Country Life: Moving from Brooklyn to Hudson Valley

We moved, in short, because we needed a change. Didn’t we all?

It wasn’t long into the pandemic before the city had cleared out. Our building was down to us and one other tenant. If you had another place to go you were there. Somewhere with a yard, somewhere with more to offer than what most of us have in New York City.

First we considered renting a house for the summer, somewhere upstate. I loved the idea of being somewhere like Woodstock for a few months. A country house! Shopping at the local farms, drinking milk from glass bottles. A simple life. When else would we have the chance to do something like this?

The only trouble was, everyone else in the city had this same brilliant idea, so it was near impossible to find a good rental. Either far too expensive, or not exactly up to my standards in aesthetics. Something I’m not ashamed to admit: Living in a beautiful home is something that brings me joy and inner peace. It’s something I’m just not willing to give up at this stage in my life.

As I spent countless hours scrolling through AirBnb, there were so many houses that had potential, but just needed a new sofa or a coat of paint on the kitchen cabinets. My god, simple white sheets on the beds and out with those horrible throw pillows! I thought, I should really reach out to this person and tell them my ideas, with a few minor updates they could have this place rented out all year! I’d play decorator in my mind and think of all that I’d do.

This was what I was really after, of course. To create a home of my own. I wanted a project, a new space to decorate. To lose myself in that process.

Not to mention, we’d just started trying for a baby – and I wanted to nest.

I convinced Jared that it was time to buy a house. We had talked about moving out of the city at some point, but I don’t know, maybe in five years or so? We’d have a baby or two and wait til they got to school age and then we’d decide. 

We’d roughly settled on Westchester as our future destination. If you’re unfamiliar with the area here, Westchester is essentially the suburbs of New York City. If you want to live in a house and commute to the city, you can either move there, to Long Island, or to Jersey. We had counted out the latter two and so Westchester seemed our best (only?) option. 

I’d always felt a bit allergic to the suburbs, but as we started looking I found myself enchanted with upper Westchester, towns like Katonah (Martha Stewart has a home there!) and Bedford, that felt a bit more like Hudson Valley, where you could have a ton of land and privacy. Jared and I disagreed on this, because he grew up in a town called Roslyn in Long Island, with more of a Stepford wives type of feeling, where the houses all sat next door to one another and the kids played in their perfect yards and streets. Me, I felt that if I were leaving the city, I didn’t want to see another house, or human, from my yard.

He was concerned about feeling isolated in these areas, where there wasn’t a lot of action, and the commute into the city was further (over an hour). His favorite area was the Rivertowns, which were located a bit further south, closer to the city, along the Hudson River. He loved this aspect, being near the river, and he liked that they felt a bit more similar to our lifestyle in Brooklyn, with lively little downtown areas that also happened to overlook the city – he wasn’t ready to leave, and just seeing the city in this way helped him feel more connected to it.

We started looking at houses, but nothing felt right. It seemed what we wanted was juuust out of our price range. But isn’t that always the case?

Then things got worse when we realized that because Jared had shut down his company, it would be harder to get the mortgage we wanted. Even though we were bringing in income, we would need two years of predictable income or salary to qualify – which was so frustrating, because we couldn’t get what we were able to afford.

I felt defeated, trapped. And then, in late July, things took another turn for the worse.

We got a phone call out of nowhere that my mother – who I hadn’t been in contact with for most of my adult life – was dying. I wrote about this in much more detail in my journey to conception here, but in summary it all happened so fast; it wasn’t two weeks from that call that she was gone.

My whole life had been upended. All in the same week, I went from sending my book proposal to potential agents to learning about the mortgage situation, and then receiving that first call about my mother.

Now my need for a change of scenery became essential. I needed space to heal, to be in nature.

(And I will just note here that it was never lost on us how lucky we were that we were in any position at all to move, as I know that was not the case for everyone.)

We briefly considered picking up and going to LA for six months. Why not spend the winter somewhere warm? For the first time, we had no ties to the city. Sure, most everyone was working from home at that time anyway, but we were in a unique situation in that we knew we wouldn’t be needed back in an office anytime soon.

When Jared suggested that I fly to California with our cat so that he could drive by himself! to get the car there, I knew we weren’t thinking clearly.

And as much as a winter in the sunshine sounded so dreamy (and believe me – over this winter I indeed often dreamed of living in a gorgeous home in Santa Barbara, overlooking the water and dripping in grapevines) something about leaving our home base in New York like that, just as we were trying to start our family just felt off. The opposite of planting roots.

But without the ability to get a proper mortgage, what else could we do? 

We decided we’d continue to look for rentals, maybe something longer term. It would be ideal to rent a house somewhere in Westchester, to try it out, we thought – but those were few and far between.

I continued my search religiously, checking Trulia at all hours of the day, Zillow too.

And then one day, our dream house appeared. It wasn’t in Westchester, even better, it was just north of there in Hudson Valley. A town called Garrison, which we happened to have a connection to, as we’d spent an anniversary weekend there at an incredible AirBnb. 

It was just far away enough that we likely wouldn’t have considered it, had it not been a rental, had we not been in this unique situation where everything still felt so up in the air. We didn’t yet know if or when Jared would need to be back in the city, so we still had the freedom to do something a bit more daring.

(Garrison is just an hour’s drive from the city, so I’m not sure how daring it is.)

Still it seemed too good to be true. The house was literally perfect. Partially furnished even, with things that I could have selected myself. It was huge, with more bedrooms than we knew what to do with (we quickly figured it out: enough for a guest room, a nursery, a gym, an office for Jared, and an office/art studio for me!) – and oh, the fireplace. My first fireplace that I’d always dreamed of, only we had two! And one stood in dramatic grey stone, as tall as I.

If I wanted privacy, we had it in spades; surrounded by thousands of acres of protected land, a huge yard with a horse stable (!) in the back.

Yet somehow, this house was within our budget. Again, something had to be wrong.

We called the realtor immediately. The second we stepped into the house, I felt in my bones it was ours. I could see myself cooking away in its little country kitchen, chopping up veggies from the farmers’ market down the street. Bringing out a pitcher of iced tea – or more realistically, a beer – to Jared on the patio as he manned the grill.

And my god, the thought of having a baby in this house. There’d be room for a rocking chair, surely. I imagined our tiny bundle crawling around on the grass with a hopeful heart.

I suppose after everything we’d gone through in the past months, the universe had decided we deserved this gift, this shimmering diamond amongst the mud. Because it hadn’t been too good to be true, there was nothing wrong; it simply was meant to be our house.

We moved in on October 1st, and here we find ourselves in April, with a baby girl due to arrive this summer. My heart surges with gratitude, tears fill my eyes as I write this. A deep breath in, a long and audible exhale.

What a year it’s been.

What a year it will be.

We still don’t know exactly where we’ll end up, but if we’ve learned nothing from the past year, we know that doesn’t matter. Because none of us know anything for certain, we’ve all learned that our realities can change overnight. Lives lost, jobs shifted or gone. New ways of living, evolving, adapting.

To live in the present is all we can do. And presently, there is so much to love.

Personal

4/15/2021

Country Life: Moving from Brooklyn to Hudson Valley

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  1. Barbara Spiegel says:

    Love the new website! Look forward to taking it all in 💖 Wishing you the best of luck as always

  2. Bruce Spiegel says:

    A wonderful story with a happy ending and many more to come.

  3. Dianna Peters says:

    I’m so glad you are back. I loved the website. Enjoyed reading about your move to the country. Can’t wait for more of your essays and look forward to your YouTube videos. I miss those. Take Care