Reading for a Snowy Day

The weather yesterday in New York City was great if you love snow and cold and wind and want a day off from school but terrible if you hate the snow and cold and wind and have to work from home while supervising two small children. I find myself in the latter group, of course!

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The younger and I watching the husband and elder son shovel. I didn’t want to let him outside because of the 50-mile-an-hour winds (he’s only 29 pounds)!

Being on a conference call while people are demanding juice and Peppa Pig videos is pretty tough, and trying to get through almost a full day inside with minimal screen time while you are working on your day job stuff is tougher. While I was making dinner, I had them clean up about 50 pounds worth of Legos, race tracks, puzzles, and the like. However, during the day the whole house was a minefield of toys.

But, we got through it, and today schools are open again, and while we deliberately went in late to avoid the rush, getting there was not totally terrible. In any case, I wanted to make my first book, New Blood, free for yesterday for snowed-in reading. But, in the stress and insanity of the day, I forgot to announce it. In the spirit of better late than never, it’s free today as well. Please feel free to download your copy here!

 

 

 

 

The most anxiety I have felt about 2 paragraphs

The other day, my child, who is in the second grade, came home with an essay assignment. Basically, he has to write two paragraphs and draw one picture about a holiday that we celebrate as a family, one associated tradition, and a food consumed during said holiday. Of course, this has spiraled into a massive amount of anxiety for me.

We are atheists, so I would rather not mention any specific religion’s holiday. Granted, I know that 95% of the kids, at least, will be writing about Christmas or Hanukah. I looked through a list of non-denominational winter holidays, and some of the possibilities I came up with were Festivus and Decemberween. And who could forget Boxing Day? But I realized that we don’t actually celebrate those holidays, so back to the drawing board.

Then, I thought about the Winter Solstice. After all, that’s what our kids think they are celebrating when they celebrate Christmas. But I got stuck in the facts of this astronomical yearly occurrence, and had my son draw something like this. Then, I remembered this was a writing assignment, and not a science project, so most of that was scrapped.

It’s important to remember that this assignment is of writing TWO PARAGRAPHS, and this entry is already twice that. Finally, I realized I was thinking too much about it, and I think I will encourage him to write about Yule, which is the name I grew up calling the winter solstice. He can write about the days growing longer, and how we like to bake cookies, and then we will bake and bring in cookies. And on the plus side, I already know what we can do for science project this year!

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Happy whatever you celebrate! (photo from 2014)

Blah, just blah

 

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The eunni of a forced gathering demonstrated by yours truly and my mother, sometime in the 1990s.

I may have already said this last year, but I do not care for the winter holidays, and that includes Thanksgiving. In fact, everything that happens after Halloween and before the spring equinox is just blah, in my opinion. I know many people have great memories of Thanksgivings with their families, but some of us also have memories that are not so great.

My family did celebrate Thanksgiving when I was a child, but my mother did not like it. She used to say, “It’s just work for me while everyone else relaxes, and look what it represents.” I have the exact same sentiment today. I do not enjoy cooking. This holiday is just me annoying myself with an activity I do not like. And before anyone assumes I was a terrible person because I didn’t help my mother, I will say that I went I was old enough to be a help cooking, I started to work on Thanksgiving. When I came back from my teenage job at a horse stable, I had to take a shower before I could help in the kitchen. And by then, everything was done. I know, I could have not gone to work and helped my mother instead, but I was a young teenager who loved horses and money and hated cooking.

When I was slightly older, and had moved to college, I went through a period of a few years in which my parents didn’t want to see or talk to me. Since my parents are both long dead and can’t defend their decision, I will say that I wasn’t the most pleasant person during this time of my life. Still, it hurt to be asked to not come over for Thanksgiving. It hurt so much that whenever I think of Thanksgiving, that is the Thanksgiving that immediately comes to mind.

I was living in the college dorms, and almost everyone else had gone home for the Thanksgiving break. The cafeteria was closed too, of course. I didn’t have a car. There was a 7-11 (convenience store) within walking distance, so once a day I would go there and get a coffee, buttered roll, and one other food snack to get me through the day. (I still remember loving those damn buttered rolls!) I also had to get there before noon, or risk the 7-11 being out of buttered rolls! The horror of having to eat a 7-11 buttered bagel instead!

This was one particular Thanksgiving, but there were other holidays, including Christmas that same year, where I did not go home to see my family. Eventually, we started talking again, and I even went on to enjoy several years of a really good relationship with my mother. And yes, I also started helping her with the cooking of all large family gatherings. I use these reflections to remind myself that no matter what goes on in my kids’ lives, I should always welcome them home. Also, I try very hard not to burden my kids with my own hang-ups, so we still celebrate some manner of Thanksgiving. I actually find I enjoy it more when I try to just think of it as another day, but one in which we will eat some manner of poultry and tuber.

***After writing this, I realize I just wrote another, recent post about going through some difficult times in the past. Rest assured that this is about a different difficult time. Still, realizing this has made me want to do something that actually does some good in the world, and not just cathartic bitching. (Even though one cannot downplay the value of cathartic bitching!) I’ll think more on this.***

Welcome to a New Family Member

Just a little over a year ago, one of my best friends in the world, my cat Pyewacket, passed away. I wrote a post about how terrific he was right after his passing, and you can read that here.

A few friends and family members suggested that I get another cat immediately. I didn’t do that. I wanted a cat, but the only cat I wanted was my Pye back. It took many months, almost a full year, before I stopped feeling that way. I went to a few shelters, one with just my older son and one with just my husband. Neither shelter had cats that “were good with kids.” I contacted another shelter by phone, and they said they didn’t like to place cats in homes with kids, but maybe she had a friend who had a cat that might like kids.

At this point, I pause to say WTF? Are we just as a default going to say that cats and kids do not get along? When I was about four, my parents got a cat for the first time. I grew up with cats. Also dogs. Also ferrets. Also rabbits. I don’t think I ever had an altercation with a single one of them.

Anyway…. Finally we were put in touch with someone who had a young cat in a foster situation. After many phone calls, emails, interviews, and home visits, we were granted a cat. And while I am not saying this vetting process in unnecessary, what I will say is if you want a kid, there are way fewer hoops to jump through to make that happen.

So, without further adieu, I present Oz.

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This photo is from his first night in the house, last Friday. He is in my kids’ bedroom. When they go to sleep (8:30-9 most nights), he also goes to sleep. He does not want to come out until morning. That first night, he slept on the floor, but every night after, he has slept in bed with my younger son. He usually likes to rest his head or a paw somewhere on him. So, take that, people who think cats and kids should not mix.

I am still getting used to the reality of having a cat again. A part of me still wants Pye back, but there are so many cats out there who do need a home, and it feels good to be able to provide for one of them.

 

 

 

 

A past problem that haunts me still

While I may not be vocal about this, I spend a bunch of time thinking about a problem that is not currently a problem of mine. That problem is food insecurity, and if you don’t know what that is, you can read about it here: Understanding Hunger and Food Insecurity.

While I say this thankfully is not currently a problem of mine, it certainly has been a problem of mine in the past. Long ago, way before I had a well-paying job in a lucrative industry and was married to a person in the same position, I lived in the basement apartment of my father’s house, and did not have much of a salary. At 27 years old and with a recently deceased mother, I was going through somewhat of an emotional and lifestyle crisis. My dad had threatened to kill himself after my mother’s death, and asked me, his only daughter, to move in with him. I had a respectable job in publishing in New York City, but telecommuting was not done back then, so I quit and moved three hours north to one of the poorest counties in the state.

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My dad and me, a couple of months after my mother’s death. The door seen on the left leads to my apartment.

The house and property were large but extremely run-down. The main house itself had a living room, dining room, kitchen, one bathroom, and three bedrooms. It also smelled horribly of smoke, as both my parents smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. At first, I slept in the bedroom I had stayed in when I visited, but the daily smell of smoke was getting to me, and I asked to move into the basement apartment.

That apartment was not unknown to me, as I had lived there a brief period when I was 18-20 and going to junior college. It had a large living room, a very small bedroom, and an even smaller kitchen and bathroom. And I use the term “kitchen” loosely. When I was younger, the kitchen had a sink and a refrigerator. Moving back there, both of these items were gone.

Trying to make money in a poor, rural community is difficult. As a student at the local massage school, I got a student job in the bursar’s office. I was allowed to work a maximum of 10 hours a week, and I made $9 an hour. After taxes, that was about $300 a month. I had to pay for my classes, of course, and also gas for my car. My father allowed me to live in the apartment rent-free, since it would otherwise just stand empty.

Sometimes I try to think back on what I would eat on a day-to-day basis. When I first moved in with him, my dad provided me with every meal. But as I moved to the apartment and started school, I saw him less. In those days, I would have a granola bar for breakfast, a cup of free coffee at the bursar’s office sometime during the day, and whatever he made for dinner. I was hungry from skipping lunch every weekday, but there was no real suffering.

Eventually, we grew further apart as our lives went on. My dad met a woman and spent a lot of time with her, so there were no more prepared dinners most nights. I had a microwave in my apartment, so I started having microwaved popcorn almost every night. Remember, I had no sink, so I didn’t want anything that required dishes or utensils. Also, I had nowhere to store food that needed to be cold. So, I largely lived on granola bars and microwaved popcorn for two years of my life, and it wasn’t the worst that could have happened.

I remember being hungry all the time. A bag of microwaved popcorn is about 300 calories and a granola bar is about 150, so with the coffee, I was having about 500 calories a day, most days. As a comparison, I now eat about 1,100 calories a day, most days, and the average adult woman eats about twice that (2,000 according to Google). Of course, some happy days I did get other food. Sometimes my dad brought home a bucket of KFC. Sometimes I went to a friend’s house for dinner. Sometimes, when it was payday, I treated myself to a sandwich from the gas station when I filled up my car.

Let me be clear in saying that I did not have it all that bad. But what I do want to emphasize is that it is now many years later, and I still look back on that time of my life often and with a feeling of existential dread. I wanted to write about some things I do that help the situation and also alleviate my anxiety, but this post has gotten pretty long, so I’ll save that for next time.

Where do I get it from?

My constant struggle to declutter and minimize is not something I do just because I think it will make my life easier and my environment more pleasing–I actually enjoy getting rid of things. Whenever something, especially something big that I’ve had for a particularly long time, leaves the house, I feel happy and lighter.

When did this begin? I think I may have been influenced by my mother. When I was a child, one of her favorite games to play with me was to give me a garbage bag and set five minutes on a timer. I then had to run around the house and see how much I could fill the bag in the time allowed. There was no tangible reward at the completion of this game–just the pleasure of throwing stuff away.

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My mom and me in the late 70s. Probably in Florida, as evidenced by the plethora of oranges.

My mother is an odd case, because although she grew up with very little in the way of material things, she also didn’t want many material things. My father, who also had very little while growing up, was somewhat the opposite. If he saw something that he could get for free or very cheaply, he would get it just in case he would ever need it.

When my parents retired, they moved to their summer house in upstate New York. While my mother kept the house very neat by doing a weekly deep clean and actively discarding non-desirable items, the garage and barn were filled with all sorts of items by my father. Eventually, he rented one other garage, and then a second. There was also a one-bedroom apartment attached to the house, which was filled.

My mother passed away first, and eventually the house was also filled with my father’s near-worthless items. He then moved to Florida, and planned to sell the house, but neglected to bring any of these things with him. Instead, he got some people to take away all the stuff so that he could stop renting the garages and put the house up for sale. (Think of a more redneck 1-800-JUNK type of company.)

Unfortunately, I was in the process of moving from the house to an apartment in New York City with my then-boyfriend, and they also took all of my belongings. These included off-season clothing, decorative items, memorabilia, and most things I thought were too breakable to take in the moving van we had hired few few days before. Also, my cat.

When I went back to get my stuff, I fortunately found both my cat and the urn containing my mom’s ashes, but everything else was cleared out. I felt depressed and violated, but relieved that the two things that were the most important to me were still there.

Having a strange fascination with hoarding, I know that these types of events are generally ones in which a hoarding inclination is triggered. I was nervous about this going in, but fortunately I still have no hoarding tendencies. At least in this case, I seem to be taking after my mom.

Re-reading the Vampire in the City series

Last week I finished writing Fresh Blood, the sixth and final book in the VitC series. The next day, I left for a vacation to Cape Cod. We were with family, including our two children, who are almost five and just turned one. We stayed at a house on the beach, and spent most of our time outdoors doing stuff with the kids.
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My older son, buried in sand and screaming!

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Me with my younger son, not buried in sand but screaming nevertheless!

At nights, after the kids were asleep, I busied myself with re-reading the entire Vampire in the City series. I wanted to take notes on the timeline, figure out what loose ends might need to be tied up, and just have it really fresh in my head for the edit of Fresh Blood. Somehow, I managed to finish the fifth book the day after we came back, and am now set to start on the second draft. While I don’t have an official release date yet, I’m thinking sometime around October 1st.

While I was re-reading my writing, some of it from about ten years ago, I was mostly struck with how much my protagonist has changed over the course of the series. In the first book she was sometimes awkward to the point of embarrassing me as I was reading it. By the last book she is much more sure of herself and proactive, instead of just reacting to the situations I put her in. Overall, I am pleased with this progression, and I hope my readers will enjoy the culmination of a series that has been very fun to write!