My Second Favorite Holiday

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Birthdays are my favorite holiday. Every time I get one, it’s like a giant middle finger to the world that I was able to survive another year of whatever life threw at me. Birthdays are a celebration of life. You only stop having birthdays when you are dead, and that’s a problem.

Many people like Christmas. I like Christmas too, but it’s not my favorite holiday. I like the peaceful feeling of Christmas. Christmas is something we should try to replicate year round. We should aim to be kind and generous to others. While I enjoy Christmas, it is my third favorite holiday.

My second favorite holiday after birthdays is Labor Day and Labor Day weekend.

I spent over 20 years working 2-3 jobs for 40-60 hours per week. We do not have paid sick time in the United States. We do not have paid vacation time in the United States. The only time I would be able to get time off from all of my jobs was holidays.

Labor Day weekend is my favorite because it is a celebration of the worker. We should have the day off. American workers are treated the most poorly of any industrialized country. We can be fired at will, do not have to be offered health insurance, vacation pay, or sick pay. We work long hours for low wages.

The sad part is that for the United States of America, Labor Day is just another day. For many it signals the end of summer and return to school. We have forgotten that Labor Day is about the worker. Workers deserve much, much better than we receive in the United States.

Labor Day weekend has typically been my camping weekend. I like to get away to relax. It’s the only weekend of the year when I truly have a break. For one weekend a year, I can take a vacation and pretend I am just like any worker in any European or other industrialized country.

The saddest part of Labor Day weekend is that although we get the day off, we do not get paid to have the day off. You get the weekend whether you like it or not.

We need to have a revival of the worker’s rights movement in this country. We deserve better wages, shorter hours, healthcare, paid sick time, paid vacation time, and much more. I know that we will never get any of this in my lifetime, but I can dream.

I also dream of moving to a European country that has all those benefits.

Labor Day weekend is my second favorite holiday because it is the only time of year I am truly at peace. When I go camping to a remote area in the Adirondacks, I am typically surround by ducks and other wildlife and not many people. It is the only time I get to slow down and be peaceful. That peacefulness is something I wish I could bottle and have for the entire year.

The past three years or so, Labor Day weekend has not been very restful or peaceful. When I bought my house, my employer at the time only gave me 3 hours off work to complete the closing to purchase the house. I was not allowed to take any time off for moving. Moving was done haphaxardly after work and on Labor Day weekend. 

Now, in the pandemic, I have not been able to travel to go camping for Labor Day weekend. The last time I was able to go camping was October 2019.

This year, we are camping. It will not be the Adirondacks. It will be on our own property. I’m not sure if I will put the tent up inside or outside, but we will camp. We will pretend it is just like any other year in the Adirondacks. The exception will be the obnoxious, threatening neighbors, but hey, we do what we can.

Happy Labor Day weekend. May you find peace. And then after a peaceful weekend, let’s do something to ensure hard working Americans are treated better. We deserve to be treated as humans, at least. 

Happy Birthday, Jolene

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Today is Jolene’s 7th birthday. I never thought I would get a girl. Kip and Kitty (both OTRB) were both boys. Jude and Simon are both boys. In fact, I had been going to the shelter in search of a dog that I thought would get along with Jude and Simon. 

After Kip passed away, I did not think I would be able to handle another orange cat. In fact, when visiting the shelter, I kind of avoided orange cats just because my heart still ached for Kip. Jolene was in a cage at the far end of the room, at the bottom. No one would have noticed her if she had not started throwing an absolute fit in her cage when I walked in. She kept pawing and pawing and wanted to come out. 

Who can say no to that?

I took her out of the cage and was going to set her down to play with her. Except when I picked her up, she hugged me. She would not let go. Jolene picked me out.

Two years ago today, a 5-year old Jolene was dumped in a parking lot with a box of her kittens. Half of her teeth were missing due to a genetic disorder she has that causes them to go bad. She spent 5 months in the shelter watching all of her kittens be adopted before I walked into the room.

Jolene only has 4 teeth left now due to her genetic condition. However, she received the health care she needed to remove the dying and painful teeth and infected roots that had caused her great pain for who knows how long.

Jolene is definitely the Queen of our home. She is in charge. She brings so much life to our home. Both Jude and Simon have come out of their shells more and are more playful since Jolene entered our lives.

I adopted Jolene in January 2020, before the lockdowns, so she is not a “pandemic pet.” However, pretty much her entire time with us has been in this isolation situation. As we celebrate her birthday today, both of her birthdays have been in lockdown. 

For indoor cats, every day is lockdown. It’s just that now I join them as I am home all the time. I am so grateful that I get to spend every day with my three fur balls.

Jolene has my baby name for a girl since I cannot have human children. Jude has my boy name. I honestly never imagined I would have a girl and get to use the name. The name definitely fits Jolene. She knows her name and will respond to it. 

Jolene is my constant companion and follows me all over the house. She has to know where I am at all times. She constantly brings me gifts – her favorite mouse toy. I often find her favorite mouse toy near me as she brings it to where I am and leaves it. 

When I return to the house after being gone, her favorite mouse toy is near the door. She puts it there because she knows I am out. That way it is there for me when I return. 

Jolene loves both her brothers Simon and Jude. They both love her back. She plays with them and grooms them. Jolene is definitely in charge of the house.

Jolene sleeps with me every single night. In that way, she reminds me a little of Kitty. Kitty slept with me every single night for 19 years. Jude and Simon will sleep with me probably 90% of the time. Jolene sleeps with me all the time. 

I am so grateful that Jolene chose me to be her mom. I only hope that I can survive the pandemic and outlive the cats so that I can keep them all together and be their true forever home, just as I was for Kip and Kitty.

Happy 7th birthday to my daughter, Jolene. Thank you for bringing so much joy, love, and light into our lives.

Life and Everything

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Birthdays are my favorite holiday. Every time I get one, it’s like a giant middle finger to the world that I was able to survive another year of what life threw at me. This past year has definitely been a doozy. I am so thankful to be alive. 

I am hoping that this year will be as great as my new number – 42. If you are a fan of Douglas Adams, you will know that 42 is the answer. It is also a great number for baseball. Well before it was International Women’s Day, March 8 was my birthday. 

Right now, my goal is to live long enough to see another birthday. I am really hoping that I get to see 43 with all three cats as well. Another significance of 42 is that my paternal grandmother passed away at age 42, well before I was born or even thought about. If I can make it to age 43, that will be huge.

Living in the middle of a pandemic definitely makes you take stock of life. I know that my priority is being able to outlive the cats so that I can take care of them and keep them all together. My second priority is to stay covid free. I am more scared of getting covid and “living” than I am of getting covid and dying. 

I am a marathon runner. Running is the most important thing to me, after the cats. If I get covid and survive, I won’t be able to run anymore. That’s not life. That’s just a jail waiting to die.

So I look at the cats, and my goal is to outlive them. Once they are taken care of, then it doesn’t matter what happens to me. These three are going to be my last. I’m not going to adopt anymore pets and then have to worry about what would happen to them when something happens to me.

Simon is the youngest of the three. He will be turning 5 in May. So, right now, my goal is to live about another 15 years so that I can outlive the three of them. To make it a nice round number that is easy to remember, I am hoping to be able to live to age 60. 

Given the decreasing life expectancy in the USA right now, I think that age 60 is a reasonable number. I just wish I could retire so that I could enjoy the last 15 years of my life. Unfortunately, that is not economically possible. I will be working until I die.

As difficult as things are, I am so grateful for this time I have had at home with the cats. We are all safe and get to spend quality time together. My only goal is to be able to continue this so I can take care of them. 

At age 42, I certainly do not have the answer to life, the universe and everything. All I know is my goal is to remain covid free and to be able to take care of my cats. At the end of the day, the only things that matter are the cats and running. 

So here is to another trip around the sun. Let’s hope I get the full ride. 

My Valentine

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Jude with his birthday banner. He turned 9 on February 14, 2021

Last Sunday was February 14, 2021. It was Jude’s 9th birthday. It was also his Gotcha Day. Jude has been with me for 7 years. He will always be my valentine. He did indeed come into my life at a time when he “took a sad song and made it better.”

Birthdays are my favorite holiday. Every time I get one, it is a celebration that I was able to survive another year of whatever life threw at me. Birthdays in the pandemic are an even bigger deal. 

Jude received birthday cards from the vet office and from chewy, where we get our cat supplies. We also got a birthday box from Chewy that had an assortment of toys and treats. It was a fun day for all of us. 

My goal in this pandemic is to survive for the next 15 or so years so that I outlive the cats. I am worried about what would happen to them if something happens to me. I am their home and their forever family. I don’t want them to have to go back to a shelter and I don’t want them to be separated. 

We had a great time celebrating Jude last weekend and playing. We listened to music and had some quality family time. I plan on celebrating all of our birthdays this year in much the same fashion. Life is much too short to not celebrate a birthday. 

Jude will always be my valentine. 

My Best Thanksgiving

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Growing up primarily homeless with divorced parents means I was bounced around a lot as a child. My grandparents were the most stabilizing presence in my life. On the occasion that I happened to spend Thanksgiving with my grandparents, I remember it being a big production.

My grandmother would get up at 3 am to put the turkey in the oven and start the preparations. My grandparents lived on a farm when I was growing up. Just because it was Thanksgiving, did not mean it was a day off. The animals still needed to be tended and the chores still needed to be done, even if it was Thanksgiving.

The Thanksgiving meal was always served mid-day at my grandparent’s house. That way, it was in between morning and afternoon chores so my grandfather and uncles had time to sit down to enjoy the meal. Hence, my grandmother getting up at 3 am to start cooking. The Thanksgiving meal would be served sometime between 11 am and 1 pm. Closer to 11 am was preferable, closer to 1 pm was only if there was some unexpected delay.

When not at my grandparent’s house, I was tossed around between different relatives. In addition to having divorced parents, my mom was a nurse and nurses don’t always get holidays off either. My dad lived in another state, so there was always travel involved.

As an adult, I have always said I do not want to travel on holidays. I just want to stay in my house with my cats and celebrate the holiday. My cats are my family. By staying home with them, I am celebrating the holiday with family. 

There was one year where I did go somewhere to celebrate a holiday. I remember it was New Year’s Eve. I was completely miserable at this New Year’s Eve party I attended. I would have been happier at home with my cats. The entire time I was at the party, I felt guilty for not spending the holiday with my family. I have since renewed my vow to spend holidays with my family.

So for the past 20 years or so, I have spent every single holiday home alone with my cats. I am completely okay with that. I get plenty of phone calls, text messages and letters in the mail from humans. Holidays are family time and the cats are my family.

So spending Thanksgiving home alone with the cats during a pandemic was no big deal for me. It was just like any other Thanksgiving. While most of America completely ignored CDC recommendations and chose to risk their lives and the lives of other people to travel on Thanksgiving, I stayed home like I always do. I was perfectly happy.

Twenty years ago I cooked a big turkey Thanksgiving and had friends over. Even though I do not want to go anywhere on holidays, I don’t mind if people visit me. Cooking Thanksgiving was a lot of work. I did it once. I said I would not do it again. I haven’t.

In Thanksgivings since, I have been way too tired to do anything special for Thanksgiving. I spent 15 years working 2 or 3 jobs often 7 days a week trying to make ends meet. Holidays were the only times I ever got a day off. So instead of cooking anything special for Thanksgiving, I would often just put a frozen pizza in the oven and sleep. I was exhausted. I was just happy to have the day off to be home with the cats.

When I finished my master’s degree 5 years ago, I decided to cook Thanksgiving to see what it would be like to be a “normal,” non-student adult. However, instead of cooking any sort of poultry, I made a lentil loaf. I remember being in the kitchen almost all day. If you have ever cooked a lentil loaf from scratch, you know it takes about 3 hours to do so, provided you have soaked the lentils overnight ahead of time.

I got up early to cook so that my meal was ready about noontime, same as when I was a child. Cooking Thanksgiving that year was a lot of work. I even went out of my way to make an allergy-friendly pumpkin pie. That was another endeavor that took hours to make. Of course the allergy friendly pie crust was made and rolled out by hand too. 

Again, after that Thanksgiving, I said never again. I was not going to get up early and spend the entire day cooking just for one meal. It’s not worth it. For the record, the lentil loaf was excellent. I have made it many times since then. However, I do not spend hours making mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and all the other things to do with it. It is much more manageable to make the lentil loaf by itself on a long weekend.

This year, being in quarantine, I am home all the time. I really wanted to do something to make the holidays extra special this year to break up the monotony and to feel like I was really getting a break and having a special treat. 

I decided to cook Thanksgiving this year. However, I told myself that based on my past experience watching my grandmother toil in the kitchen at 3 am, that I was not going to do that. However I chose to cook Thanksgiving this year, I would rather have my meal later than get up that early just to cook a meal.

Plus, as a single person, a turkey is a bit much. Yes, you can always have leftovers, but I just didn’t want to deal with the hassle of cooking an entire turkey. When looking in my cupboards, I do not even have any pans or cookware that is big enough or adequate to cook a turkey.

So while I decided I would cook Thanksgiving this year, I came up with a completely different plan and it worked perfectly. In fact, Thanksgiving 2020, in the middle of being quarantined in a global pandemic, was the best Thanksgiving of my entire life. Here is how it happened.

The cats actually let me sleep in for an extra hour on Thanksgiving morning. I was surprised. They usually don’t let me over sleep for too long before they start fussing around me wanting their breakfast. But on Thanksgiving morning, I had an extra hour of sleep. Thank you, furballs.

My morning went as usual. I even had time to sit on the couch with my coffee and relaxed listening to a CD. After my relaxing morning routine, I went to the kitchen to set up the crockpot.

I cooked my entire Thanksgiving meal in the crockpot. It resulted in less dishes, less mess, and less work on my part.

I sliced open a sweet potato and put the two halves on the bottom of the crockpot. When the crockpot was done later in the day, I essentially had a baked sweet potato. On top of the sweet potato, I put a Cornish game hen. The Cornish game hen I had gotten on an Instacart order back in September. It had been in my freezer waiting for Thanksgiving. The biggest prep I had to do was remembering to pull the Cornish game hen out of the freezer to thaw in the refrigerator a few days before Thanksgiving.

The Cornish game hen went in the crock pot on top of the sweet potato. I then opened a can of cranberry sauce and a can of mandarin oranges and out those in. This way, the Cornish game hen would have a cranberry-orange glaze, and the sweet potato would too. 

Now, there is a saying that “nobody likes it from the can” when it comes to cranberry sauce. I have to agree. I have made fresh cranberry sauce before from a bag of cranberries. However, I did not want to go to the hassle of making cranberry sauce from scratch. Not to mention, that when you put canned cranberry sauce in the crockpot, it makes it indistinguishable. By the time the crockpot is done, both the Cornish game hen and the sweet potato are cranberry flavored. There is no way to tell the difference between if fresh cranberries or canned cranberries were used, so I just used canned. Less work for me.

I set the crockpot up and went about my day until my Thanksgiving dinner was done. Thanksgiving dinner ended up being ready at about 5:30 pm, which was in line with my normal meal time and medication schedule. Another challenge with special holiday meals is trying to coordinate your food schedule with your medication schedule when you happen to be on a medication that requires you take it with food. I planned Thanksgiving dinner to replace my normal evening meal. I also had a bottle of sparkling white grape juice ($3), which was easier to obtain and way more affordable than if I had wine ($25).

For the record, the cats had Thanksgiving too. I wanted to make the day special for them also so that they would know it was Thanksgiving and not just another day. I do not ever feed the cats anything other than their prescribed cat food, but on Thanksgiving, I split a packet of tuna fish between the 3 of them. If they only get tuna fish on Thanksgiving, then they know that is a special day. This year was Jolene’s first Thanksgiving with us, so that made it even more special.

While Thanksgiving was cooking in the crockpot, I was able to get a lot done around the house. I watched two Thanksgiving movies. I pulled out my Christmas CDs and put them on.  I put up the Christmas tree and decorations. I wrapped all the Christmas presents.

It was a very relaxing day.

After my Thanksgiving meal in the evening, I watched a Christmas movie with the Christmas tree lights on. The cats and I had a great day. 

This was the best Thanksgiving I have ever had in my life. I was home with my family, the ones I love. I had a special meal that came out great and took little fuss to make. I think a cranberry-orange Cornish game hen with sweet potatoes sounds like Thanksgiving to me. It took a lot less work than a if I had done a traditional turkey.

Although, while the meal was great, I think next year I may try a boneless turkey breast or do boneless chicken breasts instead of a Cornish game hen to be honest with you. 

Many Americans this year were in uproar over COVID and Thanksgiving. Many people risked their lives and the lives of their loved ones to see their family. They just could not give up their traditional Thanksgiving to save their lives. 

I’m not judging. I just don’t understand it. The cats and I are “alone” every year. I was not lonely. People do call to wish my Happy Thanksgiving. I spent the holiday with my cats – my family and the ones I love. Thanksgiving could not have been better for me. I don’t understand why people have to put so much pressure on one day to tell people we love them. You should be telling people you love them every day. Life is short.

This year we are thankful to be alive. We are thankful to be together. The future is not promised.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend, everyone. The cats and I are having the best Thanksgiving of our lives.

Minimalist Holidays in a Pandemic

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Jolene sleeping hard wrapped in a blanket.

The snow is falling outside and it is absolutely stunning. There are about 3 inches currently on the ground. It is early morning, the sun is up. We just went through Daylight Savings and are now on the sense of time I enjoy the most. It is November 2 and this is our first snowfall of the season. 

What makes it even better is that I don’t have to drive in it. The car is in the garage in case the man who does the snow plow comes. I have the day off, but even if I didn’t, I would be working from home.

I am inside the house with the cats nice and warm enjoying some Sinatra and coffee watching birds and snow. Life is good. 

It’s holiday time. I will tell you that due to the food shortages, I already started holiday planning back in September. This year is going to be the first time I have cooked something special for Thanksgiving in 5 years, since 2015.  In 2015, as I finished my Master’s degree, I decided to cook a lentil loaf for Thanksgiving to celebrate my retirement from being a college student. The lentil loaf was so good it has become a staple food item in winter that I make about once a month or so.

This year will be the first time in almost 20 years that I have bothered to cook any type of poultry for Thanksgiving. I have a Cornish game hen in my freezer that has been there since the end of September. There is no point in cooking an entire turkey for just me. I am going to put the Cornish game hen in the crockpot with cranberry and orange. It is the perfect size for one person while still being a “full” poultry. 

I am also hoping to make sweet potatoes with it, if I can get them. If not, I have plenty of yellow potatoes in my house right now. But sweet potatoes would be a special treat. 

I am just happy that the cats and I are all in the house together and safe. That is definitely something to celebrate in this hellish year. The way things are going with the virus and the economy, we may be dead next year, or we may not be in the house. But for now, things are good, and we are going to celebrate the holidays. The cats and I are truly home. This is the highlight of my life.

For Christmas, I am going to keep everything the same as every other year. The goal is for the cats to think everything is normal. I don’t want them to know we are living in a global pandemic and the world is in crisis. I’m trying to shield them from that and give them a good life.

This will be Jolene’s first Christmas with us. I adopted her in January last year, right after the holidays. It will be her first time with a stocking, a Christmas tree and presents.

Since I only had two little stockings, I went and hand-sewed brand-new stockings this year, so that all three cats have a stocking and they all match. Jolene needed a stocking. I did not want her stocking to be any different from the boys because I work hard to treat them all the same. So I took some Christmas theme fabric I have and made them all a stocking.

In our house, Santa fills the stocking. He comes down the chimney, fills the stocking, and goes. Presents under the tree come from mom and each cat typically gets 1 to 3 presents each. 

Since being in the house, Christmas is especially exciting because we have a fireplace with a real chimney so Santa does not have to use a “special key.” Santa usually fills the stockings with a few small toys and treats.

I added one Christmas present for each cat onto the October Chewy order to be sure I have their presents. The next Chewy food order does not arrive until sometime in December, and I didn’t want to put the presents on that order that close to Chrismtas in case it didn’t arrive on time. 

So each cat has one present from mom this year. Santa will fill their stockings with small toys (I have some left over from a package of toys from last year that I kept for this year). I will add cat treats for the stockings to my Instacart order.

Christmas for humans is another story. Again, I typically do 1 to 3 presents for each person I buy a present for. Usually everyone gets one present, so that won’t change too much this year. I honestly don’t have money for Christmas.

The only change will be in type of gift. While I usually do a gift bag of various coffees, teas, and cocoa for people, this year the gift bag will be one coffee and potentially one other item.

The formula for this year for gifts is going to be: coffee, hat, or socks.

These are all items I can get, and they are all “essential” items. I am not going to have someone risk their life in a pandemic for a Christmas present. That’s cruel and inhumane. 

Fancy coffee I can add to my Instacart order and get rather easily with my normal grocery order. It’s nice at Christmas to be able to splurge on the expensive or fancy coffee to enjoy as you watch snow falling out the window.

A hat or socks is something you can wear and keeps you warm. Therefore, they are essential. I have been focusing on hats and socks this year mostly because I am cold. If you have a hat and warm socks, then you will be warmer. A lot of us are having financial difficulty in the pandemic and can’t afford the heating bills. If you have to turn your heat down to try to keep the bill down, then a hat and warm socks are going to be needed to stay warm. 

Socks are one of the most requested items by homeless people. Take it from a former homeless person, a warm pair of socks is like Christmas. So this year, a warm pair of socks may just be Christmas.

Back in the First Great Depression in the 1930s, Christmas gifts were often something to eat or something to wear. Children would often find an orange or some other citrus in their stocking because citrus was hard to come by. There might be a yo-yo or small hand carved toy.

In this line, the cats get some treats and some small toys in their stocking.

During the First Great Depression a Christmas present might be a scarf or gloves that someone hand crocheted or knit. I don’t have that kind of talent. But I can order warm hats and warm socks. 

Another Christmas throwback this year will be method of delivery. I’ve seen old home movies from back in the 1950s. A beloved family member comes home for the holidays. They pull in the drive way and pop open the trunk of the car to display a pile of wrapped presents inside. There is one for each family member. 

In the event I cannot figure out any other way to safely deliver presents this year, that is what I will be doing. Open my trunk and grab your present. Safe and socially distant.

Another tradition in which I have been engaging for a long time that I am hoping gains widespread adoption this year is card writing. 

I always take time to write personalized messages in cards for that person. Someone told me recently that the only thing they want from me for Christmas this year is a card because I write great cards. In this socially distanced pandemic, I am hoping that card writing like that catches on.

We cannot be together this year. We still need to be sure that people hear things they need to hear. We need to be sure that people know how we feel abut them, especially with so many dying. May your Christmas cards this year give you the opportunity to send heartfelt messages to people you are unable to see.

I am not sure if we will be doing photo cards for Christmas this year or not. I will decide that next week. It mostly depends on if I can afford them. I want to do them, for the cats. I have great photos of all of them for this year’s Christmas card. The only one I do not have a great photo of for this year is me. But it’s not about me. It’s about the cats. We will see if we do a photo card this year or not in addition to the traditional hand-written cards.

Luckily, I have enough Christmas items so I do not have to worry about buying gift bags, wrapping paper, etc. Most people do. I’m sure if you look around the house you will realize you have enough Christmas stuff too and don’t need to buy anything.

I will admit that when I buy gift bags, etc I try to get them in neutral red and green colors. This way I can use them for birthdays and other holidays, not just Christmas. I have some Christmas theme tissue paper to make them festive. That way I get a lot of mileage over any packaging I may buy.

There is also the old stand-bys of using newspaper and paper bags as wrapping paper too. You can even draw and color on them to make it more special.

The only differences the pandemic is making in my minimalist holidays is that people are strictly getting one present, where some years there may have been 2 or 3. Also, less people will be getting presents this year than usual. I just don’t have the money. But people will still be getting cards with heartfelt messages. Sometimes the present is just that I am happy you are alive.

How will you be spending the holidays in a pandemic?

Goals of Life and Good Death

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With everything that has happened the past few years, I am a little behind on goals. I finally completed a New Year’s resolution that I had back in 2016. I have read the Bible in it’s entirety this year. It had been awhile since I have read the Bible completely.

Following the Our Daily Bread plan, I read a passage from the Old Testament and from the New Testament each day. Breaking it up into chunks with passages from both Old and New made it much more manageable, especially when going through books such as Numbers. Numbers basically consists of long lists of incomprehensible names. 

I have yet to meet a person whose favorite book of the Bible is Numbers. However, if your favorite book is Numbers, let me know. I would like to know why and to hear your viewpoint so that I can learn something. 

Reading through the Bible in its entirety again was calming yet challenging. We all have our favorite books to which we gravitate and return to again and again. Some books like Numbers were more challenging. 

For the record, I would say that Nehemiah is my favorite book of the Bible. Although, my favorite verses, that are my life verses and will be read at my funeral,  are 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 (NLT). 

In 2020, I am hoping to accomplish a goal that I had set for myself last year and did not yet achieve. Since buying the house and turning 40, I decided I need to be a responsible adult and plan my funeral. Well, I should at least have a Will. I now have a significant asset, so decisions should be made. Yes, I know it sounds morbid, but hear me out. 

First, I have no family. This means that when I die, my body and possessions would become a ward of the state. Since I spent about half of my childhood as a ward of the state, I have no desire for my dead body to become one as well. I know someone else who died with no family and saw what that looks like. It is the most undignified and disrespectful way to die. I am appalled at what happens to dead bodies that are wards of the state in New York State. 

Given that I have no family, there is no one to carry the burden to make arrangements and decisions when I am gone. There are no friends close enough that I would ask to bear the burden that should be carried by a spouse or child. If I pre-plan everything, then the only thing that would need to be asked of a friend would be final signing of paperwork to carry out my pre-planned wishes.

Second, I have discovered that a pre-planned and pre-paid funeral is exempt from both asset calculations and from all legal proceedings that may take something from you. As an example, if I end up in need of Medicaid in the future, a pre-planned and pre-paid funeral would not be considered an asset for Medicaid determination purposes. Also, when I die, all my assets would currently be seized by the federal government to be put towards my student loan debt. Nothing would be able to be sold or saved to put towards my funeral; it would all go to student loans. A pre-planned and pre-paid funeral would be exempt from seizure to satisfy my student loan debt.

This is in marked contrast to a life insurance policy. One of my friends suggested just getting a life insurance policy that would pay for everything. Well, a life insurance policy is considered an asset and would disqualify me from receiving Medicaid if I should need that in the future. A life insurance policy would also be seized to fulfill my student loan requirement in the event of my death, with none of the money going to my funeral or anything else. My house would be seized for student loans also.

You know, I keep saying student loans in America are a form of indentured servitude. Student loans are a rant for another day. Or, you can check out my slam poetry piece from #Occupy to jog your memory on student loans. I digress.

It is my goal in 2020 to pre-plan and pre-pay my funeral, so that when I die, I just need a person to sign off on all my arrangements. For example, I want to be cremated. You cannot sign the paperwork to be cremated until you have a dead body. If you are dead, you cannot sign for yourself, so someone will have to sign for me.

As gloom and doom as this may sound, the planning I have started has actually been quite fun and exciting. For some reason, I attended a few funerals in 2019, and while each was beautiful in its own way and befitting the deceased, none of them are what I want. 

In the words of Monty Python, I want “one mother of a blowout.”

I am planning a 2 hour celebration of life party. Instead of everyone singing church hymns and sitting through a service that may have meaning to me, but not to them, I am designing a play list. I have chosen 26.2 songs that have multiple meanings in my life. 26.2 is the length of a marathon. There are 26 songs, one by a different artist. The point 2 portion are my two favorite Christmas songs. 

It has been so much fun working on my funeral play list. I am going through songs and very carefully choosing ones that have had significant meaning for my life for decades. 

There is the play list of songs in the key of life, then there is the annotated play list. The annotated play list is basically the Celebration of Life program. In the annotation, I have 2-3 sentences that explain why the chosen song was so significant in my life. 

This way, people can listen to the play list and maybe learn things about me in death that they did not know in life. They can also listen to songs from the play list whenever they miss me and want to remember me after I’m gone (if there is anyone who misses me like that). 

Some people have asked what is the purpose in pre-planning one’s funeral ? You will be dead, who cares? For me, the purpose in pre-planning my own funeral is so that hopefully I can have in death what I never got in life.

And that there is another story entirely.

But I think even without giving you the back story, simply stating that I want to pre-plan my funeral so that I can have in death what I do not have in life to be impactful and meaningful enough. 

Given that I am now a home owner, creating a Will, doing legal paperwork and all of this pre-planning is the “responsible adult” thing to do. With my disability, I want to be sure that I put these provisions in place now while I am of sound mind and body. No one knows the course this disability takes. I have good days and bad days. I may be with it today, and completely gone tomorrow. I want to make my own choices while I have the ability to make them.

With 2020 coming, the year is going to be about life and the good death. On a less morbid note, I am in the process of planning my 2020 running season and am looking forward to my next race and to achieving medal #18 in 2020. Every step I run is a celebration of the beauty of life and makes me so grateful to be on the planet. Running = Life. 

 

Four Coffee Dates

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Whether you love or hate the 12 Days of Christmas song, most everyone knows it and will belt out “Five golden rings.” I like to think of the 12 days of Christmas in terms of Christmas vacation. Those are 12 days when I get a little bit of respite from some of the enormous amount of responsibility I shoulder.

When I was a student, I would try to cram as much leisure time into Christmas break as possible. It was the only time when I had the time to read a novel not associated with my degree field. I would schedule game nights, soirees with wine and food, coffee dates, movie dates, and would pretty much say yes to any party to which I was invited. Spending 20 years working 2 or 3 jobs while being a full time student on the Dean’s List left little time for socialization, so I lived Christmas break to the fullest. Even though I still had work and home obligations, at least I had a break from school.

We have had about a week and a half holiday break from my work, and it has been awesome. It is nice to be home and not have to worry about work. I have time to rest, time to read, run, and attempt some of the items on my to-do list. I just wish it would snow. Of course, when I have off from work the roads are bare. Mother Nature waits until work days to make the roads impassable, causing me to use all my vacation time on snow days.

However, with the nice weather, I have had the opportunity to connect in ways that I usually do not have energy for given my disability. I have been on two coffee/tea dates so far with two more scheduled. I am scheduling my coffee dates around my running schedule to reduce the amount of driving I am doing into town. I have had at least three days this week that have been completely home days and it has been awesome.

So while I may not be living it up with house parties, game nights, and nights out dancing like I was ten or more years ago, I am making meaningful connections. Coffee dates allow me to spend an hour with a person in meaningful conversation. Or, sometimes just silently enjoying someone else’s company while people watching out the coffee house window. 

As I get older, I am discovering that spending quality time with people is more important than the quantity of time you spend with them. I may be spending an hour with someone. That hour of quality time sustains me through three subsequent days alone with the cats. I have to admit, I am thoroughly looking forward to the time when I can finally retire completely (not just from my career as a student) and my time is my own. 

The most important part of Christmas is the gift of time, which you cannot buy in a store. I have been enjoying taking time to see people outside of work. I am looking forward to more positive, relaxed interactions. 

How are you spending time with people this holiday season? 

How to Escape the Neighbors

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The horses of the apocalypse thundered through the heavens as if millions were stampeding across the sky. It started as a low rumble that gradually grew to overtake you, steamrolling you until your body quivered with the force of their power.

Then, total silence.

No birds.

No rain.

Suddenly, a crack as if the Devil himself snapped a whip so sharp that lightning turned dark into day.

One drop.

Two drops.

A light pitter patter.

The heavens opened as if all the angels were wailing tears upon the earth. Rain so hard and so fast that flash flooding was instant. It went on for hours. A storm so passionate, it was as if you were fighting for your very soul.

Meanwhile, I’m laying in the backseat of the car wrapped in a fleece blanket waiting for a break in the storm so I can run out and pee. I’m wondering if the same storm is happening at home and if the cats are okay. Simon is terrified of thunder.

Through the haze and above the noise, pierces a heavily accented French voice “the weather for the rest of the day …”

The French was coming from the radio, as I was about 20 miles from the Canadian border.

It sounds like a weird dream, but this is, in fact, real life. It is one of the top 3 worst thunderstorms I have been through while on a camping trip over the past 20 years.

This past weekend, I had an ADK intermezzo. It’s been about 8 years since I have had an intermezzo. Hopefully, this will be followed at some point by the real mccoy, but that concept is highly doubtful this year.

While the goal is to create a life you don’t need to escape, I had not had a vacation in almost two years, and I was ready to slap someone. Typically my annual August/Labor Day camping trip has served as a sort of reset button for me – a refreshing change of perspective for 3 days that helps me to successfully power through another year. Since I am running a half marathon over Labor Day weekend this year, I decided to go camping over Memorial Day weekend so I could have a break.

I have successfully minimized and slowed my life down to the point where I was able to navigate the many challenges that have come into my life over the past 2 years without completely losing my mind. That is a definite win.

In the time span between my last vacation and this past weekend, I lived through these changes: my dream job decided to close the New York location, so I had to take a new job (one of the worst I’ve had with a $7,000 pay cut), Kitty passed away, we adopted Simon, I went through my housing crisis from hell and bought a house, and I have been having yet to be determined neurological issues.

I’m not sure how I’ve been able to make it this long and through all that still intact. I credit it to my minimalist lifestyle philosophy.

Still, there comes a breaking point for every person, and I have pretty much reached mine. This past weekend I had an Adirondack (ADK) Intermezzo, to put a pause button on life and to take a breather.

Thus, the tale that started this post of the epic thunderstorm on night one of my camping trip. I was reserved, paid for, and scheduled for a typical two night camping trip. I ended up coming home after one.

There was nothing wrong with the trip itself. Epic thunderstorm aside, I was having a great time, and felt immensely safe. Therein lies the problem.

Since I purchased my new house last fall and have moved in, I have to admit that I do not feel safe in my own house.

I moved from a rural, isolated apartment community comprised primarily of senior citizens. I was the longest tenant in the building. I knew all of my neighbors. No one was a problem. I felt safe there. I never had an issue with leaving the cats for a camping trip over a 3 day weekend. Someone always had a key to my apartment to check on the cats just in case. I would just go off in the woods with absolutely no problem.

With this camping trip, I was apprehensive to leave the cats. No one has my spare house key. All the people who were helping me will no longer visit me. The house is 7 miles father away from most of my friends than my apartment was, and I now “live too far away” for them. It was my first time leaving the cats alone in the house overnight.

I set them up with the automated cat feeder, so they would still be fed at their usual times while I was gone. I left 12 bowls of water. Both cat pans were clean.

I went camping and had a great time. Epic thunderstorm aside, I slept better camping that I sleep in the house.

That’s when it hit me.

I feel more safe sleeping in a tent outside in the middle of nowhere alone than I do inside my own house.

Then I panicked because my cats were alone in the unsafe house without me there to protect them. No one has a key if something goes wrong because either people are too far away to know something is wrong, or they straight up don’t care.

I could not in good conscious stay the second night knowing that I was in a completely safe situation and my cats were not. If something happened to them while I was gone, I would never forgive myself.

So I cut my trip short and came home a day early.

This sucks epic-ly, because I never fully got the chance to completely relax on my trip. I did not have enough time away.

I came home and the cats were fine. For the moment. Things were not fine yesterday when I was home and someone decided to break one of my rain gutters and remove the door to my crawl space.

I have a problem with the neighbors where my house is located. To be exact, I have a problem with the neighborhood children. I am not anti-child. I taught pre-school for over a decade. I like children in general. I just loathe the children in my neighborhood.

To make matters more complicated, I don’t know their names or what house they all belong to, but I’m sick of things being broken, my space being violated, and having them scare the shit out of me literally.

As scary as I made out the thunderstorm at the beginning of this post, the neighborhood children are more scary. They are creepy.

I came home from work last week and one of them was standing about 5 feet away from me staring at me as I put my key in the door to let myself in the house. He didn’t say anything. He just ran away when I looked at him.

The kids are constantly on my property without asking. They move things. They play on the fire pit after I yelled at them not to, they go in my garage. They hide just outside my house windows and stare at me or scare me when I am sitting on the couch reading a book.

Who does this? Who goes on someone’s property and does this?

Don’t tell me to close the curtains. It’s my property. People should not walk up to someone else’s house and stand in front of their window staring inside at them. It’s not right.

Who goes into someone else’s garage, their fire pit, moves things in their yard, and breaks pieces off their house intentionally because they think it is fun? It’s not just me.

There are older neighbors in their 70s on the one side of me. I have stood at my kitchen window and watched a group of these neighborhood children purposefully remove the lattice from the bottom of my older neighbor’s porch so that they can go under the porch to play. Then the 70-some year old gentleman will notice the lattice is removed and affix it. I watch this happen. He thinks it’s the wind, when it’s really the children destroying his property.

By the way, the average age range of these free roaming neighborhood children is kindergarten through second grade.

I would talk to the parents of the children if I knew which houses the children came from. I don’t know who to talk to. And what type of interaction will that be? Um, your child is destroying my property, can you please supervise them more closely? I’m sure I would piss people off.

Bottom line, I do not feel safe living in this house. I never know who is going to be staring at me through my own windows, I don’t know who is lurking around on my property, and I never know what I am going to find broken.

I feel chained to this house.

I’m not happy.

I can’t even take a two day camping trip anymore to relax because I don’t know what I am going to come home to or if the cats will be okay if I leave them alone with these fiends.

These children don’t talk to me. They don’t tell me their names. Never has anyone knocked on my door and asked if they could play in my yard.

If they knocked on the door, told me their names, and asked to play in the yard, I would probably say yes as long as they stay in the grass and not near the fire pit.

Some of these kids are out late. They don’t appear to have a curfew. When I was growing up, you came in when the street lights turn on. I have had moments when one of these kids was staring at me through my own window at 9:00 pm. It doesn’t seem to matter if it is a school night or a weekend.

I’m thankful that I was able to go camping for at least one night to escape this situation. I wish I had stayed for the full two nights. This has not felt like a vacation at all.

I don’t know how to deal with bad neighbors because I have never had bad neighbors. Even times when I was homeless and living on the streets, people were more respectful than this. Yes, there were times we were sleeping out in the open, but there is like an unspoken thing with homeless people that you respect people’s personal space when they have claimed a spot. Personal space was pretty much the only thing we had.

I have no idea how to deal with these neighbors and their evil, unruly children. All I know is that I do not feel safe in my own house.

Any suggestions?

 

This is the New Year

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Simon at Christmas 2018

Welcome, 2019! Every year, for the past three years, I have wished for a quiet year. And every year for the past three years, I have had challenging times with multiple tragedies that were anything but quiet. So I’m not going to wish for anything this year. I know better.

My favorite New Year’s tune is done by Death Cab 4 Cutie. I’m just going to follow their lead on this new year (listen to the lyrics, people).

What I am looking forward to the most this year is that my 40th birthday will be coming up in March. We all know that birthdays are my favorite holiday. Every time I get one, it’s like a giant middle finger to the world that I was able to survive another year of whatever life threw at me. Plus, anytime I turn an age with a zero at the end means I get to move up an age group in running. But my birthday is still a few months away …

Something new I will be starting this week is minimalism Mondays. My house is quite larger than my apartment, so I am going to take my time in going through each room, closet and drawer to be sure all I have is what I really need.

Not to mention, there were some items that the sellers left with the house for me. Some of those items have been quite useful – I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the wheelbarrow, the front window curtains and the entryway doormat. Then, there are some items that are so old that they are no longer useful and belong in a museum. Other items are so rusted that I am afraid to use them because tetanus is one of only two vaccines that I cannot have with multiple food and drug allergies.

So, next week I will be starting minimalism Mondays and going through one area of the house per month. My goal at the end of this exercise is to have a house that is easier to clean. If the house is easier to clean, then I have more time to spend doing the things I really want to do. I do not want to be chained to this house.

The other advantage to creating a minimalist interior, is that I can then focus my attention on the outside of the house. The exterior of the home has been the most challenging part of home ownership for me to handle. I am fine with cleaning a house, but dealing with lawn care, grass mowing, and snow is too hard on a body.

In addition to minimalism Mondays, I’m hoping to get back on some sort of schedule in 2019 so that I can do the things I really want to do. I’m going to run a half marathon this year. It will be my second race post-stroke. I need to go camping. 2018 was the first time in over 20 years that I did not get a vacation and get to go camping.

So, yes, I guess you could say that I am hoping 2019 will be a quiet year. But, shhhhh – I don’t really want to say that. I don’t think I can handle tragedy four years in a row right now. The goal for 2019 will be to slow down so that I can actually enjoy life instead of just trying to survive.

I’m hoping to make some changes in life on the professional front too that will extradite me from the bullying situation I am experiencing. Getting out of that mess is going to take some time. There is a lot more involved when you have to handle something like that on your own because the powers that be refuse to address it. So I do anticipate change in 2019. I highly doubt I will get the quiet year I’ve been wanting for awhile.

Most of all, I am entering 2019 grateful. I am so thankful that will all the tragedies I have experienced in the past few years that I am surrounded by some pretty amazing people that have been helping me. I would not be able to get by without a lot of help from many people.

A key aspect of slowing down my life and minimizing what is inside of my house around me is to give me more time to show the people in my life that I am grateful. I don’t want to be spending my time maintaining a home that is twice the size of my apartment. I want to maintain my home and spend my time with the people that matter. I want to be able to give back to them as much as they have given me. I would not have made it this far without all the amazing people in my life.

So minimalism Mondays will be starting next week, as I start going through the first room on the list for the month of January. I’ll let you know my progress. I’m focusing on the large indoor areas this winter. As soon as spring/summer arrive, I have a whole list of outside things that need to be done. There is no rest for the wicked. But, that’s another song.

Happy New Year 2019.