Oregon Trail, Part 2: The First Six Weeks

The first morning we were here, Shea went outside to get something from the trailer. Since we arrived before the moving truck, and all he had were flip-flops, that’s what he wore.

Icy sidewalk + flip flops = We’re not in California anymore.

That was only the first lesson Oregon taught us. Since then we’ve learned…

…that there’s something to the old wives tale that if you don’t wear a coat, you’ll catch cold.

…to keep the dogs’ water bowls in the house, or they’ll drink out of the toilets—either because they’re too lazy to go out in the cold or the water has frozen over.

…while living on the hill overlooking town will be cool 90% of the time, the other 10% we’ll be in danger of sliding down the hill on the way to school.

Among other things.

But we’ve also been here long enough for the kids to make new friends in the neighborhood, new friends at school and be invited to four birthday parties.

(However, not long enough for this mama to find a gym. Ahem.)

It’s hard for me to explain the way people are friendly here, because California is an awfully friendly place. But when folks in So Cal are friendly, it’s more like an “I’m going to be friendly next to you” vibe. It has solid personal space.

And up here, the friendly reaches out and grabs you, includes you. Kate’s new teacher wrapped her in a great big old bear hug on the first day they went to school. The director of ministries at our new church wrapped me in a great big old bear hug the first time she met me in person. It’s like that.

I am not a hugger. I have big personal space. BIG. Even after four years in New York, I never got used to how people hugged and kissed each other hello. Hugging is a joke between me and Amy because Amy hugs everyone and it took me months to hug her back without feeling awkward.

But I once I realized that hugging could happen in Oregon, I decided we have to be open to our new life.

So I am open to hugging.

In California, it’s common for folks to head bob a stranger or offer a “Hey, what’s up?”. In New York, I had to adjust to the expectation that less words are better and no words are best.  That stuff doesn’t fly here. When people ask how you are, they’re prepared to listen to the answer. There may be follow-up questions. It’s a small town and there’s nowhere that anyone has to be fast. This is part of the slowing down.

Gabriel has the run of the neighborhood with some other boys, including right on up the hill into the trees if he so desires. There’s lots of open land and not a lot of fences. I was scared for poison oak, and then someone told me “Honey, it’s not if he gets poison oak, but when” and I shook it off.

We’ve eaten at all the restaurants we came to love on our trips up here to see my husband’s folks, and discovered some new ones. We’ve been to museums, a working water-powered mill from 1872 and I even went on a Mom’s night out with the first grade moms. You never know what you’re getting into with a group of first grade moms, but I shouldn’t have worried. These are Catholic school moms, after all. Half went home at ten and the other half went upstairs to dance.

It’s quiet now that the holidays have ended. We’re settling into the dark peace of winter. But then, oh my goodness. There will be so many festivals and fairs and markets that it almost stresses me out when I look at the community calendar.

We can’t wait to explore our new home state. The trailer will come out of hiding in the Spring and off we’ll go to the coast and over the Cascades and north to Eugene. Everything is new: new stores, new parks, new museums, new towns. And all of it is beautiful.

My kids are content here, even though they do miss their friends. My husband, who really thrives when he’s helping people, is content in his new job. And I am content. My mama’s heart is quiet and thankful that this prayer was answered.

Some pictures of our new life:

This is the view off our back patio.

This is the view off our back patio.

Here's another one. The sunsets over the mountains look different every day.

Here’s another one. The sunsets over the mountains look different every day.

This is Butte Creek, home of the Butte Creek Mill

Butte Creek, home of the Butte Creek Mill

I took this at a local park.

I took this at a local park.

Dutch Bros is the local drive-through coffee joint. We love them, not the least because of their awesome coffee lids.

Dutch Bros is the local drive-through coffee joint. We love them, not the least because of their awesome coffee lids.

Oregon Trail Part 1: Campgrounds and Football Games


They said they were coming at 7 am, and the big truck rolled down the street at 6:45. Shea put flip-flops on to take the kids to school and when he came back, every single other pair of shoes was packed. I got distracted while moving the kitchen supplies into the trailer and when I went back at 9:30 am, all the pots and pans were packed.

I had a pile of laundry because I thought they weren’t unhooking the appliances until the next day. “Good news!” Dan the Moving Man told me at noon that first day. “You don’t have as much stuff as we thought! We are ahead of schedule so I am wrapping up the appliances.”

I texted JFK Amy: Can we come over tonight to say goodbye? And stay for dinner? And baths? Can I borrow some pots and pans? And can I do some laundry?

We planned to leave by 1:30 pm on Friday and by 1, there was a crowd of friends to see us off.

I will never forget that.

We drove 180 miles across LA on a Friday afternoon and made it to Bakersfield in four hours. I was feeling pretty good about that. We didn’t have to sedate the dogs. The kids were calm. And we pulled the trailer over the Grapevine with nary a shudder from the engine.

This is our sweet old girl Sugar, cuddled up with Kate in the backseat.

This is our sweet old girl Sugar, cuddled up with Kate in the backseat.

The only thing was, it was dark. And every person with an RV knows that you should never set up your brand new RV for the first time in the dark. This trailer has a side pop out. That’s new for us. We learned that you have to place the trailer carefully so the pop-out doesn’t pop into the water spicket or the power pole.

In our case, it took two tries to learn that lesson.

The next morning we were up and off pretty early. It was the Day of a Thousand Stops. In our hurry to leave Bakersfield, we forgot to send the kids to the bathroom one more time, but we did make sure they had full water bottles.

Why can’t everyone have to pee at the same time?

We were trying to get to Merced by 1 pm, since there was a very important football game that needed watching and I had picked a campground with cable hook-ups for this very reason.

There is no shame in this game. Every new trailer comes with this kind of outdoor tv hookup.

Even Lizzy likes the Tide!

It was a little slice of river heaven.

The Merced River

The Merced River

The next day was our long day, 250 miles to Redding. It was colder, and the landscape was changing from the flat farmland of California’s Central Valley to the rolling ranchland of Northern California. We started to see more water, although I can tell you that California’s drought is real. The lakes and rivers were disturbingly below their normal levels, with sometimes hundreds of feet of exposed bottom. At Lake Shasta, we drove past a houseboat marina that had dropped more than a football field below the dock, left dangling on the hillside.

Redding looks more like Southern Oregon, and it was the first time we were cold during the day. We huddled up in the trailer with the TV on and had a movie night with Maleficent.



We arrived home the next day, ahead of the furniture. We slept on the floor in the master, all seven of us, and woke up to frosted sidewalks.

In the first week, we unpacked all the boxes that came into the house. Which doesn’t mean that we found all our things, only that we unpacked all the boxes that came into the house.

I don’t want to sugar coat something that was hard for us. The sound of Gabe wailing as we drove away from the best friends he has ever known left a wound on my heart. Sometimes when Kate feels lonely, she says “Mom, remember the day we left California and all my classmates gave me a hug and a goodbye card?” Overall, I think they were a great age to make a move like this, and they have adjusted well in Oregon. But Shea and I knew that we needed to get the trip part–in-between the old life and the new–right. It had to be a fun adventure, a special time for us to be together as a family. The kids needed to know that while lots of things were changing, this part, the family part, was not. It was still the same mom and dad, same way of doing things, same crazy dogs.

Things they can count on, things that don’t ever change.

Friday: Oregon Trail Part 2: The First Six Weeks



We found one! ~ Jen

Our new entryway!

Our new entryway!

I do not believe in the jinx, but Shea does, so I couldn’t update the house-hunting story until escrow closed. And it just did so, woohoo! We have a house!

The house-hunting trip to Oregon in July was grueling.

It was the hottest week of the year, over 100 degrees each day. The sun goes down later up there, so the heat lasted strong into the 7 pm hour. And it was humid, that nasty humid where by all rights it should rain and provide blessed relief for twenty minutes. But it didn’t. Not once.

We usually stay in a two bedroom hotel suite with a kitchen and free breakfast buffet and dinner/slash happy hour. This time we stayed in a lovely, local hotel, in a regular hotel room, and a continental breakfast. All five of us.

The first day we looked at 8 homes, including our top five. My dreams of downsizing crashed into the reality of small square footage. I know my parents’ generation all grew up in 1200 square foot saltboxes, and bully for them, but I just can’t do it. I need to be able to close the bathroom door without straddling the toilet.

The really big and top of our price range homes were a conundrum. Not one of them was turn-key. And not one of them had one of two things that we required: a guest room and/or a shower on the main floor. So you can take your 3700 square foot French Country re-imagined floorplan and stuff it.

One house was so big that I panicked. It was normal on the main floor, but the basement was big enough to create a mother-in-law suite and a two bedroom rental unit. And the place was crammed with stuff. Leading me to wonder if it’s true that we grow into our homes, accumulating things we don’t need just because we can.

Which came first, the hoarder, or the giant house with all the empty space just begging to be filled?

Other homes were poorly located for a family with small kids: the corner of a busy highway, at the top of a driveway so steep I had to climb the steps like a ladder, tucked away on the side of the mountain with barely a neighbor in sight.

By the end of day 1, we were discouraged. None of the homes spoke to us or the kids, even the three with pools.

The next morning, we stopped by a new construction home that was not quite finished. It was lovely, on 1/3 of an acre. The builder toured us through the home, filling in the missing details, while the guy installing the floor showed Gabe and Kate how to use a nail gun. The backyard was huge, with a stream on one side and a view of the valley. This house moved into the #1 spot, which it held for ten full minutes.

Around the corner and up the street was a home I had been watching for months.  Also new construction, at first it had been too expensive and then when the price finally fell into our range, it sold.

Two days before we flew up, it fell out of escrow.

Boom, baby. New construction and two story, but Oregon style—main floor and then daylight basement. Two bedrooms up and two down, which means the kids will be contained to their own floor, complete with a kitchenette and full bath. We all loved it.

The backyard is not landscaped, which I swore I would never do again. I am not looking forward to baby trees and coaxing grass to grow, now that I know Southern Oregon does a fair impression of the Inland Empire in the months of July and August. It’s going to be a long five years waiting for those trees to throw shade.

But we are close to a park, up on the hill where the breeze blows cooler in the summer, and ten minutes from school. It’s not small and short, it’s not old and moldy and it’s not haunted.

Plus, the perfect house is not out there. It doesn’t exist. But there are plenty of houses that are enough.

What makes a house a perfect home is the family who lives in it.

I hope this house is ready for us!

Our view of the valley!

Our view of the valley!

Oregon Trail*

My chickens watching the creek in Ashland, Oregon

My chickens watching the creek in Ashland, Oregon

So remember this post last Fall?

We were waiting for some for guidance around Shea’s job. Was he supposed to stay in his current position  where he was successful and respected, but missed working with people on a daily basis? Or should he go back to being an agent, where he got to work with people, and give up a promising career in leadership?

On the flight home from Hawaii, he sat next to a couple who used to live a few blocks from us. In the course of their conversation, he shared the uncertainty we had about his job. This couple then went on and on and on about how great their agent had been when they lived in our town, how wonderful and helpful. They had never met him in person but loved him and recommended him to all their friends.

“What was his name?” Shea asked them, thinking he would know the guy.

“Shea” was the answer. At which point Shea introduced himself as their former agent and we thanked God for such a clear answer.

Within a few weeks, a local opportunity for Shea to be an agent again came open. But I have wanted to move out of California for a while now, for lots of reasons, not the least of which is the trend in weather. My soul needs rain and the transitions of the seasons, and climate change is robbing Southern California of both.

So we asked God to please send an opportunity for us to move to Oregon, to be nearer to Shea’s parents.

In January, an opportunity came open in Portland. So Shea and I flew up there to check it out. It was lovely, but 250 miles from his parents’ home in Southern Oregon.

On the flight home, I told Shea that I would really rather live in Southern Oregon. We sent up a prayer for something closer to his parents.

A few days later an opportunity opened up 60 miles from where his parents live.

In March, Shea was offered and accepted the position, to start January 1, 2015.

We are moving to Oregon.

For me this entire journey of the last eight months has been a lesson in opening myself completely to God’s plan. In a way that is very unlike me. We sent the prayers up, and waited patiently, and one by one they were answered.

Yes, moving to someplace green and beautiful has been a desire on my heart for years now, and moving specifically to Oregon for over a year. But the way in which it has all fallen into place leaves no doubt that this is part of God’s plan for us.

And knowing that helps me deal with the sadness. Even though I am super excited to go, I am sad to be leaving.

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology and social media, I’ll still be on the blog and I won’t lose touch with my nearest and dearest. But I am used to seeing mostly everyone I love within a hour’s drive. When we’re in Oregon, it will take much more planning.

Dana has promised to come, as has everyone else. And we will be back all the time, because there is no sandy seashore with pounding waves where we’re moving and my heart will miss that rhythm. Luckily my parents are within ten minutes of retirement, so they will be able to make that Allegiant airlines cheap flight—where they charge you to pick your seat and carry-on a bag—work for them. We are trying to find a house with a guest room so the Hotel Jen and Shea can carry on the hospitality for which we’ve become (sorta) famous.

My husband will be happier as an agent because helping people is what he loves. My kids will roam the woods and streams and see snow happen in real time, and while the summers will still be hot, the heat will end in the Fall.

Unlike here.

I’ll have lots more to report as we get closer to the move. We’re looking for a house, which has been a merry jaunt so far.

Or you know, the opposite of that. But whatever. It’s a grand adventure and we are ready.



* I wanted to name this post “Oregon, Ho!”. But then I just wasn’t sure about that comma. Seemed safer to stay away.