No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

school-houseI have a confession to make, and I hope you won’t think any less of me:

I really do not enjoy volunteering in my kids’ schools!

You’re thinking, “What’s wrong with her?!?! What an ungrateful, unloving, uninterested mother!”, right? Well, if you’re not thinking it, I’m thinking it enough for both of us …

For the last twelve years, I have volunteered in a variety of capacities: stuff Wednesday folders, help kids select books at the school library, run an activity at the class party, buy the teacher gift, make copies of newsletters, serve as the Class Parent, go on field trips, organize an activity for Field Day, chaperon play rehearsals, help out at school registration, bake, buy and bring in treats galore.

Writing it all out makes it seem like I’m gunning for Volunteer of the Year. But, the reality is that I strictly limit what I say yes to and volunteer far, far less than many parents. 

I still don’t like the experience that much.

And, right now, I’m in the midst of Volunteer Hell.

I signed up to be a parent liaison for a Kids Night Out scheduled for this Friday. I purposefully chose to help out with this particular activity as (1) it’s been held before – no need to start from scratch; (2) the Night is suppossed to be organized and run by students - parents are in the background and help only as needed/requested; and (3) it’s a discrete task that has a definite end point (by Friday night at 10:00 pm)

Did you know that, as of the moment I’m writing this, there are exactly 61 hours and 30 minutes until Friday night at 10:00 pm?

I won’t bore you with the details of how this has turned out to be a such a pain in the @)# that I’m keeping a running countdown in my head. Suffice to say there are about a dozen cooks in the kitchen (not an exaggeration), literally hundreds of emails that have flown back-and-forth from said cooks, student “leaders” who have disappeared into a black hole, and, incredibly, few details worked out notwithstanding six weeks of communication about the event. And only 2.5 days remain. 

As a Wise Friend suggested, I’m planning an “Elaine Day Out” to help erase this experience from my memory. And posting the cynical “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished” mantra to my office wall in case I get tempted again to do anything more than bake cupcakes.

61 and 20 minutes to go …

Money Down the Drain

14sign_roadAs I was driving through town last week observing the many political signs placed in front of homes, businesses and schools, I started thinking, as I had two years ago, about the expense of running an election. One of the high profile spenders was from my state, Linda McMahon, who spent $50MM on her bid to become Senator.  Meg Whitman of eBay fame vying for the California governership, spent almost 120 million, $47 for each vote that she received.  Both women lost.  And oh, how that money could have been spent more wisely.

Almost four billion dollars were spent on political campaigns for the mid term elections.  That money could have gone such a long way in supporting education programs, community programs, feeding the homeless.   I would be thrilled if our political candidates could get their message out via media sources, public rallies and debates only.  After all, a poster in a yard or a postcard in the mail with a couple of sound bytes doesn’t tell me much about the candidate anyways.  When it comes down to it, I receive my most informative and actionable details for what shapes my thinking through the media, my friends, and public appearances by the candidates – not their many off colored commercials and direct mail.

Has anyone had these same thoughts?

Shoe On The Other Foot

USA_ballot_boxIt’s the morning of the mid-term elections and, if the media are to be believed, my political party is poised to get its ass kicked.

What a difference two years make!

I remember waking up on Election Day 2008 with excited anticipation. One way or the other, history was going to be made that day in the presidential election. And the tea leaf-readers (NOT the Tea Party-lovers) were suggesting my candidate was going to win. In the days following the election, I blogged about the euphoria over the election results at my workplace, as well as my empathy for those whose candidate lost and had to put up with the celebration going on around them.

Now, the shoe is definitely on the other foot! I’m the one who will need the empathetic hug when tomorrow’s headlines crow about the Democrats’ crushing defeat.

I have found myself looking askance (or avoiding!) the media reports that led up to today. In my kill-the-messenger moments, I wonder if the media’s doomsayer coverage has fed the frenzy and hastened the downfall of Democratic candidates.

But, then again, I realize that the Obama administration and the Democrats have brought this defeat upon themselves. They have been so busy governing these last two years that politicking (for the most part) was shoved to the back burner.

And, you know, I’m really OK with that choice, even if it results in election losses today. I’d rather stand on the side of those who worked to overhaul our broken healthcare and financial systems and lost, than be on the “winning” side of those who served as obstructionists and for the last two years.

But, I may still need a hug tomorrow …

Restoring Sanity or Pulling a Fast One?

rally-to-restore-sanityWhen I first heard about Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity, I was intrigued and maybe a bit excited. The rally – scheduled to occur in Washington, DC next month – promised to be an event for those “who feel that the loudest voices shouldn’t be the only ones that get heard.”

A thought-provoking, non-name-calling gathering of concerned yet reasonable people? Now that’s my kind of event!

Or, is it?

I am less enthused now that Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert has announced his “March to Keep Fear Alive” on the same day. Are these competing marches – clearly a response to Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor Rally last month – simply condescending publicity stunts done in poor taste?

What happened to the more evenhanded approach suggested by Stewart’s original premise?

Protest rallies and marches are a regular occurrence in our nation’s capital. I’ve lived here for 25 years, and there’s been only one cause that got me off my couch and marching to the Lincoln Memorial: the demand to end homelessness back in the 1980′s.

Despite my loathing of large crowds, I initially planned to spend a precious weekend day and join the throngs of other reasonable people who object to the direction the vocal majority wants to take our country.

But, I’m not willing to be part of charade which scorns and mocks that vocal, conservative majority.

What’s your take on the events planned for 10/30/10?

15 Minutes of Fame = Foreign Relations Firestorm

koranWhat do you get when you mix the power of the Internet, a pastor seeking his 15 minutes of fame and an emotion-laden anniversary for our country? A looming international crisis instigated by ONE man’s words and misguided plans.

Pastor Terry Jones is capturing headlines this week with his threat to burn the Koran – the holy book that is the central religious text revered by Muslims – in a public bonfire on 9/11. Pastor Jones is the head of a 50-member evangelical Christian church in Gainesville, Fla..

Concern is so great that Gen. David Petraeus, who heads up NATO forces in Afghanistan, has warned that Pastor Jones’ reckless actions could touch off an international firestorm, provoke radical Muslims, and risk the lives of U.S. troops.

Loathe to give this intolerant man and his idiotic plan an iota more of publicity, I hesitated in writing this post. But, then I recognized that the Internet also can be used to foster tolerance and respect. So, here’s a way we Wise Women can chip away at the narrow-mindedness.

Take a minute, if you will, to read a little about the history and meaning of the Koran, along with its relationship to Christian literature. Browse a translation of The Koran itself and look at its poetical verses.

This exercise is not intended to challenge any one’s belief system or promote religious conversion. It’s simply an effort to open our minds and learn more about a much maligned faith.

As Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” I wish the Pastor Jones of the world spent a little more time studying the Ancient Greeks and less time screeching into the nearest microphone.

Laws Are Like Sausages …

sausage-makingTwenty years ago, my first job out of graduate school was lobbying for an organization that promoted better mental health policy and treatment. (Note: Since we lobbied for a social cause versus a for-profit business, we referred to ourselves as advocates, not lobbyists. The only practical difference though was that advocates were paid peanuts while lobbyists ate peanuts as they flew around on corporate jets.)

It did not take me long to discern the truth behind the old adage “Laws are like sausages – it is better to not see them being made.”

With the onset of the Internet and consumer-directed marketing, I’m convinced that the sausage-like legislative process has taken a decided turn for the worse.

On my way home yesterday I heard a radio ad urging listeners to contact Congress and request that Boeing be awarded the contract to build the next generation of aerial refueling tankers for the U.S. Air Force. There’s a website – – that touts the benefits of Boeing-built tankers versus the other company that’s competing for the $37 billion contract.

So, let me get this straight: Boeing is asking us – Joe the Plumber and Elaine the Blogger – to weigh in on as to which company should be awarded this ginormous contract of great significance to our national security.

Hmmmm …  What sage advice or insight can I offer Congress and the U.S. Air Force as they consider the pros and cons of the competitive bids? Do my business and social work degrees give me ANY credibility to voice an opinion on aerial refueling tankers?

Uh, that’s a no. Actually, it’s a “Hell, no!”

I’m all for grassroots input, community organizing and transparency in government. But, Boeing’s campaign strikes me as the big bad business wolf masquerading in sheep’s clothing (aka the democratic process we hold so dear).

Anyone else hear this type of ad? Is it only a phenomenon in the DC area? All I know is that listening to Boeing’s manipulation of marketing to the American public irritated the hell out of me. And, that hot and bothered feeling was due to more than the 101 degree reading on my car thermometer.

Flash What?

777px-union_square_new_york1From Guest Blogger Sonya:

Recently, a friend/co-worker told me about a challenge that he and his sister gave each other to grow and do things that have always been on their never-ending to-do lists, yet never seem to make the time for.  I’m sure this sounds familiar to many of us.  Life has a way of sucking up time in the most routine daily life matters.  I was intrigued by Brendan’s journey, particularly when he told me that this month his sister challenged him to put together a “flash mob.”  Flash mobs are events displayed in public places that appear to start and end in a totally random fashion yet are actually coordinated and organized.  You may recall seeing an event in Grand Central Station several years ago that made it’s way to YouTube.  Suddenly at a precise moment hundreds of people in Grand Central froze for a  minute and once the minute was over, resumed what they were doing and where they were headed.

This past week was Gay Pride week and to honor this, Brendan, who is also an accomplished dancer, organized his own flash mob in Union Square of NYC.  He choreographed a central dance for a group of friends and had several others randomly join in during the 5 minute event culminating in a large group effort.  Once the music ended, everyone moved through the square as if nothing had happened and people watching were left looking for more and wondering what had just happened.  Many people applauded the impromptu entertainment.   To orchestrate this event, Brendan provided many participants with training videos on line and rehearsals with his core group.  You can see his efforts in the link attached (Click here).

What out there is important to you that you are putting off until tomorrow?

Meet Inspiration: Dr. Jim Yong Kim

inside-banner9Elaine and I were together this past weekend at our husbands’ 25th College Reunion, a wonderful weekend of reconnecting with dear friends. I must say I walked away from the weekend being overwhelmingly impressed with the man who is now at the helm, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, 17th President of Dartmouth College and just finishing his first year.

I didn’t know much about him before we were treated to an hour long presentation, where I was literally blown away by not only his credentials, but his passion, integrity and leadership that has this venerable institution primed for ongoing success over the next several years.

He has led a blessed life, and those he has touched are richer for it.  Noted as one of Time Magazine’s top 100 most Influential People in the World, and US News and World Report’s “America’s 25 Best Leaders,” he is a physician, an anthropologist, humanitarian and educator. He co-founded a global health organization, Partners in Health, which has been addressing global health concerns in developing nations for years.  Prior to accepting this post at Dartmouth he was the Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School; Chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and Director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health.  I must say I left his presentation not only feeling inspired, but also a bit inadequate.

The one thing that impressed me more than anything is the anthropological influence that is anchored in his approach to issues – and understanding that the core of being a good human being is at the heart of the matter.  To be a good person, a conscientious and concerned person, a person who will do their best to make a difference – is the type of student he wants to have a hand in shaping.

He shared a quote from a past Dartmouth President – John Sloane Dickey – which was as follows:

“The world’s troubles are your troubles … and there is nothing wrong with the world that better human beings cannot fix.”

As he came across this quote during the Presidential search process, he inquired of the search committee if this was the mission that they wanted him to tackle.  As he stated, he could think of no better calling then to help guide and influence young people to be at their best.

From just this hour long glimpse into his actions and his vision, I can tell his presence on campus produces a ripple effect of inspiration.  You want to be on his team.  He spreads himself across all important facets of college life, whether that is setting hard reaching academic challenges, inspiring the athletic teams to be their best or reminding the Greek system of their social responsibilities, while celebrating the enduring life long friendships that are being created every day.

What he has accomplished thus far, is an embodiment of a quote from another past Dartmouth President, William Jewett Tucker:

You will not make a very strong impression on the world without the use of an equal amount of conscious and heart.”

That to me is a quote to live by.

One Picture = 1,000 Words

oil-duckThis image haunts me.

When I first saw the disturbing photo on the front page of The Post, I gasped. The enormity of the oil spill in the Gulf finally hit home.  My heart still beats fast every time I see this soon-to-be iconic shot by AP photographer Charlie Riedel; it makes me want to DO something to help with the clean-up and deal with its catastrophic aftermath.

So yesterday, after hearing the various sound bites of politicians castigating BP execs on Capitol Hill (and what exactly did all that blustering accomplish anyway?!?), I was motivated to act. I looked up a few of the wildlife rescue organizations which are busily helping the situation versus playing the blame game. My intention was to donate to their worthy efforts.

I started with the the International Bird Rescue Research Center as I had seen their staff clean off oil-covered birds on CNN. What I discovered was that, while the IBRRC accepts donations, its web site specifically says that BP is expected to cover the cost of the Gulf clean-up, and money raised would go to IBRRC’s other operations.

I was impressed by the non-profit’s forthrightness and willingness to put donors on notice that their money would not be headed toward the Gulf region. Since I wanted to feel like I personally was making a difference through my donation, I kept looking for a wildlife organization that could use my money for the Gulf.

I headed over to the National Wildlife Federation to check out NWF’s Gulf Oil Spill Restoration Fund. Donations to the Fund support:

  • Development and deployment of the National Wildlife Federation’s Gulf Surveillance Teams, a volunteer network that is being organized to monitor the coast for wildlife impacted by the oil spill.
  • Restoration of vulnerable nesting and breeding grounds, as well as other delicate ecosystems found throughout the Gulf Coast for water birds, sea turtles and other animals.
  • Public education about the oil spill and its impacts on wildlife, including informing the press and others about the impacts the oil spill is having on coastal communities and wildlife.
  • Policy work at the national and state level to support restoration of habitat in the Gulf Coast and better protection of our waters and coastlines.

Sounds like what I was looking for. I clicked on the donation button. After I was done with the process, I circled back to IBRRC‘s site and made a donation there, too. I rarely (OK, never) give to environmental causes, but this oil-covered duck really got to me.

I now feel slightly less powerless as I hear and watch the overwhelming news and images coming out of the Gulf. Only slightly less, but, hey, it helps.

How have you reacted to the Gulf oil spill?

Tell Us What You Really Think … Unless There’s A Videocamera Nearby

Helen-ThomasWhenever I spend time around older Wise Women, I’m always struck by their wilingness to say it like it is. I may not LIKE what they’re saying, but I respect that their views are based upon the life experience they’ve gained from living many years on this earth. In fact, the ability to speak one’s mind uncensored is one of the true benefits of aging.

That is, of course, unless you live in the age of the worldwide Internet, there’s a video camera capturing your words, and you speak politically unpopular opinions.

That’s what happened to Helen Thomas, 89-year old veteran White House reporter, who just quit after the uproar over her remarks about Israel. Thomas, who is of Palestinian descent and was walking to a White House event celebrating Jewish heritage, stopped to talk to someone toting a videocamera and asking for her advice to young journalists. As you can see from the original clip on, she is then asked if she has any comments about Israel. Her response: “Tell them to get the hell out!” followed by a brief elaboration of her remark.

Helen Thomas is now person non gratis in Washington circles. The White House rebuked her. Her press corp colleagues quickly distanced themselves. A high school disinvited her from speaking at their graduation ceremony This will change, of course, as our country has an attention span of 60 seconds and an  even shorter “forgive and forget” rate. It also helped that Thomas issued an apology on her web site.

Certainly, the “rule” of being able to speak freely in one’s golden years was turned on its head with this incident. What’s your take on Helen Thomas’s remarks and the national reaction? Does watching the actual video clip of the exchange affect your opinion?

Simplicity, clarity, singleness: these are the attributes that give our lives power and vividness and joy.
Richard Holloway

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