Thursday, December 30, 2004

So we're not done done (and if there's one thing I've figured out about home ownership in the past 2 weeks it's that you're never actually done), but we're pretty much done. Every day I went over a list of "open items" with the contractor and today, there were no items left on the list.

Things are pretty much in the place they'll be for the next 20-30 years, I suppose. I think about that sometimes.

The family we bought the house from were in their mid-late sixties. Who knows what will happen, of course, but I feel like when I'm putting something in a drawer in the utility room or deciding where a bookshelf is going, there's a decent chance that someday, many years from now, it's from that exact same place that Tamar or I will remove it. Inertia is a pretty strong force. That's why I told Tamar that we had to unpack our boxes by Jan. 1st. If we weren't done, I knew those boxes would be there for the next 20 years.

Well, we moved in with about 60 and now there are only 3 left. There are a handful of items remaining, but now, we move from the "la-la land" of playing house and spending money like it's going out of style (we did some work on the house-my basic philosophy being it's much better to rip out walls and create dust for major infrastructure projects now than to disrupt our lives at some point in the future) to a family with a mortgage and a budget to live by.

Beyond that though is the thought that this is where the Epstein family will grow into itself. The first night we slept in the house and we put Calanit to sleep, we both cried. It's as if this house is a ship and with it, we will travel the rocky seas of life together.

I knew all along that the house would become an emotional purchase and now that the walls are painted, the rugs are down, the pictures are up, and of course, my little "man cave" of technology mission control is set up, I've finally allowed myself to feel that.

Now, we can get on with the business of life, as it were. I think about the rooms and the moments, both glad and sad, that we will inevitably experience in them. When Tamar is out and Calanit is asleep, I stand in the middle of the kitchen and listen to the sound of the house, looking out towards the the backyard, our backyard (well, the bank's, but you know what I mean) and think about what the future will bring.

There are times when I feel unworthy of this house. That it's such a blessing and we don't deserve the good fortune. When will the other shoe drop? Then, I just take a breath and appreciate where we are, when we are there.

Monday, December 27, 2004

It's a 3 Truck Day

Before we moved into the house, my cousin Lee from Ohio gave me advice of an indicator to know how expensive home ownership is at a given point in time. He said, 'look at your window and count the number of trucks, that'll tell you how much it's going to cost you."

Well, today is a 3 truck day for us. We've got the contractors here and the security alarm system being installed. My cousin, Barry from Dallas, who knows the home security alarm system as well as anyone said, "look, you live in a safe neighborhood, but sometime, someone is going to try and come into your house. Then, you're going to have a security system installed, so why not save yourself the hassle and stress and just do it now." So, that's what we're doing...

The moving day and pre-moving days were 4 truck days and we've been hovering at around an average of 1.5, I'd say.

On a different note, even though I've realized that homeownership is a never-ending project, Tamar and I have made tremendous strides in unpacking. We've got all but 5 or 6 of our 60+ boxes processed and thrown out (such a shame, but we couldn't find others to whom to give them) and our goal all along has been to have most things ready by the time I go back to work on Tues. the 4th. Well, I'm working this week, but it's a different feel when you send an email and no one responds...

Sunday, December 26, 2004

A house of immigrants Part II

The actual day of the move was more of the same. We had the movers (Viktor from Moldavia, Juan from Guatemala, and Mohammed from Somalia) take 10 hours of their lives to move us from our apartment to our new home. They did a fantastic job and even went above and beyond the call of duty (we had some trouble getting the box spring upstairs so Vikt0r-the foreman, disassembled it and then reassembled it). We even had the issue of the trash truck showing up and insisting that our moving truck get moved. Plus, the Dominican HVAC guys hit metal, where they didn't think there'd be any and Tamar and I were exhausted. I had been pulling 18 hour days.

Anyway, I've been meaning to write this entry for a week now, but we've been busy unpacking boxes. We're down to about 5 from our 60 or so--I'm very proud of Tamar for her efforts. Calanit is adjusting well, though for some reason, she doesn't like her bathroom.

As for me, I'm excited. Nervous too-can we really afford this thing? But, overwhelmed with emotion at the thought that this is where my family will be raised. Seeing Calanit crawl around her room, it's just a great feeling that I am in a position to provide her a safe place to sleep every night.

Next time, if things ever slow down (thank goodness we're doing this during the Xmas holiday season when work is relatively slow), I'll write about my "Man Cave," it's a thing of beauty.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

A house of immigrants...

Today was like an episode from the Apprentice, with an international twist, all with the goal of preparing for the move-in to the new Epstein abode tomorrow morning.

At 8am, I opened the door for Lena and her co-worker, from Brazil. They were tasked with cleaning the entire house after 2.5 weeks of dirt from renovations had accumulated. Soon thereafter, Diego, from Colombia, showed up. He touched up some paint and removed paint from some floors where it didn’t belong.

Next was Edwin, Jose, and Jorge, from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Bolivia. They tackled the insulation in the attic, some more painting, some closets, and re-tiling some bathrooms.

Right around that time, the internet wiring and tv cabling was completed by Jimmy and Lynn. They were from Baltimore.

Around noon, David and his two assistants, from Honduras descended to the basement to tackle some small electrical issues.

At 3pm, Antonio and his two compadres from El Salvador and Honduras as well, showed up to lay carpet and rug. As they were leaving, Max and Lucas (from the Dominican Republic) walked right in to inspect the heating and ventilation system.

What a day. Thank goodness my dad is from Texas and we’ve got family in Mexico or else I’d have zero Spanish to sling around (and a few choice Portuguese words I picked up along the way for Lena and her friend).

Beyond that, I was quite moved by the idea of all of these people coming to the US to better themselves. David and Jorge are staying. They’ve started their own businesses and raising their families here. Jose and Antonio-they just want to make enough money to go home to their families and live well.

I was a bit emotional as I thought about what this country represents in that it can give a chance to all of these people to better themselves and I appreciated it all the more as I recognized that the home we will inhabit is being built upon their backs and labor. They are a much of part of my family’s home and story as we are because of the role they play.

I loved the energy of the day in managing the various contingencies, but I also loved talking with Antonio about our views on illegal immigration (we both agree that the Fed Gov’t needs to crack down on illegals who abuse the system, but pay nothing in. We also agree that tax reform is necessary-we’re both upset that we have to pay someone else to prepare our taxes for us.) Jose told me that life in Guatemala is easier. You have no money, so you have no worries. Max tells me that in a few years, English won’t matter, since Spanish is taking over.

What they all agree on, unfortunately, is that reform of any meaningful sort is next to impossible in Latin America.

As for my role as Project Manager on the Apprentice, I’d say I won. We got the work done in preparation for tomorrow’s move, but more importantly, I learned a lot about the vision of the US through the eyes of her newest immigrants and citizens, some people I probably would not meet in the course of my day to day life, and, I suppose, myself.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Feeling the love from my daughter
I felt so much love from Calanit this morning.
Tamar had already left for work when Calanit's caregiver came. I was leaving and Calanit kept reaching for me, refusing to let me go, and crying when I tried to leave the apartment. It made me feel sad and happy at the same time.
Another one of those beautiful moments of parenting, I suppose.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Earn it every day
It's one thing to perform well one time. It's another thing to perform well consistently. It's not easy and it's tiring. I think there's a tendency to rest on our laurels, but life, in some respects, is a "what have you done for me lately?" test.
My new motto: Earn It Every Day.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

On spending time with your kid(s)...
One of the things that I've struggled with most is the issue of balance between spending time with Calanit and spending time away from Calanit so that I can provide for her.
On the one hand, I look down the road and see these HUGE costs that are coming my way in terms of tuition, day care, hopefully more kids, etc. etc. etc.
On the other hand, I know that my daughter is growing up, and growing up fast. She's going to be one on Friday and I'll never have this time again.
She taught me a huge lesson the other day.
On Sundays, Tamar works all day and Calanit and I spend the day together. To be fair, more of it is Calanit going along with whatever I need to do, be it work, running errands, or dealing with the house. Well, not really what I need to do, but what I choose to do.
She's a great, low-maintenance kid and I don't want you to get the impression that I ignore her. We read, play, eat, and do many other things together, but there's plenty of time when she's in the room and I'm pre-occupied. Now, I don't think necessarily that every minute of every day needs to be centered on her, but I do need to be aware of the balance.
After a relatively busy day of running around and dealing with the electrician and locksmith, we came back and just lay down and started watching football. I was drained (since I also tend to stay up late on Sat. nights and now have to get up early on Sunday mornings), so I wasn't doing much with her.
She was getting fussy. I gave her a bottle. Didn't want it. I put her in her seat, didn't want to eat. I tried a bunch of things. Finally, I realized, "hey, she just wants me to pay attention to her." I did and we had a great time.
Even though she can't communicate verbally, she does communicate. What's more, she understands A LOT. I'll say "Touch Abba's nose" [Abba is father in Hebrew] and though we don't have a 100% success rate, she knows what to do. She really gets a lot of what you are telling her.
When Tamar was pregnant, I was in the habit of lying on the bed and talking to the fetus about my day. My first lecture was about Microsoft .Net and the importance of web services.
After she was born, however, here was an infant and I infantilized here (surprisingly enough). I've now swung back and will talk to her about whatever I want. Today, for example, I told her about the decision behind, and consequences of, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (as it is December 7th-the 63rd anniversary of the event). I told her about my day and the challenges I'm working to overcome at work and regarding the anxiety of home ownership. It's fun to see her reaction. Then, of course, she can just be a kid and laugh when I hold an orange under my chin and let it roll down my chest.
I got a final dose of perspective when I called a long-time, dear friend, Jay Schwartzberg, who's celebrating his 43rd birthday today, but who has also been battling a brain tumor for about 7 years now. He's got an 11 and 7 year old. Very few people deliver perspective like Jay and he helped re-center my priorities around my life.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

On preparation...
It's just so obvious that a little preparation can go a long way. It's just so hard to always set aside time for doing so.
My most recent example is the house purchase (we're moving in on Dec. 16th).
Tamar saw the house on the Friday before Yom Kippur and decided she liked it. Though I hate to admit it, I spent about 65% of Yom Kippur preparing my negotiating strategy. In brief, here it is:
As I thought about my offer for your home, a few facts have entered into my consideration that I’d like to share with you.

The market is plateauing. If you’ve spoken to agents who know the area, they’ll tell you that. My wife and I have been in the market and there is inventory now and it’s been sitting idle for multiple months. (Yeatman, Claybrook, Kemp Mill Road, Monticello).
We’re at the end of a 9 year run up on prices and there’s certainly the possibility of a dip in the market for the short-term.
Interest rates are headed in the wrong direction. Fewer buyers are going to be able to afford your price as time goes on.
Finally, as you know, fall is not the best time to sell, as more people buy in spring and move in summer. Interest will probably not be as high now as later.
And though I'm not a master, I kept hammering away on these points and did knock $20k off the price in 1.5 hours using that approach!

Anyway, the point is, I thought about it, prepared, and it paid off.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

New Blog Address

New and Improved Blog Location

With pictures...

(One month later: though I want to be a loyal MS employee, I have to say that Blogger is better on this count...i'm sure version 2 will be stronger. Stay tuned)

Being the Virtual Salesperson

Another anecdote about the growing value of the J2J...


[next meeting details at the bottom]


Since the beginning of the J2J, we’ve reinforced the message that those who come to the meetings are not your potential clients/customers, they are your potential salespeople. We’ve also said that you need to keep coming in order for it to be effective.


David Hurwitz (, a financial adviser at American Express, has honed his 1 minute presentation over time and the catchphrase that has become synonymous with him is that he serves people who are “going through major life changes” with solid financial advice.  There are many ways to position your services, this is his.


I’ve heard this pitch over and over again.  This morning, as I was taking a shower (hey, it’s where I do my best thinking!) I was ruminating on some very bad news I’d heard from two sets of friends of ours in the past week.  One couple had decided to get divorced. In another, the wife was diagnosed with breast cancer.


We had sent the usual sympathetic notes and calls; my wife made dinner for the cancer patient last night, however, it’s tough to know how to really help people in a time like this. 


It then occurred to me that these people were definitely undergoing a major life transition and all were going to have to climb some serious financial mountains (in addition to the obvious emotional ones).


I reached out to them and basically said, “hey, I know you’re going through a rough time now and you’ve got a lot on your mind, so I’m sorry if this is inappropriate, but if you feel the need, I have a friend who is a solid financial adviser.”


They were appreciative and at this point, it doesn’t really matter what happens from a business perspective, because, honestly, it felt like I was doing a mitzvah by thinking about the needs that these people have and proposing a solution by a person I trust. 


And the simple reason that I trust him (and thought about recommending his services to these people at this time) is because he’s been coming to J2J every month for a year, has positioned what a good lead for him would be, and has given 2 solid presentations about his level and degree of expertise.


The next meeting of the J2J DC will be January 11th @8.10am at the Microsoft offices. Directions attached.


For information on the J2J NoVa meeting times/locations, please contact Michael Drobnis (


Happy Hannukah and Happy (secular) New Year.