Thursday, December 31, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
I don't know why I behaved this way in ninth grade. I had been painfully shy all my life--the teachers even said so on my elementary school report cards. In the first two years of middle school I only focused on being a perfect, straight A student. Ninth grade was the first and only year I got a B+, it was time to get my wiggles out. Luckily, the adults around me stayed positive, especially my mom. My father had passed away unexpectedly three years earlier, and my sisters were headed off to college; my brother had started to find his own friends. By junior year, we moved again and I was feeling quite alone. Changing high schools was sobering for an energetic girl who had finally come out of her shell. I had to reinvent myself again, this time finding connections through community service. Volunteering with other girls my age at El Camino Hospital gave me confidence, even though it was only once a week. Returning to school the next day I wouldn't worry so much if I sat alone or with too few friends in the quad at lunch; I knew I was needed someplace else, just a few miles away at the same hospital where I was born and where my father died.
I didn't realize the healing effect of my "candy striper" experience until last fall when I was training for a long cycling event and I rode past El Camino Hospital countless times on my way to the foothills of Los Altos. I could hear Mom's encouragement to go ahead and sign up as a volunteer: "I used to be a 'pink lady' [adults in the auxiliary], you should try it." Until recently, I still had the candy striper uniform in my memory chest, with the name tag pinned to it. That time in high school was the beginning of my realization that we are never alone, even when times are bleak; reaching out to others in need can make us forget our troubles, even if for only two hours a week. Sometimes that's enough.
These days, as I observe the good works around me, I am astounded by the energy and intelligence of the youth at Palo Alto High School. Three decades ago, at nearby Homestead, I knew of only a handful of students who did volunteer work, and just two or three clubs on campus that sought to make an impact through service. This generation is different; they are motivated to change the world in creative and thoughtful ways, whether individually or in their club activities. Some have accumulated over four hundred hours of community service, with activities like raising guide dogs, taking care of cancer patients, or producing shows for the community Media Center. Others have traveled to far away places over the summer: Afghanistan to build schools, Sri Lanka to help women in poverty, and Japan to coach young soccer players. Most of these students are pursuing their interests, not merely racking up hours for credit; all are learning about other's needs and forgetting their own.
Teens who volunteer have the same challenges as the rest of us, but they are empowered to solve problems and to remain flexible when encountering the vast array of unfulfilled needs beyond the world of high school. How can a student truly understand the devastation of Hurricane Katrina without actually visiting the region and realizing that his own efforts can encourage others his age to help? That was the inspiration for Jake, who went on to start "American Disaster Relief," a Paly club that looks and sounds more like a national humanitarian organization. With Jake's intelligence and ability to rally his friends, maybe someday it will become such.
Some students track their hours for credit on their transcripts, or to earn the President's Award for Community Service; the most passionate students I know, however, have no idea how much time they've spent. The idea of an award embarrasses them, but I wish they could be convinced. With the help of a parent volunteer and her son, Paly student Charles Zhang, we've been able to organize and track the community service hours of several hundred Paly students who applied for the President's Award during the last two years. This semester at Palo Alto High School, eighty-two students received the bronze award for 100-174 hours of service, fourteen received silver for 175-249 hours, and twenty-six earned gold for 250 or more hours (14-year-olds and younger get gold for 100 hours). At California's current $8.00 minimum wage, these students would have generated a base of $143,261 in labor alone. This is what's right with our teens today; maybe they don't worry about tomorrow as much as the baby boomers, but they do make the world a better place by sharing their time and talents freely in the community. They put their energy into making a difference.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
In response to the tragedies at the train crossing, a group of dedicated parents and community members formed a group called "Track Watch," to keep a constant eye on the crossing and let the students know there are caring adults who want to make sure more teens won't succumb to this violent end. I spoke with one of the parents recently, as she sat bundled up in her fleece jacket and ear muffs, a lawn chair nearby. Her husband drove up with hot cocoa. She had signed up to volunteer because she knew one of the students who had passed away, and she just wanted to do something to show she cared. Other parents joined the ranks for similar reasons; they felt a connection to the lives of these young people and wanted to make a difference in the outcome of the tragedies. With the round-the-clock vigil since the last suicide, I felt a sense of care and warmth every time I crossed those tracks in my car or on my bike.
The Palo Alto Police Department has now placed private security patrols at the crossing, but I miss the sweet feelings of concern I perceived from the volunteer parents who came to stand vigil night and day for over a month. Palo Alto Track Watch is still working with area professionals and agencies, with an emphasis on gathering resources and information where high school students and their families can go for help. The volunteer focus has changed slightly, leaving observation of the crossing to the paid security guards, but the mission has not: saving lives by vigilance.
- To find out more about Track Watch in Palo Alto, CA: http://paloaltotrackwatch.weebly.com/links.html
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Some holidays are meant to be remembered more than others. Last Thanksgiving wasn't my favorite because my family was apart, so I was determined this year we would celebrate life's bounties together. My mother, "Grammie Joan," decided to host a gathering in idyllic Sun Valley, Idaho, where we used to spend our summer and winter vacations. My two grown children, Brody and Sheridan, drove there from Salt Lake City, while the girls and I journeyed from the Bay Area in a caravan with my brother's family. We had a blissful time at the foot of Bald Mountain skating, bowling, and even skiing on thirty inches of early season man-made snow. My kids often tease me for seizing impromptu photo opportunities with very few technical skills on a digital camera. I keep taking the photos, but never have the time to download them from the camera or manage them on my computer. What ever happened to Kodachrome?
After ineptly attempting to capture some of our Sun Valley memories throughout the weekend, on our last night I realized this trip was my chance to get a good family photo for holiday cards and gifts. There was no time to schedule a professional, but I had noticed at the skating rink that my brother-in-law, Courtney, has recently taken up a new hobby. He carried around his large Nikon lens while the rest of us snapped candids with our pocket-sized Costco specials. A surgeon in his early fifties, he somehow finds the time to tinker. I don't like to ask people for favors, and I rarely ask him; I didn't think he could spare the time on his much-deserved vacation. Happily, Courtney agreed to follow me and my children outside along the snow-lined walkway on a starlit early-winter night.
My sister Katie (whom I call "Martha Stewart"), offered to come along as the photographer's assistant and facilitate to be sure we looked model-quality with the main lodge for a backdrop. Kate is our family's style maven, so I was very happy to have her along. She and her sweet husband shared their good works and photography talents to create a special shot of me and my four children before Christmas. Even better, Courtney did not delay in sending me the product of his efforts. He followed through by immediately downloading the photos to my laptop, so now I have serious motivation to put those cards together on time!
Do you have a passion for photography? Our high school has an amazing photo program, thanks to a very dedicated and talented teacher, Margo Wixsom. However, as Dr. Clyde will attest, it doesn't matter if you are trained; you can do good works with photography if you simply devote the time. Ansel Adams, the prolific California photographer of the last century, dedicated some of his earliest work in the 1930s to wilderness preservation of the Yosemite Valley. Thanks to his book, "Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail" and his work with the Sierra Club to promote public awareness through breathtaking photos, Yosemite was designated a national park in 1940. Whether you publish a groundbreaking book and testify before Congress, as Mr. Adams did, or take photos of your extended family and friends over the holidays, your well-trained eye can serve those around you. But be sure to share those photos, and don't just keep them on the laptop like I tend to do.
- Make greeting cards for the elderly. Take a nature walk near your home and get photos of the beauty around you. Print the pictures at home, or at an inexpensive photo lab (I use Costco). Use a paper cutter to fit your photos to size and glue to the outside of plain paper cards or folded cardstock with envelopes. Distribute your homespun cards as singles or in sets of 5 to the elderly in a nearby care center. My church group recently donated handmade cards to Meals on Wheels, and they were a huge hit! We included stamps, but a bag with a special pen would also be a nice touch.
- Host a charity photo shoot for the cause of your choice. The Advanced Photography class at Palo Alto High School recently joined the Olevolos Club on campus to support the Olevolos orphans in Arusha, Tanzania, www.theolevolosproject.org. A $40 tax deductible donation is requested in exchange for a portrait with the donor's dog and his or her best friend by Palo Alto photographer Cathy Gregory. For examples of this project, check out: www.cathylens.com/
Thursday, November 26, 2009
- The 5 Most Inspiring Women You've Never Heard Of
Saturday, November 14, 2009
After enjoying the start of the trip with three of my four children, I planned to get to the Snowbird returning staff meeting early Saturday morning to complete paperwork and visit all my old fellow instructors over bagels. In my haste to drive up the canyon, I failed to check the weather report. The light dusting of snow going out to the parking lot did serve to remind me that winter is almost here, but there is never really that much snow until later in the month of November. I tootled up the windy canyon, taking in the gorgeous views of granite cliffs along the way. About a mile from my destination at the top, the snow started to fall more heavily. I hadn't heard about a big storm on it's way so I was unfazed...until I started sliding every which-way. With this realization of a car inept in the slightest accumulation on the road, I started praying and sending positive vibrations to Mother Nature: "Please help me get out of here," I whispered, walking into the Snowbird Center.
The weather gods could not turn back. Mid-way through our five-hour meeting, the head of Mountain Operations looked out the window as he spoke: "If any of you haven't noticed, it's puking out there so if you drove up in a Volkswagen bug with bald tires you're in big trouble!" Uh-oh, that was the classification I fell into--those of us naive enough to make the drive in anything other than a Subaru. What was I thinking? By now, there was a six-inch swath of snow outside the tall glass windows in the conference room. "How do you get a cheap little rental car down a narrow canyon in a snowstorm, call a tow truck? Come back another day?" My options were limited. I looked around the room at all of my colleagues, some of whom I've known for ten years since I started there. Nearly all of them drive four-wheel-drive cars; surely I could catch a safer ride.
I thought about Carol, who always had a heart, and informed her of my concern, “Would you mind giving me a ride down the canyon if my car is stuck?” She seemed to understand; she had loaded a shovel into the all-wheel-drive car she came in —just in case. Carol was prepared.
I did manage to rock back and forth until the red rental was free of the snowdrift that had been my parking place just a few hours earlier. I pulled up at a snail’s pace to Carol and her son, “Could you just watch and see if I make it up that hill to the main road? If I do, it would be great to have someone follow me, just in case I start sliding again." They seemed relaxed and happy to help: "Go for it, we’ll watch and then follow.”
I gave it some gas, reminding myself, Don’t worry, it’s just like sledding! Somehow the momentum carried the little car straight up the slippery entrance and stopped without crashing into the line of cars waiting to go down. Whew! Now it’s time for a guardian angel as I attempt to keep this thing on the road. Carol’s son vigilantly pulled his white Volvo right in behind me and maintained a comforting distance. Two cars ahead, an older Mercedes was having the same trouble, but it was heavy enough to get some traction. I tried to make myself feel very heavy, remembering the sandbags I used to put in the back of the Volkswagen in the winter. The Mercedes driver didn’t care that he was holding up canyon traffic at 10 mph; I was thankful it didn’t have to be me in front.
All the way down the canyon I hyper-focused on the road condition, shifted the transmission from drive to low gear, and constantly checked for the white knight in my rearview mirror. The radio played soft Christmas pop songs and the cell phone remained quiet. I tried to maintain the slow, forward motion of the car without touching the bumper in front of me and without sliding out of the tire tracks worn from the other cars. The snowplows hadn’t yet made it yet to this stretch. If I even started to think about anything other than controlling that car, I slid again either forward or sideways, with steep cliffs reminding me of the many deadly wrecks I’ve seen there, impatient drivers passing in a storm or forgetting to slow down on the ice. I wondered what Carol and her son thought about my brake lights constantly tapping, the only way to keep a car from sliding in the muck. Just seeing that there was someone who knew me and cared about my safety, following right behind, gave me courage to keep tapping and sliding, eight miles an hour, then ten. The Christmas carols reminded me of what’s important in the world. “Just get there in one piece, no matter how long it takes,” I told myself.
After passing the last of four avalanche control gates, I saw the valley floor, and I felt the snow soften under the skinny tires and soon it turned to water. I knew my guardian angels in the all-wheel drive would turn west to go home, and I would go north to meet my daughter Sheridan. How could I thank these caring people who escorted me down? Did they have any idea how poorly my car handled, or how scared I was, and what a beacon they were just driving behind me? I didn’t have Carol’s number, but I’m determined to find it. Their preparedness gave them the confidence and ability to bless and comfort my life on Saturday as I slid my way down the mountain. Next time, I think I’ll hitch a ride with someone who is prepared!
Interested in safety and preparedness? Try these cool connections:
- Participate in National Preparedness Month (September) http://www.ncjrs.gov/safetyandpreparedness/volunteer.html
- Read the Preparedness Blog: http://incaseofemergencyblog.com/
- Check out this list of preparedness agencies: http://www.disastercenter.com/agency.htm
- Join a training organization such as North America Outdoor Institute: http://www.naoiak.org/
- Start a club at your school or in your community, such as ours at Palo Alto High School: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=25446731877
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Today was another challenging day in my career of many hats. I couldn’t seem to find a way to keep up with the workload in the Attendance Office, I mostly missed the monthly staff birthday party due to a glitch with my time card, which was due last Tuesday, and I was over the top with my job as Career Advisor/Community Service Coordinator. I had to spend my own money to order President’s Community Service awards for students I barely know, begging the treasurer to reimburse me sooner than later. On top of all this, my daughter Grace was home with a low-grade fever and sore throat, and later the guy in HR gave me a very animated, terse lecture to remind me that I am a nobody at the district so I should be happy for whatever I get. It felt like the book, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”
I arrived home a little early, hoping to wolf down a much-deserved 3:00 p.m. lunch before trekking across the Dunbarton Bridge for a 6:00 p.m. Southwest flight with my “almost” 18-year-old, Meredith, for a college visit. As I pulled into the driveway, I realized that the yard waste trash container was still sitting on the sidewalk a day after the truck came. The same weekly message played in my mind, “Can’t anyone else see that the other two cans have been brought in already, and it’s their turn, not mine?” And another small irritation after my hectic day, “The paper is still sitting on the driveway!” I had asked Grace to bring the Mercury News inside this morning so the neighbor who sometimes helps himself, assuming we’re out of town, would not see it. My insides began to churn as I reflected on the battles of the day: too much work to juggle, not enough pay to survive, giving until it hurts, teenagers who don’t always seem to understand.
When I walked into the house, I saw dirty dishes still on the counter from this morning, the frying pan left cold on the stove. “Grrrrr,” I seethed, “more messes for me to clean up, or to convince someone else around here that they need to pitch in.” That’s when it came to me, my good work observation for the day. Even though Grace wasn’t feeling well this morning, she knew I was running late. She had asked me to touch base with her friend Daisy’s mom to arrange a weekend sleepover while I’m away. When I responded that I was running out of time before the flight this evening, she offered to make breakfast for both of us. She could have poured me a bowl of cereal as I dashed out the door, or quickly plopped an egg into the pan and laid it on a plate; even a slice of bread would have done the trick. But, our family’s budding chef, who earned all A’s and A pluses in middle school cooking class, methodically toasted, fried, and sizzled until she had concocted for this hurried mom a succulent breakfast sandwich dripping with melted cheese.
As I remembered munching the sandwich made with love by “Chef Gracie,” while putting on makeup and tying shoelaces in between bites, I thought about my coworker Carolyn’s words later during lunchtime when all the kids were in the quad and we were still working. “Why am I doing this?” I said, venting about the guy at the district. She pointed out the window to the hundreds gathered on the lawn on a gently warm, November day. “Because of them!” And that’s exactly what it’s all about, the energy and promise of youth. Grace may need to be reminded about the trash cans, the paper, and that I only have so many hours in a day, but she has a heart of gold that shines brightest when she cooks.
This is my daughter's passion, and she shares it often, making our lives a little nicer with her special breakfast sandwiches, French toast, and occasional Swedish pancakes. I felt inspired today by her good works on my behalf, and energized to carry on in my effort to provide more opportunities for others at the high school to reach out. Teenagers have enriched my life, whether in my own home or in the community. When they find something they enjoy and use that drive to do kind acts of service large and small, the world becomes less daunting, less like a place from which I need to escape to Australia, and more like a place I call home.
Is your passion cooking and food?
Think about the ways you can make a difference:
- Get your school club or friends together to prepare a meal for a local shelter. Remember to call the volunteer coordinator or facility manager about a month ahead of time to get specifics on number of people and types of foods requested.
- Call a local food bank and arrange a time to sort food, remember to schedule about a month or two ahead, and take some friends to make it more fun! You can also arrange a collection drive by passing out flyers at your school or in your neighborhood, with a specific date when you will pick up the food. Remember to request canned soup and protein-rich foods.
- Contact the nearest Ronald McDonald House to prepare a home-cooked meal for families with children staying in the hospital. See “30 Ways in 30 Days:” http://rmhc.org/how-you-can-help/volunteer/30-ways-in-30-days/prepare-and-serve-a-home-cooked-meal/
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
My daughter Grace and I had a little meeting with her U.S. Government teacher, Mr. Blackburn, today. I expected to go into his classroom after school and possibly be reprimanded for not micromanaging my daughter enough, for not checking the teacher's website on a daily basis, and for overall lack of disciplining my sophomore student. It's not that Mr. Blackburn's teaching style is such, but the community where I live tends to promote helicopter parenting. We baby boomers are good at that. Luckily for Grace, and for me, I was dealt a few more challenges than I could handle as a single parent so there's no time for tracing the very steps of my four children. All I can do is encourage them to do their best work.
Mr. Blackburn must have been a motivational speaker in his former life. As I prefaced our conference with the challenges of this past month in our home and their effect on Grace, he looked right at my spunky teenager and gave her exactly the connection she needed. He let her know that he genuinely believed in her. There was no shame or deposition, merely a candid discussion of choices and how one's best performance in school can open doors later in life. This teacher is beyond generous with his time, and not shy about sharing his own story of under-performance in high school. He even promises to pique the students' curiosity by including in the course curriculum his real-life example of brushing with the law.
Teaching well can be learned in a credential program, but truly influencing a young person's life requires the ability to understand the nature of the individual. As Mr. Blackburn confided to us today, he would not be a very good teacher if he did not care deeply about each student in his five classes. He told Grace how happy he was for the choices he made, even for the mistakes, that led him to the abundant life he now has. No teacher could say this without sincere dedication to the work of educating minds and hearts. I'm still a little concerned with the grade my youngest child will earn in U.S. Government, but merely sitting in that classroom this year is bound to be full of "life lessons," priceless morsels from a teacher who cares.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Thankfully, Dr. Miyahara is the most caring and thoughtful dentist. He's the one who answered his office line a few years ago at 7:00 p.m. on a Sunday night, not flinching at my broken-tooth emergency which he handily repaired the following morning. Instead of freezing up, tightening my grip on the arm rests, and reliving the meeting at work, I looked out the window from the examination room and forced myself to notice the changing color of the leaves. (Yes, there is fall, even in California).
Dr. Miyahara gently worked his tools to smooth out my teeth; I started to think about the good things in my life, rather than certain people with whom I can't seem to gain much credibility. I remembered one of my coworkers, Carolyn, who strives every day to improve her surroundings, and to make us laugh at ourselves. She had visited earlier in the day, asking us to do a special favor for one high school parent: "Please go the extra mile for this mom, she needs our t.l.c. right now." Thinking about the impact of those who make life nicer lifted my spirits just enough to relieve the emotional drag from earlier unwanted confrontation. I left the dentists office with more than intricately cleaned teeth and gums; I felt energized by the care of others.
Like Dr. Miyahara, my daughter Sheridan is a mild and sensitive soul. She has always been one to nurture and reach out to others. She is more than a daughter, she is a good friend to me. Our weekend phone conversation had been a rare disagreement, and I was still reeling from it today as I proceeded to run the household errands. Three days in a row, I've had to deal with people being upset with me. "When will I ever get a break," I thought. Just little while later, in Sheridan's usual sweet way she sent me a text: "I'm sorry about our convo the other night...I got really worked up. I love you." The frustration was getting harder to hold onto; I was softening regardless of the hardness around me.
With only one more stop to make before arriving home, I received a call on my cell from some young missionaries with our church. "Are you ready for us to help put in your sod this afternoon?" Willing hands, gentle souls, and kind demeanors; all have lightened my load with their compassion today. The favor was further augmented when a friend called to tell me she understood some of the struggles I'm going through--I know she truly does, we've been in the same shoes. She reserved judgment and compassionately allowed me to vent the frustrations of single motherhood.
After talking with Suzanne, I felt more peaceful and able to bear my burdens. I walked to the fridge to get my special Hansen's soda as a personal treat for dragon slaying, and noticed the lime green polka dot magnet that a darling gal named Heather had made a few years ago. "Be Kind." When she first gave these to us at church, I thought, "Well, of course, that's not very profound." But as the days, months, and years go by, with ever-increasing pressure to keep up in a harsh world, I realize that Heather's words were the only thing that really count. It doesn't matter at the end of the day if I completed all the to-do's on my list, or even if I won the battle of the hour. Sometimes letting the other forces have their way leaves room in our hearts and minds for greater wisdom and understanding; even as we rush about we can remind ourselves to practice the art of kindness. Given the fact that my day started with irritation and ended with the examples of Carolyn, the dentist, Sheridan, the missionaries, and Suzanne, I think Heather's "Be Kind" magnet is here to stay.
Mercy, n. 1.) kindness in excess of what may be expected or demanded by fairness; forbearance and compassion 2.) the power to forgive or be kind. Syn. tolerance, favor, compassion.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
That was a good plan, except that I went to the wrong apartment complex--their former residence. Scattered and embarrassed, I knocked on the door of the tall and elegant manager, Katie. I knew I was bothering her with two little children at dinnertime. She opened the door and I apologized that I was a little confused. She informed me of their new address, and broke into the sincerest smile, " Would you and your girls like some cupcakes? We're baking and we can't possibly eat all of them." Suddenly, I forgot the time and the weather; Meredith and Grace would love a cupcake. It didn't matter anymore that I had messed up and taken on too many tasks for the afternoon, I'll learn to better manage my time. Katie's caring gesture reminded me once again to slow down and to take things a little more personally after all!
- Bake your favorite cupcake recipe and deliver to a neighbor, friend, teacher, co-worker, or relative.
- Start a Halloween Haunt or Boo Gram: Bake cupcakes and decorate with icing, and doorbell ditch your friend or neighbor with a ghostly message on a Halloween card or drawing. Include the caveat that the receiver must deliver their own Boo Gram within 48-hours or they will be "haunted." You'll start a chain reaction of goodwill! See: http://www.myfolsom.com/boo/
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Whether it's just a community building activity at your own home, like my brother's friend Scott, or a fundraiser for your favorite charity, haunted houses are a big draw this year. Jill Soltau, a board member with Gamble Gardens in Palo Alto, CA, thought it would be a good fit for our theatre students to help plan their Spook Alley. The neighborhood elementary school, Fairmeadow, has been a unifying force for the parents to come together in preparing "Scaremeadow," which now contributes major donations to the PTA. And Candle Lighters of Fremont, CA has produced a family-friendly and affordable Halloween haunt for the past 40 years, Ghost House, to raise money for area nonprofits. All of these rely on the talent and time contribution of volunteers to run, and in turn donate valuable funds to community organizations like the gardens, the PTA, and other nonprofit causes.
As a mom of teenagers with their own agenda, I may have to borrow some younger children if I'm to reminisce with a good old fashioned spook alley this year. However, I can still make a difference by either "Trick or Canning," collecting canned food for Gunn High School's Key Club, or the Baskin-Robbins sponsored event "Trick or Treat for Unicef." The latter strikes a chord with me, bringing back memories from the year after the spook alley. I was at a new school, and all the rage was to carry around a little orange Halloween box to collect donations for underprivileged children in third-world countries. As an extremely shy eight-year-old, I eventually got used to the idea of collecting money sometimes in lieu of candy (blasphemy!) The first time I arrived home with a Unicef box full of coins I was quite pleased to see the generosity of my neighbors.The children later took the boxes to school for tabulating the results for class-to-class comparison. I don't remember if I was in a "winning class" for contributions, but it must have been a positive experience as got chills when I saw the boxes had re-surfaced--at Baskin Robbins, of all places.
If you want to feel like a kid again this weekend, try donating to a community organization by visiting a haunted house--99% of them are fundraisers for a cause you can feel good about. If you're motivated to make a difference beyond Halloween, try a "Trick or Canning" event for the local food bank or shelter. Just as fun and not as scary as a haunted house, Unicef can always use our help . When we trick or treat for Unicef and take the coins and bills collected to a Coinstar machine (for locations: www.coinstar.com), we can feel like we are making a difference in the larger world around us. The funds will help to provide these necessities for children: water, school supplies, emergency blankets, and immunizations. When we have so much, and our family-fun holiday starts to look a little gluttonous, it's good to remember part of the fun is giving to others in the immediate or world-wide community.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
This week Youth Community Service of the San Francisco Bay Area will be collecting items to aid
those affected by the tsunami and earthquake in Samoa. The following is
information on how you can help. Everything little bit helps!
Tsunami Relief in Samoa
Project We Hope
Tax ID 943342713
Goal is to fill a 20-foot shipping container with supplies by October 20,
Survival items needed:
Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, body wash, lotion, shampoo, conditioner,
towels, hand sanitizer, etc)
Clothing (all sizes, children) socks, shoes, jackets, sweaters, pants,
shirts, gloves, hats
Large Zip Lock Bags, paper towels, toilet paper, baby wipes, diapers
Crayons, coloring books, books, toys
Non-perishable food items (canned goods, rice, sugar, flour, granola bars,
First aid kits, tents, blankets
Any monetary donations will help. Checks are tax-deductible made out to
Project We Hope (Samoa).
Contact is my friend Tiffany Hautau at cell phone
650-518-0745 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tiffany works at the
Ravenswood Family Health Center.
Items can be dropped off between 9AM and 7PM Monday through Saturday at 1836
Bay Rd. Ste. C East Palo Alto CA 94303.
Their goal is to fill the 20-foot container with relief supplies by October
20 for shipment to Samoa.
Leif and Sandra
Youth Community Service
Palo Alto, CA
Monday, October 5, 2009
I stopped for a brief visit today just after Chuck had returned from a trip, while my mom continues on the itinerary for another week. I figured since it was almost dinnertime it might be a good idea to see if there was decent food in the house. He told me that after being away from home for two weeks, he had made a trip to the grocery store but all he could think to purchase was a gallon of milk! There he was, preparing a tomato sandwich at 5:00 p.m. Luckily, he had also purchased that one item from the produce isle to keep his digestion moving.
Having just made my thirty-minute dash through Safeway as my car was being serviced, I had an extra quickie dinner in my car: Tyson's pre-cooked pork roast, a Club Card value this week. I'm embarrassed to admit that I had bought this in the first place, as I once secretly competed with my sister Katie to be the next Martha Stewart. (She has since won hands down and I have stopped taking myself too seriously.) It's a blow-out week for me and the girls; quickie dinners are the way to go. As Chuck told me about the highlights of his recent trip, I looked at the little sandwich he indicated was "breakfast, lunch, and dinner." I thought, "Add a little pork roast to that and maybe it will tide you over."
Chuck is a low-maintenance, hard-working, dedicated husband for my mom. I'm very thankful that they can spend their retirement years together, with Chuck puttering around the backyard between travels and my mom playing bridge at the local Senior Center. I guess that's why he expressed such gratitude for my visit and for the delivery of a microwavable meal. Sometimes that's all it takes to make someone's day, and to change our own perspective. Chuck, and other MND's like him, may have the resources to purchase mounds of food or even the entire grocery store, they just don't know it. Even these guys can use a little t.l.c. on occasion. And don't worry about the fine china, a microwave and paper plates will do!
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
This year's endurance ride was a tentative experience for me, as I had not trained like the buff women with whom I was cycling. I told them I felt lucky just to be in their wake. I mostly kept up, until about mile sixty, then poor Sally dragged me along. It didn't help that somewhere between the seals and the castle, I suddenly felt the air deflate from my rear tire. Sally knows I'm not mechanically inclined, so she acted like the helpful friend that she is but neither of us wanted to deal with it. Of course, just as we pulled over to check the damage, a cheery gentleman in his seventies hopped off his bike, "Flat tire?" I nodded in frustration, knowing this is just part of the sport.
My tire changing skills are punctuated by prayer and moaning. I told the nice man, Lou, that I could count the number of tires I had changed on one hand--and those were all with help. He knew, he could tell by my clumsy hands fiddling for the right tool to remove the tire from the rim. Our conversation was brief and focused on the view of the ocean as Lou reminisced his countless completions of the ride. As a novice in my mid-forties, I was impressed. He had the energy to ride 100 miles, at a healthy pace, and to offer help along the way. From talking to Lou, I got the impression that he had changed more tires for others than for himself. Maybe his sweet demeanor to give of himself energized him to finish the journey.
Sally and I had to work hard to catch up to him after the tire change, but as we did I realized he was just there to enjoy the journey. He had no goal to finish by a certain time, no ego to feed; he rode steady but noticed the views along the way. I no longer paid attention to the nagging voice inside my head to ride faster and harder. I started to look around at the others who had all trained to be there for one unifying event, among the waves and rocks, forests and meadows. Lou's act of service enabled me to let go of my need for an agenda and enjoy the ride!
Amen to that.
The SLOBC uses the funds from its rides to sponsor scholarships for the CalPoly Wheelmen and Shandon High School, support programs at Creston Elementary, contribute to the maintenance of mountain biking trails, support bicycle advocacy organizations, promote helmet use in our area and other issues of concern to bicyclist.
- Lighthouse Ride, San Luis Obispo, CA. September: www.slobc.org
- America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride, Lake Tahoe, CA. June: www.bikethewest.com
- Breathe California Bike for Breath, Silicon Valley, CA. July: www.lungsrus.org
- Leukemia & Lymphoma Society: www.teamintraining.org
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
I arrived in the city, after taking the wrong exit once and re-entering the freeway, forty minutes ahead of the appointment, 6:20 a.m., plenty of time to park and read the paper before going into the hole of a salon in a four-star hotel. I had called Andrea to get her directions in order to avoid the potential jams I hit last time I made this trek. I pulled right up to the circular garage that she mentioned--and froze. I couldn't see the Hotel Nikko, or anything that looked slightly familiar since my last visit; I was turned around. Instead of pulling into the garage, I circled the block in search of the hotel or at least Union Square to get my bearings. I found Union Square (a few times), but not the hotel. I pulled into the circular lot and then right back out twice, setting off the gate attendant's alarm (hey, I hadn't even parked the car). I came around from the opposite direction and assumed since I couldn't see the hotel I must be mistaken with the directions. I pulled over twice, checking the GPS on my G-phone, Google maps, the Nikko hotel website from the browser. No luck, total disorientation from the ground. Finally, amid tears of panic in the wrong neighborhood, I listened to that little inner voice, went back up the street where the hotel was supposed to be and pulled into the Hilton. Wrong, I know, but it had to be somewhere nearby. After ascending six flights in a fluster and parking in a "guest only" spot, I went down to street level and discovered that sure enough, the subtle markings of Hotel Nikko took most of the city block I had been circling. If only I had calmly listened to my gut, stayed with the directions, and trusted...
Nicolas is a bit of a philosopher, which is the main reason I returned to him one more time (do I dare try navigating the city again?) I told him about my job at the high school working with students to find their passion and pursue their career dreams through interest-specific volunteering. He remarked that his daughter Sophia, from the ill-fated college graduating class of 2009, still had not found a job. Her interest: equine science, working with specialty horses. The job offer from an Indiana breeder had fallen through and she found herself back home in San Francisco, not quite the center of veterinary occupations or advancements. Nicolas reminded me to follow one's gut. He had been out running errands with Sophia last weekend and had some spare time before returning home to North Beach. He felt impressed to detour and check out the model boat regatta at Golden Gate Park; Sophia and her friend agreed to tag along. After seeing the boats, Sophia looked across the street to Golden Gate Stables, where her father had once-upon-a-time taken her to learn to ride a horse. Obviously, a passion was born.
As they petted the horses, this unemployed college graduate was suddenly struck with the idea that she might be able to volunteer her time in caring for the police horses boarded there. She found an officer and made a request, precipitating a call to the sergeant, another visit in the afternoon, and a telephone interview later that night. Sophia was asked to begin her volunteer assignment a few days later. Now pleased with her first week of community service, the management suggested there may be a paid job for her in the near future. Sophia is thrilled she listened to her gut and went out on a limb to work for free; Nicolas is pleased to see that the passion he instigated by taking his daughter horseback riding as a child has come full circle, he says, because he listened to that little voice. If only I had tried this technique in the morning when en route to his salon. But then again, his story would not have as much meaning for me without the counterpoint of circling my destination a few times before opening my mind to listen for the answer.
Monday, September 7, 2009
The dismissive air of the young male teller was enough to ruin my afternoon. After several similar run-ins before and watching three other irate customers also being offended as no-names, I finally made the jump and walked into Wells Fargo. I knew they would at least say hello and take my money, since my son's account is there and I had dealt with them as I helped him through college. Apparently, Wells Fargo management has realized the value of great customer service. Every time I enter one of the branches near my home, I am nearly accosted by "Hello's." If I am standing in line for more than a minute or two, they remind me,"we'll be right with you."
After having been treated rudely for no reason at Wamu/Chase, and repeatedly trying not to let it get me down, I took a vote for myself and decided banking could be a warm fuzzy in my hectic and harried life. I have no idea what the salary structures are at either bank; something tells me there isn't much difference. I do know that the smiles and "hello's" coming from the Wells Fargo employees are brightening an otherwise tedious experience for most of us. Friendliness is contagious, even viral at this community-oriented bank.
Service with a smile is promoted from the top. The philosophy of the Chairman and CEO, Richard M. Kovacevich, reflects an attitude of giving, and it starts with the tellers sharing a little of themselves. The website observes, "Wells Fargo has long understood that we can be no stronger, nor more successful, than the neighborhoods and communities where we do business." There is a strong focus on corporate citizenship and social responsibility, with effective customer service taking the lead to promote good will in the community. And smart business leaders know that by starting with kindness on the front line, they have nothing to lose but everything to gain.
(Click on each link to find out which community organizations get financial help
from the company)
- Tyson Foods
- Bristol-Myers Squibb
- Best Buy
- Eli Lilly
- Wal-Mart Stores
- Fluor Corporation
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Thankfully, the energetic students of a new campus club, Paly Environmental Initiative, had spent the summer organizing and gathering over 100 potted plants to share with the school in every classroom. They will even provide the maintenance. As I stood out on the quad with tables and tables of plants, debating between philodendrons ("easy to grow") and bromeliads ("brightens any room"), I noticed the club's founder Mikey Abrams and his club members carefully assigning each teacher or staff their requested plant. This was no free-for-all plant giveaway. A log had been created to track where individual plants would reside for the 2009-10 school year; a manila folder housed a maintenance form for every variety.
Curious about the necessity of tracking each plant, I asked Mikey if I could peruse one of the 100+ folders. In each was listed the plant name, the local donor who had provided the plant, and a maintenance "plant report" form. The following conditions were to be noted:
- Vital statistics to be "carefully observed at all angles." Roots, leaves, stems, and container.
- Water check by finger test and Easy Bloom Sensor.
- Maintenance: trimming, fertilizing, and moss covering.
Obviously this is a student gifted with attention to detail, and he is inspiring the team to follow his leadership in their service to the environment. Mikey is convinced that in their endeavors to raise awareness and beautify the campus, everything matters. More good works would flourish at our high schools and beyond if we could remember this simple law of nurturing. Usually, it's the little things that make the biggest difference. Plants and human beings share the requirement of consistent care. Plants can survive pretty well with a caregiver's attention once a week; we mortals need it on a daily basis. Whether we are serving others in a formal capacity, such as volunteering for the local Red Cross chapter, or doing kind deeds at home, these acts of regular maintenance can change lives.
After someone very special to my family noticed our stress level with the impending energy drain of a new school year, he arranged a surprise delivery of multicolored roses to start the school year off on a positive note. From the same benefactor, my girls also were presented with miniature bouquets. Our friend had been watching that theoretical "human maintenance report," and noticed that we could use a little cheer. The dozen roses and now a peace lily in my office, graciously provided by Paly Environmental Initiative and Summer Winds Nursery, with it's matching manila plant report, will remind me this school year that we all need to be maintained with T.L.C. on a regular basis.
- What are your interests? Anyone with motivation and a little organization can start or join a club to make a difference in the world.
- Watch this student club unfold: http://www.palyenvironment.com
- Interested in service learning and the environment?
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
After attending the Watsonville Fly-in, "Salute to Our Heroes," during Memorial Day Weekend, my father's love of airplanes and stunt piloting was rekindled in me. I couldn't get enough. The best part is that air shows are generally run by nonprofit organizations and they allow local charities to run concession/drink stands to earn bundles of needed cash for programs beneficial to the community. The Watsonville event felt like a cozy hometown get-together, though ten times larger than the last time I attended as a little girl while Dad was still alive. We would hang out behind the ropes with his friends who had flown small planes from the Bay Area to show their restoral work. Since those early days, the Fly-in and now the California International Air Show have become major summertime events, drawing crowds from every corner of the state and beyond. Both are volunteer-run, so anyone with an interest in airplanes and flying can rub shoulders with pilots young and old, civilian and military.
Our family favorite this time in Salinas was the "flying lady" wingwalker stunt team, with Gene Soucy and Teresa Stokes. I had seen this type of show with Dad back in the early days, so this brought back a flood of memories. Daddy and his friends used to scare me and my brother with their loops and barrel rolls. Imagine going for a roller coaster ride with no apparatus, just air! Teresa literally walks and balances all over the plane, sometimes with no tether. My girls and I affirmed "Girl Power" to each other while watching these amazing feats of courage and strength on the Showcat. The announcer lauded Teresa's career as a stunt pilot herself, as well as a celebrated aircraft artist who had designed the graphics for the very wings she was walking with her boyfriend Gene at the controls. As Teresa proceeded to scale the upside-down plane, the announcer went on in his stating-facts voice that among her many talents and feats,Teresa had also recently donated a kidney to said boyfriend. The girls and I now watched this duo with awe and inspiration.
As the "flying lady" stunt show came in for a landing, the grandstand audience squinted to discover that Teresa was this petite, beautiful, blonde bombshell; far from her twenties but no worse for the wear. "That's the lady who was standing on her head up there in the sky? Cool!" Not only is Teresa gorgeous, but she does not come close to showing her age. You can check out her webpage at www.genesoucy.com to do the calculations. As for my family, we hope she flies forever, even if she and Gene do have to share a kidney to keep up their act. They have incorporated organ donation awareness as a part of their message. Being a registered donor myself, I'm happy to share an excerpt from their story:
"With both operations a success, Gene reports feeling the best he ever has in his life and Teresa is as great as she was before the procedure. It is as if there was never anything wrong to begin with. Now that the threat of losing his life to kidney disease is behind him, Gene and Teresa have returned to airshows and thrilling audiences all over the country. In addition to their incredible act, they strive to promote their success with kidney transplantation and increase awareness of organ donation. They want everyone to know and understand that there are thousands of people waiting for organ donations to save their lives, yet these people are dying because healthy organs are being buried and not put to use. People are dying merely from a lack of awareness. Just by letting your family know of your after-death wishes to donate your organs and by signing the back of your drivers license or by carrying an organ donor’s card, you can help or save the lives of 69 people! You can even make a living donation of a kidney, partial liver, bone marrow, or other organs. All procedures have been made so much easier by modern methods practiced in places all across the country, such as the University of Maryland Medical Systems.
"Who knows? Someday you or someone you love might need an organ transplant just like Gene Soucy. There is no greater gift than the gift of life. Help give it to as many people as you possibly can." (http://www.genesoucy.com/kidney_transplant.htm)
3 Ways to Make a Difference
- Organ and tissue donation is a very personal matter. Find out how you can make a powerful difference to save lives at: http://www.organdonor.gov/
- Cool Memorial Day Weekend Volunteering at the Fly-in: http://www.watsonvilleflyin.org/volunteers.html
- Cool August Volunteer Opportunity in Salinas (18 & Up) http://www.salinasairshow.com/volunteer.htm
Thursday, August 6, 2009
The Cowper Street kids had it down: fifty cents for a clear plastic cup of pink or yellow sweet lemonade, and seventy-five for half a slice of freshly baked banana bread. I looked in my wallet and only found twenties, then remembered my son Brody's first such money-making endeavor when he sold Minute Maid and my special triple chocolate chip cookies. The cookies were such a hit that one customer gave him a twenty and said, "keep the change." While waiting for my neighbors to help the previous customer, I contemplated their cause but decided as a a school employee I'd better get my change this time. After purchasing for myself and my daughter Meredith, the total due: $2.50. The beautiful young girl began to count out $8.00 as change for my twenty, and I pitched in with a mini math lesson. Counting back the $17.50 proved to be a challenge, she was very careful but obviously drained by the task. I asked her and the little brother if they had to reimburse their parents for supplies? (This was the point where Brody used to say, "No fair, Mom!") The kids responded yes, their parents made them pay back for the supplies to make the lemonade and the bread. By the looks of the Tupperware coffer, they actually stood to make a profit as their prime location on the main drag kept the stand going steady.
When I got back into my car, I sensed that unexpected but undeniable feeling that I had done a good deed today. How, you say, can filling one's tummy with processed sugar and carbohydrates be positive? I know fourteen years ago at age nine, my son Brody and his partner-in-crime Jimmy were given a job to do on an otherwise boring summer day. The sheer excitement of a car stopping was enough to satisfy those two young boys. I will never forget the gleaming smiles when they realized that after expenses they had netted a whopping $35! Who knows how much the Cowper Street kids made yesterday, but they were occupied and feeling good about a contribution to their community. My $2.50 could not have been better spent.
- Gather supplies from home, or make a shopping list (be frugal, get donations).
- Choose a local, state, or national cause that you feel strongly about. (Ex: bicycle safety, teen homelessness, earthquake preparedness, etc.)
- Find an organization that serves that cause, research ways to donate small amounts of cash. (Usually you can find a "donate" button on the website)
- Make a large, fabulous, colorful sign to advertise your cause and prices of goods to sell. If possible, include a true story of someone who has benefited from this organization.
- Make delicious lemonade and treats.
- Set up a clean stand, with a fresh tablecloth or plastic cover and a cash box (be sure to get some change for large bills).
- Be sure to tell your customers the money is going to your designated cause. You may reimburse yourself (or your parents) for supplies, but IMMEDIATELY after your sale is over and cleaned up take the cash to the post office and purchase a money order made out to the charity that you advertised. Very important ethical issue: DO NOT change causes after your sale, and BE SURE the cash goes straight to the organization. This can be tricky if you have not researched how to send the money before the sale.
- You can use the same to-do list and concept to host a yard sale or car wash for the cause of your choice, or even try all three.