lately in the garden

I have some posts started that I hope to finish this weekend. Last weekend was pretty relaxing, but we were out of the house a lot. Friends from undergrad and grad school were in town visiting, and our Sunday brunch extended to mid-afternoon. E was on the tech crew for a local musical production, and they had three shows over the weekend, and then an afternoon cast party. F had a new camp friend show up on our doorstep with her parents on Saturday as well. Some weekends we’re sort of an island of four; this weekend we were social butterflies.

On Sunday afternoon, the house was empty and quiet and I spent a few hours cleaning the house from top to bottom. We engaged a cleaning service just after the holidays, but suspended it for the summer since the girls were home more and able to pick up more of the slack during the slower summer months. They keep things picked up and vacuumed and mopped and cleaned, but the house was in need of a deeper clean and a clear out. I turned on music and really focused and got it done – top to bottom. It was nice to start the week off in a clean space.

M worked all Saturday on revising our house package in between dropping off and picking up E at the theater. I’ll keep you posted on how that’s going when I know something new. I spent some time sorting through some of my Forest Park photos for a mini-project, and it got me excited and energized for cleaning up a lot of our photo files. But it’s also a daunting task, so I’m not sure that I’ll get to it anytime soon.

We’ve had really cool weather the past four or five days, and it’s been lovely. It’s nice to have a break from the relentless heat, but it also reminds me that summer is winding down, and I’m not ready for that yet. I love fall, but my head isn’t there yet. The years seem to zoom by, and once school starts it really flies. I can’t believe I’ll have a sophomore this year. I hope the year drags by!

I beefed up my library hold list, and now I’ll probably end up with too many books to get through. I do love a good book stack on my dresser. We need to go through our shelves again and pack up or donate a few books, we’re overflowing. It’s a good problem to have. F’s interest in reading has really taken off this summer and I love it. She’s into the new graphic novels of the Babysitter’s Club books that I read when I was a kid. We’re about to dive into some more Judy Blume as well. I have a treasure trove of old paperback books of mine that are perfect for a fourth grader.

I’m running out of little tidbits to write, but I’ve still got a lot of photos in this post. Maybe just scroll through the rest and enjoy what July looks like in the Midwest. It’s lush and colorful and good.

I hope your summer is going well.

lately in the garden

Easing back into a (summer) routine this past week. It’s hot, but the mornings are tolerable. The garden is bursting with color, and with bees. Bees don’t bother me at all – I love to try and catch them on the camera, but it’s not easy. I was surrounded by them this morning, and then I realized the flowers I was surrounded by weren’t hosting bees, but wasps. See if you spot them. I backed away slowly and moved on. I know my limits.

I don’t have much else to say in this post. It’s Saturday afternoon, and I’m about to run a quick errand. I’m procrastinating at the computer for a moment, looking at birthday party photos and hunting down some violin rental information. I’ll post the party pictures soon. I love the weekend. I haven’t showered after my morning workout. I’m hoping to convince the others to take a bike ride later this afternoon. I believe in conserving water. I’m saving up for a good, cool soak and another go at that magazine stack. I want this day to stretch on forever.

the post everyone wants to read and i don’t want to write


House woes.

I haven’t written any house stories in awhile for lots of different reasons. Mostly frustration, but also a fair share of caution in being careful about just how much I share here that’s still floating up in the air, undecided.

When we started the process I warned that it would likely be a long one, but I didn’t anticipate it being quite this long. I thought that it would be fun to share the process, but it was also sort of exhausting to do it. I admire people that share these kind of renovation stories as they go. I also know that they do it as their job, and I have another full time job plus about a half dozen serious side gigs that keep be perpetually busy.

The biggest reason for my silence was disappointment. I wanted things to go smoothly. We worked our tails off to ensure that. If I were to add up the hours of time spent and the thousands of dollars spent on drawings and models and engineering and site work, etc. I would probably cry. I have cried. On two occasions, in epic fashion. The first was on my birthday last year, when we met with our first contractor to discuss the lack of subcontractor participation and skyrocketing construction costs and packed schedules. I didn’t actually cry in front of him, but I did later, when I let myself sit in that disappointment. I had glued myself to a chair and a laptop at our dining room table for nights and weekends too many to count, and it felt like an impossible project at that point.

Contractor #1 proposed a new idea – a collaboration with contractor #2, with more availability, less expensive overhead, and the opportunity for contractor #1 to do all the finish work that he’s exceptionally skilled at. Hope again, until that crashed and burned. Contractor #2 had less luck with sub bids, and the summer and early fall felt wasted to us before he got back to us and confessed that the project was out of his comfort zone. That was the second big cry.

In the meantime, we considered a few other houses in our zip code. Several of our favorite houses (from the outside) were listed over the past year and a half, and we’ve made appointments to see four of them on repeat occasions. Three moved to heavy consideration phase, and one recently moved beyond that stage before the owners changed their minds and decided not to sell. The entire time we remained conflicted about leaving our current house, a place that has quite literally been built on sweat and tears and love. The girls enjoy looking at other houses, but remain firmly in the current home / forever home camp. They want to build the addition and carriage house so badly, and that’s the hardest part of the whole thing. Time is flying by, and I worry that we’ve missed our window. I worry about that a lot.

We regrouped in the late fall and winter, and streamlined the entire set of drawings in order to reduce cost in three areas that seemed out of control. We re-engineered everything, and again I chained myself to the work most nights and weekends. Contractor #1 wanted another go at it, and had more time to devote to it this year. We handed our revised set over in early March, and then I got to relive my birthday disappointment  yet again this past April. Better, but not good enough.

In really basic terms, here is the issue. We have a tight, narrow lot, that makes everything more complicated.

See me here in the early 2000’s – hand digging out bricks to create this lovely blank slate for construction? If only I could just build the whole darn thing myself. (Joking.)

We’re drastically changing our house with this addition, but the overall footprint of the addition is not large. So the square foot cost of the work is really high. We have to work within a range of values dictated by the future value of the house post-construction. Our neighborhood has so many different housing types – apartments, two- and four-family flats, single family homes – it’s one of the things that I love about it. There’s a place for everyone. Other neighborhoods in our zip code (think Lafayette Square or Compton Heights) have a much higher ratio of single family (very large!) homes, where property values can soar to twice the highest value of single family homes in our neighborhood. The bank can consider comps in both of those neighborhoods when assessing the value of single family homes in our neighborhood, but there’s definitely a lower cap on values where we live that you don’t see in some of these adjoining neighborhoods. So we keep hitting this over-improvement ceiling on our house. It makes us nervous and cautious, and it turns the bank off completely.

Our single best asset in this whole thing is the ability to construct a separate living unit above the garage. I go into detail on why that’s a great thing (and a rare opportunity) in this post. So we have that going for us. BUT. We have to build it to see the future value of our house support the improvement costs. So we can’t just build the addition now and do the carriage house in a later phase. And we can’t build the carriage house first and do the addition later – we’d be completely landlocked at that point. So it’s all or nothing, and at the moment we’re still nothing.

We’re much closer than we were last April to that magic number, but we’re still not there. We met with contractor #1 in early July, and we’ve petitioned our lender again for some leniency, but to no avail. It’s frustrating to know how to do something and be able to afford to do something, and still be told that we can’t do something. We have another hybrid plan that we’re trying now, and I want to be optimistic again. But I’m guarded about it. I’m not up for that third ugly cry anytime soon.

This isn’t a great story. It involves a lot of disappointment and long stretches of sadness and regrouping. We’ve continued to knock off some of the interior projects on the existing house as we go, and those are good things that we enjoy. The fireplace might be at the top of that list. We’ve helped my sister on her new house, and that’s been exciting and also a little hard to watch. We’ve seen friends plan and implement their own renovations and we’ve wondered how we’ve managed to have a project that nobody wants to do when everyone else seems to be able to line up help and expertise with no sweat. It’s not a place of jealousy where I write this, just a place of sadness that we haven’t been able to complete this project with our girls. I want them to be a part of it because we’ve included them in the process so much already.

They love our home, and don’t want to leave. I’m with them.

Here’s tiny F next to giant scaffolding during our last major project phase. She’s nine now, and three times this size, so we’re overdue another overhaul. It’s good for the soul, a little dust up, I say. We’ll take all finger crossing you can manage our way.