2020.02.25Credit Scores!

When we refinanced the house a year ago, we found a company willing to take a gamble on us. I remember when we were going through the qualifications and reviews and stuff, and the agent asked us what we thought our credit scores were. I honestly had no idea.

He told me what it was. It was ghastly. Like, low 500s ghastly. This, friends, is the lasting effect of spending every last dime and every penny of your credit on a move that ultimately will not be reimbursed via your tax return.

Still, he got us the refi, and we were grateful to drop our rate down to 4%.

Today, Laurel told me she wants to refi again. We're getting letters telling us we could get rates as low as the upper 2%s. But the real excitement came when she checked our credit scores.

We have worked very hard to get out of the crippling debt we incurred nearly two years ago. Laurel came up with a really good plan, and we've done our best to work it — I spent months putting in extra hours each week to make it happen, and Laurel cut out a few extras and sold stock periodically.

The payoff: my score is now just below 700. It's SUCH a great feeling — I tried to explain to kiddo what it means — I don't want her to be like I was: At 16, I was driving around without insurance. My parents never told me about car insurance or what it meant. My silent oath to my daughter is to make sure she at least knows there are things like this in the world. Sorry. I'm taking us off topic...

If another refi can happen and we can get a rate like that, we could pay more debt off with the money we'd save in not having a house payment for a couple of months, plus, of course, pay free up more money to throw at bills by saving hundreds on our mortgage payment. Another boost to my credit score should happen later in the year, when the note on my car is paid in full.

It's SUCH a great feeling. (I mean, I'm feeling good about my score, regardless of whether we can actually refinance again.)

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2020.01.05Building Technology Life Skills

Image of three teens looking at their mobile phones

Someone going by the name "HR Mom" made an intriguing Facebook post that talks about how woefully underprepared kids are to enter the workforce. Drawing on her experience as an HR professional, she has distilled a number of broad skills into small tasks which she assigns to her two kids. The objective is simple: to build in them those basic workforce skills so many lack when entering the market.

A lot of parents claim they give their kids devices so they can develop and keep their technology skills sharp. If we are not intentional about directing HOW they use this technology, they are likely to leave our homes with virtually ZERO actual marketable computer skills.

I'm an HR Director and my team hires entry-level employees on a daily basis... We hire so many young 20's who are downright addicted to their phones yet don't know the absolute basics of using technology and struggle with making and receiving phone calls. The anxiety levels these "kids" (new hires) face when they encounter even small amounts of conflict or gray areas on a customer call can be debilitating for so many of them.

As the Mom of a teenaged son, I thought I’d share some practical ways to prepare your kids for real-life use of technology needed for "adulting."

1) Have them conduct basic internet research for you...

Examples: Have them research the best way to kill weeds or find the cheapest price for fence replacement, etc. Have them find the cheapest rental car and hotel for your vacation. Talk to them about how reservations and insurance work and HAVE THEM CALL to reserve it. Let them fumble and make mistakes on the call while you're there to coach and encourage them. If they mess up, who cares? They need to practice while the stakes are low.

2) Have them call to pay any medical bills that come in. Show them where to find Date of Service and Invoice #. Sit with them and coach and encourage them through the call. Tell them what they did right/wrong and watch their confidence grow.

3) Have them call tech support any time something in the home goes down - internet, cable, water, A/C, etc. Let them walk through the steps for internet to come back on. This prevents your kids frantically texting you from college asking what to do.

4) Have them call to schedule their own haircuts, doctor and dentist appointments, and dog grooming appointments. Again, if they sound dumb or forget to say something or ask something, who cares? If they learned something, it was a success!

Her list continues. I'm a big fan. At the close, HR Mom claims "My boys (15 and 11) can confidently navigate self-checkout, withdraw cash from an ATM, pump gas, make phone calls with confidence, order groceries, manage an Excel "budget", order an Uber."

I love this idea, and am working to figure out how we can apply these lessons with kiddo in an effective and positive way. For us, I figure ordering dinner would be a terrific start: we'll coach her through it until she gets the hang of it, and eventually it'll become a task she can own.

Find "HR Mom" on Facebook.

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2019.11.28Giving Thanks

Image of a classic Thanksgiving card. Image credit: stufffundieslike.net

Today is the day to look back on the year and be thankful for the many blessings I have.

Much like 2018, 2019 has been a very challenging year.

I learned that the company I was working with was going to allow my contract to expire, because my position did not fit well with their changing vision. I am thankful I was able to find a position elsewhere, with a company who was willing to work with me to bring me aboard, in a position that appears to offer me a future, and my family some stability and peace of mind.

When I picked up this new job, I learned I could work extra hours for one of our clients, so Laurel and I devised a plan to use the extra hours to get rid of some debt by the end of the year. I'm incredibly thankful that we had to the opportunity to execute that plan, and to get a few artifacts from our suddently-NOT-tax-deductible 2018 move paid off.

The importance of ethics in business was underscored for me a time or two; I am thankful that, in both cases, honesty won the day.

Kiddo has had a horrible year, at one point spending time in a juvenile rehab facility to get her Tourette's Syndrome medications changed. It seemed much like she was wrongfully imprisoned; she saw some terrible things in her week there. I am incredibly grateful for her beautiful, light-bearing soul. We're at another time of change, moving her off of medications that have been causing seizures — particularly in the evenings. I am so grateful that I can be with her to watch her, to find her when she has fallen, and to be a familiar, smiling face for her to wake up to when seizures happen. She's away for the holiday, and I miss her. Maybe I'm grateful for her time away, in that she gets to see others in her family and give us a little time to drop our guard a bit.

This extra saving effort, along with other good decisions, also allowed us to make some small changes around our home. I'm thankful Laurel and I were able to give each other the gift of some fresh coats of paint over some of our neutral walls. Laurel's stability in her position afforded her occupation of the office in our home; I'd been working from home a few days per week from the kitchen table, then moved into the dining room. Laurel's gift to me was an overhaul of the dining room into an office of my own, complete with decorating the walls with various mementos from my military career. I'm especially grateful for this gift, because I feel I have a place in my home now that has been dedicated to me, as much as she has her space in the office. I'm also grateful for (maybe) having finally figured out that when she has a vision, it's my job to just let it happen. Any input I give gets overruled anyway. At least I stopped her from reframing all of my awards.

I'm also very grateful we've been able to make sure kiddo has a pretty rockin' Christmas holiday.

But most of all, I'm thanful for my family and for my health. Everything I've talked about so far all sort of traces back to money and my ability to earn it, and without those, I can't provide for those I love. The same is true of my health. I'm over 50 now. I'm in the zone where the powertrain warranty expires, and maintenance becomes more important. I'm thankful we found a healthcare provider at the start of the year (we had a delay in joining, because of the awful influenza epidemic here last winter), and I'm staying current. I could do better, but I'm thankful for what I have.

It seems weird that I mention family last, but without all the other things, I couldn't support them — and supporting them is entirely the point. I love Laurel and kiddo much much more than I can relate in words, and I am thankful for them every day. Every. Day. I wouldn't change a thing about kiddo — I love her with my whole heart with all of her tics and gestures and laughter and bloody noses. My heart aches for her, but even with all of her imperfections, she is my perfect child. And Laurel... I am so thankful for her ferocious love. We are both working from home now — I get to sit in my new converted office and admire her through her office doors; admire her poise, admire her skill with her people; admire the love they show her in return. I can't begin to recall all of the ways I'm thankful for who she is, for what she does, and for what she sees in me. And, I'm also very thankful she has friends who love her; she was able to take a weeklong trip with them to the coast earlier this year.

So I guess it all comes down to being thankful I was able to take care of my family this year. We've still some red on our ledger, but we're moving in the right direction.

I've so, so much to be thankful for. Despite all of the downs. We win some, we learn some.

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2019.09.26She turned my relaxation app into a fart machine

To help kiddo relax at bedtime, I offered her a copy of the TaoMix 2 app, which lets one create a mixture of pleasing sounds — birds chirping, a sea shore, rain, wind, that sort of thing. One creates custom "scenes" by dropping a sound icon onto the canvas. When playing, a circle moves around the screen randomly — like a screensaver might — and the sounds represented by the icons are played, based on the proximity of the circle to each icon... so if the circle is near two sounds, both sounds will be played. The sounds will become louder as the circle approaches and quieter as the circle passes. Neat stuff, great interface. She downloads it.

I even sent her a simple soundscape I made from just two elements, so she could see how the circle moves across and how the sounds respond. It looked like this:

About ten minutes later she presents me with her first custom soundscape; using audio from a TikTok video of an older woman noisily filling her pants, she covered — COVERED — the entire canvas with only that sound, effectively creating a perpetual pants disaster.

This is the same kid who, at 6, promptly used her new iPad to record a video of her aiming one super long booger right at the camera lens.

Technology per se is not the answer.

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2019.09.22Living with Tourette's: A Father's Perspective

It was a Sunday night, much like this one, about a year ago. Kiddo alights from the shower with what we now know was her first verbal and physical tics. She was making a weird sound with her mouth over and over again, and her head kept jerking to the side. She told us she was scared, because she couldn't control either of these.

It took us about four months for her to finally see a specialist, and to get a diagnosis. With the help of some well-timed video footage on our phones, kiddo received the diagnosis of Tourette's Syndrome. The recording made for an open-and-shut case in the eyes of the professional: Kiddo had "the trifecta" of behaviors that made her diagnosis a lock.

From the moment the school received the diagnosis through her last day of classes last year, the school was amazing to her. They even had a specialist speak to all of her classes — teachers and kids together — about what Tourette's Syndrome is and what it is not. When her symptoms elevated back in the spring, the specialist told us that the escalation was normal for that time of year.

Over the summer, her symptoms relaxed significantly: the stressors that were present during school life were absent over the break. But we did have one very uncomfortable event: she was actually institutionalized for a week, simply to execute a swift change of medication in a controlled environment. It was a hard week for us all — our poor kid was placed among kids who were drug addicts and suicide risks. It seemed a bit like going to the city jail to sleep off a bender and waking up among hardened criminals in prison. She was forced to do group therapy for several hours each day, and was horrified by the things the other kids shared — one kid even sharing that he had attempted to hang himself, but the ceiling didn't support his weight; so he tried to slash his arm, but ended up missing every vein. For her part, kiddo was embarrassed to have to say that she was only there for a change in her Tourette's medication.

But school is back in session and kiddo has upped her tic game (despite the medication change). She's not been attending classes for the past two weeks because her verbal tics force her to say awful things — things she's absolutely mortified about; things bad enough that the school doesn't want her around other kids. Tonight, on the eve of week three, she seems to be exchanging "the 'N' word" for something similarly vulgar, but without the racial element. I'm actually crossing my fingers that she'll go to class tomorrow. Sure, lots of kids are going to think she's spoiling for a fight, but at least they won't brand her a racist.

Verbal Tics

Verbal tics can come from absolutely anything with which she comes in contact. Internet content and conversations overheard are two major sources. She could hear something once and it'll stick around in her subconscious mind and get repeated as a verbal tic for weeks thereafter (she repeated the name "Kevin" for about three weeks earlier this year). Content she consumes often, such as clips from Vine or TikTok she can watch over and over again and may not develop into a verbal tic.

Physical Tics

Physical tics are a harder nut to crack. These are involuntary movements that can involve any part of the body. Last spring and again this fall, she won't have eaten lunch because she either can't physically hold a utensil to consume it, can't hold the food to feed herself, or tics in her arms throw the food. It's sort of like putting a baby in a high chair; you simply don't know how much food will go in the face, on the face, or on the wall or floor.

Although the tics most commonly force her to close her hands, others have presented in recent weeks. She's having trouble walking at times now, because the tics force her to kick, sort of like erratic goose-stepping. She's also experiencing tics involving her eyes, where she'll just sort of stop all other physical activity and her eyes will dart about for a few seconds. She claims she can't see when this happens, and she loses at least speech when it happens. She can hear and respond using her hands when it happens (say, tapping on the table) while one of these ocular tics is happening.

"Mental Tics"

A side effect of one of the medications she was on was producing uncomfortable thoughts. Getting her off of that medication was the reason she was in the hospital for a week. It was through that experience we learned about the role Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder has in the syndrome.

Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder

Part of what puts the "Syndrome" in the name of the disorder is that Tourette's is comprised of multiple factors. Among them, in kiddo's case, is OCD. So far, OCD is presented most commonly in the state of her bedroom, but it has also surfaced in the form of persisting certain thoughts.


If I have something bad enter my day — like something I did to another person, or something someone did to upset me — I'll keep thinking about it. I'll mentally "grind" on it for a while, sometimes at the expense of sleep. This is something I understand about my personality.

Kiddo experiences this too, as a function of the compulsion aspect of OCD. In her case, she wouldn't be able to rid herself of some unpleasant thought. We learned these ugly thoughts were a function of her previous medication, and that the OCD was continually serving them up to her.


I've a dear friend who is afflicted with OCD in a way that his environment must be maintained in a specific state of tidiness. The dress shirts in his closet are arranged in color order. The items on his desk have a specific placement. His world must be maintained in an orderly way. He has a huge heart and I love him dearly. As a layperson, I'd say his OCD is acute.

Kiddo's OCD is different; sadly, her compulsion is not toward cleanliness. Personally, I can't deal with clutter and crap. Maybe that's the military training in me. Kiddo's compulsion is in keeping things that are obviously trash. Example: for a while, before we knew about her Tourette's, kiddo wore breathing strips to bed. Now, these strips open much like latex bandages do: the product is sandwiched between two strips of paper. The paper is peeled apart to reveal the sterile strip. I would walk into her room and be apalled at the papers for these strips. They were everywhere — on the floor, on her dresser, on her bedside table. She knew these were trash, but something -- she didn't know what — something was preventing her from throwing them away. She didn't necessarily see these papers as valuable — she knew they were trash. But she couldn't close the loop on throwing them out. We now know that an element of compulsion was preventing her from throwing them away.

This compulsion extends to other rooms in the house. I'm constantly tidying up after her — shoes in the living room; detritus from lunch left in the dining room. I believe she is doing the best she can with these — I've seen her clear her place, rinse off the dish and silverware, and put them in the dishwasher. And it's amazing when that happens. But her compulsion prevents her from turning that moment of beauty and light into a wonderful habit.

Impact on Parenting

You know, this parenting thing doesn't come easily. When I started, the only reference I had was how my dad parented with me. I distinctly recall when kiddo was 4 we would put her to bed and she's sit there and talk for another hour. How would my dad handle this? He'd tell us to be quiet once or twice, then he'd get angry. So, I did the same. That's when I began to learn that kiddo would not respond the way we did. We were quiet. Kiddo got upset. My "What Would Dad Do?" reaction would just make things worse. Sometimes, way worse. I needed to figure this stuff out using a different tack.

I've had the pleasure of coparenting her for close to ten years now. Today, she's a teenager. In every sense of the word.

I read some time ago that children are rather slow to develop a sense for things outside of themselves, and to learn about how their actions impact the people and things around them. Those concepts don't really come into focus until their high school years. I also read that kids in middle and high school actually require more sleep than what we'd consider a normal 8 hours, because their bodies are growing and changing. The education system is actually planning or making changes to their model in response.

As a dad, it makes sense to adapt my model, too. Sleep is encouraged generally. But the Tourette's affliction makes sleep an even more precious commodity, because she'll often experience physical tics through the night. So when she sleeps soundly, I want to keep her sleeping soundly for as long as possible. Doesn't matter what time of day it is.

But I struggle with these a bit, because I really don't know how much of her habits is compulsion, and how much is a function of the process of maturity. Maybe the "why" doesn't matter all that much.

Kiddo's Tourette's Syndrome has made me a more compassionate man, because now I understand some things.

So now I understand why she can't keep her room straight. She's not a slob. She has an affliction. It doesn't anger me anymore like it used to. Now I accept it because I understand it's something she can't yet control.

Now I understand why she doesn't normally clear her place at the table, or why she leaves her stuff everywhere. She can't pick it all up yet. She has moments, but those are lovely surprises. Again, I don't get upset about it. I'm just thankful for the times she does it. I know she's trying, and that means a lot to me. (Besides, fighting the daily battle of keeping the place picked up keeps me moving at least once an hour, and that keeps my Apple Watch from barking at me. I'm on a Move Streak of 469 days.)

If we're out to dinner and her hands close up, I will feed her, and I'll explain our situation to a manager in case she feels she may have a bad attack.

If her arm shoots up and she exposes her middle finger (a common physical tic for her, I'm afraid), I'll put mine up right with it and cover her hand.

I'll do everything I possibly can to make her feel more comfortable where we are. I tell her, "Nobody knows us here," and for the most part, that's true. I won't hesitate to leave my comfort zone to make her feel better, if that's what's needed.


But the whole truth is I love that little girl more than anything else in the world. She's already had an example of an unresponsive parent; she needs to see what parents who love and cherish her and each other looks and feels like. Her affliction scares her to the point where sometimes she just does not want to be alone. I can't imagine that. I can't imagine having to go to bed wearing kids' Hulk gloves and a fucking boxing helmet so maybe my face won't be all bruised up the next morning from hitting myself. She knows what that is. I can't imagine having to spend a week in a mental ward with kids who share their pain about drug addiction and wanting to kill themselves. She's been there and done that. She didn't ask for any of this. So any way I can make any of it easier for her, I'll all in. And I couldn't be prouder of her nor happier to do it.

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2019.08.18UPDATE: Family Update: Downward Dog

August 18, 2018

Papa passed quite quickly in May. And I say "quite quickly" in relation to a weekend as opposed to the many years of his full life. The lowlights of his disease were that he was on a relatively low-sloped decline until he experienced a trauma — he fell and broke his collar bone -- which accelerated its progress dramatically. Over the next few months, words, around which he had modeled his life, would increasingly flee until he was saying few if any actual words at all. Dementia was for him a cruel and sinister irony.

Fast-forward to June. The dust has begun to settle for Yaya, who has determined she will stay in the house but look for opportunities to move to a smaller place in town. Kiddo has completed a very successful year in middle school. Bartlett, our older dog, has been slowing over the past couple of months; it's become obvious his hearing is significantly diminished, and his gait has slowed, but he still likes to romp and play with his kitties now and again. Laurel and I are preparing to move the family.

By early July, we're in at the new house. The cats came in the first trip in my small car; the dogs came in the second in the larger SUV. Laurel and I had been talking quite a bit about countermeasures for keeping the dogs from falling into the pool, but we first wanted to see how well they'd do with all of us outside with them on their first visit to the back yard.

The yard is mostly pool. The back door, at the north side of the yard, exits onto a patio which leads directly to the steps down into the kidney bean-shaped pool after about 20 feet. The pool was obviously made for relaxation or very gentle exercise; its maybe 5' deep at most. The absence of any sort of barrier between patio/yard and pool strongly suggests children were not part of the install equation. What grass there is is on the south side of the yard. Plenty there for small animals; one just has to guide them along the walkway between the house and the pool to get to it.

As I said, I've spent a few cycles on how to ensure the dogs' safety, with inputs from both Laurel and kiddo. But then the big moment arrived, when we could watch them in the yard for the first time and determine whether they — chiefly, Bartlett — could navigate the shoreline on his own.

We hadn't been outside for 30 seconds. I had only walked out a few feet — far enough to deposit my towel before going into the water — when I turned to see Bartlett standing at the bottom of the pool. He was out of the house for SECONDS and walked straight off the deck into the water. We viewed this as a prime indication of how poor his eyesight has become — and wouldn't have believed it without this event.

I started this post talking about Papa for a reason. And here it is: I find there is stunning similarity between Papa's trajectory and Bartlett's. To be clear, I am certain Bartlett suffered from, essentially, dementia. Like Papa, Bartlett was on a slow decline until a trauma. For Bartlett, it was falling into the pool.

He was underwater for perhaps five seconds. Kiddo and Laurel were pulling him up within three. By the fifth second he was in our arms and being carried to the deck. We watched him pretty closely for a day — he slept very, very soundly that first night. The following day he seemed a little slow. But by the end of two weeks, much about him had changed. His gait had become stiff and extremely slow. His steps were uncertain. He would stare at walls. He would yelp when touched from a direction he couldn't see. We'd consulted a local veterinarian who prescribed some medication to make him hungry again, and Laurel cooked some nice food for him to eat. But through the second week it was clear it wasn't having enough of an effect.

Laurel and I spent the past few nights wondering if he would wake the next day. I made the call to the vet's office on Friday. We were slated to put him to sleep at noon the following day (today).

This morning we saw even more evidence that we were doing the right thing: a liquid mess in the back yard which suggested stomach problems, and, as we walked him into the vet's office, urine that was alarmingly dark. Our boy was shutting down, and he knew it. When Laurel found him this morning, he was asleep in a corner of her office — an unusual place for him. Laurel interpreted it as him going to a remote place to die.

Our new vet was beautiful. She had absolutely the right words for us; she knew we were grieving. It's... it's difficult to meet somebody when you've been "ugly crying." Laurel and I spent probably twenty minutes on the floor with our boy — the first ten just laying with him and petting him; the second ten, doing the same, but lulling him to sleep after receiving the sedative. The doctor even kissed her palm and placed it on his head. She could tell were were both absolutely devastated at having to bring him in, and she made me feel like her heart really, really went out to us.

I don't know if the other animals have figured it out yet. The younger dog watched me completely dissolve into tears over Bartlett minutes before we left with him. But because Bartlett had been so sedentary over the past few days, I don't know if the pup (I say "pup," but he's like seven years old now) or the cats have done the math because he hadn't been moving from room to room as do the rest.

I'm particularly curious about how the pup will adjust. Pup isn't like Bartlett; he's not got the sense about him to be "one of the family." He's a dog through and through, nothing more. That doesn't mean Laurel doesn't love him to pieces -— she absolutely does. He just doesn't have that je ne se quois that transcends; that -ness that tells one very clearly he's some Gestalthund. What pup usually IS, though, is jealous: he got so unbelievably mad whenever we would separate Bartlett from him. It gave me the idea that he was certain Bartlett was getting to do something fun and he was stuck not getting to do whatever amazing thing Bartlett could. To be honest, he was right about that some of the time. Bartlett, for his part, absolutely hated being separated from his little buddy. He would yowl inconsolably when pup was gone for vet appointments and the like.

I hope Spirit Bartlett will visit him. Pup is such a nervous little dog.


UPDATE: Pup finally got the memo. It's taken a few weeks. Last week we had an awful lot of rain (for this area, anyway), and some thunder-bumpers were part of the package. We have a good product called Thunder Shirts to help keep them calm despite the commotion outside (they're good for fireworks, too!). Anyway, the Thunder Shirts' design is a little complicated, and it's not so easy to tell which shirt goes onto which dog. As the storm was approaching, Laurel placed one of the shirts onto pup, and figured out pretty quickly it was the wrong one (by size) — but pup had already taken a big sniff of it, and the math was well underway. He sniffed at the fabric some more, and Laurel could see him recognize Bartlett's scent, then remember him, remember he was ill, and realize he's been gone for a little while. Pup became sad and sort of moped around the house for the day.

Pup has had a behavior late in Bartlett's days of hiding treats. Laurel would give them each a biscuit; Bartlett would drop it on the floor and forget about it, so Pup would later pick it up and eat it, or, as time went on, he'd hide it someplace where he knew Bartlett couldn't get at it. The hiding behavior became noticeable after we'd moved and Bartlett was in steep decline. Kiddo and I would find dog bones (the biscuits) under our pillows at night. Probably the best "hiding" job I saw was when he'd turned one of Laurel's flip-flops onto its side by a wall, and placed the biscuit behind it.

Since pup's epiphany last week, the hiding has stopped. We'd figured he was doing it in response to Bartlett's assertion of dominance through food control. Here we've at least circumstantial evidence to suggest that was the case.

Finally, I think other behaviors have changed in Bartlett's absence, and for the better. I sort of wonder if pup is actually happier without Bartlett, insofar as he no longer has to compete for attention; there's no reason for jealousy, much like there's no reason to hide biscuits. I know pup could display some amazing jealousy where Bartlett was concerned; he would bark his "mad bark" whenever Bartlett was allowed out front of the house and he was put in the back yard. With those days behind him now, I hope pup will feel happier and become a better friend to us all.

August 18, 2019 - One Year Later

I wanted to offer a few words one year on from the previous post on this topic.

Bartlett visits us from time to time. Kiddo senses his presence occasionally, as she does with Papa. Yaya actually saw Papa earlier this week — clearly enough to note that he stood in the doorway wearing a blue shirt. But Bartlett checks in on us from time to time. I still miss him terribly.

Pup has matured very well over the past year. To the best of my knowledge, he has stopped hiding treats — there's no threat. The cats love him and they don't care one bit about his bones. Today, his favorite things are watching me eat and being where we are — he gives me little kisses on my ear when I'm in the water at the edge of the pool, because that's about the only time we are eye-to-eye. For as much of a pain in the ass as he was when he was younger, he's really grown into being a great little dog.

I think we all also recognize that pup wouldn't play well with another dog in the home. I'm pretty sure he'd be fine with another kitten at some point, but not a dog.

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2019.08.18On Kiddo's Relationships

I share my daughter with another dad. I moved my family to Texas over a year ago. Before moving, the other dad essentially sued my wife for custody of kiddo. It was a waste of resources — both his and ours. Had he simply talked with my wife instead of throwing his laywer at us, he likely would have arrived at a very similar arrangement we currently have. Our arrangement essentially involves her traveling up to see him over long weekends, some holidays, and over the majority of the summer.

Kiddo's extended family is comprised of her dad, his wife, and her teenage son. The boy hasn't had an easy life — he lost his father at a young age, and has — or had — nothing but resentment for his mom's new husband.

This summer, kiddo had a few hiccups and we had to end her vacay early so she could have some medication issues worked out. Since then, kiddo's relationship with her extended family has been strained. She has come to feel that his stepson takes precedent over her; kiddo feels like a second- class citizen when she visits.

Distance hasn't made the heart grow fonder. Since school has started, she has hung up on him on a few calls.

My feelings aside, I can tell that kiddo is looking for closeness right now. She needs reassurance that her place is solid and her (other) family dynamic is strong. So I've been working extra hard to provide that for her.

Although I have no standing in the matter, I feel -— having been a child of divorce too -— that she shouldn't have to make the trip to see him if she doesn't want to. I don't dare actually suggest it, though.

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2019.08.17Mom is Slipping

Image of an elderly woman and her caretaker. Image credit: GIS

I'm losing my mother. Little bit by little bit, call by call. I guess I've suspected this for a little while, but today's call was different.

Just different enough, perhaps, to make it more than perceptible — different enough to suggest alarm.

A couple of weeks ago she called me to tell me how proud she was that she was able to frustrate a scam artist. She was so happy that she managed to challenge him enough into finally hanging up.

Today I saw the bill — she may not have fallen for his fake Publisher's Clearinghouse pitch, but she managed to rack up a $140 bill for the call: She doesn't understand that on mobile phones both parties pay to talk; who called whom is meaningless.

When I called her today, I told her about the bill, but I'm not certain she understood what I was saying. I wasn't going to be crass and tell her that she'd blown our budget; she may be 80, but she deserves to be treated with respect. I made my point in a way that approached the boundary but not so subtly that anyone might miss it. She didn't appear to pick it up. She didn't react in a way that suggested she understood me. Arguably, she might have just been hoping the issue would fall to the riverbed of an otherwise flowing conversation, so she might reflect on it later; but I'm uncertain.

I don't want to treat her like a child. Yes, she's 80, and she never worked to understand the technologies that became so common over the past twenty or thirty years: computers and cell phones and Wi-Fi and all remain unexplored. (I found myself explaining yet again the difference between the mobile phone and its service, and what between them is paid for and what is paid as a monthly bill.) Twenty years ago her eyes would just glaze over as I'd try for the umpteenth time to explain what a virus scan was and how to do it.

So my current countermeasure is to enable some protection from my service provider. The good news there is I won't have to install anything on her phone — it's done through the network. That's a relief.

I guess I'll continue to monitor our conversations in the coming weeks, but today made me feel like I have to explain more and work harder to get points across. I'm hoping she was just mystified by the technology.

During the call she noted that it's hard for her to get around to places outside of her retirement home — noting that loading her walker into a car is inconvenient. Additionally, she mentioned on the call that she knows she's living in a place where people come to die.

I admit I wasn't prepared to respond.

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2019.06.29A Turn of Good Luck

We had quite a day here yesterday.

Among the good news: Our kiddo is getting her medications sorted out; our "other kiddo" got married; and I got a job offer. About the only way it could have been better — realistically better, I mean — would have been if Laurel's promotion had finally come through.

Here are some details:

  • Last school year, kiddo finally got a diagnosis of some peculiar behavior she'd been having since a couple of months after the start of the school year. That diagnosis is not the kind of thing a parent wants to hear, but receiving it is worth celebrating when your kid is suffering, because it unlocks all kinds of assistance for your child. Anyway, a few months ago, the specialist increased her dosage on a particular medication, and, as it turns out, kiddo started having some pretty unsavory thoughts starting at about that time. That kind of behavior is apparently a known side effect of this specific medication. So she has been admitted to a behavioral hospital for analysis and observation — but the biggest benefit of admitting her is that a new medicinal regimen can be started immediately. Without that, it could have taken weeks to get things switched around. We are confident she is getting put on the right track, and, at this point in the summer, it should set us up for a greatly improved school year. *

  • Laurel and I have a sort of quasi-daughter. She and Laurel met several years ago and they just kind of hit it off. When she learned that the girl needed help, she offered to let her live in our home for a short time. And in that time, she really turned her life around. So I couldn't be prouder to have learned that she got married yesterday!

  • I have been doing contract work since last September. I thought I was on a good trajectory for converting to FTE, but my new director has other plans. This is a big problem for me, because company policy specifies I cannot contract with them for more than a year at a time without a significant break in service (like 90 days) — and nobody can afford to leave a job, not work for 3 months, and then return. Well, nobody I know. So I've been quietly in the market since that conversation. Yesterday one of the companies I've been speaking with notified me of their intent to offer me a position, and I'm elated. Details have yet to be discussed, but more on this will follow if I accept the offer.

  • And speaking of jobs and offers, Laurel is a very good candidate for a more senior position with her employer. She's been through three rounds of interviews, and apparently there's another to come. As I understand it, she'll be one of three in the entire company doing this kind of work; seems to me they want to be sure they get this right. So while we didn't hear anything about it yesterday, I'm hopeful good news will reach her ears in the coming days.

*Now, I wrote all of that stuff about kiddo before we went to visit her yesterday. Holy Hell. It felt like we were visiting kiddo in jail — about all that was missing were orange uniforms on the kids and bars on the doors. We were restricted from bringing ANYTHING in with us to visit her — no mobile phones, not even sunglasses. Most of the patients are there for either drug overdoses or attempted suicides — I suspect their daily regimen is geared toward these — so they're all in group therapy sessions most of the day. Kiddo described one boy who said he tried to hang himself, but whatever he'd tied the rope to on the ceiling broke; so he tried to slash his arms, but he missed every vein. So in addition to feeling out of sorts with the structured environment and all the strangers, she doesn't really have anything in common with the other patients, either. She hates group therapy because she's forced to talk about herself and her feelings and all, and she's really uncomfortable with that. I tried to offer what comfort I could by reminding her that she's never going to see any of these people again, so she really could "let it all out" — get everything off of her chest she's been holding in; it's an opportunity to spill to complete strangers she'll never see again. We sat with her for an uncomfortable hour. And we'll do it again today. Hopefully she'll have had more sleep.

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2019.05.16Ten Years After Laurel's Cancer Diagnosis


Laurel was diagnosed with skin cancer ten years ago today.

She has told me it was the event that made some very important decisions for her.

Every year, I mark the anniversary of her diagnosis, and the anniversary of the day she got the news that she was cancer free.

I usually commemorate these occasions with flowers — she loves flowers. This year, for the tenth anniversary of her cancer diagnosis, I did something very special.

A couple of years ago, in commemoration of her cancer scare, she selected several flowers that have significance for her and asked her mother, an artist, to draw them for her. She then took that finished drawing to a highly talented tattoo artist, and had it committed to her skin. Her mother took it a little further and painted the flowers as a watercolor, which I had framed.

So this year, I took a digital photo of the watercolor and sent it to a local flower shop (I later used it to make the images you see here). Today I expect that shop to deliver a replica of that piece as a floral arrangement. I'm very curious to know if she'll realize it. My surmise is that she'll see customary bright flowers, but I don't know if she'll catch on.

Every year when I order flowers for these occasions I end up somewhere between misty and completely bawling to the poor clerk taking my call. Not this year: This year, I saved it until I typed this.

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2019.03.01UPDATE: The Day (Hasn't Yet) Arrived

Photo of a shark jumping out of the water

Well, it's happened. I'd heard nasty rumors that kiddo had develped hair in her pits, which meant we were on a six month clock for... this.

Kiddo dutifully reported, with a measure of pride, that she'd had some spotting yesterday. And just like that, Operation Shark Week went into effect. She went to school today with a few extra items in her backpack.

I'm not having an easy time with the news. For as much of a hypochondriac as she has been, I fear she'll become a "regular" in the school nurse's office again (she described the new nurse this year as an 'A-hole,' by the way).

I can't imagine the amount of Zoloft the middle school nurse must be taking.




I saw this post from two years ago in This Week in halfgk History and couldn't resist an update. As it turned out, it hadn't begun. Actually, it *still* hasn't begun.

She's had a little spotting from time to time, but Aunt Flow has yet to visit.

She's 13 now, and halfway through her 7th grade year. It's gotta be coming soon, right?

I wonder if medications she's taking are affecting this?

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2019.02.10Family Update: Laurel and the Brain Aneurysm, One Year On

When I opened Facebook yesterday morning I didn't expect to be greeted by a photo I took of a Jacksonville restaurant. It was the first place we visited when Laurel felt up to walking around after her surgery to clip a brain aneurysm.

We were staying in an economy hotel about two miles from the hospital. We lived in a room on the third floor for three weeks — buying groceries every few days to cram into the tiny refrigerator or sit on the small countertop above it. She slept so much those first few days, but gradually her strength returned, and we spent some time together walking the beach and dining at local places. In that three weeks she showed me how brave she really is.

Today Laurel is every bit as bright and beautiful as ever. Yesterday she got a new tattoo in memory of her late dad; she now has a tattoo for each member of her family. Last night we all got pedicures — five of us — our family plus two very good friends of Laurel's, one of whom flew in from out of town. She sat in the chair and just beamed, she was so, so happy.

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2019.01.20First-Time Teening

Image of a crowded shopping mall. Image credit: GIS

Today, I hit a parenting first.

I gave our newly-minted teen permission to join a couple of friends at a mall.

I recognized the friends' names, but I still had questions, and you can believe I asked them. I really tried not to make it too taxing on kiddo -- I still recall the millions of questions I got from my mother every time I wanted to do things. Happily, we've enjoyed some technological revelations since then — like mobile phones and GPS.

Perhaps the biggest motivator for me was having answers to the questions my absent wife might ask. I damn sure was not going to get mama angry at me for letting her go without copious detail backing me up. I copied down as much info as I could about the kid whose parents were driving — well, I got as far as the phone number when the kid texted that they were out front.

Coat on. Shoes on. Not just kiddo — ME TOO. I went out to the car to say hello and thank the dad for shouldering the responsibility. Then when I got inside I scribbled down his name and a description of the car.

I figure that as these trips become more common, and the parents of her circle of friends become known, I won't have to go to measures like these. But I'm a first-timer here. A first-timer with a brand new teen in a metroplex of 8 million. In the town where I grew up, we had two malls — one was popular and one wasn't. Not with kids, anyway. That mall was maybe three or four miles from our house, an easy drive. One story, with department stores on either end. This place? The mall has valet parking, and its shops aren't exactly Spencer Gifts and Things Remembered — they're more like... places I can't pronounce with items I can't afford.

I had even written down what kiddo was wearing. I was not messing around. I helped her organize what to bring, and wrote that down, too.

When mommy radioed in from her shopping trip, I gave her the scoop, and probably volunteered more information than I should have. Turned out she and her girlfriend were headed to the same place. I texted her what kiddo had on, and even gave her the mobile number of the friend she was with.

I'm sure I probably recorded way too much metadata in preparation for the event. But, in my defense, she was about to leave in a car with people I haven't met for a giant mall I don't know well and am not sure I could even get to. I figure spending some ink and paper and asking a question or two is a small price. I made certain though that I didn't give her the grilling I used to get.

Besides... *Opens Find My Friends app on phone*... there's no need.

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2018.11.22UPDATE: On Giving Thanks at Thanksgiving

Image of a classic Thanksgiving card. Image credit: stufffundieslike.net

First, I need to get something off of my chest: I have never been one for the "let's go around the table and say what we're thankful for" kind of thing at Thanksgiving, because I feel its an act of performance.

Being thankful — and the things, people, events that people are thankful for — should be a private matter. Making one list these items only invites trouble, because "obligations" tend to intrude. Thoughts like, "I'd better say I'm thankful that lush Uncle Jerry and tightwad Aunt Margaret made the trip, because I'm seated right across from them."

I like my thankfulness unrehearsed and uncoerced. I don't want social pressure to inform what I should or shouldn't say. Every time I've been made to do this, I've tried to assemble my words as the people before me were taking their turns. That's what makes this such an awful exercise.

I've spent the last few months not feeling very thankful. I lost a job that I really loved; I lost a house and a neighborhood I really loved. Selling the house ate through all of the savings I had left, and now I have a massive tax bill because of the penalties. I was without work for two months. All of this shattered my confidence and made me feel "less than," despite none of it being my fault. My exercise and diet routine was shot completely to bits — through a combination of change in routine, losing my motivation, and stress. No, I'm not thankful for any of that. At least, not yet.

Here's what I am thankful for: Through all of that amazing awfulness, my wife and daughter and their love have kept my spirits fairly buoyant, along with the friendship of others. I'm thankful for a new employer who was willing to work with me to help me get back on my feet, and I've been showing them a wealth of gratitude. I'm thankful I was able to save my mother in law's life — that's hard for me to write — and I'm thankful we're all getting along in this tiny house. I'm thankful our daughter is doing so well in school, and of how proud she makes me. I'm thankful for new friendships in unlikely places, and new pursuits. I'm thankful I can cook for my family and still talk to my mother. I'm thankful mom sold her place and moved into a care facility. I'm thankful for guidance and for new experiences. No, my life is not what it was, but I feel like I'm on the mend — and I'm very thankful for that.

I'm saying that, even in hard times, we can probably find things to be thankful for. There's a lot about my life that has absolutely had me down over the past couple of months. Someone once said, "it's not how many times you get knocked down that counts. It's how many times you get back up." These days, it's not hard to find somebody who has things worse than you do. That exercise in itself is a measure of thankfulness.

A year ago this week, the neighborhood got together and spent a couple of hours packing boxes and bags of food for people in need in our community. I need to make time to do that more often. Because it's one thing to be thankful for the blessings in your life. But to BE a blessing in someone else's life is another thing entirely.

2018 UPDATE:

I read this post today, a year on. And I wanted to share my thoughts. 2017 was a very difficult year. 2018 "ain't been no picnic" either: Papa passed away in April; I moved the family down to Texas for a job in the summer — I was $15K in the hole from moving expenses and was making my first payment on a new mortgage when that company started slashing jobs right and left, leaving me with a tremendous sense of guilt for uprooting us all and putting us in this mess. It was a shame I carried semiprivately for a while — despite picking up a contracting job nearly right away. Despite all of this, I'm so very thankful for the love and encouragement of my family to get me through.

We're lonely there - on its surface, it seems it would be difficult in a city of eight million. I work among a hundreds of contractors from overseas who prefer their native language over English at least. I've been working there for two months and only one man among them has bothered to acknowledge me enough for us to exchange pleasantries. (I have sort of made friends with the barista downstairs, though.) Laurel has managed to coerce a coworker to move up from Austin — she's so happy to have a friend in town now. We're back "home" for the holiday week, and I've been reminded of numerous connections we simply don't have where we live now. Facebook isn't the same as being in the same room and laughing your faces off with each other.

So right now, we have each other. And I don't think it's a stretch to say that we're both so grateful for that. Without love, all of this would be pointless.

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