#36. If I’m Not a Practicing Scientist, Then Who Am I?

This is a question that sneaks into my brain when I’m not paying attention, like when the cat wakes me up at 3 AM and I can’t get back to sleep, or when I’m reading posts from my academic friends on Facebook about the awesome conferences they’re going to and all the beer they’re going to drink together.

But then I catch myself and I ask, Haven’t we been over this? Do you want to go back to being an academic scientist? And the answer is always, Yes brain, we have discussed this, and no, I do not. No, I do not wish to spend my weekends and evenings grading. No, I do not wish to engage in laborious, circuitous debates with students who are unhappy with said grades. No, I do not wish to attend faculty meetings that constantly run overtime. No, I do not wish to watch my salary stagnate while those of administrators continue to rise. No, I do not wish to write proposals that never get funded. Bottom line: No, I do not wish to invest the time, energy, and patience required to be a successful academic.

But even though I enjoy my current job, I do miss being an active geologist. I’ve been keeping my eye out for potential positions in the region. Right now, in this dead zone between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there isn’t that much hiring going on. Maybe things will open up after the new year.

And if it doesn’t, I’m consoling myself with the fact that what I’ve taken from my science thus far has still made it more than worthwhile, no matter where it takes me in the future:

  • Without geology, I wouldn’t have met the many, many amazing scientists who I now call friends. Between the BS, MS, and PhD, and all the field trips, lab work, and conferences I’ve participated in, I’ve met some of the most brilliant, inspiring people I know.
  • Without geology, I wouldn’t have such a strong perspective of time. Looking back through time is kind of like looking into a sky full of stars: it’s dizzying. Humans are nothing but teeny, tiny dots – not just in the context of the universe, but in the context of time, too. And although that used to freak me out, now I find it immensely comforting. Shit happens, and the universe gets on with it. So soothing.
  • Without geology, I wouldn’t have learned to love the outdoors. When I signed up for my first geology class in college, I had nothing against the outdoors. I liked pretty sunsets. I liked autumn leaves. I’d have been happy to eat a picnic lunch next to a babbling brook, assuming the mosquito population was in check. But I’d never really immersed myself in nature until I started going on field trips with my classmates and professors. Weekend trips with my Geology 101 class soon led to much longer outdoor experiences in the southwestern U.S., Europe, and Brazil.
  • Without geology, I wouldn’t have met Trent or be Sam’s mom. Trent and I were first introduced during a field trip at a sandstone outcrop in TN. (The sandstone, by the way, displayed some excellent channelized cross-bedding.) I mean, I didn’t get into geology so that I could earn my MRS degree, but it did happen to bring the two of us together.
  • And related to Trent, without geology, I wouldn’t be a runner. When I met him, I could barely jog down the block. He was the one who suggested we start running together, and it was with him that I ran my first 5K and then my first marathon. Later, I started running alone – especially when I was on geology trips, out in the middle of nowhere. Running gave me a way to explore those places in a truly immersive way, and as a result, I’ll always feel deeply connected to those landscapes and their histories.
  • Without geology, I wouldn’t feel so strongly about the need to protect our environment, especially in a time when climate change denial is rampant amongst our national leaders (though not necessarily amongst the general public) and the president elect wants a climate change denier to lead the EPA.

I’d love to find my way back to my science again, but I’m not in a rush. I want it to be the right position: a position in which I can make some difference, a position that gets me outside, keeps me connected to nature, and allows me to help fight for environmental protection.

I think it’ll work out. I just need to give it time.

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#35. Things That Are Happening

All three of us are sick with an annoying cold that descended on the family a couple of days ago. I’m treating it with apple cider vinegar, DayQuil, cough drops, smoothies, and whiskey. Not all at once, though.

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I’ve signed up for some stuff.

One: as a crisis text line volunteer. In the aftermath of the 2016 election, I feel desperate to DO something other than just wring my hands and write Tweets. I applied for the crisis line and was accepted. Training started yesterday. So far I’ve learned some lessons that most of us would find valuable right now, such as the difference between empathy and sympathy, creative and healthy approaches to self care, and why it’s important in times of crisis to develop an action plan.

Two: for the Crown King Scramble, a 50K that takes place north of Phoenix on April 1. This will be my first ultra. It’s not lost on me that the race takes place on April Fool’s Day, and considering that the course includes >4000 feet of steady elevation gain, the date may be rather portentous. I keep telling myself that Flagstaff is the perfect place to train for a race like this and that I prefer inclines to flats anyway. What’s that thing they say? Do things that scare you? Check.

Three: for a Road Runner’s Club of America Coaching Certification Course. I’ve been eyeing this for a while now, but the courses fill up so fast that it’s hard to land a spot. I finally registered for one in Pasadena next month (and bonus, I get to stay with my good friend Carrie while I’m there!) I’m interested in coaching other runners – not the super-speedy, super-nimble pros who call Flagstaff home, but people who are new to running and want help developing (and sticking with) a training plan.

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It snowed last week. Running in the snow is new for me, and I’m far from graceful as I slog through several inches of powder, trip over unseen cobbles, and try not to wipe out on roads slicked with ice. But Trent and I have been out for two snowy longer runs – a 16-miler and a 10-miler – over the past few days, and they were both lovely. Running through the woods is peaceful and refreshing. We’re so glad we landed in Flagstaff.

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Snowing at Buffalo Park

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On the Arizona Trail

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On the trails north of Buffalo Park

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Mt. Elden Lookout Road, somewhat snow- and ice-covered

#34. Water: One Reason to Go Part-Time Vegetarian

I try really hard NOT to be one of those vegans* who annoys anyone and everyone with constant evangelizing about how I eat and why they should eat that way, too. First, nobody likes a lecture. And second, it seems pointless. Going fully vegetarian or vegan – and then sticking with it – is challenging unless you’re deeply invested in doing so, be that for environmental reasons, ethical reasons, health reasons, or some combination. Until you have a strong “why” for ditching animal products, it’s going to be tough to stay committed.

That said, the Earth’s climate is changing rapidly, and we’re starting to see the effects: melting ice at the poles, wildfires in the mountains of the southeastern U.S. in December, record high temperatures worldwide. It would be nice if we could simply rely on the government to do all the heavy lifting in tackling the enormous issue of climate change, but considering that certain president elects (ahem) are now toying with the idea of backing out of the Paris climate agreements, that seems like wishful thinking.

It’s up to us, too. Our individual choices on a daily basis DO make a difference. And eating a plant-based diet – even on a part-time basis, as Treehugger.com founder Graham Hill suggests – can make a significant, positive impact completely independent of what’s happening (or not happening) in the political arena.

So in the next few posts, I want to offer some environmental reasons to become a sometimes-vegetarian. These reasons include water use, greenhouse gas emissions, land use, and water pollution. (There are also abundant health and ethical reasons for adopting a more plant-heavy diet, but I want to write a few blog entries, not a book.)

First up: water. In 2005, nearly 40% of all freshwater (which, keep in mind, makes up only ~2.5% of all water on Earth!) was used for agriculture. Moreover, many of those crops (for instance, ~47% of soybeans and ~60% of corn) are used to feed not humans, but cattle, chickens, and other animals. In other words, consuming fewer animal products helps conserve water, a precious resource that we can’t afford to waste.

National Geographic has a great interactive infographic called The Hidden Water We Use that can help you make dietary choices with water usage in mind. A quick look reveals that whereas the production of one pound of beef requires 1,800 gallons of water, a pound of chicken requires 468 gallons, a pound of goat requires only 127 gallons (!), and a pound of wheat requires 132 gallons. So… If you replace your hamburger or steak with almost any other protein option a few times a week, you’re already making a real difference with respect to water use.

The infographic also reveals that beverage-loving vegetarians and vegans aren’t in the clear: a gallon of wine requires over 1,000 gallons of water to produce, a gallon of beer requires 689 gallons of water, and a gallon of coffee requires 880 gallons of water. In other words, there are always opportunities to make a better choice.

Also in other words, if you’re trying to be the “perfect consumer,” you’re probably going to fail. Make some changes you can stick with, do your best, and give yourself credit for what you can do.

*Also, I can’t call myself a strict vegan. I still consume honey. I still wear wool. These are changes I would consider making, but I’m not there yet. Work in progress.

#33. The election, taking action, and daily choices

It took me most of this month to pick myself up off the ground and keep going. Finally, a post.

This is not another election recap. This is not a post about what went wrong, where we went wrong, how we did wrong. There are already plenty of posts about that, and they do a far better job of analyzing the situation than I ever could.

But like many people, I’m horrified and scared. I’m worried about anyone who’s not a straight white man. I’m worried about the possibility of losing my health insurance (before the ACA was passed, I had a lot of trouble obtaining coverage thanks to a resolved childhood medical condition). I’m worried about my LGBTQ friends. I’m worried about undocumented immigrants and their kids. I’m very, very worried about the environment… or rather, worried about humanity’s ability to adapt to an environment that’s changing at a breakneck pace. The Earth is going to stick around for another few billion years. The real question is whether a rapidly-growing population, dependent on ever more limited natural resources,  will be able to tolerate these new environmental conditions. These concerns are based on reams of data-based evidence, and yet many of our “new hires” in the federal government refuse to believe or acknowledge it.

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After the election, I vowed to take action every day to fight against the negativity and hatred that the election revealed. For the most part, these actions are going to be rather small: calling members of congress, making a small donation to a nonprofit, signing and sharing petitions, volunteering in my community, etc. For example, today I wrote a few brief emails to the Government Accountability Office about the president elect’s conflicts of interest; it took me all of three minutes. The point is to do something, however small, that contributes to the greater good. If every person took a small action or two every day, that could yield powerful results.

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In other news, I continue to work at REI. It’s been the perfect place to weather the current storm because a) it keeps me busy, b) I’m surrounded by smart, hardworking people who love being active and getting outside, and c) stress levels are pretty low, which is something I need that right now. It also keeps me focused on issues that I am particularly concerned about, such as environmental degradation, NoDAPL, materialism, and, again, climate change. Working at this store, surrounded by people who love the Earth and love being in nature, has been a good reminder that although our government has the power to make life-altering decisions, we as consumers also have an abundance of power. Every day, we vote with our dollars and our choices. We are not powerless.

So if you’re reading this, take action today in some way. Do something that will benefit someone else either directly or indirectly. Then do something for the planet. Again, that action doesn’t need to be huge: bring your own reusable mug when you buy a cup of coffee, pick up litter along the way if you’re on a run or a hike, purchase the article of clothing that was made in a more sustainable way and that’s going to last longer, make a meatless meal.

Daily actions + long-term commitment = significant results. That’s my mantra now.

Petrified Forest Marathon: A Recap

Three words I would use to describe the Petrified Forest Marathon at Petrified Forest National Park on October 22, 2016:

Blazing. Hot. Sun.

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Another runner offered to take my picture near the starting line before the race began. From start to finish, everyone – participants, volunteers, and directors – made this an incredibly friendly event.

The main thing that stands out to me two weeks later is that for the five hours I was on the road, there was not a single shred of shade (well, except for the Port-A-Potty, but no-one wants to take respite there for long). And it was really warm for a marathon: temperatures reached record highs in the mid-80s that day.

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No shade.

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Really, none.

Yes, between the heat and the hills, the marathon was tough. I was somewhat prepared for the weather, but because I hadn’t really studied the course elevation profile (reasoning that it was just one more potential stressor), I didn’t realize how steep some stretches would be, including 2 major inclines that everyone walked.

But you know what? I went in prepared, I had a plan, I followed through, and I finished! Despite the challenges, I felt like the entire thing was totally manageable, even when things got a bit tough in the last six miles.

What went right:

1. I picked the right race for me. First, it was a point-to-point course, which I tend to prefer over courses that loop back on themselves in some way. The scenery and terrain were always fresh and unexpected. Second, it was small. The total number of marathoners and half-marathoners combined was somewhere around 100; about half of those people ran the full 26.2. Because it was so small, all of the participants had easy access to all of the race resources. This included the race director, who bounced around the course all day to check in with people. Third, it was special: I got to run through a national park during the NPS’s centennial year, and that felt awesome. (Sidenote: the route through PFNP is almost exactly 26 miles! It was made for a marathon.)

2. I was prepared. I could tell my training, healthy eating, and somewhat obsessive organizing the day before paid off.

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Packet pick-up took place at the quirky Wigwam Motel in Holbrook the night before the race. It looked like something out of the movie Cars.

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I laid out my clothes, gels, headphones, chapstick, and other necessities the night before, then checked and re-checked everything.

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I really loved the bib for this marathon. It definitely captures the spirit of the race.

I also wrote out my running game plan and put it in my front pocket so that I could refer to it throughout the race. The plan outlined the pace I should be running at at various points throughout the marathon and when I should be taking in food and liquids.

3. I rocked the nutrition management. It is so easy, especially early in a race, to convince yourself that you don’t need food, but once you get a couple of hours in, your glycogen stores start to nosedive. You have to replenish them whenever you can. I ate at every single aid station with food, and I had two caffeinated gels that I consumed at predetermined times (one at mile 12, and one at mile 19). Again, having a plan written out and close at hand helped a lot – especially during the last part of the run when my brain wasn’t fully functioning.

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Step 1 of race day nutrition management: COFFEE. I got up early so that I could take my time with breakfast (granola bar, apple, banana) and let the coffee work its, well, magic.

4. I motivated myself with music. I downloaded new tunes the night before and didn’t let myself listen to them until mile 20. So instead of dreading the “last half of the marathon,” as some people refer to miles 20-26, I kind of looked forward to it. I can’t overstate just how helpful music was in those last six arduous miles. I’m going to use this strategy in all future marathons.

5. I alternated walking and running at the end. It was part of my strategy. I figured that what works for ultrarunners can work for marathoners, too: Why jog up a hill and knock yourself out if you can just walk it at almost the same speed? Plus, I walk fast. I don’t lose that much time by doing it when I’m tired.

6. I took time to enjoy the scenery. The rock formations at Petrified Forest are incredible: layers and layers of multicolored sedimentary units that change hues depending on the time of day. I tried to stop every now and then to take pictures, although the sun was so bright that I could barely see the screen on my phone.

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Because I couldn’t see my phone screen, I ended up with this lovely shot of the Port-a-Potties.

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Ultimately, I finished in 5:05. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tiny bit disappointed by that time – I was aiming for closer to 4:40 – but once I saw the other finishers’ times, I realized that I wasn’t the only one who’d struggled with the heat. Everyone lagged.

Two things I’ll do differently next time: 

First, I’ll carry my own water bottle. Aid stations were relatively abundant, but slogging through the desert without water is a little nerve wracking. I hate carrying stuff (and I really really hate hydration packs), but in this case I would have been more comfortable with my own water.

Second, I won’t hold back quite so much at the beginning. I’m glad I paced myself, but I’m pretty sure I could have ramped up the pace earlier without suffering any consequences later on. It’s such a balance: on one hand, you don’t want to go out too fast and wear yourself out, but on the other hand, the longer you’re on your feet, the more exhausted you’re going to feel by the time you approach the finish line.

But that’s it! It went so well. I’m so proud of myself for keeping my wits about me, maintaining a good attitude, and sticking to my plan. And it was beautiful, and the people were super friendly. No regrets.

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Next up: I’m considering a 50K (with another marathon wrapped up into the training plan). This marathon definitely stoked my passion for distance, and once I’m done with this recovery phase, I can’t wait to get back out there and keep pushing myself.

#31. A Lot Can Happen In a Few Weeks

Things that have happened since the middle of October:

  1. We decided to stay in Flagstaff!
  2. I ran the Petrified Forest Marathon and finished – despite blazing sun and intense heat.
  3. We found an apartment in Flagstaff. It’s right next to an amazing trail that leads to Buffalo Park. We can see the San Francisco peaks from our front windows.
  4. I managed to land a job at REI.

I’m going to go into each of these events in more detail in an upcoming post. I keep meaning to write… and then I have to go to work, or we decide to go for a walk, or I fall into the rabbit hole of worrying about a Trump presidency. But I’m going to write about all of it, I swear.

For now, I’ll leave it with this: just as you can’t always predict who you’ll fall in love with, you can’t always predict what place is going to call you home. This feels like home.

#30. Sleep and Community

Last night, for the first time in three or so days, I finally managed to get a decent night’s sleep. Biscuit’s been keeping me up. She meows in my face, scratches at the window dressings, and demands food at 3 AM. And because we live in such a tiny space, it’s not like I can relegate her to a room across the house and close the door.

Finally, Trent suggested that I switch places with Sam and sleep in his bunk, because maybe that would throw off the cat enough to make a difference. And guess what? It did. She was a little feline angel last night. I’m not even sure she knew where I was. (Bwahahahaha, Biscuit. Fooled you!)

Some people can operate without sleep. I can’t. Without sleep, I am moody, depressed, and borderline out of my mind. This is why I have only one child. I don’t think I could do the baby phase again.

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I’ve been quiet here because I’ve been feeling conflicted. Really confused. Since parking it in Flagstaff, I’ve had the overwhelming desire to stay here, to find a little house or apartment, rent out the RV, and settle down – for real this time.

All of a sudden, our tiny home doesn’t feel small, it feels downright claustrophobic. There’s no such thing as personal space. And sometimes it’s just plain uncomfortable. Sometimes we can’t get level; it’s like living in a funhouse. Take now, for example: we’re situated in a spot that makes the RV tilt forward and to the left. Not much, but enough that my coffee is off kilter in its cup, and enough that I sometimes find myself stumbling backwards when I move from the cab towards the bedroom. If Trent walks around while I’m in the shower, I feel like I’m trapped in a bouncy house. And if it’s windy at night, acorns and pinecones pound on the roof while the RV sways and shakes.

Meanwhile, I look at Flagstaff and I see a place where all three of us would be happy. We’ve kind of fallen in love with the place. The trails are incredible (we’ve been out on them almost every day), the outdoor and running communities are strong, and it’s neither too big nor too small in size. It’s beautiful with the mountains as the backdrop. The population is diverse. There’s good coffee.

I could see us here.

But we committed to living in the RV, and I feel guilty for questioning or changing our plans. This is what we decided to do… so shouldn’t we do it? Oddly, I feel like we will be letting other people down if we change our minds. We’re supposed to offer an example of an alternative way of living. What does it say about us if we go back to the same old, same old? Does it mean we’re totally flaky? Does it mean we’ve failed? WHAT DOES IT MEAN.

I think what I didn’t know before, and what I know now, is that community is a necessity for me. As a nomad, I often feel incredibly isolated – not only geographically, but also culturally. Although we have online friends who are living this lifestyle, I don’t know anyone “IRL” who’s doing it. They have houses, in-person jobs, real life friends that they see on a regular basis, schedules, lunch dates and birthday parties… We don’t.

What makes it harder is that Sam says he feels lonely, too. He misses other kids. He misses having good friends. He’s sick of his parents (who’d have thought that would happen?)

What to do? We don’t know yet, though we’ve laid out three options:

  • Keep going as planned. Head to southern Arizona, then California, and then continue on from there. Pros: we get to see more of the country and use Sam’s Every Kid in a Park pass. Clark the RV gets to stay on the road. We don’t have to rent or sell (which, admittedly, would be a pain in the butt). Cons: See above.
  • Find a place and settle in. Pros: We get situated in a place we love. We find a community. Sam makes friends. We make some money on the RV before Biscuit tears it to shreds. Cons: We’d have to figure out what to do with the RV. We wouldn’t be traveling the country.
  • Stay here but live in the RV for a while. Pros: We don’t have to do anything with the RV for a while. We get to know the community. We can move on later if we want to. Cons: Winter is coming and this RV is going to get cold. See complaints above re: tilting, shaking, bouncing, etc. Biscuit continues her reign of terror.

I’m hesitant to post this because I’m afraid of quick judgment and off-the-cuff advice (which I’m not looking for), but I also think it’s important to keep it real. This is the reality. Most of the RV blogs I read make this lifestyle seem grand: challenging at times – like when a tire goes flat on the highway or water leaks all over the rig – but a great option for anyone who loves to travel and adventure. But I love to travel, and I love adventure, and I’m not sure this is the right thing.

I also want to point out that my take on the situation isn’t identical to Trent’s point of view. He’s said he could see himself staying here, but he could also see himself continue on. My impression is that he’d slightly prefer the latter, though he’s not too attached either way.

 

#29. Nomadic Life, Reality Edition

Last week was frustrating. Pipes leaked. Hoses broke. Some of us got cabin fever. Some of us argued about dumb crap. I started to obsess about jobs, or lack thereof.

This way of life looks enticing from a distance, and for the most part, it’s just as appealing up close. But right now I find myself daydreaming about a stationary tiny house situated in big bright field at the foot of the mountains. About having friends I see on a regular basis. About participating in a community.

As I’ve mentioned before, I knew this would happen. I knew I’d start seeing what RVers refer to as the “sticks-and-bricks” lifestyle through rose-colored glasses. 

I assume these feelings of longing are just part of a phase in adjusting to nomadic life, and if we persist, we’ll get through it. I try to remind myself of all the benefits of being a nomad in a tiny space: relatively low cost of living, minimal cleaning, plenty of time with my family, the opportunity to see national parks and wild places, the ability to move on whenever we want. Flexibility. My whole life, I’ve craved flexibility. And now I have it.

We’re in lovely Flagstaff for the next couple of weeks. This week, Sam and I will be homeschooling, going on field trips (Sunset Crater is at the top of our list), and experimenting with some art projects. I’ll be running less, because I’m in the midst of the marathon taper. We’ll be hiking and enjoying the fall colors. I’ll be trying not to worry about money or where we’ll be a few months from now.

#28. Make Me Run (For a Good Reason)

Want to make me run… a lot?

Clara Meschter, a member of my extended family, is fighting ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Because insurance coverage is limited, her daughters are currently managing her around-the-clock care on their own. They’re raising money so that she can receive in-home nursing and a new wheelchair.

Trent and I can’t make a huge donation, but I really want to help. So here’s the deal: for every $1 you donate to make a tangible, meaningful difference in the life of this lovely person, I will commit to running 1 mile. That’s right: if you donate $50, I will run 50 miles. Not all at once. I’m not that talented. But I’ll track it, and I’ll get it done. I’ll post the mileage here and share pictures along the way.

Here’s a link to Clara’s donation page. If you donate, send me a message at susannemcdowell@gmail.com or comment here with the amount you donated.

#27. Behind the Scenes

Our Instagram account might give the impression that the RV lifestyle is all about drinking craft beers, visiting national parks, and taking pretty pictures. I mean, to some extent, YES… but that’s just a teeeeeeny slice of the big picture. The big picture includes problems. Behind the scenes, things go sideways. Often.

For instance:

  • About a week and a half ago, water started dribbling from beneath the kitchen sink, across our living space, and under the couch into deep, dark unreachable places experienced only by cat fur and dust bunnies. It took three rolls of premium paper towels and a plea to our Fulltime RVers Facebook group before we identified a loose pipe fitting underneath the shower.
  • We discovered more mysterious water dripping from the undercarriage of the RV this morning. Once again, we couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. Once again, we spent a couple of clueless hours bashing around our tin can with flashlights and screwdrivers. This time we couldn’t identify the source. We finally had to pony up and call in a mobile RV repair person, who was able to immediately pinpoint a loose freshwater hose connection. Cha-ching.
  • We have grand visions of enriching our child’s life by taking him to every national park and national monument within close proximity to our campsites. His fourth grade “Every Kid In A Park” pass makes me feel obligated to try. But sometimes we get to places and he’s like, Nope. I do not wish to be here. I do not care about that rock nor do I wish to smell that flower, and that bird is boring me to death. I would like to go home and play Minecraft. When I post pictures of national parks and there are no people in them, you know it was a day when my kid was standing off to the sides with his arms crossed, grumbling in protest and giving me a mental middle finger.
  • We don’t take pictures of ourselves worrying about money. That happens on a fairly regular basis, but the photo documentation is rather dull.
  • Know what else I don’t post pictures of? Our dumb arguments. Living in a small space with two other people – three, if you include the cat – can be claustrophobic and grouch-inducing, especially when things start breaking before I’ve had a couple cups of coffee. Trent and I definitely disagree and argue. Maybe some small space residents can live happily with their roommates 100% of the time, but that’s not what’s happening here. A representative example from last night: “WHERE IS THE SEWING KIT.” “I don’t know. Sam and I are going swimming. Do you want to drop us off at the pool so that you can go buy a sewing kit?” “NO! I want YOU to go buy a sewing kit!” “But… I don’t need the sewing kit. I want to go swimming.”
  • At least once a day I make a proclamation along the lines of, “Biscuit McDowell, if you do not stop scratching that couch/window shade/pillow/bumper, I am going to toss you outside to the coyotes.” The precious furrball is hell bent on tearing this place apart with her bare paws.

To sum it up, the problems that crop up now are similar to problems that cropped up before we started RVing: things break, things require money to get fixed, money is scarcer than one might hope, children complain despite parents’ good intentions, relationships are challenging no matter how good they are, and cats are assholes wherever they go.