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Cross Stitch, Packers & Charity

Today I’m combining a few of my favorite things. The Green Bay Packers, who are playing the Dallas Cowboys tomorrow (1/11/15) in the NFC divisional championship. Cross stitch. And the MACC Fund. The MACC Fund is Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer, and raises money for pediatric cancer research. It’s a local charity, and the 1 I usually pick when I have money to donate. I figure it’s good insurance for my kids’ future.

A twitter friend, who is also a Packers fan, Erin Scafe made a bet with a Cowboys fan, something involving Taylor Swift covers. I don’t know the details, but the gist of it is if we can raise $5,000 for the MACC Fund by gametime (noon, central time), both Erin and Mateo (I only know him by his twitter profile) will each post a video on youtube of them covering a Taylor Swift song. I think I have that right.

And, for the person who donates the most, I will send them this.

R-E-L-A-X

 

Here’s the link where you can donate. Be generous. I mean, kids with cancer. Not a controversial cause.

https://www.kintera.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=426280&lis=1&kntae426280=B8164F15391E4808AFE0BB81EB858F4F&supId=372629944&team=0&nmv=true

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25 Days of Bookmas

For the 3rd year in a row, I’m going to do something I call the 25 Days of Bookmas. I originally found the idea on Pinterest. The blog that explains it is here: http://www.ellekeepsmoving.com/2011/12/home-25-christmas-books.html

The basic idea is this: wrap up 25 books and put them under the tree. Each day in December, the kids open 1 book. The blog suggests you can recycle Christmas classics from year to year. Or you could even get books from the library to use.

This is the 3rd year I’ve done this. Each year I do a mix of old and new books. I recycle favorites like  Polar Express and The Snowy Day. On Christmas Eve, they get ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. And I buy new books, of course, because come on, buying books is the best. Also, even though I call it 25 Days of Bookmas, I actually only do 24 days. They get enough stuff on Christmas.

This year I added a new element. Because they kids have more divergent tastes than they did in previous years, for about half the days they each get a book, and half they share the book. I got some fun new books I’m pretty excited about. The 1 thing I also don’t stick with is that the books must be Christmas books. Just books I want them to have.

So for the past few weeks I’ve collected old and new books. MissA helped me make gift tags numbered 1-24, with 2 tags for some of the numbers. She picked out 3 rolls of wrapping paper, 1 for her books, 1 for G-Man’s books, & 1 for shared books. So last night I wrapped them all, 37 books, put the tags on each, and stacked them under the tree. And I can’t wait for Monday, so we can start Bookmas 2014.

If you’re interested in following my books, I post them each day to Instagram & twitter using #25DaysOfBookmas.

25DaysofBookmas

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A Quick Follow-Up

Quick follow up on my post from yesterday. It’s not my intention to say anyone is dumb for supporting the breast cancer activities this month. Absolutely do that if you want. It’s important. We’ll never find better treatments if people don’t step forward and help.

My point is to stop and think about what you’re doing. Be…aware. We’ve all been guilty of reposting something online and not checking it out. (I absolutely have, and kick myself very hard in hindsight.) Companies take advantage if this. They know we have an innate desire to help and do good. So they put a pink ribbon on things as a marketing ploy to make money. Sometimes, not a single penny goes to a breast cancer organization.

That’s all I’m saying. If you want to help, make sure you’re doing something that actually helps. If you’re going to spend your time and money, know where you’re spending it. I work too hard for my money.

And remember, it’s not just October. Patients have cancer every day, all year. Doctors and researchers work year round, even when the NFL goes back to wearing black cleats.

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I’m Done With Awareness: Why I’m Wore a Bra on October 13

First and foremost, I wore a bra because I left the house and no one wants to see me like that. Or if they do, I don’t want them to.

But the the bigger reason is because I’m tired of awareness. I’m sure it does a little good at first, but in the big picture of treating and curing disease, awareness does almost no good.

Raise your hand if you’re unaware of breast cancer. OK, put it down because you probably feel silly. Are you aware of down Down syndrome? Alzheimer’s? Domestic violence? I’m going to assume you’re a functioning member of society and have not somehow missed the existence of these things.

And how does your awareness of breast cancer affect a woman with breast cancer? NOT AT ALL.

But Liz, you say, awareness has made more women do self-exams and get regular mammograms. And that leads to earlier detection, which leads to better outcomes. Well, yes. I’ll agree, although there’s some debate about whether it really has been beneficial. But I’m not addressing that. I’m also not proposing we stop educating about and advocating for effective screening.

The awareness I have an issue with is this idea that slapping a colored ribbon on something means you’re doing something to help battle a disease or condition or social ill. With breast cancer in particular, the awareness campaign has become so pervasive in our culture, I would wager most people don’t really even see it anymore. It blends into the background. There’s even a word for it: Pinkwashing.

It also gives rise to a slew of activities that do absolutely nothing to help the cause but allow people to pat themselves on the back, thinking they’ve done something. I know it makes me sound grumpy and bah humbug-ish and holier-than-thou (and I don’t much care), but posting a random, cryptic Facebook status that men aren’t told the meaning of does absolutely nothing. Except make your male FB friends, and possibly some of the female ones, think you’re silly. (Seriously, if I post “I’m going to spend 3 months living in Mexico” the only thing it does is make my mom call me in a panic.)

Not wearing a bra on October 13? It has a cancer-neutral effect. And, really, how any people do you think will see a woman with her boobs swinging freely at the grocery store and think “I need to do a self exam when I get home”? Plus, not wearing a bra is a good way to draw attention to your breasts. And to someone whose breasts have been a source of pain, and no are likely gone, maybe drawing attention to your healthy breasts isn’t the most supportive thing you can do.

As someone who is both a cancer survivor and a cancer researcher (albeit neither breast cancer), it irritates the hell out of me to see all the things people do or buy in the name of Awareness. But don’t just take my word for it that awareness has gone too far. Here’s what some other people had to say about it:

From a woman diagnosed in her 30’s, who goes by Cancer In My Thirties

http://cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com/2012/10/13/national-no-bra-day-and-breast-cancer-awareness-month-or-please-put-that-pink-can-of-soup-down-put-your-bra-back-on/ (from a year ago)

http://cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/national-no-bra-day-an-update/ (this year)

From another Breast Cancer Patient:

http://olot1.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/do-not-like-this-awful-awful-picture/

From the website The Stir:

http://thestir.cafemom.com/healthy_living/162426/no_bra_day_other_dishonest

So. And this is just a sampling of the blogs I found by dozens of patients, doctors and other people who are tired of pink. And awareness. And people who think doing nothing is doing something.

So. How can you help? Obviously, money always helps. Research costs millions and you probably don’t have millions. But every single penny helps. Just make sure you’re donating to a group that does some good. For all the publicity they get, the Komen Foundation is a poor choice unless you want your money to exist in the perpetual cycle of awareness raising. Only 13 cents goes to research for every dollar donated. The American Cancer Society is a little better (around 22 cents, I think, but I forget exactly and I’m too lazy to look it up). If you’re interested in breast cancer, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation is a great organization that spends the majority of their doantion money on actual research. Or you could donate to your local hospital. Or any number of other cancer (or whatever the cause) organizations. Just check them out first on one of the many websites that rate charities.Two good ones are Charity Navigator or Charity Watch.

Don’t have money to spare? Donate time. Do something with a friend who has breast cancer. Drive her to an appointment. Make her dinner. Babysit her kids so she can take a nap.

Even better? Hang out with her and don’t talk about boobs or cancer or chemo at all. Unless she wants to. But offer to let her have a cancer free day. Let her not think about it for a few hours while you do something “normal,” like go shopping or get coffee or whatever.

Don’t have a friend you can do this with? Then don’t do anything. Because you know what? There are a lot of diseases and a lot of causes in this world. And we don’t all have to do something about every one. Confession time: other than the $5 I give at work (which goes to the American Cancer Society) so I can wear jeans on our department’s Lee Jeans Day for breast cancer, I don’t do much about breast cancer. I realize I have 2 of them that could eventually grow tumors. And I work alongside a lot of people who spend their days fighting breaast cancer. I certainly do my best to support my friend who has lived with metastatic breast cancer for years. But we’re not close enough that I would call her up and take her out. And, well, maybe it’s a knee jerk reaction to the societal message that I HAVE to care about breast cancer and I’m a horrible person if I don’t.

But you know what? It’s not my thing. Cancer absolutely is. And if I find my perfect job working in breast cancer, I’ll go that way. But right now, I’m interested in the cancers that don’t get the hyper-awareness that breast does. I’m interested in pancreatic cancer and other GI cancers because, well, I get paid to be interested in them. I also care about a number of other causes, and they’re where I put my money and my time. Not breast cancer.

And that’s OK. You can do nothing about breast cancer and still be a good person. Seriously. But this idea that putting “I’m going to live in Mexico for 3 months” does something to either support finding better treatments for breast cancer or a woman living with brast cancer drives me nuts. If you want to do something, do something real. Otherwise, don’t pretend.

So this is the awareness I want to see more of. Be aware of what you’re doing and how it helps. And if it doesn’t, be aware of that too.

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World’s Okayest Mom: Sometimes Something’s Gotta Give, Preferably Not Your Sanity

A while back, maybe 4 or 5 months, I was browsing Pinterest, and came across this little gem:

http://pinterest.com/pin/410742428485104920/

Like many of my writer friends, I wear multiple hats besides writer. And one of the most prominent hats I wear is Mom. I’ve got 3 1/2 year old MissA and 18 month old G-Man. They’re great kids, and compared to a lot of kids, very well behaved and easy to take carMissA & G-Mane of. But they’re still kids. Which means they require a lot of time and even more energy. And more love than I thought I had in me – which, fortunately, is the easy part. But, as any parent knows, just because you love them beyond compare doesn’t mean you don’t sometimes want to strangle them.

And in this era of Pinterest, where Mommying is a highly competitive, full-contact sport, there’s a lot of pressure on us moms. I try not to, but I feel it, sometimes from family, sometimes from moms I don’t know, occasionally from friends. The one group I’ve never felt it from are my fellow writer-moms. Because as writers, we’re in a unique position. Whether we’re stay-at-home moms or working moms or a combo of the two, our writing is often relegated to spare time status. Sometimes even after we start making money. I’ve yet to meet a full-time writer who works from home who isn’t at least sometimes cast in the role of stay-at-home mom.

And, when you’re trying to build a career in something as difficult and emotionally draining as writing, well, something’s gotta give. Frankly, I think even for non-writer moms, something’s gotta give, because it’s just not possible to be Martha Stewart all the time. Hell, even Martha spent time in prison.

I made the decision pretty much right away that the thing that gives isn’t going to be my sanity. I’m not living up to anyone’s ideal of motherhood except my own. And for me, that ideal means sometimes I have to put myself first. Because the best thing I can give my children is a mom who doesn’t resent the time she spends with them.

In a perfect world I would be independently wealthy so I could feed my children all the “right” foods, prepared by a hired chef so I don’t have to do it. We’d have hired people to clean the house. And, I don’t know, I guess I’d do other things in my quest for perfect momhood.

But reality is my husband and I both work 40+ hours a week. We make just enough money to squeak by. I write on my lunch break and when the kids are asleep. My kids eat french fries and chicken nuggets. If they really want, I’ll let them have pickles and toast for dinner because it’s just not worth fighting over (and hey, it’s whole wheat bread. And pickles are more-or-less vegetables). Yesterday, my husband worked all day. I really wanted some diet Coke but didn’t want to deal with taking them to the grocery store. So we went to (gasp!) McDonalds. We go to Gilles, the local frozen custard and burgers joint 4 blocks away, so often, they know MissA’s regular order.

My house is a mess. We try to pick up and put away and we mostly succeed. We try to do all the dishes before bed, and we sometimes succeed. I won’t talk about how often we dust or vacuum. And I freely admit I’ve never washed the windows in any house or apartment I’ve lived in. It’s all I can do to keep up with the laundry.

So do I sometimes let my kids skip bath night? Sure. Do I sometimes let Curious George or Yo Gabba Gabba babysit so I can squeeze in 200 more words? Yep. Do I suggest MissA and I sit at the table and color together so I can work on a character sketch? Absolutely.

Am I going to win any World’s Greatest Mom trophies from the PTA? Probably not. Do I care? Not a bit. Because I love my kids, and there is no

doubt in my mind that they know that. I encourage them to be independent and have fun. With or without Mommy. They’re healthy and happy and smart and funny and all the other positive adjectives I can think of (with obvious moments of more negative adjectives).

So, after I saw the pinterest mug above, I looked for somewhere to buy one. Because I absolutely am a candidate for World’s Okayest Mom (but dammit, I am the okayest okay mom there is). When I couldn’t find one, I decided to check out the possibility of making one. I went to VistaPrint and ordered 1 for myself and 1 for my husband.

image

A bit later, after a few conversations with Andee Hannah and Leigh Ann Kopans, along with one of my BFFs, Ambha Lessard, it was clear the 3 of them needed mugs, so I sent

Leigh Ann with her mug

Leigh Ann with her mug

them on. And in that time, a number of us had started using the hashtag #worldsokayestmom on Twitter. And people would respond “Oh my gosh, I need that mug!” or “I need a t-shirt with that!” Well, far be it from me to deny the public their wants. Since you can’t set up a store on VistaPrint, I moved to Cafepress. Because of pesky things like copyright, I couldn’t use the exact same image as I had at VP. But I’m happy with the

Andrea and her mug.

Andrea and her mug.

new one. It has the same sort of geek-girl comic book feel. And, of course, CP allows me to expand beyond mugs to shirts, notebooks, and the ever-important flask (because every Okay Mom needs to get her drink on from time to time).

So, for every mom out there who has felt judged for not being perfect, for every mom out there who is barely hanging on, I’m giving you permission to embrace your okayness. Even revel in it like Andee, Leigh Ann, Ambha and I do. And shout it to the world!

http://www.cafepress.com/worldsokayestmoms

It should be noted, since I first looked for an OK Mom mug, it appears others have had the same idea on Cafepress. There’s even a store with almost the same name, which is why Moms is plural on my store. But in my completely biased opinion, this one is the best design.

And feel free to check back. I’ll play around with other designs (hell, if you have design skills, let me know). I’ll probably add Dad, maybe even kid/son/daughter, aunt/uncle or other various people. And I’m totally open to suggestion.

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Writer Websites: Using WordPress to Make Your Site

A few different writer friends have recently asked about creating a writer website. So I’m quickly sharing my very limited knowledge. It seemed a blog post was a better way to reach multiple people asking the same question, rather than sending multiple emails and tweets and Facebook posts.

I bought my domain through WordPress. You can do that here: http://store.wordpress.com/  Or you can just sign up for a WordPress account    and use the address you’re assigned. I’m vain enough to want my name there.

Setting it up was relatively painless. I picked a theme, and went from there. It’s all templates. One of these days I’m going to work with a friend and customize it, but right now it hasn’t been a priority.

I’ve also found a number of articles about author websites in general and WordPress in particular. So, in no particular order, here they are:

http://www.expand2web.com/blog/how-to-make-wordpress-look-like-a-website/

This site in general has some good articles on building your writer website:
http://marketyourbookblog.com/why-use-wordpress-to-build-a-website/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+ThemarketYourBookBlog+%28The+%27Market+Your+Book%27+Blog%29

http://en.support.wordpress.com/using-wordpress-to-create-a-website/

http://www.smallbusinesscomputing.com/emarketing/article.php/3937176/How-to-Build-a-Small-Business-Website-with-WordPress.htm

http://wp.smashingmagazine.com/2011/12/14/15-step-checklist-creating-perfect-wordpress-website/

http://richardmuscat.wordpress.com/2009/03/25/using-wordpress-as-a-cms-step-by-step-tutorial/

www.tripwiremagazine.com/2011/04/wordpress-sites.html

http://wordpress.lexty.com/

http://lifehacker.com/5890139/how-to-create-a-custom-theme-for-your-wordpress-blog-with-minimal-coding-required

http://lifehacker.com/5365600/the-beginners-guide-to-tricking-out-your-wordpress-blog

http://wpsitebuilding.com/

http://lifehacker.com/5963281/bones-simplifies-the-process-of-creating-a-wordpress-theme

http://learn.wordpress.com/

http://www.carrieelle.com/2013/02/10-wordpress-plugins-every-blogger-needs.html

Also, if you’re wanting to post pictures on your blog, beware of copyright issues. Just like you wouldn’t want someone to post your writing without your permission, even if they gave you credit, photographers want more than credit for their pictures. If you think that’s being overly picky, author Roni Loren has a cautionary tale for you:

http://www.roniloren.com/blog/2012/7/20/bloggers-beware-you-can-get-sued-for-using-pics-on-your-blog.html

So here’s a link that explains a bit more about what photos you can and can’t use:

http://meghanward.com/blog/2012/06/21/where-to-get-photos-for-your-blog/

When in doubt, take your own pictures, even if they’re not great.

Hope this helps!

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Miracles: Dave & Carole’s 16th Annual Miracle Marathon

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed the past few days I’ve retweeted a bunch of things from the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Specifically about why you should give to the Miracle Marathon.

A little background. Growing up, I wasn’t sick enough to be what I think of as a “sick kid” – always with a runny nose, or wheezing as I fumbled for my inhaler. I certainly wasn’t as sick as the classmate who underwent chemo and an eventual bone marrow transplant for leukemia, or my friend’s sister who was born with a heart defect that required multiple surgeries. But I wasn’t quite healthy, either.

I always had some phantom pain. I self-diagnosed a zillion sprains when I’d never actually injured myself. I know my friends, teachers and parents wrote me off as an attention-seeking kid. But when I was 14, after a several months of body-wide pain, I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA). Fortunately the doctor put me on methotrexate and the pain went away. I had no lasting damage to my joints, and – thankfully – like the majority of kids with JRA, I outgrew it when I was 20.

But, during that same timeframe, I was also diagnosed with Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma, aka thyroid cancer. So at 16 I had my thyroid removed. Since then, I’ve had multiple body scans and doses of radioactive iodine. Thankfully, every scan shows nothing and of all the cancers out there, PTC has about the best prognosis of all of them.

So I think of myself not as someone who was a sick kid, but as someone who had health problems.

MissA Years later, my beautiful little girl, MissA was born. I had placenta previa, which has a risk of the placenta rupturing and causing massive bleeding if you go into labor. So I had a scheduled c-section at 37 weeks. So when MissA was born, she had gunk in her lungs that normally is squeezed out during labor and childbirth. She was born at Froedtert Hospital, and was shortly transferred to the NICU at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, which is attached to Froedtert. It was scary for my husband and me, but we knew she was in good hands at Children’s. And they assured us that after they got her through this little blip, she’d be fine, with no lasting health problems. One of the hardest things I’ve done in my life was go home from the hospital without my baby girl. Fortunately, she came home 3 days later, after a week in the NICU. But during our short experience there, what really impressed me was not just how well they took care of my daughter, but how well they took care of my husband and me, and of our parents. They made the experience as painless and low-stress as it could possibly be.

1 year and 364 years later, MissA’s little brother, G-Man, joined our family (yes, my kids’ birthdays are a day apart). gmanI had another scheduled c-section. And starting a trend that continues, of wanting to do everything his big sister does, my son had gunk in his lungs and was admitted to the NICU. It was a lot less stressful for us this time since we knew he would be OK. Again, the staff, especially the nurses, took as good of care of us as they did my son. And what really impressed me was how much they went out of their way to make sure my daughter was comfortable. One nurse spent almost an hour helping MissA get comfortable with first just looking at and later holding her new baby brother, even though he was connected to all kinds of wires. When they found out her birthday was the day after G was born, the nurses got her a balloon from the gift shop and gave her a teddy bear. It was one of the most touching things I’ve ever seen.

Fortunately, the doctors were right. Now 17 months and 3 1/2, G-Man and MissA are perfectly healthy.

now2

This is all my long-winded way of saying I have a special place in my heart for children’s hospitals, and especially for Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. In addition to my kids’ experiences at CHW, my sister is finishing up her 3rd year of residency there, and next year will be a Chief Resident. I also work at Froedtert, and have cause at least once a week to walk through CHW. I’m always touched by the great care I see while also so thankful that (so far) my kids haven’t had to go back.

So, what’s my point? Every Thursday and Friday before Memorial Day for the past 16 years, the local classic rock station, WKLH 96.5, has the Dave & Carole Miracle Marathon for Children’s Hospital. The usual morning show hosts broadcast for 2 days straight – fueled only by coffee and compassion – sharing the stories of the kids this hospital serves. They talk to the parents, the doctors and most of all the kids. These brave little warriors share their stories. Dave & Carole bring back some of the same families year after year. Sometimes it’s the parents returning, even if their children didn’t make it. They sit in the lobby of CHW to broadcast, and nearby is a phone bank of volunteers. You can make a 1-time donation, or join the Miracle Club with a monthly donation. The stories are touching, sometimes hopeful, sometimes heartbreaking, always inspiring.

I joined the Miracle Club a few years before my kids were born, when the idea of having kids someday was just starting to form in my mind. When my motivation was more abstract, more related to my own experiences as a kid than the idea that someday my own hypothnow3etical kids would be patients at CHW. And I admit, when they told us MissA needed to go to the NICU, in the back of my mind it registered that I was glad I’d made that small investment in the care my baby girl would receive. My $25 each month doesn’t make a huge impact on its own. But my money, along with all the other people who donate to the Miracle Club and the Miracle Marathon, combine to add over $1 million each year to CHW’s budget. That goes a long way toward improving the care there. It buys couches for stressed parents to relax on. It pays the salary of Child Life Specialists who help kids adjust to having a serious illness. It funds the lab of the geneticist who does groundbreaking research that solves the puzzle of a seemingly untreatable illness. It’s part of the mix that makes CHW the 4th best children’s hospital in the country.

It buys a balloon as a birthday present for a little girl whose newborn brother is in the NICU.

nowThis blog isn’t asking you to donate to CHW and the Miracle Marathon (although by all means, if you’re inclined, please do). I just wanted to acknowledge this amazing thing this radio station does every year. They don’t have to. But it’s part of the reason they’re my go-to radio station – that and playing awesome music.

I know my little blog is barely a blip on the internet radar, but I still wanted to give Dave and Carole a shout out for this incredible thing they do each year. Most mornings they make me laugh, but during the Miracle Marathon they also make me ache, they make me cry, they make me love.

Most of all, they inspire me.