Live More Own Less

Just writing I have set myself a new challenge this year - Live More, Own Less.

Simply, by the end of this year I want, at least, 1/3 fewer physical possessions than I have right now.

Why?

I want more freedom and mobility.  I want to be able to pick up and move at a moments notice.   I want to focus more on accomplishments and less on possessions.

Sometimes, (particularly if I’m looking through tabloids in the grocery checkout line) I think I may be one of the only people in the world who thinks walk-in closets, McMansions, and multi-car garages are grossly excessive. Bigger does not mean better.

Benefit of cleaning out stuff - finding a pic like this.

In the name of environmental activism and rational thought, I have declared a war on stuff. I am kicking materialism squarely in the nutz. I would rather be out in the world, experiencing it than trying to own it.

To meet my stripped down life goal I am giving away, or recycling one box of former belongings every week.  So far I’ve given away an estimated ¼ of my possessions - well ahead of target!  Goodwill has received most of the items because they also recycle textiles if they can't use them.

And here’s the really cool side effect– it feels great!

The more I’ve given away.  The better I’ve felt.  More liberated.  It’s become almost addictive. My tiny apartment looks better too.

That beautiful dress has a new home

I’m also consuming less because a) I loath shopping b) I’m thinking about every single item I bring into my apartment. I only buy what I absolutely need and concentrate on quality. If it won’t last forever, then I don’t want it.

If you’d like to try the same experience I recommend starting with formal attire.  Purge your life of formality. All of mine is gone! I don’t care how sentimental  it seemed – I have pictures.

I found a group called Working Wardrobes, which provides clothing for people seeking jobs, but also helps girls in need find dresses for formal occasions like prom and homecoming.  Working Wardrobes got all my dresses. Including the one and only pageant dress I ever owned. Some of the dresses were great, some I would rather forget (pageant dress), but now all will find new homes.

What have I done with my extra freedom?

IMG_0655

I have some incredible plans before the end of the year, but for right now I’ve: written a full length play, gone to museums to see the Endeavor Spacecraft and an exhibit of original photography from Queen Victoria’s reign, found Monarch butterflies and snakes in my neighborhood, seen the desert bloom after the rain, played with new baby niece while teaching other niece archery, etc.. All fun.

Can you name the museum?

Next Live More Own Less Project:

I have to find a new home for my old mountain bike, perhaps with a kids non-profit, but it needs to be refurbished.

 

Volunteer Journal #98 - LA Regional Food Bank

The trusty work boots at sunset. To my knowledge I have not been stuck in a freezer the size of a tennis court yet, so this was a first.

I was in the gleaning room of the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank, going through thousands of pounds of salvaged food from restaurants, grocery stores, and manufacturers.

Celebrating 40 years of service, the LA Foodbank has redistributed over 1 billion pounds of food to the needy. 1 in 6 people in Los Angeles are at risk for hunger.  Many of them have worked their whole lives, but are members of the working poor - those who must decide between rent and  food, or medicine vs. lunch and dinner.

Physically, the building is imposing, looking like a Costco with pallets of food stacked from floor to ceiling. And the gleaning room - is freezing. My infamous knee high work boots (see pic) and nano puff jacket were almost not enough. I needed a hat and gloves.

My group of volunteers was tasked with sorting everything, and throwing away any donated items without a clear expiration date and ingredient deck.

LA Regional Food Bank

Most of the mountain of food was salvageable, however I was not sad when I had to make the call to trash several hundred pounds of an unmarked butter substitute/margarine.  To be fair the margarine company probably didn't want to print the ingredient deck because it's nasty.

What was fun? Climbing on top of a mountain of food to pass packages down.  Hey, heat rises. I'm nothing if not practical, and a monkey-like climber.

It's tragic that we still need such a large facility because so many people live in poverty. However, I am eternally grateful that the LA Regional Food Bank exists, and that over 200 volunteers showed up, today and many days, to get food ready so many people in LA, including 400,000 children, don't have to go to bed hungry.

Volunteer Journal #97 - Angel's Flight

Princess is standing in for the kids.  Or more like sleeping in... On Wednesday night, after a long day at work, I found myself staring over a hand of Uno cards at a runaway teen.

I had come to Angel’s Flight near downtown LA to spend the night playing games. I ended up in one of the most intense, war-like games of Uno ever.  To be fair my opponents were tough and sophisticated. True survivors.

Angel’s Flight is a shelter for homeless and runaway kids between thee ages of 10-18.  Many of the children are fleeing abusive families. The kids are given food, clothes, and shelter, appointed case workers and therapists to help them cope with what they’ve been through.

The Uno game went on for 2 hours, a time during which I forgot about my work. Which is priceless.

Trucker hat kid = me

I don’t feel comfortable taking pictures of minors, especially teens forced to escape unimaginable circumstances.  A can briefly tell you about them because they were exceptional and interesting:

A 16-year-old former vegan, wanna be guitarist, who was thrilled that I taught him how to “count cards” in Uno. He was very proud to be starting college level classes soon.

The 11-year-old who had arrived at the shelter the day before.   He was tiny for his age and scrappy. His clothes were 3 sizes too big.

Playing games.

A girl in her final year of high school who couldn’t bother to play games because she had to finish her homework on the center’s tattered couch.

The 13-year-old who hid the fact that he started crying when, in the heat of Uno battle, another kid called him stupid (a crime that was reprimanded).

The only picture I took at this event are the Uno cards. I think you can understand.

Volunteer Journal #96 – An Extraordinary Senior

How many men? "All women should be married 2.5 times. The .5 is the most fun. If you know what I mean" - Sara, 93, Cheviot Hills, Los Angeles

Saturday morning I went to hang at a Cheviot Hills retirement center.  I was helping set up various games & activities when in rolled a 93-year-old-ball-of-female-awesomeness the size of a 50 lb. bag of sugar.  After she expressed her disdain for BINGO we agreed I would do her nails.

She picked a shell pink polish mentioning that "they" had just recently brought her here without letting her put on makeup or do her hair and nails. I am from the south - taking a woman above the age of 50 from her home without allowing her time to do hair and makeup is egregious. I had to ask questions.

LA 1929

The story that unfolded during Sara's impromptu manicure was extraordinary:

She was born in 1920, and moved to Los Angeles with her parents at the age of 9.  They took a train across the country from Washington D.C. and when they arrived in Los Angeles it was so tiny “it was a village” (see photo).

Sara's family lived in the Hollywood area and did their grocery shopping on Hollywood Blvd. They didn’t need a car because they rode the street cars everywhere.  I've only heard about these cars or seen ghostly remains.  The electric cars ran down the center of massive roads like Venice and Wilshire with passengers disembarking in the middle of the road.

Her family went to Santa Monica Beach on the weekends.  She says it was beautiful with no trash mucking up the view.

Rosie the Riveter

During World War II she went to work for Lockheed.  She was a riveter.  Yes, like Rosie.   She drove a Cadillac to work every day.  Meanwhile, her brother served in Europe, his last stop was Berlin before being shipped safely back home.

She was twice married but her husband had passed. She said that her second husband had been a good man.  The first one was not so much.  She told me that “All women should be married 2.5 times. The .5 is the most fun! Do you know what I mean?" Yes ma'am.

I finished her nails. She now had long beautiful elegant fingers with shimmery tips.

She asked me what I did.  I told her I was a writer and when she asked what I was working on now I told her about my new full length play.

She's hilarious!

Before I left she leaned over and gave me a kiss on the cheek.  Her eyes lit up and she said softly, “You must promise me you will keep doing what you are doing.  If you do you will be very successful.  And you will say,  'See Sara was right.'"  Then eyes twinkling she wheeled herself out of the rec room.

She had told me that she was the last of her family, so who brought her to the nursing home without her makeup?  The mystery is unsolved.  I'm simply going to have to go back.

Volunteer Journal #95 - Alexandria House

At war with the fridge Sometimes, when you walk into a volunteer project, whether it be a polluted creek, flooded house, or barren piece of land, you think:

“I can’t fix this. I can't. It's too much."

"It's not my responsibility."

"My apartment is a disaster, I should be cleaning that."

"I have work this afternoon, tons of it."

"I can't do anything to make this better."

Then you must get calm and Zen, because this is where you physically are, and if you're not going to try  to make it better in that moment who will?

Ick Smoking Nun Apartment!

I had to get Zen the Sunday morning I worked with Alexandria House, because the apartment I was helping restore was... for lack of a better word - gross.

Alexandria House is a much needed transitional home for single women and single women with children. To create more space they were renting some recently vacated apartments from the nearby Catholic church.

The apartment in question had belonged to a retired nun.  The nun had trashed the place, during... a dirty bender? Or many years of smoking and poverty.  I'm guessing the latter.

Alexandria House

And that is always my game changer… thinking how hard it would be for a single mother to ask for help. How much help you would need to get back on your feet, with children in tow. Tackling a grimy room seems small in comparison.

I focused on the kitchen. I'm comfortable in the kitchen, and being in one usually makes me happy. However, removing year old stains from the fridge was not happy (see pic at top).  I started to not like the smoking nun.  I liked her less when I was wiping soot from the walls.  Yoga breath. Peace. Go with God smoking nun.

At the end of the morning the home was in decent condition.  It would not be an sparkling oasis, but it would be a haven for a mom in her kids.

I heart Victorian Homes!

My reward for a mornings work - the requisite donut, and a tour of the Edwardian/Victorian headquarters of the Alexandria House, which was next to the apartment. Many families live in the headquarters.

I hearted the tour much. I LOVE VICTORIAN HOMES. Love the individual craftsmanship, the Dr. Suess like architectural details (like multiple staircases), and proper basements.

That’s one of the many fantastic things about the variety of volunteer projects I've done – sometimes I stumble across something I love and remember why again.

 

Volunteer Journal #62 – Canned Food Drive

Okay Okay Okay Okay Okay.  I can admit when things don't go according to plan. I organized a Food Drive in Beverly Hills. We did get donations, don't get me wrong, but for Beverly Hills... the turnout was lackluster.  Here's what went right and wrong. Location, Location, Uggg Cliched Location

Throwing the Food Drive in Beverly Hills seemed to be a stroke of genius.  I partnered with a prestigious family owned spa named Verabella located right in the center of the Golden Triangle (two blocks off Rodeo on Canon for thse out of towners).  Owners Vera and Victoria were virtual angels and even agreed to give free product to everyone who brought in cans.  The problem was that the spa, tucked inside an office building, is an ideal hiding spot for celebs because it doesn't get much foot traffic. With little foot traffic, and food drive visibility, our monstrous donations box was overlooked.

Publicity

This I did right and wrong.  What I did right - I got the food drive up on VolunteerMatch.org and in The Beverly Hills Courier a week before it ended.  What I did wrong - it should have gone up two weeks before the food drive ended. When throwing a donation drive of any kind the good people at VolunteerMatch have your back.  Also always contact your small local papers - they are usually more than happy to post your event.  Big thumbs up to Breton at the Courier for getting my press release up on the website and in the paper so fast - we definitely got donations because of you.

The Box

It always comes down to the box doesn't it. Something so stupid and it made a huge difference!  At my gym they are doing a food drive for the LA Food Bank.  The LA Food Bank provided these big ugly boxes with a bright yellow design that says Donate Food in huge letters that any blind person can see on across the top. The box was placed in the gym's high traffic lobby and they've received truck loads of food. We had to make our Food Drive box. I hate designing or decorating anything okay - you should see my sparse apartment.  I'm a words girl so the box was ugly. I wish I had a picture but it broke the camera.  Lesson learned.  Stay away from box design.

Neighborhood Engagement

This one is not my bad.  I walked around with my model friend Dana passing out flyers for the food drive to local businesses.  I figured it was best to bring a model along because no one tells a model no. Ever. About half the stores were lovely, getting excited and promising to put it up on their bulletin board.  The other half looked at me like I had a goiter. They did the same to Dana so lack of cuteness wasn't a factor. Yes, the flyer might have been a bit wordy, but seriously, it's a can of food!  It costs 50 cents! You have to walk two blocks to drop it off!  There are worse things in life... LIKE BEING HUNGRY IN THE WINTER.

In Conclusion

I hope the lessons I learned from my Thanksgiving Food Drive help you throw a more successful food drive either this Holiday Season or the next.  The bags of food collected at Verabella was donated to The Midnight Mission in Downtown Los Angeles (one of my favorite charities) which offers a bridge to self-sufficiency for the homeless in the LA area.  They operate without government funding and help those in need without sermonizing.

Happy Holidays Darlings!

Food Insecurity and Climate Change

Extreme weather conditions fueled by climate change will increase food insecurity across the globe. Scientists and humanitarian groups point to events like this summer’s record breaking heat in Russia and floods in Pakistan and Canada as examples of how food stocks are likely to be affected in the coming years. "Climate change will lead to different weather patterns, and that is what we are already seeing in many places like Pakistan and Russia. It doesn't rain the way it used to," World Water Week director Jens Berggren told AFP recently . Russia’s hottest summer on record helped fuel 600 wildfires near Moscow, which destroyed almost one-third of the countries buckwheat crop. This crop loss led...Read Full Article

Volunteer Journal #59 – Share Our Strength

I got the call from Share Our Strength on Friday requesting volunteer help on Sunday for the LA Times Celebration of Food and Wine benefit at Paramount. Regardless of the late notice, I got butterflies. Maybe even a bit lightheaded. Some people go weak over movie stars – I lose my mind over gourmet-handcrafted food. To prep for the large amount of yum I would inhale (for charity yada yada yada) I ate nothing but fruit and veggies for two days, lived at the gym, and fasted the last 18 (miserable) hours before the event.

Technically, Share Our Strength had asked me to help sell raffle tickets at their booth, and I totally intended to – once my food obsession had been satiated. I arrived early so my eating would not cut into my volunteering time. Before I type out this entire embarrassing list I want everyone to know this happened over several hours and most of the food was in sample sizes – okay. Alright here goes…

First stop Coolhaus – retro-architectural-gourmet-ice-cream-sandwich-chow-truck – I got peach cobbler ice cream sandwiched between two oatmeal cookies, next the Dosa Truck for a Dosa (Indian crepe) wrapped around spinach, cheese and potato with curry sauce, a Chocolate Chipotle Cake Ball at Delicious Wishes, Aged cheddar samples, spicy potato salad, blueberry lemonade, homemade strawberry buttermilk ice cream, Thai pitas and mung bean pattie (better than sounds), gourmet potato chips, wahoos veggie tacos, chocolate cake muffin, homemade s’more at Madame Chocolat, oh crap almost forgot and then a snickerdoodle cookie at the end. I have no idea how I ate that much it was an awesome feat. Estimated calorie intake 4000 to 5000. Days would have to fast to make up for today-3. Was it worth it for one day of gourmet gluttony?  Yes.

As for the volunteering - I manned the booth with the other volunteers but the best time I had was helping the chefs and restaurant owners set up the VIP area. Though some were a bit snippy (who will remain nameless here). I probably ran across the lot 6 times filling various requests. I ended up invading the Paramount set supplies at one point and snatched some unused black curtains to use as table linens because we had run out. I did this under the eye of a Paramount security guard who saw me taking the curtains and said, “Ma’am, can I help you?” He said it like, “Ma’am can I take you to studio jail?”  So I played dumb, which I hate doing but... [bat eyelashes, flip hair, jut out hip]... I said, “It’s the damn’dest thing I just can’t get these curtains off the metal poles." They were attached to because they were part of a stage. The over accommodating guard said, “Oh let me help you with that.” So children -when stealing act like suppose to be stealing.

Here's the irony in this volunteer assignment and blog.  Share Our Strength helps fight childhood hunger and food insecurity.  Over 17 million children in the United States, that's one in four, faces hunger.  I stuffed myself like a little pig at an event to help children who may not even get one good meal a day.

On a side note (and I do this out of love and with the knowledge that TheGoodMuse’s design is far from perfect) – Share Our Strength has one of the most difficult websites to negotiate of any charity I’ve ever seen. It’s like a word bomb went off on every page. After I was asked to volunteer for the LA Times event I literally had to Google LA Times Food and Wine to find any information because I couldn’t find it on their website. What’s needed? Fewer words. Easier Tabs. Events page with info. General volunteer sign-up - THAT’S EASY TO FIND. More concrete factoids, for example: How exactly does the Great American Dine Out raise money to help stop hunger? What percentage goes to support your programs? On a positive note -The Great American Bake Sale page has improved since last year because of a searchable map.

Bottom-line on the Share Our Strength Website– less pomp more substance. Potential volunteers please don’t get discouraged or frustrated.

Nat Turner, Blair Grocery & the Lower 9 Garden

"No matter how dark things seem to be or actually are, raise your sights and see possibilities - always see them for they're always there." -- Norman Vincent Peale Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans five years ago flooding 80% of the city, destroying homes, stores, schools, churches, and lives. When the levees broke the Lower Nine, one of the poorest areas of the city, found itself under 15 feet of water. The predominately African American community was almost wiped off the map. Even today only one fifth of the original residents have returned and the infrastructure is almost non-existent.

Maybe New Yorker Nat Turner saw an empty canvas instead of abandoned lots when he arrived in the Ninth Ward with $12 in his pocket. A schoolteacher by trade, he first...Read Full Article on Celsias

Volunteer Journal #58 – The Midnight Mission

I lived in a loft above Skid Row when I first moved to LA. I always say it was a green loft because the building housed an electric company before me; the heater didn’t work so it was very energy efficient, and I was so poor I couldn’t buy anything new. But I was comfortable compared to my homeless neighbors who I watched mill about on the street below… One night the temperature dropped to freezing, a rare occurrence in LA, and I saw paramedics pull a frozen homeless man from a phone booth.  They peeled his fingers off the phone one by one. I still wonder about him – what was his name, how did he end up there, and if I had seen him before his demise would I have helped. I wonder whom he had called or wanted to call and what he wanted to say.

I also think of the woman who, every morning, would pull on a uniform and get ready for work in and around her 4x5 tent. More than one person got ready for work in a hovel on that street – the reality of being one of the working poor in America.

Living in a half way decent place, in a bad location, and struggling for grocery money I did not even consider going 2000+ miles back to the place of my birth for Thanksgiving.  Instead, I decided to volunteer at the Midnight Mission, which was only one block down the street. I thought this was a particularly good idea because I was so close to being in the serving line myself - best to scope out things ahead of time. I asked a friend to join me, because I was too intimidated to go alone. Their response…

“No, I don’t think so. I mean, they might want to talk to me. I don’t know what to say. That could be awkward.  It ‘s just going to be sad and dirty. Let’s not.”

I was cowed and nervous so I didn’t volunteer, which made me start thinking… How many people don’t volunteer because they’re scared or have the wrong impression like my friend? What if I volunteered and wrote about it to show people what its really like?

And thus TheGoodMuse was born.

Ironically, 57 volunteer adventures later I still hadn’t returned to Skid Row to help out.  Maybe it was all a little too real or raw.  Whatever the reason I was happy when the Reader’s Digest article published and I got a personal invite to volunteer from Mai Lee, Community Relations Manager, at the Midnight Mission.

The Midnight Mission’s goal is to offer a bridge to self-sufficiency for homeless people through counseling, education, training and job placement. They also offer all the necessities of life to the homeless of Skid Row: food, shelter, clothing, personal hygiene and medical care. They do all this and much more without a dime of funding from the federal government. And although the title “Mission” would imply religious affiliation there is absolutely no sermonizing for services.

The Mission itself is an intimidating new structure of glass and steel.  Mai Lee met me in the lobby.  Tiny, energetic and smiling she said, “I don’t do an orientation for anybody.  I make it as easy to volunteer as possible.  Let’s put you to work.” She gave me a “I Love The Midnight Mission” apron as a gift and then threw me into the industrial sized kitchen to work. (P.S. Mai Lee – I’m a stress baker and I did not have an apron!  Do you know how many shirts I’ve stained? I love it. Thank you.)

I started wrapping silverware for the hundreds we would serve at lunch. Then I was put on the serving line. My job was scooping asparagus. Very glamorous. I worked alongside a wonderful drag queen named Chris who joked with the people coming down the line. Chris lived in one of the many rat-infested apartments that dot Skid Row and when she recognized a friend or acquaintance she would cackle, “Girl, get over here and get some salad! You be needing it!” At the end of lunch she told me she might come back once a week in the afternoon to volunteer because it gave her something to do.  I had moved from the serving line to chopping Romaine hearts when I was stolen from the kitchen and moved to the education section of the complex.

In a pristine classroom I was introduced to the teacher “G Money” who was prepping a room full of adults for their GED tests.  Everybody was bent low over workbooks, which looked like… math books… Eeeekkkk Math Workbooks!  I wanted to climb the wall and hang from the ceiling hissing like a vampire who’s seen a cross.  Unpleasant.  Math is so unpleasant and if anything I needed to take a workbook, sit at a desk, and have someone teach me.  As it turned out I think I helped a number of students to wrong answers.  I can’t remember the last time I’ve had to do long equations or multiply/divide fractions. I have a calculator on my phone, which I kept busting out as the students whispered, “That’s cheating!”  “I know,” I would say, “I’m just checking the answer.”  Nope not checking the answer, getting the answer, but why argue over semantics.

It’s fortunate that I met William.  Hunched over a small storybook on one side of the room William, 40 something, was working on reading comprehension. William became my focus, which spared the math students. I sat down next to him and said, “Hey what are we working on?”  He had just read a short story and now was struggling to answer the corresponding study questions. “Cool,” I said, “read it to me.” He started to read and immediately the problem became clear.  As a new reader Will read the words so slowly that they no longer made sense in a phrase. I applied a little acting.  After he read a line I would say, “Okay, how would you say that?” He would repeat the line back to me at a normal speed.  If another character showed up in the story I took their dialogue and showed him how the sentence would sound in real life.  From afar I’m sure we looked like we were goofing off, but William started to plow through the questions. I can’t tell you how great it felt watching William speed up and start enjoying the story.  It was one of my greatest volunteer moments - no doubt.

I’ve been poor and lived at poverty level a couple of times in my life. It’s almost impossible to dig yourself out without help.  And it’s almost impossible to find help that’s not condescending or doesn’t require some kind of soul trade. The Midnight Mission offers schooling, temporary housing, counseling and medical services, a library, a barbershop, but most importantly it treats people with dignity.