National Individual Rights Association

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In the wake of the mass murder at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida early Sunday, June 13th,  I am proposing that we start a new non profit organization called the National Individual Rights Association.  Due to the fact that most of the world woke up Sunday morning to the heartbroken news of repeated loss off multiple lives and the pain and suffering of all the friends and family of those lost.  49 people went out to celebrate and dance and did not come home to tell us about their joy.  I read so much news, so many Facebook posts and memes about why and how it happened.  It soon became a debate about the need for better gun control, closer watch of terrorists and better federal safety protections for all. One meme spoke to the heart of the issue for me and referenced an 2013 article by William Hamby in the Examiner which compares the right to own a gun with the right of a woman to have an abortion.  The Supreme Court has ruled that Americans have the right to both guns and abortions but the second of those rights is regulated so much that it becomes a true hardship for women to have them in some states and the NRA buys our officials so well in most states, that they avoid regulating gun ownership for even the most dangerous individuals and households.  The author concludes:

“It seems that Republicans are determined to have it both ways. Gun ownership is so sacred that it’s good to ignore the law to preserve it at all costs. Abortion is so reprehensible that it’s good to ignore the law to end it at all costs. The bottom line, of course, is that Republicans are willing to ignore the law in both cases. They have their agenda, and they’re going to see it enforced, laws be damned when they disagree. It’s really quite terrifying, if you think about it for very long.”

This is the most shocking fact that I found after the shooting:  Gun sales increase after one of these shootings. And even more jarring is the fact that stocks in companies that manufacture guns rise because people figure out that others will be desperate to buy guns before congress regulates them and they want in on the profits.

So what does the gun industry have that the abortion providers do not?  Money.  Perhaps women need to start a new organization.  The National Individual Rights Association (NIRA).  Perhaps every woman should pay a fee to guarantee that we have a right to healthcare that we decide is necessary and then NIRA can do as the NRA does and buy our elected officials in order to get all the ridiculous regulations surrounding abortions and birth control removed from our lives.

We have fought the NRA for so long…. but they prevail.  They are so successful that perhaps we should learn from them.  Do as they do.  Let’s raise the money that we need to raise in order to protect our rights as much as they protect the rights of guns. A recent Onion article  written by a gun and titled, It’s An Honor To Continue Being Valued Over Countless Human Lives, described it best when the gun delivers this thank you message, “You see, I’m just a humble lightweight, magazine-fed semi-automatic rifle; I never expected this kind of outpouring of affection. But time and time again, you’ve shown me how much I matter to you. To see so many people—people who could be working to protect and care for human lives—actively devoting their time and energy to making sure I’m the one who’s protected and cared for instead—it’s beyond touching.”

So I ask you this, if I were to start a non profit named NIRA:  The National Individual Rights Association, whose mission it is to protect individuals rights to women’s health issues including abortion.  Do you think other women would join and contribute and help us to fund a congress that values our rights to healthcare as much as people’s rights to guns?

 

 

A Pillow is a much better use for a Prosthetic

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I was diagnosed with a stage 2 breast cancer 22 years ago, but I don’t call myself a survivor. The word survivor, to me, implies that I know for certain that I will not die of breast cancer and I simply won’t know that until I die of something else.  The word survivor, says that all my friends who died of breast cancer were not as strong as they needed to be to realize victory. I can’t say that I survived because my friends were all incredible women who fought to live a long life.  They did everything they were supposed to do and they did not survive.  I can’t claim victory until everyone survives.

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This is a photo of my daughter asleep on my prosthetic.  She was about 2 at the time. She woke me up in the middle of the night and told me she wanted juice.  I told her to go back to sleep.  She did, but on a rocking chair in my bedroom.  I awoke the next morning find her this way.  I hope that my daughter never has to use a prosthetic or an implant for anything other than a pillow.  I fight hard to end this disease for future generations.

Since 1998, I have done everything in my power to help other young women get past their cancer diagnosis by cofounding, The Young Survival Coalition(YSC).   In 2001, YSC became a board member organization of The National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC) and we have worked hard with the NBCC to fight for all people affected by breast cancer.  Sitting on the board means that we make decision based upon the non profit’s mission which is to eradicate breast cancer for all.  We try to spend the organization’s time and money focussed on a strategy to achieve our mission.  It’s a big responsibility, but we can’t make decisions based on anything other than how to achieve the mission.

Last week, Senator John McCain tried to derail all of the innovative research programs that exist at the Department of Defense because he believes that the DOD should only defend our country and not help men and women in the armed services who suffer from diseases.  One of the programs is the Breast Cancer Research Program which began in 1992 because breast cancer advocates wanted a research funding stream that was all about breast cancer.  Did you know that the NIH funds all cancers and does not allocate any specific money to breast cancer.  So the only way to guarantee that innovative research would happen in our field, we had to create our own funding stream.  Breast Cancer Activists before me went to the NIH and asked them to give us a seat at the decision making table and they said, “NO!”  Those same women went to the DOD and they said, “YES!”  The DOD keeps administration costs at a minimum and remains focussed on funding only research that will end breast cancer.  Meanwhile, other disease groups have been able to begin research programs which focus on their diseases and they model their programs after ours.

Senator Dick Durbin introduced an amendment that would remove McCain’s harmful language from the National Defense Appropriations Act and breast cancer activists all called upon their senators to make sure it passed.  The amendment passed  66 to 32 in the Senate.  It was resounding support for the innovation that happens regularly at the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Research Programs.  I was proud to be a woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer effectively fighting diseases for all who are affected by them.

We need your help to continue to fight for what is right.  Please comment below if you would like to join us!

An Education Center for the Arboretum

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Our Local Arboretum is an oasis. Take a walk there and you will find beautiful living creatures, plants, insects, fish, birds, turtles, four legged wildlife and more.

Welcome to the Glen Rock ArboretumI volunteer at The Thielke Arboretum  as a docent and tourguide to groups of kids and adults who are interested in learning about wetlands and the life there.  All 11 acres provide a lovely walk in nature.

This is a current outdoor classroom.

outdoor class

If it rains, this class will be cancelled.

redbird at arbThe kids love being there and learning about the importance of water conservation, wetlands and aquifers.  Their eyes light up when a bird is spotted, when the turtles are found sunbathing on a tree branch above the pond or when a baby frog jumps right in front of them.  The adults stroll through the arboretum enjoying everything that grows there.  For me, I think it’s an incredible classroom and enables me to teach someone about the importance of minimizing our carbon footprint, picking up litter, conserving water and respecting the earth every day. The only thing that can ruin our learning experience is the weather and that is why we need an indoor educational center.

Arb PostIf we had an educational center, we would be able to run regular, dependable educational events.  We would be able to foster future leaders who care about the environment and would continue the incredible work of the FOGRA volunteers.  We could grow our programs and continue to keep the Arboretum beautiful.

 

volunteerstorywalkat arbTo date, FOGRA volunteers have raised more than $400,000 to install a classroom, office and two bathrooms.  We need another $200,000 in order to donate this building to the town of Glen Rock. If you have ever enjoyed the Arboretum and wish to keep it a beautiful and thriving oasis, please support it now by making a donation and contributing toward our educational center.  If you have not visited the Arboretum, please come and enjoy a StoryWalk®, search for wildlife or just sit and enjoy the beauty and then donate what you think it’s worth.  How much would you pay to go to the Bronx Zoo or NY Botanical Gardens? If you and all your neighbors contributed the costs of the tolls across the GWB toward the Arboretum it would help tremendously.

peopleatarbMost visitors assume that the entire upkeep of the Arboretum is paid for by our tax dollars, but that is not true.  The Glen Rock budget for the Arboretum is just a fraction of its costs.  The Arboretum is kept beautiful and healthy by a dedicated group of Master Gardeners and other local caregivers who can volunteer at anywhere they choose.  But they enjoy taking care of our Arboretum.

The small income that comes into the Friends of the Glen Rock Arboretum (FOGRA) bank account comes from small educational events that a group of volunteers like myself plan.  We charge a small fee to educate classes, scouts, and other groups about trees, wetlands, aquifers, plants, and water conservation.  Those events get cancelled when it rains.  Donating helps the Arboretum and helps Glen Rock!

Did you know that a local volunteer at the arboretum has also taken some beautiful photos of the arboretum?  Check out Doug Salvatoriello’s photos here!

PARCC Test Update

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Update to my last blog, What to do with PARCC :

We are at peace with our decision not to take the PARCC test. We want to make a bold statement to take back our public education. Government cannot dictate how we evaluate our teachers and students. Experts in learning should guide what gets taught in schools. We want our children to be tested in a wide variety of ways, not by one company whose profits soar while our children struggle to figure out who they are and what they are meant to do. The questions asked on these tests are confusing and biased. While the PARCC is in it’s earliest stages, we need to take a firm position and send a clear message that we will not just follow the crowd and do what we are told.  We will think for ourselves and encourage an educational environment that values innovation, creativity, intelligence and individuality.  The PARCC test does not add value to our family’s vision of what education should be and we will not participate.  Sean Brennan’s recent Letter to the Editor of our local paper, The Glen Rock Gazette outlines exactly why more people should make an informed choice about education reform.  Take a sample PARCC test and decide what is best for your family.

What to do with PARCC (NJ’s standardized test)

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The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is a coalition of states that are working to create and deploy a standard set of K-12 assessments in math and English.  These are standardized tests to be given to all students in the participating states.   My state, New Jersey, is one of the participating states.  In order to determine how ready students are for college and careers when they graduate, our kids will be tested in March and then again in May.  The tests this year are focused in Math and Language Arts, but I understand it will expand to all subject areas in the future.

Who does the test benefit?  It certainly is not benefiting our students, teachers or our school system.  Standardized testing is meant to standardize our teaching and if we want to produce cookie cutter robotic children who are all skilled at the same tasks, then I suppose we should embrace it.  But if we acknowledge that each student is unique and their goals, strengths and weaknesses differ across the board, then what good does it do to measure how well our teachers teach by how well all of their students do on one type of test.  A truly skilled teacher teaches our children to think and manage their way through different kinds of problems, issues and challenges.  The best teachers acknowledge each unique student as the essential member of the classroom.  They embrace everything unique about each one.  They give their class a sense of self confidence about what is possible within their skill set and show them how much they can accomplish when they work hard to improve a skill.  We must recognize that there is nothing standardized about teaching well.   Teachers must customize their lesson plan so that each student can improve along the way.

Who does standardized teaching benefit?  It is providing a metric so that governing bodies can judge how well each teacher guides their students to excel at taking the test.  So if our teachers know that they only have a job if their students do well on the test, they will focus their lesson plan on the skills being measured by the test.  So while it has been said that our teachers are not teaching to the test, I see my children’s homework assignments are in fact PARCC practice questions, and I know this is not true.  It benefits the companies that profit from creating the test and the worksheets that train our students to take the test.  It benefits the politicians who can claim they are improving our school system.  But it will never benefit our students or our school system.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am an activist.  I am someone who must take a position on some of the most complex issues.  I try to take a position based upon what is right for the majority.  My own kids might benefit from taking a truly challenging test, but I do not know that for sure.  They are both very smart, but I do not need the test to show me how intelligent they are.   And I know their teachers know who they are and what they are capable of long before these tests occur.

But I am not making my decision about the PARCC test based upon what I suspect might be best for them.   I believe that it is best for my community if children are taught math, science, language arts, foreign language, arts and music considering  that some will excel in some areas and others will excel in others and a few will excel in all or none, but that this world has a place for everyone who wants to contribute in a meaningful way.  Some kids will go to college, others will embrace a career that might not require a degree and some will try both.  No PARCC test can predict readiness for college and career because no two colleges or two careers need the same type of readiness.  I think it’s important we produce children who are confident in many skills and know that if they work hard enough, they can improve in all skills.  I don’t think this test adds to that goal.

My family is talking about how we will handle the issue of PARCC testing.  We have not yet made a decision.  The activist in me wants my children to refuse to test in order to tell our politicians to step back and let the experts guide improving our schools.  My husband wants my kids to take the test because he was challenged by the 8th grade Math sample test and he thinks they need to be challenged.  My son wants to take the test, because he thinks he will do well on it and wants to find out.  My daughter wants to be creative with the way she takes the test so that results will be meaningless.  Neither of them wants to be singled out and treated differently than their peers.  But I want them to have the courage to tell our governor to step back and let the teaching experts do what they do best.

 

Vaccinate — Is it a no brainer?

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I will tell you right off the bat, that I have vaccinated my children for all diseases except for the flu (that’s another blog topic).  But I don’t know if I made the right choices in doing that.  My children are healthy and happy and do swell so far…but I do not KNOW that I made the right choice.

I think the topic is more complicated than the sound byte that our doctors, the CDC and the media wants us to believe.

When I was 3 years old, I had got the chicken pox from my older sibling and I am now immune to ever getting that disease again.  I remember itching and being kept home for a while.  I don’t remember it being a horrible disease, and yet we vaccinate our children now in order to prevent what was a normal routine in everyone’s lives in the early 70’s.  Is this necessary?  I truly did it because everyone else did it, but I think I might have preferred for them to have chicken pox at an early age as I did.  I vaccinated them because I knew that was unlikely since everyone else was vaccinating their children, where would I expose them to the disease?

I never had the measles and I have had the measles vaccine.  I immunized myself in order to prevent getting the disease while traveling.  I may have had to by law before leaving the country.  I cant remember.  But when my children were born, I was able to pass my chicken pox immunity on to them for the first year of their life because my immunity to that disease was stronger than the vaccine induced immunity to measles.  They were not immune to measles until they were vaccinated themselves at one year old.  I travelled with them as small children and did not give much consideration to the possible risk that I exposed them to.  Ignorance is bliss sometimes.  I do know how lucky I am to have healthy kids.

It is fair to say that there is hysteria being caused by the recent measles Disneyland outbreak, pediatricians, media and even politicians running for president are all pointing fingers about the cause of the outbreak and begging others to vaccinate their children. And I cannot argue with them, but I cannot help listening to my inner bullshit detector and asking.  Who was the first patient who spread the measles in Disneyland?  Was it perhaps a child who was allergic to the vaccine?  So if that is the case, that child could not have avoided getting measles, nor spreading it to others who were either too young or had a medical reason for not being vaccinated.  I don’t think we know the answer to this question.  Because allergies exist, medical excuses exist preventing everyone from immunizations, so how do we prevent those children from getting the disease?  Children under one year old cannot be vaccinated and remain at risk.  How do we prevent an immunocompromised child (one under cancer or HIV treatment) from being in contact with the first group?

I don’t know if this “outbreak” could be avoided.  Perhaps if young mothers had not had the vaccine themselves and had contracted the disease at a young age, they would have shared their immunity with their children under one years of age and at least those children would not have been at as high a risk of getting the disease.  Perhaps only the children who were immunosuppressed or allergic to the vaccine would have been at risk.  But then, large group gatherings will always put them at risk and I am not sure anyone could have the right answer to this problem short of immune protection spacesuits for those at risk.

I worry that folks see a problem and their immediate gut reaction is to find the solution and point fingers at folks who made honest choices for the love of their children and maybe the solution and the finger pointing might be wrong and mean and unnecessary because let’s face it folks, we have a problem and the solution is not to criticize others. This is not the first disease outbreak and it will not be the last.  I am sorry that some children are suffering from anything they may be suffering from, but I don’t know that the sound bite solution is the optimum solution.