I have a confession to make. My new book Living in the Heartland: Three Extraordinary Women’s Stories is not a story about three women. It’s actually a story about four women. I am the fourth woman.
While Nancy, Ife and Ellyn, the three heroines in my nonfiction story, belong to racial minorities my story is intimately tied to theirs. At the heart of all our stories is the importance of family and tradition.
Nancy and Ife are aware of their heritage. Their family and traditions have helped the women overcome many challenges in their lives.
Nancy has a deep pride in her Native American heritage. Her mother, her aunts and her sisters, provided emotional support when she needed it.
Ife benefited from the wisdom and character of her grandparents. They provided Ife with the confidence that she knows what to do even in the darkest moments. Ife believes it is her responsibility to serve as a role model for her sons and future generations.
Although Ellyn’s childhood was a happy one and she’s been surrounded by a large, loving adoptive family she’s wondered if something wasn’t missing in her life. Ellyn thought it important to find her birth family and learn more about their traditions and her heritage.
Unlike Nancy, Ife, and Ellyn I didn’t grow up with a strong sense of family or tradition. I was raised, for the most part, as an only child. My siblings were significantly older than me. They left home when I was a toddler. The only other family, besides my parents and siblings, I knew were one grandmother and an aunt. No one shared much information about our ancestry or passed on family traditions. For these reasons, I never developed a strong connection to family that is until I had my own, but as my sons grew older, became more independent, that connection began to unravel. When my parents died I became more disconnected. Then my sons left home for college. All sense of family felt as if it had evaporated. I decided I needed to search for a definition of meaning of family.
I made a conscious decision to seek women whose lives were centered by a strong sense of heritage and traditions. I sought minority women for several reasons. The first is my father who in 1942 became an officer in the Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a unit composed predominantly of Japanese-Americans. My father had little experience with minorities prior to his military service. He was profoundly changed by the men with whom he served. These men became the basis of a second family for him. He loved the men of the 442nd as brothers. Throughout his life my father kept in contact with several individuals and with the Go for Broke organization that represents the entire unit.
I think my father’s experience is one reason why I have long been interested in cultures different from my own. Whenever I travel, I try to learn something about the country and people I visit. I’ve try to bring something home with me to adopt as my own.
My other reason for seeking minority women occurred not too long after September 11, 2001. I was seated in the immense waiting room of the Staten Island ferry terminal. Surrounded by people with a rich diversity of skin tones and languages I realized that rather than feeling alienated and alone, I was at ease. I felt as if I’d come home. Though the people in the room were clearly of different racial, ethnic and religious traditions, I understood that we shared a strong bond. We all wanted to feel as if we belonged, to be loved, to lead a good life and to see that our children did the same.
Like Nancy, Ife, and Ellyn, we all struggle to overcome challenges. Our heritage and our families are at the core of our ability to do so. As different as people’s backgrounds – their race, their religion, their culture – we rely on our traditions, our connection to family in the same way. These give us the confidence to do what is right, lead a good life, and see that our children do the same.
I have learned that while there are things I cannot change; for example, I could not choose the family I was into, I have the freedom to create my own family and to adopt my own traditions. I also realized that it is possible to find support and inspiration from women who may on the surface seem very different than me. This is what ultimately lies at the heart of my book and my blog.
There is no need for anyone to feel lost, to feel isolated. There is a world of people from whom we can find guidance, inspiration, even love, if we recognize that we are all one family.
Kathleen O’Keefe-Kanavos felt as though she’d had an Alice in Wonderland-type surrealistic daydream. She watched her mother battle cancer and then discovered she was going to take a similar journey. The two-time survivor of cancer has dubbed her personal experience an adventure in Cancerland.
“Think of it as the intellectual, emotional, and psychic amusement park of cancer treatment where every ride, game, and attraction demonstrates a different aspect of humanity’s complexities and individualism during treatment.
“I use the allegory of Alice’s travels to make the crucial parts of my cancer survival more accessible and less frightening.”
Kathleen was particularly frightened when she first heard her diagnosis, because she’d witnessed her mother struggle and die. Her mother’s battle taught Kathleen something about survival. Kathleen used the allegory of Alice’s travels in Wonderland to make her own journey through Cancerland less frightening.
“Cancer is humbling. It is guaranteed to knock you down with its series of crises that begin with discovery and continue through treatment, often with no end in sight.” Kathleen considered suicide.
Kathleen has become a strong believer in trusting one’s intuition. She feels that the best way to survive a health crisis is to mix intuition and science. By respecting both, she is convinced that people double their chances of detection and survival.
Kathleen continues her journey through Cancerland. Now, however, she is a guide to others. In addition to writing her memoir Surviving Cancerland:The Psychic Aspects of Healing, she maintains a Web site (www.survivingcancerland.com) and a blog (http://survivingcancerland.blogspot.com). She also writes a cancer Q&A column in the health section of Cape Women Online Magazine (www.capewomenonline.com). Kathleen also speaks directly to people as a phone counselor for the R.A. Bloch Cancer Foundation.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cancer is the second leading cause of death for women. Twenty-two percent of women who die each year in this country have lost their battle with cancer. Nearly everyone of us has a family member, friend or an acquaintance who has taken a journey through Cancerland. How have you been inspired by others who have had the experienced or shared it with someone?
Yvrose Jean Baptiste has only a fifth grade education, yet she has a head for figures. Yvrose was a small-time wholesaler before the catastrophic magnitude 7.0 Mw earthquake hit Haiti on January 12, 2010. The business yielded sufficient money for the entrepreneurial mother to be able to provide her family with necessities and uniforms and books for school. Yvrose wants her children to graduate high school so they can make a better life for themselves. The earthquake left Yvrose homeless and without clients, many had lost their shops and some had lost their lives. What was she to do? How was she going to feed her family? The resourceful woman obtained a second loan and began selling frozen chicken parts from a 33 lb. tub which she carries on her head. Her income is only a small fraction of what she used to make and insufficient for her to repay her debts, but she like the vast amount of Haitians who were devastated by the earthquake Yvrose does her best to survive. The photo and content from this story were extracted from Planet Money, http://tinyurl.com/yj2tbe7.
Luz Maria Davila lives in what is arguably the most dangerous city in the world. Juarez lies on the banks of the Rio Grande south of El Paso, Texas. This Mexican industrial city of 1.5 million has become a battle ground. Last year more than 2,600 people were murdered in Juarez. The casualties are the latest statistics in Mexico’s drug war.
Davila’s two sons are now counted in the death toll. The boys and nearly two dozen other teenagers were gunned down as they walked home from a birthday party. Luz Maria heard the gun shots and called for help. Almost two hours elapsed before ambulances arrived. That’s because the people of Juarez are reluctant to take action; they don’t want to get caught in the crossfire of a drug-related shootout.
There’s a quieter tragedy that stalks the women in Juarez. Hundreds of teenage girls and young women have disappeared. Some have been murdered. Others have been forced into prostitution rings.
When Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon visited Juarez, Luz Maria spoke out for all the mothers whose children have been lost in the violence. Luz Maria confronted Mexico's President. She demanded that something be done. Luz Maria wants justice to be served in Juarez where more than 95 percent of the murders go unsolved.
We all have a breaking point. How much violence, how much pain must a person endure before they can no longer remain silent? The situation in Juarez maybe on a larger scale than anywhere else in the world, but many cities worldwide including American cities experience drug-related crimes, and crimes against women. How are women in these places speaking out to make a difference?
Story content excerpted from March 15, 2010 story Grief, Rage Fuel Juarez mother’s Search for Justice by Jason Beaubien,
Constance McMillen, an 18-year-old at Itawamba High School in Mississippi, in many ways is like any other high school senior. She’s looked forward to getting dressed up and attending prom with her sweetie. What makes Constance different is that her vision challenged her school’s dress and date policies. The teenager planned to wear a tuxedo. Constance’s date was to be her sophomore girlfriend.
Rather than face a legal battle, Itawamba High School canceled this spring’s prom.
In a March 11 USAToday.com article, McMillen is quoted as saying, "Oh, my God. That's really messed up because the message they are sending is that if they have to let gay people go to prom that they are not going to have one," she said. "A bunch of kids at school are really going to hate me for this."
This is not the first case of a lesbian or gay teenager being prevented from attending their high school. It is not likely to be the last.
Is there an adult solution to this issue? And, what exactly is the issue? What is it that the school board fears so much that cancellation is the only solution? Did the Itawamba School Board consider the implications of their actions on McMillen who may well be the target of other teens’ anger because the prom was canceled?
If the school board was worried about displays of affection between two lesbians, why not stipulate that everyone will be subject to expulsion from the prom if they hold hands or kiss? Many schools have restrictions on public displays of affection. Instructing the disc jockey not to play slow music would be an additional way to eliminate contact.
What’s the issue with a girl in a tuxedo? Has the Mississippi school board gone retro, gone back to the 1950s when girls were not allowed to wear pants in school?
Should Constance McMillen be credited with some of the blame? Should she have played by the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell rules?” What if the 18-year-old had said she didn’t have a date? Asked if she could come with another girl. Would there have been a problem if she hadn’t made it clear she was a lesbian?
Other school districts across the country have solved the issue of gay and lesbian students attending prom by holding a separate event, a solution that harkens back to the ‘50s and ‘60s separate but equal strategy of segregation.
Is the issue at Itawamba a school-wide issue or merely an adult one?
A survey of 15-25 year olds conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts, an independent non-profit group, found that this age group has a high level of support for gays and lesbians. The survey found that these sentiments are held by a six-to-one margin across all ideological, partisan, racial, geographic, and religious groups. This may be because one out of two respondents said they knew someone who is gay or lesbian, a fact that has apparently affected their attitude.
Clearly, the school board in Itawamba wasn’t as tolerant.
Virginia Uribe, founder of Project 10, a gay student advocacy group in Los Angeles, is quoted in the USAToday.com as saying, “Students such as McMillen are ‘enormously courageous’ for making their stands.”
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Photo by Matthew Sharpe for The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger, content excerpted from March 11 USAToday.com article, Miss. Prom canceled after lesbian’s date request
Jordan has started thinking for herself, being more vocal and in general acting more independently. That’s pretty natural for a teenager.
Erica Mullenix, Jordan’s mom, is experiencing separation anxiety. She knows that someday Jordan will: “be able to live on her own [no!!!!] and make her own decisions [is this hamburger meat good or bad?].”
Erica admits she’s over-protected. She’s been that way all of Jordan’s life. Erica has had good reason. One day after work Erica arrived at the babysitter’s and found 11-week-old Jordan stiff and unresponsive. Jordan had experienced Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS). Although her brain edema was quickly stabilized, Jordan suffered a stroke that put her into a coma for three days.
“No one really had the proper way of telling me, a brand new mother who'd never tried to teach a child anything at all, that teaching the damaged brain is harder than scraping off dried s#@t. What you want to stick sticks not. What you want to wash away stays for an incredibly long long time.”
The Shaken Baby Alliance (www.shakenbaby.com) defines SBS as "a serious acquired traumatic brain injury caused when a frustrated adult ‘shakes’ a child, usually less than one year of age." According to the Alliance, babies suffering from SBS have a variety of symptoms ranging from "mild forms of irritability, poor feeding, vomiting, and lethargy to more serious symptoms of breathing difficulties, seizures, coma and death."
In addition to permanent fluid on the brain, Jordan’s traumatic brain injury resulted in weakness on her left side weakness and scoliosis. Erica has also suffered permanent damage as a consequence of the incident. She has post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“I don't think I've overcome it. There really is no ‘how, I just do,” Erica says. Erica tried PTSD support but confesses she’s not a group support kind of person. She found dealing with the other victims drained her energy. Erica decided she had enough support from her family.
“My attitude is naturally positive. I'm not a person who looks for the negative out of boredom.”
Erica has had dark moments juggling her guilt and her daughter’s disability. Whatever it is – her humor, her maternal instinct – that gives Erica her strength allows the mother of three to move beyond herself and, in her words, “beat the hell out of the injury. It's taken me 15 years to understand that is my one and only job, really.”
“I take my daughter's hand and we punch holes through it. We get the little brothers [Jon Alex and Ehren] to scream schoolboy obscenities at it. We laugh and taunt and get through each day a little closer to defeating it. We are a small but efficient army as we teach Jordan to lead the charge.”
Want to read more about Erica and her experiences? Her Web site is www.freefringes.com or follow her on twitter @hmx5. (excerpt from http://www.AWildRide.net).
[Author’s note: When my eldest child was born the doctor said I shouldn’t be concerned about the shape of my son’s head. I was told it was common for babies’ heads to be misshapen while in utero. In time the head would take on a normal shape. Just as casually the doctor noted my child’s misshapen feet. In this case, however, the doctor said surgery would most likely correct the problem. I don’t know if my brain was numb from the anesthetic or I simply couldn’t understand how my baby who looked SO beautiful swaddled in his hospital blanket wasn’t perfect. I CANNOT imagine how I would have reacted if he’d been presented to me in the condition Erica’s little girl appeared after the child abuse incident. I don’t know, and I am grateful I don’t. What I have learned from hearing about Erica’s experience, and what I know from my own, is that mothers have an inner strength that takes over when a children is ill. We don’t think about what we must do, we just do it. We put our heads down and we do what we must to protect and nurture the children. We make certain they get what they need. It is both a blessing and the curse of motherhood.]
Go to www.livingintheheartland.com to see more stories of inspirational women, and to see a book on three extraordinary women.
It might not seem out of the ordinary for an American to adopt a foreign-born baby. Americans have opened their hearts and homes to hundreds of thousands of children since the middle of the last century. In the decade between 1999 and 2009, more than 173,000 children from countries all across the globe came to the United States and settled into new families. Nearly 100,000 adoptees came from Korea between 1953-2001, and more than 60,000 came from China between 1995-2005.
It also might not seem unusual for an American to adopt a special-needs child. According to a recent Associated Press story, for example, roughly three of every five adoptees from China have special medical needs.
So why do I consider Mary Miller an extraordinary woman? Well, to begin with Mary grew up in a small town in Ohio where nearly everyone claimed German ancestry and was Catholic. Mary described almost every man, woman, and child in town as a blond. She said her husband stood out because his hair was so dark compared to everyone else.
Mary didn’t intentionally set out to stir things up – first by marrying a Protestant and then by adopting a Korean child, a daughter with a birth defect.
All of Mary’s decisions sprang from love and faith. She married Dick for love. The young couple decided they’d like to have a son and a daughter. Their eldest child was born with a severe form of hemophilia. By the time the Brad was five Mary estimates she’d made 500 visits to the emergency department with the boy. Falls that for would have been minor for other children resulted in internal bleeds for Mary’s son. Brad required a lot of medical attention. Mary and Dick did a great deal of thinking before they decided to have a second child, and chose to adopt a baby from Korea. Their little girl arrived in 1989 just before her first birthday. Soon thereafter she had surgery to repair her cleft palate. Even before Ellyn arrived Mary had committed her love unconditionally to HER little girl.
In the ensuing years Mary juggled full-time jobs in the field of nursing along with the domestic demands of being a wife and mother, a member of a larger family and a church community. Mary has experienced her share of joys and tragedies. One of the biggest tragedies occurred in 2008 when her son died of complications from hemophilia.
In 2009 Mary was both happy yet understandably concerned when her daughter boarded a plane for Korea. The young woman was bound for Korea. She was returning to Korea for a reunion with her biological parents and a sister.
Mary has demonstrated a lot of courage over the years. She’s done a number of things that were out of the ordinary for someone with her upbringing. Of course, Mary doesn’t see herself as a heroine. She’s simply been trying to make the best decisions for herself and her family.
The world is full of heroines like Mary. Unfortunately, in our busy lives we fail to take notice of all we accomplish. We put our heads down when there is an obstacle, push our way through, and then return to the regular business.
If you’ve ever considered adopting a foreign-born child, wondered how adopted children from racially-different backgrounds adapt to their new families, or worried what will happen when your child is old enough to seek out her biological family the Millers’ story provides a window into one family’s experience.
This story took my breath away when I heard it on the radio. It’s not because I can only run a few laps around the gym, and get leg cramps just thinking about running a 5K race and heart palpitations contemplating a marathon. Ultramarathons are definitely beyond my athletic mind set. I can’t envision someone running 100 miles in one day. On one leg? That challenges my mind beyond its limits.
Amy Palmiero-Winters is a shooting star in an universe oTf runners. Earlier this year the 37-year-old divorced mom of two blazed a new trail as she competed in the Run to the Future, a 24-hour race held in Glendale, Arizona. By finishing first overall in the 130.4 mile race this mom of two became the first amputee to qualify for the U.S. national track and field team.
Palmiero-Winters ran her first marathons in 1994. That was also the year a motorcycle accident crushed her left foot and ankle. She underwent nearly 30 surgeries to keep her leg intact so she could run. Eventually, Amy agreed to amputation. The long distance runner competed in what doctors had told her would be her last marathon only a few hours before the amputation surgery.
Amy has refused to hang up her running shoes. She has blazed a trail that most people on two good legs couldn't follow. Palmiero-Winters has run countless marathons, triathlons, and, recently some of the world's most extreme races.
Her dedication as a mother and the demands of an athlete of her caliber present some extreme challenges. One of her solutions is to have a babysitter watch over son Carson, 6, and daughter Madilynn, 4. At night while they are sleeping Amy goes out for a long distance run.
"I don't want my kids to suffer because of my training," she says of son Carson, 6, and daughter Madilynn, 4. "I give up a night's sleep. That's good training, too, because in a 24-hour race you don't sleep."
Palmiero-Winters met Erik Schaffer, owner of A Step Ahead Prosthetics (ASAP) in Hicksville, NY at a race a few years ago. She now works for him. Schaffer produces running blades designed specially for her Amy's needs. Amy works as sports program director for ASAP. She wants to help athletes attain their goals. Amy also visits schools as a motivational speaker and on occasion takes wheelchair-bound children along with her on marathons.
Vicki Michaelis reported Palmiero-Winters has no regrets. The USA TODAY reporter wrote that Amy wouldn't wish for her leg back. She quoted Amy as saying: "Because my life is much better the way it is."
Excerpts of this story from story by Vickie Michaelis, USA TODAY. Photo by Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY
Many Americans are deeply worried about the estimated 210,000 gallons of petroleum per day that are spewing from site off the Louisiana coast. The disaster began ten days ago BP’s rig Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank. The spreading slick is expected to have devastating impacts on all living creatures caught in its path. The spill may become the worst environmental disaster in decades, possibly greater than the 11 million gallon Exxon Valdez oil tanker catastrophe in 1989 that impacted Prince William Sound, Alaska.
The Louisiana spill threatens not only coastal fisheries, but all the fish, birds and mammals that live in the path of the oil. While fishermen are rallying to protect the commercial fisheries and their livelihoods, it will be women like Dr. Frances Gulland who will take care of the seabirds and mammals.
Dr. Gulland is the Director of Veterinary Science at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California. The Center’s core work is the rescue and rehabilitation of sick and injured marine mammals. Frances oversees the veterinary care and rehabilitation of stranded marine mammals at the Center. She also participates in research into marine mammal diseases...To read the full story visit Living in the Heartland. To read more stories of extraordinary buy Living in the Heartland: Three Extraordinary Women's Stories.
Having lived most of my life along the coast – Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf – I am particularly concerned about the devastation that the Louisiana coastal region is facing since BP’s Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank in April. That is why this is the second consecutive post related to the oil spill.
I want to help with the cleanup. I have been trying to figure out the best way for someone who lives hundreds of miles to the north of the impacted area to participate. I read a newspaper article about Amanda Richardson-Bacon in Clear Point, Alabama. She is training people in her area how to construct inexpensive and environmentally friendly oil absorbers. The devices described as hair sausages are nylons stuffed with human hair and pet fur.
Hair stylists and dog groomers from across the country have been mobilized to ship what has been long viewed as waste to the Gulf coast. Richardson-Bacon is teaching volunteers how to stuff nylons donated by Hanes to make tubes that she hopes will be used along the coast to absorb the oil from the disabled well.
I visited Richardson-Bacon’s Facebook page trying to determine if this story was fact or merely an Internet illusion. I warn you her page is graphic. There’s a photograph of an oiled pelican that made me cry for ten minutes. I still haven’t pulled myself together. When I was able to get beyond the heart-wrenching images, I discovered that there’s more to transforming pet fur and human hair into oil spill cleanup devices is more than urban legend...to read the full story go to Living in the Heartland
In December 2008, a woman was arrested in an Atlanta courthouse. Lisa Valentine, 40, said her human and civil rights had been violated by the judge who cited her for contempt of court when she refused to remove her head covering.
The judge had a history of barring headscarves in his courtroom. While one might overlook the issue ascribing it to the narrow-mindedness of the judge, the issue of headscarves is not an isolated one in the United States.
In San Francisco, a city known for its tolerance of alternative lifestyles, a Muslim woman recently filed a complaint against the outdoor lifestyle apparel brand Abercrombie & Fitch. Hani Khan alledges she was fired for not wearing her headscarf at work. A similar suit was filed in Oklahoma against the same company in 2009.
So what's the issue? Why are people getting hot headed about women wearing a headscarf? Is it because they feel that the head covering is a symbol of oppression? To read the full post visit Living in the Heartland.
Living in an able-bodied world
And I am a disable-bodied girl
You know that we are living in an able-bodied world
And I am a disabled-bodied girl
(modified lyrics to Madonna's Material Girl)
Most of us understand and accept that the world is an imperfect place. Many of these imperfections are simply inconveniences, for example, when an escalator isn't working in a subway station. It usually doesn't bother me when I have to take the stairs; I like the exercise. There have been times, however, when stairs have been a major obstacle.For the full story visit Living in the Heartland.
Magda Sayeg has changed the worlds of graffiti and knitting with a women’s sensibility. The Austin mother of three is credited with starting yearn bombing aka knit graffiti. She has covered everything from a door knob to a city bus. Read her full story on my Living in the Heartland blog.
Becca Stevens has created Thistle Farms, a natural bath and body products business, to benefit the women who make the products. Becca, an Episcopal priest, established the company to improve the lives of women whose lives have been touched by violence, addiction and prostitution. Success can be measured by the fact 70% of the women who have worked at Thistle Farms are living better lives. Read the full story on my Living in the Heartland blog.