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365 Reasons to Smile – Day 63

I was once told that members of Generation X don’t have any heroes.

The explanation as to why makes sense.To_Kill_a_Mockingbird

We are the first generation that experienced the real-time exposure and humiliation of preachers (Jim Baker) and politicians (Gary Hart).

We are the first generation that experienced around the clock media scrutiny, the paparazzi and the loss of privacy.

But I disagree that we don’t have heroes. Our heroes are just different.

My heroes are the women who fought for equal rights. My heroes are the women who shared their own struggles and believed in me. And my heroes are the women who cared more about the needs of others more than their own needs.

I am incredibly fortunate that I personally knew many of these women.

I am also fortunate that others wrote books.

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those books.

Harper Lee never wrote another because she never had to.

She said everything that needed to be said in To Kill a Mockingbird, and each time you read it, you discover a new truth.

Her one masterpiece always makes me smile.

Day 63: To Kill a Mockingbird   Day 62: Green Lights Day 61:  My Canine Friends  Day 60:  Differences   Day 59:  A New Box of Crayons   Day 58: Bookworms  Day 57: Being Oblivious   Day 56: Three-day Weekends  Day 55:  A Cat Purring  Day 54: Being a Unique Individual   Day 53: Children’s Artwork  Day 52: Lefties  Day 51: The Neighborhood Deer   Day 50: Campfires  Day 49: Childhood Crushes  Day  48: The Words “Miss You”  Day 47:  Birthday Stories   Day 46: Nature’s Hold on Us  Day 45:  Play-Doh   Day 44: First Day of School Pictures  Day 43: Calvin and Hobbes  Day 42: Appreciative Readers  Day 41: Marilyn Monroe’s Best Quote   Day 40:  Being Silly  Day 39:  Being Happy Exactly Where You Are  Day 38: Proud Grandparents  Day 37: Chocolate Chip Cookies   Day 36: Challenging Experiences that Make Great Stories  Day 35: You Can’t Always Get What You Want  Day 34:  Accepting the Fog    Day 33: I See the Moon  Day 32: The Stonehenge Scene from This is Spinal Tap  Day 31: Perspective  Day 30:  Unlikely Friendships  Day 29: Good Samaritans  Day 28:  Am I a Man or Am I a Muppet?    Day 27: Shadows  Day 26: Bike Riding on Country Roads  Day 25: When Harry Met Sally  Day 24: Hibiscus   Day 23: The Ice Cream Truck  Day 22:  The Wonderful World of Disney   Day 21: Puppy love  Day 20 Personal Theme Songs     Day 19:  Summer Clouds  Day 18: Bartholomew Cubbin’s Victory Day 17:  A Royal Birth    Day 16:  Creative Kids Day 15: The Scent of Honeysuckle   Day 14: Clip of Kevin Kline Exploring His Masculinity Day 13: Random Text Messages from My Daughter     Day 12:  Round Bales of Hay Day 11:  Water Fountains for Dogs    Day 10: The Rainier Beer Motorcycle Commercial Day 9: Four-Leaf Clovers  Day 8: Great Teachers We Still Remember Day  7:  Finding the missing sock   Day 6:  Children’s books that teach life-long lessons Day 5: The Perfect Photo at the Perfect Moment     Day 4:  Jumping in Puddles   Day 3: The Ride Downhill after the Struggle Uphill    Day 2: Old Photographs Day 1: The Martians on Sesame Street

The Rainbow Connection

June 29, 2013 Rainbow

June 29, 2013 Rainbow

Last night, I enjoyed the most beautiful and perfect rainbow I have ever seen.

It arrived exactly on the anniversary of last year’s June 29 derecho, the scariest storm I’ve ever experienced.

Ironically, the events of both evenings were similar.

Last year, I was supervising my daughter and her best friend as they swam. Last night, I was at a pool party where my daughter and her best friend were once again swimming. doublerainbowAnd, last night, just like the year before, a sudden and unexpected storm blew in.

Unlike last year’s storm, which brought fallen trees, downed power lines and electrical outages, last night’s storm brought the perfect rainbow, and for a few minutes, a double rainbow.

It also brought a reminder.

Sometimes, the only thing we get from weathering life’s storms is the strength we find in our struggles. But sometimes we get a brief glimpse at all the beauty and hope that the world offers.

Standing in awe of nature last night, I was also reminded that in addition to symbolizing promise, the rainbow also symbolizes diversity and inclusiveness.

Not only did the rainbow shine bright on the anniversary of the derecho, it also served as the ending punctuation mark on a historical week.

On Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court delivered a victory for gay rights. It ruled that married same-sex couples were entitled to federal benefits and effectively allowed same-sex marriages in California.

The fight for equality may not be over, but those decisions, like the rainbows, hold promise.

Thinking of that, a song from my childhood has been stuck in my head all day. Unlike some songs, which can be rather annoying, “The Rainbow Connection” from The Muppet Movie is simply making me smile.

The Rainbow Connection by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher

Why are there so many songs about rainbows
and what’s on the other side?
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions,
and rainbows have nothing to hide.
So we’ve been told and some choose to believe it.
I know they’re wrong, wait and see.
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

Who said that every wish would be heard
and answered when wished on the morning star?
Somebody thought of that and someone believed it.
Look what it’s done so far.
 What’s so amazing that keeps us star gazing
and what do we think we might see?
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

All of us under its spell. We know that it’s probably magic.

Have you been half asleep and have you heard voices?
I’ve heard them calling my name.
Is this the sweet sound that called the young sailors.
The voice might be one and the same.
I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it.
It’s something that I’m supposed to be.
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

The Boy Scouts Are Misinterpreting the Meaning of Moral

Last year, a fourth grade teacher at my daughter’s intermediate school was arrested for soliciting a 13 year-old girl (or so he thought) online.

Also last year, a teacher at my son’s middle school was arrested for child abuse and identity theft. Two weeks ago, she pleaded guilty to the identify theft, but she is still awaiting trial on 11 counts of child abuse.

Other than the fact that both were teachers in Berkeley County Schools and neither is gay, I don’t think the two have much in common. Yet, they were both engaged in immoral activity because their behavior was harmful. They used their power to hurt, control or take advantage of others, which I think most people would agree is anything but moral. The definition isn’t that fuzzy, at least I’ve never thought it was.

Unfortunately, some people are trying to redefine the meaning in order to fit their own narrow and bigoted views.

This week, the Boy Scouts postponed a decision to “sort of” lift its ban on anyone who is openly gay. I say “sort of” because the potential policy change would simply allow local organizations make their own decisions.

Photo/Richard Rodriguez)            NYTCREDIT: Richard W. Rodriguez/Associated Press

Photo/Richard Rodriguez) NYTCREDIT: Richard W. Rodriguez/Associated Press

I was reading about the situation in the New York Times. While the content of the article bothered me, I was even more disturbed by the accompanying photo, which showed scouts and their parents holding signs that proclaimed “Keep Scouts Moral and Straight.”There was so much wrong with that photo, and I felt sorry for the young boys who are obviously being taught that discrimination is appropriate.

My kids are taught that discrimination is immoral:

Moral people don’t exclude but instead include.

Moral people don’t make broad judgments but instead ensure that every individual is given respect.

And moral people don’t define others by who they choose to love but rather by how they treat others.

Rex C. Curry for The New York Times

Rex C. Curry for The New York Times

Just as important, national organizations that demonstrate moral leadership don’t waffle on potentially controversial issues and, instead of taking a stand, cower by relinquishing their decision-making authority to locals.

Even more importantly, they don’t bow to bigots who make unsubstantiated and untrue generalizations about any group of people. Yet, the decision to delay a decision on the ban on gays came after rallies like the one at the Boy Scout headquarters in Irvine, Texas where protesters claimed that prohibiting gay membership equates to protecting their children.

After the incidents last year at my children’s schools, no one rallied with signs asking the school system to protect my children.

But maybe that’s because there’s no organized effort to rally against straight people who commit immoral acts. But maybe there should be.  After all,  I’m pretty sure statistics would show that’s where the real “danger’ lies.

My File Cabinets Full of Men

 I completely appreciate why the internet is buzzing about Governor Romney’s claim during Tuesday’s presidential debate that he had “binders full of women.”  But there’s also a part of me that identifies with his statement.

I, after all, have file cabinets full of men.

While Romney said he used the binders to identify qualified candidates for key positions in state government, my file cabinets serve an entirely different purpose.

I use them to store reminders of all the men that are NOT qualified to be in any part of my life.

I started my first file when I was a young girl and a boy told me that men were more important than women because they got to keep their last names when they got married. I was devastated, but I was also angry. As a result, that boy had the honor of being the first male I ever put in a file cabinet.

Over the decades, I’ve filled several file cabinets with men. Some of the most memorable include:

*  The minister who insisted my friend keep the word “obey” in her wedding vows.

*  The agency director who tried to prevent me from getting a management position because I breastfed my baby during a meeting that I graciously attended while on maternity leave.

* The community leader who always referred to me by using my husband’s last name, even though he knew I had never changed mine.

*  The manager who issued a dress code that all female employees must wear pantyhose with skirts or dresses.  (For the record, the dress code was issued during the summer when I was eight months pregnant.)

*  The nonprofit executive who, with a staff of all women, refused to let mothers take sick leave when a child was ill or had a doctor’s appointment. At that time, we were all granted a set number of days for both vacation and sick leave, but vacation was much more limited. The director’s exact words were, “letting mothers take sick leave for their children isn’t fair to the employees who don’t have children.”

* The supervisor who blatantly promoted young, attractive females over more qualified, middle-aged women.

I’ve recently been considering adding another man to my file cabinets. While this man claims to support women, he’s never demonstrated any real understanding of the often life-long battle many of us have faced. He’s skirted around the issues of equal pay for equal work and reproductive rights. And even when he tries to express his appreciation about the need for equality in the workplace, he falls short by indicating that women don’t want to work long hours because they have to go home and fix dinner.

Yes, this week I’m definitely thinking about adding that man to my file cabinets. I’m just not sure if his binders will fit too.

People Are Not Measuring Devices

I’ve been feeling rather sorry for Condoleezza Rice lately, and my sympathy has nothing to do with the fact that she will be forever associated with the George W. Bush administration.

I feel sorry for her because so many people want to turn her into a measuring device.

After her speech this past Wednesday at the Republican National Convention, the rhetoric started:

“How can the Democrats claim there is a war on women? Condoleezza Rice proves that’s just propaganda manufactured by liberals who are pandering for women’s votes.”

“Condoleezza Rice demonstrates that any woman can succeed if, instead of relying on the government, she just applies herself.”

While I take issue with those statements, I have no problem with the woman who inspired them. I admire Condoleezza Rice. She’s a smart, accomplished and successful woman. Even though I may not always agree with her politics, I do believe she is a fantastic role model for young woman across our nation.

I just don’t believe that she’s a yardstick .

The notion that all women should measure themselves against Condoleezza Rice, or any other woman, is ridiculous and damaging.

I’ve spent most of my life trying to break my innate tendency to compare myself to other women. I’ve compared my looks, my body, my talents, my personality, my lifestyle and my parenting skills to others. Instead of embracing my unique blend of strengths, weaknesses, quirks and experiences, I simply saw my flaws and failures. I don’t want that for my daughter or for any other female. And I don’t want them to judge women who don’t possess the talent, intelligence or opportunities to achieve what others may define as success.

Yet they are hearing that, because some women have reached the top, all others have to do is simply “try harder.”

That was certainly the message from those who opposed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

If only working hard were a guarantee of an adequate paycheck and the appropriate recognition. In reality, the workplace is a harsh and very unfair place. I’ve worked hard only to watch those who didn’t zoom right by me. I’ve seen pretty women take advantage of their assets and maneuver their way past others into better jobs and higher paychecks. And I’ve seen the “good old boy” network benefit those who already had the advantage.

While great strides have been made for women in the workplace, the dollars still tell the story.  In 2010, the U.S. Census American Factfinder indicates that 17.9% of families with children were living below the poverty level. That number jumped to 39.6 for families with a female head of household.  Despite the increase in the number of men who are taking on active parenting and caregiving roles, nothing will ever change the fact that women are the ones who get pregnant and give birth.  And now, their ability to even make decisions about that has been under fire by people such as Missouri Congressman Todd Akin, who doesn’t even understand the biology of  conception.

Condoleezza Rice has never married nor had children. I have no idea–nor is it any of my business– whether this was a conscious decision or just the result of the many choices she made throughout her life. I do know that she never had to make arrangements for child care, leave work early to pick  up her child  at school or  miss important meetings when a child was sick.

And I’ve never heard anyone claim that she was an underachiever or compare her to women who have careers and children.

But maybe that’s because some yardsticks are defective and only measure what the user wants them to show.

The Art of the Silent Blog

The art of silence has always eluded me.

For some people, a lack of words seems profound and noble.  For me, a lack of words is simply awkward and frustrating. For the most part, silence has always been just beyond my reach, ability and even my belief system.

Even though I understand that silence is often a sign of respect, I also know that silence can do more damage and cut deeper than the harshest words.

I’m not alone.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”  He also said,  “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Even the dictionary validates my belief that silence isn’t always golden. While the simple definition is “the absence of sound or noise,” the more complicated definition is “the absence or omission of mention, comment, or expressed concern.”

I’ve straddled and struggled with both definitions my entire life. My battle has less to do with my tendency to talk and more to do with my overwhelming need to call attention to injustice, wrongdoing and inappropriate, self-serving behavior.

I’ve been witnessing a great deal of such behavior recently. Yet, for the most part, I’ve remained silent. Even when people have asked if I’m going to write a blog about certain situations, I’ve said, “No, that’s not my role or responsibility.” Besides, my words could easily be misinterpreted as angry and bitter rather than caring and concerned. So I have decided my silence might be more powerful than words.

And so, the silence continues. This change in tactics is also teaching me a new art form: the silent blog.

I  think this one says a lot.

Silence is argument carried out by other means.   Che Guevar

A Country Road, a Locked Gate and Barriers to Endless Possibilities

I can be pretty slow at times, especially when I ride my bike.  But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  As the only person actually peddling on a road where others are simply pushing a gas pedal, I notice a lot.

For the past couple years, I’ve been regularly riding on a country road that gives me a great deal to think about: 

A plowed cornfield with only one stalk left standing;

A barn with what appears to be an old American flag I can’t identify;

And a gate that, for all I can tell,  is completely ineffective.

The gate crosses a gravel road that runs between two fields.  Until this week, green stalks of corn filled one of the fields, while the other had no discernible crop. This week, both were plowed. So the road now runs, and eventually dead ends, between two muddy, empty fields.

Other than providing farm workers easy access to the fields, the road doesn’t serve much purpose. It certainly doesn’t lead anywhere interesting or provide enough privacy to be a lovers’ lane. Because of that, the importance of  a locked gate with a fading private property sign eludes me.  Since there is no fence on either side, the gate isn’t really preventing anyone from simply driving around it.

After passing the gate day after day, I finally took a picture and posted it on Facebook with a question about its purpose.  I got a variety of responses ranging from people who took the question seriously to those who didn’t.

The general consensus was that there had probably  been fences around the fields at some point.  When they were torn down, the gate stayed to mark private property.

While this concept still puzzles me, it also reminds me of human behavior in general:  we often tear down fences but leave gates standing.

We say we believe in equal rights and demonstrate this by tearing down barriers for others. Yet we still leave up gates to protect what we believe we earned or deserve and fear others may access or take away.  Sometimes these gates are words. Sometimes they are the policies we support. And sometimes they are even religious beliefs.

But whatever the reason, the gates are there.  And, just liked the locked gate I pass every day on my bike, they provide a false sense of security for some and serve as a challenge for others.

At times, I know I’ve protected my own gates. But the rebel in me also spends a lot of time thinking about how to get around gates.  And I admit, there have been many times when riding my bike on the country road, I’ve been tempted to ride around the gate. The silliest thing is I would have no desire to ride on the gravel road if the gate weren’t there. I certainly don’t want to cause any problems or do any damage.

But then, I don’t think people who are seeking greater opportunities have any desire to trample on the achievements of others. They just know the possibilities would be endless if they weren’t constantly slowed down by so many locked gates.