The Gentle Adventures of Justine and Vivian 2: Vivian

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What is there to say about me? Once I was a mother. I lost my daughter.

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I felt that I was becoming a shadow. I couldn’t bring my daughter back. I couldn’t keep living in our home. One day, I woke up and packed a valise and went to the airport.

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I don’t require much, and when I make a decision, I act. I left England for the United States. I was used to a quiet life in a green countryside. I took a taxi cab from the airport to the train station, and when I walked out onto the street and looked up at the metal and glass buildings and heard the noise of so many people and so many cars, I almost turned around.

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I thought I had made a dreadful mistake, that I should return home, but I kept walking until I found myself in an old part of the city. Though the buildings were young compared to my home, I did sense age, and the passage of many lives, and there was life all around me. Street vendors selling food, clothes, handbags, shoes. I didn’t need shoes. I thought that I might seek lodging in this neighborhood, at least for a little while. Then I heard a woman calling a cat. I looked up, and she was standing on a balcony with a wrought iron railing.

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“There!” she called, and pointed, and I saw a kitten with blue eyes hiding under a food vendor’s cart.

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I have never been a great fan of cats and was surprised when it came to me. The woman ran down, and I saw she was just a little older than my daughter had been. I told her I was new to the city. She said that she had a room to rent.

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This is how I came to live with Justine. She loves books and old-fashioned things. I am an old-fashioned thing. She said that I must have more clothes, so she took me to her dressmaker. I paid. I paid for a new dress for her, too. One thing I did bring plenty of was money. The apartment is tiny, even thought it has two bedrooms. We’ve been talking about moving. I’ve grown to like the little beast, whose name is Pyewackett after a cat in an old movie. We like old movies. We aren’t exactly friends yet. Perhaps we are both trying too hard. I must never tell Justine how much she reminds me of my daughter. Sometimes I hear Justine’s step behind me and think it is . . .

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But it isn’t, and it never will be.

The Gentle Adventures of Justine and Vivian 1: Justine

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I’m twenty-two (my birthday was in January) and have been living in a little apartment since I was eighteen. My apartment is in an old-fashioned brick building with cast-iron door handles and balcony railings. There’s no elevator, but I don’t mind climbing the stairs.

Someone in the building has a lady cat that goes outside, and she had kittens. I adopted a boy kitten and named him Pyewackett.

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He has enchanting blue eyes. My favorite colors are blue and pink. We had a lovely Valentine’s Day together.

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I work in a library, in the history room. I shelve the very old books. On my way home, I sometimes stop at a shop that sells vintage clothes and little treasures. I bought my doll there, and my chest of drawers, and bedding. I like imagining that I saved someone’s favorite thing from being thrown away, and now it’s one of my favorite things.

I don’t need much, just books and Pyewackett. One warm day I did a terrible thing: I left the balcony door open, and Pyewackett disappeared.

The Gentle Adventures of Justine and Vivian

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I write. I’m an amateur photographer. I collect dolls. Necessarily, the three must come together.

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I desperately wanted this doll (Tonner, Urban Legend Lizette, nude) and when I got a little financial windfall, she was still waiting for me. I renamed her Justine, after characters in my books.

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If you knew the characters in my yet-to-be published series, you’d know that this is pre-vampire Vivian (doll’s original name is Delightful Miette, another sold nude) being a really good girl.

I live with Justine/Lizette for a couple of months before Vivian/Miette joined our little family. It’s eerie how Justine came to be a presence with emotions.

Now, how to write the backstory of Justine and Vivian?

Justine and Vivian are not romantically involved and will never be. Per my books, mortal Vivan lost her teen daughter. Ensuing events gave her a cruel streak. She is not a “good” vampire, but she has a little soft spot in her heart for young women who remind her of her daughter.

In this doll backstory, Vivian left England after her daughter’s death and came to America. Vivian was not yet a vampire, so this is an alternate backstory for an established character. She was seeking lodgings, or maybe she was just walking the streets with her valise. I think that she saw a lost kitten.

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Vivian is not a particular fan of cats, but perhaps she heard a young woman calling frantically for Kitty and returned Kitty to Justine. Justine saw her valise and said that she had a room for rent.

Justine preferred her solitary life but needed additional income. She and Vivian are suspicious of each other. Vivian doesn’t want to get too close because she can’t bear to lose another daughter figure . . . yet she’s fascinated by independent Justine. They have things in common. They both love old-fashioned fashion. They both prefer to be alone, but fate drew them together in a little apartment in an old part of a big city. How will they get along while not falling into a mother/daughter relationship? Vivian must establish a new life for herself and finds herself seeking advice from a woman young enough to be her daughter.

How confusing! Let’s see how they progress over the coming months.

 

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I am an amateur at doll photography, but I love it. It’s fun, and it gives me something creative to do that doesn’t “matter” in terms of my career. No, actually, it does matter, because I sell photography and all photography improves my skills. Photography is my side career. Writing is my life.

I finally got shoes for my Tonners. These ladies are an ongoing project. I was only able to afford them because they were both sold nude (the sellers removed their original outfits to sell separately to try to make more money) and they both have rooted hair (no wigs to buy.) Their official names are Lizette and Miette. I renamed the Justine and Vivian. Justine is the younger-looking doll in the blue dress. When I saw this Miette, I had to have her because she has cinnamon-colored hair like the character Vivian in my Empire State Vamps series, and she has brown eyes. After I got Justine and saw her lifelike amber eyes and long eyelashes, I didn’t think I’d like a doll with painted eyes and eyelashes. But I LOVE Vivian/Miette. She looks like my character as a young woman, before she became a vampire.

In my books, Vivian’s 17-year-old daughter was murdered, so she feels a strong motherly instinct towards girls Justine’s age. (But this is all just immature adults playing dolls, right?) I’ve had Justine since January. Since she arrived with no clothes, I had to dress her, and I got SUPER lucky and found an Ebay seller in my state who collects Tonners and makes gorgeous outfits for them for $10-$13. She even made a nightgown to my specifications. Over the last three months, I’ve bought several dresses from her, and we got to chatting. She’s 60. She collects the dolls for her granddaughter, and she makes the clothes to supplement her income. (Again, totally immature adults playing with dolls.)

It was sort of a destiny thing. I had already bought Justine’s long blue frock, and then the seller posted the same dress in a different color and pattern. I wasn’t going to buy it . . . until I found the Miette. And I thought how vampire Vivian loves clothes and would have loved to do the matchy-matchy thing with her daughter. So I bought the matching dress. And I bought underwear and stockings from TheDaughterWhoSews on Etsy, and just last week I bought shoes from Facets by Marcia.

I’ve always collected dolls. I’ve never had the kind of dolls you buy wardrobes for, and accessories, and create “bedrooms” for on your nightstand. I’ve never had dolls that had real personalities. They’re like children–but vampire Vivian would drain me dry if she knew I said that about her.

I’ve been so busy with work lately that I have had almost no time to work on my books. My only relaxation has been Justine and Vivian. I took Instagram pics, of course, but tonight I took some shots with my “real” camera, my Canon Powershot SX20IS. I liked the color shot so much that I took another in sepia, then used the camera’s photo editing software to up the saturation.

So this is what many grown-up doll collectors do. I hope that you like the pics and that you understand doll collectors a little bit better.

 

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Dolls and the Importance of Play in the 21st Century

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Dolls have evolved drastically since I was a child in the 1970s. Of course there are still many traditional dolls on the market, but in general, dolls are becoming more lifelike. Barbie is now available in inexpensive curvy versions and every race and skin tone.

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She’s also available in articulated versions like Made to Move Barbie.

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This was an important decision on Mattel’s part because doll photography is such a huge hobby among collectors, and many of us can’t afford to spend hundreds of dollars on BJDs or don’t like the melancholic expressions of most BJDs. (Please don’t take me to task for BJD hate; I think BJD artists are incredibly talented and I’ve seen BJDs I’d love to have. I have three Monster High repaints that were done by a BJD artist. They just don’t have the extreme sad look of some BJDs.)

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For those unfamiliar with doll terminology, BJD stands for ball-jointed doll/Asian ball-jointed doll. Most BJDs have facial expressions similar to anime characters.

Doll artists strip the factory paint from the faces of Monster High dolls and repaint them to look very much like BJDs. Many doll artists start out with MH dolls, perfect their technique, and move on to BJDs. I got lucky and found a new doll artist. My repaints cost $26, $50, and $65. Most repaints start at well over $100.

Why would an adult collector pay so much for repainted mass-produced dolls? They’re unique works of art. A good repaint shows a bit of the artist’s personality. To me, the most important aspect of a repaint is the eyes. It takes great skill to paint authentic eye highlights. Hair is also important. Most doll artists reroot the cheap factory hair. This is a painstaking process. If you ever see an expensive repaint and are shocked by the price, imagine the hours that the artist spent bent over that doll’s head, replacing thin, matted hair with thick, natural looking hair. It’s hard to find short-haired fashion dolls in stores. I bought my first repaint because she has a short bob like me.

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As I said, people who repaint dolls or paint new dolls are artists. It takes a lot of talent, practice, and knowledge to turn a cheap mass-produced doll into a work of art, and it’s possible to supplement your income significantly with doll sales. This is one reason why a child’s interest in dolls and art should be encouraged.

Children love Monster High and Ever After High dolls because of their differentness. These dolls are not about teaching little girls to be good mommies. These are dolls designed for imagination play and to celebrate uniqueness. Quirks. Things we were taught should be subdued in past decades. Monster High and Ever After High dolls are bold, strong, unafraid of living in a world that doesn’t accept them. They’re diverse. A few dolls are disabled. Others wear scars, or accentuate their uncommon features.

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Some wear glasses. This is so important to kids who aren’t “normal.” It’s a stand against the blonde Caucasian abled dolls that people my age grew up with.

I’m Caucasian and have hidden illnesses: asthma, depression, OCD. A doll can’t address all those issues (that I know of) but when I was at prime doll age as a child, it was hard to find a brunette fashion doll. I still have a brunette generic doll from my childhood, a Polynesian Barbie with black hair, and a “Flower Princesses” Evil Witch doll with black and purple hair. The dark-haired doll was the villain back then. Now I seek out dolls with dark hair because it upset me so much as a child to have nothing but blonde dolls. I realize this is a minute problem compared to the total lack of black, Asian, and Latina dolls until recently, but it did matter to me.

I had baby dolls. My mother bought them for me, and I don’t recall asking for them. I wanted the fashion dolls. When a child is playing with a Monster High doll or a new Barbie, they aren’t preparing for life as a housewife/househusband/parent. They’re creating stories in their mind and acting them out. All my years of acting out stories with dolls helped me prepare for a writing career. Consider the upcoming Wonder Woman movie and the associated dolls and action figures. Children who get those dolls aren’t going to use them to play house.

There’s an attitude that careers based on using imagination aren’t real careers, that you can’t make a living off your imagination. This is obviously false. Look at doll designers, fashion designers, and the illustrators and animators who make cartoons and movies based on doll lines. These people love what they do and they make money. Not everyone makes a living wage (although they should) but these are not immature adults who just want to “play with dolls.”

I know people who design stunning high-fashion doll clothes based on the clothes featured in designer fashion shows. I also know grandmothers who passed their love of collecting on to their grandchildren and who make clothes for expensive dolls (like Tonners) to supplement their income.

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Sewing was not something of great interest to many young women until OOAK dolls came into vogue. Now girls and young women are buying sewing machines and learning hand-sewing techniques to make doll clothes. The ability to sew is an invaluable skill. It can lead to a career in fashion design. It can lead to being self-employed with an Etsy store and one’s own fashion line. It can lead to a job in a boutique, altering prom dresses, wedding gowns, bridesmaids’ dresses, and grooms’ and groomsmen’s’ clothes. Weddings and proms will never go away. Small businesses depend on people with a passion for sewing.

Invariably, at some point, a child will take a pair of scissors to a doll’s hair. I’ve done some doll hair restyling as an adult. We’ll never not have a need for hairstylists.

My love for dolls began with paper dolls. My mother would cut the picture of the baby off the side of the Dreft detergent box when it was empty and give me the doll to play with as a paper doll. All companies need illustrators to design logos and marketing campaigns for their products. Every website needs visual content. I used to trace my paper dolls so that I could design outfits for them. Paper dolls haven’t made a big resurgence yet, but coloring books for adults are hugely popular. Dolls and paper dolls can start a child on the path to a career in art. No matter how much people attempt to dismiss art careers as irrelevant, no matter how much people try to push the idea that only a tiny fraction of people will succeed as artists, there are always art careers out there for people who can draw a coloring book or illustrate a video game. Video games aren’t going away. Who knows what may inspire a child to learn video game illustration? And let us not forget book covers. Even an eBook needs a cover illustrator.

Action figures and Funkos are hugely popular among adults. Someone has to draw a design for each one.

Comic books are still very popular. They wouldn’t exist without comic artists.

Our articulated Barbies, Monster High dolls, Ever After High dolls, Tonner dolls and other high-end fashion dolls would not exist without engineers. It takes great skill to design the body of an articulated doll.

The adult who collects dolls and keeps them in a display case, never touching them, is becoming a myth. Adults who buy BJDs, Tonners and other poseable fashion dolls, and repaints of articulated dolls do so for the purpose of photography. Doll photography is an incredibly popular hobby, and the people who love it do not skimp on cameras.

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Doll photography can lead a child to an interest in general photography. No matter how many smartphone cameras there are, there is still a need for professional photographers for portrait studios, paper magazines, online magazines, websites, stock photography, business websites, newspapers, yearbooks and books.

Oftentimes, doll collecting is a relaxing hobby that allows adults to put the stresses of life aside for a little while. Dolls can also inspire children to pursue many career paths. It’s time to stop discouraging children from playing with dolls and mocking adult collectors. Dolls have served various functions for millennia, and now dolls are planting the seeds of inspiration in the minds of children. If your child loves dolls, that’s a good thing. Stand by and watch their imagination grow and bloom. You never know where that love for dolls will take a child.

Let Children Enjoy Childhood

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I had an unpleasant encounter with a male STEM proponent, and it’s been on my mind for days. Not because I’m anti-STEM or science. I’m definitely pro-STEM and science, and I think that boys AND GIRLS who show interest and aptitude for science and math should absolutely be encouraged to pursue those interests.

Please note that I said ENCOURAGED. I also believe that kids who want to read fiction, write stories, write poetry, draw pictures should also be encouraged to pursue their interests. Even if they want a  doll or other traditional toy for their birthday instead of a chemistry set or a microscope or a telescope.

When I was in elementary school, I read some of Rachel Carson’s work, and I decided I wanted to be a marine biologist. That lasted a couple of months until I read a book about nursing careers, and I decided that I wanted to be a nurse. Then I started writing stories. And I knew what I wanted to be was a writer.

My father and grandfather gave me a healthy interest in the outdoors: plants, animals, birds. My grandfather used to point out the constellations to me. That and the year we studied astronomy for a semester in elementary school left me with an amateur’s fascination for the skies.

I still played with dolls every day.

Dissecting frogs and giant worms in science class revolted me. I think I failed that semester. I wanted nothing to do with the class any longer. I tuned out.

I have great difficulty with math. This started in the fifth grade when I had a teacher who actively disliked the kids who didn’t “get it” right away. If you needed extra help, she had no time for you. So I often turned in blank math tests well into high school and no one tried to help. I wasn’t getting it, so I wasn’t worth anyone’s time.

What saved me was art, history, civics, and English. When I was 16 I was in a car accident caused by a drunk driver and couldn’t go to school for a month. A math teacher came to my house and tutored me after school. When I went back to school, I was put into a remedial math class. I learned the basics that I had missed in elementary and middle school. With my high grades in the arts and humanities classes, I graduated in the top third of my class.

By that time I had been interested in folklore for a couple of years, and I read everything on the folklore and religion shelves. And trashy romances. And I still collected dolls.

I attended a four year private university and majored in English: Writing Studies. I had to drop out after three semesters due to financial aid cuts. My grandmother paid for me to go to community college. I graduated with a two-year degree in Paralegal Technology.

Now there aren’t any paralegal jobs here . . . unless you’re willing to work part-time under the table. I’d rather stay at home and write.

I’m a (paid) freelance writer by day and an aspiring novelist by night. In between, I’m a darned good amateur photographer, I’m still interested in astronomy, and I developed an interest in mycology as an adult living in a house in the woods with a stunning variety of mushrooms popping up in my yard in late summer and fall. The mushrooms are what made me go out and buy a good high-end camera and that got me interested in photography.

I still collect dolls. I’ve had a couple of people get very upset with me because I’m a 44-year-old woman who collects dolls. I don’t understand that. Adults play video games, read comic books, collect comic books, collect Funkos, collect action figures. So what’s so wrong with my dolls?

I think that the doll issue is so misunderstood by people outside of the doll community that it deserves its own post, so I guess this will be a two-parter.

I’m going to end this (because I have to go write an article for an addiction recovery center that helps people stay clean after detox) with a brief anecdote about a woman my age that I met in kindergarten. After decades of wondering what happened to her after my father put me in a different school, I reconnected with her last year. She’s brilliant. She has a fascinating career in STEM and a wonderful family, and she’s still dealing with emotional issues caused by an overbearing father–almost a stage father–who decided that since she was very good at math and science, that was her life path. And he gave her no choices. And she can’t even bring herself to come back to this town to visit me because of the bad memories of her early school years. She speaks regularly about giving her children the real childhood she didn’t have.

It’s just as cruel to force a girl who finds dissection fascinating and wants a microscope for her birthday to play with dolls because science isn’t “ladylike” as it is to take the doll out of the hands of the child who loves it and hand them a chemistry set that they do not want.

My father was a bastard, but somehow he managed to strike a healthy balance in types of play and education. He taught me to play chess by the time I was in the third grade. My grandparents added to my fascination with history. I regularly drive past my grandmother’s decaying childhood home and I want to know everything about how they really lived.

I’m as well adjusted as can be expected considering those couple of awful teachers I had at crucial points in my education. But I had a great history teacher in high school and a great English teacher in middle school and I think that they saved me. They, and the high school art teacher who said “draw what you want” and gave us a variety of media, and Mrs. Briggs, the math teacher, who tutored me while understanding that I was never going to be a math teacher. But my art teacher made me believe I could be an artist, and my history teacher gave me a fascination with medieval history (one of my other casual interests is archaeology, particularly from that time period) and my English teacher told me that I could be a published author like her.

I learned about archaeology and skeletal facial reconstruction from a romantic suspense novel that I read in high school.

I want teachers like the ones who encouraged me for all children. I want the teacher who sees the girl carrying the Rachel Carson book to guide her in the direction of environmental science.

But dammit, if that girl–or boy–also loves their Monster High collection, no one should belittle her or try to make her feel ashamed for liking dolls.

I’ll try to get to part two tomorrow, but I have a lot of content to write for the addiction recovery center.

I guess writing little stories in the 2nd and 3rd grade wasn’t a waste of time, huh?

Single Lady with Cats, Part III

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I’ve had some traumatic relationships, the stuff of the creepiest Lifetime Movies. I’m quite cautious. I have a few good friends. I’m certainly open to meeting someone, but I have a lot of requirements. Like, don’t threaten to throw my cat through a wall because she threw up on your sofa because you made everyone in the household hysterical.

I’m a writer. I’m a freelance writer, and I write novels. I have a vampire series in progress that I enjoy very much. I’m working on a fairy story for adults. This is giving me fits. I’ve tried it so many different ways. I finally went with a dystopian theme because, well, it’s pretty dystopian out there if you haven’t looked lately.

So I’m usually always writing. If I’m not writing, I’m reading. If I’m not reading, I’m crocheting. If I’m not crocheting, I’m taking photographs. If I’m not taking photographs, I’m drawing.

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(My scanner is old and has a spot. Sorry.)

If I’m not doing any of those things, I’m listing things on Ebay and Etsy. These are all solitary pastimes, except for photography. I love going on a photography day trip with someone else along.

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(I don’t have the slightest urge to go ice climbing, but I will take pictures of other people doing it.)

Most people don’t like sitting around while someone writes or crochets, and I’m not willing to change myself. Cats. Cats are quite happy to sleep or stare out the window–or into the corner–while you do your thing. And yes, we do play. We have cat soccer every night.

My other hobby is one that apparently a lot of people find creepy and disturbing. Actually, that’s good, because it tends to keep those people away from me. I collect dolls. It started with the paper dolls when I was very young, and then of course I had Barbies, and when I got married, I started collecting china heads.

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I always wanted a china head because Laura Ingalls Wilder mentioned them in her books. Nellie Oleson had one, but she tossed it aside for her new wax doll that said “Mama.” Which is pretty funny because that china head is probably still in existence and the wax doll probably deteriorated because, well, wax, and I doubt that Nellie took the best care of it.

Then I started collecting other types of porcelain dolls, mostly the kind that used to be in department stores every holiday season.That got boring fast because they don’t do anything but gather dust.

In 2014, I was caring for my aunt who had severe Alzheimer’s and dementia. I would spend a night or two at her house, then my mom would relieve me, then I would relieve her. We did this for almost nine months as my aunt’s Medicaid paperwork worked its way through the system. There’s a store near her house where I stopped almost every day for household items. One day, I saw a Monster High doll.

I LOVE Monster High dolls. The “old” ones, before some twat at Mattel decided that their faces need redesigning. Monster High dolls are the dolls I wanted when I was a kid. They’re weird and some of them are vampires (which sealed the deal for me) AND YOU CAN POSE THEM.

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A lot of people are quite put off by Monster High dolls. “Bizarrely proportioned” and “slutty” are their main complaints. I think it’s disturbing that people would so intensely hate on a doll, so that rules those people out of my life too.

Not all Single Ladies with Cats live with their moms. I do. I’m making a lot more money than I was six months ago, but not enough to get a place of my own. My mom is 68, walks with a cane, and is prone to doing things like trying to drag her humongous Kirby vacuum down the stairs in the middle of the night. She can’t accept her physical limitations. She still sees herself as a 38-year-old cop who pushed a Corvette out of a flooded road by herself.

If I had my own house, my mom would live with me. I’ve cared for my grandfather, grandmother, and aunt. They needed to be in nursing homes. My mom doesn’t. I guess a lot of people would put a parent with some physical limitations into a nursing home. I’m not one of those people.

I am a Single Lady with Cats. And dolls. And that doesn’t make me crazy. I’ve come to view my role in the world as a caregiver. That’s not a bad thing. Anyone who thinks that it is need not apply.

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