My Best Decade

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Today is my 40th birthday. Birthdays are my favorite holiday. They are proof I’m still here and survived another year of what life threw at me. 40 is great because I get to move up another age group in running. 40 is significant because I have now outlived my paternal grandmother, who passed away from a stroke at age 39. Each decade I’m alive keeps getting better, so here’s hoping that 40 is awesome.

Looking back on my 30s, they were pretty amazing. My 30s were definitely better than my 20s.

The three major challenges I had in my 30s were the heartache of Kip’s death, the heartache of Kitty’s death, and my stroke at age 37. There were other really bad things too, but these three were the worst.

With those notable exceptions, my 30s were (so far) my best decade.

In random, but somewhat chronological order, here are 10 things that made my 30s the best decade ever:

  1. I completed my bachelor’s degree.

It took 15 years to do so. In those 15 years, I did get an associate’s degree, live in at least 4 different states, battle homelessness, and work 3 jobs 60-70 hours per week, but I got it done. My bachelor’s degree was the only degree for which I was not valedictorian, and it was the only graduation ceremony I attended. Out of all my degrees, finishing my bachelor’s was definitely not only the most challenging, but also the most fun.

  1. I ran marathons.

More than one. I’ve ran in Philly, Boston, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Scranton, and a few other cities. Each one is precious. I ran a marathon down the longest street in the world (true story). I ran my first point-to-point (city-to-city) marathon. I represented Team USA internationally. I had the opportunity to run into an Olympic Stadium (not during an actual Olympics). I’ve gotten a high five at the finish line from the Mayor of a major American city.  I’ve had limo service to my pre-race dinner as a “visiting athlete.” My medals actually mean more than my degrees.

  1. I got to see my MLB team play on home turf.

Every baseball fan should have this experience at least once in their life. It doesn’t matter how old you are, it is completely magical to be at the stadium on game day, to watch the maintenance people prep the lawn, and then finally see your heroes take the field to play the best game on Earth. If you have not yet had this experience, it should definitely be on your bucket list. Pro sports tickets are extremely expensive, but try to save to go just once. It’s one of my favorite memories of all time.

  1. I got to see my MLB team win the World Series (on TV, not in person).

This is another experience that everyone should have at least once in their life. I’ve seen road wins and I’ve seen home wins. The home win is just something everyone should be able to experience once. No one should have to die without having seen their team win the World Series.

  1. I fell in love.

You hear this all the time. In my 20s, the remark was almost flippant. In my 30s, this phrase took on meaning. I don’t mean the lightning strike love-at-first-sight moment that is a complete whirlwind and then all of a sudden fizzles. I’m talking about the kind of love where you have known a person for decades through good and bad and are 100% supportive of that person, even when they are doing things that are not necessarily great. I’m not talking about being a door mat. I’m talking about actually being someone’s partner and having the ability to love a person so much that you are always there for them even if their life choices take them away from you. The kind of love that you know that is your person and there is no one else you click with like that, who knows you so well.

  1. I finished my Master’s degree.

If my bachelor’s degree seemed an impossibility, then grad school was a pipe dream. I actually think I was in the final year of my bachelor’s when I started asking people to explain grad school to me. No one in my family had ever even gone to college and the only people I knew with graduate degrees were my professors. It was like some hidden Holy Grail that I was finally able to unlock. I am now a Jill of all trades and master of ONE!

  1. I rode the unicorn into extinction.

By this I mean that I had that elusive experience of all adulthood – I had my dream job. I had a job I loved so much that it didn’t feel like work. I just showed up to do what I wanted to do – what I had spent 20 years of my life preparing to do – and happened to get paid to do that every day. I would have been so happy to do that every single day until I died or retired. How many people in this country have the privilege of being able to say “I love what I do” and actually mean it? Or should I say, how many people can actually say “I love what I do” and are getting paid to do it at a level that meets all their living expenses. All dreams must come to an end, and the company I worked for decided to pull out of New York State. So I rode the unicorn to the end of the rainbow not to find a pot of gold like I had expected, but just an empty void that I still have not figured out how to fill. Once you’ve had your dream job, nothing else will ever live up to that experience. Especially when the job you find to replace the dream doesn’t even respect you. Now, this is extinction.

  1. I bought a house.

If my masters degree was a pipe dream, well, I’ll tell you right now that buying a home was never on my radar. At all. I have never lived in a house. I have spent a chunk of my life being homeless. I never figured a “person like me” would even own a home. I never entertained the idea or even saved for one. Owning a home was a joke. My back-up plan for housing was – well, if things go bad, I’ll just move back to Massachusetts or buy a house, insert excessive laughter literally rolling on the floor laughing here. Buying a house is one of the scariest things I have ever done in life. So far, it’s also been one of the best choices I have ever made. I kept my family together and the cats are so much happier here than they were in the apartment. Funny, I never thought they were unhappy in the apartment, it’s just a contrast to see how well they are doing in the house.

  1. Anything less than 110% is … okay?

I spent almost 25 years of my life burning the candle at both ends. I slept 4 hours a day. I worked 3 jobs to make ends meet because really, who can survive on minimum wage? I worked 60-70 hours per week while going to school full-time working on my degrees. I excelled in school. Some call me an overachiever. So, when my stroke completely knocked me down a few years ago, it is quite a shock to only operate at abut 86%. Which, by the way, is considered my “level of functioning.” I am also considered “fully recovered.” Even though the doctors consider me fully functional, it is hard for me to accept that this is all I can do now. I’m used to doing so much more. What my stroke has taught me, is that it is okay to slow down. I can rest and still get things done. I’m pretty grateful to have learned this lesson now and be at 86% than to have just worked myself into the ground – it could have been worse. Listen to your body is the greatest lesson I have learned in my 30s.

  1. Family First

Family first has been carrying me through life since Kitty, as a 4-month old kitten, first climbed up onto my shoulders at the animal shelter and would not get down when I was 19. He picked me out. I took him home. We were together until he passed away from cancer just before his 19th birthday. Every major life choice I have made has centered around keeping my family together. Through everything that has happened with work, school, running, and health, at the end of the day, I come home to my furkids. They are always here, happy to see me with unconditional love. Family first is the tenant that will carry me into my 40s. As long as we are all together, everything is okay. My primary job is keeping us all together, loving my cats and being loved by them.

Of course, none of this would be possible without God. That’s the bottom line. God has done great things in my life through my 30s. I can’t wait to see what’s next for 40. Thanks for making my 30s my best decade so far.

My life verses:

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken. We are perplexed, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going. Through suffering, these bodies of ours constantly share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 (NLT)

Your favorite 1:37 story

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It all started Saturday night. I knew something was wrong when I woke up completely drenched in sweat. I just had a nightmare that I was pitching for the Yankees in the World Series. Pedroia was at bat for the Red Sox. He walked right up to me and snarled, “I’m making a line drive for your head, traitor.” Why was I pitching for the Yankees? I have nightmares about baseball every single time I have a fever. They typically involve the World Series.

That nightmare was warranted; my temperature was 102.7. If those numbers were a radio station, the call letters would be FLU, and the program completely sucks.

I’m home through Wednesday, at which point I am considered to be no longer contagious. In the meantime, I feel like I’m dying.

I’ve pretty much been sleeping since Sunday. I wake up every 3-4 hours. I’ve been awake about 3 hours in every 24. Today is a stretch – I have been awake almost 5 hours. I’m sure I’ll pay for it later.

Being home from work is not very fun. I woke up this afternoon and decided to turn the TV on. I was looking forward to some Price is Right on my TV set. Instead, there is no Price is Right. It’s Jerry Springer and a bunch of judge shows. Although I skipped my 20-year high school reunion this year, I was able to get caught up on everything today. I am pretty sure everyone on Jerry Springer is someone with whom I went to high school. I did not have to drive 2 hours to see the drama; I got it in a 30-second TV clip. I would much rather be at work.

Deciding that TV is a lost cause, I decided to pop in a Cheers DVD. It just so happens the first episode up is the one in which Coach and Sam accidentally leave Norm in the locked bar overnight. Right before leaving the bar, they had a discussion about the time – the 1:37 moment. Coach commented that although 1:37 used to be his favorite time, he is more of an 8:15 guy now.

I’d like to be an 8:15 gal now too. But right now, I’m a little all over the place. I never came back 100% from the allergic reaction I had last spring, so I am hoping that after the flu, I can come back okay. This is totally not the best time for me to be sick right now. I am definitely not a 1:37 girl. Unless that’s 1:37 pm.

What’s your favorite 1:37 story?

 

 

Mayberry, baseball, birds, & Grub

So, I’ve had an exciting week. After realizing last week that I was way overscheduled and overstressed at work, I made a conscious effort to slow down my schedule this week. When I have an abnormal reaction to a normal situation, I know that its time for an adult time out.

My time out started on my day off Sunday, when the weather finally cooperated enough for me to go to baseball. After an almost solid two weeks of rain outs, it was nice to see the sun and support the local team. While there is a minor league team about an hour south of me, I took in a college game about 4 miles down the road, and I had a better time there than I did my last time at a minor league game. The kids are talented, it was great ball, and the atmosphere couldn’t be beat.

On Monday, I headed up to Lake Ontario hoping for some surfing. The waves were okay to kind of glide on, but not good surf like we had last year. Still, I enjoyed the water for most of the day, at least 6 hours. I also got pulled into a football game and some Frisbee.

The only snafu came around lunch time, when the scene was reminiscent of Hitchcock’s The Birds. I eat on the beach all the time, and the seagulls typically land around hoping for scraps. I had never seen them be aggressive as they were this past Monday.

If my lunch break was a newscast, the headline would have read, “Asshole Seagull Steals Hummus Pita.” I kid you not, these birds were not just hanging out begging for food per the usual seagull experience. I actually had one swoop down and steal hummus pita out of my hand. It was so cleverly orchestrated, it made Ocean’s Eleven look like child’s play. Luckily, my apples, raisins, pickles, and everything else was safe. The taking of hummus pita was conducted with stealth swat-like precision.

While I work nights, and very much prefer working nights, I am actually home three evenings this week. While unusual, it is a welcome change every once in awhile.

My favorite classic TV channel that I get on bunny ears has ramped up showings of Mayberry in the nighttime line up. That means I have three nights this week that I am home to see both Mayberry and Happy Days.

If I could slow down my life to a state of perfection resembling a sitcom, I would love to live in the world of Mayberry. Baseball, surfing, and Mayberry are the things summer nights (and days) are made for.

Finally, I went out to dinner tonight for the first time since being diagnosed with my autoimmune disorder. Eating out with 4 food allergies and an autoimmune disorder is nearly impossible. Anytime I eat prepared food, I run a risk of cross-contamination, if not an all-out reaction.

I had passed by this new restaurant for a few weeks now, that advertises as paleo (whatever that is), vegan, and allergy friendly, so I decided to stop. I usually pick vegan items because it knocks out half of my food allergies, so I only have to check for the other two.

To my delight, not only was the menu easy to navigate with a surprising abundance of options given my allergies, but the staff was able to handle my warning label without batting a eye.

Normally when I want to eat out in a restaurant, it becomes this huge production. As soon as staff find out I have food allergies, the manager gets called over, numerous servers and cooks start running around; its chaos. I appreciate the extra effort in taking precautions that I don’t die, but it just makes eating out embarrassing, so I rarely do so.

The staff at Grubs tonight wrote them all down, nodded like they get this all the time (which maybe they do, because they are the ONLY restaurant I have EVER seen that advertises as allergy friendly), and delivered my food, only noting one substitution due to my allergies. Said substitution was presented in the nicest manner: We know you couldn’t have X, so we gave you some of our homemade Y. It was delicious.

My meal was even prepared in a designated “top 8 free” cooking area, so I am pretty sure this was my first experience eating out having a significantly reduced risk of cross-contamination. If only every restaurant could handle food allergies this way.

While my journey in rewinding real slow has primarily been about minimalism, reducing possessions, and focusing on life priorities, it is also important to remember to slow down our time.

Spend time doing what we truly love to reduce stress levels, ensure happiness, and be more productive in our daily lives and at work. I’m sure I have been much more pleasant to work with this week than I was last week now that I have made a conscious effort to slow down. I don’t know about you, but I do better at work when I make the effort to take care of myself.

How can you take care of yourself this week? What does your version of Mayberry look like?

Radio requests, vegan ice cream, & rainy Sundays

It’s as American as baseball and apple pie. When its wicked hot out, it’s such a treat to be able to go out to the local ice cream shop and order a cone from the window. The challenge is eating it before the gooey goodness melts its way down into your fingers leaving you sticky until you can find a sink or a wet-nap.

I have not been out for ice cream in a very long time. I have 4 food allergies, all of them adult onset. Having a dairy allergy officially makes the quintessential summer treat off-limits.

That is, until I heard about a small local stand that makes vegan diary-free ice cream from coconut milk by hand. I couldn’t believe my ears, so of course, I had to check it out.

I waited in line and made it to the counter, showing my warning label to the clerk stating my dairy & nut allergies, commenting (hopefully) that I heard they had vegan ice cream?

The creme brulee (above) was not only dairy free, but also amazing. I’m sure this small ice cream stand has never seen a happier customer. Being able to partake in this summer American treat completely made my month, and its only the first week of June.

Combine my ice cream treat with the fact that I called in a radio request to have my favorite band played on air for what seems like the first time since the 80s, and this is shaping up to be a spectacular summer weekend.

The only thing that could make it better would be baseball and surfing. The baseball game I was going to attend was rained out today, and I know better than to go surfing in a lightning storm.

This weekend is just a taste of the pleasures I now experience since making conscious efforts to slow my life down and prioritize what is truly important to me.

I’m hunkered down in thunderstorms with good tunes, good reading, and the people who matter most to me. Tomorrow, when the storms clear, I am looking forward to my first long run of the 2016 marathon training season.

If this is what life is like in retirement, then its looking pretty good.

Welcome, summer.

What are you looking forward to in the coming weeks?

Bottom of the Seventh

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Above photo: watching the 2013 World Series with Kitty

For some baseball fields, it’s the 7th inning stretch. At my baseball field, the bottom of the 7th is when we actively rally behind the team to turn it around if it is a game in which we are behind. As a lifetime fan of perhaps one of the most controversial teams in baseball, I can tell you that the bottom of the 7th has taught me a lot about patience, perseverance, faith, and how to stand strong in the face of adversity.

The past few weeks have been extremely challenging for me. In addition to my autoimmune disorder, my work schedule has quite literally blown up in my face in epic proportions, and we have also learned this week that the most important person in my life has cancer. This is one of those moments in which it is the bottom of the 7th in my life.

When it is the bottom of the 7th, you know the end is near. You know the outcome will probably not be good, but if by chance, it is good, then not only will it be good, but also it will be great. When you are trailing at the bottom of the 7th, you are either going to fizzle out like a dud or pull something off with a bigger bang than the inception of the universe. Either way, it’s time to rally. No team just walks off the field at the bottom of the 7th just because they are trailing. No sir. There is still time to write your own ending.

The bottom of the 7th has taught me to have faith in what may come. Just at that moment when you think all is lost, all of a sudden, there will be bases loaded and someone hits a homer to bring everyone in. Just because the game has been lackluster to this point does not mean that it’s not about to turn around. You prepare yourself for the worst, yet hope for the best.

One of my favorite quotes is from Satchel Paige: “Just take the ball and throw it where you want to. Throw strikes. Home plate don’t move.” At the end of the day, the only person you have to answer to is yourself. Knowing that you have done your very best is all you can do sometimes. When you are at the bottom of the 7th and under pressure, this is the time to be sure that you are using all of your coping skills and doing adequate self-care to face all the challenges ahead.

I’m not sure how I am going to react when I lose the one who has been the only constant in my life for almost 18 years. I am preparing for the worst. I’ve been through some major crap in life, but I already know that when this death occurs, it is going to be the lowest and worst point of my entire life. I am at the bottom of the 7th; I already know how the game is going to end. It’s time to just start throwing strikes because home plate don’t move.

I am very fortunate in that at least I know I am in the bottom of the 7th. It’s not like some Mario game, where all of a sudden, the guy goes belly-up and falls off the screen, and it says, “Game over.” I know what is coming so I have time to prepare. This is not the first time I have watched someone I love die from cancer, and I am sure it will not be the last. However, this is the one who has been with me the longest in life, even longer than either of my parents, and I feel like my heart is being ripped out of my body.

There have been many times in my life that I have been at the bottom of the 7th, and I have been able to rally every time. This is the only time I have ever been at the bottom of the 7th and I honestly don’t know how I am going to be when I come out the other side. I just know I have to be strong while this person is alive to take care of them. It’s not about me. It’s about the ones we love and spending time together and being able to show love. It’s about being able to enjoy the time we have left because life is so short.

I am very fortunate in that I am finally done with school after spending 20 years in college so that I finally have leisure time to be able to attend to what’s important. Spending time with those I love is the most important thing in life, and when I was in school, every single relationship in my life suffered.

I am thankful that for the first time in my life, I only have one job. This month marks the one year anniversary of my only having one job instead of two or three. It is so amazing to only have to work one job 40 hours a week instead of running around everywhere working 60-70 hours a week. I’m not sure if I’m getting old, or just plain tired after 20 years of working multiple jobs, but it feels so good to only have one job.

Being done with school and only having one job are things I try to be thankful for as I face the most challenging bottom of the 7th inning in my entire life. If I am about to experience the worst thing ever, than at least I am coming at it from a foundation of being at the best place in my life.

The bottom of the 7th reminds us to look forward and re-evaluate priorities. When the game is all done, you want to know that you gave it your all and did your very best. Are you giving your very best? How do you rally from the bottom of the 7th?