Good for Your Neighborhood, Good for Your Soul

From the era. So stinking cute I've briefly forgotten how crazy they were.

From the era. So stinking cute I’ve briefly forgotten how crazy they were.

A few years ago, I started doing what sometimes felt like a really crazy new thing: I rode my bike to work instead of driving.

Since I work part-time, my mornings are filled with laundry, storybooks, and trying to prevent a three-year-old from licking the handrail in the coffee shop bathroom (preferably without dropping her baby sister – true story). When I head out the door in early afternoon and hop on my bike, I feel like I’m getting away with murder … I’m alone with my thoughts (this never happens), enjoying the sunshine and fresh air and subversive satisfaction of getting some exercise without going to the gym. Beautiful.

A few weeks in, Green Commute Week came around and it was just the coolest thing: suddenly, I wasn’t alone in this crazy endeavor.

And speaking of crazy endeavors, we are just THREE WEEKS AWAY from the Bikes in Holland event! Next week I’ll be announcing two new places to buy tickets locally, but you can alreadybuy them online now. I hope you’ll join us!

One image stands out in my mind. It was the end of a beautiful spring day, and I was sitting in my chair under the little tree in the front yard of our old house. Relaxing as it was, I was usually on high alert out there. I felt a little bit like the pacing-and-searching lifeguards around the lazy river at Great Wolf Lodge as I continually herded my toddlers and preschoolers AWAY FROM THE STREET ALREADY! (There was something about the little stones and gravel that built up on the edges of the street that they found irresistible. You’d think it was ice cream with how strenuously they’d scream when I pulled them away. Aww, memories.)

I was used to the sounds of engines and tires on pavement, that growl and whoosh as neighbors hurried home from work and school every other crazy activity. I knew a lot of these people, knew them to be good-hearted and generous, but as they flew down the street just a few feet from where my unpredictable little ones were playing I couldn’t help but feel frustrated at how unaware they seemed to be that the speed at which they were driving truly endangered my children’s lives.

And then one day, instead of a whoosh, I heard a gentle clicking. It was Green Commute Week, and one of my neighbors was coming home from work on his bike. We acknowledged each other with that wave-and-hello that we do with neighbors we don’t know well, and then I kind of stood there in a daze for a minute.

It was one of those moments of epiphany, like a curtain raising or a fresh wind blowing, as in that instant I saw another way forward. It was like an alternate universe with all the anxiety – which I hadn’t even fully realized was present – just wiped away. If my children ran into the street, it was no big deal – they’d get knocked down if they ran in front of a bike, but their lives were secure. They could play freely and without fear.

Plus, I got to say hi to a neighbor who lived further down the street than I would have otherwise known. He probably drove by every day in his anonymous car, but coming by on a bike transformed him into an actual person who was knowable – he became a real neighbor, not a stranger.

This year, Green Commute Week starts on May 12, just two days after Bikes in Holland. It’s going to be an inspiring event, perfect for getting yourself in the mood for biking!

So. Green Commute Week. Good for your neighborhood, good for your soul. Give it a try this year!

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Announcing… BIKES IN HOLLAND!!!

It give me great pleasure to announce this year’s spring event:

BIHposter - draft 2

I could hardly be more excited.

This spring, Professor Lee Hardy of Calvin College (my alma mater) will take us on a fascinating ride through the streets of Amsterdam and Copenhagen, two of the world’s leading cities for bicycling.

Professor Hardy

Professor Hardy

Professor Hardy’s inspiring multimedia presentation demonstrates how these cities make way for people on bikes and help them get around in a way that’s fun, easy, and affordable – for everyone!

After he answers your questions, we’ll turn our attention to our own community here in Holland, Michigan. Elisa Hoekwater, author of the greater Holland region’s new non-motorized plan, will offer a brief update on where things stand around here. Your input is welcome!

Delicious cookies and coffee from Simpatico Coffee will be available for you to enjoy.

The event will be held in Fourteenth Street Christian Reformed Church’s brand-spanking-new fellowship room. It’s cozy in the best kind of way, and you’re going to love it.

Join us on Saturday, May 10 at 7:00 p.m. to celebrate Bikes in Holland!

Tickets are $10 and are available online now!

Few things are ever accomplished by one person working alone.

I need YOUR help! Here’s what you can do:

  • E-mail a friend today. Take just a second right now to copy this link – – and send it to a friend. It will bring them to this page, so they can read about this great event for themselves.
  • Join the Event Team. There’s still plenty to do, from publicity to event set-up to considering ways to help these ideas gain traction in our community.
  • Put us in contact with potential sponsors. I would still like to have a few more sponsors to help underwrite this event. Our primary sponsorship levels range from $50 to $250, and we also have a low-cost ticket sponsorship option.
  • And of course, buy your own tickets right away! Here’s the link again:
  • Contact me at with any questions or for more information. This is going to be so much fun – I hope to see you there!

    Posted in Bicycles, Community, Holland, Inspiration, Joy and Exuberant Things, Livability, Netherlands | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


    Tomorrow’s the big day, guys. I can’t wait to share this with you!


    Check back tomorrow!

    UPDATED: Follow this link for our exciting announcement about Bikes in Holland!

    Posted in Bicycles, Joy and Exuberant Things | Tagged ,

    Fun Friday Round-Up! BigTents and Great Places


    I’ve been super-busy getting the surprise ready, but wanted to get together a little something for you guys this morning anyway! So here are a few treasures I’ve found along the way. Enjoy!

    This article from Better Cities & Towns is a great read on the power of gathering in a big tent. There are groups in our communities with very different preferences and goals – or so we think. This article argues that not only do we have more in common than we think we do, but we can accomplish more than we think we can when we figure out how to work together. And it all starts with a new kind of math. An excerpt:

    One example of that new mathematics: A 9-foot travel lane on a thoroughfare costs less than a 12-foot travel lane — and it may provide more prosperity, safety, and freedom, all of which adds up to a better life for ourselves and our children. This is so because when traffic slows, more people walk. When more people walk, the stores do better, and builders provide housing. More stores and houses mean there’s more places to go nearby. More places to go means you are freer and you dump fewer carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Fewer carbon emissions means a better future.

    The “more is more” version of the American dream has been ascendent throughout North America for decades now, but are increasingly waking up to the possibility that we may have reached the point of diminishing returns. Rather than a bigger house on a bigger lot, we want to be connected to our community – from the youngest to the oldest. From Vancouver (yes, in Canada):

    The true value of this decision was crystallized for me one day, when I was at the office, having delegated my visiting parents with the task of walking my son to pre-school. I returned home to astonished anecdotes of his guided tour of The Drive: he introduced them to the many shop owners he knew, from “Auntie Tina”, who sold us fresh pasta (and gave him free cookies), to Michelle, who taught him ballet, and Kelly, who cut his hair. Every storefront had a story and a special meaning; and at the ripe young age of four, he already knew the people and places in his community like the back of his hand….

    Our children can comfortably walk, bike, or scoot to and from school every single day; and soon enough, will be able to travel freely across the entire city, without the need of a driver’s license, or a ride from Mom or Dad to get them there.

    This is what livability is all about.

    Finally, a piece on how the Dutch did it – the beginnings of a bicycle-powered culture.

    From November 1973 to January 1974, the Dutch national government prohibited the use of private motor vehicles on Sundays. This policy was meant to prepare the public for the scarcity of oil predicted ahead. The Netherlands, like the United States, was boycotted at this time by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

    No cars on Sundays meant children could roller-skate down the center of normally congested streets and adults had reason to dust off old bikes. This reclamation of public space happened at a critical time. The 1970s – perhaps like the early 21st century America – was the decade when transportation policy shifted to favor more sustainable modes.

    Off for the preschool run with a bunch of tired kids. Whew, FRIDAY!! Have a great weekend!

    Posted in Uncategorized

    It’s Coming… But Not Yet. Friday Teaser!

    So you remember last week, how we talked about that winter bird singing through the snow and how we can sing against the odds, and then I told you that this week I would have a really! exciting! announcement! to make?



    The good news is that the planned announcement has nothing to do with tortilla chips that were surreptitiously smashed into my sofa. The less-good news is that these chips represent an extra-chaotic week, and the full reveal is just plain not ready.

    I’ll just go ahead and assume you weren’t planning your WHOLE week around this announcement and save the kleenex for another time.

    But how about a little hint to tide you over?

    Springtime… sweets… and…

    Doesn't this look FUN?

    Doesn’t this look FUN?

    Any guesses?

    Full reveal coming soon, I promise. In the meantime, step outside this weekend, find yourself something beautiful, and enjoy some good winter fun.


    Posted in Bicycles, Friday Fun Day, Holland, Joy and Exuberant Things, Netherlands | Tagged , , ,

    Why the Winter Bird Sings and How You Can Too

    Sometimes all we need is a reminder of just how free we are.

    It’s early on the second day back to normal, after that endless streak of snow days at the beginning of the year.

    “Mom, can we go to the playground?”


    The playground…In the dead of winter?

    Well, I guess I could blog about it. Sure, let’s go.

    We go potty (or “go potty”) and don 27 pieces of outerwear (I count), some more than once, before crunching down to the end of the block. The temperature is in the mid-twenties, which feels unbearable in November but by January makes hats and mittens seem overdone. I can feel the beginnings of sweat at my hairline as I pull Mae across the squeaky snow and over the street-edge snowbanks in her bright new sled. I tell the five-year-old who doesn’t like to walk, the child who requested this trip, that when I was her age I walked to school every day all by myself.

    She isn’t impressed.

    The park we are going to is right in our neighborhood, only four or five blocks away. It takes up most of one city block and has a playground, a gazebo, a big open field and a ball diamond. After fighting the shifty sidewalk snow and a recalcitrant preschooler all the way here, my legs are ready for a break. I breathe a sigh of relief as we walk up…

    …and see that, of course, the sidewalks in the park haven’t been cleared. Wearily I gaze across the field of unbroken snow and contemplate turning right back around to go home.

    I’ve been hooked by the idea of winter cities, places that embrace their climate and celebrate life through every season. I can picture a miniature sledding hill in the middle of this park, sidewalks shoveled to the playground, kids playing on the playground and making snowy igloos in the baseball diamond.

    Someday. Today is… different than that.


    Abigail is suddenly inspired and leads the way, powering her way through the snow with her strong little legs. She stops in the gazebo, where the snow is shallower, and lays down for a minute before plowing on to the playground.

    In the meantime, I have Mae in the sled and am trying to stay upright as I gracelessly drag her through this impenetrable snow bog. I’m scarcely twenty feet off the sidewalk and am beginning to wonder if we’ll even make it to the playground at all.


    Ignoring her requests is ineffective as she attempts to launch herself out of her wee chariot. So out she comes..

    But the snow is “doo deep.”

    “WANT UP!”

    What have I done? What am I doing here? It’s the middle of winter and we walked to the playground?? What kind of crazy was this? I’m plowing through knee-deep snow carrying a two-year-old who has ever been in the 98th percentile for both height and weight, dragging the sled in which she now refuses to ride. Those prickles of sweat at my hairline have turned to droplets in a hurry. I stop and take a breather.


    The sky is feathery gray and blue and has that heavy, steely look it does in winter. It’s like its colors have been put on mute for the season. There are birds flittering around the tree beside me. I can’t tell what they are, but I hear a bluejay across the park.

    I pause. You can’t see the birds in this photo but a flock has hidden itself in these trees, dancing through the branches and singing their little hearts out in the middle of this Narnian season, free birds who “leap on the back of the wind,” however cold it may be.*

    Their song baffles me. Don’t they know how cold it is? Don’t they long for the spring, iwth its gentle breezes and plentiful food? I think that I might sit huddled on a branch, waiting for the season to change.

    And I wonder… am I waiting for an easier season, too? Don’t I wish there were fewer clothes to put on, fewer mittens to find, beautiful clear sidewalks to walk down? Don’t I wish for fewer dishes to wash, fewer early-morning wakings, beautiful little rooms that stay clean once I clean them?

    Have you ever put your life on pause until spring? I have.

    Maybe life is just too HARD right now. We lower our heads and hunker down, wishing for the storm to pass and waiting for an easier season to venture out.

    But there’s beauty in the storm.

    How much do we miss if we confine our dancing, confine our singing, to the days when the sun shines warm on our faces? How much of life passes us by if we flee indoors to escape the blowing snow that needles our cheeks?

    Abandoning the sled in the gazebo I press on, feet sinking deep into the dense snow.


    The playground was amazing. The slide that the girls normally fly off at top speed, landing on the hard ground in a crying crumple, is nearly snowed in. They slide down and then off the end on an invented luge run that extends the ride by a good fast four feet. Abigail faces her nemesis, the monkey bars, now plopping painlessly into the snow when she loses her grip. Every snowdrift is a little fort, piled up around slides and stairs, ready for hideouts and playing bad guys.


    Getting there was arduous, but oh, was the journey worth it.

    So much of this life is in how we face it. Whether it’s a dark night of the soul, the winter of our discontent, or a polar vortex, we’re birds in a cage with an open door. And sometimes it takes some doing, but gathering our courage and being willing to endure discomfort can make all the difference in how we experience this cold season.

    The trip back goes faster. We’ve already broken the trail out to the playground, so getting back to the sidewalk is much more manageable. Over the snowbanks we clamber, cheerfully kicking aside snowplow-flung chunks of ice to arrive back home, to the favored lunch of hot tomato soup and Sunbutter sandwiches.

    That thing you’ve been waiting to begin, that thing you’ve been waiting to be over with… will you settle into it this week? Take a little leap into the storm, put on a coat and find a spot of beauty in it? Will you decide this week to sing a song of freedom?*

    I’d love to hear. Feel free, as always, to leave a comment or email me at And stay tuned for an exciting announcement about an event that you will LOVE coming up next week!

    Because livable places are better.

    *I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou

    Posted in Holland, Inspiration, Joy and Exuberant Things, Livability, Michigan, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

    You’ve Earned a Break, Friend. It’s for Democracy.


    The day was long enough to warrant a walk that was even longer. After a day or three alone in a house with sweetly intense small people, my home had indeed begun to feel like a “vortex of isolation.”* You’ve had those too, I know.

    Fourteen blocks along shifty, snowy sidewalks, my feet are skittish at their inability to find a firm spot to land. I grump over hip-high snowbanks, then feel simultaneously guilty and grateful – guilty for my gripey discontent, grateful that our town’s sidewalk plow has allowed me any path at all through this deep midwinter night.

    Although the shop windows are dark, the sidewalks downtown are busy: a neon rainbow of runners, dogs bouncing and whining their wish to make friends, other women who have fled their homes to walk away the day.

    Is there something inherently welcoming in a coffee shop, or is it just that this place has become my sanctuary of evening escape? It’s a relief to take in the range of people at the tables around me. Some stare seriously at the white pages in front of them. There is a woman who leans in to a quiet conversation, tilts her head and laughs in an easy, familiar way. A brown-haired girl moves her hand uncertainly along her necklace and purses her lips as her companion explains something to her. These nameless people aren’t my tribe, but their presence is comforting.

    I stand at the counter, decided in my choice of jasmine tea and pretending that a whole milk mocha piled high with whipped cream isn’t even an option. As the barista walks up, I sigh. And what I mean is that I SIGH, an another-polar-vortex-is-moving-in sigh, a watch-out-we’re-deflating-a-hot-air-balloon sigh. “Oops. That wasn’t supposed to come out!” I said. She laughs. “Oh, I know that sigh! My seven-year-old stayed home sick from school and fought with his brother the whole day. I was so glad to get to come to work tonight!” We make small talk about the fine art of surviving one’s blessings as she rings up my order.

    This lighthearted conversation was exactly what I needed. It’s something we all need, as it turns out. Although we desperately need deep and dependable friendships, we also need these passing connections to help us feel like we’re part of something bigger than our own skin. If you’ve ever said, “ugh, I just need to get out!” (and you have said that, right?) you already know this somewhere in your bones.

    Urban sociologist Ray Oldenberg argues that a “third place – a place that’s not home, and not work, but a neutral place where all are welcome – is more than just a place to relax: It’s a cornerstone of thriving democracy.

    Again and again we hear about how polarized our political climate has become and how we’re migrating further to the ends of the ideological spectrum by the stand-alone opinions of talking heads. Interacting with real people – our neighbors, especially – has a moderating effect on us. We enjoy going out because we’re human, but in the process we reinforce the foundation of civil society.

    I’m not thinking about protecting democracy on this night, though. I lean back in my chair allow myself the space to feel grateful for, well, for this SPACE and for the people who fill it. They’re not the ones I’ll call when my kids are sick or when the very thought of moderating one more sibling dispute is enough to send me off the rails, but they are my neighbors. And tonight, being surrounded by their anonymous selves is just what I need.

    As you go out and about your week, will you consider meeting a friend in some third space? Of course you have cabin fever, and let’s face it, the way this winter has gone you have most certainly earned a break. But it’s bigger than that. It’s for democracy!

    If you decide you’re willing to serve your country in this way, leave a comment or shoot me an email at I’d love to hear about it.

    *This phrase from Charles Montgomery’s Happy City: Transforming Our Lives through Urban Design, which I highly, highly recommend. (That’s an affiliate link, so I’ll get a small cut of your purchase if you click through that link. Thanks!)

    Posted in Community, Livability, Walkability | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments