Hell in the Hallway

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They say when one door closes, another one opens. It’s hell in the hallway. I am usually a patient person. I don’t mind waiting for things. I have no credit cards, so when I want something, I need to plan and save for it. As long as other people are not waiting on something from me, I don’t mind waiting on them.

Where I am inpatient right now is in escaping a bad situation.  I am in the hallway between places and it’s pure hell. I have no problem waiting for the new door to open completely. My challenge is that the door behind me is not completely closed. It’s still partway open.  I would rather be stuck in a hallway with a door closed behind me waiting for the one in front to open.

I have had everything packed for the past three months, when I first got the news that I would no longer be able to stay in my current housing both due to finances as well as the need to keep my family together. Everything in my current living space will be leaving, no matter where it is going. Most of it will be going to a new dwelling.

I have been going through the boxes lately asking myself “do I really want to move this?” Of course, everything is leaving. It is a question of whether it will be donated or moving. I currently have three boxes I will be taking to donate. Even though I will be taking those three boxes, putting them in the trunk of my car and taking them to the donation center, it still feels like those are three less boxes I will be moving. It’s true. While I am physically moving the boxes by taking them to the donation center, they are three less boxes I will be moving to a new dwelling on Moving Day.

I have been sitting here for three months surrounded by boxes. The more I look at them, the less I want to move them.

It’s also been more than a year since my last vacation, and since I had to cancel my camping trip, marathon, park visits, beach days and baseball, I’m just really in need of a break. I have pretty much had to forfeit my summer due to this housing crisis. This is the year of the Lost Summer. I have only been able to go to work and back because I have not had the resources to do anything else. This is what happens when you are given 2 weeks notice that your rent will suddenly take up over 60% of your income.

Basically, I’m tired with no respite in sight.

Yes, I will be off when I move, but that’s a huge job. This is going to be my first move in 14 years. Hopefully, it will be my last.

There have been so many times in the past three months when I have wanted a certain CD or DVD, but it’s packed. The only items not packed right now are those I absolutely need to function every day. This would be a fun experiment if it was only for a few weeks. It’s not fun for a few months.

There are many minimalist experiments that advise to pack up what you are not using for three months, and if you don’t remember what is in the box after 12 weeks to donate it. Well, I know I am not donating these boxes because I know what is in them, and I want to use what I have. I am actually missing some of my items that are currently in boxes.

I am fortunate that in all of my downsizing and minimizing, I have not missed a single item I have donated or purged. In fact, I could not even begin to tell you about any of the items I have gotten rid of because I don’t remember them. I do, however, remember what is currently in the boxes I have packed, which is telling me this is stuff I need to keep. They are things I like and want to use.

I’m sure that there will be some items when I unpack that I look at and say “oh, I had forgotten about that.” That may be an item that needs to be donated. For the most part, I have been missing the items I have packed.

I’m pretty sure that I am moving this month, in August. I’m just waiting for a moving date. I’m hoping to get a moving date soon, because each month I stay here, my expenses increase, and there is the threat of “housing or family.” As eager as I am to escape this situation, it is hard to think of how it is happening.

I have been in my current living situation for 14 years, which is the longest I have ever lived anyplace and it’s the only place that has ever felt like home. It’s a hard pill to swallow that I am being forced out. Keeping my family together is my number one priority, so hopefully we will be able to escape the nightmare soon.

The one positive in this situation is that my current dwelling is much easier to clean now that everything is packed. I have already decided that when I unpack in my new living space, I will be taking a harder look at wall hangings and decorative items. Less clutter means less to clean. Less to clean means more time to do things I want to do. Of course, right now, I have plenty of time and can’t do anything because I’m even struggling with groceries. I’m not eating enough to train or to even run very far. All my money is currently going to housing.

It is very possible that once I am in the new living space, my rule of three may be revised to be the rule of one. One item on each wall and surface instead of three. Of course, I will only be keeping and using what is meaningful to me. A new living space is a fresh start. We will see what resonates with me when I unpack.

One thing that has become clear with this exercise is that music is my priority. I have no problem getting rid of books or DVDs. I use the library a lot for books and DVDs. What I cannot seem to part with are CDs and vinyl records.

That’s ok. Music is my thing. If my music collection is the one area that I do not downsize, I am okay with that. Minimalism is not an exercise in how to live without. It’s a way of living that allows you to optimize your time for what you love. Music is what I love and a huge part of my life, so there is no need to minimize that area.

Having everything around me packed for the past three months has definitely reminded me of my priorities. I basically have to keep my family together. Beyond that, my life is filled with music. I have music on all the time at my house. The cats even listen to the radio while I am at work all day.

Right now, my family is together, and we have music. So while its hell in the hallway, at least I know my priorities are firmly in place. Hopefully soon we’ll be able to kick that door closed behind us and fling open the one that’s cracked. I’m ready to move on.

 

 

 

 

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Closets, Clothes & Packing For A Move

The kids are ready to go! Destination and moving day unknown.

My closets are the cleanest and most organized part of my house. This probably seems like an oxymoron and I’m sure you hate me right now. For most people, the opposite is typically true. Closets are usually the most cluttered and messiest part of a room. Company coming over? Gather items in your arms and shove them in a closet – instant space and instant closet mess.

I’ve been downsizing for a while now, and I got to a point where everything has its own place. When every item has a place to live, you don’t feel cluttered anymore. It’s only when things are overflowing that we tend to feel cluttered. This also means that we have a tendency to adapt to our space.Your stuff evolves to fit the space in which you live. Bigger space, means more stuff. Smaller space, you need less stuff. It’s all about balance.

For me, my closets became organized because I have been ruthlessly decluttering for years now. Every object has a place. Items in my closet have been culled and are there for a specific purpose.

My coat closet contains my winter coats (2), snow pants, boots, storage bin of hats, gloves, scarves and snow tires. My linen closet contains towels, sheets, cleaning supplies, and a box of toiletries. I do place large orders of toiletries in “bulk” as everything from shampoo to lotion has to be special ordered from one company due to my allergies. You would not believe how many toiletry items contain almond oil so I have to special order everything to be nut-free. Aveeno body lotion sent me into full anaphylactic shock one time, but I digress.

My spare bedroom closet contains Christmas and camping supplies. Everything is in its own storage bin. As you may know from prior posts, I have decluttered Christmas so that everything fits into one storage bin, plus the tree. I’m pretty sure when I started there were three Christmas bins.

My closet in my actual bedroom has my clothes, my luggage, and the storage bin of seasonal clothing. The seasonal clothing storage bin currently holds winter – hoodies and sweaters. My bedroom closet also stores the air conditioner when it is not in use in winter.

Everything else in my house that is not in a closet is out, in use, or in its designated place. The only items overflowing are the CDs. More on those later.

Back to closets. The only reason why I noticed how clean and organized my closets are is because I started packing. I don’t know where I am moving to yet or when, but I am packing. In looking at my closets, there is really nothing in them to pack. Pretty much everything in all the closets is already in some sort of storage bin or container, so all I have to do is pick it up and move it. The only exceptions are the coats in the coat closet and my clothes.

Let’s move on to clothes. I am a big fan of capsule wardrobes and Courtney Carver’s Project 333. I’m not a huge stickler on the numbers. Again, I’m one of those that as long as all my clothing fits in my dresser and closet and I only have one bin of seasonal, I am fine. I have no idea if I have 33 items of clothing or 50. I know that everything fits in my designated space, and that I wear everything I have. My clothing is comfortable, fits well, and has no tags or holes.

Since I am packing, what exactly do I have for clothes? Well, since I am not moving right now, I can’t actually pack the clothes. I literally wear and use everything I have. When I do move, moving my clothes will be easy. Remove the drawers from the dresser and carry clothes that way. For the closet, take a garbage bag to wrap the clothes in to keep them clean.

What is in my closet and drawers?

I actually do have work clothes and everyday clothes. I am not one of those people who is able to have one all-purpose wardrobe. I’m a jeans & baseball shirt type of girl; that doesn’t really fly when my office is business casual. I don’t like business casual. It’s an uncomfortable but necessary evil.

In my closet, I have 15 hangars in use. Some are random, like the one that holds my hockey jersey. Hey, I’m not perfect. I do have random things that bring me joy. I don’t have a set number of items.

I would say that there are 10 hangars in active use. For work, my color palate is a base of black or grey that is accented with jewel tones of blue, green, and purple/burgundy. So, on 10 hangars, I have:

4 pairs of work dress pants (2 black and 2 grey)

2 blazers (1 black, 1 grey)

2 cardigan sweaters (1 black, 1 grey)

2 dresses (not work appropriate, totally summery, for going to the theatre, a wedding, etc. If you are interested, one is pink and the other a summer orange and they are both fun.)

My dresser has 4 drawers.

In one drawer, is my everyday tops. These are mostly baseball, football, or hockey shirts. Yeah, you’ve seen them. They have the team on the front and the number and name of player on the back. I have about 8 of these in a drawer. Along with 2 thermals and 2 flannels for winter when it gets chilly so I can layer. That’s one of my four drawers.

There is one drawer of pajamas. For every capsule wardrobe or challenge I have read, pajamas, underclothes and workout wear don’t count as “wardrobe” if you’re doing one of the number challenges like 50 items or Project 333. I have one drawer of pajamas and the color scheme here is very heavily pink. I like pink nightwear. I have a bin of summer running clothes, a bin of winter running clothes, and one of those plastic containers with 3 drawers that has bras, undies and socks.

My third drawer is work tops. Again, my color scheme for tops is mostly blue and green with some purple thrown in. I have about 8 different work tops. Right now, I also have “summer” in this drawer, which means my tank tops (not work wear) for when its 80+ degrees out like it is now.

In my fourth drawer, I have everyday bottoms. Like work clothes, I have 4 bottoms. Except for everyday, this includes 2 pairs of jeans and 2 pairs of my infamous Victoria’s Secret yoga pants. Also, for summer, this drawer currently holds 4 pairs of shorts and some swim wear.

In the seasonal box, which currently holds winter, is 3 hoodies (those are bulky), a pair of corduroy pants, and 3 sweaters.

My clothes aren’t a problem and don’t bother me. I have no decision fatigue in the morning. I can get dressed immediately without having to put on multiple options or throw items around the room because “I don’t want to wear this today” or “this isn’t working.” Like I said, moving my clothes is going to be super easy. I don’t even really have to pack them or put them into luggage.

I typically have two loads of laundry per week – one of work clothes and one that consists of everyday clothes, pajamas, towels and sheets. Clothes are easy to move.

What has been stressing me out in trying to pack is not my clothes and not the items that are in my closets. It is my everyday items that are out and in use. Specifically, this would be my media of books, DVDs, and CDs. I have packed this stuff up and am now looking at it thinking, “I don’t want to have to (physically) move this stuff.”

Before I started packing, everything was in its place and I did not feel cluttered. I have one 2-shelf bookcase of books, and one 2-shelf bookcase of DVDs. The CDs are overflowing. The CDs I was just going to start curating, and decided to take them all with me to curate in the next location. When packed, the CDs, don’t seem like much. I’m not sure if it is just looking at a pile of boxes that is getting to me or what.

I left 5 DVDs and 5 CDs out to play with in this transition process. It has been challenging. For example, I find myself wanting to unpack the DVDs because “Oh, I want to watch this, and it’s packed.”

Right now, I am unsure if I “have too much stuff” or am simply overwhelmed at the idea of moving after being in the same place for 14 years. Whatever I’m doing, this is a super big change. I can also say that the kitchen is a room that I cannot pack right now because I am still literally using everything in my kitchen.

The only thing kitchen related I have been trying to do is to eat up and use up everything in my cupboards, frig and freezer, so that there is less food stuff to move. There really is not any cook ware or dishware I can pack that is not in use.

One of the problems of being a minimalist is having to wait to the last minute to pack because you are literally using everything you have. I guess this is a good problem to have. If I can pack something and have it sit there for months without needing it, then it is probably something to get rid of anyway. I only like to have items that I use or love.

I’m fortunate in that I have been minimizing myself for a few years now, so I am sure that I have less now than I would have, say 5 years ago. Still, it feels like so much. It could be because I packed two rooms and have all the boxes from two rooms in one room. Maybe it just seems like more than it is.

Downsizing, minimizing, and simplifying are all a process. Whenever and where-ever moving day happens, I will have to see how I actually feel about my stuff once I start physically moving it. I will be moving all the small items myself.

The large furniture items like my couch, bed, table, etc., I will be enlisting help to move. I have already figured that all of those large items I can shove into one room to make it easier for my helpers to move me.

It’s just all the little stuff that seems like a lot.

What I am learning is that my clothes and my closets are not a problem. So I’ve done a wicked good job with those. I have downsized my wardrobe to the point where I am actually able to live and enjoy life without worrying about what I’m wearing or wasting my time shopping.

The benefit to this exercise is that I am learning about the areas of my living space I need to focus on simplifying next – which seems to be my living room and media. Yet, when I find myself missing and wanting things that are packed … maybe they are not a problem after all if I am using and liking them. Collections are not bad if you enjoy them.

Minimalism is not some exercise in pain or how to live without. Minimalism is about having room in your life for what’s important. Apparently all the stuff I have now is coming with me – even if it does feel overwhelming to move it.

I’ll let you know how it goes when moving day comes (whenever that may be, but hopefully soon).

 

The Toilet Paper Chronicles

People tend to have strong opinions about poverty and those who have “less than.” Many times, the individual is blamed for their “poor” choices. We refuse to acknowledge the societal factors that contribute to the cycle of poverty and instead firmly place all blame and responsibility for being poor on the individual.

There was an article recently that used toilet paper as an example of why people are poor. Unfortunately, as gross as it may sound, this issue of toilet paper has been a recurring theme in my life. More on that later. This particular article pointed out that buying toilet paper in bulk is cheaper in the long term than buying toilet paper in smaller packages. For example, the 20 roll bulk pack works out to be cheaper than continuously buying rolls that are either individually wrapped or packaged in groups of four (very common).

Do the math. Toilet paper is cheaper in bulk than in four roll packages. You can’t really argue with the numbers. It is a fact that bulk toilet paper is cheaper. The article then says that low income people or those on a fixed income, have a finite amount of money to spend. People are more likely to buy the four roll pack because it is “cheaper” (for that week) to pay the $2 for the four pack than it is to pay $10 for the bulk pack.

If you only have $30 a week to spend on groceries, it makes sense. You do not want to spend $10 on toilet paper and only have $20 that week to spend on your milk, bread, and eggs. When you are low income, it is hard to squeeze out that $10 in an individual week even if it is cheaper in the long run. When every day life is an emergency, you are constantly reacting to the present situation and it is extremely difficult to plan for the long term when you do not have any additional resources to set aside for an emergency. The emergency is now. You are living it.

The article then concluded because people only have a finite amount of money to spend each week, that the cycle of poverty is partially perpetuated by people’s inability to buy bulk toilet paper. They end up paying more in the long run for toilet paper and are unable to take advantage of the savings of buying in bulk.

This is, of course, an oversimplification of the point the article was making, but you get the idea. When you are low income, you are limited in what you can access. For example, if you do not have transportation to get to the discount store, you may be restricted to having to buy necessities at the local gas station down the street. We all know that this strategy is expensive. I personally do not buy anything in a gas station unless I absolutely have to. We all know the markup on items is astronomical. For some people who lack transportation or are in a geographic area that are what we call “food deserts,” there is no other access to necessities than the local gas station.

The cost of being poor is that sometimes, due to lack of resources, you end up paying more for necessities because you do not have the capacity to access cheaper alternatives. Poor people are often condemned for their “choices,” but often, they are making the best choices they can give what they have at the moment. It’s hard to break free of the cycle.

Toilet paper is a luxury item, not a necessity.

When I was growing up, toilet paper was a luxury item. We very rarely had it. Before there was SNAP or EBT cards, we had these things called paper food stamps. They came in little booklets where you would tear out a “stamp” that looked like monopoly money. The ones were brown, the fives were blue. If you were really lucky, the 20s were green. These were very rarely seen, and the highest denomination of food stamps.

When you used a food stamp, cashiers were only allowed to give you back change if the amount was less than a dollar. You could get coin change back, but if you had a $5 food stamp, and your grocery bill came to $3.73, the cashier could give you the $0.27 cents back in coins, but for the $1, they had to be able to give you a brown food stamp dollar, not a real American dollar. Thus, when you used your food stamps, you better use them in a place that could also give you change in food stamps. Otherwise, if the cashier did not have the brown $1 food stamp, you would have to forfeit it, and could only take the $0.27 cents in coin change.

As a child, I was given one brown food stamp per week for groceries. I can tell you that I used that $1 food stamp each week to buy 3 cans of spaghetti o’s and a pack of gum. The spaghetti o’s were $0.30 cents and a pack of gum was $0.05 cents. I would have a nickle left over each week. Each can of spaghetti o’s would last 2 days, so I had enough food for 6 days a week. As a child, I was pretty good at getting myself invited to friends houses for a meal so I could eat on the 7th day each week.

I remember when the price of spaghetti o’s increased to $0.33 cents because of how it affected my weekly food alliance. No more gum, and I only had a penny each week instead of a nickle. And people wonder why I started working at age 14. I had a paper route.

Food stamps were not allowed to be used to buy paper products. No toilet paper, tissues or paper towels. Food stamps were only for food. I used them for food. If I didn’t I would have starved.

At the time, you could get a roll of toilet paper for a quarter. So I was saving my nickels each week to be able to buy one roll of toilet paper every 5 weeks. This meant that you only used toilet paper when you absolutely needed to. If you were in a public restroom, you always grabbed an extra handful of toilet paper to take with you so you could have it for home.

This was the 80s when I was a child. The priority was having food, so toilet paper was a luxury item.

Because of how I grew up, I have this tendency as an adult to always buy toilet paper in bulk to have it on hand. It makes me feel rich knowing I never run out of toilet paper or have to go without. No matter how difficult my life has been at times as an adult, I have always had toilet paper. Even when I was living in my car.

As an adult making my own money, who is not on food stamps, I have the ability to buy toilet paper in bulk. I am privileged. I know there are people in my town and in this country who are not as privileged as I am who are making the choices I had to make as a child every single day. It’s the reality of being poor in America.

Buying in bulk may seem counterintuitive to the concept of minimalism. As a minimalist, the concept is less not more. Logically, bulk items make sense because they save money in the long run, especially for a household item you can use. For me, I have no problem making the argument to buy toilet paper in bulk. Buying other items in bulk such as shampoo or toothpaste, does not make sense to me, but to each his own.

Toilet paper is a recurring theme in my life. I cannot escape it.

I was in the grocery store this week and I bought the four roll pack of toilet paper.

Wha? I just spent how many paragraphs discussing the merits of buying toilet paper in bulk and got the four pack roll?

Yup.

I am currently having a housing crisis which has significantly reduced the spending power of my income. That’s a story for another day, but the consequence is that I have a limited amount of money to spend each week on groceries now. With multiple food allergies, it is very challenging to have to go from $80 a week for groceries down to $30 a week for groceries. This is especially true when I only have one choice of allergen-free bread and it costs $10.79 a loaf, which is half the size of a “standard” loaf.

So instead of spending the $10 to buy the bulk toilet paper, I spent $2 to buy the four pack. I took the $8 I “saved” and used it to buy a box of allergy-friendly cereal. Again, I only have one choice, and it is $6.78 a box. I may be paying more for toilet paper in the long run, but hey, I will have breakfast this week. I need to eat something in the morning in order to take my medication for it to absorb.

I currently do not consider myself poor. I still have toilet paper! I’m trying really hard to keep my family together and healthy. But these are the choices you have to make sometimes when you are in challenging situations such as being rent overburdened because someone decides to increase your rent hundreds of dollars each month to over 50% of your income.

Your next comment is probably going to be: “Then move to cheaper housing.” People make the best choices they can given the situation that they are in. I am working on it, but these things take time. Especially when the area I am in is extremely economically depressed and wages are well below what is considered “market rate” housing in a bedroom community. Again, a discussion for a different day.

While I feel that my life is constantly being measured in toilet paper, the point is to take a different perspective on poverty and circumstances. Sometimes you can make all the best and right choices in the world, and shit still happens. Literally and figuratively. The deeper the shit you are in, the less toilet paper you have to clean it up. Hope you brought a shovel. Hey, what did you expect? It’s the toilet paper chronicles.

Before you go judging someone and the choices they make, take a moment to step back and consider what may be driving those choices. You never know what some people are facing in life, whether as a result of their “choices” or simply the circumstances they are in. They could be reacting to something that happened to them in their environment.

And always buy your toilet paper in bulk. It’s cheaper.

 

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?  

 

Five Reasons Garmin Rocks!

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These are the true confessions of a technology convert. For the past 11 years of my running career, I have used a simple sports watch with stopwatch for running. I figure out math like splits and pace in my head.  I have gone through two sports watches over the past 11 years. They cost $30 apiece.

Running is a cheap sport. When it comes down to it, all you need to do is put on a pair of shoes and start putting one foot in front of the other. There are even people out there who run barefoot, so you can technically skip the shoes. That’s cheap. Just go.

I have always said that my running shoes are the most important piece of equipment I need for my sport. Therefore, my running shoes should be the most expensive piece of equipment and nothing else – shorts, tops, etc. – should cost more than the shoes. It’s logical.

As you know, this year I am completely changing my training plan for the first time ever. I have always trained for time. Runners who train for time tend to be in the minority. Hey, don’t knock it – even Meb, who won the Boston Marathon in 2014 and represented USA in the Olympics, trains for time. More commonly, runners train for distance.

This year I am training for distance instead of time and incorporating whole new things that include a lot of math, into my training plan. I decided it is time to break down and buy a GPS watch.

I have been extremely skeptical of this whole watch thing. I don’t believe I spent more money on a watch than I spent on my running shoes. I also don’t believe I now own a watch that not only has an on/off button but also has to be plugged into the wall to charge. This thing is completely alien and absurd. Plus, it’s smarter than me.

I have now completed two 4-mile runs with my new GPS watch, and I have to confess, I have fallen in love. Here are the five reasons why Garmin rocks:

  1. It can math. Hard.

I have decided that I am doing the Canadian 10:1 walk plan this year due to my age and injuries. This means I will be running for 10 minutes, then walking for one minute and repeating continuously for 26.2 miles. The math inside my head was getting complicated. Walk from :10 to :11, then run from :11 to :21, then walk from :21 to :22, then run from :22 … You get the idea. It’s actually very simple math, but when you are running a marathon, any math is hard.

I know calculus. I can find the square area of a horse if you want. But no way am I going to be able to do that running a marathon. The only thing I am thinking during a race is:  “Am I breathing? How much longer? Why can’t I feel my legs? Did I die?”

The Garmin is doing all of that math for me. All I have to do is learn to let go and trust the watch and stop trying to math inside my head. Not only is it giving me the 10:1 schedule, but it tells me when I have completed each mile, and my average pace for that mile so I can be sure I am staying on track. I know exactly where I am and how fast I am going at all times.

This means that instead of doing all that math inside my head, I can get “in the zone.” This makes running a much more pleasurable experience mentally. When I’m running distance, I like to think of myself as an airplane. It typically takes me until about mile 6 or mile 8 to get “in the zone.” When I do, I imagine that if I were an airplane, it would sound something like this: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have achieved cruising altitude. Feel free to just drop out, tune in to your body, and settle in for the next 18 or 20 miles. Let the crowds carry you to the medal stand. See you in about 4 hours.”

With Garmin doing all the running associated math for me, all I have to do is respond to the little beeps and keep running. Now, I sound like Pavlov’s dog. I digress. Let’s continue.

  1. Dear Fashion, Meet Practical.

I’m not all that into fashion. No one looks good after running 26.2 miles. Except maybe Shalane Flanagan. She looks good at all the miles. But the rest of the world looks like a hot mess that’s been through the blender and then chased by a pack of rabid squirrels when coming across the finish line of a race.

This watch is pretty. The package says the strap is blue, but I’m honestly not sure if it’s blue or green. Compared to my old sport watch, it’s very attention getting. Not only does it look good, but it is practical too.

The screen is large print, so I can see the display no matter how much sweat and tears I’m covered in. It’s waterproof. I would even go so far as to say it’s sexy. I also just finished a run, so I could be pushing it a little. What can I say? I’m in love.

3. My own personal cheerleader.

Now, when I first programmed this watch for the 10:1 sequence, I thought I messed it up. The watch beeped and there was a 1 and 8:00 on the screen. All I could think was “Noooooooo. I don’t want to walk every 8 minutes. I want to walk every 10.” Then I realized it was telling me I had just ran an 8-minute mile. All was right with the world. The watch was performing even better than I expected.

When I reached the 10 minute mark, the watch did a series of 3 beeps to let me know I needed to slow down for my 1 minute walk break. When I got to the end of my 1 minute walk break, the watch beeped twice, then instead of the third beep, it played “Charge.”

Yup. That’s right. It plays that 6 note sequence right before everyone yells “Charge!” Whoever programmed this watch has a sense of humor. They must also be a runner. How cool is it to have your watch cheer for you to start running again after your 1 minute walk break? I have my own personal cheerleader right on my wrist.

Not only does it cheer for me to run, but when I reach “Goals” there is a display of fireworks on the screen. I honestly have no idea what “goals” I’m reaching. I didn’t program any in, and I have no idea what it means. The watch gave me fireworks once after my run when I was in cool down. I got fireworks again on mile 2 of a run. I have no idea why. But, I’m glad the watch is happy and giving me fireworks. I’m wondering if it likes my heart rate or something, but I honestly have no idea whatsoever what the whole “goal” and fireworks thing is about. Who cares? I’ll take them.

  1. Technology for the challenged.

Part of my reluctance in getting a GPS watch is all the technology involved. I have a hard enough time using my cell phone. I’ve had the same phone for 3 years and I still don’t understand it. I do not need two devices that are hard to use. Plus, I had heard a lot about GPS watches and satellite signals, synching, etc. It just sounded like way more technology than I could deal with.

I am happy in that I was able to program the watch to do exactly what I wanted it to do. Not only that, but it does some things that are surprising to me but I am really happy about. This watch is definitely very user friendly for the technology challenged. I have not had to plug it into a computer, internet, or sync it to anything, so that is even better. I just charge it, turn it on, the buttons are easy to use, and I can read everything easily on the large print screen.

The watch is also making the math easier for me for my running statistics and spreadsheets. Yes, I am that kind of runner. That is part of why I completely changed my running plan this year. I analyzed 10 years of data to figure out what I did during my best year and then try to replicate it in the safest way possible. But the watch is making my math and data analysis easier too. I like it when technology helps me, even if it is smarter.

  1. Worth the splurge.

While I keep saying I can’t get over spending more on a watch than my running shoes, it was worth the splurge. I got one of the entry level models that does everything I need to do, so at least it is not one of the watches that costs say, one month’s rent. This watch was the equivalent of buying one and a half pairs of running shoes.

Yes, the watch was more expensive than my shoes, but at least it wasn’t double the price of my running shoes. So, I can live with it. It was worth the splurge for all the data I am getting out of it and for how much easier it has made running this week. I have enjoyed my runs so much more when I don’t have to think so hard and can just go. After all, that’s what running is supposed to be is fun. It’s not all data, pace, and negative splits.

These are the true confessions of a technology convert. I have 3 more weeks to play with the watch and become comfortable with it before I officially start training for my fall marathon. So far, I can honestly say that Garmin rocks! I’m looking forward to incorporating this new piece of equipment into my training plan.

The Turtle Wins

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Above: View of the country-side from my running trail

There are many forms of wildlife on my running trail, which goes along a lake. Depending on the time of year, I see deer, beavers, bunnies, chipmunks, squirrels, frogs, various birds, fish and turtles. The turtles lay their eggs on the banks of the lake, and as they hatch make their way towards the water. I often see them on a log in the water sunning themselves, or swimming happily.

I have not seen turtles on the trail yet this year. We are still getting intermittent bouts of snow. Yes, it is May and Upstate New York is still getting snow! Last week on the trail, I saw a small family of bunnies. The bunnies took off down the trail way ahead of me, and there was no way that I was going to catch up with them. I was content to watch the white puffs of tail bounce off.

The experience reminded me of the old fable of the tortoise and the hare. As a child, its a cute and amusing story. As we get older, we begin to understand the moral of the tale – “Slow and steady wins the race.” We may understand that concept, but as young adults, the adage is often accompanied by rolling our eyes and a sneer.

As a middle-aged marathon runner who has overcome many injuries and is still dealing with medical issues, the tortoise and hare fable is becoming my mantra. I start training for my fall marathon in June. Honestly, I am unsure at this point if I am physically going to be able to run another full marathon or if I will have to scale-back and be content with the half marathon distance. The doctors seem confident I can still run a full, so I am going with that. But I also know my own body, and lately I have had more bad days then good.

I think of that fable, and even though the tortoise was moving slow, he kept moving. He kept going and he finished. That is important. He may not have been as fast as the hare, but the tortoise was able to keep going. I have been stuck in this mindset of time. They say for every marathon, you should have three goals. You never know what is going to happen in 26.2 miles, so if you are unable to reach your first goal, you will at least reach one of the three.

Two of my three goals for when I run a marathon are related to time. One goal is to BQ (qualify for Boston), the other goal is to PR (beat my own personal best time = become faster). The third goal I usually phrase: “Oh, well, yeah, and if all else fails, just cross the finish line.” Crossing the finish line is kind of “if the shit hits the fan” kind of goal. But at the same time, I’m pretty adamant about that finish line. I also say that “run, walk, crawl, dragged, or if in Philly in drag, cross the finish line.”  To be honest, the finish line goal is the one I have always taken for granted. I say that goal with a laugh – of course I’m going to cross the finish line!

After my 2015 marathon and 2016 health issues, I can say that goal is no longer a laughing matter. Crossing the finish line is going to be my one and only goal when I run my full marathon this fall. I am completely abandoning any goals of time. This year, I will simply be thankful to be able to complete a full marathon. I am staring down the possibility that I may no longer be able to complete a full marathon. I need to think like the tortoise and keep going. Even if I go slow, I need to cross the finish line.

Another saying in running that has always elicited a smirk (at least from me) is “DNF (did not finish) is better than did not start.” My 2015 marathon was the first race in my running career that I came dangerously close to DNF. That was the race in which I tore the muscle in my hip around mile 18. I finished, but it was slow and involved incredible pain. It was the first time I needed wheelchair medical assistance when coming across the finish line.

That race was tough. A year of planning and five months of training to not finish? That’s a hard pill to swallow. One thing I did learn in that race is that walking is okay as long as you keep moving. That’s one of the many reasons why I am using the Canadian run/walk method in this year’s marathon both training and race day. I still think that a DNF would be hard for me to handle. I’m the type of person who will just keep going even if it kills me because I want the finish line. I want the medal. The marathon means a lot to me.

Not being able to deal with a DNF is something I still need to work on psychologically. Hopefully it will never happen and I will not have to deal with it in real life. But I feel I should be prepared for the possibility mentally.

What I am prepping myself for this year is the solo goal of: FINISH. I am going with the tortoise philosophy of “slow and steady wins the race.” When I run this fall, I don’t care how long it takes me, I just want to cross that finish line. Giving up my time goals is wicked hard.

But do you know what’s harder? Not running.

Not being able to run anymore would destroy me. We can’t have that.

So I need to give up my time goals so I can continue to cross finish lines. My glory days and records may be over, but as long as I can still GO, it’s a good thing.

If you think about the fable, the turtle always wins. Yes, he may be slow, but he finished. The hare goes fast, but he gets tired. He may become injured. The hare will only be fast for so long and then he will slow too. The hare may win the race and get the medal. There will come the time when the hare slows and does not get the medal – the younger hare will get the medal and the older hare will be in the same position the tortoise has occupied all along – of finishing.

The turtle always wins.

Part of me feels that in this scenario, I am settling. I feel like I am giving up my goals because they are “just too hard.” I’m not sure if that is true or if I am just being realistic about what my body can do now given the health challenges I have.

My ultimate goal is to keep running for as long as I can – hopefully my whole life. So I’m trying to justify sacrificing my time goals in order to meet my ultimate goal. If I push myself to the point where I can no longer run a full marathon, then I lose it all.

Turtles live a long time. They live longer than bunnies. So, I’m going to stop smirking and rolling my eyeballs and take the tortoise lesson to heart. I’m training this year for distance, not for time. I want to cross the finish line this year and for many more years after this.

The turtle wins.

How To Get A Life Out In The Sticks

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One of the many reasons why I had two jobs for 20 years was that if there was drama or problems at one job, usually the other job was fine, so I still had something to look forward to. It was a kind of balancing act. Since having one job, I have learned to achieve that balance with work and home instead of between two jobs.

Last year, when Kitty passed away and my world shattered, home pretty much sucked. Luckily, I absolutely loved my job and was able to draw strength from that. I have learned that the opposite holds true as well, when you don’t like your job, home life better be stellar to counteract that.

I am very fortunate right now in that my home life is amazing. My home life is definitely the most positive aspect of my life right now and I am very grateful. At the same time, I am missing the support of having a job I loved, and am looking to recreate that somehow by trying to “get a life” out in the community.

Trying to get a life in a small town is hard. First, there aren’t very many opportunities. Second, small towns tend to be quite clique-y, so trying to infiltrate the ranks can be challenging. Honestly, I miss the city. I also miss freedom to move around. My medical issues have been clipping my wings quite a bit for the past year or so. Since I no longer have the ability to take off to who knows where on a whim, I need to make do with this small town I’m in.

Trying to get a life out in the sticks is partially contingent on age. This is what I’ve learned so far:

Bonfire

This strategy works well in your teens. When I was young in a small town and you wanted to find people, look for a bonfire. That’s where everyone hangs out to talk, listen to music, and roast marshmellows.

Bonfires typically follow other events like the Friday night high school football game, which was the hottest ticket in town. Ok, it was the only thing to do on a Friday night when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s. If you are a teenager who wants to get a life out in the sticks, find a bonfire. Or, make your own. If you start a bonfire, they will come.

Alcohol

Bonfire experiences in your teens typically evolve to include alcohol in your 20s. Actually, in your 20s, you don’t even necessarily need the bonfire anymore. You show up somewhere with a 6-pack or a bottle of vodka and Boom! Instant party.

If you want to get a life out in the sticks in your 20s, all you need to do is add alcohol. It’s very simple.

30s & 40s

This is where I am at a complete loss. For most of my 30s, I was in school working on my degrees. Meeting people is easy when you are a college student. At 39, I’m stuck in a small town and no longer in school.

People my age don’t seem to exist. I’m sure that they do, but I don’t see them. I imagine that everyone my age is happily coupled and spends their evenings at home cooking fresh, organic, vegetarian dinners followed by family board games with their 2.5 kids while the dog snores in front of the fireplace. They are just so blissfully happy, they have no need to go out and meet people.

More likely, everyone my age was smart enough to get out of rural USA while they could and are off living in the cities. I’m not sure where I missed the boat on social and geographic mobility in America, but that ship has defininitely sailed, and I was not on it. I didn’t even hear the boarding call.

Bars

Let’s not go there. If you’re still on the “bottle of vodka creates a party” kick past your 20s, you have a problem, and I am NOT your therapist. In my small town, bars are filled with young college students and meth heads. I do, after all, live in the county that is considered the meth capitol of NYS.

This is not a scene that I am in or want to enter. So we will just leave the bars alone in this little experiment, mm’kay?

How To Get A Life

Well, this sounds dismal. You thought I was going to have some great ideas on how to solve this little problem, didn’t you? Well, I do have some ideas. They are still in progress. Some have pros and cons. We’ll go through them.

Volunteer

So far, I have found this strategy to be helpful, but it is a little early yet for definitive data. My strategy for volunteering is to choose only one or two organizations. This way, I am able to participate fully without overwhelming myself. It gets me out in the community networking and meeting people. A con to this strategy so far is that I have not met any people my age. Although the people I have met so far are fascinating. I am also learning new things and I like that.

When choosing volunteer work, it is helpful to choose an area in which you are passionate. Passion will get you through the rough times. For example, everyone around me seems to find fault with me right now, so I am starting to think that animals are better than people. But since the point is to try to meet people my own age, I guess I need to put up with the jerks. And come home to cuddle with my cats. A lot.

Events

What’s the hottest gig in town? As a teen, it was the aforementioned high school football game. In this small town, it is the public library. Our library posts a calendar of events each month offering a wide range of activities. I’m trying them. Some I like better than others. The good thing with events is that there is no commitment. If you don’t like something, then you just don’t go when it is offered again.

The event I attended that I liked the most was an educational workshop put on by the NYS Bluebird Society. It was awesome. This was one of the best lectures I have attended since grad school. (I told you small town – so yes, that makes bluebirds wicked exciting.) I haven’t really met any new people as the result of the workshop, but the NYS Bluebird Society gives me a whole new field of interesting information to learn when I’m bored or can’t find people to hang out. I have plenty of things I like to do on my own, but finding friends is kind of hard.

Organize! Or, “old habits die hard”

If you can’t find something to join that interests you or fuels your passion, start it. Organize. I’m doing that now with one of my volunteer opportunities. I want something that is not there, so I am helping to organize things to make it happen.

For me, this situation also falls under “old habits die hard.” The activity I am helping to organize is an event I miss attending when I was in Boston. If you want to do something and it does not exist, make it happen. I physically can’t go back to the city right now, so I’m making the city come to me. You can do it.

Forward & Onward

Trying to get a life out in the sticks is wicked hard. I’m not going to lie. Even when you try to do something positive, people are going to judge you. Well, they’re going to judge you whether you just sit there and do nothing or if you act and organize, so you might as well do something.

Life was a lot easier last year when I had a job I loved and all this friendship and fulfillment was automatically built into my work experience. It’s harder when you have to search for those things outside of work. My job already exhausts me; it makes getting a life outside of work just that much more difficult.

This year I am starting the slow process of getting a life out in the sticks. Of course, the ultimate goal, which has been the goal for over 20 years now, is to return to Boston. I don’t see that happening, as Boston housing is way out of my price league, and I can’t logistically figure out how to make it work. Also, my home life is the most positive thing in my life right now, so I am not about to rock that boat.

This spring and summer is going to be about getting a life. It is also going to be about recreating equilibrium. The stability I worked so hard to create in life fell apart last year when the place I was working for closed. Hopefully by getting a life, I can regain my footing and get some of that stability back.

I am fortunate in that I have spent years slowing down my life so that when this tragedy happened last year, I did not completely fall apart. I was knocked down a little, but not completely demolished. I am able to stand up again, brush myself off, and move forward.

How do you go about getting a life out in the sticks?

 

 

 

 

How do you go about getting a life out in the sticks?

Two Years Without Facebook

I’ve seen articles about social detoxes, digital sabbaticals, and other experiments that people undertake to curtail their use of social media, especially facebook. They will write about how they went a year without it, how great it was, and now that they have re-entered the digital world, it is like water in the dessert quenching their thirst. Most people consider these detoxes and experiments as novelty, simply to return to their online obsession after the blackout period has concluded.

It’s now been two years since I deleted my facebook account, and I still say that it is the best decision I have ever made in my life. I am exponentially happier without facebook  in my life. I have real conversations with the people around me and actually enjoy moments as I experience them.

In fact, I never even think about facebook unless someone around me brings it up. The challenging part is that it is used at work and I have absolutely no desire to have any part of it. There are people around me who are constantly taking pictures or saying post that, and I laugh inside, because I don’t really care. I am so glad that social media no longer rules my life and I don’t think like that.

I have heard people say they buy things on facebook. I would rather go to a store, and if all else fails, Amazon. For me, facebook is way too sketchy to even think about buying anything on there. I have heard other people talk about applying for jobs on facebook. As a former human resource professional, I cringe at this. There’s a reason why social media is called social media – there’s nothing professional about it.

After two years, I am happier not being ruled by my phone or the Internet. Sure, I see the Internet – twice a month at the library. I spend my workday at a computer. The last thing I want to do when I am home is be in front of a computer some more. That is far from relaxing to me. I would rather spend time with my family than ignore them by sitting in front of a screen (which is what I did all day anyway).

I am still fully communicating with people by phone, text message, in-person, and by US postal mail. It’s great. I’m maintaining all the really important relationships in my life. The best part about a life without facebook is that when I spend time with someone, they really get my full attention.

I have been running full steam ahead for about 20 years, so it is nice to have a break and actually enjoy the moments of my life. I know some people have the need to be constantly “on” and connected. I’ve lived that life, and it burned me out to the point of no return.

It’s been so long since I’ve been on facebook that I cannot even imagine wanting it back in my life. There is no reason. All my memories of my facebook years are full of drama and stress.

So, I don’t have that much to say, other than completely breaking up with facebook is not only possible, but also glorious. The only reason why I thought to write this post is because people at work talk about facebook all the time. On the inside, I laugh like I know something they don’t. Maybe I do. Without facebook, I’m finally happy.