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Breaking the silence

Work has been exhausting and challenging.

I traveled a lot in June: four days for work, three days for vacation, seven days for a mix of both.

I went through another round of diverticulitis and have now lined up a visit with a gastroenterologist.

Here and there I’ve fit in some fun things to do in the area.

In the spaces in between work and practicing basic self care, I’ve been processing through a lot. There are are a lot of feelings stirred up by family issues and by having time to think and not simply react. I’ve been delving into Mary Oliver’s poetry quite a bit because so many of her poems just resonate for me now. Like this one.

The Journey
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

After reading this post by Revanche at A Gai Shan Life my first thought was that I’ve never loaned money to family, so I can’t comment on the experience. Then I realized that wasn’t true at all, and that I could write a fairly lengthy comment in response to her post. Since I’ve been trying to get myself to write more blog posts, I decided that my response was better done here.

My one experience with loaning money to family didn’t turn out so well for me. When I was 15, my father asked me to loan him the contents of my savings account. As a minor, he probably could have taken the money out of my account without checking with me, so it was nice to have him ask me first. Of course I said yes because this was my Dad, after all. My hazy memory pegs the amount he borrowed at $6,000.

The only reason I had any money in my savings account at that time was because of my maternal grandfather. Every year he gave me and my sister a savings bond for Christmas with the stipulation that we could use the money for either a wedding or college. As the bonds matured, the funds needed to go somewhere, so my parents created savings accounts for us at my father’s credit union and put the money there. In today’s dollars, that $6,000 would be worth about $15,000, so it was a pretty substantial amount for me to have in savings at a time when I wasn’t even old enough to be earning a real paycheck.

Dad wanted to borrow the money so he could do a little real estate investing and flip a house or two. He got the idea in his head that he could do this pretty easily by pooling funds with another neighbor and doing the labor on fixing up the house themselves. I don’t know the details of why he didn’t make the profit they had projected, or even if there was any loss involved, but the payback to me didn’t work the way it was supposed to. There wasn’t any documentation of this loan or even a timeline for repayment discussed, but it was understood that I’d get the money back PLUS interest in time for me to use it for college, so he had about three years to pay me back. At this time (1982-1985), interest rates for savings accounts were around 8%, so I should have been reimbursed about $7,500 in 1985 dollars (nearly $18,000 in today’s dollars).

In those three years, our family life disintegrated, though. Dad and I started clashing on typical teenage stuff; I wanted to date boys and Dad wanted me to stay away from them until I was 18, apparently. The close, warm relationship I had with my dad as a child vaporized. My parent’s marriage — which had never been very happy or close from my recollection — disintegrated completely to the point where Dad moved out in my last year of high school, and I was left living with my Mom. (Because my mother is not the most emotionally stable person this was a very stressful time for me, but that’s not something to go into here).

So there I was at 17, wanting to get my money back so I could head off to college, and Mom and Dad in the midst of divorce negotiations. Dear reader, I think you can see where this is going: Dad tried to default on the loan.

Actually, the loan would have been considered a marital debt that both of my parents needed to document during their divorce. Whether my parents had the money to pay me back or not wasn’t material, apparently, since they were still in the early stages of negotiations at the point where I needed my money, and both attorneys were counseling that this was not something that could be addressed at the time.

Mom insisted that I needed my money, and actually lost her attorney over this issue since she continued to push on the issue at every meeting despite the attorney telling her to stop. I did eventually get SOME of the money back by the time I needed it for college. I didn’t get all of my capital back, much less any interest, but I was told that was the best I could expect and to just accept it. So that’s my story about lending money to family: I got screwed.

On the other hand, I have lent money to close friends twice in the past 10 years or so and been paid back in full. For both of those loans we talked about expectations for repayment and a promissory note was signed.

I also invested money in a friend’s business a few years ago and recently learned that the business has folded. At the time I invested the money I knew I was taking a risk, though. The lost investment is going to be a capital loss on my taxes over the next few years, so it’s going to be put to use, in a way.

I think what is more important to me is the fact that my own father has never once apologized for not paying me back, or for not recognizing how his actions impacted me.

Dad did another shameful money grab at the time of the divorce, too. A few years prior, he had set up an account at his credit union that he held jointly with my mother’s uncle as a way to pay back a personal loan great-uncle gave to my parents. During the divorce negotiations, Mom documented the loan in their joint debts, and the savings account in their joint assets. She had no access to the records for that savings account since her name was never on it and Dad denied its existence. When great-uncle (whose name was on the account) tried to access it he was advised it had been closed. The best estimate was that there was roughly $10,000 in the account at the time.

So Dad not only screwed me over, he also screwed great-uncle over, and my mother, too, since she was held responsible for half of those debts while he hid away the money to repay them from his asset statement. Is it any wonder I often say that my parents are best dealt with from a distance?

To end on a somewhat positive note, though, I have come to understand that my parents are only human, so any disappointments I have in their past or present behavior is tempered with this mindset. Nonetheless, I will never trust my father with my money or my mother with my deepest emotions.

You know what’s worse than waking up several times a night from hot flashes? Waking up from wrenching pains in your lower abdomen, too. This happened to me about three weeks ago, started a flurry of doctor visits, and ended in the ER.

Since I arrived here in December I’ve had lots of settling in to do. I had yet to get around to securing a primary care doctor because my most immediate issues (I thought) were gynecological. Turns out that my lower abdominal/pelvic area pains that started that night had nothing to do with my reproductive system, but were instead caused by another bout of diverticulitis.

I don’t feel like writing down a summary of all the doctor visits I’ve had in the past month and I doubt anyone wants to read that much detail anyway. The only way to definitively diagnose what was going on was to do an abdominal CT scan, so after a week of progressive pain increase and the eventual onset of fever I went to the ER and walked out a few hours later with two prescriptions for some heavy-duty antibiotics.

The worrisome issue for me is that I had diverticulitis two years ago, too, and according to both the new primary care doctor here and the gastroenterologist back in Chicago it’s likely I’ll need surgery to remove a troublesome section of my colon in the next two years. I’ve been doing everything the medical establishment tells you to do to minimize the risk of a recurrence — drinking a lot of water, consuming high fiber, and exercising — but that doesn’t seem to be enough. Apparently I’m one of those people who just has a tendency for recurrent infections in that area of my body.

The pelvic ultrasound ordered by the gynecologist showed all was fine with the exception of a small ovarian cyst that should go away over time. The hot flashes are manageable for now, so I’ll just continue with my new sleep habits — layers of bedding to toss off/pull on as needed, a remote-controlled fan, and an early bedtime — to deal with the hormonal fluctuations. And hopefully the waves of fatigue that have showed up recently are more related to my body fighting off a major infection.

Honestly, with the exception of that tiredness that sometimes overtakes me in the afternoon I’m feeling better than I have in a few months. I’m more clear-headed and I have more energy and enthusiasm for work. These are all good things!

Now I just need to get myself slowly back on track with a normal diet. When the hospital released me I was sent home with some information on low-residue diets. Until my gut is healed, I need to cut out all high fiber foods. The day after release I saw my primary care doctor for follow-up and he amended the diet guidelines even more. He wanted me to eat only a liquid diet until I was pain-free. Then I was to gradually add the low-residue foods, and finally get back into my normal high fiber diet.

Since I had no food in my house that was suitable to consume following these guidelines I’ve had to make several trips to the market for stuff I never buy: fruit juice (and no puree, pulp, or pineapple juice in the mix), regular noodles or pasta, white bread, baking potatoes, and rice pudding. I was only on the liquids for about two days (that’s all I could stand before the headaches and icky feeling from consuming nothing but broth and juice got to me), and have slowly worked my way up through the hierarchy of allowable foods. Just yesterday I started adding some low residue vegetables: a piece of lettuce on my white bread and ham sandwich, and some thoroughly cooked green beans with my baked potato (no skin allowed!) dinner last night.

I haven’t been walking very much or hiking at all during this entire ordeal. I took Hannah dog out to a park yesterday for a lesson with the dog trainer and had to pause at the top of every hill we walked up. I think next week I’ll try to join one of the hiking groups that has members with a variety of fitness levels and hang out with the folks near the back of the pack because I miss the social connections and not just the exercise.

One good thing about this mess: I lost about 4-5 pounds and am fitting into some shorts I had saved from a few years ago. So at least I won’t have to pick up new shorts.

Actually, that’s not the only good thing that came out of this experience. When I returned home from the ER, I laid down in the hammock outside for a few minutes, stared at the brilliant blue sky, and felt immensely thankful that I’m here now. There’s nothing like a health scare to make me realize how important it is to build a happy life for myself. I’m very glad I moved to California, and that I made the opportunity to do it at this point in my life while I still have enough health to enjoy all the benefits it brings to my life. My fledgling support network of kind neighbors and friends is building, and if and when I have another need to be in the hospital for any length of time I’m putting in place safeguards to ensure that Hannah dog is well cared for during my absence.

“When we last met our intrepid explorer, she was having problems getting a good night’s sleep…” And that hasn’t changed, but I’m slowly starting to track down what’s going on.

I saw the new gynecologist and I like her very much. She explains things very well and even draws diagrams. :-) During my initial visit she listened to my issues and history, performed an exam, and then ordered some blood work so we could understand my current hormone levels. She also gave me some information about supplements I could try to see if they help my sleep.

The supplements are all ones I’ve heard of or tried before: Vitamin D, fish oil, magnesium, valerian, and melatonin. I’ve already been upping my magnesium over the past several months, but her recommendation was to take 500 mg in total and I wasn’t taking that much. So I added more magnesium to my daily supplements (which also already included 5,000 units of Vitamin D and fish oil). I’ve tried melatonin in the past as a supplement to help with jet lag and never found that it had any effect on me, so I’m putting that at the bottom of my experiment list. I may try valerian. Doctor advised me to take that an hour before bedtime to get the full effect.

A week later I was back in her office to talk about the blood test results. And here’s where it gets interesting. FSH (follicle stimulating hormone), estrogen, and progesterone were all tested. These are the hormones that work in tandem to move a woman through ovulation and menstruation. My estrogen and progesterone levels were nearly non-existent, which means that I’m now technically menopausal. My FSH, however, is super high, which worries the doc a bit since I haven’t gotten to that level in just a short period of time. Also, I’m still bleeding on a semi-regular basis, and with such a low estrogen and progesterone level that shouldn’t be happening at all.

I had an ultrasound a couple of days ago and am returning to the doctor next week to discuss the results. The ultrasound could lead to even more procedures and tests which are likely to be unpleasant. One of the potential options we discussed was an endometrial biopsy, and since I just had one last fall I know what that is like. (I agree with my friend who had the same procedure and said the doctor needs to give way better drugs than just advising one to take ibuprofen first!) This doctor also mentioned polyps as a potential issue, and noted that those would have to be removed, although she didn’t get into details about how that would be done.

Doctor said that since my estrogen is nearly non-existent, it’s no surprise I’m having hot flashes. The ones that happen during the day aren’t too disruptive to me, but the night-time ones have been waking me up and this is what led me to the doctor in the first place. Until we can figure out what’s going on, I can’t start any hormone replacements so I’ve been working on ways to increase the amount of restful sleep I get.

For now I’m left trying different things to increase my “good sleep.” I’m a bit skeptical about the recommended “sleep enhancing” supplements of valerian and melatonin. Beside, I don’t have a problem falling asleep, my problem is disruptions that prevent me from entering and maintaining a deep, restful sleep. Just before I saw doctor I got a Fitbit that I’m also wearing at night to track my sleep habits. The Fitbit is showing just what I described: I fall asleep quickly, but I’m experiencing many periods of “restless” sleep and short periods of being awake. I suspect some of the “restless” sleep the Fitbit is recording is me moving around at night, which is normal for me; I’ve rarely been a sleeper who maintains the same position throughout the night. But since I’m now clearly recalling periods of waking up hot and trying to remedy that situation, that’s a very different type of restlessness for me.

I’m getting better at managing these disruptions. I keep the remote control for the fan very close to my bed so it’s easy to grab without having to heave myself up first. I know where the buttons are to turn the fan on, increase the blower, and change the oscillation pattern so I waste little cognition on it. In other words, the pattern has become more “normal” for me: throw off covers, turn on fan, sink back into sleep. Waken sometime later feeling cold and reverse process. Repeat.

I’m experimenting with going to bed earlier in order to increase my opportunity to cumulatively get “enough” sleep. Last night I was in bed at 8 PM so I could squeeze in about 30 minutes of reading and then be asleep by 8:30. I had to be up at 6 AM this morning and I thought that if I was in bed for 9.5 hours, it was more likely I would get 8 hours total of sleep. It wasn’t even dark when I went to bed last night, which feels very odd to me. Sadly, if I have to keep this up I may also have to curtail or completely give up some of the fun activities I do at night. On Wednesdays I have to be up at 5 AM, which means that going to knitting group at 6:30 PM on Tuesday nights just can’t happen if I need to be in bed at 7 PM. On Thursdays I usually hike from 6 to 8 PM with a group, but trying to squeeze in dinner and be in bed before 9 PM will be very hard so I may have to skip the hiking group, too. Last night I gave up the weekly bike ride I had just started adding to my routine with another group.

Despite my increased bed time, I’m still not feeling very rested today, either. But it’s only been one night so I don’t think I can form an opinion of the approach yet. I’m hopeful that I’ll find out something at my next doctor visit that leads me to get better sleep, too.

(Not so) briefly

It’s been awhile since I last wrote, and this morning seemed a perfect time to start a (not so) brief post.

Today is a Saturday (hooray!) and I slept in as much as I was allowed to (Hannah dog starts getting pretty insistent at a certain point) then had a cup of coffee and took the dog for a walk. That one line has three topics in it: sleep, coffee, and walking.

Sleep
I have started the challenging part of perimenopause: hot flashes at night. I can’t say they are the most horrible thing ever. I don’t wake up drenched or anything like that, but I do wake up hot and slightly sweaty, and then have to try falling asleep again. Luckily I have a fan with a remote control which helps. So an evening may go like this: wake up flushed with heat, throw off covers, grab remote and turn on fan, lay there trying to ride it out, feel cool enough to cover up and sleep again. Repeat again at some point. One night I woke up like this every two hours. Ugh.

I don’t do well without adequate sleep, and this makes me cranky and less productive at work. Considering that the alarm goes off at 5 AM many days so I can get on phone calls by 5:30 AM (and I’m the type of person who really needs daylight to feel awake, so the 5 AM thing is already tough for me) any type of sleep disruption is horrible for me.

Next week I’m seeing a gynecologist recommended by one of the local women I’ve met to have a discussion about hormones. I’ve always had mixed feelings about taking hormones based on the potential side effects and my thoughts that eventually one has to get off the damn things so they could just be a delaying tactic. But I have some friends who swear by bio-identical hormones, and there’s a lot I don’t know, so I’ll see what the doctor says.

Coffee
I’ve started down the path of coffee geekery and it is fun. Shortly before I left Chicago my trusty auto-drip coffee maker died. I decided to not replace it with another auto-drip maker since I was really the only coffee-drinker and I didn’t need to make a large amount of coffee every day. I instead did a bit of research and tried a smallish Chemex pot lent by a friend. I found out three things: first, my standard hot water kettle made pouring water over the grounds difficult (I understand why those gooseneck pots are preferred); second, because the grounds have to be a little larger for pour over, you just can’t pick up a bag of pre-ground beans; third, I really didn’t like standing there slowly pouring water over the grounds.

After a bit more research I decided to try a Clever dripper. I like the fact that I don’t have to stand over it slowly pouring water over the grounds, and that it combines the advantages of pour-over and the French press without the annoying grounds a French press usually leaves in your cup. A standard grind suitable for an auto-drip coffee maker works well, so it’s possible to be lazy about grinding your own at home or in the store. Since I can only make one cup of coffee a time it means I drink less coffee, too. I tend to make two 12-ounce cups of coffee over the course of a morning, using a mix of regular and decaffeinated beans.

My most recent foray into coffee geekiness is to replace the big and cumbersome electric kettle I had been using with a gooseneck electric kettle for more controlled pouring, and a burr coffee grinder. I had been buying beans at the grocery store and grinding them there, but the closest grocery store with a grinder had been having problems with their grinder and this has made grinding coffee a pain. I like having more control over the grind and pour, and my morning cups of coffee have been fun to make. (And, yes, I do have a scale that I usually make my coffee on, too.)

Walking
One of my goals in moving to California was to increase my walking. While my old neighborhood in Chicago was walkable, I often didn’t want to go out walking because it was too cold/icy/hot/rainy. The weather is more temperate all year ’round in northern California, making walking more pleasurable. I live in the area known as “Old Town” in Napa, which is within walking distance of downtown. I often walk to and from the library and post office. I take the dog out for walks twice a day, and I usually go to and from the river, which is a little over two miles round trip. I’ve also taken the dog to many of the parks in the town for walks, including a couple which are quite hilly.

I’ve also joined a couple of hiking groups through Meetup.com. (Meetups are very popular in the Bay Area; you can find a Meetup for just about anything.) One group meets in Sonoma and the other in Napa. I’ve been able to go on hikes on weekends in Sonoma, and one night a week in Napa. These aren’t leisurely strolls, but both groups also have hikers of various abilities which is what appeals to me. I had problems last year with both ankles (one was broken and the other sprained), so I knew I wasn’t going to be a fast hiker and didn’t want to be the lone person at the back of group.

Now that I’m walking and hiking so much, I decided to get a Fitbit to track my activity. I’ve only had it for three days now, but I’ve been hitting the target of 10,000 steps pretty easily. I’ve also been wearing it at night to monitor my sleep so I can see how it is recording the hot flash disruptions.

Errands, errands, errands
This is another good thing to do on Saturdays. I’m still “gearing up” and furnishing the house, so some of today’s errands involve purchasing yard furniture.

This month is the last one for my Discovercard spending challenge, which I’ve managed to meet every month so far. Even though I have been lacking some standard things (such as a table at which to eat meals), I found it difficult to keep spending every single month. It’s just not my usual approach.

Two days ago I finally bought a small kitchen/dining table and two chairs. I had been thinking I was going to have to drive all the way to Ikea in Emeryville for a small table, but during one of my activities this week (an hour of cycling, followed by a burger and beer special at a local hangout) a neighbor mentioned this furniture store in town that I hadn’t tried because I had been focusing on going to consignment and thrift stores. The furniture store had exactly what I needed and they delivered it to my house 30 minutes later. Considering that I didn’t have to drive an hour each way, pay a bridge toll, load and unload myself, and then put it together myself, I think the price was fair. Today I’m getting some outdoor chairs to go around a small outdoor table I bought at Target last month, and a patio umbrella.

This final push to get the house furnished is also partially driven by an upcoming visit from my mother and sister. When sister and her guy visited with me in February, we had to use a small desk as our dining table. Since I only had two folding chairs and there were three people, one person had to use the exercise ball as a dining chair, too. That wasn’t going to work with my nearly 75 year-old mother. Today I’m also looking at hand-held showers since I think that will help during mom’s visit, too.

After breakfast this morning I pulled out the bike and accomplished a few other errands around town:

  • Make photocopies of receipts at the library (and I also picked up a book and some music CDs)
  • Get coffee beans at the local coffee shop (I’m trying a new blend of regular and decaf)
  • Stop at tourist info office to get activity ideas for mom’s visit (since she will not be able to walk far, we have to think through the activities)
  • Pick up a wood fire roasted chicken at the local Mexican market (only available on weekends, but so delicious!)

So far, it’s been a good Saturday. Now, onwards to more errands so I can enjoy some TV time tonight!

Confronting fear

Nicoleandmaggie over at Grumpy Rumblings had a post yesterday titled Do something every day that scares you. It was very timely for me because I’ve been meaning to write about how my recent move to the Bay area puts me in that position frequently, although not every day.

For years I’ve had intense anxiety around driving over high bridges and along twisty roads with steep drop offs. I also get anxious walking over high bridges and hiking along trails that take me along steep ridges. There are lots of big bridges in this area, and many roads that twist and turn through the hills and mountains. Bay Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge, and Highway 1 are probably the ones that most people can identify but there are more.

I’m fine inside skyscrapers while behind sturdy glass, in elevators, or in airplanes. But while driving I have this fear that I will somehow lose control of the vehicle (by sneezing or something) at just the wrong moment and go plunging off to my death. While hiking I fear a misstep will tumble me down the cliff to my death. It doesn’t help my hiking confidence that I’ve injured myself more than once simply walking along a minor slope, either.

Growing up in the “flatlands” of the Midwest I had little exposure to navigating hilly territory by foot or car. We took road trips through eastern mountains when I was a kid (Ozarks and Blue Ridge mountains), but I wasn’t driving back then.

My first exposure to real mountains as a driver was during a road trip with a friend between Chicago and the Grand Canyon. We took interstate expressways all the way there, but on the way back we had a bit more time and decided to take a more scenic route through Colorado. As we set off from Durango and picked up the “Million Dollar Highway” towards Ouray, I found my palms sweating and my heart racing as I drove up and up and up along the switchbacks. Once we came to a wide shoulder/observation point I pulled over and told my friend she absolutely had to take over driving, despite her discomfort driving a manual transmission. I found the entire route terrifying, even as a passenger. As she exclaimed over the views, I squeezed my eyes shut and clutched the armrest.

That was probably my most extreme reaction, but I’ve had lesser (although no less debilitating) ones on the narrow bridge over the Mississippi between Cairo, IL and Missouri (I missed a turn and wasn’t supposed to drive over that bridge), my first time driving the Chicago Skyway, and along Highway 1 between Monterey and Big Sur.

I knew that moving to an area surrounded by mountains and with many long, high bridges was going to challenge me. But I also knew that it was one of those “price of admission” things I would have to learn to deal with. So I am.

Arriving in the Bay area that first day, I had to negotiate the Altamont Pass on I-580 through Livermore in a heavy fog. The fog likely helped as it hid visual cues of our height from me. (Also, the fact that the route had four or five lanes, so I could drive in a middle one helped, too). Sister drove the I-680 bridge across the Carquinez Strait to get us to our final destination, but once she left town I was on my own.

I managed a trip across the I-680 bridge both ways just a couple of weeks later without a lot of anxiety. I carefully trained my gaze to the road in front of me in each direction and sang to myself as a I returned across, just to make myself a little more at ease. (Something along the lines of “I’m crossing the bridge, I’m crossing the bridge. Look how well I’m doing!” in a chipper voice.)

My first trip across the Bay Bridge was as a passenger in a casual carpool. This is one of the reasons I was so excited to learn about the casual carpools, in fact. They allow me to build familiarity with the surroundings in a lower risk way since I’m not the driver. Being in a car with others who find the trip uneventful and routine is great. I’ve now taken five carpool rides across the Bay Bridge: four outbound from San Francisco, and one inbound to San Francisco. Now thinking about crossing the Bay Bridge as a driver gives me almost no anxiety.

Last weekend I drove with guests both ways on the Carquinez bridge as we went to and from Oakland. I had a momentary blip of anxiety as I saw the bridge risers, but was able to quickly shove it aside.

Seeing the bridges as a passenger on the ferry is also helping me become familiar with them, and reducing my anxieties. Every ferry ride brings me under the massive Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and gives me a clear view of the Golden Gate Bridge. I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in a car as a passenger a few years ago, and made it partly across on foot back when I was married. (It took a LOT of convincing from the ex to get me to walk to the first upright from the San Francisco side. I emphatically refused to walk or stand anywhere near the railing, though, despite his desire to take a photo of me with the Bay in the background.)

Before I left Chicago a therapist recommended that I get a book called The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. I’ve only read a bit of it, but it seems that this desensitizing that I’m doing is right on track with the professional advice. Next weekend I’m considering going on a hike that includes a small amount of “ledge walking.” I’m trying to decide if I’m ready for that yet and have some time to figure that out.

So that’s my answer to their question: Do you do things that scare you? What’s yours?

Moving: the incidentals

In my last post about moving expenses I noted that there have been expenses related to furnishings and incidentals. And how!

I down-sized and got rid of a LOT of stuff before the move, not just in my (failed) attempt to fit my belongings into the smallest shipping container, but also because the items weren’t worth bringing along for one reason or another. Some things just needed to be replaced after years of use (like bed pillows), others were damaged (like the bed sheets and duvets Hannah dog had chewed holes in), and some items were unlikely to fit into the smaller space I was moving to (like the dining room table and chairs, sideboard, large chest of drawers, mismatched bookcases, etc.).

I haven’t moved as often as some of my friends, but I have learned that moving large pieces of furniture from place to place often doesn’t work out. So I expected to buy new bookcases, a smaller kitchen/dining table, and end tables. I also planned to buy a new bed frame and night stand.

The bed frame that came with my awesome Tempurpedic mattress was a very simple one and required the use of a supportive base like the Tempurpedic platforms. I really didn’t like the platforms, which raised my thick mattress too high for my comfort zone and preference. I wanted a lower profile bed frame with a support system that allowed me to ditch the Tempurpedic platforms. So, I planned for my bedroom furniture to be a splurge. I haven’t purchased a real grown up bed frame ever, and I had decided I deserve one now that I’m closer to 50 than 40.

In December (my first month here) I spent $2,900 on stuff classified as furnishings for the new place. Gulp!

The really nice bed frame and night stand (plus a down payment on a special order media console) from Room and Board was about half of that. Some of it was also necessities like bed pillows, sheet sets, and a plush blanket at Target; a duvet and cover at Kohl’s; and a toilet paper stand and hangers at Home Goods. I probably could have waited to purchase a pair of those little padded storage cube/try top thingies for the living room, but I like to have a place to put my feet up while I’m sitting on the couch working. (My living room is my home office right now.) I ordered those from Kohl’s through Discovercard and earned extra cash back, plus used a coupon, so I got them at a reduced cost.

My list of things to pick up when I arrived was long and varied: kitchen towels, a drying rack for dishes, a drying rack for clothing, a shower rod, a hair screen for the tub, shelf liner, organizers for the kitchen drawers, and on and on. Then there were the unplanned expenses like rubber stair treads and a large rubber mat for the front porch. The porch is painted concrete and is slicker than snot when it’s wet. We had nearly two solid weeks of wet when I moved in, so I was anxious to do something about the slick steps so I didn’t end up getting hurt. (I’m really quite clumsy.)

This town has a lot of consignment shops and some thrift stores, so I scoured them looking for furnishings and found a perfect set of end tables. I also bought a few odds and ends at one of the local consignments shops that weren’t strictly required, but that I knew I’d find uses for like plain cotton napkins, a lazy susan (which is now inside one of corner cabinets, making it easier to organize my pantry goods), and a pretty wooden serving tray (totally unnecessary, I know).

I’ve been back to those same consignment and thrift stores (and more) looking for a kitchen table and a rug for the living room, but I am still stuck with using the makeshift desk I brought with me from Chicago (actually a piece made from a separate top and legs from Ikea) as a dining table. I’m hosting two guests next week and since I only have two folding chairs, we’ll have to eat our meals squeezed around this little table barely big enough for two, with one of us sitting on the exercise ball (that would be me). I don’t know why it’s so hard to find a small kitchen table and a couple of chairs.

January isn’t quite over yet, but according to Mint I’ve spent about $1,800 on home furnishings. The biggest expense was the balance on the media console from Room and Board. (All I can say is I really love fine wood, and that will be my last Room and Board purchase for a long while.) I also bought a wool rug from Pier One for the living room (it was on clearance, but still wasn’t the bargain I was hoping to find), and mattress pads for the air mattresses. (See note above about guests and know that sleeping on an air mattress feels really cold at night without some insulation. I found that out first hand. Brrr!)

I really should have restrained myself from spending so much in December, but in my exhausted yet exhilarated state it was difficult to determine what I really needed right away from what I could wait for. The bed frame was not only a splurge, it could have waited. I could have kept sleeping on the mattress placed on the floor, but I had been doing that since the estate sale back in October and I was really tired of it. (In fact there was a mix up and the bed frame was delivered two weeks later than it should have been and I actually started crying in frustration; I wanted off the floor that badly.)

I’ve been trying to space out my furnishing purchases for a few reasons. One of them is because of a Discovercard challenge I signed up for back in November. The challenge requires a card holder to charge $3,000 a month from December through April to earn an extra cash back bonus of $500. I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to sustain this level of spending without damaging my savings account, but trying to keep my home furnishing purchases in line with this challenge is imposing some discipline on me. (Note that I am also trying to meet this challenge by charging gas, groceries, and other bills to the card, too. If I could charge my rent it would be easy to meet, but I’m not clear on the fees they charge for credit card payments so I’ll call to ask them about it next month.)

Another reason is that by not rushing out to furnish the house quickly I am able to think about whether I really need any of this stuff that is still sitting in boxes. I’ve already taken one small stack of books to Goodwill and I’m questioning whether I still need some of the books I used in grad school over 10 years ago or 30 year old high school yearbooks. Clearly, my downsizing is not done yet.

I’m nearing the end of my list of desired furnishings, and while it would be easy to keep buying “stuff” or splurging on fancy meals (I did some of that in December, too, when my friend R visited over Christmas), I’m not so committed to the Discovercard challenge that I want to spend more than I truly need to. It’s just nice to know that if I do end up continuing to spend so much every month it will result in a nice cash bonus.

When February 1 rolls around I start a new “allowance” for furnishings. I’m trying to decide if I should prioritize bookcases so I can unpack some book boxes or get a kitchen table and some chairs before the guests get here.

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