Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Life Lesson from SNL?

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It'll be pretty quiet around here for the next week or so. We're headed to the mountains. Meanwhile, here's a little life lesson from, of all places, Saturday Night Live. It's completely kid friendly.

And, yes, we've saved up for our trip. :)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Charitable Deeds project is coming along

Ever tried to do something, just one thing, for someone else EVERY DAY? Our Charitable Deeds Project is coming along, though I discovered a bit of a stumbling block today. Still, we carry on with it joyfully.

In other news, our day started out MUCH more smoothly than yesterday. V's "day of being Mom" afforded me some free time to work on one of my more time-intensive Deed projects which was really quite relaxing. The "Day of Being Mom" project also seemed to work its magic. By midday, V decided perhaps she didn't mind lending a hand now and again. "You have a LOT of work to do," she told me.

Her Mom Chores today were a lot more fun than yesterdays, once the morning dishes and kitty litter box duty were finished. I think her favorite was planting a couple dozen bulbs in the garden. The best part, I'm sure, was that I didn't tell her where to plant them. She was given free reign over any exposed dirt, except in the produce garden where we stick with edibles for (I hope) obvious reasons.

She wanted to cook again, and she was interested in making soup, so we pulled out the onions and made a SCRUMPTIOUS French Onion Soup from scratch. V even enjoyed helping peel and slice the onions, once she made one small addition to her attire.

More willing to help out than ever.

Monday, January 26, 2009

My kids are cooks (and better moms than I am)

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Today started out pretty rough with the girls not really excited about heading to Pilates with me. But it's the ONE hour that's about me getting in better shape, me being healthier, me being more sane. On mornings like today's, though, I wonder if the struggle to get out the door helps my sanity or sends me further down the slippery slope.

I didn't think I asked too much of them this morning. The girls had one hour to eat breakfast, get dressed, and V needed to strip her bed of its sheets and blankets. WHEN they dressed, they needed to keep in mind that horseback riding lessons were today, so long pants and riding boots were in order. E chose to read during breakfast, which always slows down the process. V decided to sit on her bed for 10 minutes and cry about how she didn't want to strip it rather than just getting the job done.

I gave them time warnings (since they still don't watch the clock), but still they dragged their heels. As time to leave drew closer and it became evident they weren't going to make it, Monster Mommy came out. I just can't do it all myself. I know...some of you are surprised to hear me make such a confession, but it's true. I cannot, in the time life alots, prepare for three people to get out the door on time, to do chores caused by four people living in close quarters. OK...I could, but I'm not a big morning person, and there are OTHER things I like to do (like blog, and read, and exercise and, yes, sleep). So I seek help where the girls are able: feeding themselves, brushing their own hair and teeth, dressing themselves and stripping their beds as needed.

ANYHOW...on our drive north to Pilates and All Things Good this morning, we talked about what the girls think I should do differently to get them on their way. What it came down to today, it turns out, is that they didn't want to go to Pilates. I explained that this particular class, while inclusive of children, was not about them, but it was the ONE HOUR per week that was about me doing something healthy, something that might prolong our time together. We also talked about how life would be for THEM if I just didn't get ready whenever THEY had something they wanted to do. They agreed that come horseback riding lesson time, they'd want me to take them whether I wanted to or not. I asked what THEY would have done differently. E decided there was nothing more I could have done. V said if SHE were the mom she would have done the mom chores AND the kid chores.

I thought that was an interesting concept, one that showed she really has no idea how much I do, or how much time all these chores take. So...except for dangerous things and skills well beyond her years (driving, for instance) she's played mom ever since we returned home this afternoon. She worked her little fingers to the bone cleaning out the newly acquired freezer (thanks, Grandma), taking out the recycling, taking out the composting materials, feeding pets, picking up after her sister, Dad and me, and, yes, making and cleaning up after dinner. She thought it was all great fun, except the cleaning up after dinner.

It's not like I sat around. There's SO much to do around here, so while she did the everyday chores, I managed to sort out our garage and make room for the freezer, photograph and post some items for sale on Craigslist, help E with her math homework, and do some other chores V really couldn't do, plus lend her a hand with drying dishes and putting them away, wiping clean surfaces, wrapping up the laundry.

In the end, she liked it. And the girls made a very tasty dinner of spaghetti with homemade spaghetti sauce (the tomatoes were canned, but they were without spice 'til the girls got to them) with side dishes of carrots, cottage cheese and peanuts all served separately.

V can't wait to do it all again tomorrow.

I've started our lists.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Great Recipe for a New Year

I don't know who originated this, but it came as a chain letter in my e-mailbox today. I don't typically take the time to read all the "FWD:" e-mails, but certain people send me very targeted things; items they know I'll appreciated. This was one of those people, and she was right. I liked it. Thought I'd share it here.

Great Recipe for a New Year

1. Take a 10-30 minute walk every day. And while you walk, smile.
It is the ultimate anti-depressant.

2. Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes each day.
Talk to God about what is going on in your life.
Buy a lock if you have to.

3. When you wake up in the morning complete the following statement,
'My purpose is to __________ today.
I am thankful for______________'.

4. Eat more foods that grow on trees and plants and eat less food that is
manufactured in plants.

5. Drink green tea and plenty of water. Eat blueberries, wild Alaskan salmon,
broccoli , almonds & walnuts.

6. Try to make at least three people smile each day.

7. Don't waste your precious energy on gossip, energy vampires, issues of the
past, negative thoughts or things you cannot control. Instead invest your energy in the positive present moment.

8. Eat breakfast like a king or queen, lunch like a prince or princess and dinner like a
college kid with a maxed out charge card.

9. Life isn't fair, but it's still good.

10. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.

11. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

12. You are not so important that you have to win every argument.
Agree to disagree.

13. Make peace with your past so it won't spoil the present.

14. Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

15. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.

16. Frame every so-called disaster with these words:
'In five years, will this matter?'

17. Forgive everyone for everything.

18. What other people think of you is none of your business.

19. GOD heals everything but you have to ask and believe .

20. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.

21. Your job won't take care of you when you are in need. Your friends will.
Stay in touch!!!

22. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.

23. Each night before you go to bed complete the following statements:
I am thankful for __________. Today I accomplished _________.

24. Remember that you are too blessed to be stressed.

25. When you are feeling down, start listing your many blessings.
You'll be smiling before you know it.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A brief guide to publishing

This was a quickly penned response to an aspiring author who asked for basic information about book publishing. I thought I'd share it here for anyone else with similar questions. Maybe it will help you, inspire you, depress you, or convince you that writing may not be the career for you after all.

I suspect Suzy sent you my way because in 2006 I published my first book, Best Family Adventures: San Luis Obispo County. (The web site's also my creation, so very sophomoric and currently out of date with its holiday decorations...hmmm...maybe I should get on that. But I digress.) You're right, there's a VERY steep learning curve that goes far beyond the actual writing of our stories! I just wanted to write, but then I did probably the same research you're doing now, discovered that this guide to a single county served a market MUCH to small for many publishers to consider, and learned that the publishers that DO serve markets that small would likely pay me no more than $1 per copy. I thought, sheesh, I'd put WAY too much work into it for that kind of money. I make more than that writing for newspapers, and they pay appallingly dismal salaries (and freelance wages). So, I decided to publish it myself, and continued my research and learned about:

- ISBN numbers - those magical bar codes and numbers on the back of the books. You'll HAVE to have one if you're going to sell it through ANY bookstores and many other retailers. (Your local mom n' pop shop MAY take it without, but not likely). ISBN numbers are sold in lots of 10 for something like $250. (Can't rightly recall, and it's probably changed since I picked up my set.) So, if you write one book, you might as well write 10!

- Library of Congress - for some purposes, my book needed to be filed with the Library of Congress. Free. Simple paperwork, and you send them two copies.

- Design software - I use a PC, so Mac users' info will vary here. I have a PC, and already had the software - Adobe Pagemaker (if you're thinking about going for it, I'm told InDesign
is a better value; they're both incredibly pricey) - but I had to figure out details I'd never used before, and make the software work with the printers' mega machines. Interesting challenge, but it worked out.

- Printing - I sought out bids from various printers in the U.S. I didn't want it printed out of the U.S. because I think it's RIDICULOUS to ship something from halfway around the world and still pay lower prices. There's just something patently wrong with that whole scenario. Canada is also an option, but there are border issues there as well. When I went out for bids, I had to figure out all the details: paper weight, color, size, cover paper, coated or not coated, how many images, color or no color, etc. But the good thing about going out for bid was that the serious printers sent back samples of their work that demonstrated binding (a big deal to me...I didn't want the book to fall apart in readers' hands) and finish. I paid for the printing with my savings and a small loan.

And finally, once published, there was distribution. There's a local distributor here that was interested in my book because one of their main bookstore clients was keen on the title. (I'd been talking to the store owner prior to the book's actual publication...he REALLY wanted it...and NOW!) The distributor, however, merely distributes, and only to CERTAIN stores. I cover any other stores in which the book fits - ice cream shops, bike shops, educational supply stores, etc. If the distributor carries your book, it SHOULD include your book in its catalog. But the catalog is hardly a great sales engine for the books, and that brings us to the BIG TIME CONSUMING thing about writing a book:

- Marketing. I've spent a LOT of time marketing the book. Book signings, speaking engagements, handing out fliers at festivals, showing books at festivals, basically prostituting my books.

But it's all panned out pretty well. I figured I would sell 1,500 copies, but I did some math prior to printing and figured it more wise to go with the next price break at 3,000 copies. Good thing! When you have books printed, they require that you accept (and pay for) up to 10 % overage, and that there may also be a 10% shortfall (for which you don't pay). That gives them room for some problems with printing. They didn't have any problems with printing, so I was more at the 10% overage end. SO....that gave me more than 3,300 copies to sell. We've sold 3,000 copies.

For a children's book, or any work of fiction, I think it would be better from the distribution standpoint to have a publishing company represent us. They can deal with this on a much larger scale (particularly the printing and distribution end), but I understand that they often really don't provide the publicity authors need to SELL the books. That's a publicist's job, and unless you're Janet Evanovich or Stephen King or some other author who's scratched their way to the top already, the publisher isn't going to provide that resource. You can do your own publicity or hire someone to help you with it.

Here's the depressing part: I, too, have written some children's stories, and have pitched them to publishers. It's a REAL challenge. Do you know how many stories they receive EVERY DAY!? It's appalling. And they only print a TINY fraction of them. So, we're in there with all the stars (and their ghost writers) who already have the name recognition that gives them the automatic in, and other lesser-known talented folk just like us. A great resource for finding publishers is "Writer's Market," which is updated regularly at its online version and also available in print form. The Market includes publishers for magazines, newspapers, greeting cards as well as books. The Market also includes author's agencies.

I've heard a lot lately about how it's best to have an agent. Some of the largest publishers use agencies to vet the authors. If it doesn't make it through an agency, it's not good enough for publication, so their thinking allegedly goes.

Still, I send in my stories, and someday an editor's sidekick who's stuck reading all of our submissions will be in the right mood on the right day when my story arrives in her office. She'll laugh. She'll cry. She'll tell the editor that they NEED to publish my book.

Then I'll hire a publicist.

Friday, January 23, 2009


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It's been an amazing week of change for the nation, for our home, for our girls. We started the week with the girls' first horseback riding lessons. The long-awaited pony time takes place within 2 miles of our house, which is a big bonus. Both girls were thrilled with their time on horseback. I was happy to see the young instructor start out with the basics - safety, catching your horse, prepping your horse and properly putting your horse away.

Tuesday brought great excitement to our house. At the risk of offending family, friends and strangers alike, I'll tell you I've never been so excited about politics. Really. If any of President Obama's promises pan out, I'll be thrilled, but what was most wonderful about the five hours we spent in front of the tube (besides the company and the super scrumptious celebratory pancake breakfast I made) was seeing so many people coming out in support of our new president. And what has been most wonderful about this week is the sense of pride we see throughout our community. There's a repeated theme that goes something like this, "Finally, I can once again be proud to be an American." Watching history in the making was fantastic for all of us as well. The event gave us a lot to talk about, and the girls had nearly five hours of questions, though the questions really haven't stopped.

I was excited, yes, but I got to wondering why I wasn't standing in a suit (like Uncle R.) or crying (like Auntie M.) or having a party (like some of our SMILe friends, though I was coughing and sneezing, so we begged off). I think I figured it out when I recalled friends and family watching the 2008 election coverage telling me, "This country will never elect an African-American." I never felt that way. Maybe it's a generational thing. Maybe it's because, deep down inside, I'm an idealist, and since my parents and (most) teachers raised me to treat people equally, to believe that all people had equal potential, I believed it. Did I have any doubts? Sure. When people said "never," it gave me pause. But as election night drew near, I knew that, given the current political climate and the candidates offered, if Barack Obama didn't win, something was SERIOUSLY wrong with my native land. I'm glad America didn't let me down.

There was another shift at our house this week, too, on the music front. This week the girls had their much-anticipated first violin lesson. E asked for a violin years ago, and this year V chimed in for a "fiddle." Saturday we picked up the rental instruments, and Tuesday we met Mrs. D. The first lesson: how to treat your instrument, how to hold your instrument, how to make a sound that won't send your parents packing these violins back to the rental shop.

Sometimes, change is good.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Do Jedi Mind Tricks Work on Frozen Poles?

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It is said that many people have TERRIBLE memories of their high school proms. I am not one of those people. In fact, I have great, vivid, Technicolor memories of my senior prom. Don't get excited. This isn't a tale that ends in the steamy backseat of someones limo (or even borrowed car).

First you have to understand that in OUR high school, most of the "band geeks" were also varsity letter winners in a variety of sports. So we joyfully greeted each other with a, "Hey, Band Geek!" There was a group of us that hung out together, not only during band functions, but on our weekends and after school. It was one of these fellow band geeks who invited me, quite by surprise, to the prom.

Prom night brought a double date for dinner. My date picked me up in his dad's pickup rather than his own '50-something truck that was a bit scruffy, but, like my date, had lots of character. He took me to his house for dinner. The plan - a barbecue served to the girls in a classy, home-style restaurant by the guys.

My date had started the coals with his best friend (the other girl's date), then left the coals in said friend's care. The coals should have been burning down quite nicely by the time we pulled into the driveway. Instead, we pulled in just in time to see said fire tender squirting a stream of flammable liquid on the hot coals sending huge flames toward the eaves under which the boys had set up the barbecue. As my date leaped out of the car to save the house (and the fire tender), the other boy said he thought he'd add fuel because it looked like the fire was going out.

Today, that guy is a news writer/producer for a network television station in one of the nation's largest markets. He writes about big news, you know, important stuff. There are statistics to check, facts to juggle. Fortunately, there are no matches.

For fun, he shares things like this:
My friend Amanda had never seen a whole Star Wars film. When I asked her if she wanted to watch the original trilogy she said that she would, but that she already knew what happens. So I took out my voice recorder and asked her to start from the top...

Star Wars: Retold (by someone who hasn't seen it) from Joe Nicolosi on Vimeo

And on his news channel's website today is this tidbit from a sister station in Kansas. I couldn't pass it up!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Zebras to Xenon

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Check out this challenge! I found out about it from my cousin, Megan, who's doin' it. It's free, comes with a training program and seems like a good idea (don't you think, Cousin Cyndi).

Today we walked the L.A. Zoo for a few hours, then headed downtown to the Museum of Contemporary Art. The Louise Bourgeois exhibit was, well, contemporary. There were pieces we liked, pieces I could have skipped altogether, and pieces that convinced the girls they should save all of their sketches - they've more impressive works in their collection already. Thursday nights admission to the museum is free (after 5 p.m.), and parking's conveniently curbside, but bring LOTS of quarters. At $4/hour and coins the only option if the credit card meter is out of service (as it was this evening), you'll need a pile of 'em.

From MOCA we headed to MONA - Museum of Neon Art only a few blocks away. The neon (argon, krypton, and xenon, too) was interesting, entertaining and colorful. But it's a tiny museum and, at $20 for two adults and two children, too pricey. Perhaps it will be worth another visit when it moves to a larger location where more than a single room of the collection might be displayed.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Kickin' Back with Grandma

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Today we kicked back at Grandma's house, slept in, read, played games and managed to make it out to the grocery store for a few things. The sleep-in session was much needed after a late night at the theatre last night.

How fun it was to share "Annie" with the girls! My mom took me to see this musical in the '70s. I was hooked! So it was extra special to be able to look over and see the girls sitting on the edges of their seats, following every movement, learning every song as E leaned on Grandma's arm.

Tomorrow we'll get out and explore again. Meanwhile, here are some pix from the past few days:

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Los Angeles Food Bank & American Girl Place - OVERLOAD!

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Yesterday we played at the California Science Center at Exposition Park here in Los Angeles. We were fortunate to hit it during Homeschool Day, but were surprised to learn that event didn't entail much use of the science center. In fact, it involved interesting classroom sessions, all focused on electricity. Still a morning well spent. After lunch we returned to hook motors to batteries and build our own electrical toys.

Then came the IMAX movie - Monster of the Deep. COMPLETELY unrelated to electricity, but entertaining nonetheless. Grandpa Doug and the girls and I spent the rest of our afternoon exploring the museum itself.

If I had to choose (fortunately I didn't have to), I'd go with "The Cube," aka Discovery Center in Santa Ana. It was far more hands-on, fewer television screens, and everything inside the museum was included in the entry fee (not so at Science Center). Still, if it's anatomy you're looking to learn, the Science Center is your place.

Today we went for something entirely different. We started by dropping off goodies at the LA Food Bank (you can read about this on our other blog here), then visited American Girl Place. WOW! Both eye opening. Never knew there could be such a large doll store! Or such a large food bank.

Sorry for the brevity. We're headed out the door to see "Annie" for a well-rounded day. ;)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Visiting the Southland

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First of all, let me make this perfectly clear. I do NOT love L.A. I know a lot of people do. People travel from around the world to visit this part of Southern California. Some love the hustle and bustle. Others come for the beaches or the museums or the theaters. I come to visit family. In fact, if I didn't have family here, I'm not sure I'd come this way.

Then again...

We're spending the entire week here, and we've made lots of plans. The L.A. Basin has a LOT to offer for people who like to get out and see, do and certainly taste! We've picked a handful of the museums, a theatre, a certain kid-focused store and other kid
hot spots to visit this week, all with said relatives.

We started today with V's special request: visit the L.A. City Central Library. During a brief visit last summer, the girls and I had our first introduction to this library, even got our own library card here. The Central Library is fantastic. Clearly the most wondrous library I've ever entered. It includes not only an expansive collection of books, but also a cafe, art galleries, and a wonderfully extensive children's area - room after room of books for children, plus a puppet/
storytime theater. We spent nearly 6 hours at the library today, almost entirely in the children's section, though we did wander through the map exhibit currently on display in the Getty Gallery. That led us BACK into the children's section where we found the story of "The Pacing Mustang" to which one of the maps referred.

Mom & Doug had dinner plans already. (We were supposed to have camped at the Page Museum, but that didn't work out because we couldn't find 6 others to join us on short notice to meet the 10-person minimum/group.) So the girls and I were on our own. I thought about taking them to one of my favorite Chinese food places down here - Chinese Friends - but I didn't dare go without my mom. Surely we can hit that one later in the week, together! But she'd also taken me to a great spot years ago, NBC Seafood, so the girls and I headed that way. With the help of our sometimes-trusty
GPSr, I found our way to this fabulous, authentic Chinese restaurant. We were the only Euro-Americans in the place, and the food and service was just as fantastic as I remembered. Mmmmm.... I don't HATE L.A. And MAYBE I would come down now and again even if we didn't have relatives here. Then again, everything good I know about L.A. I learned from my mother.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

And now for something completely different...

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OK, not completely different, but certainly back to our earlier use of this blog...sharing the news of our homeschooling life.

We started the new year with holiday cleanup and some relaxation. V is taking off with her reading (just like Big Sister E did). We'll return to projects in late January, but for now we're cruising with books, holiday wrapup, one last holiday camping trip and a trip south to visit Grandma L & Grandpa D.

For most of the past week, we've been camping with our friends, former neighbors who ditched our cul-de-sac in favor of a larger house with a larger yard just half a mile or so away. Same good school district. Same quiet neighborhood, but space for the kids and the dogs. Go figure!

It was FREEZING cold the first night at Lopez Lake. Fortunately, our trailer is small enough to hold in the body heat of three people snuggling under shared covers. Our friends tried not to rub in the fact that they had a heater - but we could hear it firing up throughout the night. (Actually, they graciously invited us to squeeze in with them if we felt the need. We were fine and cozy.)

Fortunately each day brought warmer temps, and warmer nights. Clear skies, a waxing moon, wonderful stars and lots of wild animals including: skunks, raccoons, deer, turkeys, fresh water clams, red-headed woodpeckers, a bobcat (?) and myriad birds. Each evening brought splendid dining with a coordinated menu that included super spaghetti and salad, Grandma Kathy's Peach Cobbler (always a hit) and our first stab at Dutch Oven Blueberry Pudding ala The Little House Cookbook.

All the kids got a photo lesson about painting with lights:

New Blog - A Year of Living Charitably

The project continues, but I thought I'd break it away from this blog so that I may better include family updates here. I realize most of our subscribers are friends and family members interested in hearing about what we do BEYOND this project. Some subscribed to keep up with homeschooling activities (certainly beyond the project), and others are in it for the photos of their grandchildren (ahem...wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.)

So, if you want to keep up with the 2009 project, check out A Year of Living Charitably. You can still subscribe over there to get those updates. And if you like the idea of the project, please spread the word!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Food Bank

Sudanese diet for a week:
American diet for a week: Images from What the World Eats published by TIME magazine here, in book form here, and covered by NPR.

In America, we're seeing record increases in obesity, diabetes and other diseases related to overeating. So how can it be that we're also seeing families go hungry? Many claim the hungry have put themselves in this position by placing luxuries (e.g. plasma televisions, new cars, cloths) higher on the priority list than food for their children. But there are families without these and other luxuries who do struggle to put food on the table.

Many communities offer services for hungry people from food kitchens where hot meals are served regularly to food banks where food, largely donated by the community, is given away free of charge. Schools also provide free and reduced price breakfasts and lunches to qualifying families.

The project:
Gather food from our pantry to share with the local food bank.

10 minutes

Why bother:
People tend to give during holiday periods. There's also a great demand at that point. Food pantries are often greatly depleted shortly after these peak periods. There's no better time than the present to lend a hand.

Worth it?
I'd like to think that someone would be there for our family if we really couldn't afford food anymore. If our donation means some kid won't go to bed hungry, it's absolutely worth the few minutes it took us to gather it. We'll deliver tomorrow when FoodBank is open.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Simple Help in the Park

One of the questions this project raises is, "How difficult is it to lend a hand?" What counts as a charitable deed? Today's deeds aren't earth-shattering, but if everyone were to do JUST THIS MUCH, would it change our world?

Today the whole family visited Santa Barbara's Natural History Museum together, then headed up the road to Rocky Nook Park. This nature park is a beautiful spot for tree climbing, rock scrambling, trail walking, mountain biking, horseback riding, picnicking and exploring the modern play structure. For some reason, even in beautiful locations people tend to drop their trash on the ground rather than take a few steps to hit the garbage can.

The project:
While swinging, climbing, and walking with the family, I picked up trash and deposited it in any of the multitude of trash receptacles scattered throughout the park.

While walking the trails, I spotted a woman trying to get photos of her family. Her husband and children were in the shot, but there was nowhere to prop her little camera so she could include herself. I saw her looking for a camera perch, so I walked the 20 feet to where she stood and offered to snap the photo.Picking up trash at the park. Lending a hand with a family photo.

5-10 minutes

Why bother:
Trashy parks make for less-relaxing visits. And family photos too often exclude one member.

Worth it?
Picking up trash always seems worth it, except the thought that the party in the nearby picnic area had trash spread under and around their tables. Would they pick it up or leave it to blow into the play area and trails for others to pick up? I decided not to go with that negative line of thought, and do my part anyhow.

Taking the photo was a cinch, and completely worth it when the family saw their image on the screen and the thankful mother/photographer gave me a heartfelt thank you with a big, warm smile.
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In other news, community service is beginning to provide a direct payoff for service-minded youths. See this story for inspiration.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Sharing Technology

Our family does pretty well, but we don't have a lot of extra cash. So donations of cold, hard cash are difficult to come by if you knock at our door.

Our family is also busy, just like everyone else. But most often it's easier for us to find time to share than money to share. And really, which do YOU remember most: time spent with friends, loved ones and strangers who rise to the occasion in your time of need; or the gifts, perhaps cash, perhaps goodies, that you receive? Over the long haul, I'm willing to bet most people remember the priceless gift of time spent together.

Today I spent the heart of the day with a family friend who needed some help learning how to make her camera, computer, CD burner and e-mail all work together. During a phone call earlier this week she expressed some confusion about how to get all these newfangled gadgets going. I volunteered to help out - at her home about 40 miles north of ours.

The project:
Teaching a senior how to make new technology work for her, to keep her in closer contact with her family and friends.

90-minutes driving
60 minutes at the computer (but there was a lot of visiting going on, too)

Why bother:
Helping older people keep up with technology can provide them access to family photos, family news and a plethora of social opportunities available in today's techno-centric world.

Worth it?
I've known Betty since I was 5 years old. Our relationship began when she took on the job of babysitting me, but we became family friends. For more than three decades now, she's provided countless lessons, hours of her time, gallons of hot chocolate and buckets of wonderful, dimpled smiles. This volunteer effort provided me the opportunity to help HER out for a change and provided us both an opportunity to catch up. Oh, and after we were finished with the computer stuff, we carried on our conversation over lunch, then a shared ride to the grocery store.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Being Neighborly

Not every charitable deed has to be a big one. In fact, it's the little things we do throughout the year that can really make a difference. We started today with something small, but with potentially big rewards for our neighborhood.

Mr. B has lived on this street for more than 20 years. I've lived here ever since we got married more than a decade ago. We've always gotten along with our neighbors. We know each other's kids and pets and even frequent visitors. Still, none has ever asked us to watch after their homes and pets while they're away - until this week.

The project:
Tending the neighbor's pets, bringing in the mail, taking out the trash and recycling, watching the house.

15 minutes each day (if we take time out to PET the cats)
25 minutes on trash/recycle day

Why bother:
Helping out those who live within shouting distance sure makes city life feel more friendly, safer, more enjoyable. It gives me the feelings my neighbors trust me, and thereby instills a bit more trust in them.

Worth it?
Absolutely worth the fraction of the day we're dedicating. The girls have enjoyed collecting mail, petting someone else's cats, and the excitement of a chore in someone ELSE'S yard. In the short term, they have peace of mind that their home is being tended to. In the long term, we've built a stronger relationship with our neighbors, and perhaps they'll reciprocate should the need arise in future.

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