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The Least Among You

Suppose you met someone who told you she just got out of prison for terroristic threatening.

What would you think? This woman in front of you is well-groomed, dressed fashionably yet somewhat conservatively, certainly doesn’t have a prison-tough look or demeanor and timidly is talking about her seemingly impossible search for work.

Turns out, you’ll discover, she went to prison because she threatened her ex-husband with bodily harm while holding a knife, with the children in the next room. In fact, it was her oldest daughter who called the police. It wasn’t the first argument she’d had with her husband, although it had never gone this far before. The police had been called one other time, about a year earlier, when neighbors heard them arguing and were concerned. No arrests at that time, but there was a record of the call.

pink butterfly no bkgdNo drugs, no alcohol, no physical violence. She went to prison, did her time and while she was there got anger management training, a certificate in Microsoft software proficiency and another in office administrative skills. She’d had a good job before, had always been a good worker. Now she’s fighting to get work again as the first step in regaining custody of her children, who are living with her parents.

But terroristic threatening.

In today’s world, that’s a horrible thing to have on your record. It sounds like, well, you’re a terrorist, when in fact what you did, while criminal, wasn’t what we normally think of as terroristic. Legally, what I’m talking about here means you threatened someone with the intent to terrorize them, in other words, frighten them to the point they believe they’ll be harmed. It also means it’s a highly subjective crime to prosecute.

In the case above, she threatened her husband to the point her children believed he was at risk. While that wasn’t her intent, it was the predictable result, and she went to prison for it.

Being in prison, even jail, has a terrible stigma. There is reason for that; one has committed a crime. Let me explain, briefly, the difference between jail and prison: jail is where you go when you’re first arrested, before you’re convicted, and where people with shorter sentences will end up. It’s also where people who are going to prison will start out while they wait to be transported, and in some states that can be months. Prison is where people with sentences generally over one year serve their time.

Yes, these people have done something very wrong, and there is common sense in being wary when you encounter them. But more important than that, they are human beings who are struggling to make things right. For whatever reason, the woman I described above messed up to a point of breaking the law, and of course the underlying problem wasn’t something that started that night. This likely had been going on for some time. But who am I to judge her for the path that led her there?

To see prisoners and inmates as people first is critically important

in bringing about change in their lives. They have families, they love their children. While Whatever they’ve done in the past may cause you to argue they put themselves, drugs or some other thing before their children, and perhaps they did, now they want to figure out how to do the right thing. It’s a challenge for most, more than you can imagine.

monarch no kgdThere’s the young woman whose father was injecting her with heroin when she was eleven. What chance did she have? At the age of 21, she’d spent more of her adult life in jail than not. She had a three-year-old son, and she desperately wanted to do right. Today, at 25, she’s clean and sober, has an associates’ degree and a good job. All because people cared.

These stories aren’t the exception. More often than not, this is the type of history former prisoners have.

Most don’t want to go back to criminal behavior. I can’t say all of them have a heart of gold, but they have value. And yes, we should use discretion in the doors we open for those who have committed a crime in the past and not allow ourselves to be taken advantage of in any way. However, everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.

Many who ended up in jail or prison got themselves caught up in a cycle of bad behavior they didn’t know how to get of, or they weren’t fully aware how deep in trouble they were. They are far from hardened criminals. They are people who really screwed up, and have been held accountable for it.

Please know I am aware there are those violent offenders it is wisest to stay away from in all circumstances, and hopefully they remain in prison. And certainly we need to use caution around sexual offenders, although I suggest you find out the specifics of the crime. Not all sexual offenders are sexual predators. Urinating in public and consensual sex with a teenager, even if you’re underage yourself, can put you on the sexual offender list in some states.

I’m also aware, from my own experience, of the trauma and anger that comes from being the victim of a crime. These are all legitimate concerns.

red butterfly no bkgdYet we need to use wisdom appropriate to the individual situation, and can’t place all former prisoners in the same category. It’s easy to dismiss them completely rather than allow for the possibility of reform and rehabilitation, change and growth. You may not be the one to give someone the in-depth counseling they need to get back on their feet, but your smile and considerate behavior can give them the confidence to get through the day.

And if you doubt this is the right way to view others who have failed, remember this: it’s how Jesus treated the thieves and prostitutes, the criminals, around him, down to his dying moments.

Photo Credits: (Sky background) © Graphic Stock; (Butterflies) © ecco — Fotolia

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Please Don’t Name Him “CheeseDoodle”

I’ve always stood up for parents’ right to name their children whatever they choose, although admittedly, that stand is hard to maintain sometimes. Still, when your own name has been so controversial within the family your grandparents never, in the thirty-plus years of your life they were alive, called you by it, you get a little defensive.

My name isn’t that unusual — Belinda — although it had fallen off of the Top 2000 list sometime in the 70s. It’s making a bit of a comeback, not surprising given how closely related it is to so many other relatively popular names out there.

(My dad’s theory — although these weren’t his parents — was my grandma in particular was offended by the connection to the 1948 film Johnny Belinda, about a deaf-mute woman named Belinda who was raped and as a result, had a son, Johnny, out of wedlock. Controversial and uncomfortable topics for the time.)

me & Grandma

Me and my Grandma Stella Ostrowski, aka Anastasia, the one who would call me by name.

The popularity of names tends to cycle. Growing up, the names “Stella” and “Claire” equaled “old lady” to me. Now they’ve made a comeback. My other grandmother (the one who would call me by name) was christened Anastasia, but sometime after that — possibly around the age of two — her mother began to call her Stella (hence the old lady association for me).

Grandma’s given name was so secret, even her four sons didn’t know it was different until she died, nor did some of her younger siblings. I asked my dad about it, and he thought maybe my great-grandmother (Eva) had been pressured to name her baby one thing, perhaps after a saint, but changed it as soon as she could to something she actually liked.

I like the name Anastasia, and so did my cousin Mark, who named his daughter Ana after our grandmother. Now I prefer his choice over Stella, but it wouldn’t be fair for any of us cousins to run screaming if that’s what he’d named his baby instead, just because we could immediately picture that child in her dotage.

(Let me say here, I think Stella is a pretty name, or I wouldn’t be using it as an example. We all have people we associate with certain names, and no doubt right now there are some saying “hell if I’ll ever name my baby Belinda” because of some nasty babysitter or snippy neighbor. Or you just don’t like it.)

Me and Beth 1962 or thereabouts

Me and Beth

My parents stood by their controversial choice with me, and I’m glad. A year after I was born, my sister Beth arrived. Not Elizabeth, but Beth. My grandparents weren’t too thrilled about that either, yet if you know my sister, she is not an Elizabeth. She is a Beth.

I have a good friend who, when pregnant with her son, had picked out the name Jason. However, when baby boy J arrived, mom & dad looked at him and immediately said, “he’s not a Jason.” A mere 24 hours after his birth, they named him Nathan instead. Now, some of us weren’t sure what the difference between a “Jason” and a “Nathan” would be, but funny thing is, 28 years later, it’s clear they made the right choice.

Controversy isn’t always with unusual names. If I had been a boy (and I was born pre-ultrasound, so gender was a surprise), I was to be named Mark. Lucky for my aunt and uncle I was a girl, because that was the name they’d picked out for their son, born a month after me. However, my other aunt and uncle caused a seismic stir in the family when, a few years later, they named their son Marc. “The potential legal problems…” As you might guess, this was all on my dad’s side of the family, so our last name is the same.

Tiny Baby

Aw, what’s the perfect name for this perfect baby with the ten perfect toes?

I’ve read studies that show what you name your child affects his or her psyche in ways that can never truly be defined (well, of course, what would the control group be in such a study?) and most parents expecting a child no doubt take that to heart. Still, given all the weird nicknames we come up with for each other over a lifetime, maybe it’s more the way you say it that counts.

There is no right conclusion to make here, except to say, the perfect name doesn’t exist. The right name might, however, and that’s for parents to decide. And unless we’re sincerely asked for our opinion, the rest of us should just keep quiet.


Daily Prompt — Say Your Name


Photo Credit (baby feet) © Zbyszek Nowak — Fotolia.com

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Ten Practical Tips for WP.com Bloggers

A slightly different kind of post for me, but one I hope is useful to some of you. Here are some practical tips, not of the improve-your-stats type, but rather, improve-your-overall-blogging-experience.

Blog and pen

This photo went from 3 MB to 637kb and for this post, it works just fine.

Keep the size of your uploaded media (pictures, graphics) as small as possible. I’m referring to kb, MB and heavens, GB size here, not the scale it ends up on your blog. Use a photo editor to reduce the size if necessary. You only get so much space in your Word Press account to store media, so why waste it with unnecessarily large photos? At a point they won’t look any better online.

Note: Since I first posted this, a fellow blogger, Becky, suggested finding an online image compression site for reducing the size of your photos. She uses compressjpeg.com. I also found Caesium, a free image compression site that’s gotten good reviews and ratings. I tried it out and found it easy to use with good results. Use your own judgment and discretion when downloading software from the web; neither Becky nor I can be responsible for any problems or mishaps.

It’s best to write your posts directly in the WordPress editor rather than cutting & pasting. If you do cut & paste, absolutely click on “paste as text”formatting icon in the toolbar at the top or your post might do some funky things, and you may never even know about it. Yes, you will have to reformat — which could be all the more reason to start out in the WP editor. Your preference.

For that matter, get to know the toolbar at the top of the editor. Here’s another cool feature:   character icon has all kinds of characters you may find useful for words like naïve and fiancée.  WordPress might say you’re spelling them wrong if you use those letters correctly, but ignore that. You know better and you’ll look smarter.

There’s also the horizontal line, third from the left on the bottom row of the toolbar, that’s a great subtle way of breaking up text. I use it at the bottom of my posts if I have a footer. You can barely see the line, yet graphically, it makes a nice difference.

If you have a really cool WordPress domain name (i.e. reallycooldomainname.wordpress.com), consider purchasing the “regular” domain name (that would be reallycooldomainname.com) before someone else does, particularly if you’re trying to build brand identity. It’s only $18 a year (well, $25 if you buy the well-advised privacy feature) and could pay off if you have long-term plans for your blog.

Pixabay has great free images you can use in your blog, and you don’t have to credit them or anything! Also, if you go to Google Images and look up images in your category, click on “Search Tools” then, below it, “Usage Rights,”  and go to “Labeled for noncommercial reuse.” Pictures in your category that are public domain or available for free with some attribution are shown (click on the picture and follow the link to find out if any attribution is required).

Google Images Usage Rights

Look at all the free pictures of kitties!

Never, ever use a copyrighted picture without permission. Simply saying it’s copyrighted by that individual, unless it went out over a newswire or was made available to the public in some similar fashion, typically isn’t enough. Similarly, if you purchase an image from a stock image company, always attribute. Generally giving credit in a caption or footer is appropriate, as long as it’s reasonably visible.

Learn a little HTML. WordPress has several tutorials; look them up in the Help section. It helps if you have goofy formatting stuff going on in your post. One “problem” I frequently have is “ ” ends up between paragraphs, which adds an extra space I usually don’t want. You’ll see “ ” on the HTML side of the post editor, not the Visual, and all you have to do if you don’t want it is delete it.

problem

For that matter, if you’re not familiar with WordPress’s Help section, get to know it. Click on your Gravatar image in the upper right hand corner of your page and it will take you to your Gravatar page. On the bottom left-hand side you’ll see “Help.”

Learn about WordPress’s Blogging University if you haven’t already, and take a class or two. It’s well worth the time. https://dailypost.wordpress.com/blogging-university/

Hope some of this has helped make your blogging experience just a little bit better. Happy blogging!


 

Image Credits: (blog paper & pen) © Graphic Stock; (Question Marks) © tiero – Fotolia.com
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Let Me Tell You ‘Bout My Best Friends

Friends sNot long ago, a friend of mine told me he had a tremendous amount of respect for the way I’d handled a challenging situation a few years back. This was someone who, more than just about anybody in my circle, knew what I’d dealt with, and recognized the struggle I faced overcoming the pain and resulting obstacles.

He didn’t presume to know what I’d gone through, but listened and learned, and in that way was able to lend me the support I so desperately needed. It meant a lot to me. What was even more significant was his offer to help me move past my current situation and on to a life more suited to my needs.

When we go through a painful time, friends can either help or hinder us. Not everyone has the same gift of a heart that listens; some help in other ways, perhaps not as profound but ultimately part of what makes us whole again.

cat with mauseThere are the friends who believe in you because they know who you are, and the friends who believe in you because the facts add up in your favor. The friends who just met you and say, “I’m sorry,” when there’s a setback, and mean it, but don’t let you wallow in self-pity.

The friends who call others fools for rejecting you because of rumors.

I don’t believe “all things happen for a reason,” because there is no justification for some behavior, some deliberate actions that hurt people for no sound purpose. (In particular, you can’t tell me the horrors of war “happen for a reason,” but that isn’t really what I’m talking about here.) I do, however, believe the character of a person is found not in their success, but how they handle life’s hardships, whether it’s their fault or not.

A young woman I know, about to graduate from college, had her heart set on a high-profile, prestigious career, and she was well on her way to achieving that goal when she was diagnosed with a chronic disease that will prevent her from pursuing that path. I don’t know her that well, but I imagine she felt stunned, confused, angry, perhaps a little lost. No one’s at fault here; illness is part of life. A painful part, sometimes, physically and emotionally.

3 birds pyramid. Watercolor

While I feel for her, at the same time I believe in a way she’s lucky. I wouldn’t be foolish enough to say that to her now, and it may be years before she reaches that conclusion herself. I believe, however, she’s savvy enough that she will.

To face a setback like this when you’re this young, and to overcome it, which she most certainly will, brings phenomenal strength. It won’t be the last disappointment she encounters (I wouldn’t say that to her now either), although, perhaps being the first of its kind, it may be among the hardest.

I hope those closer to her than I am, those who know her better and know what she needs, are giving her the empathy and support to help direct her onto the right path. No doubt college counselors have seen this sort of thing before, the details different, the results the same, and they have practical advice. Her sister knows her better than anybody, and can put her arm around her and hold her. And so on.

Life’s a journey. Thank goodness for friends.

 

Image Credits: (All)© Wegener17 — Fotolia

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Happy Birthday, Beth!

Tomorrow is my sister’s birthday. She’s a year younger than me, and we’re completely different. We look different, have different interests and in many ways, a different outlook on life.

For reasons of her own, she’s been out of contact with the family for many years now. We miss her. She will always be my sister and I love her.

I don’t know if she reads this blog or even knows it exists. If you do (well, even if you don’t), Happy Birthday Beth!  I hope your day and your year are filled with unexpected blessings.

Love, Belinda

 

 

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Let’s Face It

We’ve all seen them, men and women alike, who one day appear ten years older than they did a month before, and the reason is obvious.

The tell-tale curve at the corner of the lips, the eyes that just aren’t sitting right. I’m as vain as the next person, well, probably smack dab in the middle of that scale, but what I’ve seen tells me to stick with the face I’ve been given, as much as I may think it’s betraying me at times.

That betrayal goes both ways, and it’s more costly when it comes from my brain.

Me & Bobby Feb 1996I was getting carded well into my 40s (which embarrassed the bejeebers out of my then-boyfriend, something I always appreciated about him) and looking at this picture, taken when I was 36, I can kind of see why. The little guy sitting next to me, my cousin Bobby,  just graduated from college, by the way.

I’ve still got an advantage. I continue to look younger than I actually am (although the gap seems to be narrowing), which makes disavowing plastic surgery seem easier.

(She says as she writes this post between Googling the latest procedures available — and their cost. Anything that comes with a potential $500 discount if you call today! is so far out of any price range I can dream of I may as well…stick with the over-the-counter lotions and such.)

Of course I don’t have a career that depends on youth and good looks, so I’m not as susceptible to that trap of false hope. But I have to wonder. When Britney Spears looks in the mirror (oops! that name slipped out!), does she realize she looks 45?

Hopefully, so do I. Look 45, that is.

Indulge me. It was my birthday two days ago, and due to health issues in my family, I was kind of overlooked. So I’m feeling sorry for myself, looking at signs of aging in the mirror, taking selfies until I get one that is JUST RIGHT and sitting home watching romcoms with my cats. WAAAHH.
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Believe in Me Before I Fade Away

Years ago my friend Lois told me she looked at other people and felt inferior to them because they all seemed to have it all together. She listed one quality or another each of them had she felt she didn’t have.

She left out a few qualities on her list. Those she had, and many others don’t, that made her a wonderful friend.

Being Outsider

It was the first time I realized how easy it is for each of us to take for granted our own uniqueness, what sets us apart from the crowd, or worse yet, to believe that those things you think make you weird, unlovable. Paired with the feeling of being on the outside looking in is the belief you fade away because of your lack of a certain level of “specialness.”

In a world where we often stand alone rather than cry out “I’m lonely!” to those near us, it can take a long time to realize that together with an offbeat sense of humor or appreciation of horror shows may be a deep sense of compassion, empathy and sensitivity to the lost and lonely. The tendency to lend a hand to someone who tripped and fell.

No one is more sensitive to the plight of the downtrodden than the one who’s been there. I was in a situation I never expected to be in a few years ago, where I was frightened, somewhat in shock and forced to make decisions inconsistent with the life I’d been living.

The men and women I met during that time have my heart now, and whatever I can do to help them, I will. Granted, it isn’t much, and sometimes I need to keep quiet or my emotions get in the way of the logic and reason of statements I make on their behalf.

I’ve learned to intercede in other ways. I could have come out of that time feeling like mud mixed with slime, sticking to the bottom of everyone’s shoe, but instead I feel more whole today than I ever have. A lot of that has to do with those who believed in me, regardless of what anyone else may have said or done.

A lot of it has to do with choosing to believe in myself.

I think eventually Lois realized her own worth, although much to my regret I’ve been out of contact with her for years now. I hope anyone who thinks everyone else “has it all” is given a friend who will bless them with a list of their unique combination of qualities that sets them apart.

You have them.

Colorful Child's Handing Hands, Cartoon People Silhouettes 3D Il
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Photo Credit: (gummy bears) © ivanmateev – Fotolia (paper dolls) © Bigstock

 

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