Friday, July 20, 2012

nine and ten and happy anniversary to me

Ten years ago, right now, I was very nervously contemplating the day to come, and probably also drinking a Dr. Pepper. What I'd do differently, if I knew then what I know now...? If I knew that the only way to keep up with all my past addresses would be to look at the various places I've told Amazon to ship things in the last decade? Well for one thing I'd probably have asked for people NOT to give me furniture for my wedding...

We were up to number nine last time, and our ninth house was a little two bedroom condo on the corner of Shoal Creek and Anderson. It was the first place we owned, and it was somewhat overwhelming to be able to pour nine years of pent up homemaking into one poor little 900 square foot apartment. I mean it was probably overwhelming for the apartment. I loved it. I felt like it was MINE and I could finally make it look the way I wanted something to look (provided I spent no money, of course).  Living in that house was wonderful. I think it was a combination of many factors, the greatest of which was really the ages of the girls. Wren was 3 and 4 when we lived there, and the new freedom and ease of parenting a 4 year old was a breath of fresh air. Janey went from a baby to a toddler to a 2 and a half year old demanding her freedom and we were able to do so much that we hadn't even contemplated in previous years. We were making wonderful friends in Austin, and when we went to parties, I could spend more than 17 consecutive seconds in a conversation because I wasn't pulling my child off the stairs, or stopping a toddler from repeatedly flushing things down my hosts' toilet. The kids just all ran off in a pack, to entertain themselves, and we could be reasonably sure they'd either survive, or they'd yell loud enough to get our help. Also, for the first time in a billion years, I wasn't pregnant or nursing, and could actually drink something at parties, which was definitely nice.  We went camping and hiking and we rode our bikes around the neighborhood and got coffee and bagels and groceries from stores within walking distance- it was a wonderful place to live and I feel like we really settled into being a family in that house-- it also helped that it was barely 5 minutes away from Chase's parents' house, and we got to spend some great time with them that we're so grateful for now.

When I think of that house I think of the kitchen -- I love that kitchen. Our friend Tim made our countertops, and I found a gorgeous sink on Craigslist, and we painted the cabinets and I probably made more jam, pesto, pies, and gingerbread in the first 6 months in that house than I have since. I stripped diapers on the stove, Chase and Jane made thumbprint cookies on the counter, at Christmas we make the chipsters and the food processor flickered the lights. It was a great kitchen. I still miss it.

Onto the fantastic and somewhat temporary number 10. Where we are now. And will continue to be until the stars align and vast unknowable minutia are enough in line that we can buy a forever house. A house I will be carried out of feet first.  Because although this vagabond life has been interesting and has certainly protected us from our hoarding tendencies, I am ready to plant a sycamore tree in my front yard (if there's not one there already) and know that it can survive Texas summers because I'll be there to water it.

There's not a whole lot to say about ten -- it's made it possible for us to do a lot of things we've always wanted to do, like garden and keep chickens and bees (by we I mean I.. obviously).  It's meant we were once again able to share our house with friends and family because we had the space.  It's the house where Ben was born, and learned to walk and sort of talk (if booka booka, mooka mooka count. Which they do).  It's the first place we've had a garage to store things in... and maybe the last, since we apparently don't have the self control to not fill a garage with crap. It's a house that we have loved, and that the girls will probably always remember as the house where they hosted birthday parties and play dates and rode their bikes down to the high school in the evenings. It's been a wonderful house but I've never fully settled in. It's been 2 years and I still have some unpacked boxes in the garage. After the fun of making a place truly our home, this house has been a challenge. It's our home, but I always feel a bit reserved about it, like we're saving ourselves for our FOREVER home, you know? It's like 'you're cute and all, and we love your square footage and weird shaped yard, but... see this promise ring? We're really looking for something a bit more permanent."

So that's it. Ten houses in ten years. Here's to... significantly lowering that number for the next decade of marriage. Maybe we can shoot for 2?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

eight and a very soggy nine

This retrospective was interrupted by the fact that Nine, the only one of our homes that we actually own, is currently flooded. The upstairs neighbors (a yoga teaching, doll-collecting couple named Paul and Dino) left their bathtub on and flooded our condo. Approximately 5 hours after it officially went on the market. So... yeah.

I'm supposed to meet a contractor (one of many) over there in an hour. Chase already pulled up all the flooring, and the demo guys took most of the walls down (the insulation was wet). A friend is going to rebuild our kitchen counter tops and then we'll paint everything, get new floors down, and get the damn thing back on the market. It's mostly covered by insurance, although right now we're trying to decide whether to claim it on our insurance as well as our neighbors, since theirs doesn't cover loss of use and our mortgage is, uh... still due.


We moved from LA to Austin when Janey was a tiny baby and Wren was a two and a half year old. We'd looked at rental listings all over town trying to find a cute little house or a duplex like the ones we'd lived in in college. But our main priorities changed pretty quickly when we realized how fast we'd have to move.  I think we moved from LA to Austin in something like 2 days, and Chase had to be at work the next morning. From "cute, wood floors, yard..." it went to "on a bus route, livable, cheap, available for move-in last week." We packed up our stuff, put it in a pod (Chase offered me the cost of shipping and storing the pod to spend at Ikea if I agreed to burn the contents of the pod in their entirety. I declined). Chase set off in the jetta across the deserts of the western US with Ramona and whatever we couldn't fit in the pod. I strapped Jane in wrap, Wren in a stroller, and presented the gate agent at Southwest with my Costco card (the only current photo ID I had at that point) and eventually we all made it safe and sound (although somewhat damp and spit-up stained) to Austin.

That first Austin apartment was... well I'm trying to think of nice things to say about it. Most of our stuff was in storage and so it was hard to really move in. We felt very temporary. It was dark and astonishingly quiet after the constant noise of LA.  Across the street from a high school baseball field, we could hear the ping of the bats hitting balls in the spring afternoons, and it felt so idyllic. It was in a wonderful neighborhood- a few blocks from Thunderbird coffee, where I pulled the girls in their wagon to get juice and occasionally a cookie, just down the street from Dart Bowl, where Chase walked with them in the evenings to pick their favorite colored packages from the cigarette vending machine.  Wren rode her tricycle all over the sidewalks and parking lots of the little apartment complex, and Jane toddled behind her, screeching and yelling in what we would soon come to recognize was her actual speaking voice.

My main memories of that apartment are of two things. One major and one comparatively insignificant. I remember a squeaky floorboard in the girls' bedroom - the first bedroom they shared. Approximately half way between Wren's litte white iron bed and Jane's crib. I spent hours in that dark room, trying to delicately avoid stepping on it as I swayed with a sleepy baby. If I forgot, Jane's eye's would pop open accusingly, and I would have to start all over 'shhhh, shhhh' and run a finger over her forehead, down her nose, between her eyes, until she gave up and eventually agreed to sleep.

The other thing I remember about that house is being sick in it. I had gallbladder disease (although we didn't know it) and no insurance (which is of course why we didn't know it). Sometimes I would think if I just walked enough I could walk past the pain and be able to go back to sleep, so I walked all over the neighborhood in the middle of the night. I remember thinking 'wow I would NEVER do this in Highland Park' but Austin felt so safe. In retrospect, my neighbors were probably somewhat afraid of that hunched moaning lady in her PJs who wandered around in the night and they all decided to stay inside.  Eventually things got bad enough and we got COBRA and our family took care of the girls while we got back on our feet. I remember getting home from the hospital and laying in bed and Chase came and told me my aunt was coming over to help and I was so upset because the house was such a mess. I jumped up and started piling all our junk in the closet so everything would look nice. I made the bed. Blerg. Sometimes I am very very stupid.

I still sometimes fantasize about how awesome that hospital stay was. Totally guilt free babysitting around the clock, cable, I had my knitting and some books, and IV pain relief. Bliss. Fingers crossed for apendicitis in 2013!

From that house, which we were only in for maybe 6 months? We moved to the currently flooded condo, where I will be meeting another contractor after I put on some pants. So I think I'll save nine and ten for tomorrow. Which is fitting! Because that will round out the week on our actual anniversary.

Monday, July 16, 2012

six and seven, the novelization

Where I left the story last time, we were still on Orange Grove, with our tiny baby Wren, our nightly police helicopter flyovers, and our International Student neighbors who asked me, a week after I delivered, when I was due....

At some point, one of our neighbors mentioned to the owner of the apartment complex that we had a big black dog, and that pretty much was the end of that. Although we'd been assured it would be fine to have a dog there, it wasn't, and we had to find a new place to live. We'd made some amazing friends in East L.A. so that's where we headed. Specifically to a tiny street called Ruby Place that wound up a hillside right off Figueroa in Highland Park. Lots of those little streets end in dirt roads, with chickens on them. L.A. is a funny place. Our street ended with us, across the street from the neighbors who rented their house as a party venue and karaoke parlor.

We never called the cops on our loud neighbors, because it was LA, and our street was blocked at least twice by officers in the middle of a manhunt, and I thought they might laugh at us for noise complaints that didn't involve gun fire.

We had a tiny little green yard, with a cypress tree, roses, about 5 square feet of grass and a bed full of bright orange poppies. We had ancient window units, and in the middle of the summer heatwave I devised a system of sheets and plastic bags hung from the ceiling to create a slightly livable area the poor thing could actually cool. When we pulled back the carpet, we could see the ground underneath the house through the floor boards, and when we dug in the backyard for a garden, we realized the landlord had been dumping trash, covered by a thin layer of top soil, to "level" the yard. There were bike tires sticking out of the ground, still attached to bikes long buried, and various places where the ground was really a lot 'springier' than it should be. That house was the first place I ever felt an earthquake. It was also the first time I ever set my alarm clock based on the weather channel, so I could wake up in the middle of the night and watch it rain.

It was the first place I grew green beans, and the first place Wren walked and talked. Jessie powered me up the hills all around Highland Park with Wren in a stroller to help me (unsuccessfully) lose the baby weight, and Ramona and I again got to know our neighborhood together.  Chase and I saved our change for the amazing burrito truck in front of the laundromat at the bottom of the street. We ate Korean BBQ with our neighbors on one side and we helped our crazy racist neighbors on the other side flag down the ice cream truck and spray for ants. We also kept an ear out for the line between 'crazy racist' and 'crazy racist child abusers.' That was the second time I called the cops on a neighbor. And the next guy who lived there was great. And he DIDN'T play a trombone in his living room with the windows open during Wren's naptime. So... yeah.

Our next house was a 5 bedroom craftsman, fallen on very hard (shiny marble floors level, hard) times and in need of a loving and careful renovation to bring it back to its former glory.

Instead it got us. Our little family, plus Richard, plus Wes and Emily from Ohio, plus a rotating array of dudes who slept on our couches and eventually either paid rent or didn't. I lost my craft room that way, and Chase and Richard lost their study, but in exchange we got the Daves and I think it was probably worth it. That was the loudest house I've ever lived in. About 2 blocks from Route 66. On Figueroa, next to a bus stop and across the street from another bus stop and a school for juvenile delinquents. The TV in the living room could be up as loud as it could go, with no one in the house making any noise, but if the light on the corner outside turned green, you wouldn't hear anything but the trucks and the buses. We saw the graffiti truck every other day on that corner, but we never had anything stolen.

We planted a garden there too, but after all my hard work, the pumpkin leaves turned white and nothing grew. I was discouraged and gave up, but the next year there was a crop of pumpkins back there and I hadn't planted a thing. We had an amazing Thanksgiving that year, with wonderful friends who were really our family there, and it was so carefree and relaxed that we actually burst into spontaneous song. Like a movie. So I love that house for that one moment alone. It was wonderful to live with friends. Everyone was busy with their own things, but we had dinner together when we could, and we kept the house relatively clean. Ramona was an outside dog while we lived there, except around May 5th, July 4th, Christmas and New Years, when she was a very terrified puppy, jittery and wild eyed in the laundry room. The valley of Highland Park, from the freeway above it, is just a bowl full of smoke and sparks on any major holiday. UT won the national championship while we lived in that house and Chase went to the Rose Bowl to watch it. We were still such a little family that Wren went with us everywhere- to shows and parties and whatever we were doing. She tagged along, and was more comfortable with adults than other kids. She also called us by our first names in that house, because no one else living there called us "mom" or "dad" and she didn't want to be the odd one out. Trader Joe's was just around the corner, so was Mr. T's and great parks and the Arroyo and a million other wonderful things. We went to storytime at the Pasadena Library every week, and swim lessons at the aquatic center, and all the other things you do when you're learning how to be a family.

Jane was born while we still lived there. We took pictures with her as a newborn on the never used front porch, with the buses thundering by behind us.  We came home from the hospital, and then went right back when we realized my spinal headache wasn't going away. I remember the splintering pain of getting back out the front gate and back into the car for that ride. On the way home, I took the pocketful of hydrocodone my OB had pressed into my hand, closed my eyes, and made Chase stop at In & Out. Janey's first meal was basically an opiates laced chocolate shake in breast milk form. I was a bit more relaxed about my second baby, apparently.

When we left the Figueroa house we were leaving L.A. That house was cheap to rent (with all our friends) but would have been more than half a million dollars to buy. And the bad schools were too bad, the good schools were too expensive, the kids were all too old for their ages, with nicer phones than me, and waaay better style. We loved it there so much, and the friends we made were permanent, but we weren't home.

I'll have to leave 8-10 for the next installment. STAY TUNED!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

10 years, 10 houses

Next Friday it will have been ten years since I married Chase.

We've lived in ten houses in that time, and I want to remember them.

Our first house was gray and red, crackling paint, with a triangle shaped, unruly yard, pressed up against the railroad tracks. It was on 46th street, in what realtors call "Hyde Park" but anyone else would call "that ditch full of hobos between Hyde Park and Airport." It was across the street from a UT shuttle, and across Airport from a pool hall and a pet store, where we bought Ramona's food. That was the house where Ramona was 'our dog' and not just 'my dog.'  My dad appeared one day in the driveway with a couch for our back porch, and from that point on we never knew when we looked out the back window who among our friends might be sitting out there, smoking, talking, playing fetch with our dog.  

From that house we moved to North Carolina. In Durham we found a tiny little falling down cabin behind 9th street, lined with blue rhododendrons. It backed to a diner, and our neighbors were an interesting bunch. In spite of living in some rowdy student neighborhoods in college, that was the first time we ever called the cops on our neighbors. To our right was a large and musical immigrant family. They spoke very little english but LOVED to sing, and we would always know when the father got home from work from his operatic greeting. On our left were Portia and her drug dealing boyfriend. Our door lock was automatic and I pretty frequently found myself on the wrong side of it. Usually thanks to Ramona jumping against the door while I was taking the trash out. Portia's boyfriend got pretty good at boosting me through our back window. He told me soon before we moved that he'd knocked her up, and would soon have to make an honest woman of her. He seemed both proud and regretful.  On the other side of Portia were the hillfolk. Stills, jug bands on the porch, missing teeth, screaming fights in the yard involving cars running over people's hands, and my favorite, a gentleman  who accosted me at the laundromat, eager to convince me that, against all appearances, he could read.  I became convinced that the writers for Cletus and Brandine must have at one point lived on our block.

From there, I moved home back to North Tenth Street for the summer, to help my mom recover from an injury. And Chase moved to California, to stay with friends, look for a job, and help us find a place to live.

He succeeded at both the job and the housing hunts, but we had to leave our sweet Ramona in Texas. We moved into a 300 sq. ft. craftsman studio on the corner of Catalina and Union, about half a mile from Fuller, and a short walk to a movie theatre, a grocery store and a social security office. The second two insured that our neighborhood was always full of shopping carts and the people who push all their worldly possessions in them. The main things I remember about that house are the wonderful claw foot bathtub and the extreme morning sickness I suffered the entire time we lived there. In my subsequent pregnancies I've always had something else I needed to be doing and concentrating on, and so I haven't been ABLE to be sick. There, in that house, I was a new transplant without community, we were too poor for me to shop for distractions, and all our books were in storage. Chase was busy with work and school and my only duty was to walk to the Fuller library every day and resubmit my resume to all the open positions I qualified for.  I finally legally changed my name at that social security office. And I bought the lemons that occasionally kept me from losing my lunch at that grocery store.

From there we moved to an apartment on Orange Grove. We got Ramona back, and my walks with her around that neighborhood were some of the last we ever took with just the two of us. After that we were usually encumbered with strollers and wraps and other things that tend to get in a dog's way, or convince a mom not to take a walk after all. But there, we walked every day, and I knew from talking to people at Fuller that our neighborhood wasn't "good" but it certainly felt good to me. People in California were so serious about their yards! And the houses were so cared for and lovely. And every few blocks there would be another tree dropping fruit over a fence. Our kitchen was so tiny that during the end of my pregnancy Chase had to take the fridge door off the hinges and switch it to the other side, so that I could open it and stand in the kitchen at the same time.  In labor Chase and I walked up and down Orange Grove holding hands in the middle of the night, wondering what it was going to be like to be parents in the morning (we were pathetically optimistic - it was another 20 hours before I'd hold our baby). Wren spent her first three months in that apartment. Although she had a nursery, she slept every night in a laundry basket next to our bed because we didn't want to be a whole room away from her.

I meant to do all 10 in 1 but apparently I have more to say about our many houses that I'd thought. I'll do 5 today and another 5 tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012