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Tap. Tap. Tap.

This past weekend my girls and I met up at Vanessa’s house for a yard sale. Vanessa’s block was participating in an entire block of driveway sales. Jumping at the chance to spend time with Vanessa and belly laugh, I loaded up the Jeep with bins of “stuff” and headed over.

The day was filled with endless rounds of people rifling through my stuff which I thought I had priced low yet reasonable. At the New York yard sale though…the attendees are looking for a bargain that really says “free”. There is a huge amount of vicious negotiation (which mind you can escalate quickly) which sometimes can result in a “free” transaction purely because the buyer has worn me down to the point that if the exchange didn’t stop, I would be wearing an orange jumpsuit and doing pull-ups on my cell block doorframe.

The day moved on and I thought about the hilarious and even meaningful encounters I had during the day. Many of you know my deep seated view about the Universe and how it can tap you on the shoulder and teach you a thing or two. It can place people in your path that you may never see again. Sometimes, it can do both. You need to pay attention to said tap and how it arrives. As we all finished up our sales we sat around crisp from a day in the sun. We exchanged yard sale war stories because on Long Island, New York, we all have at least a few to share.

Many moons before, when we were only in our house a few years, we had a yard sale. Maureen and I sat on my front lawn for hours watching endless amounts of cars pull up looking for very specific items from collectibles to vintage door handles. We giggled and snickered throughout the day. As I was dismantling the operation at the end of the day, I saw and “heard” someone approaching. A very well dressed gentleman in a fedora was walking towards us. What I heard was tapping coming from his feet. Tap. Tap. Tappity. Tap. Tap. “Good day ladies” he said smoothly with a tip of his fedora. I thought oh my…The sharp dressed gent asked if I had any sheet music for sale. This was years before my Broadway Baby Jules arrived on the scene so my answer was a hard no. I politely answered and thanked him for stopping by. As he walked away I jokingly yelled “I do however have a lovely cake plate with your name on it” . Flash forward to 2021 at Vanessa’s where we smiled and laughed at the great day we had together.

Yesterday I arrived at a nursing rehab where my Dad is currently a patient (I have not shared this story with many people yet so forgive me. I’m still processing what is happening). Dad and I were waiting for the elevator. I was taking Dad in his wheelchair down to the patio where we could enjoy some time together on a very late Summer day. The elevator door opened. Everyone jockeyed for position in the elevator.

A gentleman tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to say hello. He tipped his fedora and said to me “Good day Miss. If you are interested, I will be playing some tunes for our patients in the lounge area if you would like to bring this fine gentleman”. I smiled and thanked him. The door opened and the dapper man in the fedora exited..his shoes were tapping on the tile as he walked. Under his arm was a pile of sheet music. My goodness. It was the same man from years earlier.

An hour later, Mommy and I wheeled Dad into the lounge and watched Dad light up and clap his hands as Mr. Fedora crooned a B side Elvis tune. There was a glow around Dad’s head that we haven’t seen in s month or so. I looked at Mommy and said “I love you. Everything is going to be ok. The Universe just tapped me on the shoulder and told me so.”

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No One Likes to Wait

No one likes to wait. It is uncomfortable. Depending on how bad we want something or how much of a hurry we are in – waiting stinks. The line at the supermarket…New York traffic…waiting for Christmas morning…everyone’s list is different, but no one likes to wait. I was scheduled for bloodwork this morning for an upcoming doctor’s appointment. Given my disdain for needles and well, the wait, I left 30 minutes before the lab opened. I had zero coffee in me having observed the strict eight hours fast prior to the test. I ran from my car into the building expecting to hurdle over any senior citizen I found in my path on the way to the lab. I took the stairs two at a time rather than facing a wait at the elevator. Much to my surprise I rounded the corner and found myself FIRST. Victory was mine. The lab techs arrived and reminded me that the lab opened at 7:30 a.m. and it was first come-first served. I relaxed and messaged my friends until the next patient arrived. 

A gentleman greeted me and asked if he was next. His eyes were warm, and he seemed very friendly. As most people know everyone looks familiar to me. I am forever saying “Isn’t that so and so?” I drive people nuts with this. Sorry people. The gentleman sat down and opened his New York Times. I turned to him and said softly “Pardon me…are you Dr. Weiss?” he looked at me over his glasses and said, “Who wants to know?”. I explained that I had been a patient of his for 14 years and he delivered my children. He stood up and said “My dear Karen. How have you been?” The tears flowed, and I instinctively hugged him. 

I had met Dr. Weiss in 1987 as a new patient who was newly engaged. He was a funny man who always took my fear of doctors to heart and made me feel at ease. We talked about many world topics during each visit and he explained whatever was happening with my body as if I was his daughter. He was caring and made me feel like I was his only patient. A year after I was married I explained that we would like to start planning a family. We discussed many different scenarios and were cleared to start planning pregnancy. Months turned into a year with no success. All of our friends were also getting married and starting their same journey. 

Another year went on and it was obvious that nothing was happening in the baby arena. Blood tests were performed. Gynocological exams and procedures were introduced. All tests were negative. There was really no reason as to why we couldn’t conceive. Medications were prescribed, and things started to get tight. My moods dipped as one friend got pregnant…then another…it was starting to wear on me. Dr. Weiss was very reassuring and full of positivity. My dear Karen he would say…God will make you a mommy when the time is right. After another few months I was referred to Dr. Weiss’ best friend, Dr. Avner Herschlag who coincidentally had a very famous daughter named Natalie Portman. We went through two rounds of treatment with Dr. Herschlag. One evening I ended up in the ER with a terrible stomach bug that just would not go away. Well it wouldn’t go away because it wasn’t a virus but a baby. Our dream had finally come true. Dr. Weiss called me at 11 pm that night at home. He was crying and full of congratulations. The next few weeks were wonderful filled with blood tests and sonograms. The baby would be here in December. 

After losing the baby a few months later we returned to Dr. Weiss. My head was in my hands and I sobbed hot tears for what seemed like an eternity. He held my hand said “My dear Karen. I want you to go home. We need to take some time off here”. That we did. We took a trip to the Bahamas that next month to clear our heads. More friends were pregnant. More getting married. It was consuming me. 

A month after our trip we decided to try adoption. We had a phone installed in our guest bedroom for “the call”. We advertised in papers around the country. There was no internet then. It was all me canvassing the library and magazines looking for leads. Finally, we received a call. A mother from Arizona was due to give birth in April. We found a well-known lawyer on Long Island who was confident about the birth mother and said that the “transaction” should run smoothly. All was going well until that phone rang again and the mother coolly told me she had chosen another couple. Turns out in the end that the other couple offered a better “cash” option up front according to our attorney. 

After another year I returned to Dr. Weiss who was thrilled to see me. He knew of a colleague who specialized in IVF and could help us based on my test results. We took the plunge and visited Dr. Richard Bronson. The rest is history as most of you know. Jake was our first “fresh” cycle and Jules our “frozen” cycle. Dr. Weiss held Jake for the first time after birth and said, “Young man – no child will ever be loved more”. Such truth. Months later I heard Dr. Weiss had retired but he literally slipped away from the practice with no explanation. Years later I had heard that the malpractice fees were astronomical, and he decided to retire. 

The door opened, and the lab technician called Dr. Weiss and I in together. He said “My dear Karen I am humbled to have talked with you today. Wishing you love on the rest of your journey.” We hugged again. I may never see him again, but my life today was made complete for I was able to say thank you to a man who made me a mom. The universe placed this angel in front of me today. This was a wait I will never forget. 

 

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Coincidence? I Think Not.

Synchronicity takes center stage in my life more often than not lately. Perhaps it always has and I just didn’t pay attention. Yesterday I believe god tapped me on the shoulder and said “watch this” as yesterday’s events unfolded. The universe was about to deliver another amazing show.

Her name was Marsha and she was my sisters oldest and best friend. She was bubbly. She had a laugh that would knock you over. She was witty. Marsha loved her friends and family fiercely in this girl’s opinion. Her two little girls are cute as buttons and her husband is someone who walked into her life and just clicked from the start.

Yesterday we all met to say goodbye to our friend who received staggering news some mere weeks before. Marsha was diagnosed with a rare heart cancer that whisked her off of our stage in Act One.

I left work to attend shiva at Marshy’s home with a quick stop at my fave bakery to pick up a few items for the family. In addition to my selection I decided to buy these gorgeous painted cookie creations that this bakery is known for. I thought Marsha’s princesses should have a treat. Shiva usually doesn’t offer choices for the kids and I wanted them to maybe smile a teensy bit. The bakery gal was lovely and commended me on my cookie choice of unicorns and butterflies. After paying I told the navigation fairies where I wanted to go and off I went.

Driving to Marshy’s I thought about my sister who lost her friend and how she must be feeling. I love my friends with such passion that I cannot imagine losing one of them. My thoughts went to Marsha’s parents and how they will remember what a gorgeous soul they raised. The next thoughts were of Mitchell who just lost his only baby sister in the blink of an eye. Our families were connected with my sister and Marsha and coincidentally Mitch and I having dated in and after college. I was now a block away from the house and I was anxious to see everyone. The navigation fairies slapped me again and dumped me at the wrong house. As you know I can get lost in a paper bag.

It struck me as I entered the house that there were still no tears from me since I received the news on Saturday. The door opened and I was enveloped by Marsha. I felt it. A picture of my friend was right in front of me. She was smiling the way she did – a giant beam with her eyes. I always told her that her smiles came from her eyes. She had an awesome face that drew you in every time. I hugged some very fabulous people on the way to the yard and was watching everyone chat about our girl that was taken way too soon. Marsha’s cousin took my cookies to the girls after I explained that I hope they liked the designs.

I was sitting at the table with my sister and her friends. We were joined by Mitchell who was explaining how he created his eulogy. We were all engaged and laughing. Mitch has a larger than life sense of humor and pulls you in from the first hello. As he’s talking I notice a large butterfly who is literally flying in what seemed like a figure 8 around many of those at the table. Usually butterflies flit briefly and leave. Not this one. If lingered throughout our entire conversation. I thought..that butterfly is Marsha. The cookies. Butterflies. At that very moment I glanced right. On the lawn in the girls play area was…wait for it…a giant inflatable unicorn. I turned white and choked back the tears. Synchronicity. The rest of my visit was fabulous. Brief in nature but reconnecting with old friends and listening to stories of Marsha that warmed my soul.

It was time to resume my routine and drive home. I could see the unicorn as I left the house. I got in the car and sobbed. I finally cried. I was given the gifts of Marsha and Mitchell and all of these beautiful people connected to them. The universe stepped in and gave me unicorns and butterflies to remind me that there are no coincidences. We are all connected for a reason.

Today I’m asking that you hug the ones you love with every ounce of strength you have during Act One and pay attention to the signs that were placed on your stage. Coincidences? I think not.

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Taking Chances

Finally, she mused 
that human existence 
is as brief as the life of autumn grass, 

So what was there to fear 
from taking chances with your life?

Mo Yan, Red Sorghum

I do my best thinking while blow drying my hair each day. Some people take long drives to contemplate a situation. Some meditate. Some spend hours in a therapist’s office hoping to find clarity. I however ponder life, weigh out my life scenarios, and even make my most important decisions while using a ridiculously large round brush and an 1800-watt hair dryer. 

Often I find myself overthinking a situation (I know this may shock some loyal Kiki followers – insert your snarky laugh here) and weighing in with 8,789 reasons why I should or should not do something. These last few years though I have shed these doubts and bouts with overthinking simply because I realize that life is short. Just do it as the Nike ad suggests. There are a million sayings that can fit this notion of “It’s Now or Never” – hell even Elvis sang about it and made millions with this approach. How did I get here though? 

Years of vulnerability and wanting to feel safe kept me in a very stable bubble. If I kept status quo and average, I would never rock the boat and life would be good. There would be no anxiety. No worry. No reason to get upset because everything was just the way it was supposed to be. 

Or was it? 

Certainly, my fitness journey gave me the confidence I lacked or shoved below sea level for years. I finally surfaced and declared…yes declared that I would no longer accept average in my life. I started to take chances that I never thought possible. Always outgoing I became fearless at work, became a master problem solver with a take no prisoners type attitude, and did not stop until I figured out any problem placed before me. At home, I was now handling situations with the kids with zero worry. Looking forward and not back was much more fulfilling than wallowing in the past and letting my feet remain stuck in the mud. 

Are there days when I am stuck in the war of the “what ifs”? You bet. I was just discussing this the other night and admitted that I sometimes allow the what ifs to rule me. I was reminded that practicing “mindfulness” and dealing with the right here and now would be the key. I am now soaking up as much of this practice as I can. Kiki promise to blog about this in the hopefully near future. Now back to my point about taking chances. 

The fitness thing led to Spartan which led to well…the key to everything I had been looking for even when I did not know I was looking. Every damn thing on that course from the rocks, the mud (that goddamn thigh high mud), obstacles, elevation, the comradery, random conversations, and finally – jumping fire represents life. Each race I have run has taught me more about me than any amount of therapy ever could. There was one race though that stands out as my signature race. I think about it every damn day (and not just when I am drying my hair). Tuxedo 2018. My third time on that mountain. I ran alone. Well, I was not alone – in Spartan, you are never alone. You are with thousands of fellow racers all there with the same purpose. Nevertheless, this day, I ran happy and was so at peace. I emerged from each part of the trail truly renewed. I came up with new mental strategies to prepare myself for the next leg. I was smiling more than I ever did in a race. I was so alive. There are other races when I can feel myself approaching the finish line. You can hear the music from the festival area pumping. You can feel the energy from the crowds and the surge of adrenaline from the last obstacles. But mostly for me…you can smell the fire. I can feel it in my bones. It NEVER signifies the finish for me. It is a symbol of taking chances and a leap of faith. There are some races when I am only physically able to hop over the line of fire. Not this time. I turned the corner to find the final rig obstacle. I nailed it (yay me) and looked ahead at the line of flames and the finish line beyond them. Yes, I could have hopped over as before and race towards the medal. I could have accepted this because it is what I normally did. But no. I train every night (yes every night) to no longer accept average. As my friend, Scott tells me “You must train with the single purpose to reach that finish line”. And so I sprinted. I sprinted as if I was running to catch the last plane off the burning planet. That is when it happened. I lept. Sailed over those flames. I landed with my hands in the air and tears streaming down my cheeks. The medal was soon around my neck and I was at peace. Really…what was to fear from taking chances? 

I will no longer be rooted and stuck in fear of taking chances and stepping outside of my comfort zone. I realize that it will be tough. I will still have days peppered with anxiety but I look back and realize it is a far worse life if I never take these chances. As Mo Yan says…our human existence is as brief as the autumn grass. 

Let go. Leap. Take chances. 

Live. 

 

Once An Eagle…Always An Eagle…

I checked my lipstick in the rearview mirror before leaving the Jeep. In a few minutes I’d meet up with 1983 Eagles grads at a local pub. It was our second meeting in two months to celebrate our 38th year since we were handed our diplomas on a hot June summer day.

As I ordered a drink I looked around at the smiling faces that had joined us this time. There were kisses and hugs but I noticed the big smiles the most. Everyone is just so beautiful and still looks the same as when we met in elementary school, middle school, or eventually in high school.

This time we ordered food and while eating chicken wings, turkey clubs, sliders, or just another beer… I started to listen to the different stories flying around the table. My reaction to some of the sad tales about people I knew then was “oh my God I didn’t realize… I didn’t know.” Then just like turning on a faucet, the memories started to flow. Suddenly I remember being in Anthony‘s basement at a “slow dance “ party with soda and the really good pretzels that my mom never bought at the supermarket. All of a sudden I could remember what I was wearing at Wendy’s Sweet 16 party or being completely ignored at Tina’s Sweet 16 party by a boy I thought really liked me. The memories were really specific and I could almost feel myself back in the designer jeans we were talking about.

Talks throughout the night went deeper than I expected them to. We talked about our first loves, experiences, anxieties, feelings about others, feelings about ourselves. The word wow left my lips a few times as I thought again… I never knew. No, I didn’t know. We were young. Things were simpler. Most of the time they were downright fun and brought belly laughs that I haven’t had since those days.

At one point I turned to one of my long lost friends and said “know what Te? We are damn lucky… We didn’t choose each other. Life worked out and we were chosen for each other.“

Later on I thought to myself… Or maybe I did say it out loud… Maybe that relationship didn’t work out for a reason. The life we have now was shaped by a series of events that were not coincidences. We were placed together. In Bethpage. In our town. In our little pockets of the community that we called home. If we had been in any other town…we wouldn’t have met. Yeah..this was all planned. I smiled because not having this group with me would have changed everything.

We went rollerskating and ice-skating on Friday nights. We hung out in the state park. We lived at the beach… Most of us on the South Shore while others lifeguarded and hung out on the North Shore. We walked a marathon each weekend from one end of town to the other just to have ice cream and walk home again. We rode our bikes to town for a slice of pizza and stayed there talking until the last sip of soda was gone. We took the bus to the mall to buy lipgloss. On Saturdays we all went to football games and parties where I happened to meet the most incredible guy who would turn out to bring two amazing humans into this world with me. After all this… After all we did in 12 years we said goodbye. We soared into the world and landed in new communities and circles.

Now, all of these years later we meet again. I’m so grateful to have these people in my world. We may not have been super close but all of you were meant to be part of my life. I consider these gifts I never asked for. You all helped to shape me and were gifts I never knew.

Looking forward to seeing where our paths take us next. Just remember how we were raised… Once an Eagle always an Eagle. Bethpage forever.

Mother’s Day

On Mother’s Day I received a gift that I could never physically open in a box or an envelope. I started that morning like I always do – hitting the button on the Keurig and finding my Airpods. I selected a motivational piece from my Aura app and sunk into myself hoping that the Universe will keep me on a good path and point me in the right direction. Shortly after I finish my second coffee in my Schitt’s Creek mug I slapped on my gym clothes and headed to the gym.

The beginning of class is always the same. Hugs and laughs with my team and the underlying dread of what was ahead of us for the next 75 minutes. It is always sheer hell, but we love it and after 6 years keep coming back for more. That morning though I was feeling particularly strong despite my knee wanting to bust out of the skin and run for the hills. After the warm up of 8,456 Military style jumping jacks we were all moving about and grabbing our weights we would need for the WOD. My trainer approached me and whispered to me “I want to acknowledge on this Mother’s Day how special you are. God chose you to deal with the most difficult of challenges with your son. I salute what you do and who you are.” He then gave me a hug with a tear in his eye. Ok so… if you know Satan (as I have secretly nicknamed him), there is rarely emotion. He is a true class act but the biggest badass of a human I have ever met.

As we moved through the morning, I felt myself getting stronger and standing taller. The weights Satan prescribed for me were much heavier than usual, but they seemed to glide through the air. Nothing bothered me. Ok, maybe the step ups but that is nothing new. Again, the knee was packing up and heading for the coast. The strength I felt was so visible. My mind immediately went to Jake and Julia. They are my “Why”. Satan was right. God did choose me to be their mom and gave me strength to meander the brush of Jake’s Autism. Climbs, descents, grappling over walls, and diving into muddy water were daily events on this course. I realized that life’s obstacles are just like those I train for.

The reason why I train so hard is to stay alive on the Spartan courses. There is a saying that the more you train, the less you bleed in battle. While I have not run any races since my last Beast in December 2019 (thanks to this pandemic), I find myself on a course at home every damn day. My training helps to keep my mind and body strong so that I don’t DNF (Do Not Finish). Do I want to train every night and weekends? Sometimes the answer is no because I hurt. The knee slaps me around and we still can’t figure out why my heart is cranky. Yet I keep going. I keep going because my kids need to see that you just do not give up when things get hard or when you are dealt a bad hand of cards.

There are things happening right now in my son’s world that need my daily attention. He seems to be in some type of internal struggle that requires strength. He has it – I just have to figure out a way to remind him of where it is and how to use it. He is even getting into walking more and more so that the three miles he checks in with each day helps him sleep better so that he can handle whatever is thrown his way. I can’t imagine not being strong on our course. As it is I have days where I just want to get in my Jeep and drive until I end up in Anywherebuthere, USA. Day after day though I administer four strong, cleansing breaths and I am back at it looking to load my first born onto my back and continue the climb.

Mother’s Day will always be a chance to remember how lucky I am to have received two miracles. Thanks to Satan it will now be a way to remind myself that without strength I could never have continued to put one foot in front of the other or hurl very heavy objects towards the sky each day.

Jelly Bean Snob

There are many things I’ll admit to out loud. Many things will remain secret inside my bones. This I will say though…I am a jelly bean snob. Let me capitalize that. Jelly Bean Snob. I love the orbs of sugar and I will even eat the licorice flavors (it is all about balance). Some beans are better than others, but it is the Russell Stover jelly bean that will forever hold the most special place in my heart and palette. I was raised by Anne Eastwood who has taught me that the RS is revered, and we know some years impossible to find. I never knew how my obsession with this treat would be passed down to J&J. That was until the other day. Jake Fikar is now a third generation Jelly Bean Snob.

While planning the Easter festivities I asked my Mom if there was anything I could pick up for her or help her with. She replied in an almost panicked voice “I can’t find the jelly beans anywhere. If you could find some that would be great”. I knew this meant that I should release the hounds and begin the search immediately. As I pushed the Amazon app on my phone, I heard her say “Just don’t go through Amazon – I’m not paying those prices”. I was stopping at Walgreens on the way home, so I thought let me look at their website and see if they have stock. Sure, enough the brand popped right up on the website and jumped into my shopping cart. Seven bags. Four for Mom and three for us. The look on Mom’s face when I dropped them off was priceless but the relief I felt oozing from her veins was even better. I brought home my three bags and tucked them at the bottom of the community Easter basket.

The day before Easter Jake came home from King Kullen supermarket with his usual treats for the week. He offered me a few Russell Stover jelly beans. I thanked him profusely. I thought maybe he had tapped into the stash in the basket. No, he told me that he bought his own bag because while he really loved jelly beans from Uncle Giuseppe’s and Stew Leonard’s that Russell Stover jelly beans were amazing and the best he’s ever had. He also said that Easter would never be the same without a bag of his favorites. As I was lying in bed last night recapping my 56th Easter in my head I thought about Jake telling me about his favorite things while his eyes danced. I realized once again how lucky I am that Autism has touched me in ways I never ever thought were possible. All the years I spent falling asleep and screaming on the inside “Why me?” seemed ridiculous now. Instead I now think…Why not me?

The diagnosis and initial recommendations from therapists were shouting at me again. The reminders that this son of ours would likely never make choices of his own or be able to express himself adequately. Brace yourself I was told for this son you had high hopes for would really be very impaired. One therapist went as far to say as to say, “Be prepared for the impaired”. As I’ve talked about many times before, I wore these phrases and advice like weighted blankets and let myself be dragged into a dark pool of depression for a few years. I ate to keep myself cemented down and dull the pain. I smiled at everyone but wanted to die every single night as I laid in bed questioning how life would ever be happy again.

Autism can be limiting. It can be exhausting. It can put you in a position to think just one way and never look up or ahead. As you know from my former blogs and stories, I finally broke free from this thinking. Jake showed me the way. He showed me that life can be rough with Autism but that you can work through it. We all worked together to get through any challenge that was place before us. Any challenge.

The years have flown by. Jake has now celebrated 22 Easters. Each one has been brighter than the last. I look at Jake and how far he has come and realized that life is so much sweeter when I am grateful for everything that has happened in my life. I hope I am passing this outlook on to Jake. I think I am. He is clearly making his own decisions in life. This year the realization came in the form of candy. I am proud to have raised my own Jelly Bean Snob.

Happy Easter and Happy World Autism Day.

Birthday Candles

Yesterday Julia and I were in the middle of one of our epic Target expeditions. Each trip is like a leg of the Amazing Race. We usually split up now so that we can efficiently comb the store for precisely what we are looking for and conquer our mission. We text each other. We call for each other’s location and come to the rescue should someone need an opinion.

While traversing the aisles yesterday I came across an employee entering the trash at one of the end caps. He stopped and excitedly told some shoppers passing by that Monday was his birthday and he would be 59 years old. My inner Kiki cheered for him. I thought way to go buddy!! He was so happy and stood there beaming almost waiting for recognition from these two women. The one woman looked uncomfortable and said “Umm…Wow that’s great.” My smile turned to a frown. Then I heard “Like I care that it’s your birthday you freak” as they walked away laughing. I wanted to vomit. I wanted to take my cart filled with items and ram it into this woman and tell her how evil I thought she was. J wasn’t proud of that reaction. Instead I navigated into an empty area in front of a wall of sunglasses. The tears started flowing and I sobbed.

Did these women know? Did they care? Did they know or care that this person they had just shamed and ridiculed is a human? A person who breathes the same air as you. He may have certain challenges but do you know this? Do you know what his life has been like? How he may have struggled? Do you know how his mom may have felt when she heard others talking about him while she took him shopping or picked him up from the bus stop? Do you know the anguish his mother must have felt raising him the best she could so that he could be a proud store employee and live to at least age 59? My best guess is that the answer is no. No to all of it. We are so quick (me included at times) to judge people and situations. We box people up to what we think they are and leave them there on a shelf with no regard.

My thoughts drifted to my first gift and how he moves about his day despite his disability. He is a proud employee keeping the halls of our local middle school clear. He is an honorary member of our local fire company who knows more about fire service and apparatus than most chiefs in New York State. He’s an amazing son, great brother, talented writer, and the best human you ever want to meet. He has struggled but he has also worked like hell to get where he is today. He is a fighter so I know his future is bright as long as he keeps on pushing and keeping the light on. There will be women and voices like the ignorant shoppers I encountered. Sadly there will be many. Hopefully though he won’t hear them. He will stand tall and be happy with who is is.

My mind drifted back to the happy employee. My wish is that others will see your light and let it burn away the judgement they let fly. I hope your next year and many years ahead are as bright as you are. May each birthday candle in your cake remind you of the light that you bring to this world.

“Intuition is the GPS of the Soul”

I washed my last bite of my Styrofoam tasting Ezekiel bread down with my piping hot black coffee and smiled as I saw the message from my pal and guru Steve. We check in with each other almost every morning during our “Hour of Champions” where we jump into what we call “Early Morning Excellence” – getting our thoughts and mindset in check for the day and quite honestly – for life. Steve and the HOC family he created has given me direction and connections along with a map of how to continue on the road from victim to hero. This morning we said, “Sometimes there is no GPS for what we are going through”. I thought of this as I drove into work. I didn’t need directions this morning because I knew where I was headed. There are other days and time though when I need my GPS to get me to point B – both literally and figuratively.

If you’ve read my past blogs, you know that I was born without a sense of direction. This Kiki model did not come with a built-in compass. I’ve always been in awe of the folks who could be plopped in the middle of a labyrinth and they will emerge victorious. I cannot find my way out of my own house some mornings let alone a complex trip of driving out east on Long Island or shutter the thought of navigating through New York City.

I’ve never been good with “You know where it is – it’s across from the mall. It’s the building on the north side of the park”. You might as well tell me to visit the moon. I’m lost. Clueless even. Years ago, when GPS was invented, I thought “Well yahoo there’s hope for me yet”. Not so fast. I don’t trust the turn by turn instructions even from trusted sources such as OnStar. If the turn says, “Make a left” in 250 feet, I will sometimes make the left at the next light thinking “close enough”. No Kiki, they are giving you almost exact measurements. Follow them. I am guilty of creating my own snafu and deserve the endless wrong turns and feelings of helplessness.

On this morning’s drive in my thought drifts back to my HOC conversation about using our inner GPS. My life’s inner GPS is driven by my gut feelings. They rarely lie. If you have never listened to your gut – I welcome you to do so. Put your ear down to the ground and listen to the vibrations (you don’t really need to do this. Frankly you’ll be run over or your neighbors will talk about you even more than they do now). You do need to pay attention though. There are signs on your journey or road that may or may not be on your GPS. The gut feelings that tell you to go for it or avoid things ahead do not steer you wrong. They keep you on your course and get you where you need to go or meet your goals. This is if you choose to listen or trust them. If your system says turn left or I don’t think this is the right time to take this position – listen. I don’t care how big the signal is. Listen.

What I have learned quickly through using GPS is that it will recalculate for you if you make a wrong turn or leave the planned route. It’s kind of like a do-over when traveling. I realized we have a recalculate option in our lives too. If we veer off our path, we always have the option to jump back on Goal Boulevard. Maybe you won’t take the express route and choose the route with no toll roads (like me some days) but you will get there if you listen to the directions.

When I got to work this morning, I was giggling thinking of the GPS and the many funny stories it has given me throughout the years. See I can find humor in my mistakes and disasters. Sometimes many years after the fact but I can giggle at myself. One year we were traveling in Boston. The TomTom navigation system had just been invented. I don’t think the software was more than 6 months old. We drove over a bridge with two hungry kids in the back seat. We might as well have been in a foreign country because we understood nothing. Nothing looked familiar. I remember glancing at TomTom’s screen, and it was literally spinning. It might as well have stated “Just park the car and go home”. It gave up. We didn’t though…we figured it out and 20 minutes later we were loving life and eating Brick Oven pizza in the oldest Italian restaurant on the East Coast. I knew that if I had just looked at the map ahead of time I would at least have a visual from where we were starting to where we needed to end up. Sometimes planning the Point A to Point B is the simplest form of travel. Use your skills and eventually you can handle any obstacle along the way using your gut as your guide. Having a visual of where I am going and planning for the trip will always help me. Planning for the fuel I take along will also help my gut to survive overthinking or literally help my gut to survive. When racing it’s Gummy Bears and Uncrustables. In the car it’s my vast array of Apple Music Playlists, and in life its my inner circle of incredible personalities guiding me through each day.

The next time you get into your car or an unfamiliar situation, think of the GPS and your gut. Both will get you where you want to go if you have a plan and listen to your turn by turn. Some days there will be traffic and obstacles. Prepare for them! The most important part of all as we travel forward (and maybe upward) is – enjoy your ride.

Double Nickels

So here it is. The second day in August. I turn 55 today. Fifty-flipping-five. I remember sitting in Mr. Dalven’s 6th grade class at Central Boulevard thinking how old I would be in the year 2000 which at the time seemed so science fiction futuristic. Well now here it is 2020 and I’m turning double nickels as they say. Do I feel 55? No way. I feel like I’m 25 in my mind. My body feels 55 some days. Other days it feels like I’m 95 years old but once I take three steps out of bed I’m back in range. I’ve taken an awful lot of time lately to dive into my thoughts and think about how I arrived at this gift of an age.

 I decided that I would share 55 facts about me that you may or may not know. They are shared in no particular order of how they happened.  Some will be serious while others are just random and fun thoughts that pop into my head but always speak the truth. Thank you to everyone who has made an appearance in my life all these years and helped to shape what you are about to read. I may not mention any names specifically but just know that I take every single person that I meet (even if it is once) very seriously. I truly believe you are all placed on my path for a reason.  The universe placed me here and I couldn’t be more thankful for every single day.

  1. I would possibly kill for a well made Rice Krispie Treat. Homemade. These store-bought versions are just tragic.
  2. The movie Sixteen Candles is one my fave parts of the 1980s. I can quote many lines from this movie with conviction and inflection. My cousins know.
  3. I’m fascinated by anything associated with NASA and the space program. I’m into facts and am in awe by the science of it all.
  4. A really yummy French Fry is nothing short of magical. Like my hunt for the perfect cheeseburger, I’m always in search of the French Fry connection. So far All American in Massapequa holds the title of “the best” in the world. The world!
  5. I need to find a really good tap dancing class. I miss my 19 years at Miss Pam’s School of Dance and our annual productions.
  6. I had a huge crush on Donny Osmond growing up. Runner up was Potsie Weber (Anson Williams) from Happy Days. I was able to finally see Donny and Marie in concert one year in Vegas. He sang “The Twelfth of Never” directly to me. I know he did. Just like he did every Friday night when I watched him in my living room on the brown television set on the Berber carpeting.
  7. My favorite ice cream of all time is Breyer’s (and it MUST be Breyer’s) Chocolate, Vanilla, and Strawberry. Bonus points if you know what I put on top of it. Ok I’ll tell you…a splash of milk.
  8. I have no patience for loud talkers.
  9. I want to visit Greece but I’m truly afraid. I’m afraid I’ll never come home.
  10. The older I get the more the texture of chicken bothers me.
  11. Chefs are magicians to me. I watch shows like “Chopped” on rainy Sundays and I’m in awe. I can barely put eggs and flour together and these people know how to whip up entrees from ingredients I can’t even spell.
  12. I could eat a vat of old school Cream of Wheat.
  13. People watching should be an Olympic sport and I’d be a gold medal winner. Put me in a crowd with an iced coffee and I’m golden for hours.
  14. I don’t do well with movies/shows that contain flashbacks or time travel topics. I’m still recovering from “Back to the Future”. Cute actor. Rough topic for me.
  15. The smell of fresh cut Christmas trees sends me into another dimension.
  16. My God.  I still miss my Grandma Flotten as much as I did the first day she went to Heaven. I’m crying hot tears as I type this.
  17. Nora Ephron is my fave writer and the reason I want to finish any writing project I have. I am still mourning her passing in that there will be no new production from her. The final scene of “When Harry Met Sally” should be scratched into my forearm so I can read it all day…every day.  
  18. Billy Crystal is hands down my favorite actor. His timing is everything and his content classic and genuine. The day he created Fernando sent me into a spin. I thought it was beyond brilliant. I wish he knew how many hours of laughs he has brought me.
  19. I miss every square inch of the house I grew up in. I can still smell certain parts of the house..the attic..the basement closet…my playroom under the stairs. I live two houses away from that house now. Every single day I walk by with the dog. I must fight the urge to walk in and sit down.
  20. I never learned to play tennis. Yet.
  21. I love golf. LOVE. I have watched countless golf tourneys both live and on tv. I consider myself a great fan of the sport. I took lessons years back. I literally suck at playing. I think it makes me appreciate the nuance of the game a little more as I’m envious of those who can play well.
  22. A game of musical chairs can send me into a tailspin of anxiety. Always had a problem with a selection of music too. Maybe I’m onto something. Hire the right DJ for a 4 year old birthday party. It will save thousands of dollars in co-pays for therapy sessions well into the adult life.
  23. Removing Pop-Tarts from the foil pouch and loading them into the toaster is the equivalent of disassembling a bomb. I move with stealth precision so as not to spare a crumb of goodness.
  24. Given the perfect dream world where no one gets fat, I could sit with a plastic tub of chocolate frosting and a spoon while watching a movie and be perfectly happy.
  25. There is a list of concerts I wished I’d attended over the years. Some days I hear a song by one of these groups or artist and I will be all melancholy about not being able to go. The Eagles, Queen, and the Police (although I’ve caught Sting a number of times) top my list of coulda, woulda, shouldas.
  26. Food is air to me. I love the art of cooking and what flavors work together. Food trucks excite me and I always dreamed of owning one before they became trendy. I read cookbooks like they are novels. Every single title of “Barefoot Contessa” cookbooks sit in my cabinet. Ina Garten is perhaps perfection in my mind. Each time I make one of her recipes I think that she should call me for a glass of Pinot Grigio so that we can discuss why she used Rosemary instead of Dill in the Roast Chicken.
  27. It is not uncommon to hear me say “I need to invite “so and so” to my house for a BBQ and cocktails. The list is all over the place because of the varied topics that excite or interest me. Somedays I giggle at how passionate I am about a topic and how I’d love to discuss it with said guest. For example…Prospective guest Billy Joel. I ran into him when I was in high school after his very first album came out. I have been fascinated with him ever since. The man is a genius to me. I think a few cocktails with Billy isn’t an unreasonable request. I’ve seen him perform live 13 times and can recount each concert vividly.
  28. Eating Lobster Tails is an event for me. It transports me back to seafood restaurants all over Long Island when I was a kid. The drawn butter. The meat at the end of the teeny-tiny fork. Magic.
  29. Writing is my passion. I love to write but even more I love to watch tv dramas or comedies that are so well written that my bones want to pop out of my body with excitement. I crave that feeling I get when a series speaks to me and never ever leaves my soul. Entourage. The Sopranos. Schitt’s Creek. LA Law. Divorce. Friends. Most recently The Morning Show on Apple TV.
  30. The Business world makes me happy and sparks so many creative ideas. Driving results by motivating people to meet their goals is the reason I studied Management. As I’ve written about in the past, I was inspired by my Dad. He can talk to anyone and everyone. He does it with a genuine heart and makes them feel like they are the only person in the world at that very moment. It’s the way I managed and believe we all should. Understanding people at their core is where we all win.
  31. I cry when I hear about big lottery winners. Real tears. I’m truly happy for these people. They say winning the lottery is rarer than being struck by lightning. I consider those incredible odds.
  32. My memory is photographic. My parents know that for years I could account for what I ordered in each restaurant we visited anywhere in the world. I guess it goes to show you how much I appreciate the dining experience.
  33. Everyone has a reoccurring dream. Don’t you? Mine is that I am walking the hallways of a school holding a schedule and looking into each classroom but I never go in. I’m supposed to but I never do. I keep walking the halls and hearing my name called on the roster.
  34. Being away at college was beyond fun but I lacked the discipline to keep my grades in check. I did very well once I transferred home. This is one reason I am a lunatic with my kids about studying and taking lessons and grades seriously.
  35. Settling or accepting average is something I will never do. I spent years just saying “Whatever” and letting things slide. The minute I found my strength again it was game on. Never surrender. Never give up. Average is not for me. Ask the kids. I say it often.
  36. My parents gave me a transistor radio for my 10th birthday. I can still smell it coming out of the plastic wrapper and box. I played that every day and night until I think it fell apart. I listened to the DJs “hit their mark” before each song. For years I wanted to be an announcer or DJ. I’d fall asleep at night listening to music and talk programs. On clear nights I could pick up radio stations in Chicago and Ohio. I remember thinking that was such a cool connection.
  37. Each day starts with coffee, air pods, an iPad, affirmations, and 2-3 key friends who keep my physical/mental/and spiritual sides aligned and in check. I cannot live without these amazing forces in my life.
  38. Many of you have read about how I became involved in Spartan racing. It has taught me how to train and stay strong. It has also given me a community that has changed me forever. There are people who have become part of my world that without Spartan would never be in Kikiville.
  39. Training is a way of life for me. While I build in rest days to protect my bod I do not feel whole when I am not training.
  40. My kids and I often talk about their school life experience. We laugh when we all hear of their stories that they tell in such great detail. I always share one of my fave memories from elementary school. Lunch was serves on melamine trays. They made such a distinct sound when they hit the ground. If some poor soul dropped the tray, the ENTIRE cafeteria would stand up and cheer. It still makes me snort to this day.
  41. I have two tattoos much to my mother’s disgust. Lol. I got my first one at age 52 and the second at age 54.
  42. The first car I owned was a silver Chevy Camaro. Man I thought I was hot stuff driving that car. I had the whole 80s Long Island girl look going with it. Long acrylic nails painted in a bright fuchsia, leather jacket with shoulder pads, and mile high sprayed hair.
  43. After few too many cocktails on Thanksgiving last year it spilled out that I hate ice cream cake on my birthday. My mother’s face sank. She said “Really?” I said “Don’t assume that because my birthday is in the summer that I like Carvel cake.” It took me 54 years but I confessed. Chipping away at the buried secrets one by one.
  44. I had a birthmark removed from my back when I was 10. It took 50 stitches to sew up. There is a fine scar but it still hurts when it rains. Weird. Fun fact – the doctor’s name was Dr. Karen.
  45. I love that my kids are as patriotic as I am. When the Fikars visited Ft. McHenry for the first time, we took in the movie about the American Flag and the Star Spangled Banner. At the end of the movie, the motorized curtains pulled back and revealed the flag flying over the harbor. All of us gasped at the same time. I’ll never forget our reactions. We had a similar experience when visiting Mt. Vernon in 2018. Small yet powerful trip to George Washington’s home. I was very proud to be a part of his world for a brief period of time.
  46. I truly believe I need to live on the west coast of Florida. I have never been happier than when I am there.
  47. Wish I could open a coaching business to encourage people that it is never too late to start training and take control of your health. Not everyone has to run a Spartan race but you can work like a beast to meet your goals no matter what age you are.
  48. My kids still take my breath away when I talk to them. I am so proud of the adults they have grown into. Talking to them and looking into their souls is more than a gift. Considering the fact I never thought I could have kids, every day with these two is like opening up what you always wanted on Christmas morning.
  49. My fascination with the mafia is well known. I’m told it’s a myth and doesn’t exist. Bullshit. I know it does and it is insanely interesting to me. I live for my trips to Arthur Avenue.
  50. Not buying stock in GAP is a regret. Each season I purchase every single dress they offer. I should be reaping the rewards in my bank account as well as my closet.
  51. One night while stuck in traffic on the way to a Barry Manilow concert (don’t judge me) I called the Nassau Coliseum to tell them of a 45 minute traffic jam on Hempstead Turnpike and that thousands of fans were delayed. I asked that they consider delaying the start time. They did. The power of Kiki.
  52. Sitting with my sister in NYC enjoying a Dirty Martini with 3 Blue Cheese Stuffed Olives is an event.
  53. I am a fiercely loyal friend who will move mountains for you. I hope the key people in my life know and feel this.
  54. Fuzzy/velvety socks in the wintertime make me happy. I light up when I find the “right” pair.
  55. Birthdays are an honor. Each year I am here to celebrate is something I will never take for granted. Thank you for being with me this year and hopefully many more in the future.

Wounded Warriors 2019

The saying “freedom is not free” has always stuck with me in terms that our nation was founded and built by brave men and women who believed in our country so much that they fought to the death to honor our nation. My love for what our military has done for this country is a feeling I hold close to my heart. I am beyond grateful for what millions of courageous people have given me. Yesterday I had the chance to ride with some selfless souls who defend our freedom every day. I have never shared any of my political views nor will I today. I need however to express how moved I was to be an American yesterday and every single day.

Each year there is a Wounded Warrior Soldier Ride here on Long Island. It is held on our gorgeous south shore. Beaches, boats, beautiful homes built into the dunes, and communities of people who showed up to support our wounded warriors who selflessly defend us here and abroad.

The event is a 25 mile bike ride that included some 75 or so wounded warriors and maybe 1250 riders. The streets and highways are closed down for this event. I am no stranger to riding 20-22 miles to the beach so I thought this is a nice way to be involved and say thank you to a group of folks who provide me and my family with every day freedoms which I feel I often take for granted.

I still lack bike confidence so starting out the ride amongst 1250 people was I won’t lie a bit shaky. Some may say comical but the word I’ll use this morning is shaky. We will leave it at that. Once I found my groove and bike moxie I unclenched my jaw and looked around me. We were sailing through Smalltown USA. People were lining the streets cheering. Every mile a fire department had an arch over the roadway with a ginormous American flag and at times water misting on us (did I mention it was 96 degrees?). Bagpipes played. Drums kept cadence. We pedaled on.

During one part of the ride I rode with Patrick who decided he would roller skate the entire event. We chatted. He had served briefly and was injured on his last tour in Afghanistan. His cousin was killed years ago in Iraq. He always rides..or skates in his memory. I choked back tears as I chatted with Patrick and his little crew he had with him.

At the halfway point of the race we rode into a small town that took my breath away. The “Rocky” theme played as we entered town. A woman was holding a flag yelling USA!! I joined her. It felt wonderful!! I was so energized. I passed a gentleman in his Vietnam hat with pins. He had his hand on his heart. I shouted “thank you for everything”. He blew me a kiss and said thank you my dear. More tears. Around the next corner I rode by a whole group of preschoolers outside of their school. All were dressed in red, white, and blue. They were holding flags and singing God Bless America. I nearly fell off my bike. I was moved beyond words.

The last leg of the ride was brutally hot and dry. I lapsed into thought. Our military endures conditions a million times worse every day. I simply cannot imagine what they go through. My mind shifted back to the supporters who were lining the streets. We are all American. No matter what you see on tv these days or what is happening in DC, we are all one. The level of patriotism I experienced yesterday was a gift. I think it’s always been there. Maybe now it’s not as strong as it used to be but it is still there. My goodness it felt good.

The ride wrapped and we welcomed our warriors into the venue with cheers and applause. I wasn’t able to physically say thank you to the group but my thanks is in my heart and how I support what they have done every single day. Freedom is not free but it is alive and kicking in all we do whether we realize it or not.