Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy birrthday Tovah!

Today is Tovah's first birthday, well at least by estimates, this is about when she was born. So why not better than to have it on Halloween?

I don't have birthday photos up yet. Hopefully, I'll be able to before I leave. I think she will like her gift--a jollyball!

Anyway, she is very much my baby and will probably always be. I still think about when I found her back in December in the cold, the day I had to return her, the day I got her back. Rain always brings that memory back, because there she was soaked and cold. As with any dog, my life would never be the same without her.

You can read the chronicle of how I found her
the sad part, and the happy ending

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Goals of the conference

Since 2003, I've been attending the APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers) conference. The only one I have not attended was 2007 in Portland. Every year, there are usually over 1,000 people attending over five days. The conference brings together people from all over the country and the world, as well as internationally renowned speakers in the field of dog and animal training and behavior. It truly takes a year of much organization to pull off such a conference.

Every year, my goal has been not only to learn new information and network with other trainers, but also to work on eating more normally and coming out of my shell. I am by nature reserved, shy, and quiet. I do okay in small groups but speaking in front of a lot of people scares the crap out of me. I get all the usual signs of heart beating quickly, sweaty palms, etc. It has helped immensely being part of the conference staff which was instilled in 2005. The purpose was to have a set of people who knew how to run the conference in case the head honchos could not. The staff also helps out with the speakers, questions by attendees, etc. It has proven to be a lot of help, and every year, we seem to become more cohesive. I've met a lot of wonderful people this way too.

So at the same time as networking, pa
rt of the conference staff's job is to make announcements. I think at this conference, I probably achieved the most "coming out of my shell" ever. In the mornings, one of the leaders of the conference led the staff in laughter yoga. The idea for this exercise was to bring the staff together as well as release endorphins and have fun. "The concept of Laughter Yoga is based on a scientific fact that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real Laughter.One gets the same physiological and psychological benefits."

I decided to have fun with this and led three sessions of it. You do not know how big of a thing this was for me. Normally, I have a hard enough time just getting through simple announcements. At the end of the conference, I earned the "Really, I'm shy" award. This pertained to a comment said by a new staffer who did not believe I was shy after having done the laughter yoga is front of so many people. An attendee actually came up to me and said how much she liked the laughter yoga and could feel a difference in energy level among the audience. Another well known speaker told me that I may be a reserved person, but that I was very friendly.

My other big thing was that I didn't backslide so much on eating behaviors. I actually ate breakfast there when in the past, I've just eaten a protein bar. I ate a nice, hearty dinner every day with dessert. I socialized a lot with the staff as well as some friends I saw at the conference whom I had not seen since 2004. That was such a cool "reunion." This was in spite of knowing that this hotel's fitness room was open 24 hours. Seriously, with as busy as we were, it would have been so difficult to fit gym time even if I wanted to.

Other highlights of the trip included visiting a friend whom I had not seen for a number of years, going up to well known speakers in the field and introducing myself (one even accepted my facebook friend request), chicken wrangling ;-), and having less body thoughts in general.

Although I'm still quite worn out, I feel revitalized too. Now, if I can just get myself off of Pacific time! So I'm feeling slowly but surely, I am getting there to become the person who I want to be.

Here are some photos from Baker Beach. My friend and I went there before the conference. Since we're not allowed to take picture during the conference in sessions, I didn't get many of those, just some of the conference staff.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Back, tired, worn out

I got back early this morning. This was my first red eye flight. I barely made it to the airport in time since a few fellow attendees/friends struck up a conversation in the hotel lobby. Luckily, I made it, and one of the other staff members was also on the same flight. She told me I just missed the drama. Apparently, a man had fallen on her who happened to be suspiciously drunk. They security basically told him that he had two options: a) get a hotel room, sober up, and come back the next morning, or b) go to jail. He took Option A.

My friend picked me up, and then I headed to the new house to follow along the house inspector which took about 2 1/2 hours. Overall, the house is structurally sound. There is some minor exterior damages, but everything seems the be working appropriately. There was only one issue in the basement when we ended the inspection. There was a ton of water which we think was from a clogged storm drain. This guy was pretty thorough, because he ran all the faucets for 15-20 minutes which is why it happened. Otherwise, the sellers would never have been aware of it as most people do not tend to run that much water at one time.

Other happenings today included spending time with the seller's two year old son. The grandmother was there, but he wanted me to show me his room, trucks, toys, etc. He was quite the precocious character, and at one point decided he really did not need pants. Apparently, he has been learning potty training and is not keen on the pants thing. The grandmother asked if I had kids, because she felt I was good with them. I just told her I had four dogs. ;-) It was a nice compliment though.

Speaking of which, it was so great to see my brood. They were so happy to see me. I know they will be even happier when I get my box that I sent to my address with a lot of treats I bought at the conference. If I did not ship a box back, I probably would have gone overweight on luggage. Eighty pounds is my record which was before they lowered it to fifty. Luggage weighed in at forty-two pounds.

I'll post some goals accomplished at the conference, because I think they truly were "big" things for me. Now, I'm heading to bed!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hello from San Francisco

Quick hello from CA. Technically, I'm in Oakland. So far, things are going well. I had a great flight--the quietest ever! My friend picked me up from the airport. We had a good time going to Baker Beach, Fisherman's Wharf, and driving down several districts, including Castro. However, we had to leave since it began to pour! Then, driving to the hotel room, the Bay Bridge had an accident and was forever slow.

As for the conference, it is going well, but tomorrow is when it really begins and gets hairy. There are always over 1000 people, so I tend to feel overwhelmed. The one good thing is that came as a complete surprise, I saw two people from a conference I saw 5 years ago. At that conference, we hit it off so well and had such a good time. Seeing them today was like an unexpected reunion. It was so cool! I'm hoping to catch up with all of them some time this week.

There is more to write but I'm going to head to bed now. Tomorrow is a long day.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Done Deal!

I'm sure some of you have been wanting to know the outcome of the house. It wasn't quite as easy as I had hoped. I had to get the full details of one issue the sellers had had with drainage. Once that was sufficient, then I faxed the papers. Between the time I faxed the papers and my realtor waited to get them, she notified me there was another potential buyer. We were both worried and increased our initial offer as well as shortened the window when the sellers had to decide. This was all done yesterday afternoon and evening.

I got a call from my realtor this morning. The sellers countered our offer but not the other potential buyer's. I went ahead and accepted their offer which was about 96% of asking price. It really did seem reasonable. Otherwise, I would have likely had to start from scratch looking at more houses.

My realtor sent me the new papers which I have signed and will fax back tomorrow. This will allow the sellers' realtor to mark the house as "pending." We still have to get my mom's signature on everything since she co-signed with me. The rest of the game plan goes like this:

Finalize paperwork
Get home inspection done, hopefully the 26th, the day I come back from conference
If there are repairs, get those done within the next day or two.
Give sellers time to move out.
Closing date is November 12th. My realtor didn't want to make it Friday, the 13th.
After that, I'm free to move in.

Ahh, this is really exciting. I never thought I'd be this exuberant about it, but there is just something to feeling like an official "homeowner."

Thanks to all those you kept their fingers crossed for me. Hopefully, the rest of this stuff will be smooth sailing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

House decision made

Last week, I had three top choices. On Monday, I viewed them again along with three others which I eliminated. Yesterday, I made a decision on a house. Today, I signed the papers. Tomorrow, I'll fax them to my realtor, and hopefully by 5 PM the next day, I'll know whether the seller has agreed to my offer.

Trying to decide
between two was a lot harder than I imagined. One house I fell in love with way back in August, and the other in September, both for different reasons. The houses are basically polar opposites, but in the end, the huge yard the openness, and the future potential of the second house won out.

Here were my three picks and what feature I liked about it.

House L was actually my favorite house aesthetically inside. There was a huge amount of detail into remodeling this house. The kitchen was absolutely fabulous with granite counter tops and the sun room very nice. It also had hardwood throughout the house. It was too bad that this house did not have much of a yard and was in an undesirable neighborhood.

House LM was the one I first fell in love with way back in August. The house was well maintained and structurally very sound. No painting or anything needed to be done cosmetically. What I really loved was the lot. It was wooded, private enough for a neighborhood, had a cute gazebo and bridge. The only major cost would have been fencing. I learned that this house was occupied by empty nesters who wanted to move back to where they were from. They also had a lovely, very pregnant cat who we saw on our viewings. This is a house I could imagine any of my single friends with a cat and/or dog living in, even a couple who had no children. If my first choice doesn't work out, I'll go with this house. The only cons to this house was that it felt a little cramped and had a small kitchen.

House G, I found in September. It's much larger than House LM but very open. It isn't made quite as nicely as the other two but still good with no major problems. The rooms are large and most of the house is hardwood. The kitchen is spacious and has a tile counter as well. The major selling point for me was the gigantic yard which was part of my criteria list! The property itself is somewhere between 0.75-1 acre which is quite a lot for a neighborhood and definitely enough for me and the dogs. The area seems nice and it is near a small park.

In the end, I went with House G. Besides the selling points mentioned above, they are leaving some other nice features like a security system and warranty. I also thought there was a better chance of negotiation with these sellers than House LM, especially since most of the houses around LM had sold for close to the asking price. I also learned that these sellers are motivated.

For now, all I can do is wait and see. Now, I can understand how real estate can be so stressful and why so many realtors are literally tied to their cell phones. It's easy to see how hearts can be broken if someone makes an offer of a house you happen to love.

Hopefully, by mid-November when the house closes, the inspection is done, and all the paperwork is done, I will be able to officially call myself a first time home buyer/owner.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Baxter update

I think my satellite has moved, so I haven't been able to connect in four days. I finally called tech support today to get a technician to look at it. It's frustrating, but hopefully nothing major. Currently, I'm sitting at a nearby Starbucks to connect and just had a lovely mocha frappucino!

Anyway, I wanted to give a quick update on Baxter. I spoke with the University of Minnesota vet on Wednesday about the study. There are actually two going on--one with gene therapy/vaccine therapy alone, the other a combination of chemotherapy/vaccine therapy. She thinks the gene and vaccine therapy have produced better results so far, so I'm hoping to get Baxter into that one. It just depends on whether the DNA they have to insert into the brain will be there by the time he gets up there. He is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 4th to have surgery. At that time, if he is in the gene/vaccine therapy study, they would go ahead and insert the genes that will eventually help stimulate an immune response to destroy leftover tumor cells. This website on glioma gene therapy explains it much better. It truly is a breakthrough study.

After that, they send the vaccine to the your local vet which is just like giving any vaccination. Then, Baxter would go back at 3, 6, and 12 months for an MRI. If he is in the chemo/vaccine study, he would have surgery and then chemotherapy given orally for 40 days plus the vaccine therapy, and again go back at 3, 6, and 12 months like the other study.

In general, Baxter is doing well. I just worry about his weight loss and the fact he is still soooo hungry, even though he has been off the prednisone for several days now. I hope this is not a permanent side effect!

That's the news on him. I'll keep everyone updated. I've never been to MN, so if anyone knows of interesting things to do there and would like to share, I'd be happy to hear.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

House hunting

On Sunday, I wrote about how my house plans may be resorted to a plan B or C. Well, now I think it may be back to Plan A!

I've been house hunting since mid-August. As a first-time house buyer, I have learned how so much about real estate! Next week, I'll give a guide for anyone who may be interested in getting a house for the first time, because it really is an overwhelming (though thrilling too) experience.

The last month or so, I had been very frustrated in not finding what I wanted. There were many things floating through my head. Was I being too stringent and impractical? Was I just being a
maximizer versus satisficer? Had all my eating disorder aspects gotten in the way? Or had I just not simply found the right house? I wan ted to opt for the last thought, but all the other thoughts were overrunning the most logical one.

Now, I certainly had an "ideal" house in mind, but I was willing to "sacrifice" a few things so to speak. But one of the ones that was the hardest was "private versus public," and this was where the ED was involved. For the last seven years, I have lived pretty much out in the country, though I'm still close to town. In general, I have liked having the space, not having neighbors too close, having a huge yard for my dogs, running on country roads, etc. There were obviously drawbacks to living in the country, especially with isolation and living alone which the ED thrives on. I had a roommate for awhile here, but she turned out to be mean, manipulative, malicious, and overstepped boundaries in reading my journal! (and I don't call out many people like this, as it is my nature to try to see the best in people) I could tell you many stories about that living situation, but that's just a post for another time. After she left back in 2004, I vowed to NEVER have a roommate again! (this is not to say that all roommates are like this, I have had a few good ones, this one just happened to be the bad apple of them all)

In total, I have looked at almost three dozen houses out of my 82 matches.
The matches have been computer generated based on criteria I wanted. I can select which ones I want to save and which to reject. So far, there are 76 in the reject pile. These include ones that I looked at and did not like, ones I read from the get go and knew wouldn't work, those that have gone pending (someone put an offer on the house), have been sold, have been withdrawn/cancelled, or were short sales (basically meaning the offer is lower than what the seller wanted and that the lending agency would be taking a loss on the house).

Prior to this week, I had 3 top choices. One house went pending, another was withdrawn, so I was left with one top choice. I wanted a choice of at least 3 to decide upon. Yesterday, I saw 15 houses which is a lot of houses in day. At this point, it becomes mostly a
process of elimination, and you really have to see the house. Some people can find a house online and know that is the one they want, but when you have 4 dogs to consider, it makes it much harder.

Of the 15 houses, I found 3 others in addition to my other top pick. All of them will need a little work with
fencing--some more than others, but otherwise, they are move-in able. The plan for next week is to look at any new listings that come up in the morning, look at my top choices in the afternoon, and possibly make an offer.

Now, here's where things get really hard. Financing. As most of you know the housing market took has taken a real big hit recently with essentially banks giving loans for houses but not setting many requirements. Thus, some people bought houses that they could not afford, got behind on mortgage payments, and had to foreclose. This is one reason why you are seeing so many foreclosed homes and the prices of homes slashed dramatically. Though this has been awful for the economy, it has been a real boost for first-time home buyers or those looking to upgrade. Currently, it is a "buyer's market" as they call it. Right now, the government is giving first-time home buyers a credit of $8,000 towards financing their new home. The catch is that the deadline is
November 30th which means you have to have all the necessary paperwork, gotten the loan from whatever bank you choose, and close on the house. Last week, it was almost a sure bet the credit would be extended. However, this week, my realtor told me that there had been some opposition, so lobbyists have been sent to Congress to vouch for extending the credit.

Due to the housing crisis, banks have become much more restrictive on getting
pre-approval for the loans. Everyone is having a hard time, but yet at the same time, wants to get the credit before it runs out, including me. This is one reason why this is so time sensitive. I applied for pre-approval a month ago. Originally, my parents were going to put down a rather large down payment, hoping they would have sold my grandfather's house. There has been a snafu with that in that the potential buyer (my cousin) is also in the same predicament as me (first-time home buyer) but having difficulty getting the name off of her old property that she and her ex-husband had shared. We really couldn't rely on this for a down payment and needed to resort to something else.

My realtor got in touch with another mortgage broker who is apparently fast. We're going to go with a
different loan where you don't have to put as much money down and will now be using my current income versus my future income at the new job. The only catch with this is that there must be verification of work from my current employer. Right now, she does not know I am leaving, which is actually good for this loan. My only issue is that she will drag her feet on this or be suspicious. Of course, I am going to tell her, but my resignation is now moved back until probably the end of this month so that this loan can get processed. This also may push back my start date for the new job too. I would have rather gone with my new job's income, but the problem is that it would have been difficult to get 30 days work, showing that you are making said income in order for approval. This would also have cut me off from the first time home buyer credit deadline more than likely.

See, how confusing and stressful this can get? However, at the same time, buying your own home is an incredibly investment. Some say it is the best investment you are making, because you will be getting the money you put into it. Plus, the first few years, you can write it off on your taxes. I guess the most important thing for me to remember is that as stressful and hard as this is right now, in the end, it will be worth it.

On a side note, I'm hoping to hear from the UMN vet. In an e-mail on Sunday, she said his scan did look to be a glioma. She said that they had removed some in similar locations to Baxter's and been successful. She also said all had at least one month post-MRI before surgery and had no problems, even with the most aggressive tumors. And the best thing she said was "I think Baxter will make a great candidate for the study." Now, I just need to get more details.