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  • Stephen D'Agostino

Welcome to 2019!

I know it is now 2019, but I am going to linger in December 2018 for a bit. For part of the month, Bill and I were in Germany. We visited many small towns, some first settled over 2,000 years ago. Most of them had populations of fewer than 3,000 people. All the towns can be classified as medieval, and some of them had preserved walls with defensive towers that spoke of their history. Most of them had multiple churches, and each was a stand-alone museum of religious art representing various styles—baroque, rococo (I’m still not sure what that means), gothic, and even modern for churches that were destroyed during World War II and rebuilt.

The towns themselves, though, weren’t museums. People lived and worked in each one. The streets were lined with cafés, restaurants, shoe stores, banks, pharmacies on a much smaller scale than we are familiar with, eyeglass shops, grocery stores, and other retailers. When we left one town, we had to travel anywhere from four kilometers to 20 kilometers to get to the next one.

Of course, I got to musing about how different things are in Vermont specifically and the United States in general. While in Germany, we saw no Home Depot or Staples equivalents. We saw UPS or DHL delivery trucks infrequently, which signaled to me that Amazon was not a big player in these folks’ consumption habits. These Germans don’t need to travel to the next town to get a new pair of eyeglasses, say, but instead, they can walk right to their town center. The mindset of the stores’ customers and the convenience they offer allow them to survive. I’m also sure that gas at about $5.40 per gallon tilts things in favor of these local shops.

A week doesn’t go by when I read about, hear about, or experience the struggles of small towns in our state and our country. I now realize that the problem is far more complicated than the old standby excuses of lack of opportunity, no incentive to move to such places, poor infrastructure, etc. When I think about Reading and the surrounding towns, and Vermont as a whole, I wonder if we appreciate the bigger issues that got us here. I wonder if we can expand our thoughts and ideas to come up with new and different ways to keep our small towns and our state sustainable.

One thing I noticed that was not sustainable during my absence is the winter wonderland I had left. Sure there is still snow on the ground, especially up here on the hill, but there are also spots where I can see bare grass. I can also see the full size of the limbs that came down from our maple trees in the late-November storm. Up until now, they had been buried under several inches of snow.

Like a lot of the snow, December is gone, so welcome to 2019! It’s the first time in 101 years that the date, said backward, is sequential. That’s exciting!

OK, it's not exciting, but stating it underscores what I have learned now for the three Januarys in which I have written this column. It's rather hard to find exciting stuff to write about during the first month of the year.

Despite the addition of this wrinkle, January is one of my favorite months. It seems custom made for an introvert. Fun and crazy-busy December is over, so the month is calm by comparison. It’s a perfect time for me to focus on things that take a bit of time and mental space, both of which I know I will have more of this month. With my freer schedule and freer mind, I am going to work on some new baking projects, some old and new writing projects, and even plan out my flower gardens.

Will January be a quiet, “me-time” month for you? What will you do with your January?

Here’s one thing that might tempt you from your warm home warm home. The Reading Recreation Commission will be holding Game Night again in January. It will be the third Friday of the month (January 18). The commission is contemplating doing something different for this month’s Game Night, so I’ll have more details once they are ironed out.

That won't be the only thing happening in January of course. Between now and next week, I will be digging around for more events occurring during the month, and share them with you in my next column. In the meantime, Happy New Year!

That’s the news from Reading! See you next week!

This column originally appeared in The Vermont Standard on January 3, 2019.

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