The Quest for My Next Sanctuary

I’m going on two years now in my attempt to find and buy my next and likely last, home.  Each week, when I participate in my Zoom call with the other two “old guys” my blog partners inquire about my search.  The last time we spoke, they suggested that this might be a potential blogging topic or at the very least, the experiences I’m going through as I decide which houses to pass, which to consider, and which to finally make an offer.

The first thing I do upon waking and the last thing I do before turning off the nightstand light is to check my online sources for new or adjusted listings.  Throughout my life I’ve subscribed to the belief that keeping a sharp focus on what I want often to the exclusion of other things and people, yields results.  Over the years, my rather arrogant and singular viewpoint has shifted into more of an understanding that while setting and keeping a goal front and center is a powerful and positive factor, I have less control than I once believed.  It will happen, but not necessarily when and exactly where I want it to happen.  Thus, I do what I can to take advantage of daily opportunities, but then sit back and let the universe do its thing.  This approach is not without some drawbacks.  While I would prefer to spend a portion of my winter days with Teresa in Florida, I accept that I may need to readily available when the right home presents itself.  Therefore, I remain ready and present, (fortunately with Teresa’s support) albeit 915 miles away from where I prefer to be.  In the interim, I remind myself to enjoy where I am and to appreciate what I already have. 

My quest is not a solo one.  I receive regular notices of properties for sale within my parameters of price, house size, acreage, and distance several times a day from my real estate agent.  In addition, my daughter and granddaughter send me possibilities from alternate sources on a regular basis.  My son is my voice of reason and is a perfect sounding board and advisor when it comes to tweaking buying preferences, financial considerations, and keeping me level headed when my emotions kick in.  My blogging buddies, check in regularly, offer alternative suggestions, actively listen, and offer good old-fashioned support despite the same old story I tell them week after week.  (Somehow they haven’t yet figured out that if they each gave me a couple hundred thousand dollars, my search would be over and they wouldn’t have to hear my boring Monday night monologue.)  Finally, Teresa, who is in the most difficult helping position as she has extraordinary real estate experience and expertise but is also my partner and has a vested interest in whatever I end up buying, parses her advice well and tells me what I need to hear even if it’s not what I want to hear.  So, when I start to feel sorry for myself as I drive by a property or go on a tour, alone, I’m reminded how fortunate I am, that not only am I living near my family and in a beautiful apartment, but I have so many caring people only a phone call away.

Like so many things we seek in life, despite our best planning and disciplined focus, there is always that subjective ambiguity that comes into play.  The questioning of whether to present an offer or not reflects a combination of my desire to finally be in my house with property to explore, a woodpile from which to fuel my fire, and a house with charm and character with my uncertainty that this is as close as I’ll likely get so should I settle?  Should I practice my gratitude mantra and be patient a little longer or do I grab what’s in front of me before the mortgage rates go up yet again and the investments I’ll use to make my home another welcoming retreat, continue on a downward spiral?

Of course here’s where I take a deep breath and remind myself of two things.  First, it will all work out whatever I decide, it always does.  And second, as I look around me near home and around the world, I realize this is a blessed choice that I have before me, not a problem.  The journey continues…

“There have been few things in my life which have had a more genial effect on my mind than the possession of a piece of land.” – Harriet Martineau

Home Sweet Homes!

Since I left my parents’ house in 1964, I have owned 5 homes.  Each and every home that I owned I have loved with all my heart.  We moved out of Manhattan in 1951 when I was about to go to kindergarten.  My brother was 8 years older than I and he had to pay 25 cents a week for protection to and from school to one of the local gangs and  my parents did not want their kindergartner to have to do the same thing.  They decided to move to the country, which at that time was Flushing, Queens.  As a result I don’t remember much about apartment living and very little about the railroad flat we lived in other than the dumbwaiter in the kitchen which would take our garbage up to the roof every week on garbage day to be incinerated.  The house we moved into in Flushing was a big old majestic home with plenty of charm and hiding places for a little kid to get lost in.  That has always been one of the features I looked for in a home.  Not to get lost in but perhaps a place to curl up with a book and get lost in that!  I actually measured all my subsequent houses against it.  The year I left for college, developers came in and bought up all the homes, demolished the beautiful architecture and put up brick two family houses all up and down the street.  The architectural diversity of those old homes was lost forever.

College years came and went, I began my teaching career in a small, rural community in upstate NY.  As  a wedding present my parents gave us a check for $2500 to use as a down payment on a house.  We finally found this old cobblestone house in the middle of nowhere but only a short distance from my school.  The purchase price was $11,500.  What  a bargain!  I remember our mortgage payment was $71.00 a month which included  our taxes.  Life was very simple then.   A year round stream ran down from up the road a piece, just  a few steps away from our beautiful side stone porch.  Another feature I have   always looked for in a home.  That  brook lulled us to sleep at night for the two short years we lived there.  The house needed work inside but we were young and naive and felt we could do all that needed to be done.  The living room fireplace was the center of our life there.  But as we came to find out, city folk were not always welcomed and accepted in the mountain towns of the boonies and an episode involving our dog who was shot by a neighbor became the deciding factor to get the hell out of there!  So much for home #1!  We were in the process of adopting our first child and felt our location would be a hindrance rather than an advantage to the process and so we began our search for Home #2.

This time we were a little more realistic in our capabilities and desires and after a fairly easy and quick search stumbled onto the perfect house.  Home # 2 was situated in Kingston, a nice small city in a neighborhood that had a local school and a lot of young families like ourselves.  The location was perfect and one step in the door we both knew this was going to be our house.  Original chestnut woodwork, pillars between the foyer and living room, and a split staircase.   The only thing missing was a fireplace and we decided we would put on a room with a second bathroom, laundry room and a wood burning fireplace surrounded by book shelves.  It even had our required rocking chair porch and several nooks and crannies that we loved.  We had the usual inspections done and everything seemed to be up to snuff and within two years we had saved enough to put on the additional room with all the character we wanted.  It seems we were more concerned with how the house felt and looked than how efficient or secure it was.  We were looking for a home rather than a house, and that particular structure provided us with that home.  Come to find out it was a Sears Roebuck Kit house and there were many of them in that area of Kingston.  We lived there for 13 happy years and loved that house.  Life has a way of getting in the way every now and then and we decided it was time to move closer to my work and the search began again.

This time we had expanded to 2 adults and 2 kiddies.  We thought it would be nice to have a little more property for the kids to play on without fear of the traffic on the road.  And with all of our usual “must haves” like a fireplace, modern kitchen, porch, etc. the search began again. I got a call at school from my wife telling me that our realtor found the perfect house for us but we had to see it that day. Right after work I drove over and met her at the house. Didn’t even have to go in!  It just “felt” right. Beautiful side porch, wood burning fireplace, 2 acres of lawn.  It checked off all of our boxes.  So what if it had a 1956 GE oil hot water Furnace.  I was 10 years older than that and still going strong.  That burner was still operating efficiently when I sold the property 18 years later.  The only thing  missing was the   built in bookshelves in the living room which my son and I added soon after moving in.  Home # 3 was just perfect for us  Sunlight streamed in  to all the rooms and I had a favorite spot that would heat up from the sun next to a large window in the living room where I could read the paper and relax.  Life couldn’t get any better than that and we felt very fortunate to have found the place.  Once again life comes rolling in and says it  is time!  My daughter went away to college, my son had moved into an apartment near his work and my wife and I divorced. The house was just too big for me.  Retirement was looming in a year after 35 years in the same little school.  I didn’t need all the rooms and all the maintenance and was starting a new relationship with a person whose dream it was to own and operate an inn.  So for the year prior to my retirement, every weekend we were gallivanting around the northeast looking for the perfect inn.  Our only requirement that was a true necessity was that there would be separate owner’s quarters.  We quickly discovered that that was a rare commodity and most innkeepers just lived in one of the rooms.  No way, no how!  So the search took several months.  One bright Saturday morning we walked into the Deer Brook Inn in Woodstock, Vermont and fell in love.  Not just with the 1820 structure but with the people who were selling it.  It had everything I always wanted.  Beautiful large front porch, wood burning fireplace, an outdoor dining patio for breakfast in the nicer months.  The Ottaquechee River whispered right across the road from us. We made an offer and were waiting for approval and when it didn’t come right away we began to get worried.  Finally we were invited up for dinner one Friday evening to discover their entire families were present. What we didn’t know was that the inn was owned by all of them and we had to be approved before the offer could be accepted. Apparently we got the nod.  They wanted to make sure that we would love the place and care for it he way they did.  The place was incredible.  We did all the work ourselves, 5 guest bedrooms all with private baths, a lovely 2 bedroom owner’s quarters  separated from the inn by the kitchen.  It was just perfect.  Even Mr Kole, our live in ghost was mischievous but pleasant.  We became good friends.  He built the house and ran the  dairy farm back in the mid 1880’s so I had to be respectful.  We ran that beautiful inn for 14 years.  Living in Vermont was very special and until life began getting in the way again we were very happy.  AIR BnB came along and destroyed all the small hospitality businesses in the area and our business began to fail and our occupancy rate just dropped right off.  We sold the inn at a loss but that was ok.  We felt relieved to be out of Home # 4 and I went off to search for Home # 5 alone once again.

I decided to head back to NY to be near the kids and started the search.  By this time I was running the inn all alone which was no fun at all.  After viewing somewhere around 30 possible houses with no    success my realtor and I were walking down the street of a house we had just looked at and I said to her, “See that house on the corner?  If that ever comes up for sale call me immediately.”  Two weeks later I got that call, raced down to NY, walked inside and fell in love.  Beautiful small brick cape cod, on a corner lot, oozing charm and coziness.  I was hooked.  Within a month I was moving all my furniture and belongings from Vermont to NY.  1300 square feet seemed like nothing compared to the 3800 square foot inn.  But I have come to appreciate the reduced size and maintenance required.  I love this home, the light coming in through my window on the world, the back porch that is totally private and all my neighbors who are there when I need them and fade into the world when not.  This time if life gets in the way again, at my age I imagine I will have to ignore those features that made me love the place and look for where i can get the most help needed, perhaps a communal living situation,  with meals included, a small apartment and any kind of care required.  But still a wood burning fireplace would be nice in the community room for me to share with the other residents.  Also a nice glass of red wine to complement the surroundings.  So much for Home # 6!

House Hunting

I admire Hen’s patience for waiting for what he wants. He has criteria which are specific; which must be met before he engages in a new household. And he does the due diligence to be as certain of the facts as possible. This what a rational person does. I am not that person.

My bar is set low. I believe that I could adapt to almost any house as long as safety, privacy, and sanitation issues are met. But that’s easy to say, because I have no intention of house hunting. We’ve lived in one house for almost fifty years. This house is small enough to be maintained by older people (us!). It’s a house my father-in-law recommended – and being young and inexperienced, we quickly made an offer. Certainly, this house is not ideal… sometimes this house irritates the bejesus out of me, like a suit jacket that doesn’t fit or the complaints of a needy acquaintance. It wants my attention; it is a dependent entity. Hen would not choose to live in this house.

When we moved into our house, we cherished the independence of being in a space we controlled. We bought the house from the man who built it when he was in his 60’s… and he had lived in it for over thirty years. His wife passed away in this house; at 92, he cried every time he mentioned her. Her touch was evident in the lilacs bordering the property; the bleeding hearts by the back door. This edifice had a presence – and memories of a good person. So whenever, I get frustrated, I think of her and how she made this home a happy place.

Perhaps house hunting is a metaphor for what a person wants out of life. It’s about choosing and acceptance.  I’d look for promise: what potentially could be made in concert with a new place of living. After all, it is a partnership – there’s give and take in what opportunities the structure and you are willing to provide to one another. Acceptance is key, but also is the willingness to create something better — within the framework of your energy reservoir.

After all, charm is where you find it. Even the least attractive structure will have nooks and crannies where dreams can fit. That may be enough of a basis to build upon. Of course, give me a house with good joinery: nice moldings and trim, sunny windows and some clear north light — and that would be a bonus. 

Even at our modest living quarters, we felled trees, knocked down walls, changed each and every window, rebuilt the small barn; paved the driveway, resided and reroofed the house, added a new porch and deck, put in a new well, furnace and oil tank, water heater, electric service… and of course, after 48 years, it all has to be redone. I have a friend who is restoring a home built in the early 1700’s. He realizes that the work will not get done in his lifetime… and I guess I feel the same way. I do not plan on looking for a new home, but if I were, I would not look for a finished product – even at my advanced age. I’d be looking for a structure whose personality I could partner with. Because every page should leave some room to write additions to the story.

House-Hunting: Edgar Albert Guest

Time was when spring returned we went

To find another home to rent;

We wanted fresher, cleaner walls,

And bigger rooms and wider halls,

And open plumbing and the dome

That made the fashionable home.

But now with spring we want to sell,

And seek a finer place to dwell.

Our thoughts have turned from dens and domes;

We want the latest thing in homes;

To life we’ll not be reconciled

Until we have a bathroom tiled.

A butler’s pantry we desire,

Although no butler do we hire;

Nell’s life will be one round of gloom

Without a closet for the broom,

And mine will dreary be and sour

Unless the bathroom has a shower.

For months and months we’ve sat and dreamed

Of paneled walls and ceilings beamed

And built-in cases for the books,

An attic room to be the cook’s.

No house will she consent to view

Unless it has a sun room, too.

There must be wash bowls here and there

To save much climbing of the stair;

A sleeping porch we both demand—

This fad has swept throughout the land—

And, Oh, ’twill give her heart a wrench

Not to possess a few doors, French.

I want to dig and walk around

At least full fifty feet of ground;

She wants the latest style in tubs;

I want more room for trees and shrubs,

And a garage, with light and heat,

That can be entered from the street.

The trouble is the things we seek

Cannot be bought for ten-a-week.

And all the joys for which we sigh

Are just too rich for us to buy.

We have the taste to cut a dash:

The thing we’re lacking most is cash.

2 thoughts on “The Quest for My Next Sanctuary

  1. House or apartment hunting is hard work. I have done both. In the end, I am fairly adaptable. I have learned that no place will be perfect, but all places have the potential of becoming a wonderful home.


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