Sunday, September 29, 2013

House Shopping With Nick and Rory

Nick and I had a house goal almost as soon as we got married. We dreamed of getting a house right after marriage but reality slapped us hard when we realized we couldn't even afford an apartment. Apartments were expensive and truthfully I couldn't stomach the idea anyway. The privacy, and opportunity to truly be on our own was appealing. However, the monthly rent was not. I could not wrap my brain around the idea of dumping money into something every month with no return. I really wanted a house. Then, I figured that the money we put into it wouldn't be gone forever. When we moved in with Grandma we created an incredibly tight budget for ourselves in order to save money. I'm talking twenty dollars a week on groceries. The whole budget was fairly unrealistic but we were able to stick to it because we had so many relatives willing to feed us. Grandma took us out to eat fairly regularly in the early days, and my parents fed us several times a week. Before we knew it we had a couple thousand dollars saved.

Meanwhile, Nick was working at a bank. He was a loan officer and got fairly familiar with different types of loans, grants, and mortgages. He also really started to appreciate the importance of saving wisely for the things that he wanted. Not that he was ever out of control with spending but between the two of us, he started as the impulse buyer (we may have switched at some point).

Nick and I sat down and decided that we wanted to be able to pay down twenty percent of our future mortgage right off the bat. Our "plan" was to buy a house that cost exactly $100, 000 dollars, pay off $20,000 of it at closing (to avoid the insurance), and proceed to live happily ever after. We decided how long we would need to live with Grandma to accomplish that goal and had all of our timelines ready. We continued to save and scrimp and go to the park for our dates. Everything was going well until Grandma started to decline. During some of the scary times I thought to myself that an apartment would not be so bad.

Anyway, we got to the point with Grandma that we knew she would need to be moved out of her own house. This left us in an interesting situation. The house needed to be sold, her possessions needed to be sold, and we needed to be out. We made a deal with my dad and his siblings that we would clean out the house if we could live there long enough to find a place of our own. Nick was fairly prepared for this. He had done a lot of the tasks that needed to be done before home shopping. We were pre-approved for a mortgage loan and we had a realtor. We moved Grandma to a care center, proceeded to gut her house of 50 years worth of memories, and began looking for a place of our own. All during school. We were lucky that Nick didn't have a job at the time, because house shopping was a full time job. I went to look at different houses occasionally but for the most part it was Nick and Rory (our realtor) doing everything.
Bedroom Closet

Having not saved quite 20,000 dollars yet, we were even more determined to find a cheap home. Rory told us that $100,000 was bit unrealistic considering the fact that we wanted an actual house but we asked him to keep it as low as possible. We looked at a lot of houses in West Valley, specifically within a few minutes of the school I teach at. I really didn't want to live by my students and I really wanted to live a bit closer to my parents. Nick monitored the HUD home website very carefully because that is where we found the best deals.

Downstairs Room
One day, a little house popped up in Midvale. Rambler with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, two car garage, and a yard. We were already living in Midvale so I knew I was comfortable with the area and the house had all the major qualities we were looking for. Nick and Rory went to see it and Nick immediately liked it. I went with them to see it later that week and felt the same. The house reminded me of my parents house. Which as many of you know, is older with a lot of interesting features. I walked through the dirty, abandoned, uncarpeted, smoke stained mess and thought to myself, I think I could live here.

When we got home we talked about it briefly before deciding to ask Rory to make an offer for $120,000. Rory thought that was a safe bet, but called us back a few minutes later to tell us that HUD had already accepted an offer. We were slightly heartbroken but decided that that must not be the house for us. I didn't know how I would know when we found our house. I just knew that that house seemed okay. We continued to search for the next week and a half when we got a call from Rory.
Sketchy Stairs
Less Sketchy Stairs
The original offer on the little house we loved fell through and they were opening up the bidding for one more night. We told him to go ahead and bid for us but to only bid $115,000. We were a little bit wary and didn't want to lose the house twice on a higher bid. He called us soon after to tell as that if we wanted it it was ours.

We got the house inspected and learned that we couldn't test the plumbing. This meant that there were probably issues. It was winter, which meant that we couldn't see the yard. Most of the house was in need of intense repair and cleaning. We decided after fasting and praying to buy it anyway.

Bedroom Closet
Near the beginning of March we signed all of our paper work and put down 5% instead of the original 20% we planned. But the house was ours and we got it at a really low interest rate.

We changed the locks and made a list of the many, many things we needed to fix. We prioritized, we budgeted, we bought supplies, and we recruited a lot of help. We had many family members and friends who helped on multiple occasions and who did less than pretty jobs. We managed to clean and paint almost our entire top floor in one weekend thanks to all the wonderful people in our lives.

Downstairs Room
Nick spent countless hours at the house while I was teaching and we devoted every weekend from March to the end of May getting the house fixed up. I learned a lot about Nick in those months. He was good under pressure, he was very resourceful, and he knew a lot more about houses and yards than I did. He redid our hard wood floor, fixed the plumbing, rewired a lot of the lights, changed out all kinds of fixtures, put in a new ceiling and wall, communicated with a lot of different professionals to get things figured out and set up, and supervised the changing of our house. Then Grandma's house sold and we were able to move in. Prices on houses all over the valley shot up the next month, other houses on our street were sold for nearly $50,000 more than we paid for ours in the next couple of weeks. The timing of everything worked out perfectly and I can only think that everyone involved was blessed because of how smoothly everything went. For one reason or another I know without a doubt this is where we are supposed to live for right now.

We moved in on a late rainy night with the help of my family. I took one day off of work and got the majority of our stuff unpacked. We continued to work for the rest of the semester making most of our house livable. Then summer came and we did almost nothing. That baffles me. I don't know if we were both exhausted and overworked or what but we made very little progress that summer. Now we are close. We still have projects (I suspect we will always have projects), but looking at the original list of goals we made, we are almost there.

I am so grateful for my house, my wonderful husband, my great family, all of my awesome friends, and for a Heavenly Father who helped us along every step of the way.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

This Is Not The End

I was sitting in class in ninth grade one morning when it was announced that one of the school's students had died over the weekend in a tragic car accident. I knew her. She was my partner in Spanish class and a casual friend. Throughout the day, grief counseling was offered for those who needed to express themselves. I didn't go. I just went through the motions for the remainder of the week. I think, in retrospect, that I might have been in shock. It was hard to swallow the fact that someone so young, who had been alive and well the previous week, was gone. Eventually, the reality of the situation hit me and I remember crying over losing her, death in general, and what I thought was a completely unfair end to a young life.
    I attended her funeral later that week with several friends. Her family was not LDS and so her funeral was held in a funeral home rather than a chapel. It was the first, of the very few funerals I had been too, that was held outside of the church. It was depressing.
    The speakers talked about the unfairness of her short life, about the things she would never get to do,  and about how sad it was that they would never again see her. I felt myself shrinking as I heard my own previous grief stricken thoughts mirrored back at me. I knew better.

    Two weeks ago exactly, I got a call from my mother, before I was even awake, telling me that my Grandma was found on the floor at the care center where she lived. They were taking her to the hospital and would update us shortly. I went to church at 9:00 and awaited an update text whilst I relived my memories of having found my Grandma on the floor, and the many changes that followed that discovery. We made it until sacrament meeting (third hour) before we were told that she would be okay and just needed rest and antibiotics. They were, however, going to keep her at the hospital under observation. Nick and I left sacrament early so that Nick could assist my dad in giving Grandma a blessing. When we got there she didn't look very good but we left with the assurance that she would be released the next day.
    On Monday, I went back to teaching and assumed that I would be updated as needed. Wednesday afternoon I was preparing to leave school and go home for the birthday date that Nick had planned. On the way out the door, Nick called me and told me that Grandma had a dead leg (because of the position she had been in on the ground when they found her), the doctors said she would either need to lose the leg and live for a few months on weekly dialysis or, we would need to let her go. Her kids decided it would be best to let her go rather than prolong her suffering. With this knowledge, we spent Wednesday night at the hospital with my family and a semi-incoherent Grandma. It was hard to watch her be so confused about her situation. She didn't know where she was, she didn't know who all the people (doctors and nurses) were, she couldn't remember falling or having undergone surgery. We just took turns standing by her, holding her hand, letting her know she was loved and not alone.
    She stayed at the hospital on heavy morphine for a few more days, then they moved her back to her care center to finish up her journey. She had visitors almost constantly. Her children surrounded her continuously; holding her hands, singing to her, and putting her affairs in order. Her grandchildren and in-laws were around fairly regularly as well. Nick and I went almost everyday, spending our evenings by her bedside. It was difficult. It was hard to say goodbye to her every night not knowing if she would be there when I went back the next day. It was difficult to watch her breathe raspy inconsistent breaths, it was painful to wonder if she was in pain, it was sad to watch a woman once so full of life wither away before my eyes. Yet, it was ten times harder to be somewhere else. All I wanted to do was be by her and make sure that I made the most of the time I had left with her. I was restless unless I was in her vicinity. She must have been surrounded by people from both sides of the veil who loved her because there was more peace in her dark room than I could find anywhere else during her final week.
Taken in the last 6 months.
     On Sunday night, we went to the care center. And, for the first time we were left alone with her. I was able to hold her hand and tell her what a wonderful Grandmother she was. I told her how much I appreciated her. I thanked her for our house and explained that she was the reason we had one. I thanked her for taking such good care of Nick and I when we first got married. I told her that every room in our house reminded me of her because we inherited so many of her earthly belongings. I told her what an honor it was to have been able to take care of her for a while. I thanked her for being a viable presence in my life and supporting me in everything I did. I thanked her for birthday dates and Christmas presents. For taking us to plays and buying us ice cream. I thanked her for coming to my band concerts and choir performances. I thanked her for supporting me in school fundraisers, my trip to Thailand, my graduation, and my marriage. I told her that I was grateful that we had the opportunity to spend so much time with her in the last couple of years. I reminisced about our many times together and told her that I loved her over and over again. I cried and cried and held her hand. I know she could hear me and that she knows I meant it. At one point I looked at her and said, I love you so much. She started blinking at me. I told her that I knew she loved me too and she nodded.
    After I had said everything that I needed to say, Steven came back in the room and we sang her several songs. Including "God be with You Till We Meet Again". I mostly listened to that one, since I was incapacitated by tears at the time. When we left, I grabbed her hand one last time and told her goodbye. That was the last time I saw her alive.
    She passed away Tuesday afternoon while I was at school. She was surrounded by her family and went quite peacefully. Friday night we had a viewing and yesterday we had the funeral.

 Now, I started with the story of my friends funeral because, as far as I can remember, that was the last funeral I had been too up until yesterday. The feelings that permeated the funerals were completely different. My Grandmother's funeral was almost happy. It felt far more like a tribute to her life and the celebration of a job well done than did my friend's. At my Grandma's, there was talk of eternity, and freedom from pain and disease. There was talk about being with loved ones again. It was nice to be able to think of my Grandma and Grandpa being together again after 21 years. My aunts and uncle reminisced about the good times my Grandmother had had, the people she blessed and influenced, and the righteous life she lived.
Taken over 21 years ago.
    When we got to the cemetery I looked around at one point, only to see that every single one of her children was smiling and/or laughing. I marveled at how blessed we are to have a Heavenly Father that has enabled us to be with our loved ones again for eternity. It may be hard to be without them for our brief mortal experience but to have the knowledge that this is not the end embedded in our hearts was an amazing comfort. We were all so happy for Grandma. She had made it. She may have lived a longer life than my friend did, but they had that in common. They both made it home. They are in a much better place than here. My friend may have missed out on a lot of earthly experiences due to her shortened life, but I'm sure they were replaced with much more meaningful experiences in heaven.
   I didn't speak at my Grandma's funeral because I was to scared that I wouldn't have been able to actually speak. If I had spoken, I would have talked about what a wonderful example she was to me of service, love, and charity. I would have shared stories that illustrated what a tough, capable woman she was. And, I would have talked about her love for the gospel and her family. As it was, all of that was covered and more. I just got to sit back and appreciate the fact that I was blessed enough to be one of her descendants, and that she was strong enough to have joined the church on her own, and that she loved me. I'm grateful that she was in my life. I'm grateful that I will see her again whole and mended. For now, I can't think of a better guardian angel to have on my side.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tales of an Art Major

Senior Art Project (Change A Classic)

    I grew up on art. Both of my parents are artistic in different ways and I grew up doing projects. I was encouraged to create and had plenty of opportunities to try different medias. This led to me circling the art credit in just about every schedule I ever had to fill out. Seventh and tenth grade art were not helpful or impressive but I enjoyed them and got some perspective. Eleventh and twelfth grade art taught me a lot and gave me the chance to see what kinds of talents I might have. I don't know at what point I decided to try to make a career out of it because I certainly wasn't anywhere near the top of my art classes. 
Double Ben

Alisha and I

 I think it was partially a spur of the moment decision when at my freshman orientation we spilt into different colleges. I was with Franklynn and before I knew it we were both in the art/architecture building (ironically the ugliest, most depressing building on campus) getting the low down on our artistic futures and the freshman expectations. Two full semesters of 3D art, 2D art, and a whole lot of art theory.
Wood Project
   Now I run the risk of offending people, but from my experience the majority of people majoring in art at the U are a bit...out there. Having grown up in Sandy Utah I just wasn't prepared for the variety of people I was suddenly with constantly. I also wasn't prepared for the many MANY things that apparently passed for art. I learned/saw things in my modern art class that I thought were well out of the bounds of art and decency. I  learned more about the Kama Sutra then I ever cared to know in my Far Eastern art class. And, I nearly chopped my finger off with the table saw in my 8:00 am 3D art class. I made art with garbage, I burned my fingers with hot glue and plaster, I watched Franklynn make a project so big that it took both of us to move it, I learned how to cut and shape sheet metal, I made a paper mache tombstone, I made videos, I used photoshop, and I watched one of my teachers dance with a tree.

Trash Project (Can you spot the razor blade?)
  For the most part my art education was very informative but rather useless. Mainly based on the fact that I was planning on going into graphic design. NOT metal work, wood work, garbage work, filmmaking, or plaster.
Me (Chuck Close Style)
   Luckily, I loved my 2D class. I wasn't particularly good, especially compared to my eccentric classmates who lived and breathed creativity (possibly on another planet). But, I got better as the year progressed. It was nice to be learning how to do something better. To feel like I was moving forward. That class was, hands down, the highlight of my "studies". There was nothing like getting lost in a drawing and a book on CD. I could draw and listen for hours.
Still Life # six trillion w creepy mask
Nick early attempt
Pencil and Charcoal
   Near the end of the year, I finally realized that I wasn't going to make a career out of art nor did I want to. I had one other required freshman class. It was called LEAP and it was fine arts focused but meant to help the newbies get to know a group of people. I hated the class but we had the opportunity to work with a group of kids to create a play. I was in charge of the set and had the chance to help those kids design props. I realized then, that the only thing I liked more than the art itself was showing someone else how to do it. So, I changed my major to teaching. At the time I held the firm belief that even if I couldn't teach art I would at least have some variety in my future academic endeavors and job. I was right.
Still life homework
Trees on Campus
   I have plenty of variety, I feel like I am making a difference, I still get to draw and listen to books on CD. I am also happy to report that I love my job even though it sometimes seems impossible.

The Temple (My favorite)
White Pencil

And now, in my second year of teaching, I get to teach the after school art program. :)

And yeah, the art is all over my walls in glorious chaos.