Sunday, April 5, 2015

Gingerbread, Whimsy, and Ambivalence in Newton

I went to Newton Center a couple of days ago to check out the neighborhood around Pleasant Street. There's a charming house for sale there that we've been waffling about for a couple of weeks (amazingly it hasn't sold, perhaps because it's crazy-expensive for what it is, even in these crazy times). 

After living in Back Bay for more than 30 years, I'm a spoiled city girl used to having almost everything I'd ever want or need a short, pleasant walk from my door. I love my neighborhood dearly, and I don't drive, so it's been hard to decide about moving to an area where my options are much more limited and getting around is much less convenient. 

On the other hand, a house would give us space, peace and quiet, and a private yard to hang out in and grow tomatoes, herbs, and flowers. I've wanted all that for a long time, but I'm still not sure I'm ready to trade them for city living. A bigger condo in Back Bay with a private deck or patio, in a building with more insulation between neighbors would be ideal, but we haven't been able to get one. 

So we explore other areas. Here's the first house that caught my eye on the walk up Pleasant Street from the T in Newton Center:

I'll bet the cats would like that little tower room for birdwatching.

The rest of these houses are clustered on Pleasant and Beacon Streets, making a spectacular little grouping of gingerbread and color.  This dusty-purple house sits high above the sidewalk. Instead of trespassing, I cropped my photo:

This is the house we're considering, also on a slope that is a little longer than I've shown you here:

It looks like something out of a fairytale, doesn't it? (But not all fairytales end happily ever after. Some endings are exceedingly Grimm.) 

Its large front yard slopes down to the street and isn't very usable. Maintaining it (shoveling the long driveway and paths, raking, pruning, etc.), would be a ton of work. The backyard seems manageable but the front yard scares the bejeezus out of me since I've never had a house, let alone a house on a hilly half acre lot.

Maybe I'll discuss the house's interior in another post. Let's stay outside since it's a nice warm day and I'm carrying my jacket. 

This dwarf-size building belongs to the next-door neighbors and is right next to the driveway:

I don't know if these folks are witches, gnomes, elves, or just artists, but I'm sure they are interesting neighbors. Their property is decorated with various installations, or shrines, or what-have-you. There are vaguely human figures made from tree branches, wood scraps, and metal, draped with many sparkly bead necklaces. There are tiny rock cairns, artistically twisted roots and branches, and so on. I might really enjoy these neighbors... unless their yard is designed to lure innocents like me inside to get chopped up and eaten... or whatever happens in the nastier fairytales I refused to listen to as a kid.

Moving along, the people in the next house, on Beacon Street, seem to have survived and they seem very sedate compared to their neighbors:

Because, next to them, well... have you ever seen a polka-dotted garage roof before? That garage door must be new and awaiting its matching, groovy, Haight Ashbury–style paint treatment.

I would probably enjoy these neighbors, too, since I have a high tolerance for eccentricity. Unless they are always smoking illegal but decriminalized substances that affect my asthma.

I'd be walking past the last two houses to get to Whole Foods, a 10-minute walk. It is the only place I could buy groceries (aside from a CVS that's 10 minutes in the other direction, in Newton Center). I am used to having many more options so being dependent on a Whole Foods gives me pause, not only because I've always been way too cheap to shop there for everything but also because I crave variety and convenience as a spoiled, city-dwelling walker. (Not to forget my long, passionate relationship with Trader Joe's, currently 5 minutes from me. That would be a painful parting indeed.)

The whole idea of living in Newton has been giving me pause. I wonder if I should trust my city-loving gut or ignore it because it's too afraid of an adventure that could be wonderful (if extremely expensive). It doesn't help that most people our age are empty-nesters wisely aiming to leave their suburban houses to downsize into city apartments like ours (bigger and fancier ones, of course). The people we see when we tour houses like this one are inevitably young couples with kids.

We do seem to be doing things backwards: we dream of "upsizing" after living in 800 square feet. A house like this would triple our living space and add many new chores and expenses to our daily routine that most people our age no longer want. (It's not like we have regrets: we didn't exactly "miss" the suburban-house-with-kids boat; we ran from it in the other direction.)

I have a lot to think about. It's confusing I'd really appreciate your thoughts!


  1. These houses look wonderfully fanciful. Newton probably has a town center with lots of services - just different from what you are used to. I see that as an opportunity to explore and discover wonderful surprises. Fear not!

  2. I admire your passion for Trader Joe's! The West Newton location is just a 5 minute drive away. Also, you and your husband could go together by car nights or weekends to any of the other (Cambridge, Brookline, etc.) much larger locations that have huge, wonderful, expanded selections of food. You would then have the incredible luxury of driving all those bags of groceries right up to your door!
    Consider it a deeping of your long passionate relationship with TJ's. Just a thought.

  3. Houses and apartments can both be wonderful; I think the biggest consideration for the former is landscaping and upkeep of the house (allowing for inevitable big-ticket expenses such as repairing a roof or some such). But perhaps the real issue is that seeing all the beautiful possible apartments and houses and then having to decide is sort of like going through a museum and having someone ask you to buy your favorite piece of art. The possibilities are almost endless, and of course one can love a sculpture as much as a painting, so even narrowing the category would be tough. One can only decide on a major purchase by understanding one's own deepest desires and current needs/context, without the confusion created by all the possibilities.

    If you and your husband (and feline children) articulate precisely what would make the place ideal for you, maybe it would help. Otherwise, you'll keep seeing beautiful and promising properties which will all prove equally tempting (for different reasons) and equally problematic (also for different reasons). Let's say you love both a Gauden statue and a Sargent painting. Tough choice, as you can't afford both. If you need something for the center hall table, though, then the choices is made: you go for the sculpture. Of course, if you CAN afford both….!

  4. those are some absolutely lovely houses, I can see why you are tempted. I think I've told you this before, our TJ is 30 minutes away.. we go once every other week or so and stock up..


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