Saturday, November 5, 2011

Living in Rural Idaho

One of the reasons that we wanted to move west was that we wanted a big "culture" change. I'd say we've definitely gotten that here.

There are so many things that are different here from living in the suburbs on the East Coast. Some of these changes are rural vs. city, while others are West Coast vs. East Coast.  Some we expected and some we didn't, some are small and some are huge, some good and the others drive you bonkers.

Take, for instance, public water and sewer like we had in the suburbs, versus well and septic that we have here in the country. In the city, you turn on the faucet and voila! Water is there like magic...always. When you have a well, there are other considerations such as depth and water flow and "hardness" and drought.

And having a septic system for the first time? So many things to learn: treat the system with Rid-X every month, using biodegradable toilet paper, not flushing other solids (like paper towels or sanitary products), not using bleach in your laundry, and spreading out your laundry and dishwasher loads so that you don't overload your system.

Speaking of dishwashers, a lot of states out here are extremely environment-conscious and have banned phosphates in dishwashing products. We didn't think anything of it, bought the non-phosphate stuff, and carried on. Suddenly we were getting frustrated with our new dishwasher, blaming it for leaving food and streaks and spots on the dishes, and leaving the dishes all wet even after sitting for hours. Duh, it wasn't the dishwasher, it was the lack of phosphates. We switched to the Cascade ActionPacs and problem solved.

Another city service that we were used to in the suburbs was garbage pickup. You put your garbage in a bin, roll it down your driveway to the curb once or twice a week, and it was picked up. Out here in the country there are no curbs and no bins; you throw your trash into the back of your pickup truck and take it to the dump. Or you burn it.

On the rare occasions that it snowed back home, the city would basically shut down. The grocery stores would be picked clean of eggs and milk and bread, and schools would be closed for the day. Out here, you put your blade on your tractor or quad, and start plowing. Or pay your neighbor to do it for you. The county has a great network of snowplows to take care of the paved roads, but the dirt roads in the country are up to you and your neighbors to take care of.

In the suburbs, you generally have a land-line, plus your cell phone. Out here a lot of folks (including us) do without the land-line and just have a cell phone. Which means that your choices for Internet connection are wireless or satellite, because DSL and cable service doesn't come all the way out here. We ended up with a Verizon MiFi, which drives me nuts with its low speed and unreliability due to our location on the edge of their service area. Plus I'm limited to 5GB of downloads per month (unless I want to pay more than $50 a month), and after being used to unlimited lightning-speed downloads with DSL, it's a big adjustment.

Attitudes about air conditioning are different out here, too. Most people here don't have air conditioning, or their houses have a system or unit that only cools a room or two (like ours) for that one or two weeks a summer that the temperatures might exceed 90 degrees. In the South if you don't have air conditioning, you are going to be one miserable person for the nine months of summer out there. You'll also seldom see folks driving around here with their windows closed in warm weather; most of the vehicles that pass us have the windows rolled down and an elbow sticking out.

We've seen other differences while grocery shopping. When you buy a ribeye steak in the East, it's probably going to be boneless. Here in the West, all we've seen is bone-in, cowboy style. But man, are they good! And the produce out here is fresher, keeps longer in your refrigerator, and is so much cheaper than back East. When's the last time you saw green peppers on sale for less than a dollar each? We've bought them here as low as three for a dollar, and ten ears of corn for a dollar. Amazing!

People out here are much more active than they are in the East, and as a result are more thin. I rarely see an obese person here. In the summer you'll see folks ride bikes (there are so many bike trails it's crazy) and go camping, boating, fishing, and hiking. When winter comes they are geared up for winter sports like skiing or snowboarding, snowshoeing, or taking the quad on forest service trails. A new sport for me was skijoring, which involves pulling a skier around an obstacle course with a horse. Apparently it's a Winter Carnival event in Sandpoint that I don't want to miss seeing.

I've also noticed that the women here look a little different than what I'm used to seeing. They don't wear as much makeup, let their hair grow longer, and generally don't color it. They tend to look thin and healthy and wear Birkenstocks and Uggs. Hubby tells me I need to drop the makeup and hair color; I'm not sure I'm ready for that yet.

Driving here takes a little getting used to. First of all, folks out here actually obey the speed limit. Seriously. They don't run red lights, they don't ride your bumper, they don't make rude gestures, and if there's a line of traffic that you're trying to merge into, they actually let you in. Of course, the closer you get to large cities, the more people drive like idiots, which is probably true anywhere.

I've had to get used to driving on dirt roads, which I'd rarely done back East. It means driving slower, so you don't kick up a lot of dust, especially if you pass a neighbor taking a walk. It's awfully rude to cover your neighbor in a coating of road dust. And when your neighbor has paid to have oil sprayed on their portion of the road to keep the dust down, you learn to drive 5mph past their property, as a courtesy.

If you're driving out here, you're probably driving a pickup truck. A quick glance across any parking lot out here and you'll see lots and lots of pickups. And if they aren't pickups, they're Subarus. The folks out here swear by their Subarus for getting anywhere in the snow.

That pickup truck makes it easier when you go to town, because you're probably going to consolidate your errands into a once-a-week trip. You toss your trash into the back and leave it at the dump, then fill it back up with your groceries and lumber and whatever else you stocked up on in town. Because that trip to town is probably going to be at least twenty minutes each way, and gas is very expensive out West, much higher than in the East, especially diesel.

One of the things that surprised me the most here is the very Mayberry-like attitude about security. Folks here tend to leave their homes and vehicles unlocked most of the time. I was so surprised this summer to see trucks in parking lots with their windows rolled down; back home it might be 100 degrees but you locked that vehicle up tight and simply suffered when you got back in it.

When we were first looking at our house with the realtor, I mentioned getting a security system installed and the realtor looked at me like I had suddenly sprouted horns. She shook her head and laughed and told me that she didn't even know where her house keys were.

All in all, we have found living here in Idaho much slower and natural. We've made a lot of adjustments since moving here and have embraced the change. But we still lock all our doors; some old habits die hard.

Pounds Lost


  1. Very astute observations....Idaho sounds a great deal like Nod - except for the "fit" part - still a lot of obesity here (cheese, brats, beer and ice cream can be a weight-inducing combination!) Oh - and we dont have skijoring here - never heard of that one!! Smiles & Hugs ~ Robin

  2. I don't think I have seen 10 ears of corn for a dollar..course we are more expensive then idaho...alot more expensive..glad we have the commissary to do our shopping..things are a distance..but we love living in peace and quiet of being rural.;)

  3. I so enjoyed this post, you made me a little jealous. Something about winters in the northwest sound dreamy to me. I'm happy to hear you are adjusting well. Just like I knew you would!!

  4. I too enjoyed this post!! :) Being in the Midwest, we have yet another set of "characteristics" LOL!!



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