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.