We’re all just passing through – what counts is what we do along the way.
For more than 20 years, I’ve been involved in historic preservation. I joined the board of Historic Albany Foundation in 1998 and the staff of the Preservation League of New York State in 2003. I chaired Albany’s Historic Resources Commission from 2015 – 2018.
In each of these positions, I was far more interested in the evolution of the neighborhood and dwellings we lived in than I was in creating “houses under glass.” Perhaps that’s why this painting – on upcycled window sash – appealed to me so deeply. I won it at a fundraiser for Historic Albany Foundation, BUILT, in 2014. It bears a quote from Jane Jacobs, “Cities need old buildings so badly it is probably impossible for vigorous streets and districts to grow without them.” I displayed it at my office at the Preservation League for many years.
In 2019, when I launched CMR Communications, I thought I might go “back” to work in an office again, so I stacked the painting with some other pieces and there it sat for two years.
Now, with uncertainty around returning to in-person work – and the fact that CMR Communications is flourishing – I’m not looking to give up my business any time soon. So, it’s time to pass this piece along so more people can see it!
I'm donating this painting to the Albany Community Land Trust, because I believe deeply in their mission and the partners they work with.
Local real estate markets are in flux because of the pandemic and other reasons, and people who have lived in the same neighborhood for years are being pushed out by teardowns and skyrocketing rents. Community Land Trusts can help preserve affordable options for all. Land Trusts:
The Albany Community Land Trust (ACLT) is a community-based non-profit organization committed to rebuilding neighborhood housing stock and creating high quality permanently affordable housing in the city of Albany.
ACLT holds land in a trust for the use of community residents who would otherwise be priced out of the real estate market. The homeowner holds the title to the renovated building. They provide quality rental and homeownership opportunities.
Their work leans into Jane Jacobs’ maxim that cities need old buildings. According to a 2016 report from the National Trust, “older and smaller buildings and a wide range in building age offer real economic and social benefits for neighborhoods and urban centers.”
Whether you’re considering an old building, the land that’s under it, or a work of art, ultimately, we’re all just stewards. You can’t take it with you, right? I’m happy to pass along this painting by Justin Mugits, and hope that more people will take inspiration from it.
What resources are you stewarding for the next in line?
Drop me a line – let’s make #SmallTalk!
For further reading:
Jane Jacobs was Right: Older and smaller buildings and a wide range in building age offer real economic and social benefits for neighborhoods and urban centers. ROBERT STEUTEVILLE NOV. 3, 2016 / Public Square – CNU Journal
Shake the branches of your family tree, and you may be surprised what falls out!
My sister, brother and I thought that maybe our ancestors came over the Bering Land Bridge to become the first people in the Americas. Family lore had it that my paternal grandmother, who we called Mim, was French Canadian with more than a smidge of Native American. My grandfather, Pip, who was a newspaper typesetter, actually had a faux wedding announcement printed that noted that the bride wore a gown of buckskin and carried a tomahawk bedecked with flowers.
Imagine my surprise when in March, 2002, I typed my grandparents’ names into an early genealogy website and got a hit. I emailed the contact person, and he sent a full Ahnentafel chart for Mim's parents - my great-grandparents, Alida and Louis Janotte - going back to France in the 1500s.
Over the years, I’ve been fascinated by the story of one of my ancestors – Anne de Quain. Her claim to fame is her status as one of some 800 “Filles du Roi” sent by King Louis XIV to … ahem … populate New France. In nearly 20 years since I’ve first heard her name, genealogists have uncovered a trove of records, and I’m learning to let go of a lot of misconceptions!
Anne was born to Florimond and Henriette de Quain in Usseau, Poitiers, France, and was baptized in the spring of 1645. For so long, the story has been that the “King’s Daughters” were women orphaned or without dowries (now I’m humming ‘there must be more than this provincial life!’) but it’s more likely they were recruited, often by their parish priests. According to Wikipedia:
Those chosen to be among the filles du roi and allowed to emigrate to New France were held to scrupulous standards, which were based on their "moral calibre" and whether they were physically fit enough to survive the hard work demanded by life as a colonist. The colonial officials sent several of the filles du roi back to France because they were deemed below the standards set out by the king and the Intendant of New France.
… Many were orphans with very meagre personal possessions, and with a relatively low level of literacy. Socially, the young women came from different social backgrounds, but were all very poor. They might have been from an elite family that had lost its fortune, or from a large family with children "to spare."
So, what possesses a woman barely 24 years old to leave seven siblings and trek 270 miles from Usseau to Dieppe, to board the ship Le St Jean-Baptiste with 148 other Filles du Roi and to cross the Atlantic for New France? And what must she have thought when she arrived in Quebec on June 30, 1669?
Just four months later, she was married to François Lareau, a carpenter, in a church that was built 2 years after she was born, Notre-Dame de la Paix (now the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec). Five years passed before they had their first child Marie-Anne, born April 1674. What happened during those years? Whatever it was worked itself out because they had five more children over the next decade.
And it seems they did pretty well for themselves, too. According to the census of 1681, she and François Lareau owned “1 rifle, 4 horned animals, as well as 15 arpents of land.”
Anne de Quain’s death was recorded on February 6, 1734, and she was buried the next day at Notre-Dame de Québec. According to the burial record, she was “In a very old age and in childhood for a few years, about 90 years old.”
Twenty years ago, when I first read the name Anne de Quain, I wondered about the things she didn’t have that would have made a life in New France appealing – wealth? A family? Prospects for marriage? As I’ve learned just a few more tantalizing details about her, I think more about the things she likely had in abundance: courage, curiosity, and faith.
Who would I be today – 8 generations later – if Anne de Quain hadn’t boarded the St. Jean-Baptiste 352 years ago? As I continue to leap into experiences, challenge myself, and try to learn something new every day, I like to think that Anne de Quain’s legacy is living on in me.
What traits have your ancestors given you?
Drop me a line – let’s make #SmallTalk!
For further reading:
Lonely Colonist Seeks Wife: The Forgotten History of America's First Mail Order Brides - by Marcia Zug
Excerpt from Duke Journal of Gender and Law Policy (Fall 2012), published in Sent by the King, Newsletter of La Société des Filles du roi et soldats du Carignan (Spring 2017).
As the great wheel of the year turns, few months are as eventful as March.
Most years, the first sign of warmer days ahead is a glimpse of winter aconite in our garden. These small yellow flowers are very early bloomers, and I usually spot them around St. Patrick’s Day. The first photo in the slideshow is from March 3, and the snowdrops, and aconite with bonus crocus are from March 11.
Daylight Savings Time began at 2:00 a.m. on March 14. But even before the clock change, the days were getting noticeably longer. In Albany, on March 1, the sunrise/sunset times gave us 11 hours and 14 minutes of daylight. By March 31, we had gained 87 minutes of daylight, bringing us to 12 hours and 41 minutes total.
In 2021, the Spring Equinox happened on Saturday, March 20. Technically, in Albany, the closest we came to an equal day and night was on March 17, with 12:01:03 of daylight, but who’s counting?
Around that first day of Spring, I heard in quick succession my 3 favorite early season songbirds: Cardinal, Black Capped Chickadee, and Robin.
But more than just the longer days and warming weather, I allowed myself to feel some hope and a bit of relief for the first time in a long time, as I:
I saved the last page in my “COVID Diary” for the day I got my second shot. I started it back in March 2020 as a crude contact tracing tool. The second entry was “3/11 – Roundtable Lunch” – which is the last time that 40+ year old institution met, and the last time I went to the University Club.
I managed to fill up a lot of pages in the intervening 12 months, though. Not with events, but with observations about the simpler things in life – what I was cooking, reading, and dreaming.
As we march tentatively into 2021, what are you observing?
Drop me a line – let’s make #SmallTalk!
These next few weeks feel like the fulcrum between “pre-COVID” and “post-COVID.”
I received my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, February 25. It all happened very fast – I saw on Twitter that Albany County was opening a sign-up portal for the Times Union Center at 5 p.m., and at 5:19 p.m. I had an appointment for 46 hours later.
As I sat down at the table for the jab, I told the person taking my information that I was pretty sure the last time I was in the Times Union Center was for the Elton John concert. I thought it was a year ago, but turns out it was two years ago - March 1, 2019.
So is that what 2020 is going to be like? A disappeared year?
I feel like we’re in a liminal phase. We can begin to think about returning to “normal” – but what will that normal look like?
According to Wikipedia:
In anthropology, liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”) is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete. During a rite’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which completing the rite establishes.
We’re living through a once in a generation - or more - opportunity to examine, assess and prioritize what’s really important to us. None of us who have lived through 2020 will be the same as we were before 2020, but in some ways, that might be a good thing.
Right around the time of that Elton John concert, in March of 2019, I had just launched my new business, CMR Communications, and was taking a Women’s Leadership “boot camp.” One of the exercises was to develop a vision statement for the world I’d like to help create.
In this liminal time, I’m going to renew my efforts to build a community that:
Drop me a line – let’s make #SmallTalk!
In lieu of being able to talk to my 20-year-old self, I’m hoping that one of my young nieces or nephews will read this.
Be patient. It will all make sense some day.
I’ve always thought I had a nimble brain. I was a whiz at finding things in the library’s card catalogue (and now I feel ancient) which I believe has made me a better Googler.
In the before times, when we went places, I was the person at the event who would make connections among strangers. Tell me something about yourself, and I will find a way to introduce you to someone else, following even the finest of common threads. It’s a cool parlor trick.
Still, when I was in high school and college, I felt like I was learning lots of isolated things but struggling to piece them together. I knew the information was important, but I didn't yet know why.
As my teens turned to 20s and 30s and beyond, I realized that seemingly random facts were beginning to fit into a broader context. Each year brought additional threads of knowledge, acquired through reading, watching, doing, or living – and sometime entirely by accident. Those threads were organizing themselves into a sturdy warp for my loom of learning.
In middle school, I learned about de facto segregation. Later, I learned about redlining and how neighborhoods suffered from disinvestment. For three years, I chaired Albany’s Historic Resources Commission, and saw first-hand the problems that lower-income property owners in historic districts – with old housing stock – had making costly repairs to comply with the city’s preservation ordinance. Just last year, I read several books that opened my eyes to the role systemic racism has played in preventing people of color from getting mortgages or buying property, and how that prevented families from building up the generational wealth that comes from home ownership.
Philanthropic organizations are suddenly making millions of dollars available to try to address America’s legacy of inequity and injustice. According to a recent article in Forbes:
“Profit-driven investing has often fueled extractive capitalism, damaging the environment and harming marginalized communities. Impact investing is so named because it has infused positive social and environmental impact alongside financial returns. To advance economic justice, the investment community as a whole, including venture capital and major banks, must change the way it invests, which currently leaves out people of color in huge margins. Federally certified Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) can help investors direct their capital — through purposeful lending — to the places that traditional financial institutions won’t invest.”
Through my work with the NYS CDFI Coalition and the Leviticus Fund, I’m fortunate to play a small role in righting our historic wrongs in truly innovative ways.
So be patient, my young friends, and keep learning.
One day you’ll find that things make sense. You might even find your calling.
Drop me a line – let’s make #SmallTalk!
Despite the pandemic, 2020 was a very good year for CMR Communications.
In December 2019, I had 2 retainer clients – a lobbying firm and a co-working site – and 2 prospects. I was negotiating a contract with the Northeastern Association of the Blind at Albany (NABA) as a grantwriter and had just entered into talks with the NYS Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Coalition for a 3-month gig to manage their annual meeting at the end of March.
When the pandemic hit, I quickly lost the original two clients, but NABA needed me more than ever as they applied for COVID response grants. In addition to having to convert many of their services to virtual delivery, they quickly retooled their production operation to fabricate cloth masks and help check the spread of Coronavirus among some of New York’s most vulnerable residents. NABA provides a full range of services to people who are blind or visually impaired, helping them to achieve or maintain their independence. NABA never turns anyone away and are the only agency for the blind in New York providing services to incarcerated individuals.
The NYS CDFI Coalition annual meeting was canceled 2 weeks before it happened, but my contract was redrawn from event coordinator to Consulting Executive Director. CDFIs all around the state responded to community needs as conduits for Payroll Protection Program loans and began to offer online technical assistance and other webinars as businesses tried to weather the shutdown. We took on the cause of the NYS Small Business Truth in Lending Act to protect borrowers from predatory lending and celebrated when the Governor signed the bill into law on December 23. And we transformed our 2-day in-person annual meeting to a series of webinars and panel discussions throughout the fall.
Just before the New York pause, in February, I met with a prospective client, the NYS Kinship Navigator. The Kinship Navigator is an information, referral and advocacy program for kinship caregivers - individuals caring for children who are not biologically their own. For those of you following this blog, you know that while they wanted to hire me, they needed to hire a Minority/Women’s Business Enterprise. I had planned to seek certification after a year in business (effectively, February 2020) and was certified as a WBE in record time, in May, 2020. I began working on outreach for the Kinship Navigator that same month.
In October, I received a call from one of the board members of the NYS CDFI Coalition, the Executive Director of the Leviticus Fund. He was looking to fill a newly created position of Resource Development Officer, but needed someone with certain communications, fundraising and membership management skills, and with knowledge of the CDFI industry. I said, “well, that sounds a lot like me!” In December, I took on the tasks of increasing resources to support Leviticus’ work, including membership expansion, advancing initiatives to secure investments from faith-based colleges and universities, and developing and implementing a Legacy Fund.
When I look back on the 2nd anniversary of launching CMR Communications in January, I’ll do so with a profound sense of gratitude and wonder. How is it that in just 2 years, I’ve built a portfolio of clients who are all working – among different constituencies – to make the world a better place? Whether advocating for people with blindness; or children whose parents are unable to care for them; or the banks, credit unions and community foundations that invest in underserved neighborhoods and businesses; my clients are all bending that long arc of history toward justice. I am honored to be working with them.
I firmly believe that 2021 will give us all an opportunity to redouble our efforts to make our world a more peaceful and equitable place – at local, statewide, national and international levels. What are your intentions for 2021? Drop me a line! Let’s make small talk.
Have you found it easier or harder to carve time out to read this year?
I’ve been a member of Goodreads for a couple of years and I set a goal of 24 books for 2020. This was before the pandemic, and before everyone’s work patterns changed. While I find my work hours bleeding into “after hours,” I still try to set aside time to read for pleasure.
Looking for some statistics on reading for pleasure among adults, I found the UK devotes far more effort to studies of the topic than the US. According to a report from The Reading Agency:
Research finds that reading for pleasure can result in increased empathy, improved relationships with others, reductions in the symptoms of depression and dementia, and improved wellbeing.
In addition to the health benefits, reading for pleasure has social benefits and can improve our sense of connectedness to the wider community. Reading increases our understanding of our own identity, improves empathy and gives us an insight into the world view of others.
The biggest change in my reading habits is what constitutes reading for pleasure. As CMR Communications’ niche has evolved to focus on association and grants management support for nonprofits serving disadvantaged or vulnerable populations, my reading list has come to reflect that!
Here’s a sample of what I’ve read in 2020, in no particular order:
What have you been reading – for pleasure or otherwise? Drop me a line – let’s make #SmallTalk!
Communications Law with Mary Alice Molgard was one of the classes at the College of St. Rose that most intimidated me.
My paper, titled “The Fairness Doctrine: FCC Regulations and the First Amendment” is undated, but since Mary Alice joined the faculty in 1985, it was likely written between 1986 and 1988. In fact, the FCC abolished the doctrine by a 4–0 vote on August 5, 1987, and I did my internship at Sawchuk Brown Associates that fall, so I’m going to guess I wrote this as a junior in Fall ‘86 or Spring ‘87.
The opening paragraph is pictured above, and you can read all 11 pages of my Baby Writer glory here. (I got an A!)
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Fairness Doctrine lately. The American political landscape is deeply divided with each side thinking the other is not only wrong but very likely evil.
In January 2019, Kevin M. Kruse and Julian Zelizer of the Washington Post wrote an article titled “How Policy Decisions Spawned Today’s Hyperpolarized Media,” subtitled “The demise of the Fairness Doctrine played an underappreciated role in fomenting media tribalism.”
The article makes very clear that American broadcasting history rests on the fulcrum of the Fairness Doctrine.
“In 1987, the FCC announced that it would no longer enforce the Fairness Doctrine. The Democratic Congress tried to restore the doctrine, but Reagan vetoed the bill.
“Almost overnight, the media landscape was transformed. The driving force was talk radio. In 1960, there were only two all-talk radio stations in America; by 1995, there were 1,130. While television news on the old networks and the cable upstart CNN still adhered to the standard of objectivity, radio emerged as a wide-open landscape.”
And it’s not just talk radio. The article continues:
“Cable television had never been subject to the Fairness Doctrine, and, indeed, its growth had been a key rationale for ending the policy. But it was transformed by the changes all the same. Seeing the massive audiences that conservative talk radio attracted, cable television entrepreneurs realized that they, too, could thrive by providing the news from a partisan perspective. In 1996, Rupert Murdoch launched Fox News, placing Roger Ailes in charge of the operation. A longtime media consultant for Republicans, Ailes had worked on both of George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaigns and then produced Limbaugh’s television program from 1992 to 1996.”
And now, 20 years on, we have social media to contend with. It's a step in the right direction for Twitter and Facebook to slap warning labels on “untruths” from the President – whether about the election or the pandemic – but maybe it’s time to consider replacing some of the guardrails on public discourse.
What do you think? Is it time to revisit the Fairness Doctrine? Drop me a line – let’s make #SmallTalk!
Due to the ongoing uncertainty of these times, my blog posts will now by headed with a question rather than an exclamation. 😊
When I worked for an organization, I often thought of time off as kind of a joke. I tried to get as much buttoned down before leaving as I could, and then spent the first few days back in the office digging out. Even so, I planned on it and I took it.
Now that I work for myself, I find it very hard to take time off. Especially because I work at home, I find myself checking email constantly, and there’s very little disincentive to sitting down at my desk at all hours of the day – or night.
According to an April 2019 article on the SCORE website,
Having your own business has many upsides. Being able to work for yourself, building an asset, calling the shots – those are all powerful motivators.
But the reality is a little less glamorous. Small business owners work hard – everybody knows that. But how hard they work might scare some people off.
One survey from New York Enterprise Report found that small business owners work twice as much as regular employees.
It’s becoming harder and harder to unplug, even for a short period of time. Even Camp Ryan at Lake George has broadband. Trust me, I’m not complaining, I was glad to be able to Zoom with the chirping in the pine trees outside the kitchen window this summer!
The article concluded:
Despite the long hours, most business owners aren’t complaining. Only 9% of them said the workload is the most difficult part of owning a small business. And 70% of them said owning a small business is the best job they’ve ever had.
I’m firmly in that 70%. But I’m wondering how my fellow solopreneurs take time off without feeling like they’re abandoning their clients!
What’s your time off strategy? Drop me a line – let’s make #SmallTalk!
I’ve never had the kind of job where my employment was effectively guaranteed. I’ve always served “at the pleasure of.”
That's what's really challenging about a global pandemic. Nothing is guaranteed.
Through good connections, a modicum of hustle and a track record of delivering results, I’ve found the sweet spot for CMR Communications. I have 3 major clients – think of them as Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear – and their combination is JUST RIGHT.
Between those three clients and a few ad hoc projects, I have enough work to keep me busy, and gross earnings comparable to what I was making before I started the business.
But even though I actually picked up a client during the pandemic, the worry is always out there … what if I were to lose a client?
I don’t want to put feelers out for additional work and then find that I can’t deliver. That’s not fair to the prospective client, my existing clients, or my own mental health.
Still, I don’t want to get complacent about promoting my business and find myself with a hole in my income projections.
How do *you* deal with uncertainty? Whether it’s about your client base, a vaccine, or the political climate – drop me a line! Let’s make small talk.
PS: Here’s an article from Wired magazine about dealing with the uncertainty of the Coronavirus.
Colleen M. Ryan is an