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Believability isn’t just about fiction, or Let me tell you about my Evil Grandmother

Sometimes the difference isn’t this obvious. (click to embiggen)

This post meanders a bit before I get to the point. Sorry.

Over the years people have reacted with everything from amusement to confusion to disbelief to my references to my Evil Grandmother. I had two grandmothers, a Nice Grandma and an Evil Grandma. Sometimes when I would comment about something going on with one of my grandmothers, a friend who had heard me use the phrase “Evil Grandma” would ask if this grandmother who had done this annoying thing was her, and I would say, “Oh, no! This is my Nice Grandma!” And they would freak out, “What do you mean, this is the Nice Grandma? That doesn’t sound nice at all!” To which I would reply, “Let me tell you about my Evil Grandmother…”

Here is a mild example. My Evil Grandmother (who was my paternal grandma, i.e., my dad’s mother) believed that all mental illness was just the person selfishly vying for attention. There are a surprising number of people out there with a belief very close to this. Any person who responds to someone else struggling with depression or recovering from trauma by telling them to get over it, for instance. They don’t see it as a real illness that requires treatment or recovery, right? But my Evil Grandmother was even worse than that. My Evil Grandmother believed that epilepsy was the same. So when one of my sisters started having seizures, my Evil Grandmother was constantly undermining the doctors. She would scold my sister for having a seizure after the fact, for example.

Oddly enough, she also believed that mental illness was hereditary and a sign of poor moral character. Which she also believed was hereditary. When my parents finally were getting a divorce, after my Evil Grandmother found out I had told the judge that I definitely did not want my (alcoholic, physically abusive) father to have custody, she sat me down and gave me a long litany of all of the mental health issues that plagued many of my mom’s distant relatives. One example was a great-uncle who we would now say was suffering from severe PTSD because of his experiences during World War II.

Now, if I wrote a novel in which a woman who had a college degree and worked as the City Treasurer for many years and was a respected member of her community, who punished her nine-year-old grandchild for having a seizure on a day where said grandmother had prevented the grandchild from taking her prescribed medication, I would get irrate messages from people telling me that this was completely unbelievable.

But I would also get comments from people who would tell even more horrific stories from their own childhood.

This is just one example of why having a bunch of editors tell you a story is too far-fetched is not indicative that the story is, in fact, too far fetched.

The editors or critics may have a valid point that you, as an author, hadn’t done a proper job of laying the groundwork to help the reader suspend their disbelief, but it doesn’t mean the notion is objectively and universally unbelievable. Even if they focus on the groundwork aspect, they still may be letting their personal perspective override things.

For example, there’s the tale of the male writing professor who once gave a woman in his class the advice that merely showing that one character had raped a young woman was not enough to justify the young woman killing him later in the story. “You haven’t convinced me he’s truly evil. Show him being cruel to a dog or something to make this evil real.”

Being cruel to a dog is worse than raping a woman? Irrational disconnect much?

Preception isn’t just a matter of taking in the information offered. It is heavily influenced by our prejudices, past experiences, expectations, fears, and hope. This doesn’t mean that there is no such thing as objective reality, it just means that it takes a lot of work to sort through all that subjectivity…

And it means that there will always be some things no one will agree on. Likewise, there will always be some people who will refuse to see something, no matter how much evidence we provide.

This doesn’t mean they are hopeless, it just may mean that we have to walk away and expend our energy elsewhere.

I have two codas to the saga of my Evil Grandmother. First, 20 years after my parents’ divorce and the subseqeunt exodus of myself, Mom, and one sister to the west coast, Mom, Nice Grandma, and my step-grandpa took a road trip back to the town where my parents met to attend the christening of my oldest sister’s first child. At one point in the visit, Mom found herself alone with my paternal grandparents, her ex-in-laws. Mom told them that she was sorry that my parents’ marriage had ended the way it had. Grandpa admitted that saying goodbye to Mom, myself, and my sister when we left was the hardest and most painful thing he had ever done.

Evil Grandmother muttered something, and she had tears in her eyes. She cleared her throat a couple of times and eventually said something about the time for blame being past. Now, I should mention that long before my parents divorced, Evil Grandma, on two occassions, set up appointments for Dad with a divorce attorney without consulting him first, and tricked Dad into meeting her at the law office on pretexts to do with her business. When I say that Evil Grandma had wanted my parents to split, that’s an understatement. So, Mom took this “time for blame” as a way to change the topic and avoid taking any blame.

But then some more extended family members arrived, and as people were picking places to sit and talk, my Evil Grandma moved from the seat next to Grandpa, to sit next to Mom. And she grabbed Mom’s hand and in Mom’s words, “squeezed it like she was afraid to let go.” She didn’t say anything, and didn’t really join in with the rest of the conversation for the next couple of hours, but she refused to let go of Mom’s hand. And later, when Mom needed to leave, Evil Grandma gave her a hug. Her eyes were full of tears again, and she murmured, “I’ve missed you all.”

Mom said that she decided that that was the closest Evil Grandma could come to saying she was sorry.

Second coda: About ten years after that I was out with friends at a bowling party when my phone rang. It was a call from one of my aunts. She was at a hospital with Evil Grandma. Evil Grandma had had both a stroke and some sort of heart issue. She’d been revived and was on a resporator, but she was alert and had demanded the my aunt call me. I need to add here that when I came out of the closet in 1991, other than one handwritten note that said, “I hope you’re happy now,” Evil Grandmother had stopped talking to me (and I would later learn she had forbidden other family members from mentioning my name in her presence). My aunt handed the phone over Evil Grandma. Because of the resporator, she had to speak in short bursts. She could speak on the exhale then wait for the machine to push in the next breath. She said my name. I replied, “Yes, Grandma it’s me.” She repeated my name on the next two exhales, and each time I told her it was me and I could hear her.

I, meanwhile, was moving to try to find a quiet place thinking the noise of the bowling alley was confusing her.

Finally she said, “I love you.” And I replied that I loved her. She repeated it a couple more times, and each time I replied. I was sobbing at this point. How could I not be? No matter what had happened between us, here she was, possibly on her death bed, using perhaps her dying breaths to reach out?

After about the fourth ‘I love you’ exchange, she said. “I know you…. I know you do… but do you know…. do you know… I love you?”

I said, “Yes.” She repeated my name and said “I love you” again, and then my aunt was back on the phone.

That turned out not to be her deathbed, but she had at least one more stroke before being released from the hospital, and her ability to talk was severely impaired for her remaining years.

But, Christmas cards started arriving every year. The outside of the envelopes were clearly addressed by the aunt who was caring for Grandma by then, but the inside always had very jittery writing that was clearly Grandma’s. Some years Christmas presents (usually ornaments) would also arrive, sometimes with Grandma’s writing on the tag. There was sometimes be a note from my aunt saying that Grandma had seen it in the store and wanted to get it for me because it reminded her of something I had once talked to her about as a child.

One is left wondering, which her was the real her? Is it simply that years of regret and an acute awareness of her mortality caused a change of heart? Is such a deathbed conversion, as it were, believable? Or as much a product of our hopes and wishes?

I know she had always been extremely concerned with keeping up appearances and not doing things that would make the right sort of people look down on you. So had she been suppressing inconvenient feelings for years–feelings that went counter to her hopes and aspirations–and only later in life as neurological changes occurred she started letting them out?

Wrestling with these questions have not led me to stop referring to her as my Evil Grandmother. She just did too much too many times to hurt people–often people she should have been protecting. But I am reminded of an observation which I once put into the mouth of one of the characters in one of my fantasy novels: “Evil isn’t something you are, it’s something you do.”

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One year of being an ex-Seattleite

During the weeks we were shuttling car loads of stuff from the old place to the new, I poured the last bits of a couple of bottles of bourbon into jars with a sliced orange, lemon, a couple of vanilla beans, and various spices to infuse for a few weeks to make a batch of Rock n Rye. After filtering and decanting, I made this label when we set out the libations at the Christmas party.

During the weeks we were shuttling car loads of stuff from the old place to the new, I poured the last bits of a couple of bottles of bourbon into jars with a sliced orange, lemon, a couple of vanilla beans, and various spices to infuse for a few weeks to make a batch of Rock n Rye. After filtering and decanting, I made this label when we set out the libations at the Christmas party.

One year ago we made the official move from the place I had lived at since 1996. We had been packing for months, and then after signing the lease for the new place, started bringing car loads of boxes and small things for three weeks. We had a bunch of friends help us move many boxes on two Saturdays, but hired professional movers to move all the heavy furniture and similar big awkward things on May 4. Since that’s when the bed moved, that was the first night we slept at the new place, and officially that was the first day that I no longer lived within the Seattle city limits. For thirty-two years I lived in Seattle—a few different places in the Queen Anne neighborhood, a couple in Fremont, and then 21 years in Ballard. I wasn’t happy about the move (no one likes to move, right?) but I wasn’t exactly happy about how much stuff I found squirreled away in the back of closets and such that we never used and I’d forgotten we ever owned.

I expected that moving from a residential neighborhood in the city to a suburb to be a bit of an adjustment. I wasn’t quite prepared for how quickly the new neighborhood became familiar.

There are lots of things that I love about the new place, and I’ve babbled about those things probably too much on this blog. For instance, the new place is bigger. We got rid of a lot of stuff before, during, and after the move, which helps make most of the rooms feel even larger than they were.

A few of the surprises are how quickly some of my driving habits changed. One of the major thoroughfares in the region is state highway 99, which is known as Aurora Avenue in Seattle, Shoreline, and Edmonds. Several of the other suburbs of Seattle label it Pacific Highway (which is nearly the same as old federal name for the highway as it existed before the founding of the Interstate System). Within the Seattle city limits, no U-turns are permitted on Highway 99. During the 32 years that I lived in Seattle, I always thought it was weird when I drove into suburbs either north or south of the city, to suddenly see “U-turn Permitted” signs at every intersection. It seemed like a quaint throwback to a bygone era. I’m not sure why. Maybe because so many places I’ve lived (not just Seattle) banned U-turns.

But in the city I now live in, most of the highway has a median with trees running down the middle of the road, rather than a turn lane that can be used to get to a business on the other side of the road. The u-turn becomes a necessity in that case, and since almost all the intersections where u-turns are permitted have stop lights, it isn’t a particularly risky maneuver. Now I find myself deeply affronted when I cross the city limit and start seeing the “No U-turn” signs.

I keep being a bit amazed at just how much I love the veranda. We had a small yard and were allowed to plant whatever we wanted in two flower beds, but the lawn was so small and right next to the sidewalk in a neighborhood that had a lot of foot traffic, I just always felt a little weird if I set up a chair and tried to read or something. Also, having no patio limited furniture options. Our veranda, a 38-foot long deck, is completely different. I have a lot more flowerpots and planters than I had before, and I’m growing a lot of flowers. We have more comfortable lawn chairs and a really cool folding wood table my hubby found at Ikea. So I can do things such as sit out on the veranda, enjoy the cool breeze, and watch the trees and squirrels while I type up this blog post on my laptop.

Then there’s cooking summer dinners on the stand-up George Foreman electric grill. A lot easier to deal with than digging out a grill from the basement, trying to set it up so it was level on the lawn, and having to clean it and pack away at the end. I can clean the smaller electric grill quickly and leave it out on the veranda each night. And yeah, in the summer grilling outside is very preferable to heating up the house further by cooking inside.

We have a lot more windows. And when I open a couple we get an immediate and very pleasant breeze running through the house. That’s not just about the number of windows, but also the open floor plan of the apartment and the fact that every window has mini blinds rather than very heavy curtains.

I was disappointed during the move when I found we would have to give up the sweet deal we had on internet and TV service with the CenturyLink fibre-optic service and Prism TV and have to switch back to Comcast. Funny thing, though, two years of having actual competition in many markets once it was ruled that the streaming services over internet, including Prism, didn’t violate the monopoly deals that the traditional cable companies have with many cities brought Comcast prices way down. I’m paying even less for internet and the parts of cable TV that I kept after the move that I was with Century Link/Prism — and Century Link/Prism had been literally half of what I had had to pay Comcast four years ago for comparable service. So that was a win!

Yeah, the package I have now has fewer channels… but I’m using Netflix and Hulu for a lot more shows, and their subscription rates added to the cable bill adds up to less than the previous price.

Another surprise was the refrigerator situation. I won’t bore you (further) with the story of how Ray and I wound up with our own fridge plus the one provided by the landlord at the old place (which Michael and I upgraded a few years after Ray died), but since there wasn’t really a good place for the second fridge in the new apartment (and it was getting old enough that it was going to need replacing soon) we were going to have to get by with just the one. I’d had two fridges for 22 years, and wasn’t sure how I’d adjust. Turns out the problem wasn’t fridge space, but freezer space. It was easy to adopt habits about the sorts of things kept in the non-freezer compartment, but we were constantly chafing at the lack of adequate space to hold the stuff I wanted to freeze.

There was an obvious solution, but we had to wait. When we were securing the new place, the property manager emphasized that the first lease period was considered probationary. So we decided that certain purchases would have to wait until we were offered a second lease. Those were: extra large planters suitable for planting my grandma’s irises in, a storage cabinet for the veranda, and a small chest freezer for that one spot in the kitchen.

Just how much relatively each of those things felt like a burden to both Michael and me? Well, while we were walking back from the property manager’s office a few months ago with a copy of our just sighed new lease, we said almost simultaneously to each other, “So, which freezer do we want to buy and when?” Less than 5 days later we had the 5.5 cubic foot freezer in the kitchen, and less than a week after that between us running on separate shopping trips we had filled it up. Now I have to check the freezer each time I leave the house to go to the grocery store to get a good picture in my head of what we could fit in there if I happen to find something on sale at a really good price.

I should also mention how much I loved, loved, loved being able to host the Christmas party at our place this year. There were a lot of things I liked about renting the suite at the hotel the last three years, but dang, I so love having my best friends under my roof at that time of year.

I can’t believe I’ve gone nearly 1500 words on this and not mentioned our library. Having a space to set aside and call The Library (though it is only most of the non-fiction books) and having enough room to re-arrange all the books and get them sorted in a way that we can find books without digging through piles of books in front of some of the cases is just wonderful. It doesn’t hurt that being able to geek out about book sorting with my husband fills me with a warm fuzzy feeling.

There are things I miss about the old neighborhood, to be sure. We haven’t found replacements for all of our old fave restaurants, for instance. And I’m still a little miffed at just how far apart the various grocery stores I shop at are now, compared to the old place. But, moving was good for many reasons. And I feel very lucky we found a place that we both like so much.

A sneaky oral surgeon – or, adventures with the dentally anxious

I’m hardly the only person who dislikes going to the dentist. I usually spend the entire time I’m in the chair gripping the arms tight, my eyes closed, and fighting with all my might not to run away. Couple that with the fact that I almost never feel pain in my teeth, no matter how badly they are abcessed, has usually meant that when I would see a dentist, there were always a lot of teeth that needed some work. So there rest of this post is going to be about the procedure I had this week, along with a lead-up to how I got there. If reading about dental stuff isn’t your thing, don’t click through… Read More…

Now is the month of Maying…

Some of the plants growing on the veranda...

Some of the plants growing on the veranda… (click to embiggen)

Our weather continues to be a little weird. We’ve been in this cycle for some months now where we’ll have a week or two of weather this is markedly colder and/or wetter than usual, followed by a week or so of weather that is markedly warmer and drier than usual, with the occasional string of days that is almost exactly average for this time of year. It’s like spring and winter have gone on a bit of a bender together, spring is stumbling around a bit disoriented, while winter his hanging around at the door, meaning to leave, but it keeps thinking of one more thing it wants to say.

But despite this stuttering stop-and-start spring, trees are pollinating, flowers are blooming, other plants are coming up.

On my veranda I have a pots with lavender, pansies, violas, and a few fuchsias mostly going strong. My four larger planters that have a bunch of the irises I dug up on the last day we were cleaning the old place in Ballard have some shoots coming out. Two of the planters are still recovering from me leaving them out in the heavy rain too many days in a row. Fortunately irises are flood tolerant.

The picture above is one of the planters that did not get flooded. It’s also the one I transplanted the contents of one of the smaller flower pots into. That’s the pot I’ve mentioned before that a squirrel in the old neighborhood planted a filbert. I let the little tree grow in the pot last year, then moved it (and the two pansies it had shared the pot with) to the larger planter. Both of the pansies have perked up and blooded along with the tree which is getting very leafy. There are five of the irises coming up in this planter, which is really good.

I should mention that these are the irises I refer to as “Grandma’s irises.” Many’s years ago my grandmother dug up the irises in her yard to thin them out, and handed off about a dozen or so rhizomes to anyone who would take some off her hand. I planted my twelve in one flower bed at the old place. A few years later, I dug them up to thin out and gave away about half the the 70-some plants that I had by then, and replanted the half I kept. I did it again a few more times over the years. Anyway, just before we finished moving out at the old place, I dug all of them up, trimmed off the leaves, and transported the rhizomes to the new place. I gave bunches of them away to several friends (and mailed two batches off to sisters-in-law), and wound up with a bunch in a box here.

Ideally, you’re supposed to dig them up in the fall, when they’re going dormant, then replant them sometime before the next spring gets too warm. For a variety of reasons (one being that I didn’t want to spend a bunch of money buying really large planters while we were still in our initial probationary lease period at the new place) I decided not to try reburying the ones I was keeping last summer, but rather hoped they would go dormant and make it to this year.

Given how quickly irises multiply, I really only need a few of them to come up in order to, a few years from now, have a large mass of beautiful purple flowers again. The fact that as of last night’s count, between the four planters, I have 13 healthy-looking new sprouts coming up makes me quite happy that I’ll have Grandma’s irises for years to come.

At least two of the lavenders from last year are not looking terribly healthy this year. One of them is in a flowerpot without a drain, and I think the plant has just been drowned. It’s still showing just a bit of life, but I’m not at all confident I’m going to be able to save it. The other one I’m less sure why it isn’t coming back as strong as the others. I may try re-potting both and see if that helps.

We’re still getting a steady stream of chickadees, juncos, and sparrows at the bird feeder. Lately they’ve been getting into scuffles with each other around the feeder more than usual. I’m assuming that that’s hormones because it’s nesting/breeding season. Not that I need bird song and such to remind me of that. The high pollen counts are keeping my hay fever it high gear.

Isn’t nature grand?


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(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Water for the temple plants

Raindrops and ripples

A Zen master asked a young student to bring him a pail of water to cool his bath.

The student brought the water, and after cooling the bath, threw the remaining water over the ground.

“Think,” said the master to the student. “You could have watered the temple plants with those few drops you have thrown away.”

The young student understood Zen in that exact moment. He changed his name to Tekisui, which means drop of water, and lived to become a wise Zen master himself.

The lesson most learn from the story of the A Drop of Water is that as we struggle with the big problems and seek answers to big questions, that we sometimes forget the importance of small, ordinary moments. I often write on this blog about problems that many people face, or wrestle with questions of how to be a better story teller, or talk about great moments in history or my favorite genre. It is easy to get lost in worrying about some of the injustices in the world or dangers looming over one segment or another of the population. For me it is just as easy to get lost in my routines and personal goals. I have to get to work and finish certain things, and want to make progress on my writing, while putting my thoughts about all of those big things and many of the small things into blog posts.

I’m pretty good at hauling buckets around, but still not great with the drops.

I knew someone who seemed excellent with both the buckets and the drops. Last week she passed away. It wasn’t a surprise, she had been dealing with an illness for some time. But it was still a shock.

Ann was the mother of my good friend Kehf. I met her at Kehf’s wedding (or was it a rehearsal before?). You don’t get to know a person well under those circumstances. Mostly you come away with an impression. It was a few years later that I got to know her as someone other than that nice woman whose eyes sparkled when she smiled.

When I started an earlier version of this blog, she would occasionally comment. We might exchange a couple emails with follow up discussions. And then I started getting comments from people I didn’t know, often with someone saying something along the line of “I’m so glad Ann shared this link.” And the people who commented came from many different parts of the world, and many different backgrounds. I came to realize that Ann seemed to know everyone. Well, not literally everyone—more accurate to say she had friends everywhere.

I started to get a numerical inkling of the vastness of her network of friends when I moved this blog to WordPress. The previous hosts hadn’t given me very good statistics, but with WordPress every time I log in I see a bar graph of the hits on my blog for today and the previous 29 days. Most of the time my blog putters along with a fairly stable number of hits per day. there’s a little variation: days that I don’t publish anything new are lower than new post days, for instance. But every now and then, I will log in and see the bar for either that day or the previous day literally ten times as tall as the usual. And almost every time, it turned out to be because Ann shared that particular post.

I understand why it works. Any time Ann sent me a link (unless I recognized it as a story or blog or whatever that I had just recently looked at) I clicked on it to see what it was, and then had to send her a comment. Because she never sent me something that wasn’t interesting. Not just interesting in a general sense, but usually targeting to some of my particular interests. In the last several days as I’ve read several tributes to her, I notice how many people talk about the news and links and information she shared, with the same observation that it was always interesting or useful to the person receiving it.

She was really good at remembering what was important to every person she knew.

Relationships were her super power.

Ann was an episcopal priest. During her lifetime her church went from refusing to contemplate the ordination of women, to allowing women to be priests, then bishops, and eventually presiding bishop. It was a tough fight, but Ann didn’t back away from fights. She later brought that same cheerful determination as an ally of the queer communities in our fights. There were several times when I wrote about my frustration and fears about our fight for equality, when Ann would send me a message with words of encouragement gleaned from the fight for the ordination of women—it was worth the fight, even if it didn’t seem victory wasn’t getting closer.

I once wrote a post trying to explain my feelings about religion and spirituality, and why my particular journey had taken me away from the religion in which I’d been raised to my own variant of Taoism. I compared spirituality to water: how some people love the ocean, while others prefer rivers and streams, and others are more happy with well-maintained pools. I compared traditional churches (of any religion) to community swimming pools. They are there for those who want them, and they can be wonderful. While I’m more of a run out into the rain kind of guy.

After reading the post, Ann sent me an email: “Just call me your local community pool lifeguard!” Yes, mostly she was saying she understood what I was saying, and that her calling to be a priest was just as viable a spiritual position as my more freewheeling approach. But she was also being a bit modest. Because Ann didn’t limit herself to just ministering to the congregations of the churches she worked in. That way she had of collecting friends near and far, of remembering what was important to each of us, of sending us articles we’d find interesting, and commenting (sometimes debating) things we posted, that was another form of ministry.

And this queer ex-Christian/recovering Baptist felt extremely lucky to be at least occasionally on the receiving end of her vocation.

Rise in Glory, Ann.

My young man

I was in the checkout line at the grocery store on Saturday and the clerk asked me if there was an occasion, since there were two cakes and some ice cream among my purchase. So I explained that my husband’s birthday was this week, and that we had friends coming over Saturday evening. Then she asked if it was a major birthday, and I said that he was turning 48. She grinned and said, “Oh! Forty-eight! You got yourself a young man, didn’t you?” And I laughed and said, “Yes, yes I did!”

Yeah, that handsome young guy with the headset on is my husband. How did a white-bearded old fart like me manage that?

Yeah, that handsome young guy with the headset on is my husband. How did a white-bearded old fart like me manage that?

There are people who might object to the characterization of a 48-year-old as young, but age is relative and my husband is ten years younger than me. When we first started dating, he was in his 20s while I was in my 30s. More than one of my friends and acquaintances at the time expressed (some less tactfully than others) worry about the difference in our ages. Though I think some of those worries were very inverted. He’s far more sensible and mature than I am, for instance. I know at least one of his friends was convinced that I was an evil old pervert taking advantage of him. I get it. Most of my adult life I think I’ve looked older than my actual age (heck, when I was in my late teens people kept mistaking me for my Mom’s brother rather than her son!). When I look at pictures of him from when we first started dating, I think he barely looked old enough to be in a bar, let alone working as a bartender!

And truth be told, I’ve also felt way too lucky to even be with him, so it’s not like I could blame people for having doubts. But we’ve been together for a bit over 20 years, now, so I hope we’ve put those doubts to rest.

I’ve written before about how wonderful Michael is. So rather than risk repeating myself, I’ll just quote one friend who observed one time when Michael pulled a tool from his pocket and casually repaired a light fixture at a mutual friend’s house, “You’re married to MacGuyver!” while another time when we had to the huge solid oak entertainment center and Michael grabbed it and moved it before the rest of us could get in position to help him the same friend commented, “Your husband is a circus strong man!”

Michael is sweet, kind, helpful, smart, funny, cheerful, and patient. He reads novels faster than anyone I know, and retains memory of even very minor details in the books long after. He cooks incredibly well (the homemade rub he made for the ribs this weekend resulted in supernaturally good ribs, for instance!). He chops vegetables so fast it’s like watching a movie being played back sped up. It seems as if he can repair just about anything. He always finds far more awesome presents for birthdays, anniversaries, housewarmings, and the like than I ever do. And did I mention that he’s both funny and kind?

So, to extend the observation of the cashier: yeah, I’ve got myself a young man, a smart man, a hot man, a kind man, a man that anyone would feel fortunate to know, let alone be married to.

Happy Birthday, Michael. Thanks for letting me share your life!

One year later, way more than a few April showers

Two cats sit on a log under a propped up umbrella, surrounded by water and rain. “Noah called, he picks us up in 10 minutes.”

(click to embiggen)

I meant to write a blog post for the weekend about the fact that it has been exactly a year at the new place. But I was still sick and run down. My weekend wound up being all about sleeping, doing minimal errands, napping, a little housework, more napping, sleeping, and repeat. But I realized it’s okay that I didn’t make that post, because technically it has not been a year of us living here, yet. A year and a few days ago we signed our first lease here, and we started hauling things from the old place to the new, but it was a few weeks before we were ready for the big moving truck to do the bulk of the move. So early next month will be the anniversary of the first time we spent the night in the new place.

I was trying to remember when I moved the flower pots from the old place, because last week maintaining my collection of pots and planter included a task I didn’t have to do last spring: flood control. To be fair, this is an unusually wet April. The local National Weather Service office observed that if the rains had stopped completely on last Saturday, it would already be the fourth wettest April on record in Seattle. And it kept raining Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and a bit on Wednesday. Spring is usually quite damp around here, so I strongly suspect that even though the long range forecast is all dry, that we’ll get a bit more before the month is through.

I noticed the weekend before last that not only were all of the little catch basins under the pots full to the brim, but that several of the flower pots and planters had at least an inch of standing water around the flowers. I can’t just dump the water off. The thing I call our veranda is a 38-foot long deck at the back of the apartment, and on that side of the building we’re three stories up. There’s a neighbor with a nearly identical deck directly below us, and then the walkway for the basement apartments below that. And the lease actually has a clause about not dripping or pouring water off the decks, right?

Which is why all of my pots that have drain holes sit on a small saucer like thing, and each of those is inside a larger plastic catch basin.

I took a bucket outside, carefully lifted each pot and set it aside, poured the water from the saucer in the bucket, pouring off water from the planter itself if it had standing water, and then poured the water from the second basin into the bucket—trying my best not to spill any. I got through a third of them of them before the bucket was full and I had to carrying it away and pour it out and repeat. The bigger planters where my grandma’s irises and a few other things are planted were a bit more difficult.

I moved the pots and planters that don’t have drains away from the rail, and against the wall, so they wouldn’t keep getting rained on. Clearly until we get to the dryer part of the year, I can’t leave those out from under the roof.

That’s one way our veranda is different than those one floor down. Our deck serves as their roof, and it is as wide as their deck, so even planters put right up against the rail on those decks get a little shelter from the rain. Whereas the roof of the decks on our floor is the eave of the building, and while the deck is five feet wide, the eave only extends four feet out. I thought of this as a feature last year. The planters got plenty of water when it rained and lots of sun when it didn’t.

By the time the heaviest rain was coming down in November, most of the flowers had died back, and I just didn’t worry about the pots getting super saturated. I regretted that a bit when I discovered that the cute otter planter froze and crack in a whole bunch of places. It hadn’t done that during several winters at the old place, but at the old place it was draining into the flower bed. Similarly, the hanging pot I had last year got too heavy when it’s soil was constantly soaked all winter and the plastic hanging parts broke.

They’re all learning experiences.

I now know I need to move some of the planters under the roof during certain times of the year. I’m seriously considering replacing the small pots that don’t have drain holes. The problem is they’re both purple—which makes me want to keep them despite being a bit more work. On the other hand, I have no intention of getting rid of the larger planters. I haven’t seen many that size with drains and matching catch basins. Those few I have seen have very tiny catch basins that I suspect would wind up dripping on the downstairs neighbors during the times of year when I have to do the watering.

Living in a chemical world, plus dream sequences

Cat with head deep in coffee mug “iz not addicted to caffeine, i juz need it to function”

(click to embiggen)

Every time I have my annual wellness exam, my doctor gets a little carried away on the prescription renewals so that when I show up at the pharmacy to pick up the meds I expect, there is often extra things like the codeine cough syrup he’s prescribed when I last had bronchitis, or the inhaler he prescribed one time when I got bronchitis and it didn’t respond to the first antibiotic, or the corticosteroid nasal spray he keeps recommending for my allergies or when I get a sinus infection. So I wind up telling them I don’t actually need several of them, but I have kept one unopened bottle of the nasal spray, just in case. I don’t like using it because when I have done so in the past I got very vivid and disturbing dreams for several days after. And by disturbing I don’t mean that they are bloody or horrific (usually) it’s just that they are so vivid that it takes many minutes after waking up in a panic before I can convince myself they aren’t real.

So the other night, when I conked out after dinner unexpectedly, I woke up to find the apartment full of smoke and my Mom was standing at the door, calling to me to come help her open it because and we needed to get out and where is Michael? And I jumped up from the recliner, stumbled over a filebox on the floor trying to get to my mom and the door and just as I’m opening my mouth to yell for Michael the smoke had vanished. Also, Mom (who hasn’t visited us in over 20 years because travel is difficult for her for various health reasons) had vanished. There was no smoke. There was no fire. There had been no Mom.

And the dream was so vivid that I went to the bathroom and dug out the box with the unopened bottle of the nasal spray just to confirm that I hadn’t opened it and used it when the sinus headache had been real bad the night before. I didn’t remember using it, but the dream really felt like one of those, so I thought maybe in the middle of the night, when I was half asleep and had been tossing and turning because of the headache I had given in and added the spray to the mix of allergy pills and over the counter cold medications I’d already taken.

And that was only the first day of the fever.

I haven’t used the spray, but I keep having the weird dreams. The next morning my alarm watch went off a few hours after my husband left for work (he leaves much earlier than I even want to wake up). I often wake up briefly while he is getting ready for work. I may mumble, “I love you” or “Good morning” to him as I stumble to the bathroom and then back to bed. Sometimes I just try to wake up enough to say something to him and don’t succeed. Also I often wake up briefly once or twice before my alarm goes off, note that I still have more time to sleep, and roll over. But back to the alarm: The alarm was ringing and Michael is calling from the next room that I should turn off the alarm and asking if I’m going to try to go into the office or call in sick. And I get up and stumble out to the room where my Apple watch is on its charger to turn it off and I ask Michael, “What are you doing here? Did you get to work, decide you were too sick, and come back home?”

And Michael didn’t answer. But now that I’d spoken aloud, that was enough to completely wake me up, and I’m standing in front of the watch in its charger. Its face is lit up showing me that there are still two minutes until the alarm will actually go off.

There have also been two dreams where I was somewhere in the city trying to remember where I had parked the car because I either needed to pick up Michael somewhere or I was trying to get away from someone who was trying to hurt us. And both of those ended with me awake, standing in front of the phone charger, trying to find the app on the phone that will help me find the car. One of the mornings I wasn’t actually holding my phone, I was holding the TV remote (which is normally on the shelf above the phone charger), but I swear a few seconds before it had been my phone. And yes, it was as if I watched it morph from phone to remote as I finished waking up.

The fact that when I’m having a nightmare I will get up, walk around, talk (sometimes yell), and so forth is one of the reasons that normally I don’t watch scary movies, by the way.

So I still haven’t actually used the spray. I’m of two minds: since I seem to already be having the side effect I least like, maybe I should go ahead. On the other hand, the spray might just make the weird dreams even worse.

And this gets me to two reasons why I shy away from writing dream sequences in my fiction. When I have tried to write them like the dreams I remember, the reaction from readers (at least the ones I hear from) is that the dream was more confusing than enlightening. When I tried to write them to have a bit more narrative flow, readers say they went on too long. Having had these reactions, I am not enthused when someone suggests that a dream sequence would better explain a particular mystical thing happening in one of my stories.

Besides trying to get work done while juggling regular meds, symptoms of this cold thing, extra meds, it’s been a bit of a struggle to remember to keep hydrates and get enough caffeine in me so that I don’t wind up with a caffeine-deprivation headache on top of everything else. You would think that coffee, of all things, would be something I didn’t have to remind myself to drink, but you would be wrong.

I hope I’m well sooner rather than later.

More adventures in managing light

“Somedays you just have to create your own sunshine.”

(click to embiggen)

I’m continuing to never quite having the time or energy to finish more serious posts. This week one complication is that what seemed to be several worse-than-usual hay fever days in a row turned into a full-blown cold with fever, body aches, sore throat, and significant loss of energy. One of those symptoms that can be either bad hay fever or signs of an actual viral infection is red, swollen eyes. They can be bad enough that it hurts to be in a well-lit room—let alone in a brightly lit room where I’m required to stare at a computer screen for hours. On such days, whether it turns out to be a cold or not, I’m grateful for the option to work from home. I can make progress toward my work deadlines while sitting in a dark room with the laptop screen brightness turned way down.

That’s not the only light management I do.

Work from home days have been different in that regard since moving to the new place. At our previous residence, because all the windows had heavy, lined curtains, and because almost every window was in a location where random passersby could see everything if the curtains were open, the curtains stayed closed in most of the rooms all the time. No matter how bright the sunlight was outside, the living room tended to be the same level of dimness.

The new place has an open floor plan, and more windows that shed light into the living room/kitchen/dining room space, And since all the windows are equipped with white vinyl blinds rather than the thick curtains, if the sun is out, a lot of light gets into the room. There’s a point some mornings when for about 15-20 minutes the sun lights up perfectly with a gap in the trees east of the house, and the closed blinds are almost like a bright spotlight. When those sunny days coincide with bad hay fever days, I have a considerably more difficult time avoiding pain in the eyes.

On overcast or rainy days the amount of light from outside is considerably less, making it easier to manage light.

When it is sunny outside, people often suggest that I should go out and enjoy the sunlight. When I explain that even if I’m not having a bad hay fever day that bright sunlight hurts my eyes1, people express skepticism. Plus a tendency to skin cancer also runs on one side of my family4, and since I have now had one small tumor that had to be removed from my forehead, I am under additional medical orders to never go outside without wearing a hat with a broad enough brim to fully shade my face and neck.

And it’s not just the doctor’s orders. That lack of pigment in the retinas? If I get more than brief bits of sunlight without UV sunglasses, my eyes start hurting because of the burnt retinas. And when the retina burns, it kicks off the release of mneurochemicals which make me drowsy, but it I need to stay wake, that means that I just get that “I should have gone to bed hours ago” headache along with the crankiness and decreased ability to concentrate.

Explaining this to someone who has never experienced it almost always turns into an adventure of, “but what about? And what about?” Not to mention the expressions of pity—it’s not sympathy about my medical issues, it is definitely pity that I don’t enjoy sunlight the same way they do. And there’s frequently a hint of disbelief. As if I could tolerate sunlight if only a wanted to.

Which isn’t to say I don’t enjoy sunlight, I just have to have it filtered. I’m perfectly happy outside if I have my hat and my UV-blocking sunglasses that wrap around the sides, and can get into shade when I want. I just don’t look forward to it the same way that other people do. Think of it as the intense cold winter of places like Manitoba or north Wisconsin. As pretty as snow is to look it, needing to take all those precautions to avoid frostbite can dampen one’s enthusiasm for the weather.

Days like today when I have a fever, my eyes are red, and my sinuses are congested and sore, I like sitting in a dark room. I’m happy. It isn’t gloomy in here, it is pain-free.


Footnotes:

1. I have no pigment in my retinas2 and am actually under medical orders never to go out in the daytime, even on overcast days, without UV blocking sunglasses, because your retinas can get sunburnt3.

2. A not uncommon thing in blue-eyed people.

3. The first time an opthamologist told me that I was surprised as can be! “Your retinas are sunburnt right now,” she said, peering into my eyes during the exam.

4. Also not that uncommon in those of us whose most recent ancestors came from northern Europe and thus whose natural skin color is pasty pale5.

5. I have been known to point out that my skin isn’t actually white, it’s very pale pink with blue highlights6.

6. Unless I have been out in the sun at all lately, at which point my skin will be either bright pink or very red. After which it will fade back to the pale bluish pink but with more freckles. My skin appears to be utterly incapable of tanning.

Happy Easter!

Some bunnies!

More bunnies!

Easter is for everyone!

Whether you’re celebrating this as a holy day, or a holiday to eat chocolate, or a fertility rite to welcome spring, or if you just like bunnies, I hope you have a wonderful Easter!

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