Someone give me a HUG

Soooo…. I just had to be dorky and write this title since tonight I went to my first HUG meeting. Sounds like a support group for insecure and lonely people, doesn’t it? It’s an acronym for Hilltop Urban Gardens. A few weeks ago, when I was starting to have a few freak out moments, wondering what the h-e-double hockey sticks we had done moving to the Hilltop, I just decided that I needed to find out what is going on out here in terms of groups to connect with. I went on Facebook and just typed in Hilltop. I found some people actually just started a lot of groups called “Hilltop”. It’s like starting a Facebook group called Texas and hoping that people will “Like” it. Sort of a long shot. Well, I did find HUG in the mix of everything and decided to Like it. Tonight I actually went to the meeting, the very first meeting, and ended up running into a girl I know and also the organizer did a Master Gardener program with my  mom so she knows her, and now me. So reassuring to start running into people who I have a small connection with.


This is something I’ve noticed about this area, we all live close together. Profound, I know. People who are here are very aware of how intense it can be to live here but so far everyone we’ve met loves living here, even with all its craziness. I’ve lived in other cities where you meet up with people but they often live on the other side of town from you, not unusual. Here I’ve been fascinated how many of us all live just within a few blocks from one another, it’s like an actual community. Imagine that!


The meeting was great. I’ve always wanted to be a  part of an urban gardening program. In Madison there were tons of community gardens but individuals basically did their own gardening alone. People rented a plot and just grew stuff. I wanted to be a bit more involved with the aspect of food justice and that  hadn’t developed there yet. If I wanted to be a part of that I knew I’d have to start something and I  am not in a position to take that on at this point in life. So tonight I was very inspired by our tiny little group of gardeners who want to develop a program that ties a neighborhood together. I was even able to bring my ideas to the table, which I was a bit reluctant to do since I’m so new to this area and even though I grow food I’m still fairly new at it. I’ve only been doing it for 5 years and everything I do is self taught. Some of these people have taken programs and college classes in agricultural development.   I’ve also never had a garden in the NW so there is a lot I still don’t know about gardening in this climate.


The idea on the table was a Harvest Party. They wanted to get ideas in that category, just ideas thrown out. No right or wrong, just ideas. I wasn’t sure what they wanted so I just wrote “Eat family style, rather than buffet style, at tables to create a hospitable atmosphere”. They loved it. It sparked a lot of conversation on what it means to draw people together and empower them. I also realized that I was in a room with gardeners and not outreach coordinators, something I’ve been doing a long time, so I could actually see that I did bring something to the table. I also suggested that we mix aesthetics in with The Farm, as it will be called, in order to show the beauty of agriculture and use local artists to contribute. Looks like we might fuse the Hilltop Artists In Residence to get more people involved.


In short it was a rad night. I’m finding a place for myself here in this urban jungle. It’s funny how much Matt and I talk about this place and it’s quirkiness, how this isn’t what we were planning to thrust our family into but here we are. In a sense we’ve always wanted this but we’re still adjusting to it and  taking it all in. Our neighbors still have a toilet in the back yard and it’s an anomaly to me, lots of things around here are. Why take a shopping cart home if you only have one bag in it? Why leave a Barbie doll wedged into the gutter of your house for months on end? Why smoke crack? Why leave a used mattress on the front lawn? Peculiar and intriguing. Sad and hopeful. This place is a strange plus and minus of events and scenery. Today it was horribly gray in the sky but there was a rainbow above, a double rainbow even (I know….”It’s full-on a double rainbow!!! What does it mean???”) The lovely lives next to the unlovely all the time around these parts.


I’m excited to see a garden spring out of a vacant lot. Beauty for ashes! Dirt, food, flowers….I’m inspired by the commitment some of our neighbors have to make this place matter….


A child shall lead them

Wow, that’s a loaded title for a post! Recently we’ve been doing the little things to make a difference in our neck of the hood. Calling in for the recovery team to grab those dastardly grocery carts is only one of the areas we’re trying to clean up around here. Matt and I have always been big garbage collectors in the sense that we pick up rubbish when we’re on walks and such. It’s funny how much kids observe in their parents because now our son is starting to pick up rubbish on his own accord around our new house.

This photo is taken because I was so impressed with his initiative in picking up trash. I need to state that he is NOT one of those kids that does acts of kindness and goodness to receive praise from his parents, he’s not fishing for validation. We usually have to go a long distance in verbal discourse to explain why he should do the right thing. He’s a very kind hearted child but really in a lot of ways just does what he wants to do.  This day, however, he was playing outside and I kept hearing him call my name from the front. I came outside and found he had piled the wagon with trash from the neighborhood and was getting ready to dispose of it. He wasn’t trying to impress me he was just showing me something that he did. I was so inspired by him that I came out and joined him. While we were picking up trash a boy came by pushing a shopping cart (have I mentioned that I hate those things) and, bless his heart, he stopped and grabbed some pieces, took them over to us and threw them in our bag. It was a really funny and cool moment for me.


I can’t seem to stop Oliver from picking up garbage even while we’re taking walks around the neighborhood and, even though I think it’s great, this area is still rough enough that I need to remind his innocent little self not to pick up anything that looks like a long, clear balloon (yep, those are everywhere) or something that looks like the thing they give him a poke with at the doctor’s office (the word needle to a kid who isn’t familiar with them is a bit of a mystery). Chloe still doesn’t quite get it, bless her heart but help us, Lord. She picks up plastic bottles that still have some sugary swill left inside and puts her mouth around the lid when we aren’t looking. DEAR GOD! Now, it’s just the cap but still, DEAR GOD! I think she’s secretly hoping that some of the flat and stale soda will find it’s way into her mouth.

I’m surprised how much this act has rubbed off on my kids but Oliver specifically says he wants to do it because he wants our street to look nice and not junky (probably those are a bit of our words mixed in there). I do like his way of phrasing it though. He has a way with words. Two days ago he said that the things Jesus did when he was on the earth were ,”hung out with people and had a lovely time”. Basically, right? Well, our kids are inspiring us as it sounds like we are inspiring them. There’s a long way to go here but all of this is a start.

Garbage day is tomorrow….

….and still we have no can. The city was supposed to come by and replace it after someone swiped ours last week. I’ve called four different times since ‘the incident’, as it shall be called, and still we have yet to put our accumulating rubbish into a new bin. Our recycling is piling up too because we still don’t have a bin for that either.

We’ll see if the bins even come by this week’s garbage pick up. A friend suggested, while her tongue was firmly planted in her cheek, that we dump the rubbish on the street.  I’m sure she isn’t familiar with where we live. One thing I’ve noticed about living in the Hilltop is that you really do have to respond in the opposite emotion here. It can get the job done, albeit slowly, but it can also move you into a state of not being as afraid or as overpowered. Some things here really are beyond my control, like the teenagers who walk in front of our house at night yelling and cussing. I’m not really about to poke my head out and say, “Hey guys, can you keep it down a bit?” If they were actually fighting that would be different.

Take our neighbors for example. A few have actually surprised me. A woman who looks like a ‘stereotypical tomboy’ and a pretty tough one at that lit up when I said hello. She is actually really sweet, she just looks mad and mean. I say hi to her and I USE HER NAME when I see her (that one is huge for softening people). I use all of my neighbor’s names when I see them. It’s funny how much it turns them into real people again, not just loud neighbors. It puts me back in a place of ownership rather than powerlessness, it’s two people communicating instead of me and this stranger.  It makes a huge difference. So does smiling at people when you’re walking around your street instead of avoiding eye contact. This area has such a painful history where this was a very high crime and very violent place. I think there were a lot of intimidated people walking around living in fear. I’m really trying to respond differently to that. My kids are a great asset in this. They say hello to everyone and talk to all kinds of strangers. Their innocence is delightful and inspiring to me. They don’t seem at all afraid of this area and they actually seem to enjoy the freedom of having a new home. The neighbor’s pit bull is just an added bonus to them. Good times!

feral doggies

One thing I’ve often noticed about a rougher area is the amount of rough and intimidating dogs there are. Just yesterday I saw a man playing catch with his unleashed dog (yes, I noticed no leash) and it was one of those crazy pit bull breeds. It’s not really a pit bull but it’s a mix of sorts and it’s just all muscle and teeth. Matt says I need to research these dogs more and that my concerns of living in a neighborhood with so many seemingly feral dogs is a bit unfounded. My reply was that golden retrievers and cocker spaniels are reported to bite or attack people more than pit bulls and Rottweilers but when those lil’ dogs bite they just draw blood and cause you to cry out for mommy. When the latter attack they can kill or maul, causing you to meet Jesus early.

Our next door neighbors had animal control called on them because they were keeping a pit bull puppy locked in a shed with no windows, quick recipe for doggy aggression.  The puppy ran away for about two weeks but he has returned again so we’re living next to one of these growing dogs. I have a theory about people, mainly dudes, that get these types of dogs and raise them to be aggressive. I think it’s a ‘my dog can kick the crap out of your dog’ syndrome, stemming from the  ‘little man syndrome’, not to be confused with ‘little willy syndrome’ (to put it tastefully). I have a theory, and tell me if you disagree, that some owners of these dogs get them because they are known to be bad-ass dogs who will attack people just because they have a lot of testosterone flowing through them and haven’t always been treated well. I’ve heard when these dogs are raised well they actually make fabulous pets, even if you have kids. The pediatrician where I take my kids has a therapy dog and this was one of the reasons I chose the practice. I envisioned my kids getting a vaccination and a cute and cuddly golden retriever coming into the room to offer solace to a hurting child. When I arrived at the pediatrician for the first time I saw a huge black rottweiler named Teddy sitting behind the desk and I asked, “Is THAT the therapy dog?” Yes, it is. Oh….I didn’t know those types to be docile creatures…. Yes, the doctor trains her dogs really well. Okie dokie. Turns out it actually is a super sweet animal.

So my theory stands that usually it’s dudes who suffer from a sort of Napoleon complex get dogs that would normally be great family pets and turn them into unpredictable animals that can turn on someone or another animal in a moment just to prove some sort of bad-ass-ness. Or maybe it’s a social status thing. I’m not saying they are getting dogs in order to be a threat to the public but you have to be so aware of a breed of animal and raise and train it well or any dog has the potential to turn into a dog that attacks.  My friend who lives a few blocks away was walking her dog, Fletch, and another dog came out of nowhere and started to attack him. Somehow he let loose but when she came back to find the owner and give him/her a what’s-what she saw him attacking another dog then he ran off and she heard gun shots, I know…I live in the hood. Turns out that an owner saw said ‘puppy’ attacking his dog and tried to fire off a few rounds to scare the dog. It worked but now there is a feral dog running wild in the neighborhood somewhere.

I’m trying to be patient as I watch this neighbor puppy get into the garbage can and dig through diapers (not mine, theirs. They have kids too), and as I stare out the window at several makeshift fences built to keep the puppy in the back yard I think to myself: One day, and it won’t be too long, that dog is going to grow into his huge paws and just push through those gates, running wild in the neighborhood. Eesh… Yesterday I saw he was back and we all walked out the back door to the car. I said a silent, “Oh great” then I looked over and saw the owner. Ooops, I think he heard me. Maybe he’ll think I said, “OH! GREAT!!!”  But then I said, “Sooooo… you got your puppy back? Um…I notice it’s a pit bull….and I’m sure you notice I have little kids….” He was trying to reassure me that all would be well within the universe since this dog is so loving. Dear Lord I hope so. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt for me to carry around a bit of doggie mace. Sorry to all of you animal activists but I care about my kids more. Don’t worry I would never mace a dog just for the heck of it but I’d do it faster than you could say “Animal Control” if an unleashed doggy approaches. Take that you little Shit-zu!