Entries categorized "current events"

Have Cowboys. Will Travel

I woke up this morning and realized my three sons are on three different continents. 

I shuffled out of bed, let the dogs out, and sat on the lawn. It was eerily quiet. Signs of the boys were everywhere: an arrow stuck in the lawn which had missed its target by a long shot. Olive, our little Sheltie, was chewing on a faded soccer ball. And one, lone, white sock, partially covered in mulch, peeked out from under the boxwood, because..., well, just because. 

And then I cried. I mean, I really cried. I cried tears of relief because each had made it safely to his destination. I cried messy, happy tears because each of my boys was doing his own thing, taking the world by storm. And then I cried out of fear because this has been one helluva violent summer. And my babies are out there. 

IMG_2841The oldest, 16, is in Beijing through SYA on a language immersion program. My 13 year-old is doing a student exchange with our sister city in Esslingen, Germany through our chapter of the People to People organization. And my youngest, 12, is in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (feels like a separate continent) on the shores of Lake Superior at Michigan Tech's amazing hockey camp. 

Plans for our summer of 2016 began last October with applications, interviews, grant forms, webinars, essay questions, and a lot of check writing for program deposits. 

Then Malaysian Flight 17 was shot down and suicide bombers attacked a train station in Turkey.

In November, Paris suffered a massive attack and chaos ensued.

Over the holidays people asked, "Are you sure you want to let your kids travel with all that's going on in the world?"

We continued with our planning. My son applied for his visa, the scholarship form was finalized, and we went to the bank to set up teen checking accounts and debit cards.

HugonjulianIn January, the mass shooting in San Bernardino made it abundantly clear that no safe havens were left in today's world.

In spring, the bombings at the Brussels airport and a metro station shook me to the core. 

With tears streaming down my face, I made plane reservations for the boys anyway. 

We picked out adapters, journals, good walking shoes and continued to check things off our lists.

We didn't avoid the news. Together we watched the coverage of Orlando. 

We said "I love you" a lot. In fact, the act of saying "I love you" began to feel like our five seconds of safe haven. We said it before bed, getting out of the car for school, getting dropped at soccer practice, before meals, and basically all the time. When we weren't together, we texted it. "I love you" became our daily armor to protect us from whatever unimaginable tragedy was going to strike next. 

The police shootings in Dallas and the Bastille Day attack in Nice followed. It was clear the world had gone utterly mad. 

We discussed these events. We mourned the dead. And we kept saying  "I love you."

On Friday we packed the suitcases, hockey gear, and  went shopping for travel snacks. 

When we deposited checks from grandma and grandpa at the boys' bank, an employee said, "I would never let my child go to Europe or Germany or any of those places."  Um, honey, oh...forget it.

IMG_3008I got defensive, "What should we do? Stay home for the rest of our lives? My child could get hit by a car tomorrow right outside our front door." We live in a cul-de-sac and that would never happen, but she didn't know that.

"Well," she said, "I don't think you should go lookin' for trouble." 

"I promise you, bank-teller-lady, no one here is lookin' for trouble. Let me guess, you spend your time on your Cheeto-stained couch watching reality TV repeats: shows of other people doing stuff that they already did."

Ok, I didn't actually say that out loud. I just said it in my head, but it was still quite satisfying.

The insinuation that I was careless with my children's lives stung. And it stung hard.

Do we have to stop wandering? Do we just put our heads down and try to get by? Do we have to give up our dreams? I bet that woman has never tried ceviche, rolled the dice in Vegas, or stood in a city center with a map and a thirst for knowledge. 

That woman didn't realize she's the one who is really in danger. 

As soon as we stop learning, we begin to die.






Finding Connection in an Unimaginable World

I've witnessed some incredible Heathrow Moments in my life. They occur when I'm alone in an airport, waiting for a flight. Most often I'm surrounded by crumpled napkins, a slice of pizza and a glossy magazine filled with shock and awe: celebs wearing no make up.

And then it happens.

I look up and spot someone running with flailing arms and a beaming smile toward an arriving passenger. As I watch the two greet, hug, and laugh, the positive energy from their reunion has a ripple effect, as if love is contagious. 

Those are Heathrow Moments.

If you've seen the holiday movie Love Actually, you may understand why. In the movie's opening scene, loved ones greet one another with hugs, kisses, and laughter at the arrivals gate of London's Heathrow Airport. Hugh Grant narrates:

Whenever I get gloomy with the state of world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the twin towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around. 

Some things are better seen for oneself. Here's the one minute clip:




This week I experienced my own perfect Heathrow Moment. It wasn't glamorous like in the movies. It was rainy. It was cold. Moreover, I was at Midway in Chicago, not exactly Heathrow.

I waited, and I waited. I paced, unable to stand still. My 15 year-old son, away at school since August 31, was headed home for Thanksgiving break. I'd been counting the days until his return.

When I spotted him at the back of the barrage of arriving passengers, I lost all composure. I was no longer the cool, blend-in-to-the-crowd, casual mom. I jumped up and down. My eyebrows went through the roof, and according to my younger sons, I made embarrassing pointing gestures. Although surrounded by just a few people, I waved frantically as if I might get lost in a sea of travelers, worried he might never find me. My whole body trembled and tears came to my eyes. In that moment, I became completely oblivious to everything in the world. 

This particular moment was larger than a Thanksgiving homecoming. Over the last few weeks, the world has suffered countless losses as a result of terrorist attacks and madmen with guns. In a flash, loved ones have met violent deaths. The stuff we think will never happen to us, has happened to them. Those families will never be the same. As a result, I found myself uttering unimaginable phrases to my children: 

"If you can't get to an exit, play dead."

"If you see something, say something."

"Stay away from the windows."

"If you can run, try to run in a zig zag, you'll be harder to hit."

"Only show your American passport when necessary, otherwise keep it hidden in your pocket."

"Say you're Canadian."

Although I was uttering unimaginable phrases, my son was flying out of New York's LaGuardia airport. I knew in my heart these were no longer unimaginable scenarios, flights of fancy, or the result of an overactive imagination. 

It sounds trite, but it's still true that we just don't know how much time we have on this earth. Thanksgiving could not have come at a better time. The deaths of so many innocent people remind us of the fragility of our own lives. So many flowers offered. So many tears shed. So many stories shared. So many hugs given.

Augie and mom at midwayThus, I felt an overwhelming sense of urgency to be with all three of my children. I raced to Midway Airport. I paced through the multiple delays. And as my oldest came through the arrivals gate at 12:30 am, I needed to touch him. I needed to look him in the eye and know he was okay. I needed us to be together. We had a group hug on the spot.

This year, Thanksgiving wasn't about the food. It wasn't about the football. (As a Packer fan, I've just committed sacrilege.) Thanksgiving was about the hugs. It was about the exchange of positive energy, the connection, the unspoken message: hey, you mean a lot to me.  I have hugged almost everyone I've seen over the last ten days. In these tragic times, I feel an overwhelming need to connect with others. Even the football fans felt it. You can't tell me your eyes were dry as Brett Favre and Bart Starr hugged. Generations across the nation connected in that moment.

The holiday is over. My son has returned to school. The week wasn't perfect-- it was gray, the Packers lost, none of my pants fit, and the 24 hour news cycle continues to jar me. However, the hugs continue to fuel me and make everything okay for now.

Get out the Kleenex, watch the final one-minute clip, and give a hug. 




Sending you peace and love through the holiday season!

I'm Performing Live to Benefit Lakeland College and Area Youth

I'm excited to announce I'll be performing May 16, 2015 at the Lakeland College Movers & Shakers Gala. This year's gala will feature three stages to accommodate an exciting and diverse group of area performers including a solo pianist, live bands, speed painting, dance crews, drum line, a comedy singing duo and me. 

11149275_883369031705416_2862106551784751528_nWhat type of exciting performance can you expect from me? Hold on to your hats, because this is gonna blow you away. I'm not going to juggle. I won't be throwing hatchets. I'm not going to consume Thin Mints until I burst. 

I'm going to stand in one place and read out loud. Yep, I can read stuff. So take that. 

Sounds easy enough, right? But in reality, and just because I feel the need to quote Run DMC, it's not that easy. Actually, "It's Tricky."

I hope the heel on my shoe won't break like it did at my grandma's funeral and force me to do that funny tip-toe-my-heel-broke-walk.

I hope I won't leave a roller in my hair like I did during an interview with the San Francisco School of Design while explaining I'm a detail-oriented person.


I hope Kanye West doesn't come bounding onto the stage and steal the mic away. 

And I hope there are the appropriate number of fans blowing to give me Beyonce hair.

However most of all, during my reading, I hope the audience will spew their wine across the table, have tears streaming down their faces, and leak a little pee as a result of their laughter.

I've chosen my favorite humor piece, fine-tuned it to death and even added a couple visual aids which the audience will see from two giant screens. 

Here's a two minute sneak peek. Although this still shot does not give off a humor vibe, this is funny. Trust me:



Festival Foods will sponsor my Live Literature performance. In fact, Festival Foods has paired with Lakeland College and will award a $5,000 scholarship to a student from my alma mater, Sheboygan North High School. If the student decides to attend Lakeland College, he or she will receive $10,000. The scholarship winner will be announced that evening. 

Proceeds from this year's gala will benefit Lakeland College and Sheboygan County high school student scholarships. 

If you live in the area and want to support local education, visit the Movers & Shakers Gala website for more details about tickets.

Did I mention the event is also a contest? For $20, you can buy a vote (or many, many votes) for me and my self-esteem. Well, actually you'd be donating money toward the scholarship of a North High student and Lakeland College. But my self-esteem could use a boost with a big win.

You can purchase votes online right now or at the gala. In other words, with just a few clicks on your device, you can help raise money for education, feed my ego and you don't even have to put on pants. We all win!

Bad Things Happen When Good People Are Silent

Last week I wrote about 234 Nigerian girls who had been kidnaped from their boarding school in Chibok by the terrorist group Boko Haram. The mainstream media was slow to cover the story, but with pressure from the forces of social media (#BringBackOurGirls) and alternate news outlets, the world continues to get more information about the plight of these 234 school girls.

Abubakar Shekau, the supposed leader of Boko Haram, released a video today in which he laughs as he announces, "I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah...There is a market for selling humans...I sell women." The video was originally released by Agence France-Presse. Watch the clip with the link below. It's only about a minute. Be prepared to look at the face of evil as you note the leader's horrifying smile. 



The girls were kidnapped April 14, and as we sit three weeks later, the Nigerian government, led by President Goodluck Jonathan, is no closer to bringing them home. It has been reported that the girls are being held deep within the dense Simbisa forest, making a rescue mission extremely difficult. 

But who is Boko Haram? Boko Haram is a muderous terrorist organization. Literally translated, their name means "Western education is a sin." They want to overthrow the Nigerian government and make Nigeria a "pure Islamist state" governed by Sharia law.

Boko Haram members forbid interaction with the Western World and are radically anti-education. They believe education should be limited to reading the Qur'an. As a result, they target symbols of western ideology with their violence. They bomb and attack people associated with churches, police stations and schools. 

Bring Back Our GirlsIf you haven't heard of Boko Haram  before, you're not alone. They came onto the world radar screen about five years ago. In November 2013, the U.S. State Department classified Boko Haram as a terrorist organization. Their violence has escalated since their founder, Mohammed Yusuf, died in police custody.  Since his death, Boko Haram has been responsible for countless bombings of churches and police stations in northern Nigeria which led to the current state of emergency in the region.

The violence escalated last July, when Boko Haram attacked and killed 42 students at the Yobe State School. In  Septmeber 2013, Boko Haram attacked the College of Agriculture in Gujba and killed 40 students and in February, 2014, 29 teen boys were executed at the Federal Governement College Buni Yadi. The kidnaping of 234 girls last month could indicate Boko Haram is becoming more brazen and organized.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry happens to be visiting Africa and was quoted as saying, "The U.S. will do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes." Talks continue as to how the U.S. can best help rescue these young women. Since the #BringBackOurGirls campaign began, people are wearing red and hosting rallies all over the world to bring attention to the girls' situation.

Thomas Jeff quoteEveryone I've spoken with agrees the kidnapping of these girls is beyond horrific. But what can we actually do besides read the articles and watch the coverage?  Thanks to social media, we can do a lot. By tweeting or writing Facebook posts with #BringBackOurGirls, we create solidarity. We let the world (Nigerians, our American leaders and more) know we are watching and we care. By tweeting messages of hope using #BringBackOurDaughters, mothers in Nigeria will know parents and good people across the world empathize with their pain. 

Often people tell me they don't have time for social media.  I have real friends. I'm out doing real things. I don't spend my life online. I understand. I'm busy, too. Or I hear, social media is so narcissistic. No one is asking you to give up anything or become a tin-foil cap-wearing hermit. No one needs to ignore the job, kids, or grooming habits to become an active citizen of the world. I just want to encourage good people to speak up. Your phone/ laptop is a world stage. Use it for good. Conversations are happening and the world needs your voice.

P.S. By liking a post on Facebook about a distressing topic, you are not signalling to the world you "like" what is happening. A "like" means hey, I read this and I find it important, intriguing, etc. When posts receive little interaction from readers, FB stops showing those posts.

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