I can hardly believe it myself, but as of this month, I’ve been living in Central Oregon for one year!
After Gemma’s birth, we reprioritized what we wanted for our future, and that was a slower pace, a safer community, better public schools, and being only minutes away from all the things we loved to do, such as hiking, camping, and snowboarding.
At the same time, we didn’t want to live in an isolated mountain town that required long commutes into civilization, whether for medical care or for a date-worthy restaurant meal.
Bend beat out several other places on our short list (which I share in #7 below) and so far, we have had no regrets about our decision to move here. In fact, our only sort-of regret is that we didn’t make the move sooner.
I’ve had so many readers write me in the last year to ask about our move, some who are itching to make a change themselves, and some who are merely curious how an LA girl is handling the snow. (Hint: I love it!)
I’ve been wanting to give an update on our first year in Bend, and thought these questions (with my answers) gave a great overview of our experience so far.
1. How have you adjusted to the change in weather?
Despite spending the majority of our lives in other states, Will and I feel like we’ve adjusted quickly and easily to the weather extremes in Central Oregon.
It helps that Will used to live in Lake Tahoe (which gets far more snow than Bend) and I spent my childhood in Las Vegas (which regularly climbs to 130°F in summer).
We chose Bend for its four-season climate, and we visited at the peak of every season (including wildfire season), so we went into this knowing what to expect.
The winters feel long here, but we love it because it extends the season for snowboarding and skiing, which we are so fortunate to have a half-hour away from our house.
(I still can’t believe we used to drive three hours each way to our little local resort in Southern California, or six hours to Mammoth Mountain if we wanted any decent snow.)
I find myself looking forward to the start of every season because it always means new activities, and our lives are very much centered around outdoor recreation. Even on the most blustery blizzard day, or the sunniest hottest day, we’re outside enjoying the mountains, lakes, or river in some form.
2. How have the chickens adjusted to the change in weather?
A few days after we moved to Bend, we actually had snow flurries! The chickens probably didn’t know what to think, but they lived through their first winter without frostbite or any weather-related issues.
(They also made the nearly 1,000-mile road trip with us seamlessly, which I wrote about in detail if you’re planning to make a move with chickens in the near future.)
I wouldn’t say they’re psyched to go outside on the rare days that it snowed in town, but we usually tried to keep a clear path for them in the yard.
This winter, we’ll also be connecting the chicken coop to our experimental solar greenhouse, so they’ll have a safe, warm place to take shelter and occupy themselves with our compost heap.
We have a great coop that came with storm panels to keep the wind and rain out, and the heated water bowl we used all season long worked very well. We had no supplemental heating in the coop and found no need for it, despite lows in the teens.
For the most part, the sand flooring stayed clean and dry during our mild winter. But occasionally, the sand also turned solid (with frozen poop) and was a pain to rake if I skipped a few days of poop patrol. (I’m exploring the idea of using wood pellets for coop bedding this winter for ease of cleaning.)
The only challenge of raising chickens on our current property is that we lack a garden in the enclosed area where they roam. The yard isn’t fenced and we’re only renting for a short time, so the chickens are confined to a mostly dirt run during the day.
I feel bad that they can’t wander around the yard and forage for greens like they did in our last house, so we sprout some grains for them and give them all of our vegetable scraps (which they help us turn in the yard, since we pile all of our compost in the run).
Today, Iman, Harlow, and Greta are happy and healthy. Iman is seven-and-a-half years old, and Harlow and Greta are one-and-a-half.
Sadly and unexpectedly, we lost Ginger (our Golden Sex Link) last February. Like many gravely ill chickens, she went from lively and active to lethargic and unable to walk in a matter of a day. She passed away in her sleep on the second night after her symptoms appeared.
A necropsy performed by our local avian vet revealed small and weakened lungs, so we think she had a genetic defect that caused her respiratory system to fail. We miss her and hope to add to our flock in the next house.
3. What happened to your pugs?
Bebe (who suffered from severe hip dysplasia) was euthanized at home in June 2017 after a well-fought battle with the disease. (I wrote more about the homemade dog food we fed her for several years, which greatly improved her quality of life.)
She was 14 years old. Up until the week before her death, she was full of spunk and was such a happy little pug.
I know of no other dog that traveled and camped as much as she did (11 states in 5 months during the making of The New Camp Cookbook!) and brought so many smiles to people’s faces along the way as she co-navigated the road with Chinki by her side.
Chinki passed away in her sleep in March 2018 at the ripe old age of 16. She had gotten to the point where she was primarily blind, lame in her hind legs, and anxious whenever we left her alone at home, so we brought her everywhere with us — including the days we went snowboarding.
We’d make her comfortable in the car with portable heaters, pillows, and blankets, and check on her every hour to give cuddles and treats.
She took her last breath in Will’s arms at Mount Bachelor on a beautiful spring day that was filled with good energy.
Currently, we have no plans to bring another dog into our home, and probably won’t for a while. We miss the pugs dearly and feel so fortunate to have had them in our lives as long as we did.
4. Do you currently have a garden? What challenges have you faced in a colder growing climate?
I started a small container garden on the deck as a test run. I’d been meaning to write an update on its progress along the way, but the summer got away from me since I was deep in developing recipes for The Backyard Fire Cookbook (due out May 2019).
I’m saving those gardening posts for late winter now, but to summarize my experience, I had a surprisingly good harvest between the three indeterminate tomatoes I’d planted in 20-gallon Root Pouch pots, the two determinate tomatoes in the Gardener’s Revolution planter kit, and the two GreenStalk Garden towers that were filled with summer squash, cucumbers, beans, peppers, flowers, and herbs.
(By the way, using code gardenbetty10 will get you $10 off any of the tiered GreenStalk Garden systems.)
I didn’t have high expectations since I was growing on a much smaller scale, so my end-of-season bounty was a bonus.
The plants were thriving due to the unusually warm nights we had in the latter part of summer, and growing on a second-story deck meant I avoided all the rodents, deer, and pests that plagued other people’s gardens.
It was certainly a strange experience to cover my plants well into June to protect against frost. I’ve realized that Central Oregon weather is unpredictable, changing from one day to the next (never trust the forecast more than two days out!), and being a gardener here means you also become a meteorologist of sorts.
Tracking seasonal weather patterns, monitoring nightly lows, learning that our designated Hardiness Zone of 6b is not truly accurate because of all the microclimates in town… it’s all part of the gig. I don’t think I’ve ever analyzed the weather as much as I have since moving to Bend!
I’ve learned a lot this first year, and am excited to learn more as I establish a permanent garden in the next few years.
5. How’s the house hunt going?
It’s… still going. We’ve been looking for over a year, but haven’t yet found that one property that makes our hearts sing.
On the upside, we’re really glad we decided to rent first, because our initial impressions of all the neighborhoods here have changed quite a bit the more we explore. Areas of town that we once considered buying in are no longer on the list for one reason or another.
Bend is a hot real estate market, and while it’s not as bad as LA, prices are much higher than they were just a couple years ago. We want to stay in our next home for a nice long while, if not forever, so we’re taking our time in searching for the right house (or the right piece of land — building is a strong possibility at this point).
I sometimes seesaw between wanting a small, simple home in town (not our dream home, but a home in which we can fulfill our dreams because we’d be able to pay it off quickly and live debt-free), or a larger, more beautiful, more expensive property that we can develop into our dream home (even if it might leave us with less time and money for travel, adventure, and hobbies).
Both have their pluses and minuses for sure, and we definitely don’t want to be house poor, but it’s a debate we struggle with. Hopefully, we’ll find a happy medium that allows us to maintain our current lifestyle while also securing our family’s future.
To be continued!
6. Do you miss Southern California?
We miss our friends and we miss the exceptional diversity of markets that we had in LA.
On occasion, we also miss the late-night food culture that we had in the city (though as parents now, we don’t find ourselves traipsing out of the house at 10 pm like we used to for a little nosh).
The foghorns that I used to hear from our house on the coast have been replaced by the occasional distant rumble of the train in Bend.
Instead of starlings singing in our feijoa tree, we hear quail calling from the rabbitbrush. Beach days are now spent on the river or lakes, which fill my desire for being close to water.
As much as I loved my time in LA, I can’t really think of anything that makes me want to move back — not even the ocean, which I thought I’d be missing a lot more. I think we moved at the right time, just as I was ready for a change.
7. What other towns did you consider before you settled on Bend?
At some point in the early research phase, we considered island living in Puget Sound, Washington; rural living in Driggs, Idaho; and mountain living in Durango, Colorado. Montana made the list as well, but I ruled it out because of the heavy winters.
Despite the promise of endless adventure in each of these places, we ultimately felt that they were too small for us, community- and opportunity-wise.
We wanted a good mix of small-town living and cultural amenities, a large enough network of open and like-minded people for making new friends, an entrepreneurial and creative environment that kept us stimulated, quick access to the outdoors, and ease of travel, and Bend was the only town on our list that ticked all the boxes.
At this stage in our lives, we can’t imagine being anywhere else. Bend is beautiful, inspiring, and exactly what we hoped it would be.
8. What have you enjoyed most about living in Bend?
This is a hard one, because there’s so much I love about living in Bend.
One of the unexpected — but much appreciated — surprises about being here is the excellent water quality. Straight out of the tap, Bend water is the clearest, cleanest, most delicious water in the country.
I joke with friends who are visiting from out of town that they should fill up jugs of water before they leave, because they will sorely miss it!
But the main reason we moved to Bend is right outside our door, where we have world-class outdoor recreation.
It’s such a refreshing change to be able to plan a hike, bike ride, or paddle date with friends and not have it take up the whole day (with most of it spent in traffic).
Some of my favorite trails are less than 15 minutes from home, and on most days, I only run into a handful of people along the way.
With a season pass, I can head up to Mount Bachelor a few times a week, snowboard for a couple hours, and still make it home for lunch because the mountain is so close. It’s essentially my “gym workout” but way more fun!
I also started mountain biking this year and I’m loving the new challenges and thrills. Eventually, I’d like to surf the river wave, snowboard in the backcountry, and learn how to maneuver an oar raft, all of which are easily accessible in Bend. And they’re all the things I hope Gemma will love as she grows up here, too.
9. What have you liked least about living in Bend?
As someone who’s accustomed to late-summer wildfires every year in California, they don’t bother me much in Oregon, but they’re also a drawback of living in the drought-stricken west.
There were a few days last season where the air quality was terrible as wind blew in heavy smoke from massive wildfires in California, Washington, and British Columbia. Unfortunately, this is something that we have to expect and prepare for every summer.
I’m also used to coastal living, so the dry, high desert environment of Bend took some serious adjustment. A humidifier and a steady supply of lotion and lip balm have helped me feel more normal here.
10. If you had to make the move all over again, what would you do differently?
Without a doubt, we would’ve sucked it up and spent the extra money on a full-service moving company. An out-of-state move is stressful enough, but when you have a whole house to move and you’re trying to do it all yourself, it becomes deliriously exhausting.
We did end up hiring help on the Bend side to unload all our boxes, but I wish we hadn’t underestimated the amount of stuff we owned and had a single set of professionals handle our entire move from start to finish.
Thankfully, and hopefully, this will be our last major move for a long while!