Unsettled

Unsettled

It has been a while since I’ve written about the new house, primarily because the process has been slow and steady.  I may have mentioned before that this is the third time we’ve done this, the last time having occurred almost twenty years ago, and each time reminds you of the the highs and lows that go with the territory of such an endeavor. I had forgotten about the myriad of decisions that have to be made, about the emotional swings, and how the progress can feel like it is zipping along one week, then slow to a snail’s pace the next.

Memories of the first house we built are near and dear to my heart, primarily because it was the first, but also because we fired the contractor before we were under roof. With the help of my father-in-law, a retired carpenter who could, with perhaps the exception of pouring a foundation, build a house from top to bottom, we became our own general contractors and finished the job in less than four months. That experience is a story in itself.

Each house is different, and this one has the distinction of K being the general contrtactor from the start, and because we started in late autumn.  It has been an interesting process so far. When we initially broke ground, it was easy to measure the progress because clearing the site, pouring the foundation and floors, framing the structure and installing the roof were all visable markers.

It was exciting to witness, but the project was still in its infancy, and didn’t feel real in many ways.  That may seem a little silly because the eyes don’t lie, and you could see the drawings on a blueprint come to life, but we were still making tweaks to the design, and the idea of actually moving felt distant, at least for me. True to form, I compartmentalized the entire concept of what I knew would eventually arrive. After all, why fret over something that isn’t imminent?

Since then, it hasn’t been as easy to chart the progress, yet the progress has been real and is now moving quickly. Once the shell was up, the roof on and the windows in, the indoor work began. Once that occurred, the structure really began to take shape, although it might not have appeared to looking at it from the outside. But as we speak, the inside has been competely framed, all of the interior plumbing has been roughed in and so has most of the electical wiring and interior duct-work.  The siding is more than half-way completed, and the deck that will also have a screened-in porch is almost done. Every time I go on site I see something new and different. You can see the rooms take shape, and see how everything fits. It is beginning to look like a real house, and I am beginning to think of our current home in the past tense.

We still have a ways to go. The garage floor needs to be poured, the sheet rock needs to go up, all the cabinetry and fixtures need to be installed, the finish carpentry needs to be completed, the heating system installed, the plumbing and electrical work finished, the floors installed, the walls painted, the driveways created and the exterior grading finished. But most of the decisions have been made in regards to the materials and subcontractors, and it is a matter of lining them up and getting them in. I am hoping that we will be able to move into the new place before July is over, but have no idea how realistic that goal is.

Nonetheless, the move is imminent, and therefore very real. As exciting as that prospect is, and as much as I want it to happen sooner than later, we are also in a state of limbo, and I find that very unsettling.

Why? Well, an endeavor like this has a lot of moving parts, and while you try to plan for the choreography of events that never ends, it never goes according to plan. There are always glitches and unexpected costs that need to be addressed. I knew from the beginning that as this project neared completion, the bills would begin to mount, and that things would be tight until we sold our current house. That has always been my hot-button, and it is on the verge of being pushed.

While the thought of being settled into a house that I know is well built and tailored to our specifications is comforting and brings a smile to my face, the idea of moving makes me want to curl into a fetal position. This will be our fifth move, but I was a lot younger, more able-bodied, and full of piss and vinegar during the previous four. Perhaps I was also a more naive about what the move actually entails: packing boxes,  unpacking boxes, setting up the new house, and getting the new lawn and landscaping established. I know better now.

Then there is the process of getting our current home ready for the market, which in my mind is worse than the actual move itself. We have some cosmetic work that needs to be done to make the house look its best, and have to inventory every single item we own, deciding what to keep, donate, pawn off or take to he dump. It is a time consuming, tedious and mind-numbing process. I am very impatient when it comes to this shit, and want to devote as little time as possible to it. I don’t want to debate the details of what stays or goes, so my impulse is to throw a lot of stuff away, consequences be damned! K attaches more emotion, sentimentality and careful thought to the process, so I am going to have to do my best to meet her half way and not become irritable as we comb through the history of our life in that place.

Once all that is done and the move is completed, the final hurdle is to sell the house for the price we want. I am feeling the pressure of time, because common sense dictates you want to sell your house during the peak selling seasons of spring or summer. Waiting until the fall or, God forbid, winter, would not be ideal. We’ll be up to our eyeballs in debt by then because we will be carrying what amounts to two mortgages, and when that occurs I will be a basket case of worry until the house is sold.

How the MS is going to factor into all of this is anyone’s guess. I know I don’t do well in the heat of the summer, which is theoretically when all of this will occur. I also know a lot of stress isn’t good either, but I don’t see how that can be avoided. I have no idea whether the MS is going to allow me to be as involved and engaged as I want to be and, assuming it does, what my body will feel like when this is over. This was not a factor before, and brings an another layer of anxiety to the process. I want to roll up my sleeves and do as much on site as I can instead of paying others to do it, but will my body allow it? I’ll probably be sucking on that vape pen quite a bit.

These were all realities last fall, but they were theortetical. It’s an entirely different ballgame when they are on your doorstep. Between dealing with the day to day issues of getting the house built, dealing with cost overruns and planning for the actual move, the new house has taken a life of its own and consumes most of our time and energy. The strain is worse on K than for me because she is the general contractor. She is on the front lines every day, and has to deal with a myriad of personalities and other crap that is too long and complicated to get into.  She is really good at this and has done a remarkable job, but it is sometimes painful to witness.

We are on the verge of entering the final stretch, where everything comes to a head. Critical mass is approaching where we prepare and transition from one place to another. I feel it approaching. It is an unstoppable force, a test of endurance, stamina and nerve.  The feeling is exciting and terrifying, exhilarating and draining.

Summer has always been my favorite season. I have always enjoyed this carefree time of year when when I’m lounging by the pool, enjoying evening fires on our patio, and hanging out in shorts, t-shirts and bare feet. I’m always saddened when September rolls around because I know the cold winter months will soon be approaching. I never imagined a day would come when I’d wish the summer away, but here we are.

I can’t wait for this to be over.

Route 60

Rt 60

When I wrote about turning sixty a couple of months ago, I talked about not obsessing about age, being on the home stretch of life, looking forward to retirement, and things of that nature.  All of that is and remains true, but something interesting has happened in the weeks that have followed, as I begin my voyage on Route 60 and beyond: I have become introspective about what that milestone means, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

This isn’t going to be a maudlin, woe is me lament, because I’m not sad, depressed or in any way discouraged. But for some reason a light bulb has gone on in my mind about life going forward, and I’ve embraced it.

I knew retirement was a place on life’s map I would eventually reach, but I never gave it much thought because it was beyond the horizon, not even a blip on the radar. It was more conceptual than real. Oh, I planned for it in terms of 401Ks and things of that nature, but it was more conceptual than real, out of sight and out of mind. Reaching my seventh decade has changed that narrative, and not in a bad way.

Once this house is built and we have moved, I suspect this will become the next big thing to actively plan for. I need to work for as long as I can because the MS makes me a heavy consumer of healthcare services, I want to keep my health insurance for long as possible, and get most if not all of the social security benefits I am eligible for, assuming it is still solvent. The time frame I’m working with is six years, and the one thing I have learned about aging is that time seems to pass a lot more quickly than it did in my youth. So it will be here before I know it.

There might have been a time when I looked at this scenario with doom and gloom. I could have viewed it as the beginning of the end, when I had one foot in the grave and another on a banana peel. I don’t see it that way now. Instead of it being the beginning of the end, I consider it the end of the beginning.

What is not to like about your time being your own, about not having to get up early to get ready for work? What  downside is there to planning ones day with stuff that you want to do, not stuff that you have to do. How can one not enjoy hanging out with your spouse and doing what you please. Granted, these years will also bring advancing age, and all the aches, pain and challenges that come with it, but I’m guessing they also bring a freedom that we only dream about when we are entrenched in a life dominated by kids, career and running a household.

I also know that being retired begins our final stretch of road in life, which can be unnerving. But that destination is like retirement was decades ago, a blip on the radar far beyond the horizon. So like the idea of retirement, I’ll mull that reality over when the time comes. My parents were both blessed with long life, passing at 96 and 92, so I am assuming longevity won’t skip a generation, the MS not withstanding. So maybe I’ll dwell on how much remains of that final stretch when I really am old. Like when I am in my eighties.

Meanwhile I am all in and looking forward to an empty nest to not having to shave if I don’t want to, and staying up as late as I want or sleeping in as much as I want. Maybe nothing will change as far as my grooming and sleeping habits are concerned, but it will be my choice.

I enjoy doing absolutely nothing, but that gets boring after a while, so I know K and I will need to find something to meaningfully occupy our time. I can see myself writing more, having all day at my disposal instead of the bits and pieces I grab now. The possibilities are endless, and I’m looking forward to having to having to make those decisions like a kid looks forward to seeing what Santa brought on Christmas eve. It’s a liberating thought.

Of course there is the issue of being able to afford retirement, but we have a good start on that front, and it will give me something else to plan for, which I enjoy doing. Even though I know the foundation in place will continue to grow, it’s hard to concentrate on that now as we burn through cash while the house is being built. I will focus on it like a laser beam once we are in the new house and have sold our current one. A clearer picture of our needs, and how much more can squirreled away while I remain a working slug, will emerge by then. There will no distractions or restrictions getting in the way of planning and preparing for building what we need to have our unfettered time together.

Six years should be more than enough to accomplish that. Getting reestablished in the new place is the first hurdle though, and that has created a separate vibe that grows as the house nears completion. More on that next week.

 

A Tribute to Mom(s)

Mom

I’ve been thinking about my Mom a lot these past few days, perhaps because Mothers Day is this weekend. September will mark the four year anniversary of her death, and it’s hard to believe she has been gone for that long.

I wasn’t devastated when she passed of a cerebral hemorrhage. Don’t get me wrong, I was sad and distraught, but she was in her nineties and blessed with pretty good health most of her life. Her end was a quick one and did not involve any suffering, which she always hoped for. So while her passing saddened me, I couldn’t help but be happy for her and the full life she enjoyed. She exited this world the way she wanted, and wouldn’t have to grieve over the death of my Dad any more, who had passed four months prior. They had been married for 58 years, and she was devastated by his passing, which surprised me a little because he annoyed her to no end, and they constantly fought like cats and dogs.

Mom was a paradox. My biggest supporter and biggest critic, I cared about her opinion more than any other but also hated her at times because they could be very blunt and, from the perspective of a kid and young adult, her words and tone were insensitive. I don’t doubt that the reason for any success I have achieved in life was because of her pushing, prodding, encouragement, and support to do my best, for never allowing me to do things half-assed, and her belief that I was capable of achieving anything.  There is also no question that she is the root of the self-doubt and insecurity that is my Achilles Heel.

I once heard someone describe their boss as a comfort and a curse, and the same could be said of Mom, although the balance of that is skewed heavily towards the comfort side, and the curse reference, while harsh, is from the perspective of a young boy. Mom could be rough and insulting, and not give two shits about what anyone might have thought or felt if she thought she was right about something. I suspect that was the product of her own insecurities and the tough road she had to navigate.

Her father, an alcoholic, abandoned his family when she was young, and she had to help my grandmother with running the house and helping raise her younger sister. Her first husband died of aplastic anemia shortly after they were married, leaving her with a young child, my half-brother, to raise by herself.  She also had to deal with a myriad of health issues my brother had that continued throughout his life.

Mom had come very close to alienating K and her family to the point of no return in the weeks leading up to our wedding, but subsequently realized the error of her ways and apologized, swallowing a heaping slice of humble pie in the process because she knew she was wrong, and that it was the right thing to do. Age was good to her in that sense. It mellowed her, and she showed her softer side more often. Perhaps Nidan’s arrival had something to do with that, as she was absolutely smitten with him, becoming his biggest supporter and confidant.

Somewhere along the way, we became good friends. Oh, she still had her moments, but by then I had my own life and family, and let those things slide. Having a child made me realize that no matter how old they get, they always remain your little boy or girl, and it’s difficult not to treat them that way. It’s hard to let go because you simply care too much.

I also understood that parents are just regular people, doing the best they can and often learning on the fly in terms of raising kids and running the business of a family. I learned how life’s pressures can seep into family life. Kids are frustrating as hell, and can be a real pain in the ass. Adding that to the mix of a particularly bad day/week/month can create a combustible mix. But I also realized that no matter how difficult, intimidating or mean parents might seem, their depth of their love is bottomless, and the intensity of it is blinding and pure. They will take a bullet for their kids without thinking twice.

Kids are inherently selfish and ego-centric, and don’t understand or care one iota about any pressures Mom or Dad are dealing with. In fact, they often aren’t even aware of them, especially if Mom and Dad do a good job of shielding them from it, which mine did. All we feel is their wrath, and don’t understand why. Perhaps this understanding and general maturation allowed me to cut her some slack.

It was a pleasure having an adult relationship and adult discussions with Mom, and getting to know her as a person, not this mythic figure. It was a comfort knowing that she always had my back, would always be there in times of need, and would continue to offer her guidance upon request. Well, at least most of the time. She was still my mother, after all, and she still couldn’t help offering unsolicited advice if she felt compelled, but I was better equipped to filter it. I learned to appreciated how smart, talented, creative and tenacious she was, and am happy I was able to enjoy that type of relationship for much longer than I ever expected.

Mom could make me happier and feel more confident than anyone in the world, but she  pissed me off faster and made me feel worthless more than anyone else I have ever known. She could be a pleasure to be around, but also make you want to run away screaming. There is no one, other than perhaps K, that I would rather have in my corner. Conversely, there is also no one whose shit list I would least like to be on.

We don’t choose our parents, but become the product of everything that is them: their good and bad, their beauty and warts, their ying and yang. I have no complaints, and feel truly blessed that Mom was in my life. In many ways, I miss her more now than I did almost four years ago. But I also know she never left me, because I am who I am because of her, and many of the philosophies I live by came from both her and Dad. I am an extension of them, and because of that they are never truly gone. I also see her picture that opened this post every day. It is one of my favorite pictures of her because she is at a stage of her life where anything was possible, it shows how stunningly beautiful she was, and because I wasn’t even a twinkle in her eye when it was taken.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom! I love you.

Happy Mother’s Day K. I love you too! You are a wonderful Mom, and partner in life. I’m lucky to have  you.

And Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms reading this post. May your special day be filled with the happiness and joy you deserve. You have a tough gig!

 

Totaled

Pic 2

About month ago, while I was in the midst of writing the Waiting Room trilogy, I experienced something for the first time. It wasn’t a fun experience, but it was educational. The only thing I hope it had in common a bucket list item is that it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I was involved in a automobile accident that involved five vehicles. Three of them, including mine, incurred heavy damage, one suffered moderate damage and one didn’t look to incur much damage at all. I am fine, and was fortunate enough not to have been injured in any way, shape or form. But when the shock of what transpired wore off that evening, and I had a chance to reflect on what actually  happened, it was clear that I was lucky.

I was returning home from work and had just pulled off the highway. There is a stretch of road that spans a couple of miles off the exit, where the speed limit winds down from 60 to 40 within that span. The last half mile of that section of road is on a downhill grade, with a four way stop light smack in the middle of it. There are four lanes at the stop light, the one on the left is for a left hand turn, the one on the right is for a right hand turn, and the two middle lanes are for those of us who are driving straight ahead. I was in one of those middle lanes, the one that was next to the left hand turn.

I was at a complete dead stop, and had been for around fifteen seconds or so. I don’t remember what I was doing, but think I was just looking around between glances at the light. I do remember being surrounded by vehicles, which is not uncommon for that intersection on the way home when the light is red. I was just chilling, not thinking about anything in particular, Then, without any warning, something violently slammed into my rear. The sound was loud, and the jolting impact was fierce. No airbags deployed, and the seatbelts did their job. Good thing too, otherwise my head would have hit the steering wheel, if not the windshield.

I wasn’t in any pain, and didn’t feel any panic. I was more dumfounded than anything else, not believing what had just happened. I remember two distinct thoughts. The first was “I’m okay.” The second was “This isn’t good.”

Stepping out of the car after calling 911, I saw the carnage. What looked like a fairly new blue GMC stuck was intimate with my back left quarter panel, which was destroyed. The door to the rear cargo area was visibly bent, the left back tire was punctured and the wheel well was shot. Glass, plastic and other car debris was everywhere. The right front of the offending truck was crumpled, and it was then that I noticed the other vehicles that were involved.

The right side of a Ford Transit that was behind me and to my left, was scraped and dented across both passenger doors, and its right side view mirror was sheared clean off, a solitary item sitting in the middle of the intersection about twenty feet ahead. A sedan, which was apparently behind me, had his right quarter panel caved in, but the vehicle was drivable, which I discovered when it was eventually moved out of the way to start letting traffic through. The car in front of me looked liked it was hardly scratched, but that probably wasn’t the case.

Everyone except the driver of the GMC that caused the accident was out their vehicles, milling about, checking to make sure everyone was okay, before the authorities arrived on the scene. After I walked to the back of my car so see what it looked like, I called the auto body shop that has done some prior work for us to let them know what happened and to get a wrecker on the scene, my insurance agent, then K.

This is what I had pieced together after inspecting the damage and talking with the cops and other drivers: the driver of the vehicle that caused the accident, a seventy year (or so) old gentlemen, apparently was driving down that stretch where the speed limit tapers from 60 to 40 with his mind on something else. He was in the lane for the left turn at the light when he looked up and noticed the light was red, a cluster of cars had stopped, and he hadn’t. Talk about an Oh Shit moment!

The Ford Transit was directly in front of him, so he swerved to his right in an attempt to avoid a direct hit, but sideswiped it instead, thus the pushed in right side and missing side view mirror. As he swerved, he hit the back left of the car behind me at a glancing angle, pushing it away, before plowing into me. The driver of the Transit said the GMC pushed my car ten to twenty feet forward into the car in front of me. I had left some space between me and that car, and didn’t notice any damage to my front end, but that didn’t turn out to be the case.

I don’t think the driver of the GMC had a chance to slam on his breaks because I didn’t hear any tires screaming before impact, and I didn’t see skid marks. I don’t know how fast he was going when he hit the first vehicle, but I’m guessing it had to be close to 40 MPH. Thank God he hit two other vehicles before landing on me, otherwise I think I would have had to accept the assistance of the emergency vehicles that arrived on the scene with law enforcement. I don’t think I would have had a choice.

When the wreckers arrived and they started clearing up the site, a good portion of the quarter panel fell off my vehicle when they separated my car from his truck, which made a loud clanking sound on the road. K was on the scene by then, suggesting that I go to the hospital and get checked out. I declined because I felt fine and didn’t feel like waiting in the ER all night long, but had to sign a document saying I refused treatment. As we were leaving the scene, I saw my Ford Escape sitting atop the wrecker and wondered how long it would take for the repairs.

pic 3

I had an inkling getting it back wasn’t going to be an option the next day when I spoke to the owner of the auto body shop. I had called to see if the insurance adjuster had set up a time to inspect the damage, and the first words that came out of his mouth were “Man, you really got creamed. Are you okay?”

He also warned me that he thought the car would be totaled, explaining that happens if the cost of repairs exceeded 70% of the car’s value. He had a similar car with less miles and damage several weeks prior that barely came under that threshold. He proceeded to explain that not only would the quarter panel and rear door need to be replaced, but so would the front end, which was cracked from stem to stern and had damaged headlights. He also said this assessment was the result of a quick visual inspection. He hadn’t crawled underneath to see what goodies he found under there, but said he wouldn’t be surprised if he found something. The frame might have even been bent.

His assessment was confirmed within the week, so now I am without my car. I had a loaner for several weeks and pondered what to do because the last thing I can afford right now, with all the expenses of the house we are building piling up, is a car loan. The timing of this couldn’t have been worse from that perspective. I was discouraged because I really liked my Escape, and because it was fully paid for. My plan was to buy a good used car with the money I received from the insurance company but, no surprise here, I can’t get what I want with the check I received. And, I didn’t want to spend one dime more than they gave me.

I  hate hate hate car shopping, and am pissed with the entire situation. Fortunately, I have another car at my disposal, and we ultimately decided that I would drive my parents old 2004 Accord. It has low mileage and is in really good shape, so that will be my primary vehicle until we are in the new house and have sold our current one. At least then most of my loans will have been paid and I’ll have some liquidity to buy a new car. I wasn’t planning on having to consider a new vehicle for at least two or three years, having recently replaced K’s, but as the saying goes, life is what happens when you are busy making plans.

It weird what you think of in a situation like that. I remember being calm and proceeding in a matter-of fact manner. That might have been different if I was injured, but I instinctually knew what to do and who to call. I remember taking inventory of my body to make sure the reason I didn’t feel anything was because I was in shock. I hindsight, I regret not going to the driver of the GMC to see if he was alright. My lasting memory of the gentlemen, besides his age, is that he was a disabled veteran. I believe this because GMC had a custom paint job on the payload hitch that said “Freedom isn’t Free – Thank a Veteran”  and as he left the vehicle, he needed a cane to walk and had to be helped to whatever ride awaited him. I wish I had, and let him know I didn’t hold any grudges. For all I know, he did a hell of a job the limiting damage that could have been catastrophic once he saw what was about to happen.

I am curious about what this entire episode cost his insurance company. His truck looked brand new and sustained a lot of damage. Then there was my vehicle, the Ford Transit, the car he first hit, and whatever damage the car I hit sustained, if any. It would not surprise me if his insurance dropped him.

So my wheels are gone, I’m driving an old car, I have to take out a car loan for a new vehicle much sooner than I ever wanted to, and I have to dance the dance with car salesmen within the next several months. Swell! I miss my Escape, and am frustrated with an industry that gives you a check for the “market value” of your loss that doesn’t come close to the replacement cost of an identical vehicle.

But I really can’t complain. This could have turned out much worse.