Something hit the roof hard during a sudden storm last night. Instantly my mind calculated: that would be about a thousand dollars.
I'm feeling rueful in that way that you do when part of you is so damned glad to have reached a goal, and another part of you realizes, "holy shit, be careful what you ask for."
I went to bed early last night, knowing I'd be losing an hour. The rains came in early afternoon, chasing me off my deck, where I'd been wielding both a screwdriver and a kitchen knife to pry out the nearly concrete-hard accumulation of pine needles between the deck boards.
My handyman, Ken , had pointed out that you have to or else the stuff gets wet, stays wet and rots the boards. We've already had to replace a bunch, with cedar now at $62 a board. Then you have labor, and then you have mismatched boards, and then you have to treat the boards, and then you have to repaint the boards and the gazebo to match.
That will be $700 thanks, and that doesn't count the big deck on the other side of the house which will need the same. Probably about twice that amount. Maintenance.
So when I got up last night to hit the toilet after hearing something Very Large land on my roof, which is part of living in the thick, old firs of the Pacific Northwest, I calculated. Probably about a grand, I thought, then laughed.
The rains slapped against the skylights, where just recently I'd invested $1200 to put cell blinds to keep out the increasingly punishing summer sun in a place that used to get nuthin' but rain. I spent another two grand putting SPF film onto the gorgeous windows all around the house, which helps control the heat and SPF which cooks everything inside, including me.
Last year I was still dancing around up here celebrating this house, having finally made that Great Big Move to Eugene, to a Great Big House (for me) which finally had a guest bedroom. I have been decorating like mad, deeply grateful for a place which had enough space to put up all my travel stuff on the walls.
Within a few months I'd emptied my savings account taking care of what turned out to be very big projects, some with real safety issues, that the inspector failed to catch. One big tree removal carved out six grand, four feet of missing concrete foundation was eight grand, the water from the sprinkler system had washed away some of the foundation so we had to bolster another deck with concrete. That was five grand, thankyouverymuch.
The sprinkler system busted open twice costing both a fortune in lost water but also repairs. It's old. They do that.
Glad to help support the local economy.
Even as I built out the gazebo to be a prime sitting space, I've had precious little time to sit in the yard I spent a fortune to own (that's a joke, caretake for a while, more like) and watch the birds.
That's another laugh. I installed bird feeders. With bird feeders came destructive squirrels, rats and raccoons. That means monthly pest control. Yesterday I walked into the guest bedroom and smelled dead rat.
That's just funny. At least I know the poison is working. However, I'd have preferred they'd crawled somewhere else to expire.
I have a friend coming in April. That is not what I consider a welcoming smell in my guest bedroom. You get it. And then, those squirrels have destroyed several hundred bucks' worth of feeders. I now welcome the neighborhood cats into the yard, considering the occasional dead bird the price we pay for rat control.
I have one of those very pricey, efficient but also complex fireplace inserts. Annual maintenance is $200 to clear out the chimney. That was fine except I didn't realize that you can't burn shredded paper in there. So the chimney guy was out again, for another $200, and we spent a half hour going over all the complex operating instructions that I have to put onto a laminated card. This is what comes with custom homes: custom instructions and complexity. And maintenance.
I just spent four hundred dollars for Stanley Steemer to clean out the cat pee smell in my basement. The same day the HVAC folks did their biannual check, and we had a long conversation about energy conservation. I've done every single thing imaginable to reduce energy waste, including retiring my dishwasher and installing a huge ceiling fan to circulate the air in the great room, as well as the aforementioned blinds and SPF film.
The same day the electrical folks where here installing motion sensors, we also installed, because we occasionally have unsavory types coming through, small alarms on all the windows and doors. The only problem is that if a mosquito farts near the window the alarm goes off. And as for saving money, the motion sensors ping on if a leaf gets blown near it. So the lights are on a lot at night.
You get it. By the end of the day I had spent another thousand.
I spent weeks on end last year trashing my hands clearing out massive blackberry bushes by the roots. Installed trees and cleared away detritus. Weeks upon weeks of clearing out invasive wax-leaf geranium (it's baaaaack, along with another nasty one). It will never stop. The berries will be back because my neighbors don't do this work, birds eat the berries and when they feed in my yard they shit the seeds onto that lovely, fertile ground.
The berries will be baaaack.
At first I welcomed the work. Part of me really LOVES physical labor. I do. No question. Loading wood, splitting it, schlepping it into the house. The yard looks great, but the maintenance is considerable. I have a lawn service. Their rates just went up. Of course they did. Their gas shot skyward, they had to.
Last week I spoke with my dear friend Maggie down in Florida. Maggie has had a lifelong dream of being an Instrument Flight Rules pilot. At 69, she did it. She did it, in that same wonderful way which, at 68, she also pulled a 300-lb man out of the Gulf of Mexico to earn her Rescue Scuba Certificate.
But now Maggie can't fly. She developed a condition for which she now has to take a medicine, and that medicine means she's grounded. At least for now, so her dreams of becoming a charter pilot are also grounded. I asked her how she felt about it as I drove west last Wednesday to spend the day on the Oregon Coast.
I achieved my goal, she said sweetly. I did it. That's enough. I'm happy.
I pondered that. This is why I populate my world with people like Maggie. Her comments landed at the perfect time. For as I begin to understand the burdens- some of which I most certainly welcomed, like the hard work, and some of which are a bit unexpected, like the massive costs that never end- of finally realizing a lifelong dream, I am also beginning to see the grace in allowing that dream to go.
Here's what I mean. For decades upon decades I've wanted a house in the woods with a high ceiling and deck. Okay, got one. These days, between Covid-induced supply chain costs, personnel issues and a host of other challenges, rising inflation etcetera, home maintenance is out of control. When I own a home I mean to take care of it. However, doing that with this place, which was built in 1977 and has a lot of custom features, turns out to be pretty pricey in ways that I couldn't possibly have anticipated.
I've invested a great deal in repairs, upgrades (like a new oak floor) and plenty else to make the place my own. And each week that goes by I discover, not without plenty of humor, that these $1000 upkeep jobs are never going to stop. It's a fact of life in this part of the country, from preventing the wool of roof moss from ruining your shingles to painting the house regularly.
Am I unhappy? Not at all. I chose. And with that choice came all the happy and not-so-happy responsibilities of home ownership, just like my Dad signed up for when he built our home in the Florida woods back in the late 1940s, paying the local help ninety cents an hour for labor. He couldn't have anticipated all the challenges that Florida woods living would offer: mold, massive efforts to control weeds, all the spiders and roaches and insects, bright red rusty water which would permanently stain any white porcelain surface. And tasted like shit.
Maggie married recently, and lives in a very pleasant Florida retirement community. Someone else does all the outside work. She loves that. I get it. She has more time to paint, to play, to scuba dive, and be with her new hubby. She hates the politics but she loves the sun, and the fact that she has time to enjoy it.
That she can't fly for now isn't eating her alive. She has blossomed into a talented artist, a latent talent I have as well and simply don't have the bandwidth to take on right now (I have to clear the roof of those branches, after all). However, it's her example, and how she handled the issue of being unable to fly that struck me.
I love this house. I love it here in Eugene. I love being able to spread out in this big place and see the gorgeous things that I collected on all my trips. I actually enjoy managing the house, at least for now. But that house management has begun to impinge on time I need to be training, to say nothing of the costs. Those extreme costs will ground my adventure travel if I can't find a way to keep them under control.
Truth is I'm already doing quite a bit of my own maintenance. But I have to hire electricians, plumbers and those guys who can work on steep-pitch roofs.
The other day I told my friend Melissa that if the house burned down, it would be a gift. No, really. I'd be free of all this STUFF, STUFF that weighs me down and shackles me to a place. Even after five years of steady downsizing, I still have way too much stuff, stuff that I continue to sort through, sell, consign, donate, or toss.
Feels good, too. The house I now inhabit allows me to do that, with its freshly- cleaned carpet downstairs now a place where I drag things out and mercilessly challenge their value in a life going forward, not back. Yesterday I took a few hours to cull my last closet of designer items which I will never wear. Those are awaiting photos, tagging and sending off to a resale house.
God that feels marvelous. That takes time, which is fine, because the time invested in letting things go emotionally is part of transitioning.
Yesterday I handed my handyman a box full of dishes I will never use for people who never visit my house for meals I will never cook for guests. They have charities, those lovely items will find a home. This is a steady, powerful, cathartic process. Of course it's hard. And because it's hard it's also very healthy.
Behind my office door is a white board. I promised both my financial advisor ( a thankless job with me) and my accountant (ditto) that I would figure out my monthly expenses. That's taking a while as I sort out what's one-time and what's regular. It's becoming very clear as I post those numbers that if I want a life of travel, and I do, I'm going to have to make a hard choice. Several of them.
Either I find a roommate, marry a rich guy (nope), or sell and move somewhere less pricey to live. That last is a very real option as I begin the three-to five-year process of deciding if I want to be a permanent ex-pat.
When I landed in this vast, empty home on August 1st, 2020, I thought it would be my forever home. I really did. It probably isn't. And like Maggie, I am embracing the idea that no matter how much I love this house, and I do, it is far healthier to say thanks for the gift, and start realistically planning for the next phase. I don't have the decades ahead to take my time when it comes to very large life decisions.
There may well be ways I can organize to have people here while I travel, or share the house with others (not something I like doing, for I am wicked-hard to live around). Maybe. I don't know. Truth is that will take care of itself precisely the same way Maggie shifted seamlessly from flying to painting. It's just another chapter.
This Eugene house is my fourth. Living in Colorado had its advantages, because of weather, and also because my real estate taxes are fully four times what they were back in the Denver area. Another friend of mine, also in his seventies, left Incline Village this time last year and moved to Rhode Island. We spoke the other night. Already, he is ready to sell his house and move again. The taxes there are wiping out his military retirement income. And we are Boomers, mind you, that generation that some folks love to hate for what we have.
What they perceive we have, that is. We do have homes and we do have options, some of us, even many. But that doesn't take into account those of us who are not at the high end of steady income, for whom rapidly rising prices are increasingly making home ownership untenable even to those who got in under the proverbial wire before home prices went haywire.
This and more are just one reason why I can't stop working. It's also why I am steadily moving off Medium. Watching my hard won income drop by 80% over five months as my expenses skyrocketed was the last straw. Medium became a bully to its top writers, and now is a bully pulpit for pith, porn and pulp. Not my best venue. I met my big goal there too, of reaching a certain income, and watched it die an ugly death.
Maintenance, upkeep and rising taxes all bully us, too, to the point where plenty of us are asking whether we can afford to keep the homes we have. So kindly, with all respect to the Boomer haters, the economy is an equal-opportunity bully.
For so many folks who really want to own a home, be careful what you ask for. Years ago in the earlier aughts when too many folks bought WAY too much house because predatory lending allowed them to, they also discovered that said too much house is also WAY too much upkeep and maintenance. Every single convenience from air purifiers to little twinkling lights takes care, from filters to batteries to dusting. Time and money. Time and money.
Lots and lots of both and going up daily, like gas, and inflation in a developing nation.
Lots of those folks collapsed not only from the burden of balloon mortgages but the unbelievable cost of upkeep. That was about ten, twelve years ago. Now it's a whole other order of magnitude.
Am I angry or irritated? Not at all. I am deeply, ridiculously grateful. Every single day. That I have a house. That I have options. That I realized this dream. And very amused at the unplanned challenges that dance around me every day, and ask me to consider my options.
It is a fine thing to realize a long-held dream. And as Maggie makes clear, it is equally fine to let that dream dissolve in the waters of our life river, while another one begins to form upstream, ready to take me along when it's time.
I love my beautiful, high-maintenance, woods-surrounded dream house. And I love it just enough to let it go, too. For just as I can let go all the gorgeous, high-maintenance designer clothing which has no place in my current life, I can also let go, with great love, this great house, this lifelong dream, and let the waters of my life's river carry me to the next chapter.