Thursday, August 31, 2006

Beyond FAREWELL: Sayonara, Summer (A Delicious Diversity Diversion)

There may be a few weeks of summer left on the calendar, but with temperatures dipping this weekend here in Denver and the kids all back in school, it seems appropriate to bid the season good-bye on this final day of August. Author Patry Francis recently posted a link to a brilliant end-of-summer blueberry pie recipe that I had the pleasure of trying the weekend before last. Patry calls it the Official Literary Blues Pie; writers are encouraged to bake it and offer it up to their literary muse in exchange for help with a tricky literary problem. Go to Patry’s blog, Simply Wait, to see photos of other pies, including Patry’s; her photo features the cover of her upcoming novel, The Liar’s Diary, due out in 2007.

Patry attributes many of her past year’s literary successes to her muse, whom she tempted with a similar pie last summer. Apparently literary muses are mesmerized not only by delicious pie, but by the color blue…and note the lovely blue of Patry’s new cover. Coincidence? Who knows! All I know is that while considering baking a blueberry pie and offering it up to my muse, I looked at the book in my hand, noted its dreamy blue cover, and ran off to the kitchen to get busy. I discovered this book, Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, thanks to my son’s summer reading assignment. He finished it the same weekend I baked my pie and I finished it a few days later. It’s a terrific novel, with rich scenes and original language I plan to reread and study. I aspire to learn to use language as eloquently as writers like Enger and hope having all three kiddos in school full-time will help to that end. On point for this blog, Enger’s book promotes understanding of various conditions, not the least of which is asthma, an affliction that plagues his main character for many years.

Meanwhile, the pie was fabulous! I left it in the fridge overnight (there’s real whipped cream under those berries, by the way!), and enjoyed it with my family the following day. Part of the deal is that you have to share your pie with those you love. Apparently the literary muse loves good company and conversation as well as good pie. At least mine certainly does. For the past week I’ve been trying to figure out what’s lacking in a critical scene in my current novel and woke up this morning with an answer that (literally!) came out of nowhere. Having the kids back in school and having time to exercise and think and actually focus on this issue all very likely contributed to my finding an answer to this writing dilemma, but I’m not taking any chances. I’m giving my muse all the credit. And Patry’s pie.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Beyond FUNDRAISING: IT TAKES A NATION to Benefit ACORN Hurricane Relief

It’s been a year since I launched BEYOND Understanding, and I’m happy to say this project has turned out to be much more diverse and enlightening than I’d expected. With the onset of Hurricane Katrina a week after my first post, I decided to highlight along the way various fundraising efforts designed to help people in need…any people in need. Surely such generosity crosses cultural boundaries and helps promote understanding; surely such efforts deserve as much exposure as they can get. So the archives of BEYOND Understanding include occasional posts about agencies and organizations and even book publishers that promote tolerance simply by doing the right thing: offering a helping hand and giving the general public easy ways to pitch in.

Last November, I highlighted Stories of Strength, an anthology that as of May 2006 had raised $4,000 for hurricane relief efforts. Hopefully by now that figure has gotten closer to the overall $5,000 fundraising goal. On the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, August 29, another book designed to raise funds for hurricane relief efforts will be available. It Takes a Nation: How Strangers Became Family in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina is a collection of first-person accounts from Hurricane Katrina victims and the host families who offered all they had to help. Here’s the book’s plug:

“Edited by the cultural director of, It Takes a Nation tells the extraordinary story of how thousands of Americans came together to provide shelter, sustenance, and hope to survivors of Hurricane Katrina.”

With a foreward by Illinois Senator Barak Obama and more than 40 photos from top photojournalists, the book’s sure to get some notice. All proceeds will go to ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, “the nation’s largest community organization of low- and moderate-income families.” ACORN sponsors a Hurricane Recover and Rebuilding Fund and a Rebuilding New Orleans project through which it’s already cleaned and preserved more than 1,400 homes in lower-income New Orleans neighborhoods. With profits from the sale of It Takes a Nation, hopefully ACORN will be able to rebuild many more.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Beyond FINESSE: Andi Grant, Founder, Give2TheTroops

I know I’ve just highlighted the Letssaythanks program and the Give2TheTroops organization, but Andi Grant, Founder and President of Give2TheTroops, deserves special recognition. The more I’ve heard from her and read about her, the more impressed I’ve become with her remarkable drive to make a difference in this world.

A fellow Syracuse University grad, Andi has worked on a wide variety of fundraising and philanthropic projects in the U.S. and abroad. When her husband, U.S. Marine Sgt. Brian Grant, was sent to Iraq in 2002, Andi laid the groundwork for what is now Give2TheTroops. What began as a community effort in her Connecticut town, with donations piling up in her basement and volunteers—including her 10-year-old son, Ryan—helping her assemble care packages to ship to troops overseas, has now grown into an organization with chapters located across the country. This past June, Andi received the President’s Call to Service Lifetime Award for volunteering more than 80,000 hours to Give2TheTroops and other charities, and for inspiring others to engage in volunteer service.

I received an e-mail last night from Andi that made it clear how much she loves what she does. It also revealed the extent to which her work has a positive impact not only on the morale of the sholdiers who receive Give2TheTroops care packages, cards, and letters, but on the morale of soldiers’ family members here at home:

We’ve received more than 2,000,000 (2 million!) cards this month from the program! Today I asked people at an oyster festival to sign the postcards (we had blank ones) and we received 1,000 signed ones! We are so excited and will be putting those cards in our care packages this month….

We are all ‘real’ people who REALLY care! We are community-driven and community-run—everyone is a volunteer. None of us is paid. And we like it that way! My husband looks like he will be going back and believe me, it is hard! I got him back safely the last time, but the not knowing and waiting is a killer and I spent the day crying with moms whose sons are going over and whose sons are over there. By the end of the day, I made so many new friends and gave these women HOPE and COMFORT knowing that we (who are strangers) love their sons and daughters and support them. I am so pooped, but my faith in America has been restored. We have the most selfless, loving people in this country and our troops are not feeling neglected thanks to them!

Have a great weekend! Love, Andi

Give2TheTroops care packages are ready to go, but it costs money to ship them. Show Andi and the soldiers she’s devoted to helping that you care, too, by going here to make a donation. It’s the least we all can do. That, and pray.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Beyond FINESSE: Marine and Musician Mike Corrado

A quick return visit to led me to the From The Troops page and the story of Major Mike Corrado, a Marine who was based in Fallujah for a year. Mike is also a talented singer-songwriter. For an emotional (I’m still crying!), inspiring look at life in Iraq for our service men and women, go here and download a slideshow featuring Mike’s song, “On My Watch Tonight.” Then send a postcard to a soldier, log back onto and make a donation to help them send a care package to a soldier, or say a prayer a soldier arrives home in one piece today. I can rattle on and on about the dismal realities of war, but Mike Corrado is doing something much more important and effective by giving voice to the thousands of American soldiers on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan who want us to know what they’re up against, why they’re there, and how much they long for home.


If I were an American soldier stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan, I’d be terrified, I’m sure. I’d also appreciate a note of encouragement now and then.

XEROX and an organization called Give2TheTroops have teamed up to offer those of us at home an easy way to send a note to a member of our military stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Go to to learn how you can send a free postcard to a soldier. If you parent or teach little ones, consider challenging them to come up with a postcard design to submit to the program. Current postcards were designed by children in California, Arizona, Missouri, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida. They are colorful and heartfelt; I’m sure more than one soldier receiving one of these cards will tuck it away for safe keeping.

As other crises and crimes take over the headlines, dominating talk shows and news hours while war stories are moved to the back pages of our newspapers, let’s not forget the many, many soldiers still stationed abroad, especially those in such dangerous places as Iraq and Afghanistan. We’ve entered one of our blasé stages, I’m afraid, regarding faraway conflicts involving Americans. Meanwhile, more than 2,900 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and more than 2,000 have been wounded in action! We need to continue to speak out against the pain and suffering inherent in warfare—and against those responsible—while remembering one of the critical lessons that came out of the Vietnam era: Condemn the war, not the warrior. And if you get a chance to give a soldier stationed so far from home a little boost in morale, why not take a few minutes to do just that.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Beyond FINESSE: Dr. Lucy Jane Miller, Director of the KID Foundation’s Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) Network

Many adults and children suffer from disorders unfamiliar to the general public. Sensory Processing Disorder is one such condition. Imagine becoming so irritated and distraught over the feel of a cotton t-shirt that you can’t control your behavior. Imagine having a baby who screams at every feeding because she can’t stand the feel of various food textures in her mouth. Imagine having a child who pulls away from the pressure of your touch. For more than ten years, many families of children with SPD have turned to a Denver doctor for help.

Dr. Lucy Jane Miller, Director of Denver-based nonprofit KID Foundation and its Sensory Processing Disorder Network, runs a local center to help treat children and adults with SPD. She is also the author of Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder.

Often confused with ADD, SPD involves the misinterpretation of everyday stimuli. While some patients over-respond to stimuli such as lighting, noise, food textures, and physical contact, some under-respond and are at risk for burns and other dangers. SPD can lead to behavioral problems, difficulties with coordination, and other issues.

Dr. Miller’s KID Foundation website and newsletter offer up-to-date information on SPD, including treatment options. It also offers links to parent support groups located across the country and in Canada and Israel. The KID Foundation’s Treatment Directory lists care providers such as dentists, eye doctors, and therapists who have experience working with SPD patients.

While devoted to helping patients with SPD and their families, Dr. Miller recognizes the need to spread the word about SPD so it can be diagnosed as quickly as possible. Only then can helpful treatments be implemented; only then can SPD patients and their families hope for a brighter future. BEYOND Understanding is all about raising awareness of special, often hidden, issues faced by so many. New insights foster new understandings. Check out Dr. Miller’s site and learn something new today about others who share this world with you. I certainly did.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Beyond FASHION: Sunflower Mom’s Take on Just For Me Hair Care for Kids

A recent visitor invited me to check out the blog of Sunflower Mom (aka Kim from the Dallas-Fort Worth area), who is also a teacher and a parent to two children of mixed-race heritage. Kim’s beautiful daughter, Brenna, is a regular on Barney and is pictured on the package of a new product from Just For Me, a line of hair care products for multi-ethnic children. For those of use with very little experience with hair that’s anything other than poker straight, this site is an educational resource. I learned a bit just from skimming the section on “hair myths.” The products look intriguing, and Kim swears by the texture softener made from sunflower oil that’s packaged with the relaxer for children aged five and older.

Check out her blog to see what else Kim has to say about raising a mixed-race family. Her current post (“Trying to Fit In”) about her family’s first visit to a new school illustrates clearly what some children of mixed-race heritage deal with on a regular basis. It also illustrates how such issues often catch us parents by surprise…and then send us off to touch base with others who’ve been there, and understand.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Beyond FRESHMAN YEAR: MOSAIC at the University of Colorado

Summer’s winding down and school starts soon for some kids, especially those heading off to college. For college students of mixed-race heritage, campus programs that address their unique needs and give them opportunities to meet other students with diverse backgrounds can be critical to their success on campus. Unfortunately, not many colleges sponsor such programs. Here in the Denver area, the University of Colorado hosts MOSAIC, the Multiracial Student Association, within the department of Multiracial Student Services. One MOSAIC student, Ashley McDermott, was selected to participate in a MAVIN-sponsored bus tour during the 2004-2005 school year. Called Generation Mix, the bus tour crossed the country to help raise awareness of issues facing people of mixed-race heritage.

Hopefully such a high-profile tour has led to the establishment of more campus organizations like MOSAIC at more schools, or at least to increased support for multiracial students.

Photo © MAVIN (Ashley McDermott is in the middle)