Category Archives: city boys

Winter Reality: Small Town vs. Big City Snowstorms

Winter Storm Linus Hits Chicago

Last weekend, when much of the Midwest was covered by Winter Storm Linus, The Mister was at the house and I was hunkered down in the apartment in the city. As the snow piled up in both locations, we were able to recognize the vastly different experiences between small town life and big city existence.

At our house we are responsible for shoveling our own driveway and sidewalk when it snows. We haven’t yet upgraded to a snowblower so we’re still shoveling by hand. Or, at least, we try to. It seems we never get the chance to do our own shoveling because a friendly neighbor with a snowblower will show up and do it before we can. That’s small town life for you. It’s a neighborly existence where folks pitch in to help one another.

Meanwhile, back in the city, it’s every man for himself. Since we live in an apartment building, we’re not responsible for snow removal on the sidewalks. There’s a landscaping service that shows up after the snow stops falling and clears the path. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we don’t have off-street parking at our apartment. That means that our cars, along with everyone else’s, are parallel parked on the street. And when a street full of cars is covered with 20+ inches of snow, it’s one big mess.

For one thing, when the plows make their way down the side streets, they create a great wall of snow that often completely blocks the cars where they’re parked. When that happens, you’re not only digging your car out of the snow, you also have to shovel the wall of snow out of the way.

No dibs for me.

Now, if you don’t know anything about Chicago, and if you’ve never been here during a big snowstorm, you may not know about the phenomenon known as dibs. Put simply, dibs is the practice of cleaning out a parking spot for your car and then marking your territory so that your spot will still be there when you return. To someone who lives in a small town, this probably seems absurd. I mean, if everyone worked together to clear all of the parking spots on the street, then dibs wouldn’t even be necessary, right?

Oh if only that was the case! Instead, on any given block you’ll see a few cleared spots where responsible car owners have done their work. And then there will be a bunch of cars that have never been cleaned of their snow. Those cars will probably remain in that condition until the snow melts. And as the piles of snow get pushed around and about, parking becomes a real issue. If you don’t get stuck on one of the snow humps, you’re lucky.

And so the concept of dibs comes into play. Last Monday I spent almost an hour clearing my car of snow. I used a snow shovel to clear the humps of frozen slush from around my car, being sure to push the snow to the curb rather than the middle of the street. While I appreciate the concept of dibs, I have yet to embrace the practice myself. As I drove away from my nice, clean parking spot Tuesday morning, I knew that I would never see it again. And I was right. When I got back home Tuesday night, the spot has already been taken. I was forced to drive around and around until I found a spot where my car almost fit.

That’s city life for you. It’s every man for himself here in the city. And that’s exactly why we’re working toward full time life at the house in the future.

Images: This American House

A House on the Move Makes a Stop at the Grocery Store

The John Irving Residence | This American House

Have you heard about the John Van Bergen-designed James Irving Residence? It’s a house on the move … literally! This architecturally significant house (Van Bergen worked in Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio) is being relocated from the Wilmette, Illinois site where it was built in 1928 to a new plot of land in nearby Evanston. They must’ve run out of milk on the way because the house is currently parked in the parking lot of a grocery store!

John Irving Residence on the Move | This American House

After a developer purchased the house and expressed intent to demolish it and build a new structure on the site, Christopher Enck purchased the Prairie Style structure and arranged its move. To make the move, which occurred over a three day period beginning last Friday, the house has been split into three sections.

Apparently the house’s new site isn’t quite ready and so in the meantime it’s hanging out in the parking lot of an empty grocery store. The three sections of the house, with the exposed ends covered in big plastic tarps, sit on massive trailers in the parking lot of the former Dominick’s store on Green Bay Road in Evanston.

Moving House: The John Irving Residence

Isn’t it amazing that you can uproot a house from its foundation and relocate it? I mean, we usually think of houses as these immovable structures (at least we HOPE they’re immovable) so it boggles the mind to see that one can be cut up, lifted and carried away.

Well of course The Mister just had to drive past the house and snap some photos. He was surprised to see that the house is really just sitting there in the parking lot, no fence surrounding it or guard protecting it.

Does this mean that we can pick up This American House and move it back to the city? Um, yeah, probably not.

More about the Irving House move: 

  • You can see a short video of the house being moved at the Chicago Tribune.
  • Evanston Now has a great recap on the move and the house.
  • Wright in Racine also has a nice recap and photos of the move.
  • For a little more history, check out Saving and Moving the Irving House on PrairieMod

Images: This American House

Stand Back, Johnny Appleseed! Apples, Apples, Apples!

Apple Tree at the Delbert Meier House | This American House

It looks like my countless hours gazing longingly at the apple tree in the backyard, sending it good growing mojo, and dreaming of delicious baked goods paid off. We’ve hit the apple lotto, folks, and the payout is huge! I had no idea one tree could produce so many apples. Maybe it’s because the tree was never harvested last fall. Maybe it’s the little apple dance I did under the tree this spring. Or maybe we’re just lucky jerks who bought a house with a magic apple tree. Whatever the reason, we should be able to eat an apple a day for the next three years from the fruit of this one tree!

Apples, Apples, Apples! | This American HouseLet me tell you, the anticipation of testing the apples for tastiness was quite a burden. It kicked off this spring, when the tree filled with leaves and blooms.

“Do you think we’ll actually be able to eat them?” The Mister asked.

“I hope so. But I don’t know.” I said.

We watched as the buds turned into little green fruit. And as the apples grew and started to turn red I asked The Mister, “Do you think they’ll be edible?”

“Gee, I hope they are,” he replied.

This American House

Starting sometime in mid-July, our curiosity got the best of us. We plucked an apple off the tree and sliced into it. It wasn’t ripe (of course) but it looked like an apple and wasn’t full of worms so it seemed promising enough. Every few weeks we’d pluck another apple off the tree for another taste test. And each time we got more and more hopeful that the apples would indeed be tasty eventually.

Well, folks, it has finally happened. The apples have ripened and they are delicious! I mean, they’re no Honey Crisp apple. They’re more like a Red Delicious, which is probably what they really are. But they’re apples growing on a tree in our backyard!  And there are a ton of them!

This has to be a bushel of apples, right? | This American House

I don’t know how many apples make a bushel but I’m sure we’ve picked at least that many so far. In the past two weekends I have filled one giant IKEA bag and four reusable grocery bags with apples. I’ve given two bags of apples to neighbors and have a few more bags earmarked for friends back in the city. I plan to freeze some apples for winter baking but I’m actually going to keep most of them in the refrigerator. That’s the wonderful thing about apples — they keep for months when refrigerated.

I’ve also turned out two batches of apple butter recently. Both recipes used the crock pot, and let me tell you, nothing makes a house smell better than cooking apples! The first batch of apple butter, using a recipe from AllRecipes, was a little lackluster but we happily smeared it on toast anyway. For the second batch I used Brown Eyed Baker’s Slow Cooker Apple Butter recipe. OH. MY. GOODNESS. I want to eat this apple butter by the spoonful!

Stand back, Johnny Appleseed. There’s a new king of apples in town!

Images: This American House

 

Grow Your Own: 5 Lessons from Our First Garden

5 Lessons from Our First Garden | This American House

Now that the temperatures are starting to fall and most of the “crops” have been harvested, it seems like a good time to look back on the lessons learned from our first year gardening. For city boys I think we had a pretty respectable season. But there are plenty of ways we can improve for next year.

We kept it pretty simple for our first garden. Even though they’re not very aesthetically pleasing, we kept the raised beds and concrete blocks that the previous owners left behind. We were so overwhelmed with all of the other landscaping this spring that it didn’t seem like a good idea to start from scratch with the garden. We both hate those blocks with a passion but they did make it easier for two novices to feel like they know what they’re doing. That said, the blocks are coming up this year! We’re going to start fresh with one big garden plot next spring.

Speaking of next spring, it’s going to be a much different planting experience. This year we were faced a garden that had been unattended and hadn’t been cleaned out at the end of the season. It was covered in a mass of leaves, dead plants and weeds, weeds, weeds. We’re already prepping the garden the next year. We’ve started pulling plants out of the beds and, as we do, we’re also taking up all the concrete blocks. We kept up on the weeds this year and we’ve started putting organic matter on the entire garden plot. Here’s hoping that next year we have rich, healthy soil.Looking Back on Our First Garden | This American House

But enough about next year, let’s look at what learned this year.

Lesson #1: Better planning would help. We planted two beds of potatoes, one bed of onions, one bed of green beans, three tomato plants, a row of beets and some carrots. It was all very haphazard. I bought the seed potatoes and onions early in the season so they went into the ground first. And then as we would pick up other seeds and seedlings we’d fit them into one of the empty beds. Next year we should start earlier and really map out the garden – especially since we won’t have the raised beds.

Lesson #2: Sometimes weeds are actually plants. The carrots that I planted never made it to harvest. In fact, I’m not even sure they made it past seedling stage. Thanks to some overzealous weeding early in the summer, the carrots were pulled out and composted. Oops.

Lesson #3: Starting indoors might be easier. We wouldn’t have lost the carrots if I had started them indoors. Placing seedlings in the ground will make it easier to know which little sprouts are plants and which are weeds. Since I dumped the carrot seeds into a bed that was also very weedy, they were bound to be pulled up before they got a chance to grow.

Lesson #5: It’s easier than it seems. Even in our bungling way, and despite many weeks when the garden went completely unattended, we grew food. We definitely have a lot to learn but it’s good to know that it’s not all that difficult to garden. That said, I’m glad we don’t have to live solely on what we grow!

Lesson #5: The food you grow is the tastiest. I’ve never liked tomatoes. I mean, I don’t hate them but I’ll skip past tomatoes when I’m dressing a hamburger or whatever. But when it comes to the tomatoes that came out of our garden, I want to put them on everything! They’re that delicious! There’s something about growing your own food that makes it taste all the better.

We have a long way to go before we’re gentlemen farmers, but I think we’re well on our way. Happy harvesting, folks!

Images: This American House

Bask in the Glow of Supermoon 2014

Supermoon 2014 at This American House

If there are clear skies where you are this evening, look up at the supermoon. What’s that? you ask. A supermoon? Did someone put a cape on the moon? No, silly, a supermoon is just another term for the Perigee moon, meaning the moon is bigger and brighter than it has been in the past 20 years. And it’s all happening tonight!

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