We sold our land Upstate. We built a garden, greenhouse and shipping container home. But now this chapter ends. Here’s why.
It has taken forever, but we officially closed and sold our Upstate property. It’s no longer ours. I feel lots of emotions. I’m sad because Matthew and I had so much fun tearing that place up to make a garden and building a little shipping container home. I’m mostly sad because we planted our Christmas trees there and I won’t get to see them grow. Heartbreak. But I’m also relieved and excited for the future in NYC.
We bought the property because we needed some time to get out of the city and get back to our small town roots (no pun intended). We wanted to get out of NYC on the weekends, tear up grass if we wanted to without having to apply for 5 different NYC permits, and plant a giant garden. We wanted to escape during the Summer every week, spend all day gardening, and then sleep under the starry skies to the sounds of coyotes (it was scary at first).
It was such a journey.
In the beginning we slept in a car overnight on the weekends (it was freezing in Winter!). I actually remember we went to the car dealership to buy a car and we asked the salesman If we could put the seats down and get in to see if we could sleep in it. He must have thought we were crazy. But he made a sale that day! On the extra cold nights we rented a motel for $60 (it was the cheapest we could find). We would order Pizza Hut and eat it on the bed for dinner, after we took off our Carhartt coveralls. I loved those nights. They still make me smile thinking about them.
And then we bought a shipping container to turn into a little “home”, safe from the elements and those Summer storms. We purchased a shipping container from a New Jersey port, and then got it delivered Upstate on a flatbed trailer. We got it delivered on a cold January morning, the land was so wet and slippery the trailer couldn’t even attempt to drive on to it. So the driver just blocked our road, and slipped the shipping container off on to some wood pieces we put on the grass. Now what do we do? The shipping container was about 200 feet away from where we wanted it.
But that was the adventure. That was the romance we were craving on our Upstate adventure. We just did stuff and we figured it out. It might not have always been the smartest way, or the most cost effective way, but we were having fun. We made it work.
After we were left with a 40 foot shipping container in our driveway, I called up local places asking if anyone could help us. Do you have a tractor we can rent? Do you know a farmer who wants to make some extra money? Within an hour, there was a farmer with a forklift who helped us move the shipping container to where we wanted it. By early afternoon, we had a shipping container set up on some timbers. There was also a happy farmer somewhere nearby, because he totally ripped us off in how much he charged to help us move that container. (I’m still bitter).
Then the garden started. Honestly, we tore the hell out of that place. We rented equipment. Really big digging equipment. Matthew was living his boyhood fantasies of driving around an excavator, ripping up the grass, and digging up our garden.
News flash, Upstate New York, in the Catskills is rocky. R-O-C-K-Y. What don’t you want in your garden soil? Rocks! What isn’t fun to dig up? Rocks! This took us FOREVER! Thankfully we had friends and family who volunteered weekends to come Upstate and literally help us pick out rocks, small and large, one by one, to help us build our garden.
We got wood delivered, multiple times. We rented more equipment to get those fence posts in for our massive fence. We went overboard, there were no way deer were getting in here (deer never got in, racoons though – that’s another story). We had friends helped us build the fence. We painted it purple. People said don’t paint it, stain in. No way, you live life once. I wanted a purple fence. We got a purple fence. It was beautiful and still is.
And there was our garden. It was lovely. We made walking paths in it. Made beds to separate the vegetables. A big shed was delivered to keep our garden tools in it. We met snakes, rabbits, toads and more who wanted to live in our garden. We got a scarecrow, froggy girl, turtle and a gnome to live alongside them in the garden. We loved it. It made us happy.
We were composting. We were bringing our vegetables from NYC to turn into compost and then soil for our garden. We bought more soil for the garden. Big trucks would stop by with giant soil deliveries, along with perlite. Our garden was thriving. The vegetables looked beautiful. We were growing hundreds, thousands of pounds of vegetables. We grew giant pumpkins.
We drove up there, almost every weekend, taking us about 3.5 hours each way, 7 hours total. Sometimes if we had a busy weekend, we would only go up there for the day. We’d leave at 6AM, and come back at 9PM. We’d drive 7 hours in one day just to take care of our vegetables. That’s true love you guys.
Because we wanted to grow year round, we got a greenhouse. I’ve always wanted a greenhouse. But did I tell you that during the Winter, the leaves fall off the trees, making our property one giant wind tunnel? The greenhouse blew down. Twice. Once on our arrival one morning from NYC. The other time we received an email from a neighbor. Your greenhouse blew down again, some of it is in the road. We’re 3.5 hours away. Maybe more. Traffic is heavy on weekday mornings.
We started to feel anxious. Stressed out. Ok, maybe it’s not that easy to do this adventure.
But we kept doing it. On our next trip, Matthew built the greenhouse (again). We triple protected it. It was not going anywhere. It was not going to blow down (it blew down again – about a year later). So we were feeling a little better.
We made the shipping container feel more like a home. We redid the flooring. Painted the walls. Got furniture. Got a compost toilet. It was actually pretty nice. Even the NYTIMES asked if they could photograph it.
Happiness again. The feeling of being proud. Did I mention we’re doing this on a shoestring budget? I mean, like a really really really small budget. And the NYTIMES wants to photograph our little shipping container that we bought for $2,000? That’s pretty cool.
Do you notice someone else in that photograph? Oh, yes, we were now a family of 3. In July of 2017 we had a baby, a little lady by the name of Enceladus. Weeks later after entering the world, she made her first drive Upstate and visited this little place her Mom and Dad made together. The drive was terrible. She cried, and cried, and cried. We were new parents. I cried and cried and cried. Matthew continued to drive while I sat in the back with her. She’s 2 years old now. I still sit in the back with her. This was our new life.
Suddenly the weekends were different. We were no longer just Pamela and Matthew, we had another person to take care of. Those carefree car rides Upstate every weekend, weren’t so care free anymore. It became a series of obstacles. Traveling with an infant, who had colic for the first few months. Taking all her gear with us. Oh yeah, there’s so much gear. Figuring out where she’s going to nap. Can she nap in the container while we were gardening? We couldn’t use a baby monitor. There was no electricity.
Oh yeah, we never got electricity or water. We were doing this off the grid. We got quoted $15,000 for a well. We were high in the mountains. We didn’t have that type of money for a weekend getaway well. Electricity, even more.
So we could use a generator to plug in her baby monitor. Carbon footprint aside, she wouldn’t sleep with the generator running. So I wore her. I wore her basically the entire time Upstate. It was fine. I don’t mind. I like the baby snuggles. I live for the baby snuggles. But things were different now. It felt different.
The shipping container was never supposed to stay as it was. We actually had big dreams of building a 2-3 story shipping container home. Stacking the containers on top of each other, on a cement foundation, down in the middle of the land (the spot that had the most perfect view). We would take off the one side of the containers, covering it with glass windows, insulating everything. Our new modern shipping container home would be beautiful. The light would be gorgeous inside. We would make a little patio outside, along with an outdoor rain shower. I guess we had a well now. Inside the container, I would have a bathroom, with a giant bath tub, that looked out the windows onto our beautiful Catskills view. It would be amazing. It would become our Summer home. We would spend all Summer up there and travel back to NYC only when we had to work. That was the dream.
It never happened.
But you guys, that’s ok. What did happen was an adventure. A really awesome, fun, loving adventure that I got to spend with my best friend Matthew, and later my other best friend, Enceladus. I have such amazing memories of those times Upstate with Matthew, building, gardening, and just problem solving. They’re vivid memories because they’re so special to me. I can close my eyes and still see them clearly. Ok, I’m getting deep here. But I loved our Upstate Adventure. And I would 100% go back in time and do it again.
But here’s why we sold it. And here’s what the future might hold.
Being a new family, we didn’t want to drive 6-7 hours every weekend. The days were already crazy with work, but now throw in daycare drop off, pickup, and the rush every single night to get everyone fed and to sleep. We want to maybe grow our family one day, so add in another person. When the weekends rolled around, I wanted to stay in NYC. I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want that extra work.
I realized how much I deeply love New York City. I realized how I’m destined to live in NYC. Going Upstate so often made me fall in love with NYC more. You see, I come from a small town. I know what a small town is like. I like to escape from this concrete jungle, I like the chance to breath more easily and take it a little slower, but I didn’t like it all the time.
I love the hustle and bustle of NYC. I love the community. I love the people. I love that I can walk down the street with Enceladus and 5 different people will high 5 her, all of those people looking dramatically different with dramatically different backgrounds. I grew up in a small town. I don’t want Enceladus to grow up in a small town, even if it was only going to be for the Summer.
I love that on the weekends we can be lazy. Even if everything feels rushed in NYC, it can be a lazy rush. We wake up on Sunday mornings, we go to our favorite neighborhood coffeeshop. Enceladus always get a muffin. I always get a chocolate croissant. Enceladus always steals a few sips of my oat milk latte. The barista knows Enceladus. Enceladus knows that after the coffee shop, we’re going to go the playground. And then maybe the art store to buy supplies to do a afternoon craft. And then on the way home we’re going to stop at our Brooklyn community garden and pick vegetables. Tomatoes, onions, carrots, potatoes, beans, pumpkins. YUP, we’re still growing our own vegetables. But instead of having our garden Upstate, we’re growing in an urban plot again. It’s only a 5 minute walk away. Sometimes when I need kale for dinner, I’ll have Matthew run to the garden and pick it. No more 3 hour commutes Upstate.
The weekends are busy now, but a different type of busy. Instead of spending 6 hours in a car with my family, I want to take the subway to the Natural History Museum and then grab $1 pizza slices with them. I want to go to a Mets game and eat hot dogs. I want to go to the Coney Island Aquarium and eat ice cream on the beach. And some weekends, we just stay inside. We keep our pajamas on, make popcorns and watch a movie. It’s great. I love it.
The dream shipping container home wasn’t going to be a possibility, unless we fully left NYC. We wouldn’t be able to build something more permanent Upstate while remaining in NYC. This is from both a cost point, and a construction point. If we wanted to build our dream Upstate home, we’d have to say goodbye to NYC. For reasons above, this wasn’t an option. Matthew and I love NYC. It’s our home. We want to raise a family in NYC. I want Enceladus to grow up in NYC. We never had plans to move Upstate. We still don’t.
We like Upstate. It’s beautiful. Stunning, really. We like being able to hike. We like the little ice cream stands on the side of the road. We like being able to grill dinner outside, close our eyes and not hear anything except chirping bugs. But we can do that in other ways. This Summer, we rented a home for a week, did all the things we loved doing Upstate. Took it easy. Got some time to relax and recharge. And then we returned back to NYC. We’re going to do that again next month.
Will we think about doing an Upstate adventure again? Sure. The romantic memories still exist in my mind. Maybe when Enceladus is older. Maybe when we hit the lottery (note to self, start playing lottery). Maybe. It’s funny, while we’re selling our Upstate property, friends are thinking about starting their own Upstate adventure. When they ask me for advice, I tell them to do it. Maybe they’ll love it. Maybe they’ll hate it. There’s only 1 way to figure it out.
If we do it again, we’ll do it differently. We’ll get somewhere closer to NYC. Maybe even near the train. Maybe that dream shipping container home will already be on the land.
But that garden – no way. That’s ours. We want to build it again – from the ground up. That’s where my happiness is.
I hope you liked our Upstate Adventure (you can read the whole thing here). I hope you liked following along with all the weekend posts, all the DIY projects and all the pictures I posted of deer and bobcats from our trail cameras. We loved doing it.
We’re still growing our own food, still making recipes with them, and still chasing a toddler around in the garden. Doing it all in NYC. Stay tuned for more adventures. We have a lot more to share.
PS. If the new owners are reading this, please don’t hurt our Christmas trees.