Baby Skunks, Dead Birds & Crazy Squirrels

 

Reason # 538 why I am not equipped to be a home owner. I pet a baby skunk this morning on accident. I didn’t know it was a skunk when I started petting it. I thought it was one of the homeless cats in my neighborhood. I have never seen a skunk in person before.

This morning, I went out to the outdoor cat shelter that I constructed this winter for the homeless cats at about 6:30 am. With the 80 degree heat, I have been leaving bowls of water out for the outside cats. The homeless cat for whom I made the outdoor cat shelter, Clarence, is a black cat with one little patch of white on the front of him.

When I went outside at 6:30 am, there was a little furry butt sticking out of the outdoor cat shelter. It looked like Clarence was having a drink. For the first time, he did not run away. I took this as a positive – he must be getting used to me.

I started petting what I thought was Clarence. Then, when the animal finished drinking and turned around, I was able to clearly ascertain that it was not a cat, but in fact, a skunk. I’m pretty sure it was a baby skunk, as it was about half the size of one of my indoor house cats. 

I slowly backed away and left the garage. 

No, I did not get sprayed. The baby skunk did not seem fazed by me at all. 

Tonight, when I got home, I removed all water bowls from the outdoor cat shelter. I wiped everything clean. I completely closed the garage door. If I happen to notice a cat outdoors when it is below zero again this winter, then I will reopen the door so the cat can have shelter. But I can’t really encourage skunks to hang around. I have no idea where baby skunk came from, but that was not the best surprise at 6:30 am.

The baby skunk incident comes about a week after the dead blue jay incident. One morning last week, I noticed a blue jay laying in the grass next to the bird feeder. It was my first encounter with a dead animal for which I was responsible for disposing of. I used a shovel to pick it up and throw it behind the garage. It had a broken neck. I’m not sure if it flew into a window, a building, or what. What is even more weird is that a few days after that, I was outside doing yard work, and the carcass was completely gone. No idea what happened to the dead bird. 

There are two squirrels terrorizing my bird feeders. These things are getting bold. You would not believe the acrobatics they are doing to reach the feeders. I was going to get a super soaker to start spraying them, but every time I open my door, they run away. There is no way I would be able to attack these things with a super soaker. They are annoying just the same. 

I’m having adventures in wildlife just as I am beginning to adult this summer.

More on adulting to come. I’m quite impressed with some of the positive changes I have either made this summer or have in the works.

The best part is, that baby skunks, dead birds and crazy squirrels are no big deal. They are no big deal because I have slowed my life down to a point where I am calm and able to handle the crazy. I’m pretty sure that if I had encountered a baby skunk, a dead bird and crazy squirrels a few years ago, it would have been a crisis because I was so overwhelmed with life that I was not able to handle anything extra being thrown at me.

One of the benefits of minimalism is that when you slow your life down enough, events like wildlife encounters are no big deal. As they should be. 

My summer is wicked busy, but busy in the best possible way. I have not had a summer this good in at least 4 years. Expect to hear more from me in the coming weeks about the positive changes I have made and the ones in the works for the fall.

For now, let’s hope my adventures in wildlife are coming to a close. Hopefully baby skunk will get a clue to go elsewhere when he sees the garage door closed tomorrow morning. I pet a baby skunk and remained scent-free to tell the tale. How many people can say that? 

Pumpkin Time

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Cinderella has a midnight curfew when the illusion ends. The carriage turns back into a pumpkin, the gown back into rags. I have pumpkin time too. Right now it seems to be about 3 hours. Three hours is the amount of time I can be out in my cooling vest before I become absolutely exhausted.

Yesterday, I pushed it. I did my long run in the morning (without cooling vest because it was only 60 out). Then, I was outside in the heat for about 2 hours doing yard work. Thankfully, I have a really awesome person who helps me with yard work, otherwise it would take me an entire day. 

After my two hours of yard work, I was inside resting and having lunch. Yesterday afternoon, it was in the 80s, and I used my cooling vest to spend 3 hours at an outdoor birthday party. It was great, but I got tired fast. I felt like a pumpkin because I kept to my 3 hour time limit, afraid if I pushed it longer, I would not be okay to drive home. Just like Cinderella, the illusion would end at the appointed time. In my case, the illusion is “normal human being.”

I really appreciate the cooling vest so I was able to be there for the 3 hours like normal person. Without it, my body would have had the “drunk” symptoms and I definitely would not have been able to drive home. I told someone this week that I am a cheap date. There is no alcohol required for me to feel drunk – all I have to do is hang out in the heat for awhile with no cooling vest and my body will have all the symptoms. I do not understand how I was able to cope the past few years before I got the cooling vest.

Earlier this summer, I had posted about wanting to say “yes” more. The cooling vest gave me the ability to say “yes” to going to a birthday party without having to worry about my symptoms. Without the cooling vest, I would have been less likely to go because I cannot handle the heat. 

I should be thankful for my pumpkin time. I have not had a summer this good when I have been this functional in a really long time. But it’s hard. I know how good I used to be, and I don’t think I will ever be at that level again. I have brief – maybe 5 minute – moments of normality when I think I can do it all, only to realize I can’t. My 5 minutes of normality usually comes when the cooling vest clears my brain fog. Those moments are fleeting.

This morning, while listening to another of my favorite radio programs, the Sounds of Sinatra, I heard a commercial for little red and yellow pills for a male dysfunction disorder. It got me thinking about the red and blue pill dilemma in The Matrix. 

We have a similar scenario in the running community. In the online running forums, one of the games we like to play is discussing this red/blue pill scenario. In running, we usually say that the red pill will allow you 5 amazing running years of reaching PRs and breaking records, followed by 10 years of not being able to run anymore. The blue pill would allow you 15 years of being able to run continuously at an average level. 

I have always responded to this that I would take the blue pill. I would want the 15 years of running, even if it was only at an average level. I cannot imagine not being able to run. I would take the illusion to be happy.

However, now that I am experiencing this situation in real life, I’m not quite sure. It currently appears I have been handed the blue pill. I am functioning at an okay level. I’m not as good as I was, but not horrible either. I know there are people who “have it worse,” but that doesn’t help me  at all when I am the one trying to live THIS life in THIS body. 

Mainly, I’m just tired. I wish pumpkin time could last for an entire day, not just 3 hours. Maybe in time, I will get there. It would be no problem to continually recharge and change the phase change packs in the cooling vest so I could wear it all day. The problem is that my body physically gives out to exhaustion after about the 3 hour mark. 

My goal over the next two years is to hopefully be able to extend pumpkin time to 5 hours. I want to be able to run a full marathon again. Right now, I am pretty sure I am okay to run my half marathon this fall. The big question is that I want to be able to run another full marathon, and I don’t think my body will cooperate for it. My body betrays me. 

While most people this summer are popping a top proclaiming “miller time,” “molson time,” or “whatever your poison time,” for me, it is putting on a cooling vest for pumpkin time. I have about 3 hours a day to be normal before exhaustion claims my body – what will we say “yes” to today? 

 

That Thing Won’t Make It Better

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Go ahead, you deserve it. That message is pervasive in advertising in a litany of various incantations. Want to look and feel younger? Get the sports car. Want to feel attractive? Buy this dress. Bad day at work? You deserve ice cream. Good news? Time to treat yourself.

We all fall prey at some point or another to the allure that we deserve this thing or that buying an item is a reward. However, once the item is bought, the excitement wears off and we are on to find the next quick fix. This is how our homes become cluttered and our wallets become empty.

I admit that I fall prey to this phenomenon myself. It’s even harder now that I am a homeowner. It is challenging to differentiate sometimes between buying something “for the house” and buying something for me. 

For example, this past winter, I bought a new comforter for the spare bedroom. Was that for the house or for me? I put comforter for the spare bedroom under the category of “house” because I do not personally use that room. However, this Christmas, I am looking to purchase a new comforter for my bed to replace my 22 year old comforter, and I put that under the category of “for me” as opposed to for the house. I also have a tendency to prioritize house things over items that are just for me.

The bottom line is, that thing won’t make it better.

I currently have a perfectly fine 22 year old comforter. It does not need to be replaced. I take it to the laundry-mat every so often to wash it in the big machines and sew places where it needs mending. I may want a new comforter, but I do not need one. The only thing that a new comforter is going to do is temporarily increase my level of happiness and make my wallet a little lighter.

I actually want to buy a new comforter right now. I don’t want to wait for Christmas. The summer colors and patterns are available, and I like them more than the winter colors and patterns. I’m sure I can work up reasons inside my head to justify the purchase. I deprive myself of even small pleasures to focus all my resources on the house. I have had some majorly bad news. The comforter I want is currently on sale. I can come up with reasons to buy it now.

The thing is, buying it now won’t make anything better. Instead of spending money on a comforter, I need to take that money and buy paint to paint the woodwork around my house windows. I have work that needs to be done on the car. I should get more money into my savings account before making a major purchase. I struggle with grocery money with multiple food allergies.

I have plenty of reasons why it is better to wait to buy a comforter sometime in the future instead of buying it now. In fact, buying the comforter now will not only NOT make things better, it would make things worse. I would be behind on other items I need to purchase for home maintenance this summer. 

Many times I think we purchase items based on emotion. I deserve a treat. In the long run, a thing won’t help. Treats are nice occasionally. However, in today’s society it seems treats have become an every day thing.

Maybe if we want to treat ourselves, we should choose treats that aren’t things. Go for a walk. Meet a friend for coffee. Take a child to the movies. Those are the types of things that will make it better. You will have the memories of spending quality time with someone to keep coming back to over and over again.

One of my new goals for this summer is to practice saying “yes” more. As a minimalist, I have gotten really good at saying “no” in an effort to slow down my life and make it more manageable. While I still do not want to be overbooked, over-scheduled, or worn out, I think that saying yes to more experiences will make life better for me in a way that things just can’t.

You deserve time with friends. You deserve time with family. You deserve to see the sunset over the lake. You deserve to see the sunrise on the hood of a car parked near a beach. These are experiences we typically do not see advertised in the media, but are the treats that really will make it better. 

That thing won’t make it better because things come and go. People come and go too, which is why we need to spend time with them while we are here on this Earth. The next time you think “go ahead, you deserve it,” think about what you are saying yes to. Ignore the car, the dress, or the perfume. Say yes to the birthday party, the bonfire, the hike through the woods. That thing won’t make it better. Time with people will. 

Home of the East Wind

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As we read the book of Job, we see a man with great integrity who has everything taken from him by Satan. In Job 1, God gives Satan permission to test Job with the caveat: “Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don’t harm him physically” (1:12). We then hear Job and his friends talking about the adversity he is all of a sudden experiencing in life.

Finally, in Job 38, the Lord challenges Job about his complaining. In Job 38:24, the Lord asks “Where is the path to the origin of light? Where is the home of the east wind?” These are very big questions. I certainly don’t know the answer. God asks these questions to basically say that us humans on Earth are not able to comprehend the extent of God’s power. God created everything. We can’t answer all of those questions.

I may not know where the home of the east wind is located, but I do know that the sun rises in the east and signifies the start of a new day. Each day is a new opportunity to try to live life the best that we can. To this end, I ask, “what gives your life meaning?”

We may not know where the home of the east wind lies, but usually when the wind blows, that signifies change. What is the meaning of your life and what needs to change?

These are very big questions and they can get really intense.

I’ve had many changes in my life recently. Use whichever euphemism you want – a new day, the winds of change blowing … what I have come to realize is that my entire life has changed in a drastic way over the past three years. I have experienced at least 8 of the 10 major lifetime stressors during that time. I have also been grieving at least four different extremely significant loses.

A light bulb recently went off in my head. When life feels really overwhelming and there is a lot going on, the best people are able to overcome and plow through by slowing it down.

Simplify the situation and it is easier to deal with.

In Job, we read 42 chapters of trials, tribulations and complaining. Then, the entire situation is simplified, solved and ended with one statement. “I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” – Job 42:6.

Sometimes we have to just sit down and simplify life to deal with it.

I have been on this journey to simplify my life and it wasn’t helping. It wasn’t hurting either. Simplifying my life allowed me to face my trials these past few years without losing my mind. That’s a positive. However, it did not help to give me a direction for improvement.

When I read Job 42:6 about sitting in dust and ashes to show my repentance, I think that it is all about getting back to basics. How can I be the best me I can be? How can you be the best you that you can be? You can sit there and complain and wallow about adversity, or you can sit quietly and come to a peaceful conclusion.

I realized that I have been drifting since I finished school in 2015. I spent 20 years as a college student and now that I am done, I have no direction in my life. I have no passion. I have also been in a period of grief, as I have experienced at least one major loss in my life each year for the past four years.

It’s time to get back to basics. I need to focus on my health, running and nutrition. I need to have goals. My half marathon this fall is a good goal. I need more goals for when my race is over.

For the first time, I think I’m done grieving, so hopefully I won’t have any more losses any time soon. I kind of get what Job was lamenting. I have lost a lot these past few years too.

The east wind comes to remind us to be the best we can be. What gives your life meaning? How can you set new goals and move from a place of brokenness to a place of repentance and peace?

I have no idea how to redirect my life now that I am no longer a student. I need a new goal other than “survive.” I am going to start with focusing on my health, running and nutrition, but I know I need something bigger than that.

Maybe in the silence, something will come.

4 years, 1 month, 28 days

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Normal (noun): The usual, average, or typical state or condition – as defined by google.

I’ve had this un-diagnosed neurological condition since at least 2016, but probably longer. 2016 was the year I was in the hospital and my symptoms not only worsened, but whatever disease I have decided to ramp itself up to the Next Level like a video game on steroids.

First, I was told it was a stroke. Now, they are looking for multiple sclerosis. I’m having problems getting medical care, which does not make life any easier.

Going with the idea that I might have MS, pending neurology confirmation, I ordered some MS cooling vests to see if they would help at all with some of the “imaginary” symptoms I get when it is hot out. Imaginary is according to the primary doctor, who does not seem to take me seriously (even though she was the one who referred me to neurology).

I took great care to measure myself for the MS cooling vests and I am glad I did. When I put one on, I discovered that the phase change packs were situated so that there are two on either side of my spine. I say phase change packs because that is what they actually are – these are not ice packs, but some other technology. The placement of the phase change packs is key to their efficacy, which we will get to in a moment.

I wore the cooling vest for my run tonight. I had this idea that it would just keep my body cool similar to air conditioning. Boy, was I wrong.

But I was wrong in the best possible way.

Those phase change packs are situated on both sides of your spine not to cool your body, but to cool your central nervous system. Apparently, in people with MS, if that is what I have, heat causes your nerves to misfire. By cooling the central nervous system, your nerves are less likely to misfire, and you are less likely to have heat-induced symptoms.

My central nervous system was definitely cooled by the cooling vest. My spine was cool. My brain inside my head was cool. It was the weirdest but also the best feeling. It felt similar to an ice cream headache, only without the ice cream and without the headache. I did not have a headache. Nothing hurt. Yet my brain inside my head physically felt cool while the outside of my body was sweating buckets.

It was 86 degrees out when I went for my run. Not the best running conditions, even if you do not have a neurological problem.

It was the best run I have had in 4 years, 1 month and 28 days.

It’s been a long time since I have been this happy to be that miserable.

I was sweating buckets. I was uncomfortable. But it was a “normal” uncomfortable. It was the type of uncomfortable that you get when you run 4 miles in 86 degree weather like a crazy person. It was the best feeling.

What made it so great was that it was the first run I have done in 4 years, 1 month and 28 days where I did not experience any of these neurological symptoms while running. I was not dizzy, I did not feel like passing out, my vision was not blurry, my vision was not black, I did not trip, I did not fall. I had no brain fog. I was able to think clearly for the first time in a long time.

I felt normal.

I felt like any other idiot running 4 miles in 86 degree weather, because, really, you shouldn’t do that.

I basically wanted to see if this cooling vest would work. It does. It doesn’t work in the way I thought it would work. It works even better than that.

I thought that the cooling vest would cool my whole body down and kind of give me a competitive edge to run in that heat. The vest did no such thing. The vest cooled down my central nervous system so that I could run normally. I had no neurological symptoms. I was just a crazy runner sweating buckets on the outside. Only my spine and my brain inside my head were cool.

The cooling vest makes me normal per the definition at the beginning of this post. The cooling vest puts me back on level playing field again. It was just me and my body pounding the pavement on the road minus all neurological symptoms.

Now granted, running in 86 degree weather is completely stupid.

The point is that if the cooling vest lets me run normally again, what else can I do like a normal person that I have not been able to do for the past four years?

I’m excited to find out.

I want to surf. I want to drive further than 8 miles. I want to be able to go back to the beaches. I want to go to a baseball game without getting all these neuro symptoms where my body feels like it’s drunk when the only thing I have had to drink all day is water with lime slices in it.

I want to feel like a normal person and not have my body betray me every time I try to do something.

Tonight, I had my first normal run in 4 years, 1 month and 28 days. I cannot say how grateful I am to have this cooling vest. I feel like I might be able to actually get my life back.

With the doctors around here being absolutely stupid, I may never find out whether or not I have MS. Whatever it is that I have, this MS cooling vest is looking like it is alleviating all my heat-induced symptoms.

I can’t wait to use the cooling vest more and see what else I can do like a normal person again. Summer is one of my favorite seasons and I have not been able to enjoy it for years.

Bring on summer. With my MS cooling vests, I’m ready.

Update:

So, I’ve had some people ask me about which cooling vests I chose. I went with these really great vests called Under Cool from Therm Apparel in Rochester, NY. Many people have asked me recently if I’m wearing my vest because they don’t see it. Yes, I am wearing it! The fact you can’t see it is the whole point!

The Under Cool vest goes under my shirt. As a runner, I chose this vest because it weighs just under 2 pounds. Other cooling vests I researched were about 6-8 pounds. When I run 26.2 miles, I don’t want to feel like I’m in Marine boot camp lugging around a bunch of extra dead weight.

Sizing was a huge selling point for me. I weigh about 96 pounds. Most cooling vests I researched were bulky and only available in S,M,L sizes. Under Cool was available in XS (which I have), as well as youth sizes. Some of my baseball shirts are actually youth sizes, so having a wide range of sizes was key. Measure carefully, and your vest will fit well. XS is doing it for me.

Please note, I do not usually push specific items, but since you guys have asked, it is definitely Therm Apparel. I have not received any sort of compensation for giving them a plug, but if you need a cooling vest for neuro issues and run marathons like I do, then this is the vest for you! I also got the “adventure bundle” so I have one vest for running and one vest for “every day use.” I have two sets of phase change packs that allow me to be out longer. So far, I have only been out in my cooling vest for a maximum of 3 hours, but that is only because I get so tired.

I will be sure to post another blog on my vests!

Water

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One of my favorite reggae tunes is “Bread” by John Brown’s Body. This group is made up of band members from both Boston, MA and Ithaca, NY which combines two of my favorite places and makes it even better. When I hear this tune, it reminds me to be thankful for everything that we have.

Do we ever think to be thankful for water? We hear about people in other countries who do not have access to clean drinking water. We have heard the stories from Flint, MI and from areas in California that are still trying to recover from the fires and do not have access to clean drinking water.

The concept of water struck home for me, when, for a period of four months, I did not have it. Sometimes, you do not appreciate something until you have to go without.

As you may remember, last summer I was in the throes of my housing crisis. Part of that crisis was the fact that the new owner who bought my apartment building hired this company who was clueless about wells. To make a long story short, our well water got completely screwed up.

This 12-unit apartment building with 1-2 people and 1-2 cats per unit was on a well for 20 years. Everything went fine. We always had water, and it was good water. The water tested well and tasted good.

Then, this water management company came in and the water was completely messed up the last four months I was in the apartment. The water was not drinkable. It sometimes came out a blue-purple color. You could no longer do laundry on-site because clothes would be stained with the blue-purple color. I only used the water for washing dishes and for bathing. Yet even using the water to shower only, all of my bath towels ended up dyed that funky color just from toweling off after a shower.

I had to buy new towels when I moved into the house.

You can imagine, then, when I first moved into the house, all I wanted was a shower. I wanted to shower in clean water. I delighted in turning on the tap in my kitchen sink and drawing a glass of water to drink. I am fortunate in that the area where my house is located has the water that tests the best and tastes the best in the entire county. According to our village newsletter, our water even won some award. I love the water at the house.

Not only am I able to shower at the house, but I can drink water whenever I want. So can the cats. The last four months in the apartment, I was constantly buying gallons of water for us all to drink, which only added to my expenses when I was trying to scrimp to get into the house.

In the house, I am also able to do laundry on-site. I can do laundry whenever I need to do it. It doesn’t matter the day, the weather, or the time. This is truly a luxury and a privilege.

I was thinking lately about how privileged I am to have water.

Being a home owner has been a struggle for me. I call myself a reluctant home owner because I never wanted to buy a house. I bought this house because it was the only way to keep my family together. Everyone around me seems to think I have some problem because I hate being a home owner.

However, on the news recently, a study shows that as much as 60% of home owners in this country have regret or remorse over the fact that we bought a house. We all bought for the same reason – it was cheaper to buy than to rent. We all are depressed and resentful about our home purchases for the same reason too. We hate the responsibility and maintenance.

I am again fortunate in that I have people who have been helping me with the house. I am so appreciative of the help. However, there is a difference between having people who lend you a hand with things and then having a life partner to shoulder the responsibility, joy, and anxiety with you.

Reading the studies and knowing that there are people out there who feel the same way I do helps.

Being thankful for my water helps me appreciate the house even more and also be less resentful.

Out of the 12 apartments in the building in which I lived for 14 years, I have kept in touch with a person who is still there. I had lunch with that person a few weeks ago.

I had seen in the newspaper that the person who bought the building decided to add on more apartments. More apartments means more people means more stress on that well.

I have also heard that instead of 1-2 people in each apartment, there are now 4-6 people in each apartment. Seeing as how the rent more than doubled, I am not surprised. You need 4-6 working adults in each unit now to be able to afford the rent.

So with more units and more people, I asked my friend if the water situation was ever remedied from the mess it was last year.

It has not. Not only is the water still contaminated and coming out that blue-purple color, but apparently there has been no hot water for weeks even though each unit has its own hot water heater. They are essentially all cold water flats. My friends says that she has not said anything because she does not like to deal with the new landlord.

Hearing this situation makes me very thankful for my house. I was so stressed those last four months in the apartment. I had to take all my laundry to the laundry mat, and I was spending exorbitant amounts of money on gallons of water for me and the cats.

I still resent buying a house. I find it overwhelming. But I am thankful that we have a place to live that has working, clean water. We have both hot and cold water. We can drink water right out of the tap.

I have been trying to find ways to be positive about the house to try to decrease my stress levels. Being thankful for water is one way to be thankful for this house.

Even though owning a home is hard – it is damn hard – it is the hardest thing I have ever done – at least we have clean drinking water.

I listen to the song “Bread,” and all I can think is that I have water to make bread. Owning a home is hard, stressful, and not a responsibility that I want. But I am so thankful that this home gives me clean water and that my little family is together.

Thank you for clean water.

 

Halfway There

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The world is going to hell and it better be my day off. This phrase actually came from my mother, and it’s one of my favorites. It’s true that the past few years have been difficult for me.

I’m pretty sure the last time I made New Year’s Resolutions was 2017. I only set three, and I did not accomplish any of them. I thought I had set realistic goals. In general, I think they were. It was just the fact that my life fell apart that year in multiple ways.

We are currently halfway through 2019, and I am happy to say, that I am officially halfway through accomplishing those New Year’s Resolutions I had set in 2017. Better late than never, right?

One of the goals I had set was that I wanted to read the entire Bible in a year. I have read the Bible in it’s entirety multiple times when I was younger, but it’s been awhile since I have done so. I have my favorite books and passages that I keep coming back to over time.

This year, as in 2017, I am once again following the Our Daily Bread schedule of reading the Bible in a year. I am happy to say that so far, I have been reading the Bible every day this year and am exactly on schedule to read the entire thing through from start to finish this calendar year.

On the Old Testament side, I have currently arrived at my favorite book of the Bible, Nehemiah. I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I read through Nehemiah a few times last year. It’s always great to read it again.

I’m honestly not sure what my other 2 resolutions were from 2017. I’m sure I can find them somewhere on this blog. But for now, I am on my way to completing this one resolution.

Daily Bible reading helped me to get through my housing crisis last year. At that time, I was just reading what would give me comfort, which was typically Nehemiah or Psalms. I can honestly admit that when I was going through that situation last year and bought this house that it was the very first time I ever “let go and let God.” I did it in a huge way.

I have no idea whether or not I will set a New Year’s resolution in 2020. But for now, I am halfway there to completing one of my 2017 goals. I’m just making up for lost time. There’s another saying “if you’re going through hell, keep on going.”

I’m going. I’m going. Halfway there.

Friday Nights & Saturday Mornings

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We have all done things that we were not necessarily proud of. Luckily for me, I am of a generation when the vast majority of the stupid things I’ve done were pre-internet and undocumented. We have all had those moments of stupidity. They typically happen in our younger years, but even as we get older, there is a moment now and then.

If anything, I’m always honest and one thing I’m not proud of is how I used to spend Friday nights in my 20s. This was a point in life when I was still struggling through school, working on degrees one and two, and working 2-3 jobs at a time.

Even though I worked nights for well over a decade, I typically had Friday nights off because I worked a day shift on Saturday. Thus, I had Saturday nights off too. Saturday nights are easy to explain and I have no shame. Saturday nights were my writing nights. This was when I would sit down and pull out the twenty page papers required in undergrad or spent writing one of my two thesis.

Friday nights were the only night I got to be at home and wasn’t trying to pull a big project together. Friday nights became my “drink and clean the house night.” It sounds more wild than what it was.

Yes, it did involve some dancing around the living room, but it’s not like I had to drink much to be happy. Plus, I had to work the next morning. I got the house clean, listened to some tunes, and it was my one opportunity each week to try to relax. Even if at that time relaxation meant taking out my frustrations in life on the shower with a scrub brush.

At that time in my life, every single day was highly scheduled. I was juggling so many things that being OCD over my daily schedule was the only way I could balance it all without dropping something.

This Friday night drink and clean the house thing worked for a bit. Then, when I started throwing marathon training into the mix, Friday became one of my run days. I don’t drink when I’m in training (unless there is an extenuating circumstance like a birthday party or wedding, I may have a glass of wine – which is pretty much my MO year round anyway), and my cleaning day had to move. I honestly don’t remember what day became my cleaning day once I started using Fridays as one of my training days.

Due to the pace of my life at that time, some things are a blur.

When I’m running, I take out all my frustrations on the pavement. I do a lot of thinking. All of my best ideas come to me while I am running.

What I have noticed in life in the past few years now that I am working a day job is that it is a lot harder for me to get things done. When I worked nights, I would get a lot done in the mornings before heading into work at 12:30pm. When I got home at 10pm, I would have some time to relax before sleep. It was a great schedule.

Now that I am working days, mornings are hard. Mornings are typically my lowest point of functioning in the day. I’m falling down, dropping things, can’t see well, don’t balance. It takes a bit for my symptoms to dissipate and for me to feel functional.

For the record, the past few years with my new health problem, I have no need to drink anymore even for birthdays and weddings. My body feels like it’s drunk when I’m completely sober. It’s really annoying. It’s not fun and often unexpected.

But now that I work days, by the time I get home from work at night, I am exhausted. Nothing gets done. When I was working nights, I would get things done in the morning. Now that I am working days, I can only get things done on weekends.

Then, sometimes I have weekends I’m exhausted too.

So now my weekends are taken up with cleaning and house maintenance and I feel as though I’ve lost my time to relax, even though I’m doing less now than I was in my 20s.

Last night, it was raining, so I postponed my run to sometime today. I had some energy, for some reason, and decided to jump start the weekend.

I cleaned the upstairs on Friday night.

I plugged the radio in and started scrubbing. It was great. I had not had a Friday night cleaning night in a long time.

The upstairs is easier to clean than the downstairs because I do not spend a lot of time upstairs and that is where the empty rooms are. So I cleaned the upstairs last night. Shortly after that, I went to bed. I was way too exhausted to even think about cleaning the downstairs too.

I will be doing my run today and probably cleaning the downstairs too. Although, I have to admit, I’m still exhausted today. It’s been one of those weeks.

Now instead of having a “drink and clean the house” Friday night routine, I have a new routine and this one involves Saturday mornings.

Even though I am absolutely exhausted, I am still up early on a Saturday morning. I kind of have to be to take my medication. I can’t just take my medication and go back to bed. This particular medication has a strict warning on it that I cannot lay down for at least 30 minutes after taking it.

So I’m up early on a Saturday morning not only for my medication, but also for my new Saturday morning routine.

One of my Top 3 favorite radio programs is NPR’s “Only A Game” from Boston station WBUR. The program airs on my local station on Saturday mornings from 7:00 – 8:00 am.

I actually didn’t even know my local station aired this program until recently. I was ecstatic to find it. I used to listen to this radio program every week while I was in graduate school in Boston. I really missed it.

Every Saturday, I listen to this program, and it brings back so many happy memories of grad school. It brings up thoughts of Boston and commuting and trying for a life better and new. That is a whole other story, but I’m happy to have found one of my favorite radio programs again.

I may not have a Friday night routine anymore, but now I have a Saturday morning routine. My weekend doesn’t start until “Only A Game” is over. I relax here with my coffee, Simon in my lap, Jude by my side watching the birds starting their day outside. The sun is coming through the leaves of the east facing kitchen window.

Saturday mornings are a routine of which I can be proud. Unlike the Friday drink and clean the house nights, my Saturday morning radio time relaxes me in another way. Yes, I did clean the upstairs last night, but it was minus the wine. I’m pretty sure cleaning the upstairs Friday night will not become a thing.

Saturday mornings are a thing, and I love them.

 

The Great Milk Conspiracy

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People with food allergies, particularly people with multiple food allergies, are food insecure. When you have multiple allergens to avoid, that means you have to buy a lot of specialty items. Specialty items are not only hard to find, but also more expensive. People with multiple food allergies are typically unable to use traditional food pantries unless the food pantry somehow caters to people with food allergies.

I have 5 of the Top 8 most common food allergens. My reactions are severe. My last year of teaching, one of the kids spilled their milk in my lap. It’s a simple spill, right? No big deal.

It was a big deal. The milk soaked through my pants. I absorbed it through my skin. I stopped breathing. I began to have a seizure. By the time I made it to the hospital, my kidneys and liver had started shutting down. I spent several weeks in ICU.

One of my friends recently said that they heard a newscast that food allergies are all in your head. If that was true, I would have wished that away and not spent so much time in the hospital followed by several long months of recovery.

My food allergies are nothing to joke about.

No, I cannot have “just a little bit.” No, I cannot “pick it out.” I cannot have any contact by any means, period. This includes no cross contamination.

I am like this with peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, egg and wheat. Of the five, my worst reactions are to almonds and dairy. No, I do not have celiac disease. I have an actual allergy to wheat, which is something completely different.

I cannot go into a Dunkin Donuts unless I have a death wish. Seriously. If I ever decide to attempt suicide, I am just going to walk into a Dunkin Donuts. A few years ago, Dunkin Donuts added almond milk. It is quite prolific. I cannot even enter into a Dunkin Donuts to use a bathroom at a thruway rest stop. Who knows how thoroughly the surfaces were cleaned? If I come into any contact with almond milk/almond oil, I react.

I cannot have “normal” cow’s milk (or goat milk or sheep milk or any other animal milk). I cannot have almond milk. I cannot have soy milk, because all soy milks have an almond warning on them.

I typically have  rice milk, coconut milk or hemp milk. Coconut is a misnomer. Coconut is not a nut, it is a drupe fruit and a member of the seed family, and is safe for those with nut allergies. Hemp nut is a misnomer. Hemp is actually a seed, and is safe for those with nut allergies.

These specialty milks are quite expensive. I typically get a half gallon (2 litres) at Aldi for $1.69. This week, Aldi was all out of my milk.

I like milk so that I can have cereal in the morning. I eat allergy-friendly cereal, of course. My medication requires me to take it with food. Mornings are a hard time for me to eat because I don’t feel like eating, and cereal is the easiest thing for me to gag down in the morning to take with my medication.

The past few mornings, I had to get creative with breakfast so that I could take my medication. It was not fun.

Today, I went to 6 different stores looking for milk.

At all 6 stores, there were walls and rows of “regular” cows milk. There were walls and rows of almond milk.

Was there rice milk or hemp milk?

Nope.

It was only at the 7th store that I found what I needed. Now, keep in mind, I typically pay $1.69 for a half gallon (2 litres). Today, at the 7th store, when I found what I needed, I paid $4.69 for 1 litre.

Now, that is quite expensive.

If I have to do this on a regular basis, then that means that half of my monthly food budget is going to be allotted just to milk.

This is partially why people with multiple food allergies are food insecure.

I am one of the privileged ones. I have a vehicle, so I was able to drive to 7 different stores trying to find what I needed. Imagine if you have to ride the bus, take a cab, ride a bike or walk to a store. What would someone in my situation do then?

Food is extremely challenging to find when you have multiple food allergies. This is why I always tell everyone I am not picky about what I eat. I will literally eat anything that won’t kill me. With so many food allergies and reactions so severe, I cannot afford to be picky or to partake in some sort of alternative diet such as vegetarian, vegan, keto, etc.

The rules are simple. Will this kill me if I eat it? No? Then eat it. If it will kill me if I eat it, then don’t touch it. I have actually not had a reaction to something I have eaten in almost 15 years. The 10+ reactions I have had in the past 15 years have all come from touch, or skin absorption.

If I did not have food allergies, then it would be very easy to live on a $30 per week grocery budget. I’d be having macaroni and cheese, sandwiches of all kinds, pizza, ice cream, you name it. I look at grocery store ads and fantasize about all the things I would love to eat if I did not have food allergies.

With multiple food allergies, $30 per week does not go far. I just spent $14.07 on “milk” for the week, which was about ¾ of a gallon. If I want a loaf of bread, it is $10.79. Allergy-friendly bread loaves are smaller than regular loaves of bread. I typically get 3 or 4 sandwiches out of an allergy friendly loaf of bread.

I have to pre-plan my days and be sure to pack enough food for where ever I may be. I cannot go out to eat – hardly anywhere in this area. It’s not like I can just pick up food on the fly or go to a convenience store and get a snickers bar if I’m hungry.

Maybe for my last meal. If I was on death row, I have a milkshake and macaroni and cheese on the list for my last meal, maybe I should add a snickers bar to that.

The great milk conspiracy comes from the fact that I went into 6 stores and found walls of regular milk and almond milk, but no milk for me. Do stores and manufacturers just not think about all the people who are allergic to both dairy and almonds? I did not even see soy milk at some of these places, not that I can have that either.

What is with this trend in almond milk? It is my worst nightmare. This is why I wear a warning label like a Gremlin.

You want to see how fast I can run, whip out a carton of almond milk. I’ll be gone in a flash. I don’t have a death wish today. No thank you.

Maybe I should just give up on specialty items. I mean, I’m sure if I was on food stamps that people would judge me for checking out with a 1 litre carton of hemp milk for $4.69 when I could get a half gallon of regular milk for $1.29.

More importantly, when did milk become a specialty item?

The dairy industry has such a hold on our food system that they are advocating for alternative milks to be called something different. The dairy industry argues that something like rice milk isn’t real milk and should not be called milk.

There are times when I think “I don’t care what you call it as long as I can put it in my cereal and it doesn’t kill me.”

There are other times when I think “Why is my milk less than your milk? I should have access to milk too, whatever form that may take.”

Who would have ever guessed that trying to buy milk would create such drama?

This is the first time I have had this experience with trying to find milk. I do have this experience with allergy friendly pasta and allergy friendly flour on a regular basis. Whenever I do find allergy friendly pasta or allergy friendly flour, I buy them in bulk. I consider them treats because they are so expensive and so hard to find.

Part of me thinks that things like milk, bread, pasta and flour should not have to be considered treats. They should not be hard to find. They should not be expensive. Those items should be staples. I should not have to drive to 7 stores to find what I need. Don’t most people go to 1 or 2 grocery stores? Why do I have to go to multiple stores looking for “specialty” items?

Maybe my thinking is all out of whack. But when you have a large industry like the dairy industry saying you can’t call rice milk “milk” because it doesn’t come from a cow, and it takes me 7 stores to find something to put on my cereal in the morning, we have a problem.

For now, the Great Milk Conspiracy can take a rest. I have enough hemp milk for my cereal for the rest of the week. I can tell you right now, that breakfast tomorrow morning is going to be amazing. I may have completely blown my food budget, but I can have cereal again. At least, until the milk runs out.

Commercializing Solitude

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The little outside bar in the middle of no where.

A recent newscast spoke of a significant increase in visits to national parks due to social media usage. Once a haven of the adventurous seeking solitude, millions are now flocking to previously secluded spots made internet famous by stunning photography that has been shared all across the globe. Gone are the days when we would simply see a photograph of a beautiful place and long to go there. People are actually going.

This results in some national parks having to fight harder to preserve our natural surroundings. When human traffic to these remote areas increases, the majesty of the experience is often lost in the crowd.

Another recent news story spoke of an increased number of deaths on Mt. Everest. The deaths are attributed to overcrowding of people trying to reach the summit. Apparently, anyone with $11,000 can try to reach the summit of Mt. Everest regardless of preparation or qualifications to attempt the ascent. There is no regulation of people who are allowed to undertake this feat other than having the ability to pay for the experience.

We are commercializing solitude.

There are how many – 8 billion? – people on this planet. Our cities are overcrowded. We are now crowding those areas that were previously areas of refuge for some to escape the cities. Not every city person is cut out for the wilderness. Thus, we now have “glamping” for those who are unable to navigate the wilderness but want the illusion of solitude.

Let’s throw some glitter on a tree, and all of a sudden forests are popular.

I had been going camping to a location in the Adirondacks for about 16 years. This annual trip started back in the 90s. The location was the halfway point where I would meet college friends coming from western Massachusetts.

Cranberry Lake was my favorite place to be because it was remote and safe. I stayed in the same site every year for this trip, and every year things were the same. The natural beauty provided a sort of consistency in my life in the midst of much turmoil. I knew that no matter what was going on in my life, where I was or where I was living, each summer, I would always have my trip to Cranberry. Kind of like the whole “we’ll always have Paris” thing.

The annual Cranberry trip was like New Year’s for me. This is the big trip where I could relax and recharge and return to life refreshed. Especially the years when I was working 70-80 hours per week at multiple jobs while attending school full time, these trips helped me to keep my sanity.

The only reason why I specifically mention the location now after all this time, is because it has been commercialized. Unfortunately, Cranberry Lake is no longer my oasis in the middle of the Adirondacks.

The last few years that I made my annual pilgrimage to the location, I noticed a marked increase in the number of people camping. I’m sure on some level this is great for the state department of environmental conservation – more people camping means more revenue. However, with increased use, I noticed changes.

The first thing I noticed was changes in clientele. As the years have gone by, there are less families and more rowdy young people. Or, families who are raising Cain. I know this makes me sound like a curmudgeon-y old person, but there is more noise and less respect. People walk through other people’s wooded, secluded campsite without saying anything because they like the view from someone else’s site.

Um, excuse me, but you are standing near my tent, and I paid for this space.

Second, I noticed that even though some of the increased traffic was coming from students associated with environmental conservation programs who were, allegedly, in school for environmental conservation degrees, were trashing the natural surroundings.

An area that was naturally mud and downed trees now has now been cleared for people to put in kayaks from a private site. Too lazy to take the kayak to the public launch site, these students have instead chosen to destroy the natural surroundings to make an unapproved (I asked) kayak launch.

It’s kind of hard to sit in the middle of nowhere and be peaceful when surrounded by loud, boisterous people who have no respect for the outdoors around them.

These inconsiderate people are apparently incapable of living without cell service for 24 hours. There is now a cell tower in this part of the Adirondacks. Now, New York State told the cell company that the tower would have to “blend in” with the natural surroundings.

The cell tower “blends in” alright. It looks like a giant green toilet brush. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig. You can tell that the cell tower is there even if it is “disguised” as a tree that in no way blends in with the trees surrounding it.

Part of the attraction of going to places like this, for me at least, is the lack of cell phone service. I literally love to unplug and unwind. I don’t have to worry about people calling me, texting me, or emailing me. Especially in a society that is completely on 100% of the time, we need moments to disconnect and reflect.

During a recent internet search trying to find a new, more remote area of the Adirondacks to be my new oasis, I noticed that Cranberry Lake is listed on a boatload of “best of” lists that have promulgated the internet over the past 10 years or so.

No wonder that spot has become so popular. Cranberry Lake has suffered the same fate as some of the national parks and Mt. Everest where social media has made them so popular they are now being destroyed by the increased foot traffic and are no longer the places of refuge they once were.

When I was in the Adirondacks recently, I went by Cranberry Lake. I noticed that now instead of having the small, simple brown sign out front indicating the turn to the campground, there are in fact, 5 different points of entry into this location and all of them are very well marked. There is no hiding out at that location any longer.

After hearing of the recent murders on the Appalachian Trail, I would not consider such a popular spot a safe place to be anymore. You just don’t know who is traipsing through the woods now.

This is why, when I found my new oasis location, that will not be named, I chose a location that does not really come up on “Top 10” lists or the average internet search. I want to be in an area that not many people know about, that is remote yet still safe, and retains it’s natural beauty. Forests should be respected by people visiting, not destroyed.

I do believe that everyone has the right to enjoy parks and the natural beauty that surrounds us. However, when large numbers of people flock to the same location at the same time, it is not sustainable on the environment. At that point, we are just turning the woods into new cities.

I will let everyone else go to Mt. Everest, the internet famous national parks, and the ones in the Top 10 lists. For me, I’m going to look for the locations that are off the beaten path so that I can truly be in solitude. The challenge is that as we are commercializing solitude, those truly empty places are getting harder to find.