Stirring the pot, raising hell and rearing children in the Bay Area


Giving Time

Posted on Aug 6, 2013 in Family and Friends, Giving |

Giving Time

“From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.” ~ Arthur Ashe

I started working in a nasty corner charity shop that was dark and grey and smelled like dead old people. It was for my community service hours as part of a national philanthropy organization, which shall remain nameless. Never, even once, did it feel like I was working for my community or making the world a better place. It felt like a lame, monthly obligation. And it was.

I grew up helping people at events designed to give kids “community service” hours. It was good for our high school applications, and great for college entrance brownie points. But, it missed the point. My Community Service didn’t feel remotely like I was part of a community, and even less, providing a service.

Going out on a limb here: I want my kids to want to give.

I suppose if we were part of a church, there would be built-in community service. If we were part of Boy Scouts, then we’d have charity work at-the-ready. But truth is, even that kind of giving is forced giving. It’s what you have to do, not what you yearn for.

So, a year ago, I plated the seed with my then twin 9-year-olds. I told them when they turned 10 in July 2013, they’d begin service to their community. They’d pick their own avenue of giving, be as creative as they wanted to be, but that there were two rules:

  1. Each child must give their age in hours monthly. (So at age 10, they’d do 10 hours per month).
  2. You have to stick with your choice, however difficult, boring, tedious, for a period of one year.

July came around and the kids set out to pick their organizations. There is power in choosing where you want to put your free time and they were excited. But that faded pretty quickly when we realized that our community is not used to kids giving just for the sake of it.

My son tried his first pick, the library. No go. No kids can volunteer until age 13. Then came his second pick, Sacred Heart Community Services. Nope, no youth volunteers. My daughter tried ASPCA. No way, too much liability. Her second try at The Thrift Box  — they don’t take kids, even with adult supervision.

Then the third, fourth and fifth tries came and went. No luck. No one wants 10-year old kids who want to give their time to help the community.

We’re stumped.  There has got to be a way for our younger kids to learn the feeling of giving, however small.

Got any ideas?





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Gas Station Stalking and Other Random Acts of Kindness

Posted on Dec 9, 2010 in Featured, Giving, Motherboard |

Gas Station Stalking and Other Random Acts of Kindness

We sat quietly in the corner of the parking lot — inconspicuous as we could be, staking out the Rotten Robbie gas station. We watched people come and go, and waited patiently to pounce. Who was the next target of the day going to be? We wanted unsuspecting citizens — unaware of our stealth plan.

Inside the car, the four of us whispered, sitting low in our seats and diverting our eyes from suspecting passersby. How we’d pull-off the job was thoroughly discussed. And then, our opportunity arrived: a white Ford Explorer, driven by a 50-something woman. As we gave the O-K sign, I crouched down low and ran from our car into the gas station and shoved $20 into the attendant’s hand:

“HER!,” I whispered, “We want to pay for her gas! Now! Pump 4! Go! Go!”

I put my cap down and walked unsuspectingly back to our car, quietly closed the door and started the car. Next it was time for LaGringa’s part of the job. The woman walked into the station to pay for her gas and we peeled out of the parking lot, whipping an illegal u-turn and zooming up to the woman’s car. La Gringa jumped out and put our calling card on her car door. Then we took off, finding shelter, parked stealthily across the street and waited.

The woman came out of the gas station looking around in both directions — she was clearly suspicious of our actions. She walked carefully to her car and picked up the card on her door looked at both sides of it before reading what it said:

You received this act as part of Yahoo!’s effort to spread joy around the world. We hope this inspires you to make the ripple grow by doing something good for someone else. That’s how good grows. Share it at

Our car exploded with excitement. We pulled-off the job! Slowly, we creeped our not-so-stealthy red SUV out of the parking lot in cheers.

Back at the lair, we surveyed our booty: we secretly had hit three gas stations paying fo gas for unsuspecting citizens, bought bagels for two senior citizens who’d just gone for a run, and given out Lottery tickets to strangers on the street throughout San Jose. We were high on the thrill of secret giving. The feeling of giving a random act of kindness was not only contagious, but addictive. We piled in the getaway car and headed south, casing out our next target.

As part of my role with the Yahoo! Motherboard, I was given $100 in cash to pass-on random acts of kindness during the holiday season. You can learn more at: How Good Grows, Start a ripple of kindness with one simple act.
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Managing Kids Earthquake Fears

Posted on Jan 19, 2010 in Giving |

It’s the deer-in-the-headlights What the hell do I do for something so incredibly hopeless? For a country already in such dire straits? Why do I feel like such an ass that I didn’t focus in on the despicable conditions in  Haiti before? How come it took yet another complete biblical act to draw the world’s attention to the single poorest country in the Western Hemisphere? And, how do I explain this disaster to my children without them becoming paralyzed with fear themselves?

I’ve written about my own earthquake experiences before. I’ve written about my fear of fears before and trying to ensure my children are not fearful for the things we cannot control in life. But the fears they have over the disaster in Haiti are real and all around them. In response, I’ve come up with my kid checklist:

1. Safety first. All our kids in California go through earthquake drills at school. Make sure there is a plan for home. In our home we told the kids to go to the door jams and we would come to them. We told them not to run or hide or try to find us. We showed them where to go and how to protect their heads.

2. Mental safety. We told the kids that they lived in a safe house, built with safe materials. We told them that in Haiti houses were not built the same way. We ensured them that the disaster they see on TV (and everywhere) isn’t going to happen on that magnitude to their home or to their school. We patiently sat at the dinner table and answered questions to ensure they *felt* safe.

3. “I Don’t Know.’ Saying “I don’t know,” to questions about how big earthquakes will be here, will it happen at school, will the power go out, when will it happen all have one answer: I Don’t Know. That’s a hard thing to say to a child when they are fully reliant on you for answers. The only thing that helped the kids was when I told them they’d been through earthquakes, that mommy had been through big earthquakes that there will most certainly be earthquakes in the future and that I had always been safe, even in the worst scenarios.

4. Empower the munchkins. Both kids dumped out their piggy banks and gave most of their money to Haiti relief. They had no problem doing it. They were excited, actually. We also let them talk about Haiti, looked it up on the map, talked about their exports and what they might need (blankets, stuffies, Hersey’s Kisses). At dinner, Thing 1 asked if I could say a prayer for the children of Haiti. Since we don’t pray before our meals, I was pretty shocked. But we did it. It was his idea. He felt he was doing something to help. Thing 2 said she wanted to go teach the Haitians to fish because if you give them fish, they’ll only eat for a day. She takes the parable literally and wanted to go teach them to fish with her fishing rod so they could eat for a lifetime. The beautiful power of children.

5. Manage the media. Now, of course we’re all shielding our kids from the Haiti coverage, but really, look around. It’s simply everywhere right now. Try to manage what they see. No dead bodies. No blood. No famine. I let them see something about the airplanes coming in dropping food and water so they could see what the help is like. The positive side, if there is one, can’t be found as easy as the disaster of it all.

6. Get creative. We are going to have a Haiti garage sale. I’m going to try and get our whole street to do it. It won’t be this week or next, but probably in mid-March. The vast needs in Haiti will go on for years. I’d like to see something done where kids and families come together. The money will be sent to Haitian aid groups, but the Karma will be sent immediately.

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Tree Climber Saves Christmas

Posted on Nov 30, 2009 in Giving, Holidays |

You’ve heard me blog and beg and plead and look to you to help us find someone to light the local tree. The extraordinary Straun Edwards from Trees 360 Degrees did indeed light the tree for our community and the San Jose Mercury News’ Sharon Noguchi covered the event.

Read the awesome story here!

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A Good Guy for a Good Cause

Posted on Nov 27, 2009 in Giving, Holidays, School |

As many of you know, our annual Community Tree Lighting Ceremony  is Thursday, December 3 at 6:30 p.m. As more of you know, I nearly lost my skull worried over the actual *lighting* of the tree. It’s a bad economy, we all know it. But no lit tree in our town? Really, I need a scotch just thinking of it.

But the tree will be lit and the community will have it’s tradition. This year, we won’t be using a cherry picker or crane to hang our lights —instead, Straun Edwards, arborist and owner of Trees 360 Degrees will deck the tree by doing what he does best: climbing! Our angel wears spikes in his shoes and is a whopping  6-foot-8.

Tomorrow my tree lighting angel will hang the lights. You know where I live? Then come out to see Straun 45-feet sky-high in the neighborhood tree tomorrow at our local elementary school.  That’s right, Mr. Edwards’ donation is to *litearlly* climb the giant fir tree outside the school to hang the lights for the tree during the holidays.

We fly home tomorrow to watch Straun climb the tree (kids are freaking out, they think he is SpiderMan). I’m grateful to him beyond what he knows for a cause more important that he could ever guess.

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Tree is Bare, Branches are Full

Posted on Nov 17, 2009 in Giving, Holidays, School |

The tree lighting ceremony drama –lighting up my frustration from here to Thomas Edison’s grave and back — continues. There are a million technicalities,  hurdles, economic downturn-rejections and red tape landmines everywhere I turn. All of this, of course, in two languages.  It’s sort of borderlining on panic.

But, there is also a fullness I’ve never really experienced before.

In my plea to local businesses to help us put lights on our holiday tree for our local community event, I found gems everywhere. There’s the lady from Discount Lift Rentals who calls me at 9 p.m. to tell me she’s going to call everyone she knows to give us help in finding a boom lift. Then she kindly explains to me the difference between the booms and the cherry pickers and the arms on the things. I’m pretty impressed the chick knows power equipment. That’s hot, in a Rosie ‘Yes We Can!” sort of way. There’s the friend who volunteers her husband and her vacation time to put up the lights — if only we had a way of getting in the tree. Then there’s the tough real estate agent who’s got a kinder than kind heart who offered to make calls on our behalf. And there’s the friend who’s gonna ask the neighbor if he can help. I’ve got a friend who runs a media site that’s willing to bullhorn our needs. And tonight, I’ve got several friends who know a friend who knows a friend…..  Everywhere there is help.

And in the strangest way, I feel the tree lighting up.

Don’t get me wrong. There ain’t enough kumbaya in the world to substitute for the dang tree being lit. But sometimes inspiration comes from the people who cannot say Yes, but not for a lack of trying. I love people who try, no matter the outcome.

So we wrote blind letters, cold called and begged every person in the book tonight to help us find a way to light our community tree. And someone, somehow will come through. I know it will happen. And when it does, it won’t just be the person who said Yes that gave the gift. It will be all those I was lucky enough to hear No from that would have if they could have.

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