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Nov. 11th, 2012

We had our childbirth class today. The nurse got us to practice Lamaze breathing exercises and made sure we understood that everything we'd learned from tv was wrong. "If you breathe like they do on soap operas, you'll just be dizzy. We're going to do long slow breaths, with short breaths for the peaks. Do they work? No, of course they don't work! They're just to distract you." I appreciated the honesty.

We talked through all of the ways things could progress and watched as a (largish) plastic doll made its way through a (smallish) plastic pelvis in several unlikely ways. Nobody fainted, but we were all a bit quiet and thoughtful by the end of the day. I mean, I guess I already knew most of this stuff, but I knew it in the interesting theoretical way that you can know things that are on the internet. It's different when the things are supposed to apply to you in some way. And in the next six to eight weeks, most likely. Surely not.

The hospital instructions form doesn't have a checkbox for "all of the drugs please, and also a martini and whatever you're having yourself", but I think they've left room to write it in.

The other thing that's going on right now is that we're insulating the icebox that is our living room. Last months' bathroom renovation was my first ever big house project, and this is my second, and I'm noticeably more comfortable with the process this time around. I'd hire these contractors again. Well, I should wait until it's all done before I pat myself too firmly on the back, but so far I have high hopes... and, of course, much less money than I started with.

Painting is the next thing. I had no good ideas, but people on gplus made good suggestions and we have five kinds of light grey paint to start splodging on walls tomorrow.

So, childbirth, insulation and light grey walls. Are these the riveting topics I expected to be talking about at age thirty four and three quarters? Would you like to hear about how we're changing health insurance providers at work too? Aw, I might be feeling a bit wistful for what I was doing this time last year, because I ended up spending hours on art.com looking at pictures of train stations. Don't you just want to go whereever this lady is going?

I got a print of her, and one of this, and they'll keep me going until it's time to travel again.
They caught the raccoon. I guess Julie's squirrel guys came out yesterday, because we got a mail today inviting us to take a look at it before the trappers took it away to (they claim) release it somewhere on Long Island. I'm a little skeptical about this, but it makes me happy to believe that it will have a new life somewhere rural. Where, as someone commented at breakfast, it'll be all culture-shocked by how shops close early, people vote Republican, and there's nowhere to get good espresso. Sorry for the exile, raccoon. (Or sorry for how you just became a hat. Either way.)

The obvious question here is this: are we sure it's the same raccoon? Do they travel in families? We're being paranoid and keeping the cat door locked up for the next few nights.

I'll have more in my life than raccoons soon, I promise. Bear with me.

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Raccoon update: it turns out that Julie, our upstairs neighbour, has already hired a trapper to come out next week and deal with "unusually heavy squirrels" stomping around in her ceiling. Raccoon's days may be numbered.

I feel like we're not living perfectly in harmony with nature here. Since we moved in here three years ago, we've had:

* the aforementioned goddamn raccoon

* squirrels. They haven't come into our apartment, but they prance around the garden, kill our plants and terrorise Julie on the top floor. Trappers/roof repair is a regular line item in our co-op's budget. This year we think we've found the hole they use and have been engaging in complex and boring negotiations with our neighbours to fix it or let us on to their roof to do it ourselves. They've finally agreed.

* pigeons. These don't bother us at all, but the upstairs apartments have a running battle with pigeon poop on their windowsills and we have half-assed conversations at yearly intervals about whether we should, like, maybe do something about it? Mostly we don't.

* mice. Some of the other apartments mentioned them, but we didn't see any until we got Alex. He brings us one from time to time, usually dead, but sometimes still wriggling. I tell him he's a good cat when they're already dead, but honestly it would be ok if he left them outside.

* moths. Hey, the previous owner left these nice lacy curtains. We should keep them and use the fabric for something. [time passes]. Ok, bad idea! BAD IDEA!

* termites, maybe. The last time an apartment in here was sold, the surveyor told us there were termites in the boiler room and would we like to hire him (at an unusually good rate!) to remove them. The co-op voted that we would. I still think we got scammed.

* mosquitos. God, they're vicious. The garden was a wilderness when we moved in, and it took months before we'd found all of the pots of manky standing water that the previous owner had apparently set up for mosquito sexy times. It's been better since that first year, but they still get pretty thick in late summer, especially when the figs are falling on the ground and making a little pats of sugar on the ground.

* ants. One invasion in 2010, but we put down some kind of deterrent and they've stayed out since then. There's still a colony in the garden, which is great because ants are great (so long as they stay outside).

* fleas. Oy, that was a rough first summer. We quickly learned about monthly applications of Frontline for outdoor cats in hot weather and it's been fine since then.

* one tick, found dead. I guess the Frontline works.

We've so far been spared rats, roaches, and (fingers crossed, knock on wood, light a candle) bedbugs.

To balance that out, we get tons of little garden birds (mostly sparrows and cardinals), butterflies and bees, and one morning I met an opossum walking down the street, which was pretty cool. And we get fireflies, some years. Fireflies make up for an awful lot.

Joel's folks get skunks, black widow spiders, scorpions, gophers, ground squirrels and rattlesnakes, so I do realise that we get off lightly up here in the soft Northeast :-)

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Nov. 2nd, 2012

Tanya: "Wauuuughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!"
Joel (from downstairs): "Are you ok?"
Tanya: "THERE'S A RACCOON IN OUR KITCHEN!!!"

Ok, I've now seen a raccoon. It was ENORMOUS and it had NO FEAR WHATSOEVER. Like, I ran at it to make it leave, and it DIDN'T. It turned around and faced me down, and then it left on its own terms. And Joel locked up the cat door just in time for it to change its mind and try to come back in again. When that didn't work, it walked over to the window and started clawing at the window screen with its little hands. We shone a firesword (this is a ridiculously bright flashlight) at it and it wasn't deterred at all; it came back to the cat door and tried hard to break through and get back in. And then -- this is the bit where I just about lost my shit -- it climbed up the fire escape ladder as nimbly as a monkey, presumably to try the windows of the apartment upstairs.

Did I mention that it was enormous? And fearless in a way that animals mostly aren't? We're mildly concerned about rabies and will be keeping the cats in for a while. And we've barricaded and taped closed the cat door, because a little plastic lock is not keeping that thing out.

The other best bit? It wasn't like it had just come in the door: when I met it, it was on its way up the stairs from the bedroom. It must have walked right past where I was coding in the living room, gone through the kitchen, detoured in the bathroom to chew on the toilet paper, then headed downstairs to see what Joel was up to. MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME, RACCOON. DON'T MIND US.

Oh, it's back. It's trying to get in. I'm actually kind of freaked out now.
"Here's a funny story", Joel said in my ear, and I was suddenly wide awake and alarmed, because a funny story can mean all manner of things and not all of them are that funny. "No, actually funny", he said, and that helped. "Ok", I said, trying to focus my eyes. "Wha... 7am. Ok."

"The cats were making a lot of noise and in the end I went to put food in their bowls to get them out of the bedroom. So I went upstairs to the kitchen and there was a brown, portly shape with its head in the food bag.".

"The neighbour's cat?"

"It was just a brown blur -- I didn't have my glasses on -- but it looked at me, and it didn't have the face of a cat. So I came back downstairs for my glasses, and when I could see it, it was a raccoon."

"Huh."

"Around twice the size of a cat, but it came and left through the cat door."

"And now it knows that we're where the cat food is?"

"Exactly."

"... That's tricky."

"Yes. I'm going back to sleep now."

"Ok. Me too."

I don't know if I've ever seen a raccoon in real life. Pictures on the internet tell me that they're cute, but they say the same about squirrels and urban squirrels are far from cute. I guess that urban raccoons aren't a thing you want in your kitchen either. It knocked some pillows off the sofa and a bottle of rum off the shelf, so it sounds like it had plenty of time to case the joint before the cats came to tell us about it. Of course I slept through the whole thing, because sleeping through things is one of my most honed skills :-)
Looks like we've survived the storm. Lots of the city and surrounds got badly beaten up, but we're luckily positioned and didn't have any problems. If I do have any ill-effects, they'll be caused by poor cake-related life choices. Lesson learned: don't ever take banana bread out of the oven when you're getting rumbly but haven't yet decided what you're doing for lunch. I'm staying out of a sugar coma by sheer force of will. 

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Oct. 27th, 2012

The city's Are You Ready campaign finally broke through a few months ago and I suddenly realised how unprepared we were for a zombie invasion. Wow. I have no idea how we were so oblivious, especially given how many wine-soaked conversations we'd had about how to get off Manhattan if everyone else was trying to at the same time. (Conclusion: obviously it depends on the situation, but unless you get advance warning, you're basically screwed, and Brooklyn isn't going to be much easier to escape from; best bet is to hole up and try to ride it out until reinforcements come. Bloomberg probably has a plan.) Anyway, we finally realised and we got ready. Water stockpiled. Solar/windup radio tested. Flashlights. Iodine. Cat food. We are prepared New Yorkers!

Being the sorts of people who like the idea of cooking, but don't much get around to it, the rest of our disaster-preparedness plan comes down to leftover food: a pantry full of interesting legumes, dried fruit and little oily fishes, a lifetime supply of New Mexico green chiles, the freezer full of animals from the meat-preparation course Joel did a few months ago. (A disaster might be kind of welcome if it gave us space back for ice cream.). Worst case, we've got a couple of pounds of lard and a spoon. Real worst case, I think some visitor left a jar of Smuckers peanut butter (only sugar has more sugar!) in our fridge, but I pray it won't ever come to that.

We calculate that we could pass four days in relative comfort and ride out a seven day disaster without too much trauma[1]. If it's longer than that, our neighbours will come take our stuff off us anyway, and I'll regret my strong stance on gun control.

#comeonsandy doesn't have the same ring to it as #comeonirene last year, but if she does decide to come this way (currently very unlikely), we're ready for her.

[1] We're assuming it'll be possible to get coffee delivered. This is still New York, after all.
I always think that glass-fronted anythings are the epitome of fancy adult furniture, and it looks like we're buying one of these. It's called a "buffet and hutch", seriously. Neither of these are words I associate with furniture, but probably they parse better in American.

As well as holding our media center (well, a mac mini, an amp and some networking equipment), this will display all of our fancy adult displayable things. Which consist of:

  • a lovely berry bowl which belonged to Joel's great grandmother and is a family heirloom that I'm petrified of breaking.
  • some candlesticks we got as a wedding present
  • uh?

Probably not our IKEA plates, right? Martini glasses? Batman comics? Eh, fancy adultness probably arrives in stages.

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Something very exciting happened to me today. I was playing Words With Friends and I suddenly realised that I had the word LAQUER, and that I could put the Q on a triple letter square and then have the whole word cross a triple word square and get all of the points. Holy mackerel! Later, when I remembered that LAQUER isn't a word, I was a bit disappointed. That is how life goes.

Hello Livejournal! It's been a while really, hasn't it? How are you? I'm well. Life's pretty good. x

I guess the biggest thing to mention is that I'm 30 weeks pregnant. Mental, huh? We're making a small girl who is currently known as poppyseed because we found out about her when she was very small indeed. We're looking forward to meeting her, but for now I'm also enjoying pregnancy a lot. It's very pleasant! Should I be stressed? I'm really not. Is that because pregnancy hormones? If so, they should bottle it. This is a good brain-state.

I think we're pretty prepared. We've seen a couple of daycares, which were both fine, and we've bought most of the baby-related gear we're going to need. No, that's such a lie, we've bought the Big Book of Trains and nothing else, but people have given us some clothes and things and I expect we'll get her somewhere to sleep and some other stuff as we realise we can't do without it. We're fighting the good fight against things that are pink and/or frilly, and our families are mostly on board with that. I'm sure we won't be able to protect her from the evils of gender normativity forever, but at least she can have baby clothes that aren't made for delicate flowers.

Is she likely to be a delicate flower? I doubt it, but who can predict what a new human will be like? She's probably doomed to inherit hay fever, shortsightedness and a tendency towards depression, but in return, she should get a geeky brain and a tremendous capacity for liking things. Are any of these things even genetic? We'll see.

Other things have been moving along pleasantly. I went to Ireland for a wedding, Aruba for some snorkelling, Baltimore for a conference, and Chicago to meet Mark and V and to kayak while looking at skyscrapers. I planted and tended some vegetables which grew spectacularly until the first heatwave, then all fried. We'll try bigger pots next year. Our cats are well. Alex is now distinctly a teenager. Lucy is exactly Lucy. They still don't like each other much.

I did this great algorithms class with Coursera and now I'm doing their equally great compilers class. The quality of these free online courses is quite astounding. The format's perfect too: it's easier to learn when you can to speed up or pause the lecturer as appropriate, and of course it's refreshing to do a course where nobody can ask "Is this on the exam?". Learning for fun is the most enjoyable kind of learning.

We've been working on de-chaosing our house, getting rid of clutter, making an easy place to live. We just finished a bathroom renovation -- the proper-sized house project I've ever owned! -- and have learned quite a lot about how to hire contractors, what things to clarify in writing, and (crucially) what things we like. Joel's been working on something much bigger -- a plan to gut most of the main floor of our apartment -- and has worked out a fairly ambitious plan with a local architect. It's a plan that we won't have time to implement this year, but it's there and I think it'll be good when we do. In the meantime, we'll try to get some insulation in before poppyseed arrives, because New York gets cold and our upstairs exterior walls might have been designed to be perfect thermal conductors.

Work is a lot of fun right now. I'm doing a bunch of things I really enjoy, and will be sorry when it's time to go on leave.

And, oh, lots of other things, but this is already too long. It feels good to write here though. I should do this more.
"Graduation"

He told us, with the years, you will come
to love the world.
And we sat there with our souls in our laps,
and comforted them.

-- Dorothea Tanning, 2004

The MTA runs a series called Poetry in Motion where they choose short poems to display on subway trains. This one never fails to make me feel good.

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