I’m No Longer Watching Her

My sister was driving me to IKEA on a day that we both had off. Work’s been really slow and I often get cut just in time to get stuck in normal rush hour, before the northbound express lanes open. But not this day–it was a small field trip mostly to gawk at the store’s remodel and an excuse to hang out.

The freeway was lit with that strange Seattle late fall light that looks yellow and cuts through the clouds at an angle so you feel like someone’s holding a giant filtered spotlight on part of the city. There was a good blow on too so on stretches of the freeway the leaves were tumbling along with us at 60 mph before destroying themselves on retaining walls and under truck wheels.

Morgan looked beautiful in silhouette, in the sepia light. I could see the fine lines that are forming on her delicate skin that are making a record of her life. I imagined her drawing on a cigarette, as I had seen many times before. I imagined her eating. I imagined her crying. I imagined her mouth wrapped around a child’s pacifier as I had seen many times.

She turned her head toward me briefly and I saw the vertical scar on her upper lip perfectly illuminated for a second. I forget about it for months and years at a time until it pops out. I see it even less now that she quit smoking three years ago.

Morgan was small when it happened, just beginning to pull up. I remember her creeping around our living room one day and my mother hissing at me where I sat on our massive sectional, reading the TV Guide cover-to-cover as I did every week: “Watch her!” My mother was on the phone, wandering around the dining room and out of sight. I got sucked back in to reading about what Tony Danza was up to in his spare time.

I saw Morgan fall out of the corner of my eye, followed by the blunt smack of flesh meeting a hard surface and then a wail. My mother swore, put the phone down, and came back into the room. I rushed over to pull Morgan up and there was blood all over her mouth. She had cracked her face on the sharp wooden corner of our giant television. I wondered if she would go to the hospital like I did when the dart machine fell on me and split my head open.

By this time my mother was off the phone. “I TOLD YOU TO WATCH HER!” This was my fault. Every time I saw the bandage and then the angry red scar for the next few years, I felt a twinge of guilt. I should have been watching her.

In grad school Franny was small and I was burning the candle. Now was the time to make a big push, I reckoned. I was still so young so it was okay to work and take too many classes and spend time with Franny whenever I could. I had a night class and I would come home and work on papers or reading and then I had the day off home to continue the unending slog through books and papers. In the morning SeaFed was gone, pretending to drive his taxi but becoming increasingly disinterested in working again.

I remember always getting sleepy around ten o’clock, just in time for Sesame Street. I would twiddle the bunny ears on our 19″ teevee to make PBS as clear as possible. I poured a cup of Cheerios for Franny and would lie down on the couch, bending my knees and locking her in behind them. I would doze but would snap awake if she tried to move out of her little fort. If I was lucky I could steal a 15 minute nap in this way.

It always made me think of Morgan, too. She liked being trapped behind my legs like this. We would play “prisoner” over and over when I was 12. My legs would swing shut, locking her onto the couch and say, “You’re my prisoner!” She would scream “PRITNER!” and laugh. Or she would pretend she was driving a car and my legs were the door and then the dashboard.

The phone rang, snapping me out of my short nap. It was red and a cord attached it to the wall, and no one could get through if I had the dial up internet on. Franny was where I’d put her, in a trance, watching Elmo, methodically eating one Cheerio after another. It was my mother. I’m sure I sounded groggy when I answered.

“I’m just hanging out with the kid,” I said. She sounded a little odd, but I was disinterested in unpacking her mood. I don’t remember what she wanted.

Later my sister, who was 15 then, told me that my mother rang off and immediately said, “I think she was asleep!”

“And?” my sister said, or some variation on that. Due to a combination of Stockholm Syndrome and decent experiences, my sister trusted my parenting.

“She should be watching her!”

A few months later, my sister was spending most of her spare time at my house, even though we were in the middle of unending reno hell and there was only a couch for her to sleep on. SeaFed didn’t really notice or care; at times his obliviousness was advantageous. I think I needed my sister around as much as she needed me then.

She’s been a great source of support for me lately, which still surprises me. Now she’s watching over me. She reads between the lines on my texts: “Everything ok?”

No, not really. This is hard to say and I’ve been trying to say it for almost a month: Franny moved out before Thanksgiving and in with her dad.

I have to pull away from this sentence before my melt onto my dining room floor and ugly cry until I die of dehydration. So.

I’ve been experiencing waves of anger over the last few weeks that I think are kind of protecting me and keeping me functional so I’m not just a big wound constantly, and I can do things like go to work and buy groceries. The things that feel so stupid and pointless but are kind of reassuring because you know that life is going to go on.

I also don’t like this feeling, though. It’s like a death in that every meal you make that the missing person liked but is not eating with you, or every little change you make to your house, or every passing day is a brick in the path that takes you away from that person you miss, leaving them in the blurry past.

I am crying again, I need to pull away from this again, so I will be shitty and angry: SeaFed, who has relinquished himself to his father’s care, has been gifted some kind of large property on his island with multiple mother-in-law cottages. It sounds like their previous house was kind of melting due to age, neglect, and poor DIY repair work. His father used to attempt to set him up in business, either at an office or working for himself. Now I think he’s just resigned himself to being his carer. I think there will probably be a trust set up after his father dies.

It’s like the movie The Truman Show. I think everyone around him is invested in the appearance of SeaFed being a functional adult, and this is how it works for them. I was not ever good at participating in this charade, although I realize I could be a lady of leisure on an island in my own compound if I could have played along.

I had another realization recently that SeaFed is a high-functioning autistic. I think his mother was autistic, and it sounds like his grandfather was too. (Leslie you know it’s true and it’s too late now. Get you-know-who tested.)

I spoke with Franny about these thoughts a few months ago and she seemed somewhat reassured that there could be a reason that her father wasn’t very engaged with her life nor did he remember what her health conditions were, so couldn’t accommodate her. What I was saying made sense to her. At the same time, I feel like this possibility made her angry. I think it was hard for her to reframe the narrative of her situation with her father and see him as someone who had a reason for being limited beyond just thoughtlessness. I remember her being ten or so and saying out of the blue, “I think there’s something wrong with my dad.” She was right that he’s not typical.

In the first couple of years we were married, I remember SeaFed’s father expressed relief a couple of times that I’d come into his life and seemed to be steering the ship. They had reached their wit’s end with him as a teenager when he really dialed into his dual talents of wasting someone else’s hard-earned money and his penchant for petty criminality. Here was someone who could take them off his hands. Maybe he would get his act together now.

My increase in responsibility happened bit by bit. When I met SeaFed, I had no idea how to adult beyond knowing that I had to have a job and write a rent check every month. He would take me out places and not pay parking. I didn’t have a car and I came from a village where you could pretty much park on a cow or a corn or in the middle of the road if you felt like it, but I was fairly certain the signs reading “PAY HERE” hanging in the lots with numbered spots had an implied “This means you, buddy” ring to them.

“Don’t you need to pay to park?” I asked. What a rube I was then.

He would shrug. “Nah it’s fine.”

After we were married he got a collections notice for hundreds of dollars of unpaid parking tickets in Oregon from when he was 18, plus fees, plus bonus threats of credit ruination. He was spending a lot of time in Portland and parking willy-nilly as he did in Seattle.

“Why didn’t you pay these?” I asked.

Same shrug. “It’s a different state so I just thought I wouldn’t go back there so whatever.” He didn’t care, since he was all-cash druglord lifestyle at the time.

I think I married an idiot, I thought. I started paying the bills and doing the taxes. Later I thought I’d married a sociopath, due to his lack of interest in me and cavalier care of Franny. You know how that came out.

So Franny left in the middle of the night (11 is the middle of the night when you wake up before 4 a.m.). We had been fighting that night and the tension had been increasing between us for the past few months. Franny hits walls when she doesn’t want to do something. She may tell you she’ll do it, or that she’s doing it to get you off her back, but in the end, she does what she wants.

A friend used to watch her for me while I was at school. Franny was about to turn three. If Franny didn’t like something, she would stop short, not move, and stare you down impassively. My friend, who had extremely verbal children who could tell you off six ways from Sunday, and were no strangers to the well-timed tantrum, was amazed by this Ghandi act. They nicknamed her The Mountain.

I’d been getting Mountains of bullshit from Franny for the past year.

Are you going to start going to class again?
-Yes of course

Are you going to take the SAT this time?
-I would have but the bus had an accident

How about this time?
-Well this time the bus didn’t come

What about that make up work that you need to do before June?
-I’ll do it

You didn’t do your make up work. How are you going to graduate?
-I can make it up my senior year

What’s your senior project going to be?
shrug

Are you going to apply for the library again like you said you would?
shrug

Finally, near the end, some honesty. She told me she didn’t want to take the SAT. She didn’t want to go to university, which her grandfather would pay for. She didn’t want to get a job. She wanted to attend community college and live at home. I remembered her father going to community college several times in fits and starts and always flunking out after the withdrawal period was over. I knew she would dwindle down to one class and just kind of turn into a directionless fungus on the wifi all day.

Oh no, I thought. You are becoming your father and it is like the cold knife of the past is going through me. Did I want to take the role of SeaFed’s father, his carer forever, regardless of wives, children, the appearance of productivity and normalcy? This was hard.

A reliable witness saw her smoking and told me. Now the knife was twisting. Her, with the breathing problems and doctor visits and asthma inhalers and lung pain. When this sort of thing happens, every cell in a parent’s body screams out: I TOLD YOU NOT TO MAKE THE SAME STUPID MISTAKES I DID! That was kind of the last straw.

“You cannot live with me if you’re going to do nothing,” I told her. “I can help you move in with your dad and you can do nothing at his house.” I may have said that louder and with more fuck-bombs than I’ve represented here. Then I went downstairs to my bathroom and cried on the bathmat for about three hours and went to bed. Then she packed a bag and left. I know I am a terrible person (see title).

She is living in one of the mother-in-laws in SeaFed’s Retirement Villa and Jazz Ranch.

(Pete said, “I want to do nothing and get a house!” Amen brother.)

I was getting text and email updates from SeaFed that were cheery in tone, like a Christmas newsletter from your neighbor that leaves a sour taste in your mouth because you know how many times the cops came out. SJ, everything is under control. It’s handled. I’ve got this parenting thing in the bag. Girl you crazy and now it’s SeaFed’s time to shine.

He was telling me how great everything was, and how he was in communication with Franny’s advisor and she only has a little bit of makeup work, and she’s feeling great and doesn’t even seem sick! She’s super on track to graduation! She’s making her own meals! This sounded familiar. “Of course we are in the honeymoon period,” he conceded.

SeaFed has this paradoxical tendency to try to scam people (passing off lemon cars, stealing from past employers, etc) while imputing the best motives in other people, like Franny who has turned up on his doorstep after not speaking to him for over a year and now is being the perfect angel baby. It’s probably good he claims to have quit doing crime, because I had never known a more credulous criminal.

I face-palmed after realizing that I’d chased her off to a situation where she had been rewarded with her own apartment, instead of living with a family who she’d be accountable to. On the other hand, me being straight with her about SeaFed has probably made her realize she cannot really rely on anything but her father’s access to money.

I finally replied to him and included her on the email as well, since she’s almost an adult and I wanted her to hear what I had to say. I told him I was in the same position a year ago. That she only had a little makeup work to do and she was reassuring me she would finish everything, but didn’t. Now she’s behind from junior year and her absences this year. I told him that she has up periods where she seems fine and then has a huge energy crash and misses school, and that she’s probably going to need to learn to balance her disabilities and self-care herself, since my advice and interventions didn’t seem to help.

I put her on blast and said that I had been contacting her about arranging to pick up her stuff and she was ignoring me, and that I was hoping she would get it out of here before xmas. SeaFed immediately made arrangements to pick up her boxes.

He said “thanks for the input” about the school and lying stuff and was probably too tired from patting himself on the back for his gold star parenting to say more. He asked me for her medical records (she needs to request them herself at her age anyway), and I told him this was the last time I was going to deal with him as her go-between, and that she knows how to get in touch with me if she needs anything, and muted the email.

She’s blocked me on Instagram and told Strudel we are Nazis and that we’re reading their texts (false, I’m just good at guessing the obvious). Also that she is never going to speak to me again.

Somewhere my terrible mother sat bolt upright in bed next to her 14th fiance and said, “AHA VENGEANCE IS MINE!”


In Other News

Let’s have something cheerier, like an update on my impending hysterectomy. I had to have something called a urodynamics test. This is to see what’s what with your bladder and how much urine you’re leaking if everything is normal (meaning uterus UP!), if any.

You come into a room with a fake toilet in it and you have to pee in the middle of a room into this fake toilet, which gives you a weird unhousebroken feeling.

Then they weigh that and see if there’s any pee left in your bladder via ultrasound. Then, Lidocane goes in your urethra, so you know something bad’s going to happen to that guy: camera catheter!

I saw the inside of my bladder.

“Oh god, gross,” I said. The nurse laughed.

“It’s not gross!” my doctor said. “It’s a great bladder. We’re going to turn to the left and see that hole?” Oh no ugh please stop “That’s where the pee comes in from your kidneys.” The hole opened and sphinctered itself shut again. “See, some pee just came in.”

Then we drove upwards (north??) and I saw the bulge of where my uterus was just chilling on my bladder, making a big-ass dent in it. It was like, enough already, lady. No wonder I never feel like I’m quite finished peeing.

Then I got a pessary jammed up to hold up my uterus to see how my bladder would function under normal conditions. This involved more catheters and a bunch of sensors. My bladder was filled slowly with mystery liquid that I forgot to ask about and was probably corny. I had to cough at points.

“Let me know when you first feel your bladder filling up. Ok, can you relax a little and not hold yourself up on the edge like that?”

“Sorry, I am trying not to run away,” I said. Her nurse thought I was hilarious at this point.

“Now I want you to tell me two more things: when you first feel like you have to go, and then, when you have to go SO BAD that if there were bears outside your tent you would still run out and pee.”

“Ok.”

There was more coughing. “Are you leaking?” I wasn’t. Everything seems to behave when my bladder isn’t involved. She was trying to distract me by asking about Ehlers-Danlos in my family and who had a normal uterus and who had other problems.

“Um I think I’m at bears,” I interrupted.

“You’re at a gas station and it’s all dark and no one’s around! Do you get out of the car?”

“I GO TO THE MURDERERS.”

WAS MY BLADDER GOING TO POP? I felt like she was Willy Wonka and we were on that hellboat. “There’s no earthly way of knowing/when I’m going to rupture one of your major organs…”

Finally she stopped, there was more coughing, and then she wanted me to pee to see how much would come out. I could not make myself pee into the catheter, so she took it out, and I went again, in the middle of a room as if that’s normal.

“Oh good, more volume than what I put it. It’s all working great.”

As I dressed I stared at this painting.

I went home and degranulated and felt very ill for the rest of the night. I’m guessing there was dextrose in the saline? I managed to look up the antibiotic she gave me and saw that it’s corny so I declined to take it.

She left the pessary in because it was a great relief to have my uterus in place for the first time in years, but it started dislodging at work the next day (of course). I was using a welding machine when I felt like I was going into labor. So much fucking pain. I pulled it out in the loo, wrapped it up, and threw it away since it obviously doesn’t fit right. It was a nice twelve-hour break.

Next I get to research which pain meds and antibiotics I can use if any. They won’t operate on me without preventive antibiotics, of course. Luckily I have Corn Allergy Girl’s great guides. They are willing to operate without installing meshes, which is good.

To all my people that be drug gobblin just to get by

To all my people that be drug gobblin just to get by
Stack your copays till they get sky hiiiigh

Okay, that’s enough, Kan-NAY. How do I summarize a summer in one post? Let’s find out.

A. is for being Motorboated by the Universe’s Anus

I’m just going to say this: I had a terrible summer. I had an awesome summer. There were high highs and then I was crying in the shower again. I am a cat with internal injuries. I say I’m going to walk it off and then crawl under the porch. I have designed my life so that no one can help me. My children will be surprised when I die at 109 because I am nigh invincible.

How did I get back? Why now? I had a tipping point. If I’m working alone, I am usually listening to podcasts, which is a very magical thing about my job. Hand use hammer; brain use ideas. I was enjoying my weekly injection of my NPR boyfriend, Shankar Vidantam, when this episode came up about getting unstuck. I was stuck. I’ve known I’ve been stuck for a few months now. Nothing creative was happening. I had never been to me.

As an aside, work often reminds me of when my girls were small and I would try to have a conversation with an adult, particularly one who had little kids with them as well. The conversations could never progress past the basics because we were constantly interrupted by something else that demanded most of our attention, it was loud, and we were sleep deprived. Work is like this, and as a result there is primarily a lot of Dude Culture happening.

At first I walked onto job sites with a bias. My logical brain told me, “Well, not all construction workers…” but I still thought I would be working with right-wing, unevolved cavemen, who are there because they didn’t know what their other options were. It’s more and less subtle than this. There are some guys, like people everywhere, who are constantly crude, and are not deep thinkers. But for a lot of people it’s a veneer. I work with guys who have college degrees, who have traveled the world, and who are screaming atheist liberals.

There’s just not much time to talk to anyone about anything interesting, and there’s Dude Culture, so the bar is low and it’s mostly dick jokes. Sometimes they talk to me about real stuff if we’re alone, and then explain to me they have to do performative masculinity in groups, or they won’t fit in. Some of them encourage me to act this way as well, but I know I won’t fit in, so I’m just myself, though I keep my mouth shut a lot. It’s complicated. I also keep an earbud in one ear and an earplug in another, so I don’t have to hear a lot of what passes for conversation. *

Anyway. I’d been feeling really antsy and stuck in life myself. Usually I have a bunch of projects and interests going, but I’ve been hyperfocused on the girls and their health for about a year now. I had the multiple whammies of probably 80% feeling depressed about what the girls were going through, which led to the other 20% being about neglecting myself and my interests. And then I had bonus depression because I felt selfish about being sad about neglecting myself. It’s fun in my head, which I have dubbed The Abattoir of Joy. I am a robot who makes medical appointments and does research and panics privately and says out loud: “HOW ARE YOU FEELING TODAY? ANY BETTER? CAN I MAKE YOU A SNACK?”

Long story long, I stepped back on blogging for a while because my personal project was my most personal things on the planet. In April Franny had a huge “mast attack” (I think of them this way now because of the amazing site Mast Attack) and health crack up and spent all of early April in bed. She was missing school and feeling so bad she was pretty checked out on life. I can relate to this feeling after my big break in Maui, and unfortunately it’s not uncommon with mast cell problems. Strudel was generally lagging along and getting worse after turning 12 last spring, which redoubled my resolve to make things better.

So I vowed to read the entire internet, summaries of studies on mast cell disorders (or the papers to the best of my limited abilities), talk to people, email people, march around to specialists until I found some who weren’t assholes, and try things as long as they weren’t magnets or diets involving one color group. You get the picture.

What is happening now? Some improvements and a change in attitude. I kept thinking about unsticking myself and I have a little reserve for that right now. I will drop it like it’s hot if there’s relapses when school starts next week though. It’s my job to launch them into the universe as legal adults running and screaming towards the first day of the rest of oblivion and not just let them go out with a little whimper like I limped out of my mother’s house.

After many years of thought, reflection, talking, therapy, vodka, ad marzipan the killer in the relationship with my mother wasn’t necessarily the mean, or the crazy, or the (later) blackout drinking/memory lapses. It was the lack of care. The universe dealt her a sick kid, and ignoring that didn’t make any of my problems go away, but it did make me go away. I’ve said this before but I will repeat it: I care about my girls, and more than that, I want them to feel cared for and believe their lives are worth improving and saving. And I want them to emerge into adulthood with the feeling that I tried my hardest for them.

What does all this yammery hand-waving mean on a practical level? I got Franny into physical therapy, with a recommendation in hand for Strudel. I’m just waiting to find out what her school schedule is like this year, and then I can start taking her. Franny was diagnosed with scoliosis for a second time, which can be a secondary effect of Ehlers-Danlos (connective tissue disorder). Her carriage has already improved and she’s feeling a lot better overall. Nutritional support via the ND is working out really well for both girls, with an emphasis on things that axe histamine in the system, like vitamin C and B-5. We’re still doing antihistamines, rescue inhalers, and histamine blockers.

Here is the attitude adjustment. Our NP left to join another institution after many years. She was always nice and well-meaning, but I was relieved to see her go in the end. She saw me through some of the hardest times and did very little for me except the same basic blood panels and puzzled shrugging. I had a visit with the NP who replaced her, because I still need quarterly follow ups to get my tired, narcoleptic mitts on Adderall. I don’t know what to do without something artificial to keep me awake and get me through a day.

For a while I was kind of dithery, like, “I think? This might be mast cell problems?” Now I’ve had the tests and enough confirmations to know. I’ve made the decision that we just go into places now like “WHAT? WHAT WHAT? We have mast cell disorder so that’s a thing you need to know.” So I did that with the new NP and she was like uhhh ok. If anyone’s ever again like, “that’s made up” I am walking out mid-appointment. I told the girls I am dealing with their medical stuff this way as well.

Okay I need to stop or I never will stop. I’ll be back to this, I know.

B. is for food that will make your teeth all grey

As always, I went to Twin Peaks with Franny and Morgan. I have a friend deficit right now, some of which is my fault, and some of which is drifting due to life and sickness. I remembered last summer that I also miss volunteering for things. So Franny and I volunteered at the Twin Peaks Festival. We worked the merch table and the banquet (since we can’t eat there), and I handled a celebrity.

I thought I would meet some people and talk with some people and just generally be in the world, and I was. I think I made beginning friends with one of the other volunteers. I’ve been kind of a ghost everywhere. A long time attendee introduced himself to me and asked me if it was my first festival, and I was like, “no, fifth.” He was amazed. Ha! Even Kimmy Robertson talked to me this year, and she doesn’t talk to many people overall. So I think I was being there.


Franny and Pete with camera obscura

Late one night in the Airbnb at Twin Peaks I told my sister all my stress and cried, it was just cracking open out of me. I try not to do this because I was raised to be a martyr and the family hero and she’s the baby, but she was very supportive and encouraged me to get back to myself and things I like. I feel like a gong went off when she turned 30 in July and now I don’t have to worry about her anymore. I threw her a surprise party in my backyard.

THEN, CHRIST, shortly after that, I saw her father (my stepfather) and his wife who I haven’t seen in 12 years. We spent about a day and a half hanging out and they met the girls and saw the house. Things ended so, so badly with my, well, childhood, and I just didn’t think I would see him again. Morgan had been telling me for years that he’d mellowed out a lot from the days of the epic fights he’d have with my mother, and that he felt terrible about what had happened. She kept telling me that she thought it would be good for me to see him.

To be brave I told myself a story, which was that my sister wanted me to see him, and I could do anything if it was important to her and I wouldn’t be scared. I think that was partly true, but that she was thinking about me as well. And it was a nice time and they thanked me for taking care of Morgan so much after our mother left her third husband and lived with me for a while. It was a little heartbreaking to leave home when she was six, and have her arrive at eleven, and see how messed up she was. For some high school summers Morgan was at my house every day and even spending the night on the couch.

When I saw him walk in, I felt my cells popping. I went cold, my skin crawled, my ears rang, and I got dizzy and I was dizzy for the rest of the day. The second time I saw him I was fine, but the damage was done. I crawled past it though, and now we can be back in each other’s lives again. I was pretty sick the day they left, so work was murder. Even my boss commented on it. “You gonna push through this?” he said. He probably thought I was hung over or something, which in a way I was.

“Fuck yes I will,” I said. “Things will be better tomorrow.”

“We didn’t know how bad things were until later,” Morgan’s stepmom told me at dinner. Understandable, since Morgan kept it pretty quiet. For one, like me, she thought weirdness was normal, but also didn’t want to rock the boat and be forced back to Illinois. She was taking root in Seattle.

And it turned out! Morgan has a career she loves and meaningful relationships. I was so happy to spend a bunch of time with her friends and coworkers and her birthday weekend to see how much they love her and how they are like family after so many years. Morgan did most of the heavy lifting herself, and she is really good at Showing Up and Giving it 110%, which is like most of success, but it was really nice to be acknowledged for the part I played too. Literally no one else on the planet understood what that meant or what I was doing and could say that. Except Morgan, and she does sometimes, which is sweet.

Now that I can downshift on FIXING ALL THE THINGS for my own girls, I’m going to work on patching myself up some. I’ve got some cool medical stuff happening I’ve been tolerating, as usual, but I don’t have to. My dentist has been nagging me forever to get my one thirty-three year old silver filling removed and have a crown put on. I saw him a couple of weeks ago and he said, “Welp, your tooth cracked finally.” I wasn’t surprised, since I’ve been clenching my jaw like crazy. I AM READY. But sad. I don’t want a crown.

There’s something else too. Strudel had a very minor cavity (as in, literally a deep natural depression in her tooth, not decay) and my dentist wanted to clean it and fill it. She didn’t need numbing but felt pretty crap after, and has been been sick and sleeping almost constantly for the past couple of days–her mast cells degranulated. I’m worried I’m going to get sick too even though I don’t need a root canal. I may just have to suck it up and be out of work for a couple of days.

I’ve been wanting to pick up painting again (a practice that predates this blog), but I go blank every time I think about what to paint or even how to start. I decided to take a drawing class this fall at a community college, so I hope that’ll knock something loose. One thing I remembered from vacation this summer is that it’s worth it to take the time to focus on something else for a while.


Orcas Island score

* A few days ago I was up on a lift, way up near the ceiling working on duct. I could hear some mudders in the hallway. One, a white guy, was talking loudly. The other guy I could sort of see on his lift was Mexican. This is relevant because in my experience Mexican guys on a site are either SUPER polite and friendly to me or ignore me. Either way, they are very aware of me and move aside if I’m coming through (as I would for them) or say hello.

It starts: “SO THIS GIRL KEEPS TEXTING ME ALL THE TIME. I’M SO TIRED OF IT. (Stupid girl voice) ‘I STARTED SCHOOL TODAY!’ YOU KNOW WHAT, I DON’T FUCKING CARE.”

My break alarm went off and I lowered my lift and climbed down. The Mexican guy glanced into the room and saw me coming, and said nothing.

“YOU KNOW WHAT MAN, I JUST NEED TO GET INTO SOME NEW PUSSY. THIS ISN’T WORTH IT. YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN? NEW. PUSSY.”

I stepped out into the hallway and snaked between their lifts to get to the stairs. I gave the Mexican guy a little nod, since he moved his lift to let me out of the room. I glanced at the white guy, who looked like a 50-something Sam Rockwell, but busted. Sam Elliot mustache. Grizzled.

“Uhhh sorry,” he said quietly. I pretended I didn’t hear, and I didn’t CARE. I know what NEW PUSSY is. I’m married. I have children. I have a PUSSY. Christ. Own your no manners or shut your mouth.
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May is Rare Disease Unawareness Month

Paralysis! I’ve been wanting to write, or to scream my thoughts into a bucket at least, but I’ve just been dealing with a lot of changes. Sometimes I miss audioblogging. Previously on I, Asshole: I’ve been living with assorted aches, pains, and fatigue for most of my life, which seemed to have evolved into extreme and mysterious “allergies” after I got sick and had the attack in Maui in 2014. I kind of hit the wall recently on just putting up with things.

This has all kicked off because I’ve been attempting to have OTC medications compounded, because many of the useful ones, like cold medication, are filled out with cornstarch. I can take a tiny pill, like a Benadryl, and get immediate allergy relief, but then have days of whatever grab bag of problems my body decides to shit on me.

This spring I hit the limit with what insurance will cover, because of FDA restrictions on compounding and whatnot. We’re looking at $135 for a bottle of Tylenol. I asked a well-respected allergy blogger if she knew anything about compounding and workarounds, and she told me that she didn’t know much, but that masto/mast cell disease people knew a lot about these things, and I should check out their forums.

Mast cells? Masto? I had never heard of any of this. I had a look to see if I had anything in common with them…uh oh. Oh shit. Ok. Something to look into.

I’d been in this limbo where I’ve been telling people I have allergies, or at least allergic reactions, and kind of muscling through. I was kind of frankenpatched together with amphetamines. If I didn’t take them I would probably be unable to stop myself from sleeping sixteen hours a day.

So I was interested that maybe there is this tribe of people who had the same weird problems we did, and maybe this explained what my grandmother had too. We could work with this.

Of course things got worse. Take me, universe, I say. I am already ruined. The universe is not content with this, and neither is the time bomb that is my family genes. Franny has been getting sicker, exhibiting weird symptoms that I’ve never had. She had an “attack” in April that was similar to my Maui attack, and spent most of spring break in bed with a fever. In the past year her cousin, who is the infamous Auntie Jaguar’s daughter, got very sick too, showing similar symptoms.

Strudel is also having aches, pains, and fatigue, in addition to the allergy problems. Both of the girls are challenged by the fact that they go to school with kids who are covered in perfumes, fabric softeners, carrying energy drinks, cafeteria smells, eating corn chips in class, whatever.

We’re working on diagnoses with the girls right now. I’m not quite ready to discuss what it looks like it is for Franny, and what her cousin has already been diagnosed with.

I also had another realization recently, finally, along the theme of me tolerating not-so-great situations for way too long but then being spurred into action when my children are affected (see also: my divorce). We are in the process of separating from my long time doctor as well. I realized I was spinning my wheels with her and she’s not really helping us move forward.

I’ve been complaining about fatigue and joint pain back to 2010 at least, and I get some variation on “Hmm, that’s weird,” from her, and then get a basic blood panel which shows everything is normal (hooray, but also not helpful). Recently she had me run through a blood panel again, as well as the tests for autoimmune disease, which where all negative/normal. I feel like we’ve already been down this road in 2014 when I was tested for lupus, etc, so I was unsurprised to see I don’t have markers for autoimmune. This is good that my body is not attacking itself, per se.

I asked for an additional test, which is a standard starting point for identifying mast cell problems. There was a lot of dithering from her office about how to bill for it and even if she should order it and that she couldn’t interpret it when it came back. Fine, I said. Finally I said I would pay for it out of pocket, and sure enough, the test result was high/abnormal.

I’m kind of glad I lived through the 90s, when no one I knew between the ages of 18 and 35 had health insurance. It makes me a lot more prone to just trying shit when doctors are unhelpful. I started taking antihistamines, and ramping up to pretty high doses, which are recommended for people with mast cell issues. Within a week I started feeling better. I encouraged the girls to up their doses as well. It is hard to overdose or harm yourself with OTC antihistamines.

Franny is connected with a good allergist and immunologist who has recommended the same for her. I’m now taking Zyrtec three times a day, and I notice if I miss a dose. I am taking Zantac twice a day, which has an offlabel use as an antihistamine. I am also taking a supplement called quercetin which is doing wonders for reducing the painful facial flushing I would get several times a day.

A thing I haven’t been writing about this winter and spring, because it’s been very disheartening, is the doctor-go-round I’ve been on with Franny. Our doctor did make referrals to a few different places, like a pediatric cardiologist for her palpitations and chest pain. He suggested the rare disease she appears to have, then dismissed it and told us it was anxiety. The good news was her heart has been declared normal. We did see a different allergist who did a scratch test that showed no “true” allergies to food and told her she should start eating dairy, wheat, and corn again and that her problem was anxiety. This “hey, it’s all in your head” stuff is kind of a theme with some specialists, I’ve heard.

At this point we’re waiting on some genetic testing for Franny, which I am told might indicate which levers we can pull medically to help. There’s some weird stuff in my family history, but it looks like the origin for this was SeaFed’s genes (considering Franny’s cousin is having similar problems) plus the cool genes of the people they got with. A nice thing is that it seems like SeaFed’s family doesn’t have mast cell problems, because my very rudimentary understanding of how this can work is that if mast cell people breed you can end up in the land of mastocytosis and not being able to breathe much.

As usual life is a combination of a turd burger with a really bomb side of sweet potato fries. I am finally getting to the bottom of the family curse, and based on testing it looks like I have wacky mast cells that sometimes keep it real…Harold Smith…around here, which I’ve passed on to the girls.

On the other hand, it looks like we’re probably not going to flip over to the cancer or anaphylaxis type of mast cell problems. Franny had a little epiphany recently that the sheep cheese we’ve been eating for over a year now was probably bothering her–her lips were swelling when we were having pizza night. I stopped eating it with her and lo, my joint pain that had come back and not gone away for three months cleared up in a couple of days. And this is after eating cheese and yogurt for over a year and tolerating it fine. So we’re all feeling better lately and I’ve been doing a ton of gardening, which is something I’ve missed.

Right now I’m taking a ton of pills every day, some of which will probably be with me forever (antihistamines). There’s the turd burger. On the other hand, the lower my histamine level seems to be in my body, the sharper my brain and memory is. I’m also dropping about a pound a week without really trying. My appetite is lower and I feel full faster on a reasonable amount of food. Being inflamed seems to make me puffy and hang on to weight, even when counting calories. Ultimately, I’d love it if I could stop taking Adderall and have normal energy levels on my own, and a normal, non-fuzzy brain.

This spring has been a really big deal. After almost 40 years of being sick, I’m starting to get a clue and acknowledge the fact that I’m chronically ill and not going to get over it. I’m also thinking about what this means for my girls for the rest of their lives. But it’s starting to feel more manageable now that I know where most of the rakes in the grass are.

I have been emailing with SeaFed a little to keep him up to date on Franny and her symptoms, which I’ve being doing intermittently for a few years now. He hasn’t made much of a response to any of it, at least not to the extent Franny would like (meaning making more of an effort to prevent her from getting ill when she was visiting him and remembering or acknowledging what her issues were). He forwarded me an email from his sister after Franny’s cousin got her diagnosis at the Mayo Clinic. It included a list of what was going on with the girl and how they tied to her diagnoses. “This list made me think of Franny and her symptoms,” he wrote. “What a coincidence.”

It humored me to read that, as SeaFed used to say.

I’m sure I’ve had enough to know when I have had enough

Soo I had a memory of posting sometime in December, but apparently I didn’t. I’m trying to set writing on my calendar now and I’m hoping it’ll be easier now that the holidays are over. Also now that I’ve made so many changes to my house and life. I went through a big teardown period where I noticed everything that was wrong or broken or dirty and I had to fix it. Not in a OOooOOH METH way, though. I swear. I just needed systems and some order again. And to internalize what life felt like when it wasn’t on hard mode.


I know just how Horace feels. I don’t want to leave my warm bed either, even if someone is trying to make it.

I’ve got about 12 new perspectives on things. That’s not just my usual blizzard of ideas, either. (Okay maybe the inside of my head is still blizzardy in sections). It’s that my brain is working differently. I can look at something I’ve looked at for years and see a totally new solution to it. This is keeping me pretty busy. I’m also trying to find time to just fuck off and feel good about it. WHICH I DO.

The biggest change after the white noise falling out of my head is getting my energy back. The one daily dose of Adderall I was on worked for my brain and getting things right at my job, but it was wearing off after about six hours. After a normal day of work, I would limp around and my back would hurt, and I’d be exhausted. I’d be exhausted on days I didn’t work, either. (I was exhausted before when I worked in an office too.)

The second dose that I take at lunch is finally getting me up to bedtime. I am a reasonable amount of tired after work, but I don’t feel broken or extremely sore. I thought that was normal, since I’ve felt this way since I had standing jobs in high school and college. Hell, I was tired out as a young kid. I used to force myself to exercise for years, too, because I thought that would give me more energy like everyone said. It never really did and I often injured myself doing relatively minor things (like cleaning my house) no matter how fit I was.

This is the vaguest, most unscientific explanation, but I have been reading that malfunctioning brain receptors don’t just affect mood and focus, but can also affect how your body deals with pain and energy. I think I was a flickering bulb with dirty connections before. It’s been astounding and a huge relief to me that speed is bridging the gap in there.

I shared a house with my mother briefly when I was in my early 20s and I was pregnant with Franny. She was around my age now and I remember her being in chronic pain and in bed very early every night, and not sleeping well. She was often in bed by 8 or 9 when I was in high school too. At some point after her early 30s, she just kind of…ran out of gas. She was given a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, which I had my doubts about. “She’s just getting old,” I told my sister, like an ignorant asshole. My sister was having chronic pains, too, and doubted what I was saying, I think, though at 13 she was less likely to disagree with me about anything.

By the time my grandmother was my age, she was finished working for the rest of her life. She was dizzy, in pain, slept poorly, and lived on black coffee and cigarettes. They took one of her inner ears, thinking it would help with her Meniere’s disease diagnosis. (I had vertigo and tinnitus for 20+ years until I stopped eating corn and assumed I had inherited her condition.) I don’t know if she was collecting disability, but she probably should have been. I was worried I was heading in that direction myself.

Now that my own oxygen mask is on, I’m trying to help Franny with her health issues. It seems that she’s gotten my dud wrists and we’re exploring carpal tunnel surgery, before she goes to college. I’m not sure if I mentioned this, but I took her a few months ago to have a vein in her nose cauterized and her chronic nosebleeds that she’s had since she was two stopped. I’d like it if the stuff I suffered with for years (especially related to my digestion) could just be avoided for them. We’re working on her breathing issues as well. I’m hoping life doesn’t have to be hard mode for the girls.

SO. What have I been doing since Thanksgiving.


BYE UGLY

1. In addition to taking blurry cameraphone photos (sigh), my stove died. HOORAY! This was early December. I was making pizza as usual on Saturday night and when I took the last one out and turned off the broiler, it wouldn’t turn off without being unplugged. We are going to redo the kitchen, I hope starting this summer, so we talked about whether we wanted to try to repair this oven, which we didn’t like, or spring for a new one now. We sprung.

I have never had a new stove, let alone one I loved. I was incubating this fantasy of putting in a double oven on one wall and just having a gas cooktop, but my kitchen is not terrifically large as it is. It turns out that double ovens are kind of a thing now, which I had no idea about. There is more available burner space on top, as well as a long oven burner in the middle for a griddle or a big gravy pan. As a bonus the lower stove is so low that Mere can watch bacon cook. It just cooks better. No more random burnt cookies.

It is very interesting having serious food allergies and living without a stove for a few days. We did a lot of microwaving and even some wintery grilling. In the past I would have just fucked off out to dinner.

2. Goethe got ill. She is my little trouble cat. Jail visits, face breakage, and now this. She was living to drink out of our leaking bathroom faucet and was getting matted fur. I worried that it was hyperthyroid or diabetes, but her blood etc came back normal and it looks like it is something common in cats, IBS. They are all on the nicest kibble but switching to wet food seems to have made her feel better immediately, and all the animals are enjoying being back on wet food. I went to kibble because the dogs were stealing the cats food, but I feel like this is something I have the energy to monitor now.

3. The basement is moving again. It’s never easy to work full time and do home renovation, but obviously we’ve had some challenges. Recently Pete dyed the floor a russet-y color of my choosing. We talked about making the color variegated, but neither of us had handled the dye before or knew exactly how it would turn out once it was try.

Well. I hated it.

See the kind of blotchy parts that look like spills? “Looks like a murder happened,” Franny remarked. “Several of them.” It’s not showing up in this photo, but the dark blotches were actually reflecting back a weird iridescent green. He got back in there with some water and a sponge and smoothed the transitions between the lighter and darker spots.

I like it a lot better now, and even more so after he sealed and waxed it. It’s hard to see because this is more of a glamour shot, but it turned out well. More photos to come.

Still on the to-do list is to find an egress diggin’ company, design the walk-in closet, replace the regular windows, hang a closet door, paint, and more. Piece of cake, RIGHT? Yikes.

4. Right before xmas we fucked off to Port Townsend, because they claimed they were having their Yuletide festival. We didn’t see the train rides or Victorian carolers, and the Victorian home tours were sold out by the day we left. Also the gingerbread house contest had about 3 entries. Get your shit together, Port Townsend.

But we had fun walking around in the falling snow.


Blurry! Bummer.


I bought a painting in a junk shop for my tropical bathroom paradise.


Last day of the farmer’s market.


In the Palace Hotel.

5. As part of my campaign to reorganize parts of my house, I tackled the pantry early one morning. It’s really more of a broom closet that Pete put shelves in when we moved in, because I guess all the other people who lived her before me were okay with a pretty small amount of kitchen storage. BUT WHERE DID THEY KEEP THEIR TAJINE? I said when I moved in. Ahem.

In the very very back of the original top shelf I found Spot Bee Gone!


It still had its Bon Marche price tag.


Made in Seattle!! The Henry Building was at 4th and University and Rainier Tower is there now.

6. Franny wanted to redo her room, so for Xmas I gave her a “gift certificate” entitling her to paint, curtains, and some new throw pillows. She wanted it to be less tweeny (pink, purple, orange, and yellow). Now it is a matoor blue.


Three lighter walls and one darker. “It’s not DONE!” she yelled when I came in. She is always a little dramatic when her boyfriend is over.

She’s also cleaned out a lot of her clutter and kid things she doesn’t use anymore, and we took a massive trip to Goodwill.

Her bedpost started to peel down to the color it was when we bought it and she’s picking at it. I think we put latex over oil paint. Whoops. I like this halfway look. It’s kind of representative of the metamorphosis she’s going through at the moment. I told her she can’t strip it yet because it needs to be done outdoors and it’s been too cold and wet.

7. Other than my everyday cooking, I haven’t been doing much. Xmas was pizza, and it was delicious. Strudel is obsessed with the old Harvest Moon games for Nintendo, and asked me if I knew anything about “moon dumplings.” I did not, but now I do!

I love mochi anything, and these were relatively quick and easy. We’re going to explore more dango now.

I’m not feeling particularly reflective on the new year or at the close of the old one as I often am. I will say because I had so much positive change this year (especially at the second half) that I don’t hate 2016 like a lot of people did. So I will just say: Happy new year!

Welcome Back to the Blog and Make it a Cool Font

Other than Pete, I’m going to talk to you about this first.

When I was younger, my weight fluctuated a lot. When I was poor, I ate less and lost weight. Then I had more money, and I shoveled in General Tso like there was no Tsomorrow and gained weight. I had a well-meaning but completely ignorant go at vegetarianism for about nine years. I was never what I derisively called a “french fry vegetarian” but there were many nights that were just salad and some French bread. Close enough. Like many people, I was also very uneducated about nutrition in general, which is something I tried to correct after I had Franny (how do you feed a kid? Let’s read several books on the topic and then get more confused).

So you take an ignorant person who’s not eating enough fat or protein, and combine that with mysterious and random pains and extreme tiredness, making it hard to exercise, and that person’s weight fluctuates. It was frustrating to me and of course I blamed myself. IF ONLY I could get my shit together and eat right and exercise, I would think. Everything would fall into place. That was the lie I told myself. I was on the right track, though. Everyone needs a good diet and exercise, but especially me, as it turns out.

For the most part, I fixed it. This is not news to you. The nutrition part was absolutely involuntary, but critical, and the exercise part is forced but, of course, voluntary with my career change. I’m very glad about those two things.

I thought some kind of magical transformation would take place once I started feeling better physically. I was super glad I was feeling so much better, and like I might want to and enjoy living past 50. But I felt like my progress bar was stuck on 79% or so, spinning, spinning…. I was depressed at times. Completely bored with my life but not wanting to or able to go back out into restaurants, bars, and movie theatres multiple times a week. I wasn’t suddenly going to discover rock climbing or anything. If I stayed home or worked outside, I felt better. But anxiety was still there, jabbing me, especially if I had to go out and function in the (corny) world. A visit to the movies could leave me in tears or vomiting, or both. I also knew I wasn’t functioning as well as I could be even after getting the corn out of my system.

I’m at a point now where I can’t struggle against myself anymore. It’s too hard. I’ve hacked and self-medicated myself for many years and I’m tired of doing it all on my own. I had a talk with myself. I’m super good at these.

BRAIN: Remember when we were on speed all the time and got so much stuff done and could remember people’s names and wanted to write bad scifi and there weren’t piles everywhere and people liked us and we could answer the phone?

Me: We don’t do that anymore, brain, now we have carrots and zinc supplements. Plus I think we were an acquired taste even then.

BRAIN: Yes but you have class coming up and things to memorize and your children are starting to work around your bad memory….

Me: SHUT UP SHUT UP

BRAIN: Maybe we could pretend…wait, what was I saying? You know what would be great right now? Getting into the shower and crying.

Me: We already did that today

BRAIN: You should get a tattoo! Or just start tatting. Tat-a-tat tippicanoe…

Me: ??? Thanks for nothing, asshole

Brain: *Hold please*

But my horrible, traitorous brain got me thinking. Speed and copious amounts of coffee was the only thing that kept me functional before I figured out I was allergic to life. Ready, this is where it gets REALLY pathetic.

Maybe…maybe I could FAKE adhd to get a legal script for speed. I started looking at signs and symptoms of adhd. I started reading message boards about people who have faked their way into the various drugs. I started reading people’s stories. Uh oh.

This was the lightbulb moment: I think…I actually HAVE adhd and wouldn’t need to fake anything. Shit.

I got tested a couple of weeks ago and it’s one of the worst things I’ve ever done. Squirm factor rating was “Court” but with less emotional anguish. Think about a cavalcade of small tasks that you hate to do the most and do that for about three hours. For me it was things like mental math and memorizing, reordering, and reciting strings of letters and numbers. I kind of wanted to run out of the room. The battery was very thorough. And in the end, yes, inattentive adhd. I was honest about using stimulants for years and how they got me through graduate school and the doc said, “Yes, the fact that they work for you so well adds to the evidence that you have it.”

She said something insightful to me that made me feel a lot better and lose a lot of the guilt and shame of my lifelong, sad struggling. This goes way back, pretty much back to everything that happened after kindergarten. My complete disinterest in school, ever doing homework, complying with authority, being told I was smart but lazy. I was bored out of my mind, even in the face of new material (I had to really care about it to focus). Really my patterns of bad behavior were the origin for this blog. There are so many things I HAVEN’T told you about but that seal’s popping when Franny turns 18, ha.

What she said was pretty simple: “You told me you never did homework but skated into tests and passed them so they passed you on. You taught yourself what you wanted to out of books and ignored everything else. You’ve been successful at many things (referring to finishing grad school especially) and that’s because you’re smart. You’ve figured out how to cope.” She said she had one “aha” moment when I did well on the IQ test, pretty well on the memory tests, but as she watched me, she could see I was closing my eyes and chunking the numbers, like a phone number. I TANKED on the solo attention stuff. “You’re obviously better in a one-on-one setting,” she said, about my focus.

“This is the real me on no coffee,” I told her.

So now I get onto the (legal) medication-go-round. I feel so relieved. I am already having nicer conversations with my brain and trying to be more patient with it when I forget things right now or see a shiny thing. I am too old to think “YES THIS IS THE ANSWER NOW, we’re all done.” But based on my past experience I expect improvement. This is another lever I can pull.

Speaking of pulling people’s levers.

I did get Franny some actual factual birthday presents, but we hadn’t seen Mr. Coconut milk for a few months so I had to wrap it up. I was gratified by the “ARGGH” I was looking for.

I have a sixteen-year-old. Things are moving fast for her right now and it’s freaking her out. She’s leveling up. Her boyfriend has graduated and has a job. I took her to get a state ID the other day, which I figure she should have and will increasingly need. I turned over her social security card and implored her to memorize her number (she won’t). She is still volunteering at KEXP with her aunt but has just applied for her first paying job.

She asked me to shave part of her head last weekend, which I did. With the dog clippers, naturally.

I used to tease her about having a mohawk when she was little and it would always make her scream. I remember when my neighbor shaved most of my head in high school and my mother laughed at me until she was in tears. I still don’t get that reaction.

Franny’s flip phone is dying, and the “kid” service we have her on has gotten pretty lame. They no longer sell phones, and if you bring your own phone, it must meet a lot of criteria, like being older than one year, not certain models, etc. We don’t use any of the special features anymore either (we used to cut her texting off at a certain time of night so she would not have her sleep interrupted).

Pete, sensibly, doesn’t want to be a spurting artery of parental largesse for either of the girls, which is something I respect about him. We dithered about what to do. I thought about putting her on our phone service, but the reason it works for us is that it’s “pay for what you use” and we’re very light users (two lines, $45 a month on average). I knew her 5000+ monthly texts would really send us through the roof.

We made a deal with her. I told her I would buy her a very basic flip phone again, gratis, and she could pay for what she uses once she’s employed, which ideally will be before xmastime. I am also setting it up in the meantime so we get alert texts and features turn off if she goes near overages. Alternately she could buy herself a smartphone, and I would pay for text and talk, and when she gets a job we can turn on data and she can pay for the whole schmear. Naturally she went for the smart phone. I’m going to give her access to the usage page for our cell service as well so she can practice keeping an eye on that. As usual, trying to do the training wheels thing with her so adulthood doesn’t scream “BITE THE PILLOW, I’M GOING IN DRY” like it did for me.

Franny wanted to Do Something for her birthday, and we want to have more family trips, large or small, before she graduates. We haven’t gone anywhere since Maui Death Trip. We settled on a long weekend in L.A., which has Harry Potterport, Hollywood, and palm trees. Franny wanted to go to the Museum of Death as well. Strudel was tired a couple of days in and got headachey, especially after a day of roller coasters, so Franny and I took an afternoon to drive all of Mulholland Drive, which was really fun and beautiful. She sneaky peed at an overlook and I kept watch. “I’m a great outdoor pee-er!” she said.

We tried to hit LACMA after landing, but were tired and getting corned at the museum, so bailed out for the tar pits.

I skipped them the first time I went to LA, thinking they were pretty tourist trappy, but it was actually cool to see them bubbling.

One of my favorite parts was when we were on our way to Universal Studios and Pete realized that no one had packed sunscreen. We stopped at the West Hollywood Whole Foods and he ran in to get some. We watched a beautiful woman who had obviously just finished exercising pick out a selection of squashes and decorative corn. It was Friday morning.

“She’s having a dinner party,” I said.

“Her workout pants are very trendy right now,” Franny said. They had the little peekaboo mesh slashes. “I bet she’s a personal trainer.”

“I bet she doesn’t work,” I said. “Look at that ring.”

“Don’t pick that squash!” Strudel yelled from inside our car (windows rolled up). “It doesn’t go with the other ones!”

I was fascinated by the WeHo Whole Foods and I couldn’t figure out why. It was grubby. The produce really sucked. The clientele was weird looking in a LA way instead of in a Seattle way. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized…it actually looked and functioned like a city grocery store. Even the middle of town at Whole Foods here I feel like I’m in the suburbs somehow. Also we could not get much for gluten free beer (tiny violins, I know). Seattle is a very special bubble and I am very spoiled with great food and I know it.

It was nice to sneak in some 70s weather in the middle of October.

The air bnb was ADORABLE.

I know I have said next to nothing about Strudel, but she’s doing so, so well right now. She’s interested in picking up another day of violin, which we’re going to see if we can make work after xmas (also I am not working at the moment). She’s really a pleasure and taking to middle school beautifully. She looks a tiny bit stressed out every day because there’s still (always) Mean Girl drama. Recently a kid came back to her small school from the BIG cluster middle school, and we are so grateful to him because he gave everyone the lowdown about the fistfights and bullying and teachers completely phoning it in and she is glad to be where she is. Middle school is no picnic for anyone but she’s doing well. Challenged in math but a lot of the subjects are teaching the same units again.

She told me she goes to visit her incredible 5th grade teacher, the one who sorted them into Hogwarts houses and did math rpgs. He is back to having a group of very difficult kids this year, because this is the reward you get for being an amazing teacher apparently? Strudel’s group of gifted nerds was a brief respite year and cookie for him, we suspect.

“I’m bored,” she told him.

“Me too,” he said.

I feel like I can’t quite see who she’s going to be yet, which is how I felt about Franny in middle school. She’s still in the chrysalis. Franny is going to get more life experience, and more mature, but spending time with her solo in LA gave me a little preview of what our adult relationship will be like. Franny seems like she’s Alice, halfway through a wee door and trying to finish pulling through. She knows she’s the right size, but the door is kind of an odd size. Strudel is still Eat Me and Drink Me-ing herself dizzy. I’m not in a hurry, though. I’m enjoying Strudel and her weird tweeny ways now.

Jumping Nimbly Bimbly From Tree to Tree

I’ve got a day off randomly, due to the disorganization of the company I’m working for, I guess. Back to work one more day tomorrow and then I think I’m laid off again for a day or two.

In the space of an hour this morning I’ve made myself vastly unpopular. Franny was at her dad’s for the weekend and came home ill. She dragged through school on Monday and then texted me about staying home on Tuesday, then later said she vomited. Today I was lying in bed reading the headlines when she swanned in sadly.

“I decided I’m staying home again today,” she said, flopping down on Horace, who was happy to be a pillow.

“No, sorry, you’re going to school,” I said. Cue tears! She did not expect that.

“WHY.”

I gave her a little pep talk that wasn’t very peppy.

“So, we’ve got this thing that we’re going to have our whole lives. Some days you’re going to feel like shit. This weekend wasn’t your fault. You’re kind of a gluten prisoner over there. Remember how I ate that jerky at work a month ago and it said it was gluten free and it wasn’t? That was kind of my fault but kind of not. I had to suck it up and keep working, and go the next day.

“You may only be halfway there today, taking in half of the information, but you have to go. Some of it will come back to you later. It’s school. Phone it in, but you gotta show up. You’re going to feel glutened for days. It’s better to do something rather than just sit around doing nothing all day.”

I have to do this because the gluten brain WILL tell you to stay home, quit your life, gaze out of the window and sigh, while lamenting your 47 aches and pains. I’ve discovered I need a cheerleader to tell me life will go on and I need to go for a walk. Pete got sick recently from sanding drywall in the basement and I got him out of the house and walking as well, but the golden rule is: Not Too Far From Any Bathroom. I told her it’s like being a major pothead without the fun parts: all the spaciness and lack of motivation without any of the giggling or dreadlock beads.

OH STEREOTYPES! Where would we be without you?

Presently I hoisted my leisurely, news-reading self out of bed and made coffee so I wouldn’t be that guy who tells you to go to school, while you’re glutened, from bed. That’s a click away from wire hanger parenting. I did relent and tell her to cancel her guitar lesson right meow since that’s non-essential and I’m sure she’d like to avoid carrying her guitar around all day while achy.

Then I got Strudel, who could not find a tooth in a shark’s open maw.

“MOM do you know where the steak is?”

“In the fridge.” I knew she was standing in front of it, chillerating the whole kitchen already.

“I don’t see it!”

“Maybe ask your sister, since she put away leftovers last night?”

Franny was grumping in the bathroom and muttered something unhelpful through the door of her primp palace. Strudel marched back to the kitchen and sighed loudly.

“Do you want me to come look?” I asked.

“No…yes….no. It’s not in here.”

“If I find the steak, you have to make dinner.” Faustian!

She dithered some more, then finally agreed to the terms. I walked to the fridge and pulled the leftover steak out and handed it to her.

“FRANNY HID IT!” she said.

“No, she sensibly put it under the mushrooms, since this glass container is so much heavier.”

Then I danced around like this naturally

while yelling “I’m RUMPLESTEAKSKIN!”

“WHAT SHOULD I MAKE! I NEED TO GET THE COOKBOOK!”

“It needs to have at least three salads and a foam course,” I said.

“I’ll make foam with dinner when you do.” That’s fair.

Joke’s on her, though. I’m going to make dinner myself because I have the day off and I like making dinner.

I treated myself to a bread machine recently. I had one for years that someone generously cast off to me, and I used it for a long time until I got ill. I’m not sorry I donated it, because it was full of wheat residue. I am one of those people who likes eating bread, but doesn’t care for how dough feels. Like, to jibbly levels of no thank you. I have been a proponent of drop biscuits for forever for this reason. Hence, bread machine intermediary.

As I think I’ve mentioned, I’ve done some runs at dairy free, gluten free breads, and have found the results mixed and fairly depressing. HOW MANY TIMES have I been snookered by a blog post claiming, “Your friends won’t even know it’s gluten free!” Like fun they wouldn’t, even if I was cruel enough to serve it to them. But now that we have our flour mix pinned down, and now that we have dairy back in the form of sheep and buffalo, it’s going pretty well. I am going to hang out on this cloudy day, drink coffee, and attempt a cheese garlic loaf in my almost-new machine. It had a test run last night with a cinnamon raisin loaf while we watched the first part of The Case of Jonbenet Ramsey.

I’m also fooling around with pizza dough a lot. I’m going to try GF girl’s weekly pizza jam for a while (scroll 7 years to get past the twee if you want the recipe). Sounds fun.

I cut my stupid face at work. THERE GOES MY MODELING CAREER!

Asspophasis

So I guess I’m blogging once a month right now. I still have that thing, that long, long entrenched habit, where I have racing thoughts about what I could write down, especially relating to the looking-glass that is work, but I’m not getting there. Something in my motivation has changed, post-corn. I used to feel like I was always running to something significant, like a good change, like more opportunities to do what I want with writing or travel or my hobbies. I’m not saying my life was always topsy-turvy, it wasn’t, just that there was something on the horizon. Lately I feel very static, like some pudding that has set up too much.

I spend a lot of time avoiding situations that will make me sick. Before I used to throw myself into them, because I had no idea what I was doing. I don’t know how to describe this well…before, I was always ill. I always felt bad and just learned to cope and try to grit my teeth and be pleasant. Now I feel well most of the time but I hardly go anywhere or see anyone. I have been considering masks but I feel like that crosses a line somehow. Says the person who prepares all of her own food and travels with her own sheets.


me rollin up in the art museum with my homies

I am going to try some nasal filters to see if that will help. When we go out we make like Persephone but we all still have to breathe.

Sometimes I think about jumping back in and eating and drinking corn with gusto, if only to get that frantic feeling of being REALLY ALIVE for a few hours, but then I remember that my hair was falling out and sometimes I would go completely, momentarily deaf from tinnitus. Lots of people live secluded, unknown lives and always have, but it is hard to step back and out of the world. I used to feel driven to write something, anything, even if it was complete garbage or something like, well, a blog (Venn diagram overlaps sometimes). Now it’s pulling teeth. My brain doesn’t crackle, it just sits, gelling. I’m facing living longer (maybe) but being completely bored with myself.

I don’t burden my girls with my thoughts along these lines. It’s not for them. They’re not my friends, they have no idea what existential horrors and delights will come when they’re in their 30s (neither do I of course). I do hope I intervened with them young enough that they won’t feel as outside of the world as I do lately. I hope we will all be able to find an acceptable way to get through.

It’s their first days of school.

This new middle schooler is a little excited.

This Satanist is starting her junior year.

There is something on the other side that is NOT black:

Normally I am frantic for them to go back to school, but this year they’ve been so easy and fun to hang out with. I’ve spent the last week with them because I got laid off (building was about finished).

No more being up on tall roofs for the moment. Next week I go to a week-long class that’s meant to be a first year trade orientation, kind of like electrician boot camp was. I’m in a pickle at the moment because of course they didn’t process my automatic union dues correctly, and I can’t come to class without a receipt. Administrative problems are rife in this union as well it seems. I’m sure I can straighten it out with a phone call.

If I don’t get back in a month…Friday (9/9) is my 15 year blog anniversary. I have outlasted Samuel Pepys at this point, though he was more frequent and diligent. I have some images I want to replace this banner with, but am even failing at replacing them (this template is completely terrible and I think it’s not helping with writing more often), which seems like a good project for an idle Friday when I am waiting to go to school and the girls are gone. Happy fall.

I’ll see you in the trees

The Twin Peaks festival has become a delineation for me. Leave for the festival in late July, and summer feels full of potential and as if we’re at the top of the hill, with endless fruit-gorging and hammock-laying ahead of us. The Monday I go back to work, the light looks different. The sun is already hanging lower and the day is shorter. People say (and it’s true) that Seattle summer starts July 5, and we often get beautiful days into October, but by early August something about the light reminds you that fall is coming.

Since the whole point of the festival is to discuss and celebrate a 25-year-old show that is partly about murder and is set in February, it serves as another reminder that the dark is always coming back. Weirdly, it ends up being a really comforting way to reflect on the seasons here and what makes this area special.

I don’t have pictures to post because I admit I have finally emerged into the present and was popping out pictures as we went. I did not pull out my trusty camera once. Franny dressed as the Log Lady, in part because Catherine E. Coulson died shortly after last year’s festival and she was a little sad. This year she didn’t place but she had a nice time being part of the contest.

With another year of living with food allergies under our belt, I think I did a little better at the food part of our trip. Staying at the festival is a little bit of a fox/corn/chicken/farmer problem since lodgings are limited. There’s cheap hotels with nothing around them and no amenities. B&Bs are pointless because we can’t eat there. There’s a hotel with a kitchenette but the festival takes it over and people party there all night. There’s the Salish, which is incredible, and where the “cool people” stay, but expensive and has nothing within walking distance.

Our compromise is a boutique inn that was a filming site in Fall City. I used to enjoy staying there because the restaurant and bar was good, it is a quiet area, and the inn and town is extremely cute. As I started to realize I had to make like Persephone everywhere I went, I still enjoyed the inn and its proximity to a small grocery store with a fruit stand full of Eastern Washington peaches and plums.

I was looking at feeding myself and Franny for three days in a room without a fridge or microwave. I brought our cooler full of hard boiled eggs, chicken breast, baked tofu, and sauces: Seattle-style teriyaki joint salad dressing, honey mustard, and a vinaigrette. I was looking for mayo- or oil-based sauces to make salads filling.

Yes, I hammered my protein by overbaking it. It was fine once it was cubed.

I also brought a ton of processed snack foods that we can eat: chips, dried fruit, nuts, and jerky.

We also brought dry goods like utensils and paper plates. I brought a french press and coffee I could drink for myself, since I don’t trust Keurig machines. I could run to the market up the street, buy fruit, buy a ready-made prewashed salad, and make a plate with lettuce, a protein, nuts, and dressing. Or we could just graze on fruits and jerky. Every time we left the room I cleaned up and “packed out,” throwing the remnants of our meal into the Dumpster rather than leaving a mess for the maid in the tiny trash cans.

With all of our care, gluten really isn’t the enemy anymore. The biggest obstacle is corn, and it was everywhere that weekend. I am lucky in that sometimes I can forget about our allergies for days at a time now that I work outside. Twin Peaks is fun but being in close proximity to people all weekend is hard. I greatly underestimated how much it would affect us.

First, the room of the inn had very strongly-scented sheets from detergent and fabric softener, so we were breathing that all night as we slept. Every time we gathered in a crowd people were covered in perfumes, fabric softeners, vaping, smoking. The movie night is held in a movie theatre in North Bend, lasts 4-plus hours, and the popcorn is flowing. We were getting achy legs and shoulders, it was hard to sleep well, and Franny was using her inhaler.

It’s very hard to motivate her to do much about halfway through the weekend because she gets run down and doesn’t combat it by drinking copious amounts of coffee like I do. Next year Morgan and I are talking about splitting a small house/cabin/condo thing that should have some kind of outdoor space to recharge in, as well as a kitchen for me to cook in. I think this will be nicer…it’s time to say goodbye to the inn since we can’t really use it properly and Morgan found herself eating meals alone some of the time since Franny was getting very sick in the dining room downstairs.

If you have read all this you may be asking yourself, why bother going? Our lives have changed so much in the last three years and everyday life now involves never eating out, or sitting in bars or coffee shops. Every time I go out I ask myself if it’s worth it to be in this particular crowd for this particular event…so many times the answer is “no.” So for now this is a thing that is really special and we rally and go.

I like that I can take a small trip alone with Franny every year too. We enjoy spending time together. We spent a lot of time between events in bed watching Forensic Files. Franny is obsessed with anything that involves modern crime solving.

The trip also reminded me of what Franny goes through every time she visits her dad now. I was feeling a little worried because she is spending less time over there, since she often gets glutened, always gets corned, and comes back with a cold, achy, tired, and in a terrible mood. I still don’t feel great about how she’s somewhat barred from spending time with that side of her family now, but it would be very hard for me to drag myself out to do the equivalent exposure of a festival weekend twice a month.

It’s further complicated by the fact that Franny has accepted a volunteer position as a DJ assistant for Morgan’s show on KEXP on Saturdays. This is great news for Franny, since she gets to do a cool gig, gets some aunt time, and gets the volunteer hours she needs to graduate, but it was supposed to be when she saw her dad. Franny’s also on a teen committee at the library this summer (at my insistence that she get some kind of job). She told me last night she’s happy I “made her” do something this summer and is meeting people outside of her high school.

I will say in brief that I am working my ass off this summer. Five tens and then eight hours on Saturday (Saturdays are somewhat optional but I try to work if I don’t have serious plans). I was a steadfast defender of the forty-hour workweek and am protective of my time and health, so I am actually surprising myself with what I’m capable of this summer. I’m in architectural sheet metal right now, which is basically installer work–get panels onto building.

I’m working on schools and am on roofs much of the time in a harness with a rope tail. I like the crew and get along with them well. I got “the talk” from the superintendent last Saturday. I swear there is some bylaw that says supers have to be assholes. “So, I was looking forward to firing you, but the guys like you and they say you’re doing a good job.” Um, thanks. Again I have lucked out and landed with a really nice foreman who is driven but does not verbally abuse people, use slurs, and can communicate. The age thing seems to make a difference. Anyone under about 45 is going to be more professional, generally.

I’m about to get my school schedule for the next year and am really excited about that as well. I’ll probably do a six month rotation with this company unless they lay me off when fall comes and school starts.

I shaved the dogs down again in anticipation of the hot month of August and it is gloomy and misty today!

So Edith dons her small sweater.

CoCoWArZ!, Necks, Silent Hill Shit, and Yeah

Franny and I have been having coconut milk warz (TM 2007). I left an unused container of coconut milk on the counter one night when she was on dish duty and she picked it up and laid it on my chest while I watched TV. Like it was a present. I see your bullshit and raise you SURPRISE. COCONUT MILK.

It went in her bathroom drawer next. Then I found it under my pillow. Then it went in her boot. Then it went in my work bag. Then I snaked it into her guitar case, where she had to hide it from her guitar teacher due to adolescent shame (?).

“How would I explain that, Mother?” she said.

I let it idle for a bit and then on Friday, CHALLENGE REACCEPTED. Her toilet lid.

She one upped me Friday afternoon by taping it into the pantry, which I did not notice until today. I like it there for now, but I tell you…Imma get her. Mark my milk.

IN OTHER NEWS: Some Silent Hill Shit

As I mentioned recently, all the damn bees died. Poor girls. Our theory is the hives weren’t big enough to make it through via huddling for warmth. Also we had a moisture issue.

I’m going to say something that may make you think I’m overly concerned about the stock my business card is printed on, but I actually feel less bad about losing this hive than before we started keeping bees. It’s hard to explain. I guess it’s just that I know they would all die anyway, since they’re so incredibly shortlived. Of course it would be better if they made it through the season, but I know they did a lot over the summer as it was.

I pulled the existing comb out to clean the boxes. It still contains a significant amount of honey, which will be a good start for the new bees. We’re trying Carniolans this time. They seem to be very popular in this area, since they have that magic combo of hardy yet docile, etc.

Here’s the fallout when your whole hive croaks midwinter. You get a mat of moldy bees.

I scraped them out with a spatula onto the nearby ground, at which point the bock bock clean up crew came in and ate many honey-encrusted bee corpses. So we’re locked and loaded now, assuming we don’t get robbed out. If we do, there will still be comb.

NECK UPDATE: Can this Neck Marriage Be Saved

Check this out, I have some neck bone spurs and straight neck syndrome. My physical therapist was kind of over the moon. No spinal/disk compression.

“Can I get the curve in my neck back?” I asked.

“In your case, YES,” he said. He really looked genuinely happy. I have many exercises to do now. The feeling is coming back a little more in my fingers over time. I got sworn in to the union officially the other night…I just might make it after all *flying knit cap*.

Part 4, Work

So here’s the thing. I want to tell you every goddam moment of every day, but I am so unholy tired right now. Which is normal. But I keep hearing these amazing conversations. And you know I remember conversations years later–so it’s all in here. But let me tell you a short story about a type of man I have met on the job now. I call them…Neggers.

You know what you really can’t say to a lady on a job site anymore? “Get back into the kitchen. Sit on my face. Get out of my dreams, get into my car.”

But you know what you can say? A thing you heard.

“What’s it like being a woman in the trades,” a guy asked me, who is not an electrician. I’ve been working with him since I started, and sometimes we’re in the same “zone,” him doing his trade and me doing mine.

“Oh really great,” I said. “I love my job.”

“Anyone act weird towards you?” he asked.

“Not really,” I said, truthfully. “I’ve had a little random stuff like ‘Good morning, sweetheart,’ but nothing gross.”

We chitchatted a little more and I mentioned that Washington State has the highest number of women in the trades (~19%). He insisted on telling me there was a study going on about women in the trades at the UW and seemed to think I should hie myself over there. He told me that Some Guys say that the trades are no place for women, and they Don’t Belong on Jobsites, but that attitude was probably dying out. Oh really.

A plumber I just love jumped in and said, “We have a female plumber up the street. She’s one of the guys. It’s a little weird when she burps and swears though, I don’t know why.”

I had to get back to work but I closed by saying I felt like I fit in. “I never really fit in with polite society so I like the burping.” I keep it light.

I worked on Saturday and the guy was there and trying to start conversations with me. He did that kind of jackhole thing where he was insisting on figuring out what SJ was short for. “Nothing!” I said, but he didn’t believe me until my boss affirmed it.

“That’s a weird name,” he said.

“Thank you?” I said.

“Have a good day. SWEETHEART,” he said, and walked off. My coworker apprentice, who is all of 25, looked at me quizzically.

“It’s a conversation he and I had the other day. No big deal.”

“Ok,” he said.

Later I got off work and waited for my friend outside of a bar we like, for a little catch up and pre-dinner drink. She and I are Saturday walking buddies and I was SUPES SAD to not walk with her that day.

The bar was not quite open yet. One of the bartenders emerged and began unlocking the cafe tables, which involved dragging around chains. A random barfly from a nearby all-day bar walked up to spectate.

“I just love seeing a woman in chains. HA HA HA!” he chortled. “I mean, a pretty woman.”

I watched, ready to jump in and Jerry Springer a chair over his ass if needed. The bartender smiled at him and made a couple of comments. He walked off and she started sweeping near me.

“Men don’t have an ‘off’ button, do they?” I said to her.

She laughed so hard, and I was relieved that I hadn’t been too presumptuous.

“I just deflect,” she said. “It’s easier than trying to challenge them.”

Wow, story of my life. Er. Sometimes.

“I work construction,” I said. “I work with men all day. I might be wound up.”

“OH!” she said. “You should check out this pinball machine down at Add-a-Ball. It’s a construction site where a woman is in charge. She yells at them all day. I love it!”

“Okay, I will.”

“Ha ha, I love it,” she said. “You’re like a Julia Roberts character. ‘Men don’t have an off button.’ That’s great!”

We’re gonna sip genmaicha like it’s your birthday

Franny said something interesting after returning from her father’s house last weekend. As I’ve mentioned, she often has a challenge over there, in that their house is set up differently than ours. The air and the products they use are full of corn. I would be a wreck if I was still in an environment like that and I remember being pretty consistently depressed when I was her age. She comes back irritable, tired, and with a couple of zits dotting her usually-clear face.

There was some kind of conflict last weekend that led to her peacing out to her room, probably exacerbated by how she was feeling. The shocking thing, to her, was that her father followed and asked her if she wanted to talk about it.

“I was so surprised!” she told me. “Now that I’m 15, he’s finally acting like a dad!”

Well, her definition of what a good dad is. It’s interesting to me what different people need to feel like someone cares about them. For her, it’s being listened to, and for someone to try to help her get to the bottom of what she’s feeling. When I was her age, I think I wanted to be encouraged in my interests, and not feel like an alien or be told things like “art’s a waste of time” or “girls don’t do that” or “you’ll grow out of it” (atheism, ha).

For a lot of reasons, I didn’t really have any meaningful talks with my own mother past the age of 12. I think there is a part of me that worries that I’m intruding on Franny when I can tell she’s having a bad day and I peck at her a little to talk to me and then she does. She always says she feels better but I always ask myself…should I just leave her to stew in her room until she gets over it? I don’t really feel like she tells me things she regrets and it’s usually manageable problems (that can be large to a teenager) like a tiff with her boyfriend, or someone at school said something mean, or a teacher lost their temper with herding cats.

So, weirdly, this revelation that her father’s decision to listen to her and ask if she was okay constituted “real parenting” made me feel like I’m on the right track with her. I know that sounds grossly self-congratulatory, but that’s what I took from it. Especially since I don’t really have any stake in their relationship or hope that he’s going to consistently meet her core needs. They have their own thing, but I guess he can still surprise her occasionally.

In Other News: Strudel is Eleven

Strudel asked for a modest list of presents and a bento-style dinner, like we used to have at teriyaki places. I made sushi, miso, teriyaki chicken, and tea.

If you’re familiar, that is a Dwight Shrute card of my own design. A couple of months ago I threw on a couple of episodes of first season Office while I was cooking and the girls got hooked. ESPECIALLY Strudel. I didn’t think it would appeal to a then-ten, now eleven-year-old, but she probably loves it the most. I’m enjoying the rewatch.

We present the traditional pineapple upside down cake, which has been a staple every year but the first year (that year was an apple strudel). It’s actually just as good gluten and dairy free.

I’ve got more pictures up at ye olde flickr.

Edith spent a long time walking around like this last night. It looked like a pacifier from straight on.

Also, the new birds are starting to lay! Green eggs again. Last year I bought a pullet, Gingersnap, that we were told was an easter egger, but turned out to definitely not be one! I think she might be some kind of maran. She’s got a black shiny tail and a red head, and lays dark brown eggs.

It’s been really rainy, so the eggs have been a bit muddy. Coop’s clean again as of this weekend though.