Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Great Greek Manifesto

A story popped up on my Yahoo homepage early this morning that really troubled me. You may have seen it on CNN as well. It was about the Delta Zeta sorority chapter at Depauw University, where 23 members of the sorority were asked to move into alumnae status because, they allege, nationals felt they did not fit the new image the chapter wanted to present. These 23 young women felt they were placed into one of two categories—overweight or otherwise unattractive, or a minority who didn’t fit in. Of course, the national office gave other reasons for the action, so only those directly involved in the situation will ever really know the truth; the sorority is being reprimanded by the university regardless. You can read the story here.

This story caught my attention for two reasons. I just did a search on Amazon to confirm my first suspicion. I entered “sorority” into the search line and up popped dozens of books, both fiction and non-fiction. Unfortunately, most of them painted sororities and fraternities in a negative light. The most recent book highly publicized by the media at the time was Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities, by Alexandra Robbins, pictured here. Robbins went undercover for the 2002-2003 academic year to investigate the inner workings of sororities. I remember when this book came out, and it sparked my interest at the time, but I never picked it up. Reading the reviews on Amazon now, I’m glad I didn’t. The reviews come from those who’ve participated in Greek life and from those who haven’t, and the disparities, for the most part, are telling. You can read them here.

So is it human nature to attack things you really don’t know much about? Things you consider “secret” or, for whatever reason, aren’t a part of? It seems so in instances like these. So, yes, as you’ve probably already guessed by now, I am an active alumnae member of a Greek organization, the largest female Greek organization in the country for that matter, Chi Omega. Stories like this Delta Zeta issue and books like Robbins’ book do trouble me, because I fully agree that sororities and fraternities are unfairly criticized. For the most part, sororities and fraternities are painted in a negative light by the media, and very wrongly so. Yes, I agree that there is quite a bit of partying, drinking and the things that sometimes follow in Greek life on college campuses; just like there is quite a bit of partying, drinking and the things that sometimes follow on college campuses in general. That’s not “Greek life”; that, unfortunately, is a part of “college life”, Greek or not, on the majority of college campuses in this country. It is a positive part? Of course not, but it’s a fact. What’s also a fact of life on college campuses, one that’s so very rarely reported, are all the good these organizations do, both for the individual members themselves and through the groups’ philanthropic efforts.

Through sororities and fraternities, members learn valuable life lessons. They learn leadership skills, they learn study skills, and they must maintain high academic standards. They learn social skills and how to get along with others they may not normally interact with. Heck, put 40-50 girls living under one roof and see how quickly they have to learn how to get along! Sorority members are not cut from some secret mold. I know that within my sorority, we had all shapes and sizes; we weren’t all thin blondes, as one of the stereotypes goes. Greeks learn how to deal with life in general in a supportive, structured environment that strives to prepare them for success in their futures. Furthermore, they learn the value of community service and volunteerism through their philanthropies. And through that, they learn that every one, no matter their size, ethnic background, color, creed, class, ability or disability, can add something of value to this society.

Can students who don’t participate in Greek life learn these things as well? Certainly, it just takes making an effort to get involved on their campus. (Oh Lord, I think I’ve just stepped up onto my Student Activities soapbox :-). Greeks are involved on their campuses. But my point is, all areas of campus life are exposed to, and may participate in, those negative influences, not just Greeks. We can only hope that they all learn from their experiences, both positive and negative. Wouldn’t it be nice if the media tried to concentrate solely on positive things, just for one day? Sure, that’s not going to make the world’s problems disappear, but it sure would go a long way in reminding us that not everything is doom and gloom. Put on your happy feet and dance once in a while.

One last note: I guess the main reason this really grabbed me is that I’ve been getting more involved in my local alumnae chapter, and last night I had dinner with four other Jacksonville area Chi Omega alumnae. We ranged in age from early 20’s to early 40’s; we were all different sizes, different backgrounds, and different experiences, yet that main Chi Omega commonality brought us to that table and we talked like old friends for more than two hours, with never a lull in the conversation. That’s what Greek life can do: those connections that can be made down the line simply because when you were in college, you pledged the same sorority or fraternity, not at the same time, not even at the same university, but just the same Greek organization that has a strong national presence, like so many do. I wouldn’t trade that or the experiences I’ve had thanks to my involvement in Greek life for anything. And you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be encouraging my daughters to do the same when they go to college.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Laugh of the Day

My family has had dachsunds for as long as I can remember, so this really cracked me up. :-) Thanks, Walter!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Inspiration to End the Week...Olympia's Perfect Timing

Well, I have to admit, I've had one heck of a week. I've been dealing with a student at work who I've been trying to help work through some personal issues (oh...for many weeks now) and, after a very attacking email I received from her Friday morning, I've finalized realized I will never be able to help her, and I'm hanging up my hat on that one. It's discouraging, as I know that I have a gift in working with students, but I just couldn't get through to this one. My sweet Uncle Earl died Wednesday; he was my granddaddy’s brother and was a warm, endearing man loved by all who met him; he will be greatly missed. I’ve also been dealing with additional fallout from my mother's death, seven years ago. Definitely not fun stuff....all I can really say is that we'll have to get a lawyer involved at this point.

However! As the old saying goes that "into each life a little rain must fall", I was reminded Friday afternoon that there are also angels walking on earth to dry up that rain. I think my earth-bound angel is Olympia Milton. I met Lymp three or four years ago, when she was hired as a Student Ambassador in our office. It was right about the time I went out on maternity leave, so I really didn't get a chance to get to know her very well at first. But I certainly heard about her. Jodi, my staff member who was Lymp's supervisor, constantly raved about her in emails to me. Once I came back to work in January 2004, I quickly agreed with Jodi's assessment. Olympia was just a breath of fresh air when you really needed it. Very warm and friendly and thoughtful, on top of being very creative and great at the position we hired her into, she gave the best hugs. At the end of that semester, she decided to run for Student Government Association (SGA) president and was easily elected. I thoroughly enjoyed working with her and had two more years with her as my president.

Last spring Olympia graduated, but we've stayed in close touch ever since. She's currently finishing up her degree in a social services area at the University of North Florida. She and my husband both now jokingly refer to her as our "Black Sheep of the Family". The picture above is of Lymp and me at a restaurant in Little Italy in NYC, where we attended the APCA Leadership Conference. So back to this whole angel on earth thing. Friday was particularly rough. I had received that nasty email from the other student in the morning, and I was back and forth on the phone dealing with the issue stemming from Mom's death all day. Uncle Earl’s viewing was Friday night, followed by the funeral on Saturday morning. About 2:30 Friday afternoon, I received an email from Lymp with the subject line "Thoughtful Note". I hadn't talked to her in a few weeks, so it was a nice surprise. She told me she had been reading my blog (that was a surprise, too, so I guess she'll eventually see this!) and that she just wanted to take a minute to tell me what an inspiration I have been to her ever since she met me. She referred to my post in which I mentioned how hard it's getting for me to travel now, since I miss my girls so much while I'm gone, and went on to thank me for all the time I spent with her on those trips and what they meant to her. She felt she learned so much and was able to become the person she is now because of those trips and the times she's spent with me. While Lymp was my president, my entire board was female, and they nicknamed themselves "Kelly Girls". Lymp said she proudly wears that title to this day since to her it means "being a sophisticated, classy, beautiful woman who raises standards and believes in setting the bar high while also helping others reach that same bar". Talk about perfect timing! At the moment that I truly needed something to brighten my day, up pops this note from Olympia. Now tell me she's not my angel. She's often told me that I am a second mother to her and sometimes signs her notes to me as "Olympia Milton Warren". :-)

I know that I am blessed. I can have some pretty crappy days, and even pretty crappy months, and I've been through some very traumatic events that I would not wish on my worst enemy, but still, I know that I am blessed. I have a wonderful husband, two incredible little redheads, and very special friends and family members (my all time favorite is my 85-year-old Aunt Livy, who my Olivia is named after). I know that even though I also have bad days at work and often have to deal with some unpleasant situations, we all do, and I'm lucky to work in a field that, overall, I truly enjoy. Simply because of people like Olympia. I've had the honor of working with many outstanding students over the years that I've gone on to develop lasting friendships with...like my very first SGA president, David Lapinski, who after 10 years in the finance industry decided that he learned more and was happiest when he was involved on campus as our SGA president. David's now gone back to school and is finishing a master's degree in student affairs so he can do what I do (in addition to expecting his first child with his lovely bride, Ashley!). There are many others: Whitney Pritchard, who like Lymp, is like a daughter to me, and is now my official assistant at all my arts festivals; Brittany Jowers, a former SGA president and great friend of mine who's now in her last year of earning her doctorate in Pharmacy (my only beef with Brit, and David for that matter, is that she went to UF, my Seminole's arch rival :-); and I have a feeling my current president Heather Peck will also become one of those that sticks with me. Heather will graduate this summer, but I've really enjoyed the time I've had with her, and we've had some really special talks about life in general. That's Heather to the right.

I know that there are friends I work with who sometimes read this blog. I hope my friends across the state that have the chance to work with wonderful students like Olympia will take a minute to reflect on all that they've gained from those special students. When you're having a bad day, dealing with a student that is driving you insane, think about those students like Lymp. And for those of you that don't work in education, I'm sure there are people who've crossed your path that have had a positive lasting impression on you. Maybe one of them is your angel on earth.

....okay, I'm done with the mushy stuff for a few days...I'll get back to the fun stuff tomorrow. :-)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Gift of Life

Through my day job, I have the opportunity to meet some truly extraordinary people. Today was one of those days. We had a lecture on campus given by a man named Henri Landwirth, one of the few Holocaust survivors still living today. At 13, Henri and his family were captured by the Nazi's. He was separated from his parents, who were soon killed, and from his twin sister Margot. For five years, Henri was shuffled between five Nazi death and labor camps; from Aushwitz to Matthausen, Gusen I, Gusen II and Ostrowitz. At the end of the war, he and four other prisoners were marched into the woods to be shot, but at the last minute a Nazi soldier decided to spare their lives and told them to run into the woods when the shots were heard.

“It is only a miracle that I am alive today,” says Henri. When the war ended, and amazingly enough after finding his sister, Henri left his native Belgium, working his way over on a freight ship bound for the United States, arriving with just $20 in his pocket. Soon after he settled in New York, he received a letter from the President of the United States. At first, Henri believed the President was welcoming him to America. It was actually a draft notice. Consider the irony. After serving in the United States Army and learning English, Henri used his G.I. benefits to take a course in Hotel Management and landed a position in a New York City hotel, taking the opportunity to learn every job in the hotel industry.

Henri moved to Florida in 1954, and soon managed the 100-room Starlight Motel in Cocoa Beach, near Cape Canaveral. Space exploration was in its early stages and the original Mercury Seven Astronauts made the Starlight Motel their temporary residence. During this time, Henri developed friendships with the Astronauts, as well as the legendary newsman Walter Cronkite, that continue today.

Now retired, and turning 80 next month, Henri had a very successful 50-year career in the hotel industry. His career spanned the wide spectrum of positions from bellboy to management to ownership of many successful Central Florida hotels. For the last 20 years, he has devoted himself to improving the lives of those in need. He's founded several wonderful organizations, including Dignity U Wear and Give Kids the World. Henri wrote the book Gift of Life which details his life and the works of these charitable organizations. The book is available through the Give Kids the World gift shop here.

We had about 150 students in attendance at this lecture and they truly seemed inspired by his story of overcoming obstacles and forgiving the soldiers who kept him captive and killed his parents. He pulled his shoe off during the program and asked a student to read what he had permanently written inside. It said, "Make every step one of forgiveness". The students here have started a student organization which they hope to turn into a national movement based on Henri's inspiration. I'll keep you updated on their progress. For now, I hope Henri's life and message inspire you.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Speaking of Dogs...I Needed this Laugh Today!

Got this note from a friend today and it cracked me up....

I was in Wal-Mart buying a large bag of Purina for my dogs and was in line to check out. A woman behind me asked if I had a dog........ Duh! I was feeling a bit crabby so, on impulse, I told her, "No, I'm starting The Purina Diet again, although I probably shouldn't because I ended up in the hospital last time. But I did lose 50 pounds before I awoke in an intensive care unit with tubes coming out of most of my orifices and IV's in both arms." Her eyes about bugged out of her head.

I went on and on with the bogus diet story and she was totally buying it. I told her that it was an easy, inexpensive diet and that the way it works is you load your pockets or purse with Purina nuggets and simply eat one or two every time you feel hungry. The package said the food is nutritionally complete, so I was going to try it again. I have to mention here that practically everyone in the line was by now enthralled with my story, particularly the tall guy behind her. Horrified, she asked if something in the dog food had poisoned me and was that why I ended up in the hospital. I said no.....I'd been sitting in the street licking my butt when a car hit me. I thought the tall guy was going to have to be carried out the door.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A New Addiction...ACEO

What the heck is ACEO, you ask? ACEO stands for "art cards editions and originals". I've been checking them out lately and became fascinated and then quickly addicted. They are little miniature works of art, the size of a standard baseball trading card, 2 1/2" x 3 1/2". I bought this one today on ebay. Can you believe the detail in this little gem? And can you believe that what you are seeing here is pretty close to actual size? Amazing! The artist is Lara Harris. You can see more of her work here. I spent a lot more on this one than I normally would, but I just kept going back to it, and then going back to it again. Just couldn't resist. You can start your own ACEO collection by searching ebay here. And did I already say these incredible works of art are the size of a baseball card?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Bag, Borrow, Steal....

I stumbled across "Bag, Borrow, and Steal..." on Glamour.com. What a concept! For a monthly membership fee, you can borrow top designer handbags and accessories for a month or longer. Love that new Coach bag but not up to spending $400 on a handbag? (I know my husband would kill me!) Borrow it for a while! Looking for the perfect over the top bauble for a special night out? You can borrow that too, without a second mortgage on the house. The site includes thousands of designers to choose from, with different levels of membership. Very cool! Check it out at www.bagborrowsteal.com

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Behind the Camera: We're Working Hard!

Ya know, my production team really has been working hard lately! Sarah and Livvie surprise me more and more every day. We've been working on those fine motor skills. :-) Both are getting pretty good at stringing larger beads onto wire at this point, so we'll have them doing fine sterling wire-work in no time! We'll have new items posted for you very soon!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Valentine for Mothers and their Children

I received this poem in an email, so I don't know the author, but it really touched me. I thought it was the perfect tribute to Moms and their children for Valentine's Day. The pictures included are of my mom; Mom, me, and my sister Kim, Christmas 1999; and my family for my sister's 1st birthday.

The young mother set her foot on the path of life. “Is this the long way?” she asked. And the guide said, “Yes, and the way is hard. And you will be old before you reach the end of it…But the end will be better than the beginning.” But the young mother was happy, and she would not believe that anything could be better than these years. So she played with her children, and gathered flowers for them along the way, and bathed them in the clear streams; and the sun shone on them, and the young mother cried, “Nothing will ever be lovelier than this.”

Then the night came, and the storm, and the path was dark, and the children shook with fear and cold, and the mother drew them close and covered them with her mantle, and the children said, “Mother, we are not afraid, for you are near, and no harm can come.” And the morning came, and there was a hill ahead, and the children climbed and grew weary, and the mother was weary. But at all times she said to the children, “A little patience and we are there.” So the children climbed, and when they reached the top, they said, “Mother, we would not have done it without you.” And the mother, when she lay down at night looked up at the stars and said, “This is a better day than the last, for my children have learned fortitude in the face of hardness. Yesterday I gave them courage. Today, I've given them strength.”

And the next day came strange clouds which darkened the earth, clouds of war and hate and evil, and the children groped and stumbled, and the mother said, “Look up. Lift your eyes to the light.” And the children looked and saw above the clouds an everlasting glory, and it guided them beyond the darkness. And that night the Mother said, “This is the best day of all, for I have shown my children God.”

And the days went on, and the weeks and the months and the years, and the mother grew old and she was little and bent. But her children were tall and strong, and walked with courage. And when the way was rough, they lifted her, for she was as light as a feather; and at last they came to a hill, and beyond they could see a shining road and golden gates flung wide. And mother said, “I have reached the end of my journey. And now I know the end is better than the beginning, for my children can walk alone, and their children after them.”

And the children said, “You will always walk with us, Mother, even when you have gone through the gates.” And they stood and watched her as she went on alone, and the gates closed after her. And they said, “We cannot see her but she is with us still. A mother like ours is more than a memory. She is a living presence.......”

Your Mother is always with you.... She’s the whisper of the leaves as you walk down the street; she’s the smell of bleach in your freshly laundered socks; she’s the cool hand on your brow when you’re not well. Your mother lives inside your laughter. And she’s crystallized in every tear drop. She’s the place you came from, your first home; and she’s the map you follow with every step you take. She’s your first love and your first heartbreak, and nothing on earth can separate you. Not time, not space…not even death.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Behind the Camera: Growing up Too Fast

I had to work this past weekend taking my students to the annual student government conference, FJCCSGA, in St. Petersburg. Great trip! One of my students was elected the 2007-2008 state FJCCSGA president, and my SGA president and I had a chance to visit the Ringling Museum during our Saturday afternoon break. Truly breathtaking artwork, with a current traveling exhibit featuring 5,000 years of jewelry. If you are ever within a couple hours of Sarasota, Ringling is definitely worth a visit. Business traveling's getting harder and harder as each day I hate being away from my girls. Seems like I'm gone for four days and they grow an inch! This is one of my all-time favorite pictures of them, as it brings be back to those baby days. They used to love napping in their daddy's hammock. Now they just want to swing each other in it...

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Life is Measured by the Moments We Take Away

Are you an animal lover? I am! I received this story via email from a friend and absolutely fell in love with it...A baby hippopotamus that survived the tsunami waves on the Kenyan coast formed a strong bond with a giant male century-old tortoise in an animal facility in the port city of Mombassa. The hippopotamus, nicknamed Owen and weighing about 650 pounds, was swept down Sabaki River into the Indian Ocean, then forced back to shore when tsunami waves struck the Kenyan coast on December 26, before wildlife rangers rescued him.

"It is incredible. A-less-than-a-year-old hippo has adopted a male tortoise, about a century old, and the tortoise seems to be very happy with being a 'mother'," ecologist Paula Kahumbu, who is in charge of Lafarge Park, told AFP. "After it was swept and lost its mother, the hippo was traumatized. It had to look for something to be a surrogate mother. Fortunately, it landed on the tortoise and established a strong bond. They swim, eat and sleep together," the ecologist added. "The hippo follows the tortoise exactly the way it follows its mother. If somebody approaches the tortoise, the hippo becomes aggressive, as if protecting its biological mother," Kahumbu added. "The hippo is a young baby; he was left at a very tender age, and by nature, hippos are social animals that like to stay with their mothers for four years," he explained.

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away. This story shows that our differences don't matter much when we need the comfort of another. We could all learn a lesson from these two creatures of God: “Look beyond the differences and find a way to walk the path together." "Much of life can never be explained but only witnessed."- Rachel Naomi Remen, MD

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

World's Best Shoe Shopping!

Well, I finally gave in to the low-profile sneaker craze. Because my 9 1/2's aren't exactly small, I've always been afraid this style of sneaker would exaggerate that, but I was wrong! I just got these two pairs (gotta love that buy one, get one 50% off sale) and have worn one or the other all day for the past three days and I have to admit they are some of the most comfortable shoes I've ever worn. (Well okay, except for my $16.99 Payless specials I bought when I was pregnant and still wear around the house to this day. If my sister Kim is reading this, she'll know exactly the pair I am talking about...) My husband is already referring to my new sneaks as my bowling shoes, but hey, what we won't do for fashionable comfort, huh? Though he has mentioned that two of his friends have a pair (and they are rather fashionable friends, for guys). If you haven't discovered Zappos, it's the internet's best, and in my humble opinion, THE best for shoe shopping. Free shipping AND free returns on more than two million pairs of shoes! Check them out right here!

Monday, February 5, 2007

Update on Donna and Gabi: Good News!

Checked in with Jennie this weekend to see how Donna and Gabi are doing. Good news! Gabi is back in school and doing great. Donna's progressing well too. (For initial details on Donna and Gabi, see my "What Matters Most" post.) Here's what Jennie had to say: "Hi Kelly! All is well here. Thanks for checking in about Donna. She is doing better and better each week. She went to the doctor on January 8th and they, unfortunately, did not remove the halo. Needless to say she was devastated. Two weeks later one of the screws came loose again and she had to go in for a tightening, which is very painful. They were unable to tighten the halo any furthur without going into the skull, which in turn would have caused major infections. THEY TOOK IT OFF THAT DAY!!! However, she is in a plastic collar for about 8 weeks. She is trying to do more now. She cooked dinner two days last week and she is cooking today. She is in the car each day with her mom as her mom drives the kids to school. She actually even went to Bealls for a little needed shopping. Her spirits are high and low. Mostly high. She is grateful, but is now figuring out some limitations that she thought may be just a problem due to the halo and harness. I have no doubts that she will overcome most of them with continued day to day activities. She expresses to me weekly how lucky I am to have such good friends that also reached out to her and her family in BIG ways." Donna's church is still accepting donations to help them with them medical costs. If you'd like to make a donation, email me and I'll send you the information.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Recycle your Running Shoes!

Just looked at my calendar and realized I have four arts festivals in an eight week span between Feb 17 and April 15! Yikes! I have to get back down to the workbench this weekend. Sarah's been keeping me up nights with her late night playing (we're talking all hours of the night pulling apart her room playing with whatever she can get her hands on...the child does not sleep...while Livvie calmly watches from her bed probably wondering why the heck her sister is so engrossed when she's trying to get her beauty rest) so I've been trying to get to bed early. But I have now at least cleaned out all of the girls old tennis shoes that no longer fit! Did you know that Nike has a "reuse-a-shoe" program? They will take all your old tennis shoes, basically anything rubber, no matter the brand, and recycle them into playgrounds and other such things. If you are a recycle queen like me, this is a Godsend. I always hate throwing away my worn out running shoes, thinking of them creating another massive landfill (I have really big feet. ;-) Learn how to recycle your shoes here!

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Perky the Lucky Duck

Hi All! I got this info from Garnet and Gold, Tallahassee's only locally owned shop for FSU apparel. This little duck went from her migratory flight seeking the warm climate of Florida to being shot, retrieved by a dog, hung upside down, assumed dead and put in a refrigerator. However, two days later when the hunter’s wife opened the refrigerator, the duck, now named Perky, lifted her head and looked up at her. The hunter’s wife immediately called her daughter to take the duck to the vet, which directed her to Goose Creek Wildlife Sanctuary, Inc. (GCWS.) Perky had an infection in her broken wing, a broken leg and pellet wounds.

But this little duck wouldn’t give up. This past weekend, Perky was stable enough to undergo surgery to place a pin in her wing. During her surgery, she had stopped breathing not once, but twice, and with a heavy heart, the attending veterinarian pronounced her dead. About 10 seconds later, Perky shocked everyone by inhaling deeply and once again began breathing on her own. Under the care of GCWS she is resting and recovering from her injuries.

Since it is unlikely Perky will be able to be returned to the wild, upon completion of her recovery, GCWS will evaluate her progress and place her in a permanent facility with natural habitat so she can live her life as normal as possible. As Dr. Hale, a veterinarian at Cross Creek Animal Hospital said, “This is an extremely tough duck with a lot of spirit to live.” She’s a very lucky duck! Once her story was heard, she became famous around the world.

Here’s your chance to show your support! For a minimum contribution of $16, you can have your very own “Lucky Duck” t-shirt. 100% of the proceeds from the sale of this shirt will go directly to wildlife rehabilitation expenses. Goose Creek Wildlife Sanctuary, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of wildlife. They are staffed entirely by volunteers and operating from donations and fundraisers. All financial contributions to help this lucky duck and other wildlife’s recovery expenses are greatly appreciated. Click here to order your shirt!