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Friday, September 16, 2011

More Gratitude, But In Fewer Words.

You know what my high school didn't have? Well... lots of things.

But one thing in particular:  the Cool Kids Lunch Table.  

You know why? Mostly because we weren't in a John Hughes movie, but also because we could leave campus for lunch.

And the cool kids had cars.

Actually, a lot of kids had cars whether they were cool or not. I, however,--even though I was at least moderately cool--did not. Thus, I occasionally found myself stuck at school during the lunch hour when I couldn't bum a ride off anybody else.

On those rare occasions when I couldn't ride along with somebody to the Taco Bandido or the Dairy Queen, I had the choice whether to go through the hot lunch line or eat out of the vending maching. And every once in a while I would give into my hunger and bypass my standard Dr. Pepper and Snickers bar for an actual lunch. But that meant going through the dreaded "lunch line." Which, in all my sixteen year old wisdom, I had deemed as very uncool.

Every time I walked through that line there was a classmate on the other side of the glass partition who served the food. And if it was uncool to be on my side of the glass, it was definitely uncool to be on her side.

I didn't know her well, but in a class of fewer than 200 students it's pretty hard not to know everyone. So I would say hi to her. No big deal. Why wouldn't I? It seemed kind of silly not to when I knew her name and she was standing right in front of me. I mean, clearly I could see through the glass between us.

I don't know when it was--I sort of think at the end of my junior year--but this girl gave me a thank you card.

For saying hi to her.

And, because this is a week of gratitude posts, I'd like to write a thank you to her now.

Dear D...,

Thank you for your card. To you it may have looked like I--walking around in that silly cheerleading skirt-- had all the confidence in the world. But I had all the same insecurities that every teen-ager has. Except I thought I was the only one who had them.

I didn't think I was very special when I didn't make cheerleader my senior year and when the boys I liked didn't like me back. And, I'm embarrassed to say now, it was pretty important to me to have people think I was special back then. I beat myself up over all the stupid things I did -- and there were a lot-- and every little mistake I made.

But your card made me feel like I had done one thing right. I made someone else happy--at least for a moment--without even really trying. All it took was a smile and a hello. And I wish I had realized then how much more important that was than the things I chose to focus on.

So thank you, D, for teaching me how important those two little words are. And for showing me how little it takes to make a difference.



P.S. It's been twenty years and I still have that card.

**Come back Monday when you will see how this post ties into a free giveaway I will be sponsoring to show a little gratitude for you, my readers.***

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Key To Happiness

This week I have a theme for the posts--all two of them-- I have planned. Neither of them will be about writing, so I apologize in advance to those of you who've come to this site expecting to see things of a writery nature. But there will be writing for you to read, so I hope you'll stay for that.

And, while lacking writery things, there will be things of a Mormon-y nature. So, again, I'll give fair warning to anyone reading who was looking for something else. I hope you'll stick around anyway.

Because what my posts this week are about is Gratitude. And not just because it's the first full week of school--even though I am VERY grateful for that--but because it's something everyone can give. Whether you are a writer--or not-- or a Mormon, a Catholic, a Muslim, or an aethist. We can all make the world a little better place by showing more gratitude.

If you've been here for a few weeks, you may remember how my big city girls went to the country and learned how to herd cows. If not, here it is. Read it, then come on back.

Or not. It's not really necessary.The point is, I never said  why my children were herding cattle. I mean, besides me wanting them out of my hair for a few hours the chance it gave them to learn the value of hard work.  They also did it to earn a few bucks. Not to spend on themselves, but because of this (you do have to watch this video. Sorry, it is a requirement to understand the rest of this post. But it will be worth it):

Cute, huh? But I have to believe that mom sometimes yells at that kid. It can't be all cookies and lemonade at their house. Right?

Anyway, that is beside the point, so let's get back to it. My Relief Society* President--who is awesome and one of my favorite people in the whole world--saw this video and decided to organize a ward (this is a funny name for a Mormon congregation) humanitarian mission where families who wanted to participate would earn money to donate for wheelchairs, just like Zach did. She especially encouraged us to get our children involved.

Pretty great idea, right? You know what's even better about it? We live in a place with nice houses, good schools, fancy cars and lots of people who have a lot of stuff. Sound like your neighborhood? And sometimes when life is pretty good, you forget it's not that way for everybody. Especially if you're a kid and you've never seen anything different. Having a lot of stuff seems like the norm, rather than something to be grateful for.

Our family wanted to be involved, but had to figure out a way to do it since the kids and I were going to be gone for a big chunk of the summer. That's why my girls asked my parents' neighbors if they could help with their horses and cows. They came up with the idea themselves and it worked pretty well.

But it didn't earn them nearly what they needed for the wheelchair. For that we had to go to Plan B. Which involved my surfng Afro uncle, his sons and the distribution warehouse they run, and my aunt's idea to set up recycling cans in each of the five breakrooms at the warehouse. The nuts and bolts of this plan were to 1) buy five plastic laundry basket thingys from IKEA 2) make posters about why my kids wanted to recycle cans and bottles 3) take the posters and baskets/make-shift garbages to the warehouse 4) ride around in a golf cart--much to my kids' delight--to the five different breakrooms to set up the garbages and hang the posters. 5) Leave the posters and garbages there for six weeks and  6) let my cousins do the actual work of  emptying the recycling bins when they got full, into garbage bags and then storing them for us.

And guess what? Plan B totally worked. By the time I got back from vacation my cousin, Chris, had a room full of giant garbage bags full of soda cans, water bottles, and juice containers. Many of which were empty, save for the last few sips. So you can imagine that smell after they'd been sitting in a hot room for six weeks.

Chris offered to drive them all down to me, but I sure didn't want those things in my house. Plus, I have a friend who owns a recycling business in Fontana that pays a little better than the ones in Orange County. And, since it was only a thirty minute drive from the warehouse to Fontana and-- having never been to Fontana-- I thought it made perfect sense to just drive the forty-five minutes from my house to the warehouse, then the thirty minutes to Fontana, and finally the hour back to my house. Because somehow the extra few dollars we would earn by going to Fontana would offset the $100 in gas the trip would cost. (This is maybe why I am not an accountant.)

Also, did I mention this friend (who is an accountant and did the math to figure out letting other people haul this stuff around for me would save me a lot of time and money) offered to take all the bags up to Fontana himself?

Yeah, maybe should have taken up those offers.

Instead, on our last real day of summer vacation, I loaded the kids into my still pretty new SUV--which I had just barely paid $40 to get the dirt and cow poop washed out of it-- and drove them to the warehouse where our pile of garbage awaited. The pile, as it turned out, was much larger in real life than in the picture Chris had sent me. Go figure. Again, he offered to let me use his truck to haul it all away, but I refused. Ah, hindsight -- it really is 20/20.

I put down the  back row of seats in my car, looked at our giant pile, then put down one of the seats in the middle row. Girl 1 would have to ride in the front seat, which, instead of illiciting excitment, evoked a panic attack on her part over whether or not I could turn off the airbags. What, the what?  What kid doesn't want to ride in the front seat?

After covering every surface possible with plastic, my cousins and I began shoving garbage bags in my car. The SUV got more and more full, but the pile somehow didn't get much smaller. But, in the immortal words of Tim Gunn, we determined to "make it work." Finally, we made the kids get in and started piling the garbage around them--praying we wouldn't have to pile it on them-- until they were all smushed in there together.

Except for the last bag, which somehow we had missed. Our solution for getting it in was to roll down the back window and then, while I rolled the window back up, Ty kept the garbage from falling out and Chris  shoved the last bag in. Which actually worked, much to the amazement -- and amusement--of the warehouse guys watching their bosses help some blonde chick with three kids haul away garbage in her fancy car.

And, just so you're not left out, here are the pictures:
Do you see how my car-- nay, SUV-- literally runneth over? (Do you also wish I could get these pictures all in one row? Yeah, me too). And, remember that sticky smell of rotten mango juice coming from the room where the garbage was stored? It accompanied the garbage into my vehicle.  

And then-- looking very much like an episode of Hoarders on wheels and without the benefit of vision out of any windows other than the front windshield--we drove to  Fontana. The closer we got to our destination the more grateful I was for the protective cave of garbage my kids rode in. Because Fontana, if not literally, then figuratively, lies somewhere along the border of Tijuana and Las Vegas. Had my kids been able to see out the windows, I'm pretty sure they would have asked why only adults could go to the windowless "bookstores" we passed.

Minutes before we reached the recycling center the realization dawned on me that we wouldn't be able to just drop and go. No, we would have to sort. Because bottles and cans may mix and mingle, but they can't actually go to the recycling dance together. It was also about that time that Girl 2 announced she had to go to the bathroom.. Like, right now.  

After confirming the little cement building constituting the "offices" of the recycling center did not have a public restroom, Girl 2 danced around for the next hour while Girl 1 and I sorted a truckload of bottles and cans into separate wire baskets. Girl 3 chose to sit in the car cowering in fear that one of the five million wasps attracted to the sugary sweetness of our garbage, would mistake her for a giant soda can.

Every so often when Girl 1 and I came across a bottle with water left in it, we would pour it over our hands and feet to wash the sticky away. When we got down to the last of the bottles I wished I'd thought to keep a half empty one for when we finished. Luckily we found one that had a drop or two of water left in it. Also, did I mention how unrefreshing the hundred degree temperature was?.

But here is the result of our efforts:
It might not look like a whole truckload, but those baskets hold a lot bottles and cans and we filled five of them. That was more than anyone else there. I checked.

But then I felt a little bad because I was pretty sure the other people there weren't recycling for charity. And I remembered when we were between houses and lived in an apartment for six weeks. A man would come in his truck and go through the apartment garbage looking for recyclables. When I figured out what he was doing I started saving mine and would watch for him. That man taught me a lesson in gratitude when I handed him those bags.

As we were waiting in line for our turn a man handed me a paper. I looked at it confused until he said, "Use it. You'll get more money for your stuff." It was a coupon that gave me a couple more cents per pound. He didn't know why we were there and there were plenty of other people who he could have given it to. But he gave it to us. Maybe because he thought I didn't know what I was doing and could use all the help possible. Which would have been a pretty fair assessment.

The very nice man who weighed our stuff didn't hide his surprise when I showed him my license and he saw my address. "This is where you live?" he asked. "You came all the way out here?" I just nodded and smiled. He was very happy for us when he announced our total. One hundred and thirty-eight dollars.

We were very happy too because that was more than enough to buy a wheelchair. The good kind. For
someone like this (I know you've been here for a while, but you should get tissue and not skip this part):

or this:

Did you see the looks on their faces? That's gratitude.

And it's priceless.

But it only cost us $138.00 and an hour in Fontana.

We celebrated by driving the hour back to Orange County and eating pizza. And going to the bathroom. Then we went to the lake with some friends and as I watched my kids play in the water with the sun dipping in the horizon, I tried not to think, why me? What have I done to deserve this life?

I don't have the answer for those questions. I just know I won't take what I have for granted when I look back on this experience.

And I hope that's what my children will learn from it too.

* Relief Society is the organization that all Mormon women belong to--whether they want to or not (I personally do want to)--that has been providing relief, as a society, since 1842. Often this relief comes in the form of dinners after one has had a baby, ill health, death in the family, etc. But really, it's so much more than that.