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)

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.

 

Another Ride Around The Sun

My 38th birthday is approaching this week. One of my favorite phrases is that “a birthday is the start of another 365 day journey around the sun. Enjoy the ride!” After everything that happened at age 37, I am very much looking forward to this birthday and getting another year.

I love birthdays more than any other holiday, because 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. Life threw me some doozies this past year.

I am not normally one for resolutions, but I do usually have goals. My three goals for 2017 are:

To resume my normal running schedule (completely shot to hell by health problems)
To plank every day
To read the entire Bible (again) this year

So far, I am on track for 2 of the 3. I have planked every day since January 1, with the exception of 1 day. So, given that this is now March, the fact that I have missed only 1 day of the past 2-3 months is impressive to me. I had the goal of planking every day back in 2016. I wasn’t even close last year.

I have this reading schedule that is helping me break up the Bible into manageable portions. Have you ever read the Bible? I’ve actually read it many times, but not in the past decade or so. Getting through some of those Old Testament books like Numbers can be really hard. I found a great schedule that breaks it down into manageable daily chunks. It fits well into my morning routine and helps me to ease calmly into my day.

My running schedule is something else. I had medical clearance to run back in January and was successful for a few weeks. I have been sidelined by debilitating fatigue the past few weeks. The health concerns that have been dragging me down since the fall have been a huge curve ball in my life. I am hoping that with my birthday this week and (hopefully) warmer weather that I can put the priority back on my running schedule. I think part of the reason why I feel like I want to curl up and die sometimes is that my health problems have made it impossible for me to run for about 6 months now.

I have a half marathon on my calendar this September and am looking forward to spending the next 6 months preparing for my race. I have the motivation and the mindset; if only my body would cooperate.

Note to self: 38 is the year we need to get it together again.

Years ago, I had read a British study on happiness that said that the happiest age was typically age 33 and the most miserable age was typically 37. I agree with that wholeheartedly. I still say that age 33 was the best year of my life. This was closely followed by age 36 as being a great year. The two worst years of my life have been ages 34 and 37.

That’s a lot of up and down for one decade. Although my 30s have been way better than my 20s, I did not expect things to be so tumultuous. I’m not sure what the predictions are for your 40s, but at this point, I’m hoping that age 38 is just a nice, evenly keeled year that allows me to get back on track and meet all my goals.

I honestly can’t complain too much. I am getting this huge gift this week of being blessed with another year of life in which to ride around the sun. It truly is a wonderful life. I have friends and people who love me, the best job of my life, and my retirement is going great. All I need is my health to cooperate and get with the program. Once that is in place, I would have to say that life is pretty great.

After being in the hospital last fall, I feel that I am truly lucky to be alive and looking forward to another birthday.

So here’s to another ride around the sun. I’ve been able to survive another year of what life threw at me.

Happy 18th Birthday, Kitty

Kitty has been with me longer than any human being, including my parents. In 18 years, the longest amount of time we have ever been separated is a time span of 3 nights.

I’m not sure how much longer we have together. It’s hard watching his decline. Although his health is currently stable on medication, I will honestly be surprised if he makes it to 19. It’s possible this is his last birthday.

Kitty has literally been by my side through everything, even when no one else was. When we didn’t have anyplace to live and were living in the car, Kitty always kept a look out & would alert me to anything weird going on while I was sleeping.

When they were little both Kitty and Kip (deceased a few years ago) would go camping with me. They are leash trained, and were perfectly fine outside at the campsite and walking the trail.

I was thinking that if Kitty had been with me on that camping trip from hell, that he would have protected me. Kitty has spunk. He will walk right up to a dog and start a fight. Then, I think, Kitty 10 or 15 or maybe even 5 years ago would have done that. But Kitty today is so old and frail that although his fighting spirit is still alive and well, there is absolutely nothing he could do physically to intimidate or protect like he used to do.

Kitty snuggles my head as we sleep each night. The past few months have been hard. As his health has declined, he has not been able to control his hind nails like he used to, and his back claws are almost always out. I notice it because now when he snuggles me, I’m constantly getting scratched. I guess I took for granted for 17 years that when he slept with me, he kept his hind claws retracted out of courtesy.

He has a hard time getting comfortable. I notice this in the way he plops himself down now. He has to lay on a side and cannot just lay straight on, which I’m sure is due to the tumor in his intestines.

It’s hard watching my best friend go downhill. I don’t know what I’m going to do without him, but I don’t want him to hang on just for me.

We had the discussion a few weeks ago, in which I told him that if he needs to go (pass a way), I understand. He’s given me the very best of himself his entire life, and he deserves to rest free from pain.

But, he’s a fighter. Kitty is still fighting. I can tell he’s not ready to go yet. As long, as he’s not in pain, that’s okay. I know I’m going to lose it when the time comes.

Kitty and I grew up together. He picked me out at the animal shelter when he was 4 months old. We’ve been together for half of my life, and pretty much all of his.

Losing Kitty is going to be harder on me than losing anyone else in my life.

But for today, he is stable. He looks happy, and he is definitely still showing that fighting spirit that says, “I’m here. I love you, and I’m not going anywhere.”

Happy 18th Birthday to my son, my best friend, the one who grew up with me, who taught me to adult, and through it all, made me a better person. I wouldn’t be who I am without you in my life.

I love you, Kitty. It’s wishful thinking, but here’s hoping for a few more birthdays.

My (Super) Hero

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Birthday flowers above.

This weekend, I totally splurged in honor of my birthday and did something epic three days in a row. It kind of helped that the weather finally warmed up. I have counted less than 20 days since October 24, 2015 that I woke up and did NOT find snow on the ground, so the fact that we have been snow-less for almost a week now has really brightened my mood.

Perhaps the best thing I did over the past three days was to take myself to the movies to see Deadpool.

I have a new favorite super hero.

Daylight savings time this week has totally screwed with me, so I admit to being more sleepy and confused than normal; it took me awhile to realize the satire in the opening credits of the film (I won’t spoil it by giving you particulars). Not to mention, my autoimmune disorder that completely wrecks havoc with my sleep schedule has made it so that I am now awake at 4 am every day. I suppose this is an improvement from being awake from 2 am to 6 am, but still. If I’m awake at 4 am, I better be running a marathon, and in the case of the past week, I have been awake at 4 for health reasons having nothing to do with running.

In fact, my current sleep deprived and grumpy disposition is one of the reasons why I am singing the praises of the movie Deadpool like a hysterical teenager who has had too much Mountain Dew and Pop Rocks.

This flick mirrors my life and it does so in the most hilarious way.

I often try to make light of or joke about things because I am a big proponent of laughing and not crying. Sure, there are times to be serious. I am not a complete jerk. But we have to realize that sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself. Do not take life too seriously. No one gets out alive. Sometimes you need to laugh so that you do not cry. Laughing reminds us we are alive. It helps spread hope.

I am a Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor, and now I have multiple food allergies, multiple medication allergies, and an autoimmune disorder. This is all adult-onset. When I first went into anaphylactic shock in my mid-20s, no one had any idea to what I was having a reaction, as I had no known allergies. I was not one of those kids who grew up with a food allergy. In the 80s? Food allergy? What’s that?

To make the situation even better, my allergies are so severe that I react by touch. A few years ago, when I was teaching pre-school, one of the students spilled their milk on me. Not only did I go into anaphylactic shock, but also I had multiple organs that started to fail and quite literally almost died. They may say, “don’t cry over spilled milk,” and in general, I would agree. I do not cry over spilled milk. I writhe in pain over it.

So the basic plot for Deadpool hit really close to home for me. Here is a man dying of cancer, and the cure leaves him with this awesome mutation that gives him all these super powers, but also results in this really horrible skin condition. He beats cancer (check), gets a skin condition (check), and has super powers in the form of healing (the reverse of my autoimmune disorder, but close enough, so check).

Deadpool spends most of the movie searching for Francis to “cure” him of the superpowers and skin condition much in the way I visit various specialists such as immunologists and dieticians to try to deal with my food allergies and autoimmune disorder. I have got to admit, that Deadpool does all this with a lot more style than I do. No wonder he has his own movie and I don’t.

I have a new favorite (super) hero. I wanna be, I wanna be, I wanna be like Deadpool.

This man’s sense of humor is incredible. If there was ever a person who can laugh over something instead of cry over it, then Deadpool is IT. In the super hero universe, Deadpool is refreshing. Each super hero has their own hard luck story that they have overcome to be this incredible person. Superman’s planet blows up, Batman’s parents get killed, and Spiderman gets bit by this freaky-ass spider, Deadpool gets cancer. Superman is mysterious, Batman is broody, and Spiderman is a little ADHD for me. Deadpool is a breath of fresh air.

The man tells it like it is. When you have some major disease or chronic disorder, people whisper about it. It is not “appropriate” to talk about. Deadpool has no filters. The movie had me in stitches the entire time so much so that I completely forgot I have an autoimmune disorder making my life hell for the 2 hours I was in the theatre. That is no small feat. Like the movie, my autoimmune disorder involves a skin disorder also, so I see my disease every day. Until I am healed and done with this episode I am having, it is continuously in my face, for me, and the rest of the world, to see.

I enjoyed this movie so much that I want to see it again. For the record, there has only been one movie in my lifetime that I have actually paid to see twice in the movie theatre. That movie was the Beatles musical Across The Universe. If Deadpool is still around on my next day off, then this flick could be the second film I pay to see twice in a theatre. We will see how much longer it plays.

I have a new (super) hero.

 

Enjoy the Ride

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One of my favorite well wishes is the reflection that a birthday is the start of another 365-day journey around the sun. Enjoy the ride! Birthdays are my favorite holiday. Not only are they a celebration of life, but also recognition of those people who are important in our lives. I always say that every time I get a birthday, it is like a giant middle finger to the world that I was able to survive another year of whatever life threw at me.

My birthday is coming up soon, so it is that time of reflection upon the prior year and also goals and wishes for the year forthcoming. My wish for 36 was for a quiet year. Ages 34 and 35 were quite tumultuous with negative life changes and health crises. I had wanted 36 to be quiet after all the excitement. I got my wish. Not only was age 36 a quiet year, but also it was quiet with a sweet sort of joy I have never before experienced.

In my early 30s, I had read an article quoting an English study regarding happiness across development that claimed that age 33 was the happiest age across the lifespan. In general, I would have to say I agree. I have been saying for the past few years that age 33 was the best year of my life, before it all went to hell with age 34 and 35, but you never get a rainbow without a little rain. Age 33 was a great year. Sure, it had some challenges, as life always does, but there were some major milestones and great moments in my 33rd year. I was able to see my favorite baseball team play in their home stadium for the first time in my life. It is an experience that I know I will think of dearly when my time comes and my life is flashing before my eyes.

However, as age 36 comes to a close, I have to say that in its own unique, unassuming way, age 36 has now usurped age 33 as the happiest year of my life. As with any age, this past year has had it’s own set of challenges, yet the positives of the past year have far outweighed the negatives. This is what has made age 36 my best and most favorite year ever:

  1. I fell in love (again). Anyone who has ever been in love and then somehow lost it, either through death or through the drifting apart that people sometimes do, will tell you that love is that magical feeling that seemingly comes once in a lifetime. We often do not even realize that this is IT: this particular person/relationship/event is love until after it has passed. In general, I would agree. The person with whom I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with passed away 10 years ago now, and I had resigned myself to the fact that I had found the love that you only find once in life, and that the only thing I would be able to find in the future is maybe a comfortable companionship.

This year I fell in love again and I would have to say that not only was it not expected, but it is also the type of love that I realize and understand that this is IT. It is not something fickle or fly-by-night. Rather, this is a person I have known almost all my life, and has grown quietly through the years while I was busy making other plans. If there were ever a pure form of love, I have it, and to experience that type of love is truly a gift. I have learned that love can give you joy and love can bring you pain. Loving someone means being comfortable with and giving them room to be their own person, make their own choices, and find their own happiness, whether or not that includes me. I have learned that I can love someone very deeply, even if it is a person with whom a relationship does not work out. While love is pure, time is of the devil’s making, and true love understands the only way to love is to give yourself so completely that you are vulnerable to the possibility of loss.

  1. I found myself, and I did not experience an existential crisis in the process. I am the Queen of the Existential Crisis. Pretty much everyone around me will attest that I spent most of my 20s in Where’s Waldo mode, only to have matured in my 30s to a more suave Carmen Sandiago persona, complete with brimmed hat and dreams of world travel. I am staring down age 37 and can proudly say “no mid-life crisis for me” (yet)! I completed my final degree after spending 20 years in school and have eased into my retirement from my life as a professional college student more comfortable in my own skin that I have ever been at any point in my life. I have been better able to handle life’s challenges in stride and have surprised myself with my ability to adult.
  1. I have arrived. Life is a journey, and while I agree with that sentiment in general, I have to say that there is some feeling of accomplishment when we cross a finish line and recognize how far we have come, even with so far to go. I am at a good place in life. While I still struggle and face health challenges, I am finally at a position in my life where I am able to take care of myself in the best way possible. After over a decade of working multiple jobs, 60-70 hours per week, with often only holidays as a day off, I now have employment I enjoy. I have employment I enjoy, that pays me well, and gives me days off. This gives me the freedom to have time to spend doing whatever I choose and also time to be able to take care of myself better than I have been able to take care of myself before. While I face many challenges with my multiple food allergies and autoimmune disorder, I can say that especially in the past year, I have finally been able to make the life changes necessary to put me on the path to good health instead of simply being subject to the whim of my disease.

Part of my efforts to rewind real slow is to help me take care of myself better so that I can enjoy life more. Life is short, and I have sacrificed so much in the pursuit of my education. This past year, I have finally arrived at the point where I am able to live instead of simply survive, and I now see how truly sweet life can be. In 35 years, I had never seen this sweetness of life on such a broad scale. I had caught glimpses of happiness at certain times, but this past year has been the first time I have experienced a sustained sort of joy and contentment in life I have never before seen.

Looking forward to age 37, my wishes are that I am able to take everything I have learned in the past year and continue to grow. I am hoping to be able to get my autoimmune disorder and food allergies under control so that I can enjoy parts of life I am sure I have never imagined. I hope that I am able to make good choices and can continue to surprise myself with my ability to adult. In all honesty, I am hoping to be the type of person this year that my cat thinks I am. Out of all the things I have learned in the past year, I have discovered that the most important is love. While it may sound trite, my cats are the only ones who have been constant in my everyday life for 18 years, and I hope to be everything to them that they have been to me, especially as Kitty will probably only be around for a few more years. I want to enjoy this life I have created for myself and utilize the freedom I have to chart my own course.

So while I am unsure of what age 37 has in store, I am at a good place with firm footing to face whatever is coming. I am hoping that after all the storms I have weathered, that this is my time for a rainbow, and that I can truly take my time to enjoy my ride around the sun.

Freedom at Forty Plan

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Adventure. Romance. Intrigue. These are the thoughts that come to mind when dreaming about world travel – whether backpacking through Europe, hiking through the Amazon, or braving the bone-chilling cold of the tundra to the north. These are the type of experiences that we typically have in our 20s, that decade full of existential crises in which we strive to identify who we really are and where we belong. Have your fun while you are young, because then it is time to settle down and be responsible.

Baloney. I, for one, have never done anything at the so-called developmentally appropriate time. While most people complete their bachelor degree in four or five years, I spent 15 years completing mine, fighting homelessness, illness, and trying to forge my way through the unknown forest of academia without enough social capital to weather the storm. At 36, I tell everyone I encounter that life is so much better this side of 30. I fought many battles and demons throughout my 20s and would not go back even if you paid me.

So while many people may have had the privilege of having a “gap year” or being able to travel extensively worldwide in their youth, I did not. It’s a little hard to contemplate world travel when you are trying to figure out how to get yourself to work everyday, hoping that you have a functioning vehicle and enough gas money to navigate the 12 miles between home and employment.

When I say that life is so much better on this side of 30, I truly mean it. In my 30s, I have finally grown comfortable in my own skin, I have figured out how to adult (sort of),  I finally completed not only my bachelor degree, but also graduate school, and have been able to meet life’s challenges and obligations with more confidence and grace than I ever had in my 20s. While many people may have getting a stamp in their passport as an item to be completed on their bucket list before the age of 30, I have get a stamp in my passport on my bucket list for age 40. If you haven’t noticed, for all my degrees and intelligence, I’m a little slow on the uptake on some things.

Here launches the Freedom at Forty Plan. As I approach my 37th birthday, I am looking at about 37 months to prepare to make this happen. I already have a passport. I ran a marathon in Canada right after the regulations tightened that required a passport for entry to and from Canada, before the invention of enhanced driver’s licenses for those living in border states. As many times as I have used my passport to go between Canada and USA over the years, Canada never stamps it. Plus, in my book, Canada doesn’t count. It’s our neighbor right next door. I’m looking for Adventure with a capital A.

While I have always had this dream of backpacking through Europe, it has been a rather big, daunting, and vague goal. I decided that if I am truly going to make this dream a reality, that I better pick a location, a date, and start planning and saving to make the trip happen. I chose my 40th birthday because I feel like I want to do something big to commemorate the passage from my 30s to my 40s since my 30s have been so significant, and frankly, the best decade of my life. When I go from 39 to 40, I want to do it with a bang. Practically, this also gives me about three years to try to save the money for a large trip. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people with a safety net or a strong support network, so I have to do everything on my own, and I have to work for everything I want. If I want to travel internationally, then that money is going to have to come out of my own hard earned paychecks and have to be squeezed somehow out of an already tight budget.

I began by researching airfare, so that I could get an idea of how much money I need to try to hoard over the next few years. Even after checking multiple cities in multiple locations, I have decided that Europe is way too expensive for someone with my income to be able to afford. Also, if this is going to be the first true week long vacation of my life (and it is), then I have ideas on what I want to be able to do during that week in a particular location.

I want to go surfing. It’s been years since I have been able to go ocean surfing. The past year or so, I have been landlocked to the Great Lakes. I want the big waves. While the Atlantic has been okay the past few years, it does not live up to my time on the Pacific Ocean. Plus, there are other oceans and waters that I have yet to surf.

With all the research I have done on airfare, activities, culture, and safety, I have settled on Nicaragua. Nicaragua has the beaches and is a great surfing destination. I also plan on going volcano boarding. Nica is the only place in the entire world where you can go volcano boarding. If I am going to spend money on international travel, I am going to do it all.

I am calling this my Freedom at Forty Plan, because I have sacrificed so much of myself, my relationships, and my life in the pursuit of my education, that I am now free to do whatever I want to do. I am no longer confined to a semester schedule or a particular geographic location due to classes. At forty, I will finally have the freedom to travel internationally, as I have so longed to do for many years, and hopefully attain that feeling of adventure, romance, and intrigue that I seek.

In addition to having three years to save, I also have three years to learn Spanish (again). Spanish is my fourth language, and I have not retained it, as it has proved to be the most useless of my four languages (probably hard to believe, but it’s true). While I am sure that it is probably possible to get around Central America without Spanish, I believe in being a respectful guest if I am going to visit someone else’s country. I also believe that knowing the language will empower me so that I am able to better keep myself safe (multiple food allergies remember – I don’t want to get caught in a major medical emergency in a country where I don’t speak the language), and better able to fully immerse myself in the culture and interact with the people in ways that is going to make this one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

If people do not travel in there 20s, or even if they do, most people envision being able to travel while in retirement. I want to travel as soon as possible while I can fully enjoy the experience. With all due respect, as I’m sure that there are octogenarians who do, but I do not personally envision myself still surfing in my 80s. Running marathons, maybe, but probably not still surfing.

That said, in addition to my Freedom at Forty Plan, I am also thinking about my retirement from the workforce in about 30 years or so. I have joked that I will be working until I die, but honestly, I don’t want to do that. I want to retire from the workforce and be able to enjoy life. So while I am trying to save for my Nicaragua trip, I am also trying to save for retirement. Again, I never do anything at the correct “developmental time.” I realize that I should have started saving for retirement when I started working 20 years ago, but life circumstances just did not lend itself to that reality.

I am also taking this trip to Nicaragua trying to figure out where I want to retire. I have already decided I am not going to stay in my current location. For one, I don’t want to be here that long term, and second, I can barely afford to live in my current location on my current salary; if my earnings are reduced in retirement, I definitely have to relocate.

Nicaragua will complete my bucket list item of having a stamp in my passport by age 40, and will hopefully be one of the more remarkable experiences of my lifetime. I also plan on going with the vision of retirement. In my research, I have discovered that it is sometimes cheaper to expatriate and retire in other countries than it is in the USA due to lower costs of living. Nicaragua has generous visa requirements for ex-pats from USA and Canada. Central America is one of two locations that I am seriously considering for that time when I decide to leave the workforce.

Freedom at Forty is a lovely three-year plan that may or may not also fit into my long-term life plan. If I decide not to expatriate, then I have lost nothing. I have completed my goal of international travel and I’m sure will have a phenomenal vacation. Yet, Nicaragua could also be a location where I decide to retire. I haven’t decided yet. I have 30 years to go before I get there. I’m just trying to keep all of my options open.

Adventure, romance, intrigue. My time is coming. Now that I have a location and dates planned, the hard part comes of pinching pennies, making good choices, and trying to live life while saving for my future. It may not be backpacking through Europe as I imagined, but I am sure that I am going to have the time of my life. I spent 20 years in college, working on one degree after another. Now, it is time to spend the next three years of my life trying to check an item off my bucket list.

My retirement from my career as a professional college student has truly given me the freedom to be the captain and navigate my own life unconstrained by the linear goal of achieving an education. I have many goals in life and many items on my bucket list. Freedom at Forty is just the beginning. Graduation from graduate school was not an ending; it is the beginning of the rest of my life.

Happy 4th Birthday, Jude

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Two years ago when we were still grieving the loss of Kip, who completed our triad, Kitty and I decided to open our home, and consequentially our hearts, to a timid, shy newcomer for companionship. Not only is today the two-year anniversary of the day we adopted Jude, but it is also his 4th birthday.

Jude stole the show and is one of the loves of my life. In the two years since he has entered our home, he has come out of his shell to share with us his spunk, ingenuity, and childlike love of life. Jude has reminded me to not take life to seriously; sometimes we need to just enjoy and laugh. While his antics are sometimes aggravating, they are, for the most part, harmless, and always bring a smile.

When he is clinging to a window frame tittering about a bird outside, I jokingly call him Spider Cat for his ability to climb places I never thought possible. He is actually able to do so not only with agility but also without destroying anything in the process. With a preference for high, small spaces, Jude has figured out how to hide in the empty cupboard above the refrigerator and has also realized that if he pops out of said cupboard when I walk into the kitchen, he can usually get a rise out of me. Jude definitely keeps us on our toes.

He is the perfect companion for Kitty, who, believe it or not, at the ripe old age of 17 still likes to play every once in awhile, and Jude is happy to oblige. When they are not playing together, Jude always brings a smile in the way he plays with toys by himself or by simply chasing his own tail. He is well acclimated to the fact that it takes Kitty longer to eat due to his advanced age, and it respectful in allowing him time and space to eat his food without trying to steal it from him.

Jude still freaks out over vacuum cleaners and guests. We rarely get visitors at our house, but when we do, he always hides as if his life depends upon it. Jude has warmed up to both Kitty and I over the past two years. He often sits on my lap and loves to sit right next to Kitty. Honestly, I am surprised and delighted at how well Kitty has accepted him into our lives.

Two years ago on Valentine’s Day, I was home from work on a snow day, yet the roads north of us were bare and clear. Friends knew that we were looking for a new addition for our home, and on that day, the phone call came that the fit for us was at a shelter about two hours north. I made the drive, and spent some time confirming, that yes, this was indeed the one. Jude entered our home at a time in our lives when we were still raw and sore from Kip’s passing. Jude entered our home and our hearts with grace and style. He has completed life for both Kitty and me these past two years. Happy 4th Birthday, Jude. You are truly the love of our lives.

 

Lines in the Sand

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New years is always that huge page turned in the book of life that represents a new chapter of opportunity. Many make (and break) resolutions as hope for a better future, a brighter year.

A new calendar on the wall is not the only opportunity for change. Many resolutions fail due to the inordinate amount of pressure placed on a certain day of the year. While there may be some astronomical significance to the date, it is, in fact, arbitrary.

A new goal can start any time of year, not just January 1. Choose a Monday, choose your birthday, choose any day on the calendar and draw a circle around it.

What do you want life to look like? What is reality? What positive changes can you enact to make reality align more with your desires? Keep in mind that the journey is just as significant as the destination. I often say I know what I want, but I don’t know how to get there. The beauty of life is that we each have our unique process of reaching our goals.

Dates on the calendar are simply lines we draw in the sand to delineate change. Change in actions, change in attitudes. January 1 holds a lot of pressure. Many times if people break their New Year’s Resolutions, they shrug their shoulders and proclaim, “there’s always next year.” Yes, there is always next year. There is also tomorrow.

If you have made resolutions for this new year and they do not make it past January, you do not have to admit defeat and wait for a new year to start fresh. Those goals you so boldly proclaimed on December 31 or January 1 can be realized at any time of year. Just try again.

If you are able to make it through the month of January without breaking the resolution, chances are that you have made a life change that will stick. Usually major changes in habit take about 3 weeks to firmly root into one’s routine.

I have not made any resolutions for the new year. The new year tends to be meaningless for me for a few reasons. First, after 20 years in college, I seem to be stuck on the school year calendar. Labor Day weekend is the most meaningful time of year for me. That is when leaves start to turn, the last light of summer fades into fall, and a new school year is typically set to begin.

Second, I consider birthdays to be more meaningful than a simple change in page of the calendar. Each birthday is proof that I was able to handle another year of what life threw at me. When I turned 36 in March of 2015, my wish was for a quiet year. After tumultuous times the two years prior, I have been looking for some respite from the tribulations I have lived through. So far, I have gotten it. But the new year is not the reset for me. My birthday in March will determine the success or failure of that goal for the year.

As many approach the month of January with hope that things will improve, keep in mind that things can improve any time of the year. January is just one line in the sand. Feel free to draw your own. If you are not able to keep your resolutions to which you have so dutifully pledged, that does not mean all is lost until the next flip of the calendar. Take some time to evaluate why your plan was not successful and regroup. The only true way to fail is to stop trying.

New Year’s is only one line in the sand. The masterpiece comes in creating your own.

Happy 17th Birthday to my Son

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This is the first in the monthly #FelineFriday series.

My kids have 4 paws and a tail. It’s not a joke or some redneck colloquialism. After having four different doctors inform me that I cannot have children, my cats are the closest to a child for me. They have been with me longer than any human being, including either of my parents.

When I adopt, I adopt for life. I am not a crazy cat lady that lives with 10 or 15 cats. I live with two cats, because that is what is reasonable for me to handle given time, money, love, and other resources to ensure they have a life of true children.

Kitty is my oldest and my first.

Today he is 17.

I’m not sure if I adopted him, or if he adopted me, but in the past 17 years, he has made me a better person, taught me how to grow up, and shown me more about myself and others than I ever thought possible.

The first 7 years of his life were pretty rough for both of us. I was not yet settled, but I kept us together as a family. This was back in the time when my relationships were tenuous, my housing situation even more so, and the most stable things in my life were the fact that I had a car and a cat that made a family.

Kitty has an anxiety disorder, which he was diagnosed with by the Feline Behavioral Specialist at one of the most prestigious colleges of veterinary medicine in the country, which happens to be in our local community. I’m pretty sure his diagnosis is mostly my fault. It probably comes from homelessness.

From times that we were living in the car, Kitty has been my protector. He has always been hypervigilent and very possessive of me. I am definitely his human. At times he acts more like a dog than a cat. Most of the time, I am quite certain that he is more human than any being I have ever known.

As Kitty turned 7, I was finally able to give us some stability in life. We have had stable housing since he turned 7. In fact, the past decade has been the most stable decade of my life. I have worked hard to keep the family together. Yes, there were times that we were living in the car, but no matter how bad things were, I have always made sure that my kids have never gone without. They have always had food, and their medical care has been better than mine. Those are the sacrifices that you make as a parent – when you love someone so much with your whole being that you do everything to take care of them.

Kitty has been with me for 17 years. He has been here every time I walk in the door. He sleeps with me every night. Some days, he is the reason I get out of bed in the morning. He has seen me through multiple relationships, many of them abusive. He has become my litmus test for being able to judge a potential partner’s character. Does my Kitty like you? If so, then I’ll think about dating you.

Kitty has his own personality, and he takes care of me. In fact, his name was never intended to be Kitty. I named him Molecule. He would only ever answer to Kitty. I guess he chose his own name. Kitty is also a purebred Maine Coon with no papers. The breeder turned him in because his traits “weren’t desirable.” In 17 years, I have not found a single thing undesirable about him.

Kitty and I adopted each other when he was 4 months old. We were alone together that first year, and then, his younger brother Kip, entered our life. Kip had a chronic health condition, which contributed to my desire to provide more stability for all of us as a family. Kip passed away from his illness a few years ago, when he was 14.

When Kip was alive, I administered and kept track of all his medications. As he quickly declined, I even took to washing him with a washcloth his last day or two of life when he was just too tired to deal. I will always remember the night before Kip passed away. It was one of those moments when Kitty, in the way he interacted with Kip, showed me the true meaning of love. This is a manner of love so deep, that I have not seen it anywhere else in life.

They say that love is watching someone die. The night that Kip died was the only night in 17 years that Kitty did not sleep with me. He slept with Kip. Then, he woke me up at 3 am when Kip got bad to let me know it was time to say goodbye.

Kitty and I also grieved together. I would not have made it through Kip’s passing without Kitty. When Kitty’s time comes, I honestly don’t know how I will survive that moment. I hope it does not come any time soon, but I know that at age 17, our time together is now more limited.

I have a lot of guilt over the fact that I have worked most of his life. I mean, I had to work 60 hours a week or more in low-wage jobs while going to school just to pay the bills. Yes, I was finally able to provide housing and stability for our family, but the price that was paid was missing out on our time spent together.

I am looking forward to completing grad school and so grateful that I am now only working one job 40 hours a week or less so that I can have more of the short, precious, sweet time together. I know that our time together is shortening. When it is Kitty’s turn to pass away, I only hope that he knows I love him more than I have ever loved anyone. He needs to know how very much he is loved and how he is the best and most important thing that has ever happened to me.

I honestly think that if it hadn’t been for trying to keep the family together, I would probably still be drifting. I don’t think I would still be living in my car, but I would probably still be burning the candle at both ends right up until the wick was gone.

Kitty has been with me every day. He loves me when I’m happy, he loves me when I’m sad, he loves me when no human person in my life has loved me. He has taught me so much in life. I don’t think I saved him. I think he saved me.

When I say Happy 17th Birthday to my son, I really mean my son. Kitty has shown me what family means.

Happy 17th Birthday, Kitty. I love you.