Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Goodbye to Pandora

 Today, I said goodbye to my beautiful cat of 13 years, Pandora (Kitty Kitty to her friends).

I'd always had cats, but John swore when we got married we wouldn't have any, because he did not like them.

Six months later he got me a cat for Christmas because of course he did.

She was a teeny-tiny little thing, found on the mean streets of Philly by some college students. But she didn't get along at all with their other cats, so they put her on Craigslist and passed her on to us.

She was terrified at first. She spent her first week hiding behind the washing machine; all we saw of her was a pair of yellow eyes. Another time I couldn't find her anywhere and thought she'd escaped, when we found her behind an open dresser drawer.

But after a while she warmed up and turned into a very affectionate, one-person cat. She loved me and only me. She demanded to sit on my lap or, if I had my laptop on my lap, would get on the back of the couch and purr against my shoulder. Every single day, if I was home, she was snuggling with me.

She did not like it when we had kids. The nerve. Marko once tried to play with her and she scratched his face. She wasn't having it. She especially hated the dog, when we brought him home. Honestly I'm not sure what we expected. Gilbert always respected her space, having been smaller than her when we got him, but she never relaxed around him.

She had a spot to nap out of his reach, on my desk, and she kept me company every day, despite all the other chaos that was going on.

Then we moved, and she decided the only part of the house she liked was the basement. I tried and tried to convince her otherwise: no dice. But when Gilbert had been shut up for the night, she would come upstairs for a little snuggle sesh on the couch.

Tummy rubs were even allowed, under the right circumstances.

Curled up, she was so tiny.

She was a picture of elegance, as only a black cat can be.

But don't let her elegance fool you: she was as derpy as the next cat. Sometimes she would try to leap onto something, fail, and walk off casually hoping nobody saw that. (We did.)

As she got older, she started warming up to the kids a little bit. She didn't come to them, but if I was already petting her, they could join in.

We got Tiger, and she hated Tiger. Tiger tried to be friendly but no dice. Kitty Kitty would attack her without warning. Sometimes I think Kitty Kitty did not know how to speak cat. She didn't do the normal warnings cats do, and she failed to recognize Tiger's signs of friendliness. Maybe she was kitty-autistic. Or maybe she'd just had some bad experiences with other cats before she came to us.

Anyway, there were a few precious moments in her life when both cats would tolerate each other in order to get close to me, and I always took a picture.

When we moved, she decided the basement here was not adequate, and she claimed my room for herself too. She always wanted me to be on the bed with her. Sometimes she would wander the upstairs hall crying until I came and sat with her. Sometimes she would just hide in the back of my closet instead. But anytime I came to sit or lie on my bed, she would join me.

Have I mentioned her toe beans? Look at those toe beans.

Well, she got old. She had a few concerning symptoms, we took her to the vet, and it turned out her whole belly was full of cancer. There was nothing anybody could really do. It was strange to hear that when she seemed pretty close to fine, just a little on the skinny side and more snuggly than she used to be.

But within a week after that she had a rapid decline. It was really hard to see it happen to her. The hardest part being that she no longer wanted to cuddle. She only wanted to hide under my bed or pace around the house crying. It's been a hard week with her like this. I've woken up at night to carry her to the litterbox, I've syringed water into  her mouth. Not because I thought there was hope, but because I wanted to make it easy for her as long as I could. She deserved everything.

I said goodbye to her today. I had told myself a lot of things about it. That she was a cat, that this is not too bad of a lifespan for a cat, she had a good run. Or that nobody would miss her but me, because at least she was a one person cat. Or that having cats that grow old, and then you get another cat, is the circle of life.

But when it came down to it, I cried so hard. She's been my friend for such a long time, longer than I've known any of my children. She was so tiny and soft. She loved me with her whole heart, a heart that was not open to very many people. I wish we'd had more time, even though I know no amount a cat could have would ever have been enough.

Telling the kids was really hard too. I thought they wouldn't care, but they do. She's been a distant, hostile part of their whole lives. And in the moments when she let them approach and scritch her ears, they felt so special.

We will eventually not be sad anymore. At some point we will get another cat, hopefully one that Tiger gets along with. Loving cats hurts because you know the whole time it won't be forever, and then it's not and you're somehow still surprised. But I'm not going to stop doing it. They are beautiful creatures whose time with us is always worth the pain of loss.

But today, I'm crying because when the kids go to bed tonight, she's not going to pop up to cuddle with me. I wish she could.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

It's somehow fall now

So, uh, I haven't updated here since June. Oops. I try to post here at least once a month so my archives look nice and neat, but July was stressful and I missed it then, and then my perfect record was gone so I wasn't motivated anymore. You know how it is. Or maybe you don't, not many people have decade-old blogs they still keep alive anymore!

My parole from fulltime parenting has finally come. Jackie started kindergarten. I've been looking forward to this moment for YEARS and it finally happened!

I was terrified Jackie wasn't going to adapt well. The open house before school started was a disaster. The teacher hadn't seen her IEP, called Jackie "Jacqueline," and had that name on her desk and cubby and everything. Way to give the worst possible impression to a kid already skeptical about the whole business. Jackie spit at her and called her stupid and basically made her worst impression possible.

And yet, once the first day of school rolled around, she was actually fine! She loves her teacher now. Her name has been fixed on everything. She has a best friend she plays with every recess. She always gets ready fast on weekday mornings and wants to go wait at the bus stop 20 minutes before it's time.

Everyone else is doing fine in their new classes. Marko is in Advanced English, which is exciting for him. His grades aren't great, because he keeps missing assignments and not asking for help, but he's learning a lot and trying. I just hope the teacher understands it's an executive function issue, not a lack of effort. Michael is in robotics club a second year running and is also learning the cello. To me, it's just amazing that they give a kid a cello and lessons for free. I want a cello and lessons for free! That was never an option at any of the schools I've been to.

Miriam likes school less this year, because her best friend is not in her class. But she's still doing extremely well and is pulling As in everything because of course she is. I worry about her perfectionism, but I'm proud of her hard work.

John quit his library job and is a project manager now. I feel bad about this, because I think he could have loved libraries if his particular library hadn't been so dysfunctional. Plus a pandemic. Plus underfunding and understaffing and libraries being expected to solve all societal problems simply because they're the only place people can go. But he's very happy in project management and is working from home. It's so nice that he doesn't have to spend hours and hours every week fighting DC traffic. 

Of course I feel like a colossal fool for moving here only one year before he stopped needing to commute. We could have stayed in our old house! We can, of course, move back, but moving is so stressful for everyone and everyone's finally settled in at school, so it feels impossible to consider doing it again. It took me a year to even feel comfortable here. I don't want another year where I feel homesick and homeless because I don't feel like home in the perfectly good house we moved to.

Having Jackie in school had an instant positive effect on my mental health, as I hoped it would. She's just a lot, and I need quiet time to recharge. Now I finally have some.

It did not, however, increase my productivity as much as I thought it would. I have all this time! How is it taking me all that time to do my work, run a couple errands, and occasionally clean the house? My hope was to make a schedule for myself that made my responsibilities routine. I can do just about anything if it's a routine. Unfortunately, that routine keeps getting thrown by other things. I get sick, or a kid gets sick, or I get a bad headache. Every fall I get lots of headaches, and I still don't know why.

So it could be better, but honestly being productive isn't everything. I'm doing the same amount of paid work as before, but I don't feel massively stressed about it. I'm getting book deadlines done. The house looks slightly better than it did during the summer. And I feel significantly better about all aspects of my life.

But my prior ideas of taking on more freelance work or maybe taking some college classes feel ridiculous. With what time? With what energy? Would I maybe have more energy if I had some scheduled activities? But what if I did and it just made me stressed all the time again?

Since I don't know the answer, I'm sticking with this for the present. Just getting done the stuff I need to, and maybe having a little more time for my hobbies. Hopefully going outside a non-zero amount, at least until the weather gets cold. And once it does, maybe making a weekly visit to the local indoor pool.

How are you all doing?

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

A dream of mine is coming true

 So, April was pretty much a wash for getting anything done, because I had two different trips I took plus two birthdays. And May was mostly lost to COVID. So here we are in June and I'm realizing that this blog hasn't had an update in a while and so you don't know my news!

I finally, FINALLY got a book deal. It is an extremely small book deal with a very tiny, new publisher. But I did my due diligence and they are neither a scam nor complete amateurs, so I think they will do a good job with my books.

Yes, that's books plural, they want the entire solar sailing trilogy. I've been feeling like the world needed more historically-inspired, low-tech space opera, centering the struggles of the common man. Or, in this case, woman. So I wrote one, and then I hadn't managed to fit in all the interesting worldbuilding I'd dreamed up, so I wrote another, and I'm working on the third. And these will ALL be coming to you, starting next summer! With pretty covers and available from major online booksellers!

It's very exciting. I know that publishing on this level, without an agent and separately from the publishing oligopoly (I can't remember if it's Big Five still or Big Four but it's Few Options, anyway) means I won't be selling thousands of copies, becoming famous, or making millions. But it's a chance to reach the select batch of people who will enjoy these books. And lots of authors do start here and gradually build a much bigger following. But honestly, what I wanted was to be picked by a non-me person (eg, not self publishing) and then to be read without having to nag my friends and family to do it as a favor. Which I will finally accomplish.

Now, there's a little snag, which I knew was coming if I ever published these things. The books have a lesbian romance in them. I knew some people wouldn't approve. Other people would start asking questions about me that I haven't answered, at least not in their presence.

I could, of course, try to pretend that I have written *counts on fingers* four novels now with queer romances in them as an exercise in empathy. But I doubt anybody would believe me, and in any event it wouldn't make me happy. The second you begin to doubt whether people would love you if they knew the truth about you, it starts to feel like they already don't love you. Because after all, the only you they have access to is the one with the uncomfortable truths edited out. They love that one, but it isn't you.

Anyway, I am bisexual, and I didn't hide it, and a lot of people got upset about it when they figured it out. Some people seem to think bisexual means that I sleep with a lot of people. (I do not. I am a boring monogamous married lady.) Or that I'm basically straight but want attention. (I would honestly prefer less attention, at least for this.) What it really is, is that some of the things I imagine and dream of and relate to, are women falling for women, so that's what I write. And people could just accept this as a normal thing that people do. But they don't, so I feel the need to explain myself. To say, sure, this is a thing I feel.

It puzzles me that some Catholics disapprove of me because of this. I mean, I left the church some time ago. That was, by Catholic standards, a sin. Feeling butterflies in my stomach because a pretty woman smiled at me is not a sin. It's simply a feeling. You could, I suppose, urge me to try not to feel that way, to pretend I don't, to write only universes in which those feelings never happen, to write only some of the romances I think are beautiful.

But why would I do that?

When I was Catholic, the idea that gay marriage and gay relationships were wrong was a thing I simply had to take on faith. And I no longer have any faith. There is no reason why I should condemn them; there never was. And it just feels better not to second-guess half my feelings, to treat half of myself as broken. I don't feel that I am.

Anyway, if the idea of a Navy midshipman and a notorious pirate falling in love while pushing back against two dystopian governments appeals to you . . . you'll have to wait about a year because publishing is slow, but I'll share the links here when I have them.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

The pale horse caught up with me

 Two years I managed to escape it, but now we all have COVID.

It's not hard to figure out how. Two months ago, the schools lifted the mask requirement. Since then, we've all been sick several times, even though my kids still wear theirs. Cloth masks aren't that great to begin with, and they only protect others, not yourself. But N95s aren't available in child sizes. I got them better masks during the steep wave earlier this year, but they cost a lot and weren't reusable. If I'd known cases were on the rise now, I would have gotten more, but the first I noticed was when we were already sick.

Marko caught it first, no surprises there. Middle school requires a lot of mixing around; there are always cases in his school. He had a sore throat and a fever for two days. I should have tested him, but I didn't. Last time I tested him, it took two adults to hold him down and swab him, and it just felt a little heartless when he'd be staying home till he was recovered anyway.

He was sick for two days, well for two, and then I got sick. Sore throat that felt just like a regular cold, with fever following very shortly after. I tested myself that evening and tested positive. So did John.

Various kids have had various symptoms all week. I'm sure the school district would love us to keep track of everyone's individual symptoms and test everyone. But they agreed to my plan to keep us all locked down for ten days and test each kid once before they return.

I'm glad we're all vaccinated. Nobody has been seriously ill. But we adults have been very uncomfortably ill, with excruciating sore throats, coughing, fever, whole days in bed. Today is day 6 for me and I'm sneezing and blowing my nose like I've got allergies, and I still kinda want to stay in bed. But this counts for very good improvement, all things considered.

I feel frustrated and helpless. Sure, there have been times when I've taken calculated risks. I don't know if it's better or worse that none of those times actually gave me COVID, just the non-optional duty of sending my kids to school. (Virtual is not an option this year, here.) I'm mad that we didn't keep masks; people can fight over their effectiveness but I'm pretty sure they kept us COVID-free for two years. Now certain sources are saying that cases are high enough now that people should consider masking again. Seriously? Talk about shutting the barn door after the horse is out. I feel we always do just a bit too little for the current risk scenario. If I briefly feel that we're doing enough, and I actually feel comfortable going out . . . the rules relax further, it becomes less safe, and I stop feeling like I should go out anymore.

I wish I could just relax now, having had it, but they're saying now it's mutating fast enough that a person may be able to get it as much as four times a year. This is just how we live now. Just tolerating an amount of sickness we never did before, with of course a certain number of deaths annually. I hear the flu was the same. There wasn't a seasonal flu before 1918, and now there is, and we just accept tens of thousands of deaths from it, plus of course the misery of the rest of us having to get it. And it's such a little deal that we write off other illnesses as being as insignificant as that.

I'm tired, you guys. None of this had to be this way, but everything seems to be getting stupider all the time, so why not, right? Can't have our health, can't have anything.

Anyway, the kids are mostly well now, and bored, but they're murdering each other significantly less than they sometimes do, so that's something. They'll get back to school in time for two weeks of end-of-year fun, and then it'll be summer. As worried as I am about keeping them entertained without school, I'm glad we'll be able to go outside and play with the neighbors at least.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

My ideal vacation

 We went on vacation this weekend. There's a mountain lodge just an hour and a half from us, and John had a three-day weekend. It's sort of an agritourism place—a little farm, horses, a creek, apple trees, that kind of thing.

Going on a vacation with kids is rather fraught. The adults are stressing out trying to make sure we eat and sleep and say on. The kids are bouncing off the walls with excitement to do [future fun thing], or they're currently doing the fun thing and fighting over who can do it first/ most/ best, or they're complaining that the fun thing, which they absolutely did enjoy, was retroactively not fun at all now that it's over.

That said, they did have a good time for the most part. They played foosball, fed goats, and made s'mores. Me, I enjoyed the folk music around the fire, the pond, and doing puzzles in the game room.

Still, vacations are not easy for me. I always spend the first day or two feeling out of sorts. Sleeping in a new place leaves me tired, and without my familiar routines and surroundings I don't feel like myself.

For a weekend vacation, before I can adapt I go home. If the vacation is longer, I get attached to the place and miss it when I leave. I just bond to places more than most people seem to!

But I still amuse myself imagining my ideal vacation. Surely if everything were perfect enough, I could still have a good time!

The most important thing to me is that it's in the country somewhere. I need a nice view out the window and somewhere to walk around outside. If I wanted to overlook a parking lot I could just stay home.

Second, social time is not a vacation. It's still worth doing, and I will travel to see friends because I love them, but then I have to go back to my regular life less rested than when I left! So the ideal vacation is alone.

Third, there must be food I don't have to cook, easily accessible. Airbnbs fail on this count. The name had me fooled at first. There's really just a bed, no breakfast. You can bring your own, but cooking is one of the things I'm seeking to escape!

My ideal situation is like at retreats, where they have set mealtimes and the food is served without fuss. I'll accept a connected restaurant, but if it's 45 minutes and $20 to get lunch, that's not ideal to have to do three meals a day.

Things to do? Not required. I'd bring a book and my laptop to do some writing and be perfectly happy.

These kinds of places exist, for sure. Most of them are religious retreat houses, but I have an allergy. The rest are all inclusive spa resorts, which are too expensive for me. 

But the place we went was pretty close to all I want. I might come here again for a writing retreat, all by myself.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Two views on parenting

 I noticed, rather early in my parenting career, two very different attitudes toward parenting. One, which was mine, was that it is a job. I do it for the sake of my children. It is hard. I cheer on their milestones. The older they get, the closer I am to being done.

The other is that it is an experience to treasure. You are supposed to love every minute. You keep a baby book and tons of keepsakes. You are sad when they grow older, because then you're closer to this magical time being over.

At the time I kind of despised the latter view. I felt it instrumentalized children, made them a fun consumer item rather than a sacred trust. Isn't it our job to help them grow up, not enjoy ourselves? Won't this lead to people pushing their children backwards because they dread them growing up?

But I was watching Jackie ride her bike the other day, and I thought, you know what? This moment won't last. I need to treasure it. Even though I forgot to get a picture of it. Even though I never kept a baby book and lost the kids' ultrasound pictures and don't, honestly, miss the baby stage. There is something to be said for simply delighting in your kids. Because kids deserve to be delighted in. They need to know that being with them makes you happy. That they're not just a chore for you.

I feel that this was missing in the definition I learned of love from various Catholic sources. Love, they reminded us sternly, is not good feelings, it is desiring the good for the other. To which I say, sure, it isn't just good feelings, but when people crave love, they don't simply crave being cared about. We want to be liked. We want to know the other person enjoys being with us. It's the knowledge that the good in us is recognized and appreciated.

This is especially true of kids, who are kind of a chore sometimes and are generally aware of it long before they are able to not be a chore. They know their parents love them, that their parents have to love them, but it doesn't feel good to know that you are loved just for duty, that your presence doesn't make your parents happy.

Obviously this isn't something you can force as easily as "willing the good." You can force yourself to work toward anyone's good, no matter how awful they are, but to like someone, there has to be something good about them. Plus, when you're exhausted or depressed, it can be hard to delight in your kids.

Still. It's important to remember that appreciating what a child (or anyone) has to offer us isn't purely selfish. It's giving them a chance to feel good and worthy. So I've been trying to remember to both say and show to my children that I like being around them. That, sure, some games I play with them purely because they beg me to, but some things I truly do enjoy. I love taking my kids on walks in the woods. I like hearing the ideas they come up with. I like listening to an audiobook or watching a good show together. And it's important that I make that obvious--that my kids know I'm not their grudging servant, I'm a person who is honestly lucky to have such delightful children.

Friday, March 11, 2022

The post on inflation I can't write for work

 I'm learning so much about finance from my job. However, since the financial advice I write is mainly for rich people who might need someone to manage their accounts for them, not poor people I want to radicalize into socialists, there's stuff I can't really address.

Inflation is really bad right now; it's the worst it's been since the 80s. Naturally this is bad in a lot of ways. It means that rent and food and transportation and healthcare are all more expensive than ever, but since wages lag inflation, you're probably still getting paid about the same. Meanwhile the money in your bank account is also worth less than it was. If you're really rich, you can get around this by investing your money at rates above inflation. But that's not normally something you can do if you don't have a pile of extra money lying around.

People have been asking what causes inflation, and mainly they seem to want to blame the president. Which is odd because we don't live in a country where presidents are permitted to set prices. Still, I have to admit that extra tax credits and stimulus have contributed to the price increases.

Here's how it works. Say a loaf of bread costs 50 cents to make and you can sell it for a dollar. If you sell it for more than a dollar, people aren't willing to pay that much for it, so you actually make less profit than if you keep the price at a dollar. Well and good.

Trouble is, people need to eat bread. So if all your competitors and you hike the price of bread at more or less the same time, people will still buy it even if it's $5 a loaf. Because they have to eat, and presumably you've hiked the price on all the other food you sell too.

Demand here is inflexible so prices can skyrocket--with one small check. This is that, if the price goes up enough, a certain number of poor people can't buy it no matter how much they want to. They go hungry rather than buy the bread. Now you're losing profits, so you grudgingly have to lower the price again. Low prices are generally good. Some very poor people still can't afford the bread though. You'll drop it to the point that most of your customers can afford the bread. Nobody's actually interested in making sure every single person can afford their product, just that they can sell enough volume to make a good profit.

Imagine, though, that the government realizes some people are going hungry, because they can't afford even a dollar a loaf. So it subsidizes food for the hungry, either by food stamps or straight-up cash.

Immediately demand goes up, and you (you're still a baker in this metaphor) sell a lot more. And you think, hey, with demand like this, maybe I can hike the price! So you hike it a little, and a little more, until demand drops off (some poor people cannot afford your bread). Then you've reached the sweet spot when you're making the most profit on bread you can.

It's safe to say, then, that providing for the poor causes inflation. It will always do that, because as long as suppliers are seeking only their own profit, the more money you provide to consumers, the higher demand will be, and the prices will go up.

This has happened with education. Easy-to-obtain student loans > most people can afford to at least try college > college prices go up. Now everyone's crushed by debt and all, but the profit margin is great. If we subsidize college more, prices will simply go up more. There is no reason for them to ever stop increasing prices until the point at which people stop buying the product. The price will always be set at a number some people can't afford.

And healthcare. Healthcare has very inflexible demand, because nobody likes dying. And so you can see the prices increase and increase; they don't stop increasing because sick people never stop buying healthcare. They will only stop increasing at the level when a significant number of people can't afford to buy it and die instead.

And rent, of course. And houses for sale. The costs go up and up and up, and we are all squeezed tighter and tighter, trying to pay for it. A certain number will not be able to do so, and we have homeless people. We have to have homeless people, to demonstrate we've reached the maximum price for the demand. A certain group of people do not even want there to be anywhere for homeless people to live, because if there is a painless option besides paying a thousand a month to a landlord and accepting a terrible job to pay for it, people will take that option. There has to be punishment for people who don't grind hard enough.

There is, of course, competition, and that helps. If someone wants to carve out a niche as the budget option, they can do so. (Much as I hate Walmart as a company, they make it possible for me to dress my children so I'm not going to say I'm not grateful.) But, in general, there's not enough competition. I heard from a guy on twitter the other day who lives in an area with only one grocery store. Bread there is $7 a loaf. Because when you're a monopoly you can do that. Here where I live, I've been able to reliably get bread for 60 cents, because we have quite a few different stores.

In this country, most things are provided by a very short list of companies. If they all agree-- either explicitly, or simply by watching each other's prices-- they can easily drive prices up and wages down. Take publishing. Since there are only five major publishers, there isn't a lot of competition for any book you want to sell, and advances get smaller while fringe benefits vanish. Likewise if the only department stores in your region are Target and Walmart, Target can set its price fairly high and all Walmart has to do is set theirs just a little bit lower to still be the budget option.

So, is it true that if we raise the minimum wage to keep up with inflation, it will cause more inflation? Probably, yeah. 

I still think we should do it, though. Because I would rather run a race trying to keep up with inflation than simply let a huge number of people fall further and further behind.

But I think we're eventually going to need some longer-term solution. Anti-trust enforcement is a big  one we haven't done enough in a long time. But I'm open to hearing more ideas. I know that division of wealth was once a lot more balanced in this country, and that there are countries where you can flip burgers for a living and still own a house. So it shouldn't be impossible.

But first, I think, we're going to have to want to. And there are a million and one reasons why people don't want that at all.

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