Back Again

So it’s been over TWO YEARS since I blogged last and I clearly have some explaining to do. I’m sorry, but this is long. I added an intermission for your convenience. Okay, here’s what happened:

My uncle died just after Thanksgiving 2016. Yes, that was sad. Also, I lost NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month Challenge). Neither event was a complete surprise. My uncle had an operation to address a health problem and it went sideways. I spent a lot of time worrying and chatting on the phone with him in the hospital and before to cheer him up. Things went from sideways to downhill, “oh this is bad,” “you might want to …,” done. That was all nicely morbid and mildly traumatic, but it happens, and it wasn’t the first time and won’t be the last that I deal with it. The drama happened later.

I was depressed by my uncle’s health concerns, then decline, and my writing suffered, but I could have actually pulled a rabbit out of the hat and made it on the NaNoWriMo challenge, I’ve done it before. Not this time. I blogged once after the dreaded event(s), but it was hard not letting personal darkness affect my writing. Then writing and blogging fell to the side as I slid down the rabbit hole.

Disclaimer: I take full and sole responsibility that I’m conflicted that I still associate my uncle passing with losing a writing challenge. It’s worse that I’m conflicted about being conflicted. Everything else I had help being traumatized by.

First, people, get your shit together and have a will, okay? Even if you don’t have much, have a will. Handling details is a nightmare for those you leave behind and, unless you hate everyone, it’s not a nice thing to do to. Your loved ones/friends/neighbors will not remember you fondly for the lapse.

That being said, this case was extra special because my uncle was nice to me, he spoiled me – and my kids as much as they would let him (they thought he was weird, and they were right), but he wasn’t nice to very many other people. I knew his few friends, either I met them, talked to them on the phone, or they at least knew all about me and my family. It was assumed by all that I would be the one that the onerous task of handling details fell to.

Well … no.

Legally, I didn’t have any authority to handle the estate, my mother and her brothers did. Which is nice (for me) except that the fairly caustic dearly departed wasn’t on speaking terms with any of them when he passed or, in fact, for years before. His friends didn’t know he had a sister, for example, because my mother told my uncle to never darken her doorstep, or phone, again in 1986. She was the first, but set the bar for her other brothers to strive for.

Okay, so the estate was being handled by people who hadn’t spoken to him in quite some time. Oddly, I was fine with that. His friends and caregiver weren’t. That began to prove problematic with small details such as a physical address instead of a mailing address being required. Huh. I knew he didn’t live at the address I had, but there was someone to sign for boxes of cookies, movies, and things so I didn’t care. I sort of knew where he lived, and had the phone numbers of his friends and caregiver so I could call them if I didn’t hear from him and couldn’t reach him. It was covered. Except his friends wouldn’t talk to anyone but me, and I couldn’t give directions to his house because “the spindly pine tree that bends like a pregnant lady but has so few branches you’ll be astounded it isn’t dead” doesn’t make a great landmark.

Okay, whatever, so I should take over handling the … no. I got to act as an intermediary between my family and his friends. Sigh. Fine. Let’s get this done.

I should mention that I live a couple states away and wasn’t up to travel at the time. I have MS and don’t travel well, but some times are worse than others and I need to be in good shape before I start at least and I wasn’t. Also, I had a mother, uncle, cousins, and my uncle’s cousins closer so it was determined I didn’t need to fly up to sift through the house.

I’ve seen his house and I was happy to pass on that. My uncle was a bibliophile (which is where I got my love of SciFi/fantasy) packrat: Floor to ceiling bookshelves on every wall, sometimes shorter ones in front of taller ones and covering the half of the patio door that doesn’t open. In the extra bedrooms there were bookshelves back to back freestanding in the middle of the room as well as around the sides. This is the result of decades of choosing to buy books rather than borrow from a library, never get rid of any, and insisting every book must be on a shelf. Also, hardback over paperback on favored authors, if you start a series you must collect all of them, and eBooks are of the devil because the smell of a book while you read it helps the brain organize the information – everyone knows the link between smells and memory.

I have a couple dozen boxes of books in my basement that he was scandalized by and kept nagging me to put up more bookshelves. He refused to listen to my argument that I liked windows and pictures on walls, and I believed in fire codes as seriously now as I did in Santa when I was five. I got him a Kindle several years ago and loaded it up with some new SciFi (only available as eBooks) to encourage him to actually use it. I showed him how I had hundreds of books in the same space one took up. He gave it away I think because no one ever found it in the house. On the bright side, I set up his Amazon account so I guess I can load it onto another Kindle and download all those SciFi books again.

Anyway, you’d think handling the details after a death would just be sad, and it is, but in this case it was more frustrating because all of the relevant parties wouldn’t talk to each other. Even the hospital was a nightmare because I was listed as next of kin so they could talk to me, ask about insurance, give me the mortuary information, and call to collect bills.

Since the mortuary got their information from the hospital, initially they insisted on only talking to me too. They wouldn’t talk to my uncles or Mom because I was the next of kin. I tried to get Mom to just pretend to be me but she’s old school and wouldn’t do it. Then the no will/no power of attorney issue came up and they slammed on the brakes and wanted everyone’s identification faxed (including mine for reasons I still don’t understand) and that was extra fun while they figured out who they could legally work with.

Meanwhile, one of his friends called to make sure I knew the proper burial instructions. Apparently he and my uncle discussed this and it was important to one of them.

“He wants to be cremated.”

“Got it. No problem.” That was actually already the plan and we had a burial site and –

“And his ashes need to be spread –”

Wait, what?

“In Ireland.”

Ireland?”

“Yes. You have to, it’s important.”

“I have a cousin in England, it’s fine. But why Ireland?”

“Family is important,” I was told as if this was a great pronouncement. Really? Most of his wasn’t talking to him and he didn’t seem bothered by it when we spoke ten days earlier, so this was news.

“It is. But why Ireland? He’s mostly Germanic if you want to get into ancestry.”

“There’s some Irish and he was very close to his grandmother. He told me about it,” the old man insisted.

“Scottish, you mean.” To me, there is a world of difference between Scottish and Irish. But if you don’t have either in your heritage or don’t live near or with them, I can kind of see the confusion. I mean, British Isles. Geography can be confusing I suppose.

“No, Irish. He said Irish.”

“Listen, I was the one in the family with a passing interest in genealogy –”

“What?”

“Family history, and I promise you he doesn’t have a drop of Irish blood in him. Nana was Scottish, and yes, they were close. I totally get why he might want to go back to, um, the homeland, although to be fair he’s a quarter Austrian and half German, plus we still have family in Innsbruck so I would have thought he’d go that direction. But Scotland is fine if that’s what he wanted. I’m surprised he didn’t mention it to me.”

“HE SAID IRELAND!” the old man growled at me.

“HE’S NOT IRISH!” I snapped back. This doesn’t matter. I should just say fine, we’ll bury him in Ireland and then go stick him in the ground beside Grandma like he wanted two decades ago and we originally planned. It’s not like the old man on the phone was going to fly to Ireland to make sure we scattered his buddy’s ashes to the wind in … wherever.

Although with my luck it’d come up at the wake. Not a drop of Irish blood in my family but we do appreciate wakes. We throw wakes instead of funerals whenever possible, it’s just more pleasant.

Sigh. Take a breath.

“Listen, I think there was some confusion here. He wants to return to his grandmother’s home, that’s a lovely thought. Nana was really nice and I’m sure she would be honored.” Let’s just leave aside the fact that while Nana may have been born in Scotland, she was raised in Nova Scotia and didn’t actually remember the home in question. “I promise you, he wasn’t Irish. Have you ever seen him drink?”

Okay, so that was a low blow and totally uncalled for. My uncle wouldn’t  have touched alcohol if you held a gun to his head. Why? Because my family is comprised of alcoholics, and the much revered Nana pointed out no good came of it, and he was the only one who listened.

I used ageism to promote a cultural stereotype and prove a logical fallacy.

OMG I’m going to hell.

“Oh. Right,” he acknowledged.

It worked. Wow. I am so going to hell for that.

“Don’t worry about it. I’m sure he just misspoke.” Yeah, I just blamed the dead guy so the old man on the phone would feel better. Go big or go home, right?

“Anyway, cremated, ashes in Scotland, I’ll look up the family seat and get with my cousin. No problem.” I pretended to write that down as if this entire conversation wasn’t now burned into my memory for the trial for my eternal damnation later. I was going to have words with my uncle. If I was going to hell, I was dragging him down with me.

“But we already had the wake.” He sounded so confused and deflated.

“That’s okay. My grandfather did business with a lot of Irishmen,” he did actually but it’s irrelevant, “and the family long ago adopted wakes instead of funerals. I think that’s great. It’s what he would have wanted.” Except for the whole aversion to alcohol thing, that could have been an issue if it ever came up. “We’ll raise a glass, or five, later.”

“Oh, good.” He cheered up. Yay for me. I needed points.

<<Intermission>>

So things dragged on, sort of like Vietnam. Everyone had their own separate remembrances because we talked on the phone so much and people kept trying to share stories then letting the words fall away as they remembered that the particular memory wasn’t actually a nice one after all and ended in an argument or thrown vase or something and it got terribly awkward. We had some good ones, but even those seemed awkward.

Like “remember the time I got grounded when I learned smoking gave you cancer and I repeatedly stole his pack of cigarettes and filled it with water?” Silence. Yeah. (I was a kid and it’s the kind of thing that kids do, but Mom smoked too, as did my step-father and uncles and I didn’t try to save them.) Um … awkward. He also spent a lot more time and money on me and later my kids than on my cousins – just something else that came up (a couple of times). We discovered I was the sole beneficiary of his life insurance policy, but he let it lapse (I decided I was relieved). Grade school pictures of me and my kids in the house but not my cousins or their kids. See? Awkward.

Also, I used to believe my uncle was a werewolf. No idea where that came from. Super weird because I didn’t like werewolves. As a kid it was the one thing I was actually afraid of and I wasn’t afraid of my uncle. Huh.

Finally there were fewer calls and everything seemed handled and I thought it was over. It’d been nearly a year.

Normal. Right. Time to maybe start writing again. It’s hard to start again when you haven’t in a long time. Don’t put yourself in that position.

Struggle, read over what I’d written. Umm … Notes. Hmm. Re-read the books I’m writing a sequel to. Re-read the notes to see if they made sense now. No. Rethink some things. Make a battle plan.

Okay, I can do this. Deep breath. Update software. Waiting ….

I received a call from Mom, “Do you know where your uncle is?”

My mind blanked for a moment. “Um, he’s dead.”

“I know that, smart aleck. I mean his ashes.”

What? Seriously? OMG, can this be instead of going to hell? I can’t do both.

“Okay,” I started tentatively, “The plan was to send him to Portland, then London, then –”

“I know.”

You lost him? At what point?”

“Well, he might not have left the mortuary. We’re not sure.”

“What do you mean you’re not sure? Who was supposed to pick him up? Or mail him? Or whatever? I remember the mortuary people, they were extremely uptight about making sure they had every single detail documented, initialed, and itemized, and … everything … in triplicate. Plus copies for everyone he ever spoke to. I remember there was a section on what exactly was going to happen with the ashes, and they wanted to know the name of who would pick him up and the date and they’d have to show ID and sign for him and HOW DID THIS NOT COME UP BEFORE NOW?”

“I’m not sure. We’re trying to figure it out. I guess your cousin came back from her trip to Scotland, said it was lovely, and asked when we were going to send her the ashes so she could plan another trip and …” she let that drift off. Pause.

“You’re serious?”

“So do you still have the mortuary people’s information?”

I am NOT going to hell alone. “Yeah, Mom, I have it. I’ll have to dig it out because I wrote it down in the book I was writing at the time this all happened. I’ll have to go through the files.”

“You wrote your uncle’s death into a book? That’s questionable.”

Yes, she was serious.

“No, Mom. It’s just I needed somewhere to take notes, and Scrivener was open because I was writing, or trying to. Anyway, it was a convenient place to take notes. So it’s not part of the book, but I’m writing a genie does this and that, and my uncle dies and the hospital calls, and call the caregiver, and the mortuary’s info will be there as well as the rest of this shit show.”

“Language.”

“You’ve seen what I write and you’re lecturing me now? For that matter, I’ve seen what you write. By the way, Mom, ‘damn’ has an ‘n’ on the end when you’re swearing. Also, ‘its’ only has an apostrophe if it’s a contraction, not possessive.”

“Apostrophe-s is possessive so ‘its’ will always have an apostrophe, kid.”

“They changed the rules. English is irregular AF, go with it.” Yes, I lie to my parents, and I firmly believe I do not lose heaven points for that because every kid does to some extent. It’s fine, parents lie to kids too.

“‘AF’?”

“Never mind, go with it. I’ll find the information and text you.”

“Okay, thanks. We’ll get it all taken care of. I hope they still have him.”

“Probably on a shelf waiting for someone to pick him up. Or maybe they were supposed to mail him and just forgot, let’s hope. Maybe. I doubt they can just toss him.”

“They can’t store him indefinitely. At some point they have to do something with the remains.”

“Yes, but they billed someone for the cremation, right? So they have someone’s contact info. Actually, they have my contact info. They can pick up the phone before they toss him in the garden.”

“Good point. Okay, don’t worry about then.”

Right. Okay, so time passes. I called Mom.

“Is it sorted?”

“I assume. I gave the information to my big brother.”

“I’ll ask him.”

Email said uncle (we’re not a close family). No answer. Email again. No answer. Right, much more of this and our family will need our own subdivision in Hell. Dig into my phone, find four phone numbers for him. No. Look at old phone bills, find the correct number, and call him solely to ask if he sent his brother to his daughter for her next family vacation. Simple question.

“Is it sorted?”

“Well, we were going to ship him but then she was going to come back for a visit with the kids. Have you seen how much they’ve grown?”

“No. Way cute?”

“Oh yeah.”

“Aww, send me pictures. So then just thinking you’ll pass him along for her to fly across the country then internationally with human remains?”

“I should look into that.”

You haven’t? Whatever. “Maybe. Listen, here’s my thinking: You’ll probably take the kids to the beach when they visit, right?”

“Of course.”

“Naturally. Well, the Pacific connects to the Atlantic, and that connects to the North Sea, and she was thinking Edinburgh, right? And you know how everyone says it’s a small world and all that?”

Silence.

“Your mother isn’t that easygoing,” he said. I swear he sounded suspicious.

“Yeah well, there’s probably a reason I’m the only one who was still talking to him, you know. And I’m only half Mom’s when you get down to it. The mellow gene probably came from the other side.”

“That’s a good point. Your dad’s pretty laid back.”

“Yeah. And it’s been almost two years.”

“Another good point.”

“And I haven’t seen many of my cousins in a while, but I wouldn’t wish customs with human remains on them. Especially with little kids, they get cranky about delays. It’s not nice.”

He chuckled. “I’ll handle it.”

“Thanks.”

<<End Excuses>>

Now there are several takeaways here:

  • This happened. Old man, Ireland, lost ashes, it happened. Well, people had names but you don’t need to know them. The creative license is in the tone – the original interactions were much darker I assure you and it’s probably good I didn’t try to chronicle the events before I was past them enough to look back and laugh.
  • Have a F’ing will. Details. Leave it somewhere it will be found – quickly and easily. Also, don’t play favorites like this, seriously not cool.
  • Don’t stop writing, at least a little bit. Daily if possible, at least a couple times a week. It’s so hard to start again, as bad as starting the first time. Better in some ways, worse in others.
  • Your writing is tied to your emotions, but your emotions are also tied to your writing. Recognize that, use it if you can. If I’d been just a bit more on my game while I was going through the dark crap in this, I’d have taken advantage of that mindset to write darker scenes. OR force myself to write intentionally lighter scenes to help alleviate some of my darker moods. I’ve done both in the past but did neither in the past two years.
  • I didn’t ask for details, but yes, I’m assured it’s taken care of.
  • Learn to laugh at life, at least at some point. It may take time, that’s fine, but don’t live bitter.
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Much Has Happened

Much has happened in the past two-and-a-half years, but mostly it boils down to cats. It’s always cats or kids.

When we left off, The Girl was recovering from a hit-and-run where she was crossing the street and a driver bounced her out into incoming traffic of the neighboring intersection. This was during rush hour and it’s a miracle she didn’t get hit a second time. The woman tried to excuse leaving the scene by explaining she needed to pick up her children at daycare. The judge enjoyed that. The Girl did a lot of physical therapy, dropped her second semester of college (thereby losing her scholarship) because she could barely finish the first semester. Nearly two years after the event she went back to work and school. She still has persistent back pain and migraines now, so that’s awesome, and I don’t think the settlement was nearly enough considering she is going to have to deal with both the rest of her life.

We’d given up on the hunt for Nimoy, the missing idiot cat, and accepted she’d probably found a new group of suckers to give her a home. This turned out to be true, much to my relief and surprise. Her name is Adele now, and The Girl didn’t post her little signs quite far enough in the subdivision. The idiot cat made it across the canal (there are bridges but she wasn’t near one when she took off) and a few blocks before a family with young children found her. The Girl, led by a neighbor’s daughter and her friend (who babysits for the family and tipped us off) walked over and Nimoy recognized her. The Girl told her story, but saw the looks of horror on the kids’ faces at the thought she might have come to claim her cat back, and decided cat and kids should stick together.

No good deed goes unpunished, isn’t that the saying? Or is it just an Army thing? So The Girl decided to give up on her kitten. Jingles was a solitary cat, so she was happy and the kids would just have to share. The Boy mentioned years ago that he wanted a calico cat named Randall. Um…I explained about the genetics behind the coloring and pattern, and that calicos were almost always girls, and he said he didn’t care. Okay then. Little did I know Hubby remembered that long-ago conversation and had been taking The Girl to the shelter to pet and socialize the cats not so she could pet and socialize the cats or because she liked it, but because he was waiting for them to bring in a calico kitten.

Now we have Randall and Ripley, and Darth Jingles is fit to be tied. Randall is a calico in a tortie pattern, and her sister Ripley is a dilute calico in a tortie pattern. They’re not tortoiseshells no matter how the shelter had them labeled. Tortie is a specific pattern of black and orange, calico is black, orange, and white but the pattern isn’t part of the description. They have notable white, so they’re calicos. I’ve had this conversation with too many people, so I’ll just get that out there now. The Boy didn’t care, it was close enough. Right colors, wrong gender, check.

Randall is the sweetest little love-and-floppiness kitten ever. Her sister is Jabba the cat, but pretty, oh so pretty. Ripley sometimes thinks she’s a dog, so there’s that. Randall is a kleptomaniac, stealing all the balls in the house and hiding them. We have four dozen small foam soccer balls in this house, plus some rabbit-fur balls and a few with bells. I have no idea where they are. Ripley loves her toys so I know it isn’t her doing this. She wouldn’t have the restraint to sock them away for a rainy day, she wants to play with them. Also, Ripley doesn’t have the klepto-gene, she’s very giving. She picks little treasures out of The Girl’s garbage can at night and leaves them for us as gifts in our bed. It’s lovely to wake up covered in trash. I particularly love all the little scratches on my legs from bottle caps, pens, and broken pencils. Also popcorn from The Boy’s room, which they’re usually not allowed in to because it’s Jingles’ domain. Buttery, salty popcorn in bed with us, nice.

Kittens are like toddlers, and each additional one makes life more than doubly more interesting. I’d forgotten that. They’re a year old now, and things are changing. Randall isn’t growing very much, she’s about half the size of her massive sister. Ripley is destined to be a lap cat by bulk alone. I’m starting to look into ways to put one cat in three on a diet. Unfortunately changing food will not be an option, the little dears have sensitive tummies and I don’t want to encourage “gas attack” as Ripley’s primary line of defense. It took too long to take that option away, and besides, we’ve gotten out of the habit of calling her “Fart Weasel.”

Randall worships Jingles, who tolerates her in return. Jingles and Ripley are still having little hissy fits at each other, but they’re getting there. By the time snow falls again, I hope to be able to have three housebound cats without significant intervention being needed. Let me rephrase: I don’t want housebound cats, but it if happens, I’d like minimal bloodshed and intervention. Also no more cat fights at three am, please.

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Cat vs Christmas

Christmas Eve day, we got rain all day long instead of the promised snow. Rain, rain, a lot of rain. The problem with rain in the winter is that as the temperature goes down as the sun does and the rain that came down all day begins to freeze.

At 3 am, The Boy came to Hubby and I with the itching need to shovel snow. It’s his Zen activity. Out there in the cold, alone, with his headphones and music and no one to bother him as fluffy flakes fall peacefully around him. He keeps our driveway clear most of the time, and some of the neighbors as well. Since it was still snowing, and 3 am, we told The Boy to go back to bed and tackle it in the morning.

Wow, the morning.

The only snow day I had as a kid wasn’t because we got a lot of snow, which we did, the problem is that it drifted. Snow drifts covered doors and windows at the school, blocking them so the fire department closed school until the snow melted or blew away enough to keep the doors cleared. I mention it because looking out my back upstairs window demonstrated those neighbors aren’t using their back patios, doors, or some windows. It looked familiar.

The snow is deep enough that the two Yorkies at one house and four Chihuahuas at another won’t be using their backyards for their daily business. I’m mildly curious how their owners plan to handle that, but none of the solutions that come to mind encourage me to dwell on the problem.

So The Boy is out shoveling like the wind, before the wind blows it back, and watching neighbors’ SUVs get stuck as they try to leave for family outings. It reinforces the decision that we’re at home today. The Girl bundled up and went for a short walk. Apparently the snow is up to mid-thigh in some areas and, considering how long as she was gone, she didn’t get far.

As pretty as our winter wonderland is, a white Christmas isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. Ask Darth Jingles. Note the return of her Sith name. “Jingles” is a bit too festive to describe the ball of dark malice pacing the house at the moment.

It’s not that I disagree that she has a reason to be upset, but the cat had a decent Christmas. She has her own Christmas tree on her kitty-condo. Yes, I decorated and balanced a four foot tree on the top platform of her play house. The top branches keep the tree balanced by keeping wedged against the ceiling. It has lights, and only a wide sparkly ribbon for to sniff. No breakable or potentially shreddable ornaments for the cat. Jingles wouldn’t eat them, she’s a picky eater.

That being said, she discovered a new kitty-treat. Sort of. I’m fond of salmon-shmear, but we were out of the brand I usually get at the bagel places and took a chance on Philly salmon cream cheese. Not that I’m spoiled, but I would rather have plain than take another bite of that stuff. The Boy likes it fine, however, and Jingles loves it. Seriously. She won’t drink milk or eat moist cat food. Salmon or salmon juice from a can isn’t happening, although drained tuna juice is a favorite. Cream cheese shouldn’t even be open for consideration, but Jingles will lick big globs of salmon cream cheese off The Boy’s fingers. Ew.

Courtesy of Christmas, Jingles also has new boxes of judgment placed all over the house. She’s tested them all, they’re appropriately judgy. Bits of paper, ribbons, and bows also serve as new toys for her amusement.

Because of yesterday’s rain, Jingles wasn’t outside long. I let her out early in the hopes she’d get some wiggles out in preparation of the forecasted storm. Mother Nature had other ideas, and clearly hates me. The Girl bowed to the cat’s incessant demands to be released to the elements this morning. Jingles sat patiently while The Girl put on the collar that grants her permission to be outside because she’s not naked, smacked the bells hanging from the knob, and launched as soon as the door opened. She got two feet.

Our entry is covered and sheltered, so the landing and top steps were clear. The good news ended there. Jingles usually races out the front door, bounds down the steps, and pauses at the corner of the walk and driveway. A small black cat stuck in snow up to her whiskers at the bottom step is an amusing sight. The Girl walked out in her slippers, plucked her from her frozen prison, carried her back to the family room, and snuggled her in a thick blanket in front of the fireplace. It dried Jingles, but didn’t improve her mood.

I have blinds and shutters thrown open all over the house so Darth Jingles can oversee her domain. It isn’t enough. She keeps hovering around the front door, so we open it and let her see for herself that the situation hasn’t improved.

We’ve taken turns playing with her. Earlier I heard the amusing warning from The Girl:

“Dad, I’m going to torment the cat, so she’s going to hate you.”

“Okay.”

Everything that is wrong with Darth Jingle’s world is laid on the shoulders of my husband. That said, he gives the best chin scratches, and she prefers his tuna-beverage to anyone else’s. He heats it slightly, adds just the right amount of water, and lightly salts it. I can’t duplicate his success. Jingles still hates him – demands tuna when he lingers in the kitchen, and will even rub up against his legs and meow, but hates him. I lost count of the bitter glares the cat’s cast Hubby’s direction today. The snow is clearly his fault. Also, the disappearance of her Boy to take on the snow issue is some sort of inconvenience for her and therefore also Hubby’s fault. It’s true Hubby picked up the wrapping paper, that’s legit. I picked the ribbons out of his bag and seemed to condemn his actions further in his eyes. Using the ribbons to play with her didn’t help.

The winter storm alert was extended from Sunday afternoon to Monday morning. Maybe Tuesday we’ll be able to kick the cat out and have some peace. Until then, I’ll grab another ribbon, some Neosporin and band aids, and go play with Darth Jingles some more. It’s my turn.

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Life Is Like This Sometimes

I feel like Rip Van Winkle waking from a mighty nap and realizing how much his To-Do list has grown. When last I blogged, it was near the end of November, I had almost 10,000 words to write for the NaNoWriMo challenge, and the cat was driving me a little nuts. The next day, my uncle’s post-operative care took a nasty turn and he was put on a morphine drip to “make him comfortable.” That ruined my morning. Calling my mother and uncles to tell them was an unpleasant and generally disappointing experience. I’m the only one in the family still talking to my uncle, which is a long story unto itself, so I’m on his contact forms. He never married (I’m grateful there) and everyone’s sympathy seemed to be more for me having to deal with his final days than for his actual loss. Writers, keep that gem in mind for character development.

Losing my uncle wasn’t a surprise, but it was still upsetting. Dealing with all the nonsense afterward is possibly worse. And you know how bad things happen in threes? It’s an old superstition and I keep reminding myself that it’s unfounded, but I still get nervous waiting for the other shoe(s) to drop and eying everyone in the family over seventy or with health problems. That turned out to be more people than I was comfortable with, so I was a nervous wreck for a few days.

The thing about superstitions is that they’re self-fulfilling. Bad things happen in threes? The rules didn’t say it had to be in my family. A close friend/neighbor of my uncle lost two family members shortly after him. I was appropriately apologetic, but it’s horrible that I feel better knowing someone is having a worse month than me.

That aside, I missed my NaNoWriMo deadline, although it took me two days to realize it. Also, everyone in the house got sick. Even the cat sneezed on me, although I suspect it was a protest sneeze for no one catering to her whims amid their self-centered misery. The Boy used all his sick days at school, making me ever more anxious on his behalf. He also flunked his English segment on The Crucible, which I’m tempted to “press” him for. I glared at him and whispered “more weight” and he totally failed to get it. That shouldn’t have surprised me, he didn’t read the book, or even watch the movie or play, and flunked the entire section. Why would he catch that reference?

Grrr.

And now Winter Is Here. Yup, woke up December 21st and BAM! Snow. Hubby woke me earlier than I anticipated for my monthly infusion (MS, I mentioned it before) and I didn’t want to get up yet.

Poke, poke.

“What!?”

“Infusion. Get up.”

“Not for another hour.”

“We need to leave early.”

“Go to hell.”

He leaned over and whispered in my ear. “It snowed.”

Funny how that short, simple sentence caused such an adrenaline rush. The Boy has his driver’s license now – my blood pressure didn’t skyrocket for that announcement. There is clearly something wrong with my fight or flight response. Oh yeah, MS.

As if I needed another jolt, Hubby opened the blinds by the bed and I saw snow-capped roofs. I got up, got dressed in record time (make-up is overrated and pony-tails are always an option), and checked the traffic on my phone.

“Honey, the roads are a little … um.”

“I assumed. That’s why I woke you early. What’s Big Step-Brother say?”

“A completely different and unexpected route.” I showed him Google’s bizarre zig zag of the proposed route as it slid along frontage roads, through industrial areas, and doubled back through a residential area to get to a belt route that should take us downtown.

“Huh.”

“Yeah, right? I wouldn’t have thought of it either.”

We passed a parking lot of cars on two highways as we zipped along the frontage roads and over an overpass I didn’t even know existed. At first I thought “Hey, look at all the iPhone users,” but then decided there were too many cars to attribute it to Apple Maps and attributed the number to absent-minded drivers failing to check their route before pulling out of the driveway.

We made good enough time to stop for bagels and coffee, a tradition for my infusion days. I had enough adrenaline pumping that I shouldn’t have needed coffee, but it’s sort of habit.

The thing about the bagel place is that they have the worst staff ever. They have great bagels and it’s convenient; apparently that’s enough to keep the place in business. The breakfast sandwiches are great on the rare occasion they get the order and bagel assembly right. Most of the time I look at what they give me and wonder if the nice young man behind the counter considered looking at the menu to see what the sandwich is supposed to look like. For example, the asparagus & mushroom egg white sandwich has been on the menu for years and has both asparagus and mushrooms on it. In theory. I’ve had any number of creative variations with the standard order I’m terrified of what I’d get if I tried to add any special instructions. It’s sort of like the lottery when I get one that has everything it’s supposed to and nothing it’s not.

There’s a girl who’s worked there awhile and Hubby swears she messes up everything she touches. She doesn’t make my breakfast sandwiches, so that makes her talent and Hubby’s recognition of it particularly impressive. This young woman has yet to figure out the automatic bagel slicing machine, for example. Her unique ability to mess things up extends to her hair, make-up, and wardrobe – which are all painfully tragic. Tragic as in “you’re going to end up on a Walmart-fashion-fail website” way.

Personal appearance decisions aside, we have little choice but to work with the delusional young woman. When it comes to my coffee, I’m a little less easy going about it being wildly wrong and Hubby watches her carefully. And repeats every single time that I don’t want whipped cream, and it’s not iced. Honey, if you want ice, go shovel the sidewalk. Leave my coffee out of it until it’s warm enough to wear shorts again.

As we left, we discussed her brittle, over-processed hair and whether the splotchy blue-green tint was on purpose. You never know, it sort of matched her eye shadow. Hubby and I decided it was just as well she worked the counter at a bagel shop instead of, say, a nuclear power plant. By calmly tolerating her repeated mistakes, we were saving the world. Someone can’t do much damage putting ice in hot coffee, poking extra holes in bagels while slicing them, or mixing up shmears.

Then we reconsidered. There are safeties in power plants and, while this poor girl would almost certainly irradiate herself, it was unlikely she’d be permitted to do any damage to the community or environment. There are men out there with plummeting standards and rising desperation, however, if one of them crossed her path she could breed.

A sad and ugly way to view the world, admittedly, but the snow I accepted on the 21st as being ultimately beneficial because I enjoy a white Christmas has melted. Not to worry! I woke this morning to a winter storm advisory in effect Friday through Sunday. There, that should do it. White Christmas covered, the cat is out working some energy off before the storm hits and she’s trapped inside all weekend by either weather or The Girl demanding she be cuddly. She also wants to put a small dog Santa costume on Jingles, which I suspect will not go well. I, at least, learned from the “kitty sweater” incident a couple years ago and have the route to the emergency room already entered into Google Maps. I just need to wait for The Girl to act on her plans, refresh Maps to get driving instructions modified for the weather, hand the keys to The Boy, and we’re off. The Boy will get to drive as a reward for keeping the driveway and sidewalk clear all weekend. That’s my motivation. His is that he drives now and his sister (while she has a license) doesn’t. Ah, sibling rivalry. Trade on it when you can.

So that’s it. I’m done with everything but a couple of pies that can wait until tomorrow. I should write, but I’m thinking nap time. The cat’s going to have me up all night, I’ll write then.

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10K, Tossing The Cat Out, & A Nap

There are a couple of days left in the NaNoWriMo challenge. I think this is the first Thanksgiving in years that I didn’t write at all, which sucked because I had to make up for it the day after and felt completely brain damaged by the attempt. I have almost 10,000 words left to write. It’s doable, but I’m not used to cutting it this close on my goals. It makes me uneasy, and that doesn’t help the creative process.

Another thing that doesn’t help the creative process is The Boy getting his driver’s license. Add to that his plans to add some pep to my old car that has been kept around for the kids, and I’m fit to be tied. I thought the car was fairly peppy before, so I shudder to think what he means by “add more pep” to it. Something I think I’d rather not dwell on.

Darth Jingles has taken on a couple new habits that caught my attention. She likes to sneak outside when The Boy heads off to school. Being a black cat, she hides well in the shadows and she has the sort of pep in her tail The Boy is probably shooting for in the car.
Generally, Jingles has her collar on, but The Girl likes to take it off when the cat comes in. It’s a treat and Jingles loves to be Ninja Cat without her bell on. Plus she enjoys her humans’ pets and scratches more when we can rub her neck for her too. Spoiled cat.

When Jingles goes out without her collar, lately she’s come back in within a couple of hours. Then begs to go out again. It’s like she realizes she’s “naked” and gets the cat version of self-conscious, prompting her to come home. Our cat is a prude.

That’s one new oddity. The second is now that the weather’s turning, and we have regular frosts and even light snows, she’s delaying her pleas to go out until the sun comes up and melts the frost. Really? She has a black fur coat but she’s waiting for that little temperature boost? This is particularly annoying to me because I get up to boot The Boy out the door, then I go huddle up in bed again and write or read. Having the cat interrupt me either when I’m furiously typing to document some transient inspiration, or at a really good point in my book, is really irritating. It’s never when I’m staring at a blank page and trying to figure out what to write. It’s never at the end of a chapter when I’m reading. And she never has figured out how to wait patiently for me to finish typing a sentence, let alone complete a thought.

To that end, if Jingles doesn’t leave the house with The Boy now, she gets booted to The Girl’s room. Or that was the plan as of a week ago because of my late start to the NaNoWriMo challenge. The problem with that popped up the day after I initiated the new policy: The Girl.

I mentioned Jingles isn’t patient when she wants something. Food, her collar, attention, whatever. Neither is The Girl. She came stomping into my room at something like 730 in the morning, upset that I shoved the cat in her room and Jingles woke her wanting out. My train of thought immediately derailed, inner peace escaping for hours to come.

Now cats can be trained to a certain extent, and people accept that there are some things that are simply beyond a cat’s ability to process. Appropriate hours to eat, sleep, and play, for example. I think most people are also of the opinion that an 18-year-old college student should be trainable, at least more than a cat. I assure you this isn’t necessarily the case.

Plan C was to simply close the doors on Jingles, mine and The Girl’s. This left her free to roam the house and if she really wanted outside, she could approach Hubby with her request. You’d think I beat her. Jingles wasn’t cool with this plan. It left her with Hubby and no witnesses. Sure, she had the entire house (minus two rooms) she could wander and hide in to avoid Hubby, but that’s not good enough. He’s in her house and she doesn’t have anyone to cater to her. She could walk up and meow at him. He’s pretty fluid in bratty cat and would understand the request. No, it doesn’t work like that in her walnut-brain. Her interaction is with her family, not the “Great Furry One” and she won’t budge on that edict.

We like to imagine Jingles styles hubby “The Great Furry One” because he has an enviable beard and an even more enviable ponytail. Seriously, it’s sickeningly thick with almost perfect waves. One of The Girl’s friends calls him Fabio.

Moving on, I think the biggest relief from the end of the month won’t be the end of NaNoWriMo, it’ll be the end of the battle with Jingles. She gets a little, um, bitchy when she doesn’t get her way. I know that’s technically a canine term, but it applies to this particular feline. Also, then I’ll have time (in theory) to start Christmas decorations.

First, another 10,000 words. Then a nap.

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A Writer’s Need

nanowrimo_2016_webbanner_participant

NaNoWriMo is well underway. It has been for twelve days, and the participants should be somewhere around 20,000 words written, if they’re on track. Many aren’t and that’s okay.

I wasn’t going to participate in NaNoWriMo this year because I’ve simply had too much on my plate and I need a break. I switched The Boy from home school back to mainstream high school, then discovered I still have to babysit him, plus he has his learners permit and I have to take him driving. Getting The Girl to choose a college, then change her mind twice was fun. She finally started school and got hit by a car. She’ll recover, but her injuries make attending even some of her classes hard so Hubby and I are helping her out. He drives her and carries her backpack to the classes she absolutely can’t miss, and I’m now playing teacher for The Girl instead of (mostly) The Boy for the classes she’s missing. It’s like a horror novel.

On a related note, I’ve taken up reading horror in my spare time (AKA long bubble baths). I didn’t like it before, but now… If I can survive a teenage boy, what’s a little death and carnage? Bah.

Oh, and we’re moving Hubby’s parents from the large house they’ve lived in for 40 years to a small apartment in a retirement village. Everything we pack has a memory and a story that must be relived at that precise moment before I can put it in a box. This will take forever.

And then NaNo came around again. I seriously have no time. Except, courtesy of stress and time constraints, for the past year I haven’t been writing much. I used to be able to sit down and knock out 1000 words in an hour or so and 5000+/day wasn’t anything worth celebrating. But I haven’t been writing 5000 words/day; most days I don’t write anything. I should have finished my work in progress by the beginning of the year. It’s November and I’m maybe 2/3 of the way through.

I don’t have time for NaNoWriMo. (Sound familiar?) I need to pack my inlaws, help my son with a math assignment, then study for a chemistry test. I need to make him actually read The Crucible because he’s trying to fake his way through the assignments. I also need to help my daughter study for two upcoming tests, clear out the garden and compost the tomato plants that refuse to die, winterize the yard, cover the air-conditioning unit, and get a new battery for the second car. Also take The Boy driving for Driver’s Ed. See? No time. Too many other things I need to do.

No, I’m a writer. What I need to do is write, and I haven’t been. Not blogs either. To a novelist that’s just not the same, and besides, I haven’t even been good about staying up to date there. Too many things are being pushed aside. I’m going slightly mad and I need to pull myself together. How? Write. I’m a writer, the need is pervasive and as essential as breathing to my overall well-being.

Back to NaNoWriMo then. It’s day 12. I have written exactly 0 words in my manuscript so far this month. I counted. (Actually I looked at the last day the file was updated and it said October 28.) I don’t need to add 50,000 words to this book. It’ll take far less than 50,000 words to finish, but I need to finish it. I’m going to stick with the 50,000 word goal of the challenge anyway because it’s tradition. Once I finish she novel, I can start something else. But to reach 50,000 words by the end of the month means 2635 words/day. So? I used to do that regularly when I competed in NaNo. My personal goal was 2500 words/day and I usually exceeded it, so no sweat, right?

No. There will be a lot of sweating. Probably swearing too. I’m out of practice with less free time than usual and more stress. In short, I’m in about the same mindset as someone doing this for the first time. I was better than this my own first time which makes my position particularly embarrassing and uneasy for me.

The upshot? I’ll participate in NaNoWriMo again this year because I need to get my butt in gear and head back in the game, and this is part of what the challenge is about. For new writers or those who haven’t established regular and successful writing habits yet, NaNo is about making you stop daydreaming, procrastinating, or overthinking your project and just do it. I thought I was done needing NaNo years ago. When I participated it was for fun not the actual challenge of it. I lost my way over the past year and a half and now I need NaNo again to whip me back into shape.

The challenge is ready and waiting, now it’s up to me to rise to the occasion.

 

 

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National Cat Day

National cat day! We love our cat.

We mostly love our cat.

You know what I’d love even more? For someone to invent a cat-remote.

This is not a remote for cats to use, it’d be a remote to use on cats. I’d like a button for “no paw prints on the car,” “hairballs excreted outside or in litterbox only,” “you have four scratching posts, nothing else is acceptable,” “don’t climb/jump on ____” (this would need to be customized, but I’d like this available as several different buttons please), and “don’t fight with ____” (again, needs customization and needs to be available on multiple buttons for some households). Maybe a “don’t eat ___” for homes with prey-type pets or delicious plants. Jingles is self-trained, but I bet a lot of cat owners would love a button for “don’t bring kills home,” “don’t hunt birds,” or some other options. “Rodents only” maybe. Remember, “hunting” does not equate to “eating” for many cats. Since most cans have pull-tabs now, cats aren’t trained to come when they hear an electric can-opener anymore. It doesn’t matter because I don’t know anyone who has one. A “search” or “find” feature might be useful here, or some other way to program your cat to come when called. Heavens knows mine never have. It’s a new use for a “home” button.

Oh, volume buttons would be lovely but we can skip “mute” because we love our feline friends and don’t want to be cruel.

Very important would be a timer feature for “lovies.” You know that super cute snuggle time when a cat purrs almost non-stop and seems to be dead set on pressing her face through yours? Yeah, I’d like to restrict that to waking hours. Human waking hours. Along those lines, can we have a simple “claws retracted” button for when they do that kneading thing? It’s super cute on a blanket, but considerably less so on a sweater that you’re currently wearing. It’s more than a convenience, it’s a safety issue.

I’d also like the option, even for an upgraded price, to map out where on a human a cat is permitted to walk when climbing over us. Jingles brought this feline tendency to my attention again this morning, somewhere around 630 am. Normally I don’t sleep on my back. There are reasons, not the least of these is my loving cat’s uncanny ability to walk up me and put her paws in all the wrong places. I’m sure men are crossing legs in a fit of subconscious discomfort. It’s no less an issue for women, The Girl has the exact same complaint. Jingles (and Nimoy too while she was still with us) consistently sits on the rib cage and places at least one paw directly on a nipple. I’m not sure how a two to four pound cat can place twenty pounds of pressure on one square inch, but she manages. I’m also not sure how she never misses. My daughter is petite, and not to be crude, but Jingles has about a one in nine chance of hitting the nipple there. I’m guessing. I’m somewhat more endowed. A greater breast surface area should mean the odds are more in my favor. The Girl and I agree the laws of physics and statistics are broken when considering this problem. If an option to map out “no walk” areas on a body isn’t going to happen, can I at least request some sort of malicious sitting weight limit? This is another safety issue, for both me and the cat. One of these days she may go flying.

A choice of modes would be convenient also. Jingles comes with two main modes: housecat, and feral. If she’s inside or on the porch and it’s nasty weather, cold, or late, then she’s in housecat mode and you can pick her up and treat her accordingly. Feral mode means you can’t touch her and she will ruthlessly torment or hunt anything she sees. Feral Jingles teases us by calmly wandering toward us while we’re outside, then turning and running like hell at the last minute before she’s in reach. Or go racing by as if to say “you’re a pathetic human and can’t match my swiftness and agility” when we appear outside of our own yard. Not that I mind feral mode, it’s fine and keeps Jingles from getting extremely antsy in the middle of the night, but I’d like some input. Like when we’re leaving the house and won’t be home until late, or know it’s likely to start raining while we’re gone. I’d like to be able to override the feral setting and return her to housecat mode. I promise not to abuse the privilege.

I won’t ask for on/off, that’s taking it too far. We’re talking about cats; 90% of the time they’re off anyway and if you can’t take it that the remaining 10% of the time without fail is inconvenient to your schedule, you need to cowboy up. Having parameters for “play time with humans” hours might be acceptable. Incorporate a customizable night mode maybe. Something that let’s us (between 10 pm and 6 am) uncheck “play with children,” “sing,” and “race helter-skelter through the house.”

Remembering Princess, our fat Siamese of seemingly long ago, The Girl suggested some sort of food amount or type limit. Considering the same cat, then Nimoy, I’d like some sort of “Alpha-cat” designator so we don’t have to deal with them fighting about it. It’s not about who’s most loved, just better suited to the role. Some cats are good rulers – patient and forgiving to their subjects regardless of species, age, gender, or size; others are brats.

Naturally it’s important to have a “restore original settings” option, but I suggest a two-step confirmation process. Something that requires thumbs.

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