Opinion

A few years ago, I got a taste of local politics, up-close and personal.  I met and became acquainted with many of the county’s Democratic Party leaders.  I’m still friends with most of them.

At one time, I think they had hope in me and might have even supported me as a candidate one day.  After I protested the treatment of Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primary and voted for McCain, most were not overly impressed with me.  I don’t regret that vote.  Ok, maybe a little since Palin was on the ticket but most Republicans feel the same way today.   It’s all water under the bridge now.

At the same time local democrats were trying to keep me from slipping to the dark side, local republicans were wooing me to their camp.  I found it all amusing and perplexing because I didn’t know what to think of it all.  All I did was write goofy things on a blog, maybe occasionally writing something intelligent, but for the most part I was just trying to lighten the mood.

I don’t know what to think of that time period of my life.  I’m not sure what purpose it served but I learned a lot from it.  I also met a lot of amazing people.  I know what local politics is all about and it’s much more personal than people may realize.

Politics, at least at the local level, is in reach for nearly anybody.  That’s why I love local politics so much.  Even someone like me could have stepped into that circle, if I hadn’t been such a die-hard Hillary fan at the wrong time. Ha!

I think in my attempt to be independent, I wound up ticking off everybody equally at some point in time.  That was never my intention.  I can’t help it.  I’m just a very independently-minded person.

Right now I’m going to college and studying environmental science and natural resources.  Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be an environmentalist lobbying Congress.  I might be wading in muddy rivers collecting water samples and counting fish.  I might run for a local office one day. I don’t know what my future holds but I know that it is futile for me to avoid writing about and being involved in local politics.

My aunt wrote something on Facebook the other day regarding her political views and that she wouldn’t be able to remain silent forever.  She warned her liberal friends of her conservative views and if they couldn’t take it, they better just unfriend her right then and there.

I think in our fears of being “unfriended” on Facebook and in society, some of us have become very boring people.  There’s no reason to be obnoxious and rude about our beliefs but there’s no reason to be silent either.

So, with that said, I’m going to continue writing about politics and just let her rip.  I can’t make everyone happy and I think that’s what I’ve been trying to do for too long.

If I’ve learned anything, I learned that isn’t possible.

 

 

 

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When I first heard of the city’s plan to have an administrative court, I wondered how well it would go – how fairly cases would be tried.  It was created primarily to crack down on property owners violating city codes.

There’s no doubt a crackdown was and is needed, however there’s been some bumps in the road, like tearful grandmothers, outraged pastors, and landlords having to pay the penalties for their tenants bad behavior.

Property owners should always receive a written warning and given the chance to comply before being issued a fine but that wasn’t happening in every case.  Why?  I don’t know.  That’s counterintuitive to creating an environment in which the city and its residents are working together to improve the city. Obviously some tweaking, common sense and compassion will make the administrative court work more fairly.

For the worst offenders, such as slum lords, I say go after them and fine them up the wazoo but have a heart for grandmas meaning to do the right thing.  It’s just common sense.

 

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I’ve been watching This Old House episodes on my laptop.  I’ve been watching This Old House for the last 30 years and it’s probably what contributed to my love of remodeling my old house.

One of the things I enjoy about This Old House are the New England homes that they feature.  The historic significance of that part of the country and the urban areas seem so interesting and lively.  I’m envious.

A few years ago, we were considering moving to North Carolina and I was looking at homes in the Raleigh area, just curious to see how much they cost compared to Decatur.  The home prices are very reasonable there. It’s not New England but it’s a part of the country that is surprisingly progressive like them Yankees up north but still had plenty of southern charm and hospitality.

What I noticed when browsing real estate listings was how most of the homes were built in the past 10-15 years.  Many of the neighborhoods were within walking distance to cafes, small shops, parks and public gathering places.  I think I would like living there.  Scratch that; I would love living there!  I’m hick enough to be southern but liberal enough to be progressive.  It’s right up my alley.

But then, there’s Decatur:  The town that’s been my home since my birth. I’ve become convinced that, like fixing up my old house and trying to perfect it, I feel the same way about Decatur.  More than anything, I’m just stubborn and ornery.  I want so bad to get the last laugh on all those factories and businesses that left us and did us so dirty.  Just a quick laugh is all I’m looking for and then I want us all to move on with our lives to a much better future.  I want us to stop beating up on ourselves and referring to our city as the “Dirty D”.

Decatur is dirty in some aspects but so is every other city.  We forget that sometimes.  It’s true that there are neighborhoods in Decatur that are an absolute disaster and dangerous.  That’s not acceptable and I’m not blind to those facts.

I’m sure Raleigh, or any other growing city has its issues.  In fact I know Raleigh does.  I read their newspaper and did my research but I also read a lot of comments from residents who absolutely loved their city.  We don’t read that about Decatur very often.

Reading through a lot of the comments about the recent changes downtown, I had to laugh and then I wanted to cry.  Some were claiming that they didn’t see any improvements.  Really?  Yes, I’ve voiced my concern about angled parking and I don’t think it’s going to work out but that doesn’t mean I plan to sabotage the efforts of the entire project or attack anyone and everyone trying to improve the city.  There’s way too many people here doing that.  Knock it off!

Someday, I might move to Raleigh.  As I get older I have less and less tolerance for winter.  I think that’s fairly typical but while I’m here, probably for a long time, Lord willing, I want to live in a city that has things to do and live in a neighborhood that is awesome.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to share some of my ideas for turning Decatur around.

 

 

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It’s the middle of January in Decatur, Illinois.  That means there’s 70,000 people contemplating jumping off a bridge or in front of a speeding bus.  Winters are so depressing here!  It’s cold  outside but it never snows anymore, so we don’t even get the thrills of sledding, snowmobiling or making a snowman.  It’s so gloomy!

I remember feeling this way last year, though we had a very warm winter in 2012.  So far this winter has been rather boring.  It’s been coldish but where’s the snow?  I’d even settle for freezing drizzle at this point.  I wish the weather would just do something!  I’m even beginning to miss tornadoes in the spring.  It seems like it’s either too hot or too blah and nothing else in between.

So now that I have everyone totally depressed, I thought I’d share what I do to help alleviate the boredom of winter.

Last year, I started seeds in my basement and it was so nice to see little green spouts come up from the soil and reach for the light.  I contemplated laying beneath the light myself but I wouldn’t fit.  Just getting my hands in the dirt and smelling that wonderful earthy dirt smell was spiritually healing.

I planted tomatoes, green peppers and several perennial flower seeds.  The tomatoes  did remarkably well once planted in the yard, considering the drought and extreme heat that we had.  My dalmatian loved the tomatoes and ate about 99% of them.  The pepper plants grew huge but they didn’t produce many peppers.

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The fruit of my labor.

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No fence can keep out my dog. This is what became of my garden:  A wilted pepper plant, a collapsed fence and devoured tomatoes.

Of the flowers I planted, more than half died in the heat of the summer.  It was just too hot;  even if I could water them day and night they probably still would have died.  I don’t know how many will come back in the spring.  If any of them do, I’ll be happy.

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A very tough flower that grew from seed worked into the soil.

I also planted a dwarf Japanese Maple and several bushes in both the front and back yard.  They all had a rough start of it but as far as I know, are still with us.  If they could survive last year, I guess they could survive just about anything.

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One of the bushes I planted in 2012. Note the cage. The bush too would have fallen victim to a 60 pound dalmatian puppy.

Even though last year was a bit of a disaster in the yard, I’m still planning for this year.  I can’t wait to get back outside!

Anyway, here’s some ideas for a yard makeover…

Now this would look great in my front yard, especially if my house looked like that.  I can’t change the house but I can change the landscaping.

 

I actually planted something similar to this (above) but it doesn’t look anywhere near as good!  But this would look great in the backyard and provide some privacy.

 

I would also love to have a water feature in the backyard.  Unfortunately, so would my dalmatian who loves water.  She would sit in the pond.  I wouldn’t even try having fish, not just because they would become a quick meal for my dogs but because I’ve had too many traumatic experiences with fish tanks.  If you’ve been a long time reader of this blog, you’ll remember Fred.  There’s not enough therapy…
I would like to try a pondless waterfall though.  I’ve seen some very nice designs of those.  I wouldn’t have to worry about mosquitoes and stagnate water, or big, wet, smelly dogs running in the house and plopping down on my couch.
Here’s more ideas for landscaping the yard: http://www.houzz.com/backyard-flower-garden-designs
Anyway, it’s so nice to plan for warmer weather.  Garden plans rarely turn out as immaculate as the pictures we find online but there’s nothing wrong with dreaming, especially on a cold, boring January day.
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I’m back from another one of my trips to the Wisconsin Dells and every time I go there, I can’t help but see all the possibilities for back home in good ole Decatur.  I’m always amazed to see so many different people from all over the world visiting Wisconsin of all places – the land of cheese, duck boats and dairy cows.  One of the things that we all tend to underestimate is the appeal our country, and all parts of our country, has to the outside world.

There were Japanese, Germans, French, Arabs and other people whose languages I didn’t recognize there.  Of course, there were plenty of people from Illinois too – those of us missing snow and winter activities.  During the summer, you’ll find people from several nearby states in bumper to bumper traffic.

I wondered how someone from a foreign country even heard of Wisconsin, then I remembered all the marketing I saw when my family drove by there on our way to our northern Wisconsin vacation destination of Trade Lake, another place in the middle of nowhere.  We went there every year for a decade when I was a kid.

The Wisconsin Dells knows how to market their area well but it’s not just marketing, there’s plenty to do there.  False marketing won’t sell, at least not for long.  There has to be something of substance to sell.

Yes, even Decatur could be on someone’s vacation itinerary in the future.  Some might find that laughable but those dummies who planned Las Vegas sure got the last laugh, didn’t they?  What a stupid idea to build a city in the middle of the desert and think people would want to go there.  It was sure to fail, by any logical person’s standards but it didn’t fail.  Life is funny that way.

There’s a lot of crazy people with crazy ideas who go on to be millionaires.

You can call me crazy but I think Decatur can have a lot of appeal.  Our downtown was the busiest I’ve seen in my 42 years this past Christmas.  We forget the appeal our small town has to big city people.  They find us interesting specimens and our lifestyle quaint.

Most importantly, downtown is becoming more appealing to those of us living here.  It adds to the quality of life.  It’s nice to attract people from the outside but it’s more important to improve the lives of the natives, at least to me.

Of course the lakefront has the potential to draw thousands of people and I don’t have a doubt in my mind that it would when it’s finished.  Heck, I drove 5 hours to Wisconsin for cheese and a moose themed restaurant.  Why wouldn’t they drive 5 hours to Decatur to experience lakefront shopping and dining at a squirrel themed restaurant?

Decatur also have the advantage of so many Lincoln sites nearby in Springfield.  We’re only 30 minutes away.

There’s huge potential here people.  I’m telling you, it’ll work!  We have to be smart about it but it’ll work.

Stop underestimating Decatur and the appeal of the mighty squirrel.

 

 

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