Issue 30: In Praise of the Standing Date

Melody WarnickBlacksburg, Community, Love Where You Live experiment

For the past few months, the women at my church have been joining small interest groups—you know, like Meetups, but slightly more old-fashioned. Book club is an old standby, but now there’s a knitting group, a play group, a quilting group, a family history group, and so on. I was put in charge of the lunch group, because eating at restaurants is one of my core competencies. All I do is set a date and choose a place. As leadership roles go, I’ve had more challenging ones.

Who comes? Sometimes thirteen of us and we have to push together tables and apologize to other customers. Sometimes three of us, chatting quietly in a booth. I don’t always feel like showing up myself. (TBH, I rarely feel like doing anything at all.)

That’s where the standing appointment saves me from myself. Inevitably, once I’m eating my salad (just kidding, my burger) and discussing careers and kids, I’m happy I came. I just regularly forget to remember how happy I’ll be in the future.

While scheduling a hangout far in advance laughs in the face of spontaneity, I’m not sure much spontaneity exists in the modern world anyway, or that it matters. What we really need are ironclad methods to strengthen human relationships despite our laziness, busyness, and disraction, so that we keep building community even when we don’t feel like it or think we don’t have time for it.

In a beautiful essay in Quartz, Jenny Anderson writes about how painstaking this process of building connections really is. “Community is about a series of small choices and everyday actions: how to spend a Saturday, what to do when a neighbor falls ill, how to make time when there is none. Knowing others and being known; investing in somewhere instead of trying to be everywhere. Communities are built, like Legos, one brick at a time. There’s no hack.”

Well, maybe there’s one hack. Calendar the relationships you want to keep.

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Shameless self-promotion portion of the newsletter: I was asked to be the inaugural guest on a new podcast called Wellness 3.0, hosted by Amy Baglan, the smart, chill founder of MeetMindful. They’re launching a new app called Fabriq to help you socialize IRL, so we talked about finding friends and Sunday night dinners and saying yes and all sorts of good stuff related to social wellness. Go have a listen!

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7 items of interest

  1. How one town destroyed by disaster is trying to create a more vibrant version of itself by outlawing sprawl.
  2. Do you have a favorite place on earth?
  3. Better uses for big box stores.
  4. Leslie Knope is my spirit animal so I am overjoyed that someone created a Knope award for best government places.
  5. “My girlfriend recently moved to Iowa from Manhattan. She cut her rent by two-thirds while almost tripling her square footage.” Why the Midwest wins at quality of life.
  6. There is a Best Places board game, and the character cards include Tastemaker, Small Business Owner, Retiree and Hometown Hero. Sounds about right.
  7. Miami doesn’t have a Chinatown. So it’s making one.

xoxo, Melody

P.S. All the best bonus links are in my newsletter. But you have to subscribe.

Issue 29: Spring Will Heal You

Melody WarnickBlacksburg, Love Where You Live experiment, Place love

Spring is awesome.

In early March I got a message from a reader in Calgary, Canada, who was like, “I’m really struggling to love my city right now.”

I said, “Girl, everybody hates their city in winter.”

It’s weird because some data from Robert Putnam suggests that levels of social capital are higher the farther north you go. The theory is that in the kinds of places that are periodically afflicted with polar vortexes, community members rely on each other more for emotional and physical support. (Witness the good news stories about teenagers shoveling out a neighbor who needs dialysis.)

These are Little House on the Prairie places where winter was historically wiled away with visits and shared meals. That heritage of taking care of others seemingly passes down through a community’s DNA, despite our world of central heating and remote-start vehicles.

Nevertheless, I find myself withdrawing in winter. Like the Pandapas Pond frogs that disappear into the muck come December, I burrow. All my place attachment behaviors recede. I never want to leave my house. (IT’S COLD.) So I see friends less, walk less, skip community events, and don’t volunteer. By March I’ve forgotten what it means to act like someone who loves their place.

Spring is my time to hit the reset button. Here in Blacksburg, we’ve had a string of 50-degree days, not exactly midsummer but we’ll take it. Last night, while my girls were off at church activities, I took a walk to the library. After five minutes of wrestling with wonky earbuds, I unplugged. I listened. To my own breathing, to a couple women urging on their reluctant dog, to robins and cardinals building nests in the trees. The full moon was rising. The light on the daffodils seemed pale and silvery. I thought, “How impossibly beautiful it is here.”

It’s easier to love your town in nice weather. It just is. So if you’ve hibernated this winter like I have, let’s remind ourselves how to like where we live. We’ll sit outside in the sunshine, work in the garden, and say hello to neighbors. If it’s not springy quite yet where you live, it’s coming, I promise.

I’m traveling a lot for work these days. I leave for Michigan in a couple hours. But I’ll be back on Friday, and I think that this weekend I’ll go to the farmers’ market. At long last.

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Shameless self-promotion portion of the newsletter: Moving soon? Know someone who is? Enroll in Relocation Recovery, the online course I helped create with tons of tricks, tips, and guidance for feeling settled after a move, all for $25!

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7 items of interest

1. 61 ways you don’t need permission to make your town better.
2. Has faith helped you make a moving decision? Or feel better about moving altogether? (My friend Rachel wrote this one.)
3. How to build communities designed for happiness and well-being.
4. Do you keep seeing the same stranger everywhere? It’s a thing. Read a few more adorable stories here.
5. More anchor institutions should buy local.
6. Reason to throw a party: “Every time people gather, they are being brought into the opportunity to help one another, to do what they couldn’t do or think up or heal alone.”
7. Why community development and decision-making is like making biscuits from scratch, not popping the Pillsbury can. (BTW, these girls are awesome.)

xoxo, Melody

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Issue 28: How to Live to Be 92

Melody WarnickBlacksburg

The other morning, as I drove home from a ridiculously early-morning class that I teach, I caught my neighbor, June, crossing the street in her robe and slippers.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Oh, I’m just going to put Betty’s newspaper on her porch.”

I knew the answer already, because I see it from my window sometimes. June scoops up Betty’s newspaper and drops it on her porch. The next day, here comes Betty across the street in her robe to do the same thing for June. They wrestle each other for garbage privileges too, taking turns wheeling the other’s can back up the drive on pickup days.

Honestly, it took me a while to figure out what was going on because it struck me as slightly odd. Clearly no one in this scenario actually needs the help. And yet they keep doing it for one another.

Did I mention that June is 92? And Betty is maybe 20 years younger? They’ve been neighbors for almost as long as I’ve been alive. I’m guessing they’ve been performing this ritual of kindness for so long it’s calcified into habit, something that barely requires thought.

It is, let’s be honest, not the kind of habit that gets written up in articles about the morning routines of successful people. But everything about this ritual of neighborliness or something like it would get your day off to a good start.

  • You begin with a quick win.
  • You put the rest of your priorities in perspective.
  • You tell your brain what matters most so you’re less likely to freak out about little stuff.
  • You feel really good about yourself.
  • You live to be 92.
  • It’s working for Betty and June.

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    Shameless self-promotion portion of the newsletter: One event I’ll be speaking at this spring that I want to invite you to is the Young Smart & Local conference in Philadelphia in April. If you work in economic development, higher education, business or government, and if you’re interested in attracting and retaining young talent (and you should be), join me! The slate of speakers is fantastic.

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    7 items of interest

    1. “Support your local and downtown public libraries” and 24 other simple ways to make where you live better.
    2. News you can use: a Japanese town with a rapidly declining population has enlisted the help of a mascot that is “an apple that’s been inhabited by the spirit of a dead cat, and he absolutely shreds on the drums.” I’m not sure why we haven’t seen this approach to talent attraction used more widely. (Important: This story mentions Gritty. It’s now my goal to bring him up in every newsletter.)
    3. An Australian town took a slightly different (but also unconventional) route to a turnaround.
    4. Is this a creepy or cute way to attract visitors to a tiny town? You decide.
    5. Enough Pie, an organization in Charleston, South Carolina, that I wrote about in This Is Where You Belong, compiled an awesome list of resources for would-be placemakers and neighborhood catalyzers (and I promise I’m not recommending it just because my book is among the recommended reading).
    6. How to make friends in a new city (or for that matter, an old one). #1: Capitalize on weak ties.
    7. Watch this video. Five minutes will completely convince you of the power of urban planning to make city centers places where people want to be. (Related: Australians talk about their favorite public spaces.)

    xoxo, Melody

    P.S.—Want to get extra links to Youtube videos that make you cry and riveting longform reads and surprising facts and novels I loved? You gotta subscribe.

    Issue 27: The Joy of #Goals

    Melody WarnickBlacksburg, Place love, Virginia

    As lovely as Christmas was this year—and believe me, eating cookies and bingeing The Final Table on Netflix satisfied the soul—I was like “BRING IT” to New Year’s. Fresh starts! Clean slates! Hooray!

    That I sing this particular hallelujah chorus won’t surprise anyone who’s read This Is Where You Belong—but it may surprise you that I still, despite all the research, believe in my heart of hearts that there are moments when big change is indeed possible, and New Year’s is one of them.

    I love setting goals, pulling some purpose out of my general aimlessness. January 1 isn’t magical, but it does remind me to push past inertia and kick the ball of my life somewhere else. In fact, I’m still crafting my resolutions, using the newness of the year as an opportunity to reflect on what I want to do differently.

    One thing I’m doing now. I invited some neighbors to dinner this week. Nothing fancy, just some veggie lasagna on a week night, but I’ve been meaning to do it for months. It feels good to finally make an effort at connection instead of looking for the reasons why I can’t now. (Too busy, too stressed, and so on.)

    Are you looking to change? Consider joining Janssen Bradshaw at Everyday Reading for her January book club where they’ll be discussing, ta-da, This Is Where You Belong. A few chapters a week, no big deal. If it’s on your nightstand and you haven’t gotten around to it, this is for you. Or if you’ve read it but want a refresher or someone to talk with about all your awesome placemaking ideas, come on over. I’ll be chiming in answering questions later in the month too.

    And as a second impetus for January-related changes, I’m overjoyed to share this printable Love Where You Live checklist, designed by reader and calligrapher Emma Ashby. It’s a lot to get on one page, but she achieved it, and it’s adorable.

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    Shameless self-promotion portion of the newsletter: Haven’t we had quite enough shameless self-promotion already? No? Okay, then get yourself and your geographically unstable friends over to enroll in Relocation Recovery, the new online course I helped create. Tons of tricks, tips, and guidance for feeling settled after a move, all for $25! And if you don’t already, come follow me on Instagram. It’s my favorite social media platform (not saying a lot), and I’m almost to 1,000 followers. The suspense is killing me!

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    7 items of interest

    1. “Be comically aggressive in your efforts to make friends” and other lessons from starting over in a new city.
    2. No one’s buying starter homes anymore. (I WAS QUOTED IN THE NEW YORK TIMES! WHAT.)
    3. You don’t have to put your startup in Silicon Valley.
    4. 101 books about where and how we live. I loved Our Towns, Evicted, and The Perfect $100,000 House.
    5. A discussion from On Being about landscapes and beauty and what they do for the soul.
    6. What it’s like to have 12 homes in 15 years. (She beats me.)
    7. Hackable Cities, a beautiful guide to placemaking where you live.

    Want more goodness? Book recommendations, video links, articles that have helped me? You have to be a subscriber.

    The One Where I Share Some Minor Obsessions

    Melody WarnickBuy local, Stuff I love

    My Favorite Things 2018


    Not long after I moved from Austin, Texas, to Blacksburg, Virginia, I met this beautiful blonde woman named Melissa at church. We started chatting, and eventually she mentioned that she ran her own blog. “Oh yeah?” I said, “What’s your blog called?”

    “320 Sycamore,” she told me.

    Friends, it was like realizing that Julia Roberts had been sitting in the next pew.

    Long before I knew that Blacksburg, Virginia, existed, 320 Sycamore had filled my feedreader. That I’d ended up in the same place as Melissa—the Melissa—felt like a sign. STAY HERE, the sign said. GOOD THINGS ARE COMING.

    Eventually Melissa’s family moved away (sob). Meanwhile, I wrote a whole book, This Is Where You Belong, about how I stayed and put down roots here—and how you can make wherever you live feel like home. Friends and neighbors like Melissa make a big part of the magic happen.

    This Is Where You Belong Book Cover

    Melissa’s annual Favorite Things feature is an obsession, so I was thrilled to be asked to participate this year. Gonna be real here: Tons of my favorite things come straight from the interwebs. But one thing I learned writing my book is that buying stuff locally connects you to your community—and may just make a small business owner’s sugar plum dreams come true.

    I wrote a Buy Local gift guide last year. These items look different but the idea is the same: When you can, buy the books at the local bookshop, the games at the toy store down the street, the bag at the local boutique. It makes your community thrive and helps you fall in love with where you live..

    Seriously, though, Favorite Things is the best. Read on to see mine, and check out the rest of Melissa’s posse this year:

    12 on Main
    Finding Lovely
    Life With Fingerprints

    Lil’ Luna
    Hello Allison
    Creations by Kara

    Lolly Jane
    Natalie—guest post at 320 Sycamore

    SCOUT bag

    SCOUT Deano Tote Bag

    I use this enormous workhorse bag to haul my stuff for seminary, the early-morning scripture study class I teach for teenagers at my church. This particular one came from an amazing Blacksburg shop called T.R. Collection, and I adore it. Water-resistant. Durable as heck. Lugs 50 lbs. of candy without complaint. (Don’t ask). Makes your beach trips super-stylish.

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    GAP Cable-Knit Sweater

    I’ve been hunting for years for a lovely, simple cable-knit sweater that would stand up to machine washing because ain’t nobody got time to dry clean. This beauty from the GAP is it. You can even throw it in the dryer. #miracle


    GAP Sweater
    YouCopia SpiceLiner

    Spice Drawer Organizers

    My family built a new house this spring, and for weeks after we moved in all I wanted to show off to visitors was the utopia that was my spice drawer. No more falling-over lazy Susans or rooting through piled-up shelves to find the one container of cumin that got shoved to the back. No ma’am. I stuck these inexpensive little YouCopia SpiceLiner organizers into a drawer next to the stove and the angels sang. They’re rubbery, so they hold the spices in place, with the labels facing up like nature meant it to be.

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    Skinny Pop

    It says “skinny” right on the bag of Skinny Pop popcorn! I think that means I can eat the whole container of crunchy goodness and never gain weight! Yay!


    Skinny Pop
    Burt's Bees Lip Balm

    Burt’s Bee’s Tinted Lip Balm

    We live far from all our extended family, so figuring out Christmas gifts for the cousins in Utah is an ordeal. A few years ago we took a cue from 320 Sycamore and mailed a box of our favorite things: HydroFlask, issue of Country Living magazine, Trader Joe’s chocolate-covered peanut butter pretzels. Everyone adored it, and last year, my sister-in-law’s family sent us their favorite things for Christmas. My niece Emily included this Burt’s Bees tinted lip balm, and I agree with her 100%. It’s a fave, hydrating with just a small hit of color.
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    I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

    I don’t know what it is, but Christmas time always gives me a hankering to read a really dark mystery. You too? No? Okay. British novelists P.D. James and Ruth Rendell are holiday standbys for me, but this year I highly recommend Michelle McNamara’s best-selling true-crime book I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, about the hunt for the Golden State Killer. Lock your windows. Or discover what I thought of all the other books I read this year at Goodreads, where I specialize in one-sentence reviews.


    I'll Be Gone in the Dark
    Double Ditto

    Double Ditto Game

    I’m a reluctant board game player at best, to the chagrin of my 11-year-old. Double Ditto even I can handle because (a) it only takes 10 minutes a round, and (b) it’s actually fun trying to figure out what the other players will name in response to a category like “Foods you put in a refrigerator” or “Things you clean every day” so you can win points for matching. Hilarity ensues.
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    Nugget Ice Maker

    I don’t have this nugget ice maker and honestly, I may not even want it because I have friends who have it. That’s all I need. I just want other people in my life to own a pebble ice maker, and I want them to bring me gallon-size bags of pebble ice every few weeks, and I want to horde the pebble ice in my freezer and then periodically scoop it out and eat the pebble ice. I may have a problem. Help.


    Ice Machine
    Q&A A Day

    Q&A a Day Five-Year Journal

    How many stamps are in your passport? What’s the next book you want to read? Who would you trade places with for just one day? (One, Oliver Twist, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.) The questions in Q&A A Day rattle your brain in the best way, and four lines to write an answer keep it pleasingly doable for busy folk. Probably getting these for my daughters this year.
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    Home State Apparel Camp Mug

    My unofficial research shows that basically everyone likes stuff with a picture of their state on it. I’m partial to this blue-rimmed enamel camp mug from North Carolina company Home State Apparel—with a map of Virginia for me, duh, but you order the home state of your choice.


    Camp Mug