POST 18 Life is a Carnival, Believe it or Not

Barb and Les August 2015 cropped4Who remembers Riverview Park? I only visited a few times as a young boy, but still remember the anticipation of the El ride to Belmont Avenue followed by the streetcar to Western. The walk past the ticket booth in the stifling summer heat, the sounds and the sights and the feeling that you never knew what could be lurking around the corner. Cracker Jack and Hot Dogs and purple Snow Cones dripping down my chin and fingers. Doing a quick two-step so the man spitting tobacco wouldn’t get any brown juice on my white Keds.

Riverview ‘s gates closed for good in 1967, but the thrill rides go on and on! Let’s walk down the Midway so we can revisit the fun we had last weekend. We can start in the wacky Bank House Fun House. See those crazy mirrors? They are the one’s that can make a one month process stretch into a three-month one. Be careful you don’t fall into the Document Review Dunk Tank. NO ONE ever gets out!!!!

Next ride is up to you. But may I suggest we skip the Greyhound, the Bobs, and the Fireball for the real roller coaster of choice, the Exploding Plans. The first climb of excitement and anticipation, the click click click of the wheels on the wooden rails, and then the lurching stomach churning “The House will be Too Big and Too Expensive” drop. Watch out for the hairpin turns as you negotiate with the builder and architect. A Disneyland “E Ticket” ride for sure.

Look to the left. That’s the on ramp for the Bumper Cars, or as our cabbie in Naples, Italy  called them, BOOOmper Cars. Just one more drive down the Eisenhower on a Friday night. Watch out for those lane closures!

But despite the obstacles, our weekend was made joyous by our ultimate destination, the Never-Ending Tunnel of Love. We were so lucky to be part of a wedding of two lovely people, the ceremony linking their ancient cultures, proof of wonderful mysteries of love and happiness. Barb and I shared the joy of the newly married couple, and we know the love we have between us will remain as we negotiate the wonderful, scary, never-anticipated  “Adventures in Lifeland.”


POST 17 I Will Never Let a Banker in My Life

rexI really did not plan on writing a blog entry today. But three phone calls from the bank put me in need of some therapeutic creativity. So with all apologies to Lerner and Loew, here is my homage to my favorite musical, My Fair Lady and the incomparable Rex Harrison.

For those of you not familiar with the musical or the song, you can find it on YouTube here :

Never Let a Woman in Your Life

And Now

I Will Never Let a Banker in My Life

I’m just a new home building man
Who desires nothing more than just an ordinary loan
To get exactly what I need to build in Thorngate my new home
A working man am I, with top notch credit score
Who likes to live his life, with pets and wife
Never would think to ever ask for more
Well, just a new home building man

But, let a banker in your life
And your timeline is all through
He will complicate your plan, never mind where you began
For more forms he will go trawling, roping and then stalling, you

You want to get the darn thing over
He wants you to sign some more
You see that interest rates are rising
He laughs at what he’s got in store

I’m a level headed man
Get along with all my colleagues, you will never hear me swear
I like to tell the truth and think that I treat other people fair
A happy man am I, deal well with work and play
I would never moan, never groan
Never would let a dark cloud blot my day
An easy going man

But, let a banker in your life
And it’s time to have a fit
First they say that all is well, then drag you through living hell
They will say they need more time, they’ll tell you their bank is fine, but it’s all shit!
Let a banker in your life
Let a banker in your life
I will never let a banker in my life!


And don’t get me started on my lawyer!

POST 16 She got Garbo stand off sighs…

Barbara TalksThe lovely but elusive blue-eyed Barbara has finally agreed to be interviewed for this blog. We caught up to her in her exquisite flower garden where both Barb and the roses appear to be thriving  If there are any misquotes, exaggerations or down-right falsehoods in the transcription of our exchange, please blame this reporter.

Reporter: Ms. Raff, you have lived in your home for 25 years. What inspired you to begin your new project?

Barb: My husband and I would occasionally look at open houses and online realty websites. He was particularly persistent, but we agreed that we loved our house and neighborhood, and it didn’t make much sense to move at this time.

The third weekend in May he came home with the book “Hypnotize Your Mate for Fun and Profit”. I found him reading well into the wee hours of the night.The next morning I was enjoying my breakfast smoothie.  My husband  snapped his fingers, I went into a trance, and just like that I  was signing all sorts of documents and we owned a new parcel of land.

Reporter: There are many lovely areas in the north suburbs. How did you choose the location for the new home?

Barb: We wanted a spot exactly 1.6 miles from a tollway entrance, with nice walking paths, good neighbors and a pond. We fed our requirements to Siri, and she did all the work. Best of all, she charged no commission for her efforts, though she did insist we upgrade to IOS 8.4 and pre-order a solid gold Apple Watch.

Reporter: The preliminary plans for the home look stunning. Our readers want to know how you decided what the size of the house would be.

Barb: I have become a huge fan of “Tiny House Hunters” on HGTV. I decided that if  families of 12 could live in a 300 sq ft home, I could downsize a bit too. My original plans were for a 15 ft x 15 ft single room hacienda, but my husband objected, pointing out there might not be enough room for the 80 inch curved screen HDTV he wanted and the extended designer sink I had chosen.  So we compromised.  The sink will stay, the TV will go and the house will grow.

Reporter: You have hired an interior designer, but what other influences will you use when decorating the home?

Barb: I love the Internet for eyeing things. You can go from site to site, picture to picture and then swipe left or swipe right…no wait, that is for something else.

Houzz is a great website to wander through for design ideas. And I love the Merchandise Mart, also a great place to wander through. Lots of items on display, knowledgeable help and all the latest styles. On the other hand, I will not be wandering through IKEA, Value City, or (shudder) The Dump.

Reporter: Many of our readers are approaching the empty nester stage. Your children grew up in your current home. How do they feel about your moving out?

Barb: Oops, we forgot to ask them. But they are welcome to any memorabilia they want to pack up and cart off. We take no responsibility for autographed baseballs or valuable baseball cards, First Place or Participation trophies, R.L. Stine books with missing pages or American Girl dolls with missing limbs. We can share custody of “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teenagers.”

Reporter: The new house looks like it is designed to entertain in. Have you planned your first dinner party?

Barb: Mr. N. Diamond, Mr. K. Costner and Mr. B. Cooper have all accepted invitations. None of them were asked to bring a “Plus One”. I believe my husband will be out-of-town that evening.

Reporter: Swipe right.

POST 15 Don’t Know Much Topography

barb3My impatience was rewarded. Sunday. Barb and I had a lengthy kitchen table meeting with “B” our architect and “M” our builder. The design process is incremental, step-by-step, but it is progressing.

Via E-mail, B had not been particularly enthusiastic about the revision to the interior we had devised last week, but when we explained it in person, and he was able to draw it to scale, he understood the advantages. Another “Great Minds Think Alike (and therefore agree with us) Moment.”

Turning  to the exterior, lots of discussion, lots of ideas suggested and discarded. We have moved away from our Board and Batten concept, recognizing that it would look out-of-place in the subdivision. Although I don’t anticipate any problems from the Homeowner’s Association Architectural Committee, we don’t want to present to them anything that will not blend with the styles currently in place. After all, we are the last house to be built and we don’t want to be a sore thumb, even with Barb’s talents as a hand therapist.

So we are looking at various combinations of stone, stucco and brick. B has definite opinions, while M says he will build it anyway we want. B and M, our design/build dynamic duo,  have quite contrasting styles. As an architect, B wants every detail drawn and redrawn until we are all comfortable with the design, know every dimension and every angle. He is happy to make changes now. M is less worried about the lines on the page. His experience as a builder of spec homes is more organic and concrete. He gets more of a sense as the walls go up and he interacts with the sub-contractors. He doesn’t mind moving a wall at the carpenter’s suggestion. Barb and I just hope a little creative tension will bring out the best in everyone’s talents!

Our meeting concluded with some interesting observations that none of us were expecting. Barb and I have been ignoring the topographic map, the series of barely visible lines that wander across our site survey. I vaguely understood that the “657” indicated feet above sea level, and that the closer the squigglies were to each other, the steeper the rise or fall of the land. But I hadn’t thought about any impact this would have. What we all determined yesterday was that by the time we were done pinpointing where on the lot the house will lay, and how it should fall on a North/South axis, we had effected how high doors at the rear of the house will be above the ground. Out goes the cedar deck, in comes a paver patio. A change we can live with, and might even prefer.

I had the chance to chat with a few blog readers this weekend. Glad to hear you are enjoying following along. Please keep comments coming. Barb and I always want to hear from you. Design and construction tips are always welcome, as are any other construction tales. The more interactive we can get, the more fun the journey will be.

POST 14 Is Keepin me Wai-ai-ai-ai-aaaaiting

Carly and James

Newton’s Narrative of Collisions: Actions and reactions keep on clicking!

Moore’s Maxim of Computers: Microchips keep getting faster!

Peter’s Principle of Companies: People keep on rising!

Raff’s Rule of Construction: Nothing ever happens.

I must be patient. I know the architect is working on the plans. I believe the bank is working on the financing. And I hope the attorney is working on the contract. But it feels like months (actually 4 weeks) since we closed on the property and I am filled with the energy of wanting to see a home bloom in the desert, or at least on a vacant lot in Riverwoods.

We know the importance of taking our time. Remodeling space for the laboratory took half a year of planning days and sleepless nights. Barb spent nine months  planning our kitchen makeover, resulting in straight forward construction and a perfect end result. But I want this project to be zooming ahead, 8 cylinders clicking along, with a turbo boost when needed. I never foresee the hold ups and delays, so I am blindsided every time the bank says they require one more document, or a room needs to have one more revision.

I can wait half an hour to be seated at Cheesecake Factory for a Skinny Menu salad without too much grumbling. I don’t need to search for the shortest line at the local Whole Foods. And I don’t mind taking a number and waiting my turn at the deli. But I want this house to happen!

My outlook needs a makeover. I need to delete the exclamation points, ease back on the throttle and let my blood pressure flatten out a bit. Writing helps with that, so thank you faithful readers. The house will be built, and in the meantime there are lovely days to enjoy, happy events to celebrate and a wonderful wife to envision the future with. These ARE the good old days.

But when you are looking forward to the last grilled beef, turkey or tofu burger of the summer, and waiting ever so impatiently for the last dollop of ketchup to ever so slowly drip out of the bottle remember, it could be worse. You could be building your dream house.  ketchup

Have a great weekend. Be sure to leave a comment here or on Facebook. And feel free to hit the “Share” arrow!

POST 13 Hope You Guessed My Name

stonesThe first rendering of the new house exterior has arrived!  Our architect sent it in an email yesterday. It is a fairly simple line drawing, inspired by a particular house Barb had identified. The drawing was faithful to the model, but Barb printed it out, grabbed a magic marker and with a few quick strokes transformed it into something special. If my dream job growing up was in journalism (you can look it up in the 1968 Eugene Field School Reporter), Barb’s was surely in architecture and design. I know she is an excellent therapist, but she would have been outstanding in a more visually creative realm. The new house will be her outlet for letting it all flow.

I have noticed that I keep referring to it as “the new house”. For a few years, Barb and I had a casual acquaintance in England, Ken Somethingorother. instead of an address, his home, like so many in the UK had a lovely name, Lambourne Cottage or the like. I enjoyed writing the name out as we addressed our annual holiday greeting card. We don’t name our houses here, which may be just as well for the two of us.

We have had our ups and downs with naming things. As mentioned a few posts ago, our cat went through a new name a week for quite a while before we settled on Phoebe, a name never used when speaking to her. The notifications from the vet that she is due for her annual physical are still addressed to Cinnamon.  And our daughter was “Unnamed Female Raff” for several days after her birth, until our friend Lysie finally suggested the name Laury. The unique spelling was inadvertent, a reflection of my recollection of the pizzeria on Lawrence and Broadway in the city. Only later did  I realize the actual name of the restaurant was “Laurie’s”.

On the other hand, we have had some naming successes. When Barb was President of the Holy Family Hospital Medical Center Women’s Board the group sponsored a Roaring ’20s night formal dinner-dance. I dubbed the event “Capone and Caviar”, and was quite pleased to see it top the Sun-Times list of “Best Named Charity Events of the Year”.  I didn’t even know there was such a list! Probably the best name I ever devised has gone unused. As part of the merger mania in health care, two Catholic systems Provena and Resurrection joined forces. In my opinion, what is now known as Presence Health would have made a much bigger impact as ProRection. Perhaps they would have used the name if the head of the system was a urologist instead of a nun.

Now I have the fun and challenge of naming each of these blogs. Most of the titles are references in some way to pop culture, usually a bit of a twist on song lyrics. That is something I can claim some expertise in, as long as it is a tune they play on WXRT or The Drive.       …so if you meet me, have some courtesy…….

Speaking of names, please leave yours in the comment field. We would love to know who is reading!

Enjoy the day!

POST 12 Well I’m takin’ my time, I’m just movin’ on

Although we won’t be moving for another year or so, Barb and I have agreed to tackle one room a week, winnowing down 25 years of accumulation to make next year a little easier. Some rooms, like  our bonus room, should be straightforward. Mostly exercise equipment and luggage. Until we discover the long forgotten,  faded photo album, the B’nai Mitzvah banners (Be Like Mike, Laury’s Jungleland), the remnants of our incredible African photo safari. Neither of us are pack rats, but it is still hard to let these things go. We have lost hours looking through the proofs from out wedding photos, feeling the warmth in the smiles emanating from people like our parents and my sister who shared our happiness but are no longer with us. And yes, I could accept tossing my college yearbook, but not before I flipped pages for half an hour searching in vain for the owner of a Chicago sports team, who according to his bio, was a classmate of mine.

I guess each room will have some secret treasure, mixed in with the items that seemed valuable once, but that we can’t at all remember what we saved for. We will fill lots of big black garbage bags and spend many hours on Thursday nights carrying them to the curb.

In a way, that is what this blog is about. It is 10 days old now, with 500 page views, I enjoy writing and the personal feedback Barb and I have received. But I understand now that the true value will be as a documentation of this time in our lives, this very important transition. Fortunately, the documentation is so ephemeral, just images on a screen, that I don’t think we will have to toss them to the curb when the next downsize comes. Our memories will become part of the cloud.

This blog has strayed a bit from previous ones. With that in mind, please answer our poll question, or feel free to leave comments here, on Facebook, or in person.

Hoping the rain storms have passed you all by!

POST 11 Imagine if you can…

Barb on the LotWhere does inspiration come from? What process takes us from this 1/2 acre of potential to the house we want to spend the next phase of our life on?


I am pretty good at the function variable in the equation. I know how I like to use things, I know what I want accessible and what can be buried in the remotest part of the basement. I can work on the puzzle of where each room should be. Design, however, is not my thing. At first it seems like a contradiction, since I spend my professional life peering down a microscope evaluating patterns in the cells and tissues I see stained a brilliant purple and pinkOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But evaluating and recognizing various patterns is far different from being able to stand on our new space and visualize where to dig, where to pour a foundation, where the exterior walls will be. That is something I have a hard time wrapping my concrete brain around.

Barb, on the other hand, is enthralled by the challenge. She possess the ability to look at hundreds of images, mentally process them, and from that create a vision of what our new home should be. The vision changes as new information comes her way, and she will not be satisfied until she has gathered as much of that new information, the magazine pictures, the online bits and bytes, the HGTV shows, as she can. She has concentration abilities and patience I can never match. To paraphrase Malcolm Gladwell and other researchers, Barb is a “think”, while I am a “blink”.

We have spent the last few weekends driving through a couple of suburbs, widely separated geographically and economically, but both with lots of newish construction. I see a house and say “I like that one”; Barb sees a house and imagines how the stone and the brick and the roofing can be altered, the color tones brightened or muted, the front door redesigned.  And I know she is seeing our future, and the relentless pursuit of something far beyond what I could imagine. I guess that is why for 36 years our formula has been


POST 10 It Takes a Village

Our children may have moved out long ago, but we are not truly empty-nesters. If you know us, you know how important our pets are to us. We start with Max, our massive, aging, sheepdog-lab-chow-retriever, his black coat greying, and his mighty back sagging a bit, and finish with Cinnamon, Kalise, Princess, Phoebe, our sleek kitten of many names. We have to consider them when we design the house too!  As Boris said to Natasha, “What about the Moose and Squirrel??”

We hope the move will be good for Max. We know as he continues to age that the climb up the stairs to our bedroom is becoming more of a chore. The first floor master will save his joints as much as all the  medications he is on do, and hopefully keep him comfortable for a few bonus years. And the big pond adjacent to the new house will keep him entertained with ducks and geese. We don’t plan to install an electric fence, just plant some pennants around the yard perimeter and shout “Look out” any time he gets too close. His Pavlovian training should kick in at that point, keeping him on our property. We will be sure to continue subscribing to a morning newspaper, since fetching it and bringing it to  Barb every morning leaves a big dog smile on his face. We just hope print media will continue to exist as long as our Max is around.

As for Phoebe, we know she is adaptable enough to enjoy any floor plan. But we need a place for her litter box(es). When we saw the architects drawings the other day we realized that other than the master bathroom, the bathroom spaces are a little tight, not only for a litter box, but for general use as well. Barb and I burned the midnight oil last night, imbibed some caffeine, and redesigned what I call the “core” of the house. We found a way to expand the powder room and guest bathroom, and make the office/library space a little more functional. The litter box is going to wind up in the basement, but the “Phoeber” loves racing down stairs at Mach 1, and since either Barb of I will be going to the basement exercise room daily, keeping it fresh won’t be a hardship. The only hardship is convincing the architect about the new plan!

Don’t forget to leave a comment about anything you have read. Suggestions for making our journey an even more rewarding one are always welcome.

POST 9 Four Paragraphs and a Question

This is the third house we have built. The first, in what was then a new subdivision in Arlington Heights, was the home our children were born in, where our family really got started. Living the American Dream! The builder had 5 plans, we picked one, and then got to choose carpet colors and not much else. I remember a Sunday afternoon in the basement of one of the model homes, discussing various building issues with other member of the “Move In Class of ’83”. We suspected the builder had made the model home slightly larger than the specs, but someone had a tape measure, and we verified that the model home was actually pretty accurate.

Seven years down the road, when we outgrew the kitchen of house #1, we migrated to our current home. Another brand new development, but this time in Long Grove. Larger lots, more choices. This time too the builder had several models, but now we were able to modify the blueprints to a much greater extent. We added some footage here, the bonus room there. A wonderful life and wonderful memories in this house. But architecturally, it was still the builders plan, and we can point to houses on the street that were built off the same model.

This time it is different. This is all about how we want to live now, what spaces we consider important, how we anticipate our needs to change as we enter the next phase of life. We started with a floor plan of a house we liked, then tore it apart and reassembled it, as the ranch become two stories. Working with the architect, we control where every corner will be, how long each wall should be. We create spaces and then tear them down. It is a challenge, a puzzle, a creative experience. All of Barb’s creative experience, through two houses and innumerable remodels, are being put to the test.  It is hard and we will struggle with it, but deep down we love doing it.

Yesterday Barb met with the interior designer, who we are pleased to say verified our results. She loves the plan! Of course, since yesterday’s meeting, Barb and I have made newer, fresher modifications. Would you expect anything less? We are scheduled to meet with the architect tonight. It is tricky for Barb and I to predict how changes we envision will affect the exterior, and particularly the roof line. That is what the professionals are for!

Now I have a question for whomever is reading this blog. Lots of people have told us they have enjoyed reading it, I get a kick out of writing it. And I am sure Barb will scribe some passages too. But it has been suggested to us that this blog, particularly the first few parts, may make it difficult to sell our house next year. I am soliciting opinions on this. Let us know what you think by leaving a comment. By the way, you can leave comments without including your email or contact information.  But feel free to tell us who you are in your comment.