Thursday, May 28, 2009

Holiday Schmoliday

Am I the only person who doesn't place a lot of importance on holidays? It's not so much that I don't care about the spirit behind the holidays, but does the actual day something gets celebrated really matter? Like if I talk to my mom every week of the year, but don't call her on Mother's Day, why would that matter? It seems more sincere to make an effort to celebrate your love for your mom often throughout the year, instead of trying to overcompensate on one day. Recently I heard a coworker mention how much of a bummer it's going to be if he has to work on Father's Day. But, why would that be? Could he not celebrate Father's Day on Friday? Or Saturday? Or Monday? Or any other day of the year?

Pretty much every year I have friends or coworkers ask me what I'm doing for Valentine's Day. Sorry to disappoint, but almost always my answer has been/will be, "Probably nothing." I make an effort to spend quality time with my hubby every week. I don't need to wait until Valentine's Day to go on a date with him. I don't want to have to set aside and plan a special date/time for us to hang out. We do that daily!

Because my family lives in Dallas, and Jer's lives in Amarillo, we have to juggle who we spend the major holidays with. The past couple of years we've spent Christmas Day with my family and headed up to Amarillo for the days around New Year's. His family has been awesome and adapted to this arrangement, so much so that they put off their Christmas celebrations until we get there. We do gift exchanges a couple of days after Christmas. Does this lessen the coolness of Christmas because it happens on December 29th instead of the 25th? Heck no! We put on our pajamas, wear our Santa hats, open our stockings, and exchange gifts again just like we did a few days prior in Dallas.

That's the way it should be! Who cares what date you celebrate something? I think a lot of people get hung up on having to do things on a certain date because that's what Hallmark says we should do, and that's the way it's always been done. If I feel like buying my mom a gift, I'm going to do it when I get the urge, not because it happens to be Mother's Day. If I want to have a big family dinner, I'm not going to wait until Thanksgiving just because that's the traditional thing to do. Do things because you want to do them, at whatever time you feel like doing them. Don't let manufactured dates determine when you celebrate certain events. Show your family members and friends that you care about them as often as you can throughout the year. It's makes for a much more enjoyable life, and reduces all that unnecessary stress that seems to surround holidays!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My June Selection

It's a little early, but since I already know what cause I'll be supporting in June, I figured I'd go ahead and post this. I'm actually just going to re-post a note I wrote on facebook about two years ago, because it still applies. I'll be running in the 2009 Komen North Texas Race for the Cure on June 6th, and I encourage you to join me, or donate if possible. Read on...

I saw that a friend of mine joined the group "I Will Not Support Komen Because it Funds Abortion Providers". I went to the page and read the description. The creator of that page and its members are very misinformed. I can't believe that with all the good that Komen does, these people would try to encourage us not to donate to them because a percentage of their money goes to Planned Parenthood, and Planned Parenthood also happens to provide abortion-related services. Komen and its Affiliates DO NOT provide any funding for abortions or for any activities outside the scope of their promise to end breast cancer forever. In many urban and rural areas, PP may be the only source of free or low-cost women's health screening services. My mother doesn't have health insurance, and thanks to funding provided by Komen, she received a free mammogram. Further, Komen requires all grant recipients to provide detailed reports (at least bi-annually) on where their grant money is spent. I'm pretty sure that if the money wasn't used for its intended purpose, Komen would stop sending them funds.

Just in the past couple of years, I've had two great friends tell me their moms were diagnosed with breast cancer. Luckily it was caught relatively early, so the outlook is good. If it wasn't for organizations like Komen, there would be much less publicity given to the importance of early detection and yearly mammograms....and I'm pretty positive that, without Komen, more women would be dying each year. When I participated in a Komen 5K a couple of years ago, there were a few protestors at the race, holding signs saying Komen supported abortion. Are they kidding me? I know they have a right to be there, but I just wanted to punch them in the face..with truth, of course :). When I looked out into the sea of 30,000 people, and saw all the pink hats (meaning a survivor) and names written on our backs denoting someone we've lost or someone we were honoring by running for them, I just felt so proud to be a part of it. Thank goodness there were 30,000 of us and only 5 protestors. Besides that, another part of their signs annoyed me. Abortion isn't black and white. What if a woman risked losing her life by carrying a baby to term? Is an abortion wrong in that case? What if a woman was raped and became pregnant and would be carrying her attacker's baby? Is an abortion wrong in that case? I'm not afraid to say that you can bet your life I'd be at Planned Parenthood looking for help if I was ever in that situation.

All I'm trying to say is, those protestors are making those shocking, exaggerated statements to get your attention and make you feel bad about what you're doing. Please visit Komen's website if you have any doubt in their purpose. Read their annual report, see where their grant money goes, look at the research they help fund. Check out their charity rating on charitynavigator.org. And make sure you also read the part about how Komen has played a critical role in every major advance in the fight against breast cancer in the last 25 years. When you donate to them, or participate in a walk, or wear a pink ribbon, etc, you are helping them save lives. I only wish I could go to work every day and feel the pride that my sister must feel knowing she works for an organization like that.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Regrets

Do you have regrets? Do you ever look back over your life and wish you would've done some things differently? My hubby and I and a couple of other friends were talking this past weekend about the recreational leagues we're in. One friend mentioned his tennis league and its method of arranging players into divisions. It's based on your answers to certain questions: 1)Did you play tennis in high school? 2)Did you advance to a regional or state event? 3)Did you play tennis at the collegiate level? etc, etc. Those questions got me thinking. I could answer yes to two of them, but tennis was really just an afterthought by the time high school rolled around. At around the age of 12 or 13, I was a pretty damn good tennis player. I practiced at least 3 times a week, and had a tournament at least 2 weekends out of every month. I had a lot of promise and had already achieved a lot of success, but I was incredibly exhausted. It was emotionally and physically draining. So I quit. I just walked away. In 10th grade, my high school tennis coach asked me to join the team, and I obliged. I hadn't played in 2 or 3 years, but I still had the fundamentals. I couldn't make it to very many practices since I had already picked up volleyball and softball by then, but I went to all the district matches. I definitely wasn't fully devoted to it because of all my other commitments, and I was nowhere near as good as I once was. But, I still did pretty well in district and state. Looking back now, I wonder what would've happened if I hadn't quit at age 13. How good could I have been? I regret not sticking with it because I feel like I wasted my natural talent.

Ever since I was little, I've had an affinity for Notre Dame. I'd watch the football games with my dad, buy Irish signs for my walls, wear their t-shirts proudly, request a Notre Dame blanket for my birthday, etc, etc. My parents knew how much I liked ND, so they bought tickets to one of the football games and flew the family up there when I was in high school. It was amazing. Being on that campus felt so right. And sitting in the stands during that football game was like a surreal experience. I revered their traditions and wanted very badly to be a part of them. When it came time to start filling out college applications, you can guess which one I filled out first. I even applied during the early admission period, which had more stringent standards. When I got my acceptance letter in the mail, I'm pretty sure I cried. And when I realized they were giving me a scholarship to go there, I was ecstatic. So am I a Notre Dame alumna today? Nope. You see, for the last two years of my high school career, I had been dating this particular guy. We had gotten pretty serious and started making plans for the future. He hadn't applied or been accepted to Notre Dame, so me moving to South Bend for 4+ years would pretty much end our relationship. He had, however, been accepted to Texas Tech University. So, I could go to Notre Dame and turn my back on my boyfriend, or I could go to Texas Tech and keep seeing him (and be much closer to my family). So I chose Texas Tech. Three months into my freshman year we broke up. I regret giving up my dream of attending Notre Dame, for a high school flame.

But if I really think about it, do I honestly regret these things? Do I want my life as I live it right now, to be any different? Would I be willing to give up the "alternate" memories I have because of the decisions I made?

If I had continued playing competitive tennis, and devoted my life to it, there's no way I would've played softball or volleyball in high school. I probably wouldn't have played high school tennis either, since I'd be focusing solely on USTA tournaments and moving up in those rankings. Being on the volleyball and softball teams are some of my fondest memories from high school. I had no idea I was any good at volleyball until I played it in gym one day. Before I knew it, I was the freshman girl who made the varsity team. By my senior year, I was team captain, received first team all-district honors, and was having the time of my life. Over on the softball field, I was a part of an incredibly talented team of girls, under the leadership of a phenomenal coach. Our practices, games, and team trips were a blast. I'll never forget the game-winning hit I had against Ft. Worth Nolan, or the game-saving backhanded grab I made at second base. On the tennis court, I was paired up with a classmate who I would've called a friend at the time, but not a great friend. Two years of doubles brought us closer together, and she's now one of my best friends. She stood by my side on my wedding day, and I'll be standing by hers this October. I cherish these memories and experiences, and they wouldn't have occurred had I stuck with competitive tennis.

After I broke up with my high school sweetheart three months into my career at Texas Tech, I was devastated. I had no other friends there and had devoted all my time and attention to him. I couldn't believe I wasn't at Notre Dame. Then I met Jeremiah. I'll spare you all the details in-between, but we've been together more than 7 years now, and have been married for 3. He's my best friend, my partner, and the love of my life. If I had gone to Notre Dame, I wouldn't be married to him. There's absolutely no way I would've even met him. Acknowledging that makes me realize I have no regrets about choosing Tech. And in case you haven't noticed, I bleed red and black today. I take great pride in my alma mater, and I can't imagine cheering for any other school. I also can't forget the amazing friends I met there.

So screw regrets! I've got none. I'm glad I made the choices I did, and I wouldn't change a thing. I hope you can look back on your life and feel the same way!

“Forget regret, or life is yours to miss.” - Jonathan Larson

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Free Speech/Censorship on Facebook

Earlier this month, Brian Cuban brought our attention to some Holocaust Denial groups on Facebook. His stance is that Facebook should remove these groups from their site, based on their own Terms of Service. Specifically, their TOS says,

"We respect other people's rights, and expect you to do the same. You will not post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes someone else's rights or otherwise violates the law."

Now, Holocaust Denial is currently a crime in 13 countries (USA not included). This in itself seems odd to me - the idea of imprisoning someone for their opinions, however crazy or controversial they might be. But, nonetheless, it exists in some places. So Cuban asserts that these groups do violate the Facebook TOS and should therefore be removed. Further, he says that these groups promote hatred of religious and ethnic groups and are attempts to recruit other like-minded individuals to join their hateful agendas. He has written numerous letters and emails to Facebook, and has just recently received some responses (previously they ignored him, but finally responded after increased media attention). Here's an excerpt from an email from Barry Schnitt, a spokesman for Facebook:

"Specifically, we are sensitive to groups that threaten violence towards people and these groups are taken down. We also remove groups that express hatred towards individuals and groups that are sponsored by recognized terrorist organizations. We do not, however, take down groups that speak out against countries, political entities, or ideas. The goal of these policies is to strike a very delicate balance between giving Facebook users the freedom to express their opinions and beliefs, even those that are controversial or that we may find repulsive, while also ensuring that individuals and groups of people do not feel threatened or endangered.

When dealing with user generated content on global websites, there are occasions where content that is illegal in one country, is not (or may even be protected) in another. For example, homosexual content is illegal in some countries, but that does not mean it should be removed from Facebook. Most companies approach this issue by preventing certain content from being shown to users in the countries where it is illegal and that is our approach as well. We have recently begun to block content by IP in countries where that content is illegal, including Nazi-related and holocaust denial content in certain European countries. The groups in question have been blocked in the appropriate countries."

That seems like a reasonable stance to me. They purport to be making efforts to remove illegal content in relevant countries, and they don't remove that same content in countries where it's not illegal. They want to provide their users with a platform to express their opinions, so long as no law exists that specifically prohibits them from doing so.

Don't get me wrong - I hate to hear of the mere existence of groups like these. My grandparents came to America to escape the atrocities they witnessed in Holland, perpetrated by the Nazis. (You can read a little more about that here). So obviously I'm emotionally drawn towards the removal of these groups, because I know they are false and likely full of hate-mongers. But, from a purely intellectual standpoint, with no regard for emotion, if Facebook removed these groups in the US, they'd be opening a huge can of worms. "Do the existence of Facebook groups that advocate beliefs that are crimes in other countries violate Facebook TOS in America?" If they answered yes, they'd have to start censoring an enormous amount of data on their website. There are tons of beliefs/actions that are crimes in other countries, but not crimes in the US. Would they censor them only from the countries where they are considered criminal? Or would they have to censor them everywhere, so that Americans now feel restricted? Even better, there are tons of groups out there that promote activities that ARE currently crimes in the US. Do they need to remove all of the groups that promote marijuana usage? (They aren't currently removing them, so I'm not sure how consistent they are in enforcing their TOS). Or do they perform no censorship whatsoever, so that we can still enjoy some of the good with the bad? I applaud Cuban for bringing this topic to our attention, and attempting to open a dialogue with Facebook. I enjoy discussions such as these. I just feel weary that any action Facebook takes will leave a sour taste in our mouths.

Monday, May 4, 2009

My May Selection

My selection this month has a very special place in my heart. It all started about one year ago. My husband records the Nova television shows on PBS. Usually I roll my eyes and find something else to do while he watches them, especially when they cover scientific topics that are over my head. One week I happened to be laying on the couch, dozing on and off, when he turned on the episode, "A Walk to Beautiful." Figuring I'd probably fall asleep soon, I didn't object. As the episode began unfolding, I found myself intrigued. It features the stories of women, suffering from obstetric fistula, trying to make the harrowing journey to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia. If you're like me, you had never heard of a fistula. Basically it's a hole that forms either as a result of prolonged, obstructed labor or sexual violence, that causes bodily fluids to pass uncontrollably. While the physical effects are devastating, the psychological trauma is immense as well. Women who suffer from obstetric fistulas are exiled from their communities. Their husbands, families, and friends abandon them. They lose their dignity and self-worth, and are usually forced to raise their newborn in complete isolation (assuming the child survived). Can you imagine that? Can you EVEN imagine that?

If any of us ever developed this problem, we'd probably be treated before we ever left the hospital after giving birth. There would be no incontinence, no isolation, and probably no one outside our very immediate family would ever even know. Things are a little different in Ethiopia. The women in the film (and countless others) don't have the luxury of giving birth in a hospital. The Fistula Foundation website says that less than 6 in 10 women in developing countries give birth with any trained professional. Also, the poverty and malnutrition that women in these countries experience contributes to a stunted pelvis, which can lead to obstructed labor. We are quite sheltered from these experiences.

Fistulas are preventable if women receive adequate obstetric care during labor. They are also treatable, thanks to Reginald and Catherine Hamlin and the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. But, because of the limited treatment centers available, many women go untreated or have to spend days making the treacherous journey by bus to reach a center. Some women aren't even aware that a treatment exists, as we discover through one woman's heart wrenching story in "A Walk to Beautiful." By some estimates, there are currently at least two million women suffering from a fistula, with 100,000 more developing it each year. From the Fistula Foundation website, "The world capacity to treat fistula is estimated at 6,500 fistula repair surgeries per year." That's quite a large gap.

Now here's the kicker: How much does it cost to treat obstetric fistula? $450. Yes, that's right. $450 for the operation, postoperative care, a new dress, and bus fare home. That's a ridiculously small price to pay for a woman to regain her family, her friends, her dignity, HER LIFE.

So here's what you can do:
1) Go to this website and watch "A Walk to Beautiful." Make sure you can set aside one hour to watch it from start to finish. It'll be worth it.
2) Go to this website and find out more about the Fistula Foundation.
3) Donate. What better time to make a donation, than around Mother's Day? Donate on your mother's behalf to really show your gratitude.
4) Tell someone else.