The Next 50 – A Preview

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​Despite dropping the ball for several of the weeks, leading to a ridiculously busy final two months, I really enjoyed writing the fifty reflections about fifty.

Or rather reflections on the last fifty years before I officially turned fifty. 

For 2017, my goal is to write one reflection or short essay each week for the next fifty-two weeks, exploring this next year. I won’t be turning fifty again, but I plan to enjoy and stretch out my fiftieth year.

This set of fifty or so reflections will have a bit more structure than relying on whatever struck my fancy in the moment as I did this past year, although I wouldn’t completely discount that either.

I’ll start each month with a blurb about the month itself, followed up with a photo, a spiritual reflection, and a person who inspires or otherwise influences me. 

I sat down to write a quick outline, and I was amused that after completeing my preliminary list of random people that I wanted to write about and share that I had an evenly divided list of six men and six women. I don’t think I could have done that if I had tried to. Looking over my list, the people who I admire are a mix of performers, artists, religious, politicians, journalists, and saints. They are more different than alike, but each has its own way that draws me (and others) to them.

I’ve enjoyed the last year of looking back and I’m hoping that with these fifty-two weeks coming up that I can not only continue to look back but also look ahead. There is so much more to come.

50-50 – Birthday Traditions

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I usually like to spend part of my birthday on my own. Since college, I have never worked on my birthday. The one time I did work-business for a new job, getting a physical and a drug test, I almost got into a car accident. Never again. 

I get up. I take a shower. I wear my favorite clothes. Today, I will wear my favorite boots and jacket. On years that my driver’s license is due, I go for a haircut and then go to DMV for a new picture on my new license.

There is a local, fancy strip mall that is more boutiques than strip mall that I like to spend the day at. The first week in December is usually not too cold if I’m wearing a heavy sweater and snood and the sun is shining. I would wander in and out of stores, window shopping, grabbing a muffin or a tea, picking up trinkets and then replacing them on their shelves.

I try new things.

In recent years, while my kids are in school, I let my husband work and I head out to Starbucks for a couple of hours. I get my free drink and a cranberry bliss bar. I take myself shopping, usually for a new pocketbook or a new wallet. I go to Target and buy myself a Christmas ornament, sometimes a new notebook.

My mother used to give me money for my birthday, and this is how I would use it. The year after she died, my husband gave me a $50 Visa gift card so I could continue my ritual for my birthday despite my mom being gone. It was one of the nicest things he’s done for my birthday.

On the weekends, I usually spend the day with my family. Sometimes, I’ll go to Starbucks for breakfast alone, but the rest of the day we’re together.

This year, today, we’re going to the firehouse for a pancake breakfast, then the local airport for the Santa Fly-in, Fantastic Beasts at the movies, and dinner at Delmonico’s Italian Steakhouse. Cake and presents after.

I’m being unusually decisive for my 50th birthday. I’m very much an I don’t know kind of person, but not this year. The only other time that I was this decisive on my birthday was when I was pregnant with my first child.

I’m looking forward to turning 50. Honestly, I don’t know why. It’s not something that I’ve looked forward to – growing older, and while this is a chapter ending, it is also a chapter beginning.

This is my final reflection of the fifty I planned before my fiftieth birthday, and I plan to write another fifty next year, a bit more focused and a bit more consistent.

I’m looking forward to what’s to come, and that in itself is unusual for me. It feels like a good thing, though.

50-49 – Birthday Freebies

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I have always been on the lookout for good deals. Kids eat free, free ice cream day at Ben & Jerry’s or Friendly’s, but the most freebie centric day has got to be a birthday.

You do need to get on email lists or sign up for rewards, but they are usually free to join, and they are well worth it.

A few of my birthday freebies and discounts that I’ve received in my emails this week.

Starbucks – free birthday drink if you’re a member of their rewards program. Don’t sign up at the last minute.

Red Robin – free birthday burger if you’re a member of their Royalty Rewards. A special note about Red Robin: their rewards program is one of the best I have ever been a part of.

Ruby Tuesday – free birthday burger with coupon.

Jimmy’s Egg – free birthday entree.

Hot Topic – $10 off $30 purchase (this is pretty reasonable)

Avenue – $10 off $50 purchase.

Hallmark – 20% off coupon

Pizza Hut – free cinnamon sticks with your next online order

Recovery Sports Grill – $5 on your Hall of Fame card (rewards card)

Olive Garden – free dessert

Chili’s – free dessert

Perkin’s Restaurant & Bakery – free Magnficent Seven meal (breakfast meal)

Texas Roadhouse – free sidekick of ribs or free appetizer

Smart Style Hair Salon (inside Wal-Mart) – discount with coupon

If you have kids, and join the kids club at Barnes & Noble, you will receive a free cupcake coupon for your child’s birthday month.

Travel – Star Trek Original Series Set Tour, Ticonderoga, New York

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It hasn’t been a week since my birthday surprise, and at times I feel as if it were just yesterday or a year ago that we took the long drive to Ticonderoga, New York to visit the Star Trek Original Series Set Tour.

It was all the more wonderful to celebrate my 50th birthday among the stars that had been in our world for those same fifty years.

I was completely speechless and wide-eyed. I had no idea that this place existed. Upon entering and checking in (we’d bought our tickets online), we were led into a large warehouse space. The modern displays and wooden walls stamped with Desilu Studios 9 were wonderfully deceiving.

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50-48 – Jane of All Trades

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When I was just out of college I got a job with the US Navy’s MWR** department as a child development associate. In order to be considered for this entry level, teaching assistant, minimum wage job, I needed to fill out a Department of Defense job application. I needed to provide ALL of my jobs and ALL of my addresses for the past ten years. As a newly minted college grad, the amount of jobs and addresses I had (a new one every semester and every summer, sometimes two) led to an application that was well over forty pages long.

Over the years, I’ve had occasion to look back on this application – yes, I have a copy in my files in the basement – in order to fill out other applications and write resumes, and in looking over I saw the plethora of different things I’d done. Upon leaving the work force to stay home with my kids, I did a number of other things that added to my job list and my skill set.

I often feel like the second half of my title’s proverb – jack/jane of all trades, master of none.

I feel less than instead of focusing on the first half of the proverb – jane of all trades – expressing my vast experiences and using the culmination of everything I’ve learned continually in my life daily.

I didn’t work until my first year in college. I lived a privileged life. I don’t believe most of my friends had jobs in high school. I didn’t have an allowance, but I had everything I needed. I didn’t take advantage and ask for crazy things, like spring break in Cancun or a European adventure. I went to the movies and the diner, and I didn’t do that every day. I did work a disastrous weekend at a delicatessen, which still haunts my dreams.

My first “job” was an unpaid high school internship in a law firm. I did all the usual secretarial/receptionist work, and got to go to court with one of the lawyers to observe. The other women in the office were very kind to me and I did learn a lot before I went to college to a pre-law/political science major.

When I changed majors two years later to elementary education, I did other unpaid internships in schools as a student teacher. I even got paid three times to substitute locally before I graduated.

At college, I worked as a Bio Research Assistant, which consisted of cleaning petri dishes and putting equipment in cupboards. I was also “campus security” for my dorm. I sat at the door overnight with another student and signed residents and guests in and out after the doors were locked for the night.

In the summers, I had an extraordinarily long list of retail and receptionist positions: Alexander’s* for inventory, Gimbel’s*, Kids R Us, Curtain Country*, Herman’s Sporting Goods*, JoAnn Fabrics,  as a temp for several offices. I also made and sold jewelry as a member of the SCA***.

In teaching, I taught for the US Navy program, a cooperative nursery school, day care at a college, Head Start as well as volunteering at my kids’ schools. As part of my teaching positions, I published parent resource newsletters.

I proctored the NYS Teachers’ Exams for several years.

I became a direct sales consultant for Creative Memories, a company that taught the techniques and sold products for scrapbooking.

I taught a tax class for other direct sales consultants.

I babysat.

I published a Travel Organizer chapbook.

I’ve been crafting this website and I think I’ve finally found a rhythm.

I’ve volunteered in ministries with my church in their adult enrichment, adult initiation rites, and day of service groups.

I wrote for a parenting newspaper, and then began to seriously freelance write. I’m currently working on two books: one on our home buying experience (horrible) and one on my travel/pilgrimage to North Wales (amazing). I’m also considering a book on my spiritual journey since I’ve begun attending church services and my conversion.

I have article submissions in process for The Sun Magazine and Vox.

So many things and most of them come back to writing.

Jane of all trades. I can use that.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

*since closed or out of business

**Morale, Welfare and Recreation

***Society for Creative Anachronism

50-47 – Niagara Falls

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I can’t remember how many times I’ve been to Niagara Falls. It is the one place that I’ve been to in almost every place of my life. I went as a kid with my parents and siblings, I went with my husband while we were dating, we brought my young son right before he started kindergarten, and we recetnly went with our whole family of five.

The city iteself changes, and over the last forty years or so, the Falls have even changed, but yet, they still remain the same.

I recognize the crowded streets, the carnival like atmosphere, the bright lights, the cold spray from the Falls, the huge ferris wheel that we could see from our hotel room window.

Parking was worse this last time, and I had trouble with my knee, but overall it was a lasting memory that we will enjoy for a long time.

Standing across from the Falls, my hand on the cold stone wall that kept me from falling down the hill to the sharp rocks below. I would stand there and stare, occasionally taking pictures, occasionally closing my eyes and just standing there, listening to the wind, the water hitting the bottom. I couldn’t feel the spray from there, but I could see it.

We wanted to take the kids on the Maid of the Mist, but the boats had also changed. Maid of the Mist only docked on the American side. The Canadian had a new tour from Hornblower Niagara Cruises. The boats were red trimmed, and the ponchos were red and biodegradable. The boat was less choppy and I liked it much better than when I was a kid.

When I was a kid, I refused to go on until my family came back safe, then my Dad took me alone. Since they didn’t drown, I figured it was okay for me to go. The anxiety is strong in me. At that time, you couldn’t keep the rain jackets. They were much heavier, rubbery, and hot, so very hot.

This boat still rocked and we were drenched from going under or close enough to the falls that the spray was heavier than any torrential downpour I’ve ever been in.

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50-43 – Why Are The Lights Out?

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In my family, everyone got a cake on their birthday.

It was always a surprise.

No one knew it was coming until they entered a darkened room and the family starting singing Happy Birthday.

That was how it was supposed to go, and how it went for my entire life; at least five times a year, probably more with Mother’s and Father’s Day and my parents’ anniversary.

We’d go out to dinner and come home.

There was a bit of awkward talking, waiting for the surprise moment.

At some point, my mother asked the birthday person to do her a favor so they would leave the room. When we were older, we’d fake going to the bathroom.

Once the candles were lit and the lights turned out, my mom would call the bitthday person back down to the dining room.

The singing would start and then we’d blow out the candles, turning the lights back on. Plates and forks. Cake and frosting. I love frosting.

We never saw it coming.

Surprise family cakes were the best.

50-41 – Salisbury Tea

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​Some memories are clearer than others. When I think of Salisbury, I remember several bits rather than a cohesive narrative. I have vague images of people and places and really strong feelings evoked by the smell of rain on stone. Simply the mention of the Cotswolds region and I think lovingly of the hostel warden who let us in early because of the freezing air. He showed us his books on the area and we talked with him for what seemed like hours although it was probably closer to minutes. I can picture Kathy and I poring over the books in what I remember being a study with overstuffed chairs and shelves of books. It was probably less of a study and more of a nook but it is in my mind’s eyes as from an Austen novel.

I have no memory of coming off the train and walking on a regular sidewalk. Our bags were heavy. We’d just left London and I already had an extra bag. In some ways, twenty odd years later would be much easier with my own car.

The street was narrow, going hurriedly but clumsily over the cobblestones and through the slate colored grey stone archway that matched the sky. Salisbury held everything from prehistoric and Druidic to medieval and Christian to modern with that extra touch of living in a British comedy. All there for tourist and native alike, slight eye roll and wondering if this was real or if it was done as pantomime for our benefit.

I take pictures of everything so it boggles my mind that I do not have a photos of the actual medieval clock in the CAthedral. It is possible that photographs weren’t allowed. It’s possible that the picture was blurry and lost to the annals of a box of college things that will never be seen again. I do remember amazement, thought, and I recall sitting on a wall near the Cathedral – I have a photo of a flowering tree in January from there so it must be true – and we eating peanut butter spread on crackers, although I think it was either Melba toast or mini bread squares the size of crackers – non-perishable, easy to carry and thrifty. Let’s be hone now, frugal or cheap is a more appropriate designation.

What stands out most vividly, besides scaring another hosteler that evening while watching Poltergeist, was the wacky tea shoppe that Kathy and I wandered into. There were so many things on the wall, it was hard to miss the tiny flowery wallpaper. There were small round table with two or three chairs. I think they were metal, like patio furniture rather than wood, and they were all white. I feel as though a doily factory exploded in this shoppe. People were there, chatting quietly, sipping tea, adding milk, dabbing creme onto scones, the click of the spoon hitting the tea cup unmistakable and nearly constant.

At the back of the shop was a counter where you got your order and behind the counter were three old women. Ancient would be more apt. They were all quite deaf or extraordinarily hard of hearing. Although they didn’t have one, it would not have surprised me one whit if they had one of those ear trumpets that you would put into your ear and had someone scream into.

They were shouting orders back and forth and repeating as necessary because of the hearing. It was very much like the Where’s the Beef commercials.

As Americans, we were already loud, but not quite loud enough for this place.

I’d like a tea with milk please.

What?

Tea. With milk, said a little louder.

What?

One more time.

She turned to the lady behind her, in the more kitcheny area and repeated my order.

What? came the reply from the back.

The first woman repeated it.

What?

A third woman back there repeated it even louder and was met with a silent nod as tea kettles were poured and prepared and given to us on a tray. We must have paid but I don’t actually remember paying. I also don’t recall if we got anything to eat with our tea.

We sat and sipped and listened in astonishment as our conversation was repeated with the customers who came after us. We grinned occasionally at the absurdity of it all.

It was so perfectly, stereotypically British that I would not have been surprised had Mrs. Slocum come out of the back complaining about her day.

I don’t remember what was upstairs – there was a little shop, but I do remember going up the narrow stairs and then coming back down relatively quickly. We slid past other customers coming in, back onto the narrow cobbled walkway, under the stone arch that had been there since before America was a nascent thought and back to the hostel; or more likely to the hostel for the first time after our very British sustenance. Tea cures all ills, and with its special powers we were able to walk the rest of the way to the hostel where we would stay the night and then continue west by train through the lush green countryside bordered by grey sky.

January in England. We made our own sunshine.

50-40 – Collections

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I have always been a collector. I’m not quite at the hoarding stage yet, but it’s not that far off, so I need to be ever vigilant and aware so I don’t end up on the nighttime news when they come with a shovel.

Our whole family collects something or other. My oldest son collects fire department memorabilia and history, books and pictures. My husband and middle son collect comic books and action figures. My middle son also collects Lego. He loves to build them and display them. He also continues to play with them. My daughter collects clothes. She wants to be a fashion designer and she loves putting new outfits together and seeing how she can make something old new again.

In my basement, I have videotapes and newspaper articles, magazines that I wanted to keep forever. I have the newspaper when NY Yankee Thurman Munson died. I have magazines when Princess Diana was married and I saved the newspapers somewhere for President Obama’s inauguration.

I have a collection of pewter pieces, primarily on the medieval theme, but also groupings of griffins, my favorite animal. Yes, of course, it’s a real animal.

I collect some stamp sets and sheets, usually the ones that my kids would want to have when they’re older. I’ve showcased some of them on here recently.

I collect coins. Not anything really worth much, but just a remembrance of where I’ve been or gifts that I’ve been given. I’m not sure where they all are, but I have German marks and French francs. A shekel and a Scottish paper pound. My friend sent me New Zealand money from his home and my husband brought me coins from the Philippines when he was there for his work. I almost always have Canadian money on me somewhere. We just went over the border this past summer for a couple of days vacation.

I also collect Hufflepuffs. They are a rare find, so I’m pretty sure I’ve got everything sold in our local stores, including Hot Topic.

My biggest collection is my pins. I love pins. I buy them wherever I am, and I am sent them by frineds, although I usually have to ask. I have San Francisco and Las Vegas from a friend. I have a Hello Kitty from Japan and my son brought me an Eiffel Tower pin from Paris. He recently went to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum and he brought me my newest pin from there commemorating the fire department. Another new pin is my 50th anniversary Star Trek pin that a friend got for me at a convention. I have loved Star Trek since I was a little girl, and I thought that since I was also turning 50 this year, I’d really like the pin. The picture below is what my jacket looks like currently, but I display my pins on corkboard and need to get a few more squares of it to get the rest of them on.

My collections remind me of things, whether they’re what’s depicted on the pins or they remind me of the person who gave it to me, or the adventure I had when I got the pin. That’s especially true of my Gettysburg Bike Week pin.

All of my collections remind me of who I am and the important things I’ve done and want to remember.

The pins currently on my jacket: from the top, clockwise: my RCIA cross, trio of crosses from the Shrine of the North American Martyrs, rainbow Pride, Gishwhes, safety pin, Niagara Falls, 9/11 Memorial, 50th anniversary Star Trek, Hufflepuff, Supernatural anti-possession symbol, Star Labs, Michonne and Daryl from The Walking Dead, Wales, Niagara Falls/Hard Rock Cafe, 9/11 Memorial larger version. (c)2016


Pewter, Top, clockwise: Griffin hatching out of an egg, Griffin, Ceirdwen, griffin, medieval table, Ladron, griffin. (c)2016


Hufflepuff, Coins, Stamps. Left, then top to bottom: Hufflepuff pin, Hufflepuff key chain, coins from Canada, UK, and US Bicentennial, Repeal of the Stamp Act stamp sheet. (c)2016