The Square Footage of a Dream

Many years ago, I had a dream. My dream involved a big chunk of land, a rambling farmhouse and a barn.

In the place where I grew up, that really wasn’t a far-fetched dream at all. There were lots of farmhouses, bards and fields scattered all over the New England countryside. They stood as relics of the farming past. The years before the railroad connected the fertile Great Plains with the eastern city centers, this is where the food came from. It had to be close. Lord knows it wasn’t because New England makes good farm country. Unless you’re really into growing rocks, it’s a brutal place to scratch a living from the boulder strewed land.

My mental image of my quiet farm in the country was sculpted in the pre-Martha Stuart days; long before the masses of baby boomers were told that country living was the goal and the prices asked for such properties was driven to the moon. I clung to that vision for a long time.

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As is so often the case, my long range plan is not how things turned out. The house we live in is very tiny. It is perhaps nine hundred to a thousand square feet and the lot it is placed on is little more than a postage stamp. You might think that this would disappoint me. It most certainly does not.

The reasons for my change of heart are simple. First of all, a smaller house simply means less house to take care of. The modest size of our home is enough to keep me busy for weekends, stretching into infinity. Every time I look up a it, I see a new part that needs replacing, painting, fixing, removing or completely reengineering. A few months ago, the kids, Action Girl and I all went up the coast to visit a friend who had purchased the quintessential “old farmhouse”. The building wasn’t terribly big, as farmhouses go, but looking at its sagging floors, ancient windows, rotting soffits and ancient plumbing gave me the screaming heebeejeebees. There was a lot of work to do and it was easily three times the size of our place. I had the inescapable feeling that you could whittle away at it for years with out seeing any measurable improvement. It was going to take a long, long time and a lot of money and work.

Then, there is heating. Our home is heated quite easily by one small, gas fired, hot air system. No ductwork is needed and it sits quietly in the corner until it’s needed. This winter, I hope to close in our south facing front porch with a series of big windows. I’ll do the floor in slabs of slate and the passive solar will probably keep the heater off during the daylight hours, all winter long. Heating the massive, old and questionably insulated farmhouse of my dreams would be another matter entirely. Most likely, it would involve a combination of a lot of splitting, stacking and burning of wood and roughly a bazillion gallons of home heating oil. I grew up in a house with a wood stove and to be honest, the shine of chopping and stacking cord after cord of wood in the cold air and then schlepping it into the house armload after armload seems to have rubbed off some time early in my childhood. I can live with out going back to that and with the cost of oil these days; I can defiantly live with out that bill!

Now, imagine this old farmhouse sitting in amongst rolling fields, a large grassy lawn leading down a winding driveway to the roadside. Specifically, imagine having to mow the yard and hay the field. Now, there is one major caveat to this part of the workload that would come with my dream farm. It would give me the justification to own a tractor, and that is nothing to sneeze at. To have ownership not only the faded, red Farmall, in all it’s greasy, rumbling glory, but also a valid reason for having it in the first place… well, that’s nothing to turn one’s nose at.

farmall

I also know full well that I’d have to beat Action Girl to the driver’s seat if I ever was going to get to drive it. At least until running it became humdrum. And that’s the problem. It would be fun AT FIRST. Soon it would be another house chore of Damocles that would hang over my head, threatening to squash me flat under six tons of farm equipment. No. I’ll pass. My little plot of land is easily mown by an old fashioned, rotary push mower, built in 1881. It takes me about twenty minutes.

Last and most importantly, there is the space. Lots and lots of space. This would, for me, be very, very bad. I tell you now and with out shame, that I am a pack rat. It comes to me via genetics, or at least, that’s what I tell my self in an effort to diffuse guilt. My wonderful Grandmother, though she kept a tidy home, was a pack rat too. The floor of her bedroom was reportedly, navigable only by paths that wound and twisted through the stacks of “important” things that she had carefully set aside as too good to throw out. Apparently, when once asked about these collections of saved items, she replied, “Well, I’m not what you’d call ‘nasty neat’”. Neither am I. I’m more “friendly cluttered”.

If I think I could use it later, I’ll save it. If I think someone else could use it, I’ll save it for them. If I have no particular reason to keep other than it’s in perfectly good shape and otherwise it will go to a landfill… well, if any one needs it, it’s probably in my basement. Actually, I’m making it out to be worse than it is. I’m not THAT bad anymore, but it does go against my grain to toss something that still works or just needs a little love. Moving to an island, accessible only by ferry has only made it tougher to deal with my tendency to hoard. There is nothing more aggravating that getting stopped cold 90% of the way through a project because all you have are ¾ inch fittings and all you need is ONE ½ inch elbow. I tell you, it can lead to some interesting plumbing solutions out here. Here, having my boxes of odds and ends actually pays off!

Most of all, I think that people are gold fish, in that we will grow to the size of our tank. If I had the barn that I had always dreamed of, I am completely certain that it would contain at least four cars that I’d be “working on”, part of an airplane, old engines for both car and airplane and piles and piles of stuff that was too good to throw out. When the day would come for my kids to put me in a nursing home, Action Girl would be left to deal with my treasures and, really, the best way to do that would be with a match and a gallon of gasoline.

My house is small. I have no barn or field to fill with interesting tidbits. My basement is full and therefore, to put something new in it, something else must come out. I still dream of my farmhouse in the country, but it’s accompanied now by a shudder brought on through knowing myself. The house would own me, rather than the other way around and that would be a heavy burden to carry. No, I’ll stay in my little house with no fields or fireplaces and just dream about my farmhouse. It’s cheaper that way and the best part is, I never have to paint it.

I do wish I could justify the tractor, though. Vroom! Vroom!

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House hold gods

Having been raised a Roman Catholic and attending a grand total of eleven years of Catholic school, I pretty much feel like I’ve already gotten in enough organized religion in my life to last me until I slip my particular surly bonds. I’m no longer what my Grandmother called “in the Church”. In actuality, I can’t say that I can even see it back over the horizon any more. It would be impressive and tough sounding of me to say that I had some sort of major “get me out of here!” moment with organized faith. Something where I tell them all to hang, put on my headphones and strode defiantly out the door and snarkily strode down Damnation Alley but it didn’t happen like that for me. It was more like I noticed the sun filtering trough a crack in the half open door and caught a glimpse of the trees and fields just out side and as everyone else bowed their heads, I edged out into the fresh air. I’ve never really looked back and have always been happy with my choice. I’m also not much of a joiner. That didn’t hurt either.

Since the organized religion thing isn’t my cup of tea, I’ve sort of found my own way over the years. I consider my self to be a fairly spiritual person and being a sort of arm chair student of history, I’ve enjoyed doing my own study of religious beliefs and customs as I’ve gone along. When you look at belief systems and religious myths from around the world with (what I hope is) a unbiased eye, no one’s practices or belief structures are any more unbelievable than any one else’s. On the face of it, they are all somewhat… odd to believe in from any out sider’s point of view, and some can seem very odd if from a radically different culture.

Some beliefs or rituals though, even if thousands of years out of date can really resonate with us even now. Or at least, they can with me. We visited a friend of ours in France some time ago and had a lovely trip. His house is in the Ardèche, just above the more famous Provence. This region is very dry, scrubby and chocked full of Roman ruins. While we were there, It got me thinking a lot of what it must have been like to live there as a citizen of the Roman Empire and what their lives were like, specifically at home. This started me thinking about House Gods.

Every house had many small shrines for various gods and offerings and thanks were brought to them often.
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It kept the house safe and in harmony, so they believed, and I for one have no reason to deride them for their beliefs. My particular religious ancestors didn’t do so well with the Romans for quite a long time, unless you include them in the entertainment industry. Even still, Colosseum work wasn’t exactly a career. Still though, I really do like the idea of the House Hold Gods. It’s… quaint, homespun, private; and that appeals to me greatly. One of the reasons I “left” the Church all those years ago was that it seemed remote and secretive. I also chafed at being told what exactly to believe. If you thought otherwise, you were bad. Not much fun really. The idea of a smaller house god, a god that you could get miffed at and have it out with, appeals directly to my Libertarian streak. A god that you could bargain with appeals to my logical side. I also think it made people far more respectful of their dwellings and how they were kept. Not a bad thing at all.

I think were missing out with the loss of our little house gods. How often have you tried to cajole your car keys out of their hiding place or bargained with an appliance to work again. Just think. If you had your house gods, at least you’d know who to talk to about the problem. And if they ever seemed uncooperative… they wouldn’t say “no” to a slice of that cheese cake you’ve got in the fridge.

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