Sunday, October 28, 2007

Expo greatness, and some work finally done...I hope...

First of all, the Chicago Bungalow and Green Home Expo was FANTASTIC. If you did not attend, you missed out, seriously. They said there were something like 10,000 people there, and it sure seemed like they weren't lying. The exhibitors were wonderful, and we got some great leads and even some coupons and stuff on furniture, gardening places, tankless water heaters, stained glass windows, etc., etc.

One of the seminars we sat in on was a landscaping seminar, describing how they landscaped the front and side yards with a prairie replica and a rain garden with a french drain between the houses. This is, more or less, what I wanted to do with the area between my house and the neighbor to the west. Not all the way along the houses, but definitely where our downspout comes out into the grass. Hopefully, she will be keen on the idea, or I'll just have to dig on my side of the property line. Either way, I got some great guidance for that project, so I'm psyched about it. All in all, it was really, really good. I even got some serious interest on the side "business" I was thinking of starting with a coworker. I didn't walk around promoting it, but I did bounce the idea off folks who seemed as though they might be interested, and they were. So, I'm excited about those prospects now too.

After the Expo, we had a Halloween party to attend...everyone voted me the party winner for my excellent White Goodman (from the movie Dodgeball) costume. I cobbled it together, drew and constructed the chest plate and belt "buckle," (Gina sewed the shoulder pads to the shirt...thanks honey!) and generally did a great job, honestly. Thanks, Luis, for the boots...they were perfect! Here's a picture of me and Gina, who played Kate Veach, the chick from the same movie:

This morning I woke up and decided today was the day to patch the concrete around the stairs and the wing walls as best as I could. So I went to Home Depot and bought some simple Portland Cement and filled in the cracks and attempted to rebuild the crumbled portions of the wing wall foundation. Here's a pic of my haphazard attempts at holding the concrete in place...also, obviously, I don't care if the cement matches the concrete or not. I just care that it is solid and doesn't let anymore seepage into the basement room underneath the stairs. We don't get much, but if water gets in these cracks and freezes, it'll get worse before it gets better.

So we'll see tomorrow how it holds up...if it holds up at all. :) Oh, and last but not least...Gina learned a hard lesson about why you don't leave a real pumpkin out on the porch before least the squirrels got to it before the neighborhood kids did. That may have ended up being worse.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

I don't think I've ever seen or read a worse book...

Preface: 1. I'm a journalist, so I'm a little biased as to what good writing is (but still, this is brutal--to put it in perspective, fellow bloggers, you'd probably never read a blog written this poorly). 2. I also understand how tough it is to write, or to be a fledgling writer, particularly today. 3. I applaud the self-publish movement, when it's done right--this book would be Exhibit A if someone were to argue (for some reason) against self-publishing services. 4. I'm mostly angered by the promoters of the book, for doing a great selling job and allowing me to assume this was a fine piece of writing. It wasn't.

T-h-a-n-k-s G-u-y-s is the title of the book. Do NOT buy it if you are expecting a good read or any kind of depth to any stories within. It is basically the poorly recorded, poorly executed and poorly written memoirs of a former Southwest Sider and his failed attempts to really qualify and quantify the wonderful friendship he and his buddies growing up have maintained. Very cool concept (because it IS rare), but about the worst execution you could imagine.

So I'm done with the book...I basically skimmed about 15 of the remaining 40 pages I had and got the idea. It still sucked.

Anyway, sorry to rant and drag this book's not usually like me. On to bigger and better things...thinking about writing my own book that does a better job than the previously mentioned book does, and dreaming about house projects (oh, and working my ass off at a convention in town this week...our biggest of the year, every two years).

I'm trying to figure out what I need to keep on my mind while walking the Bungalow Expo...for once, I'm a buyer, or at least a prospective buyer, and I'm psyched about that. It'll be nice to look at exhibitors and think, "that's cool for our place," or "that totally is a waste of money," or "hey, we already have that, and that's OK."

It's gonna be fun...but, before that, I have work...and tomorrow I have to be at McCormick at 5:30 a.m., so I'm calling it an early night tonight!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Reading, and waiting for the Bungalow Expo...

I've been spending most of the last week or so creating my Halloween costume, and thus not working on the house much. Although, chalk up a small victory, I was able to replace the burned out lightbulb on the back of the house with the straight ladder we "inherited" from my aunt. So thanks, Auntie Rose! :) Small victories.

Really, I'm kind of in a holding pattern at the moment, because this Saturday is the Chicago Bungalow (and Green Home...whatever) Expo at Merchandise Mart. Gina and I will definitely be there--it's our first Bungalow Expo, and we're hoping we'll be able to get some good leads and good ideas and just take it all in. Ought to be fun, or at least, applicable--this would be the first home show I've ever gone to while actually owning a home, so it becomes immediately applicable. :)

In the meantime, I bought a book on a recommendation from an acquaintance (who is not a journalist, so I shouldn't have trusted his judgment) who also grew up on the South Side (or something like that). It promotes itself as a story about six decades of friendship on the Southwest Side. I've read 40 pages of this thing...was excited to find out it was centered around a neighborhood about a mile from my house (and my dad's house, as he grew up in the same house as I did). But the writing is TERRIBLE. I assumed it would be solid, since it was available on and in Barnes & Noble, Borders, etc. But silly, silly me forgot about the "self-publishing" services out there nowadays. I took a look, and lo and behold, this one was obviously self-published (and not edited...or edited REALLY poorly...REALLY). Furthermore, it pitches itself as telling much more of a story than it actually has told so far. Now, in longer books (this one is short-ish), 40 pages often is the setup...but I'm already through about three chapters in 40 pages, so the setup is long gone.

As of now, I'm pretty highly disappointed...but also ENCOURAGED. Why? I told a friend I was eyeballing this book, and she said, "Why do you want to read that, if you lived it?" I answered with a three-fold reason: 1. The events in this book took place from the 1950s on, 2. It's always nice to read about something you can relate to, and 3. if it sucked, and I think I can do better, then I have motivation.

As of now, I'm motivated. Further fanning the flames...there's been talk of an impromptu grammar school class "reunion" of sorts. That, and this book, have helped some of the memories come rushing back...with the proper "research" amongst my old and current friends, this could be good--but obviously a major work-in-progress. Maybe when the baby comes and I'm up all night with it crying, I can jot down notes. :)

Motivation is one thing, of course...actual execution, on the other hand, is another. Just look at the paint job in the baby's room for an example. ;)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

All right, more mess...

Just when we felt as though we had most everything put away (not really), it's about time, we went and cleaned out the storage facility. Thank you very much, that's $120 a month back in our pockets. But it's a mess around here again, of course. :) Of course, one of the neighbors we had not met walked by and asked if we were moving in...I said, no, actually, we've been here for about 5 months now...yes, it took us five months to find the time to clean out the storage unit...that sucks, but hey, time is what it is.

The good news is, we had no problems getting Gina's grandma's fridge, and -- what I was more concerned about -- her sofa, into the basement. We had to take two doors off, but we got the couch in! So that's sitting in the basement family room, waiting for that room to be refinished, probably over the winter, I hope. When I re-locate the camera, I'll take a picture of it, so you all can see the fine craftsmanship -- Gina's grandpa built it from scratch long, long ago. So, it's an heirloom, it's a little "vintage" looking, but it's not out of style, I would say.

We also were able to get the old basement fridge out and the "new" fridge in without a problem. The old fridge was gone within 30 minutes of being in the alley...those junk guys move fast, let me tell you.

Tomorrow, I have to go to my aunt's house down on the South Side to see what we can inherit from there...for some, this would be a morbid weekend, in that we're picking up furniture and such from the homes of deceased relatives, but it's not.

Really, it's more tiring than anything. So now the fun of going through all this stuff begins. Hopefully, we'll be able to find space for everything.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Superstars in the making...

OK, well, not really. But, still, our episode of HGTV's "Designed to Sell," which aired last night, was good. We were pleased with how it came out and laughed quite a bit. If you missed it, I believe it's running again on November 12, so check your local listings and mark your calendars!

Otherwise, I visited my old haunt, Springfield, Mo., this weekend for two friends' wedding (marrying each other--I teased them that they owe me for moving out and getting "out of their way" so they could get married). It was good to see them, even though I was there for about 24 hours only. I did, however, realize I had never really looked at the housing stock out there before. Probably because I lived there right out of college and wasn't really in the market for a house 10 hours away from Chicago, the center of my universe, pretty much.

But this time, while driving around town, I peeked at some houses, and didn't realize how many very pretty arts & crafts and California-style bungalows they had. Some really pretty Victorians too. I was surprised, and then somewhat bummed, particularly knowing that these houses probably were a "bargain" compared to what we pay for housing in Chicago.

It got me somewhat nostalgic and marginally saddened that things didn't work out for me down there--that my situation, in a sense, at the time, gave Springfield the shaft of sorts. I tell Gina all the time that, really, Springfield is a very nice place to live, with lots of benefits, particularly if you have a family. But, because I viewed it as temporary from the get-go, didn't make many friends or get involved in anything substantial, didn't have any relatives, and worked the night and weekend shifts at the paper, the city didn't get a fully square deal from me--even though I was able to see the promise there. Yeah, there were negatives, but the positives outweighed them a little more.

In fact, I spoke with my former supervisor at the paper, and we were talking about how Springfield was "growing up," and I said I had a good time, and it was well worth it. And she commented that even though I might not have viewed it as progress personally for myself, it was progress professionally. That's very true...and it got me to thinking that, really, personally, it was progress as well.

I'll always have a tie to Springfield, emotionally. Why? Well, it's where I spent the most formative year of my adult life thus far, really. I was on my own for the first REAL time ever, with only the phone to reach out and get help from family. I had to figure things out for myself, stand up for myself, become responsible and grow up really fast. I had to learn that, regardless, work was different than anything I'd ever been involved with, and that I was now a "working man" who had to hold that job down or face the consequences. I also had to learn, very quickly, that the world wasn't going to bend over backward to help me, no matter what happened in the past. I had to fend for myself, make my own choices and transform myself into an adult.

Springfield, people said, would be a culture shock for me, the northern big-city Chicagoan. They were right: It was a culture shock...but more so a shock to my personal systemic culture than to the big-city persona I exuded.

Thank God I'm a fast learner. But part of me will always miss Springfield and will always wonder what might have happened had I not sent out those unsolicited emails asking for jobs with the three Chicago newspapers, or had one of those papers responded and subsequently brought me home. It's amazing the difference one instance (a "Choose Your Own Adventure" style of decision, for example) can make on an eternity.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Mold? Probably just's been a bad year...

So, I was growing more and more concerned about the hidden presence of mold in this house, particularly as I found myself sneezing and occasionally coughing, despite my continuous battle through the use of Claritin on a daily basis to combat my vicious hay fever bouts.

Then, yesterday, my fears were partially allayed when I found out my Dad (from whom I inherited the wonderful hay fever gene) was basically leveled by a hay fever attack in the morning. He and my Mom were going to come over and help prime and paint the baby's room, which still sits only partially (and I stress partially) primed. Well, after that downer, of sorts, I decided to take the day off, as well, watch football, do some overdue shopping and just outright relax. It worked out, because I actually got my own hay fever attack in the evening that lasted into the night and disrupted (somewhat) my sleep, making me a bit tired today. Made me feel a little better about maybe there not being mold hanging out in our walls. But I'm still leery that when I pull that wood paneling off the basement family room walls, I'll find a jungle back there (I know, mold isn't a plant, but you get my drift). We shall see, we shall see.

That said, we've not made a lot of progress on things. We've been soooooooo busy with other things, it's been ridiculous. Hopefully, we'll get a couple weekends' respite before the holiday madness kicks in.

That said, I'm renting a van, once and for all, and we're cleaning out the storage space on the 13th of this month, come hell or high water. We could use that extra $100 that is going to line the pockets of the folks who own the storage facility we don't need. So, I'll get a crew together and we'll clean it out, pick up the couch and fridge from Gina's grandma's old place, figure out how to get it all in the house, and go from there.

Then, hopefully, we'll get the ball rolling on a few other things too.