This is the New Year

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Simon at Christmas 2018

Welcome, 2019! Every year, for the past three years, I have wished for a quiet year. And every year for the past three years, I have had challenging times with multiple tragedies that were anything but quiet. So I’m not going to wish for anything this year. I know better.

My favorite New Year’s tune is done by Death Cab 4 Cutie. I’m just going to follow their lead on this new year (listen to the lyrics, people).

What I am looking forward to the most this year is that my 40th birthday will be coming up in March. We all know that birthdays are my favorite holiday. Every time I get one, it’s like a giant middle finger to the world that I was able to survive another year of whatever life threw at me. Plus, anytime I turn an age with a zero at the end means I get to move up an age group in running. But my birthday is still a few months away …

Something new I will be starting this week is minimalism Mondays. My house is quite larger than my apartment, so I am going to take my time in going through each room, closet and drawer to be sure all I have is what I really need.

Not to mention, there were some items that the sellers left with the house for me. Some of those items have been quite useful – I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the wheelbarrow, the front window curtains and the entryway doormat. Then, there are some items that are so old that they are no longer useful and belong in a museum. Other items are so rusted that I am afraid to use them because tetanus is one of only two vaccines that I cannot have with multiple food and drug allergies.

So, next week I will be starting minimalism Mondays and going through one area of the house per month. My goal at the end of this exercise is to have a house that is easier to clean. If the house is easier to clean, then I have more time to spend doing the things I really want to do. I do not want to be chained to this house.

The other advantage to creating a minimalist interior, is that I can then focus my attention on the outside of the house. The exterior of the home has been the most challenging part of home ownership for me to handle. I am fine with cleaning a house, but dealing with lawn care, grass mowing, and snow is too hard on a body.

In addition to minimalism Mondays, I’m hoping to get back on some sort of schedule in 2019 so that I can do the things I really want to do. I’m going to run a half marathon this year. It will be my second race post-stroke. I need to go camping. 2018 was the first time in over 20 years that I did not get a vacation and get to go camping.

So, yes, I guess you could say that I am hoping 2019 will be a quiet year. But, shhhhh – I don’t really want to say that. I don’t think I can handle tragedy four years in a row right now. The goal for 2019 will be to slow down so that I can actually enjoy life instead of just trying to survive.

I’m hoping to make some changes in life on the professional front too that will extradite me from the bullying situation I am experiencing. Getting out of that mess is going to take some time. There is a lot more involved when you have to handle something like that on your own because the powers that be refuse to address it. So I do anticipate change in 2019. I highly doubt I will get the quiet year I’ve been wanting for awhile.

Most of all, I am entering 2019 grateful. I am so thankful that will all the tragedies I have experienced in the past few years that I am surrounded by some pretty amazing people that have been helping me. I would not be able to get by without a lot of help from many people.

A key aspect of slowing down my life and minimizing what is inside of my house around me is to give me more time to show the people in my life that I am grateful. I don’t want to be spending my time maintaining a home that is twice the size of my apartment. I want to maintain my home and spend my time with the people that matter. I want to be able to give back to them as much as they have given me. I would not have made it this far without all the amazing people in my life.

So minimalism Mondays will be starting next week, as I start going through the first room on the list for the month of January. I’ll let you know my progress. I’m focusing on the large indoor areas this winter. As soon as spring/summer arrive, I have a whole list of outside things that need to be done. There is no rest for the wicked. But, that’s another song.

Happy New Year 2019.

 

Home is Where the Cats Are

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Jude in the new house Christmas 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home is where the cats are.

Home for the Holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?  

 

Another Ride Around The Sun

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

I love birthdays more than any other holiday, because every time I get one, it’s like a giant middle finger to the world that I was able to survive another year of whatever life threw at me. Life threw me some doozies this past year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vacation

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I’ve been working 23 years. For the first time in my work life, I just completed having a week’s paid vacation. I have never before had employment that gave me paid vacation. It was wonderful.

At one moment, I was lamenting that I did not take as many day trips this year as I have in years past. Then I realized that my life has slowed down enough that I no longer have need for the day trip escapism that was so essential to keeping me going when I was working two jobs and going to school full time. Now that my life has slowed down, I actually have a few hours each week in which I can relax without having to leave town and take a day trip. Having an entire week off completely blew my mind.

I was amazed at the fact that even though I had a week’s vacation, what I wanted more than anything was to be home. I do a lot of driving. I drive every single day. I am sick of driving. Especially where I live in the Finger Lakes, the traffic is so bad in the city in which I work that it is worse than Manhattan, Boston, or L.A. I have driven in those three cities, and would rather drive in them than drive through the city in which I work. So one of the nicest parts about being on vacation was that for nine straight days, I did not go anywhere near the city I work in, which is about 10 miles away from my house. It takes me almost an hour to drive those 10 miles one way to work on a daily basis. I did not miss it.

I did a lot of reading, a lot of hiking, a lot of sleeping, and a lot of relaxing on my vacation. I also planned some fun things for the coming fall and winter. Vacation was a great time to stop and assess where I am in life and to be sure that I am on the right track.

I am so relaxed; I don’t have anything to say.

I have heard many arguments for vacations and many for staycations. I would say that my week was a hybrid. I had four “away” days where I went on a trip, and five “home” days. I read that staycations became popular after the recession. Family vacations of the post-war period were typically camping trips that centered on family togetherness. As the extravagance of the 80s, 90s, and 2000s took over, families go to Europe or Disney. Personally, I needed home days before and after my trip just to prepare and decompress. I go from point A to point B every day of my life. The last thing I want to do on “vacation” is the same thing I do in my everyday life except in a different location. That just does not seem like vacation to me.

What fun are you having this summer? Vacation or staycation?

Lines in the Sand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Happy 17th Birthday to my Son

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This is the first in the monthly #FelineFriday series.

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

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

Kitty is my oldest and my first.

Today he is 17.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy 17th Birthday, Kitty. I love you.