Dear Senator… Belle goes to the “Hill”

February 15, 2013

Capitol Hill once seemed like a place for just tourists and politicians.  Earlier this week, I walked onto Capitol Hill advocating for change.  It was quite surreal for a girl that grew up in southeastern Kentucky.  It was one of the most exciting and exhilarating days of my life.  I was getting to speak up for someone who was unable to do so.  
While we were there, our group visited the offices of Senator (R) Rand Paul, Senator (R) Mitch McConnell, Representative (D) John Yarmuth from 3rd congressional district, Representative (R) Andy Barr from 6th congressional district , and Representative (R) Thomas Massie from the 4th congressional district. 
Walking into Senator (R) Rand Paul’s office was a lesson in humility.  We walked into a “gun fight that we knew we were gonna lose” but we walked in there anyhow.  Senator Paul is a very vocal advocate against any United States Foreign Aid.  The United States only spends about 1% of the fiscal budget each year on foreign aid and diplomacy.  It is touted by many journalists that Senator Paul uses his opposition and out spoken nature to gain media attention.  After all, negative attention is still attention.   I guess he hopes that the U.S. is never directly attacked, that we won’t need allies, and we have never received any foreign assistance from other countries.  
Senator Paul should realize global health also impacts U.S. health.  I would hope as a physician he would see those implications.  Germs do not carry passports, outbreaks of infectious diseases in other countries still means the possibility of outbreaks in the U.S.  In 2000, measles were declared to be eliminated from the United States but due to vaccination propaganda and resulting lowered vaccination rates, in 2011 there were 222 cases reported by the Centers for Disease Control in the U.S.   Just across the “lake”, in England measles cases are at an 18 year high.  There have already been cases of the measles reported in the U.S. this year.  Complications from measles can be deadly especially in young children and those with compromised immune systems.  An outbreak of measles in the U.S. doesn’t just involve the health of an individual and their family.  A reported case of the measles requires CDC notification, exposure and tracking measures, and the alert of CDC personnel.  It places a significant burden on the healthcare system which is entirely unnecessary.  It also affects public transportation and education systems, it is an infectious disease which has easy modes of transmission.  
U.S. Today reported that a measles outbreak in Utah in 2011 cost $300,000, that was one outbreak!  It only costs $5 to immunize one child from measles and polio for life, $20 covers measles, polio, pneumonia and rotavirus.  These are diseases which are easily prevented if the we intervened.  
These children are real.  This photo is from a Shot@Life observation trip to Uganda. 
In reality the most important impact should be humanitarian.  The prevention of needless deaths.  We are a global society.  All American citizens were once immigrants from somewhere.  I can trace my roots to Ireland and Scotland, along with my Native American heritage.  My son has lineage in Ecuador and Spain.  Everyone deserves access to life saving vaccinations, regardless of place of birth.  A child and their family shouldn’t be punished because they were born in Africa, Pakistan, Guatemala, or any other country.  It is the most cost effective form of humanitarian aid.  It easily pays off dollar for dollar. 
 It is unfortunate that Senator Paul, wants to “throw the baby out with the bath water” as we say around here.  He might not approve of all forms of foreign aid but global vaccination funding is vital the U.S. and the rest of the World.  In reality it isn’t his job to approve of anything.  He was elected to vote as the voice of his constituents.  He should listen to what the people of the state want and vote for us.  In September he proposed that the U.S. cut all foreign aid to Libya, Pakistan, and Egypt because of government disagreements.  Why should we punish the children and families of those countries because of government disfunction?  Those children are no different than the children living in our own neighborhoods, except our children have access to local health departments and clinics to get vaccinations.  
I would like to a take a second to also point out that Senator Rand Paul was one of only 8 senators that voted against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.  Last year there were 18,733 unduplicated new referrals to the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association and a total of 39,919 continuing individuals served.  To put those numbers in perspective, there is only 31,888 residents in Knox County Kentucky, where I grew up.  My brother and a dear cousin were both lost due to domestic violence.  Senator Paul must know that his vote was unacceptable.  
In this technologically advanced age it is easy to let our Congressmen and Senators know how we feel. You might not have money to donate to the campaign, but if your reading this you have internet access.  You can call, email, or write a letter to your Congressmen and Senators to let them know you support U.S. allocated funding for global vaccines.  You can also contact them via twitter.  
I don’t care if you are a teacher in Barbourville, a coal miner from Harlan, a farmer from Mayfield, an attorney from Lexington, or if you fall anywhere in between.  If you are 18 years old, you have a voice and you should let it be heard.  Your vote counts, you elect the officials.  I am going to make it simple.  
Here are the websites for officials for the State of Kentucky, if you live outside of Kentucky you can use google and find yours.  

I hope you will contact them and let your Senators and Congressmen know how you feel, whether it be about global vaccines, domestic violence, or any issue you feel is relative to you.  
Happy Fabulous Friday, 

The Global Citizen

February 14, 2013

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”  
~Edmund Burke

Frank is my favorite person to heckle over the University of Louisville.  

I have spent the last few days with an amazing group of individuals who aren’t standing around doing nothing.  Actually most of them were shouting, “Hey, things need to change!”  Its easy to stand around and pretend your hands are tied.  It is much harder to try to get others to join your cause, especially when those you are advocating for are half a world away.  
I always use my time flying to think about my schedule and issues at hand.  My flight from Ronald Reagan airport in Washington, D.C., into Bluegrass Regional airport here in Lexington from gate to gate took about 1 hour and 30 mins.  I was on the plane about 5,400 seconds, and in that time approximately 270 children around the world died of a disease that could be prevented with a vaccine.  Doesn’t anyone find that unacceptable?  Where I am originally from, that is approximately the population of one elementary school.  
It would have only taken $5,400 to save those lives.  My goal over the next year working with the United Nations Foundation Shot@Life campaign is to raise $5,400 to help prevent the death of that many more.  I hope my wonderful community will help me work toward that goal.  I am blessed to be surrounded by so many caring friends, family, and neighbors.  We are global citizens, we aren’t bound by the same borders that once contained us.  These could easily be your own family and friends, if you weren’t lucky enough to live in a country as fortunate as the United States.  
Many people don’t realize Foreign Aide is only one percent of the U.S. budget and global vaccines are one of the most cost effective ways to help those in developing nations.  I can’t imagine how heartbreaking it would be to lose a child to something that could have been easily prevented if they only had access to a vaccine.  
Traveling to Washington was my first trip away from my three year old son and it was very emotionally difficult.  As a parent I can only imagine the grief and fear of realizing you could lose your child to a disease that could have been prevented.  From January 1 through January 19th of this year, Pakistan recorded 103 child deaths from complications associated with measles.  Five hundred and fifteen dollars is all that was needed to vaccinate those children against measles and polio.  A twenty dollar donation would vaccinate one child for a lifetime against measles, polio, diarrhea, and pneumonia.  
I want to do more than just fundraising. I hope over the next year I can create a dialogue with my community and government officials.  We need to let them know as constituents we approve and want allocated United States funding for global vaccines.  We need to advocate for those than can’t advocate for themselves.  
Please visit to read more about the campaign.  Please feel free contact me with any questions, if I don’t know the answer I will try to find someone who can answer it.  I would also love to talk to you about the Shot@Life campaign.  Please contact me, and I will gladly speak to groups and even individuals.  
You can donate directly to the Shot@Life campaign through and we can keep track of area donations.  You can also join my team, it is a free and all the money raised goes to a great cause!  I have some exciting things in the works for a our beautiful town, and I can’t wait to show the world how much our community cares.  
I promise to blog later about my trip to D.C., all my new wonderful friends, and lobbying on the “Hill”.  I just have an adorable three year old I want to snuggle with.  I hope everyone else will snuggle their own babies tonight, and think of all the parents who would love give their own children a shot at life. 
Happy Worldly Wednesday,

Some birds were meant to fly

February 10, 2013

Some birds were meant to fly and I flew the coop a long time ago.  I have always been adventurous and slightly audacious.  When I graduated high school at 17, I was ready to leave that sleepy little town that I loved to explore the world.  I have been fortunate to travel and meet lots of interesting people along my path, and yet I feel like my journey has just begun.  

Today, I took my another big leap out of my nest.  I left my son with my mother while I am gone to Washington, D.C..  I know we are both ready and we need this.  In his three years on this earth, he has traveled to Idaho, Nevada, throughout South Florida, along with the countries of Colombia, Curacao, and the British Virgin Islands, and countless stops inbetween.  If you count the 9 months I was carrying him, he has been a few other places too!  I was determined to teach him to have wings too, but sadly I realized I have been hindering him.  We have never slept in separate rooms  and tonight will be our first night apart.  I have never been away from him for more than a few hours.  

I am an Army wife, and I have an Army life.  My husband is gone alot.  He has been gone since shortly after Gabe turned one year old.  In honesty, if you counted up the days, he has been gone close to half our marriage.  It is the life we chose and I am grateful for his career.  Sadly, I sometimes feel like Gabe is being short changed in the parental department.  My family lives about two hours away.  It is just Gabe and I most days.  I feel guilty leaving him when his Dad is gone all the time.  

I believe in teaching a child by example.  I need to teach Gabe to fly by watching me.  He needs to know that I have dreams and I am not afraid to follow them.  I can’t make him afraid to leave the nest or always need me to fly with him (although I gladly would).  Leaving him asleep this morning wasn’t easy, but in my experience nothing that came easy was ever really worth it.  

Today I dusted off my wings and hopefully Gabe will start to use his own.  Watch out Washington this Bluegrass Belle is on her way!  I am so excited about advocating for the United Nations Foundation Shot@Life campaign.  I say this repeatedly, I may not be able to change the World, but I can work to make it better even if it is just one person at a time. 

Dear Boo, 
Momma will be home soon enough.  I miss you bunches and love you more than you will ever know.  Big a big boy and don’t be too mean to Escobar. 

Happy Soaring Sunday,

Big Red Shoes and Tiny Little Hats

Can you imagine having a baby small enough to wear this hat? 
Three of my very slender fingers fit in this tiny little hat

My son weighed 7 pounds and 8 ounces when he was born 2 weeks shy of his due date.  I was terrified I would hurt him, and he seemed so small.  He weighed nearly 4 times what some of the super premie babies born or transferred to the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center do.  I can’t imagine having a baby that small and having to watch them fight for survival.  It would heartbreaking.  Thankfully Ronald McDonald Houses across the country provide a warm shower, cozy bed, and a hot meal to families of children who are hospitalized due to prematurity, illness, or injury.  They help make the day a little brighter and easier, for so many families who are clinging to hope.  

Today Bluegrass Junior Woman’s Club was recognized by the Ronald McDonald House of the Bluegrass for our support to their organization and the room that we sponsor.  It was heartwarming to see the clubs name on the door and hear all of the success stories.  They had a county map which listed the number of families from each county, along with the number of nights they stayed cumulatively.  My home county Knox, was one of their top five counties serviced.  Last year 19 families from Knox had stayed at the house for a total of 200+ nights.  I couldn’t help but be curious if anyone from my hometown had stayed in the BJWC sponsored room.  I am from a very close knit community, everyone  either knows everyone else or they are related.  The county is nearly 2 hours away from the hospital, so staying at the house would be a necessity for anyone with a hospitalized premie.  I love knowing that the Ronald McDonald house is there for those families.  In the south, “we take care of our own,” as they say.  

Some of the women from our organization, Bluegrass Junior Womans Club and the only clown I would ever be around
The club took a tour of the house and we snapped a few photos.  Most of us have cooked dinner there multiple times but I had never been given a tour.  Along with our premie caps, the house gave each of us a pin and an umbrella (mine is going to D.C. with me next week).  Our time at the house reminded me to be thankful for so many simple things in my life, especially a healthy child.  It was nice to see the dedication of our club pay off, and know that so many families were helped in a time of need.  

A candid of me chopping veggies for soup, I diced nearly an entire bag of onions

We cooked dinner for the residents of the house.  It always great when you can watch a large group of woman work successfully together.  The club chose Rachel Ray’s Chicken Orzo Soup 

Here is the recipe for anyone interested:

  • cup orzo pasta

  • tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • pound chicken cutlets, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • Salt and pepper
  • ounces sliced white mushrooms
  • ribs celery, thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1 15 ounce can  cannellini beans, rinsed
  • cups chicken broth
  • tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves

  1. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the orzo until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes; drain.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and celery and cook until the chicken is golden-brown, about 10 minutes.
  3. Stir in the cooked orzo, the beans, chicken broth and lemon juice; season with salt and pepper. Lower the heat to medium and simmer until heated through. Stir in the parsley. 

When we were done cooking, I sat at the table with my friends and watched as the residents ate.  I couldn’t image what they were dealing with, I just hoped they were enjoying a peaceful, delicious meal.  I came home to a happy, healthy little boy and a heart full of gratitude.  
There are so many ways to help your local Ronald McDonald House.
1. Donate money
2. Plan a dinner with a group of friends
3. Volunteer at the house or at the family room in the hospital
4.  Collect soda pop tabs
5.  Host a fundraiser
6. Collect items for their “wish list”
You could easily help make a difference in the life of one child and their family.  Please visit Ronald McDonald House of Lexington to find out how you can help or volunteer!  

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”
― Mother Teresa

XOXO ~Jess 

Salt on a birds tail…

February 7, 2013

When I was younger my Paw (maternal grandfather, for those know don’t know me) would tease me about random things.  I guess he never realized that telling a very curious and independent six year old tall tales might interrupt their evening and summer.

I grew up in rural southeastern Kentucky.  I ran barefoot in the field, played in the “creek”, and I caught “craw dads” with my brother.  I played with cousins and I was always the “boss”.  I was the oldest of 7 grandchildren and 4 siblings.  My curly blonde hair made it easy for me to convince my great grandmother and grandparents to be at my beckon call.  I was rotten, and they made me that way.  Apparently, I once called my grandparents without my parents knowledge (or permission) and had them drive 2+ hours to pick me up in Virginia.  I wish I could remember the look on my parents and grandparents face when they pulled in the driveway to pick me up.  I loved my childhood and growing up in a small town.

My grandparents live on the side of a mountain that overlooks the main road.  We spent most of our summer afternoons outside under the shade trees watching the cars pass.  My mom had taken my great grandmother shopping, and I stayed behind with my Maw and Paw.  It was a hot and humid, July 3rd.  Paw use to tease us.  He would tell me that if you put salt on a birds tail, they couldn’t fly away.  I must have been obsessed with trying to catch a bird (or any other animal). I couldn’t convince Paw to get me the salt or maybe I didn’t ask, I can’t recall.  I’m not sure what exactly goes through the mind of a 6 year old.  I do know, I went into the house alone to get salt.  It wasn’t a good idea.  

Maw kept the salt and pepper shakers in the upper cabinet next to the stove.  I must have been too lazy to pull a chair over (or I wanted the opportunity to climb), so I opened a lower cabinet door and managed to stand on the countertop.  Okay, so we all know this story isn’t going to end well.  I don’t recall exactly what happened to make me fall.  They assumed I tried to catch myself, which isn’t a good combo when falling from 3+ feet onto a hardwood floor with skinny little arms.  I do remember looking at my mangled arm and thinking “boy am I gonna be in trouble”.  

I know everyone is thinking, that had to hurt.  I’m not sure that I should be thankful but luckily (or unluckily) the severity of my fracture had cut off circulation to my arm.  I couldn’t feel anything.  I guess that might be why, I thought I was having a bad dream.  I was scared to death.  I ran through the house, crawled into my grandparents bed, and covered up to hide.  Luckily, Maw had heard a thump inside the house and came to look for me.  She found me, crying and terrified in her bed.

Paw heard a scream from inside the house and came running.  Maw was hysterical and my arm was a mess.  They wrapped me in a blanket and we were about to start a very long series of emergency room stops on our way to the University of Kentucky hospital.  I was scared and hurting, but I was also about to experience my first random act of kindness by a stranger.  It was a monumental experience in my life and you will have to stay tuned for the rest of the story…

In the Mirror

February 6, 2013

Two monks were on a pilgrimage. One day, they came to a deep river. At the edge of the river, a young woman sat weeping because she was afraid to cross the river without help. She begged the two monks to help her. The younger monk turned his back. The members of their order were forbidden to touch a woman.

But the older monk picked up the woman without a word and carried her across the river. He put her down on the far side and continued his journey. The younger monk came after him, scolding him and berating him for breaking his vows. He went on this way for a long time.

Finally, at the end of the day the older monk turned to the younger one. “I only carried her across the river. You have been carrying her all day.”

How often do we carry things with us?  Things we should have let go of a long time ago.  We can carry people and feelings long beyond necessity.  Why is it so easy to hold on to the bad feelings and people, while often letting go of the right people and memories?  Pain can be a very tricky emotion and we often carry it for years.  If you aren’t careful pain can poison your soul, just as the influence of the wrong person can.  

The younger monk carried his anger about the older monk helping the woman all day.  What do you carry around that you should let go?  I carried distrust, hurt, and anger for too long following my brothers murder.  One day I looked in the mirror and I saw a scared, angry, and hopeless woman instead of the carefree, happy, and joyful person who stood there before his death.  

Someone once told me that you can’t let other peoples actions change who you are.  I did exactly that.  I was afraid to walk alone outside at night for fear that my stepfather (or anyone else) was waiting to get me.  I became distrustful of nearly everyone in my life.  I had trusted my stepfather.  We had developed a good stepfather, stepdaughter relationship.  We would watch the history channel, run errands, and I had helped at his market.  We shared holidays and chats about life.  How could I ever trust anyone else?  He took my brother from us in a very cruel and calculated way.  He sabotaged so many of my relationships with people he had never even met.  

The worst emotion was anger.  I was angry at him for taking Brandon, and I was angry at God for letting him.  I still can’t drive through the town where he lives because I honestly fear of what I might do if I saw him.  Anyone who knows me, knows I am incredibly protective, almost to a fault.  I will do anything to protect the people I care about, even if it means hurting myself in the long run.  I can still laugh over Brandon’s supposed “bar fight.”  We got into an argument over my niece and I punched him.  He had been making some poor decisions that I felt would negatively affect Alyssa.  We were arguing about her, and he said he didn’t give a damn.  Alyssa was my first niece and my first baby, those were “fighting words.”  I can shamefully say I punched my brother in the face and I can say he thankfully didn’t punch me back.  When everyone asked about the mark/bruise, he said he got into a bar fight.  I guess technically he was telling the truth, we had gotten into an argument outside of a bar.  

It took a long time for me to realize that I was continually letting my stepfather take things away from me.  He took Brandon, my trust, along with many other people and opportunities.  We should be careful of the baggage that we carry with us.  We can let experiences change you but you need to make sure they change you for better, not worse.  

He who stops being better, stops being good.
                                          ~Oliver Cromwell 

Tomorrow I can save the world, today I’ll just be a silly girl..

February 2, 2013

So after the initial excitement of being chosen as one of the GFWC ambassadors for the Shot@Life program began to wear off (well…. enough so that I could focus on something else), I started to plan (and panic) about what to wear.  I know it is totally vain and silly, but there is a fine line between professional and frumpy.  We all know a “belle” should never be frumpy and always abide by
this rule.

Never leave the house in sweats.  A girl must be prepared to meet a dashing stranger or an old enemy

And I know my luck, the one time my hair is in a ponytail with no makeup, I’ll bump into the one person I didn’t want to see me (but that is for another rant).  It isn’t being ridiculous, it is an ugly fact about society.  We highly value appearances.  One of my college organic chemistry professors didn’t shave and rarely cleaned under her finger nails (this was a problem because she was an avid gardener).  I refused to ever take her seriously because of her lack of personal hygiene.  I will also never forget her either (and that isn’t a good thing because I can’t remember anything she taught me).  I also work better and feel better, when I am “put together” as they say.  I can put on my Burberry scarf, along with a coat of lipstick and mascara, and I am ready to take on the world!

My Southern roots go much deeper than my accent (or my haircolor).  I like dresses, heels, and pearls of course!  I reluctantly asked about the dress code for Summit, thankfully she reassured me I wasn’t the first to ask.  She told me business casual, which stirred a new debate about what exactly business casual meant among some of the girls.  It didn’t matter to me, I knew I would wear dresses, heels, and hosiery. I will publicly admit I have a new obsession with patterned hosiery (that my husband feels looks trashy no matter the brand or pattern).  I think patterned hose are trendy and stylish, but I wasn’t sure if they were appropriate for Capitol Hill.  I am also guilty of being one of those people that if they don’t know the answer, they google it.  Yes, I googled if patterned hosiery was appropriate business wear… please don’t judge me 😉  I stumbled across a new wonderful blog in the process.

Capitol Hill Style (She has some wonderful fashion advice for all budgets and nice tips on hosiery!)

So I’m more than a week out from leaving for Washington D.C., and my suitcase is packed (it was actually packed yesterday but I was waiting on UPS to deliver my Cole Haan Nike Air heels today).  My jewelry is packed in baggies by outfit/day.  I will need to put my makeup and hair tools into my bag that morning, but I am prepared (at least physically).

Mentally, I am fussing at myself for being neurotic about my clothes instead of focusing on the task at hand.  The next week I am going to devote to brainstorming so I have thoughts and ideas to share during training.  I am also trying to meet all my new “teammates” because over the next year we have to work as a team to help advocate for Shot@Life.  I am guilty of browsing everyone’s facebook page, so I can get a feel for who they are (feel free to browse mine back) .  I also also interested in finding out about how everyone got involved in advocacy.  We all seem to have a story to share.  A special shout out to Myrdin for putting up with all my questions and pestering.. Also if you don’t like cameras or having your picture taken, I’m probably not the person to hang out with but I am sure if you browsed my facebook page you will realize that.

5 Facts you should probably know about me:
1. I have a THICK southern accent, if you don’t understand something I said, just ask me to repeat it I      won’t be offended.

2.  My brother was murdered a few years ago.   I don’t mind talking about it, but it seems to startle others when I first tell them.

3.  I don’t mind voicing my opinion but I also pride myself in respecting the opinions of others.

4.  My son just turned 3 and we have never slept in separate rooms, and certainly never spent the night apart.  My first time away will be in D.C., I might be a tad neurotic.

5. Always smile around me, you never know when I might be snapping a photo and you might end up in the frame!

I am so excited about meeting everyone!  Congrats again and Good luck!  See all of you in D.C.