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)

Book & Author Feature: The Unhappy Wife by K E Garland

Thanks for an amazing interview experience Leslie Reese! Leslie is a book blogger and also a skilled writer. I was fortunate enough to have been interviewed by her. If you don’t follow her blog, then please go check it out!

I subscribe to KE Garlands’s blog, kwoted, where she always “keeps it real” by writing honest and thought-provoking posts about societal experiences, personal relationships and insecurities; how and why we celebrate holidays, being reflective, and finding inspiration in daily life. In 2015 she published Kwoted, a book of original quotes which “encompass advice and mantras that the author lives by and offers to those around her.”

kwoted

Early in the fall of 2016 I learned that K E Garland had written and was self-publishing a book titled The Unhappy Wife, and my first thought was “I’m going to read her book and review it.” But while reading this 112-page volume, I decided I wanted to do an author feature, instead. I asked Kathy – aka K E Garland – if she would mind me asking her some questions, and she was down, so what follows is our exchange. Enjoy!

Leslie Reese (LR): Okay, Kathy, let’s get this party started!
K E Garland: LOL okay…I’m ready!
LR: When and how did you first conceive of The Unhappy Wife as a project and a book?
K E Garland: I was actually on the phone with a friend. As usual, he was complaining about his wife. This seemed to be commonplace for many of my married men friends. Because I’d also begun doing the work of self-reflection about who I’d been in my own marriage, I was able to offer a bit of advice. But when that was over, he continued to complain. Right in the middle of his diatribe, I said, “I’m going to write a book called, ‘The Unhappy Wife,’ and I’m going to ask your wife to be in it.” He laughed and laughed. I didn’t. Three years later the book was conceptualized.

Read more…

Monday Notes: Starbucks Observations

coffee-1281842_1280There’s nothing better than ordering a tall Youthberry, with a shot of classic. Hot tea is one of the few drinks the barista will make immediately. I always get it before I leave the counter.

If I’m inside, I find a seat near the back of the café where there’s an outlet. If I’m outside, then I’m right by the door. Either way, I follow the same ritual: 1) take the top off my tea so that it can cool to a consumable temperature; 2) unpack my MacBook, log onto the WiFi, and answer the question of the day; and depending on how loud the patrons are 3) plug in my ear buds and select Film Scores on Pandora. Something about listening to The Lord of the Rings soundtrack helps me focus.

But on this day, I decided to ditch the headphones. I’d observe my surroundings instead.

Directly in front of me, a Spanish-speaking couple met with a bilingual man. The cellphone conversation he’d had five minutes before they arrived was in English and full of laughter. As soon as the couple sat down, his tone changed. Eleven years of the romance language didn’t help me interpret their discussion, but the seriousness in the air led me to believe it was an important topic. Was he a professional translator? Had someone recommended him? Were they in trouble?

I’d never know.

On the left side of me a couple met with a realtor. The middle-aged white man and his Asian-looking wife had moved from Seattle to Jacksonville. Years ago, they’d lived overseas. I wondered if they were former military. Where “overseas” had they lived? Why did they choose Jacksonville over Seattle?

“So are y’all ready?” the bright-eyed realtor asked.

“Yep,” the husband replied, “It’s time for a house.”

I’ve come to accept my nosey-ness as a positive trait that allows me to observe and then write detailed descriptions of people. But it was time to be productive.

Just when I’d settled in to read and respond to blogs, I saw them.

“You’re not old enough to be line leader,” he said.

She snatched her tiny, pale, white hand away and attempted to sprint to the edge of the sidewalk. Her legs failed her. He reached for her small arm with his free hand, while the other held firmly to his more well-behaved, five year-old daughter’s right hand.

First he praised the two year old, “I admire your tenacity,” and then, he reprimanded her, “but no.”

The two little girls remained on either side of their dad, hand-in-hand, dawdling their way down the sidewalk and out of my view.

img_3053I admire your tenacity reverberated and stuck with me.

I was sure they were middle class simply because he used the word “tenacity.” Did they live in the new development that peeked through the space between Nordstrom’s and Bento? Did the girls have traditional names, like Emma and Gracie? Or had they gone more trendy, Bailey and Zoe?

It was probably a mix. Zoe was the runner and Emma was the oldest. Zoe wanted her bedroom to be painted deep purple, but they’d convinced her that fuchsia was just as amazing. Emma never posed a problem, going along with whatever her parents wished. Her room was light pink, with a matching flowered duvet and pillow covers.

Their mom was at home taking a well-deserved break from her orchestrated life.

“Why don’t you take Emma and Zoe to the mall?” she suggested.

He was happy to help out. But, next time he’d ask his wife to come along. She’d have to seek rest elsewhere.

Real people inspire me to write. I’ve looked over at the person next to me on the highway and made up an entire short story with characters, backstory, and plot. Am I the only one who does this? Do you look at people and wonder what’s going on with their lives? Where does your writing inspiration come from?

Mrs. Little from The Unhappy Wife book

unhappy-wifeMrs. Little was the second wife that I’d interviewed. Although she’d given me quite a few details about her marriage, what kept resurfacing were small anecdotes and feelings about her mother-in-law. She was voiceless, but in a much different way than either Jasmyne or Gina.

Her comments reminded me of Steve Harvey’s movie, Think Like a Man. In it he approaches how so-called “Mama’s boys” affect relationships, but I thought this was different because the mother-in-law’s actions were subtle, or like people like to say nowadays: petty.

Concept: Her husband, Mark knew how Mrs. Little felt, but she’d never really expressed herself to the mother-in-law. Quite honestly, I have issues with my own MIL that I’ve never shared, so I began to wonder what it would be like if Mrs. Little could tell Ms. Little everything she wanted to say over the past two decades. Then, I thought wouldn’t it be great if she wrote her a letter? Wouldn’t we all like to do that with someone, in a way where they don’t get to respond, but just read?

I also had fun using the epistolary format. It seemed that would break up the monotony of reading traditional narratives, yet still explain the past and present challenges with the relationship.

Commentary: I’ve never been a mother-in-law, but I have one and I’ve talked to a few. What seems to be challenging (sometimes) is accepting that their son is no longer a little boy, but rather a man with his own responsibilities. Essentially, it’s an issue with transitions and change that manifests through marriage. From my perspective, it seems that mothers want to still “mother” their sons, while either not embracing the daughter-in-law, or ignoring her altogether.

That doesn’t work.

And there was a twist for this story. Mark was using his military salary to pay his mother’s bills before he married. The mother-in-law had to not only deal with a new woman in her son’s life, but also not being financially taken cared of anymore. She’d lost a lot all at once. I’m not sure they’d ever discussed a plan for this change.

I tend to believe that conversations can heal all things. People underestimate the importance of sitting down, airing grievances, setting the stage to move forward, and then actually moving forward with a clearer understanding. I’m not saying this always works, but I do know that unacknowledged issues are rarely solved.

unhappy-wifeLet me know what you thought about Mrs. Little and Mark, what I’ve said here, or anything else that you felt was important. Next month, we’ll move on to the next section, The Detached Wife. Thom’s wife signed a waiver that doesn’t allow me to discuss the story in this format, so on to the next chapter we’ll go..

Interested in purchasing a copy and getting caught up to discuss the rest of the wives? Order here.

Monday Notes: 4 Ways to Support Someone

Do you know someone who’s baked pastries, created jewelry, or written a book (wink-wink)? Well, I’m willing to bet that person would love some support. Here are a few ways you can offer assistance.

Money

img_3018Money can help in a few ways. If the person is in the beginning stages of creation, then perhaps you can donate money to his or her cause. Many people have GoFund Me pages or other crowdsourcing Apps just for that reason. It might not seem like a lot, but you never know how much your $5.00 is boosting his or her dreams.

If the person has a product, then they’d probably appreciate it if you’d bought it. That is the ultimate goal, right? Over the past few months, I’ve bought six Indie authors’ books for no other reason than I know what it feels like to self-publish a book and want someone to buy it.

This leads me to the second type of support: Interest

I didn’t just purchase six books, I’ve read four of them and provided Amazon reviews and feedback to each author.

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As bloggers, you can probably relate to this idea the most. Remember how you felt when someone not only clicked on your link, but also read, liked, and commented on your early posts? It’s a small bit of validation that you actually did write words that interested someone.

Writers want readers. Podcasters want listeners. Artists want viewers. You get my point.

Another way to show interest is to literally be interested. Ask the person about what they’re doing. Most people love talking about their latest project if it’s common knowledge. For example, I appreciated it when the few people who knew I was writing, actually asked, “How’s the book coming along?” Conversations centered on the production showed they cared about what I was doing.

img_3033Next is Advertise. Most small business owners do not have a large budget for marketing. That means they have to rely on word of mouth. Contemporary marketing can help because it includes social media. Love it or hate it, it’s an important part of spreading the word about products.

Think about how much you can support others’ business endeavors simply by providing a short shout out on FB, Twitter, or IG? The way I see it, if you can post and share about some celebrity you don’t know, then certainly you can post and share about your cousin who’s trying to make it as an actor!

Okay. What if you don’t have a lot of extra money or you loathe social media? Well, the next thing you can do is Provide a Service. People are surprised to hear that my husband hasn’t read the book. Most of the time it doesn’t bother me though because he’s done other things. He helped me conceptualize the cover; he’s created an Excel sheet and kept up with sales; and he’s created fliers for a few events. In essence, he’s supported me in ways that are aligned with his business major skillset.

My little sister-friend is the one who nominated me for an award, which ultimately provided exposure. Another friend is a media journalist. She used her equipment to create the promotional video. Those of you who’ve read the book know that an online relationship coach, Anita Charlot wrote the afterword. She didn’t have to do that; it was a service she provided to me, which of course simultaneously supported her own business.

And I can’t forget about you guys! I was surprised at how much my own WordPress community read and blogged about The Unhappy Wife. It was five-months of blogging love. You provided a writing service that doubled as unexpected advertising. I’m positive this was one of the reasons I had consistent sales. I can’t thank everyone enough for that.

Those are my four ways: give money; show interest; advertise; and provide a service. What would you add to this list? How do you support your friends and family’s goals?

 

Astigmatism and a stigma

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in the fifth grade. We all lined up as usual to take our public school vision test. I giggled my way to the front of the line. This would probably go like previous years.

Finally, it was my turn. Was that an “F” or an “E”? Was that an “O” or a “C”?

“Kathy,” the visiting optometrist started, “it looks as if you’re going to need glasses.”

I was already different than the children on my block. They attended the neighborhood school and I was bused to a magnet one. My hair hung down my back, while other girls had cornrows or braids with colorful beads. I spoke “standard” English when everyone else used “ain’t” and double negatives with ease.

And now I had to add wearing glasses to this list?

My first reaction was a single tear from my near-sighted eye. Another soon formed and trickled down my cheek. Before I knew it, I was full-on crying, in front of the whole fifth-grade.

The visiting optometrist whispered, “Now dear, you don’t want to make the people who wear glasses feel bad, do you?”

She was talking about Alexander Adams, a kid named after a president. She referred to Eli Korner. A nice boy, but not someone I wanted to be in the glasses gang with.

So my mom took me to a place called For Eyes. My first pair were lilac. If I had to wear them, then I was going to look as cool as possible doing it.

***

Fast forward to 1991. I had just graduated high school and had a job. All this time, I’d been wearing the glasses that someone else could afford for me. This time, I’d wear the glasses that I wanted.

My first pair, with my own paycheck were Laura Biagotti’s. I’m pretty sure I paid over $200 for them. But it didn’t matter. I was fly. Ironically, I’d also decided to ditch wearing them in public. It was time for me to enjoy the convenience of contacts.

That was back when you could get a pair of annuals and they would last, well, all year, as the title suggests.

I wore those contacts so much that Dwight didn’t even realize I needed to wear glasses. I slept in those contacts so much that the optometrist had to threaten not to give me a prescription because you know, you’re not supposed to sleep in contacts.

Every year, I’d renew my contact lens prescription. And every other year, I’d renew my eyeglass prescription, wearing them at night only. I held on to this routine for 25 years.

***

Much like many prescription holders, my eyesight worsened over time. Much worse. But it didn’t matter. I could hide the truth behind my contacts. Decades later, companies discontinued annuals and only offered monthlies.

Everything was good, until this year.

My eyesight had worsened still. Because according to Dr. Suddath, no matter what, when you’re over 40, your vision will continue to decline, regardless of the starting point.

My current prescription is: -7.50 with a -1.75 astigmatism and -8.25 with a -1.00 astigmatism.

All this technical mumbo jumbo means I can no longer wear monthlies. My contacts only come in dailies, which cost $106 per month. Say what?

This means, as my good friend Mek suggested, “Maybe you should embrace the glasses now?”

And suddenly, I felt like I was ten again. I cried and cried, like a week ago y’all.

It might sound silly. But there was a slight fear.

Most people don’t even know I wear glasses, for real. Most people don’t know that if I didn’t have these contacts in, I wouldn’t know who was standing in front of my face. Most people don’t know that wearing glasses is what makes me feel 10% less confident in public spaces.

Most people don’t know that I’d been holding on to a feeling of inadequacy for 33 years, all because I couldn’t see clearly.

Sheesh! 

I had subscribed to a stereotype about wearing glasses and safely hid behind contact lenses. Well, it has to end here. I’ll have to shed this made up stigma and find the right frame for my (public) comfort level. 

The journey to loving me for me in this and every moment continues, glasses and all.

Do you have any hidden insecurities you’ve held on to since childhood? Share them below so we can support one another. 

12 Ways to Maintain the Christmas Spirit AFTER Christmas

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.

1The first thing I did was serve the homeless (January). I chose to volunteer at the Clara White Mission here in Jacksonville. The shelter is named after a black American who was enslaved on Amelia Island. Her daughter, Eartha became an entertainer and philanthropist, who cared about the poor and disenfranchised. Consequently, she founded the mission and named it after her mom.

Once a week for a couple of hours, I awoke from my usual slumber to literally bring plates of freshly cooked meals to patrons. Some were homeless; others had just been released from prison. Interacting with people of varied walks of life humbled me. Providing my time, instead of simply handing someone a dollar yielded a different type of energy.

Volunteering here is pretty simple. If you’re in the area, here’s the information. If not, then I’d encourage you to find a shelter/mission in your city.

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.

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?