There's a place for us



It’s the kind of dream you spin when you’re very young and first in love, but it’s always stayed with us, probably because I could never get the concept out of my head, could never stop talking about it, dreaming about it, and in more recent years actually working in that direction. “What I most want to do,” I told Christine when we were first married, “is get a piece of land and a house somewhere. I’ll make it the best house that absolutely ever was. Then I’ll build a wall all the way to the sky and we’ll let the world and its insanities pass on by.”


For the first sixteen years of our marriage we looked for such a house. Oh, not the castle I’ve shown here, but a castle all the same, our palace, our home, our love nest, our Shangri-La. What we wanted was not a starter or a fixer upper. We wanted something we could call our own, something we could move into and know we would never leave. We wanted our dream home. Well, any real estate broker worth his salt will tell you that such a thing is impossible, but we clung to it all the same. We didn’t want to buy a home only to gain equity and buy again. We wanted to buy a home and stay.


We lived in Orange County, California when we were first married and sometimes looked for a home in that area. Mind, we never once knowingly walked into a home we couldn’t afford (lookie-loos, realtors call that), which is not to say that we were never in a house beyond our means. Pretty pricey area! We moved to San Diego in 1982, which was the height of a particularly bad recession. Unemployment that year ran to something like 12%, and the interest rates for new homes were close to 20%! We found work and a nice townhome to rent and began to itch for a home all our own, maybe something of stone with high walls round it! OK, ixnay on that part, but from time to time we did look, but nothing we could actually afford struck us as being anywhere near the money involved for the purchase.


In 1992 we went to Tucson for our 16th wedding anniversary, one I remember with special affection because at one point on that weekend, Christine was literally dancing around the room for love of me. I have long since forgotten what prompted that impromptu little jig, but I smile whenever I think of it. The other part of that is that Christine said, “We haven’t looked at homes for a long time now. The rates are better. Let’s look again when we get back to San Diego.” Ten days later we opened escrow on this house!


It’s weird how things work out at times. I have long thought that much of life is nothing more than the luck of the draw. The people who sold this house to us had it on the market for one solid year and could never find a taker. At first it was priced too high, they said. Later, well later they could never understand why no one would take it.


People who put a house on the market, especially one they’ve loved, as these people clearly did, want to make sure that the prospective buyers appreciate all the attributes of it. So the first time they escort people through the home, it’s a rather lengthy trip. As time goes on, and the frustrations of an unsold home mount, that tour gets shorter and shorter. By the time we saw it, a year after it had been listed, they had surely shown several hundred people through it. The wife met us at the front door and walked us through a home long since empty, as they had already moved. Here’s the living room, then down this hall, these bedrooms, the master bedroom is here, this back door takes you into the back yard, here’s the fruit trees, then along the side of the house, and back in through the patio door, where we see the family room. It was a jaunt that had taken no longer than sixty seconds, but as we entered the family room I had this mental image of a giant old-time cash register being punched with the SOLD sign. We were told that first-time buyers often have buyer’s remorse at some point, but that it would pass. Truth to tell, we signed the papers and never looked back. We’d found our dream home. Henry David Thoreau said, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.” Easy for him to say!


Here’s the thing with a goal like that. Well, it’s not a goal because even when you say it, you know damned well you’re not likely to come up with your very own palace. But, still, it’s a dream, a vision, an incentive, an idea, a concept, hell, maybe even an alternative universe! No, call it what it was when first I said it, a goal.


We got this house in 1992, and I’ve worked on it ever since. Not every day, not even every year, but every December I look back at the year ending, thinking of what was done or, worse, what might have been done. And always, always, always there are goals for the New Year. Much to build, much to do. I am sometimes frustrated, thinking of how much there is yet to do, but still, much has been done.


It took me nine summers to achieve it, but our backyard is a truly enchanted place. All of it is work I designed myself, and most of it is work I did myself, excepting only a casita which had the benefit of professional help, although I still did something like 80% of the work myself. I’m writing this blog at a desk I made myself with only a Skil Saw and a drill guide in a study that was originally two side-by-side bedrooms. It’s lined with floor-to-ceiling bookcases. Every morning Christine puts on makeup at a maple-and-walnut vanity I made for her, seated on a matching chair. At the end of the day she retires to the master bedroom and watches TV on an eight-foot-tall walnut entertainment center. I don’t do upholstery, so we bought the living room sectional, but I designed and made all the rest of the furniture in that room. Truthfully, there’s not a room in the house that doesn’t have something I designed and made, but there’s still the Home Theater and the kitchen and the bathrooms and her office. And the clock ticks so much faster now than it did when I made those plans.


I am sometimes uncertain as to the direction of this particular blog site, and it’s that huge volume of work that gives me pause. What I want is that dream I spun back in 1976. I want a piece of land and a home and a wall all the way to the sky. How will I do all that and still write? And then I thought, well, maybe I should just start telling people what I’m doing these days. And maybe I will.



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