I'm back home in Gilbert after spending a month in Eau Claire, Wisconsin where we bought a house this spring. Before arriving I had never been to Eau Claire and had only been to Wisconsin once before several years ago. I felt a bit lonely and untethered when we first arrived, understandable since I have so much routine, familiarity, and community in Gilbert. But as we prepared to leave I felt sad to go. Chris and I both fell in love with Eau Claire and the surround region as well as our Eau Claire house and neighborhood. Now that I'm home in Gilbert I feel really happy to be here. The heat is not my favorite but time away gave me added appreciation for the life that we've made here and how I love so many aspects of it. It's very nice to be home.
It's a slightly unsettling feeling to leave a place you are fond of, even as you look forward to returning to another place. I've felt this sometimes when I leave Austin to return to Gilbert. In situations with mixed and complex emotions like those I tell myself that I'm getting to experience a fuller breadth of living life and being human. As I settle into life in Gilbert again I'm reflecting on our experience of living in another city in a very different region for a month and have a few thoughts to share.
Relocating our family for a month
This took a lot of planning but was also easier than we expected it to be in many ways. We easily set up all the utilities and internet ahead of time from afar. I made detailed lists in May for the minimal things we would need to bring from home and what we'd buy cheaply at Target or try to buy used when we arrived. In terms of furniture, we ended up ordering brand new mattresses (two twins and a king) that were delivered ahead of time and received by the former home owners. The sellers of our home were above-and-beyond kind and helpful in many ways including opening up the beds to let them decompress before we arrived. We bought Maeve a brand new crib and mattress from Target when we arrived (after a used crib purchase from Facebook Marketplace didn't work out).
Our first weekend in town was also our neighborhood's annual garage sale weekend and we found a $2 coffee pot, toddler toys, a dining table, two of the four bikes we needed, and a bike trailer for Maeve. We ended up never buying a couch or having chairs other than folding patio chairs. For a month it was fine but I'm really happy to have comfortable places to sit again!
Living in a minimally furnished house with a family was a fun experiment. Chris said he loved living with five plates, cups, and bowls and wants to put some of our dishes away when we get home. We'll see about that... In terms of what we did with the stuff at the end of the month, we either stored it, sold it, or donated it. We are storing our king size mattress in the basement. Getting it down there at 5 a.m. on the morning we left was so difficult and comical. We're also storing the crib and mattress, dining table (only because Goodwill was not accepting furniture), and other household items in a basement closet.
Getting to know a new (older) house
Chris and I delighted in getting to know our 1949 rambler-style Wisconsin home. From photos of the home I already knew it had great character. What we've come to deeply appreciate is how well the home is built and has been cared for by the previous two owners. I love to daydream about eventually furnishing and decorating the home, as well as how to honor its character. I love the practice of home-making and -keeping and am excited to exercise those skills in a house that is so different from our Gilbert house. Although it can also be a little overwhelming thinking of all I want to do, how much it would cost, and when we'll eventually be able to afford different projects. But a home is a long-term project and I want to remind myself to enjoy the process.
A few things that have been especially fun or satisfying to learn about our home include:
+ we are the third owners and the original owners, who built the home, lived in the house together until 2017 when the husband passed away. The wife moved out in 2019 but still lives in the Eau Claire area. A neighbor shared her phone number with me and I'm looking forward to connecting with her.
+ one of the original owners, Ray, was an electrician and his meticulous handiwork and often his handwriting is evident throughout the house. Wires are labeled with little handwritten tags and there are abundant light switches and outlets in the house which my mom pointed out is not very common in older homes. There are even two outdoor outlets (among many) that have hardwired timers inside so that you can plug in and time your Christmas lights. Pretty spiffy for any home especially an older one. Oh and there's also a retro clock hardwired on the kitchen wall above the sink. Sometimes we haven't been able to figure out what a switch does or how to turn something on. When we figure it out we say, "Thanks, Ray!"
+ the owners before us were also incredibly handy and took great care of the house. They completely updated the only bathroom on the main floor which I am very grateful for. On top of that they have been so incredibly helpful and have answered our many texts about how things in the house work or general questions about Eau Claire. The husband even stopped by on a Saturday evening to change an electrical outlet which he did not need to do at all. And he brought local beer to boot!
+ the house has a finished (although dated) basement which I find exciting if a daunting decor project. Currently the basement is split up into several rooms (a rec room, a bathroom with a shower, an office, a large laundry room, and a large workshop) and we'd love to eventually open it up. I'm not sure when we'll be able to afford to do that but I hope in the meantime that paint and decor will go a long way to making it brighter and more inviting.
+ our neighbors and neighborhood also make our house feel special to us. We got to know several neighbors during our stay which helped us feel a sense of budding community already. On our second to last night in town a neighbor brought over homemade old fashions for Chris and himself (I'm still enjoying not drinking but did try a sip and it was great). We sat in lawn chairs in our yard and chatted. Then other neighbors out for a walk stopped to chat for a minute. Oh and the boys met two brothers just two houses down and we got to know the parents too. And it seems like any time we went out for a walk we'd end up chatting with someone. I've heard that Midwesterners are friendly so far they are living up to it! We also love our neighborhood of older, well-maintained homes. Coming from the Phoenix suburbs where all houses look very similar, and are often exactly identical, it's fun to notice how each house is unique.
What we've loved about Eau Claire
+ The weather!! I know, I know – it's not like this all year. I think we also got an exceptionally perfect June and I am 100% okay with that. Coming from the unrelenting heat and sun that is summer in Gilbert I savored every minute of the weather, from getting to be outside at any time of the day, seeing rain, and even wearing a cardigan at times. Even the days that were in the low 90s felt nice to me because there was usually a breeze and shade to be found.
+ All the green and all the water. There are so many pretty parks in Eau Claire in addition to beautiful scenery surrounding the city. We marveled at every river and rolling green forested view. Those are the everyday views we are starved for in Arizona. There is a deep, primal comfort in seeing green and water. I know it will sound so funny to people who don't live in Arizona but as we drove through these landscapes Chris and I would say to each other, "So you're telling me all this water and green is just here naturally??" I mentioned it in a previous post but this is the mindset of being acclimated to an extreme climate.
+ Local restaurants, shops, and development. We haven't been everywhere we want to try but so far we've found great coffee, breakfast, and pizza which are the essentials for us. In addition we've been so impressed at the thriving local business scene in Eau Claire including a woman-owned book store and a beautiful minimalist jewelry shop. Plus we are excited for the renovation of the downtown library, a new children's museum location, and a local food co-op building a large grocery store downtown.
What was challenging
+ Lack of personal recharge time and routines. Really the challenging part of the trip was the combination of parenting full time in a new place without our usual routines. I thrive when I have consistent time to both work (write and work on my podcasts) and to recharge (being off-duty from parenting when I can think but not needing to get anything done). I didn't have either of those things consistently for nearly a month and I could tell I felt less patient and centered. Just not my best self. It was worth it for the family adventure but I'm also glad to return to the routines that work so well for me.
+ Kiddo behavior! Says just about every parent of your kids everywhere, right? Overall the kids did well although each of the boys has their own challenging behavior that felt pretty exhausting at times, and of course they push each others buttons. I know the boys will benefit from having some apart from each other and being with adults other than us. They go to a half-day day camp in early July and I think it will be great for us all! Maeve was also a pretty champ traveler overall and perhaps the easiest kid on the trip in ways. But parenting a toddler is still pretty demanding and it's harder in a house with minimal stuff. I know Maeve also missed socializing with kids her own age. Being home in Gilbert, I am already appreciating our kid-friendly environment and the benefits of childcare for myself and Maeve.
Our plans for our Eau Claire house and when we'll be back
Starting on June 30 our Eau Claire house is being rented for a year by a family. I'm managing everything with the rental and feel a little bit of a stress since I've never done this before. But I've already learned a lot and am proud of how I've handled things. I hope that the house doesn't need any significant maintenance this year (although we have great local pros to call) and that the tenants take good care of the home. It's a bit hard to just meet a house and then to turn it over to someone that you don't know very well. But I'm manifesting a great year for us and our tenants.
Our plan is to return to Eau Claire in a year when our tenants move out. Hopefully that will be the start of Chris's sabbatical at UW-Eau Claire for either six months or a year. We'd plan to enroll the boys in a local school and find a part-time preschool program for Maeve. During that time we'd rent out our Gilbert house. While living in our Eau Claire house we'd do some updating (painting, new carpet or floors) and furnish it. Our plan is that after our next stay the house will be ready to be rented out short-term to traveling nurses and/or on Airbnb. It will be a lot to figure out and coordinate! But I know we can do it.
At each step along the way as we've bought a house from afar, found renters, moved our family to a new city for a month, and look ahead to Chris's sabbatical I remind myself that we are not the first people to figure out these situations. And surely people who are less prepared and less meticulous have done these things. So we can figure them out too!
Okay, I'm going to wrap it up there. I'm off to get Maeve from daycare and then we'll be awaiting Chris and the boys to arrive home from their road trip! Wishing you a relaxing long weekend if you're in the U.S.!