The joys and lessons of 2020

I know 2020 dealt a lot of people a bad hand at cards, so to speak, and I know so many people have suffered— loved ones lost, food insecurity, unemployment, instability, break-ups.

I naively believe every year will “be a good year” or a better year… but let’s talk Turkey for a minute: I have a disability (cerebral palsy), I come from a certain socio-economic bracket that has made it difficult (but not impossible) for me to achieve long term financial stability, and my own job choices have often valued community, family and altruism over traditionally-defined middle class life.

2019 was the year I resumed my professional career after taking ten years “off” to raise my daughter. (I worked for Target for those 10 years and they gradually increased my part time hours to full time and so I opted to get paid a professional salary versus a retail wage if I were to put that many hours in.)

My husband and I separated in 2019. That was a huge change after 20 years, and it still pains me. My husband is one of the kindest people in the world, and while I still lament that we couldn’t fix our problems, the end had to come.

So what were the joys and lessons of 2020?

Let me share.

  • Cats. December 26, 2019 through late January 2020, the teenager trapped the feral kittens born under our neighbors porch. We kept two of them. Taming feral kittens gave us so much reward. And led to us working with FURR. Our fostering career has involved 12 kittens so far, in seven months. And I cannot tell you how much I love having babies around all the time. On days I don’t want to get out of bed, I do for them.
  • Birds. I met Nala on December 28, 2019 and brought her home in mid-January. By dealing with this obstinate Goffin’s cockatoo, I learned a lot of patience. And the best way to top being “a crazy cat lady” is to be the crazy cat lady with birds. And my parakeets had babies for Christmas 2020. I have three chicks that I have seen grow daily.
  • Professional and personal growth. I found myself crying at my desk more often than I like to admit in 2020. It became apparent by the end of January that my boss was an incredibly toxic person. At the same token, I learned so much from her that when she dismissed me during the pandemic, I could use those new skills to help a young nonprofit grow. Between my original job and my volunteer work with new nonprofits, I showcased this knowledge to steer these organizations to grants. And the success rates for grants, publication of an first-ever annual report, and various media placements throughout the Lehigh Valley was exhilarating.
  • Expanding family. As my faithful readers may know, I have a second teenager staying with me. This teenager has turned our lives upside down, but has shared in our joys and tribulations during the last four months. I always wanted a larger family— and I got it this year: a menagerie of birds, cats and teenagers. It’s been amazing to share our joys and traditions with someone and see my daughter react to no longer being an only child.
  • New attitude toward challenges. I am always the person you can count on when you need someone. So people don’t realize that I am often terrified and insecure. Being “alone” and a single custodial parent has gotten me over that. I had five months with no income and I lived on the $4500 I had in savings. I ended up in the hospital with a cat bite during that time period and it was such a great learning experience. I learned a lot about myself, my neighbors, my friends, and how amazing teenager #1 really is. And then I finally get unemployment after I get my new job at Stitch Fix. I promptly use it to pay off some of my medical bills and a few living expenses I had put on my American Express.
  • We will move beyond Covid. I finally got a job and three weeks in, I contract Covid-19. That whole experience was something, but again— I learned to ask friends, neighbors and family for help. And that GrubHub gift certificate I received during the summer months sure came in handy. This whole pandemic world has me mapping out whom I would recruit for my squad in a real catastrophe.

Maybe I’m just weird— but I see a lot of hope and triumph emerging from struggle. Cheers to 2021.

Those crazy fools got more kittens!

Today we made a very difficult decision regarding the fate of one of our Greek Pride kittens, that we are fostering for Feline Urban Rescue and Rehab.

Hades, the little black cat who bit me and sent me to the hospital, is inquisitive but hides most of the time. She now has caught ringworm from her brother Hermes, so we crated her.

Hades

Even in the crate, we can’t get the anti-fungal cream on her.

Video: Zeus proctecting Hades

The complete opposite of her sister, Zeus (the runt!!) loves people and runs into any situation to protect her siblings.

With a heavy heart, the teenager (#1) called our FURR foster godmother and asked if she could help us determine if Hades behavior was based in fear or aggression.

Together we decided that Hades is a female cat who will always feel trapped and cornered in a home environment and would do better as a barn cat.

In more optimistic news, Zeus and Apollo will be returning to Petsmart this weekend for their second adoption fair and may head to an in-store habitat to increase their visibility.

And we’re working on teaching Hermes to cuddle. He’s been the sickest of this group so poor guy has spent most of his life getting scruffed and having medicine applied: first antibiotics and eye cream, then ringworm cream on muzzle and belly.

Onto the insane news, we got MORE kittens! This will be our second set, trapped this morning, and will be named after Roman Gods.

Introducing… drum roll please… The Roman Pride… YouTube video of new kittens

An overdue nonprofit round up

The last several weeks have featured a bevy of local non profit workshops and presentations.

Two of which happened last Wednesday night— the second in the Yes! Empowerment Series from the YWCA of Bethlehem and a panel on Quality of Life Women’s Issues hosted by American Association of University Women Easton Branch featuring Megan Lago (who coincidentally is my neighbor), the communications director for Lisa Boscola; Janice Thomas, homeless services director for Third Street Alliance for Women and Children; and my former colleague Antoinette Cavaliere (pictured below), program director for ProJeCt of Easton.

It’s energizing that local non profits can interact with each other and the public so fluidly and easily through social media and video conferencing platforms.

The focus of the AAUW panel was the problems facing families during the pandemic, which many of them seemed to revert to age old problems like lack of education and domestic violence.

This week’s YWCA session was on giving and receiving feedback, another interesting reflection on how we communicate and interact with others.

Then I opened my LinkedIn to discover that the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley featured a photo of me, my colleagues and one of our Women United supporters on their LinkedIn post to promote their upcoming Women United event.

That was certainly a wonderful start to the day.

A night contemplating white privilege

Last night I stayed up late and joined a Zoom call at 10 pm Eastern Time sponsored by the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center in Seattle. The theme for this social justice “cafe” was “white privilege.”

I love to see what other nonprofits are doing to promote racial and social justice, and more importantly, how they foster discussion on important topics.

So, I picked this Zoom, in part, because the facilitator is the sister of the matriarch of The Velez Family, dear dear friends of mine. It’s so amazing to attend an event where you know the people running it have something impactful to say and come from a diverse background.

And I got to socialize with folks from the West Coast!

Sam opening the session

The really, really neat part of this discussion wasn’t the fact that it covered a very important topic—oh no! The wonderful part of this discussion is that the host organization has designed the materials as a “kit” to allow meaningful conversations that can be reproduced among various groups.

The reflections, questions and materials promote open dialogue of various perspectives and hopefully will challenge the participants to have a better understanding of how race-based privilege, unintentional/ socially ingrained bias and ancient laws/codes all still exist and prevent society from truly “moving on” or working together.

I encourage you if you need resources to launch discussions of social justice, explore this nonprofit’s web site: International Peace & Justice Center. They are a faith-based group, but they recognize that everyone has a different spirituality.

Their web site opens with calling racism a sin. And even though I am not a Christian, I will be the first to agree that racism is a sin. Especially now. It’s 2020. Humanity should be ashamed at how we treat one another.

Inspired by Vu Le, Nonprofit AF

I attended a Zoom Meeting today with Vu Le of Nonprofit AF hosted by The Gruvin Foundation. Now I know it seems odd for a writer and communicator from the Lehigh Valley to spend time with a foundation focused on Ocean County, N.J., but I had a hunch Vu Le would have a message that transcended geography.

But before I get how right I was, let me celebrate the fact that I attended the meeting in true 2020 remote work fashion—

My Zoom Face

While below the waist, I spotted pajamas.

Let me just say that Vu Le speaks the truth and boldly proclaims what those of us who rely on traditional nonprofit institutions to employ us cannot say.

It’s time for the nonprofit sector to be bolder and more assertive.

Vu Le, Nonprofit AF

He so eloquently described what could be improved about the nonprofit sector. From the basic concepts such as fundraisers should not be judged on how much money they bring in and we should reflect upon the greatest needs in the community versus pushing our own mission.

Le advocates for a change in the ecosystem so that nonprofits stop functioning in silos and foundations and philanthropists stop generating mistrust and wasting time and resources.

For instance, Le reminds us all that GRANT PROPOSALS are a WASTE OF TIME since most never get funded. He poses the question— what if nonprofits employed the same tactics as funders?

A hungry family comes to the food pantry. Before they receive food they have to prepare the following:

  1. Compose an essay detailing how hungry they are.
  2. Include a logic model of exactly how all food will be used.
  3. Prepare outcomes of how this food will benefit your children.

We don’t do that, right?

So, Le asks, why do funders do it to us?

He compares the current nonprofit environment to The Hunger Games and like the book series, he challenges those in the sector to end the game and take down the system.

Vu Le speaking, hosted by Gruvin Foundation

Some more of his simple but mind blowing, completely logical ideas to improve inequality in this country:

  • The “easiest” way to fix society is to elect more women of color. It’s the only way to balance the voice is old white men.
  • The wealthy need to pay their fair share of taxes.
  • Remove corporate influence from politics.
  • Change the two-sided narrative so it’s harder to argue.

Then he reminded us all of this fact: If most social injustice and issues that nonprofits seek to correct effect primarily people of color, why is it that typically…

Non profit boards are white

Non profit staff is white

Donors are white

So white people should allow more people of color decision-making capacity in programs to benefit them. To continue to paraphrase Le, white folks need to stop taking jobs as executive directors for programs that don’t have any impact on white people.

And if funders are only participating in philanthropy to receive the tax breaks, they need to accept that the money is no longer theirs. They need to allow those communities facing the issues at hand to make decisions on how it is spent.

And one of the best ways to promote change in the sector is to encourage funders to give general operating expense funds and let the people doing the work decide where it is needed.

Again, these ideas are not mine but belong to Vu Le of the blog “Nonprofit AF.”

Saturday morning silly

First, let me say— hats off to the legendary Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who passed away yesterday at the age of 87. Her time on the Supreme Court, her legacy and the documentary film on her life, RBG, have touched millions of people— male and female—who may or may not know how her thoughts and actions have influenced their lives.

My posting lately has been inconsistent because I have been finishing some grants and the annual report for ASPIRE to Autonomy, Inc. The former I must give credit to my amazing interns Kayla and Sarah, and the latter is in the hands of my talented graphic designer (and partner in crime) Gayle.

Who else would take it in stride when I jokingly send photos like this (below) for the annual report and understand my hastily scrawled notes?

In the midst of it all, I’m still looking for a job, dealing with paperwork, adapting to hybrid school and ever present teenagers (who truly bring laughter and vibrancy into my life), socializing the foster kittens, developing a routine for the sassy cockatoo, battling the teen-and-pet laundry mountain, and collecting hospital bills. And poorly trying to find time and energy to improve my own health and return to weight training.

But this is a Saturday Silly Post!

So random sillies…

Yesterday Darnell popped over to finalize some projects for ASPIRE. He got hungry for a sandwich so I recommended my non-downtown spot. If you are in downtown Easton, the best spot for a sandwich is Josie’s New York Deli.

But when you’re not downtown, the place to go for a sandwich is Park Avenue Market. But they are slow. It takes them forever to make a hoagie. But they are pieces of art.

Darnell had his mind blown by their Dietz and Watson Bacon Lovers Turkey Breast and Bacon Lovers cheddar.

I tried the seafood salad with the dill havarti and shared it with the teenager. But the teenager was in a bit of an impatient frenzy because her Universal Yums box from Colombia came. So, Darnell was kind enough to film our unboxing video.

Colombia Universal Yums unboxing

In addition, I got my Ipsy bag, which had a tiny Tarte mascara (the cutest mascara I’ve ever seen), some color correction crème, and a day-to-night eyeshadow palette very similar to my all time favorite but darker shades so I offered that to the teenager. Her skin tone is darker than mine and I thought it would suit her well.

I’m really tempted to upgrade to the Glam Bag Plus.

And finally, on Thursday, my creative friend Joan came over and asked Nan to join us, so when I went to get Nan we went to Dunkin Donuts since the weather has changed to brisk Autumn. And we got her opinion on the new stuffed bagel minis.

Nan’s review: Nan’s review of stuffed bagel minis

And if you missed the teenager and I in our earlier review: New Dunkin stuffed bagel minis

Remember folks— the fun is in the little things.

Communication and Creative Language

Last night, some of the team at ASPIRE to Autonomy Inc — myself, my amazing intern Sarah, and one of our founders, Amber— decided to support The YWCA of Bethlehem and improve our communication skills by attending the YW’s Yes! Empowerment Series sponsored by Provident Bank Foundation.

I had a great time and it sounded like my colleagues were having fun at this virtual workshop on building powerful communication skills.

The workshop was facilitated by Danielle Adams of QueenSuite Coaching. I enjoyed her style and approach as she deftly encouraged us to write our intentions, guided us through an exercise in drawing what we hear, and discussed listening, speaking and leading styles and how they intersect.

It reminded me of a story I like to tell— even though my husband and I know each other down to the minutest detail, we struggle to communicate. Our brains are much too different. So I can’t do projects with him.

Let’s say we were designing a logo. I could write specific instructions of what I wanted and when he finished it would not even resemble what I had in my head.

I can send the same exact directions to my friend Gayle, yes the same Gayle of walking adventures, and she will transform it into my vision.

Painlessly.

It happened again today as we are working together on ASPIRE’s annual report. I had some quirky ideas so I was nervous sending them to design. And then Darnell asked if Gayle could help.

I was ecstatic when he asked because I needed her. I knew she would be faster and give clean design on a short time frame.

And she sent me her first days’ progress— I’m giddy.

It’s been a long time since I had the freedom to implement my ideas.

And so far, I think Darnell is pleased too.

Anyway— point is— some people struggle to work together effectively and it’s not because one party is “wrong” or “inept” or “stubborn” or “hostile,” sometimes people have different styles and their brains don’t mesh.

What matters is how we respond to those difficulties.

Those days

Today was one of those days where I got a variety of outstanding projects done, slept better than usual, barely got any steps in and felt like I made an impact working on Aspire to Autonomy’s annual report for 2019-2020.

As I’ve mentioned it’s an exciting time to be part of this team and the interns working in my department bring so much enthusiasm and knowledge to the table that it is a joy to mentor them.

I even practiced my chopstick skills with the teenager’s tutelage so I would embarrass myself less at future sushi meetings. We used old toothbrushes and I could only master the “cheater” method.

The teenager rescued Buddy (the dog next door) from an empty house as his human has been spending a lot of time away from home.

It was a dreary day today— the weather hospitably cool— but my mood shifted later in the day, I think due to not eating enough.

I found myself irritable over things I have no right to be irritable about.

Large sodas at Wendy’s require a life jacket

I drove the teenager to marching band and then sneaked to Wendy’s for a vanilla Frostyccino and since they had a coupon for a $1 soft drink I got my neighbor a Diet Coke.

Of course, I already got a $2 iced coffee from Dunkin’ today. Buddy joined us for the ride and Darnell joined us for coffee.

So that means I’ve had three cups of coffee today.

But there is something soothing about being alone in the car. Even the long drive thru line wasn’t a bother. It allowed me to sit quietly and reflect, and to people-watch.

Sometimes a peaceful moment comes from what otherwise might be an annoyance.

PEEC

A few weeks ago Gayle and I proposed to the teenager going to Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC) www.peec.org for their waterfall tour.

The July date didn’t quite mesh with our schedules so we headed up today.

17,000 steps later…

Gayle has some great stories from our day on her blog: “Fat Girl Walking” at PEEC

I don’t really have much to say other than:

  • The parks/trails seemed so crowded and people were from out of state, which is fine, but they seemed to be hanging out more than hiking.
  • A hiking guide’s idea of a mile is shorter than mine.
  • If land is designated as National Recreation Area, people can hunt and fish on that property. You cannot hunt or fish in a National Park.
  • Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel are nearly identical. Mountain Laurel grows in high elevations and has leaves smaller than the palm of your hand. If the leaves are bigger than your hand, it is a rhododendron.
  • Burning poison ivy and breathing the fumes can give you internal poison ivy.

Our tour guides had some interesting knowledge of the area; and our favorite had an eclectic post-college experience of accepting Americorps posts all over the country. She apparently had extraordinary prowess with a chain saw.

We learned a lot about plants, both native and invasive; trees and their insect diseases; and history— they even discussed how this area was shaped by the proposed Tock’s Island Dam project.

I find the Tock’s Island Dam controversy fascinating. Because the land was taken by eminent domain and not originally destined for National Park use, the people who had their homes seized did not have much time to move. So much debris was left behind but nothing can be removed from a National Park.

These high school students did a great job on this brief documentary explaining the project.

Student Documentary on Tock’s Island Dam

The official park service web page on Tock’s Island Dam

What is even more fascinating is that without the proposed Tock’s Island Dam, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area would not exist as it does today and it wouldn’t be as expansive. Even one of the biggest anti-Tock’s dam activists says that the process of condemning those homes and entire towns for the dam protected the area from future development.

I grew up on the Delaware River. Much downstream from where we were today, at the start of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. So hearing about “Hurricane Diane,” “the (19)’55 flood,” etc., was like listening to legends about my own history, as if the river were my blood.

My bedroom faced the river, and when I find myself someone where I can hear water washing against the shore in the lazy way that river does, I close my eyes and can revisit some of the best memories of my childhood.

And of course no 65 minute road trip is complete without some sites on the road:

Adoption nerves

We received a text Wednesday night.

Artemis has received an approved adoption application. Our first foster litter may be losing a member today as he moves to his FURRever home. Today at 1:30, Artemis meets his potential new family at PetSmart, as part of an in-store adoption event.

Does this mean we might never see him again? Does this mean he might never see his siblings again?

This little gent, and his siblings, have brought so much love and joy into our lives— kittens are such magnificent creatures to be around.

So I just had to take a minute to post, and remind everyone to adopt don’t shop. That my home might be a little quieter today and Artemis and his siblings might be lost without each other… but hopefully he will have much love in his new family. Though really, two kittens from the same litter are like having one cat in two halves— if you are new to cat world consider that.