Monday, November 25, 2013

Simple Magic

Our Big Brothers Big Sisters holiday gift store "From Me To You" opens this week! I thought I would mark the occasion by writing about my Big Brothers Big Sisters journey (hereafter BBBS).  But first a few pictures of the store:

Relax by the fire in our waiting area with a cup of hot cocoa...
...while your kids gift shop in the store!

I didn't realize it at the time, but my first exposure to BBBS started in late 1970's when I saw public service announcements as a kid watching NFL football games with my dad.  Years later I went in for a job interview for a part time case management position at BBBS of Oklahoma City in 1995.   My impression of the organization at that point was literally that it helped poor inner city kids by throwing footballs around with them.  And it kind of does just that.  It's simple magic.

Working as a case manager for BBBS I got to hear from kids, parents and volunteers who not only really enjoyed the program but felt that they were doing something truly meaningful and worthwhile.  I did too - especially after talking to a kid who had grown up after having a Big Brother for 2 years in middle school.  This 25 year old told me that he wouldn't be graduating college if it hadn't been for his Big Brother taking him to visit the Oklahoma University campus and telling him that he could dream bigger and aim higher.  Since that day I've heard countless stories from everyone involved in the program about how much the program impacts their lives.  Simple, but powerful, magic.

I've had many roles in the organization over 15 years but I'm currently the CEO --so the fact that there are 1,200 kids on the waiting list is my responsibility.  We always have kids on the waiting list!  Kids who just want a friend, someone to hang out with, with parents who have signed them up because they need help now.  Even though we match up to 50 new kids each month there are also 150 new kids applying to get a Big Brother or Big Sisters every month as well!  So what to do to raise more money?  Because we know that we do works and we want to bring this program to more kids.  What would you do? 

Open up a gift store in the mall?  It's holiday retail magic!     

So, that's what we're doing!  Tell all of your friends to come out and spend some money (ie make a donation)!!!!  :)  We've got lots of fun gifts! We are:
  • in Rolling Oaks Mall,
  • upstairs, just outside of Macy's, 
  • right above Santa, 
  • for 26 days starting on Black Friday.  
Not only can kids shop and wrap their own gifts, but they can make holiday cards and mail letters to Santa.  Parents can relax and watch holiday movies while Elf Helpers shop with the kids. All proceeds, of course, go back to BBBS. 

I want to give a Big shout out of thanks to these SA Bloggers who came out last week to preview the store:   Colleen at San Antonio Mom Blogs, Tori at the sTORIbook, Lori at My Six Ring Circus, Inga at San Antonio Charter Moms, Stacy at Kid's Stuff World, Kristina at Hott Mama in the City, Ashley at living in the (mom)ent, and Telma at the Fire Hydrant.  Y'all were our first customers - I hope we are a big magical success and you remember us back when!  :)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Thanksgiving Trimmings

So, I might have been to busy to blog this past week, but I'm never too busy to decorate!  Here are a few of my favorite Thanksgiving trimmings. 

Wall calendar

Autumn Baubles

Turkey pot holder I have never actually used to hold a pot

Cute scarecrow

Front door decor

Favorite, on the mantel over the fireplace

2nd favorite


I collect bells

Adorable turkey

More adorable

I've had these forever
Happy Holidays!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Character Connections

Engrossed in a Nancy Drew mystery novel in the 70's

Nothing has brought me more joy in life than books. Except maybe my children. But in a different way. Because in books I've had hundreds of children, vicariously, which is a much easier way to have children.

A few months ago I created a Pinterest Board called Books I Loved as A Kid and Read Over and Over Again.  This scrapbook board is a loving tribute to the stories and characters that shaped my childhood, and probably the person I am today.  The reasons I had to read same books over and over again were:

  • I only had a few books;
  • I loved them more every time I read them; and
  • Our neighborhood bookmobile showed up about once a month if we were lucky and only let me take a few books at a time (despite my earnest pleading)
The sight of a Bookmobile today still makes me feel happy
As a result of reading the same books over and over again, I would venture to say that my character development was much influenced by the many beloved characters in these books. Therefore, I'm pretty sure that I grew up to be a combination of the following:

In turn, this makes me an old-fashioned, romantic, naive, inquisitive, intrepid, self-conscious, confused, mercurial, tragic, pioneering, persevering, skeptical, rebellious, philosophical, optimistic, sarcastic, magical, activist, writer, social worker CEO.

Or maybe I have multiple personality disorder.   :D

I also read "In Cold Blood" many times but I don't particularly identify with any of its heinous characters although I did become a little obsessed reading about Truman Capote for a while. Not sure how that factors in to the picture.  

I still love to read and collect my favorite books which I keep in my Library Loft.  I'm also lucky to have raised 3 kids who like to read.  I think that having books around the house is critical in helping kids discover the joys of reading - and as fabulous as the e-reader may be, that's just not the same thing in terms of providing physical fodder to facilitate literacy on a daily basis at home; especially for the younger kids.  Dr Seuss may be available on the Kindle or on your kid's reading app, but I just don't think that's a proper substitute for the book itself.  And if it's out of sight (i.e. turned off) it's out of mind.  In our home there are books everywhere. 

Books in the bedroom

Books(and pictures of course) in the living room

Books in the loft
Books in Zoe's room

Books in the closet

Books we are going to give away

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Allies in Life

As we enter in this month of Thanksgiving I'm reflecting on everything that I have to be grateful for and everything that I have achieved in life.  I have to say that my Bachelor's degree in Social Work is one of the things that I really cherish.  It was hard won. Only about 34% of Texans have college degrees and I'm happy to be one of those lucky ones. 

Luck has indeed played a big part in my life, but there were also so many people along the way who helped me develop into the person I am today.  As we say in the mentoring world, these are the people who helped me to develop the assets I needed to overcome the many and varied challenges of childhood and young adulthood. 

Of course, there are my parents who created the expectation that I would go to college one day and gave me the structure and boundaries I needed to get through high school and become a relatively highly functioning grown-up. They also helped shape my parenting skills that have played a huge part in keeping my 3 girls on the right track. So far. ;p

Some of my K-12 teachers were a huge influence.  My 3rd grade Math teacher, 5th grade English teacher, 10th grade Geometry teacher and 12th grade English teacher in particular were exceptional and life-defining.  I deeply appreciate their passion and commitment to teaching with gusto! They all brought learning to life with such individual authenticity that I still remember them vividly and fondly today. Providing the praise, encouragement and support I needed academically increased my self esteem to the point that I was driven to keep going and do even better. I owe them so much. 

There was also a special adult who was kind of a "Big Sister" to me in high school although I didn't  realize it at the time. Her name was Mary. She came along at a time when I was feeling very sorry for myself, and probably was insufferable around most adults. She listened, sympathized and hugged and it made all the difference at the right time. I might have gone down a different path without her. I used to babysit her kids. She probably has no idea what she did for me and I have no idea where she is today. 

I also have my ex- husband to thank for encouraging me to finish college even though he secretly thinks women are inferior to men and should mostly just be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Every once in a while he does a good deed. 

I ended up at at Texas Tech University in 1991 - seven years after I had graduated high school - with almost 100 college credits from 4 other colleges and universities that I had accumulated initially as a student at San Antonio College for 1 1/2 years and then a military spouse who had moved 6 times in 5 years.  My travels including being stationed overseas where I took some awesome classes at the University of Maryland that were very "hands-on." My favorites were:
  • "Population Biology," a junior level course that took us to the white cliffs of Dover where we collected and analyzed the white chalky rock - some of which I saved and have in a glass vial in my library today. The professor was a zany nutcase but we learned a lot. 
  • "The History of Britain" was also a favorite, which incorporated a series of arduous but exciting bus trips around the country that took us to many, many historic sites including my all-time favorite, Westminster Abbey. I heart History. And how cool is it to take the history of Britain in Britain by traveling to to historically significant places?!
When I arrived in Lubbock I was determined to graduate, finally, from college, but I had many random credits and no major. I met with a guidance counselor who told me that, as a military spouse, I should become a teacher or a nurse because there would always be a school or hospital somewhere around no matter where I happened to be stationed. She probably thought she was giving me good advice, but I was underwhelmed. I took home the course catalog and read it cover to cover and was intrigued by the description of the course on Social Work Policy, which I immediately signed up for. 

I became a BSW candidate and I definitely would not be where I am today without Dr Jerry Matthews of the Texas Tech School of Social Work. But first I must give a shout out to Dr Roberto Bravo. He was determined that I would minor in Spanish and not waste my "ear for language" on a "duplicative" Sociology minor.  I didn't. Although I can't really speak it anymore I understand if people speak slowly enough, and an extensive knowledge of Spanish is helpful living in San Antonio.

I'm not sure if I was convinced that I'd really actually graduate at Tech. A Bachelor's degree was a dream, sure, but part of me felt that this was just another school at just another duty station. And there'd be another. And another. But Dr. Matthews told me to get it done already and get out into the field (I had been working at banks up to this point; there are always banks wherever you go). And most importantly, Dr. Matthews let me take 2 summer classes concurrently (that were supposed to be taken consecutively) from home while I was convalescing from a C-section after having my middle daughter, Lacey.  These two classes were Human Behavior and Development I & II, and the concept of virtual learning or taking a class at home was unheard of in 1993 (I graduated only having used a computer once, but that's another story). I practically memorized the textbook and it has a special place on my library shelves today. I got like 105's on every test I went in for. I was determined to make his faith and investment in me worth it!
When I went in for advisement meetings he gave me the confidence to reach for the degree in a way I really hadn't done before. I began to think it was possible to make it happen before I had to move away with my Air Force husband again. And I did! In December 1994, 10 1/2 years after graduating from high school I graduated Summa Cum Laude - a perfect 4.0 - from Texas Tech University with a Bachelor of Social Work! 

As a technical aside, I have to acknowledge the contribution of the harried secretary to the Dean of my college who finagled an interview  for me with the Dean in which I was able to convince him to let me take the CLEP tests for freshman English and Biology.  It helped that I was 6 months pregnant with one kid and had a 4 year old in tow. He gave me permission to test ("1 time only" which was all I needed, Hello?) for 11 hours of biology and English credit. I had to study my ASS off with only 48 hours notice before the tests but it was worth it. I still cant believe I got 8 hours of Biology by taking tests. I'm pretty sure I could have CLEP'd every English class they had to offer, but biology!? These CLEPS were necessary to replace classes I had already taken but that didn't transfer for actual credit - which was just criminal if you ask me. 

Finally, I give thanks to the mom who birthed me as well as my paternal grandmother (whom you met already in this tribute blog). From what I have heard and seen in pictures, they lovingly nurtured me from birth to age 3 which we all know are such critical, critical years. I may not remember any of it but I wouldn't be who I am today without it. I'm absolutely sure that without the foundation they gave me I would not have had the resiliency I needed to get through the rest of my childhood. My Granny also sowed the seeds that grew into my compulsive need to decorate for the holidays, but that is also another story. 

So thanks to all these people, from me. I hope that during this month of Thanksgiving that anyone who reads this is compelled to thank the ones who mentored them and helped them get where they are today. And if anyone is compelled further, to give back, you know where to call:  Big Brothers Big Sisters at No one can do it all alone. We all need allies in life.

My next post will be about all the people I met in books and how they shaped my life.  Books are my best friends - for which I am very thankful!