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Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Just a hint 

When you need a project completed "right away", I need you to check your email more than once a day.

You see, I don't have a phone number for you, seeing as how we've only spoken on the phone once, and that a year ago. So when you email me looking for quotes on three separate projects, all of which are desparately important, my only recourse when I have questions is to email you back and hope that you'll get back to me quickly with the answers.

See, we've been emailing back and forth about these projects for four days now. If you checked your email more frequently - say, about as often as the ordinary person engaged in business that involves Internet communications - we'd have settled my questions two days ago and your projects would be nearly done. If you acted like the web designer you claim to be and had an email client open all day, we would have settled these within half an hour of you emailing me, and your problems would be just an unpleasant memory on the horizon of your life.

But when you refuse to check your email more than once a day (twice on special occasions), it makes it a lot harder for me to help you. At this rate, it looks like your projects won't be finished before the end of this week, which means I won't be billing you until next month. Maybe you consider that a fiscal success, but it's an operational failure.

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Sunday, September 26, 2004

Homemade Chicken Soup 

My seat-of-the-pants cooking adventures continue:

2 breasts boneless, skinless chicken
1/2 a Walla Walla sweet onion
4 stalks celery
3 carrots
2 cups brown rice, uncooked
2 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
6 sprigs fresh parsley
1/2 tsp black pepper
3 cubes chicken boullion
salt to taste

Chop the veggies into decent-sized chunks. Mince the garlic. Cut the chicken into pieces about an inch square - it'll break up into smaller pieces when it's cooked. Dump everything except the salt into a big pot and cover with 10 cups water. Cover the pot and bring to a boil for 2 minutes (to make sure the chicken gets thoroughly cooked). Skim off the foamy stuff that rises to the top of the broth. Reduce heat and let simmer for 90 minutes, stirring occasionally. The rice should be cracked and the onions translucent when you're done. Add salt a pinch at a time to taste.

Serves a small army (makes 10-12 big bowls). I'll be eating chicken soup for a week, but there's nothing wrong with that in the fall. And yes, I know that boullion is cheating, but I didn't have a whole chicken.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2004

My cat nibbles on my butt! 

Seriously.

This may be the sort of TMI that Mick Arran hates (I'm not sure), but I just had to tell someone, and so I chose you, my intrepid readers.

Ever since she was a kitten, my cat has followed me into the bathroom. At first all she could do was stare at me and explore the bathtub; then she graduated to jumping up on the counter and investigating the cosmetics thereupon. I thought she'd reached new heights of owner annoyance when she started jumping onto the toilet tank and crawling thence onto my shoulders, to perch like a parrot. A parrot with twice as many claws and a lousy sense of balance, that is.

But her newest trick has allowed her to soar to even higher provocation-of-animal-abuse levels. Now she follows me in, waits until I sit down to pee, and then stretches up and nips me on the butt. Sometimes it's just a token - a love nip, almost, except what does it mean when your cat is love-nipping your derrierre? - sometimes it's a near puncture wound. And it's always when I least expect it.

Maybe I should have weaned her off the finger-nursing thing sooner. Or maybe it's something Jungian.

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Pop quiz! Are you a man? 

You walk up to me and hand me something you'd like me to look at: a book, a newspaper article, a banana peel with the face of Jesus on it. I look it over, perhaps comment on it, and hand it back to you. What do you do?

a) Put it away, throw it out, or otherwise dispose of it.
b) Place it on your head and perform a Russian folk dance.
c) Put it down on the coffee table in front of me and wander off. After all, there's no reason for you to anything about it when I'm sitting right here and can easily stop whatever I'm doing to clean up after you.

If you answered (c), you're a man.

If you answered (b), back off - the restraining order is still in effect.

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Monday, September 20, 2004

the best present ever 

My mother is the queen of the "close enough" presents. It goes like this: She asks you what you would like for your birthday or Christmas or whatever. You relate a description of a specific item you are longing for, which would make your life complete, or at least less of a soul-sucking hellhole than it is now. She goes out and buys you something that is closely enough related to the item you wanted that it's obvious what wish she intended to fulfill, yet so far removed from the actuality of said item that you wonder if she was listening in the first place.

For example! When I was living in Vancouver, and trying to adjust to the differences between winter in Hawaii (wet, warm) and winter in Western Canada (so far beyond wet so as to make wet a joke; unbelievably cold), I asked for flannel pajama pants that I could wear around my shared house and keep warm in. I specifically mentioned the keeping warm part. She gave me a matched set of tropical-themed Scooby-Doo pajamas (apparently geared towards either the very large and precocious preadolescent set or the post-adolescents with infantilism problems, given the cut of the outfit) - short-shorts and a short-sleeved babydoll top. The mind boggles as to how she determined that I would do the keeping-warm and the wandering-around-my-four-all-male-roommates in that outfit.

For example! I cannot recount the times that I have asked for a specific book from a given author, to be presented with a different book by the same author, which I invariably have read. Frequently it's the previous book in the same series, and prompted my desire for said book.

For example! Again with the adjusting to Canadian winters, I asked for a pair or two of thick, warm ski socks, the kind that everyone I knew wore around the house and no one I knew used to actually ski (well, actually, my roommate Paul used them to ski, but he was weird and everyone knew it). Who asks for socks? Well, I do. How easy is it to buy socks for someone who by-God actually, desparately wants them? Harder than it seems, apparently. What did I receive? Thin, cotton-blend socks, made with microfibers designed to keep your feet cool and dry in the summer.

But there have been a few times in recent memory that my mother has come through, managing to find the exact thing I desired (I think the fact that I've started providing links to buy them online has helped). This last birthday was an example.

My wishlist was incredibly domestic - I wanted a set of nice cotton sheets (not a million threadcount, but something a cut above the el-cheapo ones I bought at Wal-Mart), new towels to replace the ones I stole from my parents when I moved out, and an electric mattress pad to heat my bed before I crawled into it.

I got the sheets, although they were cotton jacquard, which I hate - but it's the thought that counts, and in this case some thought appeared to have gone into them, which is more than can be said from the usual class of gifts from my mother. I got the towels, and they were fabulous - Ralph Lauren from Overstock.com, and as soft and wonderful as anyone could have wanted.

But the best, the absolute best, was the mattress pad. Yes, it has a couple of unwieldy power conditioners or converters or something. And the controls sitting on the dresser are a little unattractive. But there is nothing more amazing than to make your way to bed in a chilly house, passing the thermostat that reads 65 degrees (or less), stepping outside for a smoke in sub-50 weather, to crawl into a bed that radiates soft warmth from the mattress upwards.

At first you don't notice it, except for the fact that your sheets aren't chilly the way they usually are; then, as your weight presses down on the mattress, you begin to feel the heat making it's way up from the pad to you. After about five minutes, even the most frozen toes are thawed; the warmth has spread throughout your body and you can turn off the heater. Wake up cold in the middle of the night? Turn on the pad, and in a minute or two salvation is pouring up from your mattress in the form of heat. And for particularly bad nights, it's supposedly fire-safe to leave on all night. I haven't tried that yet, though.

We're trying to hold off on turning on the furnace until the end of September, or even into October. This mattress pad is about the only thing that keeps me holding on - that, and the fireplace, and the fact that our bedroom is the least-heated upstairs room in the house :P

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Saturday, September 18, 2004

every cloud has a (potentially) silver lining 

With any luck, it looks like T won't be unemployed for long.

I know that he's been scanning Craigslist for job postings, but since he's been out of work I've been scanning them too, in case I come across something he missed. And sure enough, I did.

A company hiring for a similar position to his last one, right here in Beaverton. Paying almost 30% more than he was making at his last job, with better benefits (including the most kick-ass 401(k) plan I've ever encountered, and I've been a white-collar type for a while, so I know from 401(k)s).

So just like when he applied for his old job, I chivvied him into applying. And I sat there and went through the online personality test with him (he's dyslexic, so for reading-intensive, time-sensitive things I often help out). And I was crushed when, at the end of the test, the website told us he wasn't a good match for any of their openings.

But that wasn't the end of the story. This morning when I got back from my usual trip to the coffee shop, there was a missed call from the company. And when I made T check his messages on his cell phone, there was a message from the HR department there. So he called back, and left a message. And less than an hour later, after a brief phone interview, he was being invited to fill out their second-level application online, and they'd get back to us on Monday. Guess he wasn't such a bad match after all.

The second-level application included releases for criminal background checks (no worries), credit checks (slight worries), and references(no fear), so I'm hopeful that he's in the top tier of applicants. Being hired again so quickly would be a big boon, both to our financial situation and his self-esteem (update on the firing: a group of representatives was let go at the same time as he was, and the test was the same one he's passed every month since he started working there, so we're 99% convinced it was a backdoor way to cut staff).

The trainee class they're filling positions for starts on the 27th, so he would end up collecting only a week or two of unemployment before he started getting paid again - and he'd be making about $400 a month more than he was before, with benefits that in every case we can compare are the same or better than he had at his old job.

So maybe everything does happen for a reason, and T getting fired was the impetus he needed to realize that there are better things out there. And maybe this layoff kept us together long enough for me to realize that if outside stresses go away, we really get along as a couple well enough to outweigh the attractions of being young and single.

And maybe I'll still move out to the boonies to teach half-illiterate teenagers the wonders of Oroonoko and Jorge Borges and Robert Heinlein (because I could never be an entirely canonical teacher, even teaching from the anti-canon canon :P). Or maybe with our financial situation improved, I'll decide Oregon really is the place for me. But whatever decision we make, if this goes right, it'll be from a more secure base that we can build on.
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Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Decisions, decisions 

I feel like I've come to a crossroads in my life. Web programming, as easy as it is for me these days, and even though I like it more than other jobs I've had, just isn't cutting it as far as income goes. My federal AGI is projected to be around $12K this year. Yes, I get to deduct a lot of things, but I also pay twice as much SS and Medicare as the average joe, and I bear all the costs of generating my income - subcontracting, website hosting, office overhead, travel (and with clients in three states, there's a lot of that) etc.

So basically I've come to the decision that it's either time to get a "real" job or to go back to school. After all, a bachelor's degree in English Literature doesn't exactly prepare you for the business world, or even for anything other than entry-level, minimum-wage positions.

Unfortunately, I've landed myself in a state that doesn't lend itself to either pursuit - Oregon has the second-highest (or maybe now the highest; we just jumped back up to 7.4%) unemployment rate in the country, and most of its universities are known for their liberal arts programs. An MA or a PhD in English Lit is unlikely to get me much futher than a BA - an MA is all but useless, and a PhD is cheap currency in the face of a glut of humanities professors.

So it's time to look at my options. I own a piece of no less than three small businesses - unfortunately, the only one that generates income beyond its expenses is my web programming business, and that falls sadly short of my needs. Nonetheless, I could put some work into turning those businesses around and making them make me money. All it would take would be the capital to support myself while I worked on it - but I have no property to offer up as collateral, so that's an unlikely hope.

Or I could go back to school. Grad school would probably be doable; I could ask my dad to cover me the first year, and most schools support their grad students after that. Professional (ie, law; I'm not cut out to be a doctor) school is right out; I'm way too frightened of debt to take on the amount I've have to take to pay for it. The key would be selecting a subject I could get a job in at the end of my degree - that, and finding a decent school that would accept me. I graduated with honors in my BA, but Canadian schools use an interesting sort of accounting to determine those things, and my overall average was only around 3.2 - not exactly Ivy League material.

Plus, if I wanted to go to a high-caliber school, I'd have to choose between my ferrets and the weather on the East Coast. Ferrets are illegal in California, and having experienced the extremes of weather on the Eastern Seaboard (and having grown up in the tropics, with a total temperature variation from about 60 degrees to 90 degrees) I'm not sure I could handle the climate back East.

A third option is Teach For America. It's an AmeriCorps-affiliated program for recent college grads. The idea is that you spend two years in an inner-city or rural setting teaching high-need kids, through their emergency certification program. At the end of the two years, you get a grant towards your education, if you want to go on to graduate or professional school. It's not a giant grant, but it's a lot better than a kick in the pants - and in the meantime, I'd be getting paid regularly (and probably slightly more than I'm making now) and making a real difference in the community I ended up working in. And who knows? Maybe I'd even discover I had a gift for teaching - one of my goals back in high school was to become a teacher.

TeachForAmerica is the option I'm definitely leaning towards now - community benefits, a regular paycheck, and an exposure to a part of the country I've never seen before - the closest location I can legally move to (because of the ferrets) is New Mexico, which is decidedly different from either the Northwest or the island I grew up on.
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Is anyone else's hair on fire? 

I mean about the deficit, of course. $8-10 trillion from the Medicare prescription benefit alone? a $40-70 trillion shortfall, in today's dollars, in future government receipts against currently pledged discretionary and entitlement spending?

An "immediate and permanent" hike in federal income taxes by 78%, or else an "immediate and permanent" hike in payroll taxes (ie, Social Security and Medicare) by over 100%? Or else an "immediate and permanent" elimination of discretionary spending (including military spending, homeland security, and basically everything outside of SS and Medicare)? Or an "immediate and permanent" cut in SS and Medicare benefits by 45%?

I know European and Canadian social programs aren't all they're cracked up to be. Canadian programs I know firsthand are somewhat broken. But as far as I know, none of those countries are facing this level of shortfalls, despite delivering more (on average) in the way of social services to their populace. What are we doing wrong?

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Saturday, September 11, 2004

In other news... 

-The kitten's people have been found. Long story short, he was lost while on a walk with his owners - their adult cats took a shortcut home, and he appeared to be following them, but never turned up back at home. He had an appointment at the vet to get microchipped the day his owner saw our posters and called us. Turns out he lives about a block away from us, although L found him a ways away from that.

-My grandmother's pins have been taken out of her arms, and she is a whole woman again. My mother was driven temporarily crazy by the bizarre scheduling of the surgeon who removed the pins - apparently he schedules all his morning patients for 9:45, and all the afternoon ones for 11:45, in the hopes that if things go quickly he can get out early (and never mind those poor people who showed up at 7:30am for their pre-op and wound up sitting there, waiting, until 1:30pm), but hopefully things will be getting back to normal in my parents' household again.

-Two of the biggish checks I was expecting arrived. We're going out to dinner tomorrow to celebrate not being totally broke anymore, and I paid my Q3 taxes. I also opened an account with a local bank, being totally frustrated with eTrade and the whole "mail your deposit; wait a week for it to show up" thing. We'll also be buying garden shizzle for tomorrow for a digging-around-in-the-dirt extravaganza on Sunday.

-The Kerry/Wu campaigns came through for me. I confessed my discomfort with doing persuasion rather than polling in phonebanking, and they offered me a compromise; call people who said they'd be willing to volunteer to schedule them for times that they can come in. I'm also signed up for envelope stuffing for Wu and possible data entry for the DPO; and of course, my usual 10+ hours a week programming for the College Democrats. For those of you at home keeping track, I'm almost certainly well over the $25K limit, if volunteering counted as an in-kind contribution (luckily for them, it doesn't). I've been told to expect a 'package' from the College Dems; I plan to wallpaper my bathroom with the 500 Kerry/Edwards stickers that are almost certainly in that package.

-I'm thinking of a trip back home to Hawaii - I have some money again, and certain of my clients have been pressing for face-to-face meetings - and the writeoffs for business travel will make it a lot cheaper than the face value of the trip, even though I am scrupulously honest about the percentage of business/personal travel embodied in my trips. Wouldn't mind seeing my parents, and the dogs, and my friends, either. Via Priceline I should be able to get a fairly attractive trip, if I can just decide on dates.

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shit-shit-shit 

Sometime last week, T was told to report to the training manager for a class. This is fairly routine at the company where he does tech support - about once every month or two, I gather, he and his coworkers have to take a half-day training, with a test at the end. He's always passed with flying colors, and he wasn't worried about it this time.

A few days after the training, he was told he had to take it again. He asked the trainer why he had to repeat the class, and the trainer told him he didn't know. "I gave them your results in a pile with everyone else's. I guess they lost it, because you're not on the list of people who took the test." So he went through the training again, took the test again. A pain in the ass, but just the usual SNAFU of working for a large-ish employer, right?

Except that today he was called into a meeting with his manager, an HR person, and some higher-up. It seems he flunked the first time, which is why he had to retake the training. And then he flunked again. And because of that, they're letting him go, despite the fact that his manager reportedly went to bat for him and said he shouldn't be fired.

All of this seems a little shady to me. Why wasn't he told that he flunked the first time, so that he could study up for his second try? Why wasn't he told that he needed to pass the test to keep his job? Why didn't someone make a point of telling him the second time he took the training that he needed to pass the test to keep his job? Why does the fact that he has nothing but good evaluations, that he's been given two raises and a promotion in a year, and the fact that he was in training for another promotion, count for nothing against this one test? Why wasn't he allowed to see his test, or told his score, or even told what score he would have needed to get to pass, even when he asked? He still can't believe that he flunked, because (he says) the test was all about things that he does every single day in his job, that after a year he's very familiar with.

His employer has been squeezed a lot lately. One of their major contracts got sent to either Texas or Mexico (it's not clear which) and they were recently the subject of a buyout by a larger company. Personally, I suspect (and several people I've talked to agree) that they've come up with a backdoor way to cut staff, with a flimsy, manufactured "cause" for firing them to try to keep them from collecting unemployment. It's dirty and it's mean, and on the surface it's a pretty clever tactic - these jobs, while they're considered pretty desirable in the shitty Oregon economy (just bumped back up to 7.4% unemployment), don't pay much, and while the benefits make up for a lot of that, they attract a lot of people with limited education (as well as students like T, who like the flexible schedules and tuition reimbursement benefits) who aren't likely to question what they're told by authority figures.

We filled out the app to get him unemployment anyway. Going by the online questionnaire on the Oregon Employment Office website, it looks as though he'll probably get it - we may have to go through an appeal, but he was definitely not warned or informed of the standard that he allegedly didn't meet. Through a friend of his who used to be a manager at his (now former) employer, we've also learned that the company does this a lot, and that they always lose the unemployment case on appeal, so apparently the Employment Office has their number, and knows that this is a scam.

Of course, we're hoping to not need the unemployment benefits, or not much, at least. T put in applications with half a dozen places in our neighborhood this afternoon, made appointments to apply with a few more next week, and plans to update his resume this weekend to mail out to still more on Monday. With luck, he'll only collect a week or two of unemployment before he finds a new job. But since we expect to have to appeal when his employer claims he was fired for cause, I'm glad we got the application in now - so that hopefully he'll have at least some income guaranteed before the rent is due.

This wasn't in the game plan. Guess it's time to drop back and punt.

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the thing that really sucks 

in re: the post above, is that T's employer was paying for all of his health insurance and 80% of mine (domestic partner benefits: they're not just for gay couples anymore!). We're covered through the end of the month, and thanks to CORBA we have the right to pay for them and continue benefits for eighteen months, but the bill is going to come to around $250 or more a month for both of us, which we can't afford for long.

And I won't be able to get affordable insurance for myself for at least four more years, until my tumor and my psychiatric history drop off my medical 'abstract'. And does anyone want to take bets on whether we can pay for me and not T if he gets another job?

Time to make lots of doctor's appointments before the 30th...

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and on top of that... 

T's employer was paying for around 2/3 of his tuition costs. Picking those back up is going to bite into our budget as well. Damn, damn, damn. I will _not_ let him drop out of school, after he's finally gotten back into it and is doing so well (3.7 GPA, and that's with a learning disability, bizznatches). Gonna have to scare up some more contract work, and maybe cut down on volunteering hours. Or win the lottery or something. Or get a real job. I dunno.

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Thursday, September 09, 2004

Talking to cats is hard. 

L's mom is in town, and last night they decided to take a walk after dinner to look at the neighborhood (she's thinking of moving up here to Portland from Roseburg in Southern Oregon where she lives now). When they got back, L walked in the door and said, "OK guys, this cat followed us home..."

I looked up, fully expecting that this was the beginning of some elaborate joke. But sure enough, she was holding the cutest little fluffy black-and-white kitten you ever saw. Said kitten was practically conked out in her arms, purring madly in a weird, high-pitched whine.

So now we're posting ads on Craigslist and making posters to put up around the neighborhood to find out if he's someone's cat. L and her mom took him to the Humane Society today to find out if he was microchipped (negative) and to try to get him tested for FIV and FeLV (unknown; the shelter apparently won't test unless we want to check him in for adoption, which we wouldn't be able to do until Sunday at any rate, as they apparently have a schedule) - since we can't let him be around our cats until we know that he's safe as far as the more deadly (and unvaccinable - is that a word?) diseases are concerned.

L and I are thrilled - we're both instantly charmed by any animal, especially a baby, and at three months this little guy is definitely a baby (but a big baby - we thought he was five or six months at least by his size, and his paws are huge, suggesting that this will be no small cat). J is similarly charmed by kittens, although not as thoroughly as L and I. T is nonplussed - he's come to be fond of my cat but still dislikes them in general, and I think he thought that the ferrets would be the end of the animal explosion in this house (current count as of tonight: 3 cats, 2 ferrets, 1 ball python, at least 20 mice (for the python)) - naive, simplistic soul that he is, he never paid attention to the way L's and my attention is instantly riveted to any animal, or our talk of getting a goat, or a dog, or at least another cat, dammit. But the human household is mostly pacified about the possibility of another cat.

The problem is the existing cats. Oakey has reverted to his behavior from when Arya, my cat, first entered the house: stalking around the house in an angry manner and hissing and growling at me and Arya (I love how L brings another cat in the house and Oakey gets mad at me). Arya, however, has gotten very weird.

She hides more or less constantly when people are around other than me. I've dragged her out from under the guest bedroom bed, out of T's closet, and out of the very back of a drawer in a dresser in T's closet (I nearly freaked out, thinking she'd run away, before finding her that time). I left her alone when she crawled into a cranny in L's desk - at least she was unlikely to pee on anything in there.

After everyone else has gone to bed and it's just me, she comes creeping out, but she slinks around with her tail between her legs and her ears down, doing a perfect imitation of 'bad cat', as if she thinks that she's done something wrong and is going to be replaced. I think Oakey's been scaring her with ghost stories - The Tale of the New Cat, or something like that. She also seems to have developed hairballs for the first time in her life.

I've spent most of today trying to reason with her, telling her that she's still Top Kitty, that she's my cat and I'm not going to get rid of her, but she just blows me off and finds a new hiding place. You would think a year of food and shelter would rate a little more credibility than this, honestly. I guess it would help if she understood English when it's spoken in sentences.

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Saturday, September 04, 2004

a little religiosity 

It's so hard to speak of religious matters when you have no religion. Even Wiccans and other 'fringe' religions have a doctrine to point to, some scriptures or catechism to recite when asked what they believe. Being a sect of one means that you have no appeal to authority, no Book that lays out the margins and the borders of your belief system.

I am not a Christian, and if asked, I usually respond that I don't believe in a God, because my beliefs don't fit easily into that box. Sometimes, when I'm feeling frivolous, I respond, "Yes, all of them" - which is both true and not true and then even more true.

I refuse the idea of a single deity that was uncreated and yet did all sorts of creating. I refuse the idea of worshipping Whatever caused the creation of the universe - much like I don't feel that I owe my parents anything for my birth (although I owe them a lot for what came after it) I don't recognize an obligation to me for simple Creation, and I don't consider a being that would demand such worship to be deserving of it. Monstrously arrogant of me, I'm sure, but I can't conceive of a simultaneously jealous and loving deity.

Nonetheless, I am entirely and unshakeably certain that Something loves me and wants me to be happy. Usually I just call that the universe. While I haven't witnessed anything unmistakeably supernatural to confirm that, I have been the recipient of too much unlikely and extremely narrowly targeted good luck to believe otherwise. Against all odds, the things I needed or really wanted, however unlikely, have come to pass for me, and always with a sense of inevitability, of something granted that could have been withheld.

Of course, the corollary to that, in my philosophy, is that I must always be very, very careful what I wish for - not because I might get it, but because my accounts with Whoever arranges such things might be finite, and it would be a terrible thing to ask, and find the well dry.
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Marriage is love.