The Journey of Spare Change, the Homeless and My Brother

“Can you spare some change?” the homeless man asked? “Sorry,” I say, “I’m looking for my brother.”

My husband, Jim, and I were on East Fourth and Record Street, just a few blocks off casino row in downtown Reno. Known as an area of crime and prostitution, it’s also the location for the homeless “campus,” which includes the shelter and St. Vincent’s food pantry, thrift shop and dining room.

We started at the St. Vincent’s administrative offices, where we asked for help. I knew my brother, Gil, got a bed in the shelter. I wanted to know what services were available to him and where to find him. Honestly, I wanted someone to tell us what to do. And despite all of our efforts, financially and emotionally, he still ended up in this place.

I also wanted absolution.

I wanted someone to tell me that it wasn’t my fault that he was in one of the most despairing places I’d ever seen. I wanted someone to tell me that this was his choice; there was nothing I could have done differently. I wanted someone to tell me that bringing him back to our home, like we’ve done in the past, was the wrong thing to do. That giving him money for a motel, like we’ve done in the past, was the wrong thing to do.

That didn’t quite happen. But something did.

The gal at St. Vincent’s didn’t look at our clean and neat clothing; she didn’t ask why a sister would let her brother come to a place like Fourth Street and Record. She didn’t ask me why I was crying. She said, “I get it, you need to understand how your brother got here and how to support him.”

She explained that St. Vincent’s would provide dinner each day, except for Sundays, and a monthly coupon for clothing and toiletries. The shelter, a separate entity, would help Gil replace any lost documents (social security and ID cards) in order to apply for medical assistance, food stamps, and employment. He’d meet with a counselor once a week to help transition him “out.”

About two weeks earlier, while I was down at a conference in Las Vegas, a month after getting an eviction notice, Gil left all of his possessions, even his toothbrush, and drove on empty to the homeless shelter. He left everything. He could’ve loaded his 30-year-old Toyota with his tools or the few personal pictures he had left. He could’ve called us to have us store his belongings, like he did in the past. He didn’t. He took his dog. After spending two nights in his car, scared and cold, he took Skip, his 11-year-old Lab, down to the no-kill shelter. He couldn’t get a bed and have a dog too. He spent two more nights in his car waiting to get a bed. He was lucky that he did.

We walked down the block, towards the shelter. I hadn’t seen Gil in over three months or more, since he lost his job. I didn’t know if I was ready to see him or not; I was scared. With every step closer, I reminded myself to breathe.  Jim just kept on saying, “Take it easy, Chris.”

In the last few years, Gil would rarely communicate —  most times when he needed money. This summer, I thought I saw him one morning while I was driving to work. There was a man, sitting cross-legged on a street corner, with his head hung low, by one of those weekly motels. A woman passed him, and patted him on his shoulder. My heart stopped. I made a U-turn and drove slowly past him. He looked up, his eyes sunken, a thin face, but no, it wasn’t Gil. I did the same thing about three times over the next couple of weeks with different men who looked at me suspiciously, and finally decided to take a different route to work.

The man asked me for change, but when I told him I was looking for my brother, he nodded his head. We spotted Gil’s beat-up car in the parking lot. There were many people just hanging out, around the services building. Women, men, children. Jim asked, “Should we go in?” and as I tried to get myself together, just then, Jim said, “There’s your brother.”

He was wearing knee highs, a bright red T-shirt, and some gym shorts. He looked up at us in surprise, smiled, and we hugged a long time. I couldn’t say anything; I just cried and hung on. He kept on repeating, “Chris, I’m okay. I’m really okay.”

The weird thing was, he was okay. He looked better than I’d seen him in years. He didn’t look like those men I thought were him on the street. The T-shirt and shorts, from St. Vincent’s, were the right size, a medium; he didn’t look diminished, as he had when he wore his old XL clothes. He had grown a thick beard. His eyes were not sunken, he actually looked … healthy.

All he asked us for was a lock to put on his small cabinet that he kept his few belongings in. He had no money, but he didn’t need food or clothing.

The next night we drove down to the shelter and entered the gated lot to pick him up for dinner; again, folks just hanging out outside. One man was shouting and tried to talk to Gil; Gil said, “hey, man” and jumped in the backseat. He explained that the guy was a whack-job on drugs, but for some reason he gravitates towards him. Although our truck is ten years old, it’s nice. I felt self-conscious. We could drive away and leave this place. We could afford the gas and the insurance. We had jobs.

Of all impossible things, that dinner was one of the best nights I’ve had with Gil, probably since the last time I wrote about him two years ago. He was the most engaged I’ve ever seen him. He was, I dunno, just more alive. He had been such a recluse over the last several years, and now he’s forced to engage with people. Workers and shelter-mates who I know understood him better than I ever would.

He told us about the other people in the shelter — the “career homeless” who would disappear once a month after their social security checks came in. They’d get a motel room, buy their drugs or alcohol, and then show up again once they had spent it all. Or they’d leave to do “the circuit” to another shelter, in Oregon or San Francisco. He figured most of them were mentally ill. Then there were people “like him” who just wanted to get the hell out. Who couldn’t find a job.

He told us about the violence there — a fight would break out almost every night — due to drugs, alcohol, or mental illness. He said the food kitchen had gotten a deal on ham. He had salty, fatty and greasy ham for every meal. He’d never eat ham again when he got out. He said he’d gained fifteen pounds since he got there.

He told us that it was like prison; he had to check in every night and be in by a certain time; if he didn’t, he’d lose his bed. He told us about how a common problem was that some of the “inmates” would shit in the showers, and that the workers there would yell at all of them not to. One night, one of his “roommates” slipped on his own feces and cracked his head wide open. “No one felt sorry for him, as he was a mean asshole.”

Despite not wanting to engage with anyone, a few men insisted on befriending him, wanting someone “normal” to talk to. They found safety in numbers. One of those men, Gary, gave Gil a notebook to record the interactions he had there; after they were “out of this place,” he wanted to write about their experience and submit an article to the local newspaper. Another man, Cedric, was also part of their “posse.” They’d often help him up after the police would drop him off at the shelter. He’d spill out of the police car, not only drunk, but unable to get up off the sidewalk because of his advanced MS.

Funny how the universe works; my brother was a bigot. Now his two closest friends, Gary and Cedric, were black.

One day, local high school volunteers distributed highly prized socks and goodie bags. Gary and Gil got excited, thinking that the goodie bag had candy in it; no, just tampons and toothpaste. On another occasion, they all got brand-new tennis shoes. The local Christian ministry bathed the feet of the homeless before they got their new shoes. Gary, a Christian, said it reminded him of a baptism, or of Mary washing Jesus’ feet. Gil didn’t want his feet touched; he just wanted the shoes. He said, “I couldn’t believe they were touching their feet; do you know how disgusting they were?”

I sat across the table from him, torn between crying and laughing. I did start to cry, and both Gil and Jim yelled at me for bringing it down. Here we were, eating dinner in a Mexican restaurant, like everything was “normal.” Like I had a “normal” relationship with my older brother all these years, my only remaining family. He had hit bottom again. And despite telling me two years before that he’d kill himself before he was so low to go into the shelter, he wasn’t dead. He said he was “too scared to kill himself.” He had survived. He was motivated to get the hell out of there.

Within less than a month, the counselor helped Gil replace his social security card, which would allow him to work. He was put on Medicaid and got a month’s supply of insulin, which he’d been off of for over a year. He received food stamps, but really didn’t need them in the shelter. He got to know the bus system, as he didn’t have insurance or gas money.

He had three months to get back on his feet, or he’d be out on the streets at the beginning of winter. During this time, the only thing I offered to pay for was a bus pass, so he could go to job interviews. Prior to that, he said he was putting on at least seven miles a day, by foot, in crappy shoes. (I was in therapy by this point, trying to figure out my role in his journey and what was appropriate to help him with).

One week before his 90 days were up and his bed would be gone, he found a job as a housekeeper’s assistant at a local casino. He was discouraged, knowing at less than $8 an hour, it would be hard to get ahead, and he hated the menial job before he even started.

Remember Gary who wanted to write the article? Gary got out a month before Gil did and rented an apartment. His teaching credentials came through and he was not only subbing elementary school, but teaching adult ed. He offered Gil a room with another roommate from the shelter. The universe strikes again: Gary said he’d help Gil get his GED.

For the first time in years, we didn’t have Jim’s family over for Thanksgiving — they were dispersed in California. Jim went and picked up Gil, Gary, and their other roommate, Chris. Both Gary and Chris have “had it all” — relationships, kids, and wealth. They’re educated too. And they both lost everything. We didn’t talk about how or why they ended up on Record Street. Both Gary and Chris talked about their goals and what they wanted in the upcoming year. My brother was quiet.

We did our own “triathlon” — playing darts, ping pong and basketball (we didn’t play H-O-R-S-E this time; we played a shorter game of P-I-G, as it was cold outside). We ate, Gary and I drank champagne, then Jim drove them home.

Remember when I said that I was looking for absolution? I was desperate for someone to tell me how to help my brother, as all of my efforts seemed to be only temporary fixes — just like my mom, before me, before she died. Gil told me recently, “Why should I try, when Mom and you would always bail me out and give me money?” I really wanted to end this painful relationship that we’ve had for years, this cycle — wanting a brother in good and bad times; not being the mother who would worry herself to physical sickness.

Sounds simple — like all I had to do all these years was to say “no”? What a dumbass, right? To say, “You know, maybe you’ll go hungry tonight, because you’re not trying hard enough.” I couldn’t do it. We’d want to believe that he was doing everything he could to help himself. How could we judge? How could we abandon him? We’d rather pay his car insurance than have him be without a car, because without a car, he couldn’t get a job. Jim and I would rather pay than ever see him on the streets. Because we’d have nights like this that “all was normal” and all those bad memories would disappear. We’d forget that there was a reason why things were the way they were.

Well, what has been so remarkable about this journey in and out of the shelter was realizing that everything that Gil has today, a roof over his head, a job, medical care, insulin, and food stamps, is because he ended up at the shelter and because he made his way out of there. On his own.

The biggest lesson so far — I got out of the way and let him face the consequences of his choices. It’s weird that it wasn’t until then that he ended up getting the resources he needed.

I thought that I understood the term “enabling” all these years; but what I thought was love, repeatedly giving him money, offering time to help, bargaining,  was just a continuation of what my mom had done since he was a teenager and dropped out of high school.

After Jim got back from driving them home, we decided that it was one of the nicest Thanksgivings we’ve ever had. It was about that night only. It was about having fun with a brother who I didn’t think I’d see again. Having fun with people who wanted to be there, who needed not to think about what they had lost. I didn’t think about what could have been, the years we’ve missed, the relationship we haven’t had. I didn’t think about future Thanksgivings, as I know that I have no control over what happens tomorrow. I don’t know what choices he’ll make, if he’ll believe in himself, or what the universe will come up with.

Sometimes, in the darkest of times, it’s really hard to find things to be grateful for. But that night, I was grateful. Today I am grateful. I am blessed. I hope that today, you too can find something to be grateful for.

Very Happy Holidays,


PS — About a month ago, I met the Marketing Director of the Northern Nevada Catholic Charities at an American Marketing Association luncheon. She said that people assume, because of their name, their efforts only help Catholics, and they throw away the direct mail piece. A week later, Jim got a letter in the mail from this nonprofit agency. This time, I didn’t throw it away.

Originally published by Raving Consulting

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Finding Your Superpower to Choose the Right Career (and Happiness)

What’s your “superpower”?
Choose your career path based on what you do best, not what you think you’d like to do.

Our sales dawg, here at Raving, Amy Hergenrother, admits that she’d kill herself if she had to organize the millions of details involved in running a Raving Conference. My husband, Jim, would shut the door and hide if a group of fifteen folks came to our house unannounced. I would gladly invite them in, have a dinner made with what I could find in the cupboard, candles lit, and table set before they got through their first cocktail. Yeah, me and Martha Stewart. Both Amy and Jim (lovingly) call me a freak.

I’m also freakishly bad at many things. I get an ulcer thinking about asking a vendor for money to exhibit at a Raving Conference, and would probably give a booth away for free (even though I know they’ll see a huge return). Whereas closing a deal for any amount of money, is seriously fun for Amy, and she lives for it. I can barely open a box, let alone put together a multi-part bookshelf or piece of equipment, whereas Jim would excitedly dive into it like a Christmas present of Legos.

If we HAD TO do each other’s tasks in an emergency, we could figure it out, but it would be a friggin’ miserable and long process.

How about you? Do you have people at work or at home who love the jobs that you absolutely hate? Why is that, and should you take a higher paying job or one with more status, when the skills required are not in your wheelhouse?

Choosing to spend my career in small start-ups, I’ve never been exposed to personality type tests, such as the ones that the corporate world is so fond of. Recently, however, one of my favorite bloggers, Penelope Trunk, offered a personality master class course through her new start-up, Quistic, based on C. Jung and I. Briggs Myers type theory. You can take the test for free by clicking here. What Penelope does through her live class is make the personalities come alive and be actionable for folks as employees, managers, parents, and with our partners.

My goal of taking this live, online class was to help me figure out:

1.    How can I better deal with some relationships in my life that bring me great frustration?
2.    How can I utilize my strengths in order to evolve at work?

(And honestly, I’ve got a crush on Penelope. If you’ve ever read her blog, she’s damn smart and a total trip. Her candid, “take no prisoners” style of writing inspires me to write honestly for Raving and my own blog).

As a newbie to the testing, and to have the opportunity to spend over four hours face-to-face in Penelope’s living room for three evenings, I got every dollar’s worth. If you’ve gone through this testing before and had a facilitator who was a rock star like her, this might be repetition for you. For me, it was inspiring and this is what I learned:

Utilizing personality types can help you:

•    As an employee — acknowledge your superpower, so you can choose jobs and projects that you’ll succeed at, and thus feel great about
•    As a manager — play to your employees’ strengths, so you can ultimately get them to perform to their utmost ability
•    As a friend or a partner — demonstrate more compassion, so you can better understand their motivations and adjust your own expectations for the relationship

Penelope put it best in a follow-up email from the class:

“The feeling of being overworked is not related to how much work you do, it’s related to how much is outside your wheelhouse. If one person is getting energy by doing stuff they’re great at and the other is feeling like they’re going to die because they’re doing things that are depleting them, you have a recipe for disaster. Divide tasks by what each person is awesome at, and don’t make people do things outside of their strengths.”

Like my example above, Amy and I both have our superpowers. I’ve never thought of our skill sets in such a positive, unique way. I have always thought that if it’s super easy for me, then it must be a super easy task, and easy for most everyone else. Not so.

The cool thing is that our unique “superpowers” can be applied to any industry; these skills make us the superstars in whatever organizations we work for.

For the heck of it, I had the rest of the Ravers here in Reno take the test. The results were pretty spot-on.

We’ve always known that Dennis is the “big idea guy” — and didn’t need a test to tell us that. He scored as an ENTP (The Visionary). He has an incredible way of looking at the gaming industry in broad, strategic strokes that are spot-on. He can see a “need” immediately, and offer a solution that makes people smack themselves in the head and say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” However, he’ll be the first to admit, he doesn’t want to get wrapped up in the day-to-day details in order to see that solution come to fruition, as he’s off to other big ideas in the meantime. What the test validated for me is that most ENTPs don’t like being around people who won’t listen to or understand their ideas. Many times, I don’t get what his big picture vision is and ask for details that he can’t give. We end up frustrated with each other. Maybe we can stop taking it personally and communicate better?

I scored as an ESFJ (The Caregiver). I didn’t like this, so took the test four different times, through four different sites. Each time I scored the same. But it fits me — I get energy from organizing groups of people; harmony is extremely important to me. Looking back at my career, the jobs that I’ve enjoyed most are the ones where I’ve had a team that enjoyed immense camaraderie.

The biggest takeaways:

1.    Focus on your natural skills — choose a profession that speaks to your core talents. Don’t get caught up in finding your “one passion, your one perfect job.” We all have many passions, but not all of them pay the bills.

2.    Challenge yourself by perfecting and developing those skills to their highest levels. With that, you will become the superstar in your organization.

3.    From Penelope, “… if you do the work that meets the core needs of your personality type, you will feel passion. Because you will be engaged in your work. If you refuse to pay heed to your core personality, you will always feel that you’re searching for something elusive in your career.”

4.    Recognize how you think about things, how you approach a project, which might be unique to you, and only you, in your organization. If your co-workers, boss and employees are not responding to you, you just might not be speaking their language. If you figure out where they’re coming from, what’s of value to them, then you’ll get the results that you want.

In a roundabout way, this class reminded me of this: ultimately, we all want to spend our time doing what makes us feel good, doing what engages us, and developing meaningful relationships. Fulfillment won’t come from one singular aspect of our lives. It’s a combination of all those things — relationships, career, and hobbies.

Thanks Penelope Trunk  for introducing me to the “superpower” theory!



PS — I’m sure you already know what your superpower is, without having to take a test.  It’s not the only tool in your quiver and you can slant your results depending on your own truthfulness. But just maybe, it will give you one new idea, one new perspective about your life, your career, and your relationships.


Original version published by Raving Consulting

Posted in Career and Life, Feel Good | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

You know it’s time for a change when even your underwear is too tight


Fat Kid, Fat Adult; Overcoming Fresh Veggiesthree decades of misinformation — Part II

Original published by Raving Consulting

In PART I of this series, I covered introducing more “real food” into our diets, and how a history of comfort and convenience foods and misleading marketing has contributed to a fat America. These articles aren’t just for folks who struggle with their weight like me — healthier food can help folks, even those at “normal weight” who lack energy and strength, and are prone to pain.

Is this you? This has been me, several times.

“I’m going to start eating better this Monday,” you say to yourself. You’ve been watching P90X infomercials and you’re a BELIEVER. You tell yourself that you are going to start eating right, and then you’ll join a gym or start walking, whatever, after you take some weight off.

At the store you recognize Slim-Fast and Lean Cuisine; they’ve been around forever, right, so they must be good? You see labels that say, high-protein, low-carb, low-fat, organic, GMO, and gluten-free. You remember reading about the miraculous, one-week juice cleanse diet, and what about Atkins (bacon! bacon! bacon!)? Feeling a panic attack coming on, you resist abandoning your cart. So you fill your basket with expensive, diet packaged foods and a gigantic bag of baby carrots; you’ll figure it out later.

You hope the checkout lady doesn’t ask you about how you are going to fix the organic kale — you have no clue, but read that it was good for you.

Come Monday, you wake up, stare into your fridge and realize that you’re not sure what you are going to eat. What diet am I on anyway? South Beach? Paleo?

So you decide that the “NOT EAT DIET” for the first day is the right strategy. Lose weight fast and then figure out the right foods to eat. Fasting is good, right?

By 10 AM, all you can think about is food and your raging headache. You either succumb to your hunger pains and go off to the employee EDR and make the largest salad at the salad bar (that’s healthy, right?), or you manage to starve yourself the whole day, but are too weak to go and work out. By 8 PM, you are so hungry and obsessed with food, you’ve eaten four Lean Cuisines, all the protein bars, and a bag of almonds. The next day you step on the scale and you’ve gained four pounds.

How can you avoid fads and unhealthy marketing messages like “Lose 20 pounds in one week” and “Lose that stubborn belly fat forever!”?

Dennis found great success in going to a nutritionist after getting the news about his diabetes. Most general physicians have access to nutrition plans if they don’t have an in-house specialist, or they can make a referral. His nutritionist put him on a “real food diet” that combined several small and healthy meals per day. His meals don’t seem to vary — but the routine works for him. And that is all that matters — finding a plan that works for you.

If you are playing the “I don’t want to go to the doctor before I lose weight game” (that would be me), plan, shop and pre-prep for your week’s worth of meals before your workweek starts. You might get snickers from unsupportive folks in your household saying that you are going overboard, but YOU WILL FAIL without it.

A good online website to track your calories and the types of food that you are eating is, or on your mobile phone, calorie counter and diet tracker by MyFitnessPal. It’s surprising how many calories just a small handful of “healthy” nuts, dried fruit, or a glass of wine has.

Go back to the REAL FOODS principle; go back to the store with your week of recipes in mind for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for the entire week. Have it in your head that “white stuff” — sugar, flour, pasta, bread, crackers, pretzels, bagels — shouldn’t be on your shopping list, even the whole-grain type, until you have control over your portions and understand that not all “whole-grain” products are equal.

Do I really need to pay for ORGANIC?

zucchiniongrillWhen you go back to the store, you might wonder if you should be buying ORGANIC.

Remember, doctors will say that ANY addition of fruits and vegetables and lean meats like fish and chicken is a huge improvement. Don’t get hung up on whether you can afford organic chicken or produce. Choosing broccoli and a grilled chicken dinner over going out to your favorite Mexican restaurant three nights a week or fast food for lunch, is a huge step in the right direction.

With that having been said, since you WILL BE eating a lot more fresh fruit and vegetables, become familiar with how these real foods are grown and processed — plant and animal, and if that makes a difference to you.

According to the EWG (Environmental Working Group), some foods have been found to have more residual chemicals. On their website they have broken down the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen. If you’re concerned about this for yourself (and in particular, children, who are more vulnerable to pesticides), try to stick to this list.  I still don’t have the list memorized, so I pull it out every time.

chrisgardenOne of the listings on the dirty side is grapes, which is a bummer since we eat so many of them during the summer.

According to Real Simple, “Because grapes ripen quickly, tend to mold, and attract insects, growers hit them with multiple applications of various chemicals. The worst are Chilean grapes, which are treated with as many as 17 of them. (Ninety percent of the grapes eaten in the United States from January to April are Chilean).”

Non-organic grapes grown in the U.S. are also exposed to pesticides — so just because it says “grown in the U.S.,” doesn’t mean that they are chemical-free. At  least, wash all of your fruits and vegetables thoroughly, and peel any that are on the dirty dozen list that you don’t buy organically. Confession — sometimes I eat half of the grapes on the way home from the store without washing them. I’m still proud that I opted for grapes instead of my favorite Chex Mix.

Do you need to care about happy, frolicking cows?

During the last year, I’ve tried to buy organic according to the Dirty Dozen list. I see all of the chemicals that are sold at the big-box stores to battle bugs and blight, and can’t imagine putting that in my own garden. It’s more of a challenge to garden without chemicals (you have to pick off bugs with your fingers, plant deterrent plants [see picture above], and swear a lot), but I know that I’m not ingesting anything I can’t pronounce.

When it comes to meats, however, I can’t afford to replace my 10-lb package of frozen chicken breasts (yes, we eat a lot of chicken) that I get at Costco. And there’s some marketing sneakiness going on here, too. Know what these labels mean:

  • Grass-fed
  • No added steroids or hormones
  • Cage-free/free-range
  • Wild/farmed fish

Take chicken. A lot of what we see on the label, like “no hormones added,” is a given. All brands in the U.S. have this in common. The National Chicken Council breaks it all down here. Worth reading.

There’s tons and tons of research out there, and it appears that animals that are raised by strict organic standards AND have space to roam and frolic are healthier. They are leaner and they have more “good fat.” Well, that’s common sense, right? Just like us humans. However, just having an organic label doesn’t ensure that the meat is risk-free; organically raised chicken is still susceptible to salmonella.

You may choose organic for other reasons though. According to Livestrong, “In general, the USDA acknowledges that organic agriculture is gentler on the environment than conventional agricultural practices. In the areas of waste management, greenhouse gas reduction, soil and water quality, preservation of biodiversity and conservation of energy and water resources, organically produced chicken is usually the more environmentally sensitive option.”

This is starting to stink AND cost a lot of money

At forty something-something, I just grilled my first tilapia the other night — I felt like I was growing feathers from all the chicken that we’ve been eating. It’s a good source of protein, but there are some drawbacks, too. Yup, what’s better? Farm versus wild? What’s healthier for the body and what’s healthier for the environment? It really depends on the fish.

For many of us, buying specialty raised meat or all organic produce is just too damned expensive. I grow and preserve as much as I can in my short-season garden. I want to be a good citizen of the world and support farmers and suppliers who are conscious of their environmental footprint. Sometimes my choices depend on my checkbook, sometimes it’s convenience, sometimes it’s about community.

First things first, right? Making REAL FOOD part of your daily diet comes first, and that’s hard enough. Read my buddy Doctor Tracey Delaplain’s blog for ideas on what to do with all of those vegetables!

chrisapril2014In Part III of this article series, I’ll be talking about how some businesses are helping their employees practice healthier lifestyles. Stay tuned.

Just remember, if you fall off the wagon, start back up again immediately, without beating yourself up. This is a lifelong commitment … but worth every effort.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

“You look like that fat blueberry girl from Willy Wonka”

Fat Kid, Fat Adult; Overcoming three decades of misinformation — Part I

What could I possibly have been wearing, back in 1970-something, to deserve such a nasty momandchriseaster

comparison to Violet in the movie, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory? The words were  meant to hurt. They came from the often foul but pretty mouth of my best friend’s skinny, blue-eyed and blonde older sister.

At twelve, with a round face, long brown hair and bangs, and hefty thighs squeezed into polyester pants … there was a resemblance. Stricken with shame, most likely I retreated to my friend’s bedroom and put ELO or Donna Summer on the turntable. In my adult fantasies, I wish I would’ve laughed at her.

Growing up fat sucks.

Countless times I’d come home from school, wounded from yet another mean girl, and my mom would tell me, “Chrissy, you’re beautiful inside and out. These girls, they’re ugly and stupid and won’t ever change.”

I’d recall those words, throughout my elementary school years, while eating my school lunch: a bologna sandwich, on Wonder Bread with American cheese and mayo, with a bag of Bugles and a Hostess berry pie on the side.

More comfort was found at home each night with meatloaf, cream of something casserole, or all-you-can-eat spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread, with the vegetable of choice being either canned green peas or tater tots. Top off the night with a puddin’ cup while watching Happy Days and Laverne & Shirleyscrew them nasty girls.

I wouldn’t wish growing up fat on any kid.

About a year later, I started on my three-decade journey of misguided eating.

A “culture” of poor eating

Growing up in the 70’s, with a single mom who worked full-time, inexpensive and convenient food dictated what we ate (with a lot of misleading information from advertisers). And those same foods are still inexpensive and found on the tables of the poor and undernourished today: ramen, pasta, rice, hamburger, whole milk, white bread, etc. Our quick meal or reward after Mom picked us up from our team practices, was McDonald’s, Shakey’s pizza, or a root beer float and corn dog from A&W.

In the 80’s, when I could start making food choices on my own as a teenager, marketing promised me a skinny body if I’d just buy Slim-Fast, Diet Coke, Lean Cuisine, and Dexatrim. Oh, then came the “fat-free” craze, which has been misunderstood ever since (if it doesn’t have a lot of fat in it, I can eat as much as I want). My diet lunch in high school was a bag of Doritos from the machine and a Diet Pepsi.

It’s no wonder that I have had multiple jean sizes all my life and have been so screwed up on what I should be eating, along with the other 69.2% of overweight Americans.

Why should you or our businesses give a damn?

I write a lot about the “quest” for happiness and fulfillment (and my many screw-ups and self-sabotaging missions on my journey). I want to know, how do we get to more “woo hoo days” than “life sucks days?” Just how can we realize our full potential?

And how can our places of work, help us in that journey to be happier, healthier, more productive human beings? And why would they want to? Do healthy employees mean healthier bottom lines? If so, what organizations in our industry are breaking ground that others could follow?

My research began by talking with casinos across the United States, including biggies Isle of Capri, Pechanga Resort and Casino, and Cache Creek Casino Resort, about how they are assisting their employees to lead healthier lifestyles. And finding out if those efforts were linked to higher profits and happier employees. Could a casino be like Zappos, one of the top 100 places to work, and be profitable, too?

Have those casino top dogs that we see at casino gaming industry tradeshows like G2E and Casino Marketing every year changed their employee dining rooms (EDRs) to serve healthier foods? Do they get any of their produce for their EDRs, or even their restaurants, from local, sustainable farms? How are Tribal casinos helping their employees and their communities to overcome the diabetes epidemic on their reservations? How are gaming organizations rewarding employees for measurable improvements in their health?

Before you learn about what these companies are doing, in my next article, we’ll cover some of the terms, fads and concerns about food that are trending now (some of them are just as confusing and misleading as the previous twenty years), and the information that you need to know as a consumer in order to make the best choices for yourself, your family, and even your community and your planet. Then you can be the judge of what these gaming companies are really offering.

It’s not about a short-term diet; it’s about healthy living for all of us

MAYBE you are part of the 21% minority in this country that is not overweight. But there’s a good chance that you know someone who is struggling.

MAYBE you want to help your community, your Tribe, your workplace become healthier and happier, but you’re not sure how.

MAYBE you’re one of those skinny adults who can eat anything, but you don’t have the energy, muscle tone, or strength that you want.

MAYBE you have been diagnosed with arthritis or gout, and your doctor tells you that certain foods can make your inflammation worse.

MAYBE your gut is causing you serious pain, and you’re not sure if it’s your stress, your boss, an ulcer, or all of the above, and besides popping Pepcid AC, you’re not sure how to deal with it.

MAYBE you are taking care of your not-so-elderly mom with osteoporosis, who fell and broke her ankle in three places — and you wonder if diet and exercise can prevent you from the same outcome.

MAYBE you have heard about genetically modified foods and how they may be linked to severe allergies — should you be buying food that is labeled non-GMO, or is this a bunch of political hooey?

MAYBE you wonder what’s more important — to buy non-organic at your local farmers’ market, or to buy organic produce that needs to be shipped from way the hell down in Mexico.

MAYBE you don’t have sex with your spouse because you hate how ugly you feel naked.

Maybe you are just one grumpy son of a bitch who can barely find the energy or motivation to go to work as a casino executive each day.

Okay, “Uncle,” you cry, so, what the hell am I supposed to eat?

One of the terms that almost every expert can agree on is that we should be consuming “REAL FOOD.” What does this mean? If you were on a farm or in the wilderness, these are the foods that you could find to eat in order to stay alive: fruits, veggies, meat, and fish. (We’ll leave out the debated grains and dairy for now).

According to Tracey Delaplain, MD, Center for Women’s Health in Reno, “Our bodies were designed to eat natural foods and less simple carbohydrates. The epidemic of obesity in the US can be tracked back to the 1980’s, when processed foods and packaged fast foods became mainstays in the Standard American Diet (SAD). While the total calories we eat are important, there is compelling research to convince me that the types of calories we consume affect not only our weight, but our well-being. Unlike processed foods, real food, especially fruits and vegetables, don’t have to have nutrients like vitamins and antioxidants added back.”

So, got it. Go to the store and attempt to stock up on “real food,” like eggs, chicken, salmon, lean cuts of beef, apples, bananas, broccoli, and spinach. (If you go to Tracey’s blog, “What’s for Dinner, Doc?”, she has some really great recipes for real foods, and smart conversation about health topics for women).

But when you go to the store, you’ll see labels on your meats and produce that might say:

  • Organic
  • Locally grown
  • Grass fed
  • No added steroids or hormones
  • Cage-free/free-range
  • Wild salmon/farmed salmon

Before you get totally hung-up and frustrated, most doctors will tell you that ANY addition of fruits and vegetables and lean meats like fish and chicken is a huge improvement. Start integrating these things into your diet as your first step.

Join me next article when we go into the meat aisle and ask the question — are happier cows healthier cows, and do I really care? And when we pick up those fruits and veggies, do I really have to buy all organic?

Little steps, baby.

PS: And … yes, I struggle every day, even with all this knowledge I have accumulated. And yes, I screw up and get back into bad habits all the time. I think what has changed, is that I forgive myself and don’t call it quits.

Originally published by Raving Consulting

Posted in Feel Good, Health, Sweaty Fat Girl - Working Out | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Why We Need To Pay For Pain

After 25 years, my husband set foot in a gym … And has hated every moment of it.

Originally published by Raving Consulting

My husband told me that I was obnoxious.

Not a very nice thing to say to your partner since our first  date at a Robert Palmer

Chris and Jim 1988

Chris and Jim 1988

concert  in 1988.

By now, you know me … and you just might agree.

I’ve been fat, I’ve been skinny, I probably have the most jean sizes in my closet out of anyone you’ve ever met … I struggle, I win, I lose, I rally, I publicly share my failures and successes. I use the pain from arthritis as a really bad excuse.  Which is why my Portuguese thighs have started to rub together again. But damn, I’m still sweating away.

The top of my head barely reaches my husband’s chin in heels, and I have to do a vault in order to get up on our king-size platform bed. Despite my stature, a gym full of sweaty boxers or cage fighters, heck, they don’t intimidate me, they’re my tribe, man, even though they could bring me to my knees with their index finger. I think I’m a badass, but it’s 99% attitude and NOT much skill. I’m like the little runt dog that hangs around the big  dogs, and thinks I’m one of them.

My husband, Jim, is the most consistent guy I know, and not just with his waist size. Being a concrete saw man (here’s a video of him sawing) since he was 16, he never had to go to a gym to work out, since he  hefted massive saws onto walls and ran them upside-down in storm drains that only the likes of men with arms like The Rock could accomplish. Jim says, “You wish that I had guns like The Rock.

Before we moved to Reno’s snowy climate, he worked on challenging projects all over the SF Bay Area; in Northern Nevada, the physical challenges aren’t as much, nor the frequency of work. So, although his jeans still fit and he looks hot, he’s lost strength and movement. His shoulder, knee and hip are shot from heavy construction work. I think his interest in the gym is so that I won’t have to push him around in a wheelchair before he gets his AARP card. Honestly, I think he’s afraid that he won’t be able to water ski anymore.

We started taking “functional training” about three weeks ago, which pretty much means that a trainer tortures you for an exhausting hour by doing stuff that you really could do at home in order to develop your core strength, balance, and endurance. We use a lot of the same “props” as cross-fit folks. Think jumping rope, throwing a 25-pound ball to the floor like you’re a caveman having a temper tantrum, standing on squishy balls with weights in your hands while the instructor tells you to use your stomach muscles.

What stomach muscles?

I figure that if I did an hour of rotating my compost bin, jogging around my yard with a 40-lb dog food sack from Costco, and laying on my stomach to clean out the algae in my pond, it would probably get me the same body for a lot less money. That’s if I did it five days a week for an hour on my own. Not going to happen. I have to pay for pain.

Yesterday just rubbing the skin on my shoulder bones hurt. However, I do think that my biceps are taking up more room in my sleeves than the flab under my arm. Whoo hoo! I love it!

Thus, why Jim called me obnoxious. “How could anyone in their right mind enjoy this?” he asks me as we drive home, the car stinking from both of us. He’s seriously moaning out loud. I turn up my Pandora Workout Station and blare Pitbull.

I tell him that I feel privileged to do it. He rolls his eyes.

During the last three weeks, I’ve looked over at him in class, heard him gasping, and sincerely thought through the ABCs of CPR. I think, “Well, at least he’d die having
fun.” No, he’d die cursing me out.

Today after class, I told Jim that when we had to hold this plank position for over a
minute, I was imagining being on a surfboard, paddling out to my first wave. (As in
two months’ time, I’ll have my first surf lesson, ever). He said he was thinking about
quitting, and did just that before our trainer called time. He just got up and said, “I’m done.”

So, WHY? Why struggle? Why sweat? Why hurt? Why get up at 4:30 AM, as I know I
won’t do it after work? Why not accept and love my Rubenesque body type, the same as my grandma’s, that I seem to be destined to have?

Why? Because that extra fat will eventually keep me from doing even the most basic  of things,  and for sure the stuff that I love to do.

My girlfriends say that we do squats so we won’t need one of those elevated toilet seats  down the road. That we work out with weights so we won’t break a bone the next time we fall trying to show off our 80’s dance moves in too high of heels. Friends who had their first kids after they turned 40 say that they train so they can pick up their toddlers without throwing their backs out, or so they can ski alongside of them for years to come, and not just wait at the lodge.

Yeah, I guess that’s what functional training is all about, right?

But more than that, I have an obligation to myself to keep on trying. I really believe that each and every one of us who has a body that allows us (even if we choose not to) to run, hike, dance, water ski, kayak, to just walk from the parking lot or carry in groceries, are so very fortunate . Have you ever tried to tie your shoes or put on socks when you’ve injured your back?

We’re damn lucky that we aren’t one of the thousands of veterans on disability who would be dead if not for modern body armor that left them alive, but without limbs, or sight, or total mental function.

We are privileged to be born without a disability, or injured, or aged to a point that taking a walk around the block would be a near miracle.

You can call me obnoxious, or melodramatic. I don’t care.

I’m grateful. So, I’ll keep on trying, no matter how hard it is, to stay healthy. To battle my worst enemy, me, when I’m lazy or stressed and eating for the wrong reason.

During the last 10 years of being healthier and physically stronger than ever before, my life has resulted in richer experiences, adventures and accomplishments. My opportunities and my intellectual growth has been tremendous compared to my 30’s, even my 20’s. Being more confident in my body has meant being more confident in EVERYTHING.

I’m not sure if Jim will ever love working out. Or if he’ll ever stop moaning. Or if he’ll ever say “I feel good for doing this.” I’m not sure if he’ll ever feel grateful for having the beat-up construction body that he has, that still rocks my world. Selfishly, I want him around as long as possible, so that we can continue our adventures together.

I know, I know, it’s his journey, his choice to make.

Posted in Feel Good, Sweaty Fat Girl - Working Out | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Wait a minute now … I thought you were dead

margaret motta and christine motta fariaLast night I had a surprise visit by my mom.

I’ve always thought of these nocturnal stopovers as a gift. Those of you who have lost someone will understand this. No matter how much you love someone, or are used to seeing them every day, once they are gone out of your physical world, nothing, absolutely nothing, can come close to seeing them in the flesh. Pictures and videos are one-dimensional.

Except for dreams.

My dad died when I was 13 and after all these years, I celebrate his infrequent visits. He’s not blurry. I can hear his voice. I’m still his little girl. Sometimes even his hugs feel real. A lot of times I cry the entire dream, just because I’m so happy to see him.

There’s an awareness that I’m not awake …but it feels as close to real as I could hope for. I don’t over-analyze it when it is happening; there’s something in my subconscious that warns me to chill out. To let go of the irrationality of the situation. Or I might cause myself to wake-up.

This dream last night, she’s the youngest I’ve seen her since she died. Her hair is dark, maybe she’s 60-something. She’s happy. She’s sassy. I think she’s been smoking a cigarette. She’s how I want to remember her; not ill, like she was that last year.

I don’t try to analyze the meaning when I wake up … I really don’t want to know the “why” of some of my weird-ass dreams.

Last night my brother and I go to my mom’s old apartment, and she opens the door. We fall back, with “What???? You’ve been here the whole time?”

She tells us she’s been content doing her own thing, reading a lot. She doesn’t offer any explanations, but I get the sense that she didn’t like being worried about. Maybe we were a pain in the ass.

She tells me that she’s gone to my gal at Edward Jones to make sure she’s secure for the next 10 years … the apartment’s paid off. She can enjoy her remaining years without having to worry about it. (Now that was NOT my mom, she didn’t have two pennies to her name). I don’t question money matters in dream world or wonder why my gal hasn’t told me that my mom’s a client.

We hang out, my brother, husband and I and Amber Tamblyn, Charlie’s previously unknown daughter on Two and a Half Men. Spread out on two couches, watching TV,  until it is just her and I awake at 2 AM. No questions about the future. Or the past.

Then I wake up.

I’m sad, as I wanted to be with her longer. I’m happy, I just got to see my mama!

I wonder how I can dream of her more often. But as much as I go to bed thinking about her, or my dad, or on frequent occasion The Rock or Jason Statham, I can’t figure out how to unlock my mind that way. I just had a dream about my dog Ethel. That didn’t take long.

The clock says 4 a.m. and I want to talk about my visitor, but Jim’s sound asleep. So I tell my co-worker Becky when I get to work. She says, “Well, that’s a great way to start of 2014.”


Posted in Family, Feel Good | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

The Biggest Gift You Can Give Yourself

Your best investment for the New Year?
Surrounding yourself with people who bring out your best

Ya’ll know me pretty well by now … I like to encourage folks to find joy … and to go for it lucy and ethelevery single day.

But this past week, I was bummed as all hell and was looking for someone to inspire ME.

See, my dog, Ethel, just died. Seriously, this past weekend. She was only five. Yeah, the same damn dog that ran away when I was down at a gaming trade-show three years ago and I blubbered with joy at our networking party when my husband Jim called and said she had returned after three days.

Ethel would growl at the floor registers every time the heat would go on; she’d let me swing dance with her to my favorite Harry James songs. She got skunked twice in the last month. Her greatest joy was to run high-speed (and she was ridiculously fast) in circles in our ethel with christmas toycourt, with a ball in her mouth, with other dogs chasing her.

Friday night, Jim and I slept on the floor in front of the fireplace and spooned her and our other dog Lucy. The next morning the vet came and put her under, as she laid in my arms. Yeah, us dog people.

During this last week I felt guilty about being so friggin’ sad … telling myself that I should be thankful the humans close to me are healthy.

And you know what? At no time did my friends make me feel “silly” for grieving over a dog. Or tell me how much I have to be grateful for.

Even though some friends had a lot of heavy stuff on their minds, they listened through the entire, unabridged sequence of events. And they’ve wholeheartedly celebrated all the terrific things that have happened lately too. And that really has been the biggest gift this

Thank you my friends

Thank you my friends


It is through them, they reminded me of my strength.

So, friends, as we start 2014, I wish for you that you surround yourselves with people who:

… make you feel like a rock star, not make you second-guess yourself

… get you laughing so hard that no sound comes out

… are never resentful or jealous when good things happen to you

… will just show up at your door with a casserole, to sit with your mom, to rake your leaves, because they know you’d never ask for help

… will say, “Yeah, I have felt that way too” after you confess something you are ashamed of

… are constantly reminding you of your talent

… are always encouraging you to take that next challenge

… will patiently listen to your same drama, over and over again, until you have the strength to make a change

So, why is your best investment for the new year surrounding yourself with people that bring out the best in you? No matter what your resolutions are, or your inspirations, your friends will be there on the sidelines, cheering you on, or they’ll be right along side of you, helping you up, every step of the way. Thank you, my friends. Happy Holidays.

Originally published by Raving Consulting Company

Posted in Feel Good | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Conversation with Santa Claus

Santa: Ho, Ho, Ho

Chris: Santa, is that you?

Santa: Well, you called me right?

Chris: Uh yeah. I just didn’t know if it would work.

Santa: Whaddya’ mean?

Chris: Well, my dad used to pick up our wall phone and say, “I’m going to call Santa and tell him not to come if you don’t start behaving!”

Santa: Let me think … nope, never got a call from the Motta residence.

Chris: Yeah, we would scream and cry and say “no, we’ll be good, we’ll be good.”

Santa: Well, you got me now, what’s on your mind?

Chris: Do you text?

Santa: What?

Chris:  Just in case I forget something. I’m just a little stunned that I got you and not a stupid automated system…

Santa: Yeah, I hate that. I just keep on punching ZERO until I get someone or I get disconnected.

Chris: I know, right?

Santa: Hey, I’ve got a Skype meeting scheduled in a few minutes, what can I do you for?

Chris:  Do you do that a lot?

Santa: Yeah, but I think the camera makes me look old and fat.

Chris: Me too. I mean me, not you.

Santa: I’m not consistent … I have a skinny Santa Suit and a fat Santa suit.

Chris:  I so get it. My Christmas present to myself this year is personal training.

Santa: Yeah I know.

Chris: Ha, ha, ha. Sure you do.

Santa: So I take it you are not calling me to ask for another present.

Chris: No, I just wanted to make sure you were there still. I mean, it’s been decades since I left you cookies. Now that I have a gas fireplace and all … how’d you get them?

Santa: First, that’s what your dogs are for. They are part of my team. Just no chocolate, okay?

Chris: Okay.

Santa: And the fireplace question. That’s top secret. Don’t want that Jeff Bezos at Amazon to steal my technology.

Chris: I know! I read about those drones just the other day! I think he’s a Santa wannabe!

Santa: That’s funny!

Chris: Ho, ho, ho.

Santa: No, only I can say, “ho, ho, ho,” it’s kinda like my thing.

Chris: Roger that. Hey, I know you gotta go for your meeting, but one more thing?

Santa: Go for it.

Chris: Just, thanks, that’s all. December is the one time of year that even if folks don’t believe in anything else, most of them remember your naughty and nice list. It’s the one time of year if you accidentally cut someone off in traffic that they might not flip you off.  Or I might give my husband a big smooch when I really feel like yelling at him for not putting away the dishes after I cook dinner.

Santa:  Yeah, that bugs me too. Ms. Claus and I have a deal … I cook, she does dishes!

Chris: After all these years, you’d think you wouldn’t have to ask!

Santa: I know! I read an article in Readers Digest back in the 50’s that said that when you get married you are supposed to make a list of the top 10 things that bug you about your spouse. And then from that time forward, always let those 10 things go. I try, but it doesn’t always work.

Chris: We have a thing that if you have a chance to sleep with your favorite movie star, it’s a “free pass.”

Santa: How’s that working out for you?

Chris: Not so much.  Hey! Is that something I could ask you for?

Santa: No. NO. NOOOO.

Chris:  Well, like we were talking about before, too bad the spirit of the holidays didn’t last longer than December – people seem a little more forgiving and thoughtful.

Santa:  I’ve tried; but getting the retailers to start putting out Christmas decorations in September just seems to piss everyone off.

Chris: Agreed.

Santa: Chris, I really do have to go.

Chris: Sure big guy. Any last-minute words  …

Santa:   Yeah, watch It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s one of my best PR pieces; it’s got everything you see on the internet today … the haters, greed, sex, despair, just no twerking. It will make you rethink whatever is bothering you.

Chris: Thanks Santa. I’ll be listening for you.


Posted in Family, General BS and Musings | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Another white trash Thanksgiving

How to cope with and celebrate, red Solo cups, in-laws and all!

You may have heard me tell this story before, since it’s one of my favorites in family-bashing lore.

A few years before my mom Maggie passed away, my brother-in-law, up from California, momlaughingconvinced her to try his medicinal marijuana. On the sly, Mom experienced her first doobie at age 85 in my garage. They almost got “caught” by my husband as they tried to clean up the bin of dog food that they had knocked over, giggling the entire time. We didn’t know the whole story until a few weeks later. She was very clear that “she didn’t inhale.” She also didn’t appreciate our suggestion that we buy her a bong as a stocking stuffer.

And please note that I use the term “white trash” responsibly. I’ve accepted my own  upbringing of red Solo cup versus fancy stemware, and Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup as a base for almost every holiday recipe.

As a very impressionable little girl in the 70’s, I was greatly influenced by the nuns at my Catholic elementary school, but even more so by the Waltons and Ingalls (Little House on the Prairie). They were the epitome of how families should behave. I have held fast through more than one therapy session that it’s not “enabling” IF:

… it’s family, there’s no question.
… it’s family, you loan them money, even though it’s always a bad idea.
… it’s family, you forgive.
… it’s family, you have the right to bitch and complain about them.
… it’s family, no one else better talk badly about them.
… it’s a holiday, you hang up the dart board, stock up on Seagram’s & Seven, and hope no one goes into a diabetic coma.

Even if it means forcing a group of people together that sometimes have little more in common than their DNA, a marriage license, or black and white photos of people you don’t know … dammit, we will sit down, thank the cook, have fun, and count our blessings.

Typically, besides the illegal drug use explained above, hangovers are probably the worst of the damage … no bullet holes or black eyes. And that diabetic coma … we did have to call the paramedics that year. Oh yeah, someone might cry, slam a door, ball up their fist, hide in the RV on the side of the house, or make up an excuse to go to the store just to get away, but … dammit, we will sit down, thank the cook, have fun, and count our blessings.

My gal pals, also raised by 70’s TV, start the “this year it’s going to be different” and “whose family is more dysfunctional” series of pep talks weeks before. We say it is for “mama” or “auntie” — they won’t be around forever. In our heart of hearts we want to believe that so-and-so won’t be an inconsiderate asshole again this year.

We consider for a moment, even doing research on TripAdvisor, having a Thanksgiving “just the hubby and I” on some beach where the only cranberry on the menu is in some fruity adult beverage. Then we experience massive guilt and convince ourselves that we CAN create the perfect holiday memory. We’ll imagine, like every year, a skinny blonde family, playing football in the street, joking with each other, and want that for ourselves. Even though we are round, dark, and Portuguese.

So, we’ll comfort ourselves with deviled eggs, peanut butter and celery, green bean casserole (don’t forget French’s Fried Onions and for god sakes, don’t use any low fat, healthy shit), and mashed potatoes with no less than two pounds of butter. And everyone will take an obligatory tablespoon of green jello salad and canned sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows — made specifically for the one person in the group who has been looking forward to it since last year.

And … dammit, we will sit down, thank the cook, have fun, and count our blessings.

Like Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase, there will be out-of-town guests who will arrive in a cloud of smoke, excited to show off their newest gun, with their dog that pees on the front door. Oh, and they just went on the Paleo diet or not doing gluten, but … dammit, we will sit down, thank the cook, have fun, and count our blessings.

Somewhere between the third and fourth Bloody Mary of the morning, there will be a moment that you’ll look over at mama and she’ll be laughing so hard she’ll be sideways on the couch. Your uncle will be doing this funky thing with his dentures that makes the kids scream with delight. You’ll give a long, strong hug to your cousin who showed up alone, as things are really that bad at home. Someone else will do the dishes on the third night. You’ll beat your 7-year-old nephew at ping-pong (aha! I’ve still got it!). The brittle 8mm movies from 1972 will make us cry about those who are gone. You’ll hear your husband proudly explain the hydraulics of his ceiling-mounted slot car table that took him ten months to build … that only gets used twice a year, during the holidays.

…. and you’ll get through the four days of house guests; four days of gastro-upset from eating spinach dip and leftover stuffing for breakfast, lunch and dinner; and four days of wondering if “family is worth it.”

Because dammit … two weeks from now I won’t be on the beach. I’ll be sitting down, cooking, having fun, and counting my blessings. And I am blessed.

Very Happy Thanksgiving wherever you may be,


PS — And yeah, I know, on the flip side, my in-laws barely tolerate me and my “5K Turkey Trot” around our neighborhood. I really do make them wear an official “race bib.” And I also know, they hope that this year I’m not the uptight Martha Stewart on amphetamines who blogs about them.

Original version published by Raving Consulting

Posted in Family, Feel Good | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

More Food, More Coats, More Giving

How to get a better return on your company’s charitable efforts.  YOU alone and your one jacket CAN make a difference.

Driving to work this last month, with temperatures in the high 20’s some mornings, I’ve homeless_in_winterseen less homeless at the park downtown. The folks I have seen look as uncomfortable as Ralphie’s brother in A Christmas Story. Layers and layers of mismatched clothing; I wonder how they even move. Really, I wonder how they just survive. This reminds me that I have jackets in my closet that are in perfect condition, out of style, not being worn.

Where do I drop these off again?

When the Iraq War was in full swing and so many men and women were facing multiple tours of duty, many back-to-back, I wanted to do something that would go directly into a soldier’s hands, but I didn’t know what or how. Reno is not a military town. I did some Google searches, couldn’t find what I was looking for and ended up putting together my own Gift for the Soldiers Campaign for three years in a row. I don’t remember what I was thinking at the time, but I know my goal wasn’t even close to what we were able to accomplish.

With help from good friends, neighbors, co-workers and the Reno community, we sent handmade cards from school kids and letters from adults, as well as care packages (remember that at first they didn’t even have adequate provisions of soap, lip balm, and feminine products?). I think we reached over 3,000 soldiers in Iraq and later, Afghanistan.

Collecting the stuff was easier than getting it into their hands. I reached out to a buddy who is career military — he had to go through his channels to locate a person on-site that would take responsibility for all these packages coming from Reno.  It was a lot of work on his part to find a “guy” on all the bases, to make sure they didn’t sit in some warehouse. What if I hadn’t had a willing guy to begin with?

This was the hardest part of the entire project … making sure the right people got the “goods” which I think is real fear for many people who donate.

It’s really about trust

It was a humbling and powerful experience. It was also shocking in some ways. Just like me, there were so many people wanting to give thanks, wanting to help, but they didn’t know how. Or they didn’t trust that their money, their note, their candy bars would actually get to the soldier.

I was a normal person, like their neighbor next door, doing something that they considered extraordinary. I made it easy by telling them exactly what I was doing, even accepting stamps instead of money for postage. (Honestly, I’m still using up stamps from those campaigns, as it was easier to go to the post office and write them my own check, instead of putting $50 of first class stamps on a box). And afterwards, I sent out emails that I received from the soldiers to the volunteers who had helped. So they absolutely KNEW that their efforts were received. Today, how would you send a care package to the military?

Make it easy
My point is, I know I’m not the only one who wants to help the less fortunate, but I’m too busy (uh, make that “too lazy” most of the time) to put a stamp on an envelope or figure out where I drop off a can of soup. I also want to know that my donation is for an organization that cares, one with a human face.

So many casinos that my company Raving works with give an immense amount to their communities and raise thousands of dollars each year. Whatever business you are in, if you are in the position to collect food, money or clothing for folks in need this Holiday season, here are a few tips from the lazy gal who wants to help, but you gotta make it easy for me:

1. No brainer, small donations, multiple transactions. “Would you like to round-up your bill to the nearest dollar and donate the change to this charity?” Safeway grocery stores do this and no matter if it is 45 cents or 10 cents, it’s efficient and feels good. Think of your retail outlets on your property. Think of the soda machine in your lobby … where folks may get change. For casinos, your customers might not feel like waiting in line at the cashier and cashing in that 50 cent slot ticket. Have bins for patrons to drop in their TITO voucher.

2. I’ll come to you. I always have good intentions, but I have brain fade as soon as I get home and forget to put that can of food or that jacket in my car. The post office makes it pretty easy. During the NALC Stamp Out Hunger National Food Drive, all citizens need to do is place a box or can of non-perishable food next to their mailbox before their letter carrier delivers mail every second Saturday in May. Note: mailbox is steps away from my front door – even I can handle that. Set up multiple locations for your donation drive (besides your company location) at partnering businesses throughout your community — make it so convenient that there is no excuse for Uncle Billys like me.

3. Remind me YET again. You might be thinking that I have early onset memory loss. Believe me, the calendar reminder on my cell phone saved my arse a few dozen times. If you communicate with customers via email, include an “add this to my Outlook calendar” feature or “text me to remind me” opt-in with your marketing message.

(I just added two events to my calendar — Operation Sweaters for Veterans, being collected by Walton’s Funeral Homes and the 21st Annual Share Your Christmas Drive-By Food Drive through our local Channel 2 News agency, where last year they collected 146,399 lbs of food, which meant 97,599 meals. I’m going to follow through this year. I really, really am).

4. Well … did my donation help? It’s not patting yourself on the back and saying how wonderful your business is for going through the effort. You NEED to let your employees and customers know where their donation went and do a story about the actual folks they helped. That’s why people are more compelled to “adopt a child” or “buy a goat for a village,” because they can visualize the recipient. They need to hear the end of the story. Get personal when folks drop off donations too … be the face of your organization, make them feel good about their “gift” no matter how small.

Folks, I can tell you from my inconsistent community service that I have gotten so much more out of giving than probably the recipients. Help folks like me who have good intentions, but are too disorganized to follow through. Be even more successful this year with your current efforts to help your community and your cause by making it easy.

And don’t be intimidated. Who cares if you only get a limited response? One person can can create a landslide of generosity and you’ll be so surprised how by you taking the first step, people will be grateful that you are doing the leg work (by just taking that box of food down to the shelter … because they don’t know where the shelter is).

And remember ONE CAN, ONE COAT, will make a difference to someone who needs it.

PS – I remembered (thanks to Outlook) to drop off a sweater at Walton’s funeral home today. Although Jim said that a homeless vet wouldn’t wear his outdated, black and white, Cosby-looking sweater, no matter how cold he was.  It was weird though … I mean, how many times do you go to a funeral home by choice? The sign said that they keep the door locked to protect privacy of the families in mourning. When I knocked on the door a man in a suit answered and I asked if they were still accepting sweaters. The dude that answered said, “From you, yes,” and then shut the door. I guess I was expecting some interaction like #4. I ended up feeling kinda silly.

Originally published by Raving Consulting Company

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