Monday, March 12, 2012

A Bowl of Bravo!

The energy charged foyer of the new High School building is buzzing with strapping guys and confident young ladies wearing hand decorated chef’s hats and brightly striped socks.  The excitement is palatable as balloons are filled with helium, tables set up and big pots of soup delivered outside where propane hot plates are waiting at the serving station.  A large picture of a gorgeous young man sits on an easel next to a long acrylic tube with “donations” painted on the side.  On the high windows over the door leading out to the soup are two hand painted signs saying “WE GIVE” and “BECAUSE YOU GAVE – we love you Hunter.” 

So many old farts my age whine about the youth of today: citing perceptions of self-centeredness and sense of entitlement.  With some of the highest average incomes nationally in our local suburbs and a survey of the cars in the Bellevue High School Parking Lot it’s easy to see how the uninformed might come to that conclusion.  But if those folks had been at Bellevue High School around noon this last Wednesday their perspective would have been forever changed. 

This was the date of the sixth annual “Soup 4 Simpson” event at Bellevue High.  Spearheaded by the efforts of Kathy Adams, enthusiastic and adored accounting teacher at the school and faculty advisor for the event, a large number of students (students from a broad range of social groupings...yes, I mean cliques of jocks and nerds and emos and homey goodness…inclusive of so many different kids) had been working for months on pulling together this popular event.
Anne Simpson, Hunter's Mom and Kathy Adams, staff advisor for the event
 The event is a beautiful legacy of Hunter Simpson, the eldest son and middle child of my dear friend Anne.  Hunter passed away on New Year’s Eve in 2005, just six months after his High School graduation, after a year- long battle with brain cancer.   In his short lifetime Hunter modeled what true selflessness means: he was a humanitarian who set a remarkable example of what it really means to humbly make the world a better place.  The model he set planted seeds that have grown a whole new garden of philanthropists at Bellevue High, nurtured by the tending by Adams.

Served along with the soup are cookies that have been cooked by the students in their home-ec class.  One of the cookies is made from Hunter’s favorite recipe that he liked to make and includes his “secret ingredient”. I don’t even know what it is but the cookies are delish.  On the outside of each cookie bag is a label that tells the story and why soup is the menu.  This is how it goes:
In January 2005, in his senior year, Hunter Simpson was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.  He endured six weeks of intense radiation and then various forms of chemotherapy over the next ten months.  Though he suffered frequent seizures, brought on by the tumor and chemotherapy, he continued to attend Bellevue High School, God Squad and feeding the homeless in Seattle on the weekends with some of his friends.  He graduated in June and was very intent on attending college at Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C., Canada to pursue a degree in International Religious Studies.  Despite the fact that he would have to come home every other Friday for chemotherapy, he left for college in August 2005 and he had a plan and his plan involved SOUP!  He figured that if he only ate soup for lunch and dinner (Chili was too expensive at $2.00!) that by the end of the semester he would have enough money left on his meal plan to “buy out the cafeteria.”  So, in the third week of December, with $998.00 left on his meal plan, Hunter loaded up his girlfriend, Gwen Rowland’s car with all the non-perishable, “legal-over-the-border-food” he could fit in the car and came home for Christmas vacation.  He and Gwen delivered the food to New Horizons Homeless Shelter for Teens in Seattle the next day.  New Horizons was very grateful for the food and also for the new sofas and a pool table that had been given to them from the “Make-a-Wish Foundation” as Hunter’s gift.  Hunter had been given a “Make a Wish” when he was diagnosed with brain cancer and he said that he had “everything that he needed” and gifted his gift to New Horizons.  Hunter died a week later on New Year’s Eve.  The “Soup4Simpson” lunch day gives the students of Bellevue High School the opportunity to make a little sacrifice to help those in need.  As Hunter would have put it, “in order to leave the world a little bit better than when you got here.”

At the Soup4Simpson event students are asked to give to the fundraiser the money they would have otherwise spent on lunch that day.  Instead, that day they enjoy a cup of donated soup side by side with their schoolmates.  The money raised is given to New Horizons, a nonprofit ministry that serves street homeless youth. The non-profit agency is headquartered in the Belltown neighborhood of.  Hunter was very smitten with this organization where street kids are given a place to come out of the weather, get a shower, clean clothes and a hot meal while they connect with loving staff and volunteers.  The foundation also includes a coffee shop where the kids can learn business and social skills to better equip them to leave the street life.  Soup4Simpson has raised around $4,000-$5,000 each year for New Horizons.  But more importantly than the money it raises is the spirit it fosters in these young High Schoolers to do something bigger than themselves; to follow the example of Hunter in caring for others in need.

My son was two years behind Hunter at B.H.S. in 2007, his senior year and the first year of the Soup4Simpson event, he was working in the kitchen of Pagliachi Pizza.  The event happened to fall on his payday.  It was this mother’s proud moment when she found out that her son drove to work and picked up his tip envelope and took it straight to school to put in the donations without even opening it to see how much it was. 

I never got the honor of meeting Hunter in person.  It wasn’t until after he died that I became friends with Anne, his mom.   I want her to know that Hunter has given me so many gifts though.  Through him I got to see the seeds of empathy and compassion sewn in my own child.  Every year, through his legacy I get to be reminded of the goodness and energy of the next generations and shed some of that old fart cynicism about the youth of today.  What an honor to be touched by such goodness.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"A Three Dog Life" - a memoir by Abigail Thomas

I picked up this little gem at the Overlake Children’s Hospital Thrift Store.  I went in for Vintage dish towels.  Don’t ask me why.  OK, I'll tell you why.  I found some there on a foray for a white dish I could use for a food photography assignment.  One I gave myself.  An assignment that is.  I didn’t find the dish but I have a hard time leaving a store empty handed.  So I browsed until I found something.  It was the tea towels which I love and am using on food photos.  Photos I haven’t found a use for.  Except here I have: to show you why I bought the dish tea towels  The two towels clipped together were tagged at $2.50.  They had a pink price tag so that day I got to take 25% off that already thrilling price.   

So the next time I went in I went to see what they had in the kitchen linens rack and found nothing but, again dealing with my difficulty leaving a store empty handed, went by the used book shelves.  It was a good day.  I nabbed two tour books for New York.  I’m taking my sister there in June for her fiftieth birthday.  And this book.  A Three Dog Life, a memoir by Abigail Thomas. 

I love memoirs.  Someday I might write one.  Except I keep getting caught up in thinking that it may have to have a point and a good ending that wraps everything up nicely.  Then that gets me stuck.  But I do appreciate a good memoir.  Especially one that is written by someone who can simultaneously take something in their life that is their normal and make it intriguing to the observer they share it with.  I love the ones that are filled with profound tidbits discovered in the folding of clean sheets or taming a wild garden.  I really admire the writer who can transform a horrible situation into something with lots of laughter and “aha” moments.  Like Angela’s Ashes.  I remember when it first came out and I was reading it and loving it but when I went to describe it to someone who asked I felt like I had been caught burning insects with a magnifying glass in the sun.  “It’s a coming of age memoir of a boy growing up in the poverty of Post War Ireland.   His family is so poor they have to move upstairs when the ground floor floods.  They live up there, tons of kids to a bed. They can’t afford plumbing so share an outhouse with their neighbors in the alley behind.   Siblings die because they can’t get health care.  The father drinks away any money he ever makes so the kids have to steal apples and potatoes just to survive.  And they heat with coal so the kids have to spend their days following coal carts grabbing up anything that might fall off.  It’s such a beautiful, funny story.”   

In A Three Dog Life Abigail Thomas describes her life and relationship with her husband after he sustains a major brain injury.  She resigns herself to the fact that she couldn’t take care of him at home so moves him to a care center outside of New York City where they had lived together.  She eventually moves herself from the City to a small town nearer where he is housed.  There she is able to more easily visit him, even bringing him home for regular afternoon visits.  She finds sweetness in the person he has become since the accident and an acceptance of what life has dealt her.  She has brought two additional dogs into her life to join the first who was somewhat responsible for the accident that stole her husband’s memory capabilities.  She comes to terms with her life, overcomes her fears.  Comes to a brave acceptance of a past she cannot change and a future she cannot fathom so learns to live and find herself in the present in a lovely and admirable way.
Like the good memoirs I enjoy, there are lots of light moments in the midst of a heavy story and profound pronouncements of discovery in the everyday life.  I had never heard of this book and only put it in my basket because I liked the way it is bound (It’s a paperback but has thick velvet pages, slightly uneven on the unbound edge and extended cover flaps folded back that can easily be used as a bookmark.  I didn’t like the title: I am not by nature a dog story fan.  Or should I say not a fan of reading about people obsessed with their animals.  (Luckily this memoir did not turn out to be such a story).  But like I said, I was drawn to the feel of the book itself and a little note on the front cover: “The best memoir I have ever read. This book is a punch to the heart.  Read it.” – Stephen King.  A $2.00 price tag 15% discount, on luscious paper with a strong recommendation from a man who knows how to write.  It was something I could feel good about with my inability to leave the store empty handed.  If you can find it try it.  Or I’ll lend you my copy.  It’s a good read.
Interesting side note: in the preface I learned the origination of the well-known saying in the title.  That “Australian Aborigines slept with their dogs for warmth on cold dog nights, the coldest being a “three dog night.”  It’s also the name of one of my first favorite bands to listen to in my own coming of age memoir.  The one I haven’t written yet.