We bought a zoo! Okay, we didn’t buy a zoo… We bought a house on a lake in Wisconsin. But, it feels kind of like that movie, “We Bought a Zoo!”
I was born and raised in Los Angeles, as was my mother before me. Her parents came to LA from rural Illinois. My dad lives in rural Oregon where I took my kids to visit most summers and many winters. My husband was also born and raised in LA, as was his father before him. My husband’s grandparents came to LA from rural Wyoming. We have a shared experience of visiting rural places as kids where we learned to appreciate a slower pace of life, no traffic (except wild turkeys and buffalo), houses with land, rivers and lakes to fish from, and generally “good outside.”
We raised our four boys in a suburb outside of Los Angeles where we both grew up. It had a small town feel when we were growing up. There were pumpkin patches and onion fields. You knew your neighbors. You could leave your doors unlocked and your keys in your car. One of our boys’ kindergarten teachers was also my husband’s kindergarten teacher when he was little. We run into people we know at the grocery store, the bank, and out to dinner. When my husband was training for a marathon, people would see him running 10 miles from home and stop and offer to give him a ride back. So, ya. We live in LA. But, it’s not what most people think of when you think of LA. Here’s the part you might think of… We commute 1-3 hours each way to work depending on the time of day, the day of the week, holidays, school schedules, and wild fires. We grew up learning to be prepared for fires and earthquakes and don’t find either of those all that scary. While our local town is one of the few conservative districts in California, our state is predominately liberal. Our taxes are ridiculously high – we pay over 50%.
We’ve been talking about leaving California for about 10 years. It didn’t make sense to leave when our kids were little and our whole family was here. But, our kids grew up and moved to four different states. I guess we weren’t the only ones who wanted to leave California…. My husband and I are both consultants and we both travel a lot. While we live in Los Angeles, we’re somewhere else about 50% of the time. My husband’s corporate office is in Chicago and his biggest client is in Iowa. My office is in West Los Angeles (about 2 hours away most days). But, my team is very virtual. We spend most of our time at clients and only meet in our office a couple times a month. My clients are all over the US. I have two big clients in Los Angeles. The rest are mostly on the east coast. Our travel schedules would be greatly improved by moving to the middle of the country. We’ve always dreamed of living someplace with real seasons. In LA, we have fire season, but no other real seasons. It doesn’t even rain any more. When it does, the traffic is stupid or people stay home, because it’s an event.
As much as we’ve talked about it, leaving LA has always just been a dream. We would visit awesome places and fantasize about living there. Some of the places we’ve fantasized about: Jackson Hole, Wyoming, but the travel would be worse, not better; Boulder, Colorado, but we don’t smoke marajuana and the rest of the town seems to; Flagstaff, Arizona, but there are really no direct flights from there to anywhere. You get the picture.
I guess we were waiting for the right reason to move. And, he was born on September 20, 2018. Our first grandson, Harrison James. Our eldest son and his wife live in Madison, Wisconsin. We really enjoy visiting them there and have talked about moving to Madison many times.
When Harrison was born, our fantasies got louder. When our kids hadn’t slept more than 90 minutes at a time in 3 weeks, the fantasies turned into a potential reality as I was flying back and forth on weekends to help our kids. We had our parents close when we were raising our kids. I don’t know how I would have done it with out my mom and Steve’s mom helping out and teaching me the things that I didn’t know to ask, and feeding us dinner, and keeping babies over night so we could catch up on our sleep.
Our kids had a particularly rough week that caused both my husband and me to realize that we wanted to be close enough to support them and be actively involved in our grandson’s life.
That Friday night, Steve said, “I think we need to move.”
I said, “Me, too.”
He said, “Great. That’s settled. Buy us a house.”
For real. I asked him how much he wanted to spend on a house and he gave me a very modest and doable number that would get us a very nice house in Madison. So, I sat down next to him on the couch with my computer and started searching for houses while he watched TV. I was scrolling past a house that caught his eye.
He said, “That one! I want that one!”
I said, “That’s twice as much as you said you wanted to spend! Why do you want that house?”
He said, “It has a lake! I didn’t know I could have a lake. I want a lake. If we’re going to move to the middle of nowhere, I want a lake.”
“Oooohkay… how much are you willing to pay for a house on a lake?”
He doubled my budget, which was still less than we would be able to sell our house in LA for. So, I started looking for a house on a lake. There are a lot of lakes in Wisconsin. So, it wasn’t a super exclusive or weird thing to look for. I was going to Madison the next weekend to visit our kids and arranged to look at seven houses – all of them on a lake and all within the budget we were considering.
There was this house that the realtor sent me to check out on ten acres. It was on a beautiful, private lake surrounded by corn fields with one visible neighbor. I liked the house. And, the lake. A lot. And, the price was amazing – $200K less than my budget. But, I was super intimidated by the ten acres. And, it has this giant “outbuilding” on the property that is probably as big as the house. I didn’t even know what an outbuilding was. I definitely didn’t know what one would do with an outbuilding. I mean, if it was a barn, I could imagine putting chickens in there, or creating some romantic “she shed” type of thing, or something. But, it’s not a barn. It’s a very modern, brand spanking new, industrial outbuilding set up as a wood shop and garage to house a snow plow, a riding lawn mower, jet skis, and a bunch of other things that I couldn’t really name at the time. Honestly, it reminded me a little bit of that movie, “Twister.” It wasn’t full of machetes and farm tools, but it made me think that I definitely didn’t want to be anywhere near there if a tornado struck. And, crap! Now, I need to find out if there are tornados in Wisconsin. They tell me that there are, but they really only hit trailer parks. Haha. Okay. On a scale of 1-10, how much is an outbuilding like a trailer park? So, I looked it up. There have been 81 tornados in Dane County, Wisconsin since 1950. But, there have only been two confirmed deaths and 61 injuries. Huh. I guess tornados are a thing. And, ya, this house has a basement, but it’s all fancy-like and has windows and doors and doesn’t exactly seem like a storm cellar.
So, I told the realtor I didn’t really think I could deal with 10 acres and an outbuilding and went and looked at the six other houses. I found two I liked, but neither were perfect and both were just slightly more than my budget. The realtor said, “Maybe you want to look at that other one just for comparison?” I thought it couldn’t hurt anything, so I went and looked at it. And, fell in love. It was perfect. It was actually more than perfect. It had things we didn’t even know we wanted, like an outbuilding, and a beach, and a walk-out basement. I had to learn what that meant – but it meant you had doors that you could walk out of your basement from and it was more like a finished second floor than what you think of when you think “basement.” It has wonderful appliances in the kitchen, and a theater in the basement, and rooms for all our kids to stay in, and office space for both my husband and me, and even an extra bedroom for the grand baby. These are all things that I would want if I was dreaming up my perfect home, but they weren’t things that I thought I could expect on a modest budget in Wisconsin. I still had no idea what I would do with an outbuilding, but my family had a lot of ideas. My husband thought it would make a fine garage to house a car collection. My boys thought it would make a great MMA gym/fight club and motorcycle workshop. I figured it would sort itself out. I might paint it red and put new doors on it to make it look more like a barn and less like a metal pole building – which is exactly what it is, but I had to learn that term, too. However, one of the awesome phrases that goes with Pole Building on a Google search after “how to build one” is “how to convert your pole building” into a bunk room, a loft, a barndominium, and all kinds of other cool things that inspired me to figure out how to log in to my Pinterest account and start a new board.
So, we bought this house. Just like that. A little ignorant of what all it means to own a house on a lake and ten acres in a place where it snows in the winter and gets buggy in the summer. This is the beginning of our adventure.