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Farewell, Austin

IMG_1685(written from the Embassy Suites on Congress Avenue in Austin, TX on August 20, 2015)

Hi, I need to order four pies.
Beat.
Yes, pizza pies. 2 pepperoni and 2 regular.
Beat.
Yes, 2 with pepperoni and 2 with just cheese.

My husband called our local pizzeria to buy lunch for our moving guys. His clarifications reminded me that yep, I’m actually not a Texan. I’m not from Austin. I order “pies” at a pizza place. Why do I need to explain further? I’m not calling a bakery. I also stand “on line,” not “in line”–but that regional language irregularity justifiably needs correcting. You’re reading this online. Or if you’re on Long Island and standing in a queue, maybe you’re reading this post “online while on line.”

Okay, get to the point. It’s 7 am and I’m in a hotel room with my littles before we drive to Dallas to meet C.K. So I’m groggy. The point is—these jarring moments remind me that I’m not actually from Austin. And it’s unsettling because most of the time I walk around considering Austin my home. In fact, it’s where I’ve felt the most “at home” as an adult. Apologies to New York where my heart still beats a little quicker. And no apologies to Los Angeles because it’s the hellmouth.

Why Austin has such a strong hold on me? Why do I (and so many others) feel so comfortable in the city’s embrace? The answer is summed up in two phrases. The first is from a volunteer coordinator at my church. While presenting on Mobile Loaves and Fishes, a charity that rehabs roach coaches and stocks them with food daily to drive around and feed the poor, Bob remarked of the charity’s founder, “Bring anything to him. Any stupid idea. And he’ll hear you out and try your idea.” That may seem a little condescending but I assure you it wasn’t meant IMG_1648that way. There’s an openness to MLF’s structure that can been seen in many organizations around town, both charitable and for-profit. Austin is a place where you’ll be heard, your ideas won’t get shot down, your thoughts are valued. Any. stupid. idea.

I heard the second phrase before we moved to Austin in 2013. A friend from New York, Sarah, told me repeatedly that I’d really like Austin, that I’d be happy there. I thought it odd—we hadn’t been friends for too long when she told me that. Maybe she was just well-wishing since she knew moving to a brand new place with a 3.5yo would be traumatic no matter what. “Austin is a very come as you are city. You’ll really like it,” she smiled sweetly as we watched our sons play at the local community center. And she was right. And the phrase “come as you are” is the best way I can think to describe this amazing place. Granted, sometimes come as you are means not shaving your legs or armpits at the hippy-dippy Bouldin Creek Cafe. Granted, sometimes come as you are means arriving to a posh club on a segue in a nerdy T-shirt. Or looking like you just failed a urine test with your patrol officer but you’re really a tech shot caller.

But it’s true. Austin accepts you as you are. There is no uniformity to how people look in the city. And that come as you are attitude permeates everything. I believe it’s why my husband has flourished at Chaotic Moon, a company that doesn’t just pay lip service to innovation–they innovate again and again. I think it’s why I was immediately asked to serve on the board at Jackson’s school. (Imagine that happening in Westchester County? Never. Unless, Mama gets out the checkbook early on.) I think it’s why Women’s Storybook Project trusted me to pitch to the New York Times. Austin makes the fact that you’re creative a good thing. It’s something to explore, not ignore.

IMG_3622So I love this place. My children love this place. My husband loves it here. My sister moved here. She loves this place. My New Yorker parents who are the poster children for townies, love this place. That’s because it’s easy to love. But they better expand Mopac soon because word is really getting around. #understatement

So good bye, bats under the Congress Ave bridge.
Good bye, Zilker Park.
Good bye, food trucks.
Good bye, hipsters and vegans and other types I can’t stand.

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The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

My husband and I recently moved our family to a new neighborhood. We were lucky to find a totally redone townhouse in a really nice complex. Soon after we moved, we realized that we had altered the median age of said complex considerably. In fact, most of our neighbors are elderly women between the ages of 75 and 97. Ooh, another man. Oh a young man. So nice to have a young family. I don’t know that I’d use the word “young” to describe either myself or my husband. But to the cast of Cocoon residing in our subdivision, we might as well be in high school.

These ladies aren’t just any old ladies though. They are active (many are still working), vibrant, and charming. I’m fairly sure that they stay up later than I do. And on occasion, they sit on lawn chairs in the middle of our complex and drink wine and laugh and kevetch. They call this impromptu gathering the “Sippin’ Sisters.”

About a month ago on a sticky summer evening, I am lucky enough to receive an invitation from the Sisters. Joan, a 92 year old with two poodles and crazy swagger, told me about the group the day we moved in. I confess that while I said “Ooh that sounds nice” I hoped I would never hear of this again. But there stands Joan at my door, blouse impeccably ironed, wine glass in hand.

I go to this latest installment of the Sippin’ Sisters. My motivation is completely self-serving. I want to appear like a good neighbor; I want a bunch of ladies to hold my enormous five month old daughter Darcy. Certainly, both goals will be accomplished and I’ll be back in the AC in half hour.

To my surprise, I have the best time chatting with these ladies. Let me take you through the cast of characters. And they are indeed characters.

You’ve met Joan already. She’s Catholic. I am asked right away about my religious preference. Would I be Team Joan or Team Everyone-Else-Is-Protestant? I answer truthfully that I grew up Catholic but we attend Methodist church. This answer satisfies everyone and I am tentatively accepted.

There’s Dotty. “I am the queen,” she announces when I walk up. Dotty is the leader of the group. Armed with a glass of rose and tangerine-colored lipstick, Dotty informs me that she was the first person to live in our complex. She moved in over forty years ago after her husband passed. Dotty snatches up Darcy right away cooing, “Ooh she’s darling.” Dotty also notifies me that despite my native New Yorker status, God has certainly blessed me by giving me a Texan baby. Then she jokes, “What do you call a yankee who has lived in Texas for thirty years?… A yankee who has lived in Texas for thirty years!”

All the ladies laugh.

I laughed too. It’s funny because it’s true.

There’s Helen. Helen declares that she is the “second queen.” But before I could break it to her that there is no such thing, Dotty interrupts again, clearly invigorated by a new person to entertain. “You have the choice unit,” Dotty exclaims. It is evident that everyone in the circle had looked through my home when it first came on the market.

Helen thinks she’s 73 but no, Joan gently reminds her that she is 93. Helen sulks a bit at this revelation but quickly recovers. Clearly, Helen feels like she’s 73 and that’s all that matters. And who wouldn’t feel 73 in perfected quaffed gray curls and white capris?

There’s Joan and her daughter Kathy. Joan is sassy. I’ve already mentioned her swagger. She sashays past my home three times a day with her poodles. Joan and her dogs are my pug’s archenemies. Thatcher hates anyone with more swagger than her. (The pug is also sassy. But this post is getting lengthy so I won’t go into it.) Kathy is less sassy. Despite being one of the younger women in the group, she’s bashful. That’s probably because you can’t get a word in edgewise unless the queen asks you a direct question. Kathy tries to offer some neighborly words, “We are always home. If you need anything—“

“If you need anything, just ask. We don’t have what you need. But we will call someone for you,” Dotty cracks up.

Finally, there’s Naomi. She mostly sits there sipping her pinot giorgio (with ice) and giggling. As I leave she lets me know that she shares a wall with me. I shudder as I think of the worst—she’s going to complain about our parrot. But instead Naomi asks if her television is too loud. She’s just had her hearing aids put in and can’t tell if she’s bothering anyone. “I have a four year old, a baby, a pug, and a parrot. You’re fine,” I laugh and Naomi smiles, genuinely relieved.

There hasn’t been another gathering of the Sippin’ Sisters since then. I assume that people are just taking summer vacations, visiting families, tours of beauty, whatever. The Sippin’ Sisters aren’t ones to be driven indoors by the Texas heat.

Or maybe I just wasn’t cool enough to be invited back.

I hope this is not true.

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