Hunger doesn’t take a summer vacation

Summer vacation has started – for most American kids. However, in Michigan’s Monroe County, on the Ohio border, school was canceled so often due to snow and sub-zero temperatures that kids will spend an extra two weeks in the classroom. The saddest thing is that for some kids, an extended school year is the best news they’ll have all summer – because it means they’ll have at least lunch, and maybe breakfast too, for an extra two weeks.

Kids Count Data Center makes it hard to say, "I didn't know how desperate they were."

Kids Count Data Center makes it hard to say, “I didn’t know how desperate they were.”

How big of a problem is summer hunger? Well, Gleaners Community Food Bank in southeast Michigan cites Kids Count in Michigan to sum up the needs it hopes to meet this summer.

  • More than 48% of school-aged children are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch. To be eligible for reduced-priced lunches, kids must live at or below 185 percent of poverty, or about $41,000 a year for a family of four.
  • Out of the Michigan children who receive free or reduced-price school lunch, 42 percent live in Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, or Wayne County.
  • More than one in three Michigan children lives in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment.
  • 59 percent of Detroit’s children live in poverty; more than double the national rate (23%).

Compounding the summer hunger problem is the seasonal drop in donations food pantries and soup kitchens report every year. Feeding America is having a fund drive right now to combat the summer donation slump. Feeding America is a great cause to support, but you can have an impact in your own neighborhood. No one needs to look very far to find need. The Kids Count Data Center contains information for every state and territory. Look up your region. Find your local food bank or soup kitchen and make a donation.

Please make a difference in a child’s life this summer.

Mockingjay and the theme of hope

With less than five months until the release of Catching Fire: Mockingjay Part 1, (174 days, and counting!) It’s time to do a little round up of Mockingjay news.

First, I want to offer up this video interview of Julianne Moore who plays Alma Coin, President of District 13. Listen as Moore defines how she sees the movie, as a critique of government and the average citizen’s sense of powerlessness against a behemoth. It is Katniss’s representation of hope that stirs the masses into action.

Second, in an attempt to keep enthusiasm up for the fourth installment, there will be a touring Hunger Games exhibition in 2015. The interactive event will feature props and costumes from the movies and will visit major museums and institutions across the country. If you would, please pray I am able to place Bird On Fire in their official gift store! Can you imagine what an amazing impact that might make?

Third, if a movie countdown and an interactive exhibit isn’t enough Hunger Games for you – a Hunger Games video game will be released by Lionsgate and Kabam, probably this November. In it you will be able to assume the role of a district member and work to build alliances, liberate your district and rebuild Panem.

Finally, if all this isn’t enough to sate your hunger for all things Panem. There is actual and legitimate talk of a Hunger Games theme park along the lines of Harry Potter at Disney. Would you go? What do you imagine the attractions would be like?

Elliot Rodger’s Search for Love

Elliot Rodger’s search for love ended in a killing spree in Isla Vista, California last week. Rodgers left behind numerous YouTube videos and a 137-page manifesto detailing the reasons behind his actions. None of which are justification for what he did.

The video, which I could not bring myself to watch in its entirety, left me feeling shaky and a little sick. His repeated assertions that his unhappiness was directly related to the fact that he’d never had sex seemed completely absurd. Except he’d already acted on that unhappiness and killed four young men and two young women before, apparently, taking his own life.

So here’s the link to The Hunger Games, and a direct tie-in to this blog and my area of interest. Elliot Rodger’s father, Peter, was an assistant director/second unit director for the 2012 movie. Already Rush Limbaugh is saying violence in The Hunger Games had to be an influence on the young man.

Have you seen any of the Hunger Game movies? Do you know what they’re about?…This is crucial! This is what this guy’s dad did. It’s teenagers killing other teenagers. It’s a survivalist game. …They’re being forced to, but they’re still doing it…This kid might say he was forced to by societal pressure. ~ Rush Limbaugh

Ummm, Rush, have you seen The Hunger Games? I may concede a few points in the rest of your screed, but you’ve got to leave this one alone.

Yes. It is violent. Teens are killing teens – but is that the point? No! In The Hunger Games the point is that the Katniss and Peeta don’t want to kill anyone. Katniss and Peeta represent the very best of humanity in their willingness to sacrifice themselves for their loved ones. You’ll have to look at one of the million other movies pumped out by Hollywood to find the message that Elliot Rodger swallowed whole.

Again and again Elliot links sex, love and happiness as if the words are synonyms – and it isn’t hard to find plenty of movies to support that loveispatient.jpgconcept.

What Elliot, and the rest of a love-anemic nation needs to hear, is a passage that usually only gets read at weddings. It’s the famous passage about love in 1 Corinthians.

What if, instead of absorbing the message that being attractive, clean and polite was enough to guarantee happiness, Elliot was told to be patient and kind, and to look for those features in others?

What if he’d learned not to envy, rather than be driven by lust for the experiences he thought others were having and the money he though he could use to buy them?

What if he knew that not being rude was more than just holding your tongue – but was a way of thinking about others?

How different would Isla Vista be today if he was slow to anger, and didn’t hold grudges?

Help me out here. Do any of you know how we can begin to understand love in a new way, separate from sex, separate from instant gratification? Please post your ideas below. Maybe together we can change the world.

Fort Niagara and new memories for this Memorial Day

Memorial Day, when we remember the American soldiers, the sailors, the airmen who have fallen in the fight against tyranny and for freedom on battlefields around the world.

Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.

Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.

I think everyone should visit Arlington National Cemetery. I’ve always heard that the graves just seem to go on and on – but until you’re there… and you realized that they really do… the comment doesn’t resonate. At that moment you absorb the fact that you can’t see the end of the rows of peaceful white stones standing in silent witness of those who laid down their lives for an ideal. The ideal that each of us has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The stones are there, in row after neat row, on rolling hill after rolling hill, so you and I can stand in silent wonder and maybe appreciate a little more where exactly it is we stand.

This week I took my sons to see Old Fort Niagara. This amazing site holds some of the oldest European built buildings in North American and was a hotly contested piece of ground between the Native Americans, French, English, and finally Americans. Now solidly in the hands of the U.S. National Park Service, Old Fort Niagara is an amazing interactive history  museum. Most of the fort’s structures are open for exploration and the many displays are vivid glimpses into life at the fort during different times of its history.

The history of Old Fort Niagara in Allentown, New York.

The history of Old Fort Niagara in Allentown, New York.

But again, the message was clear, freedom—no matter which country you come from—isn’t free. So many lives were lost to musket and cannon ball—and disease and hunger—in service to chief, king or president.

I want to remember this Memorial Day, the very precious price that was paid for my ability to travel freely around my country, for freedom to teach my boys in a way I see fit, and that we are able to worship – or not- without needing to politically justify that decision.

WANT TO VISIT?

If you’re traveling in the region, this summer, you can learn more about Old Fort Niagara and also the Fort Niagara Lighthouse from several sources: The official Old Fort Niagara website includes a calendar of special events (groups often stage re-enactments at the site). You may also enjoy the information at the Wikipedia pages for the Fort Niagara Lighthouse and Fort Niagara itself.

Saving the Smart Girls

Homeschooling is a funny thing. I’ve met more people and been exposed to more philosophies of education than I ever knew existed in the year since we decided to pull out boys out of public school.

To date, I’ve only heard of one that I disagreed with. A young mother who was homeschooled herself expressed fear that she was incapable of homeschooling her son. She didn’t feel qualified because of the philosophy her parents employed when education their children. The boys Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 10.03.44 AMreceived a classic education, all the maths, sciences and literature they needed for higher education or gainful employment. The girls, on the other hand, were trained only to be housewives. Oh, their skills on the homefront are impressive. This young woman and her sisters can preserve anything, sew wedding dresses and balance checkbooks with the best of them – but she is afraid to homeschool her son because she has never been taught what he might need to know.

Her fears expose a flaw in that particular homeschool philosophy. If you do not educate your daughters, who will educate your grandsons?

This question returned to me this week when I read the New York Times op-ed column by Nicolas Kristof, What’s so Scary About Smart Girls.

Kristof asks why did Boko Haram target a girls’ school – kidnapping 267 schoolgirls – instead of, say, a military base or a policed station? Because educated girls change the world. Educated women leads to economic and government stability. Educated women bring wealth to a nation. Educated women work for peace.

Girls’ education is no silver bullet. Iran and Saudi Arabia have both educated girls but refused to empower them, so both remain mired in the past. But when a country educates and unleashes women, those educated women often become force multipliers for good.

Last week I shared a list of things we could do to, maybe, help free the 200+ girls held prisoner by the Boko Haram. Today I’m going to share what might be a more permanent solution – support girls education in countries that currently marginalize the education of half their population. Camfed.org, the Campaign for Female Education, has a proven track record of helping girls get to and stay in school by providing simple things like school supplies, uniforms, shoes and fees. If using the #bringbackourgirls hashtag doesn’t seem like doing enough, consider putting your money where your heart is and making a difference not only in the life of one girl, but in her children’s and her children’s children’s lives as well.

Kidnapped in Nigeria, and how you can help

It was truly a grassroots effort and cry of outrage that brought the abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Nigeria to international attention.

Nigerian children at school. All schools in Borno state have been closed because of attacks by militants. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Nigerian children at school. All schools in Borno state have been closed because of attacks by militants. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Over a month ago, almost 300 students of the Government Girls Secondary School by Boko Haram, a radical Islamic group bend on eradicating Western education, especially for women. Reports are sketchy, but apparently a handful of the students managed to escape. The fate of the rest is unknown. Some reportedly have already been sold into marriage. The leader of  Boko Haram is allegedly threatening to sell them all into slavery.

However, it was weeks before this massive kidnapping made national news, thanks largely in part to social media. I know I read about it on Facebook a week before I saw the report on NBC.

Now, according to CNN, Boko Haram is attacking the people who are trying to save the girls.

And here we are. On the other side of the world. Helpless to make a difference.

Or, maybe not. Sometimes all it takes to chase away the darkness is to turn on the light. In this case it is global awareness of human trafficking and how children are often used as pawns in war.

Here are tips from an ABC article that give use some practical step-by-step ways to make a difference.

UNICEF is encouraging people to continue using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls in order to gain more media and government attention on the present kidnapping, and then to get involved in their End Trafficking project to help put a stop to human trafficking.

Zama Coursen-Neff, director of the Children’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, had suggestions for individuals looking to actively help.

1. Support groups that promote girls’ education and civilian protection.

2. Press your government to sustain pressure on the Nigerian government to search for the girls and improve protection for schools.

3. Press your government to insist on and respect adherence to human rights standards. One way students and teachers can help is through the campaign to End Military Use of Schools. This website, run by students, allows students and teacher to participate in the campaign to make schools off limits to warring parties.

4. And, of course, getting informed is important. The Global Coalition has documented a pattern of attacks on schools, teachers and students in 30 countries in the last five years — a video on this is here: Education Under Attack 2014. And for an interactive map click here.

The Human Rights Watch has even more tips for getting involved here.

Finally, perhaps most vitally, pray. Pray for the safety and protection of those young women. Pray for the rescue, return and healing. Pray for the return of peace and sanity to Nigeria. Pray that human trafficking will become so abhorrent to enough of the world that those who would practice this sin against individuals and humanity would be driven out of business.

Being “That Mom”

Mother’s Day is this weekend.

I thought I’d let  you know, in case you missed the onslaught of  greeting card advertising and newspaper fliers packed with frilly pink things sure to please mothers everywhere. (Right. Because moms fit so neatly into one category.)

Myself, my sister Jill and my mom Cindy on Easter Sunday.

Myself, my sister Jill and my mom Cindy on Easter Sunday.

I have had a very hard time writing something Mother’s Day related for this blog – but not for the reason you might think. I am having a hard time writing about Mother’s Day for such a broad audience because I know how extraordinarily blessed I am.

See, my mom is That Mom. That Mom that made homemade bread, soup and cookies. That Mom that was home when we got home from school to hear what we had to say about the day. She was That Mom whom my friends called Mom. That Mom other moms trusted with their kids. She is That Mom who raised a special needs daughter, two “ordinary” daughters, and a niece for good measure. My mom is That Mom that prays daily for her kids, who sees the best in her kids, who never cuts them out of her life no matter how disappointing my decisions may have been to her.

What can I possibly add to that?

It is my daily goal to live up to that example for my kids, and to share a little bit of that steadfastness and faith with you.

A tale of two missing 8-year-olds

My husband and I had a moment of heart-stopping panic during our family vacation a few weeks ago. Our son had wandered off to investigate the large and very crowded Smithsonian Castle gift shop in Washington, D.C. At only 8-years-old he was quickly swallowed up by the crowd. From the moment we realized we couldn’t see him until we found him again might have only been half a minute – but it was an eternity to my heart and my head.

It was raining that day. The Vietnam Memorial was especially evocative.

It was raining that day. The Vietnam Memorial was especially evocative.

What we didn’t know was another 8-year-old had recently gone missing from D.C., not abducted by strangers from a crowded tourist trap – but seduced away by someone who made himself appear to be a friend.

Friends and family say Relisha Rudd was always dancing, and even in pictures her smile could melt hearts. She was vivacious, innocent and very, very young. For whatever reason (perhaps from an accumulation of micro-traumas), Relisha’s family was living in a shelter where the janitor, Kahlil Tatum, took a shine to the little girl. He began began buying her presents, inviting her over to play with his granddaughter of the same age, and eventually even took her on a trip out of town.

The trip was in March. The last time her family ever saw her.

The janitor has since committed suicide, and it is suspected he shot his wife in the head before he killed himself. Relisha has disappeared without a trace.

Officials now say their best hope is that before he killed himself,  Tatum sold Relisha into the sex trade. At least then there might be a chance to bring her home alive.

I don’t know how to end this than to say, please watch out for the vulnerable children, the ones whose parents are so overwhelmed by life that they might not be able to do it themselves. This is easier to say than do, I am well aware. But I am committed to making my house a safe place in our neighborhood for my children’s friends. Will you do the same?

Micro-traumas and homelessness

Two of yesterday’s totally unrelated events converged in my head last night.

The first was a visit to a new chiropractor to address the latest iteration of reoccurring back problems. This guy takes a slightly different approach than most of the “rack’em and crack’em” chiropractors I’ve seen in the past. His goal is not to make the pain go away (although it is a happy side effect of his work), but to address the underlying muscle and bone alignment issues that cause the pain in the first place.

So what causes the underlying issues? Trauma. Sometimes it’s a major trauma like an auto accident, or a slip and fall on this winter’s endless ice. Much more often, though, the debilitating pain is caused by an accumulation of little things. Micro-traumas. A mis-step here, a jolt there, an unconscious accommodation that becomes habit slowly pulling the spine out of alignment.

I saw someone's vehicle being towed away yesterday - and I wondered what led up to that loss.

I saw someone’s vehicle being towed away yesterday – and I wondered what led up to that loss.

Later in the afternoon I witnessed a vehicle being repossessed.

I began thinking about what leads to losing a vehicle. Underemployment. Unemployment. The loss of a partner’s income. A lack of financial education. Unexpected expenses that crashed the budget. A preceding micro-trauma of some sort. Each of which is preceded by others in an almost endless trail.

Piled up these micro-traumas have led to the loss of a vehicle. The loss of a vehicle can lead to the loss of a job. Which, in turn, can lead to homelessness.

Homelessness, then, is not a simple one-crack fix. There are layers and layers of micro-traumas to address. Job skills, financial education, social skills, home repair and maintenance skills, and in the case of many, many homeless women, how to avoid abusive relationships.

It reminds me of something my friend, Brad, said when someone complained about a panhandler that came back after being given a small amount of money. “Guess that ten dollars you gave him didn’t solve his homelessness.”

Celebrating freedom, and a harsh reminder

I spent a week in Washington DC with my family – we saw many of the famous sites including the George Washington and Abraham Lincoln monuments. They were more moving in person than I’d ever imagined. Reading the historical markers and walking through the many war memorials reminded me in a new way that freedom isn’t free.

So, high on the realization that I work, live, and think freely because others sacrificed so much, we began the long drive back to Michigan. Our last stop was for dinner at an Ohio turnpike rest area. There, on one of the pillars in the food court, this caught my eye.

A poster in Ohio's aggressive new anti-human trafficking campaign.

A reminder that freedom isn’t free – and thousands in American still don’t have it.