So now I'm thirty-five. And things are just right in my personal life, pretty good in my professional life, and only really significantly wrong in two ways: first, Susan and I need to be allowed to get married, and second, we need to buy a house. Of course there are lots of shorter-term wrongnesses, such as the need to get Susan's tooth fixed (she has an appointment soon), but those two are going to take the longest to resolve. The marriage one is largely beyond our control. The house-buying one is much less so, but it will be a lot of work. We need to see a financial advisor to determine how to most equitably divide the mortgage responsibilities (because I'm the one with the money saved for a down payment, and she's the one with a slightly larger income), and we need to develop a budget that will give us a clearer idea of how much we want to spend, and we need to mentally prepare ourselves for dealing with pressure from real estate agents to spend more than the houses are worth, and we need to go around actually looking at houses, and then, assuming we find one, we will probably need to install a fence and/or a few other basic necessities that many houses around here don't have but that we can't do without for any length of time, and then we will need to actually move. I'm not sure we can handle all of that in the coming year, but we should strive to at least make some significant progress on it.
We both like the idea of living out of town, where the lots are larger and hillier and wilder, but we are both concerned about some of the repercussions associated with that. I telecommute daily for my job, so it is extremely important to have a completely reliable Internet connection, but cable is not available out of town, and we're not sure whether or not a DSL or satellite connection would be reliable enough. Sewer service is also not widely available out of town, and we're not thrilled at the idea of having a septic tank. And on a gardening-related note, out-of-town lots are generally located in the foothills and therefore are generally either covered with poison oak or cursed by serpentine soil. I'm more inclined toward the serpentine soil, because poison oak can't grow in serpentine soil, and I really do not care for the idea of having to weed poison oak out of my garden. I know that many people manage it - my own parents have removed massive amounts of poison oak from their yard - but I am not "many people"; I am me, and my willingness to deal with poison oak is not very high at all. Particularly considering that even after all the efforts my parents have made to remove it from their yard, I know that they still have new seedlings coming up all the time that have to be continually removed - I just hate the idea of not being able to garden in our own yard without worrying that I might at any moment accidentally kneel on a tiny poison oak seedling and have to spend the next week or two desperately regretting it. Besides, Susan is ultra-susceptible to allergic skin reactions to plants of far more innocuous types; I'd hate to see how she might react to poison oak.
However, it's not easy to determine which areas have sufficiently strong serpentine soil to prevent poison oak. And if we do manage to find one, will I be able to garden in it? It seems like I should have a decent chance; hardly any non-native plants can grow in serpentine soil, but I'm a native plant gardener, and there are some native plants that can grow in serpentine soil. Not a whole lot, but then, there aren't a whole lot of native plants that can grow in the vernal pool-like conditions of our current yard, either, and I'm managing to garden here reasonably well. Still! If we buy a house on serpentine soil, the plants I'm currently growing that I would still be able to grow would be: hairy gumplant, Hartweg's doll's lily, Sonoma sage, and . . . uh, that's about it. I would probably never be able to grow any trees at all other than leather oaks, tanoaks, gray pines, incense cedars, MacNab's cypress, and whiteleaf manzanita. I could never grow a valley oak, a maple, a buckeye, a madrone, a redbud, a dogwood, an ash, a walnut, a sycamore, a cottonwood, a cherry, a plum, a fir or a Douglas-fir, a hop tree, a willow, a yew, a bay, a Ponderosa pine . . . that's an awful lot to give up the ability to grow in a place where I hope to live at least the majority of the rest of my life. And that's just the trees I'd be giving up; there are also the shrubs, perennials, and annuals I'd be giving up. Of course, I'd also be giving up a large portion of the need to weed, because hardly any weeds would be able to grow either. But a gardener needs some variety of plants to choose from.
These are the things we care most about: a decent-sized lot (at least a third of an acre), a reliable Internet connection, a gas stove for Susan to cook on (or the ability to install one for a reasonable price), a decent-sized kitchen (preferably with a window over the kitchen sink), a fence to keep the dogs in (or the money left over to have one built), central air conditioning to make the summers survivable (or the money left over to have it installed), the absence of poison oak, soil that I can plant stuff in (especially trees - yards require shade to become truly usable), space enough for a ton of bookshelves but not too much to keep air-conditioned (around 1,400 square feet minimum and not much more than 2,000 square feet maximum), and a house that's reasonably pleasant-looking both inside and out or can be made so without inordinate expense. I'm especially (perhaps excessively) drawn to two-story houses with decks, such as this Penn Valley house, and to anything that abuts a natural wetlands, such as this Loma Rica house, but I could also easily picture us in something like this Browns Valley house, which features neither of those advantages. Or if we chose to move in a completely different compass direction and stay firmly in the Sacramento Valley so as to avoid both the poison oak and serpentine soil of the foothills, we could live in something more like this Yuba City house, which is not at all bad either. So there are lots of choices; I just don't know which choices are the best choices, and the indecisive default option of staying where we live now is, uh, really unpleasant, and not even a very good financial decision either. So I hope we manage to figure out a lot of this stuff during the coming year.