The wait is over

Not writing for so long means there are many, many things to catch up on. I wasn’t idle over the summer, just not inclined to write. And since this is my hobby blog, I don’t have to write if I don’t want to. 😉

The first big news is that I accepted a really good job offer and start December 3. Yay! I’ll be working in the same industry and same field, but the new company is smaller than the place I used to work. The people are welcoming and friendly, the culture just felt like a good fit right away.

All of this activity started after the Labor Day holiday, just as the transition coach said it would. I had been feeling really low just before that point since I wasn’t getting any affirmative responses to the jobs I had been applying for.

One of the positive things I did to kick-start the action was to start a new group of professionals in my field in the greater Bay Area. I had been looking for opportunities to network but not finding any. I had one local contact in my field that I met with face-to-face to discuss the situation and he suggested I start a group. So I did. There were several people interested, and we were able to pull together a meeting in a very short time. We’ll be holding our third meeting next week.

The transition coach encouraged me that this was a good step, and indeed it was. Things started happening after that. I started getting screening calls for some of the jobs I’d applied for, which turned into phone interviews. At one point I was looking at the possibility of having to decide between three different jobs in very different industries. One of the companies decided to put the position on hold, and the other two asked me to schedule in person interviews. Those were long, intense days, but I felt very comfortable being myself and in my knowledge of my field. In the end, I declined to pursue one of the jobs and accepted the offer of the other.

An important personal lesson I learned from this experience is to keep my network active. I’m glad to now have a group of local colleagues with whom I can talk about challenges and successes, and keeping this group going is something I look forward to doing.

Several months ago, I talked with a friend who is a natural coach about my career. She suggested I write down what I was looking for, and to focus on that description so I could make it happen. Everything I wrote down was manifested in this new job: the salary, the commute, the benefits, and the work atmosphere. I’ve been a skeptic about this manifesting stuff, but it worked for me this time.

 

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Learning

It’s been just a big ‘ol voyage of discovery for me lately. I’m still unemployed, and one of my biggest challenges is how much I like it.

There is so much to do with my time! In the past few weeks I’ve taken online training and earned a certification that may help me land a job (or at least get my foot in the door someplace). I’ve also started learning some code. I’ve taken a few free online training courses in Javascript and Python, and will be moving on to a SQL refresher. And then there is all the self-care I’ve doing.

Last week I had my last (hopefully) physical therapy appointment for my neck. I still get occasional, mild tingling/numbness in my right hand and arm, but it’s bearable. I’m accepting that my body has accumulated wear and tear, and that I likely will just have to get used to things like this happening now and then. I’m still going to PT for my ankle, but I’m hoping to wrap that up in the next few weeks, too.

My next physical milestone will be eye surgery #4 that is scheduled for September 17. The previous three surgeries and copious steroid drops I’ve had to use in my bad eye have accelerated cataract development. The eye docs both agree that the cataract is advanced enough to merit removal, although I could put it off for a bit longer. The uncertainty about my medical insurance makes me reluctant to wait, however. I know that I have this particular insurance plan through the end of the year and that I’m within $200 of my out-of-pocket maximum for the year. When I get a new job, my medical benefits may be different, and I may be forced to find new doctors. I’d much rather have one of the doctors I’ve been working with for the past three years do my surgery, so it makes financial and medical sense to do it now. I won’t need to go to San Francisco for this eye surgery, though. The local ophthalmologist is able to do this procedure, which makes the arrangements for transport much easier.

I’ve been counseled that removing the cataract may not make a big difference in my vision, though. What I perceive as cloudiness in my vision may or may not be due to the cataract. The local eye doc noted that I’ve lost quite a bit of vision due to the glaucoma, and the “cloudiness” could simply be my brain trying to fill in the gaps. I won’t know without the surgery, though, so it’s worth a try. The doctor also told me that there is a risk that my drainage device may stop working after the surgery. If that happens then I’ll have to have yet another surgery to add a new device. Despite these uncertainties, I still think it is worth the risks. After all, my only other choice is to just give up on trying to improve my vision, right?

Not working has also given me much more time to follow my thoughts and reflect on my emotions and reactions to situations and people. I feel like I’m making huge advances in understanding myself and trying to create new, positive neural pathways. Self-reflection was something I struggled with in the past; setting aside time for it just seemed like a luxury and a privilege I couldn’t afford. I’m practicing gratitude, making time for physical rest, and simply enjoying being in this time and place.

Summer is nearly over and I need to step up the job hunt, though. I think I’m ready for the challenge of keeping these good habits for my mental and physical well-being in balance while I’m working full-time. The voyage continues!

Big changes

Hello again. After over four months off from blogging, there is so much I can write about that it’s hard to know where to start.

First, I am OK. My last blog post focused on how much pain I was in: both mental and physical pain. The former was helped immensely by adding a small dose of sertraline (Zoloft) to my daily regimen. I haven’t had good luck with SSRIs in the past due to unpleasant side effects, but this one doesn’t seem to have any for me.

I’m still working on the physical pain, but I’m doing much better. The numbness/tingling eventually went away, but then it came back again in June. It was even worse when it recurred. I had a few days where I could do nothing but lay flat on my back with no pillows of any kind because that was the only way to keep the numbness and tingling away. I went to the doctor and was told that it was likely I had a pinched nerve in my neck. Only with an MRI could we definitively know what is causing the issue, but I was given some muscle relaxants so I could sleep at night and a referral for physical therapy. The PT has been helping and I only occasionally have the feeling of numbness/tingling now. I’m still sleeping without any pillows under my head, though. That seems to be the only way to ensure that I don’t wake up with pain.

There was a little side problem that developed just before Memorial Day. I fractured my right ankle while missing a step as I walked into the back yard. It was just a small fracture, but it limited my mobility for several weeks since I was in a walking boot. I’ve also been doing PT for the ankle to strengthen it.

The biggest change in my life, though, is that I was let go from my job of nearly 20 years. As I reflect on how things had been going at work, there were signs I should have been looking for another position. But I was simply not able to focus on that with all of the other issues I’d been dealing with. I was told the news just before Memorial Day weekend and informed that June 1 would be my last day.

There were many emotions I felt during the phone call where the news was delivered to me, but one of the most telling was relief. I had been trying to make the job work for me for three years. My transfer to a new group at that time had a profound effect on my job satisfaction. Whereas before I had been a bit bored and feeling slightly stuck, after the transfer I had increasing feelings of unhappiness and futility added to the mix.

I think I did pretty well in negotiating a severance package. I did not take the first offer and asked for additional weeks. While I was initially told there was no room for negotiation, I was given the additional time and so I am being paid through the end of the calendar year. I also get to continue my medical, dental, and vision coverage as if I was an employee until that time, and I was given a transition assistance coach.

After the last day of work, I decided to give myself a week off and not start any job hunting activities during that time. That week off extended through the end of June as I found myself working through what it meant to be without a job for the first time in 35 years. It was freeing and terrifying at the same time.

Eventually, I got my resume in shape, updated my LinkedIn profile, secured my references, and started looking at job listings. Three weeks ago I applied for one job, and over the past two weeks I’ve applied for four more. I’m getting better at cover letters. I received one rejection and I shrugged it off. I’m stepping up my networking game, too.

The Bay Area economy continues to be strong and I’m sure to find a job. In order to afford my mortgage payment, though, there is a certain salary I must make. That rules out getting a job here in wine country, where the local salaries don’t pay enough. I also can’t return to work for a non-profit as I did at the beginning of my career, or use my library science degree to work at a public or academic library. None of those jobs pay enough, either. I’m looking jobs in San Francisco or East Bay, since they seem to be the only ones that have adequate salary ranges.

And then there is the possibility of selling my house. I just don’t want to think about that now, but I will admit that I am savoring living in this house in a more intentional way with this thought in mind. I love my little house and intend to keep it for as long as possible.

Despite having severance that covers all my bills for now, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the job loss is affecting my financial plans, too. So there are plenty of potential financial blog topics I could write about in the coming months.

That’s it for today. If there is anyone still out there reading this, please share an update or job hunting tips in the comments.

Hiding and hoping

I’ve been hiding again. I seem to be having a hard time processing the general life stuff, which results in me introverting extra hard. My hiding has even extended to my writing, and I hesitate to even hit the publish button on this post, but I’m going to make myself do it.

At the end of January, I had to travel to Chicago for business. I extended my stay to wrap over two weekends so I could squeeze in visits to both of my parents and spend some time with my friend A and her cousins. (I collectively refer to them as “my adopted family” because I used to spend so much time at their house, including holidays, when I was in high school.)

I had a ton of anxiety leading up to that trip. I was concerned about leaving Hannah dog for so long. I worried about seeing my parents. My mother’s health is just getting worse and worse, and in the past year my father has had additional health challenges, too. With the extra weight I’m carrying, I also had to figure out how to cobble together a week’s worth of professional clothing and outerwear that was suitable for a Chicago winter. I had some dresses I had purchased for my last business trip in April 2017 to Dallas, but they weren’t going to be warm enough, even with extra layers. So, I had to order pants and spend money I preferred not to.

The trip went better than I had thought it would, but it still exhausted me. It was hard to see my mother’s poor physical condition, and she was just as unresponsive in person as she was on the phone. In the weeks immediately following my return, I was glad to just hang around at home as much as possible and enjoy time with my dog.

I kept thinking about how to handle the situation with my sister. I had been avoiding her as much as possible: declining her calls and letting them go to voicemail; responding with spare texts, if necessary; declining an invitation to have dinner before I left town. At her direct question “Are we OK?” I responded “No,” and she agreed to not contact me for anything other than issues about mom.

My therapist suggested that I write a letter to my sister, even if I never sent it. I spent most of a weekend morning writing and editing it to the essentials. I decided to send it after all. Here is what I sent:

I’ve been limiting my exposure with you because I felt depressed and sad after the conversation we had about Mom’s Life Alert service. I’ve been thinking through why I was so upset by the conversation and what my next steps should be. I needed time for that reflection and not talking with you or seeing you helped me with my process.

We have a difference in how we view the situation of Mom’s Life Alert service: you recall that I committed to splitting the payment, and I recall that I did not. I think that is as far as we’re going to get with the situation, however during the conversation, I felt like I was bullied. This is not the first time I’ve felt that way after interacting with you, and I don’t want to experience it again.

I want to be treated with respect and allowed to be myself. I deserve kindness and acceptance.

In order to have a good relationship we need to both show respect for each other’s differences. From comments you’ve made to me in the past, I understand that my way of processing information and making decisions is annoying to you. I think it is probably best that when there are circumstances that call for me to do so — such as when I’m asked to contribute to Mom’s care — that there not be an expectation for me to answer immediately and that I be allowed to spend time thinking. Since our recollections can also vary, it’s best that we also confirm understanding via email.

I’m not sure whether we can or should resume social relations yet. At this point, I find myself wondering why you would want to spend time with me when I seem to irritate you so much. Maybe we can talk about that some day.

Sending it caused another round of emotional exhaustion. Finally, after several more weeks I contacted sister and suggested we meet for coffee. A week ago, over tea at her house, we gingerly explored the situation. It went OK. Not great, but OK. She was civil. I wanted to get her thoughts on my email, but she deftly turned the conversation back to me saying she wanted to listen to me. I felt like a wreck. I pretty much repeated what I had already written, stumbling over my words and literally wringing my hands the entire time. She asked what I wanted from her, and I told her that I wanted to have a good relationship based on respect. When the conversation turned more informal and chatty I was more comfortable, and then I headed home about an hour after my arrival.

But honestly, I really want more from her than just respect. I really want to feel loved. I just don’t see that happening, and it makes me sad all over again. Sister says she loves me, but I don’t think she’s comfortable showing me love the way I want and need it. She’s more into giving me things and guiding my life, when I’d just rather have her show enjoyment in being with me and give me hugs.

I’m still struggling to stay positive most days. I keep reminding myself that there are people who love me and that I have made good friends here. I think this as I sit at home feeling lonely and it’s not helping enough. I feel like I’m an endless black hole of longing. It feels like a mistake that anyone would want to spend time with me unless it was out of pity.

Two weeks ago a friend traveled up from San Francisco to spend the day with me. The weather was lovely and had some lovely talks as we drove up the valley to have lunch and back. It was a wonderful day.

Yesterday I drove just south of San Francisco to meet another friend for a visit and lunch at her place. I was anxious about the visit because she is a new friend and I was afraid I’d make a bad impression and she’d never invite me to see her again. But it didn’t seem to go that way at all, and I think there could be more visits in the future.

These encounters should make me feel more at ease about my likeability, right? Why am I still doubting it?

Physically, my body is full of pain these days. I keep getting numbness, tingling, and pain in my hands and arms (especially the right one), and the plantar fasciitis in my right foot is hurting nearly all the time. Despite my nightly doses of Trazadone, I keep waking up at night around 3 or 4 AM, and having trouble getting back to sleep because my mind is racing and my arms are numb. I’m trying different things to help me sleep through the night: breathing strips on my nose, a different pillow, and last night I put the heating pad under my neck and shoulders. I still didn’t sleep through the night.

I’m sure my emotional and physical issues are all connected somehow, and all I can do is just keep hoping and trying to work my way past this.

Yet another eye update

It seems like a good time to catch up on the state of my eye health. 2017 was a year of such ups and downs for my eye, but the good news is that it is over and my eye seems to be pretty stable now.

I ended up having three surgeries last year to try to slow down the vision loss from secondary glaucoma. Surgery #1 at the end of July involved implanting the new Xen Gel Stent. That didn’t work. Surgery #2 at the end of September involved implanting a more traditional Baerveldt valve. The surgery met expectations for regulating my eye pressure, but had resulted in some issues with my pupil. I went back in early December for another surgical procedure to correct the adhesion of my pupil to my cornea. (Without that procedure I could have further damaged my cornea; the surgeon was also able to slightly reshape my pupil so that it looks a little less goat-like.)

I’m happy to say that in 2018, I don’t expect to have any eye surgeries! I will be going back to the surgeon next month to have the final stitch removed, and then I should be done with regular visits to the glaucoma specialist in San Francisco. I’ll keep seeing the local ophthalmologist for regular check ups and care.

Vision in my right eye is fair. I’ve had several visual field tests in the past three years that have documented the extent of vision loss from the glaucoma. Below is my most recent visual field test on my right eye. The darker the areas note either complete (black) or partial (gray) vision loss. I’ve lost quite a bit of peripheral vision from the areas closest to my nose, but the vision in the center and outer portion of the eye is still OK. d3yI9eRrSvuG9Cs4ZyoMgA

In practical terms, when looking strictly through my right eye, items in my visual field appear blurred, even with corrective lenses. The ophthalmologist said this could either be from the vision loss or from the cataract that is forming in my eye. Early cataract formation is an unfortunate side effect of all the eye surgeries I’ve had. The local eye doc did have a great suggestion to help me get the best vision possible from my eye, though. He urged me to try a rigid gas permeable (RGP) contact lens.

I found a local optometrist to consult for a fitting and he recommended I try a scleral lens. Inserting and removing this lens is a little tricky, but I’m getting the hang of it. Insurance should cover the full expense since I can’t achieve a very good correction with eyeglasses due to the irregular shape of my eye.

Over the past year or so, my brain has slowly retrained itself to use my left eye as my dominant eye, and this has helped, too. I can see well enough to drive, although night driving is a little more challenging so I try not to do too much of it. I won’t regain the vision I’ve lost to glaucoma, but I’ve staved off full vision loss for now. And that’s as good as it gets.

Money talk: how owning a house can bring in passive income

When I first moved to Napa, I thought I may just rent indefinitely. After owning a home for more than 16 years, I wanted a break from maintenance and upkeep. That feeling didn’t last very long, though.

I think I finally hit my limit of waiting for someone else to approve maintenance requests during Memorial Day weekend of 2016, not quite a year and a half from when I started renting. That was the weekend when the main drain line clogged, and the only bathroom in the house became unusable. I had a couple of friends visiting that weekend, and we weren’t able to take a shower or use the only toilet in the house until an emergency plumber responded. I had been reporting issues that pointed to imminent failure of the drain line for over two weeks, but the landlord was dragging his feet on approving a company to come out and address the issue. I’m sure he was regretting it when he got the bill for that emergency call on a holiday weekend.

After an experience like this, I realized that I wanted to be the one to make the choice of when and what type of repairs should be made. Yes, it could be a hassle to find good people to do the work, but I preferred that to being stuck in a situation where I was forced to find a place to squat in the yard to pee.

There are many articles and blog posts one can find about the “rent vs buy” debate that outline the pros and cons of each. This isn’t one of them. I’m just sharing one of the reasons I find that owning works for me: I can choose to bring in extra income by renting a bedroom in my house. Renters are legally bound by the terms of a lease, which usually do not allow sub-letting the unit or portions of the unit without landlord approval. As an owner, I don’t have this restriction.

I first started renting rooms in my home when I lived in Chicago. I had a fairly large house that was perfect for this arrangement. I had my own bedroom and bathroom on the main level of the house, and I rented out the two bedrooms with a bathroom on the second floor. The kitchen area was shared, and while I made it clear that my housemates could use living and dining room, too, they rarely did.

I used the equity from my Chicago home sale as a down payment on my house in Napa. Property values are much higher here, and the house I purchased is smaller than the one in Chicago. I went from owning a house with four bedrooms and three bathrooms to one that has only two bedrooms and one bathroom. I use the larger of the two bedrooms and rent out the smaller bedroom. The kitchen, bathroom, living room, and dining area are all shared space.

Potential renters are plentiful. During the harvest season or “crush,” there are frequently people hired on a short-term basis to work in the labs and support the winemakers. Additionally, many of the wineries hire interns throughout the year to work in the tasting rooms or with back office functions like marketing, sales, and events. The local hospital employs many “travelers” to fill nursing and technical positions, too. Vacancy rates for rentals is very low, and like all of the Bay Area, housing is expensive, so sharing housing is quite common here.

The local community housing organization actually has a free program to promote home sharing by matching applicants with owners. I thought about using this program to locate a new house-mate, but I wanted to have the option of having a month or two “off,” so I decided to rent my room through Airbnb.

As long as I have my listing set for a minimum rental of 30 days, I don’t trigger any issues with the city. The demographic I am targeting — people who are in Napa for short-term work assignments or internships — are also looking at online sources such as Airbnb or Craigslist to find housing, so the service works well for me. I have full control of who I accept through Airbnb, and I require that they be “verified” by Airbnb (verification of government issued IDs) before I consider their request. I also usually have some back and forth messaging with the guest first to confirm their reasons for booking. While I could make more money by renting directly through Craigslist, I prefer the extra protection provided by Airbnb and their verification process.

This may be obvious, but I rent the room furnished. I already had a modular shelving/desk unit and chair for the room, and the closet has an organizer with built-ins. I had to buy a bed, bedding, some linens, and hangers for the closet. I saved the receipts for all of these up front costs for tax purposes.

The extra income I get from renting my room is taxable income. But while I do collect income for the room, I also have expenses, such as extra costs for utilities (water, gas, electric, and internet), supplies (paper and cleaning products), maintenance, and fees to Airbnb. Keeping track of these expenses and itemizing them on my annual tax form works in my favor. For individuals with income less than $150,000 a year, the IRS allows these expenses to offset the income under their rules for “passive activity losses.” Those making less than $125,000, get the full benefit of passive income loss rules, which are gradually reduced up to the upper limit of $150,000. However, for those making more than $150,000 it’s still worthwhile to keep careful records and report expenses every year as any losses are applied when one sells the property.

When I was bringin in a lower salary in Chicago, I had passive losses most years. I was getting money throughout the year from my renters so I had cash flow, but a portion (about 40%) of the maintenance costs — landscaping upkeep, and repairs to the house — was a business expense. I didn’t end up having to pay taxes on any of that income due to the fact that I had a loss every year. Now I have a high enough income that I can’t claim any passive losses on my annual income tax return, but I still keep records because if the tax laws aren’t changed and I sell the house, I can perhaps use those losses to offset any taxes on any gains I earn.

My income in 2017 from renting out my spare bedroom has offset the expense of caring for my elderly dog and given me extra breathing space in the budget every month. I had hoped to use the extra money to pay down the mortgage faster, and eventually I may be able to do that.

I’ve also met some great people. I’ve had five people stay with me over the course of the year, and only one left me less than happy with the experience. Last year’s harvest intern was a tad immature and messy. I quickly got tired of living with a sloppy boy, who seemed genuinely clueless about his bad habits such as running the hot water in the shower to “warm it up” for so long that there was water beading in the walls. He did respond when I directly talked to him about correcting his behavior, at least.

The intangible benefits of having someone else living in the house are that I tend to keep the house neater and cleaner. I’m not generally a person who lets dishes pile up, but when I’m on my own I’m more likely to put off dusting and vacuuming. I also have some additional opportunities for socializing by occasionally sharing a meal or taking a walk with a guest.

Ideally I’d like to have the house to myself and build what is called an Accessory Dwelling Unit in my large backyard. I’ve also thought about putting an addition on the house to expand the back bedroom into a suite with its own bathroom, or perhaps add an entirely new master suite, giving the house three full bedrooms and two bathrooms. While there is plenty of room in the backyard for any of these ideas, I simply lack the capital and don’t yet have enough equity in the house to even think about using it to get a loan.

Sharing one’s home with strangers isn’t for everyone, but I often recommend it to people who live alone and have extra space. It is a great strategy for bringing in extra cash, and can provide an extra level of socializing and security.

If anyone has ideas on how to raise capital for major home improvements, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Sister sucker punch

I intended to write another money topic this week. Then I had a conversation with my sister two days ago that knocked me back hard and I’m still reeling. It does have a money component, so I can still stay on theme, I guess.

On Tuesday, sister pinged me in the morning and asked if I could talk. I answered in the affirmative. She called me moments later and said she had a couple of things to ask me about, one of which was to check on how my dog was doing and how I was doing. From a previous call sister knew all about the expensive and stressful issues I’ve been facing with my dog, and I thought it very nice for her to call and check on us. I told her the dog was doing OK and so was I.

Then she got to the meat of the conversation: she wanted to tell me that she is holding me accountable for half the cost of a Life Alert service she ordered for our mom last year. I was shocked and outraged. I’m STILL shocked and outraged.

Sister had approached me with this idea last year, just before she moved to Napa from Chicago. She asked me if I would be willing to split the cost with her. I said no. She went ahead and ordered it anyway.

A few months ago, sister vented to me about how she had tried to cancel the service (mom wasn’t using it and not even remembering to wear the device) and was told she would still have to pay the contract in full. She had asked before signing the contract if there was a cancellation fee and been told no, so she thought she had been lied to. She brought the contract by my house and asked me to look at it, so I did. It was easy to find the part of the contract that stated the cost, and that by signing she was agreeing to pay that it in full no matter what. So, there was no “cancellation fee” and they weren’t lying about that. There was just the cost of the contract. Period. She was frustrated about this, but must have decided there was nothing she could do about it.

So when she called me two days ago and said I would have to pay her half the cost because I had agreed to it, I was upset. I told her I had not agreed to pay this cost. She said I had. She said I had even paid her some money in the past. I can’t find any record of that in my electronic payments, despite her claim. Besides, even if I did give her some money at some point, that doesn’t negate the fact that I objected to the contract and said I would not pay for it.

So here we are at an impasse. She says I agreed to the contract, and that I owe her money; I say I never agreed to it. She says she expects me to pay her the full $1,000 (half of the contract cost), and that the current tally of what I owe is around $300. I maintain that I should not owe anything towards the cost of this contract.

My relationship with my sister has always been rocky, but I perpetually hold out hope that one day we will treat each other with kindness and find enjoyment in each other’s company. I don’t know why I keep this fantasy alive. From the time we were small children, she has bullied me. When her adult daughter was visiting last year, she even asked me why I put up with the shit her mom does to me.

By not demanding money from me right now and simply putting me on notice, my sister seems to think she is being magnanimous. Whereas I have been struggling to keep myself out of the absolute pit of despair after this conversation. Do I pay up, or do I give up on having a relationship with my sister? I’m already at arm’s length with my mother and father; moving across the country introduced a safer, saner distance for me. I thought that sister and I could have a chance to build a better relationship if we lived close to each other. I settled in Napa, specifically, instead of some other town in the Bay Area for that reason. Did I fall into a trap, where I am her punching bag whenever she feels the need to let off some steam?

I saw my therapist yesterday and sobbed my way through the appointment. I have had some very dark times over the past few days. I confessed to my therapist that I’ve found myself asking “What’s the point?” Why am I bothering to trudge along anymore?

I keep myself together because I know that would be a really shitty thing to do to my friends. But this situation is not helping me stay in a positive place.