the corona chronicles, day 4

Monday, 23 March 2020

It is Day 4 of being sequestered during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Both the libraries I work for are closed. One remained open through last Thursday. The other, a city-managed branch, had shuttered several days before that.

person holding covid sign
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I am still working from home for one library. I have work to do for now but wonder when things will slow down. If this stay-at-home edict remains in place for, say, two or three months, I can’t imagine there would be that much to do from home. Right now, I have a few assignments to take care of. I may have to get creative in coming up with activities in the future, but we have to be doing something work related to be paid. For now, I have plenty.

To get out of the house, my husband and I took a little drive yesterday. It was nice getting a peek at the ocean and seeing something other than our home surroundings. We are lucky, though. We have a house with two floors. It’s not big by today’s standards, but it’s adequate. We have a backyard and a front yard, so, there, we can convene a little bit with nature if we need to. This morning, when I let the dog out back, I noticed three sets of paired-up birds: sparrows, a couple birds that looked like muddy-colored robins, and mourning doves. They were not practicing social distancing, but isn’t it telling that that thought sprang into my mind at the time?

We also live within walking distance to a large regional park. Unfortunately for us but fortunately for others, “our” park has been flooded with people. So many people, in fact, that the parking lots had to be closed off to prevent visitors. (That can only mean that our neighborhood streets will soon start looking like parking lots.) People were not practicing social distancing. It’s the same as at the beaches, whose lots were also barricaded, and some other attractions that draw huge crowds. It’s a matter of time before San Diego’s pride and joy, Balboa Park, is off-limits. What crazy times we live in.

Today, I’m trying to find enough work to fill up my typical 5.5-hour day. I’ll also take the dog out for a walk—maybe in the streets, though, and a little later in the morning or early afternoon, when the typical walkers are back home. But there’s nothing typical about our times.

To say I have zero confidence in our commander in chief is an understatement. How I wish we had a real president, one who doesn’t lie, fib, make stuff up, whatever. What a kid he must have been to raise!

Well, back to work I go. At least I have something to fill my hours. I feel bad for people who are out of work and out of pay, like wait staff and hair stylists, whose tip money was rent money. Or the minimum wage worker who, even if they are allowed to take some kind of unemployment insurance, surely it won’t be enough to pay the bills. Yes, landlords and mortgage lenders are supposed to place a moratorium on collecting rents and monthly payments, but eventually all that money is going to need to be repaid. What then if these people can’t get enough in restitution to cover those payments? There will be, in my opinion, evictions and foreclosures galore. How sad.

Be safe. Stay safe.

how could i not have been told about the office party? (or, feeling left out at work)

There is an office Christmas party going on this morning as I type this. But I am not only not there, I wasn’t even notified of it until late yesterday afternoon, when I was at my other job.

dachshund dog wearing a red sweater
                       “Hey, boss, remember me?”                                                                                                       Photo by Dominika Roseclay on Pexels.com

 

Seems I’m forgotten often at the municipal branch library where I work, even though there are only ten employees and one volunteer besides the head librarian. In a way, it’s good. I don’t think I’m long for that place, especially if an opportunity to work more hours at my other part-time, better-paying job comes through in a couple months. It will be nice to simply slink away, practically unnoticed. Still, who likes to be ignored?

There are times I feel like a very small cog in an enormous machine. I am made to feel, by the type of job I fill and how I have little time to interact with other employees or patrons, that I’m just filling a spot, just doing the lowest-level grunt work, which mainly involves shelving, and that anyone with a little experience could take my place at any time. I’m made to feel expendable.

Woe is not me, though, because I have an outlet–other work that I find fulfilling and a husband with a much better salary than my three little jobs put together.

Feeling Like an Afterthought

But we all want to feel like we belong, right? I’m not getting that feeling.

A case in point: Not being told about the Christmas potluck breakfast and gift exchange until late in the afternoon the day before. If I were to have participated, I would have had to prepare ahead of time to shop and wrap a gift for the exchange and prepare or pick up some food to share. At least a couple days’ notice would have been nice, not fourteen hours. I felt like an afterthought.

Another case in point: My birthday was forgotten. My boss texted and called on my birthday, a day I had requested off weeks before, not to wish me a good day but to ask why I hadn’t shown up for work. She had completely forgotten and failed to write down that I had asked for that day off, twice, in fact. Even worse, she had completely not realized that it was my birthday. I’ve been working at this place for 2.5 months and yet my name hadn’t been added to the list of birthdays tacked to the wall. Let me repeat that there are only ten or so employees.

Yet another example: Festive little stockings have been hung on the circulation desk with care, but there’s not a one with my name on it. There’s a “Ryan” and a “Brenda” and a “Felix” on the stockings, but no “Rose.” Mind you, there is no one named Ryan or Brenda or Felix working at the library.

No Worries

But as I said, I may not stay in the job for long. All the walking and kneeling on a cement floor, in addition to the reaching, bending, crouching, and lifting, are causing my osteoarthritis to flare up. I have another job, too, and freelance work on occasion.

I’m lucky to have an out, but there are plenty of people who need this type of work. I just hope whoever takes my place (which would occur about eleven months after I quit, because nothing in the city moves swiftly) gets his or her name on a Christmas stocking, a timely invitation to the Christmas party, and a birthday card, because no one likes to be forgotten or ignored. No one.

 

freelancing lies part 2 (or, sometimes you have to hide the truth to get the job)

Freelancing can turn you into a liar. Case in point: This week I had to omit the truth from a client who was checking on my status on a project not due for a month and wanting what I’ve worked on so far.

woman sitting on chair while leaning on laptop
                             what I’m doing                                                       Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com
                                         

I told him I’d do my best to get him what I have so far but that I have another editing project with a very short deadline that I’m focused on currently, which is true. Typically I wouldn’t have mentioned the other editing job for fear of looking like I’m too busy to work on his assignment, but I did so to let him know that I have another short-term responsibility I’m working his project around and will definitely be able to meet his January deadline.

What I omitted, however–and would never have been able to say–are that I also hold down two part-time jobs; it’s the holidays and my birthday week; and I have four kids, a soon-to-be-son-in-law, a husband, four siblings, and friends to shop for; there are two work Christmas gatherings approaching, Christmas Day dinner to host, and many other obligations to attend to. Had I mentioned any of those things, even one, I would look unprofessional and would probably never hear from him again, because in the fickle freelancing world, I am expendable and the next independent contractor is just around the corner.

The fact that the editor even asked for part of the project isn’t fair at all. The project isn’t due until January–nearly four weeks away–and I was never told I’d have to turn in partial sections of the book along the way when I took the assignment. Of course, the editor asked kindly about the progress and if it was possible to send back sections already worked on, but what was implied was that he really wants something. Now.

I am, if nothing else, excellent with time management. No matter how busy I am (see the above list), I never go over deadline or fail to get everything done. I never turned in late assignments in school and I haven’t in my career either.

But the editor’s asking for what I’ve finished thus far threw me for a loop. I have a system of how I approach a project, especially one this ginormous (over eight hundred pages). I tend to do a once-over and then go back and double-check my work. Now, since I plan to turn in something to him tomorrow, I had to stop my forward progress and do a reverse take, double-checking what I’ve already worked on.

I had every right to tell him on Friday that I will turn in the entire book on January 4, as agreed upon, but instead I e-mailed him back saying that I’d be happy (another lie) to give him what I’ve done thus far. I didn’t mention that I’d be working both days on the weekend, eight hours each day, to get him what he wants, not needs, so he isn’t stuck with this massive project landing back on his desk in the new year.

woman standing on brown wooden plank
                                what I’d like to be doing                                                                              Photo by Kilian M on Pexels.com

 

                                                                 

It’s unfortunate, but when you freelance, you can never avoid working when other obligations are pulling you away from your desk. You can’t shut down the desktop, close the blinds, turn off the light, and lock the door behind you, saying goodnight to the janitor and tipping your hat to the lobby security worker at the end of the day. If you have work, you must work, no matter the circumstances, whether it means working until 11 p.m. after getting off from your day job or both days on the weekend. The show must go on and the work must get done.

It’s the holidays and my birthday week, to boot, but I am rushing to get out my project due on Thursday for another editor and now this one by tomorrow while trying to do a bang-up job along the way so I will be called upon again to handle similar projects. And I’m doing all this while working five days a week at two part-time jobs. Oh, and did I mention the holiday obligations that I have?

As I said, I’m nothing if not a good time manager, but in the freelancing world, time is always never enough.

why I won’t think about christmas before thanksgiving ends (or, let’s try to enjoy the best holiday of the year)

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. And no matter that there are only twenty-seven (!) days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, I will not put out one green or red decoration, not one strand of garland or one set of twinkle lights, until Thanksgiving is in the bag.

man in santa claus costume
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Yes, I am a planner. Yes, I am growing gray hair by the minute as I write this because I have a fear that I won’t be ready for Christmas. Yes, I keep dreading that short window of time to get it all done this year. I still will enjoy the most wonderful holiday ever, one in which we get together for a delicious meal, watch some football, play games, and have a good time.

Nope, I won’t even think of everything I have to do before December 24.

What is everything? Oh, only :

  • shopping for gifts (for four kids, a daughter’s fiance, a son’s girlfriend, a husband, four siblings, nieces, nephews, my best friend, and more);
  • shopping for Christmas dinner for at least fifteen;
  • putting up the decorations (on the entryway banister, on the fireplace, on the beams over the dining room and family room, on tables, on floors, on windows, on doors);
  • buying a tree (which has somehow turned into my–and only my–job);
  • dragging that eighty-pound beast into the house and putting on a dozen strands of lights, ornaments, and tinsel;
  • setting up my little four-foot artificial tree in the family room and decorating it;
  • pulling out every Dollar Tree knickknack I own and finding places for each of them;
  • digging through the CDs for Christmas music and the DVDs for holiday movies;
  • putting out Christmas pillows and throws, bathroom towels, candles, and soap;
  • decorating the front yard;
  • setting up my village of seven buildings set on a blanket of snow;
  • baking cookies and decorating them, then putting them into gift boxes for friends;
  • wrapping a million gifts as my back aches;
  • misplacing the tape or the scissors or the gift tags after every gift I wrap;
  • filling out dozens of Christmas cards and then addressing the envelopes and mailing them;
  • making gifts for family and friends;kevin
  • cleaning the house a week before (including emptying the fridge and wiping down the shelves), then a couple days before, then the day before (yeah, my Christmas Eve will stink once again), and then the day of;
  • moving seven hundred pounds of garage junk to find my card table, bring it inside, and set it up;
  • touching up the paint in the house before guests arrive;
  • planning the meal, shopping for the meal, preparing the meal a few days ahead, then a day ahead, and then the day of;
  • cleaning up all the mess my immediate family makes on Christmas morning so the house is semi-presentable when the rest of the crew comes over;
  • planning, shopping for, and making something (who knows what) for Christmas Eve dinner so we have something to eat after we all get home from Mass;
  • planning and shopping for Christmas-morning breakfast. . . .

I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but you get the idea. Oh, and did I mention that I work the day after Christmas? Nine o’clock, bright and early!

My days of doing all this should be over. I should have passed the torch on to my four grown kids or my grown nieces long ago, but with today’s economy being what it is in our part of the country, none of them has anything bigger than a two-bedroom condo–and, at 36, my niece and her husband are the only ones who own the home they live in. By that age, my husband and I were paying the mortgage on the house we still call home. Although by no means large, with four bedrooms, a living room and a family room, it was big enough to raise four kids and a few pets in. I wonder if I’ll ever see our kids host Christmas. Maybe when I’m elderly and they themselves are parents of adults–or grandparents of adults.

But no matter. After I sign off from here I will not give Christmas another thought until peaceful, wonderful, bountiful Thanksgiving has long passed, which I suppose this year is Black Friday.

freelance vs. part-time work (or, which gives me more free time?)

I cleaned my entire fridge this morning. Yep, I took out everything shelf by shelf and wiped down every surface.

What’s so amazing about that? It’s because I don’t go in to my part-time job until 3 p.m. today. If I were freelancing, I’d have been at my desk by 8 a.m., tapping the refresh button every thirty seconds, looking for work, finding none or little, and having turned, say, $20 an hour into about $7.50, when accounting for all the time I’d have spent seeking and not finding.

design desk display eyewear
Photo by energepic.com on Pexels.com

Until last December, I had a part-time library job that supplemented my busy freelance career–my main work–giving me a place to go to to get out of the house too. I had felt a little trapped freelancing, especially after all my kids were almost out of high school and driving on their own. No longer did I need to be tethered to my home and the minivan, shuttling one to soccer, the other to swim, and the other to a friend’s house. I also had lost the companionship of my own friends, many of whom were my kids’ friends’ parents, as their children aged and they took on outside work. But my freelance career kept me busy all day long too, sometimes morning till night, every season, even on holidays. If there was work available, I’d be at my desk, my neck and eyes hurting from the strain.

I enjoyed the part-time library job, but the pay was low and the commute was too far to make four and sometimes five times a week. Plus, there was a shift in management and things began to change. Add on top of that the sudden aches and pains I began to have as my Hashimoto’s set in, and it made quitting a pretty simple, necessary decision.

But no sooner had I left that job than my freelance career started to fizzle. A career in freelance proofreading and copyediting was something I’d had for thirty years, long before the gig economy became a thing.  I had settled into two decent jobs over the years, one for a publisher and the other for a financial company.

The work was fairly steady for the financial company, with extreme peaks every few months. The publisher had me busy twice a year for several weeks at a time. It seemed, though, as the publisher added on new freelancers, I was being called on less and less, having to contact the editors for work and oftentimes getting little if anything. And the financial company, whose editors we U.S. freelancers work with are based in the Philippines, finally got savvy and decided to give a greater proportion of work to the Philippines-based workers, who undoubtedly make considerably less than the Americans. I have been with the company for ten years and it has kept me quite busy until now. I had a feeling, though, that once the Philippine (and then India-based) contingent became better at their jobs (and they do good work, I might add), we U.S. freelancers would see less and less work.

And so it goes. I missed my library work anyway, so I kept applying to jobs with the city and county library systems, as well as with an occasional other source. In June, I was hired at a health-care district library for a couple handful of hours per week and then, finally, I was called from the city. I now work a dozen hours at a nearby branch.

librarySo, here I am, at 10:30 a.m. typing out a post instead of digging in to a book or cleaning up transcripts or, more likely, tapping the refresh button. There are times I don’t like having to leave my house (I work five days a week and two days in a row until 8 p.m., for instance), and I do dread trying to make appointments around my new hours, but so far it’s working out OK. I know that if my freelance career gets back on track or if one of the part-time jobs becomes too burdensome, I can always quit something. For now, though, it’s nice to have hours I can commit to and consistent paychecks, even though my per-hour rate isn’t so great.

I think I’ll remake my home office while my editing work is slow, maybe one day using it consistently again. In the meantime, though, I will enjoy not having to sit and wait for work.

So freelance or part-time? So far, part-time is giving me more free time.

my first grocery delivery (or, i could get used to this)

I just placed my first grocery delivery order, and I could get very, very used to this concept.

cart

 

I’ve been laid up for the past week. Six days ago I had hand surgery, and two days after that I came down with the absolute worst stomach bug of my entire life. I will spare readers the gory details, but let me say when I was done using the bathroom, a Civil War battlefield would have looked more pleasing.

The violent episodes lasted a good twelve hours straight, with no feeling of that semi-relief one usually gets in between. I contracted the illness from my son, who came down with it just an hour or so after my husband and I returned from my surgery with a fast-food dinner. I’d had my favorite sandwich of all, an original chicken; my currently pescatarian husband had fish; and we picked up a whopper of a burger for the twenty-year-old. About a half hour after eating, my son became sick. He was so bad, my husband took him to the ER, where he was given an anti-nausea drug, morphine for the pain he was experiencing in his back, and then an IV drip when he wasn’t getting any better.

Thinking it was food poisoning and that food poisoning wasn’t contagious, I didn’t worry too much as I helped him the next day, my dominant hand in a cast and all. Then without warning and with about a half dozen chicken wings in my belly, my body got to experience the nasty virus for itself. Needless to say, it ranks as one of the worst weeks of my life.

Being unable to fend for myself, which is just awful for a perfectionist who runs the household, I had to have my older son make quick runs to the pharmacy and the store for me. When I thought of more things we needed when he wasn’t here, I asked my husband to get a few items yesterday. My husband can do many things well. He’s a hard worker, he is a good friend, he keeps the yard up, and he is conscientious, but he doesn’t run many of the household errands. Therefore, the list I gave him got a bit tweaked, shall we say? Coconut milk came home as coconut water (yuck), medical tape came home as the impossible-to-tear type (I have one hand here. Come on), and a rotisserie chicken was substituted with overpriced, gluten-free-bread-crusted shrimp. What? But I’m used to disappointment.

So, this morning, knowing I had to place an order for a mega bag of dog food from Target, I added on a few grocery items: actual coconut milk (for the curry I envision making sometime this week, when I magically get better and feel like eating), a loaf of sourdough bread that isn’t falling apart (as my husband informed me yesterday of the one loaf I’d purchased ten days ago), fresh vegetables, a pack of extra large bandages to cover my wound, Gatorade, and a few other items.

My order was placed around 8:30 a.m. for a 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. drop-off. I received a cheery text when the food was purchased and loaded into the shopper’s vehicle and she was on her way. Within ten minutes, the bags were unloaded and placed on my doorstep. I grabbed the few items and put them away. It was by far the easiest grocery shopping experience of my lifetime. I love you, Internet! I love you, Target! I love you, first person to think this was a great idea!

Will I grocery shop online again? By golly, yes! I may even try my local grocery stores or Amazon, though I was pleased with the promptness and service of Target, and the fact that I could also add on a few non-grocery items that the shopper could grab as well. The delivery fee, because I didn’t spend a certain amount, was a bit steep (about $10). I thought it was worth it, though, given the time I would have wasted going to the store and the gas money to get there and back. Plus, I’m still very under the weather.

Science and technology can’t do everything. They certainly can’t free us from pain, illness, and suffering, but they can deliver our groceries when we’re in need. My hat’s off to that.

are today’s parents selfless or selfish? (or, why are so many parents taking kids to adult venues these days?)

Who could avoid the story all over the news a few months back of prominent parents buying their kids’ entrances into elite universities, some going as far as bribing school officials, having others take their kids’ standardized exams, and lying on applications by superimposing images of their children’s faces on student athletes’ bodies? Society felt they were part of a trend of helicopter parents risking their own careers and lifestyles to get the very best of everything for their children. Some called them selfless.

But another trend in parenting is also prominent these days: taking kids along to rock concerts, brewpubs, tony restaurants, and R-rated movies, to name a few,  for no other reason than because Mom and Dad want to go. Several theater chains, including AMC, have implemented a “no 6 after 6” policy, meaning no children under age six will be admitted to R-rated movies after 6 p.m. even when accompanied by an adult. Regal enforces the same rule but without a time limit. Is it because six- and seven-year-olds are so  much more mature than kids five and younger? Oh, no. It’s not that. The rule was instituted to make the movie-going experience better for the adults in the theater, presumably to keep them buying tickets.kid in theater

So, don’t worry, Mom. As long as they’re at least in the first grade, Kaedan and Jaelyn can sit right there next to you when Bruce Willis’s guns are blazing, scar-faced Chucky is tormenting children, and that hunky actor drops his drawers.

And if you want to take your three-month-old to a concert or next Sunday’s 49ers game, you’re in luck! Baby Banz makes noise-cancelling headphones for every tot.

My husband and I were at a brewery last night, meeting up with friends who knew one of the band members performing in the live show. The music was pretty tame, mostly ’80s tunes, and the concert was outdoors, so the noise wasn’t deafening. Still, it was nighttime and beer was flowing. My friend, looking at the three-, four-, and five-year-olds playing on the ground nearby, turned to me and said, “Did you ever bring your kids with you to a place like this?”

I told her, “Nope, just like you, I never left the house from the time I had baby number one until the last one was about in middle school. Plus, the kids wouldn’t be welcome. It’s a different world these days.”

And indeed it is. The only socializing we did with other adults occurred while cheering on our kids from the sidelines of soccer games and swim meets. We would hash out our lives since the week before while ripping into Frito-Lay snacks and cut-up oranges and cracking open an ice-cold Aquafina.

If a team banquet happened to be at a restaurant, we might have a margarita or a Blue Moon with our meal, but that wasn’t until our kids were well into high school and the younger littles were left at home (supervised, of course).

So what’s changed? Families are smaller, for one. Taking a kid or two to Ruth’s Chris in the Prius is about as expensive as it was herding the family of six into the minivan and off to the Ponderosa. And with the constant exposure to the world’s events and pop culture through social media these days, our kids are growing up sooner. Nowadays, the f-word can be heard and adult behavior can be witnessed on the TV screen any time of day. Add to that the fact that current culture has become less childcentric, it is no surprise to see kids digging into a lobster tail and a juicy steak, swaying to tunes at an Elton John concert, or staring at Keanu at John Wick: Chapter 3

As long as the kids are well-loved, supervised, and taken home at a reasonable hour, their being at the brewpub or the restaurant shouldn’t matter to other people. Toting a toddler to Lambeau Field, even with headphones, isn’t the worst thing a parent could do (unless it’s minus-twenty degrees).

Who knows? Maybe parents have it right these days in not sacrificing their lifestyles for their children. Still, the maxim of kids being seen and not heard has taken on a whole new meaning these days.

 

konmari in reverse (or, when is it collecting and not hoarding?)

I began to embrace the KonMari method of decluttering back in the winter, after reading one of Marie Kondo’s books and watching her brief but uber-popular Netflix series Tidying Up.

konmari

I learned to fold like a pro, transforming my sloppy T-shirts, pants, and underwear drawers into happy, organized things of beauty. Gone were piles of shirts of all sizes, shapes, and colors smothering one another. In their place are uniform rows of items folded the exact same way. Now when I open my T-shirt drawers (one for short-sleeved tops and the other for long- and three-quarter-sleeved shirts) I can spy with my little eye everything I own.

I also attacked my closet and kept what sparked joy, of course, and discarded what didn’t. I KonMari-ed my bookshelves too and finally freed myself of all those small-type, yellowed paperbacks from college lit classes that I just “knew” I’d read again and again but never did. Goodbye, Sister Carrie. So long, Madame Bovary. And take David Copperfield with you too, please.

I attempted to free the house of DVDs as well, but this is one category I’m stuck on as I visualize my future grandkids popping in Toy Story, Finding Nemo, or any one of the Harry Potter series. I have no grandchildren yet, and all my own kids are no longer that. So the DVDs from their childhood sit idle on the shelves these days, except, of course, at the holidays, when  Charlie Brown and Linus as well as the Grinch come to life once again.

As for the adult DVDs, there are a handful I’ll watch again and again. Sleepless in Seattle, Dan in Real Life, and Steel Magnolias come to mind. But since I love these films as much as I do, of course I’ve purchased digital copies from Amazon, making them accessible anytime on every electronic device imaginable.

So why then do I hang on to the DVDs? I could argue that the boxes’ art and descriptions are as cherished as the films themselves, kind of like album covers of old. Or I could say that they don’t take up much space at all since they’re so thin. Okay, these are reasonable arguments for hanging on to the greats, but what about all the rest?

And more importantly, why am I adding to the collection?dvds

That’s right. Since quitting my library job in December, where thousands of DVDs were at my fingertips, I have been going to thrift stores and book sales at neighborhood libraries and purchasing not only books I’ll likely never read, but DVDs too, many of which I have already seen or, like the books, will never take advantage of. But there are some movies that I was very fond of in the past and hadn’t seen in so long that I just had to have a copy. I’ve watched a few. Roxanne, for one, was as good as I remember it; Say Anything, not so much.

My daughter who tends to be more like her dad in the clutter department suggested I purchase the movies, watch them, and re-donate. What a great, practical idea! If only I could. I’m afraid once the Terminator has entered the building, there’s not much I can do to make him leave. I’ve thought of reselling my DVDs on Craigslist or eBay or etsy, and I may do this with the duplicates because–woe is me–there have been times I’ve purchased a second copy of a movie I had just bought a few weeks back, not recalling whether I had it!

Anyway, they are slim, they’re good for a couple hours of entertainment, and they’re cheap. Some things, Marie Kondo will agree, are worth keeping because they spark joy again and again.

Poll: If you were stuck on a desert island, assuming there was electricity and plenty of shade and popcorn, which movies would you bring with you (chances are I have them on my shelves)?

 

putting a pet down (or, how life will never be the same)

Jack loved Christmas.20190228_212111

Every year just after Thanksgiving, I make multiple trips out to the garage to bring in items to decorate the house. I start with a four-foot artificial tree for the family room, set up my village of homes, shops, and a church, and then get to wrapping the stair rails in garland. That’s the part of Christmas Jack loved most, the garland.

I don’t know why, none of us could figure it out, but he loved to lick and try to eat the artificial garland that wrapped around the lowest posts of the stair rail. He was a character like that, and that’s what we loved about him.

Yesterday, I had to make the awful, but necessary, decision to put Jack down. He was diagnosed with oral cancer (most likely squamous cell carcinoma) in May after I brought him in because of a swollen face, a terrible odor, and excessive drooling. His doctor wasn’t in, but he saw another and she had to deliver the news. She gave him a steroid shot and sent us home with a pill to be diluted with water and used as a wash for the open sore, a liquid medicine for the infection, and another bottle of buprenorphine for pain.

At first, he did well on the meds. The antibiotic took away the infection, the wash worked for a while, and we continued refilling the pain medicine to keep him comfortable. There were times when he looked almost normal–which if you’ve ever gone through the end of life with pets (and even humans) you’ll have noticed a second wind of sorts, when you falsely are led to believe all is well again. The facial swelling reduced and he moved from sitting atop a wing-back chair near the open window to sitting next to me on the couch every evening as I read or watched TV. He’d eat his dry food and his wet, and I’d treat him with his favorites, Temptations.

But then things took a turn for the worse–the inevitable, I’m afraid. He stopped eating his crunchy dry food, which he loved and which the doctors were surprised he even continued to eat because of his condition, and would hop off the couch and meow for his wet food a couple times a day. While eating, he’d turn his head from side to side to try to find a comfortable place in his mouth to masticate the already mashed food. It got to the point the last couple days that he couldn’t even manage his wet food, though. Sometimes, after meowing for a meal, he would walk over to his food bowl and just look at it, even if I stuck in a few Temptations, and then walk away.

But he was hungry, so a couple times, including right before I made the call, he tried eating and whether the food became lodged in the wound or he stuck himself with a tooth, I’m not sure, but he’d literally scream in discomfort and run around at full speed as if to run from the pain or dislodge the food. Yesterday, as I witnessed this, which alarmed our golden retriever and Jack’s best friend, and saw his mouth full of blood, I knew just what to do.

Jack could no longer eat without being in excruciating pain. If he could no longer get nourishment, he would starve to death, and he was beginning to show signs of this. I called his doctor’s office, but with his doc being out of town, I ended up calling the emergency vet. I then let my youngest son know. He started on his way home, and I texted my husband, who also decided to leave work. I sent a text to both daughters and then my older son, who was probably closest to Jack, especially when he was younger, calling Jack his dog. My older daughter was nearby and came over too.

We took him in, and Jack went peacefully at age sixteen.

Life will never be the same around here, especially at Christmastime. When I hang the garland this year, I’ll also hang a picture of Jack on it. Jack loved Christmas, and we loved Jack.

the icebox challenge (or, trying to make use of what we already have)

Americans waste nearly a pound of food a day, and I’m here to prove it.

Nearly every week, I throw out bananas that have gone black, oranges that have gone green, and reusable containers filled with leftovers that, by the looks of them, I’d rather not use again.

Take a look at my fridge right now (trying not to judge my housekeeping skills):fridge

It’s brimming with food.

Sure, I could argue that I don’t have that much space and the bulky broccoli heads and sourdough loaves take up a lot of room, let alone the family pack of chicken thighs. But truth be told, I have too much food. And some of it will be tossed.

As a way to remedy this, I plan to use up what I have before I buy more. That’s right. I’m going to see how far the asparagus (at least the fresh bunch I picked up Saturday and not the one tucked in the back of the veggie drawer), milk, butter, and fruit can go before I spend more to replace them. You see, because of recent circumstances, I may need to stretch the budget.

Today my husband told his employer that he wants to cut his hours and, along with cutting his hours, his pay. He’s stressed out and wants to pursue another occupation. I thought I was OK with this until he did it and it became a reality. This was the one year in his entire thirty-year career that he’s made what he’s worth. And now he’s not.

To make matters worse, my work and pay have been dramatically cut this year, none of it my doing. My freelance work is in the tank. I’ve had nothing for two months’ straight from one client and nothing but a four-hundred-dollar project from the other. I apply all the time to various companies, but it’s a cut-throat world out there, and one job ad posted on the Internet can warrant hundreds if not thousands of applicants, especially in a national search. I work a part-time job, but all I can get are 10.5 hours a week. Try living on that. I could barely make a car payment on that kind of money.

I look for jobs–and apply–all the time in town, too, not just remotely. But it’s so hard to get a fish on the hook. I’ll be lucky to find something in six months (that’s how long it took to get the 10-hour-a-week job I currently have). On top of it, one of my four adult kids is recently unemployed and another is woefully underemployed. It’s ruthless out there.

So there is now a financial incentive to cut back on food shopping. I plan to do my part to keep expenses down. I’ll use up what we have, getting creative when I need to. I also plan to cut cable and take on one of the streaming services instead. I may cancel the newspaper as well, although it gives me great joy. Still, if I cut it, I’d probably be lured back with some good incentives. We have old cars (nothing even in the 2010s vintage), so selling a car isn’t going to help. In fact, we could use a newer car. They all have well over 100,000 miles–one has over 220,000! (Yes, it’s a Toyota.)

I have a gym membership, but it’s free because my son is an employee, so eliminating that won’t help. We eat out a few times a month and it’s usually just to get fish tacos or Thai food (the greatest bargain ever), but that will have to go. Add big birthday dinners to the list. No  more treating the entire family of seven adults to a meal, which can run up to a couple hundred dollars. It’ll be a bargain movie and a slice of pizza from now on. I’m looking into doing more crafting with my time and maybe opening an etsy shop if I can make enough product to sell, but supplies cost money and storage isn’t plentiful in our house, where my two adult sons also live.

The thing is, I have a history of scrimping and saving. This past year I finally was able to loosen my belt and flop back on the couch a bit more, arms and legs spread eagle and a look of contentment on my face. Now it’s pants fully tightened and nose to the grindstone as I try once again to make ends meet. The fridge is my first attempt.