Welcome Home, Hero. Rest in Peace.

This was not the first military funeral I had attended.  It was the first time I’d been to any funeral that took place 76 years after the deceased had died.  This young man, a kid the same age as my third of five children, has finally made it home to be put to rest with his family in a hero’s ceremony.  Seaman First Class George Anderson Coke, Jr. came home to Arlington today for the first time since he left for boot camp back in 1941.

My friend, Leslie Dorn Barton, is George Coke’s second cousin once or twice removed.  I’m still unclear on all that genealogy stuff.  While I’d like to be able to trace back my family tree, I’m quite unorganized and tend to think circularly rather than in clear straight lines.  Besides, I’ve got aunts and cousins on both sides of my tree who really dig that sort of thing and they actually journal it all. Anyway, Leslie is one of the Special Education teachers who taught my daughter at Sam Houston High School. We became friends over the last couple of years. So naturally, when she mentioned that this funeral was happening today, I told her I’d come.

It’s been hotter than ever all week and I was so relieved when the thunderstorms hit our city last night and it rained until the wee hours this morning.  I donned my black abaya and a gray and black scarf and then headed over to the First United Methodist Church and tried to “blend in” with the Arlington locals.  I know.  I didn’t. The sole Muslim in a sea of mostly older, white, Christian faces.

I listened to the history of George Coke, Jr., son of George Coke, Sr., who was the Chief of Police in Arlington back in the 1920s.  I learned that of the 3,500 American casualties that day in Pearl Harbor, that Arlington lost 48 souls.  My mind wandered, as is the norm during funerals.  Everyone in some way or another is reminded of their own immortality at a funeral.  With military funerals, you are also reminded of all of your family members and friends who also served in the armed forces.  I felt a few tears escape today as I remembered friends who were killed in foreign wars.  I felt a few more tears escape as I offered prayers of thanks and gratitude for those family and friends who returned safely home.

I followed the funeral procession to Parkdale Cemetary. We were escorted by members of the United States Navy and a large number of the Arlington Police Department.  I watched as the sailors, now pallbearers, respectfully carried the remains of their comrade who fell in the line of duty more than half a century before any of them were born.  And the firing of the three volleys, though I knew they were coming, still caught me off guard and those tears of relief that most of my loved ones returned to me fell from my eyes as a silent salute to Seaman Coke and all of the thousands who didn’t.

My heart stirred as I watched the slow and deliberate movements of the sailors folding the flag and the hand off of that folded flag followed by the final salute from Seaman to Non-Commissioned Officer to Officer to Rear Admiral and finally to George Coke, Jr.’s family members.  The spent shell casings from the three volleys, symbolizing duty, honor, and country, were then placed into the hand of the young descendant of Seaman Coke.

A cool breeze gently blew across my face, air-drying the silent tears and leaving my cheeks a little bit sticky.  I hugged Leslie and shook hands with her son, aunt, and mother.  I looked back to see the final resting place of Seaman Coke, under the Live Oak and the Crepe Myrtle trees, beside his mother and father.  Welcome home, hero.  Rest in peace.

 

THIS IS ONLY A TEST!

Like most of the “popular vote,” our family mourned the election results on November 9, 2016. My 11 year old niece was in tears, asking my sister, “But how could HE be elected? He’s mean. How could America elect a bully to be our next President?” Indeed.

She wasn’t the only kid to react this way. I have friends in Florida, North Dakota, Wisconsin, California, Maryland, New York, Georgia, Arizona and everywhere in between who held their children on Wednesday morning, wiping away tears of confusion and disappointment that someone who bullies others in public and on television and LIVES the example of what they are NOT supposed to be, could be elected to lead our country.

I gave myself that Wednesday (and honestly, the following Thursday and Friday, too) to grieve Hillary Clinton’s loss of the election. And then I chose happy.

My sister has a sign in her kitchen that says: Happiness is a Choice. Of course, she keeps that sign on the counter right next to the knife block. So, I guess if you can’t choose happiness, you can always choose the butcher knife. Still, it’s a choice. I chose happy.

Am I happy that Donald Trump is our President-elect? Hell, no. But I am happy to have the next four years to find someone better to run against him in 2020. (Sidetrack: Wouldn’t that be an awesome campaign slogan? JOAQUIN CASTRO FOR PRESIDENT- Because hindsight is 20/20. I digress.)

Look, I am an American Muslim of Irish descent, married to a naturalized Egyptian. We have a disabled daughter and we live under the poverty level and we don’t have health insurance because it’s not offered at my husband’s job and we fall through the cracks of ACA because our dumbass state officials in Texas decided to “show them” and not expand Medicaid….EVEN THOUGH Texans are still federally taxed. So we’re paying for Medicaid in other states and not insuring the poor in our own. I had EVERYTHING to lose in this election. But I’m choosing happy.

My faith teaches me that I must be PATIENT. I can be patient for 4  years of a Trump administration. I can USE that patient 4 years to write letters, investigate and research better qualified Democrat candidates and help to promote them. If we move NOW and are patient through the next 4 years, we can help put forth far better qualified candidates to win in 202o. Hey, you third party voters. PLEASE, do the same. If you in the Green Party and in the Libertarian Party work hard at finding a better candidate NOW….start fund-raising NOW….to get better candidates than Stein and Johnson…..get the monies needed to build up a great campaign 4 years from now…..I’ll bet you have a shot. Hell, you guys come up with someone better than the Democrat nominee and I’ll vote for him or her. But
ALL of you, Democrats, Greenies, and Libertarians: Let’s start NOW. Let’s get out in front
of whatever is coming down the 2020 Republican turnpike and make some serious changes in our government. Start finding mid-term candidates for your congressional representatives now. Put some effort in early so that you can all make our Congress more honest; more representative of US, the voters. They work for us. Make them earn their pay.

This is a test. ONLY a test. Somebody wanted a big shake up and change to the status quo. They got their wish. Let’s take their wish for change a step further and use the next 4 years to work toward true greatness. We’ll have a lot of pieces to pick up. Maybe we can build something new instead of just putting it all back together again. It’s not over. It’s a bump in the road. We can do this.

Gearing Up for Starry Night Prom 2017

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See these bright smiles and happy faces in this photograph? They belong to some of the participants in the Starry Night Prom 2016. Starry Night Prom is a registered Non-Profit 501 (C) (3) organization that annually holds an all expense paid prom for Arlington ISD High School students with significant disabilities. Starry Night Prom is heading into its tenth year of hosting proms for these amazing kids and we want Starry Night Prom 2017 to be better than ever.

Throwing a prom at no cost for the students and their required chaperone requires donations, both money and in-kind. So the Starry Night Prom Vice-President of Donations has decided to start early this year. And our first fundraising event is already set up! With the help of the amazing, tasteful, and trendy: Charming Charlie (located in the Arlington Highlands.)

Charming Charlie is already having an awesome sale this entire Labor Day weekend. Why not do your shopping the first night of their sale to take advantage of their discount prices, fabulous selection, AND help a worthy cause? Think of the great Christmas gifts you can score ahead of the crowds! And don’t you think it’s time you got a new purse for yourself? Charming Charlie has bling, accessories, clothes, shoes, handbags, scarves and more.

How does your shopping help Starry Night Prom? It’s easy. If you show up this Friday, September 2, 2016 between 5:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. and shop, then you mention, “I want to support Starry Night Prom,” to the associate at check out. The associate will key in our special Starry Night Prom Chic Charity Event code into the register and then Charming Charlie will donate 10% of your total purchase price to Starry Night Prom. That’s it.

So, when and where and how is this again?

WHEN:          Friday, September 2, 2016
TIME:             From 5:30 p.m. until 9:00 p.m.
WHERE:        Charming Charlie located at 3901 Arlington Highlands Blvd,

                         Suite 101

                        Arlington, TX 76018

HOW:            Just go to Charming Charlie at the address above. Buy from their entire selection of amazing products and mention STARRY NIGHT PROM to the associate at check out. PLEASE be sure to mention STARRY NIGHT PROM at the beginning of your check out process to ensure that they code the transaction properly so that STARRY NIGHT PROM will receive a donation in the amount of 10% of your total sale.

We at Starry Night Prom thank you in advance for coming out to support our worthy cause. Helping to give an Arlington ISD high school student with significant disabilities the opportunity to enjoy the Prom experience that they might not have been able to have is definitely a reason to smile. Don’t believe it? The proof is in those smiles in the photo above.

 

 

 

 

 

Precipitation-Induced Win

After having had such a busy summer where I felt as though I’d achieved only 10% of the tasks I’d given myself due to the unbearable heat, I feel like all of that has changed today. Why today? you ask. It’s been raining for the last 2 days and, as anyone who knows me can tell you, the rain is my jam.

It’s in the high 80’s now and I don’t feel like I’m trudging through hot mud. I have managed to wash 5 loads of laundry (complete with folding and putting away!) I have disinfected the kitchen sinks and counters after washing up all the “midnight snacks” dishes that TWO OF MY ROTTEN TEENAGERS LEFT FOR ME IN THE SINK! I have already started slow-cooking dinner, made my bed, had breakfast and figured out what my afternoon errand list looks like. Thank you, Rain.

I know that the rain of late has not been kind to our neighbors in Louisiana. Last I read, there were 8 or 9 parishes underwater. I do continue to pray for relief, safety, and a very long dry spell for them. But here in North Texas, I am grateful for the cold front that has brought rain our way.

And for those of you kind-hearted souls who would like to help out those people who have lost their homes, vehicles, pretty much all material possessions due to this flooding, please donate to the American Red Cross by CLICKING RIGHT HERE! Thank you for your kind generosity. 20160817_134925

 

Don’t Touch Me (Breaking Silence)

I have a good friend in Canada who is seemingly my younger twin. She’s also got 5 kids and loves to write…although, Nuala Reilly is published and I’m still aspiring to be. We both blog and we are both passionate about fighting back against this “rape culture” for the betterment of our daughters and sons.

I’ve written about this seemingly overlooked issue in the past that contributes to many boys learning that “she says NO but she really means YES.”  (In attempting to call up that old post in order to link it here, Google sent me to the post that followed that one and not the post itself. Bing didn’t find it at all. Apparently, even search engines don’t give a shit about our women having the right to tell men not to touch us.)

At any rate, I would like to direct your attention to Nuala’s latest post about the same issue. Men (and boys)  need to learn that regardless of how attractive they may find a woman, it is not their right to touch her. The end. Hands off.

Now That I Can Breathe Without Tears

This was my post on Facebook the day following the tragic and brutal assassination of five police officers just 20 miles east of me in Dallas. I thought I would share it here and then expand:

“I spent the better part of last night with my ear glued to the radio. I feel like a giant rock is on my chest, I am so heartbroken that this happened here. And I am bracing myself to hear what weak attempt to link this cowardly and brutal assassination of our police officers to either the “open carry” side or the “stricter gun restrictions” side of the argument.
Our police force is NOT a means to anyone’s political end. These were good people who were hunted by a sniper’s rifle while they protected peaceful demonstrators who were exercising their 1st Amendment rights to express their solidarity with people of the other communities who lost young black men in violent deaths at the hands of a few bad cops.
That said, I also firmly believe that every one of those black men who were killed by police officers throughout this country were also good men whose lives were taken out of the fear, prejudice, bad judgment, overzealousness, incompetence, or power-drunken arrogance of a select group of police officers. Just as black criminals do not represent the entire black population, those bad cops do not represent law enforcement as a whole.
My heart hurts today and I just do not want to deal with Trump or Clinton or anyone else’s politically motivated soundbites to further their own campaigns on the backs of Blue or Black coffins.
‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬
‪#‎BackTheBlue‬
‪#‎UnitedWeStand‬

I am still “in the feels” about all of this. I have been since Trayvon Martin was shot four years ago. I’ve watched from the sidelines and spoken my peace in support of my fellow citizens from within the African-American community. I cannot ever understand how they must feel, having to worry every time their young men step outside the safety of their own homes.

I can only imagine that it is similar to how I feel every September 11th; how I go about my day with my butt cheeks clenched and acid burning a hole in my stomach as I wait for all my children and my husband to return home at the end of that day. How every time there is a shooting, hostage situation, or explosion within our borders the first thing that pops into my mind is, “Dear God. Please don’t let it be a Muslim that is committing this terrible act.” Only this anxiety for my black friends is one that they must endure in the backs of their minds EVERY day and not just annually or during some heinous event.

I want to cry out for them and I want to hug them and I want to scream. I want to be the one who organizes some sort of training program to run through all of the law enforcement academies from coast to coast and make sure that our police officers can learn to see our human sides and not affiliate skin color with criminal capability that crosses all racial lines. How do we turn off that hate? Is there an app for THAT?

I am the person who sees the good in others. I am excited that at my children’s high school on the lower socio-economic side of town, there is a police academy training program where the local community college and police academy choose from our predominately minority population to eventually protect and serve our community. This is affecting positive change in our city. I want this for all the cities. I want to see communities working together to improve the economy; opening and supporting small businesses within the poorer neighborhoods so that money is put back into the community and helping to cut unemployment rates, increase local spending, create pride.

I am not Pollyanna. I know that these things will not solve prejudicial views of all or fear due to racial misunderstandings by law enforcement agents. I know that there is no magic wand to “fix it” in the short term. But I know that what I would like to see happen would definitely contribute to a long-term fix of what’s broke in our country. I will continue to push for education opportunities within my own community. I will continue to teach my own kids empathy, fairness, and to stand on the side of right. I know that the genuinely good people of the United States will continue to do the same. And we can support our brothers and sisters of all skin colors, backgrounds, religions, cultures, and still support our law enforcement officials. I’m going to keep doing my part.

Triggers

I have seen the Stanford yearbook photo of the convicted rapist whose father feels he is being punished too severely for “20 minutes of action” with an unconscious, young woman behind a dumpster. My stomach turns and I fight the nausea that comes in waves along with the memories of fear and disbelief and shock and horror and indescribable panic that I experienced during an attempted rape. It all happened so fast…and in front of his 1 year old daughter who I had come to babysit. She was on the couch and I was sitting on the floor playing solitaire, waiting for him to leave. His girlfriend’s shift started about two hours before his and I had agreed to watch the baby for a few hours each night to help her out. I had known them both for several years. I distinctly remember sitting strategically on the floor in front of the couch so that if the baby decided to get down I could catch her with my body. I remember that I was wearing jeans and a grubby t-shirt because I didn’t have time to go to the laundromat. I was barefoot because it was hot that day and I always took my sandals off at the door. I was bored and wanted to be at my own apartment across the street where my then husband was watching television. But I had agreed to stay with the baby at their place. And I remember thinking, “Why hasn’t he left yet? He’s going to be late for work and then the phone calls are going to start.” You see, he was on house arrest and had a specific number of minutes to get to his job and clock in or his ankle monitor would go off. He had been arrested for robbery. And he wasn’t violent. And I knew him. So I thought I was safe. And I felt him staring at my back. My back that was covered with a baggie t-shirt. And how he managed to jerk my jeans and underpants off and throw me to the floor with only one hand holding my ankles together and over my head while I was pinned to the floor with his body weight was unbelievable. I am a strong woman. I lifted weights in high school and college. I ran track and cross country and have very powerful legs. I forced my feet onto his chest and started to force him off of me. His face was replaced by that of a menacing monster and his fist that was twice the size of mine threatened to break my face if I kicked him. I felt pure fear for the first time that day. My mind raced to his daughter who was sitting on the couch watching this assault unfold in front of her innocent eyes and I started to cry. And I managed to choke out, “I cannot believe you would rape me in front of her” and then the tip of his penis that was already touching my labia was gone. And he pulled up his pants and walked into the back of the apartment. I threw on my underpants and jeans, grabbed the baby  and ran to my apartment across the street. I called her mother from my house and told her that she should call me before she leaves work so that I could bring the baby back home as she got home.  She was upset that I told her I couldn’t watch her anymore. I am sure she felt betrayed by me; leaving her in the lurch having to take off work to find short-notice babysitting that she could afford. And I never told her. And I never told my husband. And I never told a soul…because I knew that my past one-night-stand with the baby’s father that had happened when I was engaged to be married would come out and then my friend would be hurt and my husband would be hurt and I would be labeled a whore and what difference did it make since he was going to go off to prison soon anyway?

It mattered. I lost my friend anyway. I lost my husband anyway. True,  not for the reasons I had imagined, but they were gone nonetheless. And I still find myself afraid in parking garages, storage facilities, elevators with just one male rider. I doubt my ability to make good choices, whether or not turning my back to him to play cards on the floor was an invitation. This was 26 years ago. And I still panic over it. And I wasn’t “actually raped.” And though there was no penetration, I still felt violated and terrified and dirty and ashamed. And in my effort to protect the feelings of others in my life, I never told anyone and ended up carrying this violation, terror and dirt and shame in my soul and mind anyway and it is the reason for my self-doubt on so many occasions.

And I can’t help thinking that if all the Stanford rapist gets is 3-6 months in a county jail, then maybe he’ll end up on the other end of that equation at least once. He won’t make the connection that he is experiencing what she did. He’ll blame her for it. And the Swedes. And the system and probably even the judge who did him the favor of slapping his wrist instead of teaching him the accountability he so desperately needs to be taught. And no one will be any wiser or safer or better for it.

The Beauty in Asking for Help

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We got off to a late start again this year. Several of us had medical issues that affected our family lives that sort of forced us to put Starry Night Prom fundraising on the back burner. But it’s become known to us as “the little Prom that could” and it can.

I started promoting our fundraising website and blogging about past Starry Night Proms that we’ve participated in. I updated the donation letter and the giving levels list and then
added a few photos from Starry Night Prom 2015 to the fundraising site. But I needed my
son to finish recovering from his surgery and get back to school so that I could sleep longer than 3 hours at a stretch and be able to focus my energy on donations and not trying not to drive my car off the road because of the twitch in my eye.

So Saturday afternoon I sat down at my computer and began to send out emails to anyone I could think of that might have an interest in getting this thing off the ground. And on a whim, I contacted a local businessman whose service my husband and I have used on several occasions since moving to Arlington. I explained that I recognized that his company is a fixture in this community and that I see his vans all over the city almost every day while I’m out running my errands. I told him how Starry Night Prom got started
nine years ago and how every expense is paid for by the generosity of others. I asked for help.

Sponsorship to an event such as Starry Night Prom looks different for every donor. Some may donate gently used prom gowns or suits. Our photographer, DJ, and dinner are all sponsored. Sometimes logo-bearing “swag” is donated that we can include in the goodie bags that each student gets to take home; things like pens, hats, cups, refrigerator magnets, lanyards, keychains, stress-squeezers, calendars, etc. Some businesses choose to donate coupons or gift cards. We’ve had restaurants donate a meal for two, a hotel donated one free double-occupancy night, and a university donated a gift basket full of logo-bearing sports gear and free tickets to events…all of these items were raffled off and the monies collected went into the Starry Night Prom fund. And of course, they can choose to make a monetary donation.

Monday morning, Mr Ernie Clevenger, owner of Ernie’s Plumbing, read my email and then clicked on the link to the online fundraiser website. He told me that he enjoyed the bright smiles on the faces of the participants that were featured on the site. He also noticed that we only had three weeks left to meet our goal and we weren’t even halfway there.

Ernie’s Plumbing made it happen and donated the remaining funds to reach our target! His only comment on the website? God is good.

And that is the beauty in asking for help. Because Ernie is right. God IS good. And when you ask for help, He will provide.

****Further donations of goodie bag items for 300+ prom participants are still being accepted for receipt before April 28, 2016.  All donations are appreciated and tax deductible. Please contact me via email at: StarryNightProm@outlook.com  I will gladly provide you with any further information within 24 of receipt of your email. Thank you.

 

 

What Gives People?

Okay, while I’m elated that President Obama won a second term in Office, clearly there are a whole bunch of people who have hurt feelings over the whole thing.  But rather than handle their disappointment at how the election turned out like politically responsible adults, they’re tantrumming and acting out the way a small child does when Mom says, “No, you cannot have candy bars and strawberry soda for breakfast.”

I am pretty sure that when George W. Bush won the election back in 2000, a lot of Democrats were really upset.  But mostly, it was due to the whole Florida/Jeb Bush/voting scandal thing.  But after about a week and a recount that didn’t come out the way that Al Gore wanted it to, they all swallowed hard and accepted that they would just have to come up with a better strategy and/or candidate for 2004.

And they didn’t. And George W. Bush won again. But you know what, that’s okay. Because while he and Congress were busy deregulating banks and making corporations people and continuing to fight two wars that we didn’t really have the money to fight, the Democrats got their stuff together and came up with a few really good candidates and eventually, Senator Barack Obama won that candidacy.  And then he won the election.

He was voted into office in 2008 because the majority of Americans (voting Americans) believed him to be
the better candidate.  Because see?  We Democrats managed to survive eight years of George W. Bush. And while he left a big ole economic, financial, mess behind, we were still here.  Ready to stand up, put on the gloves and pick up shovels and dig ourselves out of the crap.  And in 2012, having made good on a lot of, but not yet all of, his promises, Barack Obama won a second term in office.  He won it. FAIR AND SQUARE.

And maybe it wasn’t because President Obama is the best man for the job. However, the majority of voting Americans decided that he WAS the best man out of the candidates they had to choose from.

Here is where people need to start taking a little responsibility.  I believe that Al Gore was NOT the right candidate for President in 2000. In fact, I voted for George W. Bush in that election.  I didn’t know that much about him then.  I did know enough about Al Gore to believe that he was the wrong man for the job.
Since former President Bush had planes scrambled to bomb the shit out of Afghanistan less than 15 minutes after the bombing of the World Trade Center, far too short a time to determine who was actually responsible for the horrific act, I decided to get to know the candidates a little better before the next election time. You know pay attention to the who’s who of Washington, because Dude! People were DYING….and a lot of them.

I researched who all was running in the primaries…well, most of them. The only one who was worth half a tinker’s damn on the Republican side was Alan Keyes and frankly his tax code ideas started out as a cool new approach….until he started the talk of one or two generations of reparations via tax exemption for African-American of slave heritage.  Also, he began using big words like “socialist experiment” to refer to income taxes. I have issues with elected officials referring to issues with which they don’t agree as “socialist.”
Most of the time, they’re not capable of defining the word socialism. The rest of the Republican candidates looked more like contestants for a possible reality game show that could be called “REAL EGOMANIACS of NARCISSIST CITY.”  Come on!  Rudolph Giuliani?  He was on Saturday Night Live at least four times, not to mention five or six other television shows and several movies.

Romney, Gingrich, McCain, Paul, and Huckabee all fighting each other for the spot light and none making much sense on any issues, in my opinion.  I have no idea what Fred Thompson had upstairs to offer in politics. Frankly, Ronald Reagan should remain our one and only Actor-turned-President.  Besides, I don’t think anyone could watch a State-of-the-Union Address given by Fred Thompson without looking around for Jerry Orbach to read someone his rights. So what was my point again?

Oh, yeah.  The Republican party didn’t have any GOOD candidates groomed for the win in 2008.  Pretty much 2012 was a re-run of the 2008 primaries.  But once that whole Tea-Party thing got a little momentum (and an assload of money from the Koch Bros,) things took a weird turn and I re-registered as a Democrat.

Here is what I’m trying to say:  If you don’t like the outcome, then do something POSITIVE about it.  Like get involved in politics yourself.  You don’t have to run for President if you don’t want to.  But get involved. Find out who the movers and the shakers are within the party you affiliate yourself with.  Stop swallowing headlines spewed out by ANY mainstream news. Find papers from all extremes and from the middle of the road. You want balanced reporting? You’re NEVER going to find it unless you balance it yourself.

Fact check what is said in the Huffington Post (very biased- liberal), on FOX News (ultra-biased Republican), Christian Science Monitor (slightly biased Republican), the New York Times (fair/even most times), the Baltimore Sun (fairly even), Chicago-Sun Times (slightly  biased Republican), Milwaukee Journal (slightly biased Democrat)…or whatever source you get your news from.  You can read the same news items in the Washington Times and in the Washington Post and get two entirely different slants from newspapers located within 5 miles of each other. Check the facts in everything.

But don’t start acting like you cannot  possibly survive a mere four  years until the next election, crying foul and racist remarks or threatening to secede from the nation or trying to run your husband over with a Jeep because he didn’t vote (as though his vote would have mattered since this happened in Arizona which went to Romney ANYWAY! DO YOU PEOPLE EVEN KNOW HOW TO READ???)

Grow up, America. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Get over it. Get up. Come up with a worthwhile candidate who doesn’t hide money or change his stance on issues multiple times in the course of a year and get him elected FAIR AND SQUARE. That’s what responsible adults do.