that time in August…

that time in August…

10450769_10152631768798746_8326396009489492599_nOur oldest’s birthday has always marked the shift in seasons.

The rain comes, as it did yesterday, and then suddenly autumn whispers.

The breeze at the pond is too much for adults to swim, and the boys fall asleep earlier than they have all summer.

My husband and I finish a movie before 10, and after we turn off the tv, we notice light falling across our just finished floors.

Out the kitchen window, we spy the moon, perched between the evergreens–our trees–out our window.

We closed on the house today… and it seems to us that the moon is offering her approval.

Casey steps out on the porch–something he’s always dreamed of–and I join him there to say goodnight to the stars in the silent sky.

Just then, music comes screaming across the pond…

“I believe in miracles, since you came along, you sexy thing, you sexy thing…”

(We built our home on the same dirt road as a summer camp.)

I want to resent this intrusion, this robbery of perfection, but I always liked that song, sang it all the way down to Key West when I was 12.

There’s something funny about disco music playing across from our home in the woods. Serenity and dancing. The sublime and the mundane. It fits our family. Reminding us that miracles abound.

(kelly salasin, 2005)

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Rolling Stone No More

Rolling Stone No More

While snuggling in bed beside my husband, I spring up with a realization.

“I think this is our 7th Christmas.”

“Not yet,” my husband says, counting on his fingers.  It’s easy for him to know from when to begin: 2004, and the 48 hour Christmas.

“You’re right,” he says, “It is 7.”

“You know how significant this is,” I say.

“Yes–And it’s the house ‘I’ built.”

7 years ago this December, Casey and I lived apart for the first time in 20 years. That November the boys and I moved to my sister’s in Florida so that he could devote every waking (and barely-waking) hour to finishing this house in time for Christmas (since he already missed Labor Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving.)

At midnight on December 22, he picked us up at the airport and we moved into our home–the first home that we have ever owned.

“This will be the house that I’ve lived in the longest,” I say, as I roll over to turn off the lamp at my bedside.

“And it’s the house ‘I’ built,” he says again, rolling to turn off his own lap.

We almost didn’t make it to 7 years. Back in 2008 when Casey was unemployed, he looked at some international teaching jobs–a prospect which was thrilling to me–but meant that I’d  have to start over from scratch on the 7 year thing.

“I haven’t made it yet,” I say, settling back down into Casey’s arms. “It’s not Christmas yet, and I could die or the house could burn down or something.”

“Don’t say that kind of stuff,” Casey says, pushing me away.

The truth is that this is such an important milestone to me that I’m anxious about it. I felt this same fearful uncertainty before I left for England in my junior year, and then again before our first baby was born.

Sometimes the things we really want seem that impossible, especially when they’re so close to coming true.

I remember when Casey reached the 7 year mark with me. It was an important finish line for him–it meant he surpassed my first love. Though he’s now more than tripled that number, he still reminds me of his longevity–“Almost 4 times as long,” he says.

First love, first son, first house. They’re all so significant.

I don’t know what number home this is for me. I’d rather not count. As an Army brat who was born while her dad was still in college, I’ve had my share of moves and homes and schools

My own boys were born and raised in this same small town, attended the same small school, and grew up with the same kids that they played with at preschool. I was 14 when my parents finally settled down in one place.

That home had been the one that belonged to my grandparents, my beloved “6012.” But our time there was short. My parents divorced, and not only did we lose our family, but our home.

After that, I went to Europe three times, lived out West, moved back home, and then took off for these Green Mountains.

Our first place in Vermont was a tiny farm-house nestled beside a “babbling” brook, and seated at the foot of a mountain beside the National Forest. Both my boys were conceived there, and for seven years, it was our “home sweet home.”

When we left that rental, it was heartbreaking, but the time had come for us to set out on our own, and a few moves later, we were here–in the house that Casey built–with the help of his boys and all of our friends.

7 years ago this Christmas.

(Did I count right?)

Kelly Salasin, December 2011

The Homecoming Toilet

The Homecoming Toilet

In he final moments before ceasing construction, I dropped it.  Down the toilet.

It was December 21, and I had thirty minutes to make this house “livable”–as promised–before my wife and children arrived “home.”

5 weeks earlier they left Vermont to live with my wife’s sister in Florida “until I finished the house.”  That separation took place the week before Thanksgiving– and now it was just days before Christmas. (None of us had ever spent more than a weekend apart.)

Unfortunately what had been dropped down the toilet were its “anchor screws” which meant that there would be no usable bathroom in this house where we were supposed to begin living–tonight.

In the past five weeks, I divided my days between teaching highschool history and building a home.  I laid the floors, hung the sheetrock, spackled and painted; installed kitchen cabinets, countertops, appliances, sinks, a woodstove and a chimney–all with the help of great friends.   I lived on hotdogs, and slept on my ex-brother in law’s couch.

I gave up our rental when my family left town. Friends and family suspected a marital “separation,” especially given the adage:  Build a house, loose a spouse.

It’s true that I hadn’t been around much once this project began the previous year.  I had originally “promised” to have us in the house before the end of summer, but as a novice builder, I extended that deadline again–and again–until my wife couldn’t take it anymore and we decided that it would be best for her to leave town so that I could devote every extra minute to getting us in– before Christmas.

It was my ex-brother in law Tim who helped me in the last panicked moments of “finishing” when I lost the screw (and what was left of my sanity) down the toilet.

The nearest hardware store of any kind was twenty minutes away and it was already 8:30 pm.   We prayed that Home Depot might still be open and that it had what we needed. It did, but by the time I found this out, there was no way I could get there before they closed.

As I spoke with the guy in plumbing, I thought I recognized the Irish accent of my son’s former soccer coach.  “Is this Patrick?” I asked.

It was, and he not only agreed to leave the screw outside, he waited there in the parking lot to hand it to me, and then refused to let me pay.  I could have burst into tears right then.

By 9:20 pm I was back at the house, “seating” my very first toilet, just in time to leave for the airport to retrieve my wife and children.

At midnight, they turned the corner of the terminal–and all the months of madness melted away.

Two days before Christmas, I brought my family “home” to a trim-less, door-less house–that was all ours.

Casey Deane (& Kelly Salasin)

to read Kelly’s version of the same night, click here

First Christmas

First Christmas

Our First Christmas in our new home stands out in my mind & heart as the capping moment of our house building adventure.  Here’s the story of that special time, which I call the “48 Christmas.”

I’ve always loved Christmas… and never stopped believing in Santa. I look forward to the season almost as soon as it ends, anticipating its return, the day after Thanksgiving. This is when the watershed of festivities begin: decorations brought down from the attic, lights strung up outside, and best of all— the Christmas music played— for an entire month!

In truth, there have been some desperate years when I unpacked the holiday tunes long before it was “officially” legitimate, but I restricted myself to instrumental selections, careful not to delve any further.

This past year, however, I began sneaking into the carols earlier than ever (July!) We had just moved from one rental to another while embarking on the task of building our first home (my husband doing most of it himself). What was meant to be a temporary living situation, “just for the summer,” was extended, again and again when the house was not completed “on time.”

When the leaves began to fall, I had to face the possibility that my holidays might be celebrated in this rental rather than in our new home as we had expected. I began playing Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole– a line I’ve never crossed before– but even they didn’t cheer me.

On one particularly gray day in November, my sister in Florida emailed, inviting us for a visit as she often did. “Only if we can stay till the house is finished!” I replied in frustration.

To both of our surprise, she answered,” COME!” And thus, just weeks before the Christmas favorites could be played out in the open, I flew south with my boys.

Leaving during the holidays was hard for me. Though I enjoyed my relatives’ traditions, the season wasn’t the same without my own things– and without snow and mountains and sledding.

When my sister’s family decorated their home on an eighty-degree day, I found myself withdrawn and sad; and when that night of all nights came— the one to adorn the evergreen, I couldn’t help thinking of my own ornaments packed away.

In light of world affairs, of families separated by war and devastation, mine seemed a trifling preoccupation, but I couldn’t shake it.

As Christmas approached, the phone calls between Florida and Vermont increased. We each felt the growing strain of our separation, desperate to be reunited. With each conversation, there were reports of progress (or delays) on the house.

After a long day of teaching, my husband would head over to the building site to spend  long and lonely winter nights: framing, sheetrocking, spackling, flooring; installing cabinets, fixtures, bathrooms; and finishing electric and plumbing. It seemed endless, but we both held onto the dream that we’d celebrate Christmas together– in our new home.

After weeks and weeks of anticipation (and three visits to Disney), the boys and I kissed my sister’s family goodbye, and boarded a plane for New England. We arrived in the wee hours of December 22nd, the first day of winter, when the airports were full of folks flying in the opposite direction.

We arrived without knowing for certain if my husband had been able to finish the house, but as we turned the corner of the terminal, and saw his familiar smile behind the gate, nothing else mattered. There was no better homecoming than the warmth and certainty of his embrace after such a long absence.

That first morning in Vermont, I woke to the sun kissing my face. There are few commodities as precious as sun in a northern climate, particularly at the start of a cold day.

The eastern light through my bedroom window was such a delight that it distracted me from the rawness of my surroundings– the unpainted walls; the yellow insulation foam hanging from windows; the rough and unfinished floors; the invasion of cluster flies from an exposed attic; and the lack of doors anywhere, even on the bathroom.

My husband was up and off to work already, and the boys slept beside me, in this, the only livable bedroom.

I was pretty groggy that first day back in Vermont and didn’t do much but unpack the bathing suits and search for boots and snowpants. In the afternoon, I wandered downstairs, and fixed some tea in “my” kitchen on my new stove; sipping it while I watched the boys sled down the hill in our own front yard– a light snow falling.

When my husband arrived “home” from school late that afternoon, our holiday (and our lives here) began. With only 48 hours to unfold, we scuttled to create a Christmas together.

We found one of the last trees at a stand down the road, bought a half-priced wreath and poinsettia, picked up some last minute food at the grocery store, and unpacked a single box of our favorite holiday things. The tree was decorated and the cookies for Santa baked just before the boys were tucked in Christmas Eve.

What had once taken weeks to carefully execute, was joyfully prepared in just two days. The tempo lent a heightened excitement to our festivities, and something more precious– a slowing of expectations.

In 48 hours, Christmas can’t be perfect. I had to let go of so much that had once felt so important, and I had to hold onto that which I treasure most: the company of my family, around a Christmas tree, in our new home, while carols played all the day long.

Kelly Salasin, 2004

To read my husband’s version of this same time, click here.