Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ordinary Hero: Michelle O'Neil

Ordinary Hero Award badge
Image copyright L. Kathryn Grace, 2009
All rights reserved

She's funny, poignant, involved, deep, light and a just plain good read. She's a registered nurse, a former radio reporter, a political activist, a writer. She's totally in love with her fella, whom she refers to as Hot Toddy.

A big shout out to my technical guy Todd O'Neil. Not only does he do all my computer stuff, but he's good smelling, warm, and doesn't hog all the covers.

My Technical Guy

Like so many of us, she resists disappearing into mommydom.

The pendent felt like a big blinking neon sign that read, MOTHER, NOTHING ELSE. Wasn’t the screaming baby attached to my body advertisment enough?

The Necklace

She writes a lot about her two children, Riley and Seth. Both are intelligent, funny, eager, loving, brave. With autism, Riley, the oldest, has a few more challenges than her little brother. O'Neil shares many of these with us, heartbreakingly so at times, and also the precious moments. On packing day, Mom is at her limits and sends Seth to his room for a time out, then sits back on the floor to calm herself. Riley climbs onto mom's lap, straddling her hips, and gives her mom softies.

The feel of my fingernails up and down her arms has always soothed her. It almost puts her in a trance. Now, she's trying to comfort me with them.


A shy friend, perhaps a bit reclusive, in an effort to expand her world has attended a Zumba dance class--that yummy, fast-paced, sexy workout. Zapped with the spirit of the moment, another student shouts exuberantly, "Charo-like". On the way home, in the car, exulting in her new freedom, the friend lets loose, Charo-like, over and over. O'Neil celebrates.

When we free ourselves, we give others permission to do the same.

Work it girl!

Taking the kids in for shots can be a hassle at best any time, right? Try it with a child with autism. Then get a clinic who understands how to work with children, who prearranges for you to take your children past the registration desk, avoiding the wait, and greets the children with smiles, music headphones, dancing, joking. Both children are at ease when the shots come.

Special needs parents have so much gratitude for the kindness of strangers.

People are good

She shares the things she learns that help her cope, gain insights, make peace, if only for ten minutes.

I want to tell you about a meditation I sometimes do. ... You start where you are, and go back chronologically in age. ...

Fade to black

She celebrates her daughter's wisdom far beyond her years, beyond many adults of any age.

"It's okay little guy. It's okay if you die, 'cause you just go straight back to God. Don't worry, okay? Everybody dies."

Riley, speaking to a sick baby squirrel in Everybody dies

She uses what she learns from her past, with regret at behavior born of ignorance and perhaps a certain unconsciousness, to educate those in her community with a receptive bent and, just possibly, win a few playdates for her daughter.

I just keep thinking about Besty. Wishing I had handled it differently. Wishing I had known more. Wishing I had been a better person. I am ashamed I didn't allow myself the gift her friendship would have been.

It would also be a shame for the little girls in our neighborhood to miss out on the opportunity to know Riley.

The more we know, the better we do.

Playdates and regret

For these reasons and so many more, Michelle O'Neil of Full Soul Ahead is the Ordinary Hero of the week. Thank you, Michelle, for sharing so much of your life, for giving so fully and intelligently, for being exactly who you are, an ordinary woman living an extraordinary life.

I encourage any one reading this to immerse yourself in Full Soul Ahead. Learn. Laugh. Love more. Michelle shows us all a bit more of the vision of Ordinary.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ordinary Hero: Van Jones

Image copyright L. Kathryn Grace, 2009
All rights reserved

Seven months ago, when I first wrote about him, Van Jones was promoting green jobs and a green economy for the blue collar worker.
We need a green economy that honors the earth ... but not a green economy only for the eco-chic. ... The people who are struggling for bus fare--they have a place too.

Van Jones, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

That alone is enough to warrant the Ordinary Heroes award. There's so much more. If it's green, if it's the economy, if it's jobs, Jones is there, showing us how we can lift ourselves and help others lift themselves from poverty to prosperity, slow human-caused climate change and protect our environment in the bargain. In fact, he's shown up twice more here, on Realizing Ordinary, in I'm ready for the green economy--Are you? and in Pinning our hopes on youth.

Hear what he has to say.

We are just now at the beginning of this green wave of new technologies that are environmentally friendly, and that green wave now has to be designed to lift all boats.

Van Jones

A 1993 Yale graduate, "serially successful social entrepreneur", and author of the New York Times best seller The Green Collar Economy:Green Collar Economy book on Amazonto cite just a few of his accomplishments, Jones is now President Obama's green-jobs czar at the White House, a decision that marks the level of the president's commitment to building a greener economy.

That's exciting. Even more exciting, though, is the hand Jones gives to the most impoverished of our nation and how hard he is working especially to help youth of color to a piece of the American dream.

We can't just keep sending our children away to funeral homes and prisons.

A Tennessee native with keen entrepreneurial savvy, Jones could have done anything with his life. He chose to devote his incredible talent, energy, charisma and intelligence to stopping violence and near-rite-of-passage imprisonment for our nation's youth of color. Three years out of college, he co-founded, with Diana Frappier, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in 1996. In direct disproportion to society, our overcrowded prisons are stuffed with blacks and Latinos. That fact alone makes crime and the prosecution of crime in this country a matter of human rights. Jones sought to change those statistics by changing the lives of the people behind them.

He is perhaps the first to articulate on the national level that more than schooling and jobs are required to change a community from one filled with drive-by shootings, funerals and revolving prison doors to one filled with picket fences, school books and cookies in the oven. Because the poorest of us grow up in the most marginalized communities, often built over landfills and toxic waste dumps, children develop asthma and other chemically-induced diseases in greater proportion than children of affluent neighborhoods. It's not enough to give people a hand up; we need to help clean up.

Jones is committed to cleaning up the toxic mess we made in the last two centuries, and preventing its occurrence in the future--a matter of life and death for poor children.
The next big play in the economy is going to be greening the economy, turning away from the suicide economy to a sustainable economy. Let's make sure those communities that were locked out of the last century's pollution-based economy are gonna be locked in to this new clean and green economy.
For his commitment to ending poverty and endemic racism through the development of environmentally safe industry and for using his passion, energy, intelligence and love to help the poorest of us build prosperous lives while reclaiming the fresh, wholesome beauty of our Earth and preserving our soil, water, air and natural world for generations to come, this week's Ordinary Heroes award is offered to Van Jones with deepest gratitude.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day everyone!

1992 Galileo Orbiter image of Earth and Moon
Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Isn't she beautiful? I'm old enough to remember the first Earth Day in 1970. Are you? In honor of Earth Day, I measured my ecological footprint today.

If everyone on the planet lived my lifestyle, we would need 1.83 Earths to support us all. That's down slightly from the last time I took the quiz, but not by much.

If I want to live in the bounteous and never wasteful world of Ordinary, I must be more conscious of my choices. Everything I do either works toward creating a world more like Ordinary or less. Over the next year, I'll take steps to reduce my eco-print. Here are some of the things I know I can do:

  • Walk further before I get on the bus each morning and evening (good for my health as well as the planet)
  • Purchase energy-saving Smart Stripsfor our home computers, television, radio, small appliances and cell-phone chargers
  • Learn about ways I can reduce water usage and save energy by changing my laundry habits
  • Defrost my refrigerator and freezer four times a year
  • Purchase renewable energy for our apartment
  • Join a garden co-op and grow my own veggies
  • Encourage my landlord to provide a green compost bin (Will it save him $$?)
That's enough for starters. There are plenty more options for reducing my footprint, once I've accomplished these.

Will you join me? What's the next action you plan to reduce your ecological footprint?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Earth Day 2009: Just one thing

Thank you, Rocketboom, for making this 2007 video.

Trash cans are rare in the world of Ordinary. How is that possible?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Ordinary Hero: Paul Gillespie

Image copyright L. Kathryn Grace, 2009
All rights reserved

Drivers of hybrid fuel taxis in San Francisco are pocketing $9,000 a year in fuel savings, thanks to Paul Gillespie, says Hybrid Cars. If you've wondered how long a hybrid battery would last in real road conditions, they don't get much more of a beating than they'll find on the hilly streets of San Francisco where all but two of the hybrid fleet have logged nearly 300,000 miles without a battery issue since they hit the road in 2003.

"Ford never really intended this vehicle to be used as a taxi," Gillespie said as he tooled around the city's hilly Pacific Heights neighborhood in the silent hybrid. "We adopted it because I was desperate to find a vehicle that would save drivers fuel costs and save greenhouse gas emissions."

Los Angeles Times

According to the Los Angeles Times in San Francisco's hybrid taxis prove their worth, fourteen percent, or approximately 200 of San Francisco's 1,438 taxis are hybrids. They're saving drivers money, helping keep San Francisco's skies blue, lessening the amount of traffic-caused pollution that blows to the East Bay, and giving us all a quieter ride.

For his persistence in advocating the adoption of hybrids into the San Francisco taxi fleet; for proving their value; and for starting where he lives and works to improve one relatively small, but potentially globally significant, fossil-fuel sucking, climate-changing problem, the Ordinary Heroes award this week is kindly offered to Paul Gillespie.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Recycle your cell phones here ...

Old cell phone
Last week, in It's time to recycle your old cell phones, we discovered we could save enough energy every year to power 18,500 homes simply by recycling our 100 million old cell phones instead of discarding them.

Blogger/Tweeter beinggreener did us all a favor and found four companies who are making it very easy for us to do so. Please support beinggreener by visiting her post, Can you hear me now… recycling, and linking to these sites from there.

If you can't take that extra moment, or your computer is very slow, the four companies include AT&T, who provides free shipping labels for the Cell Phones for Soldiers program; Sprint, who offers a buy-back program and a $$ credit; T-Mobile, who uses recycled phone funds to support programs working with children; and Verizon Wireless, which gives re-purposed cell phones to organizations working to prevent domestic violence.

How do you imagine the people in the world of Ordinary communicate? I'm serious. I'd very much like your ideas and input. Extended discussion encouraged!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Is your garden on on the World Food Garden Map?

Small Food Gardens MapAll over the world, people are growing their own--food, that is.

If you're growing your own food, be it a full-scale garden, in a co-op or shared plot, or in a flower box under your window, the World Food Garden wants to put your garden on the map. You can zero in on gardens in your area to see who is growing food in your neck of the woods and what type. Each carrot on the map is a garden. A red carrot represents a personal garden, a yellow carrot a community garden. Gardeners sharing or selling seeds have gray carrots. was founded under the premise that many of the world's current issues- environmental, economic, and political, would be much alleviated if everyone in the world tended their own small garden.

World Food Garden

If you're not growing your own food yet, but think you might like to, the World Food Garden offers plenty of help to get you started. Gardeners are a chatty bunch and love to talk dirt.

At this time, the World Food Garden team is a team of one. Thank you, Eve Sibley, for providing this invaluable resource and connecting gardeners all over the globe. Growing and sharing our own food is perhaps the ultimate act of personal responsibility.

It doesn't get much more Ordinary than that.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

I'm going to make that audience rock

When Susan Boyle tells the fellows backstage at Britain's Got Talent that she's going to rock the audience, the eavesdropping crowd out front laughs. They're not laughing when she finishes her performance. Give a listen.

I'm going to make that audience rock!

Susan Boyle

Watch the full performance, including the touching before and after interviews (embedding was not permitted).

Despite their often condescending attitudes, I give gratitude to the producers and judges of the show for giving the world an opportunity to hear the voice of Susan Boyle, Paul Potts and others who have honed their talents quietly, with perhaps only secret hopes of one day performing in front of an audience.

In the world of Ordinary, every individual is valued for their unique abilities. One does not need to be nipped and tucked, pruned and peeled, toned and tanned, body-sculpted and blemish-covered to achieve success. All any one needs is to honor their gifts and, well, give them.

Most of us did not grow up with that kind of support and encouragement. It's up to us to trust our abilities, to find our true work (play), and to begin to share it with the world. It's never too late. No matter where you are in life, you have something of beauty to offer the rest of us. Who are you rocking?

My thanks and acknowledgement to AFelsinger, amyvernon and absolutelytrue for pointing me to this wonderfully inspiring and moving performance through their tweets and retweets.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Ordinary Hero: Barbara E.

Image copyright L. Kathryn Grace, 2009
All rights reserved

"We have a new member who needs a ride to meetings. Can you take her?" That's how I met Barbara. I was shy, socially awkward and did not make friends quickly. She was educated, well-read, savvy, artistic, a tad eccentric. I was hooked. The first few months, we didn't talk much in the forty-five minute drive to and from our political action meetings. I, self-conscious, felt intimidated. Later, she wouldn't be able to shut me up.

In the meantime, she would volunteer to do the layout for the organization's newsletter, the editing of which was a safe task for me--very little public exposure or public speaking required. She was good at layout. She was good at anything leadership asked her to do. If you've ever worked with volunteers, you know we can be a sketchy bunch. Barbara was always on time, always reliable, and frequently did more than expected without being asked. She saw a need and filled it quietly. She was the volunteer every organizer dreams.

She was passionate about women's rights, human rights, environmental action, art--and she was humble. Unlike so many in the political realm, she never sought the spotlight. Invaluable to the organizations whose work she championed, she gave generously of her skills and experience, her energy and time, and especially her artistic wisdom.

When one after the other our marriages failed, we were there for each other, she more than I, truth be told. Though her life crumbled about her, she was steadfast in her loyalty, comforting me while I floundered in an emotional sea of self-doubt, raw pain and loss. Through her own suffering, she listened quietly to my rants and self-centered caterwauling for hours on end. She always gave me a hug and an "I love you" as we parted.

The last evening I spent with her, we chatted as old friends do through a sumptuous dinner at an indoor/outdoor cafe--new in our town, then sipped vinegary wine at a fundraiser for one of our favorite charities. We capped it with a spontaneous buggy ride through a delicious May evening. Yes, clip-clop, clip-clop. Cerulean blue sky burning golden and cherise, then fading to deep blue, spangled with stars. It was a gorgeous hour of shared contentment with a friend so beloved, words were superfluous in the cool night breeze. Do I remember correctly? Did the heady scent of cottonwoods in bloom fill the balmy air? Or was it a steamy August night, shirts sticking to our skin? Memory, supreme trickster.

How did I lose her? Did I become so self-absorbed I stopped calling her, stopped sending notes? Perhaps she reached a point where her own suffering was such that she could no longer stomach my bellyaching and kvetching when we got together.

A couple of times we made contact again but somehow let it slip, and a few years ago she found me through my family, each of us long since moved to far-flung states. We had out-of-town company the day she called, my birthday it was, and though I wrote down her telephone number and e-mail address, somehow the handy junk-mail envelope I used was lost by the time the company left and I settled down to call her back.
Every word she spoke was true.

Still, despite my incompetent friendship, I think of Barbara fondly and with gladness and gratitude. Every word she spoke was true. Of how many people can you say that? Now, searching the Internet, I find images of her with her grandchild, images of her daughter, easily recognizable after twenty-five years. Perhaps I can reach Barbara through her children and get permission to use her full name here, for she is one of the heroes of my life, and certainly an Ordinary Hero.

Whatever transpired in the thirty-some years since we met and the quarter century since we last saw one another, Barbara exemplifies the love, generosity, compassion and friendship that are typical of the villagers of Ordinary.

For being true to herself, to her friends, to her family, to her country and to people who may never know the love she devoted to their well-being and safety, and for the joy her friendship has been to me over the years, despite our separation, I offer to Barbara E. the Ordinary Heroes Award.

May all who read this know the joy of such a friendship.

Namaste, Barbara.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

It's time to recycle your old cell phones

National cell phone recycling week graphicMost of us have at least one lying about in a drawer or box of junk in the garage.

Take advantage of National Cell Phone Recycling Week, happening right now, to recycle yours safely and conveniently. Better yet, if yours is in good working order, donate it to a charity that refurbishes them and gives or sells them at low cost to the people who need them. The Environmental Protection Agency and its recycling partners make it super easy with tips and drop-off locations.

More than 100 million cell phones are no longer used annually. If we recycled all of them, we would save enough energy to power 18,500 U.S. homes for a year.

Environmental Protection Agency

Pass the word! E-mail this post to your friends and co-workers. Print a full-color flyer and post it on your office bulletin board, in the lunchroom, the laundry room, the cafeteria or a meeting room at your local library, school, church or synagogue. Educators, download The Life Cycle of a Cell Phone poster geared toward sixth to eighth graders. That's an Ordinary thing to do.

My thanks to Dave Levitan, without whose article, Recycle 100 million cell phones, power almost 20,000 homes, I might never have known about National Cell Phone Recycling Week and the reasons we need to be responsible for our castoff phones.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Ordinary Hero: Amy Krouse-Rosenthal

Image copyright L. Kathryn Grace, 2009
All rights reserved

Amy Krouse-Rosenthal is a person who likes to make things.

That's the first line on the home page of her web site, Who is Amy, where you can link to articles that describe her as a best-selling children's book author and tell a delightful ongoing love story.

I've been married to Jason for over 17 years. Which means I've woken up beside him something like 46,225 times.


She writes adult books, too, one of which is titled Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, but that's not the reason she is an Ordinary Hero. The reason Amy Krouse-Rosenthal is a recipient of the Ordinary Heroes Award is because she made the video, The Beckoning of Lovely. Watch and be glad.

Thank you, Amy. Your vision, love, artistry, passion and belief in your work and your self make the Village of Ordinary less a vision and ever more real today.

[Edit 4/3/09: Belated thanks and acknowledgement to Wanda of What Would Wanda Do? and to chookooloonks, who introduced the video to Wanda.]