Making a difference in your city (during a pandemic)

Last fall, long before we were all at home baking bread from scratch, I stumbled across an advertisement for the Lansing Citizens Academy. Drawn in by the cute new Lansing city logo and the name, I submitted an application and soon found out I was accepted!

I spent the next three months attending weekly civic engagement sessions with two dozen fellow Lansing residents, learning about how the city functions, meeting local government officials, and getting an inside look at places like the fire station and the Board of Water and Light grid control room. We met for two and half hours each week over dinner, conversation and presentations. It was a big commitment, with a full time job and a 10-month-old baby at home, but I met interesting people, learned a lot about my chosen hometown, and was challenged to get more involved as a citizen.

Here I am posing with Lansing Mayor Andy Schor and my daughter at the Citizens Academy graduation ceremony.

Attending the Lansing Citizens Academy helped me think of my city and my neighbors differently. I saw how important it is to be involved in your community, to speak up on things that matter to you — and that city employees are there to listen. I realized how my profession (working at a local university) isn’t like everyone else’s, and that we can learn from the worlds we each inhabit, at work or otherwise. I recognized that my neighbors and I are on the same team, desiring to make our city a better place to live for our families. I left the program inspired to get involved, join some local commissions, and be a better citizen.

Then, COVID-19 happened. All my big plans of attending planning meetings to save my neighborhood pool and getting to know neighbors at community events were halted by social distancing and state-wide safety measures. I started this blog as one way to connect with my community, but I have been unsure how else to move forward.

I saw that the Lansing Citizens Academy is accepting applications for the 2020 program, and reached out to their coordinators to see what they’re doing differently this year and what exactly citizen engagement can look like in the middle of a pandemic.

The very kind DeLisa Fountain, Interim Neighborhood Resource Coordinator for the City of Lansing, chatted with me, and here are a few updates that I learned:
1. Participants will be required to wear masks and check temperatures before sessions begin, and sessions will be offered virtually as well as outside or at large enough classrooms to maintain physical distance;
2. there will be 11 sessions instead of 10, to accommodate a session focused on the Lansing Police Department. The LPD has its own Citizens Academy, but this session will be a great intro to that opportunity; and,
3. the City is working to increase diversity in the experience by choosing minority-owned caterers for the refreshments offered at Citizen Academy sessions, and encouraging participation from the refugee community in Lansing.

I asked DeLisa, what community engagement is possible when it feels like everything is cancelled?

She responded that though many things are cancelled, there are so many great conversations are going on. You can still attend virtual City Council meetings, share a public comment, talk to your representatives and find out what they are working on. Boards and Commissions can seem scary at first, but they are open and would love your involvement. Meetings are currently being held on Zoom, so it’s an easy time to jump into things.

“It’s so easy to impact things, but we don’t think our voice matters. We think of the City as huge, but it’s all these little pieces that go together to make City Hall work, and it can’t work without residents and resident civic engagement.”

DeLisa Fountain, City of Lansing

I left my conversation with DeLisa feeling inspired to get back to work in being an involved City of Lansing resident — will you join me?

Applications for the 2020 Citizens Academy close at 5pm on July 31st. Apply now!

My coworker refuses to wear pants: working from home with a toddler

I have (thankfully, gratefully) been able to work from home since the middle of March due to COVID-19. My toddler, who was 17 months old when this started, has been with me every one of those days.

Working full time from home with a toddler has been a lot of things. It has been silly, like the other day when I tried to do a Zoom meeting from the front porch and had to chase my daughter down the sidewalk with my laptop in my arms. It has been sad, on days when I have felt like I’m letting down my kid and my job at the same time. But it has also been sweet, like watching her splash in the kiddie pool while I finish up newsletters on a sunny Friday afternoon.

I thought I would share some things I have learned from this silly, sad, sweet time of working from home with a toddler, in the hopes it may connect with or encourage or you, or even help you better understand your parent coworkers right now.

Normally I would dress up for work, grab Starbucks with my coworkers at breaks, and have conversations about adult things like immigration policy or reality TV.

These days I mostly wear clothes that can get peanut butter on them, and I have to code switch constantly from work mode to Mom mode and back again, often in a matter of seconds, all while remembering to put my microphone on mute.

I have learned to find humor in the interruptions, the squeals and fart noises my daughter contributes to conference calls. And I smile when I open my planner to find an abundance of scribbles across every spread from now until Christmas. What we’re doing is weird, and it’s okay to feel that.

There have been hard moments during this time. I have had deadlines I had to meet, and a screaming toddler I have ignored in the name of getting things done. I have let her watch longer episodes of TV than I would like, and gotten frustrated with her more than once.

For a long time I would apologize when my daughter would interrupt a conference call, or scramble and say “I’m so sorry” when she would scream over my contribution to a planning meeting. I felt unprofessional and embarrassed. But then I read articles like this one from Fatherly and felt empowered.

I am not embarrassed or sorry that I have a kid, and I am not embarrassed or sorry that I have a job. The two happen to be more intertwined than ever right now, and that’s okay. Since this realization, I have stopped apologizing, which has really helped my confidence. Plus, Rosie has gotten really good at Zoom.

With all the strangeness of this COVID-19 season, we have appreciated the extra time at home and have seen how we can come together and help each other. We have received help from both of our parents, siblings, and others who have stepped in with childcare, plumbing assistance, and food deliveries to help us get through important meetings, a kitchen renovation and more. I have grown in my ability to ask for help when I need it, and to see strength in that rather than weakness.

I get to share a leisurely breakfast with my kid every morning before I open my laptop. Rosie creates homemade birthday cards as a conference call distraction and we mail them to friends. My coffee budget is almost down to zero. There is a lot to be thankful for.

I don’t know how much longer we will keep working like this. And it is still hard on some days. But when my daughter recognizes my coworkers’ faces on Zoom tomorrow morning and cheerfully greets them as part of the team, I’ll remember that she is part of the team — even if she doesn’t follow the dress code.

Lansing Area Parks I Love: Starting Close to Home

One of my favorite things about the Lansing area is the number of public parks we have. Seriously, look at this map!

Courtesy of Lansing Parks and Recreation

Especially in this time of COVID-19 and social distancing, visiting local parks has really helped my mental health. Being able to spend time outside, breathe fresh air, and even visit with friends [walking six feet apart] has been a welcome addition to so many days at home.

I am always telling friends and colleagues about some of the Lansing area parks I love, so I thought I would share some of them here!

#1 Moores Park
Located along the South side of the Grand River, in the shadows of the famous Eckert Power Plant smokestacks, home to one of the only remaining Wesley Bintz pools, welcome to my neighborhood and Moores Park!

This is my favorite park in the Lansing area — and I fully acknowledge my bias as this park is located approximately 100 yards from my house. We bought our house because of Moores Park, and I know we’re not alone in that among our neighbors.

Moores Park truly has something for everyone: two separate playgrounds, basketball courts and soccer fields, a pavilion for picnics, gorgeous old trees, access to the Lansing River Trail, a canoe/kayak launch, and more!

Moores Park holds a lot of meaning for me. It was the first place I walked after my C-Section, and it’s been the site of many good and some hard conversations with my husband, friends and family members.

A few weeks ago, I was walking by the park after dinner and I met a neighbor who was digging up large stones in one corner of the park. I stopped and chatted with him, and learned that he was creating a butterfly garden. He was spending his free time — and inviting others to join him — in improving the park himself. I love that spirit of community, and the pride people (like me) take in Moores Park.

I’ll stop writing here and instead invite you to join me in the park, anytime! I can’t wait to show you around.

Rosie’s Book Club: Season One

I began 2020 with a resolution to read 20 books for myself. But with COVID-19, sheltering in place for months and working full time from home with my toddler, time for reading just hasn’t been happening.

Realizing that, I made a pivot and have been digging into the books that my daughter reads, instead. I want her to read (well, to listen to) all kinds of books featuring all kinds of people. I want her to read books that move her to laugh, to learn, and to act. I want her to read books that she wants to share with others.

So until she can share her recommendations herself, I will keep track of some of her favorites, here.

Rosie’s Book Club: starting us off
Book: The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk by Kabir Seghal and Surishtha Seghal, illustrations by Jess Golden

The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk is a fun, illustrated, south Asian take on “the wheels on the bus” song we all know and love. Rosie likes this book for the singing and colorful illustrations, and I like the book for the cute lyrics (Tuk Tuk riders eat poppa-doppa-doms) and fond memories associated with riding tuk tuks in my childhood.

Avast, belay, yo ho — it’s time for Rosie’s Book Club: seafaring edition!
Book: Peter Pan: A BabyLit Adventure Primer by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Alison Oliver

Avast, belay, yo ho — it’s time for ROSIE’S BOOK CLUB: seafaring edition.
Rosie loves this @babylitbooks version of Peter Pan, especially the singing pirates.

These books are some of my favorites, too — it’s a fun way to read the classics and the illustration style is fabulous! Do you have a favorite of these books? Do you have a weird place in your house that your kid likes to read? (As shown here, our bedroom floor is a beloved spot).

Rosie’s Book Club: We’re still sheltering-in-place edition!
Book: My Heart Fills with Happiness by Monique Gray Smith, illustrations by Julie Flett

This sweet board book has simple but beautiful illustrations and a gentle message about family. I taught Rosie actions for each page and she does them every time! The best one is when the page says “my heart fills with happiness when I hold the hand of someone I love”, and Rosie reaches for my hand.

It’s also a book based on and dedicated to those of Canadian First Nations heritage! 

Rosie’s Book Club: we’re still learning edition
Book: Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson

We’re learning that being not racist and being anti-racist are different things, and that we need to be intentional about being the latter. 

We’re learning from our friends of color who are courageous and vulnerable enough to share their stories of experiencing racism. We thank you. 

We’re learning that we need to learn more, and we need to do more. And that can start with choosing different books to read to your toddler — and finding that you can learn from those, too. 

“Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, CJ, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.” Matt de la Peña, in Last Stop on Market Street 

At points this crazy year has felt like we are surrounded by dirt — viruses and loss and confusion and hate. But I really think we can get into these complicated conversations and dig into the learning and do this work together, and witness some beautiful changes moving forward.

So, what have you been reading? What are your kids reading? Share some of your favorites in the comments below!

Home Renovations with a Toddler

When we bought our almost 100-year-old house in Lansing, we knew we were being ambitious. We started with simple things like painting all the rooms, tearing out bushes from the front yard and fixing some of the floor trim, and it already looked so much better. Then we got pregnant with our first child, and things got more exciting from there.

My husband and father-in-law replaced our roof when I was in the first trimester — don’t worry, I wasn’t allowed on the ladder. And from that point on, our little girl has been a renovation baby! Asbestos removal, radiator upkeep, plumbing fixes that resulted in poop falling from the ceiling, we’ve seen it all (and smelled it all). As I write this, we’re about halfway through with a complete overhaul of our kitchen, and so I thought this was a good time to share some tips we’ve learned on home renovations with a toddler.

1. Keep calm and carry on 

Of course, this applies to all phases of raising a toddler, “demo day” or not. But during home renovations, your home life will invariably be flipped upside-down. We’re lucky, our kid somehow sleeps through the sound of power tools — possibly because we’ve been training her for that from inside the womb — but yours may not.
We’ve had our toddler sleep in different rooms to avoid the noise, even taken her to our parents’ homes for days to escape fumes from wood stain, or a lack of heat in the upstairs bedrooms. I’ve found that if we stay calm, explain things to her and act like washing dishes in the bathroom sink is normal, she assumes it is and carries on, herself. Your attitude has a huge impact on your kid’s attitude.

2. Let them work with you

Toddlers are curious creatures, and naturally things like saws, drills, and glass tiles will draw their attention immediately. They can’t join you in every aspect of home improvement, but there are some things they can do. Let your kid help put packing materials in the recycling bin. Have them press the trigger on the drill while you hold it in place — this one gets bonus points for the loud noise it makes!

3. Encourage imaginative play

When kids see you do something, they’ll want to try it, too. We got our daughter a play mop and broom set, and it has become her favorite toy. Whenever we’re sweeping up debris or sawdust, she grabs her broom and joins us. It makes the job slower, but so much cuter! This doesn’t have to be expensive, either — we found a toy tool set at a local thrift store for less than $3.

Renovations with small kids at home will always be a little more stressful, but how special to be able to involve them in creating the space that will hold their earliest memories. I hope this short list encourages you to give it a try.

Hello, blog land!

I’m Joy, and this is my blog. I am a 30-something wife, mom, friend, and neighbor. I have always loved to write, and I created this space to encourage me to do so, more often.

About the name, Hometown Found.

Although Lansing is my home, now, I actually grew up without a hometown. My parents did mission work and I lived in Bangladesh and Malaysia as a child. I attended homeschool in the jungle and a boarding school on the South China Sea. It was an amazing way to grow up, but I missed having roots somewhere, a place to name when people asked the simplest question of “where are you from?”.

Here in this smallish city in mid-Michigan, I’ve found incredible friends, beautiful spots to enjoy nature, and my favorite Mexican food truck. I’ve met refugees starting their lives over in safety, a local band with a vaudeville flare, and people working to make a difference through local government.

After living and traveling all over the world, this is not where I thought I’d end up. But Lansing is now my hometown — I’ve finally found it!

So, I’ve started this blog to challenge myself, to:

  1. be a more engaged citizen in my hometown;
  2. connect with my neighbors;
  3. share what I’ve learned about motherhood so far; and
  4. learn from others who take part in this creative space about any of the items above, or about anything else.

So, I’ll be writing this blog to share the things I find in Lansing and the things I learn while I’m here. I’d love for you to join me.