We ventured to Yellow Springs, Ohio this past weekend. Aaron has family in Dayton and its surrounding areas, and his sister's starting her first year at Antioch College, so we went to give her a proper send-off and to see some folks we haven't visited since Kaspar was just eight weeks old. As it turned out -- and you'd never guess this from the surrounding towns leading in to Yellow Springs -- the town itself (with only 4,000 perma-residents) is a little hippie-slash-hipster oasis of awesome coffee, great restaurants, super-cute houses and community-oriented spirit the likes of which one rarely encounters between the coasts. We were smitten. 

We play a hypothetical "we could live here" game almost compulsively when traveling; Asheville certainly came under consideration, and Concord, New Hampshire even got a few tentative votes this past August. (Two days in, however, after I'd run into a classmate from middle school who told me I 'looked different' without blue hair, I changed my tune and told Aaron I can never move back to the place I grew up in... but it is a really nice place for those of you who might be scoping.) We're both mostly-freelance at this point -- though Aaron might also take up with an animation company in the coming year -- so we're actually semi-serious in considering relocation possibilities. Despite its very-small-town shortcomings (I'm assuming they exist), we were pleasantly drawn in by Yellow Springs' uber-liberal, and surprisingly international, flare. 

Indy movie theater in the center of downtown? Check.
The town has a cool history. Besides being comedian Dave Chapelle's childhood home (and an off-the-beaten-path weekend spot for celebs who prefer low-profile hangouts to the Hamptons), Yellow Springs was founded by about a hundred aspiring utopians back in 1825. Many Quakers also took up residence there, and it was one of the final stops on the Underground Railroad; some of the town's historical homes still feature their original hiding spots that helped deliver American slaves to freedom. In keeping with its activist roots, the town was also a civil rights and anti-war hotspot during the 1960s. 

We stayed at the Springs Motel just outside of town. It was clean, campy and cheap, and included a mini-fridge, which is a necessity when traveling with Kaspar; the first order of business, wherever we go, is to stock up on non-allergenic edibles for him. We were lucky to stay in a house when we hit up New York City this past summer; some friends who live right around the corner from our old place gave us the keys and told us to make ourselves at home. A few things had changed but our intimate familiarity (born of walking everywhere too close for the train) with the lay of the land -- combined with a full working kitchen -- made keeping Kaspar well fed during our stay extra easy. In Ohio this past weekend, it was a bit of a different story. We stopped at a supermarket on the outskirts of Dayton and couldn't find one piece of organic produce. (I was astounded, which Aaron found amusing.) We did find some "fruit squeezies," yogurt, frosted flakes, some organic hot dogs (score-- Kaspar's fave, and free of wheat fillers) and some Kraft string cheese (cringe) -- because hey, artificial hormone-laden dairy products pale in comparison to the crazy that is a hungry travel-weary toddler; I'd suspected Kaspar's diet would not exactly be 'balanced' while we were away, so I'd made juice the morning we left and determined to suck it up and feed him what we could find when we arrived. As a nice surprise, though, when we visited with Aaron's grandmother (see Josephine, pictured here), she directed us to the apple trees she'd planted decades ago, in her backyard. Our boy tried his hand at apple-picking for the first time ever, and piled up a serious stash. Thus, we were ready for motel mealtimes, which at the very least included some non-toxic fruit. 
Yellow Springs = pro-boobies.
Luckily for us, Yellow Springs' restauranteurs were more than happy to help our kiddo (and us) to delicious, satisfying fare. The guy at The Spirited Goat coffee shop gave us a steaming mug of hot water to heat Kaspar's hot dogs in for a two-hot-dog breakfast on our first morning in town... Which was promptly followed by some brown rice, steamed broccoli and a buffalo burger (cooked, unadulterated, in its own pan) at The Sunrise Cafe; Aaron and I had a rockin' breakfast there, too, and returned for dinner the next night (also excellent). I always take it as a good sign when a town's population of restaurants is disproportionately large, and each of our choices in Yellow Springs brought with it friendly, knowledgeable waitstaff, local, organic yummies and a personal, family-friendly vibe. 
Aaron's sister, Sylvia, gave us a tour of her dorm at Antioch College; its lush campus closed briefly a few years ago, but the college has re-opened, paying its first few waves of students' tuitions for them (free college?? WHAT? Had we died and gone to Sweden?) and kicking things off with a bang. Its buildings are being completely re-renovated, and Sylvia's dorm was suh-weet. Also, entirely forward-thinking as far as renovations go, complete with solar panelling across the entire roofline, filtered-water fountains with little tickers telling passers-by how many plastic bottles their usage has saved, and various other green features that promise to make a big impact. The town, too, boasted lots of bike racks (very much in use), public recycling receptacles, and -- as the dude at The Spiritied Goat told me -- a public water supply that, by popular demand, is completely flouride-free. This level of broad municipally-encouraged environmental responsibility definitely reminded me of Asheville; I hope these small-scale experiments in city-wide greening (not just greenwashing) will provide working examples for bigger cities to follow. (I recently wrote about Toronto's extremely advanced city-wide composting system; my friend who turned me on to it -- who recently relocated from NYC herself -- noted that Toronto is far greener in general than American cities are.)
Anyway, Aaron's aunt borrowed a tricycle from a friend, and we walked up and down the paved bike path running through town (and, evidently, all the way to the next town over, Xenia) as Kaspar got the gist of pedaling. We also hit up the playground at the local elementary school just after the end of the school day; Kaspar hung out in the sandbox and we chatted with a mom who relocated, with her family, to Yellow Springs from Las Vegas several years ago. (She was also originally from New Hampshire.) We wandered around the neighborhoods a bit, too, drooling over several stucco houses and noticing a certain art deco architectural bent. For such a small town, there were a lot of people out and about, both downtown and in their front yards, which mixed one of the pros of metropolitan living (people, and the energy they give a place) with the sleepy, safe feeling only a small town can offer. Paired with vibrant fall foliage, it was no wonder Yellow Springs is a popular place. I was shamelessly, every bit a tourist, but felt welcomed, and very much at home.
Whether we'll actually move to Yellow Springs remains to be seen. I'm not sure how I feel about the size, and about all that conservative dull-i-tude in surrounding Ohio. Our list of potential home bases is long and our preferences are varied; returning to our Brooklyn digs this past summer reminded us of all that we adore about big-city living, but we didn't feel called to return to it, exactly. San Francisco and Vancouver are both on our radar. (Aaron also loves LA, but I'm not so sure.) Asheville was fun but ultimately felt kind of gimmicky and been-there-done-that, as a small college town and all. I love the idea of Santa Fe, but so far it's only an idea. I also like the idea of going very rural -- of a barn home, or a yurt. And we've done some collective, far-flung daydreaming of Buenos Aires. (No idea how that would be on the food allergy front, but hey -- a step at a time.)

All told, we're in Austin right now, and actually, it's just right for our current collection of work-life puzzle pieces; I was semi-worried for both myself and Aaron, before returning to New York, that we'd both feel leaving there had been a mistake, and I was relieved when neither of us did. But I was completely shocked when Aaron said he was glad I'd had the foresight to suggest we move to Austin when we did. (He loved living in New York.) We get to have a house and a yard here, but we haven't gone straight-up suburban. Our friends are diverse and interesting and cool, and very real; they hail from all over and they aren't all parents themselves. The ones that are parents are also great people, and we're able to do the family thing without feeling boxed in. I've lived in small towns before (and even small cities) and it's hard to fall into multiple categories in them, or to grow up and change (because yes, my hair is different now than it was in 7th grade); I loved that New York allowed me to simply be myself, in my many manifestations. Austin allows for this, too. (Or maybe I just don't feel the need, these days, for some kind of outward approval.) Austin's been good to our family, for sure. We're here for now, and it's home. We like to travel and we like to play our what-if game. And if work and weather eventually lead us elsewhere (I adore Seattle's rain), we have a list of "we could live here's" to guide us well. 
10/05/2012 12:51

Wow! What a small world! I grew up in Dayton, (my husband and I met at University of Dayton), and my family ventured to Yellow Springs all the time! My mom and dad used to go on dates at the Winds Cafe, and I can honestly say that I have such fond memories perusing the little artsy shops and biking up and down that bike trail. Love this post-- you totally took me on a trip down memory lane!

p.s.-- love your new header!

10/16/2012 18:36

How funny! Yellow Springs feels so 'in the middle of nowhere' (and yet very much 'somewhere' in its own right). I'm fascinated by it. Glad I could take you down memory lane -- and the Winds is a fantastic restaurant! Your parents clearly had great taste. Just like you, Lauren! :-)


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