The River Cottage

The word “cottage” has a lot of power for me that goes beyond being a cozy sounding noun. Specifically, it’s the word spelled with a capital “C”. The Cottage was a specific place in our family and it very much was another world. My grandparents had purchased a piece of property from a friend made during wartime in the Pacific. George, or rather “Skip” had been a lobsterman on the Maine coast and after the war, my grandfather bought some land across the street from him and built the family getaway. In the 50’s, it was a long journey to get there. Back in the days before a robust interstate highway system it was something like a five hour drive packed in a car with two adults and five kids, my mother being the oldest.

The house itself wasn’t anything particularly impressive, other than being far away from our own home. It would go through many, many construction projects over its lifetime to make room for future spouses as kids turned into adults and then had children of their own. grandchildren like me and even great grandchildren like mine populated the place as time wore on. We all called it “the cottage” and it was used as such. It was a happy getaway when getting away could be got. What I came to realize over my own life and experiences there though was that it wasn’t the house that was The Cottage, but rather, the whole package.

Going to The Cottage for me meant summers exploring the Atlantic coast, poking around in tide pools and under mats of seaweed. It meant being out late, sometimes VERY late and watching the stars and listening to the toads peep in the tall grass. It meant quiet and solitude and the sense that you were here and nowhere else. The worries of back home were far enough away that you couldn’t deal with them even if you wanted to. We made friends there. We made discoveries. We spent afternoons frittering time away just being lazy. I made stuff because it met my fancy at the moment and, why not, anyway? It was what I suppose would be considered the “halcyon days” of not just my own youth, but the youths of everyone who went there. The whole experience stands out like a friendly giant in my memory. 

But things change. They always do. 

First, I grew up. I won’t go so far as to say that it was inevitable, but happily, it did happen. I got older and had less time to lay in the grass and play with balsa wood gliders in an empty field. I went through college, moved in with my girlfriend in Vermont, found work of some sort and eventually moved to the Maine coast which had treated both my girlfriend and me so kindly as children. We eventually got married and even lived at the cottage for a month or so while we were between dwellings. My grandmother passed away first and that colored the Cottage for me a good bit. My grandfather had referred to The Cottage as “her house” and for a brief time, he even put it on the market and said that he wasn’t interested in going there anymore. It was a valid reaction. He had grown old and though what was once a five hour car trip had, through the construction of highways and interstates, been whittled down to three, the effort to get there was a lot. Eventually, he took down the for sale sign and did return, though be it with driving help provided by family members. It actually gave us a chance to visit him far more than we would have otherwise if we had to drive to New Hampshire. By now, we had two kids of our own and driving forty-five minutes to see Great-Grandpa at The Cottage was a worthy way to spend the day, but came at a bit of a cost to me. I had been going here my whole life and as I looked around, I could see the ghosts of my youth between the changes around the neighborhood and it made me, if not actually sad, then wistful. I had trouble seeing what was there because my vision was clouded with what had been. Other summer houses around The Cottage had been bought, torn down and massive, soulless McMansions built in their place. Fields disappeared and the quiet seemed more illusive. It was like putting on a favorite coat that was rapidly falling apart and you knew you’d have to let go of it soon.

And then, Grandpa passed, The Cottage was put up for sale and I took one last run through its rooms to take a few small tokens that, though monetarily worthless, meant a lot to me. Knickknacks and the odd hanging photo, a hammer and sewing machine well past its prime. Some of the pieces of my childhood memories that were important to me for one reason or another. The house sold fairly quickly and belongs to someone else. It’s their turn to make memories on the coast of Maine now, I suppose. 


Fast forward a number of years

Our kids are barely kids still. The one whom I have referred to here on this blog as Short Stack looks me square in the eyes now and is trying to establish what university he wants to go to at the end of the following year. I’ll call him J.O. here now. Lulu Belle now has a habit of clomping onto me in a flurry of high speed hugs that will absolutely knock me to the ground and then try to sweet talk me into watching scary shows or movies with her. She’s less pink and fuzzy and more all smiles and enthusiasm for various countercultures. My wife, Action Girl is still going strong, though the energies that once went into mountain biking and rock climbing have transformed a bit more into long walks and day long quilting sessions. We’re all getting older and the kids are growing up and I’ve been missing The Cottage. Not the building, necessarily, but the notion of the place.  

Enter, something new. 

The Cottage isn’t just the house my grandparents built on the coast of Maine. It’s a concept. It’s the quiet. It’s the sense of discovery. It’s another world. “The Cottage” moves almost like something out of a dream or fairytale. As the ultra-corny saying goes, “The real treasure is the friends we made along the way!” Well… maybe not friends, per se, but an aura of peace and wonderment. A more existential friend. I knew it was out there still and that’s what Action Girl and I  went to find and as it turns out, it was in France. 

On the banks of the Lot river, far up in the southern-middle of the country sit three little buildings, each made of stone. The smallest is tiny and completely covered in ivy. A dream with just two rooms: a lower and an upper, and the moment our daughter slapped eyes on it, she declared it her own. 

“That one is mine! It’s so flarfy!”

And so, Lulu Belle, whom we refer to as “Mouse” will have her own little mouse house, which we have been referring to ever since as “The Flarfy Cottage”. Her own place, but not really, since the main house is only a few steps away. As a mid-ranged teen, could there be a better deal? I really don’t think so. 

The next building is something I’ve long, long dreamed of. A barn. It has a BARN! As barns go, it’s nothing huge or impressive, but it was absolutely built with the idea of doing the work of all things barn-like. It has two stories and both are ideal for different hobbies or workshops. It’s a space to be noisy and messy in and it needs help and work and I love it with all my heart. I have a workshop!

And lastly, there’s the house. I won’t get too into the weeds describing it here, but I will say that though it is spread over three floors it’s actually quite small as well. There is one central spiral staircase that connects everything together and the walls and roof are made of heavy stone. All the rooves are stone actually. Not slate, mind you, but stone. The inside of the house most definitely has a palpable 1980’s flavor to it, so updating is needed, though functionally, everything works and works fine. We can step right in and start living. All it needed was a name and we went through several ideas before we came to the final conclusion. They were all sweet or clever or romantic but in the end, we decided that The River Cottage was the right moniker to choose, and so it is. 

Actually getting the paperwork all sorted and such and moving the money around to make it happen is an interesting story for later and that’s what I hope to write about here in the coming months and years. For now, The River Cottage is there waiting for our presence and we are simply biding time to be free to go. Snow falls from the sky in our Maine front yard as I type this now and summer seems far, far off, but really, it isn’t. As soon as school ends, we’ll all four be off to France to move into The River Cottage for the hot months and the adventures, challenges and discoveries will be… well… unknowable until then. So, The Cottage lives on in a far away valley in the heart of the French countryside and just like the one in Maine did all those winters of my youth, ours sleeps too, waiting for its family to arrive and make it live again. I can’t imagine how many memories this building holds from so many other families that we’ll never know, but we can’t wait to joyously add ours to its walls when we arrive. When we go, I will hang up and place a few precious keepsakes that I have been hanging on to so that they can be part of The Cottage once again and I will make some time to play with toy planes, make some discoveries and search for that peace that I have been missing for too long.

The anticipation is truly delicious.


A Little Excitement

So I’m partially posting this to make sure that WordPress sees this site as alive and doesn’t bin it, but also in an effort to see if I can actually start the writing process again. I miss it.

So here’s the news to kick of this page again! We bought a Summer place. It’s something that we’ve been dreaming about and we finally did it. And it’s in France.

And it’s stone.

And beautiful.

And now I need to learn French. Oh no…



Time is the thing that I have come to value in my life above so many other wants. I don’t love time like a pastry or lament it’s passing like the loss of a loved one, but I hunger for it now as I quickly approach the half century mark and resent like hell when it’s wasted with things beyond my control and without necessity. 

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Me in every meeting ever.

As I write this now, we sit in the midst of a global pandemic. Covid has chased us from our restaurants and workplaces and now I teach high school art from the comfort of my basement classroom, piped into the homes of my drooping students via the internet. And I’m lucky, I know! I have a job that I can do, as does my wife, Action Girl. Our son, Short Stack (who’s nickname no longer fits as he has long passed the height of his mother) and I no longer go into a building each day to work and learn, but do it all via cameras and microphone. Our daughter, Lulu Belle attends school both virtually and with a smattering of in school experience and Action Girl has gone four days a week, with all possible protections taken and fingers firmly crossed. There is a lot of grumbling and deprivation out there right now, but we as a family are fortunate and know it well and never forget that.

I have time. It’s not ideal time at the moment, to be sure, but it’s time nonetheless. I’ve had a lot of different jobs in my life doing a lot of very different things, from working behind a desk to working over an endless vat of bait fish and each job has taught me something different and yet… each job has also taught me one thing over and over and over again. Time.

Time is the only thing you can’t really make. You can work at making yourself rich or happy or brave or strong or any number of things but you can’t make any more time than you get. It’s what it is. That’s your allotment, so be careful with it. In my past working incarnations, I have done work that took all of it. I very proudly started and ran a successful manufacturing business for ten years and it runs still, to this day, but not with me. There was a moment where I realized that I was working away the hours of not my life, but my children’s lives. Short Stack was two and Lulu Belle, newly born and I was working sixty to eighty hours a week. That made no sense to me, so I left it to become Dad at Home while Action Girl went back to running coastal ferry boats. I stayed with the babies and she became “Mumma on the Phone”. Action Girl doesn’t sit still well and though the idea of being a stay at home mother sent her screaming for the trees, being “Mumma on the Phone” wore her down as well and it was time for a change for her as well. Or rather, it was time for a change back. 

Action Girl and I have a lot in common (and not just our now thirty years of co-experience) and one in particular was a key that we had stuffed in a drawer long ago and let gather dust. It was time to rummage around in the dark, looking for it. We needed the key. We also needed to polish it up again after so much disuse. Teaching. 

We both love the act of teaching and had gone to school for it, but as a kid fresh out of college, getting a teaching job means years of garbage work. They used you as a substitute. They use you as an Ed Tech. They used you for behavioral problems. They used you and use you and used you hard and all the while, pay you garbage, all with the carrot of, “If you suffer this for as long as we want you to suffer, then someday you might get a classroom.” Both of us had traveled this road when we were fresh from college and both of us had walked away weary and beaten. But that was then. We were young and still easily swayed. We lacked life experience. We still were unsure and worried about displeasing. Age can change that, and it definitely did for us. After starting and running a manufacturing business, becoming an IT Director for a local company and then switching to twenty-four/seven infant care for me and running a crew on a variety of multi-tonne, sea going vessels for her, schools just weren’t that intimidating any more. We could do this, so we did. 

It wasn’t quite as simple as all that, naturally! I was insanely fortunate to luck into a job that would let me study to regain my teaching licenses, all while pulling a paycheck. I got in at just the right moment and through some perfect timing and force of will, I managed to carve out the place where I have taught for the last several years. Action Girl had a harder time finding her way back in which included getting a higher degree, bouncing around from school to school in search of a position that lasted more than a year at a time, but she’s there now too with her own classroom and students and is content. We did it. So what did we get? Well…

We both absolutely love doing what we do, even in a pandemic that makes the job that much harder and much less rewarding. It’s a fantastic thing to look forward to tackling each day, but here’s the thing, we only tackle it when it’s in session, and there’s a lot of time it isn’t. That’s not to say that the job is an easy one. It absolutely isn’t, but…Summers are ours now, as an entire family! Breaks happen simultaneously for all four of us! We all get home (when we are at our respective schools) at about the same time and most of all, we can, with a little bit of luck, all get the same unexpected snow day off together. We have time. 

Having the time to walk with my kids or my wife, to play a computer game or one of Action Girl’s beloved board games is just a gift. Sure, Monday through Friday is a thing, but it’s not always a thing and on those days, we indulge in being who we are. There is really nothing to compare. Action Girl, much to my joyful surprise has embraced quilt making with a fevered passion, something she never would have had time for with a job that makes you sign up for blocks of time to work. The work would have always been too tempting and the time would have been lost to the wheelhouse. Lulu Belle draws and paints endlessly while listening to shows on her headphones. Short Stack, being fourteen, is glued to his computer and I… well… So many things, but mainly I build. I make. I create. 

I can’t not. 

And though I fill my time, I do know that time is there. I still don’t sit still well, (well… unless I’m building something), but at least have time to do the things I deem important. Someday, our plan is to have more time and to take it and adventure again. We will travel and look and laugh and eat and share our time with others again. We’ll be busy, but busy on our terms and when it gets tiresome, which it does sooner than it used to, we’ll stop for a while, open a bottle of something nice, and enjoy the quiet of time to ourselves. 

Almost there, again. 

Hang in there. 

*tap tap* Is this thing on?

It’s been far too long.

Faaaaaaar too long. It’s time to write something.

Tomorrow. I’ll see if I can get up early and get typing. Honest.

Summer Motivation

There are a few things that I feel everyone should do at least once to help gain perspective in life. You should work a retail job to better understand what it’s like to stand on the other side of a cash register. Everyone should have to try and run some sort of business to better know the kind of insane workload that entails. People should have to teach an unruly mob of children for at least a year strait to experience not just how rewarding it is, but also how the effort to hold it all together comes directly out of your hide and incidentally, why when teachers come home and grab a beer at 3:30 in the afternoon, it is most definitely for medicinal purposes. Experiencing these things informs you on how to act and react when you encounter the harried individuals who deal with these things on a daily basis. It teaches you empathy and to not stand on their frayed nerves through either obstinance or simple cluelessness.

Mowing a cemetery is one you might want to try some day as well and that is exactly what my wife, Action Girl, and I were doing just yesterday in a vain effort to get through the absurd list of “must do’s” before the time in our island hourglass runs out and the adventure begins. It’s high summer here on the coast of Maine and for us, that means it’s bugout time.

The beautiful islands, sandy beaches, dune grass and quaint villages of where we live acts as a siren song for tourists and they flock here in numbers that boggle the mind and at times, boil the blood. Mostly, they are a good natured lot with smiles, questions and appreciation of everything they encounter here in Maine, just truly happy to be experiencing “They Way Life Should Be”, as our state’s official motto puts it, and they come to experience in droves.

This is where it gets grating.

The produce and dairy sections in our little island market look as though it was attacked by vultures, the once full racks now striped to their metallic bones. If we decide to venture to the mainland for supplies, the time it will take to drive to and get through the big supermarket will be quadruple what it is in the off season due to the slow moving packs of holiday makers looking for lobster rolls, potato chips and sun block. Parking throughout the city is filled up with SUV’s sporting foreign license plates and those giant black hamburger things on their rooves, holding the extra debris of vacation that couldn’t be crammed into the driving compartment. There are people everywhere. EVERYWHERE! And really… I don’t blame them.

Hot Weather

The coast of Maine is wonderful.


You should visit some time!

…Just let me get my bag packed, first.

As much as I understand why they come, there are some unavoidable issues that are part of the deal when you live in a place desirable for others to experience. It’s not really the depravations of milk and bread at the local market that makes it aggravating but rather, having to wade through the expanse of humanity on vacation on a daily basis while you, who are NOT on vacation, attempt to get on with your life without having your patience worn down to a painful little nub.

Okay! Okay! Maybe the “not on vacation” thing is slightly disingenuous coming from me. The truth of the matter is that both my wife and I are teachers, and that means that come summer we are in fact out of school, just like our children. This however doesn’t mean that we are kicking back, drinking rosé and eating cheese by noon each day. Summer is when our other jobs kick in and though they may be less intense than our normal school-time gig, they most definitely still count as work. Action Girl, never one to sit still for more than about three minutes, captains a ferry boat transporting clumps of eager vacationers to and from their long dormant island, summer cottages. On her days off, she can be found cleaning houses or teaching boat handling to land lubbers or if the time allows, perhaps doing some fine painting… or possibly fixing the plumbing. Meanwhile, I slide into my other rolls such as working at making our house actually habitable and weather tight using a maximum of noisy power tools and too much lumber. If I’m not making sawdust, I’m carving headstones. If I’m not carving headstones, then I’m desperately trying to make order in our little island house as our children follow in my wake, slowly destroying what was freshly accomplished. It’s like painting the Golden Gate Bridge. You start at one end and by the time you reach the other, it’s time to circle back to the beginning again.

See? Action Girl and I don’t get into the rosé and cheese until at least six or seven, just like normal folk. So how do we deal with the added weight of dealing with those “from away” as we attempt to enjoy summer? We flee. We become the enemy. We become… Tourists!

And that brings us back to the cemetery.

With the grass trimmed back nice and neat to the ancient stones, we can now cross its care off our list of responsibilities before we leave. Mow a cemetery some time and like any other job, you’ll be stunned at how much more work it is than you thought it would be, just like most things in life. We do a lot, and now, it’s almost time for us to go so that we can enjoy some perspective in our life as well. We know what it’s like here, and how nice it is, even with the extra work, but you know what we don’t know? What it’s like to be Dutch.

So we’re off to see the Netherlands in the height of Summer and we won’t be back for a good long while, the time made available to us being the one huge bonus of being full time school teachers. It’s beautiful here in New England and to leave our home empty while we’re away would be nothing short of criminal and so the best part is, our place won’t be wasted while we are gone. All our work: the carpentry, the gardens, the view and the expert plumbing will be enjoyed by a lovely Dutch family with whom we are exchanging homes. We will take their place just outside of Amsterdam and they will ensconce themselves on the rocky coast of Maine, each of us joining the tourist throng. I have no doubt that it’s going to be great and hopefully, with both families well accustomed to what it’s like to be neck deep in foreigners, we can adjust to being the best tourists possible. After all, living is about experiencing new things and I can’t think of a better gift to give ourselves, our kids and in this case, another whole family than the chance to gain the perspective of what it’s like to experience a whole new place full of beauty and good food. They won’t have to mow the cemetery, but they get to water our gardens, feed our cat and enjoy our corner of the world while we do the same at their place and I know that we will both do our utmost to be the best tourists possible. Just like all the others.

Hey, if you can’t beat ‘em…

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