Minimalism – How It Started

There are hints that I have always been a minimalist from a young age. It’s possible it comes from a childhood and youth of homelessness or from living with a mother who is a hoarder or both. Research is evolving that says that responses to homelessness can be either extreme of hoarding or minimalism. Many people tend towards hoarding. I tend towards minimalism.

My childhood was rough, and there were many times when I had to move someplace or flee with only what I could fit in a single backpack. You learn fast how to make decisions and what is important or not important to take with you when you are given 20 minutes to pack a single backpack.

As an example, we will flash back to the year 1994. I had been tossed around homes and foster home situations due to abuse. I had a law guardian. The “child welfare system” worked a lot differently in the 80s and early 90s than it does now. To make a long story short, I was in abusive home in 1994 and was reporting the abuse to my law guardian. The school I was attending was reporting it too.

In the mornings, I was left home alone for roughly 30 minutes. The abusers I was living with went to work. I was left standing in the driveway waiting to be picked up for school. On one April morning about 10 minutes after the abusers left, the phone rang three times and then stopped ringing. I was never allowed to answer the phone. However, I knew that three rings that stopped was my signal that someone was coming for me and it was time to flee.

I quickly dumped all the books out of my school backpack and ran around cramming everything in it that I thought it was important to have to leave. I walked out the door, same as any other morning and stood in the driveway to be picked up. However, instead of being picked up to go to school, I was going to be picked up to be taken to a safe place – and it all had to be done before the person arrived to pick me up for school so nothing would seem amiss. The person picking me up for school would simply notice I was not outside and assume I was home sick for the day.

The car tore into the driveway. I jumped in the back seat and laid down on the floor behind the front seats with my single backpack. I was covered with a blanket to hide me. We tore out of the city. I had to stay hidden in the backseat with my backpack covered with a blanket until we were a safe distance away for me to be able to sit up and move around in the backseat properly. 

This is a true story and it is how I escaped one of many abusive situations in my lifetime. 

That one backpack held a few changes of clothes and some keepsakes. When I arrived at my safe destination, they took me shopping for more clothes so I would have more than two or three outfits. I did not pick out many clothes. I didn’t think I needed that many. I don’t like being responsible for lots of things in case I need to leave quickly due to an emergency situation.

Many months after my exodus from that abusive situation, all of my belongings that I had left behind were brought to me on a small tow-behind trailer. My books, the rest of my clothes, the music I had left behind, was all returned. At that time, I didn’t feel like I needed any of it. I had left it all behind and lived without it for many months. It was all creature comforts. None of it was needed to survive. What I needed was to be in a safe place, free from abuse.

At times in my life when I have been in safe places, free from abuse, I have accumulated things. I have accumulated LOTS of things. Most of this accumulation of things has been the result of convenience. When I was working 80 hours a week at three jobs, it was easier to have duplicates of items because I couldn’t find something or was too tired to wash or clean an item for reuse. In a nutshell, it was laziness.

My first big foray into the minimalism journey I am now on started about in 2010. I wanted to move. I had been wanting to move for a decade. You see, I moved from Massachusetts to New York in the late 90s. I had said I regretted the move and wanted to go back to Massachusetts. I knew that to go back I would have to downsize from a 2-bedroom apartment to a single room. Rent in Massachusetts is about 9 times higher than rent in New York.

My initial declutter into minimalism was with the goal of a move in mind. That, and I had been in a safe place free of abuse for a few years and had accumulated a lot of stuff. Honestly, it was making me anxious to be surrounded by so much stuff. What if I needed to leave? Yes, I know what I would grab to take with me. What about all the crap left behind? Besides, now that I am an adult, there is more responsibility than when you are a child.

I started downsizing with an inter-state move in mind. The move never happened, as I was not financially able to find a job that would pay me enough to even rent one room in Massachusetts. I’m still in New York. While I do not want to be in New York, I have no regrets about my failed attempt to return to Massachusetts.

I digress.

I have been on this minimalist journey for about a decade. Each burst of minimalism or decluttering has basically been a response to some traumatic life event. I decluttered A LOT when I moved from the apartment to the house. We were literally 3 hours away from being homeless when I bought the house. I knew we had to leave the apartment. I knew we were moving. I just didn’t know where we were moving to. I was prepared to live in the car with the cats until the house actually came through. That is how close we were to homelessness at the time.

In the pandemic, I am staring down the real possibility of death. Everyone around me has died. I will die eventually too. No one is going to want to go through my crap when I’m dead. I’m going through it now. On a more positive note, I would like to move internationally. I like to think I am now downsizing with an international move in mind. We will see if my wish to move internationally becomes a reality or a pipe dream. For now, that is what I am planning to do.

Combine my wish for an international move with the reality that I do not feel safe in this house due to the neighbors, and I am in the perfect situation to declutter. I am not in a safe space. I need as few items as possible. I need to know exactly what needs to go with me if we need to flee from here for safety. I don’t want to be responsible for a bunch of crap left behind.

To be honest, being surrounded by fewer things reduces me anxiety. I have enough to worry about taking care of the cats and keeping all of us together. I don’t want to have to worry about or be responsible for an entire house full of stuff too. So, I am getting rid of the stuff. I am only keeping what I use or what truly makes me happy. I am trying to reduce my things to only what is necessary so that I can focus on what is truly important in life.

I don’t want to spend hours cleaning this house or all of the stuff in it. I want to spend my time enjoying my life with the cats, as my life and their lives are so very short. 

I’m pretty sure I have always been a minimalist since I was a child, but I did not have the vocabulary to express it at the time. When you grow up poor, you only have a few items because you can’t afford to buy things. However, the longer you are alive, the more stuff you accumulate. If you are in a safe place, you tend to accumulate stuff as well. 

If you have lived through multiple emergency life situations such as I have, then you realize that you just can’t be responsible for a boatload of stuff. You need the necessities and that is all. 

Before I started minimalism, I had a lot of clothes. Taking after my hoarder mother, I had 3 closets and 5 dressers full of clothes. Now that I am a minimalist, I have one dresser and 10 hangers of clothes. That’s it. I have everything I need for 4 season of weather conditions. 

Some people marvel at how much I am able to pare down, however, this did not happen overnight. It has been a journey of stops and starts well over a decade. It all depends on where I am in life. 

Right now, in the pandemic, I am acutely aware of how short and precarious life is. I am more ruthless at this point in my minimalist journey than I have been in the past. Whether I die or actually achieve my dream of moving internationally, I am going to go someplace. I know that there is no one on this Earth who is willing or able to go through my crap after I’m gone, so I’m going through it now. You can’t take it with you, whether that’s in death or to some other country.

That is how my minimalist journey started. I started this blog to keep myself accountable along the way. I don’t want to go in the opposite direction of my hoarder mother who literally has her house packed full wall-to-wall and ceiling to floor of just STUFF. Her house is so full, you can hardly breathe in there. 

I want more time to spend with the cats and enjoy my life. I do not want to spend the little precious time I have here on Earth cleaning my house or taking care of my stuff.

What was your prompt to start minimalism and what does it mean to you?

The Tale of Tom

Tom, an older tabby, starting to go white with age.

My grandfather immigrated to USA from Austria. In America, he had a farm when I was little. All cats on the farm were outside cats and all cats, regardless of gender or markings, was called Tom. Of course, Tom was short for tomcat. I’m not sure if it was the language, the need to emotionally distance from the multitude of farm animals or what, but every cat was Tom.

When I bought my house a few years ago and moved into the village, it was the first time I remember actually encountering homeless cats first hand. Of course, one of the very first stray cats I encountered here at the house I have named Tom.

Tom is an older tabby. I am pretty sure from watching his habits that he is an unaltered male. Tom is starting to go white around his face, much in the way that Kitty did in his later years. Tom knows that my house and garage are a safe space. He can show up here for a meal and a nap. No one will bother him. 

Over the past few years, I have been trying to trap the stray cats and get them into shelter off the streets. I have a feeling that Tom may be either the last or one of the last ones that I am able to trap to get off the streets. 

You can tell that Tom is very street savvy. He has to be to be able to survive on the streets in this neighborhood as long as he has. I look for the three outside cats “in my care” every day and worry about them when I do not see them.

Tom will watch me if I am outside, but he always keeps a good distance. Any time a newcomer cat comes into the neighborhood, Tom is the one who fights the newcomer and basically tells them this is his territory. I saw Tom fight with a cat who wandered here from two blocks away once. That cat now stays in it’s own area.

Tom gets along well with the other two outside cats I help, Flower and Kenny. Tom seems to know that they need help too. It’s as if Tom knows who belongs here and who does not. That cat from two blocks over has a home. Tom, Flower and Kenny do not have a home. They come here as their place of refuge. I am waiting for the local shelter to have more space so that I can trap one of them and get them off the streets.

I worry about what will happen to Tom, Flower and Kenny if something happens to me. Of course, my priority is Jude, Simon and Jolene. I need to be sure someone takes care of them if something happens to me. But if I was away from home for a few days, there would be no one to feed the outside cats. I worry they would starve. I’m sure Tom would find a way to survive, the scrapper he is. I worry most about Kenny and Flower.

Kenny was thrown out of a pickup truck in our neighborhood in January. He has taken up residence in one of the cat shelters in my garage. He is shy, but friendly. He would definitely be a good adoption with a patient kind person. 

Flower was kicked out of a neighbor house when they had a new baby. Last fall Flower had a broken leg and walks with a limp ever since. Flower tends to stay in this neighborhood. I worry how Flower and Kenny would survive if I was not here to feed them.

I am pretty sure that Tom may wander outside of the neighborhood. There are times when I do go a day without seeing him. I think his range is larger than Flower or Kenny. I would really like to trap Tom, Flower and Kenny and get them into loving homes soon before something happens to me. I cannot imagine leaving this house without being able to find homes for them. 

Flower and Tom are two of the original strays I noticed here when I bought the house. I’m sure that when I am able to trap them and get them into shelter, it will be an emotional time. Every time I see Tom, I think of my grandfather, and how every cat is “Tom.” 

Being on my grandfather’s farm as a child, there were many cats who were “Tom.” However, now, when I think of Tom, I know I will always think of this aging tabby who has defied the odds and not only survived a very rough life on the streets but thrives as well. 

I am grateful for the opportunity I have to try to help Tom in what little ways I can. I provide fresh water and food daily. There are three insulated cat shelters for them to use to have safety from the elements and be warm in the winter. I hope that the local shelter has space soon so that I can get Kenny, Tom and Flower into good, loving homes. 

Every cat deserves a loving home. God bless Tom. 

Tom with Flower
Tom with Kenny

Bad Neighbors 2

Flower, the cat the neighbors kicked out when they had a baby that I have been trying to help.

Bad neighbors 2 sounds like a movie, but it’s not. It’s my life, and it is not funny. In the past 3.5 years I have owned this house, here is a short list of what the neighbors have done to me: taken a baseball bat to the siding on my house, repeatedly left dog shit on my front porch, repeatedly run over my mailbox, blocked my driveway with their vehicles so I am unable to leave for medical appointments, played their drums so loud during work hours I lost one of my jobs, played their drums so loud I had bleeding ears and doctor confirmed permanent hearing damage, repeatedly waived a gun in my face and threatened to shoot me if I asked them to move their car to stop blocking my driveway so I can get out again. 

I know, I know. You’re saying I did something to deserve this, right? What did I do to them to make them do this? 

Well, I feed the stray cat outside that they kicked out of their house when they had a baby. I called animal control on them when they left their dog outside on the porch with no food and water for three days surrounded by it’s own feces. I reported them for running a dog fighting ring in the village and using stray/neighborhood cats as bait. 

That’s what I did that pissed them off. I guess I’m a bad person and deserve to be harassed. 

This month, they not only ran into my mailbox, they drove their vehicle up on to the sidewalk and into the bushes in front of my house. This house has been here for over 100 years, but apparently all of a sudden, it is “in the way.” They are not able to back their truck into the street unless they cross the street, drive on the sidewalk and into the front of my house.

I have had the sheriff out numerous times to make reports. This was the second time they have driven on the sidewalk and into the bushes in front of my house. It was so bad that both the sheriff and I are now worried that the next time they do this (which will be the third time), they will actually drive into the front of the house and kill me.

I can no longer use my front porch. It’s not safe. I could be murdered.

That front porch is one of the reasons I bought this house. I love the front porch. Now I can’t use it because it is not safe for me. The neighbors need to drive into it because it is “in their way.”

I had to completely empty my living room and rearrange all of the furniture in my house. It is too dangerous for the cats and I to be in the living room. If the neighbors decide next time to hit the mailbox, drive on the sidewalk, drive into the bushes and into the front of the house, I could be killed in my own living room.

Again, the living room is a part of the house I love and part of the reason I bought the house. I now have two areas of my own house I cannot even use because I could be murdered by the neighbors. 

The house has been here over 100 years. I’m not sure why it’s in the way now. I don’t understand why the neighbors are not able to back their truck into the street. I guess the street is not big enough. They have to drive it across the street, over the sidewalk and into my house.

The sheriff seems to think they are either driving illegally without a license, driving while drunk/high, or all of the above. However, the sheriff claims they are unable to do anything until the do more damage or actually kill me.

I live in fear in my own house. 

I told the sheriff how they blocked my car and I could not get out for a doctor appointment and had to reschedule the appointment. Do you know how hard it is to get medical care in the pandemic? If you reschedule an appointment, you may be waiting a year before they can see you. 

However, if I even look at this neighbor sideways, they threaten me with their gun. Apparently, this is all legal in the USA. It is legal to threaten your neighbors with a gun. Their vehicle was on my property, but I’m not allowed to ask them to leave my property. They can waive a gun iin my face and there is no consequence.

Welcome to America.

The sheriff has said that when I do sell this house, I will have to do a “bad neighbor” disclosure when I sell. That means that it is driving down the value of my property and will make it harder to sell this house due to being in a bad neighborhood. There should have been a bad neighbor disclosure when I bought this house. However, the person who owned the house died here at age 90 and left the house to family who did not live in the area. I’m sure when they sold it they knew nothing about how bad this neighborhood truly is. Plus, to be honest, we were on the brink of homelessness when I bought this house. We need a place to live. As bad as it is here, we have no place to go.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this house. It’s just in a horrible neighborhood. Unfortunately, real estate is all about location, location, location. It’s just hard for me to love this house, have parts of it I cannot use, and to have to live in a state of fear of being murdered in my own home by the neighbors. Here we are. 

The sheriffs office has all of my reports. If something happens where the neighbors drive into the front of my house again, or I am murdered, at least they will know who did it. 

By the way, the neighbors may be mad that I reported their dog fighting ring, however, nothing has been done to break up the dog fighting ring. Apparently, it “brings in too much money” to be broken up. 

I’m still feeding three outside stray cats and waiting for the local no-kill rescue shelter to have space so I can trap them and get them off the streets. This is what I do that causes the neighbors to terrorize me in my own home. 

One good thing coming out of no longer being able to use my living room or front porch is that I am drastically downsizing in anticipation of a move. I have no idea where we are going or when. I just want to leave. Unfortunately, I bought this house as part of a low-income first-time homebuyer program. If I sell it, I have to pay a penalty of $10,500 in addition to whatever money I lose when I sell the house. 

We need someplace to go first. I bought this house to keep us all together. We were less than 24 hours away from homelessness when I got approved to buy this house. This house is the only thing keeping us together. We can’t leave without someplace to go where we can not only be safe but all stay together.

I’m not sure what to do about the bad neighbors. My goal remains the same as always: outlive the cats so I can keep them together. If that means I have to completely empty my living room and am unable to be in / use that room so that I do not get murdered in my own home when the neighbors drive into the house next time, then so be it.  

The cats and I have to stay together. Right now this house is keeping us together. 

Power of One: One Subscription

The cost of living is rising all over the world and many people are adjusting their budgets. The pandemic has seen a rise in the use of subscription services as people seek entertainment options at home instead of going out. 

For me, going out to a movie has always been a treat. I only went to see a movie on the big screen if it was something I really wanted to see. If I had to guess, I would say I saw a movie in the theatre maybe once or twice a year. Often, I wait for movies to come out on DVD and check them out of the local library.

My entire workday is spent sitting at a computer. When I am off work, I do not want to spend my personal time in front of a computer as well. I need a break. I have never gotten into streaming services for this reason. For me to sit at the laptop and watch a movie for 2 hours feels too much like work when I just spent 8 hours at the laptop for my paid employment.

Television was a luxury growing up. We never had cable. We always had bunny ears. The TV set got maybe three or five channels. I grew up on radio. Radio was free. It was everywhere. It was a constant companion. I love music. I always have music playing in my house and in my life when I am not working. 

As an adult, I have never paid for cable TV either. I just don’t have the money for it. I grew up poor and as an adult am working poor. I don’t have money for TV. For years when I was in the apartment, I got 10 channels for free on bunny ears. The TV was nice to turn on for an hour or so when I got home from work at night to watch something funny or brainless before going to sleep.

When I moved to the house, the bunny ears for the TV set do not work. There are too many hills and this is a rural area. We cannot pick up any television signals here. Even the radio signals are limited to just two stations. 

The past few years in the house has left me with using my DVD player with the TV set since I cannot get any channels by antenna. I still do not feel like subscribing to any TV or movie streaming services. I would not use it enough to justify the cost. There are too many things going on in my life as a homeowner with a disability. I don’t have hours a day to watch a streaming service.

However, I do still listen to a lot of music. I can listen to music as I go about the house doing my chores and what needs to be done. Only being able to reception for two radio stations is quite frustrating. I like both of them, but sometimes I just want to change the dial. I do enjoy my CDs.

Last fall, I needed to do something to break up the monotony in my life and wanted to treat myself. I decided to totally splurge and get a subscription service – to radio. I downloaded and subscribed to Sirius XM on my phone.

Sirius is the only subscription service I have. It was one of the best treats I have ever decided to splurge on. I use it every day and it is a constant source of entertainment while still allowing me to do what I need to do in my daily life. 

At first, I subscribed because I wanted to listen to radio without being subjected to all the fake news about COVID I was hearing. By subscribing to satellite radio, I can listen to music with no commercials and no fake news. There are no news breaks. I do not have to hear about how COVID is “over” when I am mourning yet another fully vaccinated friend with no pre-existing condition who just died of COVID.

If I do want to hear news, there are news stations I can listen to so I can hear what Is going on in the world. When I have had enough of the news, I can change the channel back to one that plays music only with no news. Satellite radio allows me more variety and more control over what I hear. When I have had enough of the gloom and doom news, I can choose to just hear music.

Satellite radio is also amazing because I can use it to hear sports. I hear baseball, hockey, and soccer/football games on the radio. I can hear all of the games without the market or blackout restrictions they put on TV sports. Even streaming TV sports has restrictions and the packages are very expensive. By listening to games on the radio, it saves me money. I also have access to international games that are not available with TV packages.

While the news tells of people tightening their budgets and cutting back on streaming services, my life is simple. I have one subscription service. For my lifestyle, subscription radio gives me more enjoyment and more bang for my buck than a subscription movie or TV service would. 

If it happens that I need to decrease my expenses drastically, I would only have one subscription service to cancel. I could go back to the two radio stations that are available here and my CDs. However, I get so much enjoyment from satellite radio that I think the $12 per month cost is worth the service. It is my only subscription and is the biggest splurge in my everyday life.

If you could only have one subscription service in your life, which one would it be? I hear of households that have 4-5 subscription services that are now trying to cut down to save on money each month. Would you be able to cut down to just one? Would you be able to live with no subscription services?

For me, my one subscription service is a luxury. I have never had a cable bill in my name. I’m pretty sure this is the first time in my life I have a monthly bill that is purely for pleasure and not a necessity like the mortgage, electric, phone, etc. For me to cut back my expenses due to the cost of living increase, I would cut my subscription service. Beyond that, I would be cutting necessities like food or utilities. 

As many of us are looking to reduce expenses right now, what can you decrease or cut? What one subscription service would you keep if you cancel the rest? Find your one. 

Happy 6th Birthday, Simon!

Simon wearing his rose scarf made for us by our friend Petunia.

Happy 6th Birthday, Simon! Simon is the baby of the family age-wise. He is the “middle child” when it comes to adoption order and length of time with our family.

Simon has the sweetest disposition. He bonded quickly with Jude after adoption. He keeps me entertained with his antics. Simon plays frequently with Jolene. Simon is known as our Chief Cuddler. Everyone loves Simon. He is the glue that holds our family together.

All three cats are very well bonded. However, Jolene and Jude are both extremely bonded with Simon. Jude and Jolene have a bond as well. However, I do not think the bond Jude and Jolene has is as strong as the bond that Jude has with Simon nor as strong as the bond Jolene has with Simon.

Simon is terrified of thunderstorms and vacuum cleaners. He is the only cat I have ever had that is completely scared of thunderstorms. He is a very brave hunter when it comes to bugs in the house. He is gentle, even pointing at and playing with ladybugs as opposed to squishing them.

A phrase frequently heard in our home is “Simon is a good baby.” Even when Simon is being “naughty,” he is adorable. Simon likes to steal marshmallows. He does not eat them. He carries them off and plays with them. Whenever I have marshmallows in the house, I have to be sure to hide them in the microwave so that Simon does not take off with them.

Of the three cats, Simon is the quietest. He does not often meow or make any noises. It is always a surprise when he does make noise. On the few times Simon has vomited (it happened with a change in food in the pandemic), he cries / yowls right before vomiting. Typically, a noise from Simon means something is wrong. Jude and Jolene meow and talk all the time when they want food or want to play. Simon only meows when there is something wrong.

Simon waits patiently for his breakfast and dinner, as opposed to Jude and Jolene who run around prancing and begging. Simon is truly very sweet. He is tolerant about being dressed in bandanas and scarves. 

Simon loves sleeping under the covers with me. I am so blessed that he sleeps with me every night. Simon is also typically the first to wake me up in the morning to feed them all breakfast. 

He enjoys his banana phone toys and the cat tents. Simon is truly an indoor cat. He loves watching outside. However, when offered the opportunity for outside time in the dog cage, he makes it clear he wants nothing to do with being outside. He loves being indoors where he is safe.

Jude, Jolene and I all love Simon and are so glad he is part of our family. He is such a precious soul. Simon was quick to welcome Jolene to the family when we adopted her, and was gentle in his interactions with her after her surgeries. 

As the baby of the family, Simon is rarely in the office as a coworker for the work from home. I’m sure as the youngest, he doesn’t think he needs to “work!” Simon is definitely a loveable homebody who enjoys peace and quiet and time on the human bed.

We are so blessed to have Simon as part of our family. He is definitely the baby, as he is the youngest and these three are the last cats I will have. Happy 6th Birthday, Simon. We love you. 

Signature Scent

Some people have a signature scent – that one smell that defines them. Marilyn Monroe was said to have worn Chanel no 5. Chanel no 5 is a signature scent for many. I have never had a signature scent per se. I have scents that remind me of certain life events.

As a child growing up in the 1980s, many of the scents of my childhood come from Avon.  In addition to Avon, I remember scents such as Revlon’s Fire & Ice, Debbie Gibson’s Electric Youth, and Exclamation. I specifically remember my grandmother wearing Avon’s Far Away perfume.  I wore it to my grandfather’s funeral.

When I started college in the mid-1990s, I remember receiving a box of promotional toiletry items. They were trying to market directly to college students. In the box was a tiny, tiny bottle of Tommy Girl perfume. The sample size of the perfume was maybe .03 oz. Tommy Girl was my “going out” perfume. I only wore it when we went dancing at the club or out to a party. 

Tommy Girl was a perfume that was way out of my price range, so I cherished that small sample as long as it lasted. Scents that were more in my price range, although still expensive splurges was the Victoria’s Secret line of fragrances. Victoria’s Secret Angel perfume was my race weekend perfume. It reminds me of Philly and of other big cities. I wore it whenever I went out in the cities. After Angel, the scent was Bombshell. Bombshell felt a little more risqué than Angel. Most recently, my scent was Aqua Kiss. Aqua Kiss was the perfume I would wear to church on Sundays. It is a crisp, clean scent that felt perfect for church on a respectable, clean Sunday. 

While all of these scents remind me of certain events, I did not get much use out of them. Many of the places I have worked over the years have scent-free policies due to people’s allergies. As someone with multiple food, medication and vaccine allergies myself, I am more than happy to comply with requirements that reduce people’s exposures to their allergens. With that, perfume is something that has always been worn for a special occasion. Not to mention, perfume is expensive. I simply did not have the funds to wear perfume every day and to buy it continuously.

Flash forward to a global pandemic. I still had all three Victoria’s Secret perfumes – Angel, Bombshell and Aqua Kiss. They were all smelling pretty putrid at this point due to age. Yes, perfumes do expire and get to a point when they no longer smell pleasant. Due to the global pandemic, I no longer travel or go out. What is the point in having a marathon perfume if I cannot travel to a large city to run a marathon?

Many people with COVID experience loss of smell and/or taste. I know someone who has lost their sense of smell due to COVID. This person was lamenting the fact that they can no longer smell their favorite perfume. 

That got me to thinking about signature scents. While I have a rather long list of perfumes that evoke memories of places, people and times, I do not have one signature scent that defines my life. In addition, perfume has always been a luxury item for me. Even with the Victoria’s Secret scents, I have never had the actual perfume. I have always had the spritzers that are a watered down version of the actual perfume that often go on sale such as two for $20 or something like that.

Life is short. Life is even shorter when you are living in a global pandemic. I decided if I did get COVID and survive, I would not want to be like the person lamenting their loss of smell that they could no longer smell their perfume. I want to have a signature scent that defines me. I want to be able to smell that scent now before I either die or lose my sense of smell.

Last fall when I ran my two half marathons, I decided to do something I have never done before. I purchased perfume. I’m talking actual perfume, not a spritzer and not some designer imposters knock off. I researched scents to see which one I thought I wanted to smell like. 

I ordered one. I have never paid so much for perfume in my life. I will admit that the price was completely ridiculous. However, I decided I want the experience of a signature perfume once before I die. Gone are the old Victoria’s Secret spritzers that now smell putrid due to old age. I am not going to have 3 or 4 spritzers lying around.

The signature scent I chose is Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle. I bought the smallest size bottle of the actual perfume. I love it. I wear it everyday. I’m still in medical isolation, so no one else smells me. That’s okay. I smell it. I enjoy it. I can now say I have a signature scent. I have one bottle of perfume. That is my scent. 

When I was little, I remember sitting in front of my grandmother’s dresser in her trailer and it was littered with perfume bottles. She often had 3-4 different scents from Avon. Every time a new scent came out from Avon, she had to have it. As she got older, I tend to think of Far Away as her signature scent, as that was the one she used most often. However, I do not want to be like my grandmother and have a dresser littered with perfume bottles that may evoke a memory here and there, but essentially mean nothing. Truly, they were just clutter in pretty bottles. 

I want to have one scent that I remember and that people remember me by. Yes, I paid a fortune for a tiny bottle. When you think about it, buying 3-4 knock off spritzers probably equal the price I paid for one small bottle of genuine perfume. Technically, the perfume I chose is marketed to women much younger than me. I don’t care. I enjoy the scent. So even though I may be too old for Coco Mademoiselle, that is the scent I have chosen to be mine.

Do you have a signature scent? Do you prefer to have an array of scents from which to choose? I chose to have one signature scent from now until when I die. I no longer want to have 3-4 spritzers floating around as clutter that have no meaning. I will use this one perfume until the bottle is empty, and then I will buy another bottle. I am not going to just buy another or a different perfume due to whimsy. I have one perfume I am going to use until it is gone. 

Using a perfume until it is gone is a novel idea as well. I have always had to throw perfume spritzers away because they went putrid from old age. I have never had a perfume where I used the entire thing until it was gone. The only exception is that tiny .03 oz sample of Tommy Girl perfume sample. 

Chanel Coco Mademoiselle is my scent now and I love it. I can now say I have the experience of having a signature scent. I may still be working class, but I smell like something more. It was my one big splurge last fall. 

The 3 Deaths

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The theory of the 3 deaths has been attributed to multiple sources. Typically, if an idea can be traced back to three or more sources, it is considered to be common knowledge. The first death occurs when the body stops functioning. The second death occurs when your body enters the grave, by burial or cremation. The third death is the moment when your name is spoken for the last time.

If Kip was still alive, today would be his 23rd birthday. Kip and Kitty are still both alive today because I keep their memories alive. While they have both experienced deaths one and two, they have not yet experienced death three. I have a feeling that when I die is when they will experience the third death. There won’t be anyone left to remember them. There will be no one left who still loves them.

My goal right now is to outlive Jude, Simon and Jolene so that I can keep them together. I worry about what would happen to them if something happens to me. They know their names. They know who they are. I know all their likes, dislikes and quirks. 

In addition to taking care of Jude, Simon and Jolene, I keep the memories of Kip and Kitty alive by still loving them. When I die, they will die with me. My purpose in life is my cats. 

There have been cats and humans throughout time. Many have been lost to history. Millions have experienced all three deaths. Yet in this period of time, I have loved and saved five lives. I am caring for the three I have now. The two I have lost are still loved in memory.

I don’t worry about experiencing the 3 deaths myself. My life has not been memorable for anyone but me. I just worry about what happens to the cats without me. 

Maybe it’s presumptuous to think I am so important in their lives. If I am gone, they will be rehomed and their lives will go on, right? I love them so much I just want the best for them.

Today I am remembering Kip on what would have been his birthday. I am also remembering Kitty, who is in my heart also. They have not yet experienced the third death because my love keeps their memories alive. 

Tales from my Surfboard Part 7: Lake in Winter

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It wasn’t always me going back to Massachusetts. Sometimes Lily came to New York to see me. The biggest difference was that Massachusetts tends to be more accepting than New York. New York is extremely conservative in comparison to Mass. 

Many people may wonder why we didn’t just choose – Massachusetts or New York? Pick a location and move in together. We had that conversation many times over the years. In the end, I think we were both scared. Lily was afraid to give up her life and family in Mass to come to more conservative New York where we would both struggle and everything feels so precarious. I was in New York for a specific purpose – education – and it took me a lot longer to reach my goals than anticipated because life happens. In the end, it came down to fear and economics on my end. I could not afford to live in Mass and I didn’t want to be in a position of living with someone if I was not able to pull my own weight.

Probably our biggest experiment in this dilemma was the year when Lily rented a house on Cayuga Lake here in New York for 5 months of the winter. It was the off-season for Lily at work, so the only thing she was technically leaving behind was her family. She did travel back to see them. 

The house was a fully furnished rental that was someone’s lake house. The rental was reasonable in the off season. It was on a seasonal road that was never plowed and when not blocked by snow, was often blocked by trains passing. It was directly on the lake and had a gorgeous sliding glass door that opened directly onto the dock of the water.

There was a canoe and other boat apparatus at the cottage that we used on the water. Lily made sure to teach me that the water and the lake was beautiful, even in winter. 

Perhaps the water was even more beautiful then. Whenever a storm came up the coast, it produced good wake. We put on wet suits to help protect against the cold and even took our shortboards out on the waves. 

Cayuga Lake is inland, so the wake is not as good as the ocean. Winter waves move slow, small and lazy. We were were able to catch some. We also took the surfboards up to Great Lake Ontario. There the waves were better – more comparable to the ocean on a good day. 

Lily was able to find some temporary odd jobs to do while she was in the cottage in New York. I was working full time and going to school, so of course we could not spend every minute together. The experiment was to see if Lily would be interested in moving to New York to be with me permanently. 

Having Lily in Ithaca for 5 months allowed me to see the city through her eyes. It was like playing tourist in your own city. We went places and did things that I never would have seen or done alone. I remember we got to see Rusted Root in concert at The Haunt. Rusted Root was the band who did my graduation song. When I graduated from high school, we were the last graduating class allowed to have a song. When our song played, we all stood up, hugged each other, and shook hands. When the song ended, we sat back down. The administration said we were “disruptive,” so no graduating class has been able to have a song since unless it is an original song made by a member of the graduating class. 

Lily and I saw Rusted Root in concert. We visited the wineries and attended many plays of live theatre. We spent time together and Lily helped me to fall in love with the beautiful Finger Lakes region all over again. 

Sunday mornings we would wake up lazily. I remember sitting in an overstuffed recliner right by the sliding glass door with a good cup of coffee watching the snow fall gently on the lake. Lily helped to open my eyes to good coffee and taught me that life is too short to drink the cheap stuff. Go for the gourmet coffee, you will be happier for it. It is the small indulgences in life that matter the most.

Saturday evenings I would arrive at the cottage after work. We would walk the dog (Lily had a dog then), and play some flag football in the yard. Well, as much flag football as two people and a dog can play. 

At the end of the 5 month rental, I remember Lily saying that it was a beautiful area and that she loved it. New York was not for her. It is too conservative and stifling here. She went back to Massachusetts. 

Well, we can say we tried. 

On my end, I was even more in love with the natural beauty of the area despite all of the challenges of living here. Lily taught me to love the lake in winter. Sometimes the lake is more beautiful in winter than it is in summer. Winter is not something to be feared, but to be embraced. It has a beauty just as brilliant as the summer, even if in a different way.

Stay tuned for more Tales from my Surfboard … telling stories of lives of loved ones lost to COVID. 

Tales from my Surfboard Part 6: The Game

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It was spring 2012 and it was Fenway Park’s 100th birthday. I was also turning 33 and hoping to finally see my favorite player, Jason Varitek # 33, at Fenway before he retired. Although I had made the pilgrimage “home” – to Fenway – many times, I had never been to a game. I just didn’t seem to have time or money.

I was in town for the weekend at the end of May for a race. I was scheduled to run Boston’s Run to Remember. I had contacted Lily to see if I could crash with her for race weekend. She was dating someone at the time, so we were “just friends.” I always asked if it was ok for me to show up when she was with someone so that I did not cause issues with her current relationship. If it was going to cause issues, I would just get a hotel room in Southie.

Lily said it was fine. She was working that weekend and they probably wouldn’t be home much that weekend anyways. I had a key to the house. I could crash on the couch and do my thing. Her current girlfriend wouldn’t mind.

On Saturday, I arrived about lunch time to drop off my stuff and park the car. I would take the T into the city to go to the race expo. The race was early Sunday morning. I went into the kitchen to drop my car keys on the table in case Lily needed to move it while I was in the city.

Sitting on the kitchen table was an envelope with my name on it. There was a single ticket to the day’s Red Sox game. I had definitely not been planning on going to a game. I was in town to race. The night before a race I am typically in bed super early. While the ticket was unexpected, I was also excited.

Lily knew I had never been to a game in-person. I was waiting until I turned 33 to see my favorite # 33 player. He had just retired that year, which completely took the wind out of my sails. However, Lily said in her note that she wanted me to be able to see a game at Fenway for the 100th birthday celebration and she did not know when I would be in town again to go. So she left me a ticket to go to the game.

I took the T into Boston and went to the race expo. After the race expo, I went to the game. It was a day long celebration. Before the game, I had lunch at the most amazing sportsbar just outside Fenway. This sportsbar even had TV sets in the restrooms. I could still watch ESPN even while going pee.

I had an amazing time at Fenway at my very first Red Sox game. I felt just like Jimmy Fallon in Fever Pitch with my own Fenway Family.  It would have been even more amazing if Lily could have been there with me. We would often meet at “home” – Fenway Park – in the city. Lily had to work, but we were able to facetime during the 7th inning when she was on a work break.

Of course the Red Sox won. I had the most amazing time of my life. I also had a little too much to drink, but it was Fenway and I was not driving. I rode the T back to the Cape and Lily picked me up at the T station.

I will admit I don’t remember a lot about that night, but Lily and her current girlfriend were still fine with me crashing on the couch the night before the race. They also had a bit of fun with me. When I woke up in th morning for the race, I had a bunch of Red Sox stuff written on me in red sharpie. I did not have enough time before the race to wash it all off. I had woken up late and needed to get to the start line. 

Waking up that morning before the race felt a lot like the scene in Garden State when he wakes up the next morning with stuff written all over him in sharpie. Lily and her current girlfriend took me in to the city and dropped me off near the start line for the race. It was one of the few times I actually had someone there to see me at the starting line for a race. Even though we were not “together” at the time, it was still nice.

That Red Sox game was one of the top highlights of my life. Even though we weren’t together at the time, she still knew me well. She gave me one of the best gifts ever. 

More than the game, thank you for the memories. 

Tales from my Surfboard is a series that remembers lives of people lost to COVID. Stay tuned for another installment … 

Tales from my Surfboard Part 5: Ren Faire

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Lily had a 3-day weekend off from work and decided to come out to New York to visit me. I only had the weekend, but that was ok. It was the early to mid-2000s, when I was still working in radio. One of the perks of working in radio was that we sometimes would do things in trade. 

Businesses would donate their product or service to us in exchange for radio spots. Of course, these were in addition to their paid spots. We could use the donated items for on-air giveaways, which gave more exposure to the business. Some of the items we could have as employees. We were limited to one item every 6 months. 

One item I chose every year was tickets to the Sterling Renaissance Faire. 

Lily arrived that Friday night once I was out of work. It could be a 7-8 hour drive from the Cape, depending on traffic. Of course, on a Friday, it seemed like she hit all the traffic from the Cape bridges to Boston to Albany to Syracuse. Still, she was generous with her time. Even after spending the day driving, she made dinner for me when I got home from work that night.

After dinner, we went into the backyard, where there was a firepit and some lawn chairs. Of course, there was radio too. I worked in traffic, which has absolutely nothing to do with traffic on the roadways, it is about traffic on the airwaves. I was the one responsible for programming my stations, telling it when to play music, when to play weather, and when to play commercials. If one of my stations was off-air, then it was either my fault in programming or some larger technological issue over which I had no control (like the transmitter tower being buried in snow). 

This was a hot August weekend, so Lily and I were in the yard and built a fire. We had the radio going. Not only so I could listen to be sure it was on the air, but also because I genuinely liked one of my stations.

We had a bottle of vodka to make gimlets. We stayed up late into the night drinking vodka gimlets by the fire with the radio playing. Sometimes we would talk, sometimes not. We didn’t need to always be talking to each other to enjoy one another’s company. We stayed up late into the night when we decided it was time for bed. 

We did not have any set time to get up in the morning. We just planned to get up whenever. It was about and hour and a half to two hour drive to Sterling. The faire did not start until 10 or maybe 11 am.

Saturday morning arrived bright and beautiful. We each packed an overnight bag. This time, we packed my corolla. We were in NY, and Lily already had a long drive to get here, so of course we would be taking my car and I would be driving to save her on driving. 

It was a gorgeous day for a drive. We listened to our driving music – typically Dave Matthews Band, as we headed northwest towards Great Lake Ontario. We made it to Sterling and parked in the grassy field as indicated. We spent the morning wandering the faire arm in arm. We loved how the people at the faire would stay in character and engage faire-goers “in the street.” We were all part of the show whether we intended to be or not. 

About lunch time, we had our time period lumch of turkey legs and mead. We watched the joust on the field. After the joust, we wandered once again, taking in the sights and the atmosphere. 

Lily and I ended up involved in a (staged) fight over some perceived slight. It had rained the night before in Sterling, so there was ample amounts of mud. It ended up being a fight in a mud pit and it was one of the best acts that both of us ever saw. We even ended up with mud on us too! There are little boundaries between act and spectator at the ren faire.

Lily happened to notice something new this year on the water. We made our way over to a small land-locked lake for the pirate show. Imagine being on a real boat in water, surrounded by pirates! It felt like we were on set for a movie scene. It was wonderful. 

The ren faire closed at dusk. We decided to head back to Oswego, where we had booked a hotel room on Great Lake Ontario to spend the night. Dinner was in order and we found this amazing sports bar on the pier called the Penalty Box.

It was only August, yet there was hockey on all the TVs inside the Penalty Box. Lily and I were in heaven! It was so great to be able to see hockey in August. After dinner, we took a walk on the pier and headed back to our hotel.

Our hotel room was right on the water. We sat on the balcony watching the ships in the harbor and the lights of bouys dancing in the dark. I remember telling Lily we had to get up early for breakfast. She did not quite understand why, but went along with it.

Sunday morning, we were up bright and early for breakfast. I hardly ever got up this early, but it was worth it. I was taking Lily to Charlie’s. 

Charlie’s has no phone, no address, and no sign. It’s one of those places that you have to just know where it is. Typically people find out about it because someone else took them there. We drove to the middle of town and I started counting streets to try to get there – that’s how I remembered where it was. 

When you arrive at the building, it doesn’t look like a restaurant. It doesn’t even look like a building. It looks like a large dumpster sitting there waiting to be picked up or an old boxcar that was left behind and is just sitting there forlorn.

You park on the street and walk into the boxcar. It opens at 6am. There is no set closing time. Closing time happens whenever they run out of food. Closing time could be 7am, 9am, 10am. 

You sit at a table and just wait. There is no menu. It is breakfast only and you eat what is served. 

The waitress brings coffee and orange juice. Then, she brings the breakfast of the day. The most amazing omletes that melt in your mouth, fill the whole plate, and taste better than any omelet you have ever had. I have also had French toast there that is the best French toast anywhere. Everything is served with hash browns, sausage and bacon, so it is a full American breakfast.

When you are done, there is one price for the breakfast you are served. There is a box up front for you to pay for your meal. No waitress is needed to check you out. You just put $10 per person in the box and you are done. Of course, you can put more or less than that in the box. It is an honor system. The place does a brisk business and always sells out of food well before noon each day, so I am sure they are doing fine. Remember to tip your waitress as well. 

When you stop to put your money in the box, you can see into the kitchen through the window. There is one man in there – Charlie, the owner. He cooks all the food every morning. There are two waitresses. 

After breakfast, we leave to go back to my apartment. Lily understands why we got up so early for breakfast. It’s just one of those places you either know about or you don’t.

Lily and I went to the ren faire together for a few years. It made for a fun summer outing in NY when we were not in MA on the Cape. 

Stay tuned for more memories of remembering those lost to COVID …