This was no easy decision. It was overflowing with complexities and angst. Kathleen had lived her entire life in southern California. All of her immediate family is here. And half of mine, the other half in Montana. So the notion of moving to middle Tennessee left a few chords unstruck. I’m not assuming that any of you really care where we hang our hats, but looking back on the process I believe we learned a few extremely valuable lessons. No one is more surprised than we are that we actually did it, that we actually evaluated the situation, made a plan, executed it, and here we are, at least six months later at the other end, a bit stunned that we really got this far. That we actually took charge of our lives before things began to crumble around us. And we are more convinced than ever that our move is the correct thing to do.
We had talked for years about escaping the high costs of California once the twins were out of high school, which is now a little less than two years away. But the last set of tax and utility hikes caused me to begin doodling with some financial projections. Then the bottom dropped out of the stock market and took our retirement fund with it. Suddenly we were facing the fact that we might not make it to the twins’ graduation unless we got busy and found financing for another movie. Gleep! Never been faced with such before. And at that moment, with the economy in the tank, financing another movie was probably not even possible. Never mind that I really wasn’t ready to do another movie yet. A production takes the better part of two years out of your life, most of it 24/7, literally working around the clock. And I mean work. No matter what you’ve heard, most of the movie-making process is not fun. None of it is for me until I can sit in a theater and see you laugh and cry at the result. One needs a truckload of passion to get through the process and at that moment my passion was elsewhere. I was writing the next book (still am). And I wanted desperately to finish it and take another shot at making life better for horses, and people. I loved what I was doing.
So we developed a financial model that would get us to the twins’ graduation and allow me to continue to write. We would search for a new home in the southeastern quadrant of the the country, not because I grew up there, but because most of it is gorgeous, green, temperate, and waaay cheaper than most other parts of the country. We would only consider areas and homes that would: 1) meet our financial model, which in a nutshell was that the mortgage, taxes and utilities could, in a pinch, all be paid by fixed income (see people, there is an advantage to being 70 :) and… 2) the horses could basically eat for free (instead of the extremely expensive California hay that we must buy all year long because there is no grass where we live; nor will there ever be because water and electricity are so expensive)… and preferably 3) the horses could drink for free as well… and that 4) if the economy does not recover and continues downhill we could even grow our own food if we had too …and 5) have enough land that in a pinch other family members could come, build a cabin and make it through any financial crisis by going back to basics.
That was the plan and we vowed not to veer from it. I began on the internet and talked to a lot of friends and college mates, ultimately getting introduced to local realtors in east Texas, east Oklahoma, Arkansas, northern Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Virginia. Slowly we began to weave our way through hundreds of listings to the few that actually seemed to satisfy all of our criteria. Oh, I forgot to mention: the last criterion: access to fresh seafood and Starbucks :). We eliminated properties that even though they fit the model we just didn’t like for one reason or another. Believe it or not, in the end, out of all the houses we looked at only two remained. One in Arkansas and one in middle Tennessee. And the one in Arkansas got knocked out because it sold before we could get over there to see it. It wasn’t that close to a Starbucks anyway. So Kathleen got on a plane and flew to Nashville, met with the realtor and they headed for – are you ready? – Bell Buckle, Tennessee. Population 391. About six miles out of the town center, at the very dead end of a narrow gravel road, this is what she saw:
31 acres, most of it sloped-to-steep (which our herd is quite used to), a year-round spring that could be feeding an uncompleted pond right next to the pasture fence, and the price, taxes, and utilities fit the financial model perfectly. The house was nice and the barn looked like the model for a postcard. Since we’ll never use it for stalling horses we plan to remove all the stalls, fix it up, let it be a run-in for the horses if they choose to during winter rains, and the rest of the time we’ll use it for barn dances, music camps, and horse seminars (while our herd mingles with attendees). What fun! Won’t happen overnight because there’s a lot of work before any of that’s possible, but it’s something to work on and look forward to. Oh, and we’re less than 40 minutes from Franklin TN where Kathleen found the largest Whole Foods she had ever seen – with fresh seafood – just across town from Starbucks :)
The down side of it all is that Kathleen will rent out here so the twins can finish high school where they started. They’re both honor-role and AP students doing lots of extra curricula activities, the teachers love them, and it would not be the best for their future to make them start over in their junior year. So Kathleen and I will be going back and forth for a year and a half. That will not be fun but we know we’re doing the right thing. For us. For the kids. For the horses.
The horses and I will leave mid-September and move to Bell Buckle. Kathleen and the kids will stay where we are now until the house sells, then into a rental house. Thanksgiving , Christmas, summers and other holidays will be in Tennessee.
For those who do not live in California, here are a few fun facts: Cost of registering our two cars and one pickup truck in CA: $1280 a year. In Tennessee: $108 a year. Property taxes on our California house: $9100 a year. The one in Bell Buckle less than $1000. Our average electric bill in CA: $600/month. In Tennessee less than $100/month. Water cost in Tennessee is 20% of the cost here in CA. Etc., etc.
There you have it. The lessons learned? Don’t wait. A complete and total makeover of your life is scary, but could be just what the doctor ordered. Whether it’s about job, passion, expenses, or whatever. Humans have a tendency to get stuck. I’m here so I must stay here. There’s nothing I can do about it. It’ll take too long or be too hard to figure out. But it all starts by putting one foot in front of the other. Taking that first step. We started by calling one friend, who connected us up with one realtor. We looked at hundreds of houses. Only two fit the model. And one of those was terrific. It worked. Look at those huge looming tasks as a process. Lay the first brick. Shake off the human hunger for instant gratification. Just do it.