10 powerful books

One my blogging friends (Joss at Crowing Crone) invited her readers to participate in book sharing exercise: specifically, to list 10 books that have stayed with us in some way. As I jotted down a few titles that came immediately to mind, I thought I might as well put the list on my own blog so that others could read (and share), too.  Now, I’m not sure that I’ll come up with 10 titles, but here are some texts that have truly impacted my life:

1) One Child by Torey Hayden

I read this book when I was eleven years old at the recommendation of my best friend. I was appalled by the brutality described, but amazed at the incredible resiliency and love shared between “strangers”.  My eyes were opened: to pain, yes, but also to the fierce compassion humans can share with one another.   I grew up a little bit in reading this text.

2) Alcoholics Anonymous by Bill W

The principles in this book (along with the community that helped me understand the semi-antiquated language, as well as practice the principles embedded in the text) literally saved my life.  I’m forever grateful to this author, his words, and the millions of humans who share these insights “for fun and for free”.

3) The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I first read this text in French as a sophomore in high school; and I absolutely adore the profound wisdom embedded within a “child’s” book.  I also love the language itself; hearing French words always soothes my soul.

4) How Computers Work by Ron White

My first foray into computer science was in 2006, as part of the required curriculum for my Master’s degree.  The instructor of the “Computers 101″ class was patient and personable, and this sole text that she used made the internal workings of computers accessible and understandable.  I still apply the knowledge gained from that class and this text in my life – even seven years later.

5) Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh

I read this entire book on a three-hour plane ride (from Minnesota to Florida) – and when the wheels of the air craft landed on the runway, I felt truly peaceful.  The simple-yet-beautiful writing appealed to my mind – and the concepts struck a strong chord with my soul.  This text was a significant one on my path towards exploring Buddhism.

6) My Stroke Of Insight by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor

I first heard about Dr. Taylor via the TED Talk she gave in 2008.  I was immediately intrigued by the opportunity to read about a first-hand account about the experience of a stroke from the POV of a neuroscientist – and was fascinated by both the science and the emotion that Dr. Taylor’s book delivers.  Her experience also affirmed for me that inner peace really is possible, and got me to seriously consider opening to ways in which I might try to cultivate that sensation in my own life (minus the stroke part).

7) Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

“If you are a dreamer, come in…”  I encountered this book when I was 9 years old, and it was the first text that made poetry accessible to me.  In addition to the welcoming tone of the book, I also adored the lyrical sounds of many of the poems, as well as the fantastic illustrations (which look so easy and carefree, yet are deceptively complex – just like the writing).  A professional is anyone who can make something difficult seem very easy, and Shel is a master poet and storyteller in this regard.

8) Cesar’s Way by Cesar Millan

When my husband and I decided to adopt our two pups, I knew I needed to learn the basics of how to effectively interact with a dog.  My family had animals throughout my youth (dogs, cats, guinea pigs, hamsters, fish…), but none of our animals were really ‘trained’ – so while I knew how to love a dog, I didn’t know how to appropriately communicate with it.  In preparation for the big adoption I had been watching old episodes of “Dog Whisperer“, and the logic behind the methods used on the show made sense to me.  So on a plane ride from Florida to Minnesota in the winter of 2011, I read all 298 pages of Cesar’s Way – and I can honestly say that I saved myself (and our pups) a lot of confusion and headaches as a result of following the advice in the text, and that I have the best relationship with animals that I have ever had.  I owe Cesar Millan many, many thanks; his text truly allowed me to see how amazing a relationship with animals can be.

9) A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

One of my blogging friends turned me on to the Appalachian Trail – and Bryson’s book hooked me even deeper into the topic.  Now, please note that I’m not an “outdoor” kind of gal, I don’t enjoy camping, and I think walking the entire AT would be a miserable experience – yet, for some reason, I am fascinated by this trail.  (As in, I ordered the official 2012 trail guide because I just needed to learn more about the details of the journey.)  I can’t explain my completely illogical fascination with the Appalachian Trail – I just know that for some reason, it holds a very powerful allure for me. Thanks for nothing, Bill Bryson.  ;)

10) The Spoken Word Revolution by Mark Smith (and others)

I won this book at a local poetry slam (I came in second place), but it was the accompanying CD that knocked me out.  Hearing poetry professionals perform their poetic works was completely new to me – and this experience turned me on to podcasting, which has since filled my brain with info on so many topics I otherwise never would have the slightest clue about.  I’m a firm believer that knowledge is power – so I deeply appreciate how this text provided a vehicle to help me attain a helluva lot more ‘power’ in my life.

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Well, look at that – I was able to come up with 10 books after all!  I’m sure the second I publish this post, a flood of other titles will wash over me, and I’ll think, “Now why didn’t I mention that book on the blog?”  Alas, this is the list I have right now, so this is the one I’m sticking with.  (For the time being, anyway.)  :)

If you want to share your top 10 (or 8, or 11, or 15, or however many) books, please feel free to do so.  Comment, write your own blog entry, send me an email – I’m always open to learning about other goodies to read.  :)

Bookshelf

Stef

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No Lilo, just stitch

Hi everyone! This is a super-quick post letting you all know that I have created another blog.  (Because I don’t have enough going on in my life, I know….)  I have many reasons why a new blog makes sense to begin right now, but I won’t bore you with those details.  Instead, I’ll share with you the basics:

  • The new blog is focused on crocheting.  (So if you enjoy yarn-based crafts, you might like it.)
  • Each post is brief, and contains a picture.
  • The site contains an updated “About Me” section – so even if you aren’t partial to crafts, you may want to check it out at least once if you want to learn a wee bit more about me.  :)

You can visit the new blog here: http://toyingwiththread.wordpress.com

If you like what you see, feel free to “subscribe” to it (look near the top of the right navigation column).

And as always, I welcome your comments about it (or about anything else you may have on your mind or feel like discussing).  :)

Okay, that’s it.  Short and sweet.  Thanks for reading!  I’ll now return this blog to its regularly scheduled topics.  ;)

emergency broadcast system

Stef

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You get what you give

I don’t often get to be the passenger in a car, so getting to sit on the right side of a vehicle today was a nice change of pace.  As my sweetie maneuvered us along the freeway, I took the opportunity to gaze out the window, and allowed my attention to drift and rest wherever it wanted.

People watching is very pleasurable to me; as our auto passed a variety of vehicles, I peered for a few seconds into the lives of other passengers.  College kids driving solo, young parents chatting while their babies slept in the back, older parents staring straight ahead while their children watched a movie, military men and women caravanning to their post, professional truckers hauling loads of various shapes and sizes….all of us in such different places in our lives, driving with such different purposes and intentions – yet all sharing the same road.

Anyway.  As my sweetie passed a semi, I looked up at the cab (like I nearly always do), and the driver noticed my gaze.  I smiled – and this man literally did a huge double-take.  It was as if no other person on the road had ever smiled at him before – and it was awesome to witness this big, burly, craggy older man immediately soften, simply by me sharing a very small (yet obviously very powerful) action.  Wow.  Cool.

———————————————————————————————-

An hour later, my sweetie and I arrived at his parent’s house.  A yummy dish was simmering in a crock pot, and I mentioned that whatever was cooking smelled delicious.  My MIL informed me that the dish was a vegetarian chili; then she corrected herself and said, “Well, it’s actually vegan.”

A few minutes later, she pulled out a cookbook to make biscuits – and I was so touched when I saw it:

Everyday CV.pdf, page 1 @ Preflight

I have recently begun consuming a 100% vegan diet – but no one else in the family is vegetarian, much less completely animal-free.  To see my MIL make such an effort to not only respect my dietary choices, but to proactively make food options that allowed me to be included in the family meal, was incredibly touching to me.

It was my turn to be so surprised by another person’s thoughtful actions that I had no other choice but to smile broadly and spontaneously – which I absolutely did.

:)

Stef

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An “average” day

Since I don’t have children, am not in school, and do not care for elderly parents, some people wonder what I do on the days when I’m not working.

Today was a day full of strange experiences – and yet, this is also a semi-accurate reflection of how a “standard” day in my life often goes.  The specific events and occurrences tend to change from one day to the next – but the randomness of them all is a common theme I experience often.  Now, as it’s currently the end of the day and I’m tired, I’m not going to spin this post into a lovely literary tale; instead, I’ll give you a bulleted list of the highlights:

  • 3:30 am: One of our puppies insists that he must go outside – RIGHT NOW.  Unable to sleep through his whining, I get up, put him in the yard, then bring him back inside.  He then protests that he is HUNGRY.  Unwilling to feed him just yet (since I know that will only cause problems later in the day), I bring my pillow to the living room sofa (so that at least my sweetie can sleep undisturbed) and catch another hour of shut eye.
  • 6 am: The puppies have been fed, and seem to finally be content.  I slip into the shower – and when I exit 10 minutes later, I see a large wet spot on the carpet.  Yup, it’s puppy pee.  Sigh.
  • 8:30 am: After getting the carpet, myself, and the puppies all squared away, I head off to yoga class.  But traffic on the freeway is unusually congested; after navigating through two surprise construction zones, I arrive to the studio just in time for class.
  • 11 am: As I approach my car (parked a block away from the studio), I see that one of my tires looks saggy.  Upon closer inspection, I see that it is flattening rapidly.  Shit.  Fortunately, a full-service auto station is literally three blocks away from the yoga studio – so I gently, cautiously, and slowly drive my injured vehicle there.
  • 11:45 am: The incredibly kind service station attendant reports that a nail had punctured its way into my tire (thanks to the 8:30 am construction zones, I’m certain), but that he was able to patch it, and my vehicle is once again drivable.  He charges me a mere $17, which I am happy to pay.  Many thanks to him for helping me get back on my way!
    • (Side note: When I arrived at the service station at 11 am, one woman was sitting in the lobby area, waiting for her flat tire to be repaired.  She noticed her deflating wheel ten minutes before, and drove from three blocks away!  Kooky, eh?)
  • Noon: I stop at Whole Foods to grab some lunch.  But I first need to visit the restroom – where I encounter a whiny 2-year-old girl and her mother.  I can sense the mom is losing patience with the child, so I smile gently at my fellow female adult and laugh lightly.  “Just remember, she’ll grow older,” I say in an effort to be encouraging, and to hopefully help the mom cope a tiny bit more. It works; the mom looks at me, smiles back, and chuckles.  “You think after three kids I’d have this all figured out,” she replies good naturedly.  I respond, “Yeah, darn kids and their independent thoughts and opinions!”  We exchange one more smile, and I leave the mom to return her attention to her daughter.
  • 12:15 pm: I have secured food, and head to a small dining space adjacent to the grocery area of the store to find a seat.  A table opens up just as I arrive, and I gratefully sit down.  Thirty seconds later, an older man approaches the dining space – and his brow furrows as he sees every table occupied.  However, the table I’m at has two open seats, so I look up at him and say, “You can sit here and dine with me if you want; I don’t mind…”  He looks at me a bit uncomfortably (most of us Minnesotans simply don’t eat with strangers), but seeing that this space the best option available to him at the moment, he hesitantly accepts my offer, and slowly sits down.  He thanks me for being willing to share “my” space with him, and we each turn to our respective magazines and dine in a shared-yet-comfortable silence.
  • 2 pm: I take a break from some writing I had been doing, and scan my Facebook feed – where I see a link to an awesome webpage that details out very creative steps a mother/father pair have taken on behalf of their two young girls.  I laugh out loud at some of the images – and quickly draw attention to myself as the other patrons in the otherwise semi-quiet coffee shop turn to look at me – the girl who has the audacity to laugh out loud in a public venue.  Eh, whatev.  I’m having too much fun to care.  :)
  • 2:15 pm: The coffee I have been sipping for the past two hours has arrived at my bladder; I pack up my things and head to the restroom – where I see two odd-yet-cheeky signs:  
    The image outside the door of the ladies' restoom.  This was fairly indicative of how I felt.

    The image outside the door of the ladies’ restoom. This was fairly indicative of how I felt.

    A small plaque on the inside of the ladies' restroom. I guess a good experience in there makes everyone feel great!  :)

    A small plaque on the inside of the ladies’ restroom. I guess a good experience in there makes everyone feel great! :)

  • 3 pm: I drive to a discount store to do our weekly household grocery shopping.  (While I love Whole Food’s products, I am unwilling to pay their exorbitant prices for ‘standard’ nutritional fare.)  As I walk from my car to the store entrance, I see three huge seagulls dive-bombing the spaces between various parked cars.  I live in a land-locked state in the Midwest, so I have no idea how sea gulls even found their way here; why they are out in a metro parking lot is even more peculiar…
  • 4:30 pm: Having returned home, I put away the newly purchased food stuffs, then take our puppies out for their afternoon walk.  We approach one of our pup’s nemesis, a shaggy mutt who lives on the corner of the block.  The big dog starts barking, to which our smaller pup starts yapping in return. The owner of big shaggy mutt quickly approaches, looks at her dog, and sternly says, “No bark!”  I laugh out loud, and before I can stop myself, call out, “Yeah – good luck with that!”  The woman looks at me, and I smile – which helps her to not take herself so seriously, and she smiles and laughs in return.  Whew!
  • 7 pm: I load the dishwasher with the various pots and plates that were used to make supper, drop in some soap, and turn the appliance on.  Two hours later, the ‘time remaining’ display reads: “1 minute”.  (The normal wash cycle is 90 minutes.)  At 9:15 pm, the display still reads: “1 minute”.  I give the appliance ten more minutes, but it continues to tell me that 60 seconds remain.  I manually power it off, ending its perpetual state of almost-doneness.
  • 9:30 pm.  I slip into bed, and listen to a talk for a few minutes before preparing to surrender to sleep.  The speaker’s discussion focused on accepting everything that comes to each of us; that life will happen, and that at times we will experience gain while at other times we will have to face loss.  We will receive both “pleasant” things and “unpleasant” things; we will see beginnings and witness endings.  But all/none of these things has to be a “problem”, persay.  Pain is unavoidable in life – but suffering is option.  I realized that through each of my crazy experiences today, I didn’t fight or judge, but simply went with it.  I lived what the speaker described.  Whoa.  Cool.

Hopefully this satisfies some folk’s curiosity.  For me, this is just a day in the life, kids.  Just a day in the life.

Stef

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#19: Buy Cookie Cart cookies

As a young girl I spent several years in Girl Scout Troop #247.  (Don’t ask me how I can remember that number when I forget so many other details of my life; it’s funny what items stick in a person’s mind…)  My troop was a very active one (thanks Mom), and we did our fair share of badge-earning activities: camping, cooking, sewing, volunteering, cleaning, flower arranging (hey, it was the early 1980s – these were ‘critical’ skills every girl needed to learn, apparently…) – my sash was crowded with small circular patches.  Yet we had to finance all of these fun and interesting activities somehow; as you might guess, our funding source came from selling cookies.

Each winter my dad dutifully took the colorful order form to his office – where his colleagues were genuinely happy (incredibly happy) to commit to purchasing boxes and boxes of cookies.  Likewise, my mom brought the form to her numerous commitments: church, choral practice, bowling league, hair salon… And I carried the form door-to-door through our neighborhood, ringing doorbells, smiling nervously when the homeowner appeared, and asking the adult if he or she would like to buy some Girl Scout cookies.  Many said no, but a blessed few said yes – and I felt relief that I wouldn’t return home empty-handed.

Despite these fund raising efforts, participating in Girl Scouts still came with a financial price.  Uniforms had to be purchased, monthly dues paid… Looking back, I now recognize that being a “Brownie” (a young Girl Scout) or a “Cadet” (an older elementary-school Girl Scout) was a privilege only kids who lived in middle-income families could afford.  While this adult knowledge hasn’t turned me off to the merits of the Scout organization(s), it does make me a bit sad.

Three winters ago, as I was walking in one of the city’s many skyways, I saw a small group of teenage girls standing behind a folding table, selling cookies.  Thinking that it was quite unusual to see Girl Scouts older than 10- or 11-years-old, I slowed my pace as I approached the adolescents.  Reading the sign next to a few bags (not boxes) of cookies, I learned that these girls were selling sweets for an organization called “The Cookie Cart”.  Hm. Thinking that this might be some type of lemonade stand attempt, I kept my gaze forward and my feet moving as I walked past the kids.  When I got back to the office, I sat down at my desk and quickly Googled “Cookie Cart” – and frowned at the missed opportunity.  Now disappointed that I didn’t stop and buy a bag of sweets to support such a positive organization, I silently promised myself that the next time I saw The Cookie Cart, I would make a purchase.

Despite keeping my eyes open every time I travel in the city skyways, I have not encountered Cookie Cart kids since that day three years ago.  At this point, I realize that if I am going to have an opportunity to make amends for the cold shoulder I gave those kids several winters back, I am likely going to have to create the opportunity myself.

Fortunately, The Cookie Cart has a retail location in addition to the mobile stands they pop up throughout the city. Now all I needed was a “reason” to make a special trip to the Cookie Cart bakery (apart from simply checking this item off of my 101 list).  This year for Veterans Day my work team made plans to honor two of our peers who are former military men – and I was put in charge of morning coffee and treats.  Voila – the perfect impetus to benefit two good causes with one action.  Cookie Cart, here I come…

Okay, so maybe not the most appetizing choice of promotional vehicle...

Okay, so maybe not the most appetizing choice of promotional vehicle…

I visited the Cookie Cart’s website and located their hours.  They open at 9 am on Sundays, which worked out perfectly for me.  I arrived at the shop around 9:15 am…

03_cookie cart vision

…walked through their front door…

04_cookie cart front door

and saw:

02_empty bakery case

A completely empty bakery case.  Hmm, that’s odd.  But then I thought, “Well, maybe they’re just running a little behind…”  I approached the counter, and cleared my throat to get the attention of the teenage girl sitting at an office desk with her back to me.   She turned around, a little startled. “Hi,” she said warmly, but also a bit confused.  “Can I help you?”

“Yes, I’d like to get some cookies, please,” I answered, with a slightly uncertain tone.  This scene felt odd…

“Oh, well, we’re actually not even open yet,” the girl replied.  “We open at 10 am.  But I can help you,” she offered, her tone genuinely kind.

My brow immediately furrowed.  “Um, okay, but your website says that you’re open at 9 am on Sundays…” I stated, with notes of confusion in my voice (and on my face).

“Yeah…” the teen tittered, clearly embarrassed.  I could sense there was a behind-the-scenes story at play, but the teen offered no additional explanation. “But I can help you right now.  What can I get you?” she asked again.

I pointed to the empty display case. “But do you even have any cookies made?” I asked her, my voice betraying the uncertainty I felt about this endeavor thus far.  How could she help me if no cookies were available?

“Oh yes,” she reassured me, “we have everything ready to go.”  She nodded towards the bakery area adjacent to the retail space.

05_cookie cart bakery

“What kind of cookies would you like?” the girl tried one more time.

I quickly scanned the menu.  At least ten different flavors were listed.  I immediately decided to keep things as simple as possible.  “I’ll take a variety pack.  A dozen cookies, and you chose the specifics.  Okay?”

The teen nodded in agreement, smiled, and headed to the back to load a small box with cookies.  A few minutes later she returned, and gently placed the cookie box on the counter.

06_cookie box

She stated, “That will be $8, please.”  I pulled my wallet from my purse.  Seeing me reach for a credit card, the young woman said, “Oh,” then paused.  “I’ll need to get the cash register from the back,” she continued, then turned and began to walk away.

“Hang on!” I called out after her.  She stopped.  “You know what?  I’ll just give you exact change.  Eight dollars, you said?”  I pulled out a 5 and three 1s from my wallet, and offered the bills to her.  “How about we just keep this easy, eh?” I smiled.

The teen smiled back at me, and gratefully accepted the cash.  “Thanks!” she responded.  “Have a great day!” she offered, as I began to make my way to the door.

“You too,” I replied.  And I meant it.
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At my office the following morning, the cookies were a big hit.

07_cookies

My colleagues got to choose from chocolate chocolate chip, “vanilla” chocolate chip (i.e., standard chocolate chip), iced pumpkin, and ginger snicker doodle.

My peers gleefully dunked ginger cookies into coffee and chomped through chocolate chips, and the veterans we were honoring were genuinely touched by our thoughtfulness.  In the end, the cookies benefited multiple people – and that’s the best result I could have hoped for.

Stef

Post Script: Cookies, coffee, and cards are one very small way to honor the sacrifices former military men and women have made for the benefit of the rest of us.  To provide a bit of support to help both vets and active troops (as well as their families and loved ones), consider engaging with one of the following resources:

  • Operation Helmet: For $35, you can provide a service member helmet pads to help protect against traumatic brain injury.
  • Pets for Vets: Pairs shelter dogs with veterans in an effort to ease the emotional wounds of war.
  • Operation Shower: Celebrate an expectant mom whose husband is deployed or injured.
  • Books for Soldiers: Look up specific requests for reading materials, DVDs, games, and relief supplies from members in all branches of the military, then pack the items with a letter of thanks and ship them off.
  • VA Volunteers: Join the Veteran’s Administration’s Volunteer Transportation Network and drive veterans to and from their appointments for services.
  • Operation Give: Donate toys and school/art supplies that our troops can then distribute to local children in the areas where they are serving.
  • 100 Entrepreneurs Project: Sign up to teach a class or be a mentor to wounded veterans interested in exploring business opportunities after they leave the hospital.
  • A Million Thanks: Send a holiday card
 to service members and veterans.
  • United Service Organizations (USO): A nonprofit organization that provides programs, services and live entertainment to United States troops and their families. The USO is always in need of both financial contributions and volunteer hours with a wide variety of tasks and projects.
  • Operation Gratitude: Send a care package filled with snacks, entertainment items and a personal letter of appreciation to U.S. service members deployed in hostile regions, their children left behind, veterans, first responders, wounded warriors or their care givers.
  • A personal connection: Know a vet, or a family with a deployed military member?  Do something special for him/her/them.  Never underestimate the impact a card, meal, offer to babysit, or a few hours of yard work can make in their lives.
Veterans-Day

Deep thanks and appreciation to all who help keep us safe and free.

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#10: Go on a peace walk

When I was a child, my mom was very active in a church community.  As a result, my sister and I attended weekly Sunday School classes, participated in Vacation Bible School each summer, and stayed at sleep-away church camp when we were old enough to be gone from home for a few consecutive nights.  We three ladies also sang in the church choir (my mom in the adult choir, my sister and I in the kids’ group), played hand bells in the instrumental choir, and participated in the Christmas play every year (many of which my mom organized).  We also took part in additional opportunities that arose: everything from making and selling pretzel doves during Easter, to babysitting kids in the church nursery, to walking in the annual CROP fundraiser.  While I don’t necessarily agree with all of the theology that I encountered during my childhood, I do have many positive and happy memories as a result of various church-related experiences from my youth.

When I went off to college, I dabbled in a variety of faith traditions.  Upon graduation, I moved to Minneapolis – a city that offered me a promising job, but a location where I knew literally no one.  Eager to make friends (or at least acquaintances), I quickly sought out groups to which I could belong.  Christians are supposed to be accepting and loving people, so I located a church that felt like a decent fit, and became a member of their choir.

Following my mom’s example, I also participated in other opportunities and gatherings hosted by that church community.  An event that particularly intrigued me was a monthly “peace walk”.  I had never heard of such a thing before, and was curious about what a peace walk might entail.  One evening I asked a fellow choir member if she knew anything about the peace walks, and she informed me that they were a time when members of the congregation met outside the sanctuary doors, then broke into pairs and literally walked the city streets surrounding the church with one another, silently praying for the well-being of all who lived in the area.

As a young, pretty, naïve white girl, I didn’t feel comfortable walking the urban (sometimes violent) streets after dark with another equally ill-equipped church member.  I simply didn’t trust that our good intentions would mean much to a gang member should we all happen to cross paths.  So I made the decision to pass on that opportunity, but to keep my eyes open for another chance to experience a “peace walk”, as I really was quite interested in the idea.

Fifteen years later, an opportunity to participate in such an event was delivered to my front door – literally.  While reading the local community newspaper a few weeks ago, I scanned an article describing the area’s annual “Sleep Out” events.  The Sleep Out is a fundraising campaign for a nearby nonprofit organization.  Hundreds of Sleep Out events occur during the holiday season (this year the campaign runs November 9 through December 31), with the most visible endeavor being a physical display of homelessness: citizens trade their comfortable beds and warm houses for a sleeping bag and tent, and receive donations from sponsors for every night they are able to endure the winter air (and sleet, and snow, and whatever else Ma Nature decides to throw down).  A big block party/educational gathering formally starts the campaign – and before the festivities begin, everyone in the area is invited to participate in a prayer walk to help set a proper intention for the two-month-long operation.

I’ve been a fan of the organization’s work for many years, but know myself well enough to know that me sleeping outdoors in frigid winter weather just ain’t gonna happen.  But, I can definitely help support the efforts of the group (and of all the volunteers who support the organization) by walking through a local neighborhood and spreading thoughts and feelings of peace and love for families that might receive help from, or offer assistance to, the nonprofit group.  Now that I am older (and at least a little bit wiser), I no longer have so many of the concerns that I did as a 20-something.  That, and the area I live in is quite a bit safer than the inner city streets.  (This isn’t a prejudiced comment, but simply a fact.)  Anyway…

The afternoon of the kickoff event was cloudy and gray; by the time 5 pm came around, the sky was very dark.  In addition to the somber atmosphere, the evening air was cold (37 degrees F) and incredibly windy.  I bundled up in my long red coat, wool socks and hat, and heavy mittens – and hoped for the best.

I arrived at the non-profit’s main building at 4:50 pm – and only 10 other walkers were present.  I suspected the turnout for this event wasn’t going to be massive, so I wasn’t surprised to see such a slim number of people.  Still, given the popularity of sleep out events in this community, I was a little dispirited that more people weren’t present to begin the experience with a strong start.  However.  At 4:58 pm, a busload of students arrived.  They quickly exited the huge vehicle and spilled out into the parking lot, chatty and animated, borderline hyper while simultaneously a wee bit aloof, in a wonderfully complex balance that only 12-15 year olds can muster.

The lobby of the nonprofit building quickly transformed into a quasi middle-school hallway, complete with all of the kidding, jostling, spats, and quick recoveries that students of their age rapidly cycle through.  Once the last kid had entered the building, a young minister gave a shout out to everyone for coming, then led us all through a very brief (i.e., 20-second) prayer.  Once we all said, “Amen!”, we headed outside to begin our journey.

When I signed up for this event, I envisioned myself walking silently with other similarly contemplative adults, internally praying for the well-being of all sentient beings in the area.  Instead, I was surrounded by incredibly talkative adolescents whose last priority was prayer.  Unable to escape stories of awful teachers and tales of unrequited romances, I turned my thoughts to the kids around me, and hoped that they all made it to college without driving their parents insane.

In truth, all of the teens I encountered during the hour-long walk were really good kids – they were just, well, adolescents.  They were trapped in bodies surging with hormones and impulsiveness, dealing with minds filled with insecurities and over-compensations, and managing hearts that desperately want to be loved – and I can’t fault them for any of those things.  Actually, I think most humans are intimately familiar with these frustrations and desires – it’s just that these kids haven’t yet learned how to integrate all of this inner “stuff” into a sense of self that won’t drive them (or others) crazy.  I’m confident most of the kids I observed will get there – it will just take some time.  This perspective helped me smile at the cocky kids, and pray for the scared ones.  Anyway…

With the support of a formal police escort, our group of 100 (or more) people walked a quarter-mile to a local church, and entered a large lounge. I wasn’t expecting indoor “breaks” in the evening walk – but I will admit that I was happy to get some respite from the harsh wind.  Once our group was fully inside the building, a female pastor turned on a microphone and said, “Good evening everyone!  My name is Jane, and I’m thrilled to see all of you participating in this prayer walk!”  Immediately, the group of kids unanimously responded, “Hi Jane!”  I happened to be standing next to the young pastor, and he and I looked at each other with genuine surprise.  No one had told these kids to reply to any greetings they might receive – they just collectively decided it would be a nice thing to do.  Under his breath, the pastor chuckled and quietly said to me, “Wow – that just sounded like an AA meeting.”  I stifled a laugh – that was exactly what I was thinking, too!  Funny.

Jane then proceeded to tell the first part of a story about a client who had used a variety of services provided by the non-profit organization.  At the end of the three-minute account, Jane asked each person in the room to take a slip of paper from a nearby table and write a brief prayer for the client we just heard about.  Jane would then take all of our prayers and create a paper chain out of them, which would be displayed in the non-profit’s main lobby as a visible sign of community support for their work, as well as for all of the individuals who use their services.  A very nice gesture.

My prayer slip.

My prayer slip. (My handwriting takes after my dad.)

After the majority of us finished our brief written prayer, the young pastor rallied the group, and we headed back outside.  We met up once again with the patrol officers who cleared half of the street for us, and walked another quarter-mile, arriving at a gas station.  One of the station’s service doors lifted, and we were instructed to head inside an open garage space for our next break/prayer mission.  At this stop, a different youth pastor shared another part of the client story, then asked us all to engage in a few moments of silent prayer for the client and her family, as well as to ask for guidance on how each of us could be of service to others in the world.  I was genuinely surprised when all 100 kids stopped their perpetual chatter, and allowed silence to enter the space.  At that moment, my being filled with a sense of appreciation for what we were cultivating.  In a dirty, greasy garage, a crowd of young individuals wearing all styles of crazy attire were letting go of their incessant focus on self, and were turning their attention towards supporting a faceless stranger through an earnest conversation with the god of their understanding.  The beauty of the moment almost made me cry.

Praying for guidance on how to be of service.  (In a service station – get it?  Clever, eh?)

Praying for guidance on how to be of service. (In a service station – get it? Clever, eh?)

After sixty seconds of silence, the lead pastor once again marshaled the group, the police once again managed the street traffic, and we walkers journeyed another five minutes to our next stop, which was another church.  This time we entered the sanctuary of the building, where a female pastor told the final part of the client story, then engaged the group in a lovely call-and-response prayer.

04_sanctuary

05_prayer

After a few seconds of reflective contemplation, the primary pastor/leader “lit a lamp” (i.e., flipped the switch on an LED storm lantern), signifying that the light of god was now shining brightly and was to lead us through the Sleep Out experience.  With that, the young pastor led our group out of the church and back onto the street, where our police partners helped us walk back safely to the non-profit’s main building.  We returned on-site at exactly 6 pm.  Wow.

When we arrived, we found the parking lot transformed into a festive outdoor party area.  A live band was playing at the far end of the space, food trucks lined the opposite end of the asphalt, and the middle of the lot was dotted with fire pits and space heaters for people to congregate around as they enjoyed food, music, and camaraderie.  Additionally, a sole yellow tent was pitched on a small plot of grass, ready to house the first brave souls who were willing to begin the “sleeping outdoors” portion of the Sleep Out.

06_tent

As our peace walk group descended onto the scene, kids began to disperse.  Our formerly single large mass of humanity quickly broke into small clusters, and a party vibe quickly replaced the previously contemplative mood.  Not really wanting to dine on food truck fare, I walked past the party lot and continued one block to my parked car.  As I entered the silent space, I engaged in a few moments of reflection.  Certainly this experience was not at all what I expected it to be; but as I considered the previous 60 minutes, I realized I was quite happy with the experience I received.  Actually, no, let me make a correction: I was really happy with the experience I received.  If “the children are our future,” then I feel that we are all in good hands.

Here’s to a successful Sleep Out – and I hope we won’t need this event for much longer.

Stef

Posted in 101 in 1001, day zero project, postaday, wplongform | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

#59: Check out the observation deck at the Foshay Tower

Every culture has characteristics that make it unique from others.  Germans are notorious for being so direct and honest that often times they border on harsh, whereas Indians are raised to be so collaborative and accommodating that at times their refusal to make a clear choice can be crippling.  Canadians are known for being mellow, Brazilians for being festive, Irish for being feisty, Italians for being passionate… and we Americans, we’re known for our culture of “-est”.

The United States promotes a culture of competition.  Capitalistic, individualistic, and materialistic, to “succeed” in America is to have the biggest, loudest, flashiest, richest, best thing possible.  To be the smartest, fastest, sexiest, liveliest – these are the traits of admired people in the US.  So it’s no surprise that most businesses, cities, schools, and governments fall into this trend, and the people who comprise each group strive to make their organization the stand-out in their desired pursuit of –est.

For many years, the Foshay Tower boasted many attributes of –est.  It is one of the most unique skyscrapers on the planet, being the only building in the world modeled after the Washington Monument.  It was also the first skyscraper built west of the Mississippi River – and at the time of construction, was one of the glitziest buildings around.  For 42 years the Foshay also enjoyed the distinction of being the tallest building in the state of Minnesota (the IDS now stands as the highest human-constructed structure in the state), and the Foshay remains home to the only open-air observation deck in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.  By 21st-century standards, the Foshay is more ordinary than outstanding; but for many years it was a genuine city jewel.

Despite having worked in downtown Minneapolis for my entire adult professional career (over 16 years now), I have never taken time to explore the Foshay tower.  But this Sunday, I found myself with a few open hours in my schedule – so I took advantage of one of the last beautiful days of fall and made my way to the Foshay.

The weather was gorgeous for late October.  The temperature was in the mid 50s (F), the sun shone high and bright, the wind was exceedingly gentle, the trees displayed fantastic fall colors, and there were zero clouds in the vibrantly blue sky.  Gorgeous!

The weather was so good that I chose to walk the 8 blocks outdoors instead of using the skyway system.

The weather was so good that I chose to walk the 8 blocks outdoors instead of using the city skyway system.  (Fun fact: The skyscraper in the background of this photo is the office building I work in.  My desk is on the 35th floor.)  :)

After a very enjoyable 20-minute stroll, I found myself outside the Foshay:

01_approaching Foshay

There she stands.

The Foshay museum is on the 30th floor of the building; but to access the gallery, I first had to purchase a ticket at the main desk on the 1st floor – which means I had to navigate the oh-we’re-so-sexy vibe of the W Hotel lobby.  (The W Hotel purchased the Foshay building several years ago and did a great job of restoring it from its formerly crumbling state – so kudos to them for that.  But man, it saddens and exhausts me to spend time in the aren’t-we-just-uuber-cool setting that the W so desperately tries to cultivate.)

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After I purchased a ticket to the museum, I rode the elevator (“Lift #4, madam”) to the 30th floor, where I was greeted by a semi-bored-looking man sitting alone at a small desk.  I handed him my paper stub, to which he smiled slightly said, “Welcome.  The museum is to your left, the observation deck is up the stairs to your right.  If you have any questions, please let me know.”  As I looked to my left, the immediate question that came to my mind was, “Um, where is the museum?”  All I saw was a small glass case and a few pictures hung on the wall – please don’t tell me that this is the extent of the “museum”?  Please tell me that I didn’t pay $8 to experience this?

As I approached the end of the small hall that held the glass case, I found myself standing in front of a rather large wall-mounted kiosk.  A message on the bottom left corner of the screen read, “Touch Here To Navigate” – so I did.

foshay1

And I’m glad I did – because for the next 30 minutes I was treated to a variety of stories and images about the Foshay building, some intriguing sights and scenes from the 1920s, and some interesting present-day tales.  You also might be glad that I decided to touch the screen – because I took a host of pictures from the images shown to me, and I’m going to share them with you, here and now.  :)

(A note: The following series of pictures were taken from:
1) moving videos,
2) in a dimly-lit room,
3) semi-covertly.
So, the ‘quality’ of some of the pictures might not be fantastic.  Please do your best to look past the visual flaws, and instead see the content that each image tries to deliver.  Thank you for being understanding.)  :)

(A second note: Should you want to stop any part of the following slide shows in order to spend more time looking at a picture [or reading a caption], you can do so by hovering your mouse over the image, then clicking on the middle “pause” button.  When you’re ready to resume, click the middle button again – the photos will advance automatically.)

The first part of the interactive experience was kind of ‘light’; basically, it set the stage for the remaining video sections.  Part 1 focused on some cultural elements that influenced the early days of the Foshay:

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Interest picked up in Part 2: this second section of the online information focused on the 1920s, and particularly the social environment of Minnesota during those “golden years”.  While I found the text somewhat sparse, the images shared were plentiful – and quite fascinating to me:

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However, one thing I did find somewhat bizarre in this educational section was a focus on a garment called “Kickernicks”.  The video display showed at least 40 images of this product, touting the benefits of it, and literally showing all of the ways this article of clothing could support active wear.  If anyone has any insight into why Kickernics were so historically important, please do clue me in.  For now, here is a small sampling of some of the content shared in the video:

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Wrapping up the historical part of the educational experience, the kiosk showed a few newsreels and cartoons from the 1902s.  These snippets were kind of fun to watch; I can understand why adults and kids used to spend entire afternoons at the movies back in the day…

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The last part of the video tutorial merged the historical Foshay with the present building.  In addition to learning about rather interesting architecture, I also got a bit of insight into some scandal…

First up: images of the original Foshay architecture and interior.

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Next: Mr. Foshay – and his scandal.

Mr Foshay

The brief version of the story is that Mr. Foshay was a very outgoing big-city guy from New York who moved to Minneapolis and became very successful in the utilities business.  He flaunted his wealth with much flair and vigor throughout the 1920s.  But. When the stock market crashed in 1929 he lost his entire wealth; to further add to his issues, two years later Foshay was indicted on various counts of sneakily stealing money from honest citizens (through a mail fraud Ponzi scheme.  Oy.).  Foshay was found guilty, and was sentenced to time at Leavenworth penitentiary.  He served three years before being pardoned by President Roosevelt.  (The video didn’t say why Foshay was pardoned.)  After being released from prison Foshay moved to Colorado to try and re-make himself – but from what I can gather, it sounds like he wasn’t overly successful.

Similar to the legacy of Foshay the man, Foshay the building fell apart as well (the result of decades of neglect during the mid 20th century).  But.  In the early 2000s, a group of investors decided to attempt to revitalize the Foshay building:

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Which brought me back to the present.  When I finished watching the last video offered by the kiosk, I took a slow stroll around the rest of the “museum”.  Even moving with deliberate languor, I saw every image and artifact housed in the small space in less than 10 minutes.  Here are the items I found most interesting:

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Having exhausted the interior options of the museum, it was time to climb a few stairs and walk outside to see the sights offered by the 360-degree observation deck.  Here are views of the city from 30 flights up:

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(I will admit that when I looked at each of these buildings, I had little idea what most of them were.  So when I returned home I performed some online research – and I want to give big thanks to John Weeks for his awesome Minneapolis Skyline photo.  Super helpful!)

I thought the sights offered by the observation deck were nice; but to me, they were nothing super-special.  Now, please take note that I work on the 35th floor of a downtown skyscraper, so I see similar views literally every day that I’m in the office.  I’m confident that for some people who don’t have such a privileged workplace view, the Foshay observation deck provides amazing scenes.  However, for me, the views were “fine”, but nothing super-crazy-outlandishly awesome.

That being said, one thing I did get to experience on the observation deck that I don’t usually have the opportunity to encounter was the feeling of being high above the city, fully exposed.  (And no, not “exposed” in that way [get your mind out of the gutter]; ‘exposed’ as in nothing standing between me and the ground below.)  No thick plate glass windows to block the outdoor air, no cement walls to provide a familiar feeling of being indoors – just my body and the open space around me. Indeed, as I reached my arms beyond the metal safety bars to try and capture a few “cool” photographs, the dominant thought running through my mind was please-don’t-let-me-drop-my-phone…please-don’t-let-me-drop-my-phone…please-don’t-let-me-drop-my-phone…please-don’t-let-me-drop-my-phone…please-don’t-let-me-drop-my-phone…

After finishing snapping photos and successfully placing my still-intact-phone safely in my pocket, I stuck my head through the guard rails and experienced a few seconds of what it might feel like to stand on the very edge of a skyscraper.  For me, it was a very unpleasant cluster of sensations.  Even though intellectually I “knew” that I was totally safe and that nothing bad could possibly happen to me, my eyes told my reptilian brain that my life was in danger – and that oldest part of my cerebellum reacted accordingly.  Immediately my breathing turned shallow, my heart raced, my stomach clenched, and my muscles yearned to pull away from the ledge.  I stayed with my head extended beyond the tower’s ledge for about five seconds – then I couldn’t bear the physical discomfort any longer, and allowed my body to pull my back towards the “safety” of the building.

However, in those few seconds of looking down at the tiny streets below, my thinking mind contemplated a whole host of items.  I thought about people who scale buildings like this one on a regular basis (i.e., construction workers, window washers, repair people…) and I wondered how they could desensitize themselves so much that they could find their work bearable (and perhaps even enjoyable?).  I then thought about people who stand on the edge of a building trying to decide between the lesser of two painful ends (i.e., people caught in a building fire, the workers trapped in the World Trade Center towers on 9/11/01), and I grimaced in sympathy for the completely unfair “choice” all of those individuals had to suffer through.  Finally, my mind turned towards people who ‘voluntarily’ stand on a ledge (i.e., individuals looking to end their lives via suicide), and my heart filled with both pain and compassion for those humans; what intense torment they must be suffering with if jumping seems like a better option than continuing on with life…

Sigh.  Who knew such a banal outing like “visit a dinky building museum” would take such a deep turn?  Yet such is often the case in my life – I just never know what insights, lessons, and learnings I might find at any turn…

I guess the upside to this dark chain of reflection is that when I came face-to-face with a premature end, my instinct was not to lean in closer to death, but to pull back and run towards life.  I’m not ready to go just yet – and it’s a splendid feeling to stretch my arms out to my unknown future, and to feel her hugging me back.

Having had my fill of the observation deck, I walked back inside the tower, down the small set of stairs, through the tiny museum, past the ticket-taker, onto lift #4, down 30 floors, through the hotel lobby, and back outside to the stunning fall day.  Once back on the street, I breathed in a deep lungful of the crisp fall air, and turned my face up to meet the brilliant sun shining down on me.  I walked 8 blocks back to my car – and on my route, I saw a building smile at me:

Marquette Plaza.  I've always loved this building.

Marquette Plaza. I’ve always loved this building.

ZZ_IMG_END

Stef

Posted in 101 in 1001, day zero project, postaday, wplongform | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments