I’m a city girl, there’s no question about it. I grew up in the (concrete) jungle of New York City with Central Park as my backyard. As a young model in Manhattan, if you told me that I’d go from running around to my casting calls to running around after four kids, a cat and my own chickens, I would’ve laughed in your face. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be living the country life having to tend to a chicken coop (which we got to eat the ticks), or spend days in search of the cat that escaped (which we got to eat the mice) or scrub dirt out of my kid’s ears and fingernails because they just want to play in mud. It’s been a steep learning curve in my country life education, to say the least. The curriculum has included: leaf blowing, gutter cleaning, dealing with septic systems, wells, and caring for the lawn. Previously, the only thing I had to maintain was my beauty regimen. Now I’m doing tree maintenance (yes, trees have to be maintained!)
Keeping chickens alive has been a real challenge. We started out with five chicks, which I thought was more than enough. But the farmer we got them from could have been clearer when she told me to keep them “very warm” under a heat lamp. Apparently there is a fine line between “very warm” and um, dead. So we lost two. Another chick, having made it safely through my very warm care, disappeared with only a flurry of feathers blowing in the wind as evidence she had ever been there. Hawk? Bobcat? Fox? Who knows? Although we live only an hour outside of New York City, we’re truly living in the thick of the wild kingdom.
All this fowl death was beginning to wear on me. Why couldn’t I properly care for these baby chicks and see them into chicken-hood? I didn’t need this added chicken-raising responsibility on top of raising four human children under the age of eight.
My childhood looked a lot different than theirs. At eight years-old I started working as a model and was riding the subway alone by the age of ten. I was clubbing at thirteen with my fake ID that I had bought on St. Marks Place. We would roll out of The Palladium and get a bite to eat at 4 AM. We never felt unsafe: the bright lights were our protectors and it was as if the world revolved around us. We could flag a cab down or for something a bit more social, we could hop on the bus or the subway or even walk the three miles home. There were always people around and something to do.
My dad had a pickup truck, kind of unusual for the city, but we used it in a way only New Yorkers could: we would drive around the Meatpacking district (it was actually used for meat back then) and Times Square in search of cross dressers for my best friend (now a Broadway star) to sing with, boas wrapped around our necks and all.
This was in complete contrast to the way in which my other half grew up. In the pristine English countryside, he was actually born in a barn on Christmas Eve. Just like Jesus. There were no wise men present but there was a goat named Amy by his newborn side. You can’t make this stuff up. He grew up as country kids do, rolling around in the mud, playing with tractors and surrounded by nature…that’s how country kids grow up, right?
He couldn’t imagine bringing up our kids in the city. We managed to do just that with three kids, but when the fourth popped out, that is where he drew the line.
So we had to have “the discussion.” To stay or to go? Could we manage the city during the week and a country house for the weekend? Or do we commit and move to the country full time? At this point I had started my own company– a line of ethically produced, socially conscious children’s clothing– and my job gave me the flexibility to work from either situation comfortably. My partner is an entrepreneur as well but his work would demand more of a sacrifice. He would have to travel into the city most days.
For him, it was a no brainer.
But for me…like I said, I’m a city girl. I think it’s quite romantic living in an apartment. I grew up with my parents and two younger brothers in a small apartment on the fifth floor of a walk-up on the Upper East Side (I learned early to triple check that I had all my school books with me). Being forced to be in close quarters with one another, you learn to deal with people on another level, you have less stuff, and when you leave your apartment, you have the whole city to traverse. On the other hand…city life does begin to wear on you. The country offered us a space of our own. The ability to be surrounded by nature on a whim. It would give our kids the opportunity to open their front door (or their back door–the luxury of multiple doors!) and step onto a patch of grass instead of stone cold concrete.
And so we decided to take the plunge and become country-folk.
The list of criteria began:
Must be in a good school district, an hour radius of the city, close to the train, have some land, a pool preferably, 4+ bedrooms, modern aesthetic…
It was a tough search…most “finished” homes we saw were hideous and we would have gutted them anyway. Why would we pay a premium for that? So we decided to add “fixer upper” to our list of wants.
We looked at what felt like thousands of homes, but none of them felt quite right. How do people actually do this? I can count on one hand the amount of homes that we had considered purchasing. One of them was even a murder house, one in which a 70’s horror story of a double mother killing took place. How did two mothers get killed there? Would I be the third? We nearly signed on the dotted line…apparently a real estate agent in the state of New York does not have to reveal that information unless explicitly asked if a murder took place on the premises. Right. Back to the drawing board. A few months passed, and a mid century ranch fixer upper with a pool popped up. It was in a postcard New England town, complete with a Main Street lined with a sweet shoppe, hardware store, town hall, and even a contemporary art museum. Not to mention lots of open space, a lake for summer swimming, and skiing forty minutes away.
Perfect, right? Upon moving in, the kid’s bathroom shower pipes busted, fixtures cracked off, parquet floors popping up every which way, roof leaking, mold…
Our plan is to live in half while we renovate the other half and then swap…have we lost our minds? We will soon be in the midst of renovating a 1950’s home with 4 children, 2 chickens, 9 fish, and a cat. So here we are. And here I am, doing my best to keep them all alive. Stay tuned…