Celebrating Our Unsung Heroes

Unsung hero.

That was an assignment Jackson worked on in the course of the first half of fifth grade.

An unsung hero is someone known by my son who is not necessarily on the front page of the papers or the top of google but who is engaged in an effort that makes the world a better place as seen through the eyes of an 11-year-old. Someone who is a hero. in the eyes of my son.

When we talked about what direction he would take it the choice was singly and simply his and the choice he made was his grandpa Al.

How appropriate that as we approach the last week or so of the historic presidency of Barack Obama that Jax spun back in the way-back machine to 2008 (when he was three precious years old) and his Grandpa Al Mendez, a lawyer in Dallas, made the courageous choice to poll watch in Colorado to ensure that folks who wanted to vote and were entitled to vote actually were able to vote. And then again four years later Al again engaged in the good fight so critical to a democracy – making sure that each vote counted.

The medium that Jax chose was a charcoal rendering of his grandpa that paid full homage to his heroic and funny grandpa by surrounding his visage by pasting some of his funnier quips.

I thought of the unsung hero yesterday when I received a holiday card from my uncle, Father Tom. Father Tom, my mom’s brother, was the youngest son of Catherine and Aloysius Royer. And according to the old school way he went to seminary and became a priest. What’s interesting about Father Tom is that he came of age in the  60’s and the undercurrent that informed his entire life and mission was peace and justice. Relentlessly.

A poignant example of Father Tom’s spirit and work came in yesterday’s mail as he shared a picture taken of him in the early 1970’s when he traveled halfway across the world to engage in human rights work with one of the century’s epochal progenitors of justice and love, Mother Teresa.

Father Tom arrived in Calcutta with the intention of filming a documentary. He walked away (and returned several years later to Calcutta) with something much more significant, a further awakening apparently rooted in one of my favorite quotes by Mother Teresa, “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”

And so Father Tom pursued his ministry with a tireless devotion to sharing love with the downcast and poor. This was true when his Champaign parish in the 1980’s created a sister parish in El Salvador and continued to engage in relief work in Guatemala where state-sponsored oppression left countless innocent civilians threatened or dead.

As I gazed at the picture of Father Tom with Mother Teresa I smiled to myself and expressed gratitude for my own unsung hero. And I mused to myself that heroes such as these galvanize us and catalyze us to become better people.

Perhaps it is another admonition by Mother Teresa, “Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”


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On the road again…

I love the Facebook feature that takes you back in time. This day in time… last year, two years ago, longer.

As we ambled on our roadtrip to Dallas earlier this week, sketching our path through downstate Illinois, across Missouri, into Oklahoma and finally into the Lone Star State Nicole gave me a thumbnail sketch of our Holiday itinerary the past seven or so years – Tulum, Paris, Rome, Santa Fe, Ruidoso, Lubbock, Dallas and Chicago.

Memories fascinate me, providing a poignant opportunity to hold close the light of a moment that has taken place and to revisit it after the fact. To recall the splendid Christmas light displays and markets in the piazzas of Rome or the stunning carousels in Paris or a sumptuous beach dinner in Tulum.

The memories live within me, inside of my mind and my heart, like an eternal library encompassing a specific period of time and all predicated on a single defining characteristic, my love for my family, my devotion to my wife, kids and extended clan.

At the beginning of the day and at its end the motivation for all of this is this group of people I have come in contact with first by chance and then by genetics, my family. And sharing time with them and my close friends (and of course my beloved clients), across the board, is the most satisfying and enjoyable thing in the world. Of course it doesn’t hurt to have the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop or temperatures a good 70 or so degrees warmer than Chicago in December.

But no matter where we are being there together is the linchpin for love and gratitude, the motivation to get up in the morning and get to bed with some degree of normalcy (and decency) in order to do it all over again the next day and the next and the next. And not only to do it, but to do it with grace and equanimity. Or some modicum of the same.

And then to be able to take a look back whether via Facebook or Instagram or what have you and catch a glimpse of those magical moments in time is a chance to stand in awe of the moments that make up life and make it so satisfying, gratifying and simply worth living.

Happy Holidays!


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Living Life Non-Stop and Full Tilt

Blue emerges the sky after several slate grey days. And with the blue sky and sunshine can we assess the snow that has fallen of late.

Several inches worth, I’d say. And so sayeth the boys who helped me uncover pavement and pavers as we swept and shoveled our driveway and patio free twice of snow in the past two days. The good news is we persisted like the post office both Friday and Saturday, not being stymied by snow as we made our way once to meet friends with kids for a holiday dinner and again as we kept a date with the boys to see the latest installment of the Star Wars story.

Not being stymied by the elements is an interesting approach. And so long as it it seasoned by a pinch of common sense, I would say it is the right way to proceed. Some might say it’s being indefatigable. Which is something we again shouldered this AM as we made our way down the driveway and to the highway for an early morning basketball game before the afternoon open house and appointments. Fortunately we were met by clear roads and the journey was smooth, owing our arrival time only to the length of the trip and not the roads upon which we traveled.

Personally I prefer being indefatigable. Ready to roll no matter the circumstances with an eye toward the goal and a spirit of fairness and equanimity. In fact it is this spirit that a number of my clients say they greatly appreciate about my professional approach. And it makes a difference when it comes to what for many of us is the largest single source of our investment portfolio – our home.

If you are selling it, you want to make sure the person doing the selling is active, intelligent, assertive, proactive and has a positive track record. The same holds true when you are buying a home, ensuring that the person working with you to make your dream a reality is a true and solid advocate.

A few days ago I wrote about peppering my sons with southside aphorisms – in this instance I think the right one is “if you are going to do it, make sure you do it right.”

And that’s just what I’m going to do.




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To Dance with Time Instead of Fighting it

Rock and roll poet Steve Miller introduced us to, among several things, the idea that “time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future.” Thank you, Steve.

And as it slips and we mortals tend to engage daily in hand-to-hand combat with it trying to fend off the way that it waves its wand to weather and wither us. But perhaps the goal is not to be so 1880s American West about it, engaging in a jaw-jutting defiance but instead to dance with it, working with it and and to embrace it and ourselves as we live within it fully, wildly, madly and whole-heartedly.

I thought about this today as I received a series of picture texts from my beloved brother-in-law Ricky Mendez earlier today. Ricky is a human being who embodies some of the best descriptive phrases I use for my most delicious listings – he is singular and iconic, has great curb appeal, is solidly built and he also has a flowing floor plan with a gourmet kitchen.

He is, though, quite succinctly, one of the nicest and most personable people I have ever met. And the devotion he expresses in being a person who embodies these classic and outstanding qualities is reflected by the droves of people who hold him high regard and love him without reservation. People like me, like Nicole and like our boys. But it’s not that we reward Rick for his amazing grace and kindness, it is instead that being around him makes us roll like Jack Nicholson in “As Good as it Gets” when he croaks “you make me want to be a better man.”

Thank God for people that exhort us to our best and fuller selves, who trigger us to be kind, be gracious, be accepting and be beautifully human with all of our imperfections. Who accept and love us and in turn warmly embrace the love we have for them.

But sometimes life isn’t imperfect. Like when we we had the great fortune to join Rick and Sarah for their storybook wedding in October in Tuscany. It was this remarkable week-long event that spawned the photos that Rick shared earlier today and made me think that life and time have the opportunity to be a gracious dance in which I can (and often do) engage in a full-throated “yes”!

And life and time, constantly spinning around me, can be something that I can (and should) cooperate with to be the best person I can be to make life and time something that ranges from manageable to downright hysterical for those around me, whether as close as my family or as distant as strangers on the street. Cue the Nike commercial and “just do it.”

I had the same type of pentecostal response a week or so back when we saw “Hamilton.” And a month earlier when the Cubs won. And while I am grateful for these single state inspirations that exhilarated me and made my soul ebullient, the fact is I don’t need these occasional 220 volt jolts to do the next right thing. I can (and often do) do what’s right simply because of enlightened self-interest.

And in truth my amazing family of Nicole, Jackson and Lucas are around and about me on a daily basis allowing me to savor the great taste of being that better man to which I refer.

And great memories don’t hurt the cause, thinking back to the amazing party we had at Ricky and Sarah’s gorgeous Tuscan wedding… Memories and thoughts of getting together in about a week or so at some great Tex-Mex place in Dallas or via text messages out of the blue on a Friday before Christmas. Gracious reminders. Welcome reminders.

Cue Leonard Cohen’s “Alleluia.” And fade to black.


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baby it’s cold outside…

“You know what we used to say on the South Side?”

Once a week or so I will insert this cryptic geo-reference when talking with my sons and I have something I either want to joke about or I want to them to “get.”

Something like, “more for me,” when they say they don’t want something at dinner.

Language is funny. In a sense it is like a bread crumb that traces back to our points of origin, to where we are from. And me having grown up in Markham, a somewhat forgettable suburb south of Chicago, “more for me” was a common utterance.

Imagine packs of kids scraping across the landscape a la “Lord of the Flies,” and then you can conjure the words being uttered in form, substance and style.

“More for me…”

I thought of language and origins today as I dragged my Sorel encased feet across Lakeview’s icy surface today to show my listing at 406 Wellington. With temps rigid to single digits another southside aphorism crept to the surface to the steely cold light of day – “it’s as cold as a well digger’s @ss.”

I can freely and wholly admit to having never met a well digger, so I have no knowledge of the temperature of any part of his appendages, anatomy or person. But I know the statement, having used it for the better part of four full decades, and what it intimates is something frightfully cold.

Something as cold as today.

I think it was November of 2012 when the Polar Vortex first reared its inhumane icy head. Today was a day that approached something akin to what we experienced then. Bone. Numbing. Cold. And perhaps more in store.

The odd thing about the midst of winter is that the Chicago real estate market changes markedly. Feel free to start your stop watches as you please and set them for January 5th and the following weekend. For that, my friends, is when things storm out of the gate and, though we be in the dead of winter by calendar, we put the pedal to the metal of the full-on spring market.

The anticipation of the spring market is behind the work and I about six to ten selling clients of mine have been engaged in for the past two months or so as we prepped homes to list, had professional photographs taken, started marketing these places via my in-house app at @properties and using zillow and with other online placements like Facebook, Instagram and craigslist and in general readied for the diametrical shift in the real estate climate come the beginning to middle of January.

But worry not if you have it in mind to make your next move – it is not too late. All it takes is a simple email or phone call to me to start the conversation about what it is and where it is and prepare for the next series of steps that include getting it sold and finding your next place.

Which reminds me of another southside-ism – “if you’re ready, I’m ready.

And so we proceed!

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What it is and where it is…

The three most important things in real estate? Most old pros and newcomers alike intone that it is location, location, location.

But is location a single tone or note? For instance if my client hankers for Lincoln Park, considered one of Chicago’s premier neighborhoods, is the one crisp and clear note of location streets like Howe or Burling, one of which currently features the most expensive-ever listed home in Chicago at $50m?

Or is location slightly more malleable idea? For one of my clients who yearned for Lincoln Park but did not come to the table with a mid-8-figure budget, a peripheral Lincoln Park street edged by CTA tracks worked just fine. Their final final in-price on Bissell hovered around $600k which was just fine by them to live adjacent to the panoply of shops that dot nearby Armitage and with neighboring homes priced four to five or more times more.

I think of location, its flexibility and how soft pricing can afford access to a perceived premier location this snowy afternoon as I host an open house in the North Shore ‘burb of Winnetka.

Winnetka is one of those leafy locales with a genteel village center, cobbled streets, lake access, excellent schools and denizens who in old school movies might be referred to as “well heeled.” Homes for more the most part soar in the seven figures, often higher than $1.5m and sometimes two times or more higher. But the single family I host as an open house today at 170 Woodland comfortably prices at $1.249m for a newly and fully redone single family with four levels, six beds and five plus baths.

In short a home like this, viewed through my prism, is a tremendous buying opportunity. Done by a respected builder and a good $100k to $200k less than same sized homes that offer older infrastructure, I would say to my buying clients that you cannot beat this deal. This sentiment on my part is not just informed by intuition, it is validated by looking at this home as compared to other homes and how they have sold recently.

But 170 does come with a caveat – you are situated right across the street from the sophomore through senior campus of New Trier High School. Right across the street.

Some might spin this – “a short commute for your high schooler to one of the country’s best high schools.” But the truth is that you live across from the high school. And sometimes traffic may be congested. And some folks may find this inconvenient. And some may be turned off.

And others won’t be. The truth also is that your in-price here is well below what homes of similar quality sell for in Winnetka and other nearby North Shore ‘burbs, that the builder is willing to make a deal, that you are a short walk to the lake or the village center, that the Metra is nearby, and that the quality of the home is outstanding.

In short it is a great deal. And it does offer a fantastic location that enables you to dwell in a very desirable North Shore community for a price that is well off what other homes here are selling for.

As ever I will be more than happy to further discuss, chatting about this home, its value and other nearby homes to enable you to gain the fullest comfort and satisfaction in making your home buying and selling decision.

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About Last Night…

A few years ago and for a couple years running we gave the boys Legos Star Wars Advent calendars. No fuss, no muss – just pop open each day from December 1 to Christmas and a new nifty Lego character springs forth each day. But then as we unpacked holiday stuff this year Nicole said we should do family experiences for our Advent calendar, things as simple as hot chocolate or the Santa train, done together and with a sense of purpose and gratitude.  And so it began.

For each day of this holiday season we do an intentional thing each day associated with the holiday season. It might be family ice-skating at Centennial or a first run movie, it might be a Christmas flick at home or baking cookies. And while each and every instance is a remarkable opportunity for us to catch up and reset as a family last night’s Advent occurrence was singular.

It was “Hamilton.”

Single syllable words with the elasticity of butter melting on a warm pancake come to mind as I mull over the magnificence of the show. “Wow!”

Like a new friend who feels like an old friend whose visit you don’t want to end, that’s what “Hamilton” is. A full-throated spectacle set on a spartan stage that delivers us to a realm perhaps imagined but seldom visited via voices and lyrics, cadence and dancing, and the characters behind it all. The characters behind it, intertwining in the way that art and performance do, stitching together a tapestry that stands as beauty on its own and melds and mulls within us all to individually steep and brew and become altered and transformed.

It was simply magical as the four of us sat transfixed, at the edge of our seats alternating between laughter and tears, jaws taut with joyous grins of conspiracy, each of us participating in something remarkable and brutally beautiful.

We’ve all heard of this phenomenon called “Hamilton” and the genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda. And surely this is what brought us to the old Schubert Theater last night like moths to the flame. And while I don’t know what I expected, I don’t think I expected to be propelled into orbit by the wonder of this amazing play that clicks to a syncopated beat of rapping founding fathers full of bluster, bravado and humanity.


Art, I think, works at multiple levels. Topically we are impacted by the sheer appearance of the thing, the visible and discernible beauty of it. This veneer can capture our attention and in and of itself impact us. But when this somewhat superficial occurrence deepens to the visceral by some orchestrated reminder of our universal commonality then a depth or gravitas is gained that shifts the trajectory of the art to a deeper realm and we are not only impacted, but, likely, we are altered.

When it comes to “Hamilton” I’d say the trajectory occurs at such a profound velocity that it transfixes and transforms us. Come to think about it that’s not a bad place to be. And as we prep for today’s Advent occurrence with a couple of the boys’ friends in tow I feel a simple but deep sense of gratitude for it all. I suppose, after all, that’s the point of these Advent occurrences and the Holiday season in general.





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