Remodeling Plans: The Attic Or The Basement?

As soon as we found out we were expecting Baby #2, we knew “more space in this house” was something we wanted to pursue in order to better accommodate our growing family — and over the past few weeks, we’ve gone through a number of plans, backup plans, and setbacks in trying to make this happen.

Firstly, the goal: we would ideally like to add two bedrooms and a bathroom. This may sound like a little more than we actually need — one extra bedroom would mean enough for us, Lillian, and baby to each have our own room, and the bathroom arguably isn’t necessary — but we’re trying to think about space and comfort for staying in this house for the long term.

Right off the bat, we knew that a major remodeling project would not be the sort of thing we could reasonably expect to DIY, what with us being busy working parents with virtually nonexistent construction skills (not to mention all the permit and building code related stuff to navigate). So we started shopping around for some local remodeling companies, and have 95% settled on one in particular we’d like to work with.

When it came to the question of attic vs. basement, the basement seemed like the easier way to go — due to the lack of headroom, the attic would require work on the roof to add dormers or otherwise make it higher, plus the existing floor up there wasn’t really designed to do anything but hold up the ceiling, so that would require some work to reinforce as well. The basement, on the other hand, wouldn’t need any structural work at all, just the interior finishing and reconfiguration.

(A photo of our basement with an imagined reconfiguration poorly superimposed on top.)

(A photo of our basement with an imagined reconfiguration poorly superimposed on top.)

We got as far as drawing up plans and applying for a home improvement loan before realizing the extent to which rooms added to the basement don’t actually add much of anything home value wise. Apparently rooms below grade don’t count, and when the appraisal based on the proposed basement improvements came back at almost the same value as our house is currently, the loan wasn’t approved.

So that was a bit of a setback. Plan B is to do an attic improvement instead, and despite being more involved structurally (and therefore more costly), it should at least “count” in the sense of adding to the value of the house. And that part is important, since we know there’s no way we can afford a project of this scale without a home improvement loan of some sort, and a bank is very unlikely to approve a loan for construction that doesn’t actually add to the value of the house.

The downside is that we’re effectively starting over from scratch, losing the precious weeks we spent pursuing the basement changes. But the upside is that the attic was really our first choice to expand into, and cheaping out was the only reason we passed on it in the first place — so in a way, the change in plans is actually kind of a good thing. (Aside from that one little detail about how we’re on a bit of a deadline — unfortunately it’s looking less and less likely that any hypothetical remodeling work will be completed in time for baby’s arrival!)

So that’s where things stand now. At this point everything’s still up in the air, and it’s yet to be fully determined how feasible this will be for us right now, especially as far as the loan and financial aspects are concerned. But we should know more in the next few weeks, and I’m sure I’ll blog all about whatever ends up happening!

The Beginnings Of A Second Pregnancy

I mentioned in my announcement post that this pregnancy has been similar, though not identical, to my first one — and I say that mostly because in some ways, it got off to rather a rockier start than the first time around. But to back up and start from the beginning:

We decided to “start trying” in December, and were a little surprised by how quickly it happened. By the second week of January, we had a positive pregnancy test, although there was some uncertainty in getting to that point. The first test I took, about a week after a missed period, was one of the basic ones that displays one line if negative and two lines if positive… and while it looked negative at a glance, it seemed like there was a very, very faint second line if you looked closely.

Joe and I spent a few minutes staring at it before finally deciding to call it inconclusive. Then we decided to shell out the few extra bucks for one of those fancy-pants digital tests that tells you your result in plain English, and two days later we had a much clearer result:

Digital Pregnancy Test - Positive Result

That little blip on the radar was forgotten pretty quickly, and I made my first prenatal doctor’s appointment, scheduled for when I should have been a little over six weeks along.

Having been through this before, I had a pretty clear idea in mind of what to expect, and I went into the doctor’s office thinking it would be pretty much the same as my first prenatal appointment with Lillian, when I got to see her tiny bean-like form on the ultrasound and hear her little heartbeat for the first time. That was such a wonderful and emotional moment, but… I didn’t realize until this pregnancy how much I’d taken it for granted.

At my first prenatal appointment for this pregnancy, the first ultrasound showed no baby and no heartbeat. Just a small, empty bubble:

Early Pregnancy, or Blighted Ovum?

The doctor was quick to explain that this could mean the pregnancy was just in an earlier stage than we’d thought. But it could also be a sign of problems with the embryo not growing right or a “blighted ovum” — more info on Wikipedia here. They took a blood sample at that appointment, and scheduled another blood sample for two days later — the idea was to measure the hCG (aka pregnancy hormone) levels and how they were changing in that span of time.

The next eight days were a weird kind of limbo. Sort of like Schrödinger’s cat being alive and dead at the same time, I felt like I was pregnant and not pregnant at the same time: On the one hand I was taking prenatal vitamins, and avoiding alcohol and caffeine and excessive tuna fish, and generally doing all the things a dutiful pregnant woman should supposedly do… But on the other hand I wasn’t allowing myself to think as though I was pregnant in the sense that there would ever be a baby, in case the worst happened and it wasn’t meant to be.

When I finally got the results back from the doctor’s office, I learned that my hCG levels had increased from 6200 to 9600 in the span of those two days, which they seemed to consider a good sign — but no one could say anything for sure until the ultrasound the next day. I spent a few solid hours online that night, reading up as much as I could on hCG levels, reading stories from people on forums who had experienced early miscarriages, and generally torturing myself over what the outcome would be.

The next day, the suspense was over:

6 Week Ultrasound

There on the screen was that tiny bean-like form, and that little heartbeat. I cried with relief when the ultrasound technician added the label “baby.”

Based on the measurements, the doctor estimated the due date as September 19 — we’d been thinking it was September 11 before (which would make a heck of a birthday, right?) and baby has been growing as expected ever since. By all accounts, it appears to have just been a case of a slightly irregular cycle and mistaking certain relevant dates (which I guess would also explain why that first pregnancy test was “inconclusive”).

One side effect of all this, though, is being left with a slight lingering feeling of unease over the possibility of miscarriage in a way that I didn’t really feel during my first pregnancy, and which I still feel to a certain extent right now (even though the risks supposedly go way down after the first trimester and we should be “out of the woods” so to speak). And while I have no illusions that our happy ending in any way compares to what some people go through, I feel like I have a whole new level of respect for couples who’ve suffered miscarriage or otherwise experienced fertility-related issues.

So anyway, that’s the long-winded tale of the beginnings of this pregnancy. Next on the agenda for this blog: more details on what we’re planning to do to this house to make room for baby number two. Stay tuned!

Big Announcement: Baby #2 Is On The Way!

For today’s blog post, I’m excited to finally spill the beans on some big news: we’re expecting! Baby #2 is due on September 19th!

(A peek at baby from the 11 week ultrasound.)

(A peek at baby from the 11 week ultrasound.)

That post I wrote about whether we plan to stay in our house for the long haul may have given it away, or at least led to some suspicions — so in the interest of full disclosure, this impending new arrival is definitely what’s been fueling the desire for more space. We’ve actually been finalizing some remodeling plans, which I hope to discuss in a blog post very soon!

As far as the pregnancy goes, so far it’s been similar (though not identical) to my first pregnancy — no morning sickness or other symptoms to speak of, other than the self-inflicted ones like avoiding caffeine and alcohol and the like. I’m currently 14 weeks along, and just starting to get to the point of wanting to switch to maternity clothes, even though any “baby bump” isn’t very obvious or well-defined yet.

And as for Lillian, I’m not sure she fully understands she’s going to be a big sister yet, though we still have lots of time to try to explain and prepare her for the idea. On the plus side though, when posed the question “Would you like to have a baby brother or sister?” she enthusiastically replies “yes!” and she seems to do really well with the babies she’s exposed to at daycare, so hopefully these are all good signs.

Anyway, that’s the big announcement to break the radio silence on this blog for the past few weeks — more details to follow shortly!

Our Little Bungalow: Starter Home Or Forever Home?

We all know the phenomenon: A young couple buys their first cozy little home, and for a time, it’s the perfect fit for their fledgling family. Just the right size. Just the right layout. Everything they could ever want or need, all under one roof.

But then, as years go by and children grow and plans to expand the family further loom in sight, suddenly that cozy little house starts to feel cramped. They weigh the costs and frustrations of expanding the home to meet their growing needs against the costs and frustrations of selling and moving, and eventually decide that moving is the way to go.

So for today’s post, I wanted to explore the question — Could that be happening to us in the foreseeable future? Is this our “starter home,” or our “forever home”?

Random collage of our house in all four seasons.

A random collage of our house in all four seasons.

When we bought this house in 2011, we certainly weren’t thinking in terms of living here for a few years and then moving on. At the time, that didn’t even seem like a very wise mindset to be in, what with the uncertainty in the housing market and all. A small two-bedroom Chicago bungalow was a perfect fit for a young couple with their first baby on the way — and with a full unfinished attic and basement to possibly expand into down the road, there seemed to be no reason the house couldn’t work for the long run as well.

And all of that is still true now… Except now it’s almost three years later, and we’re that much closer to expanding our family again, and those unfinished spaces are still just as unfinished as when we bought the house. But when it comes down to the question of whether we’re more open to the possibility of moving now than we were when we first moved in? That’s tough to even think about, because we love so many things about this place:

  • The Location. Being within the city of Chicago means we have the luxury of multiple commuter train lines and over a dozen bus stops within easy walking distance. Beyond that, we have a real bonafide grocery store at the end of the block, and Lily’s daycare just a few houses down, and an elementary school we can stroll to without crossing any busy streets. We’re a one-car family, yet it doesn’t feel like a strain at all when there’s so much available by foot or public transit.
  • The Neighborhood. It’s just so friendly and warm, with a small block party every year (which I’ve actually written about here on this blog three years in a row — check out 2013, 2012, and 2011). There are a ton of kids, including five or six within a year of Lillian’s age that I know of just within a block of us, and possibly more that we haven’t met yet.
  • The Character. It’s one of those subjective things, but it’s hard not to love the style and character of this classic 1920′s Chicago Bungalow. It’s withstood the test of time for the better part of a century, seeing multiple families call it home, and everything from the iconic peaked roof to the cozy fireplace in the living room has a certain indescribable charm.
  • The Memories. Even though it’s only been a few short years, we’ve been hard at work making memories in this place. It’s where we brought Lillian home from the hospital, and the only home we’ve ever known since becoming a family of three.
House Memories

Our house as the backdrop to various memories.

Overall, this house has a lot going for it. The only drawback is that one pesky little detail I alluded to in the beginning of this post:

  • The Size. Bedroom-wise there are just the two small ones, which are around ten by ten feet each. The single bathroom is about as tiny as a bathroom can be while still fitting in a sink, toilet, and tub. And the main level has exactly two closets, zero of which are in our master bedroom. (A floor plan can be found in this post.) In short, it can feel a little cramped, and in its current state it’s hard to imagine living here comfortably if or when we expand our family to include a younger sibling for Lillian.

Even though there’s definitely a lot more in the “pro” column than the “con” column when it comes to this house, the size issue is kind of a big one — and could even arguably carry more weight than the other points, which boil down to things like convenience, preference, and sentimentality.

One other important thing to note in all this is that we aren’t “stuck” here. We’re lucky not to be underwater with the mortgage, as was so widespread in the wake of the housing crisis — we bought at a good time, and negotiated aggressively on the price. We even have some equity, and if the property value estimates on Zillow.com are anywhere near accurate, more than I would have expected after just a few short years. If we wanted to sell now, there seems like a good chance we could, and we might even walk away with a little extra in our pockets.

But to where? Could we find another home with the additional space, in a neighborhood we’d love as much as this one, with as many amenities and transit options within walking distance, at a price that would make more financial sense than a home addition to expand the attic or basement? Maybe. But somehow it seems doubtful.

So! All of that was a very long-winded way of saying that, right now and for the foreseeable future, we have no plans for leaving this house. We may not be able to completely rule out the possibility of moving someday — you never know what the future holds, and all that — but right now we’re definitely looking at this place as more than just a “starter home.”

On that happy note, we’ve been seriously pursuing options for remodeling to make better use of some of our house’s currently unfinished space — more details to follow in an upcoming blog post!

In the meantime, I’m curious to hear if anyone else out there has gone or is going through a similar thought process on the whole starter home vs. forever home question. Do you plan to stay in your home for the long haul, or are you looking forward to upgrading to something different / bigger / better down the road? Feel free to share any thoughts or stories in the comments!

In Which My Two-Year-Old Teaches Me About The Alphabet

For this post, I wanted to share a random little story that happened shortly after Christmas. One of Lillian’s presents this year was an electronic toy, a Fisher-Price “Smart Tablet” — you can see the same one online here. (Even though it’s advertised as being for ages 3-6, and Lillian just turned two in October, we’d been telling people asking about Christmas gifts that 3-year-old toys were okay, since she seems to do fine with them.)

So she got this electronic tablet, and seemed to really enjoy it — it was noticeable right away that it held her attention longer than most of her other toys. I wonder if maybe in some ways, it seemed like having a “big person” computer of her very own?

Toddler Electronic Tablet Toy

I admittedly hadn’t looked too closely at this toy myself, but from seeing Lillian play with it, I knew that it lit up and played music said letters out loud and such. So when she brought it to me one day, clearly wanting me to play with it with her, I just started mashing keys in that random, half-paying-attention kind of way — which is just what I’ve grown used to with these battery-powered “press a button and a thing happens” kid’s toys.

But within seconds, Lillian got mad. “No, mama!” she scolded, then pointed at the M key. “M,” she said in a stern little voice. At this point I looked more closely at the toy and realized that the screen was displaying the letter M, and that I was supposed to actually press the corresponding key. …Whoops. All I can say is that this was a rather humbling parenting moment.

Lillian took over, and the game went on. I watched in fascination as one after another, letters would flash on the screen in a random order, and she would find them, saying the letter as she pressed the key. Once you complete the round with uppercase letters, it moves to lowercase letters, and I was amazed to see that she was able to get many of these as well. I could practically see the wheels turning in her brain as she worked to distinguish between “p” and “d” when one of those popped up, and when “q” came onto the screen, not only did she press the Q key, she said “queen” while doing it.

The episode left me feeling awe-struck and proud, but also a little bewildered. From what I can gather, Lillian’s Grandma (aka my mom) apparently showed her how this letter-matching game worked in the first place (it’s one of six game modes available on the toy), and from there she just ran with it.

As a footnote to this story, this isn’t the first time she’s tried to teach me less-stupid ways to play with her toys — long-time readers may recall that it’s been going on since she was 15 months old, when she helpfully showed me the more obvious and efficient way to get all the blocks back into that shape-sorting puzzle!