August 24, 2014

It's been a long — and short — summer

Found in a box of photos.

Obviously, I've been away. We left Seattle June 30 and headed east to Madison, Wis. to clean out our beloved house in preparation for selling it. We had been renting it out the past five years while we adjusted to life in Seattle, but after a particularly gnarly and stressful winter, We decided we just couldn't do it anymore. Our tenants left the house unattended for two weeks during the polar vortex, and the day they left the house, the heat went off causing all the radiators and pipes to freeze and crack. (The house was heated by fuel oil, and a delivery was made the day the tenants left. Three weeks later when the oil company returned to deliver another load, the tank was still full.) We don't know if they turned the heat too low, accidentally turned it off, or what, but by the time they returned two weeks later, the house was a disaster requiring $72,000 in repairs.


To make the situation even more disheartening, the tenants not only took no responsibility, they demanded to be paid for time and effort spent mopping up water after the radiators began to warm up. We didn't blame the tenants for the destruction, and our insurance paid for most of the repairs (though not the two trips Ken made to the house), but we were harassed and sent degrading emails during the three-month restoration ordeal. They called us bullies and dishonest, and if anything describes us as landlords, it's not that. (They must have forgotten that we let them pay $200 less per month for two years, and no rent at all for a month last summer while they went to their family lake house up North. Duh.) We chose to have a new gas-fired high-efficiency heating system installed at our expense even though the heating company could find nothing wrong with the existing boiler. When the house was ready for occupancy in mid-April, we told the tenants they could live free for two weeks and begin paying again on May 1, but for various trumped-up reasons, they felt the $700+ they would not have to pay was inadequate compensation for the three days of mopping floors. There is much more to the story, of course, but that's all I can stand to retell.


The house sold without going on the market, and at first that seemed great, but the buyers have been very demanding, and the drama continues. On Aug. 25, we close on the house, and it will no longer be ours — for better or worse. It was a wrenching experience clearing our lives from the house and parting with so much "stuff," but it had to be done. We had an estate sale run by a church, and their share of the profits went to supporting homeless shelters and food banks, so I feel happy about that, but it sure was hard to say goodbye to so many things connected with my life.

We used the large basket on the right for storing out-of-season clothes.

We sold nearly all of the furniture and household items, including loads of baskets and other collections from around the world. I think there are now African baskets decorating the homes of many of my former neighbors. As I looked at each piece of furniture, I could remember where I had gotten it and who I was with when I'd found it. Lots of the pieces were antiques found at auctions and estate sales long ago, objects gathered from world travels, or pieces connected to late family members, and all were attached to fond memories.

We happened upon a jazz concert on a street corner near our house.

Letting go of 'things' was hard enough, but letting go of Madison was also hard. Madison is such a great place to live — in spite of the 'complicated' weather and prevalence of summer mosquitoes. I love it there, and will miss the city and the many, many wonderful people I've come to know and love.


Callie came with us on the trip, and I think she got a little tired of the incessant sorting and packing. I'm pretty sure she wasn't as emotional when we finally hit the road as we were.

We didn't do much cooking while we were working on the house. Wait, what am I saying — we didn't do ANY cooking. We usually ate fruit for breakfast and a big salad for either lunch or dinner, depending on which meal we ate outside the house. We bought bags of arugula, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and toasted sunflower seeds from Trader Joe's and heaped those items into our large enamel camping bowls at least once a day. The best meals were provided by friends, but we also ate in a number of vegan-friendly restaurants. Although I always asked for gluten-free food, I had stomach pains on many occasions following dinner. One place I never felt sick was Maharaja Indian restaurant, and we enjoyed many meals there.

Sweet potato hash with tofu scramble, fresh fruit and a side of broccoli (instead of toast).

Another restaurant where we ate a couple of times was Monty's Blue Plate — a comfort food style restaurant with vegan and gluten-free menu options clearly marked on the menu. I love when restaurants identify which items are vegan and gf. The food tastes really good at Monty's, but sometimes my husband and I both feel stomach distress after eating there. Their tofu scramble is pretty great, though. Oh well.


Much to my surprise, we've come to depend on Chipotlé while traveling. Believe it or not, I'd never tasted Chipotlé food before, but it was really handy to be able to have a sofrito salad bowl when everything else seemed too heavy, or making our own dinner seemed too hard. I like the ease with which I can customize my order, and I've never felt sick after eating the food. One order of salad was enough for two meals for me.


My friend and neighbor, Claudia, overcame her fear of feeding vegans and prepared an amazing, elegant supper of quinoa pilaf, roasted veggies and salad. It was delicious.

Eating at friends' houses was the best, and we're grateful for folks like Betsy, and Gary and Lanette for inviting us to share delicious meals with them.

A hiking trail at Gov. Dodge State Park.

In addition to seeing friends, we took time out from our work schedule to visit beautiful places — my friend Mari introduced me to a natural area just outside the city where I'd never been before. And we hiked at Gov. Dodge State Park. We were pretty surprised to find that about half the trails, including our favorite, were closed because of tornado damage in June.

Along The Lakeshore Path.

We walked out to Picnic Point and in the Lakeshore Nature Preserve, as well as Allen Centennial Gardens, Olbrich Gardens and other points of beauty and respite.

It seemed like we were in Madison for a really long time — until the day we left when it suddenly seemed very short. Now that we're back in Seattle, it's hard to believe the summer is almost over.

Have you ever been in a position of having to downsize your stuff? Are you a saver or a cleaner?

I'll share more about our summer over the next couple of posts, including a getaway to Cape Cod that includes a look at the greatest wedding food surprise ever!

27 comments:

  1. Aw, Andrea, I'm so sorry that you had to go through all of that. People can be so self-centered and can forget what others do for them. Shame on them for harassing you like that. I know I don't really "know" you, but I get the sense that you're a very gentle, kind person and can't imagine you were anything but that with your tenants.

    I'm glad you were able to eat well while there. How long did you live in Madison? I love the older photos!

    We've got to go to Governor Dodge sometime. My in-laws really loved it there when they visited.

    BTW- I'm really glad to see you back! I was starting to wonder if everything was okay and was going to email you soon. I hope you enjoy the rest of the summer!

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    1. Thanks for your concern and encouragement, Molly. Being in Madison was a full-time occupation and blogging and reading blogs definitely fell off the radar. We moved to Madison in 1976, and into the house in 1987. Gov. Dodge is a wonderful park, but I'd wait to visit until they repair all the trails — the best ones are still impassible.

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  2. Gah, what a traumatic experience. At least you had your friends rally to help, at least to feed you. :)
    We are just compiling all our stuff from storage into a too small house. I am normally a saver but now I need to purge and go more minimalistic. It will be easier since I lived with so much less in Houston. Freeing, almost. This could be good.

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    1. When we moved to Seattle, I decided to be more minimalist, and I've pretty much stuck to it. Our house here is tiny compared to what we had in Wis., but there were some things I just couldn't part with when I was confronted with them again this summer, and I don't know where they will go. Probably to the basement until I can figure things out. Moving is right up there on the list of life's greatest stresses. But, not so bad when kept in perspective.

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  3. What amazing old photos, Andrea! Beautiful post about a bittersweet time in Madison. I'm glad the tenant issues are (hopefully) all behind you now.

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    1. Thanks, Kate! I hope never to be a landlord again, though in theory it sounds like a good idea.

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  4. Andrea, I'm glad you're back. So sorry you had to deal with the hassle. Sifting through all the stuff and getting rid of memories is hard enough in itself. If not for the work, sounds like it could have been a nice vacation though - nature walks and food with good friends in a beautiful location.
    Do you think you'll go back to Wisconsin to visit? How much stuff did you take back to Seattle with you? Love the old photos too. The first one is adorable.

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    1. We really worked hard while we were there — hardly saw anyone the first two weeks — but it definitely had vacation aspects. Without the house to take care of we probably won't go back every year. I don't know if or how often we'll go back. We have a small POD coming tomorrow but not everything inside is ours. There's stuff for all three of our kids. Maybe I'll take a photo of the inside.

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  5. Welcome back! I kinda thought you were away for the summer but I had no idea what all you were going through. At least it's over now, if it was me, I'll probably still be there trying to decide if I should keep my stuff or get rid of it. Glad you were able to enjoy some of the time with good food and friends. :-)

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    1. Thanks! If I'd had unlimited time to make the "keep or leave" decisions, I'd still be there too! There were a couple of events I didn't talk about that kind of put an unavoidable endpoint on the process. Probably a good thing.

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  6. Oh, Andrea, the damage to your house sounds awful! I am so sorry it was such a difficult summer for you. Moving is so hard. I hope that you can be okay with the things you decided to get rid of and that you cherish the ones you kept. It is good to see you posting again!

    Courtney

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    1. I was just thinking about you, Courtney, and wondering how you were. Yes, it's hard to make drastic changes, but I try to live in the present and appreciate what I have. That said, I'm sure I'll miss some of the things left behind, and regret saving as much as I did! :)

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    2. You have such a good attitude--I need to remember to live in the present more myself. Thank you for the reminder!

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  7. Oh Andrea, I'm so sorry for all of the heartache you've been through with your house. I hope this last week of summer will provide you with some much-deserved relaxation!

    Can't wait to read about your trip to the Cape! It's one of my favorite places in the world and I go there almost every weekend in the summer!

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    1. This was only the second time I've been to the cape, and I was seriously derelict in taking photos — I think I was on a blog/photo break and I just needed to relax and unwind without effort. It was wonderful, though, and I'd go back in a minute. The Oregon Coast, however, is closer. :)

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  8. Oh Andrea, what an experience you've been through. I am a massive "saver," while my husband is a devoted "purger." I've learned so much from him. I have a lot of stuff that I would be happy to get rid of at this point - it's just a matter of taking the time to clean and sort. Also, three cheers for Chipotle. I love it there too.

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    1. Well, it sure wasn't fun dealing with the winter mess from nearly 2,000 miles away. But we closed on the house today and it belongs to someone else now. I thought it would be more of a relief but I think I still don't quite believe it.

      Cleaning and sorting along the way is best, I think, though I seem to be incapable of it. Even now I have a lot of stuff I should donate but never quite gather it up!

      Chipotlé was a surprise — a good surprise!

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  9. I remember the winter problems, and reading the posts through my hands - at the expense, at the hassle, at the tenants' thoughtlessness, and all that. I'm glad you found those beautiful places, and that your sale got to help people as a result. I'm always fluctuating between hoarding and purging myself, so I understand how clear outs can be both a wrench and a good thing.

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    1. I have to admit I'm having a few regrets about some of the things I purged — to note, some ethnic instruments and a bowl I made. Oh well. I can collect other instruments and make another bowl. But it won't be THAT bowl.

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    2. I've purged for two moves over the past year, and while I *still* sometimes regret purging a few items, I find comfort in knowing how wonderful it is to have purged many, many others. Hard to completely let go of the regret, which sounds silly even to me, but there it is. I like your view of moving ("Moving is right up there on the list of life's greatest stresses. But, not so bad when kept in perspective.")

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    3. Two moves in one year is a lot! The biggest purge for me may have been the house! :)

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  10. So nice to hear what you've been up to, though sorry for the nuisances. Happy to see Callie smiling through it all! The sentimentality we place on places and things is not to be taken lightly, but we must remember the importance of those closest to us over all else.

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    1. One of the problems with moving is leaving behind some of the people to whom we are closest.

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  11. Welcome back, Andrea! I'm so sorry that you have to go through this, these people were awful, disrespectful and mean! But I'm happy to read that you've amazing and lovely people to feed you, plus Claudia's meal looks yumsome! I understand it’s hard to let go precious things, this month we got rid of stuff from the storage and our room, and sold a variety of furnitures, kitchen appliances including camera gears we didn’t need. It felt so much better since we didn’t need them. I love the old photo of you, wow, you have long hair :) I have long hair at the moment and don’t know what to do with it. Wishing you a bright and happy weekend!

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    1. Yes, I did have really long hair — I love long hair, but my hair has always been very fine and needs a lot of effort to keep it from looking limp when it's long. So now I keep it shortish. If I had thick hair, I'd have it long.

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  12. Wow, that does sound like a traumatic experience--but glad it's all behind you now! I LOVE those old photos! For a sec I thought the first one was Sonny & Cher from the 60s! ;) I know what you mean about moving, though. Funny how you were fine without all the stuff until you saw it again. Same happened to me when I bought a house and my friend was renovating for me--we covered all my worldly possessions under a tarp in the living room and I lived from one suitcase with a hot plate for about 3 months. When I could finally move back into the house, I couldn't believe all the things that I thought I "couldn't live without"--and had been living without for 3 months!

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    1. More like Andrea and Ken from the 70s. :)

      I lived without that stuff for five years, but I knew it was there — saw it every summer — and dreaded having to leave it behind for real, instead of for just another year. I'm having a few regrets about stuff I left behind, and stuff I thought we brought but maybe got rid of. Amazing how attached we can become to "things."

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