For Somali Women, Pain of Being a Spoil of War

I have to say, I've never felt so angry when reading an article. There's got to be something that can be done.

For Somali Women, Pain of Being a Spoil of War
Published: December 27, 2011

MOGADISHU, Somalia — The girl’s voice dropped to a hush as she remembered the bright, sunny afternoon when she stepped out of her hut and saw her best friend buried in the sand, up to her neck.

Her friend had made the mistake of refusing to marry a Shabab commander. Now she was about to get her head bashed in, rock by rock. “You’re next,” the Shabab warned the girl, a frail 17-year-old who was living with her brother in a squalid refugee camp.

Several months later, the men came back. Five militants burst into her hut, pinned her down and gang-raped her, she said. They claimed to be on a jihad, or holy war, and any resistance was considered a crime against Islam, punishable by death.

“I’ve had some very bad dreams about these men,” she said, having recently escaped the area they control. “I don’t know what religion they are.”

Somalia has been steadily worn down by decades of conflict and chaos, its cities in ruins and its people starving. Just this year, tens of thousands have died from famine, with countless others cut down in relentless combat. Now Somalis face yet another widespread terror: an alarming increase in rapes and sexual abuse of women and girls.

The Shabab militant group, which presents itself as a morally righteous rebel force and the defender of pure Islam, is seizing women and girls as spoils of war, gang-raping and abusing them as part of its reign of terror in southern Somalia, according to victims, aid workers and United Nations officials. Short of cash and losing ground, the militants are also forcing families to hand over girls for arranged marriages that often last no more than a few weeks and are essentially sexual slavery, a cheap way to bolster their ranks’ flagging morale.

But it is not just the Shabab. In the past few months, aid workers and victims say, there has been a free-for-all of armed men preying upon women and girls displaced by Somalia’s famine, who often trek hundreds of miles searching for food and end up in crowded, lawless refugee camps where Islamist militants, rogue militiamen and even government soldiers rape, rob and kill with impunity.

With the famine putting hundreds of thousands of women on the move — severing them from their traditional protection mechanism, the clan — aid workers say more Somali women are being raped right now than at any time in recent memory. In some areas, they say, women are being used as chits at roadblocks, surrendered to the gunmen staffing the barrier in the road so that a group of desperate refugees can pass.

“The situation is intensifying,” said Radhika Coomaraswamy, the United Nations’ special representative for children and armed conflict. All the recent flight has created a surge in opportunistic rapes, she said, and “for the Shabab, forced marriage is another aspect they are using to control the population.”

In the past two months, from Mogadishu alone, the United Nations says it has received more than 2,500 reports of gender-based violence, an unusually large number here. But because Somalia is a no-go zone for most operations, United Nations officials say they are unable to confirm the reports, leaving the work to fledgling Somali aid organizations under constant threat.

Somalia is a deeply traditional place, where 98 percent of girls are subject to genital cutting, according to United Nations figures. Most girls are illiterate and relegated to their homes. When they venture out, it is usually to work, trudging through the rubble-strewn alleyways wrapped head to toe in thick black cloth, often lugging something on their back, the equatorial sun burning down on them.

The famine and mass displacement, which began over the summer, have made women and girls more vulnerable. Many Somali communities have been disbanded, and with armed groups forcing men and boys into their militias, it is often single women, with children in tow, who set off on the dangerous odyssey to refugee camps.

At the same time, aid workers and United Nations officials say the Shabab, who are fighting Somalia’s transitional government and imposing a harsh version of Islam in the areas they control, can no longer pay their several thousand fighters the way they used to. Much as they seize crops and livestock, giving their militants what they call “temporary wives” is how the Shabab keep many young men fighting for them.

But these are hardly marriages, said Sheik Mohamed Farah Ali, a former Shabab commander who defected to the government army.

“There’s no cleric, no ceremony, nothing,” he said, adding that Shabab fighters had even paired up with thin little girls as young as 12, who are left torn and incontinent afterward. If a girl refuses, he said, “she’s killed by stones or bullets.”

One young woman just delivered a baby, half Somali, half Arab. She said she was selected by a Somali Shabab fighter she knew, brought to a house full of guns and handed off to a portly Arab commander, one of the many foreigners fighting for the Shabab.

“He did whatever he wanted with me,” she said. “Night and day.” She said she escaped when he was sleeping.

The Elman Peace and Human Rights Center is one of the few Somali organizations helping rape victims, run by Fartuun Adan, a tall, outspoken woman whose husband, Elman, was gunned down by warlords years ago. Ms. Adan says that since the famine began, she has met hundreds of women who have been raped and hundreds more who have escaped forced marriages.

“You have no idea how difficult it is for them to come forward,” she said. “There’s no justice here, no protection. People say, ‘You’re junk’ if you’ve been raped.”

Often, the women are left wounded or pregnant, forced to seek help. Ms. Adan wants to expand her medical services and counseling for rape victims and possibly open a safe house, but it is hard to do on a budget of $5,000 a month, provided by a small aid organization called Sister Somalia. Ms. Adan wept on a recent day as she listened to the 17-year-old girl recount the story of seeing her friend stoned to death and then being gang-raped herself.

“These girls ask me, ‘How am I going to get married, what’s going to be my future, what’s going to happen to me?’ ” she said. “We can’t answer that.”

Some of the women in Ms. Adan’s office seem to have come from another time. They have made it here, with help from Elman’s network, from the deepest recesses of rural Somalia, where women are still treated like chattel.

One 18-year-old who asked to go by Ms. Nur, her common last name, was married off at 10. She was a nomad and says that to this day she has never used a phone or seen a television.

She spoke of being raped by two Shabab fighters at a displaced-persons camp in October. She said the men did not bother saying much when they entered her hut. They just pointed their guns at her chest and uttered two words: stay silent.


Happy Holidays!

In lieu of writing a blog entry this week, I simply want to wish everybody a happy holiday season, whichever holidays do or do not apply to you. I hope the next several days are safe and happy for everybody!


Where's the outrage over 'macho' Legos?

I thought this was an interesting perspective, which reminds me of a conversation I had with someone at our Pay Negotiation seminar. She is a native of Germany and said she was fascinated how in America items sold for girls and boys are so gender specific, particularly with colors. For girls, everything is pink or purple, for boys everything is blue or green. Kids' rooms are painted specific colors, their clothing are specific colors to identify their gender/sex. She mentioned in Germany, they don't have anything like this. After our conversation, when shopping for a friend's child, I noticed how pervasive this really is. Why do certain genders need to identify with certain colors or objects? I think I need to ponder it a bit more. What do you think?

Regardless, below is an interesting read. I do have to say, I find the narrow variety of Lego sets sold in stores frustrating.

Where's the outrage over 'macho' Legos?
by Kelly Byrom
Thursday, December 22, 2011

Apparently, some people are up in arms -- little plastic arms -- about Legos. The company announced a new line of toys designed for girls called "Friends." Yes, they're pink, but some people are more upset about the backstory attached to the main characters. Each girlfriend includes a storyline about her personality and preferences. One likes animals, another is the "social girl." And yes, some of the "friends" are defined by gender roles that can be stereotypical, like beautician and singer.

As a woman and a mother of a daughter, I should be enraged, holding up signs and burning my bra in protest that Lego assumes my daughter must have pink toys, correct? How dare they assume my daughter has to limit her options to being "social' or liking animals?

But I'm also a huge fan of Lego, and grew up with the toys. I still have my treasured collection from "back in the day," including the pirate ship, the airport, the raceway, space station, the electric train ... it goes on. I am a girl, and no way would I have wanted pink or "girly" Legos when I was a kid.

But here's the thing: My five-year-old son would absolutely LOVE these. He adores all things pink, glittery and girly. What has me steamed about this story is what it says about gender roles for boys.

Are current Legos products gender-neutral? Heck NO! It's all guy ... from "Star Wars" and "Cars" to Ninjas. Even the neutral-sounding "City" line is mostly full of cars, fire engines and planes. Most of the 'mini-fig' characters that come with playsets are male. Pure macho stuff, hardly gender neutral.

So where's the outrage that our boys are pressured by overly-masculine stereotypes through building bricks?

My daughter can dress up as a ferocious dragon for Halloween and no one bats an eye. But put my boy in a Minnie Mouse costume and people start getting nervous. Not for one second did I worry about the looks we would get for my daughter this year, but you bet I was ready to challenge anyone who questioned my son. Girls have so many choices, and that's a great thing, but boys should get that same freedom.

And why are "boys toys" for everyone and "girls toys" just for girls?

We bought my son a fireman costume, one of the standard boy pretend-play outfits. He routinely pairs it with a tutu and declares himself a "fireman princess." He knows what he likes, and he's not finding it in the "boys toys" aisle.

The run-up to my son's birthday parties is always fun. His friend's parents ask what he'd like as a gift, and I list his favorite princess and fairy toys. THUD. One mom didn't hold back, saying "Well, I don't want to encourage that."

I'm not worried that he's getting mixed messages. Giving my son nothing but macho Legos while steering him clear of the "the pink aisle" boxes him into a stereotypical gender role every bit as much as a "pinked-down" version of any traditional boy toy.

When my daughter dresses up as a dragon, I don't worry she'll grow up confused about her status as human versus animal, and playing with pirate Legos won't turn my kid into Blackbeard.

So while I understand parents might not want their daughters too influenced by "girly" toys, I don't want those same "macho" limits imposed on my son. And as for the new Lego "Friends" sets, you don't have to buy them, but I will.


A Troubled Girl Then, a Proud Woman Today

Interesting article about body image

A Troubled Girl Then, a Proud Woman Today


Published: December 13, 2011

When Carmen Roman used to look in the mirror, she hated what she saw.

Though she was not overweight, in her eyes, she was fat. Desperate to be thinner, she exercised obsessively in her room, doing aerobics and situps. She stopped eating for long stretches of time.
“I didn’t like the way I looked,” Ms. Roman said. “I didn’t like anything about me.”

In her darkest moments, she would lock herself in the bathroom and use a straight razor to carve deep cuts into her arm, drawing blood and contemplating suicide.

“I just wanted to die; that’s what went through my mind when doing it,” she said, remembering the feeling of hopelessness that washed over her. “I thought everyone would be better off without me.”

Ms. Roman, 20, grew up in a housing project in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, the older daughter of working-class parents from the Dominican Republic. When she was 12, her parents divorced, and her father, an auto mechanic, distanced himself from the family, she said. Though she was never particularly close to him, she said, her father’s absence during her early adolescence created a void that decimated her self-esteem.

“He wasn’t really into my life,” said Ms. Roman, a petite brunette with piercing brown eyes. “He was just a figure in the house, but having him there is different than not having him there.” She added, “Especially as a female, when you don’t have a strong male figure, you tumble a lot.”
Ms. Roman started skipping school, failing classes and sneaking around with boyfriends despite her mother’s strict rules against dating. “You always want to be wanted,” Ms. Roman said. “I was so negative within myself.”

One day, a teacher noticed the cuts on her arm. Concerned she was being abused, the teacher alerted a guidance counselor, who contacted Ms. Roman’s mother.

“She was acting out, but I had no idea,” said her mother, Maria Roman, her eyes filling with tears as she recalled the shock of discovering her daughter’s physical wounds. “I was thinking: what did I do wrong?”

At the recommendation of a friend, Maria Roman sought counseling for her daughter at Catholic Big Sisters and Big Brothers, an affiliate of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York, one of the seven agencies supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. There, Ms. Roman received one-on-one sessions with a social worker, and family therapy.

“She helped me deal with my dad issues and the divorce,” Ms. Roman said. “She helped me and my mom have a better relationship. Before, we didn’t communicate at all.”

Through the counseling and the support of her family, Ms. Roman got to the root of her self-esteem issues and changed the way she saw herself. By her sophomore year at Queens Vocational and Technical High School, she had stopped being truant and had begun to excel. She made the honor roll for three consecutive years and received awards for perfect attendance.
“I’ve seen a lot of friends drop out, get pregnant,” she said. “I didn’t want to be like that.”
Ms. Roman enrolled in the Catholic Big Sisters and Big Brothers’ college preparatory program and set her sights on the next big step in her life. Advised by a counselor, she applied to Pennsylvania State University and was accepted.

“When she graduates, that’s going to be my prize,” said Maria Roman, a factory worker at a packaging plant, looking proudly at her daughter.

Scholarships and grants cover about half of Ms. Roman’s $28,000 a year tuition. For her other expenses, including all of her room and board, she has had to take out loans. This year, to help Ms. Roman with the cost of books, Catholic Charities drew $425 from the Neediest Cases Fund.
Ms. Roman, the first person in her family to graduate high school, is now a sophomore, but she said a sense of self-worth has been her greatest accomplishment so far.

She plans to major in psychology; she said she wanted to help others struggling emotionally.
“You have to have the courage to look yourself in the mirror and say, I’m going down the wrong road,” Ms. Roman said. “You have to be willing to let yourself open up and talk to someone. Don’t give up; there’s always someone out there who can help you.”

Today, when Ms. Roman looks in the mirror, she likes what she sees.

“I definitely see a different person,” she said. “I can tell I’ve grown. Now, I feel worthy.”


Last Minute Shopping Hints!!

With only 5 days until the big day, crunch time has arrived! As we all are scurrying to get those final gifts, the below article highlights a few practical tips & personal lessons that remind us that the real meaning of Christmas isn't based on the amount of money we spend!

How I Blew $1,000 and Ruined Christmas: 3 Lessons on Giving Gifts

English: Danboard holding a Christmas gift.

It cost me $1,000 to figure out the meaning of Christmas. With less than a week before the big day and crunch time closing in on panicked shoppers, take a few of the lessons I learned on the art of giving.

My first job out of college, I spent nearly $1,000 on Christmas presents for my boyfriend. It was a financially hopeless gesture that went straight to my credit card, but what can I say, I’m a hopeless holiday romantic. However, when I didn’t find a similarly priced Golden Retriever puppy under the tree, I sulked for weeks over the disappointment and stressed for months over the debt.

Somewhere between being a bright-eyed tyke showered with presents from Dad and Mom and growing up and affording gifts ourselves, what happened to our approach to giving?

Returning, re-gifting and reselling unwanted gifts is less of a holiday faux pas these days. In fact, an American Express survey found that 79% of consumers deem re-gifting socially acceptable during the holidays. After all, shouldn’t we give and get what we really want for Christmas?

In our last few days before Christmas, how can we think about gifts meaningfully? Here are three lessons, learned $1,000 in debt later, to take with you on your last-minute shopping spree.

1) More expensive doesn’t mean better. The year I spent a grand on Christmas presents, the gift my boyfriend talked about the most wasn’t the Lakers tickets or designer watch I got him. I saw the childlike wonder on his bearded face the night I took him to an outdoor park for a public screening of his favorite Will Ferrell flick, complete with hot chocolate and popcorn. While I thought Kobe or Dolce & Gabbana would steal his heart, I should’ve realized that all it took to make him happy was food and Ferrell. In this last week of rushed Christmas shopping, it’s easy to overspend on gifts we didn’t think through (hello, re-gift closet) or charge over-budget purchases on credit (hello, debt). But spending a significant amount of money can’t compensate for spending a significant amount of time thinking through a truly great present.

2) Give whimsy, not practicality. When the Hummer H2 debuted its monstrous frame, my Dad covetously pointed out every single one on the road, especially the obnoxious yellow ones. For Christmas that year, my brothers and I got him a sunshine-colored Hummer H2– the remote control car version. By sunset Christmas Day, Dad had crashed into the neighbor’s mailbox, ran over Mom’s rose garden, and repeatedly mentioned how smart his children were to not impose the real gas guzzler on him. Sure, Aunt Sue was planning on getting a new crock pot anyway and your brother is in desperate need of new winter boots. But the memorable gifts are the ones that your loved ones want but won’t necessarily buy for themselves. In what small way can your humble Christmas present make a wish come true?

3) Take yourself out of the Christmas equation. Admit it: when you give something, you’re expecting an equally great thing in return. When I expected an expensive puppy in return for the basketball tickets and designer duds I gave, I turned gift-giving into a practice of finding “stuff” of equal thoughtfulness, price and value. Plain and simple, it was selfish, and it turned the magic of gift giving into a financial transaction. As children, our parents showered us with Christmas presents even though all we had to give in return was a glitter-covered macaroni ornament. How can we learn to place generosity over reciprocity? If you knew you weren’t getting anything in return, would that change what kind of present you’d give a loved one?

Not every present we will give or receive this Christmas will be perfect. There’s the inevitable reindeer-shaped bottle opener we’ll shelve ‘til next Christmas, the gift basket we’ll bring to work for co-workers to scavenge, and pricey boots in the wrong size that will end up on eBay.

While we can’t control what we’ll get for Christmas, we can decide how we will give.

In consideration of financially-strapped loved ones, maybe next year you can plan a Secret Santa so they won’t have to buy gifts for 20 family members. Or skip physical gifts entirely, and make a donation to a charity in your loved one’s name through sites like Just Give and CharityChoice Gift Cards. Another do-good alternative is Kiva, which allows you to fund a microloan on behalf of your loved one for impoverished entrepreneurs across the globe.

So what happened to that $1,000 Christmas debt? I paid it off by the following Christmas, perked up my credit score, and learned financial responsibility along the way. While it was a great learning moment, that wasn’t what made Christmas so memorable that year.

That Christmas, my apartment was too small for a Christmas tree. My childhood Christmases were always filled with the fragrance of Douglas Firs, fresh from the Santa Cruz Mountains, so a wave of homesickness hit me hard. One night, I walked into my boyfriend’s apartment to find his living room wall covered in rainbow Christmas lights, strung up in the shape of a Christmas tree. A homemade feast of my favorites awaited me: dill and feta-stuffed salmon, mushroom risotto, herb focaccia bread, goat cheese studded with blueberries, and mango sherbet for dessert. It didn’t have a price tag, but it was worth far more than any $1,000 gift I could give.

Learning to truly appreciate the person behind the gift—that’s what Christmas means to me now.


Rape: The Cool Thing To Do

Most men fear getting laughed at or humiliated by a romantic prospect while most women fear

rape and death.

Gavin de Becker, The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence


The world alone just looks miserable and terrible. Every woman is born to fear rape; a fear that starts at inception and lasts until death. Unfortunately rape has been used as a weapon against women (and against their male family members at times) for as long as men and women have co-existed.

Although the human specied had made great strides toward attempting to eliminate this heinous and unnecessary crime throughout many countries across the world, rape is still prominent in today's society. 1 in 4 women in the United States will be sexually assaulted by the age of 25. That means, out of my 3 best friends and myself that one of us is a victim of a sex crime. Unfortunately, this is accurate. That's how close rape can hit home.

Now, with all of this in mind, take a look at this article in Huffington Post from December 14, 2011 which talks about a fraternity at the University of Vermont (UVM) distributing a survey to its brothers asking who they'd like to rape. Yes, you read that right.

Who they would like to rape.

Disturbing, huh? To think that in 2011, boys born in 1989 & LATER are finding humor and pleasure in raping their female peers. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but I don't think humanity has much hope if we can't each respect one another's bodies.

Be an advocate.

Don't make light of rape.

Don't let others either.



Now that my school semester is over, I suddenly have lots of time to sit around during the day and watch ESPN to my heart’s content. Not much makes me more content than that. However, once SportsCenter goes to commercial, I continually find myself going right back into feminist mode (not to be confused with Depeche Mode).

From an ad where football players distance themselves from one of their teammates who knows a great deal about jewelry, to an ad where MMA fighter Randy Couture tries to shame the viewer into buying a Total Gym or whatever it is by calling them “princess,” sexism and gender role stereotypes run rampant through these commercial spots. It does make sense, though. The world of sports is typically a masculine and often-sexist enterprise, so advertisers know exactly what they’re doing by pandering to the men who are watching. Every time I watch, however, I can’t help but get more and more perturbed at the prospect of men getting scared into general male stereotypes (which, by the way, don’t think particularly highly of women).

As with a couple of my previous blog entries, my general theme here isn’t so much that these evil ad agencies and corporations need to be stopped, nor do I think that my ranting will enlighten these people and compel them to run completely gender-neutral ads on a usually hyper-masculine television network. Rather, my intended audience is the consumer. It’s okay to watch these commercials and laugh at them; heck, I think some of them are hilarious despite their obvious biases. Just keep in mind that you don’t have to help the advertisers out by conforming to these stereotypes for fear of shame or embarrassment. You are your own person, and you don’t have to subscribe to an agenda that anybody else attempts to provide for you, only the one you provide for yourself.


New Year's Resolution: Sit at the Table

Sheryl Sandberg on Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders

Watch Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's TEDTalk by clicking here. Below is a companion essay, which can be read before or after watching the video. I highly recommend doing both. Got me thinking, what can I do today to help the women of tomorrow? CT NOW is working hard to do just that, hope you will join us!

When Pat Mitchell invited me to speak at TEDWomen, everyone assumed I would talk about social media. I assumed so too. But as I started pulling together my thoughts, I landed on another topic: "Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders." Because for all the ceilings that have been shattered, we still have a real problem.

Women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States in 1981. Since then, we have slowly and steadily made progress, earning increasingly more of the college degrees, taking more of the entry-level jobs, going into previously male-dominated fields, moving up each step of the ladder. But there is one big exception to this improvement -- the top jobs. Thirty years later, we have not come close to holding our proportional share of positions of power in any industry.

More alarmingly, the numbers at the top are no longer improving. In the 2008 election, women lost seats in Congress for the first time in three decades. Across the corporate sector, women have held 15 to 16 percent of the C-level jobs and Board seats since 2002. Globally, only nine of 190 countries are led by women. So even as people worry about boys falling behind girls in education and write articles with headlines like "The End of Men," we have to acknowledge that men still run the world. Our revolution has stalled.

Women still face many external and institutional barriers, but I wanted to use my time on the TED stage to focus on what we can do as individuals to help change these percentages. So I offered three messages to women who want to stay in the workforce: (1) Sit at the table -- have the confidence to reach for opportunities; (2) Make your partner a real partner -- share responsibilities at home so you and your partner can both pursue careers; and (3) Don't leave before you leave -- challenge yourself at work so that when you have a decision to make, there are compelling reasons to stay or come back.

I also acknowledged the difficulty between choosing time at home and at work. We need to respect and support all choices just as we need to emphasize the importance that they be made thoughtfully. Right before I went on stage, I asked Pat if I should publicly admit that my preschool daughter was clinging to my leg the day I left to give this talk. "Absolutely tell that story," said Pat. "Other women go through this and you have to be out there and sharing this."

Thanks to the power and reach of the TED conference, the response to the talk has been truly encouraging. Women forwarded the link to their colleagues, friends, roommates and daughters. I received emails from women of all ages, sharing stories of their fears and their triumphs. Last week, I received one from Sabeen Virani, a consultant for a Dubai-based strategy consulting firm, who was working in Saudi Arabia where she was the only woman in an office of 300 employees. My talk includes a story about a male executive who did not know where the women's restroom was in his own office. The issue for Sabeen, she wrote, was not that no one knew where the women's restroom was, but that it did not exist at all. Inspired by the talk, she worked hard to earn the respect of her client and gained the courage to ask for her own bathroom. She sent me a photo of her smiling in front of a door with a printed paper sign that reads simply and powerfully, "Toilets for women only."


The Huffington Post and TED’s decision to repost the talk will, I hope, continue to spark discussions and connect women across the globe. And perhaps women who shared the video with other women the first time around will now forward it to male colleagues, friends, partners and sons. They are half the key to unlock a more equal future.

Since Christmas decorations went up before Thanksgiving, early December seems like a good time to start making New Year’s resolutions. It would be great if this year, men resolved to be real partners and women resolved to sit at the table. To achieve a truly equal world, there is a lot more for all of us to do.

Long before Sheryl Sandberg left Google to join Facebook as its Chief Operating Officer in 2008, she was a fan. Today she manages Facebook's sales, marketing, business development, human resources, public policy and communications. It's a massive job, but one well suited to Sandberg, who not only built and managed Google's successful online sales and operations program but also served as an economist for the World Bank and Chief of Staff at the US Treasury Department.

Sandberg's experience navigating the complex and socially sensitive world of international economics has proven useful as she and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg work to strike a balance between helping Facebook users control privacy while finding ways to monetize its most valuable asset: data.

It Happened One Christmas

A sad but hopeful Christmas story.

Huffington Post
Posted: 12/13/11 05:11 PM ET
By Beth Broderick

It was five days before Christmas. I had recently relocated to Los Angeles from New York and was having trouble engaging the Holiday spirit. There was no Rockefeller Center with it's giant tree to marvel at. No fifth avenue crush of shoppers and revelers to knock up against. No bourbon on the rocks at the Oak Room watching the horse drawn carriages glide into Central Park. LA was trying. There were some lights on Wilshire Boulevard and Santa Claus had been dutifully installed in all of the shopping malls. There were Salvation Army elves ringing bells outside of Kmart and most folks had dutifully strung lights on their houses and inflated rubber reindeer for their lawns, but it just did not feel like Christmas. I had set about grumbling in the tradition of so many who had made the trek across the country before me armed with Woody Allen quotes and Big Apple big headedness.

In spite of this and in spite of temperatures that threatened to give old Saint Nick a heatstroke, I agreed to venture forth into the the shopping fray with my friend Lorraine and we headed to a nearby Music Plus store to pick up some Holiday tunes for her family. The store was located on a fairly crowded and decidedly unglamorous stretch of Fairfax Avenue. This was over 20 years ago, long before the glittering Grove with it's valet parking and concierge service, when there was still such a thing as a Music Plus store. We were out of the car and headed in to the store when something caught our eye. There was a van parked in the farthest space of the lot and something seemed off about it. It had an aura of abandonment and yet there was clearly movement inside. We watched for several minutes to see if the occupants would emerge.
It was one of those moments -- of which I have had far too many -- when instinct overcomes caution. Something was just not right in that van. We approached the old VW and tapped on the window. The woman in the driver's seat hesitated before slowly cranking the handle, her eyes haunted and wide with fear. There were three young children in the van as well, all bunched up together in the back seat. The woman had a large bruise on the left side of her face. She did not have to explain... it was clear that she had been abused and was on the run. This parking lot her only refuge. We asked if she had enough fuel to drive a few blocks to Lorraine's home and she nodded yes. We pulled out of the lot slowly hoping that she would have the courage to follow and breathed a sigh of relief when she pulled up behind us.

Once home Lorraine set about feeding the kids and I gathered laundry so that we could give them clean clothes to wear. The woman had a severe limp, but said it was nothing and set about bathing them. Lorraine and I pondered our next move. I began to make calls to City services and shelters. The news was not good. To this day there are almost no facilities in Los Angeles that can house a woman with her children. Many families in this situation are split up with the mother housed in one place and the children in another. This mother was willing to reside in a Music Plus parking lot in order to be with her kids. She would never agree to that.

After placing at least a dozen calls I was beginning to worry that the family would be consigned to the the van for the foreseeable future. I was running out of options when I placed a call to the Good Shepherd Center and Sister Joan Mary answered, her warm voice accented with an irish lilt. "Oh no," she said "we are over capacity and so is everyone else. There is just no place to put them... a terrible shame so many with no where to go." I begged, I cajoled, I pleaded with Sister Joan to help me place them. "I'm yours for life," I said. "I will volunteer raise money anything you need... just please do what you can!" "All right," she said with a heavy sigh. "I'll see what I can do."

The woman refused the medical attention she clearly needed, but accepted our offering of blankets and flashlights and the use of Lorraine's driveway. The family was invited to eat and bathe in the house, but there was just no place to bed them all. Two days passed. I was still making calls and working every angle to no avail. Tomorrow would be Christmas eve and I had to abandon the effort while my friends and I scrambled to find gifts for the kids. Around nine PM we settled the family in their van and poured a big glass of wine preparing to wrap gifts into the night, when the phone rang and Sister Joan's unmistakable Irish accent came over the line. "I've got them a place," she said. "They can come tomorrow to this address. We will give them a good Christmas." "God bless you, Sister," I said through tears, "I will not forget my promise." "Oh, I'll count on that," she said and that was good night.

The nuns at the Good Shepherd homes have rescued countless women and their children over the years. I kept my word and my friends and family provide Christmas gifts for their families every year. I used to give Sister Joan candy but she begged me to stop. "I 'll be fat as a house if you keep this up," she'd say with a ready smile. She retired a few years back, but the work goes on.

These have been tough times for the shelter and the nuns had to close one of their facilities due to lack of funds. Ever resourceful they doubled up their living quarters and turned their office space into housing, so that they would not have to turn desperate families away. These women have experienced abuses that most of us cannot contemplate. I am so grateful to Good Shepherd for answering their need and for taking my call on that dark night so long ago. Amidst the palm trees and under the blazing California sun, the spirit of Christmas shines brightly in their hearts all year round and has opened mine forever.


Toy Drive This Friday at Westfarms!

The holiday season is upon us and in the spirit of giving I had to spread the word about this wonderful toy drive!


It’s almost time for the 2011 We Are The Children Toy Drive! This year’s event is taking place on Friday December 16th from 9am to 6pm, and we need YOUR HELP to raise unwrapped toys for the We Are The Children Christmas Party! See how YOU can help… keep reading!

All your favorite 965 TIC personalities, including Gary Craig, Damon Scott and Gina J will take turns broadcasting from Lord & Taylor at the West Farms mall, during the all-day toy drive! Where do YOU come in?

We need all our friends and fans to pick up an unwrapped toy and drop it off at our 965 TIC broadcast booth in the Children’s Department at Lord and Taylor this Friday! We’ll be collecting toys all day from 9am to 6pm, and this is the perfect chance for you to make the Holidays a little brighter for some children in need.

So be sure to come by and visit us at Lord and Taylor at the West Farms mall this Friday, and purchase a toy to donate for We Are The Children!

lt logo We Are The Children Toy Drive at Lord & Taylor

 We Are The Children Toy Drive at Lord & Taylor

Read more: We Are The Children Toy Drive at Lord & Taylor http://965tic.radio.com/2011/12/12/we-are-the-children-toy-drive-at-lord-and-taylor-west-farms-mall/#ixzz1gQK3LEpa


Obama's Disappointing Decision

I, along with many other feminists, was none too pleased with The Obama administration's shocking and disappointing decision regarding access to emergency contraception (EC) this past week. It is evident that this decision will affect public health in general.

As a man, it does not affect me directly, but the fact of the matter is that like I've said in previous blog entries, women's issues are everybody's issues. The potential rise of unplanned pregnancies and abortions are certainly two issues that affect the public as a whole. Additionally, as anti-rape advocate Salamishah Tillet articulates in the linked article, "barring easier access to EC doesn’t address the exploitative nature" of the high occurence of relationships involving "girls who hare [sic] having sex with older men." The aformentioned article, linked to here, points out the further serious implications of this decision, arguing that it disproportionately affects young women of color.

As Don McPherson might say, passing these issues off as just "women's issues" or "minority issues" invites those who aren't directly affected to push the issue aside and ignore it. The fact of the matter, is that exploitation, women's health, and de facto discrmination are real issues that all individuals, not just men or women, must deal with in the public sphere.


A Helpful Recipe for Busy Bakers

As I'm still debating what cookies I am going to make this holiday season, Michelle Noehren, former CT NOW president, founder of the CT Working Moms blog and awesome friend, gave me the link to the below blog entry.

It cracked me up and offered a recipe that may help me in my quest to find time to keep up one of my favorite traditions while trying to balance meetings and events. While I may not be a mom, I am a working single woman who has a pretty hectic schedule. For me, baking is a stress release and shouldn't be a stress inducer. And I'm a strong believer and celebrator of a crafty holiday!

I also recommend following the link to the blog itself to see the YouTube clip of one of the best movie duets ever-- Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye performing "Sisters" in the movie White Christmas. Or better yet, head to the Criterion movie theater in New Haven this weekend to watch it on the big screen for $5. Friday @ 11:30 pm, Saturday: 11:30 am and pm, Sunday: 11:30 am.


Christmas Cookies for the Mom who did it all.
Nov 30
Posted by marie5k

I’ll be the first to admit it. I have no shame in admitting it, either. Pre-Jake I was a self-proclaimed mini Martha Stewart. I semi-regularly updated my crafting blog, I kept a well-decorated house for every season, I baked, I knit, I sewed, I quilted, and man, I even sewed myself a dress! I figured this would change just a little bit once I had Jake, but no way would I ever begin to believe I, self-proclaimed Mini Martha, would give up baking, sewing handbags for friends, and quilting. Never! I’d find the time! I’d break out my sewing machine when baby was fast asleep in his crib, pluggie in mouth and woobie in hand.

And, like so many others before me, I had to admit defeat. And it was not easy, let me tell you. I still keep a well-decorated home (with the help of Nonna, who, while I was decorating kept Jake away from table cloths, holiday candy dishes, and the very pricey German ornament tree), I find time to sew, albeit not quite as frequently as before (on my days off while Jake is having fun with Poppy in the living room), and I do bake. I may not have had the time (or energy) to bake 3 pies for Thanksgiving this year, but 1 pumpkin pie and 1 pretty huge apple crisp sufficed.

So after this first major holiday with a baby, I began to get a little nervous about Christmas. I’ve always enjoyed baking cookies. As a rent-poor college graduate living in Boston, for years I gave out homemade fudge and cookies as Christmas gifts. Then, as a flat broke law student, I gave out tins of cookies and knit scarves for friends. To me, I get the biggest joy out of putting White Christmas in the DVD player and singing along with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye to “Sisters” while i cut out gingerbread men and roll up rugelach. A lot of people might see this as a chore, but baking Christmas cookies is just one of the many things I love about Christmas.

Fast forward to now now. Now I have dinner time, bath time, and bed time. Translation= no time for cookie time. But wait! Yes, working mom, you can have your cookies, and eat them too! I’ve found a pretty good workaround for making Christmas cookies this year, thanks to my homegirl, Martha.

Last year while sitting at the doctor’s office waiting for the results of my 1 hour glucose test (*shudder* as repressed memory returns to haunt me), I flipped through Martha Stewart’s December issue of Living, and came across this amazing section on how to take one basic cookie dough recipe and using the simple variations listed in the directions, make batches of assorted icebox cookies. Simply? All you do is mix the cookie dough, throw in a few mix-ins like chopped nuts, chocolate chips, or dried fruit, roll the dough into logs, refrigerate, and slice and bake. Yep, slice and bake. The best part is that you do not have to devote an entire evening to cookie baking (although, you are more than welcome!) On night one, you mix the dough, shape it into a log, and put it in the fridge until you are ready to bake it the next night. I have even frozen the dough- it keeps for up to one month in the freezer. In fact, i have 4 rolled cookie logs waiting to be sliced and baked for Christmas. I figured with Christmas and parties, and family get togethers right around the corner, might as well get started with the cookie dough before the fun really begins…

Slice and bake icebox cookies are some of the easiest cookies to make, and as you can see from Martha’s picture, you end up with batches of different cookies- chocolate, nuts, dried cranberries and a teaspoon of lemon or orange zest, and you’ve got yourself gourmet slice and bake cookies to please pretty much anyone. You can find Martha’s recipe here:


My favorite combinations are:

•Citrus dough mixed with chopped pistachios and dried cranberries
•Chocolate dough mixed with chopped white chocolate and chopped almonds
•Basic vanilla dough mixed with chopped pecans and chopped milk chocolate

So yes, working mom, you can have your cookies and eat them, too! So head on over to Martha’s website and pick out your favorite cookie combos to make your holiday a little home-made this year, and don’t forget the White Christmas DVD…


Living Below the Line: Economic Security and America's Families


Living Below the Line: Economic Security and America's Families

As 25 million Americans and their families continue to struggle to find jobs or full-time work and many newly created jobs are in low-wage industries, a new report on family economic security shows that 45 percent of Americans are unable to cover their basic expenses. Based on a comprehensive analysis of economic and demographic data by Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW), the new report finds many families are living without economic security even when household breadwinners are working. The findings suggest that federal budget cuts to programs like job training, career and technical education, unemployment insurance, and child care programs could compound the crisis facing American families. Click here to read WOW's full report, Living Below the Line: Economic Security and America's Families and to view an infographic on key findings.


What Are You Doing to Protect Your Birth Control Costs?

President, Congress Must Stand Strong Against Efforts to Eliminate Birth Control Coverage

Huffington Post
Rep Gwen Moore
U.S Representative for Wisconsin's 4th Congressional District

The passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was a monumental victory for all Americans. In particular, the passage of this bill led to one of the most important advances for women's health in decades: a new regulation requiring insurance coverage for birth control with no co-pays. This was a huge victory for both women and men everywhere. But recently, a number of anti-women health groups and their allies in Congress launched a massive campaign to take this vital coverage away from women. Republican leaders and many others are pressuring the Obama Administration to eliminate this coverage for millions of people who work at religiously-affiliated hospitals, universities, and other organizations.

Let's be clear -- when we passed the health reform law, it was our goal to expand coverage to all people in need of quality, affordable care -- not limit coverage to only certain categories of people. It is essential that the women's preventive coverage benefit, including contraception, be available to all women, regardless of what health plan they have or where they work -- as Congress intended. Providing access to birth control just makes good sense. The venerable, nonpartisan Institute of Medicine recommended that birth control be included as a women's preventive service because it is fundamental to improving women's health and the health of their families.

Covering contraception is the single most important step our country can take toward reducing unintended pregnancies. Additionally, improved access to birth control is directly linked to declines in maternal and infant mortality rates, which are currently near those of third world countries in my home state of Wisconsin, and a true epidemic within the City of Milwaukee.

A large majority of the American people are on our side, including 72 percent of Republican women voters who support birth control coverage. That is why we cannot let these groups who are seeking to dismantle this crucial coverage for women succeed. Both Congress and the Obama Administration must stand strong against this misguided campaign and stand up for the rights of women across this country.


Here's My Secret, Victoria

(photo credit: NY Daily News)

This past week, the second-biggest television event of the year for many American men took place: #1 is the Super Bowl, which is also my #1 (my #2 is the World Series, but that’s a different story). The event I’m talking about is none other than the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

Men all over the country and the world (and women, let’s not be judgmental) await this night with extreme levels excitement and fervor. Who can blame them? Gorgeous models waltzing around in the latest version of fancy underpants certainly doesn’t sound like the worst TV show I could think of. It was just for these reasons that a few years ago at college my friends and I grabbed a bunch of beers and sat down to watch the show. But what I saw on the screen flipped a switch in my mind.

Sure, it was a wicked exciting show: great modern music, tons of celebrities, lots of cool light shows, even the sappy segment where Heidi Klum sang a lovely duet with her husband, Seal. But with each walk down the runway by the Victoria’s Secret Angels, this spectacle turned more and more surreal. Soon enough, I became completely alienated from what I was seeing, and I quickly found that these models did absolutely nothing for me. I hesitated to voice this opinion to my friends, since I figured a couple of them would probably ask what was wrong with me. I didn’t dismiss their attractiveness, but something about it just didn’t feel real. These models, like other models, were stick thin, covered in gobs of makeup, and fairly buxom, and it all simply felt like a mirage.

Funny enough, after this year’s show, an acquaintance on Facebook noted that the most beautiful woman in the entire room was a pregnant Beyonce. The way I see it, what this woman meant was that Beyonce was the realest-looking one there; to me, being real is a woman’s most beautiful quality.

I don’t have a huge beef with the fashion show’s existence in and of itself, but I do have a beef with the Disneyland-esque world that it portrays. I’m not trying to change anything about the event by ranting about how I think it’s an artificial event. All I’m trying to do is implore the reader to keep the artificiality of such events in mind, don’t read too much into it, and take it for what it is: make-believe.Link