Category Archives: Beyond the Brick Wall

It’s not so much the snow I mind…

It’s the -6 degrees F and winds to 30 mph coming in the wee hours. NOAA computes that windchill around -30 F. If O’Hare closes tomorrow, I may put on my long underwear and start walking south.


That’s right, today we’re stuffing cats in the microwave.

Alright, so what I really have been doing is getting this brick (!#*!)house ready for sale and that’s why I’ve been too (!!*#ing) busy to post. BTW, I used profanity a couple of posts ago in my letter to Sprint and I heard about it, so now I’ll just use punctuation marks. Posts full of hypotheses and marks.

Yes, no we can’t afford it. Hard times and all. The truth is we can afford it as long as we don’t mind spending 50% of our take home income on the world’s biggest mortgage and high taxes and condo insurance.  More to the point I guess is the fact that I don’t want to afford it. It chafes against every single fiber of my being, essentially paying a monolith rent for a house that is not going up- more likely down- in value, that will not fly off the market the minute I mention selling it and that, as you all know from past griping, does not feel like home. Real estate has always been good to me, starting with my first home purchase at age 24 and now, well, it’s not so good to me. Not that I thought I was different from everyone else in the country. I’ve always bought the smallest but most potentially appealing house with the best yard in a nice neighborhood, put in lots of sweat equity, enjoyed living in my home and then, with children and other life changes, moved on up. Something went seriously haywire with this purchase. This is our city house where we pay the high dollar to live while Rich earns what was our retirement dollar. It’s in a great neighborhood, good schools in the city, wonderful neighbors, architect designed, close to the park , zoo and restaurants. (Remember, every one in Chicago eats out.) In a good economy this place is golden, especially if you like trendy, brick walled, three story atriums and have no fear of heights. Now, not so good. Worse than before. My homes- the places where I think about living my life productively and peacefully- are in Florida and North Carolina. In fact, knowing that the North Carolina house is there, free and clear of mortgage with a giant vegetable garden, birds, wildlife, mountains, rivers- well, that makes this place seem even less like a home. So, long before we might think of being even 2 minutes late on a payment,the brickhouse is going on the market. Where it will most likely sit for at least two years. By putting it on now (technically 6 weeks from now so if you want a great condo deal in Lincoln Park e-mail me quickly) we do it without pressure and strain. Rich, of course, has his work life here and, especially in this economy, he’s working as long and as hard as he can. And I have my good friends and the zoo and surface design classes and so forth. We’re trying to do this sensibly and before we desperately need to and if, by some miracle we sell the place, we’ll move across the street into a closet size apartment and that will be fine, too.

The realtor friend came and by the time she left I felt like one of those 80 year old women who has a pathological hoarding disease. She told me to get rid of everything that, to me, makes this brickhouse tolerable. “Get rid of the taxidermy (okay, well I KNEW that was coming and I concede that point),  get rid of all those books (she said it as though they were shelves full of compost. And the Kindle is on back order until February so I guess they may be…), get rid of the world globes, the pictures of the children and for God’s sake, get rid of the cats.” Yeesh. They’re the cleanest, tidiest life forms around here. She turned to me and said, as sweet as sweet can be, “You know, just get rid of everything that says ‘Vicki and Rich’. ” The theory here, as she explained it, is that people need to be able to project themselves into the space.  I didn’t want to tell her that only a crazed menopausal loon or a guy who didn’t care one whit about his surroundings would project themselves into this place.

The other thing? Empty the closets, please, so it looks as though there’s some storage. Oh, right. There isn’t, which is why we have them packed to the point where we haven’t dared open the doors to any but our bedroom closets for two years now. Compacted- and I’m bragging here- into these few closets are two whole lifetimes, two complete households and two basements, garages and a storage locker full of important memories, baby books, photos and shit. I mean, !*#*. Actually, no, it’s shit. But highly condensed and every centimeter packed square, those closets are a work of storage art. Besides, we already got rid of over half our stuff to move here from Michigan. In Asheville, we’ll have a basement AND a garage but by the time we get there we’ll be all out of stuff. (Here’s a very funny YouTube with George Carlin about Stuff. Either Kenju or Sparky sent it to me.)

I know that lots of people, who I won’t name here, think that dogs who roll in dead deer and have uncomplicated sex lives, be it a human leg or another dog, are quite superior to cats. But face it people. Cats are much smarter. You need to take a dog to the vet to be neutered? “Here pup! Jump in the car! We’re going to the park to play with your balls!” and they’re in like a flash, wagging and slathering. A cat? They know. They know everything. You can hide absolutely nothing- not a thought, a plan, a dream or a plot- from a cat.

sophieblanket(Those eyes and ears know EVERYTHING. She’s camped out on the (shhh) Christmas throw I’m making for Bud out of my mother’s old sweaters.)

I bring boxes in this house quite often. Boxes with groceries, wine, wool. I take boxes out of the house quite often. No problem, no reaction from the fur people.  About three days after the realtor was here I went to Sam’s Wines and brought home some empty wine boxes. Both cats were sleeping, Sophie in her felted bed and Cloudy on the sofa. Each one opened one half eye, closed it and went back to sleep. Where they dreamed that we were planning to sell the house from under them and move everything out of it. When they woke up they stopped eating, stopped drinking,  and hid in the woodwork where they can’t be found. That was a while ago. Cloudy has let his imagination run away with him, so now he’s also convinced, as he squints at me from under the dining table or through the crack in the closet door where he believes he is camouflaged as shoes, that I am only flipping the switch on the garbage disposal in order to shove a cat down into it. The washing machine? I’m doing a load of cats. Put a Christmas CD in the player? It’s the tragic death aria for cats. Rich can’t go to work without Cloudy freaking out. I spend all the time I’m not fighting with the closets talking soothingly to McCloud about sunny Florida with lots of those fun little anoles running around. I’m putting Cranberry Comfort powder in his food- and then running it down the sink later in the day, all dried up and nasty, before re-filling the dish. Why didn’t I think of this before? Who needs to put the fat cat on a diet? Just start packing up the house.

Rich is doing a fair amount of work travel and he’s not really around much so the cats and I are trying muddle through this busy, dreary time before Christmas. I’m trying to get this done right now so Rich can drive a U-Haul full of our stuff to Asheville enroute to Florida in 10 days. Then, the brickhouse will be cold, catless and totally devoid of personality- a realtor’s dream- while we relax in the sun. I’ve always sold my own houses, quite easily, so I’m hoping she knows what she’s doing. She did make a note of telling me our bed had the proper feng shui, given it’s position in the room. I suppose that’s something.

tilley(Only the world’s most perfect, comfortable, best fitting, handsome sun hat. I mean that.)

Yesterday was a very good day, because we needed more stuff. I got my replacement Tilley hat half off because it fell in the bayou in Florida at the end of last year and they are a wonderful, high quality, old-fashioned company that believes in great customer service. They sent me this new one, just like the old one, no questions asked. Buy a Tilley sun hat. It will be one of the best purchases you ever make. And then Rich came back from a business meeting with Hershey, in PA, because, you know in hard times when everything is going to hell in the proverbial handbasket, people get depressed and they need more…


(He lugged all this back in his briefcase. But I’m not complaining; it’s better than hotel soap. Just took care of the children’s stockings.)

I really am going to tell you the very freaking incident I had with HGTV a couple weeks ago. Flipped me right out. And I have a new Christmas story for you, in case you’re tired of Buckminster Fuller, and I’m going to come around and see how you are and leave holiday greetings. That will be it for the Windy City this year; come January I’ll be posting with more regularity from the porch in Florida.

Still here and the zoo is all aglow


Just a quick note, checking in. All is well. Thanksgiving was wonderful, with the children, Rich and Bud. Those kids. I have much to be thankful for there. Abby and Misha flew up from school and Daniel was here in town playing a show at Schubba’s the day after Thanksgiving. They didn’t go on until almost midnight and then they played a two hour set. I was beyond fading but Bud, who hadn’t ever really seen a live NOMO show, was grooving and clapping. He kept telling everyone, “That’s my grandson” and pretty soon he had a large following of 20-somethings dancing around him and patting him on the back and giving him lots of positive strokes for having such a fine musician in the family.

Bud was in fine form. I’m pretty much done listening to his nonsense about the wishes and needs of “an old man who probably won’t be around much longer.” He’s got that line down pat but he looks fit and stronger and healthier than ever. He  says things like, “If I don’t have a great-grandchild soon, who knows…” and “You wouldn’t deny an old man a third helping of potatoes, would you? Pass the salt and butter.” In addition to dancing into the wee hours we wandered all over the (cold. COLD. WINDY.) zoo. ZooLights are back at Lincoln Park and it’s very pretty with a dusting of snow. The night visitors make the lowland gorillas a bit grumpy; all the other animals seem to just ignore the increase in activity and noise.

I’m surrounded by half finished sweaters, felted slippers, socks, scarves. I go to bed at night picking wool fuzz out of my mouth and I know how the cats feel about hairballs. Soon, we make the trek south and that’s good because I’m already hunkering down and moving less in this cold. There’s lots more to tell, including a very weird encounter with HDTV, but I’m trying to prioritize here so I’ll be intermittent in posting. FC has a new pig- go check her out.

Yes, it was THAT beautiful.

(way down there in the sunny part of the clearing you can see the fenced corner of my future garden.)

I’m almost afraid to write about it. As though maybe we were blessed by mistake. I’m telling you, this future home is a piece of heaven and nothing short. Exactly as planned, we slogged through Walmart and bought two sleeping bags, one giant aero bed, two small oak TV tables, two folding chairs, two candle thingies, and a bottle of champagne. And then we hunkered down to christen our new, future home.

(I took this picture at the same time of day I took the urban dusk photo in the previous post)

In the morning, we awoke to the haze burning off the mountains and by 10 am, I used the zoom, just a little, and took this photo of our view from the stone patio right outside the kitchen door.

(the nearest peak is Mt. Pisgah; the furthest is almost 50 miles away, Cold Mountain)

We had to go to town a couple times for basics: broom and mop and vinegar and Dawn and the world’s cheapest floor lamp. We also got hung up in the curtain department at Target because I had to put up some kind of inexpensive window coverings for the time when we get the house rented. I searched through racks of nondescript curtains, never finding exactly the right number of the right length and I also kept coming up short on curtain rods. I used the tension kind because I don’t want any holes in the perfect, unmarked woodwork window frames. The whole time, Rich sort of stood in the store aisle moaning feebly like a woman in the mid-stages of labor. It was annoying and pathetic. Then we headed into Asheville for a great dinner at Doc Chey’s Noodle House (click the link and watch until you see the sumo wrestles in PEACE LOVE NOODLES outfits.)

Most all our time we spent camped around our lovely fireplace (it draws perfectly, no smoke or soot!), hiked some lovely mountain trails, bought one each of 12 different kinds of apples at the nearby orchard, and took in the beauty and wonder of our new (unmortgaged) home. On Sunday, we met some of our new neighbors. One of them, a delightfully spry woman of about 80, took us on a glorious 2 mile hike and then called a half dozen other neighbors to alert them to our arrival. One woman goes back and forth between her place near us in Sugar Hollow and, guess where? Chicago! I missed her call but I have her number so I’m planning on calling her tomorrow to get acquainted.

(This little clearing might some day house a studio or guesthouse.)

Now we need to find a renter. This makes me a little sad. The house is so impeccably fine and perfect that I want to live there now, but we have to wait a couple years. As a result, I’m trying to look selectively for the just right person or couple to be there until we can be. I’m mostly trying the word of mouth approach so if you know of anyone who might want to live in paradise for a year or so, be sure and send them my way. The price is right for people who will love it and care for it until we can.

Back here in the windy city, Chicago is living up to it’s name today- cold and blustery. Although, really, Chicago was nick-named the ‘windy city’ for her blustery politicians rather than her bitter winter clime. That’s true. Which reminds me. Tomorrow, I’m making my Halloween pumpkin. Yes We Carve.