"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Stewing & Housing

Well, I'm bummed. My mandolin instructor recommended that I sign up for the 6th Annual Mandolin Festival: March Mandolin Madness. Not because I'm so wonderful a player, but for inspiration and instruction. (There's a Beginner's track of workshops). But I rang them up too late, registration is full. Last week I put it off because I was so focussed on Lola, but apparently all places were already taken.

So I'll have to wait till next year, when maybe I won't be a "beginner"!

It's Stew Week here at the Lodge. That wasn't our plan on Sunday, when we started with the Beef Ragout--indescribably delicious. But we came home from church with a huge tub of Pea & Ham soup, specially cooked for the Chap by a fellow Vestry member. So we started on it last night. Tonight we're having Chili, our traditional (but not inevitable) snowstorm fare. Tomorrow, Pea & Ham Soup re-run. Thursday, Chili re-run in the form of Macho Nachos.

By Friday, we'll be ready to put down our spoons. Pizza!

Today's fantastic local public radio show was House Lust. I've written at length--in a magazine, probably here on the blog--and have repeatedly told the tale of our romance with the Lodge. Boy and Girl find dream house, Boy and Girl lose dream house, Boy and Girl get dream house back and move in and fill it with dogs and surround it with roses and live happy ever after.

Other people's houses and their relationships with their homes really fascinate me. English literature and Southern literature and New England literature--my greatest influences--are very much literature of place. Uncle Remus's cabin, Tara, The House of Seven Gables, Pemberley, Manderley, Walden. Houses and cottages and locale have played an important part in my own novels. My family have always been connected to the places from which we came, and reminisce endlessly. My parents are renovating their house at this very moment, have been for months.

As a couple, the Chap and I have occupied three houses.

When I first arrived at the cottage on the Big Lake, I hadn't been married 24 hours. It was dark and cold and I had no idea where I was, but the house welcomed and embraced me as a new-minted Porter. I loved it on sight.

Before the wedding we'd put a deposit on a Colorado house, near the foothills outside Denver. While we were honeymooning, we stopped in the Scottish Lion shop in North Conway. I was writing our new mailing address on the catalog request form when the saleslady asked, "Isn't that the place I just saw on television, where the kids are all getting cancer?"

Say what?

Turns out, it was exactly the place. The night before there was a segment on 60 Minutes or 20/20 all about the incidence of childhood cancers in our new neighbourhood. We didn't much care to become residents of a future Love Canal, so we rang our realtor that afternoon and backed out of the deal. Lost our deposit, but it was a small rice to pay for peace of mind.

We returned to Colorado--homeless. We quickly found a small two-bedroom condo that we could rent by the month. We stuffed our furniture into it, filling every space except the kitchen. We told my parents not to send the shipment of wedding gifts quite yet. And though we had no backyard for him, or any prospect of one, we promptly adopted a Siberian husky puppy. Surely, we thought, by the time Killian got big, we'd have a house and yard. Our memories of that first marital Thanksgiving consist of eating turkey surrounded by boxes stacked to the ceiling!

I devoted my life to finding a house and made a damn fine job of it, if I do say so myself. It was better than the one we walked away from, with an ever nicer foothills view and, for the area, a quite large backyard (big enough that a year later we acquired a second dog). We had two reliable fruit-bearing apple trees and a vast hedge of overgrown lilacs. The subdivision had been established long enough to seem mature. A block and a half from our door was a little pond with paths and walking trails and blue herons. (We don't thrive if we can't be near a body of water.)

During our decade-plus in the Rocky Mountain West, we summered and autumned on the Big Lake. Eventually we decided that we really belonged in New England, and not only because it simplified the Chap's commute to the UK and Europe. We spent a couple of years driving round any and all towns less then an hour from the cottage. And the airport.

When I first entered the Lodge, the real estate agent at my side, I knew instantly that it was The One. The Only One. So did the Chap, when he saw it.

For the better part of a year we yearned in vain. And then the planets aligned, and our dream came true.

Our house has its quirks. Some are ineradicable. We've made a few improvements. Added a room. And miles of bookshelves. Purchased the adjoining 10 acres to add to the 11 that came with it. Have never called in a decorator, never will--something the women of my family seem to do. I trust my own taste. And besides, I live on a dirt road in a forest. Some things are antithetical to my lifestyle and location. Even so, ours is one of the more impressive houses in the immediate area, but that wasn't our doing. We live quietly and don't need to impress anybody. When making changes, we're motivated by our own comfort and aren't easily lured into adding trendy luxuries.

Occasionally I enjoy watching home improvement programs like the ones mentioned on the radio show this morning, but I'm not obsessive about them. (Unlike food programs, many of which I can't resist.) In the UK I almost never miss Location, Location Location. It's all about house hunting, not house fixing. I can relate to house hunting. And I love happy endings. But for some reason, I don't tune into the US versions.

To set the present scene for you, before I hop up to construct the Stew of the Day.

I see the first (of many) snowflakes falling. I smell the tree rose that opened up yesterday. I watch the hairy woodpecker attack the suet. I hear the steady breathing of sleeping dogs. I listen to the headlines on NPR. Fresh dialogue for a scene revision takes shape in my mind. One of my mandolins is close at hand. The Chap is only a phone call away.

All is well at the Lodge.

No comments: