Thursday, August 2, 2012

Eggs With a Side of Recrimination (Or, It's Back to School Time Again!)

My grandmother was my 3rd grade teacher.

Sound nice? It wasn't.

My foibles were the topic of the weekly Sunday breakfast with all the well-behaved cousins listening. To this day, I still hate poached eggs served with a side of recrimination.

But I managed to love school and learning.  I also have fond memories of the newness that fall brought: blank notebooks, crisp and clean; crayons with sharp points; pencils waiting to be chewed… oops. 
Katie is a University of Oregon student doing an internship with us this summer.  I thought you’d appreciate her take on back-to-school time (I know I did):
When I was a kid I loved fall.  I loved going back to school and seeing friends. Every time I thought about all those new clothes and the smell of your textbooks it made me smile. I had images of jumping into a pile of crunchy leaves, whether or not that actually happened. Fall also meant that my birthday was right around the corner. Aside from my teacher troubles and attention issues, fall was a glorious new dawn.

On the other hand, fall was the bane of my brother’s entire existence. He lived for capturing snakes
and frogs. He loved taking things apart and building something new. Going back to school meant the destruction of freedom and all things good and pure. He was one of those kids who always said “gym” was his favorite class. (Okay, let’s face it, I did too.) He detested going back to the ugly brown and orange building, sitting through class, and somehow inevitably competing academically with his overachieving younger sister (I mean, I can only assume as much.)
No matter how you feel/felt about school and the fall, think about how much more difficult it would have been without the proper supplies.

Seriously, imagine you couldn’t afford to get everything on that awful list.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

It would be horrible!  That’s what you were thinking, right? Awful, terrible, frustrating, embarrassing, etc.

There are children in your community and neighborhood who are facing a fall without being well-equipped. That’s why St. Vinnie’s hosts an annual School Supply Drive in partnership with KMTR, Oregon Community Credit Union, Brattain House and many others.

No kid in Lane County should have to leave summer unprepared for the joys (or perils, depending on your memories) of school.  So.....

if you had a teacher you remember fondly,

if you care about children,

if you like the smell of chalk

… then donate to our school supply drive.  If you were one of those kids who gnawed on their pencils, you should especially give.

Here’s how you can help:
  • Mail a donation to P.O. Box 24608, Eugene, OR 97402.  Write "School Supplies" on the memo line so it gets credited to the right place.
  • Make a donation online
  • Visit any St. Vincent de Paul or Oregon Community Credit Union location and buy one of the bright blue backpack decals.  Every single cent raised through decal sales goes to the school supply drive.
You can also donate new school supplies at any St. Vinnie’s retail store, Bi-Mart location, Jerry’s Home Improvement store, and several other locations around town. Visit our website for a complete list.

Thank you so much!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Power of Forgiveness

It has been several weeks since I last blogged, and perhaps even longer since I have done something nice for someone else, or even for myself.  This week, however, I have done both.

It all started by forgiving someone.  This person was a close friend who has always been a part of my family’s life.  Time and circumstances have influenced our growing apart, and I will admit some remarks probably only upset me because I was tired, cranky from dieting, or feeling unappreciated.

None of her remarks required confrontation, so I decided, instead of holding a grudge, I would forgive her.

If you haven’t tried this, it is better than weight loss schemes, because it works!  And, like losing weight, you feel lighter.  Really.

In my experience, you don’t even have to be actively feeling forgiveness, you just have to be willing to forgive.  And the transformation that occurs, at least for me, was amazing.  

So let’s take it one more step.  Recently, a young man in our church prayed: “that blessings be showered upon his enemies.”  I was shocked.  What?  Blessings ‘showered’ on people that are inimical to us?

So I tried it (with a little resistance, at first) but, again, what an incredible feeling.  To actively wish, hope, and pray that someone who has hurt you is showered with good things.  I can’t describe it anymore.  Just try it and tell me what you think.  I feel less tired and cranky and unappreciated just writing about it.  See what this powerful ‘something nice’ does for you.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Volunteering: It’s not just a nice thing; it’s a significant thing

Volunteers have been on my mind recently.  It's probably because St. Vinnie’s recently hired a Volunteer Coordinator and celebrated National Volunteer Week

Our most recent thanks goes to Life Technologies, who recently sponsored a bicycle giveaway for kids living in our housing. This is the second year for the giveaway, and everyone involved leaves feeling good.

The Lane County Home Builders Association (HBA) held their 14th annual Garage Sale at the fairgrounds in April. Our goal was to raise money to support the HBA and the Vets' Housing Project. The HBA volunteers will continue to renovate two homes for veterans returning from deployment.

Helping with the manual labor this weekend I had the honor of working with:
       Judy Gould, Siuslaw Mortgage: selling windows
       Ron Smith, Precision Funding, and his daughter Kayla: paving for us
       Dan Mart, a businessman from Love Embroidery: manned the forklift…and yes, he is certified!
     Howard Galvin from Bi-Coastal Media: loaded building supplies of every description
     Debbie Hollembaek of DLH Designs: being a tile expert…and even helped me learn how to lay it!

If you are looking to help out, the St. Thomas More Newman Center is reviving its conference. A recent meeting of more than 10 volunteers gathered last week to prepare for home visits. With support from the community, we hope to make this program amazing. The process is simple: if someone is in need of a bed, or help with their rent, or an appliance, they can call our Social Service Office, which then calls a conference. The conference assigns the visit to a pair of volunteers who make contact, go visit the person and try to help. 

The hard reality is that conference volunteers must open their hearts and minds to many experiences. A couple stories that come to mind: the mom with two kids who fled violence with the clothes on their backs and a blanket each; the elderly woman who is isolated in her poverty and hungry for more than food; the man who has 'never had to ask for help before,' but he's lost his job and his family needs utility assistance. We are so thankful to the volunteers who are making this program not only possible, but a success.

Lastly, to a special class of volunteers who are serving every day and night, we would like to send our most heart-felt thank you. We are so grateful that our country continues to be protected by a volunteer corps of Army, Marine, Navy, Air Force, National Guard and Coast Guard. To those dedicated men and women, we offer our prayers for your safety and for peace in our world.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Lessons from the Road Part II: San Diego

I’m recently back from spring break in San Diego.

Nice things I did?  Let’s see: I let my college-age son bring a friend along for the long ride.  We were going anyway and had the room in our rented van.  It was a kind thing to do.  Supposedly.

Traveling with a stranger is helpful.  The little spats that some families might get into (not mine, of course) are mitigated by the presence of a newcomer.  So letting him come along was one nice thing. 

The other nice thing was that I did not deposit said “friend” on the side of the rode on the trip back when he yelled angrily, loudly and colorfully out the window at a driver who wouldn’t let me in a lane when we both pulled up to an intersection.  (See the original Lessons from the Road blog post.) 

I was aghast.  I never yell at other drivers.  But I had to this time, except I was yelling apologies across the van, across the young man in my van, across the 4 feet separating our vehicles, “I’m so sorry!  Really!  Sorry!  No worries!  Sorry!  It’s fine!” at a disgruntled man who looked at me like, “Lady, control your son.”   And I didn’t really have time to yell back that he isn’t related to me, I barely know him, he was just coming for the trip down, he isn’t even supposed to be here, etc. etc. etc. 

What I did say a few seconds later to said young man was a clear message: We don’t behave like that.

And the young man replied that no, really, that’s how he behaves in situations like that and I’m like, WE don’t behave like that, but he kept arguing and finally I stated unequivocally and loudly that when HE is riding in MY car, WE don’t behave like that!

And he finally got the point. 

Then he put on some soothing new age music, which irritated me further.  So it was nice of me to not kick him to the curb, as it were, thousands of miles from home.

Which brings me to the reason I am fond of old-fashioned, crank-it-down windows.  Perhaps if he had had to vigorously roll down his own window, rather than press a button, some of his negative energy might have dissipated and his brain might have had enough time to think that we are all just travelers on this big blue planet and he needs to spread love and joy, and the whole situation could have been avoided.  

No, that’s just too much California talk. 

Midwesterners just don’t behave like that.  At least, not in my car. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Lessons from the Road

A few entries ago I confessed I was running out of nice things to do and asked for suggestions.    Coincidentally, two banker friends, Alison Major with Umpqua Bank and Rustie Auckland with Siuslaw Bank mentioned letting cars merge into your lane when traffic is congested.  That is a nice thing to do.

People seem to be very aware of “road rage.”  The American Institute for Public Safety (AIPS) has a Roadrageous Test that is enlightening.   The Aggressive Zone is bad enough, but the progression to the Hostile Zone and the aptly named War Zone is frightening. 

A friend who shall remain nameless surprised me the first time I rode with her.  She is the sweetest, softest spoken woman I know, but she becomes Xena: Warrior Princess behind the wheel of her SUV.   Surprisingly, although I am a warrior princess in other aspects of my life, I feel no need to assert my Type A personality when driving. 

Or do I?

My husband is an assertive driver and never (well, hardly ever) allows someone to merge as a courtesy.   Knowing this, when I’m driving and he’s in the passenger seat, I often let other cars merge as if to make up for the times when he doesn’t.  And if he doesn’t notice, I point it out to him: “This one’s for you, honey.”  

I think I will quit doing that.  I’m sure it is irritating (actually, I know it is irritating and if we’re really telling the truth the point was to be irritating).  So why not be as courteous in the car as out?   Thanks, Alison!  Thanks, Rustie!

Monday, March 5, 2012

More Than Meets the Eye

My recent “one nice thing” was to purchase a toy I am both mortally and morally opposed to: Transformers. 

I happened to be in First Place Family Center giving a little tour to a community member.  I said hello to a mom who I’d seen before, and her little boy, whom I’d never met, announced in the I-am-the-center-of-the-universe way that little kids have, “Today’s my birthday and I’m 5!”  

I was surprised and said, “Well, we’ll have to do something about that.” 

I wanted to be respectful of the mom and to be anonymous, so I later spoke with the family’s case manager.  “He would be thrilled to get a Transformer,” he said.  “He’d cry.” 

Making someone cry really wasn’t a goal but I assume he was referring to what my family calls “tears of joy.”  This is a family that does not seem to have much reason for joy.  This little boy, his mom and his sister are living in their car.  

So I got the Transformer, complete with a Transformer gift bag (hey, if you are going to buy into the whole marketing blitz you might as well go for it).  I also got a gift card for the mother so she could get groceries, clothes, whatever might help just a bit.   It was such a small thing when bigger, seemingly intractable problems are their everyday existence.  But perhaps a little hope, intangible but real, will come with the plastic and paper.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Getting a Gold Star (or Not)

This is not a nice thing that happened to me.

In the blog post Flowers Brighten Meetings with Friends, New and Old I wrote about a friend and St. Vinnie’s donor who has suffered a stroke and is in assisted living.  I blow in to visit her for 15 minutes once a week, bringing cold hands, flowers or a Christmas ornament, conversation, and a smile.

Last week I took her pink carnations, her favorite color, and had just been there for a minute when the speech therapist arrived.  The therapist said I didn’t need to leave, but I guess I should have because my friend got very agitated and kept saying, “Get away.”  The upside is her speech was quite clear.  The downside for me is, she wanted me to leave.  

What?  Wait a minute!  I thought.  I’m the one who brings you flowers.  Last time you admired my hot pink scarf and I floated it up over you and it was lovely!  I promised you cake from my little boy’s party.  I’m fun!

I have to admit my feelings were hurt, like a little kid.  I think of her as a friend, but maybe we aren’t. 

When I told my son he said, “Great, now you’re off the hook!”  That caused me to think a little bit about why I do nice things. Is it for a gold star? YES (at least in part).  Is it so I can feel like a good person?  Yes (again, if I had a gold star it would be real evidence.)  But the other part is because it is the right thing to do.  

So, I’ll give her niece a call and see what we can make of this.  This old lady (the one in the nursing home, not me) doesn’t have many visitors.  Maybe she’ll want me to come.  In which case I will, and I’ll take a little risk and not expect the gold star.