Banned Books Week 2020

Banned Books Week 2020 starts today and lasts through October 3.

Since 2014, I have participated in the Banned Books Week Virtual Readout (which, by the way, can be done anytime — not just during BBW). In 2019, I read from The Hate U Give (here’s the recording and my post). In 2018, I read from And Tango Makes Three (here’s the recording and my post). In 2017, I read from I Am Jazz (here’s the recording and my post). In 2016, I read from Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out (here’s the recording and my post). In 2015, I read from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (here’s the recording and my post). In 2014, I read from Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy (here’s the recording).

This year, I am reading from A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo. The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom says it “tracked 377 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2019, targeting 566 books.”

Of the top 10, this book was number three. The ALA says it was “challenged and vandalized for LGBTQIA+ content and political viewpoints, for concerns that it is ‘designed to pollute the morals of its readers,’ and for not including a content warning.”

Here’s my readout:

I found this book charming. And its reminder that we can change things in our world by voting is the most relevant message possible for this time in our country’s history.

Have you read any of the 10 challenged books? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Be a beacon by walking with, not by

On February 29, I gave the keynote speech at the Tallahassee Alumnae Panhellenic organization’s scholarship luncheon. I appreciate the opportunity to speak about service projects, and how to turn them from mandatory (in college) to voluntary (lifelong). I’m grateful for the fellowship shared with the women that day and the opportunity to share these thoughts.

Be a beacon by walking with, not by
Photo credit: Amy Zoldak

I do have a “real name” — as you see on the program — Paula Kiger.

However, over the years, my alter ego, “The Big Green Pen” has sort of taken over. It’s the name of my website and my social media “handle” almost everywhere. There are times I barely remember my legal name.

I got that name during the first phase of my career, when I was an administrator for Florida’s Healthy Kids program, which provided health insurance for uninsured children. When Healthy Kids started in the early 90s, long before social media was a thing, our signature color was green, and we had an abundance of green felt tip pens around.

As I would edit the work of others with the green pen, I earned a nickname behind my back (not to my face) — the big green pen — because apparently I was a tough, some would say ruthless, editor.

Once someone finally told me that was my nickname, I got on the bandwagon and it stuck.

These days, I try to position it as a positive thing, not something that instills fear. I try to encourage people with the hashtag #WriteOptimistically.

All of that editing when I was supposed to be shaping health policy must have been a sign, though.

When I left that job in 2014 after almost 20 years, I thought I was going to go in search of my bliss. It turns out I went in search of depends and a hospital bed, as my father-in-law got ill and moved in with us. For the next three years, I was doing a variety of freelance jobs and taking care of him as his health deteriorated and he went through two bouts of cancer. 

Fortunately, one of those freelance jobs was with SmartBrief, a business-to-business publisher of newsletters. I had prayed for something I could do early in the morning before my father-in-law was moving around, that involved writing and editing, and voila there it was! I started freelancing for SmartBrief in January 2017. My father-in-law passed away in July 2017, and eventually I got hired full-time as their nonprofit sector editor in September 2018.

My job at SmartBrief is to edit newsletters that tell members of organizations what the latest news is in their industry. For example, I do the National Emergency Number Association newsletter, so if you have any questions about dispatching, I have the 4-1-1 on 9-1-1.

One of my newsletters is BoardSource, which has to do with all things nonprofit boards. Every single day, I walk away with an aha of some kind and this newsletter is a big reason why.

One aha, which really shouldn’t surprise me but somehow still does, is the amount of money some people have to contribute toward philanthropies. In the issues I’ve edited in February, 

Those are all such laudable efforts, but they make me ask how I can make a difference, seeing as how I don’t have millions to give. 

I have three examples, one I gathered from SmartBrief and two drawn from my life, to make the case that you don’t have to have millions to make a difference.

Let’s start with my friend Diane Berberian. She’s a visually impaired triathlete whose vision has gotten worse over time because of macular degeneration. She’s also a stage four head, throat and neck cancer survivor. (If you don’t know what a triathlon is, it’s a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run. Hard enough to do when you can see exactly where you’re going!)

Diane has accomplished so many things since becoming visually impaired. She was on the USA National Paratriathlon Team in 2013. She represented the US at the Paratriathlon Worlds, where she placed 5th overall. She won the National Championship for Visually Impaired Females at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon in Washington, D.C., in October 2014 then traveled to Wilmington, N.C., where she won the Paratriathlete Division of the Beach 2 Battleship Half Ironman. 

I was Diane’s sighted guide once at a 5K at the Tampa Zoo (just a 5K, not a half-marathon or triathlon!). Diane has had other assistance as a runner, some coming from Delta Gamma members. One of their philanthropies is Service for Sight. She benefited from help from DG members when she was running the Boston Marathon. They got her to and from places by assisting with public transportation. They assisted with the athletes’ banquet. Many members who were communications majors worked with Diane to provide interviews about being a visually impaired athlete and how Service for Sight helped. Many Delta Gamma sisters have been her sighted guides in races from the 5K to the half marathon (13.1 miles). Many DGs guide other runners at races in Boston and other areas.

Be a beacon by walking with, not by
With Diane at the Tampa Zoo 5K in 2015

She was helped so much that she wanted to be a bigger part of the organization, so she did something that wasn’t an option for her in the 70s: she pledged as an adult initiate in 2017!

Diane shared with me that she has a wish for other Alumnae Panhellenic women that she has interacted with. While it’s easy to write a check, and important as none of the causes in the world can succeed without cash, she sees a way that generations can work more directly with each other. One woman she knows still helps a visually impaired gentleman even though it has been 15 years since she was in college. Diane says, “I still think I have a lot to learn from this generation and they could learn from me.” She encourages the collegiates to go from service hours being something you have to do to something you want to do.

I’d also like to share a personal story about going from mandatory service hours to service because you care. 

My niece, Jessica, was an ADPi at Valdosta State University around 2010. Prior to her time at ADPi, and long before she had made any decisions about sororities or college life, she stayed in a Ronald McDonald House with my sister-in-law and her siblings. (Our family has a congenital heart arrhythmia known as Long QT. The discovery that several members of the family had this arrhythmia, after my sister-in-law Ann died in her sleep and left behind three very young children, led to a long process of working with different specialists to figure out who else had Long QT, which is for the most part treatable once you know about it.) Jessica and her mom, my sister-in-law Mary, and their family had traveled from Thomasville to Jacksonville for testing, so they needed someplace to stay and RMH of Jacksonville was there for them.

Fast forward to college Jessica and her ADPi life. As those of you who were ADPis know, the philanthropy of ADPi is the Ronald McDonald House. Jessica, as part of her service hours, helped clean the RMH in Macon, which is a bit of a drive from Valdosta but the closest one in Georgia from VSU. 

Jessica is now married and living in Huntsville, Alabama, with her husband, Eric. I showed up in Thomasville, her childhood home seven hours away from Huntsville, on October 12 for a baby shower for Jessica, because she was expecting a baby on November 27. I really pleaded with her to make it Nov. 28 so we would share a birthday, but this baby had his own ideas for when he should come. When I arrived for the shower, my sister-in-law said, “have I got a story for you.” It turns out Jessica’s water had broken the night prior and she had given birth to Paul Thomas Viale just a few hours later. Because he was at 32 weeks, he was transported to the NICU at TMH. Jessica and Eric had to figure out where to stay while Paul was cared for at the NICU, and they ended up being at Ronald McDonald House Tallahassee for about 10 days! 

Right after Paul was born, before Jessica had transferred to Tallahassee to join Eric and Paul, my daughter, Tenley (who had also been an ADPi and done service hours at the Ronald McDonald House) and I visited her. The first thing she said was, “wow I guess all those service hours paid off!.”

Of course Ronald McDonald House doesn’t quiz incoming parents to ask if they ever scrubbed a Ronald McDonald House floor before, but having done so still gave Jessica a more direct sense of why those service hours mattered.

The RMH made it possible for Jessica and Eric to be close to the hospital, have essentially unlimited food, have access to a breast pump, and get their laundry done — all for a donation of $10 a day that was waived for families that couldn’t afford it. 

I asked Jessica about some ways that people can give to Ronald McDonald House beyond writing checks. Just as Diane has advice for Alumnae Panhellenic members, so does Jessica. It can be as simple as donating the pop tab off of your soda can. Ronald McDonald House locations need bulk items such as paper towels and toilet paper. (Typically the Ronald McDonald Houses have suggested lists, however during the pandemic this process has changed. The Tallahassee facility, for example, suggests Publix or Costco gift cards right now.)

I want to ask you how you chose your jewelry today, if you have any on. 

Did you choose it because it has sentimental value? Maybe it matches your outfit. Maybe you have the same issue I have sometimes and only one necklace in the drawer was untangled enough to make it out of the house.

This is what I chose to wear today. [Here I demonstrated the item I was wearing around my neck.] It didn’t come from a rack at the store and it won’t ever need polishing, but it does have an important job. It’s special not because of how it looks, but because of what it does.

These beacons are made and distributed by Samaritan, an organization in Seattle that helps homeless people and others in need of assistance. It was started by Jonathan Kumar, who was eating lunch in downtown Seattle one day and saw a man at an intersection. He was a homeless man holding a sign that said he needed medicine for his diabetes. 

No one was helping the man.

Specifically, Kumar says “no one even acknowledged that he existed.”

As Kumar started talking with the gentleman, the man said, “I’ve got the wrong look for this, the wrong skin color, the wrong clothing. Nobody actually believes that I’m homeless.” Jonathan called what the man was experiencing something different than the definition most of us would give: poor. The man, Kumar said, was experiencing “relational poverty.” Dr. Bruce Perry defined relational poverty as “a deep lack of the connectedness with others that we all need to survive and to be well.”

Kumar was still working in the tech field, and his wheels started turning. Could tech help the man and others like him?

Jonathan decided to try to alleviate this relational poverty through an app. He built the Samaritan app, and he also developed bluetooth beacons that people such as the man he had met could wear. The Samaritan organization has the motto “walk with, not by.”

The beacons are distributed by approved clinics and nonprofit counselors.

When a user of the Samaritan app walks by (within 30 yards) someone with one of the beacons, the app notifies them of that person’s story and need. That person can choose then and there to make a donation that will help the individual, and the individual can use the funds at places like grocery stores, barber shops, outdoor supply stores and coffee shops. Nonprofit counselors can also help the people apply the funds to other things like phone bills or bus tickets. When the batteries run low, the people have to go meet with the counselor (once a month). The meeting is as much about the face to face as it is a fresh battery.

One person who had a beacon and ended up with housing through its connections said this is “the first time in seven years people have seen me for who I am, not what I look like or where I’ve come from.”

You can send encouraging messages to individuals — they love that. It’s an addition that brings the human connection back and helps people not feel invisible.

What if there was an app that told you people’s stories and deepened your connection?

Tallahassee is a little different – we’re not much of a pedestrian town. For me, one way that same deepening of connections happened was through Facebook, and got me in touch with Going Places, a local drop-in center for homeless, runaway, and at-risk youth under the age of 22, many of whom have been kicked out of their homes by their parents. I read about Going Places on Facebook and the web, but my understanding of their mission and the heart of the place changed when I spent three hours with them at their Thanksgiving dinner. 

After that Thanksgiving event, I gave a ride to a Going Places participant and her boyfriend. She was 16, pregnant, and working security at night to try to make a way for herself and her baby.

Having spent that time at Going Places, especially with that young woman, changed things for me. Now when I do write a check, it will be for more (if possible) because I understand in a more personal way why their services matter.

Think about whatever your philanthropy was when you were in college — are there stories there you need to return to? If not, is there a way you can connect with someone else’s story and make them feel less invisible? Maybe it’s cleaning a toilet again at Ronald McDonald House. Maybe it’s reading to a visually impaired person or driving them to a doctor’s appointment. Maybe it’s as simple as saying hello the next time you encounter a homeless person when every instinct says to ignore them and walk the other way. 

When you leave our luncheon, find a way to walk with someone in need, not by them. Be their beacon of hope.

Be a beacon by walking with, not by


Honor Flight: 2020 calls for another way

Are you familiar with Honor Flight? Honor Flight gives veterans the experience of being celebrated. Typical Honor Flight programs feature a day-long trip to Washington, D.C. to visit the memorials and be honored, all expenses paid.

Unfortunately, all Honor Flight activities have been postponed through at least June 30, 2020, due to the pandemic.

Honor Flight Tallahassee was supposed to be today. Since the actual flight can’t take place, the organization, its alumni and supporters like me are participating in a virtual Honor Flight.

Since I’m using this as my Five Minute Friday response, with the prompt being “another,” I’m going to share a five-minute free write first. After that, I’ll share some more memories of my involvement with Honor Flight so far.

ANOTHER

There will be another Honor Flight Tallahassee that involves an airplane, physical contact as hands are shaken, hugs dispensed and physical aid assisted to disabled vets.

It won’t be the April 18, 2020, Honor Flight though.

I can’t remember when I learned about Honor Flight, but it didn’t take long before I set my sights on being a guardian (one of the volunteers assigned to spend the day with one of the honored veterans and help them have the best experience possible (and stay physically safe)).

I just know it was long enough ago that every year that goes by without reaching this goal creates a little more of a sadness that it may never come to fruition.

What I have to remind myself is that I need to see this, not from the lens of what I am not getting to do, but from the perspective that it is a gift to the Honor Flight program that there are so many willing and capable volunteers who also have the means to pay the $500 fee.

I believe in self-examination and the need to ask ourselves hard questions, and Honor Flight is one of those things that leads me to ask myself some deeper questions.

Am I wanting to do this for the right reasons? It’s easy to think about how great this experience would look on social media, but would I do it even if no picture were ever posted, no status ever updated? (The answer is yes, but I’ve been in the microinfluencer world long enough that almost every opportunity is, to be honest, weighed against its social media potential.)

Can I find a way to be supportive without ever going myself? And the answer to this is yes, too, but that doesn’t mean I won’t grieve the loss of the opportunity to experience it in person.

***end of five minutes***

Honor Flight Memories

I have applied once (last year) and was not accepted as a Guardian, and this year’s application doesn’t matter since the trip was delayed. The likelihood that I’ll get to go in the future is uncertain — obviously the number of WWII vets diminishes every year as they age and pass away. There’s also a $500 fee if you get accepted — some years that’s easier to do than others (but if I ever get accepted, I fully intend to scrape it together!). Meaning — I don’t know if I’ll ever have the opportunity.

For now, though, here are some posts and images over the past few years from my involvement with Honor Flight.

In 2017, my lovely friend Becky put together a banquet to raise money for Honor Flight, along with the Chiles High Student Government Association. I shared information about the event in this blog post.

In this blog post, I wrote about volunteering at Brewfest. One of the beneficiaries of the funds raised was Honor Flight Tallahassee.

In this blog post, I wrote about a story in the Reserve Officers Association newsletter from SmartBrief that discussed an all-women Honor Flight. This one is scheduled for October 7, so here’s hoping it can still happen!

I talk about Honor Flight Tallahassee in this #GarnetGoldAndGood video I created as part of a Toastmasters exercise where I gave an ignite speech. (The Honor Flight part starts at 3:44 if you don’t want to have to see Jameis and the crab legs LOL.)

In 2015, Honor Flight veterans were honored as the VIPs at a July 4 5K here in Tallahassee.

Honor Flight: 2020 calls for another way

My friend, Laura, and I went together to the “welcome home” portion of Honor Flight Tallahassee in 2016. What a great memory.

Honor Flight: 2020 calls for another way

How the virtual Honor Flight is working

Here are things you can do if you want to be involved today (although many of these actions can extend beyond today).

Like and follow the Honor Flight Tallahassee Facebook page. On April 18, 2020, the page will share the flight day schedule virtually. Pictures will be posted all day around the time the group would normally arrive at each monument, highlighting special moments from the 2013-2019 flights.

If you have an Honor Flight Tallahassee t-shirt, wear it on April 18 (even though you’ll probably be at home!) Post a selfie in your Honor Flight shirt with an encouraging message for our veterans! (I haven’t gotten to that part yet, but I’ll drop the picture in later).

Share your favorite Honor Flight Tallahassee and veteran memories, pictures or videos throughout the day. Post them on the Honor Flight Tallahassee Facebook page or tag them on your own page. Use the hashtag #HonorFlightTLH so they can capture your posts across all social media channels.

Honor Flight prioritizes veterans from World War II, Korean War and Vietnam wars for flights, but the Virtual Honor Flight is for everyone! Share a picture or tribute to your favorite veteran(s) no matter when or where they served (or are currently serving) our country. Be sure to use #HonorFlightTLH for these posts, too!

Reach out today. Many veterans do not use Facebook. In this time of social distancing, it is more important than ever to stay connected. If you know a veteran, give them a call! Ask them to share memories and stories from their extraordinary lives and service. Or read them a few posts and comments from the Virtual Honor Flight to remind them how much we care.

Thank a veteran. Write a note of gratitude or ask your young family members to draw a picture. Tallahassee Honor Flight will make sure your notes are given to a veteran who goes on the next flight. Drop your notes in the mail to: Honor Flight Tallahassee, PO Box 12033, Tallahassee, FL 32317

Know any WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans who haven’t been on a flight? Talk to them about Honor Flight and encourage them to apply for the next flight. Applications are available here.

Tallahassee Honor Flight is watching the public health situation closely and still hopes to host a flight in 2020. They rely on the generosity of our community to raise money, so please consider a donation (this is a link to my friend Becky’s fundraiser) or even hosting a Facebook Fundraiser if you feel so inclined.

(Note, I’ve adapted the suggestions here from information on the Honor Flight Tallahassee Facebook page.)

Honor Flight: 2020 calls for another way

In closing

I’d be lying if I said I have made peace with the idea that I won’t have another chance at going on an Honor Flight as a guardian. For today, though, I’ll settle for hoping I can encourage another person to get interested themselves in this deserving cause.

Honor Flight: 2020 calls for another way

Banned Books Week 2019

Banned Books Week 2019 was September 22 through 28, 2019. I regret that I’m a day late (technically), but since the issue of challenged/banned books is a year-round problem, I’m sure this post still applies.

Since 2014, I have participated in the Banned Books Week Virtual Readout (which, by the way, can be done anytime — not just during BBW). In 2018, I read from And Tango Makes Three (here’s the recording and my post). In 2017, I read from I Am Jazz (here’s the recording and my post). In 2016, I read from Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out (here’s the recording and my post). In 2015, I read from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (here’s the recording and my post). In 2014, I read from Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy (here’s the recording).

This year, I am reading from The Hate U Give. The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom recorded challenges to/bans of 347 books in 2018.

Banned Books Week 2019

Of the top 11, this book was number four. The ALA says it was “banned and challenged because it was deemed “anti-cop,” and for profanity, drug use, and sexual references .”

Here’s my readout:

How I chose this year’s book

I chose this book primarily because I had heard so much about it.

Why I would want my kid to read “The Hate U Give”

Although one book alone can’t give a comprehensive view of another culture, this book helped me understand Angie Thomas’ fictional representation of what it is like to be a black family in America, that I assume is based on her experiences.

I would want my student, on reading this book, to:

Wonder about praying to Black Jesus. My kids never heard me implore “White Jesus.” In all honesty, the real Jesus was probably closer to black Jesus than to all the caucasian depictions I (and my children) grew up with. We don’t say “In [White] Jesus name we pray.” Is that because we assume he was white? I want readers to know more about the Black Jesus of Starr’s world.

Understand “the talk.” Starr’s parents had the talk with her when she was 12. “…you do whatever they tell you to do,” [her father] said. “Keep your hands visible. Don’t make any sudden moves. Only speak when they speak to you.” Students who have had the privilege to not have needed the talk need to know about it. They need to know their friends may live by the instructions they were given in “the talk.” They may be in a car with a friend or significant other about whom a law enforcement officer makes an assumption that puts everyone in danger.

Understand why some people in our country don’t trust law enforcement. Again, I had the privilege of raising my children to, essentially, believe that law enforcement was 100% there to protect them. They need to understand that some people in their world have been given pretty solid reasons to think that law enforcement may err on the side of assuming they are the problem rather than the victim. Go to the Plain View Project, scroll through even the first page, and you’ll see that unfortunately some segments of law enforcement culture don’t see minorities in an objective way.

Understand that extricating a black student from their environment (in Starr’s case, a public school) and depositing them into a mostly white institution has benefits (a good education) but equally distressing downsides. Starr says: “Being two different people is so exhausting. I’ve taught myself to speak with two different voices and only say certain things around certain people.” I want my student to empathize with their peers who have to do this.

Understand that “THUG Life” is more than words on a hoodie. Speaking to Starr, her friend Khalil says, “‘Pac said Thug Life stood for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.” He elaborates, “The Hate U — the letter U — Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody. T-H-U-G-L-I-F-E. Meaning what society gives us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out.” I still haven’t fully gotten to the bottom of that explanation, but there’s no reason my student as a reader can’t start deciphering it at 17 instead of my age, 54.

Why book challenges and bans matter

Banned Books Week 2019

The theme of this year’s Banned Books Week was “Censorship Leaves Us in the Dark. Keep the Light On!”

I have never understood why people think it will help students be more educated by reducing their options of what to read.

I did not expect to find a quote aligned with my point in a Baptist university’s publication, but I did. Kyle Burrow, a student at Ouachita Baptist University, wrote about why it’s better to try to understand people who want to ban books than to argue with them.

“It is important to try to empathize even with the leaders who try to ban certain books. But if they don’t listen to reason, it’s important to stand up for what’s right, and not back down from your morals,” he wrote. “We need conflicting viewpoints to grow as people.”

I agree.

Banned Books Week 2019

Abortion rights: 5 minutes, 3 choices, 1 result

A 19-item bulleted list containing fun things Margot has to look forward to, such as the prom and a trip to Hawaii.

The list is what appears on the whiteboard in Margot’s room in the film “Five Minutes” by Darby Wilson.

Margot’s list of important things rapidly shrinks to the one result she’ll find out after making a trip to the drugstore for a test, waiting five minutes and mulling three options.

It’s difficult to discuss further without spoilers, so here’s the 13-minute film.

Do our own stories matter when discussing abortion rights?

I saw a meme in May after multiple states had passed the heartbeat bills mentioned in the credits of this film. I wish I could find it, but its point was “Don’t assume your personal experience gives you any more or less credibility when you are telling me your opinion about this.” It was said in a catchier way than that, and had some colorful graphics, but hopefully you get the point.

*self disclosure warning ahead*

I don’t disagree with that meme in theory. Someone would probably take my advice to hydrate well and use sunscreen if the weather was hitting this week’s heat wave temps whether I could sign an affidavit confirming I had been dehydrated or sunburnt before.

It’s different, though, when the topic is abortion rights. I have had sex with one person in my entire lifetime. I didn’t have sex at all until I was 25. We used protection every. single. time. until we were trying to conceive.

I guess that could lead you to ask what I could possibly know about the fear Margot expresses in this film. I suppose it could make you doubt my knowledge base about the array of relationships, choices, temptations, mistakes, options, dysfunctions and satisfactions in the world.

While I don’t expect my children (who are now in their 20s) to make the same choices I did, it matters to me that my personal choices were centered around my individual conviction (which is one person’s opinion, not what I would ever impose on anyone else) that intercourse is as much about our minds and hearts as it is about mechanics. (It’s also, in my case, about how much of myself I give away emotionally; I know I am incapable of separating emotions from my intimacy choices. I didn’t want to put myself in the position of breaking my own heart.)

I also believe life begins at conception. I am sure it did for the two children I lost. But that doesn’t change how I feel about every woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.

While I believe the history I bring to any discussion I have about abortion rights matters, I also believe wholeheartedly that no woman’s life narrative takes away their right to make this legal choice, in a way that is affordable, safe and protective of their dignity.

The complex reasons behind abortion

First and foremost, abortion is still legal. If you are in a state that restricts abortion access, here are resources to help.

A study found “almost four” reasons, when the mean is calculated, leading women to decide to have abortions.

The top reasons include being unprepared financially, an unplanned pregnancy, relationship issues and the need to focus on existing children. The other reasons, and an analysis, are here.

In addition, reproductive coercion, which the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists defines as ” behavior intended to maintain power and control in a relationship related to reproductive health by someone who is, was, or wishes to be involved in an intimate or dating relationship with an adult or adolescent,” is a thing. Women or adolescents who have need abortions for a pregnancy related to reproductive coercion should be able to get them. Here’s more information about reproductive coercion.

Why I advocate to keep abortion legal and accessible

A few months ago, the University of Alabama returned $26.5 million Hugh Culverhouse Jr. (who is not a Democrat or Republican) had donated. Alabama asserts the returned donation (and the removal of Culverhouse’s name from the law school’s facade) were related to inappropriate interference on his part in university matters. Culverhouse says it’s because of his stance on abortion and his objection to a bill passed in Alabama that makes it a criminal act to have an abortion.

I am not in a position to figure out why Alabama made its choice to remove Culverhouse’s name, but I agree with him that “taking away a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body isn’t about politics … it’s an act of oppression.”

In closing

I don’t have to have chosen an abortion myself to support another woman. I don’t have to have experienced any of the four primary reasons women choose abortion. I explained by telephone how to use a condom to countless men over the first few years of the AIDS crisis without having any experience of sex between men (obviously) or how to use a condom. Hopefully, I helped them make choices that would keep them alive.

A wise Episcopalian priest once said to me (about an entirely different topic that was the most pressing issue in the national church at that time), “I am personally very conservative on this, but it’s my job to shepherd this flock through finding their way and making up their minds.” I wish I could convey his tone of voice, his intellect, his ability to separate the two things in a respectful manner at that moment.

In the case of abortion rights (and me), it all comes down to respect for the other individual, understanding that life is never one size fits all, empathy and respect for the law.

Abortion rights

A Few Notes about “Five Minutes”:

Becks Edelstein directed the film.

Megan Walsh was the cinematographer and editor.

Darby Wilson wrote it, in addition to playing Margot.

If the film inspires you to act, Darby suggests you donate (and/or volunteer) to Planned Parenthood or the American Civil Liberties Union.

Ration Challenge 2019: How Eating Less Taught Me More

My week participating in the 2019 Ration Challenge has come to an end. Here’s a look at the experience overall:

To recap, I participated in the Church World Service Ration Challenge, where participants eat the equivalent rations to a Syrian refugee for a week. The goal is to raise funds to support refugees, to raise awareness and to have a more personal experience of what refugees’ lives are like.

The Ration Challenge Food

This is what I was provided to eat over the course of the week:

15 oz. of rice (and I was permitted to buy 3 lb., 3 oz. more)

6 oz. of lentils

3 oz. of dried chickpeas

a 15.5 oz. can of kidney beans

a 3.75 oz. tin of sardines

I was permitted to buy 14 oz. of plain flour

I “earned” the right to use salt by sponsoring myself

I “earned” the right to use one spice through my fundraising efforts (I used garlic powder on the lentils the last day)

I “earned” 6 oz. of vegetables through fundraising (I used baby carrots because they were easy to spread out)

I “earned” 4 oz. of protein through fundraising (I had an egg)

I “earned” 7 teabags by promoting the challenge through email and social media

This is slightly rough math, but the calorie count of this ration week added up to about 3235 calories, an average of 462.14 a day.

This is me unboxing the rations.

These are my observations, having done the challenge, then returned to “regular” eating.

The things you think you’ll miss most may not be the hardest to do without.

As I wrote here, the Ration Challenge captured my imagination so quickly when I read about it on social media that I signed up right away without reading the fine print. The “fine print” included the elimination of coffee, sugar and alcohol. WHOA. I also suspected that this may not end up being a bad thing for my health and my crazily fluctuating energy levels.

I never got the dreaded “no-coffee” headache. I’m sure the tea bag I started each day with (and reused since I only got one per day) helped. Pre RC, I usually had two cups of coffee by 9:30, at which point I started on Diet Cokes (in my defense, my day does start pretty early!). I also felt desperately tired by the time my deadlines ended each day and needed a midday nap. Oddly enough, my energy felt so much more even-keeled during this period. I haven’t returned to coffee or Diet Coke. Not that I won’t ever, but this was eye-opening in a way I didn’t anticipate.

Likewise for sugar and alcohol. I may have “missed” them in a “that would be nice” kind of way, but I wasn’t preoccupied by their absence.

Wasteful habits are so easy to slip into.

My wasteful habits (which probably reflect those of many in our US culture) were much more obvious to me throughout the week. Leveling off a cup of flour, it’s second nature to toss the little bit that ends up on the paper towel. Rice grains that skittered across the counter suddenly mattered.

Besides the food waste, other types of waste were more apparent. Tear off half a paper towel to rest my spoon on while cooking. Grab another half paper towel to have if I need to deal with a small spill while eating. Snacks in a paper bowl. Plastic zipper bags used for storage and then discarded although they are barely dirty.

Wasteful habits are about more than food. According to the Mother Nature Network, “Discarded paper accounts for whopping one-quarter of landfill waste and releases significant amounts of methane (a greenhouse gas) as it rots.” I am sure this is an area where I’ll make progress rather than achieving perfection, but I am reminded to try.

Having plenty of clean water is its own kind of wealth.

The Ration Challenge week involved lots of clean water. Clean water to cook rice/lentils/chickpeas/flatbreads and brew tea. Clean water to wash my dishes and hands so I could have a sanitary cooking area. A clean place to deal with personal toileting needs so I didn’t get exposed to dirty water and its dangers. Gallons and gallons of clean water to drink to keep from being hungry. Refreshing ice to cool the water down and chew on to keep from being bored.

I don’t know much about the water situation in camps in Jordan, but I know there are tremendous challenges. This article notes:

Population growth in Jordan has reduced the average amount of fresh water available for each person to less than 150 cubic metres annually, much lower than the 500 cubic metres that mark water scarcity by United Nations estimates. The average water availability for United States citizens, in comparison, is more than 9,000 cubic metres a year.

Al Jazeera

Cooking is fun (but time consuming)!

I don’t mean this in a “Whee! Cooking is a blast” way. I am sure for the refugees in the camps in Jordan, “fun” is not the first word they would use. I had become disconnected, though, from the simple satisfaction of planning/measuring/cooking/tasting my food. Wayne, to his credit, does most of the cooking around here. He does it well, and I get to enjoy lots of delicious dishes. But I have always liked cooking, and this week reminded me of the enjoyment in the process.

The week reminded me how much I enjoy cooking, but it also reminded me how time consuming it is. Most nights, I would have to set aside a block of time to prepare rice for the next day and figure out what I could use from the limited rations to stretch out the next day’s food choices.

Many of us have a warped view of weight.

Think about this a second. I pay a company $45 a month to go to a place to help me figure out how to eat less (and move more) so I can weigh less.

Weight Watchers (which now technically calls itself “WW”) has proven itself to be an effective partner in achieving a healthy lifestyle for decades. I have participated on and off since I was 18. I was ecstatic to weigh in with a 5.2 pound loss for the week, but of course that was specific to the week.

What if the things our minds do to us about weight weren’t as bizarre as they are and I could spend that $45 on helping refugees (or some other worthy cause) instead?

Food scarcity is a danger on many levels.

I know it sounds obvious to say “food scarcity is dangerous.” But the value of trying to experience at least a bit of it myself made me think more deeply than I had before (and educate myself more).

I definitely became more aware of what a thin margin there is between subsistence and being on the brink of physical decline. I, of course, could have taken a break and consumed some electrolyte fluid or in some other way dealt with the effects of such a low-calorie life, but that’s not the case for refugees. Several participants chose to withdraw from the food part of the challenge and provide moral support instead, because the foods typical to refugee nutrition wrecked havoc with their blood sugar levels.

As Church World Service explained to us, the rations we got came as close as they could to approximating the same ration packages they distribute in the camps (with the obvious logistical challenges of dealing with a widespread group of individual volunteers).

The “real” CWS ration packs contain a month’s supply for a family of six, with the foods essentially the same as those we received. The difference, CWS explains, is “there isn’t enough money to give ration packs to everyone who needs them. Sometimes we can only provide 100 packs in a camp that needs thousands. Packs get shared, and many go without (committees of volunteer refugees help to identify the people in their community most in need, and priority is given to them).

This is what a “real” ration pack looks like:

2019 Ration Challenge Wrap-Up

The most accurate chroniclers of the refugee experience are the refugees themselves.

Maybe I am sounding repetitive, but I totally *get* fully doing this challenge is only a glimpse into the hardships faced by refugees. There were several people in our Ration Challenge Facebook group who either are former refugees, or who have worked directly with refugees. And their experiences matter most. My fellow challenge participant, Tonia, shared a picture of her fiance, Khalid, a Syrian refugee. This is Khalid:

2019 Ration Challenge Wrap-Up

Khalid

And this is Tonia’s message relaying his sentiments/story:

This challenge is very personal for me. This is my fiance Khalid. This is a picture of him sending thanks to everyone doing the challenge. He is a Syrian refugee. His home was bombed in 2012 in Al Rastan, Syria in the providence of Homs. One of his brothers was killed. Another one is in prison and the family hasn’t heard or seen him six years. Khalid had to have his left arm and hand rebuilt after he was injured by the bombing. He was lucky though as he made it to Turkey. He faces issues there as a refugee not being able to find much work being disabled plus he is now a man without a country. He cannot leave Turkey with just his refugee status and he cannot return to Syria. He wanted me to tell all of you “Very Thank You” for all that you are doing to help his fellow Syrians. He is very grateful that there are so many of us willing to help.”

People are so generous.

The US version of the Ration Challenge has raised $356,401, enough to feed 1,827 refugees for a year. The Australian version raised $2,222,245 enough to feed 8,108 refugees for a year. In New Zealand, participants raised $348,541, enough to feed 1,169 refugees for a year. And in the UK, the amount raised was £819,489, enough to feed 5,321 refugees for a year.

I raised $634.14, and I am beyond grateful. I appreciate, too, the shares socially, the encouragement, the people who simply asked, “What is this about?” They all matter; they all add to a snowball of hope that is going to turn into an avalanche of compassion.

A look back.

My pictures are pretty one-dimensional (how do you feel about lots of rice photos?), but here are a few memories from the week.

2019 Ration Challenge Wrap-Up

Because I made tea rather than coffee over the course of the week, many of my cups now have permanent tea stains.

2019 Ration Challenge Wrap-Up

I like the stain. It reminds me that an experience like this is meant to stay with me and not be rinsed away.

The Ration Challenge page stays open through sometime in August, so if you’re still interested in donating, here’s the link. If you think you may be interested in doing the challenge yourself next year, I highly encourage it and I’m happy to answer any questions you have. (You can also sign up here to get alerts from CWS to know when there are opportunities to call/email/text your government officials.)

2019 Ration Challenge Wrap-Up

Treating Each Other Well, Always

Treating Each Other Well, Always

A guest post by my incredible friend, Tara Reynolds, a Stage 3, Her2+ Cancer Fighter. Although it doesn’t overtly say the word “well,” it says volumes about the power of treating each other well, no matter what.

I was waiting for my next cancer scan, sitting in the Head and Neck Cancer waiting room.

Often I find conversations with other cancer patients more fascinating than normal conversations because crazy-deep views and reflections/fascinating stories of life get added in. It adds old-age value to my life.

Like this morning’s appointment when I sat next to an old alligator hunter and learned about Florida living in the mid 1900’s 😂. But sometimes it feels beyond heavy too, and I feel scared and sad, like now.

It’s the ups and downs of this journey. I feel like I’m wearing military gear that comes with ticking bombs and hundreds of pounds of metal shrapnel that weighs way too much for me. But I can see a reflection of myself, and that tells me I’m actually wearing a tank top. Can’t compute that. 😢

I’m surrounded by people who have entire chunks of their faces and neck missing, many have affected voice boxes and can only whisper. Someone’s missing a leg. My heart breaks in pieces for the ways our lives have been altered by this disease.

How I want a cure.

It got so heavy in my thoughts, that I stood up and went to the bathroom as I felt a full cry coming on. The old man coming out of our special cancer patient bathroom could barely move, and was unable to speak … yet he communicated with me. He put a finger up to me (saying “wait a minute”), turned back, shuffled in pain, and put the toilet seat down for me with a wink. In the absolute worst of times, chivalry lives!!!

I read Philippians 2 this morning.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2

I am shocked at how this man just lived out that verse in front of me. He wanted to make my weight today lighter. I flung my wimpy arms around him (in a non weight-bearing way) and gave him a huge hug. I want to absorb his love and strength. Cancer patients are allowed to get emotional with each other. I told him he is living the best life – with kindness. He pointed to me, to his heart, and then to his smile. We shared the fighting-cancer spirit look – strong smiling eyes twinkling with hope.

Always. Keep. Hope. No matter how much you cry.

Ed. Note: I appreciate what Tara shared here. (Non-diplomatic version — I commandeered her Facebook post and said, “I need that for my blog.”) She is working on getting back to swimming, something I have no doubt she will do. These are two resources that have been integral to Tara, and their donation links if you’re looking for a cause to support:

Casting for Recovery Florida Casting for Recovery Florida is a volunteer-run
breast cancer fly-fishing retreat that empowers participants to, as Tara puts it, “get back out there.”
Donation Link.

American Cancer Society Hope Lodge The American Cancer Society Hope Lodge is where Tara stayed during her treatment. Patients and their caregivers are not charged. Donation Link.

Although I have shared donation links here, I think Tara and I both agree. The best thing to give is to treat someone else well. It is as easy as putting the toilet seat down. pk

Treating Each Other Well, Always

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Although I suspended the usual rules today because I felt Tara’s message was so important, it usually works this way: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” It’s the creation of Kate Motaung.

Did I Really Promise to Go Without Coffee?

Five Minute Friday Promise

PROMISE

Have you ever made a hasty promise, thinking “how hard could that be?”

THEN, upon learning what you had gotten yourself into, did you second-guess yourself? Did you wonder how you could get out of it and if doing so would matter to anyone?

Welcome to my life.

If you’re my Facebook friend, you may have seen my May 1 post about joining the Ration Challenge.

I made the decision to join the Ration Challenge in roughly 2.5 minutes MAX.

There’s no financial commitment (although the organizers hope we use the activity to raise much-needed funds for refugees by eating the same rations as a Syrian refugee living in a camp in Jordan for one week during the week of World Refugee Day (June 16-23 — the actual day is June 20) ).

It’s not as though a restricted diet will cause me undue health issues, since the activity only lasts a week (and yes I will plan to weigh in at Weight Watchers at the end of my week of restricted eating!).

I didn’t read the fine print. I didn’t really read the “print.” I know I care about refugees. I know this will give me a fantastic experience to share on social media to help other people care about refugees.

BUT THERE IS NO COFFEE IN THE CHALLENGE! (There is, if you raise a ton of money.)

I can earn teabags by emailing people, so is it OK if I ask your forgiveness in advance for a few fundraising emails? I don’t even know if it’s caffeinated tea, but maybe I can trick my brain into thinking it is.

I honestly did think about withdrawing.

***end of five minutes***

But it’s not like refugees have a choice either.

Although I am among the biggest coffee fans around (even though I’m technically not supposed to have it due to health reasons), I’m a bigger fan of helping refugee children (and refugees in general) survive.

For all the jokes I’ve made in my life about not being able to survive without coffee, it’s time to keep my promise and do something for the people whose survival is truly at stake.

Note: If you’re interested in joining the challenge (I need company!) or contributing, here is the link.

Five Minute Friday Promise

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” (But I can’t resist spell checking, as you can imagine.)

Remembering Mia

When my daughter was in middle school, her dance teachers carried far more weight with her than I — a mere mom — did. Jelina Gonzalez was one of those teachers for my daughter. Now that my own daughter teaches dance and fulfills that role for a new generation of middle schoolers, I see the legacy that evolved from how Jelina and others taught her, not just to dance, but to become a young woman.

Jelina and I have stayed in touch, even though she moved hundreds of miles away. She began teaching (her experience of teaching was an integral part of a Toastmasters speech I gave about the power of a pencil). She got married. She shared her excitement as she became pregnant and planned to be Mia Sofia’s mom, with Erik to be Mia Sofia’s dad.

Mia Sofia died in utero at eight months’ gestation on March 21.

Jelina and Erik are working to raise money for Cuddle Cots so other families in similar situations can spend more time with their babies.  

As you can see in this video, Mia Sofia is loved beyond measure. (Note: The video’s privacy settings may or may not allow you to see it.)

Why a Cuddle Cot

To honor Mia Sofia, Jelina and Erik are raising money for Cuddle Cots. A Cuddle Cot is a specially-designed cooling system that prolongs the time a family can spend with their infant. Learn more about how Cuddle Cots work by visiting this link.

Comments in italics from Erik and Jelina:

Losing a little one is tough. Bereaved families are given the opportunity to spend some time with their baby after they’re born before being transported to the morgue. Unfortunately, this time is fleeting and doesn’t allow the parents to properly bond with their little angel. That time meant everything to our family.

A CuddleCot gives the family time to bond and grieve by keeping the baby cool. We wish we had one during our time of need, but we feel that we can honor our baby girl by donating one to Wellington Regional and help other families.

If you’d like to make a donation, please send your gift via Venmo to
@MiaSofia2019. (Here’s a link, but I think you have to be on the app for it to work.) Erik and Jelina ask that you include your name and email so they can keep you updated.

One image in my head throughout this period has been the sign Erik and Jelina had prepared for Mia’s room.

In that spirit, suggestions for three ways to help this family that is so dear to us.

M … for memories. Erik and Jelina will always have memories, and they created as many as they could in the time they had with Mia. They are trying to get Cuddle Cots for the hospital where Mia was born so other families faced with the death of their infant will have time for more memories.

I … for inform. Inform people about Cuddle Cots and — beyond telling them about a particular product — help them understand why families need this time with their babies.

A … for act. When there is a loss like this, everyone wants to do something to make a difference. In this situation you can act by donating or by simply providing support if a family you know finds themselves in this situation.

Seeking Space for Hope

Quite a few times after Hurricane Michael came ashore, mostly sparing Tallahassee  and leaving us mainly with the annoyance of darkened homes during lengthy power outages as our neighbors to the west had their houses, businesses, and properties destroyed, I said, “We dodged a bullet.” (Many projected storm paths had Michael making a direct hit on our town).

Little did we know that 23 days later, literal bullets at the hands of a murderer would not spare us as a community, as a shooting at Hot Yoga Tallahassee resulted in the deaths of Nancy Van Vessem and Maura Binkley and the injuries of several others (the gunman also died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound).

My Relationship With Hot Yoga Tallahassee

Although I never went to HYT’s first location, I remember several friends raving about it. If I recall correctly, it was on the west side of town, in what was probably a more out-of-the way location.

The clientele and the reputation of the studio grew, and it relocated to Betton Place, a more centrally located, upscale complex. That’s where I first took yoga at HYT and met Brittani, the owner. Although I didn’t go to HYT exclusively, it still played a unique role in my yoga life.

I did glow yoga and sacred music yoga there. I participated in the December Instagram challenge with HYT one year, posting a picture a day for a month. Most recently, I took part in the outdoor community yoga at their newer location off of Bannerman Road.

The entire time, I watched Brittani grow as a business owner. I saw her become a mom and work through the difficult period of her baby’s severe health problems when he was first born. I remember well a time this summer when he was with her at outdoor yoga; he brings her so much joy.

I’ve always thought it must be a difficult balance to strike to own a yoga studio: an activity that is supposed to help all of its participants eradicate worry juxtaposed against the difficulties of running a business. How do you collect unpaid fees from someone who was seeking respite from the stresses of debt? How do you gently and compassionately intercede with the space hog, the yogi wearing the off-putting fragrance, the late arrival who had promised to arrive 10 minutes early to avoid disrupting everyone else?

I admire Brittani for being a business owner, but I love her more for the mother and human she is.

The Door

Hot Yoga Tallahassee offered more types of yoga than “hot,” despite its name. However, it does do hot yoga well. I always found its heating system and temps to be relatively hotter than other places, especially with their previous system.

Although the actual helpfulness of this was probably all in my head, I liked getting the spot closest to the door. I had the idea that an infinitesimal wisp of air could get in between the floor and the door to keep me from passing out. The temperature probably wasn’t any different by the door than at the farthest corner of the studio, but the thought gave me some relief (it would also be easier to leave and take a respite from the heat without disrupting other people if I was already by the door).

The Grief

I am struggling to write about this situation. It is as hard to find words that even come faintly close to being adequate as it was to get air through an imperceptible space between the door and the floor at HYT.

I was talking with a therapist recently about a situation that had formed an emotional knot in my psyche, one that I couldn’t untangle or resolve. Lo and behold, as she walked me through how the knot got there in the first place, it became apparent that the tension keeping the knot so tightly bound wasn’t solely generated from the situation that was presenting itself as the problem, but from the tectonic shift set off when my mom passed away in February.

And for all the grief I feel for this most recent situation, I have had to tell it to “take a number” as if my heart were the DMV and that the various situations needing to be processed were so many expiring license plate decals.

Other People’s Words

Fortunately, as I work through my emotional knot, other people have risen to the challenge with the perfect words.

From Food Glorious Food, a business in the same complex as Hot Yoga Tallahassee:

Tallahassee Gun Safety

From David Harshada Wagner:

Tallahassee Gun Safety

Photo credit: David Harshada Wagner

From John C. Thomas IV, father of Maura Binkley’s roommate:

I don’t have any answers, but I know now the firsthand agony of what no one should have to deal with with such numbing frequency.

My heart goes out to Maura’s family and all other victims of this senseless act, and to all those who live silently with pain in the aftermath of this type of violence.

It [mental health issues and gun violence] cannot be marginalized. It must be our biggest priority, for the sake of our children and future generations.

From Gary Taylor, Ph.D., Florida State University English Department Chair. (Maura Binkley was an FSU English major.)

What we can do, as English majors, is write about the particulars of her beautiful promise. What we can do, as Americans, is dedicate ourselves to erasing the ugliness that erased her.

From Nancy Van Vessem’s daughter, Molly Johnson:

Tallahassee Gun Safety

I read that Dr. Van Vessem’s favorite spot was by the door too. I’m guessing she just wanted to be able to leave efficiently to get to work. Maybe, like me, she needed the reassurance that she was close to cooler air if the temperature got too warm.

I don’t know, and can’t fathom, why she and Maura Binkley are gone.

Thank you, Food Glorious Food and David Harshada Wagner, for trying to find the tiniest sliver of hope and a path forward at a time when I’m not there yet.

Tallahassee Gun Safety

Benefits:

There are several GoFundMe accounts set up to benefit Hot Yoga Tallahassee:

From the Director of the Florida Yoga Teachers Association

From Lauren Cordy, a friend of Brittani’s

From Becca Berry

From M&M Monogramming, designed by The Moore Agency:

All proceeds from the sale of this sweatshirt go to Hot Yoga Tallahassee.

From Advanced Metal Art:

Tallahassee Gun Safety

Photo Credit: Advanced Metal Art

(As other benefits appear, I’ll add them here.)

I also recommend Moms Demand Action, Everytown for Gun Safety and Sandy Hook Promise to learn more about advocacy for a solution to gun-related problems in our country.

I am linking this post up with the Kat Bouska prompt, “Write a blog post [based on] the word: dark.”

Tallahassee Gun Safety