Water

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One of my favorite reggae tunes is “Bread” by John Brown’s Body. This group is made up of band members from both Boston, MA and Ithaca, NY which combines two of my favorite places and makes it even better. When I hear this tune, it reminds me to be thankful for everything that we have.

Do we ever think to be thankful for water? We hear about people in other countries who do not have access to clean drinking water. We have heard the stories from Flint, MI and from areas in California that are still trying to recover from the fires and do not have access to clean drinking water.

The concept of water struck home for me, when, for a period of four months, I did not have it. Sometimes, you do not appreciate something until you have to go without.

As you may remember, last summer I was in the throes of my housing crisis. Part of that crisis was the fact that the new owner who bought my apartment building hired this company who was clueless about wells. To make a long story short, our well water got completely screwed up.

This 12-unit apartment building with 1-2 people and 1-2 cats per unit was on a well for 20 years. Everything went fine. We always had water, and it was good water. The water tested well and tasted good.

Then, this water management company came in and the water was completely messed up the last four months I was in the apartment. The water was not drinkable. It sometimes came out a blue-purple color. You could no longer do laundry on-site because clothes would be stained with the blue-purple color. I only used the water for washing dishes and for bathing. Yet even using the water to shower only, all of my bath towels ended up dyed that funky color just from toweling off after a shower.

I had to buy new towels when I moved into the house.

You can imagine, then, when I first moved into the house, all I wanted was a shower. I wanted to shower in clean water. I delighted in turning on the tap in my kitchen sink and drawing a glass of water to drink. I am fortunate in that the area where my house is located has the water that tests the best and tastes the best in the entire county. According to our village newsletter, our water even won some award. I love the water at the house.

Not only am I able to shower at the house, but I can drink water whenever I want. So can the cats. The last four months in the apartment, I was constantly buying gallons of water for us all to drink, which only added to my expenses when I was trying to scrimp to get into the house.

In the house, I am also able to do laundry on-site. I can do laundry whenever I need to do it. It doesn’t matter the day, the weather, or the time. This is truly a luxury and a privilege.

I was thinking lately about how privileged I am to have water.

Being a home owner has been a struggle for me. I call myself a reluctant home owner because I never wanted to buy a house. I bought this house because it was the only way to keep my family together. Everyone around me seems to think I have some problem because I hate being a home owner.

However, on the news recently, a study shows that as much as 60% of home owners in this country have regret or remorse over the fact that we bought a house. We all bought for the same reason – it was cheaper to buy than to rent. We all are depressed and resentful about our home purchases for the same reason too. We hate the responsibility and maintenance.

I am again fortunate in that I have people who have been helping me with the house. I am so appreciative of the help. However, there is a difference between having people who lend you a hand with things and then having a life partner to shoulder the responsibility, joy, and anxiety with you.

Reading the studies and knowing that there are people out there who feel the same way I do helps.

Being thankful for my water helps me appreciate the house even more and also be less resentful.

Out of the 12 apartments in the building in which I lived for 14 years, I have kept in touch with a person who is still there. I had lunch with that person a few weeks ago.

I had seen in the newspaper that the person who bought the building decided to add on more apartments. More apartments means more people means more stress on that well.

I have also heard that instead of 1-2 people in each apartment, there are now 4-6 people in each apartment. Seeing as how the rent more than doubled, I am not surprised. You need 4-6 working adults in each unit now to be able to afford the rent.

So with more units and more people, I asked my friend if the water situation was ever remedied from the mess it was last year.

It has not. Not only is the water still contaminated and coming out that blue-purple color, but apparently there has been no hot water for weeks even though each unit has its own hot water heater. They are essentially all cold water flats. My friends says that she has not said anything because she does not like to deal with the new landlord.

Hearing this situation makes me very thankful for my house. I was so stressed those last four months in the apartment. I had to take all my laundry to the laundry mat, and I was spending exorbitant amounts of money on gallons of water for me and the cats.

I still resent buying a house. I find it overwhelming. But I am thankful that we have a place to live that has working, clean water. We have both hot and cold water. We can drink water right out of the tap.

I have been trying to find ways to be positive about the house to try to decrease my stress levels. Being thankful for water is one way to be thankful for this house.

Even though owning a home is hard – it is damn hard – it is the hardest thing I have ever done – at least we have clean drinking water.

I listen to the song “Bread,” and all I can think is that I have water to make bread. Owning a home is hard, stressful, and not a responsibility that I want. But I am so thankful that this home gives me clean water and that my little family is together.

Thank you for clean water.

 

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.

 

Thanksgiving Day in April

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I had a bad day today.

Nobody wants to hear bad things. People want to hear good things. Before you stop reading, let me tell you this: It reminded me to be grateful.

That’s right, grateful.

I remember a time about 4 years ago, when I had a job so atrocious with a boss who micromanaged me with the precision of a Lego drill sergeant, that the most positive part of my day was lunch time. That’s right, lunchtime. I remember the person whom I was dating at the time trying to be supportive, knew better than to ask, “how was your day?” Instead they would ask, “How was lunch?”

In vast contrast to four years ago, my life today is at the most positive place it has ever been in my 37 years of life. For the first time, I literally have it all: A roof over my head, a working vehicle, 2 healthy cats/kids that love me, a job I love that pays me well & allows me to meet all my obligations each month. I am finally done with school & have more leisure time than I have ever had in life or know what to do with. The only thing missing is the person to share life with, and well, that just happens sometimes.

So what is one bad day? I need to have Thanksgiving in April. You know, I’ve always said Thanksgiving should not just be one day, but every day all year long.  It’s true. We should be thankful every day.

I am quickly approaching my one year anniversary of when I made a life changing decision to go from two minimum wage $9/hour jobs working 60-70 hours a week to working one living wage job working 25-30 hours per week. Even though it was one of the scariest decisions I have ever made in my life, I am glad I took the chance and jumped in blind with two feet. The past year has quite literally been the best year of my life.

Not only am I able to pay all of my bills, but also I am able to take care of myself better than I was able to before. My food allergies and autoimmune condition are very demanding, yet the past year they have been relatively under control.

Thanksgiving should not just be one day in November. We should be thankful every day for our blessings in life. Every day.

What are you thankful for today? How can you have Thanksgiving in April?

 

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.

Gratitude

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There is a Buddhist saying that to live in the future creates anxiety, to live in the past creates depression, and to live in the present creates peace. While I agree with this wholeheartedly, I also think that to live in the present is a form of privilege.

When I was working on my social work degree, we participated in this project called “Walk A Mile,” in which we spent the afternoon attempting to live out a scenario given to us that was supposed to emulate the day in the life of a person in poverty. We were given toys dolls for children, told when the work hours were, had to juggle childcare, paying for bills, and emergencies like trying to get to food pantries and avoid utilities from being shut off. Little did the administrators know that when I was participating in this simulation, I was homeless myself, and have a history of homelessness from the time I was very young. At the end of the day, my classmates were able to return to their plush condos and lives in which every need was met, while I spent the night on the street, trying to find a safe place to sleep.

This exercise was designed not only to give insight to the future social worker into the lives of those with whom we would work, but also to establish a feeling of gratitude. There are many different forms of privilege in this world. Being able to remain present is a byproduct of economic privilege. During the simulation and in my personal real life experiences, when you are living paycheck to paycheck unsure of where your next meal is coming from, it is hard to stay present. You are always looking to the future for the next best thing that is going to help you escape the cycle of poverty, or you are simply reacting to what happens around you because you are too overwhelmed to handle anything else. It creates a lot of anxiety.

In my slowdown, I have come to realize that being present is a point of privilege. It is a privilege borne out of economic prosperity. When you do not have to worry about where you are sleeping for the night or how you are getting to work in the morning, you have the leisure to enjoy the moment you are experiencing.

Given this, I have also come to realize that it was in those times when my life was most challenging that I was also the most grateful for the smallest things. I recently came across a gratitude journal that I had kept during my early college years. There were days when I listed being happy that the paper I had written came off the printer warm because it was so cold outside and my hands were frozen from being inadequately dressed for the weather.

I have also seen posts online during the holiday season where people will do a “gratitude challenge.” Post everyday why you are grateful! Don’t just celebrate Thanksgiving for one day; celebrate for the entire season! What happens in the spring and summer when the holidays are over, the living is easy, and the weather is warm? Do we forget to be grateful?

We need to be grateful every day.

Let me say that again. We need to be grateful. Every. Day.

Just as I was able to be thankful for warm printer paper during some of the more challenging times in my life, I need to be just as thankful in the good times in my life.

The way my life is right now, I have never had it this good.

Expressing gratitude allows us to be present because it causes you to pause and reflect on the now. To really slow down, we must look at where we are and appreciate how far we have come. If you are constantly looking in the rearview mirror or wondering what is around the next curve, you are missing the most beautiful things that are right in front of your face. When the Buddhists say that to be present brings peace, they aren’t kidding.

I need to get back in the habit of keeping a gratitude journal in which I am able to identify at least one thing per day for which I am thankful. Even if you are having a “bad” day, there is always something for which to be thankful, no matter how small. Even the days when I was simply thankful that I had enough fare to ride the bus instead of walk in the cold.

To start, I have many things to be grateful for right now:

  • Health. Without health, we are nothing. Literally. If you do not have health, you are dead, and that is the absence of life. After many potentially fatal experiences in my life, including lymphoma, multiple anaphylactic food allergies, and other accidents, I can genuinely say that I am happy to be alive. Celebrate your health and the ability to grow old; it is a privilege denied to many.
  • Housing. After many years with precarious housing (including growing up – a time when I had even less control of my life), I am thankful that I have had stable housing for the past 6-8 years.
  • Food. Do you know what it is like to be able to go to the grocery store and be able to get everything on your list? Let me rephrase that: do you know what it is like to go to the grocery store and have to make difficult choices picking and choosing what is on your list because you have a very limited amount of funds and have to chose between groceries and paying the light bill? I am thankful that the past few months, I can go to the grocery store and get everything on my list without having to choose between, say bread or cereal.
  • Friends. I have good people in my life. When the Wonderful Life movie says that no man is poor who has friends, they are right. I am privileged to now have time that I have not had before to be able to cultivate the friendships in my life.
  • Family. My family may be small, but without it, I would be nothing. Having family has forced me to find stability in my life as an adult that I did not have as a child. It has forced me to grow up and to evaluate what is really important in life.
  • Education. My education has enabled me to escape the cycle of poverty. It has given me the tools to be able to find employment that allows me to meet all my basic needs.
  • Opportunity. I am so thankful that I have finally found employment that I not only enjoy, but that treats me well, and gives me the opportunity to slow my life down and enjoy the moment in which I find myself. I have never felt so alive. Having the opportunity at this point in my life to be happy – truly happy – is such a gift.

To be grateful is to take the time to pause and be in the present. To be in the present means to find and be at peace. If you are finding yourself hurried and wondering, “where did the summer go?” on this first day of August, then it may be time to slow down and identify your points of gratitude.

That anxiety you feel is what happens when you are so focused on the future that you do not enjoy the now. That depression you are feeling is when you are so trapped in the past that you are unable to move forward. Be thankful. Get out of the rut and be present here and now.

For what are you grateful?