Newer, Better Life, Unicorn-Style

One of the driving forces in our lives is the pursuit of what we call the “Newer, Better Life” feeling. Sometimes Newer, Better Life manifests itself as an actual activity (like the time we impulsively decided while in London to attend a free outdoor screening of Charlie Chaplin shorts with live music on a drizzly night in Trafalgar Square, something unlike anything we’d normally do), but most often it presents itself as atmosphere. It’s difficult to describe, but maybe the best way to put it is that NBL is a combination of the feeling of that perfect-weather day that you know didn’t actually happen but which you remember vividly from your youth, with the idea of what you wish the most perfect “everyday you” could be. This is a long-winded way of saying that we often look at houses, or furniture, or design elements and decide they are especially Newer, Better Life, and it leaves us with this wonderful yearning sort of feeling.

When we lived in Arizona there was an especially glaring lack of NBL in our world. We didn’t have downtown Princeton to wander on a crisp fall night, peering in the windows at the book-filled rooms of our professorial neighbors. We didn’t have the friscalating wintry dusks. We didn’t have leafy backdrops outside big, sunny windows. Hell, we didn’t have mullions. Moving back East was like an explosion of NBL, except we ended up owning a dark, cavelike townhouse with eight windows total, a northern exposure, and a little paved “backyard” that opened onto I-95. So one day we went out for a Sunday drive and spotted an open house in a tree-filled neighborhood. We thought the house didn’t look like much, but as soon as we walked into the backyard, we knew we were home. It was Newer, Better Life embodied. It was the yard in which every day is the perfect, archetypal day of that season, and it’s impossible to live in such a yard without being the people we’d always wished we could be.

Old View of Back of House

(This picture really doesn’t do it justice at all, in case you were wondering.) The back of Maple Hoo has a whole bunch of strange additions on it, starting at the left in that shot with the sunroom, then there was the strange little alleyway of deck, then the infamous breakfast nook/pantry room. The kitchen was nestled into the middle of all that, with a window over the sink overlooking the narrow spit of deck and down the canyon created between the sunroom and nook walls. We originally anticipated being saddened by the loss of several windows (on the side of the nook and on the canyon sunroom wall) in this remodel, and never really put a lot of thought into what the new windows would be like. When construction started, it was hard to get much of a grasp on what the changes were going to leave us with:

Outside View of Old Sink

When the new exterior walls were finished off and the old one taken down, we started to get antsy. It was like we were creeping toward Christmas morning or something!

Old Sink from Outside

Then… the new window went in. And we were disappointed. Here’s the view from the old sink, where you can see the framing from the old window:

Old Sink from Inside

It just seemed cavernous. And dark. For three months we tried to keep our worries to ourselves that we had made a terrible mistake in turning our kitchen into the world’s most elaborate reenactment of our cavelike townhouse. Of course, part of the problem was that we’re not very smart. We were never factoring in for the door, which we knew was going to be a full window, but which was, during construction, a sheet of plywood. That really cut down on the amount of natural light and the view into the backyard. In the end, our worries were for naught.

fromfronthallsmall.jpg

With the sink now under a window that much closer to the yard, it’s like you’re standing under the canopy of our beloved maple tree. Hey, look! It’s one of our woodland friends, traipsing through the backyard in search of plants we’d rather she didn’t eat:

deerinbackyardsmall.jpg

(It should be noted that I only took that picture because I was trying out my iPhone, not because it’s at all remarkable that there was a deer under our maple tree. Just today, Boomer counted 12 of them in the yard. We hate the deer. We have to fence everything to keep them from eating it, but our township won’t let us fence our entire yard, so we’ve got little tents of deer netting propped up around all 10 of our fruit trees in the front yard. It’s very attractive.)

And the door? Well, that was a bone of contention with our designer in the early days of this project. He drew up a glorious, symmetrical plan originally with cabinets wrapping entirely around the perimeter of the room, leaving no spot for a door. However, the door is kind of essential, because after the maple tree, the second best thing about our backyard is the giant deck.

decksmall.jpg

John kept trying to tell us we could just go through the dining room and out the sunroom if we needed access to the deck, but that simply would not do. So we insisted, and we got this door.

doorwidesmall.jpg

Perhaps the thing we most often find ourselves spontaneously exclaiming about in the kitchen now is that these windows are the very embodiment of Newer, Better Life. The way they frame our backyard, the way they have a leafy backdrop of the season, the way they let our kitchen be entirely unlike a cave and instead take the changing (and dare we say friscalating?) light of the day… well, it makes the heart of our home feel like the room we always wished we had.

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31 Comments

Filed under Unicorn Kitchen

31 responses to “Newer, Better Life, Unicorn-Style

  1. I know exactly what you mean by NBL. I am this exact way too. Sometimes it’s hard to get there but once you start taking steps in that direction you know the end result will be NBL. I think NBL embodies this last year in a nutshell.

    What a beautiful post. This is one of my favourites.

  2. I just got such happy chills for you, hearing your last year has been NBL!!! That’s the very best thing I can say for an experience, or place, or just overall feeling. I also really love always being open to more NBL. Who would want to get complacent on that front? :D

    (This was my favorite post to write, too!)

  3. I know, too, that when Mr.A and I walk into the right house, the NBL feeling will overtake us and it will be the beginning of something else wonderful.

    I’m also learning that just ‘being’ is part of NBL as well.

    We’ll have to keep our eyes open for NBL experiences when you come up here.

  4. I’m also learning that just ‘being’ is part of NBL as well.

    Is it ever! You can’t force NBL! The key is that when you’re achieving it, it just happens. And when you see things that make you feel like it could happen, you just have to enjoy them.

    And seriously, we’re roadtripping to Ottawa for the NHL draft with our blogger friends and to hang out with you (in your new house, right? :D) — that trip is NBL already!

  5. First of all, Maple Hoo is gorgeous. Wow. Just…wow.

    Secondly, on the deer issue, there’s a number of deer repellants you should be able to buy at any hunting/fishing store that your township shouldn’t have a problem with. (They won’t let you fence in your entire property? WTF?)

    If you don’t have a store like that nearby, or can’t find it in a store near you, Bass Pro Shops or Cabela’s online should have something to suit your needs. Don’t know if you’ve tried it or not, but most of them are environmentally friendly while keeping the deer from eating all your good stuff. :D

  6. Thanks for the tip, Caitlin! I’ve done a fair deal of research on deer repellents, and really the only thing you can count on for consistent, hugely long-term results (like what we need for our fruit trees) is fencing, unfortunately. I wouldn’t have a problem with temporary fixes for a lot of stuff, and actually don’t mind the deer eating most of our yard, but the fruit trees and veggie garden have too much emotional investment in them to leave to chance! :D (Another workaround with deer is to plant things they don’t eat. Which means no tulips for us — they are INSANELY good at finding them — but plenty of daffodils. :D)

    Oh, and we are allowed to fence our yard, but not anything higher than four feet, which might as well be no fence at all when you’re dealing with deer. Stupid township. And it’s not like the township is going to cull the overpopulated herds, either. They’ve overbuilt the land, they’ve run off all the predators, and now we’ve got more deer than anyone knows what to do with, and they won’t let us do much about it. Thanks, local government.

  7. I shall come to Maple Hoo and be your deer whisperer.

    Is it ever! You can’t force NBL! The key is that when you’re achieving it, it just happens. And when you see things that make you feel like it could happen, you just have to enjoy them.

    This whole NBL conversation is really making me think today and I am in awe at my life and all of the wonderful parts of it. Thank you for putting it into words for me. In the aftermath of what has gone on in the last bit, I’m coming to a lot of realizations about who I am, what I need to be happy and how to just let insignificant things go by the wayside.

    I think that our friendship is NBL and I can’t wait to see you in June!

  8. HG, I should have known that you’d understand NBL completely! :) I can’t wait for the NBL-IPB-HG-NHL Draft weekend!

    Caitlin, thanks for the tips on the deer!

  9. This whole NBL conversation is really making me think today and I am in awe at my life and all of the wonderful parts of it.

    As you should be!

    I think that our friendship is NBL

    Definitely!

    June really isn’t that far away, either! I can’t wait! I can’t wait! Ican’twaitIcan’twaitIcan’twait…

  10. In the aftermath of what has gone on in the last bit, I’m coming to a lot of realizations about who I am, what I need to be happy and how to just let insignificant things go by the wayside.

    It makes me SO HAPPY to hear that you are finding the people and places and things in your life that make you happy. I love to document here all the stuff I have that makes me happy, but above all else, it’s the happiness itself I most cherish. And that’s what I wish on all the people I care about — find your happiness and enjoy it! It sounds like you’re doing EXACTLY that, HG!! You’re a happiness superstar! :D

    I think that our friendship is NBL

    Damn straight it is!!!! *Fist bump* *Wiping away a tear*

  11. By the way, HG, speaking of your new house (sort of) did you get my email about the System for house hunting?

  12. HG, I should have known that you’d understand NBL completely! :) I can’t wait for the NBL-IPB-HG-NHL Draft weekend!

    :^:::::::::::::::::::: Me either. It shall be insane.

    but above all else, it’s the happiness itself I most cherish

    Word.

    You’re a happiness superstar! :D

    I try! I really do try! Instead of looking at things in a negative way, it’s fun to look at them positively. If I feel as though I’m getting upset or angry or grumpy, I am learning to stop and think about why I am instead of letting it take over. I give Mr.A kudos for putting up with me as I learn this because he usually takes the brunt of it.

    And yes, Pookie, I certainly did. Next round of houses, the System shall be accompanying us on my clipboard.

  13. They’ve overbuilt the land, they’ve run off all the predators, and now we’ve got more deer than anyone knows what to do with, and they won’t let us do much about it. Thanks, local government.

    That’s so stupid. What is the deal with your township? Your township makes the weirdest decisions, I swear!

    All I have to say is that I’m currently searching for a Maple Hoo of my own and it is SO FRUSTRATING. How long did it finally take y’all to find your place?

  14. Did someone say HOUSE HUNTING, Caitlin? Pookie and I love nothing more than house hunting! We have a whole system and everything (as referenced above) — I should have Pookie email it to you.

    As for finding Maple Hoo, I hate to say this… but we impulse-bought it. Seriously. We were just out looking, because we’d decided a week earlier to move Boomer back to NJ, but we thought we were looking at an 18-month window. We were just out for a Sunday drive, getting a feel for what was in the area, was all. And then we pulled up in front of Maple Hoo, declared we wanted to live in a neighborhood just like this one, decided the house was poop from the street, walked into the backyard and promptly called Boomer to ask how soon she could move. She said, “Tomorrow.” Heh. Two weeks later she was out of AZ, putting her house on the market, and we were selling ours.

    But in my experience, house hunting can be a really drawn-out process. It took us a few months to find our last house, and that was even in a market that didn’t have a lot of what we were looking for. We ended up buying the first one we looked at, but it took a failed bid on another house and the realization that there was nothing better available to push us to make an offer on it. I think the key to finding a house is having low expectations. Not, like, “selling yourself short” expectations, but you really have to severely limit what you will demand of a house. And having an open mind is key, too. Maple Hoo, for example, had none of the things we’d put on our “in my next house I’m going to have X, Y and Z” list, but once we got into it, we realized we were happy with it. (The big thing is that it’s a split-level, which is something none of us liked. Now I’m like, “Why would I ever want to live in a traditional two-story house? That would be crazy!” That’s a pretty good example, I think, of how being flexible in your notion of “dream house” can make the whole thing easier. Oh, and Maple Hoo isn’t in the town we wanted to live in, and neither was our last house. We’ve finally just decided being in Princeton is for losers, despite it having been our greatest dream for many, many years. :P)

  15. Caitlin

    Did someone say HOUSE HUNTING, Caitlin?

    I got the System and it has reinvigorated my search! Yay! I’m talking to some lenders, I’ll find a realtor eventually – for now I’ve got just some open places to go look!

    I decided on buying a condo first — that way it lets me build some equity, have the experience of that first home kind of thing, but without a lot of the things that come with owning a first home, like mowing the yard. :D

  16. I’m so excited for your house hunt! WOO HOOO!!! The one thing that saddens me about having found what I hope is our forever home is that we’re never going to house hunt again.

    We started with a townhouse, for the same reasons you’re looking for a condo. It was really nice having all our gardening done for us, and snow removal, and stuff like that. Now we have Boomer for that. :P

  17. how being flexible in your notion of “dream house” can make the whole thing easier.

    This is something to be quite aware of, Caitlin. It’s a good point. The last house Mr.A and I went to see looked like THE ONE in the photos and on the info but once we got there…… Meh. On a corner. Buses going by every 5 minutes.

  18. Buses going by every 5 minutes.

    Oooh, one thing I will never, ever let myself forget is that traffic noise is NOT something you’ll get used to. Ever. I rented on a really busy street and lived right next to a major highway. You can’t have your windows open in nice weather and still hear the TV. That’s unacceptable! In fact, if I were house hunting again, I’d make an entry on the System Checklist for “Traffic Noise: Yes or No”.

  19. In fact, if I were house hunting again, I’d make an entry on the System Checklist for “Traffic Noise: Yes or No”.

    I shall add it to the System Checklist for next time. HR and the Old Master told us the same thing – watch the street for traffic, especially if it’s on a corner.

  20. Or by a hospital. Learned that the hard way, too! Maple Hoo is tucked a way on what is essentially a cul de sac in a small neighborhood; there are only five or so houses further down the street than us. However, it’s also directly under the flight patterns of a small local airport. So (other than yard-work noises — awful) it’s generally so quiet that I’m shocked every time a plane goes overhead. I’m like, “WTF? An airplane?! Why, I never!” You’d think after 2+ years I’d be used to it, but… no.

  21. I totally overlooked traffic noise when we were looking for our rental, and then, after living there in misery for a year (without A/C, so we’d have the windows open, listening to heavy trucks barreling by just feet from our living room), we bought our townhouse. We got to the inspection, well after there was sizable financial commitment involved, and only then stepped out into the backyard… and discovered it was right next to the Interstate. They layout of the roads was convoluted enough that we hadn’t noticed the overpass, and we’re standing out there with the realtor, listening to the roar of the traffic that would be rushing right past our upstairs family room, and everyone is laughing nervously as we’re thinking, “We’ve made a huge mistake.” No matter what season it is, don’t make the same mistakes we have — MAKE A POINT OF STANDING OUTSIDE! :D

  22. Finding the perfect rental is even harder than finding the perfect house, methinks, because even if it has everything you want, you can’t control who your neighbours are. Have I told you stories of my neighbours here? No? Imagine everything you would hate to live next to and voila! Current casa de HG. But you know, some days I hate this apartment with a passion and want to scream and throw things at the wall but then I remember the higher purpose of why I’m here and the answer? Why, NBL of course!

  23. then I remember the higher purpose of why I’m here and the answer? Why, NBL of course!

    Of course! Hang in there! Your even newer, even better life is right around the corner!

  24. but then I remember the higher purpose of why I’m here and the answer? Why, NBL of course!

    That only kept me afloat for so long in our rental. Then I went into “NEVER FORGET” mode, where I would mentally catalog every awful thing I hated about it and vow to revel in not having those things once I was in my new house. :D

  25. where I would mentally catalog every awful thing I hated about it and vow to revel in not having those things once I was in my new house.

    I am never going to forget the Diet Cokes freezing in the pantry because of the poor insulation.

    I am never going to forget the fact that the floor was just subflooring, through which you could see the creepy basement.

    I am never going to forget that the trip to the washer/dryer involved dangerous, rusty nail studded rickety stairs.

    I am never going to forget the fact that the shower leaked, creating a giant hole from the upstairs bathroom to the dining room.

    I am never going to forget the awful traffic noise.

    I am never going to forget the terrible, awful kitchen.

  26. I am never going to forget that my bedroom didn’t get over 45 degrees in the wintertime.

  27. Oh, you know what though? I did forget the awful one-lane driveway. To get out of it I had to back onto a really busy street. If I wanted to go to the left, I had to back out and go right then wend around the local streets to end up going the right way. When considering what I was looking for in a dream home, I kept saying “a k-turn driveway, a k-turn driveway”. Since Maple Hoo Street is so empty I’d been backing out of it for 2 years before Schnookie and Boomer pointed out I could be k-turning. There’s absolutely now reason why I’d need to k-turn, but now I refuse to leave the driveway without doing it. Why? Because I can!

  28. where I would mentally catalog every awful thing I hated about it and vow to revel in not having those things once I was in my new house.

    Oh, word! My list is long and varied. I think the only one I can’t do anything (really) about is having crackheaded neighbors. I really have no control over that — sadly.

  29. Caitlin, it’s going to be so fun to house-hunt! I’d give you the name of my Realtor, but she quit right after she found me a house (she also started right before she found me a house – I think I was her only client).

    When I was growing up, my mom’s best friend was a Realtor and my mom got to go look at the coolest houses all the time and never had to pretend she was house-hunting when she really just wanted to look at them. She did buy a few that she looked at when she “wasn’t house-hunting.”

    I had 4 lists when I was looking for this house:
    Stuff I want
    Stuff I don’t want
    Stuff I require
    Stuff I refuse

    And then I picked this house based on “feelings.” :D

    And SUCH a lovely backyard! I’m such a city girl, I would FREAK if there was a deer in my yard. If I saw one along the road, I’d probably take a picture of it.

  30. Patty, your Four List system is a smart one! Taking into consideration the stuff you refuse is a good thing. It’s easy to overlook stuff you should be refusing when you’re being overwhelmed with the nice things about a house.

    If there was a way, I’d totally send you some of our deer.

  31. Caitlin

    ! I’m such a city girl, I would FREAK if there was a deer in my yard. If I saw one along the road, I’d probably take a picture of it.

    We don’t get deer much out at my house, but I’d offer up my dad’s deer stand as a nice way to view some deer…but, er, that usually um….ends badly for the deer. :(

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