One Compassionate Someone

A few weeks ago I went to a dinner and met Erin Rolandelli.

And, she impressed me and inspired me as much as anyone I’ve ever met.

Growing up as the baby of the family in Greensboro, Erin relished the opportunity to be the teacher when they played school.  Then her AP English teacher inspired her to pursue teaching as a career.In college, the students had to be placed in a classroom to observe and learn from seasoned vets.  She was given an ESL (English as a second language) class.

“And it was the best semester ever! I connected with the students out of empathy, by putting myself in their shoes, and for the first time being exposed to the question of, how are they surviving in a world that’s all in English? And, what are we actually doing to help them?”

After getting her master’s degree Erin spent two years in the classroom.window building room interior abandoned wood books house lamp classroom dirt dust vintage religious stairs interior design Holy Bible desk chapel floor mansion screenshot“It was gritty.  It was what I expected it to be, and not what I expected it to be, all at the same time.”

One thing that Erin didn’t expect was the federally mandated testing which took her out of the classroom for hours at a stretch to do individual assessments.  The lack of funding and available teachers left the classrooms without supervision and halted forward progress of the children for the duration of the testing.Erin wanted to keep her kids engaged and learning.  She was informed budget cuts in the coming year made any improvements impossible.

This led Erin to make the wrenching decision to leave the profession.  She needed to find another way to help children without the bureaucracy and its regulations that sometimes to her seemed more harmful than doing nothing at all.

Chais Beloso

One Compassion was founded by Reid and Jaclyn Smith.  Board member and acquaintance Chais Beloso thought Erin’s heart and abilities made a good fit with the group and brought her on.

The idea became One Compassion, an organization in Clayton with a looser, less structured mission than many other institutions.  The brief comes down to an individual’s need and adjusts accordingly.One of the things they discovered to be a need and if fulfilled, a game changer for children was mentoring.  An adult that children can rely on to have their backs, be a support, but also have expectations for them and hold them accountable.

When each child has someone dedicated to them personally, many of the struggles they face can be identified early and solved or ameliorated.  Or at the least, someone is by their side and on their side.Right now, One Compassion is working to make sure every family in the county has a Christmas.  That parents have the joy of providing for their children.  What that may look like is individual to each family.  To determine needs, Erin works with them, her team, and their resources.  It could be funds for groceries, help with gifts, or even a repair to a broken window so the children can be nestled all snug in warm beds.

33 Chistmases

The completed Christmas project, ready for delivery.

I offer One Compassion, and Erin’s active, vital, personal compassion as an inspiration and if needed, a kick in the pants.

Look around.  You can see where your help is needed.  Whether it’s time, money, resources, or an invitation to dinner.  Whether it’s One Compassion, The Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, or the elderly woman at your church with no family and dwindling resources.

Erin desires to bring change to the world, and after spending time with her, I believe she will.  The least we can do is bring change to our world.sleigh st nickThanks for your time, and have a wonderful holiday season and a joyous and peaceful new year.

Contact Erin and One Compassion at


Book ‘em, Danno

About twenty Christmas’ ago I was working in a Waldenbooks at the mall.  A grandmother, her children, and her approximately ten-year-old grandchild came in told me they were looking for a book as a gift to a family friend.

I got a rough idea of what they needed and showed them the correct area.

Then I turned to the little girl and said to her, “Let me take you to the kids’ area, and you can look around while the grownups shop.”With a keening howl that sounded like it was violently flayed from her very soul, she responded, “But I haaaate booooks!”

In response to that, Gentle Reader; I had nothing.

At first, it was kind of funny. In retrospect it was one of the saddest moments I’ve ever experienced.  In this child’s entire life, no one, not family member nor teacher had helped her discover how magical books could be.

With a book, a child will never lack for entertainment or friends.  They can learn in the least painful, most enjoyable way possible.  Reading grows imaginations and shrinks ignorance. I believe that not exposing a child to books and encouraging them to read is a form of child abuse.  It will handicap them for life.

If there’s a child in your life, buy them lots of books.  If you have funds but no children to buy for, donate books to homeless shelters, hospitals, or become Johnny Bookyseed and leave books in random places where children will find them.  Put a little post-it note on the cover telling kids that their found book now belongs to them.And, if children’s literature is terra incognita for you, I have some reading level-based suggestions.

Birth-3: Love You Forever by Robert Munsch and Sheila McGraw.  It is biologically impossible to read this book without choking up, so bring a hanky.

Wait! Maybe that’s why I love bears so much…

The Mitten by Jan Brett.  This was a favorite of mine as a child.

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

Early Readers: Dr. Seuss was the master of helping kids learn to read.  You can’t go wrong with anything by him.The Sesame Street Dictionary by Linda Heyward.  This is a terrific tool for learning to read.  All the words are charmingly illustrated.  Kids will spend hours teaching themselves to read by accident.

First chapter books: Billy and Blaze books by C.W. Anderson, stories of a boy and his horse.It’s crazy old school, but the Bobbsey Twins, by Laura Lee Hope.

Childhood of Famous Americans (COFA), from George Washington to Wilma Rudolph (various authors), reading one of these always made me want to know more.Experienced Child readers: The Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald: From the point of view of his little brother, the Brain’s an adolescent confidence man living in the late 1880’s.

For horse crazy kids, any book by Marguerite Henry.  Also, the My Friend Flicka trilogy by Mary O’Hara.

And Elizabeth Enright’s series about the Melendy family beginning with The Saturdays.The Betsy series, by Maud Hart Lovelace span all reading levels.  They start with Betsy as a very young girl told in a simple picture book, and progress in age and level until Betsy is a married woman.  She’s one of my most treasured childhood friends.A childhood deprived of books is a tragedy.  To help instill the love of the printed word is a huge, heroic act that will forever change a child’s life.To become a hero, Hercules had to kill a bunch of stuff, clean the stables of 1000 cows, and steal fashion accessories from an Amazonian princess.

Lucky you.

All you have to do is buy a book.Thanks for your time.

How To Tune A Fish

There are two animal riddles from childhood that I still remember.

“How do you get down from an elephant?”

“You don’t get down from an elephant, you get down from a duck.”

The other riddle is similar.

“How do you tune a fish?”“You tune a piano, you don’t tune a fish.”

Hey, I didn’t say they were terribly funny, I just said I remember them.

Oh, tuna fish.

My mom loves it, so it’s no exaggeration to say I’ve been eating it since before I was born.  I love, and have always loved tuna fish.  But I don’t like tuna.Okay, fess up.  Did you just hear the squeal of breaks in your head, or the screech of a needle being drug across an album?  What the what?  How is it that I love tuna fish, but have no love for tuna?

Easy.  Because it’s two different things.  Tuna is what they make into sushi or eat seared on the outside and extra rare on the inside.  This tuna has first names like ahi, skipjack, and bluefin.  It’s carefully filleted and can be found on the menus of expensive restaurants and runs from $25 to $45 and up. On the other hand, tuna fish has first names like Star-Kist, Bumble Bee, and Chicken of the Sea.  It’s processed in canneries near the docks, and can be purchased in those cans for 1-5$.

Growing up it was chunk light in oil.  Then we made the switch to water.  Sometimes, Mom would add hard-boiled eggs.  It’s tasty.  And, genius if you don’t have enough for either all by itself.  It also makes a terrific addition to old-fashioned macaroni salad.Occasionally as a child, I’d dine at a friend’s house and we’d eat tuna fish.  Every once in a while, it would be fancy; solid white albacore in water.  And once or twice, I’d hit the tuna fish trifecta: solid white albacore, in water, and with chopped white onion.  I love the crunch of the onion, with the tiny bite of heat and touch of sweet.

I decided when I grew up, stocked my own kitchen, and made my own sandwiches, it would always be the deluxe version, with onions, too.  And, that’s the way it’s been.

My current tuna of choice.

Years ago, I started adding toasted sesame seeds to the tuna fish.  It brings a load of minerals to the party, as well as B vitamins and iron.  Plus, it adds flavor, texture, and fiber.

I started keeping flax seeds and sunflower seeds in the house.  About 6 months ago, I started adding both.  It’s awesome, no joke.  Sure, it ups the nutrition which is great, but it’s the flavor/texture component it gives to the tuna that’s got me hooked.  Try it and see.One of my favorite sandwiches starts with tuna fish.  It’s a little “unique”, but if you put aside your preconceived tuna fish notions and are open to the unusual, I think you’ll like it.

I don’t make it often, so I make sure all the ingredients are the best I can find and afford.  On the freshest of sourdough, I pile on my tarted-up tuna fish.  Then I lay strips of the crispiest bacon on top, and drop on a handful of pea shoots, alfalfa sprouts, or broccoli microgreens.  On the other slice of bread I schmear 3 or 4 tablespoons of whipped cream cheese, then season and devour.    And that creamy white spread from Philly is the only type cheese allowable.  It may come from a can, but it’s still fish, y’all.  And I may live in North Carolina, but I’m still part Italian, youse guys.Thanks for your time.

Them’s Fightin’ Words

In the henhouse of tough old birds, my grandmother was the dry, stringy chicken Scarlet and company dined on at Miss Pittypat’s house in Gone With The Wind.

Her name was Geraldine, and she was so formidable she could have beaten Flip Wilson’s alter ego Geraldine in arm wrestling or shot putting, or pulling an airplane with one’s teeth.

And she was scary.

She was tall and thin, and for most of her life wore a tight bun on her head, from which no hair ever dared escape.  She’d been a school teacher but had the demeanor of the most crotchety, strictest librarian.  She had five children and developed a thermonuclear mom-eye with a deadly laser component.She also had a spine-chilling collection of threats and reprimands that were as frightening as they were creative.

My father, who is the world’s sweetest, most tender-hearted man, utilizes a selection of her phrases, such as:

“You’re as full of ‘stuff’ as a Christmas turkey.”

“I know you’re sorry, now apologize.”

And our favorite, and the most colorful of all: “I’m going to rip off your arm, and beat you to death with a bloody stump.”

Please understand, my dad used these originally for shock value, but they’ve become family inside-jokes.  No children were ever harmed in the usage of these epithets.I asked Dad if there were any that Granny used on him and his siblings, that he didn’t employ.  He told me one, “If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about.”

And I’ll bet she would have, too.

We’ve all heard this phrase, and it’s always struck a discordant note in my ear.  It is completely illogical; the fact that one is crying means that they already possess the catalyst for tears—nothing more is necessary.  But it’s also very unsympathetic, and pretty darn cold; especially for a mother.

Like I said, Granny was a tough old bird. And because the nut doesn’t fall too far from the tree, I have come up with my own phrase that I use when feigning outrage with my own little nut, The Kid.  And a couple I keep in reserve.

Again, these are one-liners and not threats.  The cost of doing business when your mom is a peddler of homemade comedy.

There’s a classic line I’ve been using since I judged my offspring old enough to understand that while Mommy is kinda loony, she ain’t violent: Give me your cell phone, and show me how to use it…I’m calling the adoption bus to come make a pickup! Never having owned or operated a cell makes my threat something less than viable.

The next one has never actually been used on a real human.  I developed it one night when a young man driving by let loose with a particularly hurtful catcall.  And right on schedule, fifteen minutes after the event this menacing little line popped into my head: How’d you like to eat your Thanksgiving dinner through a straw?Intimidating, no?

The last one has never been used on a human either.  It was the result of chasing our puppy Crowley, around the house after he absconded with some clean socks from the laundry basket.  I’m afraid that as a dog, he didn’t appreciate the humor or the danger in my statement, but it made me feel a lot better:

How’d you like a shiny new near-death experience?

Growing up there was no physical punishment in our house, but my folks were expert-level verbal disciplinarians.

My mom was in charge of volume, and my dad dealt in colorful comic relief.

Thanks for your time.