vulnerable path

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Cookie of Hope – learning about homelessness in Philadelpha

He was wrapped in plastic from head to toe.  He had layer upon layer of plastic tied around each foot, tightly secured somehow, as though he was wearing spaceman boots.  He blanketed himself in several huge sheets of plastic, pulled up over his head, and he held them in place with a hand under his chin.

PhillyHe was the first homeless person I saw last month when I arrived at Philadelphia’s Suburban Station at 5:45am in the heart of the city’s downtown.  We came to sell Girl Scout cookies in the station.  And we undoubtedly were going home with quite an education in city life.

As we unloaded our cookie stock, a fight erupted nearby between several men.  SEPTA workers and police descended immediately to break it up.  A minute later I was greeted by Robert.  He introduced himself, and at first I wasn’t sure if Robert was a homeless person or simply on his way to work at that hour.  Robert said that someone threw a Molotov cocktail into the dry cleaning business around the corner last Friday, injuring the Asian couple who own it.  Robert said the couple is not coming back.

From above us in a stairwell, a woman began screaming and cursing.  It seemed as though she was arguing with someone, but we could not hear anyone respond to her.  This went on for 20 minutes or longer before she became silent.  But she erupted in a stream of profanities several more times throughout the day.  At one point, the woman was carrying on an argument right behind us.  It was then that I realized her adversary was invisible.

A police officer stopped by our cookie booth, and I asked him why the screaming woman hadn’t been arrested.  He just chuckled and said, “You can’t lock up a crazy person.”

boothPlastic man milled around the loading dock area, while other folks wandered by to see what we were doing.  We brought about 60 cases of cookies.  That’s a veritable smorgasbord when you are used to fishing scraps out of trash cans.  We built ourselves a fort with cookies and camp chairs.  By 6am, we were smiling and greeting commuters with a chipper “Good Morning!”  As the day wore on, there were a few homeless folks that approached us and asked for cookies.  There were a few who lingered for a long time by our booth, just observing.

For two single moms from the suburbs and their 12 year old daughters, this was a whole new world.  Witnessing this issue made selling cookies seem trivial.  But, on the other hand, if a cookie helps to bring an important issue to a determined girl’s attention, you never know how that cookie might change someone’s future.

The Girl Scout program teaches girls to look for the root causes of problems in their communities and find ways to take action to address these issues.  In Philadelphia’s Suburban Station, our girls came face to face with a serious community issue.  And it’s overwhelming.  Where could we possibly begin?  Our girls are still learning how to address small problems in their own communities.  For them, this could mean finding ways to teach their school mates about bullying or the harmful effects of smoking.  Tackling homelessness is one issue they will need to grow into.

I wanted to learn more about homelessness in Philadelphia, so I took to the Internet and found an organization called Project HOME.  Their mission is to help break the cycle of homelessness through street outreach, supportive housing, and other community development activities.

According to Projecthome.org, a May 2013 street census counted approximately 494 individuals living on the street in Philadelphia. It is difficult to calculate the exact number of homeless people living on the street, considering the number of individuals that live in obscure park areas, vehicles, or abandoned houses.  Project HOME also estimates that, on any given night, about 6,000 people live in city-funded shelters or transitional housing.   Many of these individuals face economic hardship, lack of education and jobs, or may be victims of racial or ethnic discrimination.  But estimates run from between 34 to 53 percent of the homeless population suffers with addiction and mental illness.  This has been exacerbated by the removal of institutional support for people with severe mental illness and lack of universal health care.

As I read more about Project HOME, I learned that this organization has a service center in Suburban Station. It’s called Hub of Hope, and it was shut down without warning in November of 2014.  You can read the story of the Hub of Hope here.  But I am happy to report that the Hub is once again open and assisting the homeless in Suburban Station.  Next time we have the opportunity to sell cookies in Philadelphia, we will also take along some donations for the Hub of Hope.

There is one other fact I learned about Project HOME — eight of its top executives are women.  I wonder, were they Girl Scouts?

© Vulnerable Path, 2015

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Why am I doing this?

It’s only the fourth day of our Girl Scout cookie sale, and I am already wondering what I was thinking. I am our troop leader and cookie mom. So for the next eight weeks, I will not only be planning our meeting activities, but also running a more than $10,000.00 business. It’s a second full-time job. In the last four days, I have spent over 25 hours working the cookie business. That is in addition to working my full-time job and taking care of my home and family.

While fighting off a cranky mood yesterday, I realized I needed to re-acquaint myself with the reasons I made this commitment.

vest_editedI have always held a strong belief in the mission of Girl Scouting. But so do a lot of adults who have their children involved in Scouting. We grew up being Girl Scouts ourselves. We have fond memories of our Girl Scout experiences. But the reasons that I am a Girl Scout volunteer go well beyond my belief that it will give my daughter courage, confidence, and character.

If I won’t do it, who will?

There is a saying that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. That sounds egotistical. Maybe a better way to phrase it would be to say, if you want a particular result, you have to be willing to put in the work to see that result materialize. That doesn’t just pertain to the Girl Scout organization. That’s a life-in-general thing. It occurred to me a very long time ago that if I wanted my daughter to grow up to be a smart, confident, capable human being, I needed to do the work to make that happen. It wasn’t something to leave to other people. Not to other family members, or teachers, or coaches, or activity volunteers.

If I wanted my daughter to get the most out of her Girl Scout experience, I knew I needed to be actively involved. It wasn’t enough to drop her off at weekly meetings. I truly had no idea what I was getting myself into when I first volunteered. But I can tell you now that I see a very clear corollary between successful girl outcomes and the involvement of girls’ parents. For example, the girls in my troop who earned Bronze Awards as Junior Girl Scouts had parents who involved themselves in the process. They not only brought their girls to special Bronze Award planning sessions, they stayed and participated. They strongly encouraged their girls to make a commitment to a project and stood with them every step of the way.

If I won’t set an example, who will?

Children are very observant of their surroundings. Everything that happens to them has the power to become a teaching experience. Every person they come in contact with has influence. I want to be a positive influence. And, as I said before, if I want my daughter to be smart, confident, and capable, then I have to model that. Whatever expectations I have for her, I need to be willing to live up to myself. Some days, that is no easy task!

The Girl Scout cookie program intends to teach girls these five skills — goal-setting, decision making, money management, people skills, and business ethics. Most people think the cookie sale is a fund-raiser. There is so much more to it than that. If I am going to teach these skills, then I have to demonstrate them. As a leader, a parent, and a role model, it’s my job to set realistic goals and show girls how to meet them. I am a trustee of their money; therefore, I am obligated to manage it appropriately. They are watching, so I need to be friendly, helpful and respectful toward everyone I work with. I need to show my girls how to do what’s right.

My kid isn’t entitled to anything. And I don’t ever want her to think she is. The most rewarding things in life come to us because we worked hard to earn them. It’s a lesson kids ultimately need to learn on their own. But there has to be a role model there, someone who kids can look up to and say, “She did it, and I can too.” It is possible for our troop to earn the money to travel domestically and even internationally. It’s my job to show them that this goal can be reached. I can’t give up. I can’t quit. When I’m tired, there is still one more order of cookies to sort, one more inventory count to do.  This is the work ethic I hope to see my daughter emulate.

If I can’t motivate her, who will?

Let’s face it, most kids would be perfectly happy to spend the whole day sitting on the couch, watching You Tube videos on their iPads.  There are some amazingly motivated young people in this world.  But I can guarantee that every one of them has an equally motivated parent standing right next to them.  I bet Katie Francis is one of them.  She is a 12 year old from Oklahoma that sold over 21,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies in one season!  You can learn more about her amazing story here.

There have been many times when my daughter did not want to do something that I was encouraging her to do.  Whether it was trying a new food or learning to ride a bike, more often than not, she ended up thankful that I kept pushing her.  I want my child to discover activities that she enjoys.  I want her to find her passion.  Yet sometimes she needs a good shove in the right direction.  I can’t let that up to anyone else either.

Why am I doing this?  I’m doing it all for you, my child.  I am committed to being your teacher, role model, and motivator.  And I am more than happy to do the same for every Girl Scout I meet.

© Vulnerable Path, 2015


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The Key

Have you ever had a moment when you think you must be losing your mind? That happened to me a few days ago. I was looking for my spare house key. And it wasn’t in the place where I knew that I had left it. It seemed to have just disappeared into thin air. It was right there in the basket by the front door last time I saw it.

I live by habits. Maybe I could call them rituals. I am methodical, organized, and just a bit obsessive-compulsive.  It is a ritual to put the key in the same place every time I use it. Then I always know where it is. I can be confident in my obsessiveness. It works for me. It keeps me on track.

So when the key wasn’t where it was supposed to be, I became overwhelmed with anxiety. I had to figure out where it was. Did I leave it in a coat pocket? Was it in my purse or my gym bag? I began scouring the house to find the key. I emptied the basket by the door, repeatedly, hoping maybe I missed it the first time I checked. I scrounged through my purse. No luck. I checked every pocket of every coat in the closet. Nope, not there either.

And all the while, my daughter watched. She said she had no idea where the key was. She hadn’t seen it. She hadn’t touched it. I asked if anyone had been in the house. She said no. I explained that it wasn’t just a matter of having misplaced the key. I was afraid that if someone had taken it, then our security was threatened. She watched me empty the basket again. She watched me dump out my purse.

This all came about because my car was in the shop again, and I was driving a loaner. I left my keys at the shop, so I didn’t have a house key when we got home that day. Thankfully, my daughter had one in her backpack. But I needed that spare key.

After about 20 minutes of fruitless searching, I was forced to give up and continue with my evening. Time to make dinner and get ready to go to the gym. I was stewing. Where the hell was that key? It was driving me nuts! Why are things like this so difficult for me to let go? I could feel the anxiety swelling up in my chest. All that adrenalin – the tank is full but there’s no place to go; my engine was racing. This is the kind of stuff that kills people. I knew I needed to calm myself down.

Then I thought about the serenity prayer. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Yes, that’s helpful. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. I cannot change the fact that the key is missing. Accept it. Take another deep breath. OK, I’m getting a handle on this.

So we eat dinner, and dress for the gym, and head out the door into the freezing cold night. As we are driving down the road, I see that my daughter looks angry. What’s wrong? Nothing. I said to her, “I’m not mad at you. I’m just angry about something that I don’t understand and can’t control. It’s not your fault.” She thinks everything is her fault. She is constantly apologizing for things that are not her fault. Then she says, “Well, what if I accidentally took it with me to Daddy’s and left it there.” To that I say, “Wouldn’t you know that you had done that? How can you accidentally do that, or not remember that you did it, or not be sure if you did it?” I scoffed this off. I did not see this as a half-hearted admission of guilt. I saw it as a way for the child to offer a solution where there wasn’t one.

It felt so good to get on the treadmill that night. I ran my little heart out. Emptied the tank. By the time I had run three miles, I felt much more at peace. It might have helped that I kept repeating my serenity mantra the entire time.

At home, we both get ready for bed. I helped her brush her hair after a shower. As we stood there, I once again brought up the lost key. I explained that it is so frustrating because I always put it in the exact same place. And how can it go missing from the place I intentionally always put it.

Suddenly her face turned blotchy and crimson. Her lip quivered and she began to laugh and cry at the same time. In that second I knew. And I also began laughing and crying at the same time. I said to her, “Where is the key? Child, I am not going to be angry with you for telling me the truth.” In sobs, she said that she was afraid I would be mad at her. She explained that she always gets scared that she is going to forget something when her Dad arrives to get her on Fridays. So she grabbed the key on the way out the door. And she put it somewhere at his house, and she’s not quite sure where.

I cannot explain how much of a relief this was. I felt the hours of anxiety just drain away. Thank God I am not losing my mind. However, I also realized that I now had a different problem. I had to address the lie.

People lie for two reasons – to protect themselves or to protect someone else. Often there are very good intentions behind lies. However, I cannot tolerate them. Lies have caused the deepest wounds that I have endured in my life. It is one of my top priorities as a parent to teach my child the importance of being truthful and honest.

So I take a glass out of the cabinet and I ask her to hold it with an outstretched arm. I ask her how much it weighs. It’s pretty light. Then I say, “How heavy would it feel if you had to hold it like that for an hour?” It would get very uncomfortable she says. Yes. That’s what lies are like – an uncomfortable burden that you carry around. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes every day. But when you lie about it, you’ve just made two mistakes. Unburden yourself, I tell her. Live by truth.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

© Vulnerable Path, 2015


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And there sat Mary

I left my office last Friday night after our office Christmas party.  It was dark, windy, and a cold 36 degrees outside.  And while I would have preferred to go straight home, I had one more errand to run.  As I pulled into the parking lot at the Post Office, I saw her sitting on a bench by the flag pole.  She was tucked into a sleeping bag, zipped up to her neck.  She had a knit cap pulled down over her ears, and she looked like she was settled in for the night.

My office is in a suburban area, with lots of retail shopping malls nearby.  It’s not the kind of place where you would expect to see a homeless woman.  But Mary is no stranger to this neighborhood.  I’ve seen her on some early mornings, camped out in a concrete corner between stores, still bundled into her sleeping bag.

One day I saw her sitting in a local eatery.  She was by herself in a booth.  There was a coffee cup on her table and dozens of sugar packets ripped open and piled into a mound in front of her.  I couldn’t help but wonder if that was all she had to eat that day.  I asked one of the employees about her.  The clerk said that she comes in often and never bothers anyone.  I paid for a gift card and asked the clerk to give it to her.

But on this particularly cold night, only weeks before Christmas, the site of her on that bench just broke my heart.  We have many shelters close by, including one run by the county Conference of Churches that will not turn anyone away between November and April.  I would have gladly given her a ride.  Or bought her another meal.  Yet I hesitated.  Not wanting to upset Mary or risk my own safety, I instead drove a few blocks to the police barracks.

Yes, the police officers are quite familiar with Mary.  Yes, many people have tried to help her.  But she refuses most help.  I was told that she prefers to sleep outdoors rather than go to a shelter; she feels safer by herself.  Sometimes, regardless of our many efforts, there are some souls we cannot help.

For many years I have been involved in volunteer efforts to help homeless and struggling families.  Through my employer, we have provided Christmas gifts to families through the Conference of Churches and donated food and clothing to local shelters.  And I have involved my Girl Scouts in these activities so that they can become aware of what is often invisible to us, even in our own neighborhoods.

tree_editedYou can become involved too.  Call local shelters and ask what kinds of donations they could use.  Volunteer your time to assist these organizations.  Use your talents to help others.  These groups are often in need of legal, medical, or educational services for their clients.  Inquire about what you can do to make life permanently better for a homeless person, rather than just collecting or donating items.

In a way, I believe it was Mary who helped me that night.  My stress level had been rising to a crescendo all week long.  My schedule was packed.  When I crossed one thing off my list, I added another.  The car was in the shop, I fell up the steps at work and smashed my hand, and then came down with a cold the next day.  But so what?

I have a home to go to, and family that love me, and a job, and groceries, and all kinds of stuff that I could certainly do without.  Most of all, I have a healthy mind and a healthy body.  I am blessed in so many ways.  And Mary reminded me of that.

© Vulnerable Path, 2014


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A taste of gratitude

There is a scene from the classic holiday film, Home Alone, where Kevin McAllister goes out to find Santa Claus.  Kevin has spent several days home alone, without his very large, annoying family.  He has enjoyed every minute of the solitude, eating whatever he wants, watching movies he would not be permitted to watch, and even going shopping on his own.  Yet he seeks out Santa Claus to ask for only one thing this Christmas:  he wants his family back.

Life is like that sometimes.  We only realize what we are grateful for when it’s gone.

About a year ago, I began a gratitude practice.  I decided to take a moment at the end of each day to focus on what I am thankful for.  There’s an “app” for that – I downloaded “Gratitude Rock” to my smartphone and set a reminder to make an entry in its journal every day.  The holidays can be a very depressing time of year for some people.  And I was surprised to find myself feeling blue, in spite of all the festivities going on around me.  The gratitude practice really helped.  It didn’t take long for my mood to turn around.  And I noticed something else too.  It wasn’t “stuff” that I was grateful for – it was people.

I was thankful for my family who helps me with my Christmas tree tradition.  Even though they have their own tree to deal with, they take time to help me.  We set out very early on a Saturday morning, bundle up, and trudge through a local tree farm to cut down the perfect Spruce.  My sister and brother-in-law and my niece help me set the tree up in my tree stand and get it turned around just right.  Then they go off to do the same thing at their own home.  My Dad joins in too, helping me get all the lights on it.  Then my daughter and I spend several weeknights decorating it.  When it’s all done, that sparkling evergreen is a wonderful symbol of family connection and love.

There is no better reminder of the abundance in our lives than when we sit down to a massive table spread with Thanksgiving dishes.  Our senses are overwhelmed by all the colors, textures, and flavors of this special meal.  We are compelled to sample everything!  Along with our turkey this year, we had cranberry sauce, potato filling, sausage stuffing, green beans and asparagus, creamed corn, and salad with hot bacon dressing.  The people in our lives are a lot like this.  Some tender, some sweet, some kind of sour at times, and maybe one that’s a bit burnt around the edges.  Yet I appreciate all of them and the lessons and love they have given me.

In honor of this mixed assortment, and with a heart filled with gratitude, I give you another installment of Kitchen Therapy.  Here’s the recipe for my contribution to this year’s Thanksgiving spread.

wild_rice_collageWild Rice Stuffing

6 T butter

18oz. frozen pearl onions

4.5 C chicken broth

3 T chopped fresh thyme

1.25 C wild rice

1.25 C white rice

6oz. chopped dried apricots

1 C dried tart cherries

1 C raisins

1 C chopped pecans

onionsMelt 2 T butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add onions and sauté until browned, about 15 minutes or more.  Season with pepper and a little salt.  Never rush to caramelize your onions.  All those browned bits of deliciousness are the signature of this dish!  Set onions aside for later.

Bring 4.5C broth plus 1 T thyme to a boil in a large stock pot.  Add wild rice, bring back to boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.  Add white rice, cover, and simmer until all rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes longer.

Stir in apricots, cherries, raisins, and up to 2 T of thyme (to taste).  Cover and simmer 3 minutes.  I love this dish for its contrast of sweet and savory, along with the mix of textures.  The wild rice and pecans are crunchy; the aroma of thyme and saltiness of the broth are balanced with the sweetness of the fruit.

Stir in onions and 4 T butter.  Mix in pecans.  Transfer to a greased casserole dish.  Serve immediately.  Or keep at room temperature and re-warm in oven prior to serving.

stuffing_editedDon’t worry; this dish makes enough so you will have leftovers!

© Vulnerable Path, 2014


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Healing Steps

There was a celebration this week. My daughter attended her cross-country team banquet.  This was a big deal; a first, because she had never participated in a team sport before.  I knew she was really excited about going to the banquet when she asked for a hair appointment!  She wanted to look her best.  And she did look beautiful!  The joy for me, however, was seeing her acknowledged for the effort she put into her running this fall.  As any Mom would, I hope it brings her confidence and pride in herself.  She started the season with zero running experience.  She could barely run a half mile.  But she kept at it.  I know she was scared and self-conscious in the beginning, worrying about fitting in or being criticized.  Soon all of that dissolved; this was a tremendously positive experience for her.

Wall_editedOn banquet night I silently celebrated a major accomplishment in my life. My relationship with her Father had dramatically improved over the course of the cross-country season.  We were able to sit with each other at this banquet, share a meal, and find pleasant things to talk about, such as travel plans and ideas for Christmas gifts.  We’ve come a long way from the days when we couldn’t even be in the same room with each other let alone carry on a conversation.  A long way from bitterness and resentment.  I wouldn’t say we are buddy-buddy.  But we are truly being great parents for our daughter.

So how did we get here? Was it simply the old cliché “time heals all wounds?”  No, I don’t think so.  I think, at least for me, the wounds were healed because I worked really damn hard at it.  After experiencing the worst betrayals of my life several years ago, I finally got to the point where I realized that I had to do the work to come to grips with the emotional wounds.  Neglect wasn’t much of a salve.

We’ve all had times when we feel so much pain that we just want to curl up in a ball under a blanket on the couch and stay there forever. TV remote in hand, I can hide from the world and drown my sorrows in a tub of ice cream.  I can watch “Pretty Woman” for the 50th time and fantasize about the fairy tale ending.  That’s the easy way out, to just stuff the feelings.  It’s actually cowardly.  I didn’t want to be that.  I didn’t want to take one more emotional beating and let it take the spirit out of me.

So to get up and fight is the only alternative. To make up my mind that I will do whatever it takes to not let other people crush my spirit.  That’s the first brave step.  And to win this battle, you actually have to peel off the armor.  You have to allow yourself to be vulnerable.  What does this mean?  Why is vulnerability such a big theme of mine?  Because putting up the walls, and pretending that there is no problem, and living in denial about how you feel and what’s really stealing your life out from under you is no way to live.  You are going to have to take down the walls, stop pretending, admit the problems, and start living fully.  That’s a scary place to go.  Because it leaves you bare.  It leaves room for all the things we fear – judgment, criticism, and the potential to be hurt again.  But it’s the most courageous thing you can do to bring about change in your life.

Step One: admit my own failures.

I had to admit I had failed in my relationships. That’s not to say that others hadn’t failed me.  They had.  But I made bad choices too.  I had to stop blaming others for my problems and accept responsibility.  At the very least, I’m responsible for how I choose to respond to other people’s behavior.

Step Two: practice forgiveness.

I also had to choose to forgive. I knew that I needed to resolve my feelings of hurt and resentment because I had to continue to deal with these people on a day to day basis.  As much as I wished it could be so, they were not going to be out of my life.  I read a book by Edward M. Hallowell, MD titled “Dare to Forgive” in which he outlines the process of forgiveness.  I learned that forgiveness is for me, not the other persons.  It’s about letting go of resentments.  It’s not about forgetting what someone has done.  And it’s certainly not about letting them do it again.  It’s about moving on.

It was in this book that I found advice that really resonated with me and that applied so well to my situation at the time. Hallowell explains that when a relationship ends, it’s an opportunity to get to work on yourself.  He recommends strengthening the healthy connections you already have with friends and family, groups you care about, and activities you like.  He also suggests to “Work on your connection with your physical body; try to get yourself to a place where you feel good about how you look.  Take as a call to action the feelings that were exposed in you.  Make yourself a stronger woman.”

The day I read that, it became my motto: Make yourself a stronger woman.  I wrote it on a note and stuck it to my desk at work, where I read it every day.

Step three: Build my self-esteem.

shoesThis was a tremendous thing to find in a book about forgiveness, because it made me realize that I needed to make myself a top priority, to take the focus off of the people who hurt me, and center my intentions on making myself a better person.  Letting go of resentment and moving on is a part of that.  But so is working on confidence and self-esteem.  And my confidence grew each time I went for a run or a bike ride, or made it through a boot camp class.  It was during this period that I kayaked for the first time, and I was so proud of that because my ex-husband had laughed at me when I said I wanted to kayak.  Turns out I was absolutely strong enough to paddle, and do anything else I wanted to do.

Step four: let go of what doesn’t serve me.

There was still another piece of the healing process that I needed to focus on. It had to do with letting go of things that didn’t serve me anymore.  For me, this included belongings that I had to give up and goals that needed to change.  Facing divorce meant letting go of my home and other belongings that I valued.  I spent many years ignoring the inevitability of my divorce, mainly because I didn’t feel I should have to give up “stuff” that I was attached to.  How silly is that.  The stuff doesn’t matter.  But it took me a very long time to accept that.  I didn’t need a house, or property, or a garden, or furniture, or just about any other object we owned at the time.

IMG_0874I am still in the process of re-evaluating my goals and adopting new plans, hopes, dreams, and desires. These are mine to fulfill; I don’t need to negotiate them with anyone else.  But I can tell you that there is far less physical stuff on that list.  Own a home?  Nope.  Have awesome experiences?  Help my daughter grow into a confident, smart, beautiful woman?  Do what I can to make the world a better place?  YES, YES, AND YES!

Did time heal the wounds? No, a lot of brave steps on the vulnerable path did.

© Vulnerable Path, 2014


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Diplomacy is a dish best served by a Girl Scout

Open mouth, insert foot. I’m not exactly known for my diplomacy.  I admit, it’s something I need to work on.  I remember the first time someone pointed this out to me about myself.  I was young and naïve, thinking that is was OK for me to say whatever is on my mind.  And an older woman who I worked with at a local arts organization conferred the advice upon me:  You really need to learn to be more diplomatic.  I didn’t even know what that meant!  Now I realize that it was probably some of the best advice I’ve ever been given.

There is a quote that goes, “Diplomacy is thinking twice before saying nothing.”

As a volunteer Girl Scout leader, I rely on the graciousness of others to be able to fulfill my mission. We have partners in the community whose generosity enables us to bring our programs to our scouts.  These partners are providing meeting space, materials, and places to conduct fundraising activities.  I couldn’t do what I do without these partnerships and I am very grateful for them.

This week, I found myself across a table from one of these partners with whom I needed to resolve a few conflicts. There had been some complaints that we had not cleaned up after ourselves while using their space.  During this meeting, an inference was made that our lack of tidiness was a reflection of the quality of the program we present.

Wait; let me get this straight. So if I leave a mess behind, then I am likely presenting my scouts with a careless, messy program too.  That’s like saying if I have dust bunnies on my floor at home, then I surely do not love my family very much.

I’m not justifying being messy.  We certainly need to be respectful of the space we use and leave it better than we find it.  But that remark stung, and I balked.  “Are you questioning the quality of our program?” I blurted out.  And with that, my diplomatic intentions went out the window.

Anyone who knows me knows how much effort I put into my Girl Scout program. I care about it deeply.  I invest a tremendous amount of time into planning and preparation.  I try to send these young women off with something of value that they can use in their lives, both to be better as individuals and to help make the world a better place.

But there’s the key: my friends KNOW me.  This person, with his inferences, doesn’t know me.  And I doubt he knows much about what Girl Scouts do.

In anticipating this meeting, I had spent a lot of time thinking about how to create compassion between us. How can I help this person to understand my mission and want to work with me rather than reject me?  My younger self would never have taken this approach.  She would have plotted out a defense against these accusations.  But these days I find myself trying harder to understand other people’s perspectives and trying to find common ground.  So I tried my hardest to not show how offended I was by the remark.  I’m not sure I was successful.  But I reached for the information that I had brought along to show what we do in Girl Scouting and how it aligns with his organization’s goals.

To approach our relationships with compassion requires us to be respectful listeners, to set aside judgment and look for the reasons behind other people’s actions. Our willingness to take the time to get to know others helps us to establish a relationship of trust, and to ultimately make connections – to build bridges rather than destroy them.  I’m working on it.

Sometimes I still need to back-peddle and remove that foot from my mouth!  A piece of pumpkin chocolate chip cake would taste much better.  Those of you who know me know I needed some Kitchen Therapy after that meeting!

Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Cake

cake_collageI found this recipe on King Arthur Flour’s website.  You can find the whole recipe here.  The recipe calls for bran flakes.  And I wasn’t so sure how that would work out.  I was surprised to find that you can’t even tell they’re there!  And I think the flakes thicken the batter and help to suspend the nuts and chips better.  I cut back on the sugar a little, adding only one and a half cups.  This cake is quite moist.  I served it at a school event, and the kids devoured it!

Prepping ingredients is my favorite part of the cooking process.  It’s relaxing.  I get all the ingredients ready before I begin.  I like to be organized!

 

batter_collageLittle surprise that I also clean up as I go along.  I can’t leave the mess until the end.  I doubt that a clean sink is a sign of the quality of my food, but it makes me happy nonetheless.

I have a very old mixer.  It is a hand-me-down from my Mother.  It’s not a shiny Kitchen Aid.  No stainless steel bowls for me.

mixerIt has small and large glass bowls.  And two mixing blades, instead of one like modern mixers.  And the large glass bowl has a few chips on the bottom.  The cord barely stays connected to the mixer anymore.  Sometimes the cord falls off in the middle of mixing.  Fuses get blown.  But I can’t seem to part with this cherished antique.  Whenever I use it, I know my Mom is with me.  And I think about all the love that has been cooked into our family recipes over the years.

I don’t think the old Sunbeam Mixmaster will last until my own daughter is whipping up cakes and cookies for her family.  But I hope there are a few things here that will become her treasures.  What object of mine will she hold dear?  Maybe it will be my iron.  She’s been using it lately for Perler bead craft projects.

It’s a Black & Decker with a non-stick coating.  I told her that my Mom bought the iron for me when I was in college.  She paid for it with S & H Green Stamps.  I had to explain to my daughter what Green Stamps were.  Now we earn gas extra rewards points at the grocery store.  Back then, the grocery perk was Green Stamps.

finished cakeMy Girl Scouts voted to earn a badge called New Cuisines this year.  Lucky for them that they have leaders who love to cook.  We will be exploring foods from around the world and from our heritage.  It’s an opportunity to learn about other cultures and to get to know each other a little better.  It’s a great tie-in to the ongoing discussions we’ve been having about stereotypes, peer pressure, and friendships.  Food unifies us.  I think I can also teach them a lesson in diplomacy if we invite our community partners to join us and sample our fare.  I’ll let you know how that works out!

© Vulnerable Path, 2014