Being Thankful: My 2010 Gratitude List

I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of Thanksgiving. It’s not that I’m ungrateful. I just don’t like the meal around Thanksgiving. I’m not a fan of turkey, candied yams, cranberry sauce or pie.

I really hate pie.

I do love watching football and being lazy with my closest family members and friends. I’ll give Thanksgiving that.

It’s also a time to sit back and really think about what I’m thankful for as the year comes to a close. So, here’s my gratitude list for the year.

This year (2010), I am grateful for:

  • My husband. There aren’t enough words to explain why.
  • My two boys, who continue to grow into amazing human beings right before my eyes.
  • Friends and family. I have an amazing support system and don’t know what I’d do without them.
  • The ability to meet G at the bus stop each day after school.
  • A pretty darn good work / family life balance. Even when it gets a bit overwhelming.
  • The overall good health of said friends and family.
  • New opportunities and old standbys.
  • Two stubborn Siberian Huskies who are getting older but still manage to act like puppies when they get the chance.
  • Accidents that didn’t turn into tragedies.
  • Music and art that moves me.
  • The words that flow through my brain.
  • My voice.
  • Bacon.

What are you thankful for?

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Holiday Giving Part 2: Choosing a Nonprofit

After writing my previous post about holiday giving that also gives back, I realized that some people might need a little help finding the local charity to which they ultimately want to give. Here are a few steps you can take to help you choose your nonprofit(s):

  • Think about the organizations you already interact with. Have you adopted a pet at the local shelter? Do you listen to public radio? Do you currently receive services from a nonprofit? Start with what (and who) you know. If you already have a relationship with a nonprofit, thank them by taking the extra step to make a donation.
  • Google nonprofit organizations in your town. This is the most obvious place to start if you’re unsure of what’s in your neighborhood. I bet you’ll be surprised at how many you find.
  • Once you find an organization (or more), visit the charity’s website and check out their mission, programs and services. Everything a nonprofit does should relate directly to its mission. If you don’t believe in the mission, keep searching.
  • Use websites like GuideStar and Charity Navigator to gauge how your money will be usedGuideStar. With a 501(c)(3) status, an organization has to be incredibly transparent. You can view a charity’s 990 for free on the GuideStar website and read reviews of organizations. Charity Navigator rates nonprofits with specific methodology. Both websites have a ton of information to help you give smartly.Charity Navigator
  • When in doubt, call or email. Nonprofits love talking about the work that they do. You want to know how they’ll use the money you give to them. Asking questions helps you make an informed decision. (Seriously, I love it when people call and ask about the nonprofit I work for. It helps people connect more deeply to the organization. Sometimes you really can’t get a feel for what the org does in your community until you talk to a dedicated staff member.)

I try to make sure I send my money where it will make the biggest impact. In a weaker economy, it’s even more important to exercise your due diligence when picking a nonprofit organization to send a donation to.

Now, go forth and give!

3 Simple Ways to Give (and Give Back) This Holiday Season

When I hear the word “giving,” my mind goes to philanthropy rather than to presents. Maybe it’s because I have worked in and around development departments (fund raising for those who don’t speak nonprofit language) for the past several years.

In my nonprofit work, I have been on the receiving end of donations (of time and money) from individuals and companies. I’ve also fielded countless calls about giving to the nonprofit organization. I think what I like most about this part of my job is the moment when the donor realizes how much they really can help, even with what they perceive as a very small gesture. Too often, people and companies think that they can’t give enough to an organization.

Sometimes, it’s the really small stuff that can make the biggest impact.

As the holiday season starts, I thought I would share a few simple ways to give that also give back to your community. While these aren’t overly new ideas, it helps to be reminded of how you can make a difference in someone else’s life by stopping to think about how you spend your time and money in this “season of giving.”

  1. Donate money locally. The key word here is locally. There are some great national and international nonprofit organizations who, literally, help the world. Don’t forget the nonprofit organizations that make your neighborhood a better community in which to live. They give homeless people a place to stay at night. They reunite families. They feed the hungry. They educate us. They enrich our lives. And they do it in your backyard, even if you don’t realize it. This year, instead of buying gifts for those hard to shop for family members, why not donate the money to a local charity in their name? You could ask for others to do the same for you. Typically the nonprofit will send a card to the person letting them know a donation was made in their honor. (You can make this request, if you’re unsure of the process.) It makes them (and you) feel good about helping a cause, and you get the added bonus of a tax deduction.
  2. Share your time and/or resources. Take some time and volunteer for a local (again, the key word here) charity. Serve lunch at a soup kitchen during your lunch hour with co-workers. Call up a social services agency and see if you can help out by buying gifts for clients who would otherwise not receive any on Christmas morning. If you’re having a holiday party, ask people to bring non-perishable food items and help stock the nearby food pantry. These are all things that take very little time and effort, but they make you feel really, really good after you do them. They also put life into perspective for you. I promise.
  3. Shop smartly. By smartly, I mean think about where and what you’re buying as you do your holiday shopping. Start by skipping the big box stores and purchasing gifts at your local shops (see the theme here?).  The small businesses in your area may not be nonprofits, but they enrich your community just the same. They are also some of the biggest supporters of your local nonprofits. Just last week, I spent some time shopping on Maine Street in Brunswick. The stores were open later and many had special sales going on for the event. I bought several gifts. At least two of them benefited a Maine nonprofit. All of the gifts supported small businesses in my backyard (literally, since I was able to walk to all of them). One of my purchases was a beautiful hand made scarf from Spindleworks, a nonprofit art center for adults with disabilities. 75% of the money from the purchase will go directly to the artist, and one of my family members will get a terrific accessory. Smart shopping.

So there you go. Pretty simple, right? Sometimes, we just need a reminder during the craziness of the holiday season of the true meaning of the word giving.

Art That Moves You

I love art. I love looking at it. I love experiencing it.

I love it when a painting or photo or even a beautifully designed chair stops me in my tracks. There’s just something about certain objects that move me. Usually it has something to do with bold colors, a graphic image or a really simple subject.

Maybe that’s why I love this piece of artwork by my 5-year-old son, G. I first saw it on a bulletin board at his school. I didn’t know it was his, but I had a feeling it was. It was on the bottom, right-hand side of the board, and the only one without a name. Despite it’s location on the board, it stood out to me.

G noted that it was his, and that it was two apple trees next to each other.

Maybe it’s because it was my child that created the picture, but it moved me. It’s the first work by G that really made me think about him as the artist behind the picture and not just the child that completed a school project.

At the same time, I can see the influence of my husband and me in this picture. The symmetry and neat construction come from my accountant husband. The balance of color and graphic quality come from the more artistic, right-brained mom.

What really struck me is that I can see his vision in this piece of artwork. It didn’t look like any other “tree” on the bulletin board. It was well-thought out and presented in a way that was truly G.

Time for this proud mom to buy a nice frame.

Battle wounds and tests of motherhood

Nothing prepares you to be a mother. I don’t care who you are, how much experience you have with children or how many books you’ve read. Motherhood is something you have to experience to understand the sheer perplexities of the title.

When G, who is 5, put his arm through a plate glass door in our house last week, I was faced with a situation that I wasn’t ready for. There was blood. A lot of it. There was screaming. There was broken shards of glass all over the floor.

The thing is that, when you’re a mom, you stay calm (or at least make it seem like you’re calm) and handle the situation. No matter how nauseous you might feel. That’s your job.

While I certainly can’t say I handled the situation perfectly, I can say that I did my job. I have to admit, I almost panicked when I took G’s shirt off to assess where all the blood was coming from. It was flowing fast and all over the floor. And, it turns out, the gash was pretty big. The biggest I’ve seen up close. It was extremely clear to me that I needed to get him to the ER. I also had to retrieve his 23 month old brother from the other side of the door. Both boys needed to be told everything would be okay and cleared from the glass. And, yes, there was still all that blood to deal with.

Though I couldn’t quite get G to sit down, I was finally able to find a clean rag to wrap the wound. (I’m pretty sure there was a lot of me wandering around the room trying to figure out what to do next as well.) I made unsuccessful calls to my husband who I was sure would come home to an empty house with blood and glass all over the floor and to my friend (and nurse) who I hoped was still in her car after picking up her kids from the same daycare I just left. I was focused on getting G to the ER, and I could have used a little help.

The bleeding stopped after a few minutes. I managed to get the owner of the boys’ daycare to come over and pick up Biz while I took G to the ER. I got my husband by text in the ER, and my friend turned her car around to go to the house and clean the mess up. I have a great support system.

In the ER, the nurse practitioner took one look at the wound and said, “that is awesome!” (That is also why she’s and ER nurse, and I am not.) G didn’t even shed a tear at the hospital.

It was not a fun experience. I hope I never go through something like that again. In the days after the accident, I could actually feel pain in my arm when I thought about it.

In retrospect, it could have been a lot worse. In the end, at least I passed one of the many tests I will face as a mother. Everyone is in one piece, and G will have a great scar to go along with the harrowing story.

Guster Love

My husband and I went to see Guster at the newly re-opened State Theatre in Portland, Maine on Wednesday evening. I think it was our 7th or 8th time seeing Guster live. (I’ve actually lost count.)

The funny thing is that every time we see Guster, we seem to act like teenagers. (We are in our 30s.) We get all excited for the show, talk about what songs we hope they’ll sing, what crazy antics we can expect from band members and compare notes on our favorite moments from past concerts.

After the show, which we decided was probably the best we’ve seen thus far even when compared to the marathon concert they did at the State while filming their only live DVD, I started to think about why I love Guster so much. And for so long.

Here are my top ten reasons for loving Guster (in no particular order):

  1. Live show. Guster is a band that you can’t truly appreciate until you see them live. Period.
  2. Talent. They’ve got it. Each one of them. Band members seem to switch instruments for every song and are constantly moving around the stage throughout a concert, sometimes playing instruments I can’t quite identify. Adam and Ryan’s voices sound stellar together or apart. Their lyrics are often fun, confusing, deep and entertaining.
  3. Songs with the word Jesus in the title. Despite being Jewish, Guster continues to write and sing songs that involve Jesus. Perplexing, but fun. (Note: My favorite is “Jesus on the Radio,” especially when it’s done live and without any microphones.)
  4. Infant calmer. When G was an infant, he wasn’t the best napper. He never wanted to miss anything, which was not the most convenient thing for this mom. One day, when he was overtired and still fighting a nap, I walked into our living room to turn down the Guster CD that was blasting. He immediately calmed down. After a few minutes of dancing around the room with him to “Barrel of a Gun,” he fell fast asleep. Maybe it has something to do with the album Guster on Ice playing in the hospital room when he was born. But, it was always Guster he wanted to hear.
  5. Airport Song. Found on the Goldfly album from 1997, this song never gets old. They always play it live, and it always sounds different. Brian goes nuts with the hand percussion. Ping pong balls fly. From disco to demonic, “Airport Song” keeps us warm and safe.
  6. Brian Rosenworcel. Percussionist extraordinaire. I can only imagine what this man’s hands look like up close. He beats cymbals, bongos and other drum-related instruments with his bare hands and tapes them (his hands, that is) in between songs. Watching Brian is a show in and of itself. And, if you’re lucky, you might get to hear him sing a song or two (e.g., He sang an impromptu 50 state song on Wednesday).
  7. Happy Frappy. Listening to Guster makes me happy and content. It also makes me sing loudly.
  8. Simplicity. Guster is 3 guys (plus Luke = 4) playing instruments and singing songs. All of their albums sound different, yet still sound like Guster. Their shows don’t have smoke or extravagant light shows. They don’t tell me what to do at live shows. I like this.
  9. Longevity. They, and their songs, have it. I have more than five hours of Guster music on my iPod and can listen to it all without getting sick of them. I’m not sure how, but their songs never seem to get old. Nor do they sound the same.
  10. Maine love. Guster hearts Maine and Maine hearts Guster. They always make Portland a stop on their tours while other bands completely ignore the pine tree state. They shot their only live DVD at the State (which my husband and I make a very brief cameo in). Adam lives in Portland. Home sweet home.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, find out now.

Six creative ideas for preserving kids’ school papers and art projects

Ever since G started kindergarten, I have been overwhelmed with papers and artwork. He has a folder that goes home with him each day, and it seems like it is constantly stuffed to the brim with worksheets, notices and art projects.

Not wanting to throw anything away, I initially started to keep everything in a folder. I had visions of myself flipping through its contents at the end of the school year, seeing how much G progressed in his first year of elementary school.

I couldn’t close the folder by mid-October, and I decided I needed a new tactic. (Actually, a few.)

Following are six creative ideas to preserve all those papers and projects your kids come home with. Some of them are mine, and some came from friends. (One friend pointed out that as the kids get older, the colorful papers and crafty creations get replaced by actual work. So, preserve early!)

  • Scan and/or take pictures of everything and save it to CD-ROM or flash drive. At the end of the year, you can make a photo book, complete with captions and stories about the projects. (I have G explain to me what each of his pictures depict. Like any artwork, it has more meaning when you hear how the artist was inspired.) With a program like iMovie, you can even make a short video with pictures, subtitles and music. And as an added bonus, you have some great gifts for the grandparents!
  • Put together a binder. If you’re not into digitizing everything, a binder is a good alternative. Use a 3-hole punch or sheet protectors to make a nice book of preschool, school or daycare papers and projects. I made G an “ABC 123” binder with all the worksheets he completed in nursery school. It was a fun way to see G’s progression in writing, and he used it as a reference when he wanted to remember what the letters looked like.
  • Store the papers and projects in a safe place. You can’t put larger items in a binder. Mid-preschool, I purchased a bin to keep my favorite pictures and larger art projects that came home with G from daycare and preschool. (The fridge got way too full.) Along with a date, I indicated where the artwork came from (school or daycare) and any necessary description of the piece. (It may look like a spider when you put it in. After a while, it just looks like scribbles, even for Mom.)
  • Create your own art gallery at home. Designate an area of the house for exhibiting the very best works of art. It could be a bulletin board in an office or kitchen. One of my friends strung some rope along her kitchen wall and hung her kids’ artwork on it with clothes pins. We converted a second kitchen in our house to an art room and fill the walls with an ever-changing gallery of work. Of course, if you’re short on space, there’s always the fridge.
  • Frame the really good stuff. Some pieces are just too good not to display in a more permanent manner. Showing off colorful kids art in a nice, black modern frame can bring some real pop to a room. For a more dramatic look, cut out a portion of the picture and use a larger white matte when you frame it. (Don’t forget to date it!) I framed G’s first paper from preschool, added a picture from the first day of school and created an instant keepsake for the hallway wall. The possibilities are endless when it comes to framing, and the framed artwork also make great grandparents gifts.
  • Make some placemats. I can’t remember where I heard this idea, but I thought it was a pretty good one. If you have a laminator (or access to one), take the pieces of artwork and laminate them. You can use them as placemats. They are easy to clean, and you can change them out on a regular basis.

In the end, you have some wonderful pieces of artwork to share with your family and friends. And you’ve preserved some very precious memories. Plus, it’s a great way to see how much your little one has grown up (both for him and you).

I’m sure I’ll be opening that bin of artwork for G in a few years, yearning for the days of the overwhelming simple alphabet papers and art projects.

It’s all about perspective, right?

Have some creative ideas of your own? Please share in the comments section!