Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Chat with My Local Congressman

Hello dusty blog! I'm posting today because I just had the unique opportunity to speak with my local U.S. Representative Jeff Duncan. I honestly cannot think of any one time that I have agreed with anything this man has said, so it caught me a little off guard to end up chatting with him today on Facebook Messenger. I had started my day by tweeting and sending him a Facebook message to request that he please hold a town hall meeting during this week of recess so that he could hear from his constituents. To my surprise, he (or this may be a staff member -- I have no way of knowing for sure), responded to my message.

Note: this happened while I was on my laptop at my daughter's gymnastics class while also trying to finish up a client project. So I was often distracted and had to leave the chat and come back. I am publishing screenshots here as I think any interaction with public officials should be, well, public. I admit I wasn't on my A-game here (again, was not expecting a response and the time and place were not ideal), but I tried my best on the fly. Thankfully, I had his regular "legislation update" email from earlier that day to reference.

Facebook Messenger, Feb. 21, 2017

First - a screen capture that shows how it started.

Next, cut-and-paste of our convo. Please pardon me for having the formatting go funky -- I couldn't figure out the best way to do this. Just know that my comments are on the right and Rep. Duncan's are on the left (opposite of our views, clearly).

First, I'd like to understand why you're working to pass laws to make it easier for guns to be silenced, and then approving laws that make it easier for the mentally ill to own weapons?
Next, in your plans to eliminate the ACA, I have seen no new plans to replace health care. How do you plan to improve health care for all Americans?
Third, Planned Parenthood is the nation's largest provider of women's health care? Why strip ANY of their funds?
Fourth, we are a country founded on immigrants. We have extremely strict vetting processes in place for those who do want entry. A refugee or Muslim immigrant has NEVER killed anyone on U.S. soil. Why call these people threats and ban them? You'll make Americans safer by restricting gun access, since white American men are the leading terrorists in our country right now.
Thank you for responding to me. I appreciate it.

1) Yes. The bill is called the hearing protection act. I authored the bill and it currently has around 100 co-sponsors. I've done a few interviews on this bill and are happy to send you a few links if you'd like, but I personally have experienced hearing loss, which I contribute at least in part to hunting. When I was younger, hearing protection was not commonly used. But even now with hearing protection, your ears can still be impacted by gun fire. Also for many hunters, particularly deer hunters, ear protection is not commonly used because you need to be able to use your ears for hunting. Electronic ear protection is available, but it can be as high as $700 for a pair of ear plugs. In addition to this, suppressors can be very useful in protecting the hearing of hunting dogs. One thing I've tried to do with this bill is educate the public on what a suppressor is. It does not make a firearm silent, but it does decrease sound by around 30-40 decibels. Another aspect that people are not aware of is that suppressors are not only legal in Europe, they are often required to be used. Recently the head of the ATF released a whitepaper citing that suppressor prosecutions are extremely small, and that public opinion of them has changed dramatically in the United States. The ATF Director called for them to be de-listed from the National Firearms Act, and have them subject to an National Instantaneous Background Check instead.
Congressman Jeff Duncan
Congressman Jeff Duncan
Regarding the second part of your question on guns, it wasn't a law that was changed it was a rule. The rule was put in place by the Obama Administration without the consent of Congress. So aside from the policy issues at play, there is a process concern in my mind because it was done without the feedback of Congress.
Congressman Jeff Duncan
Congressman Jeff Duncan
My issue with the Obama rule, was that it uses the social security system, a system that we are all required to pay into and that many people feel strongly belongs to them, and use that system to deny people their 2nd Amendment rights without adequate due process.

Can the suppressors be used just for hunting rifles? I mean, can you distinguish between requiring silencers for non-automatic rifles, but not make them required for automatics, semi-automatics, and handguns?
Congressman Jeff Duncan
Congressman Jeff Duncan
The bill doesn't specify which types of guns they can be used for, and from a policy standpoint I don't believe it matters. First off fully automatic weapons are heavily regulated already, so I don't even think they are worth mentioning in the same context as other firearms.
Congressman Jeff Duncan
Congressman Jeff Duncan
Regarding handguns, suppressors are useful for them as well. Same reasoning as before but think shooting range. They actually could improve safety at shooting ranges by making it easier for shooters to communicate, as well as reducing noise levels that could bother people in the communities. I heard stories recently about a shooting club in the low country (near Hilton Head I believe) that is having a lot of issues with the local community over noise concerns.
Well, my sympathies honestly don't lie with people who want to use handguns for fun. They can buy ear protections. I firmly believe that silencing guns that are used as weapons should not be a priority.
Congressman Jeff Duncan
Congressman Jeff Duncan
Regarding the ACA, I made a post last week with a link to the Kaiser Foundation. They have an interactive website that allows you to compare all the ACA replacement plans. My favorite right now is the Rand Paul plan. I would encourage you to check out the link, and look at the various options.
Thank you. I do plan to read the Paul plan. I am lucky to have SC State insurance, though it certainly has its flaws, but I have many friends who are currently uninsured and can't afford insurance. We need a plan that will insure everyone.
I am one of your constituents who would support socialized health care, but I'm guessing we won't find common ground on that.
Congressman Jeff Duncan
Congressman Jeff Duncan
Probably not. My goal is to help make it easier for people who want to have insurance to have insurance, and to do so by using the free market. I'm a big fan of association healthcare plans. Allowing groups like the National Federation of Independent Businesses (which I was a member of when I owned my own business) to offer plans across state lines to their employees.
Congressman Jeff Duncan
Congressman Jeff Duncan
That makes it a lot easier for small businesses to get insurance for their employees, because it allows them to have a broader risk pool.
I don't think that only the employed should be able to get health care. I'm a freelancer. If I weren't married, I would have few options for affordable health care.
Congressman Jeff Duncan
Congressman Jeff Duncan
I agree, one of the benefits of the Rand Paul plan is giving individuals the same tax breaks for insurance that they would received if they got insurance through their employer.
As long as they can still get it with pre-existing conditions...
And as long as a new plan comes BEFORE you repeal the ACA
Please do not take away a single person's health care until you have a similar plan in place and ready to take them. Answering to the mobs screaming to repeal ACA right away does an extreme and potentially fatal disservice to those who may lose insurance without having a new plan to adopt.
Congressman Jeff Duncan
Congressman Jeff Duncan
On Planned Parenthood, I think this may be an issue where we agree to disagree but let me give you my reasoning. I don't feel like taxpayers should have to pay for abortion. That is currently US law, but we do fund organizations that fund abortion, thus freeing up funds that can be used for abortion. In the case of planned parenthood, they have done some pretty concerning things that has cast the organization into question. There is also concern that they have long misrepresented what type of services they provide, specifically prenatal care. What I support is taking money currently going to abortion providers, and distribute the same amount of family planning money to organizations that focus on health rather than abortion. When we're talking about using people's tax dollars, it deserves an extra level of scrutiny, because people feel very strongly about funding things with their money that they don't morally believe in.
Congressman Jeff Duncan
Congressman Jeff Duncan
Regarding refugees. I'm a member of the foreign affairs committee and homeland security committee, so this is an issue that I've spent quite a lot of time on. I may be one of a handful of members of congress who has actually visited a Syrian refugee camp. In regards to Syria, the record should show that I opposed arming the Syrian rebels in the first place which helped lead to this humanitarian crisis. There are no good guys in Syria, and to make matters more complicated, the Syrian government is being supported by Russia. I believe the best thing we could do to help the Syrian people would be to establish safe zones in the country. That would allow us to help the most amount of people, and allowing these individuals to work to rebuild their country when the conflict is over.
Re: Planned Parenthood, you're right that we'll disagree on this. I do know that the false accusations about them regarding organ/tissue use have all been disproven. But I'll move on.
Re: Syria. Thank you for traveling there and for understanding that their war is part of this global crisis. Do you really think that safe zones are possible, though? They have repeatedly ignored cease fires and even killed their own people. Syrians deserve safe countries to move to, and the U.S. has an important and Christian role to accept them.
Congressman Jeff Duncan
Congressman Jeff Duncan
The Ohio State stabbings were conducted by a refugee. Bowling Green (while it was prevented) was planned by Iraqi refugees, which prompted President Obama to suspend the refugee resettlement program. Boston Bombers (while not refugees) immigrated into the United States. San Bernadino was a similar situation.
Congressman Jeff Duncan
Congressman Jeff Duncan
I mention this because our vetting processes are flawed under the best of circumstances, and with Syria, we have very little information to go off of. Europe has seen an increase in sexual assault and terrorism as a result of the refugee resettlement program. We need to be careful if who we allow into this country, and what we are doing to vet them. We know for a fact that ISIS has said it wants to infiltrate the refugee resettlement program. This is a major worry for me.
Those tragedies you mention pale to those being committed by white men in our country, and yet you're spending time expanding gun rights and blocking harmless people. And in blocking all refugees, you're also blocking scientist, contributing members of society, and people who just need a safe home. Pardon the poor analogy, but it's like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Let's make better policies for weapons access instead of overly restricting our borders unnecessarily.
Also, my understanding is that the sexual assualt issues are in refugee camps, which are overrun because those refugees need to be resettled into proper homes. Let's route them from those camps into our communities to prevent more atrocities.
I have to shut down now and get my kids from school. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. I greatly appreciate hearing from you. Please also plan a public town hall so that others can ask you questions.
Congressman Jeff Duncan
Congressman Jeff Duncan
Thanks for taking the time!
So there you have it. Turns out civil conversation with someone you vehemently disagree with is, in fact, possible. Even on social media!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Apple Cinnamon Muffins

When I find a recipe online that I really like -- but then end up making several modifications -- I like to post it here so that I can easily find it again, along with the method I used to change it. In this case, I found this tasty muffin recipe, then cobbled together some of the commenters' suggestions to make them healthier. This was a great find to use up the giant bag of apples we have from apple-picking two weeks ago.

Apple Cinnamon Muffins

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1/4 cup butter at room temperature*
1/4 cup applesauce
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 medium or 3 small apples, peeled, cored, and finely chopped (I used Fujis)

*If you want to remove all the butter, then increase the applesauce to 1/2 cup, but I think the taste and texture improve with at least some butter.

Preheat oven to 450 F. In a medium bowl, stir together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. 

In a large bowl or standing mixer, cream the butter and sugars. Add the applesauce. Add the egg and beat fully (mine looked oddly separated here). Mix in the yogurt. Then stir in the flour mixture gently (the batter will be thick).  Fold in the apples.

Scoop the batter into 12 muffin cup liners. I was able to get 24 mini-muffins and 4 large ones out of this batter, If you want, sprinkle a little extra brown sugar on top. Bake at 450 F for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 400 F and bake for another 12 minutes. Let the muffins cool a little in their tins before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. (For mini-muffins, I did 450 for 8 minutes and 400 for 10 minutes). 

The kids liked these. I found them tastier warmed up. Next time I'll add walnuts. 

Friday, May 8, 2015


(This post is written through tears. Please bear with me.)

Recently, I asked a wise friend of mine if conceiving a child via lots of scientific interventions made her less likely to get frustrated with that child. In other words, if you work harder to become a mom, do you treasure that kid more? 

Because there are days I think that parenting is hard, maybe too hard, and maybe it'd be easier to not have that kid. Or days when I beg for a few days off, or wonder why in the world people ever choose to have more than two kids. How do they manage? How will I manage? So I wondered if someone had to work harder to conceive a child, would she have fewer of these dark thoughts?

"I know what bad days are," she said calmly. "These are not bad days."


I've been balancing that perspective for a year now as I watched another friend, Mary, as she has helped her young son Lachlan battle a rare form of leukemia. I wrote about their journey here and here. She is not a close friend (our paths cross rarely, though I wish they did more), but her story has touched me deeply and affected our entire community. It has also changed how I parent.

I still get those big feelings of frustration, of wanting to run away, of questioning our choices. But then I stop and soak in some perspective. I watch Mary find joy -- no, choose joy -- along with laughter, love and hope -- in her most difficult of all parenting situations. I sit with my friend who worked so hard for her babies, amidst her own personal struggles, and I soak in her calm understanding of what bad days truly are.

Sweet Lachlan died last night. This is a bad day.

I am not having bad days. Mary and my other friend have taught me that. In my world of privilege, I am gaining perspective. I will hug my babies tighter. I will choose joy over frustration, I will give more hugs. I will teach my children to spread joy. I have been blessed with these stories in my life to help make me a better person, a better mom, a better steward.

I weep with Mary and our entire community. I stand alongside my friends having fertility struggles. I will not take parenting lightly. I will choose joy. This is the best way I know to react.

Love and hope.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Home, Heart, Community

For a few weeks now, I've felt called to write a post about how much I love Clemson. I would have never thought, 10 years ago when D. suggested we move here, that I would ever call this place home, much less love it here. The idea of living in a tiny town in South Carolina, much less the same place my in-laws still live, sounded constricting, isolating, dull. Now I find it supportive, friendly and joyful. I love Clemson and I'm proud to call it home.

I'm taking the Leadership Clemson course, which has taught me so much about how (well) the city runs. I leave each meeting eager to tell folks about what our administrators and fellow citizens are doing to make this city so great. I've started following (and occasionally participating in) city politics, school board meetings, community foundations, and other groups working to make a difference. I feel like anyone who cares can be heard here.

I can't quite write the post I envisioned, though, as another issue has been weighing heavy on my heart. Several weeks ago, we learned that Lachlan, the little boy I wrote about here, had a relapse of leukemia. Even though his body took to the first bone-marrow transplant very well, the cruel disease returned in force. His superhero of a donor agreed to donate again, but Lachlan's body became too weak to undertake another round of the chemo and transplant. Late last week, his family took him home to rest and enjoy time with his twin brother and little brother, and all the family and friends who were eager to see him. They are currently soaking up memories, love and life for as long as they can.

While my heart aches daily for this child and this family, it has also soared in seeing the community come together during Lachlan's illness. Lachlan lives in an even smaller town next to Clemson, and I doubt anyone who lives in Seneca doesn't know his story. Houses, trees, mailboxes and storefronts are covered in orange ribbons in his honor (he loves his Clemson Tigers). The family has hosted several donor drives for Be the Match, staffed by loving volunteers, which have resulted in an incredible boon of much-needed donors and funds. Blood drives in Lachlan's honor take place at churches and businesses around the entire Upstate. Campus groups (especially Tri-Delts) and churches have held ceremonies, prayer circles and special events.

The community support is proof of the best of what a small town can offer. There are people here who care deeply about their neighbors, who give what they can, who pray hard, who check in. Lachlan's family may be going through the hardest thing anyone can be asked to endure, but they are not doing it alone.

These days, community exists online too. If you're the praying sort, please send up a prayer for Lachlan and his family. If you're healthy, please join the donor registry (it's an easy process!) at www.bethematch.org. If you have a few extra dollars, please donate to Be the Match or your favorite cancer-research charity.

You can also send checks to the newly formed Lachlan McIntosh Tannery Foundation at PO Box 63, Seneca, SC 29679. Mary's friends started that foundation in the middle of Lachlan's treatment. It was their way of creating a new community to care for other families that will battle this disease.

Love and Hope.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


People always talk about needing to exhale more. My husband has this goal for the new year: he plans to alleviate stress, not let bad things get to him,  focus more on the good. He's looking into meditation and other ways to force exhales, to breathe out and let go of bad juju and kept-in, fermenting negativity. I understand this need. Exhaling is good and needs to happen often.

But this year, I've decided to focus more on inhaling.
The good stuff.

You know that feeling in winter when the air is cold and crisp, and you go outside and take a deep breath in and it's like you just cleaned out your lungs? It wakes you up, energizes you. That is what I want out of the new year.

I want to fully breathe in this wonderful, joyful life I'm now a part of. I want to take in and remember ever detail about my girls, ages 2 and 5 (what great ages!). I want to appreciate our quiet pace of life, this little bubble we've created with limited deadlines, few stressors, manageable problems. I want to breath deeply as we enjoy uncomplicated schedules, afternoons without plans, and trips without itineraries.

This time is short. Chaos will catch up with us. Busyness will leach in. Sylvia will go to kindergarten in fall, and I'll miss her presence at the lunch or picnic table. Amelia's regular naps, the ones that require us to be home and be quiet for at least two hours every afternoon, will soon be replaced by after-school activities, errands and playdates.

Something worse may happen. I have friends currently managing cancer (theirs and their kids'), some with parents dying, others tackling divorce, job loss, and more. Our idyllic current state could be derailed any minute, and I'm painfully aware of that.

So for now, I want to inhale. I want to start my morning with a deep breath and keep taking it all in, in giant, overwhelming gulps, until I fall asleep each night. I want to take that energy and move my body and engage with my children and volunteer some and take the stairs every time. And if I forget to inhale, or if I start focusing too much on the exhale, I want to be surprised into inhaling quickly and starting over.

Happy breathing, everyone.

*This post was inspired by this line I read this morning in Margaret Atwood's short story "Alphinland," from the book Stone Mattress: "Nonetheless there's something brisk about being out in the storm, something energizing: it whisks away the cobwebs, it makes you inhale" (p. 9). I read that line and paused for a moment just to experience that brisk inhale with the narrator. I love the idea of nature making you inhale.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Take Action: Fund Our Schools

I'm up on my pedestal again. This time it's about school funding. The county I live in, Pickens County, SC, has rather great schools in a state not known for good schools. It's one of the reasons we are happy to live here. But the schools seem to exist despite everything the local and state governments are doing to undermine them. Despite a surge in population here over the past decade, property taxes (which are SO low), have not increased at all. So the schools are desperately in need of funding. They're considering closing several schools, even top performing ones. I don't know about you, but I'd be happy to pay a little more taxes to ensure our children are well educated.

The superintendent has proposed a budget that will increase teacher salaries, fund capital improvements, and in general give the schools the money they desperately need. The school board, however, has chosen to not approve the budget, and keeps passing the buck by not voting on it. The opponents are clearly scared to raise taxes, likely in fear of losing votes. But honestly, even the most tax-hating folks I know agree that schools could use some cash, and it has to come from somewhere. It's estimated that supporting this proposed budget would cost the average homeowner $22/year. We can handle that.

Thanks to the efforts of parents and citizens, including groups like Concerned Citizens of Pickens County, the school board is feeling the pressure to reconsider the budget vote (either that, or they're getting cold feet to raise taxes, meaning they want to push the hard work off yet again). They were supposed to meet on Dec. 15 to vote on the new budget, but they just decided to delay the vote until "sometime before July." So we have until then to put the pressure on.

We need to voice our concerns. We need to let the school board know that we demand a new budget to fund our schools and educate our children.

First, sign this petition.

Next, email or call the board members. Their full contact info is here. Calls are very effective, but I know email is easier for some of us. They haven't all listed their email addresses, but here's what we have:
Alex Saitta: alexsaitta@pickens.k12.sc.us
Phillip Bowers: phillip.bowers@duke-energy.com
Henry Wilson: hwsc1@yahoo.com
Brian Swords: bswords@tctc.edu
Judy Edwards: randjedwards@aol.com

To keep things even easier, here is a suggested email you can cut and paste and, if you'd like, personalize. Thank you for taking the time to stand up for our schools, our children and our future citizenry.

As a resident and voter in Pickens County, I've been following the recent school board meetings. I'm aware of the pressures on our general fund budget as we enter our 12th year without an allowable increase in taxes to account for our community's population growth. The result has been teacher salaries that lag behind the rest of the Upstate and the fourth-lowest per-capita student spending in South Carolina. 

I was disappointed to see that the school budget was not voted on, but I hope this means that when you reconvene, you will vote to APPROVE the superintendent's plan and provide our schools with the money they need NOW to serve our students and teachers. 

There is no better investment in our county and its residents than to educate our future citizens. I approve the moderate tax increase proposed by the district superintendent to ensure that our schools are of high quality. Low taxes may secure you a few votes, but the long-term consequences of underfunded schools are unconscionable. 

Please do not leave us in gridlock. Please do not put this off until another election, or pass the buck to future school boards. We elected you -- please pass the budget needed now to fund our schools. 

Thank you for your service.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Heroes Among Us: Updated

Over the past few months, an amazing story, one full of superheroes and suspense, tears and joy, has been going on in this town, in our lives. It's a story that has kept me up at night, inspired me, made me cry, and changed my understanding of parenting. And as a testament to the power of our heroine, this story is about a friend I don't actually know that well, but who has brought the world into her home and welcomed us into her life and her story.

My friend is Mary. I've known her for several years, but mostly from ending up at the same parties (she throws great parties). We have children the same age but, due to conflicting schedules, rarely even got them together. Mary is a rather amazing woman in her own right, as evidenced by this wonderful post from Mary's and my shared dear friend Carrie.

In August of this year, Mary found out that one of her 20-month-old twin boys, Lachlan, had a very rare form of leukemia called JMML. The diagnosis came after months of nonstop illnesses, and it hit hard. Survival rates are not good for JMML, and little is known about this terrible childhood disease. Lachlan's identical twin brother doesn't have it, but he may develop it (can you imagine?!). The only cure for Lachlan would be a bone marrow transplant.

Mary, ever the amazing planner and socialite, faced this news with incredible energy (as did her husband and entire family -- they're all pretty awesome). Not only did Mary start spreading the word to find a donor for her sweet son, but she always, always made clear that she wanted every family to have the chance to fight by having a donor. Her very public fight to save her son was also a public cry for everyone to join the Be the Match Bone Marrow Registry.

She and her circle organized Be the Match donation collections, fundraisers and drives. She dedicated Facebook posts and every update about her son to spreading information about the Be the Match Registry.

Be the Match is amazing, and you should join. Registration is simple: you fill out a form saying that you understand the process, then they mail you four cotton swabs. You swab your cheeks and mail it back. That's it. They ask that you keep them posted when you move or change email, but otherwise...you're done. Then you have about a 1 in 570 chance of being called to donate, which is a process much less difficult than it once was. I mean, it's not every day we're handed the opportunity to do something truly altruistic, to be a real-life hero -- to save a life. Being a bone marrow donor saves a life.

Lachlan was matched with a donor in late summer, but that donor backed out after having a few initial tests done. At first I was outraged, but Mary, ever full of grace, was the one who calmed me down. She knew it wasn't meant to be, and she was optimistic for another match. Thankfully, they found another donor quickly, a man in his mid-30s who does not know the family or anything about Mary's crusade. This man, who she's not allowed to meet until after a year, and only if he chooses to, is Lachlan's hero, his family's hero, and my hero. He is doing the most selfless thing in the world to save the life of a dear two-year-old he's never met.

Tomorrow, Lachlan gets his transplant. The hospital staff calls it his second birthday, his chance to live again. He got through a week of chemo like a champ, and he continues to be an amazing fighter. It's so hard for me to watch a little boy, the same age as my youngest, confined to a hospital crib and hooked up to wires. But he smiles -- oh, his smiles -- and you know that he's fighting. He has an amazing support system, and he has a superhero about to save his life.

Lachlan still has a big fight ahead of him, but he has the chance to make that fight because of his donor hero. Please, be a hero to another family. Honor Mary, Lachlan and the countless other children and adults waiting for a transplant. Sign up with Be the Match today. And if you can't donate marrow, please donate money so that others can join. Thank you.

Find updates about Lachlan's story here: www.facebook.com/LachlanFightLikeaTiger

Update: Lachlan had his transplant on Nov. 20. Now the family is in the crucial waiting time to see if the transplant will take. The first 100 days are key, so Be the Match is organizing a 100-Day Donor Dash for Lachlan. The Dash is a celebration of this 100-day journey and a chance to pay it forward.

The dash will run Nov. 21 - March 1. The goal: recruit 1,000 new donors online and raise $25,000 for Be the Match. Here's the info to take part:

JOIN the registry: join.bethematch.org/Lachlan
DONATE at www.bethematchfoundation.org/goto/lachlansdonordash
SPREAD the word with #lachlansdonordash

Many thanks to those who have shared this post and supported this family.