Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Weekend Post

Memorial Day is supposed to be about so much more than cookouts and picnics and three day weekends.  It should be a valuable reminder of the sacrifices of many brave people so we can all enjoy the freedoms we often take for granted.  In honor of Memorial Day I’d like to thank all the men and women who have served and are currently serving our country.


The Memorial Day weekend turned out to be a very good and very low stress weekend of activity.  When I got home from work on Friday I was supposed to join friends at Goose Island to meet up with a friend from out of town. I think her flight was delayed which worked out because 1) I took a nap, overslept and opted to skip it because 2) I had to get up before the buttcrack of dawn for a race.

Saturday morning I ran the Soldier Field 10 miler (SF10). In its 9 year existence, I've run it probably seven times with my best time (1:09) under Elizabeth McClain's bib number in 2007. Two years ago after the race one of the volunteer physical therapists looked at my knee and suggested I get an MRI -- which lead to the discovery of my lacerated meniscus.

There were at least three groups of runners I wanted to meet up with: DrDrea and her crew; Jema and Magenta; and of course my old crew of CARA ex-group leaders. Jema was visiting from St Louis.  The one challenge is I know a lot of people at these races and I want to talk with as many as possible. More so especially since last year I was kind of isolated between not running, changing jobs and Unexpected Wedding Drama planning a wedding.

The race turned out well for me. I had a slightly faster time than last month's Lakefront 10. More importantly, I had a better experience. I didn't stop and walk nearly as much as last month. In fact, think I only walked through the water stations. I think my 1:23 was about what I did the first couple times I ran this event.

Saturday Evening was Na's birthday bash. In her more wild days she would have us meet at some club. These days a BYOB Cuban restaurant a few miles from her house sufficed.  Still, it was a late evening.   When you're out on a Saturday night, the time from 7:30 to 9:30 moves kinda slow.  The time from 9:30 to 11:30 moves a bit quicker and the time from 11:30 to 3 am can arrive in a blink.  Na's husband suggested we go back to their house to see the recent renovations they had done.  The essentially took their West Town cottage and added a second floor.

Sunday was very low key. We slept in. We grabbed some breakfast, and then did some grocery shopping. put together the rest of our new deck furniture and then headed out to my buddy Ainski's cookout. There was one other couple there whom we met before. The last time we saw them was before our wedding so we went through the usual litany of wedding related FAQs like "oh when did you get married? where was the wedding? where did you go for your honeymoon?"

I'm not the biggest fan of small talk, I prefer more substantial discussions.  I do realize that you're not going to get that with a couple you see once every 12-18 months especially if large amounts of alcohol are not involved.  Still, small talk should have two standard components: 1) Not getting too personal too quickly and 2) keeping the conversation flowing.  Component1 is why you don't ask if you prefer Reverse Cowboy over Standard Doggie Style and Component2 is why you don't ask questions like "oh what part of Chicago do you live in" if you have no F-ing clue where anything is in the city.

Monday was winding down for the week. We still had one more cookout to attend. Mr. Massage was having his once a year smoker and we were invited, along with DrDrea. She had made arrangements to come over to our place first to print out her wedding invitations.  So basically Nightingale and DrDrea printed out envelopes while I served them wine.  Yep, I didn't see that one coming.
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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Open House Sunday

Our Forever House should definitely have one of these
Like many of our Sundays lately, Nightingale and I visited some Open Houses this weekend.  We are meticulously scouring the Real Estate listings looking for a home that meets the majority of our Unicorn Criteria since once we purchase a house, we are likely to be stuck with it for a long time.


We were ambitious because there were six OH on our list.  I thought about checking out a 7th that was in OIP but decided against it because while I'd love to see what a $900K home looks like, it doesn't seem like its a good idea to waste our time or the seller's time.  Because agents use all kind of tricks to make a house appear new on the market even though it's been re-listed and de-listed to death, I'm going to include address, price and links to the properties.  The links may disappear or the price might change so this is just a snapshot of what they were a few days ago.


House No 1:  Old Irving Park (OIP)
4122 N Kostner Ave
4 bd/2 bath, $375,000


The first house we looked at pleasantly surprised us. It was a home in Old Irving Park, though it wasn't one of the fancy Queen Annes or large Victorians that reside south of Irving Park Rd. It was also listed with Burt Fujishima, whose name I've seen at a variety of hard-to-sell-yet-eventually-do listings, so I was hopeful to see what he does that other agents don't.

It surprised us because while the outside was fugly lacked curb appeal, the inside was actually quite charming.  Lot's of original woodwork and hardwood floors throughout.  It had nice deck and a well manicured garden on a double lot all for $375K.  Compare that to my favorite doublelot in Jefferson Park that only has 1.5 bathrooms and is $100K more. 

The downside is that the kitchen and bathrooms need updating.  Major Updating.  As in drag the bathroom kicking and screaming into the 21st Century updating.  It's also about 200 yards from the expressway overpass which means pollution does seep into your yard.  As for Agent Burt, I'd say his m.o. is he doesn't bother the buyer while they are looking. 


House No 2: Sauganash
5942 N Kostner, Chicago
4 bd/1.1 bath. $400,000


This house was located in Sauganash or Forest Glen, depending on who you ask.  It also had a kick ass deck but no garage.  There was space to build one and since it was a corner lot, we could have it face either alley.  The kitchen would need updating and the bathrooms were just blah.  The basement was not big enough to finish and turn into a rec room -- it would more likely be just storage and laundry.

Both houses were priced adequately for their neighborhoods...if this were 2008 and the start of the bust.  The prices, while competitive, do not reflect the cost to the buyer to implement the necessary updates. 


House No 3: Edgebrook Glen (barely)
5651 N Parkside, Chicago
4 bd/2 ba, $319,999


Was a little bungalow on the border of Jefferson Park/Edgebrook Glen.  It was a complete gut rehab and thank goodness it is $1 under $320 or else we might be in a bidding war.  The agent apparently arrived late and had just turned on the A/C which gave us a good opportunity to see just how hot the upstairs bedrooms can get. 

We decided to skip House No 4, 5512 W Pensacola because it is an octagonal bungalow and we pretty much knew it wasn't really the home for us.  It just fell out of contract so that means the sellers probably feel that their $349,900 price is about right.  We used the opportunity to grab a quick bit at Central Kitchen and Tap because we were in that lull between Open House timeslots. 


House No 5:  Portage Park
5408 W Windsor,  Chicago.
4 bd/2.1 ba for $349,900.


This is a house that intrigued Nightingale because it has a big backyard and an awesome looking kitchen.  It had a problem with its garage - there wasn't any though the listing agent swore it was possible to put one in.  Yes, you could build a garage.  However, access to that garage would be tricky since you ahve to go through about three neighbors' yards in this landlocked property.  

The realtor was a handful as well.  She wanted to know who our realtor was, what brokerage she was with and if we had seen her other listing that allegedly closed within days of going on the market.  We also got into a slight debate whether the subject house was Jefferson Park or Portage Park. 


House No 6:  Forest Park - The Suburbs (barely)
118 Elgin Ave, Forest Park.
4 bd/2 bath   $385,000.


While we haven't completely ruled out the suburbs, Nightingale's new job does make it less feasible.  I saw this one because Forest Park is one of those close enough to the city suburbs and the house had a wrap-around porch which Nightingale loves.  The agent was lovely and offered to help us out if our search continued in Forest Park.

This house had a nicely put together backyard with a 3 car garage and a patio with firepit that I loved.  The kitchen was a good size.  The basement was very clean and the floor appeared to be recently painted.  It too would only be a storage area.  Alas the rooms were rather small and awkwardly shaped and didn't allow for a king size bed in the master.  Removing any walls to expand a room would eliminate the upstairs stackable laundry that someone had the foresight to install. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Don’t Let Summer Get Away from You

Summertime in Chicago is just too short. While Summer seemed to arrive early this year, a typical Chicago Spring is still chilly, rainy and outdoor unfriendly. Around May this changes and natives experiment with taking off the parka and downgrading to a simple pea coat.

Essentially you get June, July and August and then it's over. Even though the weather might be nice in September and even October, conventional wisdom defines Summer as the time between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

When June arrives you think: I have the whole summer ahead of me. Visions of attending baseball games, popular street festivals and hanging out at the beach come to mind. Maybe you’ve always wanted to check out Summer Dance or the Waste Taste of Chicago. Perhaps this is the summer you will finally bike to the Botanic Gardens. Excitement oozes over the new summer blockbusters.  In your summer fueled excitement you invite friends from out of town to visit so you have a legitimate excuse to check out Navy Pier.

Trips to Ravina for concerts under the stars get tossed around and plans are penciled in. 

Soon it's July and you're trying to figure out who's cookout to attend and where to see the fireworks. You still have a lot of summer left but you also realize that you have to make those plans a bit more concrete. Spontaneous plans to dine al fresco get formally scheduled for August because July is so overbooked. It really is time to fill up the bicycle tires already. Can we still catch those blockbusters at a matinee?  Is my friend arriving at Midway or O’Hare?

Then August arrives and you realize that you just have a few weeks to squeeze everything in! You have to choose between the concert at Ravina or the Best Street Fest of the Summer This Weekend.  That bike you never got tuned up sits there hoping you'll notice it.   What do you mean we missed Summerfest?

Before you know it, another summer has set sail and it's time to get the parka out of storage.  Those blockbusters are now available on Blu-ray.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How to get a good seat at a wedding

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.

One of the greatest honors a friend can bestow upon another friend is to invite said friend to his wedding. One of the next greatest honors a friend can bestow upon another friend is to not invite them to his wedding.

As I recall from my single days, wedding area single person's nightmare. Between the married couples and the couples who want to be married, a single person can be hard pressed to find a friendly face or even someone to hang out with at a wedding. But at least you know this going in and can prepare for it.

Weddings are supposed to be joyful, momentous, once in a lifetime experiences that are shared with loved ones. However they often turn out to be stressful, expensive and frustrating events that put almost everyone involved on their last nerve.

I've been invited to dozens of weddings in my lifetime. There were some that I couldn't attend due to finances, schedule conflicts and even a broken leg. There were some I shouldn't have attended because I really didn't know the wedding party or there was no open bar. I've even gotten invited to the engagement party yet not the actual wedding. Faux pas or oversight?

The wedding present has evolved over time for me. My friend who got married five minutes after graduating college got screwed because while I did what I could, I just didn't have sufficient income to give them a decent present. Those who waited a few years before tying the knot were able to at least offset the cost of my plate with my wedding gift.

I use to do this thing where I would wait until after the wedding, and then go look at the registry. Usually there are a ton of one-offs like the last two pieces of an 8 piece plate or soup bowl set and I would swoop in and snatch these items. The bride is happy because she now has a complete set of her dishes or wine glasses or whatever.

Nowadays I generally give cash because it's easiest for me and preferred by everyone. Too many times have I seen wedding couples at the end of the night trying to collect a table full of presents that just won't fit in their car trunk. Hint to Guests: spring for the shipping and handling to have the present sent to the happy couple's home before the wedding. They'll appreciate it and you might even get seated at the cool table.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Birthday Blog Post

It’s my birthday! Yes, forty-three years ago today the world received a bundle of sarcasm and cynicism, thus improving it exponentially. If you haven't booked your cotton candy and fog machines in anticipation, there's still time! 

We didn’t do anything special for it over the weekend.  I'm always a bit hesitant to plan something for my birthday because it never quite lives up to my hyped up expectations.  Then the day comes along and I wish I or someone had planned something.  Schizophrenic, much?

It's hard though when your birthday falls on a Monday. Last year my birthday actually fell on a Saturday but I was unemployed and a bit out of touch with many of my friends so we didn't do anything.  Historically, my birthday usually collides with Mother's Day. In college it usually fell during midterms or finals so finding anyone willing to go out and do anything was tricky. My 40th sucked of course as Sig Other 1.0 had just dumped me.  So you can understand why I'm a bit reluctant to put myself out there and do something big for my birthday. 


On Saturday I ran the Kenosha Half Marathon. My friend B asked if I wanted to run it for free since her friend wasn't able to use his bib. After some internal deliberation, I decided to go for it.  The previous Saturday I signed up for the Lakefront 10 and survived the cold wind and rain though I did have to walk more than I wanted.

What was really nice was how this race was very pressure free. When you're running on someone else's bib, you really don't care about your time. I actually had a better time at mile 10 than I had at the Lakefront 10.  The only thing I forgot was gels.  I've run long distances without them before but given that I'm regaining my running legs, I need the energy boosts, especially as I really didn't have much in the way of breakfast that morning.

The knee held up well. Yes there was some soreness around mile 9 or 10 because until recently, the longest I've run on it has been 6 miles with the occasional 7 or 8 miler thrown in. It was soreness not pain though because it went away shortly after I finished the race. I remember the days of a long run where I'd have a knee that kept locking throughout the rest of the day.  

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Don't shoot yourself in the foot FSBO Seller

Our weekends lately involve house hunting.  We generally try to go to open houses because they are more casual and if we don't make it, no one is really put out.  This can sometimes backfire though.  For instance, we went to see a house in Oak Park that was a FSBO.  The seller was exploring selling her home so she put fliers in her neighbors mailbox asking them to refer friends.  One of the many friends who want us to buy in their neighborhood passed the info on to me. 

For Sale By Owner is one of those things that I think make a lot of sense on paper but doesn't work in reality, mostly because the industry resists it at every turn.

This particular FSBO seller was a talker.  It wasn't even so much that she was trying to sell me on the house per se.  It was more that she was trying to head off any of my potential objections before I even made them.  At the same time she advised me to ask for a new garage if I made an offer!

One of the issues with the house was the small outdated kitchen.  It would not only have to be updated but also the size somehow increased.  The only feasible way would be to move a wall.  I said knowing if it was a load bearing or non-load bearing wall would determine what you could do and how much it would cost.  And she would argue with me even when I agreed with her!

"Oh you could move the wall all the way to here and do this and do that," she rambled on. 
"You can do anything if you have the money," I said.  "being on a tight budget, we might not be able to afford to do what someone with deeper pockets might be able to achieve." 

This made her even more determined to convince me it could be done.  She was quite the talker and even though I had set the expectation that we had other appointments, she managed to eat up all our cushion time so that we couldn't check out her neighbor's open house.  It's not that she didn't want us to see that house.  Quite the opposite in fact.  She really wanted us to see that house so that we realized what a price break we were getting on a almost identical house -- if by identical you mean 30% smaller and more awkward floor plan.