My Imperfect Home

If you could live anywhere, where would it be? Do you have a top three? Are you there now? Have you ever been there? Does that place appeal to you because of the people who already live there or the people you would be with if you went there? Do the politics draw you? What about the culture? The natural beauty? The economic opportunities? Would you go because of the proximity to hiking trails, golf courses, excellent restaurants? Did you get where you are somehow and happily (or complacently) just stay, or did you firmly and purposefully decide that’s where you want to be?

I came to Virginia when I needed a job. We had been in Vermont many years, then moved to Maine so I could attend grad school. You get more for your dollar in Maine. I traded a standard raised ranch in Vermont (which, to be fair, we had made very nice) for a very cool log house in Maine. It was on the first fairway of a golf course, had three interior staircases, two driveways, a 20-foot granite fireplace and exposed logs in the living room…

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…and access to a pristine, private lake. (Oh, did I ever wish I could airlift that house to Virginia when we moved here!)

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Winter of 2004-05 in Maine was a snowy one. I was not unfamiliar with snow – we got plenty of it in Vermont as well. But we did not have a plow for shoveling the driveways, instead had plain old ordinary snow shovels. One morning as I was leaving for school, the snow was so deep I had to take it down one layer at a time, three layers deep. That means I took as much onto my shovel as I could once… twice… three times in order to get to the asphalt. That’s a lot of snow. When the time came to choose a new place to live, I think it can be understood that part of my reasoning was Yeah, maybe not so much snow.

Mom and Dad lived in New Jersey and I wanted to be a reasonable car ride from them, so as a starting point I drew a one-day’s-drive-from-them circle around their location and decided that anywhere within that circle was acceptable – point being, I did not want to have to get on a plane to get to their house. Their health was okay at the time, nothing alarming, but I look ahead. When a job came up in Charlottesville, Virginia, I remembered that some Vermont neighbors had moved there and had said nonchalantly one time that the daffodils bloom in February.

Daffodils in February?? After thigh-deep snow that sounded heavenly. Plus it was “only” a seven-eight hour drive from Mom and Dad. Okay. Virginia it is. I took this photo in February of 2017.

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As it turns out, this part of Virginia has a lot going for it. We get all four seasons – glorious blooming spring (oh the redbuds!)…

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…a longer growing season than up north (you can harvest spinach in December!), colorful foliage in the fall (okay, maybe not as spectacular as in Vermont, but still breathtaking) and real snow in the winter (though half an inch in the forecast causes school to be closed).

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But we are far enough west from the Eastern seaboard to avoid the more serious downsides of crazy coastal storms (winds usually dissipate by the time a storm moving north up the coast gets this far inland – which applies to both hurricanes and winter storms). And being on the eastward side of the Blue Ridge Mountains means that storms coming from the west or southwest are interrupted in their movement by those mountains and we get a lesser version of their fury and usually less snow. Summers are hot but there’s air conditioning and c’mon, with a/c it’s tolerable. When I am gearing up to complain, I try to remember that a/c is a relatively new comfort – imagine living in the South when there was none, and people were not so free to choose airier, lighter and less body-covering clothes.

So, yes, the climate has pluses. Also, the University of Virginia is in town, there are resorts and wineries and historic sites nearby for my visitors, and Washington DC is a two-hour drive away. I’m very happy in my neck of the Virginia commonwealth. All good, right?

Nope. No place is perfect. Everywhere, every place, has some negative to it, some imperfection. I didn’t say Overwhelmingly Imperfect. I didn’t say Intolerably Imperfect. But Imperfect nonetheless.

Funny, on Saturday afternoon Samuel and I were driving together talking about places to live and why a person would go here or there. “They have scorpions in the Southwest,” I told him. “I’d hate that.” New Orleans might get flooded again, Austin has tarantulas, California has some serious fault lines and the North is so darn cold.

Then, on Saturday evening, Sandy was driving out past the chicken coop and thought he saw a black snake in the driveway. You might recall from a previous post that I am not fond of snakes, even black snakes that are supposedly the good ones. On closer inspection, this snake was not a black snake. It was the ultra-nasty, potentially deadly kind called copperhead. He chopped its head off with a shovel (thank you, Sandy!) before coming to get me and Samuel. For least fifteen minutes we stared at it and took some pictures before our Disgust Sensors reached their limit and it was time to pitch the body and the head over the hill into the woods. Despite the amount of time since the head had been severed, those jaws were still in chomping mode and that body was still twitching. Ugh! Mega-ugh!

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As we walked back to the house, I said to Samuel, “Why do I live in the country?”

He replied, “How long have you lived here?”

“Eight years,” I said.

“And how many copperheads have you seen here before today?”

“Zero.”

Not that others hadn’t seen them. Not that Sandy hadn’t killed five the first year and Bradley hadn’t seen a black snake eating one the second year. But they are rare. We’ve seen bear once on the property and so has our neighbor. I’ve seen a black widow spider once. We hear the coyotes frequently. There are supposedly wolves again in the Blue Ridge and I’ve heard of rattle snakes around here too. All these creatures are possibly deadly. Hey, we even had an earthquake a few years ago.

My Airbnb cottage guests sometimes say this place is a slice of paradise. In many ways it is. But no place is perfect. No place is without some negative. It may get to twenty below in Vermont, but you don’t have deadly snakes and spiders – they just can’t tolerate the cold. You might have an occasional monstrous earthquake in San Francisco, but you don’t need a sub-zero parka.

By extension, the same applies to a job, a church, a relationship, a pet, a car even. I LOVE driving a stick-shift, always chose that option when I could, but when I was in the market in 2012, the most reliable car with the best gas mileage was a Prius and there was no option for 5-speed standard clutch. It just isn’t made that way. So yeah, I drive an automatic now.

Imperfect is the norm, and that’s okay. Imperfect is enough work, enough trouble, as it is. I shudder to think how stressed I would be if I upped the bar and expected perfection of myself, of my home, of the people in my world. I’d make myself crazy, or miserable, or both. No, thanks.

It’s Too Early to be Attacked by a Dish Mat

Years ago I owned a house in Maine. Originally built in the 1920s as a rustic getaway for wealthy people from Boston, this solid log home with a 20-foot granite fireplace, a pot-bellied stove in the kitchen area and numerous other very cool features had been well cared for by its previous owners. I wasn’t there long, but always wished I could airlift that house onto my current wooded property Virginia – if only airlifting houses were a thing!

The market fell through the floor around the time I needed to sell that house. It took me five years to find a buyer and I lost way more tens of thousands of dollars than one would ever want to lose. But I sold it and have the paperwork to prove it. So why do I have a recurring dream about owning a house in Maine?

Last night it was so real. There I was in the house, fretting about needing to sell it, troubled by the repairs that an un-lived-in house incurs, desperate to stop the leaks and inevitable other breakdowns while at the same time admiring the old and gorgeous woodwork. In my dream I even hired a chef to prepare a spread for potential buyers – the last thing in the world I would do because …(people don’t do that anyway, right?)… I love to cook!  I woke around 4, agitated by all this, and found myself telling myself that if I owned a house in Maine I would have to be paying taxes on a house in Maine, and I didn’t remember doing that any time recently, so I must not own a house in Maine.

At 630 I awoke cold – 59F in the house as it turned out because it was so warm yesterday there was no heat on and I forgot before going to bed that it was going to dip into the low-30sF during the night. While attempting to avoid having to get out of bed, I also again had to push away the house-in-Maine worries, play the broken record, reiterate reality: “You would have paid taxes, and you haven’t paid taxes, therefore you don’t own a house in Maine.”

That’s it, time for tea. Thank God for a warm robe and my super cute “Haflinger” woolen doggie slippers.

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Having run out of propane (that runs my cookstove) the day before, I was grateful they had come to fill the tank and I could turn on a flame and know there would be hot water soon, one of the small comforts in my little world.  My new doggie cup was in the back of the cabinet…

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(do I need a dog of my own one of these days or what? do you see the text inside: “all you need is love and a dog”?) … and having been hounded all night with false-homeowner fussing, I had no kind of temperament at that moment to patiently look for it. A person can take only so much.

Yeah, just when you think you’ve settled the question and it’s time to relax, you turn around wrong and the dish mats make you aware of their presence by somehow poking you. How did they do that? I don’t know. Yes, dish mats. I hang mine on the old dishwasher that doesn’t work. It makes a good hanging place because it has a lever (that presumably locked it for its dishwashing cycle, back when it had such a thing) that acts as a hook. The mats have to dry in between their jobs of being useful for standing wet dishes upon, and here they all were, inexplicably adding to my discombobulated morning.

I said to them out loud, “It’s too early to be attacked by a dish mat!”

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One of those days. D’you know what I mean?