Girls, Girls, Girls Were Made to Love

When I was two or three I told my mom that my babysitter tickled me. She asked me where and didn't like the areas I pointed out. 

Years later my mother told me how she had tried to press charges against the teen, who happened to be an Army officer's son. But either that family or ours was moved from Ft. Knox to another Army base to avoid further trouble

I don't have any recollection of those events, but I do remember living on base in W├╝rzburg, Germany when I was 7.  Another babysitter, another officer's son, touched me and talked to me in ways I recognized from movies. 

My mom didn't know about this one, and I still haven't told her. I have often put the feelings of other people before my own, and I just have not been able to break the news to her. How do you tell a parent that the care they gave you was not good enough? 

That babysitter (and a few other people and incidences since then) held a lot of power over me. It wasn't until I started therapy a little over a year ago that I began learning to trust my friends and family, my husband, and myself. 

I've sought therapy throughout my twenties but wasn't really ready to face my fears, and I always quit after a few sessions. Therapists also have power and I hadn't been ready to trust them either (some with good reason; some were nuttier than I was). 

When I found myself flailing throughout my first year of marriage, my first long-term relationship, I knew it was time to woman up. I called the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, and they referred me to Apple Trauma Services, one of the nonprofits under their organizational umbrella. 

Because of my low income status and lack of insurance, they offered me a sliding scale weekly fee that I could afford. I wouldn't have been able to get the help I desperately needed without that. 

The counselor I began seeing was still earning her MA, in fact I think she may have been doing her internship at the Crisis Center. But I was comfortable with her right away, and beyond ready to be fixed. I was ready to let go of my anger and fear and Boehner-like crying every time I observed some terrible injustice in the world. Crying, after all, saves no one. 

Once a week we visualized and role played and exercised my self esteem. But mostly she just listened to a sad girl who had often felt overlooked as a child and had trouble reconciling the fact that she was now a grown woman who had complete control of her life and self. 

After 13 months of therapy, today I go in for my last session. (Though I'm a Woody Allen fan, I have no interest in making therapy a part of my life for decades on end.) I am celebrating the obstacles I've overcome. 

I feel extremely lucky that my therapist decided to follow her heart and pursue her MA and found me in her office one day. She's helped me unlock the scared child I'd been holding onto so that I could become the person I wanted to be. 

And I'll close by adding that to be an effective do-gooder, it's imperative that you help yourself first. It took me a long time to learn this lesson. I'm happy to have had access to the mental health tools needed to help me help myself. 


Happy Gasparilla!

 I snapped a few photos early Gasparilla morning around the Davis Islands bridge.

Bayshore Blvd. was blocked off in both directions so I crossed with no fear of being run over. 

In fact, many of the usual morning exercisers were jogging down the middle of the street. I walked from the island to downtown and back again interacting with so many other pedestrians. 

Ah, I've never seen so many people out enjoying Tampa. Safely. 



A brief note to my dear readers:

I've been messing around with settings, design, and address of this blog for a few weeks but have already decided to stay at for the time being. If you notice any other problems that prevent you from reading, please let me know! 

Thanks for your dedication! 


Bingo For a Good Cause

Wednesday evening at Hamburger Mary's in Ybor. The evening features Tampa's curmudgeoniest do-gooder Clark Brooks. Word on the street is that it'll be the party of the year.

Tampa Winter

I suffered a terrible case of SAD from enduring three Seattle winters, and it rears its head if I go too long without massive infusions of light.

It's been gray here almost every day for the past week, with some intervals of sunshine.

So last week when the thermometer hit 70, I took a long stroll along downtown Tampa's growing Riverwalk.


Writers in Paradise 2011

Sometimes living in paradise leads you to forget about the rest of the world. Which led me to completely drop the ball on writing about Eckerd College's Writers' Conference. I can't say enough good things about Eckerd and the tons of cultural happenings there (not to mention all the rad volunteering of its students & staff), so better late than never?

The conference wraps up tomorrow, and the professional writers (Richard Russo, Julianna Baggott, et al.) teaching the closed courses during the day have also been giving lectures that are open to the public in the evenings. I'm kicking myself for not having commuted out there every night this week.

Tonight at 8 p.m. Laura Lippman and Tom Perrotta will speak about the magic of writing fiction. Tomorrow is the final lecture with author (and Eckerd alum) Dennis Lehane.


Movements are Made, Not Born

Added 1/21/11: I failed to mention that Madison Middle School is in desperate need of beige/khaki pants & shorts for both girls and boys in all sizes. If you are able to donate funds or gently used clothing, contact Bonnie Lambert at Madison or send me an email.

I rarely get feedback from my writing. At best: "Good story, good work!" Which I like, of course. But that doesn't tell me if what I wrote did any good.

Last night I had the somewhat rare opportunity to follow up with the subjects of a previous story.

Linda Broyd, of the Karma Mama's giving circle I wrote about last month, invited me to her home for their January monthly meeting.

I listened to them chat about vacations and kids over glasses of wine and spinach spanakopita, then they sat down and got to business.

To be a 501(c)(3) or not to? Commit to Madison Middle School for the next couple of years, or just this year? Fundraisers, clothing donations, and more.

They worked out their short term goals in about an hour and a half. I left Linda's house thinking this evening could just have easily not taken place. These 10 ladies don't have to give their time or their own money away, but they do.

Linda also told me that after the story ran in the paper last month, two women from separate ends of Tampa Bay contacted her and have since formed their own giving circles. Now that's the kind of news I like to hear.

Do More and Better

Scott Stossel is the deputy editor of The Atlantic magazine, and author of Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver.

Sarge died Tuesday at 95, and Scott wrote about his experience as his biographer:

Shriver had a gift for what one of his old War on Poverty colleagues called "expanding the Horizons of the Possible." In my darkest moments of despair over my biography of him, when I had a half-written, 1,000-page pile of garbage, and I'd think to myself that I'd never be finished, and that this wasn't worth pursuing, I'd tell myself, For God's sake, Shriver ran the Peace Corps and the War on Poverty--at the same time, while raising five kids!--so you can damn well finish this book.
You can read the full piece here.


Preaching to the Choir

I used to think that there was something wrong with me, mostly because of the people who told me I wore my heart on my sleeve too often and that I should just take care of myself.

Even those who didn't say it showed me that material things mattered more than happiness: they worked jobs they hated where they didn't contribute anything worthwhile to society, but hey, they had new cars and big TV's out of the deal.

I came up with Tampa Do-Gooder over a year and a half ago so I could focus on that giving side of myself and others, and I'm still surprised when I come across true do-gooders. I may have the heart and the desire, but I spend more energy frustrated and not knowing how I can best help than actually doing. Intentions are great motivators but they fade like dreams when you fail to act upon them.

I look up to those who are doers. In 2003 Todd Gitlin wrote Letters to a Young Activist, but the book found its way into my hands just last week. I already knew that I'm on the right path for myself, but when his words congratulated me for having left "the path of least resistance" I was reminded that I'm not on a new path, nor am I on it alone.
"Facing the world's travails, you aren't content to stop at taking notice or bearing witness. You aren't satisfied to deplore, weep or yell. Your response to the day's bad news is not, Isn't that awful? but What am I - what are we-going to about that?"
Another great do-gooder I recently came across is Victoria Hale, a pharmaceutical chemist profiled this month in The Scientist, who started a nonprofit drug company in 2000 to "make drugs for all of humanity—drugs that don’t necessarily pull a profit."

This was all news to me, but after a quick search I saw that she was one of Glamour's Women of the Year in 2007 and NBC's John Larson also made a Making a Difference segment out of her story:

Now this is the kind of gal I'd like to see strutting down red carpets, accepting fancy awards, and having little girls dream of wanting to be like when they grow up.


New Year, Same Ol' You

I'm a big cheerleader for the YMCA because of its affordability, programs, and numerous locations. I've been a member for a year and a half and have maintained a healthy, stable weight since a few months in. (My weight fluctuated dramatically throughout my 20's due to various eating disorders.)

My favorites include walking and jogging, but as we know Tampa isn't the safest place to be a pedestrian, so I go to the Y.

I also love yoga for its strength-building, concentration, and mind-body connection, but being on a budget usually prohibits me from doing all the yoga I crave weekly. Again, at the Y, all the yoga, pilates, and spinning classes I desire are included in the membership.

Making physical fitness a part of your daily or weekly routine is the best and most inexpensive method of health care, especially if you're uninsured.

It's great for the heart, body, mood, community. And wallet. For the month of January, the Y is waiving their joining fee. Check out their website for the Y nearest you.


15 Minutes of Fame

What do a lawyer, legal assistant, former sailor, two teachers, and a journalist have in common?

They're all members of the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts (FMoPA) and presented their photography at November's "Your 15 Minutes of Fame". Each presenter had 15 minutes to display prints or slides, and answer audience questions about their work, equipment, and future goals.

The next installment will be next Wednesday, January 19th from 7-8:30 p.m. (
Future dates are March 16th & May 18th.) I've been hosting this series for a year now, and love seeing the work of the emerging and seasoned photographers and artists who call Tampa Bay home.

First up was Dick Caldwell, whose photos included poppies from the Canadian Rockies to tulips in Toledo, Ohio, and wintering avians in Apopka.

Maikel Izquierdo (my friend and co-worker last year at FMoPA's literacy-through-photography class) likes to "get in real close" for portraits. She has snapped images from Boston's lighthouses to Alaskan dog sledding teams.

Chicagoan Mike Douglass said he uses photography to repackage others people's art into what he calls "found art," such as a used painters palette and other artists' spaces. Similar to cloud gazing, everyone comes to his or her own conclusions about what he or she see in his photos.

Judy Leavens has photographed some of the most beautiful natural spaces in America like the Grand Canyon and Sedona, Arizona, and adores getting out to Florida State parks.

Joseph Gamble's pieces included underwater shots in Key Largo and part of his season-long series of a minor league baseball team in Savannah, Georgia.

Kitt Amaritnant likes action shots. His series "Muay Thai in America" followed one night of young fighters in and out of the ring. He also shot a lot of hands because he believes: "A lot of times you don't need to see the face to know what the person is thinking."

Mr. Amaritnant was voted audience favorite of the evening. You can view his photos at his website

Contact me at if you have any questions or would like to register.

Photo by Maikel


Vaya Con Dios, Carrie Core

Back in '09 I wrote a post about WMNF's volunteer coordinator Carrie Core, who started working at the radio station the same time I began volunteering there.

Tonight we MNF'ers wish her a bittersweet farewell as she leaves the job and heads onto a new adventure.

One other big change at WMNF is the new program schedule. There's more local public affairs in the morning, music in the early afternoon, and the Evening News moved from 6 p.m. to 4 p.m.

You can check out the entire schedule here, and give your feedback on the WMNF blog.


Saluting Gulf Coast Volunteers

I just came across a great article from the Nov/Dec 2010 issue of Audubon magazine about the multitudes of people who are still volunteering on the BP oil spill clean up despite the fact that the effort has faded from the media headlines.

At the end of the story they list several ways to get involved even if you don't live in any of the Gulf Coast states, like making your yard bird-friendly, writing your senator and representative, or helping scientists know which birds are in your area.

Treasure Island, Florida Autumn 2010


The Visual Miscellaneum

The Visual Miscellaneum by David McCandless is my first science/math read of 2011. I spent New Year's Day hungover and barely able to get out of bed, so I grabbed a book filled with mostly pictographs and charts (that's the best part of math anyway, right?!).

The first one in the book, the four-page spread Billion-Dollar-O-Gram, had me hooked. Using squares and rectangles of different sizes and colors to represent how many billions the United States or other behemoth companies rake in for this or pay for that. The second biggest rectangle covering over a quarter of one page is the projected $3000 billion cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (The largest shape is the $7800 billion "worst case scenario of the financial crisis to the US Government".)

A much smaller square of only $300 billion would save 1B of the poorest people worldwide, or a paltry $4B would clean up BP's mess in the Gulf.

There's also charts explaining the best wines/years to drink them or save them, the evolution of rock music (I've always wanted to see someone spell that out), and even the best depiction I've ever seen of media consolidation: a garden with flowers representing media outlets like Rolling Stone magazine, HBO, and the Wall Street Journal, with their "bulb" representing the size of their parent company.

GE is the biggest bulb, with NBC as it's only bud, but all that may change very soon if the NBC/Comcast (E!) merger is approved. Just when you thought there wasn't enough variety in the garden...

Another very timely and useful chart I loved was simply a page filled with words, the names of common ingredients found in cosmetics, rated from good (Laminaria Digitata) and okay to nasty (parfum) and deadly (FD&C Yellow No. 5 Aluminum Lake).

Another useful chart was based on the periodic table of elements, but this one has the names and expiration dates of common (and rare) condiments. Very handy, just like the set of graphics explaining the difference between a Macchiato and Cafe Breve. You'll never go into a homegrown coffee shop dumbfounded ever again!

The Visual Miscellaneum spells out a lot of things that should be pretty obvious but are often overlooked. Perhaps someone with loaded pockets would be so kind as to send a copy to every member of Congress?


2010 (Prison) Reading List

Instead of compiling a list of what I've read in 2010, I'm sharing the list of books I've sent to my brother (you know, the one in the pokey).

Just a little background on him: he's almost 30 and a 10th or 11th grade dropout, but earned his GED by age 19. At 22 he was locked up for crimes inspired by desperation, bad temper, and substance abuse, which came with a 10-year sentence because there was a gun involved. He's almost 30 now, so that means 23 months and counting before he's home free.

I am terrified of his getting out mostly because of the thought that he'll go right back in, as there have been few classes or resources to "fix" whatever got him into prison in the first place. I know whatever happens after his re-entry will be up to him and the choices he makes, but I can't help but think that the books I send him are the only/biggest hope he's got at doing right this time.

According to my bro, the library at his prison is small and contains mostly Nora Roberts. Good for boredom, maybe (not), but not emotional growth and healing.

Which leads me back to the books he's read via me this year:

I sent several collections of Calvin & Hobbes and The Blindside, in hopes he'll regain some of the humanity that prison has very likely taken from him. Then What is the What so he'll see that the world is huge and scary but hope exists, especially through education. (I am surprised and ecstatic to report that he loved this book and later found A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by the same author on his own at the prison library.)

I liked Ned Vizinni's take on mood meds and being hospitalized for a suicide attempt and depression in It's Kind of a Funny Story, which I think may have helped my brother see that not all psych doctors are ill-willed and mislead. (He had several bad experiences as a kid with that too, but haven't we all?)

When he asked for something about Muhammad Ali, I (overreached and) got him Everything They Had: Sportswriting From David Halberstam, which he didn't read. (Which made me mad at first, but then I realized I've had a rough time getting through a couple other Halberstam books myself this year.)

Thinking about my bro's possible wanderlust lead me to send him Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild, and then Howard Zinn's A Young People's History of the United States so he could learn how hard the generations before his had to work for their rights. Again, I was very excited by how excited he was after reading his first Howard Zinn book.

Since I'd been going by all the authors & subjects I liked and was familiar with, I decided to reach out for suggestions. One of the owners at Inkwood Books in Tampa suggested The Magicians by Lev Grossman when I asked for a fantasy book. (By the way, I've been to several chain and independent book stores in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties but only the folks at Inkwood have helped me through the sometimes complicated process of sending books to prisons. I Inkwood!)

And a fabulous children's librarian in Tampa who I'll be forever indebted turned me onto the young adult author Walter Dean Myers, so I sent his Sunrise Over Fallujah, a fictional story about the war in Iraq, and Lockdown, about two of my favorite places to hate: prisons and assisted living facilities. I'm hoping these latter two books rescue my brother from feeling sorry for himself.

In addition to those books, I've sent him random editorials from the New York Times and the paper's "Modern Love" column, as well as clippings of all the reporting and blogging I've done this year.
I've never thought about what people in prison read or do until my brother was in for a while. It's astounding to think that a little more education would have prevented him from going in to begin with. Three cheers that this makeshift self-education will be what keeps him from going back.