Holiday Giving

Each year at the holidays, we are encouraged to give.  Because giving is better than receiving.

I believe in this mantra.  I think it’s noble and just.

But times get hard.  Money gets tight.  And no matter how much we scrimp and save and try to make ends meet, we sometimes come up short.  And sometimes we come up short more often than we come out ahead.  Especially the way things have been going lately.

So this year, I’m going to set up my own Holiday Giving plan.

Yep, that’s right.  I’m officially declaring myself a Charity Case.

Hey, it’s been a rough year.  I had a hellish move, where I lost my sofa; I had a break-in and lost most of my stuff; and even though I have tried to cut costs and make things easier for myself, I still can’t seem to catch a break.

So, hey, can ya help a brother out?

OK OK I know this is pathetic.  It’s also totally tongue-in-cheek.

But in reality, how many of us are putting up a brave front this year in the face of adversity?  How many of us are just one bounced check, one lost paycheck away from total devastation?  I bet it’s more of us than we really think.

I have to admit (and here’s where I’m being serious), I’m really very, very lucky.

With everything that happened in the last year– and believe me, there’s more than I’m even mentioning here — I have still managed to stay both sane and afloat.  That horrible move turned out to be an incredible lucky break for me, because I now have a really great place (despite the break-in).  I still have my job.  I still have my friends and the chorus.  And of course I still have my family.

Things could have been a hell of a lot worse.

But I can’t help but wonder about those who have had it a lot worse.  Do they really and truly need the help, but are too proud to ask for it?

And if they did ask for it, would any of us lend a hand?

Maybe that’s what the Holiday Spirit is really all about.

Resurrection (Part 3)

So now I’m on Plan D… and I’m not loving the idea by any means. Obviously, the Kenosha option would be temporary. I’d live at home, save some money, get back on my feet, and start out again. It’s the whole getting back home thing that seemed to be more of a problem. As would getting to and from work, as I wasn’t about to leave my job anytime soon.

I started scouting Metra train routes to and from Kenosha into Chicago. I found that it could work– better than I had originally thought. It would mean a lot of planning and a lot of hours on a train… but if I had to do it, I could do it.

Then I started investigating moving options. My original thought was to store most of my stuff in Chicago and move only the necessities to Kenosha… or else just move everything and store it in my mom’s garage. That wasn’t ideal, but it was better than nothing. So I called up a moving company that I knew would go across the state line and I got a price quote for the move.

$5,000.

I almost shit my pants. They had to be kidding me. I mean, I have a lot of stuff, but $5,000 was preposterous. At the same time I plotted that strategy, I had them price a move within city limits. They came back with $975. No frickin’ way. So clearly, I was not hiring these movers, and I most certainly was not moving all my stuff back to Kenosha. I wasn’t sure what to do next.

I must have posted something to Facebook about my dilemma, because an hour or two later, I got a reply from a chorus friend who told me that he wasn’t going to let me move back to Kenosha, and he knew of a couple apartments that his landlord had available. We chatted a bit, and described them to me. The rents sounded good, but the location wasn’t ideal. At this point, though, I was willing to try anything — anything other than moving all the way to Wisconsin.

As it turned out, only one of the units was available, and it was the unit he had been doing rehab work on for the past few months. I went over to take a look. At first sight, it was obvious there was a lot of work left to be done, but the funny thing about me is, I am able to look beyond the buckets, plaster, ladders, hammer and nails and see what a place will look like when it’s done — and I liked what I saw.

The unit is a garden unit, and is a one-bedroom. The living room would double as a dining room, but it’s big enough that it could also house my office area. The floor in the living room and bedroom would be carpeted– which would be different for me, but I could handle it. The ceilings were tall– higher than most garden units I’d seen. The bedroom is smaller than my current one, but would fit my essential furnishings with no problem. The kitchen, by far, is my favorite room. It’s big, open, and was being extensively rehabbed. New ceramic tile floors were laid, and a new counter was going in on one wall, to compliment the counter and cabinets that already existed– lots of storage. A new stove was being ordered, but the fridge was staying, and that was okay– it’s a full-size fridge. The sink was the only downside. It’s a single sink. I currently have a double. And no dishwasher. But I saw the potential… I could make it work.

The bathroom gave me pause. The tile is pink, with green trim. At first sight, I hated it, but my friend said it might have to stay, so I looked past it. The more I think about it, the more I think I can make it work. I can play up the kitsch factor on that one.

The rest of the place has a lot of charm. There is an arched opening between the kitchen and the living room that I love, and the living room has arched knicknack shelves built into the walls. The ceiling of the living room has an area that is raised higher, creating a set-off area that I really like. I could see a Christmas tree going there easily. The windows are brand-new, just installed, and they are ‘regular’ windows, not tiny, glass-block windows like I had seen in many other garden units. Plus– and this is what sold me — electric is included, because the unit is wired to the main circuit for the building. I was ready to sign a lease right then and there.

So I applied for the place, and after some back and forth with the landlords (who are really nice guys–brothers–who live on the third floor), I signed a lease.

I felt a wave of instant calm. Things were finally falling into place. All the pain and headache I had experienced was soon to be a memory– albeit a bad one.

But things weren’t over just yet…

(Part four coming soon…)

Resurrection (Part 2)

Funny thing about me… I always say I work better when I’m under a time crunch. That’s a roundabout way of saying “I’m a major procrastinator,” of course… but it usually is true. So I looked at the situation at hand and figured out what I had to do. I came up with four plans:

Plan A- Find another roommate and continue the search for a 2-bedroom place.

Plan B- Find a person looking for a roommate.

Plan C- Find a one-bedroom place or a studio and live meagerly for a while.

Plan D- Cut my losses and move home to Kenosha.

I set to work on Plans A or B. I sent Emails to all my friends and all my chorus contacts. I got a few responses, but only one response to the Plan A idea. We met, talked it over, and decided to go for it. I set appointments at a few places and looked at a few of them– alone– but communicated my findings to the new roommate.

And then, mysteriously, my calls went unreturned, and my emails went unanswered. I looked at the calendar. It was already mid-March. Time to segue to Plan C.

I combed craigslist and Chicago Reader and made appointments. I called a couple apartment-finding agencies and scheduled sessions. I was in full-speed mode…

…but in the meantime, I had nothing packed, and nothing arranged for a move.

My situation was looking really dire. My stress levels were off the charts. If I had gone to the doctor during this time, I am quite sure my blood pressure would have been ridiculously high. I contemplated calling my doctor for a Xanax prescription… something I have never had before. It truly was that bad. I couldn’t sleep or eat, and called in to work a hell of a lot. (On the positive side though, I probably lost about 15 pounds.)

I took a day off of work and looked at apartments from 8am until 5pm. I saw some place that could only be described as closets, and others that were so ugly they made me a little sick to my stomach. One place was rather cute, could have even been promising… until I opened a cabinet door in the kitchen and saw a cockroach scurrying across the bottom. Finally, the last place I looked at seemed to be the right size at the right price– even if I hated it. It was in a 1950s-era 5-floor (they call them a 4-Plus-1 around here) building that wasn’t in terrible shape, but was in a not-so likable area. The floors were all covered in a nasty white acrylic carpet that looked like it hadn’t been shampooed in years. The kitchen cabinets were 1970s-era cheap, and one drawer had no face. The chandelier in the dining room was busted and filthy, the windows wouldn’t open, everything was electric, and the bathroom– the worst room of all– had powder blue EVERYTHING– floors, walls, tub, toilet AND sink.

Yeah, it wasn’t my dream home by any means… but it held some promise. The rooms were large, and there was a lot of storage. I figured I could make it work if I HAD to… and nothing else was looking as good. So I said, “Yes, let’s do it.”

From that moment, the dread and stress got even worse. I hated it, and I knew it. And I was saying “yes.” I felt like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story,” the adult version of himself screaming at the younger version to “Wake up dummy! WAKE UP!!” But I never woke up. I signed the papers, wrote a check, and hoped for the best.

Well the best never came. Two weeks later, I still hadn’t signed a lease. Two weeks later, it was just days before April 1. If stress were a rocket, then I surely, really and truly, for the first time in my life was a ROCKET MAN. I was set to explode from the stress I was feeling. The building managers balked at my credit report (which I told them was going to be bad,) and my lease history (my eviction notice from a while back was rearing its ugly head). They even contacted my current landlord to get assurance that everything was taken care of with the eviction, and they STILL dragged their heels.

I finally realized I had to back out of this before I went insane. I called my landlord and pleaded with her to let me stay until May. She agreed. Thank goodness. Then I called the rental company and told them I was canceling the deal. They were fine with it, but they still had my check… and the check was for first month’s rent at the new place, plus their fee. If they cashed that, I’d be screwed. I asked them to get the check back and I’d pay them their fee via credit card. They said they’d see what they could do.

By now, I was seriously considering Plan D as my only option. My mom and my sister were worried, and so was I. I had to make a decision, and quick.

So I decided to investigate the idea of going home.

(Part three tomorrow)

Resurrection (Part 1)

I know what you’re thinking.

“I’m leaving!” “I’ll be seeing you.” “I’ll be around.” “Don’t miss me too much.” “Blah blah blah blah blah.”

Yeah, I know. I said it was forever. I said I was done, I was moving on, and I was through.

And I know I said I had a lot of things going on and I needed to cut things out to concentrate on things that mattered. I know, I said it.

Turns out, however, that this mattered too.

Truth be told, when I shut this blog down, I was entering a very dark period in my life. Ironically though, I didn’t even know it at the time.

In my last post, I said that I was moving, and I needed to concentrate on that whole process, as well as focus my energy on new tasks that had come before me. All of that was true, and is still true as of this writing. In fact, as of this moment I have still NOT moved.

I hope you have a few minutes.

My intention at the outset was to move in with a friend and share a two- or three-bedroom apartment. I wanted to cut expenses and possibly save some money for the first time in a very long time. When I wrote my goodbye here, that plan was pretty well-set, and things were looking pretty good.

But on March 1, that all changed.

Just a couple days before March 1, I had informed my landlord that I was moving a month early. My future roommate was already scoping out places, and we were set to start looking at them and getting things squared away. When I told her the situation, she was fine with it; knowing how difficult things had become for me at this location, and how I needed to start cutting back. Plus it would give her time to make whatever renovations needed to be made here (and there are plenty, believe me) in time for a new tenant to move in for May 1.

But when I woke up the morning of Saturday, March 1, I got an Email from my future roommate, telling me that he had to back out of the plan. He had recently experienced some changes in his life, and decided it was better for him to live on his own. He was sorry for putting me in a bad spot, but he had made his decision.

While I understood his reasons– he had told me what happened about a week prior to his Email, which I am not going to repeat here– to say it put me in a bad spot was grossly understated. I had a full-out panic attack. Here I was, a month before my move-out date… a month earlier than I had previously expected… and I had no roommate, no apartment, and nothing in the works. I was back at square one, and it was not a good feeling.

I called my landlord back and told her the situation, but she said she had made preparations to start reconditioning my unit, so she wanted to stay with April 1. I was stuck. I couldn’t stay any longer. I had to move.

(Part 2 tomorrow)

The weather outside is spiteful, but the year was fairly delightful.

Christmas in my Living Room

It’s December 23.  Christmas Eve Eve.  And it’s only one day into meterological winter.  

But you’d never know it with the way things have been in Chicago lately.  

No dreaming about a White Christmas this year.  We’re gonna have one.  Plain and simple.  We’ve had more snow and cold already… pre-winter… than in any year I can remember.  It’s caused tons of accidents, a few cold-related deaths, and lot of bursted pipes and radiators throughout the city. 

But thankfully, around here it’s been pretty nice.  The radiators work great, the hot water flows freely, and everything is warm and cozy.  

I guess there isn’t too much to complain about then, is there?

Truly, this winter – and the year that preceded it, has been pretty good.  Oh sure it had its rough spots (as all years do), but for the most part I look back on 2008 with a sense of happiness and fondness.  

As the year started, I decided it was time to concentrate on friendships.  I felt that I had not been a good friend to the ones I had, and did not open myself up to new friendships nearly enough.  As the year closes, I feel closer to my friends than ever before, and am proud to include a new group of people in my life as friends.  I have also reconnected with a lot of old friends (thanks mainly to Facebook), and have rekindled some friendships that never really died in the first place– but were just on hold for the past 10 or 15 years.  

Family has become even more important as well.  With the birth of my twin nieces, Abby and Emily, in February, my family has found a new reason to celebrate and love.  Their presence in our lives has given us such great joy, and watching them grow has already been so much fun.  As a result, my family is closer than ever, and it’s been incredibly rewarding.  

With the collapsing economy, I have become ever more thankful for the presence of work in my life.  I am thankful I am employed, and by such a good company.  I am treated fairly and paid well.  I can’t complain about that at all.  It’s a blessing to be employed.  

Money, however, has been my one major shortfall this year, and that is of my own doing.  In the next year, I need to trim the fat and live leaner and more within my means.  It’s going to be hard, and may require a lot of sacrifices, but I absolutely need to do this in order to survive into the next year with my head above water.  

All along, this blog has been there.  And while I haven’t been writing as much as I used to, it’s been a comfort to know that I can put my thoughts here and share them with you.  Thank you for all of your kind words and encouragement over the years.  I really appreciate you, too.

So with that, I am signing off for 2008.  There’s lots of things going on between now and the New Year, so I don’t anticipate that I will post again until 2009.  

I wish you and your families and your friends a safe and wonderful holiday season, and a delightful new year.  Salute!