We are all so close together now

As it turns out, moving is no joke, but you probably already knew that. The last month has been out of control – within the last four weeks I ended my job with the hospital system I worked with for over eight years, packed the marginal amount of stuff I could manage in addition to the children and our dog, and joined Sam in a two-bedroom apartment in Toledo, Ohio. Our dog promptly grew critically ill from a wicked virus he picked up at the kennel where we boarded him – twice I drove to the emergency veterinary hospital prepared to put him down – more on that whole story later. It took a little over a week for Skylar to heal, and as soon as I brought him home Evangeline and I immediately departed for Colorado for a week to celebrate my brother’s wedding. The trip turned out to be a much-needed buffer between our relocation and actually living in Toledo, and I fell madly in love with Colorado. It is my experience that like people, you can’t have too many places to love. If we are lucky, life is long and wide and you don’t know where it will take you.

The apartment we moved into is the opposite of the house we left behind – one floor of modernity that has benefits and drawbacks. Benefits include an incredible easiness to clean – I feel like a housekeeper extraordinaire! There is storage here so I can put things away. For every nook I clean, there isn’t a cranny leaking century-old coal dust onto the floor. If Duncan races into another room my heart rate remains the same because there are no stairs for him to topple down (he long ago figured out the secret to baby gates) and the amenities of living in a complex designed mostly for doctors and lawyers and such to wait out relocation can’t be beat – a large pool that Evangeline prefers I refer to as azul and parks for kids, a park for the dog. But it’s small, and after our entire family life spent a house with many cavernous rooms, we are all getting to know one another a lot better. Duncan and Evangeline are sharing a room, which they enjoy but is a little trying for me. Evangeline is a hard sleeper but Duncan likes to wake up in the middle of the night and chatter – no problem when he was in his own room in his own bed but a habit my daughter finds trying, understandably so. They are working it out. On the occasions when Sam’s snoring grows too much for me to bear, or if I’m racked with insomnia, there aren’t the two extra rooms for me to escape to with my pillow and book, just the living room couch which is comfortable but not the same. And this situation is fine for me, but Evangeline was the one who alerted me to the fact that if one of them gets sick, there isn’t the “extra” room for them to sleep in with me, which I am sure I’ll miss mid-winter.

Truthfully, though, while part of my heart broke off and shattered the day I left my church and my friends behind in Pittsburgh, I don’t miss living in a city. The first time I took the kids out for ice cream and we sat on park benches looking at trees instead of concrete I knew we had made the right decision. Don’t get me wrong – Pittsburgh is a wonderful city, and a great one to raise a family – there was so much I loved and will continue to love about it, but I wasn’t born and raised there and I feel much more peaceful returning to the Great Lakes region. I’ll return to Pittsburgh a couple of times a year to visit my friends and their families and stock up on homemade pasta and prosciutto – Pittsburgh will always have a huge part of my heart, but Michigan IS my heart and to be so near again? Well, I’m home.

I have so much I want to talk about! My transition (for a while, anyway) to a stay at home mom and how I totally underestimated the snack preparation involved in staying at home, and rededicating myself to a reading, writing and teaching kind of life (what even WAS that corporate detour? Okay, not really – I loved my job for a long time and have a lot to say about it, actually) and the limbo living between Pittsburgh and Ohio, but there is time to discuss all of this. I mainly wanted to say hello, revive my blog posting and start putting my fingers to keys again. I am going to finally get with the times and probably create a Facebook page for this blog, but in the meantime you can reach me through this blog or on twitter at CPMcCrimmon or on Instagram at bookgirl1977.

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chaos

I sat down last night last week to write something considerate and profound about where my family and I are in our lives right now and managed, I think, one good sentence on the subject. The truth is we are not in a considerate or profound state – we are the midst of chaos, because we have made the decision to move to Ohio so my husband can take a great job. For the length of time this transition took to come to fruition, we’ve had to move shockingly fast since ever, making decisions quickly and with authority. My last day of work? August 21st (I actually gave four week’s notice). The kids’ last day of daycare? August 28th. Our beloved house here in Pittsburgh is on the market and we’ve secured a short-term lease on a pet-friendly apartment in Ohio. I can’t spend any time thinking how our poor dog is going to adjust or I get heart palpitations – I think this will be worse for him than our children, who are young and will benefit enormously from our relocation.

I keep thinking of myself as being in profound states (I’m currently reading The Evening Star and it’s easy to adapt one of the lead female character’s voices (Aurora’s) as my own – I alternate between what I think of as a profound state of grief (over leaving my wonderful network of friends and the house I brought both of my babies home from the hospital) and profound elation (I no longer have to worry about sending my kids to private school – public school is an actual, awesome option for us!) to profound glee – we are returning to the true mid-west, with wide open skies, endless Great Lakes and a sun that shines more than the 57 days a year it does here in Pittsburgh. Not that much more, but still.

But mostly, I’m addled. And when I’m not addled, I’m overwhelmed. I started a running program to help manage my stress, and I hate running, but it takes less time than a yoga or dance class. There are countless things to do, from retrieving my kids’ vaccination records to retrieving my dog’s vaccination records. Security deposits are needed here, there and everywhere. We make huge, significant decisions and then backtrack, revising. The only sure things right now are that Sam’s start date is in less than two weeks, my brother is getting married in Colorado in three, we have a home to sell in order to buy a new one.

There’s so much to write about here…how I feel about pausing my career, what I’ll miss in Pittsburgh, my hopes for the future. Once questions I’ve seen asked on many blogs over the last few months is “and, what about this blog?” It seems like a lot of bloggers are thinking over whether or not they want to continue blogging. My hope for this space is that I will blog more frequently – indeed, my hope for myself is that I will write more frequently and possibly even manage a successful freelance and adjunct career, at least for a few years. I’m still trying to digest what this move means for me, but I do know one thing – I am grateful for this pause. We have one year before Evangeline begins kindergarten and we are irrevocably tied to a school schedule – I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep E out of some kind of school in Ohio but I have titled this year our Year of Adventures – I’ve bought us a journal and everything. I have been blessed with time, and Sam has been blessed with his dream job – my main goal is not to waste the opportunity.

So, darling readers, I hope to be with you MORE, not less. And I hope you’ll continue blogging, too. Writing and reading blogs is one of my most favorite things.

More soon,
C

dispatches from these sandwich days – alternating bullet points

* Duncan His words are coming so quickly now, and I feel a desperate desire to capture every moment of his toddler hood, scared I’m going to forget the order of his words – ball, dog, bowl, mommy, dada, yogurt, sister, stuck, stop, door and No, to name the ones he says most frequently. Once he has been fed, the only thing my boy wants to do is be outside, playing in our recently inherited sandbox or throwing a ball or going for a walk. His forcefulness is such that we all ended up spending most of the weekend outdoors. Don’t get me wrong – Evangeline has always loved being outside too – but her interest centers more around trips to the pool, the zoo and nature walks – trips with a purpose. She is otherwise happy to play on our porch or look at books or play pretend. But Duncan? It’s outdoors or bust. I’m looking forward to seeing if this continues to be the case as he grows older.

* My Mom has faced a series of upsetting medical issues in the last couple of months that are probably going to result in some pretty aggressive surgery, hopefully sooner rather than later so she can recover in time for my brother’s September wedding in Colorado. A moderately prickly person under the best of circumstances, she is understandably quite nervous. Already these health issues have drastically impacted her summer – she didn’t join her golf league for the first time in probably thirty years, and she is being forced to take her life day by day instead of the leaps and bounds she is used to. This made our last visit – complex – and I realized my fear for my parents in their older age is the possibility of descent into complete joylessness, as the demands of medical appointments and altered lifestyles take the place of their passions. This feels very real, and is what fills my stomach with dread more so than wonky EKG reports or necessary surgical procedures.

* Evangeline is so quickly growing into her own young woman. “They” say how fast our kids will grow up and of course I believed them but…this quickly? My babies? At 4 and a 1/2 and 1 1/2 they are utter deliciousness, learning in great sweeping curves. With Evangeline, four and a half is all about outer space and learning to take photographs and art projects – I’m getting really good at art, mom she told me one day and it’s true, she is. Another time she told me everyone has a hobby and mine is art. Yours is exercising, mom. Every day I say prayers of thanks for their health, their exuberance, their complete and total Evangeline and Duncan-ness.

* When my mom was in the middle of her health issues, I broached the idea of coming home for a few days to help. It wasn’t so much that I considered myself indispensable during her crisis but rather, for the life of me, I could not imagine my father properly grocery shopping or handling laundry. This felt like a betrayal, in a way – I have always been a bit of a daddy’s girl and he has always had my inherent trust when it comes to long hikes in the middle of the woods, filleting fish freshly caught from the lake on old picnic tables, and deep dives into the Great Lakes. So to believe as strongly as I did that he probably wouldn’t properly purchase food or launder sheets felt, in a way, ridiculous, but it turned out I was right. In a private moment, my mom confessed to me that my dad kept offering food she could not eat because of her condition, or allowing long stretches go by without her eating at all. The man is a vigorous 72 years old and spends his days much as he did 40 years ago – running, biking, reading, gardening, camping, golfing, morel-mushroom hunting – so why things like grocery shopping allude him so thoroughly, I’m sure I don’t know. I do know he loves my mom and this disregard isn’t intentional.

* I’ve been emerging from my kids’ babydom in what I think of as layers. When I think of Duncan as a newborn and Evangeline at three, I imagine myself at the bottom of a very deep pool, maybe even an ocean, floating. For months there wasn’t much to distinguish night from day – Duncan was born in the deep grim of a Pittsburgh February, and because of his initial health concerns we weren’t supposed to leave the house at all. Duncan had his days and nights inexorably confused, and his wails during his first six weeks of life often woke his sister. Many nights found the three of us on the living room couch at 2 a.m., all of us thwarted in our attempts at nighttime sleep. The biggest gift I gave myself during that period, though, was the gift of time. I didn’t grow anxious late into night and instead began, in a way, looking forward to those deep evenings when both my children needed me – Sam slept through it all. I feel like I’ve been rising to the surface, gradually, ever since and suddenly I’ve broken through – the sun is above me, the ocean floor far below and I’m not even treading water – I’m swimming toward something.

* I am aware of this surfacing in part because of how active my mind has been recently – I feel like my old self again. I love how, with the creation of Serial, Sara Koenig refers to her interest in Adnan Syed’s conviction as a “fascination” instead of an obsession – I know just what she means by that. I’ve been following my fascinations for a few months now (should I write a one woman show about this performance artist I’m obsessed with? Must learn all there is to know about Brian Wilson!) and its just occurred to me that it’s time to write – really write again. I’ve been blogging and keeping a journal throughout my children’s early years, but it’s not the same as working on long-term writing projects. I have so many ideas bouncing around in my head all of the time that they can become slightly crazy-making, but now is the time to return to what I’ve always thought of as my real work – writing, and possibly teaching.

…if I wait for a creative way to end this post, I will never post it -as it is it took me nearly a week to write this. So, I’m just going to post, with the promise of more substantial posts very soon.

it’s time for a bullet post!

Last week I sat down to blog and couldn’t think of a flipping thing to write about. No big deal, I thought. Just take a few days off and try again. Sure enough, on Friday I started a post I thought had potential but when I revisited it this morning I felt all blah about it, like who could possibly care about that particular piece of writing? My fingers paused above the keyboard, actually, literally, paused, as I considered potential posts. Part of me considered venting about some family drama I’m going through, but that didn’t feel necessary, although it maybe would have been funny. I’m still working my way through the second novel in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series and while I’m enjoying it I doubt I’ll be moved to review it. I thought about skipping another blogging session, but if there is one thing I know, it’s that writing begets writing and the only solution to any kind of writer’s block, apart from a long walk alone, is to just keep at it.

Time for a bullet post, then! Eight bullet posts about the here and now mostly now.

* This is me, today yesterday. I’ve been avoiding taking selfies ever since my minister went on a small rant about how self-indulgent and ultimately joyless they are and I found myself agreeing with him, but yesterday, feeling exhausted from over 24 hours without sleep and managing a croupy one year old, I was feeling particularly blue about my appearance. To pass some time I tried snapping some pictures of me with Duncan but even sick, he won’t sit still, so I ended up with this. In our culture it’s easy to feel defeated in the face of so much manufactured beauty, and it’s only recently I not only came to terms with my appearance but have been proud of it and, at times, even felt beautiful. I like this shot because I haven’t had any sleep, I don’t have a stitch of makeup on, I’m covered in pasta sauce and yet I was able to look at it and think, well. Not too bad for a 37 year-old mom of two:

croup

* I’ve come to the realization recently that I’ve been shying away from fully utilizing my intellect at work, and yes, I realize how ridiculous that sounds. Since I’m in healthcare PR I spend a lot of time with doctors and I don’t ever expect to know the same kind of stuff they do, but within my own department I often still act like the 30 year old I was when I started, instead of owning and using my knowledge, making recommendations and believing in myself and my decisions. A lot of different events have brought me to this insight, and since realizing it I’ve taken a much more active role in my department. I don’t expect this to cure any of the frustrations I have with the position but it feels great – and belated – to have confidence in what I believe is right.

* Plenty has been written about the power of saying no, and I don’t need to belabor it all here, but I’ve recently found a ton of freedom in saying no to things that make me feel uncomfortable financially. As I’ve written about previously, paying for the cost of two children in daycare has put a strain on our finances, and our previous lifestyle – one where we could pick up whatever food we wanted to cook, whenever we wanted it without a budget, go out to eat on a whim, take vacations without saving – is temporarily gone. I occasionally get down about this and feel as though I’m failing, somehow – and then I hit myself on the forehead and remember in the last six years Sam graduated law school, we bought a house, and we had two kids. That’s quite a lot for such a short time frame and financial growing pains are to be expected. Because money is always hard to talk about, however, I’ve struggled with explaining to my friends who earn more money than we do that I can no longer afford to regularly go out for expensive dinners but I took the leap and you know what? It’s never about the expensive dinners. My friends are just as happy to come to my house and eat bad Chinese or have me at theirs for impromptu parties – some of them, I think, are even secretly relieved we aren’t spending 60 dollars on miso blackened cod. I took this approach a step further and told my parents that as much as I would love to, Evangeline and I wouldn’t be joining them in Florida this April. Frankly, this decision is crushing for all of us but my brother is also getting married this summer so I am being fiscally responsible and while it doesn’t always feel great, I’m proud of myself for exerting control in this area of our lives.

* When March began, I decided it would be the month of task completion. I am pretty sure that’s a football term, and Sam uses it all the time to celebrate or bemoan the general state of our lives with two little ones in the house. Between horrible weather conditions and illness, a lot of my goals, both short-term and long-term, were interrupted but March! March, I vowed, would be the month of Moving Things Forward. I would finish my minimalism-reorganization of the kitchen! I would have mostly have the third floor front room cleaned out and ready to become a playroom. I would have my yoga and aerobics schedule firmly in hand and for the love of all things holy I would finish Serial and Dragonfly in Amber so I could move the fuck on in my reading/listening life. I made good headway for a couple of weeks but a long business trip for Sam, a visit from my parents, and Duncan’s croup interrupted my progress (I might as well write lifeinterrupted my progress!). I have a few days left in March and while I know I won’t accomplish all of my goals, moving onto new reading material will be wonderful.

*Oh! The Counting Crows just came on the radio! I listened to the song “Anna Begins” countless times when I wrote my novel back in my early thirties – it seemed to so perfectly encapsulate my narrator. Despite their incredible progression as a band, I’m always transported back to the end of high school and beginning of college by their sound. The Counting Crows is one of the few bands I’d love to see live that I haven’t (ah – another luxury we thoughtlessly spent money on for years – concert tickets! it drives both sets of our parents nuts that we don’t yet own a proper dining room table. Oh well – we own enough memories of rock concerts, I suppose.)

* Returning to a couple of bullet points ago, regarding how slowly I’m moving through podcasts, reading material, and the like – it’s been years since I’ve been able to watch television shows in real time, which makes me fairly useless when it comes to the proverbial water cooler conversation at work. Last week one of my co-workers bounded up to (he’s sort of puppyish – bounded really is the right verb, here) and asked me if I’d seen the previous night’s episode of “The Walking Dead”. “No, but I recently finished the Sopranos,” I said helpfully. He turned away wordlessly, disgusted.

* Since the beginning of 2015, a handful of my friends have been forced to face some really scary situations. Now that Duncan is past his first year, I’ve been able to do small things for these friends – make a covered dish, run errands, check in regularly. After the love and support I received from so many people during the first years of my children’s lives, it feels amazing to be in this place, this place of helping others.

* Michigan State somehow landed in the Final Four. Usually an avid fan of my college basketball team, this year I turned my attention to Pitt since we had season tickets. A mistake, obviously. Saturday Michigan State faces Duke, Sam’s team – so it should be a pretty tense afternoon in our house. I am really looking forward to BOTH final four games – Wisconsin versus Kentucky should be spectacular. It’s not often I say this but no matter what happens on Saturday, I am guaranteed to watch the championship game next Monday – something I don’t commit to most years!

Ah, well. There you have it. I hope to have a more topic-focused post for you next time. Have a great week!

Midway through the season of Lent

Growing up as a Presbyterian in a predominantly Catholic town, I generally felt left out during the observance of Lent. I grew up in the kind of Presbyterian congregation that the minister of my current church jokingly refers to as “the frozen chosen” – we never clapped after guest musicians performed, we rarely decorated the church and our passing of the peace didn’t go beyond the lightest hand shake we could get away with. Frankly, I had little understanding of Lent as a season unto itself because nothing really changed noticeably until Palm Sunday, when the kids in the congregation were given palm leaves and reenacted Jesus’ return to Jerusalem. Things grew a little more lively during Holy Week and Easter – I recall releasing multi-colored balloons into the air in recognition of the resurrection, at least. But it definitely felt like the Catholics had most of Lent to themselves. On Fridays, all of my friends feasted on fried fish dinners from Lud’s, the local fast-food restaurant, and during the week the school halls were full of chatter about what everyone was “giving up” in observance of Lent. Pop, chocolate, candy or sugar altogether, swearing, lying, not-studying – whatever, it never seemed entirely bad to have a goal of some sort during the dark cold of late winter. I remember asking my mom at some point if I should give something up for lent and she vehemently opposed the idea, stating that was a Catholic thing, probably while she sat a juicy prime rib roast in front of us on a Friday while my dad muttered something about giving up chocolate, equivocating, and forty days in the desert.

Not huge fans of the Catholic religion, my parents.

When I moved to Pittsburgh I began thinking of Lent as its own season, partially because the ministers of my church guide us through it patiently and worshipfully but also because of my city’s willingness to embrace and then build upon any opportunity to create community. Catholics can’t eat meat on Fridays? No problem. Every Catholic church and fire hall within three counties will host a fish fry! And people, we aren’t just talking, as you might think, about the ubiquitous fried fish advertised by McDonald’s or Wendy’s – meals that are punishing in and of themselves. We are talking about homemade macaroni and cheese and spaghetti with olive oil, roasted fried shrimp and sauteed scallops – heaping, steaming platefuls of delicousness cooked up by nuns and women who regularly man large church kitchens. These fish fries are generally bring-your-own-beverage and they can be found in every Pittsburgh neighborhood, borough and suburb during Lent. To accompany these fish fries, many organizations host small carnivals, game nights and fundraisers, and so people who have remained at home on Friday nights since Christmas, at first as a welcome respite from the holiday bustle and then as a less-welcome avoidance of the cold, break out of their hermit shells and go out.

Everything begins to feel a little less dark as the Lenten season begins – the days begin to lengthen, allowing light, metaphorical and literal, to pour in.

Since the start of 2015, we’ve had a difficult time making it to church on Sundays. Every Sunday so far at least one of us has been sick except for one, where we managed to stay until the middle of the first hymn when I realized the stomach bug I so smugly thought I avoided receiving from the rest of the family struck – no child has ever been ripped so quickly from Sunday school as Evangeline was that morning. So Sam and I focused on Lent. By the time Lent begins, we reasoned, the children will be healthy. By the time Lent begins, we told ourselves, our plumbing woes will be over. We will return to regular church going with the start of the Lenten season and it shall be glorious, a small-scale resurrection of our own sort.

And on the first Sunday of Lent we did – we made it to church. We made it through the announcements and the first hymn and passing the peace and almostto the children’s sermon when Duncan – who made it very clearly known that he would NOT be left in the nursery – let out a tortured wail in response to the organ and did.not.stop. Sam took him in the hallway to go for a walk when, just as the children’s sermon was about to begin, Evangeline leaned in and whispered to me “momma, I have to use the potty. It can’t wait.” And so she and I walked to the women’s room and as my daughter was about to get down to business she slipped on some PEE on the floor – someone before us obviously hadn’t been able to make it to the actually bathroom on time – and she fell and soaked her pants, and lo – the crying. The crying. “It’s not very fun,” she gasped, “to be covered in someone else’s pee.”

of course it isn’t.

I carried her out into the hallway where Sam was managing a fussy Duncan and through marital ESP finely tuned over the last fifteen years we decided, without speaking, to head for the door.

Since that last service, we haven’t been back to church yet. Minor illnesses and major weather inconveniences have kept us away, and while initially I’ve felt guilty about it, I knew I had to look at our circumstances in a different light. Because of weather or runny noses, I’ve been able to stay home and experience long Sunday mornings. I’m a lucky mom with kids who like to sleep and on Sundays they often don’t rise until 7:30 or 8:00 a.m., allowing for two breakfasts (the first fed to the kids immediately while Sam and I drink coffee, the second mid-morning when the grownups are ready to eat) – and so, during these first snow-bound Sundays of lent, I shut out the voices of my mother and grandmother, who for some reason always seemed to believe that God is mostly found in the formal spaces set aside for prayer (church, dinner table, bedroom) and instead found grace every time Duncan brought me a book, climbed into my lap and began sucking his thumb, waiting expectantly for a story; I breathed in the warmth of my daughter as she emerged from her bed, I exhaled a prayer of peace. I said thanks for runny yellow egg yolks on fresh sourdough toast and sunlight glinting through dust-smeared dining room windows, for half finished cups of coffee left abandoned in order to keep the baby from his latest death wish.

At one point, I emailed our minister to explain our predicament. He’s a compassionate, understanding man and I believe in the work of our church and, I don’t know, I didn’t want him to think we’d just abandoned church. He of course wrote back something gracious and understanding, ending on a note stating he hoped the rest of the Lenten season was less eventful and more worshipful for us. And, in its own way, it has been.

“You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”

― G.K. Chesterton

Happy New Year

I’ve tried to write drafts of this post twice now and both times I haven’t successfully saved them in wordpress but hey, third time’s a charm! Admittedly, it’s sort of difficult to rally the same spirit for this post the third time around but I am going to give it a try. So, yes, 2015 had some ups and downs for us but it is hard to dislike a year that brought us this guy:

Duncan1

Having a second child is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Watching Evangeline and Duncan’s relationship develop has given me more joy than I ever thought possible. Our finances are certainly strained and without any family nearby Sam and I sometimes feel overwhelmed but I wouldn’t trade these two for wealth or relaxation, not even for a second:

parkbreak

We are deep into early January – close enough that any resolutions we made can still seem shiny with promise – but far enough away that talking much about 2014 seems trite to me. I didn’t read or write nearly enough but I hadn’t planned on it – a baby’s first year can be terribly consuming and I made the conscious choice to simply focus on Duncan’s first year and work on everything else in 2015. One nice thing about my thirties – I’m growing out of making resolutions, but I did sit down on New Year’s Eve and write some guiding words for the year. (Okay, here is the point where I realize that I forgot to bring my journal with me and so don’t have the words immediately in front of me. I was going to explain a little about each word but instead I’ll just write about a few of my intentions.)

One of the concepts I am embracing wholeheartedly – indeed, that I started incorporating into my daily life before the new year – is the concept of minimalism. So often I feel overwhelmed by paperwork, my kids’ toys, by all of our things despite owning a large home. In the fall I started following Rachel Jonat at the Minimalist Mom and even downloaded her book, Do Less. Both her blog and the book are loaded with great information to steamline your home, your life and your mind. One of the first tasks I tackled was throwing away all of our old, ratty towels and buying one towel set for each family member, as well as a guest set. As they show signs of wear and tear I will replace them, but otherwise they get laundered on Saturdays and used the rest of the week – my linen closet is already greatly improved! She also had some really great tips for applying minimalism to our on-line lives. I really thought about the outlets that bring me joy (my blog, facebook on occasion, twitter almost never, instagram when I remember it) and relentlessly began defriending people on facebook who bring negativity to my space (the anti-vaccine crusader who I hung out with in high school, the racist Obama-haters), unsubscribed to a million newsletters and online catalogues (another concept she tackles is reducing the want in your life by reducing the number of catalogues and online advertising you subscribe to) and trimming my twitter lists.

I know most people probably don’t need a how to book to purge and improve their lives but I’m the kind of person who needs a bit of guidance so I’m grateful for Jonat, her book and her blog.

Another one of my guiding words – Art – is pretty broad, but basically by improving my home I am hoping to make more room for my writing and reading, and whatever creative pursuits my children set their minds to do. Evangeline really loves crafts and Duncan responds in a very visceral way to music so I am hoping to make lots of room for this kind of exploration for them.

In terms of the blog, I would like to make this a more visual space without it becoming all about the pictures. My favorite blogs to read are still the long text heavy ones that tackle subjects, ideas, passions and wormholes – but one or two good photos slays me every time. I also hope to keep up its overall theme by discussing “sandwich day” issues, but I also hope to use this space to talk about my current passions and interests. Thanks so much for sticking with me in 2014 – here is to a fascinating, complex 2015!

the view from my front door

Sunday morning, after a luxurious (for us) wake up from the kids at 6:45 a.m., with no plans to attend church because of road closures, Duncan down for his morning nap and Evangeline ensconced in her puzzles, I filled up a bucket with window cleaner and hot water and headed for the front of the house, determined to finally wash our windows. It was a bit cooler than I had anticipated but I didn’t mind. I was finding so much satisfaction in dipping the squeegy window thing (it’s real name) in the steaming hot, bubbly water, splashing the water all over our large front window and then meticulously squeegying the excess water off the window that very little could have dampened my mood. Our street is a relatively busy one and a lot of people were out and about already, walking dogs, chasing toddlers or going for a morning jog.

“Early start,” I heard a male voice call. When I turned around I saw a middle-aged man with a blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby strapped securely in his Ergo carrier, trying to contain an excited beagle on a leash.

“Oh, no – we’ve been up, had first breakfast and are now just down for morning nap,” I replied, jutting my chin in his child’s direction. “We have a baby too.”

“Oh, yeah – we are heading for morning nap too, right after we finish our walk,” he said. “I’m Adam, by the way.”

“I’m Courtney, it’s nice to meet you.”

The rest of the conversation finished in the average way you would expect it to, so it would be difficult to immediately discern what was remarkable about it unless you lived on our street with us for the last five years. What I found astounding was that the conversation happened at all.

Five and a half years ago when we chose our house, we did so with the understanding that it wasn’t in a great school district, and that it did, in fact, exist mere blocks from one of the worst neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. At the time we weren’t sure whether we’d be able to have children, and even if we were able to, they existed merely as figments of our imagination, so we weren’t concerned with school districts.

It’s one thing not to be terribly concerned about school districts, and entirely another to realize what it means to live on the border of a “bad” neighborhood. Within weeks a drug deal went bad in our back alley, resulting in one of the kids breaking into our neighbors’ house while they were home to hide out from his dealer. A few weeks later, a woman was raped in a nearby park. For the first two and a half years we lived in our house, it wasn’t unusual to witness a rotating group of prostitutes circle in and out of one of the nearby apartment buildings, or to watch for used condoms and syringes when walking our dog. Occasionally we despaired about our choice of location
but, typical first-born children that we are, we mostly owned our decision and went about the business of restoring the house we bought and appreciating the fact it was within walking distance of work and our favorite restaurants. We did adopt a pretty big dog.

After I became pregnant with Evangeline we talked much more deeply about what we should do.

“We may have to lose money on the house,” Sam would say. “But we can recover from that if need be.”

“Kids need more green space,” I would say. “And fewer drug deals going on behind their house.”

“Preferably NO drug deals.”

“Well, yes, preferably. But even the suburbs have meth and heroine and teenagers.”

But while I was busy making and nursing babies, an amazing thing began to happen. It happened so slowly as to practically be imperceptible, until one day Sam and I were drinking coffee on our porch and noticed a brand new BMW parked in between the identical Mazdas my neighbor and I own.

“Well, that person obviously doesn’t live here,” I said.

“No, he does – down the street in one of the condos,” Sam said. “And someone nearby owns a Range Rover, too.”

I know gentrification has its downside but that’s not exactly what we are experiencing yet – I think, we are experiencing pre-gentrification, maybe? We’ve always had a solid set of neighbors, the majority of them child-free by choice, for whom school districts have never been important part of choosing a neighborhood. Now, between the frequent sightings of various couples in their late thirties, generally dressed either for the gym or a night on the town or the more transient, dislocated people who circulate in and out of the apartment buildings four blocks away from us, we are meeting young families. So many young families, in fact, that my neighbor Carmen has declared a baby boom in our neighborhood. And students! College and graduate school students, moving in with their Ikea furniture and beat up cars, asking with heartbreaking sincerity at the bus stop “if the bus is usually on time?” as we wait for one to arrive.

For several years I always found Sunday afternoons the creepiest time in my neighborhood. I usually found myself all alone in the park when I took my dog for a walk, save for one or two men sitting on the benches, a restlessness about them that screamed drug addiction. Even though Skylar is fiercely protective of me and sort of scary due to his size, I rushed through our Sunday afternoon constitutionals, never feeling completely comfortable or safe.

Now, though. Now. Sunday afternoons! A nearby yoga studio conducts classes in the middle of the park while parents bring their kids in wagons, on bikes and in strollers, laden down with t-ball equipment, beach balls and toys. The park is poetry in motion, all kids on bikes and babies on strollers and parents, coffee in hand, chasing chasing chasing. It is now one of my favorite places to spend time on the weekend.

Over the years we’ve talked about moving to the suburbs, to a house in better shape than ours – one perhaps with a better bathroom and yard big enough for a trampoline and more green space for the kids, but something continually keeps us in the city. Sometimes it’s a reminder during our minister’s Sunday sermon that as Christians we are supposed to travel lightly and not become bogged down with the more more more our society encourages, other times it’s realizing that adding an actual commute to our daily lives could be our undoing. Whatever the shifting reasons happen to be, they’ve given us an opportunity to witness real change, and the way a neighborhood can evolve over time, and endless opportunities for gratefulness.