Life lesson: When coming across memories, focus on the good

Have you ever had a memory sneak up on you and take you by surprise? Did you notice if it’s a sad or bad memory that you tend to soak in it?

But when a good memory catches you off guard, do you roll around in it as well? Do you revel in it, throw your head back and laugh, and recall how truly marvelous that moment was?

I was watching football with my dad the other day and when the defense ran off the field, the coach began that completely nonsensical ritual (to me, anyway) of patting each grown man on the butt as he went by.

As I wondered, probably for at least the 100th time why they do that, a memory dropped right into my mind, clear and bright and full of life, and I howled with laughter.

My dad looked at me like I was crazy. He didn’t see anything on the field that would warrant that response.

That was when I shared this memory with him, and before you knew it, we were telling other stories about my mom and we laughed so hard that tears were streaming down our faces.

When I was younger and I returned home from the Army, and patched up an old argument with my mom, we returned to our prior relationship but elevated it to another level, full of love and great times spent together. We became more like best friends or sisters, and we acted more like that than mothers and daughters typically behave together.

We held hands often when we went places. We hugged and kissed each other, and we gave each other great sometimes outrageous compliments. We got into our fair share of trouble, even getting thrown out of a few stores and other businesses for laughing too loudly or being a little rowdy while having extreme fun.

Well, we grew so close that when I decided to go to college and talked to her about it, I found out she had been thinking about going back to get that degree that she was working on but never finished when I was a teenager.

At that time, not as many people as now went to college “later” in life. It was a kind of daunting proposition, especially for her. But we decided we would go together and joked about how we would “graduate or die trying.”

We both made many friends and had a wonderful time at school. We were a little more studious and serious because we were both paying our own way and that seemed to make the classes and the time more valuable.

I had a beautiful male friend at school who would occasionally sneak up on me in a hallway and pinch me on the butt. He loved to see my shocked face when I first turned to see who it was and then we would just dissolve into laughter when I realized it was him. (Remember when you were young and carefree and did silly things like that?)

Well, one day my mom and I were walking down a hallway in the student union when I saw him standing in a line up ahead. She had never understood his pinching me, but her eyes lit up when I pointed him out and mischievously said, “Watch this.”

I walked right up behind him, grabbed one of his cheeks in my hand and gave it a good squeeze as payback for all those pinches. I don’t know if you can imagine how mortified I was when he turned around in shock and I saw something that shocked me even more: It wasn’t him!

I could hear my mom’s laughter echoing in that hallway as I stammered out some excuse and backed away, more embarrassed than I ever remembered being. I ran down the hallway with her at my heels and when we got a respectable distance from that young man, we laughed ourselves sick. I mean we were bent over, sobbing and squealing and having the best laugh ever.

This memory was what came to me in my dad’s living room during that typical Sunday football game. And the minute I got to the grabbing part in the retelling of it, my father just burst into laughter and heavy tears. We carried on about it for probably a half-hour and those two now-intertwined memories are now making me smile widely.

Today is my mom’s birthday, and although she is no longer with me (I have been a Motherless Daughter for nearly four years), I am remembering her fondly. I am choosing to go forward and focus on remembering more good times.

When you lose someone really close to you, especially where the love was deep and wide and profound, you tend at first to reflect on the bad things – things you wish you had or hadn’t said, or did, things that went wrong. But as time goes by, those things fade and what comes to you is much sweeter.

I encourage you to reach out for the good and revel in it.

Life 101: Is yours what you really want it to be?

I’m down for the count with a minor illness, which always makes me more contemplative than usual.

I quit my soul-sucking, bleeding-the-life-out-of-me job nearly two years ago to try to live a better life. People have asked me how I did that and/or why. The job, which I had loved for quite a few years, just became something I didn’t.

Less than two years before that, my younger brother (whom I adopted as my own, and he me, when we were in our teens) and my mother died, both of them unexpectedly, just nine weeks apart. Couple that with the death of two beloved German shepherds, one three months before my brother died and another just eight days after my mother died. That six-month period – which included getting two new dogs after the one died and finding out one of them was terminally ill just weeks after I got them – shook me to my very core.

After I wandered around in a fog of grief and pain for several months, my mind started asking questions, just a few of which I will mention here because they are important.

Why did all of my beloved family members die well before their time should’ve been up? They had hopes and dreams and things they were living for and boom, it was over, and all of those hopes and dreams were gone and wasted.

That led to: What do I still want to do with my life? What things do I really want to experience before I die? What places do I really want to go? Who are the people I really want to meet? Are there any things that I really want to purchase? And are there changes I want or need to make to make my life the best it can be before I die?

Answers came quickly. What to do about each of them took longer.

The first thing that came to my mind was Star Trek. Really. I remembered watching “The Original Series” when I was a child, when it was on in syndication. I loved it so much. That got me thinking about what I truly loved that I needed more of in my life and what I didn’t that needed to go out of my life.

Before Star Trek, when I was younger, I saw the animated “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” for the first time. I realized immediately that I was a misfit toy and that there were other misfit toys out there for me to be with who would accept me and love me for me. I just had to find them.

Spock made me feel the same way, but on a deeper level. He helped me know that I would find my place in the world, even though I was different from others, and I would find people who would not only accept me but even adore and care about me just the way I am. That was profound and it echoed throughout my life, as it continues to do to this day.

Well, there it was, the answer to question one: Star Trek. I had watched “The Next Generation” when it was on television, but since I had given up TV for other pursuits, I hadn’t seen any of the other series. My first goal was to watch them all.

That first revelation happened to come to me in December, just in time for a new year. I only make one resolution every year. (You can read more here about that.) I decided to watch everything Star Trek I could get my hands on, starting with all the series, every episode, and then move on to the movies and then any documentary I could find. I started Jan. 3 and I finished Dec. 27. I watched at least one Star Trek episode every single day. I had daylong and even weekendlong marathons. It was glorious.

In February, I starting thinking about those conventions they used to have. Surely they didn’t still happen, did they? A little Internet research showed they did and that the longest (in terms of days), biggest one (in terms of number of celebrity guests) was in Las Vegas. A few more clicks and a not-so-small amount of money purchased me a Gold ticket for that very year, at the end of July/beginning of August.

That trip changed my life. I had found my Island of Misfit Toys, my tribe, my new family. I was home. (You can read more here about that.) I now go every year and it restores my mind, body and soul.

Next, I started focusing on my health. I had been in a car accident less than a year before my family losses. I still wasn’t 100 percent recovered, and all the grief had halted my healing in its tracks. I started working on getting better and losing weight. That has been a long journey in its own right, but I still work on it every day. (That’s another post for another day.)

Next, I quit that job and moved across the country to live near my father and spend time with him while he still has time left on the planet. There have been ups and downs in this new life, and some hard times, but I’m now in a much better place than ever.

I’m now a freelance writer who writes what I want for whom I want when I want. I’m not making a lot of money, not like when I was managing four newspapers for a multimillion-dollar corporation, but I am making enough. And for the first time in my life, enough is good enough for me.

I have time to spend with my dad, to play with my German shepherd, to work on my beloved Camaro, to figure out who I really want to be, to make those changes that I want and need to make to get there, to make a new life and more good friends, and to spend time each year with my new family. Life is good.

Are you right where you want to be now? Are you living the life you want to every day? I’m happy every day. Maybe not all day every day, but every single day of my life is happy and good.

Every journey starts with a decision, one that you have to make with your heart and your head (I’ll write more about that later, because they are two very different things). And then you have to make a real commitment and take small steps toward your goal. That’s it. It really can be that simple. If you let it be; if you make it be.

Now, what is it you want for your life that you don’t yet have? Think about it. This isn’t a dress rehearsal and there are no do-overs. Get out there and be the real you. And be happy.

If this post speaks to you, I hope you will share it with others.

Caitlyn Jenner helped me get to where I am now

Who’s to say what will move someone from inaction to action, what will come along and inspire us to reach for the brass ring, what will allow us to finally jump a hurdle and flat-out run for the finish line?

I thank Caitlyn Jenner, in part, for where I am now.

Oh, I know a lot of people will jeer this post, but I don’t care. I’ve never really been big on living my life based on what people think about what I’m doing, when I’m doing it, who I am doing it with, and whether I do anything or not. I march to the beat of my own drummer. I know where I was and I know where I am now. Even better, I know where I am going, and it is awesome.

I was working in a dead-end job (four pay cuts in five years just to keep the same position), with ever-increasing job responsibilities each year and ever-decreasing care and respect for my health and welfare from my superiors. That job was sapping my energy and strength and robbing me of my ability to be the happy-go-lucky person I have been throughout most of my life.

I’ve had some rough times in my life and I have made it through some real traumas. Some of them would have felled a lesser person. I have brought more than one counselor to tears while relating some of those hardships. But I am and have always been one of those pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kinds of people and I have done that and moved forward, even when my mind or heart didn’t quite want to.

I try to live life on my own terms and I have left bad and what I consider borderline-abusive relationships behind, and that was what that job had become. After nearly 11 years, I was making just a tiny bit more than when I was hired, I was working way more hours than I wanted to (and anybody should) and doing far more than the job for which I had signed on.

I was at my desk one day in that environment – editing four newspapers owned by a company that was making millions of dollars but couldn’t seem to spread much around to its employees – when I overheard one of my staff members say something about Bruce Jenner becoming a woman.

Now, when I was a little girl, Bruce Jenner was a god. He was THE golden boy. Many of my friends were planning to grow up and marry him one day. (I, on the other hand, had a thing for musicians and bad boys, a trait that, sadly, exists to this day, which might be part of why I’m still single, but that is a topic for another post. Maybe.)

As a longtime journalist (I was bitten by the writing bug in elementary school), I have a curiosity about all things. As a black sheep and misfit toy kind of girl, I am always interested in other people like myself who are marching to their own drum, no matter the rhythm and whether or not others agree to the beat.

So it was with interest that I listened to this co-worker talk about Bruce becoming Caitlyn. The topic of the discussion was an upcoming scoop (Journalists LOVE scoops!) in “Vanity Fair” magazine about his, or rather, her transition. I could hardly wait to get that magazine in my hands. Every day for the next week, I stopped by at least one store to see if it was in yet.

I found the magazine one morning on my way to the office, but I had to wade through a 10-hour workday before I could sit down to read it. And even though I was exhausted that night, I curled up in bed with my favorite (It has been for many years) magazine and read this deeply personal and painful, but very well-written story.

And somewhere in that text were these magic words:

“If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never ever did anything about it, I would be lying there saying, ‘You just blew your entire life.’”

I was stunned. This was someone who had won a gold medal, lived a life filled with riches and dreams-come-true, or so I thought. But there it was. At age 65, Jenner was saying that whole life would have been a waste had she not jumped off the cliff to try to fly her way. Well, that idea unsettled me greatly, and then the words sank deep into my soul.

My plan had always been that once I was “done” with newspapers, I would find a nice little home away from the limelight and the big city and write what I wanted to. The plan was to write a series of children’s books and a short list of other books, mixed with whatever writing I would need to do regularly to pay the bills.

But when would I be done with newspapers? Was it now, when it seemed they were done with me? Long story short, I looked into my options and found that it was time to go. And although it at first seemed impossible, as I started daydreaming and planning and praying, doors opened that weren’t even there weeks before. I was on my way.

I quit that job nearly two years ago and moved across the country. I’m making less money than I have in decades, but I am my own boss, doing my own thing on my own terms. I don’t have a lot, but I have enough. And for the first time in my life, enough is OK with me. Some months have been scary, but I have kept marching and sticking to my path. And interesting and cool things have happened to keep me going. I decided back when I moved that I would give myself a year, and then determine whether I needed to go back to a job. Well, I am glad to say, not yet.

So, whenever I hear Caitlyn Jenner’s name mentioned in the news, or I see one of those memes that say she is not courageous, I say “thank you” out loud to her, for being incredibly brave and for unknowingly setting all types of people, myself included, on their true paths.

*Thank you for reading! If this post speaks to you or inspires you, please share it.*

Get to know your parents now, while there’s still time

I bet if you asked 10 people, most of them would say they know their parents. But knowing them when you’re a child and when you’re an adult are radically different things.

I feel lucky to have learned this lesson, mostly before it was too late.

A few years before my mom died unexpectedly, I was watching a movie about the assassination of Bobby Kennedy and it occurred to me that she was a young woman during that time. So, during our weekly phone call, I asked her if she remembered it. She did and she had an amazing story to tell.

The next day, during my weekly phone call to my dad, I asked him the same question. He and my mom were not yet married at that time, and he also had a cool story to tell me.

All during the workweek, I kept thinking of something else I could ask each of them, and that started a weekly Q and A with my parents that lasted until my mom’s unexpected death three years ago. What I learned about them was awesome, and still is in the case of my dad, who I now live near and talk with almost every day.

Here are some of the questions I asked them, or things I suggested they tell me about, to give you an idea of how to get a conversation started:

  • What did you want to be when you grew up?
  • What were your best and worst days ever? (Interestingly, while my mom clearly remembered a beloved best day immediately, my father said he hoped it hadn’t yet happened to him.)
  • Where were you when John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were killed, and what do you remember about those times? What about when we landed on the moon? Where were you on 9/11? Do you remember the Challenger disaster?
  • Do you remember the first time you saw a movie and what was it?
  • Tell me about the first time you fell in love.
  • Tell me about when you met my mom/my dad.
  • Tell me about you when you were a child and teenager.
  • Do you remember your first favorite pair of shoes, and what were they?
  • Tell me about your first pet.
  • What was your first car?
  • Do you remember your first job? And what was your favorite job?

(Just for fun, after writing this column, I Googled “get to know your parents” and there were 19,100,000 results! Try that if you need more questions.)

Sometimes, stories can just pop up if you ask a question about a comment one of your parents makes. Yesterday, my dad said something was “rough as a cob.” Knowing he had grown up on a farm where they had an outhouse when he was a child, I asked him if he really had ever used a cob. The ensuing story was hilarious and we both laughed until we had tears in our eyes. I will never forget that story as long as I live.

(And so you know, yes, they did use cobs because they couldn’t afford store-bought toilet paper. But they used gloves to rub down the cobs first, so they were actually fairly smooth on the surface. “Hell, it was better than a page from the Sears & Roebuck catalog!” he said. “That slick paper wouldn’t do you much good.”)

The conversations I had with my mom before she died, and the ones I continue to have with my dad, have enriched my life and made me look at my parents in a whole new way. I have come to appreciate things that were hard for them, and to really enjoy some of the things they have loved.

Knowing them as they were throughout their lives, instead of who I thought they were based on the memories of a child, has been a huge blessing.

Memories are all we really have, when you think about it. There is nothing else that you can take with you. So, adults, why not pass on some of your memories to your children today? And to those of you who still have one or both of your parents, why not ask a few questions now to gather some of those memories? One of these days, it will be too late.

Give someone a compliment: It’s the gift of love

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When was the last time someone gave you a compliment? How did that make you feel?

Now, when was the last time you gave someone a compliment? How did that make you feel? Or do you even know?

My mom was THE giver of compliments. People fawned all over her wherever she went. It wasn’t only because she gave out so many compliments. It was more about how she made people feel about themselves. And that love came back to her.

She never gave a false compliment. No, no phony praise from her. That wasn’t her style. Rather, she looked for things about everyone to compliment. (She once told me you could find something good about anyone, although you might have to look longer at some people than others. And when someone tries my patience, I look at him or her until I find something to like.)

I remember when I was in my preteens and I would just cringe when she would call out to someone when we were shopping: “That dress sure looks beautiful on you!” “My, what a handsome man you are!” “Hey, good lookin’. Where are you doing dressed like that?” “That hairstyle is so perfect for you.” “You look great.”

I was horrified, and to this day I cannot tell you why it embarrassed me to my core that she did that. But one day she taught me a lesson I have never forgotten, and I never cringed again. In fact, it was many years later when I caught myself calling out to someone with a compliment that I realized I had not only learned the lesson, but I had also picked up the habit and had made it my own.

She was “auditing” a community college course in fashion design at the time, because we couldn’t afford the tuition for her to actually take the course for credit. At that time, most teachers would let you sit in on their course and participate, free of charge, and not call you out about your “less than student” status.

She loved that class more than any she ever took, I do believe. She drew fantastic things and had many friends who did likewise. Their designs filled my head and heart that summer.

She also came home with wonderful stories about her class and the other students. She kept telling me about this rather plus-sized woman from Nigeria who was in her class. This woman wore caftans she had designed and sewn herself, made of many bright colors and wild fabrics. I couldn’t wait to meet her.

One day, my mom had gotten permission to bring me to class and I gladly tagged along. We sat in the back, so we wouldn’t disturb anyone and suddenly I saw her. In fact, you couldn’t miss her. I had never seen anything like her bright purple, royal blue, hot pink, lemon yellow, brilliant red and electric green caftan. And she was wearing a matching scarf wrapped around and around her head. And to top it all off, she had this large fly sitting on one nostril.

My mom had told me in advance that sometimes this woman had problems at home and she would come to class sad, and every now and then you could tell she had been crying. This day must have been a bad day at home. She slumped in with her head down and quietly took a seat off to the side. I was surprised, because her dress was sunny, wild and fabulous. But her demeanor was gloom and sadness.

My mom leaned over to me and said, “Watch this.” Then she called out to that woman and said with sincerity, “Girl, you look so regal in that outfit that I don’t know if I am worthy of being in the same room!” For just a moment, I thought I would die of embarrassment. Here I was in a college classroom for the first time and she was going to pull one of those mortifying moments?

But then the woman turned to us, her eyes swollen and red rimmed from crying. And then, like magic and almost in slow motion, her mouth opened and she smiled the biggest smile I had ever seen. I mean, full teeth out there smile. And her eyes crinkled up and she let out the most wonderful laugh. I was in complete awe, not only of her beauty at that moment, but of my mom’s ability to turn this woman’s whole day around with a simple sentence.

She thanked my mom and came over and talked to us for a few minutes before class started. (I couldn’t stop staring at that fly, which turned out to be a nose ring. I was in awe!) And when she returned to her seat, she was a different person, lively and animated during the lecture and discussion. My mom nudged me at some point and said, “See. That’s what you do for someone when you give them a compliment.”

It was like she answered the question that had been in my head every time I had seen her do it before. But I had never until that day paid attention to the result. What a marvelous gift to give, to change someone’s life for the moment with a kind and honest word.

To this day, I call out to people to give them compliments. “Girl, that new hair color is awesome!” “Has anyone ever told you what a beautiful man you are?” Yes, I get weird looks and replies from time to time, but the love I give and receive are more than worth any embarrassment.

Give someone a compliment today. And if someone gives you one, accept it fully and enjoy it without hesitation. This feeling is one of the great moments of life.

What was the best comment you’ve ever received? Share it with me in the comments. And if this post makes you happy, please share it with someone else.

Kat’s official tips for having a great birthday

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I think we sometimes forget, especially when we have been adults for a while and we forget to play, that our birthday is supposed to be a celebration of ourselves and the fact that we are still alive. Remember when you were a child and everyone would gather and celebrate you? Why do we give that up as we age?

I recommend you don’t. And so, in case you are out of practice, I hereby give you some official tips for making it a great day. Of course, you can tweak them. Because it’s your day, it’s all about you!

These are in no particular order, although I wrote them chronologically based on my birthday this year. All of these tips would be good to fit into other days as well. But only if you want to have a good day. Or a good life.

  • Stay up until midnight, so you get to experience the first minute of your birthday. Be glad that you made it.
  • Sing happy birthday to yourself before you go to sleep. (I even told me how much I love me.)
  • Turn off the alarm and sleep until your body says it’s ready to get out of bed.
  • Snuggle with a German shepherd (or other animal of your choice).
  • Thank God for giving you another birthday. (A lot of people on the planet won’t get one this year.)
  • Hang around the house in your pajamas doing something you just want to do. (For me, that was reading and surfing the Internet.)
  • Eat something healthy first thing in the morning, because you know you’re going to eat things that are not so much later. (I had some of my favorite yogurt.)
  • Go out to breakfast with your dad (or other loved one) and have chocolate chip pancakes made from scratch.
  • Do something nice for someone else. (I helped my dad with some chores, because he still can’t lift much after his surgery.)
  • Take a drive in a vehicle you love. (I had to take Optimus because of the snow and salt. This was the first birthday I’ve had when I didn’t get to drive Cam. Sigh.)
  • Listen to some music you love, really loud. (For me, this included The Beatles, Ultravox, Billy Squier, Journey, Queensryche, A3, Smashing Pumpkins, Supernova and Kristian Leontiou.)
  • Throughout the day, look around for beauty. Really experience it, admire it and enjoy it.
  • Go around and pick up free presents for your birthday. (A lot of businesses will give you something if you ask. Other places have birthday clubs, where you automatically get something on your special day. This year, I got a free pastry, a free makeup kit, a free ice cream sundae and a free cocktail. I still have free popcorn and a free lunch coming.)
  • Get out with a group of friends, the more the merrier.
  • Have a really tasty meal that includes dessert.
  • Seek out and destroy some cake. (This isn’t a suggestion. It’s mandatory. If you haven’t been eating cake on your birthday, you’ve been doing it wrong.)
  • Go to a theater and marvel at how gorgeous Ryan Gosling is for two hours. (You might choose someone else to ogle. It’s your birthday, so it’s your choice.)
  • Laugh. A lot. Every chance you get.
  • Figure out your catchphrase. (You should have some statement that sums up the day and makes you instantly recall a joyous moment you had at some point during the day or evening. Again, if you’re not finishing your birthday with a catchphrase, you might be doing it wrong.)
  • Have a cupcake and a cocktail before bed. (If you don’t eat sugar, see cake rule above. If you don’t drink, have some kind of treat that you don’t often that you really enjoy. Savor it.)
  • Have additional snuggle session with above German shepherd (or other animal) before bed. (This is optional, but I highly recommend it.)
  • Fall asleep at whatever time you please, knowing you truly celebrated you and being alive.

Happy anniversary to Cam, my beloved Camaro

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I will never forget the first time I saw Cam.

It was Christmas Eve, 21 years ago. I was going through a hard time after several things I had set my sights on had not worked out. I was driving aimlessly, listening to music, passing time and trying not to feel all the hurt in my life.

And then, I looked over at a car dealership off the expressway and there she was. It was the flash of brilliant red that caught my eye. She was parked under the portico, with one of those Jesus lights on her. Well, I call them Jesus lights. They’re the ones they put over cars and jewelry that when you see them, you hear a choir of angels singing.

Now this might sound kind of strange to people, but since I was a little girl, I had dreamed of a red sports car. But as the years passed and I grew older, I never saw one like it. Not until this night. See, they hadn’t even made this car when I was a child. Oh, they had Camaros, all right. But they were a much different shape and body style than the one I saw in my dreams.

But suddenly, on a lonely, dark, cold and snowy Christmas Eve, right out of a child’s dream, there was the flashy red car for which I had longed.

I pulled off the expressway and took the side streets to the dealer. I honestly expected the car not to be there, for it to have been a figment of my imagination. But no, there she was. I knew she was a girl and I knew her name before I got out of my own car to look at her.

“Cam,” I whispered. Her name came to me right then, like I had known it all my life.

Something in that car spoke to me. Oh, it isn’t like I heard an actual voice, but something in her called to my spirit, made me feel peaceful and no longer sad. It was like she wiped the darkness away from inside of me.

I walked all around her, admiring every angle, every detail. I loved the rectangle headlights, the length of her hood, the slant of her back glass. She was exactly as I had dreamed about off and on throughout the years and I could hardly believe I wasn’t dreaming right then.

I sat down on the cold pavement beside her, but I didn’t feel the slightest chill. She made me feel warm and happy, and the only way I can really get close to describing the feeling was it was like I had come home. Until then, I didn’t even know I had been away.

I don’t know how long I stayed, marveling at this wonder. They say there is a magic at Christmas, and I felt it then like at no time before or since. This was my car. She had been made for me, destined to be with me before she was even designed.

I know this may be a little out there for some people, but I also know other people will know exactly what I am talking about – when something is so perfect and delightful that you can’t believe your luck, fortune, chance, destiny, kismet, providence.

It took me three days to make the purchase. The dealership was closed that night, and the next day. But I spent time away from work Dec. 26 to test drive her, work on the deal and try to get financing. It went through Dec. 27 and they called to tell me I could come get her. What they may not have known was that I had visited her each night since and I could hardly wait to bring her home.

In fact, I was standing there beside her when they opened Dec. 26. I was waiting there to make a deposit so she wouldn’t get away. When the salesman asked me if I wanted to test drive her, I laughed. I said that would be fine, but it wasn’t necessary because I knew she was meant for me. He said he had never heard someone say that before. (I did drive her, and when I returned, he said he was worried about whether I would come back.) The growl of her engine just thrilled me to my core then, as it does still.

Today is our anniversary; I have owned Cam for 21 years. I know it isn’t usual for people to keep a vehicle so long, but then, she isn’t just a vehicle; she’s a friend and daughter. She has taken me away from unsafe situations and taken me to wonderful destinations. She has taken me across the country twice, and to lives in many different states. She has known all five of my German Shepherds. And she has never left me stranded.

We have gone on many adventures, and I spend a lot of time taking good care of her to make sure she runs well and looks beautiful. We’ve attended many car shows and won some awards. We’ve driven on a NASCAR track and raced at a drag strip.

For many of her years, she was my only car and we have racked up more than 200,000 miles together. Two years ago, I was fortunate enough to purchase a second vehicle, so she doesn’t have to be driven in harsh weather.

All these years later, I still get a thrill every time I see her, every time I sit in her seat, every time I turn the key. I always look back at her when walking away. And when I am having a less-than-great day, just the sight or thought of her makes me smile and feel at ease.

Happy anniversary, Cam. Here’s to many, many more.

I quit my job a year ago because I had to pee

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I used to joke that the word “salary” was Latin for “free.” But it was no joke when I was working 50, 60 and sometimes 70 hours per week at the job I had for 10 1/2 years.

Today is the first anniversary of my freedom. One year ago yesterday was my last day as the supervisor/editor/manager of a small group of newspapers owned by a multimillion-dollar newspaper company. That job also included sometimes being a trainer, photographer, reporter, building manager, supply keeper, record keeper, fundraiser, public speaker and paper delivery person.

Oh, it didn’t start that way. I was hired by said multimillion-dollar newspaper company to manage three newspapers – a weekly, a bimonthly and a monthly. The job wasn’t hard and I loved teaching new journalists things like how to work a beat, localize national news, handle the always awkward and sometimes painful “victim interview,” and how to cover accident and crime scenes.

My supervisor hired me, she said, because the minute she read my résumé she knew I was the one that would make the papers better than they were before. She also once confided in me that she almost had to sit on her hands while interviewing me so she wouldn’t appear as excited as she was by my ideas and passion for news.

But it wasn’t all that long into the job that The Boss began to block me. I would tell my people how to do something and she would go behind my back and tell them otherwise, even when she and I agreed on the course of action beforehand. She also wouldn’t let me run things the way we had agreed I would. Maybe that should have been my first clue that at some point this job was going to go terribly wrong.

Or maybe I should have gotten a clue when less than a year into my employment, I had to have emergency back surgery. Two days later, when I got home from the hospital, a reporter brought me a CD with stories on it and instructions from The Boss that they needed to be edited. I did as I was told, but I was heavily medicated and even a week later couldn’t tell you what I had read.

A second emergency surgery two years later brought the same results. My hours, which I had been told would never be more than 45 a week at the extreme, began to increase before and after my hospitalization. And yes, I took phone calls, answered emails and edited stories just a day or two after that operation as well.

The three papers became four, and I ended up with responsibility for three weekly papers and one monthly, and four websites. Five-day weeks were extremely rare; I often worked six or all seven. No raise in pay. No extra benefits. In fact, I even was told when I could take my vacation, when I was allowed to take it at all.

The following years brought other disappointments – being told to come in when I was sick, not being given any time off after the death of my beloved dog, many more hours on the job over the agreed upon 45 per week. It also brought rude and nasty comments from The Boss about my weight and the weight of some of my staff members, never mind that The Boss weighed more than we did. Other inappropriate comments were made as well.

There was a 10 percent cut in my pay, followed within months with another 5 percent cut that extended to all employees. People began to leave and were not replaced. Oh, their jobs didn’t go away; they just got parceled out to others. And being the sole person on salary meant I could work as many hours as the company and The Boss wished.

Things really fell apart when we moved from an old, drafty, leaky building into much smaller quarters. We went from four bathrooms – two for the men and two for the women – to only one that would be used by all 25 of our employees, even though the city ordinance said you had to have one bathroom per 15 employees. When we asked before the move how we were going to get by with one bathroom, The Boss said, “I guess we’ll get friendly with our neighbors.” But our neighbors in the business park weren’t always there, and who wants to go to another nearby business to go?

Not long after moving into the new space, the toilet started clogging up. All. The. Time. Repairs had to be made that included replacing lines and other parts of the system. Sometimes, the toilet would be out for days over the course of several months. We all had to get in our cars and drive to the nearest McDonald’s or Target to go to the bathroom during the workday.

Sometimes, we would carpool to a public bathroom. If someone was leaving to go, he or she would announce it and take others along. I’ll never forget the day that I and one of my reporters left the building together and headed to the nearby Burger King, only to find signs on their restroom doors saying they were temporarily out of order. We would have laughed harder, but we really had to go.

Even when the toilet was working, you’d often have to stand in the hallway, legs crossed, praying you wouldn’t soil yourself while someone was in there for what seemed like forever. Or you would run back and forth from your seat to the bathroom door sometimes four or five times to check and see if it was open. Sometimes, when it was quiet and you could hear the door open throughout the building, multiple employees would rush toward the bathroom, resulting in awkward games of who had to go the most.

It wasn’t like I planned to stay so long at the job and be mistreated, but time has a way of getting away from you. And being an optimist, I always thought it would get better. The readers and my employees were the reasons I stayed, and some weeks were pretty great. But as time went on, they didn’t outweigh the bad.

When The Boss left and was replaced by a wonderful manager, we all got a bit of a reprieve. But when he started getting the shaft from the company, he headed out of there. I had to take on most of his duties, and got treated even worse. When I was ordered to come in one day while I was in the emergency room with a 103-degree temperature, I knew I had to leave.

Becoming a freelance writer has been as hard as it has been wonderful. It’s difficult sometimes to motivate myself. The pay is lower than I expected and I’m working more than I planned to in order to get it. I have to do without a lot of things to which I was accustomed. But I get to stay home with my shepherd if she is ill. I can stay home when I’m sick and not be harassed by anyone. I can work in my pajamas all day if I want to.

The funny thing is, I didn’t budget for or think about the added expense of the amount of toilet paper I go through these days, which is a lot more when you’re using your own bathroom almost 24/7. On the other hand, I get to go anytime I want.