Archive for the ‘ Tips ’ Category

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!

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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.

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!

Potty Training Part Deux

I recently started the process of potty training with my youngest son, Biz, though I can’t say it was a conscious decision. He’s 21 months old and was giving the ladies at daycare a hard time on the changing table. (He’s particularly stubborn and squirmy.) They gave him the option of going on the potty instead of having his diaper changed, and he went for it.

Initially, I was thinking that he wasn’t ready for potty training. I’d go along with it for consistency-sake, but I didn’t think it would stick. So far, I’ve been wrong.

My oldest son, G, was fully potty trained by the time he was 2 1/2. We had no issues with him. Not even bed wetting at night. He was actually trained closer to 2, but he put off buying the underwear for a little while. When he was ready, he told me.

Back to Biz, I figured I couldn’t be that lucky twice. Especially with two boys. (That’s what all the potty training articles tell you anyway.) And though Biz could certainly go the other way if he decides to, I really feel like he’s going to be even quicker than G. He readily tells me when he needs to go, and he’s already gone potty in a public bathroom. (G took longer to do both these things consistently.) He’s one determined child and when he makes up his mind, that’s it. He also has a killer potty celebration dance.

There are a lot of articles out there that tell you when to start (or not start) potty training, what to do and how to do it. I’ve never listened to any of these. Frankly, most of them don’t seem to work for me or my family. (I’ve never been good with charts.)

And, I think that’s the key to successful potty training. Find what works for you. We bought a potty for G at around 18 months, when he started asking for us to change his diaper. We simply talked to him about how when he’s ready, he could go to the bathroom on the potty like a big boy. And, yes, we modeled for him by letting him watch us go to the bathroom. (I do find that it’s a lot better for the parent of the same sex to model for the child in the bathroom. There are some things you just don’t need to explain at that age.)

I’m sure other parents think I’m starting too early. My response to that is that it’s not my decision. It’s for Biz to decide. I didn’t do a thing for G to get him potty trained. I just provided him the tools (i.e., the potty) and the encouragement to do it himself. And when he didn’t want to do it, I didn’t make it an issue. I’m doing the same for Biz.

Here’s hoping for a new year without diapers.

Searching for some FOCUS

I have a lot going on.

I work “part-time” (though I pack in a full-time workload into 30 hours+/week). I am taking a particularly intensive graduate level class. I have a 19 month old and an almost 5 year old (who’s birthday is in 5 days and am in the process of planning the party).

I have two stubborn, and shedding, Siberian Huskies. I am in the middle of summer in Maine (who can keep up with all these fairs and festivals, not to mention getting in as much beach time as possible before it gets cold again). I am in charge of the family calendar, making sure everyone gets to where they need to be. I live in a big old house that is in the middle of a renovation that seems like will never be done.

Luckily, I have a very loving and supportive hubby who cooks, and a cleaning lady that comes every other week.

I’ve always taken on a lot. I am one of those people who can juggle many things and still come out with a smile. I’m pretty detail-oriented and have worked a lot on just keeping things simple and setting small goals for myself each day to get things done. I’ve been told that I would be good in an ER (and I would if it weren’t for all the sick people, needles and blood).

Lately, however, I’ve noticed that I’ve been having a hard time concentrating on any one thing. While I may be physically present in one location, I always seem to be thinking of all the other things I need (or want) to do later on. I thought I would do some research online and find some techniques to improve my concentration. (Can you tell I’ve done a few research papers lately?)

Here are 5 FOCUS tips to improved concentration I found from Sam Horn on About.com: Alternative Medicine:

  1. F = Five More Rule. The premise here is that in order to work through the frustration of getting through a task, just do it five more times. Read five more pages. Work for 5 more minutes. You end up getting your “second mind” (like a second wind, only different) and stretching your attention span to move further
  2. O = One Think At a Time. Tell your brain that you will think about certain tasks at certain times. For example, “I will think about party games and favors tonight after I put the kids to bed. For the next 30 minutes, I will get through these work emails. ” Alternately, you can make a to-do list. The list gets the tasks out of your head and onto paper, so that your mind doesn’t have to be the holder of the info.
  3. C = Conquer Procrastination. Ask yourself “Do I have to do this? Do I want it done so it’s not on my mind? Will it be any easier later?” Get yourself into the mental state that tells you if you just get it done now, you won’t have to deal with it (or think about it) anymore.
  4. U = Use Your Hands as Blinkers. I have to admit that I’m a bit skeptical of this one. The suggestion is to cup your hands around your eyes so that you only focus on the thing in front of you and, literally, blocking out the other things that surround you. (Working in social services, I’m not sure I’d get away with this one at work. They’d probably start diagnosing me.)
  5. S = See As If For the First or Last Time. When your mind is wandering, stop and really SEE your surroundings. I find I do this more and more when I’m with my kids. There’s really nothing like seeing the world through the eyes of a child. When my mind wanders, they help me bring it back pretty quickly.

So, there it is. They are pretty simple steps that anyone can do. And by writing them down, my mind already feels like it’s gotten the whole “how can I work on concentrating more” task out of the way.

Read the full article from About.com

A note to parents of left-handed children

Two people have made comments to me recently about left-handed children. A co-worker mentioned that her daughter was worried her 19 month old son was left-handed.

At a recent basketball practice for 3 – 5 year olds where parents and kids work together on drills, a fellow parent shrugged her shoulders and declared, “She’s left-handed. I don’t know what to do with her.”

Here’s the thing. You don’t have to do anything different with your left-handed child. Just let him or her be left-handed. To the mom at basketball practice, I noted that being a lefty isn’t easy since everyone puts things (like basketballs) in your right hand. I know because I’m a lefty too.

The truth is, most of us aren’t truly left-handed. We’re pretty ambidextrous. We have to be, living in a right-handed world. I cut and kick with my right hand and foot. I can pretty much dribble and shoot a basketball with either hand comfortably. Of course, we’re good at switching back and forth because we’re also right brained. (You know, because left-handed people are the only ones in their right mind.)

Sure we do things the opposite way that most people do. Our check marks go the opposite way. When you open cards from us, they’re always upside down and backwards. We bump elbows with people at the dinner table. It’s not like we have a disease or anything. In fact, lefties are pretty smart and creative. Six of the past 12 presidents have been lefties (Truman, Ford, Reagan, Bush [Sr., of course], Clinton and Obama).

Lots of artists, musicians, actors and athletes are southpaws, including Michelangelo, M.C. Escher, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Paul McCartney, Robert Plant, Robert DeNiro, Jim Henson, Nicole Kidman, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, George Burns, Dan Aykroyd, Oprah Winfrey, Cam Neely, Larry Bird, Steve Young, Gayle Sayers, Ty Cobb and Ken Griffey, Jr.

Four of the 5 original MacIntosh computer designers were left-handed. The list goes on and on.

According to Wikipedia, only about 7 – 10% of the population is left-handed. If your child is, don’t fret. And don’t put things in his right hand. Let your child choose which hand (or foot) he wants to use. If you’re teaching a child something and can’t figure out how to do it the opposite way you’re used to, stand across from him instead of next to him. It’s easier to visualize. That’s what I do with my right-handed son, G. Of course, he’ll probably learn a few things left-handed. And that’s okay too.

What to do if you drop food on the floor, a flow chart

Ever drop food on the floor and wonder if you should pick it up and eat it? Do you go by the 5 second rule? Do you factor in the last time you actually mopped the floor? Are you more picky if it’s your child eating said food (be honest)? Here’s a flow chart that all of us can use. I found it via a link in a newsletter from NTEN. Note that all bets are off when bacon is involved.
food on the floor