Monday, September 12, 2011

So You Wanna Be a Guinea Pig

Since the arrival of the Internet, I have subscribed to dozens of health-related newsletters, most of which fall into the alternative medicine category, because I think most pharmaceuticals only control symptoms but do nothing to address the root of the problem. I've also had some alarming reactions t
o a rather long list of drugs that doctors have pushed on me over the years, so I am fairly open-minded about exploring alternative/natural/dietary solutions to health problems.

However, I usually end up unsubscribing from most of those newsletters, when they seem to be doing nothing but pushing exotic beans, berries, and roots found only on some barely-accessible island in the middle of a jungle they had to hack through with machetes to "discover." And that, of course, also explains the high price tag on these miracle remedies. Yeah, I have an open mind, but not so open all my brains fell out.

But, for the past few months, I have been following a certain well-known, well-respected doctor on Facebook and receiving his email newsletter. I checked him out. Well, as best I could. And he seems to be the real deal. No fake or suspicious-looking string of initials behind his name, no bold claims of miracle cures, no daily ads for pricey berries showing up in my inbox masquerading as informative newsletters. It appears he has actual medical degrees and a thriving practice, and his approach to healing seems sound - making dietary changes, eliminating allergens (gluten, dairy, etc.), adding a few simple supplements like Omega-3's, Vitamin D3, alpha lipoic acid, etc., and a reasonable exercise schedule. Nothing weird, nothing exotic, nothing you envision a witch doctor stirring in a cauldron over an open fire. No exercise equipment resembling medieval torture devices.

Of course, he does sell books, DVD's and supplements on his web site, but that doesn't bother me, because he is not pushy about it, and he also offers a virtual treasure-trove of articles and published medical studies which are free. I have spent a lot of time on that site doing research on medical conditions for myself and friends and relatives. It is at the top of my go-to medical resource list.

After extensive research and reading, I have put most of the doctor's recommendations into practice, but I'm not getting the results I had hoped for. Clearly, I'm doin' it wrong. So, when I received an email from the doctor asking for participants in a beta-study of a new program he is developing, I jumped on it and immediately completed the application. Who wouldn't?

Participants in the study will get a free advance-copy of his new program, access to a members-only forum, and free access to a nutrition coaching team. I thought this might be just the Golden Opportunity to figure out, once and for all, what exactly I'm doing wrong and get it right. There was light at the end of the tunnel, and the road to health and happiness beckoned.

So, I waited patiently, praying I would be accepted as a participant. The days ticked by and my hope faded. Then, suddenly, there it was in my inbox - You have been chosen! I couldn't open that email fast enough. I had been handpicked as a participant from almost 9,500 applications. Yay! Let's get this party started!

Not surprisingly, before you can begin the program, first you have to download, sign and fax a "non-disclosure and release of liability agreement." The email went on to say "This form is designed to protect both you and me." Okay, no big deal. It's certainly understandable that the doctor would not want participants leaking the details of his program. The release of liability is also reasonable, because he is obviously not my personal doctor, and he stresses we should discuss participation in the program with our doctor and get periodic blood tests and check-ups. Okay, this is all good. My fingers were itching to sign that pesky document and get it faxed ASAP. Luckily, I spent a good many years working as a legal assistant, so I know not to sign anything until you have read every syllable, so I continued reading.

Sure enough, on page 2, the tricky bits showed up. My original intent was to condense this legal-eze into a more manageable, easy-to-read form, but I can't do it proper justice. So, here is the actual language. I have highlighted some parts, in case you just want to scan and get the gist of it.

Use of Personal Likeness
I hereby grant to the Sponsor and its successors and assigns the unlimited right and permission to use, distribute,publish, exhibit, digitize, broadcast, display, reproduce and otherwise exploit (including without, limitation, the right to sell, transfer, license, or otherwise alienate such right, in whole or in part, in its sole discretion) my name, signature, picture, likeness, voice and biographical information and any material based thereon or derived therefrom, together with any actual or fictionalized material or to refrain
from so doing, in any manner or media whatsoever (whether now known or hereafter devised) anywhere in the world in perpetuity for purposes of advertising or trade, promotion and publicity, research or otherwise.
 In furtherance of the foregoing, I hereby release all my rights to any photographs, writings, audiotapes, videotapes, DVDs, motion pictures and other forms of media or recordings of any kind whatsoever (whether now known or hereafter devised) arising from or relating to the Program. I understand that the Sponsor will be the sole owner of all rights arising out of the use of such items. I understand that I will receive no compensation from their use from any source whatsoever.
 I understand that I will have no right of approval, no claim to compensation, and no claim (including, without limitation, based upon invasion of privacy, defamation or right of publicity) arising out of any use, blurring, alteration, distortion, illusory effect, faulty reproduction, fictionalization, or use in any composite form of my name, signature, likeness, voice and biographical information.

Release and Covenant Not to Sue
I, for myself, my heirs, administrators, representatives, executors, successors and assigns, do hereby irrevocably and unconditionally release, acquit and forever discharge the Sponsor, *names deleted* including its/his officers, members, directors, equityholders, subsidiaries, affiliates, employees, agents, representatives and attorneys, as applicable, (collectively, the “Releasees”), from any and all claims, liabilities, obligations, promises, agreements, controversies, damages, remedies, actions, causes of action, suits, rights, demands, costs, losses, debts and expenses (including attorneys’ fees and costs) of any nature whatsoever, arising out of or related to my participation in the Program.
I agree not to sue, file a grievance or an arbitration or commence any other proceeding, administrative or judicial, against any Releasee in any court of law or equity, or before any administrative agency or tribunal (public or private), arising out of or related to my participation in the Program.

Now, I ask you, where are the protections for me, the participant? I see none. Zip, zero, nada, niente. Call me paranoid, but I have visions of my picture (before and after pics in as-yet unspecified clothing), name, signature (?!) and biographical information being used for sleazy and/or fraudulent purposes. Probably not intentionally, but things happen. There are about a zillion different ways my name, signature, picture, and biographical information could be used for evil, in the wrong hands, and I would have absolutely no recourse. With a few well-worded paragraphs, undoubtedly drawn up by a mule-team of attorneys, I am giving up all my privacy rights and civil rights in one fell swoop. I have to ask myself just how desperate I am, and I have come to the conclusion - not THAT desperate, Buttercup.

But I'm keeping the hot-pink sunglasses. Long story - don't ask. Besides, they match my flip-flops.

But I have to ask, just out of curiosity, would you sign that document?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Woops! There Goes Another Ivy Plant Leaf

This is a letter I wrote to my aunt a couple of years ago and just re-discovered while I was cleaning out my email. I'm certain it's no coincidence that I found this today. People, places and things that we need in our lives tend to appear or re-appear at just the right moment.

Dear Aunt Doris:

I want to share something with you, and I hope I can explain this well enough for you to understand what an amazing thing this was for me.

I have been feeling especially frustrated by a medical condition I have been dealing with for over a year, and one which no one, so far, has been able to explain or diagnose. The last few days have been particularly difficult, and I have been feeling equal measures of frustration and despair. So, in the hopes that Joyce Meyer (Enjoying Everyday Life) would say something that would make me feel better and restore my hope, I decided to watch some of her programs which have been patiently waiting for me on my TiVo box. It just so happened, although now I do not believe it was merely a coincidence, that the next Joyce Meyer program on my TiVo list was about frustration. She hit on several points which hit home.

John 15:11 Which talks about how Jesus wants us to be really happy. Not just a little happy, but with joy and delight of full measure and overflowing. That's what He died for. And, after all, a joyful Christian is a good witness for everyone they encounter. A sad, depressed, angry, or cranky Christian is just not a good advertisement, so to speak.

John 15:1-10 Which talks about how God wants us to bear excellent fruit but, to do that, there will have to be pruning away of dead and useless branches (things in our lives) that are sucking the life out of us. So, we should abide (live, dwell and remain) with God at all times, so we can bear much excellent fruit with ease. In other words, you must spend time reading scripture, praying, meditating, and abiding with God every day. Or, as Joyce puts it, just hang on the vine for a while.

Now, at this point, she had a visual aid in the form of a big board with leaves attached. The board was divided up into squares, and each square was labeled "Day 1," "Day 2," "Day 3," etc. In the first square was a group of fresh, green leaves which had been off the vine for one day; the second square had some leaves which had been off the vine for two days, and so on. Now, by about Day 5, those leaves were looking pretty brown and as Joyce said "crispy around the edges."

Joyce went on to explain that this demonstrated what happens to us when we don't stay on the vine and abide in God daily. We wilt and shrivel and become "crispy around the edges." In other words, spending 45 minutes a week in church is not going to keep you fresh and green and bearing excellent fruit easily. (Joyce said when she contemplated this scripture, she realized she was pruned if she did and pruned if she didn't. LOL)

She then went on to say when she first became a Christian, it took her almost a full year to accept that she is a child of God and He loves her unconditionally. (For those who don't watch Joyce, you should know she was abused and molested as a child.) She said she would look in her mirror every morning and say, "God loves YOU!" And she would do the same in her car when she driving, and at any other time she thought of it. She said it took that full year for that belief to make it from her head to her heart and take root. She said first and foremost you must truly believe and understand that you are rooted and grounded in God's unconditional love and then you should take some time to hang on the vine and be nourished and encouraged and strengthened.

Taking Joyce's advice, right after the program ended, I went into the bathroom, looked in the mirror and said to myself, "God loves you unconditionally." I was surprised at how difficult that was for me to do. So, I said it again and, of course, I began to cry. I walked into my living room to retrieve a tissue, and that's when I saw a perfectly healthy, bright green leaf from my ivy plant laying in the floor, a good five feet from the plant. I was baffled, because I knew that leaf was not there when I left the room, and there was no good explanation for how it had ended up so far from the plant. The cooler wasn't on and the windows weren't open. I went over and picked it up and examined it. To my amazement, it looked as if it had been carefully snipped from the vine and gently placed on the floor.

I stood there looking at that leaf for a moment and, then, I started to laugh. I couldn't help it. It just bubbled out from deep within me. And I said aloud, "Looks like I'm gettin' pruned!"

And I'm still laughing. Truly, this is one of the most amazing things that has ever happened to me. I think there are a couple of messages in this for me (actually for all of us): (1) God does love me unconditionally, and that part of me that didn't believe that needed to be pruned away, because it has been sucking the life out of me and keeping me from moving forward as a Christian; (2) There may be some additional pruning, and I need to stay tuned for further instructions regarding this; (3) God does have His eye on me and He has a good plan for me.

One more thing I would like to add is that this happened last Wednesday, and that ivy leaf is still green and is NOT crispy around the edges five days later!

I hope this makes some kind of sense to you, because this experience has refreshed me and re-ignited my hope and joy in a way I can't begin to describe.


You should also know that, shortly after this experience, I found the most caring, knowledgeable, and excellent doctor I have ever known. With his guidance and considerable skills, I was quickly on the road back to health. And, even during the rocky bits between sickness and health, I was able to maintain a spirit of expectant hope that all would be well, because I had finally accepted God's love for me and had asked for His help. Several times over the next few months, my doctor called me to report test results and to see how I was feeling. He was constantly amazed that I was feeling so well and upbeat, when my test results indicated I shouldn't be able to get off the couch. I would just look up toward the sky, smile, and whisper "thank you."

I'm not quite sure what thoughts or things I am clinging to now that need to be pruned and discarded. But I have no doubt when they are I will take another step towards being the Christian and the person I am meant to be. Now, that's something to look forward to. And, there I go again - chuckling to myself.

Just remember that God does love you unconditionally. Hold that knowledge in your heart, and do not ever be afraid to say: "Help, Lord, I can't do this without you."

If you have never watched Joyce Meyer, I highly recommend you do. She has a truly unique way of showing how scripture applies to our every day lives. Plus, she is a real character, whose stories will often make you laugh out loud, for real. Click here to go to her web site.

I have studied the Bible and tried to sort out what it says about health and healing, and then I discovered Joyce has compiled all the healing scriptures in one place. I truly believe they have helped me time and again over the last few years. Yeah, I know you are probably skeptical and are envisioning tent-revivals and sketchy faith-healers slapping people on the forehead and declaring them healed. That's not what I'm talking about at all. It is a fact that God wants us to be well, but most of us don't take the medicine He has prescribed. At any rate, you've got nothing to lose by giving them a read, right? Click here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Scorpions, Mammograms and Margaritas

There's a scorpion in my bathtub. We lived in Tucson, AZ for eight years, and I never saw anything remotely resembling a scorpion. But, since moving to New Mexico, I have had close encounters with several of them, both inside and outside the house. And everyone in the Southwest knows the only good scorpion is a dead scorpion, in a paperweight, which proves tourists will buy anything. Bless their hearts.

I eventually decided my personal ban on pesticides was far outweighed by my sudden obsessive-compulsive full-blown scorpion paranoia, which was taking over my life. I have to say abandoning my Earth Mother status was a tough call for me, but I called the pest control guy to come out anyway. He said there was nothing in the house for scorpions, and it was probably just a fluke that a couple of them ended up in the house. Well, I wish he would hold a meeting and tell the scorpions that, because they keep showing up in here.

After seeing two more scorpions and half a dozen centipedes, I threw caution to the wind and went out and bought some bug spray myself. Whatever that pest control guy was using didn’t seem to be working, and I wasn’t in the mood to pay him another $35 for nothing. For the very first time in my life, I actually sprayed pesticide around the outside of the house, carefully avoiding a large area where the lizards hang out, and then went around the baseboards inside the house, something that was absolutely unthinkable for me a year ago.

So, this morning when I stumbled into the bathroom with one eye open and one at half-mast and saw a scorpion merrily running around the bathtub, I was beyond annoyed. What disturbs me the most though is that I no longer feel the need to scream like a girl and run the other direction when I see one. I simply sighed, wearily retrieved a flip-flop, and quickly dispatched the offending critter. I can’t believe I’m getting used to this.

Now, I told you that story, to tell you this one. I should have known when I started my day out squashing a scorpion, that was some kind of sign this was going to be a bumpy day. Then, it dawned on me while I was pouring water into the coffeemaker that this was MAMMO DAY! Oh, crap. Ever since I started getting these things, I have yet to make it out the clinic door without having to get re-takes or an ultrasound, as if the original squishing wasn’t injury enough.

The good news is, or so I’ve been told, as you get older your breast tissue gets less dense, so mammos get somewhat easier to endure and easier to read. That’s just a nice way of saying, “Those puppies are headed straight for the floor, sister, and there’s not a cotton-pickin’ thing you can do about it.” Well, one thing I know for sure. Gravity works on me. Parts of my body have already headed south, and it's not even close to winter. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "the land down under."

I briefly contemplated re-scheduling the thing, but I decided I might as well go ahead and get it over with. So, I headed over to the hospital about 30 minutes before my appointment time because you always have to do paperwork.

Snag #1 – Being newly far-sighted (a condition which came on practically overnight), I now need reading glasses for the fine print stuff, and I had forgotten my glasses. Of course. By holding the paper in my hand and extending my arm full-length, I was able to get through it. Luckily, there was no one else in the waiting room or behind the reception desk to witness this spectacle-less spectacle.

Within a few minutes, I was called back to the exam room. Then came Snag #2. The technician held out her hand and said, “You did bring your previous films with you, right?” I don’t know about you, but I don’t keep my hooter films on hand. We moved four times in four years, so that’s four different clinics, and trying to get the films yourself takes an act of Congress these days, patient rights notwithstanding. Although the technician decides to deliver a small lecture on how this is much easier and faster if you have previous films to compare, she does say they have a release form I can sign, and they will unearth one for me. I skip the snarkasm and murmur my thanks, not wanting to tick off the woman who would be in control of the vice grip. My mama didn't raise no dummy.

So, off we go to the exam room. Get undressed, put on this silly paper open-front crop-top thing, which the technician immediately removes from one shoulder to get the left girl on the plate. Put your arm up here, shift your shoulder back, turn your head to the left (which she has to tell me twice, because my brain is fully focused on what’s about to happen to my girl on the plate and not what she’s saying, so I turned my head to the right), and lean back slightly. She retreats behind the protective barrier, depresses the footplate which puts the plates in motion, and tells me to hold still, as if you could actually move with your girl in that vice grip.

You know the rest of the drill. Three more positionings later we are finished. The technician tells me to get dressed and go sit in the waiting room. I quickly put the girls back in their braces, check in the mirror to make sure they're pointing the same direction, and get dressed. Just as I’m opening the exam room door, the technician quickly approaches and tells me to go back in the exam room, have a seat, and she’ll be right with me. Oh, great, Snag #3.

In a couple of minutes, she reappears and tells me to get undressed again. We have to redo all the films, not because they saw something suspicious on them, but because the processor suddenly went berserk and chewed them up. Of course it did. So, we go through the whole process again, I get dressed and finally get to retreat to the waiting room.

In the waiting room, there are two more women waiting with that “look” on their faces, so I try to reassure them by saying, “She’s good! It was practically painless, and I survived!” Upon hearing this, they both smiled widely, as did I, even though we all knew I was lying.

I sat down and saw that the woman next to me was filling out her paperwork. Or, rather, she was trying to fill out the paperwork, because she was doing what I had done earlier – holding the paper way out there to read it and then bringing it back to the clipboard to fill in the blanks. I had to laugh, and then I had to explain to her I had done the same thing. She said, “Darned menopause! I’ve never needed glasses and suddenly I have to use reading glasses, which I keep forgetting to take with me!” Well, it’s good to know I’m not the only who has this problem. The woman sitting across the waiting room started digging in her purse and came up with a set of reading glasses, which she laughingly offered to other woman.

The technician appears at the little window and tells me I need to fill out the release form so they can get my previous films and I’m free to go. She, due to her recent birth, has no idea why this sets off a round of laughter. The woman next to me offers up the reading glasses, while the smart woman who actually remembered to bring them says, “I think I’ll just hang around here today and make a few extra bucks by renting out my glasses!

One good thing is I did remember to take all the info about the clinic where my last mammo was done, so I was able to quickly fill out the release form. The second good thing was that the print was large enough that I didn’t have to borrow the reading glasses to complete the form.The third good thing was the questionnaire they wanted us to fill out and make suggestions as to how their service could be improved.

Well, since you asked, we took a vote and we all agree a mammogram weekend getaway in Margaritaville is the ticket. The prospect of spending a weekend cavorting on sandy beaches surrounded by eye candy and all the margaritas you can drink is far and away better than the cold, drab, sterile waiting rooms and exam cubicles we currently have to endure. Not only would women schedule those mammograms, but they would never skip a year. And, of course, there would be the added bonus of being slightly, or not so slightly, anesthetized at the time of the procedure. Somebody needs to get on that. Stat.

In the meantime, we demand a margarita bar and a hunky bartender in the waiting room. Make mine a double - one for each of the girls. Ladies, we have the power. We can make this happen. Are you with me?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Wonder Woman, Tiaras & Anti-Drama Llamas

When I last reported on Southern Belle Mama she was sashaying through my front door, looking spectacular after an eight-hour drive, and carrying homemade fudge. I, on the other hand, was fretting over the fact that my nails looked like I had been using them to pry open rusty paint cans, my roots were showing, the barbecued chicken in the oven was approaching jerky-status, and I forgot to wash the good napkins.

Like I told you before, Southern Belle Mama is the least critical person I have ever known, with the possible exception of Southern Belle Granny, but she is also the most together person I have ever known. And, try as I might, I have never been able to reach her level of Southern Belleness. If we actually wore tiaras, my mother’s would be perfectly perched and centered on her perfectly coiffed head, with no visible means of anchoring, and mine would be hopelessly tangled in my hair and teetering just above my left ear, despite the duct-tape running through it and under my chin. I consider myself lucky to be hanging onto the bottom rung of the Southern Belle ladder with my ragged, polish-free nails. Most likely, I have been spared banishment for the simple fact she is my mother.

Now, the words “Southern Belle” conjure up images of delicate females who get the vapors with little to no provocation, and are prone to being drama llamas. But Southern Belle Mama has always been strong, fearless and drama-free. I can easily picture her, hands on hips, facing down a grizzly bear, shooing him back into the woods, and then going casually back to putting on her lipstick, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

So, when I checked the answering machine yesterday and heard her almost-but-not-quite tearful voice saying she really needed to talk to me, I panicked. My hand flew to my chest and, yes, I almost got the vapors. If I actually had a fainting couch, I would have been draped over it. With my heart in my throat, I called her back, convinced that something was very, very, very, very, very wrong.

One ring, two rings, three rings and she answered the phone in pretty much a normal voice.

“Mama! What’s wrong?!”

“Oh, Hon, you’ve been on my mind the last few days, and I’ve been worried about you. I really needed to hear your voice. Are you okay?”

“Well, I will be as soon as my adrenaline levels come back down. You scared the crap out of me!!!!” (Yes, I was in such a state I actually said “crap” to Southern Belle Mama.)

As my breathing slowly returned to normal, I assured her I was fine, and we talked for another half-hour or so. I won’t bore you with all the gory details, but something important came out of that conversation you might need to hear.

Being the drama-avoiding, strong women we are, we realized we don’t tell each other important things we probably should. We have a tendency to keep things that might worry the other to ourselves. In times of stress, we don’t lean on each other and seek out that emotional support. More often than not, we don’t even tell each other about distressing events until whatever it is has been resolved and the whole thing is over. We have both faced down our fair share of life’s low blows, but most of those battles have been fought standing our own two feet, with the help of God.

Being a strong woman doesn’t mean you don’t need another living, breathing, caring person to lean on, share things with, or seek advice from, especially when you’re in the heat of battle. So, we agreed to start doing that more. My mother and I have always had a great relationship, but now I am excited to get to know her better as a person and a friend.

By all means, seek guidance from God, send up your prayers, and go out and fight the good fight, but remember, my sweetnesses, reaching out to one another is not a sign of weakness. Confiding in and leaning on a friend does not make you a whiner. You are allowed to be afraid. Everyone is. You are not Wonder Woman with a Magic Tiara and bullet-deflecting accessories. And, after all, isn't loving and supporting each other our Prime Directive?

Like I used to tell my son, you have to have at least four hugs a day to keep from being weird. Consider yourself hugged. It’s up to you to go get the other three.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Other Side: Public Employee Union Members

WARNING: For those of you who visit my blog for the occasional humorous or warm and fuzzy post, you should probably avert your eyes and close this page now, because this post is neither of those things. You might even call it a rant. Something I am known to do every so often, but I generally do it in the privacy of my own living room, so as not to inflict my crankiness on others. In other words, I’m climbing up on my soap box today. You have been warned.

I never intended for this blog to become a political forum but, for weeks now, I have watched the tweets flowing through my timeline about the public employee union dispute in Wisconsin. It’s not an exaggeration to say that 99.99% of those tweets have been mini-rants against not only the public employee union in Wisconsin but all public employee unions nationwide. Some people, in my opinion, have been truly outrageous in condemning all public employee union members and calling them, among other unsavory things, greedy, selfish, over-paid, lazy thugs. I have been surprised and saddened by this, because I thought most of my Twitter friends would be more interested in hearing both sides of the story and coming to a well thought-out conclusion.

Personally, I have searched for the actual dollar amounts involved in the Wisconsin dispute, and I have not yet been able to find anything which sets out how much union members earn or how much they pay for their benefits. From what I have been able to find, it appears the union members were willing to negotiate on benefit costs and other issues, until the governor abruptly decided to put an end to all collective bargaining. And everyone is surprised that the union members are upset? Frankly, to me, that doesn’t look so much like a move to balance the state’s budget as political grandstanding on the governor’s part. But I simply don’t have enough information to form a solid opinion about the dispute in Wisconsin, so I’m passing on passing judgment.

Are there bad seeds in public employee unions? Of course there are, but you cannot judge a group of more than 7 million people based on the actions of a relatively small number of union members and leaders. I’m fairly sure no one is condemning all Baptist congregations in this country because of the actions of the Westboro “Baptist” Church.

While I don’t know much about the specifics of the Wisconsin situation, I do know something about public employee unions, and I think some enlightenment is desperately needed. Not being in a particularly creative mood today, I’ll use an old, well-worn phrase – here’s the rest of the story.

First of all, state workers in our state have no choice. That’s not something they tell you at the new employee orientation. But, shortly after accepting a state job, a union rep will swoop in and hound you day and night to join the union. Then, if you steadfastly refuse to join or just keep avoiding the calls, you will receive a letter from the public employee union informing you that you do NOT have to join the union but you DO have to pay dues or you will be terminated. The letter will also state they are going to assess dues retroactively to your date of hire and, if you don’t pay up by a certain date, you will be terminated.

You will be stunned. You will wonder how that could be legal. But with a little research, you will discover it is legal. Then, after lobbing this grenade into the middle of your life and threatening your job, the union will then make you an offer you literally can’t refuse and say they will “forgive” most of the past due dues and accept a substantially smaller amount. All of which sounds like the very definition of extortion, but it’s legal extortion, so you fork over the cash to keep your job.

More than likely, years later, you will still have no clue what the union does, other than take money out of your check and give it to politicians you don’t like or support. Oddly, you will never hear from the union. There are no meetings, no newsletters, no explanation of what they’re doing for members, or even how to reach a union representative.

Meanwhile, when our state legislators realized the state was headed for a budget crisis, they instituted a hiring freeze, decided not to fill some positions as they were vacated, cancelled scheduled raises (which means there have been no raises for 2+ years), instituted furlough days and increases in the mandatory contributions to the public employees retirement account, which is now almost 11% of gross pay.

Other benefits offered by the state have seen similar increases. Of course, some of those increases might not affect you directly, because the price tag was too expensive from the get-go, and you opted out. Nevertheless, you are taking home less money now than you were two years ago. And, since those vacated positions in your department have not been re-filled, you have been doing the jobs of two or three people for years. Oh, and let’s not forget the 8 months you didn’t have a working answering machine or voice mail because it wasn’t in the department’s budget, so people called your home at all hours, 7 days a week.

I know several public employees and none of them are earning more than $50,000 a year. Most are earning substantially less, despite having degrees and years and years of experience. Some of them also work nights, weekends, and holidays, for which they do NOT get paid, for no other reason than they want to do the very best job they can for the public they serve.

Public employee union members in this state have taken all of this in stride – no protests, no yelling, no rabble-rousing, no capital building take-over, and no hitting of people over the head with signs. In fact, they have pretty much rolled over and played dead, because they just want to keep their jobs.

Despite all this, there are people in this country who are condemning public employee union members, calling them vile names, and questioning their character and integrity, simply because they are union members. My parents did a pretty good job of teaching me right from wrong, and that is wrong.

For the most part, public employee union members are hard-working, regular folks, just like you. The only difference is they were forced to join a union, or at least pay union dues, to keep their jobs.

Like the guy who inspects the restaurants in your town and the food vendors at every public event you attend to make sure the food you eat is safe and handled properly – that’s a public employee.

Or the social worker with 100+ open cases on suspected child abuse, foster placements and other heart-wrenchers – that’s a public employee.

Or the 3rd grade teacher who buys school supplies for 10 kids in her class who showed up without any and buys art supplies because there is no money in the school budget for them – that’s a public employee.

If you want to call out union leaders, that’s fine by me. There’s no love lost there. But, before you trash all public employee union members, take a look around your neighborhood because, chances are, you know one.

All thoughtful and rational comments are welcomed. Profane or offensive comments are not. Thank you.