Saturday, November 17, 2007

Catching up

I hate it when too much time goes by and I don't have time to write here; all my thoughts pile up and then make no sense. So in no paticular order...

Fall is finally, definitely here-- just in time for winter. Temperature staying nice and cool, trees changed at last. It's nothing like last year, which just took my breath away. The hot, dry weather this year makes for a more muted display, more rust and yellow than scarlet and gold. I kind of like it this way, actually, because it's so subtle. Not as in-your-face, look-how-gorgeous-this-all-is; you have to kind of work to appreciate the more subdued hues, to notice that it's still lovely, in a way.

It's the perfect time for sweaters! I love sweater season. Especially if I happen to get an enormous box of wonderful sweaters in the mail... then I can just live in them all the time. Especially as Don and I are trying to keep the heat as low as possible, for the environment and for our own health. I wish I could say that it would save us money, too, but power is still regulated here in Virginia and dirt-cheap. It really doesn't matter how much electricity we use, our power bill is always incredibly low. Not much motivation there to conserve, right? Things like that make me veer towards libertarianism, or at least to believe in the free market system.

Don and I are looking at houses. Don't you just love my complete lack of segue? I do. Anyways, we've been kind of half-heartedly looking about. Then over the weekend, we found something... I can't even say "a house" because it's really more of a "shack". And yet... I like it. And it's in our range, which is not something one could say about 96% of the homes here. This city is one of those places where it's considered normal to pay $300,000 for what would cost $150,000 where I'm from. (FYI, you must pronounce the "I'm" as "AH'm" in order to get the full Texan flavor of that sentiment. )

So I called the bank (the one I work for, natch).

Me: Hi... I'm trying to find out what steps I need to take to start getting my husband and myself pre-approved for a mortgage. So we can buy a house.

Banker Dude: Well, there aren't really "steps". We just do it for you. Do you have half an hour?

Me: ... um, yes?

So (45 minutes later, because I ask endless questions) we are preapproved for a ginormous mortgage. I mean we still have the final paperwork to be faxed and etc. But it all seems to be going through. I cannot believe how easy it was; I'm a little in love with the bank right now, and with the Banker Dude who helped me over the phone. All this time we thought we'd never be able to do that because of credit. Turns out that my credit is reasonably awesome. Don's isn't so hot, which kind of sucks because they only use his rating, as he out-earns me by something like 2 1/2 times. Having good credit doesn't do much good if you don't have the earning potential to go with it. There's no way we could afford the mortgage we've been (almost) pre-approved for... Banker Dude quoted a monthly payment that made me go: "hahaha, that's like twice what we're paying in rent! How silly!" But the idea is to get approved for more and then find a house for less.

The problem is that "what we can afford" is about 1/3 of the area "average price", even after the market slow-down and all that. So we're looking at the bottom of the market, where houses are small and crappy. We get emails from a real estate agent with houses that meet our criteria (i.e., within half and hour of the city and under x dollars)... Almost every house we've seen is the same thing. Small, cheaply-built little ranch houses, all so... I don't know, mundane? Boring? Anti-unique? Character-free? I guess if that's what we can afford, that's what we should get. I just don't like the feeling that, whatever we do, it will always be a cheap builder-ranch. You can paint and plant and renovate, but it will never really be more than the sum of its parts. I haven't yet given up that dream of getting an old, run-down house and making it awesome. But you can really only do that if a) the house had something to begin with and b) you have the funds to put into re-doing it.

So this... building. We drove out to it Saturday to have a look at the exterior-- everything we've looked at is outside of town where it's a tad bit cheaper. It is a log cabin. Or at least, it was a log cabin when it was built; now "pile of logs with roof" might be more accurate. The realtor's description reads:
"Unique opportunity for investor or first time homebuyer. House is ready for renovation."

Which is actually really generous. It does not have any of the following: heat, A/C, windows (i.e., there are holes in the walls that are (mostly) boarded up but no glass), or a water heater. One corner of the building seems to have a lot of wood rotted away, and as it's built from logs that's structural damage. We're unsure as to whether there is a kitchen or not-- the ad seems unsure. It would basically take at least $20,000 of work to just make it a liveable residence, to do things like putting in glass windows, and a heating system.

But I feel like... we could really make this place something awesome. It could have character, flavor, personality. It is nothing like any other house in the neighborhood-- and not just because it's the boarded-up, derelict, unhabited house. It's a log cabin, for pete's sake.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


It's finally gotten colder here. FINALLY, all the soup is justified. I can't explain it, but I've been on a real soup-making kick lately: bean soups, squash soups, chicken soups, chili. You name it. I made this white-bean soup over the weekend; and then apparently "ruined" it by adding the parsley. WHO doesn't like parsley?! And no, it does not look like cilantro. I can't believe that someone who is thrilled by the fact that an entire head of garlic went into the soup can be turned off by a little parsley. Either way, I thought it was soupy perfection. And I'm willing to leave out the parsley if it will make certain picky eaters happy. Siriusly, it was just a garnish.

I've been taking my prenatal vitamins again, to get back in practice. They include iron. If you've ever taken a supplement with iron, you know what it does to ya...

Don's numbers: 1/2 cigarette Monday. 2 Tuesday. 2 yesterday. Apparently one of his coworkers brought him a pack of cigarettes from the Philippines (?) that he found so terrible that he couldn't finish one and was turned off for the rest of the day. Personally I think this could be a great quitting tool! When you feel the need to smoke, light up one of these babies, get turned off. Of course, he could also just develop a taste for the new ones instead. Either way, he's not keen on the idea.

When it comes to Attempt Number Three (which is how I've come to consider our never-ending quest for offspring) our inherent differences are coming clear again. I'm intrinsically optimistic. More hopeful than scared, convinced that THIS time, everything will work out. Don is a cautious, pragmatic dude. Not willing to get his hopes up. Also not willing to take any chances whatsoever on getting pregnant before the prescribed waiting period is over, which is putting a serious crimp in our, uh, married life. (As I said previously, he thinks there's a strong correlation between the fact that we got pregnant so quickly after the first miscarriage, and losing the second pregnancy-- he thinks we should have waited longer and is committed to not making the same mistake twice. Which makes sense to me as well.) So it's a bit of, "Sweetie, I agreed that we'd wait until December or January to try-to-conceive again... I didn't agree to not have sex until then!"

Basically, I'm a Pooh and he's an Eeyore.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Banking Woes

Identification. Here's how it works. You have something official from the government with your name and photo on it, like a driver's license, a military ID, or a passport. You bring it to the bank for certain transactions, like withdrawing money, cashing a check, or changing information on your account. Are you with me so far?

We at the bank look at the piece of ID. We check the date (and yes, it matters. Expired ID is worthless ID.), we look at the picture. We compare the name to your name, the picture to your picture, and use that match to confirm that yes, the person in front of us is the person on the account or on the check. That happens so fast that neither you nor I fully realize that it's happening until something doesn't line up. It's kind of like checking your blind spot when driving-- how you don't even know that you do it until you see someone riding in that blind spot right before you were about to change lanes. So you think, "Wow, good thing I happened to check that time! Just as there was a car there!" but then realize that you always check but without really registering that you do so.

So far: you bring ID, we verify ID. ID must match you. This doesn't seem that complicated, does it? It works quite well most of the time, actually. Here's when there's a problem... You can't bring in someone else's ID. Based on what I've described, that makes sense, right? We use the ID to authenticate the person standing in front of us, so if that person is presenting his mom's or wife's, or roommate's ID, it just doesn't work. If that worked, it would mean that anyone who can get hold of your driver's license could clean out your account or cash your paycheck. Imagine the possibilities: corrupt teenage children rifling their mothers' purses, pick-pockets and thieves galore, unscrupulous housemates, even unauthorized spouses. (Dude, just because I married Don and opened joint bank accounts with him doesn't mean that he can take money from my personal accounts. Spouses can have gambling addictions, drug problems, affairs, or any number of reasons that one half of a married couple wouldn't want the other to do whatever they wanted with their money. As one manager pointed out to me, you never know who's on the brink of a divorce... and anyways, since when does marriage grant access to someone's money?)

Scenario: man shows up trying to cash a check written to someone else-- a woman, even. We explain that the only person that can cash a check is the person it is written to... kind of the whole point of checks, really. Man exclaims, "but I have her driver's license!" As though I'm suddenly going to go, "Oh! In that case of course you are authorized to cash this woman's checks! Why didn't you say so before!" Please! If it is so important that "she" get her money, make a deposit for her and she can withdraw at the ATM shortly. Sure, you probably have permission to try to do this. But that off chance that you stole her purse with both check and ID inside overrules.

Some common sense here, people. Don't give your checks to someone else to cash and then get mad at the bank for protecting you and your assets. Just be glad that we care more than you do, apparently.

Puppy Parenting

Never have I seen my poor puppy as sick as she was last night. First it was Cocomo, my sister's dog... She discovered that she could get her entire head into the bag of kibble. Unknown to us, she gorged on dog chow through the night, and was copiously sick all over my study. Why they always choose that room, I have no idea; both dogs seem to see my room as an emergency toilet. By morning, she was pretty well wrung out, and I spent the rest of the day worrying about her; she looked so sick and sad when I left for work.

Cocomo was fine when I got home. She was spry and happy, and the apartment showed no evidence of further episodes. Alice, however, looked a little... off. Head hanging down, eyes dull, listless, restless, panting. So I search the whole apartment and find a mostly-eaten bag of chocolate chips stashed under the sofa. Alice confirmed my theory by promptly throwing up the most disgusting chocolate mess I've ever seen.

She's had incidents with chocolate in the past, but hasn't touched the stuff in years. Otherwise I'd never have been so stupid as to leave the bag on the counter like that... We were up with her on and off all night, taking her outside, feeding her broth, letting her sleep in our bed. I've never been so worried about her before... her little heart was just pounding. I think chocolate is like heroin or something for dogs, it screws with their hearts.

This morning she seemed OK, though. Head back up, tail wagging again. She stopped panting sometime during the night and seemed to be sleeping better. I almost called in sick to work to stay with her but she was so much improved that I didn't. I hope that was the right decision. Now we have to steam-clean the carpets... again... And create a secure hiding place for our chocolate stash so that we don't accidentally kill our puppy. I don't want to ever go through that again...

Monday, November 05, 2007

Evil Cancer Sticks

OK, about Don and his smoking. He has been in various states of quitting for the past seven years. When he first wanted to change the nature of our friendship to something more romantic, I declined on the basis that I would never date a smoker again-- previous boyfriend had been a smoker, y'see. He surprised me by promptly agreeing to quit (I guess I was underestimating my allure as a potential girlfriend) and did really well for maybe the next six months. Then he gradually backslid into smoking again, until he was smoking maybe a few cigarettes every day, brought on by the stress of our move to Vermont, temporary unemployment, and my sudden descent into depression. The way I see it, he quit just long enough to cement the relationship...

We've been following the same pattern ever since, with a quitting cycle, several months of doing quite well, and then a return to smoking, usually triggered by periods of stress and upheaval. The last year hasn't been so good; our move to Virginia separated us for a good six weeks or so as he came up here to start work and I remained in Texas to tie up loose ends and get transferred through work. That period of being alone, living in the hotel and away from the positive influence of a nagging fiance plummeted Don back into smoking, and he hasn't really crawled out of that hole ever since-- except for a brief, disastrous attempt during our wedding/honeymoon vacation.

The quitting is complicated by the fact that Don gets really grumpy and nasty when he's quitting. I suppose any smoker or former smoker (or partner of either) understands what I mean. It's as though he's been possessed by an evil, grumpy gremlin and it makes living with him quite difficult. Hence the disaster of his trying to quit while simultaneously getting married and spending the week with both his parents and mine.

Because I've been absolutely, unequivocally, anti-smoking from the start, Don has kept his evil cancer-sticks to himself: he doesn't smoke in our house, in my car, or even in front of me. This is good in that it means I'm not sucking up his smoke, but it also makes it hard to know whether and how much he's actually smoking. Now that I've read so much about how smoking can cause infertility and miscarriage, we're both being more serious about the quitting. Believe it or not, it's hard work riding someone's ass all the time, you know? Even for a righteous cause.

He's been doing pretty well so far... no smoking at all on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Why I am Moving into a Bubble

When I'm tired at work, I tend to keep to myself: just stand at my window, help customers, and go online. When I'm in a good mood, I run around cleaning, organizing, stocking things; I sing to my coworkers, dance. I hate to say it, but I think they vastly prefer the tired, sad, and/or distracted me. Oh, well.

Why am I cutting out coffee? That is an excellent question with a meandering, complicated answer. In general, I tend towards the 'all things in moderation' school of thought: a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, a can of tuna once in a while isn't going to do any harm. It sort of flows with the idea that women have been conceiving, carrying babies, and giving birth for ages with a surprising success rate. Nature's plan is a pretty damn good one, all things together. It would probably take an awful lot to dislodge a healthy pregnancy or mess up a baby. If drinking wine or beer were that detrimental, countries like France and Germany would have more problems than they do with maternal and fetal health. If coffee were that good of a contraceptive I would never have gotten pregnant, much less twice--or even be here myself, for that matter, because my mom's a coffee fiend. So a little bit of everything plus a lot of the good stuff-- fruits and veggies, beans and rice-- should be the perfect recipe.

Except. I've got two completely unexplained miscarriages under my belt and the urge to be extremely careful is overwhelming. The more common causes of miscarriage-- low progesterone levels, thyroid levels, blood clotting issues-- I've been tested for already; no answers there. So I'm left with the more nebulous, less-proven, potential miscarriage triggers. Seemingly inconsequential things like, say, soy suddenly loom large and menacing: did you end my pregnancy? Statistics like "shown to cause a 4% increase in chance of miscarriage" don't seem so meaningless and subjective as they did a year ago.

For me, it's emotionally easier now to just play everything extra safe than to try to justify the safety of various elements in the face of loss. It's hard to play the hmm-what-caused-this game, especially as a couple. We each have theories. Neither of us realized that Don's smoking increases my risk of miscarriage by a statistically significant amount. I have my dark suspicions about that. He has his own, namely that we got pregnant again too soon after the first miscarriage.

So I'm cutting out the caffeine for a couple of reasons. First of all, I'm trying to amp up my nutrition. Vitamins, minerals, fiber, you name it. After having been through that first trimester a couple of times, I know that I'm in no shape then to worry about eating well. It will be beneficial to have spent the month (or months) prior to getting knocked up ingesting plenty of calcium, folic acid, Vitamin D, iron, etc. so that I have some reserves to fall back on. Caffeine has a nasty way of actually leaching calcium from the bones, as well as blocking the absorption of other nutrients. Pregnancy favors the fetus, so if the mother (i.e. host organism) is not ingesting enough of a certain nutrient, it gets taken from whatever reserves she has; getting more than adequate calcium prior to and during pregnancy protects her bones and teeth from being sacrificed to the growing embryo. Same goes for every other nutrient, really, and caffeine can screw with those so that even if you're taking vitamins and eating your fruits, you may not be absorbing the nutrients from them as well as you would sans coffee. Second, caffeine has been linked (albeit inconclusively) to decreased conception; that is, couples in controlled studies took longer to concieve on average when caffeine was involved. Don and I have been trying to start a family for about one year, now. The first pregnancy took about four months to get started and I don't want to do anything to lengthen those odds this go-round-- even something as small as my morning latte. Caffeine has also been linked (also inconclusively) to increased risk of miscarriage. I think another miscarriage might send me 'round the bend, so best to just switch to Pregnancy Tea and be done with it rather than taking even the smallest risk.

So out with the coffee. Out with the plastic water bottles, steaks cooked medium-well, and every other risk that is hardly even a risk. For most of it (except the EVIL CIGARETTES of Don) I don't even think there's real danger. It's just to make myself feel better, and in the worst-case scenario, to rule out potential causes.