Saturday, November 20, 2010

Next Time

The next time I come to Seattle, I really want Penn to come with me. I've been here twice now without him, and I know he would love it here. I really like it here, too. This is my second trip to Seattle and I'm now convinced that this is one of my favorite US cities. I took a little bit of time today to walk down to Pike Place Market, where I sampled a bunch of food and bought apples, fancy flavored pasta (I got some for my sister, too, since we had fun picking out our favorite flavors last time we were here), and a treat for my meatatarian almost-husband. I treated myself to a nice dinner at an oyster bar/seafood restaurant tonight, and now I'm back in my hotel room. My room is amazing. I named my own price for a 4-star hotel on Priceline and I couldn't believe my luck when I got here. I'm on the 39th floor of the hotel and my room has an enormous floor-to-ceiling window with a spectacular view: the Space Needle is framed right in the center of the window and if I look to my left I can see the Puget Sound. Every night it has been exciting to come back to my room. I put on the hotel robe and climb into my super-soft bed and read myself to sleep taking occasional breaks to stare out my window at the glowing Space Needle. It has been nice having this beautiful view because even though I didn't have much downtime to explore the city on this whirlwind trip I get to feel like I'm a part of it every night.
Next time I come back here I'm coming back with no agenda. I want to soak up the city on my own time. And there will be a next time, I'm determined. I want to see as much of the world as possible in my lifetime, but there's something to be said for going back time and again to places that really click for you, and I think Seattle is one of those places for me.


This has been a successful conference so far. I went to my session yesterday and was told that the things I am exploring in my research are "fascinating." A well-known scholar in my field approached me and said he'd like to talk more about what I'm doing! And my advisor, who was part of the session also, approached me afterward and said he'd heard good things about my paper and that it was well-received. This all feels really good since this is my dissertation research and I'm obviously invested in it. Unfortunately I didn't get much critical feedback that I can actually put into action, but I'm satisfied with knowing I've sparked interest. I also had a really bizarre experience at the conference yesterday when someone noticed my name tag and said, "Oh, you went to[ School Where I Got my MA]!" I said, Yes, I did. How do you know that?" and she said "I'm working on my MA there now and they talk about you in our classes." I was like, "What? Seriously? Why?!" She laughed and explained that one of my professors is still using a paper I wrote in 2005 as an ideal version of how to complete the assignment, and that in general they talk about me because I bucked the usual trend of the department and instead of going on to the local state school for a PHD I got out of the state all together and went to a higher tier school. I can't believe I'm being held up as an example of how to succeed. Especially at this point, when I feel so behind on my dissertation process. It's flattering, for sure. It's beyond flattering. It also adds pressure, though, to know that not only do Penn and I (and to a certain extent the rest of my family) care that I finish, people at both of my old universities have staked some sort of bragging rights on me as well. It's things like this that make me question my path, just a little bit. Despite my self doubt about my work, I wonder if maybe I do, in fact, have the skills to make a splash in this field, and I wonder what I'll be losing if I do walk at least partially away from it (and I know in my heart that's what I want to do, I can't reconcile parenting with the work it takes to be one of the academic bigshots, and just by marrying Penn and not being willing to move anywhere in the country I've severely limited my career opportunities). Then again, the fact that I'm willing to turn from the path at all means that maybe academic overload isn't the life for me, and the not-so-confident part of myself thinks that maybe I'll ultimately be more comfortable always wondering what I could have done with an intense research career instead of actually trying it, burning out, and ultimately disappointing myself.
And maybe there is some way to balance the sort of active, involved family life I crave with an academically rigorous lifestyle, but I've yet to see that play out for anyone in real life.
It shouldn't be an either/or proposition, but it is. Compromise happens somewhere, and I think for me the compromise will be the career trajectory. Will I have a career? Yes. Will it be what it could have been if I didn't choose Penn and a family, or if I decided to put career above those things. No, obviously not. And this is nothing brilliant to be talking about, just the plight of most middle and upper class, educated women in the US in the twenty first century. It's just frustrating to know how complicit I will be in continuing the cycle.
Blah. Back to the conference!
Edited to add: I find it funny that when I originally posted this at 9:30 this morning the fact that I was typing on my Blackberry caused me to typo "Success" as "Sucess" in the title. Maybe that's telling?

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Not surprisingly, buying a house and moving really shook up the routine for a couple of weeks (not that I've had much of a routine this fall...or really this entire year anyway!). I had to drop the ball on a lot of things, particularly from last Thursday through Monday, when we had no internet access at either the old place of the new place. I basically gave myself permission to focus only on moving. The bad news is that I now have two weeks of grading to do and I haven't touched my dissertation in close to a month. Gah. The good news is that this was somehow the easiest move I've ever had, despite the fact that it was the biggest one in terms of the sheer amount of stuff we had to move. It definitely helped that both Penn and I were able to work together to get everything packed. We also had so many friends help. Two of Penn's friends from his hometown spent Thursday and Friday of last week helping us get the house move-in ready. They helped Penn with a ton of yardwork (including chainsawing down a dead tree that was three times as tall as the house; I was at work while they did that, thank god, because I would have been obnoxiously nervous if I had to watch them do it. It could have landed on the house!) and they hung my blinds and curtains and did some other random tasks around the house. It was hugely helpful. Then on the day we moved in we had half a dozen people show up to help (loading up took three hours but we unpacked the U Haul in half an hour flat!), and Penn's good friend and his girlfriend stayed with us on Saturday night and helped us unpack, so by Sunday afternoon the job of organizing the house was more than halfway done. It's amazing to have such kind friends, since all they got in return were a few meals and beer. I feel very blessed. I managed to get most everything else under control over the course of this week, and now I just need to unpack our enormous book collection and get our "art" (we have very little actual art) and decorative touches into place.And Penn has taken care of most of the minor repairs that needed to be done and he has the yard in good shape (and because he chopped down that huge tree we have years worth of firewood. Seriously, YEARS.)
It feels amazing to finally be in our house. I can see why home ownership is so seductive. Don't like something? You can change it! And there are other, less tangible emotions that come from having the house now. Penn told me the other night that he couldn't believe he was sitting on the couch in his own house with his soon-to-be-wife, and he didn't need to say more than that because I knew what he meant. There's a great confidence that comes from owning a house together, to planting our roots in the same place and making it ours. I spent most of my teens and twenties feeling like I was biding my time, having fun but ultimately waiting to get to where I am now. I was always just so curious about who I would marry and where I would live and how we would make a living. And now, barring a life-changing disaster, I know the answers to those questions. For someone like me who craves stability and security more than anything else, tying myself to Penn and this house is, paradoxically, liberating. It's frightening, too, because I sometimes have a sense that having received what I always wanted means it can only go downhill from here. I suppose I can only hope that we continue to work hard together and be lucky.
I love the house. I love seeing my dog snuffling around his big backyard, I love using all of my counterspace to prep meals, I love simply walking down one flight of stairs to do laundry and not having to worry about whether or not I have quarters to pay for it, I love the wood floors, I love finally living somewhere with a proper hallway again. I love imagining what it will be like to finish my dissertation in my new office. Even more than that, I love imagining what it will be like to bring our first child through the front door and tell him or her that this is home. I hope I get to do those things.
Anyway, I'm on a shuttle headed to the airport for a conference and we're almost there, so I have to go. I have my own hotel room in Seattle and some other posts brewing, so there may be more to come soon, for a change.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

We Got The House!

The final loan approval came through yesterday and the closing has been scheduled. We're doing a walk-through of the house on Friday at 10:45 and then we go to the title company to sign all of the paperwork and get the keys right after that. Friday also happens to be my birthday, so as soon as we get the keys we're heading to the house with a bottle of champagne for a double celebration. I can't wait!
There was one last tiny hitch, of course. The current owner asked to be able to rent the house back from us for six extra days. So, basically, we would go to closing and get the keys and ownership papers but then the batty old lady who is living there now would pay us rent and keep living there until next Wednesday. At first Penn and I were like, "Okay, maybe." It would mess up some of our plans--we were really hoping to start doing yard work and cleaning the interior of the house this weekend--but we would have dealt with it. But then we realized some things:
A) They (the seller and her lawyers/guardians--I'm not entirely kidding when I call her batty, she legally has mental issues) were the ones that pushed for an early closing to begin with. We had initially suggested November 22nd as a closing date and when we were counter-offering back and forth at the beginning the sellers said we had to close by the end of October. So the 5th was a compromise, more on our end than on theirs, which made it really obnoxious when they were like, "Hey, we know we really rushed this closing process and made it harder on you guys and your team of inspectors/assessors/lenders, but now that we managed to miraculously meet our agreed upon closing date, can we please stay an extra week?"
B) The sellers were trying to act like it was our fault that they aren't prepared to move out by Friday because they supposedly didn't know if our financing was going to come through. What a bunch of bull. The seller's agent looked at our finances very early on in the process and figured they were fine. That's why they accepted our offer in the first place. Other things could have fallen through, but our financing was always relatively secure. And, just to be on the safe side, don't you think you would get your ducks in a row and be prepared to move if the financing did go through? They have known for almost a month that closing was going to be on the 5th; that's plenty of time to prepare. We don't have a lot of patience for sob stories at this point.
C) We would only make $200 to let her stay the extra days. That money would just get shaved off our closing costs and it's a drop in the bucket compared to the overall cost of the house. Not worth it!
D) The only "safeguard" we had in the rental contract was that if she refused to leave after six days the daily rent would double. It would double from a whopping $33 to $66, still way cheaper than a hotel or rental apartment or nursing home room. So it seemed frighteningly likely that she might continue to say she wasn't ready to move indefinitely, and then we would be stuck paying lawyer's fees to get a crazy old woman evicted from our house. NOT WORTH IT.
E) We have a contract with the closing date on it, they don't have a leg to stand on. We get OUR HOUSE on Friday.

I can't wait to move all of our stuff over next weekend and start getting settled. And I'll try not to talk about it constantly because I know house stuff is really, really boring. But, really, it's home repairs/furnishing or wedding planning that is on my mind 90% of the time these days. I don't blame you for not finding it all as fascinating and exciting as I do, but if that's the case I suggest that maybe you try back here in February when I'll be on to other topics.

Speaking of other topics, I went to Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity last weekend, and it was awesome. It was so uplifting to be around other people demonstrating tolerance, open-mindedness, and reason (and very witty senses of humor!). It wasn't about how we lefty academic east coast elite liberals are right and tea partiers and the Christian Right are wrong (although admittedly a lot of signs played on insani"tea"). Instead it was all about just listening to each other, seeking out the facts wherever possible, and avoiding the fear-mongering and bluster that is such a part of mediated politics these days. "If we amplify everything, we hear nothing," Stewart said in the rally's closing speech. He also reminded us that "We live in hard times, not end times." It felt wonderful to be standing on the Mall with a hundred thousand plus people who seem to understand that. The results of yesterday's election were not encouraging to me. It's obvious that the majority of voting America has fallen prey to the knee-jerk reaction. But you know, the government is a self-regulating system. I'm confident that the Republicans won't really get anywhere, either, and that two years from now we'll likely see another sea change. But you know, if they do get us out of this recession I'll be pleased, not pouty. That's the thing: it's politics, not a freaking football game where my side has to "win." I wish there was more rational, critical thought and less anti-intellectualism in this country. But being at the rally on Saturday did manage to convince me that "my people" are out there in droves and that perhaps I don't need to move to Denmark.
Which is a good thing, since we just bought a freaking HOUSE. We're stuck here for a long time now, like it or not!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Trying to be Patient

I celebrated Halloween yesterday by waking up with Quasimodo Face. I had a terrible allergy attack late Saturday night and I decided to just take a pill and sleep it off. As it turns out, going to sleep when your left eye is all red and teary and puffed up is not a good idea. When I woke up in the morning I felt better, but it looked like someone had punched me in the face. My left eye had an enormous puffy fluid bag under it and it was still blood red. And of course I had to be at the tutoring company office at 9 AM to proctor a practice exam for half a dozen students. I have no idea what they were thinking when they saw my puffy face, but they were all polite enough not to say anything about it. It was only later that I realized I could totally have gotten away with wearing an eye patch and pretending it was all part of my pre-planned pirate Halloween costume. Not that I actually have a pirate-style eye patch just lying around the apartment. Oh well.

So, about the house. We're supposed to go to closing and get the keys on Friday, four days from now. Four days out and I STILL don't feel completely confident that we're actually going to get to buy this house. I feel like maybe if we're lucky we'll get to buy it eventually, but I have zero faith that it will actually happen on Friday. Much of our mutual funds and stocks have been sold and some of our relatives very generously gave us our wedding gift money early so that we could amass the money for the down payment (20% of the cost of a house is a frighteningly large amount of money. I can't even look at our savings account balance right now because it's giving me heart palpitations). The loan package has been sent to the underwriters for final approval. We had a scare last weekend when suddenly a required termite inspection spiraled into two days of phone calls about whether or not we would need a structural engineering report as well ($500) and a termite treatment ($800) despite the fact that the termite inspection turned up exactly one spot of termite damage that was obviously from a very long time ago and the home inspector says the house is clearly structurally sound. Luckily I think that issue has been taken care of and the current home owners are taking care of the (made-up, in my opinion) termite issue. We have a stack of documents three inches tall that we have e-mailed to the lender. Obviously they are just trying to cover all of the bases, but I sometimes feel like everyone is going above and beyond what is actually necessary.
We've jumped the inspection and assessment hurdles and tracked down all of the documents the lender needs to see, but I still feel like something could go wrong at the 11th hour. I think it's because every other day we get a phone call saying, "Oh, by the way, we also need you to fax us [fill in obscure financial document here]," so I have no faith that those phone calls will magically stop this week. Buying a house is definitely one of the most stressful things I have ever done. It's exciting, but the process could not possibly be more difficult. It is not streamlined AT ALL. Also, you have no choice but to be completely invested in the process financially, and it's almost impossible not to get invested emotionally. The stakes are so high, and even if you are very organized and you read every bit of fine print on every single piece of paper that crosses your path and even if your realtor is good at explaining things, you still feel like the process is out of your control. Honestly, I'm not sure I want to do this ever again. I think that ultimately having a house will be worth the trouble. Having that investment property--not to mention having a home to live in and enjoy--seems worth some initial frustration. But I think that I'm going to need at least a decade to recover before attempting to do this again. And if we don't actually get this house? Well, hell, if we have to go all the way back to square one right now I'll seriously reconsider the perks of being a renter.

Let's see, other things...last weekend our best friends from here got married in the bride's hometown in Texas so Penn and I flew out to the wedding. Watching them get married was wonderful because I like both the bride and groom so much, and the reception was so much fun. There were margaritas and a mariachi band at the cocktail hour and yummy food stations and of course there was plenty of dancing. At one point I looked over and the bride was drinking a Strongbow in a can and it really felt just like any other night out partying in the city, except that she was in a white wedding dress and he was in a tux. I'm really, really happy for them. I just love when my friends find someone they love enough to marry, and I particularly loved it in this case because Penn and I have been equally friendly with both the bride and the groom for a while now and they're both very funny, kind, good people. Being at their wedding was also exciting for a different reason, though, because they got engaged just three weeks before Penn and I did, and this whole year I've been using their wedding planning as sort of a measure of where we should be in terms of our planning. And now that they are married, the next wedding I go to will be my own! We only have 10 weeks left to finish planning!

It has turned out to be a hectic year, for sure. But I've realized recently that despite sometimes feeling stressed out I'm nowhere near my perceived breaking point, and that Penn and I are actually handling this year's changes together really well. He's a great partner for me, and although I'm excited about the wedding I'm most excited about the marriage and all that we'll face together once the wedding is over.