Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Wait Was Worth It

Those of you who read this blog regularly know about the renovations we've lived through. Starting about 9 years ago, my landlord, bless his heart, has been giving this two-flat, which was built in 1908, the once-over. Starting about nine years ago, with a new porch, there's been steady improvement in our home. The old tar-paper fake brick covering was itself covered with thermal insulation and much better looking vinyl siding. The old wooden windows, which leaked heat like sieves, were replaced with handsome, energy-tight windows. Central air was installed; now, for the same amount of electricity I was using just to cool my and my son's two bedrooms, we can cool the whole apartment.

Then came the real stuff. Last summer, the kitchen and bathroom were completely redone. The plumbing and electricity were upgraded (we can now turn the microwave and coffee maker on at the same time without tripping a circuit breaker!), new appliances and fixtures installed, which I posted about last summer. After a microburst flooded our (and many of our neighbors') basement, my landlord installed a new furnace and had his almost-new one hooked up to our unit.

The final stretch was the backyard. It was torn up in anticipation of being finished last autumn, but various delays kept that from happening. Finally, a couple of months ago, it was finished.

As I sat this morning eating breakfast with Kim in our beautiful backyard, I contentedly thought, my god, it was worth the wait.

I love so many little things about the backyard. Yes, those are Concord grapes growing across the trellis. By next year, they should be growing all the way across the trellis, providing us shade. I love the way the statues of Buddha and "Uncle Ho," the three hundred-plus pound statue buried in the vines next to our neighbor's garage evoke the way the temples and statues of Angkor Wat were engulfed by the jungles of Cambodia. They've installed solar-powered lights which shine on the statues after the sun goes down. I particularly love the head of Apollo, which has become the spot our escape-artist black cat Helga hangs out when she's snuck past us to get outside.

The best part is that its given us a great excuse to have friends over. Bubs and Mizbubs have joined us back in the garden, as well as STPTT, his wife and kids (the gnome planter on our back porch was a gift from them).

This morning, I was talking to my landlady, who did the lion's share of the gardening work that made the backyard so nice, about the fact that next month is will be ten years since my son and I moved into this home. It'll also be, in September, three years since Kim and my stepdaughter joined us here.

I remembered that when my then-girlfriend (and now ex-wife) Cynthia and I were looking for an apartment, I nearly skipped this one. From the outside, the place looked ragged. It had, as I've mentioned, that awful tarpaper fake brick that so many of Chicago's old buildings were covered in back in the old days. The porch was sagging. But when I went inside, I saw a diamond in the rough-- beautiful old wood floors, handsome old fixtures.

Cynthia came and went. These days, she's got the husband, house and baby she wanted. After she left, I took in a roommate, who turned into a nightmare. After I kicked him out, I thought about downsizing-- moving to a place that was smaller and cheaper. As I looked around, I discovered that I was paying for a three-bedroom place what a lot of people in the area were paying for a one-bedroom. After a lot of consideration, the deal-breaker in moving was the fact that this was my son's home. His mother kept moving from one place to another in the same bad neighborhood. This was the place where my son had grown up, where a lot of his childhood memories are stored. I stayed.

My landlady mentioned that she remembered how much I worked in order to keep Adam here-- I was working full time as a teacher and working another 10-30 hours a week as a waiter. I felt like I was treading water.

Nearly three years ago, as I mentioned, Kim and Mel moved in. Things in my life got better at every level. They got to join Adam and I in living through the last and most disruptive renovations. But I think they all agree that it was so worth it. Just look at the pictures.


Danielle said...

A paradise is where you dwell.

You know if we endure any sacrifice with future vision it manifests.

You and your family are so deserving.

I took the summer off from school and applaud you working through the summer. Short, fast to the point.

I'm taking my first lab class in only biology in the fall. Can't wait.

Thanks for sharing the garden, it is so beautiful.

In light and love


Freida Bee said...

I am happy for you and the positive changes that have come from your working so hard.

FranIAm said...

This was such a great post to read.

I recall that one of the first times that I ever read your blog, when I was but a sporadic reader, I encountered a post where you wrote about your family.

As someone who married a man with a child, it truly moved me.

Any subsequent posts about your family have filled me with the same feelings.

I think what I love most is your deep and enduring commitment to your son,and then as they became part of your life - to Kim and Mel.

What a lovely place you live in. It also says so much about your ability to discern what is before you and what might be.

One of these days I am heading to Chicagoland and the Johnny Yennites and the Bubsites will never be the same after. For good or ill - well we won't know til then, will we????
Hee hee!!

I promise to bring my singing Elvis ornament/desk accessory with me.

Mathman6293 said...

The yard is fantastic. It reminds of the old neighborhood (Albany Park). Although we lived in small ranch our back alley neighbors all were two flats.

Tenacious S said...

I bet every cup of coffee and every glass of wine tastes better in that yard. Beauty is indeed priceless and worth waiting for.

Anonymous said...

Gardens like the best parts of our lives are works in progress, this one is no different. The message of the garden is sit, look,listen and enjoy the moment. It has been a pleasure turning the mud pit into our quiet retreat.

Thank you for your kind words.


Erik Donald France said...

Absolutely fabulous. Beautiful, colorful shots and intimate ways, & excellent time with the fam'.

Time does go by -- I've been in the same flat for eight years, with a number of improvements since then, and the same rent as in 2000 (knock on wood). And no mortgage, and no plummeting home values -- thank God!

Anonymous said...

those are pretty pictures sir! Nice gardens you have

'Bubbles' said...

Very nice! I had forgotten how rapidly everything grows and fills in in the midwest. That rich black soil and humidity really do the trick!

Cheer34 said...

love all the greenery...and the happy times you share with us....

I like to sit on our deck and listen to the quite, birds and occassionaly woodpecker first thing in the morning. Just sipping coffee and being thankful for all that I have and for all of the positive people in my life.

Bubs said...

Beautiful! I'll tell you, a good landlord is a blessing (and I'm sure he thinks the same of a good tenant like you)

Looks like it's time for you to throw another party or something.

SamuraiFrog said...

That's the kind of beautiful garden I can only dream of having right now (and I do). Thanks for sharing the lovely pictures. And congratulations on all the renovations being done!

Mnmom said...

Beautiful - words, images, philosophy, feelings, all beautiful.

BeckEye said...

Very nice...although I kept losing my train of thought when I read about "central air." I have none and it's somewhere between "tropic" and "Hell" in my apartment, with an occasional breeze from the crappy fan.

Can you ask your garden gnome if he can get me a cheap flight to Alaska?

SkylersDad said...

That is a very impressive looking 7 and 7 in the first picture!!

But that's really not the point of this post, is it?

Beautiful looking yard JY!

kim said...

Thanks honey, I was going to post about the exact same thing, but I couldn't have done it better than you.

We are very lucky, inside and out.

Bats in the Belfry said...

I am so jealous! Having a husband from Orlando, our electric bill is insane in the summer. We have 2 units, one in the living room and one in the bedroom. It cools the whole place down, but man is it expensive!

Garden looks great! I can't even recognize the backyard anymore.

GETkristiLOVE said...

Next time I'm in Chicago, can I come pay homage to Uncle Ho?!

Anonymous said...

TRANQUILITY AT IT'S BEST! You both deserve it - even if it's just a place to spend a few short hours sipping wine on a Friday night or reading the Sunday paper with a great cup of coffee on a lazy, warm & sunny Sunday morning.

Either way, we're happy for all 4 of you and trust it will bring you many joyful memories!

Call us when you get the built-in pool & spa installed and we'll be down to visit with you in a snap!!

Brother & Brother-in-Law Mark, and sister-in-law Lori

Beth said...

How fabulous!

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Looks great.

DivaJood said...

Absolutely gorgeous. One more time, I am deeply homesick. WHen I am back in Chicago in August, I might actually look at rentals or purchase.

barista brat said...

the yard looks great!
i am dealing with a remodel of my own. after 12 weeks, we finally have a floor again. still no kitchen, and the bathroom is more like a cave, but slowly i see progress.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

It's absolutely lovely! I would kill for a hanging bench and a pergola.

Agi said...

That last pic reminds me of Amelie. Does your gnome travel?

Dr Zibbs said...

sweeeet garden