Merry Christmas: Remembering my grandfather

I will always believe in Santa Claus, and with good reason.

My grandfather, Robert Gerald Brown, Sr. was Santa:

Image

This picture is of him, from his days as Santa Claus. Real Beard, Real belly, even the real rosy cheeks.
One year, he even went away during the Holiday season because he was  the Santa Claus at a big mall in the North East.
He was an amazing and a wonderful man.

Grandpa died of Cancer in 2002, just a few months after I got out of the military.
This week, he would have been 81 years old.

In my childhood, I thought he was a Vampire hunter: he owned a shop that made wooden stakes.

He was a Mason, a Shriner. And, from what I remember my mom telling me, a Boy Scout Master when my uncles were younger.
Perhaps the coolest thing about my Grandpa was that in his later years, he ran a business selling foods at carnivals.
It started out as a fundraiser for the Shriner’s hospital, selling ice cream at carnivals and fairs. But, it expanded.
Grandpa Claus sold ice cream, funnel cakes, bloomin’ onions, lemonade, an entire cavalcade of snacks and sweet foods at festivals. And he made sure that he included the entire Brown family in on the business.
Anyone who wanted to, he’d let work with him for a day, or for a week, or for a festival.
I say “wanted to” because working with Grandpa was fun family time for most of us. He enjoyed his work at the fairs, the looks people gave him when they saw Santa scooping Ice Cream or making a funnel cake. He was a reminder to kids at the County Fair to behave because Santa Claus was watching, even in the spring time.

I worked with him only one time, when I was 13,  I think. We drove two hours to Central Georgia for a craft fair. And that day he taught me two important lesson about  sales.
The first was to give things away. He gave away ice cream. He found a local police officer, the boy scout master, and a pair of teenage girls and gave them all a free cone, telling them all “The Shriners tell me I have to give away Ice Cream to on-duty cops/Boy Scout Masters/Girls who are wearing green”  (or some unique identifier about the person). It was his way of showing people, “Hey! Ice Cream! Come Buy some!”

The second was, whenever possible, be the only person selling your goods in a given place. He would only sell ice cream at a fair if there were no other ice cream vendors. The same went with other foods he sold.
And it worked.
Because no one wants ice cream until they see someone else eating a cone.

Grandpa was one of the most extroverted people I know. He could walk up to a complete stranger, and within minutes, strike up a conversation and talk like he’d known the person his whole life. He made friends with ease.

He also served in the military, and when I joined the service, he was very proud of me. To this day, I’m the only of his grand kids to do so (Unless one of my cousins has joined and I’m not aware of it).Christmas of 1984, I was 6 years old and in Kindergarten. That year, I had a doll, Kimberly, who was my child.  Kimberly went with me everywhere until she had an unfortunate incident where my baby sister ripped her head off and was sent to a dolly hospital to be repaired. In the meantime, I was scared, alone, and doll-less in my room.
So that Christmas, Grandpa gave me the one present I think I loved more than almost any other present I’ve ever received.

He bought me April Natasha Brooks: (She was born Cornelia Natasha, but that had to change. Yuck.)

101_0982[1]

Taken Dec 23, 2013. I’ve had her 29 years.

That was the year that the Cabbage Patch dolls were the gift. the Hard gift to find, and all that. Grandpa told me he saw her at the store, and she begged to come home with him, so she could live with me. I fell in love with her at once.

April was not a replacement for Kimberly, she was a supplement, a friend for Kimberly when she came back from being repaired. And someone for Kimberly to play with.  I’ve long-lost Kimberly, but April I still cherish.

I don’t remember wanting one, or asking for one, but April was the present I needed, the toy I love and cherish even now into my *cough* repetitive late twenties.

And it happens every year. At some point in the holiday season– either his birthday (December 21), on Thanksgiving, the first Santa I see, or even when I watch a film, I’ll start to tear up and miss him a little bit. Just a bit.
This year, that was yesterday, when I watched Miracle on 34th street.

Why do I believe in Santa Claus? Why will I always Believe?
Because my Grandpa is  Santa.

And…. the Prologue (or part of it) from my story.

I’m still tentative on the title of my work, but I thought I’d at least take a moment to present my prologue.

migraine

Note: Not my picture, just used for purpose of this post.

As I look back on my life and the decisions I’ve made, I think it all goes back to those blasted headaches. Why couldn’t I be cursed with a less obtrusive backlash, like sunburns, or depression, rage issues, kleptomania, or even a limp? I think I would have even been okay if the backlash the Fates gave me was a drinking problem or gluten intolerance. But no! I get headaches: Soul-crushing, brain-melting, life-ruining headaches. These headaches stopped me doing so much when I was little, and nearly killed me in my youth. 

            People who don’t have brain-pain like mine don’t understand it. I couldn’t make plans, because every time I did, I would have to cancel because at the last-minute, the headaches would dance a tango behind my eyeballs. When I tried working, I would get to work only to find that my brain decided that it would rather throb and ache instead of letting me handle people’s money. I learned quickly that bosses and customers don’t understand headaches as the reason behind not being able to work. Dating was next-to-impossible: no man wants a girlfriend who has to leave halfway through dinner because her head is about to explode.

     But, I should not remain angry with the Fates for the headaches.   Because had it not been for the headaches, and had it not been for Him, I would not be standing here today.

And you? You definitely would not be here, either, on the wrong side of my Divine wisdom and just anger.

 

 

Happy Holidays!

I know I haven’t posted much on this page in the past month, but I wanted to take a moment to wish all my readers a merry Christmas, happy new year, and a joyful solstice.

 

I’ve been hard at work on my first book, a story about a girl who discovers she is the Goddess Athena.

Currently, primary writing is finished and i’m in the editing phases.
I plan on self-publishing in ebook format. It will be available perhaps in February or so.

 

In the meantime, I’m looking for a cover artist.

 

Any takers?

Rough Patch

It’s going to sound like a First World Problem, but I am having a bit of a rough patch right now.

Rent is due, and we’re short by about $90.

My husband has been steadily looking for work, and it’s become something of a nightmare; He’s in the Venn Diagram of “overqualified” and “No experience,” plus he has a gap in work history where I was working and he wasn’t. He was the house husband. And has been my mental rock while I’ve struggled with Fibromyalgia.

It’s my birthday this Thursday, and if I can’t get rent before today, they’re gonna evict me on my birthday.

The complex does not know I’m out of work and trying to get disability. My anxiety won’t let me tell them “Hey, I’m in a bind at the moment.”

I’m gonna try to pull a rabbit out of my hat; maybe I can get the money I need.

I have money coming, but PayPal says my money will be available on Thursday.
I’m selling books. History books that I no longer use or feel connected to, just to make rent. I’m cashing in a savings bond early. I’m hoping I can make it work. Selling my books always feels like selling a piece of my soul. I put a lot of love, care, and affection into my books.

I went to college for ten years. I have a Master’s Degree. My husband, the same.

Why can’t we find work?
I hear peopel tell me all the time “There are tons of jobs that just require a degree! Any degree!”

I’m worse off now than I was last birthday, when all my money went to fixing the brakes on our car. Had I known that the car wasn’t gonna last another 6 months, I wouldn’t have bothered.
All I wanna do is curl up and cry.

But I can’t; I’m a Soldier and I must “carry on!” Though I will eventually cry about all this.

Perhaps even once I get the rent paid.

I’m going to wait as long as possible in hopes that the mailman brings me money; birthday money, hopefully?

On the other side, Thursday morning (my birthday) I have an appointment with a Doctor about my anxiety for my disability test. If I’m still feeling then like I do now, I should be able to prove my anxiety.

I HATE having to prove I’m sick almost as much as I hate being broke.

Black Friday is Evil.

Thanksgiving is just over a month away, which means that as of this writing, there are 39 days until Black Friday.  Black Friday, the “official start of the holiday shopping season” in the United States is a day that has tainted the souls of many a retail worker, myself included. The day is an unofficial American holiday.

I take my inspiration for writing this post from a Facebook Group: Say No to Shopping on Thanksgiving.no shopping

Or is it? There are some that might say that our nation, that worships and praises the ‘Almighty Dollar‘ holds Black Friday as a day of deep, cultural significance because that is the one day that the Almighty Dollar shifts hands most often within the entire year. If Christmas is the Holy Day for Christianity, then Black Friday is the Holy Day for Consumerism.

Every year, I turn on the news and hear a report of riots, people being stampeded to death at store openings, or some sort of violent injuries and deaths because of it. The last few years, when I worked at Wal*Mart, we had fights over the “last” items up for sale in some of our electronic or toy specials.

Now, I know I’m not going to change anything by writing this blog, but I thought I’d at least record my opinions and feelings.

As a retail employee, I dreaded and feared not only Black Friday, but Thanksgiving as well. Most every job I’ve had since I got out of the Military has been retail in some fashion: Food Service, Grocery Store, and actual retail stores, has required me work Not only Black Friday, which one would expect, but Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Christmas Eve. (The only exception was the year I was Student Teaching and the year I was unemployed.)

Yes, even the year I worked at a Karaoke Bar with my FATHER AS A BOSS I had to work on the holidays. And they were busy days too. (though we did our family meal at the Karaoke bar, and that was kinda cool, but we shared it with all the customers, having them pay for drinks only that day, unless they wanted menu food).
Now my memory might be wrong, but I remember stores being closed on Thanksgiving when I was small. I know places would open early on Friday, but Thanksgiving? No, that was a family day. My mom and dad stayed at home with us, and if we ventured out, Mom would take us to see our grandparents and extended family, while Dad would go visit his mother. (My father does not shop.) Family members who were in retail would be off to spend that day with our family.

We might have had a babysitter on Friday while Mom went shopping, but never had Thanksgiving taken away from us.

Flash forward to the Now:
Every Thanksgiving my in-laws have gotten together for the holidays, it is a flip of the coin if my work schedule would allow my husband and I to attend. My in-laws live an hour and a half a way on a low traffic day, on holidays? it is worse.One year, we got to my mother-in-law’s house to find everyone else had already had their food, and we had the scraps. Other years, we have to leave early so I can get to work, missing out on good family time. There are some of my in-laws that are only in town during holidays: my brother and sister-in-law live 6 hours away and I don’t get to see them often, just the holidays.

But, stores, and I think my former employer is one of the worst about it, are slowly starting their Black Friday sales early: as early as 6-8 PM on Thanksgiving day.
let me describe Black Friday from a retail employee standpoint (And remember, I suffer from anxiety  as well as fibromyalgia, so this is a particular rough day)

Last year, I worked from 6 PM to 3 AM Thanksgiving day to Black Friday morning, with a turnaround shift requiring me to return to the store at noon on Black Friday.
I stood at a register in electronics most of the shift, waiting for the 10 PM sale for the E-Reader of the Moment to launch. I had to wait there to watch the line and watch to make sure stuff wasn’t getting stolen from the displays and that people weren’t getting behind the register to steal my cameras, e-readers, and what ever.

download

On Black Friday, items ordinarily sold in my department (electronics) sit throughout the store, scattered in places like the Garden Center or Produce; I knew where nothing was.

The store itself got BUSY after 6. Every customer who ever shopped at my store during the year was there; all at the same time. It was AWFUL. As a retail employee, I had a hard enough time keeping up with the customers on normal days, on Black Friday/Thanksgiving, I wanted to pull my hair out by the roots the entire night.
When I finally had time to go to lunch, one of my bosses tried to make me return to the sales floor. I was already late for lunch, and my health conditions get worse if I don’t eat when I am supposed to.
Plus, the phone wouldn’t stop ringing with people asking how many of our items we had.
Let me tell you something:

I HAVE NO IDEA!
The bosses don’t generally release that to the retail slaves, or at least mine didn’t.

Plus, the MESS. There is three times the normal returns/rejected items on Black Friday, and bosses still expect the stuff put away before the end of shift. And, three times the customers, so no time to do it. One year, my department had seven baskets full of electronics returns. SEVEN. I had a panic attack the last two Black Fridays.
Last year I doubled my anxiety pills, and still couldn’t make it.

Regular customers, who are not in the slightest bit obnoxious on normal days, come into the store and act like they caught a case of the crazies during holiday shopping.

But that was Retail. Thanksgiving as a server was just as much as a nightmare. You would think that people wouldn’t eat out on thanksgiving, but, NOPE! Apparently, Turkey day means that “I know I’m stuffed on real food, but I’m gonna go to my local Ihop and eat more before I go assault retail slaves and buy stuff.”

black-friday-2009-walmart

It’s worse on Christmas. One year on Christmas, I worked at IHOP for a thirteen hour shift, THIRTEEN FREAKING HOURS and brought home less than $100 in tips. I was forbidden from leaving until my last table left the restaurant. “You leave, you don’t get the tip.” It was a 10 top, and they left me $3.
Oh, I got a lot of “thank you for being opens” but not any money.
My husband and I now go out for breakfast on Christmas, but we always leave at least a 50% tip to our server, even if she is the worst server in the world.

Some might say that when I got my jobs in retail/restaurants that I knew this sort of stuff was going to happen. No, I knew it would happen when I was in the Army. I understood it. In retail?
It caused me to hate the holidays. I have turned into this fella right here;
grinch

This year, I’m unemployed. Will I go shopping on Thanksgiving?
No. I will not. Will I go out on Black Friday? Maybe, but not until the afternoon.

So, what’s gone right?

I realize that I often sound very negative when I start to write about my life, and focus only on the bad parts. I’m going to take the opportunity today to talk about the things that are Good in my life, the positives.

I’m going to start by saying that I often focus on the positives in my life as “I have never had BAD THING X or AWFUL THING Y happen to me. That is a negative positive. Life is good because i have not had bad things happen? No, that’s not what I’m going for.

1. My husband: 

morgulmo

We are not without our problems. He’s struggled with unemployment, among other things, and has a very “strong personality.” However, my husband does me a lot of good.
He does a lot of the ‘little things’ to help me in my illness: brushes my hair, reads to me, fixes my baths, does most of our cooking. He encourages me, helping me be strong. After 14 years together, he still thinks I’m the most exciting person in the world. He his highly creative: He doesn’t just cook, he creates food art with our very meager budget. He is a fantastic storyteller. He also has a backbone, and encourages me to do the same.

2. My friends:
To keep my friends’ anonymity, I am not going to mention any names or pictures in this section. I will say that I have been fortunate to have a small handful of friends who have been really helpful, throughout my life.  My two closest and best friends have been a constant presence in my life since I was a teenager, always supporting me, even when I did some pretty stupid stuff. They’ve helped me find work. They’ve loaned me money, telephones, vehicles,  bought me groceries when I needed help, and just been amazing.
Since then, I’ve found a few more friends. Friends who help me with my lack of transportation, help me find food, help shelter me (and my husband and puppy) from Hurricanes. These people have helped me avoid a lot of disasters in my life, and for them, I am thankful.

3 . My apartment

I can’t explain this enough. I Love my apartment. It has a few flaws. The complex itself has issues, the building feels like a haunted hotel, and the usual apartment flaws (Bugs, loud neighbors, etc). But, my apartment is freaking amazing:

The gold wall in my living room

The Gold wall in my living room

Our lake view. (dish is no longer there).

Our lake view. (The dish is no longer there).

My One Red Wall.

My One Red Wall.

5. My dogs:

I’ve already written a blog about how Kanji and Ulmo give me emotional support.  But, seriously, those two cute bearded little puppies ? Who can resist these  faces?my dogs

6.My Family

I have a large extended family. (My mother is one of 5 children, and  I have a LOT of cousins.) And i live halfway across the family from all of them. However, I know that if it really came down to it, they would help me if they could.
But seriously: my family.
My brother, my sisters, my mother, my father, my step-mother have all contributed to who I am today. Do they have flaws? Yes, they do. Have important days in my life been ruined by many of them? Yes, they have. But, you know what? When it comes down to it, I’ve probably been just as guilty of being a pain-in-the-butt for all of them.

I’ve also been blessed with a mother-in-law who is probably one of the coolest people on the planet. She and I get along too well, often to the point where my husband thinks we gang up on him.

It’s true. We do.

7. My internet family: 

By this I mostly mean people from Dragonmount, in particular the Red Ajah, (though I also mean Shayol Ghul to a certain extent). Dragonmount is a fan forum for the Wheel of Time book series written by Robert Jordan. I am heavily active on that site, and have found some really good friends within some of the sub forum groups. The Red Ajah, (named after a group within the book series that hunts down male magic users that threaten to destroy the world,) have been a great sounding board for me and some of the crazy things in my life these last few years. The people at Shayol Ghul (A social group centered around the book series’ villains) has taught me to embrace that inner darkness within myself to help me become a better, more centered person.

The Red Ajah gives me strength. I know that all my Red sisters and brothers have my back if I’m suffering from problems.

8. My mind. 

I am intelligent, with a memory for tiny details and obnoxiously weird facts. I went to some of the best public schools in my home state for most of my childhood, and those schools really helped cultivate my little brain. I’ve helped this brain out by reading THOUSANDS of books, travelling around the world, obtaining three separate college degrees: (An Associate of Arts in Social Studies, a BA in History and a MA in Women’s History).
I have a fairly decent memory, and can remember some of the weirdest, tiniest details, from things that happened years ago.

Why I don’t do Flu Shots

I know, you’re reading this title, and probably thinking, “HOLD ON! Is Mandy some kind of weird anti-vaccination lobbyist?” No, I’m not. What I’m actually going to discuss with you here is further from the truth. I am actually very pro-vaccine. Children should get vaccinated to avoid catching some of the nasty illnesses that, thanks to vaccines, are no longer a threat.
I wish the chicken pox vaccine was around when I was young, as I would have liked to avoid that week of torture. shot

However, there is one annual vaccination that is pretty debilitating for me. and this is something of some controversy. The Flu Shot.

As I mentioned in my earlier blogs,  I have Fibromyalgia, an illness that I’ve lived with since I was in the US Army.  For those of you unfamiliar with Fibromyalgia, it is a nasty thing to live with. Muscle pain, joint pain, headaches, dizziness, sleeping difficulties, irritable bowel syndrome, brain fog… the list of symptoms goes on.

Symptoms_of_fibromyalgia

And that is by no means complete. Life for me is a roll of the die. Each morning I wake up not knowing until I make the move to get out of bed if I’m going to have a flare, or how bad that flare is going to be. Joint pain for me is not just “morning stiffness,” it is “my whole body is stiff all day.” I don’t sleep well, my mind is always active, I wake up if the wind blows. I have times where my brain fogs, and I’ll forget what I’m saying mid sentence. (My Husband calls it “Shatnering”).

Here’s a lovely image of the Fibrobrain (not mine):

The Fibro Brain. Note: clicking on this image will send you to the original source of the image. I don't necessarily agree with the image's original site on all things.

The Fibro Brain. Note: clicking on this image will send you to the original source of the image. I don’t necessarily agree with the image’s original site on all things.

Now let’s look at the flu and it’s symptoms. Here is the flu:

Flu

Cute little booger, isn’t he?

Well, he might be cute, but the Flu is actually quite an awful illness. Let’s look at the symptoms:
512px-Symptoms_of_influenza.svg

Joint pain. Fatigue. Headache. Vomiting. Enough to put a normally healthy person in bed for several days.
Now, if you add the two together, Fibromyalgia+Flu, you get a nasty combination of a flare-up along with the added joys of coughing, vomiting, runny nose, and sore throat.

So you would think the Flu shot would be a wonderful boon to me, something to give me the chance to avoid getting a sickness that will flare up my illness.

Wrong.

Other than my Fibromyalgia and my anxiety, I am generally a healthy person. I might catch a cold once a year, and generally, I’m better within a day or two. Every so often, when I work myself too hard, I will get a fever. I don’t get “Sick,” I am ill, but rarely sick.

For my purposes, “sick” means “contagious.”

I have had the Flu shot before. The U.S, Army required I get them annually during my time in the service, and the Veteran’s Administration consistently tries to get me to update that shot every year. It is one of the worst things I’ve ever done.

Let me give you a quote from WebMD, in answer to the question “Can the Flu Vaccine give you the Flu?”

Despite the scientific impossibility of getting the flu from the flu vaccines, this widespread flu myth won’t die. Experts suspect two reasons for its persistence.  One, people mistake the side effects of the vaccine for flu. While side effects to the vaccine these days tend to be a sore arm, in the past, side effects often felt like mild symptoms of the flu. Two, flu season coincides with a time of year when bugs causing colds and other respiratory illnesses are in the air.  Many people get the vaccine and then, within a few days, get sick with an unrelated cold virus. However, they blame the innocent flu vaccine, rather than their co-worker with a runny nose and cough.

Okay, so WebMD says that people confuse the side effects that one gets from the virus with the actual flu.
But what happens when I get the flu virus? Do I get just a sore arm and mild flu-like symptoms?
NO! This is what  I feel like on the flu shot: zombedToo Zombie to get out of bed.

That’s what it is. The side effects of the vaccination cause me to be so sick that I am bedridden for days, sometimes a week or more, just from the shot.

Now, if I were prone to getting “SicK” instead of just “Ill,” I might consider getting the shots.

It’s a controversial topic. I’m not the only Fibromyalgia Survivor that has suffered ill effects from the Flu Shot; it’s happened with others as well. Some doctors who treat chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia recommend against  the shot, though others argue that the effects of the flu are more devastating than the illness itself.