Life is a curious thing. Each of us has a completely different adventure, yet we all face similar challenges, experience wonders, and are given amazing blessings, even if we don't recognize them. My life has certainly been action-packed. A lot of it good, much of it bad, but I've learned valuable life lessons along the way and managed to become one of the happiest people I know. I'll be sharing my thoughts and stories, and things I know and believe. I encourage you to leave comments so we can all learn from each other! Happy reading!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Perceptions of a Roadside Panhandler

Seems like I've always been broke. First, as a typical starving college student, then later as a 21 year old single mother. There were a handful of years in there when I was actually doing fairly well. I held good jobs and worked hard. But when my daughter was five, we were passengers in a four-car accident that left me permanently disabled and unable to work. It all kinda went downhill from there.

It's strange, really, because I'm not the kind of person one would normally think of as the type that would end up with a cardboard sign on the side of the road. I have a double B.A. from the University of Texas. I've held more than a dozen titles with “Manager” or “Director” in them. And I've never shied away from hard work. Growing up on a horse ranch, physical labor was never an option. It was required. As much as I despised it at the time, I recognize now that's why I was able to work three jobs when my daughter was little just to make ends meet.

But becoming disabled turned everything upside down. It didn't matter how much I wanted to work. I simply couldn't. Not that I didn't try. But in doing so, I made my physical injuries worse, and eventually accepted what my doctors had been telling me for a number of years; a steady job was out of the question.

For the first few years after my accident, I lived off mostly welfare and food stamps. I finally gave in and applied for Social Security Disability. Over the years I've been homeless and hungry, I've gone years with no phone or car or even a proper way to do laundry. The hardships were overwhelming and I did just about everything I could just to keep my head above water. I applied to both government and private agencies for help, went to local churches and food banks, sold any valuables I had, had yard sales, and performed as many odd jobs as I possibly could to supplement the pittance of welfare. The Disability money was better, but despite popular perception, not enough to actually live on. And I'm talking basics here. I don't smoke, drink, do drugs or gamble. I don't travel, or go out to eat or the movies, much less shopping. I have always chosen very modest lodgings, and been conservative with utilities, food, and other expenses. I've made great use of duct tape and Gorilla Glue. And I'm a bargain hunting champ.

All this time, I've managed to squeak by. Barely. Until my daughter turned eighteen this summer. That's when we lost a third of our already meager income. The income shrunk, but the expenses stayed the same. So then I was really in a pickle. After I had exhausted all my other options, I finally realized I only had one more thing I could do: make a sign.

I've only done it a couple of times so far. It truly is a last resort for me. My electricity is due to be shut off today. I live in south Texas where the heat, even in September, is dreadful. And I have a condition that leaves me extremely sensitive to heat. I simply can't be without electricity. And unfortunately for me, the local electric company couldn't care less. They will not extend even another day for me. So yesterday, I made a new sign and positioned myself in a spot where I often see people panhandling.

It wasn't the first time for me. That was last month. And after only a couple of minutes of positioning my wheelchair in a spot that was safe for me and drivers, the skies opened up and dumped rain in a rare monsoon-like fashion. My daughter was with me then and was able to run up to the car windows of the people kind enough to stop, but after less than thirty minutes, a police officer parked next to us, ripped the signs out of our hands and told us to get lost or he'd give us a ticket. Even though we had not broken any laws, I made sure to look them up so that we wouldn't get into trouble, I decided it was best to give up.

So yesterday was my second time. Right away I realized I had forgotten the sunblock, and thought that might be a bad omen. I wound up sitting out there for about three hours, until my skin was nearly splitting from the roasting sun and I could tell my heart was starting to be affected (you know, that pesky condition I have), and I knew if I didn't pack it in, I might be in real trouble.

But as I sat there, I observed a number of things about how people react when a person in need is sitting on the side of the road. Many of which I thought might be interesting to the average person. So I decided to share them with you.

  1. Some people truly don't notice me, others pretend really hard that they don't. I can tell the difference.
  2. When you look quickly away, I see you, even though I pretend not to. But I don't judge you for it. I don't judge anyone who doesn't stop to give. Except for the barely twenty-something girl in the shiny new Cadillac, windows down, music blaring, who smiled broadly at me and waved enthusiastically while driving by. I judged you a little. Sorry.
  3. For those who smirk or give me dirty looks, I'm embarrassed somewhat. But I'm really more embarrassed for you. Because holding such contempt or disgust, or having a complete lack of compassion for someone so clearly down on their luck says much more about you than it ever will about me.
  4. While a $5 bill will get me closer to what I need than a little coin change from your cup holder, I'm equally grateful for both. A gift is a gift, and regardless of the size, I'm thankful for the kindness coming from a complete stranger. So give only what you feel you can, and I will love you for it.
  5. One might think that most of the givers are wealthier, the ones that drive the nicer cars. That simply isn't true. Much more often than not, those that stop are the ones in beat up old cars, or otherwise appear that perhaps they don't have as much to share. It seems that those most willing to give are those that don't necessarily have it. Many hand over a dollar or a few quarters and tell me they've been there. I believe them, and am even more thankful for their kindness. People who have struggled seem so much more open to helping others than those who haven't, even if they're still struggling.
  6. I have for many years stopped to give a few dollars to those I see on the side of the street. But not having much to give, I always felt bad that it was only a dollar or two. Oftentimes, it was the only dollar or two to my name, but as I gave it over I felt the need to say, “I'm sorry, I wish I had more,” or something similar. I now know that isn't necessary. It's nice when people say something, but not needed. Every time a car pulls closer to me and the window comes down, a little flutter of excitement takes off in me. I don't even care how much or how little it is. I'm just so grateful that the person stopped for me.
  7. I have given out what I call “Blessing Bags” in the past. I've filled them with things a homeless person might need, like a toothbrush and paste, deodorant, a razor, snacks and water, maybe some change, that sort of thing. I've felt good about handing them out, but when a woman getting gas at the station across the street from me walked over and handed me a similar bag, I welled up. Her's had some toiletries, a book about hope and a $5 McDonald's gift card. I was overcome with how much that little bag meant to me, and will forever feel differently when I am able to hand out more of my own bags in the future.
  8. Accepting that you are in the position that you have to panhandle is difficult. For me, the overwhelming emotions were humiliation, sadness, and defeat. But once I got past that, the actual sitting on the roadside was okay. I always knew there was a chance someone I knew would see me. I felt somewhat embarrassed, but you have to do what you have to do. I was fine until my daughter's ex-boyfriend pulled up. He's still a part of our lives and we still care for each other. He pulled up close to me and handed me a handful of ones, the look on his face told me he was sad for me. And that made me feel sad for myself. And a little more humiliated. A part of me wished he hadn't stopped. Wished I hadn't seen the pity in his eyes. The humiliation I felt was not for where I sat, but for how I had fallen there. It just goes to show, you should never get too comfortable where you are. Bad things can happen to anyone, and some things are beyond the control of even the most put-together people. I suppose the take away is, if you see someone sitting with a sign on the side of the road, perhaps it's best not to make assumptions about how they got there, or judge them for it. Better to just hold compassion in your heart for the place they now sit, and if you can lend a hand in some way, do so. If not, just love them and wish them well.
  9. When I write, “God Bless” on my sign, I mean it. I believe that when you do for others, the blessings will come back to you. Regardless of your spiritual proclivities, or lack thereof, I want you to know that I wish you well, whether you stop for me or not. I truly believe we are all connected, and when one person is hurting, we all hurt to some degree. When one person extends a kindness, we all benefit from it. And when we choose to be kind to one another, that kindness will come back to us tenfold. But that's way too much to read at a glance, so I leave it at “God Bless.”

In the end, I didn't make enough to pay my electric bill. So it looks like I have no choice but to head back out today. I'm dreading it. The heat, the judgment from strangers, the uncertainty that it will even be enough. But I don't feel I have any other choices.

If you see me, please be kind. You don't have to give me anything, but I wish you could refrain from making assumptions about me or why I'm sitting out there. The perception that people can sit out on the corner for a couple of hours and make hundreds of dollars is false, at least in my experience and of others in my situation that I've spoken to. Maybe in some parts of the country, but don't assume that you shouldn't give to someone who needs help because they're raking it in. They most likely aren't, or they wouldn't be out there. It isn't fun. Trust me. And you might just change someone's life for the better.

And if you do decide to give, don't worry about how it will be spent. For me, it's going to bills or food, or some other basic need. For others, it may be something you don't think is a necessity. But it doesn't matter. When you give to another, it is not your job to demand how it is spent. The gift is in the giving. Once it leaves your hands, you've done your part, and you will be greatly rewarded for having done so. Once I figured that out, I was so joyful in the act of giving that it became something I looked for opportunities to do. Whether it be a dollar, a bottle of water, a blanket, or just a shoulder to cry on. I give whatever I can, whenever I can, and I am so amazingly blessed for it, despite the bumps in my own personal road. Giving is a fundamental part of who we are, encouraged in all cultures, within all religions. Those who lose sight of that will never find true happiness. I urge you to open yourself up to receive the most of what life has to offer by giving, big or small, whenever you can. And if you can't or don't want to give money to a panhandler on the street, just give them kindness. Send some happy, loving thoughts their way. They could probably use it.

If you can't feed a hundred people, then just feed one.” ~Mother Teresa

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” ~Bible

For it is in giving that we receive.” ~St. Francis of Assisi

If you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another.” ~Dalai Lama

They who give have all things; they who withhold have nothing.” ~Hindu proverb

If you have much, give of your wealth; If you have little, give of your heart.” ~Arab proverb

To give without reward, or any notice, has a special quality of its own.” ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh

No one has ever become poor by giving.” ~Anne Frank

Monday, August 12, 2013

Come on, Mama, Move into the 21st Century!

Ok. I'm finally doing it. This technologically ignorant 40-year-old mama is finally moving into the 21st century.


I admit that while I have many strong suits, anything remotely connected to technology just isn't one of them. I don't have a smart phone. It's a cheap, pre-paid little number that I don't even know how to enter the contacts in. I really just use it in case I break down while driving and to keep track of my kiddo when she's out. And honestly, most of the time I leave the house, I forget to bring it with me. Wanna know a secret? I hate texting. I'd rather just talk to you. Same with when I need customer service for something. I don't want to email some unknown person in the ethosphere, I want to talk to a real person. Even if they have an accent I can't understand.

I got a new TV two years ago, and I still don't know how to turn it off without hitting multiple buttons a bunch of times. So I usually just leave it on. I still have an old-fashioned answering machine, and I never have used the fax machine on my printer because I have no clue how to hook it up. When I was gifted an iPad last year, it took ages for me to figure out how to do even basic tasks on it. Except the games. That I figured out okay. But when I have to switch between the laptop and iPad for research and writing, I still catch myself poking my laptop screen, confused as to why it isn't working. Yeah, I know. I'm an idiot.

And that brings me to my recent move forward. In preparation for the upcoming release of my first novel and the Kickstarter campaign I'll be launching in a few weeks, I've had to re-evaluate my presence in the social media world. While I've actually had a Facebook account for a number of years, created back when most people still used MySpace, I still have less than 70 friends on my list. I also started my blog a couple of years ago, but didn't get too active on it. So now, I'm blogging more, and trying to increase my presence elsewhere.

And so, I created a Tumblr blog. I'm stumbling around the site like and elephant in wedges, but at least it's up and running. And I'm hoping it will improve over time. I'm also attempting to create a Facebook Author page, a Facebook Kickstarter page, and a Pinterest account. Next is Twitter, but that one makes my heart pound a little. I opened my account there years ago, and think I have one tweet. I tried to tweet a few times, but couldn't get it to post. Seriously, sometimes I feel like my 90 year old grandma trying out how to work the DVR box. It's embarrassing.

Lucky for me though, I have a teenager. So if I can pin her down long enough, perhaps I can coax her into helping me figure it out. If not, I'll keep plodding through on my own, grumbling and cursing under my breath. Eventually I'll get it. But at least I'm trying.

And my Kickstarter campaign is looking quite awesome, if I do say so myself. I'm even preparing to tape an introductory video. Fortunately, several people have offered to help with that, so I don't have to worry about figuring out how to work the camera. Thank God for small favors. Now, if I can just figure out how to use this Cloud thingy everyone's been talking about...

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Excuse Me . . . Where Did All the Civilized People Go?

The other day, I found myself having to go to my local Walmart for a few things. I should be upfront about the fact that I have a love/hate relationship with Walmart. Frankly, I love the prices. And, who doesn't love being able to get toilet paper, grapes, dog food, and sunblock all in one place? You can even do so while getting the oil changed in your car and your prescriptions filled. One-stop shopping at its finest.

But there's a downside. Something about the place just showcases the weird, the wild, and the woefully rude in people. Now, I'm all for weird. Weird is good. But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Just check out if you don't believe me. But that's not what gets to me. It's the wild and rude that scrape at my nerves like nails on the proverbial chalkboard.

Which brings me to my recent shopping trip. I had just arrived and was making my usual circuitous route, pushing my cart towards the health care aisles. As I rounded the corner there, I could hear a woman hollering questions at the top of her lungs. “Well how many do they have?” wafted over the air from a disembodied voice. I continued on towards the back of the store and heard a man hollering back. I realized they were together. Rather than walk up to the products they needed and look together at their options, hubby was standing near the sporting goods trying his hardest to get what wifey wanted by answering her questions. From about 20 yards away.

I was mentally shaking my head, thinking about how discourteous they were, and how much easier it would have been for the wife to just walk over to the shelf and get what she wanted, as obviously whatever was going into that household was only coming in upon her approval, when I was nearly mowed down by three preteen boys on bikes. Yes, that's right. Bikes. Three boys riding bicycles through the store, startled customers jumping out of the way as they plowed through the crowds without warning. I gave them a distinct “What the . . . ?” look and continued on, wondering where the hell their parents were, then thinking maybe the parents' presence wouldn't be an improvement.

I picked up the pace, wanting more than ever to retreat to the relative sanity of my home. As I made my way down the aisles, I had a few near crashes with shoppers who felt the need to ram their carts through aisle traffic, waited patiently as several people made their selections while blocking the whole aisle, and smiled and said, “Excuse me,” despite the rudeness or complete lack of self awareness of those around me. I was determined to get out of there without pushing my mood into the toilet. But I could sense impending failure.

Finally, I pulled up to the checkout lanes. Huge lines behind every single one with a light told me I was in for more frustration. I sighed and chose one of the express lanes, happy I was leaving with well under the 20 item limit. I glanced to my right and saw a man pull up with a cart practically overflowing, standing in the express lane next to me. I had the overwhelming urge to throw a can of peas at his head. But I restrained myself. Partly because my inner Buddha told me that would be wrong. But mostly because I wasn't buying peas.

Having dumped my bags in the car and suffering from an itch to be far away from the place, I began down the main drive between the store and the parking area. I stopped for people in the crosswalk, watching a guy with his face buried in a magazine walk from the store to the parking lot, never once lifting his eyes away from the page. I guess I should have been impressed that at least it was a printed page and not a screen.

But that guy was the last straw. I thought to myself, “What is wrong with people? How did we become so rude, so thoughtless, so completely unaware of ourselves?” I thought, “we,” but I really meant, “they.” I'd like to think I'm not any of those things. I try really hard to be thoughtful of others. To be kind and courteous. I open doors for others, often let people with less things go ahead of me in line, ask people if I can help them reach things when I see them struggling. It's really not that hard. I swear it's not.

I've long thought my combination Southern and military upbringing was responsible for my manners. I still call people “ma'am” and “sir.” I say “please” and “thank you.” I would never, ever ride a bike through a store. I'm absolutely baffled by the overwhelming lack of manners in this world. When did that happen? I remember as a kid, being expected to be on my best behavior at all times. I remember my mama threatening to pull me in the bathroom if I needed behavior modification. I remember her counting to one. Not really sure what would have happened if she got to three. The death stare I got with one was enough to make me worried I'd pee my pants with fear and get in trouble anyway. I can't count how many times I've overheard a mom say, “ . . . two, two and a half, two and three quarters . . . “ What? Fairly sure my mama would have Ninja slapped me if she got past one. Or worse. But it never would have occurred to me to misbehave like that in the first place.

That instinctual sense of courtesy and respect have followed me into adulthood. And I'm grateful for it. I'm proud to be nice. Civilized. I'm careful not to embarrass myself or those I'm with in public. Not to say I haven't stuck my foot in my mouth at times. Hell, I've even wedged that sucker up to my thigh a time or two. It happens. But for the most part, I'm aware of my behavior and how it affects others. I don't understand how this has become such a foreign concept. I mean, how hard is it really to be polite? To be courteous? To not holler at someone from 20 yards away? I figure if I can make the effort to put a bra on before I go to the store, other people can make the effort to act slightly more civilized in return. But if you're going to insist on acting like a heathen in public, just keep in mind that someone with less manners may throw a can of peas at you.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Kickstarter Campaign Intro

Yay!! I'm so excited to announce that I'll be launching a Kickstarter campaign in just a few weeks. If I get funded, it will allow me to finally finish my book this year and get it published. The book, Mystic Manor: Book One, The Door to Tangwyn, has been my baby for a number of years now. I'm so close to the finish line...I can see it right over there...

This post actually has a two-fold purpose. To explain the crowd funding process to those unfamiliar with it (in very simple, abbreviated terms), and to get some feedback about rewards for my backers.

To start, crowd funding is an amazing fairly new way for creative types to get financial backing they need, but otherwise couldn't get, to finish a creative project. Projects are typically art, music, film, gaming, photography, dance, play, book or other creative product. There are a handful of sites out there that assist in crowd funding, but Kickstarter is probably the best known, having successfully funded over 35,000 projects and raising over half a billion dollars in just four years. The coolest thing about Kickstarter, for me at least, is that it's not just someone standing there with their hand out. It's a give and take. An even exchange of energies, if you will. But more about that in a minute.

It works like this: A project creator creates their campaign and posts it on the site. There's generally an introductory video, then a detailed written piece about what the project is, where the money is going, any risks and challenges to completing the project that might come up, and the rewards! That's the best part, see. Backers can pledge any amount they wish, from $1 up, and that pledge amount will fall into a reward tier designed by the project creator. Many of these rewards are unusual and clever, and well worth the pledge itself. So in addition to making someone's dream come true, to being part of something special that in many cases goes on to be commercially successful and widely recognized, the backer also gets goodies related to the project. What more can you ask for? 

An important thing to understand is that if the project doesn't get fully funded, the creator gets nothing. When setting up the campaign, the creator picks a dollar amount they think is the least they'll be able to complete the project for (figuring in taxes, Kickstarter's 5% fee, and the cost of producing and shipping the rewards) and a specific time frame, usually 30, 45, or 60 days. They must raise the entire amount in that time frame, or they get nothing. No money changes hands. If they do raise it, then at the end of the campaign Kickstarter will take the funds from the backers electronically, depositing it into the creator's Amazon account. If the creator raises more than the pledge goal, they keep it. Most will update their campaigns with stretch goals. For example, if I raise $5000 over what I'm asking for, I'll be able to get every chapter of my book illustrated. The money gets used to make the project even better. 

That's the gist of it anyway. You should go on over to the Kickstarter site and poke around. You may find someone's dream you want to be a part of. And remember, as little as $1 lets you be a backer. Every little bit counts, and the thought and energy behind pledging even a little bit is a powerful force, almost like a prayer in my view, that that person's project be successful. You could change someone's life! (Of course, I'm hoping plenty of people will still feel like being a part of a creative project when my campaign goes online.) At the bottom of this post is the link to the Kickstarter home page. You can take a look at more detailed information and search through all the awesome campaigns currently trying to get funding. When my campaign goes live, I'll update with a link to my project. Go check it out. I'll even have three of the llustrations for the book up. Yippee!

So that brings me to the feedback I'd like. I already have most of the tiers worked out. 

On the modest end: bumper stickers, decals, t-shirts 

Just up from there: signed copy of the book, personalized message in the autograph, named mention in the acknowlegements

A little more gets you: advanced copy of book, signed limited edition collector's copy, copies sent to schools or libraries of your choice

The Holy Cow! level: character named after you in Book Two or Three, having one of the characters in Book One bear your likeness (or a loved one, if you're out to give one of the most awesome gifts ever). 

There are a lot more, each attached to a dollar amount. But what I want to know is this, what do YOU think would be an awesome reward? If you were backing my project (even if you don't), what do you think would be a cool reward in exchange for backing my dream? Let me know in the comments. Be creative. I'll consider all ideas that are legal, moral, and humanly/financially possible. What say you, readers?

Monday, May 27, 2013

I'm Ba-aaaack!!...But Not in a Creepy, Fuzzy TV Kinda Way

Ah, my poor, neglected blog. All alone out in the one waiting, no one reading. Kinda puts a little block of guilt on my heart. After all, I had such great intentions. I had a vision. I knew exactly what I wanted to say, what I wanted it to look like, what I wanted it to become. But it just never happened.

In my defense though, I've had a lot going on. I've been working on freelance marketing, writing, and editing. I'm an herbalist, which is a never-ending learning process. I'm developing a comprehensive website that will educate people about herbs, herbal remedies, the different herbal traditions across dozens of cultures worldwide, and a number of other related topics. It will also be a place for me to sell my bulk herbs, remedies, and tea and spice blends. So I'm working on new recipes and new labeling and I'm creating a store on to sell them in the meantime. I also set up occasionally at local craft fairs and festivals to sell my baked goods and herbal products, which is a ton of work, but enjoyable. I'm growing a garden and am engaged in active, yet non-harmful (for them, can't say the same for me), warfare with a large group of deer. Right now I feel a little like Wile E. Coyote, fighting a losing battle with animals much smarter than me. But I have high hopes for winning through patience. Or when fall hits and what's left of my plants poop out, they'll be forced to give up and eat the stuff I've been throwing out in the front yard for them, letting me feel a tiny, tiny victory in some way. I'm a single mom of a teenager, have 9 pets, and am a part time caregiver for my 90 year old grandmother, so somebody always needs something. I have dishes that have figured out how to breed when I turn my back and laundry that spreads like lava if I forget it for a couple of days. Oh, and in my spare time, I'm writing a book. A real one, for publication this year. Actually, it's book one of nine, and I find myself piecing together the other eight here and there, but I'm getting there. I'm currently about 2/3 done.

In other words, I'm busy. Like everybody else, I guess. My time management skills are fairly good, and I'm an expert multi-tasker, but somehow my little blog just fell right through the cracks. And now, lest I be viewed as one who just makes excuses when the road gets difficult, I've decided to go in after it, to rescue it and pump new life into it. I've decided it may not look like I had originally intended. On days where I can't produce anything even mildly profound, which may happen more often than I'd like, my posts may be less meaning-of-life and more dangers-of-life-in-a-chaotic-and-chronically-sleepy-household. I have way more material for that anyways. But the main thing is, I want to write and put it out there as often as possible. And now that I've put this out there, if I don't follow through, I'll feel like a total schmuck. So there you go. Instead of just writing about my views on life, you may be getting a view into my life. Good and bad. Dirty laundry, dog slobber, teenage angst and all. But don't worry, we have plenty of rainbows and butterflies here, too. The view may be covered in cat hair, but it's really kinda nice overall. I'll be seeing you around.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A New Kind of Birthday Celebration -- And the Best Birthday Ever!

Yet another year has come and gone for me. Last week I celebrated my 39th birthday. The last before I hit 40. I used to look forward to them with gobs of excitement, these birthdays that are supposed to track the milestones in our lives. I looked forward to the parties, the presents and cake (who doesn't love cake?), the attention, the increased responsibilities with each passing year. But after I became a mom at 21 (just two weeks shy of my 22nd birthday), they sort of lost their luster. I focused more on giving my daughter a better birthday than I could afford and tried my best to ignore that I was indeed getting older. For me, the parties disappeared; the presents became scarce and oddly practical. This year my daughter and her boyfriend bought me a cheesecake for my birthday cake. I'm pretty sure it's been well over a decade since anyone has gotten me a birthday cake of any kind. Most of the birthdays pass with quiet disappointment. And as for the increased responsibilities, I no longer want them. I've got more than I can handle most days anyhow. No, birthdays just aren't what they used to be.

I find that my birthday is one of a handful of days in the year that I wind up reflecting on all that I am and all I have done. And all that I am not and all I haven't done. More so the latter. I usually wind up depressed and trying to pass it off as just another day, ignoring it's presence as much as I possibly can. But in the past year or two, I've been shifting my life into something more meaningful, more beautiful than it ever has been before. I've made progress in my spiritual journey that has me approaching life in a whole new way. For the first time, I am able to find contentment in the mundane, absolute joy in the small precious moments that used to just slide by me unnoticed. I won't go into the details of said spiritual journey because, for now, it is still just mine and deeply personal. But I will say this, as a result of my new-found enjoyment of life, I found myself thinking about this birthday much differently.

Instead of it becoming a day of disappointments (the former sources of which, incidentally, I have now found acceptance and peace with), I decided to make it a celebration. A real one. For me, it needed to be a celebration of what is important in life. What's that, you ask? Why, love of course! And kindness. I have found that if you approach life, people, and all that you encounter with loving kindness, not only do you fill your heart to bursting with joy during the great moments, but even the worst of moments become...tolerable. Sometimes better if you can grasp the life lesson in them. At any rate, I wanted to celebrate my birthday with loving kindness to others. I recently stumbled across a blog article about a woman who had spent her birthday performing random acts of kindness. What a perfect way to celebrate!

I thought of some things I wanted to do on my own, then went to the Random Acts of Kindness website to get even more ideas. I knew I could never get all I wanted to do done in one day, so I decided to spread it out over several days. My “birthday week,” I thought. And this is what I wound up doing:

  1. I took my daughter shopping and we picked out a bunch of items we thought someone living on the street would like to have for basic necessities. We put it all together and made “Blessing Bags.” They included all sorts of things like snacks, drinks, gum, a personal fan and sunblock (we live in horribly hot and sunny TX, so this is really helpful here), toothbrush and paste, lip balm, band-aids, deodorant, razors, a comb, soap, hand sanitizer, socks, and some change. We made some for women and some for men, then set out to find some people that would like to have one. We met some super nice people and had some wonderful talks. It took multiple days and several locations to hand them out, but every time, we walked away feeling amazing. To see how grateful people were for simple items such as these warmed our hearts and let us know that what we were doing was truly important. We found out that a local church comes down to a spot under a bridge on the same day every month and that homeless people come from all over to hear a spiritual message and to get donations. We decided to do our best to go down there every month at that time and hand out whatever we could: more Blessing Bags, or even a home-cooked meal. We know how much they need and appreciate that sort of thing and it's fairly simple for us to do. Because we ourselves don't have a lot extra, we can't always give anything. But sitting down with them for a long chat is just as nice. We've learned over the years that people are often terribly judgmental and sometimes cruel to homeless people. In reality, most of them are not bad people, they're just trying to survive. A little respect and caring in your heart means more to them than anything.

    On a side note, one of the men we gave a Blessing Bag to really touched us. My daughter sees him at a certain spot when she goes to pick up takeout with her boyfriend quite a bit. She always stops to give him whatever she can. He was the first one she thought of when I told her I wanted to make up these bags. He was the first one we sought out when we went out to give them away. Sure enough, he was at his usual spot. His clothes were filthy, his body sweaty. He sits on a concrete block all day in the scorching heat, hiding his face behind his cardboard sign as if he can't face what life has become for him. We got out of the car and spoke to him for some time and found him incredibly polite and humble. After several minutes of chatting, I asked him where he sleeps at night and he pointed to a jumble of weeds in the embankment off the highway. I guess my face reflected my thoughts that no person should have to live that way because he quickly assured me it wasn't so bad, he had a piece of cardboard to sleep on and he “keeps it real nice.” Later, when I said I hoped that some of the things in the bag would help him out some, he nodded enthusiastically and said, “Oh yes! You know, all I really want is to brush my teeth.” My heart cracked. We spoke some more, he continued to thank us profusely, we promised to think about him and stop back by when we can, and we got in our car to leave. The moment we started to drive away, he picked up his things and headed to the grocery store nearby. I suppose he went to brush his teeth. Sometimes all a man wants is a way to brush his teeth. I don't guess I'll ever take that for granted again.
  1. We left a package of baby wipes at a baby changing station in Walmart. As I was walking up with the wipes with note attached (“Please enjoy this random act of kindness. If you are in need, help yourself!”) a women was frustratingly digging through her diaper bag, unable to find her wipes to change her infant son. I told her that I was leaving some wipes as a random act of kindness and she should go ahead and use them if she couldn't find hers. She was incredibly grateful. Talk about timing!
  2. We left pennies in several parking lots for people to find (face up, of course, for good luck).
  3. I spent a lot of time on sites that allow you to “click for a cause.” I participated in everything I could on,, and over the several days I was doing this, with the mental promise not to forget and to go back periodically to do more. I also earned 10,000 grains of rice on, which allows you to answer trivia questions to earn rice that is actually given to hungry people where ever it's needed. I actually have loved this site for some time and go there sometimes to play. I just played this week more than usual.
  4. I handed out Popsicles to the neighborhood kids playing outside. As I walked away, I heard one of the kids say, “OHMYGODTHESEARESOGOOD!!!” and several uh-huh's, yeah's, and a “They're so cold!” I think it was about 105 degrees that day. I'm sure they were just what the kids needed.
  5. I reached out to an old friend I hadn't spoken to in a very long time, calling her to tell her how much I love her, miss her, and think about her. All truths.
  6. I practiced general kindness by holding open doors for people, being an extra friendly driver, letting someone go in front of me in line, and smiled at everyone, even the kids at the pool at the YMCA that kept splashing me when I didn't want to be splashed and were being generally obnoxious. I was on a roll!
  7. I made a bunch of loaves of banana and banana pumpkin bread. We took several to the local police department and asked that they be shared. The officers? the dispatcher asked. I told her, “For everybody!” I explained that they all work hard together to serve and protect our community and we just wanted to recognize and thank them for all their hard work. Her distrust disappeared and was replaced by a huge smile as she took the breads and thanked us.
  8. I left a loaf of banana bread in the mailbox for our mailman with a note thanking him for his hard work.
  9. We went over to the local firehouse and chatted with the firemen there. We gave them several loaves of the bread and offered to come back with homemade dinners now and then. They were uncertain at first, but I explained that we had unfortunately had to call upon them several times over the years and that they (meaning all of them around town in general) had been so wonderful and helpful to our family. I was grateful that they were there for us and wanted to do something nice to give back to the community. We then spent several minutes in pleasant conversation with lots of smiles and laughter thrown in. It was funny, when we first came in, they all stood up and were very reserved, but by the time we left, they were grinning deeply, waving, and saying, “See you later!” They also recommended that when we decided to come back with dinner, we should make sure they were the ones on shift. :)

There were several other things on my list that I simply could not fit into my “birthday week.” So I'm keeping the list and making a point to pick it up now and then and do something on the list, just to be nice. Now, I should say that I often do these kinds of things outside of it being my "birthday week." I've raised my daughter to be loving and giving, and together we live lives that we hope are filled with kindness to each other and those around us, even to our wonderful planet. In general, I am a big believer in giving for the sake of giving. I almost never speak about the things I do for others lest it become less about doing good and more about the recognition you get for doing good. I don't ever do something for someone else so that I will get a “thank you” or anything else. But I was so inspired by the blog post I read that I felt I should write about what I did. I'm hoping that someone who reads this will be inspired to do nice things in their own lives. Randomly. Just because.

I have been truly blessed in my life. I have endured hardships no one should ever have to endure. But through all of that, I have had people come into my life and do things for me, some big, some small, that meant the world to me. Some of these people were friends, some strangers. I know firsthand how an act of kindness and generosity can affect a person. I understand how something that may seem little to you can mean so much more to the one on the receiving end. Seeing the joy on the faces of the people we encountered this week was a much better gift than anything that could have been wrapped with a bow. I will carry it with me always. And the memories of that joy will motivate me to create it more often. I hope you will be moved to do the same. Many blessings be yours!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Wish

Like most people, I tend to spend New Year's Day in quiet reflection, thinking about the year that was and the one that will be, wondering if it will go a bit better, a bit easier this time around. 2011 was a very long, difficult, and trying year for us, peppered with blessings. I know it was a particularly difficult year for many of my friends as well, even with the good things sprinkled in. So I've been thinking a lot about what I hope for myself and my daughter, and those we care for, and decided to let you all know what I hope for each of you and those you love.

May your travels be safe, and you always find yourself at home.
If you find yourself lonely, may you never be alone.
May your thoughts all be positive and your hopes soar high.
May you hold tightly to your dreams and never let them die.
May your tears be those of joy and all your smiles reach your eyes.
If you find yourself in sadness, may you have a shoulder for your cries.
May your heart always be open and you find love overflowing.
If you find yourself stuck, may you then find yourself growing.
May you learn from your missteps and celebrate your achievements.
And may you find strength in the face of devastation or bereavement.
If you become lost, may you always be guided.
May your family be strong, and never be divided.
If you find yourself in doubt, hopeless, or confused,
May exactly what you need come to you, may you never be refused.
May you have a lightness in your step and a song in your heart.
And may you hold on to those you love, even though you are apart.
Be inspired. Be loved. And most of all, be happy.
Happy New Year.