I continue to be surprised by how much I’m loving small town life!
One of the hardest things about my grad school experience in the last two years was the fast-paced, high level of stress. This wasn’t in any way new for me, but rather a scary continuation of the direction my life has been heading since day 1. The more concerned I was becoming about it, the more people told me that this was simply the career and lifestyle I’m entering into, and I’d better get used to it. I end up reminiscing more and more about the semester I lived in the south of France at age 14, and I’m thankful that at such a formative age, I witnessed another way. I saw a culture that embraces vacation rather than feeling guilty about it – one that prioritizes family over work. I was reminded again of this last night in a bit of an ironic circumstance. As I wrote about not too long ago, I currently have a part-time job and have been looking for other part-time work. Last night, I drove 40 minutes to interview for a part-time church job. I was having doubts about whether or not I even wanted the job, but I figured I’d interview anyway. Well, as I drove along beautiful country roads of Connecticut with the sun setting over farms and small businesses, I saw a simple sign leaning against a barn: “People work too much.”
Perhaps these are the reasons I’m loving Middletown. This town of about 47,000 quietly sits on the Connecticut River, with a classic Main Street running through town with everything you need, and hiking trails weaving all around. The presence of Wesleyan University keeps the arts and academic communities alive and helps financially support many local businesses, including many fantastic restaurants. But it’s the little things that I keep discovering that make me so happy:
- The parking garage down the street from my house has outdoor speakers that play classical music 24/7. When the wind blows just right, you can hear the music from my front porch.
- My house is so ideally located – 2 blocks from Wesleyan, 2 blocks from Main Street, 2 blocks from the public library, 1 block from a sandwich shop.
- I can walk everywhere – to the YMCA to work out, to my bank, to Rite Aid, to church, to the movie theater, etc.
- There are some rockin’ consignment shops and tons of yard sales!
- There are multiple awesome murals on Main Street.
- There’s a huge, beautiful bridge crossing the CT River that I can walk or bike across.
- I found a labyrinth hidden just 3 blocks from my house on Wesleyan’s campus.
- There’s a pottery/weaving studio where I can take classes and/or sell art I make, just a bike ride away.
- Even though Middletown is small, it has several awesome businesses: Oddfellow’s Playhouse (a theater), KidCity (a children’s museum), The Buttonwood Tree (a social justice and arts organization), NoRa’s (cupcakes!!!), Green Street Arts Center, and many more that I keep discovering!
- There’s a State Park nearby that has waterfalls, an orchard where you can pick your own fruit just 15 minutes away (AND they have a sunflower maze which I walked through!), THREE farmer’s markets, and concerts in the park Tuesday evenings in the summers.
- Wesleyan University has an incredible history of famous faculty/alumni, including Alvin Lucier, John Cage, Annie Dillard, the creators/writers of How I Met Your Mother, Woodrow Wilson, T.S. Eliot, Junot Diaz, and many, many more.
Although Middletown today is just another small New England town, it used to be much more prominent, and was even one of the wealthiest towns in Connecticut in the 1700s. Its prime location on the Connecticut River made it a huge trading town (beginning in the 1600s). The history is fascinating, and luckily, I can learn all about it by following the Heritage Trail filled with signs and pictures throughout Middletown.
I have to say, this is not where I thought I’d be this year. I thought I’d want big city life until I was ready to have kids. (Of course, as some of my friends recently reminded me, I am still in the honeymoon phase with Middletown, so perhaps in another month or so, I’ll decide I hate it.) But for now, it’s a peaceful and vibrant community that fills me with a sense of calm each morning as I prepare for school, and each evening as I decompress after teaching. People DO work too much. I’m remembering my year of Lutheran Volunteer Corps and how much we talked about simple living and simplicity of time. As I consider how I want to fill up my schedule to 100%, I must remember to add in sleeping, cooking, relaxing on my porch, walking in the neighborhood, and unplanned time for friends, family, and community. Those things are just as important as the money-making jobs. In fact, I can’t even do the money-making jobs without the other stuff.
I guess something about small town life stirs deep within my bones. After all, the first sights, smells, and sounds of my life were from Decorah, IA. I’m thankful I’ve landed in Middletown (though perhaps not for long), and look forward to proving to the world that I can both be a successful musician and a sane and relaxed individual with other hobbies!