When You Just Gut to Rehab

Photo Gut to Rehab

Our elderly neighbors ran up to us and hugged us tightly. “…We heard you are moving north and we hate to see you go. Are you heading to Minnesota? …” “… No…” I said “…Just to the north side of the building…”

Back then, it was a win-win situation. Mr. Wiz* was eager to renovate and Big A* and I didn’t want to move, so we compromised. We moved three times in the same Chicago condominium building, buying and renovating units that were in their original condition.

There’s a price you pay for the privilege of transformation:

– A deep, intimate and complicated relationship with your contractor that, for the moment, takes precedence overall else. He is your lifeline to the construction-free world that you long for. You hunger for his voice, delight in his every word, sulk when he forgets to return your calls and look forward to his visits with unbridled anticipation.

– Those sleepless nights, as you review your decisions over and over again. Did I hear the salesman say, under his breath that it was just a representative sample? Do I really want my appliances to look like NASA space modules, communicate with my smartphone and plan my meals without me? Is brown the new black or is black the new brown?

– We came up with a sophisticated privacy system to counter the lack of doors (yelling “…Don’t come in! …” seemed to work), took turns vacuuming the paper protecting the wood floors (which also served as a means of communication) and washed dishes in the bathtub (still not sure why the new sink had backed up).

Even though we felt as if we had done our homework, we came up with some useful ideas that seemed to be missing from the how to books:

– Designate one person in your household to handle all communications with your contractor. This will eliminate any confusion or misunderstandings.

– When working on drawing up a contract, offer as much detail as you can. We prepared spreadsheets by room with the headings entitled “Demo, Construct, Electric and Cabinet and Fixtures.” Names and model numbers of any items to be purchased were also included.

– Remember that if you veer off the signed contract in any way, a change order must be written and signed by both parties.

– Affix sticky notes directly to any areas that are still in need of completion. This will bring attention to the work that is still outstanding and get it done in a timely manner.

Each time the work was completed and I had found just the right spot for my most cherished possessions, I couldn’t imagine packing them up and moving. But, pack, unpack and relocate them again we have through the years.

It’s that rush of excitement that comes with the visual culmination of all your plans and design ideas created into something new that never gets old. Funny how, at that moment, any unpleasantness is never recalled.

For those of us that can see the light at the end of those dust bunny filled tunnels, we’ll continue to move through life glancing affectionately at the Home Depot circulars, drawing up design ideas on cocktail napkins and searching for the next place to hang our hat.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

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How Our New Home Found Us

Photo How Are Home Found Us

We love you, dear Austin and didn’t want to leave
But, home prices and no zoning had led us to believe

Our horizons should broaden, our focus widen for sure
Would any other Texas city have your allure?

So, with pen, paper and a positive stance
We compiled our wish list and then by chance

A vibrant, new friend gave us food for thought
As she regaled us with tales of the home she’d just bought

It was all she had dreamed of, all she would desire
And she was able to get in just under the wire

In her late 50s, she met the 55+ regulation
Now she’s the poster child for Sun City and our new inspiration

She’s swimming, she’s golfing, she’s dancing and that’s not all
She’s joined the hiking club, the Spanish club and is playing pickle ball

The amenities intrigued us and as her new friends were introduced
We wondered; are they actors and are we being seduced?

We pondered, we contemplated and finally our instincts we did obey
So, lookout Sun City, we’re heading your way!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go Where Your Heart Moves You

Photo Valentines Day

 

I always thought that I was the one that initiated our relationship. After eyeing the cover of that GQ at a newsstand, the photo of that young man in the pin stripe suit and horn-rimmed glasses became the basis of my positive thinking exercises until the hair on my arms stood straight up on the day that I met Mr. Wiz*.

He says he saw me in the taxi next to his at a red light and thought to himself that he’d like to meet me. When he noticed that the man sitting next to me was one of his co-workers, he knew he’d have that chance very soon.

Ours was initially a professional relationship and then a friendship, which blossomed into a business partnership. We spent 24/7 together, working hard to build our housewares sales representation agency. Prospective clients were never invited to our tony business card address; little did they know it was Mr. Wiz’s Park Avenue South studio apartment, chock full of product samples and files.

After our first big sale to a store in the then new and trendy SOHO neighborhood, Mr. Wiz suggested a celebratory dinner in a new restaurant. I remember thinking it might be more prudent to wait until we actually got paid, but his “go big or go home” attitude mirrored my dad’s philosophy and I was smitten. So much so that when he showed me on paper that by moving in together we could afford to rent a Fifth Avenue showroom, I was in.

Our yin and yang continued successfully after we married and Mr. Wiz was offered the chance to run a company in Chicago. From there, we headed to Arkansas for another job opportunity. It was there that he blindfolded me, surprising me with the idea to buy a derelict car dealership in the middle of a tourist town and turn it into a store. Mr. Wiz was a partner in a blacksmithing company when Big A* was born and we traveled to trade shows in a big truck, with Big A sitting happily between us in a specially designed car seat custom built by the company’s welders.

For a while, it was fun living in what I liked to describe as the movie set of “Little House on the Prairie,” but we missed the city life that we were accustomed to. A brief move back to New York left us thinking that maybe we should pick the city rather than the job, which brought us to Chicago.

Losing the vote to move from the area, Mr. Wiz was content to rehab units in our condo building and Big A and I were happy that our only move was from one floor to another. Years later, we would finally bid Chicago farewell, retire early and head to Austin, Texas where we currently reside. Soon after arriving in Texas and in order to keep the momentum going, Mr. Wiz invited me to walk 500 miles across Spain on the Camino with him.

After all these years, I still see the same sparkle in Mr. Wiz’s eyes and that smirk on his face as he conjures up another adventure. We are still two peas in a pod, though the pod has now become the vessel that moves us from one exploit to another. Sometimes I wonder where I’d be now, had I not taken a chance on someone who was more like the person I wanted to be than the person that I actually was.

When Gloria Estefan was asked the secret of her loving relationship with Emilio, her spouse of many years, she smiled and answered “…Remember to shave your legs…” I knew exactly what she meant; don’t take any of the facets of your relationship for granted. Keep those first date feelings close and use them to propel each day into an environment that houses a bit of mystery and romance; live, laugh and go where life takes you.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Mr. Wiz!

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helping to Keep Austin Weird  

Photo Weird

I’m too excited to sleep. I blame you for this, Austin; you overstimulate me. You work hard to maintain your city’s official slogan “Keep Austin Weird” by tantalizing me with the bizarre, the off-beat, and you keep peaking my curiosity. And now that you have recently been named the best place to live in America by U.S. News and World Report, there will be no stopping you.

As I reflect on my first year of living here, it’s been a great ride, made up of interesting experiences that I am not sure could or would have happened anywhere else:

Central Market

On arrival, we need to get our bearings and Mr. Wiz* has a plan. Having visited a Central Market in Houston (shop at this gourmet marketplace on steroids, then dance to live music at night), he logically reasons that locating the Austin store will lead us to a great neighborhood, so he’ll ask at their information desk. Pointing out that the staff may be more prepared to locate a product by aisle than to relocate us, I decide to wait in the car. A few minutes later, I am surprised to see a woman in a cowboy hat and boots walk out of the store with Mr. Wiz and shake his hand. He had seen her on line at the information desk and perused her shopping cart. Noticing an excellent wine selection, he decided to ask her where we should live. He was not surprised at all that she enthusiastically lauded her neighborhood and pointed him in the direction of a new building. We signed a lease there two days later.

Pints and Poses

The Hyatt Hotel and I have accomplished the impossible; we got Mr. Wiz* to attend a monthly yoga class. Studies have proven that if you offer a guy a free beer, he will happily execute a downward dog pose, no questions asked. In the spirit of community (turns out that yoga and beer are great conversation starters), the hotel offers complimentary parking, a yoga class and a glass of craft beer.

Chicken S**t Bingo

The unassuming Little Longhorn Saloon is a tiny place that looks more like a church with a steeple than a bar. The band is loud, the beer is cold and the place is packed, both inside and out. It’s a Sunday afternoon and my family is still shocked that this was my birthday destination of choice. I explain to them that this is a famous venue and we’re going to be experiencing a bit of the original Austin. While we visit the chickens and chat with Ginny, “the chicken whisperer,” we learn that the afternoon will include “chickens, chicken feed and what happens after chickens eat.” The $2 ticket has a number on it and will get you one chance on the giant plywood bingo table. I’m sure that these chickens have their SAG cards; they are real professionals. They strut around the table, working the room into a cheering frenzy. As luck would have it, the chicken leaves her “mark” on my number and I am the winner of $115 in cash!

Keep Austin Weird Festival

We had so much fun last year volunteering to assist with the 5K check in that we decide to do it again. Known as the “Slowest 5K Race on the Planet,” everyone is welcome to participate and a bizarre costume will win you a prize. Young, old, babies in strollers and dogs all strut their stuff and stop along the way at different stations for beverages (alcoholic and nonalcoholic), ice cream and activities. At the festival, I cheered on aardvarks as they raced and chatted with a woman in a mermaid costume, who explained the story of her tattoos to me.

Weird Homes Tour

I am very excited for tour day to come and even more so now, since I am the winner of 2 VIP tickets that include the tour and the after-party. By the end of the day, we will have driven 90 miles all over Austin, investigating homes that range from a bucolic wonderland in a nature preserve, with quotes from Emily Dickinson poems written over the doorways and pastoral views out every French door to a series of domes lovingly pieced together into an artist’s retreat, rumored to have special healing powers to a traditional home on the outside and a Feng Shui inspired home on the inside with a red velvet lounge room and a royal blue cosmic room featuring a 100” flat-screen TV (most guys did not get past this point and just stood, gaping at the TV).

The owners of the next group of homes, self-confessed pack rats, delighted in the fact that they were living in a never to be completed work of art. Whether it was a police car hood with working sirens on the ceiling, doll heads under glass, a wall of salt and pepper shakers, a lamp made from a 1950s salon hair dryer or a hollowed-out armadillo containing guest washcloths, each treasure had a story. Chatting with the enthusiastic homeowners, who were so warm and welcoming, I left the day wondering if there was any room in my perfectionist personality for a little eccentricity. Sensing Mr. Wiz’s concern over the souvenirs I collect during the day, I ease his worries and announce that I am not adopting hoarding tendencies any time soon.

We arrive at Indra’s Awarehouse for the after-party. It’s a large metal roofed warehouse, filled to the brim with the owner’s art and collections of oddities. The surreal setting is right out of a Fellini film: a barefooted band plays on a carpeted stage; as if on cue, a dog drops a deflated ball at the feet of guests, prompting them to throw it on to the stage for him to chase; scantily dressed acro-yoginis glide up yards of silk fabric and perform above our heads. A cocktail seems in order, even though the professionally dressed bar staff looks out of place. We laughingly imagine that this is probably just another day for the owner; waking up to coffee in the morning and greeting some hangers-on at the bar (with bar staff still in uniform) and waving to the overhead performers that continue all day long. Hungry, we peruse the snacks. While, protein is always welcome, tonight it is in the form of bags of flavored crickets and mealy worms. We grab some regular popcorn and eagerly await some daring guests to taste them and offer a critique. We learn from the more adventurous that anything crunchy with a barbecue flavor is edible after some of Austin’s handmade Tito’s Vodka.

Austin, you give me the same feeling that I experienced whenever my grandmother would open her coat and let me snuggle in with her. You opened up your big, warm, wonderful, weird arms to me. Your people are so friendly and so welcoming. Sure, the temperature heats up, but living here makes me feel so cool. You have that big city vibe with the twang of Texas mixed in. You seem to bring out the best in me and I feel like this is where I am supposed to be. I only hope I can continue to do my civic duty and generate an accepted level of weirdness.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

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Moving Mania: It All Depends What State You’re In

Photo Move 2
Where is everyone going? Whether it’s housing or job related, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in every 8.5 people are relocating.

I’m not sure how it all started for me. Somewhere between a curiosity about a peripatetic lifestyle, longing to eat dinner with my extended family every Sunday and meeting Mr. Wiz* (who was a “retail brat,” moving with his family each time his father was transferred), it just happened. Once it did, I took pleasure in the fact that, with each move, the slate was wiped clean and I had the opportunity to start over and reinvent myself.

When I look back, each experience had its unique qualities. I tried to find the best of every city, made it my own while I lived there, then happily moved on, tucking those memories away into the layers that formed who I am today:

  • Mr. Wiz moves from Cleveland, Ohio to a Park Avenue studio in New York City. We start our sales representative business together. Business cards look great, but no one is invited to his cramped quarters.
  • Little by little, Mr. Wiz is moving his belongings to my place in Mohegan Lake, New York. He presents a spreadsheet at dinner one evening, showing me that we could afford a New York City showroom for our business if we move in together: deal done!
  • Our Mohegan Lake rental goes co-op. We spearhead our fellow renters to unite for better purchase terms and are relieved to find out that the young couple with a new business who are turned down for a loan is not us.
  • Executives from an English company fly over for the day to meet us and offer us both a position. It’s too good to pass up and we’re off to Lake Bluff, Illinois.
  • A Chicago company with a subsidiary in Arkansas sweetens the pot just enough and our next stop is Heber Springs, Arkansas.
  • Mr. Wiz excitedly surprises me with his idea to buy a historic building in nearby Mountain View, Arkansas. Once a car dealership, it’s now utilized as a warehouse by the company he is running. We scrape the black paint off the windows and experiment with selling their products at the upcoming Bean Festival. Fifty thousand tourists crowd the little town, we sell out, renovate the building, move upstairs and our store Mountain View Mercantile is born.
  • Once Big A* is born, we are starting to wonder where he will go to school (Arkansas is not high in its educational rankings) and missing family and friends. We head back to Merrick, New York, a suburb of N.Y.C. and home of my parents.
  • As hard as we try, we just don’t seem to fit into the suburban lifestyle. This time, rather than have the job dictate our new city, Mr. Wiz decides that we should first choose the city and the job will follow. We choose Chicago and after a few phone calls, he is offered a position there.
  • From our city rental, we move to a city condo.
  • We move two more times within the same condo building. It’s a win-win; Mr. Wiz gets to gut and renovate and Big A and I are happy not to have to leave the area.
  • We (J.C.*, Mr. Wiz and I) decide to put our Chicago condos up for sale. They both sell quicker than expected and before we know it, we are in Austin, Texas, signing leases for rental apartments.
  • Our heads have almost stopped spinning. Once we get our bearings, I’m not sure what will be next.

The word moving is defined as “to change one’s place, position or residence; to make progress; to advance.” In one way or another, I hope that I never stop moving.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.