It was Terry’s daughter, Caitlin, who originally contacted us about featuring her mom’s charming Bar Harbor home. Terry is recently an empty nester, and after her recent divorce, has spent some time making the space truly her own. This is the kind of house that is filled with interesting pieces gathered over the years, and stylish, modern details. I’m so glad Caitlin reached out.
You’re going to love getting to know this family — and the tour may inspire you to plan a trip to Bar Harbor, too. Welcome, Terry!
A bit about me. The early years of my life were fairly predictable: grew up in Los Angeles with two parents, two siblings and a dog, extended family all living in the vicinity; went to high school about a mile from the beach, and spent undergraduate, graduate school and post-doc years in coastal Orange and San Diego counties; met a guy at work (basically on the same career track as myself) who I thought I could spend the rest of life with.
Somewhere along the way, I spent a few weeks one summer, taking a course at a research lab on an island on the coast of Maine and thought, “such an amazing place, but I couldn’t imagine living here.” Just goes to show, you never really know where you will end up.
As it turns out, I ended up moving here and have spent the better part of two decades living and working, and watching my kids grow up in this wonderful place. The nest is (nearly) empty now. Daughter, Caitlin, has spent the last few years studying acting in London. Son, Robbie, is in his first year of college, seven hours away in Vermont. Both are currently home for the holidays and I am in seventh heaven, as is Delia, our 12-year-old black lab/border collie mix, who is my steady companion.
But let’s back-track a bit. Nearly 24 years ago — having recently completed my second graduate degree, newly married with a baby on the way, and no clear plan for employment — I moved literally across the country to Rhode Island to start a brand new life. Providence was an awesome place to live — great small city with incredible history and so much to do. We might have tried to stay there, but job prospects were slim and we couldn’t afford to live in areas with good public schools.
Again, as a Southern California girl, who would have ever thought that I’d be living in a small town in Maine? But as it turns out… six years later, with a daughter ready to start kindergarten, a son just a few weeks old, a promising new job for me (and good prospects for my spouse), we bought a house (our first), packed up our tiny apartment, and moved to Bar Harbor.
We’ve been here 18 years now; the job, the house and the kids are still great, so I guess it was a good decision.
So, why Bar Harbor? Initially, we came here for a job (more on that later) but it turned out this city gal really feels at home living in a small town. (And I mean really small — like 5000 year-round residents.)
Compared to a lot of places, our community is quite safe, people are very neighborly and supportive, and the public schools are great. Plus, I am able to work at a world-class research institution. But most of all, there is Acadia National Park virtually in our backyard. Mountains, forests, lakes, streams, ocean. Who could ask for more? We can stroll in the woods nearly every day, plus hike, bike, swim, sail, canoe and kayak (much of this somewhat seasonally, of course).
Yes, it does get cold (really cold), but winter can be magical, the fall foliage is amazing, and our summer weather beats out just about anywhere else. And, yes, we are miles away from a lot of conveniences (airports, major shopping chains, fast food), but we have most of what we need and/or want, and a certain (how can I put this) ‘familiarity’ with UPS/FedEx drivers.
House-hunting for us was a whirlwind. Days after our second child arrived, his dad made an overnight trip to Maine to meet with a realtor and get a ‘lay of the land.’ A few weeks later we all traveled up and spent a day looking at the properties available. We feel incredibly fortunate to have found our house when we did — small and needing work, but affordable.
At that time, prices for year-round middle-class housing were reasonable (certainly compared to major urban areas), but inventory was extremely low. Virtually non-existent. Between $100K-200K, there were about 3 properties: one a “double wide” that had seen better days, another was so old that closets were 9-inches deep (enough for hooks but not clothes on hangers) and had mushrooms growing out of the fireplace (on the inside!).
We jumped at, for me, the only remotely acceptable one we looked at that day, and managed to purchase it for around $140K. Five years later, we put on a $100K addition. Last I looked, Zillow listed at around $300K. Visitors from Boston or California might consider that cheap; those from some other areas find it expensive. I guess it’s somewhere in the middle.
What we got was a quaint cottage built around 1880, located across the road from the K-8 school, and within walking distance to just about anything one might need. Daycare for my infant son was a 2-minute walk away. Going to work is a 2 mile commute. It takes 10 minutes to drive to the high school. (Funnily enough, our two neighbors and the previous owner were all named Linda, and they all made me feel right at home).
In general, people here have been incredibly welcoming. The year-round population (about 10,000 people) includes families who have lived on the island for generations, and people who have come here from all over. I’d guess there is only about 1-2 degrees of separation between everyone living here, but it’s never been a problem. Everyone who visits remarks on how special it is, and many originally came for a visit and found a way to stay. We try to remind ourselves how lucky we are to be able to live in such a special place.
Another great thing about living at a vacation destination is that friends and family from all over the country really want to visit. We’ve had nephews, nieces and family friends stay for extended periods, although almost never in the winter. (Winter/summer — we can’t have one without the other.)
Guide books show the summer resort community where we live for two to three months out of the year. There are millions of visitors each year, and for good reason. A few highlights: (1) 4th of July is a really big deal here, and Bar Harbor really has the best small town parade (and it passes in front of our house), as well as ‘lobster races’ and fireworks. (2) The best water — rainwater and snowmelt via gravity-fed pipes from nearby Eagle Lake. It’s ruined all other drinking water for us. (3) Last but not least, quiet season, starting some time in autumn, when visitors stop coming and we have it all to ourselves.
During the 18 years we’ve lived here, it hasn’t all been smooth-sailing. Our work lives have often been stressful, we’ve faced job insecurity, and had to deal with significant health issues for both myself and my daughter who has epilepsy. Not only did we find what we needed medically, both locally and down in Boston, we were fortunate to have great resources, a supportive community and good friends.
That said, if you were to believe everything you hear, there are people who can manage their jobs, kids, homes … everything with ease. For me, sometimes it seemed to me as if my house had been ransacked. (“Really, officer, there hasn’t been a burglary.”) But we usually kept it picked-up, reasonably clean, and the style was … let’s just say, ‘haphazard.’ Mainly what we liked with what we could afford.
Fast forward 13 years, when people started moving out: first my eldest child, recently graduated high school and ready to fly the coop … then, somewhat unexpectedly, her dad.
Part of the adjustment process was finding my life and making the house mine. The original kitchen, last overhauled in the 80s, with appliances warning me they were about to give out simultaneously, seemed a good place to start. Also, years ago I had agreed to give up design control for “his” bathroom (although I did nix the idea of rustic wood shingles on interior walls).
I took the design back into my own hands. (Fortunately, neither son nor the 2 dogs had strong opinions regarding what to do with the house.)
I sourced most ideas from … let’s face it, Pinterest was my friend. One of my favorite aspects was when I opted for soapstone, first in the kitchen (perhaps because it reminded me of lab benches from my research years) and then decided to use soapstone tiles in the bathroom, including the shower floor. Totally non-slip, you couldn’t slip in that shower if you tried. Soapstone never looks perfect, and that’s okay; little about my life is.
After over 20 years with a partner, facing projects by myself was daunting, but also empowering.
When I look at my children, I see a blend of personalities and cultures. My grandparents immigrated from Japan; the dad’s family is Irish and Italian. It’s often easy to guess which different physical traits they’re likely getting from which side of the family.
Equally intriguing, however, is detecting different personality traits that come from different sides. For instance my daughter approaches life with more of the enthusiasm of her father, but brings that energy along with the many interests that she shares with me. Conversely, my son and I have largely different interests, but I see him processing things much like I do — perhaps more analytical. My daughter has, however, inherited my preoccupation with spreadsheets. (Sorry, honey.) Neither has followed the career path of their biologist parents.
Before my kids came along, I was trained as a scientist and also had my share of experiences with children — nephews, nieces, children of friends. I had come to my own conclusion about the “nature vs. nurture” controversy. Sure I knew both had a role, but I thought that ‘environment’ (parental influence, etc.) had the edge in determining a person’s nature and personality.
So I was somewhat surprised to find that, in so many ways, people are largely who they are from birth. You can nurture their qualities, or not, but they really are greatly who they are. For me, that’s the most amazing thing I’ve come to realize. Seeing my own kids grow and develop, watching how their personalities evolved with time and how they react to the situations around them, this has been the most amazing thing for me.
Life hasn’t always been worry-free for them, but they’ve grown into young adults that I’m very proud to have call me ‘mom.’ And I’m learning new things from them all of the time.
It is difficult being far from my own family. I have often wished I had the support of an extended family, and also the cultural aspects and sense of community that I knew growing up as part of a large Japanese-American community in Southern California.
While these experiences are not something one can readily teach, I’ve found that, if you talk about your life, your experiences become a part of your kids’ lives as well. I honestly can’t recall specifically what we’ve said or done, but my kids definitely have absorbed a great deal from their heritage (Irish and Italian, as well as Japanese). In this day and age, I believe an awareness of their immigrant roots is especially relevant.
As a parent of (nearly) adult children, I can recall chaos that (for me, at least) came with raising small children, and know it was not the end of the world. Things settle down and, if you keep your head about it, things will be usually be fine. And if it’s not at this moment, then find your refuge place.
Mine is the old clawfoot tub that came with our house. It’s one my daughter’s favorite spots, as well her 4-poster bed. My son’s is his bed too, under his very ‘comfy’ comforter. I love that they have these special places in the house. My absolute favorite thing is hugging and kissing my kids good night. Getting to tuck them in (even when they’re big) and say I love you is a treat for me.
I think it even when they’re not here, and always have.
A big realization is that your kids don’t have to think that you are perfect. I want my kids to remember my house as home, as a place where they could feel safe, where they have memories both good and bad, and that home is a place where people love you. I don’t ever want them to dwell on the things that weren’t perfect (the paint swatches that are STILL on a hidden part of the stairwell, the peeling wallpaper… just because I’m dwelling on them doesn’t mean they have to).
There have been times when I’ve wished someone had told me … all kinds of things. But, honestly, whatever it might have been, I’d likely have not followed up on it. Life is made up of a series of choices, decisions to be made, paths to be taken. Some are easy; some are excruciatingly difficult. We make our choices, or have them made for us, and move in that direction. I feel very fortunate that the roads I have traveled have led me to where I am: able to share in my kids lives and watch them move forward, and pondering what my next moves will be.
Thank you so much, Terry. What a lovely home, and what equally lovely sentiments.
I always love seeing the little details in someone’s home, knowing that there is a story behind them somewhere — the knitted welcome mat with the dogs in the boat, the theatre masks in a bedroom, the toy animals on the window sill in the kitchen. Some of the stories, I’m sure, are small and inconsequential. Some might be more big and involved. But that’s what makes a house a home, isn’t it? The big and small stories all stitched together into a messy, beautiful, complicated and wonderful story.
I love when Terry says “things settle down and, if you keep your head about it, things will be usually be fine.” Isn’t that the truth? When you’re in the midst of the rougher parts of life, it is easy to think that things will always be that way. It’s such lovely perspective to be reminded that, in fact, they won’t. And I love that she says too that is is powerful to learn that your children don’t have to see you as perfect. Being a parent is hard work, and it is so refreshing to hear from someone who’s kids are mostly grown that it’s okay for it to be hard. And it’s okay to make mistakes and fumble along the way. It’s the messy bits that make our families who they are.
Lodge dutch oven
LL Bean boots
Touring England game
Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram too.
Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org