#NWARKCares Link Up

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It’s the first-ever #NWARKCares link up, plus the first one I’ve ever done here on the blog. Even though I’ve never done a link up before, I found myself saying I would when our leader Jacqueline Wolven asked for someone to step in and do one. I am not usually one to offer to do something I have never done before, especially not something that I could do “wrong” or “mess up.” I admit that is one of the reasons I have put off doing this link up all month long. It’s still April though, and our focus on the environment is still relevant even with Earth Day having come and gone last week.

Not familiar with #NWARKCares? Started by the Northwest Arkansas Bloggers, #NWARKCares is an initiative to share social issues and raise awareness for local causes. As a group we focus on a cause each month by sharing about the issue and highlighting the regional nonprofits that serve those causes. As I said above, this month our focus is on the environment, and there are some great posts out there from members of the Northwest Arkansas Bloggers. I hope they’ll link them up here so you can read them! Until then, I’d love for you to read my post on how volunteering for Heifer International helped spur my commitment to caring for the Earth.

Have a post about the environment that you’d like to share? Here’s how:

Click the blue button to submit your blog post. Be sure to link the URL of an actual post and not just your general blog URL.

Do I have to be a member of the Northwest Arkansas Bloggers to participate?

While this link up is specifically for gathering all of the #NWARKCares April posts in one place, we would love to read your post about the environment even if you are not a member of Northwest Arkansas Bloggers or #NWARKCares. Please just make sure your post is focused on the topic of the environment before linking up.

I linked up….now what?

Read, comment and share the other posts you see linked up! It’s not a requirement of this link up, but the Northwest Arkansas Bloggers are all about community building! Link back to this post so that others can join in as well (again, not a requirement). In that vein, I may share your post and images on future blog posts and on social media, with credit to you always. Thanks for joining in!

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Small Changes Make all the Difference {Earth Day}

 

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When I heard that this month’s #NWARKCares focus would be on the environment, I immediately thought of Heifer International’s mission to end hunger and poverty and to care for the Earth. I told my fellow Northwest Arkansas bloggers that even though they are based in Central Arkansas, I didn’t feel I could write about the environment without talking about Heifer. And here’s the reason–through volunteering for Heifer I learned so much more about how what we do in our everyday lives impacts the environment.

Yes, I grew up with the mantra recycle, reduce, reuse, and I was raised by parents who put that into action and taught us to recycle. That was pretty much the extent of it though. I continued to recycle throughout college and I even began a recycling program at a business I worked at in Northeast Arkansas, but it wasn’t until I began volunteering with Heifer Village in 2009 that my idea of caring for the Earth expanded. The exhibit that really brought it all home was the “Make a Difference Lab.” This was an interactive exhibit where visitors could declare their intention to make changes in their life that would impact the Earth and the world at large for the better. By typing their commitment to recycle, volunteer, compost, save energy or reduce pollution, visitors were able to connect all of what they learned in the learning center’s exhibits to their very own lives. It also impacted me as a volunteer. Seeing all of the commitments visitors made every day created in me a desire to do those things as well…all of them! Right NOW!

I got it into my head that I wanted to start an organic farm, raise chickens, some goats, maybe llamas or alpaca, and grow our own food, simplify our life. I still hope that we can realize that dream in some way in the future, but I realize that I have little if any experience with any of those things so I need to start small. Like, with a garden. It’s not that I have never planted something in the soil myself, but I haven’t ever had a garden of my own. This spring and summer I hope to help out in my friend’s garden to get my feet wet, plus I am going to start out with a small herb garden of my own. I am also looking into growing some lettuce and possibly tomatoes hydroponically in our sun room. I recently visited Ozark Hydroponics and it sounds like something that I could easily manage and use as a tool to teach Young Master Gray about growing your own food.

Something else that I have recently committed to is reducing the amount of non-recyclable or reusable items that we bring into our home. I was feeling really good about all of the things that I was recycling through the city’s recycling program and TerraCycle. Then, a friend recently pointed out that a lot of packaging we had been saving to send in to TerraCycle’s mail-in recycling program was not actually recyclable. Not even by TerraCycle’s standards. This brought me back down to Earth and made me start to rethink the way we conduct ourselves as consumers. Taking a reusable bag to the grocery store is great (if you actually remember to take it inside), but have you ever thought about the packaging around the items you purchase? Is it recyclable? Is there an alternative product with recyclable packaging or, better yet, no packaging? Can you make that product at home? Can you take in your own jars and fill them up in the bulk section at Whole Foods or, locally, Ozark Natural Foods?

It will require some planning and some re-evaluating, and I realize that we won’t be able to eliminate all non-recyclable packaging at once. (Note: This is me telling myself that it’s a process and it is okay to not do it all right away.) I remember reading about a family that had taken on a no-waste challenge and they even took in their own glass containers to the butcher to carry their meat home. I admit, I draw the line at recycling the packaging around raw meat. It always goes in the trash because of the gross factor. I never even considered taking in my own container to the butcher.

So, if I were standing in the “Make A Difference Lab” right now (unfortunately, I recently discovered it is no longer there), my commitments would be:

  • Start growing our own food,
  • Be a more conscious consumer including shopping more from the bulk section and farmer’s markets, and
  • Get my clothesline put up so I can start drying all of our laundry on the line, not just what will fit on the drying racks, makeshift clothesline, and backs of chairs.

Baby steps. Lllamas will just have to wait. What about you? Treat the comment section as our virtual “Make a Difference Lab” and share your own commitments!

Take your health to heart

Heart disease month

Some things seem to creep up on us. Here you are going along with your life, and BAM–it’s already time to renew my tags again? Or, you know, past due as it usually happens in my world. Other examples of sneaky, sneaky annual obligations include holidays, tax season, and the well-woman visit. Listed in ascending order of which induces the greatest amount of dread, of course. Maybe it’s just me, but I dread this appointment more than any other because it’s that extra appointment on top of all of the other doctor appointments I have all year long. However, dread or not, I always make sure I make that appointment.

That wasn’t always the case though. Before I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 21, I had never scheduled a well-woman visit. I was young, healthy, active and frankly, I just didn’t see the need. Even when there were signs all around me to remind me of the need to value my health and be proactive, regardless of my age. My brother who was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was only 11, a friend the same age as me with a genetic predisposition for high cholesterol, my grandfather who suffered a heart attack, just to name a few. Do I think that a well woman visit would have helped catch my cancer earlier? Absolutely. By the time I finally gave in to my friends imploring me to be seen, I had a tumor the size of a basketball on my ovary. So yes, I do believe that had I scheduled a well-woman visit beforehand they would have noticed that something was off. I was so incredibly fortunate in that while my tumor grew very large, my cancer was still only Stage 1 by the time I had my surgery. In every way, my story is so very different than that of other women who face ovarian cancer. It is usually not detected until late stages when it is often too late. For this reason they call it the silent killer.

I didn’t intend to talk about cancer today, though. I only bring it up to drive home the point that a yearly well-woman visit is incredibly important, no matter your age or how healthy you feel. What I really want to talk about is heart disease, another silent killer of women. In fact, heart disease is the number 1 killer of women, killing more women than all types of cancer combined. The good news is that the American Heart Association estimates that 80% of all cardiovascular disease may be preventable. For women, that means–you guessed it–going for a well-woman visit every year to check blood pressure, body mass index, cholesterol levels and more. If you haven’t had a well woman visit before, know what to expect and be prepared with these tips from Go Red for Women. In addition to scheduling your annual checkup, there are other ways to promote heart health including:

  • Learning the signs and symptoms of heart attack and stroke. Did you know that there are many symptoms women suffer that are different than a typical man’s symptoms?
  • Knowing your risk for cardiovascular disease. There are many factors to consider, from family history and age, to diet and exercise.
  • Get trained in CPR. Don’t want to wait? Watch this video to learn how to perform hands-only CPR. Then, find a CPR course offered near you.
  • Become an advocate for heart health in your family, school, workplace or community. Encourage your friends to get checked, teach your kids to eat healthy and exercise, advocate for more woman-related research.
  • Own your lifestyle. Eat right, exercise and don’t smoke.

Don’t let heart disease creep up on you. Early detection can make all the difference. Plus, it’s worth it to do something for your health and your peace of mind.

With this post, I’m joining other Northwest Arkansas Bloggers in #NWARKCares, an initiative to bring awareness to causes right where we live–using our collective voices on our blogs and social media.

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be sexist

I have never really considered myself a leader. Yes, I have gone out for and won leadership roles at various times in my life, but I never felt a strong call to lead. The moment I became a mom, that changed. Now my days are full of leadership. A heavy burden, and one that I do not take lightly. My son is only two and at this point in his life he believes that the world is all about him (it’s also sometimes about mama, daddy or papaw). It is up to me to lead by example, to show him that the world is also about others, about giving to others, about sharing with others, and taking the time to listen to and care for others.

Recently, I filled out a form for his school and one of the questions asked, “What are your hopes and dreams for your child?” I had left the task of filling out the form to the last minute and had to turn it back in that morning so I jotted down some generic things about wanting him to be healthy, successful, educated, a good citizen and a good father. I do want all of those things for him, I do. I want so much more for him than that though. I want him to be compassionate towards others, those that are downtrodden, left out in the cold, homeless, orphaned and in poverty. I want him to be passionate about his beliefs and to follow his heart without listening to the naysayers or those who would tear him down or doubt him. I want him to be generous, giving of his time, funds, and heart to those that he loves and even to those he may not even know. I want him to treat all people with the same regard, no matter their gender, skin color, sexual preference, religious affiliation, or anything else that society continuously tells us divides us. I want him to be exposed to, learn about and embrace other cultures. I hope that he will speak out against injustice.

This month, #NWARKCares is spotlighting women in politics and leadership. It occurred to me while reading about all the ways that we as women can work to improve the appalling statistics, no one mentions training up boys and men to advocate for women in these roles. There is plenty of talk about empowering girls to engage in leadership roles, but not one thing about making sure we are teaching boys that women belong in those leadership roles right alongside them, or even teaching them to think being subordinate to a women in leadership is normal. Now it is very possible that I missed those articles or was not looking in the right places, but I read many and out of those I would think there should have been at least one mention.

About those appalling statistics I mentioned before. Let’s just talk about right here in my state. Did you know that even though women are half the population in the state of Arkansas, only 17 percent of the General Assembly in Arkansas is made up of women? Arkansas is one of 24 states that have never had a female governor. According to a 2012 Legislative Report, the poverty rate in Arkansas for female-headed families with children was 47 percent. Not surprisingly then, women continue to make less money than men in Arkansas. All of these statistics were gathered from womenleadarkansas.org, a non-partisan non-profit with a mission to empower women and girls to engage in politics, policy and leadership. I should note that they welcome men to join, as long as they share their belief that women should be better represented in politics, leadership and policy.

In a recent speech at Glamour’s Woman of the Year awards, Reese Witherspoon spoke about women being underrepresented not only on screen but in every industry. She drew attention to the fact that ambitious women are stigmatized. “I want everybody to close their eyes and think of a really dirty word.
Now open your eyes. Was any of your words ambition? I didn’t think so.
Why do people have prejudiced opinions about women who accomplish
things? Why is that perceived as a negative? In a study by Georgetown University in 2005, a group of professors asked
candidates to evaluate male efficient versus female efficient in
politicians. Respondents were less likely to vote for power-seeking
women than power-seeking men. They even reported ambitious women as
provoking feelings of disgust,” she said. The rest of the speech is full of eyeopening and empowering antidotes like this. If you have the time to watch it, I highly recommend doing so.

So, how do we raise our boys to see ambitious women as women who need support, not derision? Where do we start?

-Start early. 
At the age my son is now he plays with trucks and dolls, his play kitchen and his train set. He loves helping with “chores” like washing dishes, sweeping and vacuuming. According to Lise Eliot, author of “Pink Brain, Blue Brain,” parents are more likely to encourage girls to freely choose to play with whatever toys they like and to advocate for them to be whatever they want to be. They are not so likely to facilitate the same environment for boys, and are more likely to discourage them from playing with traditionally girl toys. Our own preconceived notions about gender shape what our children will come to believe. Instead of being encouraged to play with toys that teach nurturing, boys are left only with toys that teach strength, physical ability and aggression. It doesn’t take long then for them to see what values are held in higher esteem.
 
-Teach them to value and understand the perspectives of others.
If boys are taught early to value the perspectives of others, including girls and women, they are more likely to continue to value their ideas, perspectives and plights into adulthood.
 

-Take every opportunity to teach about diversity and equality. 
See an ad on TV that objectifies women? Stop at the moment and talk to your son about that issue. It will resonate much more than if you just brought it up out of context.

-Talk to your sons about how women and men are portrayed in movies, TV shows and advertisements.
Reese Witherspoon, Geena Davis and others are working hard to change Hollywood, but the fact is that women are still mostly represented in stereotypical and supporting roles.

-Most importantly, lead by example in the home.
It is so vital that the values you want to instill are modeled at home. Division of household duties, how you and your partner speak to one another, and your actions showing that you value yourself and your partner will inform the your son’s own personal beliefs.

Maybe all of this is a lot to put on my son’s slight shoulders. Maybe it is a lot to put on the shoulders of parents. Maybe. But isn’t it also a lot to put on our sons the burden of always being strong, never being able to express emotions, especially fear, sadness and hurt? Isn’t it a lot to ask them to be the sole breadwinner in their families, and to take on the guilt that inevitably follows when they feel they are unsuccessful? Isn’t it a lot to put on them the burden of being the ones who are supposed to fight? The thing is, these two years have flown by and I know that in a moment I will turn around and he will be 18. I absolutely must start thinking about this now and begin to teach him that women can and should lead.

10 Myths about Domestic Violence

This month’s #NWARKCares cause is a tough one to talk about.
It’s tough because in 2015, I feel like domestic violence should be a thing of
the past. But it’s not. It’s hard because it’s not something that people want
to talk about, which is exactly why the topic needs to be broached. It’s hard
because people close to me have been victims of domestic abuse. Three out of
four Americans know someone who has been victimized domestically. If we keep
silent then those statistics simply will never improve. 

Because many are so reticent to speak out on the subject, there
are countless misconceptions about domestic violence that are accepted as truth.
These myths about domestic violence only serve to perpetuate the violence.

Myth 1:

Only women are affected by domestic violence.

While it is true that women are targeted more often than
men—1 in 3 women compared to 1 in 4 men are victims of domestic violence—abuse
against men does happen. If domestic abuse is a hush-hush topic already, then
speaking out about abuse against men is almost nonexistent. Unfortunately, this
happens in both the heterosexual and homosexual communities.

When I was a young manager for Dillard’s in Dallas, I had an
employee that I will call Sam. Sam was a flamboyant, happy-go-lucky, young man.
He was openly gay and was in a relationship with a man that I remember as
middle-aged and dowdy. When Sam came to work with a black eye one day, I was understandably
concerned. I asked him what happened, but didn’t press the issue when he didn’t
want to talk. As time went on, Sam began to open up to me about the physical
and emotional abuse that he endured at the hands of his partner. At the time, I
had never encountered a male victim of abuse, nor had I even imagined that it
was possible.

If he had been a woman, I know that I would have suggested
any number of resources that are available to female victims of domestic
violence. However, I could think of nothing to offer besides my support if he
chose to leave his abuser. Sam ended up leaving Dillard’s after an accident put
him in the hospital. Whenever I went to visit him at the hospital his partner
was always present, acting the doting caregiver. I will never know if he truly
suffered an accident or if things escalated with his partner.

You may be surprised to know, as I was, that there are resources for male victims of domestic violence. The Northwest Arkansas Women’s shelter states on their website, “Domestic violence does not discriminate; therefore, our clients are from
across all demographics in terms of age, gender, race, socioeconomic
status, and educational background. We assist any person who meets the
criteria for emergency intervention and assistance due to domestic
violence or sexual assault.”

Myth 2:

Abuse is deserved.

Victims of domestic abuse need support, not judgment. The
women and men who are abused usually already have the idea in their head that
they deserve to be treated they way they are treated, or that something that
they have done has caused the abuse. This simply is not true. The only person
responsible for abuse is the abuser.

Myth 3:

Physical battery is the only form of abuse.

Abuse stems from the abuser’s need for power and control. This can
manifest itself in many forms of abuse including economic, emotional, sexual
and isolation.  

Myth 4:

Domestic violence is a heterosexual issue only.

Homosexual partner abuse is prevalent and occurs at the higher
rates than in heterosexual relationships. In this eye-opening article from “The Atlantic,” the
author quotes a report from the CDC stating that “bisexual women had an
overwhelming prevalence of violent partners in their lives: 75 percent had been
with a violent partner, as opposed to 46 percent of lesbian women and 43
percent of straight women. For bisexual men, that number was 47 percent. For
gay men, it was 40 percent, and 21 percent for straight men.” 

Myth 5:

Domestic violence only affects the poor.

Abuse can happen to anyone. Persons of any economic
background, class, culture, age, sexual orientation, and marital status can be
victims of domestic abuse or abusers.

Myth 6:

Many reports of sexual assault are false.

The fact is that only 2-4% of sexual assault reports are
false, in keeping with the rate of false reports for other felonies.

Myth 7:

If the abuse were really that bad, he or she would just
leave.

There are many reasons that a victim of intimate partner
violence might stay with the abuser. Often times, the abuser will threaten the
victim’s life if they try to leave. Not leaving does not mean that the victim
is in a safe situation, or that they are not being abused. Family and social
pressure, shame, financial barriers, children and religious beliefs all can
factor into a victim staying with their abuser.

Myth 8:

Abuse is rare.

As stated earlier, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been the
victim of severe abuse by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Furthermore, the likelihood that someone close to you has been victimized is significant. 3
out of 4 Americans know someone who has been victimized domestically.
Myth 9:

Abuse is the result of alcohol or drugs. 

While it is true the 1/4-1/2 of all abusers have substance
abuse issues, the alcohol or drug use is not to blame. Alcohol and drugs cannot
cause domestic violence.

Myth 10:

Domestic violence is not a community issue. 

We all have the responsibility to care for one another.

Here in Northwest Arkansas there are many resources for
victims of domestic violence. Here are some ways that you can help:

  • Ask a local shelter what their current needs are and donate. Peace At Home Family Shelter has a list on their website, you can view it here: http://peaceathomeshelter.org/in-kind-donations/ 
  • Volunteer at Peace At Home Family Shelter or Northwest Arkansas Women’s Shelter.
  • Donate your gently used clothing, furniture and household items to one of the shelter thrift stores. I have a load of items all ready to take to the NWA Women’s Shelter Thrift Store.
  • Be informed. Know the signs of abuse and speak up.
If you are reading this and you need help or know someone in an abusive relationship, please seek help by calling one of these confidential hotlines: 1-800-775-9011 and 1-877-442-9811. Someone is available to assist you 24 hours a day. 

Bookish

An infographic of “Surprising Book Facts” has popped up in my Facebook newsfeed a few times during this National Literacy Month. Included with statistics showing a decline in literacy among the impoverished, imprisoned, and those over 8 years old, is this gem: “Reading for one hour per day in your chosen field will make you an international expert in 7 years.” Of course, the other statistics are incredibly revealing and powerful, but this one really stuck out to me. Reading has so much potential to open doors and expand horizons.

I learned this early on while reading fiction and nonfiction books as a child. Opening a book allowed me to step into other worlds and see things from other perspectives, as well as learn new things about the world I lived within. I read everything I could get my hands on. From flyleaf to flyleaf, no page in a book was left unread. I still try to read as much as I can, but lately the books I read the most are ones with repetitive titles featuring colors and animals, such as “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” or “Llama Llama Red Pajama.”

Yes, that is a copy of “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” Don’t worry, we have 2 more copies.

My efforts to surround my son with as many books as possible, and to encourage a love of reading in him has created a bit of a surplus in his book collection. Now a surplus in books in itself is not a bad thing, but these were mostly duplicates. Earlier this month, I took him to a Little Free Library to donate them.

I got the idea after attending my first meeting of the Northwest Arkansas Bloggers last month. It just so happened that at this meeting the group launched #NWARKCares, an initiative to bring awareness to causes right where we live using our collective voices on our blogs and social media. For the first month, our mission was to shine a light on literacy. I was so excited that I got busy going through all of our books right away and brought them to the Little Free Library of a fellow Northwest Arkansas blogger I met at the meeting. I had learned from her that children’s books were what the libraries needed the most. Looking at the date that these particular photos were taken, I see that I did all of this before September 3, and yet I’m just now getting to this post. At least it’s still September!

“The Legend of the Bluebonnet” and the only non-children’s book we brought, “Dreaming Cows”

Helping to grow Young Master Gray’s book collection (and creating some of those duplicates), is our subscription to Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. When someone posted about the Imagination Library in one of my online mom’s groups, I thought it was too good to be true. One free book a month from birth up until 5 years of age?! Sign me up! I have heard from several moms that the program is not available in their area, but if it is available in your part of the United States, Canada, United Kingdom or Australia, then I highly recommend signing up. Simply fill out a form on the website to start receiving books about 6-8 weeks later. We have received the books while living in both Benton and Washington counties. If you live in either of these counties or in McDonald or Madison counties, you can contact Karen Bryant with the United Way of Northwest Arkansas with any questions you have about the program. Her email address is kbryant@unitedwaynwa.org. If you are passionate about childhood literacy and would like to help, please consider donating to Imagination Library. A donation of just $25 is all it takes to sponsor a child, and they will receive a book every month.

Some of the Imagination Library books we’ve collected so far. 

Other ways of getting involved and improving literacy in our community include:

  • Volunteering with the Ozark Literacy Council. You can tutor, be an ESL conversation partner, stuff envelopes or help with event planning.
  • Donate to a Little Free Library. Right now, if you buy the Little Free Library book for $25, you will get $150 worth of brand new books! 
  • Volunteer at your local library. For someone that loves reading, this won’t even feel like work!
  • Read to a child. Yep, it’s really as simple as that.

Before you go implement these ideas in your community, tell me, what was your favorite childhood book?