The housing update

I’ve been in my house for just over eight months now, and have been living with a housemate for nearly five months. Overall, my housing situation is satisfactory and I’ve felt like I’ve made good decisions in both purchasing a house rather than continuing to rent, and taking on a housemate to increase my income.

While I had some trepidation about sharing a bathroom with a housemate, it’s worked out well. I had thought it most likely I’d be sharing my house with another woman, but the first confirmed booking I got was a young man just starting his first professional job. I think sharing a bathroom with a man is actually easier since they tend to do less fussing while getting ready.

Since I rent a fully furnished place, that means he has full use of my kitchen equipment (pots, pans, plates, cutlery, small appliances, etc.) and he’s been very good about not breaking things. He’s good about cleaning up after himself in the kitchen and bathroom, and our work schedules are complementary so there’s no problem with disturbing each other coming and going. I do the regular housecleaning myself (with the exception of his room), but he pitches in on things like rolling the trash cans to the curb and has helped me move some furniture when asked.

Although the reservation is through mid-April, he’s found an apartment that will work for him and I’m going to let him out of it early. He’s been a great person to live with and I wish him success. Last night he introduced me to one of his colleagues who is interested in finding a better place to live and we toured the house and generally eyed each other up. She seems like a nice young woman, but even if she doesn’t move in, I’m sure I’ll have no problem finding another short-term renter.

There are some downsides to renting out my second bedroom. I think the biggest one is that I have no room to host friends who are visiting the area. Last weekend my San Francisco friends were in town for the marathon, and I was regretful that I couldn’t offer them a place to stay. If or when I have any of my Chicago friends visit, I can only offer an air mattress on the living room floor as accommodation.

The only other issue I’ve run into with having a housemate is the occasional struggle with juggling the bathroom schedule. That happens pretty rarely, though. I just had gotten spoiled living in a house with three bathrooms for so many years.

The extra income has cushioned the impact of my higher housing costs and allowed me to painlessly afford the higher veterinary costs for my aging dog, as well as enjoy some luxuries such as a meal kit delivery service, and restaurant meals a few times a month. It’s also slightly softened the blow of having to buy new clothing to fit my expanding body size; I may be unhappy about the weight, but at least I don’t have the additional challenge of figuring out how to rebuild a professional wardrobe on a tiny budget.

Some of the extra income has been used to defray house repair and maintenance costs, too. While this house was well cared-for and in very good shape, it’s expected that some things will need fixing now and then.

In December I had to replace the control panel on the heating/cooling system. For some reason, it just started smoldering. My clue was the scent of burning plastic wafting through the heating ducts. With labor and shipping, it cost just under $800 to replace what looked like a pretty simple circuit board. I also replaced the laundry sink in the garage. The original, cast iron sink is very cool, but the capacity was too small for a load of laundry using the highest water setting. The plumber had looked at it back in July and said it wasn’t possible to increase the size of the drain pipe from 1.5-inch to 2-inch (the current standard) without trenching into the concrete garage floor. My only option for being able to run a load of laundry larger than a medium was to get a laundry sink with a larger capacity. (I’m saving the small cast iron sink for a garden sink; I understand it’s very valuable.)

Other maintenance/improvement expenses so far have been limited to some small handyman jobs like replacing the noisy ventilation fan in the bathroom with a quiet, properly vented one, and lawn and yard care. I don’t have a lawn mower and this house has quite a bit of lawn right now. I’d like to change that, but for now it’s less of a hassle to pay someone to do the grass cutting, edging, pruning, and fall leaf clean up than to invest in the cost of equipment and upkeep. (Not to mention the time I’d need to spend on cutting the lawn and cleaning up the leaves from several trees every year.)

I have some larger house expenses coming up this year. The trees in the back yard desperately need pruning, and I think one of them needs to come down. I had priced this work out last August, but never got it done. Now that the winter rains have slowed way down I think it’s time to get schedule that job before the tree starts putting out a lot of leaves.

The heavy rains this winter have also exposed the need for some more costly work. There is a drainage issue on this property and it could lead to more serious issues with the house. This past winter we went through periods of non-stop rain for up to 5 days at a time, with rainfalls averaging at least 2 inches a day. The soil on which the house sits is very heavy clay which absorbs water slowly. Despite using long extensions on my downspouts to direct water well away from the foundation, there will always be some rain that falls outside the gutters and saturates the soil near the house. With such heavy rain and soil that resists quick absorption, I had standing water next to the foundation in some areas. One particularly low spot accumulated so much water that it nearly reached the ventilation opening into the crawl space. The concrete pad on which the heating and air conditioning unit sits was also nearly flooded.

The lawn maintenance guy helped clear out a trench that ran to the year of the yard and seemed to be meant for channeling rain run off. I then dug a mini-canal along the side of the house where the water was pooling to connect with this trench. That helped avert disaster, at least.

I was too anxious to open up the access hatch to the crawl space to see if there was any seepage. My crawl space has a dirt floor and is very low and tight. The soil composition is almost certainly the same as the yard — heavy clay — and I noticed that the inspectors and electrician had quite a bit of damp soil clinging to them when they had to crawl under the house to work last July. I also noticed that even in the summer the house always felt sort of damp, despite this area not being known for humid summers. These are all indications that the drainage and dampness issues didn’t just occur because of an unusually wet winter.

The most likely scenario is that I’ll need to have french drains and a sump pump installed to keep water away from the foundation next winter, and to help keep the soil the house sits on more dry. I’ve been running a dehumidifier pretty much constantly for about a month and it’s amazing how much moisture has been extracted from the air, and how much more comfortable the house has been. During a rainy day I need to empty the dehumidifier twice a day; now that we’ve had no rain for a week I’ve only had to empty it about once every 30 hours. That still seems like a lot of moisture for a little 1100 sq ft house, especially when we’re very good about running the ventilation fan in the bathroom and over the range when cooking.

With a big project like this approaching, the extra income from renting the second bedroom takes on more importance. Just knowing that money will be regularly coming in gives me confidence that I can afford to maintain and improve the house and property without a lot of financial stress. I have other plans that aren’t cheap, too: adding some storage solutions to the garage, getting a new washer and dryer, putting in some xeriscaping and vegetable beds, and adding a closet organizer to my closet, among other things. There’s always something to do around a house.

With all these expenses, I still don’t regret buying a house instead of continuing to rent. It’s likely that I won’t be able to claim the passive loss from renting out 50% of the house this year since my income has increased in the past few years (yay!?), but the mortgage and property tax deductions are still a big help. My mortgage payment alone (principle + interest) is the same as I was paying in rent. And, these expenses will be fixed for the next 29 years; renting can’t guarantee that benefit.

Of the “extra costs” associated with owning — property taxes and maintenance — at least one is tax deductible and reduces my tax load. Using this tax savings calculator, my tax savings in 2016 will be over $5,000, and my after tax rate for my mortgage is just under 2.5 %. (Hat tip to Grumpy Rumblings blog for the link to that calculator!)

Even without the tax advantages, it seems like I’m getting a pretty good deal for a place roughly 300 sq ft larger, a better kitchen, covered parking (if I can just get the storage situation sorted out, that is), and a much bigger yard for the enjoyment of me and my four-legged friend. Bay Area real estate is crazy expensive, but as long as the market doesn’t plunge, I’ll be doing OK.

The eye update

It’s been a while since I’ve written about my right eye. I just saw the local ophthalmologist yesterday for a work up, so now seems like a good time to do it. After seeing the doc I felt like I needed a big warm hug, which is a clue to me that my brain is trying to process through the possibilities we discussed. Writing usually helps me with the process, so here goes.

Way back when I was first diagnosed with I.C.E. Syndrome in October 2015, I thought I would need to have eye surgery within just a few months. In my usual, efficient mind-set, I was thinking I could just slot it in while I was recovering from my hysterectomy in December 2015 and not have to take any additional time off than the 6 weeks I was already scheduled to be out on short-term disability.

That didn’t happen, and in hind sight it was a good thing for several reasons. While it took me many months to adjust to the challenges caused by the corneal swelling and to find a medical regime that worked to keep my intraocular pressure (IOP) in the target range, I probably couldn’t have dealt with another health issue at the time. As it turned out, it was better for me to focus on getting my hormone replacement right, and to deal with the gut issues that kept taking me out of commission.

In the intervening time, I’ve been (mostly) quietly dealing with the progression of this eye disease. There are two doctors involved in my treatment: a local ophthalmologist, and another one in San Francisco who is a glaucoma specialist. The local eye doc is wonderful and can medically manage my condition; the specialist is primarily a surgeon and gets final say on when I’m at a point where surgical intervention is necessary, and which surgical procedure would be best for me.

Once I got the all-clear from the local eye doc, I had an optometry exam and got a new prescription and progressive eyeglasses. That’s helped a bit. One of my challenges, however, can’t be helped by eye gear very much.

My pupil is distorted in my right eye and can’t adjust as much as needed to changing light conditions. This means that moving from darker to lighter environments (or vice versa) is uncomfortable for me. Anytime I’m in brighter light conditions, I feel like my eye is being bombarded with light. (Because it is.) If you’ve ever walked into bright sunlight after being in a dark movie theater and had that “white blindness” feeling, that’s close to what I experience when I move from a dim indoors to outdoors, even on gloomy days. I got the types of lenses that darken in the sun in my eyeglasses, but that can’t take the place of a pupil that can properly dilate. Moving in the opposite direction (light to dark) has its own set of complications.

Cosmetically, the pupil distortion is visible, too, so I sometimes refer to my right eye somewhat jokingly as my “goat eye.” Not all people with I.C.E. Syndrome have visible changes in their iris, but the type of disease I have (Cogan-Reese) does have that result. The iris in my right eye looks darker and more blotchy. I have one dark brown spot in it, which my local eye doc says is actually not eye pigment, but is the actual muscle in my eye; the iris pigment has been completely worn away in that area.

I’m currently on three different eye drops (actually, it’s four meds since one drop is two medications combined in one) and my local eye doc tells me that I’m nearly at the end of the medical management options currently available. I’m going to try using one of the drops three times a day instead of twice a day to see if it reduces the IOP a bit, but that’s the absolute last option open to me medically. None of these meds are cheap, and it’s my bad luck the one he’s suggesting I increase to three times a day is the one that is the most expensive. It was $92 to refill it last time, and that’s with my insurance coverage. Yikes! (Yes, I did ask about a generic option and there is one, so I may start experimenting with it when my next refill is due.)

I had a thorough work up yesterday, including a visual field test and imaging of the optic nerve in both eyes. I’ve had the same tests done in October 2015 and October 2016, so we now have a chart showing how well my vision has been over time. It’s not terrible, but it’s trending downwards. My glaucoma is progressing, and since I’m still “fairly young” (just a few months away from 50) the doctor’s goal is to slow the progression as much as possible. He defers to the glaucoma specialist on making the decision about when to have surgery, but when he sends his notes and the summary of my tests, my local eye doc is clearly going to be suggesting surgical intervention at this point.

The eye doc and I talked over a few other issues and ideas yesterday, too. I asked about other treatments that would get straight to the root of the issue: the abnormal endothelial cells on my cornea which are causing the drainage issues in my eye (and, therefore, the glaucoma). He allowed that while there are surgeries to replace the endothelium, that’s not something that he sees as an option for me, but he’d ask the glaucoma specialist to weigh in.

Another option that the glaucoma doc will need to advise me on is whether it may be worthwhile to try anti-viral medications. While there hasn’t been a lot of research into this disease due to it being rare, some studies have suggested that EBV or HSV may play a role. Local eye doc says these are viruses that are present in most people, however it may be that sampling the eye fluid for them and then treatment with an anti-viral medication is something I can ask the glaucoma doc about.

One more issue the local doc wants the glaucoma specialist to express an opinion on is whether I should start using some eye drops in my left eye, too. I don’t have I.C.E. syndrome in that eye, nor do I have issues with the drainage angles, but I am showing some peripheral vision loss in it. Earlier this year he explained to me that the”cup to disc ratio” in my left eye suggests I’m more likely to develop glaucoma as I age, and since I’m already slowly going blind in my right eye, preserving the vision in my left eye as much as possible is his goal.

I see the glaucoma specialist in about a month, so I’ll know more about next steps then. In the meantime, I’m doing my best to deal with all this info and that I’m likely facing yet another surgery this year. I medicated myself with pizza and wine last night, but I’m thinking that I may need to find a local therapist soon. I’ve been doing my best to remain positive and resilient through all the health issues I’ve faced in the past three years, but sometimes it’s necessary to find professional help.

 

 

 

My boon companion

My boon companion

The extreme introverting continues. Besides picking up a few groceries and some occasional visits to the gym, I’ve gone out a scant handful of times in the past month.

Once I went out to shop for clothing. I did this out of desperation and an acknowledgement that there were times I needed to be able to dress in something other than yoga pants, a t-shirt, and a fleece hoodie. I had to go to the office on days that bookended that weekend, and when I realized I literally had only one stretchy skirt that would fit me, I went out to find some more suitable work wear for my current body.

I find it discouraging (to say the least) that I’ve gained so much weight over the course of a year that I couldn’t fit in the vast majority of the clothing that filled my closet, nor could I wear anything from the small storage bin of larger sized clothing I had brought with me from Chicago. That’s right, I couldn’t even fit in the “fat clothes” that I had brought from when I was at my previous heaviest weight. (Obviously, I have set a new personal record. Not one of which I’m proud.)

A kind friend keeps reminding me that I have had two major surgeries in a year and that it will take some time to get back in shape. Yes, it’s true that in a one year time span I had two surgeries that resulted in the removal of my uterus, both ovaries and fallopian tubes, 10 inches of colon, and my appendix. Logically one would think that taking that many organs out of my body would result in a loss of weight, but that’s just not the way the world works, sadly. I suspect that I shall never be the same shape again due to the hormonal shifts I’ve been through, but we’ll see.

Anyway, I went to some shops and bought some things to wear. A couple of pairs of pants, a few blouses, and one of those swingy sweaters that can be worn as a jacket. Because I recalled that my office has adopted a “jeans Friday” thing all year-long, I was able to wear a pair of jeans and a plain t-shirt on the Friday I went to the office, and I was able to wear one of the blouses with the one skirt that fits me when I went into the office on the Monday. Crisis averted.

Sister was in town a couple of weeks ago and she brought her lovely daughter with her. (Niece is turning 30 this year, so she’s not a child.) While I did have to work most of the week, I was able to spend a Friday afternoon, Saturday, and Sunday with them. We enjoyed the break in the weather by doing a lot of touristy things in San Francisco, as this was niece’s first trip out to these parts. I hope she comes back often as she really is a well-adjusted and fun person to be around.

These excursions from my hidey hole are fun, but they still exhaust me. Last week I was tired all the time and just couldn’t seem to get enough sleep. I’m sure having meetings that necessitate me setting my alarm for 4:30 or 5 AM every damn day of the week doesn’t help, either. For a while there the early morning meetings were only happening twice a week, but now they are happening nearly every work day. Ugh.

But today I really want to move away from all this negative crap and instead recognize my boon companion, my wonderful dog Hannah.

img_2595 In a recent Twitter exchange, I was reminded that she and I have been together 13 years. Wow. My dog and I have had a relationship that’s lasted longer than my marriage; longer even than some of my human friendships.

Hannah is roughly 14 years old and is doing quite well for a someone who would be about 78 years old as a human. She loves to go on walks, play “keep away” and “tug” with her toys, chase squirrels and cats, and get belly rubs and petting from humans of all ages, shapes, and sizes. She still does not like other dogs to get close to her or even show interest in her, but we’ve diligently worked on keeping her from getting reactive 95% of the time.

Nearly two years ago some blood tests revealed that Hannah has an elevated ALT, which is a measure of liver health. When the elevated results persisted and even got a little worse, there were ultrasounds and eventually a biopsy performed, but there doesn’t seem to be any underlying disease causing the issue. So for now we just monitor the levels and I give her a daily medication that is helping to keep the ALT from climbing quickly.

In the past 6 months I’ve noticed that she has some issues with slightly dragging her rear feet when she walks, and her gait hasn’t been as smooth. The veterinarian suggested she has arthritis in her lower back, based on examination and manual manipulation. She recommended some medication, and also suggested I may want to consult a vet who does acupuncture.

Now Hannah gets electro-acupuncture treatments roughly every 3 or 4 weeks. (Acupuncture vet thinks that Hannah may actually have a disc issue rather than arthritis in her back, but since the treatment is the same I really don’t care to have her x-rayed to confirm either diagnosis.) Between the medication and the acupuncture she seems to be doing better. She’s surprised me by leaping over the back of the couch a few times during play or in enthusiastic greeting.

Acupuncture vet also recommended some changes to Hannah’s food, which I slowly adopted. While I’m not willing to cook my dog’s meals daily, I did switch her to a quality kibble that uses beef as the first ingredient rather than chicken. I’ve also started adding more real food to her bowl. She’s been getting a soup-spoon full of canned pumpkin for a few years (it helps her from getting constipated), but now I’m adding cooked kale, and canned sardines every morning.

Those sardines are like a superfood, and I’m really impressed with the condition of her skin and coat now. For many years she’s had bald spots on her tail. When I asked the vet back in Chicago about them she suggested I put Hannah on fish oil. I’ve been giving her a fish oil capsule every day since then and there had been a slight improvement. But now that she’s been on the sardines for while those bald spots are completely gone and her coat is softer and shinier. I’m now singing the praises of sardines to every dog owner I meet.

Hannah and I have gotten to know each other very well over our years together. She is an excellent communicator. When she thinks it’s time for a walk, she noses her leash and looks at me. When she wants to play she gets my attention by walking up to me first, then when I look at her she walks over to her toy shelf and pulls out a toy. If she thinks it’s time for her dinner or for bed, she walks up to me and “sings” a little bit to get my attention. She also grabs my attention by flopping herself noisily onto the floor near the sliding door into the yard when she needs to go outside. She only barks to alert me when a person, dog, or cat comes near the house or into the yard. Otherwise, she “sings” or whines very softly to get my attention.

Hannah’s ability to read my moods is also exceptional, and she’s a great “comfort dog.” I hope we have many more pleasant years together, and I send out gratitude every day that she is here with me and is staying so healthy.

Extreme introverting

Yeah, I’m still alive. I just haven’t felt up to writing. I keep shying away from it again and again.

This winter has brought lots of rain, which is good and bad. The drought is officially over in Northern California, and we’ve been experiencing flooding instead. It seems that in the Bay Area, the North Bay in particular has been getting hit with more rain and our infrastructure is suffering. With every storm I get alerts about road closures due to flooding or landslides.

I took a brief break to visit with friends in Portland, Oregon around the New Year. We spent a few days near Mt. Hood and I did some snowshoeing for the first time. Trying to return home became an ordeal due to the weather. The first of a series of ice/snow storms hit Portland, closing the airport and the public transit system down. After enduring two cancelled flights, I decided that the only way to get home was via rail and spent 21 hours on the Amtrak (bracketed by Lyft rides) so I could get to Oakland Airport and retrieve my car. Yes, it was a real Planes ,Trains, & Automobiles experience for me.

It turns out I timed my escape from Portland perfectly, as I managed to slip out just after the first storm hit, but before the second one could cripple the transportation in and around that city, and through the Northern California corridors even further. My train journey was delayed only three hours due to the flooding in Northern CA; it could have been much worse.

Other than that I’ve been mostly holed up at home, working and entertaining myself with ebooks, DVDs from the library, and Netflix. I’m getting lots of knitting done, too, and am working on a baby blanket for a friend and a pair of socks for my sister. Both projects will take me through February and into March, I’m sure.

I took a small break from my extreme introverting to attend a resistance march last Friday night (in the pouring rain, no less) and the Women’s March here in Napa. There were an impressive number of people out and about on a day that kept threatening rain (and eventually delivered while the speakers were still going strong). I met a couple of friends from knitting group and we marched together, wearing our pussy hats proudly. I had picked up the yarn for my hat while in Hood River, OR at a small yarn shop. I was delighted that the bright pink colorway was called Liberally Bleeding Heart. It only took about two days to knit up my hat and have it ready for the march. I’m still wearing it as my go-to hat and probably will for the next four years.

I’m sure some of the reason I’m so low energy is due to the political events. It’s draining to me to see the progress made in the past eight years dismantled, and to experience the gaslighting and crazy talk of the new administration. (Enough said there. I just…can’t.)

Health-wise, I’m also trying hard to focus on the fundamentals: eat nutritious food (yet not too much), get the right amount of exercise, and get enough sleep. I’m doing pretty good with the food part, but the exercise and sleep parts are challenges. It seems that even one night of less than perfect sleep can mess me up for many days, and trying to make exercise challenging enough without overdoing it and causing physical discomfort has been hard. I thought I had been doing pretty well with my exercise level at the end of November/beginning of December, but then started having unusual pains in my lower abdomen near the surgery site. That made me back off completely for a while. Now I’m trying to figure out how to avoid that, while still getting myself back into shape.

I see this extreme introverting (as I’m calling it) continuing through the rest of the winter, at least. Maybe spring will bring some renewed mental and physical resilience.

How has your winter been?

Two years in

I arrived in Napa, California two years ago today: December 1, 2014. It was raining that day and I recall being surprised by the weather. I was expecting there to be blue skies and sunshine since I knew the area was in drought.

The weather continued cool and rainy that first week. The movers unpacking my shipping container of belongings tracked wet leaves across the floors and cautioned me that the paint on the front steps made them slippery. Non-skid throw rugs and treads for the front steps were bumped up my priority purchase list.

The rains eventually abated by the end of the week. They returned a few times, but I enjoyed the mostly blue skies and sun. I savored the crisp air and cool temperatures that left a thin film of frost on my car windows overnight and once or twice led to a frost warning. I could still wear my precious hand-knitted hats, scarfs, and shawls, but didn’t miss the bulk of the thick down coat I had to don in Chicago winters.

Spring arrived in February, with new growth on the deciduous trees and blooming calla lilies in the front yard. The robins appeared in March, and by April I was already regularly wearing short sleeves and capris during my weekly hikes. In late May I was wearing linen and sweating during the day at the local music festival, yet still found it necessary to put on a fleece as the sun went down to combat the evening chill. From May through November I don’t recall any rain at all, but then the winter rains started again and the cycle was complete.

I’ve found that the seasons here are the same as back in Chicago, but they are on an accelerated schedule and there is no snow to shovel. The climate suits me, and my skin doesn’t dry up like it used to every winter in Chicago.

I love Northern California and am glad I moved here. Every single time my gaze falls on the high hills framing the valley, I smile and sigh with pleasure. Despite the health challenges that cropped up within just a few months of my arrival, I am happy in this place. But I am also frequently lonely.

It takes time to make friends as an adult. Friendships were easier while in high school and college, when everyone was moving through similar milestones. It seems that I am out of sync with the vast majority of people in this small town at the edge of the sprawling Bay Area. Most of the women I meet are wives and mothers, and their schedules revolve around their children and husbands. They may be able to meet once a week for knitting or the occasional game night, but they aren’t available on the weekends.

If I lived closer to San Francisco there would be many more single professional women my age and I would have a livelier social life on the weekends. I figured this out before I bought a house here and settled in more deeply. Despite the social challenges, I still chose to stay because I enjoy the other privileges that come with the lower density: quiet, lack of heavy traffic, shorter lines for services, quick access to large swathes of open space, and breath-taking natural beauty.

Two years in I’m still loving Napa. May the honeymoon never end.

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Tax planning

I’m hoping to get some comments and opinions on this post. I’m trying to decide if I should file my taxes next year using a product like Turbo Tax or continue to use a tax professional. What works for you? Why do you choose to prepare your own taxes? Or, why do you choose to use a professional?

I used to handle my own tax returns until I got married. I can’t recall exactly why my ex-husband and I started to go to a CPA/tax professional during our first year of marriage, but I do recall that my mother-in-law recommended the person to us. Throughout my marriage and even after I was divorced I continued to use his services.

I always thought a tax professional was there to advise and help you figure out the intricacies of the tax code, and since I also liked the guy I didn’t see a reason to stop. Shortly after my divorce I consulted with him about my plan to rent rooms in my house because I wanted to understand the pros and cons from a tax perspective. His advice was encouraging and I was glad I had talked to him first as it guided my approach to tracking expenses related to renting rooms.

My last year in Chicago was the last year he prepared my taxes. Sadly, he died unexpectedly on April 15th of that year. It seemed oddly poignant that his last days were spent working long hours for his clients.

By that time, though, he had started working closely with some other professionals who were able to step in quickly and take over his clients. I met with one of them before I left Chicago so I could explore whether he could continue to help me after my move, and to make sure I was adequately prepared from a tax perspective for the big financial change that would happen when I sold my house and moved over 2,000 miles away. Based on that meeting, I decided to keep working with him.

When I received the tax package from him early this year, I briefly considered doing my own taxes. I had an investment loss in 2015, however, and I wasn’t confident about how to handle it, so I decided it would be best to continue working with him. For the 2016 tax year I’ll be back on familiar ground with mortgage and property tax deductions, as well as following the same steps as in 2015 for the investment loss.

From a preparation perspective, I doubt there would be much difference between working with a CPA/tax professional and preparing the tax forms myself. I’m responsible for providing the data and for keeping receipts and documentation. Filling out the worksheets I’m provided every year and pulling all the data together takes me several hours. Inputting it shouldn’t take much longer, so I think with a good tax program I should be able to complete the tax returns myself and not miss any credits or deductions. I’m just not 100% sure.

Last month I decided to take steps to find a local tax professional by setting up an appointment with a person highly recommended on Nextdoor.com. While I liked her and we had a good conversations, she informed me that her minimum fees were twice what I was paying the CPA back in Illinois. She gave me the names of two other local firms I could look into that would likely have lower fees, but when I looked them up online and saw their range of services I started questioning my need for working with a professional at all.

So, should I go it alone for the 2016 tax year? Or should I continue working with a professional? What do you do and why?

 

Getting back in shape

Two years ago when I first arrived in Napa I was in pretty good shape. I had been following an eating and exercise plan and was within 10 lbs of a reasonable goal weight. (Which is about 10 lbs heavier than my absolute lowest weight; I’m nearly 50 and realize it’s unlikely I will be as thin as I was in my 20s.) I had been keeping my activity levels up by going on strenuous hikes about twice a week and using DVD or streaming video exercise courses at home.

Then my health challenges really kicked in. Five months after my arrival, I had my first diverticulitis attack in over a year. Three months later I had another. About three months after that my eye disease emerged. Then just a couple of months later I was hospitalized with my third diverticulitis diagnosis, and they discovered that I needed surgery to remove an ovarian cyst that had gone rogue.

My ability to stick to an eating plan that helped me keep weight off — lots of vegetables and protein, smaller amounts of fruit, and very small amounts of starchy carbs — was unsustainable while I was dealing with diverticulitis. The diet I had to follow during and for at least a couple of weeks after each attack required me to eat mostly starchy, bland food like white rice, white breads, and regular pasta. As much as I love all those foods they are terrible for my weight control.

Regular, vigorous exercise had become a nearly insurmountable challenge, too. Every time I had diverticulitis I was laid low due to the pain and side effects from the strong antibiotics and painkillers I was taking. Still, I had been able to keep in decent shape up until my hospitalization in December 2015, but it was all downhill from there. Abdominal surgery at the end of the year severely curtailed my activity for months, and once I suffered yet another case of diverticulitis a few months after surgery (my fourth case in a year!) I was done for.

Those are all the reasons I packed on the pounds again: activity and dietary restrictions and challenges over the course of an entire year. I’m up to the heaviest I can ever recall being and I’ve had enough of that. My wardrobe is down to the very few items (mostly stretchy clothes and a couple bras) I kept from the last time I was nearly this heavy. I refuse to buy more clothes since I have an entire closet and two medium storage bins full of clothing that would work for me if I just lost some of this weight.

The surgeon who did my most recent surgery has cleared me for all activities and exercises, so I’m getting back into regular workouts again. I’m being careful about it, though. I’m not only trying to claw my way back to decent fitness and cardio health, I’m also trying to avoid further injury (I’m still recovering from a bad ankle sprain).

Aquatic exercise is often recommended for people who need to be gentle on their joints, and I’ve enjoyed the few classes I’ve taken over the years so I decided to find a place offering aqua fitness classes. The week before I started back to work I visited three different gyms in town that have pools and offer classes. One of those gyms had a very high ($200!) fee just to join, and another was run down and grungy.

Luckily there is a new fitness club that is well-maintained, has two pools, and is only about a 5 minute drive away. The price is on par with the other two clubs with pools, and my employer’s fitness subsidy will cover almost half of the annual cost to maintain my membership. I secured a free weekly pass and tried a class before I decided to join.

 

My routine has been to go to the aquatic exercise classes three times a week. I’ve also taken some yoga classes, and will be giving the treadmills a try now that I’ve just received a new pair of shoes.

I know it will seem to take much longer to get the weight off than it did to put it on, but I’m hoping that I’ll be able to fit into the next size down by the end of January at the latest. I just need to be able to manage my energy better. There are days I come home from an exercise class and feel so tired that I just have to lay down for a few hours. That’s not very conducive to working and won’t be sustainable once the slow days around the holiday are over.