Memorial Day: Past, Present, and Future

I am a very curious person and love to talk to people about their religion and why they believe what they believe. And although I never talk to work colleagues about this topic for obvious reasons, in the Facebook era it's often impossible to separate the professional from the personal. Earlier today I read this status update from my occasional (but always lovely) co-worker Careena:

Rhetorical gripe: "balance" is creating a Memorial Day curriculum that's "fun." What on earth is fun about death, separated families, our lame VA system, or war in general? PS, for bonus points: our denomination is rabidly anti-war, so blind flag-waving patriotism is Out.

Careena is a member of the Unitarian Universalist church, which is vehemently anti-war. Her quick remark lead me to give a lot of thought to what I might write for Memorial Day, the day Americans celebrate all military personnel who died in combat. Careena's anti-war stance made me think about my own peaceful position, which at
times makes me feel like the black sheep of my own military family.

Of the five people who helped raise me, four of my parents/grandparents served in the United States Armed Forces.

I've lived on four Army bases from Ft. Knox to Berlin when there was still an East Germany. And when I grew up and paying for school got too tough, I often found myself convinced that I should join the Army/Army Reserves/Air Force, too. I visited with recruiters from New Jersey to Cocoa, FL., took the ASVAB, went to MEPS, but could never bring myself to sign on the dotted line. Sheepishly I told myself I would see the world in other ways.

Since becoming an adult I still haven't been out of the country. But I have been all around the U.S., from Arlington National Cemetery to the sprawling suburbs of Arlington, WA. I married a man who sings songs entitled "No More War," who still owns socks with his name sewn into them by a mother who would have shipped him off to London instead of letting the draft take him to Viet Nam.

I've made the best decisions I could to suit myself, but also the best decisions I could with the information and resources I had at the time. My grandmother (pictured above), joined the Army as a nurse to get away from the cold Chicago winters. My mom, in the Army from '73-'76, was one of the last WAC's, and as a woman felt safe in joining without the threat of going to Asia. She was right and followed her older enlisted sister to Europe instead.

Just because I am anti-war doesn't mean I can't acknowledge that many people believe they are fighting overseas for a reason. My heart goes out to them all, but most especially to those who thought that the military was their only option at a decent job or a decent life.

My feelings regarding Memorial Day were summed up tonight with Andy Rooney's words on 60 Minutes. Paraphrased, it goes something like: Remembering those who died in combat is a coping method for those of us still alive. But if we question war and why we have it, isn't that the first step towards not having any more loved ones to mourn?


Mental Illness Matters

Update/Correction 6/01/10: Barbara LaPresti just informed me that the support group she recently took over is no longer NAMI-affiliated. Barbara also wanted to clarify that the support group is specifically for family members of people with metal illness/es. (I have corrected the purpose of the group in the original text below.)

So to reiterate, if you are having trouble dealing with a family member with a mental illness, and are in need of the knowledge and companionship of a support group, Barbara LaPresti facilitates such a group in Brandon.

Where: First United Methodist Church, Small Chapel, 121 Knights Ave.
When: 3rd Thursday of every month (next date: June 17th)
Contact: Barbara LaPresti at 813.494.4896

Mental health issues are among the unsexiest stories to write about. They range from depression, loneliness, and self esteem to the ugliest crimes humans commit on themselves and one another.

While some people will be personally affected because of their genetics, others will face such issues because of what life throws their way.

Take depression for example. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):

Depression in some degree will affect between 10% and 20% of the population at some time during their lives, some as often as once or twice a year, with episodes that may last longer then six months each.

NAMI's Hillsborough County chapter has a group specifically for family members of people who suffer with mental illness(es). that meets once a month every third Thursday in Brandon. 

I spoke with Barbara on the phone this morning about the group. She said it offers research, guidance, and moral support for people whose lives are touched by mental health issues. Barbara added that the group helps "individuals peel away the mask and lets them share what they need to."

Mark your calendars for NAMI Hillsborough's next meeting on June 17th at 7 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church, Small Chapel, 121 Knights Ave, Brandon, FL 33511.

NAMI, by the way, grades each state on their mental health services. Florida gets a big, fat D.

Community Stepping Stones

Tampa artist Sigrid Tidmore visited the students of
Community Stepping Stones Wednesday to give the first of a special two-part lesson in watercolors and how the oil spill is affecting the environment.

Sigrid opened by asking the class how the oil spill made them feel. Hands went up and answers were blurted out.
"Depressed!" (This comment may have been from one of the several USF fine art interns).

Sigrid then asked: "What are you going to do about this? When you grow up?"

Again the answers flew, this time just from the kids.
"Make a law!"
"Don't litter!"
"Get a better car!"
In this first session the students learned
techniques of painting with watercolors and traced starfish.


A Little Law & Order

This is completely off topic, but I wanted to salute Law & Order with one of the few New York stories I've got in my bag (isn't that the reason we write our own blogs?!)

In the Fall of 2002 I was barely out of college, aimlessly hanging out in Brevard County where most of my maternal relatives reside. Not much was going on there besides the beach, which I was overly willing to exchange for Seattle, a city that had beckon
ed me since I had visited one summer in high school.

But first this Jersey girl needed one last trip back to the great northeast, to Dover, DE (the college town I had recently abandoned) on up to NYC for the first anniversary of 9/11.

My cousin Sara was almost done at UF and I invited her along for the road trip. She had never been to New York, and I was on a mission to be the best tour guide I could be (despite the fact that on a previous tour I had mistaken the Staten Island ferry for the one that goes to the Statue of Liberty).

Our mothers and aunts were terrified for us, two 20-something, flip-flop footed Florida girls on the streets of New York. I didn't tell them that the only hotel we could afford was a hostel just
south of Harlem...which not only ended up being clean and decent, but happened to be swarming with the crew of L&O as we checked in. It was almost more than a recent graduate of media arts could handle. (And of course later relaying the story of seeing the back of Sam Waterston's head went a long way towards my family forgiving me for taking my innocent (ha!) cousin on a 1,000 mile journey from home).

The rest of the trip played out brilliantly for us tourists: we walked a lot, ate great food, did yoga in Central Park after passing Dustin Hoffman. We got lost in the crowd of the 9/11 parade and were offered love by a lady sitting on a stool holding a sign for free hugs. It was the first time I had ever been to New York when pedestrians eagerly looked one another in the eyes.
Is it nutty that I think of this point in time when I think of Law & Order? Eh, who cares? Sometimes American culture, as interwoved as it is with TV, ain't so bad. (Although I'll probably not agree with that statement tomorrow.)

Photo credits: places in New York I can no longer name, a blonde me on a rock in Central Park, my brother Ed and cousin Sara visiting in Willingboro, NJ


The Book Babes

If you love books you need to know about the radio show The Book Babes on WMNF 88.5. It airs once a month (on the third Wednesday). The May episode aired today but you can catch it online (as well as back-episodes) in the WMNF archives.

The books the babes discussed today pertained mostly to gifts to give new graduates, but I've always thought that the feel-good advice given at commencement celebrations is essential for everyone, from non-college grads to those who have left college far behind long ago. (Although I'm happy to be eight years out, I've been able to hold onto that excitement of the "real world" despite its beat downs.
These books are great reminders if you've lost your own excitement somewhere on along your post-college path.)

On the show there was also an author interview with Matthew Syed, who recently wrote Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham and the Science of Success. As someone who tends to take on way too much (my life is like a buffet, so said my therapist today), I really appreciated Syed's motto of putting time into doing what you really love instead of spreading yourself too thin all around and never giving yourself the chance to excel.

But the most important thing I got out of today's Book Babes was the quote: You Are What You Read! Priceless. And true.


Science Diet

In high school I had the self esteem of a Twizzler. When my 8th grade algebra teacher called me stupid my response was getting my first (ever) 'F' in his class, flunking out, then having to be in remedial math the next two years. I guess I showed him.

That experience helped put me on the path towards becoming a mass comm major (where at least I was resourceful enough to get a scholarship to a college with no math requirement), but I was permanently damaged. Not only did I never pass math beyond the 10th grade level but my love of science was tarnished forever.

Or so I thought. My interest in reading food labels in junior high grew into a hunger to learn all I could about about nutrition and the body, aging, mental health, addictions, and more. I love how science explains so-called mysteries and overturns conventional wisdoms. Working as a health care journalist has become one of my pipe dreams and has brought me back to my love of science.

Which leads me to The Scientist, one my favorite online magazines. I just got an email from them saying they're opening up their archives:

For a limited time, The Scientist has opened its premium content to all of our readers. Dating back to 1986, our archives contain over 15,000 articles from 23+ years of issues.

While the site is open, you do not need to log in to view our award-winning content*, but we strongly encourage readers to register to receive our eNews, monthly Table of Contents e-mails, and other announcements.

Although I barely got through college astronomy because of my math handicap, I flourished in biology which had less math. Post-college, though, I thought I would never be bothered by math again, until it became clear to me that my easy boredom demanded usage of a part of my brain that I had always previously ignored.

It never occurred to this occasional literacy tutor how important math is. I see the obvious tragedy in a high school grad who can't read, but being math illiterate has always been more acceptable.

Other science-y sites I like are Physicians News, Explorations with Michio Kaku, NPR's Science Friday, and anything by Atul Gawande. Lemme know if you know of any other science sites I should be checking out.


The Last Lecture

When I was a kid I used to think there was something divine about radio DJ's. They always knew exactly when I needed to hear a particular song. (Since most radio stations have playlists mapped out weeks/months in advance, the magic of radio has moved me to the comfort of an ipod.)

Although now that I'm spending more time in the library, I've found that librarians have taken over the role of allocating those predetermined life lessons to me.
Last week I walked by a display of books and saw The Last Lecture. I've browsed this book before (it's about a terminally ill professor, Randy Pausch, who wanted to wrap up his career with one more talk) and purposely passed on it because I knew that I'd just start weeping. When I saw the display though, I figured the universe was telling me to finally read this book.

I tend to think that most books are too long and I've recently decided that it's 0kay for me to scan the last chapters of books that are good but need less in them. (I've always had a thing about wasting time.)

That wasn't the case with The Last Lecture. I quickly read it over the course of a few days and I found myself questioning why the story couldn't have been just a little bit longer.


Garbage Day

Another school of thought to which I subscribe is that women don't take the garbage out (this woman anyway). After over a year of living in oblivion of garbage day (make that most of my life), last week I found out just how much we throw away. I couldn't believe it was so little.

I grew up in a family of six people and remember us filling at least one Hefty bag a day. We were lucky enough to live in a township that had a recycling program (yes, even in the 80's!), but we still sent a whole lotta junk to the dump.

Reduce & Reuse

I'm happy to be surprised by my recent observation on the lack of trash produced by my two-person, two-pet household, but it's not cool to see our recycle bin half full of product packaging. After all, if this stuff had never been created in the first place, we wouldn't have to be recycling it.


Matter of Trust

I'm part of that popular school of thought that believes hair cuts are essential for emotional well-being. Now thanks to this unending oil spill, our hair cuts have gained even more importance.

Last July I posted a short interview with Brandon Wagner, owner of Tribeca Color Salon (and its new sister store, Becky, in Ybor). Wagner told me how they sweep up all the clipped hair and ship it off to Matter of Trust, an do-gooder organization that reuses natural and man-made items instead of throwing it on top of the ever-growing landfills.

I've heard of other salons in the area who also send their hair to Matter of Trust, so be sure to ask if yours does before booking your next appointment. If they don't, find a place that does!

Seattle Public Library photo by Michael Lee Howard


AARP Florida

Recently I spoke with Michelle Cyr, Associate State Director for Advocacy for AARP Florida. She gave me some insight regarding the changes in our health care system under the new health care bill.

For more details on the changes from AARP and when they'll take place go to:


No, Really, Life is Looking 'Up'

I spent last week preparing to interview Emily White, author of the new book Lonely. (Stay tuned for details of when that story goes to print.) But in my research, I stumbled across Up!, a new book by David Niven.

Last year I read his fun book 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People, which has cute anecdotes followed by tidbits of scientific research to back them up.

In my life I've definitely fallen more into the lonely category than the happy one. Both Lonely and 100 Simple Secrets have allowed me to understand why I've felt so bad and so good. That understanding has in turn lead me to have more control, not really over my feelings, but by being able to recognize an incoming bad mood, I can take the needed steps to veer it off its course.

You can listen to the interview I did with David Niven on his book Up! on the archives of the WMNF Evening News.


Funding the Change You Wish to See

I'm pretty sure that my perfect job doesn't exist (unless someone can tell me how to make a decent living being creative & helping people). Like the Anti 9-to-5 Guide gal, I left a terrible corporate job in my 20's and never looked back.

Since then I've worked pretty much everywhere: at an organic deli (where I learned to cook), part time at a weekly paper (where I got to write), and when times got tough I changed adult diapers in nursing homes (where I had plenty to write about).

I know how to work hard, it's the working smart thing that I need to really um, work on. So this morning I went to a free class at the downtown library that introduced me to a missing piece: grant writing. I have no problem getting ideas, but good ideas go nowhere without financial backing.

The training room was packed, and I saw some familiar faces of people I currently volunteer with as well as a couple I've worked with in the past. When we went around the room to introduce ourselves, it was kind of a Who's Who of Tampa non-profits. But there were plenty of newbies, like me, who want to get into the business of helping ourselves help others.

Check out the library's events page to find out more info about upcoming Foundation Center and grant writing classes.


Not Your Momma's Kindergarten

I, along with my fellow FMoPA volunteers, began teaching the final installment of the B&CG/Eckerd Family Foundation photo & literacy classes today.

We teachers have enjoyed testing out the waters, adjusting our curriculum, and daydreaming about future expansion. But there's nothing like an hour with 15 under-5-year olds to make you live in the present moment.