Part 1: Making the House Nicer
Not anything drastic, but some small change is [hopefully] afoot at the house. I hate when we have an idea for a home improvement and we sit on it for months or years without taking action, as has been the case so often over the years. I am certain I suffer from an undiagnosed anxiety and have to have several personal projects on my plate at all times or I go crazy. I am not very good at doing nothing. Of late, I am actively trying to get more trigger-happy and just doing, not thinking. Seeing the family back in SD was somewhat inspiring—Mom, Dad, Alex and Jordan are all always knee-deep in some project or another. No one is ever just found sitting around. So I decided to try to act more impulsively. Build above-ground planters? Done in a few hours! Trampoline? Sold, and assembled hours after arrival! Computer desk too small for all my gear? Van comes home from Lowe’s packed with lumber, and now I am building a desk while actively using it in a partially assembled state! Sawing off a piece of wood, painting it, bringing it inside and attaching it to the desk, once or twice a day.

As for more substantial projects, our house is tricky because it was built in the mid-80s, a time period I don’t think anyone looks at and says “that was a great era for home construction!” There are too many improvements to make—so many that we can’t figure out where to start or what to prioritize. The front yard isn’t awful but could use a sprucing up; it is dying in places and flourishing in others, and living on a corner lot where the grass needs edging on the curb and both sides of the sidewalk on two streets is a multiple-hour project. The grass gets trampled on the sides of the driveway where we park. The lack of large tree in the yard is allowing sunbeams to blast through our aluminum windows unfettered and cause major heating. The backyard lawn is 90% dead… I wish it would all die, but there are random little patches that pop up. I wanted to put synthetic turf down back there but Lauren isn’t sold. The tool shed is rotting, mice have made it their home, and is in need of a tear-down. The upstairs bathrooms are both wildly outdated—the toilets literally are both broken, the tubs both have issues, the vanities were made with midgets in mind, and more. It’s like, if we’re going to buy new toilets, we should re-do the flooring at the same time, and then it spirals out of control and doesn’t go anywhere. The popcorn ceilings are an eyesore, especially above the microwave where grease has stained the ceiling a bright urine gold. The siding, windows, and especially the sliding doors are all in eventual need of replacement. The garage doors are beaten and almost require earplugs to operate. So you can see where we struggle to determine where to start! And, with two small children and an ongoing pandemic, it is very difficult to find the time and space to dig in when we are motivated. At first people were like “oh, a pandemic, now everyone has so much more time on their hands!” As if! Clearly those people do not have young children around.

The house structurally is fine. I don’t think an inspector would come in here and tell a potential buyer to run, but no previous residents had ever made noticeable improvements other than a homemade sprinkler system and decking. We’ve replaced the flooring and renovated the kitchen in our 8 years here, but it is time to do more.

The first items—a new tree! We bought a Shumard Oak last week and it will be planted on the 30th. The tree is already 16 feet tall and well established, so yes it costed a lot. But it should provide immediate dividends in the form of shade and curb appeal. Secondly, once the tree is firmly in place, I will begin on tearing up the lawn and putting in a new walkway up to the house. Thirdly, Lauren has decided to spearhead the bathroom projects. All 2.5 bathrooms need work, as I said.

While the house has its faults, it’s still perfectly fine. The nicest thing is we lucked the F out on the location of the house. We are two blocks from where they recently broke ground on the new Apple HQ, which is said to be home to 10,000+ new employees in late 2021, many of whom will be relocating from other places to come work here. Can you imagine the idea of being hired, and being able to forego Austin traffic and live in short walking distance to Apple’s office? We could be living in a pile of rubble and people may fork over hundreds of thousands for the land alone. So in that regard, home improvements are not the necessity that they may be in other areas. Potential buyers may not care if the siding isn’t new, they will just be happy to be so close to work and will gladly do the repairs themselves. At the same time, we would probably get our money back if we made the renovations and improvements ourselves (a realtor like Caren may be able to verify). If we were to sell now, judging by nearby home sale data, we’d come close to doubling our original investment. If we hold off until Apple actually opens, who knows! But I have a feeling that we will not be hanging on to this house for much longer. Once Apple is open and running, we will probably be out of this place.

Part 2: 9 Whole Years in Austin and What’s Next
But therein lies the big question… what next? Lauren and I have had plenty of conversations about it but are pretty far apart on what our ideal situations would look like. You may be able to guess where we each stand on the issue!

She has her great dream job climbing the ladder at her company and has been in her new position for just over half a year. She needs be closer to her office when they reopen, a reasonable idea given her horrific commute in one of the nation’s worst traffic cities. She would like to get closer to downtown, which will mean spending a lot of money on a house that will almost certainly have less square footage, but Lauren has been quick to point out that such a house, though smaller, could possibly have a better layout and would be in a fun, walkable area with great schools and even public transportation. Since I am remote anyway, it doesn’t affect me where in Austin we would be. We may one day get another office for my job in Austin, but it’s likely a long ways off. She recently said she was starting to come around on just having a larger house in a suburb like Cedar Park even if that meant a longer commute.

I am still very much in favor of relocating farther north. In these harsh, unforgiving summers where every day the high temp is way over 100º and the heat index is well into the 110ºs, I spend an unhealthy amount of time every day just soaked, angry, and dwelling on how I have to live here. The dead of winter is usually pretty tolerable, that’s when I usually come back around on this being a fine spot to live! But yeah I have mostly had my mind set on moving north since literally 2014… It doesn’t even have to be Minneapolis! I would settle for dozens of cities or states. Something where we could conceivably drive back to visit families within 10-12 hours and not have to plan flights months in advance, and where the heat wasn’t quite so rampant. I would even take some snow… I know, I hated it in 2010, but it’s totally out of my system now. I would re-welcome it. I was all in favor of living all over the country or world back in 2010, but kids came along and that really changed my mindset. Austin has been a fine city while we’ve been here, but it does not and has never really felt like home. It just feels like somewhere we’re currently living. Last month my good friend and manager at work took his wife and newborn son and moved back to Ohio for the exact reasons I would want to go back, so that struck a chord with me and put me in a bit of a tailspin for a few weeks.

But, moving to another city in no way aligns with Lauren’s career here in Austin, unless her employers eventually make everyone fully remote after the pandemic. Even so, her job is specific to a region of the country so being local is probably a requirement. I’m very happy for her that she has landed in this dream job with a great employer and very proud of her achievements getting through some tough times and managing to climb the ladder. I would hate to tear her away from that, but at the same time it is taking a toll on my mental health and just ignoring it is probably not a great idea. If nothing has changed in the past six years, I’m sure this strong pull to leave town won’t magically go away in the future. I will have to find a way to deal with that. Maybe there are some workarounds. Once recently we talked about having a summer house in Minnesota… as soon as school ends we’d be heading straight up there for the whole summer and come back when school starts back up. But logistically it’s kinda crazy… what would we do with our house here? How would we afford a second place? Would Lauren’s job allow such a thing, and if they didn’t, would she just be flying back and forth like crazy, and would that put me in an unrealistic solo parenting scenario when I’m supposed to be working?

So… who knows what’s next?! We’ll just have to ride it out and see.