Where to go next?

As my family and I have made our way eastward across the United States, curiously along Interstate 80 from San Francisco to Oakland to Des Moines, IA, to the Toledo, OH, area, we often joke that we’ll continue our eastbound route and end up in Pennsylvania or New York next.

But, neither my husband nor I want to settle farther east. We want to return to the West, possibly to California where we have spent most of our lives and where our families live, or possibly to a new state, like Idaho or Colorado. The problem is that now that we’ve left California and seen it from the outside—the high cost of living the damage a ruinous legislature and ineffective governor has had on state services like public education—it’s harder to return than anticipated.

We live now in a quiet suburban town outside of Toledo, which is a former industrial city famous for supporting Detroit’s nearby auto industry. But much of the manufacturing has left the area, as it has in so many cities across the country, and there are elements of despair and abandonment that hover over this place.

In our little neighborhood, people seem content and settled in their lives. They mow their lawns, wash their cars and walk their dogs with regular routine. They drive shiny cars and take their kids to baseball games. The schools are good, and one of the high school’s hockey team just won the state title. But this neighborhood is in a bubble. Life here is easy.

It’s nice not to have to listen to screaming firetruck sirens racing down your street at 2 a.m., and not to walk out the front door and find a homeless man has defecated on your front stoop. It’s nice to not battle flocks of dirty pigeons nesting on the porch or to weave between globs of phglem-tinged loogies and equally disgusting pigeon poop on the sidewalk. Of course I’m talking about the streets of San Francisco, but I still miss those streets.

So as we look to where we will land next, we have to take into account the benefits and detractors of every possible place. Surely most our decision will depend on where the best job offer comes from, but we do have more of a say in this move than in either of our two prior moves. Taking all this into account, it’s clear we’ve learned a thing or two in our years abroad (in the Midwest).

  • Cost of living is important. We would rather not have to shell out several hundred thousand dollars to buy a house just because it is in a prime location. We want to live comfortably, but not excessively. We don’t want to be in debt.
  • Prime public education. That is almost an oxymoron in itself. But there are places where a solid public school still exists. We live in such a place now, and we are hoping that we can find good schools in a Western state that hasn’t been desecrated by privatization and budget cuts.
  • Work/life balance. There’s nothing that can compare to life as a medical resident. It is a tough road. My husband has been sleep deprived since he started med school in 2006, and we’re very much looking forward to having a balanced life again. Here in the Midwest, people seem to achieve that more than life on the West Coast. People are less busy here. They don’t schedule events months on end. It’s a slower pace, and it seems more sustainable.
  • Proximity to family and friends. Relationships are key. And beyond our own nuclear family, we miss being around our extended family members and old friends. It’s been hard to miss births, deaths, anniversaries, retirements…all the life moments that are huge and small. We’ve been gone for so long. We’ve learned how to live without that support network, but it can get lonely, and I often feel disconnected. Getting back into the fold would be a great additive to our move.
  • Beautiful surroundings. Some argue that the Midwest is beautiful. I agree that there are some parts I consider to be nice. But nothing compares to the jagged cliffs of the Northern California coastline, or the soaring redwood trees. Overlooking the ocean from a cliff in San Diego, watching pelicans glide in the breeze and surfers wait for a set to roll in is truly beautiful. Enjoying the mountains, the rivers, the lakes and everything in between…we miss that.

It’s exciting to think about the next phase of our lives as a family, and where we will end up. But more than anything I am yearning to put down roots, to settle in a spot and stay put. In my twenties, roaming the world and having adventures sounded like the best idea. Now I just want to develop community. I want to get to know my neighbors and feel invested in a place and in people and friendships. I want to plant a garden, knowing I’ll be there the following year to tend to it.

Life can be fleeting, and while I struggle to stay in the moment and be grateful for what life presents me each day, I still can’t wait to move on to the next chapter. We’ve got a year and a half to figure out where that will be, and until then, I’ll be trying to figure out what makes the most sense for a long-term commitment to home.

Leave a comment


  1. Well, I have a few quibbles with this post. The first, of course, is the pigeons. Pigeons are lovely. Pigeons are beautiful. Pigeons are much cleaner than human beings. “What we dislike in others we dislike in ourselves.” If you don’t like poop on the sidewalk, stop pooping on the sidewalk and please leave pigeons out of your self-loathing.

    The second is the work/life balance. Chicago is in the Midwest and work and life certainly are not in balance here. People try to balance them by bringing life into a fever pitch that approximates the insanity of the work ethic here instead of bringing work down to a healthier level of intensity. And Obispo is in the West and work and life are in balance there, as you know. I suspect it has more to do with urban/rural energy than with East vs. West. However, I would also argue that work and life are in better balance in LA and SF than in Chicago. This might be something you have to measure locally, with a work/life balance detector.

    Finally, I share your concern about moving back to California. It’s much harder–as in prohibitively expensive–to return than it ever was to live there. But I think one can always return to Obispo, live in a beach shack in Cayucos or a shanty made of driftwood on San Simeon beach, find the husband a job at French Hospital, supplement the children’s schooling with a smart lifestyle, and live in loveliness. Let’s do it!

    • You are right on so many points, Jeff. The work/life balance seems to be a personal attribute. However, in places where the cost of living is higher, one must work more to afford living. Yet, having a job one truly loves would make it easier to work more.

      Obispo, here we come! That’s actually one of the areas we’re looking into. A beach shanty in Cayucos sounds dreamy. I’m in!

      Jeff, pigeons are gross. Period. Had you seen the flock that lived on my porch in SF you would have agreed. 🙂

      • Had you seen the flock that lived in our backyard loft when I was growing up, or the flock that visits my balcony in Chicago, you would agree that pigeons are lovely. The fact that you don’t know how to live with pigeons doesn’t make them gross! Nature doesn’t make things gross, minds do. 😛

      • Oh and I don’t think it’s true that people have to work more to afford higher cost of living. That assumes that the harder you work the more you get paid, as if society is equitable. It only takes a glance at any workplace to see that’s not true!

  2. Chief

     /  January 19, 2013

    Hi. I live about 100 miles south of you in northern Miami County. So the weather here is similar to what you experience.

    You say you have good schools in the Toledo area and the cost-of-living is acceptable. But the friends and family is on the coast.

    We have lived in Ventura Co. for 2 years and in Alameda Co. for over a year. Plus we have lived in Massachusetts, New York, Virginia and Maryland for two years each.

    Once your husband finishes his residency, have you two considered moving to another country for him to practice?

    • orionblu1

       /  January 20, 2013

      We have thought about living abroad. Both of us have already done so for brief periods in our earlier lives, but it likely won’t be that option since we want to be closer to our families. You sure have had a lot of moves in your life!

      • There are no pigeons in Antarctica.

        • I’m trying to think of a comeback but all I do is sigh… 🙂 I wonder what sort of traits penguins and pigeons share?

        • Maybe if I spent more time in pigeon pose I’d become more fond of pigeons…maybe. I do love pigeon pose.

        • Chief

           /  January 20, 2013


          Where did the ref: to Antarctica come from ? ?

          • Jeff

             /  January 21, 2013

            Trying to think of a place where you won’t have to tolerate other successful species. How do you feel about penguins?

            • Chief

               /  January 21, 2013

              When it comes to pigeons, penguins or any other species, when there are too many in too small a space, an odor will develop.

              Cape Hallet (Antarctica) has a penguin rookery of well over one million penguins. The stench is over-powering.

              I spent three austral summers in Antarctica, so when ever I see a ref to anything Antarctic, I take notice.

              Whether I like penguins is not important.

              Redeployment in Jan/Feb 75. I left the Ice on a Navy C-130 with two things. All of my cold wx gear and a pallet of Adelie penguins on the ramp.

              The cold wx gear was important because they kept the plane very cold to accommodate the birds. No Problem. We all understood.

              Then in Ch-ch, Navy speak for Christchurch, NZ, we turned in all of our cold wx gear and had summer uniforms. Short sleeve khaki shirts for Chiefs.

              We get on an Air Force C-141 to go to the States and those same Adelie penguins were in a cage on a pallet on the ramp.

              It was a long cold flight from Ch-ch to NAS Pt Mugu in California. We froze our asses off.

              The penguins were transferred to the San Diego Zoo.

              After the penguins got to the zoo, the zoo suffered a refrigeration failure and the penguins perished because of the heat.

  3. Chief

     /  January 20, 2013

    I joined the U.S. Navy at age 17. I spent 21 years in the Navy. I have had a lot of opportunity. My wife’s step dad spent 22 years in the U.S. Air Force. She had traveled a lot before we met.

    Obviously, you and your resident need to decide what are the two or three most important things you want out of the place you decide to call home. Keep us informed.

  4. Rama

     /  January 23, 2013

    We lived in the San Diego area and moved to the Boston suburbs 5 years back. Love it. Not as expensive beautiful, great schools, etc., etc. Of course the city itself and some suburbs are super expensive, but there are more choices the So Cal.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: