Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Catching my Breath

I was 25 years old when I moved from Texas to Norfolk, Virginia. I had recently graduated from law school, and I was restless. I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I had no idea how I'd pay back my student loans. I essentially went to Norfolk to visit my sister, who had been living there for a few years, and I stayed. I fell into my first real job working for the mayor. It was there that I really learned about placemaking and the vision it takes to create and maintain a vibrant community. Norfolk was where I figured out who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do, and visiting there feels like home. I'm not sure if it's the salty air from the bay or me tapping into my inner 25-year-old, but when I'm there, I can breathe.

Last weekend I visited Norfolk for my nephew's first birthday party. It had been almost a year since my last visit, and I still believe how quickly this year has flown.  I arrived late on Thursday, and first order of business on Friday morning was a run to the Chesapeake Bay. My sister lives just a few miles from the beach, and I ran there Friday morning. It was one of those mornings where running was hard. I rocked 20 miles a few weeks ago, and yet four miles felt interminable. Despite the challenge I loved being at the beach and having the ocean breeze accompany one of my last taper runs of marathon training.

After my run I headed to my niece's school to join her for lunch. She's a student at St. Patrick Catholic School in Norfolk. The last time I was at St. Patrick's it was for the groundbreaking when I worked for the mayor. I wrote his speech and accompanied him to the event. It was one of many groundbreakings I attended during my job there, and I never occurred to me that eight years later I would be visiting my niece there. It is one of my favorite things about visiting Norfolk - seeing the realization of the community leaders' vision. 

Visiting my niece at St. Patrick's
Following lunch I headed to MacArthur Center in downtown Norfolk to get my shopping fix. I was once again struck by the textbook perfect new developments in downtown - mixed use development with first floor retail and residential, the development around light rail, new streetscaping. It was almost enough to distract me from my mission at Nordstrom. Almost.

Hey look kids! Light rail!
Friday evening my sister, brother and sister-in-law headed to Chow, a restaurant that is new since I was there. It had fantastic southern food (I am a sucker for southern food) and a great cocktail list. We had corn bread and pot liquor (essentially what's left over from the pan when they cook collared greens - amazing) and fried goat cheese. It was incredible.

On Saturday I once again ran to the bay, and this run was much easier. After I got back I ran a mile with my niece who is in the running club at her school. She told me she wants to run track and cross country when she gets older. There are fewer things that could make this aunt more proud.

My nephew's birthday party was Saturday afternoon. I'm so glad I made the trip to celebrate the little guy's big day. The hardest part about living so far away is missing all of the little moments with my family, and I make it a point to make as many of the big events as I can. There have been times in the nearly eight years that I've been gone that it's nearly unbearable to be away from my siblings and niece and nephew.  That's why I cherish these visits. That's also probably why they feel like home.

Celebrating one year with the world's cutest nephew
Saturday night we headed out to one of my favorite downtown spots - Todd Jurich's Bistro - where we joined a few of my friends.  The bartender pours a mean Hendrick's and tonic, and we had a fantastic time. After a few cocktails we moved on to Streats in Ghent (my old neighborhood). We enjoyed more cocktails, appetizers and great company. I probably could've done without the tequila (particularly given my early flight), but I wouldn't change a minute of it. We ended the night at The Wave, a fabulous nightclub. I think that's when I realized I'm not 25 anymore. Regardless it was one of the most fun nights I've had in a really long time.

With my siblings at The Bistro

With my SIL at Streats
My life has changed a lot since I lived in Norfolk, but the city remains a part of me. It's gotten its southern hooks in me, and when I'm there I feel like a more alive version of myself. Maybe it's seeing my family; maybe it's me looking back to a time when my life was less complicated. Either way it's where I can always recharge and catch my breath.

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