It was all giddy smiles as friends toasted two contracts, one dissolved and one just entered into: a divorce and the purchase of my first, very own house.

But as the party was breaking up, Alex took me aside and said, “You’ve only been divorced a week and this is the first house you looked at. It might be too soon.”

It was June and I had gone from four houses to none, the divorce settlement from a 29-year marriage cutting me off from the two California ranch houses with pools and citrus orchards, a stately Federal on Castine’s Main Street; and Lakeview, the 175-acre Camden hilltop estate three miles from town where I grew asparagus and berries, cultivated roses, communed with fireflies and spring peepers, and raised two children.

My only real estate was the right to live in the Castine house for one year. I needed to close on a house by June 1, 2017, or I would be like Cinderella going from a gilded carriage (four, actually) to bumping in the road.

So the race was on: Exactly one year to find my dream house.

I wanted golden light, and something beautiful outside to look at while I sipped my morning coffee and practiced my calligraphy. Some days I liked the idea of being within walking distance of the Y for my daily swim, and other days the space and privacy I had had at Lakeview. And I wanted a clawfoot tub.

Everyone said I should rent for a year or two. But I quickly learned that lovely, affordable year-round rentals don’t exist in Midcoast Maine: The Rockport harbor condo I had been renting since I left my husband in January would spike 500 percent for the three months beginning in July.

First thing every morning, I logged onto the Camden and Rockport pages of and Zillow.

Pretty much right out of the gate, Peter told me a fabulous house around the corner from his gallery was just about to hit the market.

It had the dream provenance of children’s book illustrator and carpenter. I loved the whimsical colors and playhouse I could imagine my granddaughter and me having tea parties in, and charming wooded backyard where I could bliss out with birdsong, coffee and wine.

Each viewing met with approval by three different flocks of friends, Steph just noting that it was too bad the house looked out only to the street and woods: “There is something very soul-healing about a water view.”

When a contractor OK’d reconfiguring the bathroom for a clawfoot tub, I put in an offer. Such stress waiting to hear back — why hadn’t I just offered the asking price to make it a sure thing? And such joy when my offer was accepted.

But touring the house after Alex’s caution that I might be rushing things, I noticed the steep backyard slope was not ideal for my little grandchildren, and saw and heard traffic. It also hit me that the charm of the house was the owner’s charm, when this first house purchase was my chance to finally express myself.

Back to square one.

When looking at a Cape on the Camden harbor that Nesrin said was way overpriced for the square footage, Micki, my realtor, said, “There’s a house a few doors down that belongs to a friend of mine, and he is open to selling.” The price was a third higher than what I was comfortable spending, but no harm in looking.

Low ceilings, minimal closet space, tiny side yard. Yes, there was a view of the harbor from the kitchen, but you looked at a wall while doing the dishes. But oh, the one-room guest cabin that felt like being on an island: I would be happy living just in there, and was sad to find out later that it was not available to rent year-round.

“The older the house, the more the maintenance.” “Forced air, bad.” “Make a wish list” And, “You’ll never find everything you want in one house.”

Why not a condo? I wouldn’t have to plow, mow, or even garden, paving the way to being the carefree world traveler I envisioned in this new phase of life.

But rose gardens were such a defining part of me, having not even one rose bush seemed severe. Of the three condos I toured, one had a parking lot view, another had the potential of a noisy upstairs neighbor, and the third was on a busy street corner. And Ellen cautioned that condos came with a lot of rules and restrictions.

I patchworked three rentals on Hobbs Pond in Hope to take me through September, and over the hump of summer’s ridiculous rental prices.

Loving being able to just slide my kayak into the lake, when a house on Coleman Pond popped up for sale, I called Micki right away. Lincolnville, true, but only a 12-minute drive from downtown Camden, and closer than Camden to Chase’s Daily. A friend’s writing cottage was next door and I imagined us sharing a glass of wine on my dock after our workdays.

There seemed to be just enough sun on the back deck for basil and tomatoes, and in the small front yard a fruit orchard.

Offer accepted!

Nesrin said she’d meet me there on her way to the airport to give me furnishing tips.

“It’s damp and dark,” she said as soon as she exited the car, pointing out the mold on the shingles and that not one weed was growing where I envisioned my kitchen garden. She said to forget about an orchard in the front yard because of the leach field.

“Oh, I am so relieved!” a friend said when I told her I had gotten out of the contract. “That house wasn’t you at all.” “Why didn’t you tell me?!” “I thought you had already made your decision and didn’t want to rain on your parade.”

A cottage on Chestnut Street just the right size for one person oozed charm and boasted the fenced-in vegetable garden of my dreams, but the long driveway reminded me of being stuck on the ice at Lakeview.

As my wish list lengthened, Micki said, “Why don’t you think about building? That way you can get everything you want.” But I could not get my head around having to make so many decisions and felt a beautifully constructed old house would be better than anything I could put together.

It hit me that being a freelance photographer with my children grown and living on their own, I could live anywhere in the world.

Maybe Montreal, where I still had family, and would be only an hour from my daughter. Or New York City, close to my son, with all its cultural offerings. Or Blue Hill, where everyone made wooden boats, taught prisoners, or roasted coffee beans. Even Italy.

Nothing beckoned in my price range in any of these markets, but I retained high hopes for one of the rehabbed colorful Victorians on Bayview Street in Belfast, where I could get about a third more house for the money than in Camden, as well as a full-on water view.

In October, I decided that I would move into the Castine house for the winter. Why waste money on rent when I had a perfectly fine house, albeit an hour and 15 minutes from my life?

Living two doors up from the Main Street church, I was soothed in my familiar avocado-green bedroom by the church bells that advised, when I woke in the dark, whether to rouse myself or drift back to sleep. More often than not, I would rouse myself to scrutinize the realtor sites.

I kept tabs on every halfway alluring house and about once a week drove through sleet and snow for a touring day with Jill (she having taken over from Micki).

There was always one that I would forward to my friends with exclamation points and prayer and swirling-heart emojis, and mentally furnish and landscape while I swam laps or strolled the frozen, deserted Castine streets.

But, as I imagine with online dating, the reality was invariably a thud to earth.

One with a gourmand’s kitchen and gorgeous floors looked over only neighbors' garages. Looking out the windows of one quirky Victorian felt literally like I was standing in the middle of the busy facing road. At a rambling Victorian high on a hill, just thinking about furnishing all the rooms stressed me out.

I swooned over the cabin feel of one house, and fell even more in love after reading in the Camden Herald that the farmer’s market was relocating around the corner, but inside found the craftsmanship depressing. One house really did have it all, until I discovered the previous owner was the man who pushed his wife off Maiden’s Cliff.

“Things will pop up in the spring,” I kept hearing. “That’s when the real estate market here starts.” I made sure to end my European jaunts by March 1 so I could devote myself to keeping on top of all the activity.

In January, on Chestnut Street, from my friends: “Blue chip real estate; solidly built; great curb appeal; gorgeous back yard.” But, to me, it was formal and conservative, and also way too big for one person. Because of the Christmas tree in front, and the fact that there were only four months to go, I figured I could tear down this wall and that one, completely redo the kitchen, and rehab the luxury hotel-style bathroom for my clawfoot tub, and put in an offer.

Thank God, it was not accepted.

Finally, March came. And still nothing.

In Jill’s office, despairing that I would not find anything even acceptable in the two months left, she said, “Is there anything you saw with Micki that you might want to see again?”

One from the fall in Rockport that I had declined to even enter when I heard traffic from the front yard grabbed me with its light-infused kitchen. Great floors, too, and a short walk to the “Y”. I wanted so badly to get all my things under one roof, I put in an offer. It was accepted.

The day I signed the contract, I invited the six friends who had ridden on my year-long real estate roller-coaster ride to meet me in the backyard. This was a clear occasion for champagne, but I didn’t feel like picking up any.

That night, an email from a friend in London: “Did you find your dream house?” “No,” I thought. I called Jill. “Are you sitting down?”

Barely a month to go.

A gorgeous farmhouse right on the ocean on Rackliffe Island. A friend told me she had lived there with her husband and still felt isolated in the winter. Viewing cancelled.

It was a massive relief to nail down an affordable place in Camden to rent year-round starting June 1. But, an apartment above a garage, it was tiny. I didn’t have furniture — the contents from the four houses still mired in arbitration — but excess clothes and odds and ends would have to go into storage.

Storage units were a unifying factor for every homeless person I met as a volunteer with the local shelter. To go from a castle in the air to my stuff in storage was something I could not fathom. I needed to buy something, anything. Just get into my own place, and I could keep my eye on the market and move when I found something better.

Steph’s phrase that a view of the water heals the soul running through my mind, I called Jill: “The house on the water that Micki showed me in the fall. Is it still on the market?”

I would walk through it myself, without any voices to influence me.

This time, it hit every single marker.

Full-on harbor view. Golden light. Quirky. Radiant heat. Old, but not too old. Move-in condition. Private but in a friendly neighborhood. Close enough to town to walk, bike, or even kayak to. Manageable size. Gorgeous floors and superb craftsmanship. Charming kitchen. A happy provenance. Brick fireplace. Short driveway. Guest cottage. Church bells. A Christmas tree by the front door, and another out back.

And not one, but two, clawfoot tubs.

I am back in the town with incomparable light, where (most) everyone knows my name and where when I find something in a shop on Main Street and realize I don’t have money on me, Ed, Gary or Lori says, “Oh just pay me some time when you’re going by.”

And, miracle of miracles, I am home for the holidays.