No, not this one. This one.
This year’s ICMA conference is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Along with the educational programming, which is usually pretty good, and sometimes great, the opportunity to meet and talk with town, city, and county managers from all over the country – and other countries – is invaluable. Spending even a short time in another place really stimulates my thinking about old problems and new challenges. More often than not I come back energized – tired physically, but energized mentally and professionally.
I try not to be one of those managers who come back from a conference all full of “hey, let’s try this new thing!” and have people spend the next six months frantically chasing their tails. What I try to get out of the experience is reinforcement of some basic themes, tweaks and encouragement for directions, both new and familiar, and reassurance that we’re not the only ones facing the challenges and changes of our time.
Cell phones, text messaging, email, and Skype have made communicating with kids away at college now very different than when I was in school. And though it doesn’t seem so long ago, I suppose it was, certainly in terms of technology. Talking to mom and dad then was a matter of using the phone at the end of the hall in my dorm, or getting and sending letters (actual letters, handwritten even, just imagine!).
Over the last two years I’ve gotten used to text messages, random phone calls in the middle of the day from one daughter or another between classes or walking to work, sometimes an email, and occasionally using Skype for a video chat. This year, so far at least, things are a little different. Oh, the technology really hasn’t changed that much, but having one of our two college students in Africa has made communication much more a “hit or miss” proposition. Between the seven hour time difference, the logistics (and quality) of Internet access, international cell phone calls, and her busy schedule, we have had to rely more on blog posts, email, and Facebook updates and messages.
Of course we still get calls, texts, and emails from our other daughter at Goucher College, too, thank goodness. But it still feels like I spend a lot of time checking, much like I used to check the mailbox at school. Do kids even do that anymore?
Maybe I should relax, take a deep breath, and write a letter.
Handy: hand•y [han-dee]
adjective, hand•i•er, hand•i•est
1. within easy reach; conveniently available; accessible: The aspirins are handy.
2. convenient or useful: A typewriter is a handy thing to have in the house.
3. skillful with the hands; deft; dexterous: a handy person.
4. easily maneuvered: a handy ship.
None of these really describes me. Of the many words that might be used to describe me, handy wouldn’t be anywhere near the top of the list. It’s not so much that I can’t be, but overcoming the inertia, intimidation, and…. well, fear, that I’ll really screw something up means I don’t try very often.
We moved into our current home fourteen years ago. It’s an old New England farmhouse dressed up with some Victorian details, but I wouldn’t really call it a Victorian. In fact, the farm it once served as the house for was established two hundred fifty years ago. This house has only been here 150 to 175 years or so, and, along with the ell, a 1960s or 1970s attached garage, and two outbuildings, is all that’s left of a prosperous two or three hundred acre dairy farm. One of the outbuildings, which would have been on the other end of this former connected farm, is the milk house.