Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Trees Vs. Treeless

I mentioned in the comment section of "We got a tree!" that the TreeVitalize grant was voted in during a re-vote at the last commissioners meeting. 7-2. YAY! I received emails from two of the nine commissioners, and felt good that my voice was heard. I know a lot of people stepped up that day and called and wrote and attended the meeting. I just wanted to post a couple of pics from opposite sides of the same street. Which side would you want to live on? One big, gorgeous tree was cut down recently on the now treeless side of the street, because it was messing up the sidewalk. Um, the sidewalks all over the city are a disaster, with or without tree roots contributing. The tree is gone but the sidewalk is still in shambles.

Walking and biking to school

I have at least a dozen posts swirling around my head regarding urban schools. Our temporary haven is the Montessori preschool downtown, but just this week it is mired in tumultuous parent-driven ugliness and insanity. I am not going to post about that, though. I need to escape it and have faith that the bulk of the parental community is not bat-shit crazy and are happy to support and question the administration in a healthy, respectful way. This is Montessori, after all.

We had our first sticking snow last night, and school was postponed an hour. A significant number of parents come from the suburbs, and on icy days like this I appreciate that we can walk instead of drive. This was M's first real experience with snow, and she loved it until she realized it is freaking cold. The refusal to wear mittens didn't help, so the idyllic walk quickly deteriorated shortly after this photo was taken.

On other days A rides her bike or scooter, and when she goes on foot she gets to ride home on the back of dad's bike. Awesome.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


I imagine it is normal for all stay-at-home parents to have a bit of an existential crisis at some point. What ever person we may have been before our #1 companion was a child (or children) is irrevocably changed. For me, I left behind a career in marine biology to raise my daughters. I'd argue that I'm completely comfortable with that decision about 90% of the time.

We lived in Panama for most of 2006, and in that time our oldest daughter went to a Montessori pre-school, giving me about 12 hrs/week of completely free time. Which I did virtually nothing tangible with. I read HipMama a lot, and Fast Food Nation, and DH and I really started focusing on whole foods (the foods, not the store), organically grown produce and livestock, and the 'locavore' movement.

So at some point, down in the tropics, I decided, f@ck it, if I'm going to be domestic, let's get really domestic, Martha Stewart style. I'm no artist or crafter, (although I did recently buy fabric and make curtains) so I threw my hat into the bread making ring.

Which brings us to the gorgeous challah that I make today, with locally raised organic duck eggs. We were going to take one loaf to the neighbors, but I got selfish and decided we should make cinnamon toast with it tomorrow. The other loaf disappeared with the homemade lentil soup.

A love letter to my 'hood

For me, the decision to live, and, more relevant to this blog, to have a family in the city was a very deliberate one. When my husband and I, then childless, moved here to St Paul, Minnesota two years ago we could have moved anywhere: city, suburb, small town, rural community. The short list contained two cities (Washington, DC and St Paul) and a rural-ish area near a city (the Hudson Valley, NY). In fact, the only thing we never did consider was the suburbs of anywhere! For a variety of reasons we ultimately chose St Paul as the place we wanted to live and raise any children we might have.

Frankly, it wasn't a very hard decision for us. St Paul has a reputation for being a very livable city. Lots of greenspaces- parks and lakes and oh, yeah, that Big River itself, the Mississippi River, right in the city. We walk from our house to a park overlooking the Mississippi. Just a bit further, and down the bluffs is a nature sanctuary, which itself is steps away from downtown. And for when the winter weather is just too much, there are wonderful libraries and museums, including the Minnesota Children's Museum, which is about 5 minutes from our house. Between St Paul and its twin city, Minneapolis, there are three - three! - farmer's markets and the St Paul Farmers Market is soon to go year round. There are lots of great restaurants in the two cities, most of which are more than happy to have you and your kid eating there; they are family-friendly without being Appl*bee's, if you know what I mean. (Someday I'll write a post about "family-friendly" restaurants and the suburbs.) We can walk a block to the corner bodega to grab a pint of milk or a lemon. There's an old-school Chinese restaurant and two old-man bars next to the bodega (we actually go to the restaurant: it has the most innovative and yummy comfort-food lunch all you can eat for $5 including "pop"). The public schools in St Paul are good and have open enrollment. In our neighborhood kids ride their bikes and play in multi-family, multi-age groups, stretched out across the small city yards that run seamlessly together. We know our neighbors and often have block-wide grilling or ice cream parties (in the summer!). The houses tend to be on the older side- ours was built in 1889!, which is a plus since we like older architecture. As an ethnically mixed family it's also important that the neighborhood is ethnically, racially, and socio-economically diverse. So the fact that there are black people, Asians and Asian-Americans, Latin@s, queer folks, all on our block, frankly, that's completely central to our decision to live here. (I know, I know, you're thinking, "uh, you live in Minnesota! Isn't that like the whitest state? I thought it was all Scandinavians there..." But actually, while the rural areas are likely pretty white, the Twin Cities are not. I'll get into that in a later post, for now you'll just have to take my word for it.)

Now this doesn't mean that there aren't lots of families moving to the suburbs around here. Because apparently proximity to large malls (including, OMG!, the Mall of America) is a desirable thing? In all seriousness, the reasons I most often hear for young families moving to the 'burbs are "better" schools and less crime. Now, as I've already said, the public schools are actually pretty damn good here in the city. The elementary school in our neighbohood consistenly wins awards for its excellence, even though our neighborhood is a far cry from the ritziest in the city. And should we want a school that accomodates or promotes alternative learning styles, yup, we've got those. For example there's public Montessori through high school, Open school also K-12, a wide variety of magnet schools for everything from creative arts to environmental science and aerospace, a high school for girls that are parents, International Baccalaurate programs, and Spanish, French immersion programs...the list is seemingly endless! Since our child is only 9 weeks old (that's T. up there in the photo at about 1 week old) we obviously haven't experienced first hand how good the schools are in practice. But they seem at least as good a some hazy notion of the goodness of suburban schools, which is often based on socio-economic status of the surburban cities, SAT scores, and, well, rumor. So. I'm not buying it.

As for crime. Well, I'll admit that we've got a bit of that in our neighborhood. It's often drug- and/or gang-related. But I have to say, given that I'm not involved gangs or in the selling or purchasing of drugs, and the crime is usually restricted to those that are...well, it doesn't often directly affect me. And it's not like we sit around doing nothing, moaning about our "bad" neighborhood. We belong to a block club, which, in addition to social activities, works on reducing crime in our immediate area. The larger neighborhood, in the past, closed down a business closely tied to drug dealing, bought and rehabbed a building that was a crack house, conducted vacant home tours to promote the occupation of those homes (vacant houses often become crack or other drug/gang-related houses). The neighborhood district council works with the city on problem properties. Probably the biggest single thing we do, though, is know our neighbors. We watch out for each other. Not to mention that it's just more fun to be friends with the people that live around you! So, no, my city neighborhood: it's not a crime-free utopia. But I wonder where is, exactly. Furthermore, we're still living in Minnesota: this isn't NYC or Chicago. Our crime problems are fairly minor in the grand scheme of things. And I'd rather live here, with all its layers of complexity than anywhere else.

In short? I love my city. So does my baby. She may not know it yet. But she will.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Holiday parties begin!

To be honest, I still feel a little dazed. Perhaps too dazed to write anything of substance. I felt the need to post a photo of my girls running wild in the streets for the Christmas tree lighting. It won't be surprising to anyone that knows them that they were decked out in their Halloween gear.

Despite the rain and chill, there was a decent crowd, a band playing carols, and a second rate Santa Claus. The good news is that he arrived on a fire truck. The bad news is he was a bit of a prick when insisting that Dancer was a boy, despite my leading question on behalf of my daughter. Throw us a bone, Santa! I went so far as to suggest to my girl that he wasn't the real Santa. We'll have brunch with him at the Brew Works this weekend. And also at Black Orchid (Southern style brilliance). Two brunches within walking distance, who can resist!?

The rest of the weekend featured 3 birthday parties and a gingerbread house assembly. We left our hopped up kids with a sitter and hit the holiday punch at the OAPA party at Peter's amazing living space. The energy was great, and we were able to meet some interesting new friends and neighbors (hopefully friends, that punch was strong and I was awfully affectionate). A sursprise snow shower saved me from the original plan of biking to the party. DH claims he's never seen me so happy to witness nasty weather.

Monday, December 1, 2008

We got a tree!

We just got a tree planted on the sidewalk in front of our house - and the difference is spectacular. Two weeks ago the girls and I watched a crew cut out the concrete and dig a hole, they were an adoring crowd.

Our neighbor was also slated to get a tree, but while the holes were dug two weeks ago, and said neighbors' tree was planted the following day, ours was only planted today. Well worth the wait. New trees popped up all over our neighborhood thanks to a grant applied for by our neighborhood association, OAPA.

That said, just this week Lehigh county commissioners rejected a grant that the city of Allentown had received as part of the TreeVitalize program. The sentiment amongst the commissioners appears to be that tree plantings are frivolous, and the money ($25K) should be spent for "1/2 a police officers salary" or something more important to the well being of the city (I should say county, as I have long felt the commissioners could give a rats ass about A-town). Before the commissioners send this 'message' to Harrisburg, I suggest they do a little research on urban forests.

A few benefits of urban forests:
*help ameliorate carbon emissions and greenhouse gases
*reduction of UV radiation
*temperature moderation
*increased air quality (this is a public health issue!)
*reduced storm water runoff
*decrease energy needs of neighboring buildings

When those batteries are up and running, I'll post pics of the tree planting in addition to neighborhood photos - the differences between blocks with trees and without are astounding.

Oh, and just to get a mothering slant on this, when I asked my four year old what she thought about the tree she said "I feel proud. Isn't it beautiful?"
Yes. It is.