Thursday, June 30, 2011

Once a Cubs Fan...

We live 4 blocks north of Wrigley field, home of our Chicago Cubs. I’ve been a Cubs fan as long as I can remember. Dad grew up 4 blocks from Wrigley, in the other direction – on Belmont. So, you see, I was destined to follow the “loveable losers” on the North Side of Chicago. Once a Cubs fan, it doesn’t matter how hopeless they are…we love them as unconditionally as a mother must love an unfortunate-looking child.

When I grew up in Maryland, in the days before cable and the WGN Superstation, Dad would watch the Cubs whenever they were televised in our area. That’s when he sucked his children into the lost cause. Remember, the Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908. We had a good team in 2008, and hoped against hope that there would be a hundred year miracle. But, no. The Chicago White Sox won the Series in 2005. If you think that helps mollify a Cubs fan, then you know nothing about the cross-town rivalry in Chicago. Cubs / Sox – worlds apart.

In the 80’s, I went to spring training in Arizona for the first time and went to games at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa. What a great atmosphere, with lifetime Cubs fans all around! We’ve seen many young players and always tried to guess who would become new baseball stars in Chicago. Ron’s dad picked out first baseman Mark “Amazing” Grace, who spent 13 years with the Cubs. Grace was the National League’s Rookie of the Year and earned 4 Gold Glove Awards. Good pick, Jim.

Visiting Harry outside Wrigley Field

Harry Caray was the unforgettable voice of the Cubs from 1981 to 1997. At each home game, he led the crowd in singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame’. Although Harry died in 1998, to this day the 7th Inning Stretch includes introduction of a celebrity guest who sings with the crowd and leads them just like Harry did. It begins with a windup, “a-one, a-two, a-three…”, and ends with “Let’s get some runs!” Harry, glad I got to meet you that one time when you were leaving the Pump Room.

Today is a nice summer day, and we have Cubs tickets. We’ll walk from Irving Park down Seminary, past the Fire Station at Waveland into the park. Once in our seats, we'll have a hot dog and a beer and soak up some Wrigley Field magic. I hear the wind will be blowing out. Cubbies, let’s get some runs!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Managing a Financial Windfall

When substantial, unanticipated money comes your way it can create a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you to re-chart the path of your life. Depending on the amount and on your age there are a number of good choices possible, and a few pitfalls you should avoid.

When I was 27 years old and living from paycheck to paycheck, I inherited some money from my Aunt Katee. It wasn’t a huge sum, but it was enough to change my life for the better. I paid off my credit cards and car loan, put a down payment on a townhouse, and bought some furniture. Admittedly, I also splurged a little by going on a cruise with a girlfriend (my first non-family-centric vacation ever). In hindsight, I feel good about all of my decisions. What I feel best about is that I know exactly where the money went – I didn’t just piss it away little by little on frivolous purchases.

Looking back, I would give this advice to young adults who come into a financial windfall:

First, pay off any credit cards, or high interest loans like car loans. Resolve not to accrue any more toxic debt if it can be avoided. Put your credit cards away somewhere safe, and use them sparingly and wisely. Cancel department store cards and cut them up.

Spend some time thinking about what you want out of life. Money can’t buy love or happiness, but it can help you attain other goals. Do you want to own a home, start a business, live abroad, share your life with someone, and/or have a family? Be sure decisions you make with your money support your life goals. Understand that your goals may change over time. This is fine; but keep thinking and talking about them.

Do you know where your money goes today? Get a handle on it, before you start spending your newly-acquired funds. Determine whether you want or need to revise your budget going forward.

You may get plenty of unsolicited advice (and requests) from family and friends. Don’t make major decisions too quickly. This is your money and your life at stake. The money can sit in the bank for a while you think it over and get advice.

Nothing will enhance your quality of life long-term like a good education. If you don’t already have your college degree – invest some money toward that goal. There is nothing that can replace having a positive college experience, or that credential on your resume. Aside from what you learn, you will meet smart people who will become influential friends for life, and part of your supportive network. Do not miss this opportunity.

Be sure you are properly insured. You need health insurance, comprehensive automobile and property insurance (including liability coverage). If you’ve been relying on your parents for coverage, it’s time to make the leap to independence. Open an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). You may think it’s too early to plan for retirement, but it’s not.

No matter what you decide to do, you will want to retain a portion of your windfall in liquid cash reserves. Unexpected things happen, and sometimes you need immediate cash that is not tied up in investments.

You will need some advice if you have money to invest. There are a confusing variety of options available. Ask an experienced, trusted friend or relative to recommend a financial advisor.

It’s OK to give yourself a little treat in celebration, but it should be something memorable and lasting – not a budget-busting trip to the mall. Set an amount aside for your planned indulgence and stick with it. Your long-term goals are more important.

A windfall can have a life-changing impact if properly managed. This is your money and your life at stake. Make good decisions and reap a lifetime of rewards.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Daddy's Day Blues

Father’s Day promotions never seem to take into account the feelings of those of us who have lost our fathers. It makes the day a little hard to bear. I’ll never stop loving Dad and missing him. He was the best father I can imagine having, and was a tremendous influence on my life. I can still clearly hear his voice in my head, comforting and guiding me to this day…
John Haropulos 1924-1999

“Your daddy loves you.”
“Quit yarming around and get in the car!”
“What were you thinking?”
“You want something to cry about? I’ll give you something to cry about.”
“Go to your room and think about it.”
“I’d sell you for a nickel right now.”
“Isn’t your mother beautiful?”
“You can be whatever you want to be.”
“You’re not going out dressed like that.”
“Don’t talk back to your mother.”
“You dare to speak to me that way?”
“You’re smarter than that.”
“Because I’m the dad, and I say so.”
James Bailey 1928-1995
“I’m coming to check for creepy-crawlies!”

Ron is missing his dad too, and had these to offer…

“Do it right, or don’t do it at all.”
“Respect your tools.”
“You’re not going anywhere.”
“You’re not old enough to _________.” 
“You’re too old to cry.”
“Pay attention to what you’re doing.”
“Don’t EVEN…!”
“So you think you’re so smart."

John Haropulos and Jim Bailey, we love you both and will be carrying you in our hearts this Father’s Day.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Thank You for Being a Friend

It’s a rainy day in Chicago, but I am surrounded by the virtual sunshine emanating from my friends and am feeling grateful.

I enjoy our get-togethers for golf, cocktails, lunch, or dinner almost more that I can express. Your unexpected phone calls delight me. The generosity of your invitations overwhelms me. Favors offered are heartwarming. Your emails and Facebook status postings and photos help me feel connected from far away. Visits are joyfully anticipated. Encouragement for my blogs from readers goes a long way to inspire me.

Through all these avenues of communication, I am getting to know and love you more. Thank you for everything,

Hugs and kisses are always gratefully accepted,

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Think of Pleasant Things

When I was a child and couldn’t settle down to go to sleep, my mother offered advice that I still follow. In a calm and soothing voice, she would suggest that I close my eyes and visualize pleasant places and happy memories. If I had trouble getting started, she would prime the pump with things like, “Remember last Christmas Eve, when it snowed?”, or “Didn’t you have fun playing in the fallen leaves this afternoon?” Soon, relaxation and happy thoughts would crowd out whatever was keeping me from falling asleep. I’m sure I often drifted off with a smile on my face.

As we age, sleep can become more elusive. Our adult minds are busy with chaotic thoughts of things left undone, family or friends who are struggling with problems, upcoming plans, etc. Because there are so many things to mull over, the simple act of climbing into bed doesn’t always shut off our built-in thinking caps.

On the rare occasion I find myself staring at the dark bedroom ceiling, failing to quell my active brain, I picture Mom sitting on the edge of my bed, close my eyes, and think of pleasant things. It’s rather like opening a treasure chest and sifting through a trove of lovely keepsakes.

Some of the places and memories I often replay:
Fragrant lilacs blossoming outside our front room windows.
Golden sun on the golf course, with a jackrabbit loping across the fairway.
My beloved late cat, Beezum, curled up in my arms and breathing softly on my cheek.
The whole Haropulos clan on blankets on the sand at Rye Beach, New Hampshire in the 1960’s.
Chasing fireflies in our pajamas in the back yard on Forbes Street.

“Now I lay me down to sleep…” Thank you, Mommy.