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  • Writer's pictureMaria Berejan

Mischief Managed, Fall Edition


I can't believe it's December. Not just that, but already halfway through! As you can tell I've fallen behind on posting to this blog, but it couldn't be helped; these past 2 months have been crazy busy with work and side projects galore. I actually started writing this post a month ago, but as you'll find out below, there are quite a few events that coincided together and stopped me from finishing until now. So... sorry. But now we have a 2.5-for-1!

 

Work:

I actually don't have much to say on this topic right now besides the fact that's it's significantly taken up my life these past few months. When last I left off I'd gone to my manager and told him I was interested in working my way up to a management position, but nothing much came out of that conversation (yay, language barrier!)

Well, I mentioned that conversation to the other R&D manager - the one who'd first brought up the topic of leadership - a few days later (he's Canadian, so we understand each other on more than just language) and he was actually very excited to hear of my interest. He took me out to lunch to discuss it further - he wanted to get a grasp of what I was looking for as well as offer me some advice and point out some things he thought were important for leadership positions - which I very much appreciated. It was a great discussion, and he listened and was encouraging and brought up a lot of great points - all in all, what you'd expect from a good manager. It was nice knowing someone had my back and was actually interested in making this happen. He mentioned he really missed having an extra manager upstairs to bridge all the dev teams together with design and QA (communication is a big thing that we constantly struggle with and simultaneously try to improve in our company). He said he'd be open about this conversation with upper management and make sure they knew of my interest, and then the ball was back in my court to prove myself and discuss things further with my own manager (to make sure he understood, and to point out ways in which I could help him if I were to be in this position.)

That was back in October, and that's where things remained, because we soon got swamped with two big projects, and since we're sitting at only 3 developers on the php team right now, that meant a lot of stress and overtime for the rest of October and November. We pulled 12-hour work days for a few weeks, and there was even talk of working weekends (which my coworker abjectly refused to do) but things cooled down, thankfully, and we're nearing the end of these updates, finally. Today I turned in the last bug-fix, and all that’s left is one last testing run-through before deployment (fingers crossed they don’t find any more issues - this project has been never-ending).

 

Photography:

We finished the calendar!

Wow - I don't know what I was expecting, but reality always proves to be harder. I stretched myself for 6 weekends to get in as many photoshoots as possible; in the end I did 43 shoots and also finally got to go to Feral Care up in Bothell to see the sanctuary and take pictures (for those who don't remember, that's what the calendar is raising money for). There were a few minor bumps in communication, but overall I was impressed by how smoothly the shoots went; the team at The Whole Cat is truly amazing, and they did a great job with this fundraiser.

I went to Feral Care twice before the deadline, hoping to snag some filler photos for any leftover days in the calendar. It's a really cool place. When you first get on the property all you see is a yellow house to the left beyond the gate and a grass lawn out front, usually with a handful of cars parked on it. There's a little garden behind the house, and to the right there's a barn and an extra shed. The shed is for incoming feral cats, who are separated and looked over before they join the rest of the cats at the actual sanctuary, and the barn is for the three beautiful horses that live on the premises (a mother and her two kids, apparently). After that all you see is a long stretch of land (with loads of horse poop on the path) and then a small house in the distance at the very end. That "house" is the actual sanctuary, and is home to what must be near 100 feral or otherwise unadoptable cats.

As you walk towards it you can see more and more details. The house doesn't actually have walls; instead, it's constructed from chain link fencing all the way around, with a roof on top, and tarps on the sides to keep the warmth in. The chain link allows the residents to see the nature around and get stimulation that way (and also provides a good climbing surface, as some of the cats very quickly showed us); even though they're feral you'll see many a cat come up and stare at you as you near the enclosure.

It might not look like much, but it's actually very roomy inside, and home to almost 100 cats

Inside there's a few separate rooms and even a few houses built for the cats (big sheds, for us, completely heated within) surrounded by picnic tables, a bedframe and mattress, and what must be at least 30 or more cat trees of all shapes and sizes. Rafters and different roofs navigate the whole ceiling, and many of the shyer cats never come down from them when there are people around, preferring to watch from above. It's a huge area. The front and back ends are where most of the more feral cats dwell, but the central area houses the more flamboyant kitties, and when you first enter you're immediately surrounded by at least 10 cats looking for love. A good number of those will follow you everywhere you go, just waiting for that opportune moment to nab an ear scratch or a pat (or jump on your back and cuddle your head).

I met Wendy there the first time I went; she's an exceptionally friendly lady that runs the Feral Care Facebook page and has recently started going there every Sunday to help socialize the cats (and snuggle the ones who really crave it). Sometimes she brings large groups of friends to join - because these cats really need all the love they can get - and sometimes she's by herself doing the most she can.

I was surprised by the friendly cats the first time I went; I was expecting feral "hiss at you, plot your death if you get within 10 feet" style cats, not super attention-craving lap cats. I didn't understand why they were here, but Wendy said that in one way or another all of these cats were very hard to adopt out - either due to medical issues or inappropriate elimination (many people just don't care to deal with it, and cats often get returned just because they peed outside of the litterbox a few times) or simply because they'd been adopted and returned too many times in the past. Nancy (the owner) knows them all by name and checks on them regularly (doing a 'boo-boo patrol') and on occasion, some do get adopted out if they can be, but for most of these cats it's an understood agreement that they'll be provided for and looked after for the remainder of their lives in here, where they can at least get constant food and medical care, even if they don't get quite as much attention as we'd hope for.

As fun as they were, these trips and the calendar shoots took a lot out of me, and by the end of the deadline on Oct 15th I was really excited at the idea of having a day of doing absolutely nothing. I made $420 in the end, and got somewhere around 60-70 pictures in the calendar; I haven't counted the total but I think close to 1/3 of them are mine, since there's at least 200 pictures in there. I'm proud of my contribution, but the best part was the overall response from the community; from what I heard the calendar sold over double the number of days as last year! Everyone at The Whole Cat considers this a great success for Feral Care, and they're very excited to have funds for the cats. They were already close to sold out after only a week, and last I checked there were only a handful of copies left.

While this was happening, I was also taking a Lighting course at Bellevue College. I've taken one other photography course there (Storytelling) and was sorely disappointed, but this course was very well done and super informative. It was 4 sessions in total, the first two consisting of focusing on ideas and learning the fundamentals through lecture, examples, and videos. Then the third was a hands-on session using our new flashes where we put these ideas into practice; it was dark outside since it was an evening class, but we made do and learned a lot. The fourth and final class was a quick demonstration of studio style lighting and using off-camera flash, where we watched the instructor demonstrate and make adjustments after every picture until he achieved what he was looking for. It was great for me since I learn best by watching things being done first and then trying them myself; overall I think this class was one of the most useful I could have taken, and it came at a good time, so I'm glad I took the plunge and did it. As promised, I will write a more detailed blog post about this once I have time to assemble everything together in a coherent manner, so keep an eye out; it will come!

 

Hobbies:

On a whim at the beginning of October I decided to try and do Inktober: it’s a challenge to do an ink drawing every day of October, generally following the prompt list (one word a day to give you inspiration on what to draw). I'd seen a friend post their first sketch on Facebook and I thought... well, why not - I at least want to do one. And the next day I wanted to do another. I knew I didn't have the time; this was still back when photography was eating up all my weekends and I was mentally beginning to resemble a zombie, so I still don't know why I was so interested in doing it, but I'm glad I did, even if I didn't get far. I only made it through about a week, but it was so nice to be drawing again! I hadn’t done much drawing since high school, and I realized I missed it quite a bit. I honestly pushed myself with some of them, doing things that required me to learn techniques I'd never known before (snake scales were for some reason ridiculously complex for me to figure out). I've never been one for drawing in ink or shading, but I tried to do both as well as I could with the time I had, so in the end, even though I didn't make it far, I'm proud of the sketches I did do. I had two more ideas lined up that I never got to, so if I have some free time in the near future I'll sketch those out too.

In the second half of the month, when I was so brain dead all I could do was watch the Great British Baking show and Criminal Minds on Netflix, I took up knitting again. I only had a week before my company celebrated Halloween (on Friday the 27th, instead of Tuesday the 31st because Friday is casual clothes day and I guess that's what costumes fall under in management's eyes) but I wanted to make it count. Last New Year's on my first ever trip to Universal Studios (so cool!) I'd gotten a cool "personalized" wand and a Slytherin robe (I know, I know, I'm Ravanclaw - literally all the quizzes say so, but... green just looks better on me). I also have a very fat stuffed owl (there's a joke in there somewhere - "only ONE fat owl?" some will ask, and the answer is yes; I still haven't retrieved the others from Canada... sorry dad). I figured, if I made a nice scarf to drive the point home, even the Japanese people at work who didn't know what Star Wars was last year might recognize a Hogwarts student.

(Spoilies: they thought I was Hermione, but at least that's something, right?)

I followed a really nicely done tutorial and spent about 20 hours on this sucker over the course of a week, and I'm fairly proud of the end result!

Expelliarmus!

Matching Pair! Me and Evie with our matching Slytherin scarves :)

November was dedicated solely to work and writing (more on that below) but at the beginning of December I had one more burst of creativity.

The backstory: Nancy of The Whole Cat and Kaboodle had been working on opening a second location (dubbed Cafe Cocoa) for years now, and the end of November marked its grand opening in Redmond. It’s a gorgeous location with bright cheerful colors and amazing staff, and mimics its Kirkland location except for one important difference - it also features a Cat Cafe! Not only that, but this cat cafe is dedicated to adoptable senior kitties and even a few of the more social felines from Feral Care! They’re hoping that by having these sweethearts in the cafe, people will have more chances to interact with them and hopefully adopt them in the end. It’s a wonderfully executed idea, and I sincerely hope it prospers and helps find these overlooked cats their forever homes.

All very heartwarming Maria, I hear you say, but where does the crafting fit in?

Well. Nancy, Wendy and co teamed up to have a Grand Opening with a silent auction included, the proceeds of which would go to Feral Care. I wanted to help, so I offered up a photoshoot for auction as well as a Starbucks gift card and a handmade leather purse. This was only the 3rd one I’ve ever made, and it was custom made for this event. I based the sleeping cat on the back of the bag on a picture I took of a cat named Remington from Feral Care - the pic is in the calendar too, so I thought it was fitting. I spent all of Saturday until 2am working on it, and woke up at 9am on Sunday to finish it up so I could hand it off to Wendy by 10:30am since the auction started at noon. I have to say, I was proud of this purse - still am, though I’d hoped it would fetch a higher price than it did in the end (my photoshoot got more, which I was quite surprised by). Still, I hope the lady that bought it in the end likes it.

As for the event itself, it was awesome, with a huge turnout from the community. Through some connections, they got ahold of some Macklemore tickets for auction and lo and behold, the man himself came to the event and signed a bunch of swag also on auction. I’m not a huge fan, but it was pretty cool to watch him hold cats and mingle with the crowd. It was a pretty great event.

Nancy on the right with Benjamin Hammond Haggerty aka Macklemore in the middle. I was busy playing photographer so I totally forgot to sneak a photobomb of myself in there...oops!

PS... those are MY pictures hanging up there in the entrance to Cafe Cocoa!

Some of the awesome cats from Feral Care! I got to sign the back of these prints :P
 

Writing:

I don't know how it happened but somehow the days passed and in the blink of an eye November was here. I'd known for a while that I wanted to try Nanowrimo again this year (for those not in the know, that's National Novel Writing Month, where you take on the challenge to write 50k words in November). I'd never beaten it, but I'd been sitting on this idea for about 5 years now with only 35k words written - just enough to get through the first act. Plucking away at it when I felt 'in the mood' doesn't work, because I rarely feel in the mood to do work when I get home from working, so Nanowrimo seemed the best option to accomplishing anything. It was very much a "do or let die" attitude I sported at the start of November (even though with all the photography commotion and ensuing burn-out I hadn't outlined anything come Oct 31st and was walking in blind), but considering the story had stayed in my brain this long I really wanted to give a damn good shot at the "do".

Of course the start of November was also when work amped up the overtime and public obligations made themselves known, as they are wont to do in November. I worked long hours for a few weeks, to the point where my sister came over twice just to clean my apartment and make dinner (best sister) because I barely had the energy to wash my hair nevermind do housework. Jacob said he felt ignored because I didn't have time to sit down with him after work. I didn't have a plan, even though I'm not a pantser. I lived one day at a time, not thinking about the next because I had no mental capacity for it.

It's funny, because I've given up before on my goals for much less. I've given up when I wasn't working 60-hour weeks or volunteering. I've given up even when I had a plan of action and free time - just because I didn't feel like putting in the work, or it’s not ‘perfect’ in my mind yet. There's always tomorrow, it's not a concrete deadline, ideas aren't coming right now and writing takes time, so I'll set it aside and come back when the muse strikes, right? Maybe in a year, maybe in 3 - who knows. When I'm ready; this is what I tell myself, and then I think about it without doing, until I forget even that.

So it's funny that this year of all years, when I was probably the busiest I have been during NaNo, was the year I not only got to 50k, but surpassed it - to a whopping 70k by midnight on Nov 30th.

70,202 to be exact. Almost 80k if you count the notes I wrote as I went.

Now my first draft is sitting at 107k words and exactly 200 Google Doc single-spaced pages, and it's definitely nearing its end. I know I could have done better than this even with my crazy schedule (if I’m being honest here - there were times when I could have written but instead watched Netflix), but still, this is the most I've ever written on a project and I'm very satisfied with my progress. I wrote a post detailing the lessons I've learned from Nano this year, mostly because I want to remember my mindset for future years in case I ever think of giving up again, so head on over if you want to find out more. There were some great tools I used, and I talk about those as well, but for now I'll just say - it's a good feeling, this sense of accomplishment, and it's nice to know that I can do it when I decide I want to.

Decked out in my winner's shirt - because hell yea, I'm proud of this one!

 

Life and Looking Forward:

Maybe you can already tell. Life is packed and exhausting, but it’s also a lot of fun. Black Friday this year marked my 25th birthday. After spending it in Iceland away from family last year, I just wanted to relax and hang out together. I wasn’t expecting much, so of course I was completely overjoyed by how the weekend ended up playing out. My dad surprised me by coming down from Toronto - he walked into the kitchen from behind while I was making pie crust on Thanksgiving as if it were an everyday occurrence. I was ecstatic - especially since I’d just been thinking that I wished he was there. It makes me tear up even now; I don’t think I could have been happier. We spent a great Thanksgiving pigging out on one big feast and watching The Hobbit (extended edition, of course) and just being happy to spend time with each other.

On my actual birthday, Jacob took me out. This boy surprises me every time with his presents; this time he’d kept it a complete secret for months and I honestly had no idea what to expect. Turns out he’d booked us on an awesome food tour of Seattle - so yummy, and so fun! It’s something I never would have thought of, yet really enjoyed. That’s how presents go with Jacob; our first Christmas he got me a lockpicking kit, which is something I’ve secretly wanted to try at various points in my life yet was such a completely random and unexpected gift that I was left bewildered. The way his mind makes connections is definitely one of the things I love about him.

So now it’s more than halfway through December. Today is the 1-year anniversary of Evie and Fletcher’s Gotcha Day and I’m so very thankful we have them in our lives. I can’t believe I love these two floofs as much as I do, but they’re definitely the very best cats out there (totally not biased). I bought them a giant cat tree for Christmas so Fletcher can finally fit on the top perch; I had to drive with it on my shoulder since it’s the full length of the interior of my Mini Cooper, but it’s a small price to pay for love.

I think they like it. Jacob took this pic, since he gets to spend all day with them at home (yes, I'm jelly).

What’s next? Well, actually, quite a lot! The holidays are coming up - I’ve got a few days left of work and then we’re off to Kauai to vacation with Jacob’s family for Christmas. As if that weren’t enough, we’re flying from there to Japan to spend time with MY family for New Year’s. We’re going to go see the Nara deer and the snow monkeys up North... I’m very excited.

My family left on Saturday and seem to be having a ton of fun there (as expected). My dad from Canada went too, as did my sister's godmother from New York. It's a regular party over there. Not to mention that after New Year's my cousin from Romania is going as well with her boyfriend! It's practically a family reunion on the other side of the globe - I couldn’t let the opportunity to join them pass. So here we go; 4 days left until one of the craziest vacations yet. There will definitely be posts coming about this trip, don’t worry!

Until then, happy holidays to all of you! See you on the other side.

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