Category Archives: City living

In Gratitude for My Sabbatical

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller, on school truancy

“They’re giving you time off for good behavior?” – A former colleague, upon learning of my plans

A sabbatical. Three weeks off, and then a week away at a work-sponsored conference/retreat. A full four weeks out of the office.

To be sure, I checked my email ten times a week and kept basic marketing functions going, but for no more than a day each week, on my own schedule, as if my employer were my client.

Everyone deserves an extended break in the midst of a loyal, long-term commitment to an employer. Sabbaticals, I am realizing, are a thing outside of academia. Some forward-thinking employers (with more staff and resources than mine) offer paid sabbaticals of 3-4 weeks to employees in addition to their paid vacation, and after only 7 years of employment.

It inspires loyalty while giving staffers space to nurture passion projects, projects that can enhance their skills. There’s space to pursue exciting new ideas and scratch creative itches without needing to leave the company.

It also staves off burnout, kindles creativity and self care, and refreshes an employee’s thinking. I needed a reset for sure, and I was damn lucky to have the vacation time banked up to get paid for this.

So what did I do? Let me get it down quickly, before the bliss evaporates completely.

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Yoga, 3-4 times a week
I found a favorite new teacher at Twisters, stretched with friends, and spent happy hours on the mat at Tara.

Andreasz-communications.com
I set up a website. It ain’t gorgeous, but it is presentable and gathers my portfolio together neatly for those who might hire me for freelance gigs.

Weekly lunch dates in Center City
I miss the life of the city, and I miss dates with Randy. I was able to connect with both, spending my morning writing at Elixr, running Center City errands, and then lunching out with my hubby.

I wrote, a lot
I wrote blog posts for this little rag, for Andrea Sz Communications, for Spotted by Locals, the Untours blog, Private Access Journeys and a couple clients. I banked up content to share throughout fall.

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I volunteered
I worked for Project HOME, writing a profile of a brilliantly inspiring resident of theirs. I helped Weaver’s Way. And I volunteered at Robin’s school for the Book Fair, cashiering for my first time since college.

The beach
It was only for a long weekend, but Strathmere was a wonderful chance to spend time with my family, and to take long sandy walks and think.

I celebrated Septivus
That includes my birthday, Robin’s birthday, and our 15th wedding anniversary. I had space to honor our family milestones, enjoy my favorite month, plan celebrations, and ease us into the school year.

The B Retreat
I capped it off with the B Corp Champions Retreat in Toronto, a party of progressive business thinking, deep and thoughtful conversations, art and ecology, music and wine, and all in a glorious city, in a sane country.

These four weeks gave me time to digest the enormity of this fall’s relentless string of tragedies: natural disasters and man made carnage; I had time to feel the appropriate sadness. To let it sink in.

I also enjoyed long walks, lazy Sundays reading, off-peak errand running, tweeting, beers with friends, stalking paintings on Chairish, and discovering new spots in my city.

I would urge anyone who can to take a sabbatical, and to use it as such: not just as a staycation, but as a time to reset, build skills, nurture your mental and physical health, and take on personal projects that feed your vocation.

Use your talents for good. Reconnect with your gifts and your calling. Revel in the doing.

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Sweet & Sour Summer Scrapbook

It was the summer of Charlottesville. Of the steady continuation of political madness. Of spending lots of money and yet somehow not going anywhere interesting. Of piled up work deadlines in a badly understaffed office. Of my best friend moving to a different hemisphere. Of family obligations. Of other people traveling. Of sheetcaking and weight gain.

And yet there were these moments…

New York with the Cousins

When my in-laws, niece, and nephew visited us for the first time ever, we hit the road! Center City, Lancaster, Hershey, and New York. Here’s Rockefeller Center with the gang.

  

I made my pilgrimage to Hamilton (the theater, anyway) and Jessica’s Nintendo Store pilgrimage went well. Randy’s Eataly pilgrimage, not so much. (Turns out there is pizza kids hate, and it is rather expensive!)

Tourist excess and counterfeit heroes in Times Square, a perfect way to introduce Robin to Manhattan.

Chicago with Dena

Hanging with Dena, my dearest friend from college and one of my favorite people on the planet. I got to see her beautiful newish house (a bungalow with a garden and lots of character), drink margaritas, and see a Paul Gauguin show at the Art Institute.

Philadelphia

Sweet city excursions with my boys.

Urban walks with dear friends.

Chill out time on the banks of the Delaware.

Family Time

Weeklong visits from Papap…

…and Granny.

The Eclipse

So nice, in the wake of Charlottesville, to have a massive and monumental, nonpartisan distraction like this one. Science is real, and we all share the same sky!

Art Acquisitions

   

I found a new obsession with street art this summer and an overall renewed interest in art. Plus the purchase of three new paintings and the perilous discovery that you can buy art on eBay, much of it quite affordable.

Grand Camp for Robin

   

Lots of good time with pap and with grandmas: swimming, Birthday date at Eat’n Park, chasing rogue soccer balls, and a preseason Steelers game!

Grand Camp for Us

Drinks up high at the Skygarten. Followed by blissfully sound, uninterrupted sleep.

Lunches and happy hours at cool Center City joints. And lots of housecleaning, overtime, and errands as well.

The Kesters’ 50th Anniversary

We shared quality time together in Milwaukee. Plus a trip up north to Marshfield to attend mass at the church where they were married, 50 years to the day after.

There were pleasant and meaningful visits with extended aging family, roadtrip antics, fresh and squeaky cheese curds, and a little multigen baseball in between.

Glasses

I bought new glasses the same day I got to meet Seth Godin at a conference. I will always associate my new look with my favorite marketing guru in glasses.

Neighbors

Parties and playdates and pizza! Oh my! We enjoyed multiple block parties, spontaneous gatherings, lots of beer drunk curbside with fantastic people. Yoga classes, trips to the pool, corn hole, and other local pleasures.

Baseball

In Philadelphia…

   

…and Milwaukee and Pittsburgh. Lots and lots of it. Five games in total!

All in all, not a bad summer. The world is still off its axis. As Harvey retreats, Irma approaches, hovering over fall beach plans. The rebuilding begins in Texas, Trump tweets his small-minded hatred, and we write our donation checks. I text my friend in New Zealand, and life carries on…

Entertaining Parents

“When are the first customers arriving?!” Robin’s question came right on time, at noon.

“Honey, they’re guests, not customers. And no one shows up at the beginning. People are shy about being the first ones here.”

And so began the litany of questions. An avalanche of chicken nuggets slid from the oven. A dozen people descended at once, and our house turned into a happy, chaotic hive of convivial conversation.

Even at 78 guests, there were people who couldn’t come or came stag. When we set a guest list these days, we count by fours and fives, so numbers add up quickly.

What a wonderful mix! The living room buzzed with talk of city politics travel while new neighbors and old friends mixed in the family room. Travel, Trump, and the ham were all hot topics.

Kids were everywhere.

A neighbor texted to say she would come with their 5 but stay only briefly to leave room for the “out of towners.”

I told her to stay as long as she could stand. “We wanted a bigger house because our old place couldn’t hold all of our friends. I never imagined we would double our circle when we moved. It’s a blessing, not a problem!”

“Talk to me again after you’ve had 30 kids tearing around your house for 2 hours.”

Though it was too cold to be outside, the kids stayed busy upstairs and down.

Our friendships have multiplied mostly because of Robin and the high quality adults who come with his playmates. As the kids scatter for school and lose touch, I want to keep their parents around!

Five pounds of chicken tenders, three bandaids, and a little insanity is a small price to pay.

So we survived our big party and enjoyed the chaos of wrestling and coloring, snacks and wine. We cleared a few juice boxes from the guest room and a tater tot from Robin’s nightstand. Two kids lost teeth.

Here’s the lost and found below. (One front tooth still at large, possibly swallowed! )

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Summer Camp for Grownups

Barnes Foundation

Grand Camp is the best kept secret of parenting, if you have engaged and bodily able parents like I do. A remote location like Pittsburgh helps. Robin is at sleep-away camp this week, spending 12 days with my parents, bouncing between their households and visiting the driving range, baseball games, amusement parks and the pool. Want to see some pictures?

Randy at Gran Caffe L'Aqila

Here’s us on an epic date night. Happy hour at Caffe L’Aquila to start…  And an art opening at the Barnes. We took illegal selfies in the permanent collection, which was eerily empty. We swayed to reggae in the crowded main hall, and even got to talk to the artist, Nari Ward, who is brilliant and down-to-earth. And no one interrupted our conversation to announce he had to poop! No one called it boooooooooring.

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I get to work 9 or 10-hour days like a normal person. This was a treat. For real. I’m super glad to be able to do it, finishing projects completely and getting serious traction after 5:30pm. And then stopping off at Saks Off 5th or Marshall’s on my way home. And dining after 7. And only washing myself before bed. Only brushing one set of teeth.

There have also been bars, like Mermaid Inn and Bar Hygge. And Tired Hands. Refreshingly, it’s a clever name, not a state that accompanies sore feet and weary body. I will work though. I’ll spackle and paint. Clean the house. Harvest radishes from my garden. I won’t even need caffeine to do it as I slept until almost 8 this morning. I will wash three loads of laundry and get it all folded in a single day. Then blog about it. I feel downright superhuman!

We’re hosting friends for dinner and watching R-rated movies. On weeknights.

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Of course I do miss my guy, more than I had imagined. I enjoy the text messages and photos my parents send. He’s taking in all of Pittsburgh’s pleasures with the only people on this planet who come close to loving him as much as Randy and I do.

And while I savor the freedom of spending a whole morning writing and reading entire articles in the newspaper, I feel a small wave of sadness. Life before my Robin was fun and free. But I can’t imagine a life without his love and raw energy. I miss the warmth of his little busy body and the chaos he leaves in his wake.

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I am painfully aware that these days are fleeting. The years are stacking up. Our time together is short and beautiful, if hectic and tiring. In his week away he will probably lose that single front tooth, his precious hockey player smile transitioning to something else.

Domestication

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We retreat to the mountains for Memorial Day, our Prius silently easing into a parking spot at the mountainside timeshare condo. We have to shoo away the deer as we unload.

We all have our roles to play.

It happens gradually. We get comfortable in our job. The mortgage kicks in. A couple extra pounds. A drink each night. A quiet release of expectations.

The deer loiter out back, inches from our deck rails. They periodically retreat into the shallow woods behind our unit, more out of boredom than fear.

Our 20s were bold and transient, lived on instinct. Our 30s were sensible and fruitful, laying foundations. The 40s are routine and comfort.

The neighbors fling kibble and the deer gather.

Birds built a nest in the hanging plant on our back patio. There are strollers and squirrels and SUVs and the near constant hum of a lawnmower from somewhere.

Cardinals fly past, brown females or males the color of our throw pillows. Bunnies eye our garden with envy. Hedgehogs dodge cars and we build fences.

Deer dash through our backyards there.

I envy their determination.

A Note About the Block We’re Leaving

 

Here is a little something I wrote up ahead of the open house we’re holding this weekend to sell our home. We love you all, neighbors. And we will miss seeing each of you on a daily or weekly basis. Thank you for being such good neighbors and becoming such dear friends. 

This is a special block. In our many years in this house, a house we have loved, I have always felt that our neighbors were the best feature of our home. This block has taught me so much about community and friendship.

I have picked tomatoes from my neighbors’ gardens. I’ve shared growlers on front porches for Mother’s Day. I’ve enjoyed fire pits in side yards and soccer matches in the alley with the kids. We’ve swapped hostas and ferns, provided vacation care for cats, and relaxed in my neighbor’s hammock. I’ve enjoyed back alley cinema here, potluck brunches, and block parties.

We share updates and info on our block’s Facebook group. We shovel snow for neighbors and can always find someone to help move a piece of furniture when needed. We actually borrow a stick of butter or cup of sugar from neighbors here! More importantly, we talk about more than the weather. And we listen.

Beyond the helpful circulation of hand-me-downs, I have really benefited from this community as a mom. I’ve learned to parent on this block and watched my child grow up among friends and neighbors who all look out for each other. Community is a beautiful thing, and I cannot imagine a more lovely one than this one.

As we have outgrown our home here, it has been very hard to say goodbye. If you love kids and animals and fire pits and gardens and interesting conversation, this is the place for you.

A Certain Accommodation

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My mother just stayed with us for 11 days, at our invitation. She is a gracious guest and has acclimated to our hippie ways. She has come to not mind and even enjoy (she claims) some of the differences in our households.

It wasn’t always this way. When I lived downtown, her arrival was always accompanied by a storm cloud of regret, about the traffic on the expressway, the challenges of driving cross town, the impossibilities of parking. “Why do you have to live in the city?” was the question, either implied or blurted.

The fact that I had no cable in my bachlorette flat only complicated the matter. “How do you know what the weather is?” she wanted to know.

“I, um, look outside the window or open the door.” (Or call the weather hotline–pre smartphone–or watch the local news, with rabbit ears balanced for passable reception.)

Questions followed her out of the bathroom: “Why does your toothpaste taste funny?”

“I dunno. Ask Tom. From Maine.”

I’ve been there myself, in college, fresh from her tidy household, visiting friends in off campus apartments hastily mopped with Dr. Bonner’s, smelling vaguely of beer and Christmas and patchouli. (And freedom.) Who can forget their first encounter with handmade soap in the shower, the surprising tingle and sting of peppermint oil on your genitals? Good morning!

Mom is a good sport, and of course her horizons have broadened as everyone else’s have since the 90s. She’s opened her mind to lots of things, some because of me, some despite me, most in ways and for reasons completely unrelated to me. It’s all good.

She is always sure to bring a good book along for her visits now, as we watch so little TV. She says she doesn’t miss it when she is here, though we encourage her to flip on the TV anytime she likes. Even without cable, we get a good 8 or 9 stations. But she relishes the quiet. We’re not so Amish as she thinks. The stereo is often on, more for music than NPR when she’s in residence.

And we accommodate too. There’s bottled salad dressing in the fridge, no fat yogurt, diet soda that my husband also enjoys on her visits. She graciously tries my braised greens, though she prefers a spinach salad. She can pronounce quinoa, though she’d rather have rice.

More importantly, we’ve learned not to challenge each other or over read. Just because I choose obscure root vegetables and whole grains I never knew as a kid, doesn’t mean I don’t still enjoy a tuna noodle casserole. I am not too uppity to remember where I came from, nor am I a snob. I love cheesy broccoli and other unsophisticated dishes of yore.

My mother’s signature dish has changed with the times. She wowed us so profoundly with her stuffed acorn squash some years ago. Now whenever she visits and wants to bring dinner, we beg for it. She makes mine with meatless sausage and doesn’t even cringe or smirk anymore when her mouth forms those words.

(In appreciation, I promise I won’t ask her to try seaweed or eat Indian food.)

Mom came around on my city living even before I left my downtown walk-up, over a decade ago. On a shady bench in Rittenhouse Square in the 90s, as she munched on a scone from Metropolitan Bakery and watched dogs and children parade past, she admitted she saw the city’s charms. She could understand why I wanted to live here.

That weekend we shared a meal at a favorite Italian BYOB in the neighborhood. She ordered the stuffed squid in saffron broth and turned to watch my jaw drop as she handed her menu back to our server. “Don’t look so shocked. I’m not as parochial as you think I am.”

We’ve since left the urban core for a leafy neighborhood with sidewalks, trees and more ample (parallel) parking. She’s relieved to avoid the city traffic here and to have a guest room all her own, albeit with the same futon couch/bed that’s been with me since I was in my 20s.

I’ve grown up in these years. We have a bed frame for our box spring. Our papasan chair is long gone, replaced with a comfortable leather (sorry) club chair. The remaining second hand furniture is mixed with just enough Crate and Barrel and original art to create the illusion of an intentional aesthetic.

Randy and I were nested comfortably by the time our son came along. After an unexpected cesarean section, mom stayed with us for over a week here. She was an angel of mercy, cooking vegetarian meals, keeping the laundry going in our weird little front-loading machine, running the steps when I couldn’t, and caring for me and her new grandson. For my part, I watched Dancing With the Stars with her, and even for a week or two after she left. It was a tender time.

Having a child has demanded a new, more profound round of accommodation. I have more plastic in my household than I’d ever imagined. We still favor wood, organic, hand-me down. But we graciously accept well intentioned gifts. And the little guy has his own demands, for Cars and Thomas and all that branded crap I swore I’d never buy.

He calls me on my old hippie habits too. I’m still prone to let yellow mellow on the night shift, but he scolds me in the morning, flushing the potty with contempt.

As for my mom, we meet in the middle, I suppose. I try to accommodate, though she is more adaptive than someone her age should be. She tries my bok choy, and I stock the diet Pepsi. She empties the dishwasher, cooks comfort food, and shoos us out on badly needed date nights. Now that’s worth grilling some burgers for!