Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Be Kind"

I had to deal with an uncomfortable situation between my work and family life today. It's been one of those weeks when the gloves must stay on, a challenge for someone like me who dislikes contention. This was for my teenage girls, and I had to advocate for them. The outcome was just as flat as I expected; I left the meeting emotionally drained, with a confirmed view of their perception. "How can I let this not ruin my day, and my week?" I thought to myself. Then, as I drove from the bristly meeting to my twice-yearly dental exam I realized it could very well get worse!

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

Chef Katie Saves the Day

If I told you I got lost again, you wouldn't believe me so we'll just say I misplaced an address. It was dinnertime, Meredith and I took exactly ten minutes to put together food for some hungry young missionaries from our church. We were over-committed and that was my mistake; we were also taking half of a dinner to share with my fiance and his family tonight. Oh, and it was raining buckets with no time for us to spare. I refrained from panicking when I looked at the clock. We raced to drop off the missionaries' dinner before picking up Grace for the family outing, but I realized I didn't know exactly where we were going. We called the guys and they weren't home yet but told us we could deliver the simple Mexican meal to their apartment manager, who would be able to keep it warm until they arrived.

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!

Sweet Service Ideas:
  1. Bake your favorite cupcake recipe and deliver to a neighbor, friend, teacher, co-worker, or relative.
  2. 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

Fundraise by Fright

When I was about six years old, my two intensely creative older sisters and the spunky girls down the street got together to put on an old fashioned spook alley in our two car garage. They sold tickets for a quarter or so and lined up excited neighborhood children to shuffle through the dark in hopes of a mild adrenaline rush. I distinctly remember the bowls of "spaghetti brains" and peeled grape "eyeballs" which we were encouraged to touch. Thankfully we've come a long way since the sixties; the scale and variety of haunted houses has steadily improved. The neighborhood feel is still there, with schools and community organizations generating hundreds of volunteer hours to showcase their creative talent to celebrate Halloween.

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.

Check out these ghoulish family fundraising and community service activities!

  • http://www.gamblegarden.org/events/events.html
  • http://scaremeadow.com/
  • http://www.candlelighters.com/
  • http://www.unicef.org/trickortreat

Trick or Treat for Unicef

Sponsored by Baskin-Robbins, pick up the small classic orange donation box at 31 Flavors, trick or treat to collect money, then take your donations to any Coinstar Center (see coinstar.com for locations). Learn more at: unicef.org/trickortreat

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Relief for Samoa

Heartfelt thanks to Sandra Casillas for sharing this important project with me via Facebook. I've also posted it on Twitter, but with so many humanitarian efforts going in the world these days please spread the word!~ Bina

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,
energy 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 tiffanyhautau@yahoo.com. 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.

Thank you

Leif and Sandra

Youth Community Service
Palo Alto, CA

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Millionaire Next Door

You may have read or simply heard of the best-selling book by Thomas Stanley, "The Millionaire Next Door," in which he describes the austere lifestyles of the rich and not-so-famous, the guys you would never guess have a dime to their names. My stepfather Chuck , 78 years old, is a perfect specimen for Mr. Stanley; he scrimped and saved all his life, now to spend his later years with several bulging bank accounts. As with all the other "MND's" in the country, you can't convince Chuck that he has plenty and he can splurge a little now and then.

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!