Normally I feel the other way around

I’ve noticed that in a lot of these week-in-review posts I say that while it felt like I didn’t get anything much done, when I actually write it all down, I did quite a bit. Looking over my writing goals for May, I feel the opposite: I wasn’t quite as productive as I felt I was. Not as productive on non-writing goals, either, but that’s partly still adjusting to the new status quo.

As to this specific week, it went pretty well. As TYG took part of Monday off for Memorial Day, I took it off too, something I haven’t done in a while. That felt really good; I must remember to take more holidays. However I slept wretchedly and woke up early Monday morning, which made me feel rather dazed the rest of the day.

Tuesday morning I had to visit the doctor (all well!) which consumed much of that morning. So only 3.5 days of work this week, but I managed to put in slightly more hours than that.

I redrafted Oh the Places You’ll Go! and while it still doesn’t work, I can see what it needs. This past draft I tried adding a little more adventure and danger, but I think it really needs to be a character-arc story. And it doesn’t really have a character arc as much as relationship arcs between the four core cast members, and even those arcs are a little too low-key. So that’s where I need to look at fixing it before next draft.

I got part of the way through a redraft of Laughter of the Dark. Here I really like the character development this draft, but the plot is a little weak.

And I finished Glory That Was, all ready to submit next month

I got through most of a pre-hard copy review of Undead Sexist Cliches but not all of it, which is what I wanted. This was where I got the most productivity, probably because it doesn’t require as much creative thought. And I finished a book, Before Roe v. Wade which I’ll review next week.

And I posted at Atomic Junkshop about my love of movies and the saga of writing my first one.

For the month as a whole, I know I put in plenty of time, it’s just that nothing got as finished as I wanted. Almost no work on Questionable Minds (even though my cover artist is not currently up for delivering anything, I’d like to get my edits done). No short stories finished. And Undead Sexist Cliches, as noted, remains unfinished. I suspect it’s less the distraction from the pandemic and possibly pushing to get more finished than I could.  And some of the stuff — marketing plans and related activities — are outside my usual skill set.

On the plus side, Trixie is doing so much better. Her leg occasionally gets weak, but mostly she’s bouncing around with all her old energy. It’s wonderful to see, and to know we handled everything right.

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals

Me: the Early Years (and even earlier!)

So a few weeks back, my brother sent me a DVD, The Shermans: The Early Years, which he also posted to YouTube. It’s 90 minutes of home movies from 1957, a year before I was born, through my siblings’ birth, and then some footage of a big family get-together when we visited England in the 1970s. I’m very grateful to my bro (he made a previous version on VHS) because it’s really cool to watch.

There’s the sight of my parents when they were young (it’s been years since my father’s been beardless) and lots of our relatives: my cousin Peter, my various great-aunts (Marion, May, Jo, Agnes — though they were all “Auntie” to me), family friends, my father’s family and of course me and my siblings. A little depressing to see myself in my teenage years, though: I’d come to think it was my imagination but my glasses really did make me look like a total dork.

It’s also fascinating to see so many places I remember, such as our old house in Stanmore and my grandparents’ home in Ilford. Despite how many years it’s been, seeing those places still evokes a lot of emotion and memory. There’s a cute little dog — Bonny, according to some of my relatives — that I don’t remember at all (I think she’d have died before I was even two).

It’s also really amazing as a window onto a past time. The big cars. The smoking. Me as a five or six year old decked out in school shorts, button-up shirt and a tie. The carpets, the wall coverings. It makes me want to write a new story just so I can make use of all that I see, but I already have enough to work on.

For an illustration, here’s a couple of photos Peter sent me, showing some of our family back in the 1950s. That’s cousin Jo, cousin Mary and Mum (l-r) in the top phot.#SFWApro.

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Smoking their own hashish

In the words of the late investigative journalist I.F. Stone, “all governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out.” – I.F. Stone.

This is one reason we’re in such a mess: right-wingers in government, as well as out of it, are now true believers in the delusions they’ve been peddling to the public for years. Take Donald Trump. In addition to being extremely stupid, he’s a long-time Fox viewer who thinks Fox talking heads give him better intel than our intelligence agencies, partly because Fox is less likely to challenge his worldview. So it’s not surprising that, believing other nations are sneakily conducting nuclear tests, President TinyBrain wants us to start up again. And that’s he’s trashing other arms-control treaties (I suspect this also relates to the distaste some right-wingers have for diplomacy and negotiating instead of just sending people who aren’t them or their families to fight and die destroying our enemies).

And now more than 40 believes in QAnon, the crackpot theory of a vast cabal of Satanic pedophiles opposing Trump, are running for office. Even if they don’t win, it’s a very bad sign if this becomes acceptable or worse, desirable in candidates (for another example of right-wing gibberish, check here).

But it’s not just people in politics, but also in punditry. Conservative intellectuals have decided that opposing shutdowns, masks and all other precautions against Trump Virus is a sign of cowardice and weakness — don’t we realize that there are higher things than living! By which logic, why aren’t they opposing bicycle helmets and seat belts? Because those are still accepted as sensible solutions, not bludgeons against the left in the culture war.  I think it’s telling that a couple of the pundits quoted at the link frame this is a clash between salt-of-the-earth Real Americans who want the country reopened and the sniveling cowards of the liberal elite who want it shut down. When in reality we have rich elitists (not all of them) and pundits screaming to reopen the country before the wealthy lose any money. The rich can run their companies at a distance; they’re guaranteed great care if they do get sick. And organizing astroturf campaigns to make it look like the people are rising up.

Republicans have embraced a world of unreality where taking sensible precautions against disease is weakness, the government plotted to destroy Trump but held off until after the election and QAnon theories describe reality. Or claiming that the 2018 elections were a victory for Republicans. Honest reporting is treated as partisan lies, an attack on the glorious god-anointed Donald J. Trump. That makes it hard to deal with the reality that Trump has failed at dealing with the pandemic.

And I’m sure Trump’s tossing out baseless conspiracy theories finds fertile soil among his worshippers.

As Fred Clark puts it, we have to respect other’s peoples beliefs — but how do we do that while simultaneously dealing with believers whose views get other people killed? Snake handling or refusing medical treatment to see if God cures you can be fatal, but only to the believer. People who reject masks and social distancing don’t just threaten themselves, they threaten the rest of us.

I wish I had a good answer.

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Swords and sorcery but without enough magic? Some DC comics

So a while back I wrote about DC’s Bronze Age sword and sorcery series, Beowulf and Claw the Unconquered. The three characters I’m looking at in this post weren’t anywhere near as successful (and it’s not like Claw or Beowulf were breakout characters) so I’ll deal with them in one post.

Nightmaster didn’t even make it to series status, earning just three tryout issues in Showcase. Jim Rook is a musician who gets transported to the otherworld of Myrra along with his girlfriend. He learns he’s the son of Myrra’s great hero, the Nightmaster, and takes up Dad’s Sword of Night to fight the evil warlocks threatening the realm.

I was intrigued when I saw this in ads but it came out as my family moved to the U.S. from England so I only ever read the third issue, some years after it had come out. It was … okay. Given that it’s written by Denny O’Neil and I’m not a fan of his, “Okay” is better than I expected, but I remember it more for the Berni Wrightson art (taking over for Jerry Grandenetti ,who drew the first issue) than the story.

Like Stalker and Claw, Nightmaster did get an afterlife, becoming the leader of the Shadowpact magical superhero team many years later. He’s popped up off an on but I think it’s more DC’s refusal to give up on any Silver Age character, much as they keep reviving Hawk and Dove.

Denny O’Neil struck again with Sword of Sorcery, this time adapting Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser to comic book form. This began with them appearing in an issue of Wonder WomanAfter which they launched their own book. Art was by Howard Chaykin before he became a big name and I wouldn’t have anticipated that based on the five issues this lasted. While Chaykin later apologized for getting a lot of the visuals wrong (he would go on to work on another adaptation of Leiber’s heroes many years later) it’s not bad art, and O’Neil tells decent stories. I think the biggest problem is that where Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian gives us a sense of Conan’s life — it starts when he’s young and just leaving Cimmeria and goes on from there — there’s no sense of continuity in Sword of Sorcery, just one seemingly random adventure after another. That works fine with superheroes, where we know their life between adventures is in a world like ours, but it’s a lot less satisfying when set in the world of Nehwon.Last to appear but best of these three was Stalker, the tale of “the man with the stolen soul.” Written by Paul Levitz and drawn by Steve Ditko, it told the story of a kitchen wretch who sells his soul to the war god D’Grth for absolute mastery of weapons. He takes revenge on the people who’ve pushed him around but gets no joy from it — or from anything; with his soul gone, his emotions are gone too. He sets out to demand his soul back which requires fighting through D’Grth’s priesthood, only to learn after four issues that he’ll have to kill the god — and that requires killing every last worshipper. The series ended there, but had it lasted, that would have kept him busy (Stalker would later resurface in Justice Society Returns in which he’s learned that the only way to wipe out the worship of war is to kill all life)

A lot of the credit for this book goes to the art — Ditko does an amazing job showing things like World’s End Sea where the world literally ends (it’s a flat Earth). Levitz writing is good and the setting is different: this is apparently an alien world settled by human colonists centuries earlier so possibly the magic is really super-science. While it’s definitely the best of these three, DC’s Warlord, which I’ll review down the road, was DC’s only successful sword-ad-sorcery comic of the era, lasting more than twenty years.

#SFWApro. Cover art top to bottom by Joe Kubert, Dick Giordano, Howard Chaykin and Steve Ditko. All rights remain with current holders.


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When covers last in my dooryard bloomed

The sexy untamed girl of the swamps is more of a common fantasy than you might think. Art by James Meese.A fantasy of a different kind, courtesy of Bob Oksner.Here we see that 40 years ago, Jack Kirby knew how bad 2020 would be.One by Norman SaundersWhat kind of “thrill-seekers” would pick a cruise as the way to find what they’re looking for? Though obviously in this case they were right. Art is uncredited.A skeptic realizes COVID-19 is a serious threat on this cover by Gerald Gregg.Now here’s a guy having a bad day. Art by Joe Kubert.Art is uncredited, but I like this cover. I remember the mystery series being pretty good too.Harry Bennett provides this rather dreamscape-ish one, based on the 1959-63 TV show.Does an insane woman have the right to love? Anyone curious to find out? Art uncredited again.A bleak post-apocalypse cover by Rogers.

Lawrence Sterne Stevens shows us Madonna, as envisioned in 1949!

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Women are not means to an end. They are ends in themselves

It was Immanuel Kant who said that people are not means to an end, they are ends in themselves. In other words, not tools. Not cannon fodder. Not just supporting characters who have to subordinate their needs to the protagonist’s personal arc. And in the case of women (I do not know that Kant would see it this way but I do) not just baby making machines.

By contrast we have the view that the prime duty of women is to serve men. We shouldn’t allow women’s equality because it destroys men. We should redistribute women like we do tax money. Sexist pundit Dennis Prager thinks women’s sexual desire is irrelevant to their duty to put out “Why do we assume that it is terribly irresponsible for a man to refuse to go to work because he is not in the mood, but a woman can — indeed, ought to — refuse sex because she is not in the mood?” Right-winger DC McAlister similar argues that if the man’s horny, the woman’s duty is to make love, whether she wants to or not. If that’s a typical view, small wonder so many conservatives think marital rape should be legal. I have yet to see these misogynists argue the reverse — if she wants it and he doesn’t, he has a duty to finger, tongue or sex-toy her to orgasm. Her wishes are negligible, what matters is that the husband get off. And yet right-wingers argue that it’s premarital sex that objectifies women …

Similarly, there’s the sense that the decision to have babies shouldn’t depend on whether a woman wants one, only on whether society needs one. Neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin, for instance, declares that a woman’s womb is “OUR WOMB — that’s right, it doesn’t belong to her, it belongs to the males in her society.” He’s speaking specifically about white women having interracial babies but it’s just as applicable in other situations. Claims women have to pop out babies to keep up the population or the white population. Alt.right male supremacist Sacco Vandal, for example, declares “we have to strip females of suffrage and most if not all political, legal, and economic power …Our men need harems, and the members of those harems need to be baby factories.” Similarly white nationalist F. Roger Devlin  condemns feminism because it offers women choices other than getting married and breeding more white babies (sorry, too rushed to link to everything).

“When you get a birth rate less than 2 percent, that society is disappearing, and it’s being replaced by folks that come behind them and immigrate, don’t wish to assimilate into that society and they do believe in having children.” — Florida State Rep. Dennis Baxley on how we need to ban abortion to keep our native-born (again) population up. Delaware State Rep. Rep. Richard Collins says he opposes abortion because “Our birthrate is way, way below replacement [levels]. You know, we are just not having enough babies.” Pastor Hans Fiene says women and men being friends distracts them from getting married and making babies for America.

Of course this comes from the same wing freaking out that Obamacare makes insurance ob/gyn coverage standard. They don’t simply want women to stay home, barefoot and pregnant, they don’t give a crap that it’s increasingly hard to do, even in a two-parent household. I’ve heard arguments that since college education correlates with smaller families, maybe governments should make college harder to get into. None of these male supremacists ever suggest better legal protection for pregnant workers. Better day care. Better pay. Better parental leave. Laws that ensure the rights of the fetus don’t cancel out the mother’s. It’s always the stick, never the carrot.

There’s no guarantee that if we did offer carrots, women would have more babies. Even countries with much more parent-friendly policies than ours still have low birth rates. But the solution, contrary to Vandal and Devlin, isn’t to take away women’s rights, it’s to figure out alternative paths.

What would it take to keep the economy going if the native-born population dwindles? More immigration would do it, but that’s unthinkable to the right wing these days. What about automation? I’ve heard scary predictions how many jobs will go away over the next twenty years; maybe we actually don’t need as big a population to run the economy. And there must be ways we can finance an effective government with fewer taxpayers.

But the people who fuss about the lack of babies aren’t going to be into any solutions that require not treating women as means to an end. They can’t stomach them being anything else.

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The Witch World and Beanworld, plus the world’s most famous Kurd: books read

In her Witch World books Norton has always been keen on female characters charting their own paths, which makes the sexism of HORN CROWN an unpleasant surprise. The book opens with humans arriving in the empty land (the Dales, the setting of her past few books) after fleeing their own world for unknown reasons (there’s been some mindwiping). Despite being The Early Years it’s really just like the Waste or Estcore in earlier Witch World books, a seemingly empty land stuffed full of evil places and wouldn’t you know, the dumb new arrivals start stirring the dark powers back to life. When a chieftain’s daughter, Iwynne, unwittingly taps into the power of an ancient shrine and vanishes, the warrior Elron sets out to find her. So does Gathea, a witch frustrated that Iwynne has stolen the power Gathea thought would be hers.

While the book is well-done and some of the magical scenes have real power, Gathea is a flaw. Like witches in past books she’s dead set on her course to the point of being a complete jerk about it. Instead of respecting her quest or having Gathea develop a connection with Elron and try to balance love and magic, the ending has Gathea having to put her own goals on hold so that she can be Elron’s wife and mother to his child. It comes across more coercive than romantic (as Judith Tarr says, we get the Maiden/Mother/Crone triad but  the Mother is the only acceptable role model). I enjoyed the book even so, but YMMV.

After the material in the first Beanworld Omnibus, Larry Marder’s series went on a long hiatus due to publisher Eclipse Comics closing, then taking other jobs for a couple of decades. The three graphic novels he eventually wrote to follow up are collected in BEANWORLD OMNIBUS Vol. 2. The baby beans introduced in the first volume are growing up and figuring out their destiny; Beamish continues his pursuit of Dreamish; and the other denizens of Beanworld engage in their own adventures. As quirky and unique as the first collection (and just as hard to synopsize), which makes me regret we haven’t seen anything from Marder since 2017. I hope there’s more soon.

THE LIFE AND LEGEND OF THE SULTAN SALADIN by Jonathan Phillips is an excellent book on one of those figures I knew of but not about. As Phillips details, Yusuf Salah al-Din rose to leadership as an ally of Nur-al-Din, leader of the powerful Zengi clan but after replacing his relative as vizier of Egypt decided to assert his independence (and that of his own clan), eventually building enough power that he could take on the Frankish occupiers of Jerusalem; part of Saladin’s fame is that he managed to unite the many factions of the Middle East (divided by sect, ethnicity, clan and personal ambition) and make fighting the crusaders a holy war rather than a war for territory.

Phillips shows how Saladin’s history mixed great successes (retaking Jerusalem) with dismal failures (the siege of Acre) and great mercy with occasional acts of brutality, but maintaining power throughout by diplomacy and financial largesse. This helped build his legend in the West, where the image of him as the Satan Spawn Who Took Jerusalem From Us was gradually overwhelmed by his obvious qualifications as a chivalric knight. This made him a fit subject for fiction, where he could be the mighty adversary Crusader heroes such as Richard the Lionheart required for their adventures (to say nothing of stories about Saladin’s secret and entirely fictitious love affair with Eleanor of Aquitaine)! In the Middle East, Saladin has been invoked as a symbol by everyone from Bin Laden to Gamel Abdel Nasser, being usable as a model of Kurdish independence, opposition to Western imperialism or pan-Arabism. A very good book.

#SFWApro. Covers by Michael Whelan (top) and Larry Marder, all rights remain with current holders.

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From Gotham City to Dunsinane and points in-between: this week’s viewing

BATWOMAN‘s second half-season kept up the level of the first half, which makes me sad Ruby Rose has decided one season is enough in the role of Kate Kane (there’s no official statement, but I’ve heard this credited to injuries in action scenes, the time suck of being a star in a weekly series, or her and the producers not getting along). She’s done an amazing job and plays great with her deranged sister Alice (Rachel Skarsten) and her step-sister Mary (Nicole Kang), who’s easily the best character in the show (I blogged this week about her and the show at Atomic Junkshop). In addition to the running battles with Alice and Mouse, Kate has to deal with her relationship with her closeted ex, Sophie and the discovery that Lucius Fox’s convicted killer may have been innocent, which doesn’t sit well with Luke Fox (Camrus Johnson).  Due to the pandemic the season ends, like Flash, without the final episodes, but I will say the one they did have works well as a cliffhanger. “Kate knowing what she’s doing can be worse than most people not knowing what they’re doing.”

SUPERGIRL‘s unplanned finish was much less successful, mostly because the season’s been a mess. The big challenges carrying over from the first half were Leviathan, a ruthless alien cabal plotting mass destruction and new boss Andrea’s Obsidian system bringing billions of people into a virtual fantasy world; and Lena’s (Katie McGraw) plan to cure humanity of evil with an experimental mind-control system. Adding to this, the post-Crisis reality-altering turned Lex Luthor (Jon Cryer) into a respected businessman and the head of the DEO without changing his evil agenda any; while Cryer’s good in the role this repeated last season’s twist of revealing he’s been manipulating and playing all the various villains for his own ends. It’s too repetitive (he mocks Eve Tessmacher for her foolishness much as he sneered at Red Daughter a year ago) and it doesn’t help when the villains are so unsatisfying. Leviathan’s members are powerful but not notably different from any other conqueror; the buildup with Obsidian felt pointless (despite one great episode with Alex as a VR version of Supergirl) as Andrea doesn’t have an evil agenda. Lena’s arc, finally coming back to the side of good, was the only one that really worked. So the season just fizzled out — it didn’t help that winning (though with Lex still a threat) relied on Supergirl making a very unconvincing inspirational speech. “You arranged a battle with Earth, Wind and Fire and didn’t invite us?”

I don’t think I’d heard of Hitchcock’s YOUNG AND INNOCENT (1937) before watching it, or if I did I confused it with Rich and Strange. It turns out to be a good version of one of Hitch’s favorite themes, the Innocent Accused (it’s very much in the mode of The 39 Steps). When an actress turns up strangled on the shore (shortly after a private argument with her estranged husband), beachgoers spot Tisdale (Derrick de Marnay) running away from the body. He claims he was going for help but nobody believes him, including his incompetent attorney (there’s a lot of comedy in this film). Tisdale escapes and goes on the run with the help of Erica (Nova Pilbeam), a police officer’s daughter. Can they find proof that Tisdale didn’t do the deed? The leads’ love at first sight works much better than the romance in Secret Agent and the film is a good one with some clever suspense sequences, like the leads being stuck in a kid’s birthday party when they have a desperate need to be elsewhere. That said, I’m not sure the plot holds together (there’s no indication the police even tried to contact the husband) and the climax involves a nightclub band in blackface, so be warned. “You forget, it’s my petrol.”

MACBETH was a Folger Theater production streaming through the end of July. A well-executed, energetic production of the “Scottish play” but despite a striking opening (a staffer discussing trigger warnings for violence gets stabbed) it doesn’t stand out from other productions despite Penn of Penn and Teller co-directing (while some of the magic scenes are striking the play doesn’t make a huge thing of them, which is good). “Methought I heard a voice cry out ‘Sleep no more — Macbeth doth murder sleep!”

#SFWA. All rights to photo image remain with current holder.

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Lo, there shall come furniture

I didn’t get anywhere as much done this week as I’d expected, probably about 3.5 days of actual work. Part of that was that the dilation drops from my opthalmologist Tuesday seemed to hit me harder than usual: I’d expected my eyes would be normal by afternoon but I wasn’t comfortable looking at the computer the rest of the day.

Then on Wednesday we got furniture. A few months ago, TYG had talked about replacing some of the old shelving she’s had since college with something new and pretty. I assumed she’d just given up with all the pandemic distraction but no, she hadn’t. Last weekend, a pantry arrived and we spent much of Saturday putting it together and rearranging the dining room around it.It was a lot of work, but I can’t deny it was worth it. The storage frees up a lot more space and our food stores are no longer taking up the table.

Wednesday, the second piece arrived. The good news was that it was only two pieces so we didn’t have much assembly; the bad news was that the upper half weighed more than 150 lbs so we sure as heck couldn’t put it up there ourselves. Fortunately our neighbor Eric, who’s bigger and stronger than either of us, came by (we all wore masks) and both directed us and did most of the heaving. With most of our pet treats, meds and food in the hutch (along with our small supply of booze) I was able to take some of the shelves that held that stuff and use them for my cookbooks and food-history books.I moved the plants that took up some of the shelving but I’m not satisfied with the arrangement below. I looked at ordering some shelving, but the creeping charlie is in a big, heavy pot and none of them are stable according to the reviews. As it’s hard to judge based on Internet reviews, I may just put them on a table until such time as I’m comfortable going to Home Depot or Target and checking them out physically (my ophthalmologist visit left me quite panicked so I don’t think I’m ready yet).So anyway, getting the boxes for the hutch in and putting it together consumed a lot of time, so I only had a half day of work Wednesday.

I got some more done on Oh, the Places You’ll Go! Apparently my mind has decided I should think this draft through carefully rather than just dashing it off as I usually do. I’ll trust I know what I’m doing. I also finished the redraft of Glory That Was so I’ll look for a market next week.

I went over more of Undead Sexist Cliches, prepping it before I print a hard copy for final proofing; finished a couple of Leaf articles as that source of income is back (yay!); wrote an article on Silver Age comics covers for Atomic Junkshop; and ordered the first of several reference books I’ll be buying as research for the Alien Visitors film-reference book.

Overall, pretty good. Plus I “sold” two more of the free copies of Philosophy and Fairytales (free until the end of the month, unless Smashwords extends the sale). Whoever you are out there, thanks for reading me.


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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

Trixie health report: thumbs up

Trixie had her eight-week checkup at the vet and despite her recent leg problems, they say she’s doing great.

Over the next week we can start taking her for longer and longer walks and hopefully a week from now she’ll be completely normal again. Needless to say we are very happy about that projection. However … last night she definitely seemed a little uncomfortable. We think it’s probably that she’s off the pain meds and not used to that feeling (it’s been a couple of months now). The vet says we can give them to her as needed so we’ll see if that’s necessary to keep her happy as we give her longer and longer walks. Figuring out how much she can do will be a challenge, but it’s a welcome one.

Our next pet project will be figuring out what to do with Wisp for the long term. Would she be willing to become an inside cat? If not, we could install a cat door, but TYG’s concerned that even with the best doors, a raccoon or something equally unwanted could force its way in. I can’t think of any other option other than leaving things as they are. I think I’d prefer making her an indoor cat, which keeps her safer, but it’s Wisp’s call too. Above you can see her walking with Plushie early this week. If our dogs could adopt her, I think she’d love being an indoors dog — she likes us, but she loves them.

#SFWApro. Photos are mine.

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Filed under Personal, The Dog Ate My Homework