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Stop and enjoy the olives

Last Saturday, I met a child who took tremendous delight in a green olive.  Actually, he enjoyed lots of green olives, devouring as many as I would give him.

I was serving food at a picnic for bike riders from the Community Bike Works, an organization in Allentown that mentors inner-city children through their bicycle maintenance program.  The riders, nine children and five adults, met up with us at Sand Island in Bethlehem.  They were riding along the Canal Towpath, a section of the D & L Trail, from their start in Allentown’s Canal Park.  My employer, EZ Micro Solutions, sponsored the lunch.

Bike Riders from Community Bike Works enjoyed a picnic at Sand Island in Bethlehem on Saturday, July 25, 2015.  Christine Reber, far left, and David Dooley, second from left, provided the lunch on behalf of EZ Micro Solutions.  Kim Schaffer, Executive Director of Community Bike Works, far right, led the group on the ride, starting at Allentown's Canal Park.

Bike Riders from Community Bike Works enjoyed a picnic at Sand Island in Bethlehem on Saturday, July 25, 2015. Christine Reber, far left, and David Dooley, second from left, provided the lunch on behalf of EZ Micro Solutions. Kim Schaffer, Executive Director of Community Bike Works, far right, led the group on the ride, starting at Allentown’s Canal Park.

Among the spread of wrap sandwiches, chips, cookies, and drinks was a very large container of green olives.  I love olives, but I wasn’t sure that this group would eat them.  I had forgotten to bring a serving spoon, but that was no deterrent.  Young and old alike were pouring them onto their plates or simply grabbing a handful.  And there was much appreciation for all that was offered.  We must have heard a hundred thank-yous that day.

bike_editedThese children brought a warm and infectiously happy attitude to an already beautiful, sunny day.  “Wow, I’m really ready for this!” one child announced.  “I know what’s in this box,” said another as he hovered over the cookies.  A few others kept riding in circles around the path, having too much fun to stop for food.  One of the older boys managed to climb a nearby tree.  We finally corralled all of them for a prayer before digging in.  A young hand shot up, “Oh, may I say the prayer?” he begged.  Absolutely!  We bowed our heads as he asked God to bless the food we were about to eat and thanked Him for the many blessings in our lives.

It brought tears to my eyes.  I wanted to drink up the boundless energy that poured from these kids, taking it in like a much needed antidote to the worries of my adult life.  Will my car make it through at least one month without needing repair?  Can we solve a big software issue at work?  But seeing the joy these kids took in something as simple as an olive, or a bike ride, or a tree, made me think.  Have I forgotten the importance of play in my own life?  Lately, it seems that my commitments have filled up too much space on my to-do list.  I need to make time for pure, un-obliged fun.

Community Bike Works has found a way to encourage kids to have fun while also sneaking in lessons in work ethic and responsibility.  Their youth development programs provide kids with mentors who serve as experienced friends and role models.  Students who regularly meet with mentors are less likely to skip school, or abuse alcohol or illegal drugs.  Children gain companionship and supervision.  They learn leadership skills and build their self-esteem.  But let’s not overlook one of the most fundamental elements of a program like Community Bike Works — it helps kids benefit from play.

tire_editedThere is much research that supports the belief that play is vital to a child’s growth and development.  It’s through play that children learn about their world.  Play helps kids learn to read, solve problems, understand math, and build social skills.  So it’s not hard to imagine what these children are learning at Community Bike Works.  CBW has been teaching bike maintenance to kids for 20 years — four or more nights per week, all year long, 16 kids per night “play” with bikes.  Maybe some former students have gained employment because of their training, or earned a college degree.  Maybe some have become teachers, businessmen, or engineers.

I hope all of them, no matter how old, are still going on bike rides.  Because as adults, we still need the benefits of play.  We focus so much on work and family commitments, that we end up leaving little room for some pure fun.  Work may keep food on the table and a roof over our heads.  But it’s the childlike bliss of play that will keep us healthy, happy, and peaceful.  Make time in your life for a bike ride.  Play tag with the neighborhood kids or fetch with the dog.  Climb a tree!

No kids or dogs at home?  No problem!  Community Bike Works would love to have you join their ranks as a volunteer.  They are always looking for adults to mentor their students, help out with bike mechanics classes, or chaperone bike rides.  If biking isn’t your thing, there are lots of other organizations in our community that support children and animals.  Consider becoming a volunteer.  Volunteering can be a great way to spend leisure time with individuals who enjoy the same activities that you do.  But it can also give you a sense of fulfillment beyond the play – the satisfaction that comes from knowing that you have helped to improve the lives of others.

Whether you volunteer or just simply make time to have fun, you are bound to reap the rewards.  Play may be vital to a child’s growth and development, but it’s essential to an adult’s sanity.  In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”   I think the young boy I met on Saturday would say, “Stop and enjoy the olives!”

© Vulnerable Path, 2015

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Welcome to May

It’s been a long 5 months.  Back in January, I was sending up my wishes for the new year in bird seed, peanut butter, and pine cones.  Let’s see — I wished to embrace my failures.  Check!  It feels like that’s all I’ve managed to accomplish since New Year’s Day.  All the other wishes — well, life got in the way.  But there is still hope! Welcome to May!

bush 2_editedMay makes me happy.  The days are getting longer.  It’s warm enough to get outside and take a walk, go bicycling, or head to the trail for a hike.  Thank God for May!  It had gotten to the point where I could not set foot in the gym and bear that treadmill one more time.  I NEEDED to get outdoors!

I finally had the opportunity to break open the shed and dust off my bike last weekend.  I missed her so much!  “You and me, Bike, we are going to have a really nice ride today!  Let’s get you spiffed up!”  Put a little air in those tires and we are ready to roll.

Until I was out there, cruising down the road, I had not realized just how much I missed this activity.  It’s the way I keep my sanity.  It restores my balance.  It clears my head of all the gunk of everyday.  I was so thirsty for a bike ride.  And it quenched my soul!

cherry blossom 3_editedI feel so blessed to live in a community that has such a wonderful network of recreational trails.  We have the Delaware and Lehigh Rail Trail running straight through the heart of our area.  It’s actually a 165 mile trail system that runs from Wilke-Barre, PA all the way past New Hope along the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers.  I haven’t ridden the whole trail — yet!  You can read all about it here.

May ushers in the downhill run toward the end of the school year.  And this is a good thing for me.  Not because I’m a teacher, and I look forward to my summers off.  Actually, in some respects, I am a teacher.  I’m a Girl Scout leader, and we teach lots of things.  At least we try to.  And while I love my volunteer work more than my paying gig, I’m still ready for a break.  Summer re-charges my batteries.

White hearts_editedMy plan is to get re-connected to nature this summer, and in the process, re-connect to those wishes I made on January 1.  Maybe I will explore a new section of the Rail Trail.  Or perhaps I will brave a kayaking trip on the river.  It would also be awesome just to sit on my back porch, under my umbrella, with a drink in one hand and a good book in the other.

The explosion of new life in springtime is revitalizing.  Gone are the browns, grays, whites of winter.  The trees burst with blossoms and colors.  Things turn GREEN again!  I had to take along my camera and capture nature showing itself off today.

violets_editedI’ve noticed that not all wild plants are weeds.  How can you argue when you find these delightful violets popping up in your grass?  When I was a kid, I always looked forward to finding violets in my yard.  I would carefully pick them, place them in a tiny vase, and present them to my Mom.  Being a Mom myself now, I know that is the best gift!  I also picked Dandelions, clover, butter cups, and wild strawberries.  Did you ever hold a butter cup up to your chin?  A yellow reflection is supposed to indicate a fondness for butter!

bleeding heart_editedRalph Waldo Emerson said that a weed is a plant whose virtues have never been discovered.  Maybe this is true of ourselves sometimes too.  When we are unsure of who we are or where we want to go in life, we doubt our virtues.  But they are waiting to be discovered.  When we are criticized or bullied by others, we may feel as worthless as a weed.  But weeds are survivors.  Pulled out, cut down, poisoned, yet somehow finding persistence, power, roots, and new growth again.  Perhaps the weed sees the beauty in itself, refusing to let go of it’s wild confidence.

I’m refusing to let go of my New Year’s wishes.  I still wish to grow in spirit, strengthen my will, change those failures into opportunities, and improve my forward fold.  There is still time.  There is always a new day and a new chance to blossom.