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Life is good

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Life is good, folks.

Still counting down to 50.

42. I was downstairs talking to a now-former neighbor about a month ago, telling her about my pending move to a condo a little up the street. I’d been in the apartment above hers for seven years, and she and her extended family had just moved in within the last year.

My excitement about the new place was evident, and I’d invited her to stop in some time and sit out on my deck. Then she said something that caught me completely off-guard.

“Molly, I’m so envious of you. You really have it all together.”

Tears welled in my eyes almost instantly. I was touched by her honesty, but also by the fact that since my divorce 15 years prior, I’d hardly lived the life anyone would envy.

“It’s been a long time coming, that’s for sure,” I told her. “It hasn’t been easy.”

We talked a little more, then I retreated to my apartment and continued packing.

50 for molly3I’ve thought a lot about that conversation since. This woman isn’t much older than me, but lives with her 30-year-old son, his girlfriend and their two small children. The younger woman is expecting a third child in the fall. In the six or so months I’ve known them, the three adults have been in various stages of employment, sharing one car. I’ve given rides and been asked for small “loans” I know will never be repaid. They struggle, but they’re decent people (aside from the constant pot smoking by the son – which is only annoying because the smell is rank and filtered into my apartment).

I think that conversation best illustrates why I’m so looking forward to 50.

Life is good.

I’ve always tried to be positive and enjoy the life I have – no matter what the situation was at the time. But in the 15 years since my divorce, it’s been tough. I’ve filed for bankruptcy twice – the first time because my soon-to-be-ex-husband was going to file and my attorney said it would be in my best interest, the second because a new bank had taken over my mortgage and was threatening an impossible refinance and I had to walk away.

For the first 10 years post-divorce, the kids and I lived on what I made, day-to-day. No credit cards to help in a pinch, if we didn’t have the money we didn’t get whatever was wanted. It meant the kids were on reduced-price lunches for a couple years in elementary school. It meant our gas was shut off one summer because I fell behind in the payments – then earned a real estate commission check big enough to catch up, just in time for fall. It meant being upside-down in cars I didn’t like because my credit score was horrible and I allowed myself to be bullied by a salesperson who convinced me “this is the only car you qualify for.”

It meant we didn’t do vacations, seldom went out to eat or to the movies. New clothes were a luxury saved mostly for back-to-school, holidays and special occasions.

But it was still good. I said – often – that I loved my 40s, it was the best decade ever. And, really, it was. I had great people in my life, and things always seemed to work out – mostly because of the great people I had in my life. We were never homeless, there was always food to eat, my relationship with my kids has always been strong.

For the last three or four years, though, things have slowly started turning around. Life was still good, but life was getting good, too. My credit score was improving and I was able to get a credit card. My daughter and I went on a Colorado vacation with my then-boyfriend and some of his family. I could go out with friends more.

In the last year, things have really turned around. I was able to get rid of the car I didn’t like and get the car I really wanted. I went on vacation to Phoenix to visit a cousin/friend. I’ve realized what I really want in a relationship and have stopped accepting less – which led to my telling a man who’s been in and out of my life for several years how I really felt about him (it didn’t end like it does in the movies – sigh).

And now the move. I have my first “me” place, a grown-up apartment/condo with all of the amenities I’d want.

This is why I’m looking forward to my 50s. I’m a more grounded “me” than I’ve ever been, and I’m excited to see where it goes.

Life is good.

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The Year of Me

Wow. That sounds kind of narcissi20160520_143643-1stic, now that I see it in front of me. “The Year of Me.” Who does that?

Well, I do. Or I will, soon.

It’s not what you think – I’m not going to go all self-absorbed on the world, caring only about MY wants and MY needs and MY chocolate. This is something different.

A few years ago, a friend and former coworker had the “Year of Chris.” She has two daughters, and twin grandchildren, and a husband, but she spent the year doing things that made her happy – or being happy doing the things she was doing. It was awesome. And I was jealous.

Having been a single mom since 2002 (you have no idea how much I HATE playing that card, seriously), there had been relatively few “Days of Me,” so the idea of taking a full year? That was amazing. That’s what dreams were made of.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a bitter, angry person. In fact, I’m actually quite happy. I laugh a lot, I smile a lot more, I enjoy the “todays” because they’re so fleeting. I enjoy life – I truly do, and I am honestly happy doing the things I’m doing. Do I wish I had more money to enjoy it more? Sure. It would be nice to have extra to be able to go more places and do more things. But do I let it get in the way of enjoying today? Not in the least.

But this year is going to be different. Kind of.

My big dream has always been to go to Ireland. I’m third generation Irish-American, and there are still some distant relatives I’d like to go meet. And let’s be honest – Ireland. It’s beautiful. Flights aren’t horribly expensive, and if I (and however many friends and family members care to join me) stay in an Airbnb place, lodging won’t be too bad, at all. So, I thought, set it up. Make a plan. Do it.

In 2017, right smack almost perfectly in the middle of the year, I turn 50. It’s not a frightening number to me – 20 years ago I was terrified of 30, but 50 sounds almost exciting – but it’s a milestone and I want to mark it as such. So, sometime in the Year of 50, I’m going to Ireland.

But what about the year leading up to it? I don’t really want to spend a year in wait, saving every penny (though I’ll be saving several), waiting for the calendar to turn the right amount of pages so I can go on my adventure. Plus, I’ve loved my 40s, absolutely loved them. This has been the most fun decade by far – even with scraping to get by, failed relationships (which made for some pretty funny stories, I gotta tell ya’), and the loss of my favorite canine companions. My 40s have been great, I can’t just let them end on a whimper.

No, what I’m going to do in the year between 49 and 50 is allow myself to do the things I haven’t made time for/didn’t save for/made excuses for over the last several years.

I’m going to Phoenix to stay with a cousin I don’t get to see very often. I’m going to go to one of my college football games and try to connect with some college roommates and friends. I plan to go to Chicago. I’m going to go see an Iowa Cubs game. I’m going to go to the movies. I’m going to go sit on a friend’s balcony and have drinks. I’m going to do things for me.

I think we all need to take a year for ourselves. Just not this year – this one’s mine.

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Lessons for the kids as they prepare to leave

In less than six months, I’ll be sending the 17-year-old Man/Boy out into the real world. His sister, just three years younger, will be leaving in what will seem like very short order.

I wonder how well prepared they will be.

Sure, they’re learning financial responsibility (“Just ask Mom, she’ll get it.”) and how to care for a household (“Mom! I need clean jeans!”), but just how ready will they really be?

With that in mind, I thought I’d put together a guide for some of the really, truly important things they will need to know when I’m not there.

1. Ice: Don’t go out and buy it unless you’re having a picnic or a lot of people over. For everyday use – and you may want to clip this recipe – just follow these easy-to-understand instructions: a) Empty ice trays into ice basin in freezer and let thaw; b) fill empty trays with cold water; c) carefully place filled trays into freezer without spilling into the newly-filled ice basin. Let sit for 3-5 hours. Repeat.

2. Toilet paper: While it does work just fine if you leave the new roll on the counter next to the sink. you run the risk of the toilet paper falling into the sink and getting wet, splashing or spitting on it when you’re brushing your teeth or dropping it onto the floor. Putting it on the spindle is easy: a) Grab the spindle and push one end to the other on the spring; b) Remove spindle and take old roll from it; c) Put new roll on spindle (I personally prefer that the toilet paper come over the top of the roll, but once you’re in your own place it’s really up to you); d) Replace spindle the same way you removed it.

3. Laundry. You know there are things you dry and things you hang up. Don’t wash them together. On second thought, go ahead. It will serve you right if you have to sort wet clothes and put some in the dryer and some in a basket to be hung up. That’s what you made me do since you learned how to turn on the washing machine.

4. Dishes. If you’re lucky enough to get a dishwasher, great! Just remember to rinse the dishes before putting them through the cycle. That is, unless you like tasting dried-on cheese that tastes like soap.

5. Garbage. When you’re making macaroni and cheese or warming up a can of Spaghetti-O’s, throw away or recycle the packaging. Don’t leave it on the counter – I won’t be there to clean it up.

6. Call your mother. She worries about you.

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