A Month of Crazy Writing

November is National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo.com) That means if you go to the website I indicated in parens, you can join thousands (maybe even millions? who knows, I’m bad in math) of crazy writers all over the world and write a 50,000+ word novel in a month.

That breaks down to 25 days of writing (for me, because I take a break on Sundays) which equals 2,000 words, roughly 5 type-written pages, or 7 book pages per day! If I’m fast, I can write 2 pages/hour. But when I’m slow, it can take all day. So you do the math… I’m going to be busy in November — oops, that’s today! So how many words have I written? 114, just what I’ve written above and that doesn’t even count :(

This will be my 2nd year participating. Last year, I wrote “The Gifted Zaylin” which is still being edited. At the end of last November, I said it would be my last. And here I am now, considering the task once again. I may or may not finish this time. No promises, just a goal. So why do it?… Besides being an excellent exercise in writing every day, for me, it’s like having a baby. Eventually, you forget how painful it is. You see the cute little toes of a novel, grow into a walking toddler and then the thing you created starts to talk. And you love it when it’s sleeping (or working well) and you “hate it” when it’s not listening (or not working), but it’s alive and wants to thrive. So you forget the pain of birth and you do it all over again. Why, oh why? That’s why.

So if you dare, join me (or cheer me on). Buy a book or two on writing a novel, create a loose plot, then write with wreckless abandon. Then we’ll hug and kiss on the other side of November, with a novel (good or bad) in one hand and a glass of sparkling apple cider in the other (I am writing for young adults, after all).

When the euphoria of finishing ebbs away, the real tough part begins, taking the story deeper and doing the hard work of editing. It’s all part of the wonderful process or birthing a bouncing baby book.

No TV Week: A Worthy Challenge

This last week students and families at Monterey Hills and Arroyo Vista Elementary Schools were encouraged to participate in “National TV Turnoff Week.” A special pajama story-time at each school was held on Thursday to drive home the value of turning off the TV, turning on a book, and sharing special moments together.

Consider the following statistics by “TV Free America,” a national nonprofit organization founded in 1994 and sponsor of the National TV Turnoff Week: number of minutes/week that the average parent spends in meaningful conversation with their children – 38.5, hours/year the average American youth spends in school – 900, and hours/year the average American youth watches TV – 1500.

The challenge to South Pasadena families was to turn off the screen, except online research for necessary homework. It is a straightforward and simple concept, right? Well, not so simple to accomplish.

To not engage in electronics was optional, but done in an effort to encourage more meaningful interactions with people (especially family) and discover the wonderful, sometimes forgotten world of physical activity and worthwhile pastimes (like reading, enjoying nature, and playing).

Translation: no video games of any sort, no movies, no computers, no smart phone browsing, no YouTube, no Facebook, no nothing I do all day. In this area, I failed. But my kids… they did great!

Arroyo Vista’s librarian, Joanna LaFave, distributed “Get Out & Play, Read A Book” guides. Inside, it encouraged families with a list of best books to read, non-electronic activities to try (from the South Pasadena Public Library), a PlayDough recipe, puzzles, and a certificate of completion to be exchanged for a prize.

LaFave also participated at home, but admitted, “It [was] hard on me because I’m a big sports fan.”

With a bright yellow “CAUTION” tape, included in the guide from Arroyo Vista, wrapped around our TV screen, my forth-grader was vigilant about sticking to the rules.

The computer was a necessity for me to do my work, so it was unrealistic to do away with that aspect all together. And my boys, thankfully, do not have the kinds of social connections I have online, but they will, all too soon.

But to rid the home of the extra media entertainment (TV, movies, games), I must admit, was refreshing! And most of the parents I spoke with agreed.

There was the occasional chanting from my four-year-old, “I want TV, I want TV, I want…” But beyond that, it was a good week.

One Arroyo Vista Parent, Suzanne Ebner, dusted off an aging “Clue” board game and enjoyed watching her son and his friend discover this new, yet ancient, form of entertainment, playing 3 times straight through.

Michelle Hammond, parent at Monterey Hills, did not watch much TV to begin with, so foregoing the screen was not too painful. But it also didn’t come completely easy either since she relies on it during dinner preparations, “It’s the only way she [younger daughter] won’t injure her big brother.” The most important thing for Hammond, “that he [older son in first grade] wants to do it himself. He’ll feel more accomplished if I’m not forcing him.”

A mother at Arroyo Vista, Gina Chang, said of the challenge, “There was no complaining from the kids [one in kindergarten and the other in second grade]. Especially if it’s a school-wide thing, they think, ‘why not.’” She noticed that certain TV viewing sometimes had adverse effects on her son with the occasional over-stimulation, causing him to be more ornery than usual. So the break was a welcome change for the entire family.

We live in an age where electronic media is as common as drinking water, perhaps more so since I definitely spend more time online than I do drinking the recommended water intake to keep me healthy.

Certainly, TV and electronics are not all-together evil, unless it becomes the glowing babysitter for hours on end. But it behooves us all to stop and think: can we use our time better? Can engaging the mind and body to actively learn something be better than passive learning via TV? What am I giving up to engage in this form of media?

Simply saying, “NO” to this omnipresence is a challenge for most and even a near impossibility for some. But it is an endeavor that is well worth the effort.

If you missed the official National Turn Off the TV challenge, and believe it could do you some good, do not wait to try and catch it next year (be honest, it’s probably just an excuse to not attempt it at all).

Rather, give yourself a healthy diet of periodic TV or electronics fasts. Read a book. Try a new hobby. Take a walk. Meet your neighbor and get them to stop watching TV. Re-think life. Do nothing. Talk with and really listen to the humans closest to you. Take the no electronic plunge or wade a bit by taking just one thing away for a day; you’ll be glad you did.

For an entertaining look at the effects of Television, I highly recommend a classic read by Neil Postman, “Amusing Ourselves to Death.”

For kids (and kids at heart) to learn everything one should know and do while growing up, try “The Dangerous Book for Boys” by Gonn and Hal Iggulden and “The Daring Book for Girls” by Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz.

Brewing Coffee, Creativity, and Community

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Drew Gale, co-organizer of Kaldi's Open Mic Night

Good coffee. Live music. Relaxed people. All warm the soul on a rainy brisk Friday evening, “Open Mic Night” at Kaldi, on the corner of El Centro and Diamond.

Removing the layers of outerwear and chills from a frigid wind, I was immediately distracted by the friendly atmosphere. Susan and Chanho Park (not the former Dodger pitcher, but former CFO at a Korean Bank and coffee bean enthusiast) became the new owners this last December.

Along with their daughter Christina, a graduate student at USC, the barista staff, and loyal customers, new and old, a steadily growing audience prepared for a night of exchanging laughs and artistry.

Of Kaldi’s ambiance, Christina stated that there’s “an atmosphere [here] that breeds creativity as well as intellectual juices.” And glancing at the display of local art (from photography to sketches) and people reading, writing and in conversation, I can’t deny it.

Nestled amidst and among the city’s 41 historic landmarks, it seems apropos that Christina, a current student in historical preservation, along with sister, Jennifer, help their parents at Kaldi, originally the South Pasadena Bank Building (keeping Mr. Park loosely tethered to his former life in banking).

So in our quaint city of preserved landmarks, a modern surge of creativity brews at Kaldi, the namesake of a legendary goatherd from Ethiopia, believed to have discovered coffee while watching his goats find renewed energy after eating certain red berries.

Passionate about coffee beans, even roasting his own at home, Mr. Park and his wife have brought a new brew to Kaldi. Along with new beans, a new “Open Mic Night” has also been added.

May of 2011 was the last time an event like this took place at Kaldi. But even then, it was not the same because there were only three scheduled acts.

Last Friday marked the first of many to follow. Co-organizers of the event, a local Drew Gale (former Kaldi employee, award winning personal trainer, and musician) and Jonathan Zadok (stand-up comic, entertainer, and musician), who both met while working at the historic Rialto, hope to create a new open-mic tradition of sharing talents while having fun.

When asked, why they switched to an open-mic format, Gale responded without hesitation, that it would be great to “try to get in new people and make it more for the community.” Even children are invited to perform and participate in a coloring contest with prizes. Though kids were not present Friday evening, it was nice to know they are always welcome to join-in.

Though the “open mic” format, in general, originated with the sharing of folk music, today it is an opportunity for members of a community to share their creativity in a supportive environment, be it poetry, music, spoken word, comedy, or a host of other mic-related performances.

But on Friday, original acoustic guitar pieces dominated. Gale, opened the evening with tunes like “Movies with Lewis,” dedicated to an elderly man (a client he walks with as a trainer) with whom he also enjoys watching movies.

Next up was Richie Webb, staff at the local Kinesthetic Kids and a South Pasadena resident. Webb played his music as well as improvising by encouraging the crowd to throw out words. They chose random ones, like “cats, bake sales, and airports.” And Webb delivered with a rhyming musical concoction of a cat getting sick from a bake sale on the way to an airport.

Zadok followed, wearing a multi-colored beanie and singing witty tunes, in line with his life in comedy. Then a soulful Mike Sanjuan shared his original pieces next, enjoying casual tunes among friends. All were amazingly professional, laid-back, and gifted.

Wearing my “Open-Mic at Kaldi” swag, a button pinned to my shirt, and as I spoke with customers and those sharing the mic, I couldn’t help but feel what Mrs. Park spoke of, “Each day I’m learning that [Kaldi] is more than a place to get coffee.”

Yes, in fact, it’s one of several gems in our diverse and small-town neighborhood, where community is more than buildings and programs, but people who help each other, grow and enjoy life between generations.

Future “Open Mic Nights” are planned for every second Friday of the month, sign-ups for acts begin at 6:45 PM with performances winding down by 10 PM.

New Owners: Susan and Chanho Park with daughter, Christina.

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Kaldi: one of South Pasadena’s 41 historic landmarks

The Beauty of Birthdays

I don’t like birthdays. One year, my parents almost forgot mine. I had to remind them at the end of the day… and I’m an only child!

The good-natured, broken-English response I received was, “Everyday your birthday!”

Truthfully, I’m not that bitter. Maybe I need some therapy. But I’m not bitter. Snicker, snicker.

Don’t misunderstand, my childhood was and my parents are wonderful in many ways. But when it comes to birthdays, my family has an obvious deficiency.

So as my big 4-0 approached (or encroached) I welcomed it with arms open wide, like I would an obnoxious nagging in-law, come to stay a few weeks.

Only, getting older never goes away, at least, not in this lifetime. So I’ve had to find a way to make the most of it.

Some of my more celebratory friends believe that birthdays are often things for which to look forward. In the spirit of growing older with grace and wisdom, as opposed to becoming the town’s grumpy old woman, I have tried, really hard, to see it from their perspective.

So I attempted to make sense of and unearth my own way of honoring a milestone. And what did I discover?

I am a beauty whore. (Please don’t stop here, lest you receive a completely deranged version of what I’m about to dissect.)

I am infatuated with and addicted to beauty – not the kind in Cosmopolitan magazine; but of all things beautiful, I am obsessed (scenery, art, food, well-behaved children, you get the idea.)

What does this have to do with birthdays? For me, it’s a time to remind myself of beauty in my life, past, present and future.

I’ve been known to find beloved authors and devour their works in a week (if they have fewer than 3 books). When I find music that inspires, I will listen to it continuously until my children’s ears bleed and they’re begging for mercy. And God help me if I find a television series that sucks me in, I will go without long stretches of sleep for days, resembling a zombie to find out who done it.

But I’m not only neurotic with beautiful mass media. One year I decided to visit just about every museum and architectural gem in LA (buying membership at half the sites and finding “free” days for the others), determined to revisit all year long and soak in the masterpieces that surrounded my South Pasadena home.

Inspirationally beautiful dance, artistically delicious food, visually breathtaking vistas, powerfully awesome weather and selflessly caring people can make me downright emotional when I glimpse their depth and grandness.

And more often than not, the old adage rings true, the simplest things in life do bring the greatest joy. I love listening to my kids play the piano or crack silly mindless jokes. I enjoy the farmers market, watching my children play around the ginormous exposed roots of the old Moreton Bay Fig by the library, walking by historic structures, and taking our dog and kids for a walk at Garfield Park. I look forward to breakfast at Gus’s on the weekends and a good red velvet cupcake from My Sweet Cupcake that can cure all ills.

My heart sings when humanity trumps selfishness, when friends fight for and find reconciliation, or when love is enough. Beauty and a healthy dose of your mortality combined can move and motivate. Birthdays are an excellent reminder of these.

When my 40th birthday arrived this year, to my pleasant surprise, it felt good. I was hopeful to fulfill my bucket list, to experience beauty and share it with others.

Whether at Christmas, in death (remembering a life), or during cheeseburger week (a recent reality in Pasadena) or on your own birthday, a friend’s birthday or a city’s birthday, whether you’re 4, 40 or 124… celebrating is important, giving us reminders to live life in the fullest most beautiful way possible, no matter our current circumstance.

It’s a time of renewal, to align or realign all the riches you want out of the short time we have on earth. And if you look deep enough, monetary value has nothing to do with it (although, money doesn’t hurt.) Rather, your riches and gifts are made more beautiful when shared with those who need it the most, in your community and around the world.

I still don’t like birthdays. But drown it in beauty and I may tolerate it.

Happy 124th, South Pasadena! May we, the community at large, be a landscape of all things beautiful, embracing the challenges (and challenging people) while celebrating what we already have and the beauty yet to come.

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Chess is Cool at Marengo

Enthusiastic arms shot up in unison with muffled “Oh, oh, oh’s” in a thick crowd of third to fifth graders at Marengo Elementary School. You would’ve thought someone was giving away the latest game consul on the market; but no, this was chess.

Tom Eilers challenges chess player.

Nearly 60 boys and girls, heavy on boys by just a little, participate every Thursday after school for an hour of masked learning (education via fun) through lessons, one-on-one chess play, creative team chess, and deciphering original chess puzzles created by volunteer chess coach, Tom Eilers.

Marengo’s chess club is a free activity for the children, made possible by wish night donations that help toward buying the necessary chess sets and learning tools.

Lisa Robinson (third grade teacher, member of the Marengo family for 19 years, and teacher for 26 years) is in her 13th straight year as the club’s advisor. “This helps me keep in touch with the kids and have fun.”

Robinson, Eilers and Sandra Moore (who has since moved away) started the chess club in 1999. Then, Eilers had two children at Marengo. Now he volunteers for the pure fun of it.

Though Eilers took a break from the club for several years, he has been back in full force for the past 2 ½ years, starting a chess club in neighboring Alhambra, organizing chess tournaments, tutoring in chess, and teaching chess at Mathnasium in South Pasadena on Saturdays. Not to mention, he also has a non-related full-time job.

When discussing the countless hours Eilers puts into helping children with chess and hundreds of puzzles he joyfully makes to challenge players, he couldn’t help but joke, “My wife thinks I’m a little obsessed.”

Robinson especially relishes in being a part of the club because “There are kids who do sports and kids who don’t. They come here and they’re equals. There’s no pressure to be a chess genius… The kids are wonderful!”

Chess club is a stimulating place to be. And it’s not easy to keep 60+ elementary-aged children engaged for an hour when they’ve already had a long school day and hunger pangs begin to set in after 2:45 PM.

But somehow, Robinson and Eilers along with other volunteers (parents, an occasional middle school student and high school students who can even receive ROP credit) come in, encourage, teach, and get the job done with fun at the core.

When asked about why he volunteers, John Tashiro, parent of two boys in chess club and faithful chess club volunteer said, “[Chess] makes these kids think ahead, anticipate more, and strategize… I like watching these kids grow and see how they think.”

In the background, teams of chess players cheer and give each other high 5’s as if their team just won the super bowl. A smile and some chuckles escape an on-looking parent. His kids are enjoying chess.

At the end of the day, Eilers reflects on his time with the young chess enthusiasts, “I can’t think of a better way to spend my time, making kids happy while they learn.”

And simply put, the bottom line is emphasized by third grader, Zoe Albornoz, “It’s really fun!”

If you are interested in having your K-8th grader join-in a chess party and tournament save the following Saturdays: February 25 (for K-3rd grade) 2-4 PM or 4:30-6:30 PM; March 3 (for 4th-8th grade) 4-6:30 PM; March 10 (for K-8th grade) 2-6:30 PM. There is a $12 entry fee for each session, with trophies and prizes for all.

To register for and for more information on chess tournaments and classes, contact Tom Eilers at tomeilers1@gmail.com or (626) 375-5135.

Susan G. Komen vs. Planned Parenthood – SAD!

The recent heated discussion…The Susan G. Komen (SGK) organization will not be giving more grants to Planned Parenthood (PP) for breast cancer screenings. It’s not because of obvious reasons. Read on…

My Response:

Please take a closer look… SGK is not taking $ away from those who need it most! (And PP is THE only avenue where “people who need it the most” receive help?) Just the opposite.

SGK is doing all women and supporters a favor by using $ more efficiently (going forward, not even rescinding current grants) by helping women, more directly (PP wasn’t doing that, making the screening process more costly).

It’s unfortunate that PP has made this into a political fight about one’s leaning in abortion. Shame on you, PP, for demonizing SGK. You’ve done ALL WOMEN a disservice in mislabeling SGK to further your own desire for their $.

Furthermore, even if the SGK decision was based on the investigation of PP, even more of a reason for SGK to put their $ into groups that are clearly not having issues that can potentially take even more $ away from “those who need it most.”

PP – Revamp the way you use your grant from SGK to help your women in a more direct and measurable way (like any responsible company) and SGK said they’d give more $ to you in the future. It’s that simple.

PP, please don’t try to divide people from an organization trying to do their best to help all women. This is not about abortion, it’s about ending breast cancer.

for more: http://www.nonprofitmarketingguide.com/blog/2012/02/01/the-accidental-rebranding-of-komen-for-the-cure/

A Dog, a Moment and a Sunny South Pas

It was an absolutely gorgeous, sunny winter day last week in South Pasadena, California, just a tad under 80 degrees with bright blue skies and fresh, rain-washed air. It was the kind of day for which people uproot their entire family and move here!

My faithful Terri-Poo, Bree, and I were on the back porch soaking in the sun. Bree was enjoying the splash of water from the fountain to the grass and I was enjoying a wise and hysterical book on writing by Anne Lamott.

When it was time to go in, I called out “Breezy” to make sure she knew where I was going. But really, I think I called her because I needed a dose of my pooch’s love. And she delivered.

As the following unraveled, I was reminded of why I love this member of the family so much.

While entering the house, Bree was quick to follow, but then she paused just outside the threshold. She turned, craning her neck around to glance behind at the beautiful outdoors. Then she glanced longingly back at me, as if to say, “What? You want me to come in on a day like this? You’ve got to be kidding me! But you feed me and I love you more than this day; and if you want me to come in, I will.”

Yes, I am a dog whisperer. She said all this in one adorable glance.

Then uncaringly, like many distracted pet owners, I walked inside to go about my business. But I wasn’t completely uncaring because I left the door open for her to choose to stay outside or come in.

She came in, dragging her paws and with head held low. I heard her quiet, complaint-filled mumbling behind me, “Fine. I’ll come into the cold cave you call home because you’re too cheap to turn on the heater. I’ll come in; but I don’t have to like it. Grumble, grumble.”

So I turned around and got down to her level, kind of like I do with my 4-year-old human (many similar training techniques, but that’s another story). And I began to stroke her and speak gently into her big dark eyes, like she understood every wise word issuing from my lips. “Breezy, You don’t have to stay by my side. You can go out and enjoy the perfect day.”

And surprisingly (I mean, I knew she understood my every word all along), I kid you not, she turned around and leaped back toward the door. But she also stopped midway and turned around as if to say, “Are you sure now? Because once I step across to the other side, I’m outta here!”

I responded aloud, “Yes, go ahead. I’ll be right here with the door open, waiting for your return, and writing about how much I love sunny South Pas and you.”