Early in January two years ago, I thought — no, believed that before the year had drawn to a close, we would be well on our way to living life much differently from what we were familiar with. Although daunting, nothing could cloud the excitement of moving to another country. I’d lived in Spain as a child, and so the idea was a familiar one. With enough research and careful planning, it seemed as if anything was possible. When the time was right, I believed pigs truly could fly. Since then, I’ve learned that not only can they fly, but in ways completely unexpected.
Never one to underestimate the power of expecting the unexpected, I am a constructive pessimist. In other words, I plan copiously. The possibility of something going wrong is very real, and so I think about what that might be and prepare accordingly. The bonus is, that creates room for flexibility. Because we were in the early planning stages of our move, I was very much searching for what we had to know to make the move as successful as possible. I wasn’t close to being ready to worry about what might go wrong. There would be plenty of time for that later.
At some point in February while sifting through the legalities of owning property and starting a business in the UK, I found data that had escaped my fine-toothed comb. The vacation rental market was saturated. If we couldn’t count on the annual income the rental would provide, then the entire idea was lost. Our visas depended upon being able to run that business or living there year round would not be possible. We would have to remain residents of the US, own two properties, and have to split our time between them each year. Although this is a choice many make, we were not interested in that lifestyle, and questioned whether we could afford it even if we did want it.
After more than a year of planning, instantly, I gave up. Our disappointment was profound. It seemed that both of us had believed in the possibility of living elsewhere as an escape. For me, it was an escape from the monotony of one day becoming the next, of running out of house projects to tackle, of not having a garden large enough to do much of anything with. For my husband, it was an escape from the pressures of work.
I ruminated. What about France? We’d only visited once, but spent most of our time in Paris. As lovely as Paris is, it wouldn’t afford us the comfort of the countryside I longed for. Or Spain? The Spain I remembered from childhood wouldn’t be the same. Even an idealist like myself understands nothing can really be the same after fifty years. Besides, the Mediterranean climate I had spent most of my life in was a part of what I wanted to escape. I wanted four distinct seasons. No, the move was more about an attachment for a particular place — a place I felt deep in my bones that I belonged to. It wasn’t something easily replaced.
I soothed myself by searching for other places to live. I had always enjoyed looking at real estate and so I continued doing that with a different goal — one more easily attainable. One that would allow us to live more simply without having to run an additional business, and without the complications of visas. I set my sites on New England and specifically Maine. We had friends there and had visited a couple of times while on vacation. I remember thinking more than once, “I could live here.”
On February 23rd, I found a listing of one of two houses I was interested in among the few on the market at the time. It seemed almost too good to be true. Surely, there had to be something wrong with it. The listed price was affordable, but a little more than we had decided we’d spend, and the kitchen, although functional and clean, was in need of an update. Still, the position of the house on a quiet historical residential intersection, its elevation from the street, the yard that surrounded it, and most importantly, the short couple of blocks walk to town all were very attractive.
I contacted an agent recommended by our friend and told her about ourselves. I remember the odd combination of exhilaration and anxiety while I was writing the email. Was I actually going to do this? Evidently so.
Less than two weeks later, the agent had made an appointment to see the house. She recorded her walk through of the whole property while accompanied by our friend. The email our friend sent afterward was succinct. “You need to get on a plane.” On March 11th, about a month after giving up on our dream to move to England, that’s exactly what I did.
Before my flight, I told our agent I’d know as soon as I stepped into the house whether it was the right one. My flight arrived in Portland, Maine late the night before my 10:30 am appointment, so I stayed in a hotel near the airport. The plan was to rise early and arrive at my destination with enough time to drive through town and around the neighborhood. I had an hour and forty-five minute drive to get there, but it wasn’t complicated.
Everything seemed to be set until I realized I’d forgotten a warm scarf, knit hat, and gloves. There was snow on the ground and it was cold enough that I wasn’t going to be comfortable without those accessories — or better said — necessities. No problem! I learned that L.L.Bean was open 24 hours each day and that all I had to do was stop on the way to my destination. Surprisingly, the store was open and I was able to purchase what I needed. In no time, I was on my way.
Two agents introduced themselves as I approached the property — mine and the seller’s. I don’t remember much of anything between then and when I entered the mud room because I was caught up in the strangeness of the experience; I had actually flown across the country and was looking at a house that could be our next home. It looked exactly as it had in the photos. In fact there was something uncanny about that. It was if I’d been there before. I attributed it to studying all the photos so closely, and going through the 3D tour offered by the seller’s agent a ridiculous number of times.
After entering the kitchen and removing our boots, mine completely inappropriate for the amount of snow piled outside, my agent asked, “Well?” She had remembered what I told her. “Yes. It feels exactly right.” And it did. There was nothing on the walk through I saw that was a surprise, or a concern. I knew I wanted this house.
Before my short stay was over, my husband and I had purchased the house. The escrow was set for less than 30 days. I flew home, and on April 19, my husband and I flew back together to sign papers and receive the keys. The house was now ours, empty and waiting for us, like a slate that had been wiped clean of everything but its history.
Situated in said Rockland and bounded and described as follows, to wit: Beginning at a stake and stones on the Northerly side of Limerick Street, and at the South East corner of John S. Coburn’s land, thence South 49 degrees  Easterly said Limerick Street two hundred Eight feet to a stake and stones in the Westerly line of Lincoln Street, thence North 30 degrees East by said Lincoln Street three hundred and fourteen feet to a stake and stones on the Southerly side of a reserved Street two rods wide, thence North 66 degrees West by the Southerly side of said reserved Street two hundred and thirty eight feet to a stake and stones at said Coburn land, thence South 23 degrees 30 West by said Coburn’s land two hundred and fifty there feet to the [bound] first mentioned together with the right of using in common at all times said reserved Street [. ]the same [. ]conveyed to the county of Knox by John T. Berry by his deed of Warranty dated August 30, A.D. 1876 and recorded in Knox County Registry of Deeds Vol 45 Page 153.
We talked about our furniture, took crude measurements, and drew a floor plan. I took many photos. Before we had returned back home, I knew what each room’s purpose would be and which pieces would be placed in them. The bog boots I purchased on our visit were purposefully left in the kitchen near the back door, awaiting our return along with a penny I’d found.
Our house in Southern California went on the market as soon as we could get it there. While the stress of that debacle went on, I prepared for our cross country move. I now knew pigs could fly, but keeping them in the air was going to take a special kind of stamina. Our realtor was relentlessly demanding. The fact that we chose not to have the entire house staged became a source of contention. What had been staged looked like a ridiculous attempt to fit her online portfolio which featured coastal properties. Keeping the house in the staged condition she expected it to be in was nearly impossible. Each time there was an open house or showing scheduled, removing our pets temporarily was challenging. Somehow, I just never got the memo about arranging for a spa day for our dog, or booking a reservation for our cat at a cat hotel while I leisurely shopped at the local mall.
When our house hadn’t sold in the record time our next door neighbor’s had, the realtor soon became someone I wanted to avoid. Her associates were much more pleasant to work with. If I had to hear how “old-fashioned” (read not “Beachy”) my decor was one more time, I swore I was going to scream. In the end, I had to tell her we were vacating whether the house had sold or not. She explained that empty houses took longer to sell. Honestly, I didn’t care. Selling our house was her job, and she was going to be paid quite handsomely for what would amount to less than two month’s work. My job was to make sure everything was ready for our move.
I sought bids with three moving companies and sorted through the intricacies of whether to pack our belongings ourselves, pack partially, or pay to have the company pack everything. I begged friends to adopt my beloved potted plants, many of which were quite old. The decisions made to donate items not worth shipping were not easy, and in the end, we still ended up with items I question having moved, but not many.
In the meantime, we plotted our course across the country based on the shortest route covering about 500 miles each day. Our son and I would take turns driving the Mini in three hour shifts. When I had my driving break, I’d search ahead for lodging that allowed three adults to a room accompanied by a dog and a cat. This was not nearly as challenging as I expected it to be and to a large extent gave this constructive pessimist a new perspective. Life actually could be lived by the seat of one’s pants. Still, I filed the information away for emergencies or the YOLO experiences those much younger often wax on about.
The first week in June 2019, we arrived intact but exhausted. Three thousand one hundred eighty eight miles stretched diagonally from the most southwest beaches of California to the opposite pine clad northeastern corner of the US, and we’d just completed the distance. In a rented Chrysler van and a Mini Cooper, three of us wedged ourselves among far too many potted plants and spice jars, personal paper files and technology we weren’t comfortable shipping with the rest of our earthly belongings, and we left the city we’d lived in most of our lives in the rear view mirror. Add an aging Tabby, and one very particular English Bulldog, and I’d say it was a bonafide adventure. We were trading an annual 266 days of sunshine and twelve inches of rain in an extremely good year, for four distinct seasons and an annual average of 57.5 inches of snow.
I remember the way the air smelled when I stepped out of the car and onto our new driveway that day. The pungent spice of evergreens and flowering crab apple trees scented the light breeze, everything verdant and fresh. The day was gorgeous and sunny. We’d have a day to ourselves before the moving van arrived with nearly 14,000 lbs. of our possessions meticulously packed into it.
Inside our new home, there were groceries left on the kitchen counter and in the fridge, courtesy of our friend who had so graciously accompanied our agent on the day in March when they visited the house. We had definitely arrived.
Our former home sold less than two weeks later. Now, everything was complete. We were most definitely “From Away” as Mainers describe people like us, but we weren’t seasonal residents like many others who have made Maine part of their lives during the more mild months of the year. We were bonafide year ’round residents.
For many months, our flying pig took up residence in our kitchen window. It was a reminder to me that putting effort into what truly matters pays off. This wasn’t something I didn’t already know, but the drastic change of lifestyle and sheer distance between our new life and old was enough to have been questioned as rational. But we make decisions in life — some great, and others, with little thought at all.
We had made the right decision about our move to Maine. In fact, it has been the best decision ever.