Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Living Off the Land

Recently, my six year old daughter and I sat down at the kitchen table with a project. We were each going to design our dream tree house, in Crayola. Hers was a typical kid's idea of heaven: rope swing, toys, ladder to pull up and keep out neighborhood boys. Mine was kind of a Mommy fantasy: turquoise accent walls and built-in cabinets for craft supply and book storage, an espresso maker and wine fridge, a cozy armchair in the kind of girlie colors my husband would never agree to, and a quilting desk with a view.

When we had finished our drawings, Daughter and I looked at each other and sighed. There they were on paper. Our dream homes: perfect, pretty, unattainable. I could see in her eyes the yearning I remember from when I first drew my dream house back in 3rd grade, and found today, at 32, that the desire in myself hadn't gone away.

Here's my real dream home scenario: a beautifully restored farmhouse with wraparound porch surrounded by oak trees in the rich wine country of the Central Coast's Edna Valley. It has a farm-style kitchen table and red curtains, a nice selection of locally made wine in the fridge. Out the window is my kitchen garden, complete with a Meyer lemon tree, herb garden, and lots of veggies. In the back, I have a chicken coup with some beautiful roosters. There is a goat or two. And the piece de resistance is my converted red barn, now a quilting studio where I keep my long-arm quilting machine, my fabric, and my laptop with wi-fi.

Now here's my real house: 1100 square feet of nondescript condo. I have a patio in the back (no room for goats, plus the association rules actually ban farm animals), and a green belt in the front. We can't build a tree house, because we don't own a tree. From the outside, it doesn't look a bit like "me," nor does it reflect the taste of my husband, who's actually an architect. Cream stucco and aluminum windows ain't his dream home either.

The other night, over dinner with friends, I was sharing my Edna Valley scenario. Midway through, Husband interrupts to tell the story of a time when we actually stayed in my dream house on vacation (Suite Edna Bed and Breakfast), and were awoken by the resident peacock at dawn. That same day I was savagely attacked by the gorgeously plumed chickens who strutted freely on the grounds. Husband had to rescue me.

This story led to other animal tales: Like how when we first moved to our condo, we were woken at dawn by the flocks of crows that nest in the 100-year-old eucalyptus windbreaks outside our window, remnants of the days when our community was actually farmland. And more recently, when a couple of nesting mallards wandered into our open front door and followed my daughter's trail of cereal into the kitchen. And currently, how we have a family of field mice living somewhere in our kitchen walls and occasionally in our pantry (more on this in upcoming blogs).

"It sounds like you already live on a farm," our friend said.

Hmm. That's a thought. Every afternoon, I open my front door and step out under a canopy of deciduous trees. I often see bunnies. My kids are a five minute walk away from feeding our community ducks. In the fall, I am kept supplied with a harvest of pomegranates from my neighbor three doors down, who also keeps me in lemons and herbs from her back yard. And five minutes ago, I went outside to check on my girls, who were scaling an association-owned birch tree, and another neighbor -- I kid you not -- asked if I'd like some fresh figs off his tree!

I'm living off the land, people! It's just that it's not my land. Except the barn and the red curtains, I already have everything in the dream scenario. And hey, I can make red curtains anytime I want. Meanwhile, I don't even have to own a lawn mower for my daughters to enjoy a lawn.

So really, it's only pride that makes me yearn for my farmhouse. I have everything I need. And if you want to see an expression of who Husband and I are aesthetically, well just squint past the stucco and come on in to the home that we've made our own -- all 1100 feet of it. But first, join me on my little concrete porch. I'll pour you a juice glass full of red wine, maybe even an Edna Valley Syrah, and let's watch the kids try to climb that tree.

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