Surviving the Holidays: Remembering loved ones

i miss you holiday banner

As a child, Christmas was my favourite. I loved the decorations and spending time with my family, especially my mother and grandmother. Growing up, I loved them both equally. My mother was fun and loving and often like a big sister, while my grandmother and I were close like a mother and daughter.

Last year was the first Christmas without my Grandmother; she died on January 14th 2013. We came home from the hospital to a house that still had lights and a tree. Almost two years have gone by, and I cry when I say that she has died.

Facing the holidays without a loved one is terrible, but it becomes so much more so when the relationship was centered on that holiday. To say that our relationship centered on Christmas sounds strange, but it’s true.

Growing up, Christmas was my favourite time of year. My mother and I would spend days decorating our house and then days decorating my grandmother’s house. Both would be trimmed head to toe in Christmas lights (you never saw a lamp or overhead light on in December). There were big holiday dinners and lots of time spent with family.

I have, in my brain, our entire family history through Christmas ornaments. Whose mother-in-law it came from, how many generations back we’ve owned it. My knowledge of Christmas extends into my knowledge of our family history as well, since every time we went hunting for an ornament or rearranged for the holidays, photo albums came out and I was taught every person’s face, even if it was just an uncle’s friend who came for dinner that one time. My Grandmother and mother shared with me during these times not only the history of our Christmas ornaments but family history.

I’m lucky: my first Christmas without my grandmother came right after a major life change involving relocation and was the first Christmas with a significant other. Even though it had been a year since her death, I was still heartbroken and in that year, my Christmas changed completely. Instead of a big sit down dinner on Christmas Eve, I have an aunt who hosts the same family members but in a different house and with appetizers, and goodies galore. Christmas last year sparked the beginning of a new tradition with my other half – we agreed Christmas Eve for my family, Christmas Day for his grandmother and Boxing Day with his mother.

For some people, so much change following a loss can leave you feeling more lost. For me, the only way to enjoy Christmas was remove from it so many of the ties to the past. And yet, I still hold onto bits and pieces.

I recently purchased a set of Christmas ornaments off eBay that match a set my grandmother had. Through the long journey of finding the ornament, I was once again back in her living room, being told this history of the ornaments. Instead of colourful people stories of where they came from, the stories I learned this year were about brands and dates. I discovered things about my grandmother that I didn’t know. Like that she preferred a certain brand of ornaments.

I’ve been told by family and friends that I’m lucky I got so much of my Grama. That she shared stories about herself and her family, about growing up and her life with me so easily should make me feel blessed. And it often does.

My grandmother’s decorations were scattered. Pieces here and there. I see them now and then, and I may tear up but I hold fast. The bulk of the tree ornaments have been stored by my mother until she moves into a larger space where a full tree can be erected. Some people hate that they can’t see my grandmother’s tree again in one piece. To them, the tree is a centrepiece to their childhood happiness that they miss and they wish we could rebuild it each year for everyone to enjoy.

For me, I am glad that they are the way they are. I wish they were mine, on my tree. I so selfishly wish that everything she owned belonged to me. But the truth is, I am glad that we all got a part of her. I am glad that the ornaments will never stand together on one tree. Because even if we kept her tree, and placed every ornament on it, it would never be whole. The tree would always be lacking the heart and soul of it. The voice telling you what ornament belongs where and who bought it for whom.

As the years go by, we will all build our own families. Spouses, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. Nieces, nephews, and great ones too. We will take our ornaments, and our small piece of her and build up our lives. Our trees will all have heart and soul. And one day, we will be the voice telling the children what ornament belongs where and who bought it for whom.

—- Jane

 

Surviving the holidays when your religious beliefs are different from your family’s

christmas and different religious beliefs

I was going to write this entire background to how I got to where I am now with my family and life, but it occurred to me that the how isn’t important (or indeed what you’re really interested in hearing about) it’s the what I’ve learned that matters. So, here for you, are my tips on surviving the holidays when you’ve got a different religion/belief system/outlook on the universe to the rest of your family. My traditions and beliefs differ a great deal from my family – so I’ve been there!

Give your family time to get used to the fact that your ideals differ.

For me, it was a very gradual process and it has taken a good 15 years to bring them from the initial accepting that I would not go to mass with them to getting mum to join me in a Midwinter ritual last year. Chances are, unless you are converting for your romantic life partner (which is a fairly accepted reason a lot of people would understand) they may not really understand why you’ve made the choice to have different beliefs.

I know a lot of families where religion is a strong part of the family identity, so those who choose to follow their own path may find that the family feels they are being rejected, not just the family religion.

Advice on how to talk about your religious beliefs with your relatives

  • Keep telling them how important they are to you!
  • Be open about what has drawn you down your path and answer any questions they may have, but don’t overwhelm them with information.
  • Make sure you know all about your different traditions and beliefs so that you are prepared to answer any questions. The more you know and the clarity with which you can explain things will help them understand that it isn’t a phase.
  • Be prepared for them to simply dismiss it as a phase at first, part of the reason it’s taken me so long is precisely that.
  • Once you’ve been at it for several years the ‘only a phase’ argument dies out on its own, or at least it did for me.
  • Give them time to adjust to the change and don’t expect them to accept everything right away. But, by being calm and steadfast, they will come to accept your new beliefs as part of who you are, and eventually may even be curious enough to join in with yours!

christmas and different religious beliefsBe calm, not combative. Belief is a tricky thing. Changing beliefs is hard and it can be difficult to convince people you’ve done so or otherwise hold a different belief to what they thought you held. People can be willing to die for their beliefs, so this isn’t something to take lightly. If it seems like an argument is brewing, try to take a step back. As I said, your family may feel that in changing to a belief different to the one you were raised with you are rejecting them alongside their beliefs and they may become defensive. Don’t try to rush them and don’t fight with them about it. Be firm so that they know shouting about it won’t change your belief back, but always be polite. Be the person you have always been to them, that they know and love, and give them time to incorporate this new knowledge into who they know.

Continue to participate in as many family traditions as you can.

This will help them understand that although you may not celebrate the same holiday now, you can all still decorate the house together or watch that special film. In my family, I am in charge of the tree, which is a tradition my grandfather and I shared and which has been my responsibility since he died.

Decorating a tree doesn’t conflict with my being a witch as Midwinter/Yule also has decorating with greenery as part of the celebrations. Plus, it’s a special tradition for me, which I celebrate as something important in its own right.

Find parallels between your celebrations and theirs. When I first stated explaining to my family that I didn’t celebrate Christmas anymore I had to endure a lot of ‘well, we won’t bother getting you any presents then’ and similar comments. I responded by saying that Midwinter was celebrated from the solstice to 6 January and presents were exchanged at any time during those celebrations, so I was happy to give them their Midwinter presents on Christmas, if they liked. By including them in my celebrations, they stopped feeling the need to exclude me from theirs.

It’s totally okay to celebrate the bits of their holiday that you still enjoy.

Despite not celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday, I’m still a total Christmas dork. I love the music and the films and I think that’s great! Besides, it’s not like the Muppet Christmas Carol or Love Actually are really religious anyway, they’re just fun seasonal films. Christmas in particular has strong secular traditions alongside the religious ones, so I think it’s perfectly fine for me to enjoy the holiday in that context and still have my spiritual celebration on the solstice. Besides, Santa rocks and I’m not giving that dude up! He fits in pretty well with the pagan traditions, too.

Very important: Don’t bring it up at dinner.

christmas and different religious beliefsNo matter when you choose to start explaining your new (or newly revealed) beliefs to your family, the big celebratory dinner is not the time to do it. Quite aside from shocking people over the turkey is the fact that religion is one of those topics -like politics and money- which is considered bad manners to discuss at a special dinner. My family will say grace before a special meal, now, I obviously don’t believe in a Christian god, so I say my own blessing in my head, and when everyone else says ‘amen’ I say ‘blessed be’ which is the traditional witches response. In retrospect I’m kind of surprised how many years I spent doing that before anyone actually noticed.

Invite them to join you.

Once you’ve arrived in a place where your family is acceptive and supportive of your beliefs, invite them to join in. They may want to do this straight away or it may take time, that’s up to you and them. They may feel that participating in a magical ritual is not something a catholic would do or they may be excited to join you in a bonding experience.

Create new traditions.

If you’ve got to a point where everyone is really down with your different beliefs, mix them up with theirs! Maybe you say grace and a pagan blessing before dinner now or everyone opens one present on the solstice before the rest of them at Christmas. There are all sorts of ways to blend things together and there is nothing wrong with celebrating the diversity in your family!

Above all else, have fun and celebrate the holidays with your family and friends. No matter what the differences in beliefs are, this time of year is about warmth and kindness and love and everyone can celebrate that!

If you have any questions about what I’ve written, please feel free to ask!

I’m happy to help if you’ve got something specific you’d like to discuss or if you’d like more details about my experiences. It’s against the ethics of being a witch to try to convert people, which is why I haven’t discussed anything in depth, but I enjoy talking about it when requested to do so.

– Catherine

The incredible support of a service dog

people with disabilities day

I have a major disability.

It doesn’t matter what it is. I could have anything that impairs basic functions of life, like breathing. walking or thinking. I could have cancer or lupus or epilepsy. I can be schizophrenic, bipolar, or have PTSD.

There’s a common medicine for all these things.

You may ask me: “what are you talking about? These conditions all require different medications! How can they possibly ALL have a medication in common?”

Ok, you got me, it’s not a medication you can inject, swallow, or stick to you arm. It actually does nothing for curing any of these conditions but it certainly makes my life easier.

I have a service dog (YAY, PUPPY!)

I’m not kidding, I say that to him all the time; apparently random people in the street think it’s fun to say too when they see him but you know what? He should be celebrated. My dog has saved my life more times than I can count and I’ve only had him a few months.

people disabilities day - quoteAllow me to introduce myself; my name is Carolyn, and my dog’s name is Asriel. I am 20 years old and I was diagnosed with severe depression, anxiety, and panic disorders last year though I have been suffering with them since I was about 17. Asriel is 8 months old and has been training to be a service dog since he was 6 weeks old in June.

A bit about my journey towards getting Asriel.

I nearly died in April. I don’t say that lightly or for the sake of drama – I walked pretty close to the edge of ending my own life due to a massive depressive episode I was suffering through at the time, and I ended up in a mental health ward for roughly two weeks on a self-harm watch. Let me tell you, nothing makes you reevaluate your life more than being watched 24/7 and only being given plastic utensils for meals.

It was a couple of weeks after I got out of the hospital that I made the decision to look for a support dog. After doing some research and talking to some other people online who had service dogs for similar reasons I decided I was going to buy a quality puppy from a breeder and train my dog myself.

I had several reasons for doing this, the first and foremost being that I didn’t have time to be on a 6 year waiting list for a fully trained service dog from an organization and I definitely didn’t want to pay $20,000 for one either.

I ended up buying Asriel from a really tough older women who lived alone and had been breeding German Shepherds for over 20 years. Her dogs were all tested for health issues before breeding and the litter I chose had several Canadian and American champions in their lines. He cost me $2000 and I don’t regret a single penny of it because I ended up with a smart, sassy little pup with a ton of spirit and a great sense of humor. He’s pretty darn good looking too.Asriel

What it’s like having a service dog:

In a word? Liberating. I being able to take my dog everywhere with me, I love that he has a job to do and does it well, and I love being able to leave my house knowing he’s got my back. There are a few drawbacks but they’re definitely worth it.

First of all, having a service dog is like wearing a sign that says “LOOK AT ME, I’M DISABLED!” in a big neon letters about your head. Apparently I’m also wearing a shirt that only other people can see that says “please ask me all about my personal medical problems” because I get at least one person a day getting a bit too nosy for my liking.

FYI: it’s rude to ask what someone’s dog is for. It’s like asking what kind of underwear a random stranger is wearing.

I will admit to enjoying discussing how pretty my dog is because I love him so completely that I just want to annoy other people by talking about him all day long. When I’m having a good day I really like talking about service dogs in general and education people about them, and I find most of the other handlers I know do too.

I’m gonna do the next bit of an FAQ to save some time:

Frequently Asked Questions about service dogs

Q: How long does it take to train a service dog?

A: About two years.

Q: Can any dog be a service dog?

A: No, very few dogs have the temperament and physical ability for it. They need to be physically sound (blind, deaf, and three legged dogs need not apply) and they need to have calm loyal natures. They have to learn an incredible number of behaviors and tasks and perform them flawlessly while fireworks are going off and a marching band is going by. Not that that happens often, but the point is they need to be able to ignore food, other dogs, people, and other inexplicably scary things going on and remain focused on their handlers. If they get distracted it can prove perilous to their handles.

Q: How many different kinds of service dogs are there?

A: I have no idea and frankly every service dog is tailored specifically to their handler so every one is different. There are a few common, generalized categories though: alert, guide, mobility, and psychiatric.

– Alert dogs let their handlers know when the handlers condition is flaring up (blood sugar drop/high, seizures, anxiety attacks, etc.) and they can also include hearing ear dogs that alert their handlers to sounds that the handler cannot hear.

-Guide dogs are the ones that everyone knows, as they are include seeing eye dogs. They literally guide their handlers around obstacles and keep them away from danger.

-Mobility dogs are those that help a handler move around. They can be trained to pull wheelchairs, brace themselves so their handlers can lean on them to steady themselves, retrieve objects, push automated door buttons, or help pull their handler along to make walking easier.

-Psychiatric dogs are those that help with mental disorders and they are kind of a mix of all the other categories due to the complex nature of psychiatric disorders.

Q: Can I take my dog everywhere with me because they make me feel better?

A: No. You need to be professionally diagnosed with a condition that inhibits a major function of life. In the States, the law is very specific about what defines a service dog and they have to perform at least three tasks that mitigate your disability. In Canada the laws are pretty vague – in fact only Alberta and Ontario have defined service animal laws. Here in Ontario I have to have a written prescription from my doctor.

Q: Do service dogs have to wear vests?

A: No. Nowhere in North America is there a law stating that a service dog needs to be marked as such. In the States, if your dog is unmarked, you can only be asked two questions: is that a service dog and what tasks does he/she perform. In Ontario if the dog is clearly marked then you don’t need to have the prescription on you, but be prepared to be asked for it if your dog is going naked for the day.

Q: Is there a certification or registry for service dogs?

A: No. In no state or province is there a certification or registry. Yes they will show up if you google them and yes they are all scams. These scam sites really harm the ability of a service dog team to go into businesses because if the first experience that business has of service dogs is a team with a fake ID then they expect them from the rest of us too.

I hope you’ve all learned something today and you’ll take away the information you’ve learned and share it in honor of International People With Disabilities Day. If you have any questions please comment or e-mail Asriel and I asrielthesd@outlook.com and we’ll be happy to help in any way we can.

You can learn more here:

– Carolyn Strung

What is the solution to put a stop to violence against women?

What is the solution to put a stop to violence against women?

Trigger Warning: Sexual abuse

A fist connects with her face and the imprint it makes will last much longer than the time it takes for the bruise to fade. The scathing remarks penetrate deeply making a scar upon her soul.

Why is it that in 2014 we are still talking about violence against women?

When I set out to write this blog in regards to Violence Against Women Awareness Week, I thought about my own experience of being raped by a former boyfriend.

My screams of no went unheard, and after what happened I continued to be silent as I did not speak about what had happened. How could I accuse someone of rape when I had an established intimate relationship with them? Who would believe me? Years later I found out I was not the only one that had told him no and I celebrate that brave soul who brought him to justice.

As I have spoken to other women during my research for this piece, I am astounded to know that almost all of them have endured abuse on some level. So why did or do they stay in these relationships? Security and fear.

Most of the women that I spoke with felt that they had nowhere to turn. They would rather face an open palm or a harsh word than the unknown. And with abuse comes the guilt and humiliation. One asks themselves: How did I allow this to happen to myself? What will people think of me if they know? They begin to believe that they deserve or have even brought the abuse upon themselves.

In our area we have one shelter for women to turn to. And honestly, restraining orders are about as effective as the piece of paper that they are printed on.

So what is the solution?

Obviously stricter laws as well as enforcement of the current laws need to be in place for these predators. But the best defense is ourselves.

Women are an extraordinary species and empowerment is the answer. Women have to take control over their lives and realize that they are worth more than the love of a spouse or partner.

How can we fight violence against women?

  • Self confidence
  • Self-defense
  • Self worth

are the tools we have at our disposal. It is unacceptable to allow anyone to do anything to you in a harmful manner. And even though I may have been silent about the attack that I endured, I cut the guy out of my life entirely the very next day. There are no second chances for these hurtful, hateful, bullies in our lives.

Stand up for yourself.

I can assure you it will not be easy, but you will surprise yourself with the strength that lies within you.

– Charlotte
Char is one of Ugly Ducklings Inc’s collaborators, and has written articles for our series on child abuse awareness, and adoption awareness. Although her life has been pierced by experiences some people will never go through, her blogs are an example of strength and optimism against all odds. You can read her Ugly Duckling Story on Pinterest.

Time to break the unending cycle about ‘equality’

violence against women vs equality

Growing up there was no such thing in my world as “Violence against women”.

There was a father who beat on his wife and children, and a women’s shelter that has since faded into a vague memory. There were incidents of violence from a father and step-father against children. There were bad boyfriends who were manipulative –but never physically abusive because childhood lessons stick well.

But there was no “violence against women.” It was just violence.

I was raised that men and women were equal. That your skin colour, religion, sexual orientation, were just what made you you, and that there was nothing that could make you “less” of a person. We were all people. Violence was a bad thing, but it was something wrought against men and women alike.

Into college, and university, I argued that feminism didn’t exist. That believing we were all equal wasn’t a political standpoint, because we were all equal, we had equal rights, we weren’t out protesting – demanding the vote and other equalities, so we weren’t feminists.

I graduated school, still wondering how people could stand behind such a belief. That we needed to fight for equality – we had it, didn’t they know? The horror stories of women being mistreated were in third world countries, and the ones that happened here, were because they were people in the wrong place at the wrong time – not because they were women.

 

And then I met rape culture

inequality feminism womenI met the online storm of arguments about women and how women were treated. I began to look closer, and saw news stories on women being sent to prison for 20 years for killing in self defence – while men who murdered in cold blood walked free. I felt the oppression in daily life. I began to see the world for what it was – unequal.

In a world where we are achieving marriage equality, and other rights for minorities, I see the rights of women and others who long ago won them, slowly fall the wayside. We don’t fight anymore because we believe we are safe.

The violence against women isn’t always obvious. It’s not always a black eye, or a broken wrist. It’s a false sense of security that leaves us with our guard down, and leaves us susceptibility to manipulation and inequality.

Violence is the feeling that we cannot walk down the street dressed in a certain manner without harassment. It is the embarrassment and humiliation we feel when we are not dressed a certain way, or don’t look “right.” Violence is the unending cycle of complacency that we teach our daughters when we tell them it’s okay, we’re all equal.

We are not equal. No two beings will ever be equal. No two beings are created equally. We all have our good attributes and bad. But at the end of the day we are all human. And we should be treated as such. When we recognize ourselves as human beings and when men recognize us in the same way, then and only then, can we begin to eradicate the violence against women.

We are not gentle lambs which need protection. Neither are we harpies which can fend for ourselves. We are a part of each other – a part of humanity and it is that humanity which we must call upon to bridge the gaps of inequality and to destroy violence against women. To destroy the violence against ourselves – the human race.

When she’s not working to pay the bills, Jane can be found working on programming, filling out paperwork or balancing the books for her two Girl Guide groups. Having recently relocated back to her small but cozy hometown, Jane enjoys a happy balance between an amazing job, a crazy family, and the long-sought love of her life – who she is still trying to convince to buy her a puppy.

Designing empowered women: combating violence

VAW Broken Mirror BANNER

“A Mother who radiates self-love and self-acceptance actually VACCINATES
her daughteragainst low self-esteem.”

― Naomi Wolf

When I was asked to write a guest post about preventing violence against women, I felt a familiar fire bubble from my core; a resistance so strong that a visceral reaction of nausea mixed with anxiety began to take hold.

I was a victim of a violent attack in my late teens which left me nearly paralyzed, unconscious, as the imprint of his fingers left a black and blue ring around my throat- the whites of my eyes blood red for weeks.

I have never written my story. I may never write about it. I do not feel like a warrior when I tell it, nor do I feel sharing it is for the benefit of other women. I feel as victims learn to; holding beliefs, such as, somehow I made too many mistakes.

I was naïve and should’ve known better when everyone warned me about his reputation and attacks on a previous girlfriend.

Dare I say, that it was even more enticing to me -the story of a bad boy who never loved again because he feared he loved too hard. One-night stands were all he could manage, a badge of honor he wore proudly and was honored for among the guys.

I would change him.

He would love me and he would be faithful and we would show the world that love between two wounded souls can exist. I’ve always had a wild heart.

violence against women awarenessI love to fall in love. I love that an addiction can form from the scent of another person. I love the fire. The way a new lover reveals themselves to us bit by bit like that first warm day of the season which promises heat, sunlight, and blooming beauty. I love the fights. We sometimes hate the other person. I even love that because in those moments we are feeling the full spectrum of our lives, the wide range of temper and passion like thunderstorms in summer which give way to rainbows and delicious scents that intoxicate whimsical souls such as mine.

I craved an addiction -the desire to wrap myself around someone who was so damaged that I can finally feel worthy because if a man like him can love me, it means I am truly lovable. Addiction is what is born when desire meets need with a side of desperation.

I romanticized us. I blamed myself when it was all over like a well trained victim.

I was called a liar after it happened. And the victim in me questioned my own sanity. A victim is not weak. A victim has learned to be nice and kind and reframe their world so that when things go wrong in their life the guilt is suffocating. I often think of that famous picture with an elephant who is standing next to a tiny stool, a thin string tied around his leg. He only steps as far as the string will allow. The elephant believes that he is bound to the stool.

And so it is.

Our attachments to other people are a lot like that.

I pulled myself out of the wreckage of the car which plummeted 50 ft into the water on that night. I was stripped of what I thought I knew about myself, about love, and about self-love. I continue today to pull myself out of the wreckage of what followed.

How can violence against women be prevented?

We must push damn hard for the life we know was meant for us. I did.

I write this as a reminder to myself as well.

Prevention starts with you!

Here are some tips you can put into practice if you need or want to raise awareness in relation to violence against women.

  • violence against women monthBegin with your children. Even if you don’t have any. Re-parent the little girl inside of you any way you can. Replay moments when she felt unworthy and unsafe and hug her tight. Validate her fears and tell her she’s safe and you will never let anyone hurt her.
    Mean it.
  • Keep her picture with you always, whether it is your own little girl or yourself as a child. Try to tell that picture that she deserves abuse or pain. You will not be able to do it. It will feel barbaric and cruel… because it is. Because she is perfect. Look at her daily and tell her that she is deeply loved.
  • Discuss life goals with her which do not involve anyone else.
  • Tell her she’s beautiful, but also tell her she is intelligent. Being intelligent is damn powerful.
  • Teach her to be fierce. Speak up and get good and angry when she’s passionate about something. It doesn’t mean she isn’t nice or kind.
  • Violence against the self occurs each time she puts herself down, self-criticizes, and believes the stories she tells herself in those moments.
  • If it feels like abuse but there are no physical marks or attacks to speak of- IT CAN STILL BE ABUSE.
  • Model healthy boundaries and say no in front of her. Say no to her and teach her that it is self loving to fucking say no, sometimes!
  • Love her with all that you are and if she makes mistakes, never shame her.
  • Allow her to see if you’re afraid, and on that fringe of fear show her what it looks like to fly.

And…

If you should fall in front of her, show her that at the foot of darkness, you will find your way home.

“I know a girl
She puts the color inside of my world
But, she’s just like a maze
Where all of the walls all continually change
And I’ve done all I can
To stand on her steps with my heart in my hand
Now I’m starting to see
Maybe It’s got nothing to do with me
Fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers be good to your daughters too”

~ John Mayer


unnamedA public school teacher, writer, reiki practitioner and certified yoga instructor- Nicole guides both children and adults through yoga practice. After breaking her back, doctors couldn’t be certain she would ever walk again. Igniting her desire to heal both the emotional and physical body, she went on to receive her 200 hr. Hot Yoga/ Ashtanga Vinyasa teaching certificate, along with a specialized 100 hr. Yoga Rocks!Kids certification. As she shares her journey toward peace through healing practices like yoga and meditation, she is immensely grateful for the second chance she has been given. Her articles have appeared in MindBodyGreen, Elephant Journal, and Rebelle Society.

An Adoption Story Full of Pranks

science of adoption 1

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.
— Albert Einstein

The best way to describe my 8th grade science teacher, Mrs. Loudermilt, would be to say that Ms. Frizzle had come to life. I’m still not entirely convinced that author JoAnna Cole did not indeed base her character off of one Mrs. Loudermilt, whom wore white lab coats so she could carry both a snake and a piece of candy in her pocket. Her walls were covered in posters and quotes of Albert Einstein and the counters were filled to capacity with chemistry beakers, bunsen burners, metal pans, snake aquariums, student microscopes, and in the corner I swear there was a miniature version of the hubble telescope. Just looking at her classroom made you believe that the cure for any disease could be created in there.science

Mrs. Loudermilt was serious about teaching Science. She had taken Science and turned it into almost a way of life for us during the 90 minute block we had with her. Science was not simply reading from the textbook; it was about making ice cream to teach about temperatures, to showcase the demonstrative properties of water being a solid/liquid/gas. But we did more than just make ice cream; the biggest lesson of the day was that learning could actually be fun.

There was a tactility to her teachings, and with it also came the best sense of humor. We all thought she was a bit crazy, a true mad scientist if you will, but there was nothing mad about her.

No, there was a kindness behind that sneaky grin and she was constantly pulling pranks. It was not unusual for Mrs. Loudermilt to throw candy in classrooms as she walked down the hall just so she could disrupt the the other educator’s teachings. After one such instance our English teacher vowed that she would retaliate. Now, I may or may not have suggested to our English teacher that we concoct a plan to have all of us walk out of Mrs. Loudermilt’s class while she was in the middle of teaching. So the next day when the clock hit a certain time, we all just stood up and walked out of her class leaving her speechless, but laughing all the same.

But Mrs. Loudermilt was never one to be bested so in response she had the English teacher’s classroom furniture removed while she was at lunch. Once again, I may or may not have suggested the idea to Mrs. Loudermilt. And because I may or may not have participated in such removal of furniture, it did not mean that I didn’t completely adore my English teacher; however, now I was in the middle of these two pranks so it was only natural that the very next morning both my English teacher and my Science teacher had called me into the school’s office.

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Looking for a place to talk about a mental illness?

mental health awareness

In honor of mental health awareness month, I wanted to take the time to tell you about Stigma Fighters.

I am 35 years old. For as long as I can remember I have suffered from panic attacks and depression. My moods were like a roller coaster. Some days, I would wake up in a cold sweat with my heart racing. I was terrified. It was as if someone was chasing me and trying to harm me, only there wasn’t anyone.

It was just me.

The fear shifted, changed and morphed over time. I was afraid of contracting a terminal illness and dying. Then I was afraid of starving to death because I had no appetite.

That was panic.

There was also depression. I didn’t want to open my eyes. I couldn’t bathe myself for days. I stopped talking. I stopped laughing. I couldn’t laugh. I forced myself to do the things I “had” to do like go to school (and at later points in life work) but everything felt wrong.

I felt wrong.

The worst part about feeling this way was that I couldn’t tell anyone about what I was coping with. It was a secret. My mom and my best friend were the ones who knew the deepest darkest parts. For the rest of the world, I had to fake being normal. I had to pretend that everything was okay.

Finally, something within me snapped… in a positive way. I was tired of pretending. In my 30’s I wrote a piece for the Huffington Post about how it feels to live with a mental illness and have to hide it. It was called Fighting Against The Stigma of Mental Illness. Readers wrote to me thanking me for my honesty. I then realized that we are missing a crucial piece of the mental health puzzle in our society.

So many people are living in fear about people finding out they have a mental health issue. So I started a community called the Stigma Fighters where people could break their silence and share their stories.

I encourage you to read the stories of the brave human beings on Stigma Fighters. They are living with bipolar disorder, depression, postpartum depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, PTSD and more.

Stigma Fighters is becoming a non- profit too! There will be chapters of Stigma Fighters at colleges and universities across the United States. If you want to share your story, please consider doing it on Stigma Fighters.

– Sarah

Sarah Fader is the creator of the popular parent-life blog Old School /New School Mom. http://www.oldschoolnewschoolmom.com Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Additionally, like about six million other American adults, Sarah lives with panic disorder. She is currently leading the Stigma Fighters campaign which gives individuals with mental illness a platform to share their personal stories. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to show the world that there is a diverse array of real everyday people behind mental illness labels. Find her on twitter @osnsmom

What’s it like to meet Idina Menzel?

Meeting Idina Menzel

A few weeks ago, I went to the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids Flea Market. The event takes place in New York City, and is run by a charity that helps people with HIV and AIDS.

I was so excited because there was an auction to win two tickets to If/Then and then go backstage and meet Idina Menzel!

I went with my mom, and I had one thought in mind: I need to win that auction. I had saved my money -I was sacrificing birthday, Hanukah, and Christmas gifts for this.

It is not every day that there is an auction to go backstage and meet your idol after her Broadway show

I was shaking while holding up my bidding paddle. I didn’t think there was any way for me to win. When they announced that I won, I was elated! Actually, “elated” does not even describe how I was feeling.

I was going to meet Idina Menzel backstage after If/Then!

When the big day came, it was my third time seeing If/Then (if you have not seen it, you should – it is absolutely amazing). This time was different; I was enjoying the show, of course, but I was more focused on what was happening after it was over.

She met Idina MenzelWhen If/Then ended, me, my mom, and one man (who was an acquaintance of Idina) were taken into a small room, which had different clothing items for the actors of the show. We waited there for about 10 minutes and then Idina Menzel’s dresser came in and brought us into Idina’s dressing room.

There were a few men in the room, my mom, Idina’s dresser and me, all waiting for Idina Menzel to make her appearance. That was when LaChanze (another star in the show) came into the dressing room with her cousins. Idina Menzel came out, greeted LaChanze’s cousins, and then greeted us. First she greeted the men in the room, then my mom, then me. She even hugged me.

Then we had a chance to talk: told her about a club my friend and I started for her charity “A BroaderWay”. A BroaderWay is a charity that sends underprivileged girls to camp for 10 days. At the end of camp, they put on a final performance. This camp is put on by Broadway stars including Idina Menzel and Taye Diggs.

My friend and I started a club for this charity because we think it’s such a great cause! Idina was so happy, which made me so happy. She also took a picture with me! We hung out in her dressing room for probably 20 minutes, then she hugged me goodbye and I got to go on stage! Standing on a Broadway stage is awesome! It was amazing.

It was a night that felt out of this world, and worth every penny, especially since the money went to a great charity. And Idina Menzel was so incredibly nice! She is such an inspiration because even though her life is filled with fame and glory, she is incredible down to earth; she was not a diva, and did not seem full of herself. I could not have asked for a better night.

-Allie

Allison is one of the 10 members of Operation Turducken, an essential part of the creation of The Ugly Ducklings Inc.