Category Archives: City living

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.

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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!

Snow Day Craftiness

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It’s a little like The Shining, I tell my mother. She’s in Florida for the week, and we are on our weekly snow day, the first of two in a row this week, the fifth in a month of heavy snow and ice storms. This is before the thunder snowstorm starts.

Swearing off the hysteria of local TV news, I’ve elected to get my updates from social media instead. Everyone seems to have power, and apparently all of my friends are closet pastry chefs, eager to photograph their creations. They make more beautiful cookies than we do. Some of the heart-shaped ones belong on magazine covers. It’s scary outside, but the world is rose colored on Facebook. It’s like Martha Stewart hijacked my news feed.

I am tempted to post the art project Robin improvised from the contents of our under sink cabinet (above). He was in the bathroom for a long time, wasn’t he?

Oh, he made valentine cardImages too, some downright precious ones. I was so pleased with myself for remembering to stock up for his classmates. The one time I don’t blow off this vital Pre-K ritual is the V-Day when School Is Cancelled Due To Inclement Weather. F-ing figures.

I’m snowbound at home with 10 homemade, hand-decorated and cut hearts taped to the coolest heart-shaped plastic straws to give as gifts. (You know, the kind that are all curled up and trap stagnant water in them that grows bacteria. The kind you would neeeeever let your kid drink milk from and would be unwise to reuse more than a couple times, even for water?)

The boys made cookies, but they are too embarrassing to photograph: curiously hard M&M studded peanut butter lumps, inexplicably gluten free. The dough was so unwieldy, they didn’t even get a dozen, so none to share with neighbors.

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On the day before this 12-inch snow dump, I’d stocked up at the craft store. Pipe cleaner hearts are on the list for later, along with bear mask making and a big glass of prosecco. (Adults only.) Previous favorite snow day pairings include safety trampoline and Afropop. And my personal favorite, Pixar and a growler. (Child optional.)

We are all a little insane here, but getting better at managing all this unwanted free time. Randy’s home and we are fighting for work shifts on the computer. I stagger a 3.5 hour work session with shoveling and his internet conference call with the state. An angel neighbor takes Robin for a play date, but we are both too busy to even consider romance.

I guess with all the zigging and zagging, we are not so sick of each other yet, even on this second snow day in a row. No one is homicidal. The lights have stayed on. We’ve shoveled snow with and for friends. Out front there are swelling snowmen two storms old, a few inches taller than when we went to bed last night. It is all starting to feel normal.

When a thunderous crash startled my reading yesterday, I was relieved to realize it was merely the thunder they had predicted with our second round of snow. Not another gutter-breaking rooftop snow slide. Just thunder and lightening. Funny times when this realization calms you.

pipe cleaner heartsValentine’s dinner is Indian take out. Though we should have had time to cook today, Randy got out for a run and I passed time hanging out with neighbors, watching Robin and his friends climb the freakishly tall mounds of snow piled into our tiny front gardens. When I caught Robin licking the snow off of a neighbor’s car, I knew it was time to head in for dinner. Prosecco and sag paneer. Belgian chocolates for dessert. (You know, the kind you grab with some reticence from the stack of orphaned gourmet food near the check out line at TJ Maxx.)

A happy holiday indeed.

LOOK, Mom! Our car!!!!

priusApparently the law of diminishing returns does not apply to 3 and a half year olds. I could cite 20 examples, but you would probably find each one less interesting, so I will stick to a few.

For Easter Robin’s grandmother hid a couple dozen plastic eggs around their house for him. Each was filled with roughly the same number of M&Ms. Robin’s response on finding each one was the same–complete and total awe. He was as dumbfound on discovering the last as the first. Simply could not believe life’s abundance! And not just at finding each egg, but he sustained his excitement each time he opened a new egg to reveal its identical contents.

“LOOK, Mom! M&Ms!”

Dinner times on the deck are peppered with the same announcement, repeated incredulously. “Look, Mom! A plane!” One after the other after the other. He has such a low threshold for enthusiasm.

So his elation about the Prius should come as no surprise. “Look, Mom! That’s like our car!”

But in the 7 years since we bought ours, the Prius has become the most popular and common car model in our progressive zip code, completely overtaking the Subaru Outback as the unofficial car of Mt. Airy. We can’t drive a block without hearing ecstatic observations from his car seat. “That’s like OUR car!”

prius 2I am so over the hybrid. We love ours and recommend it highly, and I am glad to see so many on the road. But it is surely not novel. When any other passenger unknowingly chuckles as I pull up to another Prius at a stoplight, I roll my eyes and hiss. Two Priuses in a row is a non event around here. (Priuses? Priai?)

I used to say it was only worth a comment when three or more Priuses pulled up to a stop sign at the same time. That’s what I called a Prius Nexus.

But even that had grown unremarkable. It’s commonplace, really. Three of the same color in one place arouses no response from me. There are now four Priuses that live on our block. Two of them are dark gray, just like ours. I keep waiting for the day when the parking universe aligns and we all end up parallel parked in a row–three gray hybrids bumper to bumper to bumper.

That might raise my eyebrows. It would no doubt throw Robin into seizures of euphoria. It would be like his Happiness Rapture, really. He might simply disappear from the intensity of his joy. One person’s saturation is another’s (three-year-old) jubilation.

I wish I could muster Robin’s euphoria over the situation on our block. But most mornings I just try to not get into the wrong car.

Park here! We dare you.

parkingI live in a neighborhood with trees, gardens and parks. I can’t buy a cup of coffee or a loaf of bread without running into someone I know. Sometimes it’s a bit like Mayberry here in the –119. It takes the candor of a kindergartener to snap me out of my mirth.

“That guy did a really bad job parking.” My six-year-old neighbor announces this at full volume, as we unload the car we have pulled in neatly in front of the white one she’s pointing to. I bite my lip to contain hysterical laughter. I know she didn’t hear our conversation because the windows were closed; the observation is completely true and completely hers—said without malice, simply observed and noted. This is life in the city.

“Yeah, you’re kind of right,” I tell her. “But it’s not nice to say it. I am sure that driver did the best he could.” (My ass! His whole front end is sticking out into the street at such a sharp angle that parallel parking in front of him was a minor challenge.) It must be a visitor, someone who shuttles between driveways and parking lots. Or maybe a Roman? The park job was laughable enough that the sidewalk hopscotch brigade was gossiping. You know you’re a crappy parallel parker when 5 and 6 years olds laugh at you. From the mouths of babes…

We have no garage, so on-street parking is a way of life, a daily routine as unremarkable as toast and coffee. I don’t feel we grouse about parking like others do. We only drag chairs and trash cans into the street to guard parking spaces when we’ve shoveled out a spot in heavy snow. Otherwise we quietly jockey for a space on the block like everyone else. Or so I thought.

I was startled the first time I heard Robin, age 3, grumbling as he parked his Matchbox cars and vans. “Well, I guess this is the best I can do,” he muttered to no one as he swiped a red convertible up alongside a curb in the 2D city of his play rug. Then the black conversion van with the flames painted on its sides chimed in. “See if we can get closer.” It continued this way until supper, each car circling and complaining about the spot they finally procured.

Robin throws bizarre fits sometimes, tantrums for the most unlikely and unfixable things. After we dragged him to a couple open houses one weekend, he became fixated on having a garage. I don’t even remember if either of the homes we walked through had one. But his cry was undeniable. “Mommy, I want a garage! I want a garage! I want a garage RIGHT now! We neeeeeeed a garage!” He repeated it in hysterics as if he were asking for a cookie or something from a gift shop.

Who is this child? And is he baiting us for a move to the burbs?

In the meantime, if you drive over to visit us, consider yourself warned. Mayberry may have had parking lots. But this is the city. If you park poorly on our block, the kiddos will call you on it.