I’ve lived in Seattle 13 years. Today was my first visit to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. We’ve had it set on our calendar a few others times and been rained out. So, my last visit to vast fields of blooming tulips was in 1996, when I lived in The Netherlands as an exchange student. I savored taking an unscheduled, slow-paced day trip with my boys after weeks of a calendar covered in so much ink that I could barely tell when I double booked us. I told them bits and pieces about Holland and my year abroad, messed around with photography, and bribed Miles with ice cream to take a picture with Charlie and I.
These pictures are the first I’ve shared here that were taken on a completely manual setting. The kindest woman in my Buy Nothing Group gifted me several hours of free photography lessons one morning a few weeks ago. I promised her I’d only take pictures on the manual setting for at least a month. I’ve taken piles of overexposed shots and I still have a ton to learn, but I’m glad I’m attempting.
One month ago we got the keys to a 1942 house. It was previously inhabited by a 94 year old woman who passed away this summer. She lived in it beginning in 1961! Like many estate sale homes, it was obviously treasured and cared for, but modernized? No. This, and a few amazing incidents, kept it in our price range even though it was in a neighborhood we hadn’t imagined would be affordable to us. It doesn’t take us far from our current place, the boys’ school, and our friends (some of whom are now much closer!). We are thrilled.
I envisioned I’d be writing frequent posts about what this process has been like for us. Instead, the end of most days I’m absolutely beat. My body is tired, my muscles ache and I don’t have energy to write. I haven’t been cooking regularly. Amy and Annie are feeding us quite often, very much to the boys’ delight. Tonight I was motivated, probably because Harry & I unintentionally napped after collapsing on our bed following the day’s hard work. The boys entertained themselves (oh, how I love that they are older for this phase of life!) until a massive meltdown over a house of cards crashing (literally) provided our alarm clock. Harry’s back working tonight so I’m holding down the fort.
A month ago we started here:
and all month we’ve been doing this:
Not to be considered slouchers, we donated an organ. (Harde har har.)
We had asbestos popcorn ceilings removed. Sloppy work meant they had to return and take out our carpet and big wall mirrors. Win! Less work for us!
Over fifty hours were spent removing wallpaper layers (by me, my mom and a friend). Three layers on the dining room wall, four ridiculously awful layers on every wall in the boys’ room, one in the foyer and one super easy layer in the kitchen. If you ask me to help you remove wallpaper and I don’t run away screaming but actually say yes, I seriously ADORE you.
More hours than he’s cared to count have been spent by Harry preparing the walls and ceilings for paint. The plaster is worn in many spots, completely falling away from the lathe in places, so it needed to be cleared out and patched with drywall and/or joint compound. The man is officially my Master of Plaster.
Several days were spent removing carpet pads (easy!), carpet tack strips (horrible!) and staples (even worse, until I found the right tool) from the hardwood floors.
Still up before move-in: finish patching walls and ceilings, finish sanding all trim and kitchen cabinets to prep for primer & paint, fill holes in wood, and finally, prime and paint! Also, we need to pack more boxes, feed our children, get groceries, do laundry, clean dishes, work at school and prepare for Christmas.
It’s a season. We entered this somewhat naively (I thought the wallpaper would come down with ease, we had no idea how much work the walls would be, etc…) but many things have worked in our favor and we’ve had lots of support. Our chins are up. It’s just like a marathon. We signed ourselves up. We’re eager. It’s hard and we hit lows, but we have a goal in mind.
So, despite this slightly insane workload, we are thankful. With frequent reminders of how lucky we are, from the boys making care kits for the homeless at school to the horrifying stories of Syrian refugees, we are maintaining good attitudes (mostly), taking dance breaks, singing with our tools and asking for help. We couldn’t be more grateful that we have found a home to make our own.
I keep finding myself stopped in my tracks. It’s usually a combination of my boys playing outside, doing everyday things like climbing, kicking balls or chasing each other, and stunning golden fall light shining on the vivid leaves. Sometimes it’s just the light. Or just the boys. I have to catch my breath as I wonder, will this be their last time swinging from that tree? Is this is the final time I’ll watch Harry a pitch a ball to Miles while I bake? I have loved our life here. It has been rich with simple moments of beauty.
I cry, I sigh, I swoon, I savor.
Reminders of all we treasured here will continue to fall in front of me until we leave. Autumn seems to be the perfect reminder of beauty in loss. My heart aches and rejoices. Home moves with us. New gifts await. But for now, we are here. In the middle, watching the leaves fall.
Do not mistake your
swells of joy,
waves of tears
to loss of home.
They are celebrations
of life well-lived.
In one place.
For one season.
Since my last post was in early July I feel a bit sheepish crawling out from under my rock. Apparently it takes a cold to get me writing here again. I’m happy to have returned, even if just briefly between naps and tissues. I hope fall finds you well, possibly wrapped in a blanket with a warm cup of tea and a good book while rain falls softly. Hopefully there aren’t tissues scattered around you.
Last spring, the week after I began the colossal project of shoveling a mountain of wood chips from driveway to yard, our landlord changed our lease so that we could receive 90-days notice at any time. He informed us he was likely going to remodel and rent for more. Over the course of the next few weeks we saw him outside showing people the property. They scoped it out and took notes. I didn’t like it.
In many parts of this country finding suitable, affordable housing in 90-days isn’t a big deal. Fun? No. But, manageable? Yes. In many areas of Seattle, it’s harder to find a decent, affordable rental than a corner without a coffee shop. People are moving into the city faster than ever. Prices are skyrocketing. Many have already been displaced, many more will be. Renters who can afford it are competing by offering more than asking price and writing gushing letters to their potential landlords. Houses, already priced steeply, sometimes sell for 10-20% over asking price in bidding wars.
Our landlord changed our lease and I became obsessed. I worried we were going to be priced out of the city or have to make enormous sacrifices that may better warrant moving away instead. I read a million articles about the Seattle housing market. I combed over craigslist ads for rentals ad nauseum, getting a feel for rental prices so we’d be ready if we needed to jump. I set up Redfin searches to familiarize myself with housing prices, doubtful we could afford to buy but wanting to understand it nonetheless.
From May until September I often felt disoriented. Saddened by what was happening to our housing situation, while realizing that we were among the very lucky, my eyes opened a little wider to reality. I no longer recognized the Seattle I had fallen in love with. It wasn’t just renters who were tense. It seemed most people were either increasingly stressed by ridiculous work hours, anxious about being able to afford the city any longer, or feeling stuck (both literally, in traffic, and figuratively.)
Even the damn weather didn’t cooperate. June’s dry, scorching heat made me ache for the chill, wet and gloom that usually presides until July. I wanted normal and routine. I wanted comfort and stability. I counted on those June rains to get my garden established. Instead, I had scorched seedlings.
We spent hours contemplating how we could stay in the city or if we even should. (A very privileged choice, for which I am deeply grateful and sometimes a little embarrassed about. I am fuming about our unjust housing opportunities.) We knew we were straddling a growing divide, needing to choose which side to land on. Should we choose a different job for my husband if it means we get to remain in the heart of all we love? Even if we don’t see him during the week? What if he’s miserable and then we’re stuck? Should I work for someone else and give up my business idea? Heck, should I work full-time and just have our family deal with the consequences of such a busy life when we all thrive on on a slow pace? Should we move to suburbia, essentially starting over with community or commuting hours each day? If we do that, why not a bigger move to somewhere far more affordable? Our wheels, they were a spinnin’!
There were weeks I’d declare I didn’t want to stay here any longer, shaking my finger at the crazy rat race. Yet, typically within minutes of truly contemplating all that a move would entail, I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving. In the same day I’d research living in Amsterdam, I’d gush with excitement over the boys’ new school or be warmed by gratitude for friends. Countless moments like this happened before I finally realized what I was doing. I was grieving the pending loss of our current residence while feeling terrified that we couldn’t remain nearby. Our housing uncertainty made me feel like I was backed into a corner, so I was looking for where to run.
This realization led me on a journey of recommitting to my home and community. I became willing to ask for help and open to putting a lot more on the line to stay here. For the friends we treasure, to those we’re getting to know. For the school I anticipate my boys thriving in, to the pub where everybody knows our name. For the opportunity my husband has, to the excitement of my new business. For the sparkling mossy forests and dark gray waters, to the blossoming cherry trees and hidden mushrooms. For the orcas, my goodness!
Next month we are leaving our home of nearly five years to begin a new chapter a few miles away. I am hit by waves of grief over leaving this property (yes, pretty much the yard) and all the neighbors who have become friends. Often, on the same day, the next waves bring tear-swelling gratitude that we get to stay so close to the center of our community. I am eager to plant more roots, ones that hopefully will get to dig deeper for decades. The dropping of autumn’s leaves and the planting of spring’s seeds. Four seasons of emotions tumble within me.
(Stay tuned, there will be plenty of projects at our next place and we’re planning on taking you along for the ride.)
We recently lost our dear Tulip. She’s been with me my entire adulthood, a faithful reminder of my year in The Netherlands and reliable provider of high-quality pastured milk for our family. I brought her home as a calf at the end of my exchange student year in Holland. My parents weren’t pleased that my hideous Rotary blazer covered in pins from around the world wasn’t a sufficient souvenir, but what choice did they have? They certainly weren’t going to pay to fly a calf back across the Atlantic.
She was the cutest Holstein Friesian calf I’d ever seen. Remember City Slickers? Norman had nothing on Tulip, though he was responsible for inspiring my desire to own a calf in the first place. I came across her on a bike ride in Friesland. She was tied up to a tree and I immediately wanted to rescue her from a fate of veal. I made an offer, and come June 1996, she was mine to take home.
Tulip was the reason I learned to make cheese and always had an abundance of aged Gouda in the house. As much as we enjoy eating grass-fed beef, we couldn’t handle consuming Tulip. Instead, she rests among my garden beds and near the boys’ swingset, keeping us company even in death.
RIP, dear Tulip. We are thankful you were in our lives for so long and that even now we can keep you close.
We hope that the city of Seattle will soon recognize the importance of allowing cattle on home properties, so other families don’t have to hide their precious heifers from their neighbors and friends.
When we first moved to Seattle in 2000, I remember dying with laughter the first time I heard a weather forecaster mention “sunbreaks.” My native Colorado soul could barely handle that I had moved from a state with nothing but blue skies to a state that gave residents notice of when they just might be lucky enough to see the sun for an hour or two. The choice was either to laugh or cry.
Last Friday I felt the heavy weight of my snowballed anxiety lifting. It felt like a sunbreak after an unusually long, gray winter. I quietly hoped that the majority of February trials would firmly park themselves within that month, allowing March to come in like a lamb.
I drove to Seattle Public School’s district headquarters to drop off paperwork and landed a parking spot right in front of the building. I shared a little yelp of glee with the parking attendant. She understood and laughed knowingly. Previously, I’ve ended up parking at least a half mile away. It’s an industrial part of town, and walking to the building involved crossing railroad tracks and busy, trash-filled streets. (If you don’t appreciate a good parking spot, visit Seattle and drive somewhere downtown. You’ll quickly understand why we love our bikes.)
After waiting in line a fraction of the time I anticipated, I received the best customer service I’ve experienced in years. The kind man processed Miles’ Kindergarten enrollment form with a genuinely happy demeanor. He didn’t seem to notice the line rapidly growing behind me. (I had been anticipating a stern look of disapproval from whomever helped me because I didn’t have Miles’ student identification number. I had recycled the only notice we received with his number on it because I didn’t realize that: 1) the number was on it, 2) the number was important, nor 3) the only place we could find that number from our home was on that letter. For goodness sakes, the entire purpose of that letter was to inform parents that we wouldn’t be getting a letter with school assignments on it. Why would I keep that? Sigh. But, I digress. He was friendly, not at all flustered by my error, and helped me forgive SPS for it’s poor communication.
While exiting, I ran into two different friends, one of whom I’ve known since high school. It was a fun surprise to see familiar faces in an unfamiliar part of town. Later that day, I met with a different friend whom I’ve known since junior high, and the two of us saw another Boulder friend. My entire day was peppered with friendly faces, most from days past, in parts of town I almost never visit.
At the end of the day, Harry finalized a contract that brings us sufficient income for March. Things look hopeful for April, too. We celebrated with take-out and a bottle of wine.
The past week almost felt normal. We enjoyed a fun family outing at the Arboretum Sunday. I cooked. Harry mowed the lawn. I returned to my weight-lifting class because my back is recovering. My stomach is nearly normal after the tenants’ surprise eviction. No one else in the family is sick. Harry has been working.
It’s felt comforting. Not everything is resolved, but all of these little gifts felt like sunbreaks. I don’t know if this winter has passed, but I am thankful for the reprieve.