Moving Day...

We made it. We might be surrounded by boxes on every side, but the actual moving part of our move is now complete. All that's left is to unpack, though saying it that way makes it sound like unpacking will be quick and painless. I have no illusions that it will be either, but I do hope to be mostly finished by the 12th of next month, when we leave for a Valentine's trip to New Orleans. A girl can dream, right?

Some of the boxes piled up in my parents' garage.

I had Justin choose the moving company (he's good at aggregating reviews from various places and taking into account a wide variety of opinions before making a decision on things, whereas I tend to be more impetus in my decision-making), and I couldn't be more pleased with his choice. He chose M&M Movers, and I'd highly recommend them to anyone moving in the Chicagoland area. They showed up around 7:40, and had all the boxes and furniture packed up in just about an hour, despite the fact that we'd gotten snow and a coating of ice on the driveway the night before. 

Loading up the moving truck.
They hauled all of our stuff up to our third-floor walk-up (the entire reason I wanted to hire movers in the first place), and were finished by about 10:30. Factoring in their travel time, the job came in at four hours, which was less than their original estimate, and therefore cheaper than what we had budgeted for, which was fantastic. They paid attention to how we had the boxes marked, so nearly everything ended up in the correct room, and they even took off their shoes when they were walking around in our apartment to protect the floors. I kind of wondered about that, since I'd imagine they'd want their steel-toed boots on if they happened to drop any of those boxes on their feet, but I guess they're adept at not dropping things...

There are so many boxes, you can barely see the couch. Almost everything in that pile is for the kitchen -- this is what happens when your hobby is cooking.
Overall, I was really pleased with how the move went, and I was genuinely shocked how fast it was accomplished. This is why you pay a professional, people. I'm trying, with varying levels of success, to not let the unpacking job ahead of us overwhelm me. I just need to keep sight of the fact that the worst is behind us, and it's all downhill from here. Soon we'll be settled into our new home, and it will be worth all the work it has taken, and will continue to take to get there.

Our bedroom, finally made functional by the arrival of our bed. Tonight will be our first night in our new place!


So Long, Farewell...

After taking the day off and devoting it to packing up the last of my clothes and essential kitchen items, we loaded up the car and brought the last of my belongings back to my parents' house. The movers are arriving at 8:00 in the morning tomorrow to move us into our new home. The moment that we've been preparing for since mid-October is finally here!
The empty closet that used to be bursting at the seams with my clothes.
As I closed the door of my parents' condo for the last time, I started to wax nostalgic about my time there. It has been my home for the past four years, a period in my life that has been filled with tremendous growth. I've been through two jobs, developed my interest in cooking as a hobby, established and maintained this blog, entered the dating pool, met the love of my life, and now I'm leaving the place that has witnessed all those life changes in order to live with him and grow our relationship together. When I came here at the end of 2007, I couldn't have foreseen any of those changes, and many of them, especially the thought of finding a man like Justin, seemed like distant and unattainable dreams. 

I am excited to see where the next few years take me. I am eager to take on the work of building a new life with the man I love, and I am grateful for the opportunity to see him every day and share even the quiet and mundane moments of life together. Moving has not been fun, and it's been stretching out far longer than I would have anticipated. Unpacking all of our boxes and meshing together all of our belongings won't be fun either. But I can't wait until we're on the other side of this process, comfortably ensconced in a new home that is truly ours.

More than anything else, I am full of hope. This process hasn't been easy, and it won't always be easy going forward, but more than perhaps at any other time in my life, I have faith that our future is bright. Now that future is about to start, with our move tomorrow. Wish us luck!


The Final Countdown...

Ladies and gentlemen, we are now six days away from moving! I dedicated yesterday to packing up the rest of my kitchen supplies and many of my non-perishable food items, leaving me with a diet of cold sandwiches, cereal, and carry-out until the end of the week. Today, I put in my last day of work on our new place with Justin and Mom, though the two of them will be back tomorrow on Justin's day off to keep working on their projects.

Overall, I'm feeling really good about our progress. I finished cutting shelf liner for all our kitchen cabinets (I was initially attracted to our condo due to its spacious kitchen and ample cabinet space, but about half-way through this project, I was secretly wishing we had a tiny galley kitchen instead), so we'll be able to put away all our kitchen stuff when we move. Thankfully, we had our cable installed on Thursday, so I was able to enjoy our new television while I was sitting at the dining room table working, and I was able, at long last, to watch the Cooking Channel, which I consider superior to the Food Network, since they have shows that actually focus on, you know, how to cook things, as opposed to celebrity chefs engaged in inane competitions. I tasked Justin with picking out our t.v. and cable provider, and I think he chose very well on both fronts.

Mom and Justin put the finishing touches on our master bedroom and the second bedroom, which Justin likes to refer to as his "mancave," since that's where his desk and computer will be. This allowed me to get the rooms vacuumed and mopped with my seriously awesome new Eureka Enviro Hard-Surface Steamer. I'm not one to get super-psyched about cleaning products, and I'm not the kind of person who uses their blog to endorse products, but I have to say, this steam cleaner is life-changing. Mopping is probably in the top three of my least favorite household chores, after cleaning the toilet and washing the dishes, but this Eureka took virtually all the vigorous effort out of the equation. 

I also appreciate that it cleans without chemicals, which is not only more earth-friendly, it will eventually save me money on cleaning products, and spare my asthma-y lungs from inhaling their fumes. I'm not sure it would be the best choice if you had an enormous house (I only got through one and a half rooms before I had to add more water), but if you live in a small space with non-carpeted floors, I seriously can't recommend this product enough.

The master bedroom -- check out the awesome teal wall! I swear, the color is in the rug...
I was a little disappointed, however, with the condition of our rug, which my college friends may recognize from the dining room of the house we rented together senior year. It was pretty filthy after a year of dining room duty, so we had it professionally cleaned by Oscar Isberian, a local chain of oriental rug purveyors in the Chicagoland area. It cost $162 to get it "cleaned," (which is, at least, cheaper than a new rug would have cost), but when we unrolled it, it was covered in threads, lint, and debris. I didn't see any of the stains that were on it before, but it certainly didn't look clean. I had to spend a good amount of time attacking it with our Dyson vacuum, which helped, but it certainly wasn't the quality of cleaning I was hoping for. I wouldn't recommend Oscar Isberian at all, if you're in the market for a rug cleaning. 

I do, however, love the nightstands I was able to pick up for a steal at the Honquest outlet store that was going out of business near my parents' house. We stopped in on a whim one day and found them at a huge discount from their original price. They look beautiful with the floor, and though they aren't quite the same finish as my dresser, I think they have similar lines. I can't wait until we get the curtains hung, and the rest of the furniture in place. The bedroom is going to look great!

The mancave, complete with futon, to accommodate whatever house guests we might get in the future.
In the second bedroom, we struggled for ages to find the right shade of grey paint to match the rug we'd picked out; in fact, I think we looked at every swatch of grey paint in the state of Illinois, but I'm pleased with the choice we ultimately made. I wanted to keep the color scheme neutral in light of the very bright turquoise futon I'd fallen in love with. For Christmas, I got Justin some vintage-inspired Star Wars posters from Etsy to hang over the futon, so those, along with the pillows, will provide the only real pop of color in there besides the futon itself.

Turquoise, it seems, is the thread that ties our home together. We have the pale aqua rug and accents in the kitchen/living/dining room, the bold teal wall in the master bedroom, turquoise towels and accents for the guest bathroom, and the turquoise futon in the second bedroom. Initially, Mom was concerned that my decorating scheme lacked cohesion, but I really think all the rooms work nicely together. I'm proud of how our home is coming together, and I can't wait to share more pictures with you once we get the rest of our furniture, and start hanging the curtains and artwork. Those final touches will the things that turn our new house into a real home.

We still have a long ways to go. The bathrooms need to be painted, and there is new hardware to install in the master bathroom. We've purchased new light fixtures for most of the rooms, and those need to be installed. Hanging the curtains is a big priority for me, since we went and bought a condo with an eastern exposure, even though I vowed never to do that again after living with the sun streaming in my windows in the morning for the past four years. At least now, in my own home, I'll finally get the curtains I've been wanting to block out the sun's offensive early morning rays. That's one perk of owning your own place.

Still, I think we're in good shape headed into our move next week. The main rooms are ready to receive furniture, and I think I've made enough progress in packing that I won't be up until 3 am every night this week finishing it. Let's do this thing!


Weekend Warriors...

Yet again, my entire weekend was devoted to home improvement projects, with varying degrees of success. Saturday, I went over to our new place to work with Mom, who's been concentrating on painting our bedroom, which she finished earlier today. I don't have any pictures yet, because I decided to wait until next week when I plan to clean the floor in there and get our rug and end tables in place, in preparation for the arrival of our bed on moving day in just two weeks.

I'm loving the deep turquoise I picked for the accent wall behind the bed, but I'm on the fence about the khaki color I chose for the other three walls, which looks unexpectedly peachy in the natural light pouring in from our east-facing windows. I'm hoping that once we get our curtains hung over them, the additional darkness will tone down the color and it will look more brown than orange. Fingers crossed!

Yesterday, I spent several hours using a tiny travel steamer to remove the wrinkles in our living room curtains, which are holdovers from the creases that were made in the fabric when it was packaged for sale. I could only get about a panel and half finished before I had to turn the machine off, wait for it to cool down, and refill it, so it was somewhat of a frustrating exercise. When I was finished, however, they looked fantastic.

Imagine my horror, then, when we turned on the lights once it started getting dark, and I discovered that all of the wrinkles I had systematically removed had come right back! Rage isn't even a strong enough word to capture my emotions at that moment. Now we'll have to take them back down off the wall and iron them. I think I'm willing to live with the wrinkles for the moment -- I have more important things to worry about.

I also started washing our linens this weekend so that we'll have clean sheets and towels waiting for us when we move in. It's not glamorous work, but it has to be done. It's amazing how many small details need to be attended to in for a place to be livable. Like shelf-liner, another task that I started to conquer today. We didn't have enough for me to line all of our kitchen cabinets, but I made some headway and got the rest of the cabinets measured so we'd know how much more we needed. It feels like a silly thing to be working on when we have so many major projects going on (like painting the bedrooms and bathrooms), but all of our pots, pans, and food are going to have to go somewhere in two weeks, and I'd rather they not scratch up our lovely cabinets. Especially not after I've invested so much time in cleaning them inside and out.

Justin worked on a variety of small projects as well today, ranging from removing the old hardware in our bathroom to accommodate the new towel bars we have on the way, to working with Mom to drill holes in the back of our entertainment center to hide all the cables in advance of our cable installation this week, to replacing the outlet covers on the walls that have already been painted. As he screwed the stainless steel outlet covers into place in the bedroom, he said to me, "We are going to be comfortable in our new home!" 

What I think he was trying to express was an appreciation for the attention to detail we're bringing to furnishing our new home. It's the little things, like fancy outlet covers and immaculately cleaned cabinets that make this place feel like a real home, not just a place where we're living until the next best option becomes available. Even though it exhausts me, I'm proud of the work we've done, and I'm grateful to my mom for all the help she's been giving us to help turn our house into a home. Our move is getting closer every day, and I'm happy to having such a beautiful space awaiting us.


A Religious Experience - Part Nine

As predicted, our impending move has put a serious crimp in my social life, and this week, the weather isn't helping matters either. I clearly jinxed myself last weekend when I mentioned our remarkably mild winter, as we're scheduled to get 3-6 inches of snow tonight and tomorrow. Between the packing and the threat of snow, I've been lying low and don't have much to write about at the moment. Since I don't want to deprive my loyal readers of my brilliant musings, here, at long last, is the post I've been holding on the final church we visited during our Open House Chicago experience back in October:

The Chicago Temple, First United Methodist Church
77 West Washington
Chicago, IL

In my last installment of this series, I explored a church which I had been aware of basically my entire life, and ultimately found myself unimpressed. This time, Open House Chicago introduced me to a church that I didn't even know existed before that day back in October -- the Chicago Temple of the First United Methodist Church. I'd seen the building numerous times, in fact, it even appears in the background of a 2009 photo I took of the Daley Plaza Christmas tree, in which I referred to it simply as a Gothic Revival-style skyscraper. As it turns out, the building houses the oldest congregation in Chicago, the First Methodist Church, which was founded in 1831, two years prior to the city's official incorporation date. 

They have had a church on this site since 1838, when they got a great deal on some land at the corner of Washington and Clark streets, and dragged the wood cabin where they had been meeting across the river and onto their new spot. Fires and renovations caused the congregation to move through a series of subsequent buildings, and in the late 1910s, they decided to capitalize on their increasingly valuable land and build a skyscraper on their site. The current Chicago Temple was constructed between 1922 and 1924, and was designed by the firm of Holabird and Roche. The building is home to three separate sanctuaries, two located on the bottom floors of the building, and a Sky Chapel located in the building's spire, making it the highest church in the world. The remainder of the building's space is leased to various commercial enterprises and ecclesiastic organizations.
This stained glass window in the Sky Chapel memorializes the original log cabin that served as the First Methodist Church's first Chicago house of worship.
The tour to which we were privy was of the Sky Chapel, a truly remarkable religious space in the heart of downtown, and a hidden gem in every sense of the word. Chicago runneth over with Gothic Revival buildings that have nothing to do with religion at all, take for example the Tribune Tower, while the Chicago Temple quietly houses a functional church with a thriving congregation. At one time, that congregation included members of the Walgreen family, heirs to the pharmacy fortune, who donated the funds to furnish the Sky Chapel in 1952. Previously, the space had gone unused.

The room is full of light, provided by 16 stained glass panels that tell stories from the Old Testament, stories from the life of Christ, the history of the Methodist Church, and the story of the First Methodist Church of Chicago, each on their own wall. They might not have been the most beautiful or artistically significant stained glass I've ever seen, but I admired their quirky decorations, and their self-referential nature. Whereas many works of ecclesiastic art are somewhat generic, and would work in any church, under a wide variety of contexts, those in the Chicago Temple were site-specific. Take this one for example:

Here you see the spire of the Chicago Temple Building, where you happen to be standing when you see this window. I also like the plane flying overhead, reminding you of how high up you are.
The 1952 decorations also include this somewhat unsettling altarpiece, carved by Alois Lang and J. Wolters, which shows Christ looking out over the circa 1952 skyline and giving the city his blessing.
The tour also took us outside, into the pastor's garden, located at the base of the building's spire. The view was enviable, but I was completely freaked out by being so high up and exposed to the elements. The pastor had lawn furniture and a barbeque grill out there, but I simply can't fathom just hanging out up there to relax. I'd be afraid the wind alone would blow you away. Yikes!

Although the Chicago Temple and its Sky Chapel may not have been the most spectacular of the churches I've visited so far, I think they may be the most unique. It's amazing to consider that this congregation has been meeting on the same site for almost 175 years, while the city as we know it today has grown around it. The church has changed to meet the times, and now it lives on as a true hidden gem. The Chicago Temple is the embodiment of everything I hoped to accomplish in undertaking this tour of Chicago's ecclesiastic architecture. It has taught me more about the history of my beloved city, and exposed me to yet another amazing structure that's been lurking right under my nose, unnoticed. I can only hope to discover more spaces like it in the year to come.


(Feels Like) Spring Cleaning...

I haven't really written about it since the middle of last month, but we've still be chipping away at our move, which we've tentatively scheduled for the 28th of this month.The holidays kind of screwed up our momentum, but Justin and my mom have been over at our new place as much as possible during the week to work on the home improvement projects going on there. We spent nearly all of New Year's weekend packing, and I've been focusing on continuing that process, in addition to organizing and purging my belongings in the hope that we'll be able to fit two people's stuff into one condo. Keeping in that theme, I spent my weekend in the burbs going through stuff, packing, and organizing the belongings I have there.

Saturday, I started off the day with Mom, packing up her car to take a load of boxes up to her house. Given the complexity of our move (there is stuff coming from my parents' condo where I live now, furniture coming from my bedroom at my parents' house, stuff from the storage locker where I put all my belongings after college, and stuff from Justin's house), we decided to consolidate as much as possible and stage the move from my parents' house, so we wouldn't have to pay more for the movers to go to all those different places. As a result, we're really engaging in several different mini-moves, but I think it's worth all of the logistical planning in order to get the movers to carry as much as possible up to our third-floor walk-up.

After we deposited another batch of boxes in the garage, I started about the task of cleaning out my dresser to ready it for the move. I tossed a huge volume of papers, cards, movie ticket stubs, and miscellaneous bric-a-brac from my high school days. It was kind of fun to see it all one last time, but at the same time, high school feels like a million years away now, and my emotional attachment to that phase of my life is virtually non-existent. Those were not memories I felt I needed to take with me into the new life I'm about to start.

In the evening, I went over to Justin's parents' house to help him start the arduous task of cleaning out his childhood bedroom and packing up his stuff to move. To say that Justin is a pack rat is somewhat of an understatement, and I'm not sure he'll have his room cleaned out in time for us to move, but I think it was good that I was there to provide some encouragement and moral support for his purging process. It's a process that will be hard, but necessary for him, and I'll continue to provide support (and a bit of nagging) until he's finished.

Today, Justin, Mom and I went over to the storage unit where I stored my stuff from college and went through the boxes there. It was nostalgic to see the furnishings from the house I rented with my friends on Pershing, near campus, but very little of them go with our current color palette, and I marked them to be donated to charity. I also culled two entire boxes of my once enormous board game collection, which was appropriate when I routinely entertained groups of 6-10 people, but aren't so necessary now that my home is going to consist of two individuals. 

I kept some classics, like Pictionary and Trivial Pursuit, and perhaps the most emotionally resonant of all my college-era belongings -- my Milles Bournes set, but disposed of almost everything else. Even if it won't be the same as it was in college with all my pals, I can't wait to teach Justin how to play Milles Bournes, and maybe even the accompanying song that we made up for it.

My goal was to completely empty the storage unit, so my parents can stop paying for it on my behalf, but with the garage so full of moving boxes, there simply wasn't room to bring it with us. It'll have to remain there until we get all of our stuff moved to our new place later this month.

Thankfully, the weather has been cooperating with our moving plans. It's been incredibly unseasonably warm around here, with virtually no snow to speak of so far. I probably could be getting away with just wearing a jacket if I really wanted. I know it's all going to come to an abrupt end shortly, but in the meantime, I'm going to try to cram in as much preparation for the move as possible...


Food of the Gods...

Although part of my New Year's resolution was to do more cooking at home, the fact that all of my pots, pans, and other cooking equipment are about to go into boxes is putting that plan on a bit of a hold. I'll be getting back to that goal once we're settled into our new place, but in sort of a last hurrah for my culinary career in my current kitchen, I decided to ring in 2012 with one of my best dishes, the caramelized onion, bacon, and Gruyere pizza that is much-beloved by my mother, and was one of the first dishes I ever wrote about here on "The State I Am In." Though I had made pizza from scratch with Justin last year, I had yet to make my most famous recipe for him to sample, so I figured it was time to stop holding out on him.

Tonight, since he was coming over for dinner again, I decided to prepare for him another recipe that I had been quietly keeping to myself -- mac and cheese Lorraine. After discovering my affinity for flavor combination of Gruyere, bacon, and caramelized onions, I started seeking it out in other forms a few years ago, and I found a mind-blowingly delicious mac and cheese recipe that touched on all three of that pizza's major ingredients. I've sometimes made it as a quicker, less fussy alternative to the pizza version that captures some of the magic of the original without going through the multi-hour effort of making a crust. More often, however, I've made it as a way of using up the leftover caramelized onions from making the pizza (it takes so long to make them, that I typically make more than I need just to have them on hand. They're also excellent in quesadillas with some blackened chicken.)

Justin is kind of an easy sell when it comes to any recipe involving bacon, so I was hardly surprised when he emitted a rapturous "Mmm!" before the spoon even reached his mouth. I was not prepared, however, for the startled exclamation of, "Oh my God, this is REALLY good!!" that came next. I was pleased that he liked it so much, but I don't think I've ever served him anything that was borderline inedible. There were some recipes I've tried in the last year that have been better than others, but overall, my cooking adventures tend to be relatively successful. I guess I should be happy that I can still surprise him at this point.

Now that I'm finally sharing this recipe with you, I think you need to try it. Yes, it's on the heavy side. Yes, it's not exactly New Year's resolution diet-friendly. But it will knock your socks off, and probably those of your significant other as well. Make it for someone who you're trying convince of your skills as a domestic goddess (or god, for that matter), and awe them your ability to produce a bowl of utter deliciousness. Or, do what I did before I met Justin, and make a pot just to pamper yourself. You deserve a tasty surprise too, after all...

Mac and Cheese Lorraine
adapted from Rachel Ray

1/2 lb. pipette or elbow macaroni
4 pieces bacon, chopped
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons chicken stock
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. heavy cream
1 c. Gruyere cheese, grated
salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste

1. Over medium-high heat, cook bacon to crisp. Remove to paper towels and drain.
2. To fat, add onions and cook 45 minutes to an hour until deep mahogany and well-caramelized, stirring occasionally. 
3. While onions cook, boil the pasta and prepare sauce.
4. Heat a sauce pan over medium heat. Add the butter, melt, and whisk in flour. Cook one minute, then whisk in stock, milk, and cream, and bring to a bubble. Allow to thicken a few minutes, and season with salt, pepper, and a scant pinch of nutmeg. 
5. Stir in cheese using a figure-8 motion. 
6. Drain pasta, stir in onion and cheese sauce to coat. Top with crispy bacon to serve.


Happy New Year...

Well, for me, this hasn't been the best New Year's on record: I've been sick since Wednesday, and Justin and I decided to forgo any sort of festive celebration in favor of packing and getting ready for our move all weekend. It wasn't the most thrilling course of action, but Justin and I both have three days off of work, which is practically unprecedented given our divergent work schedules, and we felt that it would be the responsible thing to do to use that uninterrupted time to work towards our common goal of getting moved. Last night, we packed non-essential kitchen items, seasonal stuff, cleaned out the storage locker I keep at my current apartment building, and sorted a variety of other materials to figure out what's going with us, and what is staying at my parents' condo. We worked on it until about 11:30, and then had a lone celebratory cocktail to ring in 2012. Exciting stuff.

In a similar vein, my New Year's resolutions are pretty tame as well, and are focused on the new life that Justin and I are building, as opposed to scratching off items from an ambitious to-do list, like last year. In fact, I didn't even make a list this year. Instead, my goals for 2012 are twofold:
  1. Finish moving. I dream of the day when all the boxes are moved, unpacked, and all of our belongings are merged, organized, and in their proper place. I want to be done painting, get our light fixtures swapped out, and the handful of carpentry projects completed. I'm looking forward to establishing new routines, and settling into life together. I'm ready for all this upheaval and stress in our lives to be behind us once and for all. I know that household projects never really end once you're a homeowner, but I'd like to have the majority of it finished. It's my single-biggest goal of 2012.
  2. Cook more at home. Since Justin and I aren't currently living together, we tend to see each other most often when we are going out to do something, and that means eating out together. Once we're living together, our budget will be more restricted, and there will be a lot of quiet evenings spent together at home, so I resolve to cook more meals from scratch, together. In preparing to move, I've gone through years of back issues of Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Saveur, Everyday Food, and Food and Wine and pinned all the recipes that interested me to Pinterest so I could finally throw them away instead of hauling them all with me. I've got a seemingly endless queue of new recipes to try now, and I hope to make a huge dent in it.
I apologize, dear readers, but I believe my life is about to get a lot less glamorous. There will be less theater-going and more movies, especially movies watched at home on our new couch, via Netflix. All the bustle and activities of downtown will be further away, and more difficult to make time for. These are changes I'm willing to make to take this step with Justin, but the early stages of this new life may not exactly make for the most compelling reading material. Welcome to 2012 -- the year of quiet domesticity!