11.02.2015

Culture Shock: Our First Month in the Country



As many of you know, on October 1st I moved to the Hudson Valley with my family after 10 years of living in Oakland, CA. The decision was fairly practical: We wanted to own our home and ultimately send our boys to a good public school. With the punishing cost of housing in the Bay Area, this didn't seem like an option for us in our beloved Oakland. So we set our sites on the Hudson Valley in 2012 and after three years of looking for a house, we purchased our 1820 farmhouse on July 15, 2015.

We were thrilled. We were relieved. We were filled with optimism about this new life waiting for us some 3,000 miles away in the country. I grew up in rural Upstate NY and went to college in the small city of Ithaca less than an hour from my hometown so rural life wasn't completely foreign to me though it was a few decades behind. When I was 22 and finished college I moved to San Francisco. And I lived there for three years. And then when I was 25 I moved to Brooklyn, NY and I lived there for another three years. And when I was 28 I moved back to Oakland, CA to start graduate school.

Fast-forward 10 years and 1 marriage and 2 children and several wonderful jobs later and it was time for a bigger place and to look further down the road towards schools and proximity to our extended family and overall cost of living and also career opportunity for two working artist parents. The Hudson Valley quickly rose to the top of our list as satisfying many of these criteria at once. Just two hours from Manhattan we could afford a 3-bedroom farmhouse with several outbuildings including an old carriage house (our future art studios) and several smaller structures. And there's a rural art community here that doesn't exist in many other rural spaces as a result of the influence from Manhattan. After a few visits to the region, we were convinced we could make a home here.


But as October 1 crept closer and closer from our July 15 house closing I felt increasingly more anxious. More concerned. More afraid. And I also felt sad. The Bay Area was such a welcoming and befitting community for us. We felt at home there. And leaving it was a big, huge, gigantic decision but one that felt inevitable.

So we packed our house, found somebody to drive our car, and boarded a plane with our two small boys to head to NY. September was nothing short of exhausting. Packing a family of four for a 3,000 mile move felt epic. Of course, many families have done it before us and many families will do it after us but it was still exhausting. Add our infant who doesn't yet sleep through the night and our very part-time childcare and we weren't sure we would make it. But, of course, we did.

But as a first-time homeowner and as the first-time I've ever moved with children, I only paced myself to that very moment when we would board the plane--much like a first-time mother only paces herself to that moment of childbirth somehow forgetting that the moment the child is born she is responsible for 24-hour care. I didn't think about the life that would be waiting for me to nurture it on the other side of that plane ride.

And so I gave September everything I had and then I got on that plane, completely unprepared for the challenges of October, and felt temporarily relieved while we were suspended in flight. When we finally arrived to our "new" 1820 farmhouse I was completely in shock. My husband found the house in January on a business trip and while we looked at 30 odd houses in this area over 3 years I never actually stepped inside this house. My new house. It was completely foreign.


Moving was exhausting but arriving was completely overwhelming. The barn was filled with mildewed cabinets the previous owners left behind. The garage was filled with old musty furniture and strange fish silhouettes on the walls that must have been used as decoration but were now just a faded fish mark on the drywall at the back of the garage.

And the house, though filled with beautiful potential and the "good bones" we saw in photographs, was one room after the other of needed updates. Some updates were bigger than others. Renovating a home with one preschooler and one infant after just moving across the country is quite a feat. Not to mention, it's even more disorienting to live among paint cans and ladders when you also work from home. We could not find respite.

I was sick five times in six weeks and twice required antibiotics. I was running on empty. I felt vacant. Hollow. Overwhelmed. Sad. Raw. Exhausted. And hinging on depressed. I felt like my body was something I was dragging around behind my head. I was so deeply exhausted that my chest was like a hollow cavity that held my heavy head on the top of my neck. Empty. I felt empty. Empty of all the things I knew and loved about my beloved California. I knew it would feel strange to relocate to a new place 3,000 miles away but I didn't know it would be so disorienting or depleting.

In addition to the exhaustion of moving, the exhaustion of an infant, the demands of a preschooler, and the need to keep nudging our careers along, we were also sitting in a house that looked nothing like us. I looked for opportunities to see myself in this new space but I just couldn't find them. I kept thinking that we had landed on a new planet and we were running a marathon. Not even to mention our new and utter dependence on our car was shocking. Though not isolated by rural standards--we have neighbors on three sides and we're only a 10-minute drive from the nearest small town--it was an epic switch from our recent life in America's big, beautiful, and walkable cities.


We only saw one solution: We had to slow way down. Down to snail's pace. One of my biggest challenges in parenting is my inability to do anything else. I've become fairly competent at using naps and limited childcare to accomplish great heaps of work with the time management focus that only parenthood can bring. But renovating a house cannot be accomplished during naps. It takes so much time to remove debris, prep walls, prime walls, paint walls, and shove boxes from one side of the house to the other. Not to mention, it's noisy.

So we started with a huge purge: Remove shag carpets, carpet pads, and the layers of linoleum and newspaper and random fabrics used as insulation. Remove everything from the barn--everything down to the drywall and the concrete floor. And remove almost everything from the garage. And then we decided we needed help. So we found a recent college graduate to help us paint 15 hours a week. And we came to the realization that our moment of rest and settling and complete unpacking was still several months away.

We made a plan: We would live downstairs and paint the upstairs and then we'd move upstairs and paint the downstairs; we'd also refinish the wood floors. We put a curtain up over the window in the full bath and pretended the chocolate tile bathtub didn't depress us every time we stepped inside it. Reluctantly, we put our dishes and our food into the crappy cupboards in the kitchen so we could make food and start some sense of "normalcy" while finishing the upstairs renovations.

We set our beds up in the living room--all of our beds--so that we could get off the cold, drafty floor and say goodbye to our air mattress.  We praised the split pea green laundry room every time one of our boys spilled something down their shirts as we could actually do laundry in the meantime. Thank goodness.

And now, four weeks later, we are still living in the chaos. Boxes line every room and furniture waits stacked in the barn. We've organized our suitcases by person so each of us can locate pajamas and knee socks and clean clothes each evening and again each morning. Eventually we'll renovate the bathroom, the kitchen, and the horrible split pea laundry room too. Eventually, we'll renovate the barn and the garage and the outbuildings. Eventually, we'll plant a garden and some fruit trees. For now, we just want white walls and smooth floors and to fill our dressers with our clothes.


But November has finally arrived. Finally! Marking our one month in this house. Marking the end of the month we moved. The end of the hardest part. The end of the very raw beginning. The end of the packing and the moving and the shifting and the arriving and the not-knowing and the shock and disturbance and sadness and grief of leaving a place we loved so intensely for over a decade.

And November marks the beginning of something new. It marks the beginning of settling in. It marks the beginning of seeing our new pace with house projects, searching for childcare, turning one eye back to our careers to secure work in this very new place, and also the first month of our brave 4-year-old and his new preschool somehow already filled with new friends.

Quite frankly, November marks the beginning of hope. Hope that we will not just survive here but that we might actually thrive here with enough weeks or months or even years under our belts. That this house and this land and this exact space on the planet have something to share with us. Something to teach us. Something to offer that we had no idea was coming. Shocking, disorienting, filled with longing and loneliness and ache this place will eventually give way to something beautiful.

Something that looks like the very hard work at the beginning of a very long and beautiful dream. The doing. The sorting. The sifting. The planning. The purging. The building. The very beginning of something that might be the most beautiful hard work we've ever done. Of course, it looks nothing like we expected. But the beginning of a new phase of growth. And ultimately, what might actually be the gateway to the next best thing.

xoxo
k

24 comments:

  1. Anonymous11/02/2015

    CHANGE IS THE ONLY CONSTANT

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  2. Can you believe that I started crying when I read this blog post???? The reason is because I can so totally relate. My husband and I retired from the West to a Farm in the South. Big, big change. BUT, I was so excited to get here to live close to our kids and my grand-children.... so like you, I just focused on the "getting here" not even thinking about everything that would happen after that day. And in hind sight I'm so glad I was spared the details: the two years of building a house all by ourselves, living in a travel trailer, all of our things in storage, the absolute amount of work in running a cattle farm, the mowing that needed to be done continually, not having a place of my own to sew (a travel trailer really isn't conducive to crafting!) and the list just goes on and on. The light was that I had my daughter down the road and every single day I would show up at her house with the tears running down my face. Every.Single.Day. And to top it off, my husband of 30 years was retired and we were suddenly together every single minute! That took big adjusting! :-) So, your post really brought it all back to me. BUT, I'm here to tell you that it does get better. And the awesome thing is that you will have this blog post to read in a few years and say, "Wow. We did it"! :-) Thanks for wonderful details and sharing it with us. Sending warm hugs to you and encouragement... you'll be fine.

    I thought (during our two years of building, etc) of that saying, "What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger" and it is TRUE!!!! :-)

    Big hugs, Katrina. Thinking of you.

    - Dori -

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    1. Thank you, Dori. I had no idea you were living on the west coast and moved to be closer to family. I just assumed you were all from the south. Thank you so much for sharing this story with me. Oh my gosh, it helps so much to know we're not alone in tackling a huge house project and also readjusting to a very new place. All for family. xoxo

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  3. Everything you write here feels so familiar - though we moved with only one boy in tow and our new home didn't need much work. But the transition and the pain that comes with it is very real, and also temporary. I can happily say that six years later, we've found an incredible community here, and I, for one, am so happy that you'll now be a part of it. Let us know if there's anything we can do to help. -Mia

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    1. Thank you, Mia. So kind. We're very glad to have met you here. Very, very glad. xoxo

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  4. Moving is a massive, exhausting physical and draining experience for sure. We recently (still are) in the process of moving. Although a short distance, we uprooted our home, place and belongings to a big cavernous stranger of a house with a leaky roof and a spooky basement (typically Southern homes don't have basements).

    Nate was not 100% all in for awhile, but we realized that ultimately, we have a new member of the family. We are her caregiver and she ours. She tells us stories of the past with remnants here and there and the kids feet flying up and down the wood halls and rooms make her a home and I can feel her sing. We sit in one room, with many empty ones around us. I feel like a ghost in there (maybe one day, I will be). Nate said to me "We are the stewards of this home. We leave it better than we left it. It will be here much longer than us." For some reason that statement shocked me, but it's true. What I do know is, I will watch my kids grow up there, come home to us there, and one day, we won't climb the stairs and be able to paint and renovate, patch and repair. We'll still rely on her to be there, and she will.
    Perhaps one day, you'll look back and be so relieved that you are past all of the transition, flux and uncertainty and hopefully, it will put a smile on your beautiful face. So proud of you that you followed your dream and I am so impressed that you could hold out for three years! Once I get something in my head, I have zero patience. (ask Nate!) xoxo - Beth Shephard

    P.S. I'd love to come visit one day and show you what I know Hudson to be. It's a hard and magical place. My parents were married there too, my family is laid to rest there, and always will have a piece of my heart.

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    1. It's so true, we are the stewards of these old houses. I do feel like we're helping her to breathe again. And yet I know each family before us felt that they were doing their best to care for her too. With each layer we remove I imagine I can hear this house exhale a little bit. And yes, come visit us!!! Anytime.

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  5. Thank you for your honesty and for sharing your experience. What a grand adventure, bumps and all.

    Cheers to a new, hopeful November.

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    1. Thank you. Such a hard post to write. Thank you for your warm reception. xo

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  6. Thank you so much for sharing this raw and authentic experience of moving you and your family across a country. Like with others, it resonates with me, too. It brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. You did it! Great job - so inspirational! And so beautiful that you can see the hope and potential it will bring you all.

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    1. Thank you! It's been so much harder than we ever imagined. But I keep trying to remind myself that this is all temporary. And I'm trying a very new thing for me, to not second guess. Thank you for your thoughts. xo

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  7. the very best of luck - we moved to an old cold house years ago (it was a rental and moved because it was cheap and provided us with work rooms etc). I cleaned and painted it for a month and then we moved, and even then nothing prepared us for what a cold house it was, the first night we put on a fire and we kept pulling the sofa in closer and closer - it was like looking at a picture of a fire as there was no warmth. the house had been vacant for two years but we never figured that (it was also north facing and made of stone). anyway, we made it homely and figured the value of halogen heaters (quick heat for a dining room when you are eating) and plug in oil filled rads for smaller rooms to preheat them. our electric bills were not too bad. I had old wool blankets as curtains (i sewed ribbon ties on the top ends and had them everywhere). we lived there for 4 years and bought our current house (which is a do-er upper). looking back, it was all good, as the cheap cold rental allowed us to save, and also showed us what we could do on so very little. the very best of luck...... i am now realistic on doing up our own house, I painted everything ceiling white (softer tone) and we will work each room as we go along.........I call it the 10 year plan.- we fixed windows and other basics first, then our workrooms - there is a lot more cosmetic work to be done re floors and carpets but when you can run away to a good workspace and close the door its all possible!!!! best of luck - you have the tough part done

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    1. So funny you write about the need to create work spaces first. We are just realizing this. Just yesterday we started carving out a space for our desks. Yes, to find some respite in the renovation madness. Thank you for sharing. xo

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  8. it all sounds amazing, brave and overwhelming... big changes, big challenges and also big fun adventures... i always think of a tree being moved, at first he will take a lot of strain and a long time to settle and eventually he will thrive.
    go gently, one little step at a time. sending love and strength! and remember, rest is a weapon ;)

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    1. Thank you! So true, we have been uprooted and we are trying to acclimate to our new surroundings. And rest is a weapon, so good. xoxo

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  9. Whew. You said it. Happy November my love. xoxo

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    1. Happy November. Phew! xo

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  10. The home is already magical since you are all in it! With all the hard work and love you put into it each day, you will come to know every corner of the house intimately. I still have things to unpack after moving only 6 miles this past September with only one kid and minor repairs to be done. You've accomplished so much, so don't diminish that! Transitions are always tough, but I found my favorite mantra at the moment: This is my new normal.

    P.S. I love seeing "Hudson" sprinkled in your posts. We'll need to come up for a visit with our own Hudson sometime. hugs.

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    1. Such a good mantra! Thank you for the kind words and insights. What a huge transition. And we would love for you guys to come visit us anytime! Hudson can meet his namesake. xoxo

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  11. Wow! Just think of this house as your family's canvas. A very big canvas! I'm so happy you shared your feelings with us. I'm sure it was a relief to get off your chest. My family has a huge move coming up next year. We're moving to Belize. Where in Belize? We don't know yet. It will be an adventure for certain. You and your family have added to beauty of your new home. Best wishes!!!

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    1. Thank you! And good luck with your move. Each move has its own opportunities and compromises, right? I hope yours is filled with goodness and growth. xoxo

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  12. My husband and I are considered moving from the East bay to somewhere in the PNW, with land to have a small homestead and a bit slower pace of life. We are also trying to have our first child. And we're certainly familiar with the home renovation life we're living right now in the East bay. The thought of doing this move while pregnant or as a new mother, and starting over fixing up a new house, plus finding new jobs/starting new businesses, feels so overwhelming. And yet, the land and water of WA and OR have been calling me daily for over a year, so I can't ignore that. Reading your story resonated with my heart in so many ways. I just want to say thank you for putting it out there. It's good to know that other people are doing it and that the transition is just that - a transition - not an end of the world. I will think back to this post when the day comes that we've made the move.

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    1. Thanks so much for sharing your story. It's only in hindsight that I can really begin to digest all the transition we endured last fall with a new baby also resulting in a new big brother; a cross-country move; the urban to rural switch; and starting renovations on our first home which happened to be 200-years-old. It was completely overwhelming. Disorienting. Hard. But one year later I can say it was absolutely the right move for us. Maybe not the best timing. But the right move. Patience is a virtue I am still practicing. But, yes, all in time. Good luck to you!

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Thank you for your comments, friends. I like to think we are creating a dialogue in this space--building a virtual community.