Monday, October 27, 2014


So, it happened.  On September 15, 2014, at 1:17pm CST, I became a father to a beautiful baby boy.  I hate to be such a cliche, but the moment I first held my son in my arms was transformative in a way I can't describe.

Welcome to the world, heir to my vast empire.

But I'm not here to gush about that stuff.  In the short amount of time I have free while my son is taking a post-lunch nap, I want to jot down a list I've been compiling over the past six weeks.  It's a bunch of things I've learned since I became a father.

Being a father is both harder and easier than I thought it would be.  I've been pleasantly surprised at how easy and natural caring for an infant comes to me, and how much I've bonded with my little progeny.  It turns out I actually love my son, and really like being a father.  (I know that each phase of child-rearing will bring new challenges, so I'm not so cocky as to predict how I'll feel about it in 6 months, or 2 years, or 16 years.)  But there are also challenges I didn't expect, like not having the time to pee.

A sample of what fatherhood has taught me so far:

  • Babies get the hiccoughs A LOT, but they don’t seem to bother them. My boy never cries and hiccoughs at the same time. [Scratch that: I have since experienced him not only crying while hiccoughing, but also eating while hiccoughing. He’s a more versatile hiccougher than I thought.] 
  • As the father of an infant, I routinely forget to eat breakfast. 
  • I can function on 5-6 hours of broken sleep. The body adjusts. When I do finally get 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep, I wake up too tired and cranky, as if my body can’t handle all that sleep at one time.
  • Being an infant is the last time your parents will revel in your burping. “Well-burped, sir!”
  • The only difference between a bib and a cape is 180 degrees. 
  • Infant boys get erections. I had no idea.  And when you see that little baby boner, it's a warning that projectile pee or poop is coming, so take cover!  
  • A baby’s fingernails are soft and thin and pliable, like an onion skin. This makes them really hard to cut with nail clippers.
  • When I try to burp him, I burp more than he does.
  • You will beg for the time to fold laundry. One evening I tried for three hours and never touched one piece of clothing. I had to wait until he was asleep, then I stayed up late (till 11pm) to finish it.
  • New infant weight loss plan: eat as much as you want during the day, get a little less exercise than normal, and get up every three hours in the middle of the night (stay up for about an hour.) After a few weeks of this, I was down to a lower weight than I'd been in 3 years.  Alas, this plan stopped working once we started alternating night feedings, and Baby started sleeping 4-5 hours at a time.  Now that I'm getting about 8 hours of sleep a night, my weight has drifted back up.
  • Infant poop doesn't smell like real poop, but it does have a smell.  Once you start giving them formula, even a little, it starts to smell like Velveeta.
  • A sound-asleep baby can sense if you 1.) turn on the phone, 2.) watch TV, 3.) leave the room, or 4.) whisper to someone. They require 100% attention on them, and they can tell if your mind wanders.  "I sense you're taking oxygen for yourself, so I will cry now."    
  • One of the creepiest things ever is to look down the barrel of a pacifier as a child sucks on it. 
    When that little circle pulsates, it's creepy in a way I can't explain
  • Going to the bathroom or blowing your nose become way more complicated when you’re holding a fussy baby.You may think, Oh, I'll just put him down for two minutes.  Well, how well can you pee when there's a screaming baby right outside the door?  Talk about pressure! 
  • The first time he slept for six hours straight, 10pm – 4am, I was worried that he wasn’t crying loudly enough. Is he sick? 
  • Infant formula powder is very sticky when he get it on your hands. Is it made of sugar?
  • Daddy’s little furnace: sometimes when I hold him it’s like holding a bag of hot coals. When he cries, his little red head emits so much heat you can almost see the wavy lines coming off of it. 
  • Infants grunt like weightlifters, and move their arms and legs around as if they’re straining against invisible bonds. 
  • And just like weightlifters, they are surprisingly strong. Trying to hold his arms down in order to swaddle him takes quite a bit of muscle. 
  • Among the 50 different faces my son makes, a good 20% of them make him look like he’s trying to puzzle something out. (My brother once said that infants look “presidential.” I think it’s the furrowed brow.) 
Taken over 5 minutes, these are some of the 42 faces of my baby. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Tribute to Mr. Kittenman

It's been five years since I wrote about adopting Jinxy, my boy cat.  My life was way different then-- I even had a different blog! You can read the story of how I found Jinxy on that old blog:

Jinxy's pubicity shot from the shelter. 

The official name I gave him was Roger Jinxy Methodius d'Claude Onioncat.  Since then he's gone by Jinxy, Jinxboodle, Jinxman, Kittenman, Boodleman, Jinxy von Boodle, Captain Swishytail, Jinxtopher (Jinxtofur), Mr. Boo, and Jinxtopher Boodle.
When I first got him, I took a lot of pictures.  He's got a beautiful big bushy tail and thick black fur that he leaves everywhere.  It's hard to get a picture of his tail, which he swishes around as he walks, because it's always moving.

My first picture of the Jinxman.

He and Hermione, my other cat, got to know each other pretty quickly.  They played together:

ate together, 

laid around together,

and fought together.  (For the first time in her life, Hermione had another cat who would chase her around the house. Ah, the hunter becomes the hunted.)  

Jinxy had a weird way of laying his front paws out in front of him when he lounged.  I'd never seen a cat do that before.   

When I bought my first house, my sister decorated the (pink-tiled) bathroom in a black and white pattern.  I didn't realize til afterward how well Jinxy matched it.

One day I caught Jinxy and Hermione sharing a chair:

To this day I still don't know which one of them was there first, and which was one joined the other.

Jinxy is a cat, so of course he loves to perch on all kinds of things:

On top of laundry

On a secretary desk

On the dresser

"Helping" me pack

On my printer
When he grooms, he leaves huge clumps of his thick black fur all over the place: 

I could knit myself a new cat out of that

Last year, when Katherine and I moved in together, there was a third feline in the house:

Dicey did not get along with my two cats.  We always felt like three cats were too many, but we could never conceive of getting rid of any of them.


About that same time, we had some issues with pee.  Someone, and we didn't know who, was peeing where they weren't supposed to.  I don't know if you've ever smelled cat pee outside of a litter box, but it is rank.  It's like having a skunk in your house.  Even after the smell is gone, the sensory memory of it stays with you for hours, sometimes days.

Most of the pee incidents happened in the back bedroom, on top of Katherine's old bed.  We removed the thick comforter, which helped for a little while.  Then someone peed on the thin blanket.  We removed that.  They peed on the sheets.

We took Jinxy to the vet for his annual check up.  We mentioned the peeing.  We had no proof it was him, but he was the only boy, and they are usually the spayers.  The vet suggested a few things which we tried.  We put a litter box in the back bedroom.  We bought a cat pheromone dispenser.  We kept changing around the bedding.  The peeing would stop for about a month, but just when we thought it was safe, it would happen again.  I started a spreadsheet to see if I could spot a pattern. 

Over the course of a year, there were only about a dozen peeing incidents.  It wasn't horrible, and we could live with it.  But it was annoying not being able to use our back bedroom.  We thought about using it for a nursery, but you can't put a baby in a room where cats pee all over.

The situation took a dramatic turn a few weeks ago.  As we set up the front bedroom to be the nursery, we filled it up with baby accessories.  Katherine told me that she smelled cat pee in the room.  I went in there and inspected everything: the rug, the crib, the pile of baby clothes.  What I found was that the brand-new, never-been-used infant car seat was wet.  When I took it apart, there was a puddle of yellow piss that had soaked through the fabric to the plastic bottom.

This was no longer something we could patiently tolerate.  This was in a different room, on the baby's turf.  For the first time I considered that it was time to 1.) figure out who the phantom pee-er was, and 2.) consider finding a new home for him/her. 


You know how this ends, right?  Using a simple experiment where we separated the cats, we discovered that Jinxy was the pee-er.  We caught him red-bladdered on top of the bed, a pee stain beneath him.  It was time to make some hard decisions.

But it gets worse than that.  After contacting two shelters and talking to the vet, it turns out that the chances of finding a new home for a 9-year-old cat with peeing issues are very, very low.  (One shelter wouldn't even take him.  They had a two-year waiting list!)  So then I was faced with a difficult decision:  put him up for adoption, with the chance that he could spend the last few months (or years) of his life in a cage, or just have him put down myself.         

I'm going with the latter decision, along with all the guilt and shame that goes along with it.  We have an appointment this afternoon. 

On the baby front, our doctors recommended that we induce labor next week.  So that means that within one week we have an appointment to kill our cat and birth our baby.  Talk about emotional roller coasters. 


Jinxy's been in my life for over five years now, and considering I got him when he was four, he's spent over half his life with me. 

I just realized this week that although I've taken dozens of pictures of my little kittenman, I have none of the two of us together.  So Katherine got out her expensive fancy camera and took our portrait:

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Gene Pool

There's an old joke about different definitions of heaven and hell:

Heaven Is Where:
The French are the chefs
The Italians are the lovers
The British are the police
The Germans are the mechanics
And the Swiss make everything run on time
Hell is Where:
The British are the chefs
The Swiss are the lovers
The French are the mechanics
The Italians make everything run on time
And the Germans are the police

I was reminded of this joke recently when I thought about what traits and characteristics I would like our baby to inherit from Katherine and me.  There's a very good way to mix our genes, and there's a very bad way.

Do we want our kid to have white boxes or black ones?

I hope our spawn has:
  • Katherine's temperament 
  • my immune system
  • her work ethic
  • my appreciation for leisure
  • her quick thinking
  • my sense of humor (because despite what Katherine thinks, I am hilarious)
  • her musical ability
  • my sports ability
  • her organizational skillz
  • my dishwashing skillz
  • her patience
  • my enthusiasm
  • her initiative 
  • my morning person-ness (I don't want more people at the breakfast table who won't talk to me)
  • her math ability
  • my writing ability

There are also things that I hope our baby inherits from both of us:  intelligence, analytical thinking, independence, a sense of fairness, our nerdy love of spreadsheets.

Our little nerdling?

And then there are traits that we both share that it would be nice if the kid could mutate away from:  short, pale, paddle-like feet, our inability to dance, our (sometimes) social awkwardness.


Of course you can't customize your baby.  You get what you get, and you love it as best you can.  As I said in my last post, I have no idea how I'm going to take to parenting.  But it would be a challenge for me if our child had a wildly different personality than me.  What if s/he grows up to be shallow, stupid, materialistic, or cruel?  What if our kid grows into a Republican

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Random Thoughts on Impending Parenthood

This package was waiting on the porch when I came home from work:

Snugride Classic Connect 30:  Only the best for my spawn

Shit just got real up in here.

I was really looking forward to having a weekend this week.  For the first time in two months, I'm not traveling or working.  And what did we spend most of the weekend doing?  Setting up the nursery, moving furniture around, cleaning things out, putting together the crib.   


I thought that once all our summer travels were over (we've visited five different states since Memorial Day), I'd have some time to chill out before the baby comes.  But after this "free" weekend,  I look ahead to the next week:

  1. Tomorrow we're finally having our new sewer line put in.  This means we had to clear out a section of our basement so they could jackhammer up our floor.  It also means that for an entire day I won't have access to my computer or TV, or indoor plumbing.  How am I going to get anything done?  HOW DO PEOPLE LIVE LIKE THIS?
  2. Tuesday morning we have a routine appointment with our regular OB/GYN to check on the progress of Cletus Fetus.
  3. Thursday morning we're meeting for the first time with our new pediatrician. 
  4. Thursday evening we have the first of our two-session class, Caring for Newborns.  
  5. All day Saturday and half the day on Sunday we signed up for a childbirth class at the hospital.  (Goodbye, Weekend.  I hardly knew you.) 
If you're counting, that's four separate baby appointments this week.  It's not even here yet, and this baby is already taking up all of my time.  I was hoping to cram in more leisure time before it got here, since I know that once it comes my life will be over.


We're taking classes, re-arranging our house, visiting daycares, and thinking about things like cloth diapers, but the truth is there's no good way to prepare yourself mentally for a baby.  I know that it will be a lot of work.  An unrelenting, incessant amount of work.  Like, way more work than I've ever had to do in my easy life.  I know I will never get any sleep again.  I know that I will never have any free time again.  I will never get any privacy again.

I hear that it can also be fulfilling and rewarding, but the truth is I have no idea how I will take to parenting-- if I will like it, find it redeeming, or be any good at it.  It's a huge block box, sitting right on the calendar, dominating my future.

Am I eager to meet the new human who comes out of my wife's hoo-haw?  Sure.  I'm ready to meet the challenge.  And to feel the love.  But I don't have any delusions about it being all baby breath and pixies.    


From all the posts on FB on Father's Day, I understand there are a lot of people who respect, admire, and adore their father.

I wonder what that's like. 

Not to get all Dr. Phil here, but I do not have a very good relationship with my father.  I don't have much respect for him.

So it makes me wonder what my future kid, now due in less than two months, is going to think of me.  It's a fascinating and frightening proposition that there will be someone out in the world whose image of "Dad"-- what they think of when they hear that word-- will be me.

"What did you learn in school today?"

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Librarians in Vegas

How does a librarian in Las Vegas cross the road?

You go through 14 casinos, 28 shops, 56,234 flashing lights, out into the 105-degree heat, walk half a mile to the nearest foot-bridge, wait 15 minutes for all the people in front of you to cross the bridge, avoid the guys on every corner thrusting hooker trading cards  in your face (I swear I'm not making that up), then repeat the process as you walk back to the spot directly across the road from where you started.

"It's just across the street."


My frustrations with Vegas started before I left the tarmac in Chicago, where our plane was grounded for an hour and half because of "paperwork issues," according to the pilot.  I'd never heard that excuse before.  As we sat in a hot, crowded, stuffy, un-moving plane and the pilot announced every 15 minutes or so that we'd be cleared to go in about 10-15 minutes, it set the tone for the whole weekend.  

Actually, let me back up three months.  Perhaps this trip was doomed soon after the moment, three months earlier, when I booked my tickets to the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference '14 in Las Vegas.  I wouldn't have even considered going, but my old ALA-roommate friend Dallas was going and had a room to offer, I hadn't been to ALA in five years, and I'd never been to Vegas.  I thought this would be a good opportunity to see old friends and visit a place I'd never been to.  And maybe get some "professional development."

Anyway, two days after I booked my flight, Dallas took a bad spill on some ice in the parking lot at work (another victim of this year's shit-tastic winter), broke his leg/hip, had emergency surgery with four new "forever pins" in his hip, and was laid up for the next three months.  He was hoping he'd be healed enough to go to Vegas, but had to bail a week before we were to leave.

That was probably a good decision for Dallas, but a bad one for me.


Just outside Vegas is the world's largest pothole. 

It turned out that a friend of mine from work, Tom, was not only only my flight, but staying in the same hotel as me.   That was one ray of (hot, blinding) sunshine for my Vegas trip.  Once we arrived in Vegas-- two hours late-- Tom and I were able to share a shuttle to our hotel.

Because of how our hotel (The Flamingo) was laid out, the shuttle stop was about a quarter mile from the entrance.  We walked in the hot, 105-degree Vegas sun with our luggage into the building, and although we were relieved to be in the cool air conditioning, we were immediately hit with other violations to our other senses.  Cigarette smoke, flashing lights, souvenir shops, lingerie.  It was like walking into a shopping mall on steroids. We walked down a long crowded hallway for what seemed like forever, and Tom said, "Tim, what have we done?"

"Has anyone seen a hotel lobby around here?" I said to no one in particular.

When we finally found the hotel part of the casino, there was a line at the check in.  It was roped off into parallel queues, like at Disneyland, with rows of waiting people.  The line to check in at the hotel was longer than the TSA security line had been at O'Hare!  WTF??

About that time I checked FB and read what a friend of mine just posted:
"I've been trying to keep an open mind but I think vegas is the most horrible place I've ever been and I hate it and I hate ala for making me come here and I can't believe people like to come here."
It was a theme I would hear from every librarian I talked to in Vegas.


Because of our plane delay in getting to Vegas, and then the wait in line to check in, by the time I finally got to my room it was too late to go to any of the ALA events that day.  But a new problem presented itself.

My phone battery was dying.  After spending all day traveling, I was down to about 25% power.  I was planning to go out that night, and I knew I'd need power to contact people and meet up with them.  Plus I wanted to call my wife.  But the network connection in my room sucked ass, and it drained power just having the phone on (as it constantly searched for a connection.)  And when I tried to turn on the wi-fi in my room, they wanted to charge me $13.99 a day for service.  Screw that.  I've never been in a hotel before that CHARGED for wifi, and I'd be damned if the Flamingo was going to profit off of that.    

So I had to turn off my phone and charge it up.  I couldn't leave, I couldn't surf the web, I couldn't catch up on email, and I couldn't even check the conference app to plan my day.  I was held hostage in my room by a useless phone.

So I watched crappy TV for an hour and a half.

The view outside my hotel room was not bad.


When I was finally charged up enough to leave the hotel, I encountered the second most frustrating thing about Vegas: finding shit.

I usually have an excellent sense of direction. But I got lost in Vegas more times than I can count. On the first night in Vegas, I had dinner plans with an old friend, but first I wanted to go to the convention center and check in at ALA.  I looked at a map in the hotel "lobby" and thought I had oriented myself correctly.  But when I left the hotel, I had no idea where to find the shuttle bus stop to the convention center.  I made an entire circle around this huge, ginormous building, walking for 50 minutes in the hot sun.  Finally  I went back into the hotel and asked the bellhop, who did a lot of pointing and explaining, but couldn't show me a map.

A "map" of the hotel.  And no, it doesn't get any clearer if you make it bigger.

I did eventually find the bus, and took it to the convention center, a monstrosity of a building that resembles an airport without any planes.  After further administrative headaches to register for the conference and get my badge (with a lanyard!), I was ready to party.  Sort of.

After dinner with my friend, I decided to walk the 1.9 miles along the famous Las Vegas Strip back to my hotel.  When we exited the building after dinner, it felt like walking into a blast furnace.  For a second I thought that there was a bus blowing exhaust in our face, or we were right in front of an external air conditioning unit blowing hot air.  Nope.  This was just an evening breeze in Vegas, where it's 101 degrees out.

I was trying to meet up with some other friends of mine, so I walked 2.5 miles, beyond my hotel, to find them.  I kept trying to use the map app on my phone, but guess what?  My mobile connections on the street in Vegas also suck ass, so my map app kept spinning and spinning, loading in vain.  After pushing through throngs of people along the strip, when I got to the place my friends had been, they were gone.  So I walked back home to my hotel: hot, sweaty, tired, alone, and ready to end an overall shitty travel day.

That was my first day in Vegas.


Saturday, Day Two of Vegas ALA, started at 5:22 am, when I woke up and could not get back to sleep.  This would be my first day of the convention:  let's class up this place, librarians!

I was able to "connect" to the convention center's wifi, but I then spent most of the next two days waiting as my phone told me: "Obtaining IP address..." The wifi was spotty and unreliable, and although I kept having brilliant insights and snarky observations to make, I couldn't post them on Facebook.  It was torture!   I couldn't even use the convention planning app while I was in the building where the convention was happening

I attended some sessions, one titled "Boba Fett at the Circ Desk: Leadership Lessons from the Empire Strikes Back" (I swear I'm not making that up) and in the afternoon returned to my hotel for a quick nap and to call my wife.  I was in contact with some old library school friends about meeting for drinks the next night, but figuring out a meeting place was difficult.  We couldn't just say, "Let's meet at Bally's" because Bally's is about the size and shape of the Death Star.  We couldn't even say "At the big entrance to Bally's off Flamingo Ave" because there are, like, four of them.  So I actually had to take a walk across the street (see above: librarian crossing street in Vegas) to scope it out and suggest a meeting place.  Then I had to go outside on the street because I couldn't send any messages from inside the fortress of any casino. 

One bright spot on Saturday was that we went to dinner at Bobby Flay's restaurant in Caesar's palace and had an excellent meal.

Bobby Flay's Scallops: a high point of my weekend 


Sunday, Day Three, was both the worst and best day of the convention.  It started out crappy and got worse. The morning session I wanted to attend was in the Paris hotel, which has a huge replica of the Eiffel tower growing out of it.
The Eiffel Tower along the Strip at night

Once inside "Paris," it took me forever to find the entrance to the meeting rooms.  On my way I tried to stop for breakfast, but all the cafes and food shops had lines out the door.  Two things you should know about me, which might explain why I hated Vegas, is that I hate crowds and I'm not a patient person.  Especially when my blood sugar is low.  So I went to a little convenience kiosk and bought the crappiest breakfast ever:  a bottle of orange juice, a small bag of snack mix, and a Hostess cupcake.  I paid $9.40, and afterwards I felt the opposite of nourished. 

I went to my session and then was excited to take the Las Vegas monorail to the convention center.  (Monorail!!)  But I wanted to pick up some lunch before I went, so I stopped at the food court in the casino.  Bad idea.  I got a fancy cheese and bacon hot dog with fries and a drink.  I took it to the convention center in the monorail, which turned out to be a disappointment.  At the convention center I sat on the floor, while my useless phone told me "Obtaining IP address..." and ate my crappy food alone.  The food didn't taste good, was bad for me, and afterwards my stomach felt bad.

After two awful meals in a row, I got lost trying to find my afternoon session.  Finally I just said, "Fuck it," and decided to play hooky.  I made my way to the exhibit hall in order to get my SWAG on.  I scored a bunch of free pens and fought off one aggressive salesperson who was determined not let me leave his booth without buying a $399 cell phone charger.  (It was down to $99 by the time I walked away.)

When I returned to my hotel in the afternoon, I stepped off the air-conditioned bus into the afternoon sun and could literally feel the heat bubble up in the veins in my hands.  Is my blood actually boiling? I thought.

Actual weather report on my hotel TV


Sunday got a whole lot better late afternoon when I met with some of my old friends from library school.  We had drinks, bitched about Vegas, and went to our library school reunion at Bally's Skyview room, which did indeed have a kick-ass view.  I loaded up on hor d'oeuvres, mingled with a lot of old acquaintances, and even hobnobbed with the mayor of the city where my library school was.  (Seriously, we had like a 10-minute conversation.) 

After that a friend and I walked along the Strip, saw the fountain show at the Bellagio, and then had some ice cream inside. 

Famous dancing fountain show

My friend went back to her hotel, but I was not done with Vegas yet.  It was my last night in town and I didn't want to leave without seeing some of the famous buildings I'd heard so much about.  I wanted to see the faux NYC skyline at New York New York.  (And feed my skyline/skyscraper obsession.) 

From my perspective, here's the best thing about Vegas:  there are some pretty amazing buildings here. I can't imagine the architectural effort that can create an enormous structure that looks like a skyline from the outside, but inside is a cavernous casino. Where else can you see the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, Magic Kingdom, a Roman palace, gigantic elabotate fountains, and funky modern skyscrapers all along the same street?

I went inside New York New York, and it was incredible.  What on the outside looks like a row of smaller buildings in front of a huge mini skyline is actually one huge building, with possibly the most incongruent walls in the world.  (Although I did not know that the Jefferson Memorial was in New York, right next to the Statue of Liberty.) 

One could argue that it's cheesey and tacky to have all these replicas of famous landmarks in one place, but I have to admit the replicas are damn impressive approximations.  If you walk into the Paris hotel, the grid-like base for the Eiffel tower goes through the walls, as if the tower is growing out of the building.  That's pretty fucking cool.   And these are interspersed with just the garden-variety cool skyscrapers.   

Cool leaning cartoonish buildings along the strip.

The Strip from the airport.

There was some further travel drama in getting home, but I'm tired of writing this post and you're tired of reading it, so I'll end here. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Spending Time

I think I spend the majority of my time thinking about, planning, and managing how I spend my time.  Aside from all the energy I use to plan things, set up appointments, make to-do lists, and manage my calendar, there's all the time I talk about what I've done or what I'm going to do.  How was my weekend?  What did I do last night?  What are my plans for today?  What are we doing tonight?  What's your week look like?

The words we use to talk about time-- spending it, wasting it, managing it-- are the same words we use to talk about money. Because time really is like a currency.  And to me, at this stage in my life, it feels even more valuable than money.

"Einstein discovers that time is actually money."

I'm very fortunate to be at a point in my life where money is not a major source of worry-- because of my frugal tastes, simple pleasures, and enjoying a standard of living in a 21st-century First World country, I can pretty much afford anything I want-- but time has become that thing that I feel I never have enough of.  (And this is before we have any kids. Once Cletus Fetus bursts into our lives, I know I will never ever feel caught up on anything ever again.  So I have that to look forward to.)

One thing I loved about working in academia was all the time off I got.  I might have been able to make more money in the private sector, but what I used to tell people was, "You can't buy vacation time."  What's the point of working all the time and accumulating wealth, if you never have time to spend it?

There's one crucial difference between time and money, though.  With money, you can save it, invest it, accumulate more of it, and then spend a whole mess of it at one time.  You can also get loans and pay it back.  You can't do that with time.  Everyone has to spend time at the same rate as everyone else.  You can't save it up.  You're going to spend time whether you sit on the couch watching TV or buy groceries or hike the Andes.

So why haven't I blogged in almost a month?  I'd say that I haven't had enough time, but that's not exactly true.  I had enough time to watch TiVo, play upon the Interwebz, play tennis (even play my new tennis computer game), as well as keep up with all the regular work, chores, and errands that a working middle-aged house husband who's dealing with two homes has to deal with.  Among all that other stuff, writing my blog has dropped near to the bottom of the list.  (Just above calling our plumber about scheduling house repairs.)       

Um, I think I'll watch LOLcat videos instead.

One thing that always annoyed me is when people use the flip phrase, "You have too much time on your hands" to judge how someone spends their time.  Look, just because I keep a spreadsheet of all my tennis matches, or our grocery list, or how often my cats pee on the spare bed in the back bedroom (yes, I swear I'm not making that up, but it's really just a diagnostic tool to see if I can figure out patterns)-- just because I have hobbies that other people think are silly doesn't mean my time is any less valuable than someone who's going to a quilting convention or studying stock quotes or watching Honey Boo Boo on the talkin' picture box.  We all have different things that capture our attention, different ways we choose to spend our time.  Some of us need a lot more down time.  Some of us need to stay active all the time.     

Since I've already spent two hours of time on this crappy new blog post, I'll have to end it here without a brilliant conclusion.  (Yes, two hours is way too much, but I stopped and started this post several times because I couldn't decide what to do with it.)   

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Homeowner Blues Times Two

There was a small window of time last year when we owned three homes:  My house in Champaign, Katherine's condo in Evanston, and the house we bought together in Evanston. The condo was already on its way to being sold then (and that sale went through without a hitch), and we hoped that my house in Champaign would sell soon after.  It didn't.

I like to joke that we had a vacation home in Champaign, but the joke is as tired as my rotting roof.  

We own too many houses. 

We're like Donald Trump, but with better hair

Since my house didn't sell last year, I hired a property management company (realtor #3) who found a tenant for me and rented out the house over the winter.  So in addition to all the ways I've made money over my life (grocery bagger, meat department clerk, pizza driver, library clerk, scholarship winner, busboy, typist, receptionist, fellow, teacher, librarian), I became a landlord.  I even changed my banking password to some variant of my new role.  (slumloard666?  99givememymoney?  You'll never guess it!)

I was a reluctant landlord, though, and renting out my house was just a way to stem the bleeding of mortgage payments and utility bills for a house I wasn't even using.  Although the rent I receive from my tenants is not enough to cover my mortgage, it helps a lot, and it also makes me feel better to know that someone was sort of house-sitting for me over the winter, when the already horrible house-selling market froze up completely.  I took the house off the market. 

Would you like to buy my frozen house?

This spring I've been trying to put the house back on the market.  We were about all ready to list the house at the end of March, but the realtor I'd been working with (#4) wanted me to sign a year-long agreement, which was way too long and everyone said was a red flag.  So I fired her and got a new realtor (#5) who I'm not crazy about but it doesn't matter because all realtors suck and if I'm going to work with one, I might as well choose one I have low expectations of from the beginning.

We were just about to list the house at the end of April, but at the advice of my latest realtor I got the home pre-inspected (I think it was probably good advice), and it came back with a whole bunch of issues.  We put the listing on hold until I could deal with those things. 

Apparently, this is how the inspector saw my house. 
So now it's the end of May and I'm hoping the house will get listed this week.  Right now, as I type, they are tearing off my old roof and putting a brand-spanking new roof on the house I will never live in again.  And new gutters. Then we'll tackle the smaller stuff.


In the past year, we have put a new roof on both of our houses.  We've also had sewer issues at both houses, requiring excavation and new pipes.  That's four major house repairs at the top and bottom of our houses.  We're getting screwed at both ends of both houses.

I have no idea what this book is about, but I couldn't NOT post this.

The repair issues have gotten so bad this spring that I actually created a spreadsheet for all of our house repairs, renovations, costs, estimates to see how much we can actually afford.  For both houses.

After all our home repairs, we will have $1.59 left over for our retirement

One of the things on the list is simply selling my house.  Just getting rid of my house is going to cost us several thousand dollars, because the market has dropped so much in Champaign that despite my down payment and the fact that I've been paying down the mortgage for five years, we'll be lucky if we sell the house for what I owe on it.  Even then, I'll have to pay the 6% commission to my realtor, hence the cost of selling my home.

I know we're fortunate enough that we can afford to sell it, because many people simply don't have the money to sell a home that's underwater.  (For the record, mine isn't necessarily "underwater", but it's hovering around the water line.  We won't know for sure what it's worth until we get an offer.)

For reasons other than financial, I love owning my own home, but anyone who tells you that owning vs. renting is a "slam dunk" financial decision is full of shit.  Every experience I've personally had with real estate has been a huge money suck.  I've lost a shit-ton of money on my house, both with repairs and re-sell.  So did Katherine with her condo.  And now our new house keeps asking for money like that plant in Little Shop of Horrors.  ("Feed me, Seymour!") 

This actually looks a lot like the thing growing in our sewer pipes


So every day I have to call a new repair person and get a new estimate on one of our many projects.  I'm drowning in estimates and it's a little overwhelming.  I've instituted a rule that I will only call one repair person per day.  Otherwise I would go crazy.   

Here's one big decision we need to make.  Our new home needs a new 4-foot stretch of sewer that has been run over by tree roots.  (Over the past year our sewer has backed up into the basement several times, and we've had to get it "rooted out" twice.)  The section that needs replacing is three feet underneath the concrete in our basement, which means they have to jackhammer through the (carpeted) floor in our basement, dig out the old broken clay pipes, put in new PVC pipes, and then re-cement the floor.  For this privilege of premium indoor plumbing we get to pay $2800. (First World Problem, I know.)  

However, I've hated the floor in our basement since we moved in.  The carpet is thin and cheap, and underneath it is uneven concrete that resembles rolling hills.  All the desks, bookcases, and filing cabinets in our basement are up on shims because the floor is so uneven.  One of the renovations I'd like to do some day is to level out the floor.  I called a floor guy, but he said the floor is too uneven for him to fix.  He said I need a concrete guy.  So I called a concrete guy who came out and said, sure, he can fix it.  For $7300.

One complication is that the ceiling is pretty low in our basement already, and I worry that evening out the floor would make it even lower.  It's fine for short people like us, but when it comes time to sell someday, no tall people could ever buy this house because the basement ceiling is so low.  So for an extra $3800 the concrete guy can lower the floor another 6 inches, giving us more ceiling clearance.

The ceiling in our basement: perfect for us, bad for talls.
Here are our options w/r/t the basement floor:

1.  Do nothing.  This will require us to have the sewer line rooted out every 5-6 months ($300 each time) so that it doesn't back up into the basement, which I don't need to tell you is DIS-GUS-TING.

2.  Just fix the sewer line and nothing else.  This will involve blocking off our computer desks and most of the finished basement so that they don't get covered in concrete dust, and then having the plumber jackhammer our floor, which will shake the whole house and probably cause it to come crashing down.  Oh, and will cost $2800.

3.  Since they're going to be opening up our basement floor anyway, this seems like the ideal time to have them fix the whole thing.  But not only is this a VERY EXPENSIVE option, it will also require an assload of work on our part, and a major inconvenience akin to moving.  We will have to move everything out of the basement, which includes both of our desks and desktop computers, printers, modems, telephones, etc., our entire TV/entertainment system, couches, filing cabinets, book shelves, and storing all of it in the small corner of the basement that is unfinished (i.e. the workshop.)  Then we will be without all said computer, telephone, and entertainment options during the renovation, which could take a while because we will need to coordinate between the sewer excavation guy, the concrete guy, and the carpet guy, which we haven't even gotten an estimate for yet because the first two steps are so overwhelming to contemplate.

4. The same as #3 but lower the floor six inches, which would be a better long term renovation but would add a LOT MOAR MONEY onto the project, and possibly also time.

5. Bury ourselves in the sewer and let the new owners pay to excavate our rotting corpses.

An actual image of the roots growing into our sewer line.  That's what homeownership looks like, kids!