Birthday-gift idea sparks series of books and a mission


May 22, 2002|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WHAT BEGAN as an idea for a birthday present for her daughter has turned into a series of books and a mission for Harper's Choice resident Jean Aziz.

Two years ago, Aziz's daughter, Astrid Nielsen, who lives in New York City, passed a milestone as she turned 30.

"It's kind of a turning-point birthday. For somebody who is 30 and has everything, you want to give them something special. So I wrote her a letter that said, `These are all the things I've learned since I turned 30,'" Aziz said.

The letter imparted bits of wisdom such as, "Your women friends will be there forever, so cultivate them"; "Live up to your parents' expectations. They deserve it"; and "Discover what brings you joy."

"I sent off the letter and I thought, `Oh darn, I forgot to tell her this and I forgot to tell her that,'" Aziz said.

Aziz realized that other women would have wisdom earned through experience to share with the next generation, so she set about gathering advice from friends and family to pass along. She called Finksburg resident Peggy Stout, her friend of 25 years, and told her about the birthday present. Stout and Aziz had worked together as educators in Baltimore County for many years.

"I said to her, `What do you think of this idea? Why don't we ask our friends what they would say to their kids as they turned 30?'"

The two women started handing out stamped, self-addressed postcards and asking people to return them with three things they thought someone turning 30 should know about life. They collected more than 150 suggestions.

"What these people wrote back was really fabulous," Aziz said. "It was wise and profound. Some of it was humorous. We decided to put it into a book."

With help from friends and family, Aziz and Stout's book, Wise Women Speak to the Woman Turning 30, was published last month by Capital Books Inc.

"You know the saying, `It takes a village to raise a child'? Well, it takes a village to do a book, too," Aziz said. "If it wasn't for the friends, relatives and neighbors who contributed or my children and their contacts, this would have been a long, hard process."

Aziz's stepson, Jehan, a cartographer for National Geographic, assisted with the layout for the book. Marie Bode, a friend from Aziz's watercolor class, illustrated the book.

Aziz and Stout are working on the next two books in the series: Wise Women Speak to the Woman Getting Married and Wise Women Speak to the New Mother. The women hope that their books will inspire women to recognize that the wisdom they have gained throughout their lives can be of use to the younger generation.

"We are starting a movement to get women to understand that they are empowered and have wisdom to help people through the important times in their lives," Aziz said. "It's all about everyday women supporting everyday women. It's very empowering."

Aziz and Stout hope that other women will share their wisdom through their Web site:

"We want these books to speak to a woman during these important points in their life, but the advice will come from women who have already been there and done that," Aziz said.

Teacher honored

Nucleo Vega, a band teacher at Wilde Lake Middle School, received a First Year Educator Award from the Howard County Public School System's Department of Staff Development. He received his award at a ceremony honoring school system employees last week.

Vega was born in Columbia and graduated from Hammond High School before earning his degree from University of Maryland, College Park. He said he always wanted to return to his hometown to teach.

"The teachers in Howard County are awesome," he said. "They gave me so much advice and so many tips."

Vega said that the disparity in his students' economic resources was what most surprised him during his first year of teaching. "I have some students who can't even afford a $5 book, and other kids who take private music lessons. It's a challenge," Vega said.

Scholarships awarded

Six students have been awarded $2,500 scholarships from the Columbia Association through its Spirit of Columbia Scholarship program. The students will be recognized at a reception tomorrow at Columbia Association offices on Wincopin Circle.

Ben Schwartz, 17, is a Wilde Lake resident who attends River Hill High School. Ben was environmental coordinator for River Hill's student government association and was a peer mentor for freshmen.

"It's wonderful that there are organizations out there who are willing to assist college-bound students," Ben said. "It's difficult to make a decision about college without thinking about money."

Amanda Henry, 17, of Wilde Lake High School was teen representative on the Wilde Lake Village Board and is president of the Future Educators Club at her school. Amanda has volunteered at nursing homes, and for the Salvation Army and Therapeutic Riding Center.

Other scholarship recipients are Suneel Bhat of River Hill, Laura Ann Bumiller of Oakland Mills, Casey Alexandra Hedden of River Hill and Samantha Elaine McCoy of Long Reach.

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