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Making Things out of Stuff

I spent yesterday morning walking around our legislative district to sign people up for the permanent early voting list, and the afternoon drilling and sanding stuff, and now I can't move. Or I can, but I'd rather not. Why does civic responsibility have to involve so much exercise and talking to people who'd rather be doing anything but talking to you?

On the bright side, my canvasing partner and I did actually sign one person up, and spent fifteen or twenty minutes listening to an older gentleman expound upon his ideas for solving the homeless veteran problem in the event that he won the lottery. We had almost thirty addresses on our list, but due to locked gates, dogs in the yard, and whatnot, we only knocked on about half of the doors. Of the houses we could get to, only about a third of them answered the door. Which is about par for the course, apparently.

Yesterday afternoon, we finished up the skillet rack. In our last installment, we spray painted the Probably Part Of An Old TV Tower Or Something, hereinafter known as the skillet rack, and put together the base. So here I’m finishing the base and attaching the rack to the base. I took a belt sander to the base to even it out some, since I was using scrap lumber and it was pretty warped. Once that was done, I attached cross braces – this is what it will stand on. I put furniture glides on the bottom of the feet. (Hands pictured are those of my lovely assistant.) After marking the place where the three corners of the rack would sit, I drilled guide holes…

And then used a borer bit to make holes for the aluminum poles I aimed to set the rack onto. Those were just some leftover aluminum tubing I had from a previous project. We set them in the holes in the base…

…and I put rubber cane feet on the bottoms, so they wouldn’t scratch the floor. I used wood glue to keep them from sliding around in the holes during the next step: attaching the rack. The aluminum poles slide right into the larger poles of the rack.

Then I painted the base to match the rack, and let everything dry overnight.

We used these S-bend hook things you can get at any hardware store to hang the skillets on:

Ta Da! One space-saving skillet rack!

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Various things

Was finally able to get the estate account set up last week and pay myself back for the cost of Mom's funeral. Hopefully that will repair the damage to my credit rating. :P Reading up on Stuff That An Executor Can do, it looks like I can indeed sell the few pieces of furniture and stuff that no one wants, and dump the money into the estate account to be divided up. Not that the lot of it is worth more than a couple hundred dollars tops, but it would get it off my porch. I need to check with the lawyer to see if it's all right if I ship the things people do want to my brother and our cousin now, or if I have to wait until the estate closes. Mom's will makes no specific bequests of items, so I hope I can do that, as they're the things taking up the most porch room.

Otherwise, I'm feeling mostly OK, though there's a persistent sense that I'm forgetting something, that there's something I'm failing to do. And then I remember, oh yeah. Mom. I suppose that will last for a while. Ma-san has taken to sitting beside me in my armchair in the evenings – she would prefer to sit on my lap, but I usually have the computer there. It's taken three years, but she's actually a very sweet cat once she accepts that you're not trying to murder her. I don't think she's doing it on purpose – she just likes this chair–but it's nonetheless sort of comforting.

Back in the world of normal everyday stuff, I've been making a desultory attempt to winnow down my wardrobe. I have a history of buying random assortments of clothes that I think look nifty. This is sadly easy to do when you get most of your clothes from thrift stores. Then I end up deciding they don't look as good on me as they did on the hanger, or that they're scratchy or too hot or the sleeves are the wrong length, and they end up just taking up closet space, of which I don't have much. In the past couple of years, though, I've been making an effort to develop a personal style: something that's comfortable and looks good on me, composed of pieces that go well together when mixed and matched. I have a color palette and everything.

Now that I more or less know what look I'm going for, I've been going through the closet and getting rid of the things that don't fit the idiom. (This is just for my normal clothes – I'm keeping things that are seasonal/sentimental/for costuming.) It's going fairly well except for the jackets. I am a sucker for jackets, especially leather jackets. This being Phoenix, there is no way in hell that I need all the jackets I have, but so far I've only been able to bear to get rid of one or two of them. Tomorrow, though, I am determined to bit the bullet and cut it down to... well, five or six. Maybe eight. We'll see.

I promised to help do some canvassing tomorrow morning – our legislative district is trying to sign people up for the permanent early voting (vote by mail) list. I am not particularly looking forward to it, but it's one of those things that Needs Doing.

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Latest project

Latest project in progress. We have no free wall space in the kitchen, and we're tired of the skillets being piled up on the stove, so I'm making a standing rack to hang them on. We got this thing at the Place That Sells Artsy Scrap Metal -- I don't know what it is, but someone spray painted it green, which is right out. We sanded it down a little (it's aluminum, I think, not cast iron -- way too light to be iron). This is before and after the first coat of spray paint (Rustoleum Hammered.)

I plan to make a base for it, as it's fairly tall and I don't want it tipping over. That's the wooden thing -- some scrap boards I had lying around the yard, glued together and clamped. The boards are kind of warped, so once the glue is good and dry I'm going to take a belt sander to it and even it out some. I want it to look rustic-ish so it doesn't have to be perfect, but it can't wobble. Once the base is sufficiently stable, I have a Clever Plan for affixing the Thing to it. More pictures next week.

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Feb. 2nd, 2018

There's a very loud stray cat on our front porch. He looks to be no more than a year old, isn't neutered, and is WAY too friendly to be a feral. He desperately wants us to stay out there and pet him, or better yet, let him in. Someone probably dumped him. If we didn't already have four cats and a large dog in a very small house, I would seriously consider taking him in, but unfortunately, we do. We set out some food for him and I guess we'll see if he's still there tomorrow. :/

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Saying goodbye

Mom's memorial service was today. It was just a small family affair: me, my wife, my brother, my cousin Linda, my late sister's husband, and a few family friends. Afterwards we went out for lunch at what we thought was an IHOP, but turned out to be an IHOF -- the International House of Food. But they made a mean waffle so that was all right, at least until IHOP's lawyers come for them and their very-similar logo.

Anyway, I wrote the eulogy, and here it is, in loving memory of my mother, Kathleen M. Cummings.


There are two stories that sum up my mother. When we were cleaning out her house after she moved into assisted living, I found a folder with two letters in it. One of them was a carbon copy of a typewritten note composed by Mom, dated 1966, and addressed to the IRS. It said, more or less, "No, you are wrong. I do NOT owe you this money, and here are the figures to prove it." And the second one was the reply from the IRS, saying, more or less, "You're absolutely right, ma'am, sorry to have bothered you."

Back in the 1980s, I had been living with Kathy for a couple of years, and I knew that she was the person I wanted to spend my life with. I had to tell Mom, and I was terrified. It took me months to bring the subject up, and when I finally worked up the courage to tell her that Kathy and I weren't just roommates, Mom looked me straight in the eye and said, "Yes, dear. I know." And from that day she never treated Kathy as anything other than her daughter-in-law.

Several years ago I was talking to Mom, and she told me that she feared that because she'd never (as she put it) done anything with her life, it had been largely wasted. What I told her then, and what I still believe now, was this: None of us know for certain what comes next. What we do know for certain is that right here, right now, we can touch other people's lives for the better. And every time we do that, we are not touching only that one person, but all the people they touch in their turn, and so on, and so on. The smallest act of kindness can echo down the centuries, invisible, but nonetheless potent. No life spent making other lives better can truly be said to have been wasted.

And Mom touched so many other lives, in so many ways. She taught Sunday School. She led a Girl Scout troop. If there was a board or a committee or an association, she was a member, if she wasn't running it outright. She wasn't rich, but she contributed to a dozen charities religiously, for as long as I can remember. For the vast majority of my life, Mom was my rock – whenever I needed her, she was there, whether it was for advice, or a loan, or an emergency pet sitter. And for the last few years of her life, I did my best to be her rock in return. Mom could drive me crazy, and she often did. But she was an amazing person. She loved her children and her grandchildren. She was smart, and she was tough, and she was determined, and she was one of the best human beings I have ever known. If I am in any way a good person, it's because of the example she set.

I still can't believe she's gone. But wherever Mom is now, her kindness and her strength live on here, in everyone she ever touched. Forever, and ever.

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Life goes on

Until it doesn't, anyway. I'm mostly Ok, I suppose. It's almost like part of me still thinks Mom is here, and I'm fine, until something happens to forcibly remind me she's not, and then I'm not so fine for a bit. In a way, I think I did a lot of my grieving for her over the summer, when I was so afraid that she wouldn't come back mentally from the broken hip -- I was terrified back then. I think I alarmed Kathy a couple of times, because I was really breaking down. But now... there's nothing to be scared of any longer. The worst has already happened. So I'm sad, but it's a lot quieter.

The estate paperwork is plodding along. I want to get everything finished, but it's going to be at least another week before I can be officially appointed executor, and four months before I can close the estate, because we have to wait for creditors and stuff. I am so, so, SO glad we sold or divided up 99% of the furniture and stuff when we sold the house, because apparently I'm supposed to make an inventory of anything valuable that was in Mom's possession at her death. It would have been an absolute nightmare.

Today we did good things, though. Kathy made waffles, and I cleaned some of the kitchen cabinets. We took Bo over to Home Depot and bought fertilizer and a couple of roses, Golden Glow and Chrysler Imperial. I fed the citrus and the fig tree in the front, and the pomegranate and the grapes in the back. I also dug up the ratty wild lantana bushes in the front yard, which I have been meaning to do for awhile, and we planted the roses. (Should I ever regret removing the lantana, they have shed enough seeds to provide us with volunteer bushes for the next five years at least.) Afterwards we went to see The Last Jedi, and it was OK. Not great, but OK. I like Rey and Finn and Rose, Leia was awesome, and the porgs weren't nearly as annoying as the Ewoks were. The tactical stupidity of several scenes annoyed me, but I've come to expect that in movies like this.

I got a little work done on the next chapter of POM done this week, too. Very, very little, but it's better than none.

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Well then

I talked to my mother's primary care physician today. She called to ask a few questions for the paperwork on Mom's death certificate, and to give her condolences -- she said many nice things about Mom, and told me that I shouldn't feel responsible in any way; that even if I had taken Mom to the hospital on Thursday, the outcome might not have been any different, given her age and other health issues. She told me that instead I should be proud of the fact that Mom had made such a good recovery after getting out of rehab for her hip, which she felt was largely due to me going to bat for her, and was generally complimentary about the way I'd taken care of her for the last few years. I thanked her and hung up the phone and broke down sobbing all over Kathy, because while everyone's been telling me more or less the same thing, hearing it from her doctor was...well, honestly, a huge relief.

Everyone keeps asking how I'm doing, and...I don't know. I'm coping, obviously: doing all the things I need to do. I just feel like there's this enormous blank space inside, and sometimes it gets filled up with sad, and sometimes I'm just plowing blindly through all these tasks to keep from thinking about it. I'm very glad that Kathy and my brother are here; if I had to do this by myself I think I'd have snapped by now.

Anyway... Friday I made the arrangements with the funeral home and the cemetery for Mom to be cremated and her ashes buried in the same plot where my father is. Then I went home and was as sick as a dog, because apparently the last thing my mother gave us was her cold. :/ Kathy started feeling it Wednesday, and I came down with it Friday, and proceeded to pass it on to my brother when he flew in Saturday night. I felt like deep-fried crap on toast from Saturday through Monday, but we went over and started to clear out Mom's apartment on Sunday anyway. We took her clothes and a bunch of small things to Goodwill. Monday I did nothing but mainline Nyquil. Tuesday I rented a Uhaul and we went over and got the furniture that we wanted to keep or sell, and turned in Mom's keys. I talked to the director of the assisted living place, and she said they could dispose of the pieces we didn't want. At some point all the various caretakers and activity people who'd worked with Mom came by and told us how glad they'd been to have her there, and so did the upper-level administrator types, which was really nice -- Mom lived in the old place for two and a half years and I don't think the admin staff there knew her from Adam.

This afternoon we (Me, Kathy, and my brother) met with the lawyer about Mom's will -- I never thought that Mom would have any money left by the time she died, but since that happened a few years sooner than I expected it would, she does. Not a huge amount, but it still has to go through probate. We've got to get a copy of my sister's death certificate, since Mom's will named her as executor and me as the secondary, and Mom never got around to changing it after my sister got too sick to handle it. Since my sister's share of the estate will now go to her children, who are minors, we have to jump through some hoops to set that up for them. I have a huge stack of paperwork to go through to get made a fiduciary, yay. But for all that, the lawyer said that this should be a relatively uncomplicated probate -- there are a few creditors that I know of, but not many, and there's nothing being contested. (In fact, she told us it was a rare pleasure to work with a family that WASN'T fighting over the estate.)

After we got home, I spent a couple of hours sorting through the boxes we brought back from the apartment, shredding old checks, and that kind of thing. I'll have to have my brother over before he leaves (he's staying with a friend) to see if he wants anything. There's not much left at this point, because we divided up most of the important things when we sold the house, but there are a few small pieces of jewelry and whatnot.

Tomorrow we take her obituary over to the funeral home and talk to them about a memorial service. Guess I'd better get some sleep.

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On Wednesday Mom called to tell me she had come down with a cough and was having trouble breathing again. I went over to see her, and made an appointment with her doctor for Friday morning, the soonest I could get. Thursday I called her on the phone to see how she was doing; she was hoarse and said she was feeling worse. Thursday evening, according to the caretaker I spoke to, they asked if she wanted to go to the hospital. Mom refused, said she was fine, and that she was going to see her doctor the next day.

At 4:00 am Friday morning I got a call from the assisted living place to tell me that Mom had died. She stopped breathing some time in the night. They called the paramedics, but they couldn't revive her. Too much fluid in her lungs.

I had an appointment set up with her doctor today.

I should have just taken her in to the hospital the minute I knew she was having problems.

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Things accomplished

Got all the cards mailed yesterday -- late, but I got it done before Christmas, so I count that as a win. They are a motley assortment this year; when we cleared out Mom's house a couple of years ago, one of the many things I found was a lot of unused Christmas cards, apparently made up of odds and ends of boxes acquired over many years. They didn't sell at any of the yard sales, and being my mother's daughter, I couldn't justify throwing away a box of Perfectly Good Cards. So for the last several years I've been trying to use them up, and this year saw the last of them mailed out. So if some of you get cards that look as if they were printed in the 1950s, they probably were. Next year, ALL NEW CARDS WOOT!

I also got the last of my family shopping done, though I left it so late that some of the things won't be delivered until after Christmas. :P I'm a little sad about not doing cookies this year. We didn't have time, and I certainly don't miss the stress of packing them and mailing them. But we've done them for so long that it feels like we're missing something.

Mom's been having some trouble breathing -- excess fluid in her lungs, according to the chest x-ray. The doctor ordered a short course of diuretics, which will hopefully take care of it. Otherwise, she'd doing pretty well.

Been grinding for Strange Chests in the Night of the Nocturne event over at Flight Rising. I haven't found any breed change scrolls yet this year, but I have found a fair number of eggs, and have bought a bunch more while the egg market is flooded and prices are low. Having zero self control, I hatched a lot of the eggs (if I were smart, I'd stick them in my hoard and sell them six or nine months from now when the prices have doubled.) As is to be expected, most of the hatchlings are fairly meh, but I have gotten a few very nice ones -- a moon/berry/ruby male, an antique/thistle/wine female, a vermillion/cobalt/spring male (eyeburner, but he rocks it), and a tangerine/silver/robin female (sounds like a weird combo, but the skink/spinner accent colors tie it all together). I also got two doubles -- a chartreuse/terracotta/chartreuse, which I am going to sell because, well, chartreuse, and a sky/sky/stonewash. I could auction that last one off for SO. MUCH. DRAGON. CASH., but I'm an idiot, so I'm going to keep him and spend a fortune gening him instead.

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Why is it...

That no matter what you buy or how little you buy it for, you always find a cheaper one a few days later?

I got a little unexpected Christmas money, and I decided to use some of it to get something I've wanted for awhile: a long black leather coat. Partly because I like the aesthetic, and partly because I thought I could use it for a Spike cosplay at Whedoncon. I had one once, but it was one of those ones made up of patchwork scraps and never looked quite right. (Also it was really stiff leather, and it squeaked whenever you moved in it, which was... unnerving.) I've been scouting the local Goodwills for a better one for years, and there's never been one with the right look. So I did some looking around on Ebay, found a used one of decent quality for a reasonable price, and proceeded to order it. The next day I went over to Goodwill to pick up a red dress shirt and a black t-shirt, and what do you suppose I saw? Yep. A black leather longcoat, for about half what I'd paid for the one I ordered. Sigh.

I think the one I got is probably in better condition, and probably a slightly better quality coat, so I will console myself with that.

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February 2018



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