Finding the rhythms of the neighborhood

I’m learning the rhythms of this neighborhood -where the sun falls in the garden at different times of day, when the mail comes, when people come and go on my street… Friday mornings are a bit challenging due to the garbage trucks that rumble in at what for me is an early hour, and then the neighbors who get out and rumble their cans back from the street just as I’m getting back to sleep :)

And then there’s the house itself – getting used to the sound of the furnace, which sounds like distant thunder, finding the places where the floorboards creak, knowing when a car is pulling up to my house or my neighbor’s house, which shares a driveway, figuring out where the cat is meowing from and where she has found as her newest hiding place.

Today, I spent a lot of time in the garden. This morning we looked for the right sunny spots to put the raised beds that came yesterday, which entailed some moving around of patio furniture and rearranging of pathways. Now there are places to sit out of the sun, which is a good thing. Sophie favors the chair under the honeysuckle arbor, or hiding under the couch near the tall grass.

We had our first hot day, so I made use of that same chair, which is the coolest shady spot in the garden. Later I enjoyed the slightly cooler temperatures in the evening, and while I was sitting outside, had a new delivery – my composter. Between the vegetable garden (which doesn’t yet quite exist) and the composting, this should be an interesting year of garden adventures for me – hopefully small enough to be manageable, with more of my food coming from home and less leaving it!

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Inherited gardens

It’s interesting to be in possession of a garden not your own, even a small space like mine, that has been carefully tended by someone else. The first year is fun, as you watch to see what comes up and decide what to keep, what to move, what to add.

So far, the things I really like: Lilacs, hydrangea, foxgloves, white bleeding heart, lily of the valley, small forest floor ground cover plant that I’m not sure of, azaleas, the amazing honeysuckle vine that creeps over the arbor, japanese maples and ferns.

Those that may get replaced: Pansies and geraniums in planter boxes (not my style), a couple of clumps of grasses that seem completely out of place, a very large jasmine vine (some like the scent but I find it overpowering), orange daylilies, yellow chain tree out front.

Things to add: clematis, climbing rose, vine maples, salal, raised beds with veggies!!

Done talking about houses!! :)

Well, OK, I may post some more SOMEtime. But most of you know my blogs have been almost entirely about moving, looking for, and buying houses lately – because that’s all I could think about and almost all I had time for! I’ve been itching to get back to other interesting subjects (and to actual life) for some time now. But first, an update for all of you who have patiently followed this journey.

I moved in Wednesday!! Yay! It didn’t even rain, even though it has the rest of the week. I had a GREAT moving crew and a fabulous friend here to help me move in, and by the time we were done, 2/3 of it was already unpacked! Rick was right in his thought that if there were a few rooms totally done, including ones you mainly need to use (kitchen, bedroom, living room), it would feel like a home already. And so it was. He even organized and unpacked the garage (in between fixing little things that needed fixing).

I have been busy setting up the computers, doing a lot of administrative stuff related to the move, and am trying to get around to the grocery store to stock the kitchen. I still have a wireless network to set up today among other things. But I am doing it in my spacious living area, which is the main part of the house, kind of a combination work area, dining room, and living room space, with the kitchen connected. It has high ceilings, skylights, tile and wood floors, a gas free-standing fireplace, and french doors to the deck and enclosed garden.

There’s lots of things to figure out still, like the most efficient way to heat the different parts of the house given the gas stove and the furnace and the odd hours that I work and sleep. I’m planning to grow some food in raised beds, and that’s taking some thought as to how to do it organically and sustainably. But probably the best part so far is just how quiet and peaceful it is.

I have slept so well the last two nights – the only sounds are the birds in the morning (and the rain!). And my cat, who is not happy about being excluded from the bedroom. But, she used to really keep me awake at night and I’ve decided it’s time to take back my sleep. Also there’s no other guest room now for my frequent visitors who are allergic to cats. Soooo poor kitty, she’s sleeping in the living room now. She’ll get over it – she’s got a lot more room to play and explore, and a private garden where no other cats or dogs can bother her :)

My main prayer to the Universe (given that the houses on either side of me are for sale)… may the peace of this neighborhood remain and bless me, my cat, and all the neighbors for years to come.

Really, truly buying a house

So I had my inspection on this second house. It didn’t go badly, it wasn’t perfect either. It was encouraging to hear things like “that’s the cleanest electrical panel I’ve seen in a long time” from my inspector, who’s notoriously picky and thorough. There were some issues though – the lady who lives there is a very interesting woman, but like me, she’s not really a fix-it type. And she’d been there 17 years and had put the house through extensive remodels.

Suffice it to say that not all of the contractors completely finished their jobs, or did them in the highest quality manner. Most of what we found can be attributed to that – some of which could have been disastrous over time. Like the fact that the roofers she hired to replace the roof last year took the skylights off but didn’t reseal them. They’re just sitting on top of the roof in their places, unattached (!). Fixtures weren’t bolted down after the tile floors were put in, etc. And the air filters one of her housemates put over all the vents may be restricting the airflow that the furnace needs. Stuff like that.

All told, there’s about $6000 worth of work to do, a far cry from the $40,000 of last time. As my inspector put it, “this is the Taj Mahal compared to that other house we were looking at.” (Which still doesn’t have any offers on it.) Still, of course it made me worry a bit. Fortunately, she came home as we were wrapping up and we had a chance to meet, get to know each other, and talk it over. We hit it off really well, she is a smart and interesting lady that teaches at Evergreen College. By the time we left, we all felt like it would work out. In the end, I offered to split the cost and asked for $3000 toward closing costs, and would do the work myself. She agreed – and now we’re set! All the contingencies have been removed.

Now it’s just a mad race to complete financing, move all the money where it has to be, change over the utilities, get the movers and painters scheduled, and … I’ll be there – in just a little over two weeks. I can’t wait. My cat can’t wait. We’re both so ready to have our own quiet, private space to live, work, play, and sleep in.

Woohoo!!! The long search is over :) I am officially an Olympia… hmmm Olympiite, Olympiate, I wonder what they call themselves :)

Anxiety dreams…

So this weekend, I bought a house :) I haven’t talked about it much, because of what happened with the last one after the inspection (scroll down if you really want to know). Sometime this week we’ll have the inspection, and I’ll get the financing and insurance going, and then I’ll feel safer!

But the truth is, I’m not worried. This is a much newer house and there isn’t all that much to be wrong with it that isn’t visible, not like the older craftsman-style houses I’ve been looking at. I’m pretty excited and can’t stop thinking about all the little details of where I’ll put everything, paint, garden, etc.

One of the main reasons I chose this house, aside from the house itself, is the neighborhood. It’s in a little planned community called “The Woods.” And unlike so many of those, the woods are still there! The houses were built in the late 80s and it appears they left most of the trees and forest vegetation. There isn’t a lawn in sight. Each house has its own little garden courtyard, and the rest is very foresty. The times I went there to look at it, it was very quiet and peaceful – nothing to be heard but birds and wind in the trees. No traffic, no barking dogs, no lawnmowers (no lawns!).

Earlier I posted about different kinds of dreams, including “anxiety dreams.” Night before last I had a classic, just after I found out my offer had been accepted. I dreamed that the new house was on a lake (it’s not), and I had just moved in when I heard a noisy sound. Next door was a jetski rental place and they were training little kids to ride them, and the kids were zooming up and down the lakeshore right in front of my house :D

I had to giggle at myself in the morning. Probably my biggest nightmares anywhere I live have to do with noise and sound, since I am ultrasensitive to noise and work and sleep strange hours. This house looks like it will be as perfect for that as anywhere can be :) but obviously some little place in my subconscious is worried! Hopefully it’s out of my system now.

And if you’re curious, here’s the link to the new house. One reason it took me so long to get around to looking at this one is that the pictures really don’t do it justice. I’ll post some better ones later this week. The colors are not as they appear, the floor is tile (not linoleum), and the pics were taken on a gloomy day! This really has a very pretty little sunny courtyard, which the previous owners have not done much with. But I intend to :)

Letting go of the house…

So, here’s my house that was, or is for a few more weeks…

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If you’ve been following this, you know I’ve been looking at houses in the Olympia area. Early last week I wanted to go see a house that seemed like it would be just right. Rick and I had visited it and the neighborhood and yard were nice, it had a nice porch and lots of potential garden space. The pictures online of the inside of the house looked really pretty. It was small, and affordable – but when I asked my realtor to go see it, it already had an offer. And she told me even if I had been faster, they wouldn’t have taken a noncontingent offer.

It seems that lately, any house I see in my price range that’s really good is gone instantly, within days. The market is picking up here, but more importantly, there are a lot of people looking in lower ranges, including investors waiting to snap up good deals. And the inventory in this price range is mostly not that great. So when something good does appear, it doesn’t last long. This was kind of frustrating, and pushed me into action.

So, Thursday I listed my house for sale. After looking at the comps, we listed it about $10,000 higher than I originally expected, and figured we had time, no problem. If I had to wait a while, that would be OK. It was in the middle of the price range of the MANY similar houses in this area, all built by the same builder. Mine has a couple of advantages – it has been very well-maintained, it has an ideal location on a greenbelt, near parks, and very good schools. And, I’ve put a lot into the beautiful landscaping, deck, and stream:

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Well, it sold in three days. We had the good luck of two interested buyers showing up to see the house at essentially the same time – and they could see that each other was interested. By the end of the day we had one full price offer and one just under full price. Woohoo!! And the family that bought the house is really perfect for it. The two kids are just the right ages for the two smaller rooms, they can walk through the park to their schools and to their Mom’s house (shared custody), and while they were looking I had fun listening to the kids playing Billy Goat’s Gruff on the little bridge over the stream :)

And then I thought, omg, I have to find a place to live!! Wednesday I am leaving for a week and a half’s business trip, and I won’t be back until March 1. And then my brother, sister-and-law and I are headed to Mexico for a vacation March 8-15. I set closing for March 21, so this should be entertaining :D

The universe was smiling on me, though. I went onto Craig’s list to see if I could find a temporary rental in Olympia. It’s a little easier than most towns to find month-to-month because of all the students and the legislature. However, both are in session now and there’s not much to be had. I had one (1) choice in a reasonable price range. I called her up and, amazingly, it’s perfect. All utilities and wireless are included. She doesn’t mind my cat, doesn’t care that I don’t know whether I’ll be there one month or eight, doesn’t need any forms filled out or a rental agreement. Just wanted a single professional woman who doesn’t smoke. ~waves hand wildly

I went over there to check it out. Turns out she’s kind of an ex-hippy commune type (which I like), but really has it all together. She has these cute little houses on her property in which various seemingly very nice people live and all help out. There is a beautiful forest with walking trails, expansive grounds with amazing multi-tiered ponds and waterfalls with a patio for relaxing, barbecue, vegetable gardens, orchards, etc. I think this is going to be a really nice place to spend the summer while I’m looking for a house – it’s not far from the center of town.

So, the first week in March I’ll be moving my stuff in there, what I can fit. The rest will go into storage and wait until I find a house. It will be a little bit of a challenge living in 650 square feet – but good practice I think, for the downsizing I’m planning. And with lots of outdoor space to enjoy, I won’t miss my own so much. Plus, I kinda miss people too. This way I don’t have to have room-mates, but I can enjoy some company when I feel like it.

I realized when driving back, that I won’t miss this neighborhood AT ALL. It is soulless suburbia, filled with traffic, strip malls, cookie-cutter houses, and SUVs. It doesn’t hold a candle to the nice feeling of living in a quirky place where people care about nature and cooperative living, funky little houses with interesting people in them, farmer’s markets, good politics, and lots going on. We were in a little restaurant with great coffee and interesting food the other day, and I was struck by the three scruffy-looking 20-somethings among the students who were earnestly engaged in a discussion about… how many delegates their candidate had received in that day’s primary (Obama, I’m guessing). That’s Olympia all over. I’m looking forward to it!

Where to live, Part 2

I’m replying here partly so more of the people that commented can see it :) I so appreciate all the thoughtful comments and help on this. And not least the voice of my brother, who in the years since we were kids has grown up into a more practical person than I probably ever was! I’ll start by saying that everyone who commented was so right, in their own ways.

My online friends who’ve been with me through many life changes, know how important those trees are to me. They’ve asked me to give it a second look before buying a property without them, and so I am. I’m spending a lot of time right now looking out the window and appreciating what I have. I’ve also gone online to redo the searches in a different way, looking for properties with views and trees that are not way out in the sticks. There are actually some, so I’ve asked my realtor to look at those while I’m on vacation to see if they’re livable and meet my other needs. I will spend a month or two doing “due diligence” on this issue to make sure I am not prematurely giving up on having more nature around me, even close in. In this price range it’s possible I can’t have that, but you never know.

Brad makes some great points too. A lot of the stress in this place is the traffic, the long drives to anywhere, the fact that you never know if it’s going to be 5 minutes or 40 minutes just to get to the freeway. Oh, and in case I needed more incentive to move, did I mention they’re tearing up the main street between me and the freeway for the next YEAR?? Sigh… Hopefully I could sell the house before that starts.

And even though the backyard is nice, the overall area is not – stripmalls and developments, and it weighs on me. There is NOTHING around here in the way of culture, restaurants, arts, fun shopping, places to hang out. Consequently, I spend all my time at home, and I’m feeling isolated in spite of making my home beautiful. I have made ONE (1) friend in this area, whom I coincidentally met at a scientific conference. It’s true that one of the hardest things about leaving this place is all the work I’ve put into it – and all the work Terry put into it (which adds family guilt to the mix, though at least he didn’t do it for free). It probably took me six months to identify and release that issue, and it still pops up from time to time.

Yes, I’d love to be able to walk and take public transit more. That is definitely on my list of what I hope to find. And have somewhere interesting to walk and take transit to, which anywhere near/in Olympia would be the case. I’d like to live in a university-left-leaning-green sort of area rather than military-suburban (I can do without the sounds of artillery here). As far as the noise, it still does and always will bother me, I suspect. But the green-built townhouse has very good noise proofing and I don’t think I’d be worried about it there. And any kind of reasonably quiet neighborhood would be OK (though I always worry about big barking dogs). I have gotten slightly more tolerant to noise living here, getting used to the kids and the dog and the revved up cars.

And I do think that part of my evolution in thinking about what to do reflects a renewed commitment to the work I am doing and the new business I am starting, and earning a good strong living for at least another 5-10 years. I guess at some point I realized I was at the peak of my earning power and I should not lightly give that up. Later I can go out and live in a cabin in the woods or Costa Rica. There’s plenty of time in life to do all kinds of things. Part of this decision also had to do with getting online and discovering that it would be possible to reduce my expenses, find a place I wanted to live, and stay in the US.

So – it’s all about trade-offs. It’s worth analyzing just why this house isn’t working for me, which will help inform what I should look for. It’s also worth, as I have been reminded, looking at what I do like about this house, to try to get as much of that as possible. It wouldn’t be smart to trade off one set of things I don’t like for another, just to be different. So, the pros and cons:

Good stuff I’d like to keep:

– Forest, deck, stream, pond in the back yard, etc. I’d settle for anything natural to look out the window at. I also miss the fruit trees of Seattle, and notice that Olympia also seems to have a lot of those. It’s interesting to note that if you look out my front window, the neighborhood is pretty soulless suburbia; quite a contrast to the back. I’d like to live somewhere with more character.

– New house, everything works and looks clean. Not a fixer. This is not negotiable, as I am not a handy-person. It doesn’t have to be a new house, but it has to be updated and remodeled. Even less yardwork, housework, and maintenance is probably a good thing as I am falling behind here.

– Broadband is a must for my business. Now that I’ve decided not to live miles from anywhere, I can probably get that without any difficulty.

– Open floor plan with character (rounded corners, angles, etc.). I do not like feeling closed into small rooms – especially important when reducing square footage. High ceilings and a loft would be great.

Things I want to change:

– This house is too big and too expensive. It’s beautiful inside, and I love the colors I’ve chosen for it, but there’s one extra living room, one extra bedroom, and one extra bathroom. As a single person with no guaranteed retirement, I really need to reduce my expenses as dramatically as possible, especially while I’m earning a lot of money that could go into my retirement fund. I am targeting a 1/2 reduction in mortgage and monthly utilities (part of this will be accomplished through a larger down-payment in tandem with lower house price). I estimate this could save about $10K a year.

– Live in a neighborhood or near a city that I like, with culture, restaurants, arts, activities, parks, scenery, and places to go and hang out. Preferably Olympia.

– Live where I can walk and take mass transit to many places I want to go. Also closer to the freeway and at least one of my major clients.

– Live in a neighborhood with character – either an older established neighborhood in/near the city, or an interesting development like the greenbuilt one.

– I wouldn’t mind being somewhere where I could more easily have a walk-in business (for mediation). Many properties seem to have outbuildings, large garages, or separate areas that could work for that with a bit of remodeling. I’d also like to be somewhere people want to live in case I want house-sitters or renters for when I travel or have a facilitation job in another area. With a cheaper mortgage and better location, the chance of being able to rent or house-sit greatly improves.

So there are a few thoughts about trade-offs. I have pretty much ruled out long commutes and rural areas (speaking of barking dogs, noise, logging trucks…), and I’ve decided I don’t like suburbia much. So that leaves the city, or the edges of the city at least, or a town :) We’ll just see what I can afford… I did apply for my bank loan online yesterday ;D it kind of cracks me up that it can be done that way now. Things sure have changed since my first home-buying experience 18 years ago!