Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Weaning Off Epiliepsy Medications

It has been a year since I got the flu and had a few seizures.  The last year had been pretty crappy as far as how I was feeling.  My last update I had started taking Lyrica and Klonopin and was feeling better.  But better is all relative.  I still had waves of anxiety, was very moody, had lots of self-deprecating feelings, would sleep a ton if allowed, and had a headache about 75 percent of the time.  I tried switching to Lamictal but the headaches just got worse, so I stayed on Lyrica but took a teeny bit of Lamictal because it seemed to help curb the anxiety.  My dosages were so low though that the neurologist said he doubted they were doing anything and we should try going off the medications.  I tried weaning very very slowly, droping a dose every other day, but after a week the lower dosage cause me anxiety and made me twitchy, which freaked me out.  I went back to what I was taking.

Floyd wanted me to go off the meds, but I was very scared to, and when he said so, it would make me mad.  Like he wasn't validating my fears.  He said the meds were messing with me.  I agreed with him logically, but there was a huge disconnect between my emotions and my thoughts.  Finally after a huge emotional meltdown on my part, we talked, and he managed to convince me that all my problems were caused by the medications and if I would get off them I wouldn't be so crazy.

So I tried weaning again.  This time I decided I wouldn't try to go slowly, but I would do it relatively quickly and get it over with.  You can't wean completely cold turkey because weaning can cause rebound seizures.  I know you are supposed to consult with your doctor for a plan, but I didn't, because I wasn't in my right mind, and I didn't want him to sway me.  So I first stopped taking Lamictal.  I cut the pill in half for 5 days, and then stopped taking it all together.  A week later I decided to drop the Klonopin, because hypothetically I didn't need it, because supposedly my initial anxiety was caused by Keppra and now I shouldn't have any.  Though obviously this wasn't true because I still had some--which supposedly meant I developed an anxiety order from the seizure incident.  Anyways I took a quarter of the pill for five days and then stopped it.

I added tons of fish oil supplements as well as 750mg of magnesium supplements and B-complex vitamins to try to help with the anxiety that ensued.  I also was running a ton.  Thirty minutes into a run my head would start to clear and I kind of felt normal.  I also started taking a L-tryptophan supplement at night.  I have sleep walking/hallucination episodes that could possibly be partial seizures, or may just be a sleep disorder.  I'm not really sure, but they do seem to trigger the panic attacks I was having.  I took some tryptophan and that squelched the sleep walking.  I still had some insomnia due to stopping the Klonopin, but the tryptophan definitely helped.

Three days after stopping the Klonopin I dropped my morning dosage of Lyrica.  That first day I felt really, really, good. I was very happy and my mind was clear and it was amazing.  I felt totally vindicated that the medicines were making me crazy.  However the next day I was out with friends for dinner and my body got all tingly and my heart started racing and I didn't feel good at all.  I don't know if it was a panic attack, or what.  But it was definitely some weird withdrawal reaction.  I came home and took .25mg of Klonopin again (no tryptophan), but I kept with the weaning process of Lyrica and took only the evening dose for 3 days and then  stopped all Lyrica.  The next day I took .125mg of Klonopin and the next day no Klonopin, no nothing.  The next three days sucked.  I felt faint and jittery.  I had problems focusing.  I felt like I was going to jump out of my skin.  I was very twitchy.  I had muscle cramps, and my fingers would fall asleep and get weird cramps.  Running helped.  One night I couldn't handle it and I just went out and did sprints around the neighborhood and it definitely helped me calm down.

But every day my emotional health improved.   After the one day where I had felt so good I had started to doubt myself again.  I thought I imagined feeling good, and that it was just a coincidence, and that I really was crazy and it wouldn't matter if I got off the medications or not.  But then I started getting my mind back. And the disconnect between my emotions and my thinking disappeared.  I was crazy, but it wasn't my fault. It was the medicine, and I wasn't crazy anymore.

I also realized how much I was being affected.  For a year I often felt resentful towards Floyd and the girls.  I snapped and yelled at the kids almost daily.  It was hard for me because I felt like an awful mom and a bad wife, but that didn't fit my self-image.  But the way I acted and the way I felt didn't fit with my self-image either.  I WAS resentful and angry so therefore I must be a bad mom.  It was a vicious cycle.

It took about one week being med free to feel pretty normal, and two weeks to feel great.  A cold and a painful stye didn't help the process.  The twitching and muscle cramps have pretty much stopped.  I think they were mostly withdrawal symptoms.   I have had way more patience with the girls.  My feelings of resentment, anger, self-pity, and low self-esteem that have haunted me for the last year are gone. :)   I stopped taking the L-tryptophan at night about three weeks after and I have had two sleep-walking episodes since with one causing me a bit of anxiety/panic.  I'm hoping that it is still just a bit of withdrawal.  Eating right before I go to bed seems to help.  It's been 6 weeks and so far no seizures.  :)  I am praying that the incident a year ago was a fluke due to the flu, because there is no way I can handle being on medications for the rest of my life.

The one real bummer is that my headache has not gone away.  I've been trying to work out some possible causes including, my contact lens prescription was way too strong (I think pregnancy and nursing made my eyes wonky because my prescription went back to what it was before I had kids) and I started eating sugar again.  I had initially stopped because I was mistaking the anxiety as low blood-sugar, and then I kept on not eating it because ironically I thought it was making my headaches worse.   But I really do think sugar is detrimental to ones health, so I'd rather not eat it--but ice cream is so good, and I haven't had as much of a headache this last week.  I don't know.  I'm still experimenting.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sweetie Pie

Allie is almost 2.5 and is as sweet as always.

- Her dad has taught her to tease me :( and she has mastered a mocking voice complete with eye rolling and will say things like, "Mom loves crows so much she just wants to marry them."
- Whenever she sees a bug, or an animal, or a character in a story that she thinks is sad she says, "Where's its mommy?"
- She enjoys running while I time her on my stopwatch.
- She is good at math.  Her and Selena were playing Curious George games on and they had four dog biscuits and were supposed to give each dog the same amount.  Selena had given one dog three and the other one, so I asked, "Hundley has 3 biscuits and the gray dog has 1, how many biscuits do you need to give each dog?"  and Allie immediately pipes up, "Two!"
- She always eats better when she sits in my lap and shares my plate.  We both enjoy eating stinky sandwiches together (canned salmon with mayo and Mrs. Dash).   Dad and Selena do not like them.
- She enjoys painting and coloring coloring sheets.  She always says, "I want to paint, and I won't make a mess."  Which unfortunately is usually not true.
- She keeps telling me she is going to be taller than Auntie when she grows up.
- She loves family hugs.
- She likes chasing her sister with a banana.  Selena can't stand the smell so of course she torments her.
- She's a bit literal and can get upset if you don't say something right.  She is always correcting me that shorts aren't pants.
- We were at the pumpkin patch and she had to go poop, but was having problems going, partially because it was a port-a-potty.  We tried two times but she couldn't go, and she says, "I squeezed my butt as hard as I could and nothing came out."  Then 10 minutes later in the car on our way home she says she has to go, and Floyd says, "You already went three times."  She pouts and yells, "It was only two."
- When she goes potty sometimes she'll drag you in to "watch" her, but then she doesn't like being watched so she takes the shower curtain and hides behind it.
- She always says, "Pre-ee peas." (Pretty please)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Selena as Galileo

Lots has been going on since the last time I posted.  Preschool has started.  She is going in the afternoons three days a week.  Going in the afternoons has been much better.  She likes it and seems to be more involved and aware of what is going on.  She is coaching Allie about manners and things.  She'll tell Allie, "At school we do it like this, so we should do it like that at home."  She doesn't remember many of the kids names, but hopefully that will come.

We also did a session of outdoor soccer through the Y.  Her Papa kept wanting her to sign up, but I told him I wouldn't sign her up till she was begging.  Well she started begging.  The team was co-ed 3 and 4 year-olds with a 45 minute practice and a 36 minute game for 6 weeks.  She was definitely into it, but did get pushed around some by the boys.  One practice she said, "Soccer sure is fun, except for the boys."  There were three girls on her team and they would frequently run off the field and sit and watch.  Selena seemed to want to play, but wanted to be with her friends more.  The first few practices and games she got pretty tired.  She said soccer was harder than it looked, but she would tell herself that she was tough and to keep going.  By the end of the season she didn't get tired and it was hard for her to come off the field, she was always on the verge of tears.  She scored a goal in the last game of the season.  She also had one game at goalie that I was very impressed with.  She knew where the goal box was and would come out of the box to block a kick, and use her hands inside the box.  There were other times when all the girls decided to sit in the goal, then they got distracted and didn't really stop anything. She was torn between signing up for indoor soccer or swimming, but she decided to do swimming lessons next.

We went to the Puyallup fair, as is our tradition, and she got to do Mutton Bustin after two years of waiting.  When she was two, she was too young.  Last year they said she was too small and pulled her off the sheep before it ran out the gate.  This year she got to do it.  She didn't stay on long, but she popped right up and ran out of the arena.  Her face was covered in dirt.  She said it wasn't what she expected because she expected to hold on longer.

She is still very much into dinosaurs and has seen almost every single Land Before Time movie and TV show.

Being a DIY'er has been backfiring on me.  Selena thinks that I should be able to make every single thing.  For instance she wanted to fly somewhere, and I said it was expensive, so she said we should build our own plane. Cute, until she starts throwing a tantrum because I won't.  So then she decides we should make a boat instead, a real one, that really floats.  And another tantrum.  She has grand plans for me to make her a long-neck costume for Halloween.  I don't know how that is going to work.

She definitely has a creative spirit.  She is constantly drawing, and making books, and cutting out cardboard to make things.  Often she recruits me to help her.  For instance I should color her picture because it is getting a bit boring for her.

Other anecdotes:
- I took her out kayaking to assuage her boat building desires.  She said it wasn't as exciting as it looked.  She also was very scared of the seaweed.
- One day we were driving to visit my brother and family and Selena tells Allie, "Allie did you know that the sun doesn't go around the Earth, the Earth goes around the sun."  Allie says, "No way."  Selena says, "Yes it does.  It really, really does."  Allie says, "You're kooky."  I have no idea where Allie came up with the word kooky, but I felt like they were recreating the debate between Galileo and the Church.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

For-Sale-By-Owner Paperwork

This post is the fourth and final post in a four part series on how to sell your home without a real estate agent.

Once our house was listed we got our first call just a couple hours later.  Our lock box hadn’t arrived so we had to let the agent and their clients in and we walked to the park while he was showing the house.  Each time our house was shown the agent showing the house left their card.  I called each agent afterwards to find out what their clients thought and their overall impression.  It was during one of these phone calls that I found out that an offer was being made.  The agent simply faxed the offer to the fax number that was listed.  The fax was supposed to be automatically forwarded via email to us, but mls4owners never received it (fax’s not going through was a frequent problem).  I had not yet purchased our fax machine so I had to go to Staples and have him fax it there while I was on the phone with him.

Once the offer was made we had to review it and decide to accept, counter-offer, or decline.  I forget the exact details, but the initial offer was about 5k less, they wanted us to pay closing costs (3 percent), and give them a $1500 carpet allowance.  We had already felt like we had priced our house low and didn’t really like the offer.  I forget if we officially countered or not, but eventually they offered our asking price and us to pay closing costs, they explained that there bank would give them no more.  We had listed our house two weeks before the federal tax credits for buying homes were just going to expire.  We said that we wanted to wait and see if we could get any other offers the next weekend.  

We went looking ourselves that weekend and found a house we liked so we accepted the offer.  The paperwork involved is called a purchase agreement.  The purchase agreement was what was faxed to us.  When we countered we simply crossed stuff out, and added our amendments and then initialed it and dated it and sent it back.  The entire timeline for closing is based on the dates you signed so dating the initials is important.   If we had received a buyer who did not have an agent provided a copy of a purchase agreement and we would have provided it to the buyers, or possibly have sat down with them and negotiated the price in person and signed the agreement together.

Our agent we were using to buy a house was very concerned about us not having an agent.  She insisted that we get a copy of the letter that said the buyers of our house had pre-qualified for the loan.  Their agent gave us the copy but insisted that really the paper was meaningless.

Once a purchase agreement has been signed by both parties then there is a whole host of things that need to happen.  The buyer’s agent should be in charge of it all and tell you what they need from you.  The main item is a Seller’s Disclosure.  The agent representing our buyers never requested one and pretty much told us the paper was pointless and we didn’t need to fill it out (I wasn’t impressed with this guy), but if we didn’t give them one it would give them a potential way to back out of the agreement without forfeiting escrow money.  I ended up faxing it to their agent anyway.  When we bought our house the Seller’s Disclosure was returned with the signed purchase agreement.  Once again mls4owners provided this form.

The inspection (assuming this was part of your purchase agreement) is one of the first things that will be completed after the purchase agreement is signed.  I think it is customary for the agent to let the inspector in, and sometimes the buyer will come to the inspection as well (at least this is what happened on the house we were purchasing).  I ended up having to let the inspector into our house because once again the agent we were dealing with was kind of lame.  After the inspection is complete negotiation happens again depending on what the inspection found..  The only things our buyers asked was that our furnace be serviced, which is very common.  For the house we were buying we asked that the sellers clean the gutters, adjust the garage door opener safety settings, and fix a support beam in the attic that was not bolted together properly.  

Other things that have to be completed are: the buyers agent contacts a title and escrow company and starts things going including collecting the buyer’s earnest money, the buyer’s need to turn in all necessary paperwork for their loan, an appraisal will be ordered by the buyers, you need to provide the information about where the money for the sale is to go.  There is a lot of hurry up and waiting.  People demanding paperwork that they could have requested a week ago to be sent to them right away, etc.  It is prudent to get everything done as soon as possible, since most of the responsibilities are the buyers, calling the agent to check up on them is a good idea.  I had a hard time with this because I felt like I was telling him how to do his job, but unfortunately he was slow having his client turn in their loan paperwork and due to some freak FHA problem we ended up closing a day late so maybe if I had harassed him more we could have avoided that.  All of the things that need to be done and how many days you have to do them are described in the purchase agreement, so read it carefully.

Due to discrepancies about when we were actually closing we ended up agreeing on a different possession date than closing date.  When we signed the papers for closing we also paid the buyers for 3 days “rent” so we could stay in the house till we actually had some place to move our stuff.  The rent amount was simply their monthly mortgage amount divided by 30 times the three days we were renting.

Finally the last thing to do is to sign the closing papers.  The title company called and set up an appointment and we signed stacks and stacks of paper and then the house was no longer ours.

If you find these posts useful and wish to offer monetary reciprocation I would gladly accept paypal donations or gift certificates.  Even just a dollar would be nice. ;)

Monday, October 3, 2011

How to Use a Self Service Realty Service

This is the third post in a four part series on how to sell your home without a real estate agent.

We decided to go with a flat-fee self-service real estate agency called The benefits of this were: we would be listed in the MLS where the vast majority of home buyers are looking for houses. Real estate agents would not be hesitant to show our house because we have clearly stated what their commission is in the MLS listing. And finally, by foregoing an agent we would save about $6000.

There were a few other companies with similar services, but I decided on this one because I liked their selling statistics section on their website and I could find their listings on all the other real-estate search engines I used.   Mls4owners provided us with a lockbox for our door, a professional sign for our house, listing in the Northwest MLS, and the legal forms we needed.   The lockbox came one day after the house was listed, our sign was installed (and uninstalled) for us very quickly.  

Filling out the forms was pretty easy.  Some forms were filled out online while others needed to be faxed.  I highly recommend purchasing a fax.  I went to a used computer store and got one for $20.  At first I kept on going to Staples, but they charge a $1 a page and some things are 10 – 20 pages and sometimes faxes don’t go through.  It was much easier having one at home.  

We were allowed to post 12 pictures.  I highly recommend posting the maximum number of pictures as I personally did not feel inclined to visit houses that did not have many pictures. For my camera I bought a fairly inexpensive wide-angle lens to take the pictures and then used Photoshop to touch them up a bit.  The key in taking pictures with the wide angle lens is to include as much of the room as possible in the picture, but not to distort the picture so much that the room looks a lot larger than it is.  Distorted pictures may upset potential buyers if they feel lied to by the advertisement.  There are different techniques you can use in Photoshop to make the pictures pop. Many agents use these techniques to emphasize and call attention to the listing, but I chose to forego that technique, and go for the most natural look, as I found it a bit distracting as a buyer looking at the unnatural pictures.

I also made a simple color flyer to put in the display box on the sign.  While the flyers were probably mostly taken by nosy neighbors I do think having a nice color flyer aids in the overall positive impression of the house.  

We had two young children and a dog at the time so it was hard for me to have the house in a presentable state at all times so I emailed mls4owners and explained that I wanted a note in the MLS listing that agents should call at least 2 hours ahead of time on weekdays before showing up.  On the weekends we stayed at my parents.  We only ended up having 2 people viewing on Friday so it worked out quite well.

The other item of note in the MLS listing is the agent fee.  You are allowed to list at a flat fee of $500 or more, or as a percentage.  The traditional percentage for a buyer’s agent is 3% so we went with that.  We did not want to risk having an agent try to talk their buyers into not buying our house because that agent wanted to collect a larger fee.  

I also listed our house on craigslist in the for-sale-by-owner section.  We were hoping that we could attract a buyer without an agent and split the savings of the agent fee with the buyer.  Unfortunately the only interest we got from craigslist were some “investment” people who initially posed as a family looking to buy but in the end revealed that they were looking to buy houses that were on the verge of foreclosure.  That whole situation was pretty annoying.  

If you find these posts useful and wish to offer monetary reciprocation I would gladly accept paypal donations or gift certificates.  Even just a dollar would be nice. ;)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

How to Price Your House to Sell

This post is the second post in a four part series on how to sell your home without a real estate agent.

After making your house presentable enough to be shown, you need to price it appropriately.  The main complaint real estate agents seem to have about For-Sale By Owner is that the people who are selling their home do not have a realistic expectation of what their house can sell for.  It is important to pick the correct price because if you price too high then people might be reluctant to make an offer because what they are willing to pay is so far below what you are asking that they might feel like it is a waste of time. If you price too low, then obviously you might miss out on making the most money, and also possibly make people assume that the price is too good to be true and that there must be something wrong.

The first thing to do is research what homes have been selling for, and what homes are currently being listed at, and what direction the market is headed.  A few resources available are:

  • Zillow is a great source of information.  The site contains estimates of what current houses are worth, and shows you what homes have sold for recently.  While the information isn’t guaranteed to be 100% accurate, I found it to be accurate enough.  I found their z-estimate functionality to be the most helpful.
  • CMA (Current Market Activity) – This is a report that real estate agents have to aid their customers in pricing and purchasing.  The self-service real estate broker we used also provided us with this report.  While it was interesting, it seemed that the comparable houses that had sold near us were sold a few months prior, and the market was rapidly going down. It seemed that a price based solely on this analysis would be too high.  
  • Pretend you are a buyer.  The site that I found the most user friendly to look at houses was John L  They have a neighborhood function where you can select a neighborhood and it will show you all the houses for sale nearby.  Once our house was ready, and I had photographed it, I pretended I was a buyer and searched for houses in different price ranges in our neighborhood and I then compared the photographs in those listings with ours to see how I felt we compared.  

When we were picking a price it was difficult because there was lots of new construction in our area.  Those houses were bigger, but had no yards.  Our house had a yard, but was smaller.  The houses with more property were priced higher, but you could get a much larger house for significantly less.  We found a price range where our house looked very comparable to the other houses, and at 5k less ours looked noticeably better.  We decided to go with the 5k less because the market was poor, and we knew we were saving money by not having an agent thus we could afford to pass on that savings to the buyer.  

The drawback of the low price was that the people who did buy our house were looking above their price range and because the market was poor no one is going to offer full price. Thus the offer we received was well below what we were asking.  That is the one problem when researching prices is there is no information on what concessions the seller made to the buyer.  I have heard rumors that this information may become more available, but at then (and maybe now?) it was not, so it is hard to say what is fair, or not.  

As a side note when we were buying, the agent we were working with was not happy with the fact we were not using an agent to sell.  Her number one concern was that our house was not priced appropriately.  She briefly ran a CMA and from the results it seemed that we had priced our home too high, BUT she did not know the neighborhood or area we lived in.  The houses she was comparing ours to were not in our specific neighborhood, which was known to be nicer, and some were in a neighborhood that were right next to a garbage dump (which was not noted on the report).  Which demonstrates the fact that if you do work with an agent, it is important to find one who knows the specific area very well.

If you find these posts useful and wish to offer monetary reciprocation I would gladly accept paypal donations or gift certificates.  Even just a dollar would be nice. ;)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

How To Stage Your Home To Sell

This post is the first in a four part series on how to sell your home without a real estate agent.

First impressions are very important when selling a home. A potential buyer will probably be in your home for about 5 – 10 minutes and while they won’t be able to specifically detect “defects” their subconscious will notice them and will cause them to either love your house or not. Staging your home for viewing can add value to your home, and in a poor market, be the difference between selling it or not. Most of the things involved in staging your home are not that expensive, but may take a bit of work. You will want to prioritize time and money spent versus impact. I checked the book 301 Simple Things You Can Do to Sell Your Home. It was a bit repetitive but the information seemed sound.

 Here are the things we did:

Removed half the contents of our house: We packed up and/or donated tons of things. We packed up almost all knick-knacks and cleared the counters in the kitchen of all appliances. We removed about five pieces of furniture. We stored the stuff we didn’t get rid of at our parent’s house, or in our garage (neatly). The goal was to have no clutter, and spacious walkways. Cupboards and closets needed to look like there was extra space in them, not stuffed to capacity. We cleared everything off all the kitchen counters.  No toaster, no coffee maker, etc.  Overall this makes the house look larger and more spacious.

Paint: Painting the entire house inside and out was a highly recommended task in everything I read. It claimed to be the cheapest way to improve the look of your house. It may be inexpensive, but it is very time consuming. Instead we scrubbed every single wall in our house and touched up every single chink and dent. This helped dramatically and basically looked like we had completely repainted. On the outside we did the same thing. We power washed the siding and touched up the areas that were fading.

Made repairs: We went around the house and fixed or replaced everything that was broken. This included replacing the faucet in one bathroom, oiling the hinges on all the doors, replacing the towel rack in the bathroom, replacing the laundry door that had a hole in it, replacing blinds that had broken. We also replaced the roof. This was the most expensive thing we did to prepare our home to sell. The roof was old and though it looked good from the street, when you walked on it we figured it probably would not pass inspection, so we decided to deal with it up front and not wait till negotiations with a buyer. Our carpets were in poor shape as well, but we decided to not replace them because we could make them look okay by cleaning them, and flooring might be something a buyer would want to choose themselves.

Yard work: We weeded, trimmed all the bushes, fertilized the grass, trimmed edges of the grass, put in fresh bark, power washed the driveway and basically made the yard look perfect.

Cleaning: We made everything spotless, which was hard to do with two small children. We hired a cleaning lady to do 6 hours of cleaning. 

Decorating: We took down all family pictures and put up generic pictures. Supposedly people have a hard time imagining themselves in the home if they see evidence that it is someone else’s. Some of the pictures we used were pictures of animals I took at the zoo, others were things we bought at Goodwill. We hung up some curtains where we didn’t have any before. When the house was going to be shown, we turned on all the lights, and opened all the curtains so it would be bright and inviting. The house we bought had soft elevator music playing when we viewed it.

Here are some pictures to show how it looked.

If you find these posts useful and wish to offer monetary reciprocation I would gladly accept paypal donations or gift certificates.  Even just a dollar would be nice. ;)

How to Sell Your Home By Owner

We sold our house last year with a self service realty agent and when I was looking for information on how it worked, or how to sell by owner, I couldn’t find much that wasn’t marketing material of some sort.  I wanted a first hand account of someone who did it, so I am finally getting around to writing one. I will publish a four part series on how to sell your house.  The topics will include:

Most of what I will write is applicable to people selling with an agent, or selling completely by owner, as well. I am not in the real-estate business in any way shape or form. What I write is based only on my MINIMAL experience and research. For more information about selling by owner I got the book, Sell It by Owner and Save. The book wasn’t spectacular, but it was useful.

If you find these posts useful and wish to offer monetary reciprocation I would gladly accept paypal donations or gift certificates.  Even just a dollar would be nice. ;)