Friday, January 22, 2021

Five on Friday: Last One About MLK Day (for this year anyway)

I hesitated writing a third Five on Friday list in a row about Martin Luther King Day, but it’s kind of a big deal around here. Seeing how it occupies most of my life, brainpower and dining room for the majority of the month, it only makes sense that it would also dominate my blog.

 

To be completely honest, it also took over a good portion of the living room for a few days.


I’ve already shared with you my tongue-in-cheek tips followed by my genuine pointers for hosting a Day of Service, now I’m going to share some highlights from this year’s event.

 

As overwhelming as it was to plan and prepare for it, it all came together beautifully in the end. I’m not going to lie, some things even went smoother than usual. Even so, I never want to do it this way again. I long for the events of the past, with a room packed full of people and so many hugs. I want that again very badly. But this year’s drive-through Day of Service was terrific! Here are some of my favorite parts:

 

1. People! I'm so grateful for people. People in general for annually reminding me how good we can be. I'm grateful for both people who know me and my event and especially for those who don't for donating money, goods and time. My favorites are always the people who jump right in; especially this year, having no experience with what our event is normally like but still just deciding to go for it. I appreciate them all so much.


2. We tried a few new projects this year that worked out so well, they are already on the list for next year. 


3. The creation of a little new terminology “We’ve got to Tetris this insane number of diaper packages into the back of that Subaru” and a new unit of measurement: “We ended up with three Subarus-full of diaper donations!”

 

Still lots of space in there!

4. Everyone was really good at following instructions on how to complete their projects at home. They even remembered to take pictures and send them to me.

 

 5. The weather!! Someone wanted to know what our inclement weather plan was. I laughed and told her we fly by the seat of our pants on that, 18 years strong now!  Two years ago it was about 20 degrees outside. I felt bad about sending my son and some other teenage boys outside to direct traffic but . . . I still did. We really needed traffic to be directed.

This year I was going to be the outside (along with other volunteers) and I despise being cold. Well lucky me! It was sunny and mild all day! A little breezy at times but really not bad at all. I am pretty sure I was being rewarded for my good deeds. Like instant karma, but in the good direction.


Additionally, I just wanted to share that our motto for this year was "Doing good together while safely apart." I think this picture sums that up beautifully:


 


 

 

Friday, January 15, 2021

Five on Friday: How Easy Community Service Projects for MLK or Any Day

I realize it's probably too late for you to plan an event for Monday. But if you've never hosted an MLK Day of Service before, this might not be the best year to start. (Believe me, the pandemic has really complicated hosting an event that normally fills a church hall.)

The great thing about serving the community is that you can actually do it any time, not only on the third Monday of January. Not only that, but you can do it from the comfort of your own home! No church hall full of people needed.

You don't even need a lot of time or money.

Like Martin Luther King said, you only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.

Here are five free or very inexpensive projects you could do on your own this year or at your very first publicly hosted MLK Day of Service next year:

1. Coloring Meals on Wheels bags: this has been a standard for us every single year since we first started in my dining room eighteen years ago. Check with your local Meals on Wheels office, ours has particular bags to use and guidelines for coloring. (Another great coloring option is Color-A-Smile. It's an organization that collects and distributes drawings to residents of Nursing Home, Troops overseas, and anyone in need of a smile. For coloring pages and more information, please visit ColorASmile.org

2.  Host a Donation Drive: I've actually been doing this seasonally for the local food pantry for the past year. I find out what the food pantry's current specific request are and then I post on Facebook to ask my friends to drop things off in a box on my porch. Et voila! 

*Make sure you ask the organization you're trying to help what they need first, sometimes their answers might surprise you. You could also help an animal shelter (they frequently need old sheets and towels), the United Way (our local one needs diapers frequently) or Women's Shelters (feminine care products can be expensive!)

3. Write a letter! Letters to Strangers is a global youth-run non-profit seeking to destigmatize mental illness and increase access to treatment. For guidelines and instructions, visit LettersToStrangers.org

4. Valentines for Veterans: Using simple craft supplies at home, make valentines and mail them to a VA hospital.


5. Assemble Toiletry Sets for a Shelter: This is a newer project for us and is brilliant in its simplicity. I solicit donations (via social media and public drop boxes) of sample and travel size toiletries. People tend to have a bathroom drawer full of them that they are happy to share. 

Sort the donations into small plastic bags (shampoo, conditioner, soap, lotion, etc) We donate these to a shelter that has showers for folks to use but can't provide personal care products for everyone.


 

 

Friday, January 8, 2021

Five on Friday: How to Host a Successful Day of Service

Last year started like any other for us like it always does, with me falling asleep long before the stroke of midnight followed by a cold month with two beloved annual events: visiting the kids’ Great Grandmother for her birthday and then the Annual Martin Luther King Day of Service that I organize.

This event, which started in my dining room, is now so big we reach capacity at the church hall where it is held. Participants come from all over the county and beyond because there aren't many other public days of service around. This prompted me to plan a workshop on how to host a successful day of community service so that others could start them in their own towns.

Then Covid happened.

You can guess how this ended.

Since I never got to hold that workshop, I thought I would at least share my unofficial steps to hosting a successful day of service. (Later I may post real tips, but for now I leave you with this tongue-in-cheek checklist.)

1. Late January: Realize that if I got started earlier next time, maybe I wouldn’t have that crunch time freakout. Write well-thought out reminders and tasks on the calendar, starting in October and adequately spaced out.

2. Early October: Have first reminder pop up. Push snooze. Repeat in late October when the reminder comes back up. Push delete this time.

3. Mid-November: Begin to feel overwhelmed by the impending holidays combined with the thought of planning a day of service even though I literally broke it down into very easy-to-do tasks for myself, some of them literally being as easy as “email so-and-so.”

4. Late December: Commence the real freakout*.

(*this year compounded by "how the hell do I do ^this remotely??")

5. Mid January: Somehow* manage to pull off another successful event. Pat myself on the back. Realize that if I got started earlier next time, maybe I wouldn’t have that crunch time freak out. Write well-thought out reminders and tasks on the calendar, starting in October and adequately spaced out.

*Full disclosure: that "somehow" is made up of many generous donors who fund the event, my co-organizer Mom, my family for dealing with boxes of supplies that take over the house and for helping me sort and move them, the church that I don't even go to letting me use their space, volunteers who help purchase supplies, set up the room, direct traffic, run tables, deliver projects, host bake sales, set up screen printing stations, clean up the room and MORE!!  I absolutely COULD NOT do this without the strength of an entire community behind me.  Hey, I should hold a workshop to teach people how to get to started with this . . .

 

Friday, January 1, 2021

Five on Friday: These Are Not Resolutions

Last year on January 1st, we drove about an hour across the state to celebrate our children's Great Grandmother's 91st birthday.  We gave what feels like hundreds of hugs and took lots of family photos.

On the ride home, the sunset was so beautiful, we actually pulled off the Interstate into a "scenic overlook" area to get a better view. I snapped this lovely picture. If you look carefully, my son is goofing around and acting like he's going to push his sister over the edge. 

In hindsight, this seems like perhaps a perfect photo for the first day of 2020.

I'm not making resolutions this year, I doubt many people are. What I am making, though, is a list of things I am absolutely going to do once it's safe to (oh please, oh please, let that be this year), like:

1. Drive my family that hour across the state and hug the heck out of that 92-year-old. (Also drive my family a little over an hour south and do the same to the new baby in our family. And basically just HUG everyone I've missed hugging.)

2. I am going to have parties upon parties. I am going to hire a live band for at least one of them, if not more. I am going to embarrass my younger children with my dancing.

3. I have a few friends that are several decades older than me (because I am a very lucky person). A pair of them used to grab an occasional weekday lunch with me, another would sometimes treat me to a day drink at a bar. I am definitely prioritizing both of those things.

4. I am getting a goddamn mani-pedi. I don't need them often, but you know, about once a year I feel like I need some assistance in taming these wild cuticles and softening up these sandpaper heels. I promise I will double-tip for all the extra work they'll have to do. Um, maybe triple. Things are getting bad over here.

5. I am going to go to my favorite local dive bar with my friends. It will be karaoke night, and I will walk in and announce that James Brown sent me. (I feel like I've been hearing him sing, "Tell them James Brown sent you" for years and I think it's high time I listened to the man.)

I am not going to spend my free drink token because they're going to need cash (and also ever since I first got this I decided I'd like it to be the kind of thing my grandchildren see one day and shake their heads and laugh at what a character their Gigi is)

I'm going to sing my heart out and dance and laugh and talk to strangers, who will be able to hear me (as well as they can over the bar and karaoke noise) and see my facial expressions fully because I won't have a face mask on.

Oh wait, is that five already? No!!!! I didn't say anything about going on a date with my husband or an overnight away with my best girlfriends or taking a family road trip or just sitting in a coffee shop or watching my kids play sports, even on the uncomfortable school bleachers!

UGH fine. Maybe I am making one teeny tiny huge resolution: to not take any of these things for granted ever again.




Friday, December 25, 2020

Five on Friday: Short & Sweet Holiday Sights & Sounds

It's a very Covid Christmas and we're just hanging out here at home all day. It's not terrible, really, I'm so grateful we have each other and we're just doing whatever we want all day. Here's a little sample of the holiday sights and sounds . . .

1. 'Tis the season for pop-dough creations. Yesterday I made the traditional Chicken & Broccoli Wreath and tried a brand new little edible Christmas Tree and today we are eating the leftovers.

Oh really? Picky eaters will eat highly processed pop-can dough? Thank goodness for Pillsbury.




2. No party this year but the kids smashed their gingerbread anyway. Fewer people to have to share candy with! 


 3. It's a holiday! So I'm wearing new sparkly bling while I make some food and my husband is banging around upstairs installing some baseboard and taking care of a drippy ceiling situation . . . as one does on Christmas Day!

4.  Our oldest daughter just hung the last of the holiday cards that came in the mail (a record number of cards arriving on Christmas Eve!) I love, love, love our cards. Thank you to everyone that sent one.

5. Music! My younger kids all got new earbuds or (secondhand) phones for their modern music listening . . . and my older kids are thrilled with their cassette tapes (yes, they're back!!) and travel record player.


Hope everyone is having a safe, happy, socially-distanced and healthy day.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Five on Friday: The Youngest's Odd Preferences

One time my Mother, who raised four children of her own, asked me what all five of mine liked to eat. She's almost as funny as my kids.

The best answer I could come up with was "Cheese, I guess, but one of them says he only likes it when it's melted."

As the years have gone by, the kids have continued to finely tune their widely varying preferences but my youngest has some of the most extreme examples that extend well beyond food. Lately she's been telling me about a lot of things she doesn't like. A couple of them are long-held beliefs but she adds new ones all the time, just to keep me on my toes!

For example:

1. I make a lot of soup this time of year and I've noticed that when I do, she ignores the ladle that is out and instead serves herself dinner with a large slotted spoon. 

"What on Earth are you doing?" 

"Soup juice is gross. I use this spoon so I fill my bowl with the stuff but not the soup juice."

2. She has always had an intense hatred of tights. She won't even try them on.

3. While she's always despised tights, she would always wear leggings. And socks. No more! Now she tells me, "Socks are weird, I just can't wear them." Super.

4. Here's another recently debut: "I don't like cardigans because they are basically just tights for my arms."

5. I was lacking a fifth item for this list so decided to ask some questions. Hilarity ensued:

"What's something you like that other people don't like that much?"

"I like to sniff soap."

(I remembered all the times I'd have a purse overloaded with snacks and sippy cups, three shopping bags and a four-year-old hanging off of my arms while keeping an eye on the six-year-old and hoping the ten and twelve-year-olds were still safe outside the public restroom door as I'd be trying to hold the surprisingly heavy and squirmy two-year-old up up to the sink, urging her to please hurry up and she'd squirt the soap out and then very quickly bring her little hands to her face so she could get a whiff of that fine generic pink public restroom soap instead of just quickly washing her hands as I had requested.)

"Yes, you sure have always liked to sniff soap," I agreed. "Why?"

"Because there are so many choices in the world!! Hey, other people like to sniff candles, I like to sniff soap."

Touché.

She continued, "Besides, soap and candles are the same thing . . . scientifically."

I learn something new every day!

Friday, December 11, 2020

Five on Friday: Things I Forgot I Liked So Much

It must be true that absence makes the heart grow fonder . . . because these things haven't happened in awhile and I had forgotten how much I dig them.

1. Sunrises this time of year. I really dislike winter and this one in particular is looming rather dreadfully. Changing the clocks back signifies the start of the dark days ahead . . . but then I'm reminded of just how beautiful the sunrises are here this time of year. This picture does not do them justice at all--I usually don't even to try to take them anymore because they never do, so I just enjoy them in the moment. But I thought this post would be better with a visual so I snapped a picture real quick on my phone this morning. Imagine this ten times prettier:

2. A solo excursion to the big, messy thrift shop where you really have to dig and can find some absolute treasures. It had been so long since I'd been able to do that!! I had a few hours of time to myself and almost didn't go because it was pouring rain . . . but I forced myself to and I have zero regrets.

3. Overalls! One of my thrift scores from that day was a pair of overalls for myself. I started to post pictures of every day I was wearing them on my Instagram but realized that'd end up being pretty boring, because I have been wearing them a lot. Like, a lot-a lot.


 4. The first snow! Again, I don't like winter. But I can't deny how pretty the snow is, especially the first time when I'm totally annoyed by it yet. Also this is my backyard, so it's nice to be amazed by it and reminded again of how lucky I am.

5. The simple pleasure of sitting near the open fire and watching it snap and burn and swirl with color. It's absolutely mesmerizing . . . and since I'm not a fan of the cold, you'll be able to find me here all winter long, just sitting by the fire and being hypnotized.






Friday, December 4, 2020

Five on Friday: Tradition Transitions

I’m feeling a double-whammy in changing traditions this year. First there’s the adapting we all have to do because of the pandemic and for us this also coincides with some growing family changes as well.

Our oldest two are college students now—they’ve been learning from home but either too busy with studies or disinterested in maintaining what I suppose could feel like childish traditions. The next two at ages fourteen and twelve sometimes willingly participate and sometimes begrudgingly. It has to do with their ages, interests and personalities: our 14-year-old hasn’t even really dressed up for Halloween in years. He just wants candy without getting creative in costuming (something his mother just does not relate to at all).

Even the parents here get a little burnt out on maintaining rituals: my husband needs a break from his over-the-top Thanksgiving weekend gingerbread creations and I got bored with our giant paper thankfulness turkey. Making an Advent Calender of Good Deeds seemed too hard with us being so limited in where we can go to be helpful.

Then there’s our 10-year-old. She and I were driving to a serve-yourself farm stand to buy pumpkins (no hayride to a pumpkin patch because COVID plus a busy family of majority disinterested-in-pumpkin-patch members). In the car she said, “Sometimes it really stinks being the youngest because nobody else wants to do holiday stuff anymore.”

Well, at least the tradition of Mom-guilt never dies.

1. When we got home that day, I helped her make an outdoor Halloween display. We have never done this and she frequently complains about how boring we are (my kids are hysterical). I know she had a giant inflatable decoration in mind, but she was pretty pleased with what we created. So was I.


2. Now that nobody ever has evening plans, I found they nights sure can pass slowly. So I've dedicated myself to having more crafty time with anyone that is interested in joining me. (In our house, that's mainly just the girls.) Where our Advent Calendar of Good Deeds would normally be displayed, we have a homemade garland hanging and in the dining room we have a little wooden Advent Calendar that we painted at home:

3. But we also have this for the first time: a Reverse Advent Calendar Food Donation Box for one of the local food pantries, so we're still doing our good deeds.

4. The paper thankfulness turkey was replaced by a pumpkin on the dining room table that we wrote on after dinner. Uh, that adaptation didn't work out so well.

5.  Lastly we have the gingerbread. Nobody's heart was in it but this is one the middle boys still like participating in because SO MUCH CANDY. I suggested everyone make their own little houses and the three youngest all really wanted to do that. So I broke out our recipe and got to work. Because we are a busy family, even in limited-activity pandemic times, we've had to break it up. House pieces have been baked and are waiting for homework-free Friday night to assemble. We did decorate some of the cookies, though including a few I made for our neighbor.

"That almost says a bad word," observed the ten-year-old. Her older siblings filled her in on what FU means . . . because older kids teaching younger kids bad words is a tradition that will never change.