Monday, April 25, 2011

S for Standing Up

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

On Friday, April 22—Good Friday—I walked into a Planned Parenthood Clinic for the first time in my life. The experience was a bit jarring, but not for the reasons you might think upon reading those words…

I entered the clinic to use the restroom. After nearly an hour of marching outside in the chilly weather, I needed a bathroom break. The reason I was a bit taken aback upon entering the clinic was that it was not what I had expected. You see, when I visit my family clinic for an appointment with my doctor, I walk into a warm waiting area where I am greeted by a receptionist who checks me in. This wasn’t the case at the Planned Parenthood Clinic in St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood. Literally as soon as I walked in the door, I was face-to-face with security guards sitting behind a security desk. Don’t get me wrong, the guards and the Planned Parenthood Escorts who were there were very warm, welcoming, and kind, but I was struck by the fact that security guards even had to be there.

I knew why, of course…

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi

Protestors. Pro-lifers, specifically. They protest the clinic often (I’ve heard as much as daily), sometimes harassing its patients and staff, usually in the name of God. They seem to assume that every person who enters the clinic is there to take part in killing babies or to have her baby killed. Apparently pro-lifers don’t realize that abortions are but a small percentage of the vital services that Planned Parenthood provides. Today was different though. Today, the scope was much bigger…

Every year on Good Friday, hundreds of pro-lifers (also known as anti-choicers) show up at the St. Paul clinic to protest. I’m sure this probably happens at similar clinics around the country. They come to pray for an end to abortion and for clinics like Planned Parenthood to cease to exist.

In response, hundreds of pro-choicers gather to show their support for Planned Parenthood, a woman’s right to choose, and the vital services the clinic provides. I am proud to say that I was one of those supporters, which is why I had occasion to enter the clinic to use the restroom on Friday. This was my first time being involved in this, or any, rally and the experience was amazing.

I arrived at the clinic at around 1:30 p.m. I drove down Ford Parkway, passing in front of the clinic, in order to drive around the block to find parking; I will openly admit that I also wanted to see what I was getting myself into. I first drove past the anit-choicers. They were somberly walking in a circle in the temporarily fenced “pen,” formerly a traffic lane, which was designated as their protesting area. They looked like a walking funeral procession. A space as wide as the Planned Parenthood driveway separated them from the “other side.”

I heard the cars in front of me honking just as I approached the Planned Parenthood supporters, also in their own “pen.” I was moved to tears as I laid on my horn and reveled in the hoots and hollers from the enormous group of supporters. The feeling and energy coming from the group was powerful—they were smiling, waving, and jumping up and down. I was excited to soon be joining their ranks. I found a parking spot a block away, right behind the clinic. I could hear the honking and hollers as I got out of my car, and the noise grew louder as I approached the clinic parking lot to check in. The feeling was electric!

I couldn’t wait for MusicMan who, unlike me, hadn’t been able to get the whole day off of work, to join me. I was a bit apprehensive about joining the fray alone, but soon found out there was no need to be. Everyone was so kind and welcoming! I signed in, dropped of my food shelf donation, grabbed a sign, waited for an opening in the crowd of supporters passing by me, and jumped right in. A woman in the crowd began talking to me almost instantly. The same thing—spontaneous conversations between strangers—happened all day. It was as though I was with an enormous group of friends.

For the most part, it was a peaceful event. I can't discount the presence of the St. Paul Police as having played a role, but thankfully their presence seemed to be enough and no intervention was needed. A few pro-lifers who walked and drove by our area scowled, gave the thumbs down, or held their fingers up in the sign of the cross. (So, we’re demons and/or vampires now? Cool.) One guy screamed at us from across the street, but the honks of support and cheers from the crowd were too loud for us to hear what he had to say. It seemed as though every time the anti-choicers had someone on their PA system leading a prayer or hymn, or spewing their rhetoric, a bunch of cars would drive by and start honking to show their support. And, in what became almost a Pavlovian response from the crowd, we would holler and cheer back. I cannot appropriately describe to you the energy and spirit from this amazing group of people I was now a part of. We were a force!

Though I’d given monetary donations to Planned Parenthood plenty of times in the past, donating on Friday was too fun to pass up. Planned Parenthood was offering its supporters the option to pledge a protestor. The idea was the more protestors who showed up against the clinic, the more money was made for the clinic. Genius, right?! I found it to be absolutely brilliant and was delighted that money was being made on the backs of those who try their hardest to stop the good work this clinic does. MusicMan and I pledged a few protestors, because we believe in Planned Parenthood.

It has been proven time and again that sex education and contraception, both services that Planned Parenthood provides far more often than abortions, are key to preventing unwanted pregnancies. Unwanted pregnancies lead to abortions. Thus, it goes without saying that these key services are vital to reducing the need for abortions. It’s too bad the anti-choicers can’t do a little research to figure that out. The fact is that Planned Parenthood probably does more in one day to prevent abortions than pro-lifers do in a year. In addition to the invaluable services I’ve already mentioned, they also provide comprehensive medical exams, for women and men, including STD testing and life-saving cancer screenings.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you know that I have some strong beliefs and that I have no problem stating them. Friday I got the opportunity to stand behind my words. I stood up for an amazing clinic and for women’s rights. Because I believe that women—not religious zealots or politicians—should have control of their bodies and reproduction. I appreciated the opportunity to take action in such a way. So much so that this will become an annual event for MusicMan and me, and instead of a two hour time slot, we will participate for as much of the day as we can.

My experience at Friday’s rally restored my faith in humanity a little bit. Seeing all of the support from people from a plethora of various ethnic groups, age ranges, and socio-economic backgrounds gave me hope that one day Planned Parenthood’s patients and staff won’t need to be greeted by security guards. Because maybe—just maybe—rational minds will prevail over irrational, intolerants ones and logic and reason will become the norm.

I leave you with some incredible photos MusicMan took to capture the day.

Cheering for the cars showing their support.

Look at all that support for Planned Parenthood!

A little dramatic, no? Pro-lifers doing a good job of illustrating just how superhuman Jesus truly was. I mean, he did carry his cross all on his own.

Typical pro-life propaganda. As this guy walked by MusicMan, he mad sure to flash this ultrasound photo. Dude obviously doesn't realize there are term limits on abortions. A fetus as developed as the one on that ultrasound couldn't legally be aborted....not at Planned Parenthood or anywhere else. Way to educate yourself there, Mr. Anti-Choicer!

This photo really illustrates some of the energy in the crowd of supporters. Despite the absence of any spring-like downright dreary weather in Minnesota!

I loved this woman's sign. It shows that one can be religious and have faith, but still be rational enough to realize that a woman's choice is her own.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

C for Catching Up!

Hello, lovely reader!! I didn’t set out to be away from the blog for so long--time really flies. I’ve missed it and I’ve missed you, but sometimes life just happens! I’m sure most of you (if there are any of you left) can relate, and if you can’t, I am extremely jealous. I’m going to try to update you on the past three months, and I’m going to try to keep it brief. I’m going to break it out into a few areas, including section headings so that you can skip past sections you might not be interested in.
Okay, here we go!

Taking three full-semester courses, meaning they all run for 16 weeks straight in tandem, proved to be a lot more difficult than I thought it would be! That is the primary reason I’ve been M.I.A. I’ve had some big writing projects for Philosophy of Religion and lots of reading to do for the class. I’ve also had lots of reading to do for my Biology classes. I had a large research project to complete for Biology of Women, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I basically just phoned it in.

Well, scratch that, I didn’t totally phone it in and I am a little bit ashamed. I did a lot of research and put together what I thought was a pretty good presentation; however, I blatantly ignored the part of the instructions that said, “You must interview a professional researcher/clinician on the subject.” I didn’t have time for that crap, nor did I need to learn how to interview anyone because I’ve done that before. I'd like to think that, more than anything, my purposefully ignoring part of the instructions speaks less about my character and more about just how burnt out I was feeling by this point in the semester. It has really been brutal!

It remains to be seen my grade on the project will be affected by my willful ignorance. It would appear many of my classmates ignored the same part of the instructions (as well as ignoring all spelling and grammar rules of the English language, but that's a story for another day). Even though projects were due over two weeks ago, they haven’t yet been graded. Yeah…my instructor for this online course is a total slacker (I know, who am I to talk?!) and it just irks the hell outta me.

Needless to say, I cannot wait for this semester to be over!

Speaking of this semester ending, I cannot believe that next semester is my last semester at Community College!!! In some ways, it seems like it’s taken forever to get to this point, while in others it seems as though the time has just flown by. I will have officially completed my second associate’s degree by the end of this summer, which brings me to some reeeeeeeeeeallly exciting news I have to share…

The second thing that was taking up quite a bit of my time was completing my application packet for the College of St. Scholastica’s social work program. I had to write a five page essay, collect reference forms, and complete two applications (one for the school, wait for acceptance, then one for the program). All that hard work paid off, because I WAS ACCEPTED!!! (Twice! Once for the school and again for the program. It is the latter that I'm most excited about.) I am over the moon excited to officially be one of the College of St. Scholastica’s Fall 2011 Social Work Students!

Though my friends and some of my family members had no doubts that I would be accepted, I had my reservations. The program is very competitive. Only about 25 students are accepted each fall, and only in the fall, and I am just beyond thrilled to be one of those students! I will officially start at St. Scholastica in September, and within 16 months, I should have my bachelor’s degree in social work! How exciting is that?!?! I like that the program is structured so that the schedule stays the same. For the whole 16 months, I’ll take classes Tuesday and Thursday evenings and one Saturday a month. Not only is it going to be nice to finally be immersing myself in social work curriculum, but it will be so nice to always have the same consistent schedule (rather than my schedule changing each semester depending on what and how many classes I take).

My last semester at Community College—summer semester—could be incredibly easy or rather difficult. It all depends on me. I have two competencies to do and I have one class to take. The class should be an easy one, because it’s a fine arts requirement. Right now, I’m debating between beginning photography and a couple of different music classes. I’m not sure which one to choose yet, but either way, it shouldn’t be too tough. The competencies are going to be the tough part. Both are very large projects, requiring quite a bit of research and time, so I’ll have to be diligent about setting up a schedule and keeping myself on track. My innate ability to procrastinate will certainly be tested.

As you may or may not know, I work for a broker/dealer in the investment research department. Recently, an employee of the broker/dealer’s trade desk moved to another position. Since she formerly served as a backup trader when phones got busy or one of the traders was off for the day, the trade desk needed a new backup trader. I have the appropriate licenses to execute mutual fund and stock trades, and my current job is under the same umbrella (leader) as the trade desk, so I apparently was the obvious choice.

At first, it was an exciting new opportunity and I was pleased that I would finally be using some of the licensing I had been forced to get years ago yet never used; however, it’s getting to be overwhelming. In addition to serving as a backup trader, I also took over some of this former employee’s job duties. Someone seriously underestimated the amount of time it took her to complete the tasks I was given, as I find myself now buried in work. It doesn’t help that I’ve been called to backup on the trade desk for three hours every day this past week and at least two to three days a week in prior weeks. When the desk gets busy, it’s hard to multitask. One can’t exactly take explicit instructions to trade thousands of dollars of someone else’s money while simultaneously completing any other task. It just won’t work.

So, work is suddenly incredibly busy and overwhelming. I went from having weeks at a time with practically nothing to do to not having enough hours in the day to get everything done. It’s a shocking change that comes with many frustrations. I somehow need to figure out how to balance it all and how to get everything done. I have become even more thankful that my time at this company, and in this line of work, is limited. There is at least an end in sight!

I am still smoke-free!!! Over three months, in fact. Actually, over 100 days! 106 days, 13 hours, 23 seconds (as of this writing), to be exact. It’s mind boggling that I haven’t smoke 1,598 cigarettes! (GROOOOOOOOSSSSSS!) I’ve also saved 12 days and 4 hours of my life so far and $481.50. I’m still feeling really good about the decision to give up cigarettes and I grow stronger in my quit each day. It’s interesting, though, how one healthy lifestyle change can snowball into others…

I joined Weight Watchers online towards the end of February. I decided it was high time I do something about my weight rather than just whining about it. I’ve never had what I would call a good or healthy relationship with food. Part of that stems from lack of knowledge and part from never really having had a good example set. My mother seemed to be in a constant battle with her weight as I grew up. That, combined with the fact that we lived just above the poverty line (and sometimes way below it), meant we didn’t really eat a lot of nutritious, balanced meals. (Anyone else remember how vile government cheese was?) I was also taught to stuff my emotions with food, rather than to express them. Yeah…not so good.

I realized I didn’t want to end up like my mom—so desperate to lose weight that I put my life in more danger by undergoing surgery. My mother, while better and healthier than the last time I mentioned her in this blog, will likely battle various illnesses for the rest of her life as a result of her surgery and her inability, or resistance, to change her eating habits forever.

So far, I really like the Weight Watchers program. It’s not a diet!!! It’s a lifestyle change, which is exactly what I needed. I’m learning to eat a healthier, more balanced diet and I’m learning portion control. I’m also eating a lot more real, whole foods. The program cautions against depriving yourself, and I don’t. I still have cake, and cookies, and whatever else I want. I just don’t have them every day, and I eat appropriate portions. I don’t do, or eat, or not eat anything I’m not willing to do, or eat, or not eat for the rest of my life, because I want to be able to maintain (indefinitely) exactly what I’ve done to lose this weight.

I’ve learned to make smarter choices, and I am being rewarded for my efforts. I’ve lost 13.9 pounds so far, averaging over a pound and a half per week, which of course feels fantastic. But, my instant gratification personality struggles with this a bit. I would like to see the weight come off faster. However, just as I didn’t put it all on over one day or in the course of a week or so, it’s not going to come off that way either. I also know that losing weight slowly and steadily increases the likelihood that that weight will stay off, so while this make take longer than I'd like, it will be worth it. I’m certainly having to learn how to be patient and to revel in the little victories.

That lifestyle change lead to one other. Weight Watchers encourages exercise, and one of the things that compelled me to quit smoking was that I wanted to regain some lung function in order to be able to at least walk for fitness. I started the C25K running program a couple of weeks ago. This interval training program is meant to gradually introduce one to running, with the eventual goal being to run a 5K (a little over 3 miles) or half an hour straight. I used to think runners were just complete masochists. Having just completed day 3 of week 2 over the weekend, I still think that. However, I’m also starting to think that I just might be able to be one of those masochists. I am embarrassed at just how out of shape I am. My body is not used to running for even a minute straight—how awful is that?! But, I’m getting stronger and better each day, and that’s what counts.
That’s all I have for now, lovely reader!!! Tell me, what’s new in your world?

I have been reading and keeping up with the blogs in my reader, but haven’t been doing a lot of commenting lately. I’m going to try to get better about that.

Until next time,
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