Monthly Archives: June 2012

Trying to understand some of America’s reaction to the Affordable Healthcare Act

Alright. Time for a brief departure from gardening, and pregnancy, and occasionally work. This is more a post to answer many questions I have had from people across the pond about the now approved Affordable HealthCare Act. Why America needed reform, why some Americans hate it and so on. It is my perspective on that for my fellow countrymen, and also an attempt for me to try to make sense of what seems like the utter craziness around me.

The current system

So to understand the reform, you need to understand the current situation of American healthcare. It is certainly very different to what I, as a naive Brit, has imagined. I had envisioned a healthcare system where if you had a ‘reasonable’ job (and I did  not define reasonable) you could go out and get private insurance for healthcare fairly acceptably within your budget. People who could afford it could choose their insurance, and then those who were insured, once they had paid their premium, got access to top notch and almost unlimited healthcare (I was actually kind of excited to get this ‘better’ healthcare than I had been receiving) . Those who were not insured, had some lower standard healthcare sort if similar to the (usually unfounded) horror stories we hear of the NHS: long wait lines, long distances to travel, limited drug availability – possibly all only available through ER.  I was sort of vague on that. Having lived in the US, it is clear to me that the main things I had misunderstood were this:

-Few people can afford private health insurance out of pocket. Prices for health services in America are ungodly high compared to say, Canada and the UK (have fun googling the cost of a C-section in the respective countries). Therefore, to cover basic services, employers provide health insurance. Employers can get cheaper insurance premiums per person, by agreeing to have all their employers on one scheme – it is in part how companies can provide insurance when individuals often cannot. Economies of scale.

-Therefore, employees often do not get a choice of providers: in both my jobs here, I have been stuck with one option and one company.

-The healthcare provided by the companies, in both my cases has not covered what I would choose in my choice of insurance company. UAB did not cover contraception outside of birth control, nor Wes’ testosterone. UT has very steep co-pays (birth is $1,000-3,500). I understand that I am lucky though, because at 3,500 I reach my yearly max and the baby is covered under that max as long as we are both in the hospital. Some companies charge separate maxes for the mother and baby, meaning the cost of 60% of US births would exceed $7,000. I am generally unhappy with the level of care offered. Some companies do not cover pre-existing conditions (kid with cystic fibrosis? Nope. Previous cancer history? You’re on your own if it strikes again). Some companies have a maximum they will pay out for a given individual. If your cancer treatment exceeds this (as was the case with a lady I met from CA): tough. But you have no decision over whether to choose a company with these exclusions / conditions or not.

-Then, for many, there is no company they work for, and so no insurance. And their only recourse for treatment is (1) pay the inflated US prices, or go to ER. So cancer treatment is out (too expensive / not available in ER). Ditto much preventative care. Care for your child who needs to go to NICU.

-So, I was shocked by the number of categories individuals in the US without healthcare. Examples:

1)The oft cited (by outsiders) / classic case of ‘tramps and immigrants’. But also in some cases:

2)Pregnant women who for whatever reason have to change jobs (it is a pre-exisiting condition)

3)Cancer patients who have ‘run out’ of coverage

4)Children with serious health issues whose parents change jobs (coz, you know, America is in a recession ‘n’ all)

5)Adults with previous health issues that change jobs

6)The self employed, including a man I spoke to today, who chose to be self employed so he could earn money while caring for his mother who had had a stroke and had cancer. So, let’s just say: carers.

and so on. Google it and make your own judgement on the accuracy of figures, but look how many actually qualify for health insurance (some say 10%), how many actually qualify for Medicaid (do not listen if people say it is open to all children and pregnant women – I was turned down!), and how many die each year from lack of insurance: I would go with ~45,000 but again, I let you make your own sense of the figures.

Bottom line: many people are dying within the current system. Both ‘undesirables’ (illegal immigrants / people not wanting to work), and ‘desirables’: me the pregnant university professor, Will the carer, Jane the child born with a hole in the heart whose father lost his job and got another quickly.

The solution

So, a solution has been proposed. I would like to say by Obama, but actually, I think Kennedy first (?) … On the basis that at least categories 2-6 are not reasonable, reforms have been proposed. Including: no pre-existing condition exclusions, and an extension of government covered health insurance. If a company cannot offer you a premium that is a reasonable percentage of your salary (it changes, depending on your situation) the government will pick up the difference. However, there is a problem: some clauses, particularly the first two, if left ‘as is’ will drive up premium prices – which is just generally and all around considered very undesirable. So, there are two twin solutions:

(1) The individual mandate. By forcing everyone to HAVE to buy health insurance (either through their company, or their pocket), if they can afford it, more healthy people proportionally to those needing services will now buy coverage, so there will be more money ‘in the pot’ and premiums shouldn’t experience a massive hike. If you don’t buy it, you pay a penalty. This penalty contributes to the health care system, either by keeping the premiums low, or by covering the ER-emergency care you may recourse to, which as you cannot afford to pay for, goes unpaid for, and so the cost is spread to other people / services, and the insurance companies pay for these (in the main) so it contributes to rising premiums. So: the individual mandate makes sure that premiums are increased as little as possible.

(2) In dealing with the issue that many people are letting healthcare conditions get out of control and into an emergency state: and thus become much more expensive to treat than they are to prevent, and thus as above, are driving up premiums: preventative care has become free. And Medicare has been extended.

So: the solution to many Americans with a lack of coverage is enforced insurance. So that everyone contributes and those lucky enough to remain fairly healthy lose their $$, those unlucky enough to be touched by devastating illness effectively gain $$. Of course, in allowing pregnant women / babies with birth defects / carers / self employed to access these benefits, which requires extending Medicare, you can’t really ‘weed out’ those who chose to take free insurance because they cannot be bothered to have a job. Or women who want to have consequence-free pre marital sex (many Americans get very upset over this. They don’t want to pay for ‘people’ to have sex so regularly get upset at free contraception. But there is no outcry for Viagra / Cialis being covered, so one must assume it is only women they don’t want to have sex without consequences). Or a host of other people you just don’t fancy paying for (personally, I might pick those who engage in dangerous sports, and chose to follow a lifestyle that leads  to obesity… but they generally seem OK in the eyes of the public).

The reaction

Some Americans have gone ballistic. Fair enough: it is not everyone’s ideology that the best health care is a right. My husband’s attitude is this: if you can’t afford healthcare, you don’t get it. When I say ‘what about an adult with cancer? Would you have a preventable death occur because coverage has run out?’. He says ‘Yes. People die Lekki. It is a fact of life. I am not interested in paying to fight that for others’. Well… OK then. I guess that it at least logical. I don’t agree, but I get it. If you want to all the categories of individuals above dying, so that you don’t have to pay for the healthcare of those you don’t want to then yes, oppose the new act. Kinda shocking, but logical.

There are others who think that these deaths, or uncontrolled health conditions, are acceptable if the only alternative is no government interference in the private enterprise of healthcare. Left unfettered, private insurance went the route of the above: the government decided to step in a put a stop on it, to save lives. They either believe that this solution is unconstitutional, or accept SCOTUS’ decision that it is not but believe it is so undesirable, that they would rather people died than see it enacted. OK – again, sad but logical. Stand up and say ‘I believe cancer suffers should die to prevent the travesty that is government interference’. I will accept you as logical but politely disagree that that is a good ideology.

There are some who believe that if saving all categories of individuals above means helping ‘lazy’ people, or people without a job, then that is an unacceptable trade-off. People and children should die so that others do not get health care when they do not have a job. Again, a little shocking to me. But stand up and say ‘in order that people who do not work, and are not married to a worker, do not get coverage paid for by others, I believe the categories above should die’. Cold, but logical.

There are two categories of reactions who deeply confuse me:

-People who get picky about what ‘type’ of person they do and do not want covered. Lindsay said to me (when I couldn’t get contraception): I don’t want to pay for you to have sex. Gina said when I commented that my pregnancy was (albeit briefly) not covered: you chose to have a baby, I don’t want to pay for that decision. OKey doke. But given that in any insurance / universal system we all pay for the bad decisions of others, if you don’t want this, and only want to pay for truly bad luck, why do you want to pay for the consequences of:

-Obesity among those who chose to consume more than the recommended daily caloric intake, and conduct less than the recommended daily activity guidelines

-People who chose to get a suntan

-People who chose to ride a motorcycle, or engage in high risk sports

-People who do not get the recommended hours of sleep per night.

-People who chose to have a high stress job.

To really name but a few. I am baffled by people thinking we don’t ALL (well, nearly all, there are a few health nuts who may not fall into any such category) chose to make decisions every day that are detrimental to our health, and others pay for this.

2) People who get VERY upset when you tell them that they are choosing to let *insert emotive picture* let’s go with: a university professor needing treatment for a brain tumor, whose insurance has ‘run out’, die. VERY upset. ‘How can you say this?? I absolutely do not want any of the categories above (well, often just categories 2-6) to die. Why are you being so rude?? Why are you being so hurtful? Oh I am so upset you think I would let a child die!!’. But it seems to me: they do. For the sake of their constitution, their desire not to pay for certain sections of society, their desire to keep government intervention out or some such they are saying ‘hey, I don’t want to subscribe to a system that provides in these circumstances, and I will let people die as a result. The casualties are worth the greater ideology’.

Then, I *get* it. That is logical thinking. But, as my friend Lizzie explained it to me, I fear some people are doing only emotional thinking. Otherwise they would stand up and say ‘I want to pay for some health choices, but not others and I think I am accurately qualified to decide which ones’ or, ‘I think people must die to preserve my ideology’. Right?


22 weeks of Firework(s)

21 weeks

Whoop! It’s over the half way point, Firework weighs over a pound and it’s been way too long since my last update.

So, what has been happening?

Kickin’ his little legs back, resting his head on his hand and chillaxing.

Nausea: The nausea has eased and gone much more intermittent. It has been replaced with a ‘full’ feeling, but generally that front is a lot better. Some days I will feel really quite sick (but never too sick to eat anything) but about 50% of the time – no nausea at all. I have noticed: my sickness increases throughout the week, and eases at the weekend. I also did not have any nausea in my week off from work. I wonder if anyone else has found that even when busy (like… er… moving house) being at home is so much more comfortable than being at work?

Aches and Pains: I am lucky – so far I am back ache, and foot ache, and generally ache and pain free; many ‘bloggers’ I follow report these symptoms having started by now, but I am as spritely on my feet as ever. This is despite having to be off exercise due to some slight (minor) bleeding. Honestly: I have no excuse now. I could swim, walk, bike ride, elliptical all to my heart’s content. It is just my routine has changed so much, and I don’t have a gym here and it is too hot to just go out for a walk / jog when I think about it (seriously, 103 degrees and 88% humidity today). I do want to get some exercise in before I do indeed have all the aches and pains and difficulty moving though, so I will work on it.

Weight gain: 10 lbs. Perfect. My bump is on the large side, which I like. My thighs have also expanded too – yu-u-ck. I suspect that is one of those things you just can’t fight (the thighs, I wouldn’t want to fight the bump).

Medical check-ups: All good. FW passed his 18-week anatomy ultrasound which blew my mind with its detail. We now know (or almost know) there is no cleft lip, there are 4 chambers to the heart… 2 kidneys.. 2 veins in the umbilical chord. We have a pic of his face, and an imprint of his hands and feet. And also, a very giant and graphic reminder that he is definitely a boy. Bit too much of a reminder for me…

OK, OK, its clearly a boy

Mood swings: None really. In terms of inter-personal relationships the same things upset me, and to the same degree.  I may get more tired, and so go quieter more often, but I am glad not to be crazy or temperamental, or for people to have to walk on eggshells around me. That being said, there have been a few crazy moments (aimed at no one) and the issue that if I start crying, I just cannot stop. Witness:

(1) Standing in Walmart with Wes, asking if he had found my plant ‘Seymour’. Wes could not remember which plant Seymour was so I tried to explain. But somehow, all my words left me… so I decided to demonstrate that Seymour was one of those plants with long vines coming off him in all directions… so I began to waggle my arms about like a demented belly dancer, in the middle of Walmart, while staring meaningfully at Wes and going ‘You know… Seymour” *cue even more frantic arm waving*. Which, was funny. So Wes laughed. And I laughed. Then I decided that it was tragic that a 30 year old woman was unable to describe a simple plant, and so I cried… quite substantially, into Wes’ chest for a good 10 minutes. We rapidly left Walmart. Seymour was never found.

(2) Watching BGT the bad comedian made me laugh. Alot. So hard I cried. At which point my body became confused as to whether it was happy or sad, and I just sobbed broken-heartedly. Wes was confused… I was confused… all I could say was that my laughter has turned to tears (as happens when I am not pregnant) but then now I am pregnant, once I start crying, I can’t just stop. So sobs and tears ensued. The comedian went through though to the final, which on balance we think was probably a good thing for me.

Ah Wes: how is the father to be? Good! Generally excited, and supportive, and happy to dispense hugs as and when, and run lotion into my now very itchy skin. Happy to give up his Saturday for 12 weeks to learn the Bradley method, which is husband-coached birthing. Waiting desperately to feel kicks, but also not patient enough to wait more than about 30 seconds for them!

Wonder what he is thinking? OK, I know nothing… but I can be dreamy about it.

Good buys: My best buy is STILL my doppler. I love it to pieces, use it a couple of times a week, and it takes my random worries away. I also love my Snoogle. It was a mother’s day present from Wes and we got it consignment for $30 (deal!), It is so damn comfy, whether you are pregnant or not. It also keeps Wes away by sticking out at weird angles, which is honestly not at all why I like it so much. At all. Nor because it has a ridiculously annoying (to Wes) name that i use all the time – “where is my snoogle?” “Did you wash my snoogle” “Maybe we should get the snoogle” etc etc.

Best bits: Firework now clearly practices MMA several times a day. He can even kick my hand off my belly. Wes is not buying ‘Gerrard’ as a name though, and I won’t have ‘Rooney’.

Now you see it… Now you don’t!!

What I have been thinking about: (1) The biggie was where to give birth. I was always quite pro-home births, and pro mid-wifery and was devastated Alabama made midwifery illegal (booo). I was overjoyed that Texas legalized and practised mid-wifery fairly widely (widely for the US… who it has to be said are somewhat backwards in their birthing practised which can be evidenced if by nothing else, from the higher infant mortality (among other negative outcomes) as compared to Western Europe, even considering only insured people). I was also scared by the strangely high C-section rate in the US (although I sadly understand that the UK is catching up on this: Boo England, boo). When comparing like for like, the US also has very high induction rates, epidural rates and general intervention rates. Fine for some (and really, I don’t judge – just get your baby out in a way you are comfortable with) but not for me. Wes was adamant a home birth was not safe (and probably in our unexperienced case right?).

The perfect solution seemed to be a birthing center: staffed by midwives, doctors on call, some availability of medical professionals, but a better track record of allowing extended labours and reducing interventions. I was really excited, and really excited to find a place near us I liked the look of. Wes was wary, but got more and more supportive, and was coming to check things out at the center. BUT…. but…. and this was my personal decision, which I respect others may not make. I was wary of some of the birthing center reviews…my issue was that while ~99% where over overwhelmingly positive, the one that was not, was of course, devastatingly tragic (I have not provided the link here as I find the stories very upsetting – email me if you would like it). One bad review, with the worst possible end, occurred at our birthing center. I felt like there was one neonatal death that could have been prevented by a hospital birth. This shook my confidence a lot. But, I didn’t change my mind totally until a read a lot of birth stories and saw how quickly and unexpected things can happen… Sure, I don’t know that these women and babies wouldn’t have been just fine (or indeed, better off) in a birthing center. But, what sold it for me was that my list of questions grew and grew for the midwives:

What do you do with breech births?

What do you do with sudden (mid-labour) breech births?

How accurate are you pre-labour weight estimates, and what is the maximum size you will deliver?

How experienced are you with narrow pelvic arches?

How rigorously do you check for chords wrapped around the neck pre-birth (and double wrapped) and what do you do about this situation?

How long do you allow pushing not to progress before transferring to a hospital?

How rigorously do you check for meconium, and what do you do about its presence?

It went on and on. To me: it just said: too many risks. Or mayeb: not enough trust from me. I believe the majority of young, healthy, women with straight forward unproblematic pregnancies will be as fine in a birthing center as in a hospital, and probably a lot more comfortable and relaxed and have an more enjoyable experience. Say 60% will have a better experience and outcome at a birthing center than a hospital (I am making these figures up). I believe that of the remaining 40%, 50% might not care where they were or may like a hospital more; and say 40% will have interventions in a hospital that could be prevented at a birthing center. The remaining 10% probably need an intervention, be it minor or major (see here for an example of someone who really HAD to have an epidural – a minor intervention), and most of those will be transferred to a hospital, just fine. But the odd person will not make it through the experience – for various reasons. Travel time… or presenting a situation /  in a way the midwife did not expect, and just like in hospitals, something will go wrong. And of those, some will have a tragic end wherever they are. But in a hospital there is more emergency care and more varied expertise. I think in that tiny number cases, you could stand a better chance in a hospital. In my mind, I played off a much increased comfort for me, and maybe some easier outcomes for Firework against the possibility of needing extreme, but rare, damage limitation.

The higher intervention rate is due, in part, the ability to sue Doctors. It’s not an entirely good nor bad thing. But midwives are not accountable in quite the same way – another factor in my decision.

I feel good about my decision. And I utterly applaud and support anyone who chooses another birthing method. This is my decision for my peace of mind. And I am interested in other people’s view and opinions. For now, my task is to find a hospital that provides midwives, personal tubs, birthing balls and all the crunchy-goodness my heart desires. AND will let me labour a long time if necessary. AND perform certain doula techniques such an perineum pressure. And let me squat and kneel and generally be undignified. And not strap me to a damn bed (not a practise in Europe, but some places here practise ‘continual fetal monitoring’).  But is right above a pretty powerful NICU, with several doctors, surgeons and neonatal specialists right there.

Yeah, yeah – I want it all. Blame my socialized-medicine upbringing where nothing is out of reach ‘coz you can claim you have ‘already paid’ so have to get what you want – there is no recourse for the NHS to say ‘well, find another Dr / hospital / insurance company’ etc.

(2) Slate has been annoying me. They have been running articles on why some people choose not to have children, and how it works out for them (generally, just peachy). I find these articles interesting, like I find articles on why people do choose to have children interesting. What is annoying is that Slate seem to be encouraging a huge divide between those who choose to have, and those who choose not to have, children. That those with children are foisting their decision on others and demanding that all go forth and multiply, while those who choose not to are angry and embittered at those who choose to for forcing their offspring on society. Slate would have you believe: that those with children think those without are selfish and vacuous,  with empty hollow lives, while those without think those with are often selfish, and boring, and importantly: no side has any interest in hearing about the life of the other’s.

Surely this is, in the main, artificial? I don’t give a fig if people choose not have kids – sometimes I do give a judgmental fig about people who do, when I personally think they shouldn’t (my bad I know…). I don’t find either life choice more valuable / meaningful / interesting. I had friend’s who were parents who were really interested in my pre-pregnant life… equally my Godmother chose not to have children, and my best friend thinks she may well choose not to – and both love that I am pregnant, love to see pics, love to ask about it, and can’t wait until they can see the little one. Don’t we all feel like that? That as long as people are making choices that make them happy, without being too inconsiderate to others, then all is good?

I guess I kinda feel like this about most of my friend’s life decisions: I have some who have decided to give up work (permanently, and temporarily; with- and without children; some with plans (travel!), some without) and people have all these opinions about it. I only have questions: Is this making them happy? Is this likely to lead to increased long term happiness? Is it relatively cost free (cost can have a wide definition) to and non consenting adults or any children? Then go ahead: hike the Appalachian, become a wedding planner, sit and watch TV all day, work for the church – if you like. Just. Be. Happy. It is all we can ask, and all we can measure true success by.

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary…

How does your garden grow? Well, as this post will tell you, very well. It will also chart, in far too much detail, my weekend, before segueing off into some random thoughts about where I want my career to go.

My little garden

I am amazed, and excited: my watermelon seeds have actually sprouted. I spent today thinning them out and hoping the seedlings I left will survive (I probably should have let the plants grow for more than a week before doing that, but hey – I was excited).

Little watermelon seedlings

In the corner of the top picture you can see my banana pepper, which is a bit of cheat as it is not grown from seed. Inside things are not too shabby, either. My roquette and tomato seeds are doing well, and there are three tiny purple tomatillo shoots coming up. I have got to decide how on Earth to thin these out… The tomatoes I am thinking just pull 1/2 out and plant the plot, the roquette I am thinking divide in half and repot all into 2 much bigger pots?As well, just for funzies, as my favourite cut-flowers are gladioli, I planted those and they are winning the growth war by a long way.

Roquette spelled wrong harking back to a joke between my first ever boyfriend and I

Hidden in there is the tomatillo sprout

Woah gladioli, you’ve only been in there a week.

Not doing so well is my herb garden 😦 Except for sweet basil:

Nothing… yet

Mmmmm…. basil…. I spy caprese salad on the horizon.

Next up, we have cantaloupe planted today, some green bean seeds (well… beans…) soaking and some cherry seeds ready for their 90-day chill. And an experimental attempt to grow seedlings outdoor in the punishing Texas heat, not in my little indoor greenhouse.

See you in three months little stones

Leaving this outside and seeing what survives.

This weekend has been fun 🙂 And, importantly, relaxing. Saturday involved saying goodbye to Wes’ car and picking up a new, family-friendly one. Wes’ cars are the epitome of his Lekki-orientated sacrifices. He gave up his beloved Jeep Cherokee to be able to get me a truck, while he rode around in his terribly beat-up BMW (that often smoked on the road). Then he traded that in not for a cool car, but some 4-door Nissan with hatch back (dog / grocery room), good mileage and an excellent safety record. Poor lad. I however kept my fun, but child-Unfriendly purple truck.

Bye bye Beamer-Beater

Then we had lunch while we were out, and found an awesome Mediterranean buffet (link included for other Houston peeps). Buffet food is always going to be mass produced, but here there were stacks of salads (pasta, fatoush, tabbouleh), different grilled veg and meat, and then LAMB SHANKS all for $12. We were most pleased. Stuffedm we wended our way back home, I dyed my hair one or two shades closer to its natural colour now (baby steps… baby steps…)

By the time Firework gets here, I aim to be free of the chore of hair dying 🙂

and out to see Moonrise Kingdom – one of the funniest films Wes & I have seen for a while. The characters pulled of their quirkiness in away that was utterly bizarre, yet completely hilarious. Murray was a gem, and Bruce Willis impressively understated. But, I think the kids stole the show. Think: Napolean Dynamite meets Amelie. (Although I hate Amelie).

Sunday we went back to Life Pointe church, to hear a sermon about treating those you love with kindness and respecting their God-given uniqueness to help build them up, not break them down. It was another great message from a church Wes & I are so far very happy at. Grocery shopping (boo), work (double boo – I always save my boring tasks for the weekend) and then Sunday is chef’s (Wes’) day off, so I made meringues and spag bol for for dinner. For the first time in America, my meringues turned out perfectly: gooey and light, chewing down to a sticky gooey ball, and holding their shape in the oven to a perfect ‘nest’. Whoop.

Nests of perfection

Tonight I have one review to do (boo) and then it is settling down with my new book. They didn’t have the third in the ‘Dragon Tattoo’ series (just finished the second one) so I took a chance on:

Didn’t like the TV series (but that may be because I kept falling asleep – chicken and egg problem) so we’ll see how this goes.

Then an early night before off to UT 🙂 The first week went well. It was frustrating to be finishing up UAB work that I thought was done, but good to be shifting that into the realm of ‘submitted’. I spent the week talking to people, learning the structure of the institution, the things people were working on, the available data. I feel I am at a cross roads, and have to decide whether to (1) do my own, utterly independent thing or (2) fit into the workings (and data and analysis) of the very successful groups already at UT. Tough call. I was brought in to do 1… but that is much riskier than 2 when one thinks of tenure and promotion and not getting kicked out, grantless in 3 years. I’ll write more soon on how much I decide to burn the boats, follow my heart and my passion, and how much I play it safe.

Hmmm…. sounds like the answer is pretty obvious there 😉 But for this week ahead, I am just looking forward to meetings with both my mentors, and to continuing to count opportunities at UT, and to feeling blessed.

I, as yet, have only one tip for new faculty. Walk up to everyone (even if you have to go into their office), hand outstretched, and just say “Hi, I am so-and-so and I am new faculty in the department of X’. I have met so may people this way, and learned so much. I think changing institutions challenges you in a ways you both could and could not imagine – but then again, from the greatest challenges come the greatest growth 🙂 You are, I guess, playing off ‘papers and grants’ progress against ‘developing as a Scientist’ progress; and I know I am glad I picked the latter – it was right for me. More papers would have been wonderful (man, would it have been wonderful), but I think I personally would feel less fulfilled. I guess that is why I was glad I made such a radical departure for my postdoc, and and why I am glad I have done it again for my first faculty position. It is scary though: to be alone, to trust in your ideas, to follow your (Scientific)-heart. None of the relative safety of incremental Science (I found X to be associated with gene Y, so I am going to deeper sequence Y / sequence another region of Y, or look in different populations, or switch drug X for drug Y in my analysis). Incremental Science has the highest chance of success – we need it for sure. It is just not for me. I’d rather fail at my hypothesis than support the current one.

But again, ask me in 3 years when I am failing to feed my family. Speaking of which, got to go and finish my ‘Daddy’s night off duties’…


Daddy’s night off

We finally own our home.

Friday nights don’t get much more wild than this…*

I am kicking back with a Diet Coke: my one allowed caffeinated drink of the week. Yup, it is a wild night to end the week, here Chez Frazier-Wood. But what a week. Deserving of said indulgence I think.

We are finally in our own home. Huzzah. The road to this point was not easy, and went a little something like this:

In mid-April we came house-hunting. Previously we had considered a short term let, or looking at some suburbs, but 6 days after verbally accepting the position at UT, I discovered I was (somewhat unexpectedly… I mean, I know my biology, so how unexpected can it really be?) pregnant. Much joy and happiness: but a few reconsiderations. We knew I would not want to be commuting over an hour each way with a new baby… and that I would not want the disruption of both a new baby, and a house move in my first year of faculty. So, we decided to buy outright (a decision that made my husband much happier) and live as close as possible to work (a decision that made him less happy), while also getting a 3-bedroom house with yard. We knew we could not dilly-dally. Wes spent hours and hours trawling the internet and making short list after short list of houses. I must confess: I did not. We booked a trip (courtesy of UT) and made sure our first day house-hunting was perfectly set-up: houses available, keys at the ready and so on… and we made sure we were pre-approved for a mortgage… and that we only looked at things at about 50-60% of our maximum approval, to minimize last minute problems with finance.

Out we came to Houston. Despite horrible morning sickness and tiredness, Wes wisely made me look at fourteen, yes, FOURTEEN houses the first day. It paid off: despite puking in a gutter, we made a top 3 and saw them again the next day. From there, we made a first choice and put an offer in that night, putting down a grand of ‘earnest money’ – money that was returnable to us within 2 weeks if either party could not reach an agreement, but we lost if we went over the 2 weeks (standard practice here). Within a week we had received a counter offer, which we accepted after deciding not to haggle further so that we could keep the process moving. We were slightly concerned that the realtor texted the acceptance of our offer with “Off to H-town to clear up” [the junk left from the renovation in the yard]. But hey – the offer was accepted.

Time to celebrate and relax at the beach. Or just stress out…

The house inspection was rapidly completed, and there were, of course, several issues. We made our offer dependent on fixing a certain number of these issues: and heard nothing for a week. Nothing. I was chilling at the beach, or was supposed to be, but actually having kittens (and not the good kind) because the realtor for the sellers was not contactable by phone, text email or carrier pigeon – he seemed to have completely disappeared. With 12 hours to go (and we are talking 8pm – 8 am)  husband and I had a decision to make: did we (a) withdraw completely, keep our $1,000 and be homeless when we moved, facing a short term let or (b) hang on, hoping they would agree to fixing the issues. If they did – awesome, we could proceed. If not, well, we’d lose our house and our $1,000. We’re risk takers. Or I am: we proceeded with the offer and actually, just before bed, the final offer was accepted. The mortgage company assured us we would be closing mid-May and boom: we were on our way to being home owners.

Not the kind of kittens I was having through this process.

Only we weren’t. There was a final inspection to be completed (for mandatory insurance purposes), and due to a typo on the zip code, made by the mortgage company, the inspectors were sent to OKLAHOMA (although this is not exactly what they told us… having some flexibility with the truth, dear mortgage company that they were). Good grief. But still, they promised all the paperwork would be ready, and we could close just before we left… in like, the two days between when I returned from giving a talk at ACSM (which went surprisingly well, all things considered) and when we left. And no, just FYI, I don’t advise people to travel in the week the move house (except that it means their ther half will have to do most of the work, tee hee). Okey doke, when I returned from San Fransisco, the paperwork was all ready, apparently. The inspection was in. The insurance set-up. All signed by everyone but us. The mortgage company just couldn’t get it to us before we left on June 1st. Apparently.

So – as the delay was their fault they set-up and paid for a short term lease. From June 1st – June 7th. During which time we would sign the (apparently completed) paperwork. Ok… OK… starting to get nervous, but OK. On June 1st, the day we left, the mortgage company emailed us and said there was a problem: Wes’ employer had ticked 2 boxes for one question on some darn form, and so they couldn’t proceed. But, I hear you say, the paperwork was completed, right? Well… apparently this another ‘flexible’ truth. Luckily, we could get the house on my salary alone, so we had Wes’ salary taken off the mortgage, which (as were still eligible for the house) meant the paperwork was simple, and they promised we could sign on Monday 4th. Which came and went with no paperwork. As did the 5th… and 6th… and 7th…. finally on the 11th the insurance company called us: our quote had expired. We needed a new one, which was $200/year higher. Not impressed, but really FINE. WHATEVER.

We called the mortgage company…. they said we were not approved for this extra amount (of $17/month !!) so the paperwork had to be redone, but they would call us in 15 mins. Every hour we called them… no dice. And no hint of movement from them either. Now, now I hear you say: hadn’t your lease run out at this point? Well… yes, and we did not have the sellers’ confidential details so WE could not renew… and the mortgage company just ‘did think it was important’ to do so. Seriously. No word of a lie, no exaggeration. Most of our stuff was unpacked… things were on the wall… vegetables were planted… we didn’t feel we could get out (heck, with 4 animals, we had no where to go). Which is why, when I was at work on the 12th, the owner (rightfully) appeared and told Wes that he had contacted the police to get us evicted. Holy Moly.

A furious Wes ordered me home from work, and we went and sat, at the solicitors, and told them we would remain in their office until the damn thing was done. Mainly because we couldn’t really go home, as we no longer had a home, but also to put pressure on. And angry Wes = much pressure. 3.5 (very boring, angry-bird-filled) hours later the paperwork arrived. It was not great… instead of getting $900 back, as we should, we ended up PAYING another $350 in recalculated escrow. We felt we had no choice but to sign, and are still working to get it back. But… hey… the house is ours.

Worth it in the end

*NB to self: never squish your arm into your side for photos. It will only look enormous and make people wonder why you are bothering with diet coke.

Two new additions to the house

(1) A veggie patch lovingly built for me (and ONLY me) by Wesley. Possibly only so that I don’t go planting random things into his carefully landscaped back garden (and thus avoiding having to explain why there is a watermelon in his fern patch). So far seeds for purple tomatillos, green beans, herbs, hot and sweet peppers, and watermelon have been sown. I have missed the actual sowing season, so this is a bit experimental.

For the fruits of my labour (groan).

(2) Decent frikkin’ bed linen (plus a cat). I love decent, matching bed linen. Wes hated by previous foray ito black and red. Unfortunately America (the South?) is not big on duvets, so we either spent a fortune or had very limited choice. Until I hit on the genius that is IKEA. Brown and cream was the original plan, but I felt a need for colour; something that didn’t say ‘rental home / generic dorm room’. Wes hated red, blue, anything patterned…  Green it was. Not 100% sure about the green to be honest, but I think it just needs some stuff around it to tie it in: green tie backs on curtains? A green vase? Some plants? Art with green in? Something: at the moment, our bedroom is just a bed (the wardrobe is in the bathroom… don’t ask…), so it looks a bit odd, but as we buy some furniture we’ll work on a way to blend the green in.

Hello kitt-eh.

(Re)building a life

So, it is the end of my week’s vacation: and through a combination necessity and will, I have actually taken a proper vacation from work. Out of Office autoreply on and emails ignored (with no small measure of guilt). I felt I needed a week between my postdoc and my first faculty position. Well… really, I didn’t feel that I needed a week, but I didn’t want to realize from a place of mental ill-health, 8-months down the road, that I did. So, a break I took.

Of course with a home to create, this has not exactly been an idle time. Nonetheless, I have saved some time for myself; evenings especially, and the weekend. Leaving me at a loose end: what to do with myself? Before the move, I was guilty before of doing too much: accepting every invitation, giving my all to every social occasion and opportunity, always being 1/2 in work mode, working out twice a day, pushing my body to the limits each time and yet rushing through my workouts so I could meet my friends / answer that email / get that thing done. I don’t think I ever just ‘was’. I had lost my tendency to complete activities in stillness and solitude.

It was strange at first: to have time on my hands. Strange and quite isolating; like I said, I am used to filling every space in my calendar. I didn’t know what to do but slowly found myself gravitating towards certain activities: cooking, baking, horticulture, reading fiction, even (in desperation 😉 ) just hanging out with the husband. I could while away the hours planning my veggie garden and sowing the seeds, tending my orchids, baking homemade bread from scratch. And feel very calm after doing them. Or even, calm does not describe it: centered and complete. Like ‘zen’ was the perfect word for this feeling. I remembered that these were things I used to do all the time before life got crazy.

Husband approves of my re-found love of baking

So… now I feel I am at a cross roads. I have no social obligations here, no weekly gym classes, no friends nearby who I am dying to see. I am starting work with only a few papers to tidy up and submit after co-author revisions: all my postdoc papers being done, I have no real work obligations yet. I have dropped my workout schedule to zilch due to busy-ness, shock at Texas heat, a lack of a gym membership and some prenatal bleeding (no worries… all good…. just got a bit over strained with the move); I am basically starting from scrtach on the fitness front it has been so long. So: I can be selective in what I choose to do, and of course, I can choose to do nothing. Literally, I feel like I have been offered a fabulous opportunity to rebuild my life (time) as I like.

Within reason of course: I want to be very successful and productive at work, I want to remain reasonably fit and healthy, I want to have friends and actively engage in church life. But I don’t want the frenetic pace of before, the feeling that I am not giving anything my all, the feeling that I am a hands-grasp from exhaustion / burn out. That I am running on caffeine and wondering how I am going to give my all to my next activity.

In particular: I want to stop worrying about how I am going to fit a child into my life, and start waiting for a child to complete a part my life (crazy first few months not withstanding). My husband has always been very good at this: saying no, keeping ‘me’ time, not over stretching himself. I don’t know exactly where my balance lies yet… but I hope I still achieve, and still have success while actually enjoying it – rather than congratulating myself as I head into the next thing. I literally want to stop and appreciate the beauty in life.

My minor obsession with orchids has resurfaced 🙂

It will take some examining as to why I have lived my life like that: fear of rejection, fear of missing out, fear of failure. Partly the desire to excel at everything: why publish 3 papers a year,w hen you could do 4? Why ‘take up jogging’ when you could train for a half marathon? Why stop there – why not complete Tough Mudder? But, I think I came dangerously close to ‘Jack of All Trades, Master of None’, or ‘success on paper, but failure in spirit’: how much was I really there for my friends? How much in my exhausted state did I really give them? How great was my Science, when I was so very focused on completing more than was expected and / or asked? It is not the spiritual life I wanted. I don’t feel I was giving my best to Earth.

It will take some work, and I am sure I will make mistakes. I am not even 100% sure what I am looking for in balance, and a sense of the holistic, and stillness and being. But, with all my newly found free time: I’ll keep you posted. 🙂

And we are in…

… if not closed. Sigh. Don’t even go there. But despite this uncertainty, Wes and I have forged ahead full of optimism (and desperation?) and started to construct our new home. I don’t know if it is a combination of Texas heat + pregnancy + throat infection + a little bit of burn-out getting here (travel, wrapping UAB work up, packing etc), or just the nature of the moving beast, but it is way more tiring than I had originally anticipated. 2-3 hour naps in the afternoon, in conjunction with 9 hours sleep at night, are not difficult to achieve. But, once I got over my unease at the dreaded CHANGE, and accepted the fact that the first stage of the process (i.e. furniture in place, boxes either unpacked or stored, stuff stacked in the attic) won’t be finished for another 3 weeks I have actually enjoyed the process. Setting home is fun, in its own way, and for such an independent contrary-Mary, I  am surprised how much I have enjoyed doing it with someone else (and no, not because we are similar people, with similar tastes – we are both at wildly opposite ends of the Muppet spectrum).

We are finally in a place where we have achieved something – ‘completed’ rooms, as it were. First up was really my study:

Nice working area

It is just as I like it: simple, clean, and indecently full of plants 🙂 The perfect place to work in nice, but non distracting surroundings.

Horticulture – my bliss out activity

My favourite new orchid

In the interests of marital harmony, and the knowledge that no man may be island, but Wes and I are both at the very least peninsuale we decided not to share a study. Wes kindly agreed to go into the sun room: the second room completed.

Ummm… normally it is sunnier than this…

Here the dogs have their crates (Walter) / cushions (Earnest) and all the animal foodstuff is placed. Wes has his working / Diablo III corner, and I have my reading nook. Generally Wes is more tolerant of my presence in his space, than vice versa – hence he has no reciprocal ‘nook’ for him in my study, although he is partial to sitting in my beloved Lay-Z-Boy.

Finally, we ‘finished’ the kitchen.

This one was pretty easy. Most of the time was spent unpacking all the boxes of cutlery / crockery etc and putting each and every item through a long and hot wash (it was all filthy). Although, a lot of time (about 3 half-days) was spent finding la piece de la resistance:

Another awesome orchid

Very American (in my opinion) and much loved, because finally – finally – we can break a three week + run of all meals being take out. We have cooked at home since, and even though it is nothing fancy, it tastes like a gourmet meal compared to all the McDonalds / Wendy’s I have consumed of late. And as for the fresh veg – my digestive tract and FW are doing cartweels of joy.

Oh, speaking of FW, he is doing well, here is my bump:

18 weeks

So things are taking shape. But the rest of the house? Boxes, boxes, boxes…

The door to Hell, for this way….

Madness lies.

It will indeed be a slow path to home, sweet home.