Saturday, November 22, 2014

Why Would Anybody Do That?!?!

When we were inspecting the house, we did realize we probably had hardwood floors under at least the living room carpet, but we hoped under all the carpet on the main floor. We had no idea what shape they'd be in, or how long the carpet had been down. We assumed the addition upstairs had just plywood or some other subfloor under the carpet, so we actually bought enough laminate and padding to do my office up there. Then we also had Home Depot come measure thinking we might want to have them install it in the sitting room upstairs and also in the den/living room addition downstairs.

Home Depot guy gets upstairs and pulls a bit of carpet back (with our permission) and says, "Um, do you know there's hardwood under here?" Oh, really?! So he measures downstairs in the den, and goes on his way.

Well, yesterday we went over to rip all the carpet up and see what we really had, and also had a representative from Mr. Sandless come out and measure and give us a quote on refinishing them.

For the love of all things holy, why on Earth would people put cheap-ass carpet over beautiful hardwood?! The upstairs is a gorgeous knotty pine

Downstairs is all oak

This is what we pulled out of the house (1,017 square feet according to the finisher)

Today I went back over and pulled up all the tack strips and padding staples upstairs, and all the nails in the stairwell. That's rough work! I'll have to attack downstairs tomorrow or Monday evening. Michael's job on his day off on Tuesday is getting the toilet out of the main bathroom and ripping up the rest of the flooring in there so we can put down the tile we picked out.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Personal Discoveries

In the week before closing we had come over to the house to check on the paint fix that was required, and we met our left-side neighbors. They told us some details about the property that we didn't know. An elderly couple did live here, but he passed in 2006. She continued to live here until about 2008 when it just got to be too much, and she moved into an assisted living facility. After that, members of their church and their children would come mow the lawn and do basic maintenance, but the house was pretty much unoccupied since 2008.

Eventually it was sold to the investor that bought it earlier this year, and now to us. That explains quite a lot of things, but not some. You'd think after all that time they'd have cleared out all the personal belongings, or at least the investor would have, but no one did. There's clothing in the basement, various papers and receipts in the workshop, kitchen utensils in the drawers, it's crazy. We did write the offer for the house that any property on site as of that date would convey - there were some things we wanted, like a 50s Hot Point range in the basement, but it also came with a lot of just junk.

I cleaned out the main bathroom today, because we're going to rip out the vanity and toilet and replace them. There was a cabinet full of things, and even more under the sink.

Some are sad - like this cup of old fashioned hair curlers

The clearly very old, but broken hand-mirror

and the porcelain something - I'm not sure it's complete or exactly what it is.

It's odd for me to be cleaning up the remnants of the former owners life, but I am.

There's a Muppet on my Staircase!

One of the most hilariously late 60s/70s things we encountered in the house was the carpeting on the stairs, both going to the half story upstairs, and down into the basement.

It's gold, and green, and brown, and beige, and about 2 inches long shag carpet. It's just...special.

God only knows what's living or growing in that. Honestly, I assumed it would just be basic stairs, nothing fancy or finished, since that's what the basement stairs looked like (this is a photo of the stairs going up top).

Well, last night we ripped off the carpet going upstairs, resulting in this dead muppet pile. (Ignore the bright green muppet looking thing, that's one of Jack's dog toys.

But what we found underneath was this:

Holy crap! Why would someone DO that?!?!

We need to pull up the staples and nails, and little tufts of remaining carpet, but all these are going to need is a light sanding and a good clear varnish on top (along with painting the risers along with the walls, it's closed in on both sides).

We know there's real hardwoods under the carpet in the original house, that's coming up next. 

The perfect house

It was in an "edge" neighborhood of Winston-Salem, just above a moderately sketchy area (where the bomb shelter that we rented for me the first year I was in NC was located), and starting to move out towards the city limits where lots got bigger and houses were nicer. It was a HUD home, meaning it had been foreclosed on and the government now owned it.It was also (allegedly) eligible for a special type of FHA loan that allowed purchase and renovation funds to be borrowed together with just 3.5% down. Well, on a very modestly priced property even with $25-$30K in renovation funds that was something I could probably swing - and this property just spoke to me, even more so after we did a drive by.

I started things backwards, in looking for a lender that did that type of loan. Quicken Loans advertised that they did FHA loans so I contacted them, but soon found out they didn't do the special programs. They did, however, pre-approve me for a reasonable loan amount if we wanted to go that route. Tucking that in the back of my mind, I found a local lender that did do the special programs, and asked her for a referral to a real estate agent where I was introduced to Karen Lawson at RE/MAX. We set up an appointment to view that home, and I also found two others in the area that were well within our pre-approved amount from Quicken, and we went and took a look.

I did fall in love with the HUD house, it had amazing hardwood floors on a split-level plan, the yard was already fenced in, but it did have it's issues - it was missing copper piping, and would need some renovation work.

We looked at a second home which we ruled out in about the first five minutes. The front yard was a big hill, so very unusable and would be very hard to mow it was so steep. There was some sort of infrared light/camera setup in the front window looking down the driveway to the street that in all seriousness looked like a sniper's perch. The back sunroom was almost certainly not permitted, which would cause all kinds of loan complications.

So we moved on to house number three. This one Michael said no to at first based on the listing photograph, because it's an older brick home with an addition off the side that was done in what looked like stark white vinyl siding.

As the loan broker said, "What's with the double wide off the side of it?" But, it was sitting on 3.3 acres of land, so he was willing to go look, and I'm glad we did. The main house is a gorgeous 1949 brick bungalow, originally 2 bedroom 1 bath with a basement. At some point in the late 70s or 80s someone added on a "den" or "family room" and a 2-car garage, which is what looked like the ugly addition. They also bumped upstairs to a half story, adding a "head and shoulders" space that has one bedroom, and what they can loosely claim as a second bedroom by virtue of the space having a closet, and a door at the bottom of the staircase. It's really a sitting area.

We fell in love. The kitchen is done in 70s-tastic avocado appliances, laminate counter tops and backsplash,  and dark wood cabinets. It reminds Michael of his childhood home. There's a fireplace, the rounded front door has character, there's all sorts of treasures in the basement and large out-building workshop, plus it's on LAND. About 1.3 acres of it is clear, with very large mature trees, and the rest is wooded, running all the way down to a creek.

We knew that night we had to have it. We couldn't find out a whole lot about previous owners, only that it had belonged to an estate, who sold it to an "investor" very cheaply, possibly as a short sale. That investor had done nothing to improve the property, if he styles himself as a flipper, he wasn't doing it on this one, but he was asking about 175% of his purchase price. We put in an offer contingent on loan approval and inspections, a must on something this old, and dove right in. He met us halfway on the offer, so we went ahead and ordered up all the inspections.

To me, as a real estate newbie, this is where it got scary. I was spending not insignificant amounts of money to just decide if I wanted to buy the place or not. $595 for the inspection, $225 for the septic inspection, $40 for a guy to come check the well, $80 for well water testing, it all adds up to real money. The inspection found some issues, which didn't surprise us, but nothing that we felt we couldn't overcome after move-in, nothing was critical in his opinion to be necessary before that.

We did also order up an inspection of the underground heating oil tank. For one, they don't do that anymore, tanks are above ground or in the basement. We needed to know if it was functional, because someone had also installed electric baseboard heaters, which are just money guzzlers.

The environmental specialist came out and checked the contents of the tank - said we had 5 inches of oil and no water, which was good, but he found petroleum in the soil starting at about 7 feet underground, or about 2 feet below the tank. Given that there was no water in the tank, it's likely there's a pinhole leak in there somewhere, we just don't know how long it's been leaking, and how far spread the contamination is. Quote to dig up the tank and dig out 56 tons of earth to clean it up? $13K - ACK! The state of North Carolina does have a ground fuel storage tank trust fund, so about $9.500 of that would be reimbursable to whomever paid for the cleanup - something we wanted the seller to handle. He's an investor, he can carry the float on that, since the trust fund is taking about 8 months to turn claims around these days.

The septic guy opened it up, took one look at the old octagonal tank and said it needed to be replaced. $2,000 and a runaround on a permit from the county for $170.

The well thankfully was operational, and the water samples came back clean, so no leaching down to the water table from the oil tank at least.

Oh, and the furnace needed about $500 worth of work to clean out one of the pipes to the flue, and replace the limiter which wasn't doing it's job.

This is all adding up to real cash money. So we asked for the seller to fix it all, knowing that rare would be the case that you'd get that. He offered $2500 at closing for repairs, which made me laugh out loud, and so we countered with having him take care of the environmental issue and replace the oil tank with a new above ground tank. We would handle the septic and furnace. He's the "investor" he can float it. He balked and hemmed and hawed, and seriously dude.

We finally agreed to go back up in purchase price and he paid for the septic/furnace at close, we get to float the environmental. I'm annoyed, but I had access to funds to do it, and we will get all but about $3500 of it back by the end of summer, so whatever, the cash outlays plus what we paid are still well under what this house's potential value is.

We finally got it all arranged, after a last minute instance by the FHA to have external paint surfaces scraped and repainted, and we closed on Friday, November 14. It's mine! Mine! all mine!

Now, to clean it out and fix it up.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Post Sleep-Study and New Dog!

I've been so lazy about posting here, my two or three regular readers must be so disappointed in me :)

The sleep study wasn't bad, they let me take my usual sleep cocktail of drugs, but I looked like something out of a horror show all hooked up.

But,the good news is no apnea. Apparently I do have restless legs, but nobody wants to do anything about it for now.

We got a dog - Michael and I are not allowed to go to Petsmart together anymore. He's awesome. Meet Jack the American Staffordshire mix, who's about 8 months old now, and 65 pounds. He's my exercise buddy, my favorite route is about 3.5 miles long, and we do it after work. Other exciting things coming, but that's another post!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Sleep Studies

As part of getting myself back together after coming off all of the IVF hormones, my doc wants me to go have a sleep study. Ugh. I know my sleep is screwed up, if I am not medicated I'll get to sleep OK, but wake up anywhere from 6 to 12 or more times a night, often feeling the need to get up and go pee. Sometimes I'll stay awake for 20-30 minutes after doing so. When Michael's alarm goes off at 4 or 5 am, I can't get back to sleep until he's actually left the house. This, of course, is generally not normal. With some whopping medication, I can sleep through the night with maybe just one wake-up, usually when his alarm goes off. For good or bad, I'm often sleepy enough still that I often forget about conversations we have as he's kissing me goodbye for the day. I love my sleep drugs, pry them from my hands while I kick and scream.

But, they want to figure out why I'm having trouble sleeping, in case the root cause is something other than the depression and anxiety that I've struggled with since the nightmare. I got scheduled for Friday night, August 15. Allegedly, unless the doctor sends orders not to, I'll be able to take my sleep meds while I'm there. Thankfully, since getting up to pee a dozen times while wired up for a sleep study would basically be impossible, or require a bedpan.

I've been asked about sleep apnea several times. I used to snore like a freight train, and when I was heavy I probably had some form of it, but M says that I rarely snore any more, only when I'm both congested and lying on my back, which I think just about anyone would snore under those conditions.

I honestly don't know what I hope the outcome is. I'd like to be able to sleep like a normal person without drugs? But honestly I've forgotten what that's like. We'll see if this illuminates anything.

Monday, May 5, 2014

To Retail and Other Service Industry Employers on Mother’s Day

First let me make a few things very clear. I don’t hate Mother’s Day, nor do I hate mothers. I’m not unemotional, unpatriotic, or lacking in empathy or compassion. I’m not looking to rain on anyone’s parade, or trying harsh your mellow. I’m not working up to a feminist (or anti-feminist) screed. I bear no ill will toward anyone with progeny, and I don’t hate babies or children. None of that. Adoption is a viable option for many people but that’s not what this discussion is about. Are we good? OK.

Employers, please, for the love of all that is civilized, do not require or even strongly suggest to your employees that they should express a greeting of “Happy Mother’s Day!” to every female patron past puberty.

I get that pleasantries are an accepted part of transactional relationships. Have a nice day, thanks for shopping with us, please come again, these are warm, time-honored snippets of conversation. Where we start running into trouble is when we impose assumptions on the private lives of customers and patrons. I’m certainly not going to touch the “Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas” fracas with a 10-foot pole. While it arguably may be a similar debate, faith and religious beliefs is not where I’m going with this.

Where I’m going instead, is the assumption that is made when a “Happy Mother’s Day!” greeting is made indiscriminately to any post-pubescent female. Logically we all know that not every woman is a mother. Some may not be by choice. Some may not be by happenstance – that is they’d like to be a mother someday, but just haven’t had the opportunity yet. There may be a few militants in the child-free-by-choice camp that get offended at the suggestion that they’d have any urge to breed, but even that’s not my point.

Beyond those who aren’t mothers by choice or happenstance, are those that used to be mothers, have tried to be mothers, or simply can’t be mothers. Women in these categories all deal with that status in different ways, dependent in part on how recently they found themselves in that status, and how they’ve dealt with processing it and the grief that comes along with it.

A woman of almost any age could have recently lost their child due to illness or accident. A woman may be in the middle of a long, on-going, and costly attempt at getting pregnant. A woman may have come to the end of that journey of trying to conceive without success.

Many of these women work hard at graciously smiling and saying, “Thank you,” to the throw-away “Happy Mother’s Day!” Many times they will succeed outwardly, but inwardly those words have just driven a spike through their heart. Yet another reminder of their loss imposed on them during a transaction that should have nothing to do with motherhood.

But for some women, the pain may be so fresh or still so close to the surface, that the chirpy greeting will cause them to dissolve in a puddle right before your employee’s eyes, bringing tears instead of a smile, then mortification as she realizes she hasn’t been able to contain her reaction.

The thing is, we don’t know. For all anyone knows, your female customer could have buried her son last week, or had a miscarriage yesterday. She just wants to pay for her groceries, buy that pair of jeans, or pay her restaurant tab without being reminded yet again that she doesn’t have that status that she used to have, was about to have, or desperately wants.

Too often we think of motherhood as something that all adult women will want to experience in their lifetimes, and that blanket greetings like this do no harm. The good wishes, if not directly applicable, should just be accepted with aplomb. The speaker didn’t know of your private pain, and the greeting makes other people happy, so why shouldn’t it be given?

We engage in these conversations as a matter of social form. The content of the exchange is intended as pleasantries and good will, not as an evaluation and adoration of someone’s reproductive history.

So unless your customer has a small child with her that’s tugging at their hand and repeating, “Mama!” endlessly, please don’t assume that she’s a mother. Don’t put her in the awkward position of either feeling the need to disclaim motherhood status or to hide a painful emotional reaction that may come. 

My birthday falls on Mother's Day this year. I used to resent it as a child, having to share "my day" with my mother. This year, having just closed the final chapter on our attempts to have a family, for me to be a mother, I resent that the calendar lined up that way this time. I'd like to be able to go out to dinner with my husband on my birthday and not have everyone assume we're celebrating Mother's Day. So instead, I'll probably be a hermit for the day, though with all the hoopla going on already, it may be more like a hermit week this week. 

I know this is my issue to deal with, but I do not believe I am alone in this sentiment that the indiscriminate greeting doing harm, even if it's a relatively rare event, is worse than sticking with your every day neutral greeting on Mother's Day and the time leading up to it. 

There’s nothing wrong with “Have a nice day!” Truly.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Answers That Come in the Form of Questions

When you think about getting answers to something, we almost always think in terms of facts. How tall am I? I’m 5’1.5” (that half inch is very important). When is my birthday? May 11. We ask a question, and there’s a definitive statement that answers the question. Certainly there are philosophical questions that can be debated, or for which we may never fully understand – what is the meaning of life? Why am I here? But for most questions, we believe there are answers to be found. Are we alone in the universe? We don’t know right now, but the odds of that are astronomically small given the size and complexity of our universe. Scientists struggle with questions every day. Indeed, many people form careers around asking questions and then searching for the answers, sometimes to succeed, sometimes to fail, sometimes to discover things they didn’t even know they were looking for. 

But when we ask questions of our medical professionals, we don’t generally expect to hear, “I don’t know,” in response to those questions. It’s not that the professional in question is incompetent, ignorant, or behind the times. It’s just that despite our amazing leaps in technology and medical science in the last century, there is simply so much that we don’t yet know about how bodies work. Medical researchers are some of those scientists that can spend entire careers seeking the answer to questions that have yet to be answered. 

Yesterday I had the difficult conversation with my reproductive endocrinologist about why all three of our IVF attempts failed. The short answer is, he doesn’t know. That’s horribly unsatisfying, and tends to leave me feeling very powerless, but it’s the only concrete answer that we have at this point. We just don’t know. 

Certainly there’s a hypothesis or two. The apparent problem is that my uterine lining was just never able to grow robust and rich enough to support implantation of the embryos. So that’s sort of an answer, but it’s also a question. Why? What’s wrong with my lining? We don’t know. Current practice has the doctor measuring lining thickness via ultrasound, examining blood flow on ultrasound, and measuring hormone levels in the bloodstream. They can, and we did, biopsy the lining to inspect it microscopically to look at the progesterone action and apparent health of that tissue. But what makes a lining sufficient or competent to support implantation? We don’t know. It’s being studied, there are some additional tests of questionable predictive value that can be performed, but still we don’t know.

So we have established that the proximate cause seems to be an insufficient quality of the uterine lining. But why is my body that way? I had some chronic inflammation of the lining that we addressed with multiple rounds of antibiotics late last summer and fall. Could that have existed for years and damaged it? We don’t know. Last summer during my hysteroscopy he found a minor sub-septate formation in the uterus which he repaired. Was that an indication of other poor uterine characteristics? We don’t know. My uterus has been described as somewhat small, is that a contributing factor? We don’t know. Did all of these factors combine and lead to failure? We don’t know. Have I, seemingly ironically, concerned myself with birth control over several decades and never really needed it? We don’t know.

We don’t know. Probably one of the most unsatisfying sentences in the English language.

My doctor seemed genuinely distraught that we were unsuccessful. I feel very fortunate to have been his patient. He took a very personalized and dedicated approach to my case. He did extra research, consulted with peers, and made every effort to bring about the best circumstances that he could – but we only had 5 embryos that were used in 3 transfers – and we simply “ran out.” His compassion and efforts went so far beyond what most reproductive clinics would have done. That we were unsuccessful would not prevent me in any way from recommending him to anyone that needs reproductive assistance. I truly believe he’s one of the best in the country (Dr. Tamer Yalcinkaya – Wake Forest Baptist Health Center for Reproductive Medicine).

So - what I do know, is that any further attempts to have children would be unaffordably expensive. We could continue to spend money on donor eggs, try to hyper-dose me with hormones to build my lining further with each subsequent cycle. I’m not sure my mental health would survive that – hormone levels that are 10 and 20 times higher than normal are not a pleasant experience. The Man has said it would probably drive him to drink, and that’s a big statement from him (he doesn’t, in deference to his epilepsy). We could spend even more money, obtain donor eggs and then use a gestational surrogate. We were actually introduced to one several years ago locally but a mutual professional acquaintance. Even going into a direct agreement with her (rather than going through a surrogate agency) would run the entire process upwards of $75,000. While taking a viable embryo and implanting it into a “proven uterus” such as hers would have a high probability of success, that’s money to which we just don’t have access. Going through an agency would probably add another $25,000 on top of that. Even if we could finance such an endeavor, I already owe a mortgage-worthy amount of money on my student loans from my MBA. The budget really couldn’t take it short of a Lotto win.

For many reasons adoption is off the table for us. We were foster parents on the road to adoption several years ago, I’ve mentioned that in the past, and it’s not a road we will travel again. Private adoption suffers the same barriers that surrogacy does in costs – though probably “only” half of what we’d spend on a surrogate. No – that door is firmly closed as well.

At the end of our conference yesterday we told him that we were done. It was a truth that I knew as soon as we got the final negative test result almost a month ago, but saying it out loud to him gave such a finality to the situation.

I did take in the remains of my unopened medicines and supplies. Needles, estrogen patches, progesterone oil. These items are expensive without good pharmacy and infertility insurance coverage. I asked him to please give them to a patient with crappy or no coverage, and he assured me they would be put to good use.

Ending our relationship with him, for the second time given we tried for over a year with other techniques back in 2007, is difficult. It is a chapter in our lives that has come to an end.

Now we must move forward, figuring out how our lives will play out without children. I told the Man that I’d probably drag him around the world more than we would have been able to, and he didn’t object too much, insisting only on having a decent net connection for at least some of the destinations. (Addict!)

My grief has been a rocky road. I’m back with the therapist I worked with after the nightmare, she’s pretty amazing, but it will take time. Time and some pharmaceuticals I wasn’t allowed while we were trying, so there’s at least that. I have no shame in utilizing such tools, particularly as some of my issues involve anxiety and tendencies that are likely to have been genetically passed on to me.

This time I’m not feeding my grief, I can’t in many ways, but the lack of desire to eat myself into a coma is a good thing. I seem to be channeling much of it into exercise, which is good. The hormones gave me some bloat, and the inactivity associated with some of the procedures I’ve been through led to about a 10 pound gain that I need to work off.

I still catch myself thinking about things related to parenting. I might roll my eyes at a choice of names I hear someone has made, I passed a church-based school the other day and thought about how much tuition might be. Little thoughts that I have to remind myself don’t apply to us anymore.
Mother’s Day is approaching, this year it’s on my birthday. I always hated “sharing” that day as a child, but this year I do feel rather cheated that we won’t be able to go out and celebrate my day without it being assumed we’re celebrating Mother’s Day. Honestly, our favorite restaurants would be packed and it wouldn’t be a great experience, but I do resent it, rationally or not. Our 6th wedding anniversary is the following week, May 17, so I’ve suggested that we combine the celebration this year. Something quiet, inevitably. Dinner, a movie in bed, a snuggle if we don’t end up with all the cats piled on top of us.

I still can’t fully imagine what life will be like going forward. I’m thankful I’m not near as much of a zombie as I was during the nightmare, but one of the “mantras” that got me through then does apply still now. One breath, one minute, one hour, one day, one week at a time. Dealing with grief can be as much about survival as anything else. One moment is all I have to think about and get through. There will be another right after it, but I don’t have to think that far out if I can’t. Just now. Just today.

Sometimes answers come in the form of questions. I hope that someday the questions that would help someone like me will be answered. I will be grateful to the scientists who will make that possible.