Wal-Mart Pay Your Employees a Living Wage!

This morning I was reminded of why I really dislike shopping at Wal-Mart. I had no choice but to run into Wal-mart this morning b/c no other stores that carry dress socks was open. As I stood in line I realized the woman in front of me was a Wal-Mart EMPLOYEE, she was tired and I heard her tell the cashier she just got off shift after coming in at 9 pm (it was 7 am when I went in). All she had was some lettuce, carrots, celery, and banana’s, then I see her hand the cashier a WIC slip and the cashier tells her that she doesn’t have enough. She puts the bananas back. I offer to buy the banana’s for her but she refuses, I’m heart broken because she looks like she is about to cry.

So this is why I am PISSED OFF at Wal-mart. This woman obviously has children b/c she gets WIC, she obviously is working hard b/c she just came off of a 12 hr shift and looks like she was stocking all night. Wal-mart YOU NEED TO PAY YOUR WORKERS A LIVING WAGE! Realize that your employees make dirt min. pay (I know I used to work them), that milk cost 3.68 a gallon, that gas costs 3.00 a gallon in MO right now, that rent in this town is above $600 a month for a studio slum…We shouldn’t be mad at the employee who is trying to scrape by and feed her family for being on WIC, we should be pissed at Wal-Mart for not paying their employee’s a wage that can pay rent, buy food, and live an honest life.

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Identity baggage: carry it like an overnight bag on a red-eye flight

I’m a white woman, a lesbian, a wife to another woman, a great granddaughter of a Jewish Pogrom survivor. I have divorced parents, family members with mental illness and I live with a learning disability. I’m 35, just out of reach of what my church qualifies as a young adult, and I have no children. When I go to work I’m reminded just how masculine my field is—I am the estrogen elephant in the room.

This is MY identity baggage, no one else’s (by the way don’t look up identity baggage online, you’ll never want to fly again for fear of never finding your lost baggage). These are the things that set me a part from the whole. Being set a part from the whole is not something a human wants. Humans are social beings with complex hierarchies that crave acceptance. I was reminded of this very fact when I went in to have my hair done and my hair dresser handed me a magazine in which every page was filled with “what is in and what you shouldn’t be caught dead in.”

Yet, in all of this trying to fit in, we get separated out by our identity baggage. We get categorized neatly by race, sex, sexual orientation, age, religion, socioeconomic status, political party; the list can go on and on and on and on. These things for the most part are a huge piece of what make us individuals, things that we should honor and celebrate. These things also stereo-type us, and can make us feel like we don’t belong when we end up in situations where we can’t relate to those around us. This is when aspects of our identity become baggage, because all of sudden you are things that others around you are not.  That innate feeling of wanting to belong and to relate to those around you leaves you feeling lonely and uneasy. Evolutionary speaking this makes sense; remember those David Attenborough nature films from your childhood? The monkey that looks different gets kicked out of the tribe to fend for its self, sometimes the monkey overcomes, and sometimes the monkey dies. Could that feeling we get when we find ourselves being the only one in a homogenous crowd, be an evolutionary signal to warn us that we may get singled out or worse kicked out of the tribe?

The animal who survives always embraces its uniqueness, always knows that her differences are strengths not weaknesses. Sometimes the one that is different is never kicked out or ostracized; instead the group embraces the uniqueness of the individual because they can see the strength and advantage in the confidence of the individual. This is how culture evolves and adapts, when it embraces the uniqueness of the strengths of individual.

We are all on a journey and we all carry baggage, none of us carry the same things. Sure some of us may have similar outfits, but we all wear them differently. When we pack these bags we should: pack only those things which keep us comfortable, carry the things which help us survive, and embrace the baggage of those around you, because you never know when something they carry may lead to survival of the group.

Kneading: Mourning a Spiritual Connection

Going gluten free has not been easy for me. I have this emotional attachment to bread that up until the other day I could not put into words. It wasn’t till I turned the channel to a cooking show on the Create channel that it clicked. Whoever it was that was cooking, was working dough. Handling soft, pillowy dough that stretched and relaxed with each push, fold and turn. It was beautiful, like a waltz between two partners who have spent a lifetime keeping step with complicated classical pieces—perfection and creation intertwined. Hypnotized by the beauty that is mastering the art of kneading, I had a flashback to working in my Grandma Kathy’s kitchen.

The bright yellow walls with white curtains and an oval kitchen table that supported a giant metal bowl filled to the rim with dough. My Aunt Mary, my ‘Nother Grandma, and Grandma Kathy taking turns holding the bowl, while the other kneaded the large quantity of dough that would soon be turned into copious loaves of Hawaiian Sweet Bread. The kitchen smelled sweet of flour, eggs, and milk. Flour coated the table, the floor and anyone who walked into the kitchen. I watched with wide eyes as they repeated this process for hours, from mixing wet ingredients into dry ingredients, to blessing loaves before a final rise, each step had a purpose and a method.

This bread wasn’t just a recipe out of a cookbook. It was a recipe that was handed down from generation to generation, over many years, from mother to daughter. It had superstition too; it could never be sold or made for a sad occasion, it was a bread to be shared and celebrated. My father found this out when he attempted to make it for my Grandmothers wake, if something could go wrong, it did.

Sadly my Grandmothers passed before I could truly grasp the art of making this bread. I’ve tried many times—the recipe lacks the wisdom of my ancestors. Only my Aunt can make this bread as the women before her could.  I live very far from my Aunt and now that my body revolts against me in the presence of wheat, I don’t know if I will ever enjoy the tradition. At least before this allergy I had hope that one day I would feel the energy of my foremothers fuel my arms as I tirelessly push and pull the dough into shape.

It spoke so loudly to my heart that I became an avid baker. I mastered the art of kneading and working dough till it danced back with every push. I baked bread weekly and even though it wasn’t “the” Hawaiian Sweet Bread, it filled the hole that was left when my Grandmother passed. I felt her arms around me, holding my hands as I manipulated the soft mass between my fingers, she spoke through my heart and my soul listened. I no longer had her here physically but she still stood behind me, just like she did when I was her shadow—me, trying to do everything Grandma did.

I’ve tried many times to feel that way while making gluten free bread, it never happens. The dough is soft, more like cake batter and it doesn’t dance, there’s no need for Grandma to place her hands on mine and knead dough with me.  I’ve lost that piece of her all over again—it hurts to feel so empty.

My Grandmother and I, stuck like glue, as usual.

My Grandmother and I, stuck like glue, as usual.

Bear Poop: It’s like a box of chocolates; you never know what you are going to get

This post is per the request of my wonderful sister, who when asked I asked on Facebook to all of my friends, “What should I write in my blog this week?” she simply replied, “Bear Poop.” At first I thought, she’s kidding, she is just trying to make me laugh and that she did. About 10 posts later and a short night’s sleep, I realized she was serious and she may have a point. Bear poop is interesting! It gives us lots of information and it changes frequently—it is a box of chocolates! You never know what you are going to get and some of it is yucky and some of it is interesting.

You may wonder what qualifies me to talk about bear poop, after all to be honest, I don’t even know if I am qualified to talk about it because I have never touched bear poop (reptile poop, yes, but that is a different story). So why can I talk about it? I’ve just spent my summer as a graduate intern working on a black bear communication plan, and I think I may have become an encyclopedia special edition filled with black bear facts.

This isn’t my first go around with scat as a topic, during my undergrad we discussed scat a lot (my B.S. is in Fisheries and Wildlife). Scat is like the magic eight-ball of wildlife management, except more accurate. Spend enough time walking around in the woods and you are bound to step-in-it, everyone poops, even the animals. This is what makes scat such a great tool, everyone does it, it can easily be found (and not stepped in if you are looking for it), and it is a treasure chest of information.  In a single pile of poop you can identify the species, guesstimate how long ago that animal was in the area, and what the animal is eating. Take your bounty into a lab and you can detect hormones, analyze DNA, and discover a microbial/bacterial/parasitical forest that may or may not be impacting the health of the animal.

When you have an animal that has large home ranges and travels to the seasonal availability of food like a black bear, poop is a valuable resource. It’s like they leave us presents all over the forest floor as they ramble around fulfilling a need to eat (it becomes more intense as the seasons get closer to fall, this intense feeding is called hyperphagia). Bear poop is so well documented that you can do a google search and come up with numerable hits on how to identify it. Some of it is full of walking stick bugs, some of it is nothing but seeds and some of it isn’t even digested, most of it depends on what food sources are available at the time. Now if we could only train them to go in certain places to make it easier to find?

So there you have it Erin, your blog post on bear poop.

The Cowbell

One fall morning a long time ago, I was a standing outside the lined up trailer classrooms at my middle school. I was standing with my “boyfriend” Jason and a few other “friends,” not really paying attention. Out of nowhere pops up Chris, a friend of Jason’s, and before I can respond he throws a cowbell around my neck. Horrified and embarrassed I threw the bell off and ran, thinking that I would just escape. He followed, taunting me, “Come here moomoo, we don’t want to lose you.” No one stopped him, everyone laughed, and I ducked into a women’s restroom to finally get him off of my tail. I sank, I had been teased before, but this topped any teasing that I had ever experienced. I was embarrassed, hurt and did not know what to do. I also knew that even though I had escaped, he would be back and I spent the rest of the day finding ways to avoid him.

No self-esteem and afraid I’d be teased even more for telling I took the pain and the tears and shoved them deep within myself. I’ve blocked out so much of it, I don’t really remember telling my parents or even telling my sisters. I remember only knowing that in some awful, morbid, way this was my fault.

Overweight but not obese, I was a heavy set girl. I think I wore a size 14, and because I was just outside the size range for the misses section, all of my clothing was purchased from the women’s department, so I wasn’t exactly fashion trendy amongst my 13 year old peers. I was not, and never became one of the popular kids in school, I was the awkward fat girl that wore glasses and liked to read Judy Blume.

So what has changed about me today? I am 35 and considered morbidly obese and I now know that I have something called P.C.O.S. that makes it really difficult to lose weight. I still feel awkward, and now drive to a special fat women clothing store 2 hours away just to buy clothing that fits properly. My weight is a daily struggle, it affects my health and truthfully, I still feel really uncomfortable around people I do not know. This is me, a work in progress, a masterpiece that is literally a work of a lifetime. There are days though that I wish I could go back and have a conversation with my 13 year old self. As cheesy as it sounds these are things I would tell myself:

Never Run, Never Hide!

Big things have changed about the way I treat myself and the way I respond to things like the cowbell. For one I never run! I’ve learned over the years that people do things like this because for some reason they either feel insecure about themselves or they are just plain mean. Running gave Chris the satisfaction of making me feel belittled and giving him my power. I gave him the treasure chest and he ran with it, I let him rob me.

Tell everyone, till someone listens!

I should have gone to an adult and told them what happened. It takes strength to tell the truth about things that embarrass you or make you afraid. He needed to be educated on the proper way to treat people and maybe, perhaps, he needed to tell someone that he was afraid or hurt too.

Know your truth and your worth!

This is something I still struggle with to this day. We as a society get so caught up in what normal society is that we forget to appreciate the uniqueness of ourselves. We ignore our talents which give light to our souls and in turn give copious amounts of energy to fickle trends that bleed us dry of worthiness. Pay attention to the things in life that make you feel inspired and paint your world like Van Gogh’s starry night, because you are priceless.

Love, forgive, and then Love some more!

I no longer hate Chris; he gave me something that I cannot give myself, the feeling of overcoming. In overcoming we learn how strong we really are, and we also learn about why things happened the way they did. I’ve never talked to Chris about what happened that day; I do not know his reasons for doing what he did and I don’t need to know. Letting go of the anger and hurt gives me more space in my life to do the things that I love instead of focusing on the things that hurt me. In the history of the universe my life is only a fleeting speck; I choose to live it fully.

Move forward!

It’s easy to get complacent in life. I have a small comfort zone and I really don’t like to step out of it. It’s much easier to stay cuddled with the dogs under the blankies and sleep all day. I miss so much on days that I do this, remember the fleeting speck of time from above? You can spend a lot of time thinking about what was in moments where you should be thinking, “Where do I go from here?” Remember to get out of bed and move forward.

You’re not perfect!

This is the last thing, I promise! Perfection is never humanly possible; I could argue that our imperfections are what really make us who we are. Didn’t someone once say that imperfections are the flavor of life? There isn’t a perfect body, or a perfect life, we all struggle to attain something that is not possible. So let go and let be.

Spectrum of Light: A reflection of a whole person

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by our Reverend Molly Housh-Gordon at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia. She was assisting in the organization of the interfaith worship at COMO PrideFest and wanted to know if I would give a reflection on:

“How my LGBTQ identity and my faith/spiritual identity mutually enrich one another and why my sexuality and faith call me to celebrate the fullness of who I am.”

Wow, at first I was a little intimidated, but I thought it would be good for me to explore these relationships and I quickly replied–Yes! What followed was two weeks of writing little pieces here and there, but nothing cohesive or what I would consider acceptable. The night before I was to speak, I had just returned from working the State Fair and I was exhausted. Apparently exhaustion is what I needed to calm and focus my mind because it was then that I took all of my notes, all of my bits and little pieces and created “Spectrum of Light: A reflection of a whole person.”

This was a difficult writing assignment because it forced me to look inside and compare/contrast aspects that I had never thought could or would be connected. Although now that I am writing this, I see it as a perfectly comparable subject. In the process of connecting dots, I realized that these aspects of myself were more intertwined than I had realized and completed a whole person–the body and spirit.

Initially, and still to a point, I feel like my metaphor of light is a little lost amongst the life experience and is not fully developed in the current version. Perhaps one day I will expand on this metaphor in a future posting. For now it will have to work, because honestly, I feel if I continue to work on it now it will become cheesy. So here it is–Spectrum of light: A reflection of a whole person.

2013 Columbia Missouri PrideFest Interfaith Worship

Spectrum of Light: A reflection on becoming a whole person

Confusing as it may seem I was born and raised into a Catholic, Baptist, Jewish family. My parents could not agree, nor did they want to choose the religion that all 3 of us girls would follow. Instead they set us free to explore and search out the religion that called to us. Perhaps because I was the oldest I seemed to take this search very serious. I went to mass with my catholic Grandmother, I participated in Jehovah witness bible studies and I attended evangelical youth groups with my friends. This search for my soul and religious home fulfilled places in my heart that were yearning to be filled with light.

Around the age of 16, I started to become aware of my sexuality and I was confused and worried because I found women more attractive than men. I felt as though I was going against everything that I had searched out in my religious journey. I began to hate myself and felt as if I was going against everything that I had discovered. Guilt ridden and worried I fell into myself and tried with all of my heart to ignore the piece of me that was dying to quite literally to “come out.”

At 17 I could not ignore myself anymore and I finally came out. Until I sat down to write this reflection a week ago, I did not realize that this is when my religious journey shifted as well. This is when I stopped seeking traditional Judeo-Christian based religions and when I stepped into the world of energy work, goddess ritual and pagan practices. Things that once seemed absolute and carved in stone soon became abstract possibilities full of new pathways to explore.

Light is the medium that stimulates sight and makes things visible. Overly simplified it is a complex mishmash of electrons jumping in and out of orbit. Humans are like electrons of an atom, when we jump out of our comfort zones, “our orbits;” we create a chain of energy and light simply by moving from one perspective to another. When I felt over-whelmed and trapped within my comfort zone pretending to be something I was not, I was forced to jump out of orbit and for a long time I jumped in-and-out of orbit a lot. It was as if I had lied to myself for so long about one part of me that I had to search out the whole person all over again.

Things settled down and about 5 years later I settled down into a comfy relationship with my wife Katie. Four years into our now 13 year relationship, Katie was diagnosed with MS. We weren’t attending a church of any religion at that point and she being newly diagnosed was searching for community and support. A lot of debate ensued as to where we would find this new church community; I was skeptical and had become content within my orbit. Ultimately she pushed me out of orbit and dragged me to a Unitarian Universalist church, because and I quote, “Their banners outside have all these really famous historical Unitarians that I really like.”

What I discovered immediately upon walking through those doors was a feeling that I had not felt in years. While that initial jump was forced, an onslaught of jumps followed on my own accord. I had found a place where I could be myself, not only as an openly out lesbian, but as a seeker of faith who could integrate all that she has discovered on her journey without judgment.

I have become a whole person. Being a Unitarian Universalist allowed me to integrate all that I was before I came out, and all that I am now.  As a UU, I am free to question and encouraged to seek.  I have learned that we are all jumping in and out of our own orbits at our own pace; creating a spectrum of light that stimulates sight and makes things visible.