Why is it always so that the things you wish for come to you when the timing couldn’t be worse? The woman who tried for years to have a baby finalizes an adoption and then learns she is pregnant with twins. You meet the man of your dreams and then (yes, Alanis) his beautiful new wife. You get a huge opportunity to boost your career, but you’d have to be in DesMoines when your son is graduating in Boston. That’s life – unexpected surprises, disappointments, and tough choices.
Last summer I was faced with an unexpected surprise during a “just for fun” house-hunting trip. Finding houses in my price range is an adventure – equal parts treasure hunt and maze, filled with dead ends (or rather 1970’s era ¼” pine paneling and shag carpet, mold, sagging floors, dangerous electrical and heating systems. Oh my! But on this day, last August, we found it. Farmhouse kitchen, screen porch, big barn, rock solid foundation, new windows and 270 degree panoramic mountain views. It was love at first sight and I made an offer straight away.
The dilemma? It was a year too early, I didn’t have the money or the vacation time, work was insane. It would mean carrying a mortgage plus my rent for another 9-12 months since my boyfriend’s work-in-progress renovation (in which I am to live during the week while I work in New Hampshire), was nowhere near inhabitable yet. Yet I plowed on, because this was “the one.” Negotiations were tough – the sellers had a bottom line they would not cross – but the inspection went well. Fifty-six days into a 60-day escrow, and the appraisal fails to meet the lender’s requirements. Meaning, I need to come up with extra cash to close the gap – or finance with different terms that would cost much more over the long term.
The sellers had found a new place, deposits paid, household packed …. And the deal was quashed. I felt like an asshole, but I also felt they should share some of the risk with cash back at closing. They were unwilling to do so and I was able to exercise my “finance contingency” clause. I cried for 5 minutes; ranted and swore for 10 more; and then got over it. Sure, I second guessed the call and Gaskell Hill is still something of a benchmark as our searched continued, but ….. honestly?
It felt really good to walk away. Powerful. In the past when I’ve had to move or buy a car or other big decisions, I came from a position of weakness. I had nowhere else to go or nothing else to drive. This time, I was able to exercise a relatively new and hard-won ability to say no.
Friends and family were disappointed for me and spun many a version of “it wasn’t meant to be”, but I don’t know; that was a pretty perfect house. For me, it’s not about fate; it’s about having freedom and control over my destiny. Simply put, I made the timing MY timing.
Yes, I am pushing my bike in this photo; and, I have no shame about it. I’m a few weeks short of 50 years old and ON the mountain bike…..er… well, next to it in this case. But, I’m out there. And that’s my point.
While on the trail this weekend – in between moments of sheer exhilaration and sheer terror – it occurred to me how closely my experiences on the mountain bike parallel my life experiences. Not the least of which is how I’ve come to find particular joy “late in life.” I took up the sport at the age of 46. For those of you who are not familiar with mountain biking, it is a far cry from the Tour de France type of biking. The tires are fatter and there are dual suspension bikes and single-speeds, hard-tails, 29’ers, and a whole bunch of other mountain bike (MTB) lingo I just pretend to know. The main difference, in my experience, is that mountain biking takes places in the woods, along trails sometimes no wider than the width of your front tire, over rocks and roots, through streams and mud, over bridges (which took me two years to stop walking across) and around or over trees. You go up hill and down A LOT. Actually, there is a weird phenomenon in MTB that there always seems to be more uphill than down.
A bit like life, eh? So, too:
Coasting | There are times when the path seems easy, the hills have been replaced by a slight downhill and since you’ve worked so hard to get to this point, it seems only fitting that you give yourself a bit of a rest while you coast in neutral. Except, right around the corner is a hill, a steep one, and if you’d only kept your momentum up, it would have been a piece of cake, but instead you must grind it out, or worse … get off the bike and push.
Grinding | On the subject of grinding, let me just say, it sucks. It hurts; it physically hurts; you make animal noises, it hurts soooo bad. But when you make it over the obstacles and up the hill, well, then you … You. Rock. Star. You. Hard work probably did kill someone sometime, but mostly it just feels amazing than you did something you didn’t think you could possibly do.
Downhill | Or should I just say over the hill? Not much explanation needed here. The downhills in MTB are exhilarating – but also terrifying. What can I say? I get scared if I feel like the bike (or the world) is moving too fast. But I’m also learning that that terrifying feeling never goes away, and that’s maybe not such a bad thing. Keeps you on your toes.
Need for Speed | There is one of those whacky inverse proportion laws on the trail. The rockier, rootier, steeper it is, the faster you must go. Pedal harder. Slowing down when obstacles arise is a recipe for disaster, for only momentum and effort will carry you over the gnarliest of terrain. Applying your brakes when you have momentum just means a broken rib or broken ambition … ask me how I know (on both accounts).
Look at Where You Want to Go | You’re going downhill, the trail is steep and twisty, there is a tree ahead of you (many trees actually, but this one is really big and really in your way). Look at the tree, hit the tree. Look at the path you want to follow, the tree moves out of your way. I don’t know how this works, I just know it does.
Bruises | Life is full of them. If you don’t have any, I’m not sure if I would call you lucky. We get hurt when we open up our hearts. We get battered when we face the storms. We get beaten when we try to win. (If, however, your wounds are not metaphorical, get help. I mean it.)
To sum it up … I’m not that good at mountain biking and I don’t have the cute spandex bike outfits. I’m not that good at life either and I’m one PMS-binge away from elastic waist pants. But, I'm out there.
Fear of heights, fear of spiders: common, understandable, have some kind of word that ends in -aphobia associated with them. Fear of commitment, fear of letting go, fear of trust: common, understandable, frequent topics on The View, Sex and the City (are we still referencing that show?) and the girlblogs … almost always associated with men. But fear of being you?
Today, in the age of the “fearless woman”, it is easy to believe that everyone is independent and brave – boldly going wherever the hell they please. Everyone but you that is. Why don’t we tell each other how our stomach knots up when entering a restaurant alone, when speaking up at work, when standing up for ourselves with our mates … and all those other times when we absolutely know there is nothing to be afraid of, that all we want is to be ourselves in any situation but we are still gripped with trepidation.
Or maybe it is just me.
Recently, I was on my way home from a house-hunting excursion in Vermont and decided to stop for coffee at MoJo’s Café in the little village of Sugar Hill, New Hampshire. An adorable young man directed me to the only public restroom (in the grocery store across the street), and said he would have a fresh pot of coffee ready for me when I got back. I quickly used the ladies room/utility closet in Mac’s Market, found my hot coffee waiting for me at the café and a fresh-baked gluten free cookie to have with it on the long ride home.
Expect that’s not how it happened.
That’s the type of easy-going, carefree scenario I read with great envy in solo female traveler stories.
Here’s how it went down for me.
I had planned to stop in Littleton because there is a cool vintage shop there called Just L and figured I’d pick up a coffee nearby. The shop was great, but forty-minutes and about forty bucks later there was no coffee to be had in downtown Littleton. At least I didn’t see any; and I didn’t even think to ask anyone.
I got back on the highway before I realized I had to pee and there was no rest area in sight… and damn did I need a cup of coffee. So I got off at the next exit and drove west and then east, searching. Nothing, not even a town – another ten minutes wasted and I was getting cranky … and a bit desperate. I took the very next exit to Sugar Hill and spied some semblance of a village to the right of the intersection, but I didn’t recognize anything – no familiar pink & brown of Dunkin’ Donuts – so I drove straight. It was only a mile or so before I knew I had to turn around.
Yes, I am a middle-aged woman with two marriages, two children, and two college degrees behind me, but I am still afraid of unfamiliar things. No, that’s not it. I am afraid of interacting with people in a way I’m not used to. In this case, the automated way of the drive through; the “Place Your Order Here” exchange. Arggh! How many times have I faced my fears in my professional life? Overcome fears in my personal life? And yet ….
So, I turned left at the Intersection towards the village. Fifty feet later, I parked the car entered this incredibly threatening coffee shop called MoJo’s. A mean and scary boy with a wry smile and dreadlocks asked me what kind of coffee I wanted – “mocha, latte, espresso?”, and I said “just coffee”. And I had to say “coffee” three times because I guess no one gets coffee in a cool coffee shop that sells vinyl records in a corner and is called MoJo’s.
Deep breath. Keep it together, Catherine.
The truth is, the boy behind the counter was adorable and very kind … and it was wigging me out. Because … well, because I guess I wanted them to like me, but how could they like this middle aged white girl wanna be hippie with the brand new Marmot jacket and anchor woman haircut? So much kindness, I just wanted to leave, but I went to the self-serve coffee counter to pump a regular cup of coffee, only to be greeted with the spit and sputter of the empty carafe. Sigh. I looked up and the boy said “I’ll brew you a fresh pot. It will only take two minutes.” Denied immediate gratification and in order to avoid further pleasantries, I asked if they had a bathroom. “No,” he said, “but there’s one across the street at Mac’s – not the clown store, the grocery store.” (could he really have said clown store?).
I put up my new Marmot hood to protect my anchor woman hair against the rain and ran across the street to Mac’s. And because I’m in a store, I have to look at things. And because I looked at things, I remembered that I didn’t buy the beer in St. Johnsbury – the special beer I like and I was beating myself for that now too. I had hit the wall and almost started to cry. Over beer that couldn’t be spilt because I didn’t have it and because I still had to return to the nice people at the café who were probably still laughing at my bright shiny new jacket.
The coda to this story, of course, is that there was never anything to be afraid of. It is far more likely that the counter help at MoJo’s had no interest in judging me and nothing to say about me after I left. And, they were perfectly lovely. When I returned from Mac’s, my fresh brewed coffee was waiting for me and there were cookies! And a guy, who looked like Tommy Chong, came out of the kitchen as I was putting the cookie in my mouth and trying to pay, and said “whoa, those cookies are awesome” (just like you are hearing it in your head, only without the “dude” suffix).
I’ll never be sure why I felt – and will probably always feel -- the way I did that day, i.e. alone without friends, shy, inadequate – when not one of these is actually true. The silver lining here is, of course, that I know if I feel this way, I am not the only one. And neither are you. Being afraid is okay, not matter how silly … but you absolutely must take the turn at the intersection from time to time, regardless. Else you might not discover your MoJo.
But there are no words to describe how much I love my kids. They are grown now (25 &27), and we are still connected in heart and spirit. It is the most fulfilling of all life's experiences to see the lessons you've taught them appreciated and reflecting back at you.
Not so fulfilling, for me, to participate in or play witness to the everyday events of bringing up bebe. Perhaps because I was still growing up myself, the school projects, band concerts, and sleepovers were borderline excruciating. Before you get your panties in a bunch mommies united, I went to each and every event, made Halloween costumes from scratch, checked their homework, and until they could do it by themselves, read to them every single night. Being a mother, lest we forget, is a very important job. You need to do it right, so that you send mature, loving, sensible people out into the world to fight the battles on their own.
There are uncountable moments of my children's lives that I cherished, but - and this they will confirm - they were never the be all end all center of my universe. And, this too they will confirm, we are all the better for it.
Happy Mother's Day to the ones who helped raise us--our kids.
Once again, location proves to be the deal breaker. In New York City the past couple of days and so glad now to be home, at the riverside, listening to the gulls, with only one other person in my proximity (using the word person loosely, as I mean Kitty).
I was, of course, not on a house hunting trip this time, but there for work. I have been very lucky over the past couple of decades, thanks to my employers, to see the world: Dublin, Munich, Tel Aviv, Shanghai, London, and many times the big apple. On each trip, I felt a sense of wonder (pinch me, what is a girl from Maine doing on the Great Wall, floating in the Dead Sea, flying in Business Class?), and I wore a worldly sophistication that served its purpose but never fit quite right.
On this trip, I forgot to pack that sophisticated, city girl costume, perhaps on purpose, and brought only my more comfortable 'country mouse' skin. While, I rocked the pencil skirt ( black of course) and stilhettos, this simplegirl could not revel in the moments. Party on the 61st floor of the Empire State Building? Pretentious and self-congratulatory. Walking down 7th Avenue to meet with customers in their posh midtown office? Excruciating, agoraphobia-inducing. Executive level meetings in high tech board rooms? Uncomfortable; listening to my colleagues and clients talk, I was envious of their passion for what they are doing, and suddenly, keenly aware that I was in the wrong place.
To live in the landscape that you love is one thing (oh Vermont!) but to live in the work that you love is equally, if not more, important. Time to swim against the ambitious and political currents and create a career that need not be worn like a costume, but that is as comfortable as bare skin.
Last week’s trip to the Northeast Kingdom was, alas, not a right out of an episode of House Hunters. There were no three finalists – interesting and different properties from which to choose. Instead, I saw six properties – ranging from virgin land to foreclosure to the ultimate renovation – none of which made the cut.
The good news is that the excursion helped to narrow down my list of wants to a list of must-haves and no-f*cking-ways. I think the dreary weather served well to keep me on track – no panoramic Vermont views to entice and distract, just the house, the plot plan, and the facts, ma’am.
We started at what would be a pretty good choice – a very affordable farmhouse on 5 acres just outside of St. Johnsbury; an easy commute due to the fact that the house itself was about 100 feet from the main East-West corridor in northern New England (Route 2). At any given time, I could pump my elbow with clenched fist and be greeted back with a blast of an 18-wheeler. Like many farmhouses, this one was well-laid out, with an original butler’s pantry and some built-ins. Unfortunately, like many farmhouses, this one had been renovated sometime in the 1970’s with sculptured carpet and ¼” paneling. Renovation possibilities aside, the highway was a deal breaker.
The plot of land, with amazing views, was nowhere near the highway and, in fact, had no road frontage at all – just an easement for a driveway. Oh, yeah, and that chain link fence in the backyard? to keep the pets and kids off the abutting airport runway. Besides, as I walked across the wet field, I realized, I don’t want to build a new house. It would be a nightmare managing construction from 150 miles away (not to mention a former contractor boyfriend to kibitz) and I confirmed, I don’t’ want a shiny new house.
On the flip side, there can be a fine line between fixer and tear down. In the case of the next property we saw, I think tear down would not have sufficed. Nuclear bomb, maybe? A banked-owned house that reeked of mold, with septic, electric, plumbing, and structural issues and sat just 10 feet from a four way intersection (one axis of which was a state highway), we talked about moving it back as there were ten acres, but decided it would not survive. That said, the floor plan was perfect.
At least to start. The dream is still alive and the house hunt has taught me things. If onlyI had had this patience with men. Select the best one before marrying him, not marry him and suffer buyer’s remorse. I will keep hunting (for a house, that is). Until then …
Here's my shopping list for this dreary Friday: an in town renovated New Englander, an updated farmhouse outside of tow, but near a junkyard?, a ranch house in the country with spectacular views, a raw piece of land nearby, a dilapted farmhouse that I could actually just write a check for, and another pretty cheap house on six acres in a nearby town. None of these sound perfext, whoch just might make them perfect. Ihad a longer list, trying to open my mind to all the possibilities, because I am soooo ready to have my Vermont house. But, I removed all of the in-town houses, as deep down, what I really want is that farmhouse - and/or a country view with a bit of land. It is a rainy day, so I won't be wooed by the views alone. We all know what happens when good looks distract from what's inside, dont we? The prices range from from 'write 'em a check' to 'I guess I will be a slave to the corporate world forever', but wait to get back to the Kingdom!
I have found it to be difficult to reconcile "corporate me" with "simple girl" me. However, one trip to the Whites or Greens (Mountains, that is) and I am no longer confused. I'm good at my job and frequently even motivated to excel, but alas ... even though I am not a real mountain girl (yet), the outdoors speaks to me in ways I find peaceful, renewing ... and uh, hard to describe. I am a better person when I am "up North" and it only takes one short weekend get away to reassure me that my next step is make a permanent change.
Perhaps I am in my "Sandwich Range" - that place between one life phase and the next.
Balancing what must be done with what wants to be done.
Filling my reserves, storing potential.