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.

A weekend of animals ending on a pizza note

As I mentioned last week, neighborhood events coincided with the teenager’s pet sitting commitments to have us at full capacity with dogs— except for Buddy who at the last minute got to go on vacation with his family.

Little Dog Sobaka’s mom left for a wedding in Western Pa., allowing me the time to teach Sobaka that Bean might be scary but she’s really just a big, dumb puppy and not a threat.

And the teenager decided to test Sobaka’s ingenuity and made her eat her nightly supper from a dog puzzle. Bean would have just eaten the puzzle.

Video: Baki learns the treat puzzle

On Friday night, Baki and I slept in my bed with Louise and Khloe hiding under the bed. On Saturday, the teenager left for her housesitting job, so I planned a sleepover in the living room—Baki and I in the hand-me-down pull-out couch bed and Bean in her downstairs crate.

Bean and Sobaka

The clientele for the week includes 2 dogs (one geriatric German shepherd with mobility struggles), two personal cats, one Senegal parrot and at least eight foster kittens who all need meds.

My daughter is a very special pet sitter. I have heard horrible stories and witnessed some of friends hiring people to care for their pets and these people neglect their wards. When my daughter accepts a job, her focus becomes that household and my job is to make sure I maintain standards at home. She spends a lot of time doting on animals.

I provide back up and moral support and make sure the pet sitter doesn’t live on diet soda and chips for the week. She usually has me over to the home once or twice so I know the basics should she need to leave or needs help.

Last night the “can you come see if the cat likes you better than he likes me” request ended up being a three hour visit because she wanted me to shoot video of how well the German Shepherd was doing to set the family at ease.

And a little after 8 pm, I announced I was going home to make supper.

“I forgot the food you told me to take,” the child says.

It’s almost 8:30 on a Sunday night in the town where her father grew up and not our own— the mom and pop places are closing up and I don’t have the time or patience for a sit down meal.

We find Tuscana Pizza & Pasta. The first thing I see when I walk in the door is empanadas. There are seven slices of pizza on the counter, a pile of garlic knots and the empanadas.

There are three slices of pepperoni, one plain, two sausage and peppers and one meat lovers.

We take one of each and some garlic knots. $16.47.

They start speaking Spanish to each other at the register. When everything gets done, they take it out of the oven, throw it in a large pizza box, hand it to us and tell us goodbye.

Obviously they were trying to close the restaurant and didn’t want us hanging around.

We were okay with that. We ate in the car.

The sausage and pepper slice was really good, but I don’t like onions so I could only make it through half. The garlic knots were soft— I’m used to them being like chunks of pizza crust but these were like dinner rolls smothered in butter and garlic.

I love neighborhood pizza shops. I love the ambiance. I love them simple. I wish they’d stop trying to be full fledged restaurants and push slices and pies and sugary concoctions like the mysterious red “jungle juice” of my youth and arcade games and pinball.

My daughter— who has apparently spent far too much time in town ordering Dominos or grabbing Little Caesars and eating it four hours later “like a ravenous beast” (her words) on the band bus— always acts like every time we have real pizza, it’s the first time and it’s the best food she’s every had in her life. She moans with every mouthful.

Last night was no exception.

The next phase: Reaching for Body Builder Status

This is an informal update vaguely and disorganizingly (that’s probably not a word, but I like it and it’s how I’m feeling) connected to my series about my cerebral palsy.

It’s not as “official” and well-crafted as I would like as some household/parenting issues greeted me as I walked in the door and I found it hard to recover once the dog started refusing to get in her crate and I discovered the teenager’s floor with multiple piles of kitten vomit, into which I stepped barefoot.

I finished the sequel to Karen by Marie Killilea today— With Love From Karen. That is another blog posted which I started but have postponed due to other events of the day more personal.

Late last night, I reached out to a local personal fitness trainer.

For those of you unaware, the average physical therapy can cost $350 per session, with the uninsured paying $125. If you have, like I do, high deductible medical insurance, this can add up to several thousand dollars in as little as a month.

Been there. Done that.

My amazing chiropractor (Nicole Jensen, Back in Line Wellness Center) bills me $125 a session when she gives me some brief physical therapy, advice and cracks every f*cked up bone in my body.

The high end of average cost for a personal fitness trainer is $70 per session, according to Google.

Six years ago almost to the day, I embarked on my first weight loss journey and shed 30 lbs in six weeks and looked like a skeleton.

By autumn, I looked like this:

Yes, the shadow of a person lifting two pound weights with me is the now teenager as an eleven-year-old.

I have two fitness dreams:

  1. To run a 5k
  2. To be an amateur body builder

A local business, a fitness trainer only a few blocks from my home, has a summer special and good reviews on the internet.

Goofy crop is to obscure the identity of the trainer until I get permission to post.

I reached out with this message:

“I have quite the history of on again/off again weight training.

I went through a very emotionally traumatic loss of job experience in 2020 and turned to stress/comfort/ just plain bad eating and have gained 20 pounds. And stopped training.

I need to regain my discipline so I am hoping to see if you might be a good fit as a personal trainer— theoretically one session a week and I could maintain the effort at home.

I have already improved my diet, but the damage includes anemia so that makes it hard to work out especially in this heat.

I work second shift in a warehouse.

And perhaps the most important issue— I have mild cerebral palsy in the lower body so it’s super important that I keep my body strong and flexible.

I have two dreams— to actually run a 5k and to perhaps pursue amateur body building.

Please respond if this is something you might be willing/comfortable with/knowledgeable enough to undertake.

Peruse my web site http://www.angelackerman.com to learn more about me if you have concerns.”

I am tentatively meeting with a trainer at this business at 11 a.m. Thursday for an assessment and to see if it’s a good fit.

This is a good way for me to improve my health and fitness as I’ve done so much physical therapy, I know what to do. I just need someone to make me do it. And check my form.

Who knows where this might lead? Maybe my dreams of being a body builder with cerebral palsy will come true.

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.

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.