“As we live and as we are, Simplicity – with a capital “S” – is difficult to comprehend nowadays. We are no longer truly simple. We no longer live in simple terms or places. Life is a more complex struggle now. It is now valiant to be simple: a courageous thing to even want to be simple. It is a spiritual thing to comprehend what simplicity means.”
-Frank Lloyd Wright
November 28, 2012, Washington, DC: I paid my first visit to a Frank Lloyd Wright house on Saturday. We just so happened to drive by the Robie House on Chicago’s South Side on a cold afternoon with time to spare. It probably won’t surprise you that I wandered inside and signed up for a tour.
What we’d signed up for, actually, was a perfectly timed reminder about simplicity on the advent of a season that quickly overflows with clutter.
“I come from a long line of women who open their handbags and take out swatches of upholstery material, colored squares of bathroom tile, seven shades of yellow paint samples, and strips of flowered wallpaper. We love the concept of four walls.”
November 26, 2012, Washington, DC: This passage from Frances Mayes’ “Under the Tuscan Sun” is on display in my aunt’s house in Illinois where we had Thanksgiving dinner. I guess it explains a lot. For the laughter and food and furniture and family we packed into four walls this weekend, I am grateful.
November 21, 2012, Washington, DC: “Are you going home for Thanksgiving? Where are you from?” I’ve met more new people than usual in the months leading up to this holiday, so I’ve fielded these questions a lot lately. It’s friendly conversation, intended to get to know a newcomer, and yet the questions and the assumptions people make about their answers perpetually throw me.
I realize my nice new acquaintances have no idea I’m so consumed by the nuances of the topic. But I suspect many of you agree: When it comes to explaining where we are from, and sometimes where we are going, the answer is oddly complicated.
November 17, 2012, Washington, DC: Something significant happened today in the Washington neighborhood of Navy Yard — something we’d all been waiting for. Today was the day the children arrived. They came to skate at Canal Park during its opening weekend, scurrying around the icy surface. They slipped and slid and infused new life into a neighborhood that up until now has been too quiet and empty on weekend mornings. Until now, we’d believed in the promise of the neighborhood but had not yet seen much of it come to fruition. Today was one of the first days outside of baseball season that we witnessed people coming to Navy Yard to enjoy the neighborhood in its present form.
Navy Yard, after all, isn’t a neighborhood most of us talk about in the present tense. It’s a neighborhood that generates lots of conversation about the past and future, but a place whose present has been stalled and nondescript. Vacant lots and construction sites mark spaces that were once something to someone and promise to become something new sometime soon.
Today’s scene at Canal Park changes the conversation. It has us talking about Navy Yard in the here and now of the offseason, five months before another ballgame at Nationals Park.
November 15, 2012, Washington, DC: I always have trouble with this time of year when the sun sets early and the temperature drops and those of us who are outdoor types accustomed to squeezing all we can into long, bright days are suddenly forced to find alternatives indoors. You’d think that after 30 some years, I’d be used to this annual transition but it’s still a struggle every fall. I struggle to slow down and to simplify. To cook more warm meals and drink more tea. To sleep longer. To do less. I have to remind myself that others throughout the neighborhood, too, are retreating indoors and I’m not missing out. I have to remind myself to be grateful for these shorter days that bring us back home.
So this is our home this days. This is my view of where we live, in this sparking city, in this eclectic neighborhood, in this warm little apartment.
Any advice for living simply and learning to appreciate shorter days at home? Share your tips in the comments below.
November 10, 2012, Washington, DC: My one-way commute to the office recently shrank from 35 miles down to six. While the work itself is similar in the new job, the lifestyle change is dramatic. I no longer spend the morning racing down the highway out of the city. I fill my gas tank once a month now rather than once a week.
It’s not necessarily hours I’ve gained — sometimes venturing six miles across D.C. can take the same amount of time as driving forty miles against traffic — but I have newfound options and flexibility. Mostly I take Metro and connect to a bus up the hill. Often I bike home on Bikeshare rather than returning to the Metro. Once in awhile, I drive. And I’ve made it a goal to run/walk home once a week — down Embassy Row, past the White House, and along the National Mall towards the Capitol. It’s the choices I enjoy. I appreciate spending less on gas and I appreciate how easy it is to incorporate city life into my day on the way home when I don’t have to worry about parking the car. I enjoy the flexibility that comes with living and working in places accessible to transportation alternatives, even if it means renting a smaller apartment in a great location.
November 6, 2012, Washington, DC: The second anniversary of our move to Capitol Hill came and went last week in the days preceding today’s election. While I sensed our move to southeast DC was part of a larger trend, I got a better sense of the actual growth of this side of Washington from the information shedding light on Election Day. According to Washington Post District reporter Mike DeBonis, Ward 6 where we live has seen a 30 percent increase in the number of registered voters since four years ago, with 16,000 more of us voting here since 2008. Part of that equation is due to redistricting, but much is due to growth. It’s been such fun to become part of this ever-changing slice of the city, and the list of things we love about it grows longer by the day.
Among the factors to appreciate is the neighborhood’s high level of local, civic engagement, especially given its location in the heart of a major city. Do you enjoy the same sense of participation in your own hometown? If you live in a city, to what extent are you and other residents involved in the neighborhood, and does it matter?