March 02, 2005
This morning, exactly one week before we are supposed to close on our new house, we had our "independent inspection" of the house-in-progress. "Independent" in this case means "represents the buyer", which is us, as opposed to all of the other inspections that are now, already have, or are about to be taking place on behalf of the builder.
Most of the potential problems that the inspector came up with were pretty clear cut ("there's a chip in the tub" or "the ceiling fan wobbles when it's turned on"). He tested a lot of things we would never think to, nor be able to, test ourselves: the water pressure for the house (it's fine), for example, or the presence of insulation in the attic (it's there) and the crawl space (it's missing). He also noted a couple of non-obvious things, like the missing light switch outside the master bedroom for the hall light. There are two other switches for that hall light, which is why it didn't occur to me that there would be a third switch outside of the master bedroom. But, as soon as he said it, I recalled seeing the box there for the switch before the drywall went up.
With the exception of the tub (which *may* be fixable, but it may have to be completely replaced), most of the items on the list seem pretty routine. Finishing the painting (both interior and exterior), caulking the millwork, and addressing the other items shouldn't require major effort to complete.
As you can see from the photo taken this morning, they've already installed the "fifth column" under the front eve (although they still need to put in the downspout that will run along that column) and have painted more of the trim below the eve. The shutters on the second floor still need attention (as does the front door, not pictured).
...and they still have five full working days to work on all of that stuff that remains. Not bad. Not bad at all. Especially given what they've managed to do in the 48 working days they've had thus far. My confidence is high that they'll take care of the issues that remain right on time.
The next major milestone is Monday, when we have our "new owner orientation" and have a last chance to note any items that remain to be addressed before we take possession. This 54-work day schedule is absolutely flying by.
March 08, 2005
Yesterday, on day 52 of the 54-day building cycle, we visited our house with the site super and determined the final punch-list before they complete the job and we take possession of the house.
As you can see in the photo to the left, the builder did, indeed, manage to finish (most of) the exterior paint job. They also finished work on the downspout (the one on the right), as well as some other cosmetic issues that you can't see in this photo. The paint job on the garage door wasn't quite finished (although it's very close), but you can't tell because the door is up in this shot.
Inside, the house was also very nearly completed. Most of what remained are little things: touch-up paint here, a door adjustment there. One earlier problem with the guest bathtub was patched and you can't even tell there was ever a problem at all.
Yesterday, we all noticed a crack in a window that wasn't there during our previous walk-through, and I'm pretty sure that's the biggest outstanding issue as far as the builder is concerned.
(The biggest issue as far as *we* are concerned is that the soaker jets don't work in the master bath, but that should only take the builder two minutes to fix. Nonetheless, we've told them that if they don't fix it, they can keep the house, we don't want it.)
Much to my and my employer's chagrin, most of yesterday was spent signing papers at escrow. For those of you who have never bought a house, here's what you have to look forward to: hours upon hours of signing papers, catching mistakes, signing the new papers, asking questions that never occurred to you before but are dreadfully important, signing more papers, filing for social security because you've reached retirement age, and signing more papers. Little Alexander, who had the most amazing disposition of any two-and-a-half-year-old when we went into the office, became surprisingly crabby because he missed his nap as well as most of his formative years and the application deadlines for college.
But the papers are now signed (by us, at least... I don't know about the lender, yet), and we are scheduled to have one final walkthrough of the house with the builder tomorrow before they hand us the keys.
These past fifty-three scheduled-workday days have not been stress free, but they certainly have flown by. And contrary to what most of our friends and family expected, the stress has not come so much from the building process but from other matters behind the scenes -- financing, coordinating the move, selling our previous house, etc. But it all seems to be coming together, and it all seems to be happening right on schedule.
Tomorrow, then, is Day 54. The day we take possession.
March 09, 2005
Well, we've come a long way since we decided to buy a house made-to-order from a production builder. The photo you see here shows our minivan (yes, tres suburban) in front of a plot of land where we decided to have our new home built. It took quite a bit of imagination to get from there to where we are now.
Here's how the 54-day construction cycle came to an end.
I received a phone call yesterday from the escrow company. It turns out that the lender had a few more papers they wanted us to sign, and they had to be signed by noon today or we wouldn't be funded in time to "close" today. So I told them that we'll be there by 10am, and then I phoned Paulette to see if she could make it by 10am.
In the meantime, all of this running around has cut into my work time, and both my employer and I (let alone the bank that wants to lend me money) would like me to remain employed. So I went into work early this morning just so that I could get *something* done.
I meet Paulette and Alexander at the escrow company's offices, where we sit with our closing person and are presented with the forms that remain to be filled out.
The first form we need to attend to is to initial a change to when the deal would expire if we didn't complete the deal today. Essentially, there's a form that notifies all parties that if we don't close the deal on time (ie, by today), then the offer to lend us all this money expires on a certain day. The escrow folks filled in March 11th for the day, but the bank wanted them to put in March 10th. In other words, if we didn't close the deal on time (today), the ability to close would expire tomorrow.
So we had to go in and acknowledge the change in that date, or they wouldn't let us close today.
THE IRONY OF THE WHOLE THING was that if we didn't initial the form by noon today acknowledging what would happen if we didn't close today, we wouldn't have closed today. Whereas, if they hadn't required us to come in and initial the form that told us what would happen if we didn't close to day, we could have closed today without signing it.
They made us come in to initial a form that would only be relevant if we didn't initial it.
Is your head spinning yet?
Okay, there were other forms, too (all very minor), but that one just cracked me up.
On our way out the door, someone shouted, "Wait! We need one more thing!" Good thing they caught us before we'd left, because we might not have been able to return to home (Paulette) and work (me) and then gotten the message and then gotten back to their office in time to make this other teeny tiny change.
But, as you might guess, they did not require us to come back yet again, and all we had to do then was wait until it was time to go back and check out the house. We arrived at our house for the final walkthrough with the site super, checked off everything from the list (one repair that hadn't been made yet, the fellow made right on the spot. Pretty cool.) and then we were done.
Well, except for getting the keys. The builder won't give you the keys until they know they have the money. So I called escrow and asked if everything was squared away. They said they'd call me in just a minute, but they were pretty sure we were good to go.
Then I get a call from our friendly builder's representative, who said that the money had gone through, and she'd meet us at the house to give us our keys.
She had already phoned our mortgage broker and our real estate agent. Which means, essentially, that when we officially became home owners, we were the last to know.
After she kindly delivered the keys and we loaded some stuff into the house that I'd had sitting in the van, we locked up. We tried all of the keys in the locks, and they all worked. In our mailbox, the mail carrier had left a form saying that the post office wouldn't deliver any mail for us until we told them whose mail to deliver. Accompanying this form was junk mail from the cable company.
We locked up and got ready to leave. I got a phone call from the escrow company. "You can go pick up your keys now."
All throughout this process, even with the last-minute back-and-forth, the one thing I kept in mind was something a friend had noted:
Everybody involved in the process wants this deal to happen. The real estate agent. The mortgage broker. The lender. The builder. The escrow company. Us. Everybody.
When you know that everybody wants the deal to happen, it's easier to find a way to make / let it happen as little challenges pop up. And we did, and they did, and now we own our new house.
You might think that's the end of the story. But, no.
Now itís time to move into it.
March 21, 2005
One of the worst aspects of buying a new house is moving. Okay, not one of the worst. THE worst.
Moving into a new house is like writing a novel. Everyone *says* they want to write a novel, but nobody really does. Rather, they want to *have written* a novel. It's the same thing with moving into a new house. Oh sure, we wanted to *be* in a new house, but that didn't mean we wanted to actually do the moving part that is necessary to get from House A into House B.
Luckily for us, we could afford to pay professionals to move the big heavy furniture, and we had a few Very Good Friends willing to help me move my books. As the saying goes: friends help you move, good friends help you move bodies, and really good friends help you move books. Paulette and I are blessed to have so many very good friends that it only took a week to get that particular job done (Friday night saw the last box of books leave my old den in my previous house and enter the new house, and last night we saw the last of the interior of that house entirely).
Aside from the PITA factor of packing boxes and physically carrying them from room to car and then from car to new room (this is especially a problem when moving into this particular new house -- the rooms are so huge that carrying boxes from the driveway to the "library" involves changing zipcodes), there's the problem of stirring up all the dust that had accumulated in the old house.
I am allergic to dust.
Our new house had the option of including a dust zapper (which we chose to get), so that should be less of an issue in the future. Not that we ever plan to move again. But stirring up all that dust at the old house wreaked havoc with my sinuses and gave me a sore throat (and a crabby disposition). My voice became unrecognizable on the phone (perhaps not such a bad thing, given that most people think I sound on the phone like that Moviefone guy and refuse to talk to me because they think I'm some automated telemarketing device thingy).
New houses, like new cars, have a distinct aroma that is produced by the "outgassing" of the new components -- particularly the paints, glues, and most especially the carpeting. In the case of cars, there's also the plastic parts, but our house doesn't have too many plastic parts as far as I can tell.
The best way to handle the "new house smell" is to open the windows and run the fans (whole house, bathroom, and any ceiling fans) for a while. We were having absolutely perfect weather for just that kind of thing right up until moving day (well, the day the hired help came to move the big pieces). That's when the temps dropped by about fifteen to twenty degrees and the Seattle sunshine began to drizzle down in the way it absolutely hasn't done for most of the winter (which is why we are now facing drought conditions, even with this most recent spat of drizzle).
What do you call a drought in Seattle? Four hours of no rain. Har, har, har.
So, with my dust-addled sinuses and lungs making for general upper respiratory ickiness, I'm unable to find much relief just yet because the paint and carpet fumes at home are still a little bit thick.
But my aching back (from the move) and wheezy lungs aside, I'm glad we're finally getting settled into the new place. It's a nice house, considerably larger than the townhouse we lived in before, and the neighborhood is pleasant and quiet. I'm looking forward to meeting more of our neighbors and exploring the nearby trails with little Alexander. We've already taken a stroll down one of them, and Alex really seems to enjoy it when the trail veers away from the houses and streets.
So there you have it. We are officially out of the old house, and now we're unpacking boxes and setting up shop in the new joint. Also, I'm starting to put in full days at work again, which is a good thing (just ask my boss). Paulette has already mentioned a couple of "if we had to do it again" observations, and I agree with every point, but I don't even want to think about doing it again. Not for a long, long time. I'm optimistic that we won't have to. Even if we have several more kids, this place should hold us.
Speaking of having more kids....
March 24, 2005
Me: I need to update the address on my Translucent Spiffy credit card.
They: Okay. We'll need the code above the number on your card.
They: I'm sorry, sir, but that's the number from your old card, not your new card. We need the new card.
Me: But I never activated the new card. It got thrown into a pile somewhere and was packed in a box and I have no idea where it is right now. The old card hasn't even expired yet....
They: Well, you need to have that new card in order to update your address.
Me: But I didn't activate that card!
They: Our system says we need the new card. The only way to supercede the new card is to issue you yet another new card.
Me: But you'll end up sending it to the old address, right? We've already moved. The move is done. We don't live there any more. And you don't allow forwarding of your replacement cards, do you?
They: Hmmm. Let me talk to someone else and see what else I can do.
Herb Alpert: A Taste of Honey.
They: Mr. Rousselle?
They: You have another card with us, the Silver Something card. Why don't we update the address on that card, and see if we can then update the first card as part of that process.
They: Do you have your silver card with you?
Me: [rummage through extremely disorganized wallet.] Here it is.
They: What's the number on that one?
They: Okay, and the address?
They: And your supersecret pin code for the Silver card?
Me: I have a supersecret pin code for that card?
Me: Uh... Mother's Maiden Name?
They: Nope. Try again?
Me: Uh... Birthplace?
They: I'm sorry sir, but that didn't work either.
Me: Well, how about Father's Middle Name...?
They: I'm sorry. The system only gives me two chances. I'll have to transfer you over to the pin number department and have you reset your pin. Then they'll transfer you back to me to update your address.
They: Thanks for your patience. I'll be right back.
Herb Alpert: A Taste of Honey.
They: Mr. Rousselle? I have Drone Number Forty-Two on the line.
Me: Hi, there.
They: Mr. Rousselle, in order to reset your password, could you please read me the four digit code that appears above your account number?
They: Thank you, sir. You may now set your new pin.
They: Thank you, sir. Now I'll put you on hold while we get someone on the line to help you update the address with this card.
Herb Alpert: A Taste of Honey.
They: Mr. Rousselle?
They: The address change went through for your Silver Something card, but not for the Translucent Spiffy.
They: Well, you can always retrieve your statements online...
Me: No, I can't. I can't set up the online account, because when I tried to do that, I was told that I needed the new card to do that. And I don't know where the new card is....
March 27, 2005
I haven't always been fat, but I've always struggled with being or becoming fat. Friends who knew me in college or even high school might be surprised at that, but that's only because I was winning the battle at that time of my life.
About half-way through high school, I noticed that I needed to keep buying new jeans not because my inseam grew, but because my waistline did. At the same time, I took an interest in the opposite sex and realize that my interest would not be reciprocated if I continued to get fatter and fatter.
I had a 34-inch waist (at 5' 6" in height, at the time) and was continuing to grow (sideways) at the beginning of my junior year of high school. So, I took a radical step, and asked the coach if I could practice with the swim team. Swimming was a great way to work out, because it was non-contact and, since I wasn't on the team, I didn't have to worry about being criticized for not doing it right.
Swim practice involved something like two or three hours a day, five days a week (if I recall correctly, and it's possible that I don't). I would also often lift weights at a friend's house, who was a bit of a body builder and was an excellent personal trainer for me at that stage of my life.
Much to my surprise, the coach would egg me on in ways I'd never expected. At one point, he told me I couldn't practice with the team if I couldn't swim five lengths in the pool without stopping. So I did that. Then he'd put me in relays with the team members. Then he coached me to swim better. Then he coached me to swim faster. Then, when everybody on the team expected me to compete in our first meet of the year, I just sort of fell into it. Thus, without meaning to, I joined the swim team, became competitive, and eventually reached all-city honors.
So it should come as no surprise that by the end of my senior year, I had a 29-inch waist (and 5' 7" and still growing taller) and no flab to be found. This was not the result of being a naturally skinny guy. This was the result of hours of work every day, while also imposing some weird dietary rules upon myself. Hard, hard work. It paid off.
I didn't swim competitively in college, but my alma mater was located in a very hilly location, and I typically walked over a mile to get from home to class, and then vice versa at the end of the day. Up and down a couple of hills. I did swim as my elective phys. ed class for many semesters, and took fencing and ballroom dancing as well. Senior year, I lived all the way down the hill from campus and halfway up the next hill to the next college over. Yeah, that was a lot of strenuous exercise. So again, maintaining my "fighting weight" was the result of work, not of natural predisposition.
But anyone who knew me then and who knows me now knows that I've put a lot of weight on in the time since. Why? Well, I have a lot of reasons, but they all boil down to one simple fact: I've been taking in more calories than I burn.
It doesn't take much of an imbalance in that direction to push your weight up to 100 pounds over the ideal weight for your height. Imagine averaging gaining no more than, say, a pound a month. That's not much, right? Not much at all.
I graduated from college fifteen years ago.
Do the math.
Depending upon which charts you use, I'm probably about 80 pounds overweight, plus or minus ten pounds, for my height (I'm now comfortably between 5' 8" and 5' 9"). So I'm not doing quite so bad as gaining a pound a month. Also, my weight has not always been on an upward trajectory; there have been several periods where I've either lost weight or kept level. But the upward trend has prevailed over the long haul. I just don't have the two to three hours a day to maintain the kind of body I had in high school and college. Or, at least, I choose to do other things with that time (like stay married, stay employed, spend some time with my son, maybe write a short story or two, etc., etc.).
Last summer, I managed to bicycle to and from work, which boiled away roughly ten pounds. Then the weather got ugly, and my time became tighter as we prepared to buy a house, and the next thing you know, the scale slowly made that ground back up. By the time our move started, I was back up to where I'd started at the beginning of last summer -- at the highest weight I've ever been in my life.
The move has naturally siphoned away four pounds or so. Funny how, if you spend a couple weeks burning more calories than you take in, the weight goes down instead of up.
But the fact is that I've got a bit of a predisposition to take in more calories than I use. The problem is: what do I do about it?
[to be continued...]
March 29, 2005
As you may have gathered from a few hints I've dropped in earlier entries on my site, Paulette and I are expecting our second child before too long.
In the meantime, our son Alexander has had to adjust to a number of changes, including the move from one house to another and the fact that his Mommy is no longer up for running after him when he chooses to dash around like a crazed miniature T-Rex on PCB. We've been trying to prepare him for the fact that he has a younger sibling on the way by indicating his mother's belly and saying "there's a baby in there."
So, a few days ago, Alex puts his hand on *my* belly and says, "Baby in there!"
Ummm. How do you explain that, no, that's not a baby, that's too many french fries?
Occasionally, in years gone by, I'd psych myself up for a burst of weight-control efforts (diet or exercise program) by printing up a then-current picture of me (in which I was grossly overweight) and use that as inspiration to NOT BE LIKE THAT. Now, of course, I look at those photos and wish I could be that thin again.
There's a great line from an article that Chicago columnist Mary Schmich wrote as advice for the graduating high school / college class of 1997 -- this column was later set to music as "Everybody's Free (to wear sunscreen)" and had been e-mailed around the 'net, misattributed to Kurt Vonnegut. The line in question:
"Trust me, in twenty years you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are NOT as fat as you imagine." [Emphasis mine]
I remember photos from my last couple of years in college when I'd look at them and imagine I was fat. And the columnist is right, of course. I was not as fat as I'd imagined. NOW I'm as fat as I'd imagined.
True story: I look at a sumo wrestler on TV or in the movies and realize, hey, I could take him!
There's a saying that "realizing you have a problem is halfway to solving it." Bull. I know lots of smokers who know they should quit, but that doesn't bring them any closer to quitting. Realizing you have a problem might be the first step. Unfortunately, it's only the first step of what amounts to being a journey of a thousand miles.
But then again, as I mentioned earlier, that's how I got here: not all at once, but very, very gradually. One step at a time, over a long period, until I looked back and realized how very far I'd come, and how very, very far off course I'd ended up.
"The Journey of a Thousand Pounds begins with a single pint of Ben & Jerry's Coffee Heathbar Crunch."
--Ancient Chinese Secret
The worst thing about having this kind of a problem -- a problem that stems partially from poor habits and partially from destructive predispositions -- is encountering other people who have also had these kinds of problem and know exactly how to solve all of *your* problems.
There's the ex-smoker, for example, who simply decided one day a few years ago to quit, and did so, and therefore it's obvious that if you want to lose weight, you just have to decide to, and that's that.
Quite frankly, I've never had the urge to try a cigarette, I think they're disgusting and smell bad and can't possibly imagine that it could ever be enjoyable. I couldn't get hooked on cigarettes because I'm predisposed not to even want to try. So, for me to offer my opinions or advice on how to quit smoking could only ever be an academic exercise: I don't know what it's like, so I can only go on what I've read or heard. But for a reformed smoker who has never had a weight problem to assume that he knows what it takes to conquer a trend toward fattitude is just as misguided as me presuming to know how to advise a smoker to kick his habit.
Do *you* smoke? Well, then, why don't you just quit?
Glad I could be of help.
Then there's the advice from people who have taken an approach that worked for them for weight loss, and therefore are convinced that it will work in all cases. I work in an office where one of the guys got hooked on mountain climbing. "Allan," he'd say, "all you have to do is come climbing with me on the weekends, and you'll lose all that weight, no matter how much you eat."
He's almost certainly right. I've gone climbing with him, and holy cow that's a workout. And there is a lot to like about that kind of exercise. But aside from the fact that I'm now married with child and therefore have things to do on the weekends, the fact is that I don't find mountain climbing to be as interesting as he finds it. Any eight hour exercise session is going to become a bit tedious if you just don't dig it.
"No, Allan," his father advises me. "The only way to lose weight is to shut your mouth and don't let any calories pass between your lips." My employer has offered similar insights. "Exercise isn't the answer," he says (although he runs marathons and jogs something like a hundred miles a day). "You have to watch what you eat. It's the only way to lose weight."
Well, for my office mate's father, dieting was, indeed, the ticket. He eats a hard boiled egg for breakfast. I think he eats a slice of toast for dinner, on days he has dinner. And sure enough, he has lost a lot of weight.
As for my employer, I'm told that his regimen has produced substantial results (I haven't known him all that long), but I also know it includes a great deal of exercise as well as moderation in the eating department. Then again, he will also freely offer, "I completely subscribe to the do as I say, not as I do school of thought."
When friends, family, and co-workers offer me their suggestions that I tend to my weight, I know that they are doing so out of concern for my well-being. Well, except for my employer, who simply wants to avoid having to train somebody else to do my job.
Some broach the subject tactfully. Some are rather bold about it. Most wait (er, weight?) until I bring it up, and then they helpfully offer their advice.
As you might assume from my posts on the subject, I'm fine talking about it. In fact, as an extrovert, I'm more inclined to talk about whatever is on my mind than I am to mull it over. It's just the way we extroverts tend to work out problems. We talk it out. And this is, indeed, a problem that I'm trying to work out.
So I don't mind the advice. I don't mind suggestions or counter-suggestions or food-for-thought, such as it is. What bothers me is the idea that anyone knows the be-all-end-all solution to this problem. What works in some cases does not work in all. If there were one sure-fire method for losing weight, we wouldn't have an obesity problem in this country.
There is one sure-fire *basis* for losing weight (burn more calories than you take in), but I have yet to find a sure-fire method toward that goal. Therein lies a multi-billion dollar industry.
But I have some thoughts on the subject. Perhaps you do, too. Let's chat.
For starters, I'll note that I've come to believe the solution that will work for me will be found in the notion of "The Journey of a Thousand Miles" (or a Thousand Pounds, in this case). This is not a destination I can pursue simply by setting out to earn my black belt or enter a marathon or some such goal. More likely, I'm going to have to find small course corrections that I can make now and that I can sustain indefinitely.
That, or learn to exploit my current predispositions and pursue a career as a sumo wrestler.
March 30, 2005
March 30th, 1968:
"I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President."
--Lyndon Baines Johnson
During the same address to the nation, he outlined his plan for peace in Vietnam.
At least he kept one of his promises.
Copyright (c)1998 - 2010 by Allan Rousselle. All rights reserved, all wrongs reversed, all reservations righted, all right, already.
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