What’s Happening…

Hello, Friends,

I apologize for my long absence.  To say I’ve had a lot going on in my life would be an understatement.  I’m still dealing with health issues and stuff at work, but most importantly, I lost my grandmother last month.  As you know, my grandparents raised me, so Grandma was really my mom.

Toby & Her Grandchildren & Great Grandchildren 04 - 029She would have been 97 next month.   She died the morning of June 29th, and her memorial service was July 7th.  She outlived (by years) every one of her nine siblings, as well as her husband and one of her children.  (The rate my health has been this year, I was sure she’d outlive me as well.)  She was sweet, smiley, silly, stubborn, smart, sometimes slow, secretive, and most of all, strong.  That was the theme of her eulogy that I gave.  (I think the alliteration got a few extra chuckles .)  I wanted a service that celebrated her life rather than focused on mourning her passing, and I think we achieved that.  I think she would have been happy with everything.

Toby & Her Grandchildren & Great Grandchildren 04 - 003-She pulled her feeding tube out again.  I got the call while I was in the midst of preparing for a huge golf tournament for work that I’d been organizing since January.  It was the night before the tournament, and the nursing home called and asked if they should send her to the hospital to have it put back in.

She hadn’t had any quality of life for quite a while.  The Alzheimer’s was so severe, she hadn’t spoken in over a year.  The last few times I went to see her, I could tell she thought she should know me, but she just couldn’t connect the dots.  Her blue eyes which smiled her whole life didn’t sparkle anymore, and you could tell the life was gone from her spirit.

Toby & Her Grandchildren & Great Grandchildren 04 - 008It never occurred to me in past times that she’d pulled out the tube that perhaps she was doing it on purpose – as if she was telling me she was ready to leave this life.  But it came to me this time, and I knew it was time to let her go.

Some people assumed because in the past when they asked how I would handle her passing, I said it was like she was already gone, that this meant I wouldn’t grieve or mourn her death.  There couldn’t be anything farther from the truth.

Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease.  It rips away the memories of a lifetime and leaves but a shell of a person.  It eventually takes away the ability to eat, to swallow, and even to breathe. Anyone who’s experienced this with a loved one knows you have to put emotional distance between yourself and the person with this diagnosis because you’re both victims.  The loved ones that are left are as affected as the person with the diagnosis.  How must it feel to love someone so deeply for your entire life and know they don’t even recognize you?

I asked the nursing home to keep her on morphine and move her to hospice so she didn’t have to die in that nasty place.  But the only hospice that took her insurance was over an hour away, so she stayed there.  I knew it would take about a week and it would be an agonizing procedure – – You’re literally starving and dehydrating the person to death.   The organs dry up and stick together until everything slows down and then stops.

I couldn’t get out to see her until the day after the tournament, so 36 hours after the call, and I saw her several times a day, every day after that. She had eye movement for everyone else that went to see her – my kids, my birth mom, my uncle – but never for me.  I felt she was actually giving me the stink eye a few times.  It’s like she knew I was the deciding factor that allowed them to let her go.  She was afraid of death her whole life, and she knew I knew it.  And I sent her there to see Old Man Death, scared and alone.  I’ll have to live with that the rest of my life.  Such is the price of being “the strong one.”

Anyway, enough feeling sorry for myself.  I hope you’re all doing well, and I especially thank those of you who sent me such sweet messages.  I hope to be back more often that I’ve been this year thus far.

Keep smiling, and stay healthy!  (Yes, all photos are of Grandma and me.)

-R.

My Selection…

A lot of people are sure who they’re voting for, but I’m finding that not as many people are sure why they’re casting their vote for their chosen candidate.   I know a lot of Trump fans who are just that —  fans.  When I ask why they support him, they say, “He’s so funny.”  (Not a reason to elect a President, folks.)  A lot of people I know do not like Trump, but they support him anyway, simply because he’s Republican, and Republicans generally believe in pro-life or no gun control.  I’ve met people who are voting for Hillary Clinton simply because she’s a woman, or people who are pro-Bernie because they’re Democratic but they don’t want a woman.  I met a woman the other day who told me she is very conservative and always votes Republican no matter what, but she just wasn’t sure if Trump was the man for the job.  She asked who I was voting for, and after I explained that the reason for my vote had a story behind it, she told me she was so impressed, she was moved to change her vote because of it…

In 1999, I relocated from Central Florida to Central New York.  I had visions of New York being more upscale that Florida, more progressive, more expensive, and more lucrative.  I was wrong on all counts except the expense.

In Florida, on just about every street corner, you can find a daycare center, an after school kid care, or another such facility such as dance studio, karate center, or gymnastics gym that picks up kids after school and cares for them until 6:00 when their parents get out of work.  The cost at the time for one child was approximately $30 a week.

That was one of the first things I found to be quite different when I moved to New York.  I had six-year old Jeremy who was in kindergarten, and ten-year old Stefani who was in the fourth grade, and other than them and my sister Michelle, we didn’t know another soul in the Empire State, so we had no one to ask how these things were handled.

What I found was that there were essentially NO kid care facilities whatsoever in my county.  What they had instead were county licensed “babysitters” who were allowed to run “home daycare centers.”  Since I moved there mid-school year, there were only two available women on the list.  The first woman was the wife of a military man, and she said they’d be moving before the end of the school year.  So, I moved on to my last hope… A woman named Rachael R.

Since Rachael and I shared the same first name (though hers was spelled wrong), I took that as a good sign.  Boy was I wrong!  She charged $140 a week (yes, really!) to watch my kids after school for a couple of hours, five days a week.  (I got off work at 4:00 back then.)  She smoked like a chimney, and my son had chronic asthma.  So every day, when I picked up my kids, I had to have them strip in the car and change into clean clothes, then bathe them when we got home before they could play.

jeremy six

Can you see picking on this little cutie?

After a few months, I learned she was being abusive to my son as well as one other child she watched.  She made these boys sit on the couch — on their hands – from the time the bus dropped them off until the time their parents picked them up.  She refused to give them a snack, and she refused to allow them to get up and play with the other kids or even watch TV.  In fact, she apparently sat in her chair and chain smoked and watched rated R movies the whole time the kids were there!

Now, I knew my son could be a handful… He’s autistic, and as such, he was very active and curious.  However, he was always a sweet kid and generally well behaved.

I was kept late at work twice one week (so I had to work until 5:00 PM those two days), and she got so fed up that the second time, she fired us!  (Keep in mind, the $140 price was the same for parents who always had to work until 5:00.)  When I picked up my kids, she told me to never bring them back.  No notice.  No warning.  So I was stuck on the spot with no caregiver.   It wasn’t until that night that my kids told me what had been going on.  They said she threatened to beat them if they told me how she treated everyone.

That was the Friday before a long weekend (Martin Luther King Day), so it was more difficult to find anyone at home to secure a new babysitter.  But that’s a story for another time.

Tuesday, I had to call into work and take the day to find someone.  When I went to the County office to get a new list of sitters, I filed a complaint against Rachael R.  They told me it didn’t sound like much of a problem, and I should be glad my kids were out.  (Yes, really!)  I then drove straight to the police department, and they told me there was nothing they could do.  I went to the Sheriff’s office, and they blew me off as well.

A couple of weeks prior, Hillary Clinton had just taken office as Senator in New York.  I was at my wit’s end, and I really hated the thought of Rachael R. making one more dime off any other unsuspecting parent and abusing another child.  So I wrote a long letter detailing my frustration to Mrs. Clinton.  I started off welcoming her to the Empire State and telling her that like herself, I was a newcomer a short time before.  I then quoted her from her book “It Takes a Village” (to raise a child), and told her how disappointed I was that the “village” I lived in was not helpful in the least.  I never expected to hear back from her, but it felt good just to get my frustrations out on paper.

Well, imagine my surprise when just short of two weeks later, I received a lengthy, personalized letter from Mrs. Clinton’s office telling me that Hillary had read my correspondence and was going to look into the matter further.   It wasn’t long after that that my county started buzzing.  County officials called to ask me questions about Rachael R. and what specifically she did to my kids and others.   And about a month later, the word on the street was that Rachael R. lost her license!  I thought that would be the end of it, but then a couple of months after that, I received a follow-up telephone call then another letter from Mrs. Clinton’s office telling me what they’d done on my children’s behalf, and asking me to contact them again if I was not satisfied with the result.  WOW!

In 2004, I was back in Florida, and my son was having an extremely difficult time with his teacher.  Without getting into another lengthy story, I’ll just say that it was BAD.   (You’ve all heard stories of how some teachers pick on autistic children.  This was one of those stories.)

I went to the principal and the superintendent of schools with no satisfaction.  When they did nothing, I wrote to the governor at the time, Jeb Bush.   I figured since Hillary had been so responsive and helpful, that ALL government elected offices had a duty to be as diligent.  Not so.  His response didn’t arrive until several months later after school was out and it didn’t matter anymore.

Jeremy had another horrendous school experience in 2006.  This time, after going through the local school channels (principal, superintendent, etc.), I wrote to my Senator.  He wrote back and told me to try talking to the school principal!  (Yes, really!)  It wasn’t long after that that I quit my job and homeschooled my son for the remainder of his school career.

So, in closing, while I encounter a lot of people who can’t stand Hillary for one reason or another, their reasons are usually based on media hype and not because Hillary did anything personal to negatively affect them.  I, on the other hand, agree that I would probably be voting for her anyway just because she is a woman, and a Democrat, and so intelligent, and has prior experience in office and in the actual White House.   But the reason I am so exceptionally passionate about casting my vote for Hillary is because she personally assisted my Autistic child in getting the justice he deserved.

Let’s talk!  How do you select a candidate?  Has your child ever been bullied?  If your child had been bullied by another adult, what would you have done?

It finally happened!

Enough talk about my failing health!  I want to share a cool story with you…  A couple of years ago, I shared a story about my close encounter of the presidential kind.

Since it’s an election year, I thought it only fitting to recap that story and give you the more recent follow up…

In 1980, I was ten years old and in the sixth grade.  That year, the presidential election was between Democratic President Jimmy Carter and Republican Candidate Ronald Reagan.  In my Civics class, we had to draw campaign posters for our favorite candidate and write a speech that they might have used in a campaign debate.

I had an instant affinity for Jimmy Carter from the first time I saw him.  I don’t exactly know why, but I loved that he had the warmest, friendliest smile and I liked that he was a former peanut farmer.  (The fact that he was born in a mental hospital also didn’t hurt my affinity for the psychological thriller genre of which I write.)  I think I also liked him because his daughter, Amy, was only a couple of years older than me, and I thought it was so cool that she got to live in the White House.

So, on the campaign trail, President Carter was scheduled to come to my town to speak.  My school was on the corner of two main roads that led to the Civic Center, and back then, the newspaper always published the President’s motorcade route.  Imagine my surprise when, only hours after my grandparents read me the newspaper over breakfast and told me the President was coming to town, all the students of my small private school were called out of class that Halloween morning, and we lined up by the fence to wait so we could wave at him.  I was ecstatic!

At the time, I was a short kid, so the two boys on either side of me told me I should climb up on the fence so I could see better.  As the motorcade rounded the corner, the limo window went down, and the driver slowed.  President Carter grinned and waved as he rode slowly past us, and when he saw me standing on the fence, he pointed at me.  I was thrilled!

When I got home after school, I begged my grandparents to change their votes to Carter, then I sat right down and wrote President Carter a letter and asked for his autograph.

Less than two weeks later, I received a reply from The White House which said that the President was very busy and couldn’t accommodate all the people that personally asked for autographs, but they still sent me an autograph card as well as a booklet about The White House.  It didn’t matter to me that the autograph wasn’t official.  The man just lost an election, yet his office still had time to reply to a little girl.  I was overjoyed!

Looking back thorough an adult’s eyes, I appreciate this pseudo-autograph more than ever.  I mean, between a hectic schedule campaigning for re-election, and dealing with the hostage crisis (among other things), the staff at The White House had to have been crazy busy at the time, yet they still managed to reply to a little kid’s letter, and in such a timely manner, too.

So, the follow-up to my story is this:  I caught a fleeting glance of President and Mrs. Carter (along with the Secret Service) at Epcot on New Year’s Even in 1998.  Between that close encounter and my admiration of their work for Habitat for Humanity, my love for this former President only grew.

Fast forward a few years.  I’d heard that President Carter taught Sunday School classes that were open to the public.  At the time, I had two autistic kids at home, and with no child support, finances were tight, so I put that dream on the back burner.  But having learned more about the work of The Carter Center and how it affects the entire globe, I was even more impressed with this incredible, awesome man.

A few years later, my kids were close to grown, and I mentioned the Sunday School class to a trusted source.  The friend told me that President Carter didn’t do that anymore.  I was crushed that I’d missed my chance.

A couple more years passed.   President Carter was diagnosed with cancer, and, again, I was heartbroken.  But only a short time after that, I was elated to hear that he’d gone into remission.  In fact, I went out of my way to read more than the one news report I would have normally read, and that’s when I found a link to his church’s website along with the information that he never, in fact, stopped teaching his Sunday School class!

That was last December.  I wanted to go immediately, but President Carter didn’t teach every Sunday.  I then planned to go the following month, but then my own surgery was scheduled for the beginning of February, so I had to push things off again.

Jimmy Carter 2016But in March, I finally got to go to Plains, Georgia, and sit four rows from the front while President Jimmy Carter taught Sunday School!  This was the thrill of a lifetime!  You have to get there early (and by early, I mean while it’s still dark outside) to line up.  My sister and I got there around 4:30 AM. (I know I didn’t want to discuss my failing health, but this 6 hour drive and no-sleep weekend, while exciting, was literally a spur of the moment decision as to the timing, and was meant to make me feel better after all my post-surgical woes. Mentally, it did wonders, though physically, those two days set me back about two weeks.)

Once they open the doors, you’re searched by Secret Service then escorted to your seat.  (If you’ve never been around the Secret Service, that’s exciting in itself.)  You’re allowed to take photos all during the introduction period, then you have to turn your cameras off during the lesson.  If you sit through the church service following the Sunday School lesson, you can then get a photo taken with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.  WOW!  {The photos are very rushed, and you have to be in a group shot with everyone who rode in your vehicle, but, still, it’s so generous of the Carters to donate their time like that.  (As such, my photo is not good [we’re all blurry], and I won’t be sharing it, but I will be returning soon to try again.)}

Rosalynn Carter & Jimmy Carter, 2016As if that’s not enough, there’s a museum just down the road from the church.  In the museum is a bookstore that sells nearly thirty of the books that were written by either Jimmy or Rosalynn Carter.  The most amazing part of this journey is that if you purchase any of their books there (which are no more expensive than if you purchased them on Amazon), they give you a form to mail, along with the book and a SASE, and between four to six weeks later, you get President Carter’s autograph!  Yes, really!  (Have I mentioned yet how much I love Jimmy Carter?)

So, that’s exactly what I did.  I purchased two books and mailed them as soon as I got home, and close to five weeks later, I received them back, autographed by President Carter!  Only thirty-five and a half years after I first requested Jimmy Carter’s autograph, I got two of them!  SQUEEEEEEEEE!!!!!  (For those who don’t know {as my sister didn’t}, squeeeeee is about ten times better than Woo Hoo, and about a hundred times better than YAY!)Jimmy Carter's books

Jimmy Carter's autograph

Let’s talk:  Have you ever seen a President or other world leader up close and live?  What’s the best autograph you’ve ever gotten?

My Presidential Encounter with the Great Beyond

Last month, my sister Michelle and I drove 1,100 miles to Pennsylvania for a funeral.  (More on that later.)  While we were there, I had strange and eerie experience that I think most of you will appreciate.  (I attempted to share my occurrence with a few friends after I got home, but sadly, they all just gave me the “DUH!” face, and it was evident they weren’t able to get the irony.)

On our way home, we stopped in Gettysburg at the Lincoln Diner.  (Don’t forget, Michelle’s a history major, so if anyone doesn’t know what relevance Gettysburg and Lincoln have, you’d better not voice it here or she’s likely to attack you in the comments section!)

Lincoln Diner, Gettysburg, PA

When we got to the diner, I used the restroom in the basement in the stall closest to the far wall.  We ate, then my sister used the restroom.  When she got back to the table, once more I went back to the basement and used the same stall that I’d used before, only this time, I found a heads-up penny on the floor.  (For my foreign friends, Abraham Lincoln is on our U.S. penny as well as on our five dollar bill.)  I told Michelle that the former president was trying to contact me from the Great Beyond, and since he knows I’m a writer, he probably wants me to add an addendum to his Gettysburg Address.

We laughed and proceeded to go check out the Gettysburg Train Depot that President Lincoln used when he went there in 1863.  The station was only in operation from 1850 through 1870.  We then went through the Gettysburg Battlefield, then headed home.

Gettysburg Train Station

(FYI: The sky in the actual photos was grey and dismal, so I Photoshopped in the blue sky and clouds.  The car really did just happen to pass as I snapped that photo, though I had to paint over a couple of people that were walking on the sidewalk across the street.)

Because were drinking tons of fresh apple cider (YUM!) as we drove, we broke my rule about stopping only every 250 miles for gas and a restroom, and we stopped at the Welcome Center in Maryland.  While I used the facilities, I found yet another heads-up penny!  I knew then that President Lincoln really was trying to contact me.

The cider was absolutely phenomenal, and it really gave our bladders a workout.  So at the Virginia Welcome Center, once again we made a pit stop…  And you guess it, I found a heads-up penny!  I had no doubt that the former president wanted to send me a message, but my sister was still skeptical.  So to convince her, I suggested that the next place we stopped, I should find a five dollar bill.  She agreed that if that happened, she’d be a believer.

Well, we stopped in North Carolina.  Only instead of finding any money, I found a sign on the restroom mirror telling us that human trafficking was prevalent there and we should beware!    (Yes, really!  I would’ve taken a photo, only I left my phone in the car, and after that warning, I was afraid to run out and go back in the restroom!  Plus the big homeless woman who was talking to her dog in the bathroom and kept trying to approach us scared us a bit.)

In South Carolina, we found that the Welcome Center was not welcoming at all!  There were bars over the vending machines  with signs telling us it was unsafe there, so we should reach through the bars!  The Welcome Center was locked at only around 9:00 PM, and the door said it locked the doors each day at 5:00!  There were no signs directing us to the outside restrooms, so we had to walk all the way around the building in the dark with four big, scary men walking around outside digging through the garbage!  When we did find the restrooms, the men’s and the ladies’ side were through one entrance, and there was no door in the doorway.  So needless to say, we were pretty freaked out and hurried to get out of there and back to our car.

I was afraid that my rendezvous with President Lincoln had come to an end, but when we finally got home (thankfully in one piece!), I actually found a fourth heads-up penny on the floor of my very own living room!  (The same living room that was cleaned before I left.)

Lincoln Pennies

Unfortunately, I had to go back to work the next day, though I felt like sleeping for a week, so if President Lincoln was indeed trying to send me a message, I was too tired to receive it.

Let’s talk:  Were you hopeful that I’d actually find a five dollar bill?  Has a dead president ever tried to contact you before?  How cool was it that that old car drove in front of the railroad station while I was taking photos?

Stingray!

Well, friends, it’s time again for me to reveal another commercial I wrote, directed, and produced.  This is the third in a long series of ads for my boss and attorney friend, and I’m really excited about them.

If you’ve seen the others, you know that they start off with a little boy who portrays the attorney in the early 1960s when he was a child, then they transition into him as an adult.  The hitch with this commercial was that our little actor who plays him as a child can’t yet ride a two wheel bike, so we had to hire his cousin for a stunt double.

It’s been so much fun shopping for all the vintage toys and clothes for these commercials, but I think the purchase my boss has loved best was when he bought the Stingray bike we used in this one.

Some behind the scenes fun is that while the actor can ride a two-wheeler, the ramp was actually over two feet high, and was a little too steep.  So we belted him to the ramp and blew a lawn blower at him for some of the commercial, and for the rest, we actually had two large, musclebound men at the end of the ramp, and as the boy rode to the end, one man caught him while another man caught the bike.  It took nearly three hours of nothing but him riding to the end of the ramp before we got just the right footage to play for the fifteen seconds you see here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrymmhMIMUk

Once again, I added the link rather than embedding the video so that you can click on it and go to our YouTube page… and hopefully, you’ll “Like” the video on YouTube so that my boss will keep me around(Thank you very much!)

P.S. As before, my Proud Mama Moment is that my son Jeremy did the audio engineering for the music and the voiceover.

Time to talk:  What kind of bike did you have when you were a kid?  What was the riskiest bike trick you ever did?

‘Tis the Season

I bet from my title, you can already guess the theme of today’s Throwback Thursday.  However, you might still be wondering how I plan on incorporating that into something currently happening in my life.

When I was a kid, the best Christmases were of course the ones where I got the best presents.  The year I turned two was a great Christmas.  Three days after my birthday, Santa came and left me a purple tricycle, a green desk that was a chalkboard on the top and a flip-open magnetic board inside, and my favorite Raggedy Ann doll that I carried everywhere until about three years later when my dog ate her head.

Three days after I turned eight was also terrific, because that year, I got two baby dolls instead of just one!  I wasn’t much of a Barbie girl, but I loved playing babies.  However, I never kept their names that came on the boxes.  I don’t know if you can read these dolls’ boxes or not, but the big one’s name was Fran, and the little one’s name was Agatha!  YIKES!  Those sounded more like grandmother dolls than baby dolls.  Their names were immediately changed to Heidi (from the book by the sane name), and – get this – Phronsie (from the book Five Little Peppers and How They Grew)!  Yes, really!  What was I thinking?

These days, the best Christmases are the ones where I can afford to get my kids tons of gifts, get my friends something nice, actually pull off all the surprises I have planned, and have the rest of the day to do something relaxing.

So why did I choose to talk about Christmas today?  Because today, I’m actually busy directing and producing six commercials that I wrote for my boss, and one of them is a Christmas ad.  That means that despite the 90° that feels like 113° (UGH!), last weekend, I spent both days actually shopping for Christmas items to use (Yes, Hobby Lobby actually has a lot of their Christmas stuff out already!) and putting up two Christmas trees.

We’re also filming a Thanksgiving commercial, so my sister Michelle has been doing tons of holiday baking this week.  And we’re filming Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day commercials, so I got to make a “Memory Wall” which I can’t wait to photograph and share with you.  And the two remaining commercials are not for holidays.

So, tell me, how are you spending your day?  What’s the earliest you’ve ever cooked a Thanksgiving meal or put up and decorated a Christmas tree?  What’s the earliest you’ve ever shopped for holiday decorations?