Monday, December 31, 2018

It Could Be Worse. There Could Be Bears.

I'm looking back on my year, and I think my kid posted something great on Twitter that I'd like to share as my year end post. My year was kind of a bust. Nothing really exciting. In fact, aside from Guster Concerts and hanging out with family, and a couple lovely visits from a few wonderful people, I have been kind of in a state of the doldrums.

I could write a "hey look at all these awesome things!" post but ... meh?

Back to Jess who tweeted "I can't believe I got a new car, a new job, and a new house all this year and none of them were obtained by choice."

It's true.

In April she was let go from her temporary/contract job, after being strung along for months that a full-time "real boy Pinnochio" job was coming down the pike. I think the lynchpin was when she pointed out that they'd be turning 26 and losing their health care coverage on our policy, and started asking for the verbal commitment to be honored... that the promised full time job be given. Instead of being offered a full time position, she got the old "We restructured the department and found we don't need a full time position for this, so we won't be keeping you. Thanks. Bye..."

This is the kind of thing businesses do anymore and it is sad. My own company is completely guilty of this and it is horrible. Bring in temporary employees, offer them zero benefits, cut them loose when their presence doesn't suit your needs any longer. Everyone is

So she had to find another job, and did. Another temporary contract job, but, this job loved her and hired her full time after a very short period. With insurance, and vacation hours, and everything an employee deserves.

Hell yeah, new job.

A while back, maybe 2016 I think, Jess moved an apartment with 3 of her high school friends. I referred to it as The Weenie Hut (thank you, Spongebob). The Weenies Four happily lived there, one flaked off and moved out to live with her new boyfriend (ditching her fiancé who also was a weenie in the Weenie Hut. Very much to everyone in the apartment's disappointment). The landlord then told them their apartment, which was a condo she rented to them, was going on the market, and she wanted them to move out so she could get it all set for sale. They had to be out by the end of May.

The dumped fiancé moved in with other friends, leaving Jess and Liz to fend for themselves. Housing prices everywhere are crazy. But if you are living anywhere in the Boston area, making something in the vicinity of $12 an hour, it's very hard for two people to find a place.

Add to the fact that Liz had a very big dog, they were super lucky to have the apartment they had in the first place. This wasn't going to be easy.

Lucky for her, and before they needed to be out, an opportunity came to light. Our good friends and former across the street neighbors were in Iceland so he could do a Fulbright year. They had a house sitter, but he decided to bail on the agreement. They contacted Jess and asked if she'd house sit and watch their crazy dog for the remainder of the time they'd be away. Jess said as long as Liz and her dog could come too, then she was willing. Agreement reached, they moved over to the Orange House to sit until the last week of July.

The search for something starting on August 1st was afoot. Not finding anything that would allow a dog, knowing they needed to be somewhere on July 22nd, Jess arranged to stay with friend Molly on the couch and Liz went to live with her mom. They'd keep looking, and technically be homeless. But hopefully not for long.

As fate would have it, weird things happen. Liz' dog had become sick, the diagnosis was stomach cancer, and the prognosis was grim. Liz didn't have the heart to put her down, this was her baby. Her big, giant baby. I loved that dog very much and it broke my heart to know Liz was facing having to make the decision to put her to sleep.

Liz was packing her car on the day they needed to move out of the house sitting gig, and her dog died. Just ... died. Right on the back steps. Jess got home to the house after work and found Liz' mom and sister, and the sister's husband, helping her deal with things there. The grief and the lifting up of a dog that weighed over 100 pounds.

Jess took the dog they were dog sitting for out for a walk and called me on the phone. She was a little freaked out. "Mom..." the tone of voice was a bit scared and shaky, as the conversation started.

She realized immediately that this opened up a ton of opportunities for them. After a little more searching, an apartment was found right in the same neighborhood as friend Molly and Liz' mom. A little above their price range, but the place is big and beautiful, with off-street, safe parking for both of their cars. They moved in the first week of September and only had to spend August in the Homeless Phase. Homeless but safe, with a place to be, and not living on the street.

Hell yeah, new apartment.

For transportation once she moved out, she mostly relied on Liz or the other roommate who had moved off to live with her boyfriend. While she was working in Boston, she would take the train to work, Liz would drop her off and pick her up or she'd walk the 2 or so miles to and from the train. After she lost the job in Boston and went to the place that hired her temporarily with no guaranteed future, Liz would still drive her to and from work. It was very close to home, and with Liz' schedule, it worked out perfectly.

She didn't need a license. Or a car. For the most part.

We always wanted her to get a license, and right before Doug and I moved to Maryland, that she did. A little while later, she got her first car. A little Subaru Wagon, which the Dog (the one who died in July) could get in and out of easily, without throwing someone's back out.

The car developed some issues. Our wonderful mechanic told her she needed a new catalytic converter and a new timing belt. The timing belt was under warrantee, so Subaru took care of that, but the burning oil, the catalytic converter, and other issues that were developing would mean that her freshly purchased in late 2017 car would have to be replaced. It was not going to pass inspection December 31, 2018.

So she needed a new car. She had very little savings, could probably get 800 bucks on a trade in for the Subi, but not much more than that. After much discussion, she realized she'd probably have to finance a car. Not having a ton of money, she was tremendously worried about getting financing. She got a credit card, made small purchases and paid them right off, in order to establish some credit by the end of this year.

Doug went up to Boston right before Christmas to help her out. They'd shopped online and found a used Subaru Impreza, about 10 years old, for about $6000, which she wanted to finance. Her payments would be under 200 a month if they'd give her a decent trade.

The salesman said no bank would finance the car with this age and amount of miles, and suggested a lease. She doesn't drive a lot. 10,000 miles per year for 3 years is pretty fair, and the payment with her trade in and downpayment would be $200 a month.

So she is now the proud leaser of a 2019 Subaru Impreza, with all the bells and whistles, and bluetooth and backup camera and fancy things. "This car is too good for me," she says.  No honey, your frugal parents raised you frugally. And if something nice is within your means, it's okay to have something nice.

Hell yeah, new car.

So that is how all of these things happened for Jess this year. Not by choice but by circumstance.

And here we are at the end of 2018, looking back on what was a garbage year for so many humans, filled with garbage humans making things even more garbagey for the masses.

Jess could be homeless, carless, jobless. She could be all of those things or just one of those things.

When the kids were little, we used to play a game with them when they were upset about something or when circumstances were such that we should be worried or panicked. "It could be worse," I'd start.

About 15 or so years ago, we were hiking and when we got back to our car, Doug unlocked the hatchback of the Saturn Wagon and the key broke off in the lock when he lifted the hatch open. Three dogs, two kids, no key. He had literally just enough juice in his flip phone to call an emergency locksmith, give him our location, and then the phone died.

We were not sure we were going to be rescued. It was up in the air at that moment. All seemed lost. And the kids, well they seemed to grow concerned.

"It could be worse," I said. "It could be raining."

We would add in things that could make it worse. Invariably, we got to the point where we'd be attacked by bees, or by bears, or by bears and bees. There would be laughter.

And in the case of the broken key in the hatch, the locksmith found us deep in the woods in Andover, got our broken key bit out of the lock, made a new key, and we got to leave.

Right before it started raining.

It could be worse.

Now, before it sounds like I am all about everything is perfect and sunny, and things are great, let me assure you that if you've read this blog since its inception you know things have not always been perfect, sunny, and great. Bad things that are bad have happened, even when we were keeping our chins up and a stiff upper lip.

We got fucked. We lost. We struggled. We have had some major league absolute bullshit happen, even when things were our choice and we thought we were making the right choices. Times when saying "It could be worse" simply would have gotten a "Well do tell, how the fuck can they be worse?!"

And I always joke about the Springsteen line "Someday we'll look back on this and it will all seem funny," even when I'm in the middle of things that are patently not funny. But sometimes it's the only thing you can do when things are ... not funny. And just plain awful.

I know some reading this will say that they're in the worst spot they have ever been in their lives and I do not doubt it. I think of Guster's lines from "Come Downstairs and Say Hello"

"I'm telling the truth, I've said it before, tomorrow I start in a new direction."
"By this time next year, I won't be here."

By chance, choice, opportunity, no choice, no chance, looking at your year past where do you want to be this time next year.

What will the year have in store for you, you can't predict or plan for sometimes. You just do it. You go through the year. You face situations and you take on challenges. Or you tread water. Or you drown.

Where will we all be this time next year? Hopefully there won't be bears. Or bees. Or bears with bees in their mouths.

Happy new year if you've read this drivel this far. I hope if 2018 was yet another bigger dumpster fire for you, that 2019 at least is downgraded to a small trash can, an office sized trash can, with little damage left behind.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Gratefulness journaling

Every year I say I'm going to try and write more. After reading a recent story on how gratefulness journaling can help people with depression find at least one thing in a day that is worth noting, I thought maybe that would be a good impetus for me to write.

So here's a thought.

Some mornings when I get off the train there is a guy who plays the trumpet out on the street. He aims his instrument into the Metro station to get the best of that acoustic sound of tile and concrete.

Usually he is blasting the theme song from Rocky, or Star Wars, or a song that I don't know the name of but I always associate it as a College Fight Song.

It makes me feel victorious. For a minute. Coming down the steps to the tune of Rocky, well, how can you not?

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Slacker Christmas

We didn't get a tree this year.

For the first time in our marriage, no tree. Nothing. Well, maybe the first year we were married, but I seem to remember the 2 person dining table in our Beverly MA kitchen having a table top tree. But that could be from another house.

With Doug being out of work, money isn't that big an issue (finally) because I am bringing in some decent cash. Ask me how we're doing in three months, though.

He's just been distant, almost siloed, since October. When I try to talk to him or plan things, he gets aggravated and makes a face at me. The face our friend Christopher Kelly once called "the Constabrow" like he's trying to concentrate and poop and process the gibberish coming out of my mouth all at the same time.

I've found it easier to just not suggest things, or talk to him about things, because I sometimes always seem to pick the wrong time to "spring" things on him, and every time is the wrong time.

So we've been quietly dancing around each other for weeks.

He said "Christmas kind of snuck up on us..."

Well, maybe you. But not me. It made me kind of sad to not have a tree, but to be honest, right now I'm happy to not have to put it all down.

If I really wanted to, I could have taken Geoff and gotten a tree like we did last year. But I just didn't feel like it. Lately,  I feel like the Little Red Hen who takes care of all the duties while others are distracted or don't feel like it, or are otherwise occupied, so I just didn't do it.

The only thing I did was buy each kid one thing they would like for Christmas, get Jess a decently priced airline ticket, and encourage Doug to commit to going up to Massachusetts to help her secure a car since her Subaru was not going to pass inspection at the end of the month.

Mission accomplished on all three fronts.

I also just bought (after Christmas but still covering the holiday) airline tickets for Jess to come down in January, Guster tickets (2 nights in DC for her and me to enjoy), and Geoff told me that he wants Judas Priest tickets for May. Which surprised me and I'm kind of glad that I didn't go buy the 4 day pass to Maryland Death Fest that he hinted at maybe wanting.

In my not doing anything, I did manage to put up lights, and make it feel somewhat hygge in the house while he was in Massachusetts last weekend.

So I semi-Little Red Henned it. But that's about it.

Since the kids have been bigger kids, I've totally tailed off on doing a lot for the holidays. But even when I did stuff for the holidays it wasn't like a big bombastic over the top deal. We never really decorated outside. I would put a garland of green and some bows out on the fence at the brown house. Lights in the window in the living room, but nowhere else. We usually kept white fairy lights up year round because watching TV with those on and the fireplace going is just as lovely at Christmas as it is in March.

I have friends who put more than one tree up. And in November, sometimes earlier, they start with putting up lights on the exterior of the house.

That's never been my style. A couple presents, sometimes not even wrapped (my inner semi-environmentally responsible soul finds wrapping paper completely offensive sometimes), an let's all just have a really nice dinner. That's my style

That's the definition of Slacker Christmas.

We hosted Doug's aunt and cousin this year again, they live over in Virginia. It was a nice time of fellowship. We watched Santa Claus vs. the Martians and a badly dubbed Mexican movie about Santa vs. the Devil. Doug's aunt didn't care for either but his cousin seemed genuinely entertained.

We're getting ready to take Jess to the airport, and I'll miss her. I like having her around. I'm happy to spend all her Christmas money on airfare bringing her to visit. And I do feel like I need to go back up there for a visit, but I feel like when I do go back there it is always because someone is dead or someone got hurt. Well, no - my cousin got married and that was nice. And I did go to Boston to see Guster in January, so there was something good.

2018 wasn't as weird as 2017. But it wasn't awesome. Maybe 2019 will be?

Thursday, December 06, 2018

December update

Seeing as the last time I updated we were investigating civil war defenses around DC in the broiling hot heat, it seems like summer was a world away.

We haven't really done anything unbelievably exciting, I guess. It's a lot of go to work, come home, go to work, maybe try and do something fun on the weekend.

Here's kind of the update of what's the haps with the gang.

Over the summer he took a required class to enroll in Community College. He decided he wanted to pursue a certificate in Radiology, and then decided he would take the year of pre-requisites and apply for the program. He's got one more week of this semester, 2 more classes under his belt.

So far so good.

Next semester may be harder with a biology, biology lab, and an advanced writing class, but he's up for it. He's enjoying the classes, commutes to school on the train, gets his work done.

Even though I told him that he didn't need to get a job, we'd support him while he is in school, he went out and found himself a full time job at a spice company up between us and Baltimore. He works a 4pm-midnight shift, gets home at about 12:30. He's in his "trainee" 90 day period, which I think is hitting month 2 right about now. At the end of that period, they'll offer him the benefits and everything.

I told him he can keep the job as long as his grades do not fall below B-, and right now he's doing pretty well on all fronts.

The only bummer about him working and going to school is that he isn't going to the market and making dinner. Which makes for a lazy Doug and Christine needing to fend for themselves.

I miss his Chicken Parm. He'll be off school soon, so at least I can send him to the market and stuff, even if he won't be making dinner because he leaves for work at like 2:30.

Mind you, shift begins at 4, but "on time is late" is Geoff's philosophy.

Photo of Geoff is from this summer at Doug's family's reunion in Pennsylvania. Wherever there is a dog, there's a happy Geoff. I realized I don't have any other pictures of Geoff that don't involve him looking slightly drunk with a beer in hand. The only time I seem to get to spend with him lately is on weekends, and we do like going to the beer halls and having a taste.

So this picture makes me happy.

Shortly after my last post, Doug's position at his company was eliminated, along with the rest of his team. He received a small severance, and is collecting unemployment. He's looking for a job, and has had several interviews. None have panned out just yet. He's getting great feedback, so hopefully something will happen soon.

We made a couple trips back to see Doug's mom over the summer and the last one was Labor Day weekend, helping out around the house with jobs that Gary would normally have done, and she's not happy with how service providers have handled the work she needs done, especially the yard work. Not sure when we'll go back again.

We invited her for Christmas but she doesn't want to come down. So we will see what happens with a future visit, or whatever.

Doing well back in the home lands. Was temporarily unemployed and homeless, but things worked out. I am thankful for her friend who let her stay with after they had to move out of their apartment. Everything worked out. She's got a better job (I think it pays a little less but they made her a full time real employee instead of stringing her along saying they were going to hire her, like the last place did for over a year). The apartment they are in is great - so much more grown up and nice than the last place. And she's got a good setup.

The only thing she needs now is a new car, hers won't pass inspection at the end of December, so she can take a failure and get 30 more days on it - and will need to have a new solution by the end of January.

Again, I'm sure all things will work out.

It's been a bummer for me not being there to help her out with things in person. But her roommate Liz' mom (for years I thought her name was Tammy. Found out it is Evelyn) lives right around the corner and keeps them in laundry detergent and other things from her job, has a key to the place for emergencies, and is the certified Mom for the team. I'm happy about that.

Here's a picture of us from October, without Geoff because he had work and school. My cousin Billy's daughter got married in Maine, so Doug and I made a trip up, grabbed Jess, got to see the great apartment and the great roommate for a minute. We spent a lovely time with my parents and sister, and the overall My Mom's side of the family.

Doug and I then took a trip across NH and VT (after a lovely night's stay at a beautiful Cabin In The Woods provided by my girl C). We drove down into NY State, went to Poughkeepsie, found a great brewery with a super restaurant. We walked on the footbridge over the Hudson, and it was a gorgeous day. We stopped in Philadelphia at the Eastern State Penitentiary, which Doug has wanted to visit for his whole entire adult life (of all things).

That was the most fun we've had since the summer. I think.


Work is fine, nothing overly exciting or pressing. For Halloween my team dressed as Bob's Burgers, and it was tremendously funny. The only person we were missing was Gene. Couldn't get anyone to play along as him. But we did get Little King Trashmouth, the Raccoon, and that was incredibly funny. Famous people where I work tweeted about us. We were temporary stars.

My sister came to visit. We went to see Guster in Baltimore and had a girls' weekend. She hadn't been down to see us yet, so this was a welcome and fun visit. She's coming back again this weekend and we're going to see Ghost. A band much unlike Guster.

But if they did a mashup thing, they'd be Ghoster, and that would be a riot. I can imagine Tobias singing "Fa Fa" and Ryan doing "Square Hammer."

TM! TM! TM! TM! I'm totally trademarking that so no one steals it.

We had Thanksgiving at our house and Jess came to visit. It was pretty fun to have all 4 of us together again. We went to a brewery and the arboretum to see the Bonsai trees. Most of them were put away for the winter, but some were still there and it was a nice time to go, because no one was in our way.

We'll be bringing her down again for Christmas but right now I'm trying to get Doug to maybe, just maybe, go back to Massachusetts with her for a couple days to help her find a car... she needs a Certified Dad to come be with her and help her pick one out. Someone from her work offered to help but she said he's condescending and annoying about it. I told her that is what a Certified Dad would be like, and she kind of agreed.

I turned 52. We went to a brewery at a horse farm. The last time we were there no horses wanted to come see us. This time, we had lots of fans. It was kind of lovely.

This big guy was kind enough to let us rub his nose and cheeks. And we had mighty fine beers and sat by a fire pit on the patio.

It was a nice way to mark the end of 51.


While we were there, blissing out with horses and chocolate porter, my mom called.

My dad ended up in the hospital with congestive heart failure so that was ... interesting. My sister went to be there, and spent a week with my mom, while they got him all figured out.

He's out of the hospital now but will be having a day procedure to put a plug in his heart valve (forgive me for not knowing all the exact medical terms and things). Because he'll be 79 in May, he's not a candidate for a valve replacement. It would probably kill him. So they'll put this little plug in to stop the backwash into the one chamber of his heart, and hopefully keep him going for a couple more years.

I do believe this happens a week from now. Will call my mom and find out.

And that's right now. Up to the minute coverage of us. Doug has an in person job interview a week from today for a position he really wants so... cross your fingers, kids.