Thursday, 17 February 2011


from the Architects Build Small Spaces exhibition
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Last summer, I took a picture of this small treehouse: 
 described, by its Japanese creator, as Beetle's House.

 The charred pine exterior of this elevated teahouse
 resembles the tough, blackened shell of a beetle.

Tomorrow, we sign the papers that will put The Barn on the market.  After five blissfully settled years, we will somehow gather our things and move them . . . again.  I immediately have a visual image as I write those words:  Just how large would a two-arm's span need to be in order to gather up all of our multitudinous belongings?  The size of a small English county, surely.

Last night I had the first (of what will probably be many) "moving" nightmares.

Eleven years ago we bought The Barn.  My husband likes to say I cried, (because it was so ugly and needed so much work); I don't remember actually crying, but I'm sure that I wanted to.  What hideous rows we used to have in front of the architect.  And even before, before the decision had been made:  when I said, "but it's so ugly" and Sigmund said, "yes, but it's a lot of house for the money."

After a year of work, the house became a place that I wanted to live in -- but even as we moved into it, there was rumbling about a new job, another move. 
And so we moved, back to Texas -- but we kept the house, for five long years, and never really expecting to live in it again.

Five years again, (and six houses in the meantime), we moved back to The Barn . . . and the refiguring and refashioning began again.  This time, I concentrated on creating a garden.  We moved the garage around, and so many square feet of gravel became herbaceous borders.  Grass was dug up to make herb beds.  Roses were planted.  You know that Joni Mitchell song about paving Paradise and putting in a parking lot?  Well, we did it the other way around.

In June, (although certainly not in February), it looks something like this:

Best to sell a house in June, but better to leave it in January.

We have created this little paradise, and the house encases us and our things nearly perfectly, but it is not in the right place . . . and it never has been.  I've never really liked where we lived; it's never felt quite right to me.  I've never felt quite right in it.

In almost twenty years, we've never moved just because we wanted to; such decisions have always been a job-driven and imperative.  I guess that's true of most people.
But now we live in a place where we have no jobs, and soon we will have absolutely no reason to be tethered to it anymore.  Familiarity, yes; and after five years, some friends; and a garden that still hasn't matured.  But we've decided that what basically amounts to inertia (a comfortable inertia, true) is not quite enough reason to stay.

Everyone asks me why we are moving to Oxford -- a place of notoriously high house prices.
Because my daughter is going to school there (the most obvious reason).
Because our teenagers need a town, and more scope for independence -- and we are tired of driving them everywhere.  And speaking of cars, we don't want to be so dependent on them anymore.
Because I want to ride a bicycle.
Because I want cinemas, and museums, and bookstores, and parks and cafes and concerts and something to do on rainy days.  Because there are so very many rainy days in England.

I've been looking at houses in Oxford for more than a year.  I know the offerings by heart; I can tell you which houses have been on the market since last summer and why.  (Any really nice house will hardly surface on a property website; and if it does, it will disappear in a week.)  I realise that we may have to rent for a year, so we (too) can pounce as cash-in-hand buyers.  I realise that, no matter what, I won't have a house as capacious as this one.  (The dining room furniture will definitely have to go.  And where will we put all of the wedding china, and the crystal glasses that my husband loves?)  Compromises will have to be made.  But still, I want a bicycle -- with a wicker basket in front to put the shopping in.  I want to know bookish people, because I've never really fit in with the horsey/shooting types who vote Conservative no matter what.

I want this move, but I'm a veteran when it comes to moving and I don't underestimate the cost of upheaval.

It would all be so much easier if we could just fit into a little treehouse . . . or like the beetle, take our house with us. 


marja-leena said...

Oh my, you certainly have moved a lot! Wishing you luck in selling, then finding that right place and with the move itself. Even if you are an old hand at it, it isn't easy.

Our daughter kind of did the opposite, moving out of expensive London to a little village where they must now have a car to go places, get groceries etc. but they like it there.

rachel said...

Gulp. Just as well you're a moving veteran, because this is a tear-jerker of a tale. Such a beautiful house too; I hope your plans run smoothly and you find another house to turn into a lovely home.

Tracy Golightly-Garcia said...

Hello Bee

I wish you only the best on your move! I would love to live in Oxford--maybe one day I will visit the lovely city.

Tracy :)

Magpie said...

Good luck. And I'm gobsmacked by the beauty of your house and garden. It's gorgeous.

Teresa O said...

A tear is itching to escape, Bee. Not because moving is sad,but because I understand so well your reasons for wanting to move, "Because I want cinemas and museums and bookstores and parks and cafes and concerts.." Ohh me too, me too!

A possible move may be on my horizon as well and I'm ok with it, in fact, I anxiously await a new adventure.

Have a wonderful day/evening.

Marion Williams-Bennett said...

It sounds like you put so much time and love into the Barn and the garden; I imagine it will be hard to say good-bye to that.

Yet, I love all the things you are moving to - a town, a bike, a community. It sounds like a great adventure and I look forward to hearing about your progress here!

Good luck with it all!

JeannetteLS said...

Beautiful picture to start, beautiful home to sell, but what a wonderful destination. I wish one could simply wave the wand and be moved. My house will be back on the market, too. I dug every garden, planted every shrub and plant here. I've had this place for twenty years--when we bought it there was not a flower or flowering shrub other than the God-awful forsythia hedge the size of Pittsburgh. Well put--sell in June, leave in January. November would work for me. I have to sell, but I am TRYING to remember that I LIKE apartments, that I will have MORE time to pursue what I love, not less. And one day, a college town will be my destination. I hope all goes smoothly for you and the living in Oxford gives you what you are looking for and more.

elizabethm said...

Very best of luck with it all. I love living in the welsh hills but I have often thought that I could live in Oxford. Both my daughters went there and both still live nearly so it feels like a place I know a little and yes, it is full of bookish types!

herhimnbryn said...

You HAVE moved so many times, I became quite breathless reading your post!

Good luck with the house/job hunting. Oxford is indeed a lovely place and a bicycle with a basket almost de rigueur (with possibly a battered copy of a 'Morse' story in your back pocket).

Meri said...

OH what a lot of topsy-turvy you're going to have to face. But I understand wanting to migrate to the land of bookish people.

Sarah Laurence said...

Cool tree house! We built one in our backyard, but it isn’t so whimsical.

From the images on your blog, I suspect your barn will sell quickly. I love how you unpaved Paradise – one of my favorite camp songs. Fingers crossed on the sale!

You don’t need to convince me about the advantages of living in Oxford. We loved our year there, and it would have only been better with you as a neighbor. We had to downsize a lot, but life was less cluttered that way. I’m looking forward to checking out your new abode and garden.

David Cranmer said...

Best of luck on the move. Living in Oxford sounds absolutely idyllic.

fairyhedgehog said...

Oxford is beautiful - we have a friend who lives there.

We live in Epsom, which is not so beautiful but has the right compromise of counntryside and shops for us. Finding a place to live that is just right for you is a wonderful feeling. I'm sure it's going to be worth it, despite the upheaval.

Oh, and you've made your garden so lovely! What an idyllic picture.

steven said...

bee - what a tumultous post! so many things to motivate a move and so many wishes to give it direction! i stayed in oxford many years ago and i liked its energy. leaving the garden you've created would be difficult but then again i imagine wherever you live you'll create an oasis for yourselves. steven

Tracy said...

Now I could cry... your home is just GORGEOUS, Bee! Moving is a mixed bag of emotions. I sometimes think we maybe put too high an attachment on places, especially ones we've worked so hard on... ;o) We're just passing through in this life-- borrowing, care takers of home and planet...Maybe such ideas can lessen the heavy feelings. But your reasons for moving much mirror mine & my husbands when we moved house several years ago. Oxford is such a BEAUTIFUL place! I'm sure you'll find your heart-home there. Wishing you all happiness with home hunting & the move. Keep us posted. :o)

Hausfrau said...

As a fellow veteran of numerous moves, I understand your feelings. Hope all goes well and as smoothly as can be expected. I think it's wonderful that you can move to Oxford! I know would, if given the opportunity, for reasons very similar to yours.

Dumdad said...

Good luck with your move. Oxford's a great place.

Nimble said...

Such good reasons to move. I know you will enjoy the city when you're there. I hope your house hunt is short and productive. May you find a diamond in the not-so-rough.

Nimble said...

Whoops, you'll need to weed that spam comment, Bee. What a nuisance.

Lucille said...

I do hope you get on the insider's track for a house in Oxford. I know exactly how hard it is to hear about the right house quickly enough. ( I had that same spam sent to me today. It got past my filter. How do they find us all?)

slommler said...

Moving is a wrenching time but also an exciting time. Thinking of new!!
Good luck on your sale...the "Barn" is beautiful!

Merisi said...

My heart goes out to you, it is never easy to pull up stakes, even when it is a planned and desired move.
I hope that you find a nice place to rent so you can look for a property to buy that suits you.

A friend of mine with a beautiful maturing garden took quite a few of her plants and packed them into containers for a few years. They moved to a temporary home with her parents for a few years, now they are back in a garden of her own.

Good luck with all your plans,

Merisi said...

We sold our dining room furniture when we moved from DC, not expecting to find a room large enough to accommodate them. Well, our dining room here is at least as large as the old one. ;-)

Marcheline said...

Wow - your house and gardens are so beautiful... I can't imagine wanting to leave it, but I do understand the reasons you gave.

I am battling just now with all the winter destruction on our property - backed up cesspools, broken screen doors, collapsed archways and a mass of falling (and thorny) climbing rose canes, dilapidated fencing... I can't wait for February to be over! I want to love this place again.

kristina said...

Oh wow. It's really happening now. Just remember I have the Oxford cycle here for you, ready when you are! K x

kristina said...

I hope you'll find a wonderful home in Oxford - I'm sure you will! xox kristina

Linda said...

bee, i am sure you are making the right decision for you and your family...having always lived way out of town, the drive can be a killer and looking back, i now think it would have been best had we been closer in so i am all for need to stay somewhere where it doesn't work for you...frankly i am now in a place where i thought it would be perfect but am beginning to question the error of my thoughts...just a bit but we'll see. xxx and luck too.

catmint said...

dear bee, i wish you all the best for the move. i think if i moved anywhere in the uk oxford would be most appealing. we used to have a treehouse a bit like that,the children used it more as teenagers. cheers,cm

Tess Kincaid said...

I must admit, I always thought your barn was so incredibly magical. I'm sorry you never felt at home there. Best wishes for finding a new place in Oxford that suits you to a tee!

Jeanne said...

Realy enjoyed your post!! Found you thru Pamela @ House of Edward. I hear everything you are saying...having moved many times..job driven as well.
Sounds like you are in the 'right space' for the move.
I look forward to reading your progress :)

Jeanne xx

PS. When we moved to England last year, the first thing I did was to buy a Pashley with the big basket in front. I have had bike love ever since :)

Lucy said...

I'm grateful for the space of the countryside, and the privacy of not being totally integrated into the social and cultural landscape. I'm quite used to wrapping home and quiet around me and making a life within it. I don't 'do' lots of people and busy towns very well. Having said all that I completely sympathise with your reasons for wanting to move, and downsizing, having less but being able to draw more from the world around you, in is a very appealing idea in many ways. I think you're brave and right to make the decision you are, and why not do something like this out of choice and preference?

So good luck, and I hope it all works out, but please keep on blogging, even when you have all those nice things and interesting people around you to keep you busy!

Christina said...

i wish you and the family luck on the move. as long as you have family, you will be home.

Amanda said...

wow, bee, i'm amazed at the calmness of your post, considering what you are about to do.

i moved a lot as a child and never liked it -- always felt like an outsider and envied the kids whose families had lived in the same place forever. I admire your attitude about this life transition, weighing the pro's and con's and coming down logically on the pro side. a bicycle with a basket, not having to drive your kids to kingdom come and back, and being near bookish sorts are very good reasons to move. blessings to you and sending hope that you locate your perfect beetle house very soon.


A Woman Of No Importance said...

Bee, I wish you every luck in your move - You really seem to have it sorted in your head, being realistic about your expectations, but also passionate about the positive potential your change to town will bring. Your beautiful bike, its basket, cinema, theatre, schools, a book community...


I wish you every success - Bee bold! I envy your bravery... x

twebsterarmstrong said...

I love your blog.
This post holds some envious bits, and some other for me. I have lived on both coasts of the USA, worked in NYC and LA, lived in Cairo, and also smaller towns here & there. (Curious as to what you & your spouse do; my spouse is academic and therefore we have moved from uni-to-uni in our "adult lives".)
I am SO envious of your move. We live in rural-similar-to-your-life, and I, too, want cinemas, museums, bookstores, parks, cafes and concerts, and something to do on rainy days. Or in my case, windy days. Whatever days. I want the things I used to have, pre-family.
For me, it is a trade-off. We (that spouse and I) have the empty nest, the bicycles, and use them happily regularly. Sometimes 100 miles/wk. We just need the "get out of Dodge" thing. Like moving to Oxford. Or...somewhere else.
You have a great near future!
Envious, I am.

A Thousand Clapping Hands said...

Bee - I, too, have never liked where I'm living. I've always had my bags packed...but my husband has a successful business here and so I must stay. I'm excited for you - for the things you'll do on rainy days. (I don't feel that I have that here, either.)
I would very much like to read the book you suggested. I looked it up. Thanks. Also - yes, the lavender roses were real (called Sterling roses) but I reverse imaged them...they look odd in the center, I know. And - I love Linzer cookies and I've been craving them ever since you mentioned them!
Happy planning -

Fantastic Forrest said...

There is a certain kind of magic in moving someplace because you want to, rather than being forced. I'm looking forward to seeing you in Oxford, where I know you will be oh so happy!

It's surprising, really, how being in a setting that appreciates intellectual pursuits can make a difference in one's personal satisfaction. What's not surprising is that places that have well educated people are typically more progressive.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Oh, I do so feel for you. I know all this unsettledness has to be difficult. But the older I get, the more I see the value of change, and chance. I shall be thinking of you and visualizing the perfect Oxford house....just for you!

Cait O'Connor said...

I wish you much luck in finding he house that is perfect for you Bee. I understand your needs too!

Kristen In London said...

I am in complete EMPATHY. Be strong.

julochka said...

it is a bit wistful, but it's also so liberating to go through everything, to dream of making a new place what you want it to be, to get out of the inertia. and i adore that staircase and the little baba yaga house - sabin's going to have one of those in the back yard soon. but we hadn't thought about it as a beetle. i'll have to ask her what she thinks of that.