How Far We’ve Come

For those unfamiliar with what it has been like growing up as a Cubs fan or as a reminder for those who have, here is a recap of the journey to where we are today.  I’ll go back a little further than our general collective memory just because.

From 1947 to 1966, they had a losing record every season and never placed better than 5th place. This included two 103-loss seasons.

From 1967 to 1972, they placed in either second or third place.

In 1969, the Cubs went from a 9.5 game lead in mid-August to a 8 game deficit to the New York Mets by the end of the season They missed their chance at the playoffs despite finishing with 92 wins.

From 1973 to 1983, they had an even or losing record each season and normally placed in the lower half of the division.

In 1984, they returned to the playoffs after a 39 year drought. Playing against the San Diego Padres, they took a 2-0 lead in a best of five series. They proceeded to lose the series in three straight heart-wrenching games in San Diego.

From 1985 to 1988, they again had losing seasons and placed in the lower half of the division.

In 1989, they advanced to the playoffs and lost to the San Francisco Giants 4 games to 1.

From 1990 to 1997, they only recorded one winning season and even had a 0.420 winning percentage in 1997.

In 1998, they advanced to the playoffs as the wild card by beating the San Francisco Giants in a one-game playoff. But they were then swept by the Atlanta Braves in three games getting outscored 15-4.

From 1999 to 2002, they had three seasons with less than 68 wins.

In 2003, the Cubs came five outs away from the World Series. They beat Atlanta in a best of five series in the first round. While playing the Florida Marlins, they were up 3 games to 2 and had a 3-0 lead in the sixth game with only 5 outs needed to advance.  Florida proceeded to score 8 runs and would win both that game and the deciding game seven.

From 2004 to 2006, the Cubs remained fairly competitive with only one 96-loss season.

In 2007 and 2008, they reached the playoffs both years, but were swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants respectively.

From 2009 to 2014, they only had one winning season including a 101 loss season in 2012

In 2015, the Cubs won the one-game wild card playoff, then beat the St Louis Cardinals 3 games to 1.  But they were then swept by the New York Mets in four games.

In 2016, the Cubs have so far beaten the San Francisco Giants 3 games to 1 in the first series and now they have beaten the Los Angeles Dodgers 4 games to 2 to advance to the World Series

So in summary, over the 70 seasons since the last World Series appearance, the Cubs have only had 23 winning seasons. When they have finally made it to the playoffs, they have only won 2 of 9 series. Of those 7 lost series, they were swept in 4 of them and had heartbreaking losses in 1984 and 2003.

So now you can see why the win last night to advance to the World Series was so special to long suffering Cubs fans.  Now there are only 4 wins left.


So yesterday I completed my fifth marathon. It was a much more difficult journey than my previous four marathons filled with uncertainty up until the final miles of the race. It was my fourth time running the Chicago Marathon and my third running on my own.

My first was the Chicago Marathon in 1989 at 18 years old during my freshman year in college. My training consisted of running in the cornfields south of the university during the heat of the early fall in central Illinois. During the marathon, I started cramping soon near the 22 mile mark, but finished with a time of 4:07.

My second was another Chicago marathon in 1999 at 28 years old. I wanted to run another marathon before I turned 30 and hoped to break the four hour mark. Again, I started cramping after the 20 mile mark and finished with a time 0f 4:13.

In 2001, my mother was running her 50th marathon, so I joined her. Honestly, I didn’t push myself with the training speed-wise since she runs slower than I do. During the race, she had some bad side effects from a medication she was taking and could only run in limited spurts. We finished with a time of 5:36.

During the time after this race, I started to feel that it’s quite likely that I wouldn’t run another marathon. I’d already run three, which is more than most people, and there is quite a bit of sacrifice and preparation involved. For fall marathons, most of your summer revolves around the training and one day per weekend is occupied running and recovering from a long run.

Again in 2011, my mother was running a marathon in Maine while we were living in Montreal. Again I trained focused on completing the distance and not on speed. Unfortunately, she was having much difficulty with her hips and we walked much more than we ran. We completed the marathon in over seven hours.

So sometime last year, I got to thinking. What could I do that is over and above ‘just’ running another marathon. My mother has run ultra-marathons such as a 50-miler and she attempted 100-milers a couple times and was able to complete 70 and 90 miles in them. I was there for both of those and ran 10 miles with her in each in the middle of the night. There’s a mystique about it running in the forest in the middle of the night and the assemblage of participants and supporters. But those types of races are for those who live and breathe distance running like her.

Twenty years ago there was another race that she ran. The Pikes Peak Marathon. It is a marathon, run in the forest from the base of the mountain to the top and back. In addition to the marathon distance, it is an 8000 foot climb and descent. After checking out the registration for the race, you need to have completed a marathon under 5:45 within the last three years. So my plan was to run a fall marathon in order to achieve that time.

My training basically started at zero and I made progress, but there were many obstacles. While I do a fair amount of walking and ride my bike to work most of the summer, it’s not the same as running. My first runs were only a mile and I could not run more than a block. I slowly increase my distance, but started to have recurring pains in my calves. The calf would tighten up and I would have pain from then until two to four days later. I didn’t know exactly what it was or what was causing it. I tried multiple things to avoid them, but more rest between runs seemed to be the best prevention. I think it must have been tendinitis. The rest worked and it seemed to go away, but then it started getting hot outside. On three occasions I got heat exhaustion. Again, I made modifications such as being properly hydrated and introducing methods of cooling down. But I was not completing my long runs and it was getting to the point that I only had a few long runs left. Finally, I completed my 16 miler, then the 18 miler, and finally the 20 miler.

It seemed that I could coast until the marathon. But I bought some new shoes and my calf problems came back after the two runs with them. So I switched back to my old shoes, but I was still was only able to finish two miles into an 8 mile run just one week before the marathon. So I resolved to avoid running all week until the marathon. But then on Wednesday while bending over to cut my toe nails, I felt a spasm in my lower back. For the following days I had lower back pain and difficulty rising from a seated position. In the final days before the marathon, I seriously questioned if I’d be well enough to actually run the race. I’d already been wondering if my calves would act up during the marathon. The night before I took a couple ibuprofen and an analgesic patch on my lower back and hoped for the best.

The morning of the marathon, I felt pretty good and followed my normal routine with limited stretching adding two more ibuprofen and another analgesic patch. The cool morning was a bit of concern for cramping, but I dressed warmer than normal to keep everything toasty to prevent cramping. The race started well and I was slightly faster than my target pace. But occasionally, I’d feel a twinge in one of my calves. I’d slow down a bit and adjust and it would go away. This happened repeatedly on one calf or the other, but would go away. But then at mile 12, I felt a pop in the right calf. I thought this could be it. If this is bad enough, I’d never be able to keep the pace needed to finish below my target time. Given that this is what all that training was working toward, I pressed on and surprisingly it did not affect my pace despite a dull pain.

I kept ticking off the miles keeping below the pace that I had determined would allow me to get in under my goal time of 5:30. I was getting a bit fatigued and spent some walking breaks and started thinking if there would be one point where I could just walk fast and still get the 5:45 time I needed to qualify for Pike’s Peak. So for over a mile, I mostly walked, but began to think that I might be taking too much of a chance. Maybe something will cramp up and I wouldn’t be able to walk fast. It’s not like I had to walk and running would give me a better finish time. Plus I figured that I’m feeling fine, so why not just go for it and get the best time I can.  So I started running again and what surprised me is that it was still the same pace that I had been running earlier in the race. I had assumed that my pace would slow later in the race much like I had during my training runs. So I ran the final four miles and finished under my goal of 5:30 with a 5:23 time.

You can see that it seems that I was very lucky to complete the marathon with a number of obstacles that could have kept me from finishing. Plus, it really surprises me that I was able to finish that strong. I hadn’t done that in previous marathons.

But it reminded me how difficult the Pikes Peak marathon will be and how much more I need to train for it. Now onto the next step.

Car Problems

One of the ordeals we had to deal with concurrent with the acquisition of Nathalie’s visa was importing our car to the US from Canada.  It was a minor headache compared to the visa problems, but it didn’t help having to deal with both at the same time.  Luckily although both were big problems, they were the only problems encountered during the move.

Earlier last year, a few months before the move, I started doing research on what was necessary to import our car to the US that we had bought in Canada.  As with most things that involve bureaucracy, it was unclear what was necessary.  I searched through the websites on multiple occasions and determined that we would likely need to fill out paperwork and maybe pay some fees when crossing the border with the car.  A letter from the manufacturer stating that the car met safety standards would be necessary.  But it would be up to the border agent whether the paperwork and fees would be necessary.  So I proceeded to contact Hyundai and they sent a letter stating that it meets Canadian safety standards.

In June when I moved the bulk of our stuff to the US, the car stayed in Canada with my wife and kids so they would have transportation.  Since I would be living in the city, I would not need a car much and could take public transportation.  In August when I brought the girls to Chicago, I also brought the remainder of our stuff along with the car.  I was incredibly nervous as we approached the border. The best case scenario in my mind was that they would just wave us through without any paperwork. The worst case scenario was that they would reject our entry of the car into the states and I would be forced to drive all the way back to Montreal and find an alternate way back to Chicago with the girls.  When we pulled up to the customs officer, I stated that I am bringing my daughters, some personal items, and I am importing the car to the US.  He took a bit longer than usual, then waved us through.  I was elated that we made it through without incident.

The next week after returning to the US, I took the car to the department of motor vehicles to transfer the title and get plates.  Since they had never seen the Quebec title registration, they told me to get a letter from my wife stating that I could transfer the vehicle on her behalf and to fill out some forms.  So I sent the forms back to my wife in Montreal by regular mail.  Unfortunately that took over two weeks and she was forced to send back the signed forms by FedEx.  So then I returned to the department of motor vehicles and after looking through the forms, they said that I needed to contact the port authority in order to get a letter stating that the car has officially been imported.  The port authority then suggested that I go through a customs house.  Now given that I had been having so much trouble with the acquisition of the visa, I felt it was no longer worth it to try doing these things myself, so I contacted one of the customs houses. They pointed out that I needed a letter from the Canadian manufacturer stating that the car meets US highway and EPA standards. I tried multiple times contacting both the Canadian and US manufacturers of Hyundai to see how to get this letter. It soon became apparent that the Canadian manufacturer would not issue a letter stating that their car meets US standards and the US manufacturer would not issue a letter stating that the Canadian car meets US standards.

So without the letter needed to import the car, we were left with no choice but to repatriate the car to Canada and sell it there.  Then return to the US and buy a car to replace it. One lucky break was that my wife was still in Montreal and would have two weeks in order to sell the car.  But the ordeal did not end there.  The port authority required that I have a customs officer sign a paper to state that I had re-exported the car to Canada.  I started to research how I could possibly do this. Most of the big border stations like at Detroit do not allow you to pull over to the border station on your side of the border. But since I had worked on some of the smaller stations near the Canadian border with New York and Vermont, I knew that those would allow this to be done.  So that’s what I did.  I pulled up to a station in New York state and asked them to sign a form stating that I was exporting the car.  They thought is was ridiculous since I could cross the border, drive 20 miles over the the next station, and bring it right back in.  Luckily it was during working hours so my contact at the port authority (the guy who required this) was still at work and talked to the agent in order to get what he wanted.  It meant spending over an hour in a house converted into a border station, but I didn’t care if it cleared things up.  But that, again, was still not the end of the ordeal.

Once the car was back in Canada, my wife began the process of selling it.  We tried a dealer, but he offer half of what we eventually got.  She got a good offer and had me sign the necessary paperwork for her to sell it on her own.  But once they got to the department of motor vehicle, the agent found out that I had missed a signature.  Fortunately the buyer did not walk away and could wait until my return to Canada the following weekend.  So we return to the department of motor vehicles the following weekend, we had a minor panic since I forgot my Quebec drivers license at home, but in the end the title is transferred.  But once again the ordeal is not over.  We asked the buyer to come with us to the bank to be sure that the check clears and given our luck, our bank found that the cashier’s check was never signed by the bank.  So we drove back to the buyers bank, they issued another cashier’s check, we return to our bank, and finally the ordeal was over.  This was resolved around the same time as the visa issues so it made for a time of great relief.

Given this ordeal, I will never buy a Hyundai again.  At one point I talked with someone at the EPA and they told me that Hyundai, Kia, and Chrysler are the only companies that do not issue letters of compliance between the US and Canada.  He was surprised since every other manufacturer seems to have no problem issuing these. Since Honda was always a brand that I had admired and since we have a relative working at a dealership, we bought a similar model from the same year (6 years old).  We don’t need a new car since our driving needs have greatly diminished since moving to the city.  It was difficult to have this happen concurrently with the visa problems, but it made it all the more sweeter when they were resolved at almost the same time.

Gordon Tech and DePaul

I’m taking a small break from the current string of posts on this blog to talk about a current issue regarding my alma mater, Gordon Tech.  Tonight a public forum was held to discuss the possibility of changing the name of the school in an effort to increase enrollment.  In order to inform my fellow alums and to document what happened, I thought I’d write down what happened.

First, the chairperson of the rebranding task force, Mary Dempsey, addressed misinformation circulated both in the press and social media.  Contrary to what was quoted by Adrian Cazares in the Sun Times about the school, they had not painted the school DePaul blue and taken down all Gordon Tech related items.  Also the principal is not in the process of being replaced. Sadly this negative information is hurting the reputation of the school and it was irresponsible that the paper published that information.  The head of the task force then stated that the name change was a consideration and that they have been holding these forums with local principals, current and prospective parents, and teachers to understand what steps could be taken to improve the school and increase enrollment.

Second, another member of the task force (sorry, I didn’t take down the name) relayed the results of two studies. One undertaken  in 2011 around the low point of an enrollment of about 350 students and the other over the past few months.  Note that the current enrollment is at 540 students with the increase attributed to the addition of DePaul as a partner and the addition of a well-regarded principal and president.  The results of the first survey was that the impression and reputation of Gordon Tech has dropped.  According to those surveyed, it is not considered a first or second tier school.  The second survey asked participants what hindered them from feeling that Gordon was ranked higher.  Academic performance was the top point, lackluster facilities was another reason and the name Gordon Tech was also given as a reason.  My personal take is that the reputation of the name Gordon Tech has taken a heavy hit over these recent lackluster years and it will take a fair amount of effort to overcome that.

The mike was then opened up for the alums to help provide solutions and thoughts on how to bring the school out of this tough period.  As with any open forum, there were some personal attacks, misdirected attacks at those trying to help the school, pleas against changing the name, and personal stories of time at Gordon and their subsequent achievements.  But the best speakers where those with perspectives on what has gone wrong and what could be done to improve the school.  One point that caught hold and was repeated often was that if there is a total name change at Gordon, the alumni support will dry up. Who would support a school with which they have no name recognition?  Another point was the lack of communication with the alumni.  Many pointed out that by improving alumni relations, many will be more willing to offer financial support. I know that that communication with alumni over the last ten years has dried up. I was very disappointed at my 20 year reunion because out of a class of 450, we barely had enough to fill two tables. Part of that had to do with the economy at the time, but I know I basically had to run after the school to find out about it and get signed up.  Many of the alumni said that if the school would be in better contact, they would eagerly donate their time, skills, and money to support the school.

Although the survey news was disappointing, I came away with strong feeling that things will turn around soon at the school.  There is a principal, president, and board of directors who are engaged in improving the school.  This happened recently at both the Bell Elementary School and Coonley Elementary School and both are now sought out by parents.  It was nice to see the enthusiasm by the alumni and their interest in being active at the school.  Hopefully the school will improve their communication with the alums along with the surrounding community.  The addition of DePaul as a partner is a big step toward improving the school.  Either no change in name or a hybrid name change like Gordon DePaul Academy should be considered.

On a side note, the task force reiterated many times that the effort to improve the school is not to change it to an elitist school.  Their goal is a balanced school which they will work hard toward achieving. I feel that academics must be improved, but it must remain in tandem with technical aspects of the school. The one reason I chose Gordon over St Bens was due to the technical aspect. I could take high level classes and take drafting or wood shop if I wanted.  I was not relegated to only college prep.  It is why after graduating I chose the path of architecture and was able to transition into engineering.  Having those options along with a strong sports program are what will make a well rounded school that stands apart.

Physical Move Completed

It has been a while since I’ve posted anything, but once our family was reunited in Chicago, we spent time getting settled and more organized.  So blog writing took a back seat. Now that things have slowed down a bit and I have a resolution to complete return to blogging, I am finally recounting those final days in Montreal.

As I said in the last post, we finally got approval for my wife’s visa.  The light was at the end of the tunnel.  Fortunately we had already booked a flight to Montreal to visit my wife.  But instead of just returning without her this time, we booked a one-way ticket for her to join us.  It was an emotional weekend as you could expect.  We had some business to finish with our car. I will address that in another post since it is quite a long story.  For the four of us there was some electricity in the air. After a long hard delay it was finally going to happen.  Our former neighbor and friend let us stay at her place since she was going to be away. That added a bit of surrealism to the weekend since we were next door to our former home and we were still in our old neighborhood. We had a goodbye get together that got a bit emotional.  I met up with friends but unfortunately did not feel well and did not stay as long as I would have liked. Then we finally boarded the plane as a family.

I had pictured us arriving by car with all our stuff watching the skyline grow in front of us, so arriving by plane was not a momentous, but at that point I didn’t care. We were incredibly nervous for that final pass through customs, but that was thankfully unmomentous.  That evening was spent presenting our new apartment to my wife.  She had only seen the place through pictures, videos, and a Skype walk-through, so thankfully she approved of the place.  The next day was spent showing her the neighborhood and our routine before she arrived.  It was so nice to be back together again and to be fully functioning.  We could finally start to see what our new life would be.


So Nathalie had her visa interview last Friday morning. As could be expected we were all a bit nervous about it as we would have been normally, but maybe a bit more given the difficulties to date.  We prepared ourselves, drove into town, parked the car, and arrived at the consulate.  At the door we were informed that the kids could not accompany us into the consulate, so since I was the only one available to watch them, my wife had to go to the interview alone.  Normally, this would not be a big deal, but I have been the only one handling the file and the only one who knew everything about the file.  Granted, we had all the necessary papers in a folder, but it would be easier if I was present.  So that added a huge level of stress for Nathalie.  Luckily, she ended up waiting about an hour for the interview, so she had the time to get familiar with the file.  After about two hours of waiting, I finally got the call that her visa had been approved.  The interview went very well.

But she will not get the visa for another 7 to 10 days while they finish processing the file.  While we were a bit disappointed that she would not be coming home with us again, it does allow all of us to take care of some things in the interim.  Plus we already have tickets to visit Montreal over the Columbus Day weekend, so we just bought a one-way ticket for her to come with us on the return trip.  We are just happy to have an end date.

The other order of business during our visit to Montreal was to sell the car.  We went to a used car dealer our first night there and they offered us half of what we have been seeing the same make/model/year going for on the internet.  We did kinda expect that, but we still hoped they would offer a bit more.  Since my wife will be in Montreal for the next couple weeks, she will try to sell it for more.  Nathalie will also spend the time to finish her portfolio and make some money on jewelry that she has been selling to a fashion designer.

One concern of mine was finding a rental car to return to Chicago. My internet searches were not showing any cars available before Monday which would mean taking off a couple more days.  Luckily that was not the case and we were able to get a car when we needed it to return by Sunday evening.  We brought back the remainder of our things, so now there is only Nathalie and a suitcase with her clothes left over there.

As you can expect it was such a relief to complete this milestone and have an end date.  We could now freely talk about future plans without any sadness due to not knowing when it would happen.  In some ways, it is now starting to really feel real.  It was our final hurdle and we will soon be able to enjoy the results of all our efforts during the move and enjoy our new environs as a family.

The End is Near

I was not planning on posting this until after the fact, but the news is just too good to keep to ourselves.

At the end of last week we received the date of Nathalie’s interview.  Now I had read that the normal anticipated date for the interview would be about 7 weeks after the Consulate receives the file from the Visa Center.  That would have meant an interview in early to mid-November. Two weeks ago when we received notice from the Visa Center, they noted that the Consulate had accepted to expedite the file.  Despite that glimmer of hope, we were still blown away to receive an interview date in only one week (this Friday).  Now I have heard that sometimes they hand over the visa at the completion of the interview, but I’m not holding my breath. Indications on the website suggest that it could be a week and a half before Nathalie actually receives it.  That still puts this at a completion date before Columbus day.  In an odd twist, the kids and I have plane tickets to visit Montreal that weekend, so if it drags out that long, we may be coming back with Nathalie.

But of course there has been an odd twist unrelated to our visa difficulties.  After a month of trying to import our car, we have been refused. Part of that month long ordeal was due to misdirection by the department of motor vehicles who initially indicated that completing some forms would be sufficient.  The problem is that Hyundai refuses to give a letter stating that the car meets US standards.  Apparently they are one of the only three (Kia and Chrysler being the others) who do not provide these letters.  Needless to say, I will never buy another or recommend a Hyundai. The car was decent, but their service while we were in Quebec was lackluster.  We could work with an importer to have the car verified to meet US standards, but that could cost $2000.  So we are driving the car back to Canada to sell it, then come back and buy another car.  In the end, we will still be losing $2000 or more doing it this way.

There is also some logistics of actually selling it during our time in Montreal and renting a car to come back. So this trip has many different tasks that could make it challenging if any one of them don’t go well.  We should have a better indication of everything come Friday night.

In honesty, I just want it all to be done and over, even if we lose some money in the process.  I’m tired of spending hours on the phone chasing down answers to questions. Or dealing with the uncertainty of when everything will be resolved.  I’m tired of basically treading water waiting for the return to a fully functional family.

But at least it is starting to feel good to see that the end is near.