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)

Home for the Holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Fill My Space

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Owning a home is the hardest thing I have ever done. It is overwhelming. I have finally come to the conclusion that I at least need help with the grass so that I can regain some sanity. Between trying to take care of everything inside and outside, I am losing my mind. I am constantly exhausted; falling asleep pretty much as soon as I sit down at the end of each day.

I am very fortunate in that I have many good friends who have been helping and supporting me in this process. Many people have lent their time to helping me. Some people have brought me practical items – wine (consumables always welcome), screen for my vents, hedge clippers, etc.

Most people know that I am a minimalist. As a new home owner, I am already overwhelmed, so the last thing you should do is bring me a car load of stuff to overwhelm me even more. Yes, I did move from a 600 square foot apartment to a 1,600 square foot house.

Don’t fill my space.

I have spent the past 14 years in stable housing. Except for the particulars necessary for home ownership (like lawn care items), I have what I need. In fact, I was surprised to find that I have things in every room. I was honestly expecting to have empty rooms when I moved into the house, but that was not the case.

I had to purchase three new towels when I moved into the house due to the water problem at the apartment. Normally, as a minimalist, I would have taken the three stained towels from the apartment and donated them to the animal shelter. However, as a new homeowner, I have actually kept those three stained towels in a bin in my basement – I have used them twice to clean up water in the basement due to washing machine mishaps. For the record, the washing machine issues have been addressed. The basement is completely dry now, and I am laundering loads of laundry with no issues.

One of the splurge purchases I made after I moved into the house was purchasing blue Adirondack chairs. I have always wanted blue Adirondack chairs. I got four of them for my front porch. I purchased four because people have been visiting me in groups of two or three people at a time. I have had more people visit me these first two weeks in my new house than visited me in all the 14 years I spent living in the apartment.

I figure that the four chairs are a good purchase, as they can also be used in the back yard for the fire pit when we have a housewarming bonfire. I have to figure out a date for this event when I am not feeling overwhelmed and if it finally stops raining.

The four chairs will be able to be moved indoors this winter so that I can have game night at home. I definitely have the space for them. By having open spaces in my home, I have the space available for what is most important in life – family, friends and fun.

So if you feel the need to bring me furniture or other indoor household items, please don’t. I have all that. I have been living independently. Being a minimalist in a larger space does not mean that I am going to start accumulating items. It means I finally have the space for the most important things in life. In my apartment, three people felt cramped. In the house, there have been four people here at a time, and the house still feels huge.

The cats have been settling in and  enjoy running and playing. They go upstairs and downstairs all the time. I have been finding their toys strewn about, so I know they feel comfortable here when they are home alone while I am at work.

At the end of the day, the only thing that needs to fill my space is love. I have that with my family and the presence of my friends. Don’t fill my space with things.

Redefining Freedom

My family – Jude, age 6 (right), Simon, age 2 (left)

Freedom means different things to different people depending on circumstances. For many, travel means freedom. It is even popularized in a commercial as being “free to roam the country.” I had this grand Freedom at Forty plan that I would finally be able to go someplace to have a stamp in my passport.

While I would love to travel, I have had some life circumstances lately that are not only making travel impossible, but literally threatening my day-to-day existence. When faced with a life-changing crisis, we quickly realize where our priorities are and fight to make sure they are met. For me, that means that this year I am redefining freedom.

Freedom now means the ability to live with my family someplace safe and in peace. As long as the three of us get to stay together, nothing else matters. This has always been my first priority, but it tends to become more pronounced when your family unit is threatened with ultimatums such as “separate or get out,” or “choose between your children because you have too many.” Sometimes even just keeping a family together feels like a losing battle.

That losing battle straddles a fine line between freedom and survival. There are ways to keep families together and survive. It could be living in a car, a RV, or migrating somewhere new where you will hopefully be able to stay together safely. Freedom is more than survival. Freedom is being able to keep your family together in a way that enables you all to be comfortable, safe and to build a life where you can transcend survival and be able to thrive.

Right now, I am in survival mode trying to keep my family together and find safe, affordable housing that will accept us as a family unit. I’m hoping that the Fourth of July will be some sort of good luck charm to finding freedom to live with my family intact.

It’s pretty sad in this land of alleged plenty that keeping a family together is seen as a privilege and not a right. If keeping a family together is a privilege, then we truly are not free at all. Everything can be taken from you with only a moment’s notice – including those you hold dear. The whole point of minimalism is not to have nothing. The point of minimalism is to have just what you need so you can focus on what’s important. Being able to be a minimalist is also a sense of privilege in a country where some people are struggling to obtain even just what they need and to hold onto what’s important.

Freedom should include the right to keep a family together. As people spend the Fourth of July having barbeques and watching fireworks with their family, they should think about whether that family is a right or a privilege. Currently, in this country and as I am seeing in my own life right now, family is a privilege. True freedom would include the right to keep a family together in a safe environment.

The Fourth of July is also an anniversary. It was Fourth of July weekend back in the late 90s that I moved from Massachusetts to New York. I have gone back and forth over the years whether or not that movement was something I regret.

I have come to the conclusion that I do not regret leaving Massachusetts because of the positive things that have happened since I arrived in New York. I was finally able to achieve my degrees and I would not trade a single minute with my family to go back and do it over differently. However, the moving that I did that long ago Fourth of July weekend has had significant impact on the course of my life over the past 20 years.

While I do miss Massachusetts and wish I could afford to move back, I realize that in New York, I achieved a level of freedom that I would not trade. I now have education to bring in income that buys freedom (unless you are looking for affordable housing). I have the freedom of being with my family and that is the greatest gift I have ever received.

This Fourth of July, I am redefining freedom. My Freedom at Forty plan no longer includes international travel. Given my current circumstances, that is not a realistic goal. This year, I am redefining freedom as the ability to keep my family together. If I can keep us together in safe, affordable, stable housing that will be even better. The outcome is yet to be seen.

How are you redefining freedom this Fourth of July? What does freedom mean to you?  

 

The End of An Era


My 18 year old passed away from cancer in April. It was the hardest experience of my life. Kitty and I have been together since he was 4 months old, and I was 19. He taught me how to be an adult. I grew up for him. I had to be sure I could provide food, shelter, and medical care. I’m sure that if it wasn’t for my furballs, I would have continued on the downward spiral I was on at that point in my life and continued to live on my car/in the streets, or worse.

Kitty, as you may know from this post was predeceased by Kip. Together, they constituted the dynamic duo. After Kip passed away, Kitty and I adopted Jude. While Kitty and Jude bonded extremely well, they did not have the depth of connection held by Kip and Kitty. With Kitty’s passing, it is truly the end of an era.

The past month or so has been extremely hard for me, I feel like I go through many of my days on autopilot. Some days, I am unable to determine if I am having trouble because I messed up on my post-stroke medication (I didn’t) or if I am having trouble simply because I am so upset (more probable). I feel dead inside. It’s hard to say goodbye to someone who greeted you at the door every day, who slept with you every night, and was your constant companion for almost two decades.

The hardest part about the entire situation is that, let’s face it: Cancer sucks. This was not a clear cut illness as it was when Kip died of pancreatitis. Kitty turn a turn for the worse, and even with pain killers was still in pain. I could not let him continue like that. If I could have traded places with him and took the pain for him, I would have.

I’m sure I will have more clarity on the situation when I am able to fully function again. For now, our family of three is now a family of two. Jude and I have been trying to figure out what that means. In his own way, Jude is grieving too. It’s not just about me. The hardest part is that Kitty was the child I never had, my best friend, and my life partner. I am at a loss currently on how to move forward without him.

I am thankful that these past few years I have made a concerted effort to slow down my life so that I was able to spend as much time with Kitty as possible. While he has been a huge part of my life for 18 years, I was the only person in his. The steps I have taken the past few years in minimalism have helped me to focus on what is most important in life: the people and activities that bring me happiness and joy.

I have been quiet the past few months dealing with Kitty’s illness and my own. There are always challenges in life. How you respond to those challenges are a reflection of the type of person you are. Hopefully soon, I will be sharing some ways in which I am moving forward and some changes that are happening in my household.

For now, I am still hurting. That is okay. It’s healthiest to feel feeling and be able to work through them instead of shoving them aside. I am thankful that I have had a better support network in working through Kitty’s death than I had back when Kip died.

It is the end of an era in my life, and I am now facing uncertainty. One of my good friends told me recently that you don’t ever “get over” something like this; you have to “go through.” It’s hard to go through when you feel like you are stuck. If there is one thing I have learned running marathons, it is to keep moving. Walk, run, dragged, or crawl, you have to cross the finish line.

I’ll be sharing more in the future about the changes I am making as I make my way through this difficult time in life. For now, I am thankful that I have been rewinding my life real slow so I could focus on what is most important.

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.

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.

Bottom of the Seventh

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Above photo: watching the 2013 World Series with Kitty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Time is a Gift

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I’m not going to lie. The past month (the first month) of my retirement has been wicked hard. No matter how much I giddily anticipated the slow down, transitions never quite go as planned. As mentioned in an earlier post, my life did not just slow down. It came to a screeching halt.

As painful as that transition was, it served as a wake up call. I definitely got a reality check. I have always thought of time as a commodity. I have never valued my time. My time has always been bought, bartered, or sold, and it has never been my own. In the past few weeks that my life has slowed down, my time has been my own. When you are so busy going from one thing to another, you never have time to think. When your life slows down to a point where you once again retain ownership over your time, it can be an uncomfortable process if you are not used to having time on your hands and are unsure of how to handle this newfound gift.

Old coping skills die-hard. My first thought, in a moment of panic, was that I have to go back to school. I need a fifth degree. I don’t know from where or in what, but I need another degree. Then, I was able to stand back and ask myself, “Do I really want to go back to school?” The answer is no. Twenty years of college was enough.

This transition probably would have been easier on me if it had occurred at another time of year. In spring and summer, my life is full of outdoor activities such as running, surfing, and spending time at the parks. In the winter, I have a tendency to hibernate. While I have plenty of things to do and plenty of ways to entertain myself and stimulate my brain, what I lack is human interaction.

The biggest benefit to slowing your life down is that not only does it leave you with more time on your hands, but also gives you the power to control what you do with your free time. Once I determined that I do NOT, in fact, want to return to school, I asked myself what I do want to do.

I came up with some ideas.

Some of those ideas I decided I do not want to do right now, but in the fall. Some of those ideas I decided were more of a time commitment that I am willing to give right now. While I need human interaction, I do not want to trade school for some other all-consuming activity. I want my time to be my own.

I have identified two activities that I want to do that seem to require a level of time commitment with which I am comfortable. After the holidays, I plan on putting my plan into place to engage in the two activities and hope to pull myself out of the rut into which I have fallen.

I have checked into many different volunteer opportunities with a great many deserving entities. While I would love to help them all, I simply cannot. The beauty of having time on my hands is that I get to choose what to do with my time. Time on my hands is not only a gift to me, but also what I choose to do with the time I have been given can also be a gift to others.

Part of my intention in slowing down my life is to identify what is important and what is not and to be able to focus my energies on the important things. Life is too important not to do so. Time is a gift and not a commodity has been a very challenging but very deserving lesson I have been learning the past few weeks.

Do you view your time as a commodity? Are you constantly working just to get ahead when really, it would mean so much more to your family if you could come home even an hour earlier one day? At the holidays, we purposefully take the extra time to spend with family and friends and to engage in activities that bring us joy.

We should be doing that all year round, not just at the holidays. Time is a gift both to you and to others. Take this time of year as an example of how much joy could be in your life year round if you only view time as a gift and not as a commodity. We have so much when we rewind real slow.

 

The Most Wonderful

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I have never understood why we need a holiday to be thankful. We should be thankful everyday. After witnessing some of the tragedies caused by the gluttony of capitalism today for Black Friday, I am thinking that perhaps the reason why we have Thanksgiving is that people so quickly forget to be thankful. They need a reminder. It’s a little sad that they so quickly forget the lesson the day after, but still. We need a Thanksgiving to remember to slow down and pay attention to what matters.

There is always something to be thankful for. Perhaps the most important are family and friends. That is the part I love most about the holiday season. The holidays are supposed to be that time of year when we hunker down amidst the falling snow to spend quality time with the ones we love. Holidays are not supposed to be about shopping and gifts and getting the best deals.

You can go out right now and max out some credit cards buying the best gifts. On Christmas, the recipients will squeal with delight, probably forget the gift in 5 minutes time once they open another, and then you spend the month of January and the first part of the new year working extra hours trying to pay off that credit card bill that brought only a few moments of fleeting happiness to your life on one day of the year. That is pretty much what every red-blooded American does this time of year.

Wouldn’t you most rather spend the time inside playing games with your children, drinking hot chocolate with your spouse and watching the snow? Children grow so quickly. The best gift you can give them is your time. Sure, that new 4-wheeler or other large ticket gift may be great, but it is more fun if they have time with you to enjoy. The holidays are supposed to be about peace and remembering to slow down to enjoy the people in your life. Instead, American consumerism has made it all about things.

I put up the Christmas tree today, and was a little sad that there are no gifts under it. All of the presents I am purchasing this year are either consumables (wine, chocolates, gourmet coffees, etc.) or experiences (movie theatre gift cards, rounds of golf, etc.). No presents kind of makes a Christmas tree a moot point. However, when I thought more, I remembered that the presents are not important. What is important is the fact that my cats love it when there are no presents under the tree because they enjoy curling up under it and sleeping. What matters is that I love turning off all the house lights to be able to view the tree lights while listening to holiday music from my youth, and enjoying someone’s company.

What makes this the most wonderful time of the year is the peace and joy that comes from having friends and family in our lives that make the world that much richer. People and experiences are the true measure of wealth, not how big of a TV you own, or how many vehicles are parked in the garage.

In the flurry of holiday activity, be sure to take some time between the parties and the shopping to remember the true meaning of the season. Be thankful for the people in your life and the limited amount of time that we have on this planet. The people around your tree this year may not be there next year. It is more important to enjoy the moments with those you love than it is to purchase the perfect gift. The gift will be set-aside in time, but memories will last a lifetime. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.