Archive for the ‘General House Stuff’ Category

I woke up on Saturday to the sight of Alec on his iPad being very excited about something. He was exploring the 1940 census records, which the U.S. National Archives just released, and found the data for our block. (Below is the one that lists Albert Einstein.)

You might remember that at the neighborhood’s Oktoberfest party last year, we heard some tantalizing tidbits about our house’s history. In particular, our neighbors told us that the former Oak Park police chief with the surname Joy built the house in 1907 for his four or five unmarried schoolteacher daughters.

According to the 1940 census, there were four Joy family members living here: Margaret, 50, the head of the household; Mae, 42; Hazel, 40; and Harry, 24. Margaret, Mae and Hazel were sisters. Harry is listed as Margaret’s nephew.

The census data also lists their occupations at the time. None is listed for Margaret, but Mae was a stenographer for a “railroad car line” and Hazel also worked as a stenographer, but in advertising. I like to think she aged into an unmarried version of Ida Blankenship on Mad Men. Harry, meanwhile, was a lawyer in private practice.

Looking at the census rolls just inspired more questions about the Joy family. For starters, who are Henry’s parents? Margaret, Mae and Hazel are all single, not divorced or widowed. Mae and Hazel don’t seem quite old enough to be Harry’s mother, although it’s not impossible. Is there a fourth Joy sister who gave birth to Harry as an unmarried lady and left him in the care of her sisters? Why does Harry have “Joy” as his last name and not the name of his father?

My current working theory, which I totally made up using my overactive imagination, is that the milkman sired Harry Joy. There was a guy elsewhere on the block who listed milkman as his occupation, and I think it was him! That scoundrel!

I loved browsing through the census records. It’s a fabulous time capsule for the period, showing contemporary names (Gertrude, Herbert, Horace, Dorothy) and occupations (bacteriologist, milliner, elevator operator).

Of course, the forms have some cringeworthy bits too. For “Color or Race,” these are the options: White, Negro, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Hindu, Korean. (Unsurprisingly, everyone on our block was white in 1940.) The designations remind me of when Alec and I applied for our marriage license and the clerk asked him if he was Chinese or Japanese. When he asked if there was a biracial option, she said no, and poor Alec was forced to choose between Chinese and Caucasian. Ah, Cook County. Some things haven’t changed much since 1940.



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Alec and I returned this weekend from our last trip of the holiday season (can I still call it the holiday season?), which kicked off with our Hong Kong/China vacation and ended with a week in Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show. We were away from home so much that we had to suspend our Fresh Picks produce deliveries for more than a month. We went shopping today for a full week of groceries – I’d practically forgotten what that feels like!

Now that we’re staying put for a few months, I’m excited to tackle a long-delayed list of projects. First up is painting Alec’s office, the dining room, the kitchen and the powder room. I had been researching colors for months and could have happily kept procrastinating, especially because paint names are so fun.

But Alec’s office was pretty urgent. All of his books are still on the floor and we can’t get shelves up until the walls get painted. I was also under deadline to spend a Benjamin Moore Groupon I had bought ages ago. So without further ado, here is the color for Alec’s office:

Benjamin Moore’s Manchester Tan, not to be confused with Gladstone Tan, Bennington Gray, Northampton Putty,  or any number of other tweedy-sounding paints.

The kitchen and powder room will be painted in Harp Strings, a neutral that has a little yellow and a little brown to coordinate with the kitchen’s wood trim and earthy tile backsplash and floors.

And lastly, the dining room will be painted in Summer Shower. This was the color that took the longest to decide on, as I wanted something that would coordinate with the green of the adjoining dining room. I was originally leaning toward hues with more green and gray in them, but then returned to a color that was more distinctly blue.

As paint novices, we were a little baffled by all the options you have for paint.

But the guy at the J.C. Licht store was very helpful, and we ultimately settled on the Natura line because it is no-VOC and I have enough dermatological issues without worrying about exposure to even more chemicals.

Alec is headed to Home Depot this week for primer and other supplies, and then we’ll be ready to go! It’s good to be home.

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Oh Joy

When left to my own devices, I can snooze well past noon on a typical Saturday. One friend of mine has called me a ferret because apparently ferrets sleep a lot. I think ferrets are kind of gross (sorry) so I prefer to be compared to pandas, which also spend most of their days sleeping. In any case, this past Saturday was a different story. I because I was excited for our neighborhood Oktoberfest block party. I think I woke while it was still A.M.!

I realize how hideously uncool it is to be jazzed about a block party, but Alec and I are really embracing suburbia. And the gathering couldn’t be better timed because we just moved and without a social occasion, it could have taken us years to meet our neighbors. At our old apartment building in the city, I lived there for three years and never met another tenant until this one night, when a guy who lived upstairs got drunk and decided to bash in the glass plate of the building’s front door with a big orange traffic cone. Alec and I ended up bonding with our across-the-hall neighbor over a shared fear of being murdered in our sleep and then subsequently calling the police and exchanging business cards. Having been through that particular debacle, I can say with certainty that an Oktoberfest block party with garage bands, homemade chili and little kids playing in the street is a far superior way to meet your neighbors. (We especially enjoyed the high school band, Cardinal North, which vaguely reminded us of Sex Bob-omb from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.)

Our next-door neighbors, who’d we already met briefly, hosted the party and were really nice about introducing us to other people on the block, all of whom were very friendly. The couple that we bought our house from also stopped by the party and we chatted with them for a while. Between all the conversations, we learned some super interesting tidbits about the history of our house.

According to our neighbors, the house was built by the former police chief of Oak Park, a man named Joy, for his daughters. We heard conflicting numbers about how many daughters he had – either four or five – but they were all unmarried schoolteachers, and they lived in this house together. I love this story. It makes me think of Miss Lavendar from Anne of Avonlea, multiplied by four. Or five. (Miss Lavendar ended up getting married, but not until very late in life. And I always preferred her as a single lady. I suppose Marilla Cuthbert is a better example of a spinster.)

The next family to live here had an 18-year-old son who in 1994 was shot by gang members while he was driving through the west side. The case has never been solved. In the back yard is a tree that his parents planted in his memory. Unfortunately, the tree is dying, but Alec’s parents are coming for Thanksgiving and his mom is an expert gardener, so I’m hoping she will have some ideas about how to save it.

The third owners were a family that only lived here a couple years. We bought the house from the fourth owners, a lovely couple who told us – to our great relief – that they were not responsible for the textured high-gloss paint that was all over the walls. They had wanted to take down the paint but hadn’t gotten around to it, and eventually life events (children) and inertia took over, and you can figure out the rest. We feel fortunate that we had the time to take care of the walls (and floors) before moving in. I hope we’re doing the Joy sisters proud by taking care of their house!

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We moved! To be precise, we moved four days ago, but I was too tired and busy to document the process any sooner than this. The move was super smooth, thanks to the crack team of guys we hired – and my saintly parents, who arrived at the new house shortly after we did with toolbox and cleaning supplies in tow. First we admired the refinished floors:

After a few days of unpacking and organizing, we got a couple rooms in order. First was the kitchen, where my parents helpfully wiped down all the cabinets so we could unpack dishes. Our previous apartment had a massive pantry where we had stored a terrifying amount of stuff (seriously, we looked like a couple of hoarders) and I was worried about fitting everything into a closet-less kitchen. But we even had storage room left over – which means I can fill it up with seasonal dishware. Because I love seasonal dishware! (But that’s another post.)

Elsewhere on the ground floor, we spiffed up the living room. Coincidentally, the previous owners had the same couch in a different color, so we knew ours would fit nicely. I’d like to get some additional seating for this room, maybe an occasional chair to go where that purple nightstand is now, and we’ve ordered a new wooden coffee table to replace the transparent guy you see below. But this is looking good for now:

We also organized the master bedroom so we wouldn’t have to sleep on top of a pile of boxes. This is probably the cleanest it will ever be:

The other rooms need a little more work. Like this one, which will eventually be my office:

But all in good time! After all, settling in slowly is part of the fun.

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Makeover Time!

We woke up early today to do our final final walkthrough (the sellers, who were renting the house back from us for two weeks, moved out last night) and to greet the painters. We are in a bit of a time crunch because we want to have some work done in the house before moving in during the last week of September (our apartment lease is up on Sept. 30). When we were looking at the calendar, it seemed like we had plenty of time even with the rent-back period. As it turns out, we have just enough time to get two major jobs done before the big move.

The first job is smoothing over textured paint in the entryway, stairway, kitchen and first floor powder room. I feel a little bad about this because the previous owners clearly loved the look of high-gloss textured paint, and we had a team of guys scraping it off the walls within one minute of getting the keys. This is obviously a matter of taste – I just prefer smooth walls. But I was feeling neurotic enough about not offending the sellers that when I e-mailed to ask if we could have painters come in during the rent-back period to take a look and give us a quote, I couldn’t bring myself to say “painters” or “plasterers” and instead resorted to saying “tradespeople,” which then gave me class anxiety – because who on earth says “tradespeople?”

ANYWAY, here is a glimpse of the textured paint on the stairway:

I’ve got other photos, but who wants to look at a series of wall shots? (Also, you can see the pretty Frank Lloyd Wright-ish sconce that I am thrilled to inherit. Yay!)

Next week, we have flooring guys coming in to refinish the hardwood floors. They’ll be overlapping a bit with the painters, but they should be able to work around each other and this was the only way to get everything done before Moving Day. It will be a mad dash to the finish, but I am super excited to see how fresh everything will look when the work is completed.

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The night winds were beginning their wild dances beyond the bar and the fishing hamlet across the harbor was gemmed with lights as Anne and Gilbert drove up the poplar lane. The door of the little house opened, and a warm glow of firelight flickered out into the dusk. Gilbert lifted Anne from the buggy and led her into the garden, through the little gate between the ruddy-tipped firs, up the trim, red path to the sandstone step.

“Welcome home,” he whispered, and hand in hand they stepped over the threshold of their house of dreams.

Anne’s House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery

Okay, don’t barf! I think I am entitled to some sentimentality and a quote from the Anne of Green Gables series because Alec and I became homeowners today. We sat in a conference room and each signed our name 50 times, and this beauty became ours!

After closing, I went to the salon for a haircut and when my stylist asked, “So what have you been up to?”, I said, “I just bought a house!” That probably wasn’t the answer she was expecting. Then, of course, the first time we met, I asked her to chop off all my hair and give me a pixie cut. So maybe I should try to have a surprising announcement for her every time I go in for a trim.

By the way, if you are a stationery nerd and would like to know what kind of pen I brought to closing, I chose a Hi-Tec C 0.5 mm in sapphire blue. I am convinced that using a cool pen (it’s cool because it’s Japanese and you have to buy it online!) added a lot more weight to the occasion.

And now it’s off to Chalkboard for dinner! They serve a fried chicken + champagne special on Wednesday nights and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate.

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