January 19th

Twenty five years ago today is the day that changed my family forever. On January 19, 1989, my brother, Mark, was waiting at the bus stop with our sister and the other neighborhood kids when he collapsed. His death at age 11 rocked our close knit neighborhood and community. I was in eighth grade at the time and while I knew that my brother had a congenital heart defect and had undergone a lot of surgeries when he was a baby, it never occurred to me that he would have anything other than a normal, long life. I remember so many details of this particular day 25 years ago; the logistics of how I got home, who was there and where they were in the house. As I knew this 25th anniversary was approaching, I have been thinking even more about that day. Until I realized that I am thinking about it all wrong.

I think about Mark every day, but I need to remember to focus on the eleven years before that terrible day in January. Mark was such a character; he never stopped talking EVER. He was not an athlete by any stretch of the imagination but he loved sports with all his heart and kept trying to be involved. He wanted to be a sportscaster and would have been great at it. He loved to sing and loved being a big brother to our sister. He annoyed me to no end, as little brothers are destined to do. He was picked to be a safety monitor at school and took that responsibility very seriously. He was really smart and also really silly. He had scars on his chest from his early childhood surgeries but never felt that he needed to wear a shirt at the pool or keep them hidden - he thought they were cool. I never really appreciated how matter of fact he was about what he had gone through; he never made excuses for himself. He was one of a kind.

The memory that I choose to keep from January 19, 1989 is of the love and support that we received from our family and friends. In the years before the internet and social media and lists of "things to do when a friend is grieving," we were fortunate to be surrounded by people who lifted us up and let us talk and just instinctively knew how to make things better. I will forever be grateful to our Wynnewood and Hedgerow neighbors who took care of us, to the community at St. John's and to everyone who allowed us to move through the tragedy and forward. The funeral services were packed but so was our home long afterward. People who didn't know what to say still gave us hugs. My friends from middle school (who I had only met the year before) gave hugs and wrote thoughtful letters that I will always appreciate because it would have been so much easier to just pretend that nothing happened. I will always remember how good it felt when people reached out to us.

Especially now that I'm a parent myself, I have no idea how my parents made it through those first few days and all the days after it. They really are incredibly special people. They are inspirations and role models as parents and as human beings.

Even though this date 25 years ago changed our family, it does not define our family. It will always be a part of us, but not nearly as significant as the thousands of happy times before and since. Our family will always be larger than just the people that occupy the family tree because of how Mark affected so many people who continue to show their love for us. We have a perspective and an understanding and a shared grief and we endure together. I see Mark every day in Marin's silly personality and sweet eagerness to please. And I promise in the next 25 years that I will think less about the day he died and more about all the days he lived.


Chicken & Freedom

I have not posted anything on this blog in quite some time. But I am generally opposed to posting politically charged rhetoric on Facebook, and I feel like I need to express a different type of opinion on the whole Chick-fil-A debacle.

Let me begin by saying that I was a regular Chick-fil-A patron when I lived in Orlando, as I find their chicken to be close to perfect. When I moved to Boston, the only Chick-fil-A nearby is in the Burlington Mall (about 30 minutes away) and I have patronized their location on many occasions, including having lunch outings for my staff there. I have always been aware of the Christian background of the company, and their conservative leanings. I was just there for the chicken, and also for the spectacular customer service I have always received.

I also am a libertarian - let companies do what they want to do, and let the public decide whether they are going to patronize that location. I think the world needs diverse points of view, and I also know that open communication is the key to learning new things and considering new perspectives.

And here is why I will no longer count Chick-fil-A among my favorite things. There are literally thousands of causes that are constantly in need of additional funds. Children's cancer research is grossly underfunded. Less than 2% of the National Cancer Institute's budget is currently spent on childhood cancer research, yet cancer kills more children each year than any of other diseases combined. That makes me sick. There are kids in inner cities who don't have enough healthy food. There are schools that can't afford updated textbooks. Yet for some reason, based on their corporate giving strategy, what really needs to be fixed in the world is making sure that gay people aren't allowed to get married. And that tells me something about their perspective and priorities. It doesn't matter to the company whether children grow up healthy, or educated, as long as they grow up straight.

So yes, I used to really love Chick-fil-A. But in light of recent events, I don't want my money to be used to advance that cause, so I will choose not to go there. I don't think that Chick-fil-A should be banned. They are free to decide what charities to support. This is a free country, and I get to choose what businesses to support. I am thankful for the transparency of Chick-fil-A, so I get to make an educated choice. And there are certainly many people who will choose to support Chick-fil-A. I just hope those people know that some of the best people I will ever know in my life happen to be gay, and I would never want a dime of my money to be spent keeping any one of those people from a legal commitment to the person they love. Freedom is a beautiful thing.


In Defense of Glee.

So last night at rehearsal, several cast members were discussing how terrible "Glee" is - how it has really gone down hill this season, how over-produced the musical numbers are, how the actors are too old for their roles as high schoolers, how they don't care for the voices of certain performers, etc. It was on my mind again this morning, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to defend "Glee."

I will start out by saying that there are many things wrong with Glee. We will start with how completely far-fetched it is: a group that has to hold a bake sale for wheelchair-accessible transportation to regionals also has a full backup band, innumerable costume changes and special effects? Complete nonsense. A high school teacher who gets away with hurling racial slurs and throwing students into lockers, in a world where high school teachers are getting fired for having a blog in which they don't even mention the school name? Utterly ridiculous. I get it. But this is TV - there are more shows about vampires than there are about gay people. It's also a comedy - the absurdities of the show are played for laughs, and the writers are CERTAINLY self-aware of the ridiculousness. (Remember the Glee ep where Rachel referenced the accompanist who just randomly appears whenever they need him?)

Oh- and Ryan Murphy's previous television shows were "Popular" and "Nip/Tuck"- both of which required a serious suspension of disbelief to get through. He's a farfetched guy. David E. Kelley shows are the same way - they start out kind of normal, then suddenly move into the vaguely surreal. It's television.

When I watch "Glee" I think of it as our own memories of high school - hyper-realized. The boy I had a crush on was a total dreamboat perfect guy, until he reflected his non-interest in me, then I saw him as a total jerk. Was there an actual 180 in his personality? Of course not- but when I remember high school, I remember it in extremes. That can explain how Finn's character is so inconsistent - because that's how Rachel sees him. The meanest teacher I had in school probably wasn't ACTUALLY that mean- I just didn't like her and thought she picked on me, so is it that much of a change to imagine her throwing people into lockers? Our own memories tend to be much more dramatic than reality, and I watch Glee with the sense that none of this is real, but it may be the way some people perceive their high school experience.

Same goes with the performances - where they start in the choir room and end up on stage in a fully-produced production number. I remember my high school performances as being MUCH more fabulous than I'm sure they actually were. And I sure wish that there was auto-tune to correct that off-note I sang in my final scene of my final high school performance. It's not real, but it sure is how those of us with theatrical aspirations wanted things to be. Is that so wrong?

Sure, I roll my eyes at stupid things on that show, but I also want to sing along, and want to cheer when these high school students say what I always wish I could have said. It's not perfect, but it makes people feel good. Is there anything wrong with that?

And the biggest reason that I am a "Glee" cheerleader is the music. As a 35-year-old who doesn't really listen to the radio, I've been introduced to songs by Bruno Mars and Cee-Lo that I may have never gotten interested in if not for "Glee." And think of all of the kids who are turning off Akon and listening to Burt Bacharach after hearing Chris Colfer sing "A House is Not a Home," or might want to investigate Barbra Streisand because she is Rachel Berry's idol. How on earth can this be a bad thing? It's exposing a HUGE number of people to a pretty diverse mix of music. Do I love every song? Of course not. But if one kid who has never been exposed to musical theatre picks up a copy of RENT because they heard and loved "Take Me Or Leave Me" this past Tuesday, and maybe falls in love with something in that show's message or wants to learn to play the guitar... doesn't that make the world just a little bit better?

I'm a theatre kid - always have been, and was lucky to be involved in tons of community & regional theatre as a kid, because my tiny elementary school didn't offer much related to the arts. I was then lucky to go to a high school where Performing Arts were celebrated, and got to be involved in some awesome things. "Glee" gets people talking about the arts, about the importance of music - it might inspire someone who has never been exposed to the arts to try out for high school choir, or take up dance class, or pick up a guitar. It might make these performing activities so popular that the question of cutting the arts in public schools becomes moot. NONE of this is a bad thing.

And that's the thing about "Glee." It's a feel-good television show, that sometimes gets too pop-culture-y for its own good, and certainly has done its share of "Very Special Episode"s but at the end of the day, it gets people singing and dancing. And more singing and dancing can definitely make the world a better place.


A Pet Peeve

I am not someone who hates very many things. I can certainly get fired up, and I certainly have a temper, but I tend to see most things for the positive. But one thing that I absolutely cannot stand seeing is a "notification" light. I hate when the notification is on my phone that there is a new voicemail, or a new message. I need to get rid of it immediately. I hate when the cable box has a red light indicating a message (which is almost always advertising some upcoming boxing match. Really, Comcast?) I hate when my email inbox indicates that I have unread messages. Now I by no means dislike getting new messages, new voicemails, etc. (aside from the irrelevant ones from Comcast), but I hate that little light, or icon, or bold (1) showing me that something is there that I haven't gotten to yet. Maybe that's why I leave work every day with a virtually empty inbox - I hate the impression that something is incomplete or not tackled.

My dear, sweet wonderful husband is not similarly bothered by this. In fact, his email box constantly indicates over 1000 unread messages, because he never got around to reading or deleting them. This drives me crazy! Fortunately, it's his inbox, not mine.... but man, I pride myself on my filing systems in which I deal with everything as it comes. This does not mean that I reply instantly, but believe me, I instantly know it's there.

I wonder if others have this quirk, or whether it's just another thing that makes me unique....

Oh, P.S. I have started a blog about our upcoming arrival. If you care to keep up with baby related news, visit http://moncheddar.blogspot.com


Here's something that makes me mad...

I'm sure that tons of people have seen the story about the guy who was driving his wife to the hospital while she was in labor, only to receive a speeding citation after the baby was delivered. The husband and wife have since gone to the press, talking about how they are fighting the ticket. They are met with chagrined sighs from the news reporters: "Wow, can you believe that cop? So unfair/ridiculous."

You know what I think is ridiculous? These people think that they don't deserve a ticket. He was driving 102 miles per hour, almost double the 55 MPH speed limit. He put his own life, the life of his wife and almost-newborn baby, and every other driver on the road at risk. It's not like he was going 80. Do you have any idea how fast 102 MPH is? He thought to call 911 when he saw the police officer's lights behind him, to advise of the situation. The police officer was kind enough to act as an "escort" for him. Why didn't he think to call 911 when he left? He didn't care about the safety of anyone on the road, he cared about himself when he was about to get pulled over. I completely understand that he was panicked about the labor situation, but there were better ways to handle the situation. But now, to be appalled on the national news that the cop had the "nerve" to actually cite him? I'm sorry, that's just ridiculous.

I also find it ridiculous that so many news outlets have picked up this story. Yes, you get a ticket for driving almost double the speed limit. The fact that his wife was about to give birth is a mitigating factor, sure, but you can't say that the speed limits don't apply. Do ambulances travel down the highway at 102 miles per hour? I am done with these people who think that their "special" situation means that the rules don't apply. Thank the cop for the police escort, take the ticket and pay the fine. Don't make yourself look like an entitled ass.


2010: A Year in Review

I am a sucker for "best of"/"worst of" lists. My December magazines are read from cover to cover as I indulge in what these writers consider to be the highlights and lowlights of the past year.

So I decided to put in my own personal retrospective of 2010, as I experienced it.


1. Shaun and I got married on May 8. There were some mild stresses (our church told us in January that we wouldn't be able to use their space due to renovations, so we had to move to a new church AFTER the invites were printed, and also develop a transportation plan since our original church was right next to our reception location) but being surrounded by family and friends really made it the best weekend I can imagine. I will never forget the cheers as we were officially pronounced "husband and wife," the beautiful toasts from my Dad, Judith and Kevin, dancing all night and the party lasting after the reception ended. We have awesome photos of the day (Devon, you are amazing) and I truly could never ask for a better day.

2. Finished grad school. Masters Degree? Check! Will I go back for more school? Probably. I really like school. I also really liked NOT having class from June on, so a break is good too.

3. Work improved greatly in one fell swoop. I was miserable for a long time, and then it got better. It's amazing how a toxic work environment impacts your entire life. I will be forever grateful that work got better- I never thought it would happen.

4. Weddings! We celebrated in Disney World for my oldest friend Kate (not in years, in amount of time I have known her. I have known Kate longer than I have known my sister) and it was great to see her and Matt so happy. We also went to Penn State in May to celebrate Jill, our dear friend and former neighbor from Wynnewood. Both of these weddings were extra fun because of the great guests that were there - it's great to celebrate people you have known for a long time, because you know their families too!

5. TRAVEL - I went to India in January of last year. I will admit I was scared to death to go across the world basically on my own. Then my luggage got lost and there were many great moments of misery. But I learned a LOT and got to see part of the world that I never would have seen otherwise. (Details are available on my India blog). We also did a mini-moon in the Berkshires (Porches Inn was amazing) and our BIG honeymoon trip on a Mediterranean cruise, which is what I always dreamed my honeymoon would be. So yeah, in 2010 I was in Europe and Asia. I feel so world traveler-y. My bridesmaids also took me to Disney World in March for my "bachelorette weekend" - drinking around the world at Epcot, Jellyrolls, Celebration Town Tavern. It was awesome.

6. Friends. I can't get over how lucky I am to have such great friends. Whether it was wedding preparations or venting over the aforementioned work-related misery over GChat, or just grabbing a beverage after work - I am amazed and humbled by the number of awesome people both Shaun and I have in our lives.


I could very easily say that 2010 was the best year ever... but I know that it wasn't because too many people lost someone they love this year. The one that touched me the most was Lauren. Lauren is my cousin's 4 year old daughter who fought a hard fight against neuroblastoma since May of 2009. I hadn't heard of neuroblastoma prior to Lauren's diagnosis, but learned an awful lot about it through her mom, who wrote so honestly and eloquently of Lauren's triumphs and struggles. It is appalling to me that children's cancers don't get the research funding that adult cancers do, yet the kids are the most defenseless of all. Kids shouldn't have to suffer, and their parents and families suffer almost as much as they do. If you're looking to support a cause that really needs it, check out Cookies for Kids' Cancer or Alex's Lemonade Stand. Lauren earned her angel wings in October, and too many other kids have suffered too much.

I am still driving the same old car, still living in the same apartment. I need to take better care of myself, need to make more of an effort to see my family... there are lots of things I want for 2011. It's already shaping up to be quite a big year for us.

I hope everyone finds what they want in 2011. Work together, make people happy, find an excuse to celebrate something.

2010 was a big year for me, but I can't say it was the best year ever, because who knows what is to come?


"Higher" Education?

I'm watching the ABC News expose on the recruitment practices of for-profit schools like the University of Phoenix. As someone who has worked on the admissions front, and now on the communications front, for traditional universities, stories like this always intrigue me. Yes, it's true that many students are easily swayed by recruitment tactics, and it is completely against my beliefs to treat higher education as a "sales pitch." It makes me angry that what was once an opportunity to learn is now commoditized, and that traditional institutes of higher learning need to compete with places who aren't out to instill a sense of appreciation for all there is to learn out there, and are instead out to make a buck.

But here's the thing. Students have changed. The culture has changed. I talk to students and prospective students all week long and I can count on one hand the number who ask about the quality of education, the course content, the faculty qualifications. Those on the academic side of the university strive to create programs that are relevant, reflective of current research and will inspire students to be more than they were when they first walked through the door. But what do these prospective students want to know, more often than not? "What job can I get with this degree?" "Can you give me statistics on how many graduates of this program get jobs right away?" It's no longer education for the sake of becoming educated, but a more results-oriented world. Higher education is nothing more than a means to an end, and the growth of this attitude is killing the liberal arts disciplines in particular.

College is NOT job training. But the majority of the population views it as such, so of course they are wooed by the for-profit schools, citing statistics that those with a degree will earn a million dollars more over their lifetimes than those without a degree. I wonder what this data looks like now, with college degrees in everything and anything so ubiquitous that the value of the education itself is reflected only in the end, not the means. In this Machiavellian world, it is easy for a student to be wooed by the basic idea of the for-profit schools: you give us money, we'll give you some classes, we'll give you a degree. Students don't have the opportunity to put thought into studying subjects they love, because they are pushed into degree programs that will give "results."

Much like you don't need an English degree to be a great writer, you don't need a business degree to run a successful business. But instead of getting real advising from academics and administrators who have seen and experienced enough to know that a student needs to study their passion, the boom of education as an industry has forced schools to churn students through programs that give them the quickest and easiest degree. Don't want to write papers? Here's a program for you. Good luck the first time you have to put together a report and don't have the first idea of where to start. The idea that all that is needed is a degree cheapens the degree itself. It's not about the piece of paper, it's about the learning that leads to the degree.

The real problem of the for-profit schools is that they bend too quickly to market demands. Of course people are going to say that they don't want to work too hard to earn their degree, that they want academic credit for "life experience"- yielding to these demands has created a monster, and traditional academic institutions are forced to compete with the "have it your way" education that is produced. People looking to earn a degree are a vulnerable population, and by acquiescing to "audience demand" these prospective students feel empowered... but they lose the value of learning to think and write for themselves, of letting themselves be educated because they are letting themselves be "taught."

So now the general public is starting to realize that a degree is not a guarantee of any job or position. They are lashing out at those schools that painted the picture that a piece of paper alone will open doors. Yet, these schools were only giving students the answer they wanted to hear. And believe me, students will keep calling and asking what job they can get with X degree to 100 different places until they find the answer they want. It's good business to offer a response to consumer needs, right? Those for-profit schools got so popular because they gave the answers students wanted to hear, but the real problem with education was that these students were asking the wrong question in the first place.