Turning the Page

Neighborhood Fall Party

Ever since I stepped back from the intensity of blogging, I’ve been devoting more time to community: my family, the schools, friends and mothers’ groups, and our neighborhood.  I keep thinking I’m going to get back to blogging, but I find myself pulling away from the computer and venturing into the world.

For someone who concentrates energy on the house and family, looking toward the neighborhood felt like drawing the circle a little wider.  Ideally a neighborhood should feel like an extension of home, with a similar sense of safety and warmth.  Neighbors are who you count on when a storm knocks out your heat, a child needs to be picked up early, or you’re out of eggs.  Neighbors can be the support network that was once provided by large, extended families.

And yet, we don’t always know our neighbors.  We Americans love our privacy and our space.  We put so much energy into our nuclear families and our careers, our online groups and our Facebook friends, that we forget to think of the helpful community that a neighborhood can provide.  To make matters more difficult, we don’t naturally run into all of our neighbors — partly because American towns tend to be arranged in grids, instead of around squares or town centers.

When we moved to Washington, D.C., five years ago, I didn’t expect to find an old-fashioned community.  When our moving truck arrived here on a sweltering June day in 2011, a smiling woman came out from her flower-filled porch bearing toys for our kids.  We were invited to block parties, where neighbors gave us phone lists and maps of residents, alley grill-outs, Christmas potlucks, progressive dinners, and egg hunts in the park.

Science backs up what many instinctually know: deepening relationships and joining communities makes us happier and healthier.  Yet we often think the opposite: that doing better in life will break us free from those ties so that we can have more space, more privacy, more independence.

Living on a tight budget for the first ten years of our family life helped me discover a more cooperative existence.  I realized over and over that working together might be a little bit harder sometimes, but it’s infinitely more satisfying.

However as I spent more time on the simple living concept of Frugal Mama and the opportunities it led to, I had less and less time to participate in communities. As I wrote about, one of the ironies of the blog’s success was that it not only consumed time that I had once spent on saving money, but also on the relationships which I felt were what mattered most.

Three years ago, I dismantled the business side of the blog so I could take care of first things first:  my children and husband, the household, and the organizations where we live that supported us.

Diana holding homegrown carrots

Once Diana had grown from a baby to a toddler and I could turn outward again, I began to think about our neighborhood.  It was so great: what could I do to help?  Some of the ideas I had were creating a communication loop, organizing regular social events, highlighting our history by connecting with older residents, and finding ways to welcome new neighbors and help those in need.

Our neighborhood didn’t have set boundaries or a name, so a group of neighbors and I mapped out an area of 113 houses spanning three blocks between a main thoroughfare and a park.  Drawing the line can be tough, but it seemed essential to creating a feeling of safety and fostering a sense of belonging.  A name for our little area was in order, so we flyered the neighborhood, collected suggestions, and took a vote.

Since then we have created a printed directory, a listserv where people exchange hand-me-downs and handyman numbers, and a calendar of regular gatherings.  This summer, for example, we started a series of casual parties called Front Porch Fridays, where we all bring drinks and hang out on neighborhood porches.

Front Porch Fridays

The magic of the Web is that it connects us to far-flung people who we’d normally never meet.  We can find people with the same specific interests and connect instantly.

Now I’m fascinated with the magic of physical closeness.  Proximity has a different power: the power to bring people together face-to-face.

Like family, neighbors can’t be chosen.  Every neighborhood has a crazy uncle and those cousins you only see at family reunions.  There are grandparents and babies, teens and twenty-somethings — neighborhoods are not age-segregated.  And if there is a sense of community and shared interest, you belong to each other.  And with that sense of belonging comes a desire to get involved, to be less shy about asking for help, and a kind of responsibility to watch out for each other.

I remember how easy it was to make friends in college.  If you lived on campus, you spent all your time with your dormmates, sharing everything from rooms to meals to classes and entire weekends of free time.

But now we have jobs and families and we live in separate houses with yards and cars.  Many of us are separated from our families of origin — or any relative at all — by thousands of miles.  Even friends who live in the same city can find it exasperatingly difficult to get together.

That’s why there is something precious about the people who live next to us and behind us.  Without the barriers of distance and travel time, neighborhoods are natural places to find friends, playdates, mentors, babysitters, helpers. The inter-generational nature of neighborhoods means that many of those connections will be people in different stages of life.  And there can be great comfort in knowing someone who has been through the same struggles you have.

While taking a break from the blog this past year, I found myself able to say yes to getting involved in other groups: helping middle-school parents produce the big spring musical, organizing a retreat for my mothers’ group, and working on bringing more harmony and cooperation to our family unit.

All the while, I kept thinking I would get back to writing here.  Finally I had to come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t keep up Frugal Mama and take on all the other projects I was excited about.  Most of us will experience different callings in life, and even though it’s bittersweet, sometimes you have to walk away from one in order to walk toward another.

Amy Suardi at beach with family

Frugal Mama has been a source of creativity and connection for me for almost seven years, so realizing that it is winding down has been hard.  Even though the website and past content will stay live, I won’t be writing regular blog posts anymore, and I’ll miss that.

It’s been so wonderful to have you in my life, and I hope this is not a good-bye, but a ‘see you later.’  I know I will return to writing, and I hope that you will come visit me wherever that new place will be.

Until then, I will imagine you out there fighting the good fight, looking for the silver lining in saving money, and keeping life simple so you have time for what really matters.  I’m with you.

Photos: first and last by Sofia Suardi, others by author

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  • JoAn November 23, 2016, 1:51 pm

    You make the world a better place with every endeavor you undertake. I will miss Frugal Mama tremendously but am happy knowing that there is so much more good that you will be doing on a day to day basis!!

    • Amy November 29, 2016, 11:40 am

      Thank you so much, JoAn!


  • Melanie November 16, 2016, 11:23 pm

    Amy – as always, this blog post is so beautifully and authentically written. You are one of a kind! I remember when you started the blog, had success with the blog, had to scale back a bit from the blog, and now this decision. An arc of triumph, me thinks! You are taking on different projects for and with your family and “real life” community, and that is critically important. Thank you for your great wisdom these past 7 years!

    • Amy November 21, 2016, 2:42 pm

      Dear Melanie,

      Thank you so much. Your down-to-earth optimism and encouragement throughout the years have meant so much to me. It’s so good to know you are still here.


  • Ellen Webster November 15, 2016, 1:12 pm

    Amy, so sorry to see that you are going to stop blogging on Frugal Mama. I think you’ll probably return to it in the future, though. Your article is so well-written and so true! It IS better to live your life than to just write about it, and family and community are always more important. I applaud you for starting the “Front Porch Fridays” group. It IS important to know your neighbors and share with them, but most of us are so busy running around living our own lives that we don’t nourish those relationships enough. It can be lonely living in the DC area. Take care, and please stay in touch! Ellen Webster

    • Amy November 15, 2016, 2:29 pm

      Dear Ellen,

      Thank you for this kind note. It’s true that it takes time and effort to get to know each other these days, and that’s especially challenging in our busy time. I appreciate hearing your thoughts and feeling your encouragement. Letting go is hard. Yet I know it had to be done.

      Take care,

  • Jenny November 7, 2016, 9:53 am

    Amy! So touching to read this beautifully written ode to following your heart. Cheers to your ability to constantly grow and evolve. You are a huge inspiration. I think all of us would love the tools, ideas and inspiration to create communities within our apartment buildings and neighborhoods and hopefully you can be a modern pioneer and help people how to figure it out! People crave that middle circle but have no idea how to create it. Good luck on your quest and thanks for sharing so many amazing insights on Frugal-mama. You will be missed.

    • Amy November 7, 2016, 9:31 pm

      Thank you, Jenny. I’ll miss being here too.


  • Leslie November 6, 2016, 12:22 pm

    I always enjoy your posts. Your thoughtful, principled assessment of life was valuable to me, but I think you have chosen the better part. Life is to be lived, not just talked about, and that is what you are doing in your neighborhood. I admire your courage to move from principle to practical, and your diligence of pursuit. You are an example to me. Blessings!

    • Amy November 7, 2016, 9:28 pm

      Dear Leslie,

      You write so eloquently.

      I love how you say that life is to be lived, not just talked about. In this super communicative era, it’s easy to feel invisible when not sharing one’s activities, but I know that’s not really true.

      Thank you, Leslie,

  • Nancy Feyen November 4, 2016, 6:14 pm

    Amy, how nice to read your new blog post! I’ve enjoyed your writing over the years and look forward to the day when you can get back to it. This article has made me realize how much I miss the kind of neighborhood I grew up in. You’ve inspired me to wonder if I could make some kind of neighborhood out of my city apartment building.

    • Amy November 4, 2016, 10:02 pm

      Dear Nancy,

      Thank you for this. I too look forward to a new writing project.

      In the meantime, I think you totally could boost the sense of community in your apartment building. Anything is possible!

      Take care,

  • Emily November 4, 2016, 4:11 pm

    Amy- I came to your blog years after it started and I’ve truly appreciated its message. You’re a beautiful writer and I look forward to seeing what you create in the years to come!

    • Amy November 4, 2016, 10:01 pm

      So kind of you, Emily. Thank you for this message.


  • Lauren November 4, 2016, 11:33 am

    Oh Amy, I just loved reading this! It’s been so good to keep up with your family over the years this way and I’ve learned so much from you. I hope that everyone is happy(I know they are) and doing well. I can’t believe how BIG Diana is. Please tell M hi for me! We just moved to Boston and are expecting. I hope my new neighborhood can be like yours… I really miss that neighborhood. Take care and stay in touch!


    • Amy November 4, 2016, 10:00 pm

      Lauren! Super congratulations on the most wonderful adventure that you are embarking on. Boston sounds exciting too. It’s so sweet of you to write. I will tell Mark you said “hi.” We miss you too!


  • Alisa Brown November 3, 2016, 10:32 pm

    Amy, it’s so good to have you back, writing again! You were my inspiration to keep a blog, and now out of it, I just published my 9th book.
    Gratefully yours,

    • Amy November 4, 2016, 9:56 pm

      Your 9th book! You are on fire, Al. I hope our paths cross again someday. Always great to hear from you.


  • Kelly November 3, 2016, 9:26 pm

    Amy, So great!!! I had to shut down my blog Renaissance Mom to spend more time with my kids and husband. I had started another regional website and it was all too much. Besides the other allowed me to explore my community and write about while hanging with the kids. Now it has gotten so big that I have no time to explore and I’m losing time with my teenagers. Trying to find a way to pull back and minimize things. Your post is inspiring and I wish you the best of luck!!

    • Amy November 4, 2016, 9:55 pm

      Dear Kelly,

      Blogs have a way of snowballing, don’t they? It sounds like you have a strong read on your inner compass and will find a way to put your first things first.

      Wishing you peace and courage,

  • Becky November 3, 2016, 12:43 pm

    I am amazed by your description of the crisis our American towns have become with no “neighborly” activities any longer. I grew up in a small town where everyone seemed to know everyone else, and we shared whatever we needed to in the way of goods or help. It was a different generation then, but bringing it current to today, the thoughts are the same and the warm feeling we get from interacting with neighbors and being able to count on them is still there. I would like to know about getting this to happen in an apartment community where people of all ages are continually coming and going. It is rarely the “forever” home that we think of it, but just a place to rest awhile until we find it. Is it the size of the town, the location, demographics, or are we just all to much in a hurry to take a minute to stop, smile and say hello?

    • Amy November 4, 2016, 9:46 pm

      Hi Becky,

      The small town where you grew up sounds wonderful.

      As you say (and as Robert Putnam says in Bowling Alone), the decline of American community seems to be generational, but I think it is also about being busy with work, geography of neighborhoods, and the Internet. In The Vanishing Neighbor, Marc Dunkelman thinks it’s also about a societal shift in emphasis to both tighter circles (the nuclear family) and wide circles (social media connections) at the expense of the middle circles (neighborhood, church, school, civic organizations).

      Food for thought, right?