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The knights parading into the arena. Our knight, the Yellow Knight, didn't do so well and was defeated early on. (photo: Reed)

The day after my father’s birthday we took him up to Medieval Times at Arundel Mills mall in Hanover, MD.  It’s a unique place that feels like an 11th century dinner theatre with some carny overtones.  It’s cool to see a dozen horses or so galloping around inside of a mall.  Oh, and it’s a money-making machine!  From the time you arrive until you leave there are opportunities to buy things!

Ashanti has been working at Medieval Times for a couple of months. (photo: Reed)

Once seated in the dimly lit arena, we were greeted by Ashanti who explained that he would be taking care of us that evening.  I decided that he would be a good recipient of my $10.

I asked him what his official title was and he said he was a serf.  “What’s above a serf?” I asked him.  “Just about everything,” Ashanti told me disappearing to go and bring more food out.

He came back out with our entrees which were pretty hearty portions of chicken and ribs.  I asked him how he planned on using the $10.  The 19-year-old said he would probably put it toward the purchase of some video games.  “My favorite game used to be World of Warcraft…now I don’t know.  I guess I don’t really have one,” Ashanti told me.

Ashanti at work. (photo: Reed)

At one point in the show I noticed that Ashanti was down in the middle of the arena with the knights!  Actually if you could blow up that photo of the arena you would see him at the very back of the parade.  But his job isn’t all fun.  He told me, “Someone threw up on me once.”  There was a silence and we both just kind of looked at each other.  

All in all it was a fun “knight!”

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Lenora "Ann" Reed Sandridge 10/17/43-12/15/06

67 years ago today my mother was born in the small coal mining town of Richlands, Virginia.  She died 3 years and 307 days ago.  An extremely generous woman herself, she was a tremendous inspiration for the Year of Giving.  This entire journey is dedicated to her, but I want to take a special moment today to remember her and the joy that she added to so many peoples’ lives.  I love you Mom!

A shot of Jacy and friends through the window. (photo: Reed)

Two weeks ago I went to see Neil Simon’s California Suite at the Rockville Little Theatre.  I knew several people involved with the production so it was a lot of fun and they did a great job.  After the show my friend Pat who directed the first act invited me to join him and some other friends and cast members at Clyde’s Tower Oaks Lodge.  It was there that I gave my $10 to Jacy, a good friend of Pat and his wife Melanie.

Jacy donated his $10 to Silver Spring Stage. (photo: Reed)

Jacy, a married 34-year-old nonprofit attorney also has a passion for the arts.  He’s been involved with community theatre for the past seven years he tells me.  He mostly writes and directs shows but also can be seen on stage from time to time.  “I just finished my first gig as a producer,” he says.  “Not sure I’ll do that again though…it’s a lot of work and I didn’t enjoy it that much.”

He’s on the board at Silver Spring Stage and said that he planned on donating the $10 to the theatre company. 

Jacy is a huge Terps fan.  He graduated from the University of Maryland and admits that he is a die-hard fan.  When I told him about the Lend a Hand section he laughed and said, “Can you find someone who can fix the college games so that Maryland wins?”  He was joking but if I knew the right person I get the feeling he would be ok if I could make that happen!  Well, I don’t, so no luck Jacy.  I am going to see them play in a few weeks and although not as good as fixing the game I promise to cheer loudly…and it’s an away game so I will be taking some personal risk in doing so.

Jacy also follows pro football.  “I’m getting killed though in fantasy football!”  He looks down and shakes his head as he regrettably says “I drafted Larry Fitzgerald…he’s just not producing.”

This photo is a little out of focus but it's a good shot of Jacy. (photo: Reed)

Later he did come up with something for the Lend a Hand section.  He would like every single person reading the Year of Giving to go see a live theatre production this year.  I second that!

Oh, by the way, for those who have read all the blogs you might remember the Tower Oaks Lodge from Day 88 when I met Hans.  I asked for him but they said he had transferred to the Reston location.  I sent him an email earlier this week but haven’t heard back yet.  He was a good guy.

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Some of you might recall that two of my recipients are celebrating a very special day today.  October 16th is the anniversary of Bob (Day 251) and Michelle’s (Day 277) sobriety.  Bob has been sober 24 years and Michelle eight.  I am so proud of them both and am thankful to have met them through my Year of Giving!

A VW Beatle sits almost completely underwater as flood victims make their way through town by boat. (Photo: Alfredo Estrella, AFP)

Today I am going to tell you about a fascinating young woman.  But first let me give you a little background on the circumstances that I met Ximena.  In September parts of Mexico were devastated when torrential downpours caused disastrous flooding in the states of Oaxaca and Veracruz.  As you might know, I used to live in Mexico and have many friends there today.  Fortunately everyone I know is safe, however, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans were affected by the relentless waters.  In September a group here in DC put together a fundraiser to collect money to send to needy families in Mexico.  My neighbor Paulina, who is Mexican, told me about the event and I stopped by to donate some money.

The fundraiser was held at Lupe Cantina, 1214 18th Street, NW (photo: Reed)

In addition to my donation to the fundraiser, I made another “donation” of $10 to Ximena.  She is a performing artist who was preparing to sing that evening at the event.  I found a moment when she was not busy and approached her and explained the Year of Giving concept

Ximena talking to a friend. (photo: Reed)

Ximena is 34 years old and hails from the Mexico City.  This talented young singer caught my attention when she shared with me part of her life where she spent four years living on a bus.  That’s right.  At the time she was living in Austin, Texas when she met up with a guy from DC who had driven a bus down to Texas.  The bus, called “Destino 2000”, would later turn into the home for several individuals.  The core group was about four people.  They loaded up and started driving south into Mexico.  But they didn’t stop there; they kept on going to Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, etc.  “We worked everywhere,” she explained in Spanish, “to get enough money to get us to the next place.”

Ximena, originally from Mexico City, lived on a bus for four years. (photo: Reed)

Her experience on the bus taught her many things.  “When you live here you take many things for granted,” she told me.  Sometimes the most basic necessities presented challenges.  “Without drinking water you can not survive,” she added. 

There was one common thread that sustained the nomadic group during their journey: music.  “The music was always the vehicle that opened doors for us and sustained us,” Ximena said.

Last May she received her degree in music education.  She smiled and said, “It took me 14 years to do it, but I made it!”  Although she currently does not have a job she says that she is fortunate enough to pick up small projects here and there.  When I invited her to the year-end celebration in December, she said she would not be able to attend because she would be in Texas in the area that is made up of Juarez on the Mexican side and El Paso on the US side.  “I am organizing some Fandangos in response to the violence that that area has suffered.”  I thought that I met Ximena before the alleged murder of David Hartley by Mexican pirates, but after checking it was in fact the same day that I met Ximena.  As a side note, something seems strange about that case…I’m not sure we are getting the full story.

“When you live here you take many things for granted.” - Ximena (photo: Reed)

Anyway, being out of work you would think that Ximena would use the money to help pay for her rent or get some groceries but that was not the case.  “I’m going to send the money to my ‘papa’” she told me.  “He doesn’t work any more and I haven’t had very much to send him lately.”  I thought that was very touching.  Our parents do so much for us as children that it is nice to be able to help them when they are in need.

I unfortunately had another event that evening and had to leave before Ximena performed.  Hopefully I will get another chance.

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Busboys & Poets at 14th and V Streets (photo: Reed)

 I decided to go over and grab dinner at Busboys and Poets and see if I could talk with someone about holding my year-end celebration there.  They gave me the name of a person to talk to and I followed up later via email.  Coincidentally today someone called me back from their organization.  They were not interested in hosting the event unless I was going to pay a five-figure amount which is simply not possible and completely outside of the spirit of the Year of Giving.  So, if you know of a good venue in Washington, DC that can hold 200+ people and would like a ton of in-kind national and local media, let me know. 

Chavon paid her $10 forward. (photo: Reed)

While I was eating I met the person sitting to my right: Chavon.  A foster care case worker by day, she was enjoying a respite with friends after a long stressful week.  She works with a total of seven kids right now; two of which are siblings.  She tells me about each one of them; their ages: 5, 6, 7, 13, 17, 18 and 19.  “It’s hard work,” she says exhaling.  “But you have to also let people go through their own journey.”

Busboys & Poets gets its name from American poet Langston Hughes. (photo: Reed)

She says she has always been a person naturally oriented to help others.  “It’s a passion,” she says with a smile.  “You know, every time someone gives you something – even a dollar – it means something.  

She says that she has given each one of her kids a notebook that they are to write down things that she tasks them with.  “I have to stay on top of them,” she tells me with a slightly more disciplinarian demeanor.  “I think that I will see how each one does on their assignments for next week and I’m going to give the $10 to the one who makes the most progress.”

Her two friends that were with her, Carla and Marques, spoke very highly of their friend.  “She is a good listener and she’s very honest, brutally honest,” Carla says.  Her friend Marques called her “hilarious” and said that she was also very sensitive.

As I left Chavon put a smile on my face when she said, “Reed, this has made my day!”

"Every time somebody gives you something - even a dollar - it means something." - Chavon (photo: Reed)

On Wednesday I got a note from Chavon saying that she had given the $10 to a new client of hers: a 13-year-old girl.  “She was very respectful and compliant with the things I tasked her with,” she wrote in her email.  “She was able to purchase her own breakfast without having to depend on anyone else.”  Getting her email made my day.  Thanks Chavon!

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Barb in front of the laundromat in downtown Mechanicsburg, PA. (photo: Reed)

Day 266 was Labor Day. 

I spent all day here at my dad’s house.  I needed to go out and find someone to give my $10 to and he offered to join me.  We were going to walk down to the downtown area of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, but his knee and back have been bothering him and he was not sure that walking down there would be a good idea.  So we hopped in the car and drove over there and then walked around. 

We parked in front of Dieners, a breakfast institution in this town. We walked east down Main Street, past Jo Jo’s Pizzeria, which incidentally has possibly the world’s best Italian sub, when I spotted a laundromat just past the Gingerbread Man.  There were two women talking and my dad and I decided to walk up a little further to see who we find.  We past the main square where Main and Market Streets come together and walked another block past Myer’s funeral home, where my mother’s funeral was held, until we arrived at Eckels Drug Store (trivia: this is where a scene from Girl Interrupted was filmed.)

Dad and I headed back toward the laundromat to give the $10 to someone there.  When we got there Barb was coming out with her dog Diva.

Barb's pooch (photo: Reed)

Barb was born in Harrisburg and then moved to Shiremanstown before moving to Mechanicsburg some 45 years ago where she graduated from Mechanicsburg High School.  She has three children and two step-children, 15 grandkids and one great-grandson who will be two soon.  We spent a lot of time talking about her kids.  In fact, she had just returned earlier that day from visiting her son down in Bel Air, Maryland.

She couldn’t decide what she was going to do with the ten dollars, but she did give me her address so I can follow up with her later and see what she decides on.  When I told her that I find one person every day and I chose her for this day she said, “Wow…that is really great.  It is really nice of you that you do this – not too many people would do it.”

“I love people,” the 62-year-old told me.  She lit a cigarette, exhaled and went on, “I don’t have a lot of money to do things for others, but I am always volunteering my services.”  She told me about a friend of hers who was going through a difficult time.  Her friend, who is battling cancer, has a son in prison out near Pittsburgh who got extremely ill and is now in a coma.  “I do what I can for her, sometimes just making some phone calls to let others know how she is doing.” 

Barb didn't make it to Jo Jo's before they closed because she took time to talk to me. (photo: Reed)

Main Street was quite dark now and I checked my watch.  It was 9pm.  She was going to try to get some food at Jo Jo’s so we walked toward the restaurant that is housed in an old fire station.  Unfortunately by the time we got there they had just locked the door.  “I guess I will head up toward the Chinese place,” Barb said.  I felt bad, had I not stopped to talk with her she would have made it in time to get her dinner at Jo Jo’s.  Well, at least she had a few extra dollars for her dinner.

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I am so excited for you to meet today’s recipient.  Her name is Charlotte.  She is 93, born and raised in New Orleans, LA.  I had the pleasure of meeting her as she and her sister enjoyed a gorgeous afternoon view of the harbor in Annapolis, MD.

People always ask me how I select the people that I give to.  I wish I had some really good answer, but it’s much more of a spur of the moment decision than any type of scientific process.  On this day I could have given my $10 to several other people.  I could have given it to a struggling Naval Academy plebe that I had seen that day carry boxes…

At the Naval Academy the plebes were tirelessly carrying boxes all over campus. Some looked near exhaustion. (photo: Reed)

Or these young kids that were patrolling the harbor…

It wasn't until the boat got closer that I realized that they were kids and we were not being attacked. (photo: Reed)

I even tried to give the $10 to Alex Haley…

Me trying to give my $10 to Alex Haley, award-winning author of Roots. (photo: Reed)

Or this guy playing guitar…

A busker playing some music steps from the pier. (photo: Reed)

But in the end I chose the right person…

I hope that I have half of Charlotte's energy, humor and joie de vivre when I am 93! (photo: Reed)

I saw Charlotte sitting on a bench with Jewell, the youngest of her five siblings.  I immediately knew that I wanted to give her my $10 for the day.  She looked so happy and relaxed sitting there watching the sail boats glide by.  You would have never known that she had gotten up early and flown 1,100 miles from New Orleans earlier that day.

I introduced myself and Jewell, who lives nearby, told me that she had heard about the Year of Giving.  The ladies invited me to sit down and we chatted for probably 45 minutes.  The proud mother of ten children, Charlotte shared her entire family with me.  There was the ordained priest, the Jesuit brother, the daughter that lives on a boat, Tommy who moved to Houston many years ago, Charlotte who they call “Suzie”, the son who lived in Pohnpei in the SE Asian Caroline Islands, her 6th, 7th and 8th children who were all boys, and the youngest two who were girls.  Although her first five children didn’t have children the other five combined to have 12 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.  

Jewell, Reed, Charlotte (photo: M. Legrain)

Charlotte graduated high school at 16 and went to Normal school to become a teacher and began teaching in the New Orleans public school system in the mid thirties at the age of 18.  But it was one summer that she was studying at Loyola that she met the man who ended up being her husband.  “My friend Charlie introduced me to him.  He lived over on Bank Street.”  She told me how things were different back then and they used to go out more in groups as friends rather than couples.  “I had decided that I was going to start dating someone else, but then my husband asked me out for every Saturday night for the next year!”  That’s a pretty good strategy.  Unfortunately he died in 1978 after 40 years of marriage.

The sun began to lower in the sky slightly and I could feel my neck starting to get burned.  Charlotte seemed comfortable though.  She came prepared with a beautiful scarf that not only protected her skin from the sun but also matched her earrings and necklace.  The hot sun might have had a slight influence on her decision to get some ice cream with the $10.

Travel seemed to be something that she really enjoyed.  “I’ve been to France, Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Belize, Thailand, Hong Kong – come to think of it I left a bathing suit in Hong Kong,” she said making us all laugh.  She also made several trips to the Pacific to visit her son who lived in the Caroline Islands.  He had gone there initially as part of a mission and ended up running an agriculture school. 

Mmmmm...Central Grocery's Muffuletta

No matter where she has traveled, she always ends up back in New Orleans.  “You can get just about the best food in the world in Nawlins,” according to Charlotte.  I have to admit, some of my favorite meals have been there.  From the turtle soup at Commander’s Palace to fried green tomatoes from Jacques-Imo’s Café to the world’s best muffuletta sandwich at Central Grocery, it’s a food lover’s paradise.  By the way, how do you spell muffuletta…I have seen it this way and also muffulatta and muffalata…but it doesn’t seem consistent.  Anyway, even the coffee at Café du Monde is pretty extraordinary – or maybe it’s the side order of beignets that makes the coffee so delicious!  “Maspero’s Café also makes a good muffuletta sandwich,” according to Charlotte.  I will have to add that place to my list.

About this time Charlotte looked at me and said, “You know the more I think about this I think I have heard about what you are doing on the news in New Orleans.”  There was a short pause and she thought for a second, “But I remember thinking when I heard about it, ‘that’s never gonna happen to me!’” 

We laughed a lot. From L-R, Charlotte, Jewell and Jewell's husband. (photo: Reed)

Jewell’s husband arrived and took a seat next to his wife.  “I made ten dollars while you were gone,” Charlotte quipped. 

I had so many other questions in my head for Charlotte.  She was such a wonderful woman, but they needed to get going.  She doesn’t use email so she game me her home address.  I plan to send her a letter with this blog posting printed out.  I told her that I was going to look her up the next time I was in New Orleans.  She smiled and said that that would be nice.  She’s avid bridge player and I’m looking forward to having her as my bridge partner. 

The three turned their backs to the sail boats and the glimmering water and Charlotte steadied herself behind her walker.  I watched them fade toward the center of picturesque Annapolis. 

What amazing people I meet!

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Five Guys cheeseburger and fries

 

Who doesn’t like a good burger?  Ok, maybe a vegetarian, but probably even they like a good veggie burger, right?  I live dangerously close to a Five Guys burger joint.  I have to exercise incredible restraint in order to not end up there too often.  Well, you might find yourself wanting a burger by the end of this post. 

Late in the evening of day 247, I spotted a guy crossing Connecticut Avenue carrying what looked like high chairs that restaurants have for small children.  I hurried across the street to catch up with the man who was now loading them into a vehicle.  It was close to midnight and I was interested in what someone does with restaurant high chairs in the middle of the night. 

Julio loads some high chairs that need fixed into his car. (photo: Reed)

 

I called out to the man and he turned to face me.  Julio is a manager for the Five Guys on Connecticut Avenue in the Dupont area.  He explains to me that he noticed that the high chairs needed to be repaired so he was taking them home to fix them. I wasn’t surprised that the 34-year-old was looking out for kids when I learned that he was the father of four daughters and one son.  The oldest is 16 and the youngest is ten months! 

Before joining the fast growing burger chain, Julio was doing work on floors in VA.  Before that he said he was living in Brooklyn, NY.  I asked some more questions about what he was doing in NY and he looked at me very squarely and told me that he spent 14 years in New York State prison.  I asked him what he was convicted of and he just said “violence.”  Now you might think that this would make me a little nervous, not at all.  He is the nicest guy.  “I’ve learned a lot about life,” he says.  “I got spiritual.”  He was released four years ago and moved his family away from his old barrio to the DC area to start over. 

Now here is the part I started to question.  How was his wife having these kids while he was serving his sentence…  He told me that he had kids that were 16, 11, 8, 2 and 10 months.  How was he having kids while he was in prison?  The answer: conjugal visits.  Yep!  I actually did a little research on this and according to Wikipedia conjugal visit privileges have been removed from all federal prisons and all but six state systems: California, Connecticut, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York and Washington.  I am not condoning criminal behavior, but if you are going to commit a crime I recommend one of those states.  I’m just saying. 

All that seems left of his past are some tattoos that decorate his arms.  “I was young,” he says referring to the fact that he was incarcerated at the age of 16.  He says that his focus now is on work and spending time with his wife and five children.  I asked him where he would like to be in 10 years and he said he hoped to own a couple of Five Guys franchises and possibly get into real estate.  He could use some help getting there though.  “I could use some financial planning advice,” he told me.  He wants to make sure that he manages his finances in such a way that he is able to realize his goals.  If any good financial planners out there are willing to do some pro-bono work, let me know and I can connect you with Julio.  Speaking of money…Julio said my $10 would get spent on gas.  He drives back and forth to Maryland every day for work. 

Julio has been with Five Guys for two years (photo: Reed)

 

So now the fun part.  Did you think I was going to end this without giving your stomach something to think about?  Well, I couldn’t resist asking Julio what his favorite burger was.  He said that was easy.  “Cheeseburger, all the sauces – ketchup, A-1, Bar-B-Q and hot sauce – pickles, onions and extra cheese.”  And with that he says you gotta order the Cajun fries.  Or maybe a little bit of both the Five Guys style and Cajun fries. 

Now as I explained on Day 238 to Paul, Five Guys is awesome (and they are even more awesome for investing in a good guy like Julio), but my favorite burger is from Ray’s Hellburger in Rosslyn, VA.  He said he hadn’t heard of Ray’s so some day I am going to take Julio over there with me and get him a burger.  Heck, maybe Paul will come with us too!

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