Home stretching

We’ve just closed the book on another weekend together. I said good bye to Kates and Phoebe at the airport a little over an hour ago. Now I’m back inside my apartment, and suddenly have the chorus of Elvis Costello’s “This House is Empty Now” looping in my head …

Phoebe’s little voice sure fills up a room. Not hearing her talking to her baby or playing with her blocks on the floor a few feet away from me will be a tough adjustment during the next couple days.

But we’ve been doing this back and forth thing for four months now. If everything falls into place, we’ve got less than two months left. We’re on the homestretch now.

* * *

Kates and Phoebe booked a late flight and arrived Thursday night. I was at the airport to greet them as Kates rolled Phoebe in her stroller from the gate. Phoebe burst into giggles the moment I caught her eyes and then she hopped into my arms … Throughout the flight, she had been telling the passengers around her, “I go see Daddy on air-pane!” Adorable.

You would’ve thought Phoebe would be ready to crash from all the traveling and excitement. But she never got a wink during the flight, and she was chatting and singing all the way back to The ‘Ville. She was still going strong when we arrived at my apartment around 10:30 Thursday night.

Every time we put her to bed this weekend, we couldn’t keep from laughing at the way she threw her baby and all of her accessories into her crib. So focused, so serious, slamming each piece over the rail like she was dunking a basketball. You could almost see her mentally checking off the pieces in her head as she threw them, one-by-one …

“Baby!?” Grab baby, throw it into crib, check …

“Baby’s bottol!?” Grab baby’s bottle, throw it into crib, check…

“Baby’s bib!?” Grab baby’s bib, throw it into crib, check …

“Baby’s jooce!?” Grab baby’s juice, throw it into crib, check …

“Baby’s banket!?” Grab baby’s blanket, throw it into crib, check …

“My banket!?” Grab blanket -- which is so big, it nearly covers her face when she carries it balled up. Throw it partly into crib. Throw the remaining part over the railing. Check.

Kates brushes Phoebe’s teeth. We read the “baby Jesus” book on the “big bed.” We give hugs and kisses. And, finally, she sleeps.

* * *

On Friday, I headed to work while Kates and Phoebe stayed at the apartment …

I left work early Friday afternoon, picked up the girls and we headed to House No. 22, aka The Home That Once Seemed Destined To Be Ours … Kates’ thoughts were similar to mine the first time she stepped into it: She really liked it. And she could see all of the potential in it, too.

But she also came to the same conclusion: That the problems may be too much for us to handle, and for now we might have to just let this one go.

We’re told the owner has taken care of the sewer that was backing up, and he’s made plans to fix the circuit breaker and repair the brick facade. But we're not sure we can trust the repairs are being done properly, and we still have doubts about the windows and roof.


Later Friday evening, we saw two more houses, including House No. 25, which I had taken a peak at last week. Although it had a lot of promising features, Kates found less to like about it than I did, which affirmed my decision not to push an offer on it.

The other house we saw Friday night, House No. 28, was a large, gorgeous farmhouse on a huge corner lot in the middle of town. So picturesque with it’s white picket fence, white siding, porch and large trees -- Kates and I kept calling it “The Farmstead.” … The interior of the house was just as breath-taking with its updated kitchen, a large family room and a dining/living area with original wood floors and exposed beams across the ceiling. Upstairs, the master bedroom connected to a large enclosed porch with a south wall loaded with windows …

Of course, that home was well out of our price range. But this is the point we’ve reached now. We’ve seen just about every house on The ‘Ville market, so we’ve begun folding houses out of our price range into our search, just to see them. Because we can, we’ve got nothing to lose and it’s fun to dream.

* * *

On Saturday morning, I was on professional duty, assisting with the University’s commencement ceremonies. I had to moderate a morning news conference with the state’s supreme court chief justice, who was addressing the graduates, and then I was making the rounds to make sure media members were getting what they needed (I won’t bother telling the story about a certain television news reporter who didn’t show for the news conference, but arrived 10 minutes into the afternoon ceremony, dressed in ratty jeans, thinking she could walk on to the stage to plant her microphone on the podium and pull the chief justice off the stage so she could do a three-minute interview with him during the commencement ceremony.).

Job-related tasks aside, attending the commencement ceremony was inspiring in more ways than I’d expected. The ceremony has changed little in the 8 ½ years since I was going through it, in the very same arena; all of the memories of that December night came rushing back as I watched the students line up and surveyed the smiling families packing the bleachers. As I looked at my new colleagues seated on the stage, I caught myself recalling the people who were on that stage the night I graduated; a lot of the faces have changed, but some are still the same. One of them: our registrar who is retiring this spring after 35 years at the school, having processed an estimated 35,500 graduates.

I was inspired by seeing some of the students I’ve come to know this semester graduating with such zest for their futures. I was inspired by seeing some of my colleagues graduating with master’s degrees. I was inspired by the chief justice’s words.

… All of which served as another reminder for why we’re here.

* * *

Eventually, Kates picked me up -- we were back to being a one-car family for the weekend -- and I was informed she had promised Phoebe she could go on the swings, her new favorite past time. So, we drove to the nearest park with a playground and swingset, with me still dressed in my suit, and we played in the park with Phoebe. She swung, she climbed, she slid, we ran.

While we were in the neighborhood, we also checked out a garage sale … And a house for sale, now known as House No. 30. It’s a house I’d stumbled onto a couple months ago when I was driving around town in search of possibilities. The house’s plain white exterior shows no hint of charm, but it’s tucked away on a cul-de-sac, and it sits on a huge piece of land.

Almost on cue, our realtor called after we had done a round of peeking in the vacant home’s windows and began walking back to our car. We made a pit stop so I could change clothes, ate some lunch and then we were back to house-hunting …

First, House No. 29. It’s a large Victorian-style home that we’d been eyeing since I made my trip here in November. But I immediately brushed it aside when I discovered it’s location on one of the busiest streets in town and the exterior was in need of a lot of maintenance … Still, we continued to wonder every time we drove past it, and we couldn’t deny the interior photos we’d seen were full of intrigue. Again, at this point in our search, our mantra seems to be “Why not?” Every thing is a possibility.

So on Saturday we stepped inside, and it didn’t disappoint. From the back door entrance, we entered a huge kitchen with custom cabinets and new stainless steel appliances. There are hardwood floors throughout the first floor as the kitchen leads into a large formal dining room and the floor wraps around into a sitting area with a wood stove and then the living area. The bottom of the grand staircase connects to the living room on one side and the kitchen on the other before leading to a large, open hallway upstairs.

On the second floor, there are four large bedrooms. One of the bedrooms has a closet with a staircase that leads to the attic -- a staircase! that leads to the attic. As Kates and I traveled up the staircase our jaws dropped and the angel chorus should have been cued. There we were, standing in a huge, beautiful attic room with dormer windows on all four sides. It was a complete third floor. The possibilities were exploding from our heads.

Even the basement was spacious and appealing. Four rooms, including one that's partially finished, a laundry room and plenty of storage space. Plus, there was a fruit cellar with a red-brick, domed ceiling. So cool!

The two bathrooms in the house have been completely updated, and there’s gorgeous woodwork throughout the home. The yard also is filled with lovely flower gardens and fruit trees. And the home is well within our price range …

We would have snatched it up in a heartbeat. But …

The bad news: The one-car garage is nearly crumbling and needs to be replaced, preferably with a two-car garage -- which could be doable, considering the space in the back yard. The exterior needs a serious paint job, and the windows could use replacing, too. The house is a century old. And it’s on that dang busy street.

Plus, there’s that whole issue of selling the house we own now, which doesn’t appear to be happening any time soon.


Next, we moved on for a better look inside House No. 30 ...

Inside the front door, we were greeted with bright, mustard-colored shag carpet. But a further look revealed a spacious living space with cherry-colored woodwork and built in cabinets. Best of all, Kates and I managed to pull up a corner of the carpet and figured out there is hardwood flooring throughout the home. …

The home is decorated in a way that’s totally retro ‘60s, with flowery wallpaper throughout, pastel colors and defined lines. The upstairs includes two bedrooms and a bathroom that’s decorated with a black tub, a light teal tile and a bright maroon sink.

We spent a long time inside the place, gazing at the yard and living space, and analyzing all of the home’s nooks and crannies. Indeed, we consider it another strong possibility. It’s downfalls are few, but they are critical ones … The kitchen is tiny (think of the size of your average middle-class bathroom). The foundation walls are suspect. And there is virtually no closet space, because most of the closets, which are already small, have furnace ducts jetting through them.


When we arrived home on Saturday afternoon, we tried to take comfort in the fact that we’ve found three homes that have piqued our interest -- House No. 29, House No. 30, and House No. 22, aka The Home That Once Seemed Destined To Be Ours (which could still become ours depending on the fix-its ... ). We’re also looking for comfort in the fact that all three have been on the market for several months, which means we might still have a shot at them if the puzzle pieces come together this summer ...

Then again, we’ve been through enough during this adventure to know nothing is guaranteed. And there are bound to be several more twists and turns and tumbles before this ride comes to an end.

* * *

By Saturday afternoon, I didn’t want to be pulled to look at another house for a long, long time … A week, at the least. Kates and I have agreed not to submit any offers until we have a clear outcome on our house in K-Town, and we’ve found a duplex we can rent for the summer if we need it.

For the rest of the weekend, all I wanted to do was be a family and enjoy their company.

On Saturday evening, we took Phoebe to the Fun Fest at the elementary school. We saw the fire trucks and strolled past gobs of activities for the local kids. We ended up on the playground again, however, with Phoebe running back and forth between turns on the swings and the slides … Later, we got some carry-out, and watched a spring thunderstorm roll in.

On Sunday, we slept in and did nothing of importance. Kates read her book, and I napped on my favorite couch while we watched the Cubs on WGN … When the game finished, we headed to the University for a walk and landed once more at the playground with Phoebe. It was so enjoyable, we’ve made a pact to take regular walks on the campus, if not every Sunday night … Back home, we cooked up some salmon and baked potatoes for dinner, and settled in for some Sunday Night Baseball. The whole day was bliss and the best glimpse yet of what our lives might be like once we're settled in The 'Ville.

Today, I took a vacation day from work so I could stay home with Pheebs, and Kates could check out her new school and meet her new colleagues … For lunch, we hit A&G's, a bar and grille in town that is a popular mainstay of the local restaurant scene …

By 5:30 tonight we were heading back to the airport, and Phoebe clearly knew what was up. Earlier this year, we mused about how much she understood what was happening. Now that she talks endlessly about seeing Daddy on the “ ’puter,” going to see Daddy on the “airpane,” and going to Daddy’s “ ’partment” -- not to mention mimicking her caretaker scolding a boy at the daycare (the other night at dinner, she randomly started saying “No, no, no, Austin! … 1 … 2 … 3 …”), I’d say, at 2 years old now, she has a pretty clear understanding of what’s happening around her and that things are changing …

More and more she begs for hugs and kisses -- even when we’re only leaving a room. And she’s been more cuddly when it comes to watching a ball game or one of her movies. The time the three of us can spend in one room together is now more precious than it's ever been.

Tonight, Phoebe’s sad stare out the car windows while we drove to the airport was enough to make me well up.

We made our airport time a little more fun than just the prolonged-hugs-and-long-goodbyes … I helped Kates get their bags checked in. Then we had more than an hour to hike -- gallop and run, really -- around the terminal. With Phoebe holding my hand all the way, we ran in circles -- literally -- and we tried to give Phoebe some geography lessons using the maps painted on the terminal floors.

But, as they say, all good things must come to an end. Soon, the time came to say goodbye. I hung around to watch Kates and Phoebe pass through the security gate, and then waved and blew kisses to them through the security windows as they found some seats in the waiting area.

During the drive home, I cranked up my iPod and spent a lot of time reflecting on the weekend and what is to come.

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