Wake Up Sunshine

It’s amazing how much energy you seem to get once the sun comes out again. This week seemed to drag on with very dreary days; especially Wednesday and Thursday. Today, I was up and out by 8:30; attended a meeting; ran three separate errands, then got back to the house to continue work.

Now, I’d love to put my head down for a few minutes, but there is so little daylight, I feel as though I have to capitalize on the bright sunshine which seems to feed my brain and soul. So, more work continues until sunset this evening.

 

There is No Such Thing as Away – Finale

Sustainability goes on. There will be mid-course corrections in the process of getting communities, governments and individuals to understand that all our systems are connected. Sustainability is not just about the environment. As I’ve learned in the NJ Learns program, most people do not enter the sustainability topic from the environment. The topic is complex and can be messy; change happens slowly – almost excruciatingly slowly. Many baby steps lead to real change and understanding that steps taken now will preserve and conserve our society, resources, economy and all of the systems within for generations to come.

After about six months of off and on work to complete my practicum, I have ‘graduated’ from

NJ Learns certificate & reclaimed wood frame by Matt Ryan -One Man Gathers Studio.

NJ Learns certificate & reclaimed wood frame by Matt Ryan -One Man Gathers Studio.

the NJ Learns program. Today our cohort heard the final projects from the educators and community participants in our cohort. The enthusiasm, creativity and persistence among all of the participants is admirable. There is a second grade teacher who has the freedom in her classroom and school to teach sustainability across the curriculum. Students are planting gardens; inner city children are learning that their world has much more than the black top that surrounds their school; Boy Scouts are learning how they can cut energy by simply changing out light bulbs; a science teacher who embraced Green Apple Day and got his school on board is also now reclaiming wood and making frames, trays and other objects as a side business. Sustainability never ends. My project is continuing – working with Sustainable Cherry Hill, the Cherry Hill Schools and PTAs and people in the region who are learning that everything we do now affects our children’s future and their children’s future and so on. One big take-away for me is that “There is no such thing as away.” Think of that when you toss something ‘away’ in the trash. Over time, thinking changes – we all change – and for the better.

Watching Camden Up Close

Driving into Camden from the South Jersey suburbs brings home the thought that Sacred Heart Church’s Father Michael Doyle has pressed for many years: there are a thousands miles between the suburbs and Camden. When I heard Center for Transformation staffer Andrea Feirich and board president Mark Doorley talk about how Camden became cut off from the region when the Ben Franklin Bridge, Admiral Wilson Boulevard and 676 were constructed, it didn’t mean as much to me until today. My husband, son and I drove to help at the weekly dinner at Joe’s Place. The nondescript building across from Sacred Heart Church at Broadway and Jasper is in the heart of Waterfront South.

Once we turned left onto Broadway leaving Rutgers-Camden, Cooper Hospital and Campbell’s Soup in our rearview mirror, it was if we’d stepped into a war zone. There’d be a few decent homes or businesses on Broadway or a side street, then vacant sites or more likely, boarded up homes, business and buildings that probably won’t see attention for years. We passed what looked like a group of volunteers serving a meal right outside in a vacant lot. Once we parked and got to the St. Vincent de Paul Society building, we knocked on the locked door. Once Burt let us in, we were welcomed by Sheryl and John along with the other volunteers who have given of their time, their hearts and souls to the community. This was our first time, so we were glad to do whatever was needed to serve dinner and dessert to about 60 people from the community.

Precisely at 4 p.m. when the doors opened, the people appeared. Their faces showed a road map of hard life. Women and men came. Their clothes worn and torn. There were a few little girls with their young mother. One man had a very pleasant conversation with himself the entire time he was having dinner. But he looked me in the eyes and asked for his pie for dessert; then he went back to his seat to enjoy his dessert and continue his conversation. Except for one angry man, each person was so grateful for every bite they were offered. Many had two plates of food and two (or three desserts). It didn’t matter. Our hosts supplied the lovely meal. We were glad to serve and share a little of ourselves with others who have so little.

When we were leaving today, dinner was still going on at Joe’s Place. I was getting in the car when a man walking through the vacant field next to the building yelled, “It’s not over is it?” I realized he was a regular at Joe’s Place and yelled back, “No, of course not; there’s plenty left.” The big smile on his face led me to think this might be his only good meal of the day and maybe for the week. He was carrying a plastic grocery bag. I know he was going to be taking some leftovers with him.

We drove just 50 yards from our parking spot. Looking down the side street to my right was a drug deal happening before my eyes. The person in the driver’s seat gave the man standing outside the car the money; the two shook hands. The deal was sealed. There is so much work to do in Camden. So many lives that need tending to. But in reality, it must start with the youngest of the people in Camden. There’s a way out. The many good people doing wonderful things on a daily basis in Camden can make it happen for these children. The thing is, my hope is that the children see the light with the right guidance, then they will show others like them the way out. For now, we can all do just a little more – a day at a time. Inside Joe’s Place, everyone is good and safe and has a full belly.

Connections

You have to believe in networking. A long-planned meeting with the executive director of Sustainable Cherry Hill took place today at a local eatery. We got tons done in under 90 minutes. As we sat there at the table by the window, a woman who I’ve admired professionally for years walked by. She was coming in with her husband for some lunch. I approached the two of them and let her know I’d love to do work with her and her organization. She seemed enthusiastic about being in touch on that.

Just when you think no one is listening, I get a LinkedIn message from someone who I hoped to do business with. Film at 11.

I still have these ideas I need to formulate about connecting my business communications class and/or creating a new class.. to sustainable programs between Rutgers-Camden students and non-profits trying to make inroads in the city of Camden. More ideas forumlate each day. I’m starting to write them down.

Meantime, our Phillies ballpark seat buddies are connecting with us for dinner in Philly in February. It’ll be totally strange to see them in something other than a Phillies shirt, not to mention seeing them in winter.

OK, so this was a stream of conscience kind of writing day, but there’s lots to be done. Sleep is needed.

Good night.

Time to turn out the holiday lights

Holidays are about traditions. Holidays are about remembering, reflecting and lots of boxes of decorations. For several reasons this holiday season, I put up every decoration on my own. That includes the lights and garland winding around our 7 1/2 foot tree in the living room.

Today, all the fa-la-la of the holidays ended. My guys brought down the mega boxes from the attic and one-by-one, throughout the day, the boxes of ornaments, collected for years and years, were carefully wrapped and put away for another 11 months. As I was taking down the trinkets that adorned our tree this year, I remembered what it was like to begin collecting each ornament; where I found it; how I felt when I bought it; what it was like to put the ornament on our tree for the first time. At first, I felt sad that so many years have gone by, but then I realized, as time marches on, it’s all about reflecting and remembering.

Over the weekend as I watched the Penn State-LSU game, the announcers kept talking about the Penn State quarterback and his legacy. How will he be remembered without a Bowl win? In the end, as Penn State won the close game, it was clear the QB was thrilled, but he’d been annoyed there was so much attention to his legacy and not on the team’s accomplishments. Life is full of so many moments. You string them all together, and you have yourself a life. The QB’s history at Penn State will surely impact his life, but he has so many more moments and milestones to come. I’ve been reflecting on the year past for me. While I have moved on from looking in that rear-view mirror, I now want more impact in my own life.

What’s next? A focus on community and serving, whether it’s within the organizations I am already involved with or extending into other communities that need a leg up. Perhaps I can link one of the group’s I’m involved with to the business communications class I am teaching this spring. I’d like to use my talent as a communicator to better other lives. Maybe the students taking the class can help in Camden or other communities. Now, I have to find the way to make that happen.

Today, the boxes of ornaments are tucked back in the attic, but ornaments that make up my life are being created each day this year.

So I missed the first day…

They say if you do something every day for 21 days, it becomes a habit. On this January 2, the first year of the second decade in this century, I’ll attempt a new habit: writing every day. Now, I’m cautiously optimistic. I’ve kept diaries in my life, even when my son was born, but of course, never for public consumption. Perhaps there will be days when my life was even more boring than one can imagine. You know what they say: one man’s trash is another’s treasure. So we’ll find out together.

Tonight, a howling wind and a nearly full moon lure me to the window. What do I see? The neighbor’s blow-up snowman, lit up and dancing in the wind on their lawn. The holiday lights and decorations will be coming down. It’s absolute craziness that the stores already have Valentine candy and in some cases, Easter candy on display. Yikes!

Today, brownies were baked and the last two holiday trays prepared. One for my son’s youth group party that was snowed-out December 20; my tray goes with me to a brunch to pay tribute to volunteers at my church. You know, teaching the kids cooking at Sunday school is a blessing. I put so much into trying to come up with a recipe that coincides with the lesson the children are learning. No matter what, the kids always “get” the connection. Their eyes fill with anticipation as they learn what they’ll be making in the church kitchen. They eagerly stir and mix and measure. But the best is watching them enjoy the fruits of their labor. Best of all, it’s so fulfilling when the kids want to take some samples home to share with their families. The last class I taught, one precious 7-year-old boy said,” Thank you for what you do.” I could have cried. It was a joy to tell the boy’s parents how sweet their son is.

Such a year

I have never been a fan of “odd” years. Maybe it’s superstition, but I always have this nagging feeling that things will be better when it’s an even year, even age, even month. You get the picture.

As the answer blows in the wind on this blustery, December day, the great news is I’m on the right side of things. My successful career in broadcast journalism has now transitioned into my public relations consulting start-up. My bottom line looks respectable for a one-person operation and I am learning more and more every day through wonderful people I’ve known through the years as well as family and friends.

Driving in the car with my son the other night, I asked him what he thought about the changes our family has been through this year. First thing he said was,” You are doing an amazing, amazing job with your business.” He went on to say flattering, positive things about my transition into this business and I couldn’t have been more pleased. Our son has really blossomed in the past few months. He is now working at his first job as a bus boy at Mirabella Cafe near our home. I met the owner/chef, Joe Palombo, through Sustainable Cherry Hill. I am now the communications director, on the executive board and general board. You see, these are things I could never do for years and years because of my crazy schedule. Now, community involvement is a critical part of what is making me happy now.

I was watching a show last night and there was a line that really rang true to me: “When you figure out what kind of person you really want to be, then you’ll really be happy.” How true. How often do we glaze over each day, muddle through lists of tasks, grumble at our family, friends and associates and wonder, “Is that all there is?” That feeling gnawed at me for the longest time. Fear and comfort and a respectable paycheck kept me from making any moves. After management decided I didn’t fit in to their picture any longer, I was almost relieved. Beyond the lack of respect or appreciation by the top brass when I was let go, I knew the journey to find a better life, more happiness and fulfillment would get underway.

Here are some of the positive changes (in no particular order):

  • no more sleep deprivation
  • regular and constant visits to the gym
  • intense involvement in volunteer community groups that mean a lot to me
  • more quality family time without being sleep deprived
  • being “the boss of me.”
  • flexibility in how my day operates
  • meeting new and interesting people
  • more socialization

OK, the list is getting long. It’s a beautiful thing after living by a very tight schedule with absolutely no wiggle room for years, to be able to structure my days and nights so that they work for me. Of course, I still have to be certain places at certain times, but I don’t have deadlines every ten minutes. I am appreciated for the work I do (most of the time) and I have a sense of accomplishment almost every single day.

Advice from people in-the-know has been critical. There’s been fantastic advice and advice I knew instinctively was crap. The latest great piece of advice I received was from a firm I was talking with about their expansion. The CEO suggested that I narrow my focus in what I want to accomplish. Done…next!

One thing I will always be is a news junkie. I have instincts about people that are spot-on. I know crap when I hear it and I know a true-blue, honest to goodness, truthful person immediately. That has always been a key to success in my figuring out the news. Now, it translates into good instincts about how to help elevate a client’s profile in the audience they are appealing to or figuring out a great pitch to the media to bring a client greater exposure.

That even-numbered year is upon us: 2010. I’ll be turning an even-numbered age as well. It’ll be my second year in business with What’s Next Productions, LLC. It’s all good.

Happy holidays and a safe, prosperous New Year.

There’s nothing like a festival

StrawFest_20090603_01A room filled with people of all ages, talking, eating a simple meal and enjoying each other’s company is one of the finer things in life. Trinity Presbyterian Church’s annual Strawberry Festival in Cherry Hill, NJ has been taking place for years. Many of the same people have organized the event through the Presbyterian Women’s group and others just chime in to help. When the dinner bell rings at 6 p.m., the lineup for grilled hot dogs, a heaping salad bowl, baked beans and oh, that yummy dessert of homemade cakes, juicy, Jersey strawberries and ice cream, brings out the best in everyone. For 90 minutes, the room is buzzing with talk of the summer ahead, children graduating, other children healing from illnesses, a recent death in the church and so much more. For me, this is the true meaning of fellowship. For 90 minutes, it seems there are no problems, StrawFest_20090603_09only the smiles of children getting their faces painted by the senior high group members and the strains of the gorgeous voices of the choir practicing in Fellowship Hall. The PW women and other helpers are like a finely oiled machine, tending to their tasks, smiling and serving the dinner and the lucious dessert. Parents with their little babies, teenagers just hanging out, and long-time church members looked forward to this day. There should be more days like this. I’ll look forward to my hot dog dinner and plate of strawberries this time next year and the year after that.