Pity Party


Last night, we said goodbye to Inky… a little black cat who’s been part of our family for 14 years.

She’s always been the caregiver  — the one who, when someone was ill, would curl up beside them as though to comfort and heal.  She survived a close call a few years ago when she got into some antifreeze that my brother-in-law spilled in the driveway, but somehow pulled through it. 

Last Summer, she began losing weight at an alarming rate, despite eating and drinking normally.  We took her to the vet, but the blood tests revealed nothing (although it did rule out liver or kidney failure, as well as feline leukemia).  The doc told me in November that it was probably cancer, and I knew then that it was up to me to watch for the signs of pain, to know when it was kinder to just let her go peacefully.

Just before winter break, she was still leaping to the top of the refrigerator, where she basked in the warmth and watched all that went on.  In the days after Christmas, she could no longer jump to the island, but still behaved normally in all other ways.  By Saturday evening, it seemed that she had some neurological problems — she singed her tail on a candle, and appeared to walk with difficulty.  Yesterday, she seemed more frail than ever, and for the first time, did not finish her lunch.

Last night as she lay in front of the woodstove, I knew from her labored breathing that the time had come, and planned to take her to the vet for the last time today.  She didn’t make it through the night.

Ready for December

No, I’m nowhere near ready for Christmas.  That’s not what this is about.  I’m ready to tear the November page from the calendar and be done with it.  Come to think of it, maybe we should just skip it altogether next year.

Last year in November, a friend lost his young wife.  Earlier this month, my daughter lost a friend and classmate in a tragedy that has shaken the entire community.  Just moments ago, I learned that another friend has lost her only son — and not the only sadness she has suffered in recent months.   All three events are tied by the bonds of the Oak Ridge blogging/forum community, and our common interest in our town and our schools that first drew us to become acquainted.

The days grow shorter, and it’s growing harder to brush off the grim tidings of an already difficult season.  That in itself is sad, as I’ve always loved the crisp, clear days and vibrant color of autumn. 

Through the day I appreciated the many things I have to be thankful for; 12 of us gathered for dinner at my house, and everyone had plenty to eat and enjoyed each other’s company.  Having closed that day and begun the next though, I wonder how to comfort those that I very much care for, stricken hard just before the holidays.

I am inadequate for that task.

Please be careful

It was an act of carelessness that caused no harm, but carried the potential for irony of the worst sort.

Yesterday afternoon as I drove west on the turnpike, there were several people gathered at the corner of Illinois Avenue and the turnpike — the site of a terrible accident that took the life of 12-year old Ashley Paine just days ago.

As we approached the intersection the light turned yellow, but the vehicle traveling next to mine apparently had his mind on the gathering rather than the road.  As the light turned red I stopped, only to watch that vehicle honk his horn to the gathering (mourners?  protesters?) and cruise on through the red light at the busiest intersection in town.

Nothing happened.  Thank God nothing happened.  But that simple, careless moment of distraction could have been another tragedy.

*  *  *  *  *
People are dealing with this loss in differing ways.  One of those ways, for some, is searching for something or someone to blame.  It is not my place to decide who’s grieving and who’s just looking for something to bolster their own civic protest, nor to dictate how anyone should mourn or show support for those who are.  If gathering at the corner brings you comfort, by all means do so.  If honking your horn at those gathered makes you feel camaraderie with them, okay.  But there’s surely no comfort to be gained in risking the safety of yourself and others in your distraction.

So please do be careful.  A second tragedy would be difficult to handle right now.

No Words

There are no words for this day.

Today, I had to tell my youngest child that her 12 year old friend and classmate has died.  A child that everyone loved, who was kind, whom everyone in the rough-and-tumble middle school world considered a friend.  That’s a rare thing, but Ashley was a rare child.

It was incredibly hard to tell her.

A year ago, I engulfed myself in prayer each day for GAC, to no avail.  Now, the same thing again, with the same dismal result.  I cannot second-guess God, but I will not pretend to understand.  I don’t understand. 

The blame game has begun, but the only acceptable response is to listen and understand without responding about budget constraints, or quirks of fate, or any of those other things… because when faced with such a monumental loss, none of those things matter at all in perspective.

Simple mistake, or panic time?

I got an unsettling call from the election commission this morning, informing me that Nashville had issued a report stating that Alpha’s social security number was previously assigned to someone in Shelby County.

After double-checking that the number Anderson County has on file is the same as on our last several years’ tax returns,, as well as Alpha’s tax returns, and on her card, the nice lady from the election commission went downstairs to the Department of Safety to check and see what number they had on file for Alpha on her driver’s license.  It was the same.  Knowing that she had to show her social security card to get her license, the election commission is now satisfied that Alpha’s number is correct.

The fellow in Shelby County’s license is revoked, so he’s theoretically not driving on it… but her social security number is evidently the one attached to his revoked license.

The Social Security Administration was most unhelpful; they’ll only change the number if it’s a life-or-death stalking situation.  They’re not interested in any report of someone using her number fraudulently. 

There are a couple of possibilities: one, that this guy mis-remembers his number, and the folks in Shelby County just aren’t diligent about asking to see the actual card, or, two, that this stems from personal information (tax returns, bank statements, etc.) that may have been taken in our burglary a couple of years ago — the house was so trashed and files strewn all over, it’s hard to know what was missing and what wasn’t.  Maybe it’s just one digit off or something… I don’t know.

Either way, it’s a pretty scary problem.  I’ll have her pull copies of her credit reports (which should be absolutely blank, except for the existence of a bank account).  Assuming those are okay, we’ll file a fraud report with the FTC and put in an alert with the credit reporting agencies, just to be safe.
*   *   *   *   *
I’ve always been very protective of the kids’ social security numbers; the school requires them at enrollment, but on the forms that come home each year, I simply write "on file" in that blank.  I had them check the "do not show" box for their social security numbers on their driver’s licenses, because it’s really not necessary for every store clerk taking a check to see that number.  Besides, kids lose purses and wallets, so it’s one more way to guard against identity theft.

In spite of all that, there’s still a problem.  Any other suggestions would be most welcome.


In addition to her learner’s permit and some golf accessories, Gamma got a cell phone for her 15th birthday last Sunday. With the freedom and privileges that come with age and responsibility, she’s out without parents or older siblings more often these days.
She’d asked for an MP3 player for her birthday (having been told that she couldn’t have a cell phone until her 16th — a diversionary tactic on my part), so I splurged and got her one with the MP3 player built in. It uses a MicroSD flash card for song storage, which arrived via UPS today.

Every day when she goes to the big municipal pool, I tell her to lock it in the lockers. I’ve made sure she has quarters. And she has, every day, except that after she called me about a quarter of six this afternoon, she just stuck it in her pool bag and jumped back in the water, one last time.

When she came back, it was gone. She found the plastic belt clip two tables away, stuffed under a pile of trash. Her friends dialed the number over and over, wandering all around the pool to listen to it ring, but nothing.

The thieves had left the pool by then — it only takes a minute.

She had it for all of five days.

Signal insurance from US Cellular is a notorious rip-off, so it wasn’t insured. She was warned on Sunday that I will not replace it if it’s lost, broken, or stolen… so it’s a good thing she starts her summer babysitting job next week.

It’ll take her nearly three weeks to earn enough to replace it. That’s a helluva hard lesson — just about all of her summer’s earnings to replace a gift that she had for five days.

Although yes, it was her fault for leaving it unsecured, I’m absolutely fed up with the thieving little illegitimates who’ve taken up residence (or visitation) in our fair town. One of these days, they’re going to steal from the wrong person at just the wrong time, and meet up with a Louisville Slugger (or worse).

I Hate May.

Don’t get me wrong… the weather is lovely.  I like having really low utility bills; I enjoy the low incidence of mosquitoes.

It’s the breakneck schedule, the cramming of a year’s worth of activities into one month that I despise. 

I’m sure it’s better for folks without a flock of children at home, but for parents, it’s madness.  Every major project, final exam, and most field trips are scheduled in the month of May, meaning that my calendar is illegible at this point and after a long day of productive adult things, I have to oversee the completion of a 9-weeks social studies project (which, of course, requires cooking a medieval dish), followed by the teen living project (requiring that I print a bunch of family pictures, followed by cooking Delta’s favorite food — chicken and dumplings — for the whole class).

Why do all the end of the year projects involve cooking and hauling it to school?

Beta’s vehicle allegedly needs $1,300+ in repairs, but they’re all things that He Who Tames Flying Monkeys can do for far less (a new head gasket, new plugs and wires, and flush the radiator)… so his weekend’s booked.  I don’t claim to be able to replace a head gasket without supervision, but I expect to have to help.

Alpha’s coming home tomorrow, so Netmom’s Moving Service is called back into action.   Remember how much stuff she took to UT back in August?  Well, now she’s had nine months to accumulate all the trappings of college, and it all has to come home.

There are a few little budget meetings I have to show up for, and a little campaigning here and there if I want to keep doing the work I love.

And, my best client is opening a new office on June 1.  She hasn’t been at all demanding, but I still wake up feeling guilty, thinking up ad strategies, and all that stuff. 

June is going to be sweet.

Home Again!

What a difference a few days makes.

Last Sunday, I was gravely concerned for my mother in law, unsure if she was slipping to the point where it’s not safe for her to live alone; by Wednesday, she was acting much more like herself.  That is to say, fully aware of her surroundings, barking out orders to accomplish her little checklist of things that need to be done.  Asking Beta all about how many boys she’s dating, asking me whether they’re nice, and why she sleeps so late.
I’ve never been so happy to be ordered about, and jumped right to it.

Having worked through the week’s challenges, I do believe that loneliness and depression had affected her to the point of dulling her senses.  It’s terrible that she has to contend with the loneliness and the situation she’s been faced with, but it seems that it’s treatable.  Someone simply has to visit more often, and there’s a new pastor at her church (which she no longer attends, but still feels very much a part of) who wants to visit.  She put him off yesterday because we were there, but I plan to call and ask that he go visit anyway.

Hopefully, he can drop by often.  MIL is a very social creature, and despite the fact that she won’t leave the house — probably afraid of falling — she really does crave conversation beyond our frequent phone calls.

I’m so relieved, and will be glad to make the trips up there to visit and to help as often as I can.  We left about 6 p.m. last night after supper, and arrived home by 9 a.m. this morning.  A brutal drive to be sure, but we’re used to it (and the kids sleep the whole way).

Thanks for the encouragement, all.  I do appreciate it.

One Problem Licked

For several years, Hubby’s youngest brother has taken care of the farm (and his mother).  Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond his control, that’s not been possible for the last few months.  That’s why we’re here, trying to make sure that Mom’s okay and will continue to be okay.

One of the challenges at the moment is that the arrival of Spring (at 8 p.m. tonight, by the way) brings the need for farm maintenance — things like spraying fungicides and pesticides to ensure that the orchards are healthy and productive.  However, governmental regulation being what it is, even the little family farmer is required to be licensed to purchase and use the necessary chemicals.

Licensure requires passing a written test, which covers some 200 pages of technical material — chemistry, biology, and law.  Some weeks ago, Hubby recognized that someone needed to be licensed in his brother’s absence, and there are no other closer brothers (one’s in DC, the other in California) who could take over, even short-term.

In a nutshell, Hubby procrastinated studying the Michigan Department of Agriculture manual until about noon today, with the only test availability about 75 miles away at 7 p.m. tonight.  Had it been anyone but him, I would have said “don’t bother,” because there are plenty of examples locally of fellas who’ve farmed all their lives, but failed the test.

However, Hubby being 1) very intelligent and 2) a gifted test-taker, he scored 100% (having read the material only once, not finishing the manual until halfway through supper, a block from the test location).  The proctor said he’s only the fifth in five years to achieve a perfect score.

We’ll likely be making a few more trips up here over the next couple of months to spray the orchards, probably over brutal 3-day weekends.  We’re both hoping that youngest bro can return in time for the busy summer harvest, otherwise, we’ll likely be here a lot more then.  I’ll have to learn to drive the tractor and the big truck.

But, it’s better to have a solution — even if difficult — than to have none.  I’m grateful that at least we have that option.  It’s one less bit of stress on Mom.


Everyone’s heard of the sandwich generation — those still raising their own children when their parents begin needing care. I find myself rapidly approaching that point, not with my own parents, but my mother-in-law.

It’s heartbreaking to see a woman who could (and did) calculate payroll in her head become so confused or depressed that three months of mail — bills, checks, and everything else — is stacked unopened by her chair.

She no longer drives; she no longer cooks, beyond putting a frozen TV dinner in the microwave.

As Hubby begins working on getting repairs made to various pieces of farm equipment, I’ve been through all the mail, organizing, sorting, and tending to business. The bills are all paid now, and a stack of checks have been deposited in her bank. A few were approaching the magic 90-day age when they would have no longer been any good.

She watches the network news every night, fretting herself silly over the war in Iraq, over a president who fired seven US Attorneys (didn’t Clinton fire ninety-something when he took office?), but neglecting the very matters over which she has absolute control. It’s as though she can no longer differentiate between what she can and should worry about, and those things which she can do nothing about.

It’s obvious to me that she does not need to be living alone, but equally obvious that she will not leave her home. I would be happy to help with the daily living tasks, but I live 14 hours away.

What does one do in this circumstance? I am so afraid for her.

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