Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Perspective, and some chocolate chips in my oatmeal

Today I'm thrilled to have a guest blog in the MomsRising blog carnival supporting breastfeeding among African American mothers. MomsRising is a fantastic resource for information and advocacy on issues of concern for mothers in the United States.

To read my blog post about how I overcame some major challenges to breastfeed my first baby, click here:

To see other great posts with fantastic resources on breastfeeding in the blog carnival, click here:

And of course, you can also enjoy my latest blog post, on kindness, at:

As always, I love reading your comments and feedback!


The Red Blanket

By Phoebe Farag Mikhail

A while ago we had a car accident. Due to wet conditions, we hit a pole during a turn. No one was hurt, thank God, but the car itself looked pretty bad.

One passerby saw the wreck and the four of us standing on the sidewalk. He said “I already called 911. Did you leave the car on?”

In our rush to get the kids out of the car we had forgotten about that. He shut off the ignition for us and handed us the keys. After he saw the police arrive, he waved to them, and left.

Another passerby wordlessly handed me a red blanket and walked away. It was a chilly morning, and he must have seen the baby in the car seat and my shivering toddler.

Photograph by Phoebe Farag Mikhail
I’ve held on to that red blanket, a bright reminder of the two nameless men who gave us a helping hand, and then left without a trace.

Tangible evidence of the kindness that still exists in the world.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Bread, Freedom, Dignity

(the first in a series)
By Phoebe Farag Mikhail

Bread. Freedom. Dignity.  The three words that should describe any effort towards making people’s lives better. And the well-known rallying cry of the inspiring Egyptian Revolution that started on January 25th, 2011 and toppled the 30-year regime of Hosni Mubarak. Unfortunately, to date these three demands have not been met in Egypt.

This series on my blog may touch upon the current events in Egypt every so often, but there are many astute analysts found at Jadaliyya, EgyptSource, and MEMRI already writing and talking about Egypt. I focus instead here on how the “Bread, freedom, dignity” demands can be met by people (individuals, organizations, governments) working with the poor and the oppressed everywhere.

Today I’m going to share two examples of the amazing outcomes that can come about when poor people are treated with dignity and respected as important members of their communities.

A food pantry in Ohio chose to have its clients choose their own food, rather than giving them a pre-packaged box or bag.  The outcomes: when people choose the food they want, there is less waste, and the pantries are able to then serve more people:
Far from depleting its stocks, Journey's End has seen its cost per person drop as well as a six-fold increase in users since switching to client choice in 2008. Factory closings drove up the numbers, but so did giving clients dignity, Gore said. "We made it much more comfortable for them to shop." (“Let People Shop,”

In Schenectady, New York, homeless people are paid to stand outside of businesses there—not to beg, but to work. While many urban economic revitalizations often drive out the lower-income and poor people who lived in those areas, in this case, the work of social service organization City Mission helped the economic developers realize that these residents were assets, not liabilities: 

We worked with Proctors Theater and created the Downtown Ambassadors Program. City Mission residents who have been through Getting Ahead training go out every night there’s a show and greet the guests that are coming in. They have uniforms and flashlights, and they help people across the street, direct them to parking, get them to restaurants, hold the door open—it’s really like a sidewalk concierge service. This went so well that the economic development agency offered to pay our people if they’ll continue doing this. So now Proctors has a contract with us, and other businesses nearby want ambassadors to work in front of their businesses.” (Paying the Homeless to Stand Outside Your Business: Schenectady Bridges Project Turns Poverty Upside Down,”

The outcomes: The homeless and low-income residents of Schenectady have jobs, and the patrons of the downtown businesses benefit from their much-appreciated services.

When poor people are treated with dignity, with the right to make choices, and with the understanding that they are an important part of the community, not to be driven away, you get these kinds of positive outcomes.

So I consider a nonprofit to support or volunteer with, I don’t just consider the organization’s financial health, or its overhead vs. its program expenses. I consider how it talks about and works with its program participants. Are the participants “charity cases,” or are they treated with dignity? Do they respect their participants and recognize them as contributing members of their communities?

What do you consider?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Road to Hell (and Other Bad Words)

What I’ve Been Reading (No. 1)
By Phoebe Farag Mikhail

“Hell,” I learned a few years ago, is a bad word in some states, like Virginia, where my Sunday School students widened their eyes in shock when their teacher from New York used it. “It’s not a bad word where I come from,” I tried to explain. 

They must never have heard their aging next door neighbor repeat the old maxim: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” The proverb is used when the cause of something bad is someone’s failure to do something good, even though that person had good intentions to do otherwise.

On January 1, 2013, many of us resolved, with good intentions, to be more organized this year. Or to get more exercise this year. Or to clean out our garage this year. Or to leave work at 5 pm every day this year. Or to stop twittering away all our time on Facebook this year. Or—well, it’s February.  

Are you, like me, on the road to hell?

There is another bad word, however, that may help you and I get off that road.


It’s bad because we often think of discipline as something unpleasant we must inflict upon ourselves for some greater good, or some internal ability that some people have, but others don’t. Or, with regards to children, “discipline” often connotes how parents should deal with their children when they misbehave.

Link the word “discipline” with “desire,” however, and it seems less difficult to swallow. Discipline without desire can be fruitless, and almost impossible to maintain, unless there is some external threat of punishment. 

But when discipline is motivated by an intense desire, it’s not even called discipline anymore. It’s called doing what we want. Similarly, if we considered this link between desire and discipline when it comes to raising children, we might think about how we want to instill in them a desire to behave, rather than fear of punishment when they misbehave (I’ll blog about that in a future post).

Discipline (and its friend, self-control), is driven by the desire to achieve, and can be developed and strengthened. Anyone with the desire to accomplish can develop discipline and reap its countless rewards.
 I’ve discovered that to develop more discipline in my life, I must:

  1. Feed my desire for my goal
  2. Build discipline by developing habits that will help me achieve that goal.
  To give an example of feeding my desire, I have a goal of waking up early in the morning, before my kids, to get a head start on my day and do things I usually can’t do when they’re awake. Despite the plentiful obstacles to waking up early in the morning, I feed my desire to wake up early by investing in high quality coffee beans so I have a fresh cup of coffee to look forward to in the morning, doing things I enjoy in my early morning hours (like praying, writing, NOT folding laundry), and reminding myself of the inexpressible joy I feel when my son wakes up, runs out to the living room into my arms, and happily exclaims, “good morning Mommy!”

For developing good habits to build discipline, I came across a great resource that summarizes the most important habits needed to develop discipline and accomplish goals: a short and sweet Crystal Paine’s ebook, 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life.* These include the tried and true habits of goal setting, learning to say “no,” breaking down large projects into smaller tasks, and finding accountability partners. 

You can read the blog posts upon which blogger Crystal Paine based this book here.  To develop good habits to help me wake up early, I say ‘no’ to late night computer use, and ask my husband to wake me if he finds me shutting off my alarm.

Reformulate your goal into a desire you can feed, then develop good habits to build the discipline you need to achieve them. Do you have other resources for leading a more disciplined life? Please share them in the comments.

*This post contains affiliate links. That means if you choose to purchase the book mentioned in the blog, I will get a commission if you click through my links. I will never post an affiliate link to a book unless I have read it myself, found it useful, and worth sharing.