My Grandma Betty

 

Last week I got married to an amazing man.

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Really, everything was so perfect, it was like a dream. There were a few friends and family members who were unable to make it, and we were definitely disappointed by that, but such things are expected of weddings, and so many loved ones did come show us support that it was easy to focus on the positive.  Over the course of the weekend there were countless laughs, a few tears of joy, and memories made that will last a lifetime. On Sunday we danced the night away, and as Chris and I walked out to the car in the drizzling rain after the final song, I couldn’t help the smile that came to my face as I thought that our wedding must have been an exception to the rule– not a single thing had gone wrong.

It wasn’t until we were on a plane the next day bound for our honeymoon to Mexico that I realized I had forgotten something. It came to me in a flash and the thought hit my gut like a boulder. I had forgotten to take a photo at the wedding with one of the most important people in my life, my Grandma. Not only that, I had neglected a photo opportunity with that whole table. My aunt, uncle, and cousins who were also ushers in my wedding were absent from the list of people I remembered posing with. The latter were easier for me to swallow since I’ve been pretty good about taking pictures with them in the past, but the absence of a photograph with my Grandma definitely put a damper on my good mood, as we are notoriously bad at taking pictures together for some reason and I had made a mental note several times throughout the weekend to remedy that.  But before I knew it the opportunity had once again passed us by, and the possibility that I had missed it absolutely crushed me. Not wanting to ruin the honeymoon, I pushed the thought aside and told myself that I was probably mistaken and I’d figure it out when we got home.

 

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Even Chris is better at taking pictures with Grandma than I am.

 

Five days later my mom verified my suspicion and I was overwhelmed with sadness and guilt. It wasn’t the thought of the picture itself necessarily, but the fear that my Grandma, my friend and my hero, might doubt how important she was to me because I had forgotten it. My mom tried to comfort me by telling me that experiences are more important than pictures.

As with most motherly wisdom, this simple sentence hit me in waves. At first it just passed over me, and I took no comfort and continued to wallow in guilt and self-pity. But as I got ready for the day, the sentiment continued to crash over and over into my mind, bringing along with it memories with my Grandma, experiences we had shared. And I realized that, of course and as usual, my mom was right. There’s nothing to be done about a missed photo opportunity, but I had memories that I knew would never fade.

One of the first memories I have with my Grandma is an unusual thing to remember. This morning I realized I had just brought this up to Chris the other day. We were talking about kids today not respecting their elders, and I told him that no matter how much our Grandma spoiled us when we were kids, we definitely knew better than to act up on her watch. All it took was one time, my little sister was throwing a temper tantrum (and I was egging her on I’m sure) and Grandma gave one warning and then thumped Anna right in the head with the loudest thump I’ve ever heard to this day. I remember Anna gazing at her, stunned, and stopping her tantrum immediately.  In typical Grandma fashion, she didn’t linger on the incident, and we were all laughing a few minutes later.

I remember going to Grandma’s house when we were little and sitting in her big chair and watching Days of Our Lives with her. Endlessly patient, Grandma would fill us in on the years of backstory, and the three of us sat entranced, wondering if Stefano was really still alive, or what tricks Sami had up her sleeve that week. Anna and I felt like little adults, and like the three of us had our own marvelous alliance, and thinking on these lazy summer afternoons with Grandma fills me with so much joy.

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Days Of Our Lives with Grandma, Anna, and Molly.

 

Then there were memories that I shared with my Grandma alone. When I was 8 or 9, before my beloved Papa passed away, we went on a family camping trip one summer. My Grandma and I got up early one morning and crossed a small creek to go into the woods. We found a huge tree and dug a hole, then together we buried one of my Grandma’s rings. The details are fuzzy, I’m not sure if one day we intended to go find it again, or if we just hoped maybe someone else would. The intent doesn’t matter so much as the ritual itself. For us it was a secret, something we alone shared, and that makes it one of the most special experiences of my life. It makes me smile to think that somewhere in the woods on the Naches Trace, there’s a big tree with our initials carved a few feet above the ground, and beneath it is a piece of our hearts.

There are precious memories of long nights of card games. It is well-known among my family that I inherited my competitive nature from my Grandma. Any game she could teach me I learned eagerly, and the two of us are always ready to continue long after everyone else is ready to quit. Unlike me, however, my Grandma doesn’t get upset or angry if she loses; she’s always just ready to shuffle up and play a new game. Actually, when I think about it, over the last 27 years I can’t recall a single time my Grandma has dwelled in anger or sadness. I’m sure it’s happened, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t recall a day with my Grandma where her smile was absent, or she didn’t crack a joke. My Grandma is quick to speak her mind about everything, and she’s stubborn too (another trait she passed on), but she also gives the best advice, and she’s never met a stranger. She’s also one of the toughest people I know, not just mentally but physically too. Over the years I’ve seen her with bumps and bruises, cuts and scrapes and bone breaks, but she doesn’t dwell on them beyond an occasional comment poking fun at her own clumsiness.

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None of these little anecdotes paint as accurate a picture as I’d like to share. Between tricking me into letting her pull my baby teeth, telling me and my friends scary stories in the dark at my first slumber party, giving me my first car of my very own, taking me on my first trip to NYC when I was sixteen, giving me advice on how to have a marriage as happy as she and my Papa had…there are thousands of little moments and I can’t even scratch the surface. I just want my Grandma to know how much I love her, how much I admire her, and even though I didn’t get a photo to capture the moment, when I close my eyes I know I’ll always be able to recall how I felt when she squeezed my hand and told me how happy I looked with Chris, what a beautiful bride I made, and that she knew Papa was right there with us.

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How to Help: Why Saying You’ll Pray About It Is Not Enough.

A man is marooned on a deserted island. There is no help in sight. However, this is a man of faith, and he is confident that his God will save him. He cries out in prayer, “Lord, save me! Get me off this island!”

In the distance, the man finally sees that a boat is approaching. The captain calls out to him, offering to pick him up.

“No thanks,” the man replied, “God is going to save me. I will continue to pray.”

Over the next week, another two boats pass by, but the man does not get aboard, insisting that the Lord will save him from inevitable demise.

The man prays every day and every night to be saved. Then he dies of starvation.

At the Pearly Gates he cries to God, “Why did you forsake me, your faithful and devoted servant?!”

God said, “I sent you three freaking boats, what did you want from me?”

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Don’t misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong with saying that you’ll pray for someone. Plenty of people pair this sentiment with action. Everyone relays this message with good intentions in his or her heart. But anyone can see that it’s become a very common crutch for us to lean on when we don’t know what else to do. When we feel helpless, when we want to offer some comfort, saying we’ll pray for someone makes US feel better, and we tell ourselves that it is making them feel better as well. As good intentioned as we may all be though, I’m willing to bet not even half of us, every single time we’ve uttered this promise, actually stop what we’re doing in that moment and even pray.

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I’m not debating the power of prayer, either. The truth is, I don’t know. Although it’s been a tumultuous year for me, faith-wise, I still continue to pray- I always have. But if praying was enough, I can’t wrap my mind around the reason for humanity at all. If our Creator intended for us to just be able to pray all our problems away, what would be the point of you and me? And it has to be FAIR too, right? Because John Doe has cancer and a million of his social media followers and his wife’s prayer group gets the entire city he lives in to pray for him all hours of the day, is his cancer more LIKELY to be cured than the little girl’s cancer in a foreign country, that no one knows about and no one prays to be healed, herself included, because she doesn’t even know how to pray, because no one was around to even tell her there was a God?

I don’t think so.

What if ALL Mother Teresa did was pray? What if she wasn’t there holding the sick people’s hands and bathing them and talking to them? What if MLK Jr. only prayed? If they didn’t also take action we’d have very different history books than we do today. Even the Bible would look much different, if all Jesus did was pray. It would be a very short book.

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Today we have more resources at the tips of our fingers than we can even comprehend. If we don’t know how to help, we can just google it. That’s what I did this morning.

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Venezuela is in a state of crisis. This hits home especially  hard for me because my mom married an amazing woman from Venezuela, and all of her family still lives over there, and they are suffering. And it’s nearly impossible for them to leave. So when she took to Facebook yesterday to spread awareness to this crisis, her post was inevitably flooded with promises of prayer and well wishes. I wanted to write the same thing, to let her know I read it, to let her know I was thinking of her, to let her and everyone else know how much I loved her. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t enough. I always pray for her and her family. What ELSE could I do? I read every comment, hoping someone was feeling the same way I did, hoping that there would be some constructive link that was shared.

There wasn’t, so I did the leg work myself. It took less than 5 minutes for me to find this article: 6 Easy Ways You Can Help the Crisis in Venezuela. http://forher.aleteia.org/articles/venezuela/

Then I said a prayer for good measure.

And if you’re cynical like me and don’t trust that all charities have the best of intentions, you can also read the comments in the article. Plenty of people who have family in Venezuela are also posting ideas, and what has worked for them and what hasn’t.

Then there’s Aleppo. This situation in Syria has fortunately received more media attention, and therefore it’s even easier to find ways to help. I figured Time Magazine is one of the more reputable sources, so check out this article. http://time.com/4602080/support-aleppo-victims/

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Praying and donating money are perhaps the easiest ways to try and help the world, but there are thousands of other possibilities, things you can do to help the people around you. When I went through a bad breakup years ago, all the well wishes were very appreciated and always will be, but one of my best friends stocked my pantry full of junk food and sat around with me and watched cheesy girl movies, and another made me a thoughtful playlist full of great breakup songs. When someone you know gets diagnosed with an illness, the best thing you can do for them is go see them. Be with them, make them laugh. When your friend gets sent to prison (don’t scoff, with our justice system it’ll happen more often than not), taking 20 minutes out of your day to write and send a letter makes all the difference in the whole world. Same thing goes for your loved ones serving in the military, although now it’s even easier, you could actually email them in most cases.

The point is, there are a plethora of constructive ways to start to heal the world, and it all starts with our willingness to step outside of our comfort zones and dig just a little deeper. Please feel free to comment on this post with links, ideas, or things you’ve personally experienced that have helped you in a time of crisis.

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Guest Post: Caleb Baccus

As you might have noticed, I have been plagued with writer’s block lately. Luckily, one of my best buds Caleb never runs out of things to say 🙂 He kindly volunteered to share one of his fondest memories on my blog, and, knowing the world needs something happy to read, I gladly took him up on his kind offer. I also really like the message he is sharing with the world in this post. So without further ado:

Meeting a Hero by Caleb Baccus

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I believe everybody has someone they admire. Most of the people I admire I will never get to meet. Shakespeare, Dumas, Thomas Jefferson, Tolkien, and many more. However, one of these people I admire I did get to meet. At the time, it was a decision that I reluctant to make.

It all started on a random Monday in June, over two years ago. During this period in my life, I worked mostly nights, and not for much money. I was supposed to be working that night. However, through a weird scheduling screw up I had the night off, and I had no idea what to do with it. I kept calling friends seeing if anybody wanted to hang out. One was on a date, another was out of town, most of them were at work. So, it was just Caleb, Netflix and chilling by myself.

Bored out of my mind, I started to do what most of us do, I begin scrolling through Facebook. Among all the usual funny memes, pissed off people, and cat videos, I saw a post by my favorite living author, Patrick Rothfuss. He was asking the good people of Texas where the best place to eat barbecue was, because he was in Austin tonight at a reading and signing.

At reading this news, I was immediately filled with excitement, followed quickly by dread. You see, the job I had did not make me a lot of money. So, I had a decision to make. Was I to use the last of my money to meet one of my heroes? Or do the responsibility adult thing and stay at home? Naturally, I reached out to my best friends to get some much-needed advice.

The first friend I talked with was one of my two best friends, Jess. He was the one who introduced me to The Name of the Wind, Rothfuss’ first novel. Jess’s response was well thought out. He asked questions, got info, and in the end told me that I may never have this chance again. He was right, which is why he is my best friend.

The other friend I talk to was my roommate Carlos. I gave him the same info I gave Jess. Waited patiently for his response. Finally, he replied, “Yeah, sure… whatever.” And that is why he is my other best friend.

After all this I decided to go see my hero in Austin. I had $45 left to my name. I put $20 in my car and drove to the bookstore where the signing was to be held. I got there just in time to hear him read a kid’s book he had once read to his son. It was a Roald Dahl book called Esio Trot. Like most of Dahl’s books, it wasn’t very good. I won’t go into it. Rothfuss already gave a great review of it that you can read yourself:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/850881820

However, what Rothfuss did was change the ending of the book for his son. His change that made the book much better. It amazes me what a small change can do to a story. The man blows me away.

Rothfuss then said he will begin his signing. It was one of those wrist band signings, and since I hadn’t gotten one yet I knew I was going to be there for a while. Also, I didn’t have anything for him to sign. I went downstairs to spend my last $25 to buy Name of the Wind.

Standing in the long line gave me time to observe the family in front of me. The little girl standing with her mother and father was the most adorable girl I’d seen in a long time. I wish I had the words to describe her. I do not. Suffice it to say I spent the better part of three hours watching this girl with a mountain of books, adorably fitting as many as possible in her tiny arms to re-stack every time the line moved, reading as much as she could, and discussing what she was reading with her mother.

The closer I got to the room where Rothfuss was signing, the more of the conversations with the author I could hear, and they were interesting. One of my favorites of the night occurred when one fan wanted him to sign a saxophone. Rothfuss said he would, but only if the fan played something for him.

It’s important to note that Rothfuss has a huge musical theme running through his Kingkiller Chronicles, the series in which Name of the Wind is the first novel, and so there are a lot of musicians who feel a strong connection to the books. The musical influence isn’t just from the main character being a bard, or all the talk of music in the book, but also from the way Rothfuss structures his sentences. There is a certain flow and beauty to his words that feel like music. Consider my favorite passage from his second book A Wise Man’s Fear:

 “I hear what poets write about women. They rhyme and rhapsodize and lie. I have watched sailors on the shore stare mutely at the slow-rolling swell of the sea. I watched old soldiers with hearts like leather grow teary-eyed at their king’s colors stretched against the wind.

Listen to me: these men know nothing of love.

You will not find it in the words of poets or the longing eyes of sailors. If you want to know love, look to a trouper’s hands as he makes his music. A trouper knows.”

Another theme in these novels is names. The main character, Kvothe, has many names. At the beginning of the series he is going by Kote. Later, in a flashback, someone speaks in a foreign language. In the sentence he utters, he says the word ‘kote’. Working the sentence around I believe ‘kote’ means disaster. I became incredibly interested in finding out if my theory was correct. Standing in line, I knew this is what I wanted to ask him. As I got closer to him I nervously ran the question around in my mind over and over.

The family I had been behind the entire time finally reached Rothfuss. Just like I had been, the author was completely taken with the little girl. He took longer with them than any other person I’d seen. He even gave the little girl a children’s book he had written. It was so cool to watch the tired man become reinvigorated when conversing with this special girl.

Finally, it was my turn. I walked up and before I could say anything the author began to talk about the little girl. I knew that child had brightened his heart on a long hard day, and I lost my hope to ask the question I wanted to. It no longer felt right. Instead, I had him sign my book while we talked about the little girl, then I turned and left.

Even though I decided not to ask my question, the trip was absolutely worth it. To this day it is one of the happiest memories I cherish. I tell this story to advise, never let minute barriers get in the way of doing something like meeting a hero, or finishing a project, or any dreams you have. The biggest regrets we often have are the things we did not do, not how much money we saved at the end of the day by staying home.

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Side note: Patrick Rothfuss also helps one of my favorite charities. They are raising money right now and you can check it out at:

https://worldbuilders.org/

The End of an Era

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When my little sister and I weren’t fighting, we were always playing. It didn’t matter where we were, or what toys we did or didn’t have. Our imaginations were so vivid, we could transport ourselves to any place, or any time. We even spent the entire day outside once, painting the tree in our front yard with mud, so that “if a robber came and tried to climb the tree he would slip off and we could catch him”.  When we were really small, our favorite toys were little plastic animals. My go-to was a wolf puppy (I think his name was Wolfy) and Anna’s was a lizard, who was definitely named Fatty because of his big round belly. It did not matter that Wolfy and Fatty would never be companions in the real world; little kids don’t see in terms of segregation, even when it comes to large carnivorous mammals and tiny reptiles. Sometimes we were given Barbie dolls as gifts, but we always preferred the animals, and if we did play with the dolls they were usually given evil characteristics, and ultimately would become the villains that the animals would have to thwart. The end result was Barbies with shaved heads or Sharpie tattoos, and our parents soon figured out not to buy them anymore.

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Eventually we progressed to Beanie Babies. We grew with our toys, in that the issues they would deal with really began to mirror our own. Instead of two, we had a regular cast now of dozens of animals, and every day different soap-opera dramas would play out on our bedroom floor. The Beanie Babies all belonged to different cliques, they formed friendships and hobbies, and had crushes on one another. There were two different “bands” and with the help of my boom box, one band always performed country songs, while the other performed Backstreet Boys, Nsync, and Britney Spears. The animals all got along to some degree, but mostly the cats hung out with the cats, and the dogs with the dogs. The animals typically did not date outside their species. The cats were always up to something, the dogs were typically the kind, loyal friends and the most talented singers, and the other animals each had their own eccentric ways. One of the most devastating occurrences would be when Dotty and Sparky, the two Dalmatians and all-around most beloved couple, would fight and occasionally even break-up. Whenever this would happen, all other Beanie Baby drama would come to a halt and everyone would discuss the failing relationship in hushed whispers and speculate if Dotty and Sparky would ever truly find happiness. Whenever the celebrity couple inevitably reconciled, the entire kingdom would rejoice and usually celebrate with a rare adventure outside into the “wilderness” or by going to the amusement park (sliding down the stair banister).

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The older we grew, the more our imaginations shrank, and the Beanie Baby dramas become further and fewer between. We progressed to more outdoor activities, which usually involved me and my best friend Jeri ganging up on Anna, or Anna and her friends ganging up on me. Sometimes we would play “Cowboys and Indians” which basically came about when my stepdad helped Jeri and I make tiny bows and arrows and we chased Anna around and shot at her (the Cowboys never got weapons). One time the three of us dragged every single item out of my garage and made a giant “pirate ship” in the front year. My parents weren’t too happy about that one. When we got old enough that using our imaginations seemed like a silly thing to do, we started riding around on our bikes or razor scooters, or playing tag or shooting hoops.

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My little sister and I had bickered our whole lives, but whenever we would start playing together all the attitude would fall away and we would just focus on our toys. It was like escaping into an alternate reality.  So around middle school when we really began to be brats, we were really starting to lose touch with the barrier that kept us from killing each other.

One summer, not too long before it was time to go back to school, Anna paused outside my door. She looked at me with a slightly guarded, hesitant expression.

“Do you want to play with our Beanie Babies today? It’s been awhile since we have.”

I’d be lying if I said I remembered the exact circumstances leading up to that day. I’d be willing to bet, though, that we’d had a pretty brutal fight recently. And at that age I was  more stubborn and prideful than I am today. Whatever the case may be, I probably relished the opportunity to have the upper hand.

I turned up my nose and said, “Nah not today. Some other time.”

If you told me then that more than a decade later I’d still remember that exact moment, I probably wouldn’t believe you. But the slight flicker of disappointment that shone in my sister’s eyes because of me is something that has stuck with me. It was the last time she ever asked me to play with her. I don’t know how old I was. I don’t remember the drama that ensued during the actual last play session, because of course we didn’t know it would be the last. I don’t know if Dotty and Sparky ended up living happily ever after or not.  All I know is that we don’t ever know. We don’t know when it’s our last opportunity to be a child. We don’t know when it’s the last time our mom ever reads us a bedtime story or we sit in our grandfather’s lap.  And we won’t know when it’s the last time our own children ever ask us to play with them. The moments just pass and then they are gone. I’m not relating this memory to make anyone sad, or to preach to you to live every day as if it’s the last. This is just life, and for every last we experience there’s also a first. It’s unrealistic for me to tell you to cherish every moment. But maybe we can remember to let go of some of the pride, some of the stubbornness. Maybe we can just realize that there are plenty of happy moments in every day life, but they are fleeting and we often take them for granted.  My sister and I have become a lot closer as adults, but I know that days sticks with me for some reason, as some sort of lesson. And I know I’d give anything to go back and say yes, and end my childhood with the most badass Beanie Babies’ concert there ever was.

 

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It Could Always Be Worse

When I was a little kid, I was plagued with nightmares nearly every night.  I have no idea how these came about since my mom was extremely protective about the things we were exposed to; we never watched violent movies or television, and video games were strictly forbidden. Yet insane clowns, creatures without faces, demons, murderers, and ever-constant spiders chased me endlessly. I began a ritualistic obsession of repeating a prayer 100 times before trying to sleep, hoping this display of faith would keep the monsters at bay. When my mom told me that I was old enough for my own room, I insisted on continuing to sleep with my little sister; it made me feel safer. Of course I had to protect my reputation, so I told Anna that I was staying with her in case she had nightmares. I’m not sure if she or my mom actually believed me, but we stayed in the same room for years and the nightmares were something I just learned to deal with.

When I was 8 my mom remarried and we packed up and moved to Houston, and I entered into a blissful 12 year period where, exhausted from full days of school, sports,  and eventually work, I would fall quickly into an easy, dreamless sleep. In fact I entered into debates with friends occasionally when the subject of dreams was brought up, everyone had a hard time believing I didn’t dream at all. But every morning when I rubbed my eyes open, all I could recall from the past eight hours was perfect, black nothingness.  I never took these nights for granted, and every night and morning I thanked the Lord for keeping the monsters away.

Fast forward to college, and all of the sudden sleep is stolen from me. You’ve seen plenty of details about my insomnia in my last entry so I won’t go into it again, except to reiterate-it was hell. When you lie in a bed for eight hours trying to sleep, your mind starts playing tricks on you. Especially if you don’t dream. I started to think, surely I slept. That black nothingness that was the back of my eyelids had to have been sleep at some point, right? But the dark blue circles under my eyes in the mornings told me, no, I didn’t sleep. And so the ritualistic praying came back, but this time I begged Dear Lord bring the nightmares back. I don’t care, I’ll run from monsters all night long just please let me sleep. Eventually, that’s exactly what happened. I got on some meds that came with night terrors, but they were nothing I wasn’t used to. The most epically fucked-up, violent things could occur in my nightmares, but every morning I wake up after having them, I am overcome with gratitude that at least I slept.

My point is this: I cringe inwardly whenever somebody says, “well at least things can’t get any worse”. Yes they can. They always can. I’m a personal testament that you could find yourself in the situation of praying for your worst nightmares. I sat with a recently widowed lady one time at work, trying to help her figure out how to manage her timeshare after her husband’s death. We talked about her long marriage and she told me, “he got on my nerves so much. We would bicker over the stupidest things. Some days I felt like wringing his neck. But then he passed, and I find myself wishing every day he was still with me. I’d relish every fight.”

I know that many people feel this way, especially after losing a loved one. I know my fiancé’s father was hard on him, but he’d give anything for one more day with him. I know the men and women in our military who sustain injuries and lose limbs would happily go back to boot camp in a second and suffer through the exhaustion and what they thought then was pain.   The worst times don’t only make you appreciate the good times that much more, but the times you used to think were the worst.

I use this thought to cope with unideal situations every day. Something happens, and I think, how could things be worse? And then I take my current situation and embrace it because it’s surmountable and really not that bad. It’s hard to do this sometimes. Sometimes you really just feel the need to wallow. But I’ve had too many loved ones who have suffered from actual depression to let myself wallow long. It’s cliché, but life is really too short. So instead, I abstractly evaluate every situation.

Running low on money? At least I live in a country where I have endless opportunities to make more.

Got screwed over by a “friend”? At least I have a few who’d do anything for me.

Have a horrible, ear-splitting migraine? Imagine if I was somewhere with no access to Excedrin.

Feel like the country is going to shit, and people are more hateful than ever? For every person with hate in their heart, there’s another with love. The only way I can change anything is by loving everyone as much as possible, and showing them how to do the same. Maybe we have corrupt politicians, healthcare is a disaster, women still aren’t paid as much, etc. But look at a few videos of Venezuela, where my mom’s family still lives, and tell me you aren’t suddenly filled with gratitude for our home, with all of its injustices and broken people.  As you sit in front of your flat screen tv tonight and watch the Olympics after working a full day at a job that pays you more in a month than some people make in a year, let go of the annoyance with your boss or whatever is currently bruising your delicate ego and allow yourself to really think about how much worse everything could be, and how happy you are with everything you have.

Having nightmares? At least you can sleep.

Step 1: Admitting You Have a Problem

I hadn’t slept in 3 days when my mom took me to the hospital. I was hysterical; I thought I was going to die.

Please, I begged the doctor. Just give me a tranquilizer, knock me out.

We can’t do that, he told me. But I am going to admit you into an overnight program.

What he meant was basically a mental institution. But I was too exhausted to be scared, at first. It wasn’t until my mom dropped me off, and I looked around, that the fear set in. White walls, guards at the doors, and people who looked worse off than I did. The first boy to speak to me had bandages around his wrists. What are you in for, he asked me. I told him I couldn’t sleep. Oh yeah, he said, I never can either. I closed my eyes to stop the tears from spilling over, and told myself I didn’t belong here. They would just find me a cure, and I’d be gone.

The nurse listened to me ramble patiently that night as we all formed a line to take meds. Ambien, Lunesta, Xanax, Klonopin, Temazepam, Sonata, if you’re going to give me any of those drugs you’re wasting both of our time, I informed her as calmly as I could. I’ll never forget the smirk.

Ms. Wilkins, she told me, this is something you haven’t tried before, and I assure you, you will sleep tonight.

Even though my assigned roommate was sobbing into her sheets that night as I closed my eyes, I wasn’t bothered as I slipped into the best night’s sleep I’d had in three months. The next morning I found the doctor in charge straight away. I don’t need to stay another night, I told him, all I need is a prescription for what you gave me last night. He argued, telling me they wanted to keep me another night, that I would have to sign an AMA form if I insisted on leaving. I don’t belong here, I told him, and I’m extremely grateful you found me the right medicine.

Five years later, and I’ve taken 50 mg of Seroquel every single night to fall asleep. Every time I get a new doctor and have to explain to him/her what kind of prescription I need, I get the same look. Seroquel… they always trail off. But that’s an antipsychotic. Typically used to treat schizophrenia. I know it is, I say. And I’ve been tested to make sure I’m not bipolar, schizophrenic, or otherwise mentally disturbed. It’s just the only thing that lets me sleep, I explain for the umpteenth time.  And always it’s the same response, they give a little shrug, half-heartedly ask if I’ve tried Ambien, and write me a prescription. The extensive research I’ve done on the drug is probably as much as they know anyway. I don’t have many people to compare to. Some people take Seroquel to sleep, but usually only stay on it a few months at most before getting medicine actually meant for insomnia. Those who do take it for a mental disorder take 100s of mgs a day, doctors have guessed that maybe it’s not habit forming at the dosage I take. So I could take it forever, I once asked a psychiatrist. He literally shrugged. If the side effects don’t bother you, he said.

Side effects were something I never even thought about. Every night I closed my eyes, I thanked God and Seroquel I’d never lose a night of sleep again. It wasn’t until the night I let Chris try my pill that my perception started to waver a bit. He was worried about work, something we were both stressing about a lot at the time, and he was having some trouble sleeping. Take half of one of my pills, I offered, you’ll sleep like a baby.

The next day, my fiancé seemed furious at me. How can you do that every night, he demanded, his eyes bloodshot and his face puffy. I was confused, didn’t you sleep? I asked. Oh yeah, I slept, he’d said, but those dreams…

Oh, the night terrors, I said, shrugging. Yeah I only get them like once a week maybe.

YOU KNEW ABOUT THIS?? ONCE A WEEK?! JESUS!!!

I got used to them, I assured him. I don’t care. I’m just happy to sleep.

He pulled me into a hug. Elizabeth, last night had to be one of the worst nights of my life. If you go through that shit regularly, it cannot be good for you. Even now, I feel horrible. Like the worst hangover ever. We’ve got to get you off of this pill.

I returned his embrace, nodding, ok baby. But in my head I had no intention of changing a thing. Night terrors or not, I was able to sleep.

It was only a few weeks later I was sitting on my couch talking to a friend. The discussion of my upcoming wedding had transcended into other things. Are you going to have kids? She asked. Maybe, I answered without thinking, but maybe not because I don’t think I could take my sleeping pill if I was pregnant. The incredulous look she gave me made me feel a little guilty. That’s the big deciding factor, she asked, have you at least tried to get off of it?? Plenty of times! I lied. It’s impossible.

The truth is, talking about getting off Seroquel always gets me extremely defensive. Why should I get off it? It works right? Who am I hurting? I guess the answer to that is I don’t know. Maybe I’m hurting myself. They say the first step to overcoming an addiction is admitting you have a problem. This is the step I’m still working on. Chris recently went out and bought a bunch of Melatonin and Valerian Root for me. I know you’ve tried these things before, he interrupted my protests. But please try them again, and let’s start by cutting your pill in half. The next morning as he looked at me eagerly and asked if I’d slept ok, I couldn’t bear to tell him I’d chickened out and taken my normal dosage. I slept fine, I said, thank you.

Later, I sat across from my therapist and told her about my lie. Think about it this way, she said, are you planning on lying forever? Of course not, I admitted. Then you might as well try tonight, she said, you don’t work until noon tomorrow. But why should I? I pleaded. He’s trying to help but he doesn’t understand. This medicine saved me! I sleep like a baby on it. Why should I give that up?

She thought about my questions for a long pause before she spoke again. Ok, it’s like this, she finally said. It’s like if you came in with chronic pain and they prescribed you cocaine. Guaranteed you wouldn’t feel the pain anymore, but…

But at what price… I finished. Okay. I get it. I’ll try.

thS842WPVJ

Today is day three of only taking half of my pill. The past three nights I have slept, which surprises me. But I feel like total shit. The sleep I’ve had has been light, uncomfortable. Each morning my alarm goes off, I am exhausted. Headaches, nausea, and emotional instability has plagued my past few days. It’ll get better, Chris reminds me, but it will get worse first. Every night I’ve thought about giving up, but only the fear of having to start the withdrawal process over again keeps me in line. I wish he could just Johnny Cash me…basically lock my in a room for weeks and occasionally bring me soup until the whole mess is out of my system. But I have responsibilities, so I have to handle this process like an adult. Ironically, how hard this is is actually what’s helped to convince me it really IS a problem. If Seroquel wasn’t a hardcore drug that was really hooking me, it wouldn’t be so miserable to stop taking it.

Here’s the craziest thing no one tells you though: when you’re trying to quit an addiction, it speaks to you. Seroquel is in my ear every night, reminding me that it saved me, gently crooning that it would never hurt me, reminding me how much better I’ll feel if I just take the other half of my pill. It flares up in anger when anyone puts it down, and the poison spills out of my own mouth as I remind the accuser that they just don’t understand. Addiction has a way of making its victim feel so alone, so misunderstood, when really millions of us have been through the exact same thing.

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This isn’t going to turn into one of those blogs. I’m not going to give my readers daily updates of my trials and symptoms and progress and regressions. I’m not writing this to elicit sympathy, God knows many people have it worse than I do. No, I’m sharing this with you because I understand now that it’s this first step that’s so crucial. It doesn’t just apply to our addictions, but our relationships, our dreams, our fears, our world. As a nation we are hurting right now. We’ve become wrapped up in politics, skin color, sexual orientation, agendas that the media shove down our throats. We’ve gone from silently disagreeing with our friend’s opinions to refusing to stay friends with them because they oppose our views. We are being played like fiddles against our brothers and sisters and we could be on the brink of a civil war right now, and why? It’s because so many of us are stuck on step one, and I believe that it’s the hardest step there is. But until we can admit that we have a problem, there is never going to be a possibility of solution. We have to start with the man in the mirror before we even start to blame this person or that person. Then we have to forgive ourselves before we can begin to forgive others. We have to love ourselves before we can truly love others. The journey is long, and it will be hard and uncomfortable and we will want to give up every single day, and it’s not one that we will be able to navigate without support from each other, but it’s on us to take the first step.

thYWMBR605

 

 

Lessons From the Poker Table

One night during my sophomore year of college I was just about to get off from working a double when one of my co-workers invited me over for a “friendly” poker game. I excitedly accepted, my natural competitiveness even prompting me to brag about winning a few bucks in my buddy’s kitchen during high school. James just chuckled and asked how much cash I had on me. Five hours later I was sitting at the table already down $60 and soon to lose my next buy-in as well. I was effectively hooked.

Over the next 3 years, when I wasn’t at work or in class, you could almost always find me at a poker table. Thankfully, I did get better, but I spent plenty of nights that first year donating all the cash I had spent the day earning. I’ve always been overconfident when it came to any sort of game, but No-Limit Texas Hold Em’ finally humbled me. I can say without hesitation that I’m friends with some of the best players in San Antonio, maybe in the country, and while I could hold my own at a table n0w, my natural ability doesn’t even come close to theirs. That being said, playing poker supplied me with a greater education than sitting in classes for four years at a university did. I struggled through a Statistics class my first year of college, but after a few months of sitting at those tables I found myself calculating the odds of hitting my straight on the river and statistics suddenly made much more sense to me. Not to mention I could’ve taught the Nonverbal Communications class I took my senior year. The real beauty of a game like poker, though, is the life lessons it offers. So in honor of WSOP season, I’ve decided to share a few.

  1. Sharks don’t always look like sharks. If you’re at all like I was before I ever played poker, you probably have a mental image of what you think a card shark (or a “good” player) looks like. The person you imagine might be in a hoodie, sunglasses on, earbuds in, much like the pros you see on TV. It didn’t take me long to discover that the guys who showed up to our games looking like this were usually the wannabes who ended up going home with broken hearts and empty wallets. Meanwhile my buddies could have a beer in front of them and carry on an entire discussion about the basketball game going on in the background, all while being able to accurately predict the cards every other player is holding and scoop pots without a lapse in conversation. Sharks pay very close attention, which is why they are commonly perceived as quiet, the unassuming predators you won’t notice until it’s too late. While this can be true (I for one don’t tend to talk much when I play), the most lethal sharks are simply masters of disguise. They choose the role they want to play based on the way they can best manipulate those around them. For instance, if you’ve ever watched professional poker, you may know “Poker Brat”, Phil Hellmuth. Besides his brilliant card skills, Hellmuth is most commonly known for his loud-mouth, bullying, and obnoxious attitude. But if you’ve watched as much poker as I have, you’ve probably also come to the realization that this is just one face this sneaky shark wears. The Poker Brat character is perfect for tables that include amateur players; it’s intimidating, unnerving, and distracting. However, if you watched Poker After Dark and saw Hellmuth sitting with players like Phil Ivey, Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, etc. then you saw a completely different person. Antics don’t work with a table of professionals who have you pegged nine ways from Sunday the second you take your seat. Some of these sharks have reached the point of no longer having to rely on alternate personas. Some sharks probably have a persona only for when they’re being filmed, but play completely differently when not under public scrutiny. The point is, this philosophy is as good in the real world as it is at a poker table. Poker taught me never to prejudge, assume, or underestimate. The shark might not be the one winning every hand, but he/she is undoubtedly the one who learns something every hand. And you better believe they are collecting and storing every sliver of information to insure you never best them again.

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    The Poker Brat
  2. Prepare for how you react when you get what you’ve been waiting for. Relatively early on, I decided my absolute favorite poker hand was 9 7 suited. It’s not an easy hand to place an opponent on, but with straight draw and flush draw possibilities, when it hits, it hits hard. I almost always raised pre-flop with it, depending on the action, and I had won a few pots backing into a straight on the river with it. But one day I was playing and called a small pre-flop raise with my favorite hand, along with 3 other callers, and the flop came 6 8 10 rainbow. In other words, I had flopped what we called “the nuts”. I had waited patiently for this moment for thousands of hours. So of course, I completely blew it. I freaked, it was probably written all over my face, and I placed a huge raise, it might as well have been all of my chips, on the table. Every one folded, and what undoubtedly could’ve been my largest pot to date resulted in meager winnings and a crushed spirit. Not to mention my fellow players all knew exactly what had happened without ever seeing my cards, and whatever decent poker cred I had spent months trying to build was instantly destroyed. How I played that hand has haunted me more than the worst bad beats I ever took, because it had so much potential and I blew it. I’ve found that this sort of thing happens much more in life than it really should. If we want something to happen so bad, how can we afford to not prepare ourselves for when it does? I’ve seen this happen with relationships more than anything. I’ll know someone who lament over being single for months, finally develop a crush on someone, start dating them, and then totally blow it for one reason or another. I’ve seen this happen with work situations more times than I could count. People I’ve known who have whined about not getting promotions and when they finally do, perform poorly. I even have a friend who told me repeatedly he wanted to open a restaurant. He said it was his dream, he talked in depth about what food he’d serve and how great it would be to be an entrepreneur. He mentioned this to me every once in awhile for years. Not too long ago, he told me he had just received a substantial sum of inheritance money from his recently passed grandfather. He was surprised, he had no idea he’d be receiving so much. Naturally, I thought the first thing he’d do was finally open a restaurant. But when I inquired about it, he just looked taken aback and told me he didn’t know the first thing about how to start a business.  I was incredulous, but it hit me that people do this all the time. We’re dealt the nuts and blow it, because what? We thought we’d never be lucky enough, skilled enough, attractive enough, worthy enough?  But we are. So when we are handed the right cards, we have to know how to play them. This brings me to my next point…

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    Not one of my more serious games in college…
  3. Luck exists, but to really get ahead you have to understand how to capitalize on it. I like that saying “Luck is when hard work meets preparation.” I believe that, but I think it’s only half of what luck is. I think “luck” and “law of attraction” are exactly the same thing. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, the ones who go around saying over and over, “I have the worst luck” DO have the worst luck. And vice versa. So when we do get that stroke of luck, it is oh so important we understand how to capitalize on it. Because when something lucky happens, that’s your chance to say, wow I’m so lucky, and whole-heartedly believe it, for as long as possible. And the longer you believe it, the luckier you’ll stay. Here’s my proof:  My favorite World Series of Poker Main Event ever was in 2009, because that was the season of Darvin Moon. Moon was a self-employed logger from Maryland who enjoyed playing poker with his buddies back home. He satellited into the Main Event, meaning he won his entry by winning a smaller tournament. Moon thought briefly about pocketing the $10,000 that the main event ticket costs, but inevitably decided he couldn’t pass up the once in a lifetime opportunity to play alongside his heroes, not to mention fly in a plane and go to Vegas for the first time. My friends and I watched the in awe, absolutely fascinated by Darvin Moon. He was a big teddy bear, with red hair and an ever-present Saints cap, who was quiet but funny and self-deprecating when he did speak. He won hand after hand after hand. On Day 1, he was dealt pocket aces 6 times, and hit a set (three of a kind) on the flop 3 times. He consistently played the hands correctly, he capitalized on every pot, but it was undeniable that he was extremely lucky. He acknowledged this, always admitting he was a lucky guy, and he became fond of saying, “If I win, I win, if I lose, I lose. I’m just happy to be here.” Spectators began to watch with both admiration and horror as he lasted day after day, eliminating poker pros such as David Benyamine and Billy Kopp in huge pots, until he made it all the way to the final table of the WSOP Main Event. Once it was down the November 9 he also knocked out Steve Begleiter and Phil Ivey, in both cases, Moon was behind but caught cards to win; Ivey lost with A K to Moon’s A Q when a queen came up on the flop, and Begleiter’s pocket queens lost to Moon’s A Q when he caught an ace on the river. He made it all the way to heads-up with Joe Cada, and you could see on Moon’s face the exact moment he believed his luck ran out. This was a man who taught himself poker, everything he knew was from watching tv and playing in the garage with his buddies, and heads up poker is a whole new game. He lost to Cada in the 79th heads up hand, following through with an expensive bluff that didn’t pan out. Although disappointed, Darvin Moon, a logger from Maryland, walked out that day with $5,182,601, and his life was forever changed. The man understood how lucky he was and how to capitalize on it. Ever since 2009, I’ve tried to be like Darvin Moon.

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This entry was going to be longer, but I got side-tracked watching YouTube clips of that 2009 WSOP, so I’ll leave you today with the last poker lesson that I’ve truly taken to heart, “If you can’t spot the fish (sucker), you ARE the fish.” I know you’ve all heard that one before ,but it’s so true. If you can’t pinpoint the problem, you’re the problem. I was the fish at that poker table for months, until a new one walked in the door and I realized it had been me the whole time up until that point. The good thing is, we’re all fish sometimes. But with hard work and a little bit of luck, we can become sharks.

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My favorite player of all time with his favorite hand.

An Exercise in Happiness

There are probably a million blog posts about finding happiness. I know, I’ve read plenty of them. But the truth is, you don’t “find” happiness. What you have to do is accept happiness. You have the power already. You can be 100% happy, if only for a few minutes. All you need to do is exercise the muscle. Sounds a little crazy, I know. But it’s an exercise in perception. There might be a starving kid in a poverty-stricken country who is often more “happy” than you are because some days he gets a full meal and to him that’s everything while you sit and wallow in your quarter-million dollar house with a fully stocked pantry about the person you’re crushing on not calling or having to go to work at a job you hate. You might experience the same level of sorrow as that boy who can’t even fathom the life of luxury you live, because you cannot fathom his troubles. Happiness is relative and that’s why thinking is often the key to unlocking more of it. If you’re like me and automatically go into panic mode when you are advised to “meditate”, then there’s a simple exercise that you can practice often and we won’t label it with that scary “m” word.

The other day I went to one of those Meet Up groups that a friend of mine was hosting. This particular meeting topic was the Law of Attraction, a concept many of my business partners and I are fascinated by. My friend started off the meeting with a little group activity. He challenged each of us to think for three minutes, in silence, and recall the happiest day of our lives. We could then go around the room and share them, if we liked. I opted out of the sharing…despite the fact that I’m an award-winning salesperson and have spoken in front of hundreds of people before, when I’m the newbie in a group of peers I’m actually quite introverted. But the exercise was eye-opening for me. During those three minutes I quickly identified the happiest moment of my life, and then came up with my top 5. After only three minutes I felt a giant pillar of stress fall off of my shoulders, I felt lighter, more energized, happier. I started to think about how powerful our brains are. I’ve read all the books before, The Secret, The Power of Positive Thinking, As a Man Thinketh, etc. But it all really clicked after this one exercise. I could feel a difference– physically, mentally, spiritually. And thinking for one minute would not have accomplished this change. So try this. Close your eyes. Recall the memory, but take it a step further. Recall the exact feeling, the location, what the people around you looked like, what you touched and heard and smelled. Go back to that moment. And take that happiness and just embrace it. Don’t judge your own memory. On the outside it might have not seemed like an extraordinary moment, or occasion. But only you know what memory really makes you happy. For instance, one of my top 5 is a random day during the summer after my junior year of high school. I went with my friends to the beach. The weather was perfect all day, but the skies opened up during our drive back home and it was pouring down rain. I remember having to pee and we were nowhere near a gas station and the rain was only making my predicament worse. So my awesome friends pulled over on the side of the road, two of the guys went out in the rain and held a huge towel over me and I squatted, right on the side of the road. We were all laughing so hard we couldn’t differentiate the raindrops from the hysterical tears streaming down our faces. When we finally made it home we were soaked and cold and salty and we took turns taking showers at my house and I remember it being the best damn shower I’d ever had in my life. Then we changed into pajamas and spent the rest of the afternoon eating snacks and watching movies while the storm raged on. In my eyes, it was an absolutely perfect day. One that makes me happy just to recall again now. As I was typing the details, I could feel my heart swell and a smile come across my face.

So try it for yourself. It could be just your happiest memory, or a top 5. You can’t wear out this exercise, for me it’s now worked a few dozen times. But if you ever stop getting the same results as the first time, pick another memory. We are all blessed to have plenty to choose from, and if you doubt that then you are really in dire need of this assignment. For the record, my other top 4 memories:

  1. The day my mom told me she was getting married to someone who made her so incredibly happy. The look on her face is the only thing I need to remember from that moment.
  2.   The day Chris first said “I love you.” We were sitting at 54th street bar just talking about football and it was unexpected and perfect.
  3. Sitting on my Papa’s lap sharing a root beer, with my Grandma watching Days of Our Lives and Anna playing with toys on the floor. I was only four or five, but I remember that night my papa told me I was the protector of my family. I don’t know if I understood that night, but I definitely did later, and I’ve always held that close to my heart.
  4. A random 4th of July spent with family eating and playing board games and watching movies until it got dark outside and then my dad and uncle built a replica of some terrorist’s headquarters and we spent a small fortune on fireworks and blew it to smithereens. We laughed and laughed and it was one of the last times that whole side of my family was together for a holiday including my sister and my cousins.

I have plenty more, surrounded by friends and family and sometimes just by my dogs. So I’m making it a point, on those days I’m sad or angry or just don’t have the right perspective, to exercise. It’s definitely made a difference, and it’s much cheaper than therapy 🙂

So what was the happiest day of your life?

The Truth About Timeshare : Part One

The much anticipated post.

I’m not writing this as an exposé on the industry. I’m not here to lay out all the sales tactics or reveal profit margins. I’m not here to bash anybody. I can’t stress enough–I fully believe in the concept of timeshare. Timeshare itself is a great product.

It’s not the product that’s the problem. It’s the lack of proper information.

There are SO MANY THINGS people should know, especially the ones who already own timeshare, that are not available to the general public. So many misconceptions. So many outright lies. The word “timeshare” itself has become a dirty one, and our one goal when Chris and I started a consulting company was to change that. But we were a blip on the radar of an industry wrought with corporate greed, misinformation, and an unwillingness to try  to change its stripes. We felt like superheroes, proud to have the abilities and resources to help whoever we came in contact with, but constantly disheartened that we couldn’t reach everybody.

I’m in the process of writing a book, mainly because I can’t believe one doesn’t exist already. My goal is to get it in the hands of everyone thinking about buying, those who just bought, or owners who have no idea what to do next. If you are reading this and don’t know me or my credibility, here’s a brief summary: Right out of college I worked as a sales rep for a huge developer. I did very well and was even crowned “Rookie of the Year” for helping so many families get into a timeshare program. After about a year, I left this company with my now fiancé and we started our own company consulting with people who already owned timeshare. We were able to do many things for these people: help get them into a different program than what they already had, help them get completely out of the deed if they wanted, help them use what they had, set them up with a travel club, be their punching bags, give them hugs, etc. During the three years I spent traveling to different cities every week, I learned everything there is to know about the industry. I know the ins and outs of every program, every resort, every point system. I heard great vacation stories but I also heard hundreds of horror stories about this industry that I loved. Two truths became very apparent over the years:

No resort/developer REALLY knows about its competition.

All the big mistruths come from high up the ladder, and the employees are most often trained to lie.

This is important because it tells you that most people who work in the industry are almost as naïve as the potential buyer, blindly following scripts they are taught and parroting answers they’ve heard from someone else. It’s unlike any other industry; if you are a car salesman you can drive all your products, touch and feel them. If you are a real estate agent you can visit different houses and become very familiar with the region you choose to specialize in. In this industry, we are selling time at vacation destinations. Most salespeople will never visit 99% of the resorts they talk about every day. When would they? They all work weekends and no industry is more stingy about granting vacation time than the vacation industry. So they just say everything they are taught to say, never questioning anything because the money is good and the people are happy for the moment. Only mass industry education could start to fix the stain on the name of timeshare, only getting everyone on the same page would really start to bring some trust back. Unfortunately, there’s only so much I can do to solve this problem. I know that if I go spouting off about the difference in Bluegreen’s point system vs. Wyndham’s point system vs. Silverleaf’s week-based system, etc., I’ll probably be sued in a heartbeat or maybe even taken out (kidding, but who knows, there’s billions at stake). What I can do, at the very least, is dispel some common myths and reveal a few truths about the industry:

Myth #1: Your timeshare has resale value.

I don’t care if you bought a Marriot deed for 2 weeks in the four-bedroom penthouse over 4th of July weekend and you spent $100,000. When you sign that contract and are out of recession, that deed is worth -$5000. Why not zero? Because you’ll have to pay a title transfer company or mortgage relief company if you want out of it. Some of you may be balking at this point, but think about all the people who told you it was worth something and ask yourself this question: did you give them money?

Listen, I know it’s tempting to hope that maybe one day you could at least get back a fraction of what you invested. Just stop, you won’t. They are possible to sell, yes, if YOU sell them. Like, if you accost your neighbor or “friend” and do the whole song and dance for them that your resort did for you, and they want it, then SURE, they can stroke you a check for whatever you want and you can fill out the transfer paperwork and then you sold your timeshare. But I can also tell you that you can go to Ebay right now and see that penthouse for $1.00. Sure, there are higher prices listed but those people are the hopefuls like you who still believe in Myth #1.

But it’s real estate, you say, and real estate is always a good investment! Wrong. It’s a deed, yes, but you “own” only a fraction of a time period at that resort. If you don’t go one year, let’s say you own a week, do you think it just sits empty? No, it doesn’t. They rent it out for more cash anyway. That’s why you can’t just show up on your week, you still have to make a reservation. Remember when you were sitting that office going over your new contract and the contract lady jokingly informed you that you couldn’t change the furniture or paint the walls in your resort?  The resale value is all in their hands.

Now a handful of you might be thinking, ‘Wow, I’d like the penthouse at Marriott, maybe I’ll just go buy it for $1.00!’ And you can! But all these developers load you up with incentives when you buy from the resort, and those won’t transfer. Depending on who you are and what you want, the savings could very possibly be worth it. But even with this knowledge most people don’t buy resale timeshares, partly because timeshare salesman are just so darn good and partly because it’s just not the same feeling. That ownership sensation is gone. It’s the same reason people still buy new cars, everyone knows they lose half the value the second you drive them off the lot, but they don’t care because a new car feels so good.

I like the thought of people having all the information, though.

If you are reading this and wringing your hands because you now understand your timeshare is worth no money, pause for a second. Because it’s still possible you made a good investment, on one condition: You actually use the damn thing. If you and your family take a trip together nearly every year, get to stay in a nice place, and that’s something you probably would not have planned if you weren’t already paying for it, then this investment was priceless. At the end of the day, our savings accounts won’t really mean a freaking thing when we are laying on our deathbeds, but our memories will. That’s why I can easily say that nearly every person I met over the last few years who used their ownership was happy, and nearly every person who didn’t thought it was the worst decision they ever made.

Your timeshare may not have resale value, but YOU determine its value.

Myth #2: “The last salesman screwed you, but I’ll fix it.”

I might make some enemies from this one.

I don’t care, because it’s wrong.

This is best explained by a story of something that happened to me when I worked for the big developer. I had just sold a modest package to a family of four, and I felt really good about it. They didn’t opt to do our VIP level because they really couldn’t afford it, but with the package I sold them they would be able to take a really nice trip about a week a year, and finally get to take their kids to Disney World. One of the incentives we offered at the time were a set of bonus points, good for two years, that allowed them to get a taste for the bigger package. They hugged me with tears of joy in their eyes as they talked about the amazing Disney experience they would have the next summer. We were all very happy, and they promised to send me postcards.

About a month later, the husband called me, furious. “You lied to us! You told us we were VIP for two years! We needed that for Disney!”, he yelled at me. When I was finally able to break in I assured him that he was, that I never lied to him, and that everything I said was reflected in the contract. He calmed down and explained what had happened. He and his wife ended up staying for a night at the resort where I had met him, and as soon as they arrived they were met by the “staff” who frantically informed them there was a problem with their account. They got them into a small room and told them that when they had purchased from ME, I had promised an incentive that wasn’t real and they would never get their bonus points. However, thank God they were at this resort, because now they had the chance to become permanent VIP for a fraction of the price.

I was mortified. Did you do it?! “No”, he told me, “we couldn’t afford to do any more than what we had done with you! So I told the guy I needed to make a phone call, and I came down here to call you. Something didn’t feel right. But Elizabeth, he even said your name.”

I told him emphatically NOT to do anything, that I would meet him personally and show him in the contract where his points were. He told me that wasn’t necessary, that he believed me, but I should know that this happened. I felt sick to my stomach. This was the in-house (upgrades) division of MY company. They knew me, when we passed by each other at the resort we’d wave to each other, but they had no problem lying and throwing my name under the bus for a sale. I called my manager so upset I was nearly in tears and she told me she’d “look into it” but the look on her face let me know it was just part of the game.

At that point I could hardly stay mad at the in-house rep. This upgrade tactic went WAY up, it was part of the training. Of course corporate would deny any knowledge of it. But an in-house rep once told me, when you get to in-house on your first day they hold up a rule book and say, “You can follow this and quit because you’re broke, or listen to us and make a lot of money and eventually get shopped and fired.”

If you don’t originally buy a good enough week, or enough points, then the best thing to do is upgrade your ownership. Do it on your terms. The more money you spend, the better quality vacations you will have. Reward the sales rep who genuinely walks you through the different levels, and helps you determine the best package for your family. There are plenty of decent salespeople out there who dare to think for themselves. Don’t ever let anyone scare you into thinking someone ripped you off the first time, and the only way to fix it is to spend more money.

We’ll stop at two myths for today, but I hope this helped someone. That is my sole intention. To be continued…

 

Faith In Humanity Restored

We’ve all had those moments where the world feels dark, and it seems as if our human race has been overrun with evil and stupidity and ignorance. Those moments that chip away at our faith in our own species, when we start thinking maybe this is all meaningless and no matter how many steps forward we take we’ll always take one more step backwards. I’ve been very fortunate to say that every single time I’ve fallen back into this abyss, someone comes along and restores my faith in the whole freaking world. Here are just a few, I’ll start with the strangers:

My second year of college I was driving a vehicle my friends and I affectionately referred to as the Party Cruiser. Unfortunately as much as we all loved her and as good as she was for hauling us from party to party, she was a Chrysler and had a plethora of maintenance issues.    For one, she had a tendency of overheating, and being a broke college kid, I always went for the quick fix on this one instead of replacing whatever part would fix that–meaning even in the middle of the summer I’d roll down the windows and throw the heater on full blast until the little arrow came back down, then when I stopped I’d pour some coolant in the tank. One day I had done this pretty much every day for a week. It was already a tough week, work had been slow, I needed to buy some expensive books, and Biology and Latin were kicking my ass. Well I was driving around with the heater on feeling sorry for myself when all sorts of smoke started billowing up from the hood and a multitude of warning lights started blinking. Freaked out, I pulled over, willing myself not to break down and cry and I rested my head on the steering wheel and considered my options. My bout of self-pity was interrupted shortly by a knock on my car window, and I looked up to see a man and a tow-truck pulled up behind me. I rolled down my window, prepared to tell him I couldn’t afford his services. But a short conversation later and I was sitting in his truck as he towed me to his buddy’s place. He insisted he was already on his way and it was no inconvenience, but I assured him I couldn’t afford for his buddy to fix up my car the right way, I just needed some coolant. He said his buddy owed him a favor and could at least give me an opinion and a price. I drove out of the shop 3 hours later with a brand new thermostat and some other replaced car parts that I don’t even know. The tow truck driver refused to accept a penny from me or even give me any of his contact information. All he said was that I could thank him by someday helping someone when they needed it the most.

I encountered plenty of fascinating people and stories during the period in my life I sold timeshare, and there were many people who actually caused me to lose faith in humanity. But after a few bad days I would always encounter people like the couple with the craziest love story I ever heard, or people like this:

The elderly gentleman who pushed his wife into the meeting area in her wheelchair. She was completely immobile and didn’t speak a word, yet he treated her with absolute reverence. When he slid her chair up to the table he gently kissed her cheek and whispered into her ear. As I talked to him about his timeshare experience he shared memories of the two of them, looking over at her every few seconds and squeezing her hand with a smile. As soon as he felt comfortable, he confessed to me that his wife of 50 years had slipped a few years back in the shower. She was paralyzed from head to toe from the accident, even losing muscle function in her face that caused her speaking to be incomprehensible to most people. “Of course I can understand her,” he said, “but she’s embarrassed to try and speak in front of anyone else.” When her food came he ignored his own plate, immediately focusing on cutting up her food and feeding her. “Even though we can’t do everything the way we used to, I fall more in love with my wife every single day,” he told me, “I still have to pinch myself sometimes because I feel so lucky to have her.” Then came out the reason he had come to this meeting: “I made a promise to my wife,” he said, “and I’ve never broken it. I promised her we would watch the sunset on the beach every year, just the two of us. That’s why we bought the timeshare, and it’s been great for twenty years. But no matter who I talk to, they refuse to put an elevator in the resort. And I’ve done it for the past 4 years, but Elizabeth, I’m too old now. I can’t carry my wife up all those stairs any more. Our unit is on the fifth floor.” My heart broke wide open as he pleaded with me, with tears in his eyes, to help him keep his promise to his wife. Needless to say, I got them squared away with a new vacation package with plenty of handicap accessible resorts in that area, but they were one of those couples I wish I could’ve helped for free.

The lady who sat in front of me for an hour being a complete doormat for her husband, Every time she tried to speak he cut her off, he belittled her constantly during the conversation, he even insulted her fashion sense and said something about “the men always having to be the brains in the marriage”. After just 5 minutes I was thoroughly disgusted and about to give this guy a piece of my mind when she caught my eye and gave me a quick smile and shake of her head. When he eventually got up to go to the bathroom, she let it all spill; he had never acted like this until a few years back when his mother had passed away. “He just doesn’t know how to cope”, she told me. “He’s so full of grief and anger, I’m fine to just let him take it all out on me. I’m hoping this vacation you’re going to help us plan will finally help him find some happiness. But if not, that’s okay too. Because, remember this Elizabeth, no one is in charge of your happiness except you. People can walk all over you, insult you, take advantage of you. But you can allow none of that to hinder your joy, because ultimately none of it is your business. My husband might never be happy again, but if I stay faithful to him and continue to love him, I know I’ve done everything I can and that makes me happy. And hell, either way I finally get to go to Hawaii.”

And then the people who aren’t strangers:

My sister Mercadi, who one day during college when things were getting really bad  with my ex and my insomnia, drove up from Austin, packed up my clothes despite my protests, and pushed me into the backseat of her car and drove me all the way to Houston to mom’s house. When we got there, I finally broke down, releasing months worth of pent-up anguish and when I was able to speak again all I could get out was, “How did you know?” “You’re my sister,” she replied, “I’ll always know.”

My Sifu, relatively early into my Kung Fu training. On this particular day I was feeling very stressed about money. I had just made a career transition, and I knew that I’d need to cut back on a few things because I wouldn’t be bringing in the income I’d become accustomed to for awhile. I voiced none of this, of course, but still somehow the topic of money came up. I think I had made some offhand comment about how he could’ve charged much more than he did for his services. I’ll never forget his face, so completely genuine as he looked at me and said, “But I am already so rich.” I must have looked confused, thinking maybe he chose to live modestly but had received a huge inheritance or something. “Look at everything I have. I could practice kung fu under a bridge, that can never be taken from me. But I have a house, a car…I can buy any little material thing I really want, and still have my kung fu. I am so rich, really.” Talk about putting things in perspective.

My fiancé, Chris. He constantly reminds me that I’m the most stubborn person he’s ever met, yet somehow he has an endless supply of patience when it comes to me. He loves the crazy side of me just as much as he loves the sane side, and I had never experienced that kind of acceptance until we found each other. I’m still not always sure I deserve it, but I sure am grateful.

And finally, my mom, every single day of my life, restores my faith in humanity. I could fill a thousand blog posts with only instances she’s amazed me but I’ll summarize with this: There’s no one in this world I’ve met more selfless than my mom. She will put anyone ahead of herself. Maybe a lot of people feel this way about their moms. But I truly believe she has positively impacted every person she’s ever spoken to, and when I finally grow up she’s exactly who I want to be. I think that the happiest day of my life is when she told me she and Yoly were getting married, because she’s finally found someone who’s perfect for her, who’s worthy of her, and who treats her like a queen. And now I don’t just have one amazing mom, I have two.

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I’ve been blessed to have many amazing family members, friends and strangers who positively impact my life, and I couldn’t possibly put them all in this blog. But some of these instances came exactly when I needed them, and I love how the universe always has a way of picking us back up.

I’d love to hear feedback on a time someone has restored your faith in humanity.