Friday, October 10, 2008

Flying plates, selling a house, surge suppressors, and Ode to the Minivan

Ah, fall, that time of year when the kids sleep better and the slimmer’s of summers long days are only shown in glorious morning sunrises. Besides trying to sell the house the summer was filled with movement and sights to see. Jordan and Grace both transitioned from their booster chairs to the kitchen table with Emily.

This has its benefits and pitfalls, especially when I realized the value of rubber bottom plates that prevent the ‘hockey puck shot’ of food across the table. The first time Gracie realized that her plate wouldn’t fly over to Jordan she had a look of bewilderment and I of joy. Its funny how they were all egging each other on and now Emily is in the ‘taking care of’ stage and she’s telling them, “Grace, eat your veggies. Emily says eat your veggies.”
(That damn Elmo character referring to himself in the third person! I’m surprised that every kid who’s 10 and under isn’t walking around like Jimmy from that episode of Seinfeld, “Jimmy likes Elaine. Jimmy wants to ask Elaine out but he’s not sure if Elaine will say yes. Jimmy’s very comfortable with Burt being gay…”)

The food is everywhere, floor, chairs, stained shirts and pants, many times in the hair and Terri doesn’t even wash their faces before the bath. So, when I get home to the screaming welcome, “Daddy!” (I have to say I love it) we put the twins to bed I head for my second job: The kitchen. That first job at McDonalds is paying off in spades! It’s a little nuts but I’m saving all the food under the table in a freezer bin so I can send it to poor kids in India. It only takes about 17 days to fill it up. (JK) Then there’s the curiosity…like living with cats again.

Last night I come home and Grace is under the desk turning off the surge suppressor that controls the home computer and the monitor. I had already ducted taped--yes, ducted tape--a plastic toy wrench over the On/Off button on the PC so her and Jordan would stop doing a hard shutdown on it. I can see Grace in her little head thinking, I have to turn off this blinking light for daddy. No you don’t, really. They love pushing the TV buttons and, long ago, we put up a Plexiglas shield that covers the electronics so they wouldn’t mess with them constantly. It’s a big deal who gets to push the DVD door open/close button; really, there is screaming and jumping involved. Of course Emily, Ms. Junior Hospital Corners, has to line up the DVD so that the label is facing her and is at a 90° angle to the DVD player.

Terri has had a great year in sales. Last year was her best ever and she’s on pace to eclipse that again which is great. Yes, she earns more than me and I’m proud of it! I was just promoted and changed bosses/jobs at work. I’m now a Senior Manager of Product Development & Innovation. This means that I’m working for Sally, our former worldwide VP of Marketing, to analyze, incubate, and decide if there is a revenue and strategic fit for Brightstar. So, we are looking at many opportunities that are outside of the traditional wireless distribution business. Areas that will make us a key player in the distribution channels of the future.

The big change coming is next Thursday when the kids go into day care and Emily school full time. Pavlina’s pregnant and due next month so it’s too hard for her to run around with the twins for the day and Emily the full day. The babies are going to a day care that I think they’ll really like after getting used to it for a week or two. Jordan is pretty social and Grace can be but it will be a shock to the system. The good thing is they will learn so much and be more interactive with other kids to play and learn. Emily is going from half days to full days and will now be napping at school. That will be a big change for her and I expect that everyone will not nap for the first couple of days because it’s a new situation.

Terri and I are preparing for it too because she needs to be able to get out of the house and in the car by 7:15 am to get everyone to where they need to be on time. This will be tough for a couple months but in January everyone will be at the same school Emily is now and it will be a single trip. Terri feels like we’ll be in the city forever who knows how long they’ll be in school before we move. Hopefully the market will get better by spring and then we’ll be able to move after that. It sure isn’t like we planned but is anything ever?

My day as a baby (Part 1):

I get to wake up when I want. If I talk loud enough or scream my head off that I'm hungry, want a cup of coffee, need the morning paper or something else then someone will come and get me. This same person will put me on their shoulder, reassure me and allow me to put my fingers in their eyes, ears, nose or mouth just because. They will laugh at me and help me with my pants as after they sit me down on the toilet.

(In this alternative world I choose not to wear a diaper although there are definite benefits: The two hour commute, pooping during the meeting I really don't want to attend [“Hey, did you fart Colin? What is UP with that. Of course if I'm wearing a diaper and I take a poop [no 'crap or other four letter words allowed. 'Poop' or pooh-pooh are only allowed.] then someone is going to give me a look like "Dude, did you poop in your pants?" Throughout the day if I have a look of pushing something or extreme concentration coupled with a dazed look "Chris, do you have a poop?" Or "Do you need to poop, honey?")

Post toilet they will dress me while I play with my Blackberry or PSP or I’ll just put my arms crossed behind my head in relief. I'll get carried upstairs and be offered an array of breakfast choices and none of them will be vegetables or have oatmeal 'lighter than air' flakes mixed in with them. If my coffee isn't sweet enough I'll cry. If I want my mommy and for some reason another adult is blocking my view of her 6.5 feet from me I'll make a sad cry face and say in a sad, give me some love, face, "mommy."

After breakfast I'll be dressed and not really care if side stripped pants go with a solid top or if someone has to check a tag in order to see if my shirt will fit. After getting dressed they'll carry me in to the living room put me on the couch with the remote, today's paper, my coffee and a fresh bagel. I'll cry if none of these are available and if I don't get to watch Sportscenter I'll cry again because reruns of Judging Amy or the Lifetime movie of the week is being shown.

Someone will come and tell me my limo to work is here and they'll make sure they've packed my backpack (kind of like the diaper bag) with my Blackberry, PSP, a book, a special snack I don't know about yet and water or soda. There will also be a fresh set of $20's in my wallet because this person doesn't want me to go anywhere unprepared. Along the way to work I'll get to watch a DVD and won't care if the driver can't get an update on the news or sports scores. If the DVD player doesn't start up right after we get going then I'll cry, "DVD! DVD! DVD!"

Along the way I'll ask the driver to stop at Dunkin' and get me a coffee. Halfway to work, on the toll way, I'll need to stop and go to the bathroom. There is no 'Are we there yet?’ we are there, work or wherever that is, and someone needs to carry me to the bathroom!

At work I'm carried to my desk (I like this carrying/Sherpa thing) and asked if I need anything, which, of course I do. I'll surf the web for a little bit and then someone will come up and ask me a question about an order or marketing program. My face will go from quiet peace to a contortionists cry in 2.2 seconds and they'll apologize and say they'll come back later.

An hour later someone will ask me a question and as they're talking to me I'll be staring at something on YouTube while glancing every once in a while over at them. Not really acknowledging them just caught up in the video. They will ask me the question again, then a third time. At this point I'll motion to open a drawer, all the while concentrating on my computer screen. I'll have the drawer half way open when they'll ask me a fourth time. Then they'll be really rude and reach over, grab my mouse and pause the video. I won't notice it at first but when I do I'll look at them with a sad face and point with my hand "DVD?!"

The question they're asking me about is attending a meeting which I don't want to go to, like bath time, so it's time for a fit or quiet compliance and they have to repeat the question again and again, "Time for product manager meeting??" I'll then have a look and gesture that I want to go to this meeting only if my special friends are there. Friends being bunny #1 and #2, zebra's, maybe a fishy or two and one of my airplanes. On our way to the meeting I'll say a simple word and expect understanding..."Coke." They say, "What?" "Coke." "Oh, Coke, okay."

(To be continued…)

Selling a house

Selling a house sucks...there's really no better way to put it. We've had our place listed since April and it started simply: Make sure the place is clean, do some touch up and price it to move. We got rid of the extra desk and a bunch of other stuff and spent a day taking it to our storage box that we rented. [Here's a tip for you: Don't use Public Storage. Their hours are 9-5, during the day and I don't know many people who can actually get to their storage during the day except on a Saturday. Next time I’m getting 24 access.]

Then not only did we have our realtor/friend Dennis out in the suburbs but we added a realtor in the city. We had pictures and even a floor plan done, buried St. Joseph in the front yard and the back (It's a little too much Catholic mumbo jumbo for me to believe he'd going to be the reason that our house will sell…and so far I’m right), and were on the edge of burning sage and having a Haitian voodoo priest come in do a 'cleansing'...then a place down the street that was comparable but had a galley kitchen went for under $350,000. Great, now we are playing the price game with our neighbors. So, not long after we dropped the price on our place and, just like car ads, we priced it at $349,900 not $350,000 because people are sheep and sheep never want to pay for something with zeros at the end, full price, or have to count themselves if they own a Serta mattress. ;-)

We just lowered our price this week by $10,000 to see if anything is going to shake things up. The market is so slow right now that only three places like ours, which includes the one above, have sold since we listed in April. Back to dating: From the market to us, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

The next step: Since buyers today seem to have been born without imaginations we had to totally change our upstairs living room area to a living/dining room. “I can’t vision what this would look like for entertaining…” I want to shake them and say, “WTF is your problem? Can you not remove the table and couch in your mind and open it up a little? When was the last time you visited a geographical area where there is a field or the pavement ends? I’m not talking about ‘Where The Sidewalk Ends’ I’m talking about you getting off your computer/BlackBerry/TV/Wi-Fi/public transport butt and actually seeing what you could make this place in to.”

When I say totally change, I mean TOTALLY change: We moved the TV, DVD player, stand and Wii downstairs next to Terri's desk. We removed the stereo and put it in storage, move the chair next to the table downstairs along with the lamp table. Then added a dining room table, put about 150 books in storage and added some vases and flowers. The old living room is now a ghost town that we travel through each day on our way to the stairs. Terri's had it the hardest because she has to do the clean up before each showing (even had to show the house herself a couple of times...but I'll talk about that in a minute) and work with the kids on the new configuration. The kids have done well at adjusting and are great at the stairs now.

Our realtor in the city couldn't make it to a couple showings and even though she had some great ideas on how to make the house more attractive things didn't work out so we fired her and hired new guy, Les, who we hope will be more attentive and available for showings.

The fantasy's of winning the lottery, CPS (Chicago Public Schools) actually being good places to put your kids in, buying out our upstairs neighbor who is literally a deadbeat, and just selling the place to anyone with a heartbeat and a loan has run through my head. What we really need is "Angel Investor" like venture capital firms are for Silicon Valley start up's. You know, someone who will come in and pay a reasonable price and just let us move.
The scary thing is its like sorority rush or being on "Like me; love me; pick me...please!" In rush you go from house to house in your nicest outfit for days and try to engage in conversation to see if they are the right fit for you and you're the right fit for them. You get all gussied up so that first impression will be, "Okay, she can pull herself together and she looks nice but does she have a personality, can she talk intelligently about current events, and does she have an opinion?" or “Can this dude talk about football and what does he think of the cheerleader on Heroes?”

My first date on was that way. This woman and I both hit it off online and seemed to be going in the right direction to have grounds for an interesting face-to-face encounter. Three weeks later we met at a Starbucks and the ground rules had been established: One hour, see what happens then we could walk away without question or extend the conversation. Within the first two minutes we knew there wasn't a connection and we weren't attracted to each other. That was one grueling hour and so my optimism decreased a little at that point, just like with the first open house.

With our house we had a lot of issues with people not "getting" the staircase set up (It’s circular…say it with me cir-cu-lar [sur-kyuh-ler] which means it turns; got it?) so we put a floor plan on the web site. That helped then we reshot the pictures with the new staged area. Now we are waiting for a buyer like a woman waiting for a guy to turn on his taxi light and make a commitment. “Pick me! Pick me!” I’m saying in my head.

[Let me stop here and say that if you don't know my men are like taxi cabs theory then here it is: Simply put, men drive around with their “not for hire” light or no light at all (girls, you know who I’m talking about) for a long period of time. Then one day they turn their light on and realize if they want to be in a committed relationship and procreate so their siblings can run, ruin or rehabilitate the earth, they have to get busy.]

Why do we want to move? Let me give you the list:

~Police, fire and ambulance sirens all parts of the day and night.
~Litter on our street.
~Homeless people.

~People in cars not stopping at Stop signs.

~Pedestrians walking against the light and giving you a look when you honk at them and want to “accidentally hit the gas pedal…whoops…and ‘now you’re dead’.”

~Keying my car.

~Lack of parking.

~No garage space except for one car.

~No yard.

~People with dogs who don’t clean up after them.

~CPS…yes, the schools are almost as bad as Kansas City public schools. (If you stay in the city you try to get you kid into a magnet school or the Latin school. Latin is a very expensive private school where your tuition is based on your yearly salary. The $20,000 ballpark for a freshman in high school is not a ballpark I want to be in even as a hot dog vendor.

~Buses not being on time…ever.


~Construction season ∞.

~Taxes, we are now the kings at 10.25%; highest in the nation. Stupid taxes like our lease tax on our minivan. Our payment will drop some $40 a month when we are outside the city. Oh, and we have the highest gas taxes in the country. Nice.

~Who’s watching my kids at the park? Predators that is…eek!

~Living in a condo where being responsible isn’t always a benefit.

~Alleys where crazy immigrants who live in the mixed use housing tower on the corner honk their horns instead of driving slow enough to be careful.

~The Boys and Girls Club of Chicago where the kids like to get into fights on the street or in our alley.

~Calling 911 about once a week so we can get a greater police presence on our block.

~Labor Ready (day laborers for those of you not familiar with them) going in at the end of our street even though most of the residents are against it but the alderman in the adjacent ward isn’t.

~This adjacent alderman liking mixed use housing = three or four homeless shelters within blocks of our condo.

~The fact that freak town central is two full blocks away at Wilson and Sheridan. There’s a police camera with a flashing blue light right in front of the McDonald’s.

~The dude who may or may not be homeless saying, “Can I ask you a question?” and me kicking myself because my first answer wasn’t, “You just did. Goodbye.”

I could go on but you get it.

Ode To The Minivan

Oh large grey whale
I fought your magnetic pull and you mocked me
I fought the urge, but to no avail
The change was strange, like the smell of pee

I've come to love you, so big and strong
Your movies keep my kids entertained
My kids not screaming helps me zoom along
And I don’t end up feeling drained

Abused, dirty and nicked
You start and stop all day long
Sometimes low on gas you do predict
But I’m not waiting for something to go wrong

Honda you’re the one
But what will I do when you lease is done?

Have a good one and don't forget to vote! In Chicago we all try to vote twice and think that's how we'll get the 2016 Summer Olympics! ;-)