How to love the suburbs

Disclaimer: This post (like many) is for myself. I'm selfish that way. But maybe, just maybe, it'll help someone out there. Here's hoping.

Now, I love a good yard as much as the next person. But I have to say: I miss New York. It certainly didn’t help that I visited my old Manhattan home one day after moving into my new suburban one—that’s a perfect recipe for nostalgia and regret. So after three days of visiting dear friends and reminiscing about my time and reveling in the glory that is New York, I returned to the Philly suburbs rather wistful. In 24 years, this is the third suburb I’ve lived in (including my hometown, where I was for 18 years), and I’ve had three city homes mixed in there, too. And while I have a particular fondness for that shady street where I grew up, my heart just swells in the city. But here I am, having followed God’s call, driveways and strip malls and all. And I don’t want to live life bound by nostalgia; I want to live abundantly.

So, a project was born. Operation Love the Suburbs, I like to call it. And in my musings, I’ve created a list. It certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, nor is it in any particular order, but it’s what has been working for me.

1. Use alternative modes of transportation.

This one has been out of necessity for me, as I am currently carless, but I must say it’s helped in my adjustment process. If it weren’t for my (literal) run to Trader Joe’s, I wouldn’t have stumbled upon the live music at the Irish pub down the street. My walk from Mass led me past some enthusiastic lemonade sellers, whom I happily patronized. Just this morning, while waiting for the train to work, I discovered a chipped bookcase holding John Grisham thrillers and other paperbacks I’d never think of opening. It’s been delightful. By walking and biking and running and training, I may arrive at my destination sweatier, but the encounters and the exercise are well worth it.

2. Notice the sky.

After being surrounded by skyscrapers and light pollution, I forgot how big and majestic the sky is. I have a fire escape in the back of my apartment (my dream!), and it’s got the best sunset views. And I can even see stars at night. It’s wonderfully novel.

3. Listen.

Every night I’ve been falling asleep to the sound of crickets. In the mornings, I listen to my neighbors’ chickens cluck. I hear racing birds and friendly dogs greeting each other on the sidewalk. Though the sirens and subway trains were indeed music to my ears, this all is a welcome change.

4. Say hello to everyone you see.

It’s refreshingly high, the percentage of passersby who say hello with a smile here. I make a point of doing so every outing I take, and it makes all the difference. New Yorkers, I do love you, but you could really learn a thing or two from these suburbanites.

5. Get lost.

It helps to have a completely misguided sense of direction for this one, which I do. There’s something exciting about losing your way, stumbling upon adventure you weren’t even anticipating. Getting lost here may not lead me to radically different pockets of culture like in the city, but it’s still thrilling in its own way.

6. Explore your neighborhood.

My favorite time for this is dusk. The sticky air has started to cool, and the sun has let up. Lights are going on, but front doors are still open. The other night I ran past an obviously contented group of parents enjoying a candlelit dinner on the patio while their kids played in the yard. And down the street were kids playing basketball, yelling “Car!” and retreating to the grass at the appropriate times. And around the corner was a man welcoming back his next door neighbor from vacation. It’s like a little family. And speaking of which…

7. Befriend your neighbors.

It helps when you already know the lovely young woman who lives five doors down from you. And when she and her fiancé invite you to their wedding that’s a week away. “Just ring the doorbell anytime,” she said. “We want to start that.” Me, too. It’s been a dream of mine. Don’t even call, just come borrow a cup of sugar. Come say hello. Just because. Let’s not be strangers.

8. Decorate like you mean it.

I have a lovely print that says “Home” that I finally got around to framing (tip: Frame everything. Frames are the key to adulthood). At first, my nostalgic, New York-loving self wanted to stash it away in the closet in denial. But no. I’m going to hang it front and center. I’m going to paint my walls a nice lilac shade and persist in my search for a mustard arm chair. I’m going to make this place a haven, one I love to call my own.

9. Find the parks.

Green space and open air is good for the soul. I’ve found a lovely nature trail, thanks to a new friend. Even the suburbs have traffic and noise to escape from, and a park is just the thing to restore me.

10. Go to the city.

So, I still love the city. No doubt about it. And what a gift to have a new one to explore, with its museums and film festivals and history. But, at the end of the day, I do love to return to the sweet sound of crickets that lulls me to sleep in my cozy suburban home.





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