I mentioned that I recently moved into a new apartment. This makes number four since I re-patriated, and number three in my current metro area.
In some ways, nothing will ever compare to my Philadelphia apartment. It was my first place on my own after many years of cohabitation, the start of a new life of independence. It didn't have a lot of floor space, but it felt expansive: a bilevel, brightly lit thanks to the two-story Federal style window that filled most of the east-facing wall. My commute to school involved a 20-minute walk and two subways, but I lived in exactly the neighborhood I wanted to. I was practically across the street from a Wawa, a short walk to lots of shops, restaurants and bars, and a fabulously diverse and vibrant neighborhood. Grocery shopping was a little tricky without a car, but doable.
My first apartment out here was also a bilevel, in a (failed) attempt to recreate the magic of that place. The layout of this second location left a lot to be desired, so the upper level basically went unused except as a catch-all for stuff. It had its perks: fancy appliances (even a--tiny--washer and dryer in a little storage closet next to the bathroom), a fireplace. But it felt so isolated. It was located along the so-called greenbelt, with parks and duck ponds and lovely running paths. Technically, it was walking distance to bars and restaurants, but most of those were out of my price range and/or overrun with twentysomethings (or fortysomethings heavily botoxed and surgically altered to pass for twentysomethings in dim lighting). The half-hour driving commute is no big deal by US standards, I know, but I found it demoralizing.
So, I stayed there less than a year before skedaddling downtown. This new apartment was tiny, but somehow the rooms felt large, maybe because of their quirky shapes. It even had a full-size washer and dryer in a little utility room, a huge walk-in closet, and a garden tub. There were French doors opening onto a tiny balcony with an odd metal grate for a floor that made it virtually unusable, but it overlooked the pool and enclosed courtyard, so all was forgiven. Most exciting for me was the fact that I was finally allowed--nay, encouraged--to paint, so I unleashed my frustrated color demons for the first time. It took me two summers to paint the whole thing, mostly in warm shades, but with a giant bright turquoise accent wall in the living room, and a dove grey wall behind the bed. I loved the color palette. It was a ten-minute walk to work, right on the light rail, with a couple of coffee shops within a three-block radius and an easy stroll to pretty much anything I wanted to do downtown.
I was happy there, for the most part. For a while. But the lack of light of a westerly, courtyard-facing unit with a single window wore me down, as did the fraying, unraveling carpet and pervasive sense of claustrophobia. When the complex was bought out by another corporation, who immediately raised the rent even further above the I-can-barely-afford-this level where it was before, I knew it was time to leave.
I miss my ten-minute walking commute. But I kind of dig taking the light rail to work, feeling a part of the pulse of the city. I've downgraded in terms of appliances, with no dishwasher, shared laundry, and a range with a nonfunctioning broiler. There's no power outlet in the bathroom, a fact I discovered on my first morning after I moved in, wandering around helplessly with my Sonicare in hand, an exile in desperate search of a socket. The kitchen still has its 1960s tile counters, which are pretty but kind of annoying to clean, and the cabinets are tiny and short (though there are a lot of them, at least, for such a small space). There's no microwave built in, and nowhere to put one if I bought it myself. I had to pay to get the cable internet line upgraded, and the connection comes out of the front closet. In a lot of ways, this place looks like a case of downward mobility in action.
On the other hand, there's no carpet, just tile and faux-wood linoleum flooring, which is a huge relief. There's a second bedroom, which is nice for stuff, and for when I have out-of-town visitors. There are loads of windows, which makes for good light for me and excellent kitty TV for Fred, especially with all the birds that like to hang out in the trees and cacti and fences of the house next door. I am within three blocks of three of my favorite restaurants and bars, a fifteen-minute walk to the theatre (and still more great dining and drinking establishments), and the neighborhood itself is all palm trees and older homes and views of the mountains. I step outside, and think, yes. This is where I want to live.
Best of all, for the first time since I was a kid, I have some outdoor space. A patio! Of my very own! Covered, because here, if it's not shaded it might as well not exist for a big chunk of the year. Fred was terrified at first, but is now greatly enjoying her occasional (carefully supervised) forays into the outdoors.
Yesterday, I hung some Christmas lights. This being my first attempt at outdoor holiday decorating, there are some mistakes. For one thing, I need to buy more (hey, 20 feet sounded like a lot!). I don't quite have the knack of evenly winding the strands around the posts. I probably should have thought more carefully about buying a combination of white and multicolored strands (just one of each, because, see above), and what the final effect of mixing them together might be. They don't look even a little bit fancy, or elegant. They're pretty ghetto, frankly, as Christmas lights go. But here's the thing: I love the way they look, flaws and all. They look like home.