Monday, January 9, 2017

This Time Last Year

A few nights ago I was looking through my Instagram feed for a specific picture (of Captain Detergent,) but got sidetracked when I came upon the series of pictures from about this time last year when we were having the "adventure" of Not Really Having a Home after having been knocked on our tails by Life.

We had been living in the sweet little lakeside cabin with big plans to fix up the farmhouse on that property and move into it as soon as we could. On this day last year--I'll always remember it because it is the Sunday of our local Nutcracker performance, and the Sunday of Epiphany--we woke up to extremely low temperatures in the cabin. It had been cold in there before but this was unbearable. Somewhere around 45 degrees. Being Sunday, we bundled everybody up and headed out for a day in town; Mass, followed by brunch and going to the afternoon performance of the Nutcracker Ballet. When we returned to the cabin later that afternoon, expecting it to be somewhat warmer, we found it to be even colder. (The cabin was/is very poorly insulated... we had a propane fireplace heater that did well in mild temperatures, and even in cold temperatures was okay, as long as it wasn't windy... but the wind just came right through the walls and no amount of heat sources could warm the place.) We did have the option of our empty downtown house. It was getting to be evening, so we figured we could use sleeping bags and blankets and cuddle up on the floor in there for the night. At least we would be warm, even if we didn't have furniture. Unfortunately, when Martin went to turn on the heat, he found that the utilities had actually been turned on when the place had been closed up for the winter and there was no gas available to the house; we'd have to have a serviceman come turn it back on. Finally, we thought, we could drive up to my parents' river cottage about thirty minutes north of town. It's a sweet place to stay in the winter, fully stocked with food and blankets and even some toys, plus a reliable furnace AND cozy wood stove. With my parents' permission we drove up there, only to discover that the hidden key was frozen into it's lock box.

It was so late when we finally got into the cottage. We were so cold and so tired, but once we got inside, we were warm and cozy and the girls loved that place, so they were all thrilled to be there. Martin and I were beyond grateful to have a place to stay. We settled in for what we thought would be a day or two.

It was not going to be just a day or two. All through the beginning of January everything started breaking--furnaces and propane stoves, well pumps and pipes and appliances... It ended up being three weeks that we were living at my parents' river cottage while we waited for things to be assessed and tried to figure out what the heck we were going to do. I had forgotten how long it had taken just to get the appliances serviced, and about the time spent waiting on repairmen to fix things until I read back on my Instagram posts. We were doing a lot of anxious waiting. A LOT.

At the time, those three weeks and the weeks following our stay at the river cottage were incredibly stressful. It was a long drive to town; Martin was going into work before the sun was up every day and coming home well after dark, so we weren't seeing a whole lot of each other. We didn't have cell reception at the river, so my contact with the outside world was maddeningly limited. Dealing with our housing situation was a nightmare; as soon as we thought something would be fixed allowing us to move back to the cabin, something else would break, or some new issue would surface and we'd be back to wondering how it was all going to pan out. Thankfully, we had our downtown house that we knew we could fall back on, but even then, after the gas service came out and we turned on the utilities we found broken pipes (and the ceiling and floor damage that goes along with broken pipes) and an ill furnace. Everything was going wrong and it was all happening at the same time.

Now that a year has passed since that time, I can look back with cloudy affection for those weeks we stayed at the cottage. For the girls, it was the best place they've ever lived. They loved it there. And I did too, in a way. It was very simple to live with only three outfits each, not very many toys, not many responsibilities... aside from the whole "not knowing where we're going to live" thing, it was a pretty sweet vacation. We even had built-in entertainment because the neighbor was having a seawall built, so there were construction vehicles coming and going the whole time! We played a lot of board games, I got a ton of knitting done, (thank you, stress knitting, for providing me a great sweater!) and even though we were sleeping on the floor in the living room, it was a cozy routine. Every morning we'd put our makeshift bed back in the closet, every night we'd lay it all out again. Ingrid was still napping, and sometimes Elka, so the afternoons were very quiet. Our bathing situation at the cabin had been.... "rustic"... so having a posh bathroom with a shower, tub, and endless supply of hot water was incredible. Baths every day! Twice a day!

I didn't realize how happy the girls were to be living at the river, and I felt such guilt about it. I bought them all pajamas at TJ Maxx. I thought they were so sad to not be at the cabin anymore, when really, they were enjoying every second of not being there and to remember it, they now say that "Ooma's Cottage" was the favorite place they've ever lived. I wish I had realized how much fun they were having at the time, because if I hadn't felt so guilty, I think I would have been able to enjoy it more! When I remember that time now, even though I still remember the facts of being so overwhelmed, my memories of that time are oddly very happy and cozy.

As it turned out, we were able to get our downtown house livable faster than the cabin or the big farmhouse on the cabin property, and we moved into it in February. It's funny to look back on that time, too. I was so sad to not be living in the country anymore, but at the same time, I remember feeling that I'd finally come home. Arranging the kitchen again, and having a fresh start in an old place was a really fun experience. And it was still about two months before we realized we'd never be going back to the cabin, so we took a family trip to IKEA and bought a lot of stuff with plans to put it in the big farmhouse when we moved in there.

*I need to backtrack a bit to explain why we had so little stuff. In the middle of moving from our previous homestead to the cabin property, our previous homestead had been robbed twice, and even though we had been largely moved out, there had been packed boxes of all our kitchen stuff there, which all got stolen. We had outfitted the cabin with necessities, expecting to leave them there so it would be a functioning place after we moved into the farmhouse, but it was a one-room cabin, so as you can imagine, it was not a very extensively outfitted kitchen area. (Really, we had plenty, PLENTY of "stuff," it was largely just the kitchen stuff we had to replace.)*

In the downtown house, along with the mentality of "everything we buy for this place can go to the farmhouse," was the idea of, "any work we do to this house will help it to rent or sell." So we got to work! We ripped up carpet and laid wood floors, painted rooms, fixed things, brought in our washer and dryer. We cleaned it up and settled in. And it was surprisingly nice. I missed our animals, I missed our beautiful lake view and I couldn't wait to get back to it, but there was beauty in the simplicity of life downtown, too. It was still stressful having our animals out there to take care of, and being downtown again was kind of a shock to the system, but when I look back on that time, moving into that place with it's white walls and clean floors and good city tap water, (I have never gotten used to well water...) watching the big girls show the little girls all the fun little details of the house, in my memory that was such a happy time.

Of course, the actual time of deciding we needed to STAY downtown and then rehoming our animals and realizing we likely weren't going to be able to homestead ever again remains a not-so-happy memory. But the first weeks of the situation remain a bright time in my mind. Memory is such a funny thing. Now we are back in the country again, unexpectedly, and knowing that we will eventually leave this place when our time is up and return again to our downtown house is an oddly comforting feeling. It makes me miss that house and it's fresh white floors and the way the early spring light came through the west windows. I don't know what to expect this Spring in this new place--where will the light come in at those nice angles? The familiarity of our old house was such a comfort to us in a time of tumult that I think it's pretty clear now that that house is always going to feel like our real Home.

**Funnily, my parents have held onto that property and are now in the process of renovating the farmhouse, so we will still see lots of the little cabin where we lived!