The other day, Sunset Magazine posed the following question on Facebook: “What past Sunset article would you most like to make a reality, regardless of cost?” After reading, and agreeing with, some of the comments: ‘backyard retreat,’ ‘Airstream trailer,’ ‘Maui,’ I realized that my family and I are living a Sunset article, ironically because of cost.
In October, 2009 – about the time we started to struggle with making our house payments – Sunset published an article on “The 20 Minute Life.” The article envisioned a life in which everything the family needed: work, school, play, food, entertainment was accessible within 20 minutes. At the time, it felt as though my favorite magazine was taunting me. The only things accessible within 20 minutes of our home were Granzella’s pizza to the north in Williams, and my mother-in-law’s house to the south in Dunnigan. The kid’s school was 40 miles from home. Mike had a 30 mile commute to work. The only benefit to my 75 mile commute was the NPR time. We drove a minimum of 30 miles to go to the grocery store, to see friends, or to see a movie. Our cars devoured gasoline and sheltered fossilized French fries under the seats. Getting the kids home from school before 5pm became a special treat. When on call for work, I stayed with friends; some weeks, I spent more time in their living room than my own. As though the Sunset editors wanted to drive the knife a bit deeper, the town highlighted in the article was Davis, CA – the town I had loved, and left after graduation, the town that housed my kids’ school and many of our friends.
For us, in the fall of 2009, Davis was a dream – the place we drove to see a movie, to wander the fantasy land of the Farmer’s market, the location of my favorite grocery store. Yet, here was Sunset, featuring a family living my life – biking their kids to school, spending lazy evenings listening to music in the Central Park while eating food from the Farmer’s market stands. These people didn’t have over 200,000 miles on both of their vehicles. Their shoulder seams weren’t frayed from the erosion of the seat belt. They probably even had time to sweep their kitchen floor.
If you’ve followed this blog, you know the rest. I’ve written about the loss of our home here, and here, and here. But a year changes many things. Our living quarters and budget are tight – the financial bogeys that drove us here aren’t ducking back into the closet anytime soon. Yet, small though our rental house may be, we inhabit it; it doesn’t possess us. Each child has his or her own – albeit cozy – room. The oven works, and even though the rental agency isn’t speedy with the maintenance, repairs are no longer our burden. At least until the rains begin, the kids aren’t complaining about their smaller bedrooms. Aidan and Sierra spend most of their time outside – in the backyard, on the swing that dangles from the tree in the front yard, at the park, or rampaging with the neighbor kids. Caitlin has a desk (that she can find!) in her own room, and her bed runs the length of the window providing her perfect reading nook. We have biked to the Farmer’s Market without whining or automotive encounter. Caitlin has biked to school twice – losing her way once and scaring the crap out of her mother. Her response that afternoon, “well, at least now I won’t get lost again…”
And the playdates, my God, the playdates! In our old home, with the exception of birthday parties, my kids hosted friends perhaps three times in six years. In the six weeks we have lived in Davis, school friends have visited at least 14 times, and Caitlin and Aidan have both spent afternoons and nights with friends. This morning, I have a nine o’clock meeting at Sierra’s kindergarten. I don’t need to leave the house at eight, or even eight thirty. Eight forty-five will be just fine. Update: I did leave at 8:30, but I was able to ride my bike. Take that, Ham-and-Cheese Croissant!
Ours isn’t a perfect 20 minute life. I still commute about 35 miles to work, but a 30-40 minute drive beats 60-90 anytime. Though, I did miss the end of “Marketplace” last night…