Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday Song: Priscilla Ahn's "A Dream"

A thing I have recently fallen in love with is NPR's Song of the Day. I have been learning TONS of great music through this! I subscribed to the daily newsletter and have learned of so many great artists and the neat stories behind their music.

One of the artists I learned about and now can't get enough of is Priscilla Ahn. Her beautiful voice chills me to the core everytime I hear it! One of her songs that is hauntingly beautiful is "Dream." She sounds a bit like Rosie Thomas or Sarah McLachlan, but still has her own personality in her songs.

Here's what NPR had to say about her:
"As a new singer-songwriter with a new debut album, Priscilla Ahn is an unfamiliar figure. But from her first breaths in "Dream," she possesses a presence that can't be overlooked. It's not just the startling clarity of her singing, but also the lovely and occasionally wry songwriting that's bound to capture listeners' attention and imaginations.

There's a sweet innocence to "Dream," with the childish hopes and desires of a "little girl, alone in her little world" captured in the sing-song cant of Ahn's flawless voice and swinging guitar. As she ventures from childhood to adulthood and old age, the song becomes more complex as it moves along.

The dream changes, as well: The child sings, "I had a dream / that I could fly / from the highest swing / I had a dream." The adult takes her flight from the highest tree, before finally seeking out the highest point of all. Looking back, she sings, "I lived it full and I lived it well / as many tales I lived to tell," adding, "I'm ready now / to fly from the highest wing / I had a dream." The song closes in the same simple address as it began, with Ahn lifting her voice — and her audience's eyes — to the sky."


Saturday, August 30, 2008

LUSH Tells the Naked Truth about what it means to be an environmentally-friendly company

I had to chuckle the other day when I heard about this PR stunt that was projected to get a lot of attention at the Somerset Collection in Troy...

LUSH, a global company that sells toiletries and shampoos was planning to have employees disrobe for a half an hour to promote its products' environmentally smart "naked" packaging (they don't use bottles or tubes). The employees that volunteered would have been wearing aprons that said "Ask me why I’m naked." Their butts would have been the only *private* part exposed.

The Somerset Collection was quick to veto the idea saying something along the lines of "our customers are too conservative for this type of promotion."

In my opinion, I think it was a genius way for them to get attention, even though the event didn't happen. I heard a few radio interviews and saw media coverage in the local papers and it made me curious, so naturally I checked out the company's Web site and made a mental note to stop by the store next time I'm at Somerset.

According to the site, more than 50 percent of the store’s products are package-free, and all of its paper bags, cardboard boxes and re-useable tins are made from recycled materials. It's also states that packaging contributes to 2 percent of overall greenhouse gases, and plastic uses 8 percent of the world’s oil resources. The U.S. consumes 79.6 million tons of packaging each year, and more than half ends up in landfills.

During last year alone, approximately 3 million plastic bottles were not manufactured, transported and disposed of because customers chose to buy LUSH’s solid shampoo bars instead of a bottled product.

To me, they have a wonderfully 'cheeky' idea. I give 'em mad kudos for trying something interesting, even if it doesn't take off with the masses.
Too bad Somerset doesn't seem to have much of a sense of humor in all of this...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Preparing for the Next 'Round of Heroes @ the Paralympics

I don't know about you all, but I'm not a big sports fan. I try to know who's who in Detroit sports and who are the big guns when it comes to the big teams, but for the most part, I really just don't care. I appreciate the talent needed to suceed, but sports in general are just not that interesting to me...

Except anything surrounding the Olympics. I don't know if it was my Greek roots coming out, or if I just watched the games much more than I have in years past, but the 2008 games were the best I've seen ever. (Very big kudos to NBC for great coverage!)

Yes, there was scandal. But, there was also record-breaking triumph. There were tears, sweat and blood. It's true -- the Olympics are truly composed of the drama folks like me need to enjoy sports. And I truly enjoyed every minute!

Just when I thought the Olympics were done (tear), I read a great story and learned we've only just begun with the gold medal inspiration. September 7-17th, 4,200 disabled athletes from around the world will compete in the Paralympics in Beijing.

Paralympians are categorized into five different groups: spinal cord injury, amputee, visual impairment, cerebral palsy and ‘les autres’ (basically, French for those who don’t fit in the other categories). There are 20 different events including wheelchair basketball, archery, swimming and wheelchair fencing, among others. (How sweet would those be to watch?!)

One fellow American I will be rooting for is Melissa Stockwell, a solider who lost her leg in Iraq. She rocks! Read her ESPN story Little Leg,' big heart and positive thinking here and prepare to be inspired. Gold medal or not, she's a true American more ways then one.

Go Paralympians -- I know I'll be rooting for you all!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday Song - "Skin Deep" by Buddy Guy

Excited for my upcoming road trip to Chicago to see one of my favorite people EVER, I'm picking out Chi-town native blues artist Buddy Guy's new single "Skin Deep" as this week's song. AWESOME song with a GREAT, positive message...and what artist can beat those hot guitar licks?

Eat Pray Love: A Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

Elizabeth Gilbert's novel, Eat, Pray, Love has gotten many thumbs ups across the globe. I've just finished the book and I personally have enjoyed it immensely (although there are folks who beg to differ). There's just something about the way she carries herself that makes me want to be her friend (mostly by setting her straight half the time...).

Instead of describing the entire book and the parts I liked/disliked, I figure I'd just list some of the most memorable quotes spoken since there was a lot of wisdom hidden in the pages...

"Richard from Texas" describes soul mates:"People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that's what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you'll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave. A soul mates purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life, then introduce you to your spiritual master..."

"You don't want to go cherry-picking a religion," a friend of mine once said. "Which is a sentiment I completely respect expect for the fact that I totally disagree. I think you have every right to cherry-pick when it comes to moving your spirit and finding peace in God. I think you are free to search for any metaphor whatsoever which will take you across the worldly divide whenever you need to be transported or comforted... You take whatever works from wherever you can find it, and you keep moving toward the light."

"Having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. You really need to be certain it's what you want before you commit."

"You were given life; it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight."

"There's no trouble in this world so serious that it can't be cured with a hot bath, a glass of whiskey, and the Book of Common Prayer."

And my personal fave: You gotta stop wearing your wishbone where your backbone oughtta be.

Great summer read. I highly recommend it!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sunday Song: "Silent All These Years" by Tori Amos

There's songs you just get certain feelings with. "Silent All These Years" by Tori Amos is one of those songs for me.

I won Tori's Little Earthquakes album during a contest at a 6th grade dance. I looked at it and thought, "Who the heck is Tori Amos?"

My girlfriends Leah and Nikki said "Oh, she's really good. I think you'll really like her."

I did.

This track is one of my favorite songs ever. The lyrics are different, strange -- but in a good way. Many say the song was written to give a voice to her inner rage from being raped by an obsessive fan. To me, the song discusses how she was silent for many years about what happened to her, but does not want to remain silent anymore. It could take on several other meanings, but that's really up to the listener to decide.

Startlingly original, the song's combo of piano, strings and Tori's hauntingly beautiful voice make it an instant 90's classic. Take a listen for yourself here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Logic Behind My Blog Name

A friend asked me why I named my blog Staircase to Earth's Loveliness.

My answer: When I was younger, I had a huge sticker collection I used for arts & craft-type stuff. I had a pile of the stickers I vowed to myself that I would never use or trade (too pretty, too funny, etc.). One said:

My soul can find no staircase to heaven unless it be through earth's loveliness.
- Michelangelo

I've been smitten with that expression ever since...To me, it means it simply means to have fun conquering those stairs called life and don't forget to enjoy all the beauty the world offers along the way.

...and most importantly, always keep climbing!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

One Year of Bloggin'

Today is officially my one year blogging anniversary, so happy birthday to my beloved escape from negativity -- Staircase to Earth's Loveliness!

It's amazing how therapeutic writing in this blog has been for me. Each day, I find myself focusing in on positive things (partially because I'm always looking for topics) and doing away with any negativity that comes my way. This is my real-life version of "The Secret" -- we all really do have the power to create our own destiny and mine just so happens to include writing positively!

So why do I even bother to write this blog? I am pretty sure it's just a few friends and randoms that read it, so what's the point?

I like lists, so I thought long and hard and this is what I came up with on why I decided to start blogging:

I love the area in which I reside and gosh darnit, I love America as a whole. Yes, both Detroit and America have ups and downs, but I've chosen to only make note of the ups in my blog -- our melting pot culture, rockin' music and the wonderfully talented people I see/meet/hear about on a daily basis that make me proud.

5. I've always enjoyed reading the blogs of others. And while reading a blog doesn't make me a natural blogger-that-you-can't-get-enough-of, it did make we want to give it a shot.

4. I'm an expressive and I always like to say what's on my mind (just ask my hubby). Sometimes people may not feel like listening to my ramblings, so this serves as a way for me to get my [positive] thoughts out there.

3. I need to practice my writing, grammar and spelling. Yes, I get a lot of practice with work...but I'm not perfect nor do I ever claim to be. This is a good way for me to see where I can expand my skills.

2. On the other side of this, when I blog, my writing standards are lowered. A blog is more informal than writing for work and just matches my personality more-so. I have writer's ADD...a little bit of this, a little bit of that. (Maybe that explains why I like using Twitter, too?)

and #1. There are a lot of things I just want to write down or save and put in a box for a rainy day (quotes, stories, songs, etc.). Some of these items are ones I don't want to forget, some I know I may need to recall in the future (i.e. so I can teach my children appropriately one day) and some are just because I like them.

All in all, you can expect to see a lot more from where this chick is headed...

Monday, August 11, 2008

Reminder: We All Have a Place in this World

I came across the story below through our clipping service for Panera and it struck a chord with me. Originally published in The Fenton Press, the story serves as a reminder to all of us that we can find our own life's meaning through action to others in many different ways.

Homeless man puts me in my place

by Julia Zaher The Fenton Press
Friday June 27, 2008

Each Sunday evening when Panera Bread in Fenton closes, I pick up all the unsold bread and baked goods, which the company donates each night to various nonprofit organizations.

On Mondays, my first stop is at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church on the east side of Flint, where the food is used for the Saturday soup kitchen. I've seen a lot of little miracles since I began volunteering at the soup kitchen. One of the most memorable occurred during Memorial Day weekend.

I picked up the bread as usual Sunday but because of the holiday, no one was at the church Monday to receive it. Everything had to stay in the back of my Jeep until Tuesday.

On Monday afternoon, a neighbor asked me if she could get a ride to her friend's house just north of downtown Flint, where we live in a historic apartment building.

We stopped at a drugstore on the way, and she bought me a bottle of water to thank me for the ride since I wouldn't take gasoline money.

I dropped her off and headed back downtown. Driving down Saginaw Street near the University of Michigan, I saw a man picking through a garbage can. He opened a discarded food bag looking for something to eat. I circled the block to catch up with him and rolled down my window.

"You need some food, man?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said.

"Meet me at the back of my truck," I told him.

(My dad likely is having a fit as he reads this. Trust me. When you work with street people, you learn who you can approach and when it's best to keep moving.)

I parked, got out and popped the back door to dig into the Panera stash for him. He was an older black man with no front teeth. I could smell the alcohol on his breath.

"You saw me looking in that trash can?" he said as he started to cry.

"Yes. Look, if you need food, don't be ashamed. You just need a little help. I can help you," I said.

He threw his arms around me, hugged me and sobbed for several minutes.

"It's okay. You just need a little help," I said. "What can I give you? Cookies? Bagels?"

"I don't eat no bagels. Can you give me some cookies? I need sugar."

I loaded him up with cookies and baked goods.

"I just got out of jail, and I ain't got no money, no place to go," he said, still crying.
He carried a plastic bag with his worldly belongings.

"Look at me," I said. "What's your name?"


"Charles, I'm Julia," I said.

"Julia? That's my sister's name. Someone told me that God loved me, and here you are. You saw me eating from that garbage can. How did you find me?," he asked.

"I just saw you, Charles. And you looked hungry, and I have this food. I knew I could help you just for today."

He hugged me. I gave him the still unopened bottle of water.

"Can you get into one of these men's shelters?" I asked.

"I can't get in today because I've been drinking, and they'll know. They won't let me in," he said.

"I know. But you can eat this sugar. Let the sugar calm you and don't drink, okay? And then tomorrow, get into a place. Now, Charles, look at me: no more booze. Just the sugar, okay?"

"Okay," he agreed.

Just then, two other men came walking along who recognized Charles. They were volunteers from a local men's shelter, arriving just in time to pick up where I left off. I left Charles with cookies and the bottle of water from my neighbor.

On the way home, a sob caught in my throat. Panera Bread supplied the bread. My neighbor supplied the water and the reason to leave the house right at that time. God supplied Charles to remind me that I have a place in this world.

And on that day, it mattered that I was in my place.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Volunteer. One morning. Free breakfast. Free lunch. Free T-shirt (see above).

Make an IMPACT in metro Detroit.

See here. Sign-up here.

United Way for Southeast Michigan
& Panera Bread of Southeast Michigan present:
IMPACT Your Neighborhood

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Babies Are Cute, Especially Ones Related to Me

I couldn't claim the proudest aunt in the world title yet until I posted photos of the latest addition to my family! Baby Owen Allen was born July 3.

These are a couple of the adorable photos he recently had taken of him.

He's a natural baby model (in my opinion of course!). My brother couldn't be happier either...Notice the "smile" that came on his boys' mouth when he laid on a baseball glove??? Daddy can't wait to play ball and ride in big trucks with his new bundle of joy!

And of course Auntie Metrogal84 can't wait to play either!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Do What Dr. Phil Says: Give Blood to The Red Cross!

Blood is in low supply. Many of us know this. And we all would like to give except for many (myself included), it can be a very horrifying experience.

After getting several calls from the American Red Cross (including a scary message of Dr. Phil shouting), I caved in when I saw a flier in my building for a blood drive. A timely blog post from my dear friend Erin reiterated the importance of donating to me... And since I had no reasonable excuse since the blood drive was to be held in the Ren Cen where I work, I decided to sign up.

Although I did some work with the Central Michigan Chapter of the Red Cross during college, it was my wonderful husband who motivated me to get the balls to donate in the first place. (because "it's the right thing to do," according to him.) So, the other day I took his advice and grabbed my iPod and did my civil duty. Thank goodness for the blood flow music including happy songs like "Penny Lane" by The Beatles, the Grateful Dead's redition of "Wake Up Little Susie" and "All This Beauty" by The Weepies. These songs made me forget about the blood that was draining from me as I lay there.

I have B- blood, which is the second most rare blood types (behind AB-). I often think, what if I needed blood and there wasn't any of my type left in this world? What would happen? I can only receive O- and B-. That's it. So, if there weren't donors, I potentially could be royally screwed.

Although the experience sucked (rude nurses with no bedside manner, small juice boxes and practically laying on top of the others donating), I did it. And for that, I am proud. And I'll do it again.

Here's something interesting to read if you know your type (you all should!):

O + / 1 person in 3 / 38.4% of the population
O - / 1 person in 15 / 7.7% of the population
A + / 1 person in 3 / 32.3% of the population
A - / 1 person in 16 / 6.5% of the population
B + /1 person in 12 / 9.4% of the population
B - / 1 person in 67 / 1.7% of the population
AB + / 1 person in 29 / 3.2% of the population
AB - / 1 person in 167 / 0.7% of the population

I'm the 1 in 67. At least I'm unique, but then again, when it comes to blood, I wouldn't call those lucky odds.

The other numbers
that make it all worth while...
39,000 - number of pints of blood needed in America each day
900 - number of donors needed everyday in southeastern Michigan alone
6 - times a year you can donate
3 - lives you can save
2 - number of seconds that passes before someone in America needs blood

1 - number of people it takes to make a difference!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Local Bulldog Saves Kittens

Have no fear, Napoleon is here!!!

I heard a wonderful story on FOX2 the other night about this local hero of a dog. And since one idea behind my blog is to report positive news, I thought I'd share...

This fearless English bulldog (pictured) saved a burlap sack of drowning kittens the other day on Tamarack Lake in Ortonville, Mich.

The dog’s owner didn't know why her pet had darted across a street and jumped into the water. The dog grabbed a burlap sack and pulled it ashore. His owner expected the bag to be full of garbage. She was surprised when she heard meowing coming from inside the sack.

Napoleon's valiant effort saved four kittens. Unfortunately, two of them did not survive. It's sick to think someone may have been trying to intentionally kill them, but I'm here to talk positive. Four survived thanks to Napoleon saving the day!

What's really interesting about this story is that English Bulldogs are notoriously bad swimmers. With a giant head and chest compared to a lighter tail end, they have a tendency to go bottoms up in the water. It’s hard to keep that head up above the waves when it’s the largest part of your body. Somehow, someway, Napoleon was sent to save those kittens.

I guess dogs truly can be man (or kitty's) best friend.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sunday Song: "Lessons Learned" by Carrie Underwood

We all have things we wish we could have done differently in our lives... But, alas, nothing is perfect and everything truly does happen for a reason -- and the reason generally results in a life lesson.

Former American Idol/country superstar Carrie Underwood's song "Lessons Learned" describes this to a T.

If you're down, tune into the song and remember: some pages turn, some bridges burn, but there are always LESSONS LEARNED.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Sea Turtles: My Favorite of God's Creatures

Me holding a baby loggerhead sea turtle, August 2005

I was looking through old photos and came across a few happy ones that reminded me of an amazing trip I went on during school to volunteer with the Sea Turtle League of Singer Island in Florida.

Holy moly. These creatures are the most amazing things I have ever seen come to life. In my week of walking the beach with our inspirational guide, Debbie, I learned more about sea turtles than I could have ever imagined learning in a lifetime. And since then, they have held a special place in my heart.

You see, because of the harm man has done to this earth, these poor little guys follow the lights given off by fancy ocean side condos and resorts instead of following the light of the moon to the safety of the ocean, like their instincts should tell them to do.
It was my team's job at 4 a.m. to walk the island's 4 miles of beachfront property in search of baby turtles that hatched during the night and gotten "mixed up" and gone in the opposite direction from the ocean water and toward the false light, which often made them fall victim to a lurking predator or a speeding car.

We even got to see some of the hatchlings come out of their eggs where they had been incubating for two months and rise out of the sand when they were ready... It truly was the miracle of life that happened right before our eyes.

Unfortunately, there was days we were too late and some of them had already overheated in the hot sun. Those days we all wanted to cry. If only we could've been here sooner...

I could go on and on with turtle facts and reasons we need to be aware of the threat we are posing to these beautiful creatures, but instead I'll just point out a few statistics:

- All species of sea turtles are on the endangered species list.
- The longevity of sea turtles has been speculated at 80 years!
- It is estimated that only one sea turtle hatchling in 1,000 survive to maturity (to put it simply, the time when they can make babies), which is approximately 18 years old.
- Most turtles return to nest at the locations where they were born.

Our planet's resources are so precious. Let's not take that for granted.