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Platinum Albatross Club

After jumping through some hoops that the bank just seemed to randomly throw at us, we've got our acceptance letter. We'll close escrow on 3/25, and officially be home-owners! It's a 1938 Spanish Revival house in Windsor Hills. It has quite a bill of repairs associated with it, which is why we could afford it, and qualifies me for what yagathai calls the "Platinum  Albatross Club" - well North of half a million in debt with a mountain of repairs to do.

But it's a challenge well worth the doing. And unlike many recent self-imposed challenges, it's not at all arbitrary - this gets us a house big enough for a family, a yard big enough for the Greatest Dog In The World, and an investment that if properly managed should return many times its cost in value. The last time the house sold it was for 150k more than we've purchased it. Even if all we do is break even in terms of repairs, that's a big bump in value when we decide to eventually sell.

And it's a lovely house - very bright and airy, with a truly grand living room for entertaining, and a kitchen that has everything I could have wanted. I'm very excited - never been happier to be half a million in debt! Well. Never been half a million in debt before, either. Yet the feeling is less dread-inspiring, and more confidence-inspiring than I would have credited.

Pain in the back

Eowyn is incredibly cheerful in the mornings. She wakes up giggling, rearing back and throwing her hands up in the air, and then slapping P and I to get us to interact with her. Yesterday morning I'd had a long hard night at work - just part of the deal when you work IT and actually do stuff, you get called at odd hours. So I got up bleary, a little grumpy.

I hear a "slap slap slap" as she crawled into the office to find me. She crawled up merrily to my feet, then sat back and held her hands up, smiling and laughing. How could I resist? Picking her up, though, I pulled my back out. Nothing makes you feel older than a sore back - you shuffle like an old man, you move deliberately, every little movement risks a crazy twinge of pain. But I still had to go in to work, we had an urgent issue. And I have to keep working today, as a matter of fact.

I'm a slow moving target this morning, for sure. I am very grateful that I have a job that lets me telecommute when necessary. And I have a partner in the homey endeavors, though she's worn a bit ragged by our energetic and loathe-to-sleep daughter today. It's heating-pad-on-the-couch time for me...if the lil' sproggin will let me.

With any luck we'll close on the house soon. I hope we can remember all the things we said we'd do "when we buy a house." That's my new hobby, basically, home improvements. I'm looking forward to it! We've got a great base to start from, and it will be even better after some repairs and improvements! 

Big Day - House, writing, etc.

I need to keep more regular track of what's going on. I will want to remember this stuff later, and if recent mental deterioration is any indicator, I'll need some help.

I woke up from a complicated dream in which I was living in a world of shattered fragments ruled by dragons. The dragons were very smart, and kept humans cowed as much by psychological mind games as any other. When a human got too rebellious, they would lay traps that would make it seem like the human had to act rebelliously right away, but when they did - all their evidence would disappear and the other humans would think the dragons were justified in acting punitively. And amidst all that, I was also a shape-changer, and could sometimes fly.

Then, at work I had my first UCLA Extension writing program class. I think it will be good in getting back into regular practice of writing. I mean, other than like, pithy facebook quotes and these little entries. I do seem to have a talent for asking what I think is an innocent question that then turns into a whole big thing. I will keep my mouth shut from here on out.

IN the afternoon, we found out our bid on the house was accepted. P informed me by forwarding a craigslist ad for a free armoire. "Contact them about this. BTW, bank accepted offer, paperwork inbound." So ...there we go! We're moving Windsor Heights, a quiet, safe neighborhood in which Ike and Tina Turner used to live.

In the evening we went to get our taxes did by what must be the nuttiest tax guy ever. While we were there, I was bouncing Eowyn on my knee, and she laughed and laughed and shook her head like she was rockin' out at a big concert.

Sometime around 4am, Eowyn woke up and decided slapping me was a really funny thing to do. So then I was awake, and my brain decided it was the perfect time do an instant replay of all the most humiliating and infuriating things that have happened to me since ....sometime in the 70's I guess. I gave up, got up, made coffee, started the day. Lots of big stuff.
I don't have many friends here in LA. Part of this is a natural by-product of getting married and having a kid - everyone knows that severely limited your social time. It's predictable, no big deal, and nothing to worry about. But above and beyond that, I just have trouble or get in trouble out here in a way I didn't back in Philly.

I've thought a lot about why. And I think there's two major factors in why I do so poorly, socially out here. First, I have a super-power to offend people when I absolutely don't mean to. And second, the culture out here, for some reason, is extremely conflict-averse, and my first instinct when some trouble has brewed up is to deal with it. This always and universally is seen as an attack, not a sincere attempt at reconciliation.

My superpower of insulting people is, of course, nobody's fault but my own. For one thing, I do have a big mouth. I know it, and I've worked hard to tone that down - to be less blunt, less inclined to argue, and less likely to tease. Where I grew up, "busting stones" was just how people, and especially guys, made each other laugh. It's sometimes cruel, but not usually intentionally so. There's an old tradition of "insult comedy" and Philadelphians are pretty sure they're the masters of it. When I moved out here, it was an adjustment, but one I actually like. Making fun of people in LA just sort if isn't done - it's not considered funny, it's just kind of mean. I think I sorted that out pretty quickly, but it's still just in my bones. When I visited with friends a few years after moving out, and they were constantly insulting each other and me - and usually to accuse each other of various homosexual acts or inclinations, it just seemed....sad. Each person so profoundly insecure, they couldn't bear that someone else wouldn't loathe themselves as much as they do. So like crabs in a bucket, they ceaselessly tear each other down, so none of them will escape the pot. I wasn't sorry to have escaped that, and had newfound appreciation for the kindness, no matter how superficial, that is the norm here in LA.

But I am just no good at it. I know this guy, who shall remain nameless. He has the opposite superpower - no matter how frankly insulting, horrifying or angry the things he says are, people just laugh and think it's funny or charming. I have seen him, with my own eyes, tell someone with perfect sincerity that he hated her, and wanted to smash her face in ...and she laughed and laughed, and figured he was hot for her. He wasn't - it was just his gift. Say anything, but always be perceived as funny, innocuous and good. (Which to be fair, he almost always was.) Not me, brother. When I say anything, anything at all, people take me in whatever the worst possible interpretation would be. I remember being at a party once, meeting a young lady I thought was attractive - and complimenting her blouse. Just that - it's all I meant. "That's a nice blouse, it flatters you." She retracted and hissed, "What does THAT mean? It would like nice on your bedroom floor, right? I know what kind of a man YOU are, you're not a man at all!" I mean seriously, this was the first sentence I exchanged with her. This is also not at all atypical - it happens to me frequently. I try and give someone a sincere compliment, and all they can think is that I'm angling for something, or it's a hidden insult or attack somehow. When you combine that with a tendency to fall back on even the mildest form of Philadelphia insult-comedy, and what you get is a dynamite combination. I'll say the wrong thing, and have it interpreted in the worst possible way - even by trusted friends and intimates.

I've worked pretty hard to be less argumentative, more inclined to let things go, to listen to the subtext of the things people say, and above all to be willing to be wrong and admit fault. I've made those changes for my own good, and while I may have more work yet to do, I think I'm a lot better than I used to be. But it just doesn't seem to matter, something about me is just ...infuriating or off-putting to people. I can't even tell you how much I hate that.

Now put someone like that in a conflict-phobic culture like LA. It's just ridiculous here, there's absolutely no way to approach and resolve a problem with someone. Even if it's just a misunderstanding, even if there's no real problem, but just crossed-wires, you simply can't go and talk to someone about something, no matter how gently or diplomatically you try, it's perceived as an attack. I mean, it's so ridiculous here - if someone hurt Blink, and then I told them I was mad because they hurt Blink, I would be the bad guy - the nasty barbarian who was just making drama. I'm not sure why this is true about LA, but it is. It's as endemic to the culture as flakiness, lack of punctuality and bitching about traffic.

So you can imagine - if your superpower is unintentionally offending people, and you live in a place where discussing any kind of conflict is absolutely verboten - this leaves you with a lot of relationships that just die ugly and wholly unnecessary deaths. Well, not "you" at all - but rather, me. I'm not  un-self-aware, I know there's no one that can fix this but me. But I think I also have to accept I'm never going to fit in very well out here, and it's always going to mean I just won't have many, or any, friends. I do want to engage in self-improvement, and have healthier and stronger friendships..but not at the cost of my own identity, not if it means not being me anymore. However frustrating and wearisome to me the uninentionally-offending-people superpower is, it also seems to be inescapably ME, too.

I wish I were more cheerfully misanthropic, or curmudgeonly, and just didn't care what people think. But I do, and it's a constant source of angst. But I think I just have to live with it, and learn to take more pleasure in my own solitary company, and in time spent with family.

Argh to real estate

Look at real estate in LA as a game. You have a limited supply of properties to buy. Their value is determined in part by a national average, in part by the cost of financing, in part by recent trends - in part by their objective features, like size and location, and unfortunately, largely by the competition.

For each property, you take the objective features and compare it to known, recent local and comparable properties. Then you price it like that, but either up or down depending on how many other properties are on the market, and then either up or down by how many people are looking to buy. Right now we're in a perfect storm of badness - the market is just recovering so prices are rising very quickly, but most people who could or would sell are waiting until they go even higher. As a result, there are a lot of people out there trying to buy properties, and everything that gets put on the market instantly has very aggressive bids placed against it. Even things with major problems get bid up quickly, because so many people are out to buy not to occupy, but to do some improvement, sit on it, and then re-list later at a higher price.

So what do you do if you've got a set and somewhat limited budget, and you can't compete against all the offers for cash-on-the-barrelhead? I think at this point, we're just in a losing game - there's no house that's big enough for us, in a neighborhood we're willing to live in, at a price we can afford. Anything that's in our price range is overpriced for it's very small size, and generally in dodgy if not outright shady neighborhoods. Anything that has a desirable location or appealing features gets snapped up instantly. Even with the possibility of making a cash offer, all the properties that are fixer-uppers STILL get bid up aggressively and out of our price range. And I will NOT move to the valley.

Unfortunately, the only way for this market to favor is a buyer is to have more properties for sale than their are people wanting to buy. And the only condition that's going to make that happen is if prices go sky-high. At this juncture, I just don't see a way out of the dilemma. And for sure I'm sick to death of trotting all over LA to look at houses I can't have.
I started training for the LA marathon in August or September. I needed to go from not having run at all for years, to marathon-fitness, so I gave myself lots of time, 8 months. I started out slow. I joined the LA Road Runners, who met every Saturday morning at 5:30 AM in Venice to run in pace groups. I ran a few miles a day, then more. Then we started doing serious distances, more than ten miles. And I got sick a couple of times in there, and I pulled a calf muscle. Basically I don't think there was a single day I ran when I was in some kind of sub-optimal condition. But I told myself that running a marathon is about dealing with pain, that the mental fortitude to keep going anyway is as important as the physical ability. I could train my body up to the right condition, but without a chance to gut out some pain, I couldn't train my mind. Heck, running with pain was a blessing, in that respect.

But still, I didn't run as much as I should have. The long runs on the weekends got harder and harder. I dropped out of one, cut another one a little short. I noticed a troubling achiness in my hips, like an old German Shepherd. The holiday break was a relief, I figured I'd have a chance to get my week-day mileage up enough to make the long runs more tolerable. The first long run of the holiday I just couldn't do, my hips hurt way too much and I was still recovering from pneumonia. So I figured I'd just walk it. It burns the same amount of calories, I could take Blink with  me, and I had plenty of time.

After about six miles, that too was incredibly painful - worse than ever, really. Over the following weeks, my hips would start hurting, seriously, after five or six miles. I could take some kind of NAISD, and it would stop hurting. I tried taking ibuprofen before running, and that forestalled the effects, but the longer runs go three hours, and it would wear off. So I asked my doctor about it.

Maybe I shouldn't have asked. But at this point, it's almost certain I can't run long distance. It's my own fault - I'm too heavy, I was too out of shape, and putting that much weight on my hips for literally hundreds of miles has taken a toll. I've got to get that confirmed by a sports doctor, but ... it's nearly certain.

It doesn't mean I can't exercise, it just means the thing I like doing best is impossible. The thing I've spent so many hours getting ready for. The thing I've gutted out incredible pain to do. The goal I set, and have talked about a lot - I have to admit defeat. Slink back into a hole. Be a failure. Another failure.

It hit me pretty hard - hit my morale about like the pain hit my hips. Lost a lot of sleep that first night, woke up staring at the ceiling, feeling a little despairy. You know, that grip of the black abyss, where you're on the edge of the schwarzchild radius. Just putting a toe into the infinite suck-singularlity. I'd been in a bit of black mood the day before. I know this space, I've been here before, and it was going to be further down before getting up again.

Yeah, I could come up with a new plan. But the sting of failure ... man, I'm tired of that sting.

I don't want Eowyn to grow up with that as an example. I don't want her to be the kind of person that mopes for a week, and feels sorry for herself before picking herself up and getting on with it. I want her to be the dust-herself-off, give the world a smile and say "Well. Plan B it is! I always liked plan B better anyway! Yay plan B!"

So that means I've got to be that guy. So here we go, plan B. The marathon is off. Can't even walk it, hips won't take it. Time to get serious about weight loss, and in the way that's statistically most likely to work - so it's Weight Watchers. Found a meeting, got the online tool (re) set up. Time to start riding my bike-  getting it tuned up today and am going to ride it to work. Yep, that completely invalidates my work wardrobe. Which I finally liked. But, going to scrap that, and ... find some way to make things I can wear on a bike also look professional. Which will probably get easier when I'm not a hippoppatamic land mass. Definitely will! So that's something to look forward to!

So here we go. Staying positive, even while failing!

2013 resolution wrap-up

My New Year's Resolutions for 2013 were to not complain about anything all year, and never pronounce the word "quinoa" in the conventional way. The second resolution I kept, much to the dismay of some punctilious people.
The first, however, was rather difficult. I found at first that I would catch myself, mid-gripe and stop. But unlike past rather broad resolutions, this one proved too hard to keep.
It did lead directly or indirectly to some productive changes. I separated myself from some groups or acquaintanceships that I realized were nothing but fodder for bitching. I also tightened up my participation in Facebook groups or "friendships" (a misleading label if ever there was one!) that were also a greater source of irritation than anything else. The upshot of that, after a few months, was much less *cause* for complaint, even if I failed to completely refrain from doing so. On the whole, at the end of the year, I would say that any complaints I make are much more likely to be actual concerns, rather than simple irritations. And are therefore more likely to lead to some improvement, rather than just venting.
In that sense then, it was a successful experiment, and though I didn't keep the letter of the rule, I did abide by its spirit. Mostly. Except when I'm really tired.

First Christmas

Yesterday at Disneyland we got a Christmas ornament that says "Baby's First Christmas." Which was cute, though maybe just a bit too precious. Not because Dumbo isn't a lovely little character, but because the importance of my first Christmas with Eowyn is way too big to fit into as ordinary a phrase as "Baby's First Christmas."

I didn't always have a very happy Christmas myself, but I certainly had a few. And standing in our living room last night, in that scant few minutes between when Eowyn goes to sleep and when we're just too tired to keep our eyes open any longer, I thought about how fortunate I am to be with such a close, interesting, caring, energetic and happy family as I am today - and how especially fortunate my daughter is to grow up with them as her examples. There won't be any gifts as emotional blackmail to extort good behavior, or as leverage to batter guilt for childish misdeeds from each other. And maybe she won't realize how important that is, but who cares? She'll have nothing but joy, and togetherness and love at Christmas, this I swear.

I know the difference between the good Christmases and the bad - it was the difference between pre-depression Mom and depressed Mom. And I wish I lived in a world where pharmaceuticals had worked just a little bit better just a little bit sooner, and my mother had made it. Depressed Mom would be a problem around Christmas time with Eowyn - she'd settle old scores, bear old grudges and be a dark cloud on a bright day. But what if she'd beaten depression? What if she came out of it the funny, wicked smart, sly woman that I remember? The lover of puns no matter how awful, the subtle doubter of authority but generous family member? What if my sharp, intelligent, vaguely surreal and definitely hilarious mother could meet my daughter today? I wish she could. I wish she could see the crazy gleam in Eowyn's eye when she decides that THAT thing, that thing that I'm not supposed ot touch, is definitely going in her mouth. I wish she could see the increasingly confident scooting across the floor, the relentless, intelligent way she works out how to make her body do things. Things that cause trouble! But things that she gets better and better at, day by day.

I wish those two people could meet, and weren't separated by decades, death and disease. But I'll have to do my best to pass on those traits. She's going to grow up with one family's legacy all around her, but the other she'll only receive second-hand, through me. I'll save the best, I hope - and let the worst cease forever, the last ripple in the pond, if I have anything to do with it.

First Christmas of many, and everyone better and brighter and more full of hope, joy and laughter.
Dear Eowyn;
This weekend, you and I stayed at your grandarent's house while your mom went to a Christmas party with some friends. It was the first time in your life that you've had to go to bed without her to nurse you to sleep. In a way, it was a disaster, but it was also a really good experience for both of us. But maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, telling you about how something is different than the normal routine without first explaining how things usually go?

You're six months old, almost exactly. You're still extremely tall for a baby. You can sit up without leaning on things, and you're just on the verge of being able to crawl. Right now you get up on all fours and sort of waggle back and forth, not quite sure how to get the legs to go forward without doing a faceplant. Which you do! But through it all you're incredibly cheerful, and whenever this whole crawling thing gets to be too confusing, with this leg there and that arm over there - you sort of lay down on your stomach, and lift all your limbs up like a sky-diver in freefall. This is sort of your neutral position, and then you can very purposefully and carefully start over again to get yourself in action all over. It's amazing watching you work this stuff out, I can see from the very serious look on your face that you're determined to work it out. Not so serious that if someone catches your eye you won't give them a giant smile, as per your usual reaction.

Sometime in the evening you get tired, and there's a certain tension in your eyes, and you make less happy burbling sounds and more tired-sounding complaints. So then your mom takes you to bed and sort of nurses you to sleep. At some point you get more sleepy than hungry, and we'll tuck you into your crib and have a little while to ourselves. Mostly you'll sleep for at least a few hours, but not always. The next step is getting you to go to bed on your own, but we're not there yet.

So last Saturday your grandmother and I were trying to get you to go to sleep since your mom wasn't home yet, and we didn't expect her till later. But, stubborn little monkey that you are, you absolutely refused to go to sleep until she got home. You weren't cranky about it at all - in fact you were almost supernaturally cheerful, laughing and giggling, smiling at everyone. But sleep? No way! I tried everything; I tried carrying you around and singing you sea-shanties ("Lowland away" is our mutual favorite, I think), feeding you a bottle, or just sitting with you while you were in your crib, dressed for bed. But you were totally animated, crawling around your crib, banging toys against the sides, chattering away in happy baby talk, and just generally showing no signs of slowing down at all.

After a big bottle of milk, you closed your eyes just long enough to fool me into thinking you might be asleep. But no, as soon as I slid you into the crib, you were up and shouting again. This time you were actually upset, and I couldn't get you to calm down until I put you in the front pack again, and walked around the house. And that's what I had to do until your mom got home, whereupon you were promptly out like a light and allowed no evidence whatsoever that we had any problems getting you to sleep at all.

Any other baby would probably cry and carry on when tired, but not you. You're just bright-eyed and playful, interested in everything around you. Hopefully we can get you on a schedule where you're sleeping through the night, but I'm grateful that you're such a cheerful baby. Soon enough you'll be crawling around and talking, but for now you're still just a tiny, happy monkey. Big smiles before bed, big smiles in the morning - and as much energy as the sun.

Your father.