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05/28/08 There Is a Lovely Breeze in Here.

We chose this apartment solely because of accessibility. Last year, when KidThree was shot, we were living in an apartment that was up three steps and that had too sharp a turn to the bathroom for a wheelchair to negotiate. KidThree was hospitalized for three months, time I spent trying to find an accessible (and affordable!) apartment. I couldn't find one in that time frame. Fortunately for us, KidTwo was living in an accessible apartment in a low-income housing project here in town. We ended up swapping apartments--she came back to her childhood home and KidThree and I moved into KidTwo's little apartment. That was a temporary measure, as it was illegal for us to be there, it was a mile from the nearest bus routes, and I just plain didn't like it. So, the apartment search was continued. Let me tell you, finding accessible housing on a budget is difficult at best. Nothing available, all bedrooms upstairs, waiting lists, two or three or four steps up to the front door. I finally ended up just driving around town, up and down streets, looking for apartments with no steps to the door. That is how I found this apartment--driving slowly past, I saw that the downstairs apartments appeared to not have steps into them. I parked and walked around, then found the office and asked the manager if she had any two-bedroom units available. She had one, and gave me a flyer. I drove around some more, looking for more options, but didn't find any. The next day, I returned to this complex and spoke with the manager again, putting my name down for the available apartment. The available apartment was one of three in a row in this building, the apartment in the middle. At one point during the paperwork process, I happened to ask if the apartment's bathroom had a window, as from the layout on the flyer it appeared to but given that it was in the middle of the three apartments, it couldn't have a window where one was shown on the layout. The manager told me that no, this was the one apartment that didn't have a bathroom window. She then mentioned that the apartment next to it did, and that she was going to have to have those tenants leave, as they kept damaging their apartment and hadn't paid their rent recently. I immediately asked if I could have that unit instead of the one I was down for. She agreed, we fixed the paperwork, and eventually KidThree and I moved into this apartment.

What incredible serendipity. This apartment is so much better in so many ways than the one directly next door. The rent is lower because "the apartment is so dark." I don't know who on earth could think that was a problem. Extra shading in California's Central Valley? It is a benefit, not a detriment. We have a bathroom window--no more relying on fans and living with a bathroom that just doesn't quite stay fresh. Because this building is only one apartment deep, we have windows on the front and back of it. The apartment we'd been in for eight years previous had three windows, all on the same side of the apartment. We didn't get much air circulation because of the windows all facing the same direction. Here, we have the living room window facing west, the bathroom window and one bedroom window facing north, and the kitchen window and second bedroom window facing east. As I sit here now in my rocker, I have four of the five windows open. The apartment is pleasantly cool and I can feel the movement of air as it circulates. All this wonderful fresh air just because I happened to ask about a bathroom window, and had the time to chat with the apartment manager.

The apartment manager's name is Liz; she is becoming a good friend. When things look better here, I'd like to invite her over to watch a movie or something. She lives next to us--the building makes a right turn and her apartment is past ours on the shorter side of the L, with the utility room and hot water heater room between us. She lives there with her husband. One of their daughters lives in another apartment here with her husband, also a very nice couple.

Another bit of serendipity here is that the parking lot for our little eight-unit building has a big tree in an inconvenient place. This tree is in one of the parking spaces, necessitating that that space be several feet wider than the others. The tree is at the upper end of the parking space and makes it impossible to park a larger car there, as bigger cars or trucks would not have enough space between the tree and the brick planter on the other side of the space to pull forward all the way. But, if you have a short little car like I do, one that is about as narrow as ordinary cars can get, the space is perfect and provides wheelchair accessibility. I pull my little car up in the skinny space between the tree and the planter. The tree is then right next to the hood of the car. Between the passenger door and the next parking space is about four feet of space, giving just exactly enough room to allow KidThree to pull up in her wheelchair and get in the car. If the tree weren't there, we wouldn't that extra width and if my car weren't so small, we couldn't fit in this space. It worked out just right for our particular needs.

Another thing that looked problematic at first but also turned out to be a blessing in disguise was the kitchen. The room itself is about twelve by twelve feet, quite large for an apartment kitchen, but it only had a counter and cabinets along the back wall. One wall had a closet and the refrigerator, and the other wall was empty. Nothing there. Not a counter, not a cabinet, not an appliance. It looked as though a work crew had started installing a kitchen, then gone out for lunch and never returned to finish the job. That blank wall, and the large room size, turned out to be very useful in making an accessible kitchen. Because there was nothing there, I didn't have to try to adjust existing things but instead had the freedom to try to put in different things to see how to best use that space so that KidThree had reasonable access to kitchen functions. It took a lot of trial and error, but now along that long empty wall there is an open cabinet for my big pots, a small cabinet with drawers that has the microwave and toaster ovens above it, and a set of very shallow shelves (only 8" deep) that are six feet tall and almost four feet wide. There is only a card table in there now. I have another table picked out that is going to have wheels on it, so KidThree can move it around to give herself access to everything. The shallow shelves are so nothing can be lost in the back, where KidThree couldn't see it or access it. These shallow shelves allow her to see and reach everything, either on her own or with one of her grabbers. She can wheel right up to the microwave and toaster ovens; the drawers on the low cabinet beneath them hold all of the kitchen utensil odds and ends, including the dishes and pans for the ovens. I pulled the cabinet doors off the cabinets below the one built-in counter. On the top shelf there, I put in plastic bins to act as 'drawers' and hold small things like little Tupperware; on the bottom shelf, I have open-face plastic bins that hold larger items. KidThree can't reach the cabinets above the counter or the cleaning supplies on top of the refrigerator, but given that I couldn't structurally modify the kitchen and that my funds are so low, it is a pretty good arrangement.

The bedrooms here are good-sized, too. KidThree has the larger one. It is fourteen by sixteen feet, enormous for an apartment in this area. It is not as accessible as it could be, because KidFour's bed and bureau are in there, but those will be gone in another week. KidOne and I will move the furniture around then to give KidThree full access to all of her things, including the built-in desk and the closet. She is looking forward to that. My bedroom is twelve by fourteen feet, giving me room enough to keep all my books and yarn in there, freeing up space in the living room that otherwise would be taken up with bookcases.

This is a good place for us to live. Friendly management, fresh air, accessible parking, and a window in the bathroom. I hope we can stay here as long as we remain in this town.

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