House rules

We have 3 houses. Jerry says if I write this people will think we are rich. Well, we aren’t rich — but not poor either.

The house we live in most of the time is the largest and the nicest. It is about 1600 sq ft and has a bedroom, a sleeping loft, 2 bathrooms and a powder room (under construction.) The setting is rural, on a small island in Puget Sound. The house and a couple of out buildings — my studio and Jerry’s shop — nestle in 5 acres of woods, so it doesn’t have much of a view because of tall trees. It is part of a duplex; we try to rent the other side in summer as a vacation site.

Island house

Lummi interior

Our second house is in Manley Hot Springs Alaska. It is very small, perhaps 900 sq ft. It has indoor plumbing — 1 bathroom, and 2 tiny bedrooms upstairs. We plan to add another tiny bedroom on the main floor this fall.

Manley house in winter

Manley house in summer

Manley house living room

Our third house is a condo in Bellingham that we just bought. It is a little over 900 sq ft, has 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. It’s simple and basic. No frills. The condo buildings are about 30 years old and back on a large wooded park where there is a creek, waterfalls and many walking trails.

The condos


Condo interior -- living/dining room

The condo setting

Each of these places comes with its own way of life and its own rules.

In Alaska you have the feeling of being able to do anything you like. There are no building codes outside the boroughs and no property taxes. Jerry built a new staircase in our house which was far steeper than allowed by building codes where they exist. There is no such thing as building inspection. Some people bury an old car as a septic tank. Gray water is often just dumped on the ground. There are no rules for outhouses. Junk accumulates in people’s yards — in remote parts of Alaska there is a reluctance to throw anything away because “you might need it sometime.” On the other hand, the town dump is littered with old appliances which are peppered with bullet holes.

At our house on the island the county collects property taxes and enforces building codes. Jerry does all the work on our house — wiring, plumbing and construction — but if it’s a big project that can be seen from the outside we have to get a permit from the county and it must pass an inspection when complete. There are rules governing every aspect of construction. There are rules about the uses of property for agriculture or business, about burning rubbish, about fence height, number of dwelling units per land parcel and so on.

When we bought the condo we were given a 3 ring binder with several inches of filler informing us of the by-laws and rules of the condo. These are in addition to rules of both the city of Bellingham and the county. The condo rules cover everything from number and kind of pets you can have to what kind of appliances you can install and who can install them to TV antennas and noise, parking, outdoor grills and more.

The way of life in each place is different. Manley is isolated and small. Only about 65 people live there. They regard themselves as independent and self-sufficient and in many ways they are. They hunt for much of their meat (but rules are enforced about game and hunting) and they grow vegetables in the summer. Many live without indoor plumbing and some even without electricity. Many of them repair their own vehicles and appliances. Jerry loves the freedom of not having to answer to authority.

But there is pressure to conform in a lot of ways, and within the small community there are quarrels and tensions both political and personal that stay unresolved and limit peoples‘ freedom and autonomy. I fell afoul of Manley mores with my blog soon after I got there. Now there are a number of people in Manley who don’t speak to me because of what I write. There are 2 native groups who are at odds with each other. Besides that, the natives have prohibited non-natives from walking on their land. Since they own most of the land in the town and its surroundings this is pretty restrictive. It is largely ignored, but it remains a source of tension.

Our island community is about 1000 people. I have been here for 11 years and I know many people of all ages and persuasions. I think there is less tendency here for people to try to control others than there is in Manley. People are generally tolerant of each other’s politics and quirks. There was a split here at one time among the church goers, and an attempt was made to fire the preacher at the island church for being too liberal. The attempt didn’t succeed and the conservative evangelicals formed their own church which now meets at the Grange hall. For a while I belonged to an island group which had the aim of developing low income housing here and that group became a target of the conservative faction. The low income housing group self destructed, mostly from its own internal incompetence, but it was helped along by outside factions which opposed its goals.

Bellingham is a small city, but it is big enough for one to be quietly anonymous. Since we have begun to occupy our condo nobody has spoken to us there or taken any interest in our presence. I have a kind of freedom there I have nowhere else. The first night we stayed in the condo I went to the nearby grocery store, one of the high-end stores in town, its shelves well stocked with a variety of items, like fresh baked bread, an extensive deli and sushi bar. I felt exhilarated at being just 5 minutes from a world of food. We can go out in the evening on impulse when we are there and not have to plan for the ferry. Haircuts, doctors, drugstores, bookstores and lattes are always available.

I love going to Manley. I will be sorry when we are too old to make the long trip. I love its quiet and lack of distractions. I get a lot accomplished there, mostly painting, but some writing as well. We still have some good friends there who don’t mind my blog and who think the way we do.

I love my island home, where I am finally becoming a real resident — it takes a while in a small community to belong. I love its beauty. It is full of good people who care about their community even when they don’t agree on every issue.

I think I will love the freedom of being in the city from time to time. I have a little trouble getting Jerry to go; he dislikes crowds and traffic, and money gets spent there. But he’s adjusting, and if it ever stops raining long enough to take a walk in the big well maintained park I think I’ll have him sold.

I have to add a post script about the condo. Since I wrote this I have talked to one other resident. I was outside walking the poodles and in the parking lot I encountered a youngish black man in lounging clothes and bedroom slippers. He wanted to tell me what a great location the condos have next to the park, and he pointed out an eagle’s nest nearby. His name is Jonathan.

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20 Responses to House rules

  1. dale says:

    Ever since I realized that it was possible to live in a city, I’ve wanted to live nowhere else. I love the freedom you describe, and the sense that myriads of human universes are right to hand — that, to me, is a spaciousness compared to which the spaciousness of Alaska is small. (Though I love the wilderness, don’t get me wrong there! And yearn for it, if I’m too long away.)

    The net has made me wonder if, at long last, I might be able to live in a very small town, if possibly the rules have changed. The myriads are as close as my laptop now, wherever the fiber-optic runs.

  2. Jan says:

    What a fascinating contrast in lifestyles. It’s like you have a foot in three different cultures. And, yes, I know that is a mixed metaphor.

    Watch out for Poodles and increasingly hungry predatory birds in all these locations.

  3. Annie says:

    How nice for you to have such different home bases, each with its own pluses. Yes it is kind of funny how a place that has few official rules is actually more restrictive than a place with more rules.

    When I first moved to a big city from a small town I was positively euphoric about the idea that nobody knew me, I felt free of the unwritten rules and busybodyness of a small town. Condo living is a whole other lifestyle too, and I guess that varies from condo to condo, but with some things in common. Like all the written rules! When I first moved to a condo it was a brand new building and many residents were first-time homeowners; I got the impression that they thought all these rules would protect them instead of being restrictive. Every time something happened somebody wanted to make a rule about it.

    I’m guessing your island home is a nice compromise and hopefully your condo home will be reasonable. There are amazing possibilities in the city!

  4. annie says:

    Love the descriptions of your different homes and lives. When I lived in Tahoe the locals said you couldn’t call yourself a local until you had lived there at least 10 years. I barely made it when I had to leave. It was a good life there.

  5. Mage B says:

    His, hers, and yours. With love for all three. Delightful.

  6. Love this post! I have plenty of people in Orange County who don’t like me blogging too! I like your dogs. Also, I can’t wait to hear more about Jonathon …!

  7. Friko says:

    Living in three homes would be quite difficult for me. I need to know where home is; I don’t need to know many people anywhere, but there is comfort in seeing the same faces and call out a friendly hello. Having a holiday home somewhere is fine, no danger of split personality there for me.

    I do agree that it is interesting to sample three different ways of life, although it could mean, that in all of the three places one could be seen as not really belonging, not being part of the community and therefore not having the well-being of the community at heart. After all, you could always live somewhere else if problems arise.

    The second-homers here are mostly ignored by the permanent residents. It’s quite funny to watch them though: they usually have the most to say about what goes and doesn’t go in local affairs.

  8. Dick says:

    For a while we had two homes, both in the same village, so having finally sold the one I’m currently revelling in being able to pull up the drawbridge on the other!

    Your three homes are delightful, Anne – so much an expression of your joint energy and enterprise. I’m impressed by those two very businesslike wood burning stoves. Our tiny little burner pumps out 4kW. I should think yours manage a bit more than that!

  9. Hattie says:

    Our Hawaii home is ideal and meets all our needs except for one: our children and grandchildren live in Seattle. So we bought a condo in Ballard that is very convenient for the several trips a year we take to see them.
    I read somewhere that the majority of Americans never live very far from where they started out. This has been true of the people my husband and I went to high school with. We would have found that dull.

  10. Marja-Leena says:

    All lovely homes. It’s what one makes of each to be comfortable and home-like, isn’t it? The world outside closed doors can vary, and it’s been interesting reading how much so, in both good and not-so-good.

  11. What an interesting lifestyle. I recently moved from the city back to my country property and built a small home. Would love to have a small condo in the city.
    Just know I stay so busy here in the country with my beginning garden, writing, reading, family, etc. Know extra time and I do not think I would have the energy for two homes.
    But then you have Jerry to help.
    I am happy for you….

  12. Darlene says:

    I am impressed with the locations of your homes. You seem to always choose a place surrounded by nature. I am a city gal at heart and my husband was the opposite. He talked me into buying a place in the country and I lived there for ten years. I learned to love the solitude and being surrounded by woods and a stream that ran through our 40 acres, but I was very happy to move back to the city with all of the advantages it gave me.

    I don’t think I would like the responsibility of keeping records (like insurance and tax information) on 3 houses, much less the maintenance. It’s hard enough to keep track of when the roof needs repainting, etc. on my one town house. But, to each his own.

  13. Tabor says:

    It almost sounds like you live in three countries…not three houses.

  14. wisewebwoman says:

    It all sounds so overwhelming to this single person, Anne, glad you have Jerry to share the work. I did the city/ocean thing for several years maintaining two homes and it was difficult for this senior. I don’t know how you manage but they are all unique with their own personalities! Lovely.
    Can you possibly tell me where you got your Manley stove? I’ve been looking for one of those for a couple of years now.
    If not too much trouble for you. I’m

  15. Betty says:

    Nice to see your adorable poodles Anne! Is one of them turning gray or was he/she born that way? Beautiful homes and I think a very nice way to live – always able to move on. Maybe that is what keeps you so young? Personally I would like my Country Condo AND a tiny apartment on 5th Ave, very close to the Met! AND to be able to snap my fingers twice to be transported between the two – with Josie, the easels, paints etc etc etc.

  16. IslandCAT2u says:

    I liked hearing more about your non-island abodes. Thanks for sharing your observations and pictures, too. LOVE your blog!

  17. Russ says:

    I feel like I should “stay tuned!” What a nice job you’ve done telling this story! To think: I’ve been there with you on a few of the scenarios so aptly described.

  18. Deborah says:

    A most interesting contrast of perspectives, Anne. The fact of living in such very different places makes for a stimulating life, but do you ever find it unsettling? Not being able to figure out where or when you did what? Or feeling like you change as a person when you change locations? Toggling back and forth between a French village and a major Canadian city makes me feel a bit dislocated, although it’s not always an unpleasant feeling. I really enjoyed your description of life in Manley – hard to imagine living there as a permanent resident. Excellent post!

  19. I am amazed at your energy. Three houses! I can’t imagine it. We can barely maintain one.

  20. Martha McLemore says:

    I think you’d make a great neighbor, no matter where you lived!

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