Monthly Archives: April 2011

525,600 minutes (x 42).

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I have to write something, because I am going to speak at the Mass for my father on Friday. Seems I have no problem writing when I think people may or may not read it, but when I have to write for public consumption…I am suddenly at a loss for words. This post is my attempt to get my thoughts together to prepare what I am going to say. I have always loved this song from “Rent”, since I first saw the show in NYC about 17-18 years ago with Stacy. I thought then and still think now that it is very profound and powerful. 525,600 minutes….how do you measure a year in the life? How about love? Measure in love. Remember the love. What beautiful words.
Today was an awful day…we had to go through all of the formalities of preparing for a funeral. But, while doing so Lisa found letters that my father had written to me, my brother, my uncle and her prior to going into the hospital. Mine had some code in it to translate….from the font “Wingdings” to English. Typical of my father to try to make something fun out of what he saw (and feared) could be coming…the end of his life. The code translated to “Hi….love you very much and have always tried to do my best for you”. Simple. Sweet. Perfect. And so, so true.
So, what am I going to say on Friday? I am going to say how lucky I was…I am going to tell a story that I think exemplifies who my father was. This sounds easy, but, I am really struggling…I don’t want to leave out anything. Like….how he always made sure I had a “Dawn” doll on hand as a little girl, because he knew how much I loved them…and how I wanted “long hair coming down” like they had. Like, how many times he painted my room when I was a picky teenager. Like, how we’d go to the “little beach” on the boat or go clamming in the Great South Bay. How he helped me move many, many times, painted, hung fences, rigged fences (right here at my current home, and even though it has been properly repaired, I can’t make myself take his “solution” down) and always came to see me often in my ‘hood, no matter where it was.
What I am not going to say is what I regret, and there are some things. I regret being confused after my parent’s divorce and letting my mother’s bitterness color my relationship with him. I regret being afraid to say I love you for so long. I regret making him worry with my sometimes irresponsible ways. I regret never asking him exactly why he loved the Rolling Stones. I regret not having him walk me down the aisle, and not having an aisle to walk down. Paul and I had talked about having another “real” wedding someday, in which I could wear the dress I bought, and my father could properly “give” me away. Now that can never happen. That’s the thing with “someday”….it disappears before you even know it.
Maybe what I’ll say is how proud I am of him for everything he did for all those he loved…..maybe I’ll say how he made “crazy eyes” in pictures a lot and how when we were looking at pictures yesterday, we laughed and laughed at just how often he did it. Maybe I’ll say when I asked him to do it for a picture while he was in the hospital, he said “I have no idea what you guys are talking about” and promptly proceeded to do it. Maybe, I’ll say that he loved the Rolling Stones, the NY Yankees and Giants almost as much as he loved us. But, that he especially loved these things when he could share them with us. I think I will mention his amazing meatballs. For an Irish/German guy…..they were truly sublime.
I guess the important part is that I convey what we already know…..my dad was a really amazing guy and that we were all blessed to know him.
Ok…now I am primed and properly inspired by blasting Stones songs on youtube. Time to get to the business of saying goodbye. He would like that….me using the Rolling Stones to inspire a eulogy.

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Good Grief.

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I think it is starting to sink it. The numbness is gone, and in it’s place lies a pit of dread, whose proportions I am sure I don’t know yet. What did it? My husband just reminded me of a gift that we got for my father 2 Christmases ago. It was a very tacky light-up figure of Giants Quarterback Eli Manning throwing a football. It was the most excellent gift I had ever gotten him…and we had a long history of exchanging tacky gifts. We went through a period when each of us would bring back the tackiest gift we could find from a shell shop in Florida. I could never afford the sea shell toilet seat, which was unfortunate…because he would have loved that! Anyway, he did love the Eli figure and put it in his front window for a while, until it was relegated to the basement with the rest of his sports memorabilia. I am so proud of that gift, because it was so symbolic of our relationship…I honored something he loved (Giants Football), with something we shared (the love of tacky), just like his tradition of providing treats for my dogs at Christmas, as he knew how much I love them.
How am I supposed to get through this? I guess this week, it will be done by attending to the logistics of wakes, funerals, kind words and sympathy. Beyond that, I can’t imagine. Everyone dies….I know this, but, my dad was not supposed to die yet. There was so much more to do, to eat, to laugh about.
When I think back to March, I think of how brave he was in the hospital. How hard he pushed to recover, how he made us laugh with his “high maintenance” needs. Every time one of us walked into his room, we were given a task….stretch his arms, rub his legs or fluff his pillows. Though it was such a difficult time, it was also funny and amazing…he showed us all what he was made of through his recovery…and let us give him everything we could. We brought him every type of food he loved once he could eat (including meat dishes prepared by my husband especially for him), my brother brought his portable DVD player so they could watch movies together, Lisa and he had a chinese food picnic date, I read to him from books I bought about God and transcendental meditation. He and my uncle devised a PT routine they worked on every day when my uncle came up from Georgia. His friend Charles visited almost every day. He wore his St. Patrick’s day beads that whole day. That month will forever be etched in my mind as, by far, the most meaningful time in my life.
I just went back through my phone to look at texts from my dad when he was in the hospital, and am overwhelmed by them…in one I asked how he was doing and he said “great…on road to recovery now..at intersection of love of life and love of family streets”. Another said, “GREAT DAY!!…great therapy sessions..lots of progress…I’ll be out in no time”. And another….”SPRUNG…be in my house in 15 minutes!”. I am filled with so much pride at his approach to life….and so much sorrow that he won’t be here to share it anymore. But, I do believe that his soul and spirit will live on and remain present in all of us who loved him. I am a very lucky girl.

Dad

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My father lost the war yesterday. He won the battle against Parkinson’s for 3 years, the skirmish against lung cancer for 4 months,  but, in the end, his mind may have been more committed to the fight than his body.
Somewhere between 3:30am and 8:30am Saturday morning, he simply stopped breathing. His wife and best friend, Lisa, went to bed at around 3:30 after being told by my dad that she needed to get her rest. It had been a rough day for him (and therefore her, as she was his primary caretaker), but, as was his style, he always thought of the other persons needs first. When she woke yesterday morning, he was already gone. What followed can only be described as panic, fear and unearthly, surreal sadness. Lisa called 911 and then me and I knew by the sound in her voice that this was it. He was raced to the nearest hospital, and was pronounced dead on arrival. I knew this as I was racing to the hospital. A voice inside kept telling me that I needed to get there, but, that I didn’t have to really hurry. When I got there, one of my father’s friends (Tim)was already there and in the parking lot, and kindly offered to park my car. I ran inside, I saw Lisa and her daughter, Alia, and we were put into a consultation room.The doctor who met with us was kind and gentle, and I thought that it really takes a special kind of person to do that job.Within the next half hour, another friend showed up (Charles, his oldest and dearest friend). And then my husband, my brother arrived as well as another friend (John). Telling my brother was the hardest thing I have ever had to do, as my father was truly his anchor. My heart breaks most when I think about him, and how lost he will be without my dad. They regularly attended games for their favorite teams…the NY Giants & Yankees. They tailgated and went decked out in full regalia. Concerts and sports shows were often on their agenda and now the poor guy will have to settle for the occasional Phillies game with me and Paul.
My dad was loved by so many. He had a huge, extended network of friends. More than any male I have ever met. He cherished and nourished those friendships with frequent trips to Florida to golf (especially before Parkinson’s really took him out of the game), and a yearly celebration called “Night of the Italian Men” or NOIM for short. He was so loved, he was made an honorary Italian! His friendship’s were long-standing and deep and I know how much these men meant to him and he to them.
As for us, his family, I know that my father was an anchor for all of us, not just my brother. Through his illnesses, he remained positive and focused and would not allow any of us to wallow too long in sadness. Instead, he would host a barbeque or Holiday dinner which he would spend days preparing for. Food became one of his greatest pleasures, and anyone who is friends with me on Facebook knows how much we all enjoyed sharing a meal together. I had the pleasure of watching my husband and father bond over the joys of all things “meat” and a friendship grew between the two of them as they tried to outdo each other in the number of meats served as well as methods of preparation.
As for his extended family, my dad and Lisa have been together for well over 10 years, but married for less than 2 months. They decided to marry the day before my dad’s lung surgery and for so many reasons, I am so happy they did. I had worried for a long time about what would happen to my connection with her if anything happened to my dad. Now that he is gone, the “official” nature of their relationship seems to leave no question; we will remain family. Lisa’s children, mother and brothers have been in my life so long now, that the thought of no longer being connected to them is unbearable. They have memories and stories of my dad that I hope to hear for years to come. My father’s brother, Dennis, will also feel the loss of my father in very deep ways, and I know that his children, Thomas, Matthew and Natalie will be devastated, because to them, my father was a superhero. My uncle, his wife Debbie and the kids got to see my dad create the biggest splashing cannonball in the pool (which he did up until about 3 years ago), got a surprise visit from him at the family “retreat” in Deerfield Beach, Fl. (which he generously let us all use anytime we asked) and greatly looked forward to any vacation that involved seeing their beloved “Uncle Jimmy”.
As for me, I can’t count the ways in which I will miss my dad. Because I was born when my parents were so young, I had long thought I would be spared this pain until I was much older. But, as his Parkinson’s progressed I had to revisit that thought…I started to think about cherishing the moments NOW, without the safety of thinking long term. This was perhaps his greatest gift to me….the recognition that I could not put off telling him how much I loved him, or not attend the Sunday dinner or turn down an invitation to a dinner out. In the past three years, I have gotten to know a softer side of my dad and for that, I am grateful to Parkinson’s Disease. His recognition that he will not be healthy forever was a great gift and allowed us to grow closer than I ever would have imagined. Through the years, we had traveled together, to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with my best friend, Stacy, and to the Florida Keys for my 30th birthday, so I could swim with dolphins. He took my and two friends to meet Duran Duran for a record signing when I was 13 in NYC (and got us in, despite the enormous crowd, likely due to his height and visability) took me to see Julian Lennon at 16 and many other concerts throughout the years. This past November, he and I traveled to Deerfield Beach together, to see if he was healthy enough to travel alone. The answer was a definite no, and I worried the whole time, but, we talked, we laughed, we ate and most of all, got to spend time together as father and daughter for the first time in a long time. After my parent’s divorce, we would go on what we called “dates” but as time went on, our together time usually involved other people, as well, so, this trip to Florida was a true blessing and allowed us to re-connect as a daddy and his little girl. It was wonderful. I don’t think there is any relationship quite as meaningful as parent and child, and as we both grew older, I think we understood this in new ways. My father told me he was proud of me, that he thought I was a great person. What is more meaningful than that? I can say that I truly felt the same way about him. The love that I have in my heart will keep him alive to me forever and the memories will never fade. His sense of humor, generosity and commitment to those he loved will be a part of who I am for the rest of my life. I miss him tremendously already and don’t look forward to the coming week. But, I know we will all be met by an outpouring of love and that the spirit with which my father approached life will be alive and well in all those who come to honor him. So, in addition to the sadness, I will be filled with a gratitude that may not fill the emptiness I feel and the hole left in my heart, but, will make it that much more bearable.

Zooby. Bumble-ooby.

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I don’t have alot to say today…it’s Friday and I am tired. So, let me just tell you a bit about the world’s greatest cat. Zooby was about 5 or 6 months when he followed me to my car in Baltimore. I walked out of a client’s house (where there was a masturbating Boston Terrier..I swear!) and he came out of the alley and started meowing and rubbing up against me. I bent down to pet him and and kept walking. He kept following. It was a busy street and intersection, and I got worried, so I tried to put him back in the alley. He wasn’t having it. Followed me again. At this point, there was a woman walking down the street, and as I mentioned in an earlier post, she told me that there were young boys throwing rocks at him. She said he was the nicest cat she had ever met and felt sorry for him. Yes, she was a prostitute (she was a well-known street-walker), but, I believed her. She had no reason to say anything to me about it. It was clear he was not being cared for, covered in fleas, dirty and hungry. Plus, it was a busy street and he would not leave me alone. So, I put him in my car. Fed him bits of  Pupperoni and tried to pawn him off on my aunt and then a neighbor. Didn’t work…and 9 years later, I am so glad!
He stayed in the “cat room” for 3 days…a safety zone for Doublestuff with her cat litter and a sunny window, where she could get away from the dogs. He pretty much remained perched on the ironing board until he decided enough was enough and needed to check the dogs out. He was immediately accepted and set about becoming a loving, loved member of the household.
The reasons Zooby is so great are many: he sounds like a coffee percolator when he purrs (and he purrs often), he lets us pet his (big) belly, he goes CRAZY over lunch meat, he makes that awesome chittering sound when he sees birds, he likes to sleep on our heads and “knead”, the only time he ever hisses is when Trixie jumps on his head, he has the brightest eyes I have ever seen on a cat, he steals my desk chair the minute I get up (it’s become like a little game we play), he loves boxes, he has an awesome ‘stache and answers to almost any variation on his name.
Wrap up: Zooby is a Bumble-ooby, a Bum-Bum, a Zoobs, a Zoobs Von Boobs, a Bumble-oobs. a Zooby Wan Kenoobi,  a Boob, a dude, a Boo- Boo, a Boo-Boo Bum-Bum,  a Zooby Von Booby the Bumble-ooby….
I really need to get a life 😉

Gimme Shelter.

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This post is inspired by a conversation I had last night with my good friend, Karen. Somehow, we went from talking about meeting her son’s new dogs (Australian Shepherds…love them), to talking about the SPCA.  I told Karen that I regularly visit the Bucks County SPCA, which is only about 10 minutes from here. I said that I like to go sit with the cats, talk to the dogs and drop a few things off or put a few bucks in their little bank. She said that shelters were so sad, and being an animal lover, how could I do that to myself? There are a few reasons I do this.
First, I like to show my support. I don’t really have time to volunteer, so bringing some treats or $5 is something I can contribute. Second, I am guessing that most of us think of shelters as being “sad” places, but few years ago, I decided that even though they are sad, I couldn’t let that stop me from going. Third, I always think I might see the perfect pet for someone I know. I go there myself knowing that I am not bringing anyone home, because there is no room at the inn. Sometimes, I drag Paul…he always wants to bring someone home, but, settles for visiting with them….safe in the knowledge that someday we will.
My decision to stop focusing on the sad aspect happened when I lived in Baltimore. I was heavily involved in various dog-related activities, and was invited to some presentations and meetings held at the Md. SPCA. I got to see firsthand how invested the people who worked there were and it changed my mind from thinking shelters were sad, to thinking they were places (that could be) full of hope. Believe me, I am highly aware that some are not! Not even close! So, When I moved back to Pa., I started visiting my local SPCA regularly.
When I go to the SPCA, I sit in the cat room and let them climb all over me. I talk to the dogs and tell them how lovely they are and stick my fingers through the wire so they can sniff me or rub against them. I send silent prayers into the universe for the right person to walk in at the right time. I choose to believe that the few moments I spend with them makes their time there a little more bearable. I used to walk by with tears in my eyes or angry that people would just dump their animals there. I don’t anymore. I still get sad thinking about how confused they must be, and angry about how many people give up their pets because they are “moving”(moving= lamest excuse ever), but, I don’t bring that with me. Because that pales in comparison to the thoughts I have of giving a little love and letting them know that they are not forgotten. Maybe it is selfish, I don’t know, I just think they deserve as much tenderness as they can get. By the way, I use a ton of Purell when I am there!
I am not sure if this SPCA is a no-kill or kill shelter (I tend to think they transfer dogs if they have been waiting for a while in order to get more people to see them) and, not to say I don’t care, but in some ways I don’t. Most shelters survive on donations and very, very little funding from other sources. In an ideal world, first..we wouldn’t need shelters at all..second..all of them would be no-kill, but, that is not the case. There are too many stupid, ignorant, cruel people in the world (so, too many surrendered, stray or abused animals)and not enough money. So, in my mind, even if this is a kill shelter, there are animals there TODAY who need to eat, be treated by a vet, get love and hopefully, be adopted. So, given those aspects, I think it is even more important to support a kill shelter…while working towards the goal of creating more no-kills. So, if you are against kill shelters (and on the deepest level, I am), you need to contribute to the cause in some way to keep the animals alive. Not supporting a shelter because they are a kill shelter is not the way to do it. Animal activists sit on both sides of this fence…and to me the ultimate decision is based on compassion, because what is my withholding support going to do to that beautiful German Shepherd I saw the other day going to do? If I withhold, ultimately, it could decrease her chances of getting adopted. By visiting and showing my support, I got to tell my co-worker Donna (who loves German Shepherds) about her and Donna told a friend involved in German Shepherd rescue about her, and this has the potential to greatly increase this dogs visibility and therefore, increase her chance of getting adopted. Maybe my $5 went into the fund to expand the shelter and therefore help more dogs, cats, bunnies, ferrets, guinea pigs and hamsters. The treats I dropped off may go towards training for the hyper snow white pit bull from a cruelty investigation, therefore making her more adoptable. Maybe the money will go towards lining some bigwig’s pockets. I don’t know…but what I do know is that the animals are well-cared for there, and that the staff and volunteers really care about their well-being.  So, I try not to be cynical.
A terrific quote from Mahatma Gandhi is: “The greatness of a nation and it’s moral progress can be judged by the way it’s animals are treated” and we can do better than the current system in this country….for sure! So, I try to spread a little love to those animals less fortunate than my own, because perhaps if I focus on my own moral progress, I can contribute that much more to the world. Every single bit counts.

I Love You.

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Today, I went to visit a client who has three young boys- 3 year old twins and a 2 year old. She, herself, is only 22, but is an extraordinary mother. I always schedule our visits at “nap time”, as I am sure you can imagine…these 3 are a handful and then some! However, these handsome young men (who have dimples for daysssssss) have figured out when I am coming, and I usually see their little heads pop out under the blinds. I think they have figured out the sound of my car or something, because without fail at least one of them is there at that window as soon as I close my car door.
Today when I got there, they were extra, extra rowdy. Screaming, carrying on like they were being tortured. I guess in their minds they were…the nice lady who kisses the crayons was there and mommy is a big meany making them sleep. So, after a few minutes of this…I couldn’t take it anymore. I told my client that they could come out if she was ok with it and at first, she said no, that they needed to nap. After they screamed “mommy, pleeeeeeassssseee” a few more times, she relented. I knew these poor, desperate children were going to emerge all smiles and sure enough, they did. It was Academy Award winning acting. Spot on and perfect. Not a tear to be found….dimples firmly in place next to their huge smiles.
These boys are generally pretty shy at first each time I see them, not at all effusive (which I would expect, given their insatiable desire to be in the same room with me), instead they kind of look at me until I do something that they deem worthy. Today, it was to kiss a stuffed frog. I asked to kiss the frog and you would have thought it was Christmas! Until…the screams of “GIVE ME THE FROG” began. These screams from a 2 year old sounded like “GIVE ME THE F***”, which at first I thought he was saying, until I realized that his little mouth had difficulty with the “R” sound. So, frog kisses all around, followed by goodbye tickles. I finished up with mom, got my stuff together and said goodbye to the boys. As I got to the front door, one of them said something I didn’t understand, so I looked at my client with a question on my face. She said “he just said I love you”. Seriously, I almost melted, not even exaggerating. I said, “Wow, thank you, I love you, too”. And, just like that, I was literally engulfed in little boy. One wrapped around my leg, one jumping up for a hug and the other grabbing at my arm. Short, but, sweet…one of the best moments of my life 🙂

Do you know what it feels like…to be poor?

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In answer to my own question: I don’t. I know what it feels like to be down on my luck, broke, struggling or “going through a rough patch”….what I don’t know is poverty as a way of life. But, I do know people who do.  Currently, I work as a case manager for a non-profit and the population I work with is homeless families. These people, though they are homeless by definition, have a roof over their heads, but, not much more. Most are single mothers and most have not had the opportunities for growth that most of us take for granted. I don’t want to make this post into being about Politics (though it certainly comes into play), so I will *try* to stay away from arguing why programs like mine are important from that angle. Instead, I will *try* to focus on the fact that compassion for others is key to my feeling useful.
I have a strong desire to do something in life that “matters”. I have been called a “bleeding heart” on more than one occasion,and quite frankly, I am ok with that. It has cost me many tears, much angst and more than a few trips to therapy, but, to me the alternative of not caring and of thinking of things as not being “my problem” is unthinkable. Does that mean I have infinite wells of compassion, that I never get frustrated or think that someone is f***ing up? No. Absolutely not, I get very frustrated…usually at myself for expecting that person to do what I thought they were capable of. And, that’s important, what *I* thought is not necessarily what they thought. Do I think that there are people who “milk” the system, yup, and, unfortunately, I know some of them, too. But, in my rather limited experience, but long held belief, many poor people do try to do better for themselves and their families and fail time and time again. In part, because of the way “the system” works, in part because  of poor decision- making, in part because of the way they were raised and sometimes in part because of bad luck.
For me compassion is not only something you feel, but, something you do. My beliefs  about this are pretty strong and though they come from the Bible, I am not religious. But, I do consider myself spiritual. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a very simple idea. Sometimes, I try to literally see myself standing in one of my clients shoes in order to understand how much pride they had to swallow in order to say “I am homeless and I need help”. If that were me, would I want compassion or judgement? This is not to say that I agree with every decision they make, because I don’t…but, my job is to guide them, not judge them. I mean, what if my case manager was my biggest support and not my husband? That would really suck.
I used to walk around thinking that no matter what I did it just wasn’t good enough. That I could always do more, and the truth is that I can. I can show more compassion every day. This will likely keep me busy in therapy for a while, because I have to admit that I have not yet found the balance between taking care of others and taking care of myself. But, I am starting to. I don’t take my client’s problems home with me anymore and I make a real effort to enjoy what I do have: a roof over my head, cars that are in good shape, food to eat, and, most importantly, love out the wazoo.
My husband’s prolonged unemployment and my father’s hospitalization have made me painfully aware of the fact that I can’t control everything. These two events have caused me to look at how I approach the people that I love and recognize that compassion for their situations will serve me so much more in the long road than anger or judgement. My husband chose to work in a field that he was wildly successful in for a long time and finding work in it once the recession hit was harder than either of us would have thought. There were times when I was angry (the anger is in large part related to politics and societal values), disappointed and scared, but, for the most part, I really tried to remind myself how he must feel.  I can’t control the economy, I can’t control societal values of bigger, better, more. But, I can control how I think about all of those things. I can honestly say that the things I value now are not the same things I valued two years ago. If anything positive came out of Paul’s unemployment is my admiration of his tenaciousness to learn new things to make money and the recognition that if we can make it through that, our commitment to each other is strong and real. As for my father’s illnesses, I can want him to be healthy, I can want him to be without pain, but, I can’t make that happen. It is very sad, but, it is true. I am powerless over Parkinson’s Disease and Lung Cancer. But, instead of wallowing in that sadness, I focus on how much closer this has brought us and how much it has proven to me what is important.
So….back to being poor. It isn’t about just the lack of money. It is about the lack of resources, both inner and outer. Inner resources to say: I will get through this, I just have to keep pushing. Outer resources like: agencies like the one I work for, organizations that provide outreach to those in need and individuals who say “I can help with that”. Every day we have the choice to give or to take.  Some people don’t have it in them to keep trying, some give up, some are “takers”. Some don’t think other people are their problem. But, I really think that most of what separates us is circumstance and that most of us could end up in situations that we didn’t expect despite our “plans”.  Did I “plan” to end up worried about what will happen to my clients if funding for programs like ours is cut? No..I planned to be financially secure, vacationing abroad every year, but, that was not in somebody else’s plans. God? The Universe? I don’t know…but, I do know that I felt very empty before I started working in human services (I was a drug & alcohol counselor prior to my current job). Getting a hug from one of my teenage clients when I worked at  TODAY, Inc. or seeing one of my current clients get an A on a test or pass their driver’s exam at 29 means so much more to me than a new Coach bag or the latest piece of technology.
For me, the truth is that compassion does more for me more than it does the people (and animals) that I have the pleasure of interacting with. I get to feel like what I did today mattered, that I tried to make someone feel a little bit better or made a dog’s tail wag or a cat purr. Please know that I fail at this. Every day. I am impatient…I get frustrated. I still want a new Coach bag. I desperately want to get out of the work event I volunteered for next weekend.
But, I try and because of that, I get to see the good in everything around me….when I let myself believe that I made a “good enough” effort.
If you are interested, check out http://www.bchg.org. This is where I work…we do good things 🙂