The joys and lessons of 2020

I know 2020 dealt a lot of people a bad hand at cards, so to speak, and I know so many people have suffered— loved ones lost, food insecurity, unemployment, instability, break-ups.

I naively believe every year will “be a good year” or a better year… but let’s talk Turkey for a minute: I have a disability (cerebral palsy), I come from a certain socio-economic bracket that has made it difficult (but not impossible) for me to achieve long term financial stability, and my own job choices have often valued community, family and altruism over traditionally-defined middle class life.

2019 was the year I resumed my professional career after taking ten years “off” to raise my daughter. (I worked for Target for those 10 years and they gradually increased my part time hours to full time and so I opted to get paid a professional salary versus a retail wage if I were to put that many hours in.)

My husband and I separated in 2019. That was a huge change after 20 years, and it still pains me. My husband is one of the kindest people in the world, and while I still lament that we couldn’t fix our problems, the end had to come.

So what were the joys and lessons of 2020?

Let me share.

  • Cats. December 26, 2019 through late January 2020, the teenager trapped the feral kittens born under our neighbors porch. We kept two of them. Taming feral kittens gave us so much reward. And led to us working with FURR. Our fostering career has involved 12 kittens so far, in seven months. And I cannot tell you how much I love having babies around all the time. On days I don’t want to get out of bed, I do for them.
  • Birds. I met Nala on December 28, 2019 and brought her home in mid-January. By dealing with this obstinate Goffin’s cockatoo, I learned a lot of patience. And the best way to top being “a crazy cat lady” is to be the crazy cat lady with birds. And my parakeets had babies for Christmas 2020. I have three chicks that I have seen grow daily.
  • Professional and personal growth. I found myself crying at my desk more often than I like to admit in 2020. It became apparent by the end of January that my boss was an incredibly toxic person. At the same token, I learned so much from her that when she dismissed me during the pandemic, I could use those new skills to help a young nonprofit grow. Between my original job and my volunteer work with new nonprofits, I showcased this knowledge to steer these organizations to grants. And the success rates for grants, publication of an first-ever annual report, and various media placements throughout the Lehigh Valley was exhilarating.
  • Expanding family. As my faithful readers may know, I have a second teenager staying with me. This teenager has turned our lives upside down, but has shared in our joys and tribulations during the last four months. I always wanted a larger family— and I got it this year: a menagerie of birds, cats and teenagers. It’s been amazing to share our joys and traditions with someone and see my daughter react to no longer being an only child.
  • New attitude toward challenges. I am always the person you can count on when you need someone. So people don’t realize that I am often terrified and insecure. Being “alone” and a single custodial parent has gotten me over that. I had five months with no income and I lived on the $4500 I had in savings. I ended up in the hospital with a cat bite during that time period and it was such a great learning experience. I learned a lot about myself, my neighbors, my friends, and how amazing teenager #1 really is. And then I finally get unemployment after I get my new job at Stitch Fix. I promptly use it to pay off some of my medical bills and a few living expenses I had put on my American Express.
  • We will move beyond Covid. I finally got a job and three weeks in, I contract Covid-19. That whole experience was something, but again— I learned to ask friends, neighbors and family for help. And that GrubHub gift certificate I received during the summer months sure came in handy. This whole pandemic world has me mapping out whom I would recruit for my squad in a real catastrophe.

Maybe I’m just weird— but I see a lot of hope and triumph emerging from struggle. Cheers to 2021.

136, the fox in the intersection and midnight philosophy

Last night, I hit 136 in “fixes” that I “direct-picked.” So tonight, one of my supervisors informing me that I was “kicking ass” and they hoped I would hit 152 next week.

I think they jinxed me.

But let’s start with the beginning of my day. One of the interns from ASPIRE to Autonomy asked if I could go with her to drop off an award for state senator Lisa Boscola in her Bethlehem office. I live less than 15 minutes from that office (and ironically Boscola’s communications director who was setting up the meeting lives literally across the street from me) and the intern lives about 90 minutes away.

I immediately agreed and suggested that perhaps we could do lunch to help make the long drive more worthwhile. The last time she was in the area we had discussed my favorite thrift store so instead of a formal lunch, we ate egg sandwiches from the Dunkin drive through in the car and shopped at the thrift store behind Dunkin.

She found a brand new Kutztown sweatshirt for $5. She did her undergraduate work at Kutztown and is now in their MSW program. This was quite the find.

And Lisa Boscola was charming and liked my shoes and when I told her the kittens ate my laces she asked how many kittens I had… So I mentioned my involvement with Feline Urban Rescue and Rehab.

After our 2 pm meeting, I rushed home to get to work. I received a text message that the matriarch of the Velez Familia may also be taking a job at Stitch Fix.

My performance at work was a little off, and I had trouble keeping momentum that would lead to 136 again at the end of the night. And I was achier than usual. So I ate a chocolate chip muffin on my first break and drank water and coffee in case lack of food and dehydration was the problem. We had our weekly staff meeting after the 5:30 break. I was at 64 completed fixes. I should be at 72 if I wanted to hit my numbers.

At 7:30 pm, meal break, I took two extra strength Tylenol. I was just achier than usual. Couldn’t put my finger on it. I was also spotting a bit— so could it be some sort of 40-something hormonal issue?

At 10 pm, I had some chips and green iced tea with ginseng and honey from the machine. Never used the machine before. As soon as I went back on the warehouse floor I experienced some intense intentional distress.

I rushed to the bathroom. I passed the main boss for our shift. She said something casual to me like “Hey, Angel, how are you doing?” And I blurted out, “I just have to use the bathroom.”

Now at Target, you couldn’t use the bathroom without permission and since we had just had our break not even 10 minutes before I thought there might be a reaction to my using the facilities. There was not.

As I was moving on to my next cart, my right leg started giving me trouble. I couldn’t walk on it without my knee having this sideways intense pain. This lasted about 20 minutes and my leg was weak for the rest of the night.

But somehow, by 11:50, I had reached 128. We had some computer issues early in the shift, the ten minute staff meeting, the extra bathroom trip and pain I might call a six or seven but I still got to 128.

At 11:55 pm, I clocked out.

An animal crossed the road at the intersection by the warehouse. I was the only car at the red light because of the fact that I had finished a little early. In ten more minutes, there would be a long line of cars.

“Is that a cat?” I thought.

In the illumination of my headlights, I realize it is bigger than a cat and a strange orange color one doesn’t find in a dog. It looks straight at me.

I realize that it’s a fox.

I have never seen a real, live fox before. Here we are. At midnight. Alone. In the middle of the industrial park.

Now remember I am a huge Le Petit Prince fan (I even have a tattoo) and in the book the Prince learns from the fox:

One can only truly see with the heart,

The essential is invisible to the eyes.

You are responsible forever for that which you have tamed.

The Fox in The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery

For more of Le Petit Prince and the lessons of the fox in French: http://microtop.ca/lepetitprince/chapitre21.html

Gratitude Photo Shoot

For the last couple of days I’ve wanted to spend as much time as possible taking photographs of all the things in my life that I encounter on that day and compile them into a gallery for a blog entry.

If I did it today, these are the things that made me happy and they would have appeared in my photos:

  • Kittens, kittens and more kittens
  • Coffee
  • My house is so full of food!
  • My teenagers
  • That Dunkin had a $1 coffee because of the Eagles playing
  • Streaming services, today I started a documentary on Netflix
  • Cozy blankets
  • My cat Fog
  • My make up
  • Cantaloupe
  • I tried a chocolate chip cookie dough Chobani Flip
  • Socks. I do love compelling socks
  • My budget book
  • My journal
  • My pink lamp

Evening reflections under a clear sky

The night air hangs crisply around me as I sit on a cold stone bench listening to the marching band.

I can see every star and that amazes me since we are in town— light pollution everywhere.

I am thoroughly exhausted. I do get scared. But I still feel, even through this lonely melancholy, so much hope and thankfulness.

It’s a hard world out there right now, and I’ve been job hunting, building a business, volunteering with a local non-profit as their communications director and fostering feral kittens— in addition to parenting not one but two teenagers.

This crazy conglomeration of circumstances has brought me a great amount of joy as I try not to disappoint these teenagers, the cockatoo, or any of the 14 cats. Oh wait— that’s 13 now. We get rehome the black one and now we have 13 cats? That can’t be good.

I’ve used some of this time under the pandemic to expand my make-up looks.

Playing with Green

And my lack of steady income has led me to search for the best bargains possible… Got this toilet paper at CVS for $3.61.

Toilet paper bargain hunting

And as the days turn cold, I found my favorite tunic nightgown and whipped out my witch socks.

In the midst of this I think of all the friends who’ve lent a helping hand… the former work colleague who sent $20 and said “do something for yourself,” the college friend who sent a random check, my estranged husband who brought over groceries when I needed them, the new friend who gave me a $25 Dunkin gift card and showed me how to apply for food stamps, the friend who emptied her cupboards, the friend who waxed my brows and did my nails…

And I am so grateful.

My food stamps came in, and tomorrow I planned to go grocery shopping.

And much to my surprise another benefactor came forward today.

These will pay for what food stamps won’t— soap, garbage bags, cat food, cat litter, maybe even a rotisserie chicken. And I won’t have to wait for $9 in Extra Bucks, a 40% off coupon, and a manufacturer coupon to go get toilet paper.

I think about my job hunt (I have three pre-interview kind of situations happening this week. Interviewing in Covid is a weird combo of essay tests, screening questions, phone calls and video chats.)

And I’ve been touring office spaces with ASPIRE to Autonomy so seeing their vision become a reality makes me happy.

I have five interns that report to me now… I love seeing them grow.

And I have a new marketing client. Most of our work together will probably be in trade as she is starting a new small business.

I still feel like something good is on the horizon.

Kitten Wrangling

I am a big believer that things tend to sort themselves out and some things the universe takes care of.

Zeus and Apollo

I got up at 6:15 a.m., tending to my four cats; then I turned my attention to the four new 3-pound fosters in the Roman Pride, trapped by Feline Urban Rescue and Rehab.

They had did a number on the crate. I let them out to roam the small mud room while I prepped their breakfast and decided what to do. YouTube: Roaming Fosters

Today was the first Wilson Warrior home football game, and the teens had to hustle and bustle to get there. I did not get a ticket because of my commitment to get the Greeks to PetSmart for kitten adoption day.

I got the Roman kittens corralled into their crate and the teenager #1 situated their litter and gave some of them a little bath since they ended up sitting in poop.

Ah, the joys of babies.

By some miracle the teens got to the game on time dragging instruments, one gallon thermal jugs, masks, uniforms, lunches and goodness knows what else!

I came home and gulped down a quick cup of coffee with my neighbor before hanging kitten blankets on the laundry line (Hmmmm…. as a kitten foster for a non-profit does that make laundry and dishwashing expenses partially tax deductible?)

Ah, the joys of babies.

I went up to the teenager’s room to grab Zeus and Apollo of the Greek Pride and take them to PetSmart. (Video: Off to PetSmart)

Forget rodeos with bulls and cowboys, kitten wrangling should be a sport or at least count as aerobic exercise. Seriously, how many calories does that burn?

Ah, the joys of babies.

As I arrive, I get a text. No adoption fair today. But at the same time, a mom with the sweetest sleepy baby boy expressed disappointment that there are no kittens today.

I just happen to have two.

Within seconds, we are standing at register three cuddling Zeus. The woman I am speaking to wants a female kitten for her family as their large dog passed away I believe three months ago.

She starts to consider asking her husband to adopt both kittens. But she’s not sure it will fly. He comes in and holds Zeus. They both scritch scritch Apollo.

They take the information I share with them and I hope— pretty pretty please— that they consider Zeus or her and her brother.

If you are reading this lovely people with two sons…

In the end, you need to follow your instincts on what is best for your family but… if I can persuade you…

Four Reasons Why Two (Sibling) Kittens are Better Than One

  1. They have never been an only cat. They only know life as part of their litter. They will cry less and the transition will be less frightening if they are together.
  2. They entertain each other. Kittens can get bored and/or lonely, and if they have a sibling they will attack each other instead of your furniture or your houseplants.
  3. They have a bond like human siblings that will entertain you. When they play it will be no holds barred. If one is sleeping, the other has no issue walking up and biting him in the butt just because. They sleep in a pile. Get enough kittens and you can’t tell where one starts and the next begins. They communicate with each other, which is heart warming.
  4. If they look alike— and Zeus and Apollo have only minor differences— you can have fun confusing friends, family and neighbors.

And the football game…

I couldn’t go because I didn’t have a ticket, but I walked over and got really lame footage of the band playing Hail to the Warriors (Hail on YouTube) and the National Anthem (Star spangled banner on YouTube).

Inspired by Vu Le, Nonprofit AF

I attended a Zoom Meeting today with Vu Le of Nonprofit AF hosted by The Gruvin Foundation. Now I know it seems odd for a writer and communicator from the Lehigh Valley to spend time with a foundation focused on Ocean County, N.J., but I had a hunch Vu Le would have a message that transcended geography.

But before I get how right I was, let me celebrate the fact that I attended the meeting in true 2020 remote work fashion—

My Zoom Face

While below the waist, I spotted pajamas.

Let me just say that Vu Le speaks the truth and boldly proclaims what those of us who rely on traditional nonprofit institutions to employ us cannot say.

It’s time for the nonprofit sector to be bolder and more assertive.

Vu Le, Nonprofit AF

He so eloquently described what could be improved about the nonprofit sector. From the basic concepts such as fundraisers should not be judged on how much money they bring in and we should reflect upon the greatest needs in the community versus pushing our own mission.

Le advocates for a change in the ecosystem so that nonprofits stop functioning in silos and foundations and philanthropists stop generating mistrust and wasting time and resources.

For instance, Le reminds us all that GRANT PROPOSALS are a WASTE OF TIME since most never get funded. He poses the question— what if nonprofits employed the same tactics as funders?

A hungry family comes to the food pantry. Before they receive food they have to prepare the following:

  1. Compose an essay detailing how hungry they are.
  2. Include a logic model of exactly how all food will be used.
  3. Prepare outcomes of how this food will benefit your children.

We don’t do that, right?

So, Le asks, why do funders do it to us?

He compares the current nonprofit environment to The Hunger Games and like the book series, he challenges those in the sector to end the game and take down the system.

Vu Le speaking, hosted by Gruvin Foundation

Some more of his simple but mind blowing, completely logical ideas to improve inequality in this country:

  • The “easiest” way to fix society is to elect more women of color. It’s the only way to balance the voice is old white men.
  • The wealthy need to pay their fair share of taxes.
  • Remove corporate influence from politics.
  • Change the two-sided narrative so it’s harder to argue.

Then he reminded us all of this fact: If most social injustice and issues that nonprofits seek to correct effect primarily people of color, why is it that typically…

Non profit boards are white

Non profit staff is white

Donors are white

So white people should allow more people of color decision-making capacity in programs to benefit them. To continue to paraphrase Le, white folks need to stop taking jobs as executive directors for programs that don’t have any impact on white people.

And if funders are only participating in philanthropy to receive the tax breaks, they need to accept that the money is no longer theirs. They need to allow those communities facing the issues at hand to make decisions on how it is spent.

And one of the best ways to promote change in the sector is to encourage funders to give general operating expense funds and let the people doing the work decide where it is needed.

Again, these ideas are not mine but belong to Vu Le of the blog “Nonprofit AF.”

Those happy little things

The past few days have been a roller coaster. A cliche I know but the simplest way to describe life.

Something spooked the budgies at 5 a.m. this morning, which in turn spooked the cockatoo. I had not caged the cockatoo as we had a rough day yesterday and she was mad at me. So I turned the light on to soothe everyone and Nala (my Goffin) flew into my bed with me.

This blog will be mostly a random list of nice things with pictures and a review of McDonald’s spicy nuggets.

So let’s handle the review first.

Angel’s Review of McDonald’s spicy nuggets

I like them. Very much. Good with a side of ranch.

For more on our trip to McDonald’s for Buy One Get One nuggets — with TWO teenagers— see our video on YouTube: Taste Test: Spicy Nugs

Onward…

MY teenager had her first day of Zoom classes as part of her hybrid public high school yesterday. Her friend, who will affectionately be “the second teenager” in this space, joined us.

After class, we visited our friends at Feline Urban Rescue and Rehab to get a large crate for our Greek Pride Foster Kittens so we could segregate Hermes as he has ringworm.

(For more on the kittens:

Zeus and Apollo

Kittens are one of the things that make me happy.

Other things that make me happy:

Coffee mugs

The teenager started it. She bought me a mug for Mother’s Day 2019. Of course, she bought it with my Target Red Card. It had a lid, so she didn’t have to worry about me spilling hot coffee on myself while going up the stairs.

I received a fun coffee mug for Christmas 2018 as part of a Secret Santa— it was a Magic 8-ball (I used to take one to work and have my fellow Target team members ask it questions).

But in recent months, the teenager and I have impulse bought a few at The Dollar Tree. She bought herself “I love dogs” and the companion “I love cats” for me.

Most recently I got the “smile and nod” and coffee hug mugs because they bring humor into my early mornings.

And that is the best way to start each day.

When you earn the love of a cat

I have always loved animals and small children, and I often have the ability to attract and charm them.

Most people I know are “dog people,” and if my life worked out differently I’m sure I would be too. And if I had a larger yard and a future that involved working from home or short enough hours, I would get a dog. I haven’t had a dog in almost 30 years.

I tend to have a good rapport with cats. We are both moody, aloof creatures, quick to bare our claws but dedicated and affectionate when you win our trust.

And my life recently has been full of cats.

I guess part of me is looking for that companionship I had with Zoot, the kitten I rescued from my brother’s household after Christmas, two months after I got married. 1999.

She was a character from the get-go. She protected me with fierce devotion, and even extended her guardianship to my daughter. She hated to see the now-teenager cry.

She knew when I needed her. She licked my tears and sat by my side. And she purred with such enthusiasm. A sound I loved to hear.

I taught her to sit, give her paw, lick my cheek and jump onto her stool. And, as a consequence, whenever she wanted what you had, she would walk up to you, sit down, and hand you a paw.

In that way, she trained me. I taught her the trick. She performed it to demonstrate her desire.

That is so “cat.”

A dog loves you because it trusts you, it needs a leader, and it wants a pack.

A cat loves you if you earn it.

And when a cat choses you as its person, especially when it has a choice of people, it feels like an honor.

Of our 9-ish month-old teen cats, Misty and Fog, Fog prefers me to my teen daughter. His brother, Misty, is my daughter’s baby. Both are the offspring of a feral in the neighborhood— Misty was the runt, and Fog was the smartest who lasted the longest on his own.

Since I got home from the hospital, Fog has spent as much time as he can by my side.

And it warms my heart.

And perhaps this bond— this return on investment— is what endears me to cats.

Quiet moment

Can a day or a week be hectic and full of emptiness at the same time?

Of course it can. I certainly know that.

I’ve spent the last couple days balancing household chores, some obligations I volunteered to do, medical appointments and animals.

I really want a beer or a glass of wine.

I’m technically overweight now — my BMI is 25

But I am pleased with some of the progress I made on projects, primarily submitting an idea for a virtual book fair fundraiser for Mary Meuser Memorial Library (which the committee has responded very favorably to) and sorting through some old little girls’ clothes from the attic.

So in the midst of everything I noticed my front garden is a mass of nettles.

I pulled a bunch of weeds when I got home from the hospital but they grow faster than I can yank them out.

But then I saw this:

One of my roses

My roses need to be trimmed. Another casualty of my hospital stay. But I needed this glimpse of beauty.

And I cherish it.

In other news, I tried a stroopwaffel from Lidl. They were impressively gooey even without the obligatory coffee to warm the caramel inside.