‘Rural Living’ Category

  1. The Giving House

    August 12, 2015 by Jennifer Carsen



    Or, if you prefer, The Little House That Could.

    Built in the mid-1800s and added onto many times since then – sometimes expertly, sometimes ineptly – this little yellow house took me in and soothed my frayed soul after a difficult divorce. Making an offer on it after seeing just this one house for less than 10 minutes was probably one of the most irrational decisions I’ve ever made…and one of the best.

    It is full of old-house charm (wide pine floor boards and a claw-foot bathtub) and old-house problems (the time our indoor cat caught a chipmunk in the basement comes to mind). It features steps worn smooth from a century-plus of footsteps back and forth, a tiny Hobbit-door that leads to my loft office, and a surprising number of closets and cubbyholes for a house that hasn’t been new since Lincoln was president.

    It also boasts wonky wiring that has brought our skilled electrician – a man who specializes in working on old houses – to his knees, and a stubbornly invasive wisteria vine that refuses to give up the fight.

    From here, we can see the fireworks launched downtown on July 4th and New Year’s Eve (yes, fireworks in the dead of winter, because that’s how we roll here in Portsmouth), the seasonally changing array of the apple orchard across the street, and the landlocked historic submarine just across the back fence. We can hear the bells of the church steeple downtown and, when the breeze is right, smell the ocean brine of the tidal pond just across the way.

    And last but certainly not least, the sheer wonderfulness of our neighbors cannot be overstated. We are blessed to have been in their close proximity these past eight years. And I do mean “close.” If you are familiar with the narrow streets of old New England towns, you know that, for better or worse, your neighbors’ lives are lived in inextricable tandem with yours.

    This is the house Eric and I returned to after our honeymoon and brought both of our children home from the hospital to after their births. It’s where they took some of their first steps (and, in the case of Lorelei, some of her first scootches). To date, Nicholas has eaten approximately 17 pounds of lint off the old pine floors. We have sung the “Goodnight, Lorelei” bedtime song upstairs over 1,500 times. And we have killed scores of spiders – the big, the small, and the truly shriek-inducing.

    The house, much like love itself, is irrational and weird and wonderful. And tomorrow, we’ll finish packing up and move out of it to start our next chapter in a bigger house across town (built in 1952 – imagine that! By any reasonable standard, that’s no new house – yet after living here, it feels like the paint has hardly dried on it.)

    It’s a good move, the right move, for our family, and a very special house in its own right. We will no longer be tripping over each other, taking headers down the steep stairs, or cracking our heads on the charming yet vertically challenged ceiling beams. It’s bittersweet to say goodbye, though.

    Thank you, little yellow house. You will always hold a special place in our hearts – particularly mine.

    But the spiders, you can keep.

  2. Poor Clueless Birdie

    April 17, 2014 by Jennifer Carsen

    We’ve been wondering where all this straw by our front door was coming from, until Eric caught the culprit in the act this morning: A local bird seems to think the top of our mailbox – which is opened and closed at least six times a week – is the ideal spot for his new home.

    Does anyone offer remedial nest-building classes? He is nothing if not persistent; I’ll give him that.


  3. You Know You’re In a Coastal Town When…

    May 5, 2013 by Jennifer Carsen

    The headline writers in Omaha would kill for bad aquatic pun opportunities like these.


  4. Oh, The Places You’ll Be Detained!

    April 6, 2012 by Jennifer Carsen

    From the “Go & Do” section of today’s paper. I know these two items aren’t related, but I can’t stop thinking of them that way.

    You join the navy, you know it’s true…
    There are things you must – and mustn’t – do!
    If you don’t follow the rules true blue
    It’s off to a stint in the brig for you!

  5. A Headline You Just Wouldn’t See in the New York Times

    March 23, 2012 by Jennifer Carsen

    Reason #802 I like living in a small town – from today’s paper:

    Deal Cut on Backyard Chickens

    ELIOT, Maine–At Thursday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, resident Brian McClellan was told he can keep chickens on his property, provided he works out an agreement with his neighbor, Steve Robinson. Both residents were present at the meeting and told selectmen they were confident they could reach a compromise…

  6. The New Face of Stranger Danger: Me

    October 23, 2011 by Jennifer Carsen

    Lorelei was on the swings at the playground today, loving it as usual, when a little girl and her dad ambled over to the swing next to us. It’s hard for me to accurately calculate the ages of other people’s children, as nearly all of them are smaller than Lorelei – including a few incoming UNH freshmen – but she must have been 3 or 4 or so.

    “Hi!” I said brightly, as her daddy was getting her settled.

    “Hi,” she replied – and then got a worried look on her face.

    “Daddy, is that a stranger?” she asked, pointing an accusing finger at me.

    He looked me over, menacing in my turtleneck and mom jeans, and said (with a slight smile at me over his daughter’s head), “Yes.”

    “She talked to me,” the little girl said, her tiny voice dripping with equal parts horror and disgust.

    “It’s okay, Sweetie,” he said, laughing. “I’m right here.”

    I understand that teaching our children to be cautious is a good thing, but there’s got to be some better way to distinguish “stranger” (mommy at the next swing; merely a friend we have not yet met) from “STRANGER” (creepy guy who separates you from the rest of the herd with promises of puppies and van candy).

  7. Baby Under Construction

    August 5, 2010 by Jennifer Carsen

    Well, baby amidst construction might be a better way of putting it.

    Our building permits finally came through at the beginning of June, about two weeks before Lorelei was born, and she arrived home to a revolving cast of tool-wielding men trooping through the house five days a week. It’s been interesting, to say the least – as with the puppy argument, I’ve never had a newborn and not had a home renovation in progress, so I don’t really have anything to compare it to.

    I do imagine that most new moms aren’t dealing with a carpenter’s foot busting through the bathroom ceiling, leaving a hole that rains debris with each new hammer strike (What To Expect When You’re Expecting didn’t mention anything about the best way to remove sawdust from the baby’s hair – then again, maybe we’ve discovered a powerful new weapon against cradle cap). I also had a boobs-out close call with the breast pump one Sunday afternoon when our contractor dropped by unexpectedly with a cabinetry specialist.

    The past week, featuring the arrival of the sheetrock team, has been particularly entertaining. The guy who brought the materials over (we’ll call him The Lifter) was not, shall we say, the most cerebral sort.

    He arrived just as I was putting Lorelei in her bouncy seat on the kitchen counter so I could scarf down a quick bit of lunch – a piece of defrosted wedding cake left over from our one-year anniversary a few days prior (and no, the irony was not lost on me) – before feeding her.

    Lorelei was giving me a decidedly dirty look – I may not be eating solid food yet, but I know you’re eating right now and I’m not, bad mommy – that quickly devolved into full-blown screaming. Over the din, I heard a noise at the front door. A large man was enthusiastically and repeatedly tugging on our old doorbell handle, having mistaken it for the doorknob. It’s a common mistake, but one that most people rectify fairly quickly. This man was not most people.

    “Can I help you?” I asked, pushing the door open from the inside. He looked surprised and gave the doorbell handle one final, vigorous tug before letting it go.

    “Uh, can you move this silver car here so that we can back into the driveway?”

    I figured Lorelei wasn’t going anywhere, strapped into her bouncy seat and screaming bloody murder, so I wiped the cake crumbs from my mouth, grabbed my car keys, and moved the car across the street. As I was hustling back up the front steps, The Lifter turned to me with a knowing look and said, “Um, I’m not sure, but I think your baby may be crying in there.” Supernanny, clearly, has nothing on The Lifter.

    We didn’t see The Lifter again after that afternoon. He was replaced by the pair lined up to actually install the sheetrock. One had a portable radio and a passion for country music. Loud country music.

    The other was highly anxious to know the whereabouts of our bathroom. I’m a little worried about him, actually. He availed himself of the facilities several times during his work here and blew through both a nearly-new roll of toilet paper and several facial tissues. I’ve started thinking of this crackerjack team as Tex and The Pooper (there’s Matt LeBlanc buddy-movie potential there, I’m sure of it).

    It will be nice when the renovation is done.

  8. The Culprit, Unmasked

    July 24, 2010 by Jennifer Carsen

    Last night around eight o’clock, we heard a trilled “yoooo-hooooo…knock KNOCK!” at our front door, which was open due to the oppressive heat and humidity (Lorelei was just a few degrees shy of fusing to my chest in her Björn). Through the screen door, we spied a middle-aged woman and her companion, a dead ringer for Phil Jackson in the Bulls era – except that this guy had a decidedly beaten-down air about him.

    “We don’t mean to bother you,” said the woman, “but we used to live here before Lisa” – the woman I bought the house from in 2007 – “and we see that you’re putting on an addition! Two stories, huh?”

    “No,” I said, “just one.”

    “Really? Just one?” She was skeptical.

    “Really – I swear.” Her intense gaze started to make me feel a little nervous, like maybe it was in fact two stories and I had my facts wrong. She’d be a brilliant CIA interrogator. Phil hung back a step or two behind her, looking uncomfortable. I think he spends a significant portion of his life feeling uncomfortable.

    “Do you mind if we go out there and poke around a little?” I looked back at the massive piles of debris in our chewed-up backyard, which included a window (now broken) the guys had removed from our original bathroom, a section of roof gutter, and a few stray sawhorses. Everything was buried in calf-deep grass and weeds.

    “Sure, have at it,” I said. This is why I was a terrible lawyer – the idea that she or Phil might meet a gristly, litigious end tripping over a half-hidden circular saw didn’t occur to me until later on.

    “Thanks – by the way, what do you think of the wisteria?”

    “The wisteria?” I asked, clueless.

    “Right here,” she said, affectionately fingering a tenacious, fast-growing vine that has been the bane of my existence since I moved in. It officially lives on a trellis next to the front porch, but that’s merely its home base. Every day it shoots a few new tendrils straight out, wrapping itself around our front railing, our gutters (slowly prying them away from the house in the process), and our mailman. It grows faster than I can beat it back. It attracts great swarms of wasps. It is, in short, a horticultural nightmare.

    Until now, I hadn’t known it was wisteria and thought of it only as “that damn vine.” I keep meaning to get rid of it but I’m afraid it might retaliate against my family or cats in some fashion.

    “I just love wisteria,” the woman said. “I planted it when I lived here.”

    So you’re the one who brought this scourge into our lives!

    “Has it flowered for you?”

    “No, but it’s, uh, quite a presence.”

    “Well, enjoy it,” she said. “Come on, honey – let’s go take a look at the addition. We’ll be back when it’s finished to have another look around.”

    Despite the heat, we’re now keeping the front door firmly closed from here on out.

  9. An Inspector Calls…

    June 4, 2010 by Jennifer Carsen

    …a building inspector, that is, to say he’s not coming today after all, due to the thunderstorm of Biblical proportions that touched down out of nowhere about 15 minutes before his scheduled appointment to check out the concrete pit in the backyard.

    The Lord is clearly in cahoots with PBOOH.

  10. PBOOH Strikes Again

    May 24, 2010 by Jennifer Carsen

    The Portsmouth Board of Old Houses (PBOOH – that’s not really what it’s called, but it’s how I’ve come to think of it) finally gave us their blessing to go ahead with our renovation at their May 5 meeting. A few days later, I came home from the food store to discover that construction had started in a big way. Our yard was a mess of excavated dirt, backhoes, and grimy, sinewy men in hard hats.

    A week later, we had both the beginnings of a poured concrete foundation and a plumbing leak where the guys had struck an improbably located pipe. This didn’t really surprise me – none of the guts of this house are hooked up in any kind of rational or predictable fashion. (Our electrician once came over for what should have been a 30-minute repair and left four hours later, shaking his head, saying, “I wasn’t planning on drinking tonight, but now that’s out the window.”)

    Now, three weeks later, progress has ground to a halt. The current hold-up is not technically PBOOH, but some local building inspector who needs to see more paperwork of some sort before construction can continue. I don’t know why he couldn’t look at the paperwork earlier – you know, before we had a big hole in our backyard.

    The only one who seems excited about the delay is Brodie; all of the freshly turned earth and unmowed grass have lent a new dimension of excitement to her backyard exploring. Eleven years ago, she was an abandoned kitten in an urban California park when Eric rescued her, and she seems to be reconnecting with her gritty roots. I actually caught her flashing the West Side sign to the cat next door.