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.

 

Home is Where the Cats Are

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Jude in the new house Christmas 2018

Many people get upset and emotional when they move from a place where they lived for a long time. It’s understandable. There was a lot of living done and may memories created when we stay in one place for a long time.

You would think that I would have had an emotional reaction when I moved out of the apartment I had lived in for 14 years. It was the longest I had ever lived in one place and the only place I lived that ever truly felt like home.

The second day I was in the house, I had a single moment of meltdown. I remember sitting on the bed in the new house, tired, dirty, drained, and stressed, crying because I wanted to go home and didn’t know where that was. Ten minutes later the moment passed, and I continued with unpacking boxes and getting settled into the house. That was the only “moment” I’ve had.

When some people move to a new location after living someplace for a long time, they will have a moment of confusion when driving and accidentally drive towards the “old house” before realizing that they have to take a new way home now. I’ve heard of this happening, but have never experienced it myself. From day one of when I moved, it was pretty clear to me where I was supposed to be.

I always return to where ever my cats are. I knew exactly where my cats were, so that’s where I go, no question. Home is where the cats are.

Within two hours of closing on my house, I moved the cats. The cats moved first before anything else.

I know that when moving with pets, this is counter intuitive. You are not supposed to move the pets first. You are supposed to move them last so that they do not get lost. In my case, I had to move them first before I even gave notice to the landlord that I was leaving. I had to be sure that the cats were safe and stably housed, since they were part of the “problem” for a landlord who was going pet-free.

Once the cats were in the house, this is just where I return. Every day. Every time I go out.

I think this is part of why I am NOT emotional over the whole move. Other than my one “moment,” which I think was mostly exhaustion and frustration from the move (who wouldn’t be exhausted and frustrated when moving?), I haven’t had any other break downs over the move.

I moved and did not look back. Yes, the situation was unfortunate. I am mostly mad at the circumstances of the move – that it was a forced move and not something of my own volition. However, the goal in that hellish situation was always to keep my family together. By purchasing a home, I have been able to keep the three of us together. That’s all that really matters.

People ask me if I like the house. I like it well enough. It is taking some time to get used to. It does not feel like “home” yet. That will come in time. I hate the stairs – I never wanted a two story house. I love my kitchen. It’s my favorite kitchen I’ve ever had anyplace I have lived or ever seen anywhere.

What is most important, is that the cats are happy here. They each have their favorite window for optimal bird viewing. I am so happy there are birds here for them to watch, as that was one of their favorite activities in the apartment. They seem to be happy. They both cuddle with me.

Jude has been spending a lot of time rolling around and on his back. He did that a little bit in the apartment, especially when I first adopted him. Jude likes to roll. However, I noticed on Christmas that he was so happy over one of his presents that he laid on his back with all his legs in the air. I’ve seen him do that a few times in the new house. He never did that in the apartment. I’m thinking he must like the new house if he is that comfortable here to expose himself like that.

Over the past 4 months we have been in the house, Jude spends less and less time hiding in the kitchen cupboard. In fact, the only time I see him go in there now is when someone comes to visit. Sometimes, he doesn’t even go in the cupboard, he finds other places to hide. The fact that Jude is so comfortable in the house that he no longer hides in the cupboard on a regular basis speaks volumes.

Simon is happy every place. This is the cat that even purrs at the vet office when getting his rabies vaccine. Nothing seems to phase Simon. Except thunderstorms. We discovered this summer that Simon is terrified of thunderstorms.

We are still getting settled into the house. We are getting into new routines and moving things around. We are all together, and that is what is most important.

I literally could have lived anywhere. Given the situation when the new landlord took over the apartment building last spring, I was fully prepared to be homeless again and was trying to figure out how to live in my car or an RV or someplace with both cats. I’m really glad that it did not come to that, but I was literally prepared to live anywhere with them. We are a family and we have to stay together.

So while it doesn’t really matter where we live as long as we are all together, this house is by far the nicest place we have ever lived. It’s home because this is where my cats are located. I come home to them every night.

As long as Jude and Simon like the house, then I’m happy.

Home is where the cats are.

Home for the Holidays

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“We should count all our blessings at Christmas.” – Frank Sinatra

Every year, people around me seem bothered by the fact that I stay home for Christmas. I don’t understand why. I stay home with my family. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about – family?

This year was one of the most challenging years of my life. On top of an ongoing and escalating bullying situation, I had a major threat to the only stable housing I have ever had in my life.

This Christmas, I am thankful that my family is together. If we had not been able to buy this house, we would not have had a place to live. I’m thankful that for the first time in my life and theirs that we truly have permanent housing. Now we just have to keep it (which the bullying situation makes challenging, but I digress).

Recently, someone criticized me that I wouldn’t “let go of” or “move on from” what the new apartment landlord did to me that precipitated the buying of the house. When someone comes in, doubles your rent with 2 weeks notice, threatens to evict you if you don’t give your children up for adoption, calls you every single week for 3 months wanting to know how you’re going to pay rent (and suggesting you ask your boss for a $8,000 raise to cover the rent increase), and tampers with your drinking water, it’s kind of hard to let go of.

I’m sure that eventually I will get to the point of forgiveness over this situation. It was suggested that I over reacted and was “emotional”. Well, I’ve been homeless before, and when you’re housing and family are attacked like that, it’s a little hard to not get upset. I have moved on from from this situation. I have now been thrown into a whole new crisis – that of reluctant homeowner. I never wanted to buy a house, but that was the only solution to keep my family together.

So this Christmas, I am counting my blessings, and this house is the biggest one. Even though I am a reluctant homeowner, this house is what is keeping my family together. I may not like the responsibility, but this is the price I pay so that we can all stay together and not be homeless.

Keeping my family together is priceless and the best Christmas present I’ve ever received.

For the first time ever, I can truly say that we are Home for the Holidays.

In 2019, I will be looking for a way to extradite myself from an ongoing and escalating bullying situation I am experiencing. Hopefully, I will be able to do it in a way that offers me some stability.

One of the scariest parts about being a homeowner, is that now I am stuck here. There is no option to move someplace else for a job or healthcare or some other opportunity. I’m stuck with what is here and dealing with this economically depressed area of Upstate New York.

Being “stuck” is not completely bad. “My house is always parked in the same place.” Each year at Christmas, when I watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, most of the movie makes me laugh. There is one part that always makes me cry.

The part where the little girl is saying how happy she is to stay in their home instead of the motorhome because their “house is always parked in the same place” makes me cry. I remember growing up like that. We spent a good three years (including New York winters) living in a motorhome when I was growing up.

When I moved into the house I bought, it was the first time in my life I have ever lived in a house. I’ve always lived in either a motorhome, a car, a trailer, or an apartment. It’s the best feeling in the world to know that your house is always parked in the same place.

So while there may be problems around me, at least I know where home is now. Hanging onto our home is the challenge I face daily. But as long as my family is all together, it is a challenge I can keep facing until we are able to find stability in all aspects of our life. We will face one crisis at a time. At least we are able to face them together.

This house is my biggest blessing this year, and I am very much looking forward to staying home with my family for Christmas this year. We are finally Home for the Holidays.

15 years and 6 hours

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Christmas lights at the library

Even though I try really hard to be a minimalist and only have what I absolutely need, it still took me 6 hours to move into my house. It was overwhelming. Granted, I had lived in the same location for 14 years, so it basically took me one day to move 14 years worth of stuff. I suppose that’s good. It was still overwhelming.

I had the thought that the next time I move, it better not take 6 hours. It better be closer to 2-3 hours. However, I won’t be moving again. I bought a house. I’ll be dying here.

I suppose that is why so many homeowners have so much stuff. It’s that feeling of comfort that this place is your’s, so why not store something? There is no need to get rid of things if you have a place to put it. Then, we wonder why we are surrounded by so much stuff.

The point is, even if you do own your own home, when you die, you can’t take it with you. Some relative is going to be left with the chore of going through all the stuff stored in your house that you didn’t want to deal with when you were alive. Newsflash: your relatives won’t want to deal with it when you’re dead either.

So even in my house, I’m still striving to be a minimalist so that I am not leaving a heap of crap when I die. I also do not want to be wasting my time cleaning or keeping house.

Someone tried to give me a lamp a few months ago. I took one look at it and thought “no way in hell do I want to have to clean that.” My mouth said “no thank you.” In reality, do I need a lamp? Nope. I have enough interior lighting.

Having less stuff means less to clean when you’re alive and less to get rid of when you die. I like both of those ideas.

Christmas vacation will be coming up, and I will be continuing my decluttering process. Now that I am in permanent housing – my own home – what do I really need? Not to mention that I have more built-in storage space. I can probably get rid of an entire bookcase simply by putting the items into some of the house’s existing space. It’s my space to be used. It’s not like I need the bookcase for some future dwelling when this is the last stop.

One of the positives about being a minimalist is that it is not all about what you are removing from life. It is about removing things from life to focus on other things. In fact, you can even upgrade things.

Here’s an example. About 5 years ago, I bought a set of dishes from the second hand store. I’m pretty sure I paid about $5 for a set of 4 bowls and 4 plates. I’m one person. That’s all I need. I love the dishware, but many of the bowls now have chips in them. I can’t really complain about $5 dishware. I’m sure that prior to my use, they probably served someone else quite well for a decade with no chips. But, now my bowls are chipped. I noticed it when I cut a finger on one.

One of the benefits of minimalism is that since I am not up to my eyeballs in debt (I don’t do hardly any shopping), I can spend money on quality dishware. Five years ago I spent $5 on dishware because I only had $5. All my money was going to this credit card bill or that bill or whatever.

Now, I have no debt as a minimalist, so I can go wild and pay $5 a plate if I want. And then some.

I decided to try Fiestaware. I bought one plate and one bowl. If I like them, then I will order more so I have a set of 4 bowls and 4 plates. However, Fiesta is expensive, so I am ordering pieces gradually. I view this purchase as an investment in my future. I have permanent housing. I need permanent dishware that’s not cracked and cutting me. I figure I should be able to get a good 15 years at least out of the Fiestaware. I’ve heard some people have pieces from 30-50 years ago.

I never in my life thought I would be paying $15 for a lunch plate. But estimating that it will last me 15 years makes it worth it. The fact that minimalism has realigned my priorities means that when I do have to replace something, I can afford higher quality items that will last longer.

I’m expecting to live in this house until I die. Hopefully the Fiestaware will be the last set of dishes I buy too.

My single Fiesta bowl and single Fiesta plate just arrived today. We will see how I like them before I order more. Of course, if everything works out, I’ll be ordering more bowls before I order more plates since it is my current bowls with chips that are causing troubles.

When deciding on dishware, I decided to avoid the second hand store this time. I love the second hand store, but I do not want to buy another set of dishes that will only last me 5 years. I want dishware that will last me 15 years.

I had narrowed down my choices to either Corelle or Fiestaware. I currently have a few Corelle bowls. In the house, there are water dishes for the cats both upstairs and downstairs. I had to buy more bowls to put water dishes upstairs and it just so happens that they are Corelle. I like Corelle. However, the idea of being able to mix and match colors with Fiestaware was very appealing.

We will see whether I ultimately decide to go with Corelle or Fiesta once I have had the opportunity to use the Fiesta. Corelle is more affordable, but Fiesta feels more substantial and oh, those colors.

Given that I am buying new dishes, you would think I’m not really concerned about the whole having to move in 6 hours thing. This is partially true. I like to think that when I die, whoever goes through my house would be happy with 4 Fiesta bowls and 4 Fiesta plates. Let’s keep it real.

I would like to get rid of things so that it would take less than 6 hours to move, but I still need stuff to use to survive. Plus, I’m not moving again. Hopefully whoever has to clean out my house after I die will be able to do it in less than 6 hours. At least they’ll have some fancy dishware to show for it.

Happy Veterans Day

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Happy Veteran’s Day. This is the phrase I was attempting to say two years ago today. I’m not sure exactly how it came out, but that was the day I landed in the hospital with stroke symptoms. Today is my 2 year anniversary of the day that changed my life. Nothing has been the same since. I’ve had to slow down whether I like it or not. And, I don’t, by the way. I don’t like it – the slowing down or all the changes.

To celebrate the 2 year anniversary of my stroke, I participated in communion at church today for the first time in my life. Today was the first time that communion has ever been accessible for me since the onslaught of the multiple food allergies in my mid-20s. The most difficult allergen to avoid in this situation, is egg. Have you ever tried to find gluten free bread that is also egg free, dairy free and completely nut free? Let me know, because I don’t think it exists on a widespread commercial basis.

Someone at church went out of their way to find a local bakery in town who was willing to take on, tackle and accommodate all 5 of my food allergies. It was achieved successfully. I can’t tell you what it meant to be able to participate in communion with everyone else today and not be left out. It’s one of the few times when I have actually felt like God loves me. Someone actually baked something that didn’t kill me. There’s a first time for everything.

This is significant because I’ve been struggling lately. Ever since I bought my house, I’ve been experiencing negativity from the community. Pretty much, I’m being kicked while I’m down. I’m still down, by the way. But at least I’m not being kicked any more.

There are some people in this community who are not pleasant to me due to one of my “identities.” It happened again today. I try to blow it off and balance it with all of the people who are going out of their way to make me feel welcome. I figure there is no point in trying to make anyone else happy. I’m just going to be myself and people can either take it or leave it. I think that’s a pretty good attitude even if it doesn’t make the hurt any less.

Even though my life feels like a free floating shit show with no anchor right now, I am thankful and grateful for so many things. I just need some time to get my feet back under me.

I still have challenges post-stroke, but am considered “fully functional.” I am thankful that I am healthy, working, providing, and running. Running is definitely the greatest gift I have ever received in life. My goal for 2018 this year is to exceed the number of miles I ran in 2017. That would be an improvement.

I’m happy that two years after 11/11/16, I can say “Happy Veterans Day,” and it actually comes out sounding like “Happy Veterans Day.” I’m not in the hospital connected to tubes and machines being rushed into a machine that takes photos of my brain.

Happy Veterans Day. Thank you for your service that allows us to be free.