A few inspiring happenings…

Well, after that last downer post, I have something more uplifting to say! There’s been a couple cool things I have been inspired by:

  • Last night after we ate out for dinner and were on our way to my son’s school play, we got stuck at an exit getting off of the highway. There was a man holding a small, battered sign that said one simple word: “Food”. As I passed him, Shiori (the Japanese student who is living with us) and I both looked down at our leftover packaged food, then looked at each other. She suddenly gave me her food and in that moment we made a split second decision to hand it over. I opened my window and called out to him but he did not hear me. So close and yet so far– I thought the moment had passed. I tried once more and gave a great bellow, “Hey, Sir!” and he turned and saw me waving vigorously (luckily the traffic was still deadlocked). He ambled over to us and I handed him the meals and said, “Enjoy!”His face broke out into a huge smile and he said, “Oh thank you, God Bless You!” I felt goosebumps break out all over. There was this incredible high that whooshed right through me, much like being on a zipline hurtling a gazillion miles per hour towards a very big and unmoving post at the other end.
  • An acquaintance from middle school posted on facebook: “Day 365/365 of exercise”. Yup, that meant that every single day she exercised– whether it was walking, going to the gym, riding her bike, etc. Some plusses for her: she gets up early in the morning to exercise, her two kids are a bit older (teenagers), and on weekends she spends time exercising WITH them– nature walks, hikes, bike rides… Exercise really helps me in a major way, in terms of productivity, a healthy outlook, and just a better quality of life! Her accomplishment has gotten me thinking hard about this sort of goal– I really love goals and deadlines like this. Problem is, I am not a morning person before 6 am. Maybe it is time to be! I can feel that old determination creeping back in. Gotta do something like this.
Credit: futuresobright.com

Credit: futuresobright.com

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The Healing Power of a Community During a Crisis

I’ve been in a reflective mood lately.

There’s been too much death and dying all at once in the past few weeks. First, the disappearance of that Malaysian flight, the news that my 83-year-old uncle is dying from kidney failure, the landslide in Oso, WA, and on the same day as that landslide, the death of a man my age who lives nearby, in a skiing accident.

While that landslide was just unspeakably horrible (a close friend of mine had just traveled that road a mere 24 hours earlier) and the impending death of my uncle is very sad, the death of this man actually really hit me hard.

I’ve only met him once or twice and I was in a preschool cooperative with his wife for a short time. She made us a meal when my son was born- and this was eight years ago. And I see her, a friendly presence, from time to time around town. And Seattle is a small town– so many people I know from my neighborhood and other social circles have known him.

All I can think of is:

  • It can happen to any one of us at any time.
  • Life is short. And every day is precious.
  • I can’t imagine what she must be going through, with two young children. I really feel for her, this acquaintance of mine.
  • I don’t know them well at all, but I wonder how I can help. I want to pay it forward with a meal- hers was incredibly sustaining so soon after my delivery.
  • How can I strengthen my own community so that I have people to lean on when and if times get tough?

Ok, at the very least, I can do a meal for her. I looked online, found a website dedicated to his memory, and there were signups for bringing the family a meal. But it was completely full, through June! Luckily there was an email contact on the form, so I sent an email asking if I could bring a meal later, when the support starts to thin out as it will at some point. The response was, yes, that would be great, and that one of the family’s neighbors was a chef and would be making them regular meals on Tuesdays.


And apparently, there were 1000 people or more at this man’s memorial service this past weekend. From what I have heard and seen, the family has an incredible community of people supporting them. Isn’t that what we all need? To have people in our lives who care about us and support us when times are tough and vice versa? Absolutely, yes.

Credit: Detroit Jewish News

Credit: Detroit Jewish News

In the end, you are still alone in your private grief, especially if you have just lost your best friend, partner, lover, and as his wife said, “tour guide through life”. But I think all the love and support from this community will help her get through this grieving period more easily.

I hope I have that rock of support when I need it.


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Foster Care and the Power of Storytelling

Daniel Bryson-Beane, 13 and Ashlyn Bryson-Beane, 10. Credit: Jane G. Photography

Daniel Bryson-Beane, 13 and Ashlyn Bryson-Beane, 10. Credit: Jane G. Photography

My first post of the spring! It made me feel great and I hope you enjoy it too.

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Thinking about Difficult Topics

Wow, February just flew by!

It has been a wet, rainy month here. My writing has gone into hibernation!  My storytelling class just ended and I am feeling a bit bereft – - we had a great, supportive group. I’m determined to get back into the creative groove though.

I’ve been thinking a lot about topics that are hard to talk about or take courage to share. First, I went to a great fundraising luncheon for Amara, which helps to place foster children into adoptive homes. The hour-long program was so powerful and I was impressed at how effectively the organization presented the stories of the people who were impacted by the work. Speakers shared intensely personal stories about being foster children themselves. I’ll write a post about this for Parentmap soon.

Also, a friend wrote a great piece about sex in a marriage, which I thought was brave and incredibly open.  It’s great to have pieces like that to sort of jar you into thinking about the important stuff of relationships. I don’t think I could ever have the courage to talk about something so personal– which is something I struggle with in this blog. People have told me I can be a little too factual, much like a journalist reporting on a story, and I’ve been urged to go a little deeper into how I am feeling about a subject.

Thanks, Brene Brown!

Thanks, Brene Brown!

Finally, Oscar season came and went. I’m a HUGE movie fan and there’s nothing I love better than watching a movie on DVD, curled up under the blanket with popcorn. I decided this year I was going to try and see as many of the best picture-nominated movies as I could. Usually I am lucky if I get to see even one, maybe two each year. I ended up seeing more than half of the nominated 9 pictures and get this, I did this all within a month+. See, that’s probably why I haven’t been posting.

Anyway, where am I going with this? Oh, of the five I saw, I was most affected by Twelve Years a Slave. I just knew it would get best picture and was a little hopeful that Chiwetel Ejiofor would get best actor. I didn’t see Dallas Buyer’s Club and from what I understand, Matthew McConaughey, the best actor winner, underwent an incredible transformation in that movie. And character development is hugely important to be an Oscar contender, I think. And yay for Lupita Nyong’o for winning best supporting actress. That woman gave an absolutely powerful performance and her acceptance speech was superb.

Twelve Years a Slave is a movie that everyone should see- my stepdaughter was adamant about that and now I understand why. It’s a part of our history, which we often don’t speak of or acknowledge. At first, I was skittish about seeing it because I knew there would be some hard parts to watch. And that’s exactly why people should see it- to understand and feel in some minuscule way that slavery was pure hell. After I saw it, I was left with a feeling of something akin to outrage– that I lived in a country that allowed slavery to even exist. That allowed people to be treated so inhumanely.

This video clip of the movie moved me the most:

My daughter was curious about why it affected me and I explained that this scene was a turning point for Solomon (the slave character Ejiofor plays) because although he is oppressed, he remembers he still has his faith in God.

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Storytelling for Change

For the last 5 weeks I have been taking an online class through Acumen and the Ariel Group, called “Storytelling for Change.” The main task of the course is to tell a brief 1-2 minute personal story that frames the context of your key message for a social change issue you are passionate about. Each week we get tips about refining our message, different ways of presenting, and using your personal presence, expressiveness, body language and eye contact to make a connection with an audience.

Lately, I had been feeling a little jaded about my writing and was thinking it could use some perking up. A friend told me about this course and we invited three other people to join our team. It’s been a little challenging keeping up with the coursework and getting assignments submitted on time, but all in all, I am really enjoying my group and the course is helping me fine tune my key message: Philanthropy can easily be incorporated into your daily life and exposure to it needs to start early in life.


Anyway, I wanted to share the personal story I’ve been crafting. Here’s the context: I would like to present simple and accessible tips about how people can incorporate philanthropy in their lives, particularly for families with children. In so doing, I hope to normalize the word “philanthropy”, which I have been told turns people off because it implies that you have to be wealthy in order to fit in this category. I will begin my presentation by sharing the four components of philanthropy: giving your time, talent, treasure, and also caring for others through compassionate and empathetic acts. At this point I will probably tell my personal story to engage the audience and help them understand how my interest in philanthropy evolved from the time I was a young adolescent.

I would love any feedback: Is it inspiring? Does it compel you to find out more? Why or why not? (Sorry, I don’t include the tips– you’ll just have to come to one of my presentations to find out more!)

Elizabeth’s story

I stood there by the large conveyor belt platform with the other workers, picking up packages of suppositories and putting them into groups of threes.  We did this over and over again. The factory was dimly lit and the tasks were tedious and repetitive.


I was 16 years old and this was my first job. I felt empowered to be part of an operation that at the time, seemed important and worthwhile.

We all ate our lunches in a sparsely furnished room. There were large windows on one side of it so the light streamed in and gave the place a little more cheer to it. I have a fuzzy memory of one of the workers, a woman who had a colorful bandanna wrapped around her head to keep her hair out of her face as she worked. She acted on the young side, but the years of working here made her face look careworn and older beyond her years.

Everyone was kind to me. They were genuinely curious about my life and asked many questions. Where was I going to college? What did I want to do with my life?

I perceived their situation at the factory to be a dead end street as far as career advancement went. I felt incredibly humbled and privileged to work alongside these people.

Fast forward a few years to life in Malawi, Africa, where I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. Privilege hits me in the face once more as I am hitchhiking. It’s the easiest way to get around because busses were unreliable. I would often stand for hours in the relentless heat with many other African travelers who had been waiting much longer than me. And when the next transport came, despite my protestations, they insisted I board first even though there wasn’t room for others. It always left me feeling chastened and indignant about the inequity of it all.

These early experiences only served as fuel for unleashing those untapped reservoirs of my own compassion and empathy.

And these seeds, I believe, are essential to any kind of philanthropic action, and need to be sown early in the lives of young children.

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Spread the Love! Collect food for the Food Driving Box Campaign

Food driving box

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Porter



February is the month of love! Here’s a cool idea to whet your appetite for spreading the love!

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My Daughter Plans a Coming of Age Ceremony

Recently, I noticed Shiori, the Japanese student who has been living with us since September as part of a homestay program for college students, seemed a little sad.  Shiori attends the University of Washington and is in an international studies program.  She is our second student to live with us over the last couple of years and it has been great fun for all of us.

Anyway, I inquired if anything was going on. Shiori told me that day she was missing the Coming of Age ceremony in Japan, which is a national celebration for boys and girls who have just turned 20. This is a big deal, apparently, and it marks these young people as adults in the eyes of the Japanese.

She knew when she was planning her stay in the U.S. that she would miss this ceremony, but the significance of her absence didn’t really hit until it actually happened. All her friends were posting about their coming of age experiences on Facebook, and she was feeling sentimental.

When she heard this, my 11-year old daughter decided promptly, well, we would just have a ceremony right here in Seattle for Shiori! We decided to make this a surprise and right away, my daughter took the lead in planning the logistics:

  • My daughter asked Shiori if she could eat dinner with us on the night of the ceremony (sometimes Shiori goes out with her friends on the weekend, so we wanted to make sure she planned to have dinner at home with us that night). Shiori was encouraged to dress up for a “special dinner”.
  • Since it is a dressy affair- the girls wear kimonos and even the boys often do so too, but many wear suits- we looked for some material for Shiori to wear. I had bought some beautiful Japanese material years ago somewhere in East Africa (I have no idea where- I had bought a whole bunch of batik and tie-dye material back with me thinking I’d get some clothing made some day. The Japanese material somehow found its way into my stash.). We thought Shiori might want to wear it as a sash or draped over her shoulders.

Japanese material

  • We planned a sushi roll meal for dinner, which included making sushi rice, and using the following fillings: mango, cucumber, avocado, crab meat, and omelet strips. Shiori made some miso soup for us as well, which has to be the easiest, fastest, and also an unbelievably delicious soup to make in a flash. We also had wasabi (not as good as the wasabi from the restaurants…) and soy sauce. I had special bamboo mats to roll the seaweed and its fillings and also little dishes for the soy sauce and wasabi.

Japanese Sushi Roll

And last, but not least, we had mochi for dessert!

Japanese Mochi

Green tea is on the left and Chocolate is on the right!

  • My daughter decided to do a speech as part of the ceremony. First she interviewed Shiori about her life. Her questions included: Describe your life in the U.S. What middle and high school did you go to? Describe your experiences there. How old were you when you went to these schools? She used the answers in a speech she wrote as the “mayor” of Seattle. Then she asked each of us (her dad, little brother, and me) what compliments we wanted to include in the speech.
  • My daughter researched the translations for “Congratulations” and Shiori’s name in Japanese. She and my son worked together to make a banner for her that hung over the dinner table.
Japanese banner

Top word says “Congratulations”, bottom word says “Shiori”

  • My daughter bought some small presents for Shiori- assorted chocolates and lip gloss.
Japanese gifts and speech

Chocolates posing over the speech

  • We all got dressed up. It was fun for each of us to pick out a special outfit for the evening.

Shiori was very pleasantly surprised by the whole affair and had a grin on her face the whole evening! In fact, she posted on Facebook: “My host family held the coming-of-age ceremony for me! had a great dinner and amazing speech. They made me very very happy and I can’t say thank you enough!”

I was so proud of my daughter and moved by her compassion, caring, and empathy for this young woman.

Note: All pictures were taken by Shiori!

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