Only my family and close neighbors even know we've moved because the decision was made so quickly that I have been too busy to even blog about it. Now, don't get the wrong idea. This decision was made in haste, but not without a couple of years worth of thought put into it.
Cokeville is right on the border of Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho, just 30 minutes east of Bear Lake.
We have been coming to Cokeville for 10 years, visiting our friends Brian & Becca Nate. You may recall reading about one of our visits last fall during the high school homecoming football game. When we first started coming to Cokeville, I thought it was a cool place to visit, but I could never live here. I'd go crazy in such a small town! But your perspective changes once you have kids who are old enough to start having memories of their growing up years.
Starting about two or three years ago, Dan and I started thinking, "this would be such a fun place to be a kid." We both have memories from our childhood of a place where we could run wild and be free, where we could just take off riding bikes or go exploring. Lily hadn't had that experience, partly because she was too young, but also because when you live in a city, your parents won't let you go anywhere because they're worried about traffic and psychos and other parenty-type things.
The thing with living in a small town like Cokeville is that you can't just move there and expect to find much work. To work in town you have to either be a school teacher or be able to tolerate working at the Flying J. You could be a rancher, but last I checked, that only paid about $1800.00 a month unless you owned the ranch. Talk about scraping by your whole life! So for a long time, the thing that held us back from seriously considering a move to Cokeville was our financial situation. Dan was in graduate school and once he graduated, he had to find some kind of viable career since research just wasn't going to pay the bills. Brian and his brother regaled Dan with tales of big money to be made working in the oil fields, and we seriously considered it for awhile, but in the end Dan decided that it didn't make sense to spend 6 years getting a PhD and then go be a roughneck with a bunch of guys who didn't even graduate from high school (plus he couldn't stand the thought of living in a trailer for a week at a time with a bunch of drinking, swearing, got-no-ambition losers.) OK, that sounded totally snotty. No offense, of course, to Brian who has moved his way up and manages a rig as a driller, and makes a very fine living, thank you very much!
When Dan started his own business drafting patents last year, it was touch and go for awhile, constantly worrying about when the next paycheck would come. I was making decent money with photography, but I knew I couldn't make that kind of income in a small town of 500. I needed to be where the rich clients were. So we stayed put, dreaming of small town life, wondering if it could ever be a reality for us.
Fortunately, (and with lots of prayer) Dan's job has stabilized and he is finally making good money. We are making good progress on our debt and it looks like we will have everything except Dan's student loan paid off in just over a year. Oh, and just an aside, I made the final payment on my student loan last week. 9 years of bondage and we are finally free from that one! Anyhoo, we had been living at my Mom's for 2 years, about 18 months longer than we intended when we first moved in. At the time, it was a necessity because of our finances, but now we were finally in a position that we could afford to live on our own. In July we started looking for places to rent in American Fork, Alpine, and Lehi, but everything decent was at least $1100.00 a month. We looked at our debt snowball and decided that it just didn't make sense to spend that much money on rent while we were still trying to pay down our debt.
We were ready to be on our own, and I think my mom was ready to have her space back, so we were disappointed. Then one day at the beginning of August, Dan came home and said, "it's time," that even if it meant slowing our debt payoff schedule, it was worth it to be on our own. The neighbors across the street were moving out, so we thought it would be ideal, or at least easy because we could stay in the same neighborhood and keep Lily in the same school. We started to plan a move.
It's kind of funny, but one event sticks out in my mind as sealing the deal for me on the whole moving thing. Some of Lily's friends were over one afternoon and one of the girls thought it would be fun to hang off one of the pegs on the tack rack that holds all of my Grandad's old cowboy garb, bridles and chaps and belts and such. Of course, being 8 years old, her weight ripped the tack rack out of the wall. When Lily called me down to look at the disaster, my stomach sank. If there is one thing in my Mom's house that is precious above all other things, it's that tack rack. There is so much history and emotion tied up in those cowboy things of her dad's. I knew right then that we had reached the limit of my Mom's hospitality. She has been so generous to let us live with her for so long, and the girls have loved living with Grammie, but I knew that she was at a point in her life that she needed her space back. And I was tired of always feeling guilty when the house was dirty or stressing out when Amelia colored on the walls or one of the girls spilled something on the carpet.
I'll be the first to admit that pride is a big contributing factor to our decision. Though we know it was a good decision and the right thing for our family to live with mom for the time that we did, it doesn't change the fact that we were a little embarrassed about our living situation after two years. It seemed like everyone we knew not only lived on their own, but they owned their own homes. Keeping up with the Joneses has never been important to us, but we wanted a place of our own, a place we could call our own (even if we still had a landlord.) That being said, I was pretty attached to the neighborhood we were in because I'd made some good friends and Lily loved her friends and school. So the house across the street seemed ideal.
"$1250.00 verses $400.00." That is the standard answer Dan gave when we told people we were moving and their eyes would bug out of their head, they'd look at us like we were short a few cards in our deck, and say "Why Wyoming?" as if it were the armpit of the universe, or at least comparable to moving to the mountains of West Virginia and having Lily inbreed with her cousin or brother.
The answer is simple. Brian's dad has a rental house. It's small, only about 800 square feet, but it's a stand-alone home and it's only $400.00 a month. The more we thought about the house next door, the more we realized that Cokeville made much for sense for our financial plan. The struggles of self-employment were finally paying off when we realized that Dan's job pretty much allowed him the freedom to work from anywhere. We knew we could move to Cokeville and still maintain the same income. Since I had made my decision to cut back on photography and mostly be a full-time Mom, it seemed that the stars were aligning at last!
Dan's work plan is to commute to Salt Lake (about 2 hours and 15 minutes) early on Tuesday mornings, stay overnight at the law firm on Tuesday and Wednesday (they have little sleeping quarters set up for the attorneys pulling all nighters.) Then he'll drive home to Cokeville in time for supper on Thursday evenings. He has figured that putting in 3 long days will be enough hours that he'll rarely have to work at home.
I haven't decided whether or not I'm going to do photography here or not. The average income here in Cokeville is only about $35,000 a year and while there are many who make more than that, I just don't feel like I can charge what I've been charging for photography. I have yet to determine whether I'm willing to lower my prices and treat my photography more like a hobby than as a bread winner. I love the landscape around here and it would be so fun to photograph people with their horses and such. But I don't want to devalue my talent either, so I'm still just thinking about it for now. In the meantime I'm just going to enjoy setting up my new house and working on some personal photo projects.
Here is our little house, called the Perkins House, after Brian's Grandpa Perkins who was the original owner of the home.
The original house was built around 1914, I think, and then an addition was put on in the 1950's. With only 800 square feet, it's hard to imagine how small the house was before the addition!
The tan house in the background on the right is Brian & Becca's house, right next door.
We arrived in town on Friday, August 22nd and we have been staying with the Nates while we do some painting in the Perkins house. That will be a blog post all its own! We hope to move all of our stuff in this weekend.
Cokeville is famous for it's great athletics and prides itself on winning several state championships in many different sports over the years, as shown by the sign at the beginning of town.
There's also great hunting and Dan enjoys playing in the mountains with Brian and his family each fall. Here's a shot of Raymond Mountain, just north of town.
I'm still adjusting to the beautiful sunrises and sunsets each day, the quiet, and the beautiful stars at night. It's a beautiful place to be and I'll surely be posting lots of photos of the town in the months to come.