College update from M

M phoned last night, for the first time since early September, so we got to hear loads of good details about college that never make it into our usual brief, disjointed, text conversations.

In no particular order:

-He’ll be going on a “get out the vote” trip to Pennsylvania with the college Democrats group, in the days right before the election. I’m hoping it will be a valuable learning experience for him, a good way to make more friends, and help to swing that state a little more blue, for both presidential and congressional races.

-The food truck parked on his street is open 24/7. This is why he could get fish and rice at 12:45 in the morning.

-He and a friend went to see a taping of John Oliver, and really enjoyed the experience.

-Classes are going well, yesterday’s midterm went well, and he was sorting out something about class registration. He seemed to have it all under control, despite taking a rather heavy course load.

-His dorm room has cockroaches. We emphasized he really needed to report that. He seemed to know how to do so.

-He’s gone to a couple different art museums (I think as part of his art class assignments), and really liked seeing Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” in person. He also learned that when museums are 30 blocks apart, it’s a really long walk, and would be better to take the subway.

-He’s gotten moderately lost in the NYC subway system, but in general is figuring it out OK.

-We asked about his class schedule on the day before Thanksgiving, then clarified for him that Thanksgiving falls on a Thursday, not Friday. He’s got to check on a couple classes, but we’re getting closer to being able to buy a bus ticket for him to come home.

Because it will be very good to see him again, and hear even more about what he’s been up to. And I’m sure he’ll appreciate sleeping somewhere without cockroaches.

For a change, I actually find myself agreeing with Trump about something: this election is rigged.

This election is rigged against control by white people, because the 15th amendment to the Constitution guarantees people of all races and colors the right to vote.

This election is rigged against control by men, because the 19th amendment guarantees women the right to vote.

This election is rigged against control by evangelical Christians, because the 1st amendment means that people of other religions can’t be barred from voting.

And the media that supports this election is rigged too. Because the 1st amendment guarantees the press has the freedom to report not just what someone proclaims to be true, but also to report what is factually true.

This election is rigged against racism, against sexism, against discrimination, and against lies.

I am so grateful for our Constitution.


(USS Constitution)


I am officially old

Proof number 1: at the hardware store, I was buying a can of spray paint. After it was scanned, the register prompted the cashier to enter the customer’s birth date. The cashier didn’t even bother to ask if I had a license/ID, never mind to see what birth date was listed on it. She just randomly typed in some birth date that must have translated as “old enough to buy spray paint.” I used to look young enough that the cashiers would at least apologetically ask to see my license.

Proof number 2: at work, a service engineer and I were chatting about the various lab equipment that we’ve worked on. He said that the model I first used is one that he has only seen in his company’s in-house museum of obsolete technology. It wouldn’t have surprised me if he’d simply said that particular model was before his time, but I hadn’t realized it was now considered a museum piece!

E very kindly pointed out, after I told her about episode number 2, that I’m not old — I’m experienced. That does sound better!

Yet more inequality

At the food pantry the other night, I overheard an elderly woman and her young granddaughter at the check-in table. The non-English-speaking grandmother was trying to explain something to the volunteer handling check-in, but the volunteer couldn’t tell if the grandmother was there to get groceries for just herself or for the granddaughter’s family. (Since groceries are allocated based on family size, and the granddaughter’s name was in the system as part of a large family, this was a relevant question.) Finally the young granddaughter piped up in English: “My mommy has 2 babies, and one of them is sick, so she can’t come get groceries.”

Well then — family-size grocery allotment it is!

But all I could think was, some kids go home from kindergarten or first grade, and their only responsibility is to help set the table for dinner. This little girl came home from kindergarten or first grade, then spent her evening going to the food pantry with grandma and explaining her family’s situation to a stranger, so that her family could have something on the table for dinner.

Income tax inequality

When M was a baby, household finances were tight enough that I knew where every dollar had to go. I distinctly recall getting a raise at work, and celebrating by buying M his first pair of shoes. He started to walk just a few weeks later, and he actually managed to wear out those shoes by about the same time he outgrew them, because they were the only shoes he had.

It is fairly galling to realize I most likely paid more in income taxes that year than Trump did. And I am fairly certain Trump was not wearing cheap velcro sneakers every single day.

DIY cat hammock

I was randomly surfing cat-related things on the internet one day, and ran across cat hammocks. They are basically squares of fabric, hung by straps from their four corners, in a cage or under a chair to make a sort of hanging pouch. Well, the amorphous-slumping aspect of a hammock seemed like a perfect match for sleeping feline anatomy. But our cat doesn’t have a cage, our chairs have too many rungs, and our cat sometimes likes to spread out while sleeping.

We do, however, have a coffee table that I suspected would be absolutely perfect to support a cat hammock. There are some bolts on the underside that I figured I could attach a hammock to. (How did I already know there were exposed bolts? Because my son went through a phase around age 4 of crawling under the coffee table and unscrewing them. I never did learn why this was so appealing.)

So I found a spare piece of denim and some rope, and bought a 1″ diameter dowel. I cut the dowel into 2 pieces, each the length of the outside width of the coffee table legs. I cut the denim several inches longer than the coffee table, and about the same width as the coffee table. I sewed a narrow hem on each long edge of the denim. Then I folded over about 4-5 inches at each short end of the denim and sewed across to make a tube at each end that I could slide a dowel through.


Then I used rope to tie the dowels to the coffee table, using bowline knots around the dowels. I was able to use one continuous piece of rope for each end, threading it through the hidden bolts under the table. If your coffee table had less exposed hardware, you could use lag eye bolts screwed into the inside of the frame. By having the dowels on the outside rather than the inside of the legs, it keeps the hammock from swaying side-to-side as the cat climbs in.



And then we put a commercial cat mat on top, for extra warm snuggly niceness.


Ta-da: cat hammock!


It works well with all sorts of cat positions.




Please note: as built, this was plenty strong enough for a single 11-pound cat. If you have multiple cats each weighing 25+ pounds, the way our neighbors do, you might need something a little stronger than mid-weight denim.

Although as built, it is strong enough to sleep two, even if one is human, as long as the human keeps her body on the floor.


Since our cat not only has a walnut-sized brain, but is also elderly, we had this hammock set up in the living room for a few months before he finally figured out he was meant to curl up and sleep in it. But once he figured it out, he’s been absolutely loving it. He spends at least 75% of his sleeping time in it. When he’s gotten so over-tired that he can’t settle down, we just prod him into his hammock, and he usually curls up and relaxes. And he loves being able to snooze with us around him in the living room, but in a safe space where he won’t get stepped on and doesn’t have lights shining in his eyes.

Over time, the denim has stretched a little. So I’ve shortened the ropes a bit, and took a 1/2″ tuck the entire width of the hammock to compensate. In general, he’s only got about 1/2″ clearance from the ground at his lowest point, but that’s enough to give him all the slumpy flexibility he wants. The ropes are easily slid off the dowels and the entire contraption vacuumed, when the fur levels get overwhelming.

We haven’t heard anything from M since we said good-bye after moving him down to college on Tuesday. But E happened to chat with the neighbor kid yesterday after his first day of school. So at least we know 7th grade is going great.

And we’re assuming things are going equally well with M, in part because we haven’t heard from him. Move-in went much more smoothly than expected. Roommates were nice and dorm room was the largest we’ve ever seen. M managed to find his way around the campus/neighborhood well enough to take care of a couple different tasks by himself. And after we said good-bye, we saw him at the welcome session comfortably chatting with a group of students that included his two roommates and several other transfer students. Such a wonderful difference to see how confident he is this time around, despite the unfamiliar setting, compared to last year’s weepy good-bye and anxious texts later that evening!