The Purple of Life

She told me to hold on to the purple in my life.

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Location: Chicago, United States

I'm a 37-year-old editor and city dweller, wife and mother, moderately liberal and radically optimistic. I would fill my perfect day with a cup of coffee and the Op Ed section, a flea market and the playground, a run along Lake Michigan, a walk through the neighborhood with my son and my greyhound, a Cuban dinner and a bottle of red with my husband, and an evening flight to some European city. I wouldn't be picky about which one.

January 9, 2010

New in the neighborhood

I mentioned our new place several times in my last entry, but I didn’t really say anything substantial about it. Hence, this.

So we decided to put our place on the market this summer. I know, who would do such a thing in 2009 unless they were forced to? We had no compelling reason to move, other than a feeling of having outgrown our little condo and a desire to buy a bigger place for less than it would’ve cost a few years ago. After much deliberation, we’d decided to stay in the city rather than move to a nearby suburb. We felt ready for our next chapter.

We’ve pretty much been living below our means the last six years, so we could take a loss on the sale (and take a loss we did). So we hired a realtor, looked at surrounding two-bedrooms that had sold recently, priced our place competitively (another identical unit was for sale in the building), took down all our fridge magnets and framed photos, cleaned up the piles of books, moved an armchair down to the basement, and onto the market we went.

Within three weeks, after three open houses, several showings, and many half-hour increments spent at the dog beach, in the basement rec room, and walking very slowly around the neighborhood, we had three offers. Three! Yes, one was a total lowball, but still. Our place seemed to appeal to first-time buyers, what with the low price and the government tax credit. We hosted a little bidding war between two parties, and we settled at a price that was pretty close to our asking one. Done.

In the meantime, we had found The Dream Place (TDP). Before we even listed ours, we’d spent a sunny Sunday afternoon biking around the neighborhood we really wanted to live in. John noticed an open house, we stopped in with only 10 minutes to spare, and we fell in love, hard. The unit was absolutely beautiful, a new gut-rehab of a 100-year-old building… tall ceilings, huge windows, a dining room, three bedrooms, two baths, a fireplace, a covered garage, a huge deck… all on a quiet, gracious, green street just a few steps away from shops, bars, and restaurants. Within walking distance of the lake. Within walking distance of the el. It seemed too good to be true.

John snapped several photos with his iPhone, and he pored over them in the coming days while I stoically refused to look and cautioned him against falling for a place before ours was sold. We visited 10 or 11 other homes—condos, townhouses, even two small houses—but nothing could quite compare to TDP.

Many more things happened between the time we made an offer on TDP and Monday, Sept. 28, the day we moved in. Anyone who’s bought and sold real estate knows that it’s an extremely bumpy, stressful, and nausea-inducing ride, and our experience was no different… so much haggling, waiting, strategizing, finding out that TDP’s association rules forbid dogs over 30 pounds… you name it. But in the end, we sat around a table in a Loop high-rise, signed our names 146 times, and were given a set of keys. Unbelievably, magically, The Dream Place was ours.

Moving was weird, sad, exciting. The day we cleaned out our old condo and shut the door on it forever was a bit melancholic. It was the first home we owned, and we lived there for six years, along with Moose and then Stella. We painted the walls with colors we loved. We listened (unwillingly) to our neighbors doing Vietnamese karaoke. We sat on the tiny deck and grilled out and drank beer, fighting small battles with the pigeons determined to roost above our back door (we won in the end). We walked countless loads of laundry down three flights, through the courtyard, onto the sidewalk, through another door, and down to the basement. We stayed up late laughing with neighbors during summer courtyard parties. We made exceptionally dear friends. We watched some of those friends become parents, and then we grew to love their kids.

The old neighborhood is rough around the edges; there’s litter, and people on the corners yelling, and if you’d like to buy drugs, well, they’re not hard to find. It’s crowded because of nearby high rises, making it tough to find parking. It’s near a busy street that’s scary to cross. People are somewhat lax about shoveling snow off the sidewalks.

But it’s full of interesting people. It’s incredibly diverse—very young people and very old, Ukrainian, Russian, Middle Eastern, Vietnamese, white, black, Latino. There are lots of people with dogs, and in six years we became acquainted with many of them, enough to give a friendly greeting, stop to ask how life is going, let the dogs say hello to each other.

I miss my old neighbors, and there are things about my old neighborhood that I miss, too, even though I adore the new one and still can’t quite believe I get to call it home. There are no crumpled beer cans on the grass. Construction dumpsters don’t overflow with household trash. People don’t scream at each other in the street. The block club is an active one, and although the area is less diverse, it’s also less transient… people stay for a long time, raise kids, become middle-aged. It’s what we plan to do. This is going to be our home for a long time. And because of that, I know that eventually, I’ll get to know my fellow dog-walkers. When the weather’s warm again, we’ll be out on the deck, chatting with our neighbors on their deck across the way. I can’t expect our home of three months to feel as familiar as our home of six years. But it will.

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January 1, 2010

So this is what it takes for me to write online again

A meme. And the same one I did this time two years ago, no less. But here I am, regardless, and I want to be here more often. I'm resolving to post twice a month to this online journal (can I still call it that? Must it be a blog?) this year. I started "The Purple of Life" back in 2002, and it brought me a lot of joy, and I so treasure my entries from those early years in Chicago... well, the ones that weren't swallowed up by Diary-X. There's no excuse to not keep doing this. So...

What did you do in 2009 that you’d never done before?
Sold a condo. Ran more than four miles without stopping. Reached the point where I really, truly wanted to become a parent. Spent lots of fun hours at the dog park and dog beach. Did a photo walk. Went to Lollapalooza. Rode a bike around downtown Amsterdam.

Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Somewhat. I did want to run more. But I didn’t focus too much on improving my photography, which is kind of inexcusable. (I think I tend toward laziness in some areas of my life.) I’m definitely making resolutions for 2010, the main one being that I want to run the Chicago half-marathon in September. I want to make time to read more books. I also want to do more photo walks and write online again, at least twice a month to start. And I want to really make the most of our new neighborhood and patronize its shops, bars, restaurants, and events.

What countries did you visit?
France and the Netherlands. Trips closer to home: Michigan, Wisconsin, and New York.

What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?
The ability to run 13 miles, and a dog who isn’t so afraid of things and truly enjoys her walks. Poor Stella—I’m not sure that’ll ever fully come to be.

What dates from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory?
Probably the Friday evening in May when we sat on the Pont des Arts in Paris watching twilight fall over the river, drinking a bottle of wine surrounded by hordes of young, cool Parisians. And then the next night, a Saturday date night in Paris: wandering the narrow cobblestoned streets of the Marais, stopping at two cafes for drinks. Then an amazingly perfect dinner at Chez Janou, then gelato on the Ile Saint-Louis, overlooking the Seine… sigh. I still think about that night often.

Also the Friday afternoon in May that we spent cruising the Amsterdam canals with our Dutch friends in their little boat. A few hours in which we felt like we really lived in that dear, dear city…

And, of course, the September day that we moved into our new condo—the moment right after the movers left when John and I looked at each other and realized it was real. We really lived here!

What were your biggest achievements of the year?
Selling the condo, buying the dream place, making a firm decision about parenthood, spearheading various online-editing projects at work, and running farther and faster than I’ve run before. (I had a personal best of 26:37 in a 5k.)

What was your biggest failure?
Not taking more photos or seeking out opportunities to improve my photography skills. Not writing creatively at all, really.

Did you suffer illness or injury?
No, besides a few colds. I did pull a back/hip muscle while moving that hurt for about a week. I discovered that I get really pissed off when I can’t exercise.

What was the best thing you bought?
This is getting repetitive, but our new place. I also snagged a gorgeous pair of gray/green suede wedge booties. In Paris, I found a dishcloth with the Metro map printed on it, which makes me happy. And when we were in New York City, we bought four John Derian coasters at his shop in the East Village. I love them.

Whose behavior merited celebration?
Obama, of course. I still clearly remember watching his inauguration at work last January. I really admire his wisdom, his nuance, and the time he takes to think things through.

Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
The people who run Chicago and Cook County. Chicagoans, get out and vote this February!

Where did most of your money go?
The mortgage, savings, travel, and various real-estate buying-and-selling expenses.

What did you get really excited about?
Moving into our dream neighborhood. Having more living space, a huge deck, and myriad shops and restaurants just a few steps away. No longer seeing beer cans and other trash littering the ground while walking the dog, or having the opportunity to buy drugs at the corner.

What song will always remind you of 2009?
I can’t think of a particular song, but probably something by Rocky Votolato, Bon Iver, Heartless Bastards, or the Swell Season’s new album.

Compared to this time last year, are you:
– happier or sadder? Happier, I think.
– thinner or fatter? Thinner, a little. I definitely have more muscle.
– richer or poorer? Pretty much the same.

What do you wish you’d done more of?
Photography and writing.

What do you wish you’d done less of?
Worrying about the dog.

What was your favorite TV program?
Big Love

What was the best book you read?
Thanks to, I see that I read only 13 books this year. The New Yorker takes up a lot of my reading time! I think I liked The Inner Circle and The Abstinence Teacher best.

What was your greatest musical discovery?
Heartless Bastards and Bon Iver

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?
Hmm… I dress fairly conservatively for work, but I like color. I love reading about fashion, and I love dressing up to go out on the weekend—slim jeans, black or gray boots, a fun top. I am a huge sucker for handbags, coats, and interesting pieces of jewelry, especially long necklaces and big cocktail rings. This year I started wearing more bracelets—gold bangles and a brown plastic cuff that I just bought. I also bought more long sweaters and embellished T’s. Isn’t this exciting to read??

What kept you sane?
Late Sunday afternoons with a glass of wine and InStyle magazine, preferably on the deck. Summertime camping. Any stretch of a few days where I didn’t touch a computer.

What political issue stirred you the most?
Health care reform, definitely. The whole thing just makes me angry… I’m sick of people treating health care like it’s an option, a luxury, a commodity to be shopped around for. Everyone deserves cancer screenings. No one should go bankrupt because they get sick.

Who did you miss?
As always, my college girlfriends, none of whom live in Chicago. But I saw them more often than in past years, and I hope to repeat that in 2010!

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