Category Archives: Soap Box Issue

Inspiration + Giveaways= A Great Day

Yesterday, a neighbor and I were chatting. She’d gone overseas to visit her daughter who is in the Peace Corps. We both agreed that seeing how others live is a humbling experience…particularly when we live in a county with so much. Yet, even some in our own country struggle with daily life way more than they should, and we, the average citizen, take our lives for granted.

I take that back. We, the average American Joe, focus on the negatives, on the lack of, on the trifling little quibbles that are meaningless to so many other of our fellow humans.

My first real exposure to this came from a book back in my preteen years. A little novel titled Mrs. Mike highlighted the inequities that some may face and the perseverance and joy with which they face them while others can only focus on the minutiae. Case in point, Mrs. Mike lost her children in the Canadian wilderness only to return to find her mother’s boarders quibbling over burnt toast.

I wonder how many times a day I quibble over things as small and inconsequential as burnt toast. Scratch that, I don’t want to know.

Especially after receiving a beautiful email chock full of inspiration and giveaways for readers and writers.

Queena is a young lady vibrant and full of life. She had her future in the palm of her hand. Then, she was brutally attacked, a senseless act that left her blind and broken. Physically broken. Her spirit, however, is kept alive through the love of her family and the generosity of many she has never met.

You see, Queena had just dropped off a stack of books at the library when she was raped and beaten. And in the true kindness and community that is beloved by the literary community, both readers and writers, Queena has inspired a literary giveaway of epic proportions.

All writers and aspiring writers can bid on writerly services from big name agents and editors to techy stuff that make writing easier or more manageable. Readers can find amazing books and book packages by gifted authors or their publishers.

In the workforce, a common phrase is often bandied about: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

In the writerly world, our phrase is pay it forward. The writing community is truly inspiration in the generous way we reach a hand backwards to help pull up the writers behind us. We share wisdom, experience, services and hope.

Please head over to NA Alley and see Queena’s story of survival and perseverance. Then, check on the list of items up for bid in this legendary auction.

How do you focus on the important things in life and steer clear of burn toast quibbles?

Curious minds want to know.

Tales from the Bully Box Now Available

BullyBox_FrontCover-3I am pleased to announce the release of Tales from the Bully Box, a middle grade anthology of super awesome stories for the super awesome kids in your life. If you know a kid, have a kid or love a kid, please check out this new book which aims to open communication between kids and their parents/peers/teachers.

Excerpt: Bullying stinks, but knowing what to do about it can make things better. In Tales from the Bully Box, you will find short stories about kids just like you. They get bullied, and sometimes they even bully. But most of the time, they are bystanders who have to figure out what to do when they witness the bullying all around them. In “Hailey’s Shooting Star,” one-handed Hailey proves her worth on the basketball court and as a friend. In “The Eyes on the Back of My Head,” you’ll get to stare straight into Mike Mansky’s soul with a pair of super-secret laser eyes. Filled with stories that take readers on a journey from the classroom to summer camp and the basketball court to the mall, Tales from the Bully Box inspires kids to be the best friends they can be.

Questions from the authors are included for each story to help parents, teachers or caregivers engage in discussion with the children they love.

This is the first book in a the Colors for Causes series by Elephant’s Bookshelf Press. EBP will donate proceeds to organizations that support bully prevention.

To find out how you can help stop bullying, check out The Bully Box or PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center.

I hope you enjoy reading the stories as much as I enjoyed editing them.

Cat~

P.S. Did I mention I have 3 short stories included as well? Lucky for me, my publisher edited those!

Wear Orange On Wednesday

Yes, you. Tomorrow morning, don your orange and unite against bullying. Use this color to visibly stand up for kindness and community and compassion.

What Unity Means to Me

  • I believe that all people are equal. We all deserve respect, love and acceptance regardless of where we came from, what we have, what we do or why we do it.
  • I believe there is a difference between acceptance and tolerance. Acceptance implies compassion and understanding. Tolerance implies self-import and civil disdain.
  • I believe that kids deserve a safe educational environment free from harassment and intolerance–certainly they deserve one free from bullying. I believe the same goes for adults whether at work or in the home.
  • I believe that many bullies are often victims of bad circumstances, and their behaviors are learned as a reaction to those life stresses. While this doesn’t make it right, it does make it easier to deal with.
  • I believe that teaching is better than punishment. If we understand the why, we are more apt to respond positively than if we view things through a negative lens based strictly on the what.
  • I believe that learning the intention behind the action is more important than knee-jerk reactions to things that seem cruel, odd, disgusting or rude. If we never understand something we can’t ever hope to help.
  • I believe there is no such thing as common sense. The world is so big and the population so vast that there isn’t one common experience to rightfully base our assumptions and expectations.
  • I believe that I have no right to judge others based on my moral compass. We all earn our compasses through our own personal experiences, therefore the things I hold dear might be meaningless to someone who lives a vastly different life than myself and vice-versa.
  • I believe the only thing strong enough to bring peace to this world is a communal desire to accept and care for others different than ourselves.
  • I believe we are all equal, and as such, we all deserve a life of hope, compassion and respect.

I know, I sound a little like Miss America, but without the slim stems, the luscious locks and the poetic prose. I’m just an average mom with big beliefs, and tomorrow, October 22, I will wear orange in honor of PACER’s Unity Day. I hope you will, too.

What does unity mean to  you?

Curious minds want to know.

In A Handful Of Dust Book Giveaway and our technoligical plight

In the wake of Apple’s new watch unveiling, I got sucked into a world wide web of articles on technology. Eventually, my browsing led me to a story about autonomous driving and how easy it would be to hack the systems of these newest toys-in-the-making

Is anyone else troubled by the abundance of technology in our lives? Does anyone else pine for the pioneer days when you lived by your own doing and died by your own poor choices and laziness? Does anyone besides me think that having a lazy human behind the wheel of a vehicle is a bad idea?

I mean, seriously, one article boasted how the automatic system would hand over the controls to the driver if the car got into trouble it couldn’t handle alone, such as slamming on its brakes to avoid hitting a car in front of it. I don’t know about you, but braking seems like a pretty fundament part of driving. Needless to say, I see a huge flaw in this:

  • The driver relinquished control for a reason: he doesn’t want to pay attention to the mundane task of driving.
  • By applying logic, this means he is no longer an attentive driver of the vehicle, but rather a passive passenger sitting in front of the steering wheel.
  • Inattention requires time before reaction: said driver must be alerted to a problem via the car, he must then assess why the distress signal has been sent, then he must determine what needs to be done to avoid the peril of smashing into the car that just swerved into his lane.
  • By my calculation, way too much time has elapsed to allow the now-panicked driver to avoid the crash when Rosie the Robot could have simply stomped on the brakes solo.
  • Ie: autonomous cars seem MORE dangerous.
  • When you add up the time and financial costs of the wreck for rear-ending another car, Mr. Lazy Driver has wasted vast resources when he could have simply set his cruise and crooned to the radio–with hands on wheel, eyes on road and foot poised near the brake–during his morning commute.

Suddenly, autonomous driving doesn’t sound so convenient after all. Well, it never did… News flash: I like being in control of my own life. I don’t want 1984 to come to fruition. I like independent thinking and acting. I like making decisions and living with the consequences.

I don’t want to reside in a dystopian world unless it is one I’m reading about. Big Brother is for fiction. Or, at least, it used to be.

Throw in those hackers I was talking about, and I see chaos to the max. Pray tell, where do I sign up?

Not with Apple. I am not ready for personal technology that is controlled by private companies, can be shared with the government and stolen by hackers. I’ll keep my pulse to myself and get in my own car accidents, thank you.

I will also continue to read survival novels by author Mindy McGinnis, where nature is a force to be reckoned with, technology is limited. and human interactions are tenuous at best. In a Handful of Dust is due to hit  bookshelves on September 23, 2014. It’s the companion novel to her debut novel, Not a Drop to Drink.

Follow me to Mindy’s blog to save on your e-copy of Drink (a steal at $1.99) and to enter a chance to win one of five free copies of Dust!

What kinds of technology can’t you live with, and what can’t you live without? How do you feel about technology driven novels?

Curious minds want to know.

Viral Ice Buckets

So, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since this whole #IceBucketChallenge got started and it makes me proud. Proud that so many people in such a seemingly calloused world stand up and make a difference. Sure, it’s a fun way to donate and raise awareness…I mean, who doesn’t want to shock their systems with a cold shower to the noggin?…but you still have to do it.

And do it, we have.

To the tune of $88.5 million in the days between July 29 and August 26. (Figures found on the ALS site this morning)

But that’s not the best thing. One point nine million new donors have emerged during this time and millions more have watched the countless videos circulating in the cybersphere.

Awareness goes a long way in the daily living of ALS patients. While many of those currently diagnosed with ALS may not see the benefit of these generous donations, the support that has been shown to the ALS community cannot be measured. Nor can the outpouring of funds be dismissed for the much-needed research to alleviate the symptoms of ALS and help find a cure in the future. 

Wouldn’t it be lovely if all the good ideas and compassion we have bottled up inside could go viral every day? We could inundate the world with peace and love and hope in a mere 30 days. (I hear a Miss America speech in here somewhere : ) 

But of course, there are the naysayers. Every cause has one (yes, you dolled-up, plastic surgeried actress with the fake implants and new lips, I’m talking to you). And the trolls…you know, the people who deliberately antagonize and create heartache in the midst of all things good. For every uplifting or heartbreaking story, a thread or a post exists to rip it apart. Yet despite the ratio of good to bad, these cruel comments have more power than all the good vibes floating around. We just have to see past the trash talk and focus on the generosity of spirit that we have within us. We have to peek at the reality behind the bite and understand that some people just like to rain on others’ parades. And when we can do this, we can accomplish anything.

So, thanks to those who have donated. Thanks to those who have soaked themselves in freezing water for a cause they didn’t know existed. Thanks to all you wonderful people who are smothering the voices of the naysayers with your good deeds and generous hearts.

Go viral. One bucket at a time!

What is your cause? If you could pick anything at all to go viral what would it be and why?

Curious minds want to know.

P.S. Mine would be literacy.

 

Diversity, Prejudice and Acceptance: how do you roll?

In my youngest and most formative years, I grew up a minority. I also lived in a string of apartments, a trailer house and a tiny home that was broken into despite the three German Shepherds guarding it and the ten foot high fence surrounding it. I did not have the typical white-washed childhood that many of my current community members have.

I grew up in a world of socio-economic, religious and cultural diversity. At one point, I was one of two white kids in my class. I played with anyone who was nice and steered clear of the meanies. Not because of their skin color or ethnic background, but because of their behavior.

Every day, I am thankful for my real-world education in Human Acceptance 101. On the flip side, I am saddened that my children will not experience the same abundant diversity that I did.

My predominantly conservative little town was recently made famous for two reasons: having a couple apply for the first same-sex marriage license in the state and for having a very public and adverse reaction to this application. While different opinions are great, the way we go about expressing them can be extremely destructive.

I was taught to respect others. I was taught to accept others. I was taught to express my views with open-mindedness and to always remember that everyone is entitled to his/her opinion. I was never taught to hate or to partake in fear-mongering. Prejudice was a dirty word in my home.

Funny, since my parents did this despite their lack of religious conviction. Of the six members of my childhood family, only two of us attend church and openly express our faith. Only three are baptized and confirmed. Two simply don’t believe in God. When I listen to the religious hatred that people use to justify their persecution of gays and lesbians, I can understand why my siblings don’t want to be associated with a church body that uses God’s love to hurt not heal.

This saddens me, though it does not rock my spirituality. You see, I have a strong faith. My love for God was hard-worn. I didn’t grow up in a church, but rather was drawn to it because of the promise God made: Whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

Wow, WHOEVER believes. That’s powerful. That’s amazing. It was utterly unimaginable that He would love a child like me so much He would look past my sins and open His arms to my eternal redemption. But He does. He even promised to love everyone without providing a clause to exclude some believers and not others. In case you’re unfamiliar with His promise, look it up. John 3:16.

My faith in God is not dampened by His judgment–that is between me and Him. My faith in others, however, suffers greatly when the very sinners that God promised to save use His words to condemn those different from them. Personally, I feel this detracts from the message Christians wish to spread to the world. It turns people away from a faith we want them to embrace.

The only way that using God’s words against anyone for any reason is acceptable is if the individual using such words is sinless. I am not. I have broken many a commandment in my day. Sure I’ve never killed anyone, but I have gossiped. Same thing in God’s eyes. Neither have I robbed a bank, though I once took a small bowl from Perkins to provide water for my puppy. Thief either way.*

We are all sinners. We have all fallen short of God’s glory. We do so every day. Amen.

But that isn’t my only concern with this heated issue. I also get squirmy when people use the whole “breaking up traditional marriage” thing as a defense against allowing everyone in the world to openly love who they love. Why? Because there is no traditional family anymore.

None.

I work in the family law business. I provide custody evaluations. I help divorcing or separated parents figure out custody and parenting time arrangements. My job would be unnecessary if the traditional family wasn’t in jeopardy. And trust me, the reasons behind the divorces, separations and one night stands have nothing to do with whether a gay couple got married or not. Every single case I’ve worked in the past five years has been composed of two heterosexuals.

These families are broken by abuse, adultery, chemical dependency, crime and poverty. Currently, an estimated 65% of children live in mixed families. That is terrifying and in much greater need of attention than whether or not two women can lovingly live together.

One night stands between homosexuals do not result in unwanted pregnancies. In fact, babies adopted into homosexual families are hard-won. They are wanted and planned for, and often fought for despite extreme opposition. This isn’t the case for all babies. Cohabitation and casual relationships are becoming normalized by society to the point where over 40% of all babies are born to unmarried women, a number expected to skyrocket by 2016. (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/unmarry.htm)

This, more than gay marriage, threatens the integrity of the traditional family, as does the rate of adverse childhood experiences. According to a 2009 study by the CDC, 59.4% of adults questioned reported having at least one adverse childhood experience including divorce, abuse (physical, sexual and/or verbal) and mental illness in the home. That’s a lot of suffering that has nothing to do with homosexuality.

I realize that some people reading this will agree with me and others will not. That’s okay. I accept and encourage different world views. After all, every one of us comes to a situation with vastly different life experiences and belief systems. Likewise, I am not asking anyone to change their opinion on this issue. Rather, I simply ask that everyone (those in favor of and those opposed to any hot-button topic) examines how they deal with ideas that challenge their beliefs.

Know that even if you are vehemently against same-sex marriage or enthusiastically for it, I don’t judge you personally. I only judge your behavior. There is room in this world to respect and accept others who differ from us in myriad of ways.

I was lucky to grow up among diversity. I love that we are all different. I hate television and haven’t turned one on in years. My Dear Hubby uses it to relax. He golfs: I don’t. My eldest loves spaghetti: my youngest does not. One neighbor is a vet tech while another is a retired PE teacher. My pastor is single, I’m married and some of my best friends have been divorced. My brother dislikes kids even as I would have a hundred of my own.

If we were all the same, life would be very boring and not worth living. If we continue to hate, there will never be peace–not within ourselves, our homes or our communities.

How do you deal with opposition in your life? Do you use reason or emotion to debate? How do you separate your beliefs and fears from the facts?

Curious minds want to know.

*The statute of limitations is long up on this infraction, though the memory of my theft still haunts me.

**I welcome any and all respectful comments. Those who attack will be deleted without apology.

United We Stand: In Orange!

If you’ve ever been bullied, seen someone bullied or care about someone who has been bullied, please make a stand against bullying by wearing orange on Wednesday, October 10th, otherwise known as Unity Day.

During an entire month dedicated to the prevention of bullying, I feel it’s important for people to fully understand the effects of bullying. Kids are bullied for many reasons including: race, religion, gender, sexual preference, athletic ability, glasses, braces, zits, clothing, grades, etc, etc, etc. And while kids can be cruel, the greater problem may lie with those who stand by and allow the bullying to take place.

Don’t be that silent witness. Stand up and say, “No more!”  Do your part to give people the respect they deserve.

In preparation for Unity Day, I’m going to share my Dear Daughter’s competitive speech piece from last year. While it specifically speaks about LGBT harassment, the truths found within are universal, particularly since many children are targeted for their perceived homosexuality despite being straight.

IT’S NOT ABOUT SEX

It is not about sex. It’s about getting up in the morning. It’s about going to school. It’s about acing that chemistry test. It is not about sex; it’s about being who you are and loving who you want.

Yet for many teens, sexual orientation makes them a target for ridicule, degradation, and harassment.

Lawrence King was such a teen. When he openly admitted his homosexuality, his classmate shot him twice in the back of the head from point-blank range. He died in front of the computer as he worked on his English paper. Lawrence was only fifteen.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, known as LGBT, deserve the basic human right to live free from persecution and the subsequent harm that comes from being beaten down and disrespected on a daily basis. They deserve the basic right to live like any other student across America.

Let’s explore how homophobia creates a vicious cycle of bullying, escalation of self-harm, and continuance of behavior that can only be alleviated by education.

Mental Health America states, “Homosexual teens hear gay slurs such as ‘homo’, ‘faggot’, and ‘sissy’ up to 26 times a day.” That’s once every fourteen minutes.

This has a profound impact on a student’s perception of self-worth and future success. According to the organization, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays , “Growing up and getting through high school can be challenging for any student, but LGBT youth too often face additional obstacles of harassment, abuse and violence.”

These difficulties are often under-addressed. A 2009 National School Climate Survey revealed that nearly 85% of LGBT students reported being bullied. More than 64% failed to report it for fear that nothing would be done.

Unsurprising, since we know that bullying for any reason often fails to gain appropriate attention. Consider the case of Gretchen Miller who was bullied for her weight. Gretchen sought help from the principal, only to have her tormentors remain free and able to continue their bullying. Eventually, Gretchen quit school.

The choice to drop out is even higher for LGBT youth who skip school rather than face being ostracized. A missed class quickly turns to missed days. On average, 30% of LGBT students skipped school at least once in the past month compared to only 6.7% of students in a national sample. The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network cites bullying for lower GPA’s and higher drop-out rates.

But that’s not the worst of it.

Besides decreased school success, homosexual youth may fall into a pattern of escalating self-harm. They participate in risky activities, and are three times more likely to use illegal drugs or alcohol than their straight peers.

When illicit chemical use no longer dulls the emotional pain of being bullied, LGBT students may inflict physical pain on themselves through cutting or burning. This type of self-harm provides a tangible outlet for the turmoil within.

Still others don’t stop there. Gay Pride Inc. estimates that 1/3 of LGBT youth attempt to take their lives each year.

Kids as young as 11 have decided the abuse was too much. Carl Walker-Hoover was called gay on a daily basis. On April 9th, 2009, he was found dead. Carl had hanged himself. But the thing about Carl: he never openly said he was gay. People just assumed and bullied him to the point where he thought suicide was his only option. Carl never got to truly figure out who he was; he wasn’t given the chance to be himself.

Sometimes bullied youth do more than internalize their despair. They redirect the ridicule onto others or retaliate against their attackers, turning into bullies themselves. Violence is escalated and the perpetual cycle of harassment, prejudice and hate continues.

Like most discrimination, fear drives the way we treat each other. Common sense doesn’t dictate our actions. Education, or the lack thereof, does. The history of prejudice in our country is rich: the Irish, women, Indians, and African Americans.

“What people don’t understand they will torture.”

Though these words were spoken by Mel Piche, a contemporary young lesbian, they could have been spoken by Rosa Parks. Her historic arrest prompted individuals of all races to boycott city bus lines and advocate for the equal rights of all people.

We have a long way to go.

Today, the LGBT community faces fear and misunderstanding. Fear that homosexuals are pedophiles. Fear that all homosexuals do is have sex—all day, with anyone. Fear that homosexuals want to convert us all.

Fear that if we accept those different from us, the moral fabric of society will unravel.

Sound familiar? This fear, this myth, is the very same argument used against abolishing slavery.

Blacks—with their different skin and different traditions—were deemed unworthy of respect and freedom. Their “otherness” granted the close-minded permission to ridicule, degrade and control them.

As history proves, civil rights are not guaranteed. Only through education can we understand that different is not bad. Only through education can myths be dispelled and fears be laid to rest. Only through education can bullying against the LGBT community be stopped.

Educators must be trained to effectively deal with incidences as they occur. In a 2010 report based on a New York City Department of Education initiative, 9 of 10 teachers who participated in the LGBT Educator Training Program changed the way they dealt with bullying, creating a more welcoming and safe school environment for all students, regardless of gender orientation.

According to the 2010 collaborative project between the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, only 4% of principals surveyed reported that training on LGBT issues was provided to staff in their school district. This leaves 96% of schools undereducated.

Student/teacher organizations such as the Gay and Straight Alliance can strengthen the image of a united front within the school. When students and educators no longer stand by as passive participants, bullies lose the upper hand. This will create a new atmosphere. One where respect is expected, accepted and strived for.

Yet we all know teens do not like to listen to authority. We want to figure things out for ourselves-or at least be told by someone reputable, who gets it, and gets what it’s really like.

At fourteen, Jonah used a series of notecards and a video camera to tell his darkest secret. He was gay. He didn’t take it to the school board, he didn’t talk to his friends, he didn’t even tell his mom. He let himself get bullied. The summer before eighth grade, he decided enough was enough. He made a video outlining his experiences. Suicide was an option for him, but Jonah realized he had a million reasons to be here.

By putting his video on the internet, his message touched many lives. People who didn’t think they could make it found their strength after watching this fourteen year old boy find his. Thanks to him, Jonah and so many other people can now love who they want and be happy with who they are.

They will have earned the respect to live free from ridicule, degradation and harassment-at least from themselves.

As you can see, it is not about sex. It’s about understanding, safety, support and education. It’s about the basic human right to live free from fear and prejudice.

WEAR ORANGE ON 10/10 AND UNITE AGAINST BULLYING!