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Thursday
Aug112011

Time for Dinner: Geckos, Southwest Cuisine in a Cool Casual Atmosphere

We've heard your requests loud and clear. In our series, Time For Dinner, we feature favorite family-friendly restaurants throughout the city.

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Guest Post by Richard Hastings, DBFA Board Member.

"Family Restaurant"  There, now, what comes to mind?  Menus with pictures of food?  I would posit that a family restaurant is one that works for your family at various stages, occasions, etc.  Geckos is one of those great neighborhood gems that keeps welcoming us.  When Amy and I were dating, it made a great launching pad to meet up with friends for a night out - when we have a sitter, it still does.  After settling together in Butchers Hill, Geckos made for a great weeknight dinner to catch up with each other's days - or discuss baby names!  Both sets of in-laws even love it!  Life continues to change... now we need a table for four with a high chair and room to park the stroller and Geckos continues as a casual favorite.

It's about leadership:
Nick, the owner, is always ready with a smile and a warm welcome.  He also tends to remember your favorite drink and actively supports the community.  The casual hospitality and personal service describes Nick, his staff, and the overall feeling of the place.  Consistency, often a challenge for neighborhood places, is a strength here.  Margaritas? Consistently great.  Sangria?  Always top-notch.  And two Mango Chipotle BBQ Chicken Enchiladas ordered months apart?  Strikingly similar and super tasty.

So what about the food?
The house made chips and salsa are a necessity. Some of our favorites are the Southwestern Caesar, the Grilled Portabella Salad, and the Southwest Cobb.  Salads are definitely entree-size and always fresh and crisp.  Entree favorites in addition to the aforementioned are the Wild Mushroom and Cheese Enchilada and the Jerked Chicken & Sweet Potato Quesadilla.  Consistent, yes, but there is also an ever-evolving list of specials to keep you coming back.  The food is always freshly prepared and always interesting.

And the kids?
Sometimes previously warm and friendly places cool a bit when your family grows, right?  Not Geckos.  We stopped by early on a weekend night with our daughter a few months after her birth, received congratulations delivered with a genuine warmth normally reserved for family.  Our now one-year-old in her stroller are always greeted with smiles by owner, staff, and patrons alike. But be smart.  Lunch or early dinner works great for our little one and the others we see there.  Past bedtime on weekend nights, the place gets crowded.  There are a few high chairs but not a fleet.  Until high chair age was upon us, having our daughter join us at the table in her stroller worked well.  A lift over the entry threshold is necessary for that stroller and there are several steps up to the dining room.  There is no space in the restrooms for a changing station but, when diaper changes have been necessary, we have been able to find a discrete corner on one of the four levels.

Going for playtime in Patterson Park?  In need of a casual date night? Looking for a unique neighborhood place out of town friends will enjoy.  Geckos fits our family. 

Richard Hastings is senior associate director of external affairs for the Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Johns Hopkins University. Richard credits longtime friends in Fell's Point for introducing him to Baltimore, to his lovely wife Amy and to Johns Hopkins. Amy and Richard reside in Butchers Hill with their daughter Eliana, who they welcomed in the summer of 2010. Richard is chair of the Resource Development Committee for the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance.

Wednesday
Aug032011

Favorite Playground: Hampstead Hill Academy

Guest Post by Lauri Doody

Before I had my son, Ryan, I thought of Canton as a playground for adults.  Bars and restaurants littered every corner of the neighborhood I live in, and I couldn't imagine how children fit in.  I assumed that once we started a family, we would pick up and move to the suburbs. 

However, after Ryan was born in October 2007, I began noticing that there were just as many families as single twentysomethings scattered through the neighborhoods of the city.  Sometimes I even thought there might be more.  Everywhere I went, I noticed moms pushing jogging strollers, families walking hand in hand to eat dinner in the square, and kids playing catch at Patterson Park. 

Once my son was mobile, we started venturing out to local playgrounds and I realized that the city was also one giant playground for kids!  We began frequenting these playgrounds on weekend mornings and late afternoons - from Patterson Park to the Thames Street playground to Dypski Park.  But the one that we keep going back to, time after time, is the playground at Hampstead Hill Academy. 

Ryan and I both love going there for many reasons.  It is close enough that we can walk without putting him in a stroller.  It is small enough that I can easily keep an eye on him without being on top of his every move.  The play structure is safe and manageable for his age and skill level.  And when he tires of the slides, suspension bridge, tunnel and monkey bars, we step down into the schoolyard where he can run free to his heart's content, burning off energy along the way.  It is a space that we think of as our own backyard.  We have been known to bring his scooter, motorized 3 wheel vehicle, soccer ball, and street hockey sticks and ball, to take advantage of the wide open space. We have introduced our favorite playground to local friends as well as out of town visitors. 

I think part of the reason I like it so much is also that it is part of a school, and a great school at that.  It is a reminder to me that there are education options in the city for families who choose to stay.  I have even been known to crawl through the tunnel and run over the suspension bridge with Ryan, and the this reminds me that Canton can be a playground for both kids and adults!

Lauri Doody has lived in Baltimore for the past 11 years, first in Federal Hill, then Brewer's hill, then settling in Canton where she has lived for the past 6 years with her husband, Tim and son, Ryan, 3 1/2.

Tuesday
Jul262011

Fresh and Local: Community Supported Agriculture

Two weeks ago, we brought you the Downtown Farmers' Markets Guide. This week, we're keeping it fresh and local by covering another great option, Community Supported Agriculture.

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Guest Post by Michele Esch.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  What does that mean?  Basically, you – the community – purchase a share of the harvest from a farm.  It usually is a box or bag of vegetables but can also include other types of farm products, such as eggs, meat, honey and even bread.  The size of the weekly harvest depends on how things are going on the farm – some years you get great tomatoes and other year’s great eggplant and other years things don’t go so well and you don’t get any tomatoes!  It is one of the risks of participating in a CSA.

Several years ago, I had been contemplating joining a CSA for some time but had missed the early purchase deadline (most farms will offer a discount price the earlier you buy – they are able to use those funds to buy seeds and other supplies to prepare for the upcoming season).  Luckily, someone on the SEBaltkids listserv was selling a half share and I jumped at the chance.  I had decided to join a CSA because I couldn’t always get to the farmers' market on the weekend and wanted a way to get some fresh vegetables on a regular basis.  Plus they usually equate to great cost savings.  Splitting a share is about $8/week!

I have always been interested in my food and where it comes from (full disclosure - I work in the agriculture field) but my interest in what I eat took on a new meaning when I was pregnant.  I remember the doctor telling me “eat a rainbow on your plate.”  After I had my daughter, it became even more important not only for me but also my whole family.  We cook most of our meals at home and try not to eat a lot of processed food.  If I can’t say it, I don’t want to eat it!  The CSA turned out to be a great way to get consistent, fresh, organic vegetables once a week.

But what was I going to do with all of those greens?!  Well, I got creative.  I make a lot of spinach and Swiss chard enchiladas and we eat a lot of sautéed greens.  My daughter even ate the sautéed spinach after watching several old Popeye videos on YouTube.  I started making my own roasted tomato salsa and this fall, I’m going to try kale chips.

There are a lot of farms to choose from when selecting a CSA.  You will have to decide if you want only organic and what is the most convenient place to pick up.  A lot of the CSAs allow you to pick out a certain number of items at the farmers markets but others just give you a basket with pre-chosen items.  You will have to decide what works best for you.  The recently redesigned Maryland’s Best is a great resource for selecting a CSA.  You can search by CSA or any other farm commodity to see where the farms are and their options.  You can even find your local pick your own farms!

So, enjoy your fresh produce while it is still in season.  Before we know, it will be freezing out again.  And don’t forget to eat your vegetables!

Michele Esch comes from a farm family in Georgia and currently works for the US Department of Agriculture.  She lives in Canton with her husband and four year old and is a Board Member of DBFA.

Monday
Jul252011

We asked, you answered, we listened!

In our recent Life in Baltimore Survey, more than 67% of respondents listed walkablity as a primary reason for choosing to live downtown. Families desire safe walkable streets for their children to get to school, the park, or even the local ice cream shop. Kicking off right now and during the next year, the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance will be focusing heavily on improving the pedestrian culture in Baltimore City.

A few weeks ago DBFA sent a survey request to ask residents to name intersections that they felt could be more pedestrian friendly. More than 60 people took the time to tell DBFA which intersections they wanted improved and why, and we created a list of the top most cited intersections. This past week, DBFA Advocacy Chair Keith Losoya took this list to the Baltimore City Department of Transportation for review, and the result was that the DoT will begin to apply their “5 Es” to the identified intersections. The Es are:

  • Evaluation: A traffic professional determines the exact problem at the cited location
  • Engineering: Any necessary structural changes are made
  • Education: Pedestrians and drivers are made aware of the changes
  • Enforcement: Traffic control officers enforce any violations of the new traffic pattern
  • Encouragement: Correct use by all parties

Over the next few weeks, traffic professionals will be evaluating the top ten intersections and determining which changes need to be made. After this information has been collected, the DoT will begin to make the structural changes to improve them.

Stay tuned for notice of these changes. DBFA volunteers will be out to ensure drivers and pedestrians notice the modifications!

We also need your help to keep the momentum going.  If you see an intersection that needs attention, please follow the steps in our “How to” guides, How to Get Law Enforcement to Address Traffic Violations Affecting Walkability and How to Get Infrastructure Improvements Affecting Walkability. Both documents are also located on our website. 

DBFA will be continuing to work with the DoT and other local groups to make Baltimore City more pedestrian friendly. Our goal is to change the culture of Baltimore to ensure that pedestrians are able to use and enjoy our streets safely. To get involved, please contact DBFA Executive Director Heidi Vorrasi at heidi@dbfam.org.

DBFA’s Top Intersections

  • S. Patterson Park Avenue & E. Pratt Street
  • Light Street & Key Highway
  • William Street & Key Highway
  • S. President Street & Eastern Avenue
  • S. President Street & Exeter Street
  • Andre Street & E. Fort Avenue
  • S. Linwood Avenue & E. Lombard Street
  • S. Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard & W. Pratt Street
  • S. Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard & Washington Boulevard
Wednesday
Jul202011

Time For Dinner: Bagby's Pizza Company

We've heard your requests loud and clear. In our  series, Time For Dinner, we feature favorite family-friendly restaurants throughout the city.

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Guest Post by Stephanie Neufeld.

Blending a love for the inner harbor, pizza, and a kid-friendly eatery will land you at Bagby’s Pizza Company.  This local pizza spot, across from Whole Foods on Fleet St, is great for a family outing that will leave everyone happy. A large patio on the side of Bagby’s provides space for the little ones to move around, and the welcome option of BYOB decreases the pressure on your bottom line!

Opening in 2009, Bagby’s has become a local favorite known for fresh ingredients, mouthwatering thin crust, and unique toppings to create a pizza to remember!  I personally recommend the “Sour and Spicy” specialty pizza which is loaded with fire roasted red peppers, lots of other yummy stuff and then drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette! However, I am told Bagby’s most popular pizza is a draw between the gourmet meat pizza which is covered with a sweet fennel sausage, sopressata, mozzarella, provolone, and asiago cheese; or the gourmet vegetable pizza boasting a fresh herb oil base, sautéed wild mushrooms, spinach, asparagus, roasted artichokes, grana padano, all smothered in cheese. For those who are not pizza affectionatos, Bagby’s menu offers great salads, sandwiches, and pasta. Beer and wine can be bought at the restaurant if you forgot to bring your own. However, if you do not see a bottle you would enjoy simply run across the street to the Bin 604 Wine Sellers to grab a spirited drink of choice.

Couple the great food, and perfect patio for kids with a restaurant.com certificate, and you can feed the whole family on the cheap. My sister and I enjoyed a lunch at Bagby’s with our combined 4 children ranging in age from 1 to 4 years old. One small cheese pizza, one large specialty pizza, and 5 drinks satisfied our crowd at an unbelievable out of pocket cost of $12.97 plus tip. How did I swing this great deal? Simple...

Our order of 2 pizzas and 5 drinks brought our bill to $35.97. I paid with a restaurant.com certificate for $25.00 off a $35.00 bill, (the $25.00 certificate/saving I purchased for $2.00), allowing me to only pay a $12.97 ($10.97 at Bagby + $2.00 to restaurant.com = $12.97) out of pocket plus tip! Access more of these tips for savings in Baltimore at my website www.citycharmer.com where I give more details and options with similar deals.

A few parting tips to make a Bagby’s a great family outing for you include: Bring your own sippy cups. There are no options for kids drinks and the cups are HUGE. Not to mention you are paying for an adult drink for a 1 yr old! Only two high chairs are available at Bagby’s. During our lunch I put my youngest in her stroller with the tray attached. This worked perfectly for my family.  Also, It is a lot of self-service here, so you might not want to go solo with the kids. My sister sat with the kids while I got the drinks. It would have been very difficult by myself with the kids. Go for lunch or early dinner: The wait is longer the later in the day you go, especially if you want to sit inside. Seating inside is limited and will fill up quickly.

In conclusion, Bagby’s Pizza Company is a laid-back atmosphere that I recommend brining the family too for lunch on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, or with the movie theater around the corner enjoy an affordable and tasty date night with your spouse.

Stephanie Neufeld is a blogger who encourages others to explore the charm of Baltimore. She is a mom of two little city-kids, soon to be three.  She writes a blog, CityCharmer.com, that equips, informs, and connects the reader to the fun and amazement Baltimore has to offer. She loves connecting with others who also seek more from Baltimore, and who are focused on making their experience here a great one.

Wednesday
Jul132011

Downtown Farmers' Markets Guide

Guest Post by Erin Karpewicz

I love to cook, but since my time is so precious these days, I rarely make the fancy feasts that helped me win over my husband’s heart (he says I tricked him!).  Fortunately for me, and my family, plenty of farmers markets have popped up around downtown making a quick, healthy meal very accessible during these busy summer months.  Tonight, we got in late after swimming at our friends’ pool.  I hadn’t planned dinner, but I had lots of spinach, zucchini, peppers and tomatoes on hand, so I just whipped it all up with some eggs and cheese to make a quick frittata.  Dessert was the batch of cherries my 3 year old busily pitted while I cooked.  Nothing fancy, but all was tasty, plus I managed to get some vegetables in our bellies after pigging out on pizza and cupcakes for lunch. 

The Southeast Anchor Library’s Outreach Coordinator is at the Highlandtown Farmers Market doing a kid activity every week.  Here she is making bead bracelets with some children.

The great thing about our local farmers' markets is that along with the vegetables, most of them feature naturally raised beef, eggs and milk products, as well as food venders selling meals on the spot and local crafts people.  You no longer have to run out to the ends of another county to pick up some organic milk, and picking up a CSA share is an option at a number of markets these days.  Going to the market can be a fun family friendly outing in itself, with interesting things to see and do.  Not to mention, my daughter will be more likely to eat the vegetables if she helps pick them out.  Below is a description of some of our local farmers markets, and a few of my family’s favorite things about them.  I hope you will share some of yours in the comments section!

My daughter playing with the hula hoops provided by the library at the Highlandtown Farmers Market.

Highlandtown Farmers Market
Thursdays, 4:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
400 Block of Conkling Street
Runs through October 13, 2011

Important Information: Ample metered parking on nearby streets.  Market accepts debit cards. 

What We Like About It:  I might be biased, since I live down the street, but it is so great to have a weeknight market to pop over to when I need some supplies before my regular weekend grocery run.  This market is also a great place for a stroll with my daughter, with plenty of room to roam around and enjoy the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s kid activities, hula hoops and ice pops.  When we went last, there was a ukulele player who was biking around the country performing… I cannot wait to go back and see what’s next!

~~~

The Baltimore Museum of Industry (BMI) Farmers Market
Saturdays, 9:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
Baltimore Museum of Industry Parking Lot and Pavillion (1415 Key Highway)
Runs through October 8, 2011

Important Information: Plenty of free parking in lot for those not close enough to walk.  Market will be closed on September 3rd due to the Grand Prix race. 

What We Like About It:  This market has a great mix of vendors, from farm produce to naturally raised beef, but it is not crowded so you can move around with a stroller and take your time.  The covered pavilion provides a wonderful amount of shade in the hot sun, and the museum’s outdoor sculptures and proximity to the Inner Harbor make for great kid diversions. 

~~~

Fells Point Farmers Market
Saturdays, 7:30-11:30 a.m.
Broadway Square (at the end of Broadway and Thames St.)
Runs through November 12, 2011

Important Information: $3 parking in PMS Garage on Caroline for those not in walking distance.

What We Like About It:  Broadway Square was also the site of an open air farmers' market over 200 years ago… it’s fun to go back to our food buying roots!  This is a beautiful market, with an increasing variety of produce and products, and like the other neighborhood based markets, you do not have to fight crowds.  I love this place because after I have loaded up on food stuff, I can keep shopping at all of the quaint retail establishments that surround the square.

~~~

Baltimore’s Farmers Market and Bazaar (JFX Farmer’s Market)
Sundays, 7:00-12:00 noon
Under the Jones Falls Expressway (JFX) at Holiday and Saratoga Streets
Runs through December 18, 2011

Important Information: See website for directions and parking information, list of farmers and vendors. 

What We Like About It:  People come from all over Baltimore to do their weekly shopping at this bustling market, so nothing compares to its expansive variety of farmers, vendors and artists/craftspeople.  When my daughter used to get up at the crack of dawn, this was the only place where we could find signs of life so early on a Sunday morning, as well as Mini Donuts, Zeke’s coffee, and Nutin But The Juice fresh squeezed OJ.  Yummy.   

Erin Karpewicz has lived in Canton for almost 10 years, where she now shares a home with her husband and three year old daughter. She works as a Projects Planner for Anne Arundel County's housing and community development agency and serves on the DBFA Board of Directors.

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For more information on local farmers' markets, visit our website. If you have a City Spot you would like to share, please email us at blog@dbfam.org.

Wednesday
Jul062011

This City Spot: Federal Hill on the Fourth of July

From the corner coffee shop to the waterfront promenade, we each have treasured downtown spaces that make the whole city feel like home. In DBFA’s series, This City Spot, we highlight one of your special places with words and pictures.

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Guest post by Judy Chung O'Brien, DBFA President

In the six years since I've been a parent living on the South Baltimore peninsula, our family has only missed one Fourth of July in Baltimore. Being in town this year, my girls once again eagerly anticipated participating in the 20th annual Federal Hill Stars and Stripes Fourth of July Parade. What began back in 1991 as the idea of one family, is now a treasured neighborhood tradition planned completely by neighbors, with hundreds of participants, sponsorships by local businesses, refreshments and games, and usually a local celebrity or politician marching along with local families. This year, we warmly welcomed our our current mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake who led our parade as grand marshall.

My girls (age 6 and 4) have been riding, scooting, marching, or biking in this parade every year except one (when we were out of town) since they were born. I have photos of them in their red, white, and blue outfits while being carried in the Baby Bjorn when infants, in a double stroller as toddlers, in their red wagon as preschoolers, and this year, on their bikes with training wheels. Hopefully next year, they'll be on their bikes with no training wheels!

The tradition for our family (well, really just me) starts on July 5, the day after the holiday, when I stock up on decorations that are half-off at our local CVS. Yes, I am that frugal and I don't mind storing these decorations for a full year until July 3 the following year. On Independence Eve, we break out the tape and twist ties and spend the evening decorating our mode of transportation. We practically use an entire role of packing tape to glue flags, balloons, streamers, and tinsel to every surface, including the tops of bike helmets and handle bars.

Families gather on the morning of the fourth to line up on William Street behind the local fire company truck, police on horseback, and a Revolutionary War era fife and drum corp in full regalia. I always feel sorry for these young men in wool coats in the 90 degree heat! Neighbors—with kids of all ages from infants to teens—line up along William Street all decked out in their red, white, and blue along with decorated strollers, wagons, scooters, and bikes, while we await the kick-off of the parade at 10:30 a.m.

We begin by marching down East Montgomery towards Federal Hill Park, we make a right turn up Battery Avenue, left on Warren, around the top of Federal Hill Park, then back down Warren to where we began on William. The whole thing takes about 30 minutes, and though that's a long time for some of the little ones, they love it! We lose some families along the way—from kids who want to play on the playground to cranky babies that need to get home for nap.

Snowballs and snacks await our return from our march. Parents mill around catching up with neighbors while the kids participate in a series of games, including a hula hooping contest, spoon egg race, water balloon toss, and limbo. There are plenty of prizes to go around for the winners as well as those kids who need comfort from dropped eggs and broken water balloons. Everyone enjoys a snowball, a patriotic temporary tattoo or two, and music from the speakers. It winds down around noon when rumbling stomachs call us to local restaurants for brunch before heading home for naps and preparations for roof-top deck parties in the evening.

The peculiar thing about our little parade is that there are very few spectators because nearly every family in Federal Hill is IN the parade! As the neighborhood kids grow older and are able to ride in the parade alone, some parents get a break allowing those lucky few to stand in the shade, wave, and cheer instead of march. I look forward to the day when I'll be able stand and cheer instead of march!

I didn't have a Fourth of July tradition like this when growing up so I'm so glad that my girls are able to celebrate this holiday with their classmates and friends in this special way. I'm grateful to the parents in our community who gather every spring to start planning the parade and work so hard to make it a special event for all the families in Federal Hill. It's one more reason why I love city livin' and my Federal Hill community and why I can't imagine living any where else!

Judy Chung O'Brien has lived in Otterbein for eleven years, where she shares a home with her husband Brendan and two daughters, Sophie (age 6) and Karis (age 4), both of whom attend Federal Hill Preparatory School. She works as an marketing consultant and serves as the president of the DBFA Board of Directors.

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If you have a City Spot you would like to share, please email us at blog@dbfam.org.

Tuesday
Jun282011

Homage to the Rowhouse: DBFA's Founder Says Farewell to Baltimore

Guest Post by Rebecca Gershenson Smith, DBFA Founder.

I’ve wanted to write a piece to say goodbye to Baltimore.  After seven long and unexpectedly wonderful years, we are moving across the country to be closer to family, to be near the mountains and open spaces that we love, and to fulfill the wanderlust that my husband and I share—the idea that growth comes from risk and change.

It has been hard to know what to say, and I haven’t been able to do it.  But here I sit, two hours before the moving van arrives to collect our final belongings (they couldn’t finish in one day—three kids, too much stuff! —and they underestimated my little rowhouse), in a dark, empty third-floor room that was once my office and then my daughter Adeline’s bedroom.  And now, of course, it will be neither.

I knew when we made this decision that it would be very hard to say goodbye to Baltimore.  This city has met me more than halfway, brought out the best in me, and will always (I suspect) be a place I consider “home” in a very real way.  It’s a special city, and part of this is that its charms are serendipitous.  Who knew?

I realized that leaving behind good friends would be difficult.  It has been harder than I expected.  A lot.  But I am buoyed in knowing that my closest friendships here are not bound by place or space and will continue for life.  It’s not the same, but it’s something.

What has caught me unaware is the degree to which the emotional trauma of leaving (and it has felt that way) has been connected to my house.  My three-story, classic Baltimore rowhouse with no parking, a little patio, and only 1700 square feet.  Across from a laundry mat and a school, with a bar called “The Shed Row” a few doors down and a Latin American tienda on the corner where I can get milk in a pinch and the packaged food tastes faintly of laundry soap.  

First I was beat up by the process of selling.  Our house was not a major rehab, but my husband and I have lovingly renovated our house over the years.  When you pick out every tile, every light fixture, every paint color, endure endless blood, sweat, and tears and make it your home, it’s hard to even conceive of turning it over to someone else.  We under priced, and it sold too quickly—a few days.  I try to remember to be grateful for an outcome that many covet, but it happened too fast.  In a flash, it was no longer mine.

Then, in seeking a new home, I kept coming up against the brilliance of the Baltimore rowhouse.  And nothing seemed to compare.  Modern homes are just so . . . open.  Yes, I like my children and my husband, but we have always sought a home in which we can get away from one another.  Probably because I have almost always worked from home (mostly as a student) and am an introvert by nature.  At times, we all need quiet and escape, and when I am in my bedroom, I don’t want to hear someone unloading the dishwasher.  I want someone to be able to have the kids in one space of the house and not be able to hear them while I am in another.  (Not that I have the opportunity to do this very often, but that possibility needs to be there!)

Because it is so tall and so deep, the rowhouse achieves this beautifully.  Its economy of space must be unparalleled.  The footprint of our house is nothing, but what it packs in allows a family of five to live comfortably.  The same amount of square footage in a typical, box-shaped detached house would make us all feel like we were living on top of one another.  Our new realtor must think I’m crazy because I can’t stop myself from going on and on about how these homes with thousands of square feet just don’t hold a candle to the Baltimore rowhouse.

Worst of all, when the house was filled with boxes, I couldn’t help mentally reliving both our first days in the house and the seven years combined.  Looking through pictures, I see the youth, energy, and excitement we had upon moving into our first real home.  But I also remember what it felt like to be dropped in the middle of a city in which I knew no one, with my 16-month-old, a husband who was always working, few children in the neighborhood, and a PhD to complete.  In those early days, exploring Baltimore, it was me and my daughter Lilian against the world.  Music classes, gym classes, swimming lessons, Port Discovery, the zoo, all the parks—every day was a vast, endless swath of hours to fill, trying to stay off the loneliness.

Now, that seems so long ago.  I haven’t thought about that time in years.  My life here is so different now—full and rich, with strong ties to the community and those who live here.  It’s a lot to leave behind.  Remembering when it was just my husband and I in one room and my daughter in the next, it’s jarring to realize that we’ve somehow managed to populate all of these rooms.  Where did the time go?

I try to remind myself—these years have been hard.  Raising three young children in an urban area with no family support, having very limited financial resources, finishing a PhD at an institution several states away, renovating a house, my husband working back-breaking 80-hour weeks and 30-hour shifts as a resident at the hospital. Wonder that we are still married (happily so).

But in the end, that all fades.  And what I will remember are family dance parties in the kitchen, sitting with friends on the stoop while the children draw with chalk, the easy familiarity among the adults and the kids at the park, spending long hours writing in the third floor office with the light streaming in, hours and hours nursing three different babies in the same little room, gradually watching my house turn into something beautiful.

And though we are moving on to so many wonderful things in this next phase—the completion of our long years of education, proximity to family, much greater financial stability, a beautiful and inspiring place to live—through the lens of nostalgia, I have a feeling in my gut that we may look back on our years in this little rowhouse as the happiest in our lives.

Tonight when we go through each room to share our memories there and say goodbye, I’ve already decided that we are etching in some place inconspicuous,“For seven years, this was the beloved family home of Ian, Rebecca, Lilian, Adeline, and Alistair Smith.  There was much love and much joy.  Kind owner, please do not remove this if you can help it, for when we are grown, we shall come back to see it.”

Baltimore—thank you for all that you’ve given me.  You will be missed. 

Rebecca Gershenson Smith is the Founder of DBFA. Her family is relocating to Coeur d'Alene, ID, this month, but she looks forward to continued involvement in the organization she founded. See Rebecca's Why We Stay entry for more on her experience living in Baltimore. Photography by Mary Gardella of Love Life Images.

~ ~ ~

Thank you, Rebecca and family, for all you have contributed to our community during your years in Baltimore. You have, without question, left Baltimore a little better than you found it.
You all will be missed.

Tuesday
Jun212011

This City Spot: Peace & A Cup of Joe

From the corner coffee shop to the waterfront promenade, we each have treasured downtown spaces that make the whole city feel like home. In DBFA’s series, This City Spot, we highlight one of your special places with words and pictures.

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Guest Post by Sharicca Boldon

Peace & A Cup of Joe coffee shop calls itself A Home Away From Home and for my family as well as many others in our community, it has certainly lived up to that name. The second floor of the shop, has been adopted as a "second living room" of sorts for several of the families in our area.   When my boys were younger, we had a weekly evening playgroup in that "second living room".  We'd station ourselves with our toddlers and babies in tow in the comfy room with couches, a fireplace and even a stack of games in the corner.  The owner always welcomed our playgroup with open arms (helpful arms too- helping us lug baby gear up the steps) and offered to put videos on the big screen to entertain the children while the parents got caught up.  The coffee shop became a sanity saver for us during those early baby/toddler years, especially in the winter when days were short or too cold to get to our other gathering spot at our community playground.

Now, that my kids are little older we enjoy stopping in (stroller-free finally) for a nice treat.  From the pastry case with several tempting options to smoothies to hot chocolates in the winter, there is always something tasty waiting.

I enjoy being able to catch up on a stack of magazines that I have no time otherwise to buy or read and as an added bonus, we all love to check out the ever-rotating gallery of art on the walls.   The questions that the kids come up with as they check out the latest paintings or photos never cease to amaze me.

With good food, fun games, a comfy atmosphere and fun art all in one place, Peace and A Cup of Joe makes our list of family favorites.

Sharicca Boldon has called downtown Baltimore home for more than 10 years.  She, her husband, twin sons and daughter enjoy visiting the many family-friendly attractions of the city from Sunday mornings at the JFX Farmer’s Market to story times at the libraries to watching street performers at the Inner Harbor. She currently serves on the School Family Council at George Washington Elementary School and has helped to re-energize the PTO there.  Sharicca is on the board of directors for the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance.

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If you have a City Spot you would like to share, please email us at blog@dbfam.org.

Wednesday
Jun152011

This City Spot: Cross Street Market

From the corner coffee shop to the waterfront promenade, we each have treasured downtown spaces that make the whole city feel like home. In DBFA’s series, This City Spot, each Monday we highlight one of your special places with words and pictures.

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Guest post by Maria Filardi, DBFA Board Member.

City retailers often seem to be geared toward the freewheeling and free-spending twenty-something crowd.  I have come to terms with the fact that there are several neighborhood establishments that I have aged myself out of - clothing stores with trendy clothes that I can’t pull off; bars that are too loud.  It is with a sense of relief that there exists an entire retail block in which I, and my kids, will always be welcome: Cross Street Market.

Cross Street Market, spanning from Charles Street to Light Street in the heart of Federal Hill, is one of the oldest markets in Baltimore.  Although the current enclosed structure dates from 1952, a market has existed in or around the same area since 1845.  Currently anchored by Nicks Inner Harbor Seafood on the Charles Street end and Steve’s Lunch and Fenwick’s Choice Meats on the Light Street end, it’s a bit mind-blowing to consider that residents have been shopping for daily grocery needs in this space for over 150 years.

At any time of day, six days a week, a cross-section of the Federal Hill/South Baltimore community will shop, eat and drink within its walls. Or, at this time of year, just take a few minutes stroll inside to enjoy the air conditioning!

I rely on Cross Street Market to fill in the gaps between grocery shopping trips.  Since Ella and Peter are crazy about fruit, my most frequent stop is at Mr. Kwon’s Produce.  Mr. Kwon helps me select my fruit, herbs and veggies (“what else?”) and always asks about the kids.  Now that my youngest has been in “full day” school for four years, I think I have finally weaned him off of expecting them to be with me every time I shop.  Ella’s favorite place is the soft pretzel and lemonade vendor, and they both like The Sweet Shop (and I am sure would like to stop there a whole lot more than we do.)

I go through phases where I am confident that a fresh bouquet of daises, tulips or sunflowers will cure all my home decorating deficiencies.  Although several flower vendors have come and gone in the last thirteen years, The Flower Shop has continued to flourish and fulfill my beautification impulses.

We occasionally grab an over-stuffed sandwich for lunch from Big Jim’s Deli.  My ultimate indulgence is the Big Jim Deluxe consisting of turkey, ham, swiss cheese, thousand island dressing AND cole slaw piled on rye; Yum!  Not only is the food great, the service is fast and the folks are super nice.  I like nice.

And you can’t get nicer than Henry at Fenwick’s Choice Meats; always smiling and helpful, he is my go-to person when we need to grill something over the weekend.

Lastly, the “raw bar” - Nicks Inner Harbor Seafood - with its picnic and barrel tables is the ultimate meeting place and melting pot, welcoming all walks of life and all ages.  (Well, maybe not Steelers fans.)  Last August, an impromptu email to neighborhood friends led to roughly a dozen families “meeting at the market” to celebrate Vince’s birthday on an early Friday evening.  Parents and kids had a blast. 

Within walking distance, casual, fun and friendly - Cross Street Market is a perfect, age-proof, City Spot.