Summer Reading Review: Karamo, My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing & Hope

My daughter and I used to binge-watch the reboot of Queer Eye on Netflix— she loved the home makeovers, Bobby’s energy and style; we both loved Antoni and the food. Tan was adorable. And Jonathon is just a lovable force. And then there was Karamo, orchestrating something not quite identifiable as “culture expert.”

When his memoir, Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing & Hope came out (pun?) in 2019, Karamo Brown visited Lafayette College. The teenager’s father had him autograph a book for her and we excitedly attended a public lecture he gave on campus that night.

Almost two full years later, I finally finished the book.

I have recently resumed reading in general so the fault does not lie with Karamo.

The book is light, simple in phrase, and mimics Karamo’s speech.

It’s a coming of age story. It’s the experience of a Black gay man, son of immigrant parents, struggling to find himself, share his voice and help people.

He has handled so many situations others know well— issues of addiction, relationships, family, sex, parenting. He spent so long yearning to reach out into the world that he nearly self-destructed in the process.

He’s very respectful of other people, only talking about himself— not violating the privacy of his kids, his extended family or fiancé. He doesn’t share glorifying tales of his wild boy days, focusing instead of why he was behaving that way and what he learned.

He structures the chapters not chronologically but thematically which makes it easy to understand the building blocks of who he is and how he came to be.

And even before George Floyd and #BlackLivesMatter, he begged us as a society to listen to each other and be kind.

Invisible: At the intersection of disability and childhood trauma

Author’s Note: This is the next in a series I tend to run indefinitely on my quest to understand my mind, body and disability and how they interact as I age.

Also: This post is merely me pondering “out loud” and based on my experience. I might be completely wrong with some of my ideas. That is why I consider this a quest and not something I can answer with a quick internet search or “Hey, Siri” request.

Finally, please understand that I am hesitate to discuss this topic as I don’t want my family members to be hurt or feel responsible. Especially my parents. My parents have some wonderful qualities and their flaws because they are, after all, human beings. My parents experienced their own hardships and traumas and they have both dealt with issues with their own parents, alcoholism, etc. Plus, my childhood encompassed much of the 1980s and they were young adults in the seventies. The world, as they say, was different.

As I have mentioned in early posts, disabled children of my generation and the one prior were the first to escape institutionalization or being kept hidden away at home.

Many parents of disabled children (like Marie Killilea of the Karen books) focused on raising their children to master independence and to “pass” as normal when possible. This can lead to a desire to not call attention to oneself and in many cases avoiding (instead of attempting) activities where our difficulties become obvious.

Instead of talking about our ailment(s), we try to fit in and not be a burden. We want to seem worthy of our place in a society where if the conversation turns to eugenics, we’ll, we’d be the first people edited out of existence.

But add childhood trauma to this mix and I wonder, do disabled people with this type of trauma exponentially feel more of a need to be invisible?

Mommy and Daddy have trouble getting along and sometimes hit each other when Daddy gets home from the bar— I don’t want to be another problem for them.

Am I a victim of sexual misconduct because I was a good kid who would listen to her elders or because I was already broken?

No one wants to see me cry. They get upset when I fall down and cry. Mommy teaches me to laugh when I fall. Does this cheapen the legitimacy of the pain, the bumps and bruises.

None of my childhood trauma happened because I have a disability, but it’s another truth no one wants to talk about.

All good thoughts to ponder.

A Comedy of Errors 17th Birthday

Teenager #2 moved out last week, and Teenager #1 celebrated her 17th birthday last night— a celebration that included a good friend, her favorite movies, pizza from Dominos and Cards Against Humanity until past 1 a.m.

I got to bed at 3 a.m. after wrestling with temperamental Touch of Grey foster kitty, and ending the evening with a dog so exhausted that she wouldn’t leave her crate leaving me no choice but to lure her upstairs with a piece of bologna.

My living room is full of pizza and pizza boxes but it was a great day for the teenager.

The morning had a rough start. The teenager left for summer school. I had a 9 a.m. online therapy appointment. At 8:57, the dog walks to the door.

“No sunbathing,” I warn her.

But, the sun did distract her and as I tried to her back into the house, our cat Oz escaped and ran into the back yard. The dog, being a dog, engaged in chase. Oz ran. Bean ran. I ran. I fell. I got back up. I saw no sign of either. That’s the teenager’s dog and her first cat she raised from a kitten.

I frantically call them.

You cannot lose the dog on your daughter’s birthday.

The dog responded to her name.

But my neighbor’s dog Buddy starting barking hearing Bean outside his door. So Bean went on his porch and refused to budge.

It is 8:59.

I grab a leash off my neighbor’s tie. I clip it to Bean, drag Bean to our house, shove her in, and race back to the neighbor’s to return the leash.

9:00 a.m.

My heart is pounding. I dart into the house, grab my laptop, flip on the couch, log in, open my email, click on the link for video-chat, log in, authorize camera, authorize mic.

9:01 a.m.

My therapist pops on screen.

“Are you ready for me?” he asks.

“Not exactly,” I reply. “Give me one second.”

I tell him what happened. He asks if I’m okay post-fall. I mention I might have a bleeding toe but I will evaluate later.

“You certainly are resilient,” he says.

After the session, I take the dog to pee and Oz is on the neighbor’s porch, in her back yard, as if trapped. I put the dog away and retrieve him.

Oz

I bring him home, bring the dog out, tie her to her lead, and begin to hang the laundry on the clothesline.

Bean starts acting rammy. I wonder if the teen is home from school. I turn to look. Another dog is standing under Bean’s body. I have never seen this little black dog before, but Bean is trying to get it out from under her body. I don’t think our dog is acting aggressively, but I don’t know if she’ll eat this small dog.

The dog runs.

Bean did not touch it.

Teenager comes home and decorates the cake she made for her birthday. She leaves to get a friend.

Bean takes a bite out of the cake.

Lucky I caught her so we still had a cake.

Just another day in our menagerie.

Finding Magic in the Middle of the Night

I have spent most of my life loving the morning, popping out of bed at 7 a.m., and falling asleep by 10. I did my best work as a “morning person” and loved the rhythms of the sun.

I don’t think that has changed. But in my current job working for fashion subscription service Stitch Fix at their Bizzy Hizzy warehouse.

I had a choice of day or evenings, but the prospect of waking up before 5 a.m. every day did not appeal to me.

Even though I traditionally considering myself a morning person.

Now I get my mornings to wake up without an alarm clock, enjoy the sun, make appointments and merely use my favorite part of the day for myself.

And if I come home from work exhausted and sore, I can collapse in bed.

I have come to appreciate a beauty in the middle of the night— the stillness of what is normally busy and crowded, the darkness of businesses and houses. There’s a hush that falls over the world.

I received a phone call from my daughter while she was at her pet sitting job last night. She asked if we could go for a drive. She wanted to listen to music and try my car’s sport mode. She wanted to explore country roads and laugh together.

I took the dog out one last time as both the dog and my daughter relieved themselves (though my daughter was indoors). The dog and I sat in the hammock and waited for her.

And cuddling with an almost 60-lb pit bull/mastiff/black lab mix in a hammock is both riotously funny and dangerous.

I even tried to take some photos.

It didn’t work.

So we left at 10:30 p.m. and with gas more than $3 a gallon we drove for an hour. We even left the state. And when we got closer to home, I spotted a generic “food mart” at a Shell station with all the lights still on at 11:45 p.m.

The teenager loves a good gas station mini mart.

In character for us, we pulled a u-turn and visited a mini-mart stocked with a wide variety of characters, where I think I was being eyed suspiciously because we were wearing masks.

We picked out some snacks: Lipton Pure Leaf tea was on sale for 2/$3.33, an Oreo brownie, and some 7-layer burrito flavored Combos. The bill came to almost $10.

I had the cherry hibiscus iced tea and it was amazing. The Combos tasted like eating tacos.

Driving through some more questionable neighborhoods, we saw police interviewing some women in cheap flip flops and got passed by an SUV with Florida license plates.

I made my daughter laugh by imagining her picking a fight with somebody twice her size, and then almost made her pee herself laughing when she asked the psycho princess cat Touch of Grey sit for a Combo.

“Are you teaching her tricks?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Since she’s crazy, instead of getting her to cuddle and be sweet, are we rehabilitating her for a career in the circus?”

We both cackled.

“What’s next? A little pink tu-tu to match her collar? Teaching her to dance and spin?”

The teenager curled into the fetal position laughing.

These are the memories I will cherish. Simple, poignant moments in the middle of the night. The ones that chronicle who we are.

Ironing out the anxieties

Today’s blog post will ramble through my everyday activities as they often do, but I will also attempt to show how attitude, reaching out and communication can overcome life’s anxieties.

First thing this morning I saw a post from my new-ish internet friend Fausta advertising her one day free seminar on Zoom covering Mindful Self-Compassion.

We were on our way out the door first thing this morning, teenager #1 and I, to take our kitty cat osteosarcoma survivor, Opie, to a new vet, Canyon River Run, to have the lump on his neck checked.

Although in the pandemic era, we only met the vet tech, teenager #1 and I were very pleased with their service and demeanors. The prices were reasonable, too. They even called my former vet’s office (Wright’s Veterinary in Bethlehem) when I didn’t have Opie’s most up to date shots.

The vet reported that in her opinion the lump of his neck is not cancer as it is clearly in the skin and not deeper. I have to follow up because the verbal report relayed to me said it would need to be surgically removed but I don’t know if it would be a cosmetic one or a diagnostic tool to confirm her opinion.

That was the first of several anxieties addressed.

On a side note, I tried the cold brew at Wendy’s. It was quite delightful. Strong but not too bitter.

I also contacted Bird Mania, the establishment where I acquired Nala, to sow them our new photos. (They approved, Joan.) I hope to take my four baby budgies to them tomorrow as they should be young enough to hand tame and rehome.

My bird overpopulation is another anxiety addressed. Though catching and surrendering my chicks is another.

The teenagers had some issues last night, some of which remind me of college roommate situations. We shall work it all out, but since the vet took longer than I anticipated and I worked a 10-hour shift last night, my phone battery was down to 15% as the conversations continued throughout the night. I’m glad we all started a conversation about it as that’s really the only way we can initiate a solution.

Before all this started, on my first of several 10-minute breaks last night, I used my pick Chromebook to request a late start next week for Fausta’s seminar. That’s when I also noticed one of my supervisors had sent me an email requesting my presence for a chat.

Later that night. New anxiety. In several of my previous work environments, meetings never meant anything positive.

My final break came. My meeting with the leaders was 10:15 p.m. Break was 10 to 10:10 p.m. I wasn’t sure what to do with that five minutes. So, me being me, I returned to QC and folded one more fix before leaving my table at 10:15.

It turns out that my “chat” was to check in about how I’d been doing split between QC and pick. And to announce that as of Monday, they would test changing my basic schedule to move between pick and QC in a regular fashion, starting the “morning” (I assume this means the first half of my shift as we start at 3:30 p.m.) in pick and moving to QC later.

We talked a bit about numbers and strategies and once again, as I have mentioned to other leaders, I reiterated that I know I will never be the fastest though I know I will grow more efficient. I try to make up for my lack of speed and natural dexterity by being dependable and flexible and finding ways to work smarter. I also pointed out that while I haven’t hit the best metrics, my metrics are consistent.

“Can we clone you?” one leader asked.

Finally, I bought some clothes at the Stitch Fix Employee Store. I wasn’t going to visit the store this time around, but in the end my issue with ill-fitting and disappearing clothes urged me onward.

The store has been open almost two weeks so there is not much left. And some of the things I most wanted weren’t available. I wanted jeans as I’m still not thin enough to fit in my size four wardrobe from the pre-Corona days but the hand-me-down size eights are getting too baggy.

I also wanted nice t-shirts. Everything I own appears to be sleeveless or shapeless.

As Joan the photographer reported when she got her first Stitch Fix box, the Democracy Jeans are comfortable but the zippers-for-pretty get caught on everything. These are beige camo, not a print I wanted. I didn’t want a print at all. They are skinny cut, not my favorite cut either. And they are too long for me, which makes them very wrinkled.

The Michael Stars top is amazing, fits great, looks very feminine and so comfortable. And I feared it would be too big.

Finally, the yoga top/lazy woman’s sports bra thing from Free People movement actually holds everything in like a sports bra but looks really cute. It retails for $30 which is insane. But I’m a forty-something woman who is very surprised this skimpy top works for me.

I’m Back in Line—singing the praises of my chiropractor and watching the teenagers grow up

Today turned out to be a completely ordinary but yet amazing day. I owe much of that to my chiropractor, Dr. Nicole Jensen of Back in Line Wellness Center.

I have been working with her more often since I started at Stitch Fix as I don’t want to live my life in constant pain as I did toward the end of my decade working for Target.

Nicole has a background in physical therapy so she can deal with my cerebral palsy issues, messed up S1 joint, and get all that tension out of my neck. (I never even told her about my tendency to hold all my tension in my neck— she noticed.) She also gives me ideas on what to do at home (like which of my physical therapy exercises and what new stretches).

And funny story— she’s even worked on one of my fingers (after my cat bite/hospital stay for cellulitis this past August) when it wouldn’t bend and once she adjusted a toe for me. I can’t quite remember why…

So today Nicole did what she termed some agressive work on my hips as my main complaints these days are more about stiffness than pain. Now don’t get me wrong— QCing (standing still folding clothes from 3:30 pm to midnight) makes me hurt. And picking also makes me hurt. But both those pains usually fade by morning leaving behind stiffness that can be quite uncomfortable.

I am very grateful for Nicole, as she has done more than any other person to help me understand how my body works because of my disability.

When I left her, I felt like someone had popped off my legs as if I were a Barbie doll and popped new ones on. They didn’t feel bad, they just felt loose and new and weird.

And I didn’t experience any pain at work, at least not the bad kind. I definitely experienced the discomfort of a good workout. Even bending down at the end of my shift wasn’t nearly as intense as usual.

And I walked more than 26,000 steps (but only picked 693 items).

For Saint Patrick’s Day, Wawa had given me a free matcha drink. There happens to be a Wawa across the street from the chiropractor so teenager #1 picked up a matcha mint latte for me.

I seem to be one of the first people posting on YouTube about Wawa’s matcha, so here is today’s installment: Matcha Mint latte from Wawa. This particular video has 18 views. Yesterday’s has 118. Spoiler alert: it was tasty but I gave it to the teenager as the fact that I couldn’t taste the matcha ruined it for me. But I would rate Wawa’s matcha better than Dunkin’s and akin to Starbucks.

Next, I took the teenager to the bank to open her first checking account. Even though the small bank I used has been gobbled up by a larger bank, I took the teenager to the same branch where her father and I opened our checking account in the late 1990s. I still have the account, in part because I am incredibly fond of my account number.

When we got home, teenager #2 asked me some questions about the differences between savings and checking accounts so we discussed banking. Teenager #2, a friend teenager #1 made in marching band who came into our home when she needed a place to stay last fall, turns 18 in about a week. Holy crow. A week.

In my household, birthday children get $100 and get to plan a day. I saved up $100 cash to give her— and, knowing this was my custom, she asked if she could use that money to open her own checking account. I responded, “of course.”

After all that, I made some ravioli and we all took turns cuddling with the dog.

Prelude to Wheels

Yesterday indeed was Monday. Or shall I say the day before yesterday. When I started this entry it was 1 a.m. on Wednesday.

I started with household chores on Monday and felt very productive. Teenager #1 and I took the dog for a 5,000 step walk around the neighborhood.

Here’s a video of Bean eating icy snow: Bean and the ice

I sat down after lunch to spend some time with Nala the Goffin’s cockatoo and read more of book three of my Fashion and Fiends series, this one called Recovery.

Teenager #1 decided she wanted to go to her dad’s for the afternoon. I wanted to go get my $1 medium coffee at Dunkin. By the time we got organized we were leaving later than I would have liked. And then the dog pooped on the floor. And then the dog peed on the floor.

I decided this meant I needed coffee to survive the night. The line was ridiculous but I had already made the order via mobile so I was committed.

And then the teen forgot her keys. So I had to drop her off at her dad’s office instead of apartment.

Somehow I made it to the Bizzy Hizzy on time.

And I was assigned to pick. I hit 144 and walked about 25,000 steps in the Stitch Fix warehouse.

The big news yesterday was taking teenager #1 for her driving road test, which due to Covid is a swing around the parking lot with the testing official watching from the curb. She passed.

I ended up in pick again last night, but got moved to QC at 10:30 pm.

And now, with Zoom classes and homework done, the teenager has taken my car to run errands— mostly shopping for her pets.

And yes, she’s going to stop and fill up the car with gas and get coffee for mama.

Learning to Fly

This is a post about babies of multiple species.

My dad helped me… no he did it… my dad got a really disgusting clog out of the vacuum cleaner last night. And then we (with my stepmom) went to Tic Toc Diner to harass teenager #1 at her first official job as a waitress. The young man assigned to our table recognized me and asked if we wanted her to serve us, and I said that wasn’t necessary we were happy observing her from afar. But he gave her the table anyway.

That’s my baby, and she was buzzing around looking very focused. There is a strange heartwarming and heartbreaking feeling when you see your baby becoming independent.

Earlier that day, Vesta and Minerva went to the adoption event at Petsmart. But no one inquired about these Roman Pride babies. I brought them home to Hermes.

Teenager #1 is with her dad right now, so I spent some time working with our foster kittens from Feline Urban Rescue and Rehab. I’m going to post some videos from today to show progress.

Hermes is afraid of human hands. And Mars— oh spunky Mars— bit one of our fellow FURR volunteers when she tried to move him from the habitat at the Petco in Easton to the one in the Phillipsburg area.

Video: Manhandling Mars (and Hermes)

Video: The Roman Pride

Meanwhile, I decided I had to let go of my fear of harm coming to the parakeets. I opted to let them free fly for the first time since Boo-Boo’s death (see Farewell Boo for details). And it was the first time for the babies. My room is oddly silent right now because all SIX birds, including Nala the Goffin (who turned five this week), are sleeping. The budgies flew so hard!

Video: Baby birds awkward flight

And here’s a video of Hermes from yesterday: Hermes amid the vacuum

So all the babies are doing well!

The embers of happy

Today I fought my emotions and fought my pain to find some moments of happiness for myself. And in the end, my heart is warm.

My daughter and I often carpool now that she is a waitress at one of our favorite local businesses— Tic Toc Diner.

Before work I took her to the Starbucks in our local Target (#2536) so I could try the new Pistachio Latte.

Our reaction video: Review of our lattes

Once I arrived at the Bizzy Hizzy, I realized I had forgotten to wear red for “red day,” but they gave us all red masks and iced heart sugar cookies. That brought me some joy. As did my lunch, my attempt at Cajun seared scallops.

I started my night in QC, where my performance slipped because despite taking two naproxen sodium my pain level was going from 5 to 7. By 9 pm, I had only QC’ed about 52. But then at 9:15, I got moved to pick direct! It felt amazing to zoom through the warehouse and even though the naproxen sodium had worn off, my pain had dropped to a two or a three.

Teenager #1 texted that she had her uniform and she was waiting tables by herself and she made $28 in tips. I love seeing her in this new role.

And my friend who adopted Fenrir/Fern of the Norse Pride (now Edie) sent me this picture of her:

She looks so majestic. I am assured that she is still naughty.

By the end of the night, I picked 48 fixes and walked about 12,000 steps.

A friend texted to check in when I really needed to hear a familiar voice (thank you, Bill).

Another friend texted me the word “ramfeezled,” to be exhausted from working too much. (Thank you, Joan.)

And then I got home, and found the best surprise ever. Now, every night teenager #1 comes to hang out with Nala. While she is here, she makes my bed.

Tonight I found this…

She bought me clearance Valentine’s chocolate from the Dollar Tree. That’s my girl— frugal impresses me just as much as the thought.

Full of Cupcakes

I was exhausted and grumpy most of the day. But not a single thing happened to make me grumpy, I was just tired.

It was a nice day. Teenager #1 and I took a friend to her podiatrist appointment, and as promised said friend provided a nice coffee and added a surprise— home baked matcha cupcakes. I love matcha and I have loved matcha for far longer than it has been trendy.

So it’s gonna be a good day, because matcha cupcakes. Which reminds me of one of my favorite songs: Good Day.

While our friend is at her appointment, we run to Sheetz. The teenager took my money and bought herself a turkey wrap. Not sure why a turkey wrap screamed breakfast to her but she also brought me my favorite cupcakes, Hostess orange cream cupcakes. More cupcakes!

I saved my cupcakes.

The teenager didn’t even get to eat her wrap because she got a phone call from one of our favorite diners, Tic Toc, asking her if she still wanted a job as a waitress. She was quite flummoxed. She starts later today (it is 1 a.m. now).

My maternal instincts say this will be the perfect job for her. She has the patient, cordial nature and coordination for the job. And the girl loves her food so I think she’ll have the knack for details.

And I love that she’s not working in a grocery store, or a fast food joint. I think she’ll learn a lot and gain a lot of new stories to tell. And while working for a small local business will have its own unique challenges, I’m glad she’s not getting the big corporate crap job for her first official work experience.

Speaking of work, my average time per fix was between 4.25 and 4.58. I QC’ed 83 fixes and that’s— as usual— really low. But higher than last night! I took two naproxen sodium and pain was down around a 2.

And the friend I mentioned gave us hand me downs— so I got to go to work in new-to-me jeans. She had several sizes so everything really small went to teenager #2.

And to warm my heart, there is always, Fog, who started life as a feral kitten. Teenager #1 rescued him and his brother last winter. He was so shy he wouldn’t come near me for a month. Gradually he started sleeping in my bed, until a couple months later he was sleeping at my feet. Then my knees. Now he waits for me to come home from work and we go to bed. Video: Time for Bed

In the morning I have a chiropractor appointment, she has probably taught me more about my cerebral palsy’s impact on my body than anyone else.

PS— i survived today by drinking too much coffee, having several sugary snacks, taking a nap and eating too much.

À demain, mes amis. À tout à l’heure.