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 #93 - Shoes For The Homeless

Shoes for the Homeless! This one was super easy!

Mission - Help get 1000 pairs of shoes to LA's homeless population.

Time commitment - 1 hour on Saturday.

Using my new LAWorks membership and their awesome events calendar (which I highly recommend every charity adopt) I found Shoes for the Homeless, Inc. in my area.  They needed volunteers to sort new or gently used shoes for the homeless on a Saturday.

Shoes for the Homeless was founded by Ira Goldbery, a Los Angeles podiatrist who has been in practice for 30 years. Ira works with the homeless regularly, and has seen many injuries caused by the lack of proper footwear.

My Shoes!

Ira is extremely organized. I got two emails confirming my involvement with the shoe sorting. When I showed up to sort shoes he gave me a quick 1 minute briefing.  That was it.  Then the 15 other volunteers, and I matched shoes, rubber banded matching pairs, and then sorted them by type.

In truth a bit of a ruckus did break out over whether certain types of ladies shoes were work appropriate or more suited to evening wear. I tried to stay out of it because I'm known to be inappropriate often.

It was over in a flash, and the shoes ready to be distributed to the estimated 58,000 homeless in LA via shelters like the Midnight Mission.

Side note - The number of homeless Veterans in LA surged by 23% last year.  I need to work with a homeless veterans group.  If anyone knows one please send suggestions through my Facebook page.

Volunteer Journal #92 - Midnight Mission Kids Program

Drawing in Chalk Out of all the charities I've volunteered for the Midnight Mission is by far one of my favorite.  They don't make you jump through too many hoops, they just put you to work.

When I found out that they needed people to play with kids at an after school program in South Central LA I was in.  I signed up for a two hour shift after work on LAWorks and drove over to the small park next to the apartment building where the kids lived.

Showing up at any new volunteering project is like showing up for the first day of a new school.  Are they gonna like me, what are we going to play?  I'm terrible at kick ball I hope we don't do that. I hope I'm not the last one picked.

I had lots of first days at different schools growing up, but I still get nervous wondering if any kids will want to play with me.

After a little awkward standing around a young guy named "Jack" (changed to protect little 'un), who was a bit by himself as well, decided that it would be okay to play horse shoes with me. Phew.  The rest of the evening went like this:

Jack: I think I won that game of horseshoes.

Me: Agreed.

Jack: Lets jump rope.

Some of the kids drawings .

Me: Okay.

Jack: Lets draw with chalk.

Me: Awesome.

Jack: I will draw a river going down the steps.  You will draw fish.

Me: Sure.

Jack: Let's play tennis.

Me: Cool.

Jack: Can you swing higher than me?

Me: Probably not.

Jack: If I put this toy around your ankle can you jump it?

Me: Ummm...

Jack: Nevermind let's go draw some more.

Me: Cool!

More sidewalk art!

Jack and I spent the bulk of the night drawing on the sidewalk in chalk.  We were joined by the other kids and they eventuallyy worked out a drawing contest.  Little introvert Jack, much like little introvert me, was included in the group.  Though much like me he also stepped away a bit to draw by himself.

So as not to get any little ones on film I handed them my iPhone so they could take the pictures.  After a little instruction they proved to be naturals. Those are their sidewalk drawing, and Jack took the picture of me sitting cross legged on the ground on the front page.

Volunteer Journal #91 – No Kill Los Angeles (NKLA.org)

The new NKLA shelter I have seen it!  I have seen the future of animal rescue organizations. [pause] I had to see it early on a Saturday  morning...

But it was worth it!!!!

NKLA.org or the No Kill Los Angeles pet adoption center, built to resemble to house you've always wanted but could never afford, is snuggled near UCLA on Los Angeles'  west side.

The center is so clean you can think about eating one of the donuts they bring to Saturday morning volunteers off the floor.

*Best Friends Animal Society joined forces with a coalition of 68 different animal welfare groups to found the brand spankin' new center.  It's purpose - to stop the killing of healthy and treatable pets in LA city shelters.

Kitten Welcoming Committee

I was a bit grumpy when I walked in the shelter (insomnia), but was immediately welcomed by a chorus of meowing kitten in a display areas.  After that you can't be tired.

Tamara, the knowledgable and infintely patient volunteer coordinator, did a short educational session for 20+ new volunteers. We were then given the option to work with the animals or come back to complete their 5 hours a month at a later time.

I wanted to stay, so first I played with the welcoming committee. Which was awesome...

Me and the Foz!

Then I got to walk dogs like Fozzy who is classified as a black paw because he is smallish, not that strong, and extremely polite.  If you want to walk big dogs, dogs classified as a silver paw, you have to go through a bit of extra training.

I understood the concept of dog classifications the hard way when I took out a large pit mix named Jackie, though a black paw and perfectly sweet, she gave me quite a workout as she and I are in the same weight class.

Before leaving that Saturday I went back and played with the cats as they needed extra love.  You are allowed to volunteer with whatever animal you are most comfortable with at the shelter as long as you follow some basic safety protocol.

Playing in the Cat Room

NKLA is honestly the cleanest, nicest, most high tech shelters I've been in - with one of the friendliest staffs.

They've been open a little over 30 days.  In the first 30 their goal was to adopt out 50 animals. They had close to 80 adoptions.

*Best Friends was on my 100 wish list because I worked with them during a Puppy Mill Protest in 2009 and they were insanely professional.  I want to visit and volunteer their shelter in Kanab, Utah.

The Los Angeles War Against Public Gardens

Los Angeles Garden

One of the most touching projects I’ve done in the last 89 volunteer missions was the day I worked with LA Green Grounds. In April we planted a garden in the food dessert that is South Central Los Angeles.  Angel Teger and her family allowed LAGG to plant the garden in her yard and the parkways (area in between the sidewalk and street) lining the property. 

In late July the 8th District of LA slapped Teger with a notice to pull up the garden in parkways in 48 hours or else. I contacted Angel for her side of the story.

Tell me about the moment you got the notice from the city…

It was a very upsetting experience.  It was Monday, July 22nd and my son and I had just gotten into my car to run some errands.  I started my car and was about to pull out into the street when I heard excessive and aggressive honking right behind me.  I looked out my driver’s side window and there was a man standing there, with no badge or uniform to identify him as a city employee. He said “I need to talk to you about your garden.”

 I wasn’t sure what was going on.  He said that his supervisor had called him over the weekend, specifically about my garden.  He even made a point of identifying other planting violations within eyesight of our corner, but said that it was our garden that was a problem.  He told me I had 48 hours to pull everything out of the parkways.  When I told him that was impossible – my husband works during the day and it’s just me at home, there’s no way I could do all of that in 48 hours, he said he didn’t care who did it, that it had to be done, and if I didn’t take care of it he would come back and take care of it himself.

What were you growing in this problematic garden?

We’ve harvested chard, kale, eggplant, yellow squash, zucchini, mustard greens, string beans, honeydew melon, chili pepper, banana pepper, bell pepper, cucumber, tomatoes, bok choy¸ nectarines and strawberries.  The cantaloupe will be ready any day now.

Tiny ones plant Angel Teger's Garden

So the city wanted you to pull up a food-producing garden. What was the condition of your yard before the LA Green Grounds event in April?

Our property sat vacant for over a year before we bought it.  The land hadn’t been cared for in so long, it was hard as rock and overgrown with weeds. People would leave their trash on the parkways – fast food containers, beer bottles, dog poop.  It was awful.

What did your neighbors think of this rouge garden and city violation?

The response from the neighborhood has been overwhelmingly positive.  It started on our dig-in day, with neighbors coming by to show their support – donating food to our volunteers, dropping off bottled water, and even grabbing shovels and digging in right there with us. 

Since we planted it (almost four months ago), we’ve met so many of our neighbors.  Some make a point of taking their daily walks past our house so they can see how things are growing.  A lot of the neighborhood kids come by and pick strawberries or take zucchini, squash, cucumbers or tomatoes back home for their families. 

Every day that we are out in the garden – without exception – someone stops to tell us how much they love the garden, or how they want to do the same.  It’s been a wonderful way to connect with people.  After all, it’s food we’re growing out there – the most basic of human needs.  It makes sense that an edible garden would bring us together and grow community.

A fast growing protest started on Facebook when Angel reported her community created garden was being threatened. 

The LA City Council, without explanation, backed down from its demand that the garden be pulled up. Why do you think they really backed down from pulling up the parkway?

I’m not really sure.  I don’t know why they had such a problem with it to begin with and I don’t know why they backed off.  But, I think that support for parkway gardens like ours and the urban agriculture movement in general has grown tremendously. (A shout out here for Ron Finley and his TED talk which is what inspired me to get involved with LA Green Grounds and made this garden a reality.) 

After we received the violation, Ron started a Facebook campaign urging supporters to contact Bernard Parks, the Councilman for my neighborhood, and ask him to save our garden.  I know that made an impact because Councilman Parks’ office immediately came out to my home and got involved.  Then Steve Lopez’s article came out in the LA Times, drawing attention to the fact that the Herb Wesson, City Council President, had vowed to change the laws to allow for parkway gardens TWO YEARS AGO and nothing had changed.

Ron Finley

What can we do now to bring food justice to LA and the rest of the country?

A simple step is for the [Los Angeles] City Council to update the parkway planting guidelines to allow for fruits and vegetables.  But, after two years, they’ve been unable to follow through. 

The City of LA has a really wonderful opportunity here to promote better health and nutrition for its residents by allowing us to grow food and build community in areas that really don’t have access to good food options.  South LA doesn’t have to be a food desert.  We can change that. 

Our little garden has come to symbolize a movement that the City of LA should embrace – growing your own food to take control of your diet and health; building strong communities in which neighbors look out for one another and share resources; reconnecting with nature and taking care of our own little piece of the planet while we’re lucky enough to be on it.  These are all good things that are worth fighting for, but we shouldn’t need to fight.

What happened to Angel is not unusual. 

But just like in Angel’s case, city and governments can always be pushed by the people. 

Food Justice For Everyone

Volunteer Journal #88 - Central Kentucky Radio Eye

Listening to the radio with my brother... When I heard about a little radio station in Kentucky called Central Kentucky Radio Eye, which uses volunteers to read printed news stories for the blind I immediately wanted to help out.  Besides being from Kentucky, I like to read :)

I contacted them and they had another suggestion - why don't I tell stories from TheGoodMuse and some new ones to break up their regular news programming.

Thus followed anxiety where I pondered over the right stories to tell and then how was I going to record it without knowing anything about recording.

Then I realized I needed to get over it.  I was doing this for other people.  No time for ego trippin'.

So one night I sat down at my computer, hit record on the GarageBand program, and tried to keep the cat off the pages I was reading.  You can hear the results.  One take, no edits, just me reading stories about growing up in Kentucky, living in California, and some adventures - volunteering and otherwise.  I hope it sounds okay.

You can listen to it live 5:30pm EST on June 25th, 2013 HERE

or

Here's a link to the stories:

Volunteer Journal #84 - The Crown Jewel Club Tea

If you see a flock of chickens on the sidewalk in Los Angeles you’re in a bad neighborhood. Roosters are illegal within the city limits.  People do bad things with roosters, the most innocuous of which is wake everyone up at sunrise. However, when I pulled up to the small elementary school south of Downtown LA for a tea party that’s just what I saw - derelict houses, and 2 Roosters managing a flock.

I was in South Central to help The Crown Jewel Club throw a graduation tea party for their newest graduates.  Somebody mentioned to me that this seemed kind of frivolous – tea parties weren’t necessary.  But instilling confidence in at risk girls, The Crown Jewel Club’s mission, is necessary, and this tea was to celebrate a group of 5th graders graduation from the program.

The Crown Jewel Club teaches basic etiquette and social skills to girls in small classes.  For example: before the tea party began the volunteers lined up opposite the girls and they practiced shaking hands, formal greetings, and eye contact.   You may think this is easy or natural, but I would beg you to try to get a 5th grade girl to look you in the eye and shake hands firmly.  As Sheryl Sandberg the COO of Facebook mentioned recently the girls are instilled at an early age to lean back and not be assertive – it’s perceived as bossy or worse.  You could tell some of the girls were desperately fighting the need to look at the floor.

My job was beyond easy and fun - help set up the tea party and then sit down and help the girls practice conversation skills.  It went something like this [with body movements like this]:

Me: “Okay Guys... Sorry I shouldn’t call you guys… Ladies.  Okay ladies. [Taking elbows off the table and holding my shoulders back] What is your greatest dream? [Again don’t slouch].

Smart Girl 1: “I would like to be a vet. Errr…. Veterinarian.”

Me: “Cool… I mean that is wonderful.  So did I." [Gently taking the sugar spoon out of her hand before she used it to stir her tea, and then immediately dropping it against my saucer with a clatter as I almost did the same thing.] "What about you?” [Nodding to the second girl as a burn tongue on hot tea.]

Smart Girl 2: “I want to be a teacher!”

Me: “Great.  What subject?” [Stirring milk in my tea.]

Smart Girl 2: “Milk?”

Me: “Try it. You’ll like it.  It will cool down the tea. You won't burning the... it will keep you from burning  your tongue. Ah hmm. Yes. Now... What subjects do you want to teach?"

Smart Girl 2: “Math and Science.”

Me: “Are you serious? I mean that’s awesome!  You’re awesome.” [Smirking. Take that study which says little girls don’t like math and science.]

Well, I did my best.  I probably messed up the etiquette a bit.  I ended up telling them the story of my children's book.  They got excited because it's about a girl only a year older than them. They gave me tons of suggestions for the second book.  Maybe I'll use them...

For the Children of Sandy Hook Elementary

True - When I was 16 there was a shooting in my high school as we were changing classes. I remember it sounded like a book being slammed on the ground. I was walking up the steps and a teacher behind me started yelling, "Go go go..." We were pulled into whatever classroom we were near and locked in until the first responders arrived. We hid under the desks.

Every day after that my fellow classmates and I had to walk through metal detectors. And yet, after that, another friend of mine was shown a loaded handgun in English class. That's the reality of what it is like going to school in America. It's a little difficult to focus. It makes the sound of a door slamming or book being dropped a whole different experience. It sits in your gut. I don't think children, anywhere, should live with that kind of fear.

Newtown, Aurora, Columbine, Virginia Tech... The list goes on and on.

This is unacceptable. We have failed to protect the innocent. Many of the Newtown children killed were 6. 6 years old. And many others watched their classmates die.

"We can't tolerate this anymore.  These tragedies must end. And to end them we must change... Surely we can do better than this." - President Barack Obama

Volunteer Journal #80 – St. Joseph's Relieving Hunger

Because no one likes cans of mixed veg…

New mission - to make experimental grocery-store-style food pantries all the rage!  Like toast! Because it gives people dignity, and the non-profit I just volunteered with trying it, St. Joseph Center*, is saving money.

How does it work?

St. Joseph distributes fresh produce, (it's one of the many programs benefitting from Food Forward’s Farmers Market Gleaning) and non-perishables in their food pantry, which they have now set up like a grocery. See picture.

In the past St. Joseph, operated like a standard food bank and handed those in need a pre-package bag of food.  But if you’re allergic to peanuts, for example, you're not going to use that expensive jar of peanut butter. It will go to waste, clog a landfill, make a child cry, etc. So instead of cramming every bag full of expensive, but potentially wasted items St. Josephs decided people could and should make food choices themselves.

Now as SJ's customers move through the pantry they are confronted by shelves of well organized foods.  They are told, by volunteers like me, how many items they can collect in each section based on availability.

Low income families & individuals must apply to the St. Joseph pantry for assistance. As my volunteer friend for the day Pete said, "You never know who you're going to see.  Some people look like they can afford [food] but they can’t. Other people, well they desperately need it and you can tell."

My favorite part of the day - there were little ones, tiny kids with their moms, barely the size of the cheerio box they carried out of the pantry.

*St. Joseph kept repeating that this was a pilot program and had not been perfected yet.   But it’s pretty awesome.

Volunteer Journal #79 – The Election

I did this for you America. I volunteered at an election phone bank. I would rather submit to multiple paper cuts or lick a cactus.

The idea if interrupting people at home during quiet time is repugnant, but it was that or sell campaign merchandise (and you know how I feel about the environmental blight that is t-shirt and button printing by orgs.).

In the fairness of this blog and to further the idea that I am suppose to elucidate a variety of volunteer experiences I dragged myself to the local campaign center of my choice*, which just happened to be at an empty studio at the Culver City Studios.

After doing a bit of research I discovered that YOU DON’T HAVE TO MAKE PHONE CALLS TO VOLUNTEER AT AN ELECTION PHONE BANK. Yes. True. So, I emailed ahead and said I didn’t know how to talk on the phone. Could I do data entry? The response was, “Sure, bring your laptop.”

I walk in to the studio, sign my name and they say, “Hey we’re kinda covered on data entry can you do phone calls?”

Noooooooooooo. “Sure,” I said.

Dragging my feet over to the phone training area I mentally blamed the candidate for his inefficient staffing.

When the phone bank trainer asked if there were questions I hopped up, “I’m here for data entry. That’s my question.” They sent me to the back of the room.

In reality, data entry in a campaign office turned out not to be that boring. The only comment I have to make is: HOW ARE YOU PEOPLE STILL UNDECIDED?!?!?!? Read something! Pick an issue! Cue true/hilarious SNL skit.

Doing the walk of shame home (Called the walk of shame because I forgot to take my name tag off) I talked to a nice girl I met in data entry that really loved the energy and camaraderie of a campaign office. She loved it, but political volunteering is just not for me. The point is to try.

* I will not tell you for which campaign I volunteered. I think if you’ve read my blog and looked at the pictures you might be able to figure it out, but for heaven sake go figure out your own political opinion.

Volunteer Journal #78 –Farmers Market Gleaning

Americans throw away 165 billion dollars worth of food a year! What if we could re-route that food to the hungry, or starving.

Food Forward – a Southern California charity that needs to become national and international is doing just that.  They started by picking un-harvested fruit trees and donating the fruit in 2008.  Today they’ve donated over a million pounds of fresh produce to local food banks

Now they’ve moved onto gleaning (collecting) unsold food from 3 farmers markets in the Los Angeles area.

In less than two months Food Forward Farmers Market Recovery Program (started Aug. 15th) has collected and donated 15,000 lbs of fruits & vegetables to those in need.

I loved the sound of this program, so  I had to see how it worked.  Last Wednesday I joined the projects coordinator Mary Baldwin and her group of intrepid and beautiful volunteers at the Santa Monica Farmers Market.

We braved humidity, 50 lbs boxes of produce, baby strollers, and what I can only call food pirates to collect over 1000 lbs. of fruits & veg.

How does it work? First, Mary and her team pass out Food Forward boxes to farmers, who believe they will have leftovers, towards the end of the market.  Mary keeps track of the names and just over an hour later the team runs back through the market to collect the boxes.  The produce is weighed, recorded, and then distributed to the food banks.  In Santa Monica 300 lbs. of food was sent to local charity Step Up on Second and then the rest was taken by van to St. Joseph Center which provides help to the working poor.

This isn’t my first foray into the Food Forward world.  I volunteered on a couple of fruit picks when they were a baby group of volunteers.  I’m thrilled they’re now humongous.  Their programs have helped up the nutrition level of those in need, kept food local, saved over a million of pounds of food from landfills and improved the health of the trees.

If you are interested in joining the FMR Progam Glean Team, which I highly recommend, say hello to mary at fmrecovery@foodforward.org.

So many farmers decide to donate and things are not easy for small family farms, so I'd like to take a minute to mention some of the regulars who feed so many.  If you’re lucky enough to go to a Southern California farmers market look for:

flora bella: http://florabellafarm.com/

fairview gardens: http://www.fairviewgardens.org/

windrose: http://windrosefarm.org/

see canyon: http://www.seecanyonwedding.com/

weiser family farms: http://www.weiserfamilyfarms.com/

yasutomi: http://www.realtimefarms.com/farm/5214035/yasutomi-farms

mud creek ranch: https://www.facebook.com/mudcreeksp

jimenz family farms: http://www.jimenezfamilyfarm.com/

gloria's: http://www.realtimefarms.com/farm/5069057/glorias-fruits-veggies

Fair Hills Apple Farms: http://www.fairhillsapplefarm.com/

And Dave Eakin Citrus Farmer Extraordinaire!

Now, in the spirit of this post, and using local produce, may I recommend my favorite virgin cocktail recipe that involves freshly squeezed juice-

Lavender/Grapefruit Yummy Drink

1 cup fresh grapefruit juice

1/3 cup sparkling water like Pellegrino

1-2 tablespoons (to taste) lavender simple syrup – homemade or Monin.

Pour together – stir or shake - enjoy

Green Bronx Machine: Fighting Poverty

Stephen Ritz noticed the kids in his class were getting heavier and heavier. Three generations had pass through his Bronx classroom; obesity and diabetes were on the rise.

He needed to engage his students, to make them responsible for their health and education.

He started with a simple class project – they would build an edible wall. The kids sorted seeds, planted the wall and it grew. They named themselves the Green Bronx Machine, and adopted the slogan “We are Amer-i-CANS.” They got support from Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., and people noticed.

The kids were invited to Boston to install an edible wall on the George Hancock building. They were invited to South Hampton to install green roofs. They came back to the Bronx, installed more living walls and began earning real green.

The students got licensed and bonded in trade, they now build affordable housing, and their gardens easily produce 25,000 pounds of vegetables a year. They donate some of their fresh vegetables to seniors. “Brook Park feeds hundreds of people without a food stamp or a fingerprint,” says Ritz.

When Mr. Ritz’s kids became the first in their family to... Read the Rest on Celsias and watch the video.

Volunteer Journal #77 – DonorsChoose.org

Recently, I stumbled upon the brilliant organization Vittana – a group that makes loans to students to finish their education much like Kiva makes loans to small businesses in developing countries.

Seeing how excited I was to loan to students a TGM fan suggested I check out Donorschoose.org, which makes donations directly to teachers for school supplies, class projects, field trips, etc.

I had heard about Donorschoose around “the water cooler,” and the fact that America's teachers dip into their own poorly paid pockets to provide at least $40 a month in basic school supplies for their students. I believe, American public, this constitutes an epic fail on our part.

DonorsChoose, developed by teacher Charles Best in 2000, has unique transparency, you are allowed to choose the exact way in which your money is donated.  After a brief search I made a donation to a southern elementary school to help them fund a school garden. (I am particularly fond of school gardening programs). I responded to the brave request of Mr. Carberry who wants his student to have gardening supplies.  Currently, this loan is still not completely funded.  Look people, when a fund will educate, provide food, fight obesity, and teach real world skills it's a no brainer - donate to the garden.

Generally, I try to limit TheGoodMuse activities to physical acts or loans like Kiva or Vittana*.  My rational is - most people in this economy, around the world, don’t have money to spare, like myself, but they can act – thus volunteering or acts of kindness.  Also, making TheGoodMuse a sight about giving money away was too easy and boring – unengaged, unplugged, and not realistic for the majority of readers.  But Donorschoose was a unique case, and I wanted to demo how it worked for all of ya'll.

I believe, in the digital age that most charities will be required to move towards a more transparent donation model like Donorschoose, they just got the jump on the competition.

* Vittana and Kiva are loans not donations because your money is given back eventually and then it’s your chose to reloan or pocket.

Volunteer Journal #76 – Back to School Shopping

Bless the Salvation Army; they are efficient because they handle things simply.  To help underprivileged children buy new school clothes they teamed up with Target who offered each child an $80 gift card.  For some kids this would be the first time they would be able to buy new clothes and items for school.

I arrived at 8am, checked in with the Salvation Army representative and waited in a volunteer cluster.  Soon the volunteers were lined up on one side, the kids on the other and they pared us together.

I got paired with an adorable 8-year-old girl, we’ll call T because she’s a minor.  Her older brother and sister were also getting new school clothes and were chaperoned by two other volunteers.

Each chaperone was handed the Target gift card and told to let the kids get what they wanted for school as far as clothes and backpacks.  This was a rare treat for the kids; school supplies (like pencils, paper, folders) would be handled by another group.

T and I grabbed a little basket and headed into Target.

I don’t have kids, and so at this point I felt majorly outclassed by the other volunteers, who thankfully offered advice like, “If she wears an 8 buy a 9 because she’ll grow out of it in a month.” And “With only 80 shop the clearance racks.”

T wanted new shoes so we headed for that department.  She had a particular tennis shoe in mind, but when she realized Target didn’t carry the brand she gladly switched her wish to a pair of pink Hello Kitty sneakers (Buy stock in Hello Kitty – little girls are obsessed).

New pink tennis shoes acquired we went to clothes next. Little T took my hand and guided me through the section as she looked.  She picked out a number of cute options and we narrowed it down to panda t-shirt, Mickey sweatshirt, black leggings to go with both and the essentials underwear and socks.  Now the most important – the backpack.  The day was won when we found a fuzzy monkey backpack with plush squeezable zipper for $15 bucks.  We came in just over the amount because of tax but that was fine.  We backed up all her belongings in her backpack; she recycled the target plastic sacks herself in front of me.  A task that earned her a big hug.  T seemed thrilled with her finds.

I was about to leave when the volunteer coordinator asked if I would take one last little girl through who’s name was Jo.  She was a tiny skinny little thing and had arrived late. Her mother apologized saying they were looking for a place to stay.  No problem.

Jo had to wear a uniform, which we grabbed, and a Hello Kitty backpack, but when it came to shoes – I let Jo go a little wild and she was thrilled. Her purchase? Knee high black sparkly sneakers, good for running or being a fierce little girl in a plain school uniform. Only $5 more than standard sneakers.

I had a fun day. Even though I am an amateur shopper and have no kids everyone, including the little girls, were very patient and helpful. And let’s be honest, it’s fun to shop for little girl stuff, since I believe, though it’s been a while, that I was one once upon a time.

Guaranteed my little girls were the cutest little girls ever when they start to school.