Thursday, February 12, 2015

More Science! A Sequel.

Last time we spoke I told you about the time I volunteered to be a research assistant and then puked during the process. Now, we discuss the follow-up meeting.

Quick review: I signed up to volunteer as a research participant. I had to run as fast as I could on a treadmill while wearing a tight mouth/nose covering-mask-thing. I threw up, despite having fasted for about 13 hours beforehand. Masters Student said I could still participate in the research.

On Monday I went for my first "real" meeting/test with the student. I was a little apprehensive and skipped breakfast due to the "incident" of our previous meeting. Before we started the physical portion of the research, many measurements and tests had to be completed. Blood was taken from my blood-donation vein, the circumference of my thigh and the length of my leg between two specific points were measured, and the student put Sharpie dots on me in strategic places. To be truthful I don't know the purpose of each measurement, which I should had inquired about because I like learning. I also stuck my index fingers into things and had some sort of blood flow measured, and then had it measured again when the circulation was mostly cut off in my left arm. He told me to sit still as the measurements would reflect any movement. I moved once during each test (very slightly!) because I wanted to see what would happen.

All of this went well as I am good at laying down and sitting on chairs.

Finally, the real test came. I would have to run downhill on a treadmill. I would then return each of the following three days and have all the other tests done again. Then, the following week, I would do the entire thing again. I would be placed into one of two groups, one being a placebo/control group, the other group would take some sort of pill thing. The follow-up sessions would be used to determine if the pill made any difference in recovery. Or something like that... I'm slightly filling in the blanks.

The treadmill was propped up on the back so it was at an incline of 12 degrees. It didn't really occur to me that 12 degrees would be steep. I had flashbacks to geometry class and drawing angles using a protractor. You couldn't really draw anything less than 10 degrees because the lead of your pencil was too thick, so 12 degrees must be just enough to be measured, or something like that. In retrospect and now using the aid of the internet, 12 degrees is pretty steep for running up or down. But don't take it from me, take it from Lance Armstrong and his friend L. T. Davidson: "For reference, the maximum permissible grade on most Interstate highways is 6 percent, while the average grade of the 7.6-mile Mount Washington Road Race, one of the most popular uphill running races in the country, is about 12 percent. For most people, running form deteriorates markedly at inclines greater than 10 percent, while 5 percent is generally challenging enough for moderately fit runners and walkers." While this discusses uphill running, let's just assume downhill running sucks too and I'm pretty sure it's just as difficult, if not more difficult, than uphill running.

I hop onto the treadmill a bit nervous. While sitting for one of my tests I noticed something on a whiteboard that said "Treadmill 1 hour". That couldn't be me, right? Of course not, that level of running would had been discussed before hand. I stand on the still treadmill waiting for the student to get a few things hooked up.

"How long am I running for?" I asked him.

"Forty minutes," he replied, like that wasn't a big deal.

Forty minutes of downhill running. I felt like a kid in a "teacher writing a report that is 1000 words is impooooossible and so loooooong" way.

Bit of background information about me: I am not a runner. When I run I feel like my legs are two different lengths and my feet were accidentally attached to the opposite ankle. I run when playing ultimate frisbee, but might "go for a run" once a year. I completed two 5-km races around the 30-min mark long ago, which I was happy with. I'm not comfortable running, I don't enjoy it, and the idea of training for some sort of long distance race is just incredibly hilarious, awkward, and a bit uncomfortable. You might wonder why I signed up for this. I didn't know the running requirements in terms of time required, and unemployment is starting to make me depressed and mood and I find doing things helps with that.

So now I was supposed to run downhill on a treadmill for 40 minutes. I had flashbacks to when Shannon, Keri, and I first moved to Edinburgh, Scotland. We lived downhill, first in New Town, then in Canon Mills, even further downhill. For the first couple of months I had painful shin splints which, if I'm remembering correctly, were most terrible when going downhill. I also flashbacked to the two times I had went up the Eiffel Tower. Both times I had taken the stairs because it's cheaper and feels more heroic. Both times upon descending I had to sit down on a bench and let my legs vibrate and watch my muscles freak out. ("Jen, this is not heroic, stop doing this to us on ten-year intervals.")

The treadmill starts. I panic. There wasn't really a warm up (although I think there was supposed to be but it was a weird in between walking and running speed and it was awful) so I start "jogging". By "jogging" I mean loudly stomping my feet downhill with a terrified looked on my face and holding my hands awkwardly. I felt like a penguin. Little useless legs and scared to move my hands in case I lost my balance.

Every so often the student would had me the vomit mask (new name) and take a few readings. At one point the readings weren't working so he told me to straddle the side bars until the readings were coming in again. I stood there and my left leg was shaking. It was, like, minute thirteen. I still had 27 more minutes to complete. I started running again and wondered if my leg or hip would give out as that has happened before. The student looks at my stride and asks about my pain. My right leg hurts, but in a more normal way. Apparently I run on my toes a bit on my right foot (makes sense, am running downhill and have high arches i.e., no middle foot), but it was consistent. My left leg was flailing about like a fish flopping around on dry land (my words, not his). I don't know at what point I stopped, maybe 20 minutes in total, but I just stood on the treadmill with my legs shaking. The student turned around to enter some things into his computer. I stepped off the treadmill.... and basically tipped over and crumbled to the ground. He turns around and asks with concern, "Did you fall?!" and I was sitting on the floor somewhat stunned. I stood up with shaking legs and try to lean against a bed that was there for doing some of the measurements we had done earlier. The bed was on unlocked wheels. It started to slide away and I almost fell again. So I sat on the bed, did the final two tests, and then went home. I contemplated taking the elevator up the one floor to the building's door but figured that was a bit silly.

Later that day, after some thought, I quit the research project. The idea of doing that same run again next week makes me whimper and want to hide. My legs have been limpy and so weak the past two days and the slightest incline when walking makes me feel like I have no control over my legs and I'm going to tip over. I go up and down stairs one at a time and my legs ache in the morning after being still all night. However, today, three days later, I might and be able to go up stairs without gripping the railing like my life depends on it. I think I'll be able to get out of a chair without grabbing four things for support.

It's funny, I signed up for the experiment as being unemployed was getting me down and the days at home were leaving me a bit lonely and filling me with self doubt. By signing up for the experiment I would be forced to get up in the morning and feel like I was contributing something useful to the world. But now I'm left sitting at home feeling like I have pudding for legs. Today I may test myself and walk somewhere.

Moral of the story: if you sign up to be a research participant ask questions. Don't make assumptions. If you feel unsure about something request clarification. Ugh.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

The One with the Science Experiment

Hi friends!

I'm still unemployed because boy-oh-boy I love giving people I don't know the ability to stomp on my self esteem. I find keeping busy lessens the likelihood I feel poorly about myself, so with that in mind, I signed up to participate in a research project by a grad student at UPEI. Today was my first of nine sessions, a sort of intro session and likely the chance to determine if I wasn't a good candidate for the research. Without going into detail on the purpose of the research as I don't want to run into any privacy issues, I shall tell you about today's adventures.

Things started off well. I had my finger pricked to determine blood things. I guess my blood was fine, which is nice after my recent denial from Canadian Blood Services as a donor, as we then advanced to the blood pressure checking phase. Blood pressure was also fine and consistent on the extreme low end of the normal range. Next up was getting my height and weight which was easy as by virtue of existing I have size and mass.

Side note because when you're unemployed sometimes you need to make intelligent side notes to help you feel like you still have a brain: allow me to remind you of the important difference between mass and weight. While not relevant on Earth, should you become an astronaut and travel the solar system it will be important. Your weight changes based on gravity and is a measurement of gravity's pull on you. Mass remains constant regardless of what planet you are on as it's essentially a measurement of matter. In a nutshell.

The next step was to find out how hard I can push myself running and at what point would I max out. This was done by wearing a heart rate monitor and a mask around my mouth and nose to measure oxygen output... or something like that. I started on the treadmill for a few minutes of brisk walking at a speed of 4.0 treadmill measurement units (miles per hour, I believe). After the warm up the speed was increased to a light jog at 5.0. Then it was gradually increased until you thought your lungs would explode and legs would crumble. This determines your maximum output and is used in the follow-up sessions as a guideline for determined 50 percent output, 75 percent output, etc.

At this point I must admit I don't know the right words for a lot of things related to this research.

I got strapped in to my gear and hopped on the treadmill. Prior to starting I wondered if anyone had ever vomited Biggest Loser style while wearing the oxygen max thing. It was strapped on super tight and could not be removed in a hurry. I thought about it, because I think of vomit consequences more than the average person, and determined you would just have to bend over and let the vomit run into the tube. But that would never happen, right? Right.

My warm up phase went well. The light jog went well. The running as fast as you can was going well and as it started to feel a bit hard my stomach did a wee 'poof!' I know from playing ultimate frisbee that sometimes I just need a tiny burp in the initial phases of running. I figured I would be fine as it was around noon and I had been fasting as part of the research for about 12 hours. However, the stomach movement seemed to be a bit more than a burp. I jumped onto the sides of the treadmill and waved my arms at the student and pointed at the mouth piece. He popped it off and I told him I thought I was going to vomit... but I would probably be okay.

And then I ran to the waste bin and threw up the 4 tablespoons of food I had left in me. The student seemed a bit flustered as he none of the previous participants chucked up their supper. I tried to explain that I probably throw up more than the average person, and no, I don't usually vomit when I exercise and I wasn't at my maximum output.

I offered to bow out of the research as I understood that I hadn't reached my maximum output thus the follow-up sessions could be off. Well, luckily he needs participants, so he needs me to return. So hurrah for me! Potential research outlier. Hopefully the follow-up sessions will have fewer surprises.

Friday, January 09, 2015

2014 Recaputalization

Being an unemployed person who is a bit scared of weather below -15C, I have been indoors a lot this week. You know, because it's winter, in eastern Canada. I've been spending a bit too much time on the internet reading super important articles *cough* and reading some year-in-review type things. So here I am, typing my own 2014 summary, in between bites of emotionally-eating-job-rejection pasta and sips of I-don't-need-a-reason beer. I introduce to you, 2014, re-visited.


A long time ago in a galaxy far away (about six months ago and a twenty-minute walk) I used to have a job. My workplace shut down at the end of June, which was surprising, but not oh-my-gosh-no-one-would-have-ever-guessed-this-could-transpire surprising. The loom of a shut down had been hovering over us for, oh, years, but it seemed that we were in a safe spot. An excellent example of perception versus reality, I suppose.

Things that happened as a result of losing my job: the weird tremors in my hands went away, my occasional eye twitch vanished, I made less money, and I was far less stressed/irritable. My job wasn't stressful, but the environment of will-the-job-exist-will-it-not-exist-who-knows isn't exactly a pleasant one to be in for two years.

The task of finding new employment also isn't a pleasant one. I'm pretty sure the last job boom in this province took place when a shipped dumped off some shady Scots  in the 1700s and they had to build homes otherwise they would freeze to death. We've been in a downward spiral ever since.


Now that we got the boring necessities of job hunting out of the way, on to the more exciting things.

This has been an excellent year for travel, and as the temperature drops more I'm going to actually put in some effort to do a few wee summaries of travels on this space. In May I went on a cruise with lovely friend Charlene and her mum. It was a "get me the frig away from here" vacation that I booked a couple of weeks after learning our work place was shutting down. The timing was quite excellent. I had to use up vacation. Charlene was going on vacation. There was room for me on that vacation. I went on the vacation. As discussed in an earlier post, it was a cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Quebec City, but I officially disembarked in Charlottetown to save the cost of a flight home. You know what's great when you need to escape? A cruise. It's also an excellent place to study for a government French test, which I wrote the day after I returned home and achieved the result I wanted.

In July I burned some Airmiles and met two thirds of my Disney 'ohana in Chicago for a mighty 30th birthday celebration for Erin.  (Fun fact: thinking about this trip just made me smile! Aww, bless.) I had not seen Erin in what felt like eight millennia, but was actually "only" 2.5 terrible, long years. Charlene I had obviously seen more recently due to our habits of planning elaborate honeymoon-style vacations together. Chicago in a nutshell: good food, fun drinks, lots of walking, a baseball game with all you can eat food and beer because AMERICA, more Walgreens than one could ever dream of, a city tour, a bicycle ride (me), an art gallery (Erin and Charlene), many laughs, and too many questions of "What?" because I'm deaf, Erin is on her way, and apparently we all mumble or get excited and talk too quickly or something. We should probably all learn sign language before we get together again.

In September I remembered that I had a boyfriend and should spend some time with him instead of Charlene. Back in January before I learned of job vanishment Josh and I had booked flights to Dublin on West Jet. The airline was starting transatlantic flights in May and was offering some pretty appealing flight prices. Initially they were as cheap as $450 from Halifax, but for some stupid reason we couldn't make up our minds and didn't book for a couple of months when the price had went up. That being said, it was still much cheaper than I had seen in years at about $685 from Halifax.

Europe summarized in one long sentence: beauty and a soccer match in Prague; amazing prices, lovely walks, being lost, and rain in Bratislava; wonderful scenery, delicious food, hilly climb, hilarious hotel owner in Salzburg; lots of walking, a big night out, excellent host, many beer in Munich; friends (!!), wine, more delicious foods, protests & strikes, and walking in Paris; touring, sleeping in the airport, odd budget hotel experience, beer drinking, hill walking, and happiness in Dublin.

There was happiness everywhere, but it's nice to finish the list with that. Also important: this was Josh's first trip across the Atlantic and before we even flew home he was already discussing a return adventure! Now I feel confident in our ability to further pursue a relationship.

In October Josh and I went to Halifax for a wedding. This counts as a trip due to the crippling toll of the Confederation Bridge.

Something very important took place in November: Josh and I went to Florida with my parents. And thank-friggin-goodness Josh liked the place and had a great time at Walt Disney World and in the Orlando area. Given my attachment to my second home, it's best that I love someone who is willing to go there. Also, we went kayaking and saw turtles which was pretty awesome.


I read another blog that had this category and I don't know what to put here. I had two splinters this year.  So... yeah.

Actually, here is something, which I already blogged about, having to put down beloved family kitty, Friskey. And because I'm trying to not be in a funk about a job rejection today, now is not the time to write about the vicious, wonderful kitty.


Good bye apartment, hello house! Update: house is still awesome. Since blogging about home ownership I believe we have unpacked one more box, contended with a basement that was trying to turn itself into a swimming pool (leaky basements = classic PEI problems), have purchased a piece of furniture for putting things in that will aid in the next round of putting things away, and have acquired an extremely large poker table that has come in quite handy for card nights and other such things that involve more than four people.

Giant Kitten continues to love having a house and has just told me he has gained an additional pound of muscle thanks to his stair sprint regime.


I have friends! I wanted to include this because I feel very fortunate to have friends. It might sound a touch gushy, but I feel so lucky to have friends that I can spend time with, laugh with, whine with, and just have many wonderful relationships in my life.

"Official" Relationship Status

Throughout this blog I have mentioned le boyfriend excellente a few times. But, as I reach the end of this, he is no longer a boyfriend. Instead, he is a fiance (to me!) which is pretty amazing and exciting. I sometimes, in my many free hours of the day, think about how lucky it is that things worked out between us. Being two compatible people is important, but I feel that timing also plays a crucial role in whether or not a relationship can blossom. I met Josh when I was single and mentally ready to be in a relationship. The timing was right, it worked out, and it's so wonderful to be in a relationship with someone where both parties can just be themselves, even from the beginning. But gush gush gush, that's something that can be saved for a wedding speech or something.

So the year 2014 finished how it should had. I went wedding dress shopping with my wonderful mama in the morning, house related things with le fiance (!) later on, and then rang in the new year with friends.

Happy 2015 to you!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

HAL Veendam Cruise to Home - Part I

HAL Veendam docked at Bar Harbor
I was very fortunate at my old job to have about four weeks vacation per year. In PEI vacation starts at two weeks per year and after eight whole years of dedicated service vacation time jumps up to three weeks. By PEI standards I was completely spoiled and absolutely took advantage of it. For 2014 I was planning on taking most of my vacation in the summer and fall, meaning when we found out in April that we would be closing in three months I had a bit of vacation to use up as it was very possible we wouldn't be able to be paid out any vacation.

What to do? Finding people available for last-minute vacations can be difficult. It's much easier to attach yourself to someone else's vacation. In this case, I was lucky as my friend, Charlene, and her mother welcomed me with great excitement to their vacation! Charlene is a travel agent and gets excellent deals and wonderful perks at certain times of the year. She and her mother had booked a cruise from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Quebec City on Holland America's Veendam, a ship that visits PEI weekly during the summer. This was the first run of the year of that itinerary, although the only one to originate in Florida. After that the ship's runs are from Quebec City to Boston or vice versa. This particular itinerary skipped Boston in lieu of Gloucester, Massachusetts, which is disappointing for many reasons that I will perhaps elaborate on in another post. That being said, it wasn't like we were surprised by that, it was in the itinerary. Embarkation was in Fort Lauderdale followed by: one sea day; Gloucester, MA; Bar Harbor, ME; Halifax, NS; Sydney, NS; Charlottetown, PE; another sea day; and disembarkation in Quebec City.

I knew I was going to be unemployed and still had three other trips (thanks Air Miles!) booked for later in the year, so price was a pretty important consideration in deciding to go on this trip. Despite Quebec City being only a ten-hour drive away, the cost of a one-way flight back to Charlottetown at the end of the cruise would probably be at least $300. Combine that with a flight to Fort Lauderdale (about $350) and that cost of the cruise (maybe $500?) I was feeling a bit ansy. However, I could easily save myself $300 by disembarking in Charlottetown and basically walking home rather than having an additional sea day and flying home from Quebec City. There are a variety of laws relating to not completing a full cruise and either starting at a different port or getting off the ship early. From what I read, a cruise ship that originates in the US has to travel a certain distance before it is considered to be in.... "something" waters - clearly I forget the actual word. Once the cruise passes that point it is allowed to have official disembarkation at a different American port than it originated. Essentially the government does not want cruise ships becoming a means of transportation that competes with airlines, trains, and gas stations.

Upon initial research it appeared that Canada might not be considered "far enough". I called Holland America and they didn't think it would be a problem to get off in Charlottetown instead of Quebec City, but the process required me to book the cruise and then complete a special form requesting early disembarking. The final decision would be made by the Government of Canada.

Another thing had to work out: Charlene had already booked a cabin for her and her mother. Given that she got a special discounted rate she was actually unable to choose her cabin and many cabins are designed for only two people. In order to go on the cruise, she needed to have a cabin with capacity for at least three people. Luckily, she eventually found out that her cabin was large enough for four people!*

*Four people in that room would had been hilarious based on size and layout. Two single beds against opposite walls, one bed pulled down from the ceiling, and one pull-out sofa. And barely any room to walk.

Once we found out the cabin was large enough we needed to find out if I could be added to her booking. Success! Of course I could be added! And at a cheaper price (taxes and port fees only, around $200) than what Charlene and her mother originally paid! Amazing! I paid for our hotel night as a thank you and to make up the difference.

Next step was securing an overpriced flight to Fort Lauderdale and putting in my request to disembark in Charlottetown instead of Quebec City. Flight was booked without any issues, arriving the day before the cruise left because, warning, you should never plan to fly into the city port the day the ship leaves. Too much potential for things to go wrong.

The following day I received word that I was officially cleared for disembarking in Charlottetown, and one week later I was in the air on my way to Fort Lauderdale!

Because I have some free time and will make this a multi-part series (so ambitious), I'll tie this up with some cruise and money chat, as I used quite a few dollar signs in the above.

Cost: What's Included

Cruise ships might appear to be an all inclusive vacation but they aren't unless you book the most expensive luxury cruise ship ever, which you probably won't. Additionally, the price you see listed isn't the final price. Taxes and port fees are added, which could be an additional $200 depending on the length of your cruise and number of ports. Included in that final price tag is your cabin, i.e., accommodation; food at the buffet and in the main dining room; most on-board activities like trivia, scrapbooking, and food demos; nightly entertainment; gym access; access to all the public areas; and borrowing items from the library. This varies from line to line (i.e., different cruise ship companies), but seems to be generally included in any ships I have read about or been on.

Cost: What's Not Included

A selection of free alcohol obtained on the Carnival Legend
Travel to the port is not included. Even once you are in the port's city you still need to pay to get to
the port. You can often make these arrangements through the cruise ship company or your hotel for an additional fee. In the case of the cruises I have been on, I was lucky to be on a cruise with someone who owned a car and we paid to park at the port or was dropped off at the port by a local friend. In Fort Lauderdale we were without local friends (tragic) so stayed at a hotel the night prior and then took a cab ($20) to the port. Likewise, you are on your own when you disembark and are responsible for your own transportation. Again, you can purchase ship-to-airport transfers from the cruise line, but they are not included in the original cost of the cruise.

While many things on board are included in the cost of your cruise, you could quickly run up a large tab if you aren't careful. Some activities have a fee: internet use, bingo, cooking classes, behind-the-scenes tours, etc. You won't accidentally do any of these and wind up paying for it, they will ask for your cabin/charge key up front and tell you about the cost.

Most food is included, but many ships now have specialty restaurants for an additional cost, ranging from $5 - $75. It's best to make reservations for these restaurants, so like activity fees you won't accidentally find yourself in the restaurant without realizing you need to pay extra.

Room service is free, but you are expected to tip the person who delivers the food.

Your biggest on-board costs will likely be tipping, shopping, alcohol/pop, casino fun, and spa treatments, although it is completely up to the individual and you could easily spend nothing on the latter items. For example, I spend minimal on shopping, a wee bit on alcohol, maybe $5 at the casino, and $0 on spa treatments. However, I suggest you always tip as it's how the staff makes the majority of their wages, sadly. You can pre-pay gratuities up front when you book your cruise or charge them to your on-board account after boarding the ship. You are expected to tip your room steward, who is in your room at least twice per day and your dining room staff. It varies on different cruise lines, but expect to pay about $10 - $15 per person per day in tipping.

If you are on a cruise ship you will likely be visiting at least one port. The cost of the cruise typically includes nothing in the ports thus you have to pay for any activities you might do there. (NB: some lines have excursions included, they tend to be the super expensive cruises on gorgeous ships that make my heart pitter patter.) You can book excursions through the ship, through a private, local company, or just wander the port on your own. One great advantage to booking a tour through the ship is that the ship will not leave the dock without you at the end of the day if you are late. When you are on a ship-sponsored tour they know where you are and have to wait for you. If you are on your own or booked with a private company and are late then the ship will leave without you.

How To Save Money on a Cruise

The easiest way would be to just not spend any money, but that's not overly fun if you feel like you have to constantly restrict yourself. Every evening on the ship your room steward will leave you a times guide for the following day's activities. In that guide it lists shop sales, happy hour specials, daily activities, and any necessary information related to that day's port. If there is something you wish to buy on board you will probably find it on sale at some point during the cruise. For alcohol you can often find two-for-one specials, happy hours at slightly reduced prices, or you can bring on your own alcohol, following specific restrictions. On Holland America and Carnival we were allowed to bring on one bottle of wine per person. On Disney we just brought on whatever we wanted! (NB: Disney is quite a bit more expensive as non-alcoholic beverages are free, I believe, and the lack of casino to supplement their revenue. And because it's amazing.) There are also art auctions which frequently feature free sparkling wine. Lastly, most cruise lines have some sort of loyalty program based on the number of nights you have cruised with that line. While I am not super familiar with them as I'm no where near being at an exciting level, I'm sure at some point you get a few free services, snacks, or beverages.

Next up: Fort Lauderdale, the ship, and other.

Monday, November 24, 2014

House Acquisition, Part III

In the first part, we found a house that was awesome then decided it was unawesome.

In the second part, we looked a bunch of houses we didn't want.

In the third part, we... oh, this is the third, and final, part. Carry on.

It was rainy and gross the morning we arrived to tour the old-lady-driven house. Upon entering the house there was a sense of relief: there was nothing immediately wrong with it! Nothing appeared to be sinking, it didn't smell bad, and nothing was falling apart. It seemed a bit old, but that's because the house was old and was filled with cat ornaments, crosses, and yellowing family photos from 30 years ago. You could tell the house was well loved and well cared for and the family selling it put in a lot of effort in making sure it was clean and presentable. The flooring was primarily carpet, which felt so soft and spongy on the feet compared to laminate and hard wood flooring.

The upstairs had two good sized bedrooms, one small one, lots of carpet, and a hilariously dated bathroom.

Success! There was nothing wrong with the house! It had a backyard! A shed! A deck!

We arranged to put in our offer at a slightly reduced price and a closing date five weeks away at the end of July. Within 24 hours we received a phone call from our realtor saying our offer had been accepted, but the sellers wanted a closing date of August 29. I was slightly disappointed to miss out on a month of backyard usage, but it wasn't worth it to say no and then try to find another place. We contacted a home inspector who would come in the following week and do a thorough walk through of the house. We also called an insurance company who would send someone to check out a few things.

The home inspector was incredibly thorough and, thankfully, didn't unearth any major concerns! He had suggestions of things we should watch for in the coming years but nothing that needed to be addressed immediately with the exception of the oil tank. New regulations had been implemented and outdoor oil tanks now have to be fiber glass in order to be insurable.

Is a home inspection necessary when purchasing a home? No.  Is it a good idea? Most likely. In our case the inspector found a couple of things that we addressed in a modified offer to the home owners. Even if a home inspector doesn't find anything it's nice to have advanced notice of things to watch for. If the home inspector does find something of major concern he/she might be saving you a significant deal of stress in the future.

Once the home inspection was completed we were able to modify our offer based on what we had learned. In our case, the oil tank had to be replaced. This didn't put us at a disadvantage in terms of our offer being rejected as it would need to be replaced regardless of who would purchase the home. We also requested the electrical panel be improved and for $500 off the agreed purchase place which would be used to.... something something chimney. I actually forgot about our chimney issue until now, and apparently can't quite remember what about it wasn't ideal. Too narrow for Santa? Tipping over? Dirty? Picky eater?

In this case we gave the owners more than 24 hours to respond as it was over the holiday weekend and they need time to contact an electrician. I really didn't expect them to agree to all three items, but they did! Apparently our realtor hooked them up with a discount on an oil tank, which saved them enough money to agree to everything.

Next up: one more visit with the insurance person as he needed to inspect the new oil tank. The owners were home on this visit, sitting in the yard and enjoying the sunny day. I felt a little sad for them that they were moving. We later learned from the neighbours that one of the owners was having some health issues and just wasn't up to maintaining a home for another winter. As a result of the previous winter's awfulness, they decided to move into an apartment. It was sooner than they had been planning but seemed like the right thing to do. The couple was lovely. They had lived in the home for about 40 years and asked if we were planning on doing any renovations. I could had rambled on about our long-term vision for the house, but we didn't really have one beyond updating the kitchen, getting a dryer, and adding a shower. It didn't seem right to tell them what was outdated in their house because it really doesn't matter and reflects personal taste. I complimented them (very sincerely as it was true) on the condition of their home and how well it had been looked after, and they seemed pleased. They offered us some things they couldn't take and that their family didn't need: some gardening tools, leftover paint, etc. It was very kind of them and they seemed pleased that a nice couple was purchasing in their home. In retrospect, it was probably similar to when they purchased the home in their mid 20s.

Six weeks later our closing date arrived and we did the final walk through of the home before going to the lawyer's office. The house was so clean, it'll probably never be that clean again. They really went above and beyond preparing their home for us. I actually feel guilty that we somehow have a stain on the carpet already and that Michu has tracked poop onto the kitchen floor. Sorry!

Moving from one side of town to the other is, surprise, incredibly different than moving to a new country with only your backpack and carry-on bag. It felt like we had so much stuff to move. However, thanks to a small army of awesome people, it took just under two hours to fill the u-haul, drive the so long 10 minutes across town, and shove everything into the house. This included an elaborate struggle trying to shove a queen-size box spring up the narrow stairs on an old home. (Tip: just take the front door off, it makes everything easier.)

And voila! We now live in a house. And it's pretty awesome. It's the little things I appreciate, like having natural light in the kitchen, lots of windows, a deck (!!!), a shed, not having to carry groceries in through security doors and having to constantly unlock the door for each load. It's wonderful to still be within walking distance of many things, and although we never received a noise complaint in our apartment building, it's still nice to be way less paranoid when having people over in the evening/into the night.

A few comments on the whole house buying experience.

Unexpected Costs
Beyond the price of the house, expect to pay for a home inspection (around $450), lawyer fees ($1200), a tank of oil ($900), and $35 on your cell phone for going over your daytime minutes allotment in lawyer and realtor calls. (Also an unexpected cost of being unemployed since you no longer have access to a free-to-you landline at work.)

Charlottetown Real Estate Market
Thank goodness for living in a have-not province!

Not really, but real estate in Charlottetown and all of PEI is much more affordable than it is in major cities. Home ownership will never be obtainable for everyone, but it is certainly much more obtainable here than in many other places. It's probably the only thing that holds up in the "You get paid less because the cost of living is less there," argument (which is a whole other conversation of PEI actually not having a low cost of living compared to its wages).

The market in PEI has also been a buyers' market for quite awhile. Of course, the excellent places will get snatched up quickly andI have no doubt our house would had sold easily if we hadn't jumped in quickly), but you really can't slack and try to get more than what your house is worth. We looked at homes that were much more expensive than the one we purchased and although they were bigger, they weren't in very good condition and were on smaller properties.

Necessity of a Realtor
You probably don't need a realtor to buy a house. I'm glad we had one since we hadn't gone through this experience before but I wouldn't hesitate to try and sell or buy through a private sale. If it doesn't seem to be working out, you can always take on a realtor at that point.

Realtors are useful in that they know the other realtors and have relationships with them and they will likely know a bit more background on the home, but it's actually the lawyer who does the transaction, checks the deeds, etc. However, I did appreciate having a realtor and they definitely work hard in making themselves available at all hours of the days, including weekends and evenings.

Kitty Approved!
Because I'm sure you are wondering, Michu loves the new house. He thinks the basement is amazing, the carpet has helped him increase his average sprinting speed, and the stairs are defining his leg muscles in ways he has never dreamed! All the windows are lovely and the dog next door provides minutes (hours!) of entertainment. And the horse and carriage rides that pass multiple times per day during cruise ship season? Amazing.

Big Blue Smurf Shack is Michu Butterkins approved.

Friday, November 21, 2014

House Acquisition, Part II

When I last left you, we were feeling a bit down about walking away from a pretty good house.

Apparently it was not the first time that house had been on the market. Our realtor said it had previously been on the market, most likely the summer prior when the residents were around. I'm not sure if it ever ended up selling. I biked by a couple of times and although the for sale sign eventually disappeared, it never had a "sold" sign attached to it. Despite being a pretty great house, I imagine it would be a bit difficult to sell for three reasons:

1) Potentially unreliable heating system, as previously discussed.

2) Selling the furniture with the house. While an asset for some, likely undesired from the majority of people purchasing a home.

3) The house was "their" house. Of course renovations are possible, but the owners had certainly made the house "their" home. Everything had been renovated to suit their wishes; things that the average person might not want. A very closed in patio with a gaping hole containing a green house seems pretty cool at first, but not ideal for Josh and I who have drunk friends who would likely fall into the large hole.

So we move on. The good thing about finding a house we thought we wanted was that we asked the realtor a bit more on the actual buying process. Basically, what happens when you find a house you want? I really didn't know. In the event that you don't know, here is what I learned about the initial steps.

If you have a realtor (real estate agent.... realtor keeps getting flagged and I'm starting to question if it's a real word that means what I think it means) you will never actually be in contact with the current owners, their real estate agent, or their lawyer. Your realtor is essentially the mediator and your main point of contact. You tell your agent what you are offering, typically on the condition of the home inspection, request a closing date, sign a document, and wait. The seller/seller's agent has 24 hours to respond with a yes, no, or counter offer.

The next house we look at had been on the market for quite awhile, or at least since we had started casually browsing the internet six months prior. It was a cheapish bungalow in a nice area that is a mix of medium-size to large houses. No one had lived there in awhile and it definitely had a feeling of  being abandoned. It was a bit dirty, which is fine, and had a lot of little things that one would want to fix. Also fine. There was some old food in the fridge (ew), parts of the roof looked questionable, and the basement had been through some pretty intense flooding that winter.

Water in basements isn't uncommon in PEI. We had a stupid amount of snow last winter. (Yes, that was the official final measurement. "Alright, it's May. How much snow did we have?" "Officially? A stupid amount." So. Much. Snow.) A mix of rain and the snow melting quickly in the spring left the ground overly saturated, like throwing a sponge in a full bathtub and expecting the sponge to absorb all the water. So while a touch of water was understandable, I have the feeling this place flooded for awhile and was perhaps unattended for a long period of time. It stunk of musty basement smell and seemed very caveat emptor: buyer beware. Despite the tiny red flags, I will say that the home had wonderful shelves built into the walls of the living room. The house is no longer listed, so hopefully it found some new owners.

We looked at another house in the same area that was pretty nice but had few drawbacks. Through discussions with our realtor, we learned that homes with three bedrooms tend to be easier to sell than homes with two bedrooms. Although Josh and I don't really have any need for three bedrooms at this point, we figured we should keep that in mind unless we find the most amazing two-bedroom house ever. This particular house had three bedrooms, but they were all quite small. The master bedroom had a regular-sized closet and then room for a bed and one nightstand. The other two bedrooms were quite a bit smaller and would be filled with up quite quickly. This house had also been for sale previously by the same owners, but they had pulled it off the market at some point and completed some lovely renovations. (Psst, this house is still available at the fare price of $149,000. Negotiate downwards and then put a bigger window in the master bedroom.)

When purchasing a home you don't want to spend more than you really have to. But you also should be suspicious of low prices in areas that are typically more expensive. This brings us to the next house. The pictures online looked quite promising! It also had something I had never heard of, a "great room". Exciting! I could only imagine the treats in the great room. It would be state of the art EVERYTHING and the GREATEST ROOM OF ALL TIME. A little internet searching told me that a "great room" is basically a room, often with high ceilings, that has the function of many rooms. Think a combo dining room living room den. In this particular case the house also had a living room; it seemed unnecessary to have both.

Side note: It's kind of funny how much more you think about new words as you learn them, compared to words you have known forever. Example, the word living room. Perhaps it initially had a different function, but if I had never heard of this word I might think it implied something much grander than it is. A room where the light tickles the wall, statues come to life, plants grow to sizes beyond what they ever would in a kitchen! But really, it's where the television usually is and a often has a big window.

We quickly learned why this house had a low price in a good area: the great room was an addition, as was a porch, and they were both sinking and very slowly splitting off from the original house. The bedrooms needed a few small updates, the kitchen had been updated, the basement was meh.... But part of the house was sinking. Tipping over. Being absorbed by the earth. Losing the fight against gravity. Our realtor said he would likely discourage future clients from even looking at it.

Luckily we had found a fall-back house that had just been listed that day. The pictures looked good, location was excellent, and the whole thing seemed to have a feeling of "old lady driven", like an older car that had been well maintained and loved over many years.

After the disappointment of a sinking house, there was optimism in the air. Something good was going to happen.

(In part III !)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Home Acquisition, Part I

Not unknown to most people, le Boyfriend and I bought a house and moved into it a few months ago. We were both first-time home buyers and somewhat unfamiliar with the process of buying a house. At the time I thought, "I'm going to blog about the house buying experience! How exciting!" but never did as the whole thing went pretty quickly and, well, it was summer. The only year I successfully blogged during the summer was a decade ago when I moved to Scotland. I didn't even have a computer or internet access at home, but it was all so exciting, and frankly, easier than emailing the same blah blah blah to multiple people when one has limited internet time. Now that I have pretty much unlimited free time (breaking news: still unemployed), here is the first post of a nail-biting series of two installments on the experience of house shopping.

Josh and I started looking at homes online about a year ago. Nothing overly serious, but seeing what was available and what price ranges could be expected given location, condition, size, etc. We weren't ready to move at the time as our apartment's rent included heat and we didn't really feel like moving during the winter. And thank goodness we didn't! It was rather cold and blustery last winter and the free heat and snow removal was quite appreciated. On that note, our apartment was pretty well insulated and the heat from the apartment below us seemed to be working double duty in heating our apartment and our neighbour's.

Prior to really getting into the house hunting spirit Josh and I discussed what we wanted in a house. Sort of. Not a formal conversation, but various discussions over the course of our relationship showed we were pretty much in agreement as to what we wanted in a home. A yard was critical, proximity to downtown would be a bonus, and a large house was rather undesirable. On a personal level, having more space means extra stuff and I'm not very organized when it comes to the home life and have minimal interest in being forced to buy extra furniture to hold "stuff".

(Says she who still have a five-year-old highlighting kit in a random drawer in the spare room. Slight hoarding tendencies, and why I shouldn't have a lot of space.)

Of course, the main bonus of a smaller home: less space to clean. Because, I don't know about you, but less cleaning = more happiness. In addition, smaller home typically = lower purchase space. No need to pay for space you don't actually need.

We were okay with a home needing some renovations, paint, etc., but preferred to invest in something that was structurally sound and generally might need some updating or aesthetic work.

The choice of which real estate agent was intensely debated. We were a hot, young couple with cash to burn and their sights on the high end market. Money was no object, and we wanted the industry to fight for our loyalty.

Wouldn't that be a laugh? In reality, we actually walked by a house we had noticed online and simply contacted the agent listed on the sign in the front yard. Shortly after we viewed that first house. It's a bit of a bizarre experience. I have no interest in ever constructing our own home, but initially it does feel a bit odd to be walking through someone else's home containing all of their belongings and trying to visualize your own furniture in its place. That first place was actually pretty nice, had lots of renovations, but, and I recognize the irony of this statement given my ramblings above relating to the advantages of small homes, the house was a touch small. The main level was fine, but I learned one of the first of many lessons: the definition of a 1.5-storey house. Essentially the space in the upper level is somewhat hindered by the roof cutting off a portion of the rooms, sort of like you live in the attic. Because of that there aren't a lot of options when it comes to fitting in furniture into bedrooms that are already a touch tiny. I felt guilty telling the realtor that we weren't really interested in the house because the upstairs was cramped. Of course, realtors are used to that, and I can't imagine he really thought twice about it beyond arranging viewings of other homes. Realtors are people too, and are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of each property they show.

This brings us to another learning point. When we viewed that house we told the realtor we had an appointment arranged the following week with a bank seeking pre-approval on a mortgage. Apparently it is not uncommon for people to wait and seek out financing after they find a house they wish to put an offer on. I found that rather odd. Why would you go to the lengths of looking at numerous of houses without knowing if you can actually get a mortgage? A waste of your time, a waste of the realtor's time, and somewhat misleading to the home owners. Way to ruin your dreams.

A few days later we looked at three more homes. I don't remember the order of the first two, but the only real selling point was the fluffy cat on the stairs in one of the homes. The home with the cat was an old home that had been on the market for at least a year. The backyard had a shed, and then only enough room for, oh, another shed. The house was full of the owner's stuff, which is to be expected, but the owner had about two houses worth of stuff shoved into the place. It was the type of place that you could probably clean for three weeks straight and still not want to walk around in your bare feet. The second house had a similar feel of caked-in dirt, but at least it wasn't stuffed full of things to the point you couldn't really see the walls. After these two visits we realized that perhaps we did not want a 120-year-old home and should stick to something that was built within the past century. In the end, we ended up purchasing a home of an unknown age, but estimated to have been built around 1920.

The third home we visited that day gave us a bit of relief. It was a bit newer, but not new by any means. It felt more fresh and had been better maintained and seemed to have fewer unknowns. The house was listed at about $169,000 and was being sold by an English couple who lived there only during the summer months. The price included all their furniture and a small greenhouse that was sitting in the yard where a pool had once been, surrounded by a large patio.

It was all very promising: well maintained, good location, a big yard, and furniture, which we were somewhat lacking. Despite many check marks, the elephant in the room which Josh and I didn't pay much attention to on our first visit was the heating system.  There was a small propane heater in the living room and a heat pump at the bottom of the stairs on the main level. As the house was unoccupied during the winter months, heating costs of the previous, chilly year were unavailable and it couldn't be said how effective the heating system was, particularly considering the bedrooms were upstairs where they wasn't an obvious heat source. We were disappointed when we decided the heat factor was too risky given frigid winters and my general inability to stay warm. In the long run I am glad we didn't purchase that house, but the few we looked at after just seemed to disappoint more and more, so I did question our decision for a brief period.

During this time we went to a bank and were pre-approved for a mortgage. Hurrah! Truthfully, I was slightly rushing to move forward on the whole thing as I knew my job would be ending within six weeks and was concerned it would affect our ability to obtain a mortgage of a certain value. Looking back, I think that was my actual stress in saying no to the pretty good house. Would we find something better in that short amount of time?

Next up in the series: the year of flooded basements.