The idea for small town living big city life began about 15 years ago. It was a feeling that generated within me over time. It grew from a variety of experiences and summarizes how I got to where I am today.
I was born and raised in a town of about 45,000 people in Minnesota. I think 4 generations grew up there. Most of my family is in Minnesota and many of them still live in roughly the same area. The town has experienced many changes. I grew up in a residential neighborhood where we came home at dark, didn’t lock our doors, everyone knew everyone else’s kids, you rode your bike up to the library, candy store or corner grocery. You knew where almost every kid lived that rode your bus. Almost every kid in my kindergarten class was in my high school graduation class.
After college I moved to a suburb of Minneapolis/St. Paul, to take a full opportunity with another subsidiary of the company I worked for at that time. It was a big step in my career and I was out on my own. The 7 county metro area had a population between 2 – 3 million at that time. It was huge. I had a solid group of friends and I made the most of my time there. I worked in the East/Southeast Corridor. The group I played volleyball with mostly lived in the Southwest corridor. In addition to every sand court we could find we played weekly at a bar on the shore of Lake Minnetonka. I did some volleyball officiating in the area and I did some volleyball score clock and score book for one of the area high schools. I became exceptionally familiar with all the main passageways across the southern suburbs. It became rare that I was home any weeknight, let alone the weekends. Every weekend was something new to do, a new adventure, a new place to eat or go dancing. I was really enjoying life as a big city girl. However, my busy life in the big city didn’t last long. A family situation called me to come home and after a year in the big city I went back.
Over time the town I knew expanded and grew. Other major employers came to town, housing expanded. The community diversified with other races and ethnicities. Somewhere in there I blinked and suddenly it was a much larger town with more issues. After I returned to my home town, I got engaged and married. My (now ex) husband and I decided to build a home about a half hour south of town. It made financial sense. We could get more house for less money. We had good jobs and commuting wasn’t a big deal for us. We adopted a child about a year after we got married (it was in the plan). We enrolled our son in school in the town we worked in and not the school district we lived in. As a result we needed to drive him to school.
It was a good town to raise a family. The population was 700. I knew every one of my neighbors. The kids all played together in our cul-de-sac and went back and forth between the yards. They rode their bike to the park two blocks away to play. As they got older they could ride to the gas station up town (really only about 6 blocks) to get snacks, candy, milk, etc. During the few years that I lived there I met some of the most amazing people and had some of the greatest experiences of my life. Our neighborhood circle had several families with children about the same age. We watched each other’s children, we hung out together on the weekends, we watched each other’s homes and pets when someone was on vacation, and we worked on home projects together… sometimes those included other extended family members. It was an awesome small community. These were some of the best years. Then life took a turn. First, the couple across the street split up and they moved, along with their two girls. The single women next to us moved out and a young couple moved in. Some adult indiscretions occurred on their honeymoon (not with each other) and they got divorced and moved out shortly after they returned. An older couple moved in next to us. They were awesome and we finally had some stability. We were particularly close with one family two doors down. Their children were about the same age as our child. We did a lot with this family including vacations and celebrating holidays. There are so many joys of a small town. My favorites include bonfires, spontaneous grill outs, pulling kids on sleds behind snowmobiles and ATVs, sharing veggies from the garden, group canning (salsa was the favorite), garage sales, the annual polka mass and festival at the Catholic Church down the street, and watching three fireworks celebrations in three different towns all at one time from the comfort of our backyard!
The town festival was one of those cherished memories. This annual event brought local bands, a beer garden and dancing in the street, and the ability to walk home to the children all playing together in one house. We would sit in lawn chairs until the wee hours. It was quiet except for our laughter. Our yards backed up to a corn field and at night you could really see the stars.
The phrase small-town living big city life has stayed we stayed with me since that point in time and has become words to live by. When you have a neighborhood community that is as close as I was with my neighbors you develop a very unique relationship. The fact that the town was small and had nothing more than a grocery store and a local bar didn’t mean that we didn’t have experiences that left us feeling like we live the big city life.
I live under the premise that life is what you make it. With this thought in mind we were rich! We had a nice home, a safe neighborhood, great friends and a quiet town. We smiled and laughed on a regular basis. But as you know things change and for me that came about 7 years in. Without listing all the rotten details I realized if I didn’t get out of what was going on in my own house I was going down with the ship. I filed for divorce and put my home up for sale. That was a sad day. To make matters worse it was during the economic downturn and my home had lost value. It was going to cost me money to get out of it. At the same time this was going on Miranda Lambert had just released “The House That Build Me.” It became my son’s rally cry. To this day that song still provokes strong memories of our time there. As a single parent it was just too difficult to make the commute and have no busing available for my child because he didn’t attend school in the district we lived. We moved home to my parents.
The plan was 7 months. I had figured out how to pay of my legal debt and the debt from the sale of my home in 7 months. I was a women on a mission. Then came the news. My dad had cancer. So we stayed longer. On the positive side, I had help getting my son to and from all his favorite activities. It was important to me to keep things as consistent as possible. So in addition to work, I shopped, I cooked, I mowed, I blew snow, I did pickup and delivery from my dad’s yucky appointments when my mom couldn’t be there due to her own work schedule. We rallied. It was a blessing in disguise. Busing was now available. My career was flourishing. I had a new guy in my life, a gentleman by every definition of the word. I was happy. We were happy. My dad got healthy. I was there about a year and a half. By the time things settled down again the housing market was just starting to recover.
I wanted that small town family friendly feel like I had as a kid and they kind my son had experienced. The feeling of safety. The quiet. I moved back to the town I grew up in. To top it off my son got another cul-de-sac! Things were good. My new relationship was blossoming. I felt secure. I was happy again, really happy. I didn’t quite get the quiet I was hoping for or the ability to clearly see the stars. Too many city lights. I told myself I had 7 years. That would get my son through high school and it’s the estimated breakeven point on a mortgage. I could always make a change later. I just needed to get through 7 years. I had a goal. My then boyfriend (now my husband) moved in with us following an overseas deployment. He traveled a lot for his job so during the time we dated we had been apart more than we had been together. I liked my independence. He had the peace of mind knowing I could take care of things when he wasn’t there. We became a good team.
We love to go back and visit our friends. It is bitter sweet. Definitely not the same. The family that bought our house clearly doesn’t have a green thumb or care about curb appeal. It is an overgrown mess. My family did the brick work on that house and it is sad to see it in its current condition. Then I look at my old neighbor’s driveway and smile. Tens of thousands of pavers, all laid over two weekends. That was a great time. Brothers. Moms. Dads. In laws. Friends. Lots of people helped bring that idea to life. Those were good times – sunscreen, barbecue and beer.
Since that time my son grew up, got his first job, learned how to drive and got a car. We are now approaching graduation. My husband and I got married. We have taken several family vacations together. We are approaching the 7 year mark in our home. Change is approaching once again.
In the past 7 years both my parents retired. Not only did they retire, they moved. No, not south. They moved to northern Minnesota. We made the decision to move about 2 ½ to 3 years ago with the intent to wait until my son finished high school. We know as our parents’ age they will need help. I’m an oldest child and if you know anything about birth order, you know I am the responsible one. My husband is the same.
We started putting our plan into action over a year ago. We began investing in land in northern Minnesota. Things started falling into place. Things were moving forward. Then my in-laws decided to divorce. I have never been a fan of family drama and mine has plenty. It was a bit of a tough stretch for a while with drama on both sides. Then my M.I.L. decided it was time to ‘get out of town’. She, too, had lived in a small town most of her life and was looking to make a change. She, too, decided to move north.
Fast forward to today. The next few months are full of big change for us. Graduation and College. Relocation. New Job. Relocation. New Job. New Home. Living with my husband full time again. Back to living really close to my parents again. But the part I am most looking forward to is the quiet, and the ability to see the stars at night. It’s time to get out of the city.
I have a Type-A personality. I am outgoing. I like to be busy, really busy. Most of my friends don’t know how I do it – manage all the things on my schedule. It’s not easy. I love people and I love adventure. This is my last move. I designed this home. We are looking forward to at least two years of stay-cations. We need to build up the savings again after this venture. No vacations for a while. To avoid going stir crazy I told my husband he has to get dressed up and take me out on a date at least once a month. I have all these great dresses and outfits and no one up there has ever seen them. It’s like having a whole new wardrobe!
I started my professional networking almost 4 months ago. Things are falling into place with that too. I already have two activities lined up where I can volunteer and use my skills for a good cause. I am ready to contribute and give back in a whole new area. I do it because I love it and I like to be busy, but it also fills my bucket. I don’t like to sit around so I might as well find productive ways to use my talents and fill my time. It is what I know. It is comfortable for me. I suspect over time I will learn the slower pace of life that exists ‘up north’. For now, let’s fill up the schedule!
Life is different up there. Things move at a little slower pace, except for tourist season. But even then it’s not like what we experience in the big city. Generally people come to the area to relax and enjoy life. Really, life is what you make of it. Here in the city where I currently live drivers are aggressive, always trying to get somewhere in a hurry. No patience. Every restaurant is packed on Friday and Saturday nights. There are things going on every weekend in this town and because of its size and offerings, the weekends draw lots of visitors. It is the largest city for about 80 miles.
I am ready to get back to small town living. But I am not done living my own adventure yet. I’m bringing with me my big city life. I hope they are ready.