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Thursday, April 15, 2021

I got my first COVID vaccination dose today.

Hmm. There's some back-story that might be worth sharing.

Laura and I decided long ago that, once the vaccine became available, we'd stagger our doses.

There's no way we could both be down at once. We can barely keep up with Mal's needs when we're both healthy.

Laura got her second on Tuesday. She's always juggling schedules, and, last week, she bravely scheduled a dentist appointment for Mal (who foolishly admitted that one of his teeth hurts) on Wednesday.

They called her to verify everything, and they totally ignored what she'd entered online. She thought they were just repeating back what she'd already scheduled, so she went ahead and verified his appointment. At exactly the same time she was supposed to get her shot.

We talked about it, and it was in a time slot with one of the weekly meetings for my day job that I really should not miss. So she decided to reschedule it. Which happened to be on Thursday.

Her appointment wound out turning out great. Mal wanted to go with her. The appointment was halfway to her parents' house. So they spent the rest of the day there.

I mean that it worked out great for everyone except me. D got a nice, quiet day at home. I mean that it was quiet except for my sobs of loneliness.

Anyway. After they got home, she got pro-active about finding an appointment for me.

We live in a weird area. We live far enough from Austin that we really should be part of Williamson County. But we live close enough to the lake that Travis County (which includes Austin) swoops around and encompasses us.

It's the sort of thing that looks like a gerrymander. But I believe this one is motivated about greed over controlling the water rather than things like racism and voter suppression.

Anyway. I've been on Williamson's County (since all the sites are going to be closer) vaccination waiting list since Mar 29. They basically sent me a "Don't call us, we'll call you" message.

Laura found appointment slots that evening while I was busy doing other things. When I came back, she told me to pick one. And hurry: we only had 10 minutes left.

I've been told that getting one of these slots is about as rare as getting a ticket to a Springsteen concert. I cranked up the computer from my day job to check my schedule.

Our options were either Wednesday or Thursday. I didn't want to just tell everyone "I'm taking the day off" with no warning, so I picked Thursday afternoon (that also minimized the meetings I would miss...looking back I wish I'd scheduled it the other way around).

Shortly after that, she forwarded the email confirmation. They warned us to 

  • wear a mask
  • not be more than an hour early
  • bring a portable chair and water
  • cancel if you were running a fever

My appointment was for 1:30.

Google maps predicted that it would take 30-50 minutes to get there. I planned on leaving right at 11:30. Crises at day job kept me until 11:56. Then I wolfed down some pizza and fended off Mal (who wanted me to join in a great board game from Khrys and Mei Li, about a racing an ogre in a treasure hunt) and rushed out the door. 

When I got in my car, it immediately warned me that it was low on gas.

We have one gas station on the way out of town, which is really expensive. Then two more, as you get into the next town. The second of those is always really cheap. I could tell I had plenty of gas to get to it.

But Waze had me turn off that main road before I got to either. The next one is notorious for stealing credit cards. I'm hopeful that the one I stopped at after that is honest.

After that, I rushed across Austin (there were times I might have actually exceeded the speed limit, although I was just trying to keep up with the cars around me, honest) and parked just after 1:00. 

After I pulled my chair out of my trunk, a guy warned me that it wasn't worthwhile, because the line was moving fast. I took his advice and replaced the chair and my water bottle.

It was at a pretty big auditorium. Depending on where you grew up, it falls somewhere in the range of "That thing is huge!" to "Eh, my high school could have graduated there."

My guess is that it normally holds around 10,000 people. I can't find anything online to firm that up.

When the vaccines first rolled out, this place was packed. There are "By Appointment Only" signs everywhere. I went through 3 pre-checkpoints before I ever got to anyone who actually checked anything.

In the early days, people would just show up and wait. At the end of the day, workers didn't want to waste leftover doses. So they were willing to give them away to whoever was left.

It seems a lot like it was an "I'm rich/retired and can afford to just take the entire day off" version of dumpster diving at a restaurant.

When I got there, it was a lot like rushing through an empty Disney World. They kept telling me things like "Just try to keep up with that couple in front of you" and "All the way to the end of the hall, then turn..."

Everything was very carefully measured and roped off, with stickers on the floor to help make sure everyone stayed 6 feet apart.

They gave me paperwork to fill out when I first arrived and promised that I'd have plenty of time.

I didn't.

When I finally got to the end, they had a bunch of the portable tables you'd use for big family picnics set up. People were very deliberately set up katty-cornered.

I got a little overwhelmed right then and there. Thinking back to it, it hits even harder.

Those of us who have had the wealth and luxury have basically spent the past year in isolation. And this is where it can end for everyone, if we will just get the vaccine as fast as possible.

This pandemic has "only" lasted about a year and a half. As I'm writing this, it has  561,356 confirmed kills in the U.S. Cases are trending upward. Deaths were dropping, but now they're heading back up. World-wide, we're so close to 3 million deaths that I'm sure the last 4 happened while I've been typing this article.

I can't imagine what it must have felt like for people who grew up knowing that their entire village could be wiped out by something like mumps or polio or rubella. Or to know that a vaccine exists, and may be available...someday.

Or to be right on the edge of that.

Those of us who have survived have mostly put our lives on hold for a year and a half, waiting for this.

What must it have been like to just grow up knowing that something like this could wipe out everything and everyone you know? Would it be worse to know that a prevention existed...but that it would take years to reach you, if it ever did?

While I was filling out my paperwork, the line started to build. I started to read, but one of the volunteers was watching carefully and told me to get moving.

I tried to get in the back of the line (something Mal will have to learn about someday), but that line was for people who were still filling out their paperwork and didn't show up early enough to get tables like mine to sit at.

I zipped through the rest of the queue, answered a couple of questions about ancient bad reactions to immunizations (spoiler alert: getting sick enough to spend a weekend crashed on the couch isn't enough to matter if EMTs weren't involved), and got a quick shot in my shoulder.

I probably didn't really feel it. But my brain totally insists that I felt tiny little crystalline stars sprinkling down my arm.

They gave me a grown-up card. And a sticker. And directed me to a waiting area to make sure I didn't have an immediate life-threatening reaction. We were very sternly warned to be responsible and wait 15 minutes before leaving.

This was the first chance I'd had to even let Laura know that I'd arrived OK.

I sent her a message, then played a pointless game for about 10 minutes.

Then they walked through and told us that we were welcome to wait the entire 15 minutes if we liked. But, assuming we didn't have any major pre-existing conditions, 5-10 minutes were plenty.

I was a little miffed that it was closer to 10 than 5. But, hey, I got a few more minutes at that stupid game. So I guess it was worth it.

I headed out.

On the way out of the neighborhood, I noticed a gentleman with darker skin and dreadlocks. I gave him a subtle wave, and I got a surly glare in response.

Laura and I both feel bad about the basic fact that we live in White World. Neither of us likes it. We both do our best to be friendly to all our neighbors...and especially to our neighbors who aren't as challenged as we are in terms of sun tolerance.

I drove a little further, and I realized that this is the area of Austin where Laura and I both wish we lived.

It doesn't have the giant oak and beautiful back yard. But the people who live there aren't going to poison Mal's ideas about good and bad just because they have the same skin color. Or maybe they will, but in what I consider the "right" direction.

I really want a workshop where I can build things out of the wind and rain.

I don't know how likely it is that I'll be able to build one where we are now, much less if we moved there.

But it's really tempting to look into it.

On the way home, I spent a lot of time behind an SUV. It had a sign in its back window. It said: "Have you noticed that 'pandemic' is 'dem' surrounded by 'panic'?"

I really wanted to pull these people over and ask whether they've noticed that half a million Americans are dead. I wish I knew how many this amounted to world-wide. Headlines suggest that cases are spiraling out of control in India.

I got home in time to break out my latest wood-working project. I'm building a thing to crush fruit.

I spent about an hour on that before rain started splattering down.

I put all my gear back away and headed inside.

Laura showed me pictures of hailstones from nearby.

They're about the size of goose eggs or pool balls.

Worrying about a pandemic seems easier.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Puppy Fever

We've been talking about and thinking about getting a puppy for months. D is not in favor at all, and I understand that. When we adopted Shelby, it was a last-minute decision, and we were just not prepared. Little did we know that some of Shelby's habits would prove to be triggers for D's mysophonia, namely the barking and the constant snoring (even when awake).

So this time, I wanted to make sure we knew what we were getting in to. Although in the past, I've always adopted animals, in order for this to work in our house with the two very special children I have (and the elderly cats), we needed to get a young pup who could be socialized in our home and grow up with our house's rhythms.

Also, we needed a dog without likely breathing issues, and one that doesn't bark (much). This shrunk our pool of options considerably, and since I am already familiar with sighthounds, that seemed like a good choice. I got on a waiting list for a borzoi up in Missouri, and I tried to get on a waiting list for a Scottish Deerhound up in Dallas (I never heard back from the breeder after the initial contact).

This past weekend, though, I found a very reputable whipped breeder in Dallas who is planning a litter in June. Although we found them through AKC, they seem to cater more to people who plan to have the dogs as pets rather than showing them, and this was a plus. I really liked the borzoi breeder, but she made it clear that she loves to have "her" dogs involved in the AKC on some level, and that's just not really my thing.

We actually put down a deposit and are in line to get our dog in August!

I'd already been purchasing some gear, and went ahead and ordered almost everything else we needed except for the food items. We've already moved the cats food to where we want to keep it so they'll have a private dining space once there's a puppy in the house. In late July, I'll put up the baby gates so they'll get used to those without having the dog to contend with.

One interesting thing is that the pair of dogs that is supposed to be paired has a litter of bi-eyed puppies. It'll be interesting to see if ours is.

Oh! Another VERY cool thing is that the breeder sets up a live feed when the mama puppy goes into labor. If we're awake, we'll get to see them all whelped. Then we can keep an eye on them when they're in the birthing nest until it's time to pick the dog up. We don't know whether we're getting a male or female, or what it will look like. We aren't super picky, so it's just fine that we're toward the bottom of this list. We just want a sweet pet!

We'll be spending the next four months getting everything (and ourselves) ready. We definitely need to take the cats in to get their vaccinations up to date (Rudy is good, as he's just now had dental surgery like five hours ago -- so he's been caught up) and give them time to calm back down before we introduce a new animal. And I'm learning lots of stuff on YouTube and podcasts that I think will be helpful. If I can remember all of it.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

A Random Encounter a Decade Later

You didn't even recognize me. I mean, it's been exactly ten years, but we were kind of involved.

You once sat across a table from me and asked me, "What if God is just about to do a miracle, and you give up now?" You invested a lot of your time and effort in keeping me from leaving an unhealthy marriage because it was what god wanted me to do, and it was your job to hold me to this personal holiness. The church that you lead called men with whom they saw me talking and asked if I were involved in a sexual relationship with them. You pulled me off of my ministry of writing and film production "not as a punishment, but so you can focus on your marriage." As if that wasn't all I had done for the better part of the previous decade.

And then you just went on with your life and I slipped from your memory altogether. How nice for you.

Believe me, I know that you had good intentions. I worked with you for more than six years, and I saw your heart for people, and for unity. I know how much you worked, and how you put your whole heart into everything. I admired how you reached across denominations and cultures and wanted to gather everyone together. You even stood up for me the first time you met with my ex-husband and me. After I'd told my side of the story, you asked, "What is wrong with you, man? Don't you have any balls?"

But then you expected me to stay the course, as this was the first you'd heard of it, completely disregarding the fact that both I and a whole other church had been trying to fix things for years. I had changed so much, and given up so much of my truest self, trying to placate a person who demanded more than it was possible for me to give. It was never enough. I was always too much or too loud or too involved with my larger family or too fat or too out of control.

"I just wish you guys had come to [the church] earlier. Now we're at this precipice, and we could have helped."

I'm not sure what else I could have done. Literally everyone else knew. My ministry team, especially your staff member with whom I worked the closest, knew about the strain in my marriage. My writing partner once commiserated with me saying, "When they know you won't leave, it's like permission for them to treat you like shit." She's a better person than I am, I suppose, because... I left. I did not deserve to be treated like shit.

Exactly one year before, I had written an Easter segment for "The Bridge" about a marriage that was falling apart. My ex-husband, who was on the camera team that week, told his ministry team that the script was taken directly from our marriage.

I hadn't meant for it to be a cry for help, but maybe it was? Or maybe it was wish fulfillment? At the end of the service, it became clear that the husband had drastically changed tack and the couple ended up having a long, loving marriage. One of the choir members cried as he prayed before service, saying, "Let people hear this and be encouraged; there are a lot of people whose marriages are on life support, and they need to know that there's hope."

I mean, four months or so after that, there was a HUGE incident that several people witnessed, and it bothered one of them enough to reach out to church leadership. You met with us then, and... what? Like just assumed that because we went quiet again that this incident wasn't important? 

There was one other time, toward the end, that I saw a spark of compassion from you. After many meeting with elders, you were in one and perked up when I mentioned a mental disorder. I know what you've been through with your daughter. I know you understand that there are things you can't love someone enough to fix. You said, "You've never mentioned that before." And then you were never in later meetings. I assumed it was because you were at risk of being "too empathetic," which was a charge lain on one more friend who asked to sit in an elder's meeting with me as an advocate, and who broke down crying as a bunch of men came down on me and made me sign an agreement not to share any of what I was going through on social media.

Sir, there were people from your church who followed me on social media and read my blog just to make sure that I didn't speak a word of anything. When other church members called you because they knew me and saw what was happening, I was accused of being "divisive." 

I was in an emotionally abusive relationship, and you all cared more about saving my marriage than saving me. I was pushed out of the church home I'd had for six years, after working so closely with everyone who was making that decision.

Maybe you guys thought that I was being a jerk. I probably was. Another former preacher, Kevin Odor, used to say, "Hurt people hurt people." I'm sorry about my part in those things. Maybe, as one friend expressed concern, you were trying to make an example of me, to let everyone else know that marriage was so important, you couldn't tolerate its dissolution. I know you genuinely believe that you were trying to keep me on the straight and narrow.

Writing about these times brings everything back to the fore for me. And you clearly could not place me, even when I pulled my mask down, and said I'd been in Sherman when you were there.

You said, "Oh, things have changed since then..." then you told me about the church you'd pastored after the one I attended, and how now you're here, in my back yard, on staff with your son's congregation. I introduced you to my husband, and my child. I said, "He looks a lot like D at this age." Of course, you didn't know D as "D." And you probably wouldn't remember them, either.

"My wife's around here somewhere," you told me. I said I'd keep an eye out for her. And I did. When I saw her, I made sure my mask was up, and I averted my eyes. I could be polite and chatty with you, but not her. She said two of the worst things anyone said to me during my divorce, and I don't believe that the second one is forgivable, frankly.

The first thing: "Well, he's not hitting you, and he's not cheating, so you're kind of stuck." No, I was not. The law doesn't care why I wanted out; I was free to go. And if there is a god who expects women to tolerate every single thing that is not hitting or cheating, then that is not a god I am interested in following. I didn't have the guts to say it then, but I do now. I do not believe that. I absolutely do not.

The second, worst thing she said, though, after telling some anecdotes, was, "And, you know, most people are pretty miserable, anyway, so..."

What kind of "Christian" advice is this? Your marriage sucks? Well, guess what? NO ONE IS HAPPY so just give up dreaming! I mean, is Jesus supposed to make up for this? "Sure, your life sucks but one day, you'll die and be in heaven as long as you stay in these parameters!"

I'm not talking to her.

Anyway, my mood tanked for much of the event, because it was quite a surprise to see someone I thought was way back in the rear-view mirror. But, I have to tell you, as hard a time as I had, and as much as I struggled with the loss of my church family and friends, I probably should have thanked you.

"Oh, do you go to church here?" you asked about the congregation that hosted the event. I told you no, that I go to church in Leander.

What I didn't tell you was that I would never go to that church, and that was before I knew your son pastored it or that you worked there.

The reason is largely because of what I learned in my experience with your old church. My old church.

As I mentioned, I have no doubt that you and most of the men involved in pushing back on my divorce meant well. As you saw it, God demanded that divorce not happen, and therefore divorce is sin, and it was your responsibility to prevent my sinning if it were within your power.

The same thing happened, though less dramatically, with the church I attended here, when I was engaged to James, an "unbeliever," and the leadership stepped in to discourage me from marrying him. When I said I was going to go on with it, the preacher told me, "If you can't submit yourself to leadership in this way, then I don't really know what we have for you." I told him that wasn't the first time I'd been asked to leave a church, and that it's very demoralizing. We're still on okay terms. But what the hell, man?

Writing this, I think one might, perhaps rightfully, be tempted to say, "They were all right, and you're just a rebellious freak." I mean, maybe I am.

But I happen to believe that rebellious freaks also deserve to feel loved and accepted by their creator (if there is one, and in the context of the church, there is).

I have absolute confidence that the "church discipline" I received was done in genuine love.

And IT SUCKED. It felt awful. It felt invalidating, and humiliating, and made me feel like a problem child. Even knowing I was loved.

If this hadn't happened to me, I might not have thought about that in the context of the LGBTQ+ community. I'm embarrassed to admit that, but it's true. I've gone to church with gay people who were welcomed to the congregation but not allowed to serve in positions of leadership. I've also gone to churches where a gay member would have to keep the gay part on the down-low.

Because of my personal experience, I know that being loved and also seen as a problem doesn't feel like love. It's very "othering." It's condescending. It denies a part of who you are as being unseemly or sinful.

I never want anyone who steps into a church to feel that rejection, and because of that, I'll never attend a church that isn't open and affirming. I might not have come to this decision if it weren't for the way you cornered me and tried to shove me into a mould that I could not inhabit anymore.

So, really, thanks. Thanks for making me a more compassionate person.

If I happen to see you at the store or local events in the future, I'll keep my distance. And I won't let it ruin my day. 

I'd love it if you and your wife could know that you were wrong, though. Sure, there are days in my life that are stressful or monotonous. However, I'm happy. It's attainable, and I hope you guys aren't settling for "pretty miserable." But if you are, it's not my problem. And I'm not yours.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

The Exhaustion of an Empath

NOTE: I wrote most of this back in December and couldn't figure out what the point was, or how to end it.  When we get there, I'll explain why I'm trying it up now.

Some of the things I remember starkly about my childhood are... they're not what I would consider objectively memorable moments.

For instance, one time I remember my grandparents were visiting us when we lived in Fort Smith (which means I was younger than 12, and probably much younger). My dad was making bread, and my grandpa, who was headed through the kitchen to go outside, asked, "What's that you're making? Chocolate chip cookies?" Dad explained that he was making bread, and that was it.

But in my brain, my grandpa wanted chocolate chip cookies, and this was a grave disappointment. Obviously, I know now that homemade bread is a great deal more exciting than cookies, but as a kid... I was projecting. I felt his disappointment, and I felt terrible, and I genuinely wanted to make chocolate chip cookies so he'd be happy.

As I've matured, my tendency toward empathy has sharpened and I've gotten better at it, but I probably still misfire often enough. And more than just empathy, I've begun to realize that I often internalize what I think other people's feelings are, and they become a responsibility to me. I know that some people intentionally push off their negative feelings on someone else (the whole "shite rolls downhill" thing), but much of my life has been my empathetically picking up on someone's negative feelings, and then taking it upon myself to mitigate them.

My first husband was definitely mad at me for eating a piece of Christmas candy once after saying that I wasn't hungry, and my brain turned that into that he was mad at me for eating period, and that he thought I was too fat, and... it turned out I was right. I hounded him about it until he admitted it, then when I was devastated, he accused, "I wouldn't have SAID anything if you hadn't BUGGED me so much!" As though it were hidden. As though it were my fault for being in tune with his energy and just wanting confirmation of my suspicions.

I know now that other people's feelings are not my responsibility. Obviously, I owe it to my fellow man to live in a way that isn't harmful toward them, and when I mess up, it's my responsibility to fix it. But feeling responsible to MAKE someone's bad feelings go away is not healthy.

For instance, I homeschool. I support everyone's right to choose how their kids are schooled (with the kids' input), and know that needs are different, so validate everyone's choices. Some people who think "I could never homeschool!" might then feel bad that they feel that way and I don't. That's one of those things that I have no control over, and I have no responsibility to fix. It has taken me years to recognize my propensity to want to do this, and longer to stop.

When I was younger, I lied a lot. I assumed until recently that it was to stay out of trouble, but realize now that I think it was mostly to keep people from feeling disappointed in me, and in turn to keep me from having to bear those feelings of disappointment into perpetuity. That might sound like semantics, but it wasn't the punishment that I feared; it was the cycle of feelings. (Case in point: I lied to cops about a vehicle accident because I was less concerned about the repercussions of that than of the disappointment I knew my dad would have that I'd been in yet another likely at-fault collision.)

What's still tiring, though, is that I can feel when the energy in a room changes, and sometimes I'm the only one. It can be an asset... The other day, a few of us were at the HEB Center with our kids riding bikes and playing, and while I was speaking with one mom, I noticed another mom quietly talking to her little boy, who was whining. 

"Does he want to play hide-and-seek with them?" I asked.

"Yes, he's just shy."

I told Mal, "He's playing now, so be sure to look for him, as well." 

The other mom said, "I'm glad you picked up on that!"

I pick up on everything. EVERYTHING. And even when it's productive, like keeping a little kid from feeling left out, just being in touch with everyone's feelings all of the time can be draining.

Last night, I was playing with Mal when Rudy started trying to dig the cat chaser toy out of the closet. I got it out, and Carol became interested... until James started getting up from the dining room table and clearing his dinner dishes. Carol was standing right beside me, but she wouldn't pay attention to the toy; she was focused on James. The cats get very impatient about their breakfast and dinner soft food feeding times, but we'd already done that. Then I noticed that Aish, too, was laser focused on James.

"Are they almost out of dry food?" I called. "They're acting weird."

They were totally out of dry food, which James refilled, and all of the cats went in to get a snack.

When I was little, I could not watch the scene in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" where Charlie pretends to have found a golden ticket, but really didn't. The disappointment of his grandfather was too much for me. When the movie was on, I'd go to the bathroom or run to my room when that scene approached. I didn't have the emotional bandwidth to process it.

We recently watched the film (James and I; Mal was disinterested), and that scene isn't nearly as fraught as I remembered it being. So maybe I am maturing and learning not to internalize so much. I still can't watch real-live situations where someone is pranked or humiliated or put in an uncomfortable situation. Knowing it's real, knowing that it's not just a set-up and they get the golden ticket in the end and everything turns out okay, I do not like the discomfort and awkwardness that becomes mine in witnessing it.

Since we've been home so much, I've thought about this a lot. And I've had to learn some discipline. Actually, quite recently, I sent a letter to my former neighbors in Sherman. They built their house about two years after we'd moved there, and my dog was used to roaming a bit if I accidentally left the back gate open. I knew that the man did not like my dog, and maybe dogs in general, so I'd call her home again if she'd gotten out and I could hear him shooing her. But now I realize: WHY didn't I just make darn sure the gate was closed? What if she pooped in their yard? What was I thinking? So I sent them a note apologizing for not being a more thoughtful neighbor. I had to. I felt bad, and I needed to acknowledge my mistake.

But I am tempted to reach out in this way for situations that are totally inappropriate. There is someone with whom I was friends in Sherman who genuinely deserves an apology for certain things I did, even though I know I cannot make contact because this person is also not a safe person and dredging up old events would not lead to anything productive. Again, there are some people who have hurt me and at times, I desperately want to say, "What was going on here? I genuinely don't get how this turned out." It doesn't matter; I'm happy, they're happy, and we're not in each other's lives anymore. I just think that carrying feelings into perpetuity, even though they diminish over time, is part of how my emotional life works.

There's an interesting article here about being empathetic without "absorbing" emotions. One of the things it mentioned is not being able to watch violence in movies. When I was in college, a high school friend and I had gone to the movie theater to watch "Silence of the Lambs." I had to walk out and pace the lobby during some of it, repeating to myself, "This is just a movie. It's not real. This isn't really happening." I was so disturbed by the serial killer. I couldn't stay in the room. Then later, I was watching "Casino" with a friend and had to stop it during the scene where Joe Pesci's character is getting brutalized with pool sticks and whatever. It went on SO LONG. I remember sobbing, "We get it! He's getting beat up. Next scene!" Then another time when watching a movie and there's a scene that is played for laughs where this guy is being come onto by a very beautiful older woman, and when he realizes that her husband is watching them, he asks her to stop. She doesn't, and, again, it's supposed to be this really funny scene where he's yelling at her to stop, and finally runs away. She and her husband get a lot of mileage out of it, but I just started bawling. The person I was watching with then assumed that I had been sexually assaulted, which I haven't. But I could not wrap my mind around how someone begging for someone else to stop whatever it is that they're doing is anything other than horrific.

There have also been times that I've written about in this blog when I've just blown up. And they make so much more sense in this context. One of them happened when we were on vacation at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. My mom really wanted a picture of everyone who was there in front of Hogwarts Castle, but it seemed like every time we were in the area, a few of us had gone off on solo adventures. My first mistake was that I took my mom's unfulfilled desire and absorbed the stress of every time it didn't happen, until I couldn't handle the emotions and just yelled at her when she gave me a look of distrust after she'd said she wanted to get a picture down a street in the park that I told her wasn't open yet. I freaking lost it. That was another bad choice, and it caused us to all break up for a few hours because my yelling at her upset my niece, which upset my sister, who then yelled at me about yelling at mom... etc. And the whole thing could have been avoided if I'd understood then that I didn't have to take on someone else's emotion. No one asked me to. It's just natural for me, if I don't pay attention.

I've gotten better at this, though enforcing boundaries for myself comes off as rude, I'm afraid. At Mal's 2nd birthday party, D was very visibly stressed at first (the second half of the party was much better). This was before any anxiety diagnoses, or any real therapy, and this was just how D coped. It wasn't my favorite, but it's what was working for D at the time. My mom hadn't seen D in panic mode, though, was was upset by it. I was trying to focus on Mal's party. When Mom came up to me with tears in her eyes, as though she wanted some kind of explanation or reassurance or something, I just put my hand up and said, "Nope. That's not what we're doing right now." And I desperately don't want to be rude or dismissive of someone else's feelings... it's just that I knew I had a lot going on with party stuff, and didn't have time to process someone else's stuff. It's protective to me and to the people around me, so I don't end up overwhelmed and having a meltdown. 

However, the other day my sister said something that made sense in light of the fact that I was in the middle of thinking about this and writing the blog: I don't know much sign language at all, and can't converse at the depth I'd like to with my brother-in-law and nephew. But I can typically understand what they're saying, even if I can only respond with "Sorry" or "Same" or something like that. She mentioned taking me somewhere when she was in college, and voicing when her Deaf friends would talk in front of me.. They told her, "You don't have to interpret. She understands what I'm saying." And I usually do. I think it's probably a combination of knowing some basic signs, and then the fact that the signer is usually putting so many cues out there that it feels intuitive to me, what they're communicating. It's probably a lot like lip-reading, but backward. (If I ever need to interact with a Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing person in any official capacity, though, I will definitely hire an interpreter, because "mostly understanding" isn't full and clear communication.)

OKAY, BACK TO APRIL 1! And, no, this isn't an April Fool's joke. It just happens not to be December anymore.

Rudy needs dental surgery. He has pretty advanced periodontal disease. Apparently most cats over the age of 3 have at least some, and his is bad. He's almost 12. He might have to have some teeth extracted (one fell out, which is how this came to our attention), as well as a good cleaning of whatever remains, and some x-rays.

D expressed frustration that I don't take Rudy to the vet regularly so this might have been caught before. Honestly, I didn't realize cats needed to get their teeth cleaned. This probably sounds extremely ignorant, and that's literally what it is. However, I've realized that the reason I only take the cats to the doctor when they're sick is less that I'm a medical minimalist (which I am) and more that we all know THE CATS HATE IT. And, guess what? I internalize their anxiety, too, so I'm kind of a wreck. I've been on high-stress mode since Rudy's tooth fell out Sunday. I actually wasn't super worried because Rudy is just so go-with-the-flow and good-natured, but he freaked out in the car. The fact that they set the appointment for the surgery more than six weeks away did not bode well for my coping mechanisms, so I was fortunate to find a different practice that will be able to get him in next week. The exchange is that he has to go in for an office visit first, so they're not planning a surgery blind.

Anyway, this is what happened with Mal's teeth, too. We went in when we HAD to. Maybe we could have avoided it, but I don't think Mal ever would have let a dentist clean his teeth. Ever. I took D to the dentist every six months, because D loved it and it was easy.

I felt no anxiety taking D to get the Covid vaccine, because D wanted it and isn't bothered by needles. Last month when I took Mal to get his immunizations, it was a whole thing, and I had to hold his arms down while he freaked out. I get that that's just being a parent sometimes, but it takes a lot out of me.

(Mal's doctor told me in the past that if I'd bring him in for well checkups more often, he'd get more comfortable with going to the doctor. If getting his hair trimmed, flying in an airplane, or trying new foods are any indication, that is patently not true... he tends to get MORE panicked the more often he does or is exposed to something he doesn't want.)

This would make me feel pretty weak and silly and maybe not responsible enough to take care of children or animals except for one thing: As I've mentioned, my empathetic tendencies are inborn. But for thirteen years, I lived with someone who tapped into that and used it as a way to control me. My life was about not upsetting him, so I could maintain my balance. In that regard, it makes sense that I'd want to avoid feelings of discomfort on behalf of others in order to protect myself. 

Now that I see this about myself, I am going to work on it. I told James that as soon as Rudy's stuff is done next week and we get him healed up, I'll schedule annual check-ups for the other cats. They've both been to the doctor with issues in the past couple of years, and so if they had teeth or any other areas of concern, we would have been told. It's baby steps, but it's a start, right? 

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Coming 2 America

This is out today, and I'm super excited.

Laura is also looking forward to it, but not enough that she's willing to re-watch the first one. She said she feels like we just did.

I think I vaguely remember us watching it together. Maybe shortly after we got married. I can't find any reference to it in my journal (I didn't dig all that deeply), and I'm almost positive it hasn't happened since last July. I do remember noting that I'd forgotten how many different roles Eddie Murphy plays.

I don't think we've ever talked about how much the first movie means to me.

Not because I think it's a world-shatteringly great movie, or anything like that. I mean, it's fun. And it was probably the first time I ever got to see Samuel L. Jackson on screen.

But that was the day that I wrecked my pickup.

I had a little white Nissan. It had blue bucket seats with one of those armrest console things in the middle.

I was driving Khrys and Michael Moss somewhere. Khrys was on that armrest console. None of us were wearing seatbelts, of course.

The way I remember it, we stopped at a light. It turned green, nobody was coming, so I went. A guy tore through the red light and plowed right into us.

It's entirely possible (and would have been completely in character) that it happened the other way around. I've always been a fairly cautious driver, but I was also a stupid jerk about it back then.

I do remember being incredibly angry that he never slowed down, and that he lied about it to the cops. And I vividly remember that he was munching down on lo mein when he flew into the intersection. He made sure to clean that up before the cops arrived.

Maybe he was just taking care of his car rather than destroying evidence.

The woman who called it in told us that it happened all the time. She said she could just identify herself by name and tell the dispatcher that there'd been another one.

My car was in ruins. I'm pretty sure that whatever plans we had flew out the window. At the time, I'm pretty sure I didn't think twice to be grateful that no one got hurt.

Maybe we'd been heading to the movie in the first place. I remember a few crazy drives to try to get there before the previews started (I still love that part the most). Or maybe Mike suggested it after the crash.

Either way, I don't remember how we got there. But I remember that it was a balm that helped me relax after the "trauma."

So this is a movie that will always have a special place in my heart.

It doesn't really matter, but the body shop fixed up the exterior just fine. That armrest console where Khrys was sitting was never the same again. The metal frame got bent when he got thrown forward, and I'm not sure they even realized that it was part of the damage.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

The Lost Week

A week ago today, I started to write about Winter Storm Uri. I just couldn't get through it. I'm glad James beat me to the punch (apparently he finished his the day after I started, and I just haven't had the oomph to log back in until this morning). Now I don't have to. But I'll share a couple of things that I want to remember.

First, our neighbors were absolute heroes, and I've heard the same about neighborhoods across the state. My parents' friends who never lost power picked my parents up at the end of their first full day with no electricity, when the house had gotten down to about 50 degrees. Knowing that they were somewhere safe helped me be able to narrow my focus on our household.

For us, our next door neighbor was amazing. James mentioned that he gave us wood. The following morning, he was driving up and down the street with cut wood in the back of his truck, asking people with chimneys if they needed any wood. This was after I'd asked him, "Will you guys have enough to get you through this?" and he admitted, "I don't know. I can't really tell."

Also, Mal's friend's grandma, who lives a couple of streets over, saved our butts. James mentioned a plumber getting here on Sunday, February 21... but that wasn't the plumber I called on February 14. THAT plumber has not been out yet (today's the 27th). We'd be closing out two weeks without water if it weren't for this neighbor.

We'd gone on a walk last Saturday, and she mentioned that the builder who's bought several of her vacant lots and built houses on them was sending out his subcontractor plumber to check the new homes for leaks after the freeze. I wondered if he'd check our house. She texted the builder. The next morning, when I was at my parents', she asked me if I'd heard back from the builder because the plumber was in the neighborhood. I said I hadn't and that if I were home, I'd walk over and talk to him myself. 

She took it upon herself to put our name, phone number, and address on a card and take it to the neighbor's house. James explained the rest; while he was in the neighborhood, the guy came to our house and capped the leak, allowing us to turn the water back on.

We've been fortunate on many counts. Luck, having good neighbors, being part of the actual rolling blackouts (as opposed to many in Austin whose power was cut and left off for almost a whole week), having been prepared for no water, and being in a healthy household situation so that being even more isolated at home than Covid usual was tolerable.

But it was an intense week. The not knowing: how much longer will the power stay on? will our heater be able to keep up when the power is on? what damage is happening right now that we won't know about until later? will the forecast change for the better (or worse)? what will happen if we run out of food and drink that Mal likes (the rest of us could lump it, but he's a little... less stoic than the adults in the family)? is this still a rolling outage or did something else happen? 

I remember thinking, "We only THOUGHT that the lockdown was an intense change. This is out-of-body."

We did have some fun, though, and ultimately we're fine. Here are some pictures from the week.

After the first ice storm on Friday night/Saturday morning 2/13.

Monday, 2/15

The birds were prepared; fat and more than happy to have supplemental snacks.

A couple of sunny days were nice, even with highs in the teens.

Snow ice cream!

No electricity, but we had some battery-powered string lights from vacation.

We slept in front of the fire one night, then realized we were only having rolling blackouts and the bedroom, with its smaller size and lower ceiling, was warmer overall, with periodic power.

Tuesday, 2/16. Our walk to the park in the snow and sun made us sweaty!

Tuesday night; last night of rolling blackouts.

Then it just stayed cloudy and mostly under freezing for the next 3 days.

On Friday, I remembered that we had 40 gallons of water in the front and back yards! We could flush!

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Winter came to Texas

We had ordered groceries last week, but the supplies just weren't there. I went shopping on Saturday. 

The  grocery store was nuts. Everyone (including me) was super focused on getting what they needed and getting out. There were a few times I found myself on the verge of yelling at someone for just parking their cart in a place that jammed up everyone from going around them. Or for moseying around just a smidge too quickly to go around without running into people going the other way.

At one point, I felt like I was suffocating. My first thought was that one of the idiots wandering around with their mask not covering their nose had given me Covid. I realized pretty quickly that this was ridiculous: you can't get symptoms that quickly. I decided to just relax and make the best of it. Laura said that's exactly how she feels when she gets stress asthma.

I took pictures of the egg section. It was empty except for a few broken ones that people had left behind. One of the stockers apologized for the emptiness and explained that the truck hadn't been able to get through. I shrugged it off and told him it wasn't his fault. He deflated a little and told me he was glad I felt that way. He'd been chewed out for it twice already.

I don't understand why anyone would think it was his fault. Then again, they were probably just looking for an outlet.

Laura sent me with a list, and I improvised around it. She said that I bought a lot more than she would have, which turned out to be a very good thing.

 I went out again to try to get brunch for all of us on Sunday, but everything was closed. On the way home, my car had a lot of trouble making it up a couple of hills.

We turned off our water to try to keep the pipes from freezing. Our side of the cut off didn't work. We filled up our bathtubs and pretty much every glass, bowl, pot, and pan in the house. Again, this turned out to be a good thing. Then Laura decided to try the city-side cutoff. I was planning to get out in the morning and buy a tool for it, but it's loose enough to turn by hand. Apparently, this is a fairly serious crime.

Laura put in a call for a plumber to see about fixing the cutoff valve that didn't work. They were supposed to show up on Friday.

Laura and Mal spent the first night with me in our bed. Mal's the opposite of a blanket hog: he just kept kicking them off.

When we got power on Monday morning, I let my manager know that we'd been without power for most of the night and didn't know how long it would last. He told me not to worry about it because almost everyone was in the same boat.

Monday night was really the worst. I think it was the coldest, and the one where the snow really hit. We pulled Mal's mattresses into the living room and camped out in front of the fireplace. This is the first time we've used it. Mal was really scared of it. He was afraid one of the cats would jump in. Or that, after it went out, it would spontaneously combust.

On Tuesday morning, Laura went next door to ask our neighbor if we could buy some firewood. I was going to do it, but the thought of asking for help was just too much for me to handle on top of everything else. She told me that it probably worked out much better that way. He sells firewood, but wouldn't take our money because of Mal. He loaned her his wheelbarrow along with about a day's worth of wood.

Power flickered on and off enough that I didn't even bother trying to work.

We mostly had power Tuesday night, so I signed in to work on Wednesday morning. They sent out an early email telling everyone who has power to act like they don't to reduce demand. They told us to just take a couple of days off. Then they sent out another message late Thursday night telling everyone to also take Friday off.

It must have been Wednesday when Jonestown sent out a boil water notice, with a warning that the treatment plant didn't have power. They said they could get everything going again once they did have power for 12 hours, but begged everyone to take it easy to give the tanks a chance to fill back up once they did.

Austin did the same, about the same time frame. People started getting irritated about then. It's tough to boil water when you're also trying to minimize your electricity/gas usage.

I just saw a message one of my team members sent out on Thursday: he still didn't have water, but he had power for the first time in 3 days.

The water situation didn't matter to us, since we didn't want to turn our water back on until we were sure the freezing weather was past. Actually, I'd have risked it when we started running low. But Laura managed to capture enough snow melt to keep flushing the toilets (I helped by bringing in pots full of ice and snow to melt before anything thawed), and we had plenty of drinking water.

That next door neighbor showed up Wednesday morning. He'd loaded up his truck and was driving around the neighborhood to see if anyone needed firewood. We offered to buy again, but he still refused to take our money. We hadn't used his first load, so we told him to take it to someone who didn't have any.

It could have been a nice week long holiday, if we hadn't been worried about minor details like freezing to death and flushing the toilets. Shutting down the Austin part of Indeed was probably a really good decision from a business perspective. I know that I was too wrung out and emotionally exhausted to do good work.

Once it started thawing, we wound up with a lot of water dripping out of one of the light fixtures on our porch. We knew we needed to do something about it. I was too scared of the electrical implications to do anything about it. While I was waffling about what to do, Laura opened it up. I was worried about a water gusher. But the glass is cracked, so there really wasn't much more than the dripping. It extended from that fixture to both sides of the seam in the wood.

Laura got in touch with a friend who does roofing (and has worked on ours a time or two) to get a professional opinion. He told her something about ice dams, and that the Texas building code just isn't up to handling these sorts of events. He figured that everything would be just fine after it had all passed and the roof had a chance to spring back into normal shape. She read a little more about ice dams and got paranoid about it getting worse once everything froze again over night.

So she broke out the ladder to see what we could do about it. I started out just holding the bottom (which is my normal job while she cleans the gutters), but she couldn't really accomplish much. So I climbed the ladder to see if I could come up with anything. I wound up sweeping a bunch of snow into the gutter, and dropping a bunch of ice chunks straight to the ground. I'd forgotten how terrifying ladders are. I couldn't really tell whether I'd made things better or worse, but we didn't have any problems after that.

In the process, I did something weird to the ball of my foot. It hurt for the next day or so, but feels better now.

Laura took that wheelbarrow of wood back to the neighbor. I think she also made him a plate of cookies.

That Friday plumber appointment flew right out the window: they sent out messages and updated their website to tell people they were swamped. They asked people to not call or message them. They were working their way down a prioritized list and promised a 24 hour warning. They did contact Laura at one point to try to figure out how bad our situation was. She told them to move us down the list, because we were probably out of danger. Though we really hoped someone could get out soon to check for leaks.

We finally turned our water on yesterday. We could tell there was a slight leak, and Laura was really nervous about it. I was thrilled enough about just having water that I didn't care and was willing to just live with it. Even though I've had that job and know better.

I went back to the grocery store (this time in Lago Vista) and bought another car load of snacks and instant meals. It was even more packed than things had been pre-storm. But this time everyone seemed giddy and just thrilled to be interacting with other humans. The cashier seemed pretty shell-shocked. She didn't actually react to me until I told her how grateful I was that she'd come to work that day. She warmed up and told me that they're doing their best.
This time I was able to bring home some food from Sonic. The car hop was pretty disgruntled that they still can't serve drinks, but agreed with my excitement about having running water again.

Laura kept going outside to check the water meter. So she noticed the gushing leak sound.

Well, Mal noticed it first. He tried to tell her that he heard a scary noise outside the bathroom. But he's terrified of everything (including my old recliner and my bathrobe), so we didn't really pay any attention.

Anyway, Laura turned the water back off. Then she led me out to see whether I had any ideas. I didn't.

We could tell that it was coming from under the porch by Mal's window (and the bathroom). It was really close to one of the sections I just fixed. It was obviously too big to leave the water on. So we shut it all back down.

This was pretty crushing for all of us (except possibly Mal who just felt vindicated that he'd told us so).

Laura decided to throw in the towel and go to her parents'. It took me a while to process through the bleakness. I decided that I didn't want to try to work from there on Monday: I'm too attached to my two extra giant monitors to be happy with just my laptop. D decided to stay behind in case anything major came up and I needed help.

So she bundled Mal into the car and headed out last night. Oh, and she let the plumbers know that everything had changed (they did tell her to call if that happened).

I got up this morning and went to brunch. There's a Mexican place down the road named El Rey that I try really hard to patronize (because restaurants in Jonestown have a terrible time staying in business, and I really want to do what I can). Normally, I try to get there every other week. I was planning to eat there last Sunday, but they weren't open. I pulled into their parking lot and thought about what I wanted. I decided I actually wanted an omelet from Gloria's, which is probably my favorite breakfast place in the vicinity. So I went there instead.

Lots of people had the same idea. There was quite a wait list. Most of them don't respect Covid enough and wanted to sit inside. I got a patio table almost immediately. The hostess was a bit upset about the conditions out there (everything was wet, with lots of tree debris blown in), but I assured her it was fine. I ordered an omelet for me and the burger that I was planning to get for D a week ago. Then I settled in to read.

I'm not sure why I checked my phone when my food arrived. Laura said the plumber was at our house and couldn't get anyone to answer. I told her to stall him, because I could be home in about 10 minutes. I got a to go box and asked them to hurry up on the burger and fries. While I waited, she told me that he'd already pulled the porch apart and thought the problem was this lousy irrigation system that someone had half-baked. We've never used it, and we tear up the lines whenever we run across them. He offered to cap it off.

I rushed home, but he was gone when I got back. The leak was fixed, but he wasn't willing to leave the water on with no one home.

I turned it back on and felt a little sick because it looked to me like it was still leaking. I couldn't hear anything ominous, so I sat down and ate. It hadn't even had time to get cold. When I finished eating, the water had stabilized and stopped.

And that was pretty much that.

I started the dishwasher (which is bursting at the seams), then reveled in being able to flush the toilet and brush my teeth.

I still felt pretty lethargic and overwhelmed, but I decided to try out an anti-procrastination technique. Just get started on something. Give it 5 minutes and see.

So I broke out my bookshelf and started working on my latest problem. I had so much fun sawing the wood that I kept going. And then I chiseled out a place for one of the pieces I'd just finished sawing. Before I knew it, it had been over 4 hours, and I was racing the sunset to get that piece glued into place.

It amazes me how good exercise and sunlight are for depression. Now I feel happy and excited about getting back to my day job in the morning.

In the morning, we have groceries scheduled for delivery between 10 and 11. Laura's planning on heading home as soon as Mal wakes up, but she figures they'll still beat her here.

The thought of getting back to "normal" is almost overwhelming.

On that note, I'm finally going to wash my glasses and take my first shower in over a week.