I had a chance to get my hair done at the salon this past weekend, before the NYS mandate that shut down non-essential businesses went into effect. I muse about the decision whether or not to take the appointment, and how this relates to our responsibility to love our neighbors, in this episode of Five Minutes from the Funny Farm.
This is what happens when you lock a humor writer/improvisor who doesn’t know how to use a video camera in the house with two dogs and a cat during a pandemic. I warned you it wasn’t going to be pretty. Or professional.
Tomorrow, I turn 55. I can’t believe it’s been five years since I started my “50 thought on turning 50” blog post series, in which I noted that I might be 60 by the time I actually finish the list. (My Ancestry DNA test came back and said I’m a hearty mix of Irish, Italian, and Procrastinator.)
I don’t mind aging. For me, the hardest part of having a birthday: the presents.
I’ve been told I’m a hard person to buy presents for because I don’t like to get presents. I’m swimming in stuff over here and despite a lot of effort to manage the clutter, it’s a never ending battle. Giving me gifts or knickknacks or books just adds to the stress. I change my mind a lot about where I shop, eat, or get my hair done, so people often spend money on gift certificates I’ll never use.
I know, I know. I sound ungrateful, but I’m really not. I appreciate that people care about me and want to show it on my birthday. And honestly, I’m not opposed to going out to dinner or receiving small gifts of things I really need or want (although right now, I don’t need or want much of anything).
So for those who can’t resist my “please don’t give me anything” plea, here is a list of ideas of things you can do for my birthday.
One of the things that I love about doing research is that old newspapers offer not only unique stories and old advertisements, but a look into how publications viewed their job as purveyors of the news.
This clipping, from the Rochester Union and Advertiser, 12 June 1860, caught my eye. I’d posted it on my Facebook page last year, but came across it again today and have been musing on it all morning.
It appears that a rival newspaper had printed a story about two young people planning to elope, who in the end gave up their plan and returned home without incident. The Rochester Union and Advertiser noted that while they had the story several days earlier (before the Democrat *), the Rochester Union and Advertiser chose not to run it, in order to avoid embarrassment to the parties involved – who appear to be young. Their reason? Continue reading “Musings on newspapers, news, and neighbors”
One of the (few) things I like about Facebook is that it shows me things that I’ve posted on the same day over the years. It’s interesting to see old photos and status updates.
Today, though, what popped up was a link to a blog post I’d written in 2009, on an old blog, in which I chronicled a dream I’d had a few nights before. I keep a dream journal and often read through it to see if I can decipher messages I’m trying to send to myself. I’m a vivid dreamer and I’m convinced my subconscious talks to me when I sleep.
So when I read the post from seven years ago, I didn’t remember the dream at first. I apparently never wrote it in my journal. But as I read the post it came back . In detail. I could see the rooms, feel the furniture, and I remember the tone of voice people used when they talked to me.
It’s an interesting enough dream to share again. There’s a message in there somewhere, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it comes as the holiday season kicks off. A quick note: I’ve changed or eliminated the names of some people and edited out a few random comments I’d made at the time. But otherwise, here is the dream:
* * * * * * * * * * * *
For some reason, in this dream darling husband David and I had been given a huge, mansion-like house. It had a ground floor, three floors of bedrooms, and then an attic. Cassie, David and I set ourselves up on the third floor, with lovely, huge rooms, big windows, and lots of sunlight and beautiful antique furniture. Continue reading “The strangest dream: the incredible, growing house”
The holidays can be difficult for anyone separated from their family, but especially for our service men and women. And even more so for those who don’t have family or friends to write letters and send care packages.
Yes, there are service men and women who don’t get a letter from home. Ever.
That’s why I wanted to just put the website AnySoldier.com on your radar. It’s a great resource if you want to support our troops. And while the deadline is looming to send packages and have them arrive by Christmas, you have until December 10 in most cases, if you’re sending it Priority Mail.
Here’s how it works: someone in a unit volunteers to be a contact person with Any Soldier. They give a brief description of what their group needs or what might be helpful in boosting morale. When you send letters and packages, they then distribute them to any soldier who might be in need of a letter of encouragement or a treat from state-side.
I’ve sent packages via the website several times. Twice I’ve heard from the contact person, so I know how important the small gesture meant. I’m not talking huge things here. Instant oatmeal, granola bars, coffee, tea, trail mix, jerky, Kool Aid, magazines, tampons, razors, butt wipes. These are important things for service men and women in miserable combat situations.
If you’re interested in sending to “any soldier”, here are a few things to keep in mind. (And I have to apologize if I’m using any incorrect terminology. I tried to use “troop” and “unit” and “service men and women” in the right context, but forgive me where I’ve screwed up.)
1) This isn’t a pen pal service, so don’t expect a reply. While every single thing you send is appreciated, these are men and women who are literally in war zones or battle. They have far more important things on their minds than sending thank you notes. (Having said that, don’t be surprised if you do get a reply. It’s a beautiful thing to hear first hand how your package filled with Pop Tarts and beef jerky made someone’s day.) Continue reading “Send a care package to “Any Soldier””
My social media news feeds have been filled lately with rants and lectures and quips and tirades on myriad hot button social and political topics.
I’m all for supporting causes we believe in, but I’m often left wondering how often we hit “share” or “like” on social media and feel like we’ve done some great service to social justice, when in reality all we’ve done is hit “share” or “like” on social media.
I’ve been trying to sort through my thoughts on this when I saw this week’s episode of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee”, and was struck by something guest comedian Trevor Noah said:
“People are now able to protest in their underwear. And that almost defies what protesting should be about. The whole point of a protest is to get up out of your bed, put your clothes on, walk out in to the cold and say, ‘I stand for this. I march for this.’ And now you really don’t have to have that conviction, ‘cuz you’re on the couch, in your underwear, you’re going, ‘You know what? I don’t like it, either.’ Punch in a few characters, and you’re ‘Yeah, yeah, I fought for the cause.’ No. You didn’t.”
For years I’ve struggled with this topic when it comes to church. We talk a lot about loving our neighbor, and we give to charities, and we support missionaries. But until we stand in the streets and publicly speak our mind, or get our hands dirty doing actual work, or sit down face to face with people on the other side of issues and actually inhale each other’s words in conversation, we really can’t say we’ve taken a stand, or fought for a cause, or had a discussion.
It’s easy to hide behind 140 characters and a photoshopped profile photo, easy to take a stand and argue back online when you don’t have to look someone in the eye, hear the quiver in his voice, feel the tension in the air, and be accountable for the words leaving your lips.
The other thing that struck me about this episode was Noah talking about apartheid in South Africa, and what it means to be black, white and colored (yes, those three are all different in South Africa), and growing up with parents who were illegally married (yes, in the 1980s), and what it means to live in a country where free speech was outlawed until the mid 1990s.
Really, watch the entire episode. It’ll give you something to think about.
This past Sunday, a devastating fire destroyed local animal kennel Add En On in Mendon, NY. While some of the dogs and cats managed to be saved, sadly more than a dozen didn’t make it out alive.
Those who did survive and who needed medical treatment were taken to Veterinary Specialists and Emergency Services in Brighton, NY. Unfortunately, one of those dogs had injuries so severe he needed to be euthanized.
If you’d like to make a tax deductible donation (note that some of the crowd sourcing sites are not tax deductible) to cover the veterinary costs for the dogs who were injured, you can do through Rochester Hope For Pets. In the designation box, make sure you designate it to OTHER and specifically write in there that it’s “to pay for emergency expenses for the dogs injured in the Add En On fire.” The money goes directly to the charity which then disperses the funds as designated.
Rochester Hope for Pets is a local charity that offers financial assistance and grants to pet owners to help cover one time needs. It’s the charity I designated to receive my publisher’s charitable contributions from the sale of my books and I’ve also made donations – because I was a recipient of a grant when Scout died, which covered his final expenses.
And one last note: you do not have to take your dog to an animal hospital within the Monroe Vet system to have your expenses considered for a grant. That’s important to note. If you have a need and would like to apply, visit their website for more information.
In my continuing search for ways that people really love their neighbors, I stumbled on this story about a high school student in Alberta, Canada who is the catalyst for “Positive Post It Day.”
When a fellow student posted a hateful comment on Caitlin Prater-Haacke’s Facebook page, telling her to die, Caitlin turned the tables on the bully. She created post it notes with positive messages and posted them – on every student’s locker in the entire school.
The administration didn’t see the love, though, and reprimanded Caitlin for what they considered littering the school.
Fortunately, the city of Airdrie saw the beauty in what Caitlin did and passed a resolution for Positive Post It Day. As Mayor Peter Brown says, “Positive begets positive.”
Consider taking time today to write a positive note to a friend, family member, or colleague.
(Video of the moving eulogy by Lt. Eric Paul at the funeral of Officer Daryl Pierson)
It’s been more than a week since Rochester Police Department’s Officer Daryl Pierson was gunned down by a repeated parole violator he was trying to apprehend, and just a few days since Pierson’s funeral and the community-wide gathering in his honor. While there was a memorial last night at the East Rochester High School football game (Pierson grew up here, attended school here, and lived here with his wife and two young children) the press has moved on to other, more pressing subjects.
But this morning, a young wife and her children awoke, just one of thousands of days ahead of them as they learn to live without their husband and father.
And this morning, hundreds of police officers across our community pinned on their badges, strapped on their guns, and went out to do the same job that killed Officer Pierson.
It’s been on my mind this week that while our community has rallied around the Pierson family, the Rochester Police Department and other area law enforcement, it’s only natural that our devotion will wane as we move farther and farther from the event that shook our city just 10 days ago.
That bothers me. I’m the daughter of a police officer; my dad is a retired Gates cop. I know firsthand the toll the job can take on a family, a marriage, a life.
I think the vast majority of people in Rochester understand that the police are the good guys. Are there bad apples here and there? Sure, but they’re a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the family of men and women who wear a badge.
That’s why you hear about the bad ones; it’s not a big news story when a cop goes to work and no one complains, when he serves a warrant and takes the criminal into custody without incident, when he stops a car and apprehends the suspect and no one is killed.
I’d like to say that this video of customers using an ATM and receiving gifts instead of their expected transaction made me a little teary. But it didn’t. Nope, no misty eyed response for me. I cried. I’m talking giant tears rolling down my face.
The video is from TD Canada Trust, a Toronto-based bank offering a full range of financial services. In short, it’s a regular old bank. But after watching the video, in which they say thank you to some of their regular customers with gifts that show the employees truly know them personally, you’ve got to wonder if there’s something more going on at the heart of the company.
Like … they have a heart?
I recently pulled out the files for the Be Nice Project, the year long mission I was on to try and be nice for 365 days. I got sick soon after and abandoned the whole thing because I was exhausted. (It’s not like I couldn’t be nice while I was sick; it’s just that my energies were so focused on dealing with everything else going on I didn’t think I could keep up with a coordinated project at the time.)
Then I met a few people who’ve been on a similar journey, so I’ve dusted off some ideas, the first of which to spotlight people being nice.
This one takes the cake. And if I was customer, I bet they’d give me a cake the next time I stopped in to make a deposit.
I recently went to WalMart to have photos printed and to purchase two small, inexpensive frames. As I meandered through the store, I took a detour through the women’s department, noticed the capris were on sale, and loaded up my cart with several styles and sizes to see if I could find something that fit
I don’t know about other women, but I just can’t buy clothing based on the size on the tag. A size 8 can fall off me while a 10 cuts off circulation to my legs. Something that fits perfectly in blue fits entirely different in a different color of the exact same size, in the same style, and from the same manufacturer.
All of that is to say that when I got to the dressing room, I had a cart full of pants. I was going to be there for a while.
While I tried on and discarded item after item, I could hear the girl who was manning the fitting room and switchboard as she answered the phone and directed calls to other departments. She took a call from a customer who was apparently looking for a filter for their aquarium. I got the sense they didn’t know what size they needed but had other information. .
Almost the entire time I was in the fitting room, I could the employee talking to the customer, making calls to other departments and possibly calling other stores to see if they had the filter the customer wanted, and doing her best to figure out what the customer needed and if the store had it. She was also fielding and directing other incoming calls and letting other customers into the fitting rooms. What struck me was that I never heard her get frustrated or flustered; she was calm and pleasant and helpful.
When I was finally done, she’d gone to lunch. I headed over to the photo department, where I used the photo kiosk to order prints. When I checked with the photo counter to confirm that they’d be one hour, the young man working there told me he’d have them for me in about 10 minutes.
I found my photo frames and went back to the photo counter, where the young man another employee – a young girl – were talking. They were relaxed and chatty, but not in that “I don’t want to be here” kind of way employees sometimes can are. I finally asked them if they liked working there. Both said yes, and the girl told me that her job is to help customers, and she enjoyed that.
At the checkout, I had yet another great employee. Usually the cashiers at WalMart are talking to each other and ignoring the customer, or are so surly you just want to get out before someone bites your head off. Not my cashier. She was super friendly, made eye contact, and asked me if I’d found everything.
I love this video making the rounds online, mostly because it exemplifies something I’ve learned over my life about being nice: you have to be nice without expecting anything in return.
You can’t “do good” to win favor, raise your standing in the community, earn points you can cash in later, or pat yourself on the back. If you give of your time, energy and money for any of those reasons, you’ll drain yourself dry, emotionally, physically, spiritually. Neither you nor anyone else will be better for it.
Instead, “do good” because it’s who you are, and let the satisfaction from “doing good” be your reward. It’s a far greater return than you could have asked for … and it can change the world.
During the Christmas season, one of my favorite things to do is watch “It’s A Wonderful Life”. For me, it’s just not Christmas without George Bailey and Clarence the Angel.
If you’ve never seen the movie, it tells the story of a despondent man who contemplates suicide, believing the world would have been better off without him. His guardian angel-in-training, Clarence, comes to earth to give him the opportunity to see what the world would have been like had he never been born.
George is skeptical as he and Clarence have a series of odd interactions with family and friends who seem not to recognize George or remember anything about his involvement in their lives. George’s entire world seems turned upside down, but soon he finally believes that Clarence is really an angel and that he, in fact, is seeing a world without George Bailey.
In the movie’s pivotal moment, George and Clarence are standing at the tombstone of George’s younger brother, Harry Bailey. As a child, Harry Bailey fell through the ice while he and friend were sledding; George saved his life. Harry Bailey grew up, got married, and went on to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor after saving the lives of men on a transport ship in the war.
And yet as George brushes away the snow on the headstone, he see that the death date shows that Harry died as a child. George is in disbelief, insisting that it’s a mistake. Clarence explains:
Clarence: Your brother Harry broke through the ice and drowned at the age of nine.
George Bailey: That’s a lie! Harry Bailey went to war! He got the Congressional Medal of Honor! He saved the lives of every man on that transport!
Clarence: Every man on that transport died. Harry wasn’t there to save them, because you weren’t there to save Harry
Clarence sums up the point of the movie when he says, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”
It’s interesting to think sometime about how many people you interact with every day. I took some time to think about who I’d interacted with yesterday. Turns out, more people than I’d realized:
The cashier and cart guys at the grocery store;
a woman I kept running into at the store who was perpetually blocking the aisles and apologizing for it;
a stock clerk;
the staff at the pet store;
the girl who waited on my at Tim Hortons, along with the rest of the staff who waved from behind the counter;
my husband before he went to work;
my daughter on the phone;
and scads of people online.
But if you’d asked me who I saw yesterday, I probably would have told you “No one”.
The point of this post was to get people thinking about how many people we actually interact with every day – because every single one of those interactions changes both people in some way.
I’d love for you to join me for this little adventure in 2014, to think about what it means to love your neighbor, put out positive energy, do random acts of kindness, or just be nice.
Once upon a time, in a religious galaxy far, far away, I took a quiz to determine my spiritual gifts. It was part of a Sunday School class at a church I’d just joined, and I was looking for some guidance about what God wanted from me.
For those of you outside the world of Christianese, a spiritual gifts test (or assessment; there are no wrong answers on a spiritual gifts test) is designed to evaluate what talents and abilities God has gifted you with to benefit the church. You might be suited to teaching, for example, or evangelizing, or serving meals, or opening up your home to people for Bible studies. It’s all designed to help a Christian grow in their faith and better serve his faith community.
The quiz usually asks questions like “I feel that I have a message from God to deliver to others” or “It makes me happy to do things for people in need” or “I often think about how I can comfort and encourage others in my congregation”. You assign it a number from, let’s say 0 to 5, for each statement, depending on how well you think it applies to you. There are no wrong answers; at the end you add up the score and, theoretically speaking, you should have some insight into how God has gifted you to serve Him and the church. Your gifts could be exhortation, giving, shepherding, prophecy, teaching, leadership. Stuff like that.
On my test, I got zero points for hospitality and serving others. Zero. Nothing. As in, I had no gifts relating to being nice or giving to others.
I don’t remember what my other scores were – I think I had some points for administration, which, given my inability to organize my own sock drawer or get my dog to sit even if I was holding a steak, should have been a clue the quiz was faulty). But overall, I wasn’t feeling very gifted. (And while there are technically no wrong answers on a spiritual gifts test, try sitting in an evangelical Sunday School class and telling the leader you have zero interest in helping other people.)
That test – or the constant desire to figure out what my spiritual gifts are – may or may not have eventually had a bearing on my involvement in organized church as a whole. I’ve never felt like I fit in, I’ve never felt as if I was needed. Well, I was needed, in a way. The minute you join a church you often are inundated with requests to serve on committees and help with projects, and while the goal is to help you grow in your faith, the reality is that in many churches, like in many other organizations, 80 percent of the work is done by 20 percent of the people. Any warm body will do when it’s time to paint walls or rock babies in a nursery.
But what am I good at? Why am I here? What do I have to offer the world? What does God want from me?
Over the years, I began to understand a little better where my gifts are – both in relation to God and to my place in the whole wide world. I tell stories. I give voice to people who can’t share their own stories. I honestly talk about my failings so that other people can relate and perhaps find comfort. My writing mission statement is “Connect. Inspire. Change the world.” Big dreams for a little writer.
But as for being nice?
I’ve had my own ups and downs. The zero on that stupid quiz had to be a fluke; I’ve gone on to do a lot of serving, a lot of being nice, a lot of opening my house to strangers. And I liked it. In fact, I loved it. Then I got burned out and retreated, almost to hermit status.
So for a while, I wasn’t nice. Then I was. Now I’m not so much. Was the test wrong? Or did it ask the wrong questions? Or, and I think this is more likely, did I change as a person, going through various periods of my life when my priorities shifted and became more focused?
So here’s the first Be Nice Project discussion question: Is being nice – or generous or giving or helpful or kind – something innate, or is it something we learn? How nice do you think you are right now and how nice do you actually want to be – in other words, are you as nice as you feel you can be or should be, and if not, are you desiring to be nicer? And honest, there are no wrong answers.
Most of the action has been moved over to my new website, but I want to invite you to join me on this new project: to be nice in 2014 …
I’m trying to be nice. Honest. But it’s not easy.
For years now, I’ve been working on a book idea about loving your neighbors. The idea came to me after I went on a mission trip to Mexico in 2004. At the time, I hated flying, didn’t speak Spanish, knew zero sign language and was completely inept with both ball peen hammer and ball point pen. And yet I got on a plane and flew to Mexico to do construction at a school for deaf children.
It’s not as if I hadn’t volunteered before. I’d done a local mission project for several years, sponsored children through a Christian organization, and supported many charities. But getting out of my comfort zone and allowed me to get a better understanding of my place in the world.
It was a life changing experience, and it gave me the idea to write a book about how to love your neighbors. I figured if I could do it, anybody could. Although I still hate flying, don’t know sign language, can’t speak Spanish and can injure myself with writing utensils and screwdrivers with equal severity, I learned how to be giving and how to love my neighbor.
I tried to write. Tried for almost 10 years. But every time I got in front of the computer I went blank. I kept notes, clipped stories from the newspaper, did research, even had an agent interested in the project. All I had to do was send him the first three chapters. But no matter how hard I tried to write, it just never came together.