On the Issue of Women’s Issues

There is all of this recent talk of women and how far we have come, how much we are entitled to, and what is fair. It is an age-old discussion with the same expected political twists and turns.It seems that our initial inclination is to segregate ourselves into categorical divisions. Who is a feminist? Who supports what political agenda? Who is on what side of each hot topic argument?

Undoubtedly, we all bring something different to the table. How old we are, what country we grew up in, who we had as parents, what religion we were born into, our education level, our race, our income level, and so many other personal criteria combined offers a unique melange. It is an bio-psycho-social DNA of sorts. This criteria makes each of us unequivocally unique but when dealing with overarching themes of justice, of equality, respect, and human decency, it seems necessary to search for common ground rather than where we divide. There are universal threads in all of our experiences.

Although the issue of women and our progress is not easily addressed, it is in the forefront of my mind. Now, I am not just a woman but a mother of three daughters. It is not just about me and my journey. It is about three more souls with kindness, grace, grit, and potential. I wonder how the world will treat them, and how they will treat the world as they grow thru this life.

For each women, their reasons for caring about women’s issues vary. I thought I would share a dozen of the reasons that come to my mind in the twelve photos I have come up with below:

fem1

fem3

fem4b

fem2

fem6b

fem7b

fem5b]

fem12

fem9b

fem3a

 

fem13

fem22

What are your reasons?

 

fem15

 

tina-fey

 

fem14

 


Small Business Saturday, Business Owners and Red Tape: Let’s Have a Ribbon-Cutting

people-vs-govt-fishing

With small business Saturday upon us, support of small businesses in our neighborhoods and communities is a beautiful thing. Small businesses are the heart of our community. Small businesses are the informal beautification committees of our communities. They are the key ingredient in the growth of this country.  Small businesses have a profound impact upon families and I’ve shared my thoughts on my nj.com Parental Guidance blog (click here).

Small Business Saturday lead me to think about a greater, darker problem than the overshadows that large, international corporations cast upon our family-owned shops and stores. I started thinking about red tape; not in the gift wrap, holiday sense but in the regulatory, wrist-tying, throat-choking sense.

The real crisis facing small business is the crushing weight of government regulation. Recently, the government made it their job to pursue small children and the little lemonade stands that were unregulated. Fines were issued. Summons were wrote. Cardboard stands were shut down. Georgia, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Wisconsin, Maryland and Texas have all taken part in the shutdown of the American Dream unregulated fruit juice stands.

The ridiculous lengthy list of government regulation goes on and on. In Philadelphia, the price of ‘free speech’ is $300 and up. In the city of ‘Brotherly Love’, bloggers must now spend $300 for a tax to blog or face prosecution. In 2011, Amish farmers were raided by the FBI to investigate the sale of unauthorized milk. It’s about time the government went after the Amish because we don’t have larger issues like domestic terrorism, financial reform, radical international terroristic cells,  or a war with tremendous casualties to address.

I wonder what Henry David Thoreau would now write in his Civil Disobedience. Perhaps he would write much of the same, as it most all still applies. Perhaps it would be longer. Today everything is longer. Obamacare is so long that not even lawmakers no one know what it says. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act is so verbally profuse that even Wikipedia can’t even write a brief account of what its all about.

A few weeks ago, I sat in a courtroom: not as a council person or board member but as a lawbreaking citizen. The girl who never had detention and always had low-grade anxiety whenever scolded, plead guilty. My crime: parking too many vehicles in our own parking lot. An ordinance was violated. I sat in a packed court room next to the lawyer for a national furniture conglomerate, also making a court appearance for similar regulatory offenses in town. As ma -and-pa business after business made their appearance before the judge, I began to wonder why the town has made it their job to drive business, small and big alike, out.

If our own towns are against us, who are for us? Soon, the only jobs left will be those of the government regulators themselves.

As a small business owner, I am no stranger to our friends at the IRS, the DOT,  and the Department of Labor State audits not to be confused with the Department of Labor Federal Audits. As a small business owner, I  also wear the ‘HR hat’ and often interview potential employees for hire. In the last year alone, I have heard from at least half a dozen candidates that they weren’t really interested in the job but needed to let unemployment know they were interviewing. One candidate was so kind as to explain to me that she just couldn’t afford to work. It would ruin her unemployment.

Now, I know there are a lot of good people out of work. There are many good people who want to work. Such abuses are a disgrace. A friend even asked me why I hadn’t taken the time to report these people who had inferred they were abusing the system to the authorities case-by-case. Right. As a mom of three children ages four and under and as full-time small business owner, I have the time to sit on hold for twenty minutes and be passed back and forth from phone extension to voicemail to do my ‘civic duty’ that is the job responsibility of someone employed by the government.

Idea: perhaps they should regulate the system abusers before the business owners.

Last winter, The Today Show asked me about my stance on sick pay for part-time employees. I will comply with red-tape regulations but i won’t be happy about it. The problem with all of these good ideas in theory is that someone has to pay for them in actuality. I am all for supporting our employees. I am also for the government bolstering its finances but not on the backs of the tireless small business owners.

If we continue to weigh business owners down with unemployment tax, workman’s compensation, town fees, city fines, and so much more, someday and sometime there will be a law that breaks the business owners back. Although I am no business scholar, I can see that if you cripple the source then all that flows will eventually cease to trickle down.

When I asked an auditor about the seeming scrutiny, the auditor candidly confessed that if they don’t find something wrong then they will seem like they aren’t doing their job. I guess its as much about generating income for them as it is for us. At least someone is making revenue, too bad that someone is always Uncle Sam.

Starting a business in this country is an uphill climb. Maintaining a small business is even more miraculous a feat. It is the stuff of tight-rope walkers, Hail Mary passes, and midnight novenas. Small businesses don’t close their doors at 5pm. Small business owners don’t see “sick days”. Small businesses most often work 7 days a week into the wee hours of the night. We, as small business owners, are not the enemy. We suffer too. We are a part of the solution and are sadly becoming an endangered species.

The rules have swung out of balance. As common sense continues to erode and we are knee deep in the muck of The Great Jobless Recovery, it seems that it would be an opportune time for someone to speak up. It is not going to take a someone though, it is going to many of us.

I don’t usually talk politics but here is the caveat. The political here is personal. The political here is the future of my family and the ability to earn a living. The motivation is there. The drive and determination are present. The ethics are there too. We are good people looking for the freedom to pursue the American Dream.

This isn’t about being on one side of the political spectrum. As a former social worker, I have a deep earnest compassion for all. As a former government worker, I also believe that as Thoreau so elegantly paraphrased, “the best government is that which governs the least.” It is time for a common sense infusion in this country. For it to get better, it is going to have to get simpler.

Happy Small Business Saturday. Let’s hope at this Saturday next year, we have even more small business to be thankful for!


Easter Gratitude: Putting My Blessings In One Basket

eggsAs a young girl, every Easter I was sick. I would eat too much chocolate or catch the flu or suffer from a combination of both ailments. Easter was more about pastel marshmallow treats and my love-hate relationship with them. As I grew older, Easter presented an opportunity to visit with my West-Coast cousins in Seattle. I traveled cross-country on a plane with my maternal grandparents to celebrate family tradition, to embrace the true sense of holiness, and to celebrate our blessings. I soon learned that a rainy Easter spent with family out West was better than most anything. I learned to make sticky-buns and even more importantly, we made memories that will shine in my heart forever.

As I now prepare for this season of rebirth, I think about sacrifice and I think about my many blessings. It’s a powerful and important thing to reflect upon after a week full of such ups and downs.

As I feel the impulse to complain about what is trivial, I more fervently feel compelled to be thankful. I am blessed that my husband’s business is busy enough that he works from 7 am until 8 or 9pm each night. I am blessed that I have three daughters who turn my house upside down in a matter of moments. I am glad that have each other to be in cahoots with, and I’m grateful that we have a home. I try to earnestly appreciate the sour with the sweet, to find the lesson in what is difficult, and to take each obstacle as a lesson for what lies ahead. Sometimes it is easier said than done. Sometimes I am able to focus on the journey better than the destination.

I am thankful for family, even when we are fighting and when we agree to disagree. I am thankful that they are there and for their love that remains unconditional.

I am thankful for the half-dozen pills that we have to give to our twelve-year old dog, Sweetie. I am glad that she made it through a medical scare this week. In Easter irony, she ate a rabbit (not a chocolate one, rather a furry one) and didn’t fare well after the fact. My heart is full of gratitude that she is there to squeeze between my husband and I in our bed tonight, and evil-eye us when we invade her space. We have been granted the gift of time with her for now. Dogs have a way of reminding us of all that is good and wonderful in this world without saying a word. Just their presence can sum up joy, lightheartedness, and loyalty all at once. Sweetie and our two other rescue pups suffered abuse before they came into our lives. Sweetie, Finn, and Jake, continue to teach us so much about life through their daily example of simplicity. Their ability to forgive, reconcile, trust, and care for one another and us is amazing in itself.

I am thankful for my husband and the many differences we have between us. They are reminders of why we got together to begin with, of why we get along, of what we have to offer each other, and of how far we have come. There are truths in our disagreements, these small little bits of honesty filled with light, that seem to rise up to the surface. Sometimes things need to be said in order to move forward.

I am thankful for humor. It is a saving grace and God-sent. When I stand in our kitchen and watch our eight-month-old daughter laugh hysterically at the funny sounds and faces her two sisters make at her, I am instantly reminded that God is present in her laughter. It serves as such a poignant reminder of the importance of keeping a sense of humor and perspective in this whirlwind life. My children remind both my husband and I of how necessary it is to take life seriously and not to take life too seriously all at the same time.

I am thankful for friends. People travel in and out of your existence. Life always seems to surprise me though. It is such a beautiful, startling shock to have someone in your life gift you with the most generous gift of time, the most enthusiastic present of their presence in your life, and the reward of their honest feedback. These are the sweetest gifts and I am thankful for true friends. You are the many reflections of the face of God in my life.

I feel those who are no longer with us, who have departed this earth still walking beside us. I feel them with us on the other side, guiding us and rooting us on. Every now and then they whisper into our hearts. I miss them and hope as this new spiritual year commences to make them proud.

Blessings to you and your loved ones this Easter!


Lessons Learned While Deep-Sea Fishing With My Dad

This past week my husband and I took our children down to Kiawah Island in South Carolina for a vacation. It was a nice breather. Spending time under the sun and breathing in the fresh, salty air served as a reminder of how much I truly love the ocean. I am at my happiest when I am at the shore with my family. In my own youth, I was fortunate enough to have had dozens of blissful moments of time with my family at the shore. One of my very favorite things is, and remains, deep sea fishing. Some women get an adrenaline rush from shopping for shoes. I get a thrill out of casting my line into the big-blue about fifteen miles off-shore.

My father, Thomas Patrick Michael O’Rourke, started taking me fluke fishing off fishingthe Atlantic Highlands in New Jersey when I was only six or seven years old. We spent many a sunny day on three-quarter-day party fishing boats and on my Uncle Jack’s boat. Of course, at the time I would fight him on having to wake up at 4am and about what sneakers I should wear and what bait I should use. After a long day, I’d return home with my dad at sunset, sunburned with a cooler of fish and smelling like saltwater never realizing that these would be some of the sweetest memories of my youth.

Looking back on those times, there was a lot of arguing, a lot of laughter, and many life lessons mixed in-between. I thought I would share a dozen of these lessons I learned from him with you:

1) Wake up early. There is something irreplaceably satisfying about starting your day as the sun is rising and being one of the first boats on the horizon. Of course, you can take your boat out onto the waters to cast your lines at any time of the day, but there is nothing like early morning fishing. There is promise and hope in the waters at dawn.

2) Go to where the fish are. Be proactive. If the computerized fish-finder says there is no fish there, move. There is a fine line between fishing and hovering over empty waters like an idiot. Be prepared to proactively move yourself around a lot. You’ll never catch anything in life fishing where the waters are empty.

3) Be prepared.  You’ll never know where the fish are or where the shallow waters are without the right tools. Have the right tools so when the catch of your life comes along, you will be ready. Have a rod that can withstand great weight. Have a strong line. Buy the biggest net. Fish as if you are about to  catch the big one at any moment.

4) Be patient. With practice, comes knowledge and skill. Even Jesus and his apostles practiced patience in fishing. Patience truly is a virtue. Patience is a minimizer of disappointment, a kin to joy,  and a friend of success.

5) Use a sinker. In my youth, it seemed against all reason to weigh the line down in order to catch something. My dad argued with me and even let me try it my way. Through trial and error, I quickly learned though that if you don’t weigh the line down to catch something, you’ll get caught up in everything. Everyone needs a sinker whether that sinker is your faith, your job, or your partner in life. As an adult with a growing business and a parent with a growing family, I have set many sinkers in place from estate planning to business interruption insurance to running on a treadmill 45 minutes a day. As a mother, I find that my own mother’s words of wisdom are a verbal sinker for my soul. They often serve as a weighty reminder that the “right choices in life are so often the more difficult options”.

6) Keep quiet. You will scare the fish if you’re too loud. It is a matter of timing and a matter of control. There is a time to be loud and a time to listen and it seems the ratio of loud to listening is 1:10. Most of fishing and most of life is about listening and timing. If you reel it in too soon, you’ll lose it. If you wait too long to start reeling the line in, you’ll end up with half-eaten bait and no catch. Listen well so you can read all the signs and know when to reel.

7) Bait your own hook. Cast out your own line. From an early age, my dad made me bait my own hook. Reaching into that bucket of stinky eels and then into the bucket of swimming guppies was gross. I squirmed as the guppies squirmed through my skinny fingers around the tin silver bucket. On occasion, I’d even nick my finger on the hook. Now as a parent myself, I can appreciate the lesson learned. Sometimes neatly baiting your childrens’ hooks and preparing their lines can lead to trouble. Rather than doing it for them, teach them how to do it for themselves. Former Navy officer and respected author, Robert A. Heinlein, wisely wrote,  “Don’t handicap your children by making their lives easier.” As certain as the ever-changing tide, there is truth in Heinlein’s words.

8) They’re not all keepers. This lesson is one I have been able to apply in my own business and in my own relationships. I remember being so excited after fishing for four straight hours and catching nothing that I finally had a bite on the line. I struggled. I artfully reeled in my line. It was a sea-robin. For those who do not fish, I can readily tell you that they are a strong fish but not the fish you want to reel in, and they are ugly bastards. They aren’t good for anything. My dad was right. Don’t settle in fishing and don’t settle in life. If it’s the wrong fish, throw it back. On that long day, I threw the sea-robin back into the sea. I continued to fish again for another ninety minutes without one nibble on the line. I waited. I sat. I daydreamed. To my surprise, the end of my fishing rod started to bend. I slowly and steadily reeled it in. This time, it was the right fish. This muddy-colored fluke was looking me right in the eyes as I brought him on deck. Then we measured him. He was an inch too short. I couldn’t keep him. It was against the Coast Guard’s fishing regulations. My Dad convinced me to throw him back. Lesson learned. Sometimes a fish needs a little bit more time in the water before he is ready to be reeled in.

9) Go out after the storm. Storms are difficult yet are a part of life. It isn’t a question of if they will come but when they will strike. They cause havoc and destruction yet it is after these tempests, that all is stirred about and the best seems to come forward. Weather the storm, then go out and cast your lines. Get back in the boat quickly to make the best catch.

10) You will hit a snag. Even the best fishermen of the world get tangled up every now and then. Sometimes you may even have to cut the line.  It is never easy to let go but sometimes this is the very best choice to be able to recast and catch something again.

11) Be a good sport. No one likes a poor sport.  If you didn’t catch the biggest fish, give kudos to the fisherman who did. Remember its not all skill, its also a matter of chance. If you did catch the biggest fish, show a little humility. Once again remember its not all skill, its also a matter of chance. No one like a complainer or a boaster. Offer to help clean the boat, offer to help clean the fish. Share part of your sandwich with others. No one likes a free-loader. Fishing is about good karma as much its about good sportsmanship.

12) The big one is still out there. Its a vast, deep ocean. Don’t give up. Stay positive. Don’t lose your footing. Don’t drink the night before. Trust your intuition always.Hold onto hope. Besides, as my dad always pointed out, it’s not about catching the biggest fish but about trying your best and having the best time.