Friday, February 25, 2011

"Day with Grandma" Photo Challenge

Click Here to read my grandma's note to our seniors if you haven't yet - you've got to, it's the most precious thing! And below, as promised, are the photos she mentioned. These were taken by talented Seattle photographer and my good friend Susan Ulep - you can check out her work by clicking Here. So! Here's an idea for you. How about taking YOUR grandma and/or grandpa out for a day and a shoot? Our family went to the salon and the botanical gardens but maybe you can come up with some cool activities of your own. And hey, I'd LOVE to hear how your day goes and see your photos. I am always happy to chat with you on our Facebook page or at

A Note to Our Seniors... from Grandma!!

And now... a note that has no rival in preciousness. A note from my grandma to our seniors!!! My grandma who is my personal hero and my inspiration for this entire storytelling project! And oh yeah - written on napkins at a hipster coffee shop in Seattle. What better writing supplies can you wish for on this earth, right ;) ?

My husband and I just got back from a super trip to see my family in Seattle (I miss you guys already!) and since we are both obsessed with real soulful Seattle coffee, we hopped endlessly from shop to shop and took my adventurous "Po Po" along. "Po Po" is what I call my grandma because we speak in Chinese. So yup, she told me what she wanted to say to our seniors in Chinese, I put on my translator cap and wrote it down in English, then she signed her name in Chinese. Yesterday, I read the note to our seniors. Yeah. They were pretty moved. Their smiles were so indescribable. Real. Soulful. Maybe those words come close. And the makeover and photoshoot Po Po mentioned? Well, those deserve a blog post all its own. So back-to-back, in the blog post after this, please check out a photo journal by talented Seattle photographer and my personal friend Susan Ulep. For more about how my friendship with my grandma inspired this project, please browse the links on the blog sidebar.

And now, sorry to keep you waiting ;)... The Note!

Hi Everyone,

I've seen your photos on the computer. You all look so happy. Wish you continuous happiness forever. Ling Ling (that's what I call Benita) tells us about you and your stories. I feel very comforted. Maybe one day we can meet. Until we meet, we took some photos for you to see. We went out to get makeovers, and then went to the gardens for photos. My best friend came with us. We've known each other for 30 years. Before her husband passed away, we went fishing all the time. Now, Ling Ling takes us out every time she comes to visit to Seattle. We like to eat and go out. Do you like how our photos look? If they are too small, Ling Ling can make them bigger for you to see. (Also, thank you, Robert, for your gift of the Chinese wall calendar. Thank you for your thoughtfulness.)

Mei Hing (Ling Ling's Grandma)
February 16, 2011
All City Coffee Shop
Seattle WA

Monday, February 21, 2011

Michael (Life Like a Dream)

Michael has been a part of our group for ten months now. In many of our Facebook photos, you can spot him with Mo and Robert – the three have become best friends and are constantly telling the group how great one another is. Three grown men bragging about one other – there’s nothing quite as tender.

For a while, without exception, all of Michael’s stories began with, “Time passes very quickly.” Recently, he started a story with “My wonderful life, it is just like a dream!” I don’t know if you feel the same way, but to me, this is a huge transformation. Like he’s really being himself now, really feeling free.

Michael Chan
Life Like a Dream
My wonderful life. It is just like a dream! I never thought I could come from my country in Asia. I was born in a beautiful country, Soo Chow China, which is the most beautiful “Garden” country in Asia. Many visitors from the world visit to see the “Gardens”. There are different flower shows for the four seasons around the year.

I left my country when I was 17 years old and my first stop was Shanghai. By 1949, I left Shanghai after staying there for 5 years. Then, I went to Hong Kong by train – it took 5 days by train. They speak a different dialect, Cantonese, in Hong Kong so I took night classes to learn both Cantonese and English. After 7 years I started my own company in the garment industry and worked very hard. My daughter came here to go to school at the University of Pennsylvania. I stayed in Hong Kong for 50 years before moving here to be with my daughter.

Michael Chan

Time passes very quickly. I have joined the class for a period of eight months. It gives me very happy hours to enjoy the living conditions. My feelings have been changed and I hope to learn more and more gradually.

So I am very happy to say thanks and love to each other.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hazel (Class Connections)

Every week, I witness it with my own eyes and ears: it’s a small world after all. I love sitting with my senior buddies in class, hearing decades of experiences converge and overlap at one table. As Hazel says, it’s indescribable really, how one senior’s story can trigger that of another senior’s, and on and on.

This story doesn't work without its visual aids! So here are 3 pix: 1 of Luis showing his papers from his senatorial run with John Kennedy (yup - our very own Luis is a big deal!) (btw I like how Hazel is listening intently on his left, don't you?) 1 of the actual papers themselves. Followed by a pic of Hazel showing her photo of JFK. Small world in a big way, right?
Hazel Nurse
Class Connections

After Luis distributed papers showing the time that he ran for an office in New York on the ticket with Robert Kennedy, I remembered my photo of President John Kennedy.  The picture was given to me by a sixth grader, many years ago.  It just reinforced the fact that November twenty second was the anniversary of his assassination.  He was a leader, a realist, and an idealist who embraced economic opportunities, civil rights, the arts desiring to make the nation special. 

While searching for the photo, I stumbled upon some of John Lee, another student and a real live boxer.  He was excused from class many times to exercise as directed by the physical education teacher.  I was informed of his special diet of eggs and other foods.  With his grandfather’s appearance often in the classroom, demonstrating great support and encouragement for the upcoming champion. 

The connection this class offers is indescribable.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Luis (Happy to Make Your Acquaintance)

It’s February 14, and you know what holiday it is! If at the beginning of the story, you think we are talking about politics… think again. Oh, I don’t know, anyone in the mood for some romance?

Luis Fuentes
I Am Happy to Make Your Acquaintance

Paul O’Dywer was a good man with good intentions. He was passionate in his beliefs and committed to human rights.

I met Paul during the good, the bad, and the ugly years of the Civil Rights Movement in the sixties- the years leading up to the infamous year of 1968. We marched, picketed, and campaigned together. It was rumored that Paul ran guns to the IRA, the Irish Republican Army, during the conflict in England. Knowing Paul, I believed every word of it.

Paul was the younger brother of the former, two-termed mayor of New York City, William O’Dywer. Paul, himself, campaigned for and was successfully elected as the President of the New York City Council.

Over the years, knowing I was widowed, Paul always had someone he wanted me to meet. Although we stayed in touched, our careers took different paths.

In 1966, we met again at a political fundraiser. We greeted each other warmly. As always, he had someone he wanted me to meet. Before I could respond, he called her over- expressing how politically active she was. He said she had earned respect as a community activist and was a deputy commissioner in the government.

“Alberta, I’d like you to meet Louis. Louis, Alberta.”

She smiled and said, “Happy to make your acquaintance.”

Also responding, I took her hand and responded, “The pleasure is all mine.”

We turned to Paul, laughing hysterically, and I said, “Paul, not only is Alberta my campaign manager, she is also my wife.”

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Time for some Radio!

Facebook fans got the scoop already, but I want to fill the rest of you in! Just a quick note to let you know that I will be interviewed on a couple of radio shows this month. 

2/15: “eCare Diary” on Blog Talk Radio

Tues 2-2:30pm

3/7: “LIVE at the Writers House” on WXPN

Mon 8-9pm
  • Besides me, you’ll get to hear from other winners of the 2010 Leeway Art and Change Award. Each guest has been working on an art project that promotes social change in a different way – I am very excited to learn about everyone’s projects!
  • Format: recorded interview – the recording session will take place with a small live audience on 2/28.
  • To listen, tune in to the station (Philadelphia 88.5FM) or stream it online when the show airs. 
  • To listen afterwards, simply play the recorded podcast on the show’s website

Looking forward to some nice chats! Please check out both shows!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Emily (Reflections)

Speaking of rainbows (you gotta check out the last blog post if you haven’t yet!) I can’t be more proud, or more touched, by the miracle that is our project team. A few blog posts ago, you heard from Dee about her experience as our Writing Class Co-leader; here now is Emily and her experience as our PR Manager. I love the part where Emily calls our team “an intensely passionate group that includes people of all ages, from all walks of life.” For me, these words mean so much. My team means so much to me. Our team formed gradually, as one by one blog readers (most of them I had never met before) reached out to me with personal letters expressing passion and offering help. And now, around 30 “random” strangers have turned into the most close-knit team I’ve ever seen. How wild is that? Want to know something wilder? Even if I had searched the entire earth, I couldn’t have assembled a stronger team. I am convinced by that.

Thank you, Emily, for these outrageously beautiful words.  And thank you for everything you do. As those of us behind the scenes know, you do A LOT for our project!

So readers… please sit back and enjoy this one. This is a really special post. And as Emily said, do email her back with YOUR reflections. We’d love to hear from you.
Emily Antoszyk
Reflections of the Project

I happened upon The Best Day Of My Life (So Far) in the fall of 2009 when it was little more than a blog and a class. In the beginning, I offered to type stories; I was already volunteering for a living through AmeriCorps, and I loved the feeling of contributing to the community. I also have a close relationship with my grandmother, and the idea that someone might start a project like this for her was inspirational. As I started reading and typing, I began to get interested. Who were these people? What were they like in real life?

Before I had even attended a class I knew the project was something I wanted to be a part of. In the spring of 2010, I signed on for more responsibility recruiting teen interns to take part in the storytelling. I also offered to take on the role of Public Relations Manager as the project grew. Both tasks proved to be challenging at first, and I feel so fortunate that The Best Day Of My Life (So Far) gave me room to grow
into the roles that I chose to tackle.

Working for TBDOML(SF) has taught me useful skills, but more than that, it has dispelled my perceptions of what it means to be “old” or a “senior”. On my first visit to the class I was pleasantly surprised by the group’s vibrant and youthful tone. Even though I am decades younger than the attendees, I immediately felt like I could relate to the stories in class.

When the teens started coming to class it added a new dynamic. While we had a small, diverse group of teens, the stories that struck me most were the ones that were completely different from my upbringing; inner-city kids with tough home lives and adult responsibilities before they reached adulthood. Their frankness in class was something that surprised me because I know how difficult it can be to talk to teens, and some of these teens were opening up with some extremely personal stories in their first class! Their willingness to talk about some really difficult experiences was something that touched me deeply, but that also speaks to the open and accepting nature of the class.

The Best Day Of My Life (So Far) has also introduced me to amazing and committed volunteers, and it has given me the opportunity to be a part of a project that is changing the way that younger generations relate to seniors and the way that seniors bond with each other and the surrounding community. This project has been a pathway to friendship for many of its participants - seniors and volunteers alike. On a personal level, I have become friends with people I would not otherwise have met, and have become acquainted with several committed mentors. As a whole, the volunteer team is an intensely passionate group that includes people of all ages, from all walks of life. You have to realize that around thirty volunteers take time out of their jobs and lives to contribute to this effort, that’s an incredible
amount of commitment!

I would like to sum by saying thank you all for your readership and support, our project would not be nearly as momentous without our readers. Did you know that The Best Day Of My Life (So Far) blog has readers from over 30 countries and has 10,000 hits? Pretty incredible considering we have only been in operation for a little over a year now. The way I see it, The Best Day Of My Life (So Far) is part of a bigger movement - to connect seniors, teens, and communities all over the world.

Please feel free to write any questions / comments you have to me at I've thoroughly enjoyed getting mail from people around the globe wanting to know more about the project or how they can start similar efforts in their own communities. Currently, we are mentoring a fledgling project in Seattle and look forward to hearing about their progress. Some of our next steps in expanding the project will include nurturing satellites in the northeast. Stay tuned!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Or Like a Rainbow

Or like a rainbow.

The wisest, sweetest, most breath-taking sentence in the world.

Beatrice Newkirk
Our Writing Class       

Our writing class is the place to see and be.  We do things together.  Everyone has a good time.  We listen to everyone’s stories.  Some are read out loud.  Some members talk about what they had written.  After everyone reads or tells their story, our pictures are taken.  We missed last week but we always make up what we missed.  Because of the storm, we were not here.  Everyone who comes to our class is from different places.  They come from different neighborhoods.  The stories I hear are very interesting.  We are like a family. Or like a rainbow.  To the writing class, I love all of you.  I miss everyone until the next meeting.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mo (Childhood Stories)

I am constantly impressed by how much detail Mo is able to remember (+ willing to share) of his adventures as a young boy. I was rereading some of his stories today, and it occurred to me just how vivid they are… I can SEE the cops – whom everyone knew by name, imagine that – patrolling the sidewalks, keeping the town “safe from jerks and punks”. I can HEAR the neighbors cheering in unison for each homecoming veteran, and for every well-played baseball match. I can TASTE and SMELL that famously delicious and infamously stolen lemon meringue pie. I can TOUCH… well, for one, “the first low roof on a town building or unused garage” under my shaky feet as I get ready to parachute off of it!!! Yup, that’s Mo. Always taking us right there into the action.

(Haha I sound like I am talking about a movie, don’t I? The Oscars are coming up soon afterall… and Mo’s stories rival the most "realistic" 3D blockbuster if you ask me!)

Mo McCooper
The Cops

From my earliest memories, there were cops around.  My dad’s older brother, Joe, was a township policeman as were Mr. Norton and  Mr. Tierney.  Their children were friends of ours.  Our town had it’s own police force who lived in the town.  Some of their kids went to school with some of us.

Sargeant Girvin was the head of the town police.  He knew every kid and would not  hesitate to holler at us or even chase us if we were where we shouldn’t be but we all liked him a lot and secretly called him “Charlie the Cop.”  He was ably assisted by Augie, Boots, Jake and George.  They all kept our town safe from jerks and punks. Officer Di Bonn, his wife and beautiful children had a lovely home on the street between my house and my Aunt Helen’s, where I hid between a tree and ate  a large lemon meringue pie meant for my family.  But that’s another story!

(Click Here to see Mo’s lemon meringue pie story. The title? "A Criminal Act")

Mo McCooper
The Baseball Fields

Our town seemed to have a baseball game in play every weekend.  Out first baseman, Buddy Walker, played in the Major Leagues during the war.  During WWII, an outfielder named Jerry McCarthy was brought up to the St Luis Browns in the American League.

Many of the churches had adult teams.  I was very proud of my dad and Uncle Tommy for playing on these very skilled teams.

When the men were playing they took up the space of a college team.  When we elementary school kids played, we could field three teams and often did.

At the end of WWII many of our citizens came home and the cheers arose again.

Mo McCooper

During WWII the news reels and some of the main pictures would show parachutes leaving airplanes and landing in trees and on the ground. When we left the movie house we would look for the first low roof on a town building or unused garage to become parachuter’s. Sounds of “Geronimo” filled the neighborhoods.

Mo McCooper
The City

When I could walk even a little bit, my Dad would take me all kinds of places to meet all kinds of people.  People who worked at auto factories, truck manufacturers, railroad car plants elected my Dad to represent them to the owners of the companies through managers and other non-union workers.

As soon as I went to school, I would add union comic strips and books to the Batman and Red Rider comics I could trade. Dad did not push the information, but it was an interesting part of my early education. 

There would always be a movie, circus, fair, sportsmen show, rodeo, auto show, or church fundraiser during that day.  I loved the city. 

Some of my mother’s aunts and uncles lived in West Philadelphia, where many white families had moved out to the suburbs.  It opened up a whole bunch of new kids to play tennis, baseball, touch football and games I forget.  Their families were wonderful.

My Dad’s brothers and sisters were in the northern districts of the city.  Grandpop bought some farmland in Bucks County on a beautiful creek, but he lost the property to prohibition.  More to follow…