Phil Donahue Saved My Writing Soul

I went to Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop desperately seeking my funny. Not sure what to expect, but there was plenty of funny to go around.

When you’re surrounded by 300+ women writers and a handful of men all of whom are genetically talented, it has the distinct possibility to leave you crying in the bathroom. Forever alone. A girl and her cellphone. And a quite possibly a cocktail.

The Erma groupies had the goods, and it was more than a little intimidating: books and columns and syndication and by-lines. Comics and screenplays and blogs and podcasts. Thousands of followers. YouTube and fan clubs.They had proof.

I got nuthin'. And not only that, I had lost my funny and was dying, quite literally it seemed, to try and get it back. I was counting on Erma to come through: help me find my funny.

After Sandy Hook, I could no longer poke fun at the town I love to call home. It’s not easy to make fun of everyday life when that life stops abruptly with a simple, non-assuming text alert: LOCKDOWN.

So when Ermies asked what I wrote, I told them I was an advertising copywriter: ‘I’m the kind of writer who gets paid.’ It was all the funny I could muster.

A couple pressed. What do you WANT to do? What do you LIKE to write? I so wanted to answer honestly: I write congressman and senators. I write fucking asshole board of ed members from neighboring towns that think it’s funny to make ammunition jokes to grieving parents. I write letters to the editors and speeches about gun violence and blog about it sometimes, to Paul Revere warn people: WE WERE JUST LIKE YOU!!! Newtown is you! Don’t you get it? This could happen to you because it damn well happened to me!! This is not some made-for-tv movie, this is my life and it will be yours if we don’t do something now!

But it's the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop and these people are funnnnnnyyy! Everyone is a comic writer! People laughing, hugging and drinking, and everyone seemed to already know each other. Birds of a feather, you know? This was the place to be: surrounded by talented people not afraid to share what they know.

I’m telling you, my tongue swelled up to the size of my ass and 26 funerals of tears were right beneath the surface every single time someone asked what I wrote. So I asked them instead, and they all answered the same: "I'm a humor writer, we all are all," one writer waved her hand to include the crowded room. "Like them, like Erma!" Family, work, marriage, school, kids, sports, divorce. I wanted to say that. I used to do that. But not anymore.

I did not belong here. I did not belong anywhere. 

Phil Donahue to the rescue. Seriously, who wudda thunk it? Selected as the keynote speaker because he and Erma were Dayton neighbors and lifelong friends. He talked about love, friendship and his never-ending admiration for Erma, her groundbreaking work, her bravery to say what hadn't been said, and the power of the written word. 'This power is in your hands,' he said. 'You have the distinct opportunity to write about everyday life and share your stories.' And because we had the talent, we have the obligation, the responsibility, to do so. Or something like that. I don’t know really, because all of a sudden, in a room of 400 talented writers, he was talking to me. Just to me.

And then he said something about putting your children on a schoolbus expecting them to be safe, to come home, and when they don’t ...

Can. Not. Breathe.

A writer gently puts her hand on my shoulder. One of the first but far from the last of powerful, life-changing and life-affirming moments of the conference. I was sad, yet so very determined to tell our story, because it is only through our stories, funny or not, that the world can become a better place.

My three days in Dayton were extraordinary, and when the laughter died down I learned this above all: the line between tragedy and comedy does exist, and while laughing in the face of any horror is nearly impossible, the only way through the tears and darkness is with laughter and light.

*Please commit to doing any action possible to make a positive change where you live, so our story doesn't become your story. Join a group in your community. Send an email. Be a friend. Find a cause. Share on Facebook. Hold a sign. Make a difference.


The Healing Power of Mud

I actually know exactly when I realized we would all be okay.

It was in the middle of a muddy cornfield, with smoking fire sculptures, freezing, dirty kids, bands blaring Irish music, and lots and lots of strangers – laughing, running, hugging, and climbing, then eventually, drinking, eating and dancing.

Kids were free falling into waves of mud; rolling, picking themselves up and doing it all over again; laughter echoing and teeth chattering throughout the Mohawk Valley.

The Daniel Barden Highland Mudfest in upstate New York, was started by Deansboro residents Dan and Melissa Williams who "had to do something" after the Sandy Hook shooting. (Their sister Karin is a Sandy Hook resident, local hero, and very impressive human.) So they physically 'minecrafted' their MKJ Farm to raise funds and awareness for Daniel Barden's memory, creating a Daniel Barden Highlands Mudfest, complete with bagpipes, bands, kilts, and plenty of mud.

It was there, on the coldest day April ever saw, that I knew we would be able to go on.

The MacTitans, an entire Newtown youth soccer team, came with cleats, game faces, siblings, parents and coaches, all wearing kilts, or green tutus, face paint, and smiles.
Our own hodgepodge team, the Newtown Cannonballs, with #NewtownStrong hashtagged proudly on our backs, began to get a little nervous. People were serious about this inaugural Mudfest. Perhaps were in a little over our heads.

And magic happened.

We pulled into a dairy farm, parked in a frozen field, and saw truckloads of people rambling up the field. Moms, dads, teens, and tots. College kids, townies, farmers and firefighters. All there for Daniel.

We met up with our team, and ventured to the starting line. It was like Woodstock: music blasting, people everywhere, hugging, dancing, laughing. And it wasn't sad. Not at all. It was happy. Festive. Fun.

Joyous. Kind. And very positive. Very, very Daniel.

Thank you Barden Family, for sharing Daniel's message of kindness with the world.

Thank you Sandy Hook Promise for committing due diligence to protect families everywhere.

And thank you Compeer Project for thinking globally and acting locally; for being the change so many kids need.

Thank you especially to the Williams family for creating the Mudfest and helping us all make the world a little smaller, a little kinder, and much, much stronger. And for letting this Newtown mom know that tomorrow will be a better day if you just add a little mud to the mix.

This year's Mudfest is Saturday, April 5th, a day long event dedicated to peace, love and kindness. This is not just a muddy competition, it's a open invitation to do something that matters. Join us. It's what Daniel Would Do!

The Daniel Barden Mudfest has an active Facebook page for up to the minute details, or visit their website here to find out how you can get muddy too.

*Please commit to doing any action possible to make a positive change where you live, so our story doesn't become your story. Join a group in your community. Send an email. Be a friend. Find a cause. Share on Facebook. Hold a sign. Make a difference.


Remembering Mike

The very same day of my last blog post back in January, my sister and I moved in with my parents to provide 24-hour care for my dad in his final days of fighting that assfuck pancreatic cancer.  Sadly and gladly, he's gone, and I'm proud to say his obituary went somewhat viral amongst the 20-odd members of the Class of '58.

Here's what I proudly had the honor to share at his memorial service in the small town where he was both literally and symbolically, larger than life.

Wow! Humpin' Jesus! There are a whole lot of you here to pay respects to our Dad. Thank you. Thank you thank you.

 First, and foremost, I must personally apologize for a glaring, erroneous statement in our father’s obituary. I wrote the obit, attributing that he is likely driving a Porsche, and clearly this was me – projecting my own car preference – onto my dad.

My mistake.

Because not sure if any of you saw this, there was a news story out of Kentucky, clearly part of Mike's the bigger plans: the day our father died, a massive sinkhole appeared underneath the National Corvette Museum swallowing eight – count ‘em – eight pristine corvettes. Can’t make this stuff up; Mike Mayer died and took 8 museum quality Vettes with him. Job well done, Dad.

Shudda known it’d be a Corvette. While other families rented clowns and bouncy houses for birthday parties, Grandpa Mike made our house the most popular place in town. Mike would pull up in the corvette, the roof open and a carseat strapped in the front. One – ok, sometimes two kids would double buckle into the car seat, and Mike would floor it to the end of our road, Willie Nelson blaring, and rip multiple donuts at the dead end with squealing kids inside. Every kid in town wanted an invitation, yet few parents would look us in the eye.

Mike’s driving abilities had few limits, and we didn’t have the balls to tell him when to stop driving. He had a birthday tradition to take each grandkid out separately for lunch and a personal birthday shopping spree, and did so every year with every grandkid within driving distance. So even though parkinson’s limited his ability to drive the way he should, after much deliberation, last year I just couldn’t tell him he couldn’t drive the Boy for his annual trip. I only hoped they would go slow enough to only damage their own car, and not harm anyone else.

When thankfully Boy returned safely, I asked him, how was grandpa’s driving? Everything okay? what happened, anything happen? The Boy looked at me confidently, and said, "All good mom. No problems. There’s just there’s a whole lotta pricks on the road, ya know? Those goddamn pricks!

11 grandchildren and I’m pretty sure prick was a part of each their pre-k vocabulary – and they knew exactly how and when to use the word.

They also accrued a stable of other helpful sayings from Mike.

After helping Mike to the car one day recently, my dad complained loudly, Humpin’ Jesus! It’s colder than a 3 legged woman out here!”

Boy was clearly confused, immediately asked, "Huh? What’s that Grandpa? What happened to the witch’s tit?"                      

This past month, as our dad’s health weakened, he had to go into the hospital – twice. Both times he was slightly embarrassed to be seen in a jonny coat. The hospital gown was somehow really embarrassing.

Which we girls really don’t quite understand. While growing up and bringing home the occasional boy late at night, he never once was embarrassed to storm out of his bedroom like a raging bull into the living room, wearing only 50-year-old threadbare, Fruit of the Looms, and bellow: 
DO YOU KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS? YOU. LEAVE. NOW: and DON'T let the door hit you in the ass on the way out!

We seldom saw the same boy twice.

He did end up getting comfortable in his jonny coat after one minor procedure. When anesthesia left him needing a catheter, he looked the nurse right in the eye, and said, smiling, “getting awfully cozy for a first date, doncha think?”

A couple days later, we went to the urologist early one snowy morning to have the catheter removed and were tempted by a pristine, unplowed, completely virgin empty parking lot. "Ready Dad?" And we ripped a couple of donuts like our dad taught us the best we could in all-wheel drive Subaru. 

Mike wasn’t the least bit phased, he barely looked up at all. He was on his cell phone, calling his buddy Stan and announcing proudly, “finally got the stick out of my dick and am headed home to take a leak.”

I had another error in the obit, which was taken out prior to publication. I had a paragraph on how Mike had a strong distaste for judgmental SOBs, that he never judged anyone by the clothes they wore, the positions they held, or the cars they drove, but only upon the content of their actions and the validity of their word.

And when I read this to Mike, and to his buddy the honorable Dr. Reverend PhD smartypants ethicist, they both hesitated. That’s not true. Mike judges. "I judge people, I sure do." And judges hard. So we took it out.

But what I meant was Mike always offered an equal playing field for everyone. Every person, in his book, has value and purpose, whether working at the dump, a teacher, bagging groceries, a PhD, septic cleaner, sales person, waiter, pilot, brain surgeon, mechanic. He firmly believed everyone has value and should be treated with respect: his judgment came to play when others didn’t recognize this value and treated people unfairly to which he had zero tolerance and less forgiveness.

Mike respected everyone until given a reason not to, and that reason would have to do with their actions and not their being. He was, and remains, the original equal opportunity friend: black people, gay people, poor people, rich people, and sometimes – but not always – elected officials. 

He taught us early on, that assholes come in all economic, political, class, religion, intellects and race. People should be treated fairly, until they prove you otherwise by their actions.

Where I live, we’ve turned Mike into a verb. When at a party, and you grab something without waiting to be served, “Did you just Mike that steak?” When swiping a handful of brownies and shoving them in your mouth when you think no one is watching, “I saw you Mike the brownies!” Stick your fingers into the icing of a cake? The original miking of the cake. Miking has gone viral; my kids and their friends, they Mike chicken wings, pizza, cake, burgers, fries – whatever they can whenever they can. And I think our dad might have been a little embarrassed by this, and a teeny bit proud.

But a weird thing happened just this past week. My niece, a nationally ranked motorcross racer that Mike pretended to fret about in front of his wife but secretly was prouder than proud that that apple didn’t roll far from the goddamn tree, went and bought a used truck to tow her bike, off craigslist out near where I live in Connecticut. She negotiated and wheeled and dealed like a pro – and got a great truck at a great price.

And get this, the seller let her take the truck, with his own plates and insurance, and drive it all the way back to Upstate New York. “You seem like a good kid with a good head on your shoulders. I know you’ll bring the plates back.”

My sister immediately told my dad, “Good news Dad! Get this! She bought a truck from a real Mike Mayer, dad, ya know? One of the good guys. A real Mike Mayer.”

So next time you’re miking the cake, I challenge you to extend your Mike Mayer altruism a little farther, a little deeper, to reach even more people with more kindness to make this world a little bit brighter for someone when they just might need it most. 

Don’t do it because someone is watching, don’t do so because you want someone to owe you one, or because you want to get your name in the paper. Do so because it is the right thing to do.

Who here – show of hands – ever received a favor, a lending hand, needed advice, or show of kindness from Mike Mayer? Look around: this – this is his legacy, and it is now your obligation to return the favor, by continuing his good work now that he is, sadly, gone.

*Please commit to doing any action possible to make a positive change where you live, so our story doesn't become your story. Join a group in your community. Send an email. Be a friend. Find a cause. Share on Facebook. Hold a sign. Make a difference.


Why it matters: NSSF in Newtown

Photo credit Newtown Patch
At a local Newtown Action Alliance presser (fancy talk for press conference) to coincide with NSSF's (National Shooting Sports Foundation) Shot Show, the firearms industry's leading tradeshow and conference, which kicked off simultaneously in Las Vegas, somebody way up the food chain at NAA asked me if I would be willing to speak as a Newtown resident about NSSF. Out loud. To the media. In front of friends and neighbors.

It's quite sad and ironic that National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) is located right here in my home of Newtown Connecticut.

So that's the background, and here is what I said:

Sadly, I read this aloud today, hearing news of yet another school shooting in Roswell New Mexico. How many since Sandy Hook? Too many. This will continue, until industry leaders like NSSF taking a leadership role to find common ground and protect public safety and change the tide of the gun culture.

*Please commit to doing any action possible to make a positive change where you live, so our story doesn't become your story. Join a group in your community. Send an email. Be a friend. Find a cause. Share on Facebook. Hold a sign. Make a difference.


May the Force be with You

When you experience something like Newtown did last December, you spend a lot of time hand-wringing, crying, frustrated, hoping somebody, someplace will take notice and do something. Someone with a voice, with power, with influence. Somebody capable of making a difference. Surely, this must change. Surely someone is doing something.
An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Newton's First Law
Tackling issues like gun violence that killed a classroom of kids here is so huge, all you see is the size of an immense, dark forest, and quickly lose sight of the trees. That's how it's been. Little tiny efforts that seem to make no difference, until they do.

Except I'm beginning to realize trees truly do matter. Even the smallest action can have ripple affects that create change. There is no action too small, no voice too weak to be heard.

Take for instance, the jackass Brookfield BOE member Greg Beck, who posted on Newtown's 26 Acts of Kindness initiative that he would buy 26 boxes of ammunition for 26 friends. An angry Brookfield rose up and spoke up, each voice leading to another, and last Wednesday, Greg Beck resigned.

Take for instance, wearing an anti-gun violence t-shirt to a road race. Doesn't sound brave, but this one act requires more guts than you can ever imagine, considered an act of defiance to our constitution by a very vocal, scary community not afraid to confront and challenge you. But then more quietly, someone says, "Nice shirt." And then another. And another. And you run faster and lighter than ever before.

Take for instance, your kid wears his Newtown Lax jacket out-of-state for a rally to stop gun violence. And from the podium, a state representative mentions he saw a kid from across a parking lot wearing a Newtown Lacrosse coat, and moved to tears, he says for all to hear, he is more committed to do what he does than ever before.

Take for instance, writing an email to a representative and questioning his commitment to public safety. You may never get a response; you may never think it was read, until one day that congressman recognizes you and hugs you to thank you for taking the time to share your reality. Your voice was heard. Your words matter.

Go be heard. Now is not the time to go quietly into that good night, to be a good girl and accept what's always been as always being. Now is not the time to hide behind the distance time affords us, and hope someone else does the job for you, because it is only you that can do this job.

You needn't do a lot, but you must do something. This is my only resolution for 2014, and I hope you make it yours as well.


What I Wish I Didn't Know

Artist Paul Siegel. Available at newtownaction.org

If tragedy strikes your town, like it did mine, this may or may not happen to you. 

Hopefully you will never know.

1. You will find friends where you never expected. Hold them close.

2. Grieve at your own rate. Do not judge. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, has a story to tell and a burden to carry.

3. Not everyone will comprehend the power of grief. It's just not possible.

4. People will say evil things. People you love, people you hate, strangers, colleagues, your boss, your cousins, strangers, trolls, your neighbors, your friends. They’ll all say hurtful things. Some will mean it, thankfully most won't.

5. You will lose friends you thought you knew. People you care about will walk away and never look back.

6. A secure school is an oxymoron. So are secure malls, towns, cities, theaters, navy yards, street, college, playground. No one is secure against a sick, unvetted person armed with military grade firearms, unlimited rounds and a goal. Sure we can all do better, but we can never be secure.

7. Small towns, big cities, suburbs, playgrounds, parties, mosques, churches, movie theaters, malls, navy bases, corporate parks, sleepovers, domestic violence, suicides: guns do not discriminate, so we must. Background checks for all purchases whether in Dicks or Cabela’s, or Craigslist, a gun show, or garage sale.

8. Listen to your kids. They’re trying to tell you something, even if they’re saying nothing at all. Parent together.

9. Do not engage with haters. Not in person and not on-line. Block, unfriend, and don't read comments. Haters hate. You can’t change that, you can only control how you react to them.

10. Love broadly and kindly. Kindness matters, not some of the time, but all of the time.

11. Look people in the eye. Listen carefully. Hug often.

12. Speak up. If you do not like what’s going on, say something. Do not suffer in silence or bully on social media. No one is a mind reader; you must make your intentions be known if you want change to happen.

13. Do not apologize for crying. Crying means caring, and do not stop caring.

14. Forgive often, but do not forget.

15. Above all, do no harm with your words or actions. Not to your family, friends, community or school. If you are not here to make life better in your circle, find another circle.

*Please commit to doing any action possible to make a positive change where you live, so our story doesn't become your story. Join a group in your community. Send an email. Be a friend. Find a cause. Share on Facebook. Hold a sign. Make a difference.


Acts of Kindness in Brookfield

A campaign began in our community and quickly spread nationwide: 26 Acts of Kindness, counting down the days until the somber 1 year anniversary of when our nightmare began.

It grew quickly via social media, with people sharing our message of love and kindness with those they meet.

But not everyone.

In our neighboring town of Brookfield, Connecticut, a newly elected Board of Education member, Gregory Beck, had a very different idea of kindness: here is what he posted on the Acts of Kindness Facebook page:

So eruptions ensued on social media, and the national media, painting the beautiful, quaint town of Brookfield with a horrific comment. I decided to not play this out on Facebook, but instead attended Greg Beck's very first BOE meeting, to let him know exactly what this Newtown neighbor thought of his comment.

I wore my uniform: Newtown Strong t-shirt and wrist to elbow green bracelets usually reserved for traveling far from home, where it's necessary to remind people of our pain. Usually not necessary to wear so close to town, as most of us are on the same team.

Public comments began, and despite the tears and anger of the speakers, I couldn't help but smile at the support. One after one, parents rose up, students too, some angered to tears, and demanded Greg Beck step down. Every person was infuriated and did not hold back on their disgust and humiliation at Greg Beck’s comments, and how he does speak for, nor nor represent them.

Take a listen here to some pretty pissed off Brookfield parents. 

I was among friends, and took the podium and immediately thanked Brookfield for their unanimous voice of support, love and kindness.  Then proceeded to ask Greg Beck to step down.

Thank you Brookfield, for a resounding act of kindness. This guy does not represent you, and this Newtown neighbor knows it.

I don't have a clip of the evening, but here’s my own pajama-clad, mini rehearsal at home, of what I shared with our friends next door: 

*Please commit to doing any action possible to make a positive change where you live, so our story doesn't become your story. Join a group in your community. Send an email. Be a friend. Find a cause. Share on Facebook. Hold a sign. Make a difference.


Halloween in Newtown

Main Street in Newtown loves Halloween. 

I’m not sure when it started, but it’s become tradition for Main Street Halloween to be an an event, leaving many modest neighborhoods like mine with the lone one or two visitors, and a bowl of 3 Musketeers and no one to feed.

But on Main Street? A completely different story. 

People come from all over to walk the leafy sidewalks north and south of the flagpole and wait in line at the generous homes that host thousands – yes, thousands – of little and not-so-little visitors.

Trick o’ treaters often wait in long, long lines to experience the gift of community and candy. 

Many houses go all out with themes like Alice in Wonderland, Grease, Wizard of Oz, Fairy Princesses, Goblins 'n Ghouls. Friends come from all over town and take shifts until the candy is all gone, which is too early for most.

There’s usually a couple politicians trying to pimp out policy. And always that church with incredibly creepy puppet show praising their god of choice. And the local dentist with their team of Cinderellas distributing – gasp – toothbrushes and floss.

One amazing teenager takes Halloween at her Main Street home a step further: she single handedly started a fundraiser just two years ago, The Great Pumpkin Challenge, to honor her friend battling brain cancer, and raise money for the Hole in the Wall Camp.

This kid is creating change. 

This is Newtown.

Everyone wears a costume of sorts. Everyone. Little kids, teenagers, babies, seniors, parents, dogs, the odd llama or alpaca. Those with kids and without; Newtowners all dressed up with someplace to go.

Last year, Hurricane Sandy stranded Newtown candyless and powerless for a week or so. All we wanted was flush toilets, a working fridge, and an insurance adjuster. 

The year before, Halloween was cancelled as 100+ year old ominous tree branches teetered under 20” of a freak Snow-tober storm, closing most roads in town, including Main Street.

This year ... well this year while we all have power, our energy is weak. 

But our spirit is not. 

My wish for Newtown is a Main Street full once again of sugar-crazed kids, running from house to house, with open arms, open hearts, and open doors waiting for the embrace from the community that loves them.

*Please commit to doing any action possible to make a positive change where you live, so our story doesn't become your story. Join a group in your community. Send an email. Be a friend. Find a cause. Share on Facebook. Hold a sign. Make a difference.


The Value of a Dollar

Did you hear what the teen store Wet Seal did for one aspiring model?

They launched the modeling career for one teen with Downs Syndrome and instantly became my very favorite store for clothes I'm too old to wear.

Because that's what I do: put my money where my values are.

While before Karrie, I never once shopped Wet Seal because of the name alone (ew, really?), I will now encourage the teens in my life to spend their hard earned dollars there because with one amazing act, Wet Seal changed the mindset of "we can't" to proof that we really and truly can.

Read this and smile all day long, then run to the mall and give Wet Seal all your money for being so incredible. Or at least buy a shirt for someone young and hip in your life. Maybe two.

I used Wet Seal and Karrie to explain to my very pissed off Kid3 the value of her almighty dollar.

Kid3 joined Newtown Junior Action Alliance, a group of teenagers working diligently to end gun violence and using their powerful Newtown voices to enact common sense gun legislation. That's official speak for kids who have been to enough funerals of dead 7 year-olds to know this is not the world they want to live in and are doing something about it.

Pretty badass ambitious, eh?

So when NAA Jr. recently changed their meeting space to Starbucks, Kid3 wigged. "We spent weeks and weeks boycotting them! They allow guns in Starbucks, why would we ever meet there?" She is now faced with a dilemma of her NAA meeting at Starbucks – STARBUCKS!!! – and this is so not-okay in her view.

For those not up on current coffee shop gun culture: there's a no-gun policy at Starbucks corporate headquarters, but customers are allowed to come armed and ready for anything at the corner coffee shop (according to individual state open carry laws). These responsible gun owners have spent the past several months bragging about these said rights, culminating in Starbucks Appreciation Day for gun owners. Newtown's Starbucks was ground central for an open-carry confrontation back in August. Real nice. Confusing? You bet. Dangerous? Um, well, yeah, guess that depends on your perspective.

I told her Starbucks did eventually listen to those who demanded a safer location for a latte. They responded with a huge change of policy, sort of. And that, darling daughter, is good – really, really good.

They listened to common sense requests. No, they did not outright ban weapons at local stores, but they did formally ask responsible gun owners to please leave their guns at home. This is huge. Huge baby steps that can and will create real change. Newtown Action Alliance is making sure of it.

I explained compromise. And positive reinforcement. And reward of capitalism. Kind of like parenting except with money.

So go, I told her. Spend your money at Starbucks to thank them for listening and acting. Reward them with your hard-earned dollars and bring your friends.

Just like Wet Seal; they didn't just talk about it making this young woman a model. They did something, and changed a life by doing so. They very well may have started a movement to create a long-lasting cultural shift away from discrimination to embrace kindness and acceptance, we'll have to wait to see. Not bad message to come from a teen clothing store. Choose to spend your money there.

Change has to start somewhere. Whether little tiny steps or great big decisions. But to do nothing is not an option.

Starbucks did something. Wet Seal did something. They are trying to make a difference. So we reward them with our dollars. It's the American way.

*Please commit to doing any action possible to make a positive change where you live, so our story doesn't become your story. Join a group in your community. Send an email. Be a friend. Find a cause. Share on Facebook. Hold a sign. Make a difference.


Voting to Move Newtown Forward

Next step forward.

The State of Connecticut graciously offered Newtown a $50 million grant to teardown and rebuild the Sandy Hook Elementary School where, well, you know.

Currently, our Sandy Hook kids attend an elementary school in Monroe, the next town down. A gracious, temporary fix to a horrific situation that we are grateful for, but anxious to make our town whole again by bringing these kids back to Newtown.

As a town, we had to vote to formally accept the $50 million state grant. Which in Newtown can be a problem as referendums of any kind are difficult, especially if and when money is involved – and especially when education funds are concerned. People get antsy. Some people get downright impossible.

Votes in small town America affecting education are never easy: not when too many are still are out of work; not when our seniors struggle with mind-blowing property taxes; not when a forecast of shrinking school enrollments loom on the horizon; and not when a madman mows down a classroom of kids with an assault weapon and forever changes our world.

And most painful of all, some families do not want to return to that ground no matter how much they completely alter the new building, entrance, and grounds. It's just too difficult to imagine returning under any circumstances. If you would only imagine.

But to do nothing, in our town, is to do nothing for a very, very long time.

A vocal contingency on Facebook, the new watercooler, coffee shop and Saturday morning dump runs all rolled into a 24/7 hour relentless complaint cycle, insists we are moving "way too fast" and we should "think this through."

I only look to Fairfield Hills, a dormant, neglected, condemned psychiatric hospital on the prettiest property in town that we have been thinking through for over a decade. Almost two.

We need a new police station, a new senior center, and a paid EMS and fire department. We have a long list of needs, but here's one solution that is being handed to us from a sympathetic state trying to make our pain a little less.

If the vote went down, we'd lose the grant. A yes vote gives us the funds, no takes it away. Should be a simple decision, but with our referendum history and apathy of voters, it was not a sure thing.

At the Newtown Middle School where the referendum was held, there was a steady flow of voters; something to smile about. My friend Lucy was adamant: "This better pass or I'll have to leave."

I told her I would never, ever move. I love it here.
"Really?" she said. "You could stay here? Can you even imagine living in a town that wouldn't support this? What kind of human being would not support tearing down that building and building a new school to bring our kids home? It's a grant – who would ever say no??!!
I agree. For the first time, I thought I too would have to move if our town was filled with naysayers who care more about dollars and cents than broken hearts and fractured souls. 

We needed to vote to accept it. I was worried our voters would say no. Or worse, say nothing.

I was not alone with these concerns, and I watched as Newtown rallied; a huge community effort to get out accurate information both on-line, and on the streets of town. Elected officials and PTAs. Coaches and teachers. On soccer sidelines, at the gas station and the bagel store. The town was buzzing: "Did you vote?" "Did you vote yet?"

At 8:25 pm I heard. 

It was a landslide of optimism and love. 4,504 versus 558 votes in favor of the funding. 90% of voters said yes. Yes to a future. Yes to Connecticut. Yes to bring our Sandy Hook kids home to Newtown.

And so the demolition begins so we can bring all of our Sandy Hook students back home where they belong. 

Almost all.

*Please commit to doing any action possible to make a positive change where you live, so our story doesn't become your story. Join a group in your community. Send an email. Be a friend. Find a cause. Share on Facebook. Hold a sign. Make a difference.