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Change Begins at Home

A New Year’s lesson

When the clock struck 12, pushing Saturday, December 31 into Sunday, January 1, in that moment it was thinkable that a new you would rise from bed and into the world on New Year’s Day. Not too early that day.
    A lot of energy rises from that possibility.
    That’s the kind of energy that propelled three or four hundred people into the 43-degree Bay at 1pm sharp New Year’s Day for North Beach’s Polar Bear Swim. I say 300 in this week’s report on the bracing swim because that’s a certain number. “I know we ran out of [give-away] towels before 1pm, and we had 300 of them,” Mayor Mark Fraser told me.
    Transformative energy is hard to sustain, though, isn’t it?
    One New Year’s Eve long ago, I was swept with the certainty that a Day-Timer would transform my life. By February, I’d lost my little notebook. No matter, because I’d already stopped writing in it. So much for salvation by better organization.
    I read in Petula Dvorak’s column in The Washington Post, by the way, that even in the electronic age, such pen-and-paper tools still have their advocates. Tools like that may help you, but will they transform you? Not me.
    I’ve found over the swiftly accumulating years that I’m more improveable when I start with who I am, what I’ve got and where I go.
    Back in 2008, we began Bay Weekly’s Volume 16 with a story called This Year, Resolve to Find Fitness that Fits. In it, five writers described how they lived by exercise routines they loved. Perhaps it was coincidental, but that was the year — indeed the month — husband Bill Lambrecht and I converted to an exercise routine we still follow. And mostly love.
    One cold morning, we stumbled into the tiny gym at our marina, Herrington Harbour North. We’re regulars at the marina, because it’s such a pretty place with walks that are pleasant year-round. It’s also very close to our home and on the way to work. In the gym, we started lifting weights, which was already a habit. Eventually, curiosity got the best of us, and we climbed one by one on the single elliptical.
    Four years later, I’ve got to say that cardio-routine has been transformative.
    Because of the way I believe change happens, Martha Sykora hooked me with her letter about the recent green renovation of her family’s 1951 home overlooking Broad Creek in Annapolis. Writer Margaret Tearman was hooked, too, in part because she and husband Tom live in a home begun at the turn of the 19th century and thus under constant reconstruction.
    Here’s what I liked about the Sykoras’ story, which you’ll read in this week’s paper.
    When the Sykoras decided to live up to their environmental beliefs, they started not with someplace they’d never been but with where they lived. “It would have been easier to tear down the old house and start fresh,” Tearman writes. “But the Sykoras said no.” They thought the house had good bones.
    I’m sure it’s possible to build a dream home starting from scratch. I’ve known plenty of people who’ve done it. Most say it was the worst experience of their lives.
    Transforming your home around you isn’t easy, either, as the Tearmans and the Sykoras will tell you. But it gives you a foundation.
    That’s not all I liked in the Sykora family story, of course. The irresistible part is the Sykoras’ ambition to live what they believed. In the beginning, they simply wanted a more sustainable lifeplace and style.
    The notion that their house could rise to the standards of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — LEED — came later. Later still came the possibility that they could rise to the very top, the Platinum standard. Yet that’s about to happen, making the Sykora home, we believe, the first home in Anne Arundel County and one of very few in Maryland to be awarded LEED Platinum certification.
    It is, all together, a marvelous story about transformation starting where you live. I hope you enjoy it. And I hope it will inspire you, and me, to new year’s changes that make us better within our own skins.