Posted in audience participation, connections, gratitude, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Love your people

The summer before I left for college, one of my aunts took me out for lunch. Part of her message to me that day was: things don’t always go according to plan. Plan accordingly.

Somewhere in her early 20s, a year-ish after she was first married, her husband died. Brain tumor, maybe? I don’t remember the whole story, except that it was medical, unavoidable, unexpected, and had to do with his brain. Oh, and his family blamed his death on her. Because being a young newlywed who is suddenly a widow isn’t bad enough.

An acquaintance from college married shortly after graduation. On a trip celebrating their first anniversary, he fell off a cliff and died.

A friend lost her husband to cancer in their early 30s.

I can think of four people off the top of my head who have lost a close friend or family member to suicide.

I’ve lost friends to cancer.

Earlier this week, a colleague unexpectedly lost her husband.

All of these stories of loss come flooding back.

Your spouse still around? What about your kids? Friends?

Give them all a hug. Tell them you love them. Show them you love them. Put down your defenses and just love the shit out of them. Because we never know when they won’t be here to show love to any more. And who wants to be loved only at their services?



Posted in connections, gifts, gratitude, mindset, thoughtfulness

Giving, generosity, and the humanity of recipients

Thanksgiving. Natural disasters. Christmas. Man-made disasters.

Toys. Food. Clothes. Household items. Socks. Diapers. Toiletries.

There are always people in need. There are times when, as an outsider, it seems more dire. And so, we have stuff drives.

My request to you—and it’s definitely not an original to me—is to be mindful with your donations.

The climbing gym has a food drive every winter that includes a sign indicating that expired foods won’t be accepted. Because they had so many people “donating” expired food.

It’s not a cleaning-out-the-pantry exercise. You’re providing food for people who don’t have food or don’t have enough food. Give them something tasty, something decent-quality. Give them something you would serve to guests.

Can you imagine how hard your life would be if you were food insecure? How much pride you’d swallow to eat at a soup kitchen? In that moment, imagine the food you’ve been gifted is not just better than nothing but is actually a treat.

That meal is extra luxurious in the midst of hardship. Simply because a donor spent $15 instead of $6 on donated food.

Clean out the pantry and throw away expired food. (If you won’t eat it, don’t give it to “beggars can’t be choosers” to eat.)

In the wake of disasters, in donating household items, again, it’s not a time to purge things that are not in good condition. Do that another time. Books should have all their pages. Games and puzzles should have all their pieces. Clothes should be clean and without tears or excessive wear.

Again, put yourself in the shoes of the recipient. Your house filled with water. You and your family are safe (or maybe they’re not…) but all of your possessions are gone.

You’re grateful and humbled by donations to get you through until you can get yourself moving again. (Months? Years?) What do you want? Are you “just happy to have something” if the clothes you’re offered smell? Or are stained? Are you grateful to have toys for your kids if the toys are broken?

As hurricane season commences, donation centers will be popping up. The holidays fall in line behind that.

Be generous. Be thoughtful. Be humble. Be grateful.

Posted in gratitude, mindset

Perspective and gratitude

On the freeway the other night, I saw a car fire on the opposite side.

The freeway is flat and straight. The sun had long since set. The flames were visible from quite a distance.

An SUV was engulfed in flames. Police were on the scene. People who had presumably been riding in the SUV were safely out of the vehicle. A moment later, a fire truck roared by.

I’ve never seen that before. A little fire in the engine, maybe. Lots of smoke that implies a fire, perhaps. But never a car just burning up.

If there had been a good place to stop and watch, I would have. It was mesmerizing.

Talking to a friend later, I said, “My day was better than theirs.”

It’s not often that I’m grateful that I have never been in a car fire; I take it for granted as I assume most of us do.

For a short while that evening, I had another thing to add to my gratitude bucket.

I try to have similar thought processes when I’m in traffic because of a wreck. I’d rather be in the traffic than in the wreck. (Though I’d double rather that people paid attention to driving…)

Years ago, an acquaintance was incensed because her flight was delayed as the result of another passenger having a sudden, life-threatening health issue. I’d rather be on the delayed plane than the one rushed off of it.

Of course no delay is better than delay, and it’s sometimes hard to have patience when it’s error or laziness that’s causing it. But often enough, it’s easy enough to say, “Wow. I’m glad to be here and not there” and let it roll.

Posted in ebb & flow, education, gratitude

Out with the old; not yet in with the new

Teaching has some qualities about it that are unique.

Today—for better or worse, as with every year before—was one of those unique-to-teaching days.

The kids left.

They’re not coming back until July. (We’re on a modified year-round calendar in my district.) The oldest ones aren’t coming back at all.

Every year, the clock starts on the first day and runs relentlessly to the end. TV timeouts only. No stopped play for fouls, for rule book consultation, for rowdy fans.

Sometimes, you had a great school year with this crop and you’re sad to see them go.

Some years, time can’t run out fast enough. The mix of personalities or the way you and they work together (or don’t) can make even the simplest of tasks grueling.

But every year ends, whether happy or sad, and in a handful of weeks, we get to start over, to try again, a little bit wiser than we were before.

We get “new years” twice a year—once by the calendar and once by the school year. What a privilege!

My brain is busy with ideas of how I want to start the year next year—the beginning is critical because it sets the tone—and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to try again.

Posted in food, gratitude, mindset, socializing

Trying new foods

When I moved to Arizona 16 years ago, I was a pretty conservative food consumer. I didn’t eat many foreign foods (Americanized or not). Some Polish (see: weird last name heritage), some Italian (see: married to the Pole), Chinese as long as it came in one of those highly-recognizable paper boxes. Tacos.

In grad school, I had friends whose palates were more adventurous than mine. They took me to many types of ethnic* restaurants: Ethiopian, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Mexican, Lebanese, Indian, Greek.

My world expanded incredibly in those two years. I distinctly remember the first time I had a piece of avocado, now a delicious and luxurious staple in my diet. (I also remember going back East once, going to a grocery store, and asking an employee if they carried guacamole. “That’s that green stuff?”)

In the years since then, despite my options becoming limited through vegetarianism, I’ve continued to be introduced to new foods (and am more adventurous with what I’ll cook at home as well).

And I’ve paid forward “come with me to this amazing restaurant and I’ll teach you what I know about their menu and food.”

Walking alone into a restaurant serving an entirely unknown cuisine is much more intimidating than going with someone who knows what they’re doing. (Except that I can’t help with the meat dishes.)

I’ve introduced many friends to Ethiopian (Cafe Lalibela), Thai (Thai Basil), and Indian at an assortment of places. We’re lucky to be in a region with so many amazing foods. I’m grateful to have friends who will come with me to places they’ve never been to eat food they’ve never tried.

These foods are so good. Very different if you’re a meat-and-potatoes kind of person. But tasty.

Beyond seemingly endless restaurant options, there are also a few phenomenal Asian markets, a giant Indian market (with a restaurant inside), a huge Middle Eastern market (with counter service inside) and several smaller Middle Eastern/Mediterranean places that are half and half.

And these are only the places I happen to know about within a 10-ish-mile radius of my house.

So glad to have had my world opened by friends. So fun to open others’.


*I don’t like describing restaurants serving foreign food—Americanized or not—as “ethnic.” Everything is ethnic. Those places are simply foreign. I used the word ethnic there just to be able to make this footnote.