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House Magazine - June 2008

Who would trade world travel for a life of domesticity?


By Tina Traster

On my 25th birthday, I was aboard a yacht in Greece. I turned 35 on the Italian Riviera.

I celebrated 45 in Valley Cottage, a sweet hamlet in Rockland County where my family and I live after relocating from Manhattan's Upper West Side two years ago.

I once journeyed to all corners of the world. Passport agents had trouble finding blank spots to issue stamps. By the time my daughter was two—and we were still living in Manhattan—she'd been to London, Moscow, and Portugal.

Since our move to the old farmhouse atop a mountain ridge on nearly an acre of land, I've become a cocooning, baggy-clothes wearing homebody who finds decorating, cooking and gardening more exhilarating than hilltop medieval towns and gorgeous coastlines.

Has my love affair with home and hearth cast a spell that makes domesticity a mesmerizing destination?

When we bought the 150-year-old house in June 2005, it was a sagging, sorry, nearly uninhabitable wreck. We raised the roof, replaced all the electrical and plumbing, designed a new kitchen and bathrooms and decorated the house in a blend of mission-style and country cottage. Friends remark that the house feels like a country inn.

Breakfast begins in the dining room, where the sunlight slants through the window, which has a view of our picket fence. I start the day with organically grown cereal and berries, flax seed, and loose leaf green tea.

I work from my home, looking out into dense forest, distracted mostly by blue jays, cardinals, grackles, grosbeaks, and pesky editors.

When I need human companionship, I take a yoga class or pop into Nyack, a mile away, which has all those urban amenities a former New Yorker needs.

I wind down the afternoon by reading the newspaper in the Adirondack chair overlooking the garden, and then cook dinner with the sun falling below the tree-line, turning the pale blue sky shades of crimson and purple.

I can't think of a reason to leave.

Rows of travel guides stare down at me from the bookshelves. Photos I've taken of farmers in Thailand or twisting alleyways in Morocco hang on the walls. Recently my five-year-old asked where a large clay urn was from. I told her Mexico. "Can we go there tomorrow?" she asked. I smiled wanly, realizing that one day I will have to dust off our passports and hit the road again.

These days, my idea of glitz and glam is scouring farmers markets for misshapen heritage tomatoes and creamy goat's milk. In spring, we head out Saturday mornings to the garden center, bringing back flats of plants. There is so much tending to do on our land.

Our herb, vegetable, and perennial gardens are shaping up nicely, though it is hard to sift through Rockland County's rocky soil. The strawberry and blueberry bushes will bear fruit this summer. We are preparing to raise chickens.

On weekends, I paint native birds on wooden bird boxes my husband builds.  I keep my bird-peeping binoculars on my desk.

My house is an adventure and a warm embrace at the same time.

For my 45th birthday, my husband and I went to a spa located in a 250-year-old house in Milton aside the Hudson River, about an hour's drive from our house. Sitting on the stone terrace during lunch, I noticed a 30-foot weeping willow. How many generations of children got to know and love that tree, I wondered.

Back at home, we cooked pasta primavera and drank Sancerre on our deck. As the sun fell away, my husband brought out a tri-chocolate ganache mousse cake from the local French patisserie.  He and my daughter sang Happy Birthday.

"Blow out the candles," my daughter shrieked.

I did, wishing for this fantastic adventure to continue.

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