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Friday, Darwin is leaving for a conference. He'll be gone for a week. This is the longest we've been apart since we got married. (The second-longest was when I stayed in the hospital for three days.) Neither of us is looking forward to this aspect of his trip.

However, I decided to take advantage. Max will be at his mother's the weekend Darwin leaves, so I can take a trip, too. A change of scene might help buck the depression. But where to go? After some consideration, I settled on Chicago. It's close enough to drive (making the travel cheaper), I know the city a little, and there's lots to do.

I can also do exactly what I want to do, eat where I want to eat, see what I want to see, without worrying about anyone else's wants or needs. I can be self-centered for a few days.

I scared up a place to stay on AirBnB, which is still cheaper than a hotel. Now I have to figure out what I'm going to do. I always like to have an idea of what I'm going to see and do, though I also build flexibility into my schedule. Any ideas, folks? The Willis (Sears) Tower might be fun again, and I always like the aquarium and the boardwalk, but what else?

And I'm taking my bike. I have a bike rack on the car, and with a bike, I can park the vehicle and not worry about finding a new spot. Chicago traffic being what it is, biking will be faster than walking in a lot of places. A perfect idea!

So I'm running away for a weekend.
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I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies a while ago. But in the oven, they flattened and spread, pressing up against each other and creating flat squares instead of round, puffy cookies. I was mystified. The butter was cool. I'd added enough leavening. The only thing I could think of was that maybe I'd miscounted cups when adding the flour.

I was going to throw them out when Darwin happened by. "Those look great!" he said.

"These are dead," I said. "Dead Sea Cookies. I'm going to toss them."

"Don't do that! I like them that way!"

Er . . . okay. I pried them off the silicone sheet, let them cool, and put them in the cookie jar. Darwin has been munching on them all week.

There's no accounting for taste!
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Today, Darwin is doing well. He took a lot of painkillers last night and today is feeling okay, with minor aches and pains. We spent a lot of the day dealing with insurance and finding a loaner car and . . . and . . . and . . . I'm glad he's up and around!
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I'm sorry to report that Darwin was in a car accident last night. (No suspense: he's overall okay.) He was waiting in a line of cars at a stoplight, and a dickhead came up behind him at 40 mph and, without even bothering to use brakes, slammed into the back of Darwin's car, shoving him into the car ahead of him. Paramedics and police arrived quickly. I was at home and got a phone call from a stranger, which I almost didn't answer, but I've been getting a lot of calls from strange numbers because of the kidney stones, so I picked up. The man on the other end told me Darwin had been in a car accident, but that he was awake and coherent. I jumped into the other car and ran down there. It was only a few blocks from our house--Darwin had almost been home from work. Paramedics and police had blocked off the entire road, and they were prying Darwin out of the car. (At a guess? Totaled.) They put him in an ambulance for a grand ride to the hospital with me behind. At the hospital, they ran tests and scans, and in the end declared him nothing more than badly banged up.

I brought him home with painkillers. He didn't want to take them on the grounds that he felt fine, except for his legs, so I disguised the pills in a spoonful of peanut butter and--no, that's the dog. Instead, I reminded him that two doctors and a nurse said he was going to be a wreck tomorrow, so he'd better start the pills now. I finally got him to take them.

Now he's asleep and with the crisis over, I can start my own freak-out.

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Most of you know I was in the hospital last week for three days with kidney stones that required an operation.  Here's what happened.  This is a long entry, folks. The whole thing was traumatic and awful for me, and I process difficult experiences through words, so I'm writing it all down.

Last Sunday, Darwin went up to Lansing to visit friends, and Max was at his mother's, which meant I had the house to myself for a whole day.  Wow!  Pretty cool!  But around noon, I got a familiar pain in my left flank, and I recognized an oncoming kidney stone problem. 

I've gotten kidney stones most of my life.  The first hit me when I was 22.  If you're unfamiliar with kidney stones, in my case they're calcite deposits that get stuck in the kidneys and eventually clump together to form rough stones. Most of them pass out of the body undetected, others grow larger and I can feel them go--it's distinctly unpleasant--and a few hang out in the kidney, growing larger and larger, until they clog everything up, which causes enormous pain.  They've continued ever since, and I end up in the hospital every three years or so for a bad one.  The usual treatment is to administer powerful painkillers and hook me up to a saline IV to flood my body with fluid, which usually pops the stone free and lets it pass.  The painkillers make this possible without screaming.  Kidney stones are considered one of the most painful, gut-wrenching events a human can undergo, and bad ones even outrank childbirth on the pain scale.  (As one nurse put it, "I've had kidney stones and gone through childbirth. I'd way rather go through childbirth. At least with childbirth, you get a baby when it's over.  With a kidney stones, you get a rock.")

I've had so many stones that I knew instantly what was going on.  Almost all the time, the pain twinges, grows, then fades as the stone moves, and I start drinking a lot of water to wash it out.  But this time, the pain grew fast, and was getting worse and worse.  I finally called Kala to see if she could bring Max home from her place instead of me picking him up, then jumped into the car and drove like hell for the ER.  On the way I called Darwin, who was still in Lansing, and he said he would leave right away.

By the time I got to the ER, I was in considerable distress and barely ambulatory.  Inside, the security guard asked what I wanted, and I told him I was in great pain from a kidney stone, so I needed to be admitted right away.  At which point, the guard ignored me and turned to a mother and son who had come in behind me. He asked them what they wanted, and gave them complicated directions on how to find and visit someone already in the ER.  Meanwhile, I was standing there, panting in pain, and he ignored me.  I finally limped past him and sat down at the admissions desk, to the nurse's surprise.

I managed to get through the check-in ("Did someone bring you hear?" "I drove myself."  "How do you know it's a kidney stone?"  "I've had four or five dozen of them.  I know the signs.") and into the ER proper.

Meanwhile, the pain kept growing.  It was a demon chewing on my insides with white-hot teeth.  The admitting nurse went through a mess of questions, material that's already in my medical records with that hospital, but hospitals apparently can't be bothered to check their own computers.  One of the stupider things is that every single person--and I mean EVERY ONE of them--asked what medicine allergies I have.  It's right there on your computer screen!  Just give me the pain medication.

By now the pain was making me scream.  I lay there on the gurney howling and biting my arm and shouting with the pain, and I couldn't stop.  I screamed and screamed and screamed, and the nurse clucked, "We'll get you some painkillers soon," leaving me to scream and scream and scream some more.  The pain was so bad, I couldn't think of anything else.  I wadded my sweatshirt up and pressed it to my mouth to muffle the noise, but I couldn't stop screaming.  I have no idea why it took them so long to give me a shot, either.  Hospital bureaucracy trumps patient need.

Finally, a nurse showed up with a pair of syringes.  By now, I didn't really know where I was or who I was.  I was vaguely aware of the bed and the ER curtain.  All I felt was the all-consuming pain, and I couldn't stop screaming.

At last--at LAST--the nurse administered the shots.  After a few moments, the pain dulled and I collapsed back on the gurney with all my limbs heavy.  I could feel the tension drain under the drug.

"We need to do an MRI to find the stone," the nurse announced, and an intern wheeled the bed down the hall.  I could still feel the pain, but the drugs prevented it from bothering me.  A technician ran me through the MRI scanner--very science-fictional--and wheeled me back to the ER.  The shot was already wearing off, and I had to ask for more meds.

"I'll put in the request," said the nurse.

Darwin finally arrived, with Max in tow.  I told them what was going on, then lay there on the bed, monitoring my pain levels.  It was getting steadily worse, and again I called for the next shot, but the nurse was still processing the request.

The pain shot up again, and I started screaming.  I knew it was unnerving Max, but I couldn't stop.  Finally, they gave me another.  It lasted about half an hour, and then more pain ripped my side.  Fortunately by now they'd put me on an "as needed" order, and I was able to get the meds faster.

During the first series of shots, though, my heart rate went way down.  My resting heart rate is normally in the 50s because I run so much.  This already made the ER nurses nervous.  (The more fit your are, the worse off you become?)  With morphine, it went down into the 30s.  And so they decided to put me on a heart monitor and call a cardiologist.

Someone off-stage read my MRI and came in to report that I had three stones--two on the left, one on the right.  One of the left ones was 8mm in diameter--very big--and it was causing the problems.  The other two were 3 and 4mm, respectively, but they weren't doing anything just then.

The ER physician said I needed an operation. Using a scope, they would put a stent--a drain--between my kidney and my bladder to let the kidney drain.  Once the swelling went down, which would take about a week, they would do a lithotripsy, which uses a sonic cannon to break up the stone so it can more easy wash away.

At last the pain subsided.  I was sweaty and itchy and zoned out from the medication.  They put me on a regular rotation--a new pain shot every few hours.  The stent operation was scheduled for that evening, and they would admit me in the meantime.

They wheeled my bed upstairs to a regular room--private, thank gods--and here's where the strange ordeal began.

Because my heart is in good shape, the hospital decided I was a heart attack risk.  I'm not kidding.  They spent more time worrying about my heart than the kidney stones.  They ordered an EKG.  It came back perfectly normal.  They ordered a thyroid blood test.  It came back normal.  They ordered a sonogram of my heart.  Normal.  A cardiologist examined me twice.  Normal.  Every single test came back normal, normal, normal.  "So I can take this monitor off?" I said.

"No," said the cardiologist.  "But everything is normal."

I was in pain and getting angry, as people in pain are wont to do.  Every time I tried to go to the bathroom, I had to deal with wires and cords and IV lines, for example.  Every test they ran involved putting electrodes on me and then ripping them off, and when you're hairy like me, it's highly painful.  Once, the nurse pointed out that I had a rash on my chest, and I couldn't help snapping at her that I wouldn't have one if people would quit ripping electrodes off me.  I hit the point where I was going to drop the next person who demanded a heart test out the window, but the demands finally ceased, though the monitor stayed.

And then it turned out the operating room didn't have a slot on the roster for me after all.  I could 1) go home and come back in the morning; or 2) stay in the hospital and wait for the next slot, which would probably be tomorrow morning.  I couldn't go home--the pain kept coming back at unexpected intervals, and I couldn't survive without the painkiller shots.

Darwin went home and brought me some stuff, and I found myself subjected to the hospital regimen.  First, they wanted me to take an anticoagulant because my poor, absolutely normal heart might develop circulation problems and blood clots if I stayed in bed for all of 24 hours.  Seriously?  I flatly refused this one, and the staff backed off.

The food service was nice, though.  They don't bring meals on a regular schedule at this hospital.  Instead, you call a number, order from a menu, and they send it up.  That was good.  I hadn't eaten in hours and hours because I was supposed to stay away from food until the operation--which now wasn't happening.  So I could eat, at least. 

Darwin and Max hung around the hospital until I finally sent them home on the grounds that I was fine for the moment, and they had to sleep.  I also made lesson plans and sent them into the school.  You don't get to just call in sick when you're a teacher.

The bed was weird.  Every few minutes, the mattress moved under me, forcing me to rearrange.  This, I realized, was also to prevent blood clots.  This must be the de rigeur thing to worry about in hospitals, even with patients who aren't at risk for them.  It kept waking me up.

In the morning, the hospital denied me breakfast because the operation was coming up soon now.  10 AM they'd come for me.  Darwin took the day off from work so he could stay with me.  And then the operation was moved to 10:30.  And then it was canceled outright and scheduled for Tuesday.  Again, I could 1) go home and come back tomorrow; or 2) stay in the hospital and wait.

I tried not be upset.  The doctor said that the weekend had been unexpectedly busy, so the OR schedule was crowded, and I tried to remember that someone who needed open heart surgery or an emergency appendectomy needed to get in right away, and I was stable so I could wait.  But it was hard.  The pain had abated, but could come roaring back any time, and the schedule of pain meds made me constantly loopy.  I had to stay--no way I could risk going home and then having to rush back to the ER.  I was also cranky because I hadn't eaten in more than thirteen hours for an operation that now wouldn't take place.

I sat in the hospital all day Monday, reading and watching videos.  I even managed a bit of writing on my laptop, which Darwin brought to me.  I was glad he was there, but he was also becoming agitated about missing another day of work himself.  He was charged with transporting Max to and from school as well, and with bringing Max in to see me.  It wasn't any fun for any of us.

I told the nurse I needed to take a shower, and she said she'd "put in a request" for it.  I just nodded.  I didn't tell her that I had already decided to take a shower, request or not, and if she didn't come back with "permission" in fifteen minutes, I was heading in.  I don't do well with asking permission for basic functions, I'm afraid, which makes me difficult patient sometimes.  But a few minutes later, the nurse came back to report I was cleared for cleansing.  I took the stupid monitor off and showered, which made me feel better.  Afterward, nearly an hour went by before anyone noticed the monitor hadn't been reconnected, and they sent a tech in to deal with it.  One of the electrode stickers had come loose in the shower, and she reached for it, intending to tear it off and replace it.  I blocked her hand.

"Sorry," I said.  "If that electrode comes off, it's staying off.  No more ripping.  I'm afraid I'm done with that."

She managed to make it work without replacing it, and we were both happy.

My primary care physician stopped by on his rounds.  I was more than a little unhappy with him.  Years ago, he put me on Topamax, an anti-seizure med that also helps control migraines.  But one of the nurses told me that Topamax is definitively linked to increased kidney stone formation.  My doctor KNEW I get kidney stones, but he prescribed this anyway?  Doing my best not to be sharp, I told him he needed to find another medication, and he said we would discuss it.  Damn right we will.

The day passed slowly.  Finally, they alerted me that I was scheduled for a 10:30 AM operation.  But I couldn't eat or drink after midnight!

Usual protocol for operations dictates no eating or drinking only six hours before anesthesia.  (This is in case the anesthetic makes you barf.  They want your stomach empty for that.)  When did six hours become ten and a half?  But I just smiled and nodded.  Anesthesia doesn't make me barf, and Darwin had brought me food anyway.

In the morning, I ate a breakfast of a contraband banana and some crackers.  I had just tossed the banana peel away when the nurse came in for the morning readings.

Darwin came in to wait with me, but he hadn't eaten breakfast yet.  After a couple hours, he went out to get some food, and while he was gone, the nursing team came in and announced the operation was a go, early!  They rushed me down to OR prep, and here I actually talked to the urologist for the first time.  (Before, I'd seen interns.)  She said that they might be able to get the stone out today, depending on what happened, but there was no guarantee.  Did I eat anything after midnight?

"Nope," I lied.

Darwin tracked me down and waited through the OR prep stuff, which was mostly answering the same questions over and over.  The main one that got me was, "What happens to you when you take penicillin?", which I'm allergic to.  Over and over, I said, "I don't know. I was tested as a baby and haven't had it since." Inwardly, I was thinking, "Does it matter? You aren't planning to GIVE it to me, are you?"  I must have answered that question fifteen times.

At last, they wheeled me away from Darwin and into the OR with the surgical team.  There was a bad moment when they couldn't find the anesthesiologist.  It turned out he was stuck with another patient, and they had to find someone else.  She finally arrived and we were able to start.

I've learned that I don't like anesthesia.  (Does anyone?)  The drug doesn't bother me, and I don't have bad reactions to it.  What I learned I don't like is going through a major procedure that involves my body while I'm totally unaware of what's going on.  I can't ask questions, I can't watch what's happening, I can't make decisions.  I don't know who's in the room.  I don't know what they're doing to me, and I can't stop them from doing something I don't want.  I don't know what they're saying about me.  This bothers me enormously.  It would make me feel a great deal better if Darwin were able to watch the operation and report to me afterward what happened, but they don't allow that in this hospital.

I realized this when my gall bladder had to come out.  When I woke up, I had a big chancre sore in my mouth.  I mused aloud to the recovery room nurse that I must have bitten myself while I was under anesthesia.  She exchanged an odd look with another nurse, nodded, and then just said, "Maybe."  I later learned that I had been on a breathing tube, and the sore was from the tube.  This stabbed me through.  Why wasn't I told I'd be on a respirator?  And why didn't the nurse just give me the information?  This is my body, my care, my information, and the hospital deliberately withheld it from me.  There were other aspects of the operation that I found out about after the fact, too, and this upset me even more.  People were doing things to me while I was unconscious, and I felt violated and angry.  Yes, I know they were doing their best to help me.  That doesn't mean they can rush ahead and do it without explaining it, and then try to hide what they did.  It's as if the hospital doesn't see a person.  They see a lump of meat that needs to be rushed around, sliced, diced, and then rushed back out.

So I hate anesthesia.

The anesthesiologist put a breathing mask on me and injected the drugs.  And then I was in the recovery room with Darwin next to my bed.  No, I didn't throw up. 

My memory is foggy for that first hour, but eventually I ended up back in my old room.  The urologist had only installed the stent.  The stone hadn't come out.  A great deal of fluid and even pus had drained immediately from my kidney, she said, but the stone was too high up to come down.  I would need lithotripsy later, and would have to schedule that.

This upset me all over again, and I hadn't realized how much I'd been hoping for this all to end that day until they told me I had more to do.

More waiting in the hospital room, this time for final discharge.  The hated heart monitor was gone, leaving me freer to walk about the room.  I was also unhooked from my IV.  I took advantage of this to take another shower and strip the electrodes off for the final time.  Just after that, the floor nurse came back in to check things.  "And we'll put the heart monitor back on."

"No," I said tiredly.  "It's not going back on.  If you want, you can call the doctor and have him come in and yell at me, but it's staying off."

The nurse let that ride.  For some reason, she didn't hook me back up to the IV, either.  I think she forgot.

I was in pain again, this time from the stent.  One third of patients don't even notice the stent.  One third have small problems with it.  And one third have big problems with it.  Guess which category I fell into?

Going to the bathroom is a horrifying ordeal.  It hurt almost as bad as the stones, and made me wonder if they had moved and clogged something up.  But the stent is designed to halt clogging entirely, and to stretch out the ureter a little to make passage of future stones easier.  The pain was just me being one of the third group who has problems with a stent.  The urologist assured me the pain would ease and disappear after a day or two.  Passing blood was to be expected.  I could resume all normal activities right away.

At last, it was time to go home.  I checked out of the hospital with a bagful of medications, and Max drove me home--Darwin had the other car.

At home, I tried to rest, but the stent pain was still there.  Constant.  Twisting my insides.  I dreaded going to the bathroom, not only because the pain shot up whenever I did, but also because I never knew what I would see.  Sometimes everything looked just fine, and then suddenly I'd be expelling dark red or bits of tissue.  The simple act of going to the toilet became an ordeal, and I found myself putting it off (which is bad for this condition) and getting tense in anticipation of the pain.  It's steadily conditioning me to avoid the bathroom, and that's problematic.

This whole thing is exhausting.  Between the pain, the memory of agony, fear that it'll come back worse, uncertainty about what'll happen next, I'm wrecked.  It's tiring to be scared and in pain all the time.  The original pain was so bad, I break into a sweat over the idea that it could come back.

I had originally planned to go back to work on Wednesday, but Tuesday evening I was still exhausted and in pain.  I couldn't work.  I had to make more lesson plans before I could call in.

I shuffle slowly around the house these days.  I can't handle bumps or jarring.  When I ride in the car, I have to remind Darwin to avoid all possible bumps because each one sends a jolt of pain through me.

A hospital robo-voice called to request that I take a survey about my care.  I hung up.  I don't do surveys.

Wednesday, I slept and watched TV and ate painkillers that didn't seem to work.  I compared my pills to the ones Max got after his wisdom teeth operation and discovered my pills are a much lower dosage.  WTF?  So I started using Max's leftover pills and that helped.

I go through temper flare-ups that I can't seem to control.  I know it's because I'm in pain and because of the psychological trauma I underwent.  The pain Pain PAIN still weighs on me, and I keep waiting for it to pounce on me again like an gleeful tiger. Just the memory of it makes me shake.  For a moment just this evening, it looked like the pain might be coming back, and I found myself fighting off a panic attack, I was so scared.

And now I'm being tossed about the medical field like a volleyball.  My primary care physician said I have to see him for a follow-up, but when I called his office, the receptionist said he wouldn't be able to see me until next week, though I could see a PA instead.  "No," I said. "I need to see the doctor."  "It's not required that you see the doctor," said the receptionist.  "It's only--"  "I have to talk directly to Dr. S-- about my medications."  The receptionist scared up a cancellation and scheduled me for Monday afternoon.  I called the urologist to schedule the lithotripsy, and this was a two-day problem to solve.  I received follow-up calls from the hospital.   Volleyball.

I taught classes on Thursday and Friday.  Both days I discovered my stamina was only good for 45 minutes, and I had to reconstruct my lessons to give me sit-down time for the last 15 minutes of class.  This is where being a 22-year veteran has its advantages.  I can redo lessons very quickly.

By Friday afternoon, I was completely wiped.  Darwin wanted to go out to eat, but I was TIRED of eating hospital food and cheap diner food and of going here and there and everywhere.  But I couldn't cook, and Darwin refuses to try.  (Before we married, he lived at restaurants.)  Truly, once or twice a month, I would love it if Someone Else cooked a meal for me.  But whenever I suggest it, Darwin only offers to bring home takeout.  Marriage is overlooking the stuff about your husband that drive you crazy.

Darwin, meanwhile, was putting up with me being cranky and short-tempered and emotional. I'd been away for three days, and became visibly upset to find that no one had taken the bread out of the breadmaker while I was gone (I started a batch before the pain demons arrived), no one had filled or run the dishwasher, which now smelled rancid, no one had changed the cat box.  No one had gone grocery shopping.  I was trying not to be in a foul mood about any of it, but it felt like Darwin and Max had decided between them to leave everything for me to do when I got home.  I doubt that was their thinking--it just didn't occur to them to do these things unless I'm there to point them out.  But that's the way I felt.  My emotions went--still go--all over.  One moment, I'm rampaging about something small, and the next I'm huddled on the bed in tears from the pain and fear. 

I have lithotripsy--breaking up the stones with shock waves--on Wednesday.  Another day away from work, another dose of anesthesia.  I'm scared that it won't go well, and I'll have to come back, and I'm scared they won't take the stent out, and I'll have to come back for that, too--as well as live with awful pain every time I go to the bathroom.

I have to get through this.
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Saturday, Darwin and I popped down to Ypsilanti to see how Aran was doing.  (We wanted to see Sasha, too, but he had plans, so it was just Aran.)

A side note: Aran's apartment is two floors directly above Sasha's.  It turned out that Sasha's WiFi reaches Aran's apartment comfortably, which means they can share an Internet account. This cuts both their Internet bills in half and it means Aran doesn't have to pay extortive installment fees from AT&T or Comcast.  Cool!

Anyway, when Darwin and I got to Aran's apartment, we found everything nicely arranged and spotless.  I'd given Aran a list of daily cleaning chores to do so he'd be able to keep his place clean, and he's been doing it.  He's also unpacked everything and put it about as he likes.  The apartment is bright and airy, and he likes the high view.  He can even see a bit of the distant lake.

It's clear he's really happy in the apartment and is enjoying his newfound freedom and independence.  He was happy and chatty while we were there.  He said he's gone to the store already, and he also went to get a haircut completely on his own.  This surprised me--he's never done that before!  I always had to take him.

We all went out to lunch.  While we were out, we showed Aran where Darwin's office is, in case of an emergency.  It's within walking distance of Aran's apartment, another reason we're glad Aran is where he is.

It was a good visit.  Aran is adjusting well, and enjoying himself hugely!
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So now Aran has moved out.  That's two out of three of the boys gone now.  And we have the blowback.

The house is quite a lot emptier and quieter.  Aran's car isn't in the driveway anymore, but I find myself expecting it.  He doesn't pop into my office to tell about a piece of fanfic he's writing or the latest super-villain he's created.  The weekly grocery bill has dropped sharply.  Cookies stay in the cookie jar longer.  We don't hear the pipes rattling in the downstairs bathroom in the morning any more, or Aran's music wafting up from the basement through the ventilation system.  He's conspicuous through his absence.

I've had to readjust my cooking.  Subtracting a 20-year-old from the table changes the equation quite a lot.  I always cooked with the idea of having a few leftovers in mind so I can take them to work for lunch, but without Aran around, the leftover level jumped.  I have to halve a pot of chili now, and there's still a lot left.  A little chicken goes a long way now.  I have to be careful not to overmake.  I mistakenly did up a brisket that delicious but just too much for the three of us, and I froze the remainder because it would go bad before we ate it.  I'll disguise it in a stir fry or pulled BBQ sandwiches later.

I actually end up with the house to myself fairly often now.  This is also strange.  Aran is gone, and Maksim works after school a few days a week, and Darwin is work until 6:00, so the house is big and empty with just me in it.  I'm not used to being in the house alone.  It was a rare event after Aran was born in 1997, and almost never happened after we adopted Sasha and Maksim in 2005, and I became used to a great deal of traffic in and out of the house, the bedroom, the kitchen, my office.  Working at home was always a bit of work interspersed with a series of interruptions.  Overnight, this has all but ended, and it's odd.  I feel like I should be attending to a stream childhood or teenage problems or just general conversation.  But Aran and Sasha's problems have been relegated to long-distance.  They have SSI paperwork, and bank paperwork, and payee paperwork, and state paperwork, but all that can be done when I wish.  No one barges in and makes me drop everything to fill out an SSI form.  Oddly, I've gotten used to working with interruptions, and I'm finding it hard to work without them now.

All this emphasizes how huge our house is, and reminds me that, once Maksim is established as on his own, we'll have to sell it and find someplace smaller.  We were comfortable with four in this house, but it's too big for two.

Darwin and I are fast heading for an empty nest.
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Max's orthodontist recommended that he be evaluated for wisdom teeth extraction.  He's not even 16 yet, and this seemed young to me, but I took him to an oral surgeon, who said they should come out.  So we scheduled it to happen a couple weeks before school starts so he'd have time to recover.

In the interim, as I noted on my blog before, Aran was abruptly given clearance to move into an apartment on the same day as Max's surgery. 

We couldn't reschedule the apartment.  I didn't want to reschedule the surgery.  Chances were, we'd have to do it after school started, and that would be more complicated and difficult for everyone.  I called Kala and said she could either help Aran move or take Max to surgery.  Mysteriously, she chose the latter.  :)

Max was nervous about it all, but went in just fine.  Kala kept me updated with texts.  When we got back from Aran's apartment, he was already recovered from anesthesia and on pain meds.  He wouldn't keep ice on his face, though, and I predicted more swelling.

He got it.  The next day, his face was markedly rounder, though if you didn't know him, you wouldn't know.  You'd just think he had a round face.  The swelling has been steadily going away, and he takes the pain meds.  He seems to be doing just fine.

And now he doesn't have to have this done later!

Aran Moves

Aug. 28th, 2017 10:32 am
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While I was in Ireland, Aran texted me.  The Section 8 apartment complex in Ypsilanti had a vacancy and they'd approved him for a place to live.  He could move in the Friday after we got back.


Aran had applied for an apartment at this place--the same complex Sasha lives in--several weeks ago, and was told he had to go on the waiting list.  There were three people ahead of him, and the complex couldn't--wouldn't--estimate when they might have an opening.  I figured it would be months or even a year.  It turned out to be weeks.

This spot is ideal, really.  It's near Darwin's office and in the same complex as Sasha, so we have a clump of family all in the same area.  There's a Kroger Aran can transfer to so he can keep his job.  Aran already knows Ypsilanti, so he won't have to learn a new city.  Cool!

This touched off a flurry of . . . everything.  When we got home from Ireland, we had to prep.  Aran needed a number of things, of course.  Kala took Aran out to hunt for garage sale finds, and since Darwin and I had combined households, we had a bunch of stuff already that he could have.  Some stuff we'd have to buy, but we didn't want to buy very much, since anything we bought would have to be moved down to Ypsilanti.  Easier to move him in, and buy stuff down there.

Moving Day was complicated by the fact that Max was long scheduled to have his wisdom teeth removed the same day.  It was further complicated by the fact the Darwin and I both got bad colds and we felt awful.  Everything was happening at once!  Kala came up to take Max to the surgeon while I went with Aran to Ypsilanti. We loaded up both our cars with a lot of his stuff and drove down.

At the complex, Aran signed a barrage of paperwork, handed over a check, and was pleased to get his keys.  Ta da!  It turned out his apartment was two floors directly above Sasha's!  Sasha came down, and we all hauled stuff into Aran's place.  Then Aran and I went furniture shopping at Ikea.  We found him an inexpensive (if small) couch and a bedstead.  Aran and I put the couch together, and by now it was 4:30.  I was exhausted and sick, and I decided we needed to go back home.  Aran was also tired, so we did.

Back home, Max was recovering from the surgery (more on that later) and Darwin came home from work, feeling as crappy as I did.  Kala decided to spend the night at our place to help the next day.

Saturday, we loaded the rest of Aran's things into our cars.  This was tricky--he had a dresser and a desk--but the desk's legs telescoped, making it much shorter, and we had a furniture dolly for the dresser.  Everything finally got loaded and we headed down again.

It turned out we were missing a section of the bed, so Darwin and I popped up to Ikea to get it.  We also got a mattress for it.  Meanwhile, Kala helped Aran unpack most of his apartment.  (Max was well enough to stay home by himself.)  The bedstead, like most of these things from Ikea, was insanely complicated to assemble, and the thought of doing so made me shake, but Kala and Darwin, who are much better at these things than I am, volunteered to do it while I took Aran shopping for the final things he needed.  Win-win!

I took Aran to Target for a few more apartment things and then to Kroger for groceries.  This latter considerable time, since he needed =everything.=  But eventually we got it done and hauled many, many bags to his apartment, arriving just as Kala and Darwin were finishing the bedstead.  We all spent more time putting everything away.  In the end, there was nothing left but assembling electronics and ordering the strange odds and ends that really only the owner of the apartment can deal with.  It was time to go.

Kala and I were stalling.  We both knew it.  We didn't want to leave Aran there.  We're both worried about him.  Can he handle everything?  Will he be okay?  Even though I knew I'd be back to deal with various issues, including his job, I was worried and unhappy.  I know it's normal for parents to think about such things, but autism throws another dimension into them. 

But we said good-bye.  Aran, as usual, was perfunctory about it.  We left, and both Kala and I were teary-eyed as we walked toward the elevator.  Darwin stayed silent about it.

Moments after we left, we learned, Aran ran a Facebook Live session on his phone.  Like young people everywhere, he was happy to be in his own space and not the least bit bothered.
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Darwin did it, so I did it.  Just for fun, I sent my DNA in for ancestry testing at .  The results came back a few days ago, and they were surprising in that there were no surprises:

  • 49% Europe East (Latvia)

  • 23% Europe West (France and Germany, mostly)

  • 28% Other regions (England, Wales, Scotland)

The half Latvian side is what I expected.  Lots of farmers in my family over there, and they didn't move around much.  But considering the number of times Latvia has been invaded and occupied, I was wondering if some DNA from farther east might have wandered into the bloodline.  Nope!  My dad's side of the family seems to have avoided that.

The other half did surprise me, but it was the lack of surprise that was the surprise.  The Drakes and Bacons (my mother's side) have been in North America for centuries and at least one Drake owned slaves--plenty of time and chances for African and Native American genes to enter the family.  But nope!  Nothing there.  The web site gave me some more specific information, too, which said my mother's half mostly arrived in New York and Connecticut, which I knew already.

Interestingly, I came up less than 4% from Ireland, even though Darwin found a great-great grandmother of ours from Dublin.

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A couple weeks ago, while Aran was at camp, Darwin and Max and I went on vacation.  I didn't report it here well, did I?

We rented a cottage up near Harbor Springs for a week.  The cottage overlooks Lake Michigan in the northern LP.  The cottage was very nice, but not situated as well as we had hoped.  It didn't have much a lake view, and to get to the lake, you had to go down many, many wooden steps, which were picturesque but serious work on the way back up!  Also, that far north, the lake is still cold and not very swimmable.  The beach itself was beautiful, though, and private, with only the occasional bear to keep us company.

It was a relax-acation.  We slept late and drove to nearby towns for window shopping and movies and walks on their piers.  I picked up some books at a used book sale at the local library and turned down an invitation to appear at a local book festival.  (Forty other authors were going to be there, so I'd be one face in a huge crowd, and anyway I've never known book festivals to even pay transportation and hotel costs, let alone noticeably boost sales). We ate a lot of ice cream and I cooked local foods in the cottage's well-appointed kitchen.  My mother and her husband Gene came up for an overnight visit as well, and we played euchre well into the night.  Later, we hit Mackinaw Island, which is one of our favorite day-

Darwin and I explored a tiny local cemetery at one point and had a misadventure.  The cemetery hadn't been mowed a while, and I stepped backward onto what I thought was level ground.  It turned out to be a collapsed grave with grass that had grown up to ground level.  The unexpected level change made me lose my balance, and I reflexively snatched at a pillar-style headstone in front of me.  But the pillar turned out not to be fastened down to the base by mortar or metal bars and it tipped right toward me.  I felt my ankle give way.  I managed to twist a little, and both I and the pillar, which weighed several hundred pounds, landed in the collapsed grave with a thunk.

Darwin thought the pillar had landed on me.  It had missed me by a hair.  But my  ankle was sprained.  I couldn't get up at first.  We were a gazillion miles from nowhere, and Darwin had visions of trying to carry me to the car.  But I managed to stand.  My ankle was weak and sore but functional. 

The pillar, which was shaped like the Washington Monument and for an 80-year-old grandmother who died 100 years ago, still lay in the indented ground.  Darwin and I tried to lift it, but no way.  Too heavy, and my ankle was an impediment.  Feeling bad about it, we left.  What choice did we have?

But a couple days later, we were driving around and passed the graveyard again.  My ankle was much improved and Maksim was with us.  The pillar was still down.  We decided to see if the three of us could right it on its base.  And lo, we did it!  Granny's grave was restored!

At the end of the week, we came home.  It was a nice break!
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Aran is at Camp Grace Bentley for a week.  CGB sits on the shore of Lake Huron and is a little clump of old-fashioned summer camp cabins with six beds and six closets in each cabin, old wood floors, and high, bare beams.  They have that old-building scent to them, too.  The main building is a huge, beautiful wood-paneled house that overlooks all the other cabins like a hen over her chicks.  The dining room (in said house) has a half-circle of bay windows that look out over the lake.  CBG specializes in young people with disabilities, giving them a week of summer camp (and their parents a week of respite) in a world where most places don't accommodate special needs people. 

Aran loves it there.  He's been going for four years now.  They allow people to continue going even into adulthood, since special needs people so often have no place to take a vacation.

Aran is able to pack for himself.  He could also drive himself, really, but the camp has no parking facilities for campers (it's generally not an issue), so he has to get a ride.  On Wednesday, he and I drove out in perfect weather.

At the camp, Aran greeted most of the counselors by name, with enthusiasm.  We registered and got his suitcases into the cabin, said our good-byes, and I left.

Next week, Darwin, Max, and I are going up to Harbor Springs for OUR vacation.  (Aran wanted a deliberately separate vacation from ours, as a way to have his own grown-up space, which is why he went to GCB at the same time we planned our up north vacation.)

Aran's grandparents are picking him up when camp ends next week, and he'll have a few days at home by himself before we get home.  Let the parties begin!
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You know the old joke. The lady calls the repair man and says, "My refrigerator won't stop," and he says, "Then you better catch it!"

This is us.

The refrigerator won't stop running.  Or rather, it mostly won't.  It runs, then clicks audibly off for a second, then clicks back on, then clicks off, then on, then off, then on.  It still keeps food cold and merrily makes ice, but clearly there's some kind of problem.

Meanwhile, the dishwasher went on strike.  It operates with pushbuttons atop the door, and abruptly none of them worked.  We were forced to wash dishes in the sink.  (Oh, the humanity!)

I called an appliance repair place, and they dutifully sent out a repair technician the next day.  After some rummaging around with both appliances, he said some wires had burnt out on the dishwasher and needed replacing.  An easy fix.  But the fridge had problems with its circuit board.

"The factory that made the boards was wiped out in the Japan tsunami," he said.  "So the part is really hard to get.  We're talking $600."


So he fixed the washing machine, and next we have to hunt for a new refrigerator.
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Last weekend, Darwin and I went down to Ypsilanti to visit Sasha.  We had lunch, we discovered a really BAD buffet (and got our money refunded for it when we complained), and we went shopping.

After we dropped Sasha back at his place, Darwin and I decided to drive to Belleville, one town over, and check out their annual Strawberry Festival.  I'd visited it once about 15 years ago and remember liking it, and it sounded fun.  Street fairs are usually kind of cool, and we could get some strawberries and/or strawberry treats.

When we arrived, we got parking at the local high school, which was right next to what we assumed was the Strawberry Festival.  It turned out to be more like a county fair, with rides and games and animals and such.  What we didn't see were strawberries.  Finally Darwin found a building labeled FOOD BARN, which was selling strawberry-themed items: strawberry sundaes, shortcake, shakes, and so on. They also sold hamburgers, hot dogs, tacos, and other foods.

That seemed to be the extent of the strawberries.

Eventually, we realized the carnival was separate from the actual festival, and it was a bit of a hike toward town.  Gamely, we struck out and, after about a ten minute walk, we found the real festival.  It was a lot of booths selling arts and crafts, and LOTS of churches who wanted to convert passers-by, and local businesses who wanted to re-do your gutters, and food trucks selling barbecue and junk food and lemonade and smoothies.

No strawberries.  I mean, NOTHING. 

I was thinking we'd find strawberry pies and jams and salsas and gelatins and ices and strawberry-themed crafts and . . . well, you know.  But, nope!  Not one strawberry anything in sight.  Why they bothered naming it a strawberry festival, we couldn't tell.

We also noticed that downtown Belleville is . . . dumpy.  Almost all the buildings took the worst of 1954's blocky, dull brick and lumped them together into a string of boring offices, with a few liquor stores and tattered bait shops mixed in.  The city hall, which stands on the corner of the downtown, should be an arresting piece of architecture, since it's the first thing people see when they arrive in downtown Belleville, but it's nothing more than a dull pile of brown brick.  A good chunk of the main street sweeps past a magnificent lake, which begs to sport a boardwalk and a boat rental place and some delightful pub/restaurants and at least one night club.  Instead, we have a guardrail, a dead parking lot, one bored-looking restaurant, and a run-down liquor store that looks like it deals heroin out the back door.  What a waste!

We did score a few burping cloths from a craft booth for the upcoming baby shower, and we had supper at an antique A&W, which was giving away free root beer floats in honor of the strawberry festival.  And I got to spend an afternoon with my dear husband and see Sasha.  So the day wasn't a total loss!


Jun. 14th, 2017 08:37 am
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It's cherry season!  I love cherries and will eat them like popcorn when they come in.  So will Darwin.  But last week, I bought two pounds and told Darwin to keep his hands off!

"I'm making Cherries Jubilee," I told him.

I've always wanted to make Cherries Jubilee, and I decided to go whole hog.  I took down my ice cream maker and whipped up a batch of home made vanilla ice cream, though I found to my dismay I was nearly out of vanilla extract.  I used almond extract to make up the difference, and discovered that vanilla almond ice cream tastes fantastic!

While that was in the final stages of freezing, I pitted the cherries and put them in a frying pan with some sugar and lemon juice.  I cooked them down until the juices ran tart and scarlet, then hosed it carefully with rum.  With Darwin and the boys watching, I flicked a long lighter over the pan.  Blue flame fired upward.  I swirled it all around until the flames died down and spooned this over chilled bowls of vanilla almond ice cream.

Aran looked askance at the whole thing, but once he tried a taste, he said, "Wow!"  He kept saying "wow" all the time he was eating.  The tart, hot cherries mixed with the sweet, cold ice cream into a delicious dessert.

Oh, yeah!
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Saturday morning, I dragged Darwin to the hardware and garden store.  He always complains about these trips, but once I get him there, he doesn't want to leave.  So many pretty, shiny things!

I needed to replace the hanging plants and planter flowers that our unseasonable frost had killed.  We also needed rocks to line a gutter overflow area and a new hose caddy.  We spent considerable time collecting all these things and gently arguing over what color flowers worked best.

When we arrived home, it started to rain.  And rain and rain and rain.  This meant I couldn't do anything with all the stuff we'd just bought, but that was okay--I had a huge pile of papers to grade.

It's difficult grading freshman research essays.  They range wildly from really good to barely legible.  The biggest problem is that there are so MANY of them.  Thanks to budget cuts, I have over 130 freshmen.  They rightly want feedback on their essays, but with 35 students in a class, I simply can't give the careful critique I did back when I had only 21 or 22 students per hour.  I'm forced to read quickly and rely on circling numbers on a rubric, which isn't nearly as helpful.

I already had about a quarter of them done.  I spent the entire rest of the afternoon, evening, and night grading these.  I started before lunch and finished at 11:00 PM, in fact.  Now you know why teachers have summers off.

Sunday, I refused to have anything to do with work or writing.  The guy we hired to power wash the deck came and set to work, with water rushing in all directions while I caught up on small things around the house.  When he was done and everything was sparkly clean, Darwin and I put the front porch furniture out and hung all the plants.  The front porch is shaded all day in summer, and I use it as a second office.  It stays cool all day, it has an electric socket for my laptop, and it's screened from the neighborhood by generous foliage.  The plants everywhere make it feel even more homey, and I sit out there quite a lot.

Out back, we put out the patio furniture.  One project for this summer is to re-furnish the back deck.  We need something to shade the back deck--in summer it gets a lot of sun and is flatly unusable.  I want to get a cantilever umbrella and some more comfortable deck furniture than we now have.

I also set more potted flowers about the deck, then planted the rest in the old tomato boxes.  Two years ago, Maksim and I tried to grow tomatoes in big boxes, but our yard just doesn't get enough sun, so the plants died.  The boxes have been sitting with their dirt, unused.  I dragged them out and planted purple petunias in them, and they contrast nicely with the yellow ones in the pots.

Just as I finished, the rain arrived again.  It poured!

But that was okay--I had to make supper.  The menu: roast lemon and herb chicken; grilled naan bread; baked carrots; roasted asparagus.  The latter was because Maksim had never had asparagus and wanted to try it.  Darwin said he hates asparagus, but I told him that's because he's never had it prepared properly.  "I'll bet you've always had it steamed or boiled at a restaurant with a glob of margarine on it," I said.  "Nasty!"

I tossed it with olive oil, salt, and pepper and put it in the oven for ten minutes.

Everything was tasty.  It was a seven-pound chicken, and almost nothing was left by meal's end.  And even Darwin liked the asparagus.

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Saturday, Darwin and I continued the Great Car Hunt.  We went down to the Ford dealership on Saturday to haggle over an Escape and a new C-Max.

Always a pleasure.

Car dealerships are always busy on Saturdays, especially in spring and summer, yet they always close at 3:00.  This strikes me as foolish.  Darwin says it's to prevent you from shopping around in your excitement--you don't have time to go looking if everything closes at 3:00 instead of 5:00 or 7:00.  This may be true, but when I go car shopping, I go with the attitude that I'm going to be at the dealership for several hours.  My phone is fully charged, I have a book for backup, I eat a big meal before I go.  And if 3:00 comes and we're still talking price and stuff, I'll keep going.  No skin off MY nose.  (This happened the last time we were there--we went for a test drive at 2:30 and kept the salesman there until 3:30.  Tough titty.  When I'm dropping several thousand dollars, the dealership can do things on my time.)

Anyway, we arrived at 12:30 and "our" salesman was duly summoned.  We told him what car we'd settled on, that we wanted to trade in our current car and truck, and the numbers began to fly.

The trade-in numbers on the F-150 were initially scandalously low.  This was, the dealer assured us, because the truck had a lot of rust on it and needed new tires.  I know exactly how much rust there is, and tires are not a real factor in trade-ins.  They also ignored the upgrades and repairs I'd put into the truck since I'd bought it.  So I pushed the paper back and said they needed to do better.  The salesman did the "call the manager over" thing, and he did the little "I don't know what we can do" thing.  Darwin and I smiled and nodded and said he needed to do better.  (Darwin quoted him a number three thousand dollars higher than we expected to get.)  The manager said he could make some phone calls.  We told him to do so, and off he went.  I know he wasn't making them and he knew I knew he wasn't making any phone calls, but I suppose he had to dance the dance.

We waited a long time between spurts of number activity.  I calmly played video games on my phone or chatted with Darwin.  Meanwhile, the salesman was juggling two other sets of customers and he was growing more and more frazzled.  I did not offer to let someone else take out place at his desk.  I did not ask if we could speed things up.  Time was on my side.  Tick tick tick. Is it 2:30 already?  Oh, did that customer grow annoyed and finally leave?  What a pity.  I'm just sitting here, waiting for some favorable numbers.  I'll be happy to speed things up, but . . .

Eventually, the sales guy came back with a much higher trade-in on my truck.  Way higher than we expected.  Very good!  The truck continued to pay off for us.  (When we bought it, the credit union loan rep was shocked at how little we paid for it.  Now we're getting more on the trade in than we owe.  Ha!)

But the trade-in offer on our current C-Max was startlingly low.  It was so low, in fact, that Darwin snapped, "Absolutely not!" and snatched the paper away.  He crossed his arms and refused to discuss the matter further.  The manager was duly summoned, and he said this was the best he could do.

"Then I'll be keeping my car," Darwin said, and they lost the sale of a new C-Max.  Suddenly the salesman's commission was cut in half, despite all his work.

But we have a good deal on the Escape.

Now we're waiting for the processing of the loan paperwork.  We have to go back one more time on Monday to finalize everything and get the actual car.
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Aran turned 20 last week.  Wow!  Now I have two sons over twenty!

Aran didn't make it easy.  For his birthday, he wanted to eat at the Tilted Kilt.


The Tilted Kilt is a half-step above Hooters.  Well, a quarter step.  Eighth.  It has a psuedo-Scottish theme in that the waitresses wear tight plaid mini-skirts and bikini tops under knotted shirts. 

And my mother wanted to come.

So we all went.  (I think my mother's husband Gene was a quietly happy man that day.)  We all had a birthday dinner with chocolate or salted caramel sundaes afterward.  Aran posed for photos with several of the waitresses.

And now he's 20!
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Maksim has basically outgrown all his t-shirts.  When he puts one on, he looks like the Hulk.  So I took him to the store to buy replacements.

First up, of course, we had to figure out what size he wore.  After minimal trial and error, we realized he now wears a men's medium.

This is Darwin's size.

They can trade clothes!  Max can dress like a little businessman, and Darwin can be a skater in training.  I'll post pictures.
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Darwin is City Manager of Ypsilanti, but we don't live there.  For city managers, this is problematic.  Whenever a city manager makes a decision that affects residents (including tax policy), the residents like to say, "You don't really care--you don't live here and this doesn't affect you."

However, we aren't portable right now.  Maksim is in high school, and we don't want to uproot him.  Also, much as I love Ypsilanti, I'm living in a place where I have a short commute after 15 years of a 45 minute commute.  I'm not willing to move back right now.

Hence The Condo.

A while ago, I called our old realtor, the one who brokered our houses in Ypsilanti before, and the search began.  We were basically looking for a condominium to be a rental property, with the rent going to pay the mortgage.  That way, Darwin would be a homeowner in Ypsilanti and could rightfully say, "I own a home here, and these policies affect me, too."

Since I know Ypsilanti, though, most of the searching fell to me.  I wanted something close to Eastern Michigan University for the simple reason that it would be easy to rent out and the resale would be higher later.  But there aren't many, and when one does show up, it goes fast!

And then we learned about one.  It's right across the street from the University.  I wasn't able to get out to see it, but Darwin was, and it was exactly what we were looking for.  Except it's occupied by tenants--the people selling it are the landlords.  Apparently the tenants had no idea the landlords were selling it, and they were moire than a little shocked when the realtor called to arrange a showing.  (Their lease ends this fall.)  The landlord did give them the option to buy first, but they didn't want to.

Anyway, we put an offer in.  After the usual wrangling, it was accepted. 

And then there was the mortgage application.  After a 20% down payment (required by the type of mortgage you can get on a rental property), the amount we'd be borrowing for the mortgage fell below what Quicken wanted to loan us.  In other words, we wouldn't be borrowing enough money and paying enough interest.  Quicken compensated by offering us the scandalously high rate of 6% over 30 years.  Darwin was shocked.  Not only was 6% way, way higher than what our credit rating should have given us--or any other human being in America--they were requiring 30 years, and we wanted 15.  Darwin went back and forth with the loan officer for about half an hour on this, and finally snarled that we'd find someone else.  He snapped the connection shut and ended the relationship.

The next day, he talked Marj, our realtor, who said, "Oh my!  You need to talk to =these= people."  And Darwin did, and they trotted us right through a proper mortgage.  Sheesh.

So we're looking to close soon, and we'll be property owners in Ypsilanti again!


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