Feeding the Fire, Fueling a Legacy

WestonEditedBV-1Yesterday when I went for a walk after work, I never expected to get upset when passing a bakery.

Taking advantage of the short-lived sunny weather, I took the long way to my doctor’s appointment taking in the sights of Rittenhouse Square. I’ve worked in the Rittenhouse Square area for the past 2 ½ years, but my memories of the area go back farther. It’s the neighborhood where I spent many of brunches and dinners with the Keeton family. I can’t pass the park without remembering the evening where Julie and I ran from rats while Easton laughed at us. Or when I took six of the kids plus my own niece trick-or-treating alone, which somehow involved a cab ride.

The bakery was one of the rare times I was able to see Weston out of the hospital or Gift of Life Family House. I had just moved down to my first apartment in Fishtown in early 2013, and went over to meet Julie, Easton and Weston for breakfast. On the way back, Weston asked to ride on my back as we went to the Metropolitan Bakery to get cherry chocolate bread. He was so light on my back I could barely feel he was there, but his laughter and navigation could be heard a mile away.

So during my walk yesterday I found myself outside of the bakery, realizing it’s been four years since that day. And ever since the calendar flipped to March, the 23rd sticks out like an eyesore reminding me Weston gained his wings 3 years ago. Tears started to well up in my eyes as I quickly fumbled through my purse for sunglasses. The ache of time passed just hit me in that moment, and the disbelief that it has been 3 years since March 23rd became the day I want to punch in the face the most out of any other day of the year. And with the countless of lives Weston has touched, I know there are others who will be dealing with heartache this month.

Despite feeling the moments of grief and sadness attached to this month, I am also choosing to celebrate Weston’s legacy honoring his biggest heroes- firefighters.While there are many others who would also like to punch March 23rd in the face, they will be delivering baked goods, meals, supplies and love to firehouse & service workers across the country. All as part of the 3rd annual ‘Feed the Fire’ day of service in honor Weston Keeton’s 3rd year angel-versary.

10575303_10205185592312279_5157878559498156333_oFeed the Fire is a call to action for people from across the country to adopt their local fire house or a group that provides service. Weston adored firefighters & dreamed of being one when he grew up. During his lifetime, firefighters from across the country took time to send him letters, photos, gifts & even to make special visits. Julie & Adam Keeton made the decision to honor Weston’s heroes, and asked that all of those who had been touched by their son’s story to do the same.

Since 2015, hundreds firehouses were adopted nationwide with local heroes being treated to potluck dinners, donated supplies, and care packages full of treats (including Weston’s favorite, Hot Cheetos). Even more firehouses & heroes will be honored tomorrow, which is an incredible achievement for the 3rd year of Feed the Fire. While March 23rd will still be a difficult day for so many that miss that sweet little boy, there is comfort knowing that his legacy continues to bring the best out in people. Without a doubt Weston changed the course of my life for the better. I often say the little boy with the broken heart taught me how to love again.  Forever, I will be grateful for the Miracle on 34th Street.

Interested in getting involved in the 2017 Feed the Fire celebration? Visit the Feed the Fire Facebook page or http://www.westonswarriors.com/feed-the-fire.html 

 

And Somehow It’s July 5th

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Somehow it’s July 5th and my desk calendar is still on April. This pretty much sums up my frame of mind while trying to figure out what the hell has been going on over the past few months. Winter felt as if it was going to be around forever and now Philadelphia is in the middle of a heat wave.

In between the madness of starting spring by moving into a new apartment, then trying to juggle filming for my freelance project on top of a full time job, capped off by the abrupt hospice/death of my grandmother at the end of the season, summer kind of just appeared.

Honestly, there hasn’t been any exciting plans so far besides the Weezer concert I’m attending tonight (my first concert in three years) and writing. Actually, the main priority for summer 2016 is getting the first draft of my book completed by the end of season. While I’ve been dabbling with writing the book for over a year and half now, over the past two months my commitment to seeing it through with a deadline is has materialized.

13621465_10157017988190063_1506263234_oMaybe it is because I am now closer to 30 than ever before, or that as a writer who has been fortunate enough to be published in a variety of places, there is something inside me that is craving to dive deeper into my storytelling ability. And the fact that I was at Barnes and Nobles the a few months ago and became unexplainably furious to see that Snookie had a book featured in the New York Times Best Sellers section, and I did not.

Despite my silly notion that my brain should be able to write and create quality content at least 17 hours each day, it cannot. Between growing in my abilities as the Digital Content Program Specialist at work, which has been exciting and rewarding, while working on my first (and highest paying) video project as a side hustle- writing for my book has been increasingly hard to manage.

But with the filming complete for the side hustle video (cannot wait to share it on here when it is live), my free time outside of the 9-5 has been redirected to sitting down with my Google Doc and typing. Some days my hands cannot keep up with the thoughts and emotions tumbling out of my head and it is a struggle to get it all down on paper.

Other days it is a struggle to lift up my fingers to write a complete sentence that has an ounce of redeemable quality. But recently, I have made myself slodge through the heaviness of my thoughts and the clumsiness of my fingers to get through the other side of writer’s block. At the moment, my manuscript has 60,000 words that will be become my first book- which is even bizarre to type.

In order to continue to gain momentum and to organize the mammoth of words that have been strung together in my Google Doc, I enlisted the help of Julie Lenard, from The Storyologist. When I attended as session Julie ran at the PHL Blogger Conference back in April, the notion of a writing coach become appealing.

13588799_10157017988140063_1651447305_oAfter several emails and a meeting, we decided to work together to help reach my goal. I’ll eventually go into more detail of how a writing coach has helped me organize my thoughts, and push myself to write topics that may not come as easily to me as others. Also, for the first time in my personal life since I was a kid, I am being held accountable for doing something.

With work, it is easy for me to not drop the ball since my accountability impacts others in the office as well as my potential paycheck. For my own personal work, the only person that is affected by my lack of action is myself which never really matters to me most of the time. But with Julie, there are multiple check ins each week to see if I actually did my writing during the times we talked about, which she can go in and read in our shared Google Doc folder. Knowing that her email will be coming and that she is expecting to be reading new content, there is a refreshed sense of urgency of me committing to writing.

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Other Things That Have Happened So Far This Summer:

Continue reading

Honoring a Little Boy’s Legacy

2015-12-06-1449371408-4855880-12309778_10207021908739042_4033955049441326037_o-thumbI want to punch March 23rd in the face. That is the initial reaction I have towards March 23rd- since 2014. The date sticks out like an eyesore on the calendar, an anniversary of a day full of memories that replay in my mind more like a disjointed nightmare.

  • It’s the day where I received the text message that my buddy Weston gained his wings.
  • It’s the day where I witnessed two of the strongest people in the world, Weston’s parents, Julie & Adam, spend hours consoling a hospital reeling from the lose of their little boy simultaneously grieving themselves. Rather than being isolated with their own grief, they welcomed a steady stream of mourners from the hospital who had also fallen in love with the Keeton family. They gave hugs, dried tears and thanked staff for their care. The true meaning of family and community was demonstrated as they mourned alongside others grieving their son.
  • It’s a day where I walked inside a Jimmy Johns and demanded the man at the counter make us a sandwich tray even though the store was about to close.
  • It’s a day where I carried a little boy’s teddy bear outside of his hospital room, because the arms that once held it tight was no longer here.
  • 11894578_10155916357870063_7526162772039543462_oIt was the day where walking out of the hospital after saying my final goodbyes to Weston brought me to me knees. I put my hands over my mouth to try to make the sobs stop but they were too strong. It hit me that not only would I never see Weston again but I would lose the sense of family that I had found in the unlikeliest place
  • It is the day 7 year-old Weston Keeton gained his wings after putting up one hell of a fight with pulmonary hypertension & a heart & double lung transplant.

Instead, it will be a day where I deliver cookies & chocolate covered strawberries to the superheroes that care for the children on the 6th floor of the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at CHOP- where Weston was cared for throughout his transplant journey.

image1 (1)While there are many others who would also like to punch March 23rd in the face, they will be delivering baked goods, meals, supplies and love to firehouse & service workers across the country. All as part of the 2nd annual ‘Feed the Fire’ day of service in honor Weston Keeton’s 2nd year angel-versary.

Feed the Fire is a call to action for people from across the country to adopt their local fire house or a group that provides service. Weston adored firefighters & dreamed of being one when he grew up. During his lifetime, firefighters from across the country took time to send him letters, photos, gifts & even to make special visits. Julie & Adam Keeton made the decision to honor Weston’s heroes, and asked that all of those who had been touched by their son’s story to do the same.

In 2015, 102 firehouses were adopted nationwide with local heros being treated to potluck dinners, donated supplies, and care packages full of treats (including Weston’s favorite, Hot Cheetos). Even more firehouses & heros will be honored tomorrow, which is an incredible achievement for the 2nd year of Feed the Fire.

You can learn more about Feed the Fire by visiting www.westonswarriors.com or by v1185909_10153899978620063_58327903_nisiting the Weston Warrior’s Facebook page.

 

While March 23rd will still be a difficult day for so many that miss that sweet little boy, there is comfort knowing that his legacy continues to bring the best out in people. Without a doubt Weston changed the course of my life for the better. I often say the little boy with the broken heart taught me how to love again.  Forever, I will be grateful for the Miracle on 34th Street.

In 2012 when I first met Weston as part of my coverage for Gift of Life, little did I know that it would turn into a privilege of chronicling his legacy. Below are links of feature pieces that I have written about Weston & the Keeton family.

Favorite shots from 2015

 

Below are a few of the most memorable photos I’ve taken over the past 365 days. From capturing the resiliency of the human spirit at my job at Penn Rehab, experiencing childhood through my nieces eyes, enjoying year two as a crazy cat lady,crossing off items off my to-do list and watching two of my best friends walk down the aisle- it’s been a year for the books- photo books that is!

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A Legacy of Life: The Miracle on 34th Street Remembered

Originally published on Huffpost Impact on 12/8/15

2015-12-06-1449371218-1875698-325717_2615726525313_1133717942_o-thumbThe staples that mark the essence of the holiday season occur like clockwork on an annual basis-and are not dependent on any particular person. Despite any aversion to the holiday season, it will take place all around you just like every single year of your life. However there never is a guarantee on how it will feel from year-to-year. This Christmas season, the thought of taking part in any merriment may be intolerable if you’re in the middle of grief. Or perhaps because of a recent life event such as a new baby or relationship, Christmas has taken a new feeling. The holiday season never changes, for it is truly tried and true. Our receptiveness and experience are the triggers that impact how the holidays are acknowledged throughout the years. Loss, change, acceptance, additions- all are moving parts in how we experience life, which includes the holiday season and all things associated with it.

Exactly two years ago this week, a pair of families underwent a life-changing event that forever alter their perception of the holiday season. On the same day in 2013, both families faced unexpected uncertainty, and desperately hoped for miracles that would put their lives back together. Two sets of parents kissed their babies outside of an operating room. Two children took their last breaths with the heart and lungs that brought them into the world. Two sets of surgical teams performed procedures that changed Christmas for everyone involved. Continue reading

World Suicide Prevention Day- Awareness Through Writing

imagesThere’s no secret that I’ve been a huge advocate for mental health awareness over the past several years. My motivation for writing has always been making others feel less alone. This has been the reason I’ve written candidly about my struggles with depression and anxiety, in addition weekly therapy sessions. Also, I’ve shared more recently how my mother’s own mental health struggles impacted my childhood and our relationship. Because of the internet, someone can look for an essay or another voice that can possibly understand their feelings. Through the bravery of other writers, I’ve been rejuvenated and reminded during dark moments that with continued perseverance things will get better.

When I set foot into the counseling center at St. John’s University during the spring semester of my sophomore year, I thought it was a one time deal. A close friend had been suicidal and was checked into a hospital for a nervous breakdown. We were both so alike, and the fears of my own future taking a similar path trumped the preconceived notions I had about therapy.

Over the past seven years since that initial session, I can thank several mixtures of antidepressants, a 2 fantastic therapists and a whole lot of healing for helping me thrive. The free weekly therapy sessions offered throughout my college education saved my life, and is 100% the most important resource that helped me get through my undergraduate degree. Words cannot express the gratitude of the free services, that I would have not been able to pay on a student budget. During my darkest episodes of depression and anxiety, the idea of taking my own life wasn’t farfetched. I am so thankful for the voice inside my heart that kept encouraging me to go to therapy sessions, continue to heal and to find a medication that worked best for me. So many are not that fortunate.

images (1)I’m lucky to have a 3 close friends who have been able support me during episodes of anxiety and depression. They are the ones that have asked if I was okay, or made sure that I was continuously taking my medication. Having those few people in my life that will speak up when they sense something off is priceless.

Below are in the pieces I’ve written about mental health issues over the past several years. In honor of World Suicide Prevention Day, I hope that you read/share/repost this so that someone (or you) can perhaps feel less alone. In raising my voice, I hope it encourages others to raise their own to advocate for their own mental health wellness.

How I’m Surviving In Survival Mode During A Severe Depression Relapse 

The Christmas Cat That Worked Better Than Xanax

The Heartache of Bullying Doesn’t Have an Age Limit

Is Therapy Really Worth It? 7 Questions People Who See a Shrink Are Tired of Hearing

My Family Hid My Mother’s Mental Health Struggles During My Childhood, And I’m Still Dealing With It

Generations Of Dysfunctional Body Image Ends With Me

Throwing Warm and Fuzzy out the Window

Sanity or Self-Esteem?

Moving on From Being Dark and Twisty

Pay It Forward For Weston’s 9th Birthday

11894578_10155916357870063_7526162772039543462_oIn the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, It’s the life in your years.

9th birthdays are supposed to be celebrated with cake, ice cream and memory making. And although Weston will be celebrating his heaven on September 3, all of those things will still be enjoyed through the people that carry on his legacy with the same heart that is heavy with grief.

In honor to celebrate the life of their little prince, Julie Keeton and her family has asked for people to pay it forward in honor of Weston’s birthday. Buy someone a cup of coffee, bring in donuts to work in the morning, buy candy for the nurses at your local doctor’s office. Whatever it is, make the world a better place by showing kindness.

If you do pay it forward in honor of Weston tomorrow, be sure to tag @WestonsWarriors on Facebook and Twitter. You can click here to learn more about Weston and the impact he had on not just my life, but the lives of so many.  I miss Weston a whole lot, and the only way to honor his bubbly spirit is to celebrate his love for life. He will forever be my miracle on 34th street that reminded me what life was all about.

How I’ve Spent My Summer Vacation- or Lack There Of

anigif_enhanced-12676-1424726950-5It’s mid-summer, more than halfway through 2016, and my perception of time has gone out the window. Within three months of the new year, I found myself being called to rise to the occasion at my new job. An unexpected life lesson and experience allowed me to foster a whole new level of professional abilities, however it completely abandoned my path to achieve the goal of a better work/life/personal project balance.

I began to feel a self-imposed sense of guilt for shafting my own writings , despite publishing three pieces for HuffPo, xoJane, and Bustle during that 4 month period. Like a AA member who has fallen off the bandwagon, I’m back to committing to the twelve steps of life balance- which includes:

  • Being mindful to not work from 7 am-6pm every night. 
  • 2gxofvoMaking an effort to spend time doing creative writing during the week.
  • Feeding myself with healthy meals instead of ingesting food that’s convenient and liquid. 
  • Stop holding myself to self-imposed schedules and rigid to-do lists that are only upsetting to me when their not achieved.

Between dealing with the aftermath of my mom’s latest stroke, turning 26 and trying to continue to acclimate myself with my job of less than a year, other fun stuff has been happening including: Continue reading

The Privilege of Sharing Weston’s Story

1185909_10153899978620063_58327903_nIn honor of the 2 year transplant anniversary of my buddy Weston Keeton, here are the links of articles and videos that I have been fortunate enough to cover since 2012. When I first met Julie Keeton in 2012, little did I know that a life long friendship would take place. He loved playing with my cameras, touching the buttons on the microphone and watching himself back on the screen

Thank you for everyone that has followed Weston’s story over the years. Although he is now an angel, I will to cover his legacy that continues to impact the lives of so many.

A Legacy of Life: Miracle on 34th Street Remembered 

Paying it Forward for Weston’s 9th birthday

102 Firefighters are Fed for Feed the Fire

The Miracle on 34th Street- One Year Later 

How a Little Boy with a Broken Heart Taught Me How to Feel 

The Real Miracle on 34th Street 

18246_10151202133918598_1753656347_nThe Moving Story of the Real-Life Miracle on 34th Street 

Happy Holidays Story Time- Miracle on 34 Street 

Meet Chickie and Pete’s Newest Employee

Faces of Organ Donation- Weston Keeton

Philadelphia Mummers Raise Awareness for Transplant Family 

Faces of the Family House- The Keeton Family 

Dedicating a Day of Thanks 

Faces of the Family House- Weston Keeton 

Feed the Fire- Honoring Weston Keeton

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 12.11.45 PMI never thought a year ago I would be writing a press release and helping my friend Julie organize an event to honor the one year passing of her son, Weston. But on Monday, March 23, it will be exactly a year since I received a text message that my buddy Weston gained his wings. A year later, Weston is missed more than ever but the Keeton family continues to keep his spirit alive by paying it forward.

Many parents cannot even fathom what the Keeton family has gone through. Yet Julie and Adam Keeton are showing that it is okay to honor the ‘angel-versery’ of their son. Since Weston adored firefighters, the Keeton family planned a special event called ‘Feed the Fire’. They have asked supporters from across the country to adopt their local fire house, by donating meals, supplies and snacks. Over 62 fire houses will be ‘adopted’ on Monday, March 23.

Myself and my friend Jen will be adopting Manoa Fire Company in Havertown,PA.  You can click here to read the press release.

98.1 WOGL interviewed Julie and I for this awesome piece promoting the event. You can click here to read it. 

Julie was also interviewed on WJHL last week. You can click here to watch the clip.

To learn more about Weston and Feed the Fire, visit www.westonswarriors.com.

Stay tuned for a recap of the event!