Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sweet Home Chicago

Well, it was a fantastic trip! We had a great time in the Windy City visiting everyone and enjoying Chicago and its neighbors. Below are some pictures, as promised, of our trip. I hope you enjoy!

My mom and dad hosted a party for the entire family at our church, St. Thomas More. Here you can see them stringing up a pinata, while Jamie, my brother's second oldest daughter gets ready to go buck.

Because my heritage is from the South Side, I tried to take some some less glamorous but nevertheless interesting photos of this area. Above are two smoke stacks on the lake belonging to one of the local mills. These mark the beginning of mile upon miles of steel mills from South Chicago to Gary (if you continued to the right) on the lakeshore. Of personal significance, these towers were often my guiding beacon back to port when I was driving the fishing boat back to the dock from all areas of the lake.
This is a cool shot. I decided to drive right through the South Side (read "ghetto") on our way to the museum. What you see are three major bridges, going over the Joliet river, which opens up into lake Michigan.

In the background is the Skyway, which is a quick shot into the southern area of Chicago, terminating at the Dan Ryan. We were docked just on the otherside of the Skyway. As a side note, my dad worked on that bridge back in the day.

The second bridge, the one with spindles off to the left, is the train bridge. This thing is massive and sorta spellbinding upclose. My guess is that it must have been built in the 20's or so, because it has the period look. Miyazaki could probably write an entire story around this thing. It lowers for various trains to go across the river and is still in use. I found this out the hard way when I was sitting on the bow and a train decided to release the juice in it's foghorn in the mini canyon that forms between river and its two walls.

The third bridge is the second of three bridges that take you to the southside.

Above is the 95th Street Bridge, just like in the movie Blues Brothers. This is the actual bridge they jump, and it just happened to be up when we got there. It's the last street bridge before you get to the lake!

Finally, this is the last train bridge, a little more conventional before you get to the lake. You can see the tug pushing out a barge. Classic.

I would have posted more pics in this post, but Blogger restricted me.

I hope you dig. Gotta juice for now. More pics to come.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Eat, Eat, Eat

Sorry, it's been awhile. I've been busy eating.

Clare and I's visit to Chicago has gone remarkably well thus far. I took some pics to post when we return. In some ways, it feels like we've been visiting stuff in between large, midwestern meals.

It's crazy. I don't actually want to stuff myself, but everyone is like "Have more, have more! You're on vacation! Get your fill! Eat up! Etc," I haven't even eaten anything today and I still feel like a stuffed pizza.

Some highlights from our trip, in no particular order:

--Eating at Connie's pizza outdoors on the Southside, overlooked by the city skyline, before going to the White Sox game Monday night, sitting behind homeplate with the Scouts, going buck watching the Southsiders clinch an 8-5 victory over the A's

--Midwestern family resteraunts for breakfast

--A trip downtown to the Museum of Science and Industry to check out the awesome, awesome new U-505 exhibit, the live train models and, of course, Finnigan's (to-die-for) Ice Cream on Yesterday's Main Street.

--Lincoln Park Zoo (we are going back today, yay!)

--A visit to my brother's new kicking pad

--Going to Cheers with my cousin Tim for some Corona and good conversation

--Seeing most of my extended family

Yah, we've had a great trip. D.C. ain't got nothing on Chicago. I am looking forward to another Kick-A day in the city. It should be fun.

Over and out!


Thursday, May 10, 2007

A little more than a cup of tea...

Hey everybody!

It's approximately 6:20 AM as I sit at my homemade computer table and sip some Mao Feng Green tea, waiting for my shower to warm up and for Clare to return from her jog with Leia.

Things in D.C are good right now. Unfortunately, we will be leaving soon to go live with Clare's parents down in Stafford. It's not like we aren't down there 2 days out of every week or anything already, but it is nice to have your own hip apartment located in the heart of bustling, trendy city life.

City life agrees with me for sure, but I certainly do relish getting out to the country. I've gone from King George to Georgetown and now almost back again. It's crazy, in a way, but the adventure part of it is awesome.

I will miss the general bright and upbeat feeling of my neighborhood, Glover Park, the melancholic sound of the bus whizzing past my apartment, the architecture and late night dog walks, city lights and evening breeze through the city streets, with their large trees rustling pleasantly in the wind.

I will miss being close to everything I could possibly want--Whole Foods, the best grocery store known to man, Trader Joes, Teaism, Cafe Bonaparte, Furins, and Armands Chicago Pizza, to name a few. I will miss the feeling of riding into Georgetown in the evening in my Stang and the daily feeling of a certain mastery of the city.

There's a lot I won't miss too: D.C. commuters and drivers. Traffic. Sneering, cold people. The elitists. BMWs, Mercedes and Lexi. Wealthy people without friends and social skills. Whacked liberals. Getting out of Georgetown in the morning. Pedestrians who think they are the center of the world and taxi cabs stopping in the middle of a street with their hazards on.

I won't miss the small element of danger that comes to one and their family living in the city. I won't miss changing oil and working on my car in the street. And I won't miss my in-laws, that's for sure.

So here I am, in the center of this packed up house, feeling all melancholic about city life. I've often thought that the best arrangement is to have a country cottage and apartment in the city.

Maybe so, but it may be a while before an arrangement like that occurs.

Cheers one and all.


Saturday, May 05, 2007

MBNA & More

Hello friends!

Andy O. over at the Internet Peasant has lamented about his recent negative experience with MBNA. Well, my friend, you certainly aren't the only one.

I've had an MBNA card since '98. I signed up at Comisky Staduim in Chi-Town on my way out to a Sox game and got a free hat. I did not expect to get a credit card as a young punk, but I did.

Since then, my card has bailed me out of some tight situations, but it's tough to get bailed out of credit cards, especially if they are jacking you on the interest rate.

Growing up in this country during the latter part of the 20th century experiment, credit cards and living on credit seemed very normal to me. Our ancestors from 2-3 generations before, though, would likely have shunned such prevalant use of credit, especially when it came to owning living accommodations. I can hear them now: "Save until you can purchase a home with cash, or build it yourself, because JP Morgan honestly does not give a rip about you or me."

Credit card debt in this country is, on the average, $9,656 or so, and the interest rates on these babies range from bad to worse, especially if you miss one payment. Last year, Americans saved, on average, a -$0.56. That's the first time we have saved as a country in the negatives since the depression.

Anyway, I have an MBNA card. I was on my way to paying it off a couple of years ago when I decided "F-them, I'm closing this account." Well, when you call them and say you want to close your account, oftentimes they have someone very professional try to stop you. At least did with me anyway, and you can list your grievances and negotiate terms.

I still have my MBNA card today, but believe in paying cash for everything. Even if it is an emergency, we are betting off borrowing from friends and family then a credit card company, notwithstanding the pride factor.

Maybe there is nothing overly new in it, but here are some simple rules for becoming financially independent:

1. Save your money
2. Own your property, i.e., car, home, dog, etc.
3. Pay cash
4. Invest for the long haul at a 10-12% rate

Basically, decrease your monthly payments as much as possible. Pay off balances quickly. Then save and invest what you previously were paying.

I would certainly welcome and encourage any and all feedback regarding how you all save or how to better manage your dough.

Keep Your Juice.