30 September 2013

A Whole New World

(My friend Ange-Marie told me this story over lunch and it simultaneously made me smile and broke my heart. It made me smile because she learned something new about her father after hit death that showed such a giving side to him and it broke my heart that she never got to talk to him about it. I also love this story because I spent my junior year of college abroad and it changed my life and my world view --Melinda)

A man wearing a traditional Indonesian batik shirt approached me in the receiving line at my father’s funeral with tears streaming down his face.  “You have no idea what a great man your father is,” he told me.  “You have no idea what he has done for our country.”
I smiled and thanked the man, thinking I knew how great my dad was.  I knew when he was alone in his office or with a student, based on how he answered the phone.  “Hello number one daughter!” meant he was free to chat; just “hello” meant he was advising someone.
Did I know my dad?  I’d tagged along with him to workshops and seminars since I was a toddler.  At three I was his human “show and tell” project to illustrate language acquisition and reading comprehension theories.  As a teenager I bartered with him – mornings spent at a foreign language workshop passing out brochures in exchange for skipping school to stand in line for Prince tickets.  After I became a fellow professor, he invited me to speak in his courses.  We taught English together in China for six weeks and he became my boss and my dad, a feat not recommended for amateurs!
My dad and I have the same crooked finger, hair color, and smile. We shared inside jokes, an appreciation for old school “Star Trek” and “Planet of the Apes” and a love for gardening.  Dad’s “mini-me?” Yep. I knew my dad. 
But it nagged at me because the last time I visited, three weeks before he died unexpectedly, Dad showed me a grandparents’ book he had completed for my three nieces.  I’d heard most of the stories filling in the blanks, but there were another 10% or so I hadn’t heard.  Add that to this grieving gentleman’s comments and I had to wonder – how well did I actually know my dad?
After doing some digging I found several things that I never really knew as his daughter.  I learned my dad had personally trained over 100 international graduate students from 18 countries and four continents.  They now train teachers around the world to teach English as a second language (ESL) in a way that enhances rather than erases their home cultures.  Over his 40 years of teaching he taught different foreign language teaching strategies to hundreds of people who then trained others in their home locations.  These workshops, most weekends during the school year and for months during the summers, aren’t available as TEDTalks or on YouTube; he did these live every time during the analog era of the 70s and 80s.
From these factoids I learned that my dad was able to deeply engage with other cultures.  He recently administered separate programs for native Chinese/Japanese speakers to get Ohio teaching credentials, and Somali teenagers to learn and practice English in a culturally relevant context.  He was learning Chinese, didn’t speak Japanese or Somali but was able to connect because he had a gift for intercultural exchange.  
How does a poor Black kid growing up in the segregated South develop such a gift?  He decided to take a chance as a master’s student and study abroad with a host family in France.  That experience – of learning through immersion in another culture – never left him. He later taught abroad, teaching intensive French courses for Peace Corps in Burkina Faso and Senegal, lecturing in Chile using his fluent Spanish, and teaching English to Wuhan, China’s top students.  The kid from Perdido (“lost”) Street in New Orleans even sent all three of his daughters abroad; two went twice.  
Knowing about my dad’s gift convinces me that there are diamond-in-the-rough kids out there who can discover their gifts through the experience of studying abroad.  So today I donate to The Ohio State University Young Scholars Program Travel Abroad Scholarship in my father’s name.  The Young Scholars Program serves hundreds of academically talented, first-generation college students from economically challenged backgrounds.  They serve, in other words, students just like my dad was 50 years ago. 
If I know anything about my dad now, I know he would like that.
-Ange Marie Hancock-Hodges

29 September 2013

Being Alive

“Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want, more than all the world, your return.” ~ Mary Jean Iron

A friend of mine posted this prayer of sorts on Facebook today and it really struck me. There’s such a difference between living and being alive. While I was at the beach for two weeks earlier this month, I felt alive and I felt in communion with nature. Since I’ve been back in Los Angeles, the old stresses have returned and I have worked at a daunting pace. (As anyone who freelances knows, this is a blessing and I feel grateful, but at the same time, it’s exhausting to churn from deadline to deadline).

I’ve been aware of the lack of joy in my life this week and it has only been exacerbated by the reminder that while I was at the beach, a tremendous number of my friends’ parents died. I’m at the age where these deaths aren’t uncommon, but they were happening at a startling pace over the past few weeks. 

Additionally, today brought news of the death of a music executive I had known during my Billboard tenure. She had seemed so strong and so indomitable when she headed up a number of labels that the fact that death somehow beat her at a relatively early age doesn’t seem possible and is shocking. My Facebook page has been filled with remembrances by people who worked for her and with her and they’ve only served to make me sad that I didn’t know her better. To the person, those who worked closely with her have mentioned what they learned from her. What a wonderful legacy.  She will live on in all those people every time they use something she taught them. 

Her passing, and all these passings, are just reminders that our time here is short and we don’t know when our time ends. When I was younger, the story about how no one will ever have “I wish I’d worked more” on their tombstone used to bother me because I have been one of the lucky ones: I’ve always loved what I’ve done for a living and feel so unbelievably blessed that I have been able to pay my keep by doing something that gives me, on most days, a tremendous amount of pleasure and enjoyment. Yet, as I get older, I find myself increasingly aware that the sand is passing through the hourglass. Statistically, I should have several decades left, but as many of these recent deaths have shown, that’s not guaranteed, and today was a reminder of that. 

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28 September 2013

Paws Up for the Pet Pantry

We’ve all seen stories time and time again about how people who have lost their jobs or are struggling financially have to make the heartwrenching decision to take their beloved pet to a shelter and plead for someone to take care of it because they can’t deal with one more mouth to feed. 

I’ve heard of people who have lost their houses or have had to downsize into apartments and they couldn’t find ones that would accept pets.

The Pet Pantry hopes to help people caught in tough times. An off-shoot of the Pet Rescue Center in Orange County, California, the Pet Pantry will provide down-on-their-luck, unemployed, and elderly  pet owners with food, litter and other necessities for their four-legged friends (or two, since they include birds).

On the second Saturday of every month, the Pantry will distribute these items free to those in need. Donations from pet stores and other businesses stock the Pet Pantry. Additionally, the program has received grant funding, according to a post on LAist.com 

As Pet Rescue Center Blythe Wheaton tells the website the people who may need the program are the ones who also need the comfort that their animal so freely give. “Pets provide love and companionship in good times and bad,” she said. “People need that these days.” 

Sept. 28: Pet Pantry 

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27 September 2013

Mindy Kaling, I love you

“I always get asked, ‘Where do you get your confidence?’ I think people are well meaning, but it’s pretty insulting. Because what it means to me is, ‘You, Mindy Kaling, have all the trappings of a very marginalized person. You’re not skinny, you’re not white, you’re a woman. Why on earth would you feel like you’re worth anything?’...There are little Indian girls out there who look up to me, and I never want to belittle the honor of being an inspiration to them. But while I’m talking about why I’m so different, white male show runners get to talk about their art.” - Mindy Kaling

I read this today. It’s from an interview with Kaling for Parade and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I’m not sure that the question is insulting, but I think her answer is spot on. 

If you are a woman in this world, if you don’t look like a super model (whatever that even means anymore), you are expected to have a healthy dose of self loathing that you have not achieved this one feat, regardless of what else you may accomplish. Forget about the fact that looking like a super model has nothing to do with someone’s accomplishments, it’s a matter of winning the genetic lottery.  

And sadly, I don’t know any woman who doesn’t buy into it...at least a little bit. If you had told me years ago that at this age I’d still waste a single minute wishing I was prettier, thinner, had straighter hair, could tan instead of burn, had longer legs, etc, my 20-year old self would have told me how pathetic that is. And she’d be right.  And now when I do it, I get to add a further layer of judgment because I know I won’t live forever and I can’t believe that I spent a precious moment of life on such crap.

There’s a series of Dove commercials running now about how 6 out of 10 girls stop doing what they love, usually some sports related, because they feel bad about how they look. One of the girls, about 10, tugs on her swimsuit and it instantly takes me back to being on the swim team when I was that age.  That was my last year on the swim team. I had a killer backstroke (OK, maybe not killer, but good),  but I was chubbier than the other kids and I didn’t feel like I fit in so I quit. That was around the same time that I quit being on the softball team too. All because I felt like I wasn’t pretty/thin enough to keep playing.  Sad, isn’t it? 

Today, I’m giving to  Girls On The Run, a great organization that I can’t believe I haven’t given to before now that trains girls in third-through- eighth grade to run a 5K. The idea, of course, is much more than about running. It’s about cultivating a lifelong habit of fitness, an appreciation for the wondrous things your body can do, believing in yourself, setting goals and meeting them, community, confidence and so much more. I wish they’d been around when I was young. And I wish I’d had a friend like Mindy Kaling, who seems very wise, when I was young too. 

Sept. 27: Girls On The Run

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26 September 2013

Mamma Mia, here we go again...

As you may have seen, Guida Barilla, head of the Barilla pasta company, made some regrettable remarks yesterday. In a radio interview in Italy, he said that the company would not consider featuring a gay couple in its advertisements.

"For us the concept of the sacred family remains one of the basic values of the company," he said. And for Barilla, a “sacred family” clearly consists of opposite gender parents and, I imagine, straight kids.  He then digs himself a little deeper hole by adding, "I would not do it, but not out of a lack of respect for homosexuals who have the right to do what they want without bothering others … [but] I don't see things like they do and I think the family that we speak to is a classic family."  “Bothering others” and “classic family” are the words that I’m sure he wishes he hadn’t said now. 
He then said that if gay consumers didn’t like his company’s thinking, they can eat another brand of pasta.
He went on to say that he supported gay marriage, but was against gay adoption. 
I remain stunned that in 2013 not only does someone hold such a view, but that, as head of an international  company, he isn’t press savvy enough to keep it to himself. 
Today, he’s walked back his comments a little, apologizing  if his statements “offended the sensibilities of some people.” 
While I’m chastising him and disagree with his beliefs, he still has the right to his opinions. His company has every right not to feature gay couples in its ads. Just as I now have every right to no longer buy Barilla pasta. 
Today’s $10 goes to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute, which focuses on training LGBT leaders. Maybe one day someone trained by the Victory Institute will run a successful pasta company that competes with Barilla.
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25 September 2013

Invisible No More

There’s little I find as chilling as book banning.  Prohibiting certain books from being in school or public libraries isn’t the start of a slippery slope, it means you’ve already fallen off the cliff. 

I’ve written a fair bit about how my beloved home state of North Carolina has gone off the deep end lately and it just keeps getting worse and worse. 

A few weeks ago, Randolph County in N.C. decided ban Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” from public school libraries because a high school student’s parent complained, in a 12-page letter, about the sexual content of the 1952 novel. 

The book is a seminal look at African American life in the early 20th century.  Instead of being prohibited, it should be mandatory reading for every high school student in the country. Among the awards “Invisible Man” won are the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction in 1953. Time named it on of the 100 Best English-language novels published between 1923 and 2005. 

So all it took was one very long letter that cited “offending” passages for the Randolph County School Board to vote 5-2 to remove the book from all of the county’s schools. 

But you know what happened?  As I was writing this, I checked to see if there were any new developments after last week’s vote. Tonight, the Randolph County School Board voted to reverse its decision. 

It seems once the ban was announced, a little bit of an uproar started. A bookstore in Asheboro began handing out copies of the book for free to Randolph County high school student. Teachers protested the ban and they spoke at the board meeting about the importance of the book. Hmmm, you’d think maybe they should have let teachers speak at the first meeting last week. The vote tonight: 6-1 to overturn.  YAY! I really didn’t know that had happened when I started writing this. That seldom happens that a wrong is righted so quickly. 

Also, as one news report pointed out, this is 2013. Even if you take the book out of every school library, kids can find it online. While banning is still incredibly dangerous, it’s not going to stop anyone from reading something if they want to. They’ll just find another way to access it. 

Today’s $10 goes to Kids Need To Read, an organization that provides books to underfunded schools, libraries, homeless shelters, etc., all in an effort to get books in the hands of children.

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24 September 2013

(My friend, Sheryl Northrop, has been a tremendous supporter of Causes & Effect since it launched in January and today, I'm proud to post her second guest blog. As Sheryl talks about the urgent need for dollars to fund research for children's cancers, she also reveals how cancer has touched her family in this moving blog. — Melinda)

September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. It seems like the word cancer is so much more prevalent in society these days. Is it because more people are being diagnosed? Or just that as a society we are becoming more aware and more open about discussing it? There was a time not so long ago when it was something whispered, a devastating diagnosis for all involved from the patient to family and friends--but not openly shared.

Today we see cancer patients portrayed in the media whether on shows like HBO’s acclaimed series “The Big C,” in films, in books, or when celebrities such as Robin Roberts or Michael Douglas speak candidly about their own courageous journeys through the cancer experience.  

Few of us are fortunate enough to be wholly untouched by the disease. 

A few years ago, a work colleague started blogging about his own family’s heartbreaking cancer ordeal. Reading the blog I learned a lot, perhaps the most important fact being that pediatric cancers are NOT adult cancers in a smaller body. 

Cancers that strike children are their own monsters and require different battle plans and protocols. 

When my husband was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma in September 2010, our life changed dramatically as we were thrust into the front lines of something that happened to other people!  It became an endless roller coaster of emotional ups and downs, doctor appointments, hospital stays, tests, jumping through hoops at our HMO and endless hours for me spent researching on the computer, talking to doctors, other melanoma and cancer patients, and basically anyone I could about this disease, our particular situation, and options we might have in successfully treating it.  Not to mention taking care of the patient who underwent two major surgeries in two months and our middle school-age daughter. Melanoma is an aggressive cancer that claims thousands of lives every year. While there hadn’t been any new drugs to fight this type of cancer in two decades and the treatments our HMO doctors recommended offered bleak hope at best, we discovered that several new drugs were being tested at the time through clinical trials. We were lucky.

Lucky because we had options. Lucky because thousands are diagnosed with melanoma each year and lucky because each year millions and millions of dollars are spent on research.  Clinical trials, where new drugs are tested on human patients, have kept my husband alive and thus far stable.

Unlike melanoma, breast cancer, lung cancer and some of the other more “popular” cancer varieties, most childhood cancers affect a much smaller percentage of the population. 

Another thing I’ve learned: Overall, pediatric cancers get a miniscule fraction of the funding that goes into adult cancer research and development. Why? Simple. It boils down to money. There is far less financial incentive for drug companies to devote hundreds of millions of dollars to develop drugs for cancers that affect a few hundred new cases a year versus tens of thousands.

But kids get cancer, too. When my daughter Sarah was in first grade, a girl in our area was undergoing treatment for brain cancer. After spending a year in and out of hospital and undergoing brutal chemo treatments and losing her gorgeous curls (but not her indomitable spirit), Marisa finally went into remission. The following year Sarah and Marisa wound up in the same class and became friends. Our friend Andreas is 17 and has been fighting osteosarcoma, a rare pediatric bone cancer, since 2009. I won’t list everything this remarkable young man has been through in the last four years but I can confidently say I have no idea how he or any other cancer kids find the courage and strength to endure the treatments that allow them to wake up and live another day. Something that far too many of us take for granted. 

I learned a lot about what it takes to advocate for a cancer patient from Andreas’ mom, Debbie, who is now one of my closest friends, and probably a big reason why I even knew about clinical trials and how effective they can be, at the very least, in buying time.

Last year Debbie and Andreas introduced me to Teagan Stedman, one of the most remarkable young men I have ever met. Soft-spoken and unassuming, this 13-year-old middle school student is the driving force behind Shred Kids’ Cancer, a Thousand Oaks non-profit he has successfully run since he was eight, when a friend’s brother was diagnosed with leukemia, and Teagan felt compelled to do more than just ask how he was doing.  The organization is run entirely by young people (with adult guidance) and is dedicated to serving the community by offering kids the opportunity to use their creativity and organizational skills to help their peers who are battling cancer. 

Five years later, Shred Kids’ Cancer has raised more than $100,000 for pediatric cancer research and has awarded grants to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA. Sunday morning Shred Kids’ Cancer held Rock The Run, Vol. II, where more than 600 turned out to run or walk for the cause. While I was excited to see so many people (last year’s inaugural RTR brought out 150), it was also bittersweet and an all too real reminder how desperately childhood cancer research funding is needed.

Like 40 other RTR participants, I opted not to wear the official race shirt. Instead I put on a bright red t-shirt with a ladybug over my heart in memory of our sweet “ladybug,” Marisa. Despite being disease-free for nearly eight years, her cancer returned last year and without real options for a clinical trial that might have saved her life, Marisa, a beautiful young woman with a true sweetness, kind heart, a zest for life and utterly contagious smile, passed away in March. She was 15.

-Sheryl Northrop

23 September 2013

Happy Birthday, Bruce Springsteen...

Today is Bruce Springsteen’s 64th birthday. You don’t have to know me that well to know that I am a huge fan. I’ve seen him in concert 45 times or so over 30 years and I can’t wait to see him again. 

Some of the best moments of my life have been spent in the pit at Springsteen shows surrounded by people who enjoy him as much as I do. They are moments of unbridled and uncynical joy for me and I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t have some artist whose music provides them with the same release valve as his does for me. 

It’s so easy to imagine that our musical heroes live gilded lives with no rough edges, but one only has to listen to Springsteen’s lyrics to hear his doubt and his struggles and his joys. But even as a lifelong devotee, I was still surprised when he opened up as much as he did last year in a piece for the New Yorker by editor David Remnick about even being suicidal at times. 

But what really struck me was how easily he was able to look at his own mythology, especially when it comes to playing live, and with a clear eye and appropriate amount of ego, describe what happens when we all come together in trusting communion at one of his shows.  

Springsteen talked about the wounds that scabbed over but never healed from growing up with a distant father and how, even though he made amends with his father before he died, that fuels his no-holes-barred performances. “‘My parents’ struggles, it’s the subject of my life...It’s the thing that eats at me and always will. My life took a very different course, but my life is an anomaly. Those wounds stay with you, and you turn them into a language and a purpose’,” he told Remnick. “Gesturing toward the band onstage, he said, ‘We’re repairmen—repairmen with a toolbox. If I repair a little of myself, I’ll repair a little of you. That’s the job’.”

If you’re a Bruce fan, you may be tearing up a little about now because that’s it. I’ve never left a Springsteen show without feeling like a little part of me that was broken had now been healed. And it wasn’t because Springsteen had some magical power; it was because he was broken too and together we’d be able to stop the pain, even if it was only for a little while. 

When Clarence Clemons died two years ago, I wrote the most personal essay I’ve ever written about what it meant to be a Springsteen fan and how after my mother’s death, Springsteen’s shows were where I went to find comfort. I never questioned if going to as many concerts as I could was an appropriate reaction, I just felt gratitude that I found sanctuary in them. 

Springsteen just wrapped up a tour the weekend, playing Rock in Rio. He performed until 3 a.m. I know there will be a day when there will be no more Springsteen shows, but I hope that day is far from now for both him and me. 

As any Springsteen fan knows, for decades now, he’s allowed local food banks to come into each show and collect canned goods, as well as donations. And he plugs them from the stage. Today’s $10 goes to The Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties in his native New Jersey. 

I've also included links to four Springsteen songs that I love:

"Happy" from "Tracks" because it's the perfect love song for adults who have been lived a little, but still believe.

"Trapped" because not only is it my favorite cover that Bruce does, it's my favorite cover of all time.

And "Born To Run" because it's my favorite rock song. This is a cheesy video from 1985, but I love it for the scene when the thousands of arms waving looks like waves of grain. Beautiful and powerful.

Sept. 23: The Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties

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22 September 2013

The Final 100

After today, I have 100 blog entries left. It’s hard to believe. This is Post No. 265. 

Just like how people who have had a baby remark that they can’t remember what it was like before their bundle of joy arrived, in some ways I can’t remember what it was like to not be posting a blog every single night. It’s become part of my life. And the year is going to be over before I know it. 

I’m feeling very emotional and a little anxious today, probably because I fly back to Los Angeles tomorrow after a great three weeks in my home state of North Carolina. There’s usually a moment when I’m home that I’m aware of the tremendous passage of time and that life goes by so fast; it’s usually prompted by spending time with friends who have known me almost my whole life or by some song that I grew up with. Today, it was when I heard “Born To Run” on the radio and realized that it is almost 40 years old (38, to be exact) and I’m old enough to remember when it was a hit. So maybe it’s not that it struck me that “Born To Run” is so old, but that I am. Events that happened 20 years ago feel like yesterday, especially when I can remember what I wore (and the outfit may even still be in my closet).

In that same way, I’m struck by the passage of time and how quickly this year has gone by. I have so many causes and topics I still want to write about. (A little reminder: if you have a cause you want me to donate to, please let me know. Also, if you’re writing a guest blog, this is a good time to let me know when I can expect it). 

As I mentioned the other day, I’m working on a book proposal about the blog, so I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what the blog has meant to my life and how it has changed me this year. And the answer is that it has changed me in ways small and large and in ways that will last far beyond Dec. 31, after I've penned my last post. 

I have tried to be a kinder person this year, inspired by so many of the people and organizations I’ve written about. I’ve also really tried to be in the moment and not worry about things that may never happen, even when I feel fear about certain aspects of the future. And when bad things have happened, I’ve tried to focus on how fortunate I am and to believe that life will turn out exactly how it is supposed to, even if that doesn’t look like how I’ve wished it would or expected it to.

But mainly I’ve tried to be less self-absorbed and look outward instead of inward. There’s so much beauty out there and I’m so much better able to see and appreciate it when I remember that the world doesn’t revolve around me.  

I saw two items today that really spoke to me and my current frame of mind:

"Anxiety, heartbreak, and tenderness mark the in-between state. It's the kind of place we usually want to avoid. The challenge is to stay in the middle rather than buy into struggle and complaint. The challenge is to let it soften us rather than make us more rigid and afraid."

~ Pema Chödrön

And this essay on Huffington Post, “How to Get Flat Abs, Have Amazing Sex and Rule the World in 8 Easy Steps.” I tried to single out one of the eight steps as my favorite, but I like all of them. 

So I’m rambling and very unfocused tonight and I apologize for that. As this is my last night in Wake County for awhile, tonight’s donation goes to United Way of the Greater Triangle as a little thank you to my home.

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Sept. 22: United Way of the Greater Triangle

21 September 2013

Are You Kidding Me?

Have you heard the story about the former NFL football player Brian Holloway, who found out that up to 300 teenagers trashed his upstate New York vacation home? 

According to published reports, the kids crashed his property over Labor Day when he and his family were out of town and threw a big party on his property causing up to $20,000 damage, including destroying a number of items. Among the items stolen, according to Holloway, was a granite eagle that was the headstone for his grandson, who died at childbirth.  They also, according to various news reports, urinated on his floors and spray painted on the walls.

The kids posted more than 170 tweets while partying at his house, including one girl who posted a tweet holding the eagle. 

So Holloway, who played for both the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders, took the various posts and cobbled together the names of the teenagers who trespassed onto his property and published them on a website, as well as gathered some of the names from people coming forward with the identities of students at the party. 
Now, in a twist that seems absolutely unbelievable, the New York Daily News is reporting that a number of the parents of the partying kids are threatening to sue Holloway for publishing the names because it may hamper their little darlings’ chances at getting into college.  Are you kidding me? 

Part of what makes it even more incredible is that these kids had already outted themselves because, as I mention above, they had to document their partying on Twitter and Facebook, because, you know, if you don't post it on social media, it didn't really happen. So the parents are threatening to sue Holloway when all he did was gather public info that their precious, brilliant little offspring had already put out into the world for everyone to see. 

I read this today, a few days after I read this Huffington Post essay about Gen Y’ers and why they are unhappy that has been making the rounds. These kids would be at the tail end of Gen Y and I hate buying into any of the stereotypes assigned to any such generational tag, but one of the traits that would definitely apply to these gate crashers is that their parents have made them feel like they are all very, very special.  

If I had been one of the those 300 kids, my parents would have had me apologizing to Holloway and on that property cleaning up the mess the next day and I would have been grounded for a very long time. These parents may think they’re protecting their kids, but instead they are setting them up for a life of not taking responsibility for their actions and believing that their parents will always be there to bail them out (literally and figuratively). 

Holloway offered the kids a chance to make amends: Today, he was hosting an event at the home to honor veterans and he requested that the kids come and help clean up their damage. You know how many showed up?  One.

Each of these kids should have to serve some kind of community service. I suggest they do something that will teach them a little respect for their elders. 

Today’s $10 goes to the Boston chapter of  Little Brothers: Friends of the Elderly.  Little Brothers is a non-sectarian program that pairs senior citizens with younger people —teenagers on up, male and female — who do everything from take them on doctors’ visits, escort them to social activities, and, in general, help decrease their sense of isolation. 

Sept. 21: Little Brothers of the Elderly http://boston.littlebrothers.org/index.html

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20 September 2013

Rock Me On The Water...

Tonight’s my last night on Topsail Island. 

I just had my last drink of the trip out on my patio watching the moon shine down on the ocean. It was a concoction my friend Debbie dubbed a Relaxing Sunset. It’s Malibu Rum and pineapple juice and it’s become my beach cocktail. 

These past two weeks have surpassed my expectations. About half way through, I thought, “Man, I could have afforded to spend more time here if I hadn’t committed at the beginning of the year to give away $3650 to charity.”

But you know what? I would have never been here if I hadn’t started Causes & Effects and made that decision to donate money every day. One of the main reasons I started the blog was to change my relationship with money and not hold so tightly to it. As I’ve watched my bank account dwindle this year-- not precipitously, but noticeably--instead of feeling some sense of panic, I realized I still had “enough.”  I don’t know what “enough” means except that I wasn’t worried about paying each month’s bills, which is a blessing and a place that I know a lot of people aren’t in.

It was in that spirit that in March, I decided to try to rent a house at the beach. At first, my plan was to rent for a month, but that wasn’t financially feasible. I also thought I’d rent during the summer, but found the rates dropped after Labor Day, in part because kids were back in school and it’s prime hurricane season on the east coast. As I wrote the check in April to secure the beachfront condo here (the houses were too expensive), I didn’t let myself worry about the money that was leaving my checking account. Instead, I let myself look forward to an adventure that was five months away with great anticipation and would be the closest thing I’d get to a vacation this year. Now is the time to admit that I have a bit of an Eeyore complex: whenever I make longterm plans, there’s always a nagging part of me that thinks, “What if I get cancer between now and then?” or “What if all my freelance work dries up” or “What if...”  or “What if...”  Yes, I know it’s insane thinking and I'm working on that, but there it is laid bare.

So I just decided to believe that, as I was giving away money every day, that one of the bigger lessons for me to learn was to quit putting things off. I found that after I hit 40, the idea of mortality starts to creep in and I no longer thought about delaying for a day that may never come, but I’ve never lived it as thoroughly as I have this year and I have the blog to thank. Yes, my bank account is smaller, but I have had such excellent adventures this year simply because I said “yes.” And with each adventure, I have been in full and total gratitude that I had the money to do it, even if it’s meant cutting back in other ways. 

Speaking of, while I was here, one of my main freelance outlets decided it was eliminating all freelancers. It’s hard for me to even write that because it makes it real. It’s a big financial hit for me and yet I just hunkered down while I was here, worked on my last few assignments for them (this was a working vacation, albeit one with a view of the ocean from my kitchen table/makeshift desk), and didn’t let myself think about how I could have used the money I spent on this rental for necessities. (I also didn't finish the book proposal for "Causes & Effects," one of my main goals while I was here, but there's still time).

Instead, I watched just-hatched baby turtles scramble to the sea as their lives started, I saw a 300-lb loggerhead be returned to the ocean four years after her shell was destroyed by a motorboat, her flippers flapping in anticipation as soon as she could smell the water; I found a poker game and went and played with the locals on the same night that if I’d been in Raleigh, I would have been playing with my dad’s poker gang; I spent time every day on the beach being still, unplugged from my computer and my smart phone, watching the waves roll in and out and in and out; I enjoyed the unbelievably great sunny weather every day; I laughed with childhood friends, my sister, and with new people I met here; I played with Tucker, a one-eyed golden retriever who liked nothing better than to lie down at the water’s edge, off leash, on the wet sand for hours, occasionally barking and digging furiously in the sand, keeping us all safe from some invisible threat, and I sat quietly every night in the living room, listening to the ocean and feeling like my heart beat in sync with the waves. And every morning, I looked out from my loft bed onto the ocean and watched the waves roll in during high tide, welcoming me to a new day. 

Mainly, I felt in total gratitude, full of the realization that we do, to a large extent, get to create our own lives. There is so damn much that we have no control over, but most of us never realize just how much we can control. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to afford to spend two weeks at the beach again, but I do know that I can go to the beach in California a lot more than I do and refill my tank. I can leave my smart phone at home every now and then and not check it obsessively and it’s a good bet that the world won’t implode while I’m offline. I can remember to breathe and take stock of where I am, not where my fear tells me I’m probably not headed. 

So once again, as thanks to the wonderful two weeks I’ve spend in Pender County, I’m donating to a local charity. This time to The Carousel Center for Abused Children. Based in Wilmington, Carousel Center supports child abuse prevention efforts throughout Southeastern North Carolina.

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19 September 2013

Food For Thought

During my two weeks here on Topsail Island, I’ve gotten to spend a fair amount of time talking to locals, including the folks who work in the restaurants that tend to close down as tourist season eases to an end for the year. One waitress shared her struggle with me and my sister yesterday. For her, it means a period of uncertainty as she tries to figure out how to make ends meet between now and when the season starts again in the Spring.  She works hard and she wants to continue working, but there are few opportunities during the off season. Does she pick up and move somewhere else or try to tough it out so she can keep the place she lives in and not have to find a new one when she returns?

A lucky few have managed to snag work at the handful of restaurants here that stay open year round and they’re grateful for it. My waitress on Tuesday had worked as an EMT and fire fighter and made more money as a waitress at a nice, but not fancy, restaurant than she did when she was saving lives on a daily basis. What kind of sense does that make? 

I thought of both of them today as I read that the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would cut $40 billion from the food stamp program over 10 years. I know that it won’t pass in the Senate and that it is largely posturing, just like the 42 times they’ve voted to overturn Obamacare, but it infuriates me. 

One of the biggest realizations I’ve had from writing this blog this year is that we are all in this together. I always knew that, but this year I went from knowing it to believing it to feeling it in my bones. We belong to each other and we have to take care of each other. Also, to think that you or your neighbors or your family members or other people you deeply love will never be one of the people who may need the very services that you work so vehemently to cut is the height of hubris to me.  People opposed to the food stamp program like to bark about the fraud, but study after study shows there is very little. Plus, I wonder how many of them can say how much the average monthly benefit for food stamps is per person? It’s $133.19. No one is getting rich off that even if they’d hoarding the entire amount and are cheating the government. 

The $40 billion reduction would cut 14 million people from getting food stamps, according to the Congressional Budget Office. 

Here’s my favorite part: the bill also includes cutting benefits for “able-bodied adults” (let’s see how that’s defined) between 18-50 who aren’t caring for children to 3 months unless they find at least a part-time job or are in a job-training program. This provision comes courtesy of the same House that has not managed to pass a jobs bill in the last six years and has cut funding for such work programs.

News like this makes my heart hurt because in the world that I see around me, I don’t see people “sitting on the couch...and expecting the federal taxpayer to feed you,” as Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) said today. And I certainly don’t see people  turning down abundant jobs left and right so they can get that $133 per month. I see people struggling to make ends meet and trying to figure out how they can transition from jobs they loved but are now gone to a job that will pay them enough to keep their head above water. They aren't being picky. The jobs aren't there. 

Today’s $10 goes to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, which includes Pender County, where I am now. The Food Bank covers 34 counties on N.C., helping the more then 560,000 people in central and eastern N.C. who struggle to provide food for their families every day.

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18 September 2013

There to lend a hand

(Today's guest blog comes from my friend Peggy Dold. Peggy and I first met when we were both living in New York and were at Billboard. We lost touch for a bit, but over the last few years have renewed our friendship in Los Angeles, much to my delight.-- Melinda)

When Melinda and I first discussed the idea of my contributing some ideas for her daily blog of charitable giving, I was beyond excited.

After all, we each know of a million organizations that are doing great work for others, most of which, I’m sure, need every single penny they can get.

Nevertheless, it took about two minutes for the vastness of this task to sink in:  there are so many organizations doing such good work that trying to select one is a bit daunting.  Do we give to children, to health, to animals, to people enduring hardship (temporary or permanent), food banks, literacy, education, homeless, international relief, disaster relief, local, global, the environment, civil rights, culture, the arts, health, etc?  

My family is from Oklahoma, and while I never spent more than family vacations and one summer there, I have always felt a strong familial connection to the state.  I couldn’t have been more thrilled when an NBA franchise (the OKC Thunder) moved to Oklahoma.  (Yay! A new NBA team to root for, besides the usual suspects in the big markets.)  In fact, when I left New York City (after living there for almost fifteen years), it was to the Sooner state I went, where I established a temporary home,  where I got to know my wonderful relatives, and where I rekindled my  relationship with the man who is now my husband.

A few years ago, a distant family member, a retired RN living in Oklahoma, was volunteering for FEMA.  While she was working at a FEMA site in Louisiana, she had a freak accident, broke her back, and is now paralyzed.

FEMA airlifted her to Oklahoma City where she endured surgery after surgery, rehabilitation after rehabilitation, and where her family (from near and far, none of whom lived in Oklahoma City), stayed by her side for MONTHS.

It was in this scenario that I learned about the Disaster Relief Team arm of the Oklahoma Baptist Convention.  They found housing for my cousin’s family so that they could take turns to be by her side for the many months she was undergoing treatment in OKC . This was a huge gift to her family as they were hundreds (and in some cases, thousands) of miles from their own homes, jobs, and families.

In appreciation for the support this wonderful organization gave to my family during their challenging time, I recommend that Causes and Effect donate today’s gift to the Disaster Relief Team arm of the Oklahoma Baptist Convention. 

I am not Baptist and do not see this donation as donating to a church or to a religion.  Rather, I see a relief team of people who are at ground zero when tragedy strikes, whether it was for my cousin or more recently following the devastating tornado in Moore.   I have no doubt that they know what to do and are working to help those who need it the most.  

-Peggy Dold

17 September 2013

Going Home Again...

Today was a big day in Surf City, the beach town I’m staying in on Topsail Island. Today, the Sea Turtle Hospital released three injured turtles back into the ocean, including a 250-pound Loggerhead named Oceans 11, who had been in the hospital since 2009 when her shell was torn apart by a motor boat. 

When I asked where the release was, the person at the hospital gave me some general coordinates and told me to just look for the crowd. I got there a few minutes before the scheduled release time and as I crossed the bridge over the sand dune to the spot, I saw at least 200 people there for the momentous occasion. During the off season, Surf City only has 400 residents. This was the most people I’d seen in my two weeks here combined. 

There were school children, residents, tourists, turtle lovers, everything but a marching band. It was cause for great celebration. Volunteers carried Oceans 11 down on a palette before setting her on the wet sand to begin her journey back into the ocean. Two other much smaller turtles, Kemp’s ridleys named Sea Star and Blue, were released as well. I’d never heard of Kemp’s ridleys before, but now know they are the most endangered species of sea turtle.

While still being carried, all three sea turtles exhibited the exact same behavior: as they got closer to the water, they began to flex their flippers. It was as if they couldn’t wait to get back home again, to get back into the water they had so dearly missed. It would start about 15 feet from the water's edge and it happened to the turtle. 

I thought about their excitement at going back to their ocean home and I thought about the fact that I’d come back home again too on this trip. Way back in March when I started thinking about trying to spend a considerable amount of time at the beach, I didn’t even look in California, I immediately starting looking in North Carolina. To be sure, I knew that I couldn’t afford to rent an beachfront place for two weeks in California, but it was more than that... there was almost a longing to come back to the ocean I went to growing up in Raleigh (by that I mean the Atlantic, I’d never been to Topsail before this trip). I love the beaches on the Atlantic. The water is much warmer than on the west coast and the     beach area is easier to navigate (I swear, there are times when I go to the beach in Santa Monica where I feel like I have to walk a mile to get to the water the beach is so expansive).

Maybe we all yearn to return home no matter how far away we go or maybe I just have it more on my mind than usual, but as I watched the turtles, the chorus from “Home Again,” a song on Elton John’s forthcoming album sprung to mind: 

"If I could go back home, if I could go back home
If I'd never left, I'd never have known
We all dream of leaving, but wind up in the end
Spending all our time trying to get back home again"

Last weekend, one of my friends from seventh grade turned to me, as we sat on the patio looking out at the ocean during cocktail hour, and said, “You’ve been all around the world and yet you decided to come to Topsail.”  It’s true.  I had to leave North Carolina to make my dreams come true and I’ve never regretted that for a minute, but I hear the siren song of North Carolina calling me every time I come home. Just like the turtles felt today. 

Topsail Island is in Pender County so today I’m giving back to Pender County as a small measure of all the enjoyment I’ve gotten from my time here. Today’s $10 goes to United Way of the Cape Fear Area. The local United Way helps fun 22 programs across the county here, including ones that alleviate children’s hunger, a rapid rehousing program for the homeless, programs for the elderly, and many more. 

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