Boots on the Ground (Leave it all and move off to Panama or Costa Rica)

Written by Kay on . Posted in A Bratt's Life, About Publishing

How many times have you thought to yourself that you’d like to just sell everything and leave the country? Over the years, the temptation has touched many Americans and some have even had the courage to take the plunge. Take Nadine and Rob, for example. A couple who were trying to live the American dream but finding out that to have it took a little more of their soul than they were willing to give. Eventually, they decided to tempt fate and see what life in Costa Rica held for their future. Nadine’s book, Happier Than a Billionaire, was one of the first books I read when I got the ‘let’s get the heck out of here’ bug. The book is not a how-to book on moving to Costa Rica, but it chronicles the ups and downs (and hilarious moments) that Nadine and Rob go through as they follow their hearts to find a new normal. Nadine’s journey is simply incredible and she’s now working on book four in the series, but each book can be read as a standalone.

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Reading Happier Than  Billionaire lit a fire inside me to know more about moving overseas. Soon, with more research, we decided that while Costa Rica sounded heavenly, Panama might be the better choice for us. Of course the idea made us nervous, but we were still curious. Could we find a better life there? Could we overcome the culture shock and language of yet another country?

One thing we knew for sure, we weren’t going to get it out of our system until we went and saw Panama for ourselves. After much discussion, we booked a trip and for the first part of it, signed on with Panama Relocation Tours.

What came next was two weeks of exploring a new country and the possibility of a new life there. The Pursuit of Panama is my short memoir/travelogue that details that tour and the days that followed, as we determined if moving to Panama was to be our next dream. Between the pages of my book, you won’t find a list of what to do in order to move to Panama, but you’ll find some helpful tips to get you started on that process as well as learn firsthand what two weeks in Panama can be like to a gringo like me. You’ll also get a peek at some deep soul-searching as I try to figure out just what it is that will bring me the peace I yearn for.

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Amazon Reviewer says: If I was planning a trip or a move to Panama, The Pursuit of Panama would definitely have helped in my decision. I love how she added her own personal story along with describing the many attributes of Panama, including describing the food, hotels or resorts, activities, and transportation along with the costs of each. Most importantly I love how she described the beauty of Panama. Definitely somewhere I would love to travel.

 

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In Love and In Panama

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The Banana Trucks are Everywhere

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A Boquete Rainbow

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A Hostel in Bocas Town

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A Sweet Girl Selling Bracelets to Feed her Family

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Volcan

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From the Balcony of a Condo in Coronado

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From our Hotel in Panama City

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Hotel in Bocas Del Toro

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A Bookstore for Kay!

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A Bar for Ben!

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Still not convinced? Then you’d better read it for yourself…

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Lake Union Author Giveaway

Written by Kay on . Posted in A Bratt's Life, Contests and Give-A-Ways, For Dog Lovers

Enter to win prizes!

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Who doesn’t love prizes, right?

The authors of Lake Union Publishing have teamed together for a night dedicated to you – our readers!

To celebrate our first #LakeUnionAuthors Twitter Chat- I’m giving away a few prizes.

All you need to do is enter and comment below the prize you’d like to receive!

HOW TO ENTER:

1) First, sign up to my author newsletter by clicking the newsletter graphic below:

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2) Leave a Comment at the bottom of this blog post with which prize you’d like to be entered for

WishMeHome_MP3Prize A: MP3 Audiobook of Wish Me Home

Prize B: Signed paperback of Wish Me Home

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Prize C: I Kissed A Dog and I Liked It (t-shirt)

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Prize D: Audio CD set of 8 discs of Wish Me Home

3) Then watch your inbox for my newsletter this week to see if you’ve won!

That’s it! And if you are a dog-lover as well as someone who likes a good read, I hope you’ll check out my new book, Wish Me Home. In it, you’ll meet Hemi but below is a picture of my grand-dog, Griffin, who was the inspiration for Hemi.

Just like Griffin has stolen our hearts, Hemi will be sure to steal yours.

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Want WISH ME HOME to automatically be delivered or hit your Kindle the day it’s available?

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Here’s the link!

download

Contest Rules:
Real simple rules. MUST be signed up for my newsletter to be entered as this is how I will announce the winners. Open worldwide. You have 30 days to claim your gift and then I promise to mail the item within 30 days of you supplying your address. Once it’s mailed…there are no replacements. If it gets lost in the mail, I’m sincerely sorry but I will not be able to replace those gifts.

Kamikaze Kaiser the Foster Fail

Written by Kay on . Posted in A Bratt's Life, Adoption Stories, For Dog Lovers

If you’ve ever heard the term #FosterFail, then you know exactly what’s coming. Last July (2016) Ben and I were on our way back from Nashville when I checked my messages and saw that the director of the rescue group I volunteer for was asking if anyone of us were near Asheville and could pick up a dog and keep him until they could find alternate foster care. As we were the nearest to him, we agreed and a few hours later we met a woman in the parking lot of Cracker Barrel and she handed off her son’s dog, Kaiser.

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From the first minute I met Kaiser, I was overwhelmed. Approximately four years old, he was extremely anxious and unruly, jumping around and whining, almost hysterical in his fright. I asked for a run down of his history and the woman proceeded to tell me that Kaiser had no manners, was misbehaved, not housebroken, and acted like a junkyard dog. (not sure what that means) For a moment, I second-guessed our decision to pick him up. We said our goodbyes and with no visible love loss, the woman walked away.

The rest of the trip home was memorable, to say the least. I kept Kaiser on my lap, perched on a pillow as I tried to calm him. A few times I thought he was going to bite me in the midst of his meltdown. It took nearly an hour of talking to him and petting him, but he finally settled down except for a long sigh every now and then. When he calmed, I got a good look at his eye and was disgusted at how bad it looked, all crusty and red. Kaiser turned his head to look around as though blind in that eye and my heart broke for him.

“You call them and get someone else to take him first thing tomorrow,” Ben said when we could breathe again. “He’s going to be too much for us.”

At home we introduced him to Riley, who wanted no part of it. I also still had Lola, my first foster dog and she turned her nose up as well. I set Kaiser up a small area behind a gate in my dressing room, and that is where he slept and spent a lot of time for the first few days. I gave him as much attention as I could, but it was disheartening. Kaiser was a sad little fellow. Truly, he seemed heartbroken. Or just broken.

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At the vet’s office, I was the drama of the day. Kaiser was like a bucking bronco in the waiting room and I could barely control him. Inside the exam room, he climbed me like a monkey, wrapping himself around my neck, completely terrified. The doctor informed me that the eye issue appeared to be from a very old injury and was most likely very painful. I asked if Kaiser could see from it and the doctor said we wouldn’t know for a while. The plan was to treat it aggressively for two weeks, which would require multiple sessions of meds and cleaning each day. We also discovered that Kaiser hadn’t seen a vet in over two years and needed all his shots.

After talking to Ben, we decided to keep Kaiser with us until we could get the eye injury under control.

Obviously, the poor pup came with some issues. If we’d give all the dogs a treat or toy, he’d bully them and hoard the treats. He had to be taught he wasn’t their boss. To be groomed, he had to be sedated and even then, he tried to bite the groomer. One of his ‘behaviors’ was he wanted to hump everything all the time. I spoke to a specialist and they informed me that the humping was not connected to dominance, and instead was Kaiser’s way of coping with anxiety. She suggested I give Kaiser his own special stuffy and make him keep the action to one designated room. She advised if we didn’t allow him his own self-soothing methods, he could do things that were much more damaging, like eating our drywall. So we gave him a stuffed elephant.  And wow– did he love that elephant. He loved her all the time. All. The. Time.

Slowly, over the next few weeks, we found another side of Kaiser emerging. Under the fright that made him act out and look grumpy, he had bursts of happiness. It only took something small for his little tail to bob. He was grateful for each and every gesture. He still had issues, though. When we brought out the leash to begin including him in our nightly walks, he would freak out and attack it as though it were a rattlesnake. It would take some time to get the leash on him and sometimes we’d have to carry him out the door, he was so anxious. At times Kaiser would also seem upset over nothing and run hide under the bed. But we worked with him, showing him that we would never hurt him. Lola began to tolerate him and we also noticed that Riley took a special interest in him, going to touch noses throughout the day as if to say, “You okay there, buddy? We got ya, man. Calm down…”

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One week turned into two, then three, and soon was four. Kaiser was no longer put behind the gate except at bedtime or when we left the house. Curiously, he began to follow Ben whenever he was home. Despite Ben’s initial reluctance, he worked hard to help me rehabilitate Kaiser, showing him what a human pack leader should be like. Firm, but gentle. Confident. Trustworthy.

Kaiser stopped being a bully to the other dogs. With diligent corrections, he learned that he would get his share of food, toys, and treats and didn’t have to be so dominant. He also stopped loving his elephant so much. What started out as more than a dozen love sessions a day soon dwindled to a few times and then just once a day. We discovered that he absolutely loved going for a walk. We found a different groomer after interviewing several, and luckily Kaiser was fine with him, no sedation needed. He started behaving somewhat normal and while we were busy with life, we neglected to notice that Kaiser was finding his place in the pack.

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Finally, the director messaged to let me know it was time to start interviewing prospective adoptive families for Kaiser. Verbally, I agreed, but inside I felt sick. Kaiser had a lot of special needs and would require someone to be very understanding. I didn’t know his photo had been added to the website and we had four interested families. As a foster, it was my job to screen them and try to find a good fit.

I made contact with the first couple and began to send them photos and even a video. It was a retired couple without dogs or children, and at first I thought they might be the ones. Then we had a call and he asked me, “he doesn’t beg, does he? Because I won’t put up with begging at my table.. ”

I marked him off the list. If a little begging was that big of a deal, then he couldn’t even begin to handle a dog with Kaiser’s issues. The next family was marked off because they had small children and I’d come to learn that Kaiser was nervous around the kids we passed on our walks. Could he get over it? Possibly, but I just felt in my gut that he needed a quieter home.

Next on the list was a lady that seemed to be perfect. Her children were older (two boys, high school and college) and there were no other pets. We talked back and forth for a week and I felt so good about it that we set up an appointment for her to come meet Kaiser. A few days before the meeting, I took him to the vet and his eye was still not good. The vet said another few weeks, on a new rx this time. He would continue to need his eye cleaned multiple times a day, plus drops. How would his new mom do it when she worked full-time? And wouldn’t Kaiser be lonely during the day after having such a pack to hang with every minute? So I delayed the adopt-meeting. In the meantime, Kaiser was transforming into a new little dog that continuously made us laugh with his jolly ways. Everything to him was so exciting! Food. Walks. Belly rubs. He was so grateful! And watching him and Riley wrestle together, then lay next to each other, made my heart swell. It was as though they were long lost brothers.

The days kept ticking by until weeks turned into a few months. We took the boys with us to the beach and Kaiser was beyond thrilled. Everywhere we went, people thought he and Riley were the ‘cutest brothers’. And slowly his fear began to take a backseat to other emotions of hope and happiness. He no longer fought the leash and his anxiety fits came less and less frequently. He could walk into the animal hospital without making a spectacle of us. We’d done our job in readying him for the next steps in his life. Finally, when I could no longer find any excuse to continue to foster him, Ben came home from work and I told him that we would probably have to say goodbye to Kaiser by the end of the week.

Ben, (who let me remind you was never that excited about me fostering dogs and wanted Kaiser gone the first day) turned to me and said, “maybe we should keep him.”

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And that, my friends, is the rest of the story.

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Kaiser officially became part of the Bratt Pack and it hasn’t been a perfect journey. He still has some issues but don’t we all? His eye is much better though we still treat it daily and it can be costly with the vet visits and meds. Next steps is a possible vet ophthalmologist but at least he can see well out it now. I can tell you this, too. Kaiser is not a junk yard dog. He is housebroken. And he does have manners. She was wrong. And funny thing, until he came along, we didn’t even know we were unbalanced. Now I couldn’t imagine life without my little Kaisie-Bear. And the bond that he and Ben share is one that only a rescued dog and his person can know.

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In closing, perhaps you are at a time in your life that you can volunteer for a rescue group? They really need foster families! Or if you cannot foster, then perhaps you could offer a donation to help cover the medical needs of the dogs taken in for care and a second chance? There are many rescues out there. NC Yorkie Rescue is the non-profit I volunteered for and they do a phenomenal job with such scarce resources. They and others could use your help. Also please consider adding to your pack from a rescue, you would not believe the gratitude the dog will have for the rest of it’s life. It’s so rewarding to see a dog’s personality transformed as he/she heals from the ordeal they have been through.

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If you are a dog-lover that also likes a great story, please check out my upcoming novel, Wish Me Home, where you’ll fall in love with a dog named Hemi as he searches for a place to call home.

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Goodbye, 2016… Don’t let the door hit you in the butt on the way out!

Written by Kay on . Posted in A Bratt's Life, About Publishing, China-Inspired Book Recommendations, For Dog Lovers

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Hi ya’ll,

2017 is here and not a moment too soon! Can I get an amen?

Last year was brutal. Not just in politics (won’t go there) or in reference to the violence around the world, but also to me personally and I’m glad to see it gone. I can’t say nothing good happened, because through the trials and tribulations, towards the end of the year I finally found the courage to put on my big girl pants and say no.

I’m finding I’m stronger than I gave myself credit for and I could tell you all the things I’ve said no to in the last few months, but let’s suffice it to say that here in my 47th year on this earth, I am going to try something new and put my own well-being and path to peace on the top of the priority list.

Personally, that means I’m going to take more time to sit on the beach and enjoy the sun, maybe meet some more turtles out on Amelia Island.

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I’ll use the bike I got for Christmas to get out and feel the breeze on my face. There’ll be more breaks, stretching, and back to yoga I go. I’ll take every opportunity to consider and be thankful for my blessings, especially for my Ben and our ongoing love story. #Almost23YearsStrong

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I’ll try to bridge the distance with loved ones I’ve broken apart from, but if it doesn’t work I’ll be at peace with the decision to let it go.

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I’ll find a new avenue for volunteer work. Something different than I’ve done in the past but something that will fill the never-ceasing need in me to be of service to others. I’ll play with my dogs more. Give them more walks. More snuggles. More trips to the park. I’ll put more emphasis on family relationships and friendships, old and new, and work to let each one of them know their worth to me.

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I’ll release my search for the proper medication to treat my autoimmune disease, and instead focus on diet, breathing, and emotional well-being as treatment for the chronic pain. I’ll return to a place of spiritual content, relying on a higher power to fill my soul and shelter me from life’s pain.

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I’ll stop obsessing about the future and focus on the present, squeezing every drop of joy I can out of my days before they are gone in a flash. I’ll continue my goals to find ways to scatter kindness in small ways throughout my days.

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Professionally, I will release my first women’s contemporary fiction book where I rely on my love for dogs and my experiences as a child advocate to bring the reader a story of a young woman battling demons from her childhood as she journeys toward her own happily ever after.

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WISH ME HOME is available for pre-order now and will hit your kindles on March 21.

In the fall, I’ll release a historical fiction trilogy titled Sworn Sisters. It is set in the late nineteenth century and chronicles the saga of three young Chinese women, bound by fate and determined to overcome oppression and heartache to find a better life in America. Be sure to join my newsletter to be notified when all the new books are ready to go!
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So those are my goals for 2017 and I hope that you’ve set some too. As always, thank you so much for supporting my work. And by the way, what is your main focus or goal for the new year?

Much love to you and yours,

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(Why) Do I Love Dogs!

Written by Kay on . Posted in A Bratt's Life, For Dog Lovers

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Most of you recognize Riley Radcliffe, my sidekick, shadow, and canine soul mate. Based on my posts and constant photo stream highlighting him and his antics, you know that I love dogs, but did you know that I’ve longed for more dogs in my life? On that note, I decided that the best way to fulfill that need as well as encourage others to do something for needy animals in their life, was to become a foster for dogs. My first thought was can I do this? Will it break my heart? Will it fulfill that hole and need to have more puppy love in my home? I didn’t take the decision lightly and I began to online stalk other fosters for dogs, as well as rescue groups. One of my Facebook friends, Luanne, was a great example to watch as she took in one or two dogs at a time, helping them heal physically and emotionally from whatever life had thrown them until they were ready to go to their furever homes. Each pup she posted I watched the updates and then waited to see if they were adopted. And they were. Every time.

I finally decided I could do it too.

That being decided, I began the process to be approved to be a foster for pups. (I say pups but that includes dogs of every age and I just find it an endearing term). I decided to apply with NC Yorkie Rescue because Riley is a Yorkie (albeit a huge one at 16 healthy lbs!) and I’m familiar with the breed. I completed the online application then waited to be contacted. First I received a call from one of their foster coordinator’s named Sharon. She was lovely but to the point, making our phone interview one that covered everything from how many people and what age lived in our household, to do we rent or buy, have fence or not, what animals we have, what veterinarian we use, and other questions to help them decide to approve my application or not. She then asked for permission to call my vet to question them. They would need to check to be sure Riley was up to date on all his vaccinations. After that call I waited another few weeks and then received an email that I was approved. I have a feeling the group also did their own online stalking to make sure I wasn’t some sort of nut or a creep wanting a dog to flip or use in dog fights. (Yes, that happens all the time because there are a lot of cruel humans out there)

Next, I was connected with another foster coordinator, Judy, who invited me to come out to her house to meet a couple of Yorkie dogs that were there and waiting for a new foster home. Once there, I was smitten by more than one Yorkie but the dog who caught my eye was a little frightened Shih Tzu who darted in and out, watching all of us interact as she kept her distance.

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I asked her story and was told her name was Sasha and she was rescued from a breeder after she was deemed of no further use to them, meaning she’d had all the litters of pups to line their pockets that she could manage. I tried to get Sasha to come to me but it only happened once, very briefly. I could tell she didn’t like all the chaos and noise of the other dogs and though I’d come for the familiar breed of a Yorkie, I knew that my quiet and calm household was what Sasha needed to recover and prepare for her furever home.  I discussed it with Judy and she agreed that I would be a good fit to foster Sasha, and we headed home.

First lesson I learned as a foster for dogs?

Bring a crate. Lola Mei1

It was a long drive home (several hours) with Sasha crawling around, unable to sit still as she anxiously looked for a way out of the car and I kept up a litany of encouraging words. But we finally made it and that evening started our journey together, her learning to heal and act like a dog, and me learning how to be a good foster. First thing I did was change her name.  I felt like the name the breeder called her might evoke bad memories so we began calling her Lola Mei. By day two, Lola Mei was still very sad but she liked sitting in my office with me and she was starting to let me pick her up, though it took a lot of courage for her not to cower and hide. I found that she was terrified of most everything, especially going through doors, grass, noises, and men. She trembled a lot, but I moved slowly around her and talked softly and little by little, she began to come around. It wasn’t easy, as Lola would wake up during the night and be afraid, and I would get up and hold/comfort her or take her outside at two or three in the morning just to be sure her needs were being met. For the first week I was exhausted, but committed that together, we would conquer. And I finally had to address her hygiene. I called the grooming shop and talked to the owner, explained Lola’s issues and made arrangements for her to be groomed by their most gentle groomer. She was matted and had to be shaved down, but they took a lot of time and effort to keep her calm and when she survived that experience, I moved to the next thing on the list. A few days later I was sad to leave her at the veterinarian hospital to be spayed. However, I thought I might get two full days of work done with her gone but just like a mom with her kids, I found that her absence made me too restless to accomplish much except worry.

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I didn’t expect it, but when the vet assistant brought her out of the back a day later, she was thrilled to see me. From then on, she was my shadow and went everywhere in the house that I did, and especially enjoying being carried or comforted like a baby in a soft blanket. As for Riley, he’s a great foster dog brother to have for new dogs because he’s such a gentle boy. He approached Lola frequently and she accepted him, though the one time he tried to wrestle with her she turned on him like a rabid fox and he never tried that again. I think after years of being bred, she thought he wanted more than an innocent tumble and she had decided she’d never be mounted again! And there were other things that weren’t so easy. I feel like a man must have played a brutal or neglectful part in her life because her fear of Ben– my gentle giant of a husband– was palpable. As Lola bonded tighter with me, she became more resistant toward him, even lunging and snapping at him when he came near the bed if she was on it with me. I talked with the vet and got guidance from a dog behaviorist and learned that from the beginning I should have been allowing Ben to play as big a part as me in her recovery. But we began to do some of the things suggested to get her used to him. Ben was very understanding about it all, especially the part that my life was suddenly consumed by Lola.

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I say Riley was a great foster dog brother, but in all honesty he had a few complaints about sharing my attention. Overall though he did wonderful in accepting that there was enough of me to go around. We had a lot of long talks and I let him vent his feelings, and he got a few extra snuggles and treats, but all in all I’m proud of him for sharing in the experience, however daunting it was.

The days went by and slowly, with a lot of patience from all of us, Lola started to recover. She spent a lot of time just staring outdoors and contemplating her new world, her face sad and drawn, and those were the times that I scooped her up and snuggled her close, telling her she was a beautiful girl who would have an amazing future and begging her to give humankind another chance. I took her for more vet appointments and was pleased when she gained a few pounds.

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Soon there began to be moments that we reveled in seeing her prance with her tail up and her feet dancing as she followed me around the yard, always keeping me in sight. We took in another foster dog named Kaiser (A follow-up post will be forthcoming) and she decided she liked Kaiser too. While she wasn’t used to a leash, or walks for that matter, she enjoyed going on our evening strolls, perched in the doggie stroller with a few stops to let her out to do her business. Then one day, a few weeks later we were out for a walk and suddenly, Lola jumped out of the stroller and decided she wanted to be a dog! That began a new phase of us getting her used to the leash and walking to enjoy all the wonderful and new scents a neighborhood had to offer. I believe it helped for her to see Riley and Kaiser and what they were doing, and in a way they showed her how to act like a dog and what the fun things to do were. We rounded a bend that evening and I could see a whole new Lola emerging. She ate with the other dogs, walked with them, and sometimes even played a little with them. Most of all though, she wanted my attention. She loved for me to hold her, snuggle her, brush her, or just walk with her around the yard as she stared up at the trees and down at the grass as though she’d never seen such magnificent things.

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A month after I first met Lola the day came that the founder of the rescue group sent me a message that had 4-5 families names and phone numbers. They were all interested in adopting Lola Mei and it was time to start screening them to see if they were a fit. As I stared at the message, I felt my heart fall. I knew that being a foster would be difficult, but I never imagined getting to be a part of the recovery of such a sweet girl who’d been through such emotional neglect, and then feeling the possessiveness I felt for Lola. I wanted to continue protecting her! I couldn’t imagine anyone else being patient enough to carry her out the door, or better yet, stand there for five minutes as she got the courage to run out it herself, then praising her for it. I didn’t think there’d be that person who would understand when she lashed out, knowing it was fear and not temperament that made her cranky when she was facing something new and unfamiliar. I thought no one but me would prepare her for bed by snuggling her, kissing her, and whispering to her all the way to the crate and then bending down to tell her goodnight and it would be alright.

The first family I screened we decided wasn’t a good fit for Lola, but would be a possibility for Kaiser. I moved on to the next name on the list and after talking with her, with a heavy and unsure heart, I set up a time for her to come meet Lola. She came the next Saturday and brought her dog and her fiance. Lola did not cooperate. With new people in the house, she suddenly reverted to the frightened, snappy dog she was on day one. When the lady tried to hold Lola, the situation went bad and a bite was barely avoided. They left without Lola, thinking that her needs might be too much for them, as on my end I thought Lola wasn’t ready. That evening, I called the founder of the group and she not-so-gently told me everything I did wrong as the foster facilitating the meeting. The criticism was hard to hear but was exactly what I needed and together, we decided to try again. Of course I considered keeping her myself, but something kept keeping me from saying the words. I just wasn’t sure we were the right fit for her as a permanent solution and I began this journey to foster, not adopt.

I went back to my list and called the next family, which resulted in a long conversation with a lovely lady who has many years of experience with not only Shih Tzus but also with rescues. I gave her the entire rundown of Lola’s issues, being sure not to leave anything out for full disclosure. At the end of the call I asked her if I’d scared her away and she said certainly not. I was relieved because she and her husband, and their little girl Shih Tzu Buffy, sounded like they could be the right home for Lola.  But I’d already been through one failed meeting so I was on guard and this time, I let the rescue founder walk me through exactly what to do to have the most successful outcome. We made an appointment for Lola and I to come meet them, at their address so that I could ensure their home/yard was appropriate for my girl. That next week I felt really sad and worried as first, I put her to bed for the last time, then the morning approached and we took our last walk around the yard.

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The morning of Lola’s new journey arrived and I packed up all the things I’d bought for her. I’d typed up a long list of instructions and details about her likes, dislikes, feeding, and walking schedule. Her crate, complete with her favorite pink blanket and a shirt I’d slept in was to be her carriage and I packed her in, putting treats in with her to help keep her busy on the road. About halfway there we stopped at a truck stop for her to use the bathroom and as she pranced around on the end of the leash, I felt a lump in my throat that here I was probably the first human she trusted and I was probably delivering her to someone else. I almost turned around and went home but I decided that the couple at least deserved to meet her, as they’d planned their day around me. So we continued on and around noon we arrived in Stanley, North Carolina, to a quiet and quaint neighborhood that was pleasing to the eye. I found their home and pulled in, so nervous I could almost hear my own heartbeat.

“We don’t have to stay,” I whispered to Lola as she looked up at me with those huge dark eyes. “We’ll just see how they are.”

Both Jim and Sylvia, the prospective couple, met me on the porch and I can honestly say from the first moment I felt nothing but a calm kindness from both of them. Here they were a retired couple who had recently lost one of their beloved dogs but was still settled and complete, yet willing to open their hearts and homes to a rescue that they already understood had some fairly severe issues to get over. Lola and I went in and I was shocked to find that Lola wasn’t as nervous as I thought she’d be. She pranced around their house, then their yard, as though she already knew she’d be coming.

We moved back inside and she settled down, not showing any aggression or fear; another surprise to me as I almost expected her to stomp her little paw and snap her tiny jaws in defiance. But none of that happened and as we all talked, she almost looked at home! Jim sat in the floor, talking to Lola and offering her treats, getting to know her while letting her have her space. We discussed how to avoid the mistake I’d made with Lola in hoarding all her attention. They’d decided in the first days to get her used to Jim as much as Sylvia, he would do most of her feeding/walking, etc.. I had shielded her from Ben because I knew she was afraid of men, but I had unknowingly set the boundary and would never do that again. We discussed other ways to help Lola when it came to doors, etc.. As we talked, their Shih Tzu, Buffy, was calm and paid scant attention to either me or Lola, but their resemblance to one another was something special and I could see them bonding as sisters. Buffy spent most of her time in her mama’s arms, every once in awhile reaching up to kiss Sylvia sweetly on the neck or cheek, and I could barely imagine her as the needy rescue dog they said she’d come to them as so many years before.

Buffy

I know I was there nearly three hours, picking the brains of Jim and Sylvia while they slowly interacted with Lola and I watched like a hawk, but by the time I finally stood up I knew that I’d found the perfect place for our sweet girl. Carefully, I put Lola in her crate and we talked some more, letting her watch from her known safe spot. Then eventually we moved our talk to the kitchen so that I could slip out without making a dramatic exit. I left there sad for myself, but satisfied in the realization that I had helped Lola recover enough to be able to accept a new family that I knew would have the capacity to love her through all her fear and sadness, and make the rest of her years on earth as comforting as every dog deserves. And I can’t wait to see and hear how Lola (with her sister, Buffy) is doing a year from now in her furever home. The photo below is from the second or third day in her new home and the sad look on her face brought me to tears. But the update was that though she looked sad, she was adjusting and had already accepted Buffy.

LolaBuffy

The photo below is two weeks after Lola Mei went to her new home. Her furever mom had this to say about her: Ms. Bossy is settling in. She and Buffy get along real well and she’s one of the gang. We came home from dinner today and Lola and Buffy came running to the door, barking and tails wagging as if we had been gone all day. Lola LOVES being outside, she goes out, sniff’s the air, runs from one end to the other (ears flying), looks up at the trees, she’s a special little being. Thank you for preparing this sweet little girl for a family. 

Lola_Furever home

Lola Mei, I will always love you and remember you as my first foster dog. I’ve learned that it’s not easy to be a foster to dogs, but it’s worth all the time, patience, and heartbreak to know that you accepted me to be your safe place to recover and heal from your invisible scars as we prepared to find you the perfect furever home. You taught me a lot and I hope I taught you that you are worthy of loyalty and lasting love.

LolaMe

I also hope that by making this journey so public, others will open their homes to foster needy dogs. Being that safe place as they heal and prepare for their furever home is a rewarding experience! Contact your local shelter or specific breed rescue groups to apply to foster or adopt. There are approximately 7.6 million companion animals entering animal shelters nationwide every year. and each year, approximately 2.7 million animals are euthanized. Many rescue groups pull dogs from shelters before they are destined to die, but they need our help to get them to a furever home. If you’d like to make a donation to help dogs in need, you can make one to Lola’s rescue [NC Yorkie Rescue] or find one in your area. All rescue dogs must be vaccinated, spayed/neutered, and all medical issues treated before being approved for adoption and that takes more funds than adoption fees bring in. Your contribution is greatly appreciated.

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[stay tuned for my upcoming post about Kaiser, my second foster dog that on day one made me afraid and questioning if I was cut out to be a foster for dogs. What I learned from him is to never judge a dog the first day you meet them.]

The Question that Hurts….

Written by Kay on . Posted in A Bratt's Life, Orphanage Flashbacks

ghost child
Kay, did you ever adopt a child?
 
Lately I’ve read a lot of posts from the IA community about the at times intrusive or offensive questions they get from strangers.
 
Are your children adopted? Do they know their fathers? Are they sisters?
 
While some people are genuinely interested in a good way, others can be rude and far too probing. In a small way, I feel can relate to how you moms and dads must feel.
 
How? Because many times after someone reads my memoir, Silent Tears, about working in a Chinese orphanage, they reach out to me and ask, “Did you ever adopt?”
 
Four small words that pack a punch.
 
Please, don’t get me wrong. I don’t get offended. But I do squirm a bit and feel uncomfortable. Why? Because while technically it could be a yes or no question, especially if I want to guard my emotions, there is so much behind why I did not adopt, so much I could say to defend my choice, though really– it should not need defending.
 
But I try. And fail.
 
For how can I describe what I experienced and what formed my decisions, all in an email reply or a short FB message? How can I tell them about Squirt, the little boy with the long eyelashes and petite fingers who stole my heart, who I felt a huge connection with, then came in one day to find that he had died in the night?
 
Or Charlie, the first baby boy we began to raise funds for, trying to beat the clock on his failing heart. He, so pitiful and weak, who I came in repeatedly to find sitting in the corner of his crib, tied to keep him upright, his anguish evident in his cries and outstretched arms, begging me to do something. Anything, to ease his pain. Sure, I could see him as a part of my family but when he was matched after his surgery, and I later made contact with his new mom, I knew that I had only been the connector.
 
Then we had Li Li, the tiny baby girl that when she was failing, the director let me take home to try to nurse her, and who went into heart failure under my very roof. Did I love her as I sat up all hours of the night, rocking her and singing to her, coaxing her to take on drop of formula at a time? I know I did…as I loved many. And when the ayi we hired to watch over her after surgery fell in love and introduced her to her daughter, who would become Li Li’s mother, I considered it a blessing.
 
But those were a few of the first children to burrow into my heart. The next one we all came to know and love through the stories I told of her early traumatic life. Xiao Gou– our little Sunshine who I first discovered in the ICU before she was abandoned, then later found in the orphanage when her parents never returned. That child– Xiao Gou — there is no doubt in my mind that I was put into her path to help her reach a new, more loving future. I advocated for her left and right, and through it all she was not put on the adoption list because of a snafu of legalities and her birth parents’ greed.
 
At one time, I would’ve adopted her in a heartbeat. But it wasn’t to be so. Still, she was a part of me and I never closed the door on her until I was able to see her adopted into a family that couldn’t be more perfect for her needs.
 
The last child that lingers in my mind was Xin Xin. She, like Li Li, was so frail with a struggling heart, and was the child who I last stood in the gap for. With funds raised, I begged, pleaded, and bargained for her to be allowed the medical care she so direly needed. When it was post-phoned, I requested she be given one-on-one care. Doctor visits, meetings, phone calls….her case kept me busy day and night, trying to move her through the mountains of red tape just so that she could have a chance at life.
 
Then one day the phone call.
 
Xin Xin had died in a taxi on the way to the hospital. Heart failure. I remember that call so vividly and even today — at this very moment– I am brought to tears at how callous the news was given. I can see myself as I stood holding the phone, then as I for the first time ever in my life, completely lost control. Screaming, crying, cursing, pleading with Ben to tell me it wasn’t true, on my knees too weak to stand. In my bed for the next days, too depressed to move, too frozen by the vision of her tiny lifeless body laying somewhere in a morgue.
 
Alone. Abandoned. Again.
 
Xin Xin was the child that tendered my resignation. She was one loss too many and I left China with the hope of adopting a child reduced to ashes in my heart. I closed the door on it all. Emotionally and physically drained, my body depleted and feeling like no more than an empty shell. The journey was over. I’d done all I could do, and some of it had been in vain. I wanted to forget.
 
But after some time I began to recover physically, then emotionally. I opened my heart again and decided that my China journey wasn’t over, that my time there was only the beginning chapter. With the platform gained because of my memoir, then through more speaking engagements, I used/use my reach to advocate for other children in China, helping more now than I ever dreamed of even while I was there.
 
So no, I never adopted a Chinese child. But you know what? I’ve loved many. 
 
–Kay

Reaching Out….

Written by Kay on . Posted in A Bratt's Life

Luna

About six weeks or so a terrible thing happened. Amanda called home crying that her beloved cat, Luna, had gotten out and was lost. She was devastated and that began several weeks of exhausting trips back and forth (200 miles round trip), hanging flyers, posting pictures, and walking….looking….walking….looking….

Alas, we have yet to find Luna.

However, after one call from a stranger who swore he’d seen her in his apartment complex, I was doing a few paces around and ran into an elderly woman. I told her why I was lurking around her building and she invited me in. I didn’t really have time, but who says no to a sweet elderly lady? I went in and she and I had a long conversation in which she told me she was named Tereatha and was born in 1921. She said she feeds the stray cats in the neighborhood, and names all of them. (I’m thinking they aren’t stray if she’s feeding them and naming them!) One huge black and white cat came up to her glass door while I was there and she said he was John the Baptist, then put out a bowl of food for him.

While we talked, I felt that she was alone and asked if she had family around. She said she has one nephew in Arizona and when I just came right out and asked her if she gets lonely, she said yes, but she has Jesus.

Tereatha burrowed deep into my heart that day. Just as God probably intended that she would. I’ve thought about her many, many times since then and today I drove the 200 miles round trip to let her know that she’s not as alone as she thinks. Amanda and I took her a bag of gifts and when she opened the door and I asked her if she remembered me, she said yes and went to her table and pulled out of a stack of papers the note I’d written with our number on it in case she saw Luna. She said I’d made her day when I came in and talked to her that day, and when I left she had gotten on her knees and prayed for us.

When I handed her the bags of gifts, she kept giggling like a little girl and asking if I had the right person! She held her arm out once and said, “touch me, make sure I’m not dreaming.” When she got to the chocolate, I asked if she was allowed to have it and she said, “I’m not supposed to but you just watch me.”

We talked for a long time and she made us laugh with a lot of her sassy comments. She was also excited that her nephew is coming this week to visit her from Arizona. When I told her I needed to get on the road and once again reminded her to call Amanda if she needs anything at all, she told us to wait. As we sat looking around her tidy little living room, complete with a large selection of family photos (of which she had introduced many of them to us while talking), she ran into her bedroom and brought out a little devotional calendar to give Amanda. For me, she went to her kitchen and pulled out two cans of soup, then tucked them into one of the Christmas bags I’d given to her.

It might not be much, but I know this….

Those two soup cans will stay in my cupboard probably forever. As a reminder to me to never get so full of myself that I can’t reach out to someone else who needs to be reminded that she still counts.

Tereatha thinks I made her day. But the truth is,

….she made mine.

Tereatha_Christmas2014

 

Wouldn’t You Like to Meet Your Birth Mother?

Written by Kay on . Posted in A Bratt's Life, Adoption Stories

At the end of Labor Day weekend, Ben and I boarded a flight home from the Chinese Heritage Camp in Denver, Colorado. Flying coach, we squeezed our tall bodies into our seats and readied ourselves for the uncomfortable experience. The flight attendant (I’ll call her Kelly) greeted us and as she oversaw other passengers, she talked to us. Completely entertaining in her giddy exhaustion after a long day of traveling, she got around to asking us why we’d been in Colorado. I explained the adoption camp, and  we talked about why I was there.

When the couple in the exit aisle proved unable to meet requirements, Kelly had us switch seats. It was a win for us because we instantly had the coveted leg room, and Kelly said it was a win for her because she got interesting people to communicate with. (Her jump seat was directly in front of me)

Once the flight was underway, she told me that it was ironic that we had connected that day because she is an adoptee. She explained that some forty-odd years ago her birth mother gave her up for adoption and she spent her first few weeks of life in a children’s home before being adopted.

Kelly said she’d had a wonderful life with awesome parents, and she was grateful to her birth mother for giving her that gift. She also said that over the years, she’s gotten the question a number of times; wouldn’t you like to meet your birth mother?

I asked her, “Well, what do you tell them?”

She smiled and explained to me that no, she would never want to meet the woman who gave her life. Why? Because she likes the image she’s held of her in her mind for all these years and would never want it shattered. You see, Kelly fully believes that her birth mother is kind, generous, and gave her a gift the day she relinquished her to a new fate.

Adoption.

It’s an amazing thing.

The Love of a Birthmother by Susan Scharpf

The Love of a Birthmother by Susan Scharpf

 

‘My Writing Process’ Blog Tour

Written by Kay on . Posted in A Bratt's Life, About Publishing

Kay Bratt

Dear Unsuspecting Readers,

Please sympathize with me and read to the end. Please! As an initial plea of defense, I almost never get into the fun (aka: non-complicated and opposite of mind-numbing) stuff on the internet. Usually because I’ve always got my head buried in research or writing, but this week I have fully committed to being a (semi-reluctant) team player on a blog roll!

What is a blog roll, you ask? Well, being the author hermit I am, I’m not totally sure myself but looking back at what others have done, it appears it’s sort of like sitting around the campfire telling tales. A group of storytellers (authors) all work together to contribute something, then pass the stick to the next person, to keep the spirit of the event (blog roll) alive.

My good friend and fellow author, Karen McQuestion, was kind enough to ask (drag) me into the fun. All kidding set aside, if you haven’t heard of Karen, then you haven’t yet tested the deepest waters of women’s fiction. What? Say you want a recommendation? I’d suggest you start with The Long Way Home.

longwayhome

But I also know from my undercover sources that she has a new book on the horizon that will blow your socks off. (I’ve beta read it so I know!) It’s called Hello Love and you can preorder it today. I promise, you’ll thank me when that baby hits your Kindle. You’re welcome.

Like me, Karen also answered questions about her writing process on her blog, McQuestion Musings, and then she threw the questions to me.  So here are my answers and as soon as I’m done I’m inviting (aka: torturing) the next writers on the list, so stay tuned to see who (willingly) posts about their writing process next.

QUESTIONS….drumroll, please…..

1. WHAT AM I WORKING ON?

If you could see my office and the floor beside my bed (and the table in the screened porch), you’d think I was collecting Chinese history books. I’ve surrounded (buried) myself in research material for a book I’m working on that will be set during the Cultural Revolution. It will be a novel-length prequel to my bestselling series The Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters.

Scavenger's Daughters4

2. HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS OF ITS GENRE?

My work probably doesn’t differ much from other China-inspired fiction. Authors like Lisa See, Amy Tan, and even the late Pearl Buck have used bits of history and inspiration from real life people to launch the ideas for their stories, just as I do. (PS. Did you know Lisa See just released a new novel called China Dolls, set in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the late 1930s? I can’t wait to read it!)

3. WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I DO?

Several years ago, I was lucky enough to garner a 4 1/2 year respite from American life to become an expat in the mysterious and sometimes chaotic country of China. There I spent time with the locals and fell in love with the children at the orphanage where I volunteered. I’ll admit that I went into China and the orphanage with pre-conceived notions of cruel parents who abandon helpless children. After some years of experience, I came to realize there was so much more to the story, especially the fact that most parents would rather do anything than relinquish their children. Most times that recourse is their last resort to save their beautiful babies from a life of poverty, or worse, death or disability from a lack of medical assistance.

When I returned to the states, I found myself obsessed with continuing to raise awareness about the plights of the underprivileged women and children in China.

silent_tears_KindleCover

After Silent Tears; A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage, (my memoir) took off like a rocket, I decided to continue to use my love of writing to advocate. Now I use my books to entertain while covertly raising awareness about the difficult human affairs some choose to close their eyes to.

Children abandoned under bridges, women forced into abortions, girls abducted to be sold as brides, street children dying to try to stay warm—all of these are themes I explore as I create characters that will have readers rooting for them to overcome their dire circumstances. My stories are about family loyalty, loss, and the tenacity of the human spirit intent on survival.

4. HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS WORK?

Coming from a long history of being overly structured and self-critical (driven beyond sane parameters), it’s not surprising that I treat my writing like a fulltime job. When I rise in the mornings I immediately get dressed, take the dog out, pour a Dr. Pepper over ice, then sit down at my desk and prepare to make some progress. The first hour or so is spent updating social networking, sending/answering emails, and reading a few writing/publishing sites to see if I’m missing any breaking news that will affect me. Then once that is all out of the way, I get down to ‘bizness.

The ‘bizness may be research, editing, marketing, or actually writing new stuff. However, I only start a manuscript after sometimes months of gathering facts and tidbits that I can fold into the story. Reader reviews have shown me that the most appreciated aspect of my work is the tidbits of history I weave through, so getting those parts down into an organized outline or list is the first priority. Once I have a semi complete outline ready, I then begin writing. Each day I take on another chapter, even if only fleshing it out to return to it the next day and complete it further. As for the outline, it’s usual for me to deviate from it about halfway through the manuscript, as my creative juices and growing familiarity with my characters send me down unexpected avenues.

5. AND THE OTHER PART OF THIS QUESTION, HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS NOT WORK?

Simply put, my writing process doesn’t work worth beans if I’m not in my usual place at my familiar desk in my cozy office. I like (need) routine, so my writing process also doesn’t work if the house if full of unusual activity. I write best when I’m alone with only my dog, Riley, and my cat, Gypsy, to keep me company. If daughters or grandchildren (or pesky husbands) are underfoot, I focus on marketing or other writing stuff, anything but the manuscript. For that I need blessed solitude.  But when I’m not working, I love having visitors or enjoy just walking through our backyard to the lake, taking a moment each day to enjoy nature and all the blessings that we’ve worked for and those God has given us.

PASSING THE TORCH, OR WHO’S NEXT

rosalind james

ROSALIND JAMES. If you are not familiar with that name yet, just hold on, because you soon will be. Rosalind sold nearly 225,000 books in her first 21 months of publishing! She is the author of several Amazon bestsellers including the two different series titled Escape To New Zealand and The Kincaids. If you want to read how Rosalind’s writing process enables her to crank out bestsellers, visit her at her blog here.

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Then we have the always unpredictable Robyn Coden who I have the pleasure of mentoring as she wades into the shark-infested waters of publishing. But she’s not a total newbie. Have you heard of the blog called Dim Sum and Doughnuts? If not, you’d better head over there and see what kind of trouble Robyn is stirring up. Honest and provocative, Robyn is an up & coming author and for a hint of what she is about, here is her tagline: We’re an unconventional family and we live an unconventional life…but sometimes unconventional works. As for what she is working on to be published—that I can’t tell you because it’s super top secret. Please visit Robyn on Facebook to get to know her and be amused by her take on motherhood and life in general. And if you want to see her start a flame war and then put it out, check out one of my favorite posts of hers titled I Am Who I Am. You’ll either laugh or be ticked off—I promise you one extreme or the other. Oh, and to see Robyn’s take on her writing process, check out her writing process (and all the uber cool things she says about me!) at her website Dim Sum and Doughnuts.

Whew! Finished! I can mark being a part of an author blog roll off my bucket list.

done

So….if you’ve read all the way to the end of this rambling blog post, you deserve a medal…or maybe just an ice cream cone. Or both. So yeah, um…thanks.

Dear Disappointed….

Written by Kay on . Posted in A Bratt's Life, How You Can Help A Child

heart

Dear Disappointed, I received your email yesterday. First, I thank you for reading my work and then taking the time to search me out on the internet, find my contact button, and grace me with your words of chastisement. While at first I was so upset that I had to pull off the road and convince myself I would not be sick, your message gave me something to think about for the rest of the day and into a sleepless night. I felt it would be appropriate to answer you here. First, your words after reading my novella, The Bridge:

I loved the story.  Simple and sweet.  Reading afterward, it was disappointing to see about your work in a Chinese orphanage.  How many children have you helped in the country in which you were born, raised, educated and benefited from taxpayer support?

Now, please forgive me if I can’t remember all that I have done, but before I answer your demand for a list of ways I’ve helped fellow Americans, can I just ask what is it that you expected me to do during my time in China? Did you expect me to simply enjoy the people’s land, rake in their money, eat their foods, and party myself to death? I apologize that when a situation of orphaned children presented itself, that I went out of my way to use my time, talents and compassion to make their lives just a tiny bit better. I guess that taking on the advocacy and supporting the surgery of little Le Men and Li Li should never have happened? Where would they be now? Most likely gone from this earth instead of adding unmeasurable joy to the forever families they finally joined.  And the girl we called Princess….her body deformed by the ravages of her disease but her eyes always pleading for someone to touch her, someone to love her. Where would she be? I know where she wouldn’t be—and that is in the arms of another volunteer who she now calls Mom.  And if you really want to see me fired up, what about the little girl named who was in an accident that resulted in her losing her leg, then her family. She was left to languish in an orphanage in China, forever branded to be discriminated against for the fate thrown her way. Without me and my team, and all the miraculous things that happened between, she wouldn’t be a part of an amazing family right now who love her for who she is–and who don’t look at her as a disabled child, but simply look at her as their amazingly resilient daughter.

Truly, if you read my memoir, Silent Tears, you’d see that my work in China resulted in children living a better quality of life because of the ways in which we helped the nannies, the facility, and therefore those who were in their care. Diapers, bedding, toys, even better milk for the babies! You’d also see that when we arrived, two to three children shared one bowl of congee (rice as you most assuredly call it) for every meal. The bowls were emptied and the children still cried in hunger. With our resources, we were able to make sure every child had a bowl of their own and went to bed with a full stomach. But then, I suppose since you weren’t there to see their streaked faces crying silent tears of abandonment or hunger, that it doesn’t touch you in the way that it did me. But I’m grateful others were able to ‘see’ it through my words and step up to do what they can from afar, even though the children aren’t in their country. For does it really matter where a child is if they need our help?

As you can see, I feel very passionate about the children I left behind in China. Just as I do any child that God puts in my path.  I suppose it wouldn’t kill me to admit that upon my return to the states, in addition to online volunteering for numerous organizations that support children in China, I physically worked full time (two years) for a non-profit organization that focuses on helping children build strong character, confidence and spirit.  Also during that time I spear-headed several outreach programs including one I called Zip Up A Smile in which we collected enough welcome bags of items to be used for an entire year at a (American) children’s shelter, sometimes the only thing a child has of their own after being jerked out of their homes.  I also headed another called Zip Up the Warmth in which we collected and handed out over 100 warm coats and backpacks to (American) children living in an low income neighborhood. Or maybe I should mention the two years I spent as a CASA Volunteer in which I acted as the voice of the child, even venturing into meth-infected neighborhoods and taking unpaid time from work to attend court hearings and events for my children (cases).  I gladly used my own funds for gasoline, clothing, hygiene items and gifts for (American) children assigned to me.  But most valuable was the time that I gave them—children who felt neglected and abandoned to sink or swim in the broken (American) foster system.  

I could tell you more that I’ve done to help in my “own” country—but really, what would be enough to balance out your disappointment in me? What most don’t know is that I suffer daily from a debilitating chronic condition that causes me great pain. I have for decades, yet I’ve refused to let it overcome my goal of making a difference in any small way I can. I encourage you to read my memoir, Silent Tears, to see if maybe a glimpse behind those walls makes you change your mind about being disappointed in someone who dares to try to help. Yet, really, if you don’t read my work and get it that I am passionate about advocating for children, whether they are Chinese or American, red, white, brown or black, then really I have nothing left to say, except just maybe one little question for you.

What have YOU done to make this world a better place?

Silent-Tears