October 2008

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alex's life book

  • In early 2006, I began creating a life book for my daughter, Alex. Click here for links to articles describing my experience.
  • And for those of you who are more digitally inclined, in late 2006, I recreated key pages of Alex's lifebook for an article I wrote for AlphaMom, using Scrapblog.

    You can see the final digital result (and leave comments, if you'd like!) here.

what's been on my nikon lately

  • And you can view my favourites here.

if i'm not here, i'm here

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That's a good question Karen. One that we're thinking a lot of lately as well.

It depends on a lot of factors, as is with any big decisions. If there is something "in between" that would be perfect. But that isn't always the case.

If you are not thinking of expanding your family in the near forseen future, and you could live with the smallness for a fair amount of years (3-5), and the other goody stuff that goes with urban area is very very important to you, then buy urban. You could always move to the suburbs later. And urban houses tend to appreciate more than suburbs.

BUT, if you are willing to forego the goodyness (you could always drive to them no?), a larger house with a private yard and likely bette school might just be the key. After all, how often will you get together with your immediate neighbors? They are also more likely to have small children as well so that might be a plus, even if their wordly views differ somewhat, as long as they are good decent people and we don't talk about politics and religion, we're a-OK. Yea?

Those are some of the things we are thinking of, as we ponder a cross-state move. And we're leaning toward the immediate outskirts of the urban area so it isn't too far out in the boonies but the culture/restaurants are also reacheable. And having a bigger house will mean a lot to us, especially when families and friends visit from out of town etc.


Sorry I'm hogging your comments. I forgot a few things.. Right now we have a private yard of 1+ acres, HUGE cedar and oak trees all over the place, the house is charming (and did I mention OLD?). We're just 15 minutes to the heart of downtown MPLS. But the layout is yucky, the house is small, and the yard/house requires A LOT of work to maintain. I guess where we are living now is making a big influence on where we want to move to. I'm ready for a bigger and new house with less maintenance. So I definitely choose #1 in a heartbeat.

Kyran, at Notes to Self

oh, this is a toughie. One wants to be hip and P.C. and say downtown is clearly the way to go. But I live in a hundred year old house in one of those hip and P.C. neighborhoods and everytime I visit friends in newer houses with open living spaces and cool built ins and wiring that wouldn't keep me up at night with worrying, I sigh a little sigh.

I say Go Ask Alice (Finslippy). She moved from Brooklyn out to the 'burbs this year.


option 2 and take my kid to the park (we have those here right?)
Of course, i'm not a mommy so i'm looking at this from my non child perspective.
I grew up in a small house with a tiny yard and neighbors who had very different views/ lives from us and i turned out ok:)
Good luck with your decision.
Either way i think Alex will be great with parents like you guys. Take comfort in that.

Beck's Mommy

We live in suburbs close to major urban aea. Lots of character, trees, etc. Small, old house with tiny yard, no room to grow and lots of problems. But it is close to a large park (reasonable walking distance). I would not trade for anything. I have friends who live farther away in huge houses that are all the same color and no trees. I hate going to visit them. It is depressing.


Before we had kids, I would absolutely say urban. With kids, we opted for a suburb just 30-40 minutes from the big city. We have good schools, parks everywhere, a decent backyard, even a quiet street to ride bikes. Though I do sometimes wish I could walk to a coffee shop, or anything really, it was a good choice for us.


i would buy in the urban area

Girl con Queso

I buy in the urban area. Visit local parks a lot. And decide that the lack of closet space is the blessing of an old home (less room means less we keep that we don't need).


I suppose it would depend on what a person values more.

I would definitely value the big house and the garden (!) more, so that would be my choice.


That's hard. But I think ultimately the room and the garden space would be hard to pass up, for me anyway.


I have been reading your blog without commenting for a few months. This questions interests me because I made the choice last year. I bought a small urban duplex instead of moving to the burbs. I could have got a lot more house/land for my money but really do we all need that much in our lives. Everything is more more more. I question if my family really needs more. When is enough? I made the choice, small is enough, keeping up with the Jones' is over rated (from what I hear, lol)

Your blog is very interesting and your photography is incredible. I enjoy reading it.




I would buy in the city if I didn't plan on needing any of the extra room that is apparently absolutely not there. After all, if you do eventually completely run out of space, you can always move to the suburbs. Or your house will have appreciated and you can buy a slightly larger one in the urban area.

But come on, there has to be a middle ground ;) I live less than 1 mile outside of the city boundaries of St. Louis (for all intents and purposes, it's still the city). I'm in an apartment, but there are homes 2 blocks away that have small but definitely kid-friendly gardens, and amenities like 4 bedrooms and a finished basement. There are 3 parks within 3 blocks and the whole coffeeshop/restaurant/urban area is a 10-15 minute walk away.

Plus, the houses here aren't cheap, but they're much cheaper than the gigantic McMansions you describe above. You're not talking about the cheap smallish starter homes in the burbs, are you?


Sigh...this is a dilemma we find ourselves in as well. We have our urban dream right now - a new house built in the old Craftsman style in the heart of the city. And even though we adore our neighbors, have more than 15 kids under the age of 10 on our block and fabulous restaurants, cafes and boutiques just 2 blocks away, we are choosing to move to the suburbs because the schools are better and the public spaces more cared for. I may be naive, but I'm trying not to pre-judge the suburban population. After all, education must be a strong value since the schools are well supported. I also figure there are families like us that have moved there for similar reasons. Good people end up everywhere. Good luck with your hypothetical search.


We bought in the suburbs, actually more rural, because the city is only 20 minutes away. Whenever I need a little cultural I just take a drive and when I have had enough I can leave. The risks outweighed the positives when it comes to New Orleans.

Besides, I like getting twice the house, a 3 car garage and 1/2 an acre for the kids to play at half the price.


I say go 'burbs. Better schools, and the urban sprawl will eventually catch up w/you. Feeling safe (esp. since you don't feel that where you live now) is a precious commidity. And Alex's safety is the #1 priority, no?

You can always make fun "family field trips" to the museums, shows, etc. to bring culture into your life. And since I'm a blue dot in a very red state, I've learned not to discuss politics much in person, but vehemently online.


So many thoughts on this... I'll keep them to a minimum.

We lived in an older house on a large piece of land that needed a terrible amount of updating, beautiful trees, and green, so green. There was a lot of upkeep with the yard and house.

Then there was the somewhat smaller, brand-spanken new house with cookie cutter personality that never felt like home. And had no trees- well, there were the tiny saplings...

And finally, the obscenely large home (we do fill it with 8 kids) that was built only 20 years ago with a medium size lot. That feels like HOME!

How do you feel about cleaning and upkeep? A smaller house is less of both. It appears from your photos that you will have no problem adding character to your home if you choose that route. Are you adding to the family? Will you spend all your time driving back and forth if you are in suburbia? No yard, no garden, no place to play outside... ohhh I don't envy you.


is this really a hypothetical, or are you telegraphing something???


Where would you be the most happiest? Where do you spend MOST of your time? In the home or outside with people who share your ideologies?

In the first option, you can drive to those other places where people share your views (i.e., their homes, cafes, etc.). In the second option, you may feel cramped in the house despite the encouraging environment around you. As you can see, I think the first option is preferable.


I'd go urban. I have a 17 month old and, like sjb, live just a stone's throw from the city limits of St Louis. Whenever we go visit friends in the large suburbian developments, or even look at the cookie-cutter houses popping up as in-fill housing in our neighborhood, it makes me so sad. Our house is tiny and 107 years old, but up until the horrible new houses popped up next door and tore down them down, we had 100 year old magnolias and cedars to play under. (grumble grumble, d**n developers) We have an apple tree that produces enough apples to keep us in applebutter for the year and still donate to shelters and give as gifts.

If you're moving to a brand new city and you don't know the neighborhoods, urban can seem scary, but if you have the time to research carefully, many urban neighborhoods have strong neighborhood watch programs, great community, and fantastic school options.

As someone else said, how much "stuff" do you really need? Living urban means a lot of things, and for us one of those is that we enjoy our neighborhood enough that we don't need as much extra space to ramble around in our house. We have a good sized yard, only because our house is tiny, but we rarely use it compared to how often we walk to a nearby park and playground or pop over to the zoo or museums or catch up with other kids in the neighborhood.

Yes, sometimes I get frustrated that we don't have a guest room, or that I have to trade out my clothes each season b/c the closets are too small to hold every item of clothing I've ever owned since high school. And I wish we had enough room and a better floorplan to host a big fancy cocktails-and-dinner party. But we don't, and that just means we never have the hassle of houseguests (hey, the hotel's a few blocks away, come by anytime after 9am and leave by 10pm...), I am more inclined to get rid of clothes I don't wear, and I only invite over the people I really want to have in my house. For us, it's perfect.


Hi Karen,

My parents had much the same decision, and ended up choosing the suburbs for some of the same reasons other commenters have stated. I'm an African-American woman who grew up in a New England suburb a little over an hour away from New York City, where I have lived for the past 8 years.

I would rather not detail my experience here, but it was such that I will never live in a place like the one I grew up, *particularly* if I had to raise children, and given the fact that my partner and I are not the same race. The hypothetical suburb you're thinking about, however, may be quite different from the one I grew up in; your descriptions of Trinidad sound nothing like New England! ;o)

Feel free to contact me if you think hearing about my experience will be useful. Good luck making your decision in any case.


Oh, by the way, re: education...

My partner grew up in New York City (while I was in the 'burbs). His family is at a similar class level to mine, if not slightly less affluent.

His education was just as good as mine was (we met in undergrad), and now we're both in PhD programs, and his university is notably more famous than mine.

Sorry for going on--I promise not to add any more comments here!


wow. This is the dilemma looming over us in the very near future. We're currently renting in 'urban' because of the lifestyle and convenience. When we buy, though, the choice will be tough: stay urban, but that would mean a very small place to live, or move out a bit where our money will go farther, but we'll be farther from everything we enjoy. There are pros and cons on both sides...in the end, I guess everyone has to weigh them for themselves.

Good luck with your decision!


We purposely raised our kids in the heart of the city in a widely diverse neighborhood. Yes, it wasn't as safe, but "safe" can be a dangerous illusion. Crazy occurs anywhere. What I had noticed about suburban living was, when the kids reached a certain age, their yards could not contain them, and there wasn't much else to do. Younger children are content to be home, not so as they grow. We also owned a large, friendly, dog who was crazy about the kids. She kept them company outside when they were small. But you must do what you need to do to feel comfortable with your choice.


Urban density is a good thing...suburban sprawl is not.

That being said, I am a big fan of living in a diverse urban area, but my brother vastly prefers the suburbs. Growing up, we lived in both worlds. The suburban area bored me and one brother senseless, but thrilled the youngest brother to pieces. I prefered the parts of my life where I took the commuter train to elementary school each day, we spent weekends exporing museums and art galleries and ethnic neighborhoods, and our various neighbors showed us their cultural and religious traditions and we showed them ours.

My youngest brother prefered walking to and from school past quiet suburban cul-de-sacs, playing "ghost in the graveyard" through the interconnected back yards way past dark, riding his bicycle everywhere, knowing that every family, as far as he could tell, had the same Christmas tree positioned in front of the same front-room window, and all the kids his age went to the same Sunday school. (Well, except for us--but he'd beg to go and Mom would let him. He wanted to FIT IN.)

Here, I live in the Japanese community, while other military wives live on the base. You couldn't PAY me to live on the base (yuck!!), but you couldn't pay them to live off base (I'm sure they'd think "yuck!")

I support urban density and deplore suburban sprawl. But, to each his or her own.


p.s.--education can be good in the city and poor in the suburbs...when we moved from the city to the 'burbs, I skipped second grade entirely. We went back to the city, I repeated 5th to "get right". We went back to the 'burbs and I skipped 7th entirely. All due to the vast differences between the excellent urban school and the really pretty terrible suburban school.

As for space, how much space do people NEED? We're like fish--we grow to fit our environments. Do couples really need the McMansions I see popping up, just for two or three people?

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