Wednesday, April 4, 2012

temporary; recycling queen, meeting people

We are acclimating to living in California. (Not that southern California is so hard to acclimate to.)  Our town is a pleasant place to live; pleasant weather, pretty surroundings, and strip mall after strip mall after strip mall after strip mall.  You can't go more than twenty feet without hitting another strip mall, and remarkably, most of the retail space in each strip mall is fully rented; there are few empty storefronts.  There are three Targets within 2 miles of my house.

Regardless, I still have this feeling of....unreality...about living here.  Like I don't really LIVE here, I'm just here visiting with all my stuff, in a really messy house.  I live here, but its not home.  It feels temporary.  I once worked with a colleague who relocated from California to New Jersey, but her partner stayed behind in California for work.  She had lived in New Jersey for two years, and mentioned how she just didn't feel that she had moved to NJ, that she was still a California resident.  I thought that was weird at the time--you live someplace for two years and you haven't moved there?--but now I understand exactly how she felt.  I don't have that feeling of here is my home.  On the other hand, I've only been here two weeks.

It looks different here.  I've lived most of my life in suburban New Jersey.  As an adult nearly all the towns I lived in had a New England-ish feel to them, with homes dating to the 1600s and large housing stock of older homes.  Clapboard housing and lots of deciduous trees.

Here....there are palm trees.  I don't know why this freaks me out so much, but it does.  The sky feels bigger. The roads are bigger.  "Little" main roads in our town are THREE LANES WIDE in each direction. My entire town seems to be row after row of builder-grade stucco kinda-Mediterranean style homes and apartment complexes.

I always get a jolt of surprise when I go out of our development and get a full glimpse of the landscape.  There are mountains to the right and mountains to the left.  Big mountains.  Snow-capped mountains.  It looks exactly what I think New Mexico should look like.  I'm living in the West!  And I am weirded out by that.

I have become an avid recycler in less than two weeks.  I now recycle every conceivable thing in my kitchen that I can. Why, you ask?

Well, when I lived in NJ (yes, shut up, Lisa, you used to live in NJ! WE KNOW! I've become that old guy who tells the same three war stories about his time in Korea), I lived in towns where the municipalities provided trash services, and you did not have to pay a monthly fee for it.  Then, last year we moved to Westfield, and had to pay for trash service from La Cosa Nostra a private company.  There were four trash companies to choose from, and the cost was about $45 a month.  They would even pick it up from the back of the house, I didn't have to take the trash cans out to the curb.

Flash forward to two weeks ago, when we moved in, and I had hundreds of cardboard boxes and dozens of trash bags of packing paper.

My new town does not provide sanitation services.  Trash here is also provided by a private company.  ONE private company.  This company charges $11 per month to pick up my trash.  Not terribly expensive. However, I do not have the choice to take my business elsewhere if I don't want to use them.

This trash company will pick up ONE trash can full of trash. (And one full of recycling.)


The garbage truck is automated.  There is one guy who drives the truck.  He pulls up along side the curb, where I have placed my dainty, petite trash can (with the appropriately color-coded top) handle side out according to the very explicit rules, two pincers come out of the garbage truck and grab my trash can, and it is upended into the top of the garbage truck.  If I leave additional trash on the curb, a) the HOA lady will come tell me off, and 2) the garbage truck will drive away, leaving those bags on the curb.  No extra trash allowed! That garbageman doesn't get out of the cab for garbage!

If you load up your minivan with your extra trash and take it to the dump yourself, the dump will charge you $50 to throw it away.

Accordingly, I have become that woman yelling shrilly at her family "what's wrong with you people WE RECYCLE get that milk carton out of the trash!!!! Have you no shame? Be a good steward of the earth!!!"

It may have cost me more money to have Uncle Junior pick up my trash but he took whatever I put out and didn't give me an attitude about it.

Have you moved every 18 months for the last ten years?  If yes, how do you go about making the new place feel like home?  Tips for meeting your neighbors when you have never ever seen a single person alive in your development? (Zombies live here.) The guy across the street has the General Lee up on blocks in his driveway, but aside from knocking on his door and professing our shared love of the Dukes of Hazard, I haven't met too many people here.


  1. We are living alternative lives. I have been in NJ for 13 years, and still tell people "I am just passing through".I have never learned anything south of Little Ferry. I hate that people here don't recycle much or take their own bags to the market very often. I miss all the healthy food choices that were abundant in CA.

  2. I know exactly what you mean! I grew up in AZ and NM and then spent twelve years living in Seattle before my husband was given orders to Spain. Amazingly, Spain was so similar in many ways to the SW that I felt like it was home. We now have lived in Norfolk, VA for the last year and this doesn't feel like home at all. This is where I seriously feel like I'm living in a foreign country. Even though we bought a house (hello, DIY!) and have wonderful neighbors, I still also feel like I'm passing through. Last week I had that same moment of unreality when I finally got my VA driver's license. Yuck. I don't even like the sound of it! Anyway, I hope it starts to settle in for you. I've read your blog since we lived in Spain...and I'm excited to see you transform this home!


  3. This is exactly why I prefer the east coast to the west, even though I'm from California. I know, I'm the only one. I couldn't stand all the houses that looked the same. I still say the weather there is the best of anywhere I've been though.

    Your trash situation is exactly like it is where I live now and I HATE it. When we lived in Philly you could stick furniture outside and the trash people would take it...with their hands. The pincers can go suck it!

  4. Look for dumpsters behind all those strip malls and dump the extra trash there! Sara o.

  5. I think it's great that the trash service only picks up one garbage can full and nothing is one way to encourage people to recycle; I see so much that could be recycled just thrown into the trash with little regard (I live in New England). We compost, recycle and usually have one or two small grocery-store bags on trash - with I could get it down to even less.

  6. t--living here has certainly encouraged me to recycle--I am recycling everything now--but I still have at least a full trash can at the end of the week. How many people are in your family? How do you manage to have so little trash? (I really would like to know, because this is a problem for us.)

    Marsha, Linda, Tiff--oy, it sounds like I will never consider California home, doesn't it?

  7. I have no neighbor tips. I've lived on my cul-de-sac for almost 14 years and I STILL have neighbors who never speak to me regardless of my efforts! I've seen a particular neighbor at Target - more than once - and gone up to her to speak - more than once - and she's stood there and refused to even turn her head to acknowledge me. She is the Queen of the Neighborhood Zombies. Now I just wave at her to spite her.


    (The HOA let's the neighbor have a car up on blocks, but you can't put an extra bag of trash out? Time for you to run for HOA president!)

  8. I recycle as much as possible and a lot is recycled in our community (all sorts of plastic, milk, juice cartons, etc.). Also, we use very little disposable, one-time use stuff. Old dishtowels stand in for paper towels, we use cloth napkins and my husband uses handkerchiefs. I re-use as much as possible - the zippered plastic bags that so much food comes in, bags from bread, glass jars, produce bags (or I don't use at all--just toss the tomatoes, etc, in my cart, cloth bags for shopping, etc. And I have gotten into the habit of taking my own containers when we go out to restaurants for any leftovers. Also, composting really cuts down on the garbage tremendously--and I even toss in dryer lint and dirt from the vacuum. I am not as careful/stringent as the family at Zero Waste Home, but I try whenever possible to minimize waste...I just hate to see so much going right to the landfill. It's my husband, myself and our dog and we eat a lot of whole foods and try to cut down on the processed foods, so it seems there is less packaging to begin with. Good luck..every bit helps!

  9. I didn't really feel at home until we moved out of our aunt's house. Putting out all our stuff and moving everything around until it was just how we liked it made me feel at home. We recycle and compost almost everything - we're 1 less person than your family and could definitely do just one garbage pail each week. Could you get a dog? Me and my sisters know everyone in our building who has a dog.

  10. Sam,
    alas, I am not an animal lover, nor are pets allowed in our lease, so that's not an option for us. You compost in the city? How? I was under the impression you had a 2 BR in an apartment building, how do you have space for composting? Do you have a garden to use the compost in?

  11. Your impressions of So. California are exactly why I want to move east. I grew up here but have always been fascinated with all the, beauty, history and architecture of the east coast. I can't stand the cookie cutter homes and the lack of diversity in the weather.

    As far as friendly neighbors, when you look for a home to purchase try an older area with homes that have detached garages. California is full of what I call "Garage Homes". The garage is the main focus of the house and people pull in, go into their houses, and are never heard from again. It is quite sad if you ask me.

    I live in an older area and met many of my neighbors unloading groceries and walking from my garage to my house. I know the weather is great here but I would love to live in an area surrounded by green highways and more traditional homes. We are hoping to relocate to the east coast soon.

    And yet, I wonder if I will feel like that is home. Hmmmm...

    Signed, "Trapped in So. Cal."

  12. Oh my god if we had a garden we'd be growing EVERYTHING! We don't though so I just grow herbs on the windowsill for flavoring stocks, gravy, drinks, dinners, all that stuff.

    Um you can compost inside. There's a special kind of worms you use. They don't get out. That's the one where you use a bin and newspapers. You can also do apartment composting, where you cut the very top off a half gallon milk carton, and keep putting the food scraps in that, and keep the carton in the freezer.

  13. There's home and then there's home. 22 years ago I moved from Seattle to Portland. I know, not exactly Jersey to CA, but still: It's different. I still think of Seattle as home. I don't miss it or feel homesick until I go up for a visit, and then when I get there and that feeling of "home" washes over me I realize that Oregon will never be my home in the same way.

    That said, I do feel "at home" in my home, my town, my state. I think it took quite a while though. We moved houses last August, and I think it was several months before the new house felt like home. Now I love it here, and even when I'm in Washington which feels more like home, I'm happy to return to it.

    Time is your friend.

  14. Sweet sandwiches, we really are leading parallel lives, aren't we?

    I wish I had something helpful to add here aside from empathy, but I'm too busy missing those silly strip malls & builder-grade pink houses to think straight.

    But seriously, the only things I've found to help a bit with the home ennui is time + getting involved in stuff. LIke, stuff I have to show up at weekly - our playgroup, for example.


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