House Hunt — Part I

If Ben and I were on House Hunters, the show would start with a scene that is as Denver as humanly possible: We’d be running in City Park and then we’d pop open some microbrews and a big bag of weed and start talking about our must-haves.

Here’s what we wanted:

  • a place for my mom1 (preferably a basement with a nice, non-basementy bedroom and bathroom to have some separation)
  • to be comfortably within the boundaries of East High School (and preferably good elementary and middle schools, although it’s possible to choice in somewhere else if desired)
  • an old house with character (absolutely no new construction)
  • a garage or some kind of off-street parking
  • 4-ish bedrooms
  • 2-ish bathrooms
  • a nice yard (preferably fenced in back) with room for chickens, dogs, a vegetable garden, and some xeriscaping
  • hardwood floors and no (or very little) carpet
  • an open-concept floor plan for entertaining, granite counters, and stainless appliances (Just kidding!!!)
  • actually we like a living room/dining room/kitchen setup that flows well but isn’t just one big open room
  • and dislike granite counters and stainless appliances (but realized it’s nearly impossible to find the type of house we wanted without them)
  • evaporative coolers
  • a roof that would work for solar panels

And here’s where we wanted it:

  • South City Park
  • South or North Park Hill (west of Monaco)
  • Congress Park
  • San Rafael (a small area of Five Points)

Budget = somewhere in the $400,000 to $650,000 range. Unfortunately, we were looking at the height of the seller-iest sellers’ market I’ve ever experienced, where most houses in our desired neighborhoods receive multiple offers and sell above list price.

(Also, let me say that I feel kind of gross talking about prices but there’s no point omitting them because anybody with even a small, recreational house obsession can find out this information in approximately half of a second.)

We’ll start with two houses we toured but did not seriously consider (all photos and descriptions were tackily yanked from the internet and are unedited; you can click on most of the photos to see a larger version — a few are just small).

Vine Street: $600,000, 6 beds, 3 baths, house: 5,160 sq. ft., lot: 7,405 sq. ft., City Park West

Take a walk back in time in this stunning Lang Mansion built in 1890 in it’s original grandeur & beauty! The unique architectural features, in the woodwork, the built-ins, stained glass, and the vastness of this amazing flowing floor plan with 3 floors above ground are jaw dropping. And it really is untouched in the last 125 years! The striking wrap around front porch, quarter sawed oak doors, gorgeous staircase surrounded by original stained windows, and the openness of this Old House…. Located near Capitol Hill & Congress Park possibilities are endless with over 5000 sq ft. This home is sold ‘As-Is’.

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Saying this house is amazing is an understatement. It’s a work of art. Unfortunately, it needs lots and lots and lots of work and is way too big for us. It’s also next to a checks cashed/money orders place and has a tiny yard and no parking.

This house has been removed from the market but as far as I can tell it didn’t sell.

Forest Street: $650,000, 3 beds, 3 baths, house: 3,091 sq. ft., lot: 6,250 sq. ft., South Park Hill

Charming Craftsman Bungalow on a great block of large vintage properties and newly-built, too! New carpet throughout 2nd floor and staircase. Original front windows with multi-pane top lites, beautiful original fireplace and leaded glass French door to the study. Updated kitchen has granite counters and Maple cabinets plus a built-in desk. The split staircase connects to a rarity – a main floor powder bath! A breakfast room and laundry connect to the back yard. Nicely landscaped with mature trees, roses, and irrigation. Flagstone patio and raised deck are ideal for entertaining. 2nd floor has master suite with en suite bath and walk-in closet plus two additional bedrooms and another full bath. A covered veranda overlooks the back yard. The basement has a large family room with fireplace and egress window. A hobby/workshop and additional flex space, plus storage and mechanical complete the basement. Walk to Spinelli’s Market, library and Park Hill School. Transit at 23rd.

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This house is beautiful! Unfortunately, when we saw it there was already an offer. The only other downsides of this house were (1) too much carpet and (2) too expensive. Although it was in our original price range, we realized we weren’t comfortable spending that much. Also, having some newly built houses on the block makes me nervous.

Sold for: The original deal fell through. The house went back on the market and sold for $642,000.

Up next: The one that got away!

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Note
1. New developments (I’m hesitant to share too many details out of respect for my mom) have solidified the fact that it would not be a good idea for my mom to live with us right now, but we can reevaluate in the future.

Menu Plan: Week of 7/20/11

Hey, let’s start with some old-school industrial music.

Things are slowly starting to get back to some sort of “normal,” so let’s talk about what we’re eating this week!

Sunday: We went to City Park Jazz and hit up the food trucks — specifically OG Burgers. I had a black bean veggie burger, Denver style (cream cheese, jalapenos, and Sriracha) and fries. So good. (Falling Rock has a similar burger: cream cheese,  jalapenos, chipotle mayo, and grilled onions, as well as a nice black bean veggie burger.) (I would like to eat black bean burgers with cream cheese and hot peppers every day.)

Monday: salad (lettuce, spinach, arugula, cucumber, carrot, onion, tomato, cheddar, some kind of veggie “chicken”) with ranch dressing (ranch recipe)

Tuesday: pasta with roasted pepper sauce (with red and corno di toro peppers) (recipe)

Wednesday: zucchini quiche (recipe)

Thursday: grilled cheese sandwiches and kale chips

Friday: punt (Maybe a big Dutch baby?)

Saturday: some sort of grilled pizza (We got a new grill and the pizza Ben has been making on it is freaking amazing.)

Rebuilding

You know how sometimes there’s a team you like and it has a shitty year? Maybe a star player gets traded and somebody has Tommy John surgery or jacks up an ACL or whatever. The team loses a lot and everybody is miserable. Then next season they get some new guys and have a rebuilding year. You know they’re not going to be good yet but there’s hope that things will get better.

I need to do some rebuilding. I’m tired of being miserable. I’m not to the point where I get a whole good day (especially when I do things like flip the calendar to July and see my dad’s birthday on the 9th, complete with a picture of him and Soren on the sofa together) (or open the back door at the old house and expect to hear Coltrane’s tags jingle from his crate where he always liked to hang out), but I get some good moments. So far, the good moments involve an overactive social schedule and music.

This song, for example, made my evening yesterday.

Ugh.

Sorry I haven’t been updating. I’m just bad at everything right now. Let’s do this in bullet points, some of which you already know, because it’s the easiest way for me to convey information.

  • In the last few months, my dad got pancreatic cancer and died.
  • I became in charge of my mother, who has dementia and several other health issues and who is filled with rage every time she interacts with me. (Every time I say anything to her, she responds by jutting out her lower jaw and clenching her fists. The last time I saw her, part of our discussion included me telling her that I want her to have fun. Her response was, yelling, “Why do you care if I have fun?!!!” At least she hasn’t almost hit me in a month. She did almost physically assault another resident in her memory care unit the other day, but fortunately we broke that up before it got too ugly.
  • I moved my mother against her will to Colorado and this whole situation sucks for her so much I can’t even comprehend it.
  • I became in charge of two houses in Illinois, where I don’t live; several cars, a motorcycle, and a boat; the medical treatment and housing of someone who hates me; and an estate and trust, which includes a stock portfolio, which fortunately for me is not unlike fantasy sports. (Protip: Bench Boeing this week!)
  • I bought and moved my family into a gigantic house so my mother could live with us.
  • After much soul searching, I realized that my mother can’t live with us for reasons including but not limited to: she is very physically frail and falls a lot but won’t acknowledge that she falls a lot and won’t wear the brace that might help her fall less often, she is exceptionally angry with me, she doesn’t listen to me or take me seriously, she thinks she can still drive a car, and she seems to do much better in life when she spends her time interacting socially with her peers (or, to be fair, anybody who isn’t me).
  • So, I bought and moved my family into a gigantic house for no reason.
  • We will never be done moving.
  • (Fortunately, and I don’t want to be tacky and talk about money, as long as I don’t do anything terribly stupid and the stock market doesn’t crash, even considering an unnecessary and extravagant real estate purchase, there are means to care for my mom for the foreseeable future without resort to Medicaid. (I have nothing against Medicaid but hope to not get to the point where we need it.)
  • Not to talk about money but today I received a $15,000 bill from the place my mom has been staying since May 11.
  • I have been assisted living shopping for my mom, to find something more sustainable cost-wise than where she is now. This is soul-crushing in many ways I won’t get into now because I just can’t.
  • I hope that by the time I need an assisted living facility they have beer.
  • My dog Coltrane died.
  • I am in a funk.
  • Instead of running +/- 8-minute miles, I’ve been running +/- 9 minute miles.
  • I’m always tired and unmotivated and understand how easy it would be to give up on basic activities of daily living.
  • I hate the conveying-of-facts way I’ve been writing here and want to do better, but I’m having a hard time doing anything either better or at all.
  • I don’t respond to messages on Facebook from actual real-life friends.
  • I’ve resorted to retail therapy on occasion, which doesn’t work and makes me feel like a shallow, terrible person who is forsaking all the morals I’ve developed and refined over the last few years.
  • I don’t know if I’m depressed or if this situation just sucks ass. I’ve started googling psychiatrists.
  • If you don’t count going to visit family and hang out in hospice units or at chemo appointments as a vacation, Ben and I have not had a vacation for (I think — it’s fuzzy) 10 years. I really need a vacation. At a minimum, I need, like, two or three days sitting by a pool in Aspen drinking beer and doing nothing. This is not possible now because we have too much to do but damn it would be nice! LOL @ me for even thinking about vacations right now when there is so much to do and I don’t even know where my mom will be living next month.
  • I’ve thought it would be nice to be hospitalized because I could just sit in bed all day and watch tv and have people bring me food.
  • Blah.

A Very Bad Movie

If my current life were a movie, it would be the cheesiest, most unbelievable Lifetime shit. Like, every time I tell people the story of what’s been going on, I feel like if they’re reasonably normal and intelligent, they won’t believe it. It’s too fucked up.

When we last talked, Ben and I were working on buying a house we could live in with my mom. The house-buying process has been going really well — so well in fact that we close on our fantastic new house on Friday. We got a reasonable mortgage! We’ve been terrifyingly online wire transferring money to a title company and hoping it gets where it’s supposed to go! Yay, that’s great!

But here’s a new complicating factor. Last week while she was in her room at the place where she’s staying, my mom fell and fractured her humerus. She went to the hospital and got a splint and a prescription for some good drugs and went back to her temporary home. A fractured arm sucks but is manageable, right?

The problem is that somehow in the wiring of my mom’s brain, “fractured humerus” translates to “I can’t walk.” The first day we saw her after the injury, she sat in a chair in her room and said she can’t walk. I wasn’t sure about this, so I talked to the awesome woman in charge of my mom’s unit and she said no, she can walk, but she’s confusing the arm for her feet/ability to walk.

Yesterday I showed up to find my mom in a goddamn wheelchair. She honestly believes she can’t walk. She managed to go to the bathroom but had to pull herself up by the railing next to the toilet. It was an ordeal getting her into the Tahoe to drive her to the “day club” I kind of made her check out against her will. (“I don’t need no stinkin’ day club!” she screamed at me, only agreeing to check it out after I had a total meltdown that culminated in me swearing at a half-collapsed wheelchair in the circular drive in front of the city’s most fancy-pants assisted-living facility.) (For the record, the woman who runs the day club made my mom legitimately laugh at least five times and gave her ice cream; I’m not sure what more you could want and honestly day club is not negotiable because (1) you can’t be home by yourself when we’re at work; (2) on my work-from-home days, all due respect, I’ll probably need a break; and (3) one thing my dad strongly believed is that you need to be doing things rather than sitting around stewing about shit.)

The other problem is my mom generally refuses to bathe. Yesterday, they were going to medicate her and give her a shower, and it’s possible that’s the first shower she will have had since before my father died. I’m not sure. When we were still in Illinois, I encouraged her to shower every day but she never did. (If I do more than encourage, she screams at me.)

So she can walk but thinks she can’t. This severely freaks me out because (1) I know that the more time she spends in that chair not walking, the weaker she gets and the less likely it becomes that she’ll ever walk again and (2) I am just picturing my dad and how pissed off he would be to see her sitting in that chair and how he would be able to take control of the situation and get her to walk and I can’t. Even when I invoke his name to encourage my mom to do something it doesn’t work because she doesn’t take me seriously.

I am severely freaked out right now because we’re about to buy this gigantic house to live in with my mom and I have no idea if my mom is even going to be able to live in it with us. There are stairs and steps up and down and nothing is wheelchair accessible. The thought of “wheelchair accessible” never entered my mind because although her walk is awkward and she falls on occasion, my mom has always gotten around just fine and had all kinds of stairs in her house in Illinois. I’m afraid that “unable to walk” is, as they say, above our pay grade. I don’t know how we would handle that and if we even could. The showering issue is secondary, but she has to shower on occasion and I don’t know how to make that happen. I can’t physically force her to do it and in any event don’t think that’s a dynamic our relationship needs.

It’s like my whole plan, which I thought was crazy but also somewhat reasonable, is going to shit. Tomorrow I’m supposed to take her to the day club for a trial day. We’ll see how that goes and whether I can get her to go at all and whether she’ll walk. She has to walk. If she doesn’t walk now, I’m afraid she’ll never walk again, and that’s terrifying and tragic.

Hey wait, let me slip some good news into this post: Sadie doesn’t have cancer! She just had two follicular cysts, which were fully removed and as I might have mentioned not cancer. Yay for someone finally not having cancer!

This better be the last of the bad news.

Last week, my cousin Vida passed away (esophageal cancer).

Coltrane is hanging in there, but the mass on his shoulder is badly infected, which I imagine will preclude the palliative use of steroids for the lymphoma.

Sadie is in surgery right now to have a small mass removed from the side of her neck. The doctor didn’t think it was “sinister” when he checked it a couple weeks ago, but today he found another small lump nearby.

I’m starting to think that living with my mom is the worst idea I’ve ever had. Dementia is the absolute worst. (We’re going to try it, of course, but I had a complete meltdown Saturday night and came thisclose to backing out of the whole deal.) (Ben was just out of town for almost a week, hanging out with his dad after he had chemo and packing up stuff from my parents’ houses, and to say that sucked would be an understatement.)

My head hurts. My stomach hurts. I’m reading the book Wild right now (I had started it once before but put it down, not wanting to read about someone’s parent dying of cancer; it’s amazing how fast we can go from hey thanks no I don’t want to read about cancer to having a parent die of cancer and wanting to read about it so you’re not alone with it.) and want nothing more than to take off on a big hike where I don’t have to deal with any of this.

The thought of Father’s Day makes me want to cry while punching a wall. I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to be sad, intentionally so as to avoid being sad but also out of necessity, but the sadness is starting to creep in between the buying a house and doing all the things that go with buying a house including but not limited to getting a mortgage and selling some stocks for a nice down payment and getting inspections and reinspections and negotiating the shit out of stuff and selling houses and eventually cars and a Harley (How do you sell a Harley?) and the boat we finally found in a storage facility and hiring a goddamn lawn service because lawns grow in Illinois and packing and visiting my mom so she can yell at me or cry and taking care of Soren and the animals and calling day programs my mom won’t want to go to and managing bank accounts and paying the bills of three people and oh yeah working now and then and I am sorry to report engaging in some obscene displays of retail therapy (to be fair, we do need stuff for the new house).

I got that Gwyneth Paltrow cookbook when my dad was sick because somehow she was a symbol to me of someone who lost her father and turned out to be okay. I had to know it was possible to lose your father and be okay. I mean, I know it’s possible, but I have to see actual examples of it happening or else it’s too abstract to comfort me. I’ve been mentally cataloging people as having fathers or having lost fathers, like those of us who have lost fathers are some kind of club. I know there’s some kind of figurative bridge that will get me from where I am now to “okay,” but I’m just not sure where it is yet.

And because I am tired of bad stuff happening and then writing about bad stuff that happens, I will start those posts about our house hunt soon, for real.

Coltrane

Coltrane

In new bummer news, our dog Coltrane has lymphoma. He also has an unrelated tumor. To treat these issues, he’d have to have surgery to remove the tumor, then more diagnostic stuff to find out whether there has been any metastasizing of cancer(s), then if all goes well chemotherapy, all of which might buy him a few to several months.

Ben is strongly in favor of letting Coltrane live out his last days in the most enjoyable manner possible without making him suffer through any type of surgery/treatment. My first response is always something like this: Let’s do everything! Surgery now! Yay chemo! But Ben is probably right. I don’t want my experience with my dad to have too great an influence over my decision here, but I just watched someone who was supposed to have 3 to 6 months get less than 2 and never recover from surgery enough to even start chemo. It was pretty much the worst and I don’t want to put someone else through anything similar.

It’s just pretty heartbreaking. Also cancer can fuck off.

The Scoop

My father’s death was terrible by virtue of being the death of someone I loved very much, but also because of my mother. She has dementia (as far as I can tell it’s Alzheimer’s, but nobody ever says “Alzheimer’s”). He took very good care of her and now that he’s gone . . . well, I’m an only child and that leaves me. At least that’s how I see it. My mother would very much like to live in her house in Chicago but it is not possible for her to live independently.

I haven’t talked about my mother’s condition here except by terribly vague reference once in a great while. It seemed like an invasion of privacy. Maybe it is, but honestly, I kind of need to talk about it and I know I find great comfort in reading about other people who are living through the same tough situations I’m facing, so maybe I can provide some kind of ephemeral comfort or help to someone else facing a similar situation. I don’t know. I’m not being very writerly right now.

When my dad told me about his pancreatic cancer, the first thing I did was google “pancreatic cancer,” which is how I learned how bad pancreatic cancer is. I knew things were likely to get very bad very fast, and my way of dealing with this was to try to start formulating some kind of plan. Eventually I did come up with a plan, and that plan is kind of batshit crazy and has been moving at breakneck speed.

My father passed away on a Friday. We had his Celebration of Life (Much better than a funeral! Will tell you more soon!) the next Thursday. That Saturday, Ben, Soren, the animals, and I drove back to Denver. That Sunday, my mom (with assistance from my uncles and American Airlines employees) flew to Denver and began residing on a temporary basis in the memory care unit of the fanciest, swankiest assisted-living facility I’ve ever seen.

My plan was this: Move mom to Denver. Have her stay in a facility until we can find a house we can all fit in and move there and live together. Find a day program or hire in-home help for mom while we’re at work. Keep our current house as an escape hatch in case living together doesn’t work (plus we love it and want to fix it up or rent it or both).

I’m the first to admit this is a crazy plan, but with my mom being unable to live independently, I felt the only other option was for her to go into a home or hire round-the-clock live-in help in Chicago. She’s not to the point where she needs to be in a home and I’m uncomfortable with the idea of putting her in a home and basically pissing away all the money my father worked so hard to save during his life. I’m incredibly uncomfortable with the idea of having in-home help in another state where I’m not there to supervise.

So to me it seemed kind of, well, duh, we move mom to Denver, find a bigger house, and live together.

So on Sunday, Ben and I started looking at houses. The bad news is the real estate market is batshit crazy in Denver right now. For example, on Sunday, before I’d had a chance to talk to a lender, we fell in love with a house. I made a cash offer with an escalation clause (escalation clause = I agree to pay an amount over any other verifiable offer up to a set amount) going up to $30,000 over the list price and we didn’t get the house.

And that’s where I’m going to end the story right now. Next up, I’m going to do a series of House Hunters-style posts, where I show you some of the houses we looked at. It’s kind of fluffy, but I’m kind of ready for some fluff. And real estate is fun! (P.S. We are under contract! The house is awesome!)

Oh! Another note! Sorry I’m so disorganized. If it weren’t for my mom, we wouldn’t even consider moving from our little house in Cole. I love it here, but 950 square feet and two bedrooms isn’t going to work for our family plus mom. Also I should note that there is no way in the world my family and I would ever be able to afford the houses we’ve been considering if not for my dad. This is a super hard situation, but we are so fortunate that he left us with the means to do what we’re trying to do and, hopefully, be a reasonably happy extended family living under one roof.