Sunday, November 23, 2014

2014 Gratitude Festival Day #21: Books from Childhood

As a little girl, my favorite happy place...the place I felt most safe...was sitting next to my Grandma Parker on her bright pink velvet couch as she read stories. She always wore a brightly colored house coat, coordinating house slippers and a complimentary string of beads always rested around her slender neck. Her hair was white and fluffy and her bifocals were carefully decorative. She always smelled of white Tic Tacs and always had a little box near by. My favorite book...our favorite book...was a tired copy if a book titled "Miss Sniff." This book records the adventures of a little black cat, perfectly named Miss Sniff, who engages in a series of wild unexpected adventures. All images of this kitten were covered in black velvet which I would carefully touch....on every page....each time we read this story. When I close my eyes...nearly thirty-five years later... I can see the images printed on the thick paper pages. Thanks to this book I learned important words like mischief and peculiar and i discovered than cats can easily fall into buckets of yellow paint should you choose to freshen up your exteriors. My sweet Grandma most likely read this story to me well over one hundred times. I loved her. I loved this book and when she died this book moved from her house to mine. Most if the velvet has now been rubbed off, the binding is brittle and the art work has faded but it does not matter to me. Books are life long treasurers. Today I am grateful for the books that shaped my childhood. Reading...the practice and the process took years to appreciate and only happened thanks to the concerted effort of a skilled mentor and educator who taught way outside the box. Today, I am grateful for the books that shaped me. Grateful for my textual lineage. Grateful for the rhyme and rhythm if Dr. Seuss. Grateful for Judy Bloom and Beverly Clearly....they must have been BFF's...don't you think?. And mostly grateful for Miss Sniff and the love that only a Grandmother can provide.

2014 Gratitude Festival Day #20: Salt Lake Bicycle Collective

So. Tonight it became clear, once again, why I love working for YouthCity. One of the backbones of our program are our community partnership and tonight I got to take a van full of sassy Latino teenage girls (and one very love able and brave fifteen year old boy) to the Salt Lake Bicycle Collective for their weekly Earn-a-Bike class. The mission of the Bicycle Collective is as follows: “to promote cycling as an effective and sustainable form of transportation and as a cornerstone of a cleaner, healthier, and safer society. The Collective provides refurbished bicycles and educational programs to the community, focusing on children and lower income households.” YouthCity has had a longstanding partnership with the Bike Collective for well over a decade and we’ve sent hundreds of kiddos to these weekly classes. When you give a kid a bike you change the landscape and scope of their whole world…and when a kid learns how to build their own bike…two wheels, some miss-matched brakes, and a once rusty chain quickly transition from a bunch of random parts into endless tickets to freedom and exploration.
I have not been to the Bike Collective in years and I so loved walking into their large garage where random bicycle parts hang from every square inch knowing that anyone can walk in and get help building or repairing a bike. This faithful non-profit has come a long way in the last decade and it was exciting to see each workbench full of bike enthusiasts happily tinkering, creating and constructing. Grateful for the smell of greasy tools and grimy hands. Grateful for the rows and rows of bicycle rims, handle bars, cross bars, and fenders. Grateful for the bins and cans and boxes of random gears and breaks and spokes and chains. Grateful to know these bike enthusiast not only recycle just about everything…but they will happily show you how everything works. Grateful for the wall of well used tools and loved on workbenches. Grateful to know that there is not only room for all…but all are welcome. Grateful for the encouraging words spoken by the Bike Collective staff to our sassy-pants ladies…whose well-manicured hands confidently grabbed well-worn wrenches and greasy sockets and knew exactly what to do with them. Long live the Salt Lake Bicyclist Collective.









Wednesday, November 19, 2014

2014 Gratitude Festival Day #19: Concentric Circles

In 1913, a celebrated Russian painter, Wassily Kandinsky, started painting circles within circles within circles carefully placed into rectangles and then each carefully aligned one after another. I’m a big fan of his painting “Concentric Circles” and I’m a big fan of many of his others. Grateful for primary colors. Grateful for thoughtful repetition. Grateful for bold combinations and simple pairing. Grateful for oil pastels…they are like crayons…but on steroids…grateful for the accessibility of great works of art….today I am grateful for Wassily Kandinsky.

2014 Gratitude Festival Day #18: Ukulele Masterminds

Grateful for those.... And let's get real this applies to all of us....who become experts at....something. Perfect the apple pie. Keep an emaculate yard. Write and send timely thank you notes. Learn how to fold laundry like a champion. Organize and bag groceries like nobody's business. Become the carpool mastermind. And like this guy....become the world's best ukulele in the whole world. Grateful that there is as much passion out there as there is diversity. Grateful for the drive and ambition that lies inside each if us and for the knowledge that we are all really good at something. Grateful that gifts and talents are...diverse...and...unique...and personal...and...sharable...and tonight I'm grateful that this guy...Mr. Jake Shimabukuro thought it would be cool to explore a little a Queen....check this out....well worth 10 min....

2014 Gratitude Festival Day #17: Maya Angelou

Throughout this year, my reading list has intentionally included several books penned by the ever talented Dr. Maya Angelou and I must admit I wished had read her work sooner. Grateful for the way she weaves words with her varied experiences and how she both commands her life and the English language. Grateful for her personal vision and for the perspective she inspires others to develop. Grateful for her endless honestly, directness, and willingness to admit fault, error and individual blind spots. She wrote about life. She wrote about life and love and family and loss and art and sex and work and freedom. Most of her thoughts were simply and originally hers first and published as an after thought. Her books provide not just an anthology of her life but a record of the journey, and more specifically, the journey women of color often experience. Grateful for her inspiring words and the way they are making me think. Grateful that a pasty white girl from Salt Lake City can so we easily connect.

2014 Gratitude Festival Day #16: Warmth

Grateful for socks, sweaters, long sleeved tees, blankets, my warm bed and home.

2014 Gratitude Festival Day #14 and #15...Adoption

Did you know that November is National Adoption Month? I'm not really sure who or what kind of committee gets to decide which month is assigned to each good and worthy cause (and to be honest, I’d like to get in on that action…but that is for another day) and without question, I think identifying November as National Adoption Month is incredibly appropriate. Over the last two years, Burke and I have read about and researched the process of adoption. We’ve participated in conference calls and webinars. We’ve attended informational meetings, training classes and conferences. We’ve sent email. We’ve made phone calls. We’ve met with dozens of birth Moms, adoptions agencies, and adoptive parents. And with each new bit of information and after listening to one story after another…we always end up in the same place….WOW, this whole messy, complicated, gut wrenching, nuanced, laborious, inspiring, and restorative process is not just life changing…it’s incredible… and you can’t really talk about adoption without touching on gratitude and landing at thanksgiving.
Without question…we are grateful for the last few years of focused study and for what we’ve learned. Grateful for the good people who have and continue to share THE most vulnerable parts of their lives with us so we can make better and more educated decisions about ours. Grateful for the courage and faith that fuels this dynamic process….adoption ain’t for sissies! Grateful for the countless demonstrations of kindness and generosity and love shared by total strangers who when they learn you are interested in adoption hug you so so tight then grab you by the hand and willingly share their adoption story reassuring you that you are not crazy and that you can and will actually survive the process. Grateful for how these perfect strangers become instant thought partners, cheerleaders, examples, resources...they are not just or only a community…they become family… as they buoy you up with hope and then happily help connect you with everyone in their adoption network. Grateful for those who trudge (and that is not too strong of a word) through the unknown emotional land mines connected to creating families…not through biology…but through kindness, sacrifice, faith, friendship, trust, love and a whole lot of hope. Grateful for new friends who are teaching me to hope and continue to shine light and truth into the dark emotional places that only infertility can create. Grateful that the State of Utah has successfully recognized Burke and I as “fit” and has issued us a Utah Foster Care License….hallelujah and hot Damn it’s finally official..SO Grateful we survived that a vetting process that makes the DMV look and feel like Disneyland. Grateful for birth Moms and bio Dad. Grateful for the legion of adoptive parents who make it look easy and freely admit that it wasn’t. Grateful that each day...with each article read, meeting attended and information exchanged…we are closer…just a tiny bit closer to our “one day” kiddos and our forever family.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

2014 Gratitude Festival Day #13: Kids Cafe

Part of my new gig with YouthCity includes assisting with an incredible program called Kids Café. According to the Utah Food Bank website, Kid’s Café provides a hot nutritious meal to more than 1,700 low-income kiddos daily and these meals are provided each night for free at close to 35 schools and recreation centers. Agencies and organizations agree to host this program and organize volunteers to help serve these meals on a daily basis. There is nothing fancy about this food…but it's warm….it’s nutritious….it’s free….and it happens everyday rain or shine. Each night, one member of our team is assigned to help organize and distribute these meals. Then at 5:00 p.m. we stop our classes and activities and the kiddos enjoy some grub. Not just YouthCity kiddos but any child 0-18 years can eat for free...every night... and I love this program. Providing this program, with its scale and consistency, is no small task and I am both humbled and amazed by the impact it has on not just the hungry kiddos but on me…watching this happen on a daily basis is evidence that there is still good in the world....and that goodness comes in many forms. Grateful I get help out. Grateful for the generosity found within our community to help kids and families gain access to good food. Grateful for those who cook in mass, package in mass and then transport these meals throughout the Salt Lake Valley. Grateful to know these little deserving bodies have access to milk (always chocolate), some kind of fruit, some kind of veggie and some kind of main dish protein...for free...everyday.... And then on Fridays, our kiddos get a sack full of food to take home and enjoy over the weekend. Utah Food Bank for the win…and Taco night is the all time favorite…

2014 Gratitude Festival Day #12: Cheryl Strayed

Last night, along with an auditorium full of like minded people, I attended a lecture given by Cheryl Strayed, celebrated author of "WILD: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail." This inspiring memoir is one of the texts I devoured this summer as part of my personal walk about and quickly became a new favorite. Not only did I enjoy her writing style but this raw, honest and meaningful account of her personal grief journey provided another example of how authenticity requires us to willingly walk into the unknown...come what may. Her experience has been made into a movie staring Reese Witherspoon opening this December and I have a feeling it’s going to be a good one. Below are some of my notes from tonight followed by one of my favorite passages from her book WILD. Should you want or need a new favorite, I recommend you check this out. Grateful I got to hear her speak...I knew she and I would become BFFs. Grateful for her insights and personal courage to blindly walk into the unknown and do a hard thing. Grateful for my ability to was a hard one skill and something I am forever grateful for.
Quotes & Notes from her lecture:
"How is it...that we bare the things we can not bare? "
"I had to let my body carry the weight."
"What does it feel like to lose an essential person?"
"Why has our society made grief a private solo experience?"
"What is fierce maternal love? How does it happen? How do you develop it?"
"We continue to discover new layers of our lives"
"In the movie of my life...I was in the drivers seat."
From the book:
"The clamor of 'What have I gotten myself into?' was a mighty shout. It could not be drowned out. The only possible distraction was my vigilant search for rattlesnakes. I expected one around every bend, ready to strike. The landscape was made for them, it seemed. And also for mountain lions and wilderness-savvy serial killers.
But I wasn't thinking of them.
It was a deal I'd made with myself months before and the only thing that allowed me to hike alone. I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked. Every time I heard a sound of unknown origin or felt something horrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn't long before I actually wasn't afraid." - Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

2014 Gratitude Festival Day #11: Frosty Windshields are for Lovers

So, it's quickly becoming winter in Salt Lake City and both socks and jackets are now required. We are not yet at the mitten or parka phase but we are close. Burke always leaves before I do in the morning and I'm normally racing out the door with my phone, jacket and overstuffed bag in one hand and my breakfast and keys in the other. Today, when I opened my front door, I was overcome with the bitter cold and this image....My lover generously scrapping frost off my windshield and car windows. Does it get any better? Such a sweet gesture. Such a sweet guy. Grateful I waited...he was well worth it. Grateful he loves me far better and more than I deserve. Grateful my frosty cold morning commute was much faster and far more pleasant than I had expected.

2014 Gratitude Festival Day #10: Too Sleepy for Stories

Hanging out with a pajama clad five year old nephew tonight who respectfully told me, with droopy sleepy eyes, that we did not need to read the entire book because he had played and learned all day, had already read it before and he really just needed to sleep. Of course I complied with his request and much to my chagrin we proceeded with the bed time ritual even as I really enjoyed reading his book about space. Grateful to be Aunt Liz and grateful we live close enough to be part of his life.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

2014 Gratitude Festival Day #9: Covers

Covers. Not bedding or blankets but songs made famous by one artist but then artistically reinterpreted by second artist. Sometimes the best way to spend a chilly Sunday evening in early November is to hang out with your lover and listen to moody covers. So often, I find that I enjoy the reinterpreted version of a song far better that the first run. This is not always the case as some classics should remain just that….a classic…but sometimes….mood and song permitting….I’ve got a lot of love and appreciation for those who can take a second or third pass at something great and produce something just as good as the first. Grateful for how technology has made music so much more accessible. Grateful that I can enjoy a broad collection of musicians and artists on demand and from the comforts of my favorite chair. Grateful that my overall CD collection and exposure to music dramatically increased when I met Burke. Grateful that I can share a few of our most recent favorites below. Should your interests be perked…google and youtube at will….
“You’re the One That I Love” – made famous by Olivia Newton John – made much better by Angus & Julie Stone
“500 Miles” – made famous by the Pretenders - made much better by Sleeping at Last
“Higher Love” – made famous by Steve Windwood - made better Vincent Mc Morrow
“Everybody Hurts” – made famous by R.E.M. – made better by Jasmine Thompson
“Wrecking Ball” – made famous by Sweet Sweet Miley Cyrus – made WAY WAY better by The Gregory Brothers
“Must Have Been Love” – made famous by Roxette – made better by Kathleen Edwards
Blackbird – made famous by the Beatles – never replaced but enjoyed just as much by Sara Niemietz
“Wonderwall” – made famous by Oasis - equally enjoyable when preformed by Ryan Adams
“Crazy” – made famous by Gnarls Barkley – much improved by Daniela Andrade

2014 Gratitude Festival Day #8: HOPE

H O P E. Today, I am grateful for hope. Sometimes, and more frequently in last few weeks, when I close my eyes and take a quick breather, I picture myself wearing flippers and a brightly colored snorkel mask...and I'm happily swimming around in my own little kiddie pool full of...hope. Grateful for the endless opportunities connected to the unknown and the total confidence I have that God has a plan for me. Grateful to be watching so many big and little details fall into place. Never when or how I expect. Rarely according to my timeline. But hopeful in the future none the less. Right now...I am happily floating in my very own pool of hope. So so so grateful for hope.

2014 Gratitude Festival Day #7: YouthCity at Sorenson Unity

Today marks the completion if the first week of the new YouthCity at Sorenson Unity After School Program. Grateful for the space to create a new learning environment for some much deserving kiddos. Grateful for the funding that affords kick balls, skate boards, paint and brushes, glue sticks, field trips, computers and vans so these kiddos can get sweaty and dirty and messy all in the name if experiential learning. Grateful for the willingness and trust demonstrated by my new staff as we leap head long into another one of my crazy ideas....this dream team consists of former YC parents, former YC kiddos, and seasoned leaders from within the Glendale did I get so lucky? Grateful for my YouthCity colleagues....these men...and these women... are excellent educators... exceptional people...and my best friends. Grateful for a boss and mentor who, even when knowing the good, bad and ugly that orbits around me...invited me back into the fold. Grateful for my new partners and neighbors at the Unity Center whose patience, acceptance, and professionalism have made us feel welcomed and supported. Grateful for the support of overworked yet dedicated teachers and school principals who have shared excitement for this new program and have encouraged their kids to attend. Grateful for the grant writers, city councilmen and woman, and forward thinking city leadership for securing funds for this fifth YouthCity site....this herculean project only took ten years of data collection, ten years of needs assessing and ten years of compelling politicking to secure....TEN YEARS! Grateful for the 14 kiddos who have walked through our doors this week and who, with bright eyes and in a hopeful tone, asked, "Is this for real?" And "Can I come....everyday?" Grateful we made it to Friday. Grateful there are more checked boxes on my to do list than tasks (that is for now, anyway). Grateful for my education...both the formal study and the lessons offered up through past programs, experiences, and parents. Grateful for the collection of once children who are now adults...this cohort...these young people... have without knowing it helped me forge the raw day to day into a semi-refined teaching practice. So so so grateful that I get to do the thing I love the the city I love most...with the people I would always choose first to work with. Grateful to work in the field of education and to have had the chance to spread my wings a bit over the last five tears...and to have found....okay, realized...that my secret sauce is actually hanging with kiddos everyday after school. Grateful to know....and I mean really get that I'll exchange travel and fancy conferences and meetings in impressive boardrooms with national experts for carpool and dodgeball and backpacks and "meeting on the carpet" any day. Grateful to be able to do what I the city I love....with the people I love. Grateful that this work feels less like work and more like meaningful fun. Grateful that I don't get the pit in my stomach on Sunday night when I think about the upcoming week...this has not always been the case and the ability to realize these to my core...makes all the difference. It's not lost in me how blessed I am to be working at YouthCity again. So so grateful.

2014 Gratitude Festival Day #6: TED Talks

TED Talks. Do you have a spare18 minutes? Are you in need of a little inspiration? Ever wanted to learn from some of the most interesting, well respected, successful, and engaging thinkers, doers, and action takers of our time? TED Talks so easily make my gratitude list for this year. It's like nerd central. It's like nerd-vanna. Like thousands of people around the world, TED is my nerd happy place and I visit this site weekly.
TED is a conference that is held in various cities and invites real world experts to share their best and brightest like an 18 minute presentation. The speakers are as diverse as the topics and I treasure this information source. Pick a topic or search by presenter. Grab your favorite beverage and settle in. Be open to learning something new. I love information. I love learning new things. I love exploring an internet rabbit hole and TED never disappoints.
Today I am grateful for a TED talk that I randomly stumbled on this summer presented by Dr. Brene Brown. Little did I know how my soul needed to not only hear her words but explore and apply her research. After watching these TED Talks my personal study, research and reading list have expanded in a critically important way. Grateful for TED. Grateful for the things Brene has helped me learn and understand. Grateful for my new understand of shame and vulnerability and their connection to real inner peace, self compassion and success. Check it won't be disappointed.

2014 Gratitude Festival Day #5: Nature I am grateful for the colors that only nature....and Crayola...can produce....

2014 Gratitude Festival Day#4: Jimmy "Funny Boy" Fallon

Jimmy "funny boy" Fallon. Some days we watch the Tonight Show in the morning as we get ready for the day. Some times we will catch a clip or full episode before bed. We never watch it when it originally airs and always find him to be funny and he seems to be a generally nice person. We love his clean sense of humor and his desire to make people laugh at least once is one of our favorites.....Truth...or...Lies....grateful his whit and talent and creativity.

2014 Gratitude Festival Day #3: My Personal Geek Squad

Over the last 24 hours, I've experienced a modern day scare of epic proportions. My trusty Macbook Pro of five years...the machine that powered my entire graduate program, facilitated the last leg of my professional career and has archived all personal communication, documents, photos and music for the last five years.... killed....blanked out...froze....choked....sputtered and then would not reboot. This version of modern day paralysis is...well terrifying. Lucky, I married a super nerdy computer guys who in addition to his real career is a moonlighting member of "THE Geek Squad." I knew it was serious when he started prepping me as to the possible fatality of my information and called in equally nerdy brother Sam for back up. I've now witnessed what happens when "The Geek Squad"...calls in "the Geekier Squad." After some brainstorming and an exchange of nerdy words and acronyms that I could not follow or understand a multi-tiered action plan was established, extra parts and cables were purchased and fueled by a plate of chicken, pasta and broccoli my personal IT team went to work with me hopefully ringing my hands near by. As luck would have it, everything came back to life after their first intervention and I'm back in business. WHEW! Once we found signs of life these two nerdy bookends proceeded to debate and discuss the merit of all actors who have ever played James Bond (for like the million-eth time) and then ranked the quality of James Bond theme songs singing selected verses... And in a variety of voices and accents. All in a days work. All information and files are currently be transfered to a magical spot on "the cloud." All things have returned to normal. And I think I'll be able to breath again. Grateful for a quick and mostly painless recovery process. Grateful for technology as a whole. Grateful for my personal Geek Squad(s) and their ability to valiantly rescue a damsel in serious distress.....oh, and for the record.... I vote for Roger Moore...and its a tie between "For Your Eyes Only" and "Gold Finger."

2014 Gratitude Festival Day #2: Ellen Snow Rich

Two weeks ago, our new niece, sweet Ellen Snow Rich, made her way into the world and into our hearts. Nothing beats a brand new baby! Sweet Ellen makes 24 nieces and nephews for Burke and I and we love them all to pieces. Several are now married and have entered the grownup world (how did this happen?), two are on LDS missions exploring the far corners of the globe, a handful are high school dinamos, a couple of them are triumphantly conquering the throws of middle school, and as a family we are single handedly preparing a small army within the ranks of several elementary school classrooms. The brightest and most sassy are currently rockin pre-k and baby Ellen is easily the cherry on top. Burke and I spent the night eating soup and apple crisp with Ellen's big brother John and her parents and could not have had a better time. Babies! Nothing in this world beats a new baby. The gooshy armpits. The tuffs of feather like hair. The squeaks and gurgles and wandering gazes. The smells. All sorts of perfection wrapped up like a burrito. One time...we hope sweet baby Ellen will have a few more playmates and cousins to pal around with. Until then...we've got plenty of love to spread around the other 24. I read this quote by Robert Gay today and think it's got Ellen's name and all her Rich And Robinson companions written as all over it:
"Let this one absolute truth sink into your mind and have the power within you to astonish this world." Grateful for the chance to watch this magic unfold. Grateful for our siblings and their extraordinary children. Forever grateful to be Aunt Liz and Uncle Burke.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

2014 Gratitude Festival Day 1: Blankets of Falling Leaves in My Backyard.

Ahhh…November…I just love you! The nutmeg. The sweaters. The bowls of steamy soup and fresh baked bread. The extra blankets at the foot of the bed. Lingering pumpkins now transformed on front porches and fireplace mantles….and the collective focused energy and attention given to counting up ones blessings. 2014 marks the third year of my personal gratitude festival recorded both here on facebook and on my blog Love em’ or hate em’ here goes….

Nov 1 – What I am thankful for today:

The blanket of copper, yellow, golden rod, and burnt sienna leaves now happily resting in my back yard. These leaves were once firmly attached to those trees and once the last one falls we will think about bagging them up but for now…I love this sight. Life in the red brick duplex has been terrific in so many ways and without question watching the seasons change outside my kitchen window will absolutely make the list. Love the color. Love the texture. Love the diversity. Love the random patter that only nature can provide. Not really loving the idea of bagging all of these up…but that will be addressed at a later time. Today, I am grateful for falling leaves and purposeful gusts of wind.