finding home

Shack and a Heap was always a scheme intended to compliment city living.  When the grand plan became the only plan writing it’s story needed no title tweak.  The tagline, too, came without a moment’s hesitation: Finding home.  It seems I have been looking for a long time, at least since I have been on my own.  When I was married as our boys were growing up – those three guys and the dog were what made where I lived home. Happily I married someone who cared as much as I do about the place where you hang your hat. Together we worked hard to make our nest happy and comfortable. But since then… while I have lived in many sweet apartments…I have always felt unsettled and transient. My restless brain in a constant “what if…?” state. When change and challenge are put on my plate I eat with gusto.

Even here in this place, in these woods where I have family nearby and mother nature inside and outside my door I know… it doesn’t fill the bill. Aye aye aye! And so, wasting no time, I put my mind to the next adventure.  Today I sit on a red-tiled roof terrace in Mexico and butcher the beautiful Spanish language with Alicia who has come to water the geraniums and lavender. Her English does battle with my Spanish – we both smile a lot and say “gracias” for everything.  I think patience is her middle name. As she rounds the circular stair to apartment level I return to sitting, planning,  wondering…

This morning’s travel, over cobbled sidewalks barely wide enough for one and half people, finds me loaded with a bag of laundry (2.5 kilos I learn) in search of the “lavanderia”. I come armed with instructions in Spanish (cold water – laundry deter for sensitive people – because yes, I am) yet I leave the garage size laundromat wondering if I will see my clothes again.  Every day brings these small tasks with steep learning curves and enormous pride for doing things I see local 3 year-olds handle with dispatch. It is sobering and humbling – good lessons for this American.

My days are spent walking, writing, dancing and meeting people.  It is now evening and I am recently returned from my first salsa lesson in 4 or 5 years – I will sleep well tonight.  It feels an extravagance to have a private class in a rooftop studio even though my USD fares well against the MX peso. My body remembered moves I was sure it had forgotten – only my lack of stamina betrays me. I am thrilled to be dancing again.

I wonder…. is this home?  Can’t say until I tick off a few more destinations in the year to come.  Unsure of everything except: there are more Spanish lessons in this chica’s future.


life and taxes



There is an old logging road that I look at while drinking my morning cup of coffee. For the past two years the tangle of bushes, vines and brush made it difficult to pass through into the woods. So, a month ago I asked lawn magician Gilberto to take his clippers and weed eater into the woods and clean up the old path. In no time a new vista opened.  Now as I sit and write I see morning light streaming through the trees, falling on a leaf strewn earth. The path curves to the right and out of sight. This small bit of beauty astounds me. It makes me grateful on a daily basis.  If I pray then this is my church and this gratitude my prayer.

I have reached a crossroads though.  All this beauty comes with a price tag. My town appreciates my woods too.  They assess that these woods have value to them as well as to me. I have watched my taxes go up each year even while living modestly. While I agree with the assessor that these woods are dear I am not sure what to do with a bill that annually creeps higher and higher.


Will my logging road view go the way of my Brooklyn Heights view of the East River and Staten Island Ferry – too rich for my blood?

Being practical as well as sentimental I am taking steps to aid my decision making. Over the summer a survey was conducted (it is now officially 8.03 not 7.55 acres) and the wetlands “flagged”. I have come to an agreement with my neighbor on what exactly is our property line. And it seems I could subdivide. Selling it off piecemeal is tough to imagine. If being practical was my only goal this would be easy ; but the deer and turkey lover in me thinks it all more complicated. The two will spend the fall wrestling each other.

Watching winter creep into these woods isn’t going to make the decision any easier…

before …there is a wildness here I miss
thank you (brother-in-law) Chris for a bird’s eye view

party time

For the past few days I have been quietly processing my son’s wedding.  Noah and Tammy were married in Mystic, Connecticut at my mother’s home on September 9th. “Lovely” springs to mind as I remember everything: the bride…the groom…the day…the guests…my new in-laws…the ceremony…the party itself.

With such a gorgeous natural setting all we did was gild the lilly.  It took some planning to get there but one of the nicest surprises (and while it shouldn’t be a surprise- like film developing in a tray of chemicals – it always is!) was how all the disparate parts and choices came together into a cohesive whole.  People offered help and I took them up on it.  Flowers were picked and beautifully arranged (thank you Sarah and Janet) – rentals arrived and created a space – a small army of caterers moved in – a delightful bartender set up shop- an oyster shucker, well, shucked – music played both live and streamed – all converging on time to lend their magic.

Candles stayed lit, table linens gently swayed in a lovely river breeze and the magic of guests gave life to this tableau. The weather gods smiled.

Some guests suggested that the beauty of the evening and the event went beyond imagination – and I so appreciate this sentiment while finding it interesting.  Interesting because it was exactly how I imagined it.  I only wish I sat and chatted more with my guests instead of being pulled by the few things that needed fixing; I struggled to get out of planning mode.  The one thing my children wanted was for me to relax and enjoy myself. Tammy mentioned this often during our months of conversation. I promised her I could switch gears.  I do know that people didn’t want to leave the dance floor when the bus came to take many to an after party.  I do know my children are happy in this their next step…

I know they and everyone enjoyed celebrating with friends and family. These are the memories I carry with me. As my father (remembered on this day with the groomsmen and family wearing bowties) would always say “as long as you have good health and understanding you have everything”.  Cheers!

a tale of peter rabbit

I have always romanticized critters in the garden.  Cute bunnies and adorable deer… even the chipmunks and mice. But then I came here to get my hands dirty and create order out of mother nature’s messy habits.  I didn’t picture the garden as battlefield; a “me” vs. “them” struggle. A battle I lose on a daily basis. Along with pulling weeds (it is bindweed – not morning glory – nothing, absolutely nothing glorious about this weed) I find myself frantically googling “what is eating my rosebush?”.   For the record – next year I will grow lacinato kale – the curly stuff while easy to grow and delicious to eat hides more cabbage worms than I care to imagine I am eating (don’t think about it – don’t think about it – don’t think about it…).

this can’t be good

This morning while enjoying my coffee I spy a rabbit lounging in the grass – rolling and stretching and doing a bit of self care.  You might think it sweet and a moment to give thanks. ha…ha, ha, ha.  I was actually willing – using all my powers of telepathy – a hawk to come and make a breakfast of him. When did I become Mrs. McGregor?  At first I didn’t see any rabbits when I bought this property 2 years ago.  Along with an absence of squirrels I wondered… why? I now imagine it was the llamas and big dogs that the former owners kept. So when one lone bunny showed up late last year I thought it was adorable. I was wrong. Bunnies do what bunnies do and now they have the run of the place – eating both weeds at the woods’ edge along with my pansies and flowers yet to bloom – they ate the “snow” from my snow in summer: a mounding drift of white flowers…sigh.

Yesterday morning I took my early morning walk to see how the garden fared overnight. I noticed one of my lavender plants – now 2-3′ wide and tall – smushed and trampled. hmmmm. And then the insult to this injury: the animal (still unknown at this point) pooped in the middle.  Really?  I hoped that he was amply stung by the waves of bees that thrive on the lavender.


My frustration is compounded when I see the lush growth of a zucchini I didn’t plant or a beautiful flowering weed (that the bunnies don’t bother) or the lilies that beautify my compost pile. I accept these small gifts even as they mock my planting efforts.


a room with a view

Embarrassing to see I last posted in February.  This on-again off-again diary keeping started when I was a girl and loved a new diary only to fill it for a few days and then neglect it for months/years.  sigh. This time around February marked when I starting “doing” instead of “planning”.  Brian, my contractor, took some time in Florida and I took some time to get to know the inside of my sweet – now, very un-shack-like house.

The doing was mostly prep for painting: caulking, spackling, sanding.  And, deciding once and for all the color scheme for the interior.  Since my house is small with few rooms and a hall that all blend one into the other I decided that the color scheme should apply everywhere.  I visited Benjamin Moore often.  I consulted my sister Marie (thank you Ria!)  – whom I consider a color expert. I (we?) settled on Pink Damask for the walls and Simply White for the trim and woodwork.  A third color for the interior doors and window sashes was chosen – Halo – but now needs a tweak …more gray and brown will be added to offset the mossiness. The painting took time and was intense (I learned just how high 9 foot ceilings really are)  but looks beautiful and the color is such a subtle shade that all you see is the faintest blush.

The exposed wooden beams on the gable ends of the house, the dark bronze hardware and ceiling fans complement the creamy brightness of the walls and trim.

I moved in 3 weeks ago. There was no event that forced the move other than the feeling that it was time.  Sleeping in this house the first night was interesting.  I have lived alone for 12 years now and it suits me…but…I always lived in an apartment in a crowded city – and never felt truly alone. Here on this plot of land – even with the house so close to the road – there is a sense of isolation. Adjusting to it and feeling comfortable in it is a challenge…but such a good challenge.  This house makes me strong.

As dusk led to nighttime I realized that no covering on my bedroom windows was going to be a problem – the shades hadn’t been installed in time.  What to do? Hammer, nails, dropcloth curtains.

canvas drop cloth curtains

Other than monthly trips to NYC (thank you Suzy for letting me stay at your lovely apartment) for work and fun – my days are arranged according to weather.  The rainy ones keep me inside unpacking – arranging and organizing

while the beautiful ones find me outside lugging rocks, mowing grass and planting roses.  I now have 6 rose bushes firmly established and look forward to their climbing and bushy habits filling in and spreading out beautiful pink roses in years to come.

A strict row of root-bound lavender that I freed are growing and offering a subtle scent along the front of the house. I coerced my nephew Ivan and Sarah’s son Lucas to work on more small rock walls on the patio.  These two are animals!  (I say with a lot of love :)) They were moving boulders as though they were movie props. I love seeing form emerge and chaos turn to order. IMG_6095Yesterday, with an unexpected morning of beautiful weather, I mowed until my back hurt.  With memories of being laid up last summer – I cut my work short and applied ice.  I court patience these days… with heavy jobs reminding me to go slow and be thoughtful. Rome, they say, wasn’t built in a day.


odds and ends

How many posts can I write where I claim we are done building and cue up moving in?  3 more?  Okay.  I am a patient – no really (‘cuz I hear my friends and family say “huh? I don’t think so.”).  And one week more or less? – it’s all good.  So odds and ends will be mostly pics that describe what these final weeks look like…so, move your cursor over the photos to view my comments…enjoy.

the home stretch

Our neck of the woods got its first real snowfall with Jonas.  It howled, it blew, it left a very pretty white blanket.  But just 12 hours later found fluffy clouds scuttling across a backdrop of crystal blue sky.


Last week’s visit to the house finds drywall that’s been taped and mudded.

Once dried it will be sanded and primed – inspected for any splotchy areas. The pine flooring will arrive soon to sit and acclimate for a week.  Cabinets have been ordered and next week I get to pick out stone for countertops.  After all my going on about how much stone I have -I plan to truck in more – and pay for it.  Everyday finds new ironies.

Sometimes the needs of finishing this house overwhelm my sense of environmental appropriateness.  The deck is stacked against the person who wants both: to use reclaimed materials AND be frugal. That doesn’t seem to make sense – does it?  What I am learning is recycled materials often need more trimming, modification or retrofitting – they need more time.  The do-it-yourselfer stands a better chance to make these ends meet. So…I settle on compromises to my aspirations. I wonder – should I have slowed down? Maybe with more time better choices might have wiggled free.  Hind sight.

Even before the snow the land had on its winter coat. The trees, deep brown spears against the slight backyard rise corralled by stone fences.

from the woods

Stones with green moss and lichen smoothing their craggy surfaces in shades from vibrant (shamrock! parakeet!) to muted (seaweed, olive).

They are a relief in this rusty landscape. I have taken to reading garden supply catalogs (when did I turn into my mother? I ask…).  I know from my pitiful planting experience that the pictures found within promise something rarely seen in real life.  Or, maybe, time is the factor – years. But still…imagine: a New Dawn rambling, climbing pink rose making its way up the corner of the house before arching over the living room windows.


Mental gymnastics via armchair gardening.