Chicago, year #1: our apartment and beyond

Today is September 1st. Exactly 1 year ago today, our moving van was double parked on a one-way street and we were hauling load after load of boxes and furniture through a little courtyard and up a flight and a half of stairs. We had come from 3 years in the small town of Newark, Delaware, and were eager to hit the big city.

We have not been disappointed . . . but it didn’t start that way: my first glimpse of the apartment was dismal. We had caught our complex in the middle of a management change, so there were no on-site landlords. Thus, our apartment had not been cleaned. From the filthy toilet and bathtub to the grease-covered stove and oven to the dirt-encrusted window sills and sticky hardwood floor with mysterious stains and spots, it was all looking very depressing. To flesh things out (sorry, gentlemen please avert your ears) let’s just say it was also ‘that time of the month,’ which made the disgusting toilet seat staring me in the face, soiled and stained by the previous resident, an even uglier prospect. It’s just not what a girl needs at that time in her life. After hearing my husband’s enthusiasm for the place, seeing it in person for the first time brought me to tears. I held them back as I lugged the boxes up the flight-and-a-half of stairs. My husband could tell something was wrong, but I knew that if I spoke I would completely fall apart, so I held my tongue and prayed that the waves of disappointment and frustration would stop soon, or at least become more bearable.

Thank God I held my tongue! The waves passed as we continued to work, and that evening was spent scrubbing the place down. A short Vietnamese man on a bicycle showed up with a bucket of cleaning products and removed the layer of dirt from the bathtub. Management replaced our toilet seat on day 1 and replaced the oven a day or two later. They fixed our electrical issues and installed a missing light fixture in our bathroom.

My parents decided to stick around for the rest of the week to help us out; what that meant to my husband and me, they will never know. I seriously don’t know what we would have done without their encouragement and know-how. My Dad made almost daily trips to the local hardware store to get mysterious objects that did things like level the bookcases on the uneven floor and color in rubbed-off spots or scratches on our wood furniture. I may even know now that these objects are called “shims” and “wood markers.” Are you impressed? Anyway, some day I need to brag about my parents’ incredible handyman skills. They have remodeled every house they’ve lived in, building cabinets and beds, tiling walls and floors, tearing down and building up walls–wow. Mom, Dad, are you sure I wasn’t adopted? And could you please confirm that you’re proud I now know the word “shims”? It’s important for my self-esteem.

Dirt was scoured away, the kitchen floor was scrubbed and waxed, holes were drilled, boxes unpacked, and a wonderful trip to Ikea (which has made me a faithful follower) resulted in a butcher’s block to add counter space to our kitchen, shelving for the kitchen and bathroom, rugs for the living areas, and a myriad of other things that made our place more comfortable and home-like. I was starting to feel a lot happier.

God blessed me with a job 6 weeks after moving to Chicago. Broadway Armory Park is right next door, where I take yoga classes. The library, grocery store and El stop are within about 3 minutes of our door. I love our Thorndale stop, and I never want to forsake it for another. Here it is in the glorious Saturday morning light:

Our neighborhood is safe, and we live on this beautiful tree-lined street.

And I haven’t even mentioned the beach yet, which is only 2 street East and keeps our place cooler than most on hot summer days.

I have to ask myself–could it be any better? I don’t think so–at least not ’til heaven.

Here are some shots of our apartment as it stands, one year in. In the morning a yellow glow just floods the house, and combined with the smell of coffee wafting from our trusty pre-programmed coffee maker–well, I love it. We’ll start in the 2nd bedroom:

We split the livingroom into 2 areas; the computer area:

. . . and the main area:

We also split what was a huge dining room into an eating area . . .

. . . and a little library. This is my favorite spot to sit on a slow Saturday morning, with my Bible and coffee in hand.

My husband also loves playing the guitar in this space.

There is an open bookshelf between the two areas that houses both books and dishes. And yes, those are Baileys glasses. If you have never experienced Baileys (or any Irish cream, really) in your coffee, your life has not been what it could be. But it’s not too late for anyone! Don’t give up on yourself yet!

On Saturday we had a celebratory breakfast at our local diner, one of my husband’s favorite neighborhood spots.

We walked down to the lake . . .

. . . and then had a spontaneous day out and about in the city, which included seeing the movie “Inception” downtown (definitely recommend it), visiting the Art Museum, and going to an open-air ballet performance at Millenium Park. 

So a word of encouragement–if you have just moved or experienced a life change and are feeling overwhelmed, appalled, and despairing, that’s where I was 1 year ago today. And yet the past year has been one of the most peaceful and happy ones that I can remember. This city and this apartment has been my favorite place to live, my new job has been my favorite place to work, and this has been one of our best years of marriage.

Tonight my husband is in Oklahoma visiting our friend Tyler, and I’ll be here in the apartment eating some Arroz a la Cubana . . . but I’ll be pouring a little glass of something or another to quietly toast our 1 year anniversary in Chicago, looking forward to an equally awesome Year #2 ahead.


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20 Responses to Chicago, year #1: our apartment and beyond

  1. Carrie says:

    I love it!!! Your apartment is SO adorable, and I’m really encouraged by this post… Thinking of making a home out of a mess, which – given our budget – our next apartment will probably be, has been a discouraging thought to me lately. I’m now inspired (and excited about the possibility of wood floors, which gleam so beautifully in the sunlight!). Thank you, Jenna! I’m so glad you’re happy here! :)

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks Carrie! And don’t worry–if you guys move into a ‘mess’ you will have plenty of help making it beautiful, and doing some heavy cleaning if necessary. I’ll bring my Lestoil, and with that product alone we can conquer any amount of dirt. =)

  2. Layla says:

    Jenna I’m so happy for you. When I heard you were leaving IC last year, I didn’t know if that was office rumors, or fact. I wanted to make you a card, but had to take a week off due to my difficult pregnancy, and when I came back you had already left. Also, I’m sure you know by facebook, you might have seen that he was still birth. I was high risk, and fortunately was working at IC at that time due to my needing to take a lot of time off, and ALL the managers were good to me about it.

    Your place is (and I don’t mean this as an “expression”, it literally is breathtaking, I can’t take my eyes off the pictures… the walls, pictures, furniture arrangement… and those beautiful wood floors… simply beautiful!

    Personally where I stand in my life, is we are blessed with a house, but have no extra money to spend on fixing it up (such as getting our floors sanded and a shed built for storage since we are outgrowing our house, lol). The main thing for us is getting that mortgage paid!

    I’m sometimes torn between wanting a place as breathtaking as yours…or keeping it in slightly “rugged” condition with out hand-me-down furniture vs. the beautiful cherry oak furniture I’d love to have. This way I can follow my love of helping animals and caring for them in my home without added stress. For example, when you have animals, and have drab wood floors, no worries about their toenails scuffing it, when someone spills a drink, it doesn’t matter, and blankets scrunched up on the couch for the animals to snuggle in, is cute enough to sacrifice the beautiful look of them neatly folded! I think the best compromise is have a beautiful master bedroom so I can wake up and go to sleep in a nicer room, and let the rest of the house be a little more low key, until we get the money to splurge a little more.

    So I hope you enjoyed me sharing my story with you…I really enjoyed yours, and I’m very happy for you.

    • Jenna says:

      Layla, thank you so much for sharing! I did hear about your son, and I’m so very sorry. I’m sorry we didn’t get to say goodbye too–and I always wished I could know you better as a person even though working together kind of put a barrier up in a sense. You are so positive, such a hard worker, and so sweet!
      It’s funny that you should mention having a beautiful bedroom, because we have the opposite! We’ve focused more on the ‘common’ areas and left our bedroom ’til last . . . that’s why there weren’t any pix of it in this post. =)
      Thanks for all your kind words, and I’m so glad we can keep in touch in this small way.

  3. Layla says:

    Correction: WITH hand me down furniture… not: without.

  4. Erica says:

    Mmm….what a lovely, lovely story of the Lord’s blessing and provision. I’m so hapy for you, babycakes. You have no idea how much peace of heart and mind and joy i brings me to know that you are happy and settled into a wonderful life. Ahhhhh….. :)

  5. asmara says:

    Precioso tu apartamento Jenna,me gusta la decoración y la distribución de los espacios.
    Muchos Besos

  6. I see that you have lots of books! So nice to see your sweet dwelling place! Thanks for sharing, Jenna….

  7. Vicki DeArmeyv says:

    I love your apartment and your blog. Jenna, you make me happy when I read your “stuff”… you say it just right. You have wonderful taste, a wonderful European flair, and you are just one talented gal… I am so glad you did not give up on your apartment and you really made it your own. I bet it feels the love. What you described reminded me of our first apartment in Lyon. I was expecting Mathieu, our last, and no one had cleaned our apartment either. It was pretty bad and I was not even suppose to get out of bed at that stage. People were parading in and out of apartment giving us a hand in some redecorating and cleaning filthy balconies, filthy kitchen, well you know what I mean. I don’t think it was until a year later when I was able to do some deep cleaning of my own that I realized our toilets had never really been cleaned down below on the outside the toilet bowel. I just never had time or the energy to get down that low to notice. We women probably all have our house/apartment stories to tell. I am so glad your parents were there to help you over the hump. They helped us move into our first and second apartments in Madrid. I remember the second one, mainly because the first one we basically had no furniture, where they would not leave until everything was put together and put away. You have pretty special parents and we have pretty special friends. Thanks Jenna for sharing this… makes me want to move to Chicago.

    • Jenna says:

      Thank you Vicki! Your encouragement gave me the warm fuzzies. =) I agree–I’ve got great parents. I’m glad they’ve had friends in you and Larry for so many years.

  8. Emily says:

    Thanks for sharing! Matt and I chuckled at the part about seeing it for the first time, and the almost tears… we’ve been there! I’m so glad you’re where you are, so that we can be where we are, and get to know you guys that much better! We’ll have to join you at the corner restaurant someday soon!

  9. Kelsey says:

    Such a good story Jenna! I’m so glad you guys love Chicago and have found great neighborhood spots. Oh, and parents are so wonderful, I guess when you have moved yourself a few times they know just how to help! Happy Saturday!

  10. Holly says:

    I’m so glad you’ve settled in so well. Your place looks beautiful and comfortable and it’s such a good reminder that you just have to give some places and some situations some time and they’ll come around. Warm fuzzies all around.

  11. Lonnita says:

    I just came across your blog while getting familiar with my new blog hosting spot. I live in Indpls, but my husband, daughter and I travel to Chi-town quite often to get away. We love the city, the wonderful food, and the atmosphere in general (not to mention my mother is a Chicago native who transplanted to Indy as a “safe” place to raise children).
    I loved looking at your apartment pics (I am a lover of hardwood floors) and the decor seems so comfortable.
    I’ll have to keep your blog as one of my ones to watch.

    • Jenna says:

      Thank you! I was born in Indianapolis, so it seems like we’ve trekked over a lot of the same territory. =) I also love hardwood floors, though in the winter I have to wear slippers to keep my feet cozy enough.

  12. Tel says:

    This post reminds me of all the excitement that came when my partner and I were starting our lives together in Baltimore. Gorgeous downtown apartment. Wonderful walkable neighborhood near the bay. It was great. Things have only gotten better, but it always seems like those days are remembered with particular fondness. Enjoy them!

  13. So, I have to ask: where did you get that print of the goldfish gumball machine? It’s pretty great.

    • Jenna says:

      Believe it or not, my husband’s uncle Bruce was the artist, and he just gave a few prints to family members. I’m guessing it was sold at some point . . . but I’m fuzzy on the details since this was probably 20 years ago or so.

  14. Wow…what a gorgeous apartment and life you lead…xxx

  15. myblogject says:

    Your apartment is absolutely beautiful! I am very very jealous!

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