Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Random Things I Love About My Condo

1. It's mine. All mine. I can (and did) paint it the way I want it. I don't have to worry about nail holes because I own it and there's no landlord to get irritated about paint or nails.

2. It's super sunny! I've got a corner condo and face both directly east and south. In the morning, I walk into my dining room, look out towards Lake Michigan (I can't see the water exactly, but I'm only 2.5 miles from the water) and watch the sunrise. All day long, I get lots of sun through my three huge south-facing windows.

This is the view from my bedroom. Not too shabby.

This was my morning greeting from Mother Nature today. No wonder Betsey and Ross were so eager for me to crawl out of bed. Isn't it gorgeous? (Ignore the bright lights on the right. Those are reflections from the glass.)

3. My 5-mile, 10-minute tollway-free commute to work. Seriously. This morning, as I was pulling into work, the traffic report came on the radio. there were 2 accidents between my old house in Arlington Heights and my job in Lake Forest. Instead of sitting in that traffic and arriving agitated, I arrived quickly and in a lovely mood. Plus, I'm saving a ton of money in gas and tolls and wear and tear on my car.

4. My bedroom. My entire life I've had this image of exactly how I wanted my bedroom. Granted, it's changed over time and I no longer want the Strawberry Shortcake bedroom collection. My tastes have become more sophisticated and refined and I'm creating the bedroom I want. Sure, it still includes some hand-me-downs, but I'm re-purposing and re-painting them to fit my tastes.

5. Going home for lunch. I went home for lunch the other day. Going home is so radically different from going out for lunch. I went home, made lunch, sat down, and put my feet up for a few minutes. I got to breath deeply as I was surrounded by total silence. Seriously, it was the best part of my week. Of course, Betsey and Ross thought that my lunch was their lunch, but that's another blog post.

6. My master closet. It's a huge walk-in closet with two built-ins, plus tons of hanging space. Thanks to the overhead light, it's very bright. When I walk in each morning to choose my clothes, it just feels so luxurious to have a whole dressing space. The only thing it lacks is a mirror, making it difficult to determine if I like my outfit.

7. Being so much closer to the friends I see the most. This is no slight to my friends in Arlington Heights at all, but now the friends I see the absolute most are 15 minutes away, rather than 30+ minutes away. My life just became spontaneous!

8. Lower gas prices and sales tax. I paid $3.76 for gas yesterday. When I was in Arlington Heights on Sunday, gas was $3.99. What's the difference? Cook County taxes. Speaking of, sales tax is 7% rather than 9.5%.

I'm sure there are plenty of other things I love about my condo, but those are all that come to mind at this very moment.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where Were You on 9/11?

We all have moments in our lives that we never forget. We know exactly where we were when we heard certain news. For some people that moment was when Pearl Harbor was attacked, when JFK was shot, when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, or when the OJ verdict came in. For almost all of us, one of those moments surely was the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

I was sitting at a networking group meeting at Ada's Restaurant (it's no longer there) in Arlington Heights. Tom Gosche was speaking, although I can't tell you what his talk was on, as a morning news show caught my eye on the tv across the room and I could focus on anything else. Tom had his back to the tv and it was on mute, so he had no idea what I or anyone else saw. The screen was showing a plane flying into the World Trade Center and then smoke billowing from the building. Sitting there in silence, I had no idea if anyone else in the group had just seen what I saw. And, of course, I didn't really know what I'd seen.

Shortly thereafter, the meeting ended and no one said anything about what I'd seen on the news, so I figured I was the only one who saw it. When I got into my car and flipped on the radio, I immediately realized that what I'd seen was no accident. Immediately, I called my friend Jason who worked in the financial district in New York, but the cell phone lines were jammed.

Arriving home a few minutes later, my brother Dave, who was in town for Mom's birthday the next day, was glued to CNN and I walked in just in time to witness the second plane fly into the World Trade Center live. Mom wasn't home because she'd gone to O'Hare to pick up her lifelong friend Kathy, who just happened to be flying in for a work conference that morning from Memphis.

At the time, Dave was living in Brooklyn, but had just happened to come to town for a week. He tried calling his friends, but ran into the same jammed phone lines I reached.

Not knowing what to do and like the rest of the nation, bouncing back and forth between confusion, horror, and dismay, Dave and I finally decided to go give blood. We didn't know how it might help, but we figured there would be lots of people needing blood and that was all we could do from the suburbs of Chicago.

One of the things that struck me about that day, and still remains in the forefront of my mind as we celebrate the ten year anniversary of September 11th, is the amount of sacrifice that police officers, fire fighters and other first responders made not just that day, but every day.

As people were fleeing New York and Washington DC, police officers and fire fighters ran into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Every single day, they put their own lives in danger, even in the safest communities in our nation. When police office pulls over a speeder, he doesn't know what he'll encounter when he approaches the driver. They run into burning buildings. They work in all kinds of weather and on all the holidays. And they do so without complaining. By all definitions, police officers and fire fighters are heroes.

I don't know about you, but I'm awfully grateful for our first responders and the sacrifices they make. They make those sacrifices so we don't have to worry and can feel safe. If you have the opportunity today stop and say thank you to all the police officers and fire fighters you see. They more than deserve our gratitude.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Rev. Jesse Jackson Reads Dr. Seuss

You cannot possibly love your job as much as I love mine. How do I know? Because of what happened this morning.

I was having a meeting with one of our executive vice presidents about a serious subject matter when all of the sudden the topic of Dr. Seuss comes up. Now let's just stop right there for a second. How often are you able to weave Dr. Seuss into your serious meetings? See, that alone makes my job awesome.

I mentioned that Dr. Seuss spoke at Lake Forest College Commencement in the 1977 (thank you President Hotchkiss) and the EVP says "That's cool, but has Jesse Jackson ever done Dr. Seuss at LFC?" I had no idea what he was speaking of, so he stops and pulls up a video of Jesse Jackson reading Green Eggs and Ham on Saturday Night Live on You Tube. We spent the next five minutes laughing hysterically.

Now even if you can weave Dr. Seuss into routine work meetings, do you get to stop and watch videos? I didn't think so. And that's part of why I love my job so much.

Because I love you too, I want you to be able to enjoy how I spent part of my morning. Unfortunately, You Tube doesn't love you like I do and the embedding function on the video has been disabled. You'll have to visit You Tube to watch it. Trust me, it's worth it.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

No Means No

Have you seen the adorable video of the lovesick puppy attempting to get some lovin' from the cat on Huffington Post?

No? Don't worry, I've got your back. I've brought it to you.

Such a cute puppy. Just wants some of his affection returned.

As I watched the video, two things struck me. First, the non-responsive cat looks an awful lot like Betsey. Second, that's pretty much how she'd respond to any dog violating her personal space like that. Wait, no, she'd probably hiss at him and claw his eyes out. Then she'd have him for lunch. She'd let him know that no means no.

Betsey. She's a princess, but you shouldn't mess with her. No means no.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Oh My God, We're Moving!?!

This is Betsey, of Betsey and Ross, Little Merry Sunshine's cats.

Ross and I just learned that we're moving to some place called "Lake Bluff." We don't know where this place is, but we don't like it.

Frankly, we're happy here in Arlington Heights. We've been here for 11 years and we have no need to change. We've spent a lot of time marking our territory to insure all the neighborhood animals knew who was boss. Do you know how long it takes to mark a whole house? It's hard work. And we're 15. When we moved to Arlington Heights, we were 4, and had tons of energy. Now, we're senior citizens who like to lounge around all day.

We have to find new hiding places. We've got great spots all over the house. Under the bed. In the closet behind the towels. Under the bathroom sink. Behind the sofa. In the rocking chair. Behind the piano. In the pantry. And many more that Mom doesn't know about. And now we have to find new hiding spots.

Is this "Lake Bluff" place even on a bluff with a view of a lake or it is just a bunch of false advertising like the "heights" in Arlington Heights? When we moved here, we thought we were moving to the top of the world, but we're not. We're on the middle of the flatlands. It's nothing like our home in Alexandria, Virginia. Out there, it was hilly. In Arlington Heights, it's just flat for as far as the eye can see. We hope this "Lake Bluff" place lives up to its name.

Another reason we don't want to move is because our vet is just down the road a piece about 10 minutes away. Ross sees the doctor frequently because he's got diabetes and cancer and I have to get my thyroid checked periodically. We love our doctors, Drs. Kinnavy and Guedet, at March Animal Hospital. Everyone at their office knows and loves us and we love them. We're practically celebrities over there. What if we have an emergency and we have to get to the vet quickly?

We like our neighbors. Carol and Courtney, Louise, Don, and Roxanne. They're all friendly to us. Carol comes over to play with us sometimes when Mom is gone. We even like our grandma. She remembered to feed us tonight when Mom forgot. Ross has to eat and then get his insulin shot on schedule. Who will feed us if Mom is out and forgets to come home?

That's it. We're not moving. Mom didn't ask us if we wanted to move and we have legitimate reasons for wanting to stay put. We're not going anywhere. Period.

This is Ross.

Betsey doesn't speak for me. She's being silly. No, we weren't asked for our opinion, but it sounds like our new house is beautiful and we're going wherever Mom goes. Period. As for Mom forgetting to feed us tonight, she remembered when she walked in the door just 5 minutes after her normal time, but her mom had already done it. When it was time, Mom gave me my insulin. Mom always remembers or gets us fed, so it'll all be okay. She takes excellent care of us and if I'm not worried about getting to our favorite vet when we need to, considering I'm the one with the biggest health challenges, then Betsey should chill out.

I'm excited about our new home. New hiding places. And I hear we can see a lake from our bedroom. Mom says our house is also very high up. New friends. It's gonna be great!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Favorite Closing Day Moment

You'd think that my favorite moment yesterday was when I signed the 7,971,052nd form and was told I was done or when I was officially handed the keys to my new home or when I walked into my home for the first time as the owner or even when the doorbell rang and Tim, Michael, and Wini were standing at the door with wine and champagne to toast my home. And you'd be wrong.

My favorite moment happened about an hour after closing when I ran over to Chase Bank in downtown Lake Forest to deposit the money I received back from my closing payment (I had overpaid by a little).

I pulled into the drive-thru exhausted, just wanting to run my errand, and get back to the condo. I was rushing, thinking about the huge to do list that awaited me, and not really in the present when I sent my money through the little machine and waited for the teller at the other end to send me my receipt.

About a minute or two later, I heard a voice and saw a face on the video screen...

"Ms. Gardner?"


"Did it all work out? Did you close on your condo? Are you a homeowner now?"

I was stopped cold with surprise. This was the teller who prepared my cashier's check on Wednesday with my down-payment. When she saw me on Wednesday, I was a mess of emotions. My mortgage broker, Bob Degen, had sent me over to Chase to get the money for my down-payment (but probably also so I'd get some air and focus on something else as I was in a panic), while he worked his magic to make sure all the final i's were dotted and t's were crossed, even though we had some last minute problems. While I was at Chase, I ran into a co-worker and we chatted about my condo while this delightful teller prepared the cashier's check.

"Yes! I am! It all worked out and I officially own my own home! I can't believe you remembered! Thank you so much!"

"Of course I remembered, it's not every day I get to help make someone's dream of being a homeowner come true. Congratulations! I'm really happy for you and look forward to seeing you in the bank more often."

"Thank you! You'll definitely see me soon! Have a great day!"

You know, I've banked Chase in Arlington Heights since I moved back to Chicago in 2000. My family has banked there since 1975 and I opened my first checking accounts there in 1989 when I went to college (of course, back then, it was a predecessor to Chase). At no point have I ever walked into Chase in Arlington Heights or pulled into the drive-thru and been greeted by name. I've only continued to bank there because my entire family banks there and that made it convenient.

But my first day of living in Lake Forest/Lake Bluff and the bank teller greets me by name and takes a sincere interest in me. It was my favorite moment of the day.

As I sit here and type up this story, all day long, I've wanted to call Nana and tell her all about my new home, but it just hit me that I didn't need to call her (even though I obviously can't) because she came to me. She was a banker for 40 years at what's now Bank of America. She greeted each of her customers by name and remembered their life stories - their kids, spouses, homes, births, deaths, new jobs, etc. Clearly the lovely woman at Chase was channeling Nana.

And that's why it was the best moment of my day.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bucket List # 67: Buy a House

The ring of keys to my first home.

It is truly the worst kept secret, but as of late this afternoon, I'm officially a homeowner and checked Bucket List Item #67 off my list. I bought a condo in Lake Bluff.

In so many ways buying this condo is the fulfillment of a very long-held dream.

When I lived in DC in my 20s (yes, that would be the 1990s), friends of mine were buying places, but it took about 5 years of renting before I finally felt "old enough" and started thinking of buying the condo I was living in in 1999. When I rented it, the owner told me he would give me right of first refusal, but then went back on that in early 2000 and sold it without even telling me it was on the market until I received notice I had 60 days to leave because it had been sold. I moved to Chicago shortly after that and for a variety of reasons, couldn't entertain the thought of purchasing my own home.

Fast forward 11 years.

It was only 2 1/2 months ago that I actually started to seriously imagine owning a home.

I was looking at rental units online and found one in my LFC girlfriend Wini's building. Chatting with my LFC friend Derek about it, he suggested I look at buying because of how low housing prices and interest rates were. I hadn't even thought about buying because it didn't occur to me that I could. Suddenly, my heart was atwitter with the idea of owning my own home. I got pre-approved with ease and Derek referred me to the most incredible real estate agent ever.

Shelley Goddard of Coldwell Banker in Lake Forest made the entire first-time buying experience fun, easy-to-understand, and pretty painless. She was a tough negotiator who enabled me to purchase my new home for 75% of the current asking price (70% of the original asking price that had only just been reduced when I stumbled upon the condo) by backing up our offers with thorough research and comps. Once we had a contract, Shelley's advocacy work on my behalf continued as she helped navigate the difficult waters of securing the condo documents with a non-responsive seller's agent and attorney. Even sitting at the closing today, Shelley was advocating on my behalf when the seller failed to fix all of the items in the inspection report because he "didn't know they were there" (even though his attorney agreed to fix them in writing). When I got cold feet, she talked me through, it to make sure I was making the decision that was best for me. All along the way, Shelley had my best interest as her primary focus and motivation. Part of what makes Shelley great is that she only works by referral, will never represent both the buyer and the seller in the same transaction (which is legal in Illinois, but really only in the agent's best interest), and only works with a small number of clients at a time. Shelley's 32 year history of living and working in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff also gave me an advantage. I honestly can't imagine buying or selling a home with anyone else.

Shelley then referred me to mortgage broker Bob Degen of Fifth Third Bank in Lake Forest who also worked tirelessly to get me an unbelievable mortgage rate and make the mortgage process as simple as it could be, even with a few snafus due to a change in my down payment funding less than 24 hours before closing. True to his word, Bob enabled my deal to close in 30 days, which is unheard of. He even came to the closing today. Rates have dropped again and if you are thinking about buying a home or want to refinance your current home, call Bob and tell him I referred you. He's the only mortgage broker I will ever deal with.

My attorney, Kathleen Rodriguez, a girlfriend of mine in Arlington Heights, got me through a very difficult attorney review and inspection period, which honestly didn't end until we were sitting at the closing table. She talked me off the ledge more than once and held my hand through the closing process as I developed carpel tunnel syndrome from signing my name 792 times. I had been very confused about how all the credits worked and even through this morning, I was very nervous, but Kathleen explained it all so I could understand it easily. And she fought a good fight with the seller's attorney today when it turned out they didn't fix a safety issue in the inspection. Kathleen was worth her fees many times over. She doesn't have a website, but if you need a real estate attorney, let me know and I'll give you her information.

Another Forester girlfriend, Kara, couldn't stop raving about the movers she hired for her recent move and referred me to LFC alum Derrick Spencer of Aaron Brothers Moving. Derrick and his company are officially moving me next week.

Finally, after the closing today, I met my original Forester Friend Tim State, his boyfriend Michael Norpell, and Wini at the condo to help pick out the color Michael is going to paint my bedroom. Michael is an interior designer, so he really knows his stuff and is going to help me make my condo elegant and classy. Even though I had fallen in love with Silver Peony about 18 months ago on Forester girlfriend and interior designer, Barrie Spang's blog, The Designing Life (scroll all the way down on the home page and see the picture called "Master Bedroom"), we ended up choosing Lavender Ice, a color Tim and Michael have in their home.

This is what I'll see when I look out my bedroom window each morning.

Lest you have any doubt, buying, moving into and decorating my first home would not be possible without my Forester Family and their connections.

I can't wait to get moved in and settled. And more than that, I can't wait to host my first dinner party. Then it will truly feel like home.