In this month's #AtHomeWith, Soraya Lane encourages us to pull on our wellies and come enjoy the country and her family home.
My husband and I first met almost 17 years ago, and early on in our relationship we discovered that we’d both grown up in the city yet yearned to live in the country. It turns out that he spent school vacations at his aunt and uncle’s farm, and I spent every spare moment begging my mother to take me to the rented property where I kept my horse.
After years living in the city together, renovating character homes and often moving, we saw an advertisement for a beautiful house about 20 minutes drive away. We then made the mistake of going to visit during an open house. Oh, I probably should take a moment here to mention that, despite the fact that I write books set in the US and UK, I actually live in Christchurch, New Zealand. Yes, you read that right, I’m from Lord of the Rings country, and no, I’ve never toured the Middle Earth sets!
Back to the open house… we drove up the long driveway flanked by trees, parked out front and took a look at the small pony paddocks. Then we walked into the house and looked out at the garden and the fields beyond, and the rest is history. We were recently married then, and instantly imagined the house full of kids, and as I leaned on an old gate and gazed out, I could see my 12-year old self so impressed that I was finally going to buy a property where I could keep horses.
It was a very long 10-months after that first viewing that we finally collected the keys and moved in, and I still remember lying in my new bedroom that night and wondering how it had all happened. It was a big step for us financially, and it also felt like we’d purchased the home we’d always live in. Our dogs were exceptionally happy too – finally they had a huge playground to explore on a daily basis!
That was nine years ago, and we still love our home as much as we did back then. Our dogs are now very elderly and don’t explore so often, but we’ve added two sons to our brood, four horses, and two wild cats who are now completely domesticated and spend their nights snuggled on our laps.
I lived in the same house almost all my childhood, and I really like the idea of our children growing up on a property that is always there for them to come back to when they’re older. I know that's nostalgic and often impractical for many families, but we were lucky to find our special place in the world so early in our marriage. The house will definitely change (and let’s face it, if I could ever afford it I’d love to demolish this place and build something beautiful and new on the same site!) but the property is what’s important to us. We have a real connection to the land here, and I love leaving the city behind and retreating to our own little slice of paradise. There’s also something very special about the memories we’ve created here, and nothing is better for us than a day out with the horses, riding and mucking about, watching the kids climb trees, feeding the animals and picking fresh vegetables from the garden. It’s kind of old fashioned in a way, but it’s a nice balance to our busy work and school lives.
At night, there is hardly a sound, and unless the moon is out and shining bright, it’s completely pitch black outside. Our kids can yell and play without having to worry about keeping it down for neighbors, and I feel a lovely sense of solitude when my kids are at school and I’m home alone working. Our gates are closed, I look out and can see nothing other than grass, trees and animals, and it really helps me to get into the right head space for writing. Of course, before children, I did often crave getting out of the house some days! But with two boys, aged six and three, the peacefulness of a quiet house is something I always appreciate for the short times I get to experience it.
Over the years, we’ve renovated our bathrooms, painted the walls, put up new blinds and drapes throughout the house, and purchased new furniture to make the place look more modern, so it has changed a lot from when we first brought it. And we’ve added a lot of heating too! In New Zealand, despite temperatures in the South Island being exceptionally cold during winter, very few homes have central heating, even brand new ones. Our house was built in 1968, and with its high vaulted ceilings would have been very modern at the time, but it was poorly insulated and had no built in heating whatsoever. One of our first tasks was to install heat pumps in four different locations throughout the house, and that means we can keep the temperature regulated all year around.
Over Christmas we had a fantastic fort complete with a slide installed in the garden, and the year before it was a huge trampoline, so everything we do now is with the kids in mind. We love them spending as much time outside as possible, and often remind them how lucky they are to have 12 acres to explore, dogs to run around with, and ponies to ride whenever they want. They also have two pet sheep, who are extremely fat and are not in any danger of ever being eaten!
My husband and I are currently in the midst of planning what we’d do if we could ever afford to extend the house, and thankfully we are on the same page with our home dreams. Finances are of course the one problem holding things up, and we probably watch far too much of Chip & Joanna Gaines on Fixer Upper! We are currently dreaming of building a new big garage with internal access into the house, and a large loft above, as well as renovating the kitchen and re-cladding the entire home in timber.
We have a great university nearby, where I completed both my undergraduate and post-graduate degrees, and we’d love to keep our boys close during their college years, hence the loft idea. We’re imagining two bedrooms, a bathroom and a living space for them up there, although secretly I’m thinking I’ll use the space as my office until they’re older. I can think of nothing nicer than looking down on the property I love every single day when I’m at my desk. Although the old unused stables are starting to look very derelict, so they may need to be renovated before all these home ideas happen!
The one thing that’s certain about our property is that we’re here for the long haul. We’ll always be surrounded by four-legged friends, we’ll always love spending our weekends as a family, hanging outside or working in the garden, and I’ll always be found every day of the week staring out the window at a tree and wondering what on earth I’m going to write next.
Soraya's latest release, Wives of War, is out now. To find out more information about her and her writing - and to wine a copy of her book - visit her website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.