Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Renting vs. Owning

So what are your feelings on the rent-versus-own dilemma? With home prices steeply rising before leveling off at the end of last summer, as well as higher interest rates, many people who could own are now opting to just rent instead, indefinitely. 

Home ownership does, after all, come with a lot of surprise costs (you often don't realize something like a stove or an HVAC system is failing until it falls over dead). There's also a lot of regular maintenance, which coincidentally, did not get done on this current house and which allowed us to knock thousands off the asking price, meaning you can pay for it now, or pay for it later -- your choice.  But you will pay. 

Renting, on the other hand, provides a lot of freedom from responsibility but very little security; you can be asked to vacate your home in 30 days by your landlord, for a variety of very legal and valid reasons which have nothing whatsoever with the fact that you've been a great tenant. 

Living in and renting a company house for a year, we debated renting versus owning a lot. I was actually pretty happy renting since we had room for the chickens and raised beds and the freedom to do pretty much whatever we wanted with the place, but Big Ag hated renting. He wanted a place he could own outright. So he never really settled in there, despite having his dream barn/shop. What I didn't realize is that I hadn't really settled in, either. 

I know this because now that we're homeowners again, things feel completely different. I can't tell you why, but it just feels more like home. The things you laugh at in your rental, like outdated fixtures, you check the budget on in your owned home to see if you can afford to change them. It's like dating versus marriage. There are marriage deal-breakers that we all probably think are amusing and interesting in someone we're having coffee with, like having a pet python or finding out they painted all their bedroom walls black. But is that person marriage material? Oh hell no.

What's funny for me is the amount of old household habits that have come back now that we're in our own place again. I just made a batch of soap last week, we have two new raised beds installed, all ready to go for vegetables this summer, and I planted one of the raised beds over the leach field with sunflowers, hollyhocks, gladiolas, peonies, and zinnias. I've also been working on the front yard landscaping, just adding a few plants I miss from California and which also grow great here in Oregon, like rosemary, English lavender,  and Russian sage.

I had four raised beds in the rental that I never used, and plenty of chances to make soap if I'd wanted to. So why didn't I? Probably because of some subconscious feeling that I just didn't want to do things that would make me feel committed to settling in there. Coffee was fine. Marriage was out of the question.  

Perhaps it really does matter whose name is on the title deed. There may be a deeper level of settling into a place that only comes when you know it's yours -- when no one can ask you politely (or otherwise) to leave. 

And I'm sure "settling in" means different things to different people, but settling in is definitely what we do when we're home. 

And we are home.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Slow but steady progress

We knew when we bought this house that our road to making it something we loved was going to be a long one. I don't think there was a single thing we gazed upon our first couple of weeks here that we did not want to change -- everything from ceiling paint to walls to trim to carpet to a remodeled kitchen, to exterior colors. That's a daunting feeling, which is a fancy way of saying sometimes it made me feel hopeless. But the key to overcoming that is action, and so every day we chip away a little bit at the chore list and try and take time to enjoy the progress. I will have to start taking more "before" pictures so the real impact of the "before and after" transformations can be seen. 

Some things will have to wait until we have the financial resources to make them happen, like the kitchen expansion/remodel, and exterior painting. But a coat of interior paint costs very little in comparison to either of those things, so I've been focusing my energies on that, as well as adding a bit to the landscaping (which was already about 90 percent complete and done well when we moved in, amen and hallelujah to that) and making the front porch a bit more welcoming. Our totally-out-of-place-in-a-farmhouse vaulted entryway needed something added to it, too. It's amazing what some accessorizing can do for a room, and I don't think there's a single room in our house (including ceilings) I will not be visiting with a paintbrush and/or some tchotchkes very soon. 

Come on up and sit down, even though heaven knows I'd love to get rid of this whole blue motif and go with a nice warm gray. Patience.

Coming soon....a new farmhouse chandelier. Be gone, brass monstrosity from 1996! In the meantime, enjoy some colored fish bottles and random farm decor.

I love clean, bright trim to a point of being neurotic about it. I literally re-paint baseboards once a year, so this freshly painted window trim is thrilling me. Help.

I also decided that the oak trim on the doors, windows and closets has to go, starting with the bedrooms on the second floor.  I've only done one window so far, but the difference is astonishing. 

One other funny side note is that there were some areas of the house which just weren't working. Namely, the entryway which runs directly into the stairs. Upon doing some research, I learned that this is actually terrible in terms of the feng shui of the house, or energy flow. I moved a painting, added some inviting candles, plus a nice round wine barrel and lamp to help the "energy" flow into the rest of the downstairs rooms, drawing focus away from the front stairs. I think it worked. I'm not big into the fortune-telling aspects of feng shui, but I do believe in having good flow from room to room, and some feng shui remedies address just that. So sign me up. I'm a believer.

Round shapes are supposed to invite energy flow in small, boxy spaces like this one, according to what I call Feng Shui and what Big Ag refers to as "Furniture Astrology." 

In unrelated news, we also visited the local iris gardens and I bought about 10 bulbs to put into the ground this fall, in an assortment of gorgeous colors.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

For every problem, there is a solution

The solution to a smoke alarm that keeps going off intermittently, even when it's been turned off and removed from the ceiling but has a sealed battery (and a mind of its own)?

About five very satisfying whacks with a hammer. 

For every problem there is a solution.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Sounds of civilization

New chicken coop. It will be painted and pretty-ed up once we get more sun.

After what seems like a marathon move, I'm pleased to report that everything we own is finally in one place, our chickens are safe and dry in a REAL chicken house once again, and we have both TV and internet service.  These seem to be the foundations of civilization as we know it (in our household, anyway) and so it feels like once again all is well in the kingdom....the kingdom of unpacked boxes, ladders and paint cans, of course.

There are still more projects than I can count. But I did finish the yellow library walls before the furniture that's too heavy to easily lift got moved in!

I'm trying to pace myself on everything else, and enjoy the spring and the garden. There are three raised beds built over the septic drain field, which will now be used for flowers and ornamentals -- not food, ever. Big Ag will be building some other large beds not on the drain field and that is where we'll grow our food. Putting those three original beds over the leach field is a puzzler, as are a few other things, which I'm sure I'll be sharing in the coming days. I guess you never know what the previous owners were or were not thinking when they did stuff (I know they grew food there because there were still tomato cages in place).

Just say no to food grown over the septic system.

The best thing about living where we do now is that while we have two acres, we have all the sights and sounds of a neighborhood once again. I always felt very isolated in the vineyard. Sure, I loved the natural beauty that was present everywhere and yes, even the silence, but there was not a familiar face to be encountered anywhere except for Prince Albert, the resident and lone turkey on the property. Living on 200 acres is one of those things you think sounds great until you actually experience it. I discovered I really missed seeing other people -- just folks walking by, working on their yards, or driving past.
I miss Prince Albert, the vineyard's resident turkey.

I think that's because ultimately we are social creatures, even if we don't want our neighbors too close. I suppose there are a few Henry David Thoreau types who really could live in the middle of nowhere with absolutely no sight or sound of other people. But even he had his mom stop by to help with laundry and make dinner for him sometimes.

In this neighborhood, we have a lot of walkers, kids coming up the street on their way home from the school bus drop-off, and the occasional car, although since we live on a dead-end road the traffic is minimal. There's people out mowing their grass anytime it's not raining. You can hear the highway in the background, the trains running through the nearby town of Turner each morning, and also assorted domestic livestock noises from horses, roosters and sheep. But we're also less than 10 minutes from true civilization in Salem, where there is shopping, healthcare, and entertainment. The nicest part is, when we're done with the city, we can leave it and come home here to where there's plenty of space... but not too much. I have to be honest, I think we're in the Goldilocks Zone of property zoning and size. Lucky us. 

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Saying yes to color

Spring is in full swing in this part of Oregon, and the fields, highway median strips and yards are all filled with gorgeous color -- daffodils, azaleas, cherry and flowering pear blossoms, all doing their part to make the local area a more vibrant, enchanting place.

My own contribution to the world of color came when I swapped out a boring beige study for a buttery yellow one. As someone who (years ago, in my minimalist phase) would have argued that Navaho White is, indeed, a dramatic color, going for this splash of yellow is true progress. This room gets predominantly northern exposure, so it does not get much direct light in winter. Plus it will host our large library units, which are dark wood. So I thought a definite shade of actual color would do well alongside all that wood and wintery exposure.

When using color on walls, the three stages of progress are excitement, fear, and then either satisfaction or horror. Luckily for me, Stage Three was satisfaction, although I went through a good half hour of abject terror as I was cutting in with my paint brush, mainly because it was such a different color than I'm used to using.

But I figure, this is a farmhouse, and so some warm farm-like colors are a good thing. In small doses -- most of the house will stay painted in shades of neutral. But a creating a nice warm, country feel in a library seems like it encourages reading and relaxing. Or, as we say in the country, readin' and relaxin'.

The other nice thing is that I see myself bucking that recent trend of gray everything. Although gray is one of the colors I'm considering for the exterior, so I can't sit on too high a horse. Either way, I'm happy with how this room turned out.


Feeling slightly hopeful...

And in love with the look!

Friday, March 22, 2019


Well, we are about 6K into our 10K renovation/repair budget and are just barely making a dent in what we need to do, but what we've done so far has been important to the house, and both things we've done so far needed to happen while we were not living there, since they are the kinds of things that generally make people flee to a hotel for a couple of days. So we've stayed here in the rental and let the guys work before we move in.

The first thing was replacing the well pump and casing. We knew there was an issue there, and negotiated a significant price reduction because of it, so it was the first thing we set about fixing once the property became ours. Country property is only as good as the well it's on, and this well needed work. Not for lack of water -- there's plenty of that -- but the pump was 22 years old, the casing was metal and was gradually disintegrating and instead of fixing it, the previous owners had instead installed no less than three filters running into the house in order to keep the metal flakes from the pipe from entering the household plumbing.

If your house uses no less than three kinds of water filters, plus one at the well head, you might have a well casing problem, not a water quality one.
It was also only pumping a meager seven gallons per minute, pitiful by even California drought standards. Work on a well is a can you can kick down the road, but at your own risk. Generally well pumps like to give out at the start of three-day weekends, at the hottest time of the year....usually when you have houseguests about to arrive. Life is stressful enough without adding that to the mix.

And so the well guys showed up last week, replaced the aged pump and changed out the metal casings for heavy-duty PVC, and the result was....sparkling clean water, coming in at the rate of 27.5 gallons per minute. That's what I'm talking about, Oregon! Bring on the water! That's almost a 400 percent increase from what it had been at. It makes me want to wash the car in the driveway just thinking about it.

The second thing we did was have the yellowed, too-varnished floors stripped and refinished with a clear coat, using a German product designed NOT to yellow over time. What a difference THAT made! See below. It looks like the floors can breathe again.

Floors before. OK if you're a fan of orange.

Floor after! (Excuse the blue tape the guys put on to protect the carpet.)

The window guys, the locksmith, the general contractor, and the garage door guy have all come over and done their respective craft. And I bought five bare-root roses, so I'll spend some time getting them in the ground soon. Pics to come.

Like most challenging things, it will be worth it in the end. And doing it this way is allowing us to get to know the house gradually, before we move everything in. 

Coming up next...replacing the ugly, dirty whirlpool bathtub with a regular soaking tub. What hides in those jets, bacteria-wise, truly scares me, especially since I use the tub on a nightly basis. But like everything else, the result will be worth it.

Friday, March 8, 2019


So right now I'm slightly....OK, actually more-than-slightly overwhelmed at what we've taken on at the new house. As per usual, there is a lot we've learned since closing escrow that has added to our to-do list and will put a strain on our wallet. There are busted window casings, broken blinds, and garage doors that don't open. Is it ever any other way? Do people ever buy houses without hemorrhaging money for the first six months? 

I'm not even gonna list all the things that need to be done, because it will probably make me cry if I see it all written down in one place, and I don't think you have that long to read it all anyway. But some of it has to happen before we move, and the rest will be done by us (long) after we're in.  I don't even have a date for moving right now, because as I said....some things have to get done first, which means I'm relying on The Guys (collective term for the Flooring Guy, the LockSmith Guy, the Tile Guy, the Windows Guy, the Contractor Guy, and the Garage Door Guy) to start work on the things that are on the Before We Move list.

That's right, I'm expecting contractors to show up and complete work on time. Clearly I have lost my mind already.

But once we're in, I suspect I'll have projects going on for literally years. And since I actually like projects, this may be the most perfect house ever for me. But looking at it from the start is a little like staring up at a skyscraper you are about to climb. Hopefully once you get past the 10th floor it'll get easier. Hopefully.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying our last few weeks in The Vineyard House. The Vineyard House is like good, strong alcohol...incredibly enjoyable until it gives you a headache. I will miss the views, the grand trees in the back, and the quiet -- but not the total isolation or the fact that something died under the house recently and is causing intermittent stinkage. Neither Big Ag or myself feels inclined to crawl into the crawlspace and inspect, and the company does not seem to be inclined either. They already have this place rented out when we move, so I guess the new employee/tenants will have to deal with it.

I also had the fun experience of having a mouse living INSIDE my car recently, which stays in the barn when I'm not driving it. One electronic trap later and I have solved that problem. But living in a working vineyard has its drawbacks, I'm tellin' ya.  Yet I will miss it deeply. How dysfunctional is that?

So in the overwhelming moments, I'm having to just breathe deeply and remain in the present. After all, how does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Of course this situation is actually TWO elephants. One elephant is this house (packing and readying to move) and the other is the new house (unpacking, projecting and making it  a livable home). But taking it all in good time all any of us can do when faced with a pages-long to-do list...