Pilgrims! SCREE!! SCREE!!! SCREE!!!!

By Cornelia Read

So last Sunday I moved to New Hampshire, which is kind of a trip. This means I have lived in seven states in my life, officially (NY, HI, CA, MA, VT, CO, and now NH–not necessarily in that order.)

I kind of have a thing about New England, though, in that I think my Puritan ancestors are going to rise up from the mists and get me for not being all Pilgrim-y and shit. I mean, those people had a serious attitude problem.

(well, okay, maybe these ones are just pissed off because they’re not sure whether they’re supposed to be Pilgrims or leprechauns–or maybe they’re more worried about how much better-endowed the Indians are– but whatever.)

I once had to write a paper in college about William Bradford’s Of Plimoth Plantation, and the shit seriously freaked me out (Although I did like my line about how when they executed the teenage boy who had had sexual congress with {if memory serves} a cow, a horse, a goat, two sheep, and a turkey, and then buried him with the also-executed cow, horse, goat, and two sheep, that “one could surmise the turkey did not survive the initial encounter.”)


I flew east with no furniture and only a couple of duffel bags full of stuff, so I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes someplace feel like home. I did bring five pictures with me… menus from a South American cruise line illustrated with a bunch of people in “native” garb that used to hang in my Smith grandparents’ kitchen. My favorite one is the Nicaraguan chick, who’s pulled her skirt up so she can roll a cigar on her thigh. If I’d packed a scanner, I’d reproduce that here, but I didn’t oh well.

Oh, wait… I totally have my iPhone, so here:

And I also brought the dessert menu from this really cool funky restaurant in Carmel Valley which only operates on Monday nights at the Cachagua General Store (50 points to the first person who spots why I saved it):


Okay, yes, I ALSO like the Marcus Aurelius quotation.

Other than that, I threw out about half my clothes and just brought sneakers and stuff. It’s been fun hitting garage sales to stock up on the usual crap, and my pal Candace just left her third husband and so offered me some of her furniture from their house in Vermont, now that she’s in Texas. This includes a truly hideous purple naugahyde sofa, which feels really karmic since I once had a purple naugahyde sofa in Syracuse, which even made it into chapter one of my first novel. It’s really a tossup which one is more hideous. I’m hoping someone buys my house in Berkeley so I can light this one on fire and go to IKEA. Seriously.

(if it were this one I might not mind so much. Sigh.)

Yesterday I drove three hours to go to a church sale in Vermont with my Aunt Julie. I scored four chairs, two tables, an old floral print, a pitcher, a salt shaker, and the ever-important cocktail shaker (take *that*, pilgrim scum!!)

What’s really cool about being here so far is that I scored an astonishing apartment, right on the Squamscott River in an old mill building. It’s about twice as big as my house in California and has twice as many bathrooms, for about a third of my old mortgage payment. This may seem like less of a bargain in February, of course.

Here is a bird’s eye view (look for the smokestack):

Here is a closeup, as of yesterday rather than in 1864:

Here is what it looks like on the inside:

(This is the living room, pre-purple-sofa. Note distinct lack of furniture. Mom found the rug in the dumpster. For a sense of scale, the windows are about twelve feet tall.)

So what’s kind of weird about all this is that I’m in a completely new-to-me town, and I’m going to be writing a novel about moving to Boulder, Colorado, fifteen years ago. Right now I’m in about the same state of mind as I was in Boulder–figuring out where the drugstore is, and whether or not they have decent Chinese food (which is my gauge of a locale’s level of civilization. Also Mexican food, but hey, it’s New England. Pilgrims definitely still trump decent salsa up here.)

I know this is a very scattered post, but I’ve driven 900 miles in the last two days, I’m not fully unpacked yet, and I can’t figure out how to make Candace’s TV work, except for channel three, which is a really boring channel.

How about you guys… what makes a place feel like home to you, and what makes a place somewhere you can feel settled enough to write? I’m already missing going to my writing partner Sharon’s house every weekday, and desperately missing my writing group, and my Bay Area mystery peeps.

Also, if you live in this neck of the woods, what’s the best thing about being here, and how do you survive February? All suggestions most welcome…

In the meantime, I am hoping to run into Squanto.

I have a feeling he knows who delivers the primo Szechuan around here.

And if any Pilgrims ask where I moved to, tell them Vermont.

Also, if anyone wants a house in Berkeley, I’ll trade you my old one (click here to see it) for a decent sofa.

p.s. that is SO not my furniture–the broker brought in a stager. But the blue stove is awesome and the built-in espresso maker speaks thirteen languages. Pinky swear. Open house tomorrow, I think.

30 thoughts on “Pilgrims! SCREE!! SCREE!!! SCREE!!!!

  1. Karen in Ohio

    16-year old cheerleader, definitely! What a dessert.

    Welcome to the other side of the country, and I wish you much happiness in your new home. What a drag to have to furnish it from scratch, although there will be a symbolic change in the way you think, too, if feng shui means anything. You have ditched everything that is nonessential, and now you have a chance to replace your old life with exactly the kind of life you want to have. That’s kind of cool, really.

    What makes my house feel like home are my books and my sewing stuff. And the people who share it with me. Mazel tov.

  2. Cornelia Read

    Karen, ding ding ding ding, we have a WINNER!! Fifty points to Griffindor, unless you’re a Ravenclaw. And I agree about the starting-fresh-shui. I just hope this doesn’t mean I’m going to have a purple naugahyde life, now. Thank you for the good thoughts.

    Dusty, come visit, dude. As my Mom said, "My God, you could move another family in here and never have to talk to them."

  3. toni mcgee causey

    Wow, I’m with Dusty–love the beams, hardwood floors and the big windows. You should start a writer’s commune up there. We’ll bring the drinks. 😉

    [I didn’t make it past the Death by Chocolate entry on the menu before I started fantasizing and lost all track of time.]

    What makes a place feel like home? hmmm. Probably the photos of family and friends. After that, books piled in corners, enticing me to read.

  4. billie

    Your new place reminds me of a similar apt. I lived in for several years in my 20s. It was a converted tobacco warehouse, and I was on the top floor, at the corner, so one huge wall was exposed brick and the ceilings were over 20 ft. high, with one entire wall those gigantic windows.

    I loved the vastness of it, and the sense of space. In a way, it was like living by a mountain or the ocean – there was always the sense of "something bigger" b/c of how huge it was. There was actually an echo effect in there.

    Enjoy! I love starting over in a new space.

  5. Cornelia Read

    Toni, I love *that* purple sofa too, but unfortunately it is not the purple sofa I actually HAVE at the moment. And you are a woman after my own heart with the railroad switch furniture…. that sounds AMAZING!! Wish you lived next door and we could have drinks right now, and then hit some garage sales.

    Billie, your old apartment sounds very much like this one. It does echo, here, and it feels like life is going to be big and airy. I am very happy with it, just hope I can keep making the rent and stuff.

  6. Karen in Ohio

    Your purple sofa saga reminds me of my first sofa, which was a castoff from some family member of my first husband. The cover was so drab and nasty that I dyed it, purple of course. It didn’t do much for the sofa, but it brightened that little corner of my world considerably.

    Photos, too. How could I forget them? My three daughters are each getting for Christmas an external hard drive with as many family photos as I can round up scanned in. I have all these old pictures, and I know the girls will want them eventually. Last year I gave them each a ring binder with a CD of as many family recipes as I could find, complete with commentary on where the recipe came from, whose favorite it was, etc.

  7. Karen in Ohio

    PS That coriander/blackberry Crema Catalan sounds amazing. Have you had that, Cornelia?

    I just harvested about a half pound of coriander from my cilantro plants yesterday.

    (Wandering off in search of a recipe online.)

  8. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Mmmmm….moving to a new city, that sense of excitement, of adventure. My favorite feeling in the world. And New England, even better. Last time I was there I took a swim in Waldon Pond and visited Jack Kerouac’s grave. It’s an inspiring part of the world. I know there was heartache that brought you to this place, but you are here now, and life begins anew. The adventure is before you.

  9. JT Ellison

    Cornelia, you know how to make the most elegant lemonade from the most stubborn lemons. I love the new place!!! As for surviving February – a pot bellied stove, hot buttered rum and lots and lots of books.

    Home to me is wherever Randy is. Sorry, i know that’s hokey, but so long as I’m with him I can make do just about anywhere. And the cat. When I’m away from the cat, I do miss her dreadfully. Our little art collection, and the wine. Our photos. The thirty year old couches upstairs, recovered, restuffed, and oh so comfy – one was my parents when I was a little girl and the other my grandparents when I was little. But the things aren’t as important and the creatures that breathe, to me.

    Enjoy settling in. Cornelia! xox

  10. karen from mentor

    I was sure it was going to be the pink roasted lady apples…..And OMG the turkey "not surviving the intial encounter" I laughed and laughed. (thanks Cornelia)

    Music playing in my new space the first night in it made me feel at home.

    My dancing around to the music made the space know what it had gotten itself into.

    I saved the singing until after the space got used to me.

    I’d send you some furniture but I have bare bones. Only stuff I love and only stuff post divorce.
    Where I live now is a very happy space and really really easy to dust.
    Karen :0)

  11. Rae

    Fabulous post, Miss Cornelia….

    Love the new apt, hope you’re having worlds of fun.

    As to what makes a place feel like home, to paraphrase Justice Stewart – I know it when I feel it. I knew the minute I walked into my current apt that it was home. Conversely, I lived in a place for 8 years that didn’t feel like home for a minute. I don’t know if it’s the vibe, or the attitude I bring to it, but it has nothing to do with furniture or size, it’s all about how it feels.

  12. allison davis

    Cornelia dear, we will miss you on the left coast but am LOVING the rambling travelogue and laughing here alone in my writing room….what, full circle with the sofa? Once you completed that circle, you can move on. That is your last purple naugahyde couch. Photos great, old postcards even greater.

    Divorce was final Tuesday. I fell into a million pieces for two days, full of regret. Amazingly I’m whole again today. Life’s like that.

    I recently made a new "home" in the upstairs flat. Certain ingredients helped to mark it as mine, collected art, lots of flowers, tons of color (multi colors of fiestaware as I gave him all the old stuff), music, but the stuff doesn’t really matter. I think the place became home when I had my first guests to (a modest) dinner, opened the wine and poured and we toasted. Home is an incubator for things to happen, a nuturing place, a safe place to sleep, a gathering place for fun — can be an ugly naugahyde couch, or a lovely wood floor, a six pack of beer and a pizza — home is about the energy you put there.

    I’ve started over a lot in my life, not always willingly, and seems to me that a place becomes home with the first gathering of folks.

    For February, y’all come down to New Orleans for Mardi Gras…I have plenty of room. best, a

  13. Eika

    Welcome to New Hampshire! I was quite tickled to spot my city (Claremont) on the map when the local news often doesn’t have it there during the weather segments.

    Since I am definitely in your neck of the woods, I’ll tell you about it. Best thing about living here? New Hampshire is very much a live-and-let-live state. Neighbors get to know each other, random strangers will stop in the street to help pick up what you’ve dropped, people in cars wave to little kids on the sidewalk. As a service-industry bonus, people hang up their cell phones and say they’ll call people back before ordering.

    If you’re into politics at all, there’s also the little bonus that we have the nation’s first primaries, which leads to such fascinating things as Bill Clinton and Obama both giving speeches to my high school (total city population: 18,000). Hillary Clinton also did a meet-and-greet at a local restaurant. And if that doesn’t do it for you, the state motto’s pretty sweet. Live Free Or Die!

    As for how to survive February…. hmmm. That is typically the coldest month, no doubt about it. Well, since you lived in VT, I’ll assume you know about black ice and driving in snow. Your best bet, really, is to get a few electric blankets and a space heater to stay warm. It’s best if you’ve got a handful of friends by that point, the type that don’t mind sitting around playing cards and drinking hot chocolate (or watching a movie and drinking coffee, or whatever…) on stormy afternoons.

  14. Karen C

    I miss you already!!! Looking forward to catching up in November 🙂

    every time I’m new to a town, I always locate the library and get a stack of books, and immediately feel more at home

  15. Tom

    Sorry you had to leave the West Coast, but something tells me these karmic quakes suit you somehow.

    You met esteemed spouse and me at Mystery Bookstore the night before last Festival of Books. We once had a Purple Sofa – Edwardian baroque camelback, great to look at, not so great for seating. It fit right into the Richardson Romanesque house we tried to rehab 20 years ago.

    Home is where we put the coffee pot, the perma-shedding dog, the three long-haired cats, and the dust rhino herd. Oh, look out, stampede!

    Best, best, best wishes, Cornelia.

  16. Mo

    To repeat what Eika said, Welcome to NH! I was born and raised in Nashua, eventually married and moved around the country, then came the divorce and the realization of how much I missed NH. I moved my then young son and myself back home 30+ years ago and never regretted it. I love that I can hop in the car and day trip to the ocean or the mountains or Boston. Nothing is very far away yet when I am sitting on my back deck I feel secluded from the world. Every season brings something different to enjoy. Your new home looks lovely. Many of the old textile mills have been converted to homes providing wonderful living space. I wish you much happiness in your new home. … Mo

  17. Louise Ure

    That dessert menu would definitely make the place feel like home!

    But what about the Berkeley house? Didn’t you tell me you had something like 22 offers on the place … all for more than the asking price? What happened?

    Happy, safe travels to you, my dear.

  18. KarinNH

    Welcome! As Eika said, NH is definitely the Live Free or Die state, and we specialize in quirky and pragmatic…but in a very understated New England kind of way. Instead of thinking Pilgrims, think Yankees…and home to many of the reform movements and so-called rabble rousers: abolitionists, women’s rights, animal protection, etc. Heck, in the 60s my grandparents introduced me to the term Boston Marriage when describing a friend. We have a long tradition of thinking what you do is your own business.

    As for surviving February…fleece. Many parts of the country scoff at it; we embrace it. I own pullovers, pajamas, socks, blankets, a bathrobe, pants, and slippers made out of the stuff and am very, very toasty in my 62 degree house at that time of year. (In addition to quirky and pragmatic, think stoic–or crazy–as well.) Wool, down, and layers are good too.


  19. BCB

    "one could surmise…" *snort* Indeed.

    The only helpful advice anyone ever gave me about settling in to a new pace was not to make comparisons to the old. You’re worried about surviving February? Hell, I grew up in Minnesota. If February is all you’ve got to worry about, I don’t see it’ll be much of a problem.

    Love the look of the new place. Hope it quickly becomes home for you.

  20. Cornelia Read

    You guys are all so great, and thank you for the many fine suggestions. I spent most of today in search of a less-scary sofa, and finally found a great one at a garage sale for $50 so I’m very pleased. Then my kid and I went for lunch at "The Friendly Toast" in Portsmouth, which is where I now plan to spend most of February. They had mojito milkshakes (sans rum) which were FUCKING AWESOME, OMFG. Vanilla milkshake with lime and fresh mint. And also their toast is like three inches thick.

    The people are so nice here it’s almost scary–someone left me a bitchy note under my windshield wiper the other day and I found another neighbor had added a p.s. to it encouraging me not to take it personally, that the person who wrote the first part of the note was a little nuts and just harassed everyone, then she welcomed me to NH and drew a big smily face. That would SO never happen in Berkeley…

    And Louise, the high offer guy’s inspector issued a report that we need $75k worth of foundation work (total bullshit), so he backed out and half the backup offer people had already bought other places. So… back to the drawing board. Hoping to hear offers Monday afternoon. Feh.

    Happy happy weekend to everyone, hope it’s as beautiful wherever you are as it was here today.

  21. Cornelia Read

    P.S. Karen in Ohio–I had the chocolate mousse with olive oil and sea salt. But the cilantro sounded really tempting. If you can’t find a recipe, I could probably find an email for the chef out there.

    And Stephen, I totally want that fortune cookie too. Thank you…

  22. Catherine Shipton

    Cornelia, I’m on the edge of move soon, well within the next 6 months. As I’ve live in this house for 16 years, 6 months seems soon. As I’ve known this was going to happen for a while now, I’ve been culling stuff for months. I’ve whittled it down to favourite stuff I like to eat and entertain on…crockery, cookware and linen wise.

    I think though that feels like home depends on where I move in some ways. If I go overseas I’ll be happy with basic clothing, a laptop and high thread count sheets. If I move to Brisbane within an hours drive of here, well, the basic ‘it feels like home list’ expands to a bookcase, bed, favourite cut glass bowls, and most likely my granmother’s kitchen dresser and chest of drawers.

    I’m hoping my ability to search out good food, and smiling (slightly nuts) people will just move with me. I think a part of me is happy to bring things into my life that suit me now though…not necessarily the stuff I’ve been attached to in the past.

    Cornelia, that hardwood floor with the light streaming through looks like a great place to start building a new now. Good luck.

  23. allison davis

    you know one of my best friends, Andrew (now goes by Andy) Kaplan, lives in Portsmouth…hmmm. He’s fairly political (left) and runs a children’s toy company.

    Enjoy — we’re having a rare hot day in SF.


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