Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Football Player's Wife Who Believes in the Power of Youth

Since the death of her husband, Marie Tillman has dedicated herself to promoting civic engagement and leadership, especially for youth and young adults. The annual "Pat's Run," will draw over 20,000 runners in Tempe, AZ in the Spring. It's a great volunteer opportunity for teens to support the runners, raise money for the Pat Tillman Foundation, or participate in the 4.2 mile race or .42 mile kids race (Pat was number 42 for the Cardinals). The South San Jose event was canceled for 2010, but may be back before too long. Read more about Marie's endeavors in this recent article commemorating women who make a difference, "Redbook Heroes: Strength & Spirit Awards." Then find out more about the foundation that promotes good works, leadership, and community involvement. College students are encouraged develop their own projects with grants from the foundation's Social Action Fund. The Arizona State Tillman Scholars Program provides quality service-learning curriculum and training: "We challenge the leaders of tomorrow to apply their passions and talents to promote positive change in their communities today."

"The Pat Tillman Foundation was established to carry forward Pat’s legacy of leadership and civic action by supporting future generations of leaders who embody the American tradition of citizen service."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sliding for Life

I went to Salt Lake City last weekend for several reasons: to help my daughter Meredith get more information about the University of Utah, to celebrate her seventeenth birthday and my son Brody's twenty-fourth, and to attend a training meeting for my little seasonal job as a ski instructor. I stayed with my daughter Sheridan, a twenty-year-old sophomore at the University. Through a stroke of bad luck, her car was vandalized last week so I had to rent a vehicle to get around. Looking for the best deal, I went to Costco Travel and chose the "special value" mid-size from Avis. The little red Chevrolet HHR looked a bit like a PT Cruiser, and made me feel a lot more conspicuous than I ever wanted to be!

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)
  • Read the Preparedness Blog:
  • Check out this list of preparedness agencies:
  • Join a training organization such as North America Outdoor Institute:
  • Start a club at your school or in your community, such as ours at Palo Alto High School:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Breakfast by Grace

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:”

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pep Talk

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.