Thursday, September 27, 2012

Live the life you have imagined.

 Reading "On Walden Pond," by Henry David Thoreau, used to be an American high school rite of passage, and if somehow you managed to miss it in high school, you probably met up with it in college. It has never gone completely out of style (first published in 1854), and it is enjoying a resurgence as a new generation grapples with the need, the desire to reconnect with the natural world and a more simple way of living.
 We live, well, a stone's throw (or so) from Concord, and Walden Pond, but last weekend was only the second time I've been. We had weekend guests -- dear friends from Ireland -- and it turned out to be one of those in-your-back-pocket-gems that we all seem to only appreciate when we see them through the eyes of out-of-town (and better yet, out-of-country) visitors.
 It's a place that brings out people's desire to leave a mark, although it's refreshing to see these kinds of impermanent, natural marks rather than the graffiti that's been a problem in the past. The lake is quite small -- quite a few people were swimming the length and back again despite the cool temperatures (I guess it's one of those, "we're here, so we have to swim it!" kinds of things.)
The original house is long-gone, but the park service built this reproduction close to the park entry (not the original location, but convenient for those who can't or won't stray far from their vehicles). Cozy as it is, I cannot imagine lasting through New England winters in it.

The book can be a slog, because in between the clear and compelling charge to 'live the life you have imagined,' there's a LOT about the cost of nails and boards and how much he had to spend on beans.  Building the cottage cost him $28, which they translate to being less than $900 in today's dollars -- so, really cheap even for the times.

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion."
Henry David Thoreau

He did find it sublime, of course.

The previous owners of our house left a poster up in the room that's slowly becoming my craft room/office, where I am sitting now.  But it bothers me that the quote is incorrect -- "live the life you dreamed," it says.  I'll live.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


For all of the angst and drama, hard work and worry, mood swings and paperwork and more paperwork, the thing is done. We are moved. We have moved. We have packed up, or given away, or thrown out the entire contents of our home of 22 years and moved the boxes and furniture and ourselves to our new home.

There were a couple of things about the whole process that really hit me hard. I was totally unprepared for the emotional side of the process. Only part of that is the journey of letting go of the place where Ken and I really got our life together underway, the place to which we brought our baby boy home from the hospital, the first home we bought. The gardens we worked on and created from nothing, filled with plants placed in memory of loved ones lost, or plants that forever reminded us of the day or the place we first got them. The scratches and chips here and there that had stories that went with them. That was the stuff I expected to have to face, and all in I would have to say that piece of it was easier than I thought it would be.

But there were these other lessons in store for me that took me totally by surprise.

I was unprepared for the huge, huge portions of uncertainty and ambiguity that get served in this process and how hard it would be for me to live with that. To find ourselves with a buyer for our house but no house found yet for us to move in to. To have to really define what we did and did not want, and what we could and could not afford, to have to face who would be compromising and who would be getting more of his or her wishlist boxes checked. To imagine a place already inhabited by a family somehow becoming OUR place. (We bought our first house pre-construction, so no one lived in it before us!)

The big one was the uncertainty. I kept being hit with that lesson like a wave crashing over me; as much as I think I manage change well, I discovered that I do NOT manage the complete unknown well at all any more. I believe that piece is about not having my life be just about me anymore, but the weight of the responsibility of knowing that my family is counting on me to make a home for them and to know where that home is – that it will be safe and feel like home. Just taking deep breaths and having faith that it would come together was important, but it was very, very hard.

The worst part kind of all got boiled down on that night when we had moved everything out of our old house but wouldn’t be doing the legal pieces and moving into the new house until the next day. To have leapt but not landed. To feel myself suspended in that space and having to reassure Ken and Dean without truly knowing myself what was ahead. There were a number of late challenges with the literal process and timing of the two sales, and we didn’t know right up until about noon on the big day whether or not we would actually get into the new house. It got to the point where I truly had to accept that big pieces were out of my hands, and as desperately as I might have wanted to hold them tight. I did finally reach a point, for my own sanity, where I let go and believed the lawyers who said that things would somehow work themselves out, sort of.

And somehow, they did.

There are still challenges and adjustments. I remind myself how lucky we are – we have a lovely home in a place that’s safe (I think about how for so many in the world that is an unimaginable luxury). Being our first “used” home, and one that’s core is 35 years old, we are getting used to discovering things – some good, plenty enough not so good (the list of what needs to be replaced or fixed is growing a tad more quickly than we’d hoped. ) The house has been added on to twice, and at one of those points the entire original house was gutted and re-done; the result is one house that flows nicely from space to space and has a unique floorplan. But, it also means that some windows are very old, some floors are noticeably less-than-level, and stuff like that.

I did know that I dreaded the Mountain of Boxes. And so I do.

But this place also has a yard like no other and a lovely small pool. Sitting out there feels truly like being on vacation (except for the part where when you are on vacation you usually don’t start making mental lists of the plants that should be torn out or moved or added, or where the firefly lights should go, and whether it makes sense to add a vegetable garden…).

The neighborhood is more populated than our old one (hard to beat a cul-de-sac with 6 other homes where everyone is on at least two acres), but it is SO much closer to stores and movie theaters and we were EVEN able to have a pizza delivered – right to our door! – which is a luxury I haven’t known since my Chicago childhood. A neighbor already stopped by with a gooey plate of brownies and a warm welcome (although perhaps a little diabolically – she runs a women’s fitness center and I certainly feel the need to check it out after having wolfed down so many of those brownies!).


Where I am rambling to with all of this, for now, is that I do still believe change is good. I think it’s important to shake things up sometimes and start fresh. I now believe that houses themselves need it – they need someone new every now and again to care about the things that, once we live in a place for a while, we tend to overlook. We’re working in different ways, thinking different thoughts, waking up to a slightly different mix of birdsongs and neighborhood sounds, and finding out what it means to be home.

[Please excuse the oddly random photos; I hadn't been taking many pictures because I didn't know where my cable was, etc. These are from the day we moved in and reflect my inability to think much about what I was doing -- so no pictures of the front of the house yet and all...]