Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

One of the most unexpected effects of last summer’s flood is how many of our neighbors have moved away. Some sold their houses not wanting to go though the process of filing insurance claims and restoring their houses (can’t blame them for that!). These houses have only recently been bought and work is just now beginning. One gutted their house and is trying to sell it now. Others restored their houses but are selling and moving.

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Our Street Flooded

This is happening all over the city. There is such a strange buying\selling situation where somehow everyone is coming out ahead. Contractors are buying flooded houses with cash and then restoring them and selling at market value. Minus the amount of time this is all taking (we are coming up on one year from the flood), ultimately this process should help stabilize our neighborhood. It’s fun seeing everyone getting new doors and windows, like we’re all getting face lifts.

Driving around the block now is disorienting, though. Some houses were quickly restored, have families living in them with beautifully landscaped yards. Others are sitting, gutted and abandoned, yards killed by piles of debris. Houses like ours fall somewhere in between. This past week, when we went to get our mail from the house, the kids and I noticed a neighbor’s FEMA trailer was taken out of their back yard. We all cheered for these neighbors we didn’t know but long to imitate — moving back into their house and getting out of sight of FEMA.

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Contractor and Real Estate Signs

We bought our house almost five years ago. Only recently did we stick our heads out and meet any neighbors, however. It didn’t take long to learn to always wear a bra (you just never know). Checking your mail on our street was a social occasion; a quick trip down the driveway to put the trash at the curb could become an unexpected, delightful 15 minute conversation with a neighbor.  Our girls found friends up and down the street to play with, which is really a gift for everyone, and they ran back and forth across the street. We knew which dogs to pet and which to leave be. From a cantankerous engine revving bright and early on a Saturday morning to the buzz of a drone in the evening after supper, we could hear the neighbors out and about, their lives overlapping our own in these small ways.  Our little block struck a comfortable balance of being both quiet and unimposing but also comforting and safe. Some of our neighbors were in their houses since they were built in the late 70’s, some not as long, but all of them had been there longer than us. Our neighbors were established and knew the history.  This was especially valuable last August when a neighbor from across the street knocked on our door, umbrella in hand, and asked “y’all know we’re going to flood?”

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Our House Waiting For the Water to Recede.

And now our little section on the street is dispersing. New cars come and go, new pets in and out. We are nervous, excited and anxious. Who will our neighbors be? Will they have kids? Will they take four years to say hello? Already there are new faces around when we go to work on the house. We haven’t stopped to introduce ourselves yet. I’m not sure I’ve seen the same new face twice; it’s unclear if they are the new homeowners or contractors. As the inside of our house becomes more familiar and inviting, outside the street feels foreign and deserted.

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Our Ever-More Inviting House

Our kids love to play outside, we don’t make a lot of noise, and, when we get chickens again, we can lend you eggs. Will you be our neighbor?

Quarterly Reading Report June 2017 Edition

This year’s motivation has become about goals: short, annual and life-long. Maybe being out of control of fixing our house has made me over-eager to feel a sense of accomplishment. Maybe I just like lists. Either way, goals are being set and met!

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I’ve been ticking away at the Better World Books reading challenge.  Since March, I’ve crossed off these 6 categories:

I have 6 out of 25 left: Based on a Fairy Tale, National Book Award Winner, Travel Romance, Banned Book, Book of Poetry, About Immigrants and Translated. I am currently knee deep in The Brother’s Karamazov (more on that later!) which is, obviously, a translation. I have C.S. Lewis’s Narrative Poems and The World According to Garp by John Irving which will fulfill poetry and National Book Award respectively.  I have nothing in mind for the others. Any suggestions?

As for life-long goals I have new and old ones. I am currently 350 pages away from meeting a long-standing reading goal: read and understand a famous Russian novel. I have been chipping away at The Brother’s Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky since the middle of May. I’m trying to strike a balance between taking my time and not losing momentum. The book is broken into 7 parts, each roughly 100 pages. Between each part I allow myself a “treat” book. Nothing too long, I don’t want to break my interest, but I also want to give my brain a little break. This tome takes more energy and concentration that most books I’ve read recently. So far this system is working; I’m halfway through the third part and I am still interested and understanding!! Midsummer’s Night Dream was my last brain-break book and now I’m committed to another 130 Russian pages before my next break.

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I dreamed up a new life-long reading goal this year : read a book set in each country in the world. I am focusing on Europe this year and so far I’ve crossed off France, Greece, Montenegro, Spain, England and Scotland. I have also added Pakistan and China. I would really love to read a book *from* each country but I vacillate between what’s ideal and what’s practical. Certainly, I stand to learn a great deal more reading a book from each country but I’m limited by only knowing English. This presents some translation concerns. Not to mention, there are a whole lot of countries, even just in Europe, that I’ve never heard of much less have a working knowledge of their notable literature. Which is more probable: finding books *set* in Slovakia or finding books *from* Slovakia translated into English? Which goal would you set?

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In addition to reading the six books listed above this past quarter, I went on a Hemingway rant and read A Moveable Feast and The Sun Also Rises. Added to For Whom the Bell Tolls which I read earlier this year, these books have given me a favorable impression of Hemingway and now I want to jump over to F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’ve read The Great Gatsby but I wonder if I’d enjoy a biography better. Who is a Fitzgerald fan? What would you recommend?

It is rare these days (read: when J.K. Rowling doesn’t publish anything) that I read a book the year it comes out. When I noticed Paula Hawkins, of Girl on the Train, fame published a new book, however, I put a hold for it at the library (sorry Paula) and practically inhaled it. I enjoyed Girl on the Train a great deal. While this second book, Into the Water, may not be quite as profound as it’s predecessor, it is a great read. I was a little disappointed with the ultimate reveal, but the story itself was certainly compelling and exciting.

Do you have any auspicious summer reading goals, or are you looking for anything that can be read on a beach? Do you like to keep reading lists or set new goals or do you like to go wherever your whim may take you? Hopefully I’ll have more to update on after the summer than just Karamazov. Even if that’s all I accomplish,though, I’ll be proud of it!