Highlights from 2017: Part One

Yes, I’m aware it’s January 16th.

My mother used to write a year in review letter that she sent out to friends and family. It wasn’t the usual humble brags delivered via mailman in the 1970’s. She wrote about real things– both funny and subversive. Like: “Betty spoke her first complete sentence,  “The damn dog shit in the den again!” I’m not convinced my mother wanted to be a mother.

I started this post awhile ago– like on actual New Year’s. It’s now a thing— I can’t stop writing. Ward said I’m like Michael Douglas in The Wonder Boys. If you have


Michael Douglas as Grady Tripp

not seen it– find it after reading the rest of this. It’s based on the novel of the same name by Michael Chabon. Additionally, get the soundtrack!

Onward! The following are some of my past year highlights. It’s in chronologically order but it runs the gamut from random to sublime to why-do-you-think-this-is-interesting?

I’m a storyteller performer. I have been since I was 4 but now I get to do it outside the house. Starting in 2015 Bess Welden and I have worked together to present the storytelling production of Not Always Happy. In January we were at the Maine Women Writer’s Collection at the University of New England. I did a reading using our new format– a pick-your-own-adventure production. Each 2 – 3 minute story I told now had a prop attached to it. I knew which story would be the first and the one that would end it but the 11 stories in between were chosen at random by assigning a number to each prop. No show would ever be the same. The audience was involved and the non-linear format worked beautifully.

One of the props was a woven strap with a buckle. The story it went with is titled      Speech Therapy. It’s about Thorin being restrained by a speech therapist when he  was 2 years-old. A woman I’ve known since she was much younger came with her  mom, who I had worked with years before. The daughter told me she had guessed the strap was about restraint. She works with children who have disabilities. It’s an issue that weighs heavily on her mind. Bonus: I got to sit in May Sarton’s chair and put my feet up on the matching hassock while I read.

Satin pillow cases. I have at times– curly, wavy or coarse hair. I have had to wet my hair down in the morning to re-shape whatever it formed into during the night since Fleetwood Mac’s Rhiannon. And –me waiting at the school bus stop in Wisconsin in January. Fast forward to 2017, the year I discovered satin pillows cases! How ever your hair looks when you go to bed, that’s how it looks in the morning or maybe even better. I wished I had discovered this when Bubba was alive. We often commiserated about our hair.

Diagnosis. I was sick from September, 2016 to May, 2017. I started going to doctors in November, 2016. From then until April, 2017 every doctor said something like, “You don’t look sick enough.” I wish I had the ovaries to say, “You don’t talk doctor very good.” Finally one of them thought to give me a blood test. My eosinophil levels got his attention. I was indeed sick enough. After more tests I found out I have chronic eosinophilic pneumonia (CEP). It’s rare but not deadly.  I’m off and on Prednisone. Weight gain, puffy face and distemper followed by fatigue. Bonus: Healthier!

Working retail. I work for just the best person ever, my friend, Kelly. I work weekends at her store, Nomads. I love it! I get to suggest clothing options and dispense life philosophy to really swell people. I even waited on Willem Dafoe and his wife, Giada Colagrande. I was a real nerd and they were both very nice– and in a hurry. So I couldn’t

a thorin

Nomad’s in-house model

tell Willem we are both from Wisconsin and then segue-way to, “Here’s my book! Please take it!” Also compared to them I’m Godzilla. They are impossibly small and beautiful.

I’m a published author. My book, Not Always Happy: An Unusual Parenting Journey, was published. I had two intentions with the book: it must be funny and predicated on the truth that Down syndrome is not the problem, society is the problem. My book is my manifesto or maybe even a prayer.

The Book Expo. In June I went to the Book Expo with my sister, Betty. I got bumped up to a suite at the hotel– because the desk clerk thought the room I was assigned would be too noisy. It’s like she knew me! And she didn’t charge for Betty. When we signed in to the Expo– me having a pass and Betty, not– the lovely woman behind the counter not only– adored my wrapped dress, applauded Betty for coming to support me but she gave Betty a free pass. I signed books. I talked to everyday people, librarians, bloggers and other authors. I got Thorin a Goose Bumps book bag! Bonus: I got to meet one of my mentors– Lawrence Downes, who also wrote the forward of my book.

This mother Tweets. Eight hours before Betty and I were to depart back to Portland I discovered my return flight had been cancelled. Apparently I yelled, “I need my emergency anxiety medication!” I frantically tweeted a sharp missive to American Airlines. How else do we solve any problem now? Within 10 minutes I had my ticket.

Author reading. I did a reading at Sherman’s in Damariscotta. I hella love Damariscotta! I immediately wanted to move there after walking on Main Street a block. I asked a woman at the bookstore if she lived here long. “All my life,” she told me.

“I think I would love it here,” I said.

“You couldn’t afford it.” That’s a Maine way of responding. Not rude but instead a helpful tip!

The reading at the bookstore was awesome! Awesome part 1: having Karen and Tom came!

toma nd thorin

Thorin and Tom

Karen, a single parent who has a child with Down syndrome, relentlessly supports what I do — driving hours from Downeast Maine. She’s also very smart and funny. Thorin looks up to Tom.

Awesome part two:  at the reading was– Charlotte, a 19 year-old autistic  woman, her father and paternal grandmother who had been vacationing in Maine came. The trio rocked the house. Charlotte shared the hardship of not being accepted in public school but also talking about the community she found after she graduated. Her family gave brilliant advice for attending an I.E.P.  Bring everybody! They would show up at Charlotte’s I.E.P.s with two generations of family.

Update: I had a mind-meld with Charlotte last week. As I was writing about her here she emailed me a review of my book! It’s on Good Reads and here’s a snippet: This was definitely a treat start to my 2018 with finishing up this book. I seriously appreciate finding this book when I did. 155% recommend this book to whomever wants to read this book.

She’s now writing her own book. Bonus: She’s a good writer!

Not Always Happy the stage production. Bess and I were accepted into Maine’s PortFringe festival in June. I did two readings during the week. Most of the people who attended I didn’t know and that was a gift. It was an amazing experience. Not just the audiences but Thorin. He asked to stay during the performances. Ward and I worried. Thorin knew I was talking about his past. As I read I would sneak looks at Thorin sitting in the back of the room next to Ward. At one point he got up and walked into the hall. Ward followed him. He did that a second time. Afterward I talked to Thorin.

“Should I take them out,” I asked.


“How did it make you feel?”


“Of course.”

Review of production: “…the brilliant writing and expert storytelling of the performer, creates a close and tender experience that is sure to give you goosebumps. Excellently done, and a beautiful glimpse into the author’s world.”

And the PortFringe “Pulitzer” Award for Excellence in Writing!

We got another dog. In July I knew it was time to get Smudge* a dog friend because of two incidents: I unintentionally created a bubble water and sand creation at the beach that looked a lot like our beloved and deceased Coco-the-dog. Then I started finding white feathers. Chew on that. ( I did move the tennis ball 4 inches to the left so it was in the photo.)

1 june30


Next obvious sign. A few days after the sand incident I was sitting on our screened-in back porch looking online at Dietrich, a six-year-old dachshund/chihuahua mix from a shelter 30 miles away. As I contemplated him a small white something fell in front of my field of vision and came to rest in my lap.2 july 11 It was a white feather. Where did it come from? Even Ward thought it was strange and his standards for strange are much higher than mine. He was also on to me.

“Kari, why are you on a shelter website?”

“Just look’in. You know, the Coco sand thing.”

“You want a dog.”

I’m not a complete control freak– I called Ward as I was getting in the car with Thorin and Smudge to go meet Dietrich. Ward’s quick assessment, “I know you’re coming back with the dog so let’s not pretend you’re just going to “meet” him.”

Smudge and Dietrich were introduced in a closed kennel. After they didn’t try to kill each other it was determined to be a match. Dietrich had been given his name at the shelter. He was a stray so they had no idea of what his name had been. None of us liked his name. Ward suggested Dev– we’re big fans of Master of None. * Thorin and I agreed.


Smudge and Dev

And, the white feathers? They showed up for a bit more after Dev came to us.***

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The Beach. We had a glorious summer here in Maine. It was endless, extending into  October. We all went to the beach a lot. Body surfing, reclining in chairs, reading, walking and eating too much from the Mainely Burgers food truck. We home schooled thorin at beach 2017out there in September. It was Thorin, me and retirees. Sprinkled in the mix were students and people who work flex schedules. One brilliant– warm breeze blowing, 89 degree day in late September every one was commenting at the beach how lucky we all were. A woman next to us said she came out during her teaching breaks. She also said something everyone was thinking, “You never know when your last beach day is going to be.”

Lake House. The only lake house I have disliked was the one Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock starred in. It’s not enough lake house and too many sensibilities to put aside. I like Keanu Reeves. I used to love him but it’s waning.

Our family’s vacations were spent in family-run resorts in northern Wisconsin. We would rent a cottage on a lake for week or sometimes a weekend in the fall. We went with other friends. Over time I learned how to swim, canoe and make perfect s’mores. I also learned, much later– I wished I hadn’t skipped out on so many of those trips in my too-cool-for-school-teens and once with a live-in-boyfriend I should have dumped in favor of storytelling out on the big  porch facing the lake. After our dad died a psychic told my sister that he lived at a lake house next door to our aunt Betty who passed almost twenty years before him.The last month of my mom’s life we sat on our back porch and pretended the lake was just past the neighbors trees. My mom would comment on hearing people laughing in the water. She said she wished she was strong enough to walk down and put her feet in.

Somewhat long interlude about the seduction of the crickets: As our summer yawned on I became aware of crickets. I started noting when they started in the day– each day earlier in the day. I started reading about them. Among other things I learned it’s mostly males who sing by rubbing their wings together and cricket chirps can serve as a thermometer. That first link is to an article titled 11 Cute Facts About Crickets. Number eleven is that we will likely be consuming crickets in the coming years. Cute! The second link tells you how you can predict weather temperature by cricket chirps. If you want to go deep on that phenomena click here.

I got Ward interested in counting cricket chirps with me. I told him I thought sitting in the den with the porch door open– listening to crickets was like being at a lake house. That night we made up the couch bed and slept in the den falling asleep to crickets, owls, birds, drifting voices and cars. I woke up feeling like I had at other lake houses– dreamy, peaceful and rested. Ward felt the same. We went to the lake house every night for almost three weeks. Some nights were unseasonably warm and others required an additional quilt. We didn’t talk about ‘lake house’ except at night to ensure we we’re still going there.

I don’t even want to guess when part two will be up. Peace Out Cub Scouts, K

*More on Smudge– after Walt and Coco died we waited 6 months to get Smudge who had been named Chanel. We love and adore her. She has a major issue which is not letting humans touch her other than Ward, Thorin and I. Andrew, Ward’s bother, is not convinced she is as he put it, “a 100% dog.” Thorin suspects she’s part human. He said, “She’s suspicious but good.”

**I have been writing this so long he hadn’t been accused when I started.

***I admit, I live in a coastal city inhabited by seagulls and we have a shit ton of white feathers in our burg. Fyi: I was very picky about which feathers I photographed. They had to be random.

This entry was posted in Down syndrome, Random life by Kari Wagner-Peck. Bookmark the permalink.

About Kari Wagner-Peck

Kari Wagner-Peck lives with her husband and son in Maine. She is a writer & storyteller who home schools with her son. She is the author of the memoir Not Always Happy: An Unusual Parenting Journey, May, 2017, Central Recovery Press. She has been published at CNN, Psychology Today online, The New York Times Well Family blog, The Huffington Post, The The Good Men Project, The Sydney Morning Herald Daily Life blog, BLOOM and Love That Max among others. Author page: kariwagnerpeck.com Twitter @KariWagnerPeck and Facebook: www.facebook.com/NotAlwaysHappyLive/ Email: kariwagnerpeck@gmail.com

4 thoughts on “Highlights from 2017: Part One

  1. Hi Kari, Betsy here. I loved this one. I loved how it jumped all around. It really sounded like a conversation one would enjoy. I also love Wards’ and Thorins’ comments. You are my favorite email.

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