Longfellow, Scalzi, and Making a Difference

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Little known fact about me, I’m a huge advocate for philanthropy. I like giving as much money as I can to worthy organizations. I enjoy volunteering my time and giving it as a gift. For nearly three years, I’ve been the Chair of a decently sized charitable foundation. It sounds fancy, and it might be a bit high-brow, but that’s not why I tossed my name in the hat when the opportunity presented itself. I hungrily applied for the position because I wanted to be as connected to many charitable organizations as I possibly could. I wanted a front row seat to the change-makers, no, I wanted to run alongside them on that inside track and effect so much change that I could not only feel, but see that needle shifting.

And changes were happening! They ARE happening. While standardized test scores are falling, in other places, they are rising---where they shouldn’t be. Against all odds…against socioeconomic impact, against menacing demographics, against those that told them they couldn’t people are rising to the challenge and proving that they can. Amazing!

Last week, my beloved and I attended an event as a representative of said foundation. The location was in the gorgeous home of the board member of another organization. The place was really, really, really nice. (understatement of the year) I’ve been to several of these events and to this day, I’m still blown away by luxury and I hope that feeling never disappears. Despite what I’ve seen or done or what I will see or do, I hope that fanciness in my face will continue to wow me. Why? Not because of the wealth, but because of how each piece put together in these rooms was hand selected and hand placed by someone to make a statement reflecting its owner. It’s art and beauty. It’s like a mini museum visit. Anyway, here we are out on their terrace.

Behind us, you can see children gathering. They are 4th grade students from a local private school. They were setting up for their performance. They recited, with gusto, Henry Wadsworth Longellow’s “The Village Blacksmith” in its entirety and perfectly. Nine and ten year olds, in perfect rows, in perfect unison, reciting the poem as if someone were performing it. They captivated me. I’d first read this poem in high school and revisited it again in college. I liked it then, but now that I’m a parent, I relate to it so much more. I found myself filled with impossibly hopeful tears for these children. Why? Because they live in a zip code that has the worst high school in the state (and one of the worst in the nation). 3 out of 4 children that matriculate from this school go on to graduate high school, more often than not, from a preparatory or private high school in the area on scholarship. That other 1 will probably have gone on to the local high school, will not graduate. and more than likely end up in jail or living in poverty.

Break the cycle.

I’ve spoken of my mother instilling philanthropy in my heart at an early age. Likewise, I believe it is necessary for me to lay a giving foundation for my own daughter’s hearts. The other day, I heard a story of a running coach who inspired and trained homeless women to run a 5K. She took it a step further and had these homeless women raise money for children in Africa. Homeless. Women. Raising. Money. Marinate on that for a second, now ask yourself, “What else can I do to make a difference?”

Which brings me to my next point about being poor. I’ve thought about how growing up in poverty shaped my mother. How that in turn shaped me. I reflected on how she tends to hoard things, random things like pens, and how she holds on to so many trivial things for sentimental reasons. My siblings and I joke about it, despite how all of the extra stuff makes us uncomfortable. But all of that stuff is my mother and I love her for it. I still giggle at her comment to me, “Mija, when I pass on, you better not just throw stuff out without looking through it. I’ve hidden money here and there and you will never know when you will find it.” She’s right. Upon one of our cleaning crusades, we emptied out 6 boxes of items and collected just under $200 in bills and coins.

I look around my own house and see how my husband and I have inherited our mother’s hoarding habits and we feel suffocated by our things. About a month ago, my cousin house sat for us and during that time she gave me one of the greatest gifts. She organized and cleaned while we were away. More importantly, she organized and cleaned our master bedroom. I cried. Most of you reading this are probably horrified by the thought. I’m not. I prayed for a miracle. I’d even had a conversation with my best friend about it, on how she and I would keep one another accountable and try to empty 1 box of stuff from our house each week or concentrate on one tiny wall in one room of the house each week. My cousin bought me time and her efforts (over the course of those 5 days) brought me freedom. I could breathe again in my room. I had been embarrassed by our bedroom. What she did was no small feat. She started something BIG and each week, I do my best to maintain what she has done and take it another step in that proper direction. Again, imprints from generations long past, still ever-present in my life today.

I thought about how my mother’s and my father’s education and pursuit for a better life shaped mine. How it was never a question of if I was going to attend university, but which one. Of course, there were restrictions there, too. I dared not consider the Ivy League recruiting letters, nor any of the private schools letters of interest. We wouldn’t have been able to afford it and I knew that. I remember the look of worry on my father’s face when I told him I declared English as my major. He was an Engineer and the moment he stepped foot into the Corporate World, he groomed me for that environment. With my emphasis in Technical Communication, I found a niche that opened those doors of opportunity. For as long as I can remember, every single voice of any significance in my life told me I could be whomever I chose, do whatever I wanted, and I didn’t have to rely on anyone but myself. I am lucky and blessed. I was also adamantly told to give back. What I was given should be returned, including my gifts of time and talent. Wasting either would be a tragedy of epic proportions and completely disrespectful to all those who had gone before me.

So when John Scalzi’s write-up of “Being Poor” (also shown at the end of this post) hit my inbox, I found myself nodding and sobbing. I found myself understanding and wondering. This weighed heavily on my heart (and a tiny source of some of the melancholy I’d been feeling recently, my over-the-top ridiculous pity party for absolutely no reason whatsoever). If people only knew how much happiness they received in giving, I think the world would be much like appears in my eyes, well 96% of the time. We can make a difference! In our own child’s eyes, and in other’s eyes. I’m happily married to an educator who, yes, has a part-time job. Occasionally, we work as photographers to raise a tiny bit of extra money to support a craft we love…or pay for ballet lessons. We make ends meet the best we know how and the bits that we have leftover by the way of money, we do our best to give to others. And if I don’t have any treasure to give, I certainly have talent and time tucked away somewhere and endeavor to instill that same value in the hearts of my girls. We are trying to embrace the whole, spending less money on things and investing more in the experiences.

Next time you find yourself feeling low, it’s ok to embrace the muck happening in your life. And it is ok that you are feeling those things. But I do challenge you to take some time out of your imperfect day and perform a random act of kindness for a stranger in need. You’ll be hard-pressed to not feel your internal needle shifting ever so slightly. You might have even shifted that stranger’s needle a bit too.


Being Poor

September 3, 2005 By John Scalzi

Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.

Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV.

Being poor is having to keep buying $800 cars because they’re what you can afford, and then having the cars break down on you, because there’s not an $800 car in America that’s worth a damn.

Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.

Being poor is knowing your kid goes to friends’ houses but never has friends over to yours.

Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won’t hear you say “I get free lunch” when you get to the cashier.

Being poor is living next to the freeway.

Being poor is coming back to the car with your children in the back seat, clutching that box of Raisin Bran you just bought and trying to think of a way to make the kids understand that the box has to last.

Being poor is wondering if your well-off sibling is lying when he says he doesn’t mind when you ask for help.

Being poor is off-brand toys.

Being poor is a heater in only one room of the house.

Being poor is knowing you can’t leave $5 on the coffee table when your friends are around.

Being poor is hoping your kids don’t have a growth spurt.

Being poor is stealing meat from the store, frying it up before your mom gets home and then telling her she doesn’t have make dinner tonight because you’re not hungry anyway.

Being poor is Goodwill underwear.

Being poor is not enough space for everyone who lives with you.

Being poor is feeling the glued soles tear off your supermarket shoes when you run around the playground.

Being poor is your kid’s school being the one with the 15-year-old textbooks and no air conditioning.

Being poor is thinking $8 an hour is a really good deal.

Being poor is relying on people who don’t give a damn about you.

Being poor is an overnight shift under florescent lights.

Being poor is finding the letter your mom wrote to your dad, begging him for the child support.

Being poor is a bathtub you have to empty into the toilet.

Being poor is stopping the car to take a lamp from a stranger’s trash.

Being poor is making lunch for your kid when a cockroach skitters over the bread, and you looking over to see if your kid saw.

Being poor is believing a GED actually makes a goddamned difference.

Being poor is people angry at you just for walking around in the mall.

Being poor is not taking the job because you can’t find someone you trust to watch your kids.

Being poor is the police busting into the apartment right next to yours.

Being poor is not talking to that girl because she’ll probably just laugh at your clothes.

Being poor is hoping you’ll be invited for dinner.

Being poor is a sidewalk with lots of brown glass on it.

Being poor is people thinking they know something about you by the way you talk.

Being poor is needing that 35-cent raise.

Being poor is your kid’s teacher assuming you don’t have any books in your home.

Being poor is six dollars short on the utility bill and no way to close the gap.

Being poor is crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor.

Being poor is knowing you work as hard as anyone, anywhere.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually stupid.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually lazy.

Being poor is a six-hour wait in an emergency room with a sick child asleep on your lap.

Being poor is never buying anything someone else hasn’t bought first.

Being poor is picking the 10 cent ramen instead of the 12 cent ramen because that’s two extra packages for every dollar.

Being poor is having to live with choices you didn’t know you made when you were 14 years old.

Being poor is getting tired of people wanting you to be grateful.

Being poor is knowing you’re being judged.

Being poor is a box of crayons and a $1 coloring book from a community center Santa.

Being poor is checking the coin return slot of every soda machine you go by.

Being poor is deciding that it’s all right to base a relationship on shelter.

Being poor is knowing you really shouldn’t spend that buck on a Lotto ticket.

Being poor is hoping the register lady will spot you the dime.

Being poor is feeling helpless when your child makes the same mistakes you did, and won’t listen to you beg them against doing so.

Being poor is a cough that doesn’t go away.

Being poor is making sure you don’t spill on the couch, just in case you have to give it back before the lease is up.

Being poor is a $200 paycheck advance from a company that takes $250 when the paycheck comes in.

Being poor is four years of night classes for an Associates of Art degree.

Being poor is a lumpy futon bed.

Being poor is knowing where the shelter is.

Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so.

Being poor is knowing how hard it is to stop being poor.

Being poor is seeing how few options you have.

Being poor is running in place.

Being poor is people wondering why you didn’t leave.

Wherein I search for cookies and happen upon SISU Uptown

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I’ve been off. For the past week or so, my mojo has been out of sorts. I wanted to chalk it up to a hormonal thing, but all of my usual go-to things to give me a zing of happy hadn’t been working. I don’t like to talk about these mini-depression episodes. I know I’ll eventually figure out a way to drag myself out of this hole. Even now, I feel happy in knowing that I’m not gonna have to turn around and attempt to tunnel out on the other side (because quite frankly, I’ve had to do that a number of times and folks, it isn’t fun…I know some of you readers have been there and done that. God bless you for it! High fives for persevering!)

This morning, I got up late. Alarms went off and some how I didn’t notice it really. I just wanted to sleep. In my dreams last night, I was crying. I woke up with unusually puffy eyes, so I guess it must’ve persisted in reality somehow. I got dressed and slipped on my “fat pants” only because I needed comfort. Then, I was irritated that my fat pants are too loose. A good problem to have, I know. A bad problem because, well, I haven’t replaced my trousers to my new size, only skirts and dresses. In the past, when my weight fluctuated, my pants remained constant. This is the first time since I can remember where I will actually have to buy new pants. I’m excited about it, but at the same time, I need my pair of fat pants. sheesh. I threw on my red sweater-wrap, a purple shell, and my favorite pair of flats because none of the heels in my closet was going to make me feel more like myself. Only my socks were wanting to be sassy today and even then, that was almost borderline to what I could handle.

Catered lunch appeared and the only vegetarian option was a plain salad. (I know, right? Who the hell is complaining about the free, catered lunch? I suck. I know this.) Wednesdays are sandwich and salad days. All of the sandwiches had some type of animal in them. I fell off the no-animals wagon over the weekend, but I’m trying to jump right back on and this was proving to be more difficult than I remembered. Seriously, I’m looking up burgers and foix gras on Google images, salivating over the food porn. I have a problem, y’all. “Just eat the damn burger already, Bianca.”

I threw my arms up, took a deep breath, and went for a walk. I’ve been stalking a new place from the windows in my office of a resort style restaurant. What? Yeah, this restaurant has a pool with cabanas and just screams, “Come, relax, and stay for a spell.” My walk took me across the street to SISU Uptown and I prayed that they had a cookie. For some reason I thought that a nice, fresh-baked cookie would make me feel better. I walked in to this beautiful and naturally lit space with a sour attitude and my heart on my sleeve. The hostess had amazing blue heels that I regret not photographing. Anyway, I needed to get over myself in the worst way. Mitch, my server, warmly greeted me and he was such a delight with the friendliest smile. He’s exactly what I needed. Even more so in that he returned my wink after a special request. Ahh…I was gonna like this place! He didn’t skip a beat when I ordered dessert first: The Better than Tollhouse Cookie.

Atop the cookie is Henry’s vanilla bean ice cream. HEAVEN...even for this lactose intolerant gal! The cookie, sadly was not the cookie I’d wanted. It was dry and hard on the outside and a tiny bit soft on the inside. It was like a hard biscuit with a slightly undercooked center. It was actually a bit burnt on the bottom. Maybe I’m a cookie snob, but no, I like my cookies much softer than that. I was that girl and sent it back. Sadly, it wasn’t the cookie I was needing/wanting, but that’s ok because what came out next was easily in my top 5 best bites of food of my life! The Roasted Beet Salad: Red beets al dente, yellow beets softened, crispy hearts of celery, candied walnuts, and a flash fried beet green, cheese. I added the fried egg on top. (This is where I’d winked at Mitch and he said, no problem. Man, I heart that dude!)

I was in love with this plate. Had Mitch not snuck up to me to refill my water, then I would’ve been licking this plate with unapologetic gusto. I even told him it was so good I wanted to slap him. We had a laugh. I wasn’t ready to go to jail for assault, so I kept my hands to myself. But seriously, this was the happiness I needed. This plate, I felt warmth, tenderness, love, and great care with each bite. This plate made me think of California. It reminded me of how relaxed I was just a few short months ago. This plate gave me a much-needed hug from the inside and wiped those tears I’d been crying.


Executive Chef Stefon Rishel came out and we had a nice chat about the cookie, about the beet salad, about the concept behind SISU, about pretentious sounding food being unpretentious. I wanted to slide over in the hot pink backed booth, and have him sit with me over coffee and talk all about food and culinary adventures. He was so friendly, so approachable, and you knew he had a real passion for his craft. He had to get back to the kitchen, but I did indulge in some of that coffee. I stared off into ether of the world, just tasting, smelling, listening, feeling, and seeing. Not worrying, thinking, or stressing, just being.

If you are in the Uptown area of Dallas, check them out. SISU Uptown Resort off of Maple. I can’t wait to try out their Sunday Brunch menu!

Mat Kearney at aLoft Dallas

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Remember back when I did a blog review about his album “Young Love” Yeah, I flatter myself into thinking I’ve had longtime readers since day 1. Yes, I know there are a few of you lurkers who may remember this. I’ve since taken numerous road trips and have done a lot of commuting where this album has taken center stage. If you’ve been a passenger in my car during those past several months, you have unavoidably sat through this album repeatedly. Just ask my darling husband.

I was more than disappointed when I missed his Dallas show by a few weeks. It was before I was an avid follower, I suppose. No worries, because I began to stalkfollow him on Twitter. I saw he was going to be opening for Train and well, I couldn’t reconcile it in my head and in the budget. I like Train and all, but I wanted Mat fully. I didn’t want him opening. I just couldn’t justify the cost of the tickets and babysitter. It just wasn’t gonna happen. So I continued to listen to his words, many times belting out the tunes in traffic, happily clapping along, or singing along to “Down,” those words that rock my soul and connect to me as someone who knows struggle. And then magic…



I called my beloved immediately and he sensed the excitement in my voice. After work, I trudged home through 3 major accidents on the main highway. I beat the rest of my family home because they were hanging out at Discount Tire getting a flat fixed. (surprise gift courtesy of the Rangers game we went to the past Friday, but more on that later…hi Sam! Thanks again!!) When I saw him, my heart sank because he looked like he had the kind of day like the one I’d had yesterday afternoon. He was tired, worn out, and just needing some chill time. I decided that I would do the right thing and at the very least stay home, or if I went, I’d take Tesla. But he changed clothes, prepped the diaper bag, and declared it a family date.

As we headed into downtown, I was vibrating with excitement. I couldn’t believe it! I really couldn’t believe it. Was this going to happen? Were we actually going to hear him live? We probably weren’t going to see him, after all, with the Sugarbean and Sugarbaby in tow, it would be unrealistic to be near, if there was even room. I just prayed they weren’t going to have a meltdown of epic proportions. I mean, we didn’t even bring a bottle or food for them. I hope they have food! It’s a hotel, I mean I know they have something.
We scored a parking spot across the street and didn’t have to feed the meter! This was the view from the front of the hotel.

I think that is mighty spectacular. We walked in and I saw a woman with an infant. We settled in nicely about 15 feet from the stage. We were standing behind a group of 20 somethings and they didn’t at all mind that we had taken up shop there. I scurried off to secure food for the girls. Chef Boyardee’s Beefaroni and a turkey club sandwich. Mari took two bites of the beefaroni and proclaimed that she wanted the sandwich. Tesla enjoyed it, somewhat. Don and I toasted our adult beverages, neither of really knowing what to make of the whole experience. We were still shell shocked from our working days.

It was a very intimate set up there in the lobby of the aLoft Downtown Dallas. A small stage with two bar chairs, some speakers, and all of the furniture from their lobby. The bar area packed, but not overly noisy. We were there early enough to have a good spot. Plenty of people gathered and all of the collective body heat made it rather warm, but not uncomfortably so. It felt good to be surrounded by so many fans. I prayed he started as close to 8 as possible. I hoped he’d play at least 3 songs. I cautiously looked over at our girls hoping they weren’t going to kick in to beastmode, as is prone to happen so close to bedtime. I reached for my Beloved’s hand, squeezing it, grateful that he was there alongside me, making this dream a reality.

8:15PM He came out and the crowd erupted. And he sang, and laughed, and sang some more. He introduced Nathan Spicer as the one accompanying him. He was wearing a brown tshirt, jeans, his boots, and fedora. He had his guitar, fingers dancing along the strings. He confessed that he was tasked with only singing 3 or 4 songs. But he took requests from the crowd, each of us yelling out our favorites. When he played, it sounded like the album. The crowd sang along, we clapped, we cheered. Our girls danced and clapped. I sang along and danced. I rocked Tesla to sleep. She would have slept, too, until everyone began to applause and she forced herself awake. I stood still, even, fighting back tears. Grateful that we had this opportunity to have a date, that I was gifted all of the requests that I’d made nearly a year ago: To see him perform, up close, in an intimate venue, to connect to his words in real life, to feel that emotion that can only be conveyed through live music. (Thank you aLoft Dallas and Mat Kearney for making a wish come true. We appreciated it!! These parents right here are so, so grateful!) He played for a solid 30-35 minutes…for free!! Had our girls not already been fighting the sleepies, we would have stuck around for him to sign my CD, yes, it was tucked in my purse. He played almost all of my favorites! Here they are performing “Ships in the Night.” (Go to my Google+ page to see the short video)

And then here’s the kicker…

As we left, Mari asked if we could go back. She tends to make this request when we leave someplace she has enjoyed. I didn’t fully understand to what degree she enjoyed herself. Because well, as I tucked her very sleepy body into bed, she said, “I want to see Mr. Mat Kaaaaarney again. Can we go back to that hotel with the band?” This past summer, we were treated to a live intimate concert by our friend, Ben Varela. At that time, he was up on a makeshift stage, with his acoustic guitar, singing songs (a lullaby for Tesla that he’d written for another small person), his voice echoing off the nearby canyon in that backyard in San Diego…this was her frame of reference. My cousin, when he stays for a visit, will bust out our acoustic guitar and start playing along. So you can see where a 4.5 year old thinks that an intimate live concert where the performer looks out at you and talks to you, well, she believes that we know the person, that we are friends. That’s how Mat connects with you. He’s totally people.

If you don’t have kids and you have extra money and you have some time and he’s playing nearby, you will not be at all disappointed. He’s amazing!
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