Oh, February!

Even though it's annoying, winter can be pretty in Toledo.

Even though it’s annoying, winter can be pretty in Toledo.

Again, the shortest month of the year feels like the longest. Oh, February, why? Why?

Cold, dreary, gray, snowy, windy.

It happens every year, but it didn’t used to be so awful. Of course, that was before moving to the Midwest and discovering what real winter feels like. I gotta say, I don’t much like it.

I know I have plenty of companions in my complaining about February. Some people get through it better than I do. A former coworker would look out my office window at the February bleakness, snow piling on the sidewalk, gray clouds overhead, barren trees bending in the icy and unrelenting breeze, and he would say, at least it’s February. Spring is almost here.

I try to keep that in mind as I’m winding my heavy scarf around my neck and chin, slipping on my gloves and mentally preparing to face February out of doors. I bite my lip, and I get through it. But I’ll tell you this, I won’t be sad when February is over.

Too good not to share

Too good not to share

Got this from a friend on Facebook. Happy MLK Day + Inauguration Day, and a day to reflect on how far we’ve come, yet how far we still need to go.

Where to go next?

As my family and I have made our way eastward across the United States, curiously along Interstate 80 from San Francisco to Oakland to Des Moines, IA, to the Toledo, OH, area, we often joke that we’ll continue our eastbound route and end up in Pennsylvania or New York next.

But, neither my husband nor I want to settle farther east. We want to return to the West, possibly to California where we have spent most of our lives and where our families live, or possibly to a new state, like Idaho or Colorado. The problem is that now that we’ve left California and seen it from the outside—the high cost of living the damage a ruinous legislature and ineffective governor has had on state services like public education—it’s harder to return than anticipated.

We live now in a quiet suburban town outside of Toledo, which is a former industrial city famous for supporting Detroit’s nearby auto industry. But much of the manufacturing has left the area, as it has in so many cities across the country, and there are elements of despair and abandonment that hover over this place.

In our little neighborhood, people seem content and settled in their lives. They mow their lawns, wash their cars and walk their dogs with regular routine. They drive shiny cars and take their kids to baseball games. The schools are good, and one of the high school’s hockey team just won the state title. But this neighborhood is in a bubble. Life here is easy.

It’s nice not to have to listen to screaming firetruck sirens racing down your street at 2 a.m., and not to walk out the front door and find a homeless man has defecated on your front stoop. It’s nice to not battle flocks of dirty pigeons nesting on the porch or to weave between globs of phglem-tinged loogies and equally disgusting pigeon poop on the sidewalk. Of course I’m talking about the streets of San Francisco, but I still miss those streets.

So as we look to where we will land next, we have to take into account the benefits and detractors of every possible place. Surely most our decision will depend on where the best job offer comes from, but we do have more of a say in this move than in either of our two prior moves. Taking all this into account, it’s clear we’ve learned a thing or two in our years abroad (in the Midwest).

  • Cost of living is important. We would rather not have to shell out several hundred thousand dollars to buy a house just because it is in a prime location. We want to live comfortably, but not excessively. We don’t want to be in debt.
  • Prime public education. That is almost an oxymoron in itself. But there are places where a solid public school still exists. We live in such a place now, and we are hoping that we can find good schools in a Western state that hasn’t been desecrated by privatization and budget cuts.
  • Work/life balance. There’s nothing that can compare to life as a medical resident. It is a tough road. My husband has been sleep deprived since he started med school in 2006, and we’re very much looking forward to having a balanced life again. Here in the Midwest, people seem to achieve that more than life on the West Coast. People are less busy here. They don’t schedule events months on end. It’s a slower pace, and it seems more sustainable.
  • Proximity to family and friends. Relationships are key. And beyond our own nuclear family, we miss being around our extended family members and old friends. It’s been hard to miss births, deaths, anniversaries, retirements…all the life moments that are huge and small. We’ve been gone for so long. We’ve learned how to live without that support network, but it can get lonely, and I often feel disconnected. Getting back into the fold would be a great additive to our move.
  • Beautiful surroundings. Some argue that the Midwest is beautiful. I agree that there are some parts I consider to be nice. But nothing compares to the jagged cliffs of the Northern California coastline, or the soaring redwood trees. Overlooking the ocean from a cliff in San Diego, watching pelicans glide in the breeze and surfers wait for a set to roll in is truly beautiful. Enjoying the mountains, the rivers, the lakes and everything in between…we miss that.

It’s exciting to think about the next phase of our lives as a family, and where we will end up. But more than anything I am yearning to put down roots, to settle in a spot and stay put. In my twenties, roaming the world and having adventures sounded like the best idea. Now I just want to develop community. I want to get to know my neighbors and feel invested in a place and in people and friendships. I want to plant a garden, knowing I’ll be there the following year to tend to it.

Life can be fleeting, and while I struggle to stay in the moment and be grateful for what life presents me each day, I still can’t wait to move on to the next chapter. We’ve got a year and a half to figure out where that will be, and until then, I’ll be trying to figure out what makes the most sense for a long-term commitment to home.

An education in firearms

I heard the news of the shooting in Newtown, Conn., while sitting in a plastic child-sized chair outside my sons’ second-grade classroom. I was waiting for a student to come out and read a poem to me, as I do every Friday from 1 to 2 p.m. The alert came over my phone from the New York Times, and my heart sunk.

When I finished going through the roll of students, I packed up my things and walked down the hall where I ran into a teacher whom I know. We talked for a moment about the tragedy unfolding. All I could think was, what if this were the school? What if someone had come in to my children’s school and opened fire? It was entirely plausible—all too plausible.

I climbed in my car and turned on the radio. A reporter started sharing details of the scene in Newtown. The town sounded similar to the town where we live: suburban, upper income, safe. Even here, in what I’ve come to call Pleasantville, we are not safe from this kind of horror. This kind of terror.

And why?

Guns.

When we moved to Iowa from California, I knew no one who hunted or boasted about guns. My stepfather had a gun for a while that he hid in a top drawer of his dresser, but he soon got rid of it. Guns were not a part of our culture. They were violent and unnecessary and scary. They hurt people.

During the opening of deer hunting season in Iowa, my small boys and I were at a sporting goods store and there were hoards of people—mostly men and their sons—shopping for guns, ammo, camouflage gear and other hunting necessities. I was shocked, but I realized that this was the culture. When hunting season begins in Iowa, people go shopping, then they hit the open lands and shoot away.

I befriended a co-worker who took week-long hunting trips during deer season and turkey season. He liked to taunt me with photos of his trophy carcasses. I learned what a twelve-point buck was, and what it looked like hanging upside down and then made into a string of jerky.

Sharing his love of hunting with me was not meant to traumatize me but to share his culture with me, to share something that made up a part of who he was as a person, as a man. We’d argue about the virtues and pitfalls of hunting, of having guns, of the death of innocent animal lives and the service hunting provides, as many see it, in controlling a species’ population.

But I was not swayed by his passion. I remained confirmed in my beliefs that hunting is wrong in most cases and that guns are not something to be celebrated or paraded. Iowa introduced me to gun culture.

And then there was the shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007 that killed 33 people. The public was outraged. Memories of the horrific scene at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., resurfaced. Since that 1999 tragedy that left 12 students and one teacher dead, it would have seemed prudent to analyze the country’s position on gun rights. But then there was a deadly shooting in an Omaha, Neb., mall. The public again was outraged. But nothing changed. The mantra: “Guns don’t kill people, people do,” rang out. The National Rifle Association continued its stranglehold on politicians moral compasses, and life went on.

When President Obama entered office 10 years after Columbine, gun-owners were concerned about their rights. They feared the new “socialist” president would repeal the Second Amendment that gives Americans the right to bear arms. I interviewed a gun shop owner in northwest Iowa who shared his concerns with his perceived Obama’s anti-gun sentiments. He said the gun owners he knew were all bracing for the worst and stocking up on ammo and guns while they could.

We moved to Ohio last year, and I had become complacent. When someone talked about going hunting or going to the shooting range, I no longer flinched. I guess I was assimilating.

And then the shooting in Aurora, Colo., happened. Again, public outrage surged. But still no talk of real gun control. We were on the brink of a presidential election. The subject was too charged. Some media outlets called it disrespectful to bring up gun control. Yet, people continued to believe that if Obama was re-elected, he’d repeal the Second Amendment.

And now this. Twenty children, six adults killed in a suburban Connecticut elementary school. The 20-year-old gunman who suffered from mental illness is also dead.

Senseless.

And now we’re talking about gun control. Activists have been calling on Obama to stand up to the gun lobby today. A group held a candlelight vigil outside the White House. The people are ready to talk. But is Washington ready to listen? There is a great difference between repealing the Second Amendment and enacting serious gun control to make it harder for people to obtain weapons and ammunition. This is not about our constitutional rights, it’s about reality and protecting innocent lives. We can try to prevent another massacre. We can try to do what’s right.

The Washington Post writes that the increase in public support for gun control arises after a mass shooting—incidents that happen too often in this country. The United States is an outlier in gun violence among developed countries. And while gun ownership is declining in America, violence is not, and these senseless acts of violence and death come upon us all too often.

This could have been my kids’ school. This could have been my children. This could have happened anywhere. We are not immune to the violence. But we can rise up to stop it.

Read more:

The touch, the feel of newspaper

A few years after graduating college, as newspapers were coming to grips with having an online presence, and I found myself as a newspaper reporter wondering about the future of print journalism, a copy editor friend of mine said she will never stop reading newspapers in their paper form.

newspaper

Is print media going the way of the dodo bird?

She loved the feel of holding the paper in her hands, flipping through its big, broad pages and getting newsprint smudged on her fingertips. It truly was a tactile experience for her.

She has since left journalism and is living abroad. And other than being Facebook friends, we have lost touch. I wonder if she still holds true to those statements. Because, even as I agreed with her that evening sitting on the steps to her apartment in Southern California, it has been a long time since I held a newspaper in my own hands.

Indeed, while I have not given up my hearty news diet, I consume my news through online sources on my laptop and on my smartphone (sorry, no iPad yet). Until we moved to Ohio, I subscribed to the Des Moines Register’s Sunday edition, which landed on our doorstep and was generally ignored for at least a day. I found the process of unwrapping the paper, shuffling through the mounds of advertisements and trying to find a few stories that captured my interest tedious.

So when we moved to Ohio this summer, I decided not to subscribe to the local Toledo Blade. It wasn’t has tough a decision as I thought it would have been—to actively stop receiving a print edition of the local news. I had acquired a taste for news from various sources around the web: The New York Times online, which recently started charging for online subscriptions; SFGate.com, the San Francisco Chronicle’s online site, Democracy Now! and the Huffington Post. Since Occupy Wall Street surfaced, however, I’ve been getting a lot of my news from a lot of sites I am pointed to through my Twitter stream.

Now, it seems my news digestion model has shifted from what the newspapers put in front of me to the stories from across the world those who share my interest place in front of me. In a sense, I am the new editorial director–the editor in chief of my personal news stream.

This is not a new concept, by any means. Individual tailoring to a person’s news interest has been going on for years. In college, I even wrote a paper about the variety of the British media’s ability to cater to certain niches, which at the time, American newspapers did not do. For me, the shift has been gradual but rewarding. I don’t miss holding a paper, folding it over to get at the story, flipping pages to get to the jump buried on A23. I don’t miss getting newsprint on my fingers.

While paper seems to be falling by the wayside–hopefully saving a few trees in the process–I hope the practice of journalism will stand strong. With shrinking editorial staffs and a move toward more entertainment-driven news, I do hope that even though we’re not holding the newspaper in our hands anymore, honest, independent journalism is still something to uphold as we strive for democracy.

Green Friday

The chaos of Black Friday. Source: DJTechTools.com

Yesterday, someone I follow on Twitter sent out a tweet saying: “Don’t give Black Friday your Black Dollars!” It resonated with me because I’ve always witnessed Christmas, as an outsider non-Christian, as a time when Americans go a little bit crazy about buying stuff.

Now as it seems people are waking up from a 30-plus-year sleep believing that unregulated capitalism can keep us safe and happy, it is a perfect opportunity to take action and change the status quo.

Maybe instead of shopping on Black Friday and giving our hard-earned cash to the multinational corporations and institutions that are appealing to our American instinct to buy more stuff, we can savor the meaning of the prior day’s Thanksgiving and really feel thanks and blessings for all the richness we have in our lives.

By staying in and not giving in to the marketing machine and mobs and mayhem of Black Friday, we will also be giving Mother Nature a break. So this year, I’m calling the day after Thanksgiving “Green Friday.”

If we protest shopping and stay in to spend time with family and friends or just spend time reading a book, walking in the woods or around the neighborhood, if we protest spending any money unless absolutely necessary, we will be burning less fuel, sitting in fewer traffic jams, using less electricity and reducing our stress.

Green Friday will be a way for me to sit back, continue to digest the copious amount of food ingested the night before, relax, visit with friends, enjoy my family and — if the weather’s good enough– take a walk outside in the fresh air away from crowds, away from big box stores, and away from the consumeristic ideal that has swallowed the holiday of Christmas.

Will you join me?

P.S. Naomi Klein recently wrote about how those who deny climate change’s existence or, rather, humans’ contribution to climate change, believe that anti-capitalists have drummed up the science to promote socialism and squash American freedom. Read on here.

The results are in!

Well, I do admit that my experiment was not done in the most scientific of ways. Still, I think the results are interesting, and I’d like to share them.

I am looking to see if my Facebook “friends” represent as much diversity as I would like to think that I have among my friends. I looked at Race/Ethnicity, Religion, Political Affiliation and Views and the size of the city or town a person lives in.

Out of 365 Facebook friends, I received 60 responses (15.6%). Admittedly, the sample is not large enough to have a high confidence rate — it’s about 95% confidence +/-20% — to be certain that the responses reflect the true spectrum of my Facebook friends in entirety. Also, I was limited in scope by the bounds of Survey Monkey, which allows only 10 questions before requiring one to upgrade to a paid account. I also, in retrospect, made some deep errors in questioning — particularly in asking about religious identity— and leaving out important categories on diversity, such as disability and geographic location.

Nonetheless, this is what I found:

My Facebook friends are:

  • Politically Liberal
  • Racially White
  • Straight
  • Believers in God

Now these are broad strokes painted from the results. I have decided to analyze the results of each of the 10 questions in the survey. These will be done in a series of posts.

Social Disorder Afoot

I have been encouraging my med school husband and his med school cronies to talk about doing research on disorders caused by too much social media.

At work I have been inundated with the stuff. My job as a communications specialists requires me to get my organization’s image out into the public. Social media is the way to do it. That’s where the audience is—especially when you don’t have the budget to buy an ad on Super Bowl Sunday (by the way, Go Chargers!).

So, I have a TweetDeck account, which pulsates on my desktop every minute with updates and alerts. I have a Facebook page to maintain, a YouTube account to manage and an organizational staff to motivate to get on board with the new media and new outreach tools.

The downside of this is my self-diagnosed ADHD brought on by too much input—SMADAH (Social Media Attention Deficit Hyperactivit Disorder). I don’t think my symptoms are rare to social media junkies, either. There are some jitters. And some obsessive compulsive tendencies. There’s the urge to constantly multi-task. And when someone makes a funny comment or tells a strange story, there’s a strong impulse to post it on Facebook.

I feel scatterbrained and on edge. I can’t think coherently. I  need to pull myself away. I need an intervention. I need….to go send out a tweet about that!

Turkey Time

I’m still full.

We had an early Thanksgiving dinner, and it’s been nearly 24 hours, and I am still full. The practice of over-stuffing our gullets became a short but worthwhile topic of conversation with our fellow eaters last night, wondering why such an American tradition revolves around eating so much we feel like we literally will explode.

This day is meant to be a feast, a day to break bread and enjoy the fruits of our labor.  However, our labor does not so much revolve around producing those fruits.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency fewer than 1 percent of the 285 million Americans claim farming as their occupation. That number has declined sharply from 1935 figures, which show more than 18 percent of the American population as farmers. Clearly, we are not spending much time in the fields these days. Yet we still eat like we were plowing and tilling and harvesting.

There’s a restaurant near our house whose theme is the American farm. Its breakfasts are named to reflect the hard labor exerted by certain farm workers and what sort of food is needed to sustain that work, such as “Light Chore Day”—two eggs any style with a side of potatoes and a side of either toast, biscuit or pancake—or the more calorie-laden “The Hired Man’s Breakfast”—two eggs any style, a choice of meat, plus the aforementioned side dishes of potatoes and bread product. Then there are other goodies like the “Pork Producer’s Breakfast,” laden with pork products, eggs and the side choices, and the “Cattleman’s Breakfast,” which comes with your choice of steak from 7 oz. to 16 oz., plus eggs and sides. The list goes on and on.

You probably will have guessed by now that the people eating these breakfasts are not farmers.

We have trained our bodies to take in enormous amounts of foods that we don’t need to sustain us. And I’m not even going to go into the kind of food that enters our system, because that’s too much to deal with in one sitting. It seems, though, that our Thanksgiving “feasts” are no more a break from normalcy than rush-hour traffic.

Perhaps when we sit around to Thanksgiving dinner and acknowledge what we are “thankful” for, is that our bodies are not static and our bellies will not explode.

No Inspiration Here

I am still looking.

After a failed attempt to retrieve inspiration from my Facebook friends, I have little to report on the writer’s block. I have little, doubt, however, that it stems from an early dose of seasonal affective disorder.

That’s right. It’s November, and I am suffering from S.A.D. There are a long five more months to go before the temperature climbs back to a level at which I am comfortable. It hasn’t even really snowed yet, either.

It’s going to be a long winter.

Maybe I can write about that!

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