Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Just a Kansas Mutt

I am just a Kansas mutt.  I mean really, I claim an "Irish" heritage, but back in whatever grade that is that they have you trace your family lineage- I am just a mutt of a bunch of European areas.

It wasn't until I was much older and started filling out demographic forms on a regular basis that I realized how slanted and biased those forms were.  There were boxes for many specific nationalities, sub sets of our American fabric; but for me- Caucasian. How generic. Once this realization hit, I was really torn with a desire to always mark "Other" and write "mutt" or "American Mutt" out to the side.
 I have absolutely no frame of reference for understanding cities where having darker skin can be (and all to often is) dangerous. None. ABSOLUTELY NONE.  In Kansas, life has been for the most part blessed for me. There have been trials and tribulations, but the closest thing I ever experienced to discrimination was "Oh, you live on that side of town."  To be honest, when that was said to me, I didn't have any clue that was a bad thing and totally missed the put down it was intended to be.  I am an avid reader both of fiction and non fiction material.  I have lost myself in the stories of people who looked like me, and people who were profoundly opposite of me.  However, I can never truly understand what it is like to fear the people who are supposed to protect you, to fear walking down the streets of your own neighborhood.  I have never lived that life or walked in those shoes.  I can not speak to that fear, nor can I pass judgement on its legitimacy.

I can however, admit it to myself and those around me that it is okay to not know first hand, but it is ignorant to pretend that it does not exist.  There are LOTS of really great officers of the law out there that work hard to protect everyone.  There are lots of people who are living in a world of misguided fear right now because of the way information is being disseminated and given to the masses.

Here is the cold hard truth from this Kansas mutt's eyes- there are bad people in every race, every religion, in every profession, in every demographic we use to group and measure people.  That is the cold hard reality of life.  However, on the flip side there are also a LOT of really great, wonderful people full of hope, love, kindness, caring, joy, support and comfort.  At some point we have to chose to focus on those people- the majority of people.  We have to stop blaming the small portions of people who make bad decisions, who chose hate and violence.  Each of those individuals never represent ALL of anything.  

Change the rhetoric- change the words!  Words have a power we underestimate, and right now we are letting those words turn us against each other. The words that are doctored for sensationalized headlines and 40 character tweets are turning us into a people who no longer question and challenge the information that is put before us.  Instead of demonizing the people who are trying to bring focus, attention, and change the conversation- shouldn't we be asking why they feel they need to in the first place.  Maybe we should stop and ask ourselves- are we missing something?  I think we just might be.

But what do I know, I am just a Kansas Mutt.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

365 Days of Birthday Shout Outs!

365 Days of Birthday Shout Outs!

"Today's Birthday shout out goes to a girl who set out to put the personal into Facebook, who for 365 days checked to see whose birthday it was and remember something special about each one, me! Here is to another year of being the change you want to see!"

You may have seen my posts this past year and been curious about the sudden motivation behind them.  To be honest, in the last year, the birthday shout outs have been the vast majority of the posts I have made to Facebook.  It has truly been an interesting year and for those wondering I thought I would illuminate the purpose and motivation for this challenge that I took on.

First: I am always humbled and amazed at all the posts of birthday wishes I receive on Facebook.  As I looked through the posts on my birthday I found myself thinking about memories associated with each person but yet how removed we can be from each other on Facebook.  I teach interpersonal communications class and part of what I teach is the loose definition of the word "friend" as it specifically is used by Facebook.  It can be a bit misleading as some of the people we have in our "Friends List" are more acquaintances.  These two things lead me to want to put a bit more "personal" into my Facebook connections as the people in my list were at some point a part of my life and those memories mattered to me.

Second: I am also really bad at remembering birthday's in general.  I am usually aware that it is coming up, or even know when the day is; but, I seemed to get sidetracked and end up forgetting to call, message, post, or mail a card.  Additionally, equality is a big deal to me. I don't like to slight people or leave people out.  So I find it hard to post to one if I don't post to all.  

So this lead me to the following guidelines:
  1. I would post a shout out on my wall for every birthday notification that Facebook gave me.  If there was someone who did not share the birthday info on Facebook, but I knew it was their birthday I would add them in the comments.
  2. Every post had to have a personal element. A reference to the memories and times we shared, or a particular aspect about them that I remembered.

This seemed fair to me and met the goal of trying to put the personal touch back into my Facebook connections.  So on April 1, 2015 I started the challenge.  Wow- I don't think I fully realized what I was getting into.

The first few posts were pretty bland and not well thought out (Sorry April Birthday people). However, as each day passed I got into a rhythm and routine about when I would post and how the post was sort of put together.   It began to get a little easier and was going pretty well.  Then I started to realize- I have a lot of friends on Facebook.  Holy cow! I was posting a birthday shout out almost every day and often there were several people on each day.  It got a little hard to keep coming up with unique hopes and wishes for each of these birthdays, but the personal element- that was always the fun part that kept me going.  See, that was where the unexpected bonus was.

The last year has been rough, and filled with a lot of negativity. Campaigns, bombings, disasters, political drama, and losing people who meant something to me.  Every year has it ups and downs, that is a normal part of life.  In the midst of those moments, I had this crazy birthday challenge I had put myself up to- and it was the bright spot in my days.  Every time I went to see the notifications list, I had to stop and think about where each of these unique souls fit in my life. How do I know them? What was our time together like? What makes them great, unique, wonderful people?  Each time, memories of laughter, smiles, adventures, school, activities, trips came flooding back to me.  It would lift my soul and remind me of all the good in my life and in this world.  

I really hoped that each post meant something to the person I was sending wishes to, but in the process I found it meant so much to me as well.  This past year was my 40th year of life, and in that time I have made a lot of memories with a lot of really wonderful people over the years.  When I started this almost a year ago, that reality of 40 years on earth had not yet quite set in, but life has a way of pushing you to do the things you don't yet fully understand.  It really has been a wonderful year of remembering the life that has been lived and hoping for the life yet to come.

The hard reality that is beginning to set in is that I can not keep this up.  As much as I would love to and as wonderful as it has been, it is hard to come up with the right words (and there were several times this year where the words were not so great).  I am also going to try to back off of Facebook for the next year- removing the phone app so it is not so "easy" to access when I am bored or need distraction.  This next year I am hoping to focus on what is here, what is now, and what is meaningful in my life.  

In other words, please don't be sad when new "Birthday Shout Outs" no longer appear on your timeline.  I am still going to be thinking of each of you on your special days- because I am very happy that you are a part of this world and that you were at some point a part of my life! However, I am only human and I must admit to some limitations; so next year I must scale back and adapt to what is more manageable!  Love and hugs to all and thanks for 365 days of memories from 4 decades of life!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Elephant in the Room

I want to address an elephant in the room, an elephant that for some can be so massive it squeezes the breath from your chest and takes any words you might want to say.  This elephant is "death".

As creatures on this earth, and especially in this current society, we often act like we will go on continuously for an indeterminate amount of time.  Almost as if we truly believe that death will never come for us, or even if we know that death will come, that it is so far removed we need not think or address the issue.  However, in the back of our mind, in the furthest recess of our conscious thought, we know that death will come and can come around any corner at any moment.

The reason I want to address this issue is because death has come knocking on doors that were close to me and now that I am older, I find myself in positions in which I must deal with death differently.  Not the emotional, grieving, welling of sadness part that we all have to deal with at various times.  That is an experience that we will all have, even several times, in our life.  No, this is the other part, the logistical part, the decision making part.

We avoid these conversations with our loved ones because the thought that some day they will no longer be in our lives is difficult to think of. We avoid it because it is hard to have these conversations. I say to you now- be brave and start these conversations while you can still have them.  I say this because if you do not, then you find yourself in a position where your grief is compounded by doubt in our attempts to honor those loved ones who are gone.

It is our responsibility, our duty to our loved ones to ease the process of dealing with death.  Our loved ones should be able to focus on their grief and deal with that.  However, if we have not had those conversations about our wishes of how we want the end of our life to be handled then we are setting up our loved ones for additional pain, and anguish as they try to figure out what we would want.  We often don't even think to have these conversations until there is a medical situation where doctors tell us that it is just a matter of time, and often then our loved ones are no longer able to have those conversations about death with us.

It will not be an easy conversation to start or have but it is one that is important and can be very meaningful.  It is true, that even if we openly have these conversations with our loved ones there can still arise situations that we could never have foreseen or even imagined. However, by at least having had some discussion about our loved ones wishes, we will have a better informed idea of what they would most likely want in those scenarios we could not foresee.

These are just some general things that I have come to realize it would be good to know about my loved ones and "death".  I offer them up here in the hopes that you might find some helpful places to start these conversations with your loved ones. This is not a definitive list, but rather a good place to start.

The Funeral aspect:
Preferred funeral home? Have you already made some arrangements?
           Burial or Cremation?  Type of casket or urn?
Obituary- Who should write it?
           What should it cover? Where would you like it published (which papers)?
What kind of services would you want for your funeral?
       Music, Sermons, bible passages, friends or family to speak, church?
       Outfit you would like to wear? Pictures Displayed? Flowers?
        Memorial contributions?
Where would you like your final resting place to be?
        Cemetery? Do you have a plot already? Scattered Ashes? Headstone style and what would you
         like on it?

These are all things that your loved ones will have to decide on when you are gone.  Some may seem silly details, but you would not believe how agonizing even just choosing a burial outfit can be for your loved ones in that moment. There are also some other things to consider discussing if you feel that you can.  These are in many ways more difficult questions but in some cases easier to discuss.

End of Life Questions:
Medical decisions- who should make these if you are unable to do so?
         Life Support? Heroic medical measures? Surgeries? Organ Donation?
Care Decisions-  who should make these decisions and how will the financial part be handled?
         Preferred nursing homes? In home care?

Most of our financial and logistical aspects of our lives after we are gone is handled through legal aspects like wills and laws that regulate division of money/property after death.  While these aspects can still be difficult (especially if there is no will left by the deceased) there are clearer guidelines for these things and they typically aren't handled until sometime has passed after the death.  That means that when we are dealing with those aspects we often have had some time to actually grieve.  

Death is a natural part of life that we all will eventually deal with.  Shouldn't we strive to allow our families, friends and loved ones to focus on their grief of our loss rather than having to guess on the logistics we would prefer but we never told them about.  This is not a conversation to be put off, but if you just can't bring yourself to sit down and talk about it, then write out your wishes.  Write a letter or a list of details, print it out if you type it and put it in a sealed envelope addressed to the person or people who will be dealing with these things.  Give them the envelope and tell them what is inside.  Then they at least have the information; if they read it then, they can still ask you questions to clarify or expand their knowledge, but if they don't feel they can read it then, they at least can know that they have a guideline about your wishes.

DO NOT PUT THIS OFF. This is time well spent and it is important. Have this conversation with your loved ones. Sit down and write out your thoughts.  Do it now while you are of sound mind and body.  Death will eventually come for each of us, but rarely do any of us know exactly when that may be which is why this can be such a hard thing to discuss.  However, it will come and we know it; so it is important that we get over our fear and help our loved ones so that when the time comes it will not cause our loved ones anymore strife or pain than it has to.  I think that is what makes this so important and worthwhile.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Dress Code Affair

The Dress Code Affair
Every fall when students return to school there is a brief period where they must learn the rules for the new school year.  Often these rules are spelled out in a handbook that is given to students on the first day and then the highlights are glossed over by the teachers that are trying to get through the first day rituals and requirements.  All of these handbooks typically have a dress code policy.  Yet, every spring, as the weather begins to warm, the trending stories on social media and “news” websites focuses on horrible dress code violation stories.  As a former high school teacher who often enforced the dress code, much to the dismay of my students and some parents; and as a Speech and Communications teacher I feel like the internet is letting this debate get out of control and way off point. 
So, let me break this down for students, parents, teachers and administrators to hopefully help mitigate future issues that are wholly unnecessary.
Section 1: The Written Policy
If the school has a written dress code policy that is given to parents and students at the start of the year, this is the rule that is expected to be followed; Period.
-          The faculty and staff of the institution are responsible for enforcing this rule, and yes there is the reality that not everyone will be caught.  Just like when we speed as we are driving, we may not all get caught but when we do- still have to face the consequences.
-          If someone chooses to make the conscious choice to violate this rule; because yes, when you put on that inappropriate t-shirt, or outfit that doesn’t fit the dress code you know it; then one must accept the consequences of that choice. If you make decisions in life to violate a rule, then you must accept that there are possible consequences of breaking that rule. This is true in all areas of life.
Section 2: The Process of the Consequence
When authoritative figures are enforcing a rule it is important to consider how comments are phrased, but they are humans and sometimes misspeak.
-          When an authoritative figure is enforcing any rule violation they need to carefully phrase comments and explanations.  Often times, policies have been in place long before the people enforcing them have begun working there. It is important to know “why” the rule exists.
-          In the course of explaining discipline decisions, the focus should be the following:
o   The Policy or rule as it is written- did the violator know about this rule
o   That this policy/rule was not met and these are the consequences.
-          That is it.  No explanation or reasoning is needed beyond this.  Most of the stories that appear become huge media circuses because of comments that went beyond these two simple things and waded into the “why” which was clearly not understood. So, continue reading if you also don’t know why.
Section 3: Why dress codes exist
Dress codes exist for a variety of reasons, mostly having to do with health, safety, and equality. Additionally, they exists in schools to also prepare you for expectations found in workplaces.
-          Much to the dismay of many, there are real reason to have dress codes that do not have to do with body shaming or rampant teenage hormones. 
-          Health and Safety: Clothing is a barrier to the elements we encounter in this world.  We adjust our clothing to protect our bodies.  Although the focus may be on fashion during our youthful years, eventually it is soon learned that staying healthy may trump “looking cute”.  Many schools have heating/cooling systems that are unpredictable and clothing is the front line of dealing with those vast temperature changes. Certain classes may require students to work with machinery that requires protective clothing minimums.  As for the bare legs issue- often wood seats become cracked and splintered; plastic chairs often have loose screws and cracks as well. The length of pants, shorts, dresses, skirts is designed to make sure that your body is protected from these factors.
-          Equality: Good rules and policies are designed to allow an equality in their enforcement.  Now, the reality is that dress codes are always going to have some gender disparity simply because they are different.  However, if a boy were to wear a dress to school, they would be expected to follow the same rules as girls. 
o   “The Finger Tip Rule”: here is the big secret that shockingly many who must enforce dress codes do not know. The fingertip rule exists because it is an equal measurement across the board!  No matter what height, build or body type you are, there will be approximately 6” of space between you fingertip and knee cap when you stand in a natural body position with hands at your sides.  Don’t believe me- test it. Grab your friends, break out a ruler and see for yourself.
-          Workplace:  Often we forget that school is, in essence, a training ground for your future professional lives.  From the age of 5 till 18 (traditionally) school is your job.  You are learning lessons that are not found in books like attendance, showing up on time, communicating with peers and superiors appropriately, and how to meet expectations.  These lessons are just as important as the material you are expected to learn.  Although social expectations change, there will still always be workplace specific expectations.  You will be expected to dress in a manner that is appropriate for the specific workplace setting of the profession you enter.  In school a violation is met with minor consequences compared to violations in a workplace which may be met with being fired and losing your income.

Section 4: It shouldn’t matter what I wear
Regardless of what we want to believe, or want the world to be like; the truth is we all know that what we wear communicates to others and does matter.
-          In a perfect world, it wouldn’t matter what we wear- but then we would all most likely wear the exact same thing with no variation, because it wouldn’t matter.
-          The truth is we all know that it matters- every single one of us.  If it didn’t then we wouldn’t spend time thinking about the “perfect” outfit for the first day of school/ work. Brides wouldn’t spend hours searching for a wedding dress. T-shirts would never be made or bought that shout what we like, what groups we belong to, or where we went on vacation.
-          Even when someone says “I don’t care what I wear” they actually do, because they are trying to communicate that they do not care about what is fashionable, trendy, or cool which is also a message.
-          What we wear communicates a lot of things to the world around us but at the very minimum it communicates these three distinctive things.
o   Our interest, preferences, hobbies, and inclinations
o   How we feel about others, the occasion/ event, or the situation we are in
o   How we feel about ourselves

So there it is. The things I wish everyone knew about dress codes, and so I am putting it out there into the world.  I hope that if you are a student, a parent or in education you now understand how to navigate this tricky realm without putting down, body shaming, or missing the point of the rule.  When I was a teacher, I too misspoke and ended up hurting a student’s feelings which I never intended to do.  However, it does become frustrating when you are portrayed as the “bad guy” for doing your job.  No one wants to be a bad guy, but good teachers know that rules have to be enforced or there is no point to having the rule at all, which is a slippery slope.
Additionally, if you come across one of these hyped up media stories about dress code horrors- remember the two following things:
                1.) If the students violated a written policy that they were aware of; that was their choice and they must face the consequences of that choice.
                2.) If the authoritative figure made some kind of inappropriate commentary in the course of enforcing the policy, then that is not good- but it is an entirely separate issue that does not detract from the original violation.  
While these things are connected, neither cancels or supersedes the other.  The second one should be dealt with by the authoritative figures above them (their bosses) and ideally that would involve some conflict communication and phrasing education.

Just my two cents, feel free to disagree because that is the spice of life. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

And now... I am bald

So here we are, a little over six weeks after I began the St. Baldrick's journey.  Six weeks ago I looked like this:

Now I look like this:
 Photo Credit: J. Greg Jordan

So what was it like- in a word- AMAZING!  This has been one of the best decisions and experiences of my life.  As a theater kid, making drastic changes to my appearances was par for course.  The shaving of my head really wasn't too much of a worry for me.  The part that moved my emotions in crazy, unpredictable ways came from the fundraising and support.  In the course of six weeks I had originally thought that raising $1000 would take work and effort.  I set out a fundraising plan to get me there:

Step one: Put it out on social media- what I am doing, why I am doing it, how you can help through posts and pictures
Step Two: Let the places I work know what I am doing, why I am doing it, how they can help by putting out information and donation jars
Step Three: Let my community know what I am doing, why I am doing it, how they can help by hanging up fliers around town
Step Four: Let local business professionals know what I am doing, why I am doing it, how they can help through hand written letters with information included to spread the word 

This seemed like a solid plan for the six week period to get to that $1000 total.

However, I hit that total after step one and two, within one week!  This was a humbling moment for me because people are asked to support a lot of great causes, and it is sometimes hard to support even the ones you really want to. Money is tight sometimes but in the course of one week- my friends and family showed amazing generosity that left me floored.  I couldn't stop though- I still had two steps to go in my fundraising plan.  So I kept going.

I raised my goal total on my online profile to $2500 but secretly thought "What if I could get matching funds from the business professionals and hit $5000?"  So, when I sent out my letters that is what I expressed to all those awesome local business people I know.  Everyday I inched closer and closer.  Patrons at the pub where I worked continued supporting me each day.  Family and friends gave what they could.

When the big day finally arrived, I totaled up where I was at with donations and it came to just over $4000.  Tears filled my eyes as I stood in front of a huge crowd of family, friends, patrons and community members and announced my estimated total.  The things that move me is how in a world full of so much negativity, the people I am lucky enough to have in my life can be filled with so much hope, love, support, kindness and generosity.  This is what brings tears to my eyes, even now as write this.  I am very, very lucky to have all of these very special and supportive souls in my life!

So then I sat down in the chair.  The stylist banded the 21 inches of hair that would be mailed off to "Wigs for Kids" (this company works specifically with kids who are suffering from hair loss for a variety of reason but especially those undergoing cancer treatment).  Then the shaving began, and that was a very interesting feeling.  The razors buzzed back and forth across my scalp. There were no mirrors except for all of the faces of my family and friends watching and cheering as my hair slowly came away from my scalp.  It was intense and absolutely full of joy!  Pictures and videos recorded the whirlwind that I still have not fully processed as the stylist finished and I stood up on the chair to shout "BALD IS BEAUTIFUL!"  The stylist then handed me those long locks and I held them high beside my now bald head. Exhilarating!
(Photo credits: Emporia Gazette and Cathy Gilligan)


Then, after I thought it was all done- it wasn't.  Suddenly there was a donation cup full of money in my hand. My father with tears in the corners of his eyes was pressing money into the palm of my hand as he hugged me. As I went around town with friends, it seemed everyone I hadn't seen yet was handing me a few more dollars.  Then when the day was winding down and my tired bones were ready to call it a night, I logged into my online donation profile to see that there had been several more donations over the course of the day.  I was just under or right at the pie in the sky; hardly hoped for; wanted to hit but didn't think I actually would total of $5000.  I went to sleep that night with tears in my eyes- not because I was missing my long hair- but because I was overcome with humbleness from the support of my family, my friends (both near and far), and my amazing community that rallies for a cause in a way that moves me.   I AM SO LUCKY!

This was by far one of the best things I have ever done.   It reminded me how lucky I am that I have the "CHOICE" to do this when so many others do not.  Losing hair is one of the many side effects of treatments for cancer- there has to be a better way.  Though I will say, hair is not what makes us beautiful.  All day people were telling me how beautiful I look, how my eyes pop, how much more distinctive my features seem now.   Hair is just a feature, a feature that will grow back eventually for me.  What makes us beautiful is that light inside of us that radiates through our eyes, and our faces, our nonverbal signals that tell the world the each of us is special in our own unique way when you look past those exterior features. SO WORTH IT!

The money raised at this event, along with the money raised at several other similar events around the country has already raised over $18 million this year that will go to the best, most promising research.  Someday- it will make a difference for families with children who just want to be kids but instead must battle cancer.  That matters. That matters to me. So I thank you for reading about this, because now you know more and can spread the word for next year or maybe even sign up to shave your head by choice- because bald is beautiful!


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Humbled and Amazed

In the continuation of my blogging for a cause series, I have to share the overwhelming feelings that have surged this week.

When I initially signed up to #Bravetheshave for St. Baldrick's I had to set a fundraising goal.  When I chose this number I thought carefully about what I thought I could raise, what the people I know would be able to donate and I decided on $1000.  I thought that this would be a difficult number to reach, that it would take me the 6 weeks to get there; then I reached that goal in one week!

Humbled, that was the overwhelming feeling inside of me that I was connected to so many generous souls that made my goal a reality in only one week.  At that moment I could have simply stopped, and been complacent with reaching that starting goal.  However, this is a cause that I believe in and if I could raise that much in one week... how much could I raise in the remaining five.  So I raised the goal and started working towards making a bigger impact, to make the golden locks on my head that will be shaved on March 14th worth more.  So now I am reaching out, reaching further to raise more money for this worthy cause.  Won't you be a part of this journey?  Even a few dollars can make a difference!

Visit www.stbaldricks.org to find an event near you or

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Blogging for a cause!


So last night at my job as I was trying to encourage people to donate, one person was asking me for some details about the event and why I was doing this particular event.  I explained the fact that I can't give as generously as I would like to the various charities I support, that I am not the most athletic minded person in the world so it is hard to find events that I can participate in, but that this event allows me to do something in a way that fits my personality.  They then asked why this charity matters and I  said,

"There are far too many names to list of people in my life that have fought, are fighting, or lost the fight with cancer. I truly believe that any breakthroughs on cancer research at any level will lead to breakthroughs with all types of cancer."

Then they expressed that, if I was going to shave my head they wanted it to be worth while and asked what my donation goal was.  I told them $1000 and they said the most amazing thing in return... "If you reach that goal, let me know and I will match the funds."

Tears! I kid you not, there at work, tears sprung to my eyes that this effort could be even greater, at the generosity of those who have the means to be generous, and that in just one week I feel like I am doing something so important and meaningful!

Right now I am at 33% of my goal after the first week and I have 5 more to go!  Let's DO this!