30-Day Writing Challenge – What I Wore Today


Normally on any given summer day, you’ll find me in Target sweat shorts and a tank top or layered camis. But this weekend we had two family parties, so I donned a bit nicer clothes. For today’s casual backyard party for my niece on hot as hell Long Island, I wore white shorts and a yellow tank (above). I’ve had the tank for years, to be honest, and haven’t worn it in quite a while. But the sunny yellow hue put me in a good mood and the lightweight drapey fabric kept me cool. (And, full disclosure, I had on a cute tie-dye shark bite hem tank top, but noticed as I was leaving that the little bows on my bra straps were showing behind the spaghetti straps, so I grabbed this top. And I wondered why bra straps need bows that stick out???) The white Bermuda skinny shorts are my go to shorts this summer. They are so comfortable. 

The shoes are the really big change for me with this outfit. If you read Ten Interesting Things About Me, you may remember that I declared that I never wear heels. Well, a day or two after I posted that I found these giant (for me) platforms for 50% off at DSW. Plus, I had a $10 off coupon, so I figured I’d take a chance. Since the whole sole is high, it’s almost like wearing flats; I’m just taller—way taller. It’s an odd feeling, since I’m not quite five feet tall with the shoes off. I lasted half the afternoon, then switched to Dr. Scholl’s sandals. The last time I wore the silver sandals for more than a couple of hours (at a concert in New York City), my husband had to give me a piggy back ride to our car in the garage, because I just could not walk another step. But guess what, I’ll wear these again. After all, fashion sometimes hurts and I kind of like being tall every once in a while…




30-Day Writing Challenge – Things I’d Say to an Ex

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This is a tough one… To be honest, I’ve pretty much said everything I’ve wanted to say to  my exes already. I have no need for closure. I’ve stayed friendly with all of them (you can read about my lasting friendship with my high school sweetheart in another 30-Day Writing Challenge here), and I’m Facebook friends with all of them. There are absolutely are no lingering hard feelings.We were all very young (I met my husband at twenty-five, so these relationships dissolved decades ago) and we all ended up where we should have. But since I jumped back into the challenge yesterday, I do want to tackle this topic. So, I’ll write about what I did get to say to one of my exes not that long ago. In my essay, Hungry, I speak about how watching my son starve himself has been the worst possible karma, because I put my family and my boyfriend through the same thing when I was in my early twenties.

Back then, I couldn’t see how my actions hurt others. I didn’t understand that watching someone you love starve themselves into a skeletal existence is absolute hell. I was far from home, living on my own and I weighed an alarmingly low weight. (Read Hungry, if you wish to know more about this painful time.) My boyfriend tried to get me to eat. It wasn’t easy for me, and it certainly wasn’t easy for him. We fell apart—we likely would have anyway, but the situation hastened the blow. But—and this is the important part—we both put our lives back together with new pieces and went on to have the futures we were meant to have, building our own families just the way they were meant to be.

I gained some weight after we broke up and gained even more when I was preparing to try to get pregnant five years later. There were some bumps in the road… I fainted while waiting for a restaurant table with my husband when we were newlyweds, after not eating much all day (just a yogurt and an apple for lunch hours earlier), thanks to stress and an inner ear infection that left me with little appetite. I knew I had to do something to ensure that I was healthy, so I could get pregnant and have a healthy pregnancy. It took something bigger than myself and thinking about someone other than myself—my future child—to finally change my ways for good. I saw a nutritionist, followed her program meticulously and gained five pounds (fifteen pounds over my lowest weight). I was finally a healthy weight (just three pounds less than I weigh now) when I got pregnant. I put my food struggles behind me and moved on.

Then my middle son battled the same exact issues and the anguish of watching him fade away before my eyes made me realize how difficult it was for my family and my boyfriend so many years earlier. I also starting blogging about this difficult situation and connected with so many people who thanked me for letting them know they weren’t alone. Since Hungry mentioned how bad I felt about what I put my ex-boyfriend through and I linked back to it in a new essay, I gave him a heads-up, just in case he read it. I also told him that I was sorry for what I put him through, knowing now how awful it is watching my son. My ex was, of course, very kind. I probably should have said that I was sorry two decades earlier. But, I was glad that I finally said it a few months ago. And now, there’s nothing left that I need to say to any of my exes about our relationships, except perhaps that I hope they are all always happy in the lives they have built…

 

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30-Day Writing Challenge – Four Weird Traits

 

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I have been so awful in keeping up with this challenge. I tried to think of a more mellifluous word, but I need to be blunt… I’ve been awful, plain and simple. I think this is a good challenge to jump back in with, because I’ve had to step away due to my first weird trait…

  1. I am a ridiculous perfectionist, especially with my writing. A blog post can take me eight hours of writing, reading and rereading. I’ll tweak and tweak and get anxious about posting. I’m going to try to break that and see how fast I can get this written and posted, hopefully in less than an hour. I really don’t know if I can. I know my husband probably doesn’t believe that I can. He requested that I give up the challenge, because I was taking literally the entire day to write one post and neglecting my household duties. Plus, my son is leaving for college soon and it’s time-consuming preparing for that. Each night that I participated, I stumbled into bed around 2:00 am. But, if I can kick that weird and ineffective trait of never thinking anything I write is good enough and just write, I’ll be way more productive and even be able to participate in the next challenge fully.
  2. I’m terrible with numbers. I suck at math. I can’t remember phone numbers at all. My husband memorizes our credit card number within a day or two of our receiving it. I can’t even remember the three number CVV on the back of the credit card. I can’t remember two out of my three kids’ cell phone numbers. And I can’t add any but the smallest sums in my head. The calculator on my phone just might be the feature I use the most. Seriously, that’s how bad I am with numbers…
  3. Since traits can also mean physical characteristics, not just personality, I’ll toss in one of those (I actually Googled this to make sure that it is indeed considered a trait)… I’m allergic to everything. Okay, maybe not everything, but I do have a lot of allergies and also asthma. I had to stop coloring my hair chestnut brown, because I had a terrible reaction to my single process hair color. That’s why I’m blonde now; I can only get highlights that don’t touch my scalp. I even have to use all natural body wash, shampoo and hair product (and I slather coconut oil on my face every night)… I’m also allergic to MSG and sulfites. One of those, or both, are in so many foods, that eating out can be a nightmare. But, I’m exceedingly careful. The only really crappy part is that I haven’t been able to enjoy a glass of wine in two decades. I also have seasonal allergies, but I suppose that’s not all that weird.
  4. I can fall asleep anywhere. In fact, I fall asleep while on my laptop all the time. While writing this, I fell asleep twice. In college, I would fall asleep on my typewriter pretty much every time I was working on a paper. I’d regularly fall asleep in the big cushy chairs in the campus center when I’d go there to study. Okay, make that three times; I fell asleep yet again while working on this and woke up over an hour later at 12:30 am (only because my son came home and knocked on the door to be let in)…

So, did I succeed in writing a quick post and not obsessively rereading and tweaking? Not really…it’s now after 2:00 am. I started at about 9:45 pm and took a snack break and napped three times, but only one was long enough to really affect the time I spent working on this. I’d say this is somewhat of a victory, being that I spent only about three to three and a half hours working on it (not including the snoozes). I reread it about five times and made several edits. Still, perhaps one of my weird traits is now not quite as much of an impediment as it’s has been…

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Dear Mr. Trump…

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A Muslim and a Jew working together to accomplish great things… Take note, Mr. Trump…

Dear Mr. Trump,

In kindergarten, my son met a boy whose family had recently immigrated to New York from Pakistan (and were originally from Afghanistan). We did not shun him, thinking that his brethren might be terrorists. And this was at a time when the bloodshed of 9/11 was a fresh wound—merely two years prior. No, we encouraged the friendship with this devout Muslim boy. As Jews, our faith taught us to embrace those who may not look or sound like us, those who do not necessarily believe the same things we do. And we taught our children this. True Christians believe the same. You Sir, are not a true Christian. If you were, you would not be spewing such virulent rhetoric every single time you open your mouth.

But, I digress from my story about two little boys who met in kindergarten—a Muslim and a Jew—and became best friends. Those little boys are now heading off to college. One will go to Hofstra, where—if you don’t find a way to weasel out of it—you will be torn to shreds by Hillary Clinton in the first debate. Your lack of knowledge on foreign affairs alone (Putin isn’t in Crimea yet? Or wait—no he is, but they want him there. Which is it, Mr. Trump?), puts you at a ridiculous disadvantage. Sorry the NFL refused to play into your plan of canceling the debate, because it’s at the same time as a football game (did you think anyone in their right mind would believe they sent you a letter complaining about it?). But again, I digress…

This is a story about the devout Muslim and the conservative (in religion, not views) Jew. As they grew older, their bond grew stronger. And not only did their friendship flourish, but the friendship of their younger brothers, as well. (This made me very happy—both brothers are smart, respectful and kind, great influences on my boys.) Most summer afternoons could find the four brothers shooting hoops or riding bikes. But, the Muslim brothers have another younger brother who could do none of these things. He has cerebral palsy (we all know how you really feel about the disabled, after mocking the disabled journalist—but yet again, I digress…) and cannot perform even the most basic of self-care tasks. So, what did my son and his friend (remember—the Muslim and the Jew) do? They joined together to design a bathroom for those incapable of self-care. This bathroom design has won many awards, including the Yale Science and Engineering Award, second place honors at the Long Island Science and Engineering Fair (LISEF), among many other prestigious awards. I’m beyond proud of both of them. This design can literally change the lives of millions of disabled people. They used their intelligence and strong bond to work together to make the world better place—a devout Muslim and a conservative Jew. Imagine that?

No really, please try to imagine that, Mr. Trump. Please try to wrap your brain around the fact that there are good Muslims in this country. In fact, there are far more good Muslims than those who have been radicalized. The fact that you have sought to link the Gold Star family of Captain Humayun Khan to terrorists is reprehensible at best and slanderous at worst. The family could easily sue you for defamation. I hope you lose every veteran vote in this country for your failure to show even the smallest modicum of decency. Khizr Khan was right when he said you have “a black soul.”

This is just the latest serious blunder on your part, in a series of blunders that should really have meant political suicide. How you can possibly disparage pretty much every group, except for white men and still have anyone’s vote (other than your rabid—and hopefully shrinking—base) is beyond me. I blame social media. The rise of social media has coincided with the decline of civility. People can say whatever they want under the mantle of anonymity. It’s much easier for a bigoted person to hurl insults when it’s simply his or her fingers flying over a keyboard, rather than in a face to face conversation. And that has given rise to the vast cesspool of hate swirling around the Internet from which your candidacy has sprung.

And your followers eat it up. Anti-semitic memes smearing Hillary Clinton? Check. Promising an entire religion will be banned from our great country, Constitution be damned? Check. Stating that all Mexican immigrants are drug lords and rapists? Check. (Oh, sorry—you did say, “Some, I assume, are good people.”) Mocking the disabled? Check. Reducing women’s worth to merely their appearance? Check. Even supermodels can’t escape your critical eye with your assertion that gorgeous Heidi Klum is “sadly…no longer a 10.” At least she had the last laugh with her cheeky video and the hashtag #HeidiTrumpsTrump.

And that’s all that I can hope for—that the American people will have the last laugh as you are swept into the dustbin of history, along with other demagogues. You Sir, are no more than a small-minded despot who appeals to the lowest common denominator. (And yes, I know that some Trump supporters are good people, because I personally know some friends and family members who support him—I’m talking about the David Duke types.) I know that you will never read this, Mr. Trump—it’s like the letter you write to a horrible ex-boyfriend, but never send. It’s just cathartic writing it. But, I do hope that this story of a devout Muslim and a Jew accomplishing something great together makes at least one of your supporters think twice about voting in a future so bleak, it scares the crap out of me…

Sincerely,

Stephanie Kepke

As a side note, I was told three years ago not to wade into politics as a writer—I would run the risk of alienating my readers. I have not written a political post since. But it’s my job as an essayist to share my views of the world and to me, this election is about so much more than politics. It’s about where this country is headed—do we want to be a society based on fear and hate or one based on love and acceptance? Do we want to see everyone who doesn’t look like us, who doesn’t sound like us as the “other” whom we need to rail against? Or are we “stronger together?” I’m rooting for stronger together…

I wanted to close this with the famous quote about all evil needing to triumph is good men doing nothing. In researching the quote, I stumbled upon a similar quote by Simon Wiesenthal. It was a very powerful moment. You see, Simon Wiesenthal is my cousin. He was my grandfather’s first cousin. He and my grandfather looked very much alike. When I look at my kids and their first cousins, I think—that’s pretty  darn close. Suddenly, it occurred to me that this desire to right wrongs, this desire to champion social justice is actually in my blood. And that connected me to a bigger world and made me realize that making my voice heard is so very important, scary as it is to send this out into cyber-space, knowing that I might have vitriol slung at me from the depths of that hate-filled cesspool of the Internet…

Simon Wisenthal may have very well predicted the rise of Donald Trump with these quotes, published in 1989:

Hatred can be nurtured anywhere, idealism can be perverted into sadism anywhere. If hatred and sadism combine with modern technology the inferno could erupt anew anywhere.—Simon Wiesental (from Justice Not Vengeance: Recollections, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989)

The combination of hatred and technology is the greatest danger threatening mankind.—Simon Wiesenthal (from Justice Not Vengeance: Recollections, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989)

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This quote by my cousin, Simon Wiesenthal, is as true today as when he said it…

 

30-Day Writing Challenge – A Place I Would Live

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Today’s challenge is to pick a place you would live, but haven’t visited. After some consideration, I settled on Key West, Florida. I love the beach and Key West has  a rich literary history, so I’m guessing the beautiful surroundings spark creativity. While I’m dreaming about moving to Key West, I may as well share my dream house…

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And the porch I’d love to be writing on…

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A girl can dream…

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30-Day Writing Challenge – 10 Interesting Facts About Me

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I was jotting down this list for day four of the 30-Day Writing Challenge in my ever present notebook while I was waiting at the pediatrician with my son earlier today. I asked him if there’s anything interesting about me. Right away he offered, “You have books out and you know a lot about hockey.” Since most of you know that I have books out, I’ll start with hockey… Here are my ten things (and hopefully they are interesting)…

#1. My son is right, I know A LOT about hockey. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I know enough to have been a linesman in college for men’s intramural ice hockey. I know enough that I bore most people, except for the most ardent fan, when I get started talking about my beloved New York Rangers. I have been a rabid New York Rangers fan since I was four years old. In seventh grade I cut the newspaper photo out of from every game article, pasted it in a binder and wrote my own take on the game—which brings me to number two…

#2. I really wanted to be a sportswriter from the time I was thirteen years old. I even applied for a job at Sports Illustrated Kids right out of college, but they weren’t hiring at the time. I did get to act like a sportswriter in 1996 when I featured the NHL All Star weekend festivities in Boston in my column. My press badge allowed me to cut to the front of the line to pose with the Stanley Cup. Best use of a press badge ever. Being a sportswriter is still my dream job, though that dream is likely unattainable at this point. At least I can tweet about hockey and satisfy a tiny bit of that desire…

#3. Last hockey fact: Former New York Rangers player and current Arizona Coyotes general manager, Don Maloney, ran over my foot when I was fourteen years old and waiting for his autograph after an open practice. When I finally got his attention, I simply said, “I love you.” What can I say? He was my first real crush.

#4. Another Don, Don Henley of the Eagles, wrote me the kindest letter and enclosed a crisp $100 bill in 1994. A radio station was having a “Dirty Laundry” contest to protest the Eagles high ticket prices. I wrote a letter to the Eagles (this was before email, of course) stating that I thought their concert was worth every penny, even though I spent my food money on a ticket. Don Henley told me that they had another, smaller, contest for “Sweetest Person” and I won that. That letter was hanging in a frame on my wall for years. I tried to thank him in person at the next concert I went to that he was playing—the Newport Rhythm & Blues Festival—but, I couldn’t get close enough. It was right then and there that I decided to become an arts reporter / music journalist, so I could get my hands on a press badge, which brings me to my next item…

#5. I was an arts reporter and music journalist in the mid to late 1990s and got to meet some of my idols. I interviewed Mike Peters of The Alarm—I still feel horrible that I never found a home for the article I wrote about him. If I can ever find it, I will publish it on my blog. I also met my teenage idol, Howard Jones, who invited me onto his tour bus where I promptly turned into a fourteen year old, even though I was twenty-eight. All I could say was, “You’ve always inspired me so much,” or something like that. He was kind and charming. I met some other very cool musicians, writers, artists and other amazingly talented creative folks. I even had cover stories for a newspaper and music magazine.

#6. I have a rescue page on Facebook called Lucky Dogs (and Cats) and love to play matchmaker, sending friends to the shelter when I’ve found the perfect dog for them. I have rescued three dogs, one of whom is three-legged. (If I had room, I’d rescue all the animals in the shelter, even the feral cats no one wants.) My first rescue, Sadie, was from the town animal shelter. My next rescue, Coco is a Sato—a feral Puerto Rican street dog, who’s a big mush now. I adopted Scruffy, another Sato, two weeks after my beloved Sadie lost her two year battle with cancer. He arrived missing a leg, with his tail cut off and his ear sliced in half. We don’t know what he endured before he arrived, but we know it was horrific. Please remember, adopt, don’t shop! (Had to get that in…)

#7. I was a photographer for my college newspaper and had a photo on the front page. Photography has always been a passion of mine—I even majored in photography and creative writing junior year in college. But, it was a “Bachelors in Individual Concentration” and I didn’t have enough time to earn the credits I needed to graduate with that major, so I switched back to English.

#8. I had big hair in the 1980s and 1990s—very big hair—and not a day goes by that I don’t wish it would come back in style. My life would be so much easier. Though, I am a curly girl all summer. And it can get pretty big. Only rarely will I attempt to smooth out my tresses during the humid months. See the photos above and below to know how truly big my hair was in the late 80s. People would tell me all the time that I looked like Susannah Hoffs of the Bangles and make me sing Walk Like an Egyptian. And on my honeymoon in Antigua I was mistaken for Mariah Carey…

#9. I’m addicted to lip gloss and have been since my very first strawberry flavored roll-on gloss. My favorite now is C.O. Bigelow Mentha Lip Shine and C.O. Bigelow Mentha Shimmer Lip Tint from Bath & Bodyworks. I always have three tubes in my handbag and mix the colors (usually Bare Mint, Violet Mint and the clear Lip Shine). I’m also addicted to Doublemint peppermint gum. I guess there are worse addictions…

#10. I’m very short—4’11 3/4″—yet I never wear heels. Or at least I rarely wear heels. If you read yesterday’s post, you know why (hint—if you break your ankle in six places, heels aren’t your best choice, even thirty two years later). As an aside, I was one of the tallest girls in my grade up until about fifth grade when everyone started catching up and then passed me. In fact, I haven’t grown since I was thirteen (or maybe twelve)…

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Photo of me holding the practice puck Don Maloney gave me about a month before he ran over my foot…

A photo of me and the Stanley Cup at the 1996 NHL All Star Fan Fest

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The letter from Don Henley… I found a blurry photo of it on Facebook; I’m not sure where the original is…

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One more big hair photo – this one may be even bigger than the last…

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30-Day Writing Challenge – First Love & First Kiss

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Day three of the 30-Day Writing Challenge is a fun one—First Love & First Kiss. (I did ask my husband if it would bother him at all before I agreed to write this. His answer: “I don’t care about your first love, as long as I’m your last love.”) When I muse about my first love, it kind of boggles my mind that I was two years younger than my oldest son. Yet, I felt so grown up having a boyfriend. I was sixteen, going into tenth grade and my boyfriend, Seth, was seventeen, going into eleventh grade.

We started dating right before school ended in June. I’m pretty sure that the sweetest first love is summer love. Summer nights are made for hand in hand romantic walks and kissing in the warm rain, not a care about getting wet. Languorous days on the beach, with the ocean lapping at our toes—what could be better for two teenagers? Only—I couldn’t do any of those things (except maybe the kissing in the rain). I spent the summer (and into the fall) with a toes to thigh cast on my leg, having broken my ankle in six places, dislocated and dislodged it and tore all the ligaments and tendons my third day at sleep away camp.

In a way, it brought me and Seth much closer than we would have been, because I came home three and a half weeks early from camp, after a short hospital stay. Seth would visit me every day, bearing a fresh bouquet of beautiful red roses. Every single day. My room looked like a florist—so wonderful to wake up to each morning, when I was in pain and depressed about not being able to do much, except sit on the recliner with my leg propped on pillows. Kindness and compassion are two of the best attributes a person can have and not all teenage boys possess both or even one (though, I’m thankful my teenage boys do). Seth’s abundance of both taught me at a young age that it’s important to be treated well by your boyfriend and I’m grateful for that.

After that summer, we dated for over three more years. The summers that followed were filled with all the stuff I missed that first summer—days at the beach and nights spent hanging out with friends. As late summer afternoons slid into dusk we’d gather in a parking lot to decide what to do that night—in the days before cell phones that’s how plans were made, in person. A group text can’t match that. We went to concerts, including Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run tour—still one of my favorite concerts ever. One night we gathered with Seth’s friends at the beach. We got lost on the way there and by the time we arrived, we were so tired, we fell asleep right away to the sound of the ocean waves crashing on the sand—only to be woken up at 5:30 am by an arriving fisherman. All of our friends had left and I found out later that my mom called the Jones Beach state police, asking them to look for us. I was livid then, but now that I’m a mom I completely understand. I hate that my kids are so attached to their phones, but I have to admit; it was harder for our parents without a way to reach us when we were late.

As hard as it must have been for our parents before cell phones, I think first love was way better for those of us who came of age in the 1980s. We didn’t get to know each other through SnapChat messages or Instagram posts. We had to talk. Hours on the phone, letters on actual paper when we were apart. There were few things more exciting than opening the mailbox to find a love letter. I often feel bad for teenagers today, even though they have no idea what they’re missing and would no doubt find a hand-penned note archaic at best and completely ridiculous at worst. There’s a reason John Hughes’ 1980s teen movies are beloved classics. It was an innocent time and I think the perfect time to be a teenager (especially a teenager in love), though I’m sure my kids would disagree.

I realize I haven’t covered the second part of this challenge—first kiss. It was with the same guy, but my memory is a bit gauzy on this, basically because I can’t remember much of anything lately. I think it may have been in the rain. I believe it was either after the movies or after we got ice cream and it was outside on the pavement. I really do have a hard time recalling specifics of way back when, but everyone can remember the feeling of first love, or at least most people can. This is why I wrote a short story about a woman desperately searching for her first love five years after she escaped an abusive relationship, You & Me. I knew it would strike a chord with people. And it’s also why the essay I wrote about it that I mentioned in my last post garnered the most responses in my writing class freshman year of college. Almost everyone has a first love (for the lucky few, it’s a first and last love). But, I consider myself lucky too—my first love is still a very good friend, almost twenty-nine years after we broke up right before my sophomore year of college. Because while kindness and compassion make for a great first boyfriend, they make for an even better lifelong friend.

 

 

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