Ask the grumpies: How do you steer a conversation away from complaining?

Debbie M asks:

how do you steer conversation away from complaining? I like a good rant as much as the next person, and sadly I also complain as much as the next person. But I don’t like that.

Some negative things absolutely need to be discussed and handled, and some problems need venting. But I don’t want those to be the ONLY topics of conversation for hours on end. Think: complaining about work problems in a very repetitive way. Probably shouting, “You already told me that three times!” is not ideal.

Just three?  You’re lucky!

Not so long ago (before someone switched jobs) I may have asked #2 a “hypothetical” question similar to this one.  She suggested kitten pictures, but I kind of wonder if that’s just rewarding the problem.  (She also got the hint though… especially when my immediate reaction the next time was to send kitten pictures.)

#2:  My favorite topic-changer is to talk about kittens.  No matter what the conversation is about, just start talking about how kittens are great, they are so fluffy and pouncy and cute and they hop and they purr…


  • DC1 has always been exactly average height for hir age/non-skipped grade.  DC2 has always been a bit tall for hir exact age, which put hir as average or a little above average for hir grade (because zie has a late summer birthday), but over the summer this year, zie has gotten HUGE.  Zie is towering over kids in first grade with early Fall birthdays.  Zie isn’t the tallest, but zie is close.
  • Also this summer DC2 decided to skip over things like Magic Treehouse or Cam Jansen or the A to Z mysteries and go straight from books with lots of pictures and badly behaved main characters (Bad Kitty, Franny K. Stein, etc.) to Harry Potter.  We’re not quite sure how that happened.  Or where to go from here.  Zie also loves Ramona books.  Basically it seems like zie completely skipped things at 2nd-4th grade reading and interest level other than a brief flirtation with Junie B. Jones.
  • Did I mention that DC2 is absolutely brilliant in math?  Zie has this amazing intuitive understanding of the number system that makes my heart happy whenever zie explains connections zie has figured out to me.
  • We got the learning outcomes for first grade.  They want kids to end at level “J” which is where DC2 ended Kindergarten before this big reading advancement this summer.  And math looks like another completely uninspiring year.  If zie was better at Spanish this would have been a very good year to skip.  But hir teachers seem nice, and oddly they both already knew DC2’s name at back to school night (not true of all of the kids), so maybe they’ve been warned.  They’ve also re-sorted the GT kids across the two classes — I think maybe by gender.  Sadly DC2’s best friend is in the other dual-language class (which was also true last year– they hang out in the after school program), but happily zie isn’t stuck with the one GT kid who actively doesn’t like hir, and there’s not just the one.  (Last year there were 2 in DC2’s class and 4 in the other class.  This year it seems to be 3/3, girls in one class, boys in the other.) [update!  The GT kid DC2 was paired with last year didn’t show up, so they put *all* the GT kids in DC2’s class the first day of class.  DC2 is thrilled.]
  • DC1 has gotten into geometry proofs.  It was hard starting at first– I’d forgotten how frustrating it always is to start a new proof-based subject not knowing what you’re allowed and not allowed to assume.  (I remember back in Number Theory in high school where we had to prove addition (using definitions for distance, IIRC) before we could assume it!  That was super frustrating!  And then in Real Analysis in college we proved addition in a completely different way (set theory, I think?), but that was more in the middle of the semester and less frustrating.  Math is so amazing with the way it all just works.  Well, except for paradoxes and unprovable things but those are really cool too.)  And this is hir first foray into proof-based anything so zie hadn’t had the experience of being initially frustrated an then getting used to the new rules.
  • There’s a new teacher for geometry at the middle-school, coming over from high school.  She sent a very nice email talking about how she’s not really sure how to go about teaching the class in terms of homework and lecture vs. classwork and providing the schedule for the class.  There’s about a 6 week unit on proofs, but the rest is non-proof stuff, including a unit on the end on construction, so I feel vindicated in going through proofs with DC1 this summer.  Plus I had forgotten that the book I’m using has a lot more intro-to-proof stuff that will be useful in later classes that isn’t necessarily there for geometric purposes (indirect proofs, paragraph proofs, etc.)
  • After being obnoxious about two column proofs and complaining that paragraph proofs were somehow better, DC1 has converted into a two column proof evangelist.  They take less writing.
  • DC1’s feet are the same size as mine now.  Hands are still smaller though.
  • My kids are seriously into seaweed snacks.  I don’t understand it at all– I couldn’t handle the taste of dried seaweed until late college, and I still prefer more mild seaweed on my sushi.  (Seaweed salad, otoh, is delicious and has always been.  But that’s a different thing.)

Little Kitty

I fell for her beautiful blue eyes on the no-kill shelter page.  We were going to finally move into an apartment that allowed pets and I started cat shopping early.  She was still there the day we got the apartment.  We went to the shelter before we even moved our furniture because I was so anxious to get you.

When we got there, you were in one of the rooms with the big adult cats.  You were so tiny and yellow.  You wouldn’t eat or groom yourself because you were so scared of all the other animals.  While we were there a volunteer got her to eat some soft food by giving her her own dish away from everyone else.  She was really still a kitten– not even a year old.  But she’d had three little boys (adopted out) already.  That meant she’d never get very big.  And she was a great mamacat taking good care of them.  She’d been found in a box near a dumpster.  (She liked boxes.  The smaller the better. We called her box kitty sometimes.)

We took her home with the friendly Big Kitty we also picked out that day.  She hid for a while in a built-in cupboard.  At lunch I gave her some chicken and she became my best friend in the entire world.  By morning she’d cleaned herself up and her previously yellowed fur was bright white and she was so energetic.

She didn’t really know how to cat.  She learned a lot from Big Kitty, even though Big Kitty never particularly wanted to be friends.  (They had a nose touching en passant relationship, but no more.)  In the night we would hear these terrifying screeching sounds– it was usually silent Little Kitty practicing meowing.  She also liked to play ball in the night.  She escaped from the apartment once and led us on a not at all merry chase around the neighborhood.  She was very good at jumping fences.  Enormous height for such a little kitty.  We eventually got her on a halter.

She didn’t really like to be carried (though she allowed me to carry her so long as she’d get a treat right after), and she wasn’t crazy about people coming up to pet her.  One doesn’t pet the Little Kitty, the Little Kitty pets you.  Headbonks were her favorite, and we would have a nighttime routine in which she would visit us before we fell asleep for headbonks and pettings.  When it got really cold she might consent to be a lap kitty or to curl up on the same bed or couch as another cat (not touching).

Back when we had big computer monitors, her favorite spot was on top of mine.  When we moved to flat screen, she had to move in front, which she didn’t like as much.

She was the sweetest and most trusting of kitties.  Once she got into our chimney and was so trusting as we gave her a bath.  She’d look up to us as if to say she didn’t understand what was going on, but she trusted us to make it better (and to provide treats after any indignity).

She moved with us to our new job and loved the patio.  She loved our backyard (we still had to keep her on a halter because she was so good at jumping even the tallest of fences).

When we had a surplus of backyard cats she mostly stayed aloof and out of the fray.  She seemed to miss Big Kitty when Big Kitty passed and never really got into a nose sniffing relationship with Nice Kitty, the remaining backyard cat.

As she got older she got indigestion and then more recently ear infections that would go away and then come right back after treatment ended.  Then one morning she couldn’t walk straight and the vet found a tumor in her ear canal.  We drove to the closest vet school and determined it was inoperable and would not be a candidate for chemotherapy.  Radiation could be done, but there was no evidence that radiation without surgery worked at all in cats, and at most it would slow the tumor’s growth, not stop it or shrink it and she would have to go to the vet regularly which she hated.  So we prepared for hospice.

Cancer is not a pretty way to go.  But little kitty was so resilient as every new disability affected her.  She learned how to walk straight and deliberately with each new hit to her sense of balance.  She submitted calmly to baths and ear cleaning with minimal complaint.  She chomped down her medicine in pill pockets until she couldn’t chew and swallow anymore and then sort-of allowed us to dose her with the fruit-flavored and heavily sugared liquid versions of the pain killers and steroids that she hated.  We’d think it would be time and then she would figure out that she could get water from the faucet, or she’d figure out a new way to get treats to her throat and that would buy another week or so.  She would curl up on the patio or knead DH’s chest and purr, despite it all.  But each time she got better it wouldn’t be as good as it was before and each worse was a new low.  And finally, as the vet predicted, she couldn’t eat anymore, not even baby food, and we couldn’t let her starve to death or force her to submit to a feeding tube and she suddenly stopped getting joy out of her favorite things and we had to let her go.  Which is heartbreaking.

Death is hard, whether it is sudden and unexpected or following a slow deterioration.

Little kitty has brought so much joy.  Fifteen years was just not long enough for our sweet little girl.

Little kitty in better days



Link Love

This week has been such an insane week work-wise that basically we wouldn’t find out what was happening in the world until the evenings.  A lot happened in the world.

Over 500 migrant kids are still separated from their parents weeks after court deadline, including 23 kids under age 5.  I don’t know what the action item is here, other than to give another donation to places like the ACLU and Raices Texas.

Betsy DeVos wants to fund guns for school.

ICE detains man driving pregnant wife to deliver their baby.

Down with Silent Sam, and down with the NC State Legislature in November.

Beto O’Rourke defends NFL Players who take a knee.  He’s a good one to support, all you blue-state folks in safe districts wondering where to send your campaign contributions.

Teen Vogue’s story on the women sexually harassed by former Northwestern professor (triggers).

Don’t have sex with students bingo card

This looks like a good important book that neither of us could handle actually reading (all the trigger warnings, also an amazon affiliate link)

MassPoliticsProfs shares a personal-political post

Related:  Why that feel-good news story should make you feel very bad

Jenny Han talks about the importance of Asian Americans on screen and To all the boys I’ve loved before.  (Which is also a fantastic book, btw, though IIRC her first series, before this one, is a bit squicky in terms of age differences and young protagonists.)

Donate supplies and gift cards to former foster kids moving into the dorms at UCLA (I always give feminine products off these kinds of lists because they’re necessary and they’re usually one of the last things funded)

How much it costs to give birth in every state

Public pension plans with higher fees have worse performance

Stacking Pennies discusses Ambition in her 30s

The misunderstood science of sexual desire

Corn that doesn’t need soybeans or fertilizer

This is an amazing performance

This truly is the greatest twitter scheme.  Is this the real life?

Like most people, I’m secure.

Ask the grumpies: Favorite piece of furniture and why

Leah asks:

What is your favorite piece of furniture and why?

#1 and #2 at the same time ready 1, 2, 3:  THE BED!

Here’s why:

Gun-Humping Theater

My MIL (who works in a public elementary school) called to tell us about the training they’re receiving in her school district about what to do when there’s an armed gunman inside the school.

What she told me is deeply, deeply disturbing and destabilizing.  Just look at what this link is called:

(this link isn’t about the place she lives or her school system, but it’s very similar to their program, and it was the best example I could find.)

Imagine being a kid in a Florida school and knowing there is a white man (at least in her school it’s a white dude) in your school whose actual job is to shoot people. MIL got trained on where to stash her kids in her classroom so that the fewest of them would die, and what color piece of paper she should slide under the classroom door to let someone know that her kids were dying. She’s having a really hard time with this, AS SHE SHOULD.

Also she works in special ed and her kids are totally incapable of following the drill procedures (which can’t be done from a wheelchair). It is the WORST. It is TERRIFYING. It is crazy-making.

Seeing the inside of the training the adults get is INSANE. There is no way for people to do these procedures:
in case of active shooter, don’t call 911. Put this guy’s cell number in your phone and call him.

She has different places to put her (multiply-disabled) kids depending on what kind of gun the shooter has. WHAT KIND OF GUN!

She works with disabled elementary school students. And the message she got was to be fkcng terrified the whole time she’s at work, and also she needs to identify what kind of gun is shooting at her kids as she piles furniture in front of her door.
Also she feels crazy… Because it is DESIGNED to make her feel crazy.

Her co-workers are like “It’s great, we’ll be so safe, this one guy will take care of us.”
(…unless he’s in the bathroom or something.)
The world is scary but we’ll be safe because we have GOOD GUYS WITH GUNS

There’s no way That’ll go wrong.
There’s no way their EXTENSIVE training (see link above) would let them make a mistake and open fire on, say, a Sikh parent in a turban picking up his kid at a crowded school.
Yeah it’ll be fine
She’s so upset and she can’t tell if she’s crazy or not.
I told her, NOT.

She said she’s the only one upset by it. It’s really really bad. Everyone else on the staff thinks the school’s designated shooter guy is just the greatest position to have.

She’s angry that the government is taking money from public schools to fund these positions (which don’t even get paid that much, considering their job is to shoot guns in an elementary school).

This attack of rage has been brought to you by our trashfire of a country, by the letter T, and by a high level of humidity. Down with humidity, down with pants. Smash the patriarchy. Can’t happen soon enough.

Grumpeteers, who’s got some rageterror to share?


  • The private school that DC1 went to for K-4 went out of business.  Luckily DC2 seems to be enjoying dual language in the public schools.  I switched my amazon smile account over to the Planned Parenthood in the nearest city.  I’m not sure what DH will be switching his over to (I suggested ACLU).
  • I got some summer money so now our emergency fund has been completely refilled.
  • DH has gotten into the idea of buying a new mattress and has been investing more time in it than I would, which for now means I’m not immediately rage buying one online.  Last week during a lunch break he went to a local mattress store and tried a bunch of mattresses (he likes tempurapedic memory foam) and wrote down how firm he thought they were.  Next he went online and tried to find firmness levels for those specific mattresses.  He’s hoping to be able to use that information should we decide to buy a bed in a box online.  [update:  it did not help because mattresses sold in stores exist nowhere else, apparently]
  • I was talking to a finance professor at a conference this summer and he told me that upper-middle-class people such as myself should be invested in 100% stocks until age 45 or so because the variation between stocks and jobloss isn’t close enough to make it worthwhile to invest in bonds.  I’m not sure how I feel about that, but something worth thinking about.  I should probably purge my retirement accounts of bonds and shift any bond over to taxable, if I’m going to have bonds.  But I will probably put all of this off.
  • In the end we decided to take the king bed plunge and went with Loom and Leaf.  Sadly they didn’t have a platform bed option (and the place we got our last platform bed no longer sells them!) So we ended up getting a Best Price Mattress Model E from Amazon.  There is some concern that Amazon may send the wrong item, but Walmart was out of king-size and Target doesn’t carry this brand.  We went with for new sheets and mattress pads.  We haven’t actually *gotten* the mattress yet because we need a two week window in which we can guarantee one of us will be home to let them in to take away our old mattress and box springs.  But we did order the bed and sheets…
  • DH’s employer bought everyone new laptops, and the result is equivalent to his four-year old desktop for the same price (except for a better monitor and graphics card).  The price was the same.  So the price of portability is about 4 years of technological progress.

What do you have your amazon smile account linked to?

Link love

Ten Recommendations to Increase College Student Voting and Improve Political Learning and Engagement in Democracy

A rundown of automatic voter registration and modernization by state.

This week in fascism

If you’re on twitter, use block together to add yourself to this blocklist in order to fight Alex Jones (the guy who uses his twitter platform to harass Sandy Hook families who lost their children in the Sandy Hook mass shooting).  Twitter has refused to ban him and only suspended him briefly at all after this blocklist was started.

How to discuss the far right without empowering it  (Answer:  treat it like any other political party and show that there’s no there there.)

Reminder to check your voter registration and why you may have been pruned

Green Party Candidate was on state GOP payroll

Bait truck filled with Nikes in black Chicago neighborhood was part of railroad sting.  Favorite quote:  “In the Bait Car episode that took place in Englewood, the car itself was the bait, but the thieves ended up taking the police surveillance equipment in the trunk rather than the vehicle. They managed to escape before the authorities could apprehend them.”

Average salaries haven’t gone up much in the last 40 years

This is a splendid rage

Why so-called formerly “progressive” white men turned to Trump (hint:  they’re sexist racist douches)

This cold-diarrhea take is getting old

Why the use of the phrase “friend zone” needs to die  I have been noticing a shift in its usage more recently to be a bit more empowering for women– I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than stopping the use of the phrase.  I think maybe better?  Because people really like the phrase, and it’s going to get used, so it’s better without the connotations of it being a bad thing.

What is a collider variable?

Does television kill your sex life?  The answer may not surprise you.

Travel tips for people who don’t want to travel hack

How a Hugo nominated song inspired a book by Campbell award nominee

Best and worst instant ramen

Woman takes nap



Ask the grumpies: Why don’t you speculate?

Jjiraffe asks:

What do you think about cyber currency/bitcoin? Are you investing? Why or why not?

Short answer:  I think it’s a speculative bubble and I’m not into either gambling or effort.  I’m not into gambling because I’m risk averse.  I’m not into effort in terms of stock picking of any kind because I’d rather keep my time and match the market (plus on average people who try to pick individual stocks on average do worse than people who just match the market).  So there’s a lot of things I could do that I don’t– I don’t try to time the market, I don’t try to pick the next hot thing, I don’t try to tax harvest, I don’t set up my portfolio in order to sell losers for tax purposes.  I’m only just now starting to think about which kinds of investments should go in tax-advantaged vs. taxable funds.  I don’t get any joy from gambling and I don’t think I’d get enough additional happiness from being a big winner (given the probability of winning) to justify the additional sadness from losing money which I would inevitably do because I tend to buy and hold until there’s nothing left to hold just because dealing with taxes is such a pain.  Set and forget is ideal for me.

So… I think cyber currency is not a long-term investment, it’s more gambling than investing.  I’m not a gambler, so I’m not “investing”.  What other people do with their money is their business.  Some people will win big and lots of people will lose their shirts.  I don’t need to be in either category.

There’s a lot more stuff across the internets on bitcoin and why it’s not a great idea to invest.  (And lots of stuff from people caught up in the hype.)  Here’s Mr. Money Mustache on the topic.  He has an excellent economic and cyber analysis of it– it really isn’t a good currency.  He also has some good links on his post if you want to read more about the details.

Something I’m doing: Registering students to vote

The 2018 elections are in less than 100 days.  In most states, voter registration has to be done sometime in October in order to allow voting in November.

Back in 2016, a number of my out-of-state or just out-of-town students didn’t get their absentee ballots until after Trump had already been elected (I would not actually be surprised if there’s something fishy going on at our post office).  And a lot of students just don’t vote because they don’t think of it until it’s too late to get an absentee ballot.  If they’re registered locally, then they can vote on election day when they notice what is going on, even though it’s midterms.

Last Spring I did an hour or so training to become a deputy voter registrar.  I’ve registered one voter so far last semester, but I’ve also taken a bunch of forms to the registration office for one of the pro-active student workers in my building who is also a deputy registrar.  (I’ve also watched the kids so that DH could register folks at a few events.)

This year we decided to be more proactive.  We requested a table at student orientation for our major.  The request was granted.

Then the dean told the department heads that he’d signed us up for a competition with our counterparts at rival schools– which school can get the largest number of students registered.  Since I’d already requested the table, I got put on that initiative.  My hope is to get more of these kids to get deputy registrar training so they can go out and register people where they live and socialize.

Making it easy for people to vote when the bad guys are trying to make it hard is vitally important this election.  What can we do to help?  Here’s some links.

How to become a deputy registrar in your state

How people can check their own registration

Donate money to get people voter ids

Let us know in the comments your thoughts and ideas for helping people vote!