It occurred to Eliza Thomas when she hit her forties that home might be "someplace you made." A modest cabin in the woods of Vermont seemed like a good place to start. Thomas's funny, heartwarming experiences transform the weekend cabin into a real home--a place where Thomas paints the floor the same color as her grandmother's beach house porch; where hordes of ladybugs come to visit one Indian summer; and the place her adopted baby daughter excitedly recognizes as they make their way through the woods in a ...
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The Road Home

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It occurred to Eliza Thomas when she hit her forties that home might be "someplace you made." A modest cabin in the woods of Vermont seemed like a good place to start. Thomas's funny, heartwarming experiences transform the weekend cabin into a real home--a place where Thomas paints the floor the same color as her grandmother's beach house porch; where hordes of ladybugs come to visit one Indian summer; and the place her adopted baby daughter excitedly recognizes as they make their way through the woods in a snowstorm. In writing that is at once funny and poignant, Eliza Thomas welcomes us into the warm and cozy rooms of her first real home. "A charming memoir . . . Thomas details the joys and problems of rural living."--Publishers Weekly; "Pleasant to read, funny at times, candid and poignant at others . . . by the end of the book, Thomas accomplishes a remodeled future built by hand, and a sense of her life as a narrative leading home."--The New York Times Book Review; "Another back-to-nature/independent woman story? Hardly. Which is what makes Thomas's memoir, THE ROAD HOME, all the more enjoyable. . . . She conveys a very real, living definition of home."--The Boston Globe. A BOOK-OF-THE-MONTH CLUB and QUALITY PAPERBACK BOOK CLUB selection.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Eight years ago, after living in Boston for decades, Thomas bought a one-room cabin set on four acres in central Vermont and found a place to call home. In this charming memoir, the first-time author reflects on the dramatic changes in her life as a result of the move and details the joys and problems of rural living. Her relationship with her friend Julian, who still lives part of the time in Boston, grew stronger as he visited regularly and lent his expertise to wiring the cabin and helping with structural additions. His support convinced Thomas, then in her mid-40s, to realize her dream of adopting a baby. She traveled to China and returned with five-month-old Amelia (now two). The author relates how she shares a contented life with Amelia, Julian and her dog, Lily, despite the difficulty of heating the cabin and locating drinkable water. Thomas communicates her deep pleasure in nature as she describes feeding hummingbirds, planning a garden and observing the splendid Vermont countryside. Author tour. (June)
Library Journal
After decades of living "in a period of transition, before life really began," Thomas decided it was time to have a place to call home. So she bought an old cabin in Vermont, started fixing it up with help from her weekend friend, Julian, and signed up to adopt a baby from China. This memoir recounts her efforts to make her new home more livable by adding running water, adequate heating, extra rooms, and more amenities. In the process, she forms a closer bond with Julian and prepares for the arrival of her new daughter. Facing and overcoming various obstacles, she gains increasing self-confidence. The resulting work, partly a personal journal and partly a mere recollection of mundane events, lacks real insight and fails to capture the reader's attention.Ilse Heidmann, San Marcos, Tex.
Kirkus Reviews
Knowing that she "badly needed a change" after years of odd jobs and lousy apartments, Thomas purchased an old Boy Scout cabin on four acres in rural Vermont.

She wanted "privacy but not seclusion," and the cabin was well-situated to her tastes and needs: on a dirt road not far from the highway, in a valley bounded by trees. "It had power and water and a phone line and was as nice as anything I could afford." Thomas, with her dog, Lily (who gets a lot of space here), and her friend Julian, would escape to their cabin periodically; gradually, she begins to enlarge it, to make it into a home. Like Michael Pollan in A Place of My Own (p. 126), she provides an amateur's enthusiastic record of everything from the excavation of the foundations for new rooms to the erection of the walls and roof. There is also much rumination on her life, on being in her 40s, directionless, frustrated, and unhappy. Having hit "rock bottom," she decided to quit her job, move to the cabin and gain "a ready- made sense of purpose and direction" by adopting a baby. Unfortunately, Thomas chooses to present Amelia, her adopted Chinese daughter, in random glimpses and segments, so that we have the child talking and wreaking havoc in the cabin a hundred pages before Thomas closes the book with the story of the adoption itself. There are a few amusing passages, such as Julian's desperate attempts at putting up a TV antenna, and some charming vignettes, such as Thomas's delight and fascination at an infestation of ladybugs.

Though often endearing, Thomas is inexplicably vague about the time frame, the cabin's location, when she adopted Amelia, and other areas that might have drawn the reader closer.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616202330
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • Publication date: 1/1/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 250
  • Sales rank: 937,714
  • File size: 3 MB

Read an Excerpt

Difficulty at the Beginning

Once again, we surveyed the bareness of an unfinished room. Light fixtures, drywall, paint, flooring, trim, were lacking. Ready or not, I went to get Amelia. Julian built her room. I was away three weeks. The trip was very hard; the I-Ching had answered accurately. Julian would reassure me with details of his progress when I called with my great distress.

By the time I waved good-bye to my old life, my panic attack had grown to pure and almost unbearable terror. I hurtled through space in an overcrowded jumbo jet to the other side of the world, off to bring back a total stranger who would dominate the rest of my life. I thought I could see with ghastly clarity what a disastrous venture the whole idea was. There were indeed excellent reasons not to have a child. I should have heeded them all. I must have been crazy. I should have just quit my job again if I'd needed so badly to change.

I was traveling with three other prospective parents. We were to be taken to the orphanage the night we arrived in order to meet and approve our new children before starting the paperwork in another city. Reeling with exhaustion after two full days of travel, we changed our sticky clothes, piled into tiny taxicabs, drove helter-skelter at breakneck speeds through ever increasing poverty, on roads that seemed less and less like roads, to the furthest outskirts of the city. It was too dark to see anything by the time we reached the orphanage. I couldn't believe that any of this was really happening.

It was the middle of the night, the middle of nowhere. The nursery was stark, two tables and a row of cots. The staff hadhanded me a small, pale, skinny, sad-eyed baby. We had an interpreter with us. This one is yours, they said.

She was so different from her photograph, I cried to Julian in my first phone call. They had shaved off all her hair except for a bit at the top. She was so thin and looked so strange to me. How could I love this stranger? Her head was flattened and wedge-shaped from lying in her crib so much. She was so distant; she never smiled. Julian told me he had taped xeroxed copies of her photograph to the refrigerator door and another on the door to her room so he'd see it many times every day. He had set up a work plan for the three weeks. The ceiling of her room followed the line of the shed-style roof. Where it was highest, he planned to build a shelf to store books and toys.

One week later, we returned to the orphanage for a second visit. Amelia looked at me and screamed. She hadn't been well, the orphanage staff said. They hovered about for a while and then brought out another baby. Healthier, they said. Take this one instead, she doesn't cry so much, they suggested with nods and smiles of encouragement. They had meant to be helpful.

It had made me feel so terrible, I told Julian from a world away. I didn't want to choose. I didn't want a different baby. I just wanted her to be all right. I just wanted me to be all right. I had felt so guilty to be glad to leave the orphanage that afternoon. From the other side of the earth Julian told me he had put in a dimmer so that the light wouldn't bother her eyes when we looked in on her at night. My nephew, expert at walls and drywall taping, had come up for a week to help out. Julian told me that they had made the closet from special, fancy plywood; it looked good, he said. He had already hung up the big blue overalls I'd bought.

It turned out Amelia was sick with gastroenteritis. She was in the hospital for a while, then she was out of the hospital, with me in one of the disconcertingly fancy tourism hotels that we were booked in. I had no experience with sick children. I had no idea how much to worry or not worry, so I worried about everything. She'd awakened crying five times the night before. I walked with her all night, up and down the anonymous halls. The plush hotel in a poor city on the coast of China had perpetual, canned classical Muzak in the halls and stairwells and elevators: the "Minute" Waltz, "Clair de lune," and Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, all processed to sound exactly the same. The world was insane. I hadn't slept for many days.

Parenthood was looking very hard to me. I was afraid I would ruin my life, her life, and Julian's as well, if he wasn't careful. Julian told me that he'd finished painting the walls a light, sandy color. He and my nephew were putting down her floor, the same wide pine boards we'd used in the piano studio. They planned to use this for the trim and windowsills as well; it made sense, it would bring the room together, he said.

Then, one day near the end of the trip, she stopped crying. This last hotel provided old-fashioned cribs with wooden beads strung through the slats. I heard an odd scrabbling sound one night; I looked over to my daughter to see her quiet and alert. She was reaching out with her long, thin fingers, kicking up with her skinny little feet, twirling the beads around and around, solemnly learning how to play, all by herself. I watched for a long time. It seemed like a miracle, but it was just her. Her life had changed even more than mine had, but she taught me to trust her, not the other way around. It made me cry, and the next morning she smiled.

And oh, what a smile. She was just right, beautiful, in an interesting, funky kind of way, with her shaved head and spiky tuft at the crown. She was calmer and eating all the time. Already she seemed stronger. When I told Julian this, I could hear his happiness. He said things were going very well. He had brought the comfortable rocker to her room; we could sit with her, watch over her while she napped. He had set up a shelf in the kitchen for her formula and bottles. He'd stocked the cabinets with rice cereal. Her crib was set up, all ready for her.

I made it through the rounds of paperwork. I found out that her Chinese name means "expectation," "anticipation," "hope." The room was on the north side of the house; we'd been concerned that it would seem dark and cold. Julian reassured me that her new room was shady but that it caught the first morning rays of sun through the trees.

"This may be hard for a while," I warned him from another lifetime, the sound of Amelia crying frantically in the background.

"That's all right," he said.

A Room for Amelia

It took two days to travel back. Amelia had diarrhea on the last flight; we were so tired that we sat on the floor outside the occupied restroom and sobbed together. My seatmate must have thought we were way out of control. She spent the first half of the flight studying lipstick advertisements, and the second half applying nail polish. She didn't dare look our way. She didn't realize we were just mother and daughter, getting acquainted.

The closer we got to the Boston airport, the better we felt. We were almost at the end of our first long journey together, almost at the beginning of another. A family was met with crowds of relatives and flashes of cameras. Amelia was plastered to me in her infant sling; we made our way through the throng, blinking at the lights, and found Julian waiting for us. Amelia gave him her heavenly smile.

* * *

Julian was right; her room was lovely. I'd remembered only how small the bare space had seemed, but finished off it was airy and open and interesting with its high, slanted ceiling and built-in shelves. The yellow pine floor and windowsills were golden in the indirect sunlight. It was small, but private too, and filled with the quiet sound of the stream below. Julian had hooked up the heat to her room and put in the prettiest of the old grates we'd collected. Amelia, newly arrived from China, liked it too; it was just what she needed, and gradually she settled down.

One of the women I'd called for advice and information during the long wait had described to me the making of her new family. Her partner had arrived home with their baby all the way from Peru; the adoption had been a long and difficult process. They had been told they would adopt a tiny infant, but their daughter turned out to be ten months old and an early walker as well. This nice woman tried to explain how much had changed. Where there had been empty space, she said, now there was a little girl standing in the doorway; where there had been silence, now there was the sound of a child's footsteps. Where there had been no one just the day before, she said, now there was this small being, and their whole world was different.

We too had somehow managed to make room, and one day there she was. Things fell into place around her. She'd lie in her little crib in the peaceful afternoon light, surrounded by teddy bears and rabbits and beautiful quilts sent by friends and neighbors and relatives. I moved a chest of drawers in for her and hung a print that a friend had given me many years before: a young Tibetan monk, a child really, sitting on the ground, playing a flute.

During the night we would tiptoe into the room to check on her; the dimmer allowed us to turn the light on just a bit. Sometimes she would be wide awake, lying on her back, holding her hands up and turning them slowly around, studying them from every angle, checking every finger. She was fine.

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First Chapter



IF I'D HAD the foresight to look ahead years ago, I would not have imagined that life would be turning out the way it is. If I had been so clear-minded, it would have all been different, anyway. In any case, I'm sure I could not have seen myself at age forty-eight, living in an old Boy Scout cabin in the middle of New England, perennially looking for work to support myself, my old dog, and my very young daughter. However did you land there? I would have asked, a little worriedly. But I might have been a bit in awe as well. I came of age in the sixties and was easily impressed by alternative lifestyles, although I had little grasp of the basics.

BEFORE MOVING TO my cabin, I lived in Boston for many years. Decades, actually. Except for a few brief forays, I had stayed on indefinitely after college, although I always considered myself in transit, in a period of transition, before life really began. This gave me lots of leeway, I thought.

Anyway, I had always thought home was the memory of someplace you grew up in; I never considered that it might be someplace you made. My family had moved around often when I was a child, living somewhere different every two years or so. I wasn't sure exactly where to say I'd come from if anyone asked; it could have been any number of places. A chance and random sensation--a cool breeze on my bare arm, for example, or a certain reflection of light, or some fragment of music I'd learned long ago--and I'd be taken back in time; I'd imagine shafts of sun through a tumble of clouds, fingers of heaven illuminating one special, lucky spot: home. It was always in the permanent past. Everywhere else was temporary.

I'm not sure what I was waiting for, but I was over forty when I came to my senses, at least to some degree. Temporarily or not, I'd lived in the Boston area for more than half my life. All that leeway had led nowhere; all I had to show for those years was a long series of false starts. Time had been running out, and I hadn't been paying attention.

I DIDN'T YET know how to piece together a new life; I just knew that I badly needed a change, and the cabin in Vermont that I'd bought a few years before seemed a possible starting point. It was there, available, affordable, far away but not too far; my dog, Lily, liked it, it was pretty, and it was mine.

It was also tiny and somewhat drafty and had some serious structural inadequacies. Unexpected problems arose with the passing seasons and the accompanying cold, wet, snowy, muddy, and dry spells. In time, my friend Julian started coming up on the weekends from Cambridge, and we threw ourselves into the many projects that presented themselves. Working on the place took on an interest and a passion of its own. We cleared land, planted gardens, dreamed about running water, and fantasized about a new septic system. We learned how to build, and the house grew bigger, although more and more strangely shaped with each addition.

Our friendship changed shape, too, along with the house, finally entering the realm of coupledom. Possibilities grew; we could make room for a child. And major changes occurred: I signed on to an adoption program, and after much agonizing and many delays I finally brought Amelia home.

For me, preparing for life with a child has centered around my cabin and the four acres it sits on. It really is home for now, with memories already made and memories in the making; but as it has turned out, making it home has had as much to do with the preparation as with the place itself. And that process, somewhat late in life, often haphazard, always ongoing, is what this book is about.

As I write this, Amelia is here, ever present. She runs from room to room, dropping toys and clothes and pots and pans in her wake, leaving behind surprise bags of miscellany. So she is here in this book as well from the very beginning, turning up at odd moments, at one age or another. She insists on this, and she is probably right.


I BOUGHT THE cabin eight years ago. I had some money that my aunt had left me, and it was making me very anxious and guilty; I worried that I would fritter it away. So I decided to buy some land with it, a little house maybe. It would be a wise and wonderful thing to do. One long, late summer that stretched into fall, I set out to find one within my means and drove with Lily all through northern New England.

It was our quest, and our recreation too. Every weekend I would pick at random a region of one state or another, and off we'd go. I became uncharacteristically brazen about stopping into real estate offices in small towns, where Lily and I would pile into the salesperson's car to be driven to whatever property was cheap enough to consider. It was a little like hitchhiking in the good old days, only without the terrible fears and anxiety.

It was also interesting. I would start each drive knowing nothing, and at the end I would have learned something I'd never expected. I'd know that the salesman used to be a bank executive but had burned out and moved his entire family to this tiny town, all the way from New Jersey. Or that the saleswoman had taken up real estate that very same year. She hoped to make a bundle but, more important, also hoped to have enough free time to get to know her teenage son, from whom she felt estranged and with whom she had just started skydiving lessons. Another admitted that he liked getting to know people, but not very intimately or for very long, and that was why this job was perfect for him: we'd all get out of his car at the end of the day. I learned that it cost a small fortune to bring electricity to anywhere off the path not already beaten by electric companies. I learned that the words "cozy" and "quaint" in real estate ads really meant "claustrophobic" and "dilapidated." If the ad didn't mention where the house was, it generally meant that the house was two feet from a main road. "Convenient location" meant basically in the main road.

I learned a lot about my own taste and needs. I liked trees, but at a distance. I liked the smell of manure and the look of cows. I found that views of small white villages with church steeples gave me deep and anxious melancholy, especially in the fall, like some distant, ancient, very sad memory; but whose memory, or of what, I could not say. Houses in the woods reminded me, also unhappily, of Robert Frost poems. On the other hand, I loved the shape of the land, the mounds of hills, the open pastures and narrow valleys. I loved the summer smells and the green everything and everywhere of the New England countryside, so much beauty and life piling into such a short growing season. I did not let myself consider the New England winter. I learned that I wanted power and water and most definitely a phone line, privacy but not seclusion. Beyond those requirements, I didn't know what I was looking for. Someplace to live? Someplace to camp? Someplace to build? I had no real idea.

The first property we saw was a cozy and quaint three-room cabin in a remote area of the Northeast Kingdom. It was on a dirt road, and it listed dramatically to one side. It was homebuilt, the rooms were tiny and dark, and the ceiling was unnaturally low, as if they had run out of wood when they were building it. Near an up-and-coming ski resort, the location alone was worth the price, or so the real estate salesman, who wrote poetry in his spare time, said without much conviction.

The second property was a two-room structure nestled in a huge cloud of mosquitoes near an established resort lake, owned by a very young couple who were obviously frantic to sell it. There was a toilet sitting in the front lawn, which I asked about. "Ah," they said. We all stood around for a while, swatting away at mosquitoes, awkward and polite. I could hear the speedboats right from the front door.

We saw a homemade log cabin powered by six car batteries all in a row in the middle of the woods. "Entering God's Country," warned a sign on the road. We saw a mobile home on five beautiful acres near nothing in particular. It was squat and green and undeniably ugly, but it had a certain charm as well as a beautiful old white clapboard shed. Taking that as a cue, I sought other old clapboard structures, was shown a wonderful schoolhouse at the end of a dirt road (too expensive) and an old post office right on a main road, with a mail slot from the living room right to the bathroom (also too expensive). We went on a spree of seeing anything and everything: hunting camps way too far in the woods; strange, lopsided houses whose inner core would reveal a battered old trailer; old capes whose floors and roofs had rotted completely through; hilltop huts with spectacular views and nothing else; and one inaccessible plot of once-cleared land with a big pile of old timber--the original barn.

I was lucky: by the fall I wound up with someplace just right, a one-room cabin on four acres in a small valley. The cabin was little and set up on cinder blocks; it was a place to live in or camp at or build or rebuild, so I didn't have to decide right away which it would be. It was on a good dirt road not too far from the highway, and it even had a small willow tree. The four acres were an overgrown hillside of unkempt old apple trees, edged by a hemlock grove and a line of maple trees on one side and a hemlock forest on the other. It had power and water and a phone line and it was as nice as anything I could afford. It seemed like now or never, and so I bought it, using up most of my money. And that is why I'm here.

Because it is in a small valley and because the boundary is all trees, when I stand on my porch in the full leaves of summer I can truthfully say, "Everything I see belongs to me." I do not have long views, see no sad steeples. When I first started coming on weekends, I would walk around in wonder as I fell in love with the place. Sometimes I'd actually lie on the ground facedown and hug it; I loved that it was mine. Someday all this will be yours, I'd tell Lily. Now, years later, I say the same to Amelia, saving Lily her favorite place under the nearest apple tree.

* * *

HERE COMES AMELIA now. She is just two years old, and very proud of herself. She has reached the stage of having many strong and conflicting opinions. She is vehement, if unintelligible, about what she wants to eat, what she wants to eat it in, where she wants to sit, where she wants me to sit, and what she wants to wear. Lately, it is string cheese and grapes in a blue cup on the porch, dressed in polka dots. I sit on the porch with her, and Lily gets some string cheese, too.

My daughter has straight, flyaway hair that she hates to have washed. Sometimes it's quite sticky. When she smiles, it is with all her heart and soul. She is rather slight but has caught up to well within the curve on the growth chart my pediatrician gave me as a reference. Her day care teachers recently had individual conferences with the parents, providing a personalized chart for each child. Amelia's included "great sense of humor" and "loves scarves."

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