In Love With a City: Valparaiso, Indiana

By: Heather Curlee Novak Last Updated: August 9, 2011

Heather-Curlee-Novak-FamilyI know people love things, places, other people. I myself love the Colorado mountains and my rare visits to our cabin there. I love big bodies of water be it the ocean on either side of The States or nearby Lake Michigan. Many of you know I love food, my husband, my little Cupcake Girls. It wasn't until sometime in the afternoon yesterday that I realized I am in love with a city; Valparaiso, Indiana.

My husband John and I moved here just over a year ago to be closer to his awesome new job at Indiana University Northwest in Gary. We moved from South Bend, Indiana- a place where I had a strong network of friends, colleagues and history. I was sad to move and leave all of that, the year round Farmer's Market, running along the St. Joseph river, and the Down Town South Bend (DTSB) lively action and entertainment. I knew Valpo had a cute downtown and was closer to Chicago, but...I wasn't eager to leave South Bend even thought I did want a change of venue for all of us.

My main house hunting criteria was a location within one mile of downtown Valparaiso. After living for a few years out of town and in an area where I couldn't safely bike or walk anywhere, this was crucial to me. I knew we were going to have a small family, having already started with one babe. I wanted to stroller my heart out with them and be environmentally thoughtful too. We found a marvelous old house half a mile from downtown and (get this!) one block from Jesse Pifer Park (JP Park as I call it). I was pleased.

We found out we were expecting our second child the week before we moved. I panicked lightly as I got sick and was on bedrest with our first daughter. What would happen if that was the situation again and we were in this new town where we didn't know anyone but our fabulous Realtor Mitch Harris? I figured it was a little too late to worry about it then. We moved in and began hammering out the kinks of our house, location, new job, and family matters.

It has now been over a year and I am deeply in love with our town. I didn't know you could really fall in love with a town. One year I wrote a long list to my husband of all the things I loved and appreciated about him. I cut the list into strips and put them in a jar.

Consider this my love jar list to Valparaiso.

Central Park Plaza. I love the new Central Park Plaza, that it cost over three million dollars and they paid for it in cash to avoid burdening our children with debt. As a debt free family this really resonated with us. My heart swelled with joy yesterday at the opening of the splash pad as I watched my daughter delirious with happiness and soaked head to foot. I laughed as my husband tried to videotape any of it...she moved too fast.

Jesse Park-Memorial-Chataqua- Neighborhood. I love walking with the girls or running solo and as a family through my neighborhood. The older homes, creative front yards, friendly neighbors and web of quiet streets where I can run safely in the middle of the street, on the "crown" where my Dad swears running feels better. I love the neighborhood schools I can walk my girls to when they are old enough. Knowing the schools get such high marks and they are tucked right into my little part of town is awesome! We are also participating in a groundwater program through the city and won bids for nicer (installed!) rain barrels we couldn't have afforded otherwise.

Public Library. I love walking with the girls through snow, sun and rain to the library. (Or to the 'train table' as my daughter calls it. She goes for books too, but playing with their train table is the highlight for her.) Their creative themes in the children area, the interactive displays, summer book reading even for the "Read to Me" crowd....I just love it.

Pikk's Tavern. Oh! MY! Hands down my favorite restaurant. This is the first place in town we munched at when house hunting. We go on Wednesdays for Mexican Night's guacamole and margarita's, anytime for the steak sandwich, unique burgers, the potato skins with STEAK on them instead of bacon! All of it is amazing and I always feel prettier, cooler and fatter when I am there. I looove you Pikk's!

Blackbird Cafe. (Hey I said I was a foodie, and the way to anyone's heart is food. Is it my fault Valpo seduces me with food like this, walking distance from my house?) I blogged about Blackbird Cafe here but let me also say here the owner Mary runs a great place for foodies. Their scones and cookies and pot pie and salads and veggie sandwich and...oh let me just stop now. Then again, I could keep going, work up a good appetite, and call them for FREE DELIVERY DOWNTOWN 11-2pm M-F NO MINIMUM REQUIRED! I could just order a cookie and they would come to me. Of course, the last time I ordered for delivery I did order SIX cookies. I did it for them. I fell on the sword of too many cookies just to support the delivery folks. It was hell, snarfing those suckers down, lemme tell you. And daughter Portia had the audacity to want some! (Can you imagine?)

Heather-Novak-1Farmer's Market. I love the cheese folks at Chesterton's European Market, and yes I do feel like I am cheating on Valpo's downtown market but it is so TINY. We shopped Valpo's farmer's market just this weekend and it felt so good to buy blueberries, green beans, lettuce, tomatoes and tomatillos directly from the folks who farmed 'em. I know it cannot grow bigger unless more people go to it. I wonder if it was Tuesday only if that wouldn't help, less competition with Chesterton's? I look forward to the growth there either way. I'll be buying!

PARKS! Gosh there are so many. Within about one mile I can get to JP Park, Tower Park, Will Park, Ogden Gardens, and maybe Kirchoff Park too. How great is that? There are often events and festivals and fairs and all sorts of good fun. My hubs and I are healthier from Sunset Hill Farm Park's running program, Couch to 5K RULED!

Mothers and More. At first I resisted a moms group I had to pay to join. I have never had trouble making friends. My husband calls me the five year old because I chat up everyone in site. Even after I ended up accidentally starting a moms group of my own, I wanted more. I visited a few events through Mothers and More and wanted to join. I have enjoyed Book club, informative member meetings on Mother Greening, Toddler Behavior etc. My playgroup is super fun and I really enjoy everyone in it. (Champagne Playgroup!) I am especially grateful to all the busy mamas who made time to cook meals for us when our baby Libby was born; TWELVE to be exact! These women who (as I know from my own adventures) are so busy and could easily not do a thing, they all brought dinner for my family three times a week for a month! Even my church group only brought one meal. (It was great and I didn't expect it!) I sometimes struggle to get meals myself to the new mamas, but I do it with love because I know how much it meant to me.

Memorial Opera House. My first visit there was during the production of the "Listen To Your Mother" show I got to be in. What a charming little place! We also have enjoyed the Memorial Day concert there and look forward to more events.

The potential. There are so many other things that make me love Valparaiso;'s positive information and news, Horse's Landscaping for style, humor and service. I love Uptown Cafe's cool blue atmosphere (it was the first place I had breakfast out!), Wiseway Grocery Store on US 30's huge ethnic and natural food's aisles, Locks of Fun for Portia's haircuts (I don't know who has more fun, them, me or my daughter!) Target Store (not unique to Valpo, but I couldn't help myself) There are so many eateries coming and shops unvisited and events unattended...I am stoked to see a future with years exploring the depth and fun of this little Indiana town.

I love you, Valparaiso!

Heather Curlee Novak is a Tragically UN Hip Mama, Inspiring Speaker, Distracted Writer, Radio Personality and Glacially Fast Runner. I live each day as if it were my last and do my best to love out loud! I am very happily married to my personal Prince Charming John. (Thank you, God!) We are in the midst of raising two darling and maddening Cupcake Girls. Our pack also includes a huge crazy dog named Steve and a wide variety of family and friends. I find people fascinating and get a real kick from encouraging them personally and professionally. Read more from Heather at Live Your Love Out Loud!