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.

The Ohio Experiment

Well, I think I’m still in the Heartland. Though I’m not really sure what Ohio is considered: Heartland, Midwest, Mideast? All of the above?

Anyway, we’re here now.

We keep moving further east. But I do believe eventually we will do a 180 and move in the other direction.

The reason for this move is my husband’s residency in emergency medicine at a Toledo hospital. It’s a three-year stint, and so we are making the most of it.

So far, my observations of Ohio as compared to Iowa as compared to California are few (I don’t get out much):

  • Same general summer weather pattern–hot and humid. Ohio is a little more tolerable, though, and the same mode for cooling off is the local swimming pool. Northwest Ohio, however, has more natural waterways in proximity that we intend to explore.
  • Same propensity toward neat, trim lawns. Our new neighborhood, though more affluent and newer than our old one in Des Moines, does have a number of houses who do not care if there are more weeds than grass. But, these lawns also have sprinkler systems, perhaps a reflection of the less total inches of rain that falls here in the summer.
  • The suburbs are more sprawling, older and have less character. This is not to say that West Des Moines has much character, but they are neater and not as laden with blight. Toledo metro is very spread out, littered with strip malls lining wide avenues and covered in concrete and asphalt. The age and faltering economy of the outlying areas has caused much blight to occur. There are a lot of vacant buildings and overgrown lots, and there’s little new construction.
  • More shopping options, but fewer Starbucks. Toledo has a Macy’s, an H&M and a natural foods co-op: three stores I appreciate having around that were nowhere near driving distance in Des Moines. But Des Moines had a Trader Joe’s. The nearest TJ’s around here is in Ann Arbor, 45 minutes north, where there is also a Cost Plus/World Market and a Whole Foods. There is an IKEA about an hour away, and a major metropolitan airport–Detroit–less than an hour away.
  • The people seem a little less overtly friendly than in Iowa, and there is a stronger accent here, which was a surprising find. It sounds like a mix of Chicago, East Coast and Wisconsin.
  • There are a lot of Semites here–Jews and Arabs, which is a welcome demographic for me, being a mixture of those two people. There’s a Muslim family across the street who live next to Jews and we live next door to another Jewish family. I’m interested to see what the winter holidays look like.
  • Downtown Toledo is not a place where you want to be. It is vacant. It even feels vacant during work hours on a weekday. There are a few tall buildings, but not a lot of revitalization or interesting things to see or do. Des Moines has been slowly attracting more restaurants, bars, stores and residents to its downtown, and while it’s by no means as bustling as San Francisco or San Diego, it is getting better.
  • Fewer outlets for yoga here. But there are a lot of Pilates studios, and it seems like people are really into triathlons.
  • It is very flat. Pancake flat. In the sense that you would just be able to go on forever in a straight line.

More observations to come as life here goes on…

Transitions

It’s that time of year again. People come and go. Like an airport terminal, only with less urgency and more tangled webs caught on their pant legs.

Our lives are set apart in chapters. We arrive. We live. We leave. In late spring, many of us find ourselves leaving or being left behind. I fall into the latter category. These ideas have been ruminating for a while in the dusty attic of my brain that does not deal well with transitions. It’s time for some spring cleaning.

I always thought I dealt with transitions without much angst or worry. One thing led to the next. And then to the next, and so on, until I found myself here: a mother of twins, wife of a medical student, landlocked in the middle of Iowa (read: unemployed in Greenland). It sounds romantic, I know, a life picked up and moved in a freeing sense of adventure and wanderlust. But the dizzying glitter and confetti that rained down on my transition quickly cleared to illuminate the truth of my situation. Transience.

We bought a house. That very move would signify setting down roots. But the nature of our path determines another course. Our timer had already been set, and when the bell rang we would be off on a new adventure: medical residency. No matter who we met or what relationships we formed during our four-year tour of Iowa, there would always be an expiration date. And there’s something there that makes it a little easier and a little harder to see people come and go.

It’s May, so graduations are happening left and right. People we know and have had time to get to know are graduating, getting married, moving to find better jobs. They are progressing to the next chapter of their lives. Yet we remain in purgatory waiting for our time to come. Nevertheless, lives go on. They must. But the fate of the relationships we have formed between us are not so certain. And this is where the crux of the ruminations lies. If life is about relationships, why is it that our culture enables us to so easily pick up and discard our friends like we do our golf clubs or tennis shoes? How deep of a connection can you form and maintain with another person if one of you is planning to leave?

My world has become one of impermanence, and it creates an aura of unsettling discomfort. It creates loose bonds, and it feels like lost time. Yet, it is May, and I must say goodbye to some friends who feel like family. From past experience I know the separation will erode this closeness, and I wonder who will take their place. But the truth is I don’t want anyone to take their place. I want them to stay with me in purgatory just a little bit longer. But they can’t. They must move on. There is no escaping life’s transitions.

Soon my time will come. I will leave, and I will arrive. My choice will be, do I dust off the tangled webs caught to my pant legs and start fresh, or do I bring them with me and incorporate them into my new life? I suppose there will always be some residue that carries over from one chapter to the next.

From Ani DiFranco:

everybody's in a hurry
here in purgatory
except for me
i'm where i need to be
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