31 August, 2008

Tangerine Tree Goes Splat

I should listen to Maggie more. She started barking in the wee hours of the morning. I was up, but in my jammies, so I just told her to hush and go to sleep. I heard some voices outside--male? juvenile?--but didn't bother to go look because I often hear voices outside; we do live on a corner, after all.

Later in the morning I looked out the window to see one of my beloved citrus trees lying in the middle of the street, the broken shards of its not-cheap ceramic pot scattered all around. Growing citrus fruit in Chicagoland may seem like folly, but they are actually doing pretty well. They make me happy whenever I step out on the front porch to water them. I'll have to bring them inside once the weather turns, but that's okay. I'll find room.

I took my broom and dustpan out to clean up the mess, and was relieved to see that the tree was all right (although the ripening tangerines were gone) and that they didn't snatch my garden gnome.

I was going to take the vandalism personally, since just last week our Buddha was stolen. Feeling targeted and crabby, I went to the garage to get another pot to put the tree in and discovered my neighbors' flowers in the middle of our driveway, broken shards of pottery dangerously close to our car. So it was most likely just kids coming down the alley, smashing pots as they went along. Still, at four o'clock in the morning, I do have to wonder where their parents were.

We called the police to file yet another report with them. *Sigh.* There are better things to be doing on a Sunday afternoon.

But the thing that made me really sad was when a woman stopped by to chat with me while I was cleaning the shards from the middle of the street. She suggested that the house was too exposed on the corner, and I should think about planting even more trees to block the view from the street. I planned on that, anyway, but I don't want to feel like I have to do it.

Grrr. Kids.

Sunday Evening Update:


My beloved comic strip For Better or For Worse just wrapped. I actually got misty at the final Sunday edition. I can't believe I've been reading this strip on and off for close to three decades. Thanks to Lynn Johnston for many a laugh and bittersweet moment over the years.

30 August, 2008

Angie's List

Does anyone else out there use Angie's List to find contractors? I let my membership lapse recently because I was too lazy to update the credit card. We used Angie maybe two or three times over the course of two years, and did find decent contractors through the service, including a roofing guy for our condo, a building inspector, and a floor refinisher. But the membership costs are not cheap, considering we only used the service occasionally.

When I tried to log in today, the site indicated my membership had expired, but I could log in again with an updated credit card number. Fine. Only, when I followed all the links, I found they demanded another "one-time-only" fee of $15.00 to rejoin. Seemed a bit silly to demand another one-time fee, plus the monthly fee, when I was a prior member. But I did it and I'll argue with them later. We need to find a roofing contractor, because we're not having much luck isolating a roof leak on our own.

Blah. This is the part about home improvement I can't stand, the contractor interview process.

28 August, 2008

Our Preservation Efforts Hit the News

Both Ted and our non-profit got a mention in today's Chicago Journal/News Star (a northside Chicago paper) for our preservation efforts surrounding the Uptown Theatre. The image above is a 1926 advertisement from the theatre's opening day. To read all about the theatre's history, go here. To read an excerpt of the News-Star article, continue reading below.


The gray old lady is ready
Is a makeover for the Uptown Theatre waiting in the wings?


For decades, the Uptown Theatre's loudest champions have watched a succession of owners mishandle the once "palace of enchantment" as if it were a shabby clown painting on velvet. They remember the bad times, when sheens of ice covered the winding staircases in the Grand Lobby, of burst water pipes and investors that raised their hopes for building's restoration, only to walk away broke and defeated.

Since the announced sale of the Uptown Theatre to Jerry Mickelson of Jam Productions, the Uptown's champions are cautiously optimistic that the architectural landmark will finally get the makeover they've been waiting and fighting for. Mickelson's limited liability company, UTAII, purchased the theater in a court auction for $3.2 million last month...

For complete article, go here.

Uptown Theatre image courtesy Compass Rose Cultural Crossroads. All Rights Reserved.

26 August, 2008

Bring the Buddha Back...

...and there won't be any questions.

I was out watering the garden today, and suddenly realized that someone had stolen our Buddha. It was one of my dad's favorite sculptures from his garden, and sat for several years on the balcony of my condo as well. When we moved to The Box House, he came with us and took up residence under the portico, next to the front door. And now he's gone.

I know there must be some Buddhist lesson here about attachment and clinging to worldly possessions, but I'm a little sad anyway.

"100 Things To Do Before You Die" Author Dies At 47

I found this news particularly disturbing this morning:

Dave Freeman, co-author of "100 Things to Do Before You Die," a travel guide and ode to odd adventures that inspired readers and imitators, died after hitting his head in a fall at his home. He was 47.
Ted and I are tremendous travel junkies. On our "ninth date," we went to Mexico to climb the pyramids outside of Mexico City. We used to travel out of the country on major expeditions at least twice a year--Vietnam, Cambodia, Peru, and Guatemala have been some of our more memorable trips. But for the last two years, we haven't really been able to go anywhere, part of that is due to buying a new place in a down economy where we can't sell our condo. And first year expenses on an 85-year-old building suck up so much time and money.

But staying home has made us somewhat crabby. We have "itchy feet" as I call it, a general urge to hit the trail, and a bit of an anxious feeling when we are not on the road. I've consoled myself with the thought that we'll start traveling again once the market turns and we can unload the extra properties (my mom's house included). "There's time," I've said to myself.

But I know I need an adventure; in fact, it's one of the last things Ted and I talked about last night before we went to sleep. There are so many places left on our life list, and we'll both be turning 40 in the next year. Some adventures are better when you're younger, and shouldn't be put off.

And then I wake up this morning, and the first article that caught my eye on Huffpost was this one. Dave Freeman hadn't even accomplished everything on his list of 100 things. He and his co-author wrote: "This life is a short journey. How can you make sure you fill it with the most fun and that you visit all the coolest places on earth before you pack those bags for the very last time?"

So that's it--as clear a sign from the universe as you can get. I need to figure out a way to get us on the trail again, and soon, even if it means a few of the planned house projects will fall by the wayside this year.

What adventures have you been putting off? What are you waiting for?

25 August, 2008

We Inherited a Grapevine, Now We Need a Plan

We inherited a grapevine when we bought The Box House.

It's growing on a length of chain link fence that we plan to remove in order to build a wooden fence and create a more private back yard. Right now, every person that walks by can peek over the fence and see what we're up to--and there's a great deal of pedestrian traffic on a corner lot. I like our neighbors, but every once in a while I'd like to be able to sit in the yard with a book and a glass of iced tea and not have to make small talk with passersby.

I almost hacked the grapevine back this past spring, when we actually thought we'd get our new fence built this year. But we decided not to do any radical alterations to the yard until we've lived here for a year, and experienced the house and yard through each of the seasons. (This philosophy didn't cover the yew bushes; those just had to go.)

So I've been watching the grapes all summer long as they have slowly ripened. I've never tried growing fruit before, and I realize that I'm horribly impatient. I've plucked a grape or two every week to sample them, and they've been tart and bitter and have left me with a dry mouth.

But in the last few days, they've begun to swell rapidly and take on a purplish hue. I tasted one, and it was sweet and juicy and oh-so-summery delicious.

It also had seeds, which I discretely spit to the side.

So it looks like we'll have quite a bit of grapes to harvest this week. I don't have a clue about what I'm doing, so need some tips on harvesting and a few good recipes. And now, after having watched--if not nurtured--this vine all summer, I need to figure out how to get it off the chain link fence and onto an arbor of some sort.

20 August, 2008

House Blogging and a Hello to My Neighbors

Although I've never posted our address on the blog, I guess it's easy enough, with a little digging, to figure out exactly where we are located. Shortly after I began to chronicle the misadventures of fixing up The Box House, I received an e-mail from a neighbor who lives up the road. She had actually recognized the photo of the house--or rather, she recognized the elm tree we have growing out front. That was kind of cool. But it got me wondering if anybody on my immediate block reads the blog. Would they tell me if they did? Maybe that's why one of the former residents, related to the previous owner, apologizes about the house every time she sees me working outside.

I check my blog statistics every once in a while, and I assume the regular readers from Green Bay, Racine, Kansas City, Phoenix, and (north of) Houston are our relatives. Hello family and friends! But every day there are scores--and sometimes hundreds--of people in the City and northern suburbs who tune into the blog. About half surf in on a keyword; the rest are bookmarking the site or follow a direct link in.

I know it's silly, but I'm perfectly fine with knowing that strangers in--let's say--Helsinki, Finland, are reading the blog. Hi, you! But it's kind of weird to think that somebody on the next block, whom I've never met, might also be reading it and maybe even recognizes me when I walk by their house. Certain aspects of our lives are out there for anyone to read about.

Hmm. Just things I never considered before I started getting large numbers of daily hits.

So, my fellow house bloggers--have any of you ever come face-to-face with one of your readers? I know a lot of you who are in my daily blog roll mention the name of your town in the blog, or in your profile, or have had articles written about your blogging adventures in local and national magazines--complete with full name, neighborhood, and URL. Do you ever edit what you're writing just in case your neighbors are reading?

And if any of my neighbors are reading, feel free to say hello next time you see me puttering in the garden and let me know.

13 August, 2008

Diet Coke, Metropolis, Playing the Theremin, A Mega Bungalow, A Cockroach, 3 Bags of Cat Poo, and Some Kind of Bones in the Crawlspace

I haven't been blogging much, because there hasn't been a whole lot of progress on the house this week. I gave up Diet Coke on Friday in an attempt to cut back on artificial sweeteners. It has made me very, very crabby, so I'm blaming my lack of motivation toward home improvement projects on that.

Okay, I planned to give up Diet Coke on Friday. I had even stuck an iced tea in the freezer beforehand so I could smuggle it into a theatre that night and would not have to indulge in movie theatre drinks. Halfway to the theatre, I realized I had left the glass bottle in the ice compartment--but it was too late to turn back. (Yes, it did crack, and yes, I did have to clean up glass fragments from the freezer.)

On the way to the theatre, we came across this house, not far from Milwaukee Ave and Irving Park Rd:

I am so ready to sell The Box House and move here (it just had a contract put in on it, unfortunately), but Mom would never go back into the city. I forget what it's called, but that nifty thing to the left is something you can drive through to get to the back yard, where the garage is. It's very grand.

The movie we saw was Metropolis, a 1920s science-fiction silent film. The theatre was serving Metrotinis, a concoction made of blue curacao, vodka, and tonic. There were black lights set up at the mini bar, and when the tonic was poured in over the curacao/vodka, the whole drink lit up. It was served with a skewer of cherries, kiwi bits, and glow-in-black-light beads. Yummy, but not enough to quench the thirst during a whole show. I need my sipping drink. Diet Pepsi it was; it was all the theatre had. (I don't care what the taste tests say, Diet Coke is waaaaaaay better; I'm always bummed when D.P. is the only choice.)

All in all it was an entertaining evening. Ted and I both love silent films. We haven't been getting out much lately, so had made a point to see our friend Andy at the show, who was playing the theremin to accompany the organist.

Here's a photo of an early theremin:

and a description of just what the heck it is, both courtesy of Wikipedia:

The theremin is one of the earliest electronic musical instruments, and the first musical instrument played without being touched (originally pronounced [ˈteremin] but often anglicized as IPA: /ˈθɛrəmɪn/, theramin, or thereminvox, it is also known as an aetherphone.) It was invented by Russian inventor Léon Theremin (Russian: Лев Сергеевич Термен) in 1919. The controlling section usually consists of two metal antennae which sense the position of the player's hands and control radio frequency oscillator(s) for frequency with one hand, and volume with the other. The electric signals from the theremin are amplified and sent to a loudspeaker. The theremin is an electrophone, a subset of the quintephone family.

To play, the player moves his or her hands around the antennas, controlling frequency (pitch) and amplitude (volume). The theremin is associated with an "eerie" sound, which has led to its use in movie soundtracks such as those in Spellbound, The Lost Weekend, and The Day the Earth Stood Still. Theremins are also used in art music (especially avant-garde and 20th century "new music") and in popular music genres such as rock and pop.
Andy let us try it out after the performance, and I made a few electronic squeals, which was quite fun. Unfortunately, no photo of me, but I do have one of another friend of ours testing it out:

I'm not sure whose finger that is next to him, directing.

Afterwards, we went out with friends to a diner, where I consumed a Diet Rite soda with my meal. So, honestly, that was my last diet beverage. At the diner, a miniature cockroach crawled up onto the counter in front of me. Before I could flick it away, the waitress came by and smack! slapped it flat with her bare hand. Her. Bare. Hand. Yeah, gross. Definitely. But also kinda cool. As the waitress washed her hands, she laughed and said, "I'm no girly girl."

Rambling on.

The only house-related things I did over the weekend were to root some more coleus, in blatant disregard for the label that says "do not propagate" (they're going right back into my own garden, anyway)...

...and begin the toxic cleanup of the crawlspace. If you caught it last week, you may be wondering where my anti-previous-owner rant disappeared to, in which I whinged about how their cats had used the crawlspace as a litter box. Well, I took it down because I felt I was being too mean. Although, after cleaning up three grocery store bags of cat poo so far, I'm thinking of reposting it.

Oh, and I also discovered some bones, just below the surface of the dirt.

Look at that set up, all professional-like with the tape measurer.

I haven't even come close to cleaning up the whole crawlspace yet, so suspect there may be more bones and odd discoveries to be found. So, what do y'all think? Old kitty snack, remains of a beloved childhood pet, or a bit of arsenic and old lace going on?

07 August, 2008

Celebrity Look Alikes

In a complete effort at avoiding work, I plugged my photo into one of those what-celebrity-do-you-look-like thingamajigs at myheritage.com.

Here I used a late-night, slightly tipsy photo of myself:

Apparently, when I have my liquor on, I look most like the former president of Sri Lanka.

Wearing my glasses got me matched up with a bunch of glasses-wearing celebs.

Jack Osbourne and Philip Seymour Hoffman? Really? I'm going to have to remember to pluck my chin hair more often. But I can dig looking like Janeane Garofalo; I always thought she was adorable.

When I brush my hair, I get some hotter-looking celeb matches.

I dunno. Do you think Gary Oldman looks enough like me to be my brother? And my teenage crush on River Phoenix now seems a bit narcissistic.

And when I'm eating eggs, I look most like Sophia Bush or Ariel Sharon.

Seriously, this is a ridiculous piece of software. By manipulating what images I upload, I can match myself to either the Olsen Twins or Carrot Top.

Update: Mom wanted to get in on the fun, so we uploaded one of her, too.

Rita Hayworth, not bad! But Senator Paul Simon? I'm just not seeing it. Here's Ted:

Hugh Jackman and John Candy.

04 August, 2008

Tommy Hilfiger Dharma Bedroom Collection, Basement Office Progress

If you saw my bedroom closet, you'd know I'm not one for name brands and designer labels (you'd also see that it's way too small to share with Ted, which is why we're still living out of boxes until we finish off areas of the basement for better storage). Most of what I wear is folk-inspired, hand-made-things-bought-while-on-vacation, purchased-on-eBay, or generally one-of-a-kind items. (Probably more to do with the cash-poor life of a freelancer than anything else, I think.) So I'm actually a bit surprised at myself for buying Tommy Hilfiger bedding.

After removing the drywall and ceiling boards from my basement office, and vacuuming and scrubbing the heck out of it to get rid of all the coal dust, plasterboard remains, and spiders, Ted and I set up a day bed against one wall. Now the room can do double duty as a guest room, although I know for a fact none of my friends and family will sleep down here while it's still looking too much like a basement. When guests are here, Ted and I will no doubt have to vacate our bedroom.

Even though new bedding was not at the top of the list, I poked around the bed-in-a-bag options at Target, Amazon, etc. I wanted something kind of fun, slightly bohemian, and cheerful enough to distract the eye so you'd perhaps forget, even for a moment, that you're sleeping directly underneath the decorative fireplace upstairs, the bottom of which is now quite visible between the joists. But everything I looked at was just sort of yuck.

Eventually, I stumbled on this Tommy Hilfiger Dharma collection (from 2005, I think). It's perfect--the bold blues and hippie flowers are gorgeous. Originally it would have cost a freakin' fortune--I totalled up over $500 for the odds and ends before I got bored looking up the original prices. But searching on eBay and Amazon, I found all the pieces I wanted--duvet cover, sheet set, dust ruffle, shams, and even the foofy decorative pillow--for a tenth of that, with shipping.

Tommy Hilfiger Dharma Collection. I picked up nearly everything seen here--with the exception of the stripey pillows--in a twin size to fit a day bed.

Damn, I just love a good bargain. Did anybody else get some good shopping done this week?