New Condo

The laundry’s not done.
The kids are not bathed.
There are so many boxes
Can’t get in the kitchen.
My fingers hurt.
My feet hurt.


The beds are assembled.
The beds are made.
We’re mostly moved in.
The kids are asleep.
My room is cozy.

We’re home.

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I can’t.

I can’t. I simply can’t force myself to do more anymore. I’ve thought of plenty of things still to do here in the house this last night we live here, but I can’t motivate myself to do even one of them this time. Even if I tell myself they need to be done, and actually do want to do a couple of them, I just can’t. There isn’t any more upmh, “go”, or gumption tonight.

I finally managed to drag myself off of bed when I remembered to take some Airborne (aka Emergen-C) because I just CAN’T GET SICK now. Even though I’ve been fighting off Aurora’s colds (one bad for 24 hours) and pinkeye all week, and now fighting off Amber’s bad cold (48 hours for her so far). So I’m sitting up now, brain still running, body only doing enough to get ready for bed and be able to sleep well tonight. Oh, and typing.

Good Night, All. Be well. Love you, Miss you. See you on the other side of this craziness!

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SSA Year 2: Mars

I realized that last year, my first year of being an SSA, was themed “Look Up!”

I have decided that this year for me as an SSA is to be themed “Mars.”

So here is my first part of that theme. I didn’t realize we’d failed at exploring Mars only one fewer times than we’ve succeeded!

FYI – NASA has two more Mars missions underway. 1 already launched, this past month, and should land before the end of this year. The other is a new rover slated for 2020.

Source All about our solar system, outer space and exploration

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Attuned – The Rise of Plastic

Chapter 1: Margaret

For two years I enjoyed being able to walk home after school and be the only one there. Most times my best friend Lexi joined me as far as the stoplight up at the main road. But this year was bringing a return to two children home at a time. Andrew was now a sophomore in college. My older sister Anne was away at Presdon Academy as a senior – the same place I was expected to go to after I finished this final year in middle school. Now that my younger brother James was eight, and I had to walk to his school first to pick him up and escort him home. The upside was I got my Mom to agree to let me go over to Lexi’s a few times a week once he was safely home.

Today, as usual, I arrived at the elementary school before James came to our meeting spot. It was the far front corner of the grassy rectangular lawn that spanned the side of the squat ugly orange brick school building. I used the time to throw together a new playlist on my mp3 player. Then I looked up to see if he was coming.

Instead, I saw two boys definitely older than James hovering over a little girl at the edge of the first and second grade playground. She was cowering next to the end a black plastic bench whose back curled up in such a way to make it look as if it was actually wrought iron. It caught my attention because they just looked menacing to me. They were making gestures that must have matched what they were saying. No one else on the playground seemed to care what was going on. I took out my earbuds so I could hear them.

“Failed! Failed! Failed your kin!” they were taunting her with the old rhyme. “You are just a waste of skin!”

I felt a little bad for her. As an attuned child with two older siblings that are both high achieving elementalists, I knew what it was like to be less than everyone else. But at least I wasn’t a Failed!

Suddenly I saw James running by. “Hang on,” he called to me as he threw his backpack down on the ground without stopping. He headed straight for the three kids.

One of the two older boys got close enough to the girl and pushed her down. They both laughed.

“Hey!” James yelled at them. They didn’t pay him any mind.

Then I saw… I saw James get mad. I’d never seen him take action when he got mad before, he’d only ever stormed off out of sight. But out here in the open, I saw two things. I saw what my little brother did when he was off upset by himself. And I saw the Distortion.

Detecting an Earth elementalist wasn’t my least favorite experience as an attuned, but it wasn’t my favorite either. The effect always stopped just short of hurting my eyes. Better to say it was disconcerting. It was like seeing a ripple of the person, whether or not the person was moving. Like a stone had been thrown at them and their position shifted just the slightest bit in all different ways. It was way worse to be standing right next to an Earth, because then I could hardly walk without the Distortion messing with my eyes, making it seem like the ground was moving underneath my feet whenever I tried to take a step – sometimes the ground seemed to move up on me and I’d stumble as if I’d miss going up a stair, sometimes it move down so it felt like I was falling just a little. Annoying!

Then James clocked the taller of the boys across his jaw. Both of them were surprised. The little girl crawled out of the way under the bench. Immediately the fight was on. James held his own for a minute. Then the trance of the fight let go of me and I realized I had to do something.

Thankfully I didn’t have to figure out what. A teacher reached the three boys before I did. James had a bloody nose. The other two had a black eye, a bloody lip, a missing tooth, and several cuts between them.

A second teacher arrived, and the three boys were taken off to the principal’s office while being told parents would be called. I went back and picked up James’ backpack. I stood for a moment trying to decide what to do. I ended up following the group.

At the principal’s office I asked after James. I was told by the office assistant that one of our parents would have to come get him. “Oh, okay. Thank you,” I replied, and headed out.

I thought about how Mom and Dad were going to react when they found out all that had happened. Mom would want to hear what I had seen. Which reminded me suddenly of what I had seen – James! James was an elementalist! So. Not. Great. Another sibling was an elementalist. With my luck, Little Lizzy was probably one too, and I’d be the only one of us that’s Attuned.

At least I got one more time to walk home by myself.


There wasn’t much to do once Mom got home with James. She was in constant motion, fretting over every little thing as she moved around the first floor of our house as aimlessly as a bee flies. Sometimes she was mumbling to herself, sometimes she was giving reminders to James or I. I answered, “Yes, Mom,” whenever it was my turn even though it probably didn’t matter. She wasn’t waiting for a response. But in case she expected one, I made sure to give it. I could tell she was worrying because she was doing everything almost at once to keep her mind busy: tending to James’ injuries, checking my homework – which wasn’t done yet because she was home early due to James’ fight – hanging coats that had fallen from their hooks, putting away papers that had been lying around for days, setting the informal dining table for dinner, ordering take out on the phone because she said she just couldn’t handle doing dinner tonight. She was forgetting it was Dad’s night to deal with dinner.

So I just sat on a stool by the island that was attached to one wall and separated the cooking side of the Kitchen from the large open eating area in front of the sliding doors that overlooked the deck and backyard. I could see most of the first floor from here. With the island to my right and the wall to backyard behind me, the family den was behind the open area to my left, and the hall which led to the front door, the stairs, and the door to the garage ended at the wall directly opposite me. While I couldn’t actually see into the formal dining room, it’s only two entrances where from the hall and the cooking side of the Kitchen, both of which were visible to me, so I could know who was in there. That only left our parents’ study out of sight, but no one but they two of them were allowed in there anyway.

James sat at the table the whole time not saying anything or looking at anyone. He stared at his hands as they lay on the table. Though I’m not sure he was actually seeing anything. He didn’t even flinch when Mom attempted to clean the blood off his shirt, nor when she got around to putting a plate in front of him between his arms.

We knew Dad was home by the sound of the garage door opening. A few minutes later the door that connected the garage to the hall opened. Dad was carrying Lizzy on one shoulder and had to stoop down low so as not to hit her head on the way in. He bounced her off his shoulder and slid her to the floor as she gleefully exclaimed, “Whee!”

“Philip,” my mother said with exasperation as she materialized in the hallway to help Lizzy out of her coat and shoes.

“Hello Caroline,” my father replied with effortless charm, and he leaned over and kissed Mom on the cheek while she was bent down with Lizzy. Even when he wasn’t trying, Dad had a natural aura of genuine likeable-ness about him. He removed his overcoat, hat, and shoes, then followed Mom towards James and I into the Kitchen open area.

“Go play, Elizabeth,” Mom said calmly.

My little four year old sister surveyed the room, made whatever assessment about each of us, shrugged, and wandered off to the stairs. Once she was all the way up, Mom turned to Dad.

He glanced at me, then gave one nod as an acknowledgement that the situation was starting now. “Okay,” he started with authority, “so there was a fight.”

Everyone looked at James. He didn’t respond or move.

“He was defending a little girl,” Mom started to fill in, with what sounded like a touch of pride.

I wanted to add that she was a little Failed girl, but I didn’t want to draw any attention to myself. I knew why I was here. It wasn’t for my benefit.

“Was he now?” Dad asked with an upraised eyebrow towards James.

Mom continued, “The school said he was defending her from two fifth graders.”

“Fifth graders!” my Dad interrupted in surprise, his head jerking to face my mother. He swung it back toward James. “Two boys two grades higher than you?!” Now it was Dad who sounded like he might be proud of James as he strode over to James’ side. “And look at you, hardly a scratch! How did you manage that?”

I started to feel the Distortion from my father. It was soft and warm, like the light of the noon Sun on my skin on a cold day. Detecting a Fire elementalist using their ability was my favorite experience as an attuned. I never had to turn around to know where they were, and even in the high heat of Summer the sensation was comfortable, unlike the actual Sun can get.

“The school said something else,” Mom started to lead in with.

“Oh?” Dad replied half-interestedly, squatting down to be on James’ level. He wanted James to speak.

“Philip,” Mom said pointedly as a prompt.

Dad looked back at her. She oh so slightly tilted her head towards me and gestured with her eyes. He glanced my way, then quickly back to Mom. Suddenly his face changed as understanding came to him. He gave me a look full of hope and awe. His open hand swung my way as he looked back at Mom.

“Have you asked her?” he asked almost breathlessly.

Mom shook her head. “Not yet. But the school said-”

“Who cares what the school said,” Dad retorted, even though he did care. “We don’t need them to have him checked.” He turned completely towards me.

“Margaret?” he asked me simply.

“Yes, Dad,” I replied uninterestedly.

He must have taken that as a question instead of the answer I meant it to be, because continued on, a half smile creeping to his face as he asked, “Is your younger brother… an elementalist?” he could barely get out the last word.

“Yes, Dad,” I repeated myself with a little nod this time. “Earth,” I informed him flatly, so he didn’t have to ask.

Dad’s face lit up, and so did the Distortion he gave off. All in one motion he stood, stepped towards me, and engulfed me a hug. It was like being wrapped in a blanket just removed from the drier. I wanted it to last forever.

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Joys of Home Ownership, III

Belfor showed up just as the city was leaving, 11:15 – 11:17pm. Almost to the end of this. Yay!

Just trying to stay awake now.

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Joys of Home Ownership, Cont.

And now the backup in my basement is gone! Smelly stuff is still on the floor though. Yuck

The downstairs toilet bubbled and overflowed. The basement puddle grew, then rapidly drained. Now the toilet is empty of all water! But the cause is fixed and no more smelly water in my basement (or, I assume, the neighbor’s).

Waiting on Belfor. Though at this point I could clean it up myself.

Except for that smell….

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Joys of Home Ownership, 1 Month Before Selling…

Came home around 8:15pm, started putting the girls to bed. Wondered how big of a BM Amber had to make that smell in the bathroom. Minutes later wondered why the same smell was in Amber’s bedroom….

After finishing bedtime routines, I went outside to bring in the bins and get the mail. Walked back into the house: why am I smelling that bathroom smell here now too? It smells like… sewer…. OH NO!

Open the basement door: stronger smell. Dash down to the basement. Yup. Drain beneath the water heater and furnace is backed up in a big ‘ole puddle! Smells NASTY.

9pm. Check with neighbors. Immediate next door has same problem. They already have a plumber on site who says he can’t fix it. Call city. Man who answers the phone sends Water Treatment Guy.

We spent a long time trying to find the manhole cover for the problematic sewer, but it was found. Water Treatment Guy gives us each a paper slip saying the City of Ann Arbor will pay for cleanup of our basements and to call Belfor. Water Treatment Guy says we’ll know when the city is fixing the problem when we see a big @$$ yellow truck.

Called Belfor right about 10:30pm. Said a cleanup crew will be here within an hour.

Heard it before I saw it. The big @$$ yellow truck is here.

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Today’s thought

I don’t need a man. I need a plow. The driver’s gender is irrelevant.

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I didn’t go to the store for this purpose, but…

We have milk and Hostess cupcakes. I think we’re ready for this storm.

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Someone please proof read! This is for a scholarship application due before midnight tonight!


Music is core to my being. It echoes my feelings, resonates with my thoughts, and soothes my soul.

I can’t help but sing when I’m feeling good. It bursts out of me when I have high energy, and slips out like casual conversation when I’m distracted doing other things. When I lose my singing voice to sickness, a layer of sadness blankets my world making everything feel heavier.

About 20 years ago the question floated around: If you had to choose, would you prefer to be blind or deaf? Most people said deaf. I, hands down, no hesitation, would choose blind. I couldn’t stand not being able to hear music. Not being able to hear myself sing, the beautiful music of rain falling, the wonderful sound of my youngest singing, the lovely sound of my oldest playing the piano, nor any of my favorite songs or good new songs, would be death to my inner self.

I use music to guide my feelings. As with most people, when I need to cry I listen to sad music. When I need more energy, I play upbeat dance tunes. But I discovered long ago how to use music to change my mood. When I am sad but don’t want to be, I start out listening to slow neutral subject songs and step by step move towards lyrical music that normally makes me smile. I have a De-stress play list I use that starts out with high energy fake happiness of “Christmas at Ground Zero” by Weird Al to help me physically and sarcastically burn off the stress energy, and then song by song changes slightly until it gets to low energy songs about letting go like “I’m Walking Away” by Craig David, and eventually becomes calm music that I associate with my sense of self. It’s still amazing to me how effective music is in controlling my emotions.

Not being able to sing is the worst. No amount of music seems to help then, because I can’t sing along with it. I so much prefer to lose my speaking voice than my singing one. And it’s not even about communication to me. It’s about expression. Music coveys so much more than words alone. That’s what I need.

I can use music to corral my thoughts too. When I need to focus on a task, I tell people “I’m going into my headphones.” I play it just loud enough to drown out the thoughts of the second track that near-constantly runs in my mind, but not so loud my main attention can’t concentrate. If I want to remember an event or person, I can simply play or sing the song I associate with them. The longer I’ve known someone and the more important they are in my life, the more likely I have multiple songs associated to them. Which is even better, because then I can pick the song that both reminds me of the person and more closely matches the feelings I want to experience at the moment. For those people most central to my being, I’ve most likely even written lyrics about them set to songs I know.

One example is the “Emily, and I am me” song I made up for my long time best friend and I, set to “Ebony and Ivory” by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder. Another, better, example this song which I wrote for my daughter when she was 2 ½, to the tune of “Save the Best for Last” by Vanessa Williams:

I watch you growing ev’ry day
Sometimes I wish you wouldn’t change
Then you accomplish something new
And we are both so proud of you

But there was a time I thought that I was as
Happy as I could be
You were so small, and fun to hold and love
And so in need of me

I watch you growing ev’ry day
Sometimes I wish you wouldn’t change
But as you grow I see it’s true
I was so blessed when I had you

And now you’re talking ev’ryday
Ever-y thing in ev’ry way
It’s so much fun to speak with you
And hear all the things you say you do

And I so look forward to the day
You sing along with me
And we dance around and bike ride outside
How much fun all that will be

And now you’re talking ev’ryday
Ever-y thing in ev’ry way
The more you talk I hear it’s true
I was so blessed when I had you

I’m not good at creating music to go with my songs. I mostly just alter the words of existing compositions. But I can make up a ditty on the spot when I need to. Just a little up – down – up – down type thing, or da – da – da – DA – da – daaa. Enough that I was able to fake some tunes each time we came across the lyrics of an old song I never learned while reading the Little House on the Prairie series to my daughter.

However, I’m great at on the spot altering known songs for things I’m currently thinking or talking about. My absolute favorite time recently was two Winters ago when I was trying to leave daycare with both my children. My oldest was playing too much to want to go. So I picked up my youngest and simply started walking down the hall away from the room my oldest was in. She called after me to wait and not leave without her. To which I responded by singing to the tune of “Winter Wonderland”:

You-know that I’d-never leave without you.
I’m-m not that kind o-of Mama.

From her office, the then current daycare center director said to me: “I love how you sing everything. It makes me happy.” And that made me happy!

I get occasional comments like that when I’m out and about, especially at the grocery store when I’m singing along to the overhead music. Once, long before my kids were born, a woman stopped me and asked where I worked, where did I sing? I told her I wasn’t a singer, but a computer programmer. She replied it was a pity, that I’d just be singing to my babies.

The funniest part of it all is that as a child I was a very poor singer! I still can vividly hear in my ear my mother telling me, “You can’t carry a tune in a handbag!” I loved singing so much, despite my apparent tone-deafness, that I resolved to prove her wrong. It took some time, but I worked and worked at it with the radio, and then with my knockoff Walkman. When I got kind of good enough, I joined the church choir as a young teen. That helped a lot. I listened to the women who sang the best, and tried to copy their techniques and vocal sounds. I learned how to sing in my chest, in my throat like normal, and in my nose / head. But most importantly, I learned how to breathe while singing! In college I joined the university named chorus for the first two years, and then an acapella group for the last two years. Those helped immensely too!

Long ago I thought about trying to become a professional singer. Once I made steps in that direction, but I wasn’t willing to live the minimalist, part time jobs, scrounging life of “paying dues” while I established myself. Music isn’t a love of my life: It is a constant in my life. It’s not something I create, it’s part of who I am, how I am. I love to dance because it is an expression of the music. I don’t just love to sing, I have to sing. Yes I love music, because I am music. But it doesn’t fulfill me. It is a part of me.

As such, music has helped me all along my life. It’s been my constant companion. It’s kept me company when I was lonely at home after school. It’s filled my time in my room as I played the same song over and over to memorize the lyrics or work out dance moves. It’s kept me calmed or entertained while I did my homework, or later while I worked at my college job cleaning bathrooms or dorms. It’s given me starting points for writing spells or journals for live action roleplaying games I’ve participated in. It’s walked, hopped, skipped, and even danced with me as I moved between classes, or between home and bus, and bus and work. It’s helped me soothe my babies, or entertain them, or kept my baby awake longer, or just kept me calm enough to continue walking around in the middle of the night with my baby crying in my ear.

As I now move towards my purposeful life of being a doctor, music is of course still here. While studying for the MCATs, I made up two songs to help me remember the required amino acids. One to the tune of “Daughters of Triton” from Disney’s the Little Mermaid, because that was my oldest child’s favorite movie at the time, and one to the refrain from “Brick House” by The Commodores because the shape of the ring when the chemical formula is diagramed looks like a house! “It’s shaped like a house”.

And I know music will be with me until the end. I expect some song will pop into my head in my final moments. Hopefully it will be a meaningful or helpful one as I transition.

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