When I was small, one of my go-to games was “Little House on the Prairie.” I was ever stuck on the romantic notion of traveling far with only your family and the most necessary of possessions. I dared not think about danger, only the clever Conestoga wagons, the calico dresses, the campfires. We had this little tent that I would drag around the back yard for hours, making my way to the prairie where something fantastic would happen. Living, I guess. My game never really got that far, to the living. It was mostly about the journeying.
It’s no game anymore. I’m not trying to make it to Montana in a covered wagon, but I am at the point in life when I can remember those romanticized pioneer women as true distant sisters. I know a tiny something about this now, this dragging a life around with me, this incessant traveling, this little nugget of homesteading hope. It doesn’t seem so romantic anymore. No, it just sounds terrifying and crappy. If I were a pioneer woman, I would have cried every day, I think, in my covered wagon full of my stuff. I would have looked at my pots and pans and husband and sheets and thought, “Good heavens, what in the world are we doing?”
And that is a little how it feels in a garden apartment in Chicago. It’s sort of terrifying. But it’s also lovely and energizing. Lovely and energizing in the same way as that weepy pioneer woman might feel when at last she is standing with hands on her hips on land that is hers imagining where a garden might fit.
We’ve been settling in this past month, placing things on shelves, collecting craigslist furniture, putting together our first real home together. An activity in placemaking, full of hundreds of micro-choices that all point to bigger questions like: Who are we really? What do we like? What sort of things do we want to surround ourselves with? How much do we need? What does it mean to build a home together? How much of me, and how much of you?
It’s been a fantastic creative project for me, and frankly I’m a little bummed that things have mostly fallen into place. We were quick to settle. At the beginning there our days felt like a sprint to unpack all the boxes and give things homes. Now I’m wishing for a little more of a marathon. I’m lingering in the areas of the apartment that feel unfinished. The spot above the blue chair that needs some sort of piece of art that I am yet to discover. A solution to the bookshelf that is now half hidden by our giant couch. A way to hang a heavy mirror. I don’t mind giving some of these projects some time. It makes it feel like there is still creativity to be had. I never want the apartment to feel finished.
Since we moved in we have been spending time designing and creating our space, yes, but we have also been living here. It takes some getting used to. I hear the neighbor upstairs walking around often, there is some insect-action going on in the bathroom, the lack of garbage disposal means more food gunk to deal with than before. But living here is mostly a joy. This apartment feels quite seriously perfect for us. Exactly what we imagined when dreaming of starting out somewhere small and sweet in the city. We live two doors down from a gourmet gelato shop, my day job is only blocks away, friends are nearby, and there are trees and flowers. In our garden-level apartment, we like to sit on our couch and watch the parade of feet, strollers, and dogs walking by on any given summer day. It’s a privilege to live in this apartment right now in our lives. A privilege I want to remember each time I cross the threshold into this, our home.
Our fridge is full, our plants are in the windowsill, our clothes are in the closets, we got creative with the astonishing lack of electrical outlets, we really, really live here. The wagon’s in the shed, the bricks are being laid, we’ve chosen a spot, my hands are on my hips, the prairie wind is biting my face, and goodness gracious I’m planning a garden.
Here are some photos of our home as it currently stands. It is in no way finished or set in time. I hope it changes continuously for as long as we live here. Notice the dishes in the sink and the clutter on the desk. Life!