Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia

Miss America started out as a "bathing beauty" contest. I want you to keep that in mind as you read the rest of what I have to say.

I am and have been a titleholder for various worthy programs over the last few years. I  adore each and every one of my sister queens from every program. I've made some of my best friends through pageantry. And before you say a word about objectifying women, blah blah blah, I am quite literaly the antithesis of what most people think of when they think of Miss [Insert Program Name Here].

I'm short.
I'm fat.
I'm over 40.

If anyone was "not a typical pageant girl", that would be me. But enough about me, and on with the main part of what I really want to say...

Every pageant program started somewhere. Once upon a time, a person had an idea for what they wanted to see in the future as a way to make the world a better place. Sometimes that meant starting as a bathing suit competition and developing into one of the world's foremost scholarship programs for women. But it didn't happen overnight.

This weekend I became aware of a situation in a pageant community of which I'm a part that really bothered me. Because the information is private, I won't share details. That being said, it really bothered me to see the director(s), whom I respect, being badmouthed and the program and some of its titleholders being maligned for the most riduculous of reasons.

When you are part of a pageant program that is fairly new, there will be kinks that need to be worked out over time. Have patience with the director(s). They are human beings who have envisioned a program that embodies the principles of [insert platform here]. But the program doesn't just spring forth fully-formed from their head as if they were Zeus. It took the Miss America program decades before they became the program they are today.

Even programs that have been around a while have situations that arise that can cause confusion. Directorships change, contracts aren't renewed, venues cancel the day of the event, emcees screw up royally and so on. It doesn't matter how large or small the pageant program is, things happen. How directors and delegates alike react says volumes about their character.

Don't badmouth the director(s) behind their back. Especially online. Screenshots last forever. And they can sometimes have a lasting impact on you. If you have an issue with a director, go directly to them and voice your concerns. Be polite and non-confrontational. And unless it is absolutely critical, don't do it during pageant weekend. Most pageant directors have "day jobs" which help fund their programs, by the way. I've yet to meet a director whose sole source of income comes from their pageants. They produce these events for YOU, the titleholders. Often times they don't even make all their expenses back. So when you badmouth them? You look like a doubly classless individual.

Appointed Titles. There are those that feel they aren't as valid as "earned" titles. I've even heard them referred to as "bought titles". From a pageant director's standpoint, an appointed title is a great way to get a presence in an area/region/state. Usually, they do come with a nominal fee to offset the costs of crown/sash/producing the national pageant.

From the title holder's standpoint, they are also a great way to get out in your community and spread the message of your platform/do community service/bring awareness. In some instances, a titleholder will receive their title similarly to an appointed title. For instance: a reigning titleholder gives up their title and since no one was able to take her place, the director may choose someone s/he knows that will be able to fulfill the duties of the title and represent the program at the national level, even though they didn't compete for it.

A title is only what YOU make of it, regardless of how you received it. There are queens who have "earned" their title but for them it is nothing but another notch in their belt. There are queens who have appointed titles who have worked their backsides off promoting their pageant program and their personal platform. It is no one's business HOW you were crowned. But it is everyone's business how you act once you are wearing it.
  • If you are wearing a crown for a program and you are criticising your sister queens because their title wasn't "earned", you don't deserve to wear the crown at all.
  • If you are wearing a crown for a program and you are speaking ill of your sister queens because they don't as much as about [insert program platform here], you don't deserve to wear the crown at all.
  • If you are wearing a crown for a program and you are badmouthing the director(s)/staff, you don't deserve to wear the crown at all.
  • Don't be Marjorie.

Friday, June 10, 2016

And the "Mother of the Year" Award goes to...

NOT this mom.

When this popped up on a friend's wall on Facebook, I had to comment. The original post and subsequent comments have since been taken down, but the gist of what I had to say was this:
This is an example of bullying. There are better ways of teaching a lesson. Instead of publically humiliating her daughter, she could have had her donate her long hair to a charity that makes wigs for cancer patients. She could have her spend some time volunteering with childrens' hospital cancer patients. I've spent enough time with mental health practitioners to know that this is not the best way of teaching a lesson. 
The only thing that this is teaching this teenager is that those who are stronger WIN. Where did this girl learn to be a bully? You don't have to look very far to see.

My oldest daughter (who turns 14 today) was bullied relentlessly in middle school. It ramped up to such a degree that she self-harmed in 8th grade and was hospitalized in a behavioral health facility not once, but twice. The first time was voluntary, the second time she was Baker Acted. It was quite honestly the worst time of my life.

Bullies aren't sociopaths that just materialize out of thin air. They learn the pattern of behavior of tormenting those who are weaker. My daughter's bully admitted to a teacher that his parents let him "talk like that" at home. He is on the path to #BecomingBrockTurner. There's a continuum from allowing kids to be entitled little buttheads to becoming a bully to becoming a rapist. It starts with being permitted to be mean on the playground or pick on others. When those behaviors aren't nipped in the bud and respect for others isn't instilled from an early age, it just escalates.

You don't have to slap a scarlet "A" on someone and put them in the stocks in the public square to "teach them a lesson". If that's your go-to for dealing with stupid teenager behavior, then I posit you need some parenting classes because it's an #EpicParentingFail. According to research at MIT, "the human brain does not reach full maturity until at least the mid-20s." You can't expect a 15 year old to be operating with the full set of parameters that an adult would.

Parents of bullies, this meme is for you.

Friday, June 03, 2016

The Crown She Wears is a Crown that CAREs, folks!

As one of the founders of Crowns that CARE, I'm always on the lookout for stories that speak to our mission: Children Are the Responsibility of Everyone. This is one example of a local Queen helping others in a unique way.

Recently, a friend of mine and fellow "Queen Bee", Mrs. Florida USA Earth, Maureen Heubel, asked a question on Facebook...
I had an idea for a contestant gift but I wasn't sure if people would think it was cheap or stupid. A good friend of mine, Dr. Debra Thomas has a non profit that provides assistance to homeless people in Central Florida and has started her back to school supply drive. This got me thinking that instead of candy, another bookmark etc I could give each delegate a cute photo of a school supply to represent the school supply item I donated in her honor. Thoughts?
Maureen Heubel, Mrs Florida USA Earth
The response was overwhelmingly positive, especially from me. I've been a devotee of Marie Kondo for quite a while and her philosophy for tidying is "Does it spark joy?" Nothing sparks joy for me quite like being able to do for others. And the idea of having something donated in my name for a worthwhile cause sparks an immense amount of joy. Also, not having one.more.thing to clutter up my home (or my hips, thanks candy!) sparks a lot of joy, too. As it turns out, Maureen got the idea from Marie Kondo, too!

To my sister queens, I encourage you to think outside the box like Maureen! Especially if your platform is eco-related.

To my pageant directors, as a contestant I always cringe when I hear "and bring 50 items representing your state/community/etc to give to your fellow contestants as a token gift". I don't want 50 "token gifts" to take home! I'm pretty sure I'm not alone, too, if the response to Maureen's facebook post is any indication. I encourage you to rethink the purpose of these "token gifts", especially at events geared towards children.

I'm not the most ecologically minded human on the planet, but I understand a few things:
1) Too much stuff strangles us and weighs us down.
2) I don't need 50 bookmarks or trinkets or dollar store toys.
3) There are plenty of other ways to show you care about your fellow contestants that don't involve "stuff" to carry home.
4) While it's the "thought that counts", it's incredibly wasteful to dump the "token gifts" in the garbage on your way to the airport.
Here are a few other things that would be much more appreciated:
1) Bottled water with a customized label or tag. If someone gave me a bottle of water as a contestant gift, I'd be SO thankful! Pageants take a lot out of you and being hydrated is so important.
2) Tic Tacs/Breath Mints with a customized label or tag. You never have them when you need them (aka right before interview!). One of my kids' teachers gave them mints at "meet the teacher" with a note saying "You were MINT to be in my class this year". #HintHint
3) Personalized pens are always a great gift! Pencils work too! Everyone needs a spare pen. I puffy heart my my daughter's NAM pens.
4) A photo business card with "Best Wishes" or "Good Luck" hand written on the back. For people who collect business cards, this is a great way to keep in touch. The added bonus is that it's SMALL, can be photographed and stored in your contacts on your phone and enables you to stay in touch with your fellow contestants after the event is over. Because we don't ALWAYS have our phones on us. Except for me. I'm "that" contestant who took a selfie with my fellow contestants ON STAGE during on-stage question. #WorldPeace
In closing, I'm 100% with Maureen! So if "all you get" from me as a contestant gift in your name to a worthy charity, know that it was done out of love for others, the planet and you. Because I know you don't want 50 knick knacks to try and fit in your carryon!

Live Long & Keep Sparkling,

The Empress a.k.a.
2015 Sunshine Foundation Ambassador
2016 Royal International Miss Role Model

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

April Was Autism Awareness Month

I’m going to say it. I just can’t stand the activism that treats Autism like a disease to be “cured” or “eradicated”. My reasons for having a visceral reaction to the language of Autism Awareness organizations that say “Working towards a cure” or similar verbiage start with my daughter, but they don’t end there.

Most parents live in Lake Wobegon when it comes to their kids. Of course we do. Unlike most American parents, though, I labor under no delusional that my child is a “special snowflake” that is somehow the benchmark by which all children before or since should be measured.

She is special, though. And part of what makes her special is her disability. Bear with me while I work this out. See, Autism Spectrum Disorder is considered a disability, specifically a learning disability for purposes of accommodations in the public school system. Thank you, President Clinton for signing the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. I was 16 and graduating from high school and had NO idea what that would mean to me as an adult. But it means everything.

Gabriella has Asperger’s Syndrome and Sensory Processing Disorder. And while some people look at it as “not really Autism” or “not as bad as Autism” or any other variation on that theme, it has impacted her life in very profound ways. And like it or not, critics, Asperger’s IS considered on the Autism Spectrum in the DSM. From Wikipedia:

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, offers a common language and standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders.

ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) is not technically a “mental disorder”. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Autism Spectrum Disorder is:

…the name for a group of developmental disorders. ASD includes a wide range, “a spectrum,” of symptoms, skills, and levels of disability.

So where does that put us right now?

Because she is wired differently, she sees the world differently. I like to say that she thinks so far outside the box that the box never existed in the first place. Her mind goes to places that it might not have ever discovered were she “normal”.
She is incredibly talented. Because of her disability, she has the ability to hyperfocus. Her ability to become so engaged with her artwork means she has a mastery that is rarely seen in a young person. It also, sadly, means that other things fall by the wayside. When she gets “in the zone”, you could drop bombs all around her and she would not notice. The uninitiated/unbelievers might say (and have said), “If she could oooonly apply that focus on [insert other thing], she’d do so well in [other thing].”

She is extremely sensitive. She feels things very deeply. Because of her disability, it often takes a huge emotional toll when the after-effects finally come home to roost. To this day, we still deal with the emotional aftermath of her preschool classmate who passed away when a small plane crashed into her house. It happened almost 10 years ago. But she still relives it almost daily. Especially when she gets close to people. She fears that something bad will happen to them, too. At the same time, her ability to feel deeply makes her very sensitive to the plight of others less fortunate. Some kids look at community service as something to be dreaded because it takes time away from “fun” stuff. She gladly will do community service because she cares.

She is incredibly smart even though she struggles with some academic subjects and especially on “assessments”. If you have a conversation with her for any length of time, you will end up impressed by how much she knows (if not her delivery style). Yes, it can take her a while to absorb certain topics, specifically procedure-based subjects, because her brain is wired differently, but once she gets it, it has been got. Permanently. There’s nothing she hasn’t learned that she has forgotten, I promise you.

When I think about all her strengths, even balanced against her weaknesses, that are directly related to her disability, I can’t even comprehend the merest inkling of wanting to “cure” her. Why would I change or eliminate what makes her an amazing human being? What would that say to her?

I’ll tell you what that would say to her:

It would say “You are less-than because you aren’t like everyone else”.
It would say, “You are a mistake”.
It would say, “You are a problem”.

People have equated ASD to other medical conditions like Diabetes in an attempt to get people to understand that saying things like “Why can’t you…” when the action is completely related to their disability and not something they can control easily (if at all). You would no more tell a Diabetic to just “get over” the Diabetes or tell a wheelchair bound individual to just “get up and walk”. But this does a disservice to the individual on the Spectrum.

It equates a neurological condition which can be helped only in certain circumstances (but certainly not ALL) by medication with a condition that is either controllable with medication or mitigated by assistive devices. Right now, the research shows a strong correlation to a genetic link with regard to ASD. It isn’t caused by vaccines. Or diet. Or environment. So please, do me a favor and don’t bring that up. Because when your child is almost a young adult, it’s unhelpful and rude for bystanders to armchair quarterback a woman’s prenatal health. It also makes you look stupid.

You might as well equate ASD with Bubonic Plague. Because that’s how my daughter takes your input. She has been ridiculed by her peers for being “different”. She has been verbally assaulted and told to kill herself to keep her peers from “catching Autism”. When you treat ASD like a disease and use language like “looking for a cure”, THAT is what you get.

New reports that people who commit atrocities who have a diagnosis of some form of ASD also add to the problem. Not every ASD person is going to go on a rampage and shoot up an elementary school. And yet, the first place news reports go is to that place. Then the cries of “Better mental health services” begin. Yes, there is a definite need for better mental health services in this country. But ASD isn’t a mental health issue by itself. ASD often is co-morbid with mental health issues. Depression, Anxiety, and more. Those definitely need to be addressed and treated appropriately.

My daughter is very outspoken and opinionated. Whether that is due to her diagnosis or she’s just like her mama (who learned it from her parents), is up for debate. She has her own voice. She’s incredibly self-aware. You might think that ASD folks aren’t, but you’d be so very wrong. In fact, many ASD folks suffer from anxiety because they are hyper-aware of how different they are and how they don’t fit into a society that caters to the “average”.

She doesn’t have social media because in her words, “I’m not ready for it”, so I’m her online ambassador. At almost 14, that shows a lot of maturity. What follows is from her heart:

She wants you to know that when you are “looking for a cure” what you really mean is that you wish she’d never been born. And by extension you wish that all Autistic people had never been born. Because if you didn’t, you wouldn’t want to change them from who they are.

She wants you to know that just because she is Autistic doesn’t mean she doesn’t have feelings or understand the world around her.

She wants you to know you can’t “catch” Autism any more than you can catch being stupid. (her words, gang, not mine)

She wants you to know that she isn’t “retarded”.

She wants you to know she isn't a mass-murderer in the making.

This is Gabriella.
If you have the courage to say any of the above things (or any variation on those themes) to her, I have a few things I want you to know.

I’m the one that has to console her when she is made to feel less-than.

I’m the one paying for the inpatient mental health facility stays because she was tormented to the point of self-harm due to her disability.

I’m the one who fights the fight to get her the services and accommodations she needs.

I’m the one you will have to go through if you hurt my child.

Because I care about every kid who struggles with the same issues Gabriella faces, that's why it doesn't end with my child. My heart goes out to every child who faces the same discrimination and backlash because of their disability and diagnosis.

For those who have children on the Spectrum who deal with profound Autism behaviors, I feel for you. I know that our struggles compared to yours are merely a drop in the bucket. I know that they are life-altering in ways that I can probably never understand. I know you are doing the best you can. Hang in there.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Is It Monday Yet?

Or should I just call this #PhilosophyThursday?

Normally I keep my musings for Mondays, but as I was going about the business of morning stuff, thoughts were swirling in my brain, like the #DustHyenas I was sweeping. In case you were wondering what a Dust Hyena is, it's like a Dust Bunny but bigger and nastier.

A photo posted by Nina Suluh (@empressg1973) on

About a year ago, I embarked on the process of decluttering put forth by the titan of tidy, Marie Kondo, in her book "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up". I started well but life got in the way, as it is wont to do. 2016 was looming around the bend and I found a Facebook group called the "KonMari 26 Week Challenge" and I dutifully joined because it met all the criteria for my ADHD brain to be able to get back on track. Namely, a set time-frame, a schedule of what to do and when, and The List. The List is broken down by week and gives what must be worked on during that time. There are also a lot of other people just like me, working on the same step at the same time and we are able to share our triumphs and tribble-ations. I belong to a lot of KM groups on Facebook, but this is the most helpful at the place I am right now.

The over-arching aim of the KonMari Method (KM for short) is that if it #SparksJoy, you keep it. If it doesn't, you thank it for its service and send it on its merry way. I've lost track of just how many non #JoySparkers have left my house, but I can safely say it's A LOT. We are NOT hoarders by any stretch of the imagination, but like most Americans, we have a lot of stuff. Just stuff. Stuff I was saving for this or that reason... Stuff I got on sale because it was a good deal... You know the drill.

But here's the kicker... I HATE stuff. Hate it. Loathe it. Abhor it. Detest it. (and no I didn't need a thesaurus for that, lol) Too much stuff kicks my ADHD into overdrive and I spiral into depression. I hate stuff sitting out. I hate knicknacks that aren't behind glass. And yet, much like Saint Paul wrote
What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. (Romans 7:15 The Message)
I find myself with STUFF. And it is EVERYWHERE. And so I ceep calm and KonMari on. Part of the concept of the KonMari Method is the idea that the house will tell you when it has reached a "click point". It sounds crazy, but it's true! I'm getting to that part, lol, bear with me.

As I get further into the process of refining my Joy Sparkers, I realize that while I love my dining room and appreciate all the meals around the table we've enjoyed, the guilt for not being able to use it for that purpose in a very long time has been crushing me. And it shouldn't. But yet it has been. Partly because people who shall remain nameless [couhg]my spawn[cough] have complained about it. Well-meaning people have commented on how eating dinner every night at the table brings the family together and blahblahblah.

So here's the deal:

I refuse to feel guilty any more and Imma tell you why in bullet points:

1. I work from home as a fiber artist (I make things out of fabric). That work involves needing a large flat space to lay out, measure and cut the fabric.  Visit my website. #ShamelessPlug

2. My children need a place to do homework. More specifically, my at-risk SPD child needs an area free from siblings with enough space to be tutored by her father. The dining room table fits that bill perfectly.

3. My house is small, but it is almost paid for and I don't feel like shouldering the overhead that an outside facility would cost me. Plus, working from home allows me to be with my kids even when I'm working.

4. My work? Pays for all those nifty things my spawn enjoy doing as extracurriculars. So we can either eat at the table or do fun stuff.

5. Being able to work from home is my #JoySparker (see above). The "click point" came for me when I realized that using my dining room table as part of my work space means more to my family than just eating a meal. It means income for my family that we otherwise wouldn't have.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE my dining room table. It's a gorgeous piece of furniture. But until and unless I get a dedicated workroom (which I don't see happening any time soon for a variety of reasons), my dining room IS my workroom. And I'm happy with it. If you have an opinion on why I'm wrong or should do something else, you can forward me the approximately $20,000 to build a functioning workspace. You don't have an extra twenty grand laying around? Okay then. Kindly keep your opinions to yourself.

Let me add something else that Sparks Joy for my family: being able to sit together in comfort on the sofa and eat dinner close together while watching our favorite TV shows on Netflix and Hulu. Because dinner time is the only time we're all able to watch TV at all. And being able to share that time means the world to us. We don't have to worry about people's faces being in their phones or tablets because we're too busy watching TV together (it's like MST3K at our house) and stuffing said faces with food made with love by either their dad or myself (but mostly dad because he's a way better cook).

Some of my fondest memories growing up were eating homemade nachos for dinner and watching "CHiPs" or "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" with my parents. I don't remember many of the meals we ate at the table (and that was the rule for meals), but I remember those times we broke the rules by sitting in the TV room with mom and dad watching TV and eating. And that's probably why I don't feel one shred of guilt about having my kids watch TV while we eat. Because it's not about where you're sitting, it's about who you're with. We're building a shared experience. And that is everything to me.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

lois lane and superman

...or how a fellow Geek Girl and an undergarment most people take for granted changed my life.

First of all, the disclosure: I am not a paid reviewer of any product. If I'm reviewing it, it's because I parted with my hard-earned money to acquire it.

It all started with an Epbot post. Go. Click the link. Read. And then come back here. I'll wait.

Back? Ok. So I read that post when it originally aired back in 2013. I paid it no heed. Learn from my mistakes. Go back and read through all the embeded links. I'll still be here.

Now that you've read the entire post and all the links including the Reddit one on to the good stuff.

I hate shopping for clothes. I've got my reasons, but the clothing I hate shopping for the most are the "unmentionables". I hate it because they never fit right. I always feel worse after a trip to the "fitting room" - a total misnomer by the way since most off-the-rack clothes don't actually fit and there's no one there to fit them to you, but I digress...

I hate bras. With the fire of 10,000 burning suns. I've gone through phases of shopping at Victoria's Secret and being "fitted" there (hahahahahah) and just grabbing whatever utilitarian thing of the rack at Target in an attempt to cover the hoobies. For years, I've gone without and just worn a thick tank top underneath whatever shirt I'm wearing. But some things require a bra and there we are.

I sew clothes for myself and have for quite a while and I was always confused as to why my clothes never fit correctly in the top and I always had to grab 4-6 inches from the back to make everything fit properly. When I finally read through ALL the links in the Epbot post and actually measured myself for a bra, I had an epiphany. The secret is that my underbust is 35" and my actual bust measurement is 44". That is a 9" difference, yo. I should have been making a "full bust adjustment" to my clothes to account for my larger (yet smallish) chest.

So I obeyed my geeky overlord and duly ordered a bra from using my actual measurements converted to UK sizing (I'm a 36F, BTdubs). The first bra I ordered was too small. I went with a 34" band because I'm between sizes. Yeah, nope. FULL of nope. Had to send it back and Brastop and pay return shipping but that's the price you pay for living in the USA and ordering from the UK. The return process was super easy and since the replacement bra was actually less expensive, I got a refund via paypal. Sweet!

I eventually ended up with the Fantasie Lois Side-Support Bra in nude. You can get it here.
from Fantasie's website
That's not me in the picture. I'm not quite that good looking in person but pretty darn close.

Style: It's a bra. I don't know what I expected it to be based on the picture, but when I received it, it looked just a little sad being all flat and stuff (no padding whatsoever in the bra). But who cares what it looks like? It FITS!!!

Fit: This thing fits like a glove. A very supportive glove. The band is 36" and fastening it in the first set of hooks is a perfect fit. Snug without being squeezy. Generally speaking band size affects strap placement. The straps are set very wide on this bra. Which is perfectly fine for me because I have broad shoulders for someone so small (I'm 5'2"). It also means that all the side boobage gets confined in the cups.

Bonus: The center part where the little bow is comes up very high in the center. This is good because it holds my posture erect. I don't know about you, but I tend to slouch a bit and this is like a teeny ruler down the front of my shirt saying "Don't do it, missy!" It also causes me to hold my shoulders down and rolled slightly back - another posture improver.

Overall, I'm thoroughly pleased with this bra. It fits my hard-to-fit boobs. And that was worth the price of admission AND the wait for international shipping.

Friday, January 08, 2016

How To Survive In Jakarta

was not something to which I gave much thought when I boarded my first flight to Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. In fact, "survival" is not something I ever think of when I'm travelling internationally.

My thoughts revolve around seeing amazing things, meeting new friends and generally immersing myself in wherever I happen to be and enjoying the experience to the fullest.

So when this video popped up in my Facebook feed, I was... confused... a little put off... and I'm still trying to quantify what it is that bothers me... Maybe it's because Jakarta is my "home away from home" and I have family there that I love.

When I'm in Jakarta it's because I want to be there, not because I "have to". There have been sad times & happy times, but I never found myself worried about my safety (which as an American I was warned about!) or out of place.

I've travelled around the world and the one place I feel most at home is Jakarta. It's a city of contradictions with slums near shopping centres but also a blossom that is slowly opening to show it's inner beauty. You just need to be able to see it.

I remember Jakarta in 2002 when the canals were so filled with styrofoam trash that rats the size of cats were cavorting on them. I remember the flood that meant we had to leave our home on bamboo rafts. I remember the presidential election of 2014 and the nail-biting vote count that was televised for the entire nation to see.

What I remember most about Jakarta is spending time with my family, shopping on side streets (she has a point about sidewalks!), eating amazing food you can't get anywhere else and just sheer happiness.