30 June 2013

Getting Along with Ourselves (Audio)

ITP Episode #2: Welcome to Inside the Pomegranate where Anush Avejic uses applied Christianity to take a look at daily life through personal reflection.  Whether it’s reaching out to the homeless, gardening, parenting, surviving cancer, or wellness it’s all here - Inside the Pomegranate!
This is the audio version of Getting Along with Ourselves.
On this weeks episode:  Victims or successes?  Lets take a look at how these perceptions of ourselves effect the way we react toward one another.
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for epostle.net
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Getting Along with Ourselves

This week, our In His Shoes homeless outreach prepared our monthly dinner for the residents of Ascencia, Glendale's homeless shelter. We are in our 6th year serving the homeless on Skid Row and we recently partnered with Ascencia and will be providing a homecooked meal to the residents there on a monthly basis.  There are families that live there,including young children.  We operate solely on donations, and our crew gets to work in the kitchen and we just have a great time, cooking, visiting and feeding the people.  There's something so fulfilling about feeding people, isn't there?  Especially when those people are truly hungry.  It's a blessing for all of us  to be part of this ministry.  All those that live there are always  so grateful.  They are sweet to us.  And there are also people that are not residents who stop by for services as well.   This time around, one of those people was a young mother with 6 children who was talking to the director.   While she was talking to him,  her children were playing in the play area at the shelter, completely comfortable with their surroundings. You could tell they were familiar with the shelter.  I asked if they'd like to stay for dinner, to which the kids all nodded an excited YES!  But mom said they needed to go, but would take it with them if possible.  We packed up food for the family, poured juice for the kids and off they  went.  And this got me to thinking about this young family.  What was their homelife like?  Did they have a home? How will their childhood impact their lives?  Will they view people's kindness toward them in a positive way? or will they grow up with poverty in their being feeling like charity cases.   Lots of questions.  And so that's kind of what my pomegranate seed is about today:  Things that impact our lives,  Bullying.  Ethnic identity.  Entitlement.   Wow...how did I get here from there?  Well, here it is:

Children can be cruel, and so where does that come from?  I know we're not born with it.  And I'm not even sure that it comes from the home, because although that is a factor, there are also outside influences like friends (and their parents), TV, social media, etc.

We've heard a lot about bullying these past several years as YouTube videos have popped up telling the world the stories of  its victims.  Bullying isn't something new though.  It was around back when I was a kid too.  And I'm pretty sure it hurt just as much back then as it does today.  The difference is that we didn't think of doing anything about it, other than going to our parents who would calm us down with the "Don't pay attention to them.  They're just jealous," speech, right?  You know the one.  (Do you use that on your kids??  I know you do, right?)  : )

Kids are usually picked on for being different.  Fat, skinny, nerdy, gay, short, tall, smart, not so smart, it doesn't matter at all.  It's these little differences that make a HUGE difference not only in the child's day-to-day, but in their lives as well.   All the bully needs is a following - people who want to get in with them so they can avoid being the brunt of the bullying - and a subject.

My two nieces - proud hyes!
But how about when you're picked on for being the same?  Or at least trying to be the same?  not one ethnicity against the other, but against our own ethnic group - Armenians. Here's what I'm getting at:  I have a nine-year-old niece who wants more than anything to embrace her Armenian culture.  She is sensitive and sweet, cute, smart, funny, you get the idea. (Can you tell I love her to bits?)  Her problem?  She doesn't look Armenian, and she doesn't have an IAN on the end of her name. My brother-in-law is not Armenian.  Blonde hair, blue eyes and freckles, my niece is every bit as Armenian as her tormentors.  Despite the fact that she tells them she is Armenian, offers up proof by throwing out what Armenian words or facts she knows, this group of Armenian girls denies her her ethnicity.  They refuse to acknowledge her.  She has asked my sister to go to her school and tell the kids that she is Armenian!  And my sister has spoken to them all, yet just to be mean, they continue.  I've asked my niece, why not play with the other kids?  I'm sure there are others in your class who aren't Armenian?  Well, that's true, she could...but it's important to her to be a part of the Armenian group because this is what is identifies with.

My daughter had a similar experience when she was in high school.  She didn't have the requisite IAN or YAN attached to her name either.  Yet she too is proud of her Armenianness.  She actually knew more about our people than her bullies who were all immigrants to this country from the homeland.  She knew about our Orthodox Christian faith and our history, whereas her bullies were Armenian by name, clothing, cars and cologne only. They would tell her she wasn't Armenian because her father wasn't.  (Excuse me?  What about her mama!?)

And on a different level, I too have experience this as well.  I used to teach English at a private Armenian school.  I've taught kindergarteners up to 8th graders (and dealt with all their parents).  I speak Armenian and I DO have the requisite IAN.   On more than one occasion, I've been asked if I'm from Bierut because of my dialect.
"No," I say.  "I'm born here."
"Here is where?" they ask.
"Here.  America."
"Oh, well.  You're not really Armenian then, " they joke...but you can tell what's behind that little joke.  Seriously!  So hello?  If I were from Beirut, would THAT suddenly verify that I'm Armenian?  Wouldn't that make me Lebanese?  Get a clue people!  Armenianness is not in the name, it's in the heart and the soul.

So why are we like this?  And where did this all come from?  As an ethnic group, we are so small as it is, shouldn't we be embracing one another and holding on to what we have rather than excluding, bullying, and trying to categorize one another?  Does it matter if you're an America-hye, Barska-hye, Bolsa-hye, Iraqa-hye, Beirutahye?  Shouldn't a hye be a hye?
I know the deep-lying factor is the genocide, right?   But what makes us think that we are any better than anyone else? Or that rules apply to everyone else except us.  Is it the bully thing -  trying to pump oneself up by bringing someone else down?  I'm not so sure. And forgive me -- I happen to live in an area with an abundance of Armenians so understand where I'm coming from.  I'm not trying to generalize but making an observation of what's it's like in my area.    And i do love my people.  But why can't we see that we're all part of a bigger picture?  Well, it did happen, the other night, we had an opportunity to ALL be together. All kinds of hyes and odars together in one place just enjoying the evening and having a great time.  Believe it?.  The plot thickens!  Here's what happened;

Have you all heard of the movie, "Lost and Found in Armenia" directed by Gor Kirakosian?  We live not far from Glendale, and when this movie first came out, my husband and I went to see it at the theater.  Not a small theater, mind you.  The regular feature film theater.  It's a funny film starring Jamie Kennedy and a whole wonderful cast of characters.  A cute story and very funny.  And one of the best parts?  Watching the credits roll at the end of the movie, seeing all the Armenian names.  My husband and I play a game during the credits called Serbs vs. Armenians.  I look for the IAN/YAN endings, and he looks for the IC's.  We try to see which one of our peeps have the most representation in the film.  He didn't stand a chance on this film! (which I loved!) Well anyway... I liked the movie so much I thought it would be great to bring my mom to see it.  After two attempts of sold out tickets, we finally got seats.  With school out my sister and nieces came along too and we had a girls night out.  The lines to go into that movie were long!  Over 100 feet.  Even though it was a Monday night, the theater was packed.  I don't know what it was about that evening but it was great.  We were among other Armenians that we didn't know...and they weren't staring us down in that way that only they can do!  Everyone was so excited, and happy...We were all there to support this film. It didn't matter whether the director was from Armenia, Beirut or Iraq.  The film was by an Armenian and we were proud.  One non-Armenian woman came up to me while I was in line asking what the line up was for.  I told her about the movie, which is an independent film.  She asked, "And THIS line is for that movie???"  I told her we were proud, and most all of us in the line were there to support the film.  I told her she should get a ticket and see it too.

My nieces were in the moment as well, feeling like part of the crowd.  We got into the theater, got situated, the movie started and there we were, all together, in the dark, one people.  Laughing.  Having fun.  I loved hearing my neices' laughter t as they got the jokes, as they saw the quirky nature of their people on the screen.  The Armenian scenery was beautiful.  There in the dark the whole audience was one.  United by this fun movie and a pride in belonging to one another.  The movie ended, the lights went up.  As we left the theater we passed the new line up of people waiting to see the next showing. And I think that too lead to the pride of the evening.  Seeing that a movie by one of our own was a success.  Young and old, new to this country and not so new..they were all lined up.  I think the feeling of the evening had to do with that success.  That night, as a people, WE were a success!   As we do all too often, as a people, we come together when things aren't going well...to protest, or to commemorate the genocide.  Victims.  But maybe the act of gathering together to claim a part of this film as our own changed something inside us...and for one evening, we were all one.  And it was so good!!  I think that's what we need more of.  To celebrate our Armenianness...our oneness with one another through our SUCCESSES!

So what are your thoughts on this?  I'd love to hear from you.  Please leave your comments here on the blog.

Want to hear the audio version of this piece....and some other pomegranatey stuff?  Well, I've got my own podcast now called Inside the Pomegranate!  I've joined the ePostal family of podcasts.  You can subscribe by following the link on my main blog page, or visiting www.epostle.net.  I'm on iTunes as well.  So subscribe! And get Inside the Pomegranate sent to your mailbox!!

21 June 2013

Remembering Dad (Audio)

Inside the Pomegranate - Podcast episode #1
This is an audio version of Remembering Dad.  Look for "Inside the Pomegranate" podcast coming to Blubrry and iTunes very soon!

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20 June 2013

Remembering Dad

My dad and my daughter Ani - Christmas 1987
His grandchildren were his pride and joy!
This past Sunday was Father's Day here in the States.  My father passed away over 20 years ago. When you have your own children you still feel the loss of your father on this day but because you are busy creating Father's day for your own family, those memories end up getting set aside.  My children are grown now and are now including us in their own celebrations.  As I saw all the posts on Facebook of friends with their fathers, it made me really miss my own father.  And it gave me time to reflect on some of my memories of him and how much he influenced who I am today.
So I put together some things that I learned over the years....from being my father's daughter:

1.  You never stop learning:  My dad taught us that the sky's the limit when it came to learning.  He was a true believer in the school of life, and he taught us - his four children - that the day we stop learning is the day you die.  He had a natural curiosity.  He loved to read.  He knew a lot about all sorts of things.  We could ask him any question and he'd know the answer...OR, if he didn't, he'd help us find the answer.  We'd take trips as a family to the library every two weeks, each of us with our own library card.  We'd check out the maximum 10 books and bring them home.  We learned all about everything...and we learned the importance of reading.  He was always trying new projects.  One year my mom bought him a book about oriental rugs and how they were loomed.  The next thing I knew he had me in the car and we were driving across town for the right wool for his project - weaving mini sample rugs on a frame loom he built. He learned all about natural dying of the wool, knotting techniques, even about carding wool and making your own yarn.  Like I said, he was naturally curious.

When I was about 18,  I saw an article in a magazine about stained glass windows.  I thought, how cool would that be...to be able to cut glass and make something lasting with transparent color.  Right off he encouraged me to try to learn the craft.  The very next day we went and bought tools.  He encouraged me to sign up for a class.  He was always pro-education.  Whatever you learned was to your advantage.  There was no "useless information."  Eventually, I loved working in stained glass so much that I started my own business for while designing and making windows.  All because of that magazine and my father.

2.  Play a musical instrument!  My father  was incredibly musical, and he made sure to pass this love of music on to his children.  We all had to pick an instrument that we wanted to play. He sent us off to music lessons when we were young.  It wasn't a luxury.  It was a necessity.  Music was very important.  It was not only an escape but a discipline.  He himself  was a fantastic violinist, self taught. He was a pharmacist by trade and while in pharmacy school, he helped pay for his college by working as a gypsy violinist at a restaurant.  He'd wear a scarf, a clip on hoop earring, and his shalvar pants from his armenian dance costume.  And he'd set out to play dinner music on his violin.   My mom told me he was quite the romantic. But his musical talent  didn't stop at the violin. He played the mandolin, the oud, and the duduk as well.

He was my duet partner. We were always working on perfecting Bach's double violin concerto in Db minor- dad on violin and me on the flute. Measure by measure we'd go through the runs and the timing.  I'd get so frustrated because there was definitely a difference between blowing and bowing!  And though his fingers could fly over the strings of his violin, I had a whole different sequence of breatheing and blowing to deal with on the flute.   We played casuals for events around town - parties, anniversaries.  We even worked one summer together at Ports o'Call in San Pedro, a little touristy fisherman's village.  The management hired us as strolling musicians to add a little local color.  Great memories.

3.  Be kind to the homeless; tip street musicians; and buy lemonade from lemonade stands!:  I had painted this on the wall of my kitchen in my old home because I think this really gave me a sense of who my father was.  He was a softy.  Kind and compassionate.  He is the reason that I am involved in our homeless ministry.  Because as a child we were told to be kind to the homeless.  To care for them...provide for them.  On holidays we would deliver food to our community's homeless...on bus benches and behind stores.  My father taught me that the homeless are "just people, like you and me," and that we should be kind to them because other's aren't. My mom reminded me of the time we had all gone to the Canter's, a local deli for dinner.  We had just ordered our dinner when a homeless man walked in and asked if he could please buy a cup of coffee.  The management refused to serve him.  My father was insensed!  He ordered us all to get up.  He refused to eat there if they wouldn't serve the man...and we never stepped foot in there after that.  At the time, I remember how embarassed I felt because we had made a scene.  Now, I feel so proud that we took a stand and more so of the valuable lesson he action held.

On tipping street musicians:  Because  my father had been a struggling  musician, we would help them as well.  Good or bad...if they were playing on the street, he would always slip us money to put in their open case.  He said they bring music to the world and they're playing on the street because they want to share that joy.  We should appreciate them for what they do!

And lemonade?  Who doesn't love lemonade...and who doesn't love children? We would pull over for lemonade stands to encourage the children that were selling.  Not only would my dad buy the lemonade, but he would slurp it down, making the kids giggle, and he'd smile and thank the kids,  and tell them it was really the best lemonade he had ever had in his life.  He was all about making people feel good.

4.  The kitchen is the soul of the house:  I've told you about dad's violin playing.  He would lose himself in his music.  And his favorite room to do this in?  The kitchen.  In fact he would do almost everything in the kitchen including read, weave, and of course, play violin.  This would drive mom crazy, because he would plant himself right in the center and play one of his concerti.  She be trying to cook dinner, or deal with one of us and there he'd play.  He loved the kitchen and explained it this way.  The kitchen is the soul of the house.  It's where we gather to eat, to pray around the table.  It's a family place.  What better place could there be to spend your time at home?  We were lucky.  We lived in a large California craftsman home that had a square kitchen layout.  Eventually, my parents moved and the new house had a much smaller kitchen, the shape of which was long and narrow. One of my favorite photos is one of my dad holding my daughter Ani on his lap.  She was probably all of 2 or 3 and by then .  So in the picture, there's dad sitting on a chair smack in the middle of the narrow kitchen - not at the table or at the counter.  Nope, right in the middle, with his granddaughter on his lap...reading her her favorite story.

And finally, 5.  Don't be satisfied with a "C"   This was an important one.  We could never be happy with getting C's on our report cards.  A "C" meant you were "Satisfactory".  And while that was okay for some, it was not good enough for my dad.  Getting a C meant that you weren't applying yourself.  That you were just "okay".  As a kid I only applied this to my grades, but as I grew older I realized there was a greater message he was getting across.  Don't be okay with just being okay.  Be the best you can be...do the best you can do.  Try to do better. Always ask yourself, "Is that the best I can do."  The idea was not to be afraid to be "uncomfortable" in your quest to do better.  Push yourself.  Apply yourself.

There are so many other things I can tell you about my dad.  He was really an incredible person and a loving father.  When he passed away at age 58, the loss was huge...but I felt an even deeper loss for my children who would grow up not knowing his love, his wit and not being able to experience is beautiful smile and his strong hugs.  He taught me so much about life, about myself, and the older I get, the more I find that I have some of his same quirks.  Like leaving my shoes laying around the house, playing my flute in the kitchen, whistling through my teeth.  I can't pass a street musician without leaving a tip.  I can't pass a homeless person without saying hello, and I always stop to buy lemonade.

His simple lessons are instilled in all of us kids, and in my mom as well.  I'll close with a cute little story, because today would have been my parents 58th anniversary.  Several years ago, on my parents anniversary, my mom stopped at the cemetary to put flowers on dad's grave.  As she pulled up, she noticed the sprinklers were on.  She sat in the car and after waiting a long time decided that maybe she would just say her prayer in the car, leave the flowers at the curb, and come back another time.  As she was saying her prayer, she heard my father's voice.  "Is that the best you can do, Anne?"  She had to smile.  And she knew what she had to do.  She got out of the car, with the flowers, walked across the grass getting soaked by the sprinklers to go pay dad a visit.  And as she stood there all wet, she just knew inside, that my dad was looking down, smiling!

So Happy Father's day to all of you Dad's out there...and all of you single mom's that fill dad's shoes too!

13 June 2013

Not All Who Wander are Lost

If you follow my other blog - The Journey of the Pudgy Pomegranate - you know that I'm on a quest to get healthy by losing weight, incorporating exercise into my daily routine, and eating clean.  I'm trying to develop new habits, and  one of the things that I've gotten in the habit of doing, is walking on my lunch hour 3-4 times a week.  I work in Downtown Los Angeles where traffic signals are abided by (much to the chagrin of my husband), and when you have a lunch hour, you don't want to spend any more time than necessary waiting for the red light to change to green.  So a few months ago, my friend and I invented what we call "The Green Light Walk".  Here's how it works.  You start walking at a fast pace moving around people that are just strolling....and when you come to the corner, you go wherever the green light is.  In other words, you don't stop.  If the signal is red one way, turn and go toward the green.  It's that easy.  And let me tell you, it takes you way out of your way and all over the city.

You may make turns...or go straight for a half a mile hitting every green; and sometimes you end up going in a circle.  You see neighborhoods and people that you normally wouldn't see (or maybe wouldn't want to see).  You look at buildings and architecture - old and new.  You discover "districts".  Like the fashion district, the financial district, the old theater district, the garment district.  Rich, homeless, all ethnic diversities, legal and illegal, young, old, we see it all on the green light walk.  When we've strayed too far and our lunch hour is coming to a close, we do have to head back to the office.  But on average, we walk 3 to 3-and-a-half miles at a time.  And while we're doing it, we use a smart phone app called, "Charity Miles" which acts as a pedometer and donates meals or funds to the charity of your choice for free.  All you have to do is walk (run or bike) and push start before you begin.  So our lunch walk serves two purposes:  exercise and donating to charity.  It's a win:win.

So on today's walk I started thinking about the similarities between life and the green light walk.  My father always taught us that the only one that stops you is yourself.  And this is so true when we're out walking. Like the red light, when we come upon an obstacle in our lives, it's really up to us how we're going to receive it, isn't it?  We can stop and wait for things to change before we pick up and go again, or we can take a different route.  Doing so isn't always the safest thing to do, nor is it the most direct way to get to where we're going, but it's filled with new adventures, new things to see and new people to interact with.  While you're on your journey, it's always more satisfying when you are able to help those in need along the way, and that adds a different purpose to the journey.  Now you're not just wandering, but you're wandering with purpose.  : )  What's that line from Tolkein's poem?   "Not all who wander are lost." And we're definitely not that.  In fact, the opposite is true.  The more we walk, the more we find ourselves.  Especially when we're walking alone.  Walking alone affords us the quiet time we need to hear our inner self, to pray, and to quiet the mind, but that's a whole different Oprah.

Whether you're choosing to share life's journey with a friend or taking it solo, make sure to give yourself permission to just WANDER a bit, see (and feel)  something new, take off the blinders and look around.  Don't be in so much of a rush that you forget to look around and help those around you who may have lost their way.  Remember, like the Green Light Walk, life is not so much about the destination but about the journey!

If you're interested in following The Journey of the Pudgy Pomegranate, you can find that blog at www.pudgypomegranate.blogspot.com


If you'd like to hear an audio version of this blog, please check out the June 13 episode of the Next Step with Fr. Vazken available on epostle.net 

06 June 2013

A Look Inside: What's Hair Got to Do with It?

II'll let you in on something personal.  Ready?  I struggle with my appearance.  And I have struggled with it my whole life.  As a kid, a teen, a young woman, a mom...and even now.  And this past week it really got the best of me, and I'm not too happy with myself.  So I thought I'd go public and tell you about it. The truth about me is that I'm never happy with my appearance and myself.  Can you relate?

My insecurity is something I am trying to work on, and I've been really giving it a lot of thought.  Last week I wrote about how "those who get me, get me; and those who don't, don't."  But I am feeling somewhat hypocritical this week, because somedays, "I" don't get me. In my head, I know that I'm being super critical and frankly...stupid.

So here's what happened.  After about a year of trying to grow out my hair, I decided on Saturday that I was ready for a change, and that I would cut my hair short.  If you know me, you know that these kinds of life-altering decisions are always done spur of the moment and without planning.   So off I went to my friend's salon....showed her a photo of what I was thinking would work with my hair.  She agreed, and the next thing you knew, I was sitting in the chair...and my hair was laying in piles on the floor.   And as the hair on my head dried and started curling up, I realized that it was waayyyy shorter than I was hoping it would be.  And that's when the big freak out started happening.  I started feeling like an old lady.  I'm not talking about our medz mairigs who twisted their long hair into buns at the nape of their necks and secured them with hair pins. I'm talking about the ones that cut their hair short because it's "easier to take care of".  The helmut heads.  With the purple cotton candy hair.

Okay, the truth of the matter is that I DID get it cut so it would be easier to deal with. Does this make me old?  (Yes?!..Say it ain't so!  Okay not quite old but getting there....but slowly)  But once it was cut and on the floor, it sunk in.  There's nothing  I can do when my hair is "too short" except wait for it to grow out.  And I can mope.  And obsess.  And worry, and overthink! It all  kind of hit me on Sunday morning when I was getting ready for church.  Just out of the shower, I had to deal with my new do and learn what to do with it (which is actually ...nothing because it does it's own thing now)  I actually started dreading going to church because I didn't want to deal with people's reactions and comments. And their stares.  And this bothered me because I love going to our church.
During the reading of the confession, it all fit together.  It's not only about self-esteem issues with me. There other issues that go hand in hand withthe self esteem. 
                          Vanity,  and
                                         Selfishness to name a few.

Pride, envy and vanity go together and are pretty obvious in this case. But what about Selfishness...I don't think of myself as a selfish person...at least I hope I'm not.  Yet think about it this way.  Doesn't it seem silly to think that people have nothing better to do than to care about how my hair looks?  It does, right?  Looking at it in this way, it totally does.   The idea that someone else would or SHOULD care about something so trivial makes me seem that I've put myself in a position where people should care, right? Like I've elevated myself to something important, That's selfish and self-absorbed right?  Sheesh!

Is being introspective and critical about myself yet another way to bash myself further?  :)  I mean here I am trying to be tolerant of those around me, yet how tolerant am I of myself?  I love others.  Do I love myself enough to accept me as I am  -- as a creation of God?

Here's the truth: In reality I am blessed with wonderful family and friends that love me.  If my hair were long, buzzed, blue (and it has been that!) they would STILL love me. They loved me then, and they love me now.  And of course God loves me   So it's time to put the negativity aside and accept myself - as I am.  There's always room to work on change...and that's good.  But not when those negative feeling start making you less than you are meant to be. 

So what do you think?  And I know you're out there! Can any of you relate?  Do you have similar issues that you're dealing with or have already dealt with?  I'd love to hear from you!   In the meantime, let's go easy on ourselves...and have a pomegranate day - filled with hope, and ripe with possibilities. 

June 7, 2013 -  as a post script nearly a week after, I'd like to say that I LOVE my new haircut.  I've gotten used to it and love that I don't have to deal with it.  ; )   And it's not about being old, it's about not having the time to spend on it.  So it's perfect for me!

If you'd like to hear an audio version of this podcast, tune in to today's episode of "The Next Step with Fr. Vazken" on epostle.net