Finding the “For Real” in My Disastrous Self-Talk

There seems to be a lot picking at me lately, and I’m having trouble finding the good.

It’s coming from everywhere…

  •                I have a new boss now—actually, I have a new boss every year, given my role on campus—and I’m feeling wrong-footed and awkward and like I’ve forgotten how to do half my job.
  •                I just spent two months working a part-time job rather than not work at all for that time, and taking a week off during that time, while it’s not a problem for some people, has real consequences for us. I feel like it’s going to be a long time before we get out of the hole again—well, we won’t get out of the hole necessarily, but it’ll be a while before we quit juggling bills and paychecks and due dates quite so strenuously.
  •                Every time I turn on the news there’s nary a corner of the world that doesn’t have people doing something monumentally stupid—to put it nicely. This evening there was strong suspicion a reporter was beheaded on film. Countries who have probably long since forgotten why they hate each other continue to bomb each other to bits. We can all be sure, also, that there’s a Kardashian or a Bieber or someone else whom we have made a celebrity for no reason at all doing something monumentally stupid, and making money hand over fist all the while.
  •                People just can’t stop killing each other in our own country, for stupid reasons. They can’t stop killing themselves, either. “Riot” and “racism” and “Parkinson’s” and “suicide” produce a nearly visceral reaction in me this week. While I acknowledge that they all exist and we should all take them seriously, I’m weary. I just can’t think about it anymore.
  •                The university’s Provost mentioned in a meeting today that healthcare premiums and copays are going to go up again. The university employs well over 1,000 people, but it seems that a mere 300 of them ran up 70% of the healthcare costs over the last year. We already haven’t been going to the doctor because sometimes we just don’t have the $15 to go, and it will be going up to $25 next year. I hope those 300 really needed that healthcare.
  •                I watch people who should be actively working to help themselves drag their feet—perhaps because if they face things, it will be real. There’s a real pull within me to bail these people out like I always have, but they have to climb out of their own pile of manure just like I am. It’s the only way to grow up.
  •                I even feel like I failed as a gardener this year, because my freezer isn’t full of the fruits of what little labor it takes to keep a 12X12 garden going. It’s not a great deal of food, but it helps, and knowing I’m going to have to do without even that little cushion prompts a sense of failure.

These and a million other little teeny pinpricks of irritation, sadness, and apathy seem to pull at my senses and drag me down to a level of cynicism and wariness that’s hard to slog through.

Intellectually, I know it’s just a matter of time before things turn around, in my own mind before in front of my own two eyes, naturally. I used to tell my patients that all the time. I also used to tell them to focus on not only the happy, but the realistic.

The “For Reals” in this entry are:

  •                I do have a new boss this year, and it just so happens that this is his first year ever at it. I don’t know what his preferences are, but I am looking forward to working with an individual who seems to be a person of instant decision and even quicker desire to do what is right. I’m likely not the only one feeling wrong-footed here. Things are changing for everyone, and it will take a while to run at full speed again.
  •                Instead of giving up for two months, I DID work that part-time job and contributed to the household. We were short money, and I did take a week off for no pay in July, but it was for a good reason and it was good for me. I am back to full-time hours now and things will even out—sort of.
  •                There are always going to be people around the world doing things that are considered monumentally stupid by one group or another. Whether I give it more energy than it deserves is up to me.
  •                People are also doing extraordinary things FOR each other, not just TO each other. Unfortunately, we are a society of rubberneckers and reality television junkies, and the more shocking stuff is what makes headlines. If I’m to snap out of this, I need to bury my head in the sand, so to speak, and focus on what’s going on in my own head and my own home for a while.
  •                Healthcare premiums are always going to go up, sure as God made little fishes. There’s nothing I can do about any of that. What I can do is continue to work on taking the best care of myself that I can, and if I can’t, then I can’t. Those situations are what healthcare coverage is for. Additionally, those 300 people don’t have to answer to me. They have their own battles. To quote Wil Wheaton, “Don’t be a dick.”
  •                I can’t continue to bail people out, because it’s not fair to them. I’m doing them a disservice by taking on what they won’t. It’s also not fair to me. I shouldn’t expect myself to do things for others that I am expected to do for myself.
  •                This summer was weird, weather wise. Just because I had a good year for tomatoes last year doesn’t mean it will be good this year. My .0033 acre (I looked that up!) is just as vulnerable to weather and vermin as any other, and gardening takes some measure of luck as well as knowledge.

This is the point in the conversation where I tell my patients to “fake it ‘til they make it.”

Easy, right? Hardly, but it can be done. There are all kinds of ways to accomplish this.

One way I do that is to jam the headphones in my ears and turn on Pandora. I’m actually listening to it as I write this.

Another way is to make myself laugh. Here are some of my current favorite videos:

Soon I will feel lighter, smarter, and happier again. For now I’m still “faking it.”

Container Garden Successes and Flops, 2014

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This year, in addition to the usual tomatoes and onions in my garden, I decided to give some herbs a try, as well as miniature pumpkins and a couple of easy flowers. Sounds simple enough, right?

If I take nothing else away from this year’s experience, I will remember that pumpkins, miniature or no, have no place in a 12×12 porch—unless you harbor some bizarre fantasy of hacking through the vines on your way to walking the dog or especially like hearing, “FEED ME, SEYMOUR!” whenever you step into your container garden. At any rate, you’re risking your life.

I planted two innocuous-looking seeds in my little newspaper planters and watched them sprout demurely, greeting the sun with palm-sized leaves, hopeful that I had found another productive crop for my humble little garden. Four weeks later, I couldn’t find the 2×6 foot table they were planted in for all the vines, leaves the size of platters, and fist-sized blooms I could almost see growing before my eyes!

Note to self: pumpkins make great, fast-growing house camouflage.

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I also planted some herbs this year, mostly in the hope that the dastardly tomato piranha would stay away—I had read on several sites that the fragrance of dill in particular was something they didn’t like. Just to see how they would do in my containers, I also added parsley, spearmint, oregano, sage, and basil.

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They thrived in my containers. So much so that a Black Swallowtail Butterfly decided my parsley and dill were the perfect home for its larvae. At one point I actually counted nine white, black, and yellow caterpillars munching away at my fragrant, lush herbs. At the time I write this, two are still munching away at my nearly skeletonized dill, two are still cocooned in my sage, and one has emerged and flown away. I’m sure there are others who remain hidden, preferring to gorge themselves away from an audience. It’s been fun to watch, actually.

I told my mother about our new critters, and she said something about how our garden attracts every wayward and weird creature imaginable…if you call “I had only seen maybe two tomato hornworms in my life, and you practically have a breeding ground for them over there, and now this!” any indication.

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Naturally, none of these measures so much as dented the enthusiasm of the tomato piranhas, who made straight for my beefsteaks and my grape tomatoes and chowed down with great energy. The infestation was not as bad as in previous years, when I found upwards of two dozen, but their presence in smaller numbers was still enough to ignite my ire. I got my revenge when I pulled them off the plant and tossed them under my neighbor’s heavily patronized bird feeder.

I wish I could say I did the same to the aphids. Sigh. Just can’t get rid of those buggers, either.

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Growing tomatoes from seed did work very well. The Patio Princess and Beefsteak varieties provided many tomatoes and fared well, despite the worms and aphids. A recent cold snap is currently preventing the remaining green fruits to ripen, and they linger, soaking up rain and hosting scads of aphids.

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The onions did very well this spring. I planted some 350 bulbs in my 2×6 table and ended up with enough fresh to last us for weeks, as well as a gallon bag of chopped and frozen to use in cooking this fall. I prefer using the ones I grow to those available in the store because they’re more flavorful and I get more bang for my buck, as it were.

We’re already thinking about next year…Bald Guy picked up some PVC at work that was being thrown away, and visions of new cold frames have been dancing in our heads ever since. I’ve been considering all kinds of designs, from the existing dowel-and-sliding-door-plastic to the 2-liter-bottle-wall to the clear-rigid-wall variety. Who knows? I’m looking forward to extending my growing season either way.

Heck, I’ll probably plant dill and parsley again next year, just for the butterflies. :)

 

Today’s High Cost of Living (with Myself at the End of the Day)

I am a forty-three year old wife and mom living in the Midwest. I currently work at a local university as a secretary. This ten-months-per-year position is the best-paying job I’ve had since 2007, before I obtained my B.S. degree.

I have an M.S. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from said university, which I obtained in 2010 after deciding five years before (when the automobile industry tanked) that the job at the factory I was working in twenty miles from home (which was dependent on said auto industry) was not worth the time, the headaches, the carpal tunnel, or listening to my brain rot.

I am now in debt to various student loan agencies by roughly $45,000. I’m in debt to my mother for another $25,000 in living expenses.

Despite the fact that there was a broken record in my head playing, “…you’re in debt…get to work…just take anything…” I stayed where I spent my internship and placement, a local hospital’s acute psychiatric unit—part time. Others in my cohort were working at other community mental health sites in the area, or in their hometown in another state—full-time. They’re all doing well, and enjoying what they do. I could have done what they were doing, and swallowed my misgivings and my pride and followed them into that game of Russian Roulette called “Find a Place to Work You Can Be Halfway Proud Of”, but I heard what happened in some of these community sites, usually firsthand accounts from patients at the hospital where I worked who were recommended to them for long-term outpatient treatment, and decided to stay where I was, in the hope that all the talk of hospital expansion would finally cease to be just talk and my place as a therapist in the community would be established. I liked the people I worked with, and I was proud to work among such dedicated professionals.

Naturally, all the talk was…just that.

I hung in there for what started out to be “just a little while…several months at the most…there are plans in the works.” Five years later I was working 16 hours a week at a wage that would have been livable if it were full-time. Instead I was making almost as much as someone working full-time for minimum wage.

I stayed because I didn’t want to lose my skills, but I quickly realized I had no place in the world of community mental health. I saw other area mental health centers tossing out PTSD and Bipolar Disorder diagnoses, like candy at a parade, to those who actually had personality disorders or a simple inflated sense of entitlement. I watched, dumbfounded, while practitioners with less education were assigned those who most desperately needed care—the actively psychotic, the poor, the criminal, the addicted—and through no fault of their own, ineptly meted out the prescribed “treatments” that look so good to administrators and paper-pushers but have no real effect on the lives of their recipients. That place in particular hosted several of my contemporaries as interns, and hearing recordings of sessions in class was nothing short of excruciating for me—rules there dictated that they type their notes while the client poured their heart out throughout the session. They are without a doubt among the rudest incidents I’d ever heard in my life.

Eventually my own workplace became unbearable. I documented lists of medications half a mile long prescribed by other area psychiatrists and general practitioners which kept patients too dopey to care about building their coping skills or working on relationships with family members. I listened, agog, while the only psychiatrist worth his salt in the entire five years I had been there spoke of an administration which complained that he wasn’t keeping patients on the unit for the seven-to-ten days they insisted they stay, regardless of diagnosis or their need to even be there. I sat in on a conversation with fellow staff as they related a story about a young woman in my cohort, with whom I had done my placement at the hospital, who actually called the unit from her current workplace and complained that our psychiatrist removed most of a nursing home resident’s medication in favor of outpatient therapy and building skills for living independently (as HIV is certainly no reason to be placed in a nursing home—and neither is a personality disorder). Within days, he was doped up again, and all hopes of independence were surely dashed. I talked with an elderly woman from Lafayette, Louisiana, who thanked us profusely for the care given to her manic brother, stating, “Most other places wouldn’t do what y’all are doing for him…if I didn’t know any better, I’d think y’all were Southern.” When did making sure he had shoes (her brother showed up without them) and a taxi to the Greyhound station become too much to expect?

The straws that broke the camel’s back came very quickly, one right after the other. My supervisor and mentor of five years was written up by the administration, ostensibly because he was short with the nurses and refused to help them when asked, but probably because we were the only psych unit in the hospital chain in our state which still had a full-time psychologist. Three guesses who that was? (Anyone who has worked with this man will tell you he drops everything to help out when needed, usually to his own detriment.) He decided to work with patients in an outpatient setting at a well-established practice among the best practitioners in the area, and was gone within a month. A licensed Social Worker was hired, part-time, to “help with weekends and other coverage” instead of bumping me up to full-time work. A psychiatrist who previously worked at the hospital was courted by administration and cajoled into coming back to run the unit, and the thought of again watching him cater to sociopaths after drugs and little old ladies with money and a taste for Valium sickened me. Finally, the MBA who ran the unit (into the ground, with the blessing of administration) took a PowerPoint presentation I had sent her to keep her in the loop regarding the family education group I volunteered to run and presented it to some corporate people as her own work.

By then I had been looking for another job for over a year. The day I found out about the PowerPoint, I began looking outside my intended career path. Not only had I received more than enough crystal clear messages that I didn’t belong in that career, I could no longer stand to perpetuate the machine. The last bastion of compassionate, intelligent acute community mental health treatment in my area was gone. The lighthouse had been snuffed.

I took the job I have now, stating I could start immediately. After getting over 1000 free internship hours out of me, every holiday except Thanksgiving and Christmas, and every weekend for three years straight, I left them to figure out how to cover weekend groups, individual therapy, intakes, discharges, and paperwork by themselves—just the way I had to do it.

I took a pay cut of well over five dollars an hour, yet still manage to bring home $500 more every month, as well as participate in the university’s pension program. My husband and I are able to build a savings, meager though it is. We are slowly catching up on bills we abandoned in favor of keeping a roof over our heads and utilities on, which was difficult enough at that time. The flareups of the joint condition I was diagnosed with (and could not afford to medicate, since finding the right med requires sick time and money to achieve) diminished immediately and considerably.

After only two weeks in my new job, my husband said he noticed I laugh more and sleep better.

After three weeks, a faculty member from the committee I type notes for examined my first effort documenting minutes of a recent meeting and told my supervisor I just freed him from two hours of editing.

After four weeks, my supervisor noticed I express myself well, especially in writing, and gave me opportunities to make extra cash by composing documents and PowerPoints for his use.

By summer, because my supervisor recommended me based on my writing and organizational skills, I had secured a part-time position for the summer gathering data for a college’s upcoming reaccreditation process. It wasn’t full-time work, but it kept me busy, and we had something coming in.

Five months after leaving my job at the hospital, I saw the MBA and her husband at the symphony performance where I was working my second job as a part-time usher. She came to me and brightly but awkwardly introduced me to her husband, who glared at me as if I just punched his wife in the face. She introduced me as her “tireless weekend worker,” and I managed to refrain from throwing back, “Well, you wore her out.” I am a professional, you know. I decided later on that being observed by her in my polyester blazer and ridiculous tie and escorting little old ladies off the elevator and telling them where the bathrooms are was not something to be ashamed of. I decided that she should be ashamed. A therapist from her unit would rather wear a ridiculous blazer and tie and make minimum wage holding the elevator for little old ladies than work for her. I hope that sunk in. I really do. I realize that I’m holding her accountable for an entire system rife with ineptitude, detachment, and outright greed, but like it or lump it, she is my personal icon for all that is wrong with the morass laughingly referred to as “community mental health care.”

We’re still in debt, and there are still areas of our lives which have been severely neglected for years—medical checkups, dental appointments, eye examinations, and home and car repairs come immediately to mind—but we’ve been neglecting a lot for a long time, and it will take time to catch up with it all.

The price I paid for remaining in that career for as long as I did was too high for me. I cast aside my own self-care for it. I missed out on time with family. I worked myself into the ground for a system that didn’t care as long as papers were pushed and ever-decreasing funds were distributed.

The cost of living with myself at the end of the day is greater than I can define. I will never be that professional I once aspired to be. In exchange, I will eventually have my home, water and electricity, my sanity, and my relationships. Heck, we may even be able to get along without needing my mother to buy our groceries twice a month! I won’t dream yet of obtaining other luxuries yet such as medical, dental, and eye care or even a simple weekend vacation…don’t want to lose myself in fantasies just yet.

Such is the life of the working poor.

 

Maggie: A Four-Legged Adoption Story

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Maggie, lounging in the shade.

Maggie is the newest critter to join us at our house of wayward and weird. As far as we can tell, she is some sort of German Shepherd mix, but does sort of look like a Belgian Malinois to an extent.
We picked her up from a Humane Society event in early June. We had been looking at the local Humane Society website for a likely animal to adopt, and decided that Magnolia, which was the name the shelter folks gave her, was one we wanted to look at. She didn’t have too much puppy in her, as they said she was a year and a half old, but was still young enough and active enough to enjoy a hopefully long and happy life with us.

Sharing a chewie with the cat.

Sharing a chewie with the cat.

The Tall Bald Guy and I were both glad that she was at the PetSmart event, where only about a dozen pets were featured—though we looked forward to adopting our next pet from there, it would have been excruciating leaving the hundred or so other animals at the shelter. With the exception of perhaps a puppy or two, Maggie was the youngest dog there. I’m sure that was done on purpose, as most go to the shelter to adopt a puppy, who is less likely to have any issues/baggage/habits related to having been with a possibly abusive/neglectful owner. Seeing an older dog in person would probably make one more likely to consider choosing one over a puppy.

Staging a lie-in until the promise of "walks" is carried out.

Staging a lie-in until the promise of “walks” is carried out.

She was there with her Foster Dad, an older, calm man with what appeared to be a lot of patience. She bonded well with him—so much so that when we brought her to our house, she got out of the car and bolted to the first gray-haired man she saw (which is not difficult to find in our neighborhood), thinking he was him. He told us of her strange fascination with shoes, stating that he would come back home after an eight-hour shift and find her in the floor with his shoes in a circle around her. Maggie and Tyson, a 6-year-old boxer mix with boundless energy, were roomies.

Other shelter workers filled us in on her story. She was taken to the shelter in February of this year, accompanied by her eight puppies, half of which had “little stub tails.” Those adorable little stinkers were quickly adopted, and Maggie’s mood dropped without her pups around. Soon after, though, she was placed with a couple in their eighties. As far as we know everything was fine there, except for her tendency to jump their fence and run away, so she was taken back to the Humane Society. Another worker chimed in, saying, “When she came to the shelter the second time, she just flopped down and sighed, as if to say, ‘Not again.’ That’s when she stopped eating for the most part.” Maggie’s page on the website stated she was 32 pounds, but after looking at her ribsy, nearly gaunt figure, we guessed it may have been less by the time we came to adopt her.

Determined to sniff every inch of an Ohio rest area.

Determined to sniff every inch of an Ohio rest area.

I was especially taken with Maggie, whose quiet demeanor belied a scrappy, engaging persona she was only willing to share with the right family. I’m not sure whether The Tall Bald Guy really had a choice in the matter. Actually, the dog was for him. He was just not himself without Fiver around, and his well-being depends on having a four-legged buddy in the house. I’m still not sure whether he wanted to see if Maggie would fit with us as much as I did, or if he just agreed to let me decide which one to bring home. Regardless, we told the shelter workers we wanted to adopt her, and a joyful cheer rang up among them, happy that she was again chosen.

We filled out the paperwork and paid the fee, and The Tall Bald Guy waited outside with Maggie and talked with Foster Dad while I ran in to PetSmart and purchased bowls, a collar and leash, a toy or two, and some kibble. (Convenient, no? :)) Foster Dad insisted that we take the brown collar and leash she was wearing—the color of which matched her fur exactly—as well as her blanket and some of her special toys, but we politely declined, stating that he should keep those for the next foster dog. We did end up taking her collar and leash with us, as he insisted he probably wouldn’t be able to use them with his next dog, but replaced it with the bright pink and aqua collar we purchased, which was easier for the Tall Bald Guy, who’s basically blind in one eye, to see to hook up to a leash, especially at night.
After a 15-minute car ride up the highway (and many noseprints on the window), she arrived at our home, where she paced for a couple of hours, from room to room, door to window, trying to figure out how to get out and get back “home.” It was excruciating to watch. For the next few days, walks around the neighborhood were punctuated with sudden lunges at gray-haired men who resembled Foster Dad, only to be followed by a deflated, disappointed slump in posture.

How she spent the last 120-ish miles on the way home from PA–in my lap, on Bald Guy’s arm.

She is also afraid of men, which made her dealings with the Tall Bald Guy and the Boy strained at best. For the first several days she would have little to do with either of them; but one morning she relaxed around the Bald Guy and started to loosen up. Something in her mind clicked when he took one of Fiver’s toys and dangled it in front of her—suddenly she had a playmate! She transformed before our eyes, becoming the dog we were hoping she was all along, playing, yipping, nipping at her toy, and running up and down the hallway in delight. It was a leap of faith we were all glad she decided to take, for we were wondering whether she would ever relax around him—not that we would ever return her to the shelter, mind you, but we were beginning to think we were going to have an aloof, fearful dog for several years to come. Tall Bald Guy promptly called in at work and spent the day with his new buddy, and they wrestled and pranced and ate the day away.

The Boy, however, has had far more trouble in convincing Mags to trust him. It seems, after observing her for a couple of months, that she is afraid of young men. Especially young men with hair. Tall Bald Guy has an advantage here, for with his smooth noggin and tall frame he resembles very few people (except for maybe Vin Diesel and Bull Shannon from Night Court, whom I’ve always said he resembled). She growls whenever he is near. Granted, he works nights, and like many young men spends lots of time either out of the house or holed up in his room, so estimating his place in the pack is probably difficult for her to do. Other young men she likes to growl at (and sometimes nip at) include sons-in-law, nephews, and the landscape guys.

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I hope someday she begins to trust the Boy and the people of our neighborhood, who mean her no harm. Maggie’s delicate face and satellite-dish-ears, haunting brown eyes, and staccato prancing down the road endears her to them to no end.

What I Did This Summer

After a two-month hiatus I feel it’s time to get back at it and resume my regular postings of life as a forty-something food allergic frugal geek. I took some time off to work on a few different things and am ready to get back to the routine I prefer, nestled in my quiet office among the IT geeks on campus, typing my life away, answering phones, and trying not to crash the university website.

I have this feeling that I’ve been away for so long that I have to update cyberspace with a “How-I-Spent-My-Summer”-like entry, as if I’m due at show-and-tell and have nothing prepared. Hopefully this general update, with the promise of more detail later, will assuage my anxiety over catching up on things…is it anxiety or do I feel like I have so much to write about that I’m ready to bust? I suppose I’ll find out.

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Our Plott hound, Fiver, died in May, and the few weeks after his departure were quiet indeed. The silence that permeated our house was palpable, and every day was filled with reminders that there was no fuzzy barker to take outside, feed, or clean up after. Our cat Bubba valiantly took over his role and served us well over the three weeks in-between dogs–that’s the longest The Tall Bald Guy could go without having a dog in the house. Maggie the shepherd mix joined us in June, and she has really kept us on our toes!

Also in June we changed Internet providers and got rid of our house phone service. Our new Internet provider is the local cable company, whose service proved to be far more reliable and faster than our old provider–once the bugs were worked out. The savings per month is yet to be calculated, however, since we’ve not yet received a bill.

I was placed in a “No-Work Period” at my job, which means that for 2 1/2 months every summer my job essentially doesn’t exist. Too bad no one told the rest of campus that…anyhow, in the interim I worked a part-time job for another area of campus (for $500 less per month) but it kept me busy and we had some money coming in, anyway. It turned out to be an eight-week exercise in frustration on several levels.

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The garden has had its ups and downs, and experiments with new things produced some positive and some negative results. There are things you just can’t do in a 10×12 porch, and growing pumpkins is one of them. Apparently another is keeping the tomato hornworms away. On a positive note, we are now playing host to at least eight Black Swallowtail caterpillars.

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In mid-July we visited my mother-in-law in Pennsylvania. My husband’s enthusiasm to get back home and see the family did not translate this year to driving through the mountains like we were on a roller coaster and he needed a lead-ectomy (probably just big hills, but Indiana’s flat, people!), so I didn’t end up arriving at his mother’s like I was trying on Almay’s new Nausea line. We finished a lot around her house, she got to meet her new granddog, and I met another stepchild (4 more to go!) and two more grandchildren (one to meet yet). Navigating my food allergies and The Tall Bald Guy’s low-low-low carb diet was difficult when faced with an 86-year-old who loves to cook and can’t help but try to feed you at every turn, but we all learned a few new things. We even exchanged hand-knit scarves!

We came back from Pennsylvania’s mountain air to Indiana’s “Guess What? The Corn’s Tasseling!!” yellow, wheezy breezes. Fun, that. I’m sure it goes without saying that I was not in any way prepared for it…while we were in PA I remembered thinking, “Wow, maybe my allergies won’t be so bad this year.” Coming back to Indiana was a real kick to the sinuses.

Plans for fall and winter include clicker training for the new dog, a new cold frame for the garden table made from PVC scavenged from husband’s job, and resuming the knitting I neglected last year in favor of a second job. It’s never boring around here…