RETURN TO THE CITY

A HISTORY OF KITCHENS

In Germany we lived in the top three floors of a pale yellow five story house with clay shingles, snuggled in a row of historic homes.  We were literally in the middle of our picturesque Bavarian town, a part of the Alstadt in a building that was over 500 years old.  It had a beautiful and slightly precarious long narrow dark brown wooden balcony that spanned the entire width of our home and overlooked the downward slope of our town.  I attempted to grow a waterfall of flowers off of it (because when in Germany), but quickly marked myself as a black-thumbed American who slowly tortured and killed plants for public viewing all spring and summer.

I painted our kitchen a horrid shade of bright Florida orange (an attempt to convince myself to stay bright and cheerful while I waited for Josh to return home from war).  Other garish colors could be found in every room of our house; a supersaturated shade of grape-ish merlot in our family room, a fresh vernal green on our walls between the wooden rafters in our bedroom.

House guests and former residents would tell stories of ghosts causing mischief around the house, but our spiritual roommates must have found Josh and I to be decent tenants (or too easy a scare) as we never had any supernatural experiences living there outside of random puddles of water appearing time to time in the attic amidst weeks of sunshine.

A small wood burning fireplace was in the family room, hoisted a foot off the ground in a small wall of brick, sitting beneath beautiful German wooden rafters criss crossing the walls.  Our short walnut stained wooden ceilings and dim lighting made our home feel like a rabbit’s hole…but a cozy charming lived-in comfortable type of rabbit’s hole.

Most weekends during the winter we had a host of close friends who would stay up far too late with us drinking wine and local beers after a night of eating brats and prosting dunkels.  We would share travel stories and dreams, discussing our fur babies, books (remember those days where we devoured books before having children?), and how we all knew we had hit the jackpot being able to spend our joyous carefree frivolity of childless 20’s couplehood and singlehood living in Europe.  I loved that home.

In Colorado, we lived on the corner of a top floor wing of a historic mansion from the 1880’s that had been converted into dozens of apartments.  We brought home our first baby, sweet (and slightly yellow) Ivy, into that home.  We walked her in (me akin to a baby deer that had just had a bowling ball rocket out of its lady parts not 48 hours before) past all our neighbors who sat out on the mansion’s veranda.  They beamed and welcomed the residence’s newest tenant as if she were one of their own.

Windows punctuated every 3 feet of wall in our apartment, with views of Pike’s Peak’s outside Ivy’s bedroom curtains.  Our kitchen had about 15 inches of counter space and no dishwasher, the flooring only wide enough for one person to stand across its berth.  We would shimmy and suck in, offering a playful pinch to whoever was trying to pass by to get to the stove, sink, or secret back door.

Our laundry was in the basement on the far side of the building next door; coin operated but without a change machine so I would drive to get dozens upon dozens of quarters from the car wash every couple months then lug sacks of coins and laundry down with a baby on my hip to do the wash.  In the evenings we would head outside and sit on the mansion steps with a glass of wine in hand, watching the Colorado Springs Running Club dash by as Ivy learned to crawl, toddle and eventually run around the grounds.

I would rearrange furniture and bring in Wilhelmina models for hair and makeup prep and makeshift photoshoots.  We would all squeeze in and make it work despite our glaring lack of square footage.  I fell in love with fashion photography and proved to myself I could actually do it while still being a stay at home mother to a young baby, with my husband thousands of miles away for months at a time while living in that small but bright cheerful space.  I loved that home.

When Ivy was a year and half old we drove East for three days and moved above a bike shop in Brooklyn.  Our king size bed sat smack dab in the interior room of our 700 sq. ft. railroad apartment.  We had only enough room to crab walk sideways by it in order to traverse from the kitchen and bathroom to the living room and Ivy’s room.  The ceilings and windows were massive though, and on hot summer afternoons the apartment walls would turn into a tiny but very efficient oven; our only safe haven being the kitchen on the opposite end of the apartment, with a chilly tile floor that always felt grimy no matter how many times we washed it (although in truth I gave up after only three scrubbings).

One afternoon in the middle of a heat wave Josh brilliantly found painted wooden shutters flush in the window frames that had initially appeared only decorative.  I will never forget the thrill and relief of excavating our beautiful wooden shutters and watching them open up and cover our apartment in charm and darkness (and most likely a decent dose of lead dust).

Twice a week the garbage trucks would clunk down 5th Avenue picking up trash at 11pm.  Ivy would sleep through our evening NYC symphony which was harmonized with ambulances and smattered with high notes of people walking home from work, local bars or a night in Manhattan.

Our laundromat was two doors down, the grocery store literally across the street (we would often wave to each other as we scanned our bananas).   Instead of watching the news for the weather we would simply peer out our window in the morning and see what everyone was wearing.

Early one evening I walked into the bathroom and while reaching for the light switch stepped on a mouse (surely only passing through our apartment to get to the one next door).  I jumped 14 feet high and hit my head on the ceiling.  We never saw the mouse again.

We had two small closets for the entire apartment and spent our nine months there looking at most of our possessions.  But as small as our apartment felt, New York City would never cease to open up and buzz the moment we opened our front door.  Life was always happening on the other side of our home’s entrance no matter what time of day or year.  I loved that apartment.

Our second home in Brooklyn was less than a mile away from our first, only a literal block from Prospect Park on a quiet and much more posh avenue that we had no business living on.  It had a big ground floor patio that we zig zagged string lights across on wooden posts.  When they lit up at night it would feel as if we had stumbled upon a tiny charming restaurant in an alleyway in Europe.

Under the string lights sat a sturdy 8 foot farmhouse table we had a Russian grandpa from Staten Island custom build us.  We found him on Craigslist and he was paid in cash– under the table, of course.  I remember meeting his son at a corner by the park handing over a 50% deposit thinking I just was scammed like a NYC newbie.  But duped we weren’t, and we ended up paying far too little money for this humble man’s craftsmanship and service.

Most evenings in the summer Josh and I would put Cora to bed then take turns walking up the 6 stories of our building to the rooftop with Ivy where we would watch the sunset together.   Following the plane routes of people fly into JFK we would gaze at the Manhattan skyline and watch the F train run its route, Ivy pointing out Lady Liberty down on the water.  I loved that apartment.

But after Brooklyn came a two year move to Philadelphia, which we are now in the midst of.  After years of apartment living and accruing children and beasts we felt we were ready for a change…more space…room for the girls to run around in…separate bedrooms, a proper dining room, a proper dining room table, a dishwasher, central a/c and a washer & dryer that was only in our home and had only our dirty sheets and underwear going into it.

So instead of moving to the Center City (I will never get used to not calling it ‘downtown’) Philadelphia, we moved to a neighborhood 8 miles outside of it called Chestnut Hill (it’s as cute as it sounds; just google image it if you don’t believe me).  Famed as Philadelphia’s Garden District, with eyes slightly squinted it could easily be mistaken for a small English village.  We were walkable to shops and grocery stores, the train station, and only a 5 minute drive to beautiful walking trails and pastures of farm animals.

We chose a house on a street with historic homes where everyone had wooden front porches that you could almost hold hands between…the neighbors as Truman Show-esque and friendly as you would expect anyone on a movie set from the 50’s to be.  The kids would play out on the street at night while we would stand around with a glass of wine in hand chatting with neighbors and catching up on life.  It was idyllic.  It was spacious.  It was lush and quiet.  We loved that home.

But the quietness of our charming storybook town turned out to be…well…quiet.  And we began to find it difficult to resolve attempting to become minimalists with how sparse a five bedroom home looked and felt, and how large our desire was to not fill it with things.

And the bizarre hilarity, struggle, and general interesting happenings and people that go hand and hand with city life were gone.  Everything became easy and effortless.  And while this home and this town were perfect and lovely and so stinking charming you could cry, we realized were not our version of perfect.

So we decided to do the thing you’re not supposed to do as normal adulting parents with young children.  We pulled a 180 and brought out the moving boxes out again….by choice…for another short term move…back to apartment life.

We have grabbed yearlong museum passes around the city and are headed towards the heart of Philadelphia into another old quirky walk-up apartment with massive windows, a wood burning fireplaces, old wooden floors, and another kitchen barely wide enough for two people to stand across.  Our girls are sharing a bunkbed and a bedroom, and we won’t have a yard to let Luna out in; all of this by choice, or more accurately; desire.

And to the icing on our moving cake is we will in all likelihood be leaving Philly in a year.  Our sights are set on Europe..a bigger, but familiar move.  A new adventure.  A new destination outside of our all too comfortable comfort zone.  Preferably in a country where we don’t speak the language, where I will do things again like accidentally order 110lbs of fish at the farmer’s market, where we will cook wonderful meals in a small apartment hundreds of years old with beautiful worn wooden floors, perhaps with another bathroom oddly situated through the kitchen, and most importantly a wood burning fireplace and more dear and wonderfully unique friends to sit in front of it with.

Onward.