Thursday, January 25, 2007

Real Estate or Fake Estate?

As I continue to look for a home to purchase, I have broadened my requirements. No longer do I only want a 3 bedroom home with 1.5 bathrooms, a dining room and a decent sized living room and kitchen. I want even more! I want a home that has an actual kitchen, not a sink and 3 cupboards with a refrigerator in the living room. The bathroom has to not clash; a tub that has a cream glaze peeling away to reveal the original candy apple red color with a non-matching mustard colored toilet is over the top.

The basement must have a cement floor – basement floors that are made of dirt and have a hole in the ground that could go all the way to China only hastily covered by a piece of plywood, are not acceptable. I draw the line there. They even had the laundry down there! What woman would go do laundry down there? As soon as I went down, I came right back up – it was a very, very scary place! I also need to be able to stand up straight in the ‘den’ found in the basement. I am not an extremely tall woman, and if I have to stoop over to change the channels on the TV down there, it doesn’t qualify as a room of any sort.

Railings for open staircases have to be taller than 2 feet. There’s nothing quite like climbing a set of rickety stairs and having to bend over to hold onto the railing. My one and half foot tall niece is that only one that would find this railing useful. If the master bedroom is a ‘loft’ there must be more than one small window in the ‘loft’, the staircase going up needs have less of an incline than Mount Everest and you shouldn’t arrive in the kitchen upon decent. Although, if you can make it down the stairs without falling it would be convenient for midnight snacking!

And no longer shall I be duped by realtor mumbo jumbo! For all of you looking for a home, here’s a translation of what they are really saying so you don’t waste your time looking at horrible homes:

Investor’s Special! – Dump your hard earned money here!
First time home buyer’s special – Cheap, poorly constructed and no one has ever taken care of it. Run while you can!
Cottage – Ridiculously small.
Quaint – Old and falling apart.
Handy man’s special – Everything on the inside is broken and needs replacing.
Lovely / Gorgeous – Has multi-colored mold growing behind the tub surround and in the basement.
Character home – This home will build your character…
Great rental property – We’ve been renting it out for years! Don’t fix it up and let some poor people that can’t afford to purchase their own home live here and deal with the chaos you may or may not choose to fix.
Newly painted on the inside – The outside of the house is rotting away and you have to replace the siding and roof the day after you move in.
Excellent Opportunity – For us, that is…ahem…not you the home buyer!
Fixer Upper – At least they are being honest. I almost want to go just to see how a fixer upper is different than a “Character home”. I appreciate that they aren’t being covert about how much the house is lacking.
Ready to move into – The previous homeowners were evicted and the house was condemned, but you could move in as soon as you dump 30k into updating it so that it can pass the health inspection.
Newer wiring and hot water tank – It was updated around 1940. It’s newer than the house, so I guess technically they’re not lying….
Look no further – This listing usually doesn’t have a photo available, and after you’ve looked you won’t look any further due to the depression about the state of the homes that you’ve looked at so far.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Tag - You're It!

Why is it that clothes manufacturers are obsessive compulsive about putting at least 4 or more tags on each garment to tell you what size it is? They seem to think that you will somehow forget the size if only the tag on the inside of the shirt that is sewn in carries this crucial information. Apparently, you need a tag to tell you about the fabric of the item, two different tags that tell you the size placed in strategic locations e.g. the waist band and the pocket, a security tag usually in a most inconvenient location that you have to remove prior to wearing/washing and my most favorite – the large 6 inch by 1.5 inch clear sticker that repeatedly tells you the size in multiple languages.

One day I was happily wearing a new pair of pants and received glances from several men and women – mostly looking at my behind. I didn’t know if I should be flattered that the pants were causing such a stir, or be upset that people had become so brazen. I just shrugged and went back to work, attended meetings, went out for lunch, took the bus home and chatted happily to a fellow co-worker while waiting for the bus. All in all, it was a very good day.

When I got home, I hung up my new pants in the closet only to notice that my butt had been announcing its size in both Spanish and English all day long! Grande, Large, Grande, Large Grande, LARGE!! Oh my holy graciousness, no one told me about it all day long – no wonder I was getting so many glances! I was officially mortified! If they had at least had the decency to snicker, I might have picked up on what was happening before 5 pm that night! Unfortunately, in this context ‘Grande’ was not referring to a medium size, like at Starbucks, it was just referring to HUGE!

The sticker had actually been removed from the front of the pant leg, but it somehow affixed itself to the rear end of my new pants. Perhaps it happened when I sat down on my bed. I don’t know; it’s all unclear to me. The mental anguish of this situation has caused lapses in my memory. The one thing I do know is that no woman needs the size of her butt announced in multiple languages all day long!

I have one question for all of society: Why didn’t you tell me??!?!

If you ever, ever, ever see a woman running around with a clear sticker stuck to her butt loudly announcing its size – TELL HER ABOUT IT!! I don’t care if you don’t know her or you think she will react in a hostile manner to you pointing out her butt – just do it! Once the shock and embarrassment wears off, she will thank you profusely, even if you aren’t around to hear about it.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

I'm Banking On It!

As my husband nears the completion of school in April and the stress of being closer to 30 than 20 looms, I made a decision. I decided that we should be more grown up. We should purchase a home and stop living in other people’s basements and cast off homes. With this thought in my mind, I joyfully logged onto the MLS website to see what homes were currently available in a normal person’s price range. (Although I am not normal, I operate on a normal person’s budget.) My once joy-filled heart sank as the only normal-priced homes available were one bedroom ‘condos’. I don’t know if these homes can even be considered condos. They are apartment buildings that are being renovated into condos – which means that they are going to finally rip out the shag carpet from 1963, put in a plastic tub surround in the bathroom, replace the matching olive colored stove/fridge duo and perhaps tile the mini-galley kitchen. And they are selling these one bedroom ‘condos’ for $200,000!! Somehow living in a castoff home seems better than sharing all my walls, ceilings and floors with someone else and having to save all my quarters for the shared, yet oh so convenient laundry facilities just down the hall.

Finally, I found a house that I could love. It had 10 foot ceilings, a wrap around porch, a den, a breakfast room, 3 bedrooms, a stone fireplace, lovely bathrooms with marble counter tops and it was only a mere *cough* $267,000 . Although I knew there was no possible way the Hoffmans would be able to purchase the home, I grabbed my friend and off we went to view it. Within 30 seconds of walking in the front door, I fell madly in love with it. I made the poor real estate man stay there for two hours while I ranted and raved my ecstatic feelings for the old farm house built in 1917. The basement foundation was still in great shape, but it seemed to be at odds with the rest of the house. There seemed to be a falling out of some kind – the porch was desperately trying to leave the relationship by falling off the front of the house and the rest of the house had angrily shifted a few feet to the left. I left saddened that not only I could not afford the house in the first place, but that I would have to dump another $30,000 into it to save it from toppling over and stop the leaking in the roof.

I went home dejected, yet determined to be able to purchase a home one day. Suddenly, I got the brilliant idea to go to the bank to talk to them about how to purchase a home – after all, I would eventually need them to fork out the cash, right? I dislike banks and try to avoid them. I always feel ridiculous trying to sort out finances with people that know everything about anything financial. I never know the correct answer to their questions.

Banker – So with this RRSP do you plan on trading Options and Futures?
Donloree – Umm…uh…well, what would you do?
Banker – It’s up to you, it’s your choice.
Donloree – Well, I suppose so. I didn’t know that I had an option to trade futures with other people. Is Bill Gates’ future still up for grabs?
Banker – So, that’s a no then. Ok. Next question.
Donloree – Uh, yeah, next question…

Since I had to go talk to a banker, I decided to do my best to come across as put together, professional and very smart about all things financial. I put on my demure, “yes, I am a business woman and should not be trifled with due to my high level of sophistication” look, a nice outfit and high heels and went confidently into the bank. Everyone took notice – mostly because those danged heels are so loud with the tile floors and high ceilings!! I didn’t let it faze me though - I went in, got an appointment with a banker, walked over, shook her hand while looking her straight in the eye. I was prepared and ready to face her many questions while she opened up all of my personal financial information.

After all my preparation, she turned out to be the nicest possible banker in the whole wide world. She even laughed with me, not at me – nor was she demeaning in any way to our meager beginnings at trying to scrape together a down payment and pay off all our student loans. I didn’t have to start fasting and praying that she would be nice and help us out. I went home thankful and blessed that we are on the road towards getting our own home, not having to share laundry with anyone and perhaps having an actual yard to relax in during the summer and spring. Oh yeah, and most important – no more corner lot to shovel in the winter time!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Cold, oh so very cold...

It’s ridiculously cold today. It’s a balmy -30 Celsius without a wind chill. The breath was wrenched out of my body when I stepped out of my front door this morning. I popped in a menthol cough drop on my way out this morning since I have a severe cold. On a normal day, it brings about a rush of fresh, cool air running through your lungs – on an arctic day your lungs seize and get a ‘brain freeze’ for about 30 seconds. Once my lungs thawed enough to gasp in some regular air, I ran to the bus shelter so that I didn’t end up a frozen lawn ornament. At this point in my morning I had two stunning revelations:

  1. When it gets this cold outside people still go to work, kids go to school, stores are open and cars still work – society doesn’t cease to function.
  2. Some people actually choose to live here – and I am one of them! What am I thinking?!??

When I first moved to Edmonton, it was summer time. It was nice, hot and the days were long and idyllic – that’s how people get sucked in! I don’t think anyone moves here in January. I recall walking through a parking lot my during my first week of living here and wondering why there were plug-ins all over the place. I merely shrugged and thought it was a Canadian oddity since I had never seen such a thing in America. Now I know it’s so that you can plug your car in because it gets so cold here that your car will turn into a block of ice if you don’t! I should have asked questions, and then turned tail and ran from the cold. This is my ninth winter here and I’m still shocked. I know, I’m a slow learner…

This morning as I walked towards my office building downtown, a well dressed man came up and asked me how well I knew Edmonton. I thought he was looking for an office building downtown or something like that. Apparently, he arrived this morning on the Grey Hound and needed to get to 149 Avenue and 97 Street. Unfortunately, his luggage got put on the wrong bus and he had to hike there without a toque (for all you Americans reading this, a toque is a stocking hat and it’s pronounced two-kuh) or scarf and only a medium weight coat. He was currently on 100 Avenue and 101 Street. It would take me about 2 hours on a summer day to make the trek; there was no way this man was going to survive. As I fished in my bag for some money to give him for a bus ride, my hand froze. I am not over stating this (as I am sometimes known to do), my hand actually had no feeling after being exposed to the elements for a mere 90 seconds! All I did was give this man $2.25, tell him to take the number 9 bus and ask the bus driver what bus to take after the number 9. Why didn’t I buy him coffee at the Starbucks we were standing in front of? Why didn’t I ask more questions and help him out more? Perhaps the cold froze my brain this morning – I wasn’t thinking straight. Now I can’t stop thinking about this man and his trek through the arctic without any of his belongings – I hope he makes it and that someone more coherent helped him out along the way.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Things in the New Year

A man came up with the idea of skiing – I am absolutely sure of it. I don’t know many women that would come up with the idea of strapping long boards to your feet, climbing thousands of feet up a sheer mountainside and then sliding down as fast as possible while trying to avoid trees, cliffs and other natural speed bumps and then doing it more than once in a lifetime with only two thin poles to assist you in not dying. I know many women that enjoy this sport – but I don’t think that I am one of them.

For New Years this year my husband and I went on a ski trip with his school to Kicking Horse Resort in Golden, BC. It was a last minute addition to our holidays, but it was FREE! I love free things, so I agreed after a few moments of contemplation. Then I promptly went out and purchased some snow pants, gloves, ski socks and a few other cold weather necessities since I start to freeze whenever the temperature drops below -8 Celsius. I realized that I would be spending some quality time face to face with immense amounts of snow, so I decided to be prepared! Any excuse to shop really.

Jon and I heard that snow blades are the way to go – so we each rented a pair on the mountain and strapped them on. Once we were all ready to start skiing I immediately had to go to the washroom. I started the hike across the lodge in my ski boots. When you rent your skis for the first time, you should have to participate in a class called, "Walking in You Boots Without Making a Fool of Yourself". You have absolutely no mobility from your big toe to your mid calf – it’s extremely difficult to not look ridiculous while walking. I clomped awkwardly and very loudly across the lodge and nearly tumbled down the stairs about three times before I reached the bottom.

Finally Jon and I started skiing…or I thought we did. We started down a hill of about a five degree incline close to the ski lift. I started to scream and panic. Jon started to sigh. We saw a ski class in action 30 feet up the small slope so I laboriously side stepped close enough to covertly eavesdrop until it became obvious that I was doing everything they were doing only 10 feet behind them. The ski instructor gave me a nasty glare, so I decided it was best to move on.

After a few more times down my ‘practice hill’, we started up the ski lift. Why don’t people explain things to you? Do I look like a woman that knows what she is doing? The ski lift has a safety bar that you are supposed to pull down so that you don’t fall off the lift. How are you supposed to know about this blessed safety feature if no one tells you? Jon and I traveled thousands of feet up the side of a mountain hanging hundreds of feet above the earth wearing slippery pants without the safety bar in place. I clung onto the side rail for dear life and tried not to lose my poles or blades. I even made a comment about how a safety bar would make the ride up the mountain way less stressful. The worst part was when the lift would stop and start to rock back and forth – it felt like we were a mere quick stop away from learning how to ‘heli-ski’ – I definitely didn’t want to learn that on my first real skiing adventure. The last time I ‘skied’ was when I was 14 years old with my youth group at Crystal Mountain. I stuck to the bunny hill and the rope tow. I eventually got up enough nerve to try a hill at the end of the day, but ended up using my skis like a sled and slid down the hill on my butt. Looking back, I realize that day can’t actually be classified as skiing. Everyone who I told this was my first day of skiing grimaced and shook their heads and told me that Kicking Horse is an expert mountain and wished me luck. Thanks. If there is one thing I am not, it’s an expert at skiing.

Once we managed not to slip off the lift and arrived at the top of the Catamount lift I had a small scale panic attack. I realized that I had to go down the hill on the boards I had happily strapped to my feet just an hour earlier. I desperately wanted Jon and I to have a happy couple experience, so I tried to smile and to ski across the hill. It took me about 15 minutes of skiing back and forth while trying to keep the panic down to make about 300 feet of progress. Jon, my husband from Saskatchewan (the flattest Province in Canada), patiently coached his stricken wife from Washington (a mountainous region in America) on the finer points of how to ski without sliding face first down the mountain. We continued our slow, very painful progress until we reached a part of the run that had a cliff off the left side and a rock wall on the right side with a steep incline. I started to slide quickly towards the cliff, so I desperately turned towards the rock face and went completely out of control – I bailed and went face first into the snow and nearly ran into the rock. Both of my ski blades flew off and I and started to shake uncontrollably from overwhelming fear and then broke down into hysterical sobbing. People we knew skied by and waved happily. Jon and I averted our faces.

My husband convinced me that it was best to keep skiing and that we couldn’t stay at that location indefinitely…no matter how warm my snow pants were. I think what really got me going was the snowboarders that kept jumping off the cliff above me and nearly landing on me. There was no safe place on the stupid mountain! After what felt like an eternity, we finally reached a point where we could see the lodge and only had a thousand or so feet to go. Earlier on the mountain I had thought this moment would be a happy one, but unfortunately for me it was a steep section of the mountain and there was nowhere to go but down. I completely lost it – tears of terror started to run down my face and I started to sob uncontrollably. I decided the best course of action was to take off my skis and slide down the last thousand feet on my butt right underneath the chair lift. After wrapping myself around one of the posts holding up the ski lift, I took off my skis and started to slide down the hill in my slippery pants. Skiers and snowboarders stopped to watch what the crazy, sobbing woman was doing. Fortunately, once again, Jon convinced me to put the skis back on for safety reasons. When I reached the bottom of the hill after 2 hours of painstaking work that would normally take about 30 minutes for an average skier, I just sat there and cried with relief. Jon just sat there bewildered.

We took a lunch break and worked on getting me to be able to breathe normally. Skiers are such friendly people! Normally I would have loved talking to the people that were there from all over the world. One woman asked how the skiing was and I couldn’t help it, I started to cry. She seemed to think that my boots were hurting my feet – I let her think that, it was less shameful than tell her that I was scared to death of the mountain. I decided it was best not to talk to anyone since I couldn't do it without crying. I just kept my eyes on the ground and tried to overcome my fear.

After another hour or so, I decided to try skiing down the mountain again. After all, I’m not a quitter! This time was better, I didn’t cry (even though I really wanted to) – but I still couldn’t stop without falling over. Once again, I guess I need the basics explained to me. Heck as if I know which ski is the downhill ski!! Apparently I had it mixed up and that was why I was unable to stop. If you put all your weight on the downhill ski – there is absolutely no way you can stop, you just keep sliding forward. How was I supposed to know which ski was the downhill ski? This sporting stuff just does not come naturally to me!!

I wanted Jon not to have a horrible ski experience with me, so I went up a third time – I even remembered to breathe and use the safety bar on the lift. We had an hour to get down the mountain. I thought that this was a reasonable amount of time since the previous time was done in less than 2 hours. Due to my mini panic attacks and falling over it took longer than expected and our departure time was looming. There was a distinct chance that we would miss our bus taking us the 15 kilometers down the mountain to our hotel. After such an epic day of skiing, the last thing I wanted to do was miss the bus ride to the hotel. We had to hurry – there was no choice but for me to go as fast as womanly possible down the steep part of the mountain. I nearly took out 3 small children and a snowboarder in my uncontrolled screaming descent down the hill. The screaming notified the more advanced skiers of my arrival and they promptly got out of the way. When I arrived at the bottom of the hill I enthusiastically ripped off my skis and happily gave them back to the rental shop. We caught the bus just as it was ready to leave. I sunk into my seat, glad that I hadn’t died during my first day of real skiing.

Let’s be honest, skiing just isn’t for me.

If these things happen to you, skiing may not the sport for you either:
  • You break out into a cold sweat when you start to slide down a miniscule incline that isn’t even part of the actual mountain.
  • You ask the ski lift operator at the bottom of the hill if you can take the lift back down if you are too afraid to ski down.
  • When someone asks you how your day of skiing is going, you break down sobbing and are unable to form proper sentences.
  • You skiing partner who is as inexperienced as you are starts to ski backwards, encouraging you to move towards him down the hill.
  • It takes you 5 times longer than the average skier to get down the mountain.
  • You find yourself sitting in a snow drift, praying for the end of the world to come so that you don’t have to finish going down the mountain.
  • And finally, the day after skiing the sorest parts of your body are your hands from your death grip on the ski poles.