Hair fairies and how it works

Chemo Gifts - Cancer is a WordOn Thursday evening, some friends of mine were asking about Chemo Gifts and how this whole thing works. They wondered how they could be more involved. I told them of having distributed most of the bags of encouraging quotes and the cotton gloves to the chemo treatment centers where my wife had been.

When it came to how they could help, I mentioned that life has a way of producing opportunities. I’ve had some friends over the last month who have friends of theirs or family members with cancer. And so I reach out and provide them with these Chemo Gifts as well. I said I’d continue to do that as needs arise but we all agreed we’d be on the lookout for other ways we could each use our own interests and talents to help those around us.

Then, two days later, out of the blue I get this email from an old college friend of mine, Carole:

“Well, I launched a kickstarter this week to help fund a project that is near and dear to my heart.  I left teaching to care for a former little preschool student of mine that got diagnosed with leukemia.  As we stepped onto this journey together,  her single mom wondered what was out there to help make so much of the scary business of getting her daughter Eva healthy again a little less scary.  She came up empty handed.  She wanted a story about dealing with hair loss and couldn’t find one.  So, I wrote one.  Now we have a brilliant illustrator burning the midnight oil to finish the illustrations.  That is what the kickstarter is for.  If we go over our goal, we can print the first run of this story and hand them to the kids affected by cancer treatment for free.  It is our promise to give these to families at no cost ever to them.”

Here’s the Kickstarter link if you’d like to help out. Even if you don’t want to donate, check out the video about Carole’s story regarding Eva and the hair fairies:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/738775374/the-legend-of-the-hair-fairies

The wonder of this is not just the timing, but how Carole is doing exactly what we were discussing: using her creative abilities to do something meaningful and useful for someone else.

Losing hair due to chemo seems, if you haven’t been through it, like a minor issue. After all, you’re battling for your life. Why worry about superficials like your hair? Except it isn’t just superficial. Your hair is part of you. Part of your identity. And to have it gone almost overnight can be devastating. Plus it signals to the world that you have cancer: It’s the first visual cue to others of your disease. And for both adults and little kids losing your hair can be scary, like an amputation, a part of yourself now detached.

We can explain the scientific reasons for losing your hair to chemo, but more comforting — more helpful — is the power of story. That’s what Carole has done. And as a result of her using a passion for writing for a little girl in need, she not only is touching the lives of Eva and her mother, but all the others who are now involved in this project.

That’s how it works.

 

How to travel like a beginner – Part 2

Travel like a beginner: Airline seats

Even veteran flyers can find wonders in the often cramped space of an airline seat

How to travel like a beginner…or maybe not

This past week, I attempted to travel like a beginner, a novice unfamiliar with words like bulkhead, elite line or overhead bin.

I tried to view air travel as a newbie.

I failed.

Why it’s hard to travel like a beginner

I think I was doomed before I ever threw my carryon into the trunk of my car. While I laud the ideal of “beginner’s mind” and the underlying desire to experience afresh all the novelty of the first time, I believe I went about it the wrong way. What I found is that you cannot unknow what you know.

I tried to picture how a less experienced version of me would have reacted to travel. But instead of a deeper appreciation for the now and a deeper awareness of the experience as I had it, I spent more time in my imagination, filtering and speculating. Better would have been to concentrate on simply noticing more.

Boo hoo for me and my experiment to travel like a beginner. However, my efforts helped remind me of a few insights about air travel both good and bad that may be helpful to you as well. Let’s start with the challenges.

The hard part

  •  Airplane travel is a pain in the rear. Literally and figuratively. With newer seats being narrower and older seats having virtually no bottom cushion left, sitting for six hours leaves certain areas of one’s anatomy feeling like they’ve been dry iced. And then there’s the issue of proximity. Where else in our modern lives do we let complete strangers into our personal space for hours? Not seconds in a cramped elevator, or minutes on a crowded bus or subway car. Hours. As the shuttle driver kindly informed me on the ride to the airport, “You’d be amazed how many people never shower before getting on a plane. I had a guy here last week that made the shuttle bus wait so he could get one last toke on his joint (it’s legal here in Washington). I would not like to have sat wedged in next to him on a long flight.” And yet we do.
  • The airlines seem intent on making travel harder for us. Check out this insightful article on how the airlines’ make you suffer and see if it doesn’t resonate.
  •  Solo travel is better for noticing. On the first of many flights last week, I traveled with colleagues. We had some wonderful conversations. But my ability to be present and pay attention to the experience of travel crashed. You can’t pay attention to your surrounding and your conversation at the same time. Or at least I couldn’t.

Now on to the positives.

The good part

  •  Airplanes gets me where I want to go. Pretty obvious, but important. As my friend Al has told me, “I don’t like to travel. I like to have arrived.” Me too. But we forget that 100 years ago the same trip that takes us five hours would have taken five days and two hundred years ago, five months or more.
  • I can’t recreate a first-time thrill, but I can relive it. The few times I was able to travel like a beginner — but only with conscious effort — were on takeoff and landing. Try it. Next time the wheels leave or touch the runway, remind yourself of how amazing it is, what you feel in your stomach and what a marvel for something as big and heavy as a plane to fly.
  • I get to meet some wonderful people. That forced intimacy makes conversations easier. I can participate in the life of a stranger in ways I never would in other settings. And while most chats are superficial, some of those conversations can be life-changing.
  • I realize how entitled I am. The hassle of travel makes me aware of how much I take space and “my rights” for granted. Discomfort can be revealing.
  • I find space to reflect and create. I intentionally do NOT use wifi on a plane unless in a business “emergency” (determined by me, not by others). Airline cabins are one of the few locations you can’t be called or, without wifi, bothered. How many places do we have left for quiet reflection and concentration? When I see my airline seat as a sanctuary—albeit a very crammed one — it changes how I view my entire trip.

What might change your view of travel? Try being present to the experience of it. You too may find more to air travel than just getting to your destination. Just be aware about those seat cushions…

 

How to travel like a beginner…even if you’re not one – Part 1

Latte: How to travel like a beginner

The next time you eat or drink something familiar, try and imagine what it would be like doing so for the first time.

I’m about to board an airplane for the first time in almost four months. I haven’t gone for this long being grounded in over four years.

At first, I thought I would go stir crazy or miss airline travel. That never happened. Perhaps it is because I look to travel for novelty and adventure and day-to-day life has kindly been supplying more of both than I either anticipated or, in some cases, relished. But in less than 48 hours, I will once again be plane-bound.

This gives me an opportunity — a boost really — to try something I’ve been wanting to share with you for some time. The concept of “beginner’s mind” or Shoshin in Japanese derives from Zen Buddhism and is often associated with the book by Shunryu Suzuki where he states the famous line, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” But “beginner’s mind,” like the quote itself, extends far beyond it’s Zen roots and can be applicable to all of us today.

At its heart is the idea of approaching anything, particularly a subject or skill which you have already mastered, with the openness, excitement and receptivity of a beginner. Beginner’s mind is less about memory — remembering back to your first experience with something — and more about confronting that now familiar experience as if it were completely new to you.

You can try this with any familiar object or experience. Take, for instance the act of tasting your favorite food or drink. Let’s say it’s a cup of coffee. The next time you sip a cup of coffee, consciously engage the experience. What are you really tasting? What is it like? Do you taste the bitterness (assuming you haven’t overloaded the drink with sweeteners)? Can you recall how you first reacted to that bitter taste? It likely wasn’t pleasant. So can you now consciously try and imagine what this sip would be like if you’d never tasted coffee before? Feel the liquid warmth. Be aware of how you swallow. Try to describe the aroma to yourself.

You may be wary of the Zen roots or think the whole notion is New Agey, silly or too esoteric. But try it. Because just the act of trying it will reveal how much we have lost our ability to experience the wonder that daily surrounds us. We have become so familiar with the marvels of technology and of nature that we blithely march through our days unaware of all the experiences that would blow our minds if we encountered them all in one day as a complete beginner.

I plan to do my best to approach air travel like a beginner this week. Likely, work pressures and habits will kick in and the best intentions will yield few results. But who knows?

To be continued…

The Closet Creative

Let’s start the New Year with something I wrote for a friend who was forgetting just how creative he is (something we all do from time to time). May it encourage you to live more creatively in this New Year…

********

Door of a potential Closet Creative in San Gimignano, Italy

Hey Closet Creative, are you in there? It’s time to come out!

You know who you are.

You watch commercials not because you’re interested in the product, but in the story they’re trying to tell. Or the music. Or the set design.

You skim through the headlines of the newspaper (which you likely browse online) but then you settle down for a slow read in the culture section.

You like bright shiny objects not for their material value, but for their design.

The conversations that energize you are ones of possibility, of new ideas, of what if’s…

You follow innovators and creative types on Twitter. Your newsfeed reflects similar interests.

Beauty matters to you.

And very few people know any of this about you.

Why? Because while art and creativity, inspiration and the imagination, technology and design are all powerful interests, you — to varying degrees — deny that these are yours. They fill a large part of your soul but a small part of your identity.

You are, in short, a Closet Creative.

Why is this?

  • Creativity isn’t practical. And you are a very practical person.
  • Creativity doesn’t pay the bills. You’re still practical.
  • Creativity is for other people. Artists and such. They don’t look like you (or so you think).
  • You likely took a stab at some creative effort when you were younger. A drawing perhaps. A musical performance. Maybe a poem or a project that meant a great deal to you. And it got shot down. Wasn’t “good.” Didn’t meet others’ standards.

You learned at a young age that creativity involves risks. Ones you’re not willing to take.

So you stay in the closet.

It may be dark in there, but it’s “safe.” Certainly not as scary as creativity.

Creativity? Scary? You bet. You can’t control it. You can’t really understand it. Others certainly won’t. It makes you feel something inside that doesn’t feel normal. You don’t know what to do with any of that.

And yet…

And yet. You know who you are. You may not know why creativity matters to you, but deep down it does. Desperately.

Deep down, you want someone to give you permission to be the creative person that you sense you might be but never could be. You want the green light. The go-ahead to try something new, something different. Something…creative.

This is it. This is your permission to heed that inner longing, that yearning that you suppress and even deny but that won’t let you be.

You are creative. How do I know? Because we all are. In one way or another, we all have an innate hard wiring to make something new, find a cure, solve a problem, do something better, create something that never existed before.

Some of us just hunger to express this more than others. And far too many of us ache to create but never act on it. And then we get to the end of our lives and all we have to show for it are regrets. Let that not be you.

Be the creative person that deep down you know you are. I give you permission, but most of all, you need to give you permission. You no longer need to be a Closet Creative.

This won’t be easy, but it will be good and right and true.

We’ll be coming back to this topic much more soon, but for now say these three words to yourself enough times until you begin to believe it.

“I am creative.”

Yes you are. Welcome to the club.

 

Food tour of Seattle’s International District

Chinatown on a food tour of Seattle's International District

Hing Hay Park was one of our last stops on the food tour of Seattle’s International District and Chinatown

We started our food tour of Seattle’s International District and Chinatown a few weeks ago with, naturally, food.

Cream puffs to be exact.

Our tour, led by Taylor Hoang and assisted by Rayleen Nguyen both of Pho Cyclo Cafe, departed from the Huong Binh Restaurant in Little Saigon. This Vietnamese dining place is run by Taylor’s mom and is, as we’d soon find out, amazingly good. First stop from there: Saigon’s Bakery and Bubble Tea where we tasted scrumptious cream puffs; light and not too sweet.

Cream puff's on food tour of Seattle's International Disrtict

The best cream puffs I’ve ever had are found in Little Saigon on this food tour of Seattle’s International District

I think some of our fellow guests on the 12-person food tour of Seattle’s International District could have gladly just spent the rest of the day there in cream puff heaven. But onward we pressed.

Time to go shopping on the food tour of Seattle’s International District

From there we visited Lam Seafood on King Street near 12th. If you live in the Seattle area and you want fresh produce or seafood, come here.

Indian Bittermelon on the food tour of Seattle's International District

Indian Bittermelon was just one of many fruits and vegetables we don’t see too often at our local grocery store

The prices are in many cases half to a third of what they are in the grocery stores and the selection, at least for Asian foods, is unbeatable.

Taylor explaining Caro on our food tour of Seattle's International District

Here’s Taylor our guide explaining how to look for and prepare caro root at Lam Seafood

We came back later on our own to shop and stock up on sauces, as well as buy from a huge selection of mushrooms, vegetables and fresh fish.

Fish on display at Lam Seafood on food tour of Seattle's International District

At Lam Seafood, you just point to the fish you want and then point to a sign that tells them how you want it prepared.  Compare the prices here with where you normally get your seafood…

Next stop, Thanh Son Tofu. Even if you don’t like tofu, you should check out the very affordable sub sandwiches and other treats they have in this brand new facility. And if you do like tofu or soy milk, well, this is your cream puff of a place…

Sesame balls on food tour of Seattle's International District

These sesame balls are just some of the tasty goodies you’ll find at Thanh Son Tofu even if you don’t like tofu

Back to the Huong Binh Restaurant for a wonderful soup of wontons, pork, shrimp, squid and quail eggs along with celery leaves, chive and fried shallots in a pork broth. That alone could have been lunch enough, but then came the “main course:” Rice noodles, grilled pork, pork meatball and grilled shrimp garnished with lettuce, peanuts, herbs, onions and a delectable sauce. Oh, and cookies for desert. Delighted and satisfied, our food tour of Seattle’s International District could have ended there.

Huong Binh Lunch on food tour of Seattle's International District

Our first course for lunch at Huong Binh. Delicious.

But wait (as they say in infomercials), there’s more on this food tour of Seattle’s International District!

We headed from lunch down to Chinatown where we tasted dim sum, stuffed buns, barbecued pork and coconut-infused rolls. We learned of other places to shop, restaurants to try and gift items to purchase. By the time we finished, we were full. OK, more than full. Stuffed. And not just of food.

We learned so much that day from Taylor that we’d never have uncovered on our own, at least not without considerable time and effort. It reminds me that sometimes a guide can make all the difference in your experience of a place.

Ten Benefits of Using a Guide

In fact, here are ten benefits a guide provides in a new place (or at least did in this situation):

  1. They make you aware of places you’d never find on your own
  2. They introduce you to new people
  3. They introduce you to new food types and sources of ingredients or new products and even ideas
  4. They show you how to use the things (ingredients in this case) you find there that may be unique to that place.
  5. They keep you from getting lost
  6. They vet the good from the bad and show you the best
  7. They make you feel like an insider or like you belong there or have a right to be there
  8. They create a sense of community, with your other group members on the tour and with the people you meet along the way
  9. They increase the number of customers and business for mom and pop stores: You know where your money is going and that it is a good deal. (Unfortunately, with some guides overseas, you are channeled to expensive tourist traps where the guide gets a kickback. Here, the guide does it out of a sense of community and desire to share what is good.)
  10. They show you how to do this yourself next time on your own
King's Barbeque House on food tour of Seattle's International District

Here Taylor explains the various types of roasted meat you can get at King’s Barbeque House on 6th Ave.

And in this case, they also give you a little goody bag with containers for all the food you can’t possibly eat at the time, as well as a coffee press that Taylor showed us how to use at the end of the tour.

This food tour of Seattle’s International District was a wonderful experience that revealed a hidden world in our own neighborhood. It also showed how valuable a guide can be to any place that seems foreign to you…even ones so close to home.

 

Chemo Gifts: When delight and need intersect

Chemo Gifts

This is a painting I did for the nurses surrounded by the bags with encouraging verses and the gloves for chemo patients. The rest are the medical supplies there in the treatment center.

Lately I’ve realized that things which interest me most deal with the head, heart, hands and feet. Creativity, for example, does involve our head, our thinking. In the best cases, however, our creative efforts stem from and touch our hearts (and those of others) as well. Art, craft or the act of making usually requires using our hands. And travel – the simple movement from one point to another – utilizes our feet. Head, heart, hands and feet; all can be used for our own sakes. But they can also be employed to help other people.

I’ve long wrestled with this notion of using the things I love for others. It’s much easier to think about volunteering in areas of great need – homeless shelters, food banks, retirement homes, neighborhood clean-ups, mentoring, etc. – than in areas of great passion. But what if you could do both: help others and live from the place of your greatest joy?

Sometimes we find answers to such questions in the oddest places. I found my answer in a chemotherapy treatment center.

No one goes to such places for fun. In my case, it was to accompany my wife who has had to undergo both chemotherapy and radiation treatments this year due to breast cancer. She’s almost done with the year-long process and we’re incredibly grateful all has turned out well.

Yet in the midst of this, I got to know other patients going through chemotherapy. Out of that sprang the idea to create small presents – Chemo Gifts – to encourage those still in the midst of what can be quite brutal therapy. You can read about these Chemo Gifts here.

Creating these Chemo Gifts would have seemed borderline useless had we not just gone through chemo ourselves (and yes, while my wife took the brunt of it, it is a joint effort) and realized how meaningful small acts can be when life is stripped to its essentials. So I encourage you to read about my response but most of all, think about your own.

What do you love to do? How could you leverage that to help others?

These aren’t hard questions. But they are ones we often put off and never address. As we come out of Thanksgiving, it’s a good time to reflect on all we’re thankful for. It’s great to count our blessings. But even more meaningful is to be a blessing to others.

So take a minute or two and ask yourself, “What could I do? Who could I help?”

You might be amazed at what happens when you apply what brings you delight to what others need.