Category Archives: Everything Else

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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Filed under Everything Else, Writing

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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Filed under Cats, Everything Else

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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My Missing Cat Says Your Vote Counts

The hunt for Nimoy is over. Not because we found her, but because the hunt largely consisted of The Girl going out running/Pokemon Go-ing in the area Nimoy ran off and periodically calling for her. Our local pet shelter puts pictures of their new additions online as well as recovered bodies. Checking that is my job. No sign of Nimoy yet, so I’m taking the upbeat position of she’s found a house of suckers to take her in and baby her like we did. If it was Jingles that went missing, I’d at least consider the position of her going feral, but Nimoy isn’t that kind of cat. She’s an example of humanity interfering in the whole Darwinian Evolution theory by thwarting “natural selection/survival of the species” as a mere inconvenience to be overcome by looking pathetic and meowing.

So Nimoy’s presumed to have a new home and she’s happy and snug somewhere. I’m firm with this position because it relieves The Girl from needing to continue searching for her. Why the change? The Girl got hit by a car a few weeks ago and running is now firmly outside of her skill set.

She’s okay. Sort of. Being 18 and extremely fit meant she mostly bounced so she escaped with no broken bones, only some scrapes, bumps, nasty bruises, and a few torn muscles. Her leg, knee, hip, shoulder, neck, and back hurt and she’s in physical therapy. As a result she lost her job at a local gym, which she loved and is really upset about. That incident has produced a lot of stress and swearing in our household, partially because my little girl is hurting and unhappy in her recovery, and partially because it’s interfering in her freshman year of college.

The Boy is back to regular school from homeschool (yay, that sucked) but now I’m playing fill-in professor and helping The Girl with her “baby” biology assignments and math. Hubby has to help her with her toddler-level psychology because I really hated psychology and it showed. Her professors are pretty understanding of her newfound limitations and missing almost every class because she can’t walk, sit, or carry books. I’m grateful she’s taking classes Hubby and I can help her with. Basic biology? Cake walk. Math has changed, which amazes me considering this stuff has been around, largely unchanged, for thousands of years. They have some seriously weird ways to solve some of these advanced algebraic equations now, and that’s been interesting.

That’s my last month in a nutshell. Now onto more interesting things: arguing about the elections with my 18-year-old. Ah yes, I remember my first time voting, it wasn’t nearly this ugly. My kids have grown up knowing how the government was designed and would work (absent the corrupting influence of politicians), but we’ve debated historical instances and the many ways this election could play out. The end result? I’ve been repeatedly reminded that Hubby and both kids have dual citizenship with Canada and wouldn’t it be awesome to move north and live closer to the bits of family we never see? Um, have you ever visited Calgary or Edmonton, Alberta in the winter? OMG life is not worth living. No. British Columbia I might bite on, but not anywhere you have to plug your engine block in to courtesy outlets in the parking lot to keep it from freezing while you run into the grocery store for a gallon of milk. No.

Okay, so a car’s engine block won’t usually freeze that completely, but that it’s a reality instead of a “hey, that’s weird” concept is enough of a warning sign to me to stay away. I can deal with temperatures dipping below freezing, but not that far and that often. No.

With that, my family is in the same position as most of the country in that we can’t just leave for the next four years. Unable to escape the consequences of the upcoming election, we have to face it.

To be honest, I’m in a state of semi-denial. Looking around, I’m not alone.

There are a couple of things that really bother me about the upcoming election. Only a couple? Okay, a lot of things. I can sum it up as the Democrats and Republicans, that’s a couple of things. No, seriously. Aside from some die hard fans out there that won’t be swayed away from their chosen party/candidate (even if said candidate got up on the dais, slit the throat of a commentator, and started lapping up the blood on national television) a growing number of voters are what I conservatively will call concerned about the outcome this election. Many are concerned that the country may be screwed no matter what the outcome is. Others are disheartened to the point of convincing themselves there’s no point in voting.

Your vote does count. When you slip into that booth on Election Day, I trust you will do more than vote for a presidential candidate. Senators and representatives, on a state and federal level, will also have elections to be determined. Governors, mayors, sheriffs, judges, and more – there is always more than just a single issue on the ballot. Your vote most definitely counts in all of those instances! In fact, some candidates are counting on poor turnout from a disheartened population to keep their opponent’s supporters from casting votes. Don’t play into their scheme.

In a Presidential election, your vote is … complicated. The Electoral College elects the President, not popular vote. A lot of people who realize this thinks it makes their vote worthless. Not exactly. In 2000, President George W. Bush won the electoral vote but not the popular vote. It happens. If a candidate wins 11/12 specific states, they have the required number of electoral votes to win the country. Easy. Well, no. Neither major party candidate has a lock right now and the third party candidates aren’t even close.

When you vote, you’re not technically voting for the presidential nominee of your choice, you’re voting for the elector for your district that represents the presidential nominee of your choice. Popular vote for your district determines the elector, then the elector casts a single vote for the presidential nominee. Whichever candidate gets the majority of the electoral votes for the state gets all the electoral votes for the state (Nebraska & Maine are the exceptions to this rule). It takes 270 electoral votes to win. While federal law doesn’t require the elector to vote according to popular vote of the district, state law sometimes does. You can look here to see if your state requires the elector to vote with the party/popular vote of the district. Third party candidates have electors too, and anyone campaigning to be a write-in candidate (where allowed) should have electors selected.

So your vote for a president does count, it’s just needlessly complicated and indirect. Well, it mostly counts, it depends on the circumstances and your point of view. The value of each vote is diluted, but they add up. But wait, there’s more!

I’m not an overwhelming fan of sports, but I want to make a point so we’ll look at a baseball game. Let’s say the home team scores 3 runs in the first inning and the visitors score 5. Okay, good. There’s time, no big deal. Come the 8th inning, the home team has 14 runs and the visitors have 15. Every run is now of critical importance. There are 9 innings in a baseball game, FYI. So the spectators are all on the edge of their seats and the players are putting in extra effort. Or maybe it’s the 8th inning and the score is 5 to 15. The spectators all start filing out and the players are just going through the motions.

In an election, this is the importance of the media. If the media reports a landslide, a lot of registered voters who are planning to vote after work won’t bother. It takes time and they’re tired, and what’s the point? But if they report it’s close, people who shrugged it off earlier in the day pull on their shoes and wander down to a voting site. Die hard fans (of the candidate or process) still tend to go vote, it’s the average person who may shrug it off – but there are a lot of average people. It’s an ongoing argument for why the media shouldn’t release the results for the east coast until the polls close in Hawaii and Alaska. At least California since it’s one of the critical states in terms of electoral votes.

Media interference in the process aside, let’s return to the baseball game. Okay, game over, the home team lost 15 to 16. Damn. You’re playing for the home team (don’t read anything into it), and you contributed one of those 15 runs. Did it count? Well your team lost so you could argue your contribution was wasted. But if you didn’t play and didn’t achieve that run, it definitely would have been worse and you would have forever wondered if your participation would have made a difference. Maybe if you played you would have achieved two runs and tied, or three and won the game, or stopped the other team from completing a run. You don’t know if you don’t play.

So sometimes your vote, well, it isn’t so much as it doesn’t count as it isn’t part of the winning team. As long as you played, that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

The other situation where your vote is lost is if you’re a Democrat in Utah. Or Idaho, Wyoming, or Kansas. None of these four states have granted their electoral votes to a Democrat since 1964. The point is, if you’re a Democrat in one of these states, I’m sorry but your vote for a Democratic Presidential Candidate isn’t going anywhere. Probably. Utahns aren’t enamored with Trump, to the point that when Sanders was an option he could have wrested the state from the Republicans. That’s saying something. Republicans don’t campaign in these states and neither do the Democrats, it’s that much of a lock so why spend the time or money? Although Independent Candidate Evan McMullin is leading the polls in Utah. I’m not kidding. I would love it if an Independent would take a state and it blows my mind that it’s possible. Think of the message that would send to our leaders in D.C..

I don’t mean to leave the Democrats out, but when I went looking for the most Democratic-leaning states, I couldn’t find one with a long standing history like these four because of Reagan’s monumental landslide in 1984. These four all were subject to Johnson’s landslide in 1964 or the red streak would have gone back further.

I digress. Let’s wander back to that popular vs electoral vote issue. President George W. Bush won the electoral vote but not the popular. I suspect we’re going to see some funny numbers in this election also. Not necessarily with the President-Elect, but with the third-party candidates. Here’s where I’m waffling, along with a lot of other people:

Can a third party candidate become president?

Lincoln did.

The election of 1860 was the first victory of the Republican Party, formed to primarily address the controversial issue of slavery. Lincoln only received 40% of the popular vote and won because he was popular in the densely populated northern states with a lot of electoral votes. Plus California. There were four candidates and dividing the vote almost certainly helped.

The Republican Party was formed by ex-Whig Party members, much like the Green & Libertarian & Constitutional parties draw some members from the major parties now. It was founded for the previous election, but without much success. If you look to history as an indicator of what’s possible for the future, it means that fledgling third parties need only keep trying. That’s an important concept. Don’t give up on the smaller parties just because it doesn’t work out this election. The Republicans took a couple tries to get their candidate in the White House.

As Election Day grows closer, I’ll be watching the predictions to see how things are leaning in my state. I’d like to vote third party and right now see no reason why I can’t. If it looked borderline where my vote could be necessary to – I’m not even sure, then I’d lower myself to choosing the lesser of evils. I’m not even sure who that is. But I understand my area and how the process works. My vote is my own and I’ll use it to send a message.

The media is largely ignoring the third party candidates, so they may throw a curve in the election numbers when they tally finally comes in. With multiple third party candidates, I have no hope one of them will gather enough disenfranchised people to win. But the numbers they do gather gives power to those fledgling parties and sends a message to the mainstream parties.

I understand every vote for an independent is robbing one of the main candidates, but I don’t see that being a big issue. Like the 1992 Bush-Clinton-Perot election, one candidate could lose so many votes to a third party (Bush lost supporters to Perot) that the other candidate (Clinton) gains an accidental advantage. Perot had no chance of winning the election, but his participation ensured Bush’s loss. How can I say that? The breakdown of votes show Perot drew more of the Republican votes than the Democrat votes.

The independents will have a similar effect, but members of both parties are disenfranchised this time. The Democrats would have been in serious trouble if Sanders gave his support, and voters, to an independent candidate. That might have guaranteed a Republican victory, which is why he didn’t do it. Trump is unpopular enough that the Republicans are having essentially the same problem the Democrats have with independents withdrawing support for other options, so I doubt there will be a huge impact like Perot had on Bush and Clinton.

There is a slight possibility, however, and it sort of makes me giggle so I’ll mention it. Evan McMullin could take Utah. It’s not a lock, but it could happen. You need 270 electoral votes to win. What if McMullin takes Utah and its votes? Probably nothing. To take the scenario further, what if Clinton and Trump are neck and neck, to the point neither gets 270 votes once Utah’s paltry 6 are off the table? Then the House of Representative decides. Oddly, popular vote will once again be important, although they’re not required to follow it. Suddenly it’s a matter of who has sway in the House. It’s unlikely, but sort of amusing to consider.

Here’s the other way your vote counts. Regardless of who wins the electoral vote, popular vote sends a message. Having a mismatch between the popular and electoral vote gives support to the idea that we don’t need the Electoral College anymore. When the country was huge, communication was slow, and technology didn’t exist to count millions of votes in a night, it was needed. Now, communication is instant, the size of the country is irrelevant aside from the media swaying attendance on the west coast by prematurely calling the election in the east, and we can count the entire population’s vote in a timely matter. The Electoral College means some votes mean more than others, and aren’t we trying to do away with that concept as a country? If the Electoral College was gone, candidates would have to cater to the population as a whole, not to a dozen specific states. Isn’t that the way it was supposed to be anyway?

The other way popular vote matters is that the more people who vote for a third party candidate – any third party candidate – the more power it gives to the people. It tells the parties and the media that the people are tired of the big parties’ extreme behavior. Most people in the U.S. aren’t as extreme as both major parties cater to. They need to understand that. Unfortunately for us, the donations come to these parties from some very extreme special interest groups. Money doesn’t buy votes so much as PR and marketing firms. If we ignore what the candidates want us to believe and make our own decisions, the parties would be in trouble. Politicians don’t need the votes from their PR and marketing companies, or even the media; they need the votes of the people, the average people. That’s the majority of the population in the U.S. and that’s where the power is. But only if we think for ourselves.

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Let Me Tell You About My Family

Let me tell you about my extended family

Hubby has sisters to spare, but only has one brother. That brother is married, and his wife is super special. Really. Super special. Now to be fair, she’s nice. Nice in a really weird way, but nice. For example, I remember when she was worried the kids were hungry because they refused to eat their non-child approved lunch of shrimp cocktail and cucumber sandwiches (which were lovely by the way) so she gave them a package of Oreo cookies to tide them over until dinner. The Girl wasn’t on solids yet when this occurred but I made a note not to let this particular sister-in-law babysit.

Moving on, previously mentioned family member is a wee bit OCD about some things. In particular is an obsession with keeping her living room pristine. Seriously. Your stature in her eyes is obvious depending on whether she allows you to sit in her living room. Or walk in it. Most people (family especially) get hustled from the front door through the entry and directly to the family room opposite the kitchen. I’d also like to say her kitchen is always spotless, and I was a little jealous until I realized it’s because every meal comes from the microwave or a take-out bag.

Another thing she’s OCD about is pets. She doesn’t like them. It just about killed her when her daughter got a gerbil for her birthday two years ago. I believe children should have a pet. It teaches them responsibility and kindness to animals. If not children, teenagers will do. In any case, the gerbil stayed and everything went smoothly, mostly, for a year. Then the gerbil escaped. I thought she was going to have a stroke.

Okay, so OCD, insanely protective of her living room, doesn’t like pets, and has an escaped gerbil on the loose. You know where this is going, right? She tore the house apart, almost literally, looking for that damned gerbil and swearing she would find it before it did any damage. The gerbil had other ideas. We thought the gerbil won, after all, she didn’t find it and time went on.

Then she found it. I think you know that’s not a good thing, not at this point. The gerbil sort of won, at least it got the last word in on behalf of the entire family. Yes, it is now a dearly departed gerbil, and it chose her living room couch as its final resting place. Between the cushions. That no one ever went in there helped prolong the discovery.

Lesson: gerbils are evil. No, wait, that’s not it. Let people sit in the living room. Closer, but no. Life sucks sometimes is a fact, not a lesson. Oh, yeah: Foreshadowing – it isn’t just for entertainment anymore.

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Winning Isn’t The Point

lotto

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t win the lottery last night. Alas, it would have been handy. Also, just this once, the subject doesn’t manage to circle around to cats, like so much else does in this house. There had to be something that didn’t.

I think my favorite part about really big lottery pots are the increase of news articles about math and finances. No one seriously has the lottery as their retirement plan, or at least they don’t call it that. When someone implies winning the lottery is their answer to declining social security funding, it’s their way of saying they don’t have a plan. It’s sort of like a cynical American idiom.

I know I have a few blog readers who aren’t in North America, for you happy souls not troubled with constant worry over Presidential Primaries and outright horror at who our next president might be, let me quickly explain our lottery. I’m not sure what countries have and don’t have them, so bear with me.

Only 6 out of 50 states don’t participate in the lottery. In the 44 that do, and territories, you can buy a ticket, pick six numbers, and pray they match what the machine spits out on Wednesday or Saturday night. If you get all six, you win.

When it comes to winning the lottery, being willful doesn’t matter. This is the part where I get irritated that we’re in such a hurry to teach trigonometry to high school students that we don’t ensure they understand statistics. A bigger pot means more people will buy tickets, but that doesn’t mean you’re competing with your neighbor. They have exactly the same chance of winning that you do and the odds of your one ticket winning doesn’t change no matter how many tickets your neighbor buys. It’s not a raffle, it’s a lottery. You have to choose the numbers, not have your ticket drawn out of a giant fishbowl containing millions of other tickets. I’m really tired of hearing people talk like they don’t understand that.

CNN ran an article a week ago and listed some of the things that are more likely to happen than winning the lottery:

statistics

I really like that last one: you have a better chance of being struck by lightning while drowning. Wow.

And after all of this, even intelligent people will buy the occasional ticket, especially if they don’t have to go out of their way to do it. Why? Hope. And it’s fun to think about if I won the lottery I’d … But you can’t dream if you don’t play.

The Boy is unimaginative. He’s almost 16 and doesn’t have a learner’s permit yet because of his grades. We require him to have an overall and semester B average, and he had a bad year last year. But if we won the lottery, I’d pay the extra to add him to the car insurance. Also, he wants a car. See? Boring.

The Girl is thinking tactically. Lottery winners are targets, so she wants to move to a house that has a perimeter fence, and another ten feet in – like for guard dogs. Except instead of dogs, she wants guard goats. Yes, goats. A combination of fainting and screaming goats, plus billy goats to ram intruders. I’m unclear how exactly that’s better than dogs, but she has it all planned out. Something about goats are friendlier to the environment and cuter. I’m very pleased she’s not going into a security-related field.

 

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Goodbye Facebook

fb

Time is a precious commodity. I’m really feeling that right about now. The kids are sucking up more and more time as The Girl starts looking at college options for next year and The Boy persists in being irresponsible with his home/online schooling schedule. I may boot that kid back into the system just to save myself some headaches. Except it won’t save me any headaches, it’ll just create different ones. Grr. (Reaches for another book on raising teenage boys.)

Since the kids started taking up more time, and Hubby’s parents are getting older and need us around more, I’m finding less time for writing. This is a bad thing for many reasons.

Writing is my sanity. Trust me when I tell you the whole house down to the lizard feels it when I’m not writing regularly. With that in mind, I need to feed the lizard. I wanted to finish The Thousand Words Series and the next book in the Genie In Your Pocket Series (which is also a sequel to Never Ready from the Lexi Frost Series and the final book from The Thousand Words Series. Timelines are a little nutty in there but I explain it all.) I’m partway there. I published A Glorious Mess, the third in The Thousand Words Series, but only as an ebook. The paperback still isn’t available – totally my fault, sorry. And I did finish the final book in The Thousand Words Series but I received interesting feedback on it from my beta readers. I’m debating what to do about that because changes I make there affects Desperate Wishes (the next book in the Genie In Your Pocket Series) and I’m about half done writing that first draft. I intended to have A Thousand Words Book 4 done and published by now (no title, that’s part of the problem) and finishing up Desperate Wishes by Halloween, but that’s not happening. So I’m behind. Realistically, I’ll get The Thousand Words Series finished and on Amazon as an ebook by the end of the year, but Desperate Wishes won’t be published until next year. Fine, I accept that. Grudgingly.

Aside from less time for writing (and revising, and editing, and publishing, and marketing) my lack of available time shows in another way: online. I’m not there as much. Blog posts are erratic, coming sometimes every two weeks instead of weekly. I’m not spending much time on social media and actually irritated by the amount of time The Girl spends on Tumblr simply because I’m jealous. (And she needs to focus on the upcoming ACT to expand her college options.)

Social media isn’t a problem really. I can just let accounts sit idle and get to them here and there when I can. In fact, that’s what I’m doing. Except Facebook picked a bad time to irritate me with their updates and policy changes. I know they’re like a virus and possibly worse than Google when it comes to disregard of user privacy, but Google is handier so they sneak by under my radar. Facebook doesn’t have that luxury. Worse, Facebook is now being shown to be almost useless to writers for reaching their audiences. Readers may follow you, in theory to get updates on book releases and promotions, but those messages get lost in their timelines. When readers can just as easily follow you on Goodreads – a site made specifically for avid readers – sites like Facebook and MySpace are superfluous. And they’re not as useful as once promised for reaching new readers. As an author, I have to take a step back and say “What’s the point then?”

For a long time, authors have been told to have a presence online, it’s necessary for reaching readers. Now the value of many social media sites is under review and not holding up to the potential. Especially if you’re short on time to devote to marketing specifically to those sites. In general, it’s no big deal. You can update or promote occasionally and let it otherwise float along and I’m willing to do that, except with Facebook. I’m tired of policy updates and hearing about their privacy violations from news sites. Now it’s come up how many ‘dead’ accounts there are and how difficult it is for people to get social media accounts deleted after a relative dies. And people with pages and an audience who don’t have their account deleted are targeted to have their pages hacked and updated ‘from beyond the grave’ by bored tech-savvy youths. I can only imagine what might show up on mine so I now have a technology amendment on my will.

Personally, I don’t play games and the updates and invitations are so annoying I have to force myself to even log in. Some of the pages I personally followed have disappeared, my daughter threw in the towel and deleted her account a year ago as did one of my cousins. People who genuinely know me have other ways to reach me. In fact, friends and family never reach out to me on Facebook. Readers can send me a note from my website. There’s little to no value in Facebook for me anymore, so it’s going to have to go. (And I should add I’m very proud of myself for not making that a slam-dunk New Year’s resolution and just taking care of it now.)

So goodbye, Facebook! It was a fun ride there for a while, but it’s time to go our separate ways.

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