Category Archives: Livability

Room to Breathe

20140705-101111.jpg

It was summer at its best. Grilled chicken, watermelon, second cousins, fireworks, a toddler belly-flopping off the dock… and traffic, the unsung Independence Day tradition!

On our way home from the cottage, my family was logjammed for over an hour passing through Grand Haven. We were struck by how many people on bikes were crossing the river on the gravelly shoulder of US-31 – many of them children, most without lights, and all without protection from the crazies trying to fly around the traffic jam.

The whole city seemed to be at a standstill…

20140705-100143.jpg

… and it brought this visual to mind.

20140705-102946.jpg

Can you imagine what it would be like in our cities if we had more room to breathe?

20140705-151723.jpg
image courtesy Copenhagenize Design Co.

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 – http://wp.me/p2MikN-BQ – 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 tulip.lane@outlook.com with any questions or for more information. This is going to be so much fun – I hope to see you there!

    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?”

    20140213-132824.jpg

    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.

    20140213-133055.jpg

    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.

    “WANT OUT! WANT WALK!”

    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.

    20140213-133256.jpg

    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.

    20140213-133606.jpg

    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.

    20140213-133920.jpg

    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 tulip.lane@outlook.com. 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

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

    20140206-094912.jpg

    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 tulip.lane@outlook.com. 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!)

    Listen

    20140107-145551.jpg

    I’m sitting in my kitchen on the millionth snow day of the year, Christmas CD turned high enough to drown the sound of the child who will NOT accept that quiet time is part of her life. The snow on the garage over the fence is piled in drifts, swirling off the peak like a vanishing aura. The paint is white, and green, and peeling. It looks like it used to be pretty.

    Peeling paint. Broken roads. So much to be done, so few resources. I look around my own house – at the dishes, at the laundry, at the children – and hardly know where to start. Multiply that a thousand times over and we’re looking at a community that’s beginning to crumble. Just a bit. It’s still a great place; better than ever in some ways. But what the tourist can’t see, we can.

    So where do we start?

    Got me.

    I have a million and one ideas. But are they the right ones? Will they work? How do we know?

    Listen.

    This year, Traversing Tulip Lane will strive to be a collector of voices.

    We’ll be listening to the guy on the bus wearing the old Pistons jacket, and the smiling brown-haired lady who works at the hospital and gets off at my stop. To the family whose street was just widened and the dad in the pick-up line as exasperated as I am with so much reckless drivers around the school. To small business owners and decision-makers and the guy I passed in a snowbank this week walking his malamutes before bed. To writers and talking heads and experts of all stripes.

    To you.

    If you’d like to participate or have someone in mind you think I should talk to, please leave a comment below or e-mail me at tulip dot lane at outlook dot com.

    I Love Having Options

    This is the way the morning started: with a fried battery.

    20131127-104332.jpg

    This was not the plan.

    One of the problems with auto-oriented development is that we’ve lost resilience. In our old suburban home, a dead car – especially in the winter – meant I was housebound.

    But here’s the great thing! We live in town now, so I have options. I could walk or ride my bike downtown and to the library to run my errands – even if it was a chilly 22F, the streets are clear and I can find most of what I need within a mile. Or I could catch the bus – there’s a stop right across the street from our house. Now that we walk CJ to school, we’ve (thankfully!) lost some of that pressing panic of figuring out how to switch up our schedules at the last minute to get her where she needs to be.

    I ended up deciding to take the bus up to my meeting… and then I walked outside and saw my husband standing next to a car that was now running. Oh well! I took the bus anyway, now feeling a little bit indulgent for the time it would take.

    It does take extra time to take the bus using this small-town transit system. But it was easy, the drivers were pleasant, the bus was warm – and most importantly, it got me where I needed to go. And if there are still people out there grousing that the buses are always empty, I can definitively say that was not my experience. All the buses I was on were full or nearly so – and this in the middle of the day.

    Plus, I wrote this whole post while someone else was driving me around. Maybe not such a useless use of time after all!

    Options. I can’t say enough good things about them.

    Today we begin our holiday hiatus. May you have a wonderful, blessed time with family and friends. I’ll see you back here in 2014 with an exciting new series answering the question of why we should bother changing the status quo!

    We’re Not Even Trying

    The housing inspector was going to be at our house at 9:00 a.m. sharp today, and my husband was gone for an early meeting. That meant that I had to make sure all three girls were ready for their day and out the door at 7:40 a.m. Sticking to the timetable was crucial.

    In the swirl of

    WHERE ARE YOUR SHOES???
    and
    HOW IS YOUR HAIR NOT COMBED YET??

    I decided that it would make best sense to drive the three blocks to school today so I could do my other two drop-offs directly from there. For five minutes I sat in the driveway, pulling forward and back as walkers passed down the sidewalk, waiting for traffic to clear. Once we were finally on our way, we passed a dad walking his pink-fleeced little girl to school. For five more minutes I worked my minivan through the traffic snarl outside the school to get to the elementary school drop-off line. As I clicked open the door, the dad and his little girl walked up to the kindergarten classroom.

    For crying out loud, WE’RE NOT EVEN TRYING HERE. Walking this journey is obviously more efficient than driving, but some days it’s scary as hell. All those cars I was tangled in are in a HURRY, and trying to walk through an intersection with no crosswalk and no crossing guard and no anything at all but raw courage and a teeny flame of anger that we are so freaking uncivilized takes a lot of energy and a certain amount of disregard for one’s own mortality. And half the reason everyone’s in a car to begin with is that most of us don’t really want to contemplate death first thing on a Thursday morning, before we’ve even finished our morning coffee.

    I’m tired of pretending that this is working for us.

    I watched the video below first thing this morning. It’s an almost surreal foil to my maddening morning drop-off experience and I just can’t shake the contrast; it’s been on constant replay in my head all morning.

    It brings you to the bike route that passes beneath the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, where you can take in Gothic architecture and modern art and street performers playing Bach on your way to school. Take a look at all the different types of people – especially families – on all the different bikes passing through. And imagine – imagine! – if there were anywhere in America where you could have this kind of experience during your morning commute.

    (If you don’t have a lot of time, consider clicking to the middle of the video – it’ll give you a good sense of what it’s about. You can read the original post by Mark Wagenbuur of Bicycle Dutch here.)

    The Netherlands hasn’t always been a beautiful place to get around by bike. In the 1970s, they were every bit as auto-centric as we are now. They decided that it wasn’t in their national interests to continue down that path and made a change.

    We can, too.

    But we have to try.

    So today I’m feeling all frustrated and ragey and like it is all futile, all of it, whatever it is. And so what I’m looking for from you is just this – your wisdom. What do YOU do when you feel like the mountain that stands before you is just too big?