Providence, RI: A Day in the Life

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We’ve now lived in Providence for over four years, and it would be hard to fit in one blog post all my thoughts about that. So instead, I thought I’d describe an eventful, but fairly typical Saturday, which as it turns out, might be a perfect way to highlight our life in Providence.

8:28 am – We woke up “late” for us, which meant we had to rush to get the girls ready for gymnastics and ballet at Aim High Academy, where dozens of gymnasts were already hard at work.

10:00 am – We head to Allie’s Donuts–an institution for good reason. A donut cake (exactly what it sounds like) has been ordered for one of our daughter’s birthday this month.

11:15 am – We make our way to the Pawtucket Wintertime Farmers’ Market opening day. This year’s market has more than doubled, and it is every bit better. We all sit in the courtyard and have Tallulah’s Tacos for lunch. The girls make a basket at ACKpack Basket Studio. Michele buys a giant stalk of brussels sprouts, freshly dug potatoes, onions, and parsnips from the market, along with apples from Barden Family Orchard. Our daughter insists we buy more pickles from Harmony Hill Farm. We get dessert–an almond croissant and an apricot financier–from the French Tarte. On our way out, we discover a new store, Sassy Mama Cuisine, that has rows upon rows of hot sauces. I’m looking for one made with Bhut jolokia, and pick from more than a dozen.

2:00 pm – I nap.

3:30 pm – I take my six-year-old daughter to Cirque Éloize, one of the first shows in this year’s FirstWorks Festival at the Providence Performing Arts Center, while Michele takes our two-year old to the Providence Children’s Museum.

6:00 pm – At home,  I make the kids a pizza with dough from Olga’s and cheese from Narragansett Creamery.

7:30 pm – Michele and I walk downtown to the Brown University/Trinity Repertory Theatre, to see a production of Twelfth Night, or What You Will. Since we didn’t buy tickets in advance, we wait standby and luckily get seats from a few no-shows. Even after four years of shows, it’s my first time in the Pell Chafee Performance Center.

9:30 pm – We get drinks and appetizers at Gracie’s, which turned out to be a meal that would rival the best in recent memory: a sherry-roasted beet salad with Cloumage cheese, pistachio nougatine, wild rice crispies, sour apple, and Aquidneck honey; Hudson Valley foie gras with fennel dusted brioche donuts, roasted peach, pistachio, raspberry gelee; russet potato gnocchi with house cured ham, broccoli, cauliflower, cheddar, buttery herb crumb; and crispy veal sweetbreads with sunny side quail’s egg, parmesan spinach, potato fondue, pickled ramps (this one was a standout).

10:30 pm – Our babysitter needs to leave early tonight, so Michele grabs a cab home. I stay on, for a show at AS220.

12:00 am – The band Melt Banana plays in AS220’s tiny venue, where you can get up close and mingle with the bands.

1:00 am – I take an UberX ride home! Just 2 minutes after calling…

I’ve always thought that a perfect city is one that you can “use” to its fullest regularly. And with that as my definition, I’m in the right place for now…

For more information:

Aim High Academy
3355 S County Trail
East Greenwich, RI

Allie’s Donuts
3661 Quaker Lane
North Kingstown, RI

Pawtucket Wintertime Farmers’ Market (Saturdays 9 am-1pm and Wednesdays 4-7pm through May 17, 2014)
at Hope Artiste Village
1005 Main St.
Pawtucket, RI

Tallulah on Thames
464 Thames Street
Newport, RI

Sassy Mama Cuisine
at Hope Artiste Village
1005 Main St.
Pawtucket, RI

The French Tarte
at Hope Artiste Village
1005 Main St.
Pawtucket, RI

ACKpack Basket Studio
at Hope Artiste Village
1005 Main St.
Pawtucket, RI

Barden Family Orchard
56 Elmdale Rd
North Scituate, RI

Harmony Hill Farm
Barrington, RI

Providence Performing Arts Center
220 Weybosset Street
Providence, RI


Providence Children’s Museum
100 South Street
Providence, RI

Olga’s Cup & Saucer
103 Point Street
Providence, RI

Narragansett Creamery

Brown University/Trinity Repertory Theatre

194 Washington Street
Providence, RI

115 Empire Street
Providence, RI

Three Years in Providence, and Counting… (or the Pros and Cons of Moving to Providence, RI)

Making a snowman this winter at home in Providence.

Making a snowman this winter at home in Providence.

I recently received an email from a reader who, in researching a potential move to RI, stumbled upon my post A Year in Providence. Noticing that the post was a few years old and that we appear to still live in Providence, he wanted to know my “updated thoughts about the area.” So here they are for you, reader, and for those of you curious about making a move to the Ocean State.

When I wrote A Year in Providence, I commented that it was the longest we had lived anywhere within the prior six years. In just one more year, it will become the place that I have lived the longest in my life. As scary as that sounds (even to me), I can honestly say that I feel at home here in this small city in the smallest state. That said, no place is perfect. So if you’re considering moving to Providence like I was a few years ago, I will provide you with my own now more-seasoned pro and con list.


Cons: The public schools still largely fail to impress in Providence, which is why many people moving to RI who hope to use public schools opt for nearby towns like Barrington or East Greenwich. Sadly, people don’t move to Providence for the schools; they move here despite the schools.

Pros: That said, I do have friends with children at Paul Cuffee Charter School and Vartan Gregorian Elementary who seem extremely happy. Also Nathan Bishop Middle School went through a stellar 35-million-dollar renovation, and no one doubts the reputation of Classical High School.

Perhaps because of the apparent lack of quality public schools, Providence boasts some amazing private schools (Wheeler, Gordon, Moses Brown, Lincoln). Unlike some cities where money isn’t even enough (good timing and connections are also essential), in Providence’s private schools, there are often spaces available for newcomers. Keep in mind too that all of the private schools do offer financial aid — and you might be surprised to qualify for it since they check not just your income but your expenses.

If paying over twenty grand per year for your child’s education is a deal-breaker, there are plenty of terrific lesser expensive local options–we have friends happy with the parochial Bay View Academy, Ocean State Montessori, and the Jewish Community Day School. I’ve also been impressed on recent visits to the French-American School of RI which packs in a lot of learning, language and cultural immersion for less than half of a typical private school tuition. Another option for K-5 is the Henry Barnard School, a laboratory school at Rhode Island College which offers private school education for one-third of the standard cost. However, this is one of the only schools here where I’ve seen an actual waitlist.

As a side note, I’ve found no shortage of great daycare and preschool options in Providence.

City Life

People who have lived in Manhattan know two things: you live in inches, and you live within a five block radius of your apartment. You live in inches because every square inch of your apartment is precious (which is why we’re storing one of my NYC friend’s grandfather’s photo projector in our Providence basement). And you live within a five block radius, because, for most everything, there’s no need to leave. Within that, you’ll find your post office, banks, bookstores, cafes, restaurants, yoga studios, gyms, playgrounds, etc.  When we lived in Manhattan, Geoff and I would count the number of restaurants we could access by crossing only one street, which would quickly hit double digits. Because of this, Manhattan has a much more neighborhood feel than you might expect–the postal workers on Hudson Street still greeted me by name even years after I had moved out.

Cons: Like Boston, in Providence most people who can afford it have a car. Although we can access several restaurants, a playground, two bookstores, several cafes, a post office, and an independent movie theater all within a few blocks of our house, we still drive most days. Even our pediatrician’s office is only a few blocks away (and yet in the winter, I find myself driving there).

Pros: Although we don’t generally live in a five-block radius, I do think Providence in this area gains an advantage over surrounding suburbs and nearby cities like Boston: Providence maintains a friendly, small-town atmosphere with a diverse population and urban culture. Where else other than Providence will you regularly run into your Governor at your local coffee shop?

Plus, if we made it a priority to walk more, we could. On the upside, we have succeeded in having only one car (and two Zipcar memberships).


Cons: Unlike New York City, there probably is not something for everyone in Providence. In particular, I’ve heard single friends complain that it’s not as lively as other cities.

Pros: Maybe it was because our apartment looked out over a pulsating Seventh Avenue, but when we lived in Manhattan, I used to feel guilty staying home on Saturday night. Now, with children ages five and two, we don’t have much time or energy for nightlife. Still, we enjoy great restaurants, theater and museums. We picked Providence because we believed it fit our lifestyle for this time in our lives–a place with some of the best aspects of a city (good food, shopping, arts) without some of the worst (traffic, crowds, cost).

One of my friends who was down on Providence before we moved here admitted that we’d eat well. And she wasn’t joking — we have better restaurants (and food trucks) than many cities, and Providence often makes national top ten lists. We’ve got great farmers’ markets, farms, and craft/local art stores. We don’t have the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but the RISD Museum houses some impressive art (Van Gogh, Monet) in a museum you can actually get through with kids. We’ve got quality theater (Trinity Repertory, Providence Performing Arts Center). And of course, we benefit from the residual culture from Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design, the University of Rhode Island (which has a Downcity campus), Providence College, and Johnson and Wales University.

And for those urges Providence can’t sate, Boston is under an hour away and New York City under three hours by train. In the last few months, we’ve taken the kids to Boston for the New England Aquarium and the Museum of Science; and last Memorial Day weekend, we took the kids to New York City for Central Park, Times Square and the Natural History Museum. Still, it’s nice to come home to Providence.


Pros: In my opinion, Rhode Island has the best beaches in New England. Massachusetts beaches (yes, even the Cape) are too cold in my opinion. RI has low-key rocky beaches (Little Compton), protected soft surf beaches (Sand Hill Cove), and open ocean waves (Westerly).  Add to that great parks, well-maintained playgrounds, and definitely the best zoo in New England. Plus, unlike other states, driving out to the rural country of Rhode Island takes only a few minutes. In a few miles outside Providence, you can access dozens of farms for berry and apple picking, and small towns for some local charm.

Cons: RI has no mountains, so in-state skiing is restricted to the modest Yawgoo Valley. Still, it’s not a far drive to Vermont or New Hampshire.

Real Estate

Cons: Unfortunately for us, real estate has not been a great investment in Rhode Island in the last few years (see WPRI story). Every few months either Geoff or I get a serious bout of malaise at having given up our NYC West Village apartment for our house in Providence. I think it’s time to admit that Geoff was right when he said, “we are condo owners”–we don’t really like painting rooms, refurbishing bathrooms, or dealing with plumbing issues on a hundred-year-old house.

Pros: On the upside, this may be a great time to buy in Providence. And right now, you certainly can get a lot more house for your money here than Boston, for example. For us, Providence offered a house where we can walk to the city (and train) but still have a yard, driveway and plenty of room for home offices and guests.


Cons: Job options need to improve here. We have a bit of a catch-22 on our hands here in RI: people can’t live here without jobs, and since people can’t get jobs here, they don’t move here. The jobs and the people come and go together, in other words. RI has trailed the nation with one of the worst unemployment rates (see USA Today story). And we really need to stop placing high on lists like our recent second place in “worst state to do business” (see Providence Business News story).

Furthermore, corruption still exists here clearly. If the botched 38 Studios deal doesn’t make that strikingly obvious, nothing does. Similarly, RI was doing great with attracting Hollywood film, but they cut the film tax credits which left the state dry compared with neighboring Massachusetts where film is thriving.

Pros: I do have faith in some of our new leaders–I trust Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Governor Lincoln Chafee. I believe they will make honest, clear-headed decisions. Like one reader wrote, what RI needs is some “forward thinking and concerted effort on the part of business and government leaders.” The more people that move here because they want to and because they feel commitment to improving the state, the more likely it will be that we’ll succeed. Maybe that will be you too…

A Year in Providence

Our garden started out promising enough this spring...

It’s been one year since we moved into our house in Providence — officially making it the longest we’ve lived anywhere in six years.

So perhaps, it’s no wonder, we’re a bit restless.

Our untended garden now has begun to look more like a jungle.

In getting to know Providence, I’ve mostly been pleasantly surprised. Before moving here, I’d spent months visiting playgrounds in Boston with Madeline talking to moms who were friendly enough, but kept their distance. In contrast, on our first outing to the Brown Street Park in Providence, one of the moms invited me to lunch at her house, and another offered me her email and phone number. All I could think was: I got digits!

Although Providence is a city, there is much about it that feels more like a small town. Even in our year here, I’ve discovered people I’ve met know one another — I met a local doctor with his son at Three Sisters once and a few weeks later ran into them at a birthday party of another friend’s son. It’s that small town vibe, I’m convinced, that makes it a bit more civilized. You can’t really honk at someone who might turn out to be a parent at your kid’s school.

I also love our community of neighbors — we chat when we run into each other, we get each others’ newspapers when we’re away, and much to Madeline’s delight, we watched our neighbors’ fish a few times. One time, a neighbor cooked a delicious rhubarb pie and brought us half. That doesn’t happen in New York — at least not the New York that I grew up in — and not in Boston either.

As far as getting around, Providence I’d say is as convenient as Boston — you still need to drive often, although we can walk to restaurants, coffee shops, the post office, and bookstores. I stand by my initial instinct on this: in New York City, you don’t need a car which is positively liberating whereas in Boston you do, but traffic and poor city planning make driving an absolutely enraging experience. In Providence, driving just isn’t stressful. And we’ve managed just fine with only one car (and a Zipcar membership for occasions). In fact, the ease of getting around here has inspired us to explore surrounding towns and sights — it takes mere minutes to head out to ‘rural’ or coastal Rhode Island. And Providence surprisingly boasts plenty of excellent restaurants for its size, which I somewhat expected since even a friend who hated Providence conceded before our move — you will eat well. We still haven’t found dynamite Thai food, but that’s hard to come by in Boston as well (and even in our NYC neighborhood). For that, apparently, you need to go to Thailand.

Of course, Providence has a long way to go as a livable city. It’s an underdog with a murky reputation and corrupt political history. We need more business incentives and less obstacles to bring more jobs here. We need better transportation, like the proposed streetcar, to link diverse parts of the city. Still, I believe it’s a city worth fighting for, and I was buoyed to see Angel Taveras win the democrat candidacy for mayor. There’s a lot to be said for a smart, eager upstart with vision taking the helm.

The current state of our bathroom, currently "under renovation."

So then why our restlessness? Are we doomed to go wandering the earth again in search of what — I’m not sure? Or will we somehow squelch the urge? I’ll admit that part of our discontent derives from our house itself. Although I adore our house, what can you expect from a hundred-year-old house? Everything needs work. And it’s all a lot more expensive than I had thought. Geoff has long had this theory about the burden of ownership — even if you own a lawn mower, it requires a certain amount of maintenance in its lifetime. You need to buy gasoline for it, have it repaired, etc. So how much of your free time then does a car absorb or worse, a house? And worst of all, an old, out-of-date house?

I think left to my own devices I would probably let the yard and the house fall into disrepair. Geoff says I have a Grey Gardens approach to home ownership. If a 40-year-old brittle blind tears, I roll it up so you can’t tell. And when a toilet breaks, I think — let’s just close off that bathroom — we’ve got others. But Geoff would rather not live with leaking toilets, a yard full of weeds and dying trees, peeling lead paint on the windows, and a 50-year-old heating system. I guess I can’t really blame him. So we’ve begun the renovation of one bathroom, and have found the time, the cost and the hassle all a bit more than we’d like.

Is this what makes so many “grown-ups” jaded? If we keep moving and never own anything, even a toaster, can we ward that off? I do know that our years living nomadically had a perpetual abandon to them. Don’t like this apartment? Let’s find another! Hate this city? There’s lots more to chose from! And although we suffered the futility of grievances that accompany a lack of ownership — the smoke alarms routinely blaring, a too-small hot water tank, a bad smell often drifting in the hallway — there was the freedom in knowing: this is only temporary.

And therein lies our struggle — are we here to stay? Even after a year, we find we can’t commit. Loyalty to place perhaps doesn’t come naturally to either Geoff or me. I suppose we are like a perpetual bachelor who falls in love, but still ponders: is there something better out there? And, if so, where? We’ve lived in enough places to rule out some of the seemingly best options. Still France still looms as an imagined oasis. Although considering I wouldn’t send Madeline to the French-American School because it seemed too strict, I’m not sure how I’d stomach sending her to an all-French school in France? We’ve also pondered San Francisco since it’s another technology hub and home to so many of our friends, but do we want to move that far away from family?

Of course, I’m tired of moving and searching. The less glamorous part of the nomadic life is that you spend half your time packing and unpacking and the other half searching for a place to live. It hasn’t been long enough for me to forget that. And I’m not sure I have it in me again, at least right now. Plus, I like it here. Despite, or maybe partly because of, our aging dame of a house and the risky bet of this city, I might even love it here. But is that enough?

Home, At Last

For someone who has moved as often as I have, it’s odd to admit I have something of a phobia about moving.  Whenever I’m planning a move into a new apartment or house, I reliably have a nightmare about some ghastly fact that I happened to overlook.  Sometimes this nightmare exacerbates some actual flaw — like before we moved into our New York apartment, I dreamed that it turned out to be so narrow you couldn’t even fit furniture in it.

Before moving into our home in Providence, I had two nightmares.  I dreamed that I came back to visit our house to discover it was actually on a major street, almost a highway.  I also dreamed that the new owners of our New York apartment were able to convert it to a spacious three bedroom layout.

So it was with much anticipation that we finally moved into the house with just a handful of things before the ‘official’ move of all our worldly possessions.  The first night in a new place (and I’ve been in dozens) can be a wonderful or horrible revelation.  I remember waking up in the middle of our first night in New York wondering why people were honking at 4 am, only to look out the window onto 7th Avenue and realize that yes, there was enough traffic to perhaps warrant honking.  After living there, I’d never imagine noise would bother me but a few years later on our first night sleeping on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston, I actually had to go down to CVS in the middle of the night to buy earplugs.

Anticipating our first night in our Providence house, I tried to moderate my expectations — for example, I didn’t expect any of us (especially Madeline) to sleep well the first night in a big, old house after spending the last few years in modern, compact apartments.  It will take time, I told myself.  So I left several lights on, kept all the doors open, and got in bed.  As we were falling asleep, we heard the comforting sound of some people chatting as they walked by the house.  Because as much as I detest sirens blaring by my head at night, I fear silence much more.

And just like that it was morning.  We all slept great, even Madeline.  And there’s nothing quite like a peaceful night’s sleep to make you know you are home.

Surfing Second Beach in Middletown, RI

That's me out in the 'washing machine' waves that were last weekend.

Not the most impressive wave, but at least I'm out there, I caught it and I'm standing.

I want to be a surfer. I know the sport seems much cooler than I am. Plus, I’m a woman, and a mom, and not terribly athletic. Still, I want to be a surfer.

Once the waves from Hurricane Bill subsided last weekend, I finally decided to paddle out on the 8’2″ epoxy surfboard I bought last year. To my frustration, I spent most of the time getting knocked around in the water. It’s funny how the waves always seem so small from the shore and so huge from my surfboard. So I decided to come back the next day and take a lesson with one of the instructors from Island Surf whose fully-stocked truck parks all summer at Second Beach in Middletown, RI.

My friend Tarek (who surfed once before last year) and I had both signed up for a joint lesson. When we pulled in and saw the wild, high waves (instead of the clean, calm 1-2 foot crests more typical of Second Beach), I hesitated. But not Tarek. “Confidence,” he advised. Joe, another 40-something surfer, taking his board off the car next to us agreed.

“How long have you been surfing?” I asked Joe.

“A year,” he said. How is it that a 40-something-year-old guy who’s been surfing a year has more confidence than I do? My first surf lesson was in 2005 — does that mean I’ve been surfing four years? If so, I think I’ll keep that to myself.

“Just go out there and laugh a lot,” said Joe.

Before we headed out, I got a quick lesson on ‘turtling’ which is how you handle a longboard in larger waves like these. As the wave comes toward you, you grip your board on its sides and roll sideways underwater so the board is on top of you. Then when the wave passes, you roll back, supposedly no harm done. It sounds simple, but terrifying. I’m not sure I can do it.

I’ve been swimming in the ocean all my life. I never hesitate to go for a swim even in ‘overhead’ waves. But with a surfboard, everything changes. Utter panic rushes through me as I see a 6-foot wave heading to break on me. Our instructor kept us in the whitewater (the foamy water rushing in after the wave breaks). Here, you are pretty much guaranteed to catch a wave, which we both did. And as I slide along that wave, I tingle with an electric exhilaration that keeps me coming back.

Still every time I faced the ocean to head back out, I felt terror. My instructor had called the conditions a “washing machine” and I certainly agreed as I felt myself drawn in, tossed about and spitted out by a wave.

“Hey great turtle!” my instructor beamed at Tarek. I looked over and spotted him taking his second perfect turtle and thought, what is wrong with me? This is his second day surfing, and here I am hogging the instructor, letting my board fly all over the waves and panicking instead of turtling. Confidence. So I turtle. It works, so I turtle again. The only problem is that I seem to be swallowing a lot of water in each turtle — I’m thinking so hard that I keep forgetting to hold my breath. After a few more minutes battling with the water, I surrender, exhausted, and head back to shore.

The next day, I go back out and play in the whitewater without an instructor but I feel like I’m cheating — I should be surfing real waves.

The next day I went out was the Saturday on Labor Day weekend. I thought I’d beat the crowds to the water, but by 9 am I found at least a dozen surfers out in 3-4 feet waves — both which intimidated me. I worked up my courage and went back later, simply trying to avoid injuring myself and anyone else. At one point, I started to catch a wave and my board nosedived and spiraled so that I got crushed under the water for a seeming eternity. Winded and frightened, I called it a day.

Sunday, I arrived even earlier at 8 am. What I’m lacking in confidence, I’m sure I can make up in determination. A group of people performed tai chi on the sand, and another small group socialized in the parking lot. But not a soul in the water: perfect. The waves were smaller about 1-2 foot: even more perfect. So I gathered my board, and set it on the sand as I started to put on my wetsuit. That’s when fellow surfer Ron approached and asked me if I was heading out.

“Yeah they look about small enough for me today,” I answered.

He laughed and said everyone’s been hanging around trying to decide if it’s worth going out and then they saw me suiting up. So apparently here I am, leading the way. Ron says he’ll get his board and come out too. He’s been surfing six years, so I ask him if he knows why my board nosedived the day before. He says you need to find that groove where the nose of your board is a few inches out of the water as you’re paddling out. You’ll notice it, he says, because you’ll be able to paddle faster.

I catch my very first wave but I lose my balance as soon as I pop up, and fall off. Ron meets me out in the water and congratulates me for catching a wave. While we’re out there, a third surfer comes out: Bill. When I ask Bill how long he’s been surfing, he says “Since 1963.” Not surprisingly, he masters the water brilliantly, catching small shallow waves and larger waves with ease. He seems to know instinctively where to line up to catch the. He makes it look easy. I take some comfort in knowing that in another 40 years I might be able to do that too. And actually we do have a few laughs. I miss a lot of waves, but no tossing about — the waves come easy today even if the rides don’t. Still, I make a deal with myself to stay out until I catch one good ride. And I do.

Related Resources:

Island Surf & Sports
86 Aquidneck Avenue
Middletown, RI 02842

Second Beach Surf Report

Wax Buddy
Invented by surfer Ron, the Wax Buddy helps you remove old wax from your board.

Where Am I From? It’s Complicated…

The stairs in our new house.

The stairs in our new house.

The other day an older couple stopped to smile at Madeline’s bouncy curls.  The man asked me casually, “Where are you from?”  This simple question always leaves me tongue-tied.

How do I quickly explain that we’ve spent many summers here in Newport, RI, even lived here year-round at one point, that we own a house here, currently rent another house here, but don’t really live here?  And if not here, where are we from?  Boston?  New York?

Since I don’t know where we’re from, I told him where we’re going instead:  “We’re moving to Providence.”  This, of course, prompted the whole Why Providence question, which I answered masterfully.  Not satisfied, he still wanted to know where we were from. So I told him.  Poor guy, but he asked for it.

I realize it’s odd when you can’t answer basic questions like “Where do you live?” “Where did you grow up?” “What do you do?” It’s like when someone asks, “How are you?”  They don’t want to hear your life story, they just want to hear “Fine.”  So over the years, I’ve learned to simplify.  If people ask me what I do, I pick something — usually writer, filmmaker, or publisher.  If they ask where I grew up, I say Riverdale (or the Bronx to sound edgier) since I did at least go to first through fifth grade there.  In Paris, I told people we were from New York because it was a place foreigners knew (and we did still own an apartment there).

If I do delve into the details of how we’ve spent the past decade, people assume there must be a good reason (“Military?” the old man asked us).  No, we’re not in the military or the CIA or the witness protection program.  I’m convinced we’ve been on the run from only one thing: ourselves.  In my defense, I will say that I was trained to move as often and as cavalierly as one might change their favorite purse.  By the time I was 11 years old, I had lived in nearly as many number of places.  At one point, I went to five different schools in five years.  And despite the fact that I vowed never to do this as an adult when I had the power to choose such things, I found it actually became part of my nature.  For Geoff, I think it was the opposite.  He spent his whole childhood in one Midwestern town where most of his former schoolmates now raise their families.  His grandparents literally went on their honeymoon to Niagara Falls 60-something years ago and haven’t taken a trip since.  But despite our different backgrounds, we’ve both tacitly agreed: If you keep moving, you can’t be stuck.  Which also might be seen as: something better might come along.

And that’s exactly how it hit me.  Because the first time I saw our new house, I didn’t want anything better.  I’ve never fallen in love with a house before, and it seems quite silly since it’s just a house, but I do love this house.  Geoff hesitated, but I knew that if we didn’t want this house then we must not even want a house.

So here we are, 10 days away from our closing date.  I am still careful how I phrase things to Geoff, and even myself.  I deny that we will acquire any clutter despite the fact that we’ll have more rooms than we can fill.  I convince myself that a house is not that much work after all.  And I most certainly, under all circumstances, refuse to call it settling down.

Why Providence, Rhode Island?

Why Providence, Rhode Island?  This is a question I find myself answering daily as I inform friends and colleagues that after a decade of nomadic wanderings, my husband Geoff and I are buying a house and moving our family and our stuff (currently spread across three states) to Providence, Rhode Island.

Moving our stuff into storage (again).

Moving our stuff into storage (again).

The root of this question can be traced to our original question — where should we live?  — which we have spent a decade pondering and avoiding.  In the past 10 years, we have lived in three countries and four states.  We’ve moved eight times since our daughter Madeline was born two and a half years ago.  It’s no wonder that every time we get in the car, she looks at us and demands, “What’s going on?”  A month after one of our several moves, I posted on Facebook that I wanted to move (again), to which one of my friends mused, “The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.”

As we have wrestled with the question of where to live, we forced ourselves to look closely at our priorities and narrow down the three things we felt we couldn’t compromise.  Here were mine: 1) enough room to have a home office and guests; 2) a walkable city that has some international culture; 3) more local donations to the Democratic party than the Republican.

We considered New York City since until a few weeks ago, we owned a one-bedroom apartment there.  But neither of us have careers there and it’s an expensive, intense city.  To live in New York, we’d sacrifice my number one requirement, foregoing amenities like outdoor space, parking, and guest bedrooms.  But we’d also lose something much more fundamental: freedom.  New Yorkers walk fast — they have to.  They need to get whatever they’re doing done so they can get back to the real task of making more money.  Don’t get me wrong — I adore New York.  It’s like a charming lover that spends all your dough — you kind of resent it but you also kind of believe it’s worth it.  When you live in New York, you scoff at the world wondering why anyone would live anywhere else but the greatest city on the planet.  When you don’t live there, you wonder why anyone would.

View from our window in Boston, Massachusetts.

View from our window in Boston, Massachusetts.

Another contender was Boston, Massachusetts where many of our friends live.  Geoff and I both went to college and grad school there, and Madeline was born there.   We lived in Back Bay for three years, the Fenway for one, and even Cambridge, Massachusetts for a year.  And after all that, I can honestly say I don’t like Boston.  I feel bad saying that because I think Boston likes me, but it’s nothing personal.  It’s just not my type.  I recognize Boston’s redeeming qualities and ‘on paper’ it looks like the best option for us.  It’s liberal (gay people marry), intellectual (27 colleges), and pretty (swan boats).  What’s more, it’s near Geoff’s work, and most of my contacts in film and education are there.  But I’m just not in love with it.  To me, Boston has all the disadvantages of city life, with too few of the advantages.  If I’m going to live somewhere where I need to sign my kid up for preschool a year in advance, it should be New York.  Because in New York, you have a city that satisfies every niche all night long.  There’s Times Square for pulse, Central Park for nature, and a taxi when you need one.  In Boston, you have the T which will probably take longer to get somewhere than walking, and lots of luck hailing a taxi.  In Boston, there’s not even a Pinkberry, but it still costs you several hundred dollars a month for parking.

Around New York City and Boston, there are dozens (hundreds?) of affordable, lovely suburbs which we know we don’t want to live.  In fact, we spent four years living in one of them — Winchester, Massachusetts — a town with good schools and historic houses.

The yard in the Providence, Rhode Island house we are buying.

The yard in the Providence, Rhode Island house we are buying.

So that has left us with Providence, an actual city close enough to Boston to work there a few days per week and one where we can afford a whole house with a driveway and a yard.  No doubt, I’m put off by one of my friend’s remarks, “If there is one place I’d like to burn to the ground, it’s Providence.”  And a doctor I met in Providence recently told me no one’s moving to Providence, only out of it.  To make matters worse, the Rhode Island government announced yesterday that they’d be shutting down for 12 days, forcing over 80 percent of the government workforce to take unpaid days.  The state’s unemployment rate has reached 12.7%, second only to Michigan.

So why indeed Providence, Rhode Island?  I can’t say it’s because I love Providence.  Even though it’s where I was born, I don’t know it very well, which is part of what makes it scary, and so alluring — it’s another adventure.  And whether we live there for a few years or a lifetime is yet to be determined and the start of the next question we will ask ourselves.