Bienestar Backpack Project v4: How I Spent $35 for 170 Backpacks

It's almost time for school to start - and that means there is a little flutter in the hearts of many parents who can not afford to buy school supplies for their kids. Getting an education is so important - our future depends on it! We need to help the youth of our world be prepared as much as possible.
And so it goes that I hosted the 4th annual backpack drive for the Bienestar homework club.
I feel so passionate about helping these particular children, not just because I love to help kids in need, but these kids are making some great effort to be successful in school. You can't just stop by the homework club after school - you have to apply, with parental permission, and you sign a contract and agree to bring in progress reports from school, and you commit to coming prepared after school to study and work on schoolwork and have an open mind and LEARN - outside of school hours even! These children are making a wonderful effort.
And as such - I want to help them in some way.
I don't have a lot of money. Especially at this time of year when I have just recently sent my own son off to college with every bit of money I can muster together to pay for tuition, books, frat dues, food, essentials needed to start off the school year. But just because I don't have money doesn't mean I can't make a difference. My contribution is one that anyone can do - I coordinated gathering backpacks and supplies for 150 children in the homework club. We actually ended up having about 173 backpacks and supplies for 150, which is another increase from the year prior, which was more than the year prior to that, and the year prior to that!
Lesson of the day: You don't need money to make a big difference in the world.
I purchased about $35 of school supplies out of my own pocket for this project. But I emailed out fliers and begged people and promoted the good cause and somehow, within a three week span of time, everything came together. Here are just some of the stats:
  • 173 backpacks
  • 620 spiral notebooks
  • 3632 pencils
  • 372 pens
  • 388 erasers
  • 455 glue sticks
  • 162 boxes of crayons
  • 150 pencil boxes
  • 150 pencil sharpeners
  • 507 folders
  • 80 rulers
I can't even begin to guess the value of all the bags and supplies we passed on to Bienestar. But more important than just coordinating the gathering of supplies, what makes this project so rewarding for me is seeing the children who get the school supplies.
The collection of supplies is all done at my house - taking over my living room for the month. Throughout that time, it's constant counting and sorting as more supplies come in.
On a particular day near the end of the month, I gather some volunteers - 8 wonderful people this year came to help (most having helped at one of my backpack projects in the past) - and we set everything up and begin stuffing all the bags. But first comes the unloading, and the kids are always excited to help with that!
Two SUV's full of supplies means a lot of teamwork unloading!
Lots and lots of unloading...
The children help us sort the bags by grade so we can tag them.
It was fun to see the kids digging through their bags to see who got what - and we let them trade out colors of notebooks/binders that they didn't love.

Unpacking CAN be fun!
The kids who volunteer with us get to have the first selection of which bag they would like.
We were able to personally hand them their backpacks once they were filled.

supplies supplies supplies

sorting sorting sorting
stuffing stuffing stuffing
more stuffing

My wonderful volunteers (minus 2 hidden adults and one photo taker).
Some very happy and appreciative kids!


Thanks to everyone who helped contribute - this would not be possible without the kind and generous people in my life who either donated, volunteered (or both!), and spread the word around helping to look for donations. Working together, we have all made a difference in the world. The world is a better place because of us - thanks all!!

Squirrels From Heaven

I came across these trees growing up together, forever entwined.
And I took a moment to consider relationships and love and life and how great the world really is....

And then a squirrel fell from the tree next to me.

That doesn't happen. Squirrels don't fall. They fly around very nimbly, they prance on their tiny little bear-like feet. They are little ballerinas of the trees.

So what does it mean when one falls from the branches above?

Let's hope it's not an omen...

Good Times, Good Friends, Good Love

Have you ever hung out with people and when it's done you think to yourself: do I even like those people?? Why did I even put on clean clothes? (I hope so-I can't be alone here right??)
I used to get in these ruts where I would hang out with friends and just not feel like I belong, or that maybe I don't even like them, or maybe they don't like me, or maybe I don't care either way. Not all of them of course, but some people are just not-good-people and it takes you a bit to figure that out, but in the meantime you soak up the negative energy and they just make your inner soul itch.
I don't mind paving my way through the world solo. I am alone quite a bit - single mom for so many years, just me against the world ya know- I think I have learned to love being alone too much. While I was out of the country, wandering lost and alone in different cities, I sometimes wished that I had a friend with me. But most times, I was thankful just to be alone and doing my own thing.
I have never been someone who MUST HAVE a relationship. I just don't feel the urge to have someone around all the time. And it's the same with friends. As much as I love my friends, I'm okay on my own and I'll see them when I see them.
Sometimes you meet a group of people, from random places, and everyone comes together and it's a disaster.
But then there are times when you have a group of friends together and everything just feels right.
And you laugh so hard you cry.
You smile so much your jaw hurts the next day.
You realize that there is so much love in the world, and you are part of it, and it's wonderful.
I had a bbq on Saturday night and at the end of the night, I felt so at peace in the world.
We told jokes.
We ate food that we all helped make.
We collected donations for my backpack drive.
We told bad jokes.
We told raunchy jokes (some of which were really bad).
We laughed.
We laughed til we cried.
We teased each other in good fun.
We had fun watching each other tease each other in fun.
And it all just worked.
It was a fabulous night and now I'm in a love zone. I love everyone. You, and you, and you, and you. And especially you!! All of you.


Adventures in Malaysia - Photo Edition

After spending two weeks in Bangkok, I was off to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to meet with my team located there. The weather was similar to Bangkok - ridiculously hot and humid. I adore my coworkers but overall comparing the two countries, I would almost say the people of Bangkok were more friendly in general. The people in Malaysia are very laid-back though and I loved how quick they were to share a story. Every taxi driver I spoke to was ready with something to share about their country, or their hometown, or the city, or where they would like to go in America (Vegas was the most popular answer to the question I never asked).
I can't vouch for Malaysian food, as I wasn't in a location where there were any stalls or mom-and-pop style restaurants, and the one restaurant I went to that promoted itself as Authentic Malay, I had sweet and sour chicken (hey China!) and a chicken satay (again with Thailand!). It was genuinely the best meal I had in the country, but was it really Malaysian? I was at a food disadvantage since it was Ramadan and my coworkers were not eating during daylight hours and my hotel was set off from the main part of the city. I will return in mid-September and we have food plans already in place.
FYI- if you want to lose any weight you might have gained on the first part of your trip, plan the latter part of your trip in a country that is fasting. Even though I had a coke with dinner each night and dessert almost every night, I still lost 4.5 pounds. Eating one meal a day is great for the waistline!

The hotel I stayed in was attached to a mall, with over 450 stores. It was pretty intense, but allowed me a place to take a walk in the evenings, as my hotel was surrounded by freeways.
The view of one section of the mega-mall from the 3rd floor balcony (there are 6 floors).

The view from my hotel room - 25 floors up.

Malaysia is a country without many guns. They are hard to get a license for and expensive to buy. I found one in the mall though! The jewelry store has a guard with a very large rifle, and he just stands there hour after hour, ready to shoot someone down? Crazy.

The view from my hotel every morning. The haze was out of control, caused by voluntary burning in Indonesia. People were not hanging outside much. The air just didn't feel right. Thanks Indonesia!
Reading the morning paper about the haze...note the box in the middle - personalized advertisement!! This particular cola company is advising you to buy their soda to "fight the haze." Ridiculous.
Hungry for corn but don't want to go to a restaurant? No problem!! Just head for the mall kiosk and get yourself some corn in a cup!

The McDonalds in the mega mall had an ice cream station in the front of the restaurant so that if you were just interested in buying ice cream of some sort, you didn't have to go inside and wait in line. Note the three ice cream cones...normal, normal, and Green Apple?? I didn't get a chance to try it (I had already had dessert the day I found it and never made it back this way), but I'll check it out when I return next month.

This was a breakfast option in the bakery and I think there was a typo on the sign. It should read: Sausage No Appetite. Cause this looks quite unappetizing.

About 95% of the people driving a motorcycle looked like this - driving along, wearing a coat backwards. I guess it's to protect their arms from the wind and sun, but it's so hot that as soon as they stop, they need to take the coat off quickly. Two of the taxi drivers I spoke to about this said that it's done because people are too lazy and don't want to take them on and off all the time.

Also to note about motorcycles - although there are safety laws, most people do their own thing. Such as driving a motorcycle with a baby on your lap. I saw this so many times!!! Another one I really wanted to capture a pic of was the male driver with a toddler in front of him, then a female sitting behind him balancing a tiny baby in-between them. I just wasn't fast enough to get the shot for that, but I saw that exact scenario at least three times.
The streets of Chinatown. I hated it. I love to bargain shop and I love exploring, looking for treasures. I do not love when people harass you to buy things from them or give you an asking price of more than double of what it should be and then have a debate with you to bring it down to a normal price. This was my least favorite place in all of my travels and I could not leave there fast enough!


The bird park in Kuala Lumpur claims to have one of the largest flights in the world (a flight is an open area for birds to fly around in). I walked miles and miles uphill to find this place, slightly lost and maybe dehydrated - but it was worth it to sit with an eagle and owl on my arms. This is in a special photo section, where they charge you money to have an employee put a bird of your choice on your arm, but then they give you the option to have the picture taken with your own camera or with their camera and printed out. I opted for my camera and was pleasantly surprised to see that he didn't just take one quick photo - he took a dozen!!! All for about $4.00. DEAL!!
Taking a moment with a friend behind a waterfall.

Clever garbage cans at the bird park! They had different bird trash bins all around the park.


In a Muslim country, even construction workers stop and face Mecca to pray wherever they are at the time they need to pray. Note the grassy area between the roads - they just rolled out their prayer mat and took a moment (or 20).

Driving in Kuala Lumpur is like a video game. As a frequent rider in taxi cabs, I was winning the entire time. On the way home from the office every day, we went by an international school and I happened to be going home at the same time the school let out every day. The school doesn't have a parking area for parents to pull in and pick up the kids, and the school is located on a busy 5-lane road. So every day at 3pm, parents just pull over on the road and wait for their child to come out. Even if that means blocking 3 of the 5 lanes!! The most inefficient school transportation system ever. Cars get blocked in and even if your child comes out, you might be on the far left lane, surrounded by 30 other cars, 27 of which are also blocked in.

Apparently there is a scam going on against tourists - a person will sit on the street and beg for money as the tourist goes by. The kind-hearted tourist will stop and as they go to drop some money in the beggar's cup, a motorcycle drives by and they snatch the persons purse and drive off into the bustling traffic. This sign reads something like: Don't snatch purses!


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