12 Ways to Maintain the Christmas Spirit AFTER Christmas (5)

Over the holiday season, a few bloggers and I discussed how easily people slip into the “giving” spirit when mid-November rolls around. And then *poof* Just like that, people tend to slip right out of it when January appears. It got me thinking. How can we maintain this energy year-round?

Initially, I’d planned to “experiment” with different ways and then write this at the end of the year. But I figured some people might want to try with me, so instead, I’ll update and re-blog the post every four weeks.

By June, I’d forgotten to formally give in some systematic way. However, I’m happy to report that I was still service-minded…it was just more natural.

dreams_nashvilleMy goddaughter and I traveled to Nashville the second week in June. There, we hung out on Broad Street with a friend of mine who we’d visited. I’d noticed the homeless population almost immediately and the busyness of the area allowed me to take some candid shots. Well, one man wouldn’t let me take a photo, unless I gave him some money. How much was up to me. I paid $2.00 for a shot of his sign. This, however, isn’t it lol I must’ve deleted it. But this is representative of the types of signs we saw that day.

transient_8A couple days later, we rented a car and drove to Memphis to visit my cousin. Here, people party on the infamous Beale Street. The evening wore into morning and clubs began to close. People began to filter back into the street. This is when I met a guy in a wheelchair. He explained to me that it cost $7.00 to enter one of the Memphis shelters. He had one dollar, so I gave him six more. And just as I’ve written before, I didn’t worry about if he actually used the money for housing; that’s none of my business.

Later that morning, my cousin had a breakdown where she revealed her disappointment in our relationship. She’d been suppressing these feelings for a few years. From what I could tell, she wanted more of my money, time, and affection, seemingly in that order. A former part of me would have dug deep and matched her hurt feelings with my own. But I’ve lived long enough to know that doesn’t help. Instead, I hugged her and listened. Later that day, I maintained my own silence and thoughts. Don’t get me wrong. I was mad; however, I chose not to allow my anger to drown out her opinion. Furthermore, when we went to lunch, I also chose to pay for her meal as an act of kindness.

The lesson I learned for Christmas in June is that sometimes it’s good to just go with the flow and give when necessary or as you can. Additionally, I’ve learned to give without worry. Many times I’ve not wanted to give to the homeless because I might need that $2 or I don’t want to pay for someone’s food because I’ve already paid for the last five meals when we were together. But in a way, that’s the opposite of an abundant mindset. Giving this year has shown me that I always have enough. I have so much that I can give time, money and resources freely without stress. Isn’t that a wonderful thought?

To read about how I’ve maintained the Christmas spirit January through May, read here.

12 Ways to Maintain the Christmas Spirit AFTER Christmas (4)

Over the holiday season, a few bloggers and I discussed how easily people slip into the “giving” spirit when mid-November rolls around. And then *poof* Just like that, people tend to slip right out of it when January appears. It got me thinking. How can we maintain this energy year-round?

Initially, I’d planned to “experiment” with different ways and then write this at the end of the year. But I figured some people might want to try with me, so instead, I’ll update and re-blog the post every four weeks.

four-1426634_1280For the fourth service project, I decided to do something near and dear to my heart, tutor elementary school children. Can you believe it took me two months to find a place to actually volunteer? YReads, associated with the YMCA is the name of the program I chose. After I found a program, it took a full three months (or so) for me to be approved. I’d forgotten that working with children requires a million and one items: application, resume, three references, a webinar about not molesting children, and a background check. Sheesh! This is why I didn’t begin until April.

During April and May, I’ve tutored children in reading. But, these aren’t just any children. Have you heard the term ESL? If not, it stands for English as a Second Language. These children attend one of Jacksonville’s designated ESL schools. I typically have the same two students at the beginning of the hour. One is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the second half hour, I tutor students who are Hispanic, mostly from Mexico.

My time with these children has been hopeful. Little kids are resilient and motivated in a multitude of ways. For example, the Congolese girl moved to the States two years ago. English is one of four languages she speaks.

“Where you from?” she asked on day one.

“I live here in Jacksonville, like you,” I responded.

“Noooo. Where you from???”

She’s so perceptive. Guess she’d wondered, as others have asked before, you not from ‘round here, huh? I ended up telling her that I was born and raised in Chicago and her eyes brightened. From that day forward, I knew Maya and I had bonded.

Week three she thought I wasn’t coming, and when I walked in the door, her face lit up.

“You’re heeeere!” she exclaimed.

“Of course Maya! I’ve been looking all over for you. I thought you weren’t here,” I put on.

I love children of all ages. It’s one of three things with which I have a natural ability. Therefore, tutoring for one hour a week wasn’t strenuous. And although I don’t know for sure what the impact will be, I suspect I’ve positively influenced Maya’s life in some way just by being there.

YReads is a state of Florida initiative; however, I’m sure your city and state has a similar tutoring program designed to support children’s literacy. Tutoring is a way to give back to your own community that is sure to yield high returns.

Have you tutored before? Do you teach or have you taught? Let me know what you think about this service project.

*Maya is a pseudonym.

Read about the first three ways here.

Monday Notes: Practice What You Preach

It’s easy to write opinions of life: no judgment, more compassion, allowing people to be themselves. However, it’s quite another to put those words into practice. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had ample opportunity to do just that. Kesi’s graduation brought family and friends into our space. The celebration offered me the chance to fine tune myself within specific relationships.

My Mother-In-Law

I’ve written before about how my mother-in-law rarely visits. Well, we invited her to come down for Kesi’s graduation, and to each of our surprise, she accepted the invitation.

I began to worry.

Will she judge any and everything as she has in the past? Will the house be pristine enough for her? I thought about all of the encounters we’d had where my sense of inadequacy overshadowed her presence. After a couple of weeks of fretting, something finally dawned on me. I have to allow her to be herself. If she judges the girls, our home, or me, then so what? I’m confident with who I am and it matters not what she or anyone else thinks.

The other shift I had to make was to recognize the year. It’s 2017. I needed to function with her the way we both are in this year, not 2008 when she called Kesi fat every day, and I held back from saying much. Not 2012 when she had to shorten her visit with us because she’d double-booked herself elsewhere. It’s 2017.

Once I made those two changes, I was a much calmer person ready to receive company.

We had a wonderful time. My in-laws and I picked Desi up from school early. We shopped for groceries. We laughed and talked about all sorts of things. It really was a pleasant time. My MIL helped me by cutting all the fruits and vegetables for the party. Ultimately, it was a pleasant visit. But I realized I still have a little growing to do.

“Don’t go in the house and clean everything up,” I ordered at eleven o’clock at night.

“Why not?” she asked.

I shook my head, “Cause that’s what you’re about to go do.”

“You trying to stop people from being themselves again?” Dwight asked.

He was right. In that moment, I was doing it again, not allowing her to be her. After it was brought to my attention, I let it go. She cleaned all of the dishes and the kitchen. I went to sleep. And both of those actions were perfectly fine.

img_4078Buddy

While I was functioning with my MIL in the present, my cousin’s husband, let’s call him Buddy, was interacting with me in the past.

Buddy has a history with crack-cocaine, drinking, and physical abuse. Because of this, Buddy hasn’t been welcomed in my home or around my family for over 20 years. He recently began rehab, so Dwight and I agreed that it was okay for him to re-enter our family’s functions.

Everything was going well. My cousins, Buddy, and I played Spades. He drank the Paul Masson Brandy that he’d brought. He devoured the case of Corona he’d lugged in. We laughed. We talked. They won the game.

The night wore on. A corner of brandy sat in the bottle. Three Coronas remained.

“You know I think God sent her to me,” he said pointing to his wife, “Without her, I wouldn’t have been able to make it.”

“I agree, Buddy. She’s the only one who could be with you.”

What did I say that for? Buddy went into a tirade.

“Kathy, you know you never did like me,” he started.

“That was the past. I thought we were cool now?”

“Naw. Naw. You never did like me,” he continued.

I don’t want to bore you with the rest of the story. Basically, I tried to convince him that it is 2017. He’s in rehab. We are getting along today, and that’s all that matters.

But that wasn’t all that mattered. He hobbled off to complain about my family and me to anyone else who would listen. About an hour later, he got into a verbal altercation with my aunt, his daughter, and his wife. His thirteen-year-old daughter’s eyes were beet red. Everyone’s lips were tight. Pursed.

His inebriation cut the thick silence, “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT I’VE HAD TO DEAL WITH FROM THIS FAMILY!” he yelled.

And so there it was.

It didn’t matter how nice I was to him or how great of a time I thought we’d had that day. Buddy lived in a past of hurt and functioned from that past that weekend. I don’t want to ignore the fact that alcohol also exacerbated the situation. I’m not sure why he felt the need to get uncontrollably drunk. And I don’t want to guess.

The next day, he stayed at the hotel and didn’t emerge until it was time for them to return home. Even when he did come by the house to say good-bye, Dwight had to coax him out of the Expedition. Even when he did come in the house, he averted eye contact. He was embarrassed. We all hugged him and thanked him for coming.

There it is, one happy ending and one work in progress. But that’s how life is, right? Everything isn’t always tied up nicely with a bow. Flawed and traumatic relationships take time to heal. That’s just the nature of the human condition.

Monday Notes: Writing Endeavors®

Recently, I began an editing service business called Writing Endeavors®. While I’m happy for you to procure my services, what follows isn’t necessarily about the business. It’s more about the process of actualizing dreams.

bradburyPeople ask me all the time how I do fill_in_the_blank. The answer is simple. I just do it. Take this business for example. Over the years, friends have asked me to edit work for them. There have been times when I decline and pass the work on to someone else. Sometimes I’ve edited for free. Other times, I’ve worked more like an independent contractor; we create an agreement and the person pays me.

As recently as February, I edited a first-time book for a friend’s son. Shortly after, a thought occurred. The urge to begin my own editing service business flashed in my mind. I needed to stop passing work to colleagues and friends and do it myself…for a fee.

The next step was to tell Dwight. Announcing my plans to him somehow solidifies things. He’s been with me long enough to know that once I say it, then it’s as good as done.

What happens next is what I’ve learned to be the difference between myself and other people. I typically research how to do things while I’m doing it. For example, I didn’t know if I should create a business first, or trademark a name first? Well, after working with Legal Zoom, I found out that you create the business first. So, I did that. The business was created March 21st.

Afterwards, I trademarked the business’s name. During that process, I learned the difference between the little TM symbol and the R in a circle sign. The first is something you can use, whether you registered the name or not. The latter means registered trademark and allows the owner to sue if someone else tries to use it.

More questions cropped up, as is common with on-the-job training.

Should I create a whole new website just for this business, separate from selling books and blogging? Should I pay for this website, or be comfortable with using an extension, like .wix? How about registering the business with the county? The state? The government? What’s required? When am I supposed to pay taxes on this business? I found all of that out…as…I…went…along.

img_3635In fact, I just started editing a client’s dissertation, while still in process of learning more business-related info.

I don’t want to paint an idyllic image. I’m not dancing through poppy fields while establishing a business. Functioning this way can sometimes be a tad stressful, like when the state notified me that I’d missed a deadline for reporting income, even though there was no income. But here’s the reality. I know that dreams might not materialize, unless I just begin. I know it’s important to just get going and trust that the rest will work itself out. I know this because it always does.

So, I have one question. What are you waiting for?

My Role as a Mother

img_3358For the past 18 years, I’ve straddled the hard and fine line of motherhood. I’ve guessed and second-guessed each and every decision because, unlike other relationships, you never really know if you did the “right” thing until years later.

Swim team is a perfect example. In 2008, my oldest daughter, Kesi almost drowned. She was nine. Consequently, we decided she should learn to swim. A few lessons later, she joined the swim team. I thought they’d be swimming once a day and training for light competition. Turns out they had two-a-days all summer, with weekly competitions, and a culminating all-state competition at the end of August.

“This is going to be a lot of work,” I announced after day one. “Do you think you can do it?”

Her raspy voice whispered from the backseat “Yeah. Do you think I can do it?”

That’s one of those think on your feet parenting kind of moments. And being myself, there was only one answer.

“Of course Kase! You can do anything you set your mind to.”

And she did. She worked her ass off training twice a day. She went from being the slowest, only African-American little girl swimmer in that pool, to having an amazing backstroke at the end of the summer competition.

So I did what we do here in the States. I signed her up to “train” during the fall and winter. Surely, if she worked through the winter months, she’d be even more awesome for the following summer.

By May of the following year, she quit. She was tired. She didn’t want to do it anymore.

Because Dwight and I firmly believe in not making children do what they don’t want to do, we allowed her to.

And I’ve always wondered if I should’ve made her do it. Have I lived up to my role as her mother? Was I supposed to teach her work ethic by making her swim? Was I supposed to give her some speech about not giving up just because you don’t feel like it?

Years later, will she tell her therapist that she wished her mother would’ve pushed her harder? Will her whole life hinge on if I made her pursue swim team a second year?

Eventually, I always come to the same conclusion. I…don’t…know. Parenting is a careful dance of allowing your child to be his or herself, while still being yourself. To do that, you have to know who that is. My role is to guide her. I’m here to show her how to stand confident in making decisions that are aligned with how she feels. I’m here to tell her that it’s okay to change her mind about something, even if she’s knee-deep in it and doesn’t see a way out. Like my Grannie says, “If you made your bed hard, then get out the bed.”

Today, my daughter is an 18 year-old senior on the cusp of high school graduation. Three years ago, she intended to complete a Cosmetology license at a trade school so that she could fulfill her then dream of doing hair. At that time, I felt just like I did when I watched her competing in that backstroke.

“That your daughter?” a passerby asked.

“Yep,” my husband and I proudly replied.

Just like swimming, somewhere along her path, she decided doing hair wasn’t for her. She changed her mind, and consequently changed the direction of her life. Now, she wants to go to college to be a Cosmetic Chemist.

Although she hasn’t asked, the question still floats in the air, “Do you think I can do it?”

My answer is the same, “Of course Kase! You can do anything you set your mind to.”

img_1006And I hope she believes it. Because for me, that’s what mothering is all about. It’s parenting the person I see before me. It’s parenting an individual, not an identity. My daughter isn’t me. She’s her own person with her own experiences. In my mind, being a mother is helping her cultivate her self and her dreams, no matter how many times that changes.

On this Mother’s Day, I’d like to remind everyone that mothering looks as different as we do. Subsequently, I’m sure we’re all doing the best that we can in each moment. What do you think? How do you see motherhood? How do you think your mother saw her role?

Monday Notes: Agreement #2

A few weeks ago, a “friend” of mine read one of my FB posts, followed the comments, and then sent me this message via inbox:

You be so fake in your comments.

Or something like that. I can’t give a direct quote because after we conversed, I deleted the message. His unsolicited opinion bothered me that night. It stuck with me because of how I’d replied. Initially, I defended myself. I wanted to show him that I wasn’t being “fake.” It continued to irk me because I’ve worked so hard to be my authentic self no matter where I am, social media, in person, wherever. I’ve made conscious decisions to shine my personal light. Then, it bothered me because it bothered me. Have you ever felt like that?

It lingered in my thoughts for about 48 hours. By that time, I knew I had to remove him and his words from my consciousness. They were both taking up too much space in my mind. That Sunday night, I flipped through don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, until I found the one that fit: Don’t take anything personally.

If I see you on the street and say, “You are so stupid” without knowing you, it’s not about you, it’s about me. If you take it personally, then perhaps you believe you’re stupid.”

img_3174After reading a few more pages, I meditated, sipped my lavender tea, and let go of the incident.

About a week later, one of the ladies from the book club I’m hoping to join reached out to me and said, “I like your spirit.” This comment elicited the opposite emotion. I was elated. Who doesn’t want to hear nice things said about her personality? And like I’d mentioned above, I’ve worked on portraying my true self. So, I was overjoyed that someone I’d just met noticed a positive trait.

But I had to remember agreement #2. It still applied. You see, Ruiz continues to explain that even if someone says something that you agree with, then there’s still no reason to take it personally. A person’s opinion, whether positive or negative, is based on how that person feels in that moment. Tomorrow, the same person might have something horrible to say.

don_miguel_ruiz.jpg

The first time I read this it didn’t quite click. After receiving two different opinions within a week of one another, it now makes perfect sense. Not only is taking other people’s opinions personally exhausting, it can also be an indication that you’re not secure with who you are. If I know that I’m an authentic person, with a great spirit, then others’ opinions should be neither denigrating, nor uplifting. They should just…be.

Let me know what you think. How do you deal with other people’s opinions of who you are? Do people offer opinions of your personality?

*Edited for Forgiving Fridays. Participate here: https://forgivingconnects.com/2017/05/05/todays-forgiving-fridays-i-have-a-question-3/comment-page-1/#comment-3373

12 Ways to Maintain the Christmas Spirit AFTER Christmas (#3)

Over the holiday season, a few bloggers and I discussed how easily people slip into the “giving” spirit when mid-November rolls around. And then *poof* Just like that, people tend to slip right out of it when January appears. It got me thinking. How can we maintain this energy year-round?

Initially, I’d planned to “experiment” with different ways and then write this at the end of the year. But I figured some people might want to try with me, so instead, I’ll update and re-blog the post every four weeks.

three-2032511_1280This next idea was a combination of a failed attempt to volunteer at a food pantry and something I’d seen other people do on social media. In February, I thought I was going to hand out food with United Community Outreach Ministry (UCOM). Instead, the director asked me to clean the toiletry section for an hour and a half. Although I saw the indirect benefit of helping her because she probably didn’t have time, I couldn’t see myself continuing to do this for three more weeks.

“I could do this myself, in my own way, I thought.”

That’s just what I did. The third thing I did was pass out goodie bags to transient people (March). I packed four 1-gallon Ziplock bags with deodorant, wipes, Vaseline, fresh fruit, granola bars, water, and five $1 bills. The first week, I started with the guy I see sleeping under I95. He mumbled something to me that I didn’t quite understand. The second week, I traveled downtown to where I know a group of the same population hangs out. Before I could make it there, a guy stopped me.

img_3054“Can I have that orange?” he asked

I gave him the entire bag. He seemed genuinely pleased, and even more excited when I told him there was money in there.

The third week, I was battling allergies and busy with book stuff, so Dwight gave a bag to an elderly gentleman with a cane.

I had planned to hand out the final bag on my way to Gainesville. For the past two years, I’ve noticed a small population of men who alternate holding a sign right at the Baldwin exit off I10. This time I tracked a guy as he crossed the street to nearby trees. I parked my car, walked over to the men who were seated around a makeshift living area, and handed the bag to the bearded man nearest the fence that separated us.

“God Bless you hun.” He said it twice.

“You too luv,” I replied.

With this one, I’ve learned that the homeless population is invisible, until you open your eyes and look for them. Then, they’re right in front of your face, begging to be seen.

Let me know what you think about this one. Do you think you could pack a goodie bag for the transient population in your city? Is that demographic high where you live?

Read about the first two ways here.

 

 

12 Ways to Maintain the Christmas Spirit AFTER Christmas (#2)

Over the holiday season, a few bloggers and I discussed how easily people slip into the “giving” spirit when mid-November rolls around. And then *poof* Just like that, people tend to slip right out of it when January appears. It got me thinking. How can we maintain this energy year-round?

Initially, I’d planned to “experiment” with different ways and then write this at the end of the year. But I figured some people might want to try with me, so instead, I’ll update and re-blog the post every four weeks.

People say that Christmas isn’t about giving and receiving gifts, but I can’t tell. It seems to be the part that everyone enjoys. And if you suggest removing it, then entire social media arguments ensue. I once read someone justify Christmas gifts with the story of the Three Wise Men.

I digress.

no_2The second thing I did was send people gifts (February). I began with my little sister friend’s birthday. I ordered Wandas from Two Dough Girls and had them delivered to her home. I also sent my little cousin a care package. She’s completing her first year at my alma mater, Western Michigan University. I asked her what she wanted/needed and she sent me a list. Dwight and I added her requests to our groceries and shipped them off. If you’ve ever been away from home, then you understand how exciting it is to receive free snacks and toiletries. Her older sister didn’t need anything, so I sent her a handwritten card with well-wishes and a copy of my book.

This seems to be a simple way to show people that you’re thinking of them. Let me know if you try it.

1<<<Read about the first idea here.

 

 

Rascal (RIP 3/23/16)

Denial – I knew he was sick. But I didn’t think he was that sick. Sure, cataracts blinded him, but that didn’t mean death. In fact, I was working on an inspirational post to show how pets don’t let illness ruin them. Rascal ran up and down the stairs just like normal; he didn’t mope about because of his visual impairment. However, about three months ago, he’d started vomiting. It wasn’t a lot, but throwing up is a sign. The vet had switched him to a prescription dog food. He refused the dry. He loved the wet. Still, he threw up. By the time I’d taken him back for a wellness visit, he was six pounds and his skeletal structure poked through his apricot fur. Dr. B. guessed that it was lymphoma of the intestines. But I still didn’t think the vet would suggest euthanizing him.

Bargaining – I should’ve taken him to the vet sooner. I should’ve been a better pet owner and friend. I wished I could’ve done more for Rascal. I snapped out of these thoughts. I cared for Rascal close to twelve years and I wasn’t going to let the last three months dictate my dedication. None of us holds the fate of another being in our hands, no matter how intertwined we become.

Anger – No, I didn’t want a “replacement dog,” as my best friend suggested. No, I wasn’t going to get a fish tank, as the mail lady recommended. Fish and dogs are not remotely similar. No, I didn’t want to talk about it and re-live trauma over and over again. And no, I didn’t want to be cheered up. Unlike many, I’m comfortable being sad and angry because I know it won’t last forever. No emotion does.

Depression – I take that back. I’d never felt so much pain for so long in all my life. Uncontrollable sadness ruled me for a few days. My mother died 27 years prior. My father died less than a year ago. I’ve attended a barrage of funerals in between. But I never could’ve predicted the heartache associated with losing Rascal. I thought I would sit in the car and quietly weep. You know, poetic-like? I didn’t. I wailed. I made noises I didn’t know existed. The person who always has it together, who analyzes death as a part of life, who writes about attachment and detachment as natural occurrences could not stop crying. It continued throughout the day when I felt compelled to walk a deceased Raz that evening. It persisted the next morning when I opened the blinds and porch door for an absent Rascal to sit outside. I held myself together long enough to teach, and then when the last student left, tears streamed down my face. Surely, this would end. I just didn’t know when.

Acceptance – You never think about your own dog actually dying. I didn’t, anyway. The day he was euthanized, I washed all of his belongings and donated them to the Humane Society. I knew it was an important step in my grieving process. I thought about how grateful I was to be able to have a dog that fit our family. I’d chosen a Toy Poodle due to Dwight’s allergies. He was little and smart, just like the rest of us. He cuddled with Desi when she rested, and when Kesi allowed him to, he slept in his favorite place, a blanket next to her bed. He traveled many states because if I could bring Raz with me, then I did. I suppose that’s why there was an outpouring of love when I announced it on Facebook. If you know me, then you knew Rascal. I’m grateful that I experienced pet-owner love. People say pets are like family, but I disagree, if you welcome a pet into your home, then s/he probably is family. I know Rascal was.

img_0629RIP Rascal (April 15, 2004-March 23, 2016)