Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Quote of the Week

Hope everyone is enjoying their summer...
Summer is the time when one sheds one's tensions with one's clothes, and the right kind of day is jeweled balm for the battered spirit.
A few of those days and you can become drunk with the belief that all's right with the world.
- Ada Louise Huxtable

Monday, July 28, 2008

Balloon Legislation a Big Bust

Happy Birthday, Get Well Soon, Congratulations, Over the Hill, Farewell, Happy New Year, and I Love You; all simple well wishes. But like the band Extreme says, sometimes we want, we need, more than words. We each need to see how much we are loved and appreciated; and nothing transforms simple words into displays of affection quite like a shiny Mylar balloons. Whether they float high above an office cube alerting coworkers of an important birthday or as the exclamation point declaring the purpose of an otherwise mundane bouquet of flowers, a single Mylar balloon can send a deeper and longer lasting message than other methods of occasion communication. A law proposed in California aimed at banning the use of Mylar balloons might help the environment, but how much would we lose in exchange for Mylar-free landfills?

California is often the frontrunner in environmental laws, so a law here would soon trickle and affect the rest of the country. First California will lead the charge banning Mylar balloons for electrical safety (if someone electrocutes themselves with a foil balloon we should thank Darwin)and environmental concerns, then legislation will certainly balloon out of control (pardon the pun), leading to a ban on all balloons. What a travesty! Balloons are as American as baseball and apple pie. Banning balloons is like banning turkey at Thanksgiving. Can you imagine birthday party, a circus, a trip to Disneyland without balloons? The landscape of Main Street USA just wouldn’t be the same without bursts of color flying high above a “cast member” defying the laws of physics, somehow remaining grounded despite a fist full of helium filled Mickey Mouse ear balloons. Latex balloons are already banned in most hospitals nationwide, ban Mylar and fewer people will gain the therapeutic benefits associated with a get well soon message.

It is estimated that the sale of foil balloons generate $100 million in sales each year in California alone. Add the add-ons that come with Mylar balloons; flowers, cookies, pretty little weights, and suddenly foil balloons generate $900 million in California sales. Opponents to the balloon legislation argue that the banning these balloons will cost jobs and tax revenue for the state. Ban balloons and the balloon guy at Disneyland will lose his job; someone has to protect the balloon guy’s career!

Balloons help us learn valuable life lessons from a very early age. We begin to understand disappointment when the balloon we begged our parents for floats away due to our own carelessness. We learn the importance of holding on to something tight when it is important to us; never let go of the things we love. We combat stage fright and fear of public speaking by sucking in helium and singing “Lollipop Guild” from The Wizard of Oz in front of all our friends. Tying the ribbon with a square knot around our wrists is the first step in earning scout badges, an early lesson of how to tie stuff to the top of our cars, and if we are lucky, priceless in the bedroom.

I am happy to report that foil balloon supporters and opponents reached a compromise in their fight, but it is important to remain vigilant in protecting our fundamental right to say it with helium. People who oppose the sale of helium balloons are not environmentalists; they are communists who threaten the very fabric of our culture. Save the balloons.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Quote of the Week

I had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalog: "No good in a bed, but fine against a wall."
- Eleanor Roosevelt

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fertile Land

As a westerner from the “land of opportunity,” I cannot begin to fathom the struggles faced by millions of men, women and children living in impoverished African nations. The efforts people of Africa must exert to obtain the most basic needs for survival make our “issues du jour” seem petty and selfish. On the African continent over 1 million people die every year of malaria, 1.6 million of HIV/AIDS, and unknown numbers killed by violence and war. It is estimated that 6 million people die of malnutrition each year. Around 50% of people have little to no access to clean water, leading to diseases like cholera. Measles takes the life of a child in sub-Saharan Africa each minute of every day.
With all these life-threatening, imaginable problems facing the people of Africa, it is quite surprising that a group of doctors and scientists are busy addressing an issue that is trivial compared to the real needs on the continent; infertility.

Many of us Gen X’s learned of the African plight from the pleading of Sally Struthers from the glow of our television screens, asking us to help feed the children, to give only pennies a day to provide a hungry and malnourished child a chance for survival. Images of children with distended bellies, covered in flies, clinging to their mothers for added strength were haunting and even at a young age helped put our charmed lives into perspective. Decades after those commercials first aired the people of Africa still struggle with the hardships of famine. It hardly seems appropriate to focus on something like infertility when people are still starving across the continent.

Proponents of bringing IVF and other fertility treatments to Africa claim that having children is a fundamental right that should be offered to every person. I could not disagree more with this statement. Food, clothing, shelter, water; these are fundamental rights. It is insulting to focus on something like infertility treatments when millions upon millions of people cannot even get their own basic needs met.

Infertility carries a tremendous social stigma with it in African societies and the pro-infertility treatment camp wants to combat the social stigma issue by helping women get pregnant. Women who are unable to conceive are thought to be witches, and become social outcasts. Unfortunately some women are killed or commit suicide because of their inability to have a child. While it is tragic that women who are unable to conceive in Africa are subject to such horrific treatment, isn’t it far more tragic that water-borne diseases claim a child every three seconds or rape is often used as a weapon of war?

There is no arguing that infertility rates are higher in Africa than the rest of the world and there are many reasons behind that; poor healthcare for women, lack of access to basic needs, exposure to illness, nutritional inadequacies. Only a small number of women will be able to afford the infertility treatments and an even smaller number will have success. Instead of focusing on the infertility problem in Africa, which only benefits those who suffer from infertility AND can afford the treatments AND have success with the treatments, it would be smarter and beneficial to focus on women’s health for all women. Treat the root of what causes African women to suffer from higher rates of infertility in the first place.
No one is looking at ways to shift the social stigma against the infertile. No one is working to give options to women other than childbearing. It is difficult to change social beliefs and perceptions, but if the childfree option is not possible, what if an effort was made to elevate the status of adoption? There is a huge number of orphans throughout the African continent looking for mothers, and apparently a large number of women looking to have children. Seems like a match made in heaven.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Quote of the Week

A little something from Yogi Berra to celebrate the final All Star Game at Yankee Stadium. Read it twice, this quote is actually pretty deep if you really think about it...
If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.
- Yogi Berra

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Framily Ties

Brought together by the happenstance of sharing DNA we are pretty much stuck with our blood relatives. Disown, ignore, de-will all you want; family is still family no matter how we try to distance ourselves from certain members. The old adage “blood is thicker than water” was drilled into my head as a child and it was made clear nothing should come between me and my family. As I grew older I began to question this proverb when many friendships matured beyond my familial relationships. There is no denying the bond that exists in families, but the Beatles had it right when they said “we get by with a little help from our friends.”

You can pick your friends, allowing a better shot at liking that person over your predetermined family. Family is forever; not necessarily because you like them, but because it’s easier to shake free of an acquaintance if they piss you off. We are forced to deal with a little bit more with family, find a greater level of compromise and acceptance since holiday dinners would be much more uncomfortable otherwise. Unfortunately, many families operate like you have to like each other, be together, and offer help and support just because of the blood relation. People who treat their families like garbage, or who make little to no effort to be a real part of their lives, and expect the family bond to magically flourish because of some shared genes have little to no understanding of how relationships work. If these people treated their friends like they treated their family they would have no friends. Somehow people expect their family to stick around no matter how ill the relationship.

"Friends are relatives you make for yourself."
- Eustache Deschamps

When the going gets tough it is the people who step up to the plate who are important. Some friends and family alike will show their true colors in times of trouble and strife and disappear faster a cold beer on a hot summer day. It is usually a combination of close friends and family who “have your back” when you need them. Regardless of blood relation or not, these closest of bonds are the people we each want to have in our lives. These are the people who would jump in front of a bullet for you, who take your hysterical calls at three in the morning, who you trust with your most precious thoughts and possessions, who are extensions of your very own being.

There is a certain “sweet spot” in any relationship, blood relation or otherwise, where the lines between family and friends blur; when you like your family like they were your friends and love your friends like they are family. These are the family members who you can talk and laugh with until the wee hours of the morning and the friends whose mothers are almost your own. Friends who you couldn’t imagine leaving out of a family event because in your heart they are family, or the family who you send dirty email jokes to because they will laugh like your friends. Regard of last name or background, these are the people we move mountains for.

“A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”
- Walter Winchell

These special people, “framilies” if you will, are much smaller in numbers than the total number of friends and family we have. This shouldn’t discount the rest of our friends and family, those who aren’t “framilies,” who are still very important people. Life, like a good screenplay, has good cast of characters and some play supporting roles to the lead. We all have friends and family who we value, trust, nurture, but are not in the first “ring” around our hearts; our supporting cast. I personally have a pretty big family, and a huge network of friends, and admittedly, I wouldn’t jump in front of a bullet for all of them. They wouldn’t jump in shark infested waters to save my life either and that’s okay. What is important is ensuring that members of our “framilies” are always put above all else when they need us the most, our script ensures they get top billing. I consider myself most blessed and fortunate to have an amazing tapestry of friends and family who can be classified as “framilies;” my mother, sisters, some cousins and aunts, the husband, extended family, friends from grammar school, high school, college, work, and general life. You all know who you are (and it is many more than the number of photos this page could hold).Thank you for being part of my very soul and the stars in my life story.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Auto Unfocused

Something has taken over my body, inflicting one of the strangest bouts of writer’s block ever to come over me. Incredibly creative ideas are actually pouring from my head, filling computer folders with documents outlining cutting edge concepts and theories. Inspiration abounds; from current events and social issues to weather and our national pastime. Yet I cannot get beyond the framework of these ideas, outlines that never gain any meat or validity. This pseudo-writers block is more frustrating than not having any ideas at all; I can write, but I can’t get the job done.

Writers know the best way to get over writers block is to actually write about the writers block, but I was avoiding this method, fearing a half finished posting. Then I considered writing on all the things that could trigger bouts of writers block, forcing me to face the issues rather than the writing problem. The issue with that is I have absolutely no idea what could trigger this level of

Attention deficit.

  • Maybe I should play with the dogs?
  • Solei’s nails need trimming.
  • When is the dogs’ grooming appointment?
  • My tooth hurts, I should make a dentist appointment.
  • I should call my sisters/Stacy/Diane/Jooli/my dentist.
  • Did wadE remember to call his mother?
  • I need to send Mom a package.
  • UPS tracker should have information on the package I ordered by now.
  • There needs to be more order in the Tupperware drawer.
  • I need to finish going through my drawers to get rid of old stuff.
  • I have a bag for goodwill, I should throw that in my car.
  • It’s probably time to have my car washed and vacuumed.
  • What should I wear tomorrow?
  • The dish washer should be loaded.
  • Did I remember to close the garage door?
  • Wonder if the tomato plants need water?
  • Oh look, Jeter is batting!
  • What a cute bunny in the yard.
  • Crap, I forgot to send someone a document at work.
  • I should really change my 401K around.
  • Where the heck did I hide badge for work?
  • How many Japanese beetles will it take to kill my sunflowers?
  • When should I squeeze in a haircut?
  • These legs need waxing, I wonder who Amy is going to these days.
  • Amy had a fantastic shirt on tonight, I should ask her where she got it.
  • Did I leave any shirts at the Dry Cleaner?
  • Should I make sushi reservations this weekend?
  • Weekend at Bernie’s was a stupid movie.
  • Damn, I haven’t seen Indiana Jones yet.
  • Should we go to Amsterdam after our trip to London?
  • Ooooo, Joe Nathan is pitching, he’s cute.
  • That cute new shirt would be great to wear tomorrow.
  • Are we going to get rain tomorrow, or do I have to water the plants.
  • Look at the time, I should get some sleep.
If anyone has suggestions on how to find focus, I’m willing to take suggestions. Help. Puhleeze.

    Saturday, July 12, 2008

    Quote of the Week

    A little faith will bring your soul to heaven, but a lot of faith will bring heaven to your soul.
    - Author Unknown

    Wednesday, July 09, 2008

    Who's That Girl?

    I recently received a letter from a law firm that a credit card company “misplaced” a box containing computer back-up tapes that contained pretty much my financial life story. Like any good company that screws their customers royally, a risk mitigation strategy went into effect to safeguard my identity. Included in this strategy is a free subscription to Triple Alert, a service that will alert me if anything fishy pops up on my credit report. Haunted by the thought of working in a restaurant wearing a pirate costume and singing to tourists in T-shirts, I decided it was wise to sign up for this service and monitor for security breaches or other potential credit issues, just in case. Much to my surprise, I discovered there was something fishy on my credit report.

    Risking sounding like a braggart, I have excellent credit (the credit report said so!) with nearly 15 years of picture perfect activity. No overdue accounts, no collections, high credit indicating good financial experience, and my student loans are paid in full. Our fairly new mortgage leaves a rather high balance, and I still have some time left to pay off the Jeep, but those loans be taken care of in due time. Credit-wise there were no real surprises on the report except a credit card for the Limited evidently not cancelled and inactive since January 2002. It was my personal information that included something surprising, a section titled “also known as.”

    Apparently I have an alias unknown to me until today. Not the 9 instances of my misspelled name, but a name totally different than my own. Somehow the credit companies think I also carry around the moniker Michelle “my husband’s last name.” For those who don’t know me, or haven’t caught up with my blog postings to go wayyyyyy back to 2005, my husband opted to keep his maiden name and so did I. This is one issue I am incredibly opinionated on; I even contribute to the Lucy Stone League, an organization campaigning to change the widespread practices of wives taking husbands' surnames at marriage and of children being given fathers' surnames. Yet for some reason, nearly 7 years after saying I do, people still require a reminder that my husband and I carry different surnames.

    Names are an important key to what a society values. Anthropologists recognize naming as 'one of the chief methods for imposing order on perception.
    - David S. Slawson

    Apparently I needed to inform the credit agencies of this decision as well, because all the major agencies had me with an alias of Michelle “My husband’s last name.” There has never been a single official document with my last name as anything other then the one I was born with, yet on my credit report there was this completely different name. The 9 different spellings, although annoying, are to be expected with a last name of multiple syllables, but a totally different last name? I felt like I was stealing someone else’s identity as I read the report and couldn’t for the life of me figure out how this mistaken identity happened. My husband and I are both on our mortgage with our own names, and share a credit card account set up with each of our names. These are the only documents I could see triggering this presumptuous change to my list of names. Presumptuous not only that I took on his name, but that we were even married.

    As annoying and time consuming as this was, it was probably far less work then any hassle people who change their names experience. It took about a half-dozen phone calls, but I got this other woman’s name expunged from my credit history (and cancelled the Limited credit card). I reprinted the reports and now feel like I’m back to my old self.

    Tuesday, July 08, 2008

    It's a small world after all

    Sorry if the title of this gets the ageless Disney theme park ride song stuck in your head, but when the world seems so large and overwhelming something happens proving just how small our planet really is. The internet connects us with friends near and far, making it possible to maintain relationships over expansive distances easier than days past. We can “meet” people with similar hobbies, shared interests, fascinating experiences, and touching stories. People from our pasts come out of the woodwork, sparking old memories and often reigniting friendships. Families discover long lost cousins through genealogy sites and software, completing sections of the family tree puzzle. All these links across humanity help break down the manmade concepts of countries and nations, connecting people who in the past would likely be enemies rather than friends. Social networking might just bring more peace, tolerance and understanding to the world then any visit by Jimmy Carter. At times the small world can be rather creepy with cyber-stalking, pasts that should remain hidden, or when worlds collide, connecting people from very different parts of your own past.

    I am a facebook geek, and love the “people you may know” feature that suggests, as you might have guessed from the title, people you may know because you have mutual friends or shared an alma mater with. More often than not I actually do know the person suggested, and when I don’t know the person it is usually because we only have one mutual friend, a silly way to connect two people since we all possess friends and colleagues whose circles never cross. The likelihood of knowing a person increases dramatically with each mutual connection. It is very unlikely to share ten friends and somehow not know each other, although facebook does think I should know half the Classes of 1997 and 1998 from St. Olaf, the alma mater of my husband and many friends, and a bunch of 15 year olds from my cousin’s extensive high school network of 600. After weeding through these obvious mismatches it is fun to find long lost friends and classmates.

    Sometimes the mismatch is not so obvious and this is when the world is so small it’s creepy. On four separate occasions in the past month, a completely unfamiliar name and face popped up on my screen and our connection was surprising and strange. I did not know these four people, but each one of them shared some completely random mutual friends. One of the women from Boston was friends with an old roommate when I lived/worked in Delaware and a classmate of mine from grammar school in New York. Another guy from California and I shared two friends, one who I knew from college in Virginia and the other is the daughter of my father’s best friend from the Bronx. Then there is a woman from India who is friends with one of my college classmates and a guy I worked with in New Jersey. Sharing friends with people from completely different walks of life, common connections that would never be revealed anywhere but on networking sites, is mind-blowing. There are over 6 billion people on this planet, the chances of having two people you know from “different worlds” should be statistically small but somehow it happens; a reminder that there’s so much that we share in only one small, small world.

    Wednesday, July 02, 2008

    Quote of the Week

    My God! How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy!
    - Thomas Jefferson