Thursday, June 10, 2010


After years of rubbing elbows in apartments, the amount of space we have now seems grossly unnecessary.

Which is odd.

Looking for apartments, we saw two- and three-flats that had 5, 6, 7—one even with 10 bedrooms—and we daydreamed about how each room could house a different passion. Music room. Meditation room. Sewing room. Legos (?) room. We have so many hobbies, we could easily find reasons to fill each room. When I first saw Hathaway House, I had a minor panic attack. Too small! Only three bedrooms??

And then we moved in, and I still felt it was too small. Then came the day to clean, and I realized it was maybe too big for my level of laziness.

Already, I keep a pile of things at the bottom (and top) of the stairs so I can consolidate trips upstairs to the bedroom/office/library.

An exciting discovery! Tim and Mo punched a hole in the 2nd floor ceiling to get into the attic, and they found the attic is enormous! I am currently daydreaming about a reading nook, exercise space, general hiding place. This is year down the road, but we'd really like to fix up the attic. Both Tim and I love secret spaces. Plus, how much does it add to the resale value if we can say, "three stories"!?

Things are coming together. My parents have brought up three of the six chairs they found at an antique mart in Kansas and have refinished. An oak dresser we are using as our Reginald (our word for a foyer dresser). Today I set up a small dresser with mirror that we found in my mother-in-law's basement for our bedroom, and am regretting the dark purple Tim has approved for that room. With a dried sprig of milo in a rustic brown vase, this dresser sets the stage for Country Antique, and makes me long for a soft, light room like my mother would design.

My parents are here this week, and are MACHINES. This weekend was planting time. My parents brought a redbud twig and an oak stem, along with an herb garden, and multiple pots of zinnias, marigolds, and tomatoes and peppers. The trees have been planted and are wilting a bit, but still alive. The zinnias sprout hopefully in the front yard. The crazy storms this weekend seem to not have dampened the spirit of my green garden.

Already, my mother has taken a toothbrush and Simple Green to the kitchen tile to reveal that the black grout is actually burnt orange! My dad hauled a truckload of muddy dirt from the suburbs to our backyard. (I helped marginally.) The rest of the week promises updated electrics, new ceiling fans, and an organized pantry.

At least once a day, if not more, Tim and I look at each other, and say, "I can't believe this is ours!" We're curious to see how long it takes before the sheen wears off, and we're no longer in absolute awe of our house.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Home vs. House

Owning a Home is great! Owning a House can really suck sometimes. The challenge these days is to spend enough quality Home time that all the House time and money feels worth it. Both Ellie and I get close to being overwhelmed when we forget this.

Our Home is the place where the our cats sit in the open windows and watch the birds while we take our time waking up and getting out of bed. It's the place where we take an hour to mow the lawn because we're talking with neighbors and drinking a beer. It's the place where the grill going strong and there is a table full of friends enjoying the beautiful day. It's the place where the breeze is gentle and the sunlight is warm. It's the place where all of our cherished odds-and-ends are finally finding their own special place, like our whole life is exhaling and laying back on the purple-velvet couch.

Our House is the place where we can't get internet because the wires are problematic. It's the place where the light-fixture doesn't work. Where the ceiling in the basement needs to come out. Where we discover a new problem every time we fix another. Where we still have unpacked boxes everywhere because the wiring has to be fixed before the walls are painted before the shelves are up before the books have a place to go.

I wish I could take a week or two off of work (still, somehow getting paid, of course) and just get it all done. But as it stands I am doing 8 shows a week (9 next week) down at the Pier, and a reading, and getting ready to leave town for a few months of work in Wisconsin. ...*sigh*...

Still, it is a good lesson in prioritizing and keeping a flexible budget. And there is something inescapably wonderful about working on your own house; it might be stressful and difficult at the time but you know you're transforming it into a home.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Amid the Stress

There are also some quiet, beautiful moments about having the house, hereafter known as the Hathaway House.

It's cottoning season in west Logan Square. There is at least one cottonwood tree in the neighborhood, which has started snowing. The air is thick with swirling white "flakes." Drifts form at the edges of yards, against the spiderwebs of fences and gates. Hathaway is missing several window screens, so the cotton floats in and has gathered in billowing clouds in the corners of each room. In researching the phenomenon online, I read people's complaints, how the cotton smothers other plants, and prevents moisture from reaching them, or likewise traps it, but I can only remember growing up in Kansas, and marvel at a little bit of the Flint Hills filling my new house.

Monday, our new mower arrived, and Tim muscled it through the dense grass- and dandelion-choked backyard, then moved on to the front yard. The front has a small patch of grass, but is mostly dirt waiting for flowers and plants. I sat on the front porch, eating pasta salad out of a mug, on the antique arm chair some past tenant left. The chair is a former beauty queen who has spent too many summers in the sun, and now waits simply for the long-haired black cat who will only curl up when she thinks we're not home. She doesn't know it yet, but she will love us.

I sat on the front porch, eating my pasta salad, and watching Tim do yard work, and neighbors across and down the street leave, come home, laugh, and call out to each other, and I felt belonging settle into my bones.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Turning on the Gas (Putting the "As-Is" in the As-Is Clause, Part 1)

As a renter, I never knew what entailed the gas turn-on. I would just call to have it set up, and when I moved in, I started cooking.

Things are different when you have a rehabbed house where you never really know the full extent of how badly the last owners cut corners. The People's Gas guy, Bob, came over yesterday afternoon. He helped me connect the kitchen stove, then lit the pilot light. Then we went downstairs so he could turn on the water heater. He showed me how the exhaust pipes weren't properly drawing the fumes away, and explained what we needed to do to help with that. We covered up an empty flue hole with tinfoil.

This week, our friend Mo started working on the electrical stuff. If Tim wasn't around, he would explain to me what he was doing and the problems he was encountering. About 5 seconds into his long explanations, my eyes would glaze over. I can't follow most of what is said about electrics. Gas and plumbing, this is a different story. It makes sense. Bob lit a match and held it by a flue to find out if it was drawing air or pumping it out. We unscrewed a pipe and could feel, hear, and smell the gas, and instantly knew what direction it was flowing.

Bob, an older guy who had been working for People's Gas for years, complained a lot about how these days, people cut too many corners in the work they do, and pointed out places where we needed to replace flexible pipe with hard pipe, and where to trim flues to prevent the chimney exhaust from getting clogged. It was stressful to listen to him. I'm all about doing the work well, but our bank account can't always facilitate our desires.

Bob set up the pipe so we could install the gas dryer Tim was getting on Craigslist, and got ready to wrap things up. "Is it normal after you turn on the gas, and we've been testing it, to smell gas like this?" I asked, as we were in the future laundry area. He stopped packing up his tools, took a deep smell, and started unpacking. "No," he said. "That smells like a leak."

We poked around the basement some more, and under the stairwell, found a flexible pipe connected to hard pipe that led outside. Outside? When we went outside, we saw the hard pipe was affixed to the outer wall for about 10-15 feet, then went back into the house. It appeared to insert at the pipe junction for the laundry area. Now why in the world it went outside . . . ?? God only knows. Under the stairwell, there was a valve that was in "shut-off" position. When turned on, we could hear the gas whooshing through the pipes, but couldn't tell exactly where it was going. Two rooms over, in the laundry area, the gas smell was stronger, and we could hear a subsequent whoosh behind the drywall. We took a hammer and knocked down a few square feet of drywall, trying to locate the open pipe.

I think this was outside of Bob's job description, but he was quite a sport, and wielded the hammer well.

We never did locate the open pipe, but it was getting on two hours, and the end of Bob's day. He said repeatedly that he wouldn't be able to turn on the gas for us, and we'd have to call a plumber, and I began to despair. Eventually, we settled on him capping the flow at the valve under the stairs, which cut off supply to the mysterious exit in the wall.

About half an hour later, I was able to do the dishes in warm water. I'm trying not to worry about the mysterious pipes in the wall.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


We've spent the last week prepping the house for work that needs to be done, and the move. Most of the plants are over there, and I am slowly moving the kitchen in. I started painting this weekend, with the help of a good friend. The library is now Deep Blue Sea:

(which looks much more deeply, lusciously navy on the walls) The trim is going to be Silver Leaf (like most of the house)

And I want to put an oatmeal-colored duvet on the futon, with light blue accent pillows and curtain for the closet. This room will have a few low-light lamps, and will be all spa-like and cozy.

The office has an Autumn Fest ceiling:

And Red Pepper walls:

It is Tim's purely New Mexico room. The colors definitely make the already-small room look smaller, but it absolutely glows. I love it!

These are the rooms I have completed thus far. Three coats of blue, and two coats each in the office. Painting is surprisingly exhausting.

The bedroom will be Plum.

Tim was advocating for a tangerine ceiling. He is channeling a New Mexican sunset from this gorgeous watercolor we have from Los Alamos, but the effect, once I painted on a few sample swatches, looks more like:

And, wow. Not the color scheme I want for my bedroom. I'd prefer something softer to go with the Plum: any of the following shades of yellow:

The living room is going to be a green similar to the current color, though with a hint more olive: Grape Leaves. About 7 feet up on the wall, there is a line of white trim, then 2-3 feet more of wall before the ceiling. That top bit of wall will be Corn Husk Green.

Haven't decided on a dining room color yet. Something a little darker golden brown. I wanted it to be my Kansas room, and channel Kansas summers, but I haven't found the perfect thing yet. We have that pretty alcove on one wall. Our painter said we should do that a darker shade for something interesting, and I'm all for it.

The kitchen will be Opulent!

The cabinets are really bright golden-brown wood, and sunshine just pours in, so it will look so gorgeously warm and inviting. I'm going to eventually put some metallic gold and white stencil accents on the wall. Our deep pantry, I want to paint all gold for a little surprise when you peek in there, but Tim is anti-painting the pantry. (I may have to save up for the paint myself and sneak it in when he's gone this summer!)

I've started filling the pantry with canned goods, and the fridge with beer, hummus, and cheese and crackers, so we can spend all day working, and be able to stop for snacks. The coffee pot is over there, too. This afternoon, I brought over the boxes labeled "drawer next to the fridge," "second drawer from the fridge," and "battery drawer," and put them into the new kitchen.

It's incredibly stressful, but more so when I return to the apartment. It's hard to predict the amount of work needed to fully clean and pack it out, and is it really going to be done by May 10? (Official move day, though technically, we don't have to be out of the place until May 12). It still looks like a tornado hit it, and each box I fill doesn't seem to reduce that considerably. I think I worked for3 hours on Saturday night, and I filled 2 boxes. Disheartening. I wish we could afford not just movers, but also packers.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Walk Thru

I took an 8-minute walk-thru video of the property. Since it's too large to upload on the site, here's a link to it on YouTube:

Friday, April 23, 2010

Closing Day

I can't believe this day has finally arrived.

We met Annie and Esmerlda, the seller's realtor, at the house at 10:15 for the walk-thru. We had the car packed with a few things we were going to leave at the house in the afternoon: plants, a lamp with a timer to set in the living room, and cleaning supplies.

Esmerlda showed up first, as we were walking through the backyard and peeking into windows. She let us in. The house was cold, much colder than the sunny, mild day outside. I told Tim to leave the front door open as we looked through it, to let some of the warmth in. Esmerlda quickly said, "No! Not in this neighborhood!"

I managed to wait until she went into another room before bursting into tears. We're buying a house in a neighborhood so sketchy, we're not even safe to leave the door open for a few, brief minutes?

It was shabbier than I remember. And smaller. And the tenants had nailed miles of cable cords into the trim instead of the walls, so there will be much damage to the half-way decent trim when we pull all that crap out.

I cried for a little while. It was so overwhelming. I thought, "This is what I'm staking my future on?"

Finally, Tim told me to get it together, and we finished the walk-thru, and drove out near O'Hare for the closing at 11.

That took about an hour and a half. I'd give more details on it, but frankly, it was so freaking boring I almost fell asleep in the middle of it. (I am not even exaggerating.) We wrote our signatures fifty million times, and waited around for a long time while the closer tried to track Emma's wire transfer. Once that was located, they also found out that someone at Emma's office had listed a unit number on the Predatory Lending Certificate, so it appeared that we were buying a condo instead of a house. Since everything else was done, we were free to go, and Annie would give us the keys once the certificate was accurate. We shook hands all around, and accepted congratulations on being new home owners, though, really, it wouldn't be official until the certificate cleared and we had the keys in our hands.

Our original plan was to go to the house next and celebrate by walking down to the Brown Sack, picking up lunch, and eating it in the new place. But since we had some time to kill, and didn't superofficial own the house yet, we decided to go to Hot Doug's. That took up a good 2 hours or so, and helped us not look at the clock every 5 minutes, wondering what the hell was taking so long(!?!) After, we drove to the house, parked in front, and just stood outside, looking at it.

I started crying again.

This time it was about awe.

Once I calmed down, we walked down the block to a corner store to get some Topo Chico (my latest obsession). It was mid-afternoon, and Mozart Elementary school (across the street from the corner store) had just let out. Kids were running around the playground, crowding in the store, and parents were picking them up. It just felt so goddamn neighborhoody, I almost started crying again. We got the call while inside, and Annie came over and gave us the keys.

And then, in a very anti-climactic way, it was official. We were home owners.

We moved the few things in, and banged around the house a bit. I did a video tour of the place for my mom. Tim brought some fancy whiskey, and we toasted and blessed the house. I wondered why I had the melt-down earlier, because this time, I thought about how perfect it was for us. I pulled out some nails, added missing light bulbs, and ran screaming from the bathroom when I saw how grody the toilet seat was.

To Do List: Buy a new toilet seat.

Towards the end, when I ran out of nails that would yield to my fingers, but didn't quite have the steam to tackle more cleaning, I took my Topo Chico and a homemade cigarette out to the back stoop. I sat there for a few minutes, smoking and looking over the dandelion-filled backyard, the other, neighboring yards I could see into, the corner store, and even a bit of Mozart above the trees. It was quieter than I am used to, living as we do on a busy boulevard, though the traffic could be heard a little from a distance. It was raining a bit, and the wet weather raised the scent of spring earth.

I thought, "This is my piece of earth."

This is mine.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Barreling down

We're barreling down on Closing Day right now: April 23. We got word last week that we could close earlier if we wanted, but I had already arranged time off from work. More importantly, April 23 is an auspicious day. It's Shakespeare's birthday. Seeing how we're buying a house on Shakespeare street, (not to mention the obvious Tim is a Shakespearean actor) that we would close on his birthday seems positively serendipitous. The universe clearly has plans for us.

So we're waiting another--holeeeee crap--only two weeks! and then we'll close. Shortly thereafter, we'll get in friends who paint and do electrical work, and hire the roofers, and madly pack up our current apartment. We've planned moving day for May 10.

Every day the conversations become more real. This weekend, we wrote up a Needs and Wants list. Needs: washer and dryer; butcher block for the kitchen; dining room table and chairs; a dresser for Tim; grill; outdoor furniture. Wants: TV stand; liquor cabinet; Capiz shell hanging pendant lamp for the dining room. Really, those lists are nowhere near complete.

My parents went out to Oggie's antique mart this weekend to look for a table for us. The pictures make me want to visit--it looks like it's crammed top to bottom with interesting antique and junk to sift through.

I like this farm table on the bottom (not the one with the white legs). I like how rough-hewn it is, but mostly, I like the idea that we'd have a table that came from Kansas. Tim doesn't like it much at all, but will allow it, if it means a lot to me. I don't know if I want to be owing him a massive decorating favor, though.

There are piles and piles of chairs, and these are my favorites (the warmer, reddish ones).

And my favorite chair item of all time! The wooden rocker! This one is mine for sure, and Tim knows better than to contest it.

Speaking of my desire for a Capiz shell lamp, the lamp hanging above that rustic old farm table will look like this:

My design sensibilities are based on no school of thought, no art school training, just a solid love of pretty things. I might be crazy, but I think this lamp will be perfect in the dining room, an interesting tropical contrast to to a rough farm table.

We went to the Container Store yesterday to look around and talk about what we wanted. It was one of the less stressful, more enjoyable visits I've ever had there, for we only windowshopped, and fantasized about what we wanted. We didn't go there to actually buy anything, which usually is a blood-pressure-raising experience when you look at their prices.

With each day, each conversation, each decision made, this all becomes more real. I couldn't sleep last night after we decided on Moving Day.

And if you'll excuse me, now I'm off to daydream about what my garden will be like.

Monday, March 29, 2010

We got the call

We got the call today. We got the call!

Tim asked me to call him this afternoon, and greeted me with: "Hello, Mrs. Homeowner!"

The short sale has been approved!! This has to have been the shortest short sale in the history of the world! I heard horror stories of people waiting five to six months to even hear back from the seller's bank, and now we're done with that, no haggling, and it's approved! Today, in fact, marks the date we set down in the bid contract as the day we wanted to close. Emma laughed, and we knew it wouldn't happen, but still. We put it down. The fact that the short sale was approved six months to the date of submitting our bid is a very, very good thing!

Annie says prepare to close in the next few weeks. What needs to be done next is our bank approval/appraisal, and submission of the last few bits and pieces of paperwork for the loan. (For instance, they are requesting an official transcript for me, since I have only been at my current job for 1.5 years. I thought a copy of my diploma would suffice--it is, after all, an official document stating I actually studied social work, the field in which I am now working--but no. So we paid the $5 and now are waiting an interminable amount of time to receive the notarized transcript.)

We can't imagine our bank taking issue with the appraisal, though, since the seller's bank seemed to think everything was fine with our offer and the home's worth. But still. We're waiting on that.

Suddenly it all feels so much more real. We can say, "We are BUYING A HOUSE," instead of what we've been saying so far: "We're trying to buy a house." We'll likely close in mid-April, and then take the rest of the month and most of May to paint, fix up the electrics, move around some plumbing, and pack this hoarder's haven of a rental property.

And then, when grey Chicago starts spreading the green, and the weather makes you want to fling open the windows and sing to your neighbors, we'll be moving into our house!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How I Wait

I've been putting off writing another post because I don't like to talk about things that are out of my control while I'm waiting for them to be resolved. I'm an actor, I'm used to that situation. I don't talk about auditions or offers until they are settled. I don't like to have the extra pressure of other people's expectations on top of my own (which I am trying very hard to quell). But I figured that I always could write about my response to the unknown waiting so that's what you're gonna get.

Right now everything with the house is moving along at a reassuring pace. What that means is that there have yet to be any impediments or untimely delays. It doesn't mean that we are good to go or that the end is in sight, but it does mean that there is nothing else we can do at the moment. We've submitted all our paperwork to Emma, I've set up a separate checking account for down-payment assistance from family (important to keep that separate and the money-trail clear) and now we are waiting on the seller's bank to do their own appraisal and then approve (or not) the offer.

So. I admit I am starting to arrange the space in my mind. I am trying to figure out how to fit a drum-kit, a keyboard, an upright bass, a bevy of amplifiers and assorted electric instruments into a small basement room. I'm trying to figure out where I want to put my pull-up bar. I'm also perusing the Container Store and IKEA and Craigslist looking for the right organizational accoutrement for what I have in mind.

I'm also trying to feel out what the unexpected expenses will be.

To say that I am conservative economically is an understatement. I'm the budgeting equivalent of the Idaho-militia guy who is pre-occupied with stocking up his mountain redoubt. I don't feel right ordering a drink with dinner if I don't know where all the money for every possible bill we could get isn't accounted for. I budget for parking tickets. That's how bad it is. So the thought of all the new expenses that home ownership will bring is enough to keep my mind racing.

The other thing I think about a lot is that my work takes me out of town for a large portion of each summer and I want to be in the house for awhile before it's time for me to go this year. I want to settle in and barbecue in the back-yard. I want to plant a garden and put in my rain barrels. I want to feel at home before I leave it for several months.

Yeah. So for now, I keep looking at the MLS listings. I downplay the "we're under contract" side of things and highlight the "short-sales are tricksy" side of it all. I keep an eye on the market and try to figure out when the best time to cash out our mutual fund is. I start getting names of roofers and start pricing gutters. But most of all I treat just like an audition: I assume I don't have it until I know I do.

Still, it can't hurt to keep your fingers crossed.