Tag Archives: Pets

Retirement Options

My financial advisor always talks about “65-year-old Nancy,” and how we have to consider her when making financial decisions today.  65-year-old Nancy is the reason I need to keep working at a job that I find spiritually unsatisfying, because not only do 58-year-old Nancy and her 22-year-old kid need to live TODAY, 65-year-old Nancy needs to be able to live comfortably a mere seven years from now (it used to be more years but, man, do they zip by quickly, which makes 65-year-old Nancy’s plight that much more urgent).

When my mother passed away, she was able to leave my sister and me a small nest egg, mostly derived from my deceased father’s assets but also wisely invested, and my cheapo mother never needed to dig into the pot to cover unanticipated expenses, like both her daughters have done with some frequency.  (My mother also never paid full price for anything; it was always coupons and store brands, even though, in my mind, we were reasonably well off and didn’t have to scrimp.)  Over the past seven years since her death, I have slowly but surely whittled down a $350,000 inheritance to little over $100,000.  (And don’t even get me started on the $35,000 she left for my daughter, who, as soon as she turned 18 and was entitled to access the funds, spent it all – every damn penny – despite my entreaties to set some aside in a CD or money market account so she might have some left over for college or a car or something substantial.)

The bulk of my mother’s money went to into my house.  Insurance didn’t pay enough to cover the renovations after the storm, and then the elevation, despite the generous grant from New York State’s New York Rising program, was more costly than anticipated when, in the course of lifting, the entire rear of the house practically fell off and ultimately had to be demolished and rebuilt.  Of course, this resulted in my having two-thirds of a brand new abode, but it also meant that my assets were no longer in the form of (easily liquidatable) stocks and bonds and REITs but in real estate instead, which will only be realized once I sell the house.

This raises all sorts of questions about my future.  My daughter has stated in no uncertain terms that she wants to keep the house, which creates a small problem:  If I don’t sell the property, I don’t get the benefit of my investment.  So that’s one hurdle to overcome.  The other is actually selling the house for what it’s worth, given that it will need new floors throughout thanks to my pet pee situation.  And it’s also dependent on the economic environment, which I think right now is a buyer’s market given the glut of distressed lots and rebuilt homes since Sandy.  Sky-high property taxes will be a further consideration for anyone contemplating buying a home in Long Beach (that is, if there even IS a Long Beach if another one of those “100 year storms” rolls around).

The key may be to sell sooner rather than later, my daughter’s wishes notwithstanding.  She’s presumably going to be traveling the world working with endangered animals anyway; why would she want to come back to lovely but boring old Long Beach?  So her future factors into this, too, not just 65-year-old Nan’s.

Let’s say I sell within the next 3-5 years.  Would I go on to buy another place, or maybe just rent?  There are benefits and drawbacks to both.  I enjoy having SOMETHING to show for the money I pay every month, even if I do share it with a bank.  With rent, it’s basically just throwing money away for the privilege of living in someone else’s investment.  But as I’ve discovered over the years, home ownership is a royal pain in the ass when it comes to maintenance and repairs.  It was a pleasure, when I lived in the apartment last year, to have someone take out the garbage and shovel the walk (even if I never actually took advantage of my on-site super to fix things like the leak in my kitchen sink because I didn’t want to him to know I had a bunch of cats in the apartment!)

But the biggest question is, WHERE DO I GO??  One thing that’s quite clear is that I want to be somewhere much warmer than here, without the snow.  I’d also like to avoid major storms and weather events like tornadoes and wildfires and natural disasters like earthquakes and floods, which kind of limits my choices since nearly everywhere in the world has its own local destructions.

Plus, it’s got to be a lot less expensive than living in New York, because the taxes and cost of living here are probably higher than they are nearly anywhere else in the country, let alone the world.  If I’m going to be depending on Social Security and whatever remains of 65-year-old Nan’s paltry investments (including my meager 401(k)), there’s going to be a lot less money coming in (although I can probably come up with some online work – or, dare I say it, freelance writing? –to make ends meet).  And because I’ll be older, I’ll need someplace with dependable health care, which pretty much puts me out of the United States since our health care system here is an obscene embarrassment compared to the rest of the civilized world.

And what happens with my animals?  I’m up to eight permanent members of my furry family – five cats and three dogs – although realistically not all of them will be living three to five years from now.  If I move out of the country, will I have to quarantine them?  Can I ship them by boat or airplane?  The logistics are kind of daunting.  And if I do decide to rent, not everywhere is pet-friendly (especially with SO MANY creatures).

Clearly, I need to do more research, but two places keep popping into my head – one domestic and the other international.  On the domestic side, I’ve heard good things about Delaware.  I could live in one of the many lovely beach towns, so I’d be able to continue enjoying coastal life with less of a hurricane threat than Florida (or even Long Beach) and a slightly more temperate climate than New York (although with global warming, the mid-Atlantic states are seeing more snow than ever – ugh!).  Perhaps best of all, I’ve heard that Delaware is one of the most tax-friendly states for retirees and seniors, featuring no sales tax, low state income tax, and no tax on Social Security benefits.  As an added bonus, I’d still be close to friends and family who live in the New York area, and even closer to family and friends on the Delmarva Peninsula and North Carolina.

On the international front, though, there’s Costa Rica.  I’ve never been, but my daughter has, and she always raves about how much it appealed to her.  (“Costa Rica has a piece of my heart,” she says.)  Conceivably, if I moved there, she could come with me and pursue her career in wildlife conservation in an amazingly rich ecosystem.  It would also be a great place for the aforementioned friends and family to visit.  From what I’ve read and seen (Darian posted a great video on Facebook the other day that I keep revisiting [https://www.facebook.com/worldeconomicforum/videos/10155046651386479]), Costa Rica is a thoroughly modern tropical paradise:  low crime and cost of living, high regard for the environment and sustainability.  The more I think about it, the more I want to move there.

Who knows?  There are other places to consider – Sedona, Arizona; Portland, Oregon; Vancouver, Canada; Spain (where my friends Erika and Curtiss are planning to retire) or even Portugal.  But at the moment, Delaware and Costa Rica are the two front runners.

So now it just becomes a matter of getting 58-year-old Nan to be wise enough with her money so that 65-year-old Nan (or maybe even a younger version, if I win the lottery!) can think about the next phase of her life with excitement and anticipation rather than dread and worry.

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99 Problems (Minus 96 or So)

Generally speaking, my inability to make progress in life boils down to three chronic problems, all of which I have written about on this blog before:

Problem 1:  I spend money I don’t have. (See “Woe Is Money”, 11/3/16, and others.)  My current financial situation is dire because I was lazy all summer, and if I don’t put in the hours, I don’t make any money.  It’s as simple as that.  I’m always hounding Darian about making a budget and sticking to it, but clearly I need to follow my own advice.  Yes, I’m not an extravagant person, and I don’t usually go around willy-nilly buying unnecessary items I can’t afford, but I certainly don’t deny myself or my daughter anything.  I need to go on an austerity budget.  And while this problem is especially acute now, it is something I have struggled with all my life, even when I was making a healthy salary as a full-time (but thoroughly miserable) lawyer.

Problem 2:  Another lifelong problem of mine is that I eat what I should not eat, and way too much of it. (See “Weighty Management”, 3/1/17, among others).  The corollary to that problem is that I don’t move enough.  In recently months I have engaged in no substantive exercise whatsoever.  I take in too many calories and I don’t burn any, so I’m fat and staying that way.  It has health effects beyond just making me feel bloated and balloony.  The overeating and the lack of activity create a vicious cycle, because lethargy just feeds more lethargy.  Yes, there have been plenty of times in my life when I have been dedicated to movement – power-walking, yoga, even going to the gym when I had money and a gift certificate for six months of a personal trainer.  But the longer I go without exercise, the harder it is to get back on track.  Of course, even if I start exercising (and I will, I swear!  I honestly enjoy working up a sweat – when I can manage to get off my ass to do it!), I still need to make major changes in my eating habits.  I can’t help that I prefer sweet things like cookies and ice cream to, say, vegetables of any kind.  Thus it feels like I have to deprive myself of something I enjoy and force myself to endure something I find unpleasant.  Why does it have to be so difficult?  Why does taking care of my body feel like torture?  I have to boil it down to a pro-and-con situation:  Pro – I have a few moments of joy and deliciousness.  Con – I’m doing damage to my body, which needs to last a lifetime.

Problem 3:  My worst problem of all – the one that ties in to everything else – is my overwhelming tendency to procrastinate, in every sphere of my life, for big items and small. (See “Procrastination Station”, 10/14/15.)  I put off tasks and action items in the deluded hope that they will go away or miraculously resolve themselves.  But by procrastinating, I also potentially deprive myself of personal development, forward movement and perhaps even the chance to achieve something wonderful.  My procrastination has its roots in my utter lack of ambition, which (with few exceptions) has been a lifelong affliction.  No drive, no motivation, no PASSION.  This contributes to the procrastination in a major way because, if I could find something that I felt passionate about, I wouldn’t procrastinate.  Right?  For instance, I love hockey, so I never miss a hockey game.  If I must, I record it and watch it on delay but I will ALWAYS make time to watch it.  It’s the same with all my favorite shows.  I also make time for my pets (permanent and foster) and for volunteering at the shelter, even though every once in a while I just want to spend a lazy weekend holed up in my jammies and give the shelter a miss (but then I’d also miss out on spending quality cuddle time with my favorite “away” kitties).

Unfortunately, my procrastinating has gotten in the way of keeping up with my blog – hence, the lamentable three-week gap between posts – despite the fact that blogging is something I love to do.  I do blame work for some of that, because I’ve had to put in more billable hours in the past couple of months to make up for my “lazy grasshopper” summer.  If I didn’t have to worry so much about my next paycheck (which frankly is always already spent by the time it comes), I would write at great length every day, including more in-depth pieces for this blog rather than the quickie jobs I’ve been putting together just so I can keep up with my commitment (to myself) to post.

Where do I begin to fix this?  Well, for starters, I have to make a dent in the procrastination problem and “make it work”, like Tim Gunn says on Project Runway (which is one of my TV show passions that I never miss, especially this season with the adorable Brandon, who is destined to be a star; I only wish I’ll be able to afford his clothes when he becomes a famous designer).  I’ve just been to the doctor this week and, while she didn’t berate me for not losing any weight or bringing down my A1C, she easily could have.  I do enough berating for the both of us – often while I’m in the actual process of stuffing my face (“Nan, stop eating these candy corn!  Nan, don’t go back for another bowl of ice cream!  Nan, you will sorely regret eating this whole box of cookies as soon as the last one crosses your lips!”) – not that it does any good.  The doctor actually said something like “You’re not ready,” which is absolutely true, but also just another example of procrastination.  What am I waiting for??  A freakin’ heart attack?

On the money front, I should listen to my own advice and come up with a budget and then do my best to live within it.  I only have another six weeks or so to get my kid through college, and then she’ll come home and start earning her own money.  She is contemplating another field research program in Costa Rica for the summer and she has already been informed that, as much as the Board would like to support her higher education, the Bank of Mom is officially closed for business.  So that particular expense can be eliminated, although there will be a concomitant increase in the grocery and utility budgets now that she’ll be home full time.  I’m also going to have to increase my health insurance premiums because I’ll have to cover my kid as well as myself, and they’re discontinuing my current plan so I have to find a new (and inevitably more expensive) one in the limited 45-day window that the government has generously allotted for us to do so.  (I guess I should just be grateful that I still have the ability to buy insurance at all.)

I liken my cycle of self-destructive inactivity to the situation being experienced by the 2017-18 New York Rangers, ten games into the season.  They have been distinctly awful in spurts on defense and every mistake has cost them a goal.  On the offensive side of the puck, they do many good things but don’t get rewarded.  (Prime example:  Rick Nash alone has more shots on goal than almost everyone else in the league, with only one goal to show for it.)  So the frustration sets in and they try to do too much and end up doing themselves more harm than good.  It’s a vicious cycle that has resulted in a 2-6-2 record.  Eventually they will have to pull themselves out of this slump.  According to their coach, Alain Vigneault (who might be feeling a bit in the hot seat these days), the boys just have to take it one shift at a time, do the things they know they need to do, and trust that their efforts will pay off.  Then they can build on that.

That is certainly advice that I should take to heart.  One step in the right direction will lead to another, and so on and so on, and just keep on plowing forward till I get where I need to be.  Evidently, I get my best life counsel from Tim Gunn and AV:  Focus on doing the right things one shift at a time, and just make it work.  Ha!  That should be my actualization mantra!

P.S.  My permanent family has increased by one:  I have officially adopted Polly Wobbles as the newest member of the squad.  My foster kitten Gigi was adopted last weekend, and my other foster dog, the adorable Penny, blew up the Posh Pets website with applications for her adoption, so it is only a matter of time before we find the right fit for her.  After that, then maybe I’ll take a break from fostering – until the next one comes along, of course!

The State of the Brain Address

So much for re-dedicating myself to my writing.  I’ve really fallen down on the blog job.  Weeks go by with nary a word being written in my blog (nor in my journal – I’m lucky if I can scribble a sentence at the end of the day saying how mad I am at myself for not writing).  My sense of discombobulation has lessened little (if at all) now that I am back in my house.  I look around me and all I see are boxes to be unpacked and windows to wash and papers to organize and I feel so overwhelmed that I’m incapable of doing much of anything.

On the financial side of life, the major money-suck of the house elevation project has thankfully ended and recovery has begun.  It helps that the management company was able to rent my apartment right away, so I’m no longer on the hook for rent through the end of May and I will even get my full security deposit back.  I finally received my overdue mortgage assistance payments for January and February (on the last day of March) and, if all goes according to plan, I’ll be getting one more payment – although who knows when (but then it can be a pleasant surprise!).  New York Rising reduced the last installment of my grant money because the reality of my house didn’t match my architect’s plans, so that means I won’t have as much of a surplus after paying off the contractor – that is, if my contractor ever actually finishes my house.

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That’s another source of frustration, and I think it’s universal (it’s certainly happened to me with each of my prior construction projects):  When a contractor only has a few things left to do to finish a job, he suddenly disappears and stops taking your calls, or if he does respond to your pleas, he only answers a select few of your questions.  It would take, literally, a DAY to finish what needs doing in the house, but for some reason they can’t spare a crew for a DAY to do it.  I’m trying to be understanding and patient, but I’ve been in the house for three weeks now and I’m still waiting for a shower enclosure in the master bathroom and some patching and cleaning in the entry foyer (what I’ve taken to calling my “lobby”), so I can get the painter in and be DONE.  Darian will be back from school for the summer in a couple of weeks and I’m pretty sure she’s going to want to take a shower at some point.

As always, my job is a source of great stress for me.  I am grateful that they sort of left me alone during the week I was moving, because dealing with the irrelevant nonsense that comprises my job responsibilities was the last thing I wanted to think about.  But in actuality I was only hurting myself by not bringing in any dollars.  And believe me, dollars are NECESSARY.  I am so deep in debt that the bank where I have all my accounts and a mortgage won’t give me a home equity line of credit until I literally pay off ALL of it, which would mean there was little left over for actual home improvements (i.e., doing the “cosmetic” stuff on the front of the house – right now, it’s just plain gray concrete), which sort of defeats the purpose of getting a home equity line of credit in the first place.  It essentially becomes a consolidation loan.  I was certainly intending to use the HELOC to pay down a big chunk of my high-interest debt (paying off debt at 5% interest rather than 20% is a no brainer, even for someone as brain-challenged as I am at the moment), but I didn’t plan on paying ALL of it as a condition to receiving less than two-thirds of the loan amount I had originally asked for.  AAAGH.  I hate money so much.

Other things occupying my brain at the moment include my new foster baby.  He came with the name of Acro (like “acrophobia” – fear of heights – because according to the geniuses who surrendered him and his brothers and sister to Posh Pets, he used to jump off furniture and demonstrated NO fear of heights), but I didn’t like that name, and he didn’t seem to respond to it anyway, so I’ve started calling him Marco.  (I considered calling him Fabio, because he’s got these flowing golden locks and a dopey look on his face, but I figured Marco sounds a bit like “Acro” so he wouldn’t have to make that big of an adjustment to get used to a new name.)  He is a doll, a cuddlebug , a sweet-natured boy.  But he is clueless.  He was never leash-walked and wants no part of it, even though he watches longingly as Munchie and Gizmo get taken out for walkies a few times a day.  He is reasonably well paper-trained, but that hasn’t stopped him from peeing all over the house.  That’s basically because Gizmo lifts his leg on furniture and boxes and plastic bags – basically wherever he thinks a spritz of piss might be needed – despite my best efforts to keep him from doing it in the new house.  I even got to the point of putting a male diaper on him, but it irritated this little hernia ball he has on his belly so I’ve stopped using it.  I’m going to have to resume, though, hernia ball or no, because Marco has to pee everywhere Gizmo has peed, and vice versa.  I’m in a constant state of frustration, with my paper towels and trigger-spray bottle of Nature’s Miracle Hard Wood Cleaner and No More Marking (which frankly does not work).  I have to find some kind of magic formula that I can mix up and spray in all the problem locations that would prevent the boys from peeing in that spot once and for all.  I fortunately found a great, earth-friendly rug cleaner, and I’ve taken to actually closing my bedroom door, which Munchie (who likes to hide under the bed) and Raven (who enjoys luxuriating on top) are not terribly happy about, but it’s an easy enough solution to keep the door closed.  I’ve also blocked off Darian’s room so the cats can get in there but the dogs can’t, but now the cats are leaving their own “marks” in the form of hairballs and little bits of chewed-up plastic bag drawstrings.  I had originally thought I would put the litter boxes in the utility room, which you access by walking through the master bedroom and master bathroom, but (a) there’s a fire door on the utility room that doesn’t stay open on its own so I would have to get a heavy-duty door stop and (b) Darian said she really doesn’t want to have to keep her door open all the time, which she would have to do if the cats’ litter boxes were in the utility room.  She wants me to keep the litter boxes down in the “lobby”, but then guests would be greeted by litter box smell as soon as they walk in.  As it stands now, the litter boxes are in the kitchen, along with all the wee-wee pads.  With the exception of Munchie, who is ALWAYS on target with his squirting, Gizmo and Marco will inevitably miss the pad, so even though they ostensibly wee on the wee-wee pads, I’m still always forced to clean up the perimeter with my ever-present paper towels (I should buy stock in Bounty!) and the Swiffer.  Who said a kitchen was for food?  In my house, it’s the pet toilet.   So there’s that.

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Not to mention all the nonsense on the news about Russia and Syria and this horrible, horrible Trumpian episode in our nation’s history.  I’ve been trying to limit my Facebook scrolling, and I just delete all the emails from members of congress and progressive organizations trying to get me to donate (I cannot – see above re financial constraints), but I did invest in a subscription to the Washington Post (gotta support the legitimate print and digital media!) and I do follow my Organize, Plan, Act Facebook page on a regular basis.  It’s all just so disheartening.  These people – not just Trump and his minions, but McConnell, Sessions, Pruitt, Ryan, just to name a few – are just so mean-spirited and regressive.  So much time and effort wasted in dialing back the progress made on so many fronts during the Obama years just because it was Obama who did it.  They never ask if it really NEEDS to be done, or if it’s any good for the country, including the constituents who were conned by Trump into voting for him.  Consider, for instance, removing the requirements that car manufacturers have to meet certain MPG standards.  Why change this?  Who is it benefitting?  Car companies were ALREADY complying with the standards, and the outcomes have been nothing but positive:  better fuel efficiency, more value for the money and no discernible negative impact on their profits.  Are they supposed to now abandon all the scientific advances they have made on this front?  IT MAKES NO DAMN SENSE.  None of it does.  Why in heaven’s name would Sessions re-engage in a war against marijuana when it’s quite clear that, not only is that against the will of the people, an increasing number of whom are even voting to permit recreational use, let alone medical use with proven benefits, but it will undoubtedly result in an increase of activity deemed criminal and more people of color in prison.  THIS IS NOT PROGRESS – IT’S JUST DUMB.  Why roll back EPA-mandated protections?  Will former polluters now, like some kind of real-life Snidely Whiplashes, twirl their greased mustachios and snigger because they can poison more children while lining their pockets?  WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?  And don’t even get me started on the wealthy not paying their way (although I must confess that I benefited from a “rich man’s law” when I had to pay taxes on the capital gains of the investments I sold last year to pay for the improvements to my home that weren’t covered by the NYS grant, but as I kept reminding myself, that law was not really meant for ME.  And I still have to come up with $2,000 that I don’t have to pay my 2016 taxes.)

Despite my daily “to do” lists (on which I do actually manage to cross things off now and again although never fully) and being pretty much busy from the time I wake up (usually later than I want to) till the time I go back to bed (also usually later than I want to), I feel like I have nothing to show for whatever it is that I’ve been doing all damn day.  I’ve clearly lost steam on my blog, which provided a valuable creative outlet, basically because I’ve had nothing of substance to write about.  I feel like my creative juices have dried up, or maybe they’ve just gone under the surface while my brain is overflowed with all of the aforementioned nonsense.

Incredibly, I’ve even lost interest in hockey, perhaps because the Rangers have been playing like crap for the past few weeks – maybe even months – because they’ve been solidly entrenched in the first wild card spot for the playoffs, which enables them to cross over into the “weaker” division (i.e., they won’t have to face Washington, Pittsburgh and Columbus, arguably three of the five best teams in the league all season long, until the Eastern Conference final).  I’m just hopeful that they’ll be able to flip a switch and suddenly be the best possible Rangers they can be.  There have been periods during this season when they were scoring like gangbusters, and others when they were squeaking out 1-0 and 2-1 games playing masterful defense.  It’s true that they’ve been good on the road all season (the league’s best road team, in fact), and they’ll have to be in the playoffs, too.  But for the sake of Cup-hungry Ranger fans and King Henrik’s waning career, they had better press the “Good Rangers” button starting tomorrow night and keep it going into June.

On that note, I will quit my bitchin’ and get on with my disjointed life, try to gain some focus and find a little more joy.  Sun and blue skies will certainly help!  Happy Spring to All!

Things That Bring Me Joy

Like some of my favorite TV shows, my blog went on hiatus for Thanksgiving week.  It was certainly not planned or intentional.  I just failed to come up with anything to write about or the time to write it.

Truth be told, I’ve been in kind of a deep, dark lethargy these past few weeks.  It’s partially the election and the all-encompassing feeling of dread I have for what’s ahead for this nation.  [On that front, I read  an interesting interview with Robert Reich today that outlines in detail the things we all have to fear from a Trump presidency:  Danny Feingold, “Conversations on Trump’s America: Robert Reich Previews a New Era of Savage Inequality”, Capital and Main website, 11/29/16, http://capitalandmain.com/conversations-on-trumps-america-robert-reich-previews-a-new-era-of-savage-inequality-1129%5D  I avoid the news because I hate having to look at his face, let alone listen to the crap coming out of his mouth (or the mouths of his surrogates – that Kellyanne Conway person in particular gives me the heebie-jeebies, but she may be on her way out, evidently).  I’m just waiting for my call to action, because I know it’s coming.

It might also be the too-early arrival of night since we turned back the clocks a few weeks ago.  Not enough sunlight means not enough energy for Nan.  When it gets dark at like four o’clock in the afternoon, I just want to cuddle up on the sofa with a couple of cats and zone out in front of the TV, but IT’S ONLY FOUR O’CLOCK!!  And of course I can never wake up in a timely enough fashion to take advantage of the earlier arrival of daylight.

But in the midst of these doldrums, I still manage to find little bits of joy to sustain me. Beginning on January 1st of 2016, I’ve been diligently recording, every night before I go to bed, at least one thing that gave me joy that day.  Believe me, some days it isn’t easy, and I do have to admit to writing “No joy today” on a number of occasions.  But I’ve been pretty consistent about it, so I feel like I’m at least making an effort to stay positive even when I feel myself slipping into depression.

My joys fall into four main categories:

(1)  My various companion animals, both at home and at the shelter.  Without question, animal contact has given me more moments of happiness than probably anything else.  There’s nothing better than stroking the cheeks and chin of a cat at creating mutual bliss between the participants.

(2)  Things on TV, like new seasons of my favorite shows, like “Shameless”, “Project Runway”, “Ink Master”, and of course “Game of Thrones”, which I miss terribly.  Seriously?  We have to wait till the summer for its return??  I’ll have to console myself with . . .

(3)  The Rangers and, to a lesser extent, the New York Football Giants.  Like Sunday, for example – no joy on the Ranger front, as they were shut out by an Ottawa Senators team that played ITS game better than the Rangers played THEIRS, but at least the Giants won, pretty convincingly after a slow start, a game they were supposed to win.  Odell Beckham Jr.’s elation when he scores touchdowns (even if it’s called back, like the one he scored on a punt return) is just contagious.  Yesterday, because they were in Cleveland, he had concocted a little Lebron James tribute where he pantomimed the thing that Lebron does where he throws out the powder or fairy dust or whatever it’s supposed to be.  Although I must confess that the Rangers are also responsible for entries like (from April 21), “Not only NO JOY but DESPONDENCY; Rangers were embarrassingly lethargic.  No work = no money, too much food – I didn’t have ANY joy today.”

(4) FOOD.  Yes, I admit it – food gives me joy.  Sometimes it’s the only thing in a day for which I can muster appreciation.  My weekly chicken souvlaki platter with Israeli salad from Abe’s Pitaria is a constant, especially when I can pair it with yummy frozen yogurt (with multiple toppings) from Tutti Frutti.  Desserts of all kinds, Digiornio’s stuffed crust pepperoni pizza, dinners out with friends – some of my greatest moments are comestible-related.

There’s other stuff, too, that doesn’t quite fall into any of those categories.  A magnificent Long Beach sunset during one of my Boardwalk power walks; listening to the perfect song as I’m riding my bike (R.I.P. big blue bicycle – I’ll get a new one when I move back home and can actually store it inside so it doesn’t die from rust rot, like my former bike did); a visit with a good buddy I haven’t seen in a while.  Even something as seemingly insignificant as finding a good parking spot can make it into the Joybook.

Sometimes I can’t evoke “joy” per se, but on those days I record what I think of as “contentedness”, like one day in September when the weather was gorgeous, I kept up with my walking regimen (which, I confess, has fallen by the wayside, another victim of my recent lack of motivation) and I managed to earn $500.

But what this whole exercise has done for me is forced me to appreciate the small moments in life.  Joy doesn’t present itself in big chunks; it comes in little snippets, and if you’re hustling and bustling mindlessly through your days, or solely focused on the downswings, you’ll miss those precious moments.

So the little Celtic Daybook that my friend André gave me way back in 1990, that I’ve been holding on to blankly for all that time, has finally gotten filled (with only one more month to g0).  Even in this awful year, I still managed to find quite a few things that brought me joy.  And now I need to get a new daybook for 2017, because I’m afraid we’re in for a bumpy ride, so joyful moments will come at a premium and must be memorialized and cherished at all costs.

Four Kitties

When we hosted Jordan, one of the cats from the shelter, during the storm-that-wasn’t a couple of weekends ago, it occurred to me how territorial my cats are, especially given the tight confines of a one-bedroom apartment.  They have clearly staked out their favored spaces and, being creatures of habit, they don’t stray much from those spots.

The cat of longest standing in this household is Raven.  She is an unapologetic diva, the Queen of the Bed, who spends all day on top of or under the blankets in my bedroom.  Making the bed with Raven is always fun.  At one point I used to have a bunch of throw pillows neatly assembled against my headboard but Raven made it a point to toss them all around, even though some of them were probably bigger than she is.  (She is on the petite side.)  She does deign to allow the dogs and me to sleep there at night, but we have to put up with her walking all over us until she finds her perfect sleep position.  She also wanders around on my night table and knocks stuff off, which causes Munchie to bark and me to have to get down on my hands and knees in the morning to find what fell under the bed.  Nighttime is an adventure with Raven, but occasionally she will just settle in for a cuddle, and all is right in Raven’s world.  She is the boss of us.

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Luna is my desk cat.  She lies on top of my work papers and my desk calendar and the mini-notebook where I write down my spending as if they are comfortable little pillows, and she never gets angry when I gently remove whatever it is I need at the moment from underneath her.  The real bonus to having a desk cat is the ability to reach over at any time and give her a tickle on her chest and tummy, which are incredibly soft, like angora fur.  Sometimes she’ll grab my hand in her paws and pull it toward her, hugging it, careful not to extend her claws.  However, she is also a kneader, which IS painful because she DOES use her claws.  Most of her kneading takes place on the couch or occasionally the bed, if Raven is feeling generous and lets her on there.  I have to inch away or bunch my clothes or the blankets under her reflexive retracting fingers to avoid the pinches.  But she doesn’t care; she’s just expressing her extreme happiness.  Who am I to deny her?

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Newest arrival Mimi has at least three favorite spots, all in the living room, not including under the couch where she vanishes every once in a while, perhaps when she needs a moment of peace in what can sometimes be a chaotic household (although more often than not, on a typical weekday, I’m at the computer working and/or reading, the radio is tuned to Carmel Holt on WFUV, and everybody is peacefully asleep).  She likes to lie on the big standing boxes that hold my framed pictures (which I never unpacked but just leaned up against the wall under the window in the living room) so she can get the benefit of the breeze and keep an eye on the birds.  She also enjoys draping herself over the back of the chair, which doesn’t look all that comfortable but she doesn’t seem to mind.  In fact, that seems to be her prime “yelling at Mommy” position when it’s time for breakfast or cookies.  Her absolute favorite spot, though, is on top of the back of the couch.  If I sit in front of her, she has to touch me, maybe just to let me know she’s got my back.  Mimi is a great cat.  I’m so happy I took her home so she’s able to live out her golden years in utter contentment.  Clearly, she relishes her role as the guardian of the living room.

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Last but not least, there’s my soul cat, Savannah.  Savannah is the bathroom cat.  She spends most of her day in the bathroom doorway or curled up on a box just outside the door so she will be sure to see me any time I head in that direction.  She always has to be in there with me; she is the leader and only permanent member of the bathroom entourage, making sure I never relieve myself alone.  And if I accidentally close the door before she notices I’ve gone in, she busts her way through or, if it’s latched, scratches and jiggles the doorknob until I let her in.  She’s been known to hang out in the sink, especially in the summer, when the porcelain is cool.  When I brush my teeth, she stands on the toilet and reaches out to me – “Give me some pets, please!  Rub my face!” – and how I can resist?  I cannot.  She often presents her enormous belly for stroking, a position that isn’t limited to the bathroom.  She is like velvet, more plush than even the most expensive stuffed animal.  She is the cat I share my most intimate moments with, the only living thing that has recently seen me naked!

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So even in a little space like this apartment, the girls have all staked out their personal private areas, but one thing is clear:  They all like to be near ME.  They don’t pay much attention to each other, or the dogs, but they sure do love me.  And the feeling is definitely mutual.

P.S.  Let’s not forget Jojo, Raven’s sister, who is down in Morgantown with Darian, keeping her company and being her “emotional support animal” while she’s away at school.  (I read an article recently in the ABA Journal, of all places, about college kids needing “emotional support animals”, so evidently it’s a thing.)  I’m grateful for Jojo, who has always been Darian’s cat, living almost exclusively in her room when she wasn’t trying to escape for outdoor adventures or sitting on top of the kitchen cabinets.  Darian actually brought her to the vet today because she’s had a little cough, which might be asthma or might be allergies.  In general, the vet was surprised that she was nearly 12 years old because she’s so healthy and presents much younger.  Good old Jojo, giving my kid comfort far away from home for years to come!

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The Hurricane That Never Came

We spent the weekend preparing for Hurricane Hermine, which had battered Florida’s West Coast and was now pummeling the Carolinas.  It was not going to make a direct hit on Long Island, but there was a significant risk of flooding and high winds, so the Long Beach Animal Shelter, having learned the lessons of Sandy, essentially emptied out the shelter, sending the dogs and cats to temporary housing until the threat passed.

The reaction of Long Beach residents to Superstorm Sandy – or, rather, the lack of reaction – was in part based on what had happened the summer before, with Hurricane Irene.  This was the perfect illustration of the risk of over-preparation.  Some folks were decidedly affected by Irene.  My neighbor John, who lives in a basement apartment, was flooded and displaced for nearly a year, and by the time he was finally able to enjoy his brand new couch in his renovated living room, he was watching the weather reports saying Sandy was going to be the “storm of the century”.  For John, Irene was devastating, but for most of the rest of us, Irene was a whimper, a waste of good storm preparedness.  Darian and I evacuated at the recommendation of the City of Long Beach, despite not wanting to, and went to stay with my sister, who lives more toward the middle of Long Island.  Well, we lost power at my sister’s house (the outage lasted nearly two days), but when we returned to Long Beach the afternoon following the storm, the clocks on the microwave and cable boxes were steady and unblinking.  The power had not gone off at all, and not a drop of water had entered the house.

So when the doom-and-gloom predictions for Sandy came over the airwaves, I suspect that people didn’t take them all that seriously, given the sputtering storm that Irene turned out to be for most of us.  This may have explained why they didn’t evacuate the Long Beach Animal Shelter (which was not being managed by Posh Pets at the time), despite the shelter being located mere yards from the unprotected shore of the Reynolds Channel.  As a result, when the waters were rising at a shocking rate, the shelter manager and his son had to scramble for their lives and the lives of the animals under their care, getting everybody up to higher ground on shelves and cabinets until help could come the following morning, when the survivors were finally moved to a temporary shelter just over the bridge in Island Park, where they stayed for over six months.  Miraculously, only two animals – an elderly dog and a semi-feral elderly cat – were lost.  But the traumatic experience served as a valuable lesson to the current managers of the shelter (as well as some of us volunteers who have been around since then), so we cleared the facility.  My ex, who is now also volunteering there (it’s a family affair!), was down at the beach, taxing his back to fill sandbags to be placed at the back doors.  All but a few cats and dogs were parceled out to shelter employees, friends and fosters, and the director and one of the employees planned on staying the night on site.  I took one of the cats, Jordan, home with me.

Poor Jordan did not have a great couple of days, spending most of his time under my couch.  The first night, I could hear him making his way around the dark apartment, wailing.  I kept saying, “Shhh, Jordan!” (as if a cat understands what “shhh” means!), just waiting for the downstairs neighbor lady to start banging on her ceiling.  On Monday night he quit the mewling, but I did hear a single cat battle, even though, for the most part, the cats had largely ignored him the entire time.  (Only Gizmo had any interest at all, following Jordan around with his tail metronoming, like “Who’s this now?”, more curious than aggressive, but it put Jordan off, understandably).

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Jordan is the terrorized black-and-white tuxedo in the middle, Munchie photo-bombing bottom right.

This morning, it took a bit of maneuvering to get him out from under the couch and into the carrier but I finally managed, and back to the shelter he went.  If I had been in my house, with the extra room where I could close him off from everyone else, I probably would have continued to foster him and allow him to get acclimated to the resident beasts gradually.  But there are just too many animals in too small a space for me to consider it right now.  Fostering again is one of the things I’m really looking forward to once we’re back home.

As it turned out, Hermine did not have the predicted effect.  Long Island residents were in prep mode from Saturday to Monday, and Labor Day weekend turned out sunny and beautiful, with very little breeze, although the seas were rougher than usual.  Experienced surfers – and there were MANY – were permitted to enter the churning waves, and the boardwalk was packed with lookie-loos as the beach itself was off-limits.  It was only today that the wind picked up and the skies turned gray, and we were expecting some evening showers.  But there was little, if any, damage from Hurricane Hermine, which is currently petering out in the Atlantic Ocean.

The water line never came up to the shelter, so they were spared without even needing the sandbags.  But the staff used the time of vacancy to give the place a seriously overdue scrubbing (which is impossible to do when it’s full of creatures), and it certainly served as kind of a drill for the NEXT TIME we get a serious storm warning – and we WILL, because, as I think I’ve mentioned in this blog before, PEOPLE SHOULD NOT LIVE ON BARRIER ISLANDS.  There was measured and well-planned activity as the staff and volunteers cleared the shelter, and not one ounce of panic.

But I worry that NEXT TIME may fall victim to the same mistrust of the officials (and don’t get me started on those meteorologists!) and doubt that affected the populace after Irene before Sandy rolled around:  “Well, we got all prepared for Hermine and it turned out to be nothing.  Maybe we could get away with not doing so much for this storm.”  As much as I tend to avoid thinking about disasters, having a plan is never a bad thing.  And now we all know what needs to be done with a few days’ notice and many hands making quick work of a potentially stressful situation.

Summer of ‘16

Summer’s almost over.  According to my building superintendent, they’re closing the pool at 6 p.m. on Labor Day and he’ll be cheering when he turns the key for the last time of the season.  I guess pool maintenance is not one of his favorite activities.  In fact, water in general has been a problem here in the four months since I moved in – once being without hot water and twice being without water of any kind for the entire day.  As I’ve mentioned previously in this blog, my temporary housing is no palace, but I guess it could be worse:  A small three-story apartment building a block over had a whole row of terraces collapse today.  Fortunately no one was hurt, but the seemingly sturdy brick façade crumbled like crackers.

In fact, it’s been a tough couple of days in Long Beach.  We had our first water fatality yesterday – a Brooklynite who waited till beach entry was free and the lifeguards were off duty to go into the rough waters – and then two chicks on a jet ski crashed into the Long Island Railroad Bridge crossing the Reynolds Channel and were pulled unconscious from the water.  (Last I heard they were in critical condition but will probably survive.)

So it’s been kind of a dark ending to a weird summer.  Being displaced from my home has certainly contributed to the odd feeling, although I must admit that it was an interesting change of perspective to live on the Boardwalk side of town.  Frankly, I took very little advantage of the primo location, which is kind of a shame.  I never visited the aforementioned pool (although Darian spent a couple of afternoons there) and, despite it being literally steps from my front door, I never set foot on the beach either.  On those few occasions when I did take a stroll on the Boardwalk – meeting my friend Barbara halfway between our buildings for a delightful late afternoon chat; watching Darian and her dad play beach volleyball; having dinner with a friend at the Shoregasbord (a collection of food trucks just off the Boardwalk, comprising the surprisingly limited culinary choices when one is waterside) – I enjoyed it very much.  There’s something about the air and the light when you’re at the beach that gives everything a magical sheen.  [An aside:  Much about Long Beach real estate is incomprehensible to me.  There are so many abandoned parking lots and empty storefronts.  As far as I can tell, there’s incredible opportunities here; it’s a perfect time to renovate the entire city almost four years after Superstorm Sandy destroyed it, given that every street is already a construction zone.  Someone is clearly not making the kind of far-thinking decisions that would help this city thrive.  Is the short-sighted waste driven by greed?  I can’t imagine any other explanation.  If you own a property in need of a tenant, why would you price the tenants out just so that your property can continue to stand empty, wasting money that it could be earning?  It makes no sense.]

But living in a “foreign land” isn’t the only thing that was strange about this summer.  One good friend is suffering through cancer, and two are going through a divorce (one was a relief, the other a devastation).  There was a falling out among folks I like at the shelter and as a result I spend a lot less time with a good friend.  I barely saw my kid at all, between her being in Africa for three weeks, hanging out with her townie friends and basically living at her father’s house the rest of the time because at his house she had a whole basement to herself rather than having to share a one-bedroom apartment with me.  I spent a lot of time on my own, on the computer, playing Words with Friends (at one point, I had nearly 30 games going and most of them had a “QI” somewhere) and reading disturbing articles about politics and encouraging ones about how to build self-confidence as a writer.

Work was quiet.  I got a taste of what it might be like when I’m retired (or when I win the lottery, whichever comes first), although cash flow is certainly a problem and I’m in a little bit of denial about it.  I’m like the grasshopper who played all summer and then had no food when the winter came and had to depend on the kindness of the ants (or, in my case, the small inheritance that my mother left me that was supposed to fund the aforementioned retirement).  Like a kid getting ready to go back to school (except without the new shoes and school supplies), I’m anticipating a very busy few months on the work front to make up for my vacation-lite summer.  I actually regret not taking a week off outright, rather than working an hour or two but remaining shackled to the computer every weekday waiting for the next client query or assignment.

I went religiously to the shelter on the weekends, even though some days I kind of wished I could stay home and listen to music and play on the computer.  But by the time I got there (usually on my one-speed rusty-chained bike, at least two directions of my journey against the wind and torture on my butt muscles) and started petting my favorites, all the stress would leave me and I’d be glad I came.  We had fewer kittens than in previous years (which is a good thing!) and they actually took away my favorite little one, Penny, so that she and her two siblings could get adopted sooner with more “people traffic” in the other Post Pets location at a PetSmart in Westchester.  Right now the only kittens we have at the shelter are six painfully adorable babies that we affectionately call the “ringworm kitties” because they have it and they need to get rid of it before they can be handled.  I am dying to cuddle them, and they’re not shy at all, always crowding the front of the cage and squealing for attention, not like some feral kittens who cower in the back and hiss and spit at every approaching hand.  My other “love cats” this summer have included Ginger, a gorgeous white cat with a distinctive mark on her nose, who was recently adopted and apparently, based on a photo posted on Facebook by her new mom, is quite the queen of the household already.  There’s Jackson, who almost became a member of the family when Darian took him home for a trial run but he had an unanticipated freak-out and attacked her so violently that she’s still a little scared of him, even though he is the most affectionate mush in the cat room.  My new boyfriend is Romeo, a big gorgeous creamsicle that Vanessa, the Post Pets cat director, is inevitably going to steal because she takes all the brawny strawberry-blonde beefcake for herself!!  So I’m enjoying him while I can.  And I’ve kind of fallen in love with a dog this summer, a humongous galoot of a female pittie named Jenny Craig (so called because she was desperately in need of a diet and some moisturizing when she first arrived) but I call her Mama because she’s as sweet as pie and you can’t help but love her.

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Pretty Little Penny

This has also been the summer of sausage – specifically, Aidells Roasted Garlic and Gruyere Sausage; I’ve tried others, but those were hands down the best.  I’ve been eating them a couple of times a week, on a golden brioche roll with Dijon mustard, with slaw and potato or macaroni salad on the side.  Yum.  I’ve also been on a watermelon kick, especially enjoyable when it’s juicy and sweet.  And ice cream – it wouldn’t be summer without ice cream (although, truth be told, I eat it all year long).  Often, when I go over to check on the progress on my house, I’ll stop by Caffe Spiaggia for a soft serve cone or a milkshake and just sit in the parking lot and savor for a few peaceful moments.  I’ve also been slightly obsessed with cookies, which has prompted frequent visits to Country Boy Bakery for a black-and-white or giant chocolate chip.  And I discovered Little Debbie Cream Cheese Streusel Cakes BUT THEY NEVER HAVE THEM IN THE DAMN STOP ‘N’ SHOP!!  So they’ve teased me with deliciousness and now they’re withholding!

I didn’t catch up on movies, as I’d planned, and I didn’t even watch much first-run TV, although last weekend I binged on “The Night Of”, the HBO limited series that considered a murder and the navigation of the criminal justice system by a kid who’d had the very best – and very worst – night of his life.  It was riveting, especially the first couple of episodes, but left me feeling unsatisfied at the end, with unanswered questions and unresolved relationships.  In fact, what has most often been on my TV this summer is “Law & Order”, which has replaced “Law & Order:  SVU” as my go to background noise while I’m messing around on the computer, usually playing Words with Friends.

Some new music I discovered this summer:  Midnight to Monaco, “One In A Million” (a real ear worm, that one – I even caught Darian singing it); “Shut Up Kiss Me” by Angel Olsen; a new crunchy nugget by a UK band called Tibet that I heard on Passport Approved, “I’ll Put You In My Pocket”, and also the new Peter Bjorn & John, “Breakin’ Point”.  I listen non-stop to WFUV during the week, and even stream it in the office on the days I go into the city.  I love the lunchtime DJ, Carmel Holt; she seems like someone I would like to be friends with.  And the mix is always so eclectic – it comes the closest in song selection to my own iPod than anything I’ve ever heard on radio.

The other thing that was distinctive about this summer has been the consistent heat.  I swear my AC has been on continuously since the beginning of July.  We were going to move it from the bedroom window into the living room, figuring that would best cool the room where I spend most of my time, but we left it in the bedroom, where it blasts on me at night and resulted in a doozy of a sinus infection.  I’m longing for the day I can turn off the air conditioner for good and open my windows wide to let in the crisp fall air.

September has always been my favorite month, probably because of my birthday but also because it meant I could go back to school, which I always loved (and to which I very much wish I could return) and hockey starts again.  It’s the time when all the returning TV shows finally have new episodes, interspersed with premieres of intriguing new programs, although I haven’t seen anything that’s piqued my interest in the “coming attraction” ads thus far.  And before we know it, my house will be finished and the kids and I can head back home, and maybe we can even add to our family and take home a foster or two.  (My daughter is already talking about getting a kitten to keep her cat Jojo company – my first “grandchild”!)  As much as I enjoy the pace of the summer, and the sun and blue skies, and the warmth, it’s almost unreal, kind of like a “time out” from the regular routines of life.  Sometimes I think I’d like to live in that “time out” world, but then I come back to reality:  Is an “endless summer” really possible?  It’s a nice dream, I guess, but ultimately unsustainable.