• December 18, 2013

    Tis the Season

    Mantel-2

    It’s that time of year again.

    Snow.

    Cookies and snacks galore.

    Cheerful lights on every house.

    Santa ringing his bell at you in front of every store you have to go in.

    Santa almost always makes me feel guilty because I never give my money to him.  I hate the pressure he puts on people – standing there in the middle of the doorway, eyeing you down as you pry your cart apart from the 100 other frozen ones, ringing his stupid bell – when all they are trying to do is get some milk and go home.  I usually run past him as fast as I can with as little eye contact as possible.

    You probably think I’m horrible.  Who withholds their loose change from Santa?  And at Christmas?

    The truth is, I prefer to give to organizations and charities that I actually understand.  Places I feel confident that my contribution isn’t going to fund the CEO’s summer home.  Places I feel connected to – led to give to.  Pressure and awkward social situations should not be the main motivation for giving.

    About a year ago, Stuff You Should Know’s How Stuff Works podcast covered this very subject.  Listening to Josh and Chuck talk about it all gave me peace that I’m not a horrible person for dodging Santa every time I run out of milk.  Rather than give in to the social pressure, I have done some research and learned about the charities I support.  Now, I can give confidently, knowing that my hard earned money goes to the people who need it.

    If you’re looking for a cause to support this holiday season (and all of the time!), but don’t know where to start – or if you have a cause you care about, but want to know about their ethics and spending – I recommend starting with Charity Navigator.  Charity Navigator has a great list of national and international organizations and breaks down pertinent information to make deciding to support (or not support) something easier.  Then, they rate each charity based on their financial performance – what percentage of their income is spent on what, and their accountability and transparency overall.  You can also see how much the organization has earned and what their expenses are.  Charity Navigator really is a fabulous tool for making an informed decision.

    To make this whole giving thing even easier on you though, I will share my favorite charities and strongly encourage you to throw lots of money at them.  *grin*

    Lumos

    Lumos  was founded by author, Joanne Rowling with the aim of eradicating institutions throughout Eastern Europe designed to house children who are poor, disabled, and/or have behavioral concerns.  Many of these children belong to families who want them, who love them, and who would never give them up without their government telling them it’s the only way.  Lumos works to promote education, social programs, and adequate health care.  If governments took the money spent on institutionalizing children and instead invested in social services aimed at keeping families together, millions of children would be able to grow up with the love and care of their families instead of the cold reality of the institution.

    Samaritan's-Purse

    Samaritans Purse is a Christian based organization that provides spiritual and material aid to people all over the world.  They provide crisis support as well as ongoing aid to people in need.  As a supporter of their work, you can choose specifically what you want your money to go to.  For instance, you can provide vocational training for a woman, hot meals for children, or livestock and vegetation to a family.  Each area of giving is easy to locate on their website and goes into detail what your money will give to a person or family in need.  They even break things down into the different countries they are able to work with, so if you feel particularly attached to Vietnam or Kenya, you can pick something that will directly benefit people in those places.

    Kiva

    Kiva is super unique in that it is a lending based organization, not necessarily giving based.  It’s called microlending and basically how it works is that you locate a person or group who need some money to achieve a goal – school tuition, supplies for their business, seeds to plant their crop.  You lend them the money they need (or part of the money they need) and they follow through with their goal.  Once the person on the receiving end is able to repay you, they do.  When you have your money back, you’re free to take it back or to find another person to lend it to so they can achieve their goals.  99% of all Kiva loans have been repaid; it’s a beautiful cycle, really.

    Not to sound too much like a bell ringing Santa, now, but I really do want to encourage you all to give what you can to make the world a better place. Whether it’s a monetary donation to a big international organization, food at your local food bank, or time spent volunteering at a homeless shelter in your area, doesn’t really matter.  Giving of yourself and your own resources grows you as a person.  It promotes positivity in the world and gives people from all kinds of backgrounds and histories a chance to improve their circumstances.

    Give where your heart is.  Do something meaningful this Christmas.  Share your blessings with as many people, in as many ways as you can.

  • December 4, 2013

    Thankfulness

    JOY

    Thanksgiving has come and gone and that means its back to work and back to blogging!  This time of year always stirs up feelings of joy and gratefulness for me – and rightfully so – that’s what Thanksgiving and Christmas is all about, right?

    I spent all Thanksgiving day in the kitchen with my husband, talking, cooking, and just generally enjoying each other’s company.  It was the best day I’ve had in a long time; and the best food!  In fact, we’re still working on eating it all… and have enough left over to make at least 2 more pumpkin pies and probably some pumpkin bread too!

    All of the food and merriment reminded me how special my relationship with my husband is and how easy it can be to begin to take his presence for granted.  We have our routine and our comfortable day to day things and it’s so easy to forget how unique and beautiful life together can be.  I was reminded of what a blessing he is to me and that day in the kitchen rejuvenated my gratitude for him and the life we have built together.

    I was also moved to consider how different things were in the old days – how much more difficult life had been before technology and the advancements we have reached.  To a certain extent, we’ve gone too far with ensuring things are easy and I believe it’s time to return to the ways things used to be when my folks were growing up.  Making dishes from scratch, focusing on family, and taking the time to sit and genuinely understand each other are all renewed in importance to me – all goals I am striving for more and more these days.

    Along that same note, my parents will soon be moving to a nearby town to be closer to us.  I am so thankful they will be nearby soon and we can spend more time together.  My parents have so much left to teach me and it’s wonderful to have them in our lives.  It was a hard choice for them to leave their home of 30 years for a new state and different people and lifestyle, but their excitement is ever building and quite infectious.

    Of course, things aren’t all rosy and shiny, for instance: my job has been becoming more difficult for some time now, and that has its way of taking a toll on a person’s spirit and focus.  But, all of the overwhelming changes and struggles seem to be slowing down – offering small relief here and there.  It’s getting a little easier to see the light and really enjoy the work again. For that, I am exceedingly grateful.  The more positive my workday is, the easier it is to come home and settle in with my family and my friends.

    In truth, I really couldn’t ask for more in my life.  No, things aren’t always easy or the way I’d prefer, but I have a loving family, friends who feel more like family than friends, and a warm home to share with them.  I have a good job that offers good benefits and allows me to help children and families in significant ways.  Our budget can be tight sometimes, but we’ve never been hungry and there is always something healthy and nourishing in the cupboard.

    This holiday season, I wish blessings and insight for you and your own family.  I wish joy and peace for those who find these things hard to come by.  I wish love in your heart and even more so in your actions.