Thursday, May 31, 2007

Fly the friendly skies

Despite uncomfortable seats, annoying people, crowded airports, security hassles, lost luggage and terrible customer service, air travel is something I look forward to these days. For a few glorious hours every couple of weeks, I am in a place where not a single person can get a hold of me.

There is something inherently wrong in the world when the boundaries between professional and personal time are so blurred that booking a flight is the only means of escape, but I will take what I can get. Life in our super-connected always on-call world is not likely to change unless we all change our attitudes. Without a complete shift in the work/life ethic in the United States, the airplane might remain our last oasis from the office. This refuge is threatened as the FAA and airlines deliberate on whether to allow cell phone usage in flight. While experts are citing the safety concerns of cell phones usage, I argue there is more than issues on safety that should keep airplanes phone free. With airplanes as the last safe haven on earth from cell phone overload, airlines are performing a public service of sorts, giving individuals the opportunity to shut off rather than fielding incoming questions, participating in conference calls or listening to a seatmate talk about their latest crisis.

Disconnecting from the phone in flight is also important for connecting with people outside the usual comfort zone. Somehow the smaller the globe becomes, the less people interact with each other. We are more likely to chat with a person across the world on the internet than actually reach out and touch someone right next to you. Air travel offers a unique opportunity to meet a cross section of humanity outside your everyday circle and network with new people. This practice would be threatened if everyone was engaged in conversations with those on the ground.

Flying one million or so miles has allowed me to meet some of the most fascinating people; philanthropists, artists, novelists, engineers, politicians, musicians, motivational speakers, pilots, preachers, patients, doctors, soldiers, actors, executives and students to name a few. Although the “relationships” were solely based on sharing a row and feigning boredom, each one of these people opened up a world previously unknown, engaged in thoughtful conversation and made the time fly by. It is easy to go everyday and surround yourself with only people who share your opinions, understand your career, know your friends and accept your beliefs, unless you are on an airplane. No other place forces you to turn-off your normal world and potentially open a new one quite like a commercial flight.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A cut above the rest

A good man, car mechanic and hair dresser are hard to find. Lately, I am fearful of losing my man, because my car mechanic and hair dresser went MIA. It all starts with an innocent phone call to schedule an oil change, and suddenly the call is routed to a receptionist who alerts you to the disappearance. Questions of why and where are not answered as you are being reassured that all the mechanics at the shop are experts and trained to meet my needs. The personal relationship developed with the mechanic does not matter; they just want to keep your business.
The same scenario occurred a few weeks later with my hair dresser. This call knocked the wind out of me as we recently entered a new stage of our relationship; transitioning from long to short hair. This huge step means more time developing our bond through frequent haircuts, moving into a long term relationship. Her departure from the salon was especially hard as I had broken up with my long time hairdresser just a year ago. It wasn’t her, it was me; I had moved 1200 miles away 6 years prior and could not afford to fly back home every time I needed a trim. She understood the reasons for the breakup and personally recommended a woman in my “new” hometown, Paula.

At one point, I believed all hairdressers were created equally until college, when friends and acquaintances started visiting Kerri one by one, until nearly everyone in our extended circle visited her for their haircuts. She performed magic on each person, transforming their locks into masterpieces perfect for their face, their frame and their personalities. We were crushed when she moved on, and of course her former employer would not even hint to her whereabouts. Nearly a year later, she was discovered at a salon on the other side of town, word spread quickly, appointments made and many continued to see her long after we graduated.

Unable to make the trip back to Kerri, I started a string of one appointment stands and was unable to develop a long term relationship, that is, until Adrianna came into my life over 3 years after graduation. Adrianna and I remained together for over 5 years until the long distance became too difficult to bear. My experience with Kerri caused the unnatural cling to Adrianna, but the breakup was made easier by Paula.

It only took a couple of appointments before feeling comfortable enough to take the ultimate plunge with Paula; saying the words “just do whatever you want.” The results were beautiful, for weeks heads snapped at work, people unable to recognize the new and improved me. As any woman can attest, finding your hairdresser after they move is a nearly impossible task, but I was determined, it took me too long to find her and my upcoming college reunion motivated me to keep looking.

Living in a small big city is both a blessing and a curse; there are fewer degrees of separation and everyone knows everyone. Using this to my advantage, I am sad to report my mechanic Scott is now employed as a lead mechanic at a Toyota dealership, which does little good for my Jeep. Luckily, Paula went independent and has a chair at Thomas Charles Salon in Minneapolis. We were reunited today, exchanged hugs and personal phone numbers. I will not lose her again, a good hairdresser is way too hard to find.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Wedding Season Advice

A few years ago, I was interviewed for an article on "Professional Brides" (definition: brides with professional jobs, not brides with multiple weddings under their belt). The final question of the interview was: "What advice would you give a bride/ groom-to-be?" As the June wedding season approaches, I wanted to share my "expert" advise.
  • First Read “What Nobody Tells the Bride” by Marg Stark.
  • Don’t skimp on the ceremony. Put thought into it. That’s what the day is really about.
  • Pick your battles. Agreeing to wear a veil for a few hours meant so much to my mom that she did not flip out about me taking photos with my fiancee before our actual ceremony.
  • Finish your photos before your ceremony. Do the special moment of seeing each other then. Why waste precious fun time with family and friends to spend your first hour (or two) as husband and wife with your photographer.
  • Spend your money on food, booze and music. That’s really what people remember years after you say I Do.
  • Everything leading up to the wedding is exhausting. Every bride I have talked to has slept for 4 straight days after the wedding. Have a relaxing honeymoon. A city a day in Europe is not a way to unwind after the wedding.
  • Take a honeymoon. Even if it is local. You'll need the rest and the time together to bask in the marriage afterglow.
  • Visit chat room. You will make friends with “knotties” who are more like you while realizing how many crazy, insane people are out there getting married.
  • Hire a photographer and videographer. Get toasting glasses engraved. Have a photo frame for people to sign. Have your bouquet freeze-dried. The day goes by so quickly, all these items of the day are what you have to remember the day forever.
  • Remember these words “All you need is a bride, a groom, a minister (or judge) a license and two witnesses to get married. There is a difference between getting married and having a wedding. People say they can’t afford to get married. Anyone with $30 can afford to get married, it’s the wedding that is expensive.
  • Make the day yours. Each couple is unique, bring that uniqueness to the day.
  • Don’t make the day so unique that your guests moan and groan and leave early.
  • Don't ignore every cheesy tradition, traditions are what people remember long after the day is over.
  • Assign people important tasks the day of the wedding, you won’t remember anything. People feel bad making their friends the “guestbook attendant” but guess what, no guestbook attendant, no signed guestbook. No rice hander-outers, no rice.
  • Don't assign people things that won't make them feel special.
  • Don’t get so wrapped up in planning the wedding that you forget there is a marriage afterwards. If you ask most people who are divorced within a few years of getting married, they will all tell you they saw signs before the wedding but were far too focused on planning the wedding to give their feelings much thought.
  • Most people don’t have sex on their wedding night because they are too tired. A good way to prevent this tragedy from clouding your wedding night is to forgo sex for a few months before your wedding. Guaranteed, you'll be climbing the walls.
  • Don't sweat the small stuff... you will be the only one who notices if the flowers are the wrong shade or the napkins are folded wrong.
  • Stand back on your wedding day and take it all in.
  • Have fun!

Friday, May 25, 2007

BD: Before Dogs

I love my dogs like they were children and would have 6 more if it was feasible, however, as a public service announcement to those considering adopting a pet, I will disclose the things I used to do before becoming a pet parent:

  • Cuddle with my husband at night without a furry wedge between us.
  • Stay out until all hours without worrying about getting home.
  • Spontaneously go away for a weekend.
  • Engage in marital activities without the fear of a cold nosed interruption.
  • Leave my shoes all over the house.
  • Visit a gym regularly instead of walking the dogs.
  • Spend money on things other than vet bills, raw hides, chew toys, carpet cleaner and dog food.
  • Leave the house without turning on the radio, putting up the gate, saying goodbye and distributing kongs.
  • Routinely sleep through the night without a trip to the back yard.
  • Say the words walk, outside, car, go, cookie, and squirrel without having to spell them out.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Year of the Maternity Shirt

This summer, I plan on being the most out of fashion person walking. With every trip to the mall and every catalog received in the mail, it is painfully obvious that there will be no clothes purchases made this year. My closets are in need of a major overhaul, but I refuse to adhere to this year’s biggest fashion trend; the maternity shirt.

The fashion industry might refer to the cut of the shirt as “empress waist,” however, every woman bigger than an A-cup looks like she is expecting. It is hard not stare at a woman in one of these modified tents to determine if there is a bump under the shirt or not. The fashion industry is influenced by developments in society and I cannot help but connect the maternity shirt craze with the media’s obsession with celebrity pregnancy. Still, fashion might follow what is in vogue for celebrities, but many of those fashions flop, especially in Middle-America. I cannot understand is how the maternity shirt is selling, and why women would want to wear something that makes them look like they are 5 months along. This trend must be great for women who actually are pregnant, opening up their shopping options to stores other than Pea in the Pod.

In a workplace where pregnancy is contagious, at an age where many women are expecting or are done, and with my 6th anniversary right around the corner, wearing this year’s hottest shirt is not just bad for my body type, it would be bad for my personal life. The rumor mill at work is constantly churning and there is no reason to add further fuel to the watercooler conversation on whether I’m the next one to join the Mommy club. Rebelling against the trend, you’ll find me in shirts that are way too tight this summer.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Everything I know I learned in Consulting

Consulting is not just a job, it is a lifestyle. Not everyone can handle the travel, the constant threat of a project change, the need to be a jack-of-all-trades or the world expert on one topic, the difficulty maintaining relationships with non-consultant friends and working to death for a company you hold no allegiances to. There is a bond of survival; a brother and sisterhood between consultants that few experience. Although no longer a part of the consulting inner circle, I will always carry with me the important lessons I learned in my 7 years as a Management and IT Consultant.
The top ten things I learned being a consultant:

Fake it ‘till you make it: On any given day, a consultant can be thrown into a new situation, asked to deliver something they have never done before, turn it around in record time and ensure it is worthy of awards and accolades; all while making the client think you are the resident expert. It is amazing how much you can learn when in a pressure cooker environment and how that ability translates into every aspect of life.

Solo adventure: There are times when you are surrounded by people, working late with a team, going out to dinner, enjoying a very social environment with work friends and acquaintances. More often than not, the life of a traveling consultant is very solitary. Many nights are spent at work late because there is no place else to go or ordering room service to avoid the stares a person sitting alone inevitably gets at restaurants. To truly survive the lonely nights, it becomes necessary to learn how to eat alone at a restaurant, belly up at a bar by yourself, or see a movie or ballgame without friends. Prior to consulting, I lived in a dorm and before that, I lived at home with my parents, two sisters, 3 dogs and revolving door of friends and family. Alone was a foreign concept. After years of solo dining, drinking and vacationing, I now crave alone time when unable to get it.

Nevereverlost… again: When it is possible to wake up in a new city each day, it is important to get your bearings fast. While the modern traveler relies on a GPS system, those of us “old-school” travelers had to prepare for new cities with pre-printed directions. Since those were often forgotten on the printer or misplaced, relying on the ability to read signs, maps, stars and traffic patters would inevitably get you to the right spot… eventually. Moments of personal misplacement led to incredible lessons in US geography… after a while, you can figure out a city in no time.

The Latest and Greatest: To use a buzzphrase, consultants are expected to be on the “bleeding edge” of technology. Whatever the next thing is in programming language, software, computer equipment and phones, consultants are expected to know it. Being ahead of the technology curve is much more lucrative than any other career choice I had with a political science degree.

One roller bag and a laptop: Checking luggage is more painful than a root canal, especially when repeated weekly. To avoid wearing the same outfit for 3 straight days or needing to replace a missing wardrobe, it is necessary to pack everything needed for a week in cabin approved luggage. True veterans of travel can employ the same light packing techniques in any travel situation. Non-trained eyes sneer at these roller bags in disgust wondering why they are not checked, travel professionals know one bag is all the person has in the world for a week of work.

Airport Aerobics: Moving the one roller bag and a laptop through the airport is a skill in and of itself. The workout is like aerobics, but the beauty is like rhythmic gymnastics with a bag rather than ribbons and balls. The way a business traveler dances through security, weaves in and out crowds of people and levitates luggage into the overhead compartment all while carrying a cup of starbucks and a newspaper is nothing short of artistic.

How to order wine (and scotch): I started consulting right out of college. The extent of my wine knowledge revolved around the fruity flavors of Boones and I related scotch to old curmudgeons at a country club. With entertaining clients and dining with partners on a regular basis, it became apparent that wine and scotch was another area where an expertise needed development. I started understanding vintages, grapes, regions and casks to ensure I never messed up an order. When a glass was presented, I knew how to swirl, sniff and taste; when a bottle stayed or got sent back. If a study were done on the concentration of wine snobs in their early to mid-twenties, the consulting industry would lead the pack.

Don’t sweat the small stuff: In work, as in life, there is always too much to do. The key to surviving a world where to-do lists only get longer and it is impossible to get everything done is triaging priorities. This lesson is one that continues to let me maintain a social life; understanding what has to get done and what tasks get killed because no one will remember they asked you to do it in a few days.

It’s who you know AND what you know: The old adage of “it’s not what you know, is who you know” is only half right. It is definitely who you know, and maintaining employment in an industry that focuses on billable hours as much as law requires a full address book of contacts ready to help you find your next project. However, all the business cards in the world mean nothing if you are totally incapable of getting the job done. Any good leader will tell you that the number one secret to their success is surrounding themselves by good people.

It’s a Small World After All: Whether in Shamburg, Illinois or Luxembourg City, the most important thing to learn working in different cities around the world, in varying industries and diverse departments is how alike we all are at the very core. Cultures are different, job responsibilities vary, but we are all inherently looking for the same things in life; a stable income, a strong family, love and friendship. Going into every situation understanding the similarities we all share is key to developing long lasting bonds with people in all walks of life.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Pets can be hazzardous to your health

For all those who still tease me incessently about shattering my right foot after tripping over Luna in 2005, I would like to present the following evidence that dogs can present very real household dangers. Some celebrities have fallen victim to innocent trippings by their four-legged friends in recent months.

Paula Abdul broke her nose over the weekend trying to avoid stepping on her dog. Kim Clijsters bruised her tailbone after stumbling over her dog while playing soccer. For more information on celebrities and their pets, visit Celebrity Dog Watcher. Incurring injury while protecting your dog is more common than one would think!

My fear is that in the future there will be an extra premium for dog ownership on health insurance, much like there is for smoking. My broken foot required surgical repair and the insurance company called me to determine if the accident could be covered by my car or homeowners insurance.

Monday, May 21, 2007

I left my waistline in San Francisco

With some time to kill in San Francisco, I decided to do my own little culinary tour of up and down the Embarcadero. With 11.4 miles of walk planned (3 roundtrips from the Ferry Building to Ghirardelli Square), I felt completely justified eating everything along the way.

Light Caramel Latte from The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in Ghirardelli Square: Coffee shops that offer drinks in caramel flavors get big points for me, those that have sugar free caramel are in a league of their own. This cup was the perfect way to start my morning without the dose of high calorie beverage guilt that plagues me.

Almond Croissant at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market: My search for the perfect almond croissant continues; not bad, needed more almond paste and a flakier crust. I only ate half, no need wasting precious stomach space if it does not measure up to Byerly's Almond Kringle or the perfect croissant consumed at a Sydney bakery in 1997.

Strawberries at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market: Organically grown strawberries were good, but I couldn’t taste the difference from the non-organic strawberries. For $2 more, they should be the best strawberries I ever tasted.

Lamb Sausage at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market: I died and went to heaven. My favorite tasty animal grilled over an open flame and served on a sourdough bun. The sausage was lightly spiced to let the lamb taste through. Although I wanted the sold out soft shell crab sandwich, I was not disappointed with the replacement.

Lobster Bisque in a Sourdough bread bowl from the Fisherman’s Wharf: Most stands on the wharf had New England Clam Chowder, which I am not a fan of. One stand offered bisque and I was sold. The bread bowl was excellent, and the bisque very tasty but left me wanting more lobster. Honestly though, I always want more lobster.

French Fries from In and Out Burger: Feeling like I’m the only person on the planet without and In and Out Burger experience, I stopped in for fries. After waiting 20 minutes, I asked the woman where my order was to find out they often lose “just fries” orders. Finally getting my fries, I was utterly disappointed. They are very fresh and potatoey, but somewhat bland. Maybe it was because I didn’t eat them with an In and Out burger, or maybe being a coinsurer of fried potato, this was unable to live up to the hype.

Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop at Ghirardelli Square: The Ghirardelli Café had a longer line then a Space Mountain on a Saturday in July, so I visited the to-go shop and enjoyed my caramel sundae by the bay. Everyone should have a Ghirardelli before they die; smooth ice cream, decadent toppings with a chocolate square on top. I had trouble understanding all the tourists walking around with other ice creams when Ghirardelli has undoubtedly the best sundae on the planet.

As enjoyable as my day eating in the sun was, it is more fun sharing the fine dining with the one you love. A loaf of sourdough from Boudin Bakery, a bottle of red zinfandel from Kokomo vineyards and a bar of dark chocolate from Ghirardelli made the trip back to Minneapolis where I could enjoy a taste of San Francisco with my husband.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Pomp and Circumstances

Yesterday almost came and went without realizing the personal historical importance of the date, then suddenly, with the sinking feeling one gets when they realized they missed an important meeting, it dawned on me why May 17 was so familiar; it was the day I graduated from college.

If this had been any prior year, I would have smiled and fondly remembered those days on the campus of Mary Washington College where my biggest worries were whether the DJ hired for the Halloween dance was any good, if school received my loan check, or if Political Science was the wisest major move. However, this year marks a major milestone for those who marched in mortar boards with me; 10 years since our lives as college co-eds ended. I remember sitting around with friends in those frenzied last weeks before graduation; busy preparing for finals, job interviews, apartments, grad ball and our farewells. Through all the insanity, we still made time for each other, fully knowing that life would change dramatically outside of our campus cocoon. With pitchers of margaritas to comfort us, we would talk about our future, our dreams, and our challenges ahead and would joke about returning to school for reunions and where we would be in 10 years.

These major milestones are a time to celebrate, reflect and remember those nights we declared where we would be when the milestone arrived. Unfortunately, life hardly ever goes as planned, and it is hard to be immune to the feelings of sadness, guilt, anger and regret inherent with plans going astray. I have seen friends make unwise decisions in the wake of these major milestones, so desperate to adhere to their original plans they alter the course their life was taking them; marrying the person of the moment just because they dreamed of getting married by a certain age, having children too soon for their marriage because they wanted to have their first by 30, going for an unnecessary degree or lying about their achievements to cover that life took them in another direction. We are all guilty of this; focusing on what hasn’t been done rather then celebrating all that has.

Admittedly, I have been feeling nauseous at the thought of attending my reunion in two weeks. Life is good, but it is not anything like those plans I made long ago. While some dream of getting married and having children, I openly spoke about marriage being the equivalent of modern day slavery and the end of a woman’s life. Well… I have been happily married now for nearly 6 years after learning that with the right choice in a partner I could be married and still be me. This is a little embarrassing, given who and where I was 10 years ago. Other things that did not adhere to my plans were leaving DC to move to the Midwest, climbing the corporate ladder rather then running for President, gaining wrinkles and weight, and losing contact with friends I spent every waking moment with for years.

A friend recently said something very wise; we all change, nothing goes the way it is planned and if you aren’t careful, life will pass you by as you wait for things to be perfect. Lately, as I found myself making every excuse in the book to miss the walk down campus and memory lane, his words helped me remember to be happy with who I am, even if it was not who I was supposed to be. A reunion is time to reconnect and remember days gone by. It is a time to deal with loss; those friends gone too soon to tragic accidents and diseases. I will attend the reunion to remember them and celebrate life, even if it is a little different then originally planned.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A single night is ruined

A crowd is gathered at the bar as I enter; drinking and laughing. My attempt to approach the group and join the conversation falls flat; they all work together and have no need to engage in conversation with a stranger. I order a drink and slink off to a corner, looking out over the crowd, desperately looking for a familiar face, determining if I would welcome the company of someone I know or if that defeats the whole purpose of coming. Of course, sitting in the corner by myself accomplishes nothing as well. Gathering courage, I beeline straight for the hors d'oeuvres.

Some people make the skill of holding a drink and eating from a plate of finger foods while standing look so easy, while others, like me, are one mozzarella stick away from making a mess all over their outfit. Approaching a high table where two gentlemen are engaged in conversation, I ask if I can use part of their table so I can have a bite to eat. They agree and the three of us chit chat, meaningless small-talk about what we do for a living and what we are doing there. Quickly, it becomes apparent that I am not what either of them are looking for as I polish off my plate and politely excuse myself.

Rejection is easier to handle with another drink, and soon I am alone at the bar, chatting with the bartender with much more ease then any of the professionals in the room; those same people who are here for the sole purpose of meeting other professionals. Soon realizing the bartender is just a master of idle conversation doing his job, I tip him nicely for taking the time to talk with me. Spotting a man in the corner, I sense a connection, an ally in this painful process of meeting someone special. We exchange glances and I get the nerve up to approach him. We talk about our day, our jobs, our goals and dreams. Eureka, finally the big break, the very person I was searching for all night. After a long and deep conversation, numbers were exchanged and we promise to keep in touch. We part ways, and I decide it is time to leave, marking a perfect end to the evening.

Just as I was about to make a bee-line to the door, an older man approaches. He follows a methodical script, one he probably uses on every woman he meets at these things. I pretend to be interested in his conversation, in his company; laughing and joking like friends. He smells my vulnerability, feasts on it like I was prey, and goes in for the kill. His intentions for the evening are not professional, flattered yet disgusted, I thank him for his interest and make my move, grabbing a cookie and a beer for the road.

This is not happy hour at a bar or a singles event. This is a scene from an evening event at a business conference, which is unarguably more uncomfortable then any pick up joint on the planet. Rather then finding a date, you are out networking, trying to find the next big sale or a means of climbing to the next rung of the corporate ladder. This conference setup gets increasingly difficult the longer I am married; it takes the same skills employed to pick up a person in a singles bar as it does to pick up a business card. Every time I think of changing careers and going into sales, a conference reminds me of how miserable life would be attending these meet-market events weeks after week.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The C Word

Major strides in the arena of cancer prevention and treatment have been made over the past 30 years. Advancements in science are an enormous factor in the increase of cancer survival rates. This includes the host of new drugs to treat cancer, equipment developed to detect abnormal cell growth and a greater understanding of how lifestyle choices, like diet, exercise and smoking, influence future risk of developing cancer. These scientific breakthroughs would not be as significant if it were not for the leading development in the fight against cancer; the social acceptance of the disease.

Until as recently as the 70s, cancer was rarely discussed and those diagnosed suffered in silence. The lack of understanding around the disease led to cultural limits on how people dealt with their diagnosis. Families discussed in whispers when one of their own had the “C” word. The stigma of cancer left victims full of shame and guilt, blaming themselves for catching the disease. With very few medical options, a lack of support from their own families and communities and no social network of fellow sufferers to turn to, these victims of cancer often died in painful isolation.

While many argue that the social and sexual revolution of the past few generations have left our society with moral and ethical issues, it is these very social changes that enabled the scientific community to make remarkable progress with combating cancer. As people became more comfortable with sharing their diagnosis with friends and family, social networks of fighters and survivors formed, empowering many to fight the disease personally and globally. As support groups grew and foundations formed, funding to medical research grew exponentially. While 40 years ago many would wince at the thought of sharing their cancer diagnosis, we now have hundreds of thousands of people willing to share their stories and their struggles in hopes of helping others, to raise money, and to eradicate the disease. Fundraisers like The Race for the Cure, where millions are raised and hope and strength shared through walkers donning the famous pink survivor shirts, would not have been possible without the social upheaval of the 20th century.

With the media filled with images of Britney Spears going commando and every day people flashing their flesh, it is hard to imagine a world where people would be so modest that they would not perform a self breast or testicle exam, and would refuse to see a gynecologist or proctologist because they did not want a stranger looking at their privates. Though conservative pundits argue that we could use some more discretion in the world today, the decrease of modesty is a factor in the improvements in cancer prevention. Embracing that it is okay to touch yourself and be examined by a doctor is the first step in ensuring cancer is discovered and treated early, and early treatment is increasing survival rates across all cancers.

Recent trends towards social conservatism threaten to set back decades of advances in the cure and prevention of cancer. The discovery that the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the cause of cervical cancer (as well as some anal, vulvar, head, neck and penile cancers) and is often caused by sexual transmission threatens to create a culture where individuals fear seeking tests and treatments for these cancers. Although not all HPV is transmitted through sexual contact, conservative parental groups are fighting legislation on making the HPV vaccine mandatory, stating this will increase sexual promiscuity and undermines their teachings on abstinence. These arguments are without merit; teenagers were having sex long before the potential connection with cancer and the new discovery is not likely to change those behaviors. Cigarettes have long been connected to cancer and that has not stopped teens from smoking.

These parents who will not permit their daughters to receive this vaccine are threatening more lives then just that of their own family; they are threatening the very movement of acceptance and empowerment that is necessary to fight cancer. Historically, mandatory vaccines led to the eradication of a disease. The movement against making the HPV vaccine mandatory is a slap in the face to every woman and family who has faced the devastation of cervical cancer and every person who worked hard to discover a way to beat this devastating diagnosis. Whether women with a cervical cancer got HPV from consensual sex, rape, a cheating spouse or non-sexual reasons, she will face the same shame and guilt present many years ago that prohibited people from surviving their diagnosis. This same conservativism not only threatens the fight against cancer, but the fight against AIDS and a host of other diseases. Unless social acceptance and the fight against these diseases continue, no matter what the cause, the narrow-minded and their intolerant views are poised to threaten the health of millions. We must continue to fight for the cure, no matter what the disease and no matter how the victim contracted it.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Boys will be boys...

People who have a passionate preference on the gender of a child should not consider becoming parents, having only a 50/50 shot of getting what they want. For most parents, the “it doesn’t matter, as long as they are healthy” belief is the one they live by and that is the best camp to belong to avoid disappointment. There is a large contingent of people who attest that “boys are so much easier then girls.” I, however, belong to a different group on the matter. Controversial as it might be, among the top 10 reasons for my personal decision to be childfree is the knowledge of utter devastation and paranoia I would experience if I were to bare a son.

Having come from a family of three girls, I have an intimate awareness of all the drama in a household of daughters; slamming doors, hours on the phone, catty friends, screaming arguments and flowing tears. The issues parents face with daughters are certainly different then with sons. One could argue that the turmoil associated in a household with daughters is the different set of standards parents often place on girls. It is unfair to say all parents do this; however, in most families, girls have a stricter set of rules to adhere to. From earlier curfews to higher expectations on their role in the household and family, gender roles place a greater level of active parenting on mothers and fathers, and position more barriers and boundaries on the lives of girls, giving them more to fight about.

To the defense of parents, the consequences in following a relaxed parenting style with girls are more immediately recognizable. Society accepts that “boys will be boys” and their bad behaviors are often dismissed, whereas girls are expected to “act like a lady” from a very young age. The pressure to be a good parent is tremendous and the manners of little girls are held to a much higher standard, giving parents more to do. There is also the obvious challenge parents with girls face during the teenage years; unwanted pregnancy. Although it takes two to tango, the effect a pregnancy has on the life of young woman far outweighs what it does to the male involved. Essentially, a boy’s life is rarely “ruined” if he parents a child at a young age.

In the past, there was a tangible value to favoring sons over daughters. To apply financial terminology to the situation, families viewed sons as an asset, and daughters as a liability. The best thing a daughter could bring the family is a grandson, which was dependant on getting her married and out of the house to transfer the financial burden to another man. Other reasons people preferred to have boys are no longer valid due to how gender roles have evolved. Nothing will prevent daughters from taking over the family business, throwing a ball, or watching the game with their Dad. Even as a feminist, I can admit the value of having sons on the family farm, however, only 2% of the US population lives on a farm these days.

In today’s society, daughters can provide their family with the same advantages as a son, but the same cannot be said for sons. Females still bare a brunt of the burden of caring for their aging parents and are more acutely aware of the needs of their family and friends. Daughters are more likely to take their parents shopping, or to the doctor, or into their homes in their later years. Additionally, many of life’s major events revolve around women, from weddings to childbirth; parents of daughters are more involved in these life events.

Those who would choose the difficulty of boys with their broken bones, tempers, and bad selection in baby clothes over the drama of girl do have some merits to their argument. Analyzing the work associated with the first 18 years, boys would come out on top in the easier to deal with category. However, children grow up, and parents are ultimately responsible for raising children who become solid human beings; contributing to society, respecting their surroundings, challenging wrong, upholding values, providing to the greater good and helping their parents in the golden years, and these long term parental goals are more difficult with a boy.

While the issues associated with raising girls do seem daunting, the consequences in screwing up a boy are far greater then a girl. A hatred of boys is not what influences my decision to prevent parenthood; it is the fear of poorly raising a male child and what that means to society. While a female who is the product of poor parenting might commit some crimes, drain the welfare system or become estranged from her family, boys raised in questionable environments can yield more disastrous results. This is brought to light with reports of a school shooting or murderous rampage, when news agencies flood our airways with stories on the males or group of males who committed the heinous acts. We hear commentary blaming schools, law enforcement, Hollywood violence, gun control laws and side-effects of psychiatric drugs, but too few question the first line of defense between a violent person and the world; their parents.

Having children makes you no more a parent than having a piano makes you a pianist.
-- Michael Levine, Lessons at the Halfway Point

While producing a child is easy; being a good parent is a tough job and a lifelong commitment. Many people lack the skills, desire, time, resources and knowledge to effectively raise children, yet they keep having them. Until the time when all people assess whether they would make good parents before making babies, when people raise their children to respect adults and peers, when a common goal is rearing the next generation’s responsible adults, when parents raise their sons to be as well mannered and obedient as their daughters and when the decision on having children or not can be made with adequate access to family planning, then we should all hope those who are like me and not equiped to be good parents are having little girls.

Monday, May 07, 2007

A League of their Bone

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Luna, Playto, Solei, Leo, Winston and their human parents and friends participated in the annual Walk for Animals on Saturday, May 5th to benefit the Twin Cities Humane Societies. A League of their Bone, raised nearly $2000, taking 4th in the Team Challenge. More then $228,000 was raised by over 100 teams for the 35,000 animals who are cared for in the facilities each year.

We are already looking forward to next year's walk as we continue our commitment to local and national animal charities.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Ten Things You Should Know About Women

  1. We might complain about the toothpicks in magazines and how bad that is for the self-esteem of women, but that doesn’t mean we don’t wish we could fit into a smaller size.
  2. The hunter/gatherer instinct still lives. Luckily, we don’t have to go into the woods and fields to gather when the mall is so close.
  3. We check out members of the opposite sex as they pass our way too, we’re just a bit more discreet about it and wish you would be too.
  4. Women have made great strides and no longer need you to support us, but most of us aren’t ready to support you yet either.
  5. It takes a lot of time and money to keep up our looks, so the least you can do is trim your nose hair and dress up occasionally. When you look bad, we look bad.
  6. Women who love sports enjoy an extra dimension to the entertainment; nothing beats a good game while enjoying nice butts in tight pants.
  7. Don’t assume every woman dreams of her wedding day or wants children.
  8. Clothes do make the man, if you want a promotion, dress like you already got it and don’t be afraid to ask for our help.
  9. Finding the perfect pair of jeans is like discovering the holy grail.
  10. It is not hard to be romantic; just keep your ears open. Know her favorite flower and get it. Know her favorite musician and be the first on line for tickets. Know her favorite food and learn to cook it. Find her perfect jeans. Be the man in the middle of her romantic dreams.