April Durham Magzine Column

Every month I write a column for Durham Magazine to highlight good works and the people that do them in our community.  This month my editor asked me to write about my connection to the Food Bank.  What an easy assignment.  No one to interview!  Here is a link to the magazine online.  My story is on page 16.

To make it easy, here is the story I wrote.

I can tell you that I had no idea we were going to ru  story on our volunteer work at the Food Bank, because of I did I would have worn some makeup for food sorting.  This is a picture with my wonderful editor and friend Andrea Cash.
 My colleagues from Durham Magazine recently joined me at the Durham Branch of the Food Bank Of Central and Eastern North Carolina for a morning of fun volunteer activities. For our writers, editors, photographer, art directors, administrative staff and sales representatives sorting food is not part of their daily routine, but certainly something they all were willing to do.


As we waited in the lobby prior to receiving our assignment for the day, one of my co-workers noticed my photo on the wall announcing they were entering the “Dana Lange Volunteer Center,” and asked me about it. The honor of having a room named for me is a boring story about being a volunteer board member for years; the real story is what got me interested in feeding hungry people in the first place.


Thirty years ago, when I was young and energetic, having just one job was not enough for me, so I had a catering business on the side. I always loved feeding people and throwing parties, which made it the perfect way to supplement my income. I was living in Washington, DC and I often threw leftover catering food away in my rolling trashcan in the alley behind my garage.


One day, as I was bringing more garbage to the can I met a man, dressed in khakis and a blue blazer, who was standing by my bin. “You have the best garbage in all of DC,” he said to me. I was a little taken aback by this greeting. Awkwardly my response was, “Thank you.”  


That was when I took a closer look at him and noticed that his clothes were a little dirty, with strings hanging from the cuffs of his pants.  His hair needed to be washed and his nails were filthy, but other than that he looked a lot like my friends and me. I realized that he must be homeless and had been eating from my garbage can more than once. In the moment I was unsure what to do, but I did know that I had a fairly good supply of edible food that I was just throwing away.


“If you want, on trash days, I can leave the good food in a box on top of my cart?” I said. “That would be very nice,” he replied.   “I really like when there is meat. I don’t get much meat.”  All I could manage to say was  “OK,”and I watched as he walked down my alley away from me. After he was out of sight, I burst into tears.


I left a box of food every week for the remainder of the years I lived in that house, and it was always gone the next morning. Once I found a scrap of paper tucked into the lid of my can with “Thanks” scrawled on it. I never saw the man again, but I was certain he was coming by and getting the food.


I knew that this was no way to feed people. Eating leftover food from the garbage was terrible, but leaving a box out in the elements through winter and summer was hardly better – it was just all I could think of when confronted with someone who was really hungry. That is when I started to be interested in safer, more compassionate ways to help people who are food insecure.


When I moved to Durham, Hayward Holderness, the pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church was the board chair of the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, and he taught me there is a better way. I started volunteering at the Durham Branch about sixteen years ago and it is my passion.  


The Food Bank is the most efficient and safe way to gather perfectly good food from stores who can’t sell it, farmers who have a surplus or regular people who donate it, and then distribute it to agencies or churches who run soup kitchens or food pantries to feed people in need. What I have learned is that the majority of people who get help from the Food Bank are not homeless men, like the one who I met in DC, but are children, elderly people or people with jobs who don’t make enough to pay rent, buy gas and get food.  


Thanks to my co-workers for volunteering and to Durham Magazine for donating a portion of the proceeds from the annual TASTE event – happening April 21-23- to the Food Bank. Every dollar the Food Bank receives can be turned into ten dollars worth of food. And thanks to each one of the volunteers who gave nearly 190,000 hours of their time last year.  You will probably never know the individuals you help, but know that they are thankful for you.


Shoe Help

This blog is often more advice than anyone ever wants, but since people keep reading, I just keep writing. Now I need advice and who better to turn to than you, people who read my ongoing saga. For you male readers, I’m sorry this is probably not your area of expertise, except for any of my cross dressing friends, then you might be just the ones who can help me.
I bought a new outfit for my upcoming auction. As auctioneer I have strict standards about what to wear. Must have sleeves so my bat-wing upper arms do not in the least distract any bidders as I am wildly pointing to current bidders and at the most, don’t actually knock anyone out who gets to close to me while I am turning from one side of the stage to the other. It is a real possibility that my arm flab could get ahead of me and take out an unsuspecting waiter.
I also like a long dress because when I am standing on that little stage I could give people too good a view up my dress if it is not long. So I bought a blouse and long skirt number, but the skirt is long in the back and a little shorter in the front. Not so short that anyone can see what color panties I am wearing, but short enough that I have to wear a really nice pair of shoes.

Usually I can get away with a more comfortable pair of shoes since my dress will cover them, but not this year.
So I bought a beautiful pair of pumps that go great with my outfit, but they have a little higher heel than I have worn comfortably in years. I also need to mention that the ball of my right foot is very tender from walking long distances in the wrong shoes. So now to my question. Who has experience with gel insoles, either full or just the ball of the feet types? If you have used these things have they helped you standing for a long period in heels, especially if you don’t wear heels all the time. If not gel insoles, do you have any other advice for me to make sure these things don’t cripple me?
Please send me comments, emails, texts, real letters, phone calls or smoke signals. I want all advice, especially from cross dressers!  

Merry Mah Jongg New Year


Tomorrow is my favorite holiday of the year. It is the first day of the New Mah Jongg Card for 2016! Technically the real new year is April 1, but since tomorrow is the day my Mah Jongg Group plays, and we have received the new card in the mail, it will be an early happy new Mah Jongg card new year.
If you don’t play Mah Jongg, I’m sorry. You are missing out on an addictive, fun and completely calorie free great way to spend time with friends. Of all my addictions, Mah Jongg is the most healthy. If it were possible I would play everyday. I guess if I lived in a retirement home in Bocca it would be possible, but then my husband would leave me.
The excitement of the new card is that all Mah Jongg players are on the same level playing field the first day a new card comes in. We all have to sit and study the card as we are dealt our tiles since no one is quite sure which hand their tiles will fit best. This means that I can’t do my second most healthy addiction, needlepoint, while playing the new card on the New Year’s Day. That is fine. One day of just playing and not multi-tasking is fine.
I am most interested in how this new card plays since it is the first card since the death of Ruth, the head of the National Mah Jongg league, who create and sell the new cards every year. Will this card be balanced with hands that fully and equally utilize all the tiles, or will some tiles be favored and some become fodder for passing during the Charleston?
If this is just one big foreign language to you it is time to learn to play this game. I am happy to have another class and teach you. As long as you have not previously signed up for a class and not shown up. It is a game about fun, but I take it very seriously.
Now I need to get a good night’s sleep so I am ready for the big festivities of tomorrow. Happy Mah Jongg New Year. May the jokers be with you!

Why Did We Always Get Out Foot Measured?


 When I was a kid and we went to a fancy shoe department at a store like Lord and Taylor the shoe salesman always made a big deal about measuring our feet. Now this does not seem unusual to do with children whose feet seem to grow faster than any other part, but he also always measured my mother’s feet.
I think my feet stopped growing around age thirteen, but I noticed that it never stopped the shoe salesman from pulling out his handy silver foot measuring device with the little width gauge. I was never quite sure how they read that thing, but despite my foot remaining the same size I still stood first on the right and then on the left foot in the silver measure contraption every time the salesman asked me.
Once he had ascertained the exact size of my foot he would disappear into the back and then after a little wait would reappear with many more boxes than shoes I had requested. It was not that he was bringing different sizes, but additional styles or colors he was certain I might like. Being a department store shoe salesman was a lucrative job, back in the day. They worked on high commissions even when others in the store worked on salary.
Today we either order our shoes online with no measuring available or if I go to a real shoe store I just tell the clerk the size to bring and they just dump the box beside us, not attempting to put the shoe on my foot like they real shoe salesmen used to do. What I wonder is did those old time shoes salesmen really need to always measure our feet, or was it just part of the show to get a chance to talk with us and figure out what other kids of shoes they might entice us with?
I wish I had a recording of those conversations so a I could figure out if the salesman asked us about favorite colors, or activities we might be doing. I just can’t believe how often I stood on the metal measuring machine when it was totally unnecessary. 
Maybe shoe manufacturers have gotten much better at making standard sizes. With everyone I know ordering shoes from places like Zappos, being off in your sizing just the littlest bit could be the death of a shoe brand. Maybe we are just happy with shoes that stay on our feet and don’t give us blisters.
I kind of miss old fashioned shoe salesmen. I don’t feel like I need the measuring, but I do like when someone else slips the pump on my foot so I can just sit back and decide if it looks good. I also like looking at the shoes in the little mirror on the floor. It is not so much to see how the shoes look, but to see how they make my calves and ankles look. This is just something you can’t do when buying on the Internet. I’m just glad I’m not the maker of the silver metal foot measuring machine. I bet their business has really gone to the dogs.


On Easter I can think of no better time to speak out about the shameful law HB-2 that our small minded North Carolina politicos passed last week to stop an inclusionary law the Charlotte City a council passed to allow transgender people to use the bathroom they identify with.
First the biggest issue, since it is Easter. God did not make any junk. We are all children of God and he loves us all. Now for some people who by luck of nature feel that their gender assigned them at birth does not match their outsides they should be allowed to become who they feel they were born to be. And God loves them just as much.
I think that the republican law makers in my state believe in God for the most part. And being republicans they usually believe in smaller government, and fiscally responsible spending, and local rights over bigger government over stepping and they are usually pro-business That is why I am totally confused by this action.
First our state general assembly felt the need to call a special session to deal with this use of bathrooms issue to the tune of $42,000, when they could have waited one month until the regular session was due to be in Raleigh. Second they felt that Charlotte City council as well as all local North Carolina municipalities do not have the right to set their own local laws concerning the uses of bathrooms by transgender people. Third, they apparently never considered how many businesses are going to be hurt because of passing this absurd, backwards, hurtful, stupid law that makes people say, “Why do I want to go to North Carolina?”
Then there is the God issue. If any of these people listen at any places of worship I am not sure how they can think they get to judge others. Now I know their small minded reasoning was they thought that they needed to protect women in restrooms. What? I think if they looked at any statistics it seems that transgender people are assaulted in bathrooms at a ridiculously higher rate than anyone else. If we let people just use the potty in the restroom they look like they belong in there won’t be any real issue. If I see someone who looks like a man in the ladies room my first thought is not, that must be a transgender person. Did they law makers, in their $42,000 session not think through the absurdity of this law?
The small minds and unkind hearts of our law makers and our Governor who signed the bill as fast as he could need to be challenged. This absurdity hurts not just transgender people, but all of North Carolina. I normally don’t blame one political party for bad policy, but this was such a lopsided, poorly thought out action it needs to be called out. Republicans need to keep to the planks of their party, and stop spending money foolishly to make more laws that really were not hurting anybody. Let local governments decide these things.  
And on this Easter Sunday I will say that Jesus died for our sins, but that does not mean you need to sin more by thinking that you are a better human than someone else. God loves us all the same, even you stupid North Carolina law makers.

A Party at Ten

When the invitation for a friend’s 50th birthday arrived I was thrilled to see it was a party from ten until two. That is until I realized it is ten at night. I am much too old to go to a party that starts at ten. I didn’t like starting parties at ten in college. What a waste of seven, eight and nine it was.
Despite the late hour I like this friend and certainly don’t want to forgo the celebration. I made the mistake of working in my sweat shop all day rather than taking a nap. Now I have a sore back and am exhausted. I would be pumped if I had finished the dress, but the review is “good” except for the list of alterations, Can this be tighter? Can this be lower? I have at least one more full day in the sweat shop and now I am going our to a party that goes until two.
Oh yeah, tomorrow is Easter and my parents will be arriving for church and lunch and my house is just going to have to remain covered in threads and pins. There will be no time for cleaning up since I am going to have to get sleep at some point. Do you think it would be rude to bring my seam ripper and dress to church to work on during the sitting parts of the service?
So much for a long holiday weekend. I’ll post a picture of me at a party at a bar after ten tonight. It will be a rare sighting. Even rarer will be that Russ is going too.  

The Sweat Shop Life

In the continuation of my trying to design and create a dress for Carter I sat hunched over my sewing machine for the better part of eight hours today. I now have great respect for the millions of real sweat shop workers who make the world’s clothing. Designers have it much easier. Standing and draping fabric is the fun part. Picking out material and colors is easy in comparison to the work of the people at the bottom of the rung who are tethered to the sewing machine do.
Since I have made this creation without a pattern I have even more respect for pattern makers and cutters. To be able to look at a sleeve and know exactly what shape to cut so that it is big enough to go around the shoulder and down to the arm pit and not strangle the appendage is a true art. I avoided this hurdle by making this dress basically sleeveless.
Life would have been easier if I had not put the zipper in correctly on one side and backwards on the other. It also would have been better if I could have found my seam ripper. I have also realized that I desperately need to get to the eye doctor to see what can be done about my mid-distance vision, but that is certainly not going to get fixed before I am done with this project.  
Happily I am almost done with the top half which is by far the more complicated portion. I am in the tailoring and getting the fit just right phase on the top and then I will turn my attention to the long flowing shirt that will be a welcome reprieve.
For now I just need my back to recover from my sweatshop hunch. Hopefully one good night’s sleep will do that. Thank goodness my family does not depend on me to make all their clothes. I would quickly lobby for nudity and trust me that is not a good thing.