Monday, December 15, 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things

I've learned to focus my enjoyment of winter holidays on the things that make my heart go pitter pat. These are:
  • Sending Christmas cards - in part because I love to receive Christmas cards. But sending them helps me remember the people who are important to me and gives me at least one touch point with them each year. BMG and I make a point of sending them to every family invited to our wedding, if only to communicate "Look! We're still married! Thanks for your support!"
  • Decorating the outside of The Tiny Bungalow, complete with lights. I love coming home at the end of the day to a gaily lit home and am thrilled by the beauty of evergreens with pops of colors adorning the house. And I try to decorate in non-denominational ways, so I can leave the lights up throughout the winter without looking like a lazy neighbor. Even better than admiring my house, is driving around to see other people's outdoor decorations. From the tacky to the sublime, I love it all. This may be, in part, because as a child my parents would drive me and my sibs through downtown Syracuse to look at the municipal lights after the Christmas Eve service at my grandmother's church. Riots of light mean, to the child in me, that it is *almost* time for Santa to visit. 
  • Delivering homemade cookies to neighbors and service people who make my life easier. For BMG and I this includes our mailman, the trash guy, our pharmacists and the ladies at the post office. We've also given to the UPS guy, the folks who staff the dump on the weekend and our favorite bartenders. This year's mason jar inspiration came from the folks at The Decorated Cookie. (And bonus! All of the mason jars we bought for the lemonade bar at the wedding are now officially out of the basement!)
  • Wrapping packages in unique and colorful ways, with the end goal being a Christmas tree surrounded by a rainbow of beautiful gifts. My mom has always been a generous gift giver, and the pristine display of presents under the tree on Christmas morning was a thrill I remember from childhood. This year, I've handmade gift embellishments that look like gnomes and am wrapping in craft paper and bakers twine. 
  • Christmas music, particularly the classics sung by Rat Pack-era musicians and other jazzy performers. I love listening to the music and singing it. I'm sorry caroling is considered so dorky, because it gives me a thrill to sing Christmas songs and to deliver the gift of music to neighbors. I also enjoy medieval choral music at Christmas time; it transports me to another time and place. I try to go to one concert a year. Usually by myself because no one else I know can stomach the stuff. 
Giving gifts to children in need, filling Christmas stockings, festive Christmas parties, eggnog and the joyful crowds at shopping malls are also among my favorite aspects of the seasons.
    What are the aspects of the holiday I don't like so much? Just three things come to mind: 
    • Obligation gift buying, particularly obligation gift giving generated by a surprise gift from a friend. Why? Unless the gift is one that I can return with a box of cookies, there is usually implied reciprocity that I may not be feeling. This, in turn, makes me feel pissy about shopping, rather than feeling generous love. So if you plan to give me a gift worth more than a loving token, consider talking with me about first. 
    • Disassembling the Christmas tree. The needles, the repacking of the ornaments, the scramble to find packing material for fragile items. Ugh. How do I deal? By making an indoor Christmas tree a rare occurrence rather than the norm. This year, BMG and I have decorated a tabletop Eiffel Tower instead of a tree. I'm telling people this is a "no tree" year because we have a kitten. While this is true, I'm grateful for the excuse to not have a tree indoors. (Hmmm. Maybe we'll get a kitten every year?) 
    Being childless by choice is one of the reasons I am able to make the winter holidays, and especially Christmas, exactly what I want it to be. I don't have the need to create magic for my children through contrivances like "Elf on a Shelf," nor do I have to withstand hours in line at the big box toy store or whiny children anxious for the 25th to arrive.

    Childless or not, what are your favorite parts of Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas and/or Kwanzaa? And what do you do to make the winter holidays joyful for you and your family?

    And, are there parts you don't like so much? What do you do to minimize or avoid them?

    Regardless of what parts of the winter holidays you love (or don't), I wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy new year!

    Tuesday, December 2, 2014

    Changing to make change

    The events in Ferguson Missouri have inspired me to change my giving plan in 2015.

    A typical stingy New Englander, I have historically given away just 1% of my gross income. I have a budget and a plan, which helps me sort out the myriad requests I get in the mail, on social media and in the course of my daily life. My plan has looked like this:

    • 25% to any number of local organizations or chapters of local organizations that alleviate the symptoms of homelessness and poverty - particularly for children and families (e.g., Cradles to Crayons, Horizons for Homeless Children, Housing Families, the Red Cross). I often feel guilty that I'm not funding root cause organizations, but then I remember that poverty is persistent in human culture, I can't do everything and it is the day-to-day suffering that hurts my soul. 
    • 25% to conservation organizations, specifically the Trustees of the Reservation and the National Parks Conservation Association. I love these United States, and want to do my small part to ensure that our natural spaces remain preserved and accessible. 
    • 50% goes to the causes my friends love, in the form of sponsorship of walk-a-thons, run-a-thons, hair-cut-a-thons, hair-grow-a-thons, etc. I do this because I know it is hard to raise money, and it is hard to ask friends for help. (I do have a practice of not giving to friends if I philosophically do not support the organization for which they are raising money.)
    And when the budget is used up, I stop giving. (Sorry Movember, I was too generous earlier in the year.)

    However, the events in Ferguson Missouri triggered a deep anger in me about the power of conservative fear in blocking efforts to reform gun laws. I perceive that this same fear - the fear of "other" and the fear of "god" - is also driving efforts to restrict a woman's right to choose. So, my giving plan is changing to look more like this: 
    • 40% to human and civil rights organizations dedicated to reforming gun law and policing practices as part of their overall civil rights agenda
    • 25% to organizations dedicated to protecting and expanding a woman's right to direct her own health care
    • 25% to my beloved conservation organizations
    • 10% to the causes my friends love
    And, in 2015, I will double the amount of money I give away, budgeting 2% of my gross income. I want to be able to give bigger - albeit still modest - gifts to the organizations I believe are making positive change in the world. The doubling of my philanthropy budget will be complemented by the gift matching program at my office, which offers a match of up to $250 for employee's charitable gifts. 

    I haven't worked out the details yet, and am excited to do the research to figure out who will get the money, and how I can use social media to help spread the word about their cause. 

    But my giving won't end with the money I choose to give away. I recently took  new job, one that requires a shorter commute and therefore gives me more time to be a whole person. With some of my new time I will start volunteering. I will make my donations to organizations dedicated to alleviating suffering through volunteerism - at work and at home. This includes blood donations every eight weeks and preparing meals for my local community through Community Cooks. I am also trying to determine how I can participate in efforts to change the national conversation about race through efforts of organizations like the Public Conversations Project

    I learned about the power of a giving plan when I worked for the people who started what is now known as Bolder Giving. I loved the idea of being strategic and intentional with my charitable giving, regardless of whether I was middle class or if I was running the foundation BMG said I could start when he wins the lottery. And it feels good to freshen it up for 2015, so I can put my money where my heart and my mouth is. 

    Happy Giving Tuesday! 

    Tuesday, November 25, 2014

    We Regret to Inform You, Some Cards Will Be Kept Longer Than Others

    Do you get Thanksgiving cards in the mail? How do you handle them?

    I have a friend who sends a Thanksgiving card, instead of the traditional Christmas greeting.

    I think I get it. Maybe the friend wants to be righteous or deliberate about celebrating blessings instead of being mistaken for someone playing the "perfect family Christmas card" game. Maybe she doesn't want her family photo to get lost in the chaos of catalogues, packages and other cards. Maybe she loves to send cards, but doesn't want to be dealing with them after Thanksgiving.

    But, there's an unintended consequence.

    Instead of hanging the card with all of our other Christmas cards as part of our holiday decor, the card is opened and then left on the counter for the family to see. And on the day after Thanksgiving, when I clear the house of autumnal clutter, I recycle the card. So, instead of having their photo and greeting occupy a vaunted space on our Christmas card wall for an entire month or more, the card is left on the counter for three days and then forgotten.

    I'm not hard hearted. One year I tried hanging the Thanksgiving card with the Christmas cards. But, it hung by itself for nearly two weeks, until the first Christmas card arrived. Looking sad and lonely. And then, as the holiday greeting rolled in, the Thanksgiving browns and oranges looked out of sync amidst the reds and greens and blues and silvers. Like a section of 1970s era shag carpet wishing desperately for acceptance in a house full of gleaming hardwoods. It didn't work. I tried.

    Keep those cards and letters coming folks. I love all kinds of friendly greetings. Just know that some will be kept longer than others.

    Monday, November 24, 2014

    The First Thanksgiving

    BMG and I were multi-tasking while watching the DVR version of the Plimoth Plantation episode of Top Chef 12. As Padma announced that the chefs were preparing a traditional Thanksgiving feast for descendants of the first Thanksgiving - both the first pilgrims and the Wompanoag peoples, BMG and I looked at each other and observed we were both moved to tears by the premise of the episode.

    And then we started laughing.

    As we moved towards one another to hug each other BMG said, "I am so glad we found one another. No one else would understand, let alone share, my tears in this moment."

    Me too darling, me too.

    Saturday, November 8, 2014

    Putting my bottle where my mouth is (or why I voted against expanding the beverage deposit law)

    I voted against Ballot Question 2 in Massachusetts. And so did a majority of the Bay Staters, because it didn't pass.

    I voted against it because the pro-side rhetoric claimed that it was an "anti-litter" bill.

    But it wasn't an anti-litter bill. At least not in my opinion.

    At its core, it *was* a "let's make litter more valuable so indigent people will pick it up" bill. (It was also a "let's make groceries more expensive for people who don't recycle" bill and a "let's make the manufacture and distribution of beverages in the Bay State more expensive because we need to have different bottles distributed here" bill.)

    Chuckleheads will still throw their garbage on the ground. But, with an expanded bottle deposit law, more of the trash that clutters our roadways and neighborhoods will now have value. While the pro-side of of the ballot question didn't come out and say it, it seems fairly straightforward to me that indigent people will collect litter that has value. If we make our most prevalent litter - drink bottles - more valuable, homeless people will collect it. Ergo, our streets look cleaner, making ballot question 2 an anti-litter bill. Right?

    Not to me. Instead, it felt underhanded, gross and exploitative.

    I would rather we talked about the problems of homelessness, un- and under-employment that lead people to rely on collecting trash to make a living. I would rather we talk about the dynamics (laziness, lack of community- and self-respect) that lead jerks to throw their trash on the ground in the first place. And I would rather that we, as a society, make strategic decisions about if/how we want to address these problems, so we can compel our neighbors, corporate beverage manufacturers, philanthropists and lawmakers to direct fund to support solutions to our persistent problems. I know there will always be people who "choose" to live on the streets, and who will always "choose" to collect bottles and cans as their form of income, but I'm not psyched about expanding this as an option for people who are in dire straights.

    What I most certainly DON'T want is a subversive bill designed to support - rather than prevent - indigence. And that's how I understood Massachusetts Ballet Question 2.

    So, in the spirit of putting my bottle where my mouth is, I have decided that BMG and I will put a nickel in a kitty for every bottle and can we buy that *would* have been covered by the expanded bottle deposit bill. At some point during the year, we will make a donation of the money to  homelessness prevention/work support program serving our community.

    I'm doing a dump run this morning. We have 10 Gatorade and Orangina bottles ready to go to the transfer station. So, I'll put $0.50 in the kitty. And when I get back, I'll start researching community organizations that are making a difference in preventing and alleviating the factors that contribute to homelessness. Suggestions welcome.

    Monday, November 3, 2014

    How'd I do? (or was I able to restore balance in a week?)

    Were you wondering if I would find balance on my week between jobs? (I know I was!)

    Here is my diary of from the week:

    7:00 AM - Get up with a little help from the alarm
    8:00-9:00 - Prep pumpkin bread while waiting for and dealing with the plumber
    9:00-10:00 - Go to the gym and restart a C25K
    10:00-11:45 - Make pumpkin bread, run vacuum and steam mop, shower
    11:45 AM-2:00 PM - Run errands, eat lunch al fresco with my SIL
    2:00-4:15 - Rake leaves and transplant
    4:15-5:30 - Start relaxing with a glass of wine
    5:30-6:30 - Nap
    6:30-8:00 - Make and eat dinner
    8:00+ - More relaxing with BMG
    Body and family taken care of today. And with the gardening, a little soul too

    8:00 AM - Wake up (after a terrible night's sleep with a painful headache), drink coffee, make and drink a blueberry kale smoothie & read paper
    9:00-11:30 - Work on blog project with BMG
    11:30-1:00 PM - Run errands at Staples, Lowe's & Michaels
    1:00-1:45 - Coffee with my MIL
    2:00-3:30 - Rake, transplant fleurs, and plant tulips, daffodils & grape hyacinth bulbs
    3:30-4:00 - Fill out Thanksgiving volunteer application for me and BMG
    4:00-7:00 - Loaf, read books, play games, eat dinner
    7:00 - Resume binge watching House of Cards with BMG
    Tuesday feels like a rerun of Monday, with a little creative time added in. How do I make Wednesday different?

    7:00 AM - Up (with help from the alarm), drink coffee, read paper, eat breakfast
    8:15-9:45 - Walk to,the gym, exercise for 30 minutes, walk home
    9:45-11:30 - Shower, putter, work on a Christmas craft
    11:45-1:45 PM - Visit with Gal Pal Lois
    1:45-3:30 - Errands, hang Christmas lights (just because they are up doesn't mean we'll light them)
    3:30-6:15 - Read, putter
    6:15-9:00 - Drive to & then take "Intro to Meditation" class
    9:00+ - Watch TV, get ready for bed
    Body & soul are fully taken care of today. Add a little friend time & the start of some creative time & I'd say it was a good day.

    8:00 AM - Wake up with no alarm (unless you count the cats as an alarm)
    8:00-9:15 - Coffee, smoothie, paper, putter
    9:15 - Head to Subaru dealer to check low tire pressure
    9:45-10:30 - Sit at Subaru dealer until I learn there is a nail in my sidewall and I need a new tire; grab a loaner and go
    *Cancel lunch plans in Acton, argue with BMG about whether I was smar enough at the Subaru dealer or if I let them take me for a ride
    10:30-4:00 PM - Shop for craft paper and baby gifts, eat lunch, wrap and mail/deliver baby gifts
    4:30 - Pick up car with new tire
    4:30-7:00 - Meet BMG at the Art gallery, have dinner at a new restaurant
    7:00-9:00 - Drinks with BMG's mom
    9:30 - Home & in bed
    This was a weird day. Had some itchy connecting time with BMG (had expectations that weren't met)', and I spent the day running errands but not taking any joy in them.

    7:00 AM - Wake up with the alarm and fall back asleep until 7:45
    7:45-8:30 - Coffee and the paper
    8:45-10:00 - Walk to the gym, exercise, walk to BIL/SIL's house to pick up truck
    10:00-11:00 - Take yard waste to dump and run a handful of local errands
    11:00-2:30 PM - Make and deliver gluten-free (and fat-free AND refined sugar-free) cookies for a neighbor, start prepping pasta sauce for dinner, putter and generally get in BMG's way
    2:30-4:00 - Go to DPW to renew dump sticker, then head to local bar to read and sip wine away from BMG
    4:00-10:00 - Finish making dinner, putter, pass out candy to trick-or-treaters, decoupage bathroom vessels with a Boston map, watch TV, argue with BMG
    10:00 - Read in bed until I fall asleep
    Body taken care of, along with some necessary errands and a little creative productivity. Soul care was dismal today given the arguing with BMG.

    7:30 AM - Feline alarm combined with a headache leftover from the night before wake me up
    7:30-9:30 - Coffee, putter while waiting for BMG to wake up, make breakfast, download a headache tracker app with the goal of figuring out the cause/pattern to my persistent headaches
    9:30-9:30 PM - Putter, read books, eat, sleep, relax (it was a miserable day outside)
    I did nothing to take care of any part of me today. Was still a little down because of the previous day's fight with BMG + two separate headaches. This was a wallowing day.

    6:45 AM - Wake up sans alarm (happy end of daylight savings time!)
    6:45-8:30 - Coffee, breakfast, putter
    8:30-10:00 - Gym for another C25K session and 30 minutes on the recumbent bike
    10:00-11:45 - More puttering, cleaning up
    11:45-2:30 PM - Run errands, give blood, grocery shop
    2:30-5:15 - Putter, read, nap
    5:15-6:30 - Prepare and try a new recipe for a salad made of roasted butternut squash, shallots and kale
    6:30-8:45 - Putter, read, nap
    8:45 - Head to bed, read some more, sleep
    Body taken care of - think I've jump started a healthy eating and exercise routine. And I feel proud of having given blood, particularly because I got to talk to a niece about it - raising her awareness that this is one way people can give back to their communities. Thought about working on my Christmas craft and/or addressing Christmas cards, but I didn't feel the mojo. Maybe next weekend?

    6:15 AM - Up without an alarm, ready for my first day at my new job

    So, how did I do? In m post on Monday, I said I'd try to to the following:

    To take care of my body:
    • Go to sleep at a reasonable hour every night, planning to be up between 6:30 and 7:00 each morning (instead of my typical 4:30-5:00 wake up time).
    • Be caffeinated, showered and fed by 8:00 or so, which I'm hoping will be my typical "leave for work" time at the new job. 
    • Make a high protein veggie smoothie for breakfast at least three of the weekdays; prep smoothie packets for the freezer
    • Try at least two new healthy and delicious recipes (sorry BMG).
    To take care of my soul: 
    To take care of my family: 
    • Plan a Christmas trip to NYC to enjoy the sites and visit with gal pal Suzy Burstein. 
    • Finish making Thanksgiving and Christmas plans to visit my family in NYC. 
    • Order our Christmas cards.
    To take care of my creative side: 
    • Cross a couple of Christmas crafts off my "to do" list well in advance of the Christmas season starting.
    • Do a decoupage project in the bathroom. 
    • Blog at least three mornings a week.
    • Finish setting up the website for a creative project I'm doing with BMG.
    • Schedule at least three interviews for a creative project I'm doing with BMG. 
    I took care of my body and soul on my week off. Family and creativity - a little lacking, but I'm well on my way to restoring balance in my life. 

    Monday, October 27, 2014

    Restoring balance

    I'm between jobs right now. I left the national dental insurance company on Friday with the intention of restoring balance in my life.

    My goal for the next seven days? To decompress and start routines where I am taking care of my body, my soul, my family & friends, and my creative side. This means getting enough sleep and creating rhythms where my evenings are blissfully full of time with friends, cooking, exercise, writing and other activities that make my heart go pitter pat. I need this so, when I start my new job at the mutual fund data company a week from Monday, I'm compelled to ONLY be at work when I need to be at work, and not a minute more.

    These are my intentions:

    To take care of my body:
    • Go to sleep at a reasonable hour every night, planning to be up between 6:30 and 7:00 each morning (instead of my typical 4:30-5:00 wake up time).
    • Be caffeinated, showered and fed by 8:00 or so, which I'm hoping will be my typical "leave for work" time at the new job. 
    • Make a high protein veggie smoothie for breakfast at least three of the weekdays; prep smoothie packets for the freezer. 
    • Try at least two new healthy and delicious recipes (sorry BMG).
    To take care of my soul: 
    To take care of my family: 
    • Plan a Christmas trip to NYC to enjoy the sites and visit with gal pal Suzy Burstein. 
    • Finish making Thanksgiving and Christmas plans to visit my family in NYC. 
    To take care of my creative side: 
    • Cross a couple of Christmas crafts off my "to do" list well in advance of the Christmas season starting.
    • Do a decoupage project in the bathroom. 
    • Blog at least three mornings a week.
    • Finish setting up the website for a creative project I'm doing with BMG.
    • Schedule at least three interviews for a creative project I'm doing with BMG. 
    I also want to finish cleaning the yard for autumn, including one major dump run.

    I tend to have a "to do" list that is bigger than my capacities. Think I'll check back in on Friday night to see how far I got with my intentions. 

    If you had a week to restore balance in your life (presuming you needed to restore balance), what would YOU do?