Category Archives: Life in general

House hunting stress hell

When we first started looking at houses, and I prequalified for a ton of mortgage, I never really considered the process to be all that stressful (except for the prequalification itself, which was nerve-wracking, since I’ve never owned anything as large as a house). It was tedious sometimes, and sometimes it was nice looking through those houses, but I wasn’t terribly concerned with where I wound up as long as I liked the house and grounds.

Then we started looking at properties.

For most of the day, I’ve been dividing my attention between work that needs to be done for month end and property listings. Two and a half acres here, 14 acres over there, and 20 acres out yonder. Here’s nine acres, there’s ten over there. Some have houses, some have mobile homes. Some are fully cleared, with pasture land, some are half cleared with wooded areas running wild.

And then, there’s the one I want, which no one wants to touch to finance, it seems – at least no one that we called today. We’ll be calling a few more places tomorrow. Having something at your fingertips that remains just ever so slightly out of reach for the moment is the worst sort of aggravation. It reminds me of the itchy sensation that crawls up the numb left side of my neck, which cannot be scratched and which jolts me from that rare, deep sleep I manage to get sometimes: annoying, and not much that can be done about it except let things take their course. Just like those episodes, though, it’s stressful and leads to worrying.

I’ve read memoirs and writeups from people after they’ve successfully gone through treatment for cancer and come out the other side. Many of them are poignant, with a new outlook on life, a new appreciation of all the little things. I find myself wondering, sometimes, why I am not so poignant, why my outlook on life now – while appreciative that I didn’t die – is fairly the same as it was before, with the same kind of worries, the same kind of joys in my family and friends. I have no touching tales to tell about how I found myself, how I found others. Is that a sign of being too self-absorbed, or a sign of not caring? Either way, it can’t be good.

Ah, and the dentist. Nice guy. Referred me to an oral surgeon with more experience treating patients who have gone through radiation treatment and all it entails. That oral surgeon also has a panoramic xray machine, so we can get some good xrays of my jaws and choppers. The visit will have to wait until we return from San Antonio, though, so our look to see if there really is anything suspicious in the left mandible will be then. My surgeon, recently returned from New Zealand, doesn’t think there will be anything out of the ordinary, but as they say, always better to check than to let it go.

A friend of ours is a bus driver – Greyhound, not school – and called the other day to tell us that he’s moving to Wyoming to drive trains loaded with coal instead. He’ll be joining us for half the trip to San Antonio, and will leave us when we get to Baton Rouge. I’ve always loved trains, and many years ago thought it would be the height of fun to work with them. Instead, I content myself with knowing that one day, the train sets I have packed away will be happily chugging around tracks near the ceiling in some room in some house. Everyone needs a hobby, right? Or three or ten.

Walking the property

“You want to live where?”

“A bit further out than I live now.”

“How much further out?”

“About eight to ten miles or so.”

“Why on earth would you want to do that?”

“This is why.”

We went to the property Wednesday morning. Our realtors, patient people that they are, appeared on our doorstep just after 8 AM, awakening me from a strange dream whose details continue to escape me: all I know is that I was happy, once my feet had hit the floor, to be awake rather than asleep. Our appointment to see the property and the buildings on it was for 9 AM. We had another appointment after that to see a different property, but everyone knew we were seeing the second one just to see it, and that the first was really the only one that interested us.

As I had a dentist appointment scheduled for 11, I drove myself in the event we went to the point that I would have to haul ass to have yet another party poke around in my mouth. We arrived just before 9. It was a stunning morning to look at the place and walk the grounds.

The evening temperature had bottomed out around 70 degrees, and by the time we got to the property, it was only 75, with dew still glistening on the grass and the sun making its climb into the sky from behind the rear treeline. We met the lady of the house, who said her husband – a transplanted Nebraska farmer – was off at the doctor, but she’d be happy to show us the two places, although not walk the property, as her health was not up to the task. No problem, said I, I’ll walk it alone – which is my preference, without someone blathering on in my ear to disturb the flow of thoughts in my brain and disturb what is almost a frightening stillness in the morning air. I requested permission to take photos of the grounds. “Certainly,” says Fran. “Just don’t set us on fire,” she added, smiling. We laughed, and I left the four of them talking while I walked the entire perimeter of the property.

First stop? The rear of the property, at the far eastern corner. This is the view facing NNE from the eastern corner.

I walked north along the fenceline and found this guy digging furiously for bugs while it was still relatively cool.

He was so preoccupied that he didn’t realize I was walking up to him until I was about three feet away. He stopped digging, gave a little hiss, and then ran into a circular stand of trees that sits in the midst of the huge plot of cleared land in the rear of the property.

The owners, over the course of almost 30 years on the property, have done a fantastic job of clearing the property while retaining what few hardwood trees were there and planting additional hardwoods. The man of the house is, by the wife’s account, the gardener of the two, and up until a few years ago, had quite the garden going. Now he has what seems to be a million pots of sago palm starters.

The green line is the sagos, to the right is a pile of brush and branches – this is the sort of thing that happens when people continuously occupy a property for a good number of years: piles of stuff – and in the rear behind the marching line of sagos is what used to be a compost pen and what was destined to be converted into a chicken coop, but what is now a receptacle for more brush and some odds and ends. Behind that is the circular stand I mentioned, into which my armadillo buddy escaped my intrusion.

I walked to the front of the property and looked back to the ENE along the fence/hedgeline.

There is also a line of baby sago palms at the front of the property, along the front fenceline near the road.

We found more sagos near the little greenhouse, along with assorted other plants awaiting their fates. From the front of the property, I took another shot facing one of the two homes.

It’s amazing what people will tell you if you let them. The second home was for the woman’s mother, who died last November (in her 90s, no less). They were still working on clearing out the last remaining items, and of course this is hard work – not physically, but emotionally. As she said, though, you do what you have to do. There is a very nice fishing boat on a trailer on the property; this belongs to one of their sons, who also fishes in the annual kingfish tournament held on the shore here. The husband and wife are leaving the property for something a bit smaller as they’re both getting older and both have some health problems.

The stovetops in both homes, along with the water heaters, are gas. This would be a welcome relief from living entirely on the local utility teat, especially since the utility bills in the current place are exceeding $400/month, primarily because the air conditioning unit is too small for a house this size and runs constantly.

“Tell me again why you want to live here. There’s nothing here except a few piles of junk, a bunch of grass to mow, and a couple of trailers. They look nice and all, but come on – it’s trailers, when you boil it down.”

“Yes, I know. But tis is not to say that I’ll be living in a trailer for the rest of my life. It’s a temporary waystation. See all that land in front? Perfect for a new house, lots of room, no worries about spacing, facing issues on the lot, or anything else. And the land won’t need mowing everywhere – there’s a rather large garden area envisioned on the back side of the property, about where the man had his before he gave it up. The piles of junk? A dumpster costs $50/day: you load it up, they haul it away and dispose of it. This is what happens when you eye a piece of property rather than just a lot where they’re going to toss up a house with no yard and no room for much of anything at all. And there’s this, too.”

Now, the fun begins: finding someone to finance the damn thing. Random statistic found during research: one of every three homes in Florida is a mobile (or, rather, manufactured, as they call them now) home. The problem is that a lot of banks and mortgage brokers – including my own, where I prequalified to buy just about any existing or new home construction I would want otherwise – don’t want to touch anything like that these days. This sort of sent me into a tailspin after I took myself off to visit the dentist – and weighing myself three times at Publix while waiting for a prescription to show myself that I was really seeing 102.5 didn’t help – because I don’t want to see this slip away for this reason. But there has to be someone out there to finance this sort of thing, because the people living on the property just refinanced three years ago, and that random statistic up there means that someone is backing all these people. I just really, really want the next person they back to be me.

Mucking about

I spent a good deal of time this afternoon sitting around in the waiting room of yet another medical office, waiting to see the surgeon who had thoughtfully extracted my gallbladder and freed me from constant worry about doubling over in agonizing pain after eating something. Followup visits have been the story of my life this past year.

Luckily, I had a book with me. In the 40-odd minutes I waited, I read 140 pages and engaged in some side discussion with the woman sitting next to me, who had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and who was there to schedule her procedures. My discussion and visit with the very kind surgeon lasted less than ten.

Which is fine, really. After all, the surgery went well, I’ve had no complications, and the worst I feel of it now is when I try to lift something heavier than I should be lifting, or try to push or pull something at waist level. The cement used to patch the incisions is starting to flake and peel off, and underneath one patch is a very thin, light scar. The other three will probably not be quite as thin or as light. But as I am not a belly dancer, I imagine this will not cause me any sleepless nights.

After I finished up at the surgeon and came home, thunder started rumbling in the distance, and the clouds swept in, blown by a quickly-moving cold front that promises us temperatures only in the upper 80s instead of the lower 90s. I wasn’t expecting any rain, but suddenly the wind shifted, the chimes out back started tinkling as they rocked back and forth, and the clouds opened up, draining themselves as they scurried along.

That made it a good time to go take a look at the property that has been keeping me up nights.

The reason for the look during torrential downpours is because – as our realtors keep reminding us – the front half of the property is in a flood plain, or so it says on the city’s maps. The owners say the land has never flooded, something I believe but our realtors don’t, but the best way to find out is to go look during a storm in progress – especially down here, where we can go a long time without significant rains, which makes the soil hard, which in turn can lead to minor flash flooding when a good storm rolls through (or major flash flooding, if the conditions are right).

So, I gathered up my mom and we rolled out another eight miles or so and turned down the road to what I hope will be my new abode. What we found was absolutely nothing: no water pooled anywhere except in the parking lot of a dead convenience store on the corner and in the ruts of a couple of unimproved gravel or sandy driveways leading back to other homes. Other than that, there was no standing water anywhere. That’s rather heartening.

Besides, I’ve pretty much decided I don’t care what our realtors say: that property is calling to me unlike any of the other places we’ve seen in the past two and a half months of looking at house after house. Must be the inner farmgirl coming out, or maybe it’s the anticipation of building the house I really want instead of settling for something already built but without all the pieces falling into place.

I’d like to walk the property before I leave for San Antonio for a week. I’d like to see if what’s in my head for planning matches what’s available on the land. I’d like to be able to continue my planning of putting in tomatoes with basil and mint around them; strawberries and borage nestling together, with squashes coming in after the strawberries for the high summer months; nasturtiums and marigolds all around. I’d like to continue my recovery and rehabilitation in a place where I can make things grow, where I can touch new life.

The hits just keep on comin’

I haven’t fallen off the face of this earth just yet.

The past couple of weeks have been interesting.

First, there’s this whole gallbladder thing. From the 18th to about the 27th, I was either wishing for death to get rid of the agony, or cursing the pain and nausea that this issue is causing. I switched back to an ultra-lowfat diet consisting mainly of formula, and the pain has backed off a bit. The low level nausea persists, but it isn’t incapacitating. This also allowed me to attend, with a small gathering of good folks, the 40th birthday of a dear friend.

Between those two things, I had yet another PET scan. The night of the dinner, the doctor called with the results: two spots lit up. One in the left mandible, which may be dental – which means the usual three month exams I get have to be pushed up a little in this case – and one at the base of the tongue – which means a trip back to the ENT for a look and most likely another biopsy. Oh, and I cracked a piece of filling out of one of my teeth on the right side, even though it isn’t as if I’m eating jawbreakers here.

I’ve been taking Prevacid to help with the reflux and heartburn I’ve been having. I have insurance now (that doesn’t cover anything related to the cancer, since it’s preexisting), and they refused to pay for the Prevacid when it was first prescribed for me, saying that Prilosec was available over the counter. The gastro doctor told me to take the Prevacid twice a day instead of once, and wrote me a huge prescription for it to last until we get things sorted. The insurance company balked. The doctor’s office sent the insurance company a fax, telling them it was indeed medically necessary – after all, I have to take it twice a day, every day, without stopping after 14 days, and since Prevacid is little pellets that don’t have to be crushed, it will go down the feeding tube, unlike Prilosec, which would have to be crushed up, going against the way you’re supposed to take it. The insurance company once again balked. I had to shell out $300 on Saturday for 60 capsules, because I was down to one in the last batch that I’d gotten (and paid for out of my pocket). I’m paying my premiums. I’d take something else if it worked and would go down the tube. The least they can do is help me take care of my HEALTH since it is HEALTH insurance that I’m buying from them.

Then my email crapped itself at the domain here, which is why your mail bounced, Cal. That, of everything, is naturally the simplest to repair.

The other day, we acquired a tiny company (relative to us), and we’re working on integrating those people into the main billing system, sending notices out, and doing all the other things that have to be done to merge them. That’s always an adventure.

And finally: today we found a lot and a builder in a development not far from here. I’m crossing my fingers that everything goes the way it should and I will, for the first time, become a homeowner. This qualifies as being just as scary as some of these other things, albeit in a different way.

There you have it: I’m as well as can be expected and still around. It certainly could be worse. I could have died in a horrible freak incident like Steve Irwin did.

Twenty years later

The details of my 20th year high school reunion are up. Mid-October, at a place I’ve never heard of, in the town where my high school is located.

It doesn’t really seem like it’s been that long. I don’t feel 20 years older. I don’t look 20 years older. I don’t have 20 years worth of emotional baggage. And I’m quite happy about all of that. I’m going to skip the reunion, as I’ve not really kept up with anyone from high school and I’ve not stepped foot in Maryland since 1988. Besides, I’m going to San Antonio in early October for a week, and I’ll be recovering from that trip.

I wouldn’t mind going up for a visit, though, perhaps to see the Inner Harbor again and take a trip to the Eastern Shore. It would have to be when the crabs are running, though, and when the silver queen corn is coming in. It’s great dumping out a bushel – or two – of steamed (not boiled!) blue crab on a long newspaper-covered table in the backyard, then dumping a pile of boiled silver queen corn down next to those crabs, then having several platters of Eastern Shore tomatoes next to that, and then chowing down while talking with friends and family and drinking some icy beer. And then after eating all that, cracking open an ice cold watermelon and eating it, letting the juices run down your chin, spitting seeds as far as you can as the sun sinks and the fireflies start appearing.

That would be quite a day, and well worth a visit.

Public service announcement: It’s damn hot

Once again, out looking at houses. This time, we went back to the top two on our list (thus far) and had a closer look, took some photos, talked over the pros and cons. After a brief stop back at the homestead, we decided to go drive around a bit and see what else was out there in the same neighborhoods.

The answer: a lot. There are an absolute ton of houses around here for sale, some that we wouldn’t touch, and one that I’d love to have but that is likely out of my price range even with the most creative of brokers.

And it’s hot out there. Nothing around here has burst into flames just yet, but the heat just sucks the life out of you. And with the way yours truly has been failing to take in a good amount of calories per day, the heat just makes me feel like I’m dragging my ass.

Speaking of eating, it’s been ages since I had Popeye’s chicken – over a year, to be sure, and probably a bit longer than that. Always liked their spicy chicken with some faux mashed potatoes as a junk food treat. We stopped by on the way back from our tour of homes and picked up some chicken and potatoes. Alas, since I spent so long not eating and then eating only bland-type foods, the spicy chicken really puts a burn in my mouth although I had never thought of it as particularly spicy. Even the rehydrated potatoes with whatever that gravy is have a little kick to them. That’s really, really sad to me, a bonafide chilehead, and isn’t doing much to make the frustration level abate.

So here I sit, debating whether to continue my quest to try and eat an entire real meal (such as it is: a thigh and a blob of potatoes) or just give up and go back to some formula. I can confidently say that one of the pros about formula is that it’s fast. Down the tube, chase it with some water, and presto! The meal is over. Maybe I can convince one of the girls to run up and get me some Lactaid so I can have some ice cream later. In the meantime, I guess I’ll struggle a little further with the chicken until I can’t stand it any longer. Not haute cuisine by any means, I know, and not low fat. Cheap, though, I have to say that, and that’s a problem with fast food relative to the obesity issue: fast food is cheap and there’s plenty of it. Think about Taco Bell. You could feed a small country for about five bucks, and it’s not exactly the best thing for you. I watched SuperSize Me a couple of times, and I have Spurlock’s book in this pile of books that I’m reading. Quite interesting, I must say, and fits a theory I had developed quite some time ago about obesity and cost factors.

Now I’m rambling, though. It must be the drugs. We delivered a few things to Gabs (my sister with the migraine the other day), and her dog – a rottweiler that weighs as much as I do – managed not only to jump up on me but managed to put one big fat paw square on where my feeding tube enters the hole in my abdomen. That, my dear and faithful readers, is painful.

Another day, another round of houses

Yesterday afternoon, we went out and looked at half a dozen houses. This afternoon, we looked at half a dozen more. There are a couple that we really liked, a couple that were really, really odd either because of the layout or what the homeowners had done with the house. The rest just received a shrug as they didn’t really grab me.

There really was no cooking today, since the bulk of the day was spent working and the afternoon spent viewing houses and then picking up my sister’s car (as she had a migraine and my mom had picked her up earlier). Soup, ice cream, and cappuccino for me today, plus formula earlier. Still not enough calories, I do believe, but that’s the way it goes.

My other sister – the one sans migraine today – wanted me to plan a menu for her to cook for a group of her girlfriends. She wanted things that could be prepped as much as possible beforehand and then transported to her friend’s house out at the beach. I told her this would be a good catering puzzle. We decided on chicken breasts stuffed with asparagus spears and feta and roasted on a bed of sun-dried tomatoes, garlic-parsley potatoes, salad, rolls, and creme brulee for dessert. It sounds pretty good to me.

Someone asked me how we came up with the name of the company I own. A serendipitous misspelling, I say, courtesy of my mom. We haven’t stumbled across anything like that thus far for the food business. Not yet, anyway.

Time to head to the NOC in the dead of night to clean up the cage a bit, set up a new server, repair the power supply on another. This doesn’t do anything good for my schedule, but it will free up my morning to get the yard mowed (maybe) and get some bread going.

A do-nothing day

Last night, after our fabulous dinner party, I took a friend back to her place – her car-ma was apparently not good Monday, as she had both a flat and something preventing the car from actually starting, so we’d sent Gabrielle to fetch her for dinner (because people have to eat, and especially eat my cooking!), and we couldn’t very well make her walk home. When I returned to the homestead, my mom informed me that she’d made an executive decision: no mowing the lawn for me on Tuesday, and no cooking either. Tuesday was to be a rest day for me. I objected a bit, but I was plenty tired, and when Tuesday rolled up, even more tired. The exertion over the weekend and into Monday night caught up with me.

So I did a bunch of “real” work, some paperwork, and generally tried to relax. But I felt (and feel) antsy, for some reason that I can’t quite touch. I think that it’s probably because my brain is working away like a frenzied, overcaffeinated squirrel. This makes both my sleep and my waking hours restless, as it’s difficult to turn things off and veg out.

What’s on my mind? All sorts of things.

Italy. For some reason, Italy has moved into the first spot of places I want to visit. It has been in the back of my mind for years (I used to think my ex and I would be going), but recently moved into the forefront. Maybe it was the brush with mortality, maybe it was just the general thought of it, or maybe it’s something else, like leftovers from watching the World Cup finals, but I’ve set a tentative date of 2009. We’ll see how that works out.

Business(es). I have two more brands that I want to launch, in the same arena as my main business. One site is about ready to shove out the front door, and the other needs just a little tweaking and it’s done. Really, the only thing left to do is set up a merchant account for each and make the sites/ordering systems active, as I’m sure they’ll eventually reach the level of the flagship brand with a little pushing. I’m not sure why I just haven’t finished this yet, but I should probably set a firm date for those, to get them going. After all, diversifying is what I always preached to people when I was a stockbroker, and the same rules apply here, too.

Business(es), the food version. I’ve been trying to come up with a good name for a food business, and I’ve started researching the requirements for packaging food here in Florida. One of the first things I need to do is take the Food Manager Certification test, to get that out of the way. The certification is good for five years, and someone is required to hold that certification for just about any business that deals with producing food other people will be eating. All the other rules and regs I’ll have to research and then I’ll have to put together all the paperwork that goes along with starting a business, of course, but I don’t mind that sort of thing. I keep wondering just how some of these people who open restaurants get the money to do the renovations and keep themselves going while they build their business. I also wonder why so many restaurants tend to serve the same type of menu if they’re aimed toward the middle class market. I notice this here, but also in other cities I happen to visit, like Savannah.

Food, in general. Speaking of restaurants, and skipping over (for now) the wisp of desire I can feel deep down to open one, why is it that the serving portions are so damned huge these days at most restaurants? People are getting fatter, and at least part of that is because of the portion sizes when eating out and the fact that most people were lectured when they were growing up to clean their plates. There’s no reason to be part of the clean your plate club. Now, in my time BC (before cancer), I could have stood to lose about 10 pounds or so, but I can honestly say that even then I was usually unable to finish most of the dishes I was served when dining out because they were just so freaking large. What we really need is something between the plate-big-as-your-head restaurant and the look-we’re-so-stylish-and-classy-our-portions-are-the-size of-your-pinky restaurant. And if that sort of place could serve something that wasn’t the same as any other restaurant, so much the better.

Food, selling it. One of the issues I have at the moment is that I really don’t measure anything except when baking. this means that I’m going to have to experiment a bit and write down whatever is going into the mixing bowl or pot so we can find the best combination and so it can be recreated consistently for sale. For the pulled pork I made, I did actually write down the ratios, and that turned out pretty well. Of course, there will have to be successive tastings by my core group of tasters, and I imagine I’ll need to farm out some of that to other people to have as many opinions as possible while narrowing down the choices to whichever one winds up with the most fans. Then it will be time to find a commercial kitchen (since you can’t package food for sale in your home kitchen in Florida) or a copacker (a business that will take your recipes and pack them for you, in their own commercial grade facilities so you don’t have to have any), have a lab verify the ingredients and give the nutrional value, and so on.

Food, cooking it. I’d really like to get my schedule sot of back on track so I can consistently do the things I’d like to do in addition to working, like baking bread on a regular basis, experimenting with making pastas, making sausages, doing some canning, and so on. I also need to really work on making menus in advance so I can ensure I have things on hand for at least a couple of meals. After all, we don’t live in the days where a daily trip to the market is required, and with a little planning, this would save me some time, not wreck my schedule during the day, and would allow me to be more productive with all the things I’d like to be doing in addition to the day job. I have to admit all of this is probably going to be the most difficult for me, because of my incredibly odd sleeping habits and my tendency to decide at the last minute what the menu will be. Right now, for instance, I have no idea what’s going to be on the menu for Wednesday – today, as I type this – but I should. In fact, I should know what’s on the menu for Wednesday through Saturday. But I don’t. When I think of it, I’ll let you know.

There are some other things floating by, as well. I’ve another PET scan scheduled for the end of August. I’m almost able to open my mouth widely enough to get the Therabite in so I can start using that to help stretch my jaw muscles. I need to do some laundry. I feel a bit sick to my stomach right this instant. I need to increase my calorie intake in a serious way – I weighed in at 107 before the Savannah trip, weighed in at 106 this evening when I went to Publix for some heavy cream so I could make some ice cream, and won’t be able to make it through mowing the lawn if I don’t have enough in me. The problem is that most of the time when I eat, I feel sick. At least I don’t have that horrible reflux as long as I take the Prevacid. I need to find a house to buy, as I won’t be buying the one we’re in right now. I need to head to Costco to replenish the bulk items. I need to finish the remainder of the quarterly paperwork and get it out the door. I have a couple of servers coming in that need to be set up, and I need to order up some gear for our expansion at the NOC. And so on. A million things make their way through the rivers of my brain…

Savannah: An Interlude, Day Three

Sunday was our last day in Savannah. Saturday night, after a day of touring, walking, and eating, the girls went right to sleep when we reached the hotel. I stayed up a bit later, as I was too restless to sleep. Eventually, I managed to go to sleep myself, only to be awakened between 5 and 6 AM by a couple of servers needing attention. Those issues addressed, I debated staying up until the girls awoke, but I was freezing in the artic air my mom insisted should be the norm, and crawled back into bed and pulled the covers up over my ears.

Continue reading Savannah: An Interlude, Day Three

Savannah: An Interlude, Day Two, Part Two

We had some time on our hands between the end of the Paula Deen tour and our reservations at The Lady and Sons. There were a couple of things we wanted to see: the Colonial Cemetery, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, and the Mercer House (also known as the Mercer-Williams House). All of these places are at the southern end of the historic district, so, with our comfy shoes on, water in hand, we started walking.

As we walked, I snapped some photos of a few buildings along the route. The architecture of these buildings is amazing to me, as is the fact that many of them are relatively unchanged, structurally, from their original designs.

Continue reading Savannah: An Interlude, Day Two, Part Two