In the words of Vinnie Jones, “It’s been emotional”.
On the whole I’m an optimist who likes challenges. I like to swim against the tide. When someone says anything with the words must or should
, I do the exact opposite. When someone says I shouldn’t do something, I research and then most often, do it. I’m not a rebel, I just don’t like the herd.
When I found out my wife had been offered a job
in NYC, I was really excited. I had visited the city
a few times and as far as cities go, it ticked a lot of boxes. It’s bikeable and people
know how to walk, walk with purpose and speed. It’s cosmopolitan, a foodies heaven and home to free thinking and / or bloodmindedness. Alas with two kids and a dog in tow, it couldn’t be our home. The school system is a lottery which takes a generation of careful planning to rig and the one 900 sqft apartment I found was still over budget.
I did my research, listed my priorities and everything pointed to New Jersey. The commute for my wife by train was doable, the school had a good rating and there was three large hilly woodlands all within 20 minutes. Then on a crazy whirlwind visit to NYC, 12 timezones from where I was living, I visited the place that would be my home for three years. We looked around a house that we could afford, it had three bedrooms and we signed. It was day three of a grand tour. We had been driven everywhere by the wife’s company appointment agent who totally ignored our budget and requirements. We had started with what I thought were mansions, places that had nine sofas, four dining tables and TV in all fifteen rooms, places we couldn’t afford to heat let alone furnish. These were neighbourhoods that people told us we should live in, places where other expat Brits called home, Westchester suburbia. Clearly the agent thought I was another sheep and this was my flock. At the end of day two, I gave her the place in NJ that I wanted to visit and told her the exact budget and requirements, no more mansions, no more pools or triple garages with club membership and access to private beaches. We wanted a modest, three bed house. She clearly looked disappointed. I wrongly assumed she was just paid for three days, not realising her commission was a couple of months rent. Everyone I spoke to who had lived or worked in NY warned me about NJ, so I was happy, excited and optimistic. We had bucked the trend when we lived in Singapore, choosing to live out East far from the expat bubble and we had thrived.
We moved in a couple of months later and within weeks, there were plenty of signs that I’d made the wrong decision. “The map is not the territory.” But I’m an optimist and ignored them. It didn’t take long before I realised I was living in one massive herd of sheep, which is an insult to sheep. My Venn Diagram of life choices and values had no intersection with the community
I was living in. I was the only stay at home dad, the only cyclist (I’m excluding the weekend M.A.M.I.L.s), the only house with a washing line . . . You don’t choose to swim against the tide without expecting a struggle, but I have never struggled like I have here. I joined a newcomers group where the host, a trained psychiatrist proudly talked about giving her housebound cat prozac which stopped it weeing on the carpet. I fled. I joined NY-NJ Trail conference, became a trail steward and spent as much times in the remote corners of the state, out in the woods and hills, dreaming of my escape. I created a garden
in my yard
My dream lead me to Permies. More research and a change in work patterns meant we could live a lot further out with a two day commute for my wife. I researched and visited Westchester, Putnam, Orange and Dutchess, the Lower Hudson counties in NY state with commuter lines into the city. Westchester is just another version of where I lived in NJ, so struck that off. Orange commute lines meant multiple changes so that went, especially after my wife’s new desk is close to Grand Central. Eventually at the beginning of spring, 2021, I found the town of Beacon. We had a year to go on our lease, so plenty of time to find a place nearby with an a acre
Beacon was once a very wealthy town with a dutch colonial history. It made a lot of money during the later half of the 19th and early 20th century making hats. When Americans, especially women, stop wearing hats, the kind adorned by endangered birds, the town went into decline. In the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s it’s main economic activities were drugs and prostitution. Perversely, this saved the town. Unlike nearby towns of Poughkeepsie and Peekskill, there wasn’t enough
money to bulldoze the town centre and build the fugly monstrosities that blight those towns today. In the late 90’s the town had an artistic and commercial rebirth with the opening of Dia Beacon, a fantastic contemporary art
museum. Today it is thriving, full of independent shops and a freethinking buzz. It’s surrounded by big hills, long trails, small regenerative farms and there are people on bikes! It’s not perfect, but I don’t want perfection.
We’re not moving to Beacon.
We did find one place with 1.4 acres of land
, within budget. We visited the day it went on the market and so did several hundred other people. At the end of the day they had twelve offers, ours was second. It was a lucky escape. We had put in a bid which would have left us using up every dollar we had saved and started our home ownership with negative equity. Turns out lots of other people decided they like Beacon and are cash rich selling up elsewhere. After weekend trips and lots of viewings, we had to give up on Beacon. House price evaluations by mortgage
by 30% in the first year of the pandemic and 50% last year. Actual house sale valuations are up 70% and they’re filing the 20% with cash.
A few of you noticed that I had disappeared from Permies. I went down to a dark place. Somehow, I ended up agreeing to buying a big rundown townhouse on a busy road with a garden one tenth of what I was looking for. The village is mostly commercially dead, it’s soul sucked dry by the adjacent strip-mall. During the eight weeks between the offer acceptance and picking up the keys, I spent my days gaming yo-yoing between optimism and despair. We had to put all our savings into escrow which would be forfeited if we walked away and I so wanted to walk away. This was my wife’s dream, not mine.
I’m out the other-side now. After many delays, we finally signed in a room with three teams of lawyers - totally bonkers. The next day, we moved in for a weeks ‘holiday’, with camp chairs and table, air beds, 5 litres of vinegar, a couple of kilos of bicarb, a couple of buckets, scrubbing brushes and started phase one - cleaning!
The house is an 1850’s colonial. It was once the vicarage / parsonage belonging to the church across the road. It has a massive unfinished basement which includes a vast network of pipes and wires, a very rusty oil heater with two oil tanks, a ‘workshop’ and what was once the kitchen. The two main floors have high ceilings and fireplaces in most rooms, although many are bricked up. The floors are a mixture of carpet, lino and the orignal boards painted purple! The attic is massive and has a staircase, but unfinished. There’s 6500 sqft of garden, half of which is a driveway but no garage.
We are the fourth owners. The previous owner is our neighbour and his sister lived there with eighteen cats, but moved out three years ago. The last renovation was in 1950. The previous owner started renovating but having worked his whole life in construction it’s appears to be mostly plywood and what ever was scavenged from the job he was working on.
So . . . Rather than spending the next few years, raising chickens and goats, planting fruit
forests and main crops, building PEP
compliant hugels, I’ll be renovating. I thought my Permies dream was over. I felt ashamed and didn’t know how I could carry on here. I shared my mental anguish with the staff here and received nothing but support and encouragement. I found a counsellor and have started weekly sessions - something I should have done soon after meeting the cat on Prozac. And I’m going to start blogging again, not somewhere else, here, so I guess this is my first post.