This is a blog about an old house with a new life (and all the lives within it). There are plenty of stories to tell.
Monthly Archives: August 2013
There was a summer, many years ago, when M and I were first dating. We met during our one and only overlapping semester in graduate school, but we opted not to date each other until we started living 560 miles apart. Those were long miles back then – on two lane roads for the most part. They’ve been widened and multiplied in the years since, but they used to take ten or more hours to traverse. Neither of us owned a cell phone yet. My father had one for work – a brick of a thing – and he would mail it to me just before a long trip home to visit. It’s funny to think of that now, because the cell coverage between my little studio apartment and my childhood home had very spotty service at best. The phone was for emergencies, but I suppose only for the emergencies that happened right near the center of the occasional towns my car would pass. There were no unlimited long distance plans then either, only the conversations that cost real money each minute, the kind that you held with one eye closed to make the voice on the other end seem closer…and one eye open, on the clock.
We wrote a lot of letters that year and the next one. And that summer, the one that I mentioned, we also drove a lot. Never together, but always towards one another. It was the summer of weddings. We were invited to eleven. We made it to nine. We would have done those other two, but three sets of friends chose the same Saturday, but not the same state. M was in many of those weddings, and many of those weddings were located in Iowa – small towns in every corner. He would print out road maps at work and highlight my route, and then mail them to me ahead of time. We would arrange a place to meet over the phone, and try to time our departures accordingly. Once we both left, there was no way to communicate until we arrived.
I would head north along unfamiliar highways and roads. The first time I crossed into Iowa it was over a single lane bridge at dusk. The road tipped up for a mile or two, and then I passed through this tiny little town named Argyle, and the sun was setting on the left, and there were corn fields all around and a biplane was dipping in and out just above the road. It was like a postcard to the heartland – brave new territory.
Massive amounts of friends would descend upon the chosen town, the Super 8, the Perkins – and we’d watch rehearsals and then eat rehearsal dinners, and then we’d do it all again the next day, but for real, and in fancier clothing. Occasionally in all the hubbub of that summer we’d catch some quiet time, and I remember watching a show on the Discovery Channel about extreme roller coasters – their design and engineering, and the crazy people that travel from one thrill ride to the next. The show was fascinating and we noticed that many of the top ten coasters in the world were located at Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH. We made a pact that once we were off the wedding party travel circuit we would visit.
The ironic thing was, the very event that got us to Cedar Point that first time was a wedding. A friend from graduate school was getting married in Cleveland on the weekend of our fifth anniversary. We headed east and stayed in a beautiful hotel downtown, ate great food, danced and celebrated with many friends we hadn’t seen in ages, and then we added on a couple of days to the trip. It was time for some coasters, and we had done our homework.
If you love roller coasters, then this is the park for you. It’s pristine, and located on a peninsula that juts out into Lake Erie. The views in every direction are beautiful.
There’s this brief moment as the small train car you are strapped into starts to slowly mount that first steep hill when you look around you and marvel at just how gorgeous it is. And then you dig your fingernails into the bar in front of you as the scenery turns into a blur of steel and screams.
There are eighteen coasters on the property, despite the fact that the overall area of the park is fairly small. They wind in and out of one another, jockeying for space. We still love Millineum Force – considered by many to be the best coaster in the world. It’s located at the edge of the park, and the views from that first hill are amazing. And then you plummet over 200 feet at an angle so close to ninety that you can’t see the track in front of you, just the water. It’s amazing. The photo below is one I took through the sunroof of our car as we drove by on the narrow road between the water and the park, while a car was headed downward.
That first visit in 2005 was so much fun. We ran from coaster to coaster, bypassing every other ride offered at the park. The only exception was for the Ferris Wheel that we rode right around sunset. Spectacular. When we got tired mid-afternoon, we headed out to the beach for an hour, and dozed on towels under the sun before riding more roller coasters long after the sun went down. We are lucky that E loves coasters as much as we do – she’s pretty fearless and always game for anything. Now that she’s tall enough to ride even the most intense ones, we knew it was time for another trip back.
Cedar Point has this amazing option called a parent pass. It doesn’t cost anything extra – you simply fill out a card when you enter in the morning, and it’s perfect for families that have some kids that can coaster surf, and some that can’t. This is how it worked for us: E and her dad would get in line for a roller coaster, while F and I rode some of the smaller rides around the area. I’d get a text from M as they got onto the train platform, where they would hand that card over to one of the attendants just before they boarded the train, and F and I would head over to the ride’s exit. We could walk right up to the platform exit, and I would state my name to the attendant in charge of the parent passes. Then F and her dad would head back out of the ride, while E and I were able to get on the very next train. It’s a brilliant plan, really. I can remember in the past seeing families all waiting in line together, even with little ones. They would get to the platform and then jockey around in places so that they could stagger rides and pass the little kids at some point over the track to the other parent. This keeps the little kids out of line and away from the tracks completely, while not completely blowing your whole day waiting double time to ride each coaster. It’s a very sweet deal for the older kid who gets to ride twice – once with each parent. It definitely keeps the younger ones happy too – and I’m sure it makes the park a lot more money (we bought a lot of ice cream while we waited!).
We opted to stay right on the peninsula, in one of the cottages along the shore of the lake. It was so much nicer than a hotel room – a little more room to spread out in, and a killer view from the front porch. The view from the back had the giant wooden coaster – the Mean Streak. Another benefit of staying on Cedar Point was getting to enter the park an hour earlier than the general public. They would start up five of the major coasters an hour early, and everyone lodging at Lighthouse Point would line up at the back entrance just before nine and then head out to get a couple of extreme rides in before the line waits got too long. Visiting on a Wednesday and Thursday in mid August was nice too – the crowds were low as many schools were already in session. Having a home to escape to for lunch or naps or bathing suit changes was really convenient. It was so much cleaner and quieter than I imagined it would be. Once we were on our porch, the hustle and bustle of the park seemed like it was miles away. The top half of the photo below shows our front porch view, the bottom half was the back view.
Ask the little one about her favorite parts, and she’ll tell you the Gemini Junior was a big hit, with the water slides and sand play coming in at a close second.
Ask E about her favorites, and she’ll list them all. The newest coaster – the Gate Keeper – was a popular hit, for sure.
Ask M yourself – because I’m not sure what he loved most. Probably all of it, the faster the better. Or ask him about these seventeen seconds of insanity. I didn’t even document that nonsense.
Ask me, and I’ll tell you I loved watching everyone else having so much fun. But most of all, I loved climbing those big hills with this girl by my side.
It was a little bittersweet that I couldn’t ride any rides with M – like we did those many years ago. But there will be time to do that again, I know. For now, I’ll take the Parent Pass life, any day.
Several months ago I sold several items via Craigslist – my first foray into that grid view world of stuff one no longer wants. A couple of weeks ago I bought my first item via Craigslist. Since then I’ve been trying to formulate a post in my head of my observations (many bothersome and some disturbing) with the process – while also sharing with you what I consider a tremendous score that is currently gracing my living room, and that might one day be reconfigured into another thing that will reside in a corner of my dream kitchen (quite the opposite of bothersome and disturbing).
The two facets of this conversation are entirely independent – the vehicle that is essentially yard sale-ing online is the only connecting point here. The bothersome aspects of the process do not detract one bit from the joy derived from finding new homes for furniture items that we no longer need, nor do they detract one bit from the lovely nature of my new marble coffee table, which might one day (when married to just the right thrifted table base) become the tulip table-like dining spot in my lovely sunlit kitchen dreams.
The marble top was purchased in Italy fifty years ago by the lady selling it and her (I’m assuming, late) husband, when he was stationed in Munich. They carried it back to Munich in their Volkswagen and then later shipped it back to the US when they returned. They had a custom base made for it – which is also very cool looking – but her house was on the market and it seemed like she was downsizing and needed to part with some furniture. I was very happy to take it off her hands for a song, knowing full well that marble that size and thickness would cost much, much more. For now it works well in the living room since it’s over a foot smaller in diameter than the former one, which means you can now get your legs between the table and the chairs and couch. It’s not the marble hex tables that we wanted from West Elm – but those jumped in price just as we thought we might buy a few – and we needed at least four for the layout we liked. I still like the idea of a set of smaller tables that move around more easily, but for now this looks great in there, and I love the possibility of making a small dining table out of it one day.
I have lived in this city for over fifteen years now. I have never lived outside of the city limits, and we tend to operate within a fairly short radius of our home. We have friends that live all over the place, and I’ve worked on projects in many of the far flung suburbs, so there are few places in the metropolitan area that we haven’t driven through. But still, we are city folk, and we work, play, eat, school and shop here the most.
The woman who listed the marble coffee table was not the seller of the table – it was her real estate agent. When I called to inquire about it, we had a brief conversation. I told her I was interested, and I asked if I could come pick it up on a Saturday morning. She asked where I lived and I told her. She said she would call the owner and get back to me.
She called me a few moments later, and we talked for much longer this time. Could I come at nine? Did I have the means to carry the heavy slab, and to transport it that morning? And could I tell her one more time where I lived? She was a real estate agent, but she had never heard of my neighborhood. I mentioned the expensive restaurant around the corner that even the most city-shy will venture in for, and she knew immediately where I was from. And then there was a pause, and then the questions. Did I like living there? Was it safe? Wherever did my children go to school?
She told me she had grown up in the city in the fifties, but high-tailed it out of there. Her daughter has young children and would like to move back, but she tells her she is crazy. She asks if I can find this particular suburb and neighborhood where the table is sitting, an affluent one, if you haven’t guessed by now. I assured her that I knew the region fairly well, and what I didn’t know, my phone could surely guide me to. I laughed that I rarely ventured out much past the first inner ring highway. She laughed and said that was funny, because she rarely ventures much past it either, from her direction.
I am bothered by her lack of knowledge of the region that she presents to new arrivals here, those who are looking for a home to buy; I’m more bothered that she writes an entire portion of it off. I am aware that I am making more small talk than necessary in order to convince her that despite my address, I’m a legitimate customer for this table. That Saturday morning we notice all the neighbors are strategically stationed in their driveways, watching us. I understand the need for caution – we are strangers and the seller is older. I am aware that once they see me, they are reassured by my appearance and relax their stance and retreat a few steps. I am aware of the injustice of that, even if I benefit from it.
A few of the items we sold on Craigslist (like our strollers and our couch) were bought by people living in nearby neighborhoods. But everything else we sold went to people who lived beyond the suburbs – the ex-urbs in fact. Our interactions were always the same.
They would ask for the address / neighborhood.
They would not be familiar with the neighborhood until I pointed out nearby landmarks.
We would arrange a time for them to stop by, and then we would watch for them because our house has a side entrance, and it’s a little hard to locate on the first drive by.
I quickly learned to walk outside and wave, because they would seem nervous to get out, unsure of where they were.
A huge look of relief would wash over their face when they saw a seemingly normal looking person waving to them. Their wariness would disappear, and they would willingly come right into the house with me.
Every single conversation would begin like this: Wow, what a gorgeous room. Your house is beautiful. I love old homes. Did you do all the work yourselves?
Sometimes, if it was two people – they would comment to each other about how they’ve always thought it would be fun to renovate an older home. And then some more about charm, and brick and slate.
But here is the bothersome part, the part that has been lingering in the back of my mind for months now. I wish I had a better way to say this – to explain its impact on my thinking and my feelings about so many things in the meantime, but I don’t. Our Craiglist experiences started to feel like some sort of social experiment we were conducting.
If the street was quiet and all our neighbors were indoors, then the conversation would quickly turn to the object at hand. The buyer would inspect it, tell us a little about how they were planning to use it, and then happily hand over a folded up stack of bills in exchange for our wares.
If the street was not empty – if our next door neighbors were moving from car to house with groceries, if their sixth and third grade boys were in the front yard with their new puppy, or riding scooters up and down the sidewalk, in front of our house and theirs, then every single conversation eventually led to these questions in our living room: Do you feel safe here? Is this street safe? Is this a safe neighborhood? Their unease would return as I escorted them (safely) to their cars where they could quickly speed off to their homes again.
And that is where the experiment kicked in – before each prospective customer came by, we could look out onto our street, see who was out and who was not, and predict the conversation we would have with someone who spends little time within the borders of the city. Sadly, we were right, every time.
Do I need to explain who my neighbors are? Can you guess? What their boys look like, outside of the description of elementary aged boys?
I will guess that no, I don’t need to, and that bothers me even more.
Can I tell you about my street, about the people that live on it?
A middle aged single white man who drives a semi and hardly ever wears a shirt, along with his nephew, his wife and two baby girls. He grew up in the house and started living there after his mother died about seven years ago. She always left a card for E on the porch for her birthday, before she passed away. A black grandmother who lives on the first floor and her daughter with her two sons, plus her female partner on the second floor. The grandmother runs a tight ship in the front yard when she’s home, which isn’t often since she works two jobs. I think the daughter does as well. They barbecue together every Sunday afternoon. A gay white man, the only person on our block who has managed to maintain a front lawn that looks more like a putting green than a clover patch, and the new family that moved in next to him with two small blond headed children. A middle aged couple with several dogs and several stickers about their dogs on their cars. A retired fireman who lost his girlfriend years ago to cancer, just after losing two fellow fireman from his station in a tremendous chemical fire at the end of our street maybe a decade ago. I watched him the morning after that fire, sitting on his front steps, sobbing. A new couple that just had a baby shower with blue ribbons and blue balloons, a single guy with a big dog with big poops plus a house covered with lawn ornaments and trinkets attached directly to the walls. The organist at our church. Our babysitter and her chickens. The owner and the staff of the deli who arrive each morning at the exact time I’m driving my kids to school – just in time to wave hello. There are children and babies all over the place, all with names that we laugh about because they sound like names from fifty, sixty, seventy years ago. Blues lovers, hipsters (oh my, so many), architects. Boys in school uniforms on street corners at ungodly hours of the morning, waiting to be bused to far away districts. Families walking their kids to the school down the street. The older lady who putters around in her garden and always forgets that she talked to me last week, and asks me if I’m new to the neighborhood over and over again. She writes anti-war statements on white poster board with markers that stream when they get wet. A couple we rarely ever see because they have one of the only attached garages in the neighborhood – and they use it.
Come by my house on a Saturday, just after lunch, when the sound of live blues pours across the street and every third car is double parked with flashers on. Come by my house on a Tuesday morning just after eight when three guys and a girl in matching t-shirts unchain chairs from table tops and set up umbrellas on the sidewalk while smoking cigarettes and laughing. Come by my house on a Wednesday around dinner time when four or five of us pull up in tandem, park and wave hello as we walk into our houses for the evening. Come by my house around nine o’clock on a Friday night when a grandmother gets home, and her grandsons run down the sidewalk to unload grocery bags, answering her sharp questions in their most polite voices. Come by my house on Thursday night (if you can find a parking space) and eat hot dogs and whatever dishes the neighbors bring, and maybe ice cream, and listen to blues and people watch on the corner. Come by my house on a Sunday morning when it’s the quietest place on earth, and my girls are in their Sunday best, and a young couple speeds by on their street bikes. Come by my house and buy something that I no longer need, and ask me about my street and my neighborhood and my city and I’ll tell you.
I do not know what else to do but to tell you the story of this, and ask you to listen before you assume.
It might not be too hard to imagine that I’m a very big fan of Martha Stewart. I purchased every issue of her Weddings magazine before my own wedding, and I still sit down to a stack of her magazines every time I visit my parents. I use her as a constant go-to for recipes as well, and I’m always inspired by her holiday projects.
So you can also imagine my delight when I saw this image in my inbox this morning. Neil Estrick (and his wife Sara) are friends of ours – and Neil’s work and his gallery space have a chance to be recognized by Martha herself. So naturally he must win, and that’s where you might be able to help out. Voting is open until September 13th, and if Neil is lucky enough this first round, then he’ll move onto the next round and I’ll remind you to vote some more. You can vote six times a day, so please do – as often as you can remember. (I’ve included a handy link in the sidebar.)
There’s a brief bio on the link above, but I also encourage you to go on his website to see more of his work. (And I know there are lots of Chicago readers too, so you might enjoy taking a class with him sometime soon.) He’s had the studio space for nine years, but he’s been creating for much, much longer. In fact, we happen to be the lucky owners of a teapot like the one above – a wedding gift from thirteen years ago. So there’s my own brush with celebrity, right? I’ll never look at it the same way again!