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The Failure of the Mueller Development in Austin

About ten years ago, development began on a 'forward-looking', 'sustainable', 'transit-oriented' planned residential development that would be near the city, called Mueller in Austin. Today, it's wildly popular, with higher-than-average per-square-foot housing costs, high HOA fees, and homes selling quickly.

However, I believe it is a total failure.

Austin had a chance to start from a clean slate, where a truly people-centered community could be built. One with dedicated bike lanes, infrastructure for transit growth plans (extra lanes for bus rapid transit lines... tracks for a tram... anything, really). One with businesses sprinkled throughout the community in a way that would offer true walkability. More options like the garden court homes (which sold super quickly, by the way, but are unfortunately VERY limited in quantity) which have protected and shared backyard space for multiple homes in the same way a German baugruppe of housing might. Things that t…

Is School Choice Killing our Community?

Chatting with another mom the other day, we were discussing how hard the transition has been to middle school for her son. And a different mom recently shared that they were trying to transfer to a non-neighborhood school, to allow her daughter to be in the same school as many of her friends from pre-school. With so many options for 'school choice' - are we ruining our ability to get to know our neighbors?

Comparison time. In Germany, home-schooling is forbidden. It's possible to transfer from your zoned school to a different one, but you must have a good reason. It either needs to be based on the proximity to a parents' work, or be safer for your child to walk or cycle to without parental supervision. So, all kids go to school and most kids go to the schools for which they are zoned or one within walking distance. Some kids go to private schools, but this is pretty uncommon as well. Generally, kids get to know each other and grow up together. The same was true in Indi…

The Inherent Selfishness of Driving a Car

Growing up in Texas, I heard 'my car' a lot. Often said together, as if it was one word. People loved driving "my car". Going for long rides, in "my car". You get the idea.

Fast forward to living for 7 years in a city with fantastic infrastructure for transportation and bike riding: Mainz. There, I barely drove "my car" (very gladly giving up the long drives in favor of being driven long distance by a train operator)... returning to the land of "my car" feels starkly different. When I'm in "my car", suddenly only my priorities matter. I'm in a rush, late for school pickup, need to finish listening to this one bit of the podcast, have to get that parking spot. Me, me, I. Having my own vehicle seems to foster this belief that I come first. I can usually count on TWO hands the number of cars that run red lights, in any given 15 minute car ride.

The worst offenders seem the least obvious. I've been cut off repeatedly by…

Repatriation, Month 2

We're in the second month of returning stateside. What an evolution it's been. We relied heavily on family to get us through the first few weeks, spending nearly every weekend with cousins. It was nice, but they have their own routine, and we needed to establish our own.

Finally, with the house painted, new floors installed, furniture delivered (hallelujah!), assembled, and boxes (mostly) cleared out, it looks like a house we can live in. Camping had become exhausting and wore the kids out. On the other hand, suddenly having a full house somewhat overwhelmed them - they would start massive fights over a single toy, ignoring the fact that there were now quite a lot of options to choose from. Given our long-term exhaustion over the past several months, this has been an annoying challenge.

We have started to establish more of a routine though, and I already feel my mood lifted because of it. I hope it's the same for the kids. The early morning school routine hurts (whyyyyy do…

Today, I'm missing...

Walking around the corner to my hair place, to the bank, to the small store for just a quick pop-in, and no problems with parking (because I didn't have to drive).

Filling up gas once a MONTH.

Not driving for days. More than 5 days in a row, sometimes.

Bakeries. The bread. The zimtschleife, and butterzopf for the perfect french toast.

The small-ness. Why does everything have to be so big here? It takes so much longer!

The community. Where are all the people? I don't see any elderly people getting fresh air and walking around. Oh right, because it isn't safe to. I don't see kids running around freely in groups. Same reason. I infrequently see moms pushing strollers but there may be 3 on a good day, vs around 100 where we used to live.

My heated floors made of real wood, and heated bathroom tiles. They felt so good on my feet.

Tilt-turn windows which let in the exact right amount of fresh air. Also, the non-draftiness in general of high-quality windows, no matter what qu…

December in Mainz is for Change

Somehow, here we are. Full circle. Nearly 7 years later, with 2 kids and (still) a cat in tow, the time has come to go back the the US. I won't say home, because home has become a completely fluid concept. Home, for now, is transit. Home, for the last 6.5 years, has been Mainz. For the last 4, Bretzenheim, a place I will remember as the best little neighborhood there ever was. And for the future, Austin, TX, USA.

We are excited but anxious to make our new home in central Austin, finding new friends and rediscovering old, and somehow, some way, maintaining friendships we've made across different places over the many years we've lived away from Texas. Re-learning how to live near family (hey, it sounds weird, but I feel like there is a skill to learning how to live in a place with close proximity to the people who raised you - especially after nearly 18 years of living nearly entirely on your own) will be a challenge unto itself as well.

These last few months, I've poste…

November in Mainz is for leaves falling, gray skies, and Christmas markets

Oh how cold it is. November is typically when the skies turn gray, it gets dark quite early, and Christmas lights begin to slowly appear. One of my favorite memories when we lived in Washington, was the swirling leaves falling all around in fall. Although the trees here look bare by the end of the month, it's rare to see unraked piles of leaves on the ground -- this is true German efficiency. As soon as the leaves fall to the ground, they're whisked away by city services. It's quite a sight to watch how quickly the ground is cleared!

It's a good time to pull out board games, light some candles, and get ready for baking lebkuchen. And towards the end of the month, time for the most festive activity of all: Christmas markets! As cold and dark as it may be, the glow of the lights and warmth of the hot drinks and people all around have a magical way of brightening up a dark month. In Mainz, it traditionally begins the Thursday before the first advent - this year it's qu…

October in Mainz is for a Golden Fall

Can you believe it's already November? Neither can I. Let's talk about October for a minute...

Goldene Herbst is one of my favorite times of the year. This year, we've had one of the best. Mid-October and the average daily weather has been in the mid-20s (celsius) with nonstop sunshine. The leaves have started changing colors and falling, the ivy climbing up stone buildings looks more elegant than ever, and the first Arctic blast is on its way.

After a festival-filled September, October tends to be a little quieter. Federweisser stands at the market mark the month, and a day of Sunday shopping (MantelSonntag) at the end of the month is the only major activity.

Mid-October also marks the time the cranes fly south for the winter, and Mainz is one of the few German cities where you can really hear them prepare for a few days before, and then fly over the city on their way to Spain. There must be thousands as they take over the skies for an hour, flying in formation and avoiding…

September in Mainz is for Festivals

September in Mainz is a wonder. It's sometimes a late summer (warm, late golden sun in the evenings), and sometimes gloomy and gray (great days for cuddling with a blanket and tea). It's always got a lot going on - just about every weekend, there's a festival of some kind. Here, below,  my personal faves...

The first weekend in September (and last weekend in August)
Annual Weinmarkt. Every year, the Volkspark is filled with wine stands and food areas, and an artists' market. There's even a kids' corner - but it gets crowded early. You can get there by bus, best by bike, or attempt to park somewhere nearby.Another great option is the Ziegelei Fest - a small festival at a neighborhood kindergarten in Bretzenheim, featuring course work from the VHS. Some fun dance and music performances accompanied by a local honey stand, cake table, and tacos!  The second weekend September is even busier:
Appel Happel has several festivals around apple picking - including a night p…

4 Perfect Days in Krakow

I have to admit, when S suggested Poland for a summer break, I was less than enthused. Upon reading about Krakow and then seeing for myself, I could not recommend it enough for a family holiday. It was great! Budget-friendly, walker-friendly, tourist-friendly, and there's so much to absorb just by wandering around.

We spent 5 days and 4 nights, and didn't run out of activities. And there were so many things I wanted to go back to!

Day 1:
We arrived late in the evening with a shuttle (they were great & even brought car seats!), so took it easy during our first morning at the lovely vrbo we stayed at (ahhh, glorious central a/c!). We took a meandering midday stroll to the Cloth Hall in search of trinkets - and found a few pretty Polish pottery pieces while taking in the beauty of the Krakow old town. We picked up a very salty Obwarzanek pretzel for the little ones as we searched for lunch at the Milkbar Tomasza. We ordered way too much food but it was no problem - the restaur…

Airbnb, we're done. For real.

Oh, the community. Uber, Lyft, Yelp, Airbnb... all of these platforms meant to facilitate business transactions across an organically-grown "community" of people, who may otherwise not have the opportunity to realize their dream of being a driver on-demand.... a small-time bed and breakfast host... a travel writer.

The idea of these services has turned into a multibillion dollar industry. And as a semi-urbanite who *should* love the disruption they create for traditional hotels, taxis, and concierge services, I swiftly reject them as fast as I would an Amazon Echo.

After a recent trip to Sopot, where our only viable options for staying were airbnb (though after our trip, I'd now suggest to other people: find another city where you have more than airbnb to choose from), I'm done. Our host was fine, the flat was not. The cost was absurd for what we got, especially once you add in the unexplained fees and inconsistent experiences across different hosts. But the market p…

3 Truly Perfect Days in Amsterdam

I recently came back from a business trip to Amsterdam. Since I was all alone, and had a whole Sunday to enjoy a sunny day in the city, it was really more like a vacation. I filled my free time with long runs, eating ice cream, and people-watching; the work days were long but enjoyable too.

We stayed at the phenomenal Hotel Okura. We had a corporate rate of 205 euros / night excluding breakfast - and the location was in the heart of de Pijp. By way of comparison, I'd booked a single night in a different hotel for 160/ night, also excluding breakfast, on the east side of the city. The difference (for 45 euros!) was truly night and day. The Okura felt luxurious (and it was air conditioned! The other hotel was not), the staff was wonderful, and it was very easy to walk around from the hotel.

Sunday afternoon, I wandered towards Albert Cuypmarkt (closed Sundays) in search of food. I stopped by Mana Mana for an early dinner and the wild mushrooms with garlic was deliciously fresh. Topp…

A Perfect Day Trip to Gdansk

During our 10-day holiday to Poland, we escaped the hot beaches for a city day in Gdansk. What a lovely city! We explored the city on foot, wandering through the old town and a few key areas I'd earmarked for entertaining kids. Here's what we saw:

We arrived by train and walked about 10 minutes into the city center. Near the KFC at the train station, we found the underground tunnel to safely cross the busy main road. With our Lonely Planet in hand, we headed first to the Golden Gate, happening upon the lovely Millenium Tree on our way there.

The gate itself wasn't much to look at, but the Ulica Dluga was gorgeous. The history - and how it was completely rebuilt, stone by stone - was fascinating. We went on a perfectly sunny Tuesday, where it also happened that the Dom Uphagena was free that day.

After wandering inside to see how the wealthy lived, learning how the original items inside had been kept away but the original building destroyed & later rebuilt, we headed to …

Tips for Visiting: Sopot, Baltic Sea, Poland

Summer break! After weeks of feeling burned out at work and exhausted by hot, long summer days and 2 little boys with seemingly boundless energy, I was so looking forward to a break.

We flew to Gdansk for a 10-day summer break, starting with 5 days at the beach (Sopot) and 5 days in the city (Krakow - post to follow). Despite previous frustrations with airbnb, there was not much else to choose from for apartments in the area, so we were stuck with it. Furthermore, googling Sopot hadn't turned up much; it was a place you had to sort of figure out while you were there.

Good thing I'm here to help and share our 'lessons learned'...

General tips for Sopot:
Stay on the west side, as close to the beach as possible. It's much quieter, shadier, and kid-friendlier. There's a huge beach playground and park playground, both on the west side of the Sheraton. This was a looooong walk from our airbnb. Mix it up. We didn't want to spend every day at the beach, so we coordin…