Monday, June 23, 2014

Basically, it was a mini-wedding reunion

For the first time in a long time, we had a busy social weekend.  On Friday we were downtown because my friend Jewel from college was in town.  She was in town with her daughter and her friend to see Queen in concert.  They wanted authentic Chicago Pizza without waiting in the lines at Pizzeria Uno or other such Elk.  I suggested Pizano's Pizza which is not the best choice out there but there are far, far worse.  We had a good time catching up and talking.  Jewel isn't strong with social maintenance or friendship upkeep so there are long gaps in between contact -- my wedding was the last time I saw her -- and she's anti-Facebook so she'll be on the short list of Amish People I'll have to get around to emailing once the twins arrive.
How I feel about the World Cup

On Saturday we met K and J and Sarah a friend of Nightingale's from Planet Michigan.  we were going to go to a lawn concert at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, but instead of the pending thunderstorms opted to have dinner at The Portage.  We were worried because our friends don't always cross-pollinate well but we had a good time and talked babies.  K and J are also expecting twins (boys) and Sarah is very knowledgeable in this area being a former nurse herself.

On Sunday we met another couple for brunch at The Garage.  Basically, everyone we were with this weekend was at our wedding.  Afterward, we went grocery shopping and then spent some time on our deck.

Last weekend Six Corners was having a BBQ feast so we invited the runner groups over.  We did the same thing last year on a smaller scale and this year we simply expanded the list.  Didn't realize it would also be Father's Day weekend, Old Town Art Fair, and Flag Day all rolled into one.  Although the running groups are fairly easygoing and friendly, I did feel sorry for one of my co-group leaders who didn't have a good representation from our last pace group.  it was a good beta test for the next big party, our co-ed shower next month.  I learned that we needed more outdoor seating and we had just enough food, which meant we didn't have enough food.  It's always a tricky thing because if you buy too much food and you have too many no-shows, it can go to waste.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

High School Reunions

"what the point of these reunions really were. Yes, it's nice to see people you haven't seen in awhile but after 40 years? Isn't there a reason that those people weren't in your life up until now? Does anyone kindle a solid friendship after that length of time?

Throughout the evening I ended up with the people that I've always kept in touch with and find great happiness in being around. Maybe I don't see them that often, some only once a year but there is something to be said for that type of friend. You see them and you pick up exactly where you left off. There is an unspoken bond that you created at a time in life where you were literally growing up together. And those are the bonds that are important as we age.

At the very end of the night there we were: a couple of athletes, a couple of princesses, a brain, maybe a basket case, no criminals. We had all met at a time in our life when making friends was easy and worries were few."
 --Class Reunions

 Here's the harsh reality.  High School either was the Time of Your Life, sucked majorily or fell somewhere in between.  There are some people who were only getting started with their full potential in HS and others who peaked and still look fondly upon those glory days.  They essentially failed to launch.

For me, HS was better than Jr High, which was better than grade school.  College was better than all of course and that's probably how it should be. 

Here's a break down of what my Class of 87 had:

  •  1992 (5 year) We had a picnic.  I had to work so i missed it but got together with the 4 people who showed up that evening after my shift.
  •  1997  (10 year)   It didn't happen because of poor planning on behalf of lame organizers, basically the kids who peaked in high school and never reproduced that success afterwards.
  •  2007  (20 year)  I almost didn't go to this either but am glad that I did.  it was a nice time and I reconnected with my freshmen biology lab partner. 
  •  2012 (25 year) My wife made me go to Michigan because her dad was going to be home for his HS reunion and it was an excellent opportunity to have the whole family in one place.
  •  2017  (30 year)  Don't know what's gonna happen 3 years frm now.

After High School I tried to stay in touch with HS friends but the truth...FB has reconnected me with many and to be honest,  it is sometimes easier to have a virtual friendship.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Dating and Grocery Stores

When it comes to dating, sometimes you need to shop at a different grocery store:  some of my friends are still struggling with Singleitsis.  I still remember how much I struggled with the dating game.  Dating is hard especially in a big city or even just in this Internet Age where distance is virtually eliminated by technology and common curtsey is trumped by convenience.

Everyone needs food. Maybe you don't cook and could burn water without even trying. But you still gotta eat, and you can only go out to eat or order in so much in today's economy. And so we go to the grocery store. if you keep going to the same grocery store over and over, you are hostage to whatever they offer. Sure, sometimes you're lucky and you get a sale. But for the most part, if you keep going to the same store over and over again, you a re gonna get the same deal and the same meal over and over.

It works the same way with dating and relationships. If you keep going to the same parties and events, you're gonna keep seeing the same people over and over again. Maybe once in a while a friend will bring a friend along but you really cannot rely on luck. Especially since, more often than not, that friend-of-a-friend is her spare.

You have to break out of your comfort zone if you're gonna succeed, especially in the Game of Love.  Nightingale and I met because we both attended a party we otherwise would not have been at.  While it isn't the Cosmic Tumblers fall into place and the universe opens itself up to your Field of Dream, a lot of moving parts synced that 4th of July weekend to make things happen.

Thoughts on Dating:  when I was single one of the bigger things I struggled with was the fact that I didn't realize that many people go through whatever I was going through.  Everyone has bad dates or people who seem interested one minute than aloof the next. the thing is, I didn't have a lot of friends who could say "hey this is normal, everyone goes through this, we're all struggling." 

You strike out with one person, you might think, okay it wasn't meant to be.  Then the next person comes along and you think okay she was a bit flaky.  After a series of unsuccessful serial dating, you begin to think: well I am the common denominator.  That is unless you are don't possess a modicum of self awareness.

Here's the thing: you learned to crawl before you learned to walk, and if we're being honest, you learned to poo in a diaper before getting potty trained.  Things generally come in stages with successes and set backs.  Still, it was those initial setbacks that made all the setbacks still to come that much more painful.

Once I managed to get into longer term relationships that had the potential to go somewhere, I didn't really care as much.  But I still would read some advice columns from time to time and then it hit me: it seemed so rough not only because I was the common denominator but also because I didn't have a good support network of friends to help me see through this.  And that's not meant to be a jab at them.

I had friends who said they couldn't remember what it was like to be in the dating game so please stop asking, or those who tried but just didn't have the experience points in the DD game of Life to help.  I wish I had the good sense to say to them "I'm not expecting solutions, I just want someone to vent about my problems."  And if we're really being honest here, yes I would expect them to point out something if they did happen to notice something that might give insight into why a supposedly good looking guy with a decent job and no warrants out for his arrest cannot find someone willing to go out on more than a date or two, please pass that along thank you very much.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Rest in Peace Maggie

July 2000 to June 10, 2014 AD 
Our cat Maggie was put to sleep Tuesday night around 10pm.  She had Lymphoma and went from bad to worse.  When I came home from work there was a pet mess that I won't describe in details.   My guess is that she puked what little food she had in her stomach and then dry heaved whenever her stomach filled up with gas. 

We diagnosed her cancer a few weeks ago  and we did attempt some chemotherapy treatment and the results were mixed.  She seemed to respond at first but then after subsequent treatments, it seemed to take longer and longer for her to be anything that resembled her old self.  We decided on Sunday that we would cancel her next appointment and as it turns out, she would not have made it there anyway.  The Vet at the emergency clinic confirmed that she in all likelihood would have passed on her own soon and it would not have been pleasant.

Indeed, she wasn't eating and was losing weight rapidly. We debated whether the chemo was a good use of money especially with kids and other upcoming expenses.  We like to think that Maggie decided for us.  She certainly did not enjoy going to the Vet or having the chemo.

it's been a long time since I've had a pet that passed away.  Growing up our cats were so messy and untrained that I made a conscious effort to not have any pets when I moved out on my own.  when I met Nightingale she had Maggie and Austin and they were behaved.  they were also 9 years old and had medical conditions which kept them from being the rambunctious kittens they use to be.  Naturally I fell in love with them as quickly as I did with Nightingale.

Our other cat Austin is walking around the house wondering why she isn't here.  I don't know who is sadder, me or him.  One of the things I looked forward to when working from home was her jumping on my lap and purring whenever I was on a conference call. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Some Technology we could use

Email Classification:  I don't know if this technology already exists but I want to be able to mark or classify an email message to expire after a certain amount of time.  I get tons of emails for sales on running shoes or discounts on races or invitations to events...I want to be able to mark the message somehow such that whenever the relevant date passes, the email deletes itself.

Government Fee organization:  I want an easier system for our City Sticker and License Plate sticker.  Cars should come with some type of bar code that can be scanned to show if those two items are up to date and when they expire.  In the World Today its kinda of a game: if you find my car and it doesn't have one of these, you get to issue me a ticket.  My system would allow Municipalities to track when a car was up for renewal.  You could then mail a notice to the car owner and if they don't provide proof that they live in the city/state anymore, you could then issue them the ticket electronically.

Smart Door locks:  Next...I want a door lock with a keypad.  The keypad allows me to program an entry code that only works during a set day and time.  This would be good for nannies, house keepers and other people you need to allow access to your home but don't want to give them unrestricted access.

Facebook Features we can use: Finally, I would like the following Facebook Feature.  I run some type of program or report and it shows me a list of all my friends and our interactions, or lack thereof.  I envision it would look something like:

In the last 12 months

    Joe Epstein has liked 204 of your status, has commented 113 times on your status, invited you to 23 events, asked for your help on Farmville and wished you a happy birthday.

The ideal application would allow me to filter by criteria.  Where I'm going with this is I have a ton of friends who I don't interact with. I get that not everyone is in everyone's Top 10 and some people are just casual connections that you met one time at a dinner party or event and you're keeping it real. But there are others who seem to just have a FB account so that they can tell world what they are doing without the cost of having to pay attention to what others are doing.  That's what a blog is for!  I'd probably want to de-friend those people or at least filter them so they don't show up in my news feed.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Made it into the Top 20 on ChicagoNow

So I got the #3 spot in the Top 20 Most-Visited Blogs (unique visitors) on ChicagoNow.

Top 20 Most-Visited Blogs (unique visitors) – June 2

1.       Uncommon Sense

2.       Cubs Den

3.       Mysteries of Life

4.       Get Fit Chicago

5.       Tween Us

6.       The Red Cup Adventures

7.       Portrait of an Adoption

8.       Baby Sideburns

9.       Moms Who Drink And Swear: Chicago Edition

10.   Show Me Chicago

11.   Cubs Insider

12.   Everything is Story Worthy

13.   Lists That Actually Matter

14.   Hammervision

15.   It’s Never Just Black And White

16.   High Gloss and Sauce

17.   Chicago Bulls Confidential

18.   The Wild Side of Chicago

19.   Bullsville

20.   Cheaper Than Therapy

Considering the #1 and #2 spots have larger audiences and controversial subjects respectively, I consider that quite good thing. I dropped to #11 on June 3 and today I don't imagine I'll be there at all. (update:  nope, I dropped off).

Which is fine with me. While I like the quick high of making the trifecta (front page of Tribune Online, CN Manager's Choice (which means being featured on ChicagoNow Start Page and placed on the ChicagoNow Facebook Fan Page) and being in the top 20, it is only a temporary standing. The next day someone will write about the latest SEO clickbait term and then it's their turn to sit among the heavy hitters like Baby Sideburns, Portrait of an Adoption et al at the cool kids table.

This is the 3rd time I recall being in the Top 20. The first time was some random piece I wrote on May of 2013 when I was writing about House Hunting. I'm guessing it was this one called  Hold your horses Condo Owners, it's not 2005 pricing just yet.  I got about 2500 hits that month, which was a big surge from the couple hundred I had been getting to that point.

The next one was a piece I wrote intentionally timed to get page-hits on the anniversary of the Steve Bartman Legacy.  That one brought about the largest amount of traffic at that point in time (13000+ pagehits that month) and though the pageviews ebbed off, I still now get residual traffic from it.

I suspect this week's post could surpass the Oct 2013 numbers especially if I can get another heavy hitter or two up before the month ends. I've got 25 days to get 4000 3000 more page hits.  If you feel like helping, use the links below.

Follow Mysteries of Life on Twitter (@MysteriesOLife), Facebook or subscribe via email.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Looks like we need some FAQs

Since announcing that Nightingale is pregnant, people generally ask me the same two questions:  When is she due and are we going to learn the sex of the children.

I am actually a bit surprised that people wonder if we would want to know.  When I was an obtuse lad in the 90s and my friends were starting to get preggers, I asked one of them this very question.  She looked at me like I asked if she were going to sign the kid up for the sex trade and said in only a slightly condescending tone of voice:  You want to know so you can get things ready.

Things like what, I thought, their favorite cognac and preferred smokes?  In any event, that experience made me expect that everyone pretty much wants to know these days because the technology is more accurate than the sitcom make you think.  I asked the ultrasound technician and she said that it's about 50-50 of people wanting to know versus not wanting to know. 

So yes we found out last week that we are having a boy and a girl.  Or an aardvark and a Gecko, our insurance has some limitations.

When is Nightingale due?  Well twins arrive on their own timetable and generally come early, usually by Week 35, which would mean time at the Nicu.  And if she makes it to Week 38 they want to induce so we have to see how we feel about that if and when we get there.  They really like to do C-sections on pregnant women because it is quick and efficient -- for them.  So allowing for errors in our calculations, any time after Sept 15 is fair game.

Names:  We got asked this a little less often at first, probably because it was too soon to know the sex and we could deflect with the "we want to wait procrastinate until we knew the genders".  The only name that is off the table is my real first name because the world doesn't need another Icarus.

Monday, June 2, 2014

What are they up to

My neighbor has been slowly demolishing his front porch.  Apparently thanks to some storm damage a year or two ago, his insurance will cover replacing the siding.  He hasn't gone into details but I suspect he figures this is also a good time to replace the front porch.  I suspect the reason for the delay was to save up the portion that he has to pay and also, they have 3 kids which usually brings about unexpected expenses.  And also that Life Gets in the Way thing.


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Fixing some things that are broken

When Nightingale moved in with me, she hired a guy to find her a tenant for her condo and manage the place on her behalf.  This Property Manager  (Captain Ahab) owned several units in her condo building and was on the condo board for many years.  It made sense to offload this job to him because he had the experience and bandwidth to deal with issues and would be a shield between us and the tenant.

When we bought our house it made sense to let him do the same for me, even though my condo was not the same type of building as Nightingale's in the south loop.  Her's is a high rise building with hundreds of unit and indoor parking and a management company; mine is a simple 14 unit self managed building.

Two flags immediately came to light that I overrode my natural tendency to say "fuck off" on.  First, my next door neighbor had suggested her sister might want to rent my place.  I told Captain Ahab that we might have an easy renter and he still wanted to collect a Finders Fee even though I would technically be the one who found the renter.  I let this pass because she never called me to follow up.  The second flag was his Exclusive Contract. There is a clause that essentially says if a renter decides they want to buy the place at some future point, Captain Ahab gets 6% commission.  I asked him about this and he said while it has never happened in the time he has done this, he wasn't going to take it out because it is Standard.  This pissed me off more because it's not like he is doing anything to persuade the renter to become a buyer.  He is simply riding the curtails of entropy and if he would have even admitted that I would have been less annoyed.  Remember Captain Ahab is a business entity with its own goals, which may only tangentially align with  mine.  Nightingale said "what are the odds" and so I begrudgingly signed the agreement.

I knew going in that his business model was basically do some work up front to get a tenant and then sit back and collect 10% of the rent each month in exchange for holding the money and also dealing with any issues, which if you get a good tenant is usually minimized.  We didn't have a good first tenant and so the Captain earned his pay quickly.  But the 2nd tenant was very quiet and we hardly heard from her, except when an appliance broke.

Captain Ahab simply hired people to go over and fix the problem and passed along the bill to me.  Unfortunately he hired people in the burbs who charged travel time.  This bothered me because I'm already operating at a loss.  So basically I got more involved with my tenants issues over the last few months.  Hence, there is no need to keep paying a guy simply to collect the rent, skim 10% off the top and then send me the rest.  In hindsight we should have modified our arrangement to 5% or just used him to find a tenant and managed the place myself. 

Eventually I told Captain Ahab that I needed him to end our arrangement of him being property manager. 
So I let him go.He was fine with this understanding that I am losing money each month and that we are in no position to recoup this through rent increases.He even offered to waive his 30 days notice clause.  I declined since he's held up his part of the contract and didn't want to risk any issues later down the road.

Because of our two rental properties, there was no realistic way Nightingale and I could do our own taxes without having to learn more about the tax code than we want.  It made sense to farm that out to  a professional.   And the guy is whip smart and very experienced...and costly.  I don't mind that.  What I mind is that instead of advising us on how to reduce our tax burden, he makes statements like "not too bad, could have been worse."  Thanks Captain Obvious!  Well you only lost one leg to polio, could have been both!

For some reason, we have not been able to deduct our losses from our rental units.  CPA guy told us it was because we made too much money. Ahab said this didn't sound right and that he has been able to deduct all his losses.  He naturally offered His Guy to take a look if I wanted.

The problem is His Guy isn't going to do this for free.  So imagine I pay a few hundred dollars for
piece of mind and find out that he is doing his job correctly. Or I find out that he did take a minor short cut and could have saved me a couple hundred dollars, which I've now spent on His Guy to audit This Guy.  Remember, he doesn't get anything beyond what I pay him for doing my taxes so his only incentive is to do them quickly enough so that he makes more money on time saved versus Level of Effort.

The worse case scenario is that This Guy is totally taking short cuts and in doing so is screwing me out of tons of money. Then I have to hire a lawyer to go after him and then it becomes a wash anyway.