Prayers from the Nonreligious

Life is full of tragedy. It’s also full of happiness and light, and for that we can take comfort, but there’s simply no denying or escaping life’s sorrow.

In fact, I believe that to endure it is part of what makes us human. Our tragedies, both individual and shared, lead to periods of reflection and evaluation. They are the impetus for change and growth, adding a new layer to our unique stories and redirecting the trajectories of our lives. No matter the degree, grief and anguish do not leave us unscathed. Though the wounds may heal, tragedy cuts deep. It transforms us and often rightfully compels us to redefine ourselves.

It’s easy, of course, to so blithely describe tragedy given the benefit of time and distance. In the moment, tragedy leaves us raw and aching. It’s awful and, in many cases, unavoidable. Melancholy, restlessness, misery, depression, illness, separation, violence, loss; tragedy presents itself in various ways. It is simultaneously relatable and singular. It is abundant.

Perhaps I feel this way because I’ve matured into a more cognizant member of society. Perhaps it’s because I’m of a certain age and my peers and I now have real adult responsibilities and problems, like divorce or aging parents. Perhaps it’s simply more prevalent now than ever before, though I sincerely doubt that. It’s clear to me, regardless of why, that tragedy is everywhere and affects everyone to some extent at some point.

As a decent human being with self-diagnosed heightened levels of empathy–it should come as no surprise to hear that I’m a deeply emotional being–my chest hurts when someone I care about is suffering. I am keenly aware of how it feels to have a heavy heart and am grateful to whomever first coined the term as it is incredibly apt in many circumstances. I try my best to listen and help, or, at the very least, let that person know I’m there for support. But depending on the situation, saying “I’m here for you” just doesn’t seem like enough. Finding the proper words, however, is tough.

Beyond offering to “be there” for someone, my first instinct is usually to say that I’m “thinking and praying” for them as well. They’re words I grew up saying and somehow continue to feel right because they suggest that I’m spending a good deal of mental and emotional energy trying to conjure positive and supportive vibes. The problem, though, is that I’m no longer religious and don’t technically “pray” either.

While many of the people to whom I say this may not know this fact about me, those who do may wonder about my choice of words. Over time, I’ve become hesitant to use them, often leaving out “prayer” altogether at the risk of sounding irreverent or disingenuous, especially to those who are also nonreligious. Neither is the case; I am very sincerely issuing some sort of prayer to the universe about that person and his or her situation. It’s just that my version of a prayer is not directed to any single god or any god at all, necessarily.

My history with religion is not all that unique or interesting. Like many of my contemporaries, I grew up Catholic but lost my connection to it for a variety of reasons. I’ve dabbled with other forms of Christianity, mostly to be supportive of family members who are religious, and have tremendously enjoyed the sense of community I feel in each church I’ve attended. I don’t have anything against organized religion (unless it’s a church that spreads harmful rhetoric, in which case I’m very much against it) or people who take part in one; I respect the people for whom it works.

I understand that there are many reasons one might be drawn to a particular religion. I also appreciate that, for many, religion provides a great moral guidepost. It’s possible my own morality was partially derived from the religion in my upbringing (though I attribute it to my parents, family, and community). I even admit that the current pope seems like a pretty relaxed and open-minded guy (finally!). I’m thrilled that many religious sects are becoming more accepting of all walks of life, all religious affiliations, and all identities, sexual and otherwise. In my opinion, the ones that don’t are doing a disservice to religion in general. But that’s neither here nor there. I don’t want to delve any more into religion as a concept. I’m not here to talk about its presence, or the lack thereof, in my life.

I’m simply here to convey that I’m not being disrespectful or facetious when I tell someone who is going through a hard time that they’re “in my prayers.” I don’t think my non-believing (or not-sure-about-believing) should affect the weight of my words; to me, religious is not synonymous with goodness. A good person is a good person and their good intentions should be taken at face value. This is why I take no offense to someone who relays these words to me, either.

So please, if I tell you that I’m thinking of and praying for you, know that I am neither pushing religion down your throat nor belittling your belief system; I’m just thinking of you deeply.

I may not be sending my prayers to any specific or commonly accepted deity, but I do believe in the gods of healing, kindness, grace, and mercy. It is to those whom I am sending my thoughts. To you, I send compassion. I hope you are able to find solace in my words and in knowing that you are not alone in your despair.

To anyone experiencing some kind of tragedy as you are reading this, know that I see you, I feel you, and I recognize your pain. My sincerest thoughts and prayers are with you.

A Reminder That Some Tragedies Are Avoidable

Though not my original intent, I feel it would be irresponsible of me to end today’s post without acknowledging the fact that many of the tragedies we see today are within our means to avoid. For instance–a big instance–the implementation of simple, common-sense laws may actually help decrease the frequency of gun violence. It’s after such violence that the phrase “thoughts and prayers” is truly insufficient, so much so that the words themselves have become trite when spoken by a politician who has the real power to effect change and instead offers insincere regards.

Americans are 25 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than people in other developed countries. Twenty. five. Our gun-obsessed culture combined with the oversize presence of gun lobby money flooding our political system has created a real problem with real consequences. We, as Americans, laud our country as the land of greatness and opportunity, a real powerhouse on the global stage. Yet we do not even come close to comparing to the rest of the world in terms of gun safety. Instead, we rank among the top in terms of gun violence. With such a strong-arm reliance on guns in our twisted-priority culture, are we really the land of the free? I’d argue that until we can send our kids to school without the fear that they won’t return, the answer is no.

While many of you, my dear readers, are of like mind and have no need for the reminder, I do think it prudent to add that this is not about taking away guns. Instead, it’s about making it really hard to acquire them and about keeping them out of the hands of people with a history of violence or who are unfit to handle them safely or responsibly. At the end of the day, a gun is a weapon designed to kill. We mustn’t forget that.

Readers, it’s already way past “too late.” As a result, people are dying–our kids are dying–because of our inability to do our jobs, as adults, to protect them. Don’t let those people die for nothing, readers. Take action now. You better believe that when it’s in my power to offer more than “thoughts and prayers,” I do.

 

 

 

[Featured image source]

New Year, Same Me: Resolutions & Other Nonsensical Goals

Cheers and welcome to 2018!

Not that long ago, we expected that by 2018, we’d have flying cars, highly integrated AI robots, and intergalactic travel. While we’re not all the way there (a shame, because flying cars would be the bomb and soon enough we’ll really need a new home planet), we do live in a time with toilet stoolssmart speakers, and too many memes to know where to begin. Lucky us?

I am grateful for GIF technology. [Source]

Strangely enough, we also live in a time where teenagers challenge each other to eat laundry detergent, millions of people receive a “my bad” text after practically crapping their pants, and our megalomaniac president’s diplomatic skills apparently start and end with the term “shithole/shithouse countries.” At least women are finally paid the same as men, right? Damnit.

All that said, there is a lot of good in the world, too. For example, it brings me great joy that we are increasingly confronting the uncomfortable truths about our society, like our collective tolerance for sexual harassment, assault, and inequality. (The Women’s March is this weekend, folks!)

Lest I get too carried away, I’d like to quickly shift gears to the main, and completely inconsequential, point of today’s post: new year’s resolutions.

According to John, resolutions are “the exact middle ground between lying to yourself and lying to other people.” Sounds about right. [Source]

We are officially 16 days into the new year, which means 99% of people have already ditched their half-hearted resolution efforts. Here’s a little-known fact: you can’t fail your resolutions by mid-January if you don’t even set them until mid-January. All your other favorite bloggers (she says humbly) may have long since shared their objectives for 2018, but here at Baby Brown Bear, I’m just getting started.

My Goals for the Year

Let me preface this by saying that I don’t normally do new year’s resolutions. In fact, I’ve been known to roll my eyes at the idea of a “new year, new me.” Why wait until January to make changes when you can start working towards self-improvement any day of the year? Truthfully, I think waiting until January often adds unnecessary pressure and ends up heightening the bar for disappointment if those goals aren’t met. No one needs that.

Me listening to other people talk about their resolutions. [Source]

Only once in my 30 years have I actually set a new year’s resolution. A few years ago, a friend and I decided we would run at least one race every month. Surprisingly, we did it. Had we not joked about and done it together, there’s no way I would have even considered creating such a challenge. I guess accountability matters.

This year, however, I’m getting behind the idea, partially because I’m in a new decade and partially because I already had goals I wanted to achieve and figured I might as well start now in the blank slate of January. It’s for the sake of accountability that I’m drawing a line in the sand and sharing these goals with you.

1. I will learn how to solve a Rubik’s Cube

There’s really no rhyme or reason for this one other than that I think it would be a fun challenge. As far as I know, there’s a simple algorithm to solving the puzzle. Perhaps I’m being extremely naive and will end up throwing it across the room in tears. Only time will tell.

Status: Still need to purchase a Rubik’s Cube. I’ve gotten far with this one.

More likely what my patience will allow. [Source]

2. I will finally see a movie by myself

There are two important things to know about me that until this year have been mutually exclusive: 1. I am an extremely social person whose existence requires human interaction to survive; and 2. I love going to the movies. It is because of the former that I have not done the latter alone. That will change this year! It only took 25 years for me to go to a restaurant alone, so it seems almost fitting that five years later is when I’ll finally check off this bucket list item. (Side note: my bucket list is actually more exciting than this would suggest.)

Status: Just need to find a babysitter. Oscar noms, I’m coming for ya.

That popcorn will never have tasted so good. (I love future perfect tense.) [Source]

3. I will connect my phone to the Bluetooth in my car

I’m not technologically illiterate, but I am an all-star procrastinator. That’s why I’ve had my car for five months and have yet to connect my phone to its Bluetooth speaker.

Me with Bluetooth technology. [Source]

Instead of shouting into the phone on my lap, I’ll finally sound like a real, responsible adult who knows how to read a car manual. Woohoo!

Status: Next time I’m in my car, I swear.

At least my current setup is better than this. [Source]

4. I will commit to writing at least two blog posts a month

At one point, I was averaging a post a week. While that requires more time than I’m willing to spend right now, I do think it’s realistic to publish at least two a month. To help accomplish this, I recently acquired a 2018 planner I’ll use to sketch out a rough content calendar. If there’s anything in particular you want to hear from me, go ahead and let me know. Otherwise, I’m excited to finally have a place to organize my thoughts and plan ahead.

Status: Already started (because, yes, this totally counts).

Get enough coffee in me and this could be a reality! [Source]

5. I will start writing a book

This is, as you can tell, a much loftier goal, but it’s here nonetheless. I’ve wanted to start writing more seriously for a long time. The problem is my inspiration; I have several ideas swirling around in my head, but none that have seriously compelled me to put pen to paper. Even though this hasn’t necessarily changed, I decided that I just need to start somewhere. No, I may not end up writing the next great American novel (there’s that humility again), and whatever I do write might amount to nothing, but I’m excited and scared and nervous to try, and that seems to be what resolutions are all about.

StatusNew scratch notebooks and pens purchased. Will need a babysitter to go anywhere with this one, too.

Note: I am neither a hipster nor Tom Hanks, and will therefore not be using a typewriter. Cute GIF though, right? [Source]

Let’s Do This

I figured a healthy mix of achievable and intimidating is a good place to start for my first real list of new year’s resolutions. At least now, I intend to check in on these goals throughout the year. I may even periodically post about my journey (fully recognizing that you don’t care about the Bluetooth thing).

Readers, please join me on this path to self-discovery and, well, basic adulthood. While we’re at it, what are your 2018 goals?

Titus may not be the best role model, but he is role model. [Source]

 

 

 

 

[Featured image source]

 

7 Easy Ways to Help Save Our Planet

Happy Earth Week!* Let’s all take a second to reflect on and give thanks to this wondrous planet we call home.

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This picture was taken along the Village Walking Trail at Kapalua on Maui in November 2016. The trail you see here was the cart path along the old Village Golf Course, closed in 2007. When they built the new course, they decided to let nature reclaim this one, meaning that the vegetation you see here, already so full, lush, and overall jungly, was actually a fairway not that long ago. If you have the chance, I’d highly recommend stopping by; there are many different levels of difficulty available. The one we did was equally hilly and rewarding. Side note: read The World Without Us.

 

As I age and continue to read the horrifying stats about the shape of the planet, I find myself becoming increasingly concerned with my personal carbon footprint. Consequently, I’ve taken great strides to become a more conscious citizen of Earth in the last few years. I have also come to feel strongly that this needs to be a regular topic of conversation between friends and neighbors; sharing, educating, and spreading knowledge of how we can better care for our planet is the only way we will continue to make permanent positive changes.

Now, I recognize that this level of focus on the Earth’s health and well-being comes with a certain level of privilege. When you’re worried about meeting basic human needs, stopping to read a recycling label is certainly not going to be a priority. But for many of us, immediate personal convenience often trumps potential long-term ecological impact. Helping to save the Earth doesn’t necessarily mean you have to plant trees or contact your local legislator (although those things are important too!). Sometimes it’s rather simple. I’d encourage you to think really hard about the little things you do every day that may have bigger implications than you realize.

Don’t be like Titus.

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While I’m no behavior change psychologist, I’ve personally been most successful in making permanent changes when I start small. My goal in sharing the below list is that you may find something new to incorporate into your routine. Remember, every baby step you take is still a step forward.

*This isn’t really a thing, but since I dropped the ball by not getting this out on Sunday, I hereby proclaim the week following Earth Day to be Earth Week! Even better, let’s just go ahead and treat every week like Earth Week.

7 Simple, Eco-Friendly House Rules

1. Get yourself a reusable water bottle.

For real, this is 2017. There is no reason why you should still be using plastic water bottles. For one, they are expensive. Happily, in many cases, reducing your carbon footprint also means reducing your cash outflow. Secondly, multiple studies have proven that there is no real difference in quality between tap water and bottled water (most Americans have access to clean drinking water). In many cases, bottled water is actually just purified tap water. If you’re afraid to use the tap, just get a water filter for your fridge. Lastly, and very importantly, bottled water bottles produce a helluva lot of waste. According to Ban the Bottle, Americans recycle only 23% of plastic water bottles used, meaning 38.5 billion bottles flood our dumps each year.

kleen kanteen

I really like my Klean Kanteen because it’s a good product and because of the company’s mission to help people kick single-use habits.

2. Turn off your lights when they’re not in use.

This isn’t just a cool little Mormon trick!

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Just like the tip above, this one is not only good for the environment, but it saves money, too. My grandfather used to admonish me when I’d leave a trail of lights behind me, “Are you the one paying the electricity bill?” Now that I am, it sure feels good to keep the bill as low as possible. Especially since doing so means I’m helping to reduce wasted energy as well. While the amount of energy saved really depends on the type of bulb in question, suffice it to say it’s best practice to turn off any light that’s not needed.

That said, consider getting rid of your incandescent bulbs altogether. Of the energy they use, 90% is given off as heat and only 10% produces light. That is pretty horrible in terms of energy waste and it can also result in potential fire hazards, especially if the lights are left on for prolonged periods. You’re better off with compact fluorescent bulbs which, while more expensive upfront, will last longer, more efficiently consume energy, and save you more money in the long run. Learn more here or here.

3. Similarly, turn off and unplug appliances and electronics.

Simply put, if you’re not actively using an appliance, you don’t need to have it turned on (obviously the refrigerator and freezer are different). Mom, Dad, this is when I tell you again that Nestle does not need to watch TV while you’re gone. She just doesn’t.

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Also important to note, however, is that many appliances consume energy even when they are not turned on. While this “standby power” is sometimes helpful because it allows certain appliances to show a clock display, use a timer, etc., in many cases it’s wasted energy, consumed for no other reason than because that appliance is plugged in. According to the Three Actions Project and Energy Star, “the average household spends $100 per year to power devices while they are off (or in standby mode). On a national basis, standby power accounts for […] more than $10 billion in annual energy costs.”

There are a couple of easy ways to improve this. One, try to only plug in certain, more single-use items when you actually use them, like your toaster, coffee maker, phone or toothbrush charger. Two, group some appliances together with a power strip so they can all be unplugged at once, like your TV, cable box, and game console. Realistically you don’t need these things plugged in for more than a few hours at a time, and that way you don’t have to go through the hassle of re-plugging them individually.

4. Remember to stash your reusable shopping bags everywhere.

Even though I do reuse the ones I have as garbage bags for my bathrooms, plastic bags make me so anxious. They’re terrible for the environment, take thousands of years to break down, and are difficult and costly to recycle. (I like this list of reasons why they should be banned.) Thankfully, many cities are wising up and straight-up banning these flimsy atrocities altogether.

Also thankfully, there is a very easy alternative to the plastic bag and that is the increasingly present reusable shopping bag. They can be found at almost any retailer nowadays, and some stores are actually sending you away with their own branded version in lieu of any other type of bag. It’s not hard to accumulate quite the stash (in fact, I recently had to unload a bunch for the sake of storage space). What’s more difficult is actually remembering to bring them with you when you go shopping, especially for those unavoidable impromptu stops.

To combat this problem, I like to keep a few in the car and at least one in the stroller (since we walk so many places). I recommend you do the same!

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I used to have this exact bag!

[Source]

5. Recycle, recycle, recycle (but do so responsibly).

First, become acquainted with what you can recycle, especially as it can vary by city (here’s Chicago’s guide or find your city’s here). Recycling can be surprisingly complicated, and unfortunately many of us (I’m definitely guilty of some of the no-nos) are aspirational yet misinformed recyclers, leading to increased contamination and, sadly, more trash. Some general tips?

  • Don’t bag your recycling. Doing so often results in the entire bin going to the landfill instead. This also includes leaving the recyclables in brown paper bags. Shake them out first, then throw the bag in.
  • Don’t recycle some of these common contamination culprits:
    • Styrofoam
    • Electronics
    • Coffee cups
    • Toys
    • Plastic bags (some grocery stores recycle them, but home recyclers do not)
    • Pizza boxes (unless you’ve removed the greasy parts)
    • Anything stringy (like hoses or lights)
  • Do rinse out your food containers before recycling. Again, anything greasy or filled with food could cause the whole bin to be thrown in the trash. Anytime you feel annoyed by the 30 seconds it will take to clean a container, think of how sad it would be to clog up the landfills instead. Yes, I even mean the damn peanut butter container. Think of the planet!

Well, maybe not that last one.

[Source]

6. If it’s yellow…

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This one is going to be more controversial, but I think that’s more because of baseless societal norms than logic itself. In fact, it’s a policy that can result in major water conservation.

According to Conserve H20, the average modern toilet uses 1.6 gallons of water per flush (older toilets can use up to four times more while high-efficiency toilets use 1.28 or less). Let’s say you have an up-to-par, modern toilet and pee at home six times a day (conservative by my standards). That means you’re flushing 9.6 gallons a day. If you only flush once every three pees, or twice in that same time period, that means you’re saving roughly 4.8 gallons a day, 33.6 gallons a week, 144 gallons a month, 1,752 gallons a year! Because there is “not an infinite supply of water,” it’s important to acknowledge what a huge impact we’d have on one of our most precious resources if more people started to save this much water each day with such a simple change.

And if you’re worried about cleanliness, don’t be. Assuming you have no sort of infection, are properly hydrated, and regularly clean your toilet, holding back on flushes for a couple of hours will have no impact on the cleanliness of your home. In fact, it might even increase it because the amount of toilet particles flying into the air upon flushing will be reduced. (Real talk. Can we make it a RULE that people have to close their toilet lids before flushing? If you think I’m gross for not flushing my pee each time, just know that I’m judging you for your poo splatter.)

7. Switch to all-natural cleaning supplies.

Despite what you think of me now after having read that above suggestion, I am a clean freak.

Please. Disorderly is different than dirty, okay?

 

[Source]

I love to clean. Strangely enough, cleaning bathrooms is one of my preferred chores. But since I’ve become more focused on greener living, I’ve had a hard time justifying the use of potentially dangerous chemicals to so. Instead, I’ve started to use one of the oldest tricks in the book: plain old water and vinegar. Now my go-to, all-purpose cleaner, I use it almost everywhere in our apartment (sigh, I still prefer Windex for glass). I use it on our floors (for the hardwood, I add a little olive oil), in our bathrooms, on our counters, on the door handles, to dust, even to help rinse off our fruits and veggies. Everywhere.

Aside from its ridiculously low cost (so incredibly cheap; out-of-the-ballpark cheaper than any solution found in stores), I rest much easier knowing that I’m not “cleaning” my apartment with chemicals that come with warning labels, or releasing said chemicals into our air or water supply. I’m not afraid my toddler, who has been known to lick random surfaces on occasion, is going to come across the bottle, and I’m not afraid to breathe the air when I clean. Win-win-win-win-win.

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Here’s my set-up. It’s about 1/3 white vinegar and 2/3 water with a few drops of lemon oil (or lemon juice if I have a fresh lemon). I bought the nozzle from a gardening spritz bottle at the dollar store and just screwed it straight onto the vinegar bottle. I keep another vinegar bottle for refills.

 

A Few Other Simple Tricks

These don’t need much explanation, but are always worth mentioning.

  • Turn off the water as you brush your teeth.
  • Take shorter showers.
  • Walk more and/or take public transportation if it’s available.
  • Buy locally sourced produce and meat. Better yet, try eating less meat overall.
  • Wash your clothes with cold water.
  • Pay your bills online and unsubscribe from paper notices.
  • Use your blinds accordingly to help regulate your home’s temperature (open during the winter and closed during the summer).
  • Buy second-hand toys or toys made from recycled plastic (I love Green Toys).

Educate Yourself

All of these tips help make a difference in terms of eco-friendliness, but overall I want to stress the importance of mindfulness as it relates to energy consumption (something I continue to work toward every day). In general, I think we do a poor job of thinking where energy comes from when we’re going about our daily lives. Yet much of what we do requires some level of power and has some level of impact on the Earth.

consumption-by-source-and-sector-2015

[Source]

Remember, right now, most of our energy comes from burning fossil fuels (petroleum, coal, gas). Fossil fuels are high in carbon, so burning them produces a lot of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is a leading cause of global warming. Plus, while they are naturally formed, we consider them to be non-renewable resources because the process by which they are formed takes millions of years and, no surprise, we are going through them much faster than that.

The bad news is that we simply don’t have time to waste on the climate change denial crisis going on. But…

neil degrasse tyson

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The good news is that there is a concerted effort taking place by many of the world’s top scientists to increase the efficiency, cost effectiveness, and prevalence of renewable resources, and it led to record high wind and solar production in 2015.

Long story short, there are things we can all be doing better to help improve the quality of our planet. The only way it will get better is if we all start to think outside of ourselves a little more and do the best we can, now.

What’s Next?

First, I will take a deep breath. If I already felt a little panicky about the state of our environment, doing research for this article sure as hell did not help the matter.

Not me.

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Okay.

Now, I must remind myself that becoming greener is an ongoing process. Even the above tips, which I already practice regularly, can be improved and refined. For example, I’m terrible about unplugging my phone charger each time I’m done with it. I also just now learned some of the important rules of proper recycling.

There are also countless ways I can continue to build on and enhance my personal eco initiative. I shamefully admit my dependence on paper towels and napkins. In the coming months, I’d really like to work on this, especially because we already have some of these adorable “unpaper towels.”

For more ideas of how you can reduce your carbon footprint, check out some of these lists.

Do you feel jazzed about the environment now? Because I do! Let’s do this people!

Raymond Holt is hands down one of the best characters on television. If you don’t watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine, you aren’t doing it right. I also firmly believe he’d do everything in his power to reduce his carbon footprint.

[Source]

What are your favorite eco-friendly tips?

 

One Week Later: How to Cope

What a week.

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[Source: Instagram @momowelch]

So much has happened since I wrote on inauguration day that it’s difficult to find a single source to summarize it. Just for my own record, let’s do a quick recap.

The First Week

President Trump (a term that still triggers my gag reflex, and probably will for the foreseeable future) signed a record 14 executive orders and presidential memoranda during his first week in office (notably missing one about ethics). This included the overturn of the Affordable Care Act, the reinstatement of the “Mexico City policy” that bans foreign aid to international nongovernmental organizations that perform or discuss abortion, the revival of the XL Keystone and Dakota Access pipeline projects, the order to start construction on the Mexican border wall, and, most recently, the “temporary” ban of Syrian refugees and blockage of all visa applicants from seven primarily Muslim countries. That list doesn’t even include everything. His administration also coined the now-satirized term “alternative facts,” ordered a “media blackout” at the EPA and U.S. Department of Agriculture, continued to spew misinformation about voter fraud, and demoted the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff while promoting chief strategist (and alt-right conspiracy theorist) Steve Bannon to the National Security Council. Even that doesn’t cover everything. Pass the wine.

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More, more, more.

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If you feel your head spinning and blood pressure rising, you are not alone. We are in unprecedented times of political chaos (perhaps a redundant phrase in today’s world). I waited all week, in vain, for things to slow down. With each passing day, my anxiety and sense of heartbreak grew. By Friday evening, I experienced a strong urge to shut down completely simply to maintain my dwindling sense of sanity.

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Me by Friday night.

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As dizzying as the last nine days were, it’s important to remember some not-so-minor victories, if you will, along the way. Chief among those was the global Women’s March, where nearly 5 million women around the world marched for women’s rights, human rights, and equality. I was lucky enough to participate and the feeling I left with was, to say the least, one of hope.

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Some of my favorite signs from the Chicago Women’s March.

Another wonderful turn of events was the amount of rogue environmental and scientific Twitter accounts that emerged amidst the media blackout. And, because facts matter, it looks like there will be a Scientists’ March on Washington later this year, too. #sciencenotsilence

We also saw a short-term victory regarding the federal stay preventing the deportation of people detained as a result of Trump’s ban on refugees. In all of this, we must remember that the law still matters. The Constitution still matters. Even though these executive actions have been signed, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will come to fruition. Executives orders are still subject to judicial review. It’s also possible for Congress to create laws that would make funding for some of Trump’s endeavors harder (like the Mexican border wall, if we’re lucky). It’s startling that Trump has so quickly tackled some of the most controversial issues by way of executive action, therefore bypassing the approval of Congress, but what I’m here to remind you of is that it’s not necessarily the end of the story.

Wait, Isn’t This a ‘Mom Blog’?

“Wow,” you might say, “for a ‘mom blog’ she’s sure spending a lot of time writing about politics.” You’d be right, though I would like to clarify that the blog is self-described as one about babies, board games, and books. So you’d be a third right.

Maybe this political environment has no close ties to board games or books (except for the best-selling 1984, of course), but it absolutely does relate to babies and motherhood.

As a mother–as a parent–you are forced to confront a lot about yourself: your passions, your strengths and weaknesses, your ideals, and your values. You must think about what it is you want to pass on to your children (and what you don’t), and, hopefully, what kind of people you hope they become. It’s a heavy exercise, especially since we don’t necessarily think about our values in those terms very often. What we value is woven into our very fiber; it’s what makes us who we are. This is exactly why politics and motherhood go hand-in-hand.

Many of the things I hold dearest to me, the things I want to pass on to my children, like equality, kindness, and compassion, are being threatened right now in this bizarre political environment. The lessons I am trying to instill in my son are in direct conflict with what is being taught by our nation’s leadership. While he’s too young to understand what’s happening, I fear for the school-aged children who are learning that facts apparently don’t matter and can be made up to suit your needs. I fear that our children are watching the fear-mongering and learning that it’s okay to hate people who are different from you. It’s a (real) fact that bullying is up since the election and this is frightening.

Though I may not be able to control what kids around the country are absorbing or how it is shaping them for the future, I absolutely can speak up, make a difference, and one day tell my children that I did everything I could to fight for what was right.

This is why I have been writing about politics, why I’ve been thinking more about politics than ever before, why I’ve been calling my representatives, and why I now consider myself to be a political activist. If not for me or my generation, I’m doing it for our children. Our children, because what we do or don’t do now could have long-lasting effects on every child around the world. We are global citizens and the world and its children are watching.

How to Deal with…Everything

Now, before I go on even further, I must say that this week has made me realize two things, if nothing else. The first is why I am so invested in politics (see above). The second is that this investment has the real ability to eat away at my mental well-being. The anxiety and frustration I felt each time I read the news are simply not sustainable for my health or that of my family.

With the help of friends and therapist (I firmly believe everyone would benefit from talking to someone), here are my suggestions for how to cope.

Stay informed with trusted sources

First we must accept that this is reality. Denying that this is the world in which we live is not going to help any of us in the long run. I don’t identify with Trump in the least, but I do acknowledge that he won the democratic election and is now our president. In fact, I firmly disagree with the #notmypresident movement. It’s unhealthy for us to reject the truth because we don’t agree with it. On the contrary, we have to face it before we can move forward and make progress.

Once we come to terms with Trump as our new POTUS, we owe it to ourselves to stay informed. Instead of allowing myself to click from article to article–a surefire way to make my head spin–I am going to gather my news from a few trusted sources and try hard to filter out the rest of the noise unless I decide I want more information.

Some sources I recommend:

For an informative daily conglomeration of news, I recommend theSkimm.

Acknowledge your feelings

Just as it is healthy to accept reality, it is also okay to accept how we feel at face value. Trying to suppress or control our thoughts and feelings is a pointless exercise. We are human beings and should be allowed to fully experience a range of thoughts and emotions without self-judgment. The key is to not let them control our lives.

The next time I feel anxious about politics, I am going to try to acknowledge that anxiety for what is and let it pass without winding me into knots and turning into full-fledged panic.

Focus your energy

As hard as it is to not feel deeply about everything I read, I have decided that I must narrow my focus for the sake of my mental health. Plus, by focusing on a few key issues that mean the most to me, I am probably going to be more knowledgeable about those issues and therefore have a greater overall impact. That’s not to say I wouldn’t make a call to my representatives about something else, but my goal is to not get so far in the weeds on everything I come across. My brain needs some breathing room.

As of right now, here are the issues on which I plan to focus.

  1. Human rights, which is a generic category I’m using to include women’s rights, equality, refugee rights, etc.
  2. The environment, because I want my children and my children’s children to have a place to live.
  3. Education, because it is our duty as adults to secure a quality education for our children.

Get involved

Remember: our representatives are public servants. They work for us and therefore need to know what we’re thinking in order to do their jobs well. Are you passionate about a certain cause or bill? Contact your representatives.

Figuring out where to start

There’s an overwhelming amount of information about how we can get involved with our government and it’s hard to know what’s most effective or what exactly to say. I encourage you to subscribe to organizations that align with your values (for me this includes Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Natural Resources Defense Council to name a few). Following organizations like these on social media or subscribing to their email alerts is a helpful way to stay informed about what’s happening with the issues you care about and how you may be able to make a difference. Donations to these organizations are also a great starting point.

In addition to following individual organizations, I also really like things that package together easy-to-accomplish calls to action like you find at Donuts and Democracy, 10 Actions / 100 Days, and 5 Calls.

Voicing your opinion

No one really loves to talk to strangers on the phone, but from what I’ve read, it seems a phone call carries a lot more weight than an email in terms of getting through to your Congressperson.

Tips for the call:

  1. Be nice; the staffers have to listen to strangers rant to them all day long.
  2. Provide your name, city, and zip.
  3. State the issue and your position, then ask for the representative’s position.
  4. If (s)he agrees with you, tell the person taking the call that you support the rep’s position. If (s)he disagrees with you or is undecided, have a short prompt written to recap your position and why you encourage the rep to consider your stance.
  5. Say “thank you.” The Golden Rule and all that.

Find your Senators here and find your U.S. Representatives here.

Treat yo self

It is no coincidence that I started binge-watching The Vampire Diaries on Netflix this week. For a blissful 40 minutes an episode, I could focus on fictional bloodsuckers instead of the real ones at the helm of our country. Whatever it is that you enjoy, give in and indulge a little. We all need ways to decompress and relax. If that’s watching two attractive 30-year-old actors pretend to be 17, embrace it.

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Moral of the Story

It’s been an arduous nine days. Honestly, as much as I hope you enjoyed reading this post, the primary reason for me writing it was for my own catharsis (mission accomplished!). However, there is a potentially long road ahead of us, for all of us, regardless of party affiliation, and it’s important that we help each other digest the rapid-fire changes taking place in our country. The sooner we can accept what is happening and how it may conflict with our own values and moral code, the sooner we can decide how to fight against it.

The term “fight” seems strong, and I hate to keep repeating it because it feels a little contradictory to my positivity goal, but there really is no better way to say it. In trying times, we must fight for what we hold dear. And without sounding even more dramatic, I plan to prepare for this fight like any good soldier. I will stay informed, in tune with myself and my mental well-being, focused, and active. I will also comfortably indulge in life’s simple pleasures like television, romance novels, and ice cream. (That’s how soldiers prepare, right?)

This is just the beginning, but already I am ready.

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We would all benefit from channeling a woman who is this confident in red lipstick and a skin-tight leather suit.

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Today, I Am Grateful

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Readers, I refuse to label today as a black-letter day. I am still a bit dismayed at how we arrived at this time and place, where the words “President Donald Trump” aren’t followed by a slap on the knee, a hearty laugh, and a “gotcha,” but nonetheless here we are.

Rather than allowing myself to think about all that could go wrong (my therapist would remind me that the future is where anxiety lives), I am going to focus on some of the positive things in the world and in my life specifically. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to eat my feelings today, but my theory is this: if we continue to focus on being positive, grateful for and reflective of what is good and right in the world, the more we will want those things to build and continue. 

Acknowledging what we have going for us will help us see more clearly what we have to fight for, protest, question, and challenge. Plus, happiness breeds happiness, right? It’s just like how they say that if you smile long enough, you’ll actually start to feel happier. Maybe this technique is a bunch of kumbaya bullshit, but it’s getting me through the day and that’s what it’s all about.

So today, I pledge to inject my life with positivity (even if it’s contrived at times) so that I can, in turn, create more positivity. Here are things I’m grateful for right now.

I am grateful…

…for freedom of speech.

Without it, I wouldn’t be able to post some of these hilarious political cartoons that have helped me cope with our current political landscape.

…for humor in general.

We are living in a bizarre time and sometimes the best way to deal with the absurdity is to laugh in its face.

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…for the integrity, vigilance, humor, and poise we saw over the last eight years with the Obamas and Bidens.

I truly believe history will look back kindly on this period as a time of progress and change.

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Thanks, Obama!

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…for the press who have and will continue to pursue the truth even when faced with blatant disregard and disrespect.

We are counting on you, press corps.

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…that I have the access and wherewithal to seek out the truth.

In this frightening Age of Ignorance, I commit to fact-checking, ignoring the abundance of fake news and confirmation bias, and supporting my arguments with the data and not opinion. Science and data matter!

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Last Week Tonight is a must-watch.

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…for democracy.

Though I (clearly) don’t agree with the candidate who was chosen to represent us at the highest level, I do very much support our democratic process. I appreciate that we live in a country where we have the ability to vote for our representation and have our voices be heard (even, I cringingly suppose, if they are influenced by the Russian intelligence community).

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…for my voice.

Similarly, I’m grateful that I, personally, can voice my opinion to those representatives. Just this week, I called both Illinois senators as well as every single senator on the HELP Committee to tell them to vote “no” for Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. My voice might not carry far, but at least I can use it.

Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn): “You can’t say definitively today that guns shouldn’t be in schools?”

Betsy DeVos: “I will refer back to Sen. Enzi and the school he was talking about in Wyoming. I think probably there, I would imagine that there is probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.”

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Wut.

(Here’s how to contact your senators to do the same.)

…that there are a lot of like-minded people right now.

Clinton won the popular vote by almost 2.9 million votes (with 65,844,954 (48.2%) to Trump’s 62,979,879 (46.1%)). This, as #45 would say, is yuge. It’s tremendous! It means that though he is now our president, the majority of Americans didn’t support him or condone his abhorrent behavior. We, the not-so-silent majority, must continue to band together to promote freedom, liberty, peace, love, and togetherness. We must help people understand that we are more alike than we are different and that fear has no place in America.

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“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” – Emma Lazarus, “New Colossus”

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 …that I’m proud to be a strong, empowered, and intelligent nasty woman.

I’m grateful that I live in a time where I am able to choose how to live my life. I can make my own choices about my body, my career (if not an equal paycheck), and my future. I’m proud to live amongst other strong women, and grateful that we can stand up for ourselves in a way women never could before. Women’s rights are human rights!

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…for my friends and family.

It goes without saying, but what would life be if not for the people in it? I’m grateful for those who love and support me, even if they don’t agree with my political views.

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A Little Reminder

Remember, in the United States, we stand together. We rise together and we fall together. I am the first to admit that I want our new president to succeed because I want our country to succeed. I hope our new commander-in-chief can change my opinion of his character and judgment, and pleasantly surprise me (maybe he’ll end up being a champion for human rights; it could happen). In the meantime, I’m never going to be silent, I’m never going to stop fighting for myself, for my family, for my rights, for the little guy, and for what I believe is right. What I am going to be is positive and forward-looking. Cheers, America, and may God have mercy on our souls.

Mama Bear’s 2016 Holiday Wish List

Hello again, readers, and happy holidays!

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I’d be fine without a white Christmas if it meant living here. This festive one-of-these-trees-is-not-like-the-others photo was taken during my absence.

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a month since my last post and, more importantly, the election. When I last communicated with you, I was under the hopeful impression that we’d be looking back and laughing right now at how absolutely ludicrous it was that we ever even entertained the idea of a Trump presidency. Well, much to my–and the nation’s–surprise, I was wrong.

Though I’ve been legitimately busy over the last month, I primarily decided to pause on a blog post because I simply didn’t know what to say in response. Because my last message was one of unity, about our “our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another,” I didn’t feel comfortable with a gut-reaction rant. While I’d shower and think of a string of words to convey my incredulity, fear, anger, and resentment, they just didn’t feel right.

So, like I’ve done with the majority of my good life decisions, I paused. I decided I needed to calm, reflect, and observe before I came back here.

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It doesn’t hurt that my calm reflection period took place in Hawaii.

Now that I’m back, I decided that rather than write about my (probably obvious and widely shared) feelings about the election itself, I’d write about what I’m going to do in a post-2016 election world. This relates to the holidays, I promise.

My Post-2016 Election Promise

I hereby pledge to help those in need and at risk with more fervor than I would have before the election took place. Maybe that’s a sorry excuse for a lack of activism before, but I can’t exactly change the past and figure this is as good a time as any.

I’m going to take my passion for equality, justice, and the little guy and turn it into advocacy. As a stay-at-home mom, I don’t have the ability to physically volunteer a lot of time right now, but I am able to put a little money where my mouth is to help effect change and protect rights. And what better time to start than over the holidays?

Mama Bear’s Wish List: Donations

This year, instead of asking for gifts, I’m asking for (and making!) donations to the following organizations. Unfortunately, the list of deserving organizations to which I’d like to donate is long, but as I have limited resources, I forced myself to narrow it down to the ones that felt most personal to me. As such, I present you with my finalists. For more ideas, see this list from John Oliver or this list from The Cut.

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May my holiday gift boxes be as empty as this ornament. Strike that, I don’t even want boxes. Too wasteful.

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Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago

This 100-year-plus organization’s mission is to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported one-to-one relationships that change their lives for the better, forever. Chicago is going through a particularly dark period in terms of violence, and I believe this organization is chief among those that can make a difference for children in the most affected areas. In fact, there is a ton of anecdotal and statistical evidence that proves what an impact the Big/Little mentoring program has. While I hope to maybe mentor a child myself one day, this month I can donate in hopes of changing a life now.

Donate here.

Gulf Coast Humane Society of Corpus Christi

This non-profit, no-kill shelter holds a very special place in my heart because it’s where Papa Bear and I found our fur baby, Doggy Bear (new nickname; not sure how he’ll like it). It’s the largest no-kill shelter in all of South Texas and therefore has a lot of work on its hands. This shelter saved our dog’s life and there are hundreds more whose lives will be saved with a donation. #AdoptDon’tShop

Donate here.

Planned Parenthood

I have long been passionate about Planned Parenthood and its importance, but I cannot emphasize how strongly I feel now given the disgusting political attacks it has faced in recent years. I firmly believe Planned Parenthood will be under more fire in the next four years than ever before, which is why I feel an urgency to donate now. Despite what “gynoticians” (politicians who fancy themselves as medical doctors) will have you believe, Planned Parenthood offers high-quality, affordable health care, education, and information. It’s not just an abortion provider (but I’m glad it does that too!); it provides comprehensive and life-saving care to millions of people across the country. In fact, one in five American women has gone to Planed Parenthood at least once in her life. Women’s health and sexual health are population health; they affect us all.

Donate here.

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

Another organization that will need a lot of help in upcoming years (based on Trump’s climate-denying EPA Advisor pick alone) is the NRDC. This organization uses nearly 500 attorneys, policy advocates, and scientists, along with millions of member activists, to defend, protect, and safeguard the earth for its people, plants, and animals. Before it’s too late, we need organizations like this to help fight human greed and ignorance.

Donate here.

Final Thoughts

This holiday season, I encourage each of you to think of a cause that you hold dear. Instead of loading your wish list with frivolous goods, consider adding a donation to said cause. I’m not saying don’t ask for anything, and I’m not saying you need to give a ton of money (though, if you can afford it, consider an ongoing donation). Any little bit helps, and chances are pretty good the people (or animals or whatever) it helps need that money more than you need your stuff.

Your Dose of Perspective on the Eve of the Election: A Pale Blue Dot

It’s difficult to find a combination of words to accurately describe all my thoughts on the election tomorrow.

To put it most simply, I would love my son to take for granted a world where two formerly inconceivable things are a simple reality: that the Cubs are World Series champions and that a woman is President of the United States of America. 

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Not pictured: toddler who kept trying to run away from this beautiful marquee. At 1, he has no appreciation of the struggle. Hell, at 28, I barely do.

While I’m extremely happy to say we’re halfway there (#flytheW), I hesitate to say with confidence that the majority of Americans will cheer for the latter the same way they did the former (let’s be honest, the only people who cheered for Cleveland live in Cleveland). I’d be remiss to deny that there is a real possibility that America will elect that misogynistic, hate-spewing, turd-blurglaring, flaming hot evil Cheeto as our next President. In fact, there’s also a chance I’ll be thrown in jail for the aforementioned description should that apocalyptic possibility become a reality.

However, on the eve of this truly momentous day, a day that has been so long in the making and that has polarized millions of people, I came across the following refreshing and humbling reminder of our existence. Despite these paragraphs above, it caused me to focus on something larger than my personal views, those of my fellow Facebook friends Americans, and the great divide this election has caused.

My hope in sharing it is that it helps you, too, reflect on our collective past, present, and future, on the things that bridge us together, and on our foremost status as citizens of Earth. Regardless of who wins tomorrow–and to be very clear, I’m definitely with her–I hope we can remember that in the grand scheme of things, we are far more similar than different. As Earthlings, a term I so reverently use, I hope we can remember to be kindcompassionate, and united for the betterment of ourselves and for the protection and preservation of our planet. Enjoy.

Perspective: We Are a Pale Blue Dot

In 1990, at the suggestion of famed astronomer Carl Sagan, the spacecraft Voyager 1 took this photo of Earth from about 4 billion miles away. Here, Earth measures at less than one pixel and can be seen among scattered light rays as it was taken so close to the Sun. Sagan presented his reflections on this picture in a 1994 speech at Cornell University. What he said is as follows.

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Look for the pale blue dot in the orange ray. That’s Earth.

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“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

— Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

 

 

 

 

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