Lifestyle Columnist Loves this Stage of Life
Living with change, Royal Oak writer finds comfort and connection writing for her community.
When Editor Christy Strawser first shared the news about the launch of Royal Oak Patch, she must have heard me cheering across town. When she offered me a chance to write a weekly Sunday column, well, you probably heard me, too.
If we haven't met before, there's one thing you'll need to know about me upfront: I'm a homebody.
Early in my career I worked as a travel magazine editor, scouting the back roads to find our country's best historic inns and B&Bs. Traveling with my family later on, I visited Shakespeare's birthplace; sipped anisette in Parisian cafes; admired the Parthenon. But for all that, my idea of a good time is hanging out at home in Royal Oak.
I've met a few people who like to change ZIP codes before it's time to repaint the living room, but my husband Doug and I consider ourselves lucky to have lived here 28 years. Our son Nate was born at William Beaumont Hospital and attended Shrine Catholic Schools. For the past 19 years, we've made our family home in a circa 1926 Tudor – a cherished friend that has endured several renovations, hosted countless family meals and cradled us through surgical recoveries and common colds.
I can't think of another place I'd rather call home.
Some will argue that a small town has fewer than 15,000 residents – at close to 60,000 Royal Oak is much larger – but I don't think you can define or explain a small town strictly in numbers. The real definition has more to do with the way we experience a place. It's all about neighbors who settle into the landscape, put up with each other's quirks and picket fences, and care about every kid in the neighborhood (not just their own). Living in a small town means you support local businesses and take pride in how your street looks at the end of the day when you drive home from work.
From my view, Royal Oak is exactly that kind of town. Topping it off, I can hop on my bike and ride downtown to my favorite thrift shops, outdoor cafes, boutiques, art galleries, the library and some of the coziest local diners brewing coffee in the Midwest.
At least once a week, you'll spot Doug and me in one of the newly installed booths at Niki's, where I've ordered the same meal for the past 20 years: a cup of homemade soup and my favorite Greek salad. I like the way Donna, the owner and cook, shouts "hello" from the kitchen whenever we walk in, and how we typically find an old friend or two perched at the counter or in a booth next to us.
I'm also the sort of person who gets a kick out of running into neighbors at the grocery store, even if I'm not wearing lipstick. I love how some of the staff at the Royal Oak Post Office remember that I'm a writer because they've helped me mail dozens of manuscripts and book orders over the years.
As author Robert Putnam notes in Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, most of us "want to be part of something, to belong to a place." We want to be neighborly.
Speaking just for myself, I like routine and find comfort in familiarity. It hit me the other day that there's a good reason for this.
Now in the trenches of midlife, I'm facing some changes and transitions. After so many years of defining myself as a mom and being fully engaged in parenthood, midlife has a new map and other plans for me. Just for starters, Doug is semi-retired and works from home like I do. Our son moved to Chicago after graduating from college two years ago. This summer we lost my father-in-law after a long battle with Alzheimer's. Meanwhile, my widowed mother was diagnosed with dementia and needs more of my attention. In other words, after years of remodeling this old house, it's time to redesign our own lives.
Now, more than ever, having a strong foundation is essential. Home is an anchor, no matter how rough the waves get on the journey.
While I've published my work in many national magazines and newspapers, I can't think of a better ongoing assignment than writing for my hometown.
So, every week I'll be sharing thoughts on home and family life here in our neighborhood. I like to think of it as opening the door to my living room and inviting you in to mull over topics such as surviving the holidays; refeathering the empty nest; caring for aging parents; reinventing our lives when our careers change; and finding the recipe for balance when everything goes crazy.
Whether I bump into you at the supermarket or in line at the post office, I can't wait to keep our conversation going.