Why I Turned To Writing

 

I lie in bed, turning over again and again, sleep no where in sight. With each physical turn of my body I was breathing new life and energy into the thoughts and questions plaguing my mind, peace and sleep stood no chance. One nagging question was the impetus for this mental storm, refusing to subside until I stare at it in the face, see it and address it. So I rolled out of bed, leaving warmth and comfort, at 1:00am determined to do just that, face my question.

Why? How does a three letter word carry so much power? Despite it’s simplicity in structure, that word has the power to bring even the sturdiest of minds to its’ figurative knees. So here I sit, blinking curser daring me to get it down lest I forget. For yes, I do believe I have the answer.

Bare with me as I take you on a bit of a detour as I eventually answer, why?

I can blame a friend for this latest bout of insomnia. He posed the question while sharing a cup of tea and mulling over my latest writing project. He reminded me that without knowing the “why”, my writing journey would be longer and more arduous than necessary. Why writing?  For years I have enjoyed words. I would play with them for hours. I love learning new ways to string them together, to tell a story, to convey emotion, and using them to capture the thoughts that would keep me awake for hours.  I can still remember toying with rhymes, barely able to write, I would rehearse them for hours until I either fell asleep or give up and succumbed to writing them down. To this day I have a special blue folder filled with random sheets of paper with my scribbles.  Now, not being naturally gifted with words, this is something I have to work at. Yet, loving it as I do, I do just that.

My latest writing project began three years ago,  writing as a means for answering questions that would arise from my profession as a social worker and early childhood educator. My staff loved it and found it helpful, so I kept at it.  I fell into blogging, rather haphazardly, more as a means to an end; a format for meeting a professional need. Yet, I found the process more than moderately satisfying. The challenge lie in answering a question, and doing it in such a way that had my reader nodding their heads and feeling satisfied that they had in fact learned something of value. Even then, I found myself not wholly satisfied after awhile. It was definitely not the writing aspect, though after some tossing and turning and late night writing, I discovered it was the theme of my writing that had me yearning for something more.

As someone who gets an idea and isn’t afraid to literally run with it, I began to write about things that I love. I began mentally writing on my daily walks through my neighborhood.  Thoughts I would have during my walks would turn into ideas for a new writing project.  I began to write about the things dearest to my heart: travel, human connection, urban living and love. Yet, the question still remained, why? Why write about these things in a blog format? I even grappled with scrapping the idea of a blog and just keeping a journal. Yet, it seemed the purpose in my writing was not just for me. I have learned that the greatest gift we can offer the world is to share what we love. Delving deeper into the “why”, I began to wonder why this writing would be important. And in that “wonder” lie the final answer.

One more detour as I round the corner to “the answer”, bare with me just a bit longer.

I was in Paris on Friday the 13th, 2015. I was within close proximity to the horrific acts of that night and I was traveling alone. Yet, before that evening, I had spent three lovely days in” the city of love”, and I wrote about it, in real time. What a gift that turned out to be. For the events of that Friday have since changed me and changed me in a way that just wouldn’t make it possible for  me to capture the flavor of those first three days. For that I am grateful. I am grateful for no amount of fear or chaos can steal from me what those days meant, they are forever captured in my own words for me to relive at anytime, untainted.

In the days following, after cutting my trip short, I struggled emotionally. I struggled like so many impacted directly from the events of that night. I wanted to make sense of something that we can only conjure about. Though in the end we will all have to make sense of it for ourselves. For me it was just another part of this journey. As I wrote about the events of that evening I experienced emotional release, a plethora of emotions that I just did not know what to do with. Though, I discovered it was no different than the emotions I carry around about poverty and homelessness, in short human pain and suffering.  We all, ultimately, want to do something about the things in our world that we find unjust. Yet, so many turn to apathy as coping a mechanism. It seems easier to say “fuck it”, avert our eyes and walk away hands up in the air in resignation. It seems easier than to admit our feelings of helplessness and ultimately inadequacy.

In my own personal journey, the final puzzle piece fell into place when I decided to turn to baking to deal with my crippling feelings of hopelessness. And baking is what I did. My children and I baked over 10 dozen cookies and I packaged them into little baggies to share with strangers and made care packages for the people we cared about. The children shared them with friends and their teachers and I shared them with people I hold dearest to  my heart. I walked the city determined to do what I love, though was having a hard time reconnecting with my gift, smiling and making eye contact with everyone I meet. I found that the events of that Friday had left me disillusioned. So what better way to reconnect with my heart once again than to have in hand something tangible I could share, I didn’t have to worry that I didn’t want to smile, I could just offer folks who asked for money something tangible. And that is what I did. “Do you have some change to spare?”, was answered with “I don’t have any money on me but my children and I just bake some cookies would you like some?” Over 100 cookies later I have yet to be refused. Everyone smiled as I handed them their tiny bundle of homemade love. I smiled and a part of my heart began to heal. A healing made possible through a genuine act of love.

So “why” write? I find value in putting into words and sharing with others my own journey in making a difference. Maybe it is just a smile. Maybe it is just a cookie. Yet connecting with others with a smile and a cookie tells them they are important. It is my way of letting others know that when I look at them in the eye,  I see them and when I see them, in that moment, they belong. Human connection and belonging are the answer, at least to the challenges of world as I see it.  My only hope in writing? Simply to inspire others that they too can find a way to make a difference, for even in the smallest of gestures one can find great love. May you all find the answer to the “why” in your life. For it is in knowing why I write that I feel a deeper connection to my purpose in this life, ever changing, writing allows me to continually understand my evolving sense of purpose.

 Always leave people better than you found them. Hug the hurt. Kiss the broken. Befriend the lost. Love the lonely.” — Unknown Author

Here’s to spreading love and kindness, may love always win.

Your Delightfully Urban Blogger~

 

 


Ode To Motherhood

I sat down to write my yearly Mother’s Day card. It’s not as if I should be short of words for the woman who brought me into this world and,  despite the challenges of life, managed to raise me into a decent human. Yet, every year I wrestle with the words, desperate to find a new way to express my greatest gratitude and perhaps a glimpse of understanding that I had not possessed the year prior. As I sat in that moment, that place between thought and pen meeting paper, I lingered. And in that lingering here is where I landed. Happy Mother’s Day Mom! Thank you for all of your inspiration and wisdom over the years, through all your lessons on life, I offer this.

I had always heard that being a mother is a thankless job. I went into the role with the idea that mom is equated with martyrdom. Mothers do what they do, there is no thanks, you just do it. Yet, this is the year that I came to know and understand, that parenting, that being a mother as I experience the role, is greater than any thanks that could ever be expressed. Being a Mother is in all the little and big experiences that go with the role. It is experienced in every bandaged wound, load of laundry, every sandwich left uneaten, every bed made.  It’s in every sporting event, doctor appointment, birthday party, visit to the principals’ office and yes in every raised voice, every poorly chosen word, every regretful interaction, yes even there. Being a Mother, as I experience the role, is teaching about life, and life is beautiful, raw, and sometimes messy. Yet it’s real. And being a Mother is preparing our children to face this reality with grace, strength, tenacity, compassion and love with patches of tough skin. I’ve come to understand that Motherhood isn’t about being perfect, or providing a perfect childhood. It isn’t about never raising your voice or making mistakes. It’s teaching our children how to be a human being, fallible, beautiful, gracious, humble, proud, brave, and human. It’s about learning to fall, stand up, and sometimes fall again. It’s learning how to surround yourself with a strong caring community. It’s learning to make mistakes, taking responsibility, making amends and moving on. It’s about loving yourself and others in light of our humanness. And what better way to teach all of this than within the framework of our lives as a Mother, as a partner, as a neighbor, as a daughter, and as a friend. This is how I have come to embrace my role as Mother.

And as for gratitude. The real thanks is in all those small things that happen in life. It’s in the tearful thank you when you finish bandaging that wound. It’s in that little hand held out to you reassuring them as the doctor pokes and prods at them. It’s in the rolled eyes when you remind them how important healthy food is for their body. It’s in that lit up face when they slide into home plate. And it’s in the laughter and delight when they blow out the birthday candles a top their favorite cake. It’s also in that moment when you hear your eldest gently reminding your youngest about the importance of being patient and kind to a friend at school who isn’t being so kind in return. It’s that one morning you don’t have to remind them to make their bed. It’s there, in all the little things,  we just have to capture it, take it in, and revel in it’s beauty.

It is also in the big things. Yet we have to be more patient for these.  It’s when they begin to come to you to ask you the hard questions. It’s when they tell you that hard truth knowing that they will face the inevitable consequence.  It’s watching all that you have taught them come to life right before your eyes. It is in the deliberate act of raising amazing human beings. They will grow to love themselves. And through this love they will make loving partners to the partner of their choice. Should they choose parenthood they will make loving parents. They will also be compassionate neighbors, kind strangers, all in all honorable humans. That’s where the real thanks lives. So on this Mother’s Day I honor the work of Motherhood, and to all that embody that role. Your work is the most important work there is, for it is the breath and heart beat of humanity.

So this year, when my children try and figure out the perfect Mothers’ day gift, I won’t tell them what I tell them every year. I won’t tell them that I  don’t want or need a gift, that I only need them. This year I am going to tell them that they are the gift. The most beautiful of all gifts!

Happy Mother’s Day

Remember this life isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.  Take it slow and steady, be gentle with yourself and stay hydrated.

Your Delightfully Urban Blogger!


Fostering Mercy

Since May 2010, Escuela Viva, a bilingual early childhood program I began in 2004,  has shared a neighborhood with a church/dining hall where they feed the hungry. Living in Portland Oregon, we are no strangers to the burgeoning houseless population. Our school community has watched the houseless population grow right before our eyes. Our closest neighbors live in lean-tos, tents and run down motor homes. Portland is often cold and wet, making life for those living on the streets arduous.

As the situation for the houseless grows more desperate, everyone feels it. In our own school community parents worry about how the needs of the  houseless might clash with the needs of their children. We all worry about the safety of those living on the streets, some with addictions, many with mental health challenges, all just struggling to make it day by day. We tried for the last 6 years to work with the city to establish no camping zones  around early childhood programs like ours. Our pleas fell upon deaf ears. We found ourselves frustrated, tired and without hope. Then we stopped. We took a collective breath and decided to regroup and change our approach. Why not work with the houseless, listen to their needs,  share our needs and begin from there? And that is what we did.

Our first “Coffee, Cookies and Conversation” was amazing. At first there seem to be some trepidation on their end, and who can blame them? Everyone wants them to move out, yet move where? Until we can offer better, more comprehensive mental health and addiction services, until a family can afford housing making minimum wage, and until a family can afford to be poor, the best answer I can muster is mercy. Mercy is the act of showing compassion and/or grace toward someone with whom it is within our power to punish or harm. As we demonstrated mercy with our neighbors, their guards came down. They expressed concern with the level of camping near the school. They offered to help do some clean up if we could offer the supplies and perhaps warm dry socks.

 Today, March 18th, 2017 we held our first Clean Up Day. We had a small crew available, mostly parents from our school community. As we began to OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAshare with our neighbors why we were there, many expressed thanks. Several took plastic bags and began filling them with their own trash. I was particularly struck by one neighbor, who shared that he and several others had moved their tents around the corner after our first “Coffee, Cookies and Conversation”. He was clear that he is not a drug user, yet he knows that by moving he is modeling for others to give the school and the kids some space.

A small group of junior high girls and their group leader brought pastries and coffee. They passed out treats to our houseless neighbors and the clean up crew. Watching the girls smile and share joy with each poured cup of coffee, I couldn’t help but feel that we accomplished much more than a cleaner brighter neighborhood. This was merely one of  many steps we will be taking as we work to build a shared sense of community. Yet, today as the rain gave way to sunshine, as we got dirty and cleared away a dumpster full of trash, we moved closer to a common vision of a neighborhood. A neighborhood where we care for one another. A neighborhood where an early childhood program can share space with the houseless.

Watch for the release of DelightfullyUrban merchandise, where 80% of the profits will go to fund sanitary services for the houseless.

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Beyond Tolerance

I roll over, the sounds of the early birds chirping outside my window, ugh! The clock reads 4:22am. Waking at this hour is not unusual for me, unfortunately. Some mornings I can ease back into sleep, yet, this morning, not so much. One of the first images to fill my head is that of Chyna Gibson, a transgendered black woman murdered in Louisiana. Just one of 7 black transgendered women to be murdered between January and the end of February 2017 in the US. The one question that I fell asleep contemplating, and was still with me at 4:22am, why?

One word kept tumbling around in my lucid brain at this ridiculous hour. Tolerance. Sounds nice, right? If only we lived in a more tolerant world? Yet, I can’t seem to embrace this word as others have. It never quite sat well with me. Though I understand the sentiments, I still long for more. The Christian, the Buddhist, the Universalist in me yearns for more. I want home, school,  community and this world that I spin around on to value human life, all life. Perhaps we don’t fully understand one another, I for one don’t understand a great deal, yet I don’t hate or devalue what I don’t understand. I might wonder about it, marvel at it a bit, yet hate?

I know I won’t ever be Jewish (at least I don’t think so), I can’t ever be Black, or Asian, or transgendered, or a multitude of “others”. Yet, isn’t a beautiful idea that we can look at someone and think and feel in our hearts “You are a human being just like me”. On average, in terms of DNA sequence, all humans are 99.5% similar to all other humans. No two humans are genetically identical. Can ’t we start here? With the 99.5% of us that are absolutely the SAME. Yet that .5% is what makes us 100% unique, like no other. Marvelous. Wonderful. Valuable. Extraordinary. Fabulous. It is what sets us apart. It is what fuels this world. We won’t all be mothers or fathers. We won’t all be engineers, teachers, computer technicians, fire fighters, politicians, garbage men, migrant workers, bartenders, authors, activists, mechanics, linguists, students, etc. The world needs all of us to be exactly who we are, it wouldn’t work otherwise. So what blinds us to the beauty of us? Yep, there’s that word again, hate.

I have quoted Shel Silverstein for years. His work has a way of humanizing the silly in us all. Yet there are a few of his pieces, even as a children’s author, that hits home and nails humanity on the head like none other. One poem that I think embraces this notion of a shared “us” better than I ever could is this one:

No Difference

by Shel Silverstein

Small as a peanut,

Big as a giant,

We’re all the same size

When we turn off the light.

Rich as a sultan,

Poor as a mite,

We’re all worth the same

When we turn off the light.

Red, black or orange,

Yellow or white,

We all look the same

When we turn off the light.

So maybe the way

To make everything right

Is for God to just reach out

And turn off the light!

“No Difference” by Shel Silverstein, from Where the Sidewalk Ends. © Harper Collins, 1974. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

We don’t have to live as others do. We don’t have to look the same, sound the same, dress the same, to understand that beneath it all, we are the same. There is great liberation and beauty in acceptance. We can live in a home, go to a school, be a part of a community that honors the uniqueness and the divinity in us all. We can begin to see diversity as our Deities way of creating beauty, a vast array of loveliness just as was intended. The only way, perhaps, for us to get to this place, is for the God in each of us, to reach over and turn out the light. So I begin with me, and I am turning off the light, the light on hate, and will shine a light instead on what binds us all together, love.


Love: The Things I Learned In My Grandma’s Kitchen

Wrinkle and muck free, I find myself anxious (eager not worried) to wipe my dough filled hands for the first time on my pretty new apron. A rights of passage, if you will. With my new uniform on I feel legitimate in my kitchen, a true and “real” cook and baker. Don’t misunderstand me or my skill, for I am not a chef nor a professional baker. Nor are my creations particularly creative or something that would inspire a culinary review. Yet, my kitchen is the one place I turn to (besides a dance floor) when I am feeling introspective or sad.

IMG_5908IMG_5689Sometimes I wonder how things come to be. How did it come to be that the kitchen would prove such a comfort and place of solace? When I close my eyes and image my favorite moments in a kitchen there is one image that comes to mind over and over again. A small girl, maybe 4 years of age, perched upon a metal stool, feet swinging in pure joy in the dead space between her feet and the floor, a smile adorning her face, eyes wide as she watches her grandma, mesmerized by the magic performed by her hands. In awe she watches as her grandma takes flour, water and shortening to create piles and piles of homemade tortillas. Her grandmas face wearing a slight smile, her hands flying in effortless motion turning over the dough, over and over, the sound of the dough pounding the cutting board with each turn, using her weight to push out and spread the dough evenly into perfect round shapes, her skill unmatched by anything this little girl has ever witnessed.

I haven’t the time to describe to you all the amazing meals this little girl had the honor of watching come together in that kitchen. For everyday this dedicated and loving woman created by hand breakfast, lunch and dinner for all those she loved. With 12 children and a growing number of grandchildren, she spent much of her day in the kitchen doing what she loved, feeding all those she loved. Every single grandchild can tell you about that moment, the sweet moment when those two hands would reach over and take one of those freshly made tortillas, still hot, steam rising from its surface as she spread butter round and round as it melted with ease, sprinkling cinnamon and sugar and passing it to you. IMG_5690There are no words for the pure joy that moment would elicit, the way the tortilla sat in your hand, warm and soft, the way it seemed to melt in your mouth,  your eyes would close as you sought to savor the moment. Everyone of us can tell you about that moment, that moment when you felt the love from that warm tortilla, the tortilla she made with intention of sharing all that she had. As a woman who grew up in extreme poverty, making simple foods with great love is what she had to offer. It is one of the greatest gifts she passed on to me and all those she loved. And oh how she loved us!

As a little IMG_5724girl, I sat witness day after day, every morning I could get myself up early enough any way, to learn what she knew about food and love. I learned so much in that kitchen, lessons that I carry with me every day and every time I step into my kitchen and put on my apron. I will do my best to honor all she taught me:

  1. An open door is an open heart: welcoming all into your home with a smile on your face is the ultimate act of love, simple yet profound.
  2. Sometimes the only thing you have to offer is a warm cooked meal, yet with love in your heart, even this simple gesture has the ability to warm the coldest of hearts.
  3. The sounds and smells from the kitchen have the ability to elicit healing. Warm homemade chicken noodle soup really has no healing properties, it is the love and concern that went into the creation that has the real healing power.
  4. Make enough to share. Grandma always cooked as if she was feeding an army, though the number of people who would stop by and be fed sometimes equaled the size of a small army. It is the warmest of feelings to be able to feed those who stop by.
  5. You can make a delicious meal with the simplest of ingredients. I learned to use my intuition when creating a meal, I learned to use what I have on hand, and that I don’t need a recipe. I learned to cook from the heart.

The kitchen is the one place I know I can turn to to reconnect to all that she taught me. I know she looks down on me now, with that smile, that smile that says she approves.

In honor of Valentines Day I challenge us all to think of love beyond romantic love, encouraging us all to spread a little extra love to those in need, even if it is just a smile. It is in sharing love with others that we find the secret to happiness, as I learned from my grandmother. For real love, in it’s purest form, is giving what you have. Sometimes the best kind of love is in the smallest and simplest of gestures.

Here’s to love dear friends.

Remember this life isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.  Take it slow and steady, be gentle with yourself and stay hydrated.

Your DelightfullyUrban Blogger~