Category Archives: Public Service Announcement

Bendy Straws

Every Little Bit

Every little bit counts. I have to believe that.

Even though my carefully-written letters to my political representatives go unanswered. Even though those representatives are already doing all the things I’d be asking them to, and supporting all the resistance that makes sense. It feels odd to write to them, knowing that their minds are already made up and they’re already on my side in the fight. But I have to believe that my calls and letters end up tallied on a spreadsheet somewhere and make a row or column just a little more impressive, make someone nod to themselves and say yes, yes I am doing right by these people.

I’m not changing votes. I’m not going to be the one who saves the ACA or finally gets the president’s tax returns into the light. I can’t give Trans kids the protection they need and I can’t keep states from shredding apart abortion rights. I don’t have the power to overturn immigration bans. The people whose minds need changing on these issues aren’t my representatives and aren’t listening to me.

But I did get an unexpected response this week from a local Islamic school, thanking me for my letter and expressing comfort in the knowledge that so many in the community reached out to them.

I’ve been reading Washington Post articles without the pressure of a paywall, and feeling good that a journalist is getting paid for their hard work today. Maybe one more stone will be turned, and one more important article will be written.

I received an email from my professional organization, thanking me for my engagement and informing me that they have written to the president and issued a public statement condemning the immigration ban.

Someone saw the Black Lives Matter pin on my coat, and asked where they could get one.

Maybe it’s okay that our actions are small and feel insignificant. Maybe it’s okay that all we have are straws. If we can get together and concentrate our efforts on the right camels, maybe the straws will be enough, in the end.

I have to believe that every little bit helps.

Get out there and find a camel to put your straw on.




Activism For Beginners

Millions of people took part in marches in cities across the country this weekend, their voices raised for equality, justice, and kindness. Among their number, and watching at home, were thousands of brand new activists just waking up to the reality we’re in and the power we hold to change it.

Whether you were able to attend or not, I hope that stories about the event have awakened the activist within you. Because this is only the beginning. This march was a message to those in power: we’re important, we’re many, we’re watching, and you’re not going to get away with evil. How do we take this spirit and push forward with it to create change? Because marching isn’t enough. We’ve got a long road ahead as this administration works to sell outright lies to us while dismantling our rights.

There are so many activists out there who know a lot more than me, and who are already writing better posts than this one about what to do next. I’m new to this myself, and have so very much to learn*. But I’m hoping that maybe hearing some of this from a friend might make it less intimidating.

Here are some steps that we all need to take in the next few weeks. And once we’ve stepped those steps, we need to step’ em again. And again and again. Then more steps, and bigger steps, until we see results. And then? Keep going.

Activism for Beginners: Baby Steps

Get Familiar With Your Bias and Privilege

We’re all biased. It’s the way the brain gets wired through years of experience with the world, cultural expectations, exchanges with others in the community and outside of it, and consumption of media in all its forms. Everyone, to some degree, holds preconceived notions in their heads about groups of people, even if they aren’t consciously aware of it. You can test your implicit bias through Project Implicit, even though there’s a good chance you’ll be uncomfortable with the results. I know I was uncomfortable with mine. The important thing is what you choose to do with that discomfort. It’s easy to want to dismiss it, saying there’s no way it can be accurate, because you’re not racist or ableist. You’re a good person! Yes, you probably are. You probably try to do everything right and treat people fairly, but it’s important to know the ways in which your brain may be making decisions for you without you even being aware of them. Look at your results. Know where you may need to be exerting a little more conscious control over situations and choices. Just be more aware.

Once you’ve had some time to sit with your biases and pledge to work against them, look at your privilege. Privilege doesn’t mean you’re rich and happy and have never had it tough. It just means that there are some things that you have never had to experience, simply because of the different circumstances of your existence. Acknowledging that other people’s lives and experiences can be very different than yours is important: it’s a way to train yourself out of getting defensive when someone calls you out. The fact is, if you’re white, you’ve had it easier than every other group out there. You owe them the space to tell their stories, and you owe them some difficult homework in understanding and working towards equality.

Get Educated

Open up your eyes and mind to some new perspectives by following some activists on Twitter or Facebook, or subscribe to their blogs or the publications that they contribute to. This is the easiest possible doorway to activism. Just read. Read the words of Black women. Read the words of Indigenous women. Read the words of Trans folks. Read the words of disabled folks. Read as much as you can from people whose lives are different from yours, and who have more to lose in the upcoming political horror show. Listen, learn, and try hard to understand how your actions may need to change in order to stand behind these people in a meaningful way.

And I do mean listen. Don’t interrupt, don’t get defensive, don’t make the conversation about you, and don’t ask for citations to back up their words. If they bring up historical facts you don’t recognize, make a note to go home and put in the work researching and understanding where they’re coming from. If they make you feel uncomfortable, examine those feelings and try to get to the root of them so you can work on being a better and more empathetic person.

While you’re reading, why not support good journalism by subscribing or donating to sites that are doing a good job out there getting actual news to the people? Fight the clickbait economy and support them with your dollars. I’ve subscribed to Mother Jones, the Washington Post, and Teen Vogue (no, seriously), and I’ve donated to the Guardian. If we want good journalism, we need to make it possible for these places to pay good journalists.

Teen Vogue website

Yes, this is a screenshot of Teen Vogue’s site on Saturday.

Get Political

Yes, start calling your representatives in the federal government about all the things going on that you disagree with. Tell them how you’d prefer that they vote on matters that are important to you. Then, afterwards, call to either thank them for voting that way or tell them you’re disappointed that they didn’t. But this isn’t just about the federal government. There are state governments and local governments that speak for you, too. Do you know who represents you when everyone meets for votes in your state capital? Who is on your local board of education? Who’s your mayor? What do they stand for? What important matters are coming up for votes? These people all have offices and phones, and they need to hear your voice.

Do your research and figure out what’s going on closer to home, and then get involved in whatever ways you can, from letters to the editor to attending public meetings to running for office yourself, if you’re qualified (and brave).

Get Involved

What causes matter the most to you right now? How can you help them? Whether it’s time or money, see what you might be able to donate to organizations that are doing some of the hardest work in this fight. There are big ones, like ACLU Planned Parenthood, and Campaign Zero, but don’t forget to act locally, too. Food banks, domestic violence shelters, job centers, children’s groups: find them, and ask them how you can be involved.

Even everyday interactions can make a difference. With so much hate swirling around, and actual Nazis among those in charge of the country, plenty of people have reason to worry for their safety and well-being. Smile at the veiled woman on the bus. Tell the Hispanic barista you like her earrings. Tip the Black waitress a little extra. Speak up when you hear someone say something that is not okay. Fight the normalization of hate speech. Normalize kindness and tolerance. Model good behavior and hope others catch on.

Get Prioritized

Do you need more help prioritizing your energies while your outrage meter keeps overloading with every fresh news story? I’m right there with you. I highly recommend signing up for regular emails from Indivisible and re:act, which contain simple weekly action items, including telephone scripts you can use when calling your representatives. The group behind the Women’s March is rolling out an action plan. Many other national groups, like Planned Parenthood, Moms Demand Action, and the ACLU are also giving out useful information about ways to participate. Sign up for their mailing lists, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date on what they need you to do.

It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed. The list of horrible things we need to fight against keeps growing, and no one person can possibly manage to work against all of it, every day. Rage burnout is a real thing. But every little bit does help, and it’s okay to choose only a few points for your action list. I make a list every weekend, using the mailing lists above as a guide to urgent priorities like hearings or votes. I have a regular slot in my calendar for calling my elected officials over my lunch break.

Get Loud

There is power in numbers – just look at how many turned out for the marches this weekend, and how much it shook the administration. We need to keep people engaged and involved so that the movement continues. Share your hard work in ways that might inspire others, even if it’s just on Facebook where your conservative aunties might see it. See if a coworker wants to volunteer with you. Write letters to the editors in your local papers. Forward links to activist mailing lists to friends who may want to do more. If you’re more extroverted and feel up for it, maybe get a local discussion group together in your neighborhood so you can plan to act as a group and reach more people. Go to town hall meetings and ask your representative important questions, so their answers will be recorded by local journalists for all to see or read.

Beginner activism is still activism. It still counts and can make a difference. Don’t let your inexperience stop you from trying, failing, learning, and trying again. Listen when you’re given feedback from folks who have been fighting this fight longer than you. Share what you learn. Most of all, keep going. Even if we can create change, we need to sustain it, as this election has shown us all too well.

 

*I’m still learning, and I understand that I’m unlikely to get any of this completely right on the first try. Please, let me know if I’m missing important things here, and I’ll do my best to edit this post in response.




Swedish Chef Therapy

 

This is my second in what will surely be a useful series of fictional-character-based self-help exercises. I’ve already told you how Spock can help you with some aspects of depression and anxiety by calling out your irrational side. Today we’re going to look at anger, and how to deal with it simply and effectively using what I like to call Swedish Chef Therapy, or MBAST: Muppet-Based Anger-Suppression Technique.

swedish chef

Credit: Connor Luddy via Flickr CC by 2.0

You’re angry. Frustrated. Irrational. Maybe your undies are too tight, you skipped breakfast, and have to sit beside Loudy McShoutington and his political opinions in the lunch room. Whatever the reasons, you’re successfully coasting through a tough day with gritted teeth and positive self-talk until you open your lunch and realize the sandwich artist put the wrong dressing on your sub.

We need to defuse this bomb before you give Mr. McShoutington the gift of a sandwich hat and you find yourself escorted out of the building.

1. Find two things you can hold in your hands. No weapons! Small everyday objects that you have nearby. A stapler and a water bottle are good options if you’re in the office. Just look around and get creative. They need to be big and heavy enough to really feel them in your hands – a pen is too small.

2. Get in front of a mirror. Alone. Lock yourself in the bathroom. If you’re at work, check for feet under the stalls. You’re about to get very, very silly, and you may not want witnesses.

3. Look mirror-you in the eyes. This part is important.

4. Hop up and down, flail your objects around like your arms are jelly, and sing as loud as you’re comfortable with:

Yorn deshorn, der burr beedish-kadoo
Yee bursh dee hurnder, de boor

BORK BORK BORK

If you’re not laugh-crying at yourself at this point, you need to go watch an hour-long playlist of Swedish Chef videos as a part of your training. If you’re prone to angry outbursts on a regular basis, you may need to start with advanced Swedish Chef Therapy right away and keep one of these chef’s hats in your desk drawer for emergencies.

swedish chef

Credit: Brian M, via Flickr CC by 2.0




Spock Therapy

Vulcan Lane Sign

Image credit: Wonderferret via Flickr, CC by 2.0

I’ve fought hard against depression and anxiety for decades. I’ve read so many self-help books and tried all the positive thinking in the world. I’ve yanked on my bootstraps and I’ve Stuart Smalley’d myself in the mirror. I’ve written about my depression. I’ve given therapists my life story and they’ve tried to dig into my subconscious to pinpoint what emotional upheavals in my childhood might have turned me into a nervous caffeinated Eeyore. It wasn’t until I stumbled onto cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that my life finally started to change.

Cognitive therapy is hard work. Such hard work, in fact, that I wasn’t ready to take it on until I finally found a medication that lifted my depression just enough for me to dedicate my resources to anything other than basic needs. Even then, I was reluctant to take on the challenge. CBT is a long-term commitment. It’s not just dumping a week’s worth of troubles onto a therapist’s couch and walking away with a new bounce in your step. It’s constant repetitive work, like redirecting a fork-wielding toddler away from the power outlets, over and over and over.

Any Google search on CBT will quickly get you to a long list of “cognitive distortions” that get in the way of healthy thinking. It’s worth buying a copy of David Burns’ Feeling Good – The New Mood Therapy and reading through it yourself to really understand the research behind the therapy techniques. Essentially, you train yourself to recognize and label distorted thoughts as they come by, and then use appropriate techniques to challenge or “talk back” to them. Every time you check in and find your brain veering off course, you need to stop, focus, and correct it.

It can be intimidating to a beginner. I’ve recommended the book to friends who start out very enthusiastic and then abandon it after a chapter or two because it’s difficult or confusing. And it is difficult. Especially if the only therapy you’ve ever had (if any) is the introspective, cry-on-a-couch, relive-your-childhood-until-we-get-to-the-bottom-of-things therapy.

So I’ve found an easier way to approach it. If you want to start telling your irrational thoughts what’s what, but the books seem like gibberish to you, start simply. Don’t jump all the way in and splash around. Start logically. Your exhausted, anxious, depressed brain needs a first officer who can help you keep your shit together even when you’re falling apart. Your brain needs Spock.

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Let me explain.

The beauty of CBT, and the reason it connected so well with me, is that none of it is magic. No fake-it-till-you-make it, think positive, rainbows and unicorns pop-sci bullshit. It’s just logic. Pure, simple, and real. Logic. It’s Spock therapy.

At its core, CBT is simple: it’s about recognizing cognitive distortions. It’s about noticing when your thoughts need to be relieved of command. The purpose isn’t to change how you feel, at least not directly. It’s about recognizing that the thoughts you think contribute to which way your mood is likely to swing, and learning to control them instead of letting them control you. Everyone has irrational thoughts from time to time; the difference is that folks suffering from depression or anxiety have them more often, and believe them more often, and get trapped in a feedback loop of irrational thoughts causing very real feelings.

Now, CBT isn’t about never being sad: things suck sometimes and everyone deserves a good cry when it gets to be too much. And it’s not about never being angry: a kicked puppy is right to bite back. You’re allowed to have feelings! You’re human, after all. What the therapy does – what the hard work you put into the exercises does – is help you to assess whether the thoughts you are thinking make any sense, in context.

And who’s the best out there at telling an impulsive and irrational captain that he’s being ridiculous?

Kirk and Spock argue

Image credit: JD Hancock via Flickr, CC by 2.0

You know the logical answer.

Just imagine Spock (Tuvok will do, I’m not here to judge you on your Vulcan choice) on your shoulder, listening in on your thoughts. When your brain pulls out an irrational cognitive distortion, Spock is there to question you and make you reconsider. That’s his job as first officer. Don’t worry, you’re still the captain: sometimes, you’re going to decide that Spock is wrong and you’re going to accept your thoughts and feel your feelings. But before you dismiss your first officer, give him a chance to challenge you. When you start making statements about yourself or the situation you’re in, hand them off to Spock before you give them any weight. Think to yourself: What would Spock say?

Let’s take one of the most common kinds of distortions: “all-or-nothing thinking,” or applying a mental filter that accentuates the negative and discounts the positive.

“Dammit, I forgot my wallet at home again. I can’t do anything right.”

“Captain, that statement is illogical. You have, in fact, done several things right even in the past hour. You are wearing correctly-buttoned pants, and you drove yourself to this Trader Joe’s without breaking any traffic laws.”

How about “fortune-telling,” where you jump to conclusions (usually the worst ones) without any evidence. What would Spock say?

“He didn’t call back. I must have said something to offend him.”

Captain, telepathy is not a common human trait. Absent any evidence that he is in fact offended, you are basing your belief on conjecture. There are many explanations for a delayed response on his part, and your hypothesis does not carry more statistical weight than the others.

Irrational thoughts are sneaky. They can be really convincing, especially if they’ve been with you for decades or more. Talking back to them takes dedication and a lot of practice, and I honestly believe that the Feeling Good book is the best tool you can have in your pocket. Get the handbook, too, and really take the time to learn how your brain distorts things. Nobody else can do the work for you, and you can’t improve without effort. But that doesn’t mean that you have to make that effort alone.

Some people wear religious symbols – crosses, stars – or get meaningful images tattooed on their bodies to remind them they’re not alone in their journey. In my case my symbol is a reminder that I don’t always know best, because my thinking can list towards the irrational without my conscious mind realizing just how far off course we’ve gotten. If I’m not careful, I find myself fighting like mad just to stay in place as my depression and anxious thoughts pull at my mind like a tractor beam.

That’s why I depend on my first officer to help me make the right decisions about when to pay attention to what my brain is saying.

Spock and Kirk

Image credit: Sonny Abesamis via Flickr, CC by 2.0

Keep Spock with you. Let him help you.

He has been, and always shall be, your friend.

 




 

(Any Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and you can read more about that here. I’ve only linked to things I love and recommend.)

Don’t listen to idiots.

There’s a very important bit of information that you need to remember when the little voice inside of your head tells you that you suck, and nobody wants to hear what you have to say, and that you’ll never amount to anything.

That voice is YOU.

Think about what that means for a second.

The voice in your head says you’re an idiot.

But the voice is you.

The voice is most likely wrong in the first place. Chances are pretty good that you’re actually a lovely person worthy of love and hugs and wonderful things. But you quietly think to yourself that maybe it might be right, which is why you’re here reading this in the first place.

But that voice is you.

And that means if that voice is correct, and you’re indeed an idiot, then that voice must also be an idiot.

Don’t listen to idiots.

Shut up, voice.

 




Cupid’s Undie Run – Freezing for a Cause

I don’t run. My attitude towards running is summed up by this Garfield cartoon:

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I also don’t love the cold, as anyone who’s ever been within whining distance of me in the winter will know all too well.

Despite these things, on Saturday, in sub-freezing temperatures, I will be running for charity at the Cupid’s Undie Run in Washington DC. Yes, “Undie Run” means that they encourage runners to brave the cold and run in Valentine’s-themed undies. It’s like a polar bear plunge, but without the frozen lake. Just the same questionable judgment and the same shivering bodies.

Capture

Why run in the cold and risk frostbite patches on my cellulite? Because it’s a challenge. Because I want to stretch myself. And because I’m selfish.

You see, the one-mile run is in support of the Children’s Tumor Foundation, which raises money to fund research into and awareness of Neurofibromatosis, a potentially serious and sometimes fatal genetic disorder that affects up to 1 in every 3000 births.

Liam, my wonderful and adorable toddler, is that one in three thousand.

liam uke

He was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis Type 1 (formerly called Von Recklinghausen’s disease) last summer, near his first birthday. He’s already had to go through sedation for three MRIs, and he’s on track for at least two more of those scans before his second birthday. He has tumors in his brain that need to be watched, because if they grow they could affect his eyesight… or worse. So far they’re stable and not causing any trouble, and we’re very, very grateful for that, but we’re doing scans every two months to be able to catch them right away if they change. Liam also gets regular physical therapy to help him catch up with the big physical milestones, because the low tone associated with NF1 means that his muscles have to put in more effort than the average kid to do the same work. He’s working very hard and he’s doing very well and we’re incredibly proud of him. He took his first independent steps just over a week ago, and we all cried a little.

He’s healthy and happy and just as nutty and exhausting as a normal toddler, and if you didn’t know about all this you likely wouldn’t even know there was anything going on under the surface. But this is a condition that will need monitoring for the rest of his life. And because the severity of NF1 varies so much from person to person, we don’t know what his future might hold. Raising money for this research is all I can do to try and improve the chances that even if the worst case scenarios come up, science will have a way to get him through them.

So I’m pulling on some bright underpants and running a mile in DC with a handful of wonderful friends, on a day the temperature won’t even break freezing. 

I’m not raising money for his big medical bills quite yet; so far it’s been expensive but manageable. But there are lots of kids out there who are living with NF1. Neurofibromatosis can cause nerve tumors in the brain or in the body, which can cause blindness or pain or other disability, and require surgery or chemotherapy. Those tumors often include small lumps called neurofibromas that can be seen on the skin, and those bumps can be off-putting to some, leaving people living with NF1 feeling isolated. Kids with NF1 are at greater risk than average for learning and processing disorders like ADHD and dyslexia.  The money I’m raising this week, by running in the cold in a goofy outfit, will help to fund research into these complications, maybe leading to better ways to prevent or manage them.

Please consider a donation to the Children’s Tumor foundation through the CTF website.

Learn more about NF, directly from the Children’s Tumor Foundation.

Wish me luck on Saturday. It’s going to be hell, but this little guy is worth it.

Update, February 2017: Thanks to everyone’s generous support, my team met its 2016 fundraising goal of $1500. I won’t be running this year, but I encourage everyone to toss a few dollars towards NF research, if they can spare it. 

Note: The link to the awesome heart-print boxers is an Amazon affiliate link. You can learn more about that here. 




Blizzard Preparation Tips From an Amateur Expert

Washington, DC - Snow Blizzard of 2010

Washington, DC – Snow Blizzard of 2010 (Photo credit Claude Cavender via FLickr under CC license)

With a huge blizzard bearing down on the mid-Atlantic region, people around here are in a bit of a panic. Store shelves are empty of essential French toast supplies, bottled water, and batteries, and lines at gas stations are stretching out into the street and blocking traffic. It’s not necessarily overkill, as much as I’d like to make fun of everyone – even the more conservative estimates are predicting that DC will be shivering under two feet of wet snow by Sunday morning.

There are hundreds of excellent emergency-preparedness articles online, published by people who know what they’re talking about. You can find storm and blizzard tips from the American Red Cross. Weather websites and networks. The federal government. You should read them and do whatever you can to get ready for extreme weather. Take this seriously.

But they’re not giving you the whole story. I’m from Montreal. I know blizzards, and I know a bunch of little tricks that will help you weather the storm a lot easier. Count on the pros for survival. I’ll help make your survival less miserable.

1. Bring your snow equipment inside

If the forecast calls for heavy winds along with several inches of snow, you’ll have snow drifts that can make it hard to get to the shed or wherever else your snow shovels and snow-melting salt are stored. Bringing it to the front porch isn’t enough – you need at least one shovel and some salt inside in case you’re faced with a wall of snow when you open the front door. This doesn’t apply to snowblowers unless you have an incredibly spacious foyer.

2. Get your scrapers and sweepers out of the car

Those scrapers and sweepers aren’t going to do you any good locked up in your trunk. Leaving them in your car in general is a good idea for when you’re out and about, but when you’re parking the car and getting ready to hunker down for the duration of the storm, bring the snow-removers into the house with you and leave them near the door. In a pinch, a kitchen broom works to sweep off a car, too, but if you’ve got a tool you like, why not have it ready to go?

3. Park the car close to the street

If you have a driveway and not a garage (or a garage too full of junk to get your car in there), park your car close to the street instead of close to the house. You’ll have to walk further to get to it, but you won’t need to clear out as much snow behind it to get it out into the street. Be careful not to be too close to the edge, because you don’t want a snowplow taking off your bumper. If you have to park in the street because you don’t have a driveway, my heart goes out to you. Best of luck defending your cleared spot from the vultures.




4. Get your grill ready

If the power goes out, you won’t have many options for cooking, so emergency planning dictates you stock up on protein bars and trail mix and other nutritious foods that don’t need heating. But if you have a grill out on the deck, you can heat up almost anything using a heavy pan (or one you don’t care about scorching). Pick up some propane before the storm, roll the grill a little closer to the door, and then once the winds die down you can wrap up in a parka and heat yourself up some water for cocoa. Don’t be a hero and go out during the blizzard, please!

5. Charge everything

Everything you can think of. Phones and tablets that can connect to the internet are obviously essential, but do you have laptops you can play movies or games on? Mp3 players you can load up with podcasts and music? Even old cell phones you never got around to recycling – if they still work, you can use them to play games and music, even if they’re not connected to any network. If your power goes out, you’re going to be bored and in the dark, so you may as well have as many toys as possible charged and ready to go.

6. Shower

Yeah, the water will probably still work if the power’s out, unless you’re on a well system with a pump, but who wants to shower in cold water when the heat isn’t working? Take advantage of the calm before the storm and hop into a hot shower.

7. Run the dishwasher and do the laundry

You might not get a chance to wash clothes or dishes for a few days, so check that you have enough clean stuff to get you through a week. If you don’t, a last-minute dishwasher load now can save you the headache of trying to wash off plates in icy water later. You might need a few layers of warm clothes, too, so make sure your sweatshirts and fluffy socks are all clean and dry. This is especially important if you’ll need to do some snow clearing – between sweat and snow, you’ll be soaked, and you will need extra sets of clothes to change into after every round with the shovel.

8. Tidy up

Don’t clean up like you’re having guests over, but clear the floors to avoid tripping over things in the dark. I have a toddler, so this is impossible to achieve, but there’s hope for many of you. Also look around for breakables on counters and tables, and move them so they can’t get knocked over when you stub a toe on a table leg and hop around cursing.

9. Make essentials easy to find.

Extra hats and gloves and thick socks for outside? Fill up a tote bag by the front door so you can get at them easily. Stack warm blankets and snuggies and bathrobes wherever you’re planning on sleeping. Have a central charging location for all your electronics so you know where they all are.

10. Put your emergency food on the kitchen counter

Sure, you bought protein bars and applesauce and cans of beans, but where did you put them all? It gets dark early, especially under blizzard conditions, and you don’t want to waste valuable flashlight time digging around in the pantry trying to find the granola. Make a pile of essentials where it’s easy to find. Put things like scissors or corkscrews nearby, if you’ll need those to access your eats and drinks.

11. Have an emergency caffeine supply

I get headaches when I skip my coffee, so I keep instant coffee around in case the power goes out and I can’t run my coffee maker. If you grind it extra fine it dissolves half-decently in cold water, but you can buy the Starbucks iced coffee packets now and save yourself that trouble. Alternatively, have a case of Coke where you can get at it and just pour it into a mug at 6am and use your imagination.

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Coffee Penguin says stay warm!

Good luck getting through this, everyone. I’ll see you on the other side.

The image and/or text links to Amazon in this post are affiliate links. Click here to read more.




The needs of the many

The anti-vaccination crowd is a tiny minority. Even in the areas with the most vaccine resistance, 95% of people are still vaccinating their kids. But the anti-vax group is loud. They have celebrities backing them up and their misguided views give news outlets a “controversy” to report on.

The 95%, the sensible people who know that vaccination is the right thing to do, well, we just go about our lives and get our kids their shots. But then these misinformed people drag down vaccination rates. Babies too young to be vaccinated and people with compromised immune systems are at huge risk. But so is everyone else. The shots we’ve given our kids aren’t magical – the virus can still make them sick. And because of the unimmunized, because of the reality of how vaccines work even when done right, now we have measles spreading again.

Public schools require children to be fully vaccinated to attend, but it’s easy enough for a parent to fill out a “religious” exemption form and completely sidestep a very important public health safeguard. And that’s unacceptable. I’m writing to local school boards and my elected officials at the county, state, and federal level, and I’m going to ask them for mandatory vaccines for public school attendance. No exemptions unless it’s a legitimate MEDICAL exemption like an allergy or immune disorder. I don’t want to see kids dying of measles. Want to skip vaccination? No public school for you. Period.

We 95% need to get loud. Very loud. Because it’s bullshit that a tiny percentage of people who have been swayed by dubious internet “research” and unethical physicians can bring back a horrible disease and put everyone else’s health in danger. There’s no controversy. Vaccines are safe and vaccines work. They have saved literally millions of lives worldwide. Start talking. Start yelling. We are many and we are right and we need to be louder than them.

Where Do Babies Come From?

 

(Note: this is an edited repost from May 2013.)

 

When a man and a woman love each other very much and want to have a baby, they share a special hug that puts a baby into the woman’s belly.

We tell children variations on this story, adding levels of scientific complexity and biological grossness as they get old enough to want or need the details.

For 1 in 8 couples, though, this story isn’t true.

Sometimes all the love in the world isn’t enough to make a baby, no matter how enthusiastic the special hugging.

Sometimes, a man and a woman love each other very much and want to start a family. They throw away all the protection that they’ve been using since their parents taught them about the mechanics of sex, and they “try”. They make jokes about bad baby names and daydream about the nursery. It’s fun and it’s exciting and they hold their breaths every month as they check pregnancy tests to see if they made it.

And they wait.

Friends and family ask them when they’re going to have kids. Soon, they say, and look at each other with knowing smiles.

They start to wonder why it’s taking so long. They do some research. She buys tests to check her urine every day. The strips can tell her when she’s ovulating so they can have better timing. She buys a thermometer to take her temperature every morning before getting out of bed, to keep track of her cycles. She drinks green tea and eats pineapples; someone on the internet said it helps. He takes vitamins and tries to eat healthier. She cuts out caffeine and pushes through the withdrawal headaches. He avoids hot tubs on vacation. Every month, they wait two long weeks after ovulation to see if they’ll get a pink line on a pregnancy test.

And they wait.

Friends and family ask them when they’re going to have kids. Soon, they say, and squeeze each other’s hand for support under the table.

Someone tells her to just relax. Maybe stick her legs up in the air after sex. Someone asks him if they’ve tried different positions.

They see doctors. They give medical histories. They have blood drawn. How are their hormone levels? Do they have any STDs? They send blood out to see if they’re carriers for genetic diseases. He hands over a sample container in a crinkled paper bag. He holds her hand as she lies back and tries not to faint while a tech squeezes thick gel into her uterus and fallopian tubes to see if the paths are clear.

And they wait: for the phone calls, the follow-up visits, the medical bills. They wait for answers.

Friends and family ask them when they’re going to have kids. The silence is awkward.

Someone says they should try adopting, because their cousin got pregnant right after she got that girl from the Philippines.

Sometimes the problem is obvious, once the test results come back. Bad sperm, blocked tubes, hormone imbalances blocking ovulation. Sometimes it can be fixed with medication or surgery. But sometimes the doctors shrug and say there’s nothing wrong that they can find, but that if pregnancy hasn’t happened yet without intervention, it probably won’t. They give the couple odds. They’re bad. They cry.

There are options, of course, but they’re expensive. Many insurance plans have little to no coverage for fertility drugs or procedures. Intrauterine insemination, usually the first step, can cost over $1000, and you’re only buying a 15-20% chance at a viable pregnancy for your money. In-vitro fertilization has better odds (40-60%) but is much more invasive and expensive – approximately $10,000 per round. It’s a whirlwind of tears and hormones, injections and blood draws, medical bills and invasive ultrasounds, and time taken off work for medical appointments. And it’s waiting. Always, always waiting.

Babies come from love. Sometimes they come from science, too. Sometimes they come from donor eggs or sperm or from adoption. And sometimes, they never come.

This week is National Infertility Awareness Week. Many people are reluctant to talk about infertility. Maybe they’re ashamed of their issues, feeling like there’s something wrong with them. Maybe they’ve heard one too many “helpful” comments and are afraid to tell anyone else about what they’re living. Maybe it’s too hard to talk about without crying.

Please take a moment to read this page from RESOLVE, the National Infertility Association. This is information that everyone needs to know in order to create a better support network for the infertile couples in their lives. Read it. Absorb it. Share it. 1 in 8 couples out there could really use your support.

That’s why I walked in RESOLVE’s 2013 Walk of Hope in Washington DC last June. Funds raised from the Walk support local RESOLVE programming, including support groups and educational events, public awareness initiatives, and advocacy efforts to ensure family building options are available to all. Because they should be. You can learn more about RESOLVE here, and donate to the cause, if you’d like. But just the act of you reading this post has helped the cause, too, so thank you.

 

 

MS

Multiple sclerosis is a terrible way to die.

Sonya was Dad’s second wife. They married a couple of years after my parents’ divorce. I can’t say that we were very close, really, because of the nature of that relationship and the fact that I moved away soon after they were married. But I never had any reason not to like her. She was loud and silly and kind. To my eyes (and ears) she was the stereotypical Southern American, and I couldn’t help but poke fun at her American flag quilts, gun-totin’ relatives, collectible figurines, and Arkansas accent. She didn’t mind, and sometimes even cranked her drawl up a notch just for me. She seemed to make Dad happy. I’m pretty sure she was the one picking out Christmas presents for me and my siblings the whole time she and Dad were together, and she always chose better than Dad would have on his own.

I never knew her without her wheelchair. Her MS had already knocked her off her feet by the time we met, but she was tough and optimistic and open to new treatments. She made appointments with the best specialists at the Montreal Neurological Institute. She tried pills and injections, and clinical trials for new experimental medications. Both she and Dad kept up on the latest research online so they could point at a new study and ask the doctors if there was any hope there. I saw Sonya puff up from steroid treatments, and then shrink away as eating became difficult. She started visiting the hospital more often as her condition worsened. Despite regular physical therapy, her body got weaker and weaker, until even a wheelchair was too much for her. She spent days and nights in a hospital bed in her living room, watching TV with a pile of cats on her legs. Eventually, she deteriorated enough to need full-time care, and so Dad reluctantly found her a spot in a long-term-care facility.

She died yesterday.

I got to visit her a few weeks before the end. Her pillow, embroidered with “An American Princess Sleeps Here,” was carefully propped up to keep her head from dropping to the sides. She wore new PJs, and hugged a plush cat doll to her side. That is, Dad had placed the cat by her hip and put her arm over it – she no longer had any control of her limbs. She smiled when she saw me, and opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came out. Just a hint of breath. It was heartbreaking to see her reduced to a smile and a whisper.

Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system, and the central nervous system controls everything. That makes MS a progressive, debilitating disease of the whole body.

Your nerve cells need a protective layer around the long axons they use like telephone wires to get messages to their neighbors. MS eats away at that layer, leaving the lines weak, frayed, and full of static. Depending on where the damage begins, your disease may manifest itself in blurred or double vision. You may stumble as you lose your sense of balance and develop involuntary spasms in your legs. You may feel numbness in your hands, and find yourself dropping things as you lose your dexterity. Maybe you need a cane at first, but over the years you may move to a walker as your legs get weaker. Then a wheelchair when they stop working entirely. You might lose conscious control of your bodily functions, depending on a caregiver to keep you comfortable with diapers and catheters. Solid food can become a choking hazard as your throat muscles stop receiving commands, so you may need a liquid diet or a feeding tube. Your voice becomes a whisper as your vocal cords shut down. You’re trapped in a body that can’t hear your brain.

They’re not sure what causes it, or why some people progress so much more rapidly than others. There isn’t a cure yet, and most of the treatments only offer short-term relief of some of the symptoms. MS is a mystery, and it’s terrifying.

As I sit around today, waiting for news about funeral arrangements for Sonya and consoling Dad over the phone, I’m making a donation to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in Sonya’s memory. I can’t stop MS from squeezing the life out of people. But someone out there will find a way someday, and I want to help them get there.