Change: The Only Certainty

By Grace Maselli

Eleven

by Tanya Markul

The pain
that made you
the odd one out
is the story
that connects you
to a healing world.

An abrupt (or slower-to-manifest life change)—whether because of a major move, job loss, natural disasters, or perhaps the most difficult to adjust to, the death of someone beloved—can feel unimagineable. It can feel to the person going through the experience of quantum shock that the “me” he’s known for many years is gone, replaced by a phantom. It can take months or years, sometimes, for confusion to turn to acceptance, or trauma to subside. For some people, acceptance of changes large and small can be more or less difficult; this may depend on how attuned a person is to this mortal coil’s impermanence.

In her beautiful book, Wake Up Grateful, The Transformative Practice of Taking Nothing for Granted by Kristi Nelson, the author poignantly writes, “Getting comfortable with impermanence allows us to more deeply appreciate all the things we do not want to take for granted—our body, emotions, relationships, and mystery. There are few things more certain than the fact that we will experience change and loss in many aspects of our lives and, ultimately, loss of our own life.” The reference to mystery, and the idea that nothing in this life is promised to us, is particularly moving.

“Stop thinking of change as interruption to a story; the story was always going to change, many times. It was never guaranteed,” says Maggie Smith in, Keep Moving, Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change, adding, “In fact, only change is guaranteed. Expect it today, and from now on.”

Sometimes acceptance of what’s in our control to manage and what’s completely out of our control can be a way to deal with overwhelming change. When change feels unmanageable, reaching out to support systems, TBT friends or people throughout the Florida Timebanks network, can make the difference. There are moments when a connection to someone willing to spend quality time listening deeply to our pain can tip the balance in the direction of our ability to endure difficulty.

It’s what Markul’s poem Eleven aims to express. You don’t have to run from the pain of change and the humanness that allows a person to feel.  Sharing grief with others holds the promise of what can “connect you to a healing world.” And as Kristi Nelson writes, change, and the grief that can often attend it, “is the cost of loving and respecting life, our Earth and all its inhabitants, and our values of fairness, safety, justice, love, and dignity…The more we love, the more we courageously commit to walking through life thin-skinned, bound to the full range of how much the heart can feel, break, and break itself open—ultimately into even greater wholeness.”

 

A Walk on the Wild Side

By Grace Maselli

Wow: 2020. It wasn’t for the faint of heart. Adults, youth, essential workers, best friends—almost everybody’s lives got shaken by the wrath of COVID, an upside-down experience that turned “normal” living into strange and confined terrain in order to stay safe. Of course, the public health crisis continues and has even worsened in many states in the U.S., with infection rates spiking and hospital beds becoming more scarce.

Some people have turned away from the news. Or seriously limited the intake just to stay sane.

But there are rays of light breaking through. The soon-to-be Biden-Harris administration has a clear stance on safety and the pandemic, “A decisive public health response that ensures the wide availability of free testing; the elimination of all cost barriers to preventive care and treatment for COVID-19;…and the full deployment and operation of necessary supplies, personnel, and facilities,” according to the Biden-Harris camp. President-elect Joe Biden’s gotten his first of two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

And even if we’re lonelier, the whirl of technology connects many of us, screen to screen. The pandemic of 1918 afforded no such luxury. People have been creative with social distancing. Virtual girls’ night out, Microsoft Teams holiday parties with a professional trivia host and cash prizes. Of course, there’s also getting away from a screen (screen, scream!) and going outside for a stroll, a bike ride (recumbent, too), and kayaking under safe conditions.

Maybe 2021 will bring us to the entryway to that tunnel, where we can see more light at the other end?

Here’s hoping we all have the capacity to appreciate some of those little miracles—like being able to breathe, and hear, and walk. Maybe we can turn the corner this year and build some momentum by looking at some of the things that go right?

From all of us at TBT to all of you, we wish you a slice of joy in the complex holiday season.

 

 

 

Getting Bookish with Art

By Grace Maselli

We’re starting a TBT book group with a focus on art in all its forms! The inaugural read: On Photography by Susan Sontag first published in 1973 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The group is open to our sister (and bro) timebanks and the community. Of course, to be Covid-compliant, we’re convening by Zoom. Here’s how it’s rolling:

  • First Zoom gathering is Monday, December 7, 2020 at 7 PM;
  • We’ll meet every two weeks to nosh on the text and partake of participants’ thoughts and dialogue;
  • (Because the next two-week interval lands during Xmas week, we’ll step out of the two-week rhythm just until the New Year and start again on Monday, January 11, 2021 at 7 PM);
  • Those interested should contact me at mgmwrite@gmail.com or 215.834.4567 so I can collect names and email addresses to send a Zoom link the day before each meeting time…
  • Group members will pitch ideas for the next book and we’ll take an informal vote on what to read next!

    You in?

 

Fun! (Say What?)

By Grace Maselli

You’ve heard of it, right? Fun fun fun. To say the least, COVID’s put a kink in the pleasantries we took for granted—in the freedom to move around, pre-quarantine. All the more reason why the vital reminder to rip the Band-Aid off ho-hum and jump into some safe boisterousness, or amusements you’re personally stimulated and refreshed by, is so more important. We have Maureen Murphy, Executive Director of Tampa’s  Life Enrichment Center, to thank for a stellar Zoom talk to about 25 people during August’s Third Tuesday of the Month event on August 18.

Maureen’s exhaustive and inspiring presentation on the benefits of fun even in the context of lockdown stirred participants to share what they do to let their coiffs out of the hair net—get into “flow” where time effortlessly slips away— as it motivated others to amp up fun time and creativity in their daily lives. Maureen talked in depth about the psychological and physical health that fun can mean for the psyche and the body.  With pure enthusiasm she delighted us with factoids and substance: Fun reduces stress. It helps people cope better with stress. It trips the seratonin switch, a good brain chemical. It boosts energy and memory and concentration.  And when you make fun a habit, it’s relaxing, it pumps up positive feelings, it helps you sleep better, and it improves the relationships you care about. Whao!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sky can still be the limit if you turn that box upside down and see things from a new angle! Here are some ideas:

  • Dress up your dog and snap some pix for fun…
  • Do cartwheels in your backyard
  • Go to the beach on a Wednesday when there are fewer people
  • Kayak
  • Make art with LEC
  • Get creative with cooking
  • Do 20 jumping jacks in your living room
  • Take the St. Pete’s Mural Walking Tour
  • Blow bubbles lakeside
  • Cut up some magazines and make a collage to tell a soul story
  • Join The Rumpus Book Club
  • Jump into The Sofa King Music Fest
  • Check out BroadwayHD shows for less than the cost of a standard Netflix subscription
  • Explore new podcasts that make you happy and inspired

Everyone Needs to Be Loved

By Grace Maselli

There’s Rocco and his brother. And Chevy, Chance, and Blue. And don’t forget Goose. Goose is a dog. A dog who looks like an Irish Setter and has nine brothers and sisters. There’s Nyx the cat too, named for the Greek Goddess of Darkness—a nine lives cat who survives despite the strong odds of being eaten while living in an encampment in the woods.

What do these dignified, intelligent, and unconditional lovers of people have in common? They’ve all been rehomed by Ellen Paul, Founder and Executive Director of the Nature Coast Community Services Foundation, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit; NCCSF’s aim it is to do what it takes to get homeless people living in the subtropical backwoods out from the elements and snakes and into homes and jobs. More formally, NCCSF and its small coterie of devoted volunteers’ mission is to “identify and help fund social needs existing in Florida’s Nature Coast region that are not adequately addressed by existing governmental or private organizations.”

“To date,” the NCCSF’s website makes an important point of noting, “we are getting one person a month on average out of the woods, into a paying job, and into permanent housing.  But for every person whom we help escape homelessness, another one or two [more] find us.” Ellen puts the approximate number of lives changed at 43 since NCCSF’s formalized founding in October 2018, two years after Ellen began her deeply spiritual—strategic, logistical—and compassionate work.

TBT learned more about Ellen and NCCSF at the recent Third Tuesday of the month meeting on July 21 with 30 people in attendance by Zoom and a focus on the topic of building community.

For Ellen, the community of homeless people she and her volunteers help all started with the Rocco’s and Chance’s of the world—homeless people’s dogs and Ellen’s passion for them: This mother of renewal and invention understood canine love from the get-go and what it continues to mean for homeless people on a deep, archetypal level. “The general public will often say, ‘Why do these people have pets? They can’t even take care of themselves. I get a lot of blow back,” Ellen says. “People just don’t understand that these animals are the only source of companionship, love, and protection many homeless people have. Whether an animal is trained or not, whether it’s a dog or a cat, it doesn’t matter. Everyone needs to be loved.”

Living in a Station Wagon with a Five-Year-Old

Things arguably got underway in Ellen’s world with a big woman we’ll call “Chauncey.” Chauncey is a middle-aged female described as 6 ft. tall, about 300 lbs., and living in a station wagon with her five-year-old grandson. “Everything they owned was in their car,” says Ellen of the family, including a 60 lb. dog—people and their beloved pet who were displaced when Chauncey lost her job because of illness. “When this happened, everything unraveled,” Ellen says. Ellen first met Chauncey in a homeless encampment in Hernando County’s Masaryktown woods (until the police threw the dispossessed off the site). “Nearly every person in those woods had a pet; some people had three or four,” Ellen says. She would know. Her job continues to be handing out clothing and food, “and talking with people, to understand where their heads are, to see what we can do to help them.”

One day after such a visit to the woods Ellen “got a strong sense” that Chauncey wanted to talk. “I asked her if there was anything she needed and what she asked for was dog food.” Chauncey’s dog hadn’t eaten in several days when Ellen encountered the family because Chauncey couldn’t afford the cost of the food, or gas for that matter; the whole family including the dog was hungry. “That morning we had met Chauncey she managed to scrape together enough money to get to the Hernando County pound to surrender her dog. But she couldn’t do it. She was crying all the way back to Masaryktown. She was crying and praying for a sign,” Ellen says. “And then I showed up with a 50 lb. bag of dog food. It was the first time I was called an angel. It’s way above my pay grade to be called that! But I understand the gratitude that comes with the remark.”

Four-Legged House Guests

“The dogs are deeply important to these people,” says Ellen, who has personally taken care of homeless people’s dogs in her house so people would agree to get surgical procedures done. “Otherwise, they wouldn’t go to clinics or hospitals,” she says of the deep attachments to animals. Ellen’s most recent canine house guest was Rocco, a puppy pit bull.

“Lyla” was about 62 years old and homeless in the Masaryktown woods when Ellen met her. Lyla was in love with her all-black cat, Nyx. So much so she wanted a better life for her. “Lyla said, ‘This is a special kitty. She follows me in the woods like a dog. She talks to me all the time; we talk together. I want her to have a long life and lots of friends.’ And then Lyla handed me the cat,” Ellen says.

Among the services Ellen and her volunteers provide through NCCSF is low-cost spaying and neutering through the PetLuv Spay & Neuter Clinic in Brooksville. “I’ve had dozens done,” she says. The day Ellen was taking Nyx to be spayed the vet told her the cat was pregnant. “Neutering would have killed the kittens in utero, and I couldn’t do that.” So instead Ellen kept two of Nyx’s babies and found reliable, loving, indoor homes for the other two kittens.

                                                                                A third recipient of NCCSF’s efforts is a woman, “Charlene,” who the nonprofit had helped for a number of years. When Charlene ended up in jail, she asked her friends in the Masaryktown woods to take care of her three dogs. One of them, Chevy, was left without food or water and to fend unsuccessfully for himself. “Chevy looked like he’d just gotten out of Auschwitz,” as Ellen describes it. But even in his emaciated condition the fawn-colored Chevy was a big boy at 60 lbs. and anticipated to grow to 150 lbs., according to a veterinarian’s estimate. Despite her heartbreak over losing him, Charlene went to Ellen and said, “I need your help to get Chevy out of here.”

The Universe Is Listening

“So I put the word out to the universe and said, ‘I need a home for this dog,’” Ellen explains. Within a couple of hours the universe got back to her. Ellen got a phone call from another homeless woman, “Pam,” who told Ellen, “I need a large dog. I need him to be a service dog. I have seizures.” And as soon as Pam got word about Chevy, she immediately wanted him.

Most people living in the woods have jobs, Ellen says based on her years of experience. But these are routinely low-paying, part-time jobs that don’t generate enough money for even a modest rent and living expenses. “Corporations are not hiring for full-time work, so they don’t have to pay benefits,” in many cases, Ellen says. This reality leaves little choice than to live in the woods and participate in the gig economy—short-term contract work or day labor, let’s say, compared to permanent jobs—so people can survive.

And as the universe would also have it, Pam, who was continuously moving on foot or bicycle between Weeki Wachee and Brooksville, is a professional dog trainer. Within seconds of Charlene and Ellen introducing Chevy to his new owner, “Chevy focused like a laser beam on Pam,” Ellen remembers. “And within another five minutes Pam had him sitting on command”—the bent elbow, fist up, configuration in the dog training world. That first night together Pam had two seizures, and Chevy knew instinctively what to do without any training: He stretched out behind Pam to soften her fall and created as much cushioning as possible. “Two days later Pam had Chevy walking through Walmart—this is a dog who had never been on a leash before.”

Now Pam and Chevy are inseparable. In Pam’s meanderings across the nine miles between Weeki Wachee and Brooksville, Chevy is in heaven and in lockstep, jogging alongside the love of his life as she pumps the pedals of her bike through the subtropics. They stop at the halfway point where a store owner gives Chevy water and Pam also gets refreshed. “Chevy loves Pam and he loves the exercise,” says Ellen, who also helped Chevy go legit with the right service dog paperwork to confirm he’s the real deal.  “We got Chevy rated as a service dog with the paper to prove it. So if Pam goes into the hospital, or jail, or Walmart, Chevy goes with her,” Ellen says. Chevy is an extension of Pam.

“The whole thing is a miracle,” says the Founder of NCCSF. Besides seizures, Pam grapples with depression too. “Chevy comes over and licks the tears off her face and leans into her for comfort,” Ellen says with a kind of childlike wonder. As of this writing, Ellen and NCCSF are gifting Pam and Chevy a four-man (one-dog) tent to give the wanderers a much-needed, deeply appreciated home base in the woods—a precious space to call their own. “There are so many incredible stories like this,” says Ellen. “They’re pure magic.”

In honor of this magic, donations of pet food, clothes, and towels for wet dogs in the woods and, of course, cash, are deeply and thankfully accepted by NCCSF at the organization’s website.

Social Adhesive in the Midst of Social Distancing

By Grace Maselli

Got uncertainty? Get some glue in the form of social adhesive. No argument that making life big and colorful and filled with art of all kinds requires more creativity in the days of COVID-19. Take member Robert McGinnis’s ingenious approach and arrangement of a mix of paid services and Tampa Bay Timebank resources—our characteristic offers and requests exchange model in action—to celebrate his lovely wife Debbie’s locked-down birthday. Robert hired violinist LaRon Hearst (classic and electric) accompanied by the violinist’s wife Angel’s (angelic!) singing voice. “He played an hour on our deck for the alligator and all of the neighbors on the other side of the pond,” Robert says, adding how groovy it would be, “to get musicians to show up at every members’ house to cheer them up with a song.”

Robert also commissioned some art from brilliant artist/educator/member Qinghong Wei to support the arts and honor the day. This includes a watercolor of a double rainbow taken by Qinghong, auspicious given its powerful symbolism for Robert and Debbie: “On our first real date there was a torrential downpour that broke with a double rainbow,” he says. Way to make it romantic and real and keep it safe, Robert!

For any of you reading, here’s a rolling echo from the TBT Leadership Team—reach out and touch someone by phone. Get on the TBT website and call a fellow member; check in, see how folks are doing. Spread the glue.

Speaking of social stickiness (think: reach out and touch someone in the metaphorical sense and by cell phone), here’s a local Community Resource and Referral Guide that may be of use to readers or someone you know who might benefit.

And as a reminder, here’s another glance at our Five Core Values to Guide all Participation and Decision Making

Assets: Everyone is an asset. We all have something to give.
Redefining Work:  We redefine work to value whatever it takes to raise healthy children, build strong families, care for elders, revitalize neighborhoods, make democracy work, advance social justice, and make the planet sustainable.
Reciprocity: Helping works better as a two-way street.
Community: We need each other; networks are stronger than individuals.  When people help each other, they reweave communities of support, strength, and trust.
Respect: Every human being matters. Respect for all means accountability to all.

Here here. Everyone matters.

Levity Amid Social Distancing

By Grace Maselli

The Tampa Bay Timebank values a good laugh as much as it values community connection. A TBT friend
shared a “NextDoor” social post, part of which is excerpted immediately below. NextDoor self-describes as the digital “neighborhood hub for trusted connections and the exchange of helpful information, goods, and services,” so we have something in common. A woman in a virtual NextDoor community penned this:

Isolation Can Be Tough

“Just seen a news report about the stresses and strains of self-isolation. It was reported that people are going crazy from being in lockdown in their homes. It was strange because I had just been talking about this with the microwave and toaster and all of us agreed that things are getting pretty bad. I didn’t mention anything to the washing machine as she always has to put a different spin on everything, and certainly not to the fridge as he is acting cold and distant again. In the end the iron calmed me down. She said everything will be fine, which surprised me because she’s usually the first one to apply unnecessary pressure and get steamed up over nothing!!!”

Community and Covid-19 Prevention, Big Timebank Hearts Pumped to Help

By Grace Maselli

Meet Mary. She’s an “Infection Preventionist” RN at Tampa General Hospital. See her mask? This was donated to her and some of her Infection Preventionist friends through the network of Florida Timebanks and its literal grassroots mobilization. Why? To assist healthcare workers not only in our immediate area, but other places. Take New York, for instance. Once again, Ground Zero for a crisis.

As of this writing, anti-coronavirus queen and TBT member Delphine Geraci has sewn 610 maskswith another 45 in line for completion today. Upwards of 75 of the beauties will be sent to a Brooklyn healthcare center described as a “war zone” by a hard-working physician there.

Delphine’s gotten some help from timebank elves across the region, not to mention timebankers’ neighbors, and the faith-based community. Our “runners” are buying and donating elastic bands and washed-and-cut fabric, bringing them to the drop-off table at Delphine’s house (and any other willing sewer who’s ready to come forward with her or his spools of thread!)

Staving Off Airborne Particles

The masks are intended to extend the lifespan of N95s, aka, “respirators and surgical masks (face masks) that are examples of personal protective equipment used to protect the wearer from airborne particles and from liquid contaminating the face.” In other words, a calculated barrier against Covid-19. No doubt you’ve heard that N95s are in short supply, with medical staff using them longer than they otherwise would. Supplemental timebank masks are designed to help lengthen the lives not only of N95s, but strengthen their precious and courageous wearers.

Llamas, Mustaches, and “PUL”

The timebank team’s fabric cutters, elastic gatherers, drivers, and sewers are using “The Turban Project” face mask pattern, though there are others among us also using a larger pattern. If you’re in the mood to explore, there’s lots to know and download from this site. Our fabrics are covered in llamas, polka dots, Haight-Ashbury tie dye, Star Wars memorabilia, and mustaches. Delphine, a Bariatric RN, is also making some out of “PUL,” or what’s described as a “disposable, breathable, and waterproof fabric, specially treated so that it is not harmful to the skin, both in adults and babies. PUL has a great variety of utilities and uses, such as the making of disposable masks and other sanitary covers.” According to Delphine, “PUL gives better protection when worn alone. Cotton is best when worn over an existing mask.”

In the meantime, we’ll keep on the move, aiming to help by being part of the larger community effortpart of the whole, as long as we’re able.

It’s true what they say: it takes an (underground) village to grow a heart to 50 times its normal size; this writer has never been more proud to be a member of a community that’s got one big enough to go around.

For donations of breathable cotton fabric and related supplies, contact Rita at 608.335.2382.

 

Thinking of You

By Grace Maselli

Unless you’ve been under a rock, dear reader, then you know about the pandemic—Covid-19—and how it’s changed daily life. For reliable info, members of the Tampa Bay Timebank turn to recommendations from leading national public health institutes, namely the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And if you might be feeling “plague dread,” as coined by The Atlantic, you can find some tips here for staying sane.

But remember too, there’s still room for gratitude amidst the bewilderment of life gone topsy-turvy. (Think: “Hey, I may still be able to get food delivered to my door,” “I can take a walk,” [for those of us this may apply to], and “I can listen to a groovy podcast.”) About that last one, check out the Good News Network’s  “Inspiring Corona Virus Kindness Updates” to blow some much-needed fresh air up your trousers.

Or for a quick pick-me-up, call a TBT friend or a neighbor to let them know they’re on your mind and in your heart. Because after all, we’re in this together. Even if (to varying degrees) we can’t be in the same room right now. And in the spirit of community and living life one day at a time, here’s to hygienic hand-washing and common sense for all of us.

 

 

New Positive Podcast – Inspiring Daily COVID Updates from Geri & Anthony!

Reminder! The Feast of Saint Valentine, Pagan Potluck

By Grace Maselli

Check this out from the History Channel: “While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burialwhich probably occurred around A.D. 270others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to ‘Christianize’ the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.”

So, in honor of paganalia and crop production, they’re’ll be a TBT Valentine’s Potluck on Sunday, February 16 from 3 to 6 PM. Wear your heart on your sleeve or on a special V-Day T-shirt! Bring your So-Easy Coq au Vin to share or other Vintage Valentine’s Day classics: Salmon Mousse Canapes, Baked Oysters with Tasso Cream (whatever Tasso Cream is), Crown Roast with Apricot Dressing, or luscious Fudge Tort. Or if it’s easier, bring Mac ‘n Cheese and black olives on all of your fingers and thumbs. They’ll go well with the paper plates and plasticware.

And while it’s true that the potluckaroo is five weeks and five days away from this writing, time flies. So mark your calendar for some conviviality and the making of a holiday in your image of what it means! Bring your favorite love poem or ballad to read aloud. Bring a haiku or an ode. A quatrain or free verse. We’re open to Roman gods, creative expression, and food.

Date Sunday, February 16, 2019
Time 3 to 6 PM
Address 2128 Park Crescent Drive
Land O Lakes, FL 34639
Questions? Contact Grace at (215) 834.4567 and reference the Valentine’s Potluck