Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Check out our new look!

We are excited to announce some big changes for CJ's Thumbs Up Foundation. In April of this year, CJSTUF was selected as one of 12 Richmond area nonprofits to participate in the CreateAThon on Campus project. Each team of marketing and advertising students worked with representatives from the respective organizations to help develop marketing materials.  

At our quarterly board meeting on July 19th, the Board adopted the new logo and color scheme created by our CreateAThon team. We love it. We hope you do too.

The original CJ butterfly will still be around in various forms but look for changes in the coming months to our website as well as other marketing materials. You can see some of the immediate changes on our Facebook page! (Are you a fan already?)  

This also means that all of our current t-shirts containing our old logo have now become limited edition collector's items! Get 'em while they last.

Stay tuned for more announcements with our August newsletter (coming soon!)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sacred Places and Bourbon

We all have our sacred places.

In what has become something of a weekly ritual, I am sitting at TaZa Coffee Shop in Westover Hills after my church choir gig doing my best job of NOT working on what I was originally supposed to be doing and basking in the glow of serendipity. I feel very comfortable here and when I want to be alone and/or do some work (or write a blog post), this a good place.

I've often quoted (and mis-quoted) the line from Kung Fu when Caine says, "when a man finds his way, Heaven is gentle." (Here's the video. The quote is very near the end at 9:47 but the entire episode, even though it's edited, is a good watch) That's kind of been working on many levels for me lately. Along with all the darkness this month brings us, there has also been plenty of light and doorways leading me, seemingly, to where I'm supposed to go.

For example, as I settled in to my coffee and bagel here at TaZa, I noticed some people messing with the art on the walls and after the initial "STOP THIEF!" impulse passed, I realized they were the actual artists. Wasting no time, I obnoxiously jumped up to talk to them and see if we could get some pieces for the Art Auction on Sept. 30. They didn't bat an eyelash and they all agreed to figure out something to donate!

But what about the heading of this blog post? The concept of "Sacred Places" has been haunting me in both bright and dark ways recently. I love historic sites and being in the same place Patrick Henry spoke or performing in the same place someone like Jon Hendricks or Tony Bennett have performed really gets me "geeking." Same thing for places where I feel a connection because of Charlotte.

So it really should be no surprise that there are places that are important to me on a spiritual level and I feel pulled to them for one reason or another. One of the oldest places I feel that pull is my Grandma's (Gramsies) old house in Denver. I remember spending a huge amount of time running around that couple acres or so of land. I often thought to myself how happy I was just being there.

It was inconceivable to me that I would ever see the time when I wouldn't be able to go back. So when she sold it to the neighboring college and they knocked down the houses, my concept of reality was shaken to the core. I remember going back for the first time afterward and being very disturbed by what I saw.

We all have our sacred places.

Another is the short stretch of Lee Davis Rd in Mechanicsville which runs in front of the house where Charlotte used to go to Hanover Montessori School. She really started to shine there and it's that crowd of her friends and their families that became a cornerstone of our support "Network" after she was diagnosed. I often drive that stretch of road on my way way home from Romp n' Roll. It helps me feel the connection to her.

It's actually very difficult for me to drive that little bit of road but I've always thought it was ridiculous to avoid places or take unnecessary detours because of memories so my rebellious side sticks my tongue out and goes that route anyway.

Of course, aren't I altering my path because of memories already? Silly boy.

Speaking of Romp n' Roll...One of the places I feel closest to Charlotte is where the Virginia Center Marketplace store was located. For me, her spirit permeates the entire area from Target ("There's ALWAYS something to buy at Target!") to Chick-fil-a and everywhere in between. The old Romp n' Roll location, which is now an Original Mattress Store, still has her energy imprinted there. She was our official greeter and many times, the first person some of our oldest customers met was Charlotte. I pop my head in there sometimes just to be there. I think I'm starting to freak out the employees a little.

So a mattress store is now one of my sacred places. Go figure.

Then there's COSTCO. Another oft quoted conversation is: Me: "Charlotte, what do we get at COSTCO?"
Charlotte: "Pizza and ice cream!"

Yep, it was one of "our places." Charlotte and I would shop there and sometimes she would push the cart from way down below. I can still vividly see that tiny little kid trying to push when the cart was full of stuff. We would usually get pizza or ice cream while we were there (sometimes both; sometimes a hot dog) and I always remember being so worried about her falling off the bench. It was my little bit of obsessive parenting.

I took her there several times after we had started the journey and she was always the absolute best kid at those times. I had more than one person make comments to me about how obvious it was that there was a strong bond between us. I live for those memories.

COSTCO definitely has "sacred place" status.

I go there these days as much to "commune" with Charlotte as to shop for stuff. Yesterday, the concept of that really hit me as Rachel and I were there together. It was really crowded and it seemed most of the people there had become partially unhinged for some reason. I might have felt very angry that people were acting as stupidly as they were but for the fact that I was thinking about Charlotte a lot which makes most situations better.

We did NOT get pizza or ice cream this time but that's ok. It still served its "sacred place" purpose.

Then, a little later, a chance encounter with a fellow Cubs fan at Martin's finished the job of renewing my piece of mind. At least for a little while. Martin's is not a sacred place but that old man who noticed my Cubs hat made it move a little higher on the list.

Last but not least, as I was singing at my choir job today, Pastor Donna's message was about "Sacred Places." I kid you not. My highest compliment to any priest, pastor, guru, therapist, imam, qoph, monk, or any other person who claims religious leadership is that they make me think. Ed did that at St. James The Less as did Kent at Trinity in Fredericksburg. So did that Buddhist monk on the airplane so many years ago. Donna sure did that to me this morning.

Those doors keep opening. I'm probably rationalizing on a massive level but I'm going to keep going with it.

Now for the "Bourbon" part:

Let me go back a few weeks to a link sent to me by one of our many amazing supporters (my brother, Vance, in fact) which announced a giveaway by bourbon maker, Buffalo Trace. They had produced 174 bottles of top-shelf straight Kentucky bourbon from what they called the "Millennium Barrel" and were allowing non-profit organizations the opportunity receive one bottle each for fundraising purposes. These gift boxes will probably be valued at over a hundred dollars if not many hundreds of dollars.

I was a little leery at first about using something alcoholic to fund raise for a children's based organization but given the unique nature of the bottle, I got over it pretty quickly, especially after tasting it at our board night out at Lemaire. (PS There are still two Mondays in July remaining to benefit CJSTUF if you need a great excuse for a fabulous meal.)

I went ahead an submitted our application with the thought that we might receive it in time for our Art Auction. It's not "art," per se, but it's a very high-quality item and our event will be a good venue for a special item like this; very adult (which is another reason we don't have a problem with it).

After a few days, I received an email from Buffalo Trace letting me know they were reviewing our application but in the meantime, I might be interested in another opportunity being offered by another brand under their umbrella, Eagle Rare. They also make and sell high quality bourbon but this time, the idea was to have people submit stories of friends, family, etc...who live "Rare Lives." The grand prize winners will win $20,000 to be donated to the non-profit of their choice and several runners up will have $2,000 donated. The qualities they listed as those exhibited by deserving nominees are courage, leadership, survival, devotion, character, and heroism.

So I nominated Rachel. I mean, duh!

The thing is, I'm not known for being the most thorough reader of things the first time through so I didn't catch the part about how winners will be decided by people voting at the Eagle Rare website. I thought there would be a panel of judges or something or I might not have done it. We had sort of sworn off voting contests after the Kindermusic Grant fiasco (Pepsi is sending me regular emails inviting me back to the new-and-improved Pepsi Refresh contest but I've been resisting) and even now, I'm a little gun shy about promoting the contest.

That was until I checked back on the Eagle Rare Life page a few days later and saw that Rachel had already received over 100 votes with very little promotion.

That convinced me that it was a good idea to continue. If Rachel (and in turn, CJSTUF) should win the $20,000, then CJ's Meal Fairies can really get off the ground, and even if she finishes as low as 7th, $2,000 is four (4) families helped.

As of 1:30 Sunday, we were already at 400 votes. Voting lasts until January 5, 2012 and people can vote once every day.

So in closing, I return to Kung Fu. Not with video of the deep quote of the day but of probably the worst sword fight ever choreographed for film. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

July 9, 2011

The roller coaster has been in high gear this week.

Can it really be Charlotte’s 6th Birthday? Can it really be a year and a half since she flew away? Yesterday, I was talking with one of our friends about it and she asked “Doesn’t it just seem…so…” and couldn’t finish the question because it’s such an unfathomable thing to contemplate.

I still see her everywhere and think about her all the time. One weird thing is that I haven’t dreamed about her much lately. In fact, the last dream I had about Charlotte was where I was a Dr. looking through several charts and I realized one was hers. I never actually saw her but she was there somewhere.

A common fear that grieving parents have is that they will forget how their child smelled or what they looked like. I have all that but my biggest fear is not remembering her voice and laugh. For a while now, I could feel that slipping away from me and it was adding to the stress and down side of what has become a pretty violent roller coasted ride. Fortunately, not long ago, and for no reason that I can comprehend, it all came flooding back to me. Her laugh, her crying, that sweet little voice telling me about a book or movie…clear as a bell in my head. We have a good amount of recordings of her so her voice will always be around but I like remembering her actually saying these things.

I’ll be heading down to Ashland Coffee and Tea a little later to have what I had hoped would always be our traditional birthday chocolate shake. Susan Greenbaum is performing tonight. I hope you do something like that today to help you remember my amazing little baby girl. Rachel posted 6 things you can do if you need inspiration. I especially like the “Read A Book” idea.

Another wonderful event today is the celebration of my brother and sister-in-law, Vance and Lynne’s zillionth wedding anniversary (it’s actually on the 4th). They are having a big blowout in Denver and we wish them the absolute best. I guess there will be about 100 people there including their two totally awesome kids, Joefish and C-Weed! Congrats Bro!

By the way, did we mention that my brother-in law, Mark, is going to have a kidney transplant in August and Vance is his donor?!? I have such an awesome family!

We have become day sponsors on Public Radio WCVE 88.9fm for today and have told them to plan on us continuing to do so on an annual basis. It comes with several announcements throughout the day so if you listen, either on-air or via the internet, you might hear it. I just did.

The bus is heavy on us today but we know we are loved and supported. Thank you all.

Happy Birthday, Monkey Butt. We love you and miss you very much

Friday, July 8, 2011

Six Ways to Honor Charlotte

Hello friends! First of all, for those of us who follow this blog, we apologize for the relative lack of updates. We continue to update our Facebook page and if you have not yet subscribed to our monthly newsletter, I encourage you to sign up. It's probably the best way to stay "in the loop". 

Now that the business stuff is out of the way, let's talk about the calendar. Tomorrow, July 9th, would have been Charlotte's 6th birthday. Understandably, it's been a difficult few weeks as we have anticipated the arrival of this day. Roger is going to post some of his thoughts here tomorrow and I will be sharing more on my personal blog in the days to come. 

For now, I would like to say Thank You for the support that you continue to provide to Roger and myself. Many of you have asked how we plan to honor Charlotte's birthday and how you can help. To that end, I offer you Six Ways to Honor Charlotte.  (special thanks to Chaplain  Sallye at Noah's Children for the inspiration)

  1. Read a book. Charlotte loved to read and look at books from an early age. While some children fall asleep with a bed full of stuffed animals, Charlotte would sleep in a bed full of books. 
  2. Wear pink or purple. Or both. Capture your inner princess, even if it's only for a day. 
  3. Drink a glass of chocolate milk. Charlotte liked to say "Chocolate makes everything better."  We agree. 
  4. Watch one of Charlotte's favorite movies. The movies that never left the queue included Finding Nemo, Mary Poppins, The Little Mermaid, and Frosty The Snowman. I can't think of a better thing to do in the heat of summer than think cool thoughts with Frosty.
  5. Make a meal for a family in need. When Charlotte was sick, we were blessed with many friends and neighbors who cared for us by supplying an extra meal (or two). It's a special gesture that means so much to a family in crisis.
  6. Help us honor Charlotte's memory with a donation to CJSTUF. Every little bit helps. If each of our 2800 (or so) Facebook fans donated only $6 in honor of CJ's birthday, we would be able to provide 33 $500 financial assistance grants to families in need. 
Thank you, Charlotte, for blessing us with your time here on Earth. 
We miss you. Every day.