Thursday, January 16, 2014

Five Favorites: Our Area

It's no secret that we live in a tiny house. It's a townhouse with under 1000 square feet. It makes storage and cleaning a challenge, to be sure, and having more than two kids someday will be difficult with that little space and no yard. I have a habit of looking on Zillow every so often to try and keep an idea of prices in the area and...well, it's a little discouraging. Home values have increased, and while that means we have more value on our house, so does everyone else.

That said, there are some things about our area that will make us make do with our space for as long as possible, because we really, really love it. Here they are:

1. Geography

Some of this has to do with being so close to so many outdoors options - lakes, rivers, mountains, beaches - with such a short drive. If I really wanted to, I could drive to some huge caves at Luray Caverns and still be home in time for dinner. But this has more to do with family location.

As I've said before, Nate and I were both military brats, so being able to see our grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins was a rare treat. Now, we live within about a half hour drive of both of them. That is heaven. It certainly came in handy last week when I was sick and able to call in some reinforcements to make it through the day. But we're at the point where both Rosie and Freddy recognize and willingly go to their grandparents and aunts and uncles because they see them on such a regular basis (Rosie would not let her uncle put her down tonight); if we were far away, I can imagine that there would be a lot more clinginess whenever we would visit. 

2. Education system

Yes, the education system is heading in some scary directions with Common Core and the non-stop standardized testing, but assuming we can get the pendulum swinging back towards teacher autonomy, we live in one of the best school districts in the country - and not just for those core subjects. The bands in this area are nationally recognized. Many of the high schools have earned the Sudler Flag of Honor (an award given to high schools who have a proven history of excellence), and three of them have earned it twice, which is super rare. It helps that we live within driving distance of the homes of 4 of the 5 main service bands (President's Own, Pershing's Own, Air Force Band, and Navy Band). Which leads me to my next point...

3. Culture (for free!)

There's two sides of this. First, there's Western culture, where you have the bands as I was talking about, plus all the Smithsonian museums in DC that are FREE FREE FREE, plus a number of performance venues that offer reasonable ticket prices (Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center is free, too, every single day of the year) and colleges and universities in DC and Virginia. There are historical places within a stone's throw and you don't even need to leave the immediate area to visit - Mount Vernon, Gunston Hall, Arlington National Cemetery, etc. Wine making is huge in Virginia now and vineyards are popping up everywhere. 

The other is that there's such a high influx of immigrants that the tastes of their culture come over as well, whether that's the Vietnamese Eden Center in Seven Corners, little Korea in Annandale, the Ethiopian enclave in Alexandria, any number of different Latino clusters (ever been to a Spanish Mass around the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe? It's a treat), the multitude of restaurants opened to cater to the different populations (you know it's a good Chinese restaurant when you're the only white people in there and the menu offers things like crispy fried pork intestine) - it really is a melting pot if you know where to go. I sat in the DMV closest to my house and I was one of I think 7 white people out of about 50 people total. It's nice to be exposed to people and food and customs and things that are different.

4. Orthodoxy

We live in probably one of the more conservative dioceses in the US, and we attend one of the more conservative parishes. Our priests don't necessarily preach fire and brimstone, but as one priest-in-residence said in one of his homilies, "If you're expecting to go to Mass to hear a warm, fuzzy sermon, you're in the wrong place, especially here." I don't have to wonder if certain parts are illicit, I don't have to wonder if what I'm being told is good Catholic teaching, and I get to do it all in a prettier building with better music (I came from an ugly church that had a giant, ripped, gold, LIVING Jesus on an acrylic cross - JeZeus on the resurrucifix - and had Hagen-Haas music, so really, anything is a step up from that. The Diocese of Arlington isn't exactly known for beautiful churches). Bonus: our church was built within the past 10 years, and some of the stained glass and statues came from my dad's old parish in Philly that had been closed.

And the quilts. Yeah. From this... this. Huge improvement.

5. It feels like home

Maybe it is because we moved around so much when we were little that it's nice to feel like there's someplace to really call home. Nate and I have tossed around the idea of teaching for the DoDDS schools overseas, and looking at housing prices has made me think that moving to someplace substantially farther away would be a prudent idea, but I will always think of Northern Virginia as home when anyone asks. It may be more expensive than other areas, more congested, more political, more fluid with population and building and the like, but I do think the pros outweigh the cons.

Now, if I were originally from Minnesota or Texas or Oregon, or if I went to college somewhere other than George Mason and planned on doing something other than teach, or if I hadn't met Nate and started a family, maybe I'd decide that it wasn't worth it and pick up and go somewhere else. Maybe I'd figure I was being called somewhere else (though having a good network of churches helps). Since none of that is the case, here we are, and here we'll stay.

I am curious to know what kinds of areas have 2, 3, and 4, which may lead to 5...

Check out more Five Favorites over at Hallie's!

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