My Second Favorite Holiday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Where Bar

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The little outside bar in the middle of no where.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Site 50

All 3 cats watching the birds fly by.

The year is 2003. Imagine taking your first vacation in 4 years. You pack up the car with all of your supplies and drive 3 and a half hours to your destination. You are meeting friends you have not seen in years. After a stressful, traffic filled drive, you arrive at your destination, and take one of the last available sites at the campground you have chosen, in relative proximity to the rest of your friends. It is the same place you were at 4 years ago for complete relaxation. Back in 1999, you had crammed 8 college friends in a family tent on a single campsite. It was just like dorm times. In 2003, the only difference is that you are in a different camp site from before and have elected to set up your own tent instead of being in with the rest of the group. Things have changed in 4 years, and some of these friends now have families they will be bringing.

On site 50, you set up your $30 K-mart tent and begin cooking dinner as darkness descends. You are one of the first in your group of friends to arrive for the weekend outing. The location is the halfway point for you and all your friends. It has been about a three and a half hour drive for you going north east. It is about a three and a half hour drive for them going north west. 

You have all the elements for relaxation from good food to good music to good wine. Suddenly, a loud thunderclap sounds and rain unexpectedly downpours on your campfire. You scramble to pick up all of your supplies and cram them in the car so they can remain dry and you can seek respite in your tent.

Although hectic, it is also exciting. This is exactly the type of situation of which memories are made and you can laugh about with friends after. Supplies safely in the car out of the rain, fire put out by the downpour, you unzip the tent to seek solace inside. Once inside, you discover your $30 purchase was not the best bargain as rain pours in through all the seams. The bottom of the tent quickly accumulates a few inches of rain, much like a canoe taking on water in danger of capsizing. Your sleeping bag is completely soaked, as well as the small duffle bag of clothes inside the tent.

Like a drowning man on a sinking ship, you fruitlessly attempt to bail water from the tent. Again, a story to laugh at later. Rain continues to literally pour through the seams of the tent as if the Hoover Dam were breached.

Tiring yourself with bailing water, you finally admit defeat and run from the tent to the car. You are completely soaked with no dry clothes to change into as your sleeping bag and clothes are all waterlogged in the tent. You fall asleep from sheer exhaustion, unsure and uncaring whether the tent will even be there in the morning or if it will float away.

Morning dawns, and you awake to fogged car windows. Still water logged, you open the car door to see the tent completely leveled and everything wet. The rain has stopped. The rest of your friends are supposed to arrive today.

You make a new fire to get warm, and start hanging up all the wet items to dry. You fix the tent so it is again standing, although wet. Now that the rain has stopped, you are able to bail out all of the water from the night before.

Once your friends trickle in for the weekend, you are able to borrow clothes that are both dry and warm. This is definitely a story to laugh about later. The remainder of the weekend passes dry, cool and full of laughter, good memories and good times with the best of friends.

Lesson learned from the leaking tent, when you return in 2004, it is with a new, more waterproof tent. It cost $150 from LL Bean. That new tent will see you dry through the next 15 years of these trips with the best of friends.  

Fast forward to 2020. We are in the middle of a global pandemic. Every single one of those people who were on that camping trip in 2003 except two are now dead. They have all died of COVID within the past 6 months. You are running out of friends. It is not an exaggeration and it’s not because you are a bad person. It’s this horrible disease.

While you have been able to take off 2 or 3 days here and there, you have not had a week’s vacation in over 3 years. For the first time in over 20 years, your annual camping trip has been canceled by COVID.

You are burnt out. You are at your wits end and need a break. Even though COVID has canceled your life and taken all of your friends, you decide to take a week’s vacation from life.

This is a true story. This is my story.

I took my first week’s vacation in over 3 years recently. While this week has been a flashback to 2003, it was anything but restful.

Instead of running around with a tent in the rain, I had a major water issue in my house. I spent 7 days of my 10 day vacation dealing with this water issue. It was anything but restful. There were no friends arriving to laugh with. They are all dead. I’m having a staycation in the middle of a pandemic and instead of relaxing, dealing with a major house emergency.

I may be a first time homeowner, but I do know that water damage is every home owner’s worst nightmare. It’s not funny like bailing out a tent. 

Trying to get help with house emergencies in a global pandemic is extremely challenging. There are people out there who either do not respond or just want to take you for a ride (read: unnecessarily charge you thousands of dollars for illegal work done without appropriate permits). Forget that. I’m on vacation. I just want to relax. 

I feel like I completely wasted my vacation from work dealing with this water issue. I was not able to relax. I only got 3 days of relaxation. I should have just taken my traditional 3 days off instead of a whole week’s vacation.

Maybe this story of plumbing issues with my house will be funny in the future. I’m not sure when. I’m not sure who will be laughing with me, since COVID has killed most of my friends.I am still so thoroughly traumatized by my experience dealing with this water issue that I cannot even go into the details of how bad it was trying to get help. 

All I know is that I am happy to be dry and safe in this house. I hope to survive the pandemic so I can have more camping trips again. Even though my vacation was not really a vacation, I am thankful to be safe with my cats. I have not had a week this bad or this stressful since I bought my house.

Commercializing Solitude

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The little outside bar in the middle of no where.

A recent newscast spoke of a significant increase in visits to national parks due to social media usage. Once a haven of the adventurous seeking solitude, millions are now flocking to previously secluded spots made internet famous by stunning photography that has been shared all across the globe. Gone are the days when we would simply see a photograph of a beautiful place and long to go there. People are actually going.

This results in some national parks having to fight harder to preserve our natural surroundings. When human traffic to these remote areas increases, the majesty of the experience is often lost in the crowd.

Another recent news story spoke of an increased number of deaths on Mt. Everest. The deaths are attributed to overcrowding of people trying to reach the summit. Apparently, anyone with $11,000 can try to reach the summit of Mt. Everest regardless of preparation or qualifications to attempt the ascent. There is no regulation of people who are allowed to undertake this feat other than having the ability to pay for the experience.

We are commercializing solitude.

There are how many – 8 billion? – people on this planet. Our cities are overcrowded. We are now crowding those areas that were previously areas of refuge for some to escape the cities. Not every city person is cut out for the wilderness. Thus, we now have “glamping” for those who are unable to navigate the wilderness but want the illusion of solitude.

Let’s throw some glitter on a tree, and all of a sudden forests are popular.

I had been going camping to a location in the Adirondacks for about 16 years. This annual trip started back in the 90s. The location was the halfway point where I would meet college friends coming from western Massachusetts.

Cranberry Lake was my favorite place to be because it was remote and safe. I stayed in the same site every year for this trip, and every year things were the same. The natural beauty provided a sort of consistency in my life in the midst of much turmoil. I knew that no matter what was going on in my life, where I was or where I was living, each summer, I would always have my trip to Cranberry. Kind of like the whole “we’ll always have Paris” thing.

The annual Cranberry trip was like New Year’s for me. This is the big trip where I could relax and recharge and return to life refreshed. Especially the years when I was working 70-80 hours per week at multiple jobs while attending school full time, these trips helped me to keep my sanity.

The only reason why I specifically mention the location now after all this time, is because it has been commercialized. Unfortunately, Cranberry Lake is no longer my oasis in the middle of the Adirondacks.

The last few years that I made my annual pilgrimage to the location, I noticed a marked increase in the number of people camping. I’m sure on some level this is great for the state department of environmental conservation – more people camping means more revenue. However, with increased use, I noticed changes.

The first thing I noticed was changes in clientele. As the years have gone by, there are less families and more rowdy young people. Or, families who are raising Cain. I know this makes me sound like a curmudgeon-y old person, but there is more noise and less respect. People walk through other people’s wooded, secluded campsite without saying anything because they like the view from someone else’s site.

Um, excuse me, but you are standing near my tent, and I paid for this space.

Second, I noticed that even though some of the increased traffic was coming from students associated with environmental conservation programs who were, allegedly, in school for environmental conservation degrees, were trashing the natural surroundings.

An area that was naturally mud and downed trees now has now been cleared for people to put in kayaks from a private site. Too lazy to take the kayak to the public launch site, these students have instead chosen to destroy the natural surroundings to make an unapproved (I asked) kayak launch.

It’s kind of hard to sit in the middle of nowhere and be peaceful when surrounded by loud, boisterous people who have no respect for the outdoors around them.

These inconsiderate people are apparently incapable of living without cell service for 24 hours. There is now a cell tower in this part of the Adirondacks. Now, New York State told the cell company that the tower would have to “blend in” with the natural surroundings.

The cell tower “blends in” alright. It looks like a giant green toilet brush. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig. You can tell that the cell tower is there even if it is “disguised” as a tree that in no way blends in with the trees surrounding it.

Part of the attraction of going to places like this, for me at least, is the lack of cell phone service. I literally love to unplug and unwind. I don’t have to worry about people calling me, texting me, or emailing me. Especially in a society that is completely on 100% of the time, we need moments to disconnect and reflect.

During a recent internet search trying to find a new, more remote area of the Adirondacks to be my new oasis, I noticed that Cranberry Lake is listed on a boatload of “best of” lists that have promulgated the internet over the past 10 years or so.

No wonder that spot has become so popular. Cranberry Lake has suffered the same fate as some of the national parks and Mt. Everest where social media has made them so popular they are now being destroyed by the increased foot traffic and are no longer the places of refuge they once were.

When I was in the Adirondacks recently, I went by Cranberry Lake. I noticed that now instead of having the small, simple brown sign out front indicating the turn to the campground, there are in fact, 5 different points of entry into this location and all of them are very well marked. There is no hiding out at that location any longer.

After hearing of the recent murders on the Appalachian Trail, I would not consider such a popular spot a safe place to be anymore. You just don’t know who is traipsing through the woods now.

This is why, when I found my new oasis location, that will not be named, I chose a location that does not really come up on “Top 10” lists or the average internet search. I want to be in an area that not many people know about, that is remote yet still safe, and retains it’s natural beauty. Forests should be respected by people visiting, not destroyed.

I do believe that everyone has the right to enjoy parks and the natural beauty that surrounds us. However, when large numbers of people flock to the same location at the same time, it is not sustainable on the environment. At that point, we are just turning the woods into new cities.

I will let everyone else go to Mt. Everest, the internet famous national parks, and the ones in the Top 10 lists. For me, I’m going to look for the locations that are off the beaten path so that I can truly be in solitude. The challenge is that as we are commercializing solitude, those truly empty places are getting harder to find.  

A Minimalist in Bear Country

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Bear country means extra gear to handle the risks. As a minimalist, I managed to keep the gear down to a dull roar while still planning for the probability of bears. The Adirondacks are well known for bears, and there are certain times and certain years when a bear sighting is more probable than others.

There have been years, like this year, when the bear warnings are so high, that you are required to sign legal waivers to be in the Adirondacks knowing the risks of encountering bears. There are also pretty strict rules to follow for bear safety and to decrease the chance of a run-in with a bear.

One of the options for minimizing the chance of bear contact is to keep all food, including coolers, in a car trunk. Bears are smart. Even if the food is in the car in the passenger area, the bears will see and smell the food and break into a vehicle to get it. Trunks are a safer choice for food storage while in bear country.

A few years ago I had bought a new cooler for camping. The new cooler I purchased is one that is designed to withstand high heat, up to 90 degrees for up to 3 days and still stay cold. The other attractive feature of this cooler is that it has a drain spout at the bottom for me to be able to drain the water from the cooler as the ice melts. This alleviates the impossible balancing act of trying to dump out water while retaining ice and food.

When I had bought the cooler, I threw it in the backseat of the car and brought it home. This year was very exciting because it would be my first trip and opportunity to use the new cooler. Imagine my dismay when I discovered that this super awesome cooler is too tall to fit into my trunk. It fits into my backseat just fine, but this thing is too large for the trunk. So I was unable to take my fancy new cooler on this trip. It will have to wait for when I go on a camping trip that is not in bear country. The cooler will be fine in the back seat while camping if I go to a place and a time when there are no bear warnings.

Given the requirement that all food and coolers should be in the trunk when under a bear warning, I ended up taking a different cooler entirely. This is one instance in which I am happy I had not yet decluttered the “old” cooler when I bought the awesome new one. It is obvious that I am going to need to keep both coolers and then make a judgement call on which one to use based on where I am going and when.

Other options available when camping in bear country to minimize attracting bears to your camp site include: stringing the cooler on rope in the air between two trees. For me, this is way too challenging. If I’m going to string anything between two trees, it would be a hammock, and I would be in the hammock, so forget the cooler between the trees deal.

Some campgrounds have “bear lockers,” which are designated areas where food is locked so that bears cannot get to it. Bear lockers are usually in an area well away from where campsites are located, so that if bears are attracted to the lockers, they are less likely to hang around people’s tents. The camp site where I was at did have bear lockers available, but the bear warning was not high enough at the time to require their use. You could use them if you chose to use them, but they were not required.

Being under a bear warning effected the way I packed for my vacation.

Another safety tip when camping in bear country is that any clothing that is worn while cooking or eating should be taken off before you go into your tent for the night and the clothing should also be put in the trunk of the car. This includes clothing that you wore at your campfire, even if you did not use your campfire for cooking purposes. In my situation, I use my campfire for cooking purposes, pretty close to 100% of the time.

Given the clothing parameters for bear safety, this means that I actually have two pairs of “camp pants.” Camp pants are what I wear when I decide I am “in my site” for the evening – tending the fire, cooking, roasting marshmallows, etc. They go in the trunk of the car once I have put my pajamas on and am “in the tent” for the night. Since my camping trips are typically 2 night/3 day events, two pairs of camp pants works well for me.

Having “camp pants” for bear safety means that I end up packing more luggage for camping than I would when I go on vacation in a city. For example, when I was in Chicago a few years ago, I made it through my entire trip with only a backpack for luggage. This included even having a dressier outfit for an event I attended. For camping, I have to take the small duffel bag due to the “extras” needed for bear safety.

In addition to camp pants, I also pack two hoodies when camping, as I usually wear a hoodie when tending the fire. It typically gets down around 40 degrees at night when I go camping.

This way the hoodie can also go in the trunk when I am in the tent for the night. By using a new pair of camp pants and a new hoodie for the second night of camping, it prevents saturation of smells compared to using the same outfit for meals. Any way to dissipate smells so as not to attract a bear works for me. If I was not in bear country, then I would only take one pair of camp pants and one hoodie and I would wear them more than once.

Of course, you can take all of the proper precautions and still encounter a bear. I did have that experience a few years ago. In 20 years of camping, I have only ever physically encountered a bear once. I’m not sure who was more scared – me or the bear. Luckily, he ran away, so I did not have a negative bear experience.

Even with all the “extras” required for bear country, I happily noticed that I have effectively decreased the amount of gear I need for camping over the years. It used to be that the car was so stuffed full of gear that I could barely see out the back window.

Since I have started my minimizing journey, I have not only downsized my camping gear, but gotten more efficient at packing and at choosing what needs to be packed for a successful trip. Not only was I more than able to see out the back window of the car last week, but when I arrived, this is what the set up looked like:

The tent held my sleeping bag, pillow, and small duffel. The truck was full of food, cooler, and wood that I picked up at a stand about 5 miles away on the way into camp. The backseat of the car was completely empty, while the front seats held items such as camp chair, stereo, toiletry bucket, etc.

Just the fact that my car was not jam packed full of gear was amazing. I was not lacking or in need of anything. I am still in the process of playing with my camping checklist to see if there is anything more I can minimize, but for the moment I am in a pretty good place.

The one thing I always seem to over pack on while camping is food, and I consider this to be a good thing. When you go off in the middle of nowhere with no cell service, and the nearest town is a good 40 miles away, you need to have food. I always splurge and pack the good stuff for food when I am camping.

As I was packing to go on my trip, I was amazed at how full my freezer and refrigerator both were. It’s been a few years since I have had that much food in the house. It was all because I was preparing to go camping. Thus, the need for the fancy new cooler that is too big for the trunk. I’m trying to minimize the need to leave camp for ice. That way I can spend more time hiking and less time driving into town to refill the cooler.

Just because you are heading into bear country as a minimalist, does not mean you have to scrimp on safety. I plan for safety first. If that means extra gear, then so be it. I’’ll save the backpacking for the cities. A small duffel works for bear country.

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 what I signed up for

Being a parent is hard. No matter how much you try to prepare, how many books you read, or how many people you talk to for advice, you truly don’t know what you are getting into until you are there, elbows deep, unable to escape, back track, or change your situation.

When you adopt, you take on all these responsibilities knowingly. In fact, you even have to go out of your way and try harder to become a parent compared to those who are just blessed with the ability to have their own children naturally. No matter how much you plan, and no matter how much you think you know what you’re getting into, you really have no idea until you are in the middle of it.

Kitty had a doctor appointment today, and the news was surprisingly good. He is responding well to the medication, and even though he has a tumor in his intestines, he managed to gain back one of the four pounds he had lost. Two months ago, we were unsure if he would make it to 18. Not only did he make it to 18 last week, but we are also now expecting that he will be around for Christmas. His next check up is not until December.

In addition to the horrifying camping trip I had in July, I remember what terrified me the most was the thought that if something happened to me, there would be no one to take care of Kitty and Jude. Although I had a very good friend who is completely capable administering his medication while I was gone, I was still unable to relax because I was worries about how he was doing.

Kip passed away at 14. He lived with kidney disease for half his life, and I administered his medication daily for 7 years. His original prognosis was that he would have maybe 3 years with kidney disease. He had an additional 7. So being used to giving Kip his medicine for such a long period of time, you would think I would be more relaxed with Kitty’s meds and not so high strung about it. I’m not sure if its due to the medication schedule itself – precise doses at exact times, or if dealing with cancer is emotionally different than dealing with chronic kidney disease, but I feel more stress dealing with Kitty’s meds than I did with Kip’s meds.

So today, his appointment went well, and his dosage is being decreased, but it is still a daily dose. Then I thought about my vacation coming up in a few weeks.

I have 9 days off in the middle of August. This is going to be the first time in 23 years of working that I am getting a week long paid vacation. For the first time in my life, I have time and money to do something. I had made reservations back in March to be out of town for 4 of the 9 days.

I hemmed and hawed about boarding the cats at the vet office, taking them with me, or trying to find a babysitter so I could go on vacation. I normally wouldn’t worry about leaving them alone for a few days, but Kitty’s meds need to be on an exact schedule (or it could literally kill him if I screw it up).

I decided not to board them. They have never boarded before, and with Kitty’s anxiety over a 30-minute office visit, I don’t think I could leave him there for 4 days. I don’t think he can handle it. I think he would die of a panic attack. I can’t take them with me. While Kitty is leash trained and would do fine, Jude is not. It’s not fair for him to spend 4 days in a box. Finding a babysitter for that length of time is challenging, and I would not want to put that responsibility on anyone for that length of time. One or two days is fine, but not four days.

I canceled my vacation.

I’m going to have 8 days of day trips instead.

For the first time since 1999, I am not taking my Adirondack camping trip.

It’s probably a little ridiculous. I could probably work something out to get Kitty’s med schedule covered. Except, I don’t think I would be able to relax and enjoy my.vacation because I would feel guilty and I would feel bad about someone else shouldering my responsibility.

I signed up for this.

When I signed the dotted line 18 years ago, I knew it was for life. Through sickness and in health. I can’t just go and leave the one person who has stood by me every single day for the past 18 years and drop them off someplace where they are terrified just so I can go play in the woods for 4 days.

When Kip was on medication, I would get a babysitter. As long as he got his meds once a day, it didn’t matter when. Of course, it was preferable to have consistency. But 3 days of random doses once a year, were okay. With Kitty’s medication, a missed dose or a dose at the wrong time could mean death.

I think I need to stay home until either he improves enough to be without meds (I doubt it) or passes away (more likely).

He has been here for me every single day for 18 years. This is the least I can do. Like I said, I signed up for this.

So now I’m looking forward to 8 beach days coming up. Hopefully the weather cooperates. We are technically aging a drought. Of course, every time I have a day off is when it decides to storm severely or just plain rain all day. With my luck, the drought will probably break with 9 straight days of rain during my vacation. It would suck to get stuck inside like that, especially after enduring a very harsh winter this past year.

In the meantime, on the scant beach days I have had, I have had the opportunity to do some beach reading. Those books with the stickers that say “beach read” finally got read on a beach. Hopefully my day trips will be just as relaxing and rejuvenating as my usual camping trip typically is for me.

This is what I signed up for, and this is what life is made of – spending time with those yo love while you still can. Life is so very short.

No More Matching

People who know me well know that I have a small obsession with lingerie, particularly Victoria’s Secret. It’s an indulgence where no matter what I am wearing clothing-wise, only I know what I am wearing underneath and it gives me a sense of empowerment.

For example, when I was finishing my bachelors degree, my “advisor”, whom I called the Dragon Lady on the 4th Floor, called me white trash and said I would never do as well at my 4-year school as I did at community college. For the record, I was valedictorian at my community college, and # 6 of 2,000+ at my 4-year university graduating Summa Cum Laude. But while she was berating me about how much of a lowly scum I am, I knew that underneath my $9 outfit I had gotten from Salvo, that I was wearing a $5 pair of Victoria’s Secret panties with a bunch of apples on them that also said “Bite me.” My underwear was appropriate to the situation.

My underclothes almost regularly cost more than my outfit. About 95% of my wardrobe is second hand, but I truly believe (for sanitary reasons) that my underclothes should be new. If I’m going to buy something new, then I want the good stuff, or if not good, then I at least need to be having fun as I kiss my money goodbye.

So generally, my bra and panties are matching, even of I’m having trouble getting my outfit to match. My excuse is that I’m legally color-blind (which is true, according to my paperwork from when I tried to join the Navy back in the 90s). So, gosh darn it, my socks may not match, but my underwear does. You gotta take what you can get sometimes.

Now, it is well known by anyone and everyone who has a hankering for horror movies that the girl being terrorized, hurt, maimed, or killed in such flicks is most usually wearing a matching bra and panty set.

I have never understood why this is the case. I just figured it to be a costuming snafu or some sort of elaborate Hollywood joke. Maybe its some well-placed, subliminal advertising. At any rate, I’ve always thought horror movies were pretend.

That is, at least, until I took the vacation that made Freddie and Jason look like a daydream.

I took my worst vacation in 20 years this week. It was the first time that I have ever come home early from someplace. I came home a day and a half early. In fact, I was gone less than 24 hours.

Things went to hell in a hand basket fast, and now I am starting to think there just may be something to this matching bra & panty gig that Hollywood perpetuates.

I refuse to end up in a body bag, so from now on, I will not be matching my bra and panty sets. From now on, when I get dressed in the mornings, I will do so with an abandon that makes a 3-year old dressing themselves look like executive level material.

Why have I decided to stop matching and have this linked to matching panty sets? Let me set the scene ….

So Monday left to go camping in an area of the Adirondacks that was brand-new to me. The spot I had chosen was about an hour to the north and east of my usual haunt. The place I go camping in August, I’ve been going to for 15 years. This trip this week was a new experience.

The drive was gorgeous, the directions easy. I arrived with high expectations for some relaxation. The first maybe 6 hours were great, and then everything changed into a horror flick. Damn Hollywood and matching panties.

Hindsight is 20/20, and now after the event, I realized what happened was this: I went hiking through the campsite to locate showers, garbage, bear prevention accommodations, etc. when I passed some guy on a bicycle. I said hello, as I normally do to other campers. Later, I passed this same individual on foot. So, he parked his bike, right? I thought nothing of it.

That night as I was tending the fire, I noticed the wood truck went by several times. I do mean several. It slowed down next to me quite a few. The guy was wearing a hat. In retrospect, it was the same guy from earlier. When I left the campground, I found out that this location does not offer wood service. It was NOT in fact, a wood truck, but some creep-o stalker dude.

At the time, I thought it was the wood truck.

After properly distinguishing my camp fire at about 10 pm, I was in my tent by 10:30. The purpose of staying in a tent is to reset circadian rhythms.

At about 11:30, I woke up due to some rustling in the brush. I have seen chipmunks, squirrels, ducks, deer, and even a bear once while camping. I am quite familiar with woodland animal sounds. The interesting part is that at this camp site, I had not seen any animals earlier, and the sound was not entirely familiar. Also note that I was told at check-in that the ranger station closed at about 11-11:30 pm.

I looked outside the tent and saw nothing. I went back to sleep.

I was once again awakened, this time at 1:30 am. It was a human sound. Directly outside my tent. I have spent enough time running trails when I train for my marathons, that I know the sound of sneaker on dirt. Especially when the sound is close to my head. I have been camping enough over the past 20 years to know it was not an animal sound. I have been homeless before and know from living on the streets what it sounds like to be laying down with people walking by you.

This was a human sound, and suddenly I was scared as hell. Now, most normal people know better than to walk through other peoples camp sites. They most certainly do not do this at 1:30 am.

Not knowing the intentions of the person, who said nothing and ran off, I then spent a very uncomfortable night in half of the backseat of my car. The other half was taken up by the cooler.

I finally got to sleep at 4 am, only to be awakened at 6 am by some extremely loud children 4 sites away (4 sites!) screaming their heads off. I taught preschool for 11 years, and I have no problem with groups of children being loud when having fun. But these kids were screaming to be assholes.

I left the camp site and reported my experience to the ranger station. They seemed to know the exact person I was referencing, but were not concerned, as that person is “harmless.” When its someone you don’t know standing right outside your tent at 1:30 am, it does not seem harmless.

I came home from vacation less than 24 hours after I left. Needless to say, I won’t be going back to that location again.

When I returned home, I ended up sleeping 15 hours recovering from my ordeal. I also set the tent up in the yard to be sure it was dry and swept before putting it away again. The “harmless” individual had left a bodily fluid on the side of my tent. I’m glad I came home when I did.

I spent the last day of my vacation having a beach day at Lake Ontario. Some vacation. It was not the relaxing reset I had been envisioning.

So now I am just continuing to trudge on until my week off in August. Lets hope that trip goes off without a hitch. If I have another experience like this one, I’m pretty sure I will lose my mind. I have had plenty of experiences like this pretty much every time I had ever visited New York City, but this was the first time I ever had anything like this happen to me upstate.

I can tell you right now, I won’t be wearing matching bra and panty sets anymore. Freddie and Jason can just keep their Hollywood starlets, thank you very much.

I’m just going to keep hoping I get the break I need in August. And I’m never going to match my clothes again.

Escape

As much as I have tried to create a life I don’t need to escape, sometimes we need to take a step back in order to view situations objectively. When we are enmeshed and really “in” something, we are much more likely to make poor choices because we just can’t see out or around the situation in which we are living.

An expression I said almost all the time during the last few years I spent working on my bachelors degree was, “I keep pushing the escape button, but I’m still here.” I spent 15 years working on that degree, and sometimes, I just wanted a break from the constant flow of work, home, and school.

I will be getting a break next week, and am extremely fortunate in that not only will I be getting a break in July, but one in August as well. This is going to be the first time in my life I have gotten two breaks in one year.

Some things are beyond our control. As much as I have tried to slow down, I cannot control a family members illness or the stress that brings, or certain other life events that just kind of “happen” to us. The only person you can control in this life is yourself. We do not always have control over anything around us.

Next week, I’m going camping, and I am really looking forward to having a break. As much as I love my ill family member, I just feel like I need a break from them and the situation. I feel guilty saying that, because this disease is their everyday reality, but its hard sometimes to hold it all together.

My camping trip next week is in a location completely new to me that I have never been to before. My August trip will be to my usual spot, but for July, its someplace new.

It’s pretty sad when you have to drive yourself to the middle of nowhere to a location with no cell service, no internet, no electricity, and no water just to escape your own life. Unfortunately, in today’s technological society, sometimes that is the only way to completely unplug.

Away from glowing screens, email notification dings, and the noise of an overly congested and poorly planned small city, I will be reconnecting to nature. Camping off the grid is time to listen to body, mind, and soul and align all three with the universe. You can’t hear that “still small voice” when constantly surrounded by noise.

So yes, I will be escaping next week. I also think there is a difference between an escape and running away. Sometimes we need to escape our situations momentarily to take a step back in order to view things objectively. Escaping allows us to return renewed and refreshed, perhaps with a different perspective and brighter outlook on how to tackle a challenge.

Running away, on the other hand, entails leaving the situation and either avoiding it completely, with no intention of return, or returning to the situation with the naive idea that it had changed in your absence, even though you have done nothing about it.

Running away and escaping are two profoundly different situations.

So while I strive to create a life I don’t have to escape, I have come to realize that I do not have total control, and sometimes we need the escape to take a step back in order to face uncertainty with more clarity.

Here’s hoping my camping trip to this new location next week brings me peace, rest, and refreshment. It’s the ultimate adult time out when you come to realize that you are so burned out, that you need to recenter yourself before you reach out and slap someone.

Hopefully by making the effort to take better care of myself, I can be better for those around me. How do you escape when you need some objectivity and refreshment?

Baggage Check

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One of the great things about trying something new is the ability to experiment. Minimalism has been an experiment for me in being able to find balance in my life and focus more on experiences and people than on things. One of the more drastic ways in which I engage in this experiment is through travel.

The origin of the word vacation means to break away. Vacations are appealing because they are a respite from our everyday life. When we go on vacation, we have a break from our everyday responsibilities, which includes all our stuff. You only take what you need to survive and you leave all your other belongings at home without having to worry about cleaning or transporting them.

The past few times I have traveled, I have made a conscious effort to reduce the amount of luggage I take with me. To illustrate, perhaps the most extreme example of my tendency to over pack comes when I run a full marathon. I remember a race, maybe 5 or 6 years ago, to which I traveled and had 9 pieces of luggage.

Nine pieces of luggage.

My reasoning in this was: “26.2 miles – what could possibly go wrong?” I packed all the things. Every single bit of running gear I owned I took with me, because I was uncertain of the challenge I was facing and wanted to be prepared. It was like an episode of preppers for the insecure athlete.

I am happy to report that since that time of packing nine pieces of luggage for a full marathon, I have been able to pare down significantly. I flew to Chicago a few years ago for a 4-day trip and took only a backpack and my purse. I had no checked luggage. Given some of the transfers I had to make in certain airports, I was thanking my lucky stars I had no checked baggage to keep track of as well.

Not only did I take only one backpack, but also that bag had room to spare. I was able to take a few gifts for my hosts in that bag along with the essentials I needed for the trip. Before you gasp in shock and exclaim that this is an exercise in self-deprivation, it was nothing of the sort. I did not repeat a single outfit the whole 4 days I was there and even had an outfit for a more formal outing.

Back to running. Carrying nine pieces of luggage is challenging and problematic. It is even harder trying to deal with so much luggage when you have just ran 26.2 miles and your legs are oscillating between feelings of warm Jell-O and leaden concrete. Sometimes, your legs give out, other times they lock stubbornly, but either way, having to contend with nine pieces of luggage in this state is not happening.

I am happy to report that the last time I ran a half marathon; I was able to decrease my luggage count significantly. The last time I ran a half marathon, I had one backpack (the same one I had taken on the Chicago trip), and one cooler on wheels. I always have a cooler on wheels when running a race as I have multiple food allergies and it is helpful for me to have food and snacks on hand in case I have trouble finding food I can eat that won’t kill me right away.

The more challenging concern than packing for a half marathon was packing for a full marathon. The race I just completed I had two pieces of luggage plus the cooler on wheels. I had the same backpack, plus one additional small size boat and tote bag. I consider this to be a significant improvement from nine pieces of luggage. I was able to take everything from the car to the hotel in one trip and had fewer belongings to keep track of. How many times have you left something in a hotel room because you simply had too many things to remember to repack?

I am happy to report that with a backpack, boat & tote, plus the requisite cooler for food allergies, that I had everything I needed to not only be out of town for 3 days but also to run a full marathon. 26.2 miles what can possibly go wrong indeed? I learned that all I can do is prepare the best that I can. In 26.2 miles there are many things out of my control such as weather and course conditions. The only thing I can do is pack for what is reasonably expected and hope for the best.

In streamlining my packing, I have learned to be more mindful of what I am packing. Rolling clothes instead of folding them allows me to fit more. Rolling underclothes and putting them in large Ziploc bags keep them organized, easy to find, and dry. I say dry because I also used this packing method on my last two camping trips, and when you are camping in the middle of nowhere, dry underclothes are tops on the priority list.

I have learned to pack more tops than bottoms. The jeans I wear to travel someplace can be worn again on the trip back. If you do wear the same pair of pants two days in a row, no one is going to care. Even if I do spill something on myself, most places have laundry facilities onsite or nearby. Plus, there is always the old spot clean in the sink method.

When I would pack for a race with nine pieces of luggage, I learned that I was so focused on what could potentially go wrong and ensuring that I was prepared for every scenario that I failed to enjoy the actual experience I was there to have. The best memories are not often the ones where you arrive impeccably dressed and have a mediocre time. The best stories often come from the times when you were so connected with your experience you were having that it didn’t matter what you were wearing or those times when things went so wrong that it was hilarious.

I consider my new methodology of packing to be trial runs for my ultimate dream of being able to backpack through Europe. I have a passport that has never been stamped, and if I ever get the opportunity (read: have the funds) to cross the Atlantic, I want to be sure that I am fully engaged in the experience and not worrying about the luggage I am dragging with me across a continent.

My new method of traveling with simply a backpack (and sometimes the food allergy cooler depending on the scenario) has given me more freedom to be more present in my experiences, more freedom to actually explore new locations, and has gotten me asking harder questions about the state of belongings in my home.

If I can survive for 3 or 4 days with only a backpack, what items in my home are really necessary? What could I get rid of or live without if that magical moment ever came where I had the opportunity to do a large inter-state or cross country move?

Traveling with less is a safe way in which to experiment with living with less in general but also with having a smaller wardrobe specifically. Having a smaller wardrobe means less laundry, less decision fatigue, and less stress in the mornings as I no longer stand in front of a closet with “nothing to wear.”

If you are looking for ways to experiment with simplicity in your life without making a full commitment, then travel may be the option. Think about how much luggage you typically have on a trip and think of ways in which you can cut it down.

I did not go from nine piece of luggage to one backpack overnight. It was a gradual process over the past few years (and marathons) that I worked to cut it down. I went from nine piece of luggage to seven, to five, and on down. At one point, I fit everything into a medium size duffel as my one piece of luggage. Then, I reduced the medium size duffel to a small size duffel, and finally a backpack.

How much freedom would you have while traveling if you could transfer planes or simply come off the plane without having to wait for baggage claim? You just grab your bag and explore the new place where you have landed. There is a lot of freedom in that. You can explore your surroundings immediately without having to check in to a hotel right away or trying to find someplace to store your luggage while you wait for it to be check in time at the hotel.

Let your next trip be an experiment in living with less. This is not about self-deprivation. This is about freedom. What do you really need to survive?