Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 in review

So—the end of the year blog post.

2016 has been a tough year for me, I won’t lie about that. I thought 2009 was the toughest year I’d had so far, but 2016 is its equal if not a bit worse. I’ve been thinking about why that’s so, and honestly, I think Kent and I were a little too far down the sunshine and lollipop path in 2009 and heading into 2010. For example, we didn’t realize at the end of 2009 that we would be displaced from our home for five months (yeah, we were crazy optimists about that rehab timeline!).

This year I finally realized that I was being bullied at work, and had been bullied since I started in May 2015. It took me eight months to put that together, and I thought I was crazy the entire time. I finally started speaking up to my direct manager (not my bully) and talked with HR and used our Employee Relations Services to get counseling for tips and tricking on how to cope. Just using the term “bullying” helped open people’s eyes and you’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) at how many people told me privately that my bully had also bullied them. That part of 2016 has a decent ending in that my bully ended up finding another job and leaving the company at the beginning of November. Thank God.

In April, my company went through a pretty drastic round of reorganization and layoffs. Because the person who’d been bullying me had been with the company for years and was very knowledgeable in a specific area that the company absolutely needed (and was the only person with that knowledge), I fully believed I would lose my job. I was so sure, in fact, that I’d cleaned out my desk. As it turned out, I didn’t lose my job, which was a relief—but then the presidential campaigns started and our incoming president called out the company I work for as one he wants to put out of business.

I would characterize this year as being death by ten thousand cuts rather than having one great looming catastrophe. I am looking forward to putting this year behind me—I am, at my core, an optimist.

  • In June, an old Army buddy of mine died from a very specific kind of cancer directly linked to his exposure to Agent Orange when he served in Vietnam. Dave was a great guy, wonderful musician and very kind to me when I was young and immature.
  • In July, Kent was laid off and we lost 2/3 of our income.
  • In August, we had a lightning strike at the house which fried some appliances, and our cats racked up nearly $3,000 in vet bills.
  • Also this summer, two friends who are important to me had their husbands walk out.
  • In September, my younger son was deployed for the second time.
  • In October, on a positive note, I picked up another team to manage (which I am evilly pleased to think annoyed my bully to no end).
  • Also in October, we learned that Kent’s mother’s health had taken a nose dive. She is 80, so it’s not unexpected. Kent’s been to visit her five or six times since, and in early December it became clear that she needs to be in an assisted living facility.
  • In November, we were able to spend a great Thanksgiving with our daughter-in-law, the grandchildren and our older son—and did some video calls with the younger son.
  • In December, Kent’s been mostly in Tulsa helping his mother. In fact, he will leave again early this next week and I will join him on Thursday to help move his mother into her new apartment. She’s in good spirits about the move although she’s sad about leaving her house.

So with all of that out of the way, here are my answers to the usual end of year blog questions I’ve been doing for a few years now.

What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before? My answer goes back to what I wrote at the beginning of this post—I think in 2009 and early 2010, I didn’t realize how close to the edge of utter financial ruin we actually were, nor did Kent. When Kent was laid off in July, we both knew immediately that we were on lock down for spending and that his job search was likely to take a very long time (the more senior you are in an organization, the fewer positions are available). While we’ve had his unemployment since August, it’s not a lot of money and we are living on what I earn. That’s both cool and terrifying—cool that I am able to do this and terrifying that it has to be this way.

Did anyone close to you give birth? Not this year.

Did anyone close to you die? I already mentioned my friend, Dave.

What countries did you visit? Sadly, none. We did get to Miami again over Memorial weekend, and Jordan joined it for a great get away. We had a lot of fun, but it wasn’t international travel.

What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016? I would love a little more stability across my professional life. Our incoming president makes that very difficult.

What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? To be honest, I would rather not honor the dates of bad shit happening.
What was your biggest achievement of the year? I essentially got a promotion when my manager asked me to take on a second team. With my bully out of the picture, I like what I do and I’m quite good at it.

Did you suffer illness or injury? No—my health is good.

What was the best thing you bought? We got an Instant Pot (love it!) and also took our daughter-in-law’s recommendation and bought a steam mop. That thing is amazing and cleans our wood floors really well.

Where did most of your money go? Home repair from the lighting strike and vet bills. Oh and also repairing cracks from the foundation work we did in 2015, plus rebuilding the built in storage in our dining room (blogged about here).

What did you get really excited about? We got an electric leaf blower that has an attachment you use to clean leaves out of gutters. It’s amazing.

What book(s) did you love this year? I finished Justin Cronin's trilogy (City of Mirrors) and also read two books by a new to me author (N. K. Jemisin) and enjoyed them both. I hope she writes more.

What song will always remind you of 2015? While I liked David Bowie, none of his songs defines 2016 for me. Honestly I think the song I will remember is a George Michael song Jesus to a Child.

Bye, 2016. I won’t miss you.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

On this Christmas Eve

We are in Oklahoma for Christmas; Kent has been here since Tuesday. This is his third or fourth trip since October—his mother has been having some health issues and he’s been here to help her with the house, her doctor’s appointments and so forth.

But it’s time for her to leave this house. She’s been a widow for nearly 20 years, and has downsized a couple times. The first house where I met her was huge and had a gigantic yard. So, then she moved into a smaller house, although I had to laugh—it was still about 3000 square feet! But the yard was smaller, which helped, and the house was definitely smaller than the first one.

Then about four or five years ago, she moved into her current house. It’s smaller than the second house, it’s in a small, gated community and yard care is included with the homeowner’s fees. She’s done well here but in the last year, she’s realized it’s gotten to be a little much.

Our arts & crafts project
Kent and I have been helping her sort out her options and she’s found a place that’s quite nice—it’s a one bedroom apartment that faces south so it’s got lots of light. It’s also near where Kent’s brother works so it will be very easy for him to drop by also. Today, Kent's made a floor plan of the apartment and drawn the furniture she thinks she'd like to take. It looks like her gigantic couch won't make it, but pretty much everything else she'd like to have will fit just fine.

Looking ahead, we’ll need to help her pick the furniture she’ll want with her and then help her with selling the rest. It’s a little overwhelming, to be honest. While she’s not a hoarder by any means, she has a lot of stuff and it will take some serious work.

Thinking back to my grandfather, I remember how he purged nearly everything after my grandmother died. At the time, I found it a little weird and depressing. Now, though, I get it. And more than that, it’s how I see myself being as I get older. I’ve always had the urge to pare down. I think that will only increase as we help Kent’s mother.

Raspberry almond tart
For now, we are working to make this a good Christmas for her and for us. I’ve cooked a lot of savory food that she’s been enjoying (like this tomato soup, and this blueberry oatmeal bake). Tonight, we’ll have spaghetti pie, which is a recipe from my own mother. And tomorrow we’ll have my mother’s pork, mashed potatoes, peas, and applesauce. Oh and raspberry tart for dessert.

I hope you are spending this holiday season with people you love.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Why I like this song

Have you seen the contest on Facebook about getting through the holiday season without hearing Little Drummer Boy?

I have a special fondness for that song. When I first switched from playing flute to oboe the fall of 7th grade, I felt like I found my true instrument. I've seen this with other people too: when you find the on that fits your personality and lets you do things you want to do, it becomes more than just being in band.

All seventh graders played in what our conductor called beginner band (we were all so miffed--beginner band was that thing we played in last year and this year we were big bad seventh graders!) But because I switched to oboe, I got to play in the advanced band for our winter concert. That band always played an arrangement of the Little Drummer Boy that had a oboe duet. Normally Mr. Connally tried to have two oboists in each band (partly, it must be said, so they could encourage each other). That year, he had only one in the advanced band so had me play second oboe. Well I was flattered and scared and confident and so excited. This was a Very Big Deal as far as I was concerned.

I managed to get through the song and not totally embarrass myself, although I'm sure the other girl and I probably sounded like dying ducks. After all, oboe is one of the hardest woodwind instruments to play and I had a whopping six or eight weeks of experience by the time we performed that song. She had a year more than me but as I recall, she quit after that year. Oboe will do that to you, you either love it or you hate it.

Anyway, ever since that concert I've sort of considered that song mine. Silly, I know, but I think that's true of every piece I've ever performed, even the ones I didn't like playing.

I leave you with Pentatonix' version of Little Drummer Boy, which is light years better than my debut as an oboist way back when.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Of pins and hope

I have a group of friends, some of whom I know face to face, and some only virtually. There are eight of us altogether and for the fourth year, we’ve had secret Santa gift exchange. It’s lots of silly fun, and the gifts are sort of beside the point. It’s the friendship that counts.

Glass head pins
This year, my secret Santa was Harriet. She sent a collection of things—some of her favorite hand lotion, an ornament in the shape of a sewing machine, the pins you see in this photo (glass heads are essential in sewing, the plastic ones are useless because they will melt and ruin your project).

What got me was what she said about these gifts:
“These things are from one of my favorite local shops. They also sell clothes -- some handmade by the owner --and teach sewing. Next time you're here, I'll take you there!”
Next time I’m there in New York—which means there will be a next time.

I won’t lie, this has been an extremely tough year, maybe the toughest of my life. It’s been harder in many ways than 2009. We’ve been dealing with a lot, all external and most are out of our control. Kent’s mother has some very serious health issues and he’s been there three or four times in the last two months and he’s been managing all the decision making and sorting out of options long distance. I watch him worry and stress about making the right choices for her, and being a good son. He does make good choices and he is a good son, but it’s very hard.

So to hear from my friend that she will share a favorite place with me the next time I’m there? Well it’s like one of those clich├ęd Thomas Kinkade paintings where the sunbeam pierces the doom and gloom. Frankly I can use the hope. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Everything I know about cats—for Julia

Disclaimer: I’m not a vet. Always listen to your vet over anything I say.

Cats are obligate carnivores. This means they can’t really digest grains or fruit and that their entire diet needs to be meat. This link takes you to an article on PetMD and here's a quote from the article:
The cat cannot sustain its life unless it consumes meat in some form.
Cats are also actually lactose-intolerant. While they will drink milk, they shouldn’t.

Vitamin D capsules are deadly for cats. At least one of mine loves those capsules so if you take vitamin D, don’t let your kitties near them (just in case).

Not all cats like cat nip. It’s sort of like cilantro—some people love the taste, others think it tastes like soap. All three of my current kitties love nip but I’ve had others just look at it and walk away.

In the wild, cats get most of their water from eating their prey (mice, birds etc.). So drinking water isn’t their first preference and cats tend to not drink enough. This is especially true for male cats, who can end up with kidney issues. I use a CatIt fountain, and it’s made a real difference in how much water they drink.

Cats are territorial but it’s different from the way dogs are. Dogs will have a spot they consider theirs and that spot doesn’t change. Cats will have areas and they’ll shift their spots. Some prefer to climb (Wally is our big climber right now) and others just want a soft, warm spot to curl up on.

You can (and should) trim your kitty’s nails. Start doing it now when they are kittens and it will be no big deal for them.

Cats are also crespucular, which means they are most active at twilight, morning and evening. That's why you may get demands to get up and play, or feed or generally interact with your kittens.

Cats scratch. Some scratch horizontally and some prefer to scratch vertically. We have this “lounger” that all three love, and there are lots of other scratching pad/post options out there.

Hope that helps!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

December's cat--last one!

My mother has given me lots of really cool cat calendars over the last 15 years or so. She inadvertently created a tradition for me with the first one, which was of cats in Greece. The light there is so incredible and of course when you add in cats, it's just that much better.

That photographer either moved on from cats or else the publisher stopped publishing them. So Mom found another line of cat calendars which I also enjoyed. But as I mentioned way back in January, this calendar is the best of all because my mom either took the photos herself in Greece or else friends /family gave them to her just for this calendar.

Normally I recycle my calendars but this one is one I'm going to keep. Thank you, Mom, this calendar has been amazing.

Here's December: