2011: Year In Review, Part 3

We had signed up with one of the bigger Allied affiliates in Chicago to move us to Vermont.  They seemed to have pretty good reviews, although in doing research it just seems like very few people have great experiences with cross-country movers.  I saw several suggestions in moving forums to just “sell all your stuff” and buy it again in the new place.  I guess that might make sense if you are in your twenties, but we had spent years collecting books, beer-making equipment and other specialized stuff.  So I wasn’t going to do that.

Allied was supposed to move us on August 10th, a Wednesday.  They said they would give us exact details once they had a truck scheduled. As the day approached, I called to confirm and they said they still didn’t have the exact details.  Finally I called them the day before and they told me they hadn’t yet identified a truck or driver.  I asked them what we were supposed to do since we had a lot of different plans made around that date.  All they could tell us is that they were working on it.  Needless to say, I was not happy and asked them what the point was in scheduling 2 months in advance if this was the result.

This continued for another day and they still had no ETA. I started researching just renting a truck myself after all, even though it was the last thing I wanted to do. I don’t love driving big vehicles, particularly not on a multi-day trip.  But it didn’t seem like there was any guarantee of when Allied would get their act together.  We had mostly done all our final packing and really didn’t have much left unpacked to even use for a few days.  I ended up calling Penske just to see if there was any possibility of getting something on short notice and it seemed like they might have something.  There were some advantages to moving ourselves, as there were certain things Allied wouldn’t move for us and it was going to be a tight fit getting all of them into our car.  Also, Allied wouldn’t be delivering our stuff for 7-14 days, so we would be in a new house with nothing except an air mattress and Kristin was pregnant.

Finally on Friday, I was stir-crazy and fed up with Allied, so we decided to move ahead with renting a truck and moving ourselves.  I canceled the Allied move, which fortunately didn’t end up costing us anything.  I called for some help from friends again and I picked up a truck on Saturday morning.  We got the storage unit emptied and the truck loaded by Saturday evening.  We headed out early Sunday for Kristin’s parent’s place in central PA.  This wasn’t the most direct route, but would give us a place to crash where the truck would be safe.  Most of the trip went fine, but we ran into heavy rain in PA and then had to go up over a mountain on interstate 81 where it was very foggy and there was roadwork going on. It was pretty scary and I was exhausted from driving the truck all day. We got behind a semi truck and took it slow.  There were spots with no guardrail and only one lane was open, so it was nerve-wracking.  We finally made it through and got on the last main road going to Pottsville, arriving around 10PM or so.

We took Monday off to rest and I actually did a little work that day.  We headed out again on Tuesday to go the rest of the way.  The trip went pretty well and we had good weather.  As we climbed a hill and crossed over into Vermont, the landscape stretched before us and it was such a lovely site I’m not ashamed to admit I shed a few tears.  It had taken so long to get to this point and we had a lot of obstacles.  The rest of the way was pretty easy, although the Vermont backroads had Kristin cringing as my back tires would edge off the side of the road.  No shoulders, just narrow roads beat up by the Vermont winters.  But we finally pulled up in front of the house I had rented and Kristin got to see it for the first time. I still had the truck for another day, so we took our time getting unloaded and hired a couple of local guys to get the heavy stuff.  It was money well spent after our long ordeal getting there.

This is a four part series, check out the other posts here:

2011: Year In Review, Part 2

We had made arrangements to stay in Chicago with our friend Mark until August.  He rents a house in Wheaton.  We wanted to wrap up some work stuff, have time to spend with friends and figure out moving and housing logistics.  We moved everything out into storage in time for the first closing date.  We thought we had plenty of time (we were allowed to stay with Mark for 6 weeks by his landlords).  But after the closing date kept getting moved, we were starting to get tight on time.  Arrangements were made with Allied to move us, but they wanted an arm and a leg (almost $3K) to store our stuff from the end of June until we actually moved in August.  And then it turned out they had no trucks available in late June anyway.  Should have taken that as a sign…  So we ended up renting some trucks and moving stuff to a storage unit ourselves.  Around this time, Kristin’s dad had open heart surgery and she had to go to PA to be with the family, so I was doing a lot of the moving and packing by myself.  Fortunately we had a lot of good friends who pitched in and helped out.

We had decided to move to Vermont and I wanted to look for housing, but without an official “cleared to close” I was afraid to find a place or sign a lease.  I had to reschedule my flights twice before I could finally make it out to Vermont.  By the time we finally closed in the 3rd week of July, I only had a few weeks to find a place to live.  To make matters worse, the rental market in Vermont is fairly tight AND tends to be expensive, so the choices seemed a bit limited.  There is really no central web site for rental options either.  Armed with a list of options from Craigslist, I flew out to Vermont for a long weekend to try to find a place for us to live.  The first day or so didn’t go that well, but then things started picking up and I was able to make a series of appointments.  The only place that Kristin was really intrigued by turned out to be the place we landed, but it was a bit further out than I wanted and I wasn’t sure it was still available.

I was staying with a friend in Essex Junction and when I mentioned Bristol to him and his wife, they got excited and said how great a town it was and probably a good fit for us.  The house also had plenty of room, a garden and wood stove heat; all things we were excited about.  I contacted the owner and she did get back to me, but thought someone else was already very interested.  I found out later she was being very picky and not even getting back to many people, so in retrospect it is surprising I even heard back.  She was already showing the place on Friday, so she said I could come by after that.  When I got there, the other person had gotten sick and didn’t show up, so I was the only one to look at it.  I immediately connected with the place and probably would’ve rented it on the spot. Leslie (the landlord) wanted to chat for awhile and then wanted me to think about it and talk to Kristin.  I told her we were expecting and she was excited about the possibility of having a young family in the house again.

I left to go look at another place, but that only reinforced how much closer this place was to what we wanted. Kristin was all for it, so I called Leslie back that evening.  She agreed to rent us the place and I drove down on Saturday to finish the deal. We hung out most of the afternoon and worked on a lease together. Vermont is very much a “handshake deal” kind of place, particularly in the rural areas.  I got to meet her husband Jim and we immediately hit it off.  He was excited to talk about all my farming research and ideas.  We share a lot of common interests in doing things “the old way”.  Every time we get together the discussions are always interesting.

So I was able to leave Vermont with a great place rented, some new landlords who also seemed to be fast friends and an excitement to finally move.  But we still had to make that happen and there was going to be one more hiccup on our road to Vermont.

This is a four part series, check out the other posts here:

2011: Year In Review, Part 1

2011 turned out to be a very interesting year, full of twists and turns and lots of changes.  We started the year with our condo still on the market after about a year and a half.  Showings had nearly dried up.  Nothing was moving.  We had been wanting to start a family, but were hoping to wait until after we moved on from Chicago.  At this point, since it was hard to tell whether our house would sell anytime soon (and we weren’t getting any younger), we started to think maybe we should at least start trying.

We found out in April that Kristin was pregnant, right around the time showings started to pick up again.  We had dropped the price yet again, just desperate to get out of Chicago.  We finally got our first offer in early May and it was a bit of a kick in the teeth.  But we started negotiation and eventually got to a contract we could live with.  Unfortunately that was just the beginning of the process.

Our buyer wanted to do an FHA loan, as the majority of people are doing right now with credit so tight.  Our building was not already approved, so we embarked on the process of getting that done.  I’m not sure if this is the FHA in general or our contact in particular, but I’ve never seen such an incompetent bureaucracy in my life.  We gave them an initial set of documents and it took them almost a month to get back to us and tell us half of the stuff was incomplete or wrong.  By this time we were only a few weeks out from our scheduled closing on June 24th.  We tried to get the documents completed, but we would give them one thing and then they needed something else.  Don’t’ these people use any sort of workflow or checklist?  It was ridiculous.  It’s a wonder people don’t just give up.  If the government wants to know why the real estate market isn’t recovering, the FHA would be a good start as part of the problem.  Anyway, we missed our first closing date and eventually got everything worked out, but it took another 3 weeks.  We were finally able to close on July 19th, almost a month later than originally scheduled.  Fortunately the closing itself went smoothly and we were finally officially homeless (and debt-free).

This is a four part series, check out the other posts here:

First month in Vermont

So we’ve already been in Bristol for a bit over a month.  So far we are really enjoying it for the most part.  Kristin has been busy at work unpacking and getting the house into shape.  We’ve been whipping the garden into shape, although the season is nearly over.  We’ve planted some cold tolerant veggies in a couple of raised beds (one existing, one hacked together with spare cedar shingles).  Hoping they get enough of a start before the first good cold snap.  We’ve planted lettuce, radishes, kale, rutabaga, carrots, Asian greens and some other things.

I’ve also tilled most of the garden and put down some cover crops.  We already have a nice crop of buckwheat goingWinterRye on one side of the garden and I just planted another section of winter rye.  If all goes well, we might even get a few loaves of bread out of it.  But mostly it’s just for green manure and to keep our good soil in place over the winter.  The soil in this garden is gorgeous, rich stuff.  Our landlords did a lot of amending over the years (manure, compost, cover crops) and it has made a big difference.  It’s teeming with life, both visible and invisible.

HoopsWe put up some low hoops over the beds as well, using Agribon AG-19 row cover material over some PVC pipe planted in the ground over some rebar.  This only gives us frost protection down to 28 degrees, so we’ll probably lose most of the plants at some point.  But combined with some mulch, it might get us towards the end of the year. We are using this time to experiment with some of the techniques we’ve been reading about, so it will be interesting to see how things go.

Working from home has its pluses and minuses, but it has mostly been going well.  I built a new PC because my old desktop was just too slow and that has helped.  It’s nice to have lunch with Kristin most days and have no commute.  Focus can be hard at times, but I think I’m getting the hang of it.

As far as Bristol, it’s a nice quiet town, but lots of people out and about.  Friendly neighbors. Beautiful setting.  One nice change from Chicago is that it doesn’t take forever to get basic life stuff done.  I’m talking about getting a driver’s license, setting up bank accounts and utilities or finding healthcare.  There are less options to be sure, but the options that are here have been easy to find, get set up and the quality has generally been very good.  We have a wealth of hikes within a 10 mile radius, which is a welcome change from having to drive hours to find good hiking in Illinois.  Even after a month, the geography is still stunning and only promises to get more that way as we are seeing the first hints of the beautiful fall foliage Vermont is famous for.

There are some things that we are still trying to adapt to.  Driving everywhere for the most part, unless we want to just walk into town for something.  Fortunately we have a great bakery, several grocery stores (including a natural foods/organic store that is awesome), drug store, hardware store and most importantly brewpub right in town.  But for anything else we have to drive.  We are starting to make some connections with people, but it is taking some time.  It’s not easy to find a lot of the ethnic food or groceries that were so easy to come by in Chicago, although there is no shortage of great food here and some good Vietnamese places in Burlington.  Church options are not plentiful, although we’ve found very good community vibes and friendly people at the ones we’ve visited.  Still not sure if we’ve found our place yet.  Certainly nothing like Chicago where there were a variety of good options, although some were a bit of a drive, probably more than from our place to Burlington here.

We are starting to move into a more intense baby mode now. Kristin has found the midwife practice she is going to use and we have a birthing center picked out.  We are starting to buy all the “stuff”, although doing a lot of research.  Tonight we have our first birthing class.  We are down to about 10 weeks, which will probably fly by very quickly.

I’m sure there is more I could write about, but that’s a good start for now.