Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Rekindling the Joy of Downtown Life

I stole that title from my friend, Alison. She used that phrase in a comment on this Instagram picture:


and it really struck me. I am beginning to find it easier to embrace the downtown lifestyle lately. I still miss my animals, but I'm mostly ok with being back in the city again. I still look on Zillow and obsessively, and send Martin texts with promising country property listings, with this silly hope that maybe we can go back to that life soon, but the fact is, we can't. And I'm mostly okay with that.

This week I've been very much okay with it. We've finally had some spring-like weather—sunny, seventy degree days, a whole string of them! And today was warm, but cloudy, and ended with a cool rain this evening. Even that was nice. In the country, it's really dark at night and you can't see the rain the same way you can in the city. Down here, the lights reflect on the wet pavement and the passing cars are all shiny and you can hear people splashing down the sidewalk when they walk by the house if the windows are open. Across the street from our house is the library parking lot and a big old-fashioned sort of street light that reaches into a tree. On rainy nights, the whole tree is all shimmery and glistening. And it's pretty. It's not snow on dried Queen Anne's Lace pretty, or mist on the river pretty, but it is pretty, in it's own way.

We've been playing out in the yard every day. It's so nice because the big girls can go outside and play and I can be in the back bedroom with the windows open, able to see and hear them, but also able to do laundry or put Ingrid down for a nap. Mostly I go out with them though and work on the gardeny stuff. We have three raised beds, a long narrow in-ground plot, a blueberry bush that is in a big planter, and different areas of vertical shelving for potted herbs. We plan to make one more garden bed, possibly plant a dwarf fruit tree (or two or three, depending on what ugly vegetation we decide to cut down,) add flower planter boxes to the windows at the front of the house and do some hanging cucumbers around the edge of our patio roof. I'm really excited to see what works and what doesn't in terms of growing things. So far, my seedlings in the dining room window are doing great! (except for the tray of tomatoes that WERE doing great until Brynja knocked them down and they never recovered after being replanted.) I have little sprouts of lavender, oregano, dill, basil, and something else I can't remember what... while my parsley and sage are not coming up at all. Our sunshine is all in the backyard and west side yard... our front is almost totally shaded with nothing but a couple of scraggly boxwoods and some hostas and ferns.


Anyway, I kind of got sidetracked there with the growing stuff topic. Growing stuff is great, but that wasn't what I was going to talk about. I was going to talk about the simplicity of downtown life. Today a friend stopped by. And it was delightful. We were in the backyard, she was on an errand to return library books, and she and her two youngest boys, without warning, just came around back for a short visit with us. It was wonderful! And if I hadn't been home, her stop would not have inconvenienced her in the slightest. Living far outside of town, seeing people takes planning. And it's always an ordeal. People don't drive 30 minutes from town to pop in and say a quick hello. They come for an afternoon. Which is GREAT, but it is limiting. Afternoon visits between families require coordination of schedules, whereas a drop-in can be literally twenty minutes of rejuvenating chit-chat between obligations.

After our friends left, we ate lunch and Ingrid took her nap. While she was napping, I was raking out the front mulched areas (with the scraggly boxwoods) and sweeping the sidewalk with Elka, when Greta came out and said she was ready to go to the library alone. (I have talked to the librarian about this, and the youngest an unattended child can be in the youth department is 6. My girls are 7 and 8.) I told her she couldn't go alone, but if Anja felt like she was ready, they could go together without me. Well, talk about a thrilling invitation. They bustled about finding their library cards, packing up books to return, assuring Elka they would check her out some of her favorites, and while I sat on the porch swing with Elka (who screamed the entire time they were gone because she wasn't old enough to go with them,) I thought of what a pleasant childhood they must be having down here. Anja, who cannot get her hands on enough books, able to walk to the library without her parents. She loves the library. LOVES IT. And Greta just likes to act grown up, so doing anything without her parents in a win in her book. Directly after their library trip it was time for Anja's ballet class, which is on Wednesdays. This used to be a major stress for me. It was always a struggle to get to ballet, and class is an hour and fifteen minutes, which was an awkward time. It wasn't enough time to go all the way back home, but it was too long to just hang out in the car. We always ended up going someplace and spending money. It was always enjoyable—most often, we'd go to a coffee shop and get treats—but it was expensive and when you do something every week it starts to seem less like a treat. Now we just all put our shoes on and walk down to ballet. We drop Anja off, and either walk back home, or pop into the local food co-op and pick up anything we need. Then we walk back again to pick her up when class is over. Even if it's raining. And we all love it. Often we take one of the dogs along.

Last Sunday was absolutely beautiful. We didn't make it to the Mass time at the nearest church, so we decided to walk over to the West side for Mass at the church over on the University campus. Afterward we realized that their big “Spring Fest” was going on. It was huge! All the different departments and student organizations had booths and activities and it was such a nice day, we had to swing through and it was SO much fun. They had a tent full of baby farm animals—tiny little calves and piglets and lambs. We pet them all. The girls played a jumping game and got candy and little plastic animals (and Ingie got sunglasses.) The plant science students were selling exotic plants, so we bought a venus fly trap for ten dollars, something that the girls have been wanting forEVER. We didn't even see a fraction of the festival, but we had a lovely, full time.


We stopped for gelato on the way home, then walked back downtown and were back home in time for lunch and naptime. It's about a three mile walk, round-trip. We did get sunburned, but it was worth it.

This all comes back to the phrase “rekindling the joy.” There is a span of memory from our previous life in this house that is downright miserable. By the time we moved, the neighborhood had gone to pot, my heart was NOT in this place, I had lost all vision of potential for this house and making the layout work for our family. We had scummy neighbors after having some really great ones, crime was increasing, and I was just done. No joy. None. But BEFORE that time of despair, there HAD BEEN joy. A lot of joy! Our neighborhood had been pleasant and safe and friendly when we first moved here. I have these fabulous memories of when Anja and Greta were very small and the three of us would walk everywhere. We'd walk down to splash in the fountain at the train depot or go across the bridge to get ice cream. We would walk up to my parents' house and spend the afternoon, then Martin would pick us up when he was done with work. After Elka was born, we had a sandbox on the porch and she would nap on her sheepskin in the front room while Anja and Greta would play in the sand and I would sit on the swing and read Country Living magazines. When Martin had an overnight security guard job when Greta was 2 and Anja was 3, we would spend our Saturdays the three of us going to the Farmers Market for fresh veggies and flower bouquets and pastries. We planted lettuce and radishes that year and would make salads, and we grew this crazy purple beans that I never really knew what they were but they were delicious and they produced all summer long. We ate so much of those beans! They turned green when you cooked them!

And all that was after having children—not even counting the fun first year Martin and I had here before Anja was born, or the winter after Anja was born when he would wear her in the moby wrap and zip his coat up over her for our walks to church. During her first summer, when she was about seven months old, Martin took a two-week vacation from work and we had so much fun. Every day we would walk over to campus to our favorite coffee shop and Anja would fall asleep in her stroller and while she napped we would iced drink vanilla chai on the patio. Those were joy-filled days.

So yes, rekindling the joy is exactly what we're doing now. Our little mourning period is over (though I'll always miss my big animals, always) and now we're embracing all that living downtown has to offer. I seriously spend soooooooo little time in the car now. It's incredible. And it's true that I don't see the miracle of God's creation in the sunrise every day. Not even close. And I miss that! I miss going outside in my pajamas and stoking up the fire from the night before. But for all we've lost, we have gained a lot. Downtown is better now than the last time we lived here, and we are in a better position to enjoy it, at least for awhile, so we'll embrace the rekindled joy in being back!  


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