Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Balancing Act between Darkness and Light

Today is the December Solstice, a.k.a. the official beginning of Winter.  The earth tilts 23.5 degrees and all sorts of shenanigans are set in motion at speeds never before imagined.  Since ancient times many cultures and civilizations – is there a difference? – celebrated this time of year. They welcomed the ‘return of the Sun’ because today is the the day with the shortest amount of daylight in the Northern Hemisphere.

The day is also often called the Shortest Day albeit incorrectly since all days are 23 hours 56 minutes retrograde.  I think it would be better to refer to it as the Longest Night of the Year.  It is no coincidence Christmas was placed at this time of year with its 4 part Solstice Series called Advent.  The Winter Solstice has an element of hope. Just as things seem their darkest, Light appears and what seemed hopeless or dead begins to become alive. People need this and the Yule Solstice fills this need.


I use to attend Old St Pat's more frequently and enjoyed listening to Father Cusack's homilies regarding Advent.  Although the masses of Holy Obligation spanned four Sundays, I think I only made it to the entire series once.  Still, they were very powerful sermons. 

Other than my own wedding, I haven't gone to any church in ages, or to OSP in almost as much time.  Overtly the reason has been that we have been too busy with wedding planning and household errands and spending time with the nephew-Monkey before he disappears to Michigan.  But deep down inside, one of the reasons for not setting foot in that church or any of the many that I use to mass-hop is because Catholicism is tainted for me at the moment.

It's one thing when the guy who cuts you off while cursing at you is the same guy you held hands with a few minutes earlier during the Our Father, it's quite another when someone you once called friend deems that you are no longer worthy of being treated with respect, kindness or even acknowledgement.  After all, according to our shared faith, Judgement is reserved for Jesus.  The rest of us are supposed to simply forgive.

The Winter Solstice no longer evokes feelings of How are we going to make it until Spring?  We've learned how to reconcile our fears of Darkness with the science of the 23.5 degree tilt.  And after a certain amount of time of being treated badly, it's normal to decide that you want, nay deserve to be treated better.  Unfortunately, when you go against the status quo and stand up for yourself, those who were on the side of the status quo take objection to you suddenly realizing you deserve to be treated better. 
 
Make a vow when Solstice comes:

To find the Light in everyone
Keep the faith and bang the drum
...
On the longest night of the year
So keep me safe and hold me tight,
Let the candle burn all night,
Tomorrow welcome back the light.
‘Twas the longest night of the year'
Mary-Chapin Carpenter,
Longest Night of the Year

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Buffet that was once a Desk that was once a Buffet

Thanks to an overwhelming amount of generosity, we have received a lot of item from our registry. This also means we have quickly run out of room to store things in our cramped condo. Nightingale suggested we could use a buffet for our dining room. As it would happen, my mom has two buffets she is not using.

The first is an Old World antique looking buffet. As I love more traditional looking furniture, this would have been a perfect addition to our home. Unfortunately it is very heavy, doesn't go with our dining room furniture and did I mention it's very heavy. Someday when we have our Forever House I'll lay claim to it, assuming I can hire some movers to cart it from Mom's to our place.

The second item is a buffet that my mom converted to a desk many decades ago by trimming the legs and painting it jet black. It has hand carved grooves which she painted gold to create an elegant accent. This one is very light and also just the prefect height to fit under our dining room window sill, which is probably the only place in our cramped condo that it will fit.

Sidebar: Nightingale is planning to re-arrange the dining room to make the new piece work; therefore I anticipate a long weekend of moving furniture back-and-forth in my future.
Because this desk has been sitting in the unoccupied section of my mom's house for many years, the first thing we had to do was remove several layers of dust and spider webs before we could transport it to our place. I recall from my childhood that my mom used two coffee cans to hold a board which acted as a makeshift shelf for the desk. If you look carefully, you might see the circular impression where the cans sat for God know how many years until the desk went downstairs to live with grandma.

After getting the desk/buffet home and into my workshop (AKA the back deck), we looked it over in daylight. It wasn't in bad shape at all and in my pre-DYI days I might have just left it alone -- but where's the fun in that? So I decided that I would simply give it a quick sand to remove any loose paint and rough spots, and paint only the top, sides and legs.

One of the first challenges I encountered was the time of year. It was late fall and by the time I got home, it was often too dark to work on the buffet (not to mention I was beat from a day at work and my relatively long commute in lovely tollway traffic.) The weather also didn’t always co-operate because often on the weekends it would either be too cold or too rainy to work on the buffet.

Finally an unseasonably warm weekend (yay Global Warming) came along and I wasted no time. I removed the doors and the drawer, and with painter’s tape, covered up the gold painted hand carved grooves my mom had detailed a lifetime ago. I also applied some wood putty to the scuffed and scratched sections and wish I had done this a little sooner as I had to factor in time for it to dry before sanding.

After securing tarps on the deck for my neighbors’ benefit, I sanded the buffet down lightly with my craftsman nextec multi-tool and also by hand. Afterwards I used mineral spirits to remove any loose dust. Once I was satisfied that I was done sanding, I flipped the table over to start spraying painting the legs.

In Project Management, we have this concept called Scope Creep. Scope Creep is basically when you set out to do one thing and you end up doing much more than you had planned.  Suffice it to say that scope creep definitely occurred within this project. First, it took more spray paint than I thought to cover the legs, which only left me enough to finish one side of the buffet.

As I’ve mentioned before, Chicago Aldermen, in their infinite stupidity wisdom, decided to ban the sale of spray paint within the city limits. This had reduced the amount of graffiti by no measurable levels since gangbangers and taggers have cars. It did force me to make an unexpected excursion to the nearest suburb where I could get more spray paint. My fear was that I would lose my window of daylight while navigating Saturday afternoon Chicagoland traffic (read: angry shoppers with vehicles).

You probably can guess where this is going. Even though the first can was a popular brand – Rust-Oleum Ultra Cover semi-gloss -- it was not in stock at the store. Rather than drive around to another store, I opted to pick up a can of regular Rust-Oleum gloss and a can of Rust-Oleum gloss figuring if I ran out of semi-gloss again, the gloss would be a nice touch.

I got back, sanded the now dry wood putty, and finished painting the rest of the buffet carcass. Then Nightingale took a look and decided that I should do the front as well, which meant the doors, drawer and those golden grooves. We figured we could always touch them up inside during the winter months. So it was lucky that I had bought two cans of spray paint as I needed both of them.

I changed out the hardware as well using some knobs that we had bought for another dresser. That made me feel good because the knobs didn’t work on the intended dresser because of sizing issues, so it felt like I recaptured the otherwise spent money. My mom even liked the change from flat black to gloss and didn't seem to mind the gold trim going away.  If we decide to repaint the grooves, we’ll likely go with silver to match the new hardware. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cut Throat Island

So Thursday came and it was to be our Big Day of Fun. We had scheduled parasailing in the morning, a half day sail and snorkel tour in the afternoon, and a couples massage in the early evening.

One of the contradictions of being on vacation is the tug of war between structure and unstructured. You're supposed to be on your honeymoon without a care in the world. At the same time, you want to make the most of it and to do that, you kinda have to give some thought to planning your days so that you can fit in the activities you want.

It's hard enough to balance that on your own, but when the people you rely on to help you are actually working against you, it takes on an added dimension in crazy. Each morning, Sugar Bay provided a sheet of daily activities that are going on at the resort. Looking at the sheet I saw that they had free introductory scuba lessons in the pool at 10 am that morning (Wednesday).

Had I looked at the sheet from Tuesday when we arrived and compared it with the sheet from Wednesday I would have seen that many of the activities repeat. This wouldn't necessarily prove the scuba was every morning, but it would have been more reliable than the method I did employ.

When trying to plan our activities, I asked the Tour Chick (Missy) if the scuba class occurred every day. She said she didn't know. It struck me as odd that she worked at that hotel every day and she didn't know about the scuba class. I mean she sells scuba tours. Wouldn't that be a great feed into her business? One of the reasons people opt to skip scuba is because you spend half the tour getting day certified.

"Hey take the free lesson at the pool and then come see me, I'll set you up with a tour where you get to see so much since you'll already have a head start."

Anyway, Nightingale didn't want to risk missing our parasailing tour. We decided to just sit by the pool, have some rum drinks as soon as the bar opened, and wait for our tour. Of course that didn't stop me from talking to the scuba dude, lets' call him Jeff. Jeff looked about 50 but was probably really in his 60s.

No one had shown up for today's class and he said that if he doesn't get any takers by 10:15 he gets to split. I asked Jeff if we would have time to take the lesson and then make it to the beach by 11 for our parasailing lesson. The beach, which was 100 yards away. "I don't know," he said. "maybe, maybe not."

Okay then. You give lessons every day and you don't know if it will take longer than an hour to show two people the basics of scuba. Really?

Finally around 10:50 we go over to the beach and even though its a small beach, it occurs to us that it would be very possible to be in the wrong spot since all we know is to look for a green boat that says parasailing tour on it.

Fortunately there is a guy from the hotel working the area and he tells us that we should look for a green boat that says parasailing on it. Excellent! With such great customer service like that I wish we could stay another week.

Half an hour goes by and we do not see the boat. We ask Captain Helpful if he could use some of this fancy 20th century technology like the walkie-talkie in his hand or the cell phone clipped to his belt to find out about the boat. Turns out, it was delayed by the Coast Guard.

We were starting to get worried that our para sailing would not finish in time to get us back to catch the boat for the half day snorkel & sail. Turns out we had nothing to worry about.  The para sailing doesn't take long, especially if there are only two people going. 

Sidenote: one of the crew members looked like Sawyer from Lost.  I kid you not.

What we learned is that a lot of people on this Island are very cut throat. Not everyone, certainly not the para sailing crew, or the snorkel crew (see future posts) or even the Snuba lady, but a lot of the people who broker these excursions seemed to have a look out for themselves attitude that contridicted the concept of "On Island Time."

Instead of helping each other out, they are trying to prevent one another from taking any of their customers away.  Because we signed up for two events with Missy, you'd think she could let poor Jeff teach us to scuba in the resort pool for an hour. Or you'd think Jeff would let us go parsail since that shouldn't take anything away from him. Instead of working together, they all seem to be islands of their own.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Hotel Amenities and wrist band blues

Even though it was a long day of flying, my lovely bride -who shall heretofore be known as Nightingale -- arranged our flight times so that we would arrive at the resort in time to actually make some use of it. We arrived late afternoon which gave us enough time to get a late lunch, take a swim in the pool and enjoy many a tropical drink.  Our only other option would be to arrive so late that we really would just have enough time to grab whatever grub we could scrounge up and then pass out for the night.

The downside to this was having to fly Spirit, an airline that charges for bags whether you check them or carry them on. In hindsight we should have checked them since the difference was $4 per bag, but Nightingale was afraid the airline would lose our bags and we'd have to go a few days without a change of underwear.  While the reflex might be to think: This is a problem on your honeymoon how? The truth is, it is a major pain to be without luggage when you are thousands of miles away from home.

When we got to the hotel, among the orientation info they gave us was something about sand mites. Nightingale panicked and wanted to buy all the bug spray in site. Of course bug spray and sun block are jacked up at the hotel store.

We opted to buy the bug spray but hold off on the sunscreen since Nightingale had some small tubes that didn't get confiscated at security -- remember the not checking our bags because we feared losing them? We thought we'd make it to the Kmart on the first or second night.

Wednesday we tried to book some activities but the ones we were interested in did not have enough other people interested so it wasn't worth the vendor's time to do them. We decided to go into town instead. We did find a shop that sold pearl bracelets at a ridiculously low price, at least according to Nightingale so I think we got some xmas shopping done. We failed to go to the Kmart or the duty free shop at this juncture.

We did go to the fancy restaurant at the resort, which was included in our all-inclusive package. It did not live up to its hype. We believe the service lacked because we were wearing those blue bracelets that said "we are part of the all-inclusive package."  Our waiter took our order and brought our food but never really checked up on us. We wanted more wine but got the impression that would require an order from the governor. 

After talking to other guests and putting two and two together, we figured out that there were several factors working against us.  First, it was off season, which means that there isn't a full staff to bring all the drunks their drinks in a timely manner and as such, you do risk becoming sober while waiting for the next round to arrive.

Second, the all inclusive package requires everyone to wear these wrist bands which apparently labeled us as non-tippers.  The thing about this is it is a self-fulfilling prophecy: you give bad service, you won't get a tip, and vice versa.  A real chicken and egg whocamefirst. 

To give you an example of how bad it was, Nightingale asked for some coffee with dessert.  Most places I've been to, be it a fancy bestro or a greasy spoon diner, the server will ask the other people at the table if they want coffee as well.  Because it takes just that much effort to bring two cups of coffee as one.  I thought about asking for one once he brought Nightingale hers but opted to behave myself this time.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Learning Curve and Long Day of Travel


Well it's official: The months, weeks and days have dwindled down and now Icarus is married! My blogging was rather infrequent to begin with and now because of some events over the last year, or so, I've become even more inconsistent.


Because Mrs. Icarus had schedule issues with work and school, our original plan was to take a minimoon after our wedding followed by a longer honeymoon next spring.  the minimoon would have been a 3-4 day/night trip someplace warm, tropical and hopefully all inclusive.  Then in the spring, before starting her new job, we would go to Europe for a much longer vacation.  Ironically, because I changed jobs this summer, we didn't have the luxury of a lot of vacation time for me, so our plan got changed.
We went to the US Virgin Islands for our honeymoon because someone forgot to renew her passport in time to go anywhere else that didn't require a valid passport and a handwritten letter from those who signed the Patriot Act.  What was going to be a few days turned into a 5 day trip in the event we don't get to go anywhere else for awhile because of babies,or the economy, or babies, or future douchbag bosses. 

One part of the plan we did stick to was not leaving for our honeymoon right after our wedding.  From talking to others, we learned that having an extra day to just sleep in, relax and decompress was a good thing.  Unfortunately, we chilled out too much and didn't get to packing until late Monday night.  This made for some bad packing decisions.
Our airline charged for bags, both carryone ($46) or checked in ($50). Out of fear that a bag would get lost, Mrs Icarus decided that we should carry our bags on.  So we didn't pack things like sunscreen and bug spray which we can get rather cheaply and in bulk here in the midwest.

Tuesday we caught a very early flight with a layover in Ft. Lauderdale. We decided to kill some time in the only bar in our terminal -- probably in the entire airport -- and have some expensive cheeseburgers and beers. As luck would have it, a dude sat next to us and started chatting us up. Turns out Jason lives and works in the Virgin Islands. He is a bar tender at a bar called the Greenhouse.

When he found out we were married, he bought me a beer. MR I was still working on hers.I'm a cautious bystander, friendly but not too friendly. I figure if someone is trying to get to know me, it cannot be for any good reason.

Jason did give us some good advice. He told us about the Safari Bus, which is much cheaper than taxis. He also clued us in on the Good Morning/Afternoon/Night greeting that some locals seem to adhere to. It is probably more prevalent outside the resort we were at. He mentioned a K-mart but was distracted by something we didn't get the exact location. He actually was sitting a couple rows ahead of us on the airplane, chatting up his nearby seat mates before he passed out from sheer exhaustion.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Screens do more than just keep out the sun

Even though I'm getting married today, I thought I'd take a quick break to post an update since I have some time to kill. One of the projects I had to work on this summer at my mom's crapshack was to build some custom screens for her basement windows.


Cedar 1x2
  So with some of these (left) and one of these (below):
Miter Saw














These screens don't really serve any purpose except to make it a little harder to look inside the basement and make the outside look uniform.  Okay, I guess that is purpose enough.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Looking Busy

A long time ago in a law firm far, far away, I was a Litigation Paralegal.  Many of my fellow paralegals would talk about how busy they were.  They would eat lunch at their desk and always have some papers with them.  They may have been creating a deposition abstract or proof-reading an index of a document production.  They would work on these on their Metra train rides home.

This was in the early 90s, back before the days of connecting remotely to the office and working from home meant bringing a bunch of hard copy documents home with you. 

I've never been good at looking busy.  Either I have something to do or I'm looking for the next task.  Often when I finish something, I submit to my Adult ADD and surf the web or find some other activity to stimulate my brain. 

It's one thing to work through lunch in order to leave work early.  It's another thing to consistently work through lunch in order to just leave on time.  That is a sign that its time to look for another gig.  Working some extra hours during a busy season is one thing.  Having a busy season that lasts all fiscal year is another.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

We're All a Little Screwed Up

What I learned this summer:  A couple months ago I got one of those calls you hear about and hope you never personally get.  A friend was dead and the circumstances were not known.  A few hours later it was learned, or shared, that Craig took a bunch of sleeping pills and washed them down with vodka, one of the hard liquors he wasn't very fond of.

Sometime this year, I also learned that a friend has an eating disorder.  She told me that she was borderline anorexic, though I've since learned that she's more bulimic.  Intuitively, she knows better but somethng inside is set to believe that every calorie she eats will somehow transform that too skinny to give blood body into a an overweight person.

I've always thought both of these friends had their sh** together better than I did.  The reality is that their Alpha Gene is set to On while mine is set to off.  While it gives me no comfort to know that their personal demons are of the same magnetude as mine, it does make me feel like I can give myself a little break and not be so hard on myself.

************
Confessions of a First Generation Pole:  Spearking of not being so hard on myself, this article sums it up neatly.

Knowing the language seems the defining line between identifying as Polish or American. ...For my part, because I’ve forgotten what little Polish I knew, the language barrier prevents me from getting Poles to see me as one of their own—I’m just another American.  [Source]
When I was growing up, I didn't like being called a Pole-lock by my Puerto Rican schoolmates.  So while I never denied being Polish, I certainly downplayed it and didn't embrass my ethnicity until my late 20s and early 30s.

I've tried to re-learn the language. My mom claims I did speak some Polish as a child.  However neither classrooms at Discovery Center or Rosetta Stone has proven successful, mostly because I don't have the discipline to do the Rosetta Stone on a beautiful summer day.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I know this much about weddings

The Wedding is one day, the Marriage is, hopefully, forever.  This is the mantra that gets many a bride and groom through the planning stages of a wedding.  The Wedding Report, an industry publication, reports that the average wedding costs $29,000 in the U.S:

http://www.theweddingreport.com/bz/index.php/weddings-and-average-wedding-cost-1945-to-2010/

Here's what I've learned about planning a wedding and would tell myself if I could get in a Delorean and go back in time.

1)  Someone is paying for that wedding. Whether its you, the Bride's parents, Elmo or a combination thereof, if you think that you might possibly have some type of celebration to commemorate your marriage, start saving immediately -- even before you find your future spouse. 

Some people have parents who have put aside money for them. This is great.  However, your parents might get laid off before retirement or have some medical emergency and that money you were counting on is gone. Or your parents can only give so much money yet you want extras like chair covers, floor length table clothes
and a deejay who will show up.  These things cost extra.  Start saving.  Now.

The worst that can happen is you use that money elsewhere -- home downpayment, kickass honeymoon, Bourbon and strippers, whatever.

2)  Wedding Vendor Cartel and price fixing.  Wedding vendors want large non-refundable deposits upfront and they often incentivize you to pay cash.  After all, if you are going to pay $1000 for flowers but will receive a 20% discount ($200) if you pay cash, how can you refuse. With some of the vendors, you end up paying 80-100% of the cost before the wedding date.  The good part is you don't have to deal with it on your wedding day.  The bad part is, you are sweating bullets that everything will go off without a hitch.

3)  The Point of No Return.  When you add up the cost of a wedding versus flying to Vegas and having Elvis marry you, the difference is staggering.  Still there comes a point when you realize that even if you forfeited all the deposits and grabbed the next flight out to Vegas, you would still come out ahead cost-wise.

3a) The Real Point of No Return. Then you reach a point where you've hemeraged so much money and have little to show for it, unless you actually go through with the wedding.  This is the riskiest moment.

Say for instance, your wedding photographer skips out on your wedding because she went to a Rave the night before and woke up in some other city.  Sure you have a contract and can go through the long, lengthy legal process of getting your money back.  What you cannot do is get in that Delorean and go back and pick a more dependable photographer.  Your marriage is still legit though starting off on a stressful note, but your wedding is ruined.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Bathroom Shelf - Part Two

In Part One, I talked about how I sanded and stained the wood portion of this shelf.  Then I made it sound like I went right out and bought a can of spray paint.  The truth is, I did this project over a week's time,doing a little bit here and a little bit there.   For instance, I sanded the shelf with the belt sander and then removed a layer of sawdust with Mineral Spirits, then went out to run an errand while the board dried. But it wasn't until the weekend that I got around to sanding with the palm sander.

If you really planned it right, you could get this project done in 24 hours.  The time to sand it depends on how anal thorough you are and it only take about 15 minutes for the Mineral Spirits to dry.  The Polyurethane takes 6 hours to dry though I really like to let the last coat dry over night.  The Wood Finish I used to seal the underside takes about 15 minutes to dry and then a few hours to cure but you can work with the other side in the meantime.   Finally the spray paint dries to the touch in 15 minutes.  After 1-2 hours you can handle the painted item and it is fully dry after 24 hours. 

To spray paint the rack, I had to fashion a manner in which to hang it so that I could paint without causing a mess, inhale the fumes and reach every part of the rack.  The common area of my condo building near the dumpsters was a perfect location. 

A wire coat hanger and a piece of old chain I had lying around did the trick.  I strung the chain around a rafter under the deck.


This was a lot of fun.

 
Even though this part of the rack will be covered by the shelf and not really seen by anyone, it is a good idea to spray paint it thoroughly because the spray paint is also a rust guard. Since this will in all likelihood end up in the bathroom, a high moisture area.





The shelf came out looking really nice.  Now I need to figure out where exactly to hang it.


Finished Product


Bathroom Shelf - Part One

A few weeks ago, we picked up this shelf at a yard sale.  I neglected to snap a before picture but essentially the wood shelf was attached to a metal frame. The frame had some rust and the shelf certainly needed sanding, but otherwise it was a solid piece. The metal rack had some hooks which made me think it would be a nice addition to our storage challenged bathroom.  I figured we could hang wet towels on the hooks and roll dry towels on the shelf.

At first the lady wanted five bucks for it.  Figuring it would make a nice form & function addition to our cramped bathroom, I reached into my pocket for the money.  Then the lady noticed that someone had written $3.50 on it, so she sold it to me for that price instead.  Go figure. 

Sanded Shelf
It was probably a little overkill, but I sanded this board three times.  First with a belt sander to do the heavy work of removing all the imperfections that time will do to an unfinished or worn piece of wood.

Next I used a palm sander with slightly finer paper to give it a good consistent sanding so that it was smooth to the touch.

Finally I used my Craftsman Nextec Multitool to get to the grooves on the curved part of the shelf (picture the shelf laying flat, this would be the front and back as opposed to the top or bottom.)

Of course between each sanding, I used some Mineral Spirits to clean away all the micro saw dust.  After that, it was a matter of applying some MinWax Polyurethane.  I used Bombay Mahogany Gloss 480 and applied two coats to the front and top. 
Topside with Polyurethane

Underside with Wood Sealer
On the underside, I applied some MinWax Wood Finish (Natural 209) just to seal the wood.

While that was drying I went to work on the metal frame.  With some steel wool, I worked out the rust, also removing some of the black paint.  My next step involved a trip to the suburbs.

Sidebar: Like other urban centers, graffiti is a relatively big problem in Chicago.  Our aldermen, in their infinite stupidity wisdom, decided to ban the sale of spray paint within the city limits.  This had reduced the amount of graffiti by no measurable levels since gangbangers and taggers have cars.  It does however make the law abiding citizen drive out the Home Depots in the suburbs to get a can of spray paint whenever they need to repaint their lawn furniture.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Jumping through hoops

A guy and a girl can have sex and end up getting pregnant.  Assuming they opt to keep the child, no one disputes that they are going to conceive another life form.  However, if they participate in some style of wedding ritual, there is a chance they could go through the entire process and ceremony, only to have someone say the whole thing is invalid.

Someone might come along and say "well your marriage isn't recognized because you forgot to provide proof of baptism," or "you didn't check the box that said you have never been married before," or "there was an error on your marriage license."

So far we have still on target for completing all the hoops we have to go through, but they keep adding new ones.  Last week we met with a priest to go over some of the requirements.  While there, we managed to check off Canical Talk with Priest.  However, he threw a new one my way that wasn't mentioned in November when we first met.

Apparently since I'm technically a member of another church -- one that wasn't available anytime near the century date we wanted to get married -- I have to get permission from them to get married in another Catholic Church.  You'd think this would be a slam dunk.  After all, what if I wasn't a member of any church here in Chicago, like my fiance? 

Getting the form filled out from Church1 for Church2 is not a big deal.  Having to jump through this hoop makes me wonder what other hoops will come along.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Marathon Training and Wedding Planning

I am not spending my summer training for a marathon. It's not the first time I've taken a summer off, but this is certainly a rarity for me. Instead I'm using the time to pursue some long shelved hobbies, oh and plan a wedding.

At first glance, weddings and marathons have little to do with each other. One is a 26.2 mile race and the other is a celebration that launches (hopefully) a lifetime together. You can train for and run many marathons over the course of a lifetime but you probably only want one wedding (unless you are Liz Taylor or Hugh Heffner).  But they do have some things in common. They both take a lot of time and preparation and they both can set you up for big expectations.

Marathon training is typically 18 weeks of following a running schedule and tacking on miles. In theory you eat right and make other sacrifices that conflict with summertime fun and an active social life. You buy a couple pairs of expensive running shoes and eat a lot of pasta. 

Weddings take an average of 1 year to plan. You usually have to book your venue this far in advance because everyone else has booked their wedding.  You hire a photographer, buy/rent expense clothing and eat a lot of pasta (Italian weddings only!).

Yes you can plan a wedding in a short amount of time or elope, and sure you could simply sign up for a marathon, do no training and show up on race day in your running shorts. Both of these options will give you a different experience than the traditional route.

When you've run as many marathons as I have, you expect a certain outcome. Yeah, it's an accomplishment just to finish, and that gets you through the first couple of marathons. But by the time you've racked up a dozen marathons or so, you have different expectations. You cannot help it. Simply finishing the race isn't enough, you want something to show for your weeks of blood, sweat and carbo loading. The race may not be a BQ* or even a new PR*, but you expect to have a decent enough run that you can be proud of.

Back to the wedding. The wedding is a just a day and the marriage is what's important. Future wife and I get that. That doesn't mean we don't want the day to be special for both us and our guests.

Weddings and marathons can be thwarted by events completely beyond your control. A hot day may blow your race day results.  A drunk photographer will impact the quality of the pictures from your special day. Being too drunk in either will not bode well at all.

In the end, you really cannot control everything for either the marathon or the wedding.  All you can do is plan for your day and hope for the best.


*******
BQ: Boston Qaulifying Time.
PR: Personal Record i.e. best marathon time you have acheived.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Save The Dates are transmitted

So this week's wedding related project is getting our Save-The-Date (STD) information out the door. Since you have to pay your financially responsible for every guest that shows up, giving them a six month head start not to make other plans seems kinda self defeating. But protocol demands it.

Wedding invitations and the accompaning STDs are the last vestigates of snail mail. If it were up to me, I'd use Facebook to do the work. And in about 5 years, that might be the norm. In fact I had the brilliant idea of skipping all that and sending out an Evite. We could have used the hide-the-guest list option so that everyone could comment back with their snail mail address and we'd have them all in one convienent place to forget about 4 months from now when we send out the actual invitations.

Apparently Emily Post was spinning in her grave because that idea was nixed by a completely unscientific poll of a few friends and two street wise vendors. I guess part of the fun of planning a wedding involves the task of hunting and gathering all these snail mail addresses and trying to figure out the proper way to spell someone's last name, their proper title and the real name of the person we've affectionately referred to as the Krazy Guatamalan all these years.

We also had to decide what exactly we were sending out. Do we send an ordinary post card, or a little note or something kitchy like a button with our engagement photo on it. This was one area that I chimed in. Most guys don't care about little details like the color of the table napkins, the font of the wedding program, or the guest list. Some guys only care that the biggest day of their life -- outside of the NFL draft pick -- doesn't conflict with a playoff game of their favorite sports team. I've carefully picked my moments on when to ask/insist/request something and when to let my better half make the decision.

I'd like to say that I put my foot down and said we absolutely are not sending everyone a chessey picture of us. But the truth is, I not only don't have a problem with that but think its one of the few moments in life when it is 110% absolutely all about you. The reason we didn't go with an engagement photo is becuase we just didn't have our act together enough to get one printed in time to get the STDs out.

I did insist on magnets however. Even though it goes against every fiber of my don't spend more money than you have to DNA i figured at least a magnet would serve a purpose beyond reminding people of our wedding date and website. Years from now, people will still have their grocery list supported on their fridge with our magnet.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Your Exact Situation May Vary, or be forgotten entirely

Because I have been exploring the Real Estate market for the last three years, I've made friends with many a realtor.  And by made friends I mean they have my email address and fall just short of stalking me.  Many will send me an are you ready to take the plunge and purchase a home email.  I'll write back and explain how I'm technically underwater on my mortgage but if they know someone else willing to take the plunge and buy my place, it could be a win-win.

No response and you can hear the silence on the internet.  Then two months later, another email will come from the same realtor asking if I'm ready to take the plunge, this time preambled with "I don't know your exact situation...".

How do these people not fall down more?  And how do they live with themselves? 

I got an email from one particular Realtor(tm) who asked a few questions. 

1) You are:
-Actively searching for a home now
-Planning to buy a home within 6 months
-Planning to buy a home later than 6 months from now

2) What price range?
3) What area(s) do you want to live in?
4) Are you interested in a specific neighborhood?
5) What kind of home do you want to buy?
6) What style of home do you want to buy (e.g., contemporary, colonial, tudor)?
7) How many bedrooms?
8) How many bathrooms?
9) Specific features (e.g., waterfront, large lot, garage size, built-in vacuum, distance to school):
10) Additional comments:
11) Do you have any questions? Is there anything else I can do to help?

All fair questions. And I sent a reply.  For number 2 I said my price range was $200-$350K.  I also answered the questions in painstaking detail.  [It takes a lot of effort to cut and paste doncha know.]

Let's just say the response was unbelievable.

Hi Icarus,
I have a house that I will list in the next two weeks on the 3900 block of StreetName. This is a brick bungalow completely gutted and rehabbed. It is not completed yet, it is slated for top of the line finishes and will be priced in the low 500's. I am thinking that if you choose lesser finishes, it could be priced lower.

I could get u floor plans. Let me know your thoughts. Is your condo on the market?

Fooley Shapiro

Broker
Imprudent Ripoff
Sent from my iPhone

Now, I realize expecting this realtor to actually read my answers to their questions would be asking a lot.  But I would think something like price range might be important enough to focus on.

here was my response:

Hi Fooley,
Yeah a floorplan would be a good start. What do you mean when you say "top of the line" finishes and how much of a price reduction could lesser finishes bring?


No, it is not on the market.


Icarus

I figured that would start a dialogue and the realtor(tm) would go back and re-read my answers. Apparently not.  They know how to work that iPhone though:

Hi Icarus, I think you could probably shave $ 30,000. Off the price by choosing lesser finishes. We are planning on listing at 535,000. So we could get it to $500,000. Then you could probably buy 30,000 lower. I don't see it going for less than $470000.


There are others too.


Where is your condo? We should put it on the market.


Regards,

Fooley Shapiro


Broker
Imprudent Ripoff
Sent from my iPhone

I decided it was time to end that conversation and haven't written back.  And I haven't heard from Fooley yet.  But I will bet you my down payment money that in a month or so, I'll get another email that starts ""I don't know your exact situation...".

Friday, March 4, 2011

Kitchen Redo...for now Part II


Kitchen Before

Kitchen Before
So when I left off, all the pieces were coming together figuratively at least. We needed to hang the cabinets, and install the appliances. While I consider myself quite handy and have learned a lot about DIY and hojme repair, I also know my limitations. I also know that even if I did figure out how to do those tasks, the time lost would be greater than paying someone who knows what they are doing not to mention the quality would not be as good.


Enter the Handy Man. From a referral from a friend, I contacted Mr Handyman and he was willing to come over and take a look. What I really liked from the beginning was, as we went over each task, he talked to me as if I could do it myself. "What you do is cut a small hole and insert a stud," or "you drill a couple of holes and use finishing nails".
Before Cabinet and Wine Rack
When it came time to talk about price he said that it works out best if we either come up with a full days worth of work, or just enough things so that they could take on a second job the same day. If we go over 6 hours, it's a full day rate anyway. Not a problem, as the wheels in my head started to spin.

Remember ABT and their expensive installation service? Mr Handyman knew how to do most of that as well. So when I bought the appliances, I decided that ABT could install the stove and the microhood, Mr Handyman and his crew could do the refrigerator and the dishwasher. My reasoning was that if worse came to worse, I could certainly figure out the dishwasher and the fridge on my own, or at least live a few days cleaning dishes manually and not having ice in the freezer.

After Cabinet and Wine Rack
The timing worked out beautifuly as the appliances arrived just as they finished the cabinets. The developer who put my condo together apparently placed the applainces first and then built the granite around it. The stove was wedged in and we worried we were gonna lose some tiles when ABT removed the old stove.

Luckily, the guys from ABT were not last in their class at Appliance Installation School They knew what they were doing and were able to remove the stove without breaking any tiles -- however ,they determined that they would have to remove some for the new microwave to open properly. Did i mention how lucky it was to have Mr Handyman right there!






So we had Mr Handyman:


  • Hang a Cabinet and wine rack
  • reinforce our curtain rod
  • connect the butcher block top to the island
  • cut and install the kickflap to the island
  • connect the dishwasher
  • connect the refrigerator
  • hang a pot rack
  • attempt to fix our accordian closet doors that won't stay shut

All for $390, materials included.  It would have cost me $250 to have ABT install the fridge and dishwasher so for another buck fifty, I got so much more.

Kitchen Redo complete...for now

I mentioned a few blogs ago about our plan to update our kitchen to increase and optimize the storage space. After over a month of having cabinets and pot racks cluttering up our dinning room, this project is finally done. It took a lot of coordination for all the moving pieces to come together, but in the end, it was worth it.

Originally we were going to build our own island using base cabinets and find a cheap piece of discontinued or slightly damaged granite for the top. Instead we found an already built island and butcher block top at HOBO for much less (~$400) than we could build. 

While at HOBO we found that we could buy a cabinet for the unused space for about $100.  But the question was, how to best optimize the space, server our current needs and possibly help our resale value at some future point.  The answer of course was wine rack!

If we wanted a bigger cabinet it would cost more money and we were trying to keep this project at a reasonable cost.  As luck would have it, HOBO had some stock cabinet and wine racks that came very close to matching my current kitchen. 


 









Next came the appliances.  My old appliances are at least 10 years old.  They might last another 10 years or they may fail one by one over the next decade, requiring replacing.  We decided that updating them served several purposes.  First, we have new, pretty looking stainless steel appliances that potential buyers desire.  Second, we have more updated appliances that are better functioning than their decade old counterparts.  Finally, we rationalized that if we are gonna be stuck here for a long time, we might as well make the best of it.

After researching appliances and costs, I learned that the Big Box stores all delivered for free and most did the free hall away too because they do this.  But they all charged a premium for installation.  For instance, the cost to install the microhood is about the cost of the microhood.  Of course once I saw what was involved with installing a microhood I realized why it cost so much and is worth every penny.   

After comparing all the Big Box stores deals on appliances, I determined that the package deal at ABT was our best option.  I also figured they were likely to have a good President's Day Sale.  Of course when we went and saw the appliance packages, we realized that we wanted better.   So you could call it the ole bait and switch except no one forced us to upgrade our appliances and the sales person did not try to pressure us in any way.

He did put together a wonder quartet of refrigerators, dishwasher, stove and microhood that wasn't at the low end of quality (or price) but wasn't at the extreme high end either.  We got a solid dish washer, an awesome stove, a decent microwave and as an unexpected bonus, a french door refrigerator. 

to be continued....

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It Doesn't Pay to be Good

The following is a re-post from an old blog/column I wrote for another medium a long time ago. I've tweaked it a little to bring it up to date while hopefully keeping the content intact.

Lex Luther,  Anakin Skywalker, Michael Meyers and Elphaba Thropp have one thing in common. They started out as good people.

Spoiler alert: This column gives away plot points of Spider-Man and Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.

Over the last couple of weekends, I managed to catch up on my movie watching for the summer, which included the above-mentioned films.  I liked all but the last two minutes of Spider-Man.  I enjoyed the special effects and was pleased with how true the movie adaptation was to the Marvel Comics storyline.   I even liked the casting choices for Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) and the other characters.  I didn't like "Man Waiting for Bus" in scene 14 because his performance was so unbelievable, but I digress.


What I really didn't like was the ending in the graveyard where Mary Jane suddenly professes her love for Peter, a.k.a. Spider-Man.  Unfortunately our fine webbed friend has to turn down MJ’s sudden discovered love because being with her might be hazardous to her health.  Parker has been in love with Mary Jane since the day she walked into his life and now that he final has her, he is forced to give her up because of a higher calling: The Sequel.

Now take Star Wars: Episode II.  In it the young Anakin Skywalker - who will eventually become the evil and dastardly George W. Bush - gets married to the lovely Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman).  True he loses an arm, which is technically getting off easy with what weddings cost these days.  While we’re on the subject, is it just me or wouldn't you expect that if they have the technology to send a message across the galaxy, they'd know how to reattach a severed limb? Well the former Queen decides to marry the guy anyway.  Why? Because chicks dig evil! 

What attracted Anakin Skywalker to the Dark Side in "Episode II."

"In this film, you begin to see that he has a fear of losing things, a fear of losing his mother, and as a result, he wants to begin to control things, he wants to become powerful, and these are not Jedi traits," he said. "And part of these are because he was starting to be trained so late in life, that he'd already formed these attachments. And for a Jedi, attachment is forbidden."
http://archives.cnn.com/2002/SHOWBIZ/Movies/05/07/ca.s02.george.lucas/


Let's look at television while we're at it.  In the television series Smallville, a young Clark Kent, who will later grow up to become Superman, also has to give up any hope of ever being with either Lana Lang or Lois Lane.  In episode after episode - and I am qualified to make this generalization because I've seen almost five complete shows - Kent has the opportunity to get in good with Lana, but has to pass it up because of some pesky obligation to save some helpless mortal caught under a overturned tractor. 

Sidebar:  Annette O'Toole played Lana Lang, the girl Clark Kent left behind in his youth, in the big-screen feature Superman III. Now she takes her new place in the Superman saga playing a teenage Clark Kent's mother, Martha, in the new action-adventure series Smallville. (Source:  http://www.thewb.com/Faces/CastBio/0,7930,81,00.html). 

Now I have to think of a TV example where a bad guy gets the girl.  The only one I can think of is Charmed.  In Charmed, a television show about three sisters who are also witches…or is it three witches who are also sisters?  Anyway, these are good witches who must fight the forces of evil.  Every week, they somehow manage to magically vanquish a demon or warlock without smearing any makeup or messing up their hair.  These witches are extremely hot looking and could have any guy they wanted.  Yet Phoebe, the youngest witch played by Alyssa Milano, chooses to marry Cole, an upper level demon working for The Source, played by Bill Gates. 

So it seems that if you chose evil, you get the girl.  Do the right thing, and you're spinning web fluid alone, if you know what I mean.  Can anyone tell me where to sign up with the Dark side of the Force?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wounded Knee: Cleared to run...kinda

So it has been approximately a month since my knee surgery.  Calling it surgery is a grand misnomer; it was more like a procedure.  I got my knee scoped.  While the doctor was looking around, he clipped my meniscus that was flapping around and getting caught in my knee cap.  So now I can kneel at the pews in church without grimmacing in pain.  When I go to church that is.

Unlike two of my friends who also had similar procedures, I was able to walk out of the operating room without crutches.  Sure there was swelling and stitches but I got out of it a lot better than most, at least in the short term.  The long term forecast is a little more uncertain.  A knee replacement isn't out of the question for my future.

My knee is like a car engine with over 100K miles.  If I just use it to get to the El station a mile away and run some errands on the weekend, I won't need to replace it any time soon.  If I make a few trips to the suburbs, as I do for Easter, Thanskgiving Day and Xmas, it might need a replacement sooner than later.  But if I try to visit my friends in St Louis twice a year for the next couple of years, the replacement knee will come sooner.

The doctor said that if he were the guardian of my knee, he'd say no more running, instead spending more time biking, swimming, spin class and/or elyptical. But we both know giving up running isn't an option.  A marathon this year is out of the question anyway since planning a wedding will likely consume all my free time.  And it's really nice not being tethered to a training schedule.  But I will be back out there running as much as my knee will allow.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I might have to redesign my island

So I'm hoping to undertake a personal project this year with respect to our condo. The practical goal is to increase storage space and functionality in the kitchen while also increasing my handyman crede.
First, I want to install an additional cabinet above the island that separates the kitchen from the dining room. For some reason, this was left empty and I can think of a few reasons for this. It's possible the developers ran out of time and wanted to save some money so they didn't bother. Or perhaps they wanted to give the owner options. Instead of installing a simple cabinet, it could be possible to install a longer cabinet (called a High Island Cabinet) parellel to the island. Or another possibility, which is also my biggest fear, is that it isn't possible to install a cabinet in this space because they cheated on the wall studs.

The other project is to build an additional floating island for the kitchen. At the moment we are using this old breakfast table that I bought from Venture before it went out of businesss. It's functional but doesn't provide enough storage. I'd like to build something using lower cabinet modules and maybe attach or build a dish rack onto the end of it.

We can slap a butcher's block or cheaper top (instead of expensive marble or granite) and either take it with us or leave it behind when we finally move in the Forever House.

The problem is I'm having trouble finding specs for cabinets so I can gauge what I have to work with and what I will need to improvise. Most of the stores don't really want to help you buy/build one cabinet item --
they make their money installing a new kitchen for you. A guy at HOBO helped me out a bit yesterday but even then I felt like he was trying to convince me to upgrade to a better quality of stuff.

It has given me some things to think about though. Based on what he told me about standard cabinet sizes, if I want to do this for the least amount of money, I might have to redesign my island.

************
Forever House

With each of us owning a condo that is either underwater or at least wading in it, we are limited to what we can do. We would much rather have a SFH. But that isn't in the stars for us at the moment. First, there isn't anything decent out there at the moment.

This is what my dream home looked like two years ago:

Besides the obvious: good neighborhood, low/no crime, proximity to expressways and good restaurants. I do realize that to get the majority of a wish list it might be necessary sacrifice one or two items.


Prerequisites: I want a house, not a condo or a townhome, but a bone fide house, I’m partial to 4-squares, but am warming up to bungalows. Also, the more recent things like the roof, the windows and the mechanics have been updated the better.
  • Proximity to the Blue Line. I don't like to drive and would prefer to be able to walk to a Blue Line station, preferable within less than a mile. Bonus if there is a Metra Station nearby.
  • Basement: It needs to be tall enough for a 6' 2" fellow to stand upright in it. As long as it provides good storage and can also double as a workshop and workout room, I'm happy. Bonus if it is finished or partially finished or could be finished and turned into a ManCave or entertainment room.
  • Attic: Bonus if it's finished but again, one that has potential to be expanded is ideal. I saw a place that had the water pipes run up to the attic already so that creating a dream master bedroom with bathroom, whirlpool and separate shower was a possibility later down the line. My understandings running the pipes up is a big part of the cost so having this already done is a must.
  • Fireplace or at least a spot to put in a fumeless one.
  • Garage 2 car or more. Carport might be okay but would prefer a place to safely park my car, a future wife's car and our bicycles.
  • Kitchen: updated. I do not want to renovate a kitchen or any other room really.

So really I'm looking for a place that is ready to move in and doesn't need an mandatory renovations, only if I suddenly decide I have too much money in the bank (ha!) and decide I want to drop a wall to increase the size of the a room or something.

So my  outlook has changed a little bit.  I'm not afraid to renovate a kitchen, bathroom or bedroom, but I do want a two car (or more) garage.  I'm also more open to being further from the Blue Line, if that's what it takes to get what we want.

However, this year is also about being happy about what I have, and not dwelling on what I want, so it may have to be a long time before I get this and by then we may not want the hassle that comes with a house. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Trying to get off to a good start

Friday was of course NYE, a dubious holiday. What was once the celebration of new beginnings, new outlooks and new hope has now become the holiday of the couple. I guess that beats the holiday of the hookup, which Halloween has gladly become.

We went to SHB's party. We skipped last year because SigOther had to work late and I didn't feel like going through hoops to make it to a party just to see a bunch of people who blew ours off.  It was a small group which is perfectly fine. Everyone kept asking about our wedding planning and my knee. Even when I tried to change the subject, we ended up back on one of the two when someone new arrived.

On Saturday we went to another FOM (Friend of Mine) gathering to watch some college football. While in the North shore, we went to a few stores then came home and watched TV and re-adjusted our time clocks from the previous night. 

Sunday we went to church for the first time this year...and the first time in a long time. While I enjoy mass, I'm finding that I don't quite get the same experience out of it as I did when I first started going, or during the darker times in my life.   It probably didn't help that behind us sat this couple with two little girls who were making a lot of noise.  I believe the homily and the gospel were related to children but I don't recall because I couldn't hear it over their voices. I refrained from turning around because the parents don't need me doing that - they realize how loud the fruits of their loins were.  And hopefully that buys us some karma down the road when its our rugrats making the noise.

Sunday afternoon we went to a runner friend's place to watch the Bears-Packers game.  The idea was for me to bond with her husband but he was gone on an errand and didn't make it back until the game began.  At that point SigOther and the girls had come back so our manfest was nullified.

After that, as I expected, we ended up going over to SigOther's sister's place for dinner, although we were stuffed, so we mostly just had some wine.  I was glad we went over there because it gave me a chance to ask if  I could borrow a tool -- however Future Inlaw either didn't have it or couldn't find it so there is another trip to Sears in my future.