Depressed & need inspiration.
February 9, 2014 1:37 PM   Subscribe

I am a single mother, down in the dumps and looking for mefites for a lightbulb or maybe just a bone. I've been juggling my post-divorce financial mess, toxic workplace, toxic people all around, and I'm so tired and exhausted, I just know my six-year old and I need to be somewhere where the atmosphere is more laid back with better quality of life.

For the last 3-5 years or so, I've been brainstorming and researching on the next move and haven't come up with anything. Now that the pressures and negativity around me have escalated, I need to make this change sooner rather than later but no place or job has caught my attention. Granted, I didn't research continuously in these years, but they would happen in spurts with lots of late nights online, delving into a different location (houston, chapel hill, cocoa beach, sarasota...) We live in NYC.

I don't know if it's fear or if I'm just so delusional, I won't find what I want which is, good wholesome and nurturing public schools that are focused on the child as a whole and not just tests, affordable but also wholesome and nurturing after school or perhaps a job whose hours are flexible and where I can work at home so that I could skip the after school expense and be there to raise, guide, and teach my child. These days, we don't get home until 6pm and the evenings are just a rush to get dinner & bath done by or before 8. I really dislike it.

I would love to be in an area that is warm-hot most times of the year but also close to an airport with direct flights to NYC. To be a part of an open-minded, active community who support the children but aren't nitpicking, nosey-body types. ha. I love to cook at home and need close access to organic produce, health stores, east asian markets, latino, and italian markets. I prefer a laid back atmosphere and would love to be on or near the beach if possible and if not, then some kind of body of water, green space, or mountains........ I miss the sounds of chirping birds and having a yard to dine al fresco and watch my kid run around and enjoy the outdoors. I just want us to plant our feet somewhere and grow in our new home, make new friends, lead a quiet & balanced life.

I imagine relaxing walks on the beach each weekday evenings, spending most of my free time cooking, and doing the usual chores, and taking breaks right outside. We both love to dine al fresco. I dream of my little one enjoying school (and after school, if necessary) and having access to plenty of extracurricular activities (swimming, martial arts, music, art, sports, etc)

My career by chance is administrative, office managing, book keeping, and things like that and my level of experience goes back a couple of decades. My current salary is $60k without a college degree. Oh, and I'm also in over my head with post-divorce debt at $40k and have been taking small steps, banned myself from any charging privileges, and making small progress in cutting it down. Lately, with the built up stress, I'm considering ruining my very good credit by filing for bankruptcy. I feel so stuck.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Have been considering moving back to NYC...I'm in L.A., have a stupendous (and dirt cheap by NYC standards) apartment (with 800sq ft roof deck), and the lease is up at the end of april...also feeling lost and miss my new york friends...possibly a life-trade situation is in order...memail me for details, let's talk.
posted by sexyrobot at 2:06 PM on February 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

A few thoughts:

I lived in Manhattan, Kansas many years ago. My oldest son did k-2 there in one of the best public schools in the nation (it had been listed as a "presidential school" or something like that I think 3 out of the previous 10 years). I later learned that the school was so awesome for basically the following reasons:

1) Manhattan was a college town -- a small town with a big university -- so there was a strong education orientation of the general population, with lots of bookstores and similar for a town of that size, plus the schools had easy access to many new grads, so hiring good teachers was easy.

2) The school was a "neighborhood school." In other words, more than 95% of the students lived in walking distance. This does good things for a school and has a stronger correlation to a good school than income or other criteria.

I am currently living in San Diego county. The weather here is beautiful and there are lots of beaches. San Diego is larger (in terms of metro population) than San Francisco but much more affordable. I love the atmosphere in this county and there are other cities here, not just San Diego proper. So you might do a little research and see if someplace in San Diego county has a good neighborhood school near one of the colleges. That might get you (close to) everything you are looking for.

Also, try to get some extra sleep one weekend morning per week, take your vitamins, stay hydrated, and make yourself a list that "counts your blessings" or otherwise shows some of the things that are going right or getting accomplished. Those things can be serious sanity savers in times of high stress.

((HUGS -- if you want them))
posted by Michele in California at 2:40 PM on February 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

The type of school your description called to mind for me is Waldorf, or a traditional Montessori school (typically called AMI type). As far as I know most of them are private, and if that's not financially feasible for you, maybe some of them offer financial aid.

I live in Orange County, California and it definitely has the nice weather, great beaches, ethnic diversity, and ethnic markets you mentioned. But housing is expensive and greenery is limited. I have a five year old daughter and we never run out of things to do. In fact, there's so much to do I've never once even felt the need to take her to Disneyland which is only 20 minutes away. Bored is a word that never comes up when the sky is usually blue and the beach a short ride away. MeMail me if you want more info about this area.
posted by Dansaman at 2:56 PM on February 9, 2014

Wow, except for the warm part, Portland, Maine ticks all of your boxes and there are plenty of beaches nearby in the summer. There is a huge local food movement, lots of groovy parents, yoga classes, a friend of mine runs dance classes for little ones. I have a cousin who lives in the area with little ones and also Saco/Biddeford area, just south of Portland, is affordable and going through a rejuvenation.

Portland has an art museum, a Friday night art walk, a huge park overlooking Casco Bay and a playground, with the East End beach down below it. There are a wide variety of neighborhoods, and each one has a market. The big grocery chain, Hannaford, has bulk items. There's a Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.

There is also a university or two, a community college in S. Portland, and lots of history. You're within driving distance of a hike up Bradbury Mountain, a bald top mountain just outside of Freeport, which has picnic areas, and the trail up is so easy for kids. There are also farms where you can drive up and put your money in a box and come away with fresh milk, yogurt, cheese and organic meat products.

Definitely check out San Diego, I have a niece who lives there and she loves it! But Portland also has direct flights to NYC and there are bunch of folks who jet back and forth (people who work for ad agencies, etc.). It's a really laid back place, and there is also a big path around the cove, and in the Spring, you see flowers everywhere. Lots of apartments are dog and cat friendly as well.

Also: I used to be a single mom and a divorced single mom after that, so my heart goes out to you. MeMail me if you ever want to talk. I remember how hard it was when my daughter was 6 and things were just hitting the fan and blergh! You need some help!!! I was fortunate to have co-workers and some family supporting me, but maybe right now you just need a break for a few days to figure stuff out. I did file bankruptcy once and it was over some really stupid stuff, so if you can get a pro bono appt to discuss the ramifications, do that before you make any decisions.

But please consider joining the right coast Portland crowd. We would love to have you here in Maine.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:01 PM on February 9, 2014

Hiya. It's very hard to make any solid suggestions as what "wholesome" isn't a universal fit. My idea of what that means may be very different than yours. However, what I will say is that declaring bankruptcy before you have secured new housing in a new location is going to make things infinitely more difficult.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:05 PM on February 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

That sounds amazing! Would you consider moving somewhere outside the US? Say, somewhere in Central or South America?
posted by valeries at 3:32 PM on February 9, 2014

I have not looked into the schools, but I've been eying Tucson and Albuquerque as warm cities in the southwest with affordable costs of living, decent diversity, and fairly progressive communities.
posted by salvia at 3:49 PM on February 9, 2014

Except for the weather, Vermont?
posted by k8t at 5:55 PM on February 9, 2014

I live in Albuquerque and I'll note that we have pretty cold winters-- generally at least 3 months of pretty cold temperatures. (It's been warm this week, but you can look up the average lows and see if it's too cold for you.) Rent is pretty cheap, though, it's a pretty progressive place (rural NM can be pretty conservative but the city tends to be better), the schools can be good (I think I got a pretty good education), we have organic stuff at the local co-op, two TJ's, and at least one organic food produce box program, and it's totally possible to get out of the city and into the mountains from pretty much anywhere in town in 15-20 minutes; we also have a lot of nice "semi-wild" places along the bosque by the river. We have 2 large Asian supermarkets (Ta Lin and 99 Bahn), several large Mexican supermarkets and a handful of smaller groceries, some of which specialize in a handful of ethnic products (from the neighborhood grocery with the really good Mexican lollipops to the semi-sketchy gas station that sells Turkish delight and gigantic hunks of feta).

Feel free to message me if you have any questions about ABQ-- I grew up here and would be happy to tell you about neighborhoods and the like.
posted by NoraReed at 6:02 PM on February 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Bear with me here, but Houston actually ticks all your boxes and has a really reasonable cost of living.

There's two airports, IAH and Hobby, and both have direct flights to NYC.

Houston is the fourth largest city in the US, so there's not really busybodies but there are pockets of people who are like-minded to you. If you're thinking 'it's Texas so filled with Republican drones,' you should probably know that Houston has an out and proud lesbian mayor and the city itself is pretty purple (surrounding areas less so, alas).

Due to the size of the city, there's a huge huge array of food options including markets. I think the only one I see as slightly problematic would be Italian markets, so you'd have to look into that, but otherwise Houston has a large East Asian population on the west side of the city and a significant Latin@ population scattered throughout and the restaurants and markets to match.

The beaches aren't that far away--Galveston is about an hour's drive and better beaches are also within easy driving distance. No mountains, but there's lots of green space within the city (Houston is a city of bayous and large public parks) and outside it as well. To the city's credit, there's also a huge, huge, huge supply of arts and culture: arts are very well supported and in fact the mayor just announced an plan to allocate part of the hotel tax to the arts.

There's a major light rail initiative that's just resulted in a new line launched in December and there's two more scheduled to go online in the next year but frankly Houston is a car town and I would advise potential movers to be aware of that.

Due to low housing costs and zero zoning, it probably would be relatively easy to rent/buy a place with a decent commute to the city but also with nice schools and green lawns. Houston schools are what we'll politely call 'variable' in quality but given the city's diversity, size, and richness as well as the availability of better schools in the suburbs, I'd say they still rate fairly highly.

The unemployment rate is pretty low (so they tell me--I came here with an offer in hand) and I don't think you'd have a hard time finding something that pays well enough to support you both.

The weather is hot as hell in summer (and humid to boot) but the rest of the year is usually pretty nice. Certainly it's warmer, with all the lovely outdoor time that that entails, than the Northeast. Sunnier, too, due to how far south it is.

So yeah, Houston is low cost of living meets Sunbelt weather meets big city diversity and culture. It's definitely worth thinking about!

You didn't ask this part but: while you're planning, please consider low-cost therapy. This is a hard time of year and you're in a rough patch, so therapy would be well worth the expense.
posted by librarylis at 9:32 PM on February 9, 2014

The Public Schools thing...Can be a problem, but I may have an answer: Atlanta, specifically, Chamblee, GA.

Chamblee has Huntley Hills Elementary school, which has a Montessori program. DeKalb County schools are kind of meh as a whole, but individual Elementary schools can be amazing! The Middle School for the area is a Magnet School, Chamblee Middle School, and we used to vote there, it seems really nice. Chamblee High School is a Charter School and they just built a new building. The kids who go there are great and the school consistantly has great ratings.

We used to own a house in Chamblee, but there are plenty of nice places to rent. You can even rent in the Huntley Hills or Sexton Woods neighborhoods. We sold our renovated, 3 bed, 1.5 bath, 2600 Sq Ft house for $250,000, to give you an idea of what the costs are. The Huntley Hills neighborhood is a forest oasis just within The Perimeter. I woke up to chirping birds every day. (Also a wookpecker, but that's another story.) We has 1/4 of an acre, so plenty of outdoor space. Also a little park, AND a swim/tennis club, if you're so inclined.

The neighborhood is pretty mixed, lots of different kinds of folks. Decatur, GA may also have the vibe you're looking for, but I can't attest to the local schools.

We have an AMAZING Farmer's Market in Your Dekalb Farmer's Market AND the Buford Highway Farmer's Market. Both are more like large, warehouse supermarkets, than a traditional walk around with the dog booth affairs. (although there are those as well.) Between the two, you can get every kind of produce known to man, both conventional AND organic, and it's super affordable. YDFM has grassfed beef, buffalo, lamb and pork. Bell and Evans chicken and all sorts of things prepared on site (I just freaking LOVE this place!) I get glass jars of organic, crushed, Italian tomatoes for $1.49 apiece!

We also have H-Mart, for your Korean, Mexican and other shopping needs.

I'm not even going to get into your options on Buford Highway.

We're doing okay here with jobs, and if you're located on the top of the Perimeter, you're going to have some pretty good options for commutes, either North into Alpheretta/Norcross, or downtown by MARTA.

Since the olympics in 1994, Atlanta is pretty flexible about working from home, certain days and/or certain hours. It depends on who you're working for, but everywhere I've worked has been superflexible in this regard. In my last job, we had a VP who worked 30 hours a week!

Roll your eyes at our weather. We're nice and warm from about April through November, and only occasionally paralyzed by snow. In fact we got NO snow last year, and our temps were pretty moderate. You could combust from heat in the summer, except that we get some nice humidity with that.

Atlanta is only a 2 hour flight from NYC, and you'll have plenty of options for cheap airfare.

As for politics, we're an island of blue in a sea of red. I've gotten used to it, but it is a thing.

Hang in there kiddo. Sometimes it's a great time to pick up and MOVE! If you do decide to check us out, Memail me, I'll take you on a tour.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:15 AM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Public Waldorf Schools. Public Montessori Schools. Also, have you seen this site?
posted by oceano at 8:52 AM on February 10, 2014

I don't know what your relationship with your family (parents, sibs, aunts, uncles, etc) is like, but consider this... I recently had a thought-provoking conversation with someone who is in her early 50s and has two kids in college. She's divorced and re-married. She had some impassioned things to say about how it's really good to live close to your family—it makes life easier, gives you some community, and your family members love your child. Even allowing for the stress and b.s. that can come from being close to family, she said she wished she'd had that when she was raising her kids, and she's going to do whatever she can to try to entice her daughters to live near her. (Intrigued, I asked her how close is close enough? She said an hour or less—close enough that you can spend time together in a casual way, without it being 'visiting' and without having to spend the night.)

Moving nearer to family might not get you to one of the warmest, wholesomest places in the country, but it might bring you a touch of a different kind of warmth and wholesomeness. Or it might be totally the wrong idea, of course. Just thought I'd throw it out there.
posted by toomuchkatherine at 3:19 PM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

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