What you do, what you’re supposed to do

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I went to Florida for my grandmother’s funeral.

I went to my cousin’s baby’s first birthday party.

I smoothed things out between A and his family.

I took on extra assignments at work and my director talked to me about next steps (time to move on).

I celebrated my sister in-law’s birthday.

I am flying my sister up to visit me for a week this summer.

I still haven’t called the insurance company.


Things I am supposed to do: take a career development class, begin a job search for a position in the field I’ve worked myself into, save money, get the grocery budget under control, invest, play the game, become classier and classier, take night classes to get a master’s degree, make more money, arrange tasteful visits to far-flung family, send my mom a Mother’s Day gift, get married, join the Catholic church, take a small beach vacation, make friends, call the insurance company.

Things I am doing: being passively abrasive and making people feel awkward at work since I took on assignments far outside of my job description, avoiding signing up for a class, thinking about moving to Seattle, thinking about moving to Spain, thinking about the best way to move to another country, lots of thinking and not-thinking, saving a little but not a lot, being indecisive about what matters the most, feeling overwhelmed at the rapid passage of time, wanting to decorate, to create art, to make something physical and beautiful, and never finding the time or the energy, watching a little one grow, making love, being friends, not calling the insurance company.

Baby’s first bedroom!

We just moved into a two-bedroom apartment, right down the street from our old apartment. In contrast to my last, quite frenetic/neurotic post, we are doing well, and I am often very content, which is about as good as anyone can hope for :)

It has been a deep pleasure to create a bedroom for our very own Charlotte. I will be decorating it and organizing it more in the next few months, but my main objective will be to create a Montessori-inspired bedroom, with child-accessible everything, particularly as she grows into a toddler bed and becomes more independent.

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The empty room

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Homestyler design

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Current

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Muji shelves

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Rug from World Market

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would like to add another, larger and more basic rug, a reading nook, more shelves with drawer inserts for her clothes, a small mirror, something pretty for the walls, and twinkly little fairy lights.

Spring is springing again, and spring is very lovely here. Can’t wait for the day when I can wear a little sundress out, and now that Charlotte is old enough to run around the playground, I can envision many beautiful days with her ahead. She is the joy of my life.

A and I are figuring out what we want, what we need from life. We are both creative people. We need to create more, better, more often. Neither of us are very happy in a 9-5 job though we appreciate the stability that comes with it. It’s time to grow.

Maybe it sounds silly, but I am taking an acting class at night, and A will take a screenwriting class. I like acting. A is a good writer. I want to write more, too.

I want to spend more time with Charlotte. I took last Friday off for a mama-baby day and it was beautiful and fun and deeply satisfying. Walking through the neighborhood in the daytime was interesting. The sidewalks were full of toddlers in strollers, pushed by stay-at-home moms and nannies. The local music class was overflowing and the sounds of tambourines and maracas flooded down onto the street. The old people were out, doing their shopping, making googly eyes at the babies. The neighborhood shopkeepers were quietly going about their day. It reminded me of when I lived in Atlanta and worked at a company located in a nice suburb – I’d go out for lunch in the local village square, so to speak – a little shopping area with a small field and trees in the middle built next to a recent townhouse development. I’d sit in my car with my windows down, eating my lunch, enjoying a pretty day, and watch the stay-at-home moms with their babies out on blankets in the grass, and feel a strange envy of their seemingly-simple, suburban lives. I wonder if most mothers still stayed at home, which is sort of a fallacy considering it was only ever middle and upper-middle class mother who stayed at home, would I have chosen the same? It almost feels like a past life memory, me cooking in a kitchen with the windows wide open, pots of flowers and herbs and tomatoes out in the garden, kids running barefoot all around me, the dogs barking, my sister-in-law scrubbing the floor, her sister calling after one of the kids, or something like that. I guess this is all in some old Mediterranean village in my head. In reality, I don’t want to stay at home full-time, nor do I want to live with extended family, but I do feel that piece is strangely ajar or missing in some way. I miss Charlotte and feel strange leaving her with strangers and then largely blocking her out of my existence for close to ten hours a day, counting commute times.

I feel like it’s time to grow, and rebalance, and understand things and myself.

 

We looked for a new place to call home, we didn’t find it (pt. 2)

The first thing I should admit is that it was a huge financial mistake to take a week-long vacation. It was a decision I made on a whim, after getting my first sizeable stock payout and a raise from work. A was not really into the idea and instead of slowing down and listening to him, I went ahead and splurged. We hadn’t been out of the city for 2.5 years so I felt it was high time for a vacation and well-deserved.

My stock payout felt like lottery winnings, in that unreal sense that tiny little black pixels on a screen =/= actual money. I used half of the payout for useful things, like paying off some credit card debt and putting aside a month’s worth of rent and daycare expenses as a buffer, but the rest of the cash was burning a hole in my pocket. Bought in short order: New TV to replace our boob tube circa 1998. A weeklong vacation out of town.

After booking an Airbnb for 6 nights and renting a full-size car for a week, I almost immediately regretted my decision. A tried gamely to be okay with it but I felt guilty and selfish for wasting all that money on something pretty useless.

Better things we could have spent money on: paying off more debt, buying nice work clothes, saving money for moving expenses, getting new pots and pans, having fun in the city we live in (NYC is largely unexplored for me, since we mainly just go to work and hang out in our neighborhood).

So, with that basis of context, it’s not a surprise that Portland, Maine did not end up being the land of dreams for A and I. It wasn’t a terrible trip, and it was somewhat relaxing, but Portland is definitely not the place we want to live.

Leaving NYC behind

Fantasy

A dreamy car trip, wind breezing through the windows, beautiful vistas of trees and countryside, fresh air, tiny little northeastern villages and roadside diners.

Reality

Intense anxiety while navigating the twisty, speedy deathtrap highways of NYC with a baby in the backseat and no insurance coverage for accidents in which we are at fault. Finally hitting the open road of I-95 North – not a very picturesque stretch of highway. Occasional glimpses at medium-sized towns in CT, RI, MA, but nothing I’d describe as beautiful or charming. Lunch at Boston Whole Foods was a highlight.

A tiny house on Cape Elizabeth for a week

Fantasy

A quaint little house perched near a rocky beach, waves crashing, audible through the windows. Lungfuls of pure salt air. A mournful lighthouse standing in solitude. A cozy place to rest, read, decompress. Dusty little antique shops, maybe some seaside seafood shacks that we can meander to for every meal. Buy some copper kettles and old books. Fresh, farm-to-table food and quaint little diners full of interesting characters. Just like, tons of cozy-creepy vibe everywhere you look.

Reality

Pulling into Portland, pretty little townhouses, a harbor, and a bridge. Turning onto the bridge and driving down to Cape Elizabeth, the landscape becomes suburban. Strip shopping centers that close early, houses with yards. A and I feel immediately, intensely uncomfortable. We joke about turning right around and heading back to Brooklyn. It’s not really a joke. It feels like we’re back in the suburbs of Atlanta, a place we worked hard for two years to move away from. We decide we’re being ridiculous and determine to enjoy the stay.

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We finally pull into the driveway of our tiny house, which turns out to be someone’s converted garage, right next to someone’s actual house. It’s okay inside. There’s a few spiderwebs in the corners and the loft bed is three feet away from the ceiling and the sheets are pretty humid and the mattress is two twin mattresses pushed into one, so good sex is pretty much off the menu. There’s a Pack N’ Play for the baby, which we set up in the living room, and we head out for lobster. There’s a lobster shack just down the road, although actually it’s just slightly too far and dangerous to walk there, so we have to rig up the car again. The line is 45 minutes long and the restaurant closes at 8 PM.

We wind up living the suburban life for the next week. We drive everywhere, have to wait for restaurants to open and get to the store before it’s closed. The lighthouse is just down the road, but is ensconced in “an exclusive neighborhood”, which we stroll through out of boredom. We go to the beach a few times and it’s pretty nice. We get slightly tanned. The seafood is undeniably delicious, but after a lobster roll, lobster BLT, and lobster pasta, I’m so done. We do make it to some local diners, which are full of old guys who make googly eyes at the baby and hit on the waitresses. The diners are probably our favorite part.

We do relax at home and read – in creepy levels of deafening silence. We try turning on the radio but it’s like we’re in Nashville judging by the available stations — country, country, oldies, evangelism. Our TV gets one channel successfully, occasionally two. At night the lack of light coming in through the garage window-cum-stained glass appliquéd tiny house window is totally disconcerting.

The air was definitely fresher, though. The state park near our house was full of beautiful little glens and trails, and walking on the rocks next to crashing waves felt amazing.

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It might have been a snap judgement, but it seemed like the Northeast is called New England for a reason – some sort of variant of English culture seems to permeate everything. People stick to themselves. You can order a full English breakfast, only it’s called a Maine breakfast, and it comes with an egg, beans, toast, and is totally delicious. I mean, I’ve never been to England, but Portland seemed very different from NYC in a very distinct and Englishy way.

Also similar to England (?), Maine seemed to be populated by Scandinavian-Irish stock who were the farmers and the fishermen and a certain type of dark-haired English-y person who were the owners of very large vacation homes.

We got to meander around downtown Portland, which felt almost scrubbed-clean and devoid of population compared to NY. We hopped a ride on the mailboat ferry which services the populations of neighboring islands that lack road access to the mainland. I spied a group of hardworking local men on the mailboat eyeing us up in a not-too-pleasant way, and realized we stuck out obviously as not being from there.

Portland is not our home

The Fantasy

While walking the streets of Portland, I begin to feel the dawning of a deep sense of belonging, and of being home. I look at the houses and happily imagine our lives flourishing here. We’d buy a converted loft warehouse with a metal spiral staircase and a rooftop balcony looking out on the harbor, or we’d find an 1800’s farmhouse inland and begin laying in the garden and fixing the place up. We would snuggle into the soil of the town and our roots would take hold. We’d be able to live affordably enough to pursue things which truly interest us, art and writing, and our children would grow up in a lively household filled with culture.

The Reality

Portland is a small, practical, mainly conservative, working-class city with a tiny population of urban, liberal creative imports from places like Brooklyn, and another small population of homesteaders with a slow-living, hippie kinda vibe. A and I are not searching for the lifestyle of any of these communities. I guess we’d come closest to “liberal urban creative import”, but that has a certain yuppy-ish connotation neither of us are comfortable with. Slow-living hippie homesteader sounds nice in fantasy, but the reality of living an isolated, rural life is not something I think I can currently handle. Portland’s population is also almost entirely racially homogenous which made me feel uncomfortable in ways I can’t put a finger on.

Coming back to NY

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We drove back overnight so the baby would sleep the whole way. Finally making it back to the NYC highway deathtrap in the early hours of September 12, two lights were streaming upward from the Twin Tower site in downtown Manhattan. Cars zipped in front of us, unmarked white delivery vans were honking their horns and puttering along, late night revelers blasted deep basslines that reverberated out of tinted windows.

The amount of total relief I felt as soon as I saw the skyline took me by surprise. Feeling a small rush of adrenaline and realizing “hey, I live here, this is my home” was one of the best feelings I’ve experienced in a while. Groggy with lack of sleep, stumbling out on the curb in front of our building at 5AM, seeing our little street already full of people – a girl saying goodbye to her visiting mom, a jogger, a man outside with his dogs, a couple early morning pacers – I was immersed in a place where things were Happening. People were living. We were Doing Things, even though it is often a very tough slog.

That sense of belonging dawned on me then, and even though NY is barely affordable and we wear ourselves to the bone keeping up with the daily demands of living here, I am happy to call it home (for now).

I’m sort of glad we went to Portland, even though I also deeply regret wasting our hard-won resources for something that didn’t turn out to be fruitful. I never want to move there, but I’m glad I saw that for myself. New York is our home, for now, for better or worse. Next time I get a stock bonus we’ll know how to spend it the right way. And next time we go on a vacation we will know what to do differently.

We looked for a new place to call home, we didn’t find it (pt. 1)

Early last year, I wrote about escapist fantasies of owning a country house in Spain. This year, A, our baby, and I were able to take our first vacation in two and a half years, and we decided to visit Portland, Maine.

I chose Portland for the proximity to NYC yet distance away from NYC crowds, the relaxing beaches, because we’d both been curious about what the rest of the northeast was like, because of Stephen King novels set in Maine, specifically that signature creepy-cozy vibe, because a few lifestyle bloggers (ok, one blogger, Soulemama, guilty pleasure) of whom I’ve been a longtime reader live near Portland, and:

Because it seemed like an affordable, pleasant, pretty place to live. No escapist fantasies necessary.

The Blissful, Domestic, All-American Dream

I could imagine a life with myself, A, our daughter and potential future kids, living in an old downtown Portland loft or a cozy little three-bedroom house, working at small companies in creative industries, maybe a little side business for extra cash. Our kids would be safe and provided for, in good public schools while we squirreled away money to help with college. We wouldn’t be wealthy but we wouldn’t feel the wolf breathing down our necks like we do in NYC. We’d be comfortable. We’d have a yard. A charming wood-burning stove. I’d have a lovely garden full of flowers and vegetables. I could go to the seashore when I needed a little nourishment of the soul to watch the roiling waters. I’d spend all winter knitting, baking, and roasting. I’d make a few friends with other moms with kids my kids’ ages. A would get three big dogs and write a lot while the kids and the dogs played outside.

A feasible dream. Very doable! If we wanted, we could probably fulfill this dream by the time baby girl started kindergarten, perfect timing.

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Fuel for the fire

In Brooklyn, we can sort of afford a one-bedroom apartment and daycare at the same time. Renting a two-bedroom would be barely doable. Actually buying a condo, much less a house, with more than one bedroom is a distant and unattainable dream.

With a few years’ scrimping and saving, at our current income level, we could reasonably put together a down payment of 10-20% for something in the $200-300K range. In Brooklyn, that would afford us a one-bedroom condo in a cheap neighborhood. In Portland, that would get us a whole house. And a really nice house, at that.

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8 Anderson Street – $279,000

East End, Portland. 5 bedroom, 1.5 bathroom – Up and coming neighborhood, beautiful and unique architecture, tons of space, so cheap. Yes, please.

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71 Gorham Road – $175,000

Scarborough, ME. 5 bedroom, 2 bathroom. Classic, beautiful, just a little creepy in a good way. Cheap. Fixer-upper, but worth it?

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33 Sawyer Street – $207,000

Back Cove, Portland. “The authenticity of yesteryear. Beauty infused w/color and creative collaboration of old and new-wood floors, tin ceiling, huge original windows w/old glass, tall ceilings and more. … When at home enjoy the screened porch and open front porch, perennial gardens, sit in the yard and listen to the wind rustle the leaves or sit by the firepit. Contentment, peace, and joy…guaranteed.” Totally doable, and that description…

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12 Green Street – $275,000

Gorham, ME. 6 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms. Out in the country. Total creepy-cozy vibe, massive, and massively affordable.

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6 Quartermasters Diamond Cove Ct – $387,000

East End, Portland. 3 bedroom, 2.5 bathroom. A comparative splurge, but lofted ceilings, renovations, and gorgeous old industrial architecture make it covetable.

Springtime love and unease

Yesterday was my first Mother’s Day as a mother. It was a beautiful day. We ate breakfast out. We walked to the garden shop and I bought plants for my little window garden. Charlotte finally took a nap, and I quietly enjoyed a beer, watching the sunshine filtering through the tree and my lazily blowing curtains, and my baby asleep, and listening to the sounds on my street, and enjoying the soft warmth of the new season.

This year, I am growing geraniums, romaine lettuce, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes, and I’m attempting to sprout some mizuna, arugula, and radishes from seed in another box.

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Sometimes I want to quit my job and become a secretary for a finance firm. My job would be to look very pretty and make tea and go for coffee runs. I would be able to write and create and get up to no good during the rest of the time.

If I had a good enough idea (I don’t), I would try to start my own business and be accountable only to me and my family.

But I am here at this job, and I’m actually trying, and it’s actually working, and I will have more money and more options and more responsibility soon, if I continue to play my cards right. And oh, is there a lot of card-playing to be had. So much. It is stressful and makes me feel far too vulnerable. It’s scary and I have to impress people without seeming to try too hard, affect a nonchalant and confident attitude while grabbing onto as much as I can get away with a little bit desperately.

I feel like I COULD do big things. I feel like I’m full of potential. I feel like I am really, really dumb and want to hide forever.

Instead I will plant vegetables and look at the sunshine, and think about the stock options, and stick with it. Darn start-ups.