Eileen Receives Special Mention for Homeless Flash Fiction

Just for fun, I recently entered a worldwide flash fiction competition run by Inscribe Media (based in Britain.) The goal was to create emotion using 20 words or less.  I had fun creating a few entries and was surprised when I received a special mention for this little story of 19 words:

Scraps of rotting pumpkin, cast-off shoes….A bitten hotdog! Starving, he shovels it down, stumbling to the next bin.Blanketmanwiki

As a teenager, I bought food for homeless people on the streets of Wellington. When I lived in Switzerland, people were amazed when they saw me buying hot food for those living on their streets — something as simple as a hotdog, a slice of pie, or some fruit to brighten their day. From the reactions of the Swiss, I could tell this was a rare occurrence.

Nowadays, attitudes have changed. The photo above is of Ben Hana, a.k.a ‘blanket man,’ who lived on the Wellington streets. Many showed kindness to Ben, who chose to live on the streets. When he died there was a temporary public memorial set up and a public funeral. He had become a persona and a part of many people’s lives. He was offered accommodation and clothing, but chose to live without both.

Perhaps we can’t make a huge difference in everyone’s lives, but a spot of kindness lets them know that people still care. One small token of love could give them hope to carry on. And if many people could give that token of kindness, then someone could be fed or housed. bin rummaging

I have a close friend who lived on the streets for two years as a part of his young adult life. It started with a choice to see how the other side lived, then he got stuck. He was always grateful for a offers of a night’s accommodation, but often turned them down, going to sleep in a barn or shed, outside, or in the local homeless shelter when the weather was rough. Soup kitchens, kind donations of food and charity organisations helped him get along until he turned his life around. He’s lucky. He’s now has a successful career, a great family and a wife who adores him. Few would ever guess that he has been there.

Another friend of mine said his roughest months were being homeless in winter, in London, living in a cardboard box. Cold and wet, inside a carton? The thought of it always makes me shiver.

We are all community members, and we can make a difference. But what can we do?

Seven years ago, I started an initiative to collect grocery items for battered women. I used an existing group to channel the collection. I was amazed when we were told that, each year, our weekend collection provided enough food for 6 months. Women who had left their homes in desperation when being abused and gone to the Wellington Women’s Refuge, could receive a few of our groceries to help them get on their feet until state assistance came through. We expanded the collection and included furniture and mountain buggies for kids, twin prams etc, kindly donated by a local company that we approached. Now, I am no longer involved, but that legacy lives on and that annual collection still takes place.

A few years ago, I engaged my local church to bake Christmas cookies for the homeless. Each year since then,  this group has donated goods at Christmas time. Initially, we donated hygiene kits (toiletry items etc) and cookies to the ‘Wellington Night Shelter’  – a homeless shelter for men. Soon others in our neighbourhood heard what we were doing and started to donate home baking  as well.

Sometimes we also reached out to include homeless women at the ‘Wellington Women’s Boarding House.’  Their toiletries were packed in gift wrap, to be given to each new resident as a welcoming gift. They received home baking at Christmas. I advertised their plight in a local news article and more donations came flooding in – turkeys for Christmas dinner and gifts for the women and children.

In 2013, that same church group delivered survival kits to the Night Shelter. These were home-sewn bags which contained essential survival items (torches, water, food, survival blankets, first aid items etc) to be used in the event of an emergency (earthquake, flood etc.) I was happy to see that, although I wasn’t involved, this same group had expanded and built upon my initial idea and were continuing to provide for those in need.

Get involved. Start a collection through your school or community group. Help out at a local food bank, make a donation to a local charity, do something kind for the next ten homeless people you see. Then keep on giving. It’s a great feeling, and highly addictive. 🙂

Eileen was awarded a New Zealander of the Year Local Heroes Award for her community service.

What has KurtX been doing since New Zealand’s Got Talent?

Go to KurtX’s website to see his audition and semi-final performances. Or see my earlier blog posts about his audition and semi-final on NZGT!

KurtX, harmonica hero from NZ's Got Talent
KurtX plays the harmonica at Carols by Candlelight – Wellington’s iconic Christmas show

Carols By Candlelight with KurtX!

Kurt blowing the crowd away as he blow his harmonica for all he's worth!
Kurt blowing the crowd away!

You guessed it. KurtX was invited to perform at Carols by Candlelight, an iconic Wellington Christmas celebration for the last 20 years. Kurt did what the organizers termed ‘an ACDC rendition’ of ‘Once in David’s Holy City!’ It was amazing.

And yes, I am still a firm fan of KurtX. He did not disappoint! The crowd loved his performance.

KurtX plays harmonica for Pack the Bus
The bus – Pack the Bus

Pack the Bus!

Straight after his semi-final appearance in New Zealand’s Got Talent, Kurt was approached by The Breeze, a local radio station, to perform for their Christmas ‘Pack the Bus’ tour.

KurtX and I had great fun collecting gifts for needy families for Christmas. KurtX entertained the kids with modern harmonica renditions of a hip hop version of ‘We Wish you a Merry Christmas’ and a more traditional take on of ‘The First Noel.’

We went to four local schools. The children really got into the spirit of Christmas by bringing gifts and foodstuffs to see needy families through the festive season. By the end of the tour, the bus really was packed full to the brim with food and toys of all description, and the storage room at the City Mission was overflowing.

Eileen & KurtX with a mountain of gifts for charity
Eileen & KurtX with a mountain of gifts for charity

Because we participated on the last day of the collection, the bus was so full that we could hardly walk down the aisles! We were grabbing gifts and propping them up as we drove back through town to the radio station! New Zealanders are known for their generosity – we were humbled to see it in practice.

Packed Bus!

To prolong your Christmas, read Twisty Christmas Tales!

Here is KurtX’s website. What will 2014 bring for KurtX? He has plans – we’ll keep you updated!

New Zealander of The Year Local Hero Award – Literacy and Community Service efforts

A few weeks ago, I was presented with a Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Local Hero  Award.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, Eileen Mueller and Kiwibank CE,Paul Brock
Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, Eileen Mueller and Kiwibank CE,Paul Brock

These awards are given to kiwis who make a difference in their communities through volunteer work.

So what did I do?

Over the past seven years, I’ve organised numerous community service projects in my role as Director of Public Affairs for my church, but the highlight has to be ‘Books For Fiji.’

Books For Fiji: In 2011, I ran a campaign that collected over 45,000 second hand books, which were donated to 82 schools in outlying islands of Fiji. See the video below.

Books for Fiji came about after I found out that Her Excellency Ms Mere Tora, Acting Head of Mission for the Fijian High Commission (Wellington, New Zealand) bought books at garage sales and school fairs all year long. Every year at Christmas when she visited Fiji, Ms Tora took boxes of books home and donated them to local schools.

I was impressed with her dedication to children’s literacy and wanted to help.

Although my initial idea was to collect a few boxes of books to give to Ms Tora, my vision grew as enthusiasm from the kiwis spurred me into action. Books came flooding in. Local schools cleared out their libraries and donated boxes packed with books. Business donated stationery and provided free advertising. The media jumped on board, and books kept piling up. The community wanted to help raise the English literacy of Fijian children.

Secretary of Fijian High Commission Niraj Mudaliar, Mayor Celia Wade-Brown and Eileen Mueller with the Mayor's childhood books that she donated to Fijian school children to improve their literacy
Secretary of Fijian High Commission Niraj Mudaliar, Mayor Celia Wade-Brown and Eileen Mueller with the Mayor’s childhood books that she donated to Fijian school children to improve their literacy

Wellington Mayor Her Worship Celia Wade-Brown donated her childhood books, and Porirua Mayor His Worship Nick Leggett provided his libraries as collection points. All across the lower North Island of New Zealand, Mormon Helping Hands volunteers took donation boxes to their schools, workplaces and local supermarkets.

A deluge of donations came in. Then the hard work began. We sorted every book by hand, categorizing them into subject matter or, for fiction books, age categories. We created a mix of books for each school, so they received a balanced shipment containing board books, early readers, chapter books, novels, encyclopedias, dictionaries and reference books about  a variety of topics.

Sorting 43,000 books!
Sorting 43,000 books!

I worked with the Fijian government to ensure we targeted the most needy schools. Then we shipped the books out the door and sighed in relief that the hard work was over!

While the books were en route to Fiji, a camera crew from church headquarters became interested in our project. I met them in Fiji to present the first shipment of books to a school on Bau Island, the chiefly island of Fiji – an area steeped in prestige and tradition.

The best part of the entire project was seeing the children unpack their books and start reading. They opened the boxes, and with wonder in their eyes, each took a book off the top, sat down on the grass and started reading. They didn’t rummage through the boxes or yell in excitement. They just sat down and started reading.

Children on Bau Island with books from Books For FijiTheir quiet page turning bought more joy into my heart than any shouts of excitement could have. They wanted those books. They loved those books. They were reading English books and had previously had none on their island. They were being taught English, but had no materials to read. Their literacy could take a leap forward, thanks to the kindness of their neighbours – kiwis in New Zealand.

How can we make a difference?

Eileen with 100 items made for Wellington Neonatal Unit.
Eileen with 101 items made for Wellington Neonatal Unit.

Often a need is right under our noses. We don’t have to organise thousands of books to make a difference in the lives of those around us. If you see a need, contact a local volunteer organisation or charity and ask how you can help.

I have been lucky enough to have Mormon Helping Hands volunteers enthusiastically embrace every project I’ve organised. We’ve quilted for neonatal babies, cleaned the local homeless shelter (Wellington Night Shelter), baked cookies for its guests, and assembled hygiene kits for them. Thousands of trees have been planted across the region by keen volunteers, schools have been made over – not just tidied, but demolition work done, buildings, rooves and libraries painted, chairs upholstered, and carpet laid. Volunteers have blazed trails, mulched and weeded in the hot sun, and battled with gorse (thorny bushes) to provide recreational area for the local community.

Community service is also about building relationships with those you would never otherwise meet. For two years I was a member of The Wellington Interfaith Council Executive, putting time and energy into building more love and understanding between those of different faiths. We talked together, planted trees together, sang and danced together, and walked in each others shoes a little as we learned more about one another. It was a rewarding and fulfilling experience to see Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindu, Buddhists, Sikhs and Baha’i planting trees on the slopes of Wellington, laughing and getting to know one another.

Planting, trail blazing, blackberry eradication and planting in 2013 with local rangers, politicians and a few volunteers. (Eileen is far right, back row)
Planting, trail blazing, blackberry eradication and planting in 2013 with local rangers, politicians and a few volunteers. (Eileen is far right, back row)

It was humbling to accept my New Zealander of the Year Local Hero medal, knowing that although I had brainstormed and organised these projects, none of them would have happened without hundreds of volunteers seeing the vision of a better community and giving their time and effort to make it happen.

I’d like to thank my generous husband and cool kids. Without their support and enthusiastic participation, I would never have gotten one project off the ground. Thanks to them a childhood dream I’d had of helping those in a less wealthy country has come to fruition.

Cook Strait News ran a story here about my Local Hero award.

I’d also like to thank politicians, church leaders and the many organisations that have assisted with projects. My thanks and deep appreciation go to the amazing helpers who have donated their time, sweat and service to help make our community a better place.

You can be a local hero too

We are all part of the jigsaw which makes up our community, our country and our world. I encourage you to look around, see a need, and contact a local organisation to see how you can help to make our world a better place. Who knows, maybe one day you will be a local hero too!

Article on Mormon newsroom

More information about New Zealander of the Year Awards can be found here.

KurtX’s Got Talent – New Zealand’s Got Talent Semi-final

KurtX rocked the stage at New Zealand’s Got Talent (NZGT) this week in his semi-final performance. KurtX may be the first musician to play harmonica to dubstep – a modern dance music genre that originated in Britain.

What’s astounding is that he underwent heart surgery shortly after his NZGT audition to correct a congenital hole in his heart that was discovered a few weeks before he went on stage.  See the full story of Kurt’s heart surgery in the Dominion Post, one of New Zealand’s leading newspapers.

KurtX's surgery detailed in Dominion Post
KurtX’s heart surgery was detailed in Dominion Post, a national NZ newspaper

Although Kurt needed six weeks to fully recover from the catheter procedure used to insert a device into his heart wall to block the hole, he was soon back on stage again for another high energy performance.

 

One of New Zealand’s top magazine’s, NZ Woman’s Weekly,  ran this article on their blog. It holds a family secret – revealing what made KurtX turn back to his music again.

KurtX, harmonica hero from NZ's Got Talent
KurtX, harmonica hero from NZ’s Got Talent

Wellington Newspapers, The Wellingtonian and The Cook Strait News, also ran articles on KurtX. He was on local radio station Classic Hits on Monday morning and busked in town during his lunch hour so he could meet the public.

New Zealand’s Got Talent backstage blog also reveals what KurtX’s favourite ice cream is – although he doesn’t eat ice cream before going onstage – so he won’t damage

KurtX plays cool tunes on his Memphis Meltdown at NZ's Got Talent.
KurtX plays cool tunes on his Memphis Meltdown at NZ’s Got Talent.

his lips before a performance. In this link, you’ll also get to see his fellow semi-final contestants – Jenny, Oceana, Geordie and OK Krew – in action!

KurtX had a fabulous time with them – doing push ups with Oceana on his back, gifting one of his back up harmonicas to a member of the OK Krew, (and teaching him how to tune it on the spot) and hanging out with Geordie and Jenny.  It was a tough show – all the contestants were talented. The results will be announced this Sunday night.

KurtX in Semi-final lineup NZGT
KurtX in Semi-final lineup NZGT

Too see Kurt’s Original audition here’s my earlier KurtX post.

Fore more harmonica fun check out KurtX.com

Balancing Writing and Family – When a Mess Hits, Keep Smiling.

We try balancing writing and family, but sometimes life just happens! Our family has been extremely busy in the last few weeks. We had a TV crew filming my husband (see my last post about KurtX on New Zealand’s Got Talent) a massive plumbing leak, and lots of kids’ activities. With four kids, we’re always busy. Among all that, I had set myself some writing goals that challenged and extended me.

With a week’s notice, TV said they were coming to film KurtX at home! I decided to do a little spring clean (can you hear my family rolling their eyes?) Then two days before the TV crew arrived, a pipe burst! Yep, a plumbing leak! TV were coming with soggy, stinking carpet, 5 holes in the wet wall downstairs and two more in the ceiling.

Plumbing disaster
Plumbing disaster – dried out!

When the TV crew turned up, there were 4 large industrial fans running and an enormous dehumidifier humming away in the background. One of the fans was in our #HarmonicaHero’s sound studio. Of course we had to turn them off to film, but the carpet was still emitting a pungent aroma, reminiscent of wet dog! Luckily it was only television, not smellavison, so we avoided the soggy areas and the holes in the wall, and kept smiling.

My kids, especially the two youngest, thought the fans were a blast. Here’s a video of them having a ball – at the expense of the poor plumbing, battered walls, and sad carpet! My kids showed me that whatever mess life throws us, we should still have fun. I learned from their sense of hilarity and adventure. Aren’t kids great?

Note for Health and Safety Officers: By the time the kids were allowed downstairs by the fans, the TV cameras were long gone and the carpet was nearly dry!

What has this to do with balancing writing and family? Despite TV, leaks and mad, slapdash family life, I’ve had a productive time, writing-wise. For me, the best way of balancing writing and family, no matter what is going on, is to:

  • take time to exercise, preferably in fresh air (in windy Wellington the air is always fresh!)
  • spend time with my kids and husband

    Get outdoors to exercise - balancing writing and family.
    Get outdoors to exercise – balancing writing and family.
  • see a friend occasionally (often to exercise)
  • do something writing-related most days
  • have a day off from writing occasionally
  • set writing goals to focus me.

Setting goals for writing helps me in balancing writing and family life. My goals need to be challenging enough to keep me motivated, but not unachievable. In one of my former lives, I was a performance measurement consultant for a large IT business, so my old habit of utilising SMART goals, is automatic. SMART goals are:

  • Specific,
  • Measurable,
  • Achievable,
  • Results-driven
  • and Time-bound.

So what goals have I achieved since last blogging? And why haven’t I blogged for so long? What have I been doing?

  • Firstly, when I set up my blog, I decided not to commit to blogging weekly. I didn’t want my blog to take away my precious writing time. So I’ll blog when I have something cool to share.
  • I’ve sent out my writing newsletter, Write On!, each week. (Sign up in the blue and yellow box if you’d like to receive it.)
  • Completed revising a novel and submitted it.
  • Completed three short stories.
  • Finished a children’s picture book and submitted it.
  • Done some more work on my paranormal romance novel (sizzle, sizzle)
  • Plotted an adventure chapter book for 8-12 year-old children.

But I haven’t blogged. Although I’ve written about 6 blog posts in my head. I had a brilliant post planned about a porcupine we saw attacking a bunch of meerkats at the zoo. We caught the prickly dude on camera. But when we searched for the video, someone had deleted it. So that blog post wont eventuate! (Sigh!)

Write on the ferry.
Write on the ferry.

The key to balancing writing and family is ensuring you write often. I have a friend who has a half-hour commute on a ferry across Auckland harbour each morning and evening. That’s his writing time. He uses it EVERY day. That’s the only time he gets. The rest of his life is for work and his wife & kids.

Write on the bus - balancing writing and family
Write on the bus!

I was speaking to another writer recently who said she only has a two hour block every Sunday and can’t find any other time. I wrote my first novel by becoming a time-thief, stealing minutes everywhere. So I encouraged her to find  a small ten-minute slot each day to churn out a few words.

“Ten minutes?” Her face lit up. “I can do that, even if it’s during my lunch hour, or on the bus.”

So soggy carpets aside, one of the best ways of balancing writing and family is to make sure we write! A novel grows a word at a time. If there are no words, there is no novel. How do we carve time out from our lives to write?

  1. Set manageable goals with time-frames.
  2. Monitor your progress.
  3. Do something small every day. Or five days a week. Or every Saturday. Squeeze it in when you can.
  4. Creative activity makes us feel great. Doing a little in regular bursts sustains that feeling!
  5. Start with EASY goals.
  6. If you don’t achieve them, don’t beat yourself up, they’re there to motivate you, not weigh you down!
  7. Count your successes! I keep an excel sheet of all my milestones and writing activity, so I can see what I’ve done!
  8. Celebrate milestones with your friends and family! Keeping them involved in your successes motivates them to encourage you to write.

Soggy carpets, TV crews, kids leaping in fans, and family commitments non-withstanding, I hope you find some time to write and to enjoy life with those you love most.

KurtX rocks New Zealand’s Got Talent! – #Harmonica Hero #NZGT

KURTX rocks NZGT with his harmonica
KURTX #hamronicahero at NZGT

KurtX played his ‘wee instrument’ last night for New Zealand’s Got Talent, generating a storm of music with his harmonica. He started with a slow haunting lyrical line, but the judges’  faces soon changed as a rock number hit the sound system and KurtX ramped it up, showing us just what can be achieved with the tiniest of instruments, and earning himself the nickname #harmonicahero.

 

What’s my vested interest?  He’s my husband. I fell in love with a recording of his harmonica playing before I ever met him!

The following quote is from the New Zealand’s Got Talent’s ‘Tip Top Naturally Talented Moment’ page:

This week’s Naturally Talented Moment was 50 year old Swiss, Kurt X who has been playing the harmonica for decades but has only recently started playing publicly.  “I have been working on my harmonica for 20 years but I am very much a closet artist. I entered NZGT because I finally felt that I was ready to share my talent with the world”

The IT Specialist amazed us with his ability to lose himself in the music, getting dub

KurtX rocks the harmonica at New Zealand's Got Talent (NZGT) 2013
KurtX at NZGT 2013 qualifying for semi-finals

bed #HarmonicaHero for his resemblance to the game Guitar Hero. “I feel like I’m melting into one with my harmonica, it is totally a part of me. It’s so physical – my technique and style. It’s all about the music and the moment”.

Here is the link to the Tip Top Naturally Talented Moment advert for episode 3. Yes, KurtX again!

To support KurtX, please visit the you tube site, tweet, and leave comments below.    Tweet about KurtX with #harmonicahero & #NZGT  KurtX you tube link

I can also blog about how KurtX got so good at harmonica. Just request it via comments.