Sunday, July 26, 2015

We're moving! And What I Learned from the Competitive Rental Market in Chicago

We're moving! To Chicago!

It didn't feel real until I had a start date and the job offer in my email inbox. And then it still didn't feel real until I had an apartment to call home. And then it still didn't feel real until we started changing our bills to our new address and a veterinarian for Mort.

I've accepted a job in the special events department of the natural history museum in Chicago. I'll be getting to work on incredible events that I've admired for years from afar. I'm excited to work in a bigger city and with a bigger events industry. S will be transferring to his company's office in Chicago, so that will be an easy transition for him.

Finding apartment is just like dating. It's exciting at first, you stalk the photos online, you Google street view it, you imagine yourself with it, and then you find out that someone else already has an application in on it. Someone else looked better on paper, had a better credit score than you, or simply got there first.

After weeks of searching last minute for an apartment available August 1st (so that we can move in to the apartment mid-August) we finally found something. It's a 2 bedroom plus office/den, with a separate dining room for my burled black walnut table, PLUS a fireplace! In Wicker Park! I never thought that we would be able to afford Wicker Park, let alone an apartment there large enough for our big dining room table. For the price, it even includes heat and cable - both things we'll need a lot of when we're holed up in the harsh winters.

Wicker Park is home to many artists and restaurants and bars and shops. There's even a dog-friendly pub on the corner of our block! In winter, we won't have to walk far in the cold with Mort to grab a quick beer when we're feeling stir crazy. The streets are tree-lined and residential and the boulevards are dotted with art galleries, boutiques, music venues, local's favorite restaurants, book stores, and more. On my Chicago board on Pinterest, you can see I've already started planning places to go with S and from there we'll find our favorites to share with friends that visit!

It took a a few weeks of apartment hunting to finally feel this calm. The rental market up there is incredibly competitive, and it was little harder for us with a dog. So I thought I would share some of the things that these horribly stressful few weeks have taught me.

What I've Learned From the Insanely Competitive Chicago Rental Market:
  • If you aren't ready to put in an application for a place, you should not be looking. All of the places I was looking at to get an idea of what we could afford with our budget, I'd fall a little in love and start imaging what it would be like to live there, to decorate, and then the apartment would of course be unavailable within a day. I quickly learned that even if a place says it's still available, or even if you have an application in on it, does not mean you will get the apartment. Over all, we put in six applications between the two of us, paid over $700 in application fees and holds, and finally found something through a For Rent sign that a friend took a photo of. 
  • If the property has been listed for one day, someone already has an application in on it. Apartments would get picked up by others within hours, making it nearly impossible for us to have time to make arrangements for a friend to see the apartment on our behalf before we put in an application, sight unseen. We ended up having to rely on photos, room dimensions, square footage, our general understanding of the neighborhood, and Google street view. 
  • Money talks. Any given apartment would have multiple applicants in on it and it was up to the owner to chose the most favorable tenant. On paper, we are strong applicants, but then again, when you're reduced to being seen as just your credit score, you had to do something to stand out. Our realtor suggested that we offer to payer a higher rent per month in order to stand apart from the other applicants. We thought that we would be an automatic choice once we did that, but it still took days to hear that we were accepted, and in the meantime, we found other places that we would have rather lived in. 
  • Check your own credit report, or request a copy of your credit report when someone else is pulling it. I've checked my own credit score before, but this was the first time I ever pulled a detailed report on myself. I have a good score, but when I looked at a detailed report, there was a credit card attached to my name that I've never opened. It was closed by the bank because of over $10,000 that was never paid on it. For years, this has been pulling my credit score down and I have never had a credit card with this specific bank. Knowing I could have had a great score instead of just a good score really makes me disappointed. I'm disputing the credit card charges now and I believe it will be taken off my credit report soon, but please check yours if you haven't. You can check your credit report for free, once a year, through a federal website. This isn't a sponsored post, I just hope that others can catch fraudulent activity on their report sooner rather than later!
I've been stalking our new neighborhood on Google maps, seeing how long it will take to get to work, to the grocery store, to the dog park, etc. I've been searching the best things that our area has to offer, and I'm getting really excited to explore a new city! There are a few more "adult" things to do like changing our bank and then changing all of our automatically drafted bills. But in this short limbo of finally finding a home and not yet moving, I'm enjoying every moment of calm and excitement. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Travels | Chicago | Top Ten Favorite Things

Here are a few of my favorite things I did in Chicago, IL during my last minute weekend trip! I knew this was turning into a travel blog. I didn't mean to travel so much. New Orleans was a trip that I've been looking forward to for a while, and then both Paris and Chicago were last minute trips that I couldn't pass up. My main objective for this trip was to get a true sense of the city, it's neighborhoods, spend time with friends, and see as many museums as I could. I was in the city for four full days and yet, there is still so many museums to see and so many things to do!
THE BEAN | Now, the bean is something everyone visiting Chicago must see. However, it was never something I was super excited about, until I saw it in person. The crisp reflection of blue skies, green trees, grey skyscrapers, it was incredibly beautiful. If not for the crowds and my rush to visit the Art Institute before lunch plans, I would have stayed, mesmerized, for hours.
ART INSTITUTE | Two local friends recommended I visit the Art Institute, this being my first trip to Chicago, and so I made my way there after the bean. I knew there were going to be some great, classic art pieces, BUT - I had no idea how many incredible pieces of priceless art are actually housed here. Sure, I remember the scene in Ferris Bueller's Day Off when Cameron stares intensely at the little, pointillism girl in the painting A Sunday Afternoon at the institute. But the museum is also home to Pollock, Picasso, Rodin, Monet, Dali, Van Gogh, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and my favorite, Grant Wood's American Gothic. In person, American Gothic is stunning. There was a crowd around the painting and I nearly teared up when I saw it. It's so beautiful, there are no words to describe the feeling it gave me, only that I wanted to stay there, in that space, in front of that painting, forever. The crowd dissipated and I was left alone, on a bench, staring at the painting, attempting to write about it in my journal. Maybe it's also in that moment that it hit me: I'm in Chicago. I've been making plans to move here for years. And there I was, there, exploring somewhere that will be home some day.
LAKE MICHIGAN | After getting lunch with a friend that I used to work with, she took me walking through Lincoln Park, past the zoo, to the beach! The beach on Lake Michigan is even more packed than Clearwater beach in Florida where my family lives! When the weather is beautiful, Chicagoans are outside enjoying every breath. Then we walked closer to the downtown skyline, where the grass was lush and families were having picnics. We sat on the edge of the lake for a long time, admiring the skyline (does it ever get old?) and catching up.
CHICAGO HISTORY MUSEUM | When I say history museum, I'm sure some are bored already. But I have to say, I was so impressed with this museum. It was so engaging and interesting and the exhibits were SO well done! One of my favorite exhibits was the Secret Life of Objects. There were historical objects like the lamp that caused the Iroquois Theater fire in Chicago, and the plaque described the incident from the lamps point of view. There was also a pair of glasses from a murderer that were left behind at the crime scene. The glasses that belonged to the murderer were the evidence that convicted him of the murder. The plaque said something along the lines of, "I brought two killers to justice... I was there. I saw everything happen. I am the evidence, and the witness." Eerie, but so wonderfully imaginative. I was really looking forward to the dioramas of the city in the past, like of the World's Fair in 1893, but unfortunately, it was under renovations. I already can't wait to go back to this museum!
ARCHITECTURE BOAT TOUR | One thing I learned about Chicago was it's rich history in architecture. I learned about this on the plane ride there while reading the guide book I picked up at the bookstore last minute. I didn't have time to explore the internet for the best things to do in Chicago, so I picked up an old fashioned travel guide, fold out map and all. My friend has lived in Chicago for a year, and she hadn't taken the architecture boat tour yet, so we decided to do it together! It was a great way to spend the afternoon! The tour guide joked that they had the cheapest drinks on the river - which, at $5 a cocktail, was probably true, and a nice little treat while boating with the sun peeking in and out of clouds. I learned so much about the different architecture styles, and I wish I could remember all of the architects names. One stunning fact that I learned was that the Chicago fire happened 20 years prior to the World's Fair. Not only did the city rebuild in 20 years, but they were ready to host an international exhibition in that time!
THE FIELD MUSEUM | I am not sure what to say about this except that I was awestruck. I've been wanting to visit this museum since I knew of it's existence. Being one of the largest national history museums in the world, they have the largest, most complete T-Rex fossil, Sue. Not only that, they also have the taxidermy Tsavo lions that were man-eaters. There were so many amazing exhibits including an insects underground world, an entire hall of taxidermy animals and birds, a hall of gems and one of jade, Evolving Planet with incredible dinosaur fossils, and an ancient Egyptian exhibit that's reminiscent of a tomb  with mummies. There's so much more that I have yet to explore like the Vikings exhibit. Not only were the exhibit beautiful, but the building itself is stunning and magnificent. I stayed all the way until closing, wishing I could stay there forever.

AIRBNB | I made quick friends with my Airbnb host, and her sweet Italian greyhound! Being able to cuddle a puppy at night was comforting since I had to leave my own greyhound behind at home. She made me feel right at home, and on the first night when I had no plans, she invited me out to dinner and drinks with her friend. We went to a restaurant that she recently did the interior design for (of course, her apartment is just as beautiful) and we went dancing afterwards in Wicker Park where her other friend was DJ-ing. Yay for new friends! This isn't really one of my top ten, but it was totally worth the mention, considering I had such a great experience with it!

LITTLE GOAT | A friend from middle school (middle school!!!) met me at Little Goat, a restaurant by chef Stephanie Izard, a culinary institute that I couldn't wait to try. We both ordered sandwiches, sharing each one so that we could enjoy both. The pulled pork sandwich came with spicy mayo (love love love) and colesaw on it, which was such a deliciously sinful sandwich. We also had a goat burger with cheese and caramelized onions on top - oh my heaven. I don't know if I could pick just one. I cannot wait to try more off her menu someday.

RM CHAMPAGNE SALON | After dinner at Little Goat, with full bellies, we went to RM Champagne Salon for dessert and drinks. The restaurant was dimly lit with candles everywhere illuminating a decorative fireplace and exposed brick wall. We picked assorted mini desserts from a display case and shared. From cream puffs to macarons to mini-cakes, we were pleasantly surprised with each one. I have to say, I really liked the genepy macaron, a flavor I've never had before. It was similar to chartreuse or absinthe. My absolute favorite flavor of macaron in the world is "reglisse" or licorice. Like absinthe, licorice can taste very bold and it's not for everyone. However, in a macaron form, the flavor, like with genepy, is subtle and a perfect accompaniment to the sugary cookie.

SCOFFLAW | One of the nights I didn't have dinner plans, I made my way to Scofflaw in Logan Square. It was close to where I was staying and was supposed to have amazing cocktails. I went alone, and how I wish I had someone to go with because I had such a good time - even alone! I waited in line a few minutes for capacity to die down, and then they let me in. I snagged a seat at the bar, while groups of friends and dates sat in lounge furniture by the fireplace or in booths by the window. The menu boasted ten or more gin cocktails (Erin, when are we going together?), and on top of that, they make their own Scofflaw Gin, in-house! I stayed for hours, writing in my journal about the past few days of exploring. I stayed well past midnight, and when the clock struck 12, they brought out fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. What a treat!

BIG STAR | Everyone in Chicago knows Big Star for tacos and drinks. My friend and I cozied up to the bar during a rainy afternoon and enjoyed some cheladas which is a Mexican beer with a salt rim and lime, so refreshing. Plus, you cannot beat a $4 drink. I hear this is the place to go to sit outside on their patio when the weather is beautiful. There's a lot happening in that corner of Wicker Park so I bet it's the place to see and be seen, and there's a great view of the El train too. Even though it was raining, I enjoyed hanging out here for a little and then walking through Wicker Park afterwards with an umbrella. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Paris | a film

Let me take you to Paris...
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