Modest Designs

(Post 87 of 233. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

I’ve given up on having any time off in the nearish future to do in-person shopping and figure I really shouldn’t be in-person shopping anyway, so today I went on quite the online shopping spree to get what I was missing for the kitchen to be able to schedule my handyman:

– a new faucet (with a hose!)
– under sink soap dispensers (will use one for white vinegar)
– a new range hood
– two new ceiling fans

It’s taking every ounce of restraint I have not to replace the sink, but this is supposed to be a small freshening up of the kitchen, so I’m going to live with it, but I will have the seal around it replaced.

While my handyman is here, I will also have him do maintenance on the noisy exterior pump that transfers water from the ground tinaco (tank) to the one on the roof and also get his advice about installing an outlet for the microwave in the area under the built-in counters.

Speaking of the area under the built-in counters, I completed a satisfying project last night, one done over the course of a week or so, in 15- to 20-minute breaks. I complete removed the rotten, stinky, and bug infested wood, then scrubbed the area out completely.

I will be painting the area a bright colour (but of course) and having custom shelving built. I’m just waiting for my electrician’s opinion on the microwave project before I start designing the shelving unit and put in an order to a carpenter. Once all of that is done, the only other thing the kitchen might need is a better island, but that doesn’t feel super pressing.

Next project will be the master bathroom — improving water pressure and hot water access. Once that is done, it will be time to start working on the office makeover. For that one, I’m doing my “forever” makeover, floors, new electrical, custom blinds and furniture, the works. I feel very grateful that for once in my life, I have income to match my ambition and vision. 🙂

I Always Knew Quebec Lack of Healthcare Was Slowly Killing Me

(Post 86 of 233. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

So as way of background, I was in Quebec for most of my life. The Quebec healthcare system failed me at every turn. I’ve never had a checkup or any sort of history with a doctor. Because of how oversaturated the system is there, most people have to rely on walk-in clinics for their medical needs. That would involve getting in line at 5 or 6AM and sometimes waiting all day to see a doctor, only to be dismissed as a hypochondriac. If I got referred for a blood test, I never knew if results had been received or if the test simply got lost because there was never any follow-up. I tried off and on for years to get tested for hypothyroidism and digestive issues and never got anywhere. The only thing I ever got out of that hot mess of a lack of healthcare system was a breast reduction, and the amount of self-advocating I had to do to finally get referred to a plastic surgeon was shameful (I’m so tired of old male misogynistic doctors who “know better” than women).

I finally left Quebec in 2008. By 2011, I was off the initial high of setting off on my adventures and my symptoms were back — I was mired in a depressive episode, perpetually exhausted, cold-intolerant, and more. I was not doing well at all. Since I was settled in Alberta for the foreseeable future, I got Alberta healthcare and, lo and behold, found a family doctor! But while he did indulge me with a sleep apnea study, like every doctor I’d met in my life in Quebec, I was dismissed as a hypochondriac when it came to my hypothyroid symptoms. I gave up.

A decade passed. The symptoms that led me to that Alberta doctor persisted. I pushed through life, saving my energy for what mattered, letting go of the rest, and became increasingly strict with my diet and exercise routines as I began to struggle to maintain my weight at a healthy level. I reached a breaking point this past month of feeling like utter crap while doing everything “right.” I was also concerned with the fact that I was starting to have disordered thoughts around food and eating. With the house purchase imminent, I knew I needed to improve my stamina for work, but there was so much trauma associated with dealing with doctors that also I knew that if I didn’t go to the right one, that would be it for me. Never, ever again.

So I got a referral from some friends and went to see Dr. E with iron and thyroid level results.

(As a side note, just getting blood work here is like magic. There’s a lab right across the street from me that I go to regularly to check my iron levels as I have problems with anemia. I can leave the house at 7AM, be home by 7:30, and the results are in my inbox by 5PM. Wow.)

Dr. E looked at the test results and said that everything was normal, as they always were when I went to see a doctor in Quebec and Alberta. There, normal test results mean the patient is a hypochondriac.

Here, it means the doctor will dig deeper. What are you experiencing? How is this? How is that? He finally ordered me a whole battery of tests and said that worst-case scenario, everything was going to be normal. Best-case scenario two of the results were going to come back as meaning I had pituitary gland issue that was exhibiting the same symptoms as hypothyroidism. He was so confident in his best-case scenario diagnosis that he prescribed me the necessary medication (levothyroxine, same as for hypothyroidism) and told me to start taking it after the tests were done, even before we had a chance to go over the results together.

The tests were not inexpensive, 2,000 pesos, but easily done. Curious, I checked the results again baseline normal levels and… he was spot on with his best-case scenario result numbers! I did some more research and confirmed that the medication was appropriate for these numbers. So after a quick Whatsapp conversation to confirm the test results and my prescription, I started on levothyroxine.

That was two weeks ago. I was a new person within two days of starting on the levothyroxine — improved focus and stamina, no more muscle aches and weakness, better sleep, less depressive, improved intolerance to cold… And the last two weeks have been absolutely brutal at work. I would never have made it through this workload without getting sick pre-levothyroxine. I can’t wait to see how I will be after I’ve had a few days of rest.

I had another checkup yesterday and I’m going to continue on my dose for the next three months, with careful monitoring. We may then increase or even decrease the dose as needed. He said that some people can come off the meds, but that I should brace myself to be on it for the rest of my life. Brace myself? Are you kidding? If all it takes is a tiny pill first thing in the morning (and then waiting an hour for coffee) to cure all my ills, hurray for modern medicine!

(I’m also on some meds to help with my digestive issues, because Dr. E is a genius who figured out without my saying anything that I needed help in that area!)

I’m trying not to think of the decades that I’ve lost to my issue being untreated. It’s only because I am very hard on myself that I accomplished anything, always pushing through fatigue and depression to get done whatever needed doing. Dr. E says that I’m the first patient he’s seen with my numbers who didn’t come in morbidly obese and with no diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure, etc., and he’s shocked that the only lifestyle change recommendation he had to make is that I eat more (!). He said that I’ve done an amazing job of self-medicating positively to compensate for what my body was failing to produce.è

I get that a basic healthcare safety net like you find in Quebec or here in Mexico with Bienestar and IMSS are better than nothing for those who can’t afford better. But such systems are not inherently superior to the U.S. model of having to pay out of pocket or be self-insured. Neither extreme allows for proper care of the patient. The ideal is a hybrid system like Mexico’s where you can mix up being treated by the government safety net system, pay out of pocket for some things, and have private insurance. At this time, I’m paying out of pocket for routine care and I have catastrophic coverage for accidents and major diagnoses. I thought I’d be okay with using Bienestar for routine things, knowing that it could not possibly be any worse than my experience in Quebec, but now that I’ve seen how the other half gets treated, there’s no going back!

The Great Wall of (Kitchen) Storage

(Post 85 of 233. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

Like a lot of my projects, I got hijacked by work, but with the help of a neighbourhood handyman, I finally got it done. It turned out exactly how I was hoping it would!



And for those who want all the deets:

So How Am I Managing to Buy My (Nearly) Dream House?

(Post 83 of 233. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

In Mexico, contracts are a lot more about your relationship with the other party than they are about written clauses. I’ve been blessed with an incredible relationship with the previous owners of this house. This was their family home for decades and they preferred to let it sit empty for years than to pass it over to the wrong person. When we signed a rental agreement, there was no checking of my financials or referrals. Everything was agreed to based on how I presented myself in our initial meetings. Over the years, I have proven myself to be exactly who they thought I was, someone dependable, serious, motivated, and really in love with the house that they are having such a hard time letting go of.

In November, they rather blindsided me by saying that they wanted to sell the house.  They wanted me to give me a chance to buy it if I wanted it. I expected to have until October of this year to worry about such things, as per our verbal rental agreement renewal. But they assured me that there was time and that they would work with me if I wanted the house. Their initial offer was that I pay them 1 million pesos cash (about 50,000USD) and then take over a mortgage of about 1.6 million pesos, at monthly payments of just under 18,000 pesos. I did not have anywhere near 1 million pesos in cash available to me because all my investments are locked in until I am 55 years old.

I took several months to crunch numbers and ponder scenarios and at the start of January, I finally felt ready to get some legal advice. Literally five minutes after I made an appointment with lawyers the phone rang, and it was the owner wanting and update! Talk about being on the same timeline!

The lawyers told me anything is possible here if both parties agreed to it and told me my best bet involved working out something with the owners that would not require me to get any credit here, essentially a rent-to-own agreement with a balloon payment at the end. We discussed protections on both sides (powers of attorneys, wills, insurance contracts), and all of that left me comfortable to make an offer.

My offer was that for two years, I would pay them the 18,000 peso a month mortgage plus an additional 12,000 pesos towards the million while assuming all costs associated with the house. At the end of two years, I would pay them the balance as a balloon payment, we would do the official deed transfer (escritura), and then I would continue to pay the mortgage for the five-ish years remaining on it.

They came back about a day later with a counter offer that blindsided me. I was not expecting anything like what they ended up proposing. I can’t remember the last time I cried as hard as I did after reading their letter (happy tears, though!).

Rather than two years for the rent-to-own portion, they proposed three years. Rather than 30,000 pesos a month total, they proposed 38,000 pesos ($20,000 to them, 18,000 to the mortgage). At the end of the three years, they would consider themselves paid and then I would continue to pay the mortgage for the four-ish years left. If you do the math on that, that comes out to only about 770,000 pesos to them, not 1 million. So while I will have much higher monthly payments, I will be paying less overall! The house also comes with all furnishings currently in it!

So how am I managing to buy my (nearly) dream house? It’s a gift, plain and simple, from people who left their house to a son who did not want cherish it the way they did and who wanted someone who will appreciate and enjoy it to have it. Of course, I’m paying A LOT for it, but they are making it manageable. I could not imagine buying a nearly 3 million peso house any other way. I’m at a point in my life where I make a really good income, but accessible savings are low. My only other chance for homeownership in the medium-term would be house of no more than a million-ish paid for in cash since my odds of getting credit here, at least for any significant amount, are so low.

I’ve been looking at properties off and on for the last year, just to see what is out there. The price for this house is extremely fair (the lawyers were astounded at what I’m getting for my money in the heart of a desirable location). Every other house I look at is lacking something. I’m used to living in a detached compound-style home. I’m used to the space. I’m rooted in my neighbourhood and appreciate the central location within the city. Everything this house lacks, I can add to it over time. Do I wish I was on a less busy/quieter street and not next to a mechanic shop? Sure. Does the 10% of the time that the noise and traffic bother me trump the 90% of the time it’s quiet? Nope. (And by the way, my mechanic neighbour is the BEST.)

Another thing to factor in is that this house comes with absolutely no surprises. I know exactly what maintenance it absolutely needs right now. How often do you buy a house with that kind of peace of mind? What I’m looking at is needing to paint the exterior before the rainy season starts. The previous owners are going to put me in contact with the gentleman who has painted this house for the last 20 years. I’m super grateful that I have savings to get started on projects like that and projected income that will let me continue to move ahead with projects in the months ahead, even with my immigration matters, even with the high monthly housing payment.

It’s crazy how all of this is possibly only because the pandemic changed my priorities and got me to learn scoping so that I could significantly increase my monthly income. I would never have been able to take on this project with the income I was earning through September of last year. It would have been foolish. Now, I can afford it comfortably and still do some work on the house. Any significant projects beyond exterior painting, like changing the floors and remodeling the bathrooms, will have to wait, but they’re not pressing projects like creating a lovely home office or giving the kitchen a tiny bit of a facelift.

The former owners came by today to do the verbal hand off of the house and give me my blessing to start treating it as my own. They want to meet with my lawyers on Tuesday to work out the details of the contract and then sign said contract within the next three weeks. I’m paying them the 38,000 pesos for February. But, truly, the verbal hand over, with my former landlady choking up and saying that she feels blessed that the house is going to someone who cherishes it, makes this feel more real than any piece of paper could.

Soon as they left, I dragged a ladder upstairs and took down the first set of vertical blinds. The others will come down soon as I can replace them with something better. 🙂

I had covered the window in the back part of the bedroom with a prettier curtain but really wanted nothing over that window since I don’t need the privacy and the view is so lovely. I also can’t open it without the stupid blinds flapping and making a ruckus. Such a small change, but woot, woot, woot!