rights as an American, a human, and a woman.

I need to stop taking what I have for granted.

My first marriage was difficult, but I took for granted getting to see my daughter everyday. Now that she splits time between two homes, I cherish my time with her all the more.

I am sure that were it not for my difficult first marriage, I wouldn’t appreciate the way my hubby and I communicate, and the way he shows he loves me. I don’t advocate for divorce, but I will use it as an opportunity of gratitude.

I used to complain about the difficulties of mainstreaming all children into the classroom, and now that the education of those students is threatened, I’m fighting for their right to be there.

I’ve struggled with working with at risk kids and how to best serve them, but now I worry that my high school kiddos (and their little sibs, and their own children) won’t have the educational opportunities that they need for their lives, not for the college prep mold we are trying to force all kids into.

I used to think that women in America had equal rights as men.   Now I’m not so sure.  In the news I hear of unions of predominantly women professionals being broken apart, laws that make women “prove” a miscarriage, and defunding of basic reproductive medical care for women (not the abortions, but basic care).  For goodness sake, we send money to third world nations to help them with their reproductive health.  What about American women?

I always thought that I would be able to grow my own food and buy directly from the farmer.

My world is being turned upside down as of late, and I don’t like it one bit.  But I have realized that I have gotten awfully comfy in my life.

This post is not meant to depress anyone.  Rather, I want to stop being cocky, and start being grateful for what we have, or there may be a slice of humble pie with our names on it.

And my daughter that went into her race a bit more humble this year, came away with the champion trophy for her derby car, “The Phoenix”.

Ellie and her champion car The Phoenix

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Please take a few moments and read the following blog post.  This is one of the most poignant things that I have read about reform in the public education system.

Why Teacher Bashing is Dangerous by Stan Karp or you can listen to it here

I am a teacher.

I am a mother.

I care what happens to our nation’s children.

Indiana is passing laws that will change the shape of our educational system.

I weep as a teacher, as a mother, and as a member of the community.

Our educational system has it’s flaws, but overall, it’s been a pretty good system.  We provide a free and appropriate education for ALL learners, from the most advanced children to children with limited mobility and severe disabilities.  Public education seeks to educate all children regardless of their color, race, religion, or ability to pay.

Can we make improvements?  Certainly.  Can you improve the way you do your job?  Yep.

I will tell you this.  I know very few lazy teachers that don’t give a hoot about students.  In the seven buildings I’ve worked in during my teaching career, I can think of only one teacher that had given up on his students.  EVERY one of the teachers in my current building care an awful lot about our students.  We are giving our all everyday.  We didn’t go into teaching for the money.  We went into teaching to make a difference.

Merit pay will not change the way I teach students.  It won’t change the way my colleagues teach students.  We are already doing our best, and continually improving.

The teachers I know collaborate and worry about students.  They compare notes to find out what’s working and what’s not.  We share materials and give new teachers a helping hand to pull them up into the ranks of good teaching practices.

I weep about the upcoming changes as a teacher and concerned citizen.

We’ve worked really hard in the last 60 years to provide a free and appropriate education for all.  We have integrated schools.  We have places in our public schools for children that 50 years ago would have been institutionalized.  Title I provided extra funds to provide special reading services like Reading Recovery which gives students the extra boost that they should have gotten at home.   We have vocational programs to get kids the skills they need for blue collar jobs when they graduate.  In the past, our educational system created well-rounded students.

This is an issue of social justice.  We must educate all students to create productive citizens.

We are about to lose all of the ground we have gained with new legislation.

The movement toward privatizing our school system will only widen the gap between the haves and have nots.

I weep about the upcoming changes as a parent.

I want my children to have exposure to the arts.  I want my children to be inspired by caring teachers.

Caring teachers are growing weery of the lack of respect from the media, from parents, and from the students.

Teachers are smart and caring people that do a job most others wouldn’t ever want to do.  They need our support and encouragement or we are going to lose the most valuable asset in our children’s lives.  These teachers are even more valuable in the lives of children that have no one at home to inspire them.

To quote Stan Karp:

What’s at stake is more basic: Whether the right to a free public education for all children will survive as a fundamental democratic promise in our society, and whether the schools and districts needed to provide it are going to survive as public institutions.

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