A New Kind of Resolution

It is that time of year again, the most wonderful time, when we brave the trenches of consumerism and spar for the parking spot closest to the store door all in the hopes of finding the perfect gifts for the people we love, and the ones we tolerate. If you are anything like me, you pour hours into planning, baking, decorating, and wrapping just to make the Christmas season the best time of the year for your family. This dedication to manufacturing the perfect holiday often leaves us drained both mentally and physically. It is not until after the gifts have been unwrapped and we are sweeping the cookie crumbs from the kitchen floor in our flannel pajamas that we realize how much the season has taken out of us.

We then begin looking toward New Year’s Day with plans for bettering ourselves, with an emphasis on our physical appearance. We buy new sneakers to don the gym where we just purchased a membership because we will need them when we mount the treadmill. We focus on gathering healthy recipes that we will use for meal prepping and we will pack them away in the new bento boxes we acquired from Amazon after consuming too much wine at a holiday party.

By February first most of us will have abandoned our newly found health habits for the convenience of our old ways. We will conjure a hundred excuses for our failure, everything stemming from injury to a lack of time, and our internal monologues will continually remind us that it is a cop-out.

We fail, not because we are incapable of seeing it through but because we lack the mental strength to persevere. The demand of everyday life combined with the added stress of learning a new routine will shake our faith, not only in our ability to meet our goals but also in ourselves. The contemptuous glares and odious social media posts from the regular gym goers complaining about their space being invaded will serve to intensify that mental burden.

Our hopes of bettering ourselves physically as well as mentally will be diminished when we realize it is easier to maintain our unhealthy lifestyles than it is to make a conscious effort to change our habits. We realize that society, with its fast-food chains and the rising cost of living, is structured to prevent the average American from succeeding, no matter what their goals. Today’s society pits us against each other, encouraging us to pick each other apart based on perceived faults because we buy into the community’s definition of perfect when in actuality, perfect doesn’t exist.

This year, my resolution is to make a conscious effort to look beyond those faults. I no longer want to make assumptions about the people I encounter every day based on what society’s standards tell me I should think. I want to understand that the people I see day in, and day out are all dealing with their own struggles, just like I am. I want to remind myself that the people I see are doing what they can to continue with their lives in the face of loss and struggle, like me, they are just doing their best to survive. And I want to remind myself to be kind, even when it feels impossible.

The actions of others can trigger us, making us respond in different ways, often negatively. But what we fail to realize is the motivation behind our action when that button is pressed. Once we come to terms with the reason those things bother us, we can work through them and can prevent that situation from being a trigger in the future.

This year, I’m going to make a valiant effort to see situations for what they truly are, and I’ll do that by helping that person struggling at the gym, by being open-minded when I meet new people, and by examining situations from all angles so that I am able to make rational, informed decisions. I will not argue with my neighbors, I will welcome open dialogue and I will respect their beliefs, even when they do not align with my own. Because everyone has a right to live how they choose. By focusing on these things, I can not only improve myself but also my relationships with those around me. I will be better prepared to take on other challenges as life progresses, even the physical ones. This year, instead of placing emphasis on my physical appearance I will be working on the most important parts of myself. I hope you will do the same.

Quote of the Week #3

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,
stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Quote of the Week #2

“It’s not what you are that holds you back, it’s what you think you are not.”

― Denis Waitley

Time’s Up


 “Beep beep, beep beep.” His alarm sounded promptly at six a.m., the same as it had every Monday since his eighteenth birthday. Today it did not fulfill its duty in rousing him. Rufus was already awake and had been for some time. He’d spent the last three hours staring at the cracks on his bedroom ceiling contemplating the day ahead. He was so lost in concentration that he barely registered the sound as the clock roared to life. He rolled onto his side and slapped the top of the clock to quell the ringing. He knocked it from its perch on the nightstand when he did, and it shattered as it hit the floor. A sigh escaped him. He tossed back the covers and sat upright, swinging his legs over the side of the bed, and looking down at the plastic pieces strewn about the hardwood floor. He grimaced. The alarm clock was a birthday gift from his mother. He pictured her now, wearing the same jestful smirk she wore when she declared, “Now that you are an adult you will be responsible for getting yourself out of bed before school!” The clock had served him well for 16 years but now it was just another thing he’d need to replace. Another expense he could not afford.

He rose from the bed and stumbled across the floor to the bedroom door. He proceeded down the hall to retrieve a small brush and dustpan from the linen closet. A familiar voice could be heard calling to him from the bottom of the stairs,

“Honey, are you up? Breakfast will be ready in fifteen minutes!”

“Be down in a minute Emily!” he muttered, carefully sweeping up the pieces of the broken clock and placing them in the trash receptacle. He began dressing for the day, pulling on the grey dress slacks and white collared shirt his wife laid out for him. He fiddled with his purple tie for ten minutes before becoming irritated. He tossed it onto the dresser and grabbed his sport coat. He paused for a moment, taking stock of his reflection in the mirror. Course stubble carpeted his jawline. The toll of countless sleepless nights hung heavy beneath his eyes. He sighed again, casting his eyes to the floor, and trudged downstairs to the kitchen.

Rufus entered the kitchen to find his wife and children already seated around the table. “Good Morning Daddy!” his youngest daughter squeaked. She rose from her chair and raced toward him, planting a tight hug around his left leg.

“Good morning Pumpkin!” he replied, patting her on the head. Rufus took his place at the head of the table and picked at the breakfast his wife had prepared. He didn’t have much of an appetite,

“Honey, my check engine light is on again, I think you need to take it into the shop,” Emily said. An agitated sigh escaped him.

“Ok, I’ll drop it at the shop on my way into work; you can take my car today.” He said hesitantly.

 “Oh, and Coach Moss called, Dylan’s soccer fees are past due, we have to pay $600.00 by Friday or they won’t let him participate in training.”

Rufus dropped his fork. It made a loud clanging sound as it hit his plate. He closed his eyes in frustration and took a deep breath. “I’ll take care of it dear, No worries!” He was lying. Lately all he did was worry. His wife was oblivious. She was a stay-at-home mom with a penchant for online shopping. She hadn’t worked a day in her life. She had no idea what the state of their affairs really was, and he had no intention of telling her. Not if there was a way for him to fix it. He rose from his chair abruptly.

“Sorry to rush off, I need to hurry if I am going to get your car to the shop and still be on time for work.” He paused for a moment looking deeply into his wife’s eyes and thanked her for breakfast. His tone was brittle, but his words rendered unending gratitude. Something about his actions made Emily feel uneasy.

“Are you feeling ok?” she asked. He nodded and kissed her on the forehead. He made his way around the table, hugging each of his children tightly before hurrying into the den to retrieve his keys and briefcase.

He grabbed his laptop and a stack of papers from the desk, dumped them into his empty briefcase, and shoved his keys into his pocket. “I love you all!” he called and pulled the front door tightly closed behind him.  A few minutes later the green Ford Taurus sputtered out of the driveway and he headed off down the road with Rufus at the helm.

He drove around for almost two hours before parking the car in the empty lot at Crawford Woods Park. He had been coming here for months. His charade had held up nicely and so far, his family was unaware that he had lost his job. He had gone on several interviews, but nothing had come to fruition. He had either received rejection letters or no response at all. He opened his briefcase and began rifling through the various papers. He organized them, placing them in a neat stack on the passenger’s seat next to him. He opened his laptop and double-clicked the word document on his desktop labeled “Budget.” He stared at the screen for several minutes before slamming the laptop shut in frustration. Tears began to well in his eyes. He felt as though he had failed his family. “Some adult I turned out to be.” He thought.

Rufus exited the vehicle leaving the keys in the ignition and his cell phone in the cupholder. Raindrops pounded down upon him as he proceeded walking briskly toward I-95, the busy section of highway which ran parallel to the park. He paused briefly at the curb, looked both ways, and then stepped out into oncoming traffic. He heard the screech of brakes on the pavement and felt a giant burst of pain radiate through is body before everything went black.

Three days later; Emily sat on a creaky wooden bench in the lobby of the Covington Police Station. “Emily Cline!” an officer shouted from behind the glass. Emily approached the counter and slid her I.D. to the officer through the opening in the window. He returned the I.D. and placed a clear plastic bag on the counter. “One cell phone, one set of keys.” He began to naming the contents of the bag while marking each item off a list as he did so and slid the bag over to her once he was finished. She sat down on the bench and began rummaging through the contents of the bag. Among the paperwork, Rufus had left in the car were several overdue bills, a foreclosure notice, and a copy of their life insurance policy. She pulled out his cell phone and powered it on. The green notification light began blinking, notifying her of unread messages. She waded through various emails and texts before dialing the voicemail box to listen to the unheard voice messages. The first message began to play. “Mr. Cline, this is Stan Bardswell from KOA Corporation. We met several weeks ago, and we were impressed with you during your interview. We would like to formally offer you the position of Supply Chain Analyst. Please give me a callback, we’d like to get you started at soon as possible.” The message trailed off as Emily lowered the phone from her ear. She sat there frozen with the weight of the world on her shoulders.

Quote of the Week #1

Something to be Thankful For

It is going to sound morbid, but I cannot count the number of times I’ve pictured someone in my life dying. I imagined where I would be, how I would be told, how I would react, and how the days after would unfold. In a way, I think these thoughts were a way to prepare myself because I knew at some point it would happen because it happens to everyone. But now I know that nothing you do will ever prepare you for the loss of someone you love, especially when their death is unexpected because you do not get the chance to say goodbye or make amends. Your life changes in an instant and you are left with a void that cannot be filled.

Sunday, November 14, 2021, was one of the darkest days of my life. I woke to the sound of ACDC’s Thunderstruck roaring through the speaker on my cell phone. I rolled over to see my mother’s face plastered across the screen of my phone as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. I swiped the screen and pressed the earpiece to my ear while returning my head to its spot on the pillow. My mom’s voice sounded through the earpiece beckoning me to wake up. She was calm and her voice was soft. “Honey I need you to wake up.” That calm tone was eerie and put me on alert, I sat upright in bed and kicked my legs over the edge of the bed. I crept quietly out of the room so that I would not wake my son who was asleep beside me. I exited the house and stood barefoot on the front porch. I cannot remember the exact words that were spoken but I do recall my mom telling me the story of what had occurred that morning and telling me that she needed to stay calm because the kids were with her, and they did not know. I remember asking her who knew and then told her I would take care of calling my dad because I could tell that she wasn’t going to get through another phone call as calmly as she had this one.

When we ended our call, I crumbled. I can still hear the guttural moan that escaped my lips as my legs gave way and my knees hit the pavement. It took me several minutes to collect myself before dialing my dad and delivering the same agonizing blow I had just been dealt. I had to tell him that his first-born child, his daughter, my older sister, had died. I do not have the words to express what it is like to tell someone that their child has died, to detail what it is like to hear their reaction over the phone and to not be able to be there to comfort them, but I pray none of you ever have to be the one to do that.

As the news of my sister’s passing spread, we were accosted by a whirlwind of phone calls, texts, and social media posts, that were made with the best of intentions but proved too overwhelming to manage during the first few days after her passing. As most do, we gathered as a family, discussed arrangements, and discussed what would happen with my sister’s children going forward.

I am telling you all of this because it is important that you understand what we were feeling and so that you know the difficult roads we were attempting to navigate while still dealing with the shock of a significant loss. So that you are aware of the impact you have had on us over the past ten days and how profoundly grateful we are to have each and every one of you in our lives.

 With the help of my good friend Brandi, I was able to obtain information about Butler County’s Kinship Navigator program, a program that is offered free by the county (regardless of income) to families living within the county. The program helps those who need it apply for legal custody, file for assistance, Medicaid, and even find support groups and other resources as needed. You can learn more about the program by visiting their website at https://www.bcesc.org/apps/pages/kinship . I reached out to them for assistance with filing for legal custody of my nephew Jackson. My brother also utilized their assistance when filing for legal custody of our niece Tinsley. We have been navigating this process together. And I can say with 100% certainty that without this program we would have been lost and might still be trying to figure out the logistics.

Upon learning of our loss and the plans we had for moving forward we were inundated with a barrage of texts, emails, and Facebook posts all from friends wishing to contribute and help us and the kids in our time of need. While we were not necessarily asking for donations, they came in full force, and we couldn’t be more thankful. It all started with a post made by a friend we made playing an online game about 20 years ago in a group that we as a family have grown remarkably close with over the years and it spiraled from there.

We received support from some of the most unexpected places. Everyone from family to friends we have only ever met online has helped support us in one way or another, whether it was a kind word, food, the gift of time and labor, furniture, or a monetary donation. Because of the support of our amazing family and friends we have been able to cover the entire costs of Michelle’s cremation and memorial service. We have also been able to transition the children into their new living spaces more quickly and when it is all said and done, their Christmas will be fully covered as well.

The outpouring of support that we have received from you over the past ten days has spoken volumes about the people that we have chosen to surround ourselves with. It has opened our eyes to the community we are a part of. We may have lost a sister, a daughter, a mother, but we have come to realize that family is much more than blood, that you are our family and without you, we wouldn’t have come this far so quickly. We are truly grateful for each and every one of you (you know who you are) and if ever a time comes when you need us, we will remember what you have done for us, and we’ll return that goodwill in kind.  

This Thanksgiving will not be the same as years past, there will be no one to make the pecan pie and we’ll have one less person betting on what time our mom will finally arrive for Thanksgiving dinner (my bet is 2:15pm even though dinner is scheduled for 1:00pm), we will still be grieving and doing our best to put on brave faces for one another but we’ll also have something to truly be thankful for, and that my friends, is you.

You have been the light during our darkest hours. We wish you all the best this holiday season and if you do anything else for our family, hug yours a little tighter and tell them how much you love them because none of us know when the last opportunity for that will present itself.

In Loving Memory

Today I received a text message from my mom. She said she wanted to call me, that she had something to tell me. Seems weird right? Why wouldn’t she just call? The second I read the message I knew what was coming, I knew what she wanted to tell me. She was going to tell me that my cousin had finally passed away. It was a call I had been expecting for several years now because, like so many others, my cousin was a heroin addict, so in my mind it stood to reason that eventually, one of these overdoses would be his last.

I was right, my cousin had passed away, but it wasn’t at all what I expected. After a long battle with addiction, having suffered numerous medical afflictions, his body finally gave in to years of harsh treatment at the hands of dugs abuse. My cousin, Nicholas Blackwell, was sober when passed away peacefully in his sleep in the early morning hours of Thursday August,5, 2021. He was 41 years old, 19 days shy of his 42nd birthday.

When I learned of this news, I wrestled with how I felt. Like most people do when they lose someone close to them, I cried. Then I struggled with whether I had a right to be crying. Nick and I hadn’t been close in a very long time. Like most people do when their loved ones succumb to addiction, I’d pretty much cut ties with him. After watching him lie, cheat, and steal from family and friends I wasn’t going to give him the opportunity to do that to me. When he sent me a friend request on Facebook, I didn’t accept it because I didn’t want to give him the chance to take advantage of me the way he had done so many others. I’m ashamed to say that now, but that is the reality.

For a short time in our youth, he lived with us, and I’m told that my mom was working toward getting custody of him. His mother lured him home with false promises and moved him to Tennessee which made getting him back almost impossible for my mom. I feel like she still blames herself a little for how his life turned out, but I think she did the best she could, given the circumstances. Being ripped from our family meant he was torn away from the only people close to him who could help improve his quality of life.

Looking back, I realize that Nick was a product of his condition. A son, born to two drug users, who could barely take care of themselves let alone someone else. In situations like these the argument of nurture versus nature is irrelevant because for people like Nick, nature and nurture were one and the same.  His predilection to drug abuse was inherent since birth. It was genetic. And the environment in which he developed amplified that predisposition.  

On Wednesday, August 24, 2021, a few hours before his death, my cousin took to Facebook to share his thoughts with the world. It was originally written in text shorthand, and I’ve cleaned it up a bit for the purpose of this post. Basically, the post said:

“Well, I don’t care to share with everyone that I know. Friends, fam, or acquaintances. That yes, I’m in a nursing home because I’m a 2-time loser by my own Hand. I can say that cause it’s the truth as I see it through my eyes. Free will is a gift from God. It can open many pathways in a person’s life for good things and not so good things. Different outcomes in one’s life depending on the path u take. I chose the not so good life because it’s shaved about 20 years of my end game, but I did it. No one else. Did I think it would be this way? No, I thought I would have died by NOW … I USED TO WANNA LEAVE cause growing up I always felt that no one was there for me, because everyone’s lives are and unfair that’s what I used to tell myself up into my late 20’s… But the sad thing is that the one I hated the most my mom changed the most between not being able to see the change in her until after she passed. I did what I’ve been doing most of my life but way harder, I went dark inside and autopilot on the outside, my failure to one thing in these word that I help make was my beautiful boy Dalton Blackwell Hobbs. I should’ve tried harder. I wish I would have been stronger in smarter and way less emotional, life might have been different. Freewill right? love u Son, if u ever read this, I did and do love u and wish I made you my pathway, my choice, u deserved better and I hope your mom married a good man and he’s good to u and I loves u as his own … God forgive me for the poor choices I have made and the people I’ve hurt stolen from, used … I ask for your forgives owe lord for this man stripped of everything let all my sins lay bare before u FORGIVE ME oh Lord the alpha and Omega I cannot pass on thro u and the truth in the end will set me free Jesus name I pray AMEN. SORRY I GOT OFF POINT TO THOSE WHO MAY READ IT.”

I used to be one of those people who questioned why Narcan was available free of charge to save an addict’s life and necessities like Insulin and EpiPens were not. It just seemed reasonable that people who choose not to protect their own lives and make choices that are guaranteed to destroy not only their own lives, but the lives of others, shouldn’t be afforded that convenience when there are people all over the world struggling to afford medications that can save their lives. Lives they want.

Today I see it differently.

This week a recovering addict and friend of mine shared a post on social media that explained the rationale behind it, that made me see the argument in a new light and the post explained it better than I ever could, it explained that EMT’s have an obligation to revive a person in an emergency, not treat them. It went on to explain that Narcan is not a treatment for addiction, it is a tool used to save lives. Today I’m grateful for that tool, because it provided my cousin with a chance to come to terms with the choices he made in his life and to try, if only momentarily, to make amends for them.

Going forward I choose to remember Nick as he was before drug addiction took control of him. I’m going to remember the times we spent at our grandma’s in the summer, fishing, riding four wheelers, and driving our uncles crazy. I’m going to remember how Grandma use to baby him, except of course when she made him sit on the front porch and watch the Tennessee vs. Kentucky games through the front window because he had the audacity to root against the Wildcats in her home. I’m going to remember the person who, along with my older sister, carried me upside down for three blocks when I cracked my head open on a patch of ice because he didn’t want to get blood on his clothes. Looking back now its one of my favorite memories from our childhood.

You may not have realized it, but you were loved. Wherever you are now, I hope you are at peace.

Rest in Peace.

Nicholas Andrew Blackwell

August 24, 1979- August 5, 2021

Thank You Mom

For some reason, when I think back on my childhood the memories that are the easiest to remember are the bad ones. I’m not sure why bad memories tend to be more prominent in my mind, but It is my opinion that they serve a purpose. Those memories are the ones where although there was struggle, lessons were learned.  

One of the oldest memories I have is from one Christmas shortly after my parents divorced. My Dad was remarried to a woman with two daughters, and we spent the morning opening gifts as a family. I recall opening a gift that contained clothing of some kind with a small Minnie Mouse necklace that I was overly excited about. Upon revealing the gift to my family my Dad and Stepmother realized the error that was made when wrapping the gifts. The gift I had just opened was a gift for my stepsister. It was a bummer relinquishing the gift, but I sucked it up and we went about our day.

Later that morning My Dad dropped us off to our Mom so we could celebrate with her.  I cannot recall every detail of that day, but I can summarize by saying we greeted our Mother and told her all about our morning while showing her the gifts we received at our Dad’s before opening presents with her.

I remember opening one of my gifts, a Fisher-Price Rock-a-Stack and upon seeing the gift, I admit, I acted horribly. I declared that it was a baby’s toy, and I didn’t want it. I’m not sure if the events that took place earlier that day had an effect on how I reacted but to this day I can still remember the look on my mother’s face. Sadness, hurt and disappointment, and I’m still incredibly ashamed of how I acted in that moment.

I remember my Mom taking the toy and making a statement about how if I didn’t want the toy, we’d put it up for someone who would appreciate it. She then put it on a shelf above our basement stairs and it stayed there for quite some time and every time I’d go up or down the stairs I’d see it there on the shelf.

One day I remember asking her if I could have it, I had changed my mind and wanted to play with it, and she refused to let me have it.  Looking back, I know that her refusal wasn’t to be cruel due to my reaction, it was to teach me a lesson. It was to teach me to appreciate the things I have, the gifts I receive and the people who provide them.

It took me a long time to understand that, that Christmas after a very trying few years in which my mother was divorced and her support system (my Grandma) moved out of state, my Mom needed help to provide her children with Christmas gifts and she didn’t necessarily choose those gifts for us, but she did her best to make sure that when the day came, we had something under the tree.

Each Christmas after that I can say she never failed. She worked herself to death every day to make sure we had what we needed, even if it wasn’t the trendiest item and come Christmastime, we always had gifts under the tree, even if it meant she did without. Perhaps that is why I still go all out for Christmas, and sometimes my husband says I go a bit overboard, I’m just carrying on a tradition she started.

Because of that memory I make it a point to instill those same lessons in my own children. While I am lucky enough to provide them with more than I ever had, I do my best to ensure that they appreciate what they have and that they know how lucky they are. Especially around Christmas time when my husband and I remind them as we take them to shop for gifts for less fortunate children after we’ve chosen an “Angel” or two off the tree.

Teaching my children the same lessons you taught me isn’t always easy, but it is necessary.

For making me a better person, for making me a better Mother, Thank you Mom!

I love you.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Marketing Perspective: Influencers & Big Business

Over the past several years the use of social media outlets by people across the globe has skyrocketed and because of that businesses all over the globe have been forced to adapt their marketing strategies to keep up with the technological tidal wave that has rendered the methods of the past as ineffective.  

While powerhouses like Budweiser and Coca-Cola will be ever present in television ads for as long as television is relevant, companies like these are evolving their marketing approaches and the celebrity endorsement ads of the past are being replaced by a new type of advertising by a new kind of face.

The creation of social media sites like YouTube has spurned a recreation of the American Dream. The white picket fence has been replaced with aspirations of self-made internet fame where making more than a living wage can be done from the comfort of your home if you know how to appeal to a specific online demographic.

Influencers like King Bach, Mr. Beast (aka Jimmy Donaldson) and even the once relevant Logan Paul are sought after by companies searching for online personalities with large followings within their target demographic to help promote their products.

For a fee, brands like Honey can integrate advertisements of their products and services via product placements within a specific influencer’s content, short ads fused with their YouTube videos and even product shout outs by the Influencers themselves during a video or post.

These influencers have insight into what today’s generation is looking for in terms of entertainment and they deliver that content free of charge to the user while getting paid a fee to promote a brand’s product in the process. It is a mutually advantageous arrangement by both parties, one wishing to sell their products to a specific consumer and the other assists them in reaching that goal by introducing and endorsing those products to a fan base that respects them and their judgement.

This tactic, however, is just a twist on an old method that previously utilized celebrity endorsements from people like Michael Jordan or Eva Longoria who endorsed products via television commercial or in a series of magazine ads. Companies have a long-standing tradition of utilizing the fame of another to gain support for their own products and self-made influencers are capitalizing on that strategy.

Stephen Hawking said, “Intelligence is the ability to adapt” and there is no question that there is brilliance behind this new evolved form of marketing, the only question lies in who the genius really is, the company or the influencer?

This blog post is a course assignment for my Social Media & Marketing Communications class at Southern New Hampshire University.

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