Tuesday, July 24, 2012


MSNBC - Baby with Down Syndrome Lands Swimsuit Campaign

Breaking news! ...but should it be? 

I am not at all averse to the idea of a child with Down syndrome getting a modeling job. By all means, I am a huge fan of inclusion. Hooray, inclusion.

My gripe is with the fact that this is news at all. All children are beautiful - so why is Valentina the first child with Down syndrome that a major designer has signed? Why is inclusion so rare in the fashion industry that the simple act of it is worthy of its own headline? Shouldn't advertisements represent the populous, rather than an unrealistic 'ideal' of what every man, woman, and child should look like?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Shortest update ever.

Yes, I'm still alive. I'm still reading. I'm still working. I'm just... overwhelmed.

Senior year. Full load of 400 level summer classes. Word of advice? Don't do that.

In the middle of this, major life upheaval.

Art for app has been commissioned and is being drawn. Hooray for upcoming release.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Power of Love

If you're not local, you may not have heard what happened nearby last night.

To summarize, a 23 year old man got into an argument with his grandmother and aunt, resulting in him stabbing his 69 year old grandmother 'so many times he lost count' while she bathed in the tub.

It's truly a heartbreaking story, but woven into this sad tale is a thread of beauty. As he was brutally murdering his grandmother by thrusting duel-wielded kitchen knives into her body, she uttered the last phrase that would ever leave her lips to her killer- "I love you". 

Her ultimate act of forgiveness was an act that would save lives. Unbeknownst to her, he had intended to go kill the entire rest of his family next, just a few doors down. Upon hearing her final words, he was filled with remorse for his actions. The young man fell to his knees over her body, weeping. He then called the police and turned himself in, leaving the remainder of his intended victims unharmed. 

The power of love is so strong that it can overcome any anger or hatred that exists. It may have been too late for her to save her own life, but even in the throes of the death, her selfless love calmed the sea of anger that this young man was drowning in, ultimately saving the lives of the rest of her family. 

I think the moral of this story is that even when our rage is justified, even when the unforgivable takes place, the path from which peace blooms is still forgiveness. Feeding into the rage just gives the negativity strength; no amount of flames will quell a fire.

Sometimes our forgiveness will be taken for granted, and some people will abuse forgiveness... but this story felt to me like a lesson about Luke 11:4. I know that God forgives my many mistakes graciously, eager to continue to love me with an unmarred view; and in receiving such divine, perfect forgiveness, who am I to rightfully hold a grudge against another of His creations? His grandmother showed faith in action - and because of that faith, her family was spared her terrible fate.

"People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered; forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; succeed anyway. If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; be honest and frank anyway. What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; build anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; be happy anyway. The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; give the world the best you've got anyway. You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God- it was never between you and them anyway."
-Mother Teresa

R.I.P.   Barbara Denmark

Saturday, April 28, 2012

For the love of cheese...

Yesterday evening, I was at work waiting tables when a little family sat down in my station. The mother was middle-aged; she was so friendly, so polite and outgoing- but I could see the weariness in her eyes. I've read too many of your blogs to miss that look. Her daughter was about my age, the mirror of her mother, with long brown hair responsibly tied into a pretty braid. Her younger brother caught my attention. He was probably about 12, a handsome young man. "Hummm-mum-mum"... his crystal blue eyes evaded mine as I asked them each what they would like to drink. "Hummm mum mum..." His mother answered for him: "nothing for him, thanks". He stimmed softly along as his eyes stayed trained on his Gameboy, locked in a world all his own as a busy restaurant whirled around him. 

I came back to take their order for dinner, and they politely ordered two meals: one for the mother, one for the daughter. I asked if the boy would like anything. Sheepishly, the mother blushed at me as she asked, "I don't suppose there's any chance you have a cheese stick back there...? It's all he really eats..." her voice trailed off as if she caught herself asking something insane. She shook her head, embarrassed, and chuckled. After all, it's a beautiful upscale waterfront restaurant... why on Earth would we have a cheese stick?

Years ago, I would have rolled my eyes about these nutty people asking me for a cheese stick in the middle of dinner rush... but because of Jess, and Jeneil, and the other people who share their stories, I knew that this wasn't just about a bratty kid or a cheap mom who only wanted a cheese stick. I was so busy; all of my tables were seated, but I'd be damned if that boy wasn't going to get a cheese stick. I asked my manager, who explained patiently what I already knew- we don't have any cheese sticks. Unfazed, I turned to a dear friend, who is also a line cook at the restaurant where I work. He was a trooper. Despite being plenty busy on the grill, he took a moment. Delicately, he took a big slice of Fontina and started rolling it. It was paper thin, and he rolled it so carefully. When he was finished, he passed me the plate - a perfect cheese stick laying in the center. 

I brought it out with the other meals, unexpectedly. When she saw the cheese stick, the mother's face lit up. Her smile was like a warm hug; it was as if some of the heaviness of the day had been lifted from her. The boy made no acknowledgment, aside from his slender, pale hand floating up from the Gameboy to snatch the cheese. By the time I returned with another water for his sister, all that remained was the small plate that it had ridden to the table on. I wanted to give the mom some little nod, some signal that I 'got it', at least in a small way, indirectly; that I understood what had transpired and that she wasn't the bother that I could tell she felt like she was... but I didn't. Instead, I gave them a cheese stick... and that felt like enough said.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Run for the Cure

Today is the day!!!

If you're in the area, please come out! We'll be at Tarpon Springs High School, on the track, at 1:00 pm.

It's for a good cause, it's going to be a lot of fun, and there are free popsicles for participants. :)

 Pictures to come soon!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Back on Track

After a harrowing few weeks, it feels like things are returning to normal.

I finally received the good news I'd been hoping for from Tarpon High - the run is back on, and scheduled for 4/25, with the promise of that date being rock solid. 

I contacted the sources that be, and updated the date in the publications - so now we should be doing well. 

Aside from directing the SMA 5k, life has been busy.  After the three weeks left in this current semester and the 4 classes I'm taking over the summer, I should be ready to begin my capstone course and graduate. Yikes. To tell you a little secret, I still feel completely unprepared for the real world, degree or no degree. Fortunately, I plan to work for myself, which has pretty good job security. That is, unless I decide to work as a sales rep for a company like DynaVox... but honestly, I don't see anything like that happening. I don't want to harness my creativity to appease the big company that owns me, and I'm suspicious that any corporate profession would be a lot of me doing just that. I also don't have any interest in pushing a user towards a device that isn't necessarily the best fit from him or her to make it line up with the logo embroidered on my shirt. I might not be built for corporate life in the AT field.

I'm also lightly contemplating getting a Master's degree. My gut tells me that I want more higher education, but my fear of getting deep into debt on student loans is whispering that maybe something like that should wait. But if I wait, will I ever do it? Once I have a full-time job and (hopefully) kids, will I be willing or able to go back to school for another two years? I don't know. I'm tempted to apply and see if I get in, as food for thought. If I know which doors are open, I might explore which ones I want to walk through. 

I apologize for the rambling nature of this post. I'm trying to keep myself from falling into the absentee-blogger abyss, and mostly school has been most of my thoughts. Busy, busy, busy.

Friday, March 30, 2012


When I got the date for my run officially approved and cleared by the school, I was super excited: so I got busy. I called news stations, posted flyers, made a website, gathered volunteers, booked a band, the whole sha-bang. 

The other day, I got an email from Ms. AwesomeTeacher - administration did not check the athletic calendar before they approved the date, and SURPRISE! There's a track meet on April 11th.

So not only do I have lots of advertisements, volunteers, public knowledge of the event, and a band - but now I also have no venue.

My feelings are a huge melting pot. I'm angry with the school for approving an event that can't take place, but at the same time, I feel like I have no right to be angry because they were extending their generosity in the first place by offering the track free for this event's use. I know that I should be thankful that they agreed to this at all, thankful that they are searching for a new date that they are POSITIVE the track is free. They wanted to help - I can't fault them for that. I can't justly be angry that they need the track for what it was intended for - the track team - but I'm ticked off that now I'm in this situation.  I'm upset that no one thought to check and make sure the track was actually available before promising it away. Some part of me, unfairly, feels that they should move either the track meet location or date, now that they've already booked it for an event... but I know they can't (or won't). The purpose of the track is to be there for the track meets, and I'm not even paying them... but it's frustrating. Extremely frustrating.

I'm going to be honest - I have no idea what to do. I'm trying to run damage control, but it feels like a new fire springs up as soon as I put one out. 

I told her it would probably be okay to move the date, so long as we moved it by the 1st to give stations a chance to correct the ad. She told me the 25th looked like a probability, but she wanted to 100% clear it this time so we don't have another mishap. This was a little over a week ago, and no word since... I'm getting nervous. If I didn't trust Ms. AwesomeTeacher so completely, I'd be crapping my pants. I'll update when I hear back... please cross your fingers for me.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Words of Wisdom

"Pray not for a lighter load, but for stronger shoulders"
-St. Augustine

Thursday, March 8, 2012

And then there was a website...

Click on the image to go!

Confetti, etc.

So excited! As of today, there is OFFICIALLY a DATE for the GSF's SMA run. Sorry about all the capital letters - that's me yelling with excitement. It has been such a journey to find a venue and pin down a date, and now I'm so excited to have something solid down that I could run through the streets with confetti to celebrate.

The run will be taking place on April 11th - which means now I have lots and lots to do quickly. It's time for a website, a Facebook page, gently nudging my friends to participate, and much more. And since I have so much to do, I'm out of blogging time. 


So I came down with the flu this week. Not just your regular flu- the 'I wonder if I'm going to live through this' sort of flu. I went to the doctor, and he laughingly assured me that I will, physical symptoms of impending death aside.

Unfortunately, the flu's timing was terrible. I missed Spring Break entirely- senior year of college, living in one of the country's top tourist destinations. So fuck me, that sucked. I'll also be missing work this week, so this flu is costing me about $300. Awesomeee.

That's my excuse for slacking in blogland... and I'm sticking to it. Back to re-runs of The Middle.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

FL SB2106

Today I'd like to take just a second to write about SB 2106, a bill that senate is attempting to pass here in good ol' sunny Florida. Essentially, it's a bill designed to cut my paychecks in half- and if you're a tipped employee in the service industry, yours too. Full disclosure: last year, I made just shy of $8,000. I don't live with my parents, so out of that $8,000 came my rent, electricity, water, clothes, food, gas... and not a whole heck of a lot else. I'm not sitting around crying about being impoverished; I'm a busy full-time-and-a-half student, and all that school does chew into a lot of the time I could be working. I'm not embarrassed that things are hard now so that they can be good later; that's how people get ahead. However, waiting tables is a physically and emotionally demanding profession, and the last thing anyone scraping by in the service industry needs is a PAY CUT.

As a server in an upscale restaurant in tourist town, I make a base rate of $4.65/hr, plus tips. Since taxes on my tips are automatically deducted from my paychecks, my checks are usually for between $40-$50. I get two a month: one pays my share of the electric bill, and one hacks away at the debt that I've accumulated with Discover. SB2106, if passed, will allow the change of my base rate of pay to only $2.13. In case you don't have a calculator handy, that cuts out about 15% of my already pretty meager yearly income. 

Corporations like Outback are shoving this bill along so that their CEO's can buy new yachts this summer, and frankly, I'm worried. I know that money talks, and the lobbyists for the Florida Restaurants and Lodging Association are jabbering on and on with this one. They argue that it will create jobs, since restaurants will be able to hire us for a wage barely above slave labor. What they neglect to mention is that it will financially devastate the people who are already working hard just to make ends meet. 

For those of you who have never worked in a restaurant before, let me tell you a dirty little secret about the low base wage: it already gets exploited. For instance, my best friend spent a stint of time at a corporate chain that rhymes with "Crapplebee's". Rather than hiring someone to "prep" in the kitchen (pre-bag portions of items, scoop sauces, etc.) at the normal minimum wage that a non-tipped kitchen employee is paid, they had a system of having the servers do it, as part of their 'running side work'. Each Wednesday, my friend was scheduled for a double shift "serving". Her section of tables and assigned side work in the morning were always the same - a small neglected spot in the corner where no one ever wanted to sit, and prep. A coincidence, I'm sure.

Conveniently for 'Crapplebee's', this freed her up to do all of the prep work each morning, at only $4.65 an hour. Whether or not she took any tables, she was still paid server pay for this time spent- and since only your weekly average between tips and base pay need to hit $7.50 to satisfy the minimum wage requirement, they were able to rotate this 'bum shift' among the staff throughout the week, where each person essentially works a kitchen prep shift for $4.65 an hour: saving the restaurant a hefty amount of cash. In 2 months, she never took a table on a Wednesday; it was invariably a prep shift. Sure, it's clearly deliberate, and ethically wrong- but it's cheap, and technically legal.

This isn't an isolated situation - more restaurants than not find ways to exploit servers into doing a lot of restaurant work for a low base rate of pay through schemes like this one. It's a relatively common move by restaurants to 'overstaff' by one or two servers, knowing full-well that they will be making little or nothing in tips that evening, in order to keep a cheap extra few pairs of hands around the restaurant to bus tables and run food. By lowering the base rate of pay further, this is only going to become a more attractive option to restaurant owners. Exploitation aside, we can't afford a pay cut. We're already one of the most underpaid and overworked workforces in the country; why is money being taken out of our pockets to keep it in the pockets of the rich?

If you find yourself concerned about those of us working hard in the service industry, please take just a moment to sign the petition against FL SB 2106 here.

Monday, February 27, 2012


So I saw this thing on National Geographic today... and I'm a little confused. Actually, I'm very confused. Then I found her blog, and now I'm filled with a million questions.

Apparently there is a quiet sub-culture called the 'transabled' - people who are not naturally amputees or paraplegics, but they wish to become so. Chloe is a woman who desires to become a paraplegic, and lives life in a wheelchair with leg braces- when she isn't out hiking or skiing. She is looking for a surgeon that will perform "ability reassignment surgery" on her, with the intention being to sever her spinal chord. 

My initial thought was that this was wrong; why act out a charade of disability if you're not disabled? Why on Earth would you want to pay to have your healthy body damaged when so many people would give anything to be healthy? However, that argument rests on the assumption that it is 'better' not to be disabled, which, from the scattered and wide spectrum of opinions I've read, lies more in shades of grey than black and white.

 Additionally, if she has a true psychiatric condition as she claims, called BIID, then perhaps that really is just as much of a disability as a physical one. After all, it is keeping her from using her body, despite that she physically could if she chose to. I have seen a lot of discussion among the blogs I follow about how disability can add quality to life in different shades, instead of the presumed automatic life of misery that some people seem to imagine. Maybe living life as a 'transabled' individual gives her life more meaning, but her farce seems like it may be a slap in the face to those with natural disabilities that were not elective. If she has BIID, is she pragmatically just as disabled as anyone with a physical difference? I wouldn't know, although I'd love to hear that side of the story.

I feel that there are a lot of arguments both for and against this, and that's why I'm writing about it. I myself have a lot of strong feelings in both directions about the issue, but not enough information to pin them to anything.. so I'm asking questions. I like getting outside of my comfort zone and wrapping my head around the completely unfamiliar - it's how we grow, and I think it's a healthy part of the learning process. And now, it's time for coffee.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Speed Bump

So I hit a teensy-weensy little snag with the SMA run for the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation happening on March 18th. It's still on, but probably not on March 18th like we requested. Although Ms. AwesomeTeacher was able to get the event approved by the school board and the date approved by the principal, she informed me yesterday that the true struggle was to get a plant operations manager down there with his nifty set of keys on a Sunday, one of his two prized days off of the week.  

 Long story short: he really, really, really doesn't want to (which I 100% understand), and rather than try to cajole and coerce someone out of a day off that they aren't willing to sacrifice, we're moving the date to after school on a school day. Hooray for simple solutions. 

Although it's discouraging to postpone this further with more bureaucracy, this honestly may be a blessing in disguise. It stands to reason that, like the POM with the gate keys, the students may also be more likely to participate in an event like this after school when they are already there, rather than waking up on a weekend to go do it. If they see their friends on the field taking part, chances are good that they will join in. So I'm hoping that God is steering this event in the most successful direction it can take, and that's why we hit a bump. So far, that's all the new information I have. We've cast our net into the pond of "available dates for after-school activities involving the monopolization the track", and we're waiting to see what we pull out. Fingers crossed, please! :)

PS. While we're finger-crossing, can I be totally selfish for a second and ask that we cross fingers for the speedy processing of my FAFSA paperwork as well? Some Financial Aid would really be handy right about now, since my tuition is due on the 6th of next month.
Looks like that finger-crossing worked! About 30 seconds after I wrote this, I got an email saying my FAFSA went through and my aid for school is coming in 3-5 days. Praise be to the Lord. :)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Breed Specific Legislation: Protecting Public Safety, or Demonizing Good Dogs?

I am so glad that we have (mostly) evolved to a place as a society where we recognize racism and stereotypes about people as what they are: fallacies (unless you've eaten with my family- the stereotype about how Italians eat dinner is pretty much dead-on). So if most people can agree that an individual's actions and behaviors aren't tied to the race to which they belong, why can't people see that each dog in a breed is an individual as well? 

Where I live, almost no homeowner's insurance will cover Pit Bulls because they are a "dangerous breed". As a result, very few homeowners adopt them. Additionally, it is almost impossible to find anywhere to rent that allows them. Since no pound will adopt out to a renter without the landlord's consent, they stay at the pound. The pound is literally FILLED with what seems to be almost exclusively pit bulls: sadly, in my opinion, one of the greatest, most loving breeds of dog in the world with the worst reputation. 

What dog fighters and the media have done to the American Pit Bull is a crying shame. When I walk my friendly, happy dog, people often cross to the other side of the street with fervent glances. I see the sideways fish-eyed glances at the park when she's gently playing with the other dogs. Some owners quietly relocate to another area of the park when they see her. It makes me so mad, because she is incredibly well-trained and good-tempered, but they don't see that. They look at her and see a liability, not my best friend. Would they do that for a Labrador Retriever? I want to yell at them: "MY DOG'S BEST FRIEND IS A FIVE POUND HOUSE CAT, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!"... but I can't be angry. I can't be angry because those people aren't being spiteful, they're afraid. 

The media has turned one of our nation's most beloved breeds into a monster- and for what? For ratings? To spice up headlines? Shame on the media. Nobody was nervous when the Little Rascals were cuddling up to Pete the Pup in the 1920's. According to StubbyDog.org (read all about it here), the ASPCA has issued a statement that media outlets have repeatedly told them that they have no interest whatsoever in reporting dog attacks that do not involve Pit Bulls. A study done over five years in Denver showed that Pit Bulls accounted for only 8% of the dog bites in Colorado, with the top billing for biters going to the Labrador Retriever. However, in that same 5-year period, out of the nine newspaper articles about dog bites with the breed in the title, eight of them named Pit Bulls. Why are they taking 89% of the blame for 8% of the problem? It's easy for a breed to catch a bad rap with discriminatory reporting happening, and it's costing thousands of good dogs their lives every day. Pit Bulls achieved an average canine temperament rating of 86.6% - three points above the passing percentage of the beloved Golden Retriever. Why are they being demonized?

Before this rant grows any longer (because trust me, I could go alllllllll day), I will end the tirade and leave you with a link to some wonderful stories of hero Pitties saving lives, and a photo of my lovely girls. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pounding the Pavement

Thud, thud. Thud, thud. Thud, thud. Thud, thud.

The gentle constant rhythm of my sneakers slapping the sidewalk as the moonlit world slides by isn't something I hear; my padded headphones make sure that I don't hear anything but Begin to Hope. The irresistible rhythm pounding up my legs is something I feel - the shock waves let me sense the unyielding resistance of the sidewalk. My heart pounds in my chest. A fine mist builds along the bridge of my nose. I start to feel a little dizzy, which delights me. The power to run hard enough to feel dizzy makes me feel strong.

Against my better judgement, I allow discipline to fall to the weigh-side - I give the 'lead' command. My dog knows that our pace is now at her discretion, not mine. Commanding about half the body weight I do and significantly more muscle mass, she calls my bluff for what it's worth and sets off in front of me at an ambitious sprint. We become a cinnamon and dayglo blur, bolting as fast as our legs will carry us through my quiet suburban neighborhood below the stars. The blinding pace she's chosen is demanding, and I suppress the urge to satisfy the stitch in my chest with a pause. I feel as if we will lift off at any moment as we hurdle over countless blocks of sidewalk. 

Finally, as we reach the mouth of my subdivision, I give the command for her to stop. Even with a big dog, I won't run past the edge of the woods with no street lamps at night. We turn around and go to cool down walk in the grassy stretch behind my house. The grass is misty and the stars are out. The Little Miss periodically stops to sniff miscellaneous items that meet her criteria for interesting. My pulse falls as the balmy evening air sticks to my skin, and I silently thank God for the millionth time for the Florida weather that permits a hearty run in shorts and a tank top in the middle of February. The 79 degree weather is much more forgiving than the cold air that creates the illusion of a lung full of fire most everywhere else this time of year. 
As the beads of exclusively cold water join up with each other on my skin for the voyage down my shower drain, I contemplate the gift it is to be able to change into exercise gear and go run. To be young enough, strong enough, and to have the political freedom to go do so. I question my own perception of exercise as a chore. Sometimes it's uncomfortable. Sometimes it's excruciating. Sometimes, yes, as Jess's husband Luau aptly wrote here, getting going is indeed the 'toughest ten minutes of the day'. But somehow, all of those hard feelings melt away when the sneakers are on. When I'm hauling ass, the pain can't catch me. The only feeling that is fast enough to keep pace is the exhilaration of freedom. Wouldn't it be thankless to miss the opportunity to feel that way?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sticky Note

I know, I know. I already updated today. I also know that my current project is still in the works, so there's no way I should be thinking about another one yet, right? But this idea came and smacked me in the face today, and I want to write it down before it falls out of my head and gets swirled away by the day-to-day. It feels like putting ideas to pen seems to be the best way to make sure they eventually happen, so here we go.

I was scouring the web for information about the next Fallout game after New Vegas, because as you know, us techies love our video games. I didn't find out a confirmed date for the particular game I'm jonesing for, but I did find the greatest idea ever on No Mutants Allowed here.

If you don't want to click over, the idea is essentially that a group of teens have decided to band together for a 60 hour Fallout 3 marathon in which they will beat the entire game (which is quite an undertaking), with the profits going to purchase entertainment systems in children's hospitals.

I went on the website, and it looks like they aren't quite finished putting it together yet, but it looks like a really cool idea. And because it looks like such a cool idea, it started a chain of thought in my head that brought me to an idea I liked for a future event (full nod to these gentlemen included): 

'Kill for the Kids'

Since I have a feeling that there's a large target pool of participators who are willing to sit down and play their choice video game for a few hours for charity rather than get up and run, I want to next put together a more 'passive' marathon. The edgy name begs a question and immediately inserts a plug, coined by my very clever love. Sales is a career that will serve him well. But, I digress, the idea is this:

Rather than playing through an entire game, my idea is to put together a Call of Duty ‘race’ where ‘runners’ are sponsored by how many points they are able to accumulate in a certain period of time. There would be some sort of fun prize for the winner, and since people are competing and are sponsored by score, chances are a lot of funds would be raised.

I'm not sure what the political back-and-forth on playing a violent game for a children's charity will be, so I've decided to withhold the name of the charity for which I want to do this until I'm sure it's alright to do so. But for now - there's an idea with a paperweight on it. I won't have time to work on it until the SMA run is over and done, because that needs my full attention at the moment, but it's under that paperweight waiting... and at the moment, that's enough for me. :)

The Waiting Game

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! 

Just to touch base, right now we're playing the waiting game. Tarpon Springs High School has approved the GSF 5k run (see why I'm such an enthusiastic alumni??), and we've politely requested the track for March 18th. The date is pending approval, since we can't conflict with a football game or anything like that. As long as the day is free, we're good to go! I'm very anxious to learn if we got the date, since I'd like to start making a website and Facebook page for the event. If March 18th is booked, we're back to the waiting game to get a different day approved. Let's keep our fingers crossed for that big rubber 'approved' stamp!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Venue Secured!

Just a short little blurb of an update today, but that's okay because this teeny post has some big news: we have a venue! I got the email this morning, which sent me into a little celebratory dance all around my living room. Ms. AwesomeTeacher dropped me a line saying that she had gotten the approval for the event, which means the SMA 5k now officially has a wheelchair-accessible venue - Tarpon Springs High School. I'm so outrageously thrilled about things coming together so well, and so thankful for the good fortune of finding a wonderful setting for the event at no cost, and getting to work on this project with someone whom I admire and enjoy the company of. 

I also exchanged a few words via email with Victoria Strong of the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation. She was so kind, and she was more than generous with her time and image files. I'm looking forward to contributing what can be raised to the work that they are doing. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Randall Terry, Abortion, and... Superbowl Sunday?

If you know me, you know that one of my pet peeves is pro-lifers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a pro-choice advocate, either. I don’t really agree with abortion except in extreme cases, but the only thing that gets my goat more than abortion being used as a form of birth control is the methods by which its opponents try to push their agenda. Harassing vulnerable young girls at health clinics and waving pictures of dead fetuses at passing cars on the highway? Not the way to get my vote. 

While I’d personally probably never consider having an abortion, I certainly don’t hold any feelings of animosity for someone that would – it’s a complicated, major life decision, and I don’t think it’s one that public policy should have a hand in, except in maintaining the safety of the public (which, as we've seen from the past, probably involves keeping it legal. Girls desperate for an abortion aren't going to keep a baby because doctors aren't doing them anymore- the practice will just move to back alleys, killing all-too-often both mother and child). 

But this post isn’t really a post for or against abortion- we’ve all heard the rehash between Roe v. Wade a thousand times and it’s been done to death. My personal feelings on the topic are simply a preface for what I’m about to rant about: Randall Terry, and shock advertising.
I am about to share something about myself that many of my dear friends already know: I suffer from some sort of unexplained sensory issue where graphic, violent material onscreen results in either an immediate panic attack or a blackout. I'm not afraid of it: in fact, I love horror books and often read the scary movies that my friends eagerly watch. My brain simply won't accept the visual input. Graphic imagery? Off my brain goes. Let's hope I don't clunk my head on the way down.

At 23 years old, Macaulay Culkin's 'Home Alone' is still graphic enough to be completely out of the question for me. As a child, even a scene as tame as the hyenas in the Lion King falling into thorny brambles was too much to handle. As an adult, I can handle cartoons (usually), but live action is still another story. In order to watch Grey's Anatomy, I have to watch it with the sound off, a folder or my hand covering most of the screen for the gory parts, and only subtitles to avoid an attack, and even then it's dodgy. With this background information, you can see why Randall Terry and his criminal gang of goons' shock advertising campaign is making my life worse for the wear.

In case you're not aware of this creeper, he runs a pro-life campaign that employs 'shock advertising'. 'Shock advertising' is a nice way to phrase 'springing horrible graphic images on the unwilling and unsuspecting viewer'. For someone like me, it's not just an awful experience- on the highway, it's a very real safety concern. A bloody billboard of a baby is a likely blackout trigger- and while driving 55mph on the highway is not a good time to lose consciousness.The idea behind this cruel advertising method is to disgust and upset the target into agreement with one's point of view. Fortunately, no TV station would ever willingly pick up such an advertisement. Unfortunately, Mr. Terry recently came across a manipulative move that would extort a loophole in media law that allows any presidential candidate to run any content in an advertisement they choose, so long as they pay for the ad space. He just has to make a phony 'run' for President.

So where better to run a disgusting, gory, horrible national ad showing dismembered fetuses than the Superbowl, a time-honored family tradition? I can't imagine broadcasting this at a time when families want to spend time with their children. No child wants to be traumatized by a view of a dead, chopped up baby's body, and I'd reckon there are very few adults that are pleased about having their appetite for wings and sliders ruined by the imagery. It all begs the question: when does freedom of speech end, and where do the rights of others begin? Where does the line get drawn between 'peaceful protest' and assaulting the senses of others?
Thankfully, some states are denying his claim based on the lack of legitimacy of his 'running for President'. Since he hasn't technically qualified as a Democratic party candidate, some stations are simply telling him no. It remains to be seen how many states will air his propaganda, but consider yourselves fairly warned: there may be bloody babies on your screen this Superbowl Sunday.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Hoping and Planning

The day before yesterday, I sent this to Ms. AwesomeTeacher, who was one of my favorite people at TSHS.

Hi Ms. AwesomeTeacher,
I left you a message earlier today, but I figured I'd drop you a line via email in case it's a more convenient contact for you. I don't know if you remember me (I'm sure you've had a zillion students in the last six years), but I hope you do, because you're the one who got me totally obsessed with genetic conditions in the first place, lol.
Anyway, now that I'm getting into the Assistive Technology field, I got some ants in my pants to put together a charity project for Spinal Muscular Atrophy to raise some money for the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation, and I was hoping that you might want to help. Don't worry - I'm not shaking you down for cash. I want to get into motion a wheelchair-accessible 5k run to raise money for SMA, but the problem is that most public park trails aren't so wheelchair friendly, and the county has these awesome $2,500 road closure fees if I want to use a street. What I was really, really hoping is that maybe this was a project that could come to Tarpon High School, because the track there is perfect, and the large student body probably has some volunteers and runners swimming around in it. It's good for medical science, it's good for the students- it's really a win-win. I called the PCSB and they said essentially that I need a staff member (like yourself) to agree to sponsor the project and submit a request to do it to the principal as a school activity. I thought since you're into Biology and genetics (and so beautiful) that you might want to team up with me on this. Is that something you would have any interest in, or do you know anyone that might be interested? I thought it sounded like it was kind of right up your alley, so I thought I'd drop you a line and see. You can get a hold of me here via email or call me anytime it's convenient for you- my phone number is (not included).

Talk to you soon,

Helena Sue

Ms. AwesomeTeacher (who will remain anonymous until I have her permission otherwise) emailed me back this morning with what seemed like a hasty but warm and interested response, so now I'm cautiously allowing myself to be considerably more excited about the venue being TSHS than I was. To sum up, she essentially said that she is busy busy busy at the current moment, but she is interested and will email me soon. 

What I'm looking at now is the WBS I've put together to ascertain exactly what needs to be done and who is doing it. I am Human Resource A, and my WONDERFUL best friend has agreed to play the role of Human Resource B. So basically, all we need now is a venue, and Human Resources C, D, E, F, G, H, and I. Of course, I'm posting my not-so-exciting WBS here in case someone with more experience doing this sort of thing notices some large flaw or action that I have missed completely and would like to point it out. I love criticism, so please don't be shy! I also love volunteers. ;) 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Paging the Biology Dept...

It's day three of my seven budgeted days to locate a venue, and I'm starting to get a little nervous about if I'm going to be able to find one in time. Now that I’ve learned the protocol for school events, I wrote one of my favorite teachers from high school an email gently laced with some truthful flattery asking if she wants to get on board with the project. Asking her feels like a step in the right direction – she is the teacher that initially inspired me to explore genetic conditions in the first place. In my senior year, she assigned Angelman Syndrome to me for my term project, doing the research for which sparked my initial interest in the genetically and developmentally diverse population. 

If she is willing to be the staff sponsor, we can submit a request for an event to the Principal. I will be so excited if this project ends up taking place at my beloved high school. I LOVED my time at Tarpon Springs High School, and everyone who knows me knows it. To this day, my Palm Harbor Hurricanes alumni boyfriend will tease me and say, “Spongers Suck!” to get a rise out of me, because he knows I’ll defend TSHS to the death. 

Of course, it’s a big favor to ask, and I’m not going to get too excited yet. Just because we share an interest in genetic conditions doesn’t mean that she owes a student from six years ago a whopper of a favor – but I’m letting myself hope that she will agree.

This is love calling, love calling...

You turned away when I looked you in the eye,
And hesitated when I asked if you were alright,
Seems like you're fighting for your life,
But why? oh why?
Wide awake in the middle of your nightmare,
You saw it comin' but it hit you outta no where,
And there's always scars
When you fall back far

We lose our way,

We get back up again
It's never too late to get back up again,
One day you will shine again,
You may be knocked down,
But not out forever,
Lose our way,
We get back up again,
So get up, get up,
You gonna shine again,
Never too late to get back up again,
You may be knocked down,
But not out forever
(May be knocked down but not out forever)

You're rolled out at the dawning of the day

Heart racin' as you made your little get away,
It feels like you've been runnin' all your life
But, why? Oh why?

So you've pulled away from the love that would've been there,

You start believin' that your situation's unfair

But there's always scars,

When you fall back far

We lose our way,

We get back up again
Never too late to get back up again,
One day, you gonna shine again,
You may be knocked down but not out forever,
Lose our way, we get back up again,
So get up, get up
You gonna shine again
It's never too late, to get back up again
You may be knocked down, but not out forever,
May be knocked down, but not out forever!

This is love callin', love callin', out to the broken,

This is love callin'.
This is love callin', love callin', out to the broken
This is love callin'.
This is love callin', love callin',
I am so broken
This is love callin' love callin

Get Back Up - Toby Mac

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Keeping My Thoughts Straight

Day two of attempting to find a venue for the event, and all the county red tape has my head spinning. In the interest of holding so much new information in my head, as well as aiding anyone else who attempts this process, I'm going to jot it down here.

I spoke with Palm Harbor Middle School, who told me that the project needed to be approved through the PCSB, since it would be a 501-c donating to another 501-c. After speaking with the financial office at the school board, they told me that it could indeed be approved, with the caveat that the club director for the club that would be hosting the event agrees, the club members agree, and the club has already had less than two fundraisers this year. If that's the case, the club director is able to submit a request to the principal. If the principal likes the idea, it is then submitted to the assistant superintendent for approval. Once he or she signs off on it, it's a go.This means that the middle school may be a viable option, but the thick forest of red tape to be sliced through is making somewhere public a somewhat more appealing option. 

Unfortunately, somehow 'public' and 'free' don't seem to equate to one another. Almost all of the public parks have event fees, only 25% of which are waived for a charity. Fred Howard Park seemed like a good location, but unfortunately there is a $2,500 road closure permit fee for the paved area, so the overwhelming cost of the road closure pretty much writes it out.

I'm hoping perhaps the Dunedin Causeway doesn't charge for events, since I couldn't find anything on their website. It seems to be almost impossible to wade through the endless labyrinth of "Press 1" and "Press 2", only to repeatedly find a busy signal that hangs up on you at the other end to speak to someone at their offices, so perhaps the Causeway is a free-for-all. I'm leaving it on the table as a possibility. 


Around, and around, and around we go. I finally got a hold of Honeymoon Island State Park, which advertises the Dunedin Causeway on its website. They promptly directed me to another line, a single digit away. After calling this alternate office, I am informed that Honeymoon Island State Park does not own the Dunedin Causeway- it's the property of the City of Dunedin. The cheerful phone operator at HISP gave me the phone contact for the City of Dunedin, which I called. Unfortunately, the offices for the City of Dunedin close at 4:00, so I just missed them while I was navigating the school board maze. Good thing my project plan budgets 7 days for this - it might take the whole week! 

*Update Update*

The City of Dunedin called me back this morning, and their Special Events Coordinator explained to me that the Dunedin Causeway has three elements in play: the beach, the sidewalk, and the street. The beach is owned by Dunedin Parks & Rec, the sidewalk is owned by Pinellas County Parks and Rec, and the street itself belongs to the City of Dunedin- so depending on where things are located, I could need as many as three permits to do this there. She also informed me that relatively nothing else as far as the city parks go is wheelchair accessible, so I may have to make the causeway work. Unfortunately, the causeway isn't 5k long- in order to make the run a 5k, I'd have to have the runners loop back up the other bridge and come back- and the looping back requires a road closure, which brings us again to the $2,500 road closure permit. Ack.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Starting Line

In my journeys stumbling around the blogosphere, I came across the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation. Beautiful Gwendolyn is a little lady who is living with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, more commonly known as SMA. If you're unfamiliar with the condition, it is a genetic condition that slowly robs a child of their motor skills and eventually, his or her life.

With the medical technology we have, I personally feel that this is unacceptable. In a world where we have Viagra, laser eye surgery, the booty-pop, and Botox, why don't we have a cure for this yet?

Fortunately, Gwendolyn has amazing parents who have already raised upwards of $100,000 for medical research, and they oh-so-cleverly added a "What You Can Do" tab to their website, which I clicked on. They wrote, and I read: and now the 'doing' is on.

Well, to state that more accurately, the extensive planning stage is on. The 'doing' is a projected 66 days away (give or take). Reading about Gwendolyn and the other children in her unfortunately-not-unique situation is a poignant reminder never to take your life or abilities for granted. It's a reminder why it is so important to cherish what you have the power do, and to use it to help others. What can I do? I can run. I have the gift of being healthy and young, and it's time to give back. By the grace of God, no one I personally know is afflicted by SMA, but that doesn't mean that it's not my problem. When children are suffering, it's everyone's problem. I feel that we are all responsible for doing what we can. 

 So a 5k fun-run fundraiser it is, and I'm going to blog all about it right here, from the starting line of conceptualization to the literal finish line. I'm doing this with the hope that others will see that you don't have to be a rich celebrity, a big corporation, or personally impacted directly by a situation to get out there and help in whatever capacity is accessible to you.  All it takes is an idea, some passion, and a nice big heap of 'go and do it'.

I might be small: I don't have a lot of status, or money, or political power. I'm one twenty-something-year-old college student... but 'small' doesn't mean 'powerless'. 'Small' just means it takes a lot of steps; it means pushing harder. We all have the tremendous potential to get moving and do something for the world. I have the power to find a venue, build a website, put up some flyers, shamelessly plug an event to my friends, family, and neighbors, and clean up the track when it's all said and done. Right now, I'm standing at the starting line.

Get ready... get set... GO!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Nesting Catharsis

About once a year, I get ants in my pants and prune the house. It always starts off small – an earring I can’t find, or the quest for some AA batteries. Whatever the catalyst is, I start at one corner of the house and go through every drawer, dresser, closet, and cabinet until all of its contents are identified and organized. If it's ripped, stained, broken, or I'm bored of it, it gets donated or goes in the trash. Every time, I find an insane amount of wasted space. Old mail, items still in the packages, useless bits of things the vestigial hoarder in me saved with the intention of somehow using them later... they fill trash bags and amaze me. I wonder how so many items crept into my life over the course of a year; how they nestled into drawers and cabinets, forgotten, while I moved on to other things. I wonder how my sticky notes got in the arts and crafts box, or why my satin ribbons are in with the miscellaneous electronics, hopelessly tangled around spare USB wires. Often I find small unfinished projects, like the forlorn pieces of a flower pot I'd promised myself I would glue back together.

Sometimes I think that the things I come across when I go through my cabinets are like a physical metaphor for the journey through life. Some projects, like the flower pot, are started with the best of intentions, but slip through the cracks because in the grand scheme of finishing homework, keeping the bills paid, doing some research, and keeping my relationship, friendships, and pets alive, life gets in the way. Finding those broken pieces of clay reminded me that it's not always about the big stuff; it's important not to forget the little, inconsequential things that only matter because they make you happy. I wasted about 5x5 inches of space in my home this year and lacked a flower pot I really liked for want of 5 minutes to glue something back together. I'm sure something important called me away, and I tossed it into the cabinet, a simple, "I'll do that later" whispered in my mind. This morning, over a crisp glass of raspberry juice, I glued those pieces back - and I was happy. Even if it didn't happen as quickly as I would've liked, I eventually kept my promise to myself .

I think that's why I like pruning- it feels like coming full circle on all of the things that got procrastinated away. Often we procrastinate because we feel pressured, and the minor things just get put off until they become a figment of clutter-blindness, trapped in an indefinite limbo of 'getting done one day'. Going through and tying up all of those loose ends feels cathartic, in a way.

I think everyone wakes up sometimes feeling overwhelmed- but even feeling buried is a gift, and digging ourselves out of the hole can be a wonderful adventure. When I'm under pressure, I take time to consciously recognize how important it is to praise God for our trials. I am so thankful that I feel pressured because I've got too much family to see, too much homework to do, and too many belongings in my home. I'm thankful that there are people in my life that I love enough to miss sorely. I'm thankful for the hours spent writing seemingly endless boring term papers, because those hours spent mean that I have access to an education, which many men (and many, many more women) do not have. If I have to go through my home and donate things because our cup literally runneth over, I should be overjoyed, because that means that we have extra things when so many other people have nothing. Being thankful for our trials sheds joy into every shadow of our lives.

It's okay not to get everything done on time all the time. No one is perfect, and no one has time to do it all- but it's important to make time to make yourself happy, no matter how many other pressing matters call for your attention. Find your flower pot, and be thankful for the time you have.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Waiting Tables

One thing that my customers consistently remark is that I seem very cheerful to be waiting tables. I'm not sure how to take that. Should I appear to be miserable because I have a lowly restaurant job? Is it just a benign observation, or is there an implied comment about the station of my profession? The truth is, I appear to be cheerful when I'm waiting tables because I honestly like my job.

You see, I used to have an office job. I was a medical records clerk. I had reliable hours and pay. The pharmaceutical reps brought great lunches all the time. It was always... nice. Unfortunately, to say that my job was dull is much like saying that the Sistine Chapel is painted nicely. If there are any physicists looking to examine time abnormalities, they might want to check that office. I'm fairly certain that time does not move at a pace relative to the rest of the universe in that building. My general day consisted of something like this:
"Hi Helena, copy this chart." *I am handed a 500 page chart, and I resign myself to a few long hours of sitting at our ancient copy machine, copying each page individually, and adding the copy to the new pile.*
Now I work at a beautiful high-end waterfront restaurant. As I take my tables, I can look out of the marina and see the sun setting onto a strip of Dunedin islands, the pink and orange sky gently dotted with the silhouettes of palm trees. I'm immersed in a bouillabaisse of culture - people come from all over to visit our powdery white beaches. Occasionally I'll get to wait on some random B-list celebrity, and that'll be a fun novelty to bring up next time I dish with friends. I enjoy the huge palette of diversity; it thrills me that an exquisite tapestry of seemingly every variation of humanity is woven into the experience.

People of every color, creed, ability, and disability come together to share a meal with one another, and I delight in taking part in the experience. My moments aren't the magic- most of mine involve scraping plates and carrying drinks. The moments I truly enjoy aren't mine at all- they are little pieces of moments that belong to other people. Based on really nothing other than proximity, I get to quietly enjoy their moments. I smile as I see excited new parents feeding tiny bites of their meal to their new babies. I revel on the inside when I see big families clearly excited to be together taking snapshots. Usually, I'll jump in and offer to take one of everybody together. I don't know these people - more often than not, I'll never see them again after I drop the check. They'll fly back to Wyoming or wherever they came from, and I'll go on with my life- but for that moment, I get to enjoy their joy.

If I do my job correctly, they won't remember me. When they look at the photo of the whole family together, they won't remember the waitress in the pink shirt who asked if they wanted her to take a photo. They'll remember laughing and talking with each other; maybe that face Uncle Frank made when he saw his hamburger, or something cute one of the kids did. They will remember the wonderful meal they had together when they went to that restaurant in Florida. So when people ask me why I look so cheerful and I reply that I like my job, maybe they shrug it off as a server's rote, scripted answer.

The truth? I like my job.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Amelia, humanity, and personhood.

By now, most of the internet is well aware of the ongoing battle between Amelia Rivera's parents and CHOP. If you somehow have missed all the controversy, you can go to the link below and catch up. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Read about Amelia

I couldn't believe what a commenter wrote on Elizabeth's blog in response to the issue.

In a nutshell, the part she said that really got me was this:

"there is a distinct difference between a "human" and a "person," a distinctio­n which may or may not be relevant here, but certainly is relevant in discussion of the right of significan­tly mentally disabled or incapacita­ted humans (like those in commas) to receive care, and the moral duty of others to provide it. Philosophe­r Mary Anne Warren provides one of the most cited criteria for personhood­, or humanity in the moral sense:

1. Consciousn­ess (of objects and events external and/or internal to the being), and in particular the capacity to feel pain;
2. Reasoning (the developed capacity to solve new and relatively complex problems);
3. Self-motiv­ated activity (activity which is relatively independen­t of either genetic or direct external control);
4. The capacity to communicat­e, by whatever means, messages of an indefinite variety of types, that is, not just with an indefinite number of possible contents, but on indefinite­ly many possible topics;
5. The presence of self-conce­pts, and self-aware­ness, either individual or racial, or both. source

These traits combined comprises a "full" person, but Warren doesn't believe that all attributes must be present to consider someone a person in some sense. "(1) and (2) alone may well be sufficient for personhood­," she claims, and neither does she insist that any one of the criteria is necessary, although she seems to believe that reasoning is both a necessary and sufficient condition for personhood­.

If we had infinite organs and resources to provide transplant­s for those organs, then yes all human should have them. However, we don't live in that world, and that does mean that persons have more of a right to an organ transplant than do non-person humans."

I was shocked, appalled... just numbly furious. How could anyone believe that? How could anyone say that? To deny a human being his or her very personhood - in her own words, their humanity based on genetic or cognitive differences...? Ignorant. Awful.

I feel very deeply within my soul that when we approach a place where there is the illusion of separation between a human being and his or her personhood, we as a society are in a very dark, lost place.

There is a German term that comes to mind when I hear people say things like that; "Lebensunwertes Leben". Loosely translated, it means 'Life unworthy of life', coined by the Nazi movement. It's an acrid, hateful term; the very utterance of it spits burning venom. The term describes an individual whose very existence is so worthless that it is best fit to simply end. It is the idea that an individual can be unfit for the privilege of enjoying the splendor of the world and the gift of life that God Himself bestowed upon them. The idea makes my eyes sting as the acid in my stomach reflexively curdles. It causes me physical pain to imagine that someone could believe this to be true.

When we start to believe that there are individuals unworthy of life because we cannot understand the depths of their personal existence, where do we draw the line? If we cannot relate- if there is no Rosetta stone; if we cannot reach the person on the other side - does their existence become less meaningful for lack of a parallel? If these ideas prevail, I weep for the fate of our world. We must remember to love everyone indiscriminately - even those whose perspectives we cannot comprehend. If we don't love each other, we will all be swept away.