House-iversary 3

IMG_1940

Today we celebrate our 3 year anniversary in our house. They say everything happens for a reason, and I am 100% convinced that the reason for this house is to keep us all together. At first, it was Jude, Simon and I. Now, Jolene has been with us for a year and a half too.

I like the house, but the neighborhood is horrid. I know, I know. Real estate is all about location, location, location. If I ever tried to sell this house, I would have to do a bad neighbor disclosure. I am a little mad that the sellers did not do the bad neighbor disclosure when I bought the house. However, I don’t think they failed to disclose out of malice. The person who had been living in this house passed away. The people who sold me this house had inherited it. They did not live in it, so I am sure they did not realize how truly bad the neighbors are and that they would have to do the bad neighborhood disclosure.

Despite being in one of the worst neighborhoods in the area, I do like the house. So far, the cats and I have managed to shelter-in-place here safe from covid. I am convinced that the purpose of this house is to keep us all together and well. 

As a homeowner, I have control over who comes into the house to provide service. The HVAC company I used in prior years do not wear a mask, so you can be sure I will be using someone else this year. As a homeowner, I have control over those decisions that you cannot control in an apartment. I’m sure if we were still in the apartment we would have had maintenance people in and no control over the whole “wear a mask” issue.

As much as I would like to sell this house and move due to the bad neighborhood, that is not possible due to the first time home buyer program I used. I do not have $10,000 to pay back the grant. Plus, with three cats, where would we go? Apartments do not accept pets.

I am going to die in this house. I don’t know when that will be, but I know I will die in this house. I will never pay it off. 

If I manage to outlive the cats, I will sell the house and move. Right now this house is the only thing that keeps us together and safe. Safe is a relative term – we are safe from covid, but we are not safe from the neighbors.

To be honest, I do not feel safe in this house due to the neighbors. The loud music, which I have come to learn is someone with a drum set and no insulation, continues. There are at least three houses of Proud Boys. There is gunfire on a regular basis. It is quite possible I will survive the pandemic only to be shot by one of the neighbors, whether intentionally or accidentally. 

For now, it is home, and it is all we have.

I am so thankful that on house-iversary 3, we are all together and healthy. Earlier this year when I lost my job, we faced a true reality of being homeless again. We are just one disaster away from losing it all. 

Happy House-iversary 3. My wish is that this is truly the last forever home for all three cats. All I need to do is care for them and keep us all together. I am so grateful for this house that is keeping us together and safe not only for the rest of our lives, but through a global pandemic.

Bug Out Kit

IMG-1937

We are pros at sheltering in place. After years of snowstorms in an area that consistently lands in one of the top three snowiest places on the east coast of the USA and spending the past year and a half in a pandemic, we know how to stay home.

I have always had a bug out bag ready. The bug out bag has always been mostly for my cats and contained only a few items for 1-2 days. Now that we have sheltered in place for a year and a half and continue to do so, I am coming to realize how attached we are to this house. We would be in real trouble if we had to leave.

A few weeks ago, a tornado touched down about 9 miles from our house. While I typically ignore tornado warnings, I took this one seriously, as it was the first time I heard the tornado siren in the village actually go off. 

Jude and Jolene went down to the basement right away. They thought it was a game. Simon hid. I had to search for Simon and grab him to take him to the basement. We were down there for about an hour. At the time of the warning, they were unsure where the tornadoes were going to touch down. Luckily, the closest they came to us was 9 miles.

It was an eye opening experience as to how unprepared we are if we had to leave.

Of course, priority number one is the cats. It is aways the cats. I will just grab them and go. Everything else be damned.

I decided to redo our bug out kit. One thing I have learned in this pandemic is that for my cats, I am their world. If something happens to me, they have no one. 

I am taking the bug out kit seriously and ensuring that there are items in there for all of us.

Initially, I was just going to repack the backpack. If we have to leave, I can just throw the cats and the backpack in the car and go. If we had to leave on foot, I could wear the back pack, and would struggle with the cats. I would have two put two in one carrier and one in another, but it is doable.

My neighbors are Proud Boys. They are very violent and disruptive. They have threatened with guns. They retaliate if you complain about any of their activities. I do not feel safe living here, but unfortunately we are stuck here for financial reasons. 

With my horrible neighbors, I got to thinking – what if we had to leave and could not take the car? Could I do it? I could, but with great difficulty.

I decided to get a camping wagon. 

The camping wagon is our new bug out unit.

If something bad happens, I will grab the cats and throw them in the car. If there is time, I will pull the wagon out to the car also to load everything and we can go to safety.

Anytime we have a snowstorm or other emergency, I know to keep the gas tank in the car at least half full at all times. Since we have been living in an emergency for a year and a half, I keep the gas tank in the car at least half full all of the time now in case we need to leave.

I decided to use a wagon for our new bug out kit because if we have to leave and cannot take the car, it will be easier for me to just pull the wagon. I have all of our supplies in it. I can also out the cats in their car carriers in the wagon. It is going to be easier for me physically then trying to wear a backpack and deal with their carriers. I can just pull a wagon.

I also “upped” our provisions. Due to my multiple food allergies, I have 5 days worth of food for me. There is 3 weeks worth of food for the cats due to my experience in trying to get their food the past year and a half sheltering in place in the pandemic, 

With our bug out wagon, we should be able to go 5 days before needing help if we had to leave the house on foot. 

I’m not a prepper and I am not normally this paranoid about things. However, with my Proud Boy neighbors becoming increasingly violent and confrontational, I feel like we need to be ready to leave for our own safety in case things escalate. 

It looks like a lot, but I have medical supplies, two changes of clothes (in case I get wet), all cat supplies including a cat pan. Water is only two gallons, but I am looking into water purification options. The cat litter is in the trunk of the car. 

It’s not perfect. I’m hoping we never have to use it. I’m sure that if I DIDN’T create a bug out kit, we would be in need of one. So hopefully with our bug out wagon, nothing will happen, and we will be able to continue our shelter in place safely. 

Do you have an emergency go kit? Have you included your pet(s) in your go plans? Half of the stuff in our wagon are for the cats. 

Stay safe, everyone.

Sandy’s 76 Chevy

IMG_1721

There are some memories that we try to hold onto and some memories that we would like to forget. I like to think of the forgetting process as pruning my brain cells. I want to get rid of all of the bad stuff so that at the end of my life, only the good memories remain.

Then there are the times when memories return unbidden. There is no real reason for why a forgotten memory has returned and sometimes it lacks context. I had that experience the other day when I took the car out for a drive. I was having a trying day and just needed to get out of the house. 

Of all things, and of all people, the memory was of Sandy’s 76 Chevy. At first blush, it had to do with the car – not the one I was driving, but Sandy’s 76 chevy. You see, the key had broken off in the ignition of the vehicle. There was a portion of the key permanently stuck there. So every time we got in the car to go someplace, Sandy would reach under the seat for a screw driver. The screw driver would help turn the ignition to turn on the car. Then the screwdriver would lie on the floor. We would drive around with a keyless car.

At least, the car did not have the traditional danging cluttered keychain with paraphernalia that was so popular in the 80s and early 90s.

But the memory of Sandy’s 76 chevy was much more than just driving around in a car with no key.

I was 11. Sandy was 15. The driving age at the time was 15. Of course, Sandy was driving. She had a baby that just turned one and needed to be able to drive the baby to its appointments and herself to work. Sandy’s parents kicked her out when she got pregnant. So, like most of us of that generation, Sandy started working when she was 13. I consider myself privileged in that I was able to wait until age 14 to start working.

Sandy was a friend of my cousin. We were “paired together” by the adults in our life. The idea was that by saddling Sandy down with me there would be someone with her to be sure she was taking care of the baby. The idea was that by saddling me with Sandy I would get the message to not get pregnant. At age 11, I wasn’t even sure how that happened.

This was the day and age when victims of sexual abuse were always blamed. It you were being sexually abused, it was your fault. You were “promiscuous.” The fear was always pregnancy. Even if you were too young to understand the abuse, you were always framed as someone who didn’t mind adults and was at risk of becoming even more of a liability than you already were just by existing. That’s what it was like growing up in a small town in the 1980s.

So, Sandy and I were hanging out in an effort to teach each other something.

Sandy spent a lot of time driving around trying to calm the baby. That meant we spent a lot of time in the car driving around, singing and talking. The car was littered with debris. There were food wrappers everywhere, and if you rummaged around, there were a bunch of tapes in there too. We would pop a tape in the deck and sing along to Bon Jovi and Poison. We just kept driving until the baby fell asleep.

Sandy would drive us on old back country roads. Even though Sandy was 15 and old enough to drive, she got sick of driving all the time. Sometimes she would let me drive. Yes, it was illegal, but we were 11 and 15, alone in the country. Who was there to care?

I did not like driving much at the time. I hated being responsible for such a large vehicle with Sandy and the baby in it. The car seemed huge to me. It could have been just because I was 11 and was small.

Sandy had also picked up the habit of smoking. She had started smoking at age 10. Back in the 80s, you could purchase cigarettes from vending machines. I remember being sent into bars and stores to purchase cigarettes from vending machines. They cost 90 cents. You would drop in the coins, then pull the lever under the ones you wanted and they would drop down below. 

When Sandy was low on cash, which was always, we would stop at some off-the-path roadside bar. Sandy would run in to grab an ashtray. Among all the other debris in the car, there was always bobby pins. The bobby pins were usually connected to the scrunchies that were floating around.

Sandy would take the butts from the ashtrays and determine which discards still had enough tobacco left in them to be smoked. The stubs were way to small to hold without being burned. This is where the bobby pins came in. She would put the bobby pin on the stub to hold it so that the last of the tobacco could be smoked. This was a common practice of the time. Many kids in the 80s started smoking by taking their parents’ discarded butts and using bobby pins to smoke the ends of them.

Sandy worked at a local fast food place. She took the baby to a babysitter while she worked. Thankfully, I was never asked to babysit. The adults just wanted me to spend time with Sandy to see how hard it was to be a teenage mom. Although, they neglected to tell me anything about how babies were made or how to prevent one. Not to mention, I was not willingly engaging in any activities to produce one. I did get the message that I never wanted to be a mom. Being a mom was a very bad thing. Message received.

While preventing teen pregnancy may have been the intended message of my time with Sandy, what I remember the most is the car. I remember driving around in the car with no keys singing along to the cassette deck. 

They don’t make cars that you can drive around with no keys anymore.

Technically, they have cars now with push button starts, but it’s not the same. The cars with push button starts have a lot of technology that enables them to work. Sandy’s 76 chevy was a car that would start if you just fiddled with a screwdriver. Do a little turn, make the connection, and off we would go. It was the type of car you would just drive until it died. Then when it died, you would beat it up a bit until it started working again, and drive it some more.

Of all memories to arrive unbidden, I received the one of Sandy’s 76 chevy. I have no idea whatever happened to Sandy or the baby. Somewhere in the recesses of my brain, I remember that car.

A Minimalist in Hell

IMG_1695

Some of the many sound blocking panels installed in the office.

 

There are at least four houses of people on my street who have quit their jobs since the US government started giving a monthly stipend (universal basic income or UBI) to people with children. Since then, the level of noise and chaos on my street has increased exponentially. 

As if living next to a group of Proud Boy terrorists was not enough, there is a house about four doors down who has decided to purchase a drum set. They have not done any sound proofing to their home. They think that it is okay to drum full bore from 8 am to 8 pm. The local police do nothing – our noise ordinance goes from 11 pm to 7 am. There have been at least five other houses who have complained of this loud music during the day. 

The loud drumming is causing trauma to veteran and civilian survivors of large-scale events. It is causing ears to bleed. It is causing windows to crack and break. It is causing people who work from home to either lose their jobs or be put on probation because you can’t work when people can’t hear you because you are being overpowered by a drum set.

The village code officer refuses to do anything. They say there is no noise ordinance that covers this, even if this one house is terrorizing not only all the other houses on the street, but houses on neighboring streets as well. (Yes, it is that loud.) There is no talking to the house in question to knock it off – when you go over there to try to talk to them, they instantly shove a gun in your face. I, for one, do not want to be shot in addition to being terrorized non-stop in my own home by deafening sound.

The only recourse we have is to file a lawsuit. Lawsuits take money and who wants to make a court appearance during a deadly pandemic? I’m not willing to die for this. The gun waving is bad enough.

I have been reading up on sound proofing to try to figure out how to block the noise from my office so that I can work. Note that my office is on the far side of the house away from the offending house. The offending house is also four doors away. (Yes, they are that loud.)

Actual sound proofing done by a handyman or contractor costs thousands of dollars. Who has that kind of money in a deadly pandemic? We are still struggling with food shortages. 

I have been reading up on DIY sound proofing. Most suggestions to block the noise suggest things I have already done – close all windows and doors, use heavy drapes to block noise. I do this anyway to block light and heat to try to keep the house cooler in the summer.

Other suggestions for DIY sound proofing are to put a ceiling to floor bookcase against the wall and fill it to try to block the sound. The basic premise is to fill the entire room with stuff so that the offending noise does not echo around.

I am a minimalist in hell.

I have purposefully been trying to empty the upstairs of my house. It is difficult for me to do stairs safely. I have been trying to get all of my belongings on the first floor with me to reduce the number of times I have to do the stairs. I am a fall hazard and fall on the stairs frequently. My goal is to have empty rooms upstairs. 

There is one exception. My office is upstairs. This is so that my workspace is separate from my living space so that I have a positive work life balance. Now that I am 100% a remote worker, it is critical to have that distinction between home and work. 

I actually have divided one room into two different work spaces. There is a work space for each job. This helps me with transitioning mentally from one job to the other. There is also a distinction in that one job I am an employee, where the other job, I am the boss / an independent contractor. One job provides me with their equipment that I must use. The other job I have to provide all of the equipment.

Aside from the office and the bathroom, the goal is to empty the upstairs.

The idea of having to fill my office with stuff in a futile effort to block noise is driving me completely nuts. My goal is to empty rooms, not fill them up. 

I am trying to figure out what I can put in the office to block sound. I have purchased sound blocking panels – they do nothing against the onslaught of noise we are experiencing. I have put my container of sewing fabric in the office. I have put my one container of childhood memories in the office. I am doing what I can to block the sound. 

However, trying to fill up that room is driving me almost as nuts as the noise. Except for the bleeding ears and damage to my hearing. (Yes, I have seen a doctor who says my hearing is being damaged by this.)

The best solution would be for these horrid neighbors to stop making the noise. I am not, after all, the only house that is being bothered by it. However, stopping the noise would be way too easy. These people are so self-centered, they do not realize there is an entire village that is being terrorized.

The village office said they had sent a letter to the offending house a few weeks ago. However, the people who live in the house making all the noise can’t read. So sending them a letter does nothing. A phone call or some sort of consequence for their action might go further. However, the fact that they constantly come out and wave the guns around is something to worry about also.

I’m just a minimalist in hell trying to figure out how to block noise by filling up a room. My goal for my house is to empty the upstairs rooms, not fill them up.

I wish people would remember to be human and that there are other humans on this planet too. Some of us are right next door.

 

It Takes An (Online) Village

IMG_1070

It’s been three weeks now since I’ve lost my job. This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. After working for 28 years, this is the first time I have ever been unemployed. It is a direct threat to my life, health, safety and ability to care for my cats and keep my family together.

I have no income. I have not been able to get through to NYS unemployment to file a claim. Their web site continuously crashes. Their phone has an automated message saying “high call volume” that hangs up on you. I call unemployment over 100 times a day. I put the phone on speaker and keep hitting redial while I try to look for and apply for jobs.

I am not eligible for any pandemic mortgage relief due to my student loans. I am also not eligible for any help from social services because I am a single adult with no human children. I am not eligible for social security or disability because I am not “disabled enough” to qualify for any of those services either. I am one of those people who just fall through the cracks and is 100% screwed in this pandemic. Thousands of people like me have died already, and who knows when I will be next.

Losing my job was the absolute worst thing to ever happen to me in my life. It is very possible that I will lose the house, the cats and I will be separated, and I will die this year. I honestly don’t expect to live to see age 43 if something does not improve soon.

I even reached out to local legislators about being able to reach unemployment to file a claim. There is nothing they can do to help. I am one of the “great unwashed” who is either going homeless or dead in this pandemic. I am just another number. 

This past year, I have lost many of my friends and my family to COVID. I can count on one hand the people I knew before the pandemic who are still alive now. 

This past Tuesday, when I opened my local newspaper, I knew every single person in the obituary section. Every single person. There are some days when the obituaries take up an entire page. It should not be this way when I am in my 40s.

As you all know and I have blogged about many times, I loathe social media, especially Facebook. I canceled my Facebook about 5 years ago now and never looked back. I have no regrets about deleting Facebook.

However, I have been extremely isolated in this pandemic. I have lost so many people. So last fall, I decided to try Twitter as a form of social media. I refuse to use Facebook. 

On Twitter, we have been warmly welcomed into the Pet Twitter family. I see happy photos of dogs, cats, fish, bunnies, chincillas and other pets. There are two people on Twitter who I know in real life.

One of those real life people is my best friend from childhood. When I tweeted that I lost my job, this friend sprang into action and set up a GoFundMe for me.

I have a basic idea of what GoFundMe is. I have donated to them a few times before. Twenty dollars here or there to help people who I knew were in genuine need. I never would have thought of setting one up for myself. That first week after losing my job, I was in shock and was stunned.

My friend was able to use our social networks to fully fund my GoFundMe. The GoFundMe paid my mortgage and utilities for the month of May while I look for jobs and try to unsuccessfully file an initial claim for unemployment.

I was also just contacted by GoFundMe itself. Not only was my campaign for May fully funded, but the GoFundMe organization chose me for a micro-grant from their Basic Necessities Fund. I will be putting that money towards June expenses.

I have been lucky in that I have interviewed for two jobs so far. However, the job market is extremely competitive right now because so many people are out of work and searching for jobs. Even though I have interviewed, the chances of being hired are very slim due to the competition. 

Even if I was hired now, I would not see any income from a new job until probably July. In the meantime, I have heard that it can take 4-6 months to actually get through to unemployment to file an initial claim. It can then take another few months after that before you actually receive any money. A lot of people have ended up homeless because they have gone 4-6 months with no income before they are able to file an unemployment claim. 

I hope I am not one of them.

I am very grateful to the online community and to everyone who contributed to my GoFundMe to pay my mortgage and utilities for the month of May. As much as I truly appreciate the help, this is not sustainable. I cannot have a GoFundMe pay all of my bills for the 6 months it takes to get through to unemployment to file an initial claim. 

I really need to find a job and I know that. I update people everyday about how many jobs I have applied for and how many times I have tried to reach unemployment. I am averaging 10-20 job applications a week and over 600 phone calls a week to unemployment.

Anyone who says that people are sitting at home on unemployment and don’t want to work should be shot. I’m not joking. First, many people are not receiving unemployment because we can’t get through to them to file. Second, no job is worth your life. I can tell you right now, after losing now over TEN people to COVID this past year, I am not going to take a job that puts me at risk of COVID. 

My cats are the only family I have left. I am the only family they have. Without me, they will be homeless and separated. I have to keep this house to keep us together. I have to be able to outlive them to take care of them.

Someone suggested I sell the house. Well, then I would be homeless. Rent here is over $400 a month more than my mortgage. That is if I rent a small room in a house with 8 or 9 other people. Plus, no rentals here take pets. I cannot be separated from the cats. 

I cannot buy another house. First, I am unemployed. With no income, I cannot afford the one I have. Second, I will never get approved for another mortgage in my life. I can’t even refinance the one I have to get a lower interest rate. I almost did not get my mortgage due to my student loans. It took a Regional Manager to approve my mortgage and they only did so because I was in a student loan forgiveness program. Now that I am no longer working for a non-profit, I am no longer in the student loan forgiveness program. 

If I lose this house, the cats will be separated and have to live somewhere else. I will die.

That is how dire our situation. I am not exaggerating.

Even though I reach out to unemployment over 100 times a day (167 phone calls on Thursday alone), I am not hopeful I will get through. I honestly do not think I will see any money at all from unemployment. I think I have a better chance of getting a job first. Honestly, I think I have a better chance of getting COVID and dying than I do getting any help from unemployment.

It has taken an online village to get me through the month of May.

As I said, asking people to help me each month is not sustainable and I know that. It is only a matter of time how long we can hold out until we end up homeless and dead.

I am really hoping to find a job soon. Even if I find one this month, I won’t see any real income (a full month’s income) until July.

To the online village that has been helping me, I cannot thank you enough for all you have done. I hope I have been able to express how truly dire our situation is right now. Thank you for giving us another month together alive. I’m not sure how long we will be able to hang on or what will happen.

I am grateful for every single day I get with the cats. They are all I have and I am all that they have.

Thank you to our online village for giving us this time together. 

Hopefully things come together soon. 

Maybe NYS unemployment should hire me to answer their phone. I definitely do not have the expertise to fix their website. 

Sophie’s Story

IMG_0818

Sophie is a green Toyota Corolla. She is my second Toyota Corolla. I liked the first one I had so much that I decided I wanted to have another one when the first one died. My car is my most prized possession aside from my Boston medal.

It has now been over 20 years that I have been driving a Toyota Corolla. Sophie came into my life at a very bad time. I knew that my first Toyota Corolla, Cool, was on it’s last legs during the winter of 2012-2013. I was trying to push that car through one last winter and had planned on looking for a new Corolla in the spring. Life had other plans, and Cool died in January 2013 – right in the middle of winter.

Finding a used Toyota Corolla is extremely difficult. People tend to love this car and drive them into the ground. I am one of them. When I killed Cool, he had 283,000 miles. So when Cool died, I actually spent a few days without a vehicle because I just could not find a used Toyota Corolla.

Then I found Sophie. Sophie was a necessity. I needed a vehicle. It was too difficult to be happy about a new car when I was mourning my first one. You see, my first Toyota was more than a car. At times, it was also housing for Kitty, Kip and I when we were homeless. I had driven 250,000 of the 283,000 miles that were on that car.

So Sophie entered my life. Within the first 6 months of owning the car, I hit my first deer. A few months later, I hit a second deer. Two deer hits in the first year of owning the car was not a good start. 

Sophie went to Philly with me when I ran one of my marathons. She has been to Cape Cod, Boston, and my favorite camping place. When I bought Sophie, I was at a different point in my life. I vowed that this car would be a car and not used as housing.

What makes Sophie so special is that she is the only thing that joins me to all five of my cats. Kip rode in Sophie to his vet office visits the last year of his life. Kip passed away in December 2013, the first year I owned the car.

Kitty rode in Sophie to his doctor appointments. First, for well visits, then for his cancer check-ups. Kitty passed away in April 2017.

When I adopted Jude, I drove Sophie to the shelter to meet him. Jude rode home in Sophie. Simon and Jolene have both ridden in Sophie also. 

All five cats have been in that car. It’s pretty special. 

Only four of the five cats ever lived in the apartment. Three of my five cats have lived in my house. Yet, all five of my cats have ridden in that car.

I’m glad that Sophie has had the opportunity to go to all of my favorite places before the pandemic hit. Not only is travel restricted due to the pandemic, but my ability to drive has decreased over the past six years or so due to my disability. At least I can say I drove that car where it was important for me to go.

Many people talk down to me over my love affair with Sophie. But when a car has been such a significant part of your life as this one, you get attached to it. My car has been more reliable than most of the people in my life.

I am hoping that when Sophie dies I will be able to afford a third Toyota Corolla, but we will see.

When I bought the house, I was ecstatic that there is a garage here. I park Sophie in the garage in the winter. I am happy that she is getting the treatment she deserves.

My car has been a lifeline to me in the pandemic. I know that no matter what happens, if things get bad, I can always jump in the car and go. I no longer know where I would go, but I know that I can leave it I ever needed. Unfortunately, all of my safe places to which I would go – the people have all died in the pandemic. 

I am so thankful to have Sophie in my life. She is my lifeline to Kip and Kitty who passed away. She keeps me, Jude, Simon, and Jolene all safe. We travel in her to go to medical appointments.

It’s probably stupid to write a blog post about a car, but Sophie is kind of a big deal here. I’m looking forward to many more years of driving her.

80 Photographs

IMG_0163

There are literally thousands of photographs that I have taken and saved. Some are on cell phones, some are saved in my cloud account, and some are print only. The prints are mostly from the days when cameras had actual film and you had to wait a week for it to be developed. I have negatives for photos also.

I had quite a few photo albums and they took up a lot of space. In my minimizing, I purchased two photo storage cases that now hold all my physical photos. The two photo cases take up much less space than all of the photo albums. The photos are in their own case by category – person, event or trip. 

The photos I look at the most are the ones that are framed and actually in the house. These are the photos that hang on the walls or sit on the mantle. Sometimes I look at the photos on my phone.

I’ve had some up and down feelings lately in the pandemic. Part of me feels positive that I will live long enough to be in a care home. I think that if that were to happen, I want one photo album of my very best memories. It is easier to look at a physical photo album than it is to scroll through electronic photos. I looked at my photos a lot more when they were in the bulky albums.

Part of me feels negative and I don’t know how I am going to survive the pandemic. I just don’t see myself being alive 15 years from now when all the cats are gone. That part of me thinks that if I was in a hospital or (more likely) dying at home, the last thing I want to make sure I see is photos of my cats.

Even though I down-sized years ago and got rid of all the photo albums, I am realizing that the only way I actually look at photos is if they are in an album. 

I purchased a photo album that holds 80 photos. The album also gives space to write a note next to each photo. This aspect is important to me.

I have decided to go through the many thousands of photographs I have and curate them down into the 80 photographs that mean the most to me. I want a collection of the best memories of my life.

Starting with the photos that are actually in the house, I am realizing that I have had a pretty great life. I have had some amazing moments and memories. I have done great things. It is going to be very challenging to curate the best of my life into 80 photos.

At first, I started by making a formula. Given 80 photos, this is the formula I started with:

50 photos of the cats (5 cats – Kitty, Kip, Jude, Simon, Jolene), which means 10 photos of each cat, including photos of them in combinations i.e. Kitty & Kip, Kitty & Jude, Jude & Simon, etc.

10 photos of my camping trips

10 photos of my races – this one is a challenge with 18 medals and (hopefully) counting

10 photos of “other” – my once in a lifetime baseball game, trip to the MidWest, favorite photos not associated with the above categories

While this formula is a good start, I am quickly realizing that I have a lot more than 80 photos. I am either going to have to be ruthless curating, or find an album that holds 100? Photos instead.

The goal is that when the project is done, I will have one photo album of the cats and the highlights of my life. I want one place I can turn to in good times and bad times to relive the highlight reel of my life.

I guess the fact that I have so many good memories and photos from those memories is a good problem to have.

I am still going through photos, so I am not sure if I will take the curate ruthlessly or buy a larger photo album route. I do know that there will only be one photo album when I am done.

This project is turning out to be a lot bigger than I initially thought. It is also a lot more emotional that I thought. It is a good thing to relive positive memories in a challenging time. I have had a good life. It’s just kind of sad to think I may not survive the pandemic and that all the good times are behind me.

At this point, I am trying to remain positive. I am thoroughly enjoying going through my photo collection.

Has anyone else taken on a similar project for yourself or a loved one? Have you provided an older family member with memory issues with a photo album that is a highlight reel of their life? That is basically what I am trying to do for myself. 

Right now, I am trying to focus on 80 photographs. That may expand to be 100 or more. The limit will definitely be under 200. I probably should have figured out my photo count before purchasing a photo album. 

If you could only use so many photos to tell the story of your life and your best memories, how many would there be? 

No Where Bar

IMG_9717

The little outside bar in the middle of no where.

For the past two decades, we won’t say how long for certain, I have been making a pilgrimage to a remote area of Adirondack Park in upper New York State. The nearest hospital to this locale is a good 60 miles away. There is no cell phone service. There are well over 1,000 acres of land and way less than 1,000 people who live there as long term residents.

Some years I go to meet friends. Some years I go alone as a place of respite and rejuvenation. It is a drive in, drive out location. The motto of the Adirondacks is “forever wild.” What you take in, you must also take out. The idea is to leave no footprint to preserve the area for generations to come. 

I always pack for the entire trip knowing that once I go in, there will be no going out for supplies. I need to take everything I need for the entire time I am there. There is no going to the store. There is no calling for help. If you don’t make friends when you are there or know one of the locals, you are up the creek when it comes to needing something.

Once base camp is set up for the trip, all travel is done by foot. Hiking, supplies, recreation, whatever you need can be had by hoofing it to where you need to be. As I said, for the most part, you are self-contained. 

The primary method of communication is word of mouth or smoke signal. You learn by talking to the people there or by lighting a fire and hope that someone notices and talks to you. However, in this area, just because there is smoke does not mean someone will check on you. Most people go to this place specifically to be alone.

It was by word of mouth that I first found out about Joe’s outdoor bar. That was how people found out. It wasn’t necessarily that you had to be invited by someone. It was more that you did not know that an outdoor bar in the middle of the woods existed unless someone told you.

Sure, it was possible to stumble upon the place when you were hiking. With thousands of acres of land, randomly stumbling upon the place was like finding a needle in a haystack. You definitely had to know where to go.

Joe was an older man. He did no advertising of his outside bar. It wasn’t registered, and probably wasn’t even legal. It was built with materials he had lying around and was there for his own amusement. It was never busy. The atmosphere was always warm, no matter how cold it was outside.

It was illuminated by lanterns and moonlight. Joe only opened at night and welcomed anyone who happened to stumble upon him in the dark. 

There was no menu and no prices. Everything was free will. You sat down and received a drink. It could be rum, wine, or soda, who knew. What was served was what Joe had on hand from the donations received. The only donations accepted were cash and free will. Joe did not operate to turn a profit. He operated to make friends in the middle of a dark, cold, lonely wilderness.

Once you knew about Joe’s outside bar, it was fun to introduce new people. You would take someone with you in the dark. They had no idea where they were, yet it was the nicest place you could ever visit. If you were lucky, you would remember how to get there so you could return.

You would meet people that you only saw once or people who came back year after year. Joe just wanted some company and a good conversation. There was a deck of cards and sometimes a game to be had. 

We would stumble to the bar in the woods in the middle of the night to have some company and a good time. When we were done, we would stumble back to our tents, hoping to avoid falling in the water. Sometimes it could be a 2 mile walk from the tent to the outside bar. A lot can happen when you are wandering around in the woods in the dark for 2 miles. 

The nights under the moon and lantern light were the times when you made memories you will always remember with people you would probably forget. It was what kept people coming back all the time. It was what inclined people to talk about it. You only told someone about the outside bar if it was someone you wanted to hang out and have a good conversation.

A few years ago, Joe died and his children took over the property. I went one night to the outside bar to find it not only closed, but completely taken apart. I’m not sure if the kids kept the property or sold it. But gone was the little outside bar with its lantern light that was the friendliest place you could ever visit under the moon in the middle of no where. 

These are the memories that keep me going that I will take with me to the grave. I’m so thankful to have had these experiences in life that I can hold onto in this tumultuous time. If I could bottle the feeling of the no where bar, I would. 

By the way, this photo of the no where bar was used on a post in 2019. However, that is an actual photo of the actual bar that no longer exists.

My Quarantine Hat Trick

IMG_6288

Of course, my greatest hat trick in life are these 3 right here.

Consistency pays off. In 2020, it paid off for me in a huge way. 2020 is now my highest mileage year since 2015. I did not even race this year. I did not train. There was no marathon. There was no half marathon. I just did three miles at a time.

The year 2015 was the last year I ran a marathon. Of course, when you spend 5 months training to run 26.2 miles, it is a high mileage year. Then, in 2016, I was in the hospital. At first I was misdiagnosed with a stroke. Now we know it was just a very bad episode of multiple sclerosis. 

Last year, 2019, was very exciting because it was my first year back on the race circuit after my stint in the hospital and subsequent recovery. I did a lot of training last year to prepare for my half marathon comeback.

If you had asked me 6 or even 4 months ago if I thought 2020 would be my high mile year, I would have said no. I toyed with the notion last spring of doing a virtual race this fall. Then my hopes for even a virtual race were dashed because I did not have adequate access to food to train.

The doctor was not happy because between March and July I lost 15 pounds unintentionally. I have had a horrible time trying to get food in the pandemic due to severe food shortages. There was just no food to be had.

There was no way I could train for a race without adequate access to food. But I knew I needed to keep running. Both for my sanity as well as for the fact that running helps me to retain my mobility that MS threatens to steal. I kept running but only did 3 miles at a time due to nutrition.

From October 2019 to March 2020, I had a gym membership. The gym membership definitely helped. The first 3 months of this year I had access to a treadmill. I don’t mind running outside when it is cold. The thing that gets me is ice. I am a fall hazard on a sunny, 50 degree weather day on flat ground. I cannot run on ice. As soon as ice appears, I am stuck inside. 

Having the access to the treadmill for the first 3 months of 2020 definitely helped. 

Being quarantined since March, I have been running outside. I have consistently been running 3 miles a few times a week this year. 

Being in quarantine has helped me to be more consistent with my running this year. Running is my biggest coping skill. Especially in the pandemic, my mantra is that if I can run, then I am ok. 

Being home and not having to drive any place has been helpful to me in fitting in runs either in the beginning or at the end of the day. I actually have enough time to run without having to worry about a 30 minute driving commute. 

I was also able to better accommodate my disability in quarantine. I do not do well in heat. Not only has my MS cooling vest been an absolute life saver, but I have been able to time my runs for the coolest part of the day so I was able to run consistently through the summer. 

Sure, there were some weeks when the heat completely sidelined me and I could only run once in a week or not at all. But being able to work from home and not having to be out and about in the heat was definitely helpful in allowing me to maintain a higher level of functioning throughout the summer.

It’s been 5 long years since I have been able to join the 300+ mile club. I never thought that I would do it with just 3 mile runs. Consistency pays off.

In a horrible year marked by a pandemic and food shortages, I was able to run more miles this year than I did last year when I trained for and ran a half marathon. The achievement completely blows my mind.

Being in quarantine has definitely helped me to manage my MS better, which means that my level of functioning is higher than it was before. When I do not have to drive every day and go someplace, I am able to get more done. If MS has taught me anything, it’s that I can have the best laid plans, but then your body will be like “haha, not happening.” The 2020 quarantine has helped me to regain some control over my own body.

This week running outside has been difficult. We had a freezing drizzle for almost a week straight. Last week I only got in one run before the freezing drizzle started. That kept me inside because I do not do well on ice. I had a hard enough time getting to my mailbox. 

I have to have a winter plan since I no longer have treadmill access. I cannot go to a gym due to my quarantine. I am not supposed to be indoors with anyone else. I can’t even go to the grocery store. 

My plan for the winter is to just run circles around a room in my house. I heard of people doing that in small NYC apartments last spring during lockdown. I figure I can run circles inside my house to get through this winter.

The challenge with that scenario is that I have an old house over 100 years old. The floors are not able to take that kind of a beating. So this past Tuesday when it was freezing drizzle outside, I did run around the inside of the house. I had to do it very carefully and it was the worst experience ever. I only went one mile. 

But it was one mile. If I have to get through 2021 only doing one mile at a time, then so be it. 

But I would rather do 3 miles (or more).

For the record, the freezing drizzle / ice finally did melt this week. I was able to run outside Friday and today. I just have to take winter one day at a time. But I do know that if the weather is too slippery for me to run outside, that I can always run one mile inside my house.

My goal for 2021 is to do a virtual race. I do have one picked out. Now that I have better access to food, I am certain that I will have adequate nutrition to be able to train for a half marathon in the fall of 2021.

I still fully believe that I have at least one in-person full marathon left in me. Right now, I am thinking that the earliest I would be able to run a full marathon in-person safely is probably 2023. We will see how the pandemic goes.

But I know that running is in my heart. When I run, I feel closer to God. I know that God is telling me I still have at least one full marathon left in me yet.

I am thankful that I still have the ability to run. Whether it’s one mile or 3 miles, I will get there.

I am completely surprised that 2020 is my highest mileage year and that I was able to do it 3 miles at a time. This year has been the ultimate running hat trick for me. 

My only goals in life are to keep running and keep my cats together. In one of the most horrible years in history, I was able to reach a mileage goal. I’m still running this year. I won’t stop. I’m hoping 2021 mileage can top this one.   

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00

Or enter a custom amount

$

If you would like to support, this blog, feel free to donate. Thank you for visiting!

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly