Saturday, February 27, 2010

Neighborkid Dinner in Honor of Dareeona

Today we continued our tradition of Neighborkid Dinners: each month, one neighborhood child who volunteers (with the support of their family) is featured at a special dinner in their honor.  This month, we gathered in honor of 6-year-old Dareeona.

 Dareeona developed an invitation list of the people she would like to have at the “Dareeona Dinner” – a group of people she likes and hopes will work together with her, and with each other, to help realize her dreams for herself and for our neighborhood.  There are no limits placed on who each child invites.  Here’s who Darry chose: her best friend on the block; her parents, sisters and brother; four grown-up neighbors; her Grandpa who lives down the street; and one classmate (who lives 11 blocks away, at the other end of our neighborhood). 

Darry also set the menu, so here’s what we had for dinner: Steak, Corn on the Cob, Macaroni and Cheese, Scalloped Potatoes, Strawberry Juice, Sparkling Grape Juice, and Chocolate Chip Cookies. 

These are the activities we planned for the Dareeona Dinner:
  •  eat, drink and be merry, 
  • honor Darry with a special slide show in her honor, 
  • share thoughts about what we like most about Dareeona, and
  • hear from Dareeona, as our guest of honor, about what she hopes for herself and our neighborhood. 

 Here’s what Darry had to say in response to the 4 Questions:
  •  A year from now:  That I can hold the baby.  [Her baby sister was born in December.]
  • As a teenager:  I can do anything I want, like cook, and find a job, and work in class.
  • As a grown-up:  I will be a teacher and teach reading books. 
  • For the neighborhood:  The trees would be green and all the houses would be yellow, like Miss Joanna’s house.  [Miss Joanna is our neighbor who painted her house last summer and the kids on the block are often helping her out with yard work.]
And finally, here’s a glimpse of the celebration!

Thanks, Dareeona! 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Community Self-Organizing Dinner

This evening, nine of us met up for the second monthly “community self-organizing dinner,” intended as an opportunity to come together around ideas of community self-organizing, and to reflect on how we might most optimally participate in community self-organizing for the better here in Sarasota.   Those present included Hugh, Tbone, Kenneth, and 15th Street neighbors:  Chunk Chunk, Holly, Dareeona, Dalisha, Allison and Dave.   Here is a pic of the group (2/3 at least):

Since the diversity of individuals at any gathering influences the conversation that is generated, it seems worth noting that those of us who were present are of: 
  • Four neighborhoods in Sarasota:  6 from Central-Cocoanut, one from a neighborhood off University Parkway, one near Fruitville, and one from Palmer Ranch
  • Three age groups:  4 kids (6- to10-year-olds), 3 adults (40- and 50-year-olds) and 1 toddler (2-year-old).
  • 5 “sectors:” elementary education, county government, emergency services (fire), the arts, and neighborhood life. 

So what did we talk about, and what happened?  Here’s what I remember…

The kids took over dinner prep, Hugh graciously offered to help out and made an impressive salad, and Hugh, Tbone and Kenneth provided disaster response when the yellow rice was burning.   Cooking seems to be one of those activities that can easily foster cross-generational collaboration. 

When Kenneth arrived, the kids did not recognize him as fire chief because they expected him to be in uniform, rather than wearing a business suit.  Despite the curiosity about him that they’ve expressed when he’s not present, they seemed to become somewhat bashful when he was in the house!   A reminder of how anticipation can influence the way we are with one another in the here-and-now, perhaps. 

Conversation among adults revealed a common past connection to…Buffalo!  Three of us lived there earlier in our lives.  It turns out that D.C. is another shared former hometown / hometown of relatives.  An example of how sometimes the first connections we find among us are invisible ties to places elsewhere.

Hugh let us know that Kenneth is a talented chef, and it turns out his brother is a professional chef too, so it runs in his family.  Tbone suggested that we might call upon this talent in the service of these monthly dinners, which I do believe could be an adaptive group response to my relative deficits when it comes to cooking J 

Kenneth shared some details about efforts he is working on to develop a national meeting for fire department professionals, to take place here in Sarasota.  Hugh shared some about changes in programs within the County government, and Tbone mentioned some details about the arts-related efforts he’s developed with kids who live in Newtown.   Throughout, kids piped in with comments about life here in Sarasota as they experience it as well. 

Although Kenneth had to leave before eating dinner, he secret-surprised everyone before he left.  To everyone’s delight, a fire truck showed up on the block, with lights flashing, and the kids were invited to check it out up-close-and-personally.  They even got a chance to practice firing the hose!  This brought out many folks on the block, with both kids and adults commenting on how neat it was. 


What struck me about this, as a child psychologist, was how timely this special opportunity was, in light of our neighborhood experience less than two weeks ago.  At that time, fire trucks showed up in response to an emergency involving one of our neighborhood families, and a small group of neighborkids gathered in my front yard expressing  concern and anxiety.  As we watched from afar, all we could really do with/for one another was soothe each other by talking about what we were witnessing.  We also played some hand-clapping games to generate some positive emotion so that the feelings of anxiety would not become overwhelming. 

In contrast, the secret-surprise visit during the community dinner provided a chance for the kids to have a sense of control over their interaction with the fire truck, and to experience it as a source of excitement, rather than as an indicator of distress.  It got me thinking – what if emergency responders were to make it their practice to reconnect with those blocks / neighborhoods where they have been called in for situations that are likely experienced by the children as scary, and in reconnecting soon after the crisis, to create with the children opportunities for the restoration of well-being and relationship between emergency service providers and neighbors?  What if neighbors were to help emergency service providers to know when the kids on the block are expressing distress about recent situations they have witnessed, so that all of the adults – parents, neighbors, and service providers, could together help to restore the kids’ sense of well-being? 

The dinner ended with another secret-surprise, this time from the kids, for the grown-ups.  Evidently, the kids had been practicing a song-and-dance routine that they made up after school, and they were eager to present it to everyone.  So Hugh, Tbone, Gus (my puppy), and I sat in a row on the couch (along with Dave, a neighbor who had dropped by) and we were entertained by kids singing neighborhood-related adaptations of I Carly songs, with dancing that looked like a hybrid of moves borrowed from both the Woo Tang and songs of praise they’ve learned at church. 

How’s that for innovation?


The dinner left me with mixed feelings – on the one hand, I thought it was neat for us to be interacting across generations, and perhaps finding our way toward a new way of inter-relating across ages, neighborhoods, and sectors.  On the other hand, I feared that the adults present might have experienced it as overly kid-oriented.  But maybe I was the only one feeling this.  While I have been immersing myself in the experience of neighborkids, in order to bring into focus the ways in which they naturally cultivate community in everyday ways, I have been feeling lately a bit like a stay-at-home parent who craves adult conversation at the end of the day.

All to say, tonight I think we’ll try something a bit different.  I hope neighborkids will drop by, as they often do, and will hang out with us until dinnertime if they want.  But then I’m going to let them know I’d like to have some time together with just grown-ups, and they’ll be welcome back after dinner for dessert if they’d like.  We’ve begun using my grandmother’s dinner bell as a way of calling folks together for our monthly neighborkid dinners, so maybe we’ll use the bell to let everyone know when it’s dessert-time this evening. 

So there you have it.

Hope you'll drop by next month.  

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Where we love is home...

"Where we love is home, 
home that our feet may leave, 
but not our hearts."
-- Oliver Wendell Holmes 

Today I am feeling genuinely grateful that this is now where I love, and where I love together with so many others.

Here is where I love my puppy Gus, who is celebrating his first birthday today.

Gus looking out the living room window, watching his neighbors.

Here is where I love my neighbors.

Holly and Dareeona writing Valentines for our neighbors.

Da'Sean and Holly delivering Valentines to our neighbors.

Chunk Chunk reading the Valentine she just received.

Mr. Dennis spotting Holly on the monkey bars at the park.  
Mr. Dave surprising Holly with a Valentine's bear. 

Here is where I love my confidante and closest collaborator, Tim.

Here is where I love my little 1920’s Spanish eclectic house.

Here is where I love the magical, overgrown hibiscus in my backyard.

 Yes, this most certainly has become my home.

Happy Valentine’s Day.  

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Big Possibilities of Small Change

I am reading a book right now that was recommended to me by Michael Batty, who is the author of "Cities and Complexity" (2005).  As I read, I am trying simultaneously to keep in mind the wisdom of our neighborkids, including that of our neighbor-babies, like one-month-old Onna. 

Here is a quote that resonates with me:

“In order to do something big … one starts with something small and one starts where it counts.  …[It] is about making the ordinary special and the special more widely accessible – expanding the boundaries of understanding and possibility with vision and common sense.  It is about building densely interconnected networks, crafting linkages between unlikely partners and organizations, and making plans without the usual preponderance of planning.  It is about getting it right for now and at the same time being tactical and strategic about later.  This is not about forecasting, nor about making decisions about the future.  But it is about the long range, about making sure that one plus one equals two or even three, about being politically connected and grounded, and about disturbing the order of things in the interests of change."

Nabeel Hamdi, 2004
Small Change: The Art of Practice and the Limits of Planning in Cities

This has got me wondering:  What new possibilities might come into focus if we combine the wisdom of our neighborkids with the wisdom of writers like Mr. Hamdi with the wisdom of all of us, every day?  

How might paying attention here in Central-Cocoanut to what Onna and Logan and Chunk Chunk and Cassi and Daree and Naya and Toby and Holly and Amorie and Semaj and James and Quan and Da’Sean and Dushun and Alex and Ray Ray are experiencing with us right now, as neighbors and fellow community members, help us all to realize our potential in the long range?

I truly believe that this is where it’s at…

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Hometown Circus Great On the High-Wire

Today was an exciting day here in Sarasota…it was the day when our own town’s circus great and Guinness Book of Records world record-holder, Nic Wallenda, performed a high-wire act at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, just a mile down the street from where we live!  He rigged a tightrope (only the width of a nickel!) between the hotel and the building next-door, 200 feet up in the air, and then walked the 600 feet across it, even with the blustery winds blowing!  Not only that, he stopped a few times along the way to KNEEL on the wire, and in one instance he actually LAID DOWN on the wire!  Wow…talk about a real-deal daredevil with some SERIOUS talent when it comes to balancing!  You can watch it here.  

There were lots of people crowded below to watch, and others watching from balconies in the nearby buildings, and all of the television news crews were there, including the ABC Channel 7 station (which is also just down the street from us, located right in our neighborhood).   

Although Nic Wallenda has performed in circus acts and set world records in other cities around the world, this was the first time he ever did so here in the town where he grew up, so it was a special event all-around. 

Unfortunately, I was at work in Tampa today, Gus was at daycare, and all the neighborkids were at school, so none of us were able to witness the amazing feat in person - not even our own neighborhood acrobats!



Instead, when we met up at the end of the day, we decided to watch the video on the internet.  While we watched, we listened to the story of Nic Wallenda.  We learned about how he is a seventh-generation circus performer.  His family started starring in the circus back in 1780, first as a troupe of acrobats, clowns, jugglers, and animal trainers, and then also as a flying trapeze act known as The Flying Wallendas.  

Nic’s family came to America from Germany in the 1920’s, when they were invited to join the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus after John Ringling witnessed their amazing 3-level human pyramid on the high wire.  Nic has continued the family tradition, setting new records by riding a bicycle on the high wire, and now preparing to cross the Grand Canyon on the high wire!  He has said that he wants to do this to honor his grandfather, the great Karl Wallenda. 

Nic’s connection to his family over many generations is a lot like the cross-generational connections that many scavenger hunters have with their families here in our neighborhood.  Like how Amorie and his brothers, sisters and cousins have a special connection with their great-grandmother, Miss Barbara. 

And how Aaron, Tyler’s baby son, is growing up with his mom, his grandmother, his great-grandmother, and his great, GREAT grandmother…not just in our neighborhood, or on the same block, but right next door to each other!       Here is a picture of Tyler and Aaron's great, GREAT grandmother:

The other thing about Nic’s story that reminds me of our neighborhood scavenger hunters is that Nic’s talent as a high wire artist first started to develop when he was a kid – no older than our neighbor-babies Chunk Chunk and Cassi!  


Nic told reporters, “I started walking the wire at 2 years old and started getting pretty good at 4 and my first performance up high on a wire was when I was 13. Since then, I've broken a couple of world records and don't plan on stopping soon."  

That reminds me of another fellow Sarasotan I met last year around this time – Mercedes Pages, of the Flying Pages.  

Mercedes and her family were at the special circus mass at St. Martha's Catholic Church, which is also just down the road, less than ¾ of a mile from our neighborhood.   St. Martha’s is known as "the church the circus built" because in the 1930’s circus families put on special performances to help finance the construction of the present church building.  Many circus families are still part of the St. Martha’s congregation, and there is a special circus mass each January.

Mercedes is now 12 years old and she lives not far from us, just outside Sarasota.  She is already a world-renowned trapeze artist and circus performer, with a special pony act where she rides two ponies at one time!  Her whole family is part of the fabulous Flying Pages, including her mom, her dad and her older brother.  

Here is a video of them practicing together, and here is a video of Mercedes leading the family in their amazing performance.  While Holly watched the video of the Flying Pages she said, “I bet Mercedes could skip 4 monkey bars at a time on the jungle gym at our park!” 

We are lucky to live in a circus town - not only is Sarasota the winter home of the Ringling Brother Barnum and Bailey Circus, but we've also got Circus Sarasota and Sailor Circus here, and a close-by opportunity every year to see UniverSoul Circus, the world's "first black circus!"

Marveling at all of these local circus greats has got me thinking – what are the world-class talents growing in each of our neighborhood scavenger hunters – talents that we might already be able to notice if we pay close attention?  And then, once we begin spotting these talents, how might we all be able to play a part in helping these talents to keep growing?  Seriously – with all the gifts already sprouting in each and every one of our scavenger hunters, not to mention gifts that even the scavenger hunters themselves have not yet discovered, just imagine what’s in store for our neighborkids and our neighborhood!