No Time or Space for a Garden

As you may have read here on this blog, Donna and I have been very busy over the past few months. In the early months of the year we were finding and buying a house. Then we had to move. Of course, the house needs work, and we’ve moved into an apartment for the time being.

One of the things that always interested me was the idea of the urban homesteader. There is, to begin with, a great site by that very name – The Urban Homesteader – about a family living in Southern California who grows a majority of their own food right on their small property within the city limits. That’s definitely hard core.

I’ve also read many things talking about how to embrace the lifestyle as an apartment dweller, which would seem to be one of the few ways to have less land to work than the family above. These talk about embracing a more sustainable lifestyle and growing what food you can.

Well, since most of the spring this year was spent relocating, and the place to which we’ve relocated is an apartment, we don’t have a garden. In other words, as the title indicates, we haven’t had the time, and we certainly lack the space, to have a garden. However, that hasn’t stopped us from starting to embrace the lifestyle.

For one thing, we are growing fresh herbs on our patio. We have two lovely basil plants which are flourishing, two rosemary plants, an oregano, and a cilantro. Donna bought the plants recently and transplanted them into attractive pots. She also has some lovely flowers that seem to attract a hummingbird, which makes us both very happy.

We discussed having some tomato plants as well, but since the patio space is limited, and gets only a few hours of direct sunlight in the afternoon, it seemed like it may not be worthwhile. Also, Donna had some concerns about attracting small critters onto the porch, which she worries may in turn attract snakes.

We’ve also become regulars at the local farmer’s market. We go every Saturday morning and get as much of our week’s worth of fresh produce as we can. We usually also get fresh eggs. This has helped us start to feel connected to the local community, and has also helped us eat better. As a matter of fact, we’ve dramatically cut back on our restaurant meals since we’ve moved.

Hopefully by spring of next year we will be living in our own house with enough space for a vegetable garden. Even if we could purchase everything we wanted locally and organic, I just enjoy having and tending the garden, so I’m looking forward to getting one going again. In the mean time, I guess I’ll just have to enjoy those delicious herbs and whatever we can get at the farmer’s market.

Progress Report – The House, Job, and Apartment

There has been a lot going on over the past few months. To recap, in January we decided we were going to make 2014 a stellar year, I lost my job, and we decided to buy a house with cash. We moved quickly, making an offer in February that was accepted, and closing early in March. We moved to the area in May and started slowly renovating. It’s now July, so where are we at?

With regards to the house, we have made slow progress. All of the carpeting has been removed and discarded. The yard is in much better shape, but not yet completed, and about half the fence has been removed. We’ve spent some money on tools, but so far very little on the actual house.

We’re taking it slow for a number of reasons. We don’t want to sink a lot of money into it right now because I’m still not working. (More on that below) Also, the time spent on renovations has been small in total over the past few months, but hasn’t yielded the results I expected because of the way I’ve been going about things.

Spending a few hours a day leaves me with too much time on set up and clean up for each day, and shifting gears several times a day makes everything take longer. So, starting last week I began limiting my trips to the house to one or two days a week. Last week it was one day. I took care of the lawn and spent the whole day working there rather than a few hours each day. That was the day I got the carpets out and did some other work inside.

Doing things this way is not as much to increase progress in the house as it is to improve my job search. When I send out resumes lately I tend to get some responses. Having the next morning to respond and to look at other new jobs seems to be making things to easier. I can get “right to represent” paperwork or other information back to recruiters more quickly. At least that’s how it seemed last week.

As I said above, though, I’m still unemployed. However, I’ve had some phone screenings, and had one in person interview scheduled, though they cancelled on me at the last minute, and now I’m not hearing anything back from that recruiter. They seemed very professional right up to that point – very disappointing. I’m focusing now much more on this than the house. Once I’m back to work, we should have plenty of money available to contract out much of the work.

The apartment, with the exception of the office, is mostly in order now. We could probably get everything in order in a day with some focus, but we don’t know yet what we really want to do there, so it gets put off.

It feels like everything is starting to head in the right direction. Hopefully soon I’ll be working and we’ll get the house ready and get everything moving along. We still have the big open question about what comes next – do we rent the house out, move into it, or move closer to Atlanta? And, if it is the latter, do we sell the house and buy one or more closer to where we move, or keep it and rent it out? The future looks bright, but it is anything but certain at this point. Stay tuned…

Looking for Fresh Produce – Farmer’s Markets and the West Georgia Farmers Co-Op

Both Donna and I had some familiarity with the South from our past experiences, but neither one of us had any real adult experience with living there, and we certainly had no experience at all with living in Georgia. Most of what we have found so far had actually been mostly in line with our expectations. However, there was one area in which we were very surprised.

Our first trip to the local supermarkets was disappointing to say the least. I knew from past experience, things I’d read and from a discussion with a store manager in Miami, that demographics determined what was sold in a store.

When I lived in Miami, it was tough to find low fat ground beef in the stores near us because the local population was not generally interested in buying it, so the market was too small for the stores to justify carrying it. In NJ we would go to certain stores within a few miles of home, but in different neighborhoods, to find some particular items.

I’d also read that stores mostly put the produce section first and frozen foods last relative to the logical entrance and exit. However, going against the sense this makes is the location of the deli, which is near the beginning close to produce. Store chains have found through trial and error that this configuration gives the best sales. All the stores I’ve been to in the northeast follow this pattern.

However, every store I’ve been in since moving here has produce tucked in the back, near the end. Deli and frozen foods are in the expected locations, but not produce. Also, the produce sections are very small and lack the variety I expect.

For that reason, as well as the fact that one of our goals is to eat fresh, organic produce, we went on a mission to find our best options. We started with the State Farmer’s Market in Atlanta. It’s about an hour away, and it’s huge and almost always open. It is the location for wholesalers and farmers and dealers and anyone looking for large quantities of produce. They also have a meat store and restaurant, but unfortunately neither is open on Sunday, when we visited.

As large as it was, we found it would not be practical to shop at that location. We continued our quest, and found a local store called Farmer’s Market, which had a larger selection of produce than local supermarkets, but the origin of the produce is unclear, and there is no indication about organics. Moving on…

We’d seen signs for the Farmer’s Market downtown, but hadn’t gotten there yet when we heard about a meeting of a farmer’s co-op at the local library. We attended, not really understanding what it was until we were there. At the meeting we met a few local farmers, got information about picking our own produce at their farms, and most importantly we got information about the downtown market.

Since then we have been attending almost weekly, and we’re getting a lot of great, fresh, and often organic produce. The farmers are friendly and proud of their produce. We even get fresh eggs at the market. Getting to know the farmers has been an experience in itself worth a trip to the market. This has turned out to be another great step in the direction we’ve been trying to go. We may not yet have our own organic garden, but we’re moving closer to eating like we do.

Modifying the Plan

Our plan has changed since we made the decision to look for a house. I’m not certain how much of this I’ve written about here, so please forgive me if I’m repeating stuff or if some of this detail didn’t show up in earlier posts.

At first we wanted a place with some land so we could have a big garden and room to do the things we wanted. That is, we were looking for our ideal homestead property. While that end goal hasn’t changed, we decided instead to look for a house we would be able to live in for a while, near to where we wanted to have rental properties.

That is what we found, but then we gave serious consideration to how we would be able to fix it from afar, which we realized we really couldn’t do. I wanted to go stay in the house even without electricity and water, but that was vetoed. I guess that’s probably a good thing. So instead we decided to find an apartment in the area.

The obvious benefit of having an apartment in the area is proximity, but there were some negatives too. For one, we would have to pay rent. Of course, for Donna to work we’d need a place with electricity and water, and not a construction zone, so we’d need to do that regardless.

Another benefit we discovered was that we could rent a 3 bedroom apartment for much less (almost half) what we were paying for the 2 bedroom house in NJ. However, to get that rate we had to sign a 13 month lease. Shorter leases, where available, meant higher rent.

We weighed these pros and cons and decided it was worth it to get the apartment. The place we chose we could buy out our lease by paying one additional month after we move out, which seems to be a small price to pay.

So we moved to Georgia, which was interesting. (If you’re interested, you can read about it in these two posts about the reasons we moved ourselves and the fun moving was. :-)) Since moving, we have been trying to decide if we want to go through with moving into the place we purchased, to save on rent as we originally intended, or to rent it out and let that income cover some of our rent.

We are also considering a radical change in which we get a small mortgage and purchase a house closer to the area in Atlanta where most of the jobs seem to be. If we can keep the mortgage payments lower than our current rent, I can see where this could make good sense.

At this point I would very much love to have a crystal ball that could show me the outcome of these decisions. It’s not that I don’t want to take the risk on one or another, nor is it that I don’t trust my judgment. What it comes down to is that, while I can put together a projection of the future based on any of the choices, it’s difficult to tell which one will help us get to our goal most quickly.

I realize that sounds impatient, but I’m very anxious to make this work. I don’t want to move away from the plan unless it is reasonable to expect the change to work better than the original plan, or to have some other benefit that outweighs staying the course. I guess we’ll just have to keep moving forward and when decision time comes hope we go the right way.

Progress or the Lack Thereof

So, we have officially had the apartment now for a month, so it would seem to be a good time for a check in on progress and changes that have come about to our plan. The theme so far seems to be slower than expected.

It took most of the first week for me to move our stuff out of the storage unit we had purchased, which was much longer than I thought it would take. It was very physically demanding, even though I moved all of the big pieces of furniture on the first day of moving. The storage unit was full, and I was bringing back only one or two van loads per day. Finally on Friday I just decided it was time to be done.

We are still not fully settled into the apartment. There are a large number of boxes sitting in various rooms and we’re still trying to figure out how we are going to make things work. The kitchen, though nice and modern looking, is not really laid out well and has much less space than you’d think. We have so much stuff we just don’t know what to do with it. This seems like it is going to take quite a while to complete.

As for the house, I’ve started by trying to tame the landscaping. Most of the carpeting is up inside, but it is just in a pile in the kitchen while I’m working outside. I’m only putting in a few hours a day in the mornings because this heat is hard to work in and I need time to do my job search and other things. I’m taking the fence down, removing some trees and bushes, and trying to keep the yard in order. Again, things are moving much more slowly than I expected.

To round out the theme, my job search so far has yielded very little. I have gotten a few hits on my resume submissions, and have been contacted once or twice, but nothing seems to be panning out. I haven’t had a single interview yet.

I think the theme of “slower than expected” has emerged for a number of reasons. The primary one would seem to be my expectations. For the physical work, I think my expectations were based on my thinking I can work like the 185 pound college student I used to be rather than the almost 300 pound 40-something I actually am now. That college student worked in the heat in Miami and never had an issue, so why should the heat in Georgia bother me now? Hello, expectations. I’d like you to meet reality. Oh, well.

I also think the adjustment has been huge for us both, which is making it harder to stay as motivated as we thought we’d be. We’ve moved far away from the friends and family we were closer to in NJ. We live in a small town that feels a bit more isolated than I would have expected. Of course, these kinds of adjustments take time, so we have to adjust our expectations and give ourselves a bit of a break.

 

Moving Sucks!!!

OK, I know it’s totally worth all of the effort, especially in this case. I also know we had the option to pay someone else to do it all for us, but for a variety of reasons we chose not to do that. Somehow, though, that doesn’t make it suck any less.

Worse than just moving, we actually moved our stuff into a storage unit first, which means that in the span of just a few weeks, we moved twice. Once would be bad enough, and we tried to come up with just about any other alternative, but in the end we agreed this was the best option. Double sucks.

Loading always takes longer than you expect, and this time was no exception. Thankfully my brother was able to stick around to help, and then he and his family came by before we left to say goodbye.

We left on the 25th of April, a few days early, because it allowed us a weekend to travel, and allowed Donna to take less time off. However, we headed north first because we had an event to attend that was organized by Donna’s daughter.

After that, we drove out to Long Island to see my sister and her new baby, who we were not able to see before that because of all the moving activity. We were lucky to get there before they released mother and son from the hospital. Then, after all that, we got on the road.

NY to Atlanta is a very long drive – more than 14 hours. Thankfully we chose to stay in Atlanta rather than go to LaGrange, which is 45 minutes further. That may not seem like much, but at the end of a long trip it means a lot. We went the next morning to offload into storage and return the truck.

That week I didn’t really get anything done on the house. Severe weather and tornado watches, and one tornado that even touched down, kept me mostly away, and I had a shortened week anyway because of the move. I checked in on it, but the work had to wait.

The following week and a half we spent in Tampa, which was a nice break. I didn’t feel bad about not working because I wasn’t near the house, but at the same time I was anxious to get started. The management was able to get the apartment ready for us early, so I went up on the 9th and stayed in a hotel overnight so I could start moving us in on the 10th.

For several days during that next week I made several trips back and forth to move stuff from the storage unit. By Friday it was empty and I was able to close it out. Donna flew up from Tampa on Saturday, and we began our process of getting everything in order. It’s going to take us some time, for sure.

By the way, did I mention that moving sucks?

We Decided to Move Ourselves

I wanted to write a quick note on why we made the decision to move ourselves. At first, we had both agreed that we would rather spend the money and have someone else do it. Neither one of us was looking forward to moving all that stuff. However, because of the hassle it became, and considering the total expense, we finally decided we really had to.

One option we looked into, and even put a deposit down on, was getting help in Georgia to unload. I have family to help in NJ, so no need to pay someone there. However, without anyone on the other end, getting some help in Georgia would make it somewhat easier. We later called this same company for a quote to move the stuff for us, and ended up not getting any calls back after a few conversations.

What’s worse is that we had originally looked for a quote from this company to pick up our stuff in Connecticut, where we had a storage unit from when we moved out of there, with a stop then in NJ to get our stuff there. This one we never confirmed, didn’t give specific dates or anything, but still ended up getting a call on moving day from a driver asking where to meet us. He was not happy to find out his company messed that up.

Other companies wouldn’t call us back after the initial contact, and we were having trouble with ones that did wherein we couldn’t seem to coordinate the pickup and drop-off for what we needed. The whole situation was a cluster, and I was very glad that Donna was the one dealing with it because I probably would have screamed at a lot more people than she did. Anyway, with all of that, we decided to just do it ourselves. I’m not even sure if we were able to get our deposit back, but we didn’t get the help.

To tell the truth, I’m not entirely sure I have all the details exactly right. We had so many hassles with so many companies, it seems to me that anyone who could create a nationwide moving company that has good customer service and some flexibility with regard to pick-up and delivery should be able to make a fortune because I’m convinced that there really isn’t a good company like that out there at the moment.

I just had to get all that off my chest. I feel a little bit better now. 🙂

Making the Decision to Move

So, we’ve decided to get an apartment and make the move to Georgia. We definitely feel like being closer will give us the opportunity to work on the house and better supervise the contractors we bring in to do work, which is a primary driver for this.

It doesn’t hurt, however, that we’re looking at rent that is just over half what we are paying in NJ. We haven’t seen the apartment yet, but the pictures we’ve seen and reviews we read make us feel comfortable enough to make the move sight unseen. It is supposed to be available on the 15th of May, but we’re hoping they can get it ready for us a bit earlier.

Unfortunately, we will need to be out of our house by the end of April, which leaves us a couple of weeks wherein we will be wandering. Our plan is to stay at a hotel in Georgia for about a week and put our stuff into a storage unit near the apartment.

The weekend after that we are going to drive the rest of the way down to Tampa, FL, to stay with relatives until the apartment is ready. When it’s ready, I will drive back up and get our stuff moved from storage into the apartment. The following weekend, Donna will fly up to join me.

The new apartment is in LaGrange, GA, which is about 10-15 minutes further from Atlanta, but it is a quaint little town that I think we’re both going to enjoy. To be perfectly honest, though, I’m not really looking forward to the move.

We have so much stuff we’re taking, and so much stuff here still to get rid of, that I’m not sure we’ll be ready in time. I know we’ll have to, it just isn’t one of my favorite activities.

Our First Property Purchase

So, on the 11th we closed on our first property. We were able to quickly pull together the cash we needed, which I wasn’t sure we’d have enough time to do considering the speed at which this went forward, but we pulled it off. It actually felt like everything just fell into place, which was amazing. We now own a house without a mortgage. That’s a great first step.

I went down to Georgia for the closing and spent a few days walking contractors through the house to get estimates on the plumbing, roof, AC, and electric work that needs to be done. We’re using that to put together a budget, and trying to figure out how long it’s going to take us to be able to get the work done.

Because of the amount of work this house will require before we move in, we are thinking we should probably move into the area sooner rather than later. It would make sense to do so, in order to be close enough to do some of the work ourselves, to be able to supervise contractors, and to make it easier for me in my job search. My feeling is we probably will, but we need to hash it out first.

 

We’re Buying a House!

We made the decision, and late in the day on the 21st we made the offer, which much to our surprise was accepted that night. We’re both scared and excited. But everything seems to have come together for us on this, so we made the offer, and it was accepted. The closing is going to happen quickly – it’s agreed that we will close before the 14th of March.

The house is in Hogansville, GA, which is about 45 minutes southwest of the Atlanta airport. Based on the criteria we were using which I described earlier in the post about making the decision to buy, we quickly narrowed it down to the Atlanta area. Working through listings and neighborhoods, we found most of the ones in our price range and close to the city were in more crime-ridden areas, so we kept expanding the radius, which led us to find this one.

It needs a bit more work than we were hoping, but it is a good buy at the price. One of the things we noted as we looked through what was available was that we would have to lower our expectations somewhat when it came to houses in the range we were considering. It actually isn’t too far below my expectations, and in reality it’s much better than I originally expected we’d find before Donna started showing me what she was finding.

The air conditioner is missing, probably removed by the previous owner before the foreclosure. Whoever it was, it was definitely an inside job because the thermostat and associate wiring were taken as well.

It also needs a new roof, some electrical work, and plumbing, along with a whole lot of cosmetic work. The electrical could be dangerous, so we need that fixed before we can turn the power on, which we’ll need to do before we have a new air conditioner installed.

There are only two plumbing issues that need immediate attention – the hot water heater is not connected, and there is a burst pipe in the master bathroom. There are other, more minor issues, which we should be able to address over time.

The most important thing I’ll need to do while I’m there after the closing is to meet with various contractors to get some prices for the needed work. Once we have that, we can put together a budget and schedule for getting it ready.

It’s difficult sometimes to differentiate the fear from the excitement. We’re committed now, and we’re very serious about making it happen. We are also considering if it would make sense to move down to the area while we are fixing it up so that we can do some of the work ourselves and can more easily supervise the work contractors are doing. We’ll have to see where that goes.