Category: Uncategorized

Sleepless Night

I didn’t sleep at all last night. I went into bed, curled up with a book, and turned off my light ready to get some rest. 

 Then my phone dinged. 

PictureIt was a message from the daughter of one of our school district’s custodians. Fifteen of our 22 custodians were laid off this week since the summer work is completed and there really isn’t much that will need to be done. The problem is, being laid off doesn’t just mean a lack of a paycheck, it means a lack of benefits. This particular custodian, Larry, has ongoing health issues that requires him to have daily dialysis. His routine is basically to work all day caring for the students of South Park School District, and then go home and hook himself up to a dialysis machine for literally hours.

PictureLarry has been on a transplant list, but we all know that it can take years to find a donor. Despite working 20 years in the district and being one of the higher ranking custodians, he has found himself with no salary or insurance. Without some type of rapid action, Larry will not have the necessary, life sustaining medicine and will pass away. It is not a matter of if, but rather a matter of when. I don’t know how his three children and widow will explain this to his six grandchildren that will be left behind.

Last night after learning all of this information, there was no chance of me sleeping. My mind was racing trying to figure out what could be done for Larry, and what could be done for our country to protect the millions of people who are out of work but have health issues. People want to say the idea of “Medicare of All” is some outrageous and unrealistic ideology. What I find outrageous is that in a country as wonderful as the United States, we allow people to die because they don’t have insurance.

From medications cost, to nursing homes, to routine visits, medical care without insurance is just not affordable for the average person. Yes, Larry can probably apply for COBRA or some other type of plan. But even those “fall back” plans are unrealistically expensive – especially for somebody who is out of work. There is also a question of who will give Larry coverage knowing how sick he is. However, there is a very loud clock ticking for Larry if he doesn’t get an answer right now.

The other issue that this situation brings to the forefront is the funding gaps that our schools face. The COVID pandemic sent countless schools scrambling to not only educate students remotely, but find money for unexpected costs. You often hear that 40% of Americans are one paycheck away from poverty. The current state of our nation has made it clear that many of our school districts are not much better off.

These types of issues are why I am running for office. Sleepless nights worrying and Facebook message suggestions to a worried daughter aren’t action enough. Let’s pray for Larry and make meaningful change happen!

Donate here to help Larry! https://www.gofundme.com/f/yxmnrp-let039s-help-larry?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_campaign=p_cf+share-flow-1

Counting the Change

There was a show on ABC for nine seasons called “The Middle.” It was about a hardworking, middle class family, the Hecks. Every time I watched that show I felt like somebody had been spying on my family and had taken scenes from my real life to create this fictional twenty-two minutes of television. Whether it was children arguing over silly things, a house in constant need of repairs or going shopping at the discount grocery store, The Frugal Hoosier, it resonated with me. I got it. The Hecks were a loose change kind of family.

PictureYou know what I mean. When we were kids, we’d look for loose change to buy a candy bar at the drugstore. In college we pulled our change together for a pizza. I remember being new parents, I was still in college and my husband was making $23,000 teaching alternative education. We had a mortgage, a car payment and needed diapers. It was right before payday and we were just short of what we needed. We took off the couch cushions looking for rogue quarters and rooted around the floor of the car. Eventually we’d dug around enough that Joe headed to the store for a late night pack of Pampers. 

We still have a change jar. While I have needed to selectively pull quarters out from time to time, it has been a few years now since we have poured it into a CoinStar machine to pay for a tank of gas. Not so many years, though, that I can’t still remember the frustration of needing to, or the gratitude of us having that option.

The reality is, my husband and I made a decision when we had our first child that I would stay home with our kids. Since my daughter was born my last semester of college, this meant I went straight from earning my degree to being a stay-at-home mom. It wasn’t an easy decision, especially with such a low starting salary for him and the enormous responsibilities we faced with parenthood and bills. In reality, what family can truly afford for one parent to stay home. I always worked part-time. Whether it was my freelance writing or weekend and evening shifts at Build-a-Bear Workshop, I found a way to contribute to the household financially when Joe would be home with our growing family.

Unfortunately, we made some mistakes during this time. We used credit cards to help us renovate a house we bought on foreclosure. We used credit cards to fill in the gaps where we couldn’t afford things we needed. We bought a new house before our third child was born, tripling our mortgage and making ourselves “house poor” for a while. These aren’t things I am proud of, but I also don’t think they are unique to our family. I think a lot of families find themselves in similar struggles.

You may be wondering why I would share this. There are a few reasons. One is I want to tell you all that I made these financial mistakes before my opponent does. It happened and my husband and I work hard to rectify that. Also, I want people to know I am real. I have been in the trenches of life’s struggles. I know the value of a dollar and I respect it. I don’t just respect the value of my own dollar. I respect every dollar of the taxpayer, and I intend to work hard to ensure that money is being spent appropriately and transparently in Harrisburg. 

We should never underestimate the value in change. Whether it is $10 in quarters to buy diapers, or a new, passionate candidate who is eager to move this state forward, we should never stop counting the change.

Say His Name

One thing I have never been accused of is being too quiet. And yet, I recognize that on the campaign Facebook page I have been too quiet over the past several days when it comes to addressing Geroge Floyd, the protests and the riots. It is not because I have nothing to say, but because every word needs to be meaningful right now. This is not the time for rhetoric.

PictureI also am afraid that people will see my posts as me pandering for votes. I can assure you, I am exactly the person I project in my blog and posts. I will not pretend to be someone different or compromise my values because I have dipped my toe in the pool of politics. As Popeye says, “I am what I am.”

Right now, what I am is angry, and frustrated and sad – very sad. Everyone wants to fight, it seems. Somehow, supporting the black community to some has become synonymous with encouraging violence and hating the police. For some reason, the freedom cry of the oppressed is seen as a war call. How has the real message become so diluted?

Let me be clear. I do not agree with businesses being destroyed. I do not agree with police officers being assaulted. I do believe that it is time for the white community to show up or shut up. It is not time for, “yeah, but.” It is time for, “how can I help you be heard.” 

It is also time to call out people who are blatantly and subtly racist. Last night a woman posted a meme in a group I am in depicting a black man with chaos behind him saying, “Ain’t nothing left here. Let’s head to the suburbs.” Below was a picture of two white men in camo holding guns. It said something along the lines of, “Me and my brother waiting for them to try.”

It was up for almost an hour and nobody had said it was wrong. A group with 2,100 members, and not one had said a word. When I said it wasn’t funny, I was accused of not caring about my family. It was hard to not fight with this woman. Instead I used the opportunity to explain that I want to protect my family and everyone else’s. I want to influence real change and progress. 

My mom asked me why I didn’t block her. I told her that if I did that, I would never have the chance to educate her. In reality, she probably won’t change. But you never know who else is watching and is open to growth. I can’t stop spreading the positive message because this one person is stuck on the negative. 

There are other ways to support this important movement other than marching. Vote. Support black owned businesses. Donate to one of the many organizations supporting this civil rights battle. Vote. Educate yourself on the realities of modern day racism. Use your privilege. 

Also, don’t forget.

Don’t let him be another forgotten slain black man.

Say his name.

George Floyd.

We Must Do Better

Some people get confused about what differentiates Memorial Day from Veterans Day. Today, Memorial Day, is about remembering those brave men and women who paid the ultimate price in their service to the United States. While it isn’t necessarily about recognizing our veterans who are still with us, we owe it to our vets to make sure they won’t be added to those we memorialize next year. 

PictureWhile many men and women have lost their lives on foreign soil while serving, too many lives have been lost back home when the demons of the past follow them. We cannot stop making every effort as a nation to protect our veterans once they return. We must serve those who have served us. This topic hits especially hard for me, as I lost a friend to veteran suicide in 2014. 

In his funding plan for the 2021 fiscal year, President Trump proposed a 13 percent increase for VA spending, with a 32 percent boost for veterans suicide prevention programs. This is a great step towards saving lives, however there are gaping holes in his approach. One of which is the 18,000 positions eliminated this year at VA hospitals around the country. The cuts affected uniformed doctors, nurses, dentists, medics, technicians and support staff. Also, 50 military health facilities will stop seeing non-active duty patients, downsize or close altogether. (This part of the plan was delayed as a result of COVID-19.)

With these closures in place, as part of the VA Mission Act, veterans would use private sector doctors. In theory, I get it. With long waitlists at VAs, there are more options under this act. However, even great civilian doctors cannot fully understand the specific type of PTSD, depression and anxiety our veterans are dealing with unless they themselves experienced it. While I myself live with both depression and anxiety, I do not pretend to even begin to know the hell some service members experience.

So what is the answer? Wouldn’t it be easy if there was one simple solution? However, there isn’t. What I propose is an increase in educating our active duty military on warning signs for suicide not only from themselves, but in their military brothers and sisters. Educating the family members of those who serve, whether it be a spouse or parent, would help them be prepared for what struggles might appear. I also think there should be therapy required for those returning from conflict. Being proactive and teaching our vets how to cope before they are so deep in the blackhole that they can’t find their way out would drastically reduce the number of suicides we see in America’s veterans.

One more veteran death is too many. What better way to memorialize those lives already lost than by protecting the veterans still with us today. 

Click here for more information about Veteran Suicide.

The Other Pandemic

It’s been tough, hasn’t it? Every time you leave the house you have to worry about making it back to your family safely. Every interaction you have, every store you visit, everything you do you feel like it is a potential threat to your well being.

Oh. Sorry.

 Did you think I was talking about COVID-19? 

Welcome to being black in America.

Of course, this is coming from a heterosexual, white, Christian woman who grew up in the suburbs and has never had to face the bias and hate that so many others have. However, I believe racism is a pandemic that has plagued our country for centuries, and yet goes unnoticed by most.

PictureI grew up in Mt. Lebanon, an upper middle class neighborhood outside of Pittsburgh. In high school, my brother’s best friend was an awesome guy named Jason. (I am happy to say they are still friends to this day.) Jason was one of only a few African-American students in their class. One evening, my brother and Jason pulled up to the library to drop off books in the drop box. A police officer pulled and asked what Jason was doing. Returning books while black.

Fast forward 10 years. Jason and my husband were teaching a computer literacy class in a housing development in Pittsburgh. As they were leaving, my husband at the wheel of his Dodge Ram pickup truck, the pair was pulled over. They said they appeared suspicious. Riding in the passenger seat while black.

I would love to believe that the world was becoming a safer, more loving place for people of all races and religions. However, even after a black president successfully led our country, nothing has changed. In fact, we have moved backwards. Racists are rampant in this country, and our leader calls these subhumans “very fine people.” How can we hope for progress with a president who encourages it?

Today my kids, my father, my best friend, myself and many others ran 2.23 miles on the birthday of Ahmaud Arbrey, who was shot and killed in cold blood while running in Georgia. People are outraged right now, as they should be. The problem is, outrage doesn’t change a damn thing. 

Tamir Rice. Trayvon Martin. Antwon Rose. Oscar Grant. Botham Jean. Greg Gunn. Eric Garner.

This list is a lot like another.

 Emmitt Till. Lamar Smith. George Lee. Willie Edwards. Medgar Evans. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The people pulling the trigger need be held accountable every time. Also, those who make these hate crimes possible need to be held accountable. It should not take the public release of a video for law enforcement to take this murder seriously.

I would love to be able to tie up this entry with a simple answer. The only one I have, though, is that we all speak up when we see hate and injustice; that we continue to speak the names of the victims; that we refuse to accept this as normal, because it is not.

Those Good Knives

When I was 23 and in a very transitional stage of my life, I replied to a help wanted ad in a local newspaper. I was thrilled when I was asked to come in the very next day to interview. To my surprise, it was a group of us gathered around a table watching these high quality knives at work. In fact, they even took scissors and cut a penny in half to show us just how sharp they really were. My face must have given me away, because after the presentation the manager said she could tell I wasn’t interested, but they needed somebody to work at the office. Thus began a brief phase luring other people into those presentations without me ever having to buy the starter kit.

PictureLast night my husband, Joe, and I were discussing the huge task that any candidate faces – fundraising. He made a joke that it is no different than selling Cutco knives (he was suckered into buying that starter kit prior to meeting me) or skinny wraps (my stint with multi level marketing). I laughed at his witty simplification of a daunting task. Calling people you hardly know or haven’t seen in 20 years and asking for money is anxiety inducing and extremely humbling.

His comparison really got me thinking, though. Don’t get me wrong, I believed in the products I sold in my MLM, but not like I believe in what I am selling now. When I pick up the phone and call family, friends, my dentist and former OBGYN, I am not asking them to buy a product that will sit on a shelf. What I am offering is a stripped down, honest representation of myself. 

I also know that not everybody who donates will necessarily believe in all of my politics, but they know that at my core, I care. When I get panicked about asking people to give some of their hard earned money towards my campaign, I have to remember what I dream of accomplishing. Yes, I’ve been able to help a lot of families with emergency grocery drop offs during this crisis, but if elected, my work could be so much bigger than a food pantry out of my house.

I very much want to represent all of the 60,000 constituents of the 39th District, not only those whose voter registration matches mine. I care about every single person. I want to hear their concerns and their ideas. I want to improve the lives of every Pennsylvanian. My calling in life has always been to serve others. I can’t think of a more rewarding way to serve others than in this role. I know this is a very simplified and dumbed down version of the work of a state representative, but at the heart of it is service and caring for your fellow human being. And I can ensure you, I very much care.

There are still traces of the stepping stones that brought me to where I am today – a bottle of It Works defining gel in my bathroom vanity, a Cutco butcher’s knife in my top kitchen drawer. It is the path stretching into my future that I’ve turned my sights towards now, though. I ask you to please consider helping me reach my destination.

The Class of 2020

As a high school principal, my husband has had to not only worry about our five children, but the 175 students he cares about as well. In addition to navigating online instruction, student and teacher morale and ensuring the well-being of the kids, he has also been trying to work out how to handle graduation for his 30 seniors. On a two and a half mile walk together, that topic (along with prom) dominated our conversation.

PictureHow do you make these kiddos feel special? How do you celebrate when you can’t be together? How can he do something – anything- that would begin to compensate them for what they lost in the closure of the school? 

This led to another question that I am sure all of us have had; will this distancing be the new normal? Will we ever feel normal again?

While not quite the same thing, this question took me back to the morning of September 12, 2001. I remember waking up at my parent’s house in Mt. Lebanon rather than my apartment in Oakland that I shared with my brother and a couple of friends. My mother was a professor at the University of Pittsburgh and had come to our apartment after the attack, taking us home with her. Had I not woken up at their house, I am not sure I would have believed the events the previous day had actually happened. The reality was so far-fetched that it actually felt dreamlike. 

Nothing felt normal. Comprehending the images on the television was like trying to read an ancient Greek tablet: foreign and out of place. Enjoying a meal felt wrong. Smiling, or God forbid laughing, was completely out of the question for days following the attack. Life stopped. There was no such thing as normal. As the days faded into weeks, and weeks to months, slowly life seemed almost normal, albeit not quite right.

This was the consensus my husband and I came to on our walk. Eventually, life will start to cast a hue of normalcy. It won’t be the same normal as what we knew before, and we will face the small differences that paint this new picture in all facets of our lives. Those who have lost loved ones to the virus will shoulder the heaviest burden of change. For those who have lost their businesses to the stopped economy, it will be extremely hard. 

Some of us will face the new normal with hardly any weight in that rucksack called loss. If you are one of these, please remember those who are weighed down and offer to help carry their troubles for a while. All of the jokes going into 2020 about great eyesight, and yet, maybe this is the year we gain perfect vision into how to best love our neighbor.

How great would it be if part of our new normal was greater love and compassion for each other? What greater way to honor those 30 graduates from my husband’s school and the countless other graduates of 2020 than to give them a gentler, kinder world as they face a new beginning.

Up “Schitt’s Creek”

Like a lot of us who are following the rules and staying home, I have been indulging in a lot more television than I normally would. Yesterday I finished the incredibly funny and amazingly heartwarming series “Schitt’s Creek” (I promise, no spoilers). The premise of the show is an extremely wealthy family who loses everything except each other and how they grow as people and as a family.

PictureOne of the reasons I was able to relate to the show is due to my own missteps and losses that ultimately brought me to my “right path” in life. While it would make the journey less scary to know the ending from the get-go, reality is that the hard and uncertain times are what force us to challenge ourselves to decide who we really want to be. Through my hurdles in life I have learned I am a survivor, I am a helper, I am resourceful and I am a leader. Once upon a time, I saw myself as weak. Had I not gone through hard times and loss, I would have never learned what I was truly capable of. 

Right now loss and uncertainty is universal. For some of us it is the loss of our familiar routine, while others are facing more dire and immediate losses, such as income and food security. Processing what has been taken away from you, even if it may appear minor in light of what others are facing, is ok. This is not a time for comparison, but compassion. That means compassion for yourself as well as for others. Don’t beat yourself up for staying in your pajamas all day and not getting that bathroom cleaned. Sometimes our minds need our bodies to slow down so they can process this new reality. Give yourself permission to just be.

If you are able to help others, that is great. There is a need for blood donation. I have donated a few times since this began and can tell you that Vitalant is doing a great job controlling the number of people in there at a time and taking precautions to ensure safety and health. Food banks are in need of food or monetary donations to help the thousands of people coming out for assistance. Support your small local businesses by ordering take out or buying gift certificates for future services.

These are just the obvious ways to help, though. There are a lot of people without money or who can’t leave the house that may feel like they can’t help anyone. However, that friend that you talked through an anxiety attack last week, or the neighbor you text just to check-in, that is helping too. Pictures and teddy bears in your window. A phone call to a loved one. A prayer for all of us. 

In this time of swirling confusion, one thing I am certain of is your ability to grow in this moment, whatever that growth may look like for you. Whether it be through acceptance or action, pajamas or protective masks, asking for help or asking how you can help – you are going to get through this. Yes, perhaps we are all up “Schitt’s Creek” to some degree right now, but you are not in that canoe alone. Stay strong and keep on paddling.