Sunday, March 31, 2013

Five Signs You May Be Raising an Interfaith Kid

Act #90:  Seek commonality.  The rest will work itself out.

We are an interfaith family.  Truly, we are.  My mother is a Muslim.  My father is a Buddhist.  I spent most of my childhood in a Seventh-Day Adventist School.  In my youth I was once baptized as a Mormon.  In college I almost became a Baha'i.  I still may.  My husband grew up in the Bible belt with a southern Baptist mother.  His late father was an atheist.  These days he straddles the fence between being a non-believer and a seeker. Together, we seek to offer our 5-year old a strong spiritual foundation for finding and developing his own personal relationship with God.  As a family, we pray together occasionally.  Just yesterday our son asked if God lived inside his body.  Sometimes he stumps us.  We don't have all the answers, but we engage him in dialogue and encourage him to keep asking the questions.  We focus on love, commonality, and the expression of faith through service and goodwill to others.

Over the years, we have formulated a family philosophy to share with people when asked about our faith that goes something like this.  Simple enough for a 5-year old.  Complex enough to keep the world in constant turmoil.

We are an interfaith family. 
We are centered by different faith backgrounds and values.
We believe that we are more alike than different. 
We believe that together, we can make the world better.
There's enough room at the table for all of us.

Five Signs That You May be Raising an Interfaith Kid

1.  He sometimes prays with his butt in the air (one grandmother's influence).....on his knees (another grandmother's influence) .......and sometimes he simply "talks to God" when it strikes his fancy (like in the middle of the movie theater).

2.  He thinks God is literally everywhere - like in his chocolate milk, in the wind, and inside his heart (How did he get that small mama?) 

3.  Lately, he's been contemplating whether or not he wants to be born into the world again, or go to heaven.  He doesn't care as long as he has the same mommy and daddy and...see #2.

 4. He gives up something (like acquiring new toys, or giving his old toys away to others) for Ramadan.  And for Christian Lent.  And for Taoist Lent.

5.  Recently, he asked us this incredibly simple, yet profound question, "Mom, God is the same as love, right?" 

Why yes, my son. 
Yes, he is.
I offer you peace. I offer you love. I offer you friendship. I see your beauty. I hear your need. I feel your feelings. My wisdom flows from the Highest Source. I salute that Source in you. Let us work together for unity and love."
-Mahatma Gandhi


Saturday, March 30, 2013

My Journey to Accept Girly Girls

Act #89:  Embrace all forms of femininity.

When I first moved to town, I found out about a weekend community-based outdoor farmer's market/food co-op.  I was ecstatic to have the chance to support local farmers, be more connected to my food sources, and have fresh and wholesome food options for myself.  So after being in town for several months, I finally found a small window of time to head out to the market on my way to a work- related fundraising event. I used to wear pearls and high heels a lot in my former life and I remember my heels sinking in the gravel parking lot when I stepped out of my brand new shiny silver SUV.  As a woman of color living in a predominantly white town, I'm always prepared for questionable looks, inquisitive stares, but this time it felt different.  For the first time in a long time, I simply felt that I was not welcome.  And I can't explain it, but I knew that it had nothing to do with the color of my skin.  I looked around and quickly realized how very different I looked from the vendors and patrons around me.  They wore loose fitting clothes made from colorless natural fibers.  Flat, comfortable walking shoes.  They wore no make up and if they had jewelry on, it was made of silver or turquoise.  There were drummers and small groups of people holding coffee mugs just staring at me.  And yes, there was that strong aroma of patchouli surrounding the entire market.  By golly, I think I was being judged for my french manicure and my Ann Taylor pleated slacks.  And my gas-guzzling vehicle.  The subsequent interactions with the vendors were less than friendly - few words exchanged, no smiles, an unspoken eagerness for me to just get out of dodge so life could return to normal for everyone else.  So I left, and never returned.  

Fast forward 10 years later and for the first time in a long time, I have discovered how to be comfortable in my own skin.  The pearls, the heels are long gone and I'm driving a hybrid now.  My nails have been chewed on and I haven't seen a manicure in months.  I'm a raging feminist - I always have been, but these days I wear the rage proudly, publicly, and with every fiber of my being.  And while my hope is to invite others to join "the movement" - to help create a world free from injustice, oppression, and violence against women - I've come to the harsh self-realization that I have turned into the biggest barrier to true feminist social change. 

I have become the unwelcoming hippie farmer's market.

I've become so comfortable surrounding myself with like-minded progressive feminists and activists, people who dedicate their lives to social justice, people who freely voice their convictions, that I somehow, unknowingly began to quietly judge every other woman who didn't belong to "the choir" including:

Trailing wives who follow their husband's careers
Women who spend more than $5000 on their weddings
Women with grown children who don't work outside the home
Sorority girls
Women who talk excessively about their kids
Women who get plastic surgery
Women who read romance novels
Lingerie models
Women who wear blood diamonds, the color pink, or Lululemon yoga pants
Women who buy their weekly groceries at the Fresh Market
Women who change their last names
Women with personal trainers
Women who marry rich men
Women who have no clue what is going on in Washington, DC
Women who put their daughters in dance classes, pageants, and take them to Disney-themed shows
"Girly" girls
Women who wear pearls and Ann Taylor slacks, and who drive gas-guzzling SUV's

Women just like me.

I'm so sorry.  I'm an idiot.  I am/was/probably will be again someday - various versions of all of you.  We are all various versions of each other.  True feminism embraces the beauty in all of us -  differences, flaws, every ounce of womanhood, patriarchal influence, and each and every indomitable spirit that defines us as individuals.  Whether we wear pearls or patchouli, we are all women.   And until we start working together rather than against each other, I doubt we'll ever live in a world free of violence and oppression.  This is not my movement.  This is our movement.  Everyone is welcome.  Forgive me?


Friday, March 29, 2013

How Sandra D. (not Rick Ross) Taught Me To Expect Violence From My Future Boyfriend

Act #88:  Change your tune.

I was 6 years old when pop culture first told me that it was normal, even cute, for a woman to have to defend herself from a man that she was dating.  It was the summer of 1978 and the deliverers of this message to my impressionable, young mind were not tattooed, six-packed, African-American men draped in gold and opulent attire.   They were ridiculously cute white teens in poodle skirts, baby doll sweaters, and high pony tails.  And they were trim blue-jean clad, black leather-jacket wearing boys with slicked back hair.  They were Olivia Newton John and John Travolta, in the hit musical Grease and I knew every word to their most popular duet, Summer Nights:

Tell me more, tell me more
Did you get very far?
Tell me more, tell me more
Like did he have a car?
Tell me more, tell me more
Was it love at first sight?
Tell me more, tell me more
Did she put up a fight?

How far was rebellious heartthrob, Danny hoping to get?  And what exactly was sweet Sandy having to put up a fight against?  Don't even get me started about the implications in lines like:  Did he have a car? and How much dough did he spend?  As a six-year old, what did I have to look forward to in a boyfriend?  Someone who would spend money on me, drive me around in a nice car, and brag to his friends about having his way with me.  Even if I might have to put up a little fight, we'd still ride into the sunset on his motorcycle together.  Adorable.

Last week rapper Rick Ross made headlines for his newest song that contained these lyrics:

Put molly (slang for pure ecstasy) all in her champagne
She ain't even know it
I took her home and I enjoyed that
She ain't even know it.

Thirty-five years later and we're still singing the same tune.  We all know that the hip hop industry routinely faces harsh criticism for music that often glorifies violence and the degradation of women.   But I for one, learned about my expected role as someone's girlfriend from Sandra D.  Please don't tell me any more.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Just Wondering

Act #87:  Walk a mile.

If someone said they loved you, but saw your beautiful marriage as ugly and forsaken, would you believe them?

If someone called you a friend, but thought your family was an abomination, would you open your heart to them?

If someone considered you a brother, but always made you feel like you needed forgiveness, would you feel their kinship?

If someone believed that you deserved more, when you were already quite fulfilled,

Wished that you would see the light,
Hoped there was time to change you,
Knew without a doubt that they were always right,
And you were very, very wrong.

Saw the decline of morality every time they looked into your eyes.

If someone could never, ever accept you,
Exactly for who you are,

Would you hope that they might understand,
Just how hard it could be,
For you to ever truly accept them?


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Message to My Christian Friends, Non-Christian Friends, Supporters of Fairness, Opposers of Same-Sex Marriage, Those Who are All, Those Who are None, and All Who Fall Somewhere In Between

Act #86:  Consider what is "right".

The Noble Eightfold Path  is one of the principal teachings of Buddha, described as the way leading to the cessation of suffering and the achievementof self-awakening.  It is used to eradicate greed, hatred, and delusion. All eight elements of the Path begin with the word "right", which translates to the word samyañc (in Sanskrit) or sammā (in Pāli). These denote completion, togetherness, and coherence.

Right Viewpoint
Realize the Four Noble Truths:  There is suffering.  The cause of suffering is desire and ignorance. There is a state of mind free from suffering.  There is an end to suffering – the Eightfold Path.

Right Intention
Commit to mental and ethical growth to resist desire and anger, and to act with compassion.

Right Speech  
Speak in a non hurtful, not exaggerated, truthful way.

Right Actions
Abstain from actions that would do harm to others.

Right Livelihood
Earn your living peacefully and in a way that does not harm others; directly or indirectly.  

Right Effort 
Direct mental energy away from desire, envy, aggression, and violence and towards self-discipline, honesty, benevolence, and kindness.

Right Mindfulness  
See things for what they are with clear consciousness.

Right Concentration 
Concentrate on wholesome thoughts and actions.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How to Ruin Your Kid's Childhood

Act #85:  Let your kid be himself.

Raising a boy in the United States of America comes with some pretty clear norms and expectations.  For the first five years of his life, I felt immense pressure for my son to fit in, to be all-American, to be just like his counterparts.  I never once asked myself, why should my child learn to swim?  Because a leading cause of male deaths is unintentional injury?  So is getting hit by a car or falling.  What would happen if my kindergartner grew up never knowing how to ride a bike?  He'd suffer greatly as an adult on his first day of work?  What if he didn't ever play on a team?  Would he never have other opportunities to learn values like cooperation, competition, and following rules?  So as my son turns 6 in a few months, I am giving him the gift of embracing the beautiful, unique soul that he is.  I'm allowing Jack to just be Jack.  I wish I came to this realization 6 years ago.  Here's how well I navigated the first five years of his life. 

Age 1 Expectation:  Learn to swim.
When my son was around 9 months old, we caved to the pressures that sounded something like this: Every child should know how to swim, so he doesn't drown.  So we signed up for a "mommy and me" class and all of us mothers who had just given birth were thrilled to put on a bathing suit in public.  Really. My son enjoyed himself just fine, but we didn't really return the following year for various reasons.  Lately, (my son is about to turn 6), when we go to hotels, people ask us if my son swam in the indoor pool.  During the summers, people say we should take him to the pool.  There's this expectation that swimming should be an integral part of a kid's childhood experience.  The thing is, much like me as a child, my son isn't really into the whole immersing yourself in water thing.  I was never afraid of the water, it just didn't appeal to me as much as some other activities.  

Age 2 Expectation:  Defend yourself!
For those of you with children, you will relate that this is the age that daycare kids hit, bite, push, and shove.  Being the passive soul that he is, my kid was never the giver, but always the receiver of these acts.  We always taught him to speak up and ways to stop someone from violating him, but that wasn't enough.  We often received feedback from his well-meaning teachers that he needed to learn to defend himself, that he shouldn't be so sensitive, and that he should be a bit more assertive and fight back.  I fought this hard.  While I certainly want to raise a "strong", confident child, I also resist the temptation to contribute to a culture that defines masculinity so narrowly and in only physical terms.  Instead of focusing on teaching our kids to fight back, shouldn't our efforts be placed on teaching our kids respectful boundaries and communication?

Age 3 Expectation:  Participate in team sports.
At his tender age, most boys in his kindergarten class have already taken part in soccer and t-ball.  We've offered this as an option for our son, but he has always adamantly insisted that he is not interested.  Knowing what I know about him, the idea of being on display for a cheering crowd or competing, push his comfort zone a bit. We took him to a karate class once and just as soon as the instructor told the kids to shout at the top of their lungs and break a board in half, my son was done.  The messages were contrary to the mild-mannered, peace-loving kid that he naturally is and it simply made no sense to him why he'd break a perfectly good board for sheer entertainment.  My son has however expressed an interest in one-on-one instruction that involves a martial art or learning to play a musical instrument (which we hope to allow him to pursue this year).

Age 4 Expectation:  Ride a bike.
We have tried and tried to get him to be interested in riding a bike.  We bribed him with a shiny red Power Rangers bike, that still sits untouched in our garage.  He loves being outdoors, running, chasing his parents, hitting the trails, but has absolutely no interest in riding a bike. This summer, look out for a near-new Power Ranger bike on your local Craigslist.

Age 5:  Go to summer camp.
Most camps require your child to be 6 years old or in first grade and I'm already feeling the pressure of making sure my son doesn't miss out on yet another formative childhood experience.  I've already researched Parks and Recreation schedules and Arts Council calendars in two different towns.  I have yet to find out if he will embrace the concept of summer camp.

So here I am, a mother of a kindergartner, who has failed miserably at meeting the expectations of raising a proper boy.  Yet I am so proud of my passive, free-spirit, non bike-riding, non-swimming old soul of a boy who naturally excels in math and science even though we've never once "worked with him" after school hours, who draws complex multi-colored battle scenes on long rolls of butcher paper, who would love to chase his mother in the backyard for hours, who counts to 10 in three different languages, who often ponders whether or not "life goes on" after someone dies, who loves "visiting cities, but living in a small town", who can create extravagant racing scenes for his Hot Wheels with Legos - complete with bridges and overpasses, and who at the end of the day, wants nothing more than to be surrounded by the love of his extended family.  And to be a kid.  After all, he's only 5.  Just be Jack.  We all should try that every once in a while.  What a beautiful, and richly diverse world this could be.

Monday, March 25, 2013

What's on Your Bucket List?

Act #84:  Cross something off.

Since the late 90's, number 6 on my bucket list involved me getting up on a stage in front of a room full of strangers and uttering the word, "vagina".  With pride.  The Vagina Monologues, was originally an off-Broadway production that later launched V-Day, a global non-profit movement that has raised over $75 million for women's anti-violence groups through benefits of The Vagina Monologues performances. 

Five years ago, at the age of 35, I joined a dozen or so college women half my age, and finally got to cross number 6 off my list when I dedicated the monologue, I Was There in the Room, to my newborn son.  This particular monologue told the story of creator, Eve Ensler as she witnessed the birth of her first grandchild.

Last night I had the privilege of attending an incredible performance of the Monologues at my college alma mater, and all proceeds were being donated to the rape crisis center at which I work.  At the end of the night, audience members were invited to stand up and share why they "rise", as part of V-Day's 1 Billion Rising project to end violence against women.  It was heart-wrenching, uplifting, inspiring, all rolled up into one.  In just one room, in one little tiny town, on one small college campus, courageous men and women rose to declare their commitment to end violence.  See for yourself why we all have no choice but to rise:

I rise because nobody believed me.
I rise because I'm a product of rape.
I rise for my sister.
I rise because as a man, if I get raped no one will ask me what I was wearing.
I rise so that others will have a voice.
I rise for lesbian victims.
I rise because men are raped too.
I rise because no one did for my mother.

Join me so that one day I can cross number 1 off my bucket list? 
#1:  Be the change.

A heartfelt thanks to the students and staff of Berea College for raising awareness about global violence against women, and for supporting the work of the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center.  For more information on V-Day and the 1 Billion Rising project:

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ten Politically-Correct Alternatives to the Term, "Illegal Immigrant"

Act #83:  Question labels.

It was just another day rallying against immigration for Secretary of State, Kris Kobach when he appeared before Kansas legislature to push a law that would disqualify "undocumented immigrants" from paying in-state tuition at public universities.  Or so he thought.  Little did he know that he would be stumped by State Representative Ponka-We Victors (D-Wichita), a member of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma and the Tohono O'odham Nation of Arizona, when she made the following statement, as she questioned the bill, " I think it's funny Mr. Kobach, because when you mention illegal immigrant, I think of all of you."

The crowd cheered.

In light of these events, I wanted to make sure that others didn't make the same mistake that Mr. Kobach did and I wanted to offer a few alternate, more politically-correct options for terms such as illegal immigrant, undocumented worker, illegal alien, and green-card holder:

1.   Person
2.   Human 
3.   Community Member
4.   Individual
5.   Mortal
6.   Homo Sapien
7.   Earthling
8.   Man
9.   Woman
10. Child
Oh Great Spirit, who made all races,
look kindly upon the whole human
family and take away the arrogance
and hatred which separates us
from our brothers.
~ Cherokee Prayer

Saturday, March 23, 2013

What Do You Call a Plastic M-16?

Act #82:  Don't let Wal-mart define your kid's gender expectations.

Toy guns.  The classic age-old parenting debate for anyone who has a son.  Pro-gun parents sound something like this:  Boys will be boys.  Research has shown that they will make guns out of sticks, their hands, anything laying around.  There's no harm in allowing boys to explore good v. evil, as long as they understand the consequences.  I played with plenty of guns in my childhood and I turned out just fine. 

Anti-gun parents remove all weapons from action figures.  They encourage boys to explore alternate forms of play that do not involve violence.  They believe that this form of early socialization contributes to a culture of violence.  If you've ever read my blog, you probably know where I stand on this spectrum, but that's not what I'm writing about today.

Earlier this week I was in one of those mega-retail stores and came across a stash of these. 

Regardless of my personal thoughts on whether or not I believe guns are an appropriate mechanism for imaginative play, this sight made my skin crawl.  Peacekeeper.  Seriously?  Maybe it's just me, but I can think of a million alternate definitions of the term peacekeeper that don't involve blowing someone's brains out.  If we are going to permit our sons to grow up playing with make-believe weapons that were created to kill, the least we can do is be honest with them about their intended use.  Sure I get that weapons have historically been used in the military and law enforcement to help cease violence, or rather to to instill the fear of order to cease more violence.  So wouldn't a label like, "Inanimate object that could be used to protect and serve, but has regrettably been used to perpetuate even more violence" be more accurate?  Probably wouldn't fit very well on the packaging.  Maybe I'd feel better if there were more toy options to help our boys figure out positive expressions of their masculinity.  You know like little articulated Nelson Mandela action figures.  Or magic sets that turned river water into clean, drinking water.  Or playsets that allowed boys to imagine themselves being teachers, environmentalists, and fathers. 

Maybe if those toys existed (hint, hint Hasbro) and had labels like peacekeeper on them as well, I'd feel a bit better about telling my kid that a  plastic M-16 rifle is the best way to promote:


noun \ˈpēs\
1: a state of tranquillity or quiet
2: freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions
3: harmony in personal relations

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Love Letter to the Men Who Love Women Who Love Themselves

Act #81:  Don't take your support system for granted.

Dear Spouses, Partners, Lovers, and Companions of Feminist Women,

You knew from the very first date when she insisted on going dutch, that you were in for an adventure, yet you came back for more.  When you first came up to her in a crowded bar, and she fluttered her eyelashes flirtatiously...........and asked whether or not you thought the war in Iraq was justified.  You had never met a woman who carried around stickers that read, "This insults women" and who asked you to divert attention as she snuck them on Barbie dolls on Wal-mart toy shelves. 

You knew that your life would never be the same when she regularly disappeared - not for shopping trips or to get her nails done, but to attend community forums, board meetings, and rallies.  You knew the moment you watched her stand up on that stage and utter the word "vagina" 26 times without flinching, that she may be a bit different.  And when she went to the bathroom and threw-up after watching the rape scene in Boys Don't Cry, you knew that behind her unwavering strength, lied the very vulnerability that drove her to want something better for the world. 

For those of you who stuck around, even knowing what you know about us....thank you. For getting us. 

For not feeling threatened by the love we have for ourselves.  For teaching our boys to thank us for every meal we put on the table. Thank you for all those nights that you have to go to bed alone because we are working late, volunteering hard, staying out past normal people's bedtimes.  Thank you for rearranging your schedule to care for our children so that we can make the world a better place for them...or at least feel like we're giving it our best shot.   For believing that a 5"1 woman, who can't even reach the top cabinet in the pantry, really has a shot. 

Thank you for all the little things that you do - like demanding changing stations in men's restrooms, for challenging drive-through cashiers who ask if you want a boy's  toy or girl's toy with your kid's meal, for asking the server why she automatically brings the check to you.

Thank you for understanding why we will never be your arm candy, your trophy wife, but for instead seeing the beauty that lies deep within our souls.  For holding us when the weight of injustice, the weight of the world, becomes so unbearable that we sometimes curl into a little ball of exhaustion and defeat.

But most importantly, thank you for never allowing us to be ourselves - but for always expecting us to be nothing less.

In true love and partnership,
The feminist with whom you fell in love


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Do Not Underestimate the Power of the Teenage Girl

Act #80:  Change her script.

When I think about the 15 year-old me back in 1987, these random memories come to mind:

Nobody puts baby in a corner.

Need some time off from that emotion
Time to pick my heart up off the floor
And when that love comes down
Without devotion
Well it takes a strong man baby
But I'm showing you the door
'Cause I gotta have faith.

Margaret Thatcher.

My favorite faded blue jean jacket with matching mini-skirt.

21 Jump Street.

Maybe, the fact that Margaret Thatcher came to mind - just maybe,  some early notions of feminism were slowly brewing.  Halfway across the world, right at this moment, there is another 15-year old who much like me, has black hair and brown skin, and a propensity to speak her mind.  However, if you were to read the script of her life, words like these would emerge:

Nobel Peace prize nominee

Education and women's rights activist

BBC blogger

Chair of District Child Assembly Swat

National Youth Peace prize recipient

Assassination survivor

This week, Malala Yousafzai, after being shot in the head and neck by the Taliban for campaigning for female education in Pakistan, returned to school for the first time in the UK.   Malala and her family once lived in the Swat district of Pakistan where schools were ordered to close in a Taliban edict banning girls' education.  Militants destroyed over 150 schools.  Malala began blogging for the BBC since she was 11 years old, detailing her life under Taliban rule and sharing her views on promoting education for girls.She is the youngest person to be nominated for a Nobel Peace prize.

This year, former British Prime Minister and current U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown launched a United Nations petition called, "I am Malala" demanding that children worldwide be in school by the end of 2015.  A fund has also been set up in Malala's name and will be used to help provide education for young people. The first grant from the Malala Fund will go towards urging families in her home area of the Swat Valley to keep their daughters in school.

While it's a little too late to change the script for the 15-year old me, the 40-year old me is deeply inspired and moved by the life of young Malala.  If you find yourself in a position to enhance the script of the life of a 15-year old girl - a daughter, a niece, someone you mentor - try replacing the script that society has written for her:  Taylor Swift.  One Direction.  Abercrombie and Fitch.  Size 2.  Prom date.  Team Jacob.  Princess.  - with things that challenge, empower, inspire her to realize her own potential, and to be her best self.  Tell her about Malala.  Unlike me, maybe it won't take her another 25 years to finally believe in herself and in her power to change the world.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How Far Would You Go to Help This Woman?

Act #79:  Question your priorites.

Last week, in less than one day, the nation came together and poured their hearts and wallets out to raise funds in excess of $2 million dollars.  The object of their philanthropic support?  An incredibly bright and talented, struggling 20-ish year old female who had been abandoned by her alcoholic mother, drugged and raped at a party, and whose best friend was found murdered.  Her story was so compelling that Americans across the country wanted to be a part of it, wanted to know more.  Wanted the chance to spend $15 a year from now to watch it in high-definition on a big screen while inhaling large buckets of yellow-stained popcorn.

The woman who caused this history-making fundraising firestorm?  Well, her name is Veronica Mars.  College student by day, and private investigator by night.   She was the main lead in a cult TV series that ended six years ago.  Last week, after unsuccessful attempts to pitch a movie pilot to Hollywood, creator Rob Thomas launched a fundraising campaign via, an on-line funding platform for creative projects.  In less than 12 hours, his project raised $2 million dollars.  To date, the project has raised $3.6 million dollars and 56,000 people have backed the project.

While I haven't seen a single episode of the show, I have a feeling that it's probably really, really good (some of my best friends are fans).  And yes, I am a strong supporter of the arts and it's creative influence on human existence.  I'm also a director of a small struggling non-profit rape crisis center trying my darnedest to raise money to support real life Veronica Mars's every day.  Unlike Veronica though, the survivors I meet don't typically grow up in elite neighborhoods in southern California, or solve crimes alongside their private investigator fathers.  But like Miss Mars, they too are often surrounded by alcoholism and violence.  And they too have been sexually assaulted, raped, and faced doubt from their friends and law enforcement.  Just this week we were devastated to learn that funding from our local government had been cut by more than half.  All this while looming threats of federal sequesters keep us up at night wondering if we will have to cut down on services, make rape victims wait for critical therapy, leave them to fend for themselves in court and at the hospitals, and pray that our young people figure out on their own - boundaries and how to intervene in volatile situations.

I checked the requirements for and I don't think a rape crisis center would qualify to participate as a "creative project".  But if 56,000 people are more than enthusiastic about supporting a fictional rape victim, and have the capacity to raise $2 million dollars in less than 12 hours, I can't help but wonder what the world might look like if more of us became enthusiastic about supporting the real Veronicas, who so desperately need us now, and who live right here in our own communities.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How to Prepare Yourself for an Indulgent, Needy, Whiny, Gassy, Bald Narcissist

Act #78:  Manage new parent consumerism.  Save your money for their college fund.

Six years ago, when I was about  seven months pregnant, I found myself standing in the car seat aisle of Babies R Us, and bawling my eyes out.  I was asked to register for an upcoming baby shower and all of a sudden I found myself confronted with 18 car seat choices with 3 different consumer reviews on each.  Terms I never even heard like boppy and snappi.  Devices I had no idea what to do with like swaddling blankets, food mills, and car seat covers.  Already facing the looming notion of lifelong parental responsibilities, now I was also overwhelmed with the pressure to over-prepare for the pending arrival of a helpless human being who would be 100% dependent on me.  Here's an actual list of recommended new baby items similar to the one that I armed myself with that fateful day in 2007.  If a new parent were to go out and purchase everything on this list, it would cost them anywhere from $1000 - $2000.  

Clothing Your Baby
Sleepers and/or gowns
Snowsuit bag

Bathing Your Baby
Baby tub
Baby toiletries
Baby washcloths
Baby bath towels

Carrying Your Baby
Front carrier, sling, and/or backpack

Breastfeeding Your Baby
Boppy (or other nursing pillow) and cover
Breast pump
Breast milk storage and feeding set
Insulated carrying case for transporting milk safely

Bottle-Feeding Your Baby

Assorted nipples
Utensils for formula preparation
Sterilizer, if recommended
Bottle and nipple brush

Feeding Your Baby
Baby utensils
Food mill, for grinding up food for baby
Plates and bowls

Stimulating Your Baby
Board books

Soft blocks
Teething rings

Soothing Your Baby
Receiving blankets (for swaddling)

Music CDs

Taking Your Baby Places
Diaper bag

Wipes carrying case
Car seat

Exercising with Your Baby
Jogging stroller

Gift certificates for mom and baby yoga or stroller fitness classes (Stroller Strides, etc.)

Diapering Your Baby
Diaper pail

Changing table or changing pad

Cloth-Diapering Your Baby
Cloth diapers

Cloth wipes
Wet bag (for carrying wet diapers in your diaper bag)
Waterproof diaper covers
Pins, "snappi," or other diaper fastener (if your diapers don't have snaps or Velcro)

Disposable-Diapering Your Baby
Disposable diapers

Disposable wipes
Wipes warmer
Diaper rash cream

Putting Your Baby to Bed
Co-sleeper and/or bed rails (if you plan to co-sleep)
Sheets and accessories for co-sleeper and/or crib
Portable crib
Waterproof crib pads

Baby-Proofing Supplies
Outlet covers
Baby gates
Door latches
Toilet latch
Non-slip tub mat
Padding for sharp table edges
Doorknob guards
Stove knob guards

For Mom
Belly casting kit

Nursing tops (for breastfeeding moms)
Some women choose to hire a doula (a professional labor assistant) to increase their chances of a smooth delivery. If you'd like to hire a doula, but can't afford it, consider adding requests for contributions to your registry.

For the To-Be Parents
Parenting books

Child development books
Magazine subscriptions
I'm offering a revised, stress-free list for new parents that in my opinion, more realistically reflects the actual needs of a 1-day old child.  Please take careful note.  You won't want to miss these critical items.  I hope you figure out how to best prepare for the arrival of your new bundle of joy - but  more importantly I hope you figure out how to invest your time and resources on the things that truly matter in nurturing your lifelong relationship with your child.
Jane's list of must-have baby items:
A nipple of some sort (can be attached to a human or to a bottle)


Monday, March 18, 2013

How Mindy Kaling and Sriracha Make Me Feel Like I Belong

Act #77:  Try some siracha.

There's this photo of Swedish mannequins that have hit the social media circuits.  Two non-emaciated, "curvy", differently figured female mannequins that have captured the attention of women worldwide because 1.) for the first time we actually can imagine our average-builds in those clothes; and 2.) they affirm that women don't all look exactly alike.  But my point today is not to talk about  how various industries distort and ultimately impact female body image, but rather to point out that many of us are screaming at the top of our lungs:  We want to see ourselves in the products you are trying to sell us!  Especially if we are women of color.  As a dark-skin southeast Asian gal, I've had my share of awkward moments like the make-over gone wry when the sweetest, littlest, elderly Mary Kay consultant (bless her heart) "decorated" my face with Caucasian-toned (yes, there is a difference) powders, blushes, and eye shadows.  It was quite a challenge to get those tones to show up on my skin, so her solution?  Cake some more on!  By the time I was done, I looked like a Cirque De Soleil performer ready for my first big show.

When I was just about to graduate from college I was ecstatic that a new sitcom had hit the airwaves featuring an Asian female lead.  Without an accent.  Who wasn't foreign, a seductress, or submissive.  All American Girl, debuted for just 6 months and I'm pretty sure I was the only person in the nation who was captivated by the lead, Margaret Cho, and her culture clash with her traditional Korean mother.  Why, you ask?  Because I could totally relate!  Growing up in Chicago in the 70's I remember watching Three's Company and Happy Days - and while I greatly enjoyed these shows, it was more like creepily peering into someone else's living room.  I could never picture myself as Suzanne Somers (although I did sometimes picture myself dating Chachi).  All American Girl spoke directly to me.  They were my stories, my inside jokes, practically my family sitting there in the living room.  So when the show got cancelled, I was devastated.  It has recently been brought to my attention that one of my favorite stars of the Office, Mindy Kaling has launched a new series called the Mindy Project and I am eager and excited to play some catch up to watch this show, whose premise is built upon a south Asian gynecologist and her professional and personal life.  The Mindy Project is the first televised series ever with a South Asian lead.  I can't tell you how much I loved Kaling on the Office.  Ditzy, superficial Kelly, who unlike most Asian characters, her Asianess wasn't the sole reason she was cast for the role.

Not to compare Mindy Kaling to a spicy, chili-based condiment that most Asians can't live without, but if you haven't heard of Sriracha sauce, well, you're probably not Asian.  Sriracha is to us, what ketchup is to Caucasian Americans, but with a kick, a flair, a blend of spice so tantalizing that we want to smother it on anything from seafood, to spring rolls, to pan-fried noodles.  It is also magical on pizza.  During my childhood I was appalled when my mom would sneak little bottles of this into the Ponderosa, and now I'm just about ready to carry my own bottle around in my purse.  Most recently, I heard that the term Sriracha was added into the Oxford dictionary, which means that the sauce of my ancestors has made it to mainstream America.

I have great hopes that my son will grow up seeing faces that look more familiar on television, and where hot sauce bottles are just as common of fixtures at the dinner table as ketchup bottles.  Finally after almost 20 years since the cancellation of All American Girl, I'm ecstatic to see two reminders of my rich cultural background woven into the fabric of regular, ordinary life - two things no one should have to live without:  Mindy Kaling and Sriracha. 


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Nine Chances Someone Could Have Stopped Steubenville Ohio from Making Headlines

Act #76:  Intervene.  Do not perpetuate rape culture.

In August of last year, a 16 year-old girl from West Virginia had a crush on a neighboring high school football player, Trent Mays, and attended a post-game party in Steubenville, Ohio.  At 10 a.m. today a judge will issue a verdict in the case for kidnapping and rape charges against Steubenville football players Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond that could put them behind bars until they turn 21.  Rape culture is defined as a culture where sexual violence against women is normalized and excused including victim blaming, trivializing sexual assault, tolerance of sexual harassment, defining manhood as dominant and sexually aggressive, and assuming promiscuous and drunk women want to be raped.  Sexual violence against women would not happen if we as a society did not tolerate it.  There were ample opportunities for numerous people to intervene that night in Steubenville Ohio.  Here’s how things could have turned out drastically different.

1.  What happened:  At the first party, witnesses said that the girl became so intoxicated that her speech began to slur.  Alternate response:  Witnesses see that the girl’s speech was beginning to slur, and approach her  asking if she might need a ride home.
2.  What happened:  Later in the night, she left the party with Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond.  One of her friends tried to stop her, but the girl insisted on leaving.  Alternate response:  When the victim insisted on leaving regardless of an attempt made to stop her, her friend solicits help from other football players to appeal to Mays and Richmond.  They tell them that it’s best that they don’t leave with the girl in that state.  They accompany the girl to the party, and keep an eye out for her to make sure she’s safe.

3.  What happened:  Mays, Richmond, and the girl head to a second party where several people witnessed the girl vomiting, and stepping outside for fresh air because she felt sick.  Alternate response:  Witnesses see the girl vomiting and call for a friend or family to drive her home because she clearly has had too much to drink.

4.  What happened:  Cody Saltsman, the girl’s ex-boyfriend, tweeted a picture of the passed out victim being carried at her wrists and ankles by Mays and Richmond with accompanying statements, Never seen anything this sloppy – LOL.  I have no sympathy for whores.   Alternate response:  Cody Saltsman sees that his ex-girlfriend might be in danger and intervenes.

5.  What happened:  At this point, the girl was incapable of walking on her own and was taken into a car driven by another football player, Mark Cole, during which he stopped to videotape and post on YouTube, Mays digitally penetrating the girl in the back seat of his car.  Alternate Response:  Mark Cole puts the victim in the front seat and drives her home.

6.  What happened:  The group later arrived at Cole’s house where another witness said that the girl was the drunkest person in the room.  Alternate response:  Witnesses who perceived the girl to be the drunkest person in the room,  approach her and offer to find her a safe way home.

7.  What happened:  Cole saw Mays trying to force the girl to perform oral sex on him, but she was too unresponsive to do so.  Alternate response:  Cole tells Mays to back off the girl and takes the girl home safely.

8.  What happened:  Mays’ best friend, wrestler Anthony Craig saw the victim naked, Richmond laying beside her, and Mays “smacking his penis off her side.”   Alternate response:  Anthony Craig intervenes and stops the assault.

9.  What happened:  Shortly after that night, an 18-year old Steubenville alum, Michael Nodianos, who did not witness the assaults first-hand, posted an on-line video repeatedly referring to the girl as dead and making these statements:  Why isn’t she waking up? She’s dead. They peed on her. That’s how you know she’s dead, because someone pissed on her.  She is so raped right now.   Alternate response:  Michael Nodianos confronts Mays and Richmond and turns them over to the police.

In case you ever wondered, this is what rape culture looks like.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Confession: I'm a Total Fashion Fraud

Act #75:  Embrace your own sense of style.

I have a confession.  I'm a total fraud when it comes to fashion and style.  Since I was 15, in my yearning to fit in, I secretly scoured teen magazines so I would know how to properly pair multi-colored socks with complimenting scrunchies.  Yes, there is an actual science to this.  In the late 80's we would gather in  my teenage girlfriends bedrooms on weekends and compare shiny v. opaque v. shimmery lip gloss and I would pretend that I could tell the difference between them.  My college years were somewhat of a respite because I comfortably fell into the "thrift-shop trendy" category and found great satisfaction in creating my own style from the recycled fashion of others. And then I had to grow up and go to a grown-up job and there were meetings, and business functions, and fancy work receptions and I found myself feeling pressured to get manicures and pedicures and professional haircuts.  The only thing I hated more than spending my hard-earned money on these beauty rituals, was the time I wasted while having them done.  I did not care to have a personal relationship with my hairdresser, to share my most intimate thoughts with my manicurist.  Or for some stranger dude to rub up and down on my legs with exotic lotions.  But I did it anyway, thinking it was the only way that I could possibly fit in with the women around me that looked so perfectly put together. 

When I went on trips with my girlfriends I sometimes felt like I was from a different planet when they used terms like lululemon....seaweed detoxifying wrap...bumble and bumble....shellac gel manicure.  But I played along, fighting back the urge to peel the seaweed off my face and stick it in some miso broth.  One time when I was engaged in a conversation with a group of girls about the importance of investing in a good pair of jeans (in this case Seven brand jeans with a price tag of about $200) I didn't have the nerve to tell them that I bought my jeans at Target. On sale. For $19.99.  I want to be careful to point out that I am not judging women who are born with this natural sense of style and seriously, some of my best friends fall in this category, and I love them with every fiber of my being.  In many ways I'm jealous that it doesn't come naturally for me, but at this point in my life, the thought of coming out and accepting that I'm utterly and hopelessly a fashion fraud feels.....well....liberating. 

Not too long ago one of my younger colleagues, a fresh-out-of-college feminist told me that she was thinking about copying my "activist" look for a rally that we were both attending.  Puzzled, I asked her what exactly that meant.  Apparently for the last year or so, ever since I entered the non-profit world, I've developed a regular style that consists of form-fitting jeans, a t-shirt with a social message (my favorite is a Human Rights Campaign t-shirt with the words "Love conquers hate"), a black or khaki blazer, and knee-high boots.  Good golly, it appears this fashion fraud may have found her own style. And it has a good ring to it: the activist look.  I like it!  Turns out when you finally stop pretending to be something you're not, you actually end up feeling like you fit in more than ever.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Be Cool, Stay in School.....or Go to a Basketball Game

Act #74:  Be an advocate for your child's education.

Congratulations to Madison Central High School 2013 KHSAA State Champions!  I mean that.  Now that we've gotten that out of the way, no one has to question the sincerity of my praise for the outstanding accomplishments of my husband's alma mater and my niece's future high school.  As a 17-year resident of Kentucky, I get it.  I really do.  I've had no choice but to come to accept, even celebrate the value of basketball in the Bluegrass state. I understand how team sports can contribute to wellness, character building, development of leadership and team, and the societal transmission of values and norms that create an atmosphere of social harmony, aka team spirit. Go Big Blue!  Or in this case, Indians Inspire (the text seen on MCHS's home webpage).  We'll save questionable athletic team names and logos for a future blog.   But when the local school board cancelled not one, but two entire school days last week to allow the masses to attend the boy's state championship tournament, I had to ask myself, have we gone too far in the manner that we elevate the status of athleticism, particularly in our public schools?  In a world where our youth will be inheriting a host of complex social issues rooted in systemic injustice and inequality, what messages are we sending when we are willing to pull our children out of school in order to encourage them to attend a basketball game?

Not all sports are created equally.
The Kentucky High School Athletic Association oversees 16 sports that include archery, bass fishing, soccer, and golf.  I can't be for sure, but I have my doubts that entire school systems would be shut down if a local team made it to the bass fishing state finals.  If the goal of high school atheletics is indeed to promote sportsmanship and character building, shouldn't all 16 teams be provided with equal attention, resources, and time?

Brawn before brains.
This year students from the same school competed and won at the regional Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) Conference, received awards at the Future Health Professionals (HOSA) state competition, qualified to compete in the state Robotics competition, and brought home awards for scientific achievement at the Wright State University National Invitational.   While I do not claim to know the scheduling of these events, my guess is that even if they took place in the middle of a school day, classes would not be cancelled to permit student participation.

Boys rule.
Last week when the MCHS boys played (and won) in the state tournament, classes for the entire county (that's a total of 10 elementary, 5 middle, and 2 high schools) were cancelled for two days. This week the MCHS girls are playing in the female version of the state tournament, almost 3-hours away (as opposed to the boy's tournament which was about half an hour away), and business is as usual at Madison county schools. While it is true that the girl's tournament games are scheduled in the evenings rather than in the middle of the day like the boy's games, the question remains - why weren't the boy's games also scheduled at a time that wouldn't interfere with regular class schedules?
You either have to play a sport or be a cheerleader to fit in.
As a parent, this is probably the one that bothers me the most.  What if my five year old boy grew up not caring about team sports?  What if he enjoyed playing the fiddle? Being a Boy Scout (another blog entry all together)?  Or what if he simply wanted to read, throw rocks in creeks, play with his dog?   Now think about this, what is his school telling him about societal values when classes are cancelled to allow athletes to compete and to allow the rest of the student body (like him) to attend the game?  What if he didn't play and didn't want to cheer on the team?  Where exactly would he fit in? 

So while I wouldn't dare undermine the positive impact that team sports can have on our society, I do challenge us to think about these inequities that exist in the very fiber of our educational foundations - our public schools - and the daily messages that are being ingrained into our young minds. As parents, if you have an opinion on matters such as these, know that you can and should have meaningful, respectful conversations with your school board and administrators about your child's education.  Or you can send them this blog.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

5 Reasons I'd Date, But Not Marry the New Pope

Act #72:  Celebrate, and continue to believe.

I'm not Catholic and up until yesterday was clueless about the significance of black smoke v. white smoke.  I did however date a Catholic for 4 years in college and attended mass with him pretty regularly, and three of my closest family friends are also Catholic, so I'm not completely ignorant about the faith.  And like the rest of the world, I'm completely and utterly fascinated with the pomp and circumstance, the fact that the rituals that took place yesterday during the election of the new pope, also took place in the exact same manner hundreds of years ago.  Surely that qualifies me enough to have an opinion about the man that is to provide spiritual leadership for 1 billion human beings, including three of my favorite families, right? 

1.  Peace and social justice turn me on.   He was a fixture in the slums in Argentina and he considers social outreach, rather than doctrinal battles, to be the essential business of the church. He chose the name Francis, after Francis of Assisi, the man who renounced his riches to embrace a life of poverty and simplicity to preach a message of joy and peace.

2.  So does humility.  This man takes the bus to work, chooses to live in a tiny apartment, and cooks for himself. When the bishops met, he always sat in the back row.  He smiled during his announcement!

3.  I'd take brains over brawn any day.  Initially trained as a chemist, Bergoglio taught literature, psychology, philosophy and theology before taking over as Buenos Aires archbishop in 1998.

4.  Sunday dinners might be awkward.  Especially since we often times have our best friends over and they are known to hold hands and sometimes give each other pecks on the cheek.  And they are both men.  The new pope has described same-sex marriage as the work of the devil and a "destructive attack on God's plan".  He has also said that gay adoption is a form of discrimination against children.  That might ruin a good meal.

5.  I'm just not handmaid material.   Yeah, this is where it gets a bit iffy.   I just don't think it would work out for us if he expected my role as a woman to be modeled after the Virgin Mary, "a humble handmaid of the Lord."   Oh, and that celibacy thing might get in the way.  And the contraception thing too. 

So I join the world in cautiously welcoming the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church, and it is with great hope that I pray for true spiritual inspiration and leadership for my friends, for 1 billion people that span the globe:

A Queer Prayer for Pope Francis 
With thanksgiving
and hope
I come to you today
Grateful to walk with sisters & brothers
of other tribes
as they celebrate with faithful anticipation
one who accepts the call
as your servant leader
may his ear be inclined
toward your extravagant love
may the hinges of his heart
be oiled with compassion
and swing open
to welcome your ever present spirit
may his hands
reach across borders
geographical and theological
may his spirit
be willing to hear
your still speaking voice
whispered in the dulcet tones
of everlasting grace
may his knees bend
in radical humility
as he prays for your guidance
may his feet take confident
and compassionate steps
toward liberative justice
may his eyes perceive
your beauty
reflected in the faces
of lesbian
and transgender
May he live into his chosen name
and truly regard all
All creation as the mirror of God
and claim love
as the truest of all truths
Oh Lord
May You speak
Through him
May You speak
In spite of him

~ Kimberly Knight

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How to Live on $1.50 a Day

Act #72:  Walk a mile in their shoes.

Do you walk or bike to your office everyday?  Do you pack your lunch, but eat half your sandwich for breakfast, and save the rest for lunch?  Have you considered giving up fresh fruit and bottled water?  Your gym membership?  How about turning off the heat, not wearing your make-up, not using your smart phone or computer?  Giving yourself a daily limit on things like clean water, toilet paper, the length of time you stay in the shower, keep your lights on at night?

Currently, 1.4 billion people live like this every day.  That's 1.4 billion people worldwide who are forced to live on the U.S. equivalent of $1.50 per day, an amount defined by the World Bank as the accepted global figure of extreme poverty.  This amount covers everything from food, health care, housing, transportation and education.  1.4 billion is 4 times the entire population of the U.S.
Live Below the Poverty Line is a campaign that challenges the way we - people in the U.S. - think about poverty.  On April 30th, the campaign will launch its Corporate Challenge Day, a one-day event where companies and organizations across the U.S. show support in raising awareness and funding to end extreme poverty by living on $1.50 that day.
For one work day, employees of participating companies and organizations will live on $1.50, while fundraising and supporting one of 11 charities with missions to eliminate poverty.
Join me in signing your office up for this opportunity to demonstrate corporate social responsibility and to see what it's like for 1.4 billion people every day.  

1. Talk to your work family and sign your office up at

2. Have your Corporate Team Coordinator sign-up, set a fundraising goal for the team, and create a team.  By participating in Live Below the Line: Corporate Challenge Day, your company/organization will be featured on various social media platforms. Top fundraising teams will be advertised on and included in press-releases. 

4. Once the Corporate team has been created, you can send your unique team link to your co-workers through social media, and e-mail.
"Poverty is the worst form of violence." ~ Mahatma Gandhi