Tuesday, June 30, 2015


I got a text from my mom a couple Tuesdays ago that my aunt had found my grandmother unresponsive that morning and they thought she might have had a stroke. Apparently she would groan a bit occasionally, but otherwise nothing. By Saturday evening, my grandmother had died.

Grandmother and Grandpa, at her parents' graves

In the midst of the stressful last week of the quarter and house buying craziness (this was the day of the sewer scope), the news that my grandmother was maybe dying (there wasn't much news as to what was actually going on initially) was the straw that broke the camel's back. I emailed Ryan and our realtor and let them know what was going on and that I'd wanted to make a decision about mortgage stuff that day but was mentally drained and just done for the day. They needed to look at the numbers and tell me what they thought.

I felt like I should be used to a grandparent dying since my grandpa had died just a year earlier. But it was still surprising and deeply saddening. My aunt and mom kindly arranged for me to have a video "chat" with my grandmother on Thursday. She looked beautiful and calm and comfortable (she was on morphine by that point, so hence the comfort, despite all her organs shutting down). I'm glad I was able to see her one last time, and that she looked so well. And to be able to talk about some of my memories with her. Malcolm came and joined me toward the end of the call, so she got to see him as well, though she was suffering from dementia/alzheimers and I don't know how much she was actually cognizant of at that point. Too bad Mal won't remember it at all.

It took a while to square the person I saw in that bed and the person who had died with my grandmother. You know full well that they are old and that when you get old your body wears out and you die. And you know that that is exactly what has happened with this person you love. But this other part of your brain screams out that that's ridiculous! That person is, of course, still around, about age 65, just as they always have been! It doesn't last forever, of course, but it takes a surprising amount of convincing to get my brain to fully acknowledge the death, to get to where there isn't a slight hesitation of confusion when thinking about it.

Some of my memories of my grandmother:

  • I loved watching her get ready in the morning when I was little. I remember her sitting on the edge of the bed in Matthew's room (where they always stayed when they came to visit), and the way she put on her lotion and makeup. There was something fascinating about that as a little kid.

  • I always looked forward to the packages she sent at holidays. Often small tins with goodies. I still have the trick-or-treating bag she made for me and Gareth uses it now. Mal uses a newer one that my mom made using the ones made by grandmother as a pattern.

  • One summer they drove out to NJ and then drove with us to Maine for a camping trip. I don't know how they managed to love driving so much. I'm amazed that they were up for a camping trip in their 60s (I hope I'm still up for sleeping on the ground at that point in my life!). This was one of my favorite childhood vacations.

  • When I drove to Utah with my grandparents for college one time, they let me drive for a bit. I wasn't very experienced as I hated driving and we only had stick shifts growing up, which made me hate it even more after some less-than-encouraging experiences. Not too long after we set out with me driving, it started raining - sheets of rain. They'd forgotten to tell me where all the controls where, so I had no clue how to turn on the wipers. I couldn't see anything out the window and nearly got us in an accident as I tried to find the lever for wipers. They weren't upset with me at all and continued to be encouraging, despite the fact that we could've been killed by that mishap.

  • One Thanksgiving in college I stayed at their house for the holiday. Grandmother asked me to dress the turkey. I had no clue what I was doing - I'd never done it before, and felt surprised that she'd entrust that to me. My grandpa helped guide me through and they both raved over the herbs I chose to use.

  • All the concerts. They came to as many as they could, and all the most important ones.

  • The huge hugs whenever they or I got off an airplane.

  • I remember picking them up when they got back from Pakistan. She gasped when she got off the plane and commented that I looked Pakistani. I was a bit incredulous at the time, but in the years after that I had at least a couple people each year wonder if I was Pakistani or Indian (and these were people from those countries).

  • I always loved a story from when she and my grandpa lived in New Jersey. Apparently one day she went into the city with a friend. For some reason they ended up walking the entire length of the city during the day, bad areas and all. My grandpa was not at all happy when they got home and he found this out. My grandmother didn't care at all and essentially told him he was being silly and that everything was wonderful and beautiful. Or something to that effect. She always saw the best in everyone and everything.

  • Just seven years ago, Ryan was in Salt Lake at the University of Utah for a "see-the-campus" sort of thing. They put him up with a current grad. student and the state of that person's apartment was horrific. I called up my grandparents and they happily drove from Sandy to Salt Lake to rescue him and let him stay with them for the rest of the weekend.

My grandmother lived a full life, never shying away from new adventures. And she's left a lot of beautiful memories with those who knew her. I hope that when I die my children (and grandchildren if I have them) will have as fond memories of me as I have of my grandmother.

Grandmother with her brother

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Househunting, Part II

Because life is busy it took us about a week to get out and look at houses again. We tried to take better notes and be more thorough this time around, which meant that house after house was a disappointment. Things that should have had enough space made odd uses of that space, so they didn't. Others were amazing, but didn't actually have enough space in the end. Nothing was in our neighborhood (well, some were, but not in the elementary school boundary), but some were at least in neighboring neighborhoods. After all of these were a bust we headed over to another neighborhood further away for one last house before we had to get back and pick up the kids from a friend's house.

The house was all brick, which needed tuckpointing badly. But cute exterior. We walked in expecting to see more weird use of space. We immediately noticed Ryan's favorite kind of vents - the ones in which all the Legos will fall. There was a nice-sized living room. To the right of the entry was what we thought was the dining room. Seemed a bit tiny, but big enough for our table, so no worse off than we are now. Then we went into the kitchen which had all been redone. And realized that what we thought was the dining room wasn't - it was just an eating nook. The real dining room was on the other side of the kitchen (a bit of an odd layout, honestly, because why do you need two eating spaces on either side of the kitchen?). Ryan realized the eating nook would be a perfect foosball table room. The real dining room had French doors out to a deck and the back yard. The back yard was basic - square with grass and a couple established trees. Rather nice to have it be a blank slate.

There was a hallway bathroom, which had also been completely redone. And a bedroom on the main floor. Seemed a decent enough size, with the usual smallish closet. Then we went down to the basement and there was another small bedroom down there with a nice size closet. The basement was also newly finished (the only problem with that being that it hadn't been through a winter here yet, so water problems in the basement was an unknown). Ryan decreed that the basement had requisite space for drumset and computer desk, though the ceilings were pushing it a bit height-wise. The basement also contained another full bath and entry to the garage.

As you entered the house you were met by a stairway. We climbed the stairs to find a half story with just a bedroom. Clearly the master bedroom. And it had a half-bath, which Ryan immediately loved. And a closet that was a decent size (well, many people would consider it small, but compared to every other closet we'd seen all day, it was huge!).

Before we left our realtor noticed that the stagers had attempted to cover a bulging crack above the fireplace with some pictures. That made us a bit nervous because there were a few possibilities as to what could be causing that. We knew that'd be something we'd want to find out more about.

We decided that evening to make an offer. We hesitated a bit once we looked at the sale records and realized that the house had been bought at auction just last fall and was clearly a flip. Took a bit of time to read up on advice about that and then went ahead and signed the paperwork for the offer. The seller accepted our offer that evening. Competitive market, what competitive market? You just make offers and they get accepted immediately, right? This fact did give us pause - why did it seem we were the only ones offering on the houses we'd chosen? We'd done all we could to note details and potential big problems this time around, but had no idea what horrible things we might find on the inspection.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Househunting Part I

When we moved here I figured it'd be about 10 years before we could buy a house. Houses like our rental were going for $450,000, which just seemed insane. Plus, we'd made it out of graduate school with no debt (paid off our car when we moved here), but we also had no savings. And for the past four years I've been saying, "In 10 years we might be able to buy". I've marveled at the insanity of people paying over half a million for these small homes, which just aren't worth that much. I've told friends that the trade-off to having kids young is that we'll never be able to afford to buy a house...but we'll be empty-nesters at 46! But I figured that it might be possible in 10 years, after I finish school, work for a couple years to pay off student loan debt from the masters, and then work a few more years to save up a down payment.

And then Amazon stock prices went way up. And we remembered that part of how they pay you is with stock. And we realized that if we cashed it all in we might have enough for a down payment. Interest rates are still low, and housing prices are skyrocketing, so it seemed better to try to get in before Seattle goes the way of San Francisco.

So, because adding something highly stressful to our plates in the middle of the quarter and while contemplating a job change seemed the way to go, we contacted a realtor that a friend recommended and got the ball rolling. Unfortunately, the rich people somehow missed the memo that they're supposed to live on the east side and Mercer Island (and maybe Magnolia) and have been coming into our neighborhood and offering cash at exorbitant prices for the homes here. There was almost nothing available, in our price range, in our beloved neighborhood.

Our first time out looking at houses we did find one house, miraculously in our price range in our neighborhood. It seemed perfect. It was past the review date, which was also good. So we made an offer and they accepted. We scheduled the inspection. And while there for that realized that we'd somehow missed that the second bedroom was tiny. There was no way the boys were going to be able to share that room as they hit teen years. It was going to be iffy to get a bunkbed in there, let alone anything else. But the lot was large, so an addition was a possibility. And then we started getting the rest of the bad news. The roof needed to be replaced within the year. The deck also needed to be replaced in the next year or two (not to mention the yard needed a TON of work - bamboo and ivy need to be removed, the lawn needed work, etc), they'd not bothered to update all of the electrical while they could have easily done it when finishing the basement, all the pipework was galvanized and would need replacing in five years tops, there was possible asbestos in the attic, and the sewer line to the street was broken (a $20k repair). As we looked at things more closely we started to realize that what work they had done looked like they'd done it themselves - and done a rather shoddy job of it. A day later I realized I was walking into the bathroom or the boys' room at our rental and reveling in how spacious they suddenly seemed. In the end we realized we were both feeling anxious and cramped just thinking about living in that house. We'd have to pour as much as $150k into the house in the next five years - a house already priced at $353/sq ft. So in the end we opted to walk away.

Friday, June 19, 2015


Back toward the end of April, maybe early May, I came home from orchestra rehearsal one Wednesday evening to find a former co-worker of Ryan's standing in our living room. I was tired and slightly annoyed that this person's being here meant dinner was only half-cleared from hours earlier. As I walked in he said, "Hey, I'm trying to poach your husband!". I replied, "Okay," mustered a tired laugh, got my stuff put away and proceeded to do what I could to finish cleaning up dinner and the kitchen. Didn't think much of it until I continued to listen to them as I cleaned. After a few minutes it became clear that this guy wasn't joking - they were actually talking seriously!

Mild panic set in. I knew when we moved here that Amazon wouldn't be forever. But sometimes things felt so settled that it was hard to remember that at some point Ryan would move on to another company and things wouldn't necessarily be just as they are forever. Ryan's been happy at Amazon, so the thought of him leaving made me a little sad.

The former co-worker left a few minutes later and Ryan and I chatted and he told me what the guy had told him. I had to agree with him that it sounded pretty good. We were both a little in shock to be talking about this seriously as we had both figured Ryan would stay at Amazon a couple more years at least. I agreed that it couldn't hurt to look into this other option more and to check out their office and go out to lunch with these former co-workers (several former team members are at the new place, lots of really talented people) to get the whole spiel.

In the end, the spiel was pretty convincing. All Ryan had to do was put together a resume and send it to them and then they'd put together an offer. Well, no harm in seeing what they'd offer, right? So Ryan eventually got the resume put together. A few days later he got the offer. He waffled back and forth a bit, but the offer would give him a significant raise and it was hard to argue with that, especially considering our decision some days before getting the offer to look into buying a house.

So he decided to accept. And he went and told management. And then they wanted to counter-offer and started trying to sell him on staying. And our house was a hugely stressful place for a few days due to school, job, and house stuff. After the counter-offer, either choice seemed equally good, which made it much harder to decide. In the end, Ryan decided to branch out and go to a new environment. His last day at Amazon was the 12th, and he's been off this week before starting at Oracle on the 22nd.