Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Egg Freezing (It's Happening!): Retrieval and Results

The RE's office called Monday afternoon to confirm that the "trigger" shot worked and that we were a go for the retrieval surgery the next morning. I was elated--by Monday afternoon I was in a fog of hormones, couldn't concentrate, felt fairly crummy, and just wanted it to all be over with already. Got my wish!

The RE's office told me to arrive at the surgery center by 7:30am on retrieval day. You're supposed to have a family member or friend drive you to the appointment and back (because, anesthesia), but everyone local that I knew that would have been up for the task was coincidentally out of town or had important work commitments that morning. So, I ordered up a ride using one of Austin's Uber-equivalents. This made me nervous--ever since Uber and Lyft left Austin the remaining ride share programs have proven a bit... unreliable--but I made it to the surgery center on time.

Once at the surgery center, they confirmed my identity, asked me to sign various releases and other forms, had me gown up, checked my vital signs and started my IV. The anesthesiologist came in to ask some screening questions. The embryologist also paid me a visit to confirm the plan for any retrieved eggs. Finally, the RE stopped by to say hello (the first and only time I saw him that day). I texted my family to let them know I had arrived at the surgery center and that I'd text them again once surgery was over.

At 8:30am on the dot we were rolling towards the operating room. They had me walk in and get on the table on my own. In short order, there was an oxygen mask over my face and I could feel the anesthesia running through my IV and up my arm. That's the last thing I remember before waking up in the recovery room.

I woke up to one of the nurses checking my vital signs. I texted my family to let them know that I was out of surgery. A nurse confirmed that the RE had been able to retrieve 25 eggs. By 9:59am I was in a cab on my way home.

Later in the afternoon, the embryologist called to confirm that of the 25 retrieved eggs, 18 had been mature and all 18 froze successfully. My family is full of questions about how many frozen eggs are needed to achieve one pregnancy. I don't have a clear answer to this, but at my age and thinking forward to how old I'll likely be when I can use these eggs, I'll be lucky to have one child and hopefully 18 frozen eggs will be enough to achieve that.

Yesterday, similar to when I went through the process as a donor in my early 20s, I felt fine after surgery. There was some abdominal cramping, but nothing debilitating. If the anesthesiologist hadn't told me that I wasn't allowed to drive all day or make any significant decisions, I would have returned to the office. (As it was my out of office autoreply telling clients that I was in surgery and would not respond until the following day was not a success... I ended up joining three client calls yesterday.)

Today, I feel even better. The mental fog from all of the hormones has subsided and I'm ready to get back to life as usual.

Often, when I read an article about egg freezing, women who have completed the procedure say that they feel like they now have the luxury of time to find the right partner and focus on their career. I can't say that I have those feelings. The weight that has been lifted is the worry over whether I should even try to freeze my eggs. It seems I've been debating the question for years. I'm happy to take "freezing my eggs" off my to-do list.

I'll post one more time under the "freezing my eggs" tab to discuss the cost of the process, but am waiting for all of the final bills to roll in before doing so.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Egg Freezing (It's Happening!): Fifth and Sixth Appointments

Happenings from the weekend related to the egg freezing cycle:

  • Blood drawn at hospital before 8am.
  • Inject myself with Ganirelix in the car in the parking lot at the hospital.
  • Ultrasound appointment at RE's office at 9:30am to measure ovarian follicles.
  • Pick up additional Ganirelix at pharmacy since stimulation is taking a little longer than originally planned.
  • Inject myself with Gonal-F at around 7pm.
  • Inject myself with Menopur at around 7pm.
  • Blood drawn at hospital before 8am.
  • Inject myself with Ganirelix in the car in the parking lot at the hospital.
  • Ultrasound appointment at RE's office at 9:00am to measure ovarian follicles.
  • Inject myself with a "trigger" shot. The "trigger" causes eggs to start meiosis prior to egg retrieval. This injection needed to occur at a very precise time, which fell in the middle of dinner with clients. So, I excused myself to go to the restroom and administered the injection in a stall in the ladies room. Whatever it takes!
This morning (Monday) I was back at the hospital for what will hopefully be the final blood draw of the cycle. Then, I had to call and prepay the anesthesiologist who will attend my retrieval. Next, I'm finishing some paperwork for the pharmacy, which charged me the wrong amount for my medications. Finally, I'm waiting for the RE's nurse to call and confirm that my blood work showed that the "trigger" shot was effective so that we can move forward with retrieval, which should occur tomorrow.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Egg Freezing (It's Happening!): Fourth Appointment

At this point in the cycle the crook of both my arms are bruised from blood draws and my abdomen is freckled with the memory of nearly 20 injections.

I drove to the hospital this morning to have my blood drawn again. Then, to the clinic to have an ultrasound. Today, the doctor could see both my ovaries (an improvement from the last appointment when one was missing in action) and while the follicles are growing in diameter, we aren't ready for retrieval just yet. This means a refill on some of my medications and an 8am doctor's appointment over the weekend.

I feel exhausted and lonely.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Egg Freezing (It's Happening!): Third Appointment

Another early wake up call to get to the hospital to have my blood drawn before 8am and then an appointment at the RE's office to measure the follicles on my ovaries to determine how I'm responding to the medications. My blood work and progress are good, but the RE couldn't find my left ovary on ultrasound. Count me concerned.

As of the third appointment (which was yesterday, actually), my RE started me on a third medication called Ganirelix. This medication, which stops eggs from being released too early, is taken by subcutaneous injection.

For those keeping track at home, this day in the egg freezing process involved:

  • One blood draw at the hospital;
  • One transvaginal ultrasound at the RE's clinic; and
  • Three self-administered subcutaneous injections.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Egg Freezing (It's Happening!): Second Appointment

Since the baseline ultrasound, I have injected myself with two different medications every night between 7-9pm. Both injections are subcutaneous and administered in the abdomen. The needles are small and the injections don't hurt.

The first medication is Gonal-F. As I understand it (and I don't understand it in any sophisticated way, since I'm not a doctor), this medication contains a follicle-stimulating hormone that stimulates healthy ovaries to produce eggs. The pharmacy gave me this medication in a pen that is pre-loaded with medication. Each night, I "dial" a dose, by clicking the pen to the prescribed number (225 in my case), screw on a fresh needle, and inject.

The second medication is Menopur. It contains a follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone that helps healthy ovaries to produce eggs. Preparing this injection is more involved. It requires drawing up saline from one vial, mixing it with the powder Menopur, and then drawing the solution up into a syringe for injection. If you liked chem lab as a student (and I did), you'll find this part almost fun.

After three days of this drill, I was to get my blood drawn before 8am at St. David's lab (since it was Sunday, the lab at the hospital was supposedly the only open lab in town). I was in and out of the lab in less than 10 minutes. Next, I drove up to the clinic, where the doctor used ultrasound to measure the dilation of the follicles on my ovaries in order to assess how I was responding to the medication.

At around 4pm, after my doctor had received my lab results, the clinic called me to confirmed that I should continue with my current dosage of Gonal-F and Menopur and plan for another blood draw and monitoring appointment on Tuesday.

I'm already feeling like a pin cushion and we're just getting started!

Other observations:

  • Feeling a bit nervous about coordinating upcoming work travel with the monitoring appointments (also, will TSA let me on the plane with syringes!?!).
  • Noticing more frequent headaches, but think this is likely symptomatic of a stressful period at the firm and not the medications.
  • Not noticing any other side effects.
  • Spoke with a college friend and learned she's completed two egg freezing cycles and contemplating a third to collect the number of eggs thought to be needed to produce two kiddos (not all retrieved eggs survive the thaw, fertilize, or successfully implant which is why you need more than one egg to produce one pregnancy). This stressed me out a bit. Given the cost, I have never considered completing more than one cycle. For now, I'm putting this out of my mind until my doctor tells me the number of eggs he was able to retrieve.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Egg Freezing (It's Happening!): Baseline Ultrasound

This year, I learned that it's easier when hope is absent. After years of wishing and hoping I'd meet someone special and, by extension, one day have a family of my own, I just... stopped. If you aren't hoping for something, you aren't disappointed when it doesn't happen. Since I had gotten to the point where the disappointment was overwhelming, this approach seemed to help.

But now:

  • I'm at the tail end of 35.
  • My father, who is a maternal fetal specialist, has been pushing hard for me to freeze my eggs before it's "too late."
  • I will be changing jobs soon and don't want requests for time off to attend doctor's appointments and have surgery to interfere with making a good first impression.

That's to say, it's time to stop wringing my hands and just do it already.

I'd completed my initial consultation with the reproductive endocrinologist ("RE") and infectious disease screening months ago. So, the RE's clinic was able to react quickly when I asked to get the cycle started asap. This involved the following immediate steps:

  • Baseline sonogram - This appointment is timed to your menstrual cycle. To put it simply, the RE is looking to confirm that the lining of your uterine lining is thin so that the stimulation cycle can begin.
  • Order medications - Stimulating your ovaries to produce eggs for freezing requires, in my case, $3,500 in injectable medications and related supplies. The pharmacy shipped the medications to my office (since my neighborhood is having a problem with the disappearance of packages delivered to the front door) and I rushed them home for refrigeration.

This drill is nearly identical to the steps that were taken to donate my eggs in my twenties, except, of course, that I'm footing the bill this time. Here's hoping all goes well. The process should be complete and my eggs should be on ice by mid-December.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

California for Thanksgiving

Dad's cactus collection.
I hadn't made plans to visit my family this Thanksgiving because we were supposed to be drowning in work on a private equity deal. With the deal delayed or dead (like so many this year) and a family member in the hospital (thankfully not dead), I decided to make a last minute trip out to California. It was exhausting--physically and emotionally--but I was duty-bound to make the trip.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Savannah Riverwalk

View from the Classroom
I recently traveled to Savannah to give a presentation at a conference convened and organized by one of our pro bono clients. Working in a corporate practice group has required surprisingly little travel over the years (except relocation to new offices), so it seems like a special treat to be able to accrue some frequent flyer miles and check out a new city, albeit briefly. The trip also provided a perfectly-timed break from the office.

Giving the presentation reminded me of how much I miss teaching. Preparing and presenting independently was a pleasure--so often big law partners act like no project can be successfully completed without their magic touch. I enjoyed the in-person interaction with the students. I found the students' questions thought-provoking. It was a nice change of pace.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

NYC for the Weekend

I was in NYC this weekend for the first time in almost ten years. 

The highlights:
  • High Line - A 1.45 mile-long park built on an elevated section of a retired New York Central Railroad spur. The fall colors were beautiful and I loved the portion that's right on the Hudson.
  • Fat Witch - In Chelsea Market, which was a fun pit stop in and of itself. The caramel brownie lived up to the hype. (I have found my vendor for corporate gifts for the 2016 holiday season!)
  • Joe's Shanghai Restaurant - I've had some great soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung (in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Shanghai and LA) and Wu Chow (in Austin), which were not eclipsed by Joe's, but this checked the box for hole in the wall Chinese.
  • Broadway Show - Book of Mormon at the Eugene O'Neill theater. The cast was talented and the theater took my breath away, but if I go back for another show I'll pick one that's more dance-focused.
  • 9/11 Museum - Despite having already read, watched or listened to much of what was displayed, it felt important to put this on the itinerary.
  • Walking Everywhere - I haven't walked this much since I lived in Tokyo. The discoveries you can make while out for a long walk in the city just can't be compared to the experience of driving through suburbia. In Chelsea, I literally bumped into a classmate from my 1L small section. What are the odds!?! 
This mini-adventure lifted my spirits and left me with a long list of things I'd like to do the next time I visit. Thanks to Lag Liv and those who commented on her NYC post for the itinerary suggestions that were a great help in planning this last minute trip.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Refinancing the House

Due to anticipated changes at work, the need to reduce cash flow, and interest rates that are even lower than they were two years ago, I've refinanced the house. My rate ended up at 3.875% for a 30 year fixed. I brought more than $50k in cash to closing to drive my monthly payment down.

I thought the process would be relatively pain free because, compared to two years ago when I purchased the house:

  • my annual income is ~$50k greater;
  • my student loans have been paid in full and I have no debts other than my mortgage;
  • my retirement and other personal savings have increased substantially; and
  • the house has appreciated (according to the official appraisal).

Alas, no. Credit underwriting was smooth and fast. The difficulty revolved around the condo underwriting. Technically, my house is part of a two-unit homeowners' association. We needed to amend our HOA declarations, which involved signing, notarizing and recording the amendment, which I drafted myself. This was extremely frustrating because my reading of the bylaws together with the declarations was that the amendment was not necessary, but I couldn't get anyone in underwriting to actually read and think about the language in the existing documents.

Just over three months later, we're done and funded.

(This process made me think a lot about what it's like to be a client in the corporate transactions we facilitate at work--valuable experience from that point of view.)

Friday, October 7, 2016

Little C Passes Away

After college graduation, my first act as an adult was to make Little C a part of my family. Last night was the first night, since I was 22, that she wasn't waiting for me when I came home. She became very ill earlier this week (and when you weigh a mighty 2 lbs, a couple days of illness and not eating have a dramatic effect). We rushed to the emergency vet and they put her on an IV dextrose drip, administered pain medication and antibiotics, and started diagnostic tests.

The tests didn't indicate a problem and we couldn't figure out how to help her.

So I sat with her at the animal hospital most of the night trying to comfort her (and myself, frankly), missed my flight to London, and spent the next day adjusting to the fact that my best buddy who has been there for all the highs and lows of my adult life was gone.

I feel so fortunate that Little C helped me feel like I had a little family at home for all these years. I will miss her so much.  The house is terribly quiet without her.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Decorating the Family Room

A couple weeks ago, Havenly sent me (and everyone else on their mailing list) a 20% discount code for design services. I had been thinking of giving them a try for a while because I've wasted far too much time agonizing over furniture catalogs without finding the motivation to move forward. The discount was the final little push I needed.

My goal is to update my current furnishings--a sofa, coffee table, wingback chair and media cabinet that I selected for my first apartment. My existing furniture has served me well over the years, but is very well worn after 13 years and six moves.

To start the process, I shared pictures of my family room and the floor plan, and my budget with the Havenly designer and asked for a new look with contemporary touches in a neutral palette with blue accents.

Within a week, the Havenly designer pulled together the two concepts below. These concepts are considered rough drafts. It's now up to me to rate the items the designer selected and provide feedback. (Helpfully, Havenly provides the price and source for each item in each concept.) Next, the designer will finalize one of the concepts and provide an updated rendering/floorplan.

It's been a fun experience so far. What do you think of the concepts Havenly pulled together? Specifically, do you think anyone would ever use the little poufs under the coffee table in the second concept? I see similar items in catalogs and have always wondered if they're functional.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Summer Plans

Last week, I had to remove my favorite tree from my backyard. The builder put the tree--an oak--in an impossibly cramped spot right next to the fence. As a sapling it was just perfect. It provided shade on hot days and some privacy from the prying eyes of a neighbor who built his house within one foot of our property line. After a short period of time, its limbs extended within inches of my house and my neighbors. That's when I call the tree trimmer, who delivered the bad news--the tree needed to come out sooner rather than later to avoid all sorts of property damage. In disbelief, I arranged for a second and third opinion, but everyone agreed.

The tree trimmers removed the whole tree in just 13 minutes.

I'm surprisingly sentimental about the whole thing and am researching smaller trees for the space. (Any suggestions?) In the meanwhile, my partial shade vegetable garden now has to contend with full sun. We'll see if the butternut squash and pumpkin I've planned for fall can withstand the Texas summer.

First cucumber from my vegetable garden.
Summer is a time when work in practice area tends to slow while clients and bankers take time to vacation. While I don't have a big trip planned, I have some projects at home keeping me busy. Besides the ongoing effort to repaint the interior of the house, I'm looking forward to properly furnishing and decorating the great room (basically, the big-to-me room that includes the kitchen, family and dining rooms). The thirteen year old furniture that I picked out for my first apartment has been serving me well, but I've been saving up to make this area of the house more comfortable for guests with a little help from the folks over at Havenly, who sent me a discount code I couldn't refuse earlier this month. This is a project I've been dreaming of for years and it's such a treat to have the resources to do it (in large part because of the firm's decision to match Cravath).

Also this summer, I'm looking forward to spending time at the gym's outdoor pool, my first visit to the Deep Eddy Pool, 4th of July with friends, a few more minor league baseball games in Round Rock, and C's 13th birthday. This is the most "simple" my life has been in a long time and it's really, truly great.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Growing Yukon Gold Potatoes in Central Texas

Yukon Gold Potatoes went from my
garden soil to mashed potatoes on the
dinner table in approximately 20 minutes.

My tiny veggie patch, now in its second year, continues to be a lot of fun. This spring I added Yukon Gold Potatoes and cucumbers to the mix. (More on cucumbers later.)  

The potatoes were very low maintenance and a lot of fun to grow. I sowed the potato seed in late January in potato grow bags, buying into the hype that periodically rolling up the edges of the bag and adding soil would increase yield. The bag method did not increase yield, but it sure made digging up the potatoes in mid-May easy. 

Digging up the potatoes felt a bit like searching for buried treasure. Brushing away soil to reveal the first golden lump brought on a rush excitement. The above photo shows part of my harvest. Note the wee potato babes at the bottom of the column!

Friends attempting veggie gardens for the first time often ask what I'd recommend they try growing with their kids. 
  • Potatoes are ace for the experience of digging them up and because they make for dreamy mashed potatoes--a food I remember loving as a kid. 
  • Other kid friendly favorites that should be started at this time of year in Central Texas include butternut squash (I grow Butterbush--a more compact variety) and sugar pumpkins. Both sprout quickly--within 2-4 days--rewarding impatient first-time gardeners. Both make for good eating. As an added bonus, there's something very fun about growing your own Halloween pumpkin or bringing a pumpkin pie to family Thanksgiving made from pumpkins from your own garden. 
One more plug for potato grow bags: they make growing potatoes on an apartment balcony or in a very small backyard with poor soil conditions possible. Give it a try!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

EAP Reimbursement for Massage Therapy

I've always thought of the firm's Employee Assistance Program (EAP) as something I'd use only in the event of a crisis. Until one of the assistants in the office mentioned to me that our EAP reimburses $45 for 30 minute massages (up to six massages per year).

I wanted to share this with you asap, especially since I'd guess that a lot of associates, who spend their days huddled over a keyboard, are already paying for massages. While the benefit amounts to just $270 a year, there's not much paperwork involved. That $270 could be used to make an extra student loan payment, save for a downpayment on a house, pay for a couple nice dinners or any number of things.

Here's how our EAP administers this benefit:

1. Call the EAP's 800 number and request authorization for massage services (no referral or physician recommendation required);

2. Wait for authorization letter to arrive via USPS;

3. Get your massage;

4. Submit your proof of payment along with your authorization letter and some additional details to the address specified in your authorization letter; and

5. Cash your reimbursement check.

This discovery inspired me to set time aside to review our benefits in detail and I've found other hidden gems--like a four figure reimbursement upon the purchase of a hybrid vehicle!!!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Hospice; Advanced Care Directives; and Saying Goodbye

Earlier this month, I sat with a loved one during her final week in hospice. During that time, she managed just four short phrases, one of which was "help me."

She had fallen out of her bed in the memory care center in the middle of the night.  She had hit her head on the floor, which was very hard--concrete covered with a thin indoor/outdoor carpet.  I was exasperated to learn that there were no side rails on her bed.*

As a result of the fall, she suffered a massive subdural hematoma that the neurosurgeon told us would have likely killed her instantly but for the fact that Alzheimer's had begun to shrink her brain, making room for the hematoma in the expanding space between her dura and brain. The neurosurgeon advised that she was not a good candidate for surgery.

So there was nothing left but to transport her from the ICU to the hospice program at the memory care center. After a week, she lost the ability to swallow.

Her guardian had executed an advanced care directive on her behalf.  This means she received medication for pain and anxiety management, but nothing else. Not even IV fluids.  I generally believe it's important to honor advanced care directives, but I found it harder to stomach given that a guardian, not the patient, had executed the directive.

When someone subject to an advanced care directive looks you in the eye, grips your hand, and says "help me," what can you do?  What does "help me" mean in that context? Of all the things I thought or hoped she might say, this was a request I hadn't anticipated.

I found myself wondering if I could challenge the advanced care directive. I thought about whether the memory care center had been negligent in not installing side rails on her bed. (I'm a lawyer, after all.)  Then, when she started struggling for breath, I thought about Oregon's Death with Dignity Act.  I considered whether this end was better or worse than a long decline during which Alzheimer's would take her from us bit by bit.

Those thoughts, I think, were just distractions on the path to coming to terms with what was happening and would happen. Ultimately, I settled on the following as ways to "help" that were more constructive:

  • With the full support of the hospice staff, we made sure she received her medications as frequently as her doctor allowed in order to manage her pain and anxiety.
  • We invited a music therapist to come play guitar and sing to her.
  • We sat with her round the clock, spoke to her, played her favorite music and sang to her (she had been in an a cappella group when she was younger and loved music).
  • We applied lotion to her drying skin, chapstick to her drying lips and swabbed her mouth with a moist sponge.
  • We held her hand.
  • We convinced family members that had found it too difficult to be there to join us in her room.
  • We were there.

This woman made me feel like the center of the universe. She was always interested in what I was doing. Always on my side. Always in the audience or the stands to cheer me on. While it's wonderful to have had a grandmother who makes you feel this way and I love her to pieces, I realize that I only knew her in a sort of one dimensional way. She was a lot more than a grandmother and I can only imagine the extent to which the loss I feel is amplified in her husband, siblings and children--people who had longer and deeper relationships with her.

She told me many times that family was the most important thing to her. I hope, at the end in particular, that she had some awareness of how important she was to us.

If you are a hospice or memory care center worker reading this post, I want you to know how grateful I am for the compassion and care shown to my grandmother. Thank you for doing an incredibly difficult and important job.

Our last picture.

* The memory care center told our family that use of bed side rails was prohibited under state law, but based on some cursory research that doesn't seem entirely true. The Oregon Administrative Rules, which include bed side rails in the definition of "physical restraints," provides that residents in care facilities shall "be free from... physical restraints except as ordered by a physician or other qualified practitioner.... Restraints are not to be used for... convenience." See the FDA safety alert on entrapment hazards associated with hospital bed side rails here for another perspective.  I understand that bed side rails can both hurt and help and that a judgment call was made, but if you have a loved one in a care facility in Oregon, you might consider advocating for bed side rails or padded flooring next to the bed.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Flying with your Small Dog

One of my 2016 goals is to take C on more adventures. She is so little and delicate that I sometimes shy away from bringing her out into the great big outdoors, but it's now or never since she is getting up in years. This weekend, she had a Southern Californian adventure. The last minute trip occurred for all the wrong reasons--family medical issue, but we made the most of it.

The little one flies as a carry-on under the seat in front of me.  For years, we flew on American Airlines exclusively because they allowed two dogs in one carrier, depending on size.  Since C and B weighed all of four pounds in the aggregate, it worked for us and I felt reassured that they could snuggle together during the flight. Now that B is no longer with us, we've branched out and tried United and Southwest.  As of the date of this post, both American and United charge a $125 pet fare for in-cabin pets (one way). Southwest charges $95 (one way).

C is well behaved in the cabin (and, no, she doesn't need to be sedated). Over the years, I learned that she does best when:

  • We plan ahead to make sure she's eaten a nice meal and had time to digest and potty before I pull the suitcase out of the closet.
  • I pack by stacking my items on my bed and fill the suitcase at the last minute. This is important because she gets stressed and cries as soon as I unzip the suitcase. (She calms down once she's secure in the carrier and I'm holding the carrier.)
  • I pack a small handful of bite-sized snacks for our layover.
  • I pack a potty pad in case of a flight delay. In a pinch, I can find a quiet corner and she'll use the pad. Best case scenario, I'll leave the terminal and come back through security, but you have to be careful to allot enough time and know where the airport's pet relief areas are (if any).
  • Her carrier is rigid in order to avoid collapse. Sherpa carriers, which are highlight recommended by many people, stressed her out because they easily collapsed on her, which caused her to panic. Our flights have been particularly successful since I bought a small Pet Flys carrier, which is unfortunately no longer available in the more subtle design we purchased, but this monkey design is fun and not too loud.
  • I don't sit the carrier on the ground in the terminal. This is the only time she barks in the carrier. I think she's concerned I have abandoned her.
  • I don't tell my seatmates she's with me. When people start using their baby voices to talk to her, she expects to be removed from the carrier.
  • I plan a potty stop for her as soon as we leave the airport at our final destination.

I understand all the reasons folks love big dogs, but I'm so grateful that C can travel with me without too much trouble.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

My First Rose

Peace rose (a/k/a Rosa Madame A. Meilland)

For whatever reason, Costco doesn't strike me as a place to purchase plants. So when I found myself standing in front of shelves of bareroot roses, I was skeptical.

No need. Per usual, Costco provides.

I planted my first Costco bareroot rose on January 25th after soaking the roots for 24 hours. On March 16th, after very little fuss, the first bloom appeared. Not sure if this plant will surviving the scorching Texas summer, but time will tell.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Did you know grout should be sealed?

My matrilineal line is replete with obsessive housekeepers. For example, I was taught that when you're expecting guests, your carpets should be so freshly vacuumed that the vacuum tracks should be visible (no footprints!). When on the phone at home, make the most of your time by dusting the baseboards simultaneously. Never, ever put your hand on the walls. Minimize clutter on nightstands to make dusting more efficient. And so on.

Lost in that haystack of housekeeping tips was the knowledge that new grout should be sealed to keep it in pristine condition. This is something I would have expected to come up when I got the keys to my new house--I grew up in an area of Southern California where seemingly everyone bought new construction houses. Alas, it took a guest spilling something on my light grey grout for me to realize I should have sealed the stuff my first week in the house.

Better late than never, I bought some 511 Impregnator Sealer (highly recommended by said obsessive housekeepers) at Home Depot and got to work sealing the grout in the laundry room, kitchen and bathrooms. Make sure you open your windows or run a fan while you're sealing. This is noxious stuff.

It turns out my aunt once snuck into a new construction home she had under contract (pre-closing!) to seal the grout before move-in. Like I said, obsessive.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

How I Paid Off my Student Loans in 5 Years

Last week, I paid off my student loans in full. It feels every bit as awesome as I hoped it would.

By the time I finished law school and my MBA, I had six figures in outstanding student loan principal to my name. My loans had a variety of interest rates, topping out around 8.5%, resulting in a monthly minimum payment of $2,098. It was overwhelming, so I created a framework for repaying my loans as soon as possible. Here it is:

I maximized income by:
  • Working part-time every semester of my JD/MBA (yes, even as a 1L) at a great job that paid between $30 and $60 per hour.
  • Working at a "big law" firm that paid me one class year ahead of "market" because I had another advanced degree (my MBA) relevant to my practice area.
  • Earning a bonus. For reasons related to participating in various secondments and study leave to take the bar in a second jurisdiction, I earned only one bonus during my time in big law. 
  • Renting my guest rooms.
I maximized my cash flow by:
  • Taking an assignment in one of the firm's offices in Asia. As part of this assignment, the firm covered my housing costs in Tokyo and part of the cost of storing my belongings, and paid me a COLA. I terminated my lease in Los Angeles and put my belongings in storage. As a result, I saved more than $36,000 per year for the two years that I worked in Tokyo and started making extra payments on my student loans.
I minimized my expenses by:
  • Unsubscribing from retail email newsletters. When you're not bombarded by emails about sales and new offerings, it's easier to avoid shopping.
  • Not signing up for cable television. This also saved me the cost of buying a television and any related components. This also reduced my exposure to commercials, which, in turn, reduced my urge to buy things I didn't need.
  • Not going on vacation except for trips home for the holidays and my brother's wedding.
  • Not shopping for clothes other than to replace worn out items.
  • Driving a 10+ year old car.
  • Living very close to the office. When I lived in Southern California, I walked to work. This saved me money on gas and car maintenance.
  • Not buying new furniture for my new house (for the most part). I did buy window coverings and beds for the bedrooms with rental income.
  • Not keeping up with the Jones (and, by Jones, I mean the other associates who were going to fancy dinners and on fabulous vacations).
  • Being single with no dependents. This wasn't by choice, but it would be unfair not to acknowledge that it's a lot easier to stick to a repayment plan when you don't have to persuade a spouse to get on board or pay for childcare expenses.
I minimized my interest payments by:
  • Refinancing my student loans with SoFi.* This dropped my interest rate to 2.9%, which increased the portion of each payment going to principal and accelerated my repayment.
  • Sending every spare penny to my student loans each month (after saving $300/month in an emergency fund and contributing to my 401(k) and other retirement savings accounts). For example, in 2013, I made principal payments in the aggregate amount of $62,745.11. Other examples include sending the total amount of any "windfall" (such as tax refunds or cash gifts) to my student loans.
I maintained discipline by:
  • Visualizing life after student loans. I wanted to be prepared to move on to achieve other milestones and, in moments of weakness, would think about how my future self would appreciate that my loans were paid off. In particular, because I'd really like to have children, I often thought of how challenging it would be to pay a mortgage, student loans and daycare bill simultaneously. That thought provided the needed kick in the pants to double down on repayment.
I could have paid my loans off sooner by:
  • Not buying a house when I moved back to the US. Starting in 2014, I diverted cash flow to a down payment fund because I wanted to buy a house at the end of my Tokyo assignment. If I had deferred this goal, my loans would have been paid off before I left Tokyo. Ultimately, this choice was driven by all the hype surrounding the real estate market in my new city. I was worried that prices would go up substantially if I waited a couple of years to purchase a home.
  • Earning more bonuses. This was somewhat beyond my control, but I could have turned down secondments, in theory, in order to remain bonus eligible during certain years. If I had earned a market bonus during each of my years in big law, I would have cut months if not years off of my repayment schedule.
  • Living with a roommate during and after law school. I have had temporary roommates during the last year, but otherwise lived alone during and after school.
While paying off my student loans has given me an unparalleled sense of freedom, I think most folks prefer a more balanced approach to student loan repayment. I don't blame them--a vacation or two would have done me good over the past few years.

I haven't decided how I want to approach my finances going forward. First, I want to take a moment to celebrate this milestone.  What do you plan to do to celebrate paying off your student loans?

*Referral program link.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


In the course of just two weeks, I repainted the three bathrooms in my house. Same color, but in semi-gloss, to make up for the builder who thought flat paint in bathrooms was what "Austin hippies" wanted. This Austinite wants bathroom walls that are easier to clean and now I have them!

The builder's painter was sloppy and didn't remove or tape around the plastic utility plates when he touched up. The result was splashes of gray all over the plastic. I learned that a little finger nail polish remover took that paint right off without damaging the plastic plates. (I'd test that in an inconspicuous area before trying the same approach.)

Have to give the builder credit for selecting on-trend light grey paint.

I'm surprised by the over-the-top pride I feel having completed this relatively basic task on my own. It took a little less than one gallon of paint to finish all three bathrooms. The gallon cost nearly $45 (top of the line Valspar semi-gloss) and I spent about $30 on additional supplies (tape, tray liner, roller and detail brush). I sure hope that's less than it would have cost to hire someone to do the job, but I don't know because I didn't bid it out.

Half bath downstairs.

Repainting the bathrooms with semi-gloss was one of my 35 goals for 2016. Ultimately, I want to repaint the rest of the house in eggshell finish paint in the same color (the trim and ceilings are a contrasting cream). The flat paint wears terribly and after just one year shows every guest fingerprint (and shows evidence of effort to clean up said fingerprints no matter what the method) and I'm just not zen enough to let that be.

Completely unrelated, but pertinent to my 2016 goals, I made my first loaf of cinnamon swirl bread from scratch last week. This is delicious stuff and even better as french toast. I promise the further into the loaf, the more swirl, less marble.  (Thank you, America's Test Kitchen.) 

Cinnamon swirl bread.

This relates to my goal to try 35 new recipes this year. So far I've tried pasta e fagioli, lentil soup and this cinnamon swirl bread. I'm hoping this little project will help me find some new gems to work into my regular rotation.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Repainting: Master Bathroom

There are many things I love about my new house, but the interior paint job is not one of them. The builder used flat paint throughout the house. If flat paint works for you in high traffic areas, bless you. In my experience, it's a disaster. (Cannot even imagine the horror of living in a flat paint house with kids.) Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that the painter either diluted the paint or failed to prime. The builder and I had it out about this during the warranty period, but I settled for a free drainage system in my backyard knowing that I was capable of painting the interior (installing drainage is beyond me).

In January, I started the process with a trip to Lowe's to pick up supplies. The paint department manager rolled her eyes when I told her my builder had used flat paint in the bathroom. (Solidarity!) She matched the builder's custom Valspar color--a trendy light grey.  I bought a gallon of paint, FrogTape (it's as good as advertised!) and some accessories that I'd need to paint.

I went with the higher end paint, not what's pictured above.
Taping, painting and cleanup was a lot of work, mostly due to the high ceilings and the bathroom hardware, but I really enjoyed the project.  I felt a huge sense of accomplishment when I pulled down the tape and wiped down the counters. The crap paint job I started with had been bothering me for months. Each little water stain from a guest reaching for a towel after washing hands... oh, it was like death by a thousand paper cuts! Now the bathroom paint job is everything it should have been from the very beginning and it just fills me with joy to know that problem has been fixed (in that room at least) relatively inexpensively.

Painting the master bathroom used about 1/2 gallon of paint. I've still got 1.5 bathrooms to go and hope to be finished this month. Then I'll progress through the house, room by room, until the whole place is done (or until I break down and hire a painter).

Monday, January 18, 2016

Little Things

I'm still thinking a lot about goals for the new year and constantly revising my list, which I think is fine so long as I'm simultaneously getting things done. Something that's struck me lately is the importance of execution vis-a-vis extended evaluation. Sure, reflection has value, but too much of it holds back so many capable people.  This year, I'm trying to be more of a doer and less of a thinker.

Predictably, I'm fixated on my student loans at the moment. My lender has increased the rate on my loan a full percentage point in the last few months. This isn't the end of the world because the rate was so low to begin with and, thanks to years of prepayments, my loan will be repaid in full soon. I suppose my worry has more to do with the larger changes to the public and private markets. I'm hoping that the impact on home values and my employment will be minimal, but I'm nervous about it.

On to things I can control...

I'm working on discarding or recycling a couple of very old laptops. As a first step I've consolidating my digital photos and am now looking to back them up using some sort of cloud-based resource. Do you have a service you'd recommend for photo storage? I find Dropbox unreliable in my day-to-day work so I don't want to use it. Also, what have you done to dispose of or recycle your laptops in the past?

While I wasn't able to cross laptop disposal off my list, I did get a lot done this weekend.  I spent my time billing at the office, culling my closet, dropping off donations at Goodwill, stopping by the dry cleaner, visiting Costco and Lowe's for a couple items for the house, gardening, making a soup to eat for dinner next week, cleaning the house, washing the car, and making a little carrot cake. Sounds mundane, but it was... really great.

Tiny carrots from the garden that ended up in a carrot cake.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

New Year Goals

In 2016, I will pay off every last penny of my remaining student loan balance. That thought alone puts a smile on my face. I've listed a bunch of other goals under the "35" tab on this blog. Some are discreet and easily achievable--e.g., seal the grout in laundry room, repaint the bathroom with semi-gloss--others are more abstract--e.g., do more to make my SIL feel like part of the family.

While putting the list together, I noticed the absence of many long-term, terribly expensive goals. The days of buy a car, apply to grad school, finish my law degree, finish my MBA, buy a house and survive five years of big law are over. Which brings me to what I'm enjoying about my mid-30s: I've achieved many of my big goals and, while doing so, built a strong and stable foundation... it's fine-tuning from here on out.

This has had an impact on how I view my relationships with men. Where I once wondered what I could do to impress someone I was dating (how can I be "good enough" for this person?), I'm now confident that I have done and am doing my best. Now, I spend my time wondering whether the person I'm dating enriches the life I've built (through friendship, intellectual curiosity, kindness, courage and stability) and, when the answer is "no," I don't feel despondent.

Do I still think about the family life I'm missing out on? Yes, I think of this often. I think of the experiences I am missing and how it's harder to fit in with women my own age because I'm not married and don't have children. The good news is that it's not the end of the world.

This time in my life is very peaceful and orderly--I'm in charge of my finances and they are in tip top shape, I'm in charge of my home and it's so clean and tidy you could eat off the floors (well, except for the time I let one of the partner's adult children stay at my house while I was out of down and returned to a complete disaster), and I'm in charge of my schedule and get to sleep in on the weekends. Would I be happy to trade this for a husband and house full of rambunctious kids? Yes. But if this is the consolation prize, I'll take it.

In 2016, at a high level, I want to:

  • strengthen my relationships with family and friends;
  • be of service to the community;
  • maintain my home and make improvements that increase its value;
  • deepen my professional experience and expertise;
  • prepare for the future through disciplined personal finance and a more thoughtful approach to my health; and
  • take a vacation.
What are you looking forward to in the new year?