Sunday, November 30, 2008

Human interaction

My mother is always consoling herself by saying things like, "Well, it could be worse ..." or "Other people have problems, too." In response, I share a lesson I learned a long time ago: "Don't minimize your problems - we each have our own reality to deal with." Kudos to a very wise therapist as this has stuck with me and, combined with the bits and pieces I've assembled to form my own conclusions about religious issues, I've managed to survive in spite of great odds.

I try not to wallow in personal quagmires and avoid being over-confident because karma has a way of kicking my ass hard when I stray too far from center ground. Perhaps my spirituality is so well-grounded because there is no possible explanation for the cosmic messages I receive on a regular and direct basis.

Some folks ask "why" things happen or assume they are a magnet for bad luck. When someone rich and famous gives sincere thanks, I smile and believe they are blessed for a reason. (I should add here, the ever popular Oscar reward response of "I'd like to thank God and my parents" is worn out and has lost meaning from over-use.) Yet, one person's blessings doesn't mean another is chosen for strife. Of course, being thankful doesn't mean you'll be showered continually with abundance. Everything happens for a reason and while we may not always understand those reasons, recognizing that living is better as a verb than a noun, better as a means than a goal, we give ourselves permission to learn along the way.

When we are buried up to our eyeballs in our own thoughts, work, emotions (insert "personal crap" here) we are blind to how we connect with others. By taking a deep breath, owning our issues and looking to those around us, we find more commonality.

People come and go in our lives for a reason. If we recognize their value, we grow. Sometimes they are around a long time and sometimes they are in a fleeting moment. I've found much relief in losing some of the ones that cause me the most distress and if I don't learn from them, they come back to haunt me in another body. I'm sure many can identify with having the same type-cast boss in different jobs! As much as I know they are there to help me learn some sort of lesson, I find some consolation in the fact that perhaps I can teach them something along the way, too. The entire process is not just how others can help me, but how can I help them, too.

By now, you may be thinking, "Iris, what's your point?"

If you don't relate to what I'm saying, you may not be ready for the point.

And that's okay - ask questions or just come baaaaack another day!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday Fatality

I literally grew up in the land of retail. My father was a drug store manager and my mom usually worked on and off with him. Waaaay back in those days, child labor was a given. Rather than hire a sitter, my parents set me up on a box pricing items when I was 5 years old. By 11, I knew how to run a register, count change and “Paper Moon” was a quick study against flim-flam artists. I didn’t whine and generally enjoyed the feeling of being helpful. Customer service was priority and when on duty, I called dad “Mr. Carter.”
At the same time, I learned how frustrating and aggressive the shopping public can be.
Today’s events at a Long Island Wal-Mart proved to me that shoppers have gotten to a point of literally killing someone over a bargain. Retail work is grueling, underpaid, and thankless. No one appreciates a well-stocked shelf or an uncluttered toy aisle, but the minute an item is off the shelf, John Q. Public is annoyed and griping. Today, some poor clerk got in the way of an obnoxious stampede and people literally trampled him to death. Several others were injured and police were telling folks to back off from the scene.
Is a $15 blender or a $5 Hannah Montana doll worth a person’s life? People have evacuated disaster zones with less chaos. Even the 9/11 Commission reports, “Despite these obstacles, the evacuation was relatively calm and orderly.42
My father used to complain about opening the store doors on sale days, noting the skill it took to unlock the door and literally jump out of harm’s way. Making the challenge more difficult was the store safe that sat by the entrance. When fully opened at a 90-degree angle, the door and its handle touched the safe.
One young clerk wanted to be the one in charge of opening the door for the after-Christmas sale. With persistent begging, dad handed over the keys. The young man strutted up to the door with a self-important gait, unlocked the door and woosh, he was captured between the door and the safe like a specimen under glass. Thankfully he was thin and it gave my dad and other employees a good laugh.
Today, no one laughed when the crowd ripped the doors off the frame and sent a young stock clerk to his holiday grave.
Photo credit: Augustine for News
Published: 11/28/2008 12:03:07

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Holiday Giving

During the holidays, we see more hands out and more hand-outs during the giving season. We are giving thanks, giving gifts and, of course, giving what we can to others.
While all this serves great purpose, there are underlying currents that keep my soul stirred. Too often I see people who use donations as a way to make themselves feel better without any real thought to what their giving means to the recipient. In essence, the donor is giving blindly, patting himself on the back and no further thought is given to the charity.
Others give as though it were a burden and they are leveling the karma playing field. Squeezing out donations is a painful process for them and, like giving birth to a child, they see their effort as one that will pay off in the future when the roll is called up yonder.
Some people give because they don't want to be bothered. They give to the first in line and then announce to the rest, "Leave me alone, I've already given."
On the other side of the exchange is the recipient. Asking for donations during the winter holiday season is like shooting into a barrel of fish. Preying on the gullibility and guilt of the average American reaps big bucks. "Please sir, may I have more?"
My point here, lamb chops, is that we need to paaay attention to what we are doing. Give wisely, give intently and give a little of yourself. Give at other times, too. Don't throw out dollars and forget about the needs during the rest of the year. If you are willing to give hard-earned dollars to an agency, know what they do with YOUR money. Pay attention to their needs and respond in kind. Add a little elbow grease to the mix and show a vested interest.
This year, I am supporting a local agency that has some creative fund-raising skills for a great cause. Triad Health Project hosts a "Winter Walk for AIDS" the first weekend of December. Teams are formed and approximately 2,000 people will put forth a united front to help build awareness and funds for an agency that benefits the entire community. Victims of AIDS can seek assistance through the agency; testing is provided to anyone, anonymously and for free; along with other great services.
I also plan to jump in next spring when THP holds their annual "Dining with Friends" event. Each host invites friends for dinner and asks the guests to make a donation equivalent to the value of the meal. For dessert, everyone heads downtown for a huge gala with music, dancing and celebration. Often, dinners are themed with friends dressed accordingly. People arrive dressed for luaus, pajama parties, mardi gras and anything else an imaginative host can coordinate.
All of this is great fun, but AIDS is also a very serious cause and one that has declined in interest in spite of the incline in the infected population. Look around you, see what's out there and give with your heart.
Of course, if you can't find anything that suits you, visit my team's webpage where online donations are accepted!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hell hath no fury like a MotrinMom

Until now, my experiences in watching the power of Twitter in action from day to day has been like going from skates with keys to a Lambourgini. Today's TwitteReaction to Motrin's newest ads took me to Mach 1.
Coinciding with International Baby Wearing Week, the Motrin ad attempts to connect with aches and pains of motherhood focusing on the strain of carrying a tot in a sling. Moms (and dads) go through a lot of pain out of love for their kids. However, the ad has become a royal pain in the ass for folks that see it as a slam.
TwitteReaction has tracked comments ranging from disdain over Motrin's implication that baby slings are a fashion statement to seeking sincere retractions from the company.
While parents are sending signals over slandered slings and issuing kudos over effective social media efforts, Tweeters in another corner are recommending Motrin for dads dealing with the manic moms and suggest the squealers put forth similar efforts into more justifiable causes like homelessness, world peace, and other altruistic causes.
In less than 24 hours, the social media stir has literally shut down Motrin's webpage and emails from Motrin's VP of Marketing Kathy Widmer have been issued. Still, many baby toters are boycotting and banking on more action from the company before putting down arms.
As a side, Motrin is produced by Johnson & Johnson, a company that has put consumers, medical providers and employees first in their credo. The company's mission statement is held in high regards as an example for others to follow.
I strongly believe in everyone's right to an opinion and in sharing those opinions with folks that can instigate change. At the same time, I oppose the crowd mentality, the confused sheep that bleat before they think, running from the safety of the pen to the open highway without looking both ways.
Johnson & Johnson is pulling the video ads but print ads will be out there. Beating a dead horse will only cause more headaches and sore butts. The folks at Johnson & Johnson do not appear to be wolves in sheeps' clothing, but instead are probably just like your neighbors, trying to make a living in spite of baaaaaad aaaaadvertising.

SC priest bans Obama lambs

While some folks are trying to keep church out of politics, a South Carolina priest is putting politics on the front pew, telling his flock to flee communion if they voted for Obama. Instead of keeping them in church and teaching his parishioners why he thinks they should repent and why Obama is supposedly so baaaad for allowing freedom of choice, the patron saint of polls is dipping into the holy water and washing his hands of them.
I do want to at least thank the Father for giving us a steadfast example of “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” Obama’s stance on abortion rights was pretty low on the list of important issues facing Americans so if this priest had to go through the higher points before reaching one that went against his church standards, I’d say there’s a lot of reasons to be FOR our president-elect!
I always thought Christians taught forgiveness, tolerance and understanding. Yet some people seem to think that they have risen to such high esteem in God’s eyes that they are more than just the right hand of the Lord.
“Forgive me father, for I have sinned. I voted for Obama and I’m proud of it.”
“You are not forgiven, but just in case, say 10 Hail Mary’s and 5 Our Father’s before grabbing your hand basket and heading out the front door towards Hell.”

Photo by Julie A. Wenskoski from

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Anti-Gay Cash Cows

No bull about it, a source has herded together a list of donors that funded the California Proposition 8 campaign. As I perused the list, a number of thoughts came to mind. Rather than keep my quandries quiet, my points will be pondered here.

Donating to a poltical cause is public information which translated means "putting your money where your mouth is." Where you spend money speaks volumes if the right people are observant. Sarah Palin shifted responsibility to the Republican National Committee for spending big bucks at Saks Fifth Ave. and denies ownership of the purchases. PETA is known for stalking furriers and TMZ points out the stars of Starbucks. Companies vie for celebrity endorsements in marketing efforts.
As consumers, we should be savvy and determine whether a product meets our needs and if the producer compromises our beliefs in any way. Most little lambs are inclined to travel down the chute, grabbing from the trough while being sheared without considering their consumer power. Looking at the list of Prop 8 donors, I wonder if they considered the potential implications of their contributions and if patrons have linked their own dollars with the purchases they made.
For example, a woman is going through a divorce and pays hundreds of dollars to an attorney. She goes home and cries on her brother's shoulder while his partner fixes the family's dinner. That evening, the attorney goes home and receives a call from the Prop 8 campaign asking for money, relating to his intense homophobia. The barrister has discretionary income and is happy to oblige. If our divorcee knew that she indirectly funded Prop 8 would she have selected a different attorney?
Would a lesbian want to see a gynecologist that was opposed to same-sex marriages? A funeral home that funds the Prop 8 campaign should not be offering comfort to the life partner of an AIDS victim. The CPA that is against gay marriage is certainly not looking out for their homosexual client's best interest when doing taxes.
Yet, in all these instances, how many of us would actually ask pertinent questions. What if every provider we used had to pass an interview? They shouldn't take our patronage for granted!
Money talks baaaack. Listen to your dollars and let them speak to your heart.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Prop8 or Prop-hate?

On January 1, 1994 I had been married 11 years and had two small children. My husband and I sat down to talk about the problems we were having. It was a new year and I was creating an opportunity to start fresh. Our arguments and his general mood had progressively worsened. He wasn’t happy and neither was I.
The discussion was sane and amicable but the lines were drawn. We both needed to commit 100 percent to mending the relationship or there was no need in going further. He agreed but wanted time to think. As we both took in a deep breath, I felt like I had literally been hit with a lightening bolt. I don’t know where the question came from or why I asked at that moment. I certainly wasn’t prepared for the answer.
“You’re gay, aren’t you?”
He paused and responded, “Yes.” Tears welled up in his eyes.
I crossed the room to where he was sitting and knelt down, hugging him, reassuring him.
“It’s okay,” I said. “At least now I know what is wrong and why you’ve been so miserable.”
He hadn’t acted on his homosexuality. He certainly didn’t choose to be gay. He wanted desperately to meet society’s definition of normal. “I wanted the house with the white picket fence and the 2.3 children and a station wagon in the driveway,” he said. He knew he found men attractive but assumed it was natural curiosity and suppressed his feelings. The harder he tried to suppress his natural feelings, the more unsettled he became.
I wasn’t angry with him for being gay because I knew it wasn’t his fault. And I certainly knew it wasn’t my fault! I was always aware of people that were homosexual but their sexuality didn’t affect me. News stories and documentaries of people scorned or abused based solely on what happens behind closed doors appalled me. I offered my then-husband support as he ventured ahead in life with his true self while mourning the loss of the life we had planned together.
I could (and may) write a book about the intricacies that followed. We divorced but still raised our children as a united force. We hung out with mutual friends, fought, laughed and loved others. Expounding upon those issues at this time however, would not suit the purpose of this blog.
My purpose for “coming out” with a personally sacred topic is to speak to the issues surrounding Proposition 8 in California. I’m straight, and live on the east coast in a notch on the Bible belt so why should I care? My heart tells me others are hurting. My head tells me California is full of progressively-minded people yet the majority voted for this atrocious proposition.
According to proponents, the proposition merely defines marriage: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in California." Still, they had a basketful of scare tactics creating smoke and mirrors for the general populace.
Anyone that will use a child as a shield is repugnant yet people succumb to ridiculous fears. The California school system, like most, provides comprehensive sexual health education in grades K-12 including “the legal and financial aspects and responsibilities of marriage and parenthood…Instruction and materials shall teach respect for marriage and committed relationships.” Pro-prop8ers insist that kindergarteners will become indoctrinated to man-man and woman-woman marriages.
Let’s stretch the imagination to believe a teacher would sit in a circle with 30 5-year-olds for just such instruction. She holds up a felt board with three female figures and three male figures. “Now boys and girls, I bet you are familiar with families that have a Mommy and Daddy who are married.” She places a female and male on the board together. “But in some families there are two daddies (male and male figures are side by side) and some have two mommies (two felt fems side up together).” If the teacher does as the school code says, she would continue, “In all of these cases, these people love each other, respect each other and are married or committed to each other.”
The children now know that relationships are important and that they should respect those relationships. Pausing to think a moment.
Since I don’t see a problem there, let me delve a bit further. Perhaps the issue that pro-prop8ers have is kids learning about sexual intercourse between same-sex partners. I’d have to take issue there as well, since school systems focus on reproduction in health classes. Telling kindergarteners about any form of bedroom romp is generally not in the lesson plans.
Children live in a world surrounded by adults who are single, divorced, unmarried couples, in May-December relationships, interracial marriages, and homosexual parents.
To support children and families, society stresses the importance of committed parents. Yet people who want to take the step of signing paperwork and want to be recognized as a married couple are being denied these rights based on sexual origin.
My children were told the truth about our divorce. We told them it was not a secret but that they should be very, very careful who they shared their story with because most people wouldn’t understand.
That was 15 years ago and it looks like most people still don’t understand.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Addendum to "Fall" blog

When I finished the video I asked my 19-year-old son if he wanted to see it. "Sure," he said. After watching it he said, "Good song." Such a dry sense of humor, that kid.
"What about the pictures?"
"I see them all the time."
"What? My photos?"
"No - trees - they're everywhere."
I gave him a look. He chuckled in amusement and said, "Well, maybe after I spend eight months in the desert I'll be more excited about seeing pictures like that."
He is going in the Army in a couple of weeks.
He'll need that humor, just like I needed mine to raise him."

Fall in North Carolina

This was a stellar day with temperatures in the upper 70s and still riding the victory train from election day, I decided to take full advantage. Grabbing my camera, I headed out on errands and stopped at a couple of parks that are literally just a few miles from me. Even the horses next door were grazing next to the fence and looked when I called.
I enjoyed walking in the park because it had purpose. I wasn't just walking because I "should." I was taking pictures and taking in my surroundings. Fresh air and sunshine did my spirit good. I was able to revisit some places I haven’t seen in a while and along the way met a couple of interesting people.
Memories of raising my own children were dusted off when I encountered a couple with two young children. I smiled hearing exasperation in the father’s voice as he responded to the incessant “whys.” Several cyclists and joggers shared my path as I wound around to a small pond.
I asked the man fishing if he minded being in my photos.
“When I am out here, nothing bothers me,” he said. He shared a few fish tales including one about a resident heron. The bird waits patiently. If the man catches a small brim, he throws it out and the bird grabs it.
“I’ve fed that bird as many as five or six fish.” Smart bird.
As I headed down the path again, a woman was walking her dachshund. The little dog had a lilt in her step and a huge grin with her tongue hanging slightly out. Her feet barely touched the ground as she scooted along. I couldn’t help but smile back.
“She seems very happy,” I told the woman. “She IS happy,” the woman responded. “I wish I had her optimism!”
I found the optimism contagious and am sharing my beautiful day here. Graze around your baaaaack yaaaard and I guarantee you will find a treasure.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A New Beginning

When the news broke of Obama's victory, it felt like a veil was lifted. Fresh air and new hope have infiltrated the nation. As I listened to the news, watched Twitter comments and scoped news websites, I also scrambled through photos on Flickr and used them to compile my first video effort. The photos are low resolution so the quality isn't the greatest, but I still wanted to share my excitement. I hope your enjoyment is half of what I had in creating it.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Trick or treat?

The Halloween stash can be hard to manage but with parental guidance and the mantra "all things in moderation" it is possible to succumb to temptation. Yet one North Carolina dentist is noted for offering monetary incentive, much like the tooth fairy, for kids to turn in their spoils. Paying $1 per pound, this cavity fighter is buying back Halloween treats and forwarding the confections to troops. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, this dentist is not alone.
I suppose it's better than the reaction from Willy Wonka's father. After trick-or-treating, Wonka had to watch his dad sort through the candy explaining why all of it was bad for the teeth. The entire booty was then thrown into the fire.
This particular N.C. dentist served in the military, yet he doesn't seem to remember that chocolate can not be sent to the troops. Items that melt are among restricted items and if shipped to soldiers, will be confiscated So what happens to those wonderful snack-size chocolate bars? Perhaps a candy burning can be organized and after that, the zealots can go after other things perceived unmoderated by lambkins in the populace. Books, rock music and movies have provided fuel for incineration at the hands of zealots who believe they have the monopoly on righteous beliefs.
Burn baaaaaaby, burn!