June 20, 2015

Lisa or Lakeysha: What's in a name?

In the aftermath of the hate-filled shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, my heart began to hurt terribly. I consider myself relatively un-bigoted and open minded. I have several black friends who I love dearly, but admittedly, I cannot begin to wrap my head around their experience or their despair. I will never truly understand what it's like to be black in America. I've started some discussions on social media and I've tried to ask questions. I've tried to listen and understand.

I wanted to write today's blog because unlike a social media discussion, this will not go away. This will be a permanent opportunity to think and question the different ways all of us may grow.

I pondered the times I have exercised subtle racism, some of which I've written about. One thing I believe strongly is that if I am unwilling to do some self-examination and try to consider where even on a micro-level I've been guilty, I need to expunge it and ask for forgiveness. I need to vow to do better and I need to encourage the same of others. It's the only way the needle moves.

One of the more subtle ways I'm guilty of racism is when I read a person's name. We all know what a "black" name is when we see it. The embarrassing thing is, I have to admit to mentally mocking those strange spellings and wondering how in the world to pronounce that name. Turns out, I'm not the only one who does that. According to a study from the Poverty Action Lab,  "Resumes with white-sounding names received 50 percent more callbacks than those with black names." (full report: Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination).

I've never done that for Giuseppi or Gianna, Raj or Raaka, Kieran or Siobhan, or Amtullah or Yahya. I've never wondered why their parents didn't give them an easier to spell or pronounce name. I've never been a big enough fool to actually ask someone why they didn't pick an easier name for their child. (Yes, I did that and my friend said, "How well do you think a Heather would survive in my world? She'd get mocked and teased daily for having such a white name.) I've never asked my friends why they'd choose Huxley or Hazel (names that are in the top growing elite baby names). This leads me to believe if I am so presumptuous to question what someone names their child, maybe I need to rethink myself.

This doesn't mean wipe away all my opinions. I still have a lot of opinions on names, and that's typical, it's why name lists exist and people spend nine months trying to think of a name for their baby. Why I should think any less of another parent's choice for their child's name? If that child is black and I have a hard time pronouncing that name, is MY problem, not the parents.

Where the problem comes in and where racism is at play is when I glance at a class roster and make assumptions about what sort of day it will be based on the names I see. Maybe a little chuckle as I navigate the apostrophes in places that I don't understand and letter combinations that I never would think to make. Little Keshaun and K'iana should proudly wear the first gifts their parents gave them. Maybe if we start to accept their right to have a name that speaks to their life and experience, we can begin to grow as a society.

It starts with a drop of acceptance hitting the water like a pebble.

Here are the names of the victims:
Rest in Peace
Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41
Cynthia Hurd, 54
Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45
Tywanza Sanders, 26
Myra Thompson, 59
Susie Jackson, 87
Ethel Lee Lance, 70
Daniel L. Simmons, 74
Depayne Middleton Doctor, 49

My essay Trouble Maker was about a young black boy. I didn't want to label him black in my story because I thought it would bring an unnecessary piece to the story. When I wrote it, I wanted it to be a color-blind story. I've realized if my young trouble maker was a white boy, he never would have faced the same scrutiny. He may have been considered "high-spirited" or a little "rascal" instead of a "thug". We can do better. 

June 10, 2015

[Giveaway] Microsoft Surface 3 Giveaway Contest

April 29, 2015

Dad Lecture Series

When I was a kid, I heard the same things over and over from Dad.

As an adult, I refer to them as 
"The Lecture Series"

There was an internet meme going around recently about things to tell your high school student. The words reverberated as things I've said repeatedly to my now college sophomore and my high school junior. We do our best to instill wisdom and hope it sticks.

I've told my children repeatedly, "This is a life lesson", "Be humble, not everyone has the same ability as you do", and "Have you had a token nod to nutrition today?" I wonder what their stories of my lectures would be?

My dad has his own series, but times change. I appreciate the wisdom dad gave me and try to live what I learned. A few key lectures I won't forget?
  • Speed for conditions (as in, I don't care what the road sign said, you should have slowed down while it was snowing or raining.)
  • I used to feel sorry that I had no shoes until I met a man with no feet (be grateful for whatever you have because someone else always has it worse)
  • You can choose your friends in life, but you'll always be brothers and sister, and you'll be all you have -- get along. 
  • And my favorite. Always split Aces and 8s
I drive carefully, I practice gratitude (especially for having feet), and I love my brothers. Oh and anytime I've played blackjack, I win money when I split aces or 8s. Financial advice rules.

Dad, your lifetime of advice has served me well.

Thank you.

March 25, 2015

Senior citizens rock

My family lives in retirement central USA. Their town in FL is known for their retirement communities and the lifestyle that surrounds it. The equivalent of a red corvette is a fast golf cart. Indeed, there are folks who "soup up" their golf carts. It amuses me.

In one of the local retirement communities is a restaurant and lounge, and my folks go there at least once a week. When we were visiting, they were particularly excited because it was karaoke weekend as well as a band. We booked a table.

The dinner was delicious. It really was. I had expected mushy flavorless food, but was overjoyed when I enjoyed my meal. The company and entertainment even more-so. Dad owns a local business and he's quite well known in the community. When we go places, all sorts of folks come to say hello. Our first visitor was a lady named Shirley. Shirley's face was a road-map of life and wrinkles. She was delightful. She told us about her family and her book club. After Shirley left our table, Dad told me that Shirley's daughter is worried about the vodka she consumes and calls dad to ask. Dad's stock reply, "I saw her have two".

Personally, I think that if Shirley's daughter was that worried, she'd not phone a local business owner, but maybe come spend time with her mom. My brief glimpse? Shirley has it going on. She's sharp and funny. If she drinks too much, at her age? She's earned it.

Then there was Nadine. She is a retired bigwig from DC. She regaled stories of every president from Nixon on. She then told us that she is addicted to that show Alias. I may check it out.

The best visitor of the night was Rocco. Rocco, as his name indicates, is a feisty Italian guy. Rocco in all his mothball-scented studliness took a liking to our table. He was giving us play by play all night. At one point, Rocco took his lady friend out on the dance floor, but not without stopping by our table and stage whispering to my husband and myself, "This is my lady friend, she's Puerto Rican and she's hot."

We smiled at Rocco and his lady. The whole evening felt like I was a stunt double in the movie Cocoon.

Then it was my turn. I used to sing karaoke on a fairly regular basis. I have no delusions of grandeur. I've got a decent voice, but not consistent and rather weak. I hit the notes, but cannot hold them. I'd never make it on Idol, but in a retirement village karaoke bar, I hold my own. I got up and sang. I chose an oldie-styled song, The Shoop Shoop song by Cher. I rocked the house. They all danced and thanked me after. Perhaps their appreciation had more to do with the ability to turn off their hearing aids.

After I sang, we had even more table visits. Then came the surprise. My dad had requested Daddy's Little Girl for us, and we got up and danced. At nearly 48 years old, twirling on the dance floor with my dad was a highlight. I love him so much.

It was a night I'll never forget.

March 24, 2015

Eccentric is as eccentric does

Very few stories can make me long for my childhood days on an organic vegetable farm. It's hard work and sometimes the only thanks you get is an algae filled pond with fish biting your toes while you drift on an inner tube. Rarely am I inclined to long for that life, but I remember the last time I did. I wore a necklace the other night and received several comments on it, to which I replied, "There's a story behind it." (To which my friends replied that they were not surprised.)

Our family has spent many summers on the Outer Banks of NC. We fell in love with the area during Hurricane Dennis in 1999. How funny is that? The first time we visited, a hurricane did as well! For years we returned to those beaches, enchanted by the wild horses, the fresh fish, and the relaxed pace of life.

There is an area of beach that is only accessible by four wheel drive vehicles. It's on the North Carolina/Virginia border. One summer, we went exploring. As we traveled further north, we would occasionally see signs for "Libba's Place" with the encouragement to come visit.

After seeing the hand-painted signs for mile upon mile, we decided to indeed go visit Libba's Place. Mr. Fresh was more skeptical than curious, but a bit of prodding helped us find Libba's Place.

We pulled up to a ramshackle beach house, with a chicken coop, a "beach museum" (as she called it) and other oddities. She also had a gift shop that appeared to not have been visited in years. She was an ageless sort of older, somewhere between 50 and 80, but impossible to say. Her weathered skin had not seen many days of sunscreen, as evidenced by her deep smile lines. Wearing an over-sized man's shirt, glasses on a chain around her neck and hair in a disheveled bun flying errantly about, framing her face like a white/grey halo, Libba came out to greet us.

"Welcome to my Place," she said in a smooth drawl with a voice that capitalized place, "I was just getting ready to feed my chickens, would you kids like to help?" She nodded to the minis.

The kids went with Libba to feed the chickens, and when they were finished she invited us to see her museum. Her museum was a lean-to filled with things she found on the beach. A naked Barbie doll missing a leg, an old buoy, a few shells, sea glass, driftwood, and a special collection of sea glass folks sent her from elsewhere, including my hometown, back at Lake Erie.

We wandered around Libba's Place, some of us enchanted, some of us befuddled. The enchanted person was the one who didn't have emotional baggage to this strange beach creature the way she did with her own upbringing. I suppose I could add a phony disclaimer how any resemblance to real or imagined characters is coincidence, but that's a crock and we know it. Libba is real. (The kids kept saying she reminded them of the woman in "Because of Winn-Dixie") If you're ever visiting the Outer Banks near the NC/VA border, you need to find out how real. Go visit Libba's Place and say hello.

Aquamarine supposedlyShe told us how she would sometimes row a boat across the sound to the mainland and that was quicker than driving. She showed us flower beds bordered with upside down wine bottles, quickly explaining that a lot of her visitors brought her empty wine bottles. I suspect she was a bit untruthful there, and perhaps they were full when they first arrived at her place. Nonetheless.

She invited us into her gift shop where an eclectic array of her projects awaited for our bidding. Nothing was priced. I'm fairly certain she priced her merchandise based on what she needed for that particular day. My minis got small bracelets for a dollar. I was intrigued by the piece shown in the photo, a big blue glass chunk on a charm. She insisted it was the gemstone aquamarine. It's irrelevant that I didn't believe her. She gave me enough of a story that morning that I didn't mind her thinking she conned me. I've never checked if the stone is real, I don't think it is at all, but who knows? She also told us that she gives people things and a card if they don't have money and just trusts they will mail her the money when they can.

Her card is still tucked in my wallet and I hope to visit her again another day. I will take a bottle of wine, but it won't be empty. I hope I can convince her to help me empty it.

March 18, 2015

Freezing time

The older I become and closer I approach that moment of my youngest child turning 18 (at the end of this year), the more I wish I could stop everything. I realize that I have defined myself as a "stay at home" mom since 1995. Twenty years. The last few years, I've not had to stay at home as much as I've needed to be accessible. The adjustment hasn't been seamless.

I'm at a crossroads. I don't know what is next as the nest is less full than in 2013, and approaching completely empty in 2016. I am raw.  I spent 12 years going to school, but finished, with a clearly defined "next", which was college. For me, it took 5 years, and then a small segue into the land of careers before realizing my career was closely tied to marriage and starting a family.

Nobody ever talks about what is next. I'm still a mom, but there is no need for my services on 24/7 basis. I don't abdicate my mom title, but I do reflect on all it's meant the past 20 years. My oldest is in her second year of college and my youngest in her 3rd year of high school. She is preparing for post high school the same way I am. But where are my standardized tests? Where can I be tested to see what I accomplished and what is recommended for me next?

That is a problem. There is no standardized protocol to follow after this milestone. 24/7 for 20 years and then, nothing. I find myself thinking more and more often about days past. Wishing I could freeze them. Wishing I could return. Especially the days when I didn't feel like paying attention. The days when I shooed them away so I could carve out time for myself. If only I could get those back.

Not too long ago, I had a conversation with a neighbor of mine. She has children who are about 5 years behind my own. Her oldest just started high school and we ran into each other at a concert. I did that "old grizzled wizened mom" thing where we talked about all the great things available for our children. I commented, "I love knowing where my kids are and what they are doing on a Friday or Saturday. I love that they are involved with XYZ."

Half a step off
photos courtesy of: www.markstahlphoto.com.
Wasn't expecting that!
 photos courtesy of: www.markstahlphoto.com.
Clearly, I was on a roll, so I continued. I said, "Think of it this way. This is the last time in their lives they will be able to run with a track team, or perform on a school stage. They aren't likely to audition for choir or band again, and the school dances will come to an end along with pep rallies. This is the time for them to enjoy that and for us to do what we can to make sure they take full advantage of it today. It doesn't come back."

We nodded knowingly reflecting on the own activities we did in high school and the infrequency of it since. I don't play clarinet these days and I'm not even sure I remember. I am not likely to march at halftime at a football game (although a few years ago, during our sneak peek show, the parents were invited to come out on the field with the kids and it was a hoot -- even if I was off a beat).  The point is, I've moved onto adult responsibilities and relaxations.

As tempted as I am to do over those days I wasn't engaged, I know that's horribly unfair. It would be like yelling at someone who slept when they took a vacation at Disney. Yes, everything is incredibly exciting. It's also exhausting. You must recharge.

I realized I cannot look back. I cannot freeze time. I can only remember it and cherish it. I can hold it close to my heart while I patiently await what is next.

January 5, 2015

[Giveaway] Win a Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener


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