As the temperatures finally drop to match the season, we are starting to winterize our home. Today we removed a massive A/C unit from our first floor window.
This project required a little extra work before we could get to the unit – there was a large bush in the way. We wanted to keep this bush, but if we dig out our basement then we’ll be digging up its location. It had been raining all day, which made the soil soft – it was the best time to move it!
Emily: I thought that would make it easy, but nope! The roots of the plants in our yard are gnarly!
We took turns digging around the base of the plant for about 40 minutes. We were both committed to the plant, but after the first 10 minutes, it didn’t look like we were going to be able to do it without help. While one of us dug deeper around the plant, the other one strategized a new plan. Jack hugged the bush while Emily pried it up with a shovel. We grabbed a tow strap and a 10 foot 2×8. Emily hugged the bush while Jack pried it up with a shovel.
Throughout the whole wrestling match we pleaded with, we scolded, and we did our best to soothe the plant. We did everything we could to convince it to let go! “This is because we want to keep you!” we would remind it. “We’ve made a place just for you!” we promised it. “Plants simply can’t be here any longer,” we would reason. We could not empathize with this plant any harder as we hauled it across the property to a sunny spot along the fence.
We haven’t lived in Michigan since 2012, and we have yet to begin to start missing it less. Our friends there remain crucial parts of our support network to this day. Roots are stubborn like that.
Much as we’d like to have plopped the bush into a large planter and move it wherever the sun happens to shine, it needed space to lay down real roots. It took some real teamwork and patience to get this far, and we’ve been having fun with the work!
We have been establishing traditions since we were married, and this house has given us a couple opportunities to make a some of our favorite small ones into even bigger ones!
Emily loves the season of Fall and Jack loves Halloween. We’ve both grown to love each of these because of all the things: dressing up in couples costumes, all the pumpkin coffee and pies, the cooler temps, and changing leaves. Apartment living sort of gave us a chance to decorate, but because of how often we planned on moving, we were loathe to gather too much “stuff.”
That’s all over now. We are so pumped about decorating this house! Check this out:
Some of the other traditions we look forward to continuing are…
March Madness Cake Challenge (Jack has won that more than is reasonable)
Seeing the lights on 34th Street in Baltimore at Christmas time
Running at least one race every year
This house is strengthening the roots we had already put down in our six years living on the East Coast. And because we are in a new house, we look forward to establishing new traditions that will continue to create fun memories.
We had a really difficult time figuring out where to build a garage. We have an odd-shaped yard (it’s our little slice of paradise!), and a local architect told us that we’re limited to a certain size based on the size of our entire property. I’ll spare. you the math, but we can add a structure that’s about 20’x25′.
That’s great and all, but 20’x25′ won’t fit what we want. Jack rides a Harley for most of the year, and wants a space he can pull into and pull out of, like a horseshoe. Or he will need a space big enough to turn around. Emily will need a space for a vehicle and storage. We could only come up with one idea where we could get everything we wanted:
We didn’t really have plans for our basement, so why not turn our basement into our garage? It could be a 1,556 sq.ft. dream garage! More space than we even know what to do with!
It would require digging out our current basement another 3 feet, and an additional 750 sq.ft. of ground that would need to be dug down about 6 feet. We’ll need a structural engineer and some heavy equipment. This is the most ambitious part of our entire project, but if we can make it happen, it has to be done first!
If you could have anything you wanted in your garage, what would you put in it? A guest suite with a private spa? An entertainment lounge for Super Bowl parties? Parking for more vehicles than you own? A workshop for making spectacular cosplay projects? A wine cellar with a small room to trap your enemies inside of?
We have some ideas that we won’t share just yet. There are still so many details that we have to figure out before this dream becomes plausible. Here’s a current look at where we are:
Design layout of project
Reviewing building codes and zoning ordinances for compliance
Hire a structural engineer
Look for a draftsman to draw up blueprints
Apply for building permit from the city
In-between we’ll need to compile equipment and tools. Honestly, it’s hard to tell which part is the fun part! We’re having a lot of fun with the dreaming/planning process, but we’re looking forward to breaking ground! Of course, we’re pretty excited to be able to show off a finished product!
The plan was to move into our new home, get some building permits, and start demolition right away. In the middle of none of that going smoothly, Jack destroyed his right ankle in a way that absolutely defies a delicate description (even the scars are unpleasant to see). He was useless for six weeks.
It wasn’t always the case that being off his feet for a month would set back Jack’s whole life, but we weren’t always this ambitious or this certain about what we were working for. As recently as last year Jack could have easily gone 6 weeks without seeing any friends, but now he was hobbling through weekend camping trips, hanging out with local friends, and exploring new downtown neighborhoods with Emily!
We’re both physically fit young people, and we do our best to make sure that whenever that ends, we’ll be able to say we totally took advantage of what we had. We’re going to be working and sweating to do some major renovations in our home just to create a space for wasting physical effort by working out! But because human bodies make perfect sense, exercising is a thing we have to do in order to make aging easier. We’ve only just started feeling what it means to age, and we’re not fans.
2017 was an especially rough year for Emily’s physical health. It was the expensive ending of a two year battle that involved a lot of mysterious pain. Early guesses were scattershot, which was scary at the time. When she was finally diagnosed with a faulty gallbladder and inflamed appendix, it came as a lesson about ways your body can change.
Emily:I have always desired to eat healthy, although I have my vices (I love candy!). So to be brought down by my gallbladder totally caught me off guard. It made me question what I had done wrong. And when I realized that our bodies, while amazing, also take a beating, I knew that I need to roll with this almost literal gut punch.
Those physical challenges teamed up with the emotional ones. Jack bailed on his usual role as extrovert over the past couple years, which forced Emily to be the outgoing one that made friends and got us involved in fun stuff. It was worth it, but it was also a lot of work. Making friends in your 30’s isn’t easy.
We were looking forward to our 30’s so it surprised us when we encountered a rough few years. In an odd way, we’re thankful for what a huge inconvenience it is to, like, catch the flu now? Not that it’s awesome, it’s just a really nice change that now we have actual stuff in our life – projects, relationships, and activities – that we’re impatient to get back to! We wanna have a dog this time next year to dress up in, like, 31 different costumes all month! It’s going to take a lot to finish construction and get our yard together before we can get the dog, but in the mean time we’re so happy to be so busy!
Purchasing your first house? Dear Reader, you’re gonna need to learn how to roll with the punches. After months of practice, we’ve come to the conclusion that the worst part of that, by far, is the part with the punches.
It turns out our basement leaks, and not just a little. Every single time it rains, even momentarily, we get gallons of water pouring in from holes in the masonry and from a basement door to the exterior. And when it rains a lot? Such as when we’re hit with one of the several 1-in-500-years sized downpours that have struck this region in the past couple years?
Let me answer you by telling you about Jack’s uncles. Years ago, they advised him to start healthy habits when you’re young because it’s basically torture to wait until you’re fifty to start eating vegetables. But, let’s be honest, Dear Reader, have you tried kale? Ever just reach into a bag and grab a handful of roughage and just… enjoy it?
It turns out there’s a way to handle these issues! Emily bakes kale chips and seasons them with cracked peppercorn and Himalayan salt – it’s a 10 min process that is legitimately the tastiest savory snack we know of. Jack fries kale in bacon fat and we for real don’t even eat burgers without it. We’re eating kale all the time, as well as walnuts, blueberries, filtered water, and full-fat yogurt. I have to say, if you ever get the chance to move next door to an Aldi, do it! And if you build a house decades before reliable waterproofing techniques are invented, make sure you have an interior drainage system (like a french drain) that is built to last for at least 100 years! Our basement walls leak, but our basement floor is perfectly dry!
Several Novembers ago, Emily mentioned that she was considering leaving Michigan. That March, she then proposed! We decided to get hitched quick and then chase our future, together! Our hope was for Emily to find her calling close to certain prestigious law schools in the US. We made a list of cities and ranked them from D.C. all the way down to Austin. Like other cities with high quality law schools, such as Boston and L.A., Baltimore was not on that list.
Yet, there we were, the very next November: residents of Baltimore!
Shout out to college friends of Emily’s who were like, yeah, come on out to the Mid-Atlantic and let’s just become family friends forever? They gave us astonishing levels of support as a brand new couple moving across the country! Literally we were put up in a private suite, rent free, while Jack got his Paralegal Certificate.
It had a private vending machine, a tv and lounge with all of the football, a gorgeous yard… I mean, I have to stress that we were really scared to move. All we could see while we were packing was the life that we were leaving behind. We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into on the other side of the freaking mountains. I guess the ancient Greeks used to refer to the future as what was “behind” them. The past was what was “in front” of them, because that’s all they could see. We talk about time as if we’re moving through it, facing the future, but really it’s a better metaphor if we’re moving forwards but facing backwards. Because we couldn’t see the future, we didn’t know we would be met with such generosity of spirit. Early supporters of our mixed-faith and mixed-race family are our most cherished family and friends to this day.
We rented our first place together – a 500 sq.ft. studio in a row home – in an old neighborhood with the most welcoming rodents and stray cats in all the alleys along all of the rowhomes in Baltimore. We were charmed, and we hated to leave! But Jack had an opportunity to work with an esteemed legal scholar (and EFF Board Member) by attending one of the law schools in nearby Lawyer Capital of the World: Washington, D.C.
Shortly after we left, the nationally infamous Baltimore Police Department viciously beat Freddie Gray in the open street before taking his limp body into custody for the last remaining minutes of his life. National news cameras arrived to watch as our Mayor called for a curfew for black residents. Community leaders, such as local ministers and State legislators, organized local neighborhood cleanups and meetings with local BPD precincts to discuss policy changes that would foster trust between public servants and the public. Students’ bus rides home were stopped at a local Metro hub and swarmed by police with riot gear. Baltimore’s Uprising started, and the city’s residents would be heard.
“Yeah, but are you even gonna stay here?” one of our white friends asked. We were so far out in the suburbs at that point, we didn’t even get Baltimore news or traffic – we were in the DC market. We never intended to make Baltimore our home, but we couldn’t help but have an impact on the city one way or another. Several of the wealthy Baltimore suburbs – including ours at the time – sent in extra police force to where the media cameras were set up downtown, recording the violent beatings and arrests of black residents breaking curfew. Then we charged the city one million dollars for officer overtime pay. The local outrage in our suburb led to the eventual repayment of that million dollars. Jack’s incessant whining about living in the suburbs only grew louder.
Jack experienced a mix of settings growing up, from farms to small urban apartments. Starting with a Montessori kindergarten, Jack attended four elementary schools, one middle school, and two high schools before his first choice college in NYC turned him down and he went to school in nearby Hanover, New Hampshire (like all of New Hampshire, it’s not near anything). Our first apartment in Baltimore was Jack’s seventh time renting a place in a major US city.
Baltimore was Emily’s first experience with city living. She grew up in a gated community that had a safe place to live and play, with a neighborhood swim club, central meeting locations like a clubhouse, and access to the area’s best suburban schools. It was far from the vulnerable, where it was wonderful and safe; it was any parent’s dream. She then attended a private college, a brief 30 minutes outside of the busy streets of downtown Lincoln, Nebraska, before eventually being counted in the 2010 Census as one of the 3,951 residents of Shelby Township, Michigan. When we moved to Baltimore the first time, it was two blocks away from a busy railroad and an even busier freeway. Now, when the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice answers the people of Baltimore with a Consent Decree outlining new ways to protect the rights and the lives of the public, we’re in a 1,000 sq.ft., 2 bedroom/2 full bath apartment with off-street parking in the suburbs. In no time at all, Emily decided that it was time for Jack’s whining to come to an end.
Dear Reader, why are the better educational opportunities in the suburbs? We know some truly dedicated teachers who work in cities, and let’s just say reports indicate it’s a struggle all over. For every one dollar that we invest in just pre-school alone (!) society gets $7 back in economic benefit later in life – conservatively estimated. It’s even more when invested in disadvantaged communities. If we have this guaranteed way to make money and improve schools for teacher and students alike, then why do families flee to the suburbs once they have kids? Why not stay in the city and build the economy within those limits?
City living also provides opportunities for more diverse experiences. When we trained for the Baltimore Half Marathon, we ran along the Inner Harbor all the way between Federal Hill and Brewer’s Hill. Do you know how hecking charming this city is? It’s lousy with hip places to eat, bakeries that fill entire neighborhoods with yummy scents every morning, and fun things to do in the community. Baltimore boasts a 100-year-old theater with Broadway shows and a free summer camp for special needs kids, the Hippodrome; the largest free arts festival in America, Artscape; and a chance to be more effective at reforming a system that keeps undermining its most vulnerable communities!
I mean, we know why suburbs are popular. Individual families are incentivized to act against the public interest. We have public policy that we know needs to be changed. Either we’ll do something about it, or we’ll do nothing.
Did you know those schedules for anniversary presents are arbitrary? There’s literally no tradition or anything, it’s a half-cooked marketing idea. We decided to come up with our own! Year 1 we went with paper and bought prints of our wedding photos, but Year 3 was the year of 0.0% interest loans.
Have you ever heard of LoveSac? I guess it’s a thing out here, and it’s GLORIOUS! Every kid that has visited us has jumped into this thing like it’s a pile of fall leaves. It’s one of our favorite pieces of furniture that we have acquired since we got married, and easily costs three times as much as the rest of our furniture combined. A shapeless 75 lbs. of dead weight, we have now moved it three times and each time is a whole event.
If you loved (or still love) sitting in bean bags, then this is well worth the purchase. It has two lifetime warranties on it (no joke) and regenerative foam so, unlike those old bean bags, it never deflates. It came compressed in a duffel bag so big it could fit hockey gear for an entire starting lineup.
Emily:I remember the weekend because a big snowstorm was coming and no one was in the mall. Jack walked out to the car with this enormous bag on his shoulder.
Jack:I just remember thinking ‘this is it, we just committed to never moving from this apartment because this thing will never squeeze through any door or window.’ Now we’re literally planning an entire room in our home around it!
This isn’t just any piece of furniture, it’s a conversation starter, a movie lover’s dream, and an oasis for anyone suffering the mild pains of being 30-something. In your twenties, your body can still absorb an enormous amount of damage, but at 30 years and 1 day old, one of us got hit with a nasty H. pylori infection. She had to sleep in a sort of upright position, and thankfully we had the perfect option! Ever wake up with a debilitating kink in your neck? You’re on the lovesac for the next couple nights!
A few anniversaries have passed since that memorable one, and it’s wonderful to have a gift that just keeps on giving us new opportunities to enjoy this life we have made for ourselves. This big orange pumpkin is the perfect fit in our Yellow Rose.
A quiet Saturday morning is my favorite: waking up without an alarm, making and drinking coffee without having to rush out of the house, and (when the weather cooperates!) some time working in the yard.
As we mentioned in yesterday’s post, we are thankful to have a yard. Folks warned us we would grow weary of the work required; there’s a lot of it, but we’re oddly happy to be able to do it.
If you stand in front of our house, you may not look so kindly upon our yard. It’s overgrown. Two owners ago, this yard became an oasis for the couple as they planted every green plant on Earth. Legend says it was breathtaking.
It only took 18 months of neglect to make the entire 0.11 acres completely impassable with thick waist-high growth. We had no idea what we would uncover as we trimmed and hacked through the overgrowth, but Saturday after Saturday we’re discovering unknown retaining walls, a hidden chicken coop and koi pond, and all manner of flowers and plants that bloom seemingly out of nowhere every week!
As I walk around the yard, I imagine scenes from The Secret Garden:
But I am quickly knocked back by the reality that we have so much work to do.
This yard is one of the many reasons I fell in love with this house so quickly. In spite of the age of the house and the fact that it had not been lived in or taken care of for awhile, it had charm and potential.
Not just potential for curb appeal, but potential that we could make it ours. If someone had spent hours and hours making the yard appealing before we bought it, it would have been a total waste of effort that we would have changed completely. We want work because we know precisely how we want our estate to be laid out.
For any given decision, you could maybe choose the responsible way, you could choose the fun way, or you might even be able to choose the easy way! It’s nice when you have an option that is all three at once! But, of course, every once in a while you have to choose the hard way.
Don’t get us wrong, we love easy. Easy is nice! We could clean up this yard and live in someone else’s wonderful design, enjoying every day of it. We could take the easy way and get a great outcome! Or we can take the hard way and get what we want.
Every moment I get to spend shoveling, pulling, and trimming is satisfying both to the aesthetic of the yard and to my spirit. Taking ownership of a space to make it our own feels like an amazing opportunity. And if we can create our own garden oasis (which will also include a garage🤞🏽), then we haven’t just cleaned up the space, but have given us a new purpose to explore.