coley kennedy chats about life, career, and music

His smooth and cool voice is nothing short of euphonic and emotionally evoking. His life is equally entertaining and inspirational.

An interview with Jackson native Coley Kennedy revealed a stunning life story about passion, following dreams, and letting nature take its course. Kennedy grew up in Jackson, graduating from Lumen Christi High School, then lived in each Nashville and Chicago for a while before moving back to Jackson in 2013.

Kennedy is a singer/songwriter and photographer. He has music records with the bands Welcome to Ashley, The Buddies, and Black Vincent (whose name is a nod to the Vincent motorcycle). His signature sound is soulful and smooth, and features raw, meaningful lyrics. As a self-proclaimed “rock-n-roll guy,” Kennedy’s music is primarily dubbed Alternative/Indie.

1950’s Rockabilly played an influential role in Kennedy’s early singer and songerwriter career. The Stones, The Clash, Echo and The Bunnymen, Morrissey, Sinatra, and Psychedelic Furs are just a sampling of the bands that shaped his style today. As a kid, he would listen to his dad’s records and write the lyrics down so he could sing along. He eventually learned to play the mandolin well enough that his friends could then polish up whatever songs he came up with and turn them into recordable songs.

His style is original and unique, embracing grit and emotion that other music tends to downplay. “Today’s music is largely dumbed down and manufactured,” says Kennedy. The authentic sounds he embraces in his music are independent of much of what you will hear on the radio today.

Settled comfortably into his adult life, Kennedy is fully living his dream as he photographs under the moniker Stay Gold Photo. He takes part in photography exhibitions and would eventually like to create a book with his fine art photography.

Kennedy has always loved the art of photography, but never thought of it as a career. Taking pictures and experimenting with black and white film has been a long-time passion. He attended Watkins Art Institute in Nashville in 1992, where he studied photography. He learned about slides, film, and the inner workings of beautiful photography. However, he wasn’t in the mindset to put his dreams into play in reality. “I didn’t have the ego,” he says.

Spring, summer, and fall tends to bring ample senior portrait photography, along with weddings and family sessions. “I’ve learned that through the winter, rather than get down about the fact that I’m not as busy as other times of the year, it’s a good time for me to relax and do things that motivate me artistically.”

His current muse is horses – Mustang horses. “It’s really neat. There’s just something about shooting in the snow, especially these horses,” he says. If he gathers enough photos that he especially likes, he is hoping to exhibit them as an equine photography series in the spring.

But his music career is far from a thing of the past. The Buddies, which Kennedy is a part of along with a group of friends from Nashville, recorded a couple songs last year – one a Halloween tune, the other a Christmas theme. Despite the distance between him and his group, The Buddies collaborated using the microphones on their cell phones and a program called Garage Band. Listening to the songs, most people would probably never know the group wasn’t together in a studio recording the songs as normal.

These fun songs lit a fire under Kennedy again, inspiring him and the rest of The Buddies gang to record in person again. The group plans to get together in February, in Nashville, to record at least five new tracks for an EP. “One of the great things about recording with them is that something just happens when we get together in the studio, we can get a lot done quickly,” he says.

Kennedy resides in Jackson County with his wife Jenn, daughter Hattie, and son Jude. The creative bug is evident in his kids as well, as “music, art, and riding things are popular activities” in the Kennedy’s world. Hattie loves art, dance, and horses; Jude is into rock n’ roll and motorcycles. Both kids have recently taken up playing guitar. “Jude is obsessed with The Strokes. I gave him a pair of headphones so he can watch videos of his favorites – The Killers, The Strokes, The Clash. He sings along with them,” says Kennedy.

From left to right – Hattie, Jude, Coley, and Jenn Kennedy. Photo taken by Coley as a “self-porchtrait” during quarantine.

The pandemic didn’t stop the Kennedy’s from enjoying music endeavors together. The video below, featuring Hattie and Jude, was shot by Coley as a fun family project. The song is called “Let’s Get Happy” and is appropriate for today’s times. “A beautiful acoustic version of this song has also been recorded by Nashville’s The Smoking Flowers, featuring backing vocals by John McCauley of Deer Tick (one of my favorite modern bands),” says Kennedy.


The Hotel Tavern: Lunchtime Review

Most Springport residents are aware of the Hotel Tavern, the town’s one-and-only bar. Located at 119 E. Main Street in Springport, Michigan, the tavern is situated across the street from Chubby’s Cafe; however, the bar remains a staple for local dining.

The Hotel Tavern sits independently on Main street, with the Nevin Alexander Insurance Agency to the West and the Village of Springport offices to the East.

I spent the day in Springport today and realized I hadn’t planned a lunch. The cafe is currently closed on Mondays and it isn’t the right season for the Dairy Kreme, so the Hotel was an easy choice. I haven’t ordered food from there in a couple of years, at least, but heard they came under new ownership since the last time, so I was curious.

While the bar is known for its handmade pizza and Friday fish fry, their menu features various dishes ranging from comfort food to quick bites. The appetizer menu consists of unique items, such as fried green beans, fried gizzards, and beer-battered fries. Soups and salads are available, ranging from taco and chef salads to chili and soups of the day. Don’t forget to ask about dessert specials, as they often serve up homemade classics such as pineapple upside-down cake, German chocolate cake, and pies.

After a half-hour of deliberating between the Monday goulash special and some other menu items, I settled on the steak hoagie. This version consists of grilled steak, onions, and mushrooms loaded on a hoagie bun, topped with cheese and pepper rings. The meal includes chips and a pickle for eight bucks. Or, you can swap out the chips for fries. I upgraded to fries as I was curious if they were as good as I remember them.

It is common to see white American cheese, Provolone, or Swiss; however, this particular hoagie featured creamy, melty cheddar cheese. I ordered mine as is, with the mushrooms, onions, and pepper rings.

Upon receiving my food in the to-go container, the first order of business was to check and see if the bun was soggy. Quite often, menu items served on bread or buns will turn mushy- in part due to the contents sitting on the bread and also from the moist heat trapped in the container. Some restaurants lightly toast their buns, which can help with sogginess, but is not necessarily failproof.

This particular hoagie bun held its consistency nicely. The bun appeared to have been lightly toasted; however, it maintained a fresh bun’s appeal. This hearty sandwich was mouth-watering – the contents were clearly fresh, the entirety was hot, and the proportion was plenty. I had zero complaints. As for the fries – they were just as I remembered, with a perfectly crisp exterior and a softer interior. With a dash of salt and a dollop of ketchup, these are easily my favorite fries in the area.

Whenever I order a steak hoagie, I have difficulty not comparing it to Jackson’s Southside Deli. They have the best, in my opinion. This time, though, I was pleasantly surprised at the Hotel Tavern’s take on this comforting dish. The number one spot in my book (for the hoagie) just might be theirs.

Besides the food, the Hotel Tavern’s staff was pleasant and their service prompt. My order was ready when I arrived to pick it up, and was still hot when I sat down to eat it minutes later. The welcoming customer service, hometown atmosphere, and delicious eats at the Hotel Tavern make for a great little pit stop heading through town.

Michigan woman’s labor of love featured on daytime talkshow; tik tok videos go viral

A Michigan woman is making headlines as Tik Tok videos about her stuffed animal restoration projects are going viral and millions of people are catching wind of this heartfelt service.

Danielle’s own childhood stuffed animal is named Rabbit and is 34 years old. (Photo Credit: Christine MacIntyre)

Many of us own(ed) a special stuffed companion that remained with us throughout childhood, possibly into adulthood. Danielle Allore-Taylor found her calling through her recent business idea. She recognized a need among those of us with long-time stuffed animal friends who have endured a lot over the years. 

Having lost her job temporarily due to the pandemic, Danielle reverted to an old passion and hobby – stuffed animal restoration. “I was always the stuffed animal kid. There was always something stuffed and fluffy in my hands at all times,” she says. Her personal favorite, Rabbit, is still with her after 34 years. Over the years, her mom repeatedly mended Rabbit for Danielle, sewing him over and over again. “She never once told me he was too old or worn, and never once questioned me about getting rid of him – she knew how special he was (and is) to me.” 

(Photo Credit: Christine MacIntyre)

She initially posted a flyer about her restorations publicly on Facebook, but it didn’t gain momentum. She caught her big break when a woman from Illinois contacted her about restoring her boyfriend’s stuffed dog, Max, as a gift. And so, Danielle’s stuffed animal restoration business, Fluff, was born.

When Max arrived, Danielle decided to create a video of the restoration from start to finish. She posted it on TikTok on December 1, 2020 and was shocked when the video “Max” went viral with over five million views.

US Weekly and Buzzfeed showed her video, news outlets are catching wind, and the Drew Barrymore daytime talk show also did a feature on her, which aired January 19. Her often tear-jerking and heartfelt videos continue to reach millions of people as they are shared and liked across social media platforms. 

To streamline the business end, she developed a website where people can see examples of her work and inquire about services. Her website also features information about the scholarship restoration fund – a donation-based fund that enables restorations for those individuals who can’t afford the service. Donations are made through PayPal, and a form on the website allows those interested to see if they qualify for the scholarship.

Donations of stuffed animals, stuffing, and other materials are accepted and appreciated, as Danielle aims to maintain momentum and help as many as she possibly can through her restoration business. (Photo Credit: Christine MacIntyre)

Stuffed animals are widely acknowledged as emotional companions, as many people take their stuffed buddies with them throughout life’s journeys. Over time, these special friends become tattered, torn, and dirty – stained with tears and disheveled from snuggles and hugs. These physical representations of our soul are evidence of a special bond that can’t be easily broken. Rather than throwing them out or donating them, people often hold onto them long after they’ve served their purpose. Danielle’s goal is to restore the stuffed animals and help emotionally repair the human to which it belongs – a profound service in today’s world.

Stuffed companions that find their way to Danielle receive tender loving care throughout the process of bathing, cleansing, drying, stitching, re-stuffing, brushing, and replacing missing details such as eyes. (Photo Credit: Christine MacIntyre)

Dominique Linden sent her teddy bear to Danielle for restoration after hearing about her work. Linden says she has had her bear for about 28 years – “Throughout my whole life, she’s been there in some capacity. Sometimes front and center, other times packed away.” Her emotional attachment to the bear developed over the years, sharing some of the most challenging days with the bear by her side. 

As an adult, she had placed the bear in storage. “The longer I had her and the dirtier she got, the harder it got to look at her,” she says – the stuffed bear was a reminder of hard times. “I had been seriously considering getting rid of her since I was ready to move on…,” Linden states. 

She reached out to Danielle as soon as she found out about Fluff, knowing that this was the reason she couldn’t convince herself to part with her bear. “I have felt so much gratitude that it was [Danielle] offering this special service. I wouldn’t have trusted anyone else with it because the emotional ties are so strong,” says Linden. “Now she’s back front and center, and she’s softer and her original color again.”

As Danielle carefully replenishes the fluff within, cleanses the matted fur, and restores each unique project to its glory, she creates the hope that humans, too, can have a fresh start. Fluff is about more than mending belongings composed of fabric, thread, and stuffing – it is about mending hearts, too. Linden states, “The work that Danielle is doing is more important than just the surface level, which is already so cool. Inner child work is getting more popular and for a good reason.” 

Danielle gently stitches a stuffed monkey’s bowtie back on after he has been washed and dried, combed, and made new. (Photo Credit: Christine MacIntyre)

This service is more than a side hustle for Danielle, as these belongings are essentially extensions of the individuals they belong. Each stuffed animal who finds itself in her care receives so much more than mending, stitching, and stuffing. 

(Photo Credit: Darren Taylor)

coronavirus: in retrospect

I hesitate as I write this because, if you’re anything like me, you’re tired of hearing about COVID-19. I get it. But hear me out. I wanted to have a record to look back on years from now when we are (hopefully) in a better place.

I was presented the opportunity to cover the virus in our local newspaper before it was even really a thing. It was February and we had only heard tid bits about the virus’ presence in other countries. I don’t remember paying it much mind. The article, however, caused me to shutter, as a local family was trapped on a cruise ship in the middle of the Pacific ocean. The hysteria was only just beginning in other countries and ports at all the cruise ship’s scheduled stops denied them entry. There were no positive cases on board; rather, the hysteria stemmed from the steady rise in confirmed cases and deaths resulting from the virus, including 26 confirmed cases and one death in Hong Kong, the original departure point.

A phone interview with the family provided an inside glimpse at what they were feeling at the time. Naturally, the situation was nerve-wracking and what was intended to be a pleasant, family vacation ended up a nightmare. While I was shocked at the seriousness of the situation, I never thought about the potential for this virus to reach the United States, let alone affect me on a personal level.

Within months, schools closed. A two week ‘academic pause’ turned into a lengthy hiatus. Prom was stolen from seniors, as were most graduation ceremonies, open houses, and sporting events.

Parents were forced to rearrange work schedules, if they weren’t laid off due to the wide-spread closure of businesses.

And then positive cases of COVID-19 began sprouting up across the U.S. Some blamed media outlets for fear mongering, while others worried the virus was being taken too lightly. The crack down the middle of the nation’s people became all too evident during the coming months.

Summer was lacking, to say the least. There were no concerts, fairs, or gatherings. Even the local Fourth of July parade, typically beaming with people donning red, white, and blue, was amiss. Even the parks were closed. Suddenly yellow caution tape was strewn across slides and swings that once supported laughing children yelling, “Mommy, watch me!”.

At least we had the warmth of the sun, the refreshing lake waters, camping and campfires, and kayaking. There was a light at the end of the tunnel – it was only to be for a few weeks, until the numbers of positive cases decreased.

We had no idea that before the summer ended, many of us would be under a state-wide shut down and a mask mandate. The night life that once consisted of bustling streets, brightly lit fast food signs, and 24-hour big box stores suddenly disintegrated as if the Earth stood still.

School resumed in the fall. Most schools in the area gave students and their families the option to return to face-to-face learning or to learn virtually from home. My family decided to take advantage of face-to-face since no one in our household is high risk. Also, my kids were in desperate need of some real structure.

But then positive cases started popping up even more than before, causing schools to shut down entirely. I learned that there is a reason why I don’t homeschool my kids – I’m simply not cut out for it. Trying to force a first-grade boy to stare at a tablet for hours and complete homework when he would rather be playing proved to be a challenge. I had begun to give up on a losing battle, when they announced that schools would resume after the holidays. I only had to hold out until January.

Christmas shopping was mainly done online, as many stores were either closed entirely or were limited on stock. There were shortages on everything from essentials, like toilet paper, to frivolous items such as makeup. I’m sure the Amazon drivers were kept extremely busy.

A lot of people suffered a great deal more than me last year, too. Not only were events cancelled and stores and restaurants closed, many people were forced to spend the holiday season alone, in solitude. Nursing homes weren’t allowing visitors; neither were hospitals. People who were either sick, elderly, dying, or all of the above were left in isolation within the confines of their rooms and the places in which they resided. No one was allowed in. Pictures surfaced all over social media of families gathering at a loved one’s window, hands pressed together separated by glass, in celebration of a birthday, or in some cases to say their last goodbyes.

The number of small locally owned businesses that went under during this time was (and still continues to be) devastating. While communities are rallying together to support these small shops and restaurants, the loss of income has hit too hard for several of them to survive the lengthy stay-at-home order. Carry-out simply doesn’t pay the bills, in some cases, and in others it isn’t an option at all.

And the masks. I will never forget the masks. While we are still under a mask mandate at the time of this post, I am still in a weird frame of mind after all these months. I wear a mask in public places, although I’m not entirely convinced as to whether they work or not. I have heard arguments on both sides. I wear it, not as a sheep or a follower, but as a kind, compassionate person who believes it is simply the right thing to do at this time. To each his own.

Walking past person after person whose face is covered all except their eyes is taxing. I never realized how much people’s facial expressions and evident emotion adds to everyday life. It often feels like we are all zombies walking around aimlessly during an apocalypse.

I’m dreaming of summer. Winter in Michigan is not my cup of tea, nor do I know many people who necessarily ‘enjoy’ this time of year. The roads get bad, the wind bites at your skin, and everyone seems to have a runny nose. While the snow is pretty, I can’t wait for warm 80 degree days when I can spend more time outside. A good dose of sunshine would not only be healthy, but also beneficial to my emotional state.

It is unclear whether or not this summer will be any more promising in terms of events, things to do, places to go, and such, but I am determined to make the most of it. Let it be known: I am making a promise to myself and to my family that we will get outside more frequently and enjoy our time together. After all, not everyone will be able to say they made it through a pandemic together when this is all said and done. Possibly not even me. Tomorrow’s aren’t promised, but the least we can do is try to live each day as if it is our last.

Love fiercely, laugh deeply, and enjoy the little things in life.

remembering the sunflowers

I took a weekend trip to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio last summer (2020). While the trip was far from normal due to COVID-19 restrictions, this lovely field of sunflowers that we happened upon on our way into the park brightened my day. I still think about those sunflowers and can’t wait to visit again next summer.

Maria’s Field of Hope at Cedar Point was planted in memory of Maria McNamara who lost a courageous battle with cancer. The foundation hopes the sunflower fields being planted will act as a symbol of love, to honor the children battling cancer and those who have lost the fight.

Maria’s Field of Hope at Cedar Point boasts more than 240,000 sunflowers on eight acres of land planted in honor and celebration of children battling cancer and those who have been lost to the fight. The field is accessible to visitors entering Cedar Point amusement park.

The beautiful sunflowers at Maria’s Field of Hope at Cedar Point are a great reminder of the hope and beauty that every day brings, along with providing great photo opportunities for visitors.

Book Review: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

No spoilers!

My choice reads as of late have mainly been historical fiction, but Water for Elephants piqued my curiosity as I love old, vintage type circus themes. I set out to read this book hoping for an easy read- something to enjoy over the holidays.

This atmospheric novel takes place in the circus setting circa 1932. Right off the bat, Gruen draws the reader in through her gritty showmanship of characters, setting, and plot. Personalities are developed in the way only true writers can do, complete with true and unwavering personality traits.

Newly orphaned Jacob Jankowski finds himself adrift, entering a world of various freaks, drifters, and misfits. The plot details his time aboard the circus train, developing the climax further at each stop the circus makes.

Gruen utilizes compelling details to capture the readers’ imagination, foreseeing which characters will be cherished and which are lacking in redeeming qualities. The combination of depredation and restitution enhance the plotline even further, as the reader becomes more captivated and intrigued with each turn of the page.

The love story is beautifully intertwined, and sense of time and place remain illuminated throughout the duration of the novel. This was a quick, easy read- mostly because I had a hard time putting it down. This is one of those reads that make it easy to be consumed, fully enveloped inside the story itself.

Let me know if you read the book and how you like it. I’m also curious to know how the movie turned out!

aristotle: on aesthetics

The following excerpt was completed for an Aesthetics course while working toward my Bachelor’s Degree. I believe this project is from 2016. I love looking back through essays and college papers!

Aristotle actualizes that poetry, and other art forms, are not imitations in their whole form (Aristotle 41). He recognizes that there are qualities within the nature of the constituent parts which differ from other of the same type, of species, of arts (i.e., other poems) (41). Aristotle contends that while the arts may be similar and imitative in some ways, they vary in kind, object, and/or how they are imitated (41). Repeated use of color, form, rhythm, language, and harmony are inevitable during composition; but, the composer’s usage of these are what comprises the main differences (41). Poets write prose in metres; flute-players combine rhythm and harmony; dancers employ rhythm alone (41). Each is a separate entity, consisting of its own qualities.

The imitator’s objects—lyrical song, poem, painting, etc—are diversified through the imitator’s own attitudes, perceptions, emotions, experiences, and other diversities of human character (Aristotle 42). Sometimes the audience is able to relate to the qualities embedded in the work; other times, “the agents represented must be either above our own level or goodness, or beneath it” (42). Therefore, one cannot insist that all arts are purely imitative of others, as they each engender unique qualities which are infused into the product by its maker.

A comedic play is a different representation than that of a tragedy, as Aristotle notes, “a third difference in these arts is in the manner in which each kind of object is represented” (42). When the means and the kind of object are the same in the imitation, there are bound to be differences in how the object is executed. For example, Homer utilizes both narration and acting as an assumed character in his works (42). In contrast, some may utilize only narration, or some may act the story out and utilize dramatics (42).

Aristotle says that imitation is an innate feature of human beings, as humans first learn through imitation (42). While some works of imitation demonstrate another’s suffering or devastation, people “delight to view the most realistic representations” of their experiences through art (42). As a person views the imitations, whether poetry, paintings, a play, or whatever other works, he learns something and gathers meaning (42). Part of the pleasure in viewing “imitations” is the initial observation of how the imitator executed it, improved on it, or utilized colors, for example (43). Similarly, poetry is broken up into various kinds, based on the types of men presenting it, as Comedy regards those who are “ridiculous” or “ugly” and tragedy regards those with a more serious tone by which actions and life are imitated (42).

Aristotle goes on to explain the six parts, another factor differentiating one from the other, as “they differ also in their constituents, some being common to both and others peculiar to Tragedy” (Aristotle 44). The main elements of Tragedy, Comedy and Epic poetry, then, are spectacle, character, fable, diction, melody and thought (44). Each formative element lends itself to the story, while some cannot exist without the other.

Plot, an essential element, consists of a beginning, middle, and end—undoubtedly an imitation of all plot layouts (Aristotle 45). Plot cannot be avoided, since “one imitation is always of one thing, so in poetry the story, as an imitation of action, must represent one action, a complete whole, with its several incidents so closely connected that the transposal or withdrawal of any one of them will disjoin and dislocate the whole” (46).  In other words, a story is not a story without a plot, a song is not a song without melody, and a plot is not a plot without action.

Further, each plot consists of certain parts essential to the type of story. Aristotle says that the story, the actions, arise out of the plot’s structure (46). Peripety and Discovery show action; Suffering defines the action (47). These are known to be “formative elements in the whole” which are the parts of Tragedy (47). In addition, each tragedy consists of a Prologue, Episode, Exode, Parode and Stasimon (47). Therefore, to invoke a tragic experience consisting of pity and fear of the audience, a “poet has to produce it by a work of imitation,” as the poet acknowledges the “right way” according to his audiences’ desires (48). Put simply: there is a “certain kind of plot required for tragedy”, just as certain elements are required for song or painting (49).

Finally, Aristotle says there are certain necessary and probable elements which must be utilized to portray without ambiguity. A painter aiming to paint a man’s portrait will need to include common features of a face (i.e., eyes, nose, mouth) and another painter’s portrait will likely include these same elements. This is imitative, yes, but essential if one is to successfully portray a specific thing such as an “angry man” or a sense of sorrow in a play.

Works Cited

Aristotle. “Poetics.” Aesthetics: A Comprehensive Anthology edited by Steven Cahn & Aaron Meskin. Blackwell Publishing, 2008, pp. 41-50.

How to Survive Summer with Kids

I’m jealous, mama, of the way you seem to have it all together! Have you ever caught yourself thinking this way about your friends or acquaintances?! I do it all the time. I am that mom watching other moms with envy, wishing I could “mom” as easily as them.

When summer break started for my two littles, ages 5 and 10, I could feel the familiar emotions welling up inside me. It’s hard to put a finger on what the emotion is exactly. I am so happy to have my little ones home with me, to not have to get up early every morning with someplace we NEED to be by a certain time, to avoid the early morning battles of getting dressed or late night shuffle of getting homework done and teeth brushed. On the other hand, I am terrified, as I think about the previous summers when I have left the gate with a positive attitude, only to end up feeling defeated after a mere 24 hours of all of us being home.

I’m sure lots of parents experience mixed emotions about summer. The kids have ample structure during the school year, with their weekdays looking something like this… Wake up at 6:30, eat breakfast, go to school at 8:15, eat lunch at 12, come home at 4:15, go to softball practice, eat dinner, do homework, have a snack, go to bed. If you take the element of school out of the equation you have a mess that might look more like this… Wake up at 10, eat breakfast, watch tv, eat, play, eat, watch tv, eat lunch, play, be forced outside by parents, eat, watch tv, eat dinner, nag to go somewhere and do something, play on electronics, eat, go to bed at 10. Yikes! I am so guilty of letting the summer days look like this, simply because I feel paralyzed! You see, I suffer from mental illness (bipolar and PTSD, specifically). The main thing you need to know about my mental illness for the purpose of this post is that I feel emotion 100% stronger than the average person. What makes you excited would probably make me over the moon, once in a lifetime kind of ecstatic. What makes you a little blue probably turns my whole world upside down and makes me feel like I can’t possibly go on. What feels like a normal obstacle to you would likely feel like Mt Everest to me. This is how my brain is wired and it is SO hard to get past. Imagine trying to go about your day to day life as a parent and ALL that it entails, except with your hands cuffed behind your back. Normal tasks suddenly seem impossible.

We can probably all agree that having kids at home brings on a whole new set of circumstances, such as the inevitable “I’m bored”, “I’m hungry” and the typical sibling arguments. For me, these situations, however normal they may be, create a paralyzing fear inside. I say paralyzing because I become so anxious, fearful and overwhelmed that I end up doing nothing– feeling trapped– until the summer has literally past me by. Back-to-school always hits me hard, with mixed emotions. I am left feeling sorry for myself and for my kiddos that I couldn’t muster up the courage to DO something, anything! I am left feeling defeated about the unsuccessful summer and relieved that they are going back to school all at the same time. I am left beating myself up for being a cruddy mama. I am left to scroll the other mama’s facebook pages, envious of their seemingly glorious summers with their kids, filled with swimming, camping, bike rides, zoo trips, and tons of other fun things! Why can’t I be like that? Why do I have to have a mental illness? Why me…

In my 10 years of being a mama, I can honestly say I have only ever taken my kid(s) to the grocery store with me once or twice. I can count on one hand the number of times I have left my house alone with my kids for any reason other than driving them to school or meeting up with my husband (i.e., to go to the park, to go do something). This sounds crazy, I know. It isn’t because I don’t want to, but because I don’t feel capable. Believe me, my to-do list of errands is just as big as anyone’s. I simply don’t feel like I can take my kids with me. I’m scared, anxious and nervous, I’m sad, and above all, I’m downright MAD. I’m mad at myself for letting my illness control me for so long, in this important aspect of my life! I literally only have 18 summers to enjoy my babies… and even that isn’t guaranteed.

If you can relate to me in any way so far, let me know! I’d love to hear your stories and experiences!

So, what now?! With the help of my supportive hubby, I have devised a plan for summer that is going to help me enjoy and maximize my time with my precious little ones! We had a painful (for me) discussion about what my hang-ups are when it comes to leaving the house alone with my kids. We discussed my fears, what makes me the most anxious, what types of things I enjoy, my favorite places to go, and…most essential… what changes I could make to help me overcome this slump! Here’s a snapshot of what we came up with, based on my answers. Your plan might look a little different than this, and that’s totally fine!! We decided that having a plan, ANY PLAN, is better than diving head first into uncharted territory!

We discussed ways to begin. First and foremost, start small. I can’t tell you how important this is. I’ve had too many miserably failed attempts simply because I was trying to go all out (like taking my kids to a huge carnival by myself), or because my expectations were too high (5-year olds are bound to complain about something), or because I didn’t prepare properly. My hubby encouraged me by suggesting I start out with a small goal, such as “take both kids to the park for a picnic lunch”. This might seem a little ordinary and mundane to some people, but to me it would be a huge accomplishment. Then, I would need to determine what I need to do to prepare for that goal. To plan ahead for a picnic with two kids, it’s wise to bring a small cooler of some sort with drinks, prepare food ahead of time, and gather a blanket or camping chairs for seating. Other ideas might be to include sunscreen and a ball, jump rope or other little activities to help entertain the kids. Before heading out, it is important to know that this isn’t going to be a perfect outing, regardless of how well you’ve planned. Someone might get hungry even after they’ve ate, someone might be too hot or too bored, someone might get stung by a bee and someone might throw a fit about leaving. IT’S OKAY! You can’t control everything all the time. I’ve learned that the less I let myself get worked up about little obstacles such as these, the less my kids feed into them. After all, mishaps won’t be remembered, only the energy you bring. They really feed off my positive attitude and carefree, go-with-the-flow vibe!

Here are a few tips I added that are essential to remember, in my book!

One of my biggest hangups, along with the emotional aspect of things, is that I am very unorganized when it comes to this stuff. I’m an efficient and organized secretary, party planner and house-cleaner, but when it comes to mom-business, no way! I have a tendency to wait until the day of, only to become overwhelmed and hung up on making a last minute, frantic decision. Of course, I end up doing nothing! This brings me to my next point… staying home is okay! I compiled a list of things to do at home for the kids- a variety of boredom busters for the kiddos! And, in case your mama never told you, being bored is OKAY too!! No one says you HAVE to entertain your kids 24/7. Summer is a great time for the kids to get their creativity flowing with unstructured free time.

This is about as unstructured as it gets… we were creating potions and casting chants with mud, rocks, leaves, and used cups from Subway. Note the potion smeared across both our faces.

If and when I do want to venture outside the home, I found that it is more manageable to stick to places I know and things that are familiar to me already. For me, venturing out for the first time with both kids is not going to be the ideal time to scope out a new hiking trail. I can reserve new places and things for when my hubby is joining us… just in case! That familiarity will help me, in that I thrive off knowing what to expect. Of course, you can’t always count on the expected, because sometimes things change. I live in Michigan, where the weather, like me, is bipolar. The lake day I had planned with the kids could start off with sunny skies and 80 degree weather, only to take a turn with rain showers and a cold front by noon. This happens… but it doesn’t have to ruin your day! Having a backup plan is a great idea! Instead of going to the lake, we could keep driving down I-94 to McDonald’s play place!

Another go-to is reaching out to my support system. Without them, I would be an even bigger mess. I have a few close, trustworthy friends that I can call at any time, day or night, and they will help me. Sometimes, all it takes is some encouragement and positive vibes from them and I am good to go! Other times, I need to vent and ugly cry face-to-face. Either way, I know my support peeps are right there when I need them. Just knowing this helps a ton– like the placebo effect!

You see, having something solid, something I can count on is what I thrive off! A plan of action, written down well in advance is exactly what I needed to turn summer around and make it enjoyable for all! While I can’t always guarantee the best day ever, I can guarantee my attempts in making it the best possible summer for myself and for my kids. Check out this list of free and budget friendly activities to do with your littles this summer! Notice: they are nothing super extravagant, but they are sure to please your kiddos and make YOU feel like you had an active summer with them!

This list can be added to and edited for what will work for you and your circumstances! I’m sure as you scan my list, tons more ideas will start coming to mind! I keep thinking of more as I’m typing, like have a water gun fight, make foot/hand print art, or make a donation pile! Whatever you do, just remember, do your best because your best is good enough, mama!!

Venting, Openly, About Spirit Airlines, and Others…

It’s not just you, Spirit Airlines. It’s all of your kind. Every airline we have used has resulted in the same traumatic experience. Some people won’t understand my story and just as many won’t care. That’s ok, because my intent is not to gain pity, followers, or “likes”; rather, my intent is to make airlines aware of these faults that have caused an ungodly number of awful experiences for my family. Maybe once they are aware, steps can be taken to ensure others in similar situations will have a more pleasant experience. As I write this, here I sit at the terminal, anxious to get this over and done.

My family has been fortunate enough to fly nearly every spring break for as long as I can remember. I have a plethora of spring break memories– my grandparents’ winter house in Paisley, Daytona Beach, Disney World, and for the latter balf of my life, Redington Shores on the Gulf side. Each year has been jam packed with laughter, family, friends, surf, sand and sun. The one downfall to every trip, other than the select few years we drove, has been the experience at the airport.

Yes, it saves SO much time and headache! Two hours compared to more than 18 hours!? Not to mention traffic, bathroom breaks, food and gas stops and the prolonged dread of having to return to reality (post-vacation blues is THE worst). Flying is definitely a convenience to us. The sad thing is we end up stressed out, anxious, and panicked before even leaving our home state of Michigan and long before heading back home from what we know as paradise. Isn’t going to always way more fun than coming back!?

We travel with a group of seven, but that has varied over the years. The one constant has been my sister, a 36- year old confined to a wheelchair. She is physically and mentally handicapped as a result of a tragic car accident at age three. She requires my mother’s care 24/7. You can imagine the level of tenacity required to care for an adult son/daughter and the toll it could take on the mind and body… especially after 33 years. Think about your physically exhausting 40 hours per week job, but make it all night and all day with no breaks in between. It shouldn’t be too hard to imagine, at this point, how nice a warm, beach vacation sounds. If you live in Michigan, you hear me loud and clear, especially as we just emerged from a bitter winter. If you are a parent or caretaker of a special needs individual, I’m talking to you, too. My mom thinks about this trip months in advance, even though my sister’s requirements don’t change or magically become less demanding while we are away. But, vacation is vacation. I can’t forget to add how important the vacation is to my sister, as well. I believe tranquility comes to her easier at the beach than it does other places. You should see her smile in my recent photos of her sitting by the water or hear her squeals as we wheeled her out into some light waves!

At the airport, anxiety weighs on us as much as our luggage. What will happen this time? What will go wrong going through security? How many times will my sister get upset or scared because she doesn’t understand? Will these people be as pushy as the last time? Will her wheelchair get back to us unharmed this time? As excited as we are to get to where we’re going, tension remains high through the entire experience, until we leave the airport.

Anyone who knows my sister is likely to tell you she is a highly sensitive woman, both emotionally and physically. She cries and laughs intensely and takes more delight in socializing than anyone I know. However, she is peculiar about who touches her and who pushes her wheelchair, which is basically an extension of her body. She has grown accustomed to certain people over the years and has her defenses ready for everyone else. She will talk to you and give you as many hugs as you want, but she doesn’t enjoy people coming up spontaneously or unannounced, touching her. She also doesn’t like her feet messed with in any way, due to their extreme sensitivity. If her boundaries of comfort are crossed, she may cry, become tense, display agitation, yell, feel scared or feel violated. It is highly probable that her disapproval would be blatantly obvious, even without knowing her.

We all know airport security has been amped up since 9/11, causing stricter rules and regulations as to what can go through security and how thoroughly each traveler is checked. Since my sister can’t walk, her and my mom go to a seperate checkpoint, where an employee does a physical pat down and through security check. Along with a full body check, there are times when they have had to remove her shoes, to swipe them for residue. This is protocol– I understand. What I could never figure out is why on Earth these employees think it is acceptable to walk up to my sister and just begin grabbing and prodding. Sure, sometimes they briefly start with, “Hello, I’m going to pat you down”. Or my favorite, “Is it ok if I pat you down?”, when they clearly have no Plan B in case she denies them access to her. Inevitably, it is the same story every time we go through security. They abruptly poke and prod and grab, all while my sister experiences anxiety, while begging and pleading with them in her own way.

It doesn’t end there, the discomfort and anxiety. Some how, some way, my sister needs to get on and off the aircraft. This is no simple feat, as she is about 100 lbs, much of which is dead weight, that requires you to carry and maneuver in an akward position. I typically try to be the one to do the heavy lifting, since my dear mama isn’t getting any younger! If you’ve never had to carry someone onto an aircraft before, let me tell you how it works. You can single-handedly carry the passenger on board, as the aisle doesn’t allow for much maneuvering for one person, let alone an extra, helping hand. OR, you can use the provided aisle chair, which squeezes perfectly through the aisle to transport the passenger. (These have always been the options provided in my experience.)

Remember, my sister doesn’t like being touched, and she doesn’t tolerate sitting in hard seats or seats that don’t provide proper support. Imagine our dismay, just last week, when an employee abruptly took control of her wheelchair (equivalent to pulling your baby from your arms and walking away), then proceeded to cram her in an aisle chair, also known as a “straight-back”. My mom kept insisting– thanks, but no thanks! My sister kept yelling, “Ow!” and “Nooo!”. The man showed no sign of empathy or compassion as he proceeded grabbing and cramming, insisting we let him do everything. In fact, he said, “You’re fine”, to my sister! He clearly has no common sense.

There is a reason her wheelchair is designed specific to her body. The thing is…these people don’t take into consideration that perhaps she doesn’t want to be carried by a complete stranger. Perhaps she isn’t capable of sitting in this wretched straight-back chair that appears synonymous with a couple lightly cushioned two-by-fours. And perhaps she doesn’t employ the mentally of your average 36- year old. These people are working for a paycheck, and perhaps tips, nothing more.

I appreciate persistence, but not in this context. Not when my sister’s mother/caretaker is insisting she wants to do it the only way my sister will tolerate and the way that is more feasible for us. Why should we have to beg to handle our own business?? And why should we have to stress over the employees’ pushy attitudes?? Oh, and did I mention the dirty looks we get like we are the ones taking their child away?? Offering these services is courteous and is appreciatied, but demanding compliance or rudly expressing disproval when we refuse the assistance is a slap across the face. Afterwards, we are left to console my sister, which can be a task itself! It takes patience to calm her down and get her to relax (both mentally and physically).

Another common occurrence is that her chair has come back damaged… as in, the chair was fine when they took it to put it under the plane and wasn’t fine when it came up from under the plane once we landed. I know the flight gets bumpy, but I would be willing to bet the damages her wheelchair had sustained were the direct result of being mishandled by staff. I know this because I have witnessed it countless times, as they carelessly toss and jerk the chair around. This chair costs more than my car, and possibly my house, mind you! And it doesn’t seem to matter if we tell them one time or 100, “This wheelchair does not fold or break down in any way”, they always try to force it to fold and condense, typically breaking something in the process.

I have lived this story over and over, every spring break for as long as I can remember. Don’t get me wrong, we have come across some exceptional staff, including security, flight attendants and even pilots who have taken the time to be empathetic and ensure our comfort. Unfortunately, those who have the ability to demonstrate that these gestures are few and far between. Maybe it isn’t in the training manual, maybe it isn’t a familiar topic.

I just wish things were different. I wish my family could go on vacation without having some traumatic experience either at the airport or on the aircraft. I realize nothing can ever be perfect, not completely. I also realize our travels will be slightly different than most, because of our special needs loved one. However, it would be so nice if just once we could all breathe easier and relax a little, knowing we won’t be badgered or tampered with by strangers without an ounce of empathy and thoughtful communication first. Knowing we will be respected and our needs will be heard, rather than ignored.

My kids are starting to notice and, this past trip, they felt the tension, as well. In fact, my ten year old daughter now hates flying because of our unpleasant experience(s) this week. The saddest part just might be the fact that my parents just deal with this, because this is their normal.

This article is not to make anyone mad, or to demand everything always go or way. We are very realistic, sensible people and we know the challenges we are taking on when we book a vacation. My hope is that these words will reach people who do care and who appreciate how simple it would be to remedy these failures. To each of you,  especially those working in customer service, take the time to demonstrate communication skills, including verbalizing and truly listening, and empathy. Treat people and their belongings as if they were yours to value and cherish. What if this was your mother, sister, son, or best friend? I know airports are busy and we are all in a rush, but I promise these simple steps will carry you far. And earn you a whole lot of gratitude from my lovely family! (Haha)! Until you’ve walked (or traveled, in this case, a mile in our shoes, you can never know what it is like, what we go through and experience regularly.

Stop with the “shoulda, woulda, coulda” mentality…

I try not to beat myself up over the past… actions, words, circumstances, etc… It’s counterproductive and can consume a person to the point of lunacy. I suppose it is normal to feel a sense of guilt following a life-changing or mood-altering event. As humans, we tend to maintain a “could’ve, should’ve, would’ve” mentality. How often have you thought back on a situation and wished you had said or done something differently? I can’t count the number of times in my life that I mulled over the past, only to make myself feel worse through self criticism. I wish I would have done this… I should have said that… I’m upset that I couldn’t do this…

I recently came to the stark realization that what I was doing was actually hindering me from moving on and, most importantly, was thwarting my happiness. A few days ago, I was discussing this topic, regret and guilt, with someone who put this into perspective. They told me that instead of focusing on would’ve, should’ve and could’ve, focus on what I was able to do and what I did do. For example, instead of focusing on what you couldn’t do for someone, focus on what you could and did do for that person. Maybe you beat yourself up, wishing you could have been a better son or daughter, granddaughter or friend before losing a loved one. You could easily list everything you wish you would have done or wish you could have said. I promise, this mentality will destroy you. What you can do instead is think back on what you did do and say. Think about those moments you said, “I love you” or shared a holiday with that person. Maybe you engaged in deep conversation over coffee with that person. Focus on those things, be thankful and move on.

The same could be said for future endeavors. Rather than focusing on what you feel you can’t do, focus on what you know you can! You’d be surprised at how empowering this simple shift in mindset can be!

Instead of feeling defeated and beating myself up about not making six digits a year, I will focus on how awesome it is that I have an income that supports my babies and allows us some wiggle room! I’m not sure I will ever make six digits a year, but I do know that I am a smart and capable woman and will continue to provide for my kids.

Instead of worrying that I am insufficient as a mom, I will focus on all the value I bring to my kids’ lives and the fact that I am enough. I might not ever do mommin’ as good as those on t.v. or in the movies, but I know I am the best and only mom for my kids.

There is always going to be something we wish went differently or wish we could go back and re-do. News flash: It’s not possible. We can learn, grow, and try harder than we did before. There might be a second chance. There might not. Either way, just know that you did what you could with what you had in that exact moment.

I hope your mind can rest a little easier tonight knowing that beating yourself up is only holding you back. Change your mindset and focus on all that you are! Accept the past for what it is and move forward knowing you are a wonderful human being! No one could do you better than YOU!