To Chicago with Love from Denver

“And if Denver is home,” the pilot says, “then welcome home.”

I’ve always been proud of being a Chicagoan—we have a very in-your-face way of saying our a’s, and we won’t think twice before cutting you off in conversation or on the highway, but we manage to be just a little less full of ourselves and a little less annoying than New Yorkers. Also, our city is clean and the lake is beautiful.

But while I’m proud to be from Chicago, I also recognize how little I know about the place and how loose my grip on the title Chicagoan is. You see, I grew up an hour from the city, not even in the same county (it is forty-five minutes by car not in rush hour and an hour by train if you took the Metra. And you should always take the Metra).

I grew up taking the train downtown to Ogilvie every year to go to the Lyric Opera, the Chicago Symphony, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, The Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum, The Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium, and numerous other museums. We always went to Navy Pier and sometimes to Buckingham Fountain, and we would skate under The Bean and look at the Christmas story along Marshall Fields’ windows in winter. But I realized that I didn’t know where Hyde Park was and that I hadn’t been to Lincoln Park Zoo in ages and that there was so much more to the city than the Navy Pier Ferris wheel and Millennium Park.

But I had time. I was going to end up in Chicago. I knew it. That’s why I chose a faraway Georgia school for college—to have some years away from Chicago before I moved back. That’s one of the reasons we picked the University of Illinois for law school—so that we were close to Chicago and would most likely get a job there. My husband even spent two summers in the city for internships, and we turned several evenings into dates, wandering around Grant Park and the Loop.

And I still had time. I was, at the time, only three hours from the city. And we were going to move downtown someday, or at least into one of the suburbs, and I would have time to discover just why I was so proud to belong to Chicago and what other things there were to love about it as we went.

So you can imagine my surprise when we moved to Colorado. I have nothing against Colorado, except that it isn’t green and its mountains are too, well, rocky. And that it doesn’t have the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the Lyric, Oak Street Beach, or—

Or, I guess, the fact that it isn’t Chicago and that I have never loved a city the way I love Chicago—not even Oxford, which is saying something—and that I am having trouble getting over the grief of not getting to know it like I always planned I would.

Not that I can’t visit or anything. I just have to be more intentional.

But that’s what brought this on:

 

We could have been close,
You and me.
I always thought we would be.
I would have loved your sharp turns
and bridges
And you would have taught me how
to love humanity while also seeing it.
I miss how I saw myself in the glass
and silver reflections, and I miss how
we would have grown together,
revealing secrets to each other the
way the river hides and finds itself as
it slips around the buildings.
Perhaps it would have been a bad
relationship, and I would have
resented your loudness and the way you
bare everything old and new and
wrecked.
Perhaps there wouldn’t have been
room for me, and you would have
suffocated me the way you’ve
suffocated the sky and stars that
spill out over the lake.
But I think I would have learned that
while you may knock me over with a
brush of your broad shoulders,
You also always have arms open to
enfold more,
Including the traveler and the
homesick
Me
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On Moving Inland: This Blog Is Taking a New Direction, and So Am I

There are no streets to walk on, no maps you can rely on;
Faith and guts to guide you, wander ‘til you find you;
Only raw desire, no match to give you fire,
You’ll have to trust your heart
 
They don’t believe in oceans, you, you were a sailor
Who burned your ships and walked on, far away you walked on.
You keep turning inland where no man is an island.
It’s where you’re supposed to be.
 
You keep walking inland where no man is an island—
Come on home to me.
 
Afraid of your convictions, they said the land would change you;
Steady your confessions, your course make no corrections
When you are a stranger, hold your tongue and wager
Love will set you free
Until it sets you free.
 
You keep walking inland where no man is an island—
Come on home to me.
 
Just follow your desire,
Leave it all, you’re leaving all.
Just burn it in the fire
 
Of everything you once knew, and everyone that knew you,
Remove the shoes you came on, feel the earth you’re made from
Pack up all your questions, just keep heading inland,
And come on home to me.

Jars of Clay, “Inland”

This song is based on the story of Odysseus, who walked so far inland that the people didn’t know what a paddle was. So Odysseus was pretty out of his element.

That’s how I’ve been feeling lately.

Not everything is different, but enough is that it feels like I am in another world. I live in a different climate 1,000 miles away from my family, I have mountains blocking my view, I’ve applied to grad school, I’ve juggled three jobs, none in publishing though all about writing, I’m resigning from one of them, I’ve started writing not one but three books—and had I known exactly where all of this was going when I was eighteen and said that I wanted to be an editor, I would have been very doubtful that much of this was a good idea.

And yet, here I am. And while I feel like I have no idea where I’m going and only a vague idea of how I got here, I can look around with wonder and say that it is beautiful.

And since I’m in the midst of new things, I thought it was time that this website got an upgrade: I want to share more of my writing with you, so be on the lookout.  I’ve already posted A Love Poem About Home, which will give you a small taste of what I’ll be putting up.

You keep walking inland where no man is an island—
Come on home to me.

How to be a Craigslist Furniture Shopper Super Person

In my quest to become a welcoming and frugal housekeeper, I discovered a love of Craigslist. I have always been a thrift shopper, so most of my clothes don’t come to me new. But shopping for furniture was something entirely new to me when I got engaged.

Furniture is expensive. Just look at the price tag of a couch when you are in Macy’s or another department store and you’ll see that. That’s why Craigslist is so awesome. You can get really nice stuff for a great price if you have the time to find exactly what you want, and you are willing to go for a drive to get it.  Luke and I managed to furnish our whole apartment with some incredibly nice things for only $700 (okay, we had a few freebies like a free desk. But most of it was from daily Craigslist surfing).

A fraction of my Craigslist Finds: Shelves – $10 each. Corner desk – $15. TV Center – $20. Chair and couch – $200. Steamer trunk coffee table – $10.

Like most things, however, your best success will come with organization and forethought. Here is a list of seven ways you can become a Craigslist connoisseur and find awesome furniture for cheap:

1.  Decide Where You’ll Drive

If you don’t live in a big city, you might want to consider looking at a nearby city’s Craigslist for more options. So since I’m in Central Illinois, I would want to be looking at Chicago or St. Louis. Set these boundaries before you start looking so you won’t waste time searching in unrealistic locations.

You also need a pick-up truck, trailer, or suburban that you can borrow to pick everything up (if you don’t own one). Ask permission to use the truck BEFORE you ever need it. That way, when a great deal comes along, you can just check to see if the truck is available, not whether you can use it at all. And if you are going to be driving three hours one-way to get something from another city, you probably want to clear that many miles with the truck’s owner first.

For example, when I was living in Chicago trying to gather furniture for our first home, I generally stuck to results in the western suburbs. When calculating gas money, stress, and time, it just wasn’t worth it to me to go downtown Chicago for a couch I might like. So I never did, although I did look occasionally. The one time I went really far was when we got our couch. It was clear past Joliet and took an hour and a half to reach. But since our couch is EXACTLY what we wanted for an AWESOME price, my dad kindly drove with me to get it in his Suburban.

2. Give Yourself Time

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t find what you want right away. You’ll get the best deals and be happiest if you think of your Craigslist shopping as a long-term investment. The more you get familiar with Craigslist, the more you’ll know a good price when you see one. And the more you shop, the more you’ll know what you want. I took months to collect all our furniture.

Assuming finding all the great furniture you want will take time. DON’T WAIT to look for furniture until you are already in a new place with no furniture! It would be very uncomfortable to sit on the floor for a month, waiting to find the “perfect” couch. Having time (and a free storage place) was one of the best things about my Craigslist searching. Thankfully, I had my sister’s basement to store everything until we moved.

3. Take Action as Soon as you See What You Want

If you see something that is perfect and at a great price, don’t wait to call on it! If it’s that great a deal, chances that somebody else has already snagged it are pretty high. This happened to me several times. So call, email, or both as soon as possible. If I really wanted something, I did both. A few times I was the first to email but not to call, so I missed out.

4. Check Craigslist Twice Daily

This goes hand in hand with the previous step—the more often you check, the more likely you are to see a great deal before everybody else. It amazes me how fast I got in the habit of checking Craigslist—once as soon as I woke up, and once around dinner or before I went to sleep. Checking twice daily also doesn’t take that long because you are already familiar with most of the posts and are just checking out a handful of the most recent ones. You won’t need to dig pages in—you’ll have already seen those posts.

Here’s the thing about these two steps: they may not be a big deal if you are just in Central Illinois. But in Chicago? Yeah, you’ll need to be pretty aggressive. And by aggressive I mean fast and consistent, so check twice daily and call on it ASAP.

5. Be Creative in Your Searches

When you are starting your search, begin limited and move broad. I began searching by limiting location to Chicago Western Suburbs, typing in “red leather tufted couch” and capping the price to $200. Once I had gone through the handful of results, I removed “red” and searched for any leather tufted couch under $200. Then I removed “tufted,” and then “leather,” and then I added “red” back in. I interchanged the word “couch” for “sofa.” I searched the whole Chicagoland area occasionally, when results were particularly slim. You get the idea. I did the same thing when looking for our bed, entertainment center, and hutch.

I also moved around my price limitations. Since there were dozens of posts with no price listed (which generally means they are expensive, I found), I created a bottom price of $10. After all, who is going to be selling a couch worth owning for that or less? Occasionally I removed the bottom price or raised the top price, depending on the results I was getting.

6. Be Consistent

If you say you are going to pick a couch up at 5pm on Friday, do it. Nobody appreciates getting blown off. And if there is a waiting list of takers, you probably just lost your shot. It really does depend on the person, though. For instance, if my dad and I had been an hour later getting to that couch, the seller already had another buyer to pick it up that day. However, when my parents forgot to go pick up our bedroom set, the seller very graciously rescheduled, and even put up with my parents running an hour or so late to get it the second time. So it does depend, but don’t take chances if you really want something.

On that note of consistency, sooner is better than later when you really want something or know there is a waiting list. Don’t wait until the end of the week! Make time in your schedule and get it tonight or tomorrow if you can.

7. Be Smart

If you are a girl, take a guy with you to the seller, whether it is your dad, spouse, brother, or friend. While I basically took on the Craigslisting by myself, Luke was very insistent that I always had something with me. Usually it was my dad, but I think one time I went with my mom.

I never had a bad or creepy experience with Craigslist, even with the “might be too good to be true” deals. So I don’t think you need to get paranoid. But all the same, assume that there are creeps out there and take intelligent precautions.

Disclaimer:

While I was able to get a ton of furniture really cheap, I had several things working for me:

  1.  I knew exactly what I wanted so I could search very specifically.
  2.  I had a whole year to find exactly what I wanted.
  3.  I had free storage for whatever I bought until we moved.
  4.  I had access to several large vehicles big enough for hauling furniture.
  5.  I was in a metropolitan area with a lot of foreclosures.

This last one may seem a little weird to bring up, but foreclosures probably mean the best deals for Craigslist shoppers because owners need to get rid of almost everything as quickly as possible. This was during the spring and summer of 2011 when foreclosures were at record highs, so the market may have been flooded with awesome furniture at low prices. I’m not really sure if it made a big difference, but I’m guessing it at least helped.

All that to say: You can find awesome furniture for less than half the regular price on Craigslist. It might actually be one of the best ways to find furniture, as there are plenty of standard couches, beds, and tables for great prices. If you need appliances, my mom and sister both got nice dishwashers AND nice washers and dryers from Craigslist. For the more artsy or bohemian, Craigslist is like a giant garage sale where sooner or later you will find that awesome antique table or chair that has just the perfect character for your home. That’s what happened to us!

Phew! That was a long post. So, what do you think? How has your luck been with Craigslist?

Curtains 101

Confession: I don’t know how to hang curtains. In all the apartments I’ve moved into, I’ve always been too cheap to buy a curtain rod, or there was already a curtain rod in place. Like our current apartment–It came with these neutral and 80’s-ish curtains, which I took down and replaced with World Market and Target curtains. This infographic showed me that my curtains are technically in the wrong place, especially for a small space that needs to appear bigger:

The Rule

The rule, as I’ve heard from several sources, is to place the curtain rod about an inch or two from the ceiling, and to give the rod about six to eight inches past the window PER SIDE. That seems like a lot more curtain space than I’ve ever had in my tiny apartments, but I can see how it expands the look of a window. Next time I’m hanging up curtains, I’ll use this guide. Here is a picture of my curtains currently:

Matching Curtains

It is also traditional to use the same material and style for every window in a room to create a uniform look. As you can see from this picture, showing the other window in our apartment, we haven’t done this either. Mostly because the desk would have squished the curtains anyway, and we ran out of World Market gift cards to buy more curtains. So the apartment’s original curtains stayed, ugly as they are. Thankfully, we have so many other interesting things in our apartment that I don’t think they are noticeable.

We also usually keep a chair next to the desk, so the space fills up pretty fast (this picture is from pretty soon after we moved in).

Ah well. When we move and have more money, I’ll get REAL curtain rods and hang them the RIGHT way.

First Things First: I Heart Molly Weasley

Last week I stumbled upon this article about Molly Weasley’s hospitality. I thought it was brilliant.

Hospitality is about welcoming the stranger.

That’s the kind of home I want to create. While this blog is about home decor, and I will definitely be posting all sorts of pinterest-y things, the bottom line is that I want a home that welcomes. I want to be a host that welcomes.

I know what this looks like because my mom is very possibly the most hospitable person you will ever meet. You walk up the beautiful wrap around front porch and through the excellently decorated rooms, but what really sells the whole thing is how much you feel at home. Mom will be the first one to take your coat, offer you a drink, and ask if you’ve eaten. She’s not afraid to invite you to help in whatever task she’s taking on (like, hanging Christmas lights for my sister’s wedding, or sewing mittens out of old wool sweaters). My mom knows absolutely everything about etiquette, but she draws a line with her Emily Post book when it starts focusing on tradition instead of making the other person feel comfortable.

For some reason, this natural knack of helping people feel at home and everything didn’t pass on to me as easily as her creativity and eye for detail. So I’m hoping I can help it form just as I have my love of paint and shelving. Here goes!

Mom playing host at Luke’s and my wedding reception