Putting Down Roots

The weather systems this year seem to like to spin up over the weekend and unleash on Sunday night and Monday morning. I’m working remote again today because the anticipated threat of ice falling from the sky has led the school district to close early. I had planned to drive into the office, but if the worst of this is going to fall throughout the afternoon, I’d rather not be commuting home on an ice rink with many other skaters.

The skies are gray and leaden, thick with the possibility of ice and snow to come, though so far it’s just been a mild spritz as the temperature slowly plummets from the low 40s down below freezing. Snow from the last storm still blankets the ground, so at least the kids can take their sleds out when they get home and enjoy a bit of fresh air and exercise on the sled run out back. One of the trees in the front yard still has some pale golden leaves clinking to it. The wind is making those leaves tremble and the whole tree looks like it’s shivering in the chill air, like someone who’s just hopped out of the shower and is clinging tight to the towel.

My front and back yards are full of trees. The previous owner let the yard lie fallow and didn’t trim any of the new growth. Once upon a time there was landscaping around the front edge of the front yard and terracing along one side of the driveway, but it’s all buried under trees and weeds. MAP has been thinning out the trees gradually over the course of the autumn and winter, opening up a space to grow grass where the kids can run and we can put in flower beds and other ornamental plantings. It still surprises me sometimes, being a homeowner. It was a long held dream and now it’s a reality nearly a year in the making. I think I had just about given up on the idea that I ever would have a home of my own, and yet here I am sitting at my desk, looking out at my acre of woods, warm and toasty from the fire in the coal stove downstairs.

The house has its flaws. It’s a little too small for our family, one bedroom short. V and J argue and fight too much to share anymore, so their little brother M’s stuff is tucked in wherever it’ll fit: his dresser is behind the couch in the living room in the unused entry-way. His crib is on one wall of the master bedroom. His toys are all over the living room. The kitchen hasn’t been fully updated since 1986 and still has all of the original appliances except for the fridge which seems to have been added sometime in the 90s. The stove and dishwasher are identical to the models that were installed in the house my parents built when we moved back to the US from Europe. Bigtime throwback to my later childhood. We couldn’t afford major renovations, so the kitchen remains as-is for the time being, only the miles of pepto-bismol pink carpet were removed and replaced with fresh carpet in one bedroom and cherry laminate in the main living areas. We also spent hours painting most of the rooms to banish the dull pinkish cream that adorned the walls when we bought the place and lent it a cave-like atmosphere. Radon was found back in the 90s, so the previous owner installed a radon system. Sometimes I get paranoid about that. In spite of the flaws, it’s a cozy little place and it’s all ours.

The house is in Gibraltar, a little village on the outskirts of Birdsboro, a slightly larger town, which in turn lies on the outskirts of Reading, Pennsylvania. Once upon a time, Reading was a thriving small city, renowned for its industry, its rail yards and a point of trade and commerce in the region. Today, it’s a sad shadow of its former self, struggling to pull itself up by its bootstraps. That economic depression across the area assures low housing costs, which is probably why so many people migrated up this way. The miles between here and King of Prussia where I work and Philadelphia are peppered with developments, the farm land slowly giving way to the onslaught of newly constructed houses. The developers keep on snapping up the land and building, building, building, transforming the landscape from sleepy and rural to typical suburbia. Our little patch is a slightly older development, built in the 1980s and lacking the McMansion stylings of some of the newer developments. The houses are more modest: single story and split-level ranches, situated on generous acre-plus lots. Down the road are the older homes, colonial era to post-WWII, following the lines of the roads, many still boasting at least a large portion of the farm land that used to to be the norm around here. It’s an interesting blend, a dynamic timeline, chronicling the changing fortunes of the region through its architecture.

The commute, to me, is hellish. I am grateful for my employer’s generous telecommuting policy that lets me break up the week so that I don’t have to make the long trek into the office every day. I miss being able to catch the bus to work, or only having a 10 minute drive from our little apartment complex in Devon, or 7 minutes from my parents’ house in Wayne. The commute has taught me a lot about driving though and helped to finally slay the deep-seated driving anxiety that prevented me from getting my license for so many years. It still surprises me sometimes, how second-nature driving has finally become. Everything has trade-offs.

How we wound up moving up here is a long story and jumping from my last entry posted here to this one is probably jarring. In those entries, my family and I had just moved back to Pennsylvania from California. We were settling into a rented home in Berwyn, my former home town and I was working for an entirely different company.

The short version goes like this: got a new job in 2009, S and I separated in 2010, finalized divorce in May 2012. I met MAP in May 2011 via match.com and we welcomed our son Matthew, his first, my third, in November 2012. MAP is a native of this area, his family has long roots going back hundreds of years in the Reading area and further north in Schuylkill County. After spending a year living with my parents to save some money and have extra help with little Matthew, we relocated to be closer to MAP’s family. Since 2010, we’ve moved four times, including the move into this house. I’m looking forward to holding still for a while and maybe finally figuring out where all of our stuff has gotten too.

The adjustment has had its ups and downs. It’s always complicated with a blended family. Moving to a new area always entails adjusting and struggle as well. The kids seem to be adapting though, especially V, who is back in a mainstream environment after spending 5 grades in a special education program out in Coatesville. J is doing well in school, but struggling socially and emotionally. It always takes time to really settle in, for a place to become home.

This time we might actually be able to put down roots.