Our Assistant, Doge

Identity theft is not funny, Jim.

So my daughter is a big Office fan, and got me to watch several seasons. My favorite scene is Dwight finding Pam crying in the stairwell and immediately puffing up to shank whoever hurt her; my feelings on any fictional character have rarely taken such a complete 180 as they did in those few moments of screen time.

Before, Dwight irritated the crap out of me. After, I was ready to pick up a baseball bat and follow him into battle.

Anyway, the Princess brought home some hilarious themed pillows during lockdown, and this was one of them. We can’t decide if it’s more or less funny that the “to the” is hidden. Doesn’t Boxnoggin look proud of his new title?

Actually, he’s a little put out, because he knows he’s not supposed to eat pillows and this one was deliberately set near him for a whole thirty seconds. It was whisked away once she got the shot; Boxnoggin was petted and made much of, told he was a good boy for refraining to savage the poor pillow.

Progress, right?

It’s a Friday that still feels like a Monday. I’m going to ask the local Assistant (to the) Regional Manager if we can just knock off early today.

I mean, look at him. Do you think he’ll disagree?

Marshmallow, Sun Storm, Tuesday

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It’s a grey Tuesday morning and there is not enough coffee in the world. A solar storm is expected to hit the earth today, and frankly I’m not bloody surprised, the way things have been going.

At least the cicadas are quiet, since the temperature drops overnight. They’re probably waking up the same as I am, lethargic and blinking, staggering towards their version of coffee, preparing for an entire afternoon of screaming in the treetops.

Lucky bastards.

Even the dogs are a bit beside themselves this morning. They won’t eat their breakfast and Boxnoggin is in a fractious-toddler mood. I’d say “you need a nap, dog,” but we literally just rolled out of bed. It could be he’s sensing my crankiness.

There are bright prospects, though. The other day I made an offhand comment about using Cocoa Pebbles and Rice Krispies to make treats–you know, butter, marshmallow creme, all that. The Princess got That Look, and when she came home yesterday she was loaded with Cocoa Krispies, tiny chocolate chips, marshmallows, and a plan.

I pointed out there were Cocoa Krispies but no Cocoa Pebbles (her very favorite cereal) in her supplies and my eldest child fixed me with an arch look of amusement. “The recipe I found was for Krispies, so I’m doing it that way first before I alter it.”

I could only nod sagely and mumble, “That means more marshmallow treats for us all, so I can’t complain.”

To which my child replied, just as her mother would, “Damn right.”

She even divided the pan into quarters. One was plain, one was studded with sea salt flakes, the third had tiny chocolate chips, and the last was drenched with homemade salted caramel sauce. Needless to say, that last bit was my favorite, though everyone else in the house is split between the plain and salted quarters.

So, there’s a crispy-crunchy experiment at some time in my future, possibly with caramel. That’s not a bad prospect; it’ll get me through a day of internal wires sparking through worn-off insulation, a both-hands deathgrip on my temper, and my fingertips aching from keeping my claws sheathed.

In any case, I should probably get some breakfast to balance out the caffeine once my stomach settles, the it’ll be time to walk the furry brats. I’m sure there will be hijinks; Carl the Crow has taken to accompanying us on walks around the block. She flits from tree to tree, eyeing me sideways and occasionally letting out raucous yells. I’m not sure if she’s adopted us or is waiting for me to look away so she can torment Boxnoggin–I believe she has not forgiven him for the Jerry Incident.

Speaking of Jerry the Crow, his tail feathers appear to be healing, and he’s having a lot more luck with flying. He’s still apparently only capable of short hops, and he tends to hang around our yard all day because I’m leaving sunflower seeds and the like in easy-to-reach places for him. Sandra and Carl are okay with this too; they keep bringing peanuts and cracking them in the birdbath, filling the damn thing with peanut shells. I think someone in the neighborhood thinks they’re feeding squirrels, though why anyone would do such a thing is beyond me.

We also have a ring-tailed squirrel (christened Einstein) who is up to No Good and seems positively bent on tormenting my daughter. Maybe it’s a family inheritance thing.

I do have a Backyard Tale to tell you concerning Norbert (long-time Readers will remember Norbert the Shattered Gargoyle) but I need more time and energy to write it than I possess today, so it’ll have to wait.

And with that, my beloveds, I shall bid you a fond adieu. Getting out the door before the marine layer breaks and the temperature rises is the name of the game, and since I’ve finished my coffee, breakfast is next. I can only dread what sort of hijinks will occur once I strap the dogs into their harnesses and leave the house.

Wish me luck…

Picking Battles, No Not Those Ones

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Coming back after a long, long weekend, looking at a particular thread in email, and deciding, “Welp, I can be done with this issue, it can be dead to me,” is particularly liberating. I’m not sure I would have arrived there without the past few days spent consciously and resentfully Not Working.

Maybe that’s why everyone likes vacation so much; it repeatedly massages one’s sense of the possible and acceptable with a giant stick.

It’s not a bad thing. I already have as much work as I can handle. I just wanted things arranged a particular way and if that’s not going to happen, fine. Moving on.

Today will be all about retrenchment and planning. Fortunately it’s a lovely cool morning and the marine layer is doing good things. This weather is far more to our liking–and by “our” I mean not only the humans and dogs, but the trees and shrubbery, not to mention smaller green things. If I could just suss out the problem with the sprinklers, we might be sitting easy–but as it is, I’m still watering by hand.

Not a bad price to pay for some tomatoes; the seedlings are past the most critical stage. Still not sure why the squirrels seem intent on grubbing up a few things, but I guess that’s arboreal rodents for you.

Speaking of squirrels, the Princess saw one with a ring-striped tail the other day. (Are you sure it wasn’t a baby raccoon, I asked, and she whipped out her phone with a long-suffering sigh. It was, indeed, a squirrel, and she had proof.) “It sashayed right across the deck. It stopped to LOOK at me when it was near the door, Mum. I had to check that I had shoes on even though I was inside.”

Which is, as we all know, the most reasonable thing to do when faced with one of those hyperactive little barstids.

I do have a Tale of the Backyard to tell you, but it has to wait. Today is for other things, like rearranging the ol’ publication schedule and divvying up the day between revisions on Sons of Ymre, an audio proofing (listening as the book is read), revising a combat scene to get it to acceptable zero-draft status, a run, and as much coffee as I can stuff down my word-pipe.

Coffee goes in, gory little stories come out. It’s the circle of life. It’s gonna take a much longer time to finish Cold North‘s trilogy now…but that’s okay. We can wait for good things, and besides, this means it can be told the way it wants to be, without well-meaning interference. So on the bright side, there’s that.

Anyway, as soon as I can, I’ll take a few pictures and tell you all about the Gargoyle’s Body. But that’s (say it with me) another blog post.

Today’s full-up, no more can fit, that’s too many battles, put some battles back.

Over and out.

Rosy Victory

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I moved the roses out of the side yard in very early spring. There just wasn’t enough sun, and besides, well, the graves.1

On the bright side, since a certain neighbor was silly and took out half the cedars along the back fence, what used to be a shade garden now gets much more light, which made it perfect for said roses though it’s doing bad things to the patio put in with so much labor. Win some, lose some.

The ketchup-and-mustard showed its appreciation of the new quarters by blooming first this year. Its presence in our garden is in honor of the Princess’s best friend–they met in middle school, and these are her favorite type of roses. So each time it raises a vibrant flag, a flurry of pictures gets texted. I’m rather proud of this one.

I thought some of the roses would give up the ghost during the move, but amazingly, all of them survived. Either they’re far hardier than I thought or my sotto voce pleading “please, please don’t die, you’ll be happier here, I promise,” was effective. Either way, I’m counting it as an unqualified victory.

Happy Friday, dear Readers. I hope your weekend is everything you need it to be, whether quiet or busy, solo or (masked, vaccinated, and) gregarious.

Febrile Hibernation

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Yesterday was just plain awful. The heat crested at 115F–all official according to the weather app, and I think it might have been a little warmer–and all we could do was huddle in the house with the AC and every fan on. Even with that it was uncomfortable and lethargic. I went out several times to fill the birdbath and put some ice water in pans for the backyard fauna, and each time I felt worse after retreating into our air-conditioned haven.

But the birdbath and other water pans were fully utilized by pretty much every backyard denizen, from the crows who used it to bathe and wash ripe cherries to the squirrels who barely even bothered to scamper away when I approached. I was wearing shoes and not yelling, so I guess they figured it was safe enough–and it was too goddamn hot to chase them. I think they understood that much.

It irks me to have lost a whole day’s worth of work, but such is life when enduring climate emergency and pandemic. Not to mention ongoing attempted fascist coup–they’re attempting to do it legally now, repeating history as violent authoritarians always do. *sigh*

We finally watched the marine push come through on the weather app, temperatures dropping swiftly as regular weather reasserted itself. Of course we still kept the house closed and the AC on all night, since it would still be almost-80F at midnight; our power bill will not thank us this month but honestly, nobody in the house cares.

I’m a little shaky today. Ever since that one incident of heatstroke in San Diego (I was there for Comic-Con one year) I’ve been peculiarly sensitive to hot weather. After I finished watering yesterday evening (my poor seedlings, and someone’s been grubbing them up too, probably a squirrel, GODDAMMIT) I was nauseous and apparently looked like death warmed over, so I took a cool shower and went to bed.

Both the kids are still sacked out, recovering. The Princess worked through the worst of the heat, and though her workplace has plenty of AC it was still not very comfortable. The Prince, on his summer of freedom after high school (he’s not allowed to work or do ANYTHING until September except goof off) holed up in his dark room and slept through most of the worst. Febrile hibernation, I call it, and wish I’d’ve been able to do the same.

We’re back to “normal” weather, albeit a bit warmer than usual. 90F+ days used to be exceedingly rare. Now, well…thanks, corporate-fueled climate change. That’s just great, thank you.

Sigh. Today is for lots of ice water, a very short run–because I will bloody well strangle something if I don’t get at least a few kilometers in–and whatever work I can manage. There’s administrivia to perform, and wordcount on the serial (not to mention two romances) to get sorted. That one combat scene in Hell’s Acre has been hanging fire for a while now, and needs to be finished.

It’s like jumping rope on the playground–you watch, gauging the rhythm, before you hop in. Hopefully I won’t trip over my own rope and fall flat on my face.

But, you know…given how this week’s started, I can’t rule it out. The coffee’s soaking in, so it’s time to go.

Stay cool, my beloveds. In every way.

Admin Games

Yesterday was the Prince’s very last day of high school, ever. That’s right, both my kids are officially done with basic edumacation.

Seniors traditionally get out of school a week or so early, so graduation can be arranged before the end of the technical “school year”.1 Which means I’ve spent a couple weeks in a constant round of emails, literally forcing school administrators to do their jobs so the process will go as smoothly as possible for my youngest child.

The teachers have been wonderful all through this. But administration is another kettle of fish entirely. I am forced to the conclusion that in education, as in many other industries, a vast proportion of petty Napoleons habitually rise to the level of their incompetence and do their level best to keep their jobs by inflicting needless torment and paperwork upon the rest of us.

Don’t try to convince me otherwise.

The Prince started the day by getting up early, going over the list we’d made the night before of all necessary items, then tucking a mask in his pocket and shouldering his backpack to walk down to the school. It’s not a long ramble; it’s even enjoyable in good weather. He could have biked, walked, or rode the bus in any normal school year; the pandemic, of course, meant “remote learning”.

I will say the school district’s relatively long-ago decision to invest in cheap but robust laptops for all high school students was a good decision–one of the few. We’re privileged enough to have the hardware for him to do the remote learning without that help, but it was nice to have the school-issued gear and frankly, I would not have sent him into the petri dish during lockdown like the superintendent was making noises about insisting on. I’d’ve pulled him out and just let him take the GED test when things calmed down.

I did not spend millions of calories raising this child to have the malignant neglect of an administrator infect and literally kill him. No, indeed.

Anyway, yesterday was Seniors’ Last Day, which meant turning the laptops and all paperwork in. Of course none of it could be done early, partly because of lockdown and partly because they want to squeeze every last ounce of control over the kids to the max.

And it was, as anticipated, an utter shitshow from an organizational point of view.

Admin: “This is all the paperwork you need to graduate.”
Me: “This is ALL the paperwork? In toto? This is EVERY PIECE of paperwork? There are no hidden pieces?”
Admin: “Why would you ask that? This is everything.”
Me: “This is absolutely everything? You are prepared to swear in writing this is everything necessary?”
Admin: “Why don’t you phone us so we can chat?”
Me: “Because I want a record of everything said. You swear in writing this is everything necessary, every piece of paperwork necessary for graduation?”
Admin: “Yes. We swear.”
The Prince: *walks to school* *turns in everything on the list* “Now, this is everything, right?”
Admin: “Well, there’s one more piece. And it requires running all over the school.”
The Prince: “You mean the school where kids below the vaccination-age are attending classes? You mean a senior who might not have been able to get vaccinated yet2 has to run around the ENTIRE school filling this out?”
Admin: “Of course.” *pause* “Oh, and it needs a parental and counselor signature too.”
The Prince: *texting me* “Um, Mum? They did it…”

Of course we knew they were going to pull some bullshit. But that wasn’t even the final touch. The “senior counselor”3–whose signature was necessary on this piece of paperwork they were dropping on kids at the last minute–had decided yesterday was a marvelous time to take a half-day off.

So the Prince brought the piece of paper home. I signed it, put on my heels4, and drove him back to the damn school after the “senior counselor’s” expected arrival. Then I waited in the parking lot, engine running, and by the gods if I had to turn the car off and go into that complex of buildings, there were going to be fireworks.

Some time later, the Prince strode out, head high, and I knew from his body language that all had been a success. He got in the car, tossed his backpack into the back seat, tore his mask off, and heaved a sigh. “It was,” he said, “a circus in there.”5

I contented myself with two words. “All done?”

If the answer had been no I would have slapped on a mask and gone forth to do battle. But thankfully, my youngest child grinned at me and announced, “All done. I’m free.”

On the bright side, learning how to work an unwieldy bureaucracy, leveraging any inch of privilege one has, is a highly useful life skill. And, as I told him, sadly this sort of thing is the rule rather than the exception in adult life. It’s good to get the lesson and attendant practice out of the way early; they’ve seen me problem-solve this sort of thing all their lives.

I must mention the one piece of school bureaucracy which had its shit together6 was the library crew, who where stellar and which surprises me not at all.

We returned home in victory, had celebratory pho–his favorite meal, one we haven’t had since lockdown started because he kind of prefers the restaurant experience–delivered for lunch, and the Princess came home early from work. Upon hearing the tale she grinned with relief. “Yeah, *senior counselor*’s always been useless. I’d’ve been in the office at 6am to prep for the seniors’ last day.”

Which made the Prince and I laugh like hyenas, because it was exactly what I’d said in the car.

All vastly improved from there, with the Prince retreating to his room for video games, the Princess baking a special celebratory Oreo cake, and a quiet afternoon while the dogs calmed down because omg the humans had left them aloooooone in the hoooooouse for a half-hoooooooour.7

I couldn’t settle, so I was extremely online the rest of the day. And after dinner, we lit a candle and sang the family anthem, and that was wonderful. I was misty-eyed.

But the administration wasn’t done. There had to be a final fuck-you from them to surpass their usual practice for both kids’ school careers and crown the further mess of the damn pandemic year.

Yes, my beloveds, I got an automated call that evening from the school, informing me that my student “had been absent unexcused for one or more class periods today.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I’ve been engaged in sort of a running skirmish with the attendance office all damn year-plus-long lockdown, because they have not bothered to get their ducks in a row and put some goddamn protocols and procedures in place for the kids (at first ALL the students, then later just a SIGNIFICANT PROPORTION) doing remote learning. It appears completely beyond them, though there are at least three adults in that single office alone whose entire job remit is “attendance.”

So I had to email them one last time, politely pointing out that there was no way my senior could have attended classes since it was the last day and the damn laptop used for sign-in had been turned in as the school had requested, and they would reply with verification that they had fixed the problem and furthermore would not do this again for the rest of the school year or I would be in touch. Because I wouldn’t put it past them to hold his diploma or transcripts hostage if every last i wasn’t dotted and t wasn’t crossed.

I will, gods willing, never have to force those people to do their jobs ever again. The Princess, of course, fixed me with a mischievous look when I muttered as much at the dinner table.

“Just watch,” she said. “You’re going to foster some kid, and they’re going to go to school, and the school’s gonna try something. And then they’ll see your name pop up in their email notifications and the earth will tremble.”

It’s not that I like being adversarial, I swear. It’s just that when you’re dealing with a child I have taken responsibility for, by every god that ever was, you will behave properly or I will make you, and if you still refuse to behave properly, I will end you. It’s that simple. I don’t ask for special treatment, I am content with you doing your goddamn stated job.

*sigh*

I’m sure I sound bitchy and rude, but when it comes to protecting one’s spawn, well, I’ll be as bitchy as I have to be. And again, the teachers have been stellar8, it’s just the petty, bullying faux-Napoleons who have turned in (far, far) less-than-satisfactory performance.

Same as it ever was, I’m sure. Petty bureaucratic bullshit will be with us lo unto the crack of doom. Otherwise things just might be too easy, and we can’t have that.

But it’s all done now. I’ve gotten both children through high school. I suppose a wee bit of pride is justified, though all I feel is the weary exhaustion and decompression of a major life goal reached. It was an Experience right down to the wire, as they say.

And…well, my children are hilarious, beautiful, kind, crackerjack-brilliant human beings. I can’t wait to see what they do next, and I’m utterly grateful both of them want me in their lives to witness it.

All’s well that ends well, and all that. I’ve got to get back to work…

…but that’s (say it with me) another blog post.

Saturday’s Solitude

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I drove west on Saturday, then back east again loaded with seedlings and starts. The plants were only an excuse, though collecting them was pleasant in the extreme (thank you, MZ, a thousand blessings upon your household). The real reason for the trip was two hours spent completely alone in the car each direction.

I love, crave, and need my solitude. Oddly, though, I’ve never been able to afford living alone. There’s always been roommates, and then there were the kids. With them in school, or one in school and one working, I could get a few hours of blessed alone-time fairly regularly.

Then lockdown happened. And while I have doors to shut and morning runs to perform, it’s not exactly the same.

So it was absolutely healing to get in the car and spend hours with just myself, the engine, and my thoughts. I feel like a new woman. It also helps that the drive over the coast range is spectacularly beautiful. Living here is lovely; there’s the sea within a few hours’ drive1, the mountains in either direction, and dry sage land should I want it accessible within a few hours as well. All in a place with enough rain to suit me2 and a distinct lack of bite-y, venomous things. It’s pretty perfect.

So, things I saw on the drive:

  • A marsh, still mirror-ponds populated by the begging fingers of dead trees, with long-legged birds casually munching amid the stilts;
  • Veils of rainy cloud on thickly wooded mountainsides;
  • A green hippie bus with “WE STOP FOR YOU” painted on the side and a group of brightly clad people stretching their legs during a short halt;
  • A smooshed porcupine, with a few crows dancing excitedly at such a feast (be careful, my friends, those quills are nasty business);
  • A shed or shipping container (not quite sure) with the evocative legend “SLEEPING PREACHER” spray-painted on its front and sides, so traffic both directions could read and wonder;
  • The faroff distant smear of the sea, singing its lonely song;
  • Moss hanging in great veils in a pocket temperate rainforest;
  • Tiny towns with strange names and chainsaw art in the front yard of many a proud home;
  • A hawk diving for lunch on a sunny field;
  • Many, many grazing animals, including cows, alpacas, and I think I even glimpsed a llama.

In short, a good time was had by all, and I get to spend my lunch hour today getting some starts into the ground. There wasn’t time Saturday after I got home–the Princess had spent the day prepping for a pierogi feast, and of course that took up the remainder of the evening. Sunday was spent on household chores and stretching out, since it’s been a long, long while since I’ve had a car ride of that duration.

I feel ever so much better. And I also took a few social media apps off my phone. My blood pressure doesn’t need them; I just can’t even anymore. It will mean greater productivity and less desire to just crawl under my bed and hide. It’s the latter I’m aiming for.

I hope your weekend held many likewise pleasant things, my friends. Now I get to have a bit of toast and look over the day’s work–I think we’ll have a reindeer ride accompanied by giant wolves on the way to a hidden city, and the rest of the combat scene I didn’t finish after all last week, as well as the planting and the watering. We also had some rain, which was glorious though uncharacteristic for June.

Of course the dogs are very interested in the prospect of toast crusts followed by walkies. And there’s probably some more coffee in my future, too. All in all, despite the fact of Monday, things seem somewhat reasonable chez Saintcrow right now.

I can only hope it lasts.