Doing Good

Practicing Gratitude: Gifting with a Side of Poetry


It's that time of year when knitters (and makers) everywhere get really serious about creating handmade gifts for people they care about.  


(Yes.  That's a sock.  But don't get excited about it.  I finished it over a year ago, and haven't even cast on for its mate.  This post just needed a sock picture, so I dug it out of the drawer for just long enough to snap a photo.)  (It's back in the drawer now.)

I'm not knitting-for-Christmas this year, myself (although I do have one gift recipient who desperately needs a hat, so there is that), but I thought I would share this gratitude-related poem about receiving the gift of socks to inspire all of you gift-knitters and gift-makers out there.

Ode to My Socks
         by Pablo Neruda

Maru Mori brought me
a pair
of socks
which she knitted herself
with her sheepherder’s hands,
two socks as soft
as rabbits.
I slipped my feet
into them
as though into
with threads of
and goatskin.
Violent socks,
my feet were
two fish made
of wool,
two long sharks
sea-blue, shot
by one golden thread,
two immense blackbirds,
two cannons:
my feet
were honored
in this way
They were
so handsome
for the first time
my feet seemed to me
like two decrepit
firemen, firemen
of that woven
of those glowing

I resisted
the sharp temptation
to save them somewhere
as schoolboys
as learned men
sacred texts,
I resisted
the mad impulse
to put them
into a golden
and each day give them
and pieces of pink melon.
Like explorers
in the jungle who hand
over the very rare
green deer
to the spit
and eat it
with remorse,
I stretched out
my feet
and pulled on
the magnificent
and then my shoes.

The moral
of my ode is this:
beauty is twice
and what is good is doubly
when it is a matter of two socks
made of wool
in winter.


Happy gift knitting, my friends.  And if you'd like to read other knitting tales today, hop on over to Kat's for Unraveled Wednesday.

Practicing Gratitude: Giving


Today, as I make my pies and chop ingredients for the stuffing and pull out my festive tablecloth, I'm also continuing to think about how I practice gratitude.  

For the last two days, I've been blogging about "gratitude tasks" -- how performing simple things like writing gratitude lists and thank you notes can help you feel better and improve your general outlook.  

Today, let's go further with another "task" that also turns out to be good for you . . . philanthropy.


Because philanthropy . . . is a topic near and dear to my heart.

You see, my convoluted career path led me to philanthropy.  (Maybe someday I'll tell you about that path . . . from teacher to CPA to foundation director.  But not today.)  For 17 years, I had the great fortune of running a large, private women's foundation in Grand Rapids.  It turned out to be a dream job -- and also one of the greatest learning experiences I've ever had.

Mostly, though, my job turned me into a philanthropist . . . certainly as a professional, but - more importantly - as an individual.

Anyone can be a philanthropist!  Although I think most of us associate folks like Andrew Carnegie, John Paul Getty, or Bill Gates with the term "philanthropist," that's selling the rest of us short.  You are a philanthropist no matter how much or how how little or how often you give a donation to a charitable organization. 

I think that's an important thing to remember.  Financial contributions of any size make a huge difference to charitable organizations!  Not only do all of those little gifts add up to make a big impact -- but they also signal your emotional support,   your belief in a cause, your desire to fight for a better world. . . to an organization that lives and breathes their mission every day.  

Giving . . . makes you a philanthropist.  

Give.  Give.  Give.  Because it matters.  It's the right thing to do.  And it'll make you feel good, too.

(Okay.  Now just let me put a higher platform on my soapbox for a second.)

How do you choose which organization to give TO?

Here's my short answer:  Follow Your Heart!

  • What causes are you especially concerned about?  Water quality?  Domestic violence?  Disease awareness?  Public education?  Health care access?  Constitutional rights?  Hunger?  Arts and culture?  Animal adoption?  Refugee services?  Leadership development?  Homelessness?  Gun violence?  Heck . . . the list goes on and on and on.  Figure out which issues are most important to you.  Narrow your scope.
  • Do a little research.  Are there organizations in your own community that are working on your focus-issues?  Start with their websites or annual reports.  Maybe give them a call and schedule a visit.  Attend an event they sponsor.  Basically -- get close and see what they do in your community.  (Note that I did NOT start with a visit to GuideStar or Charity Navigator; more on that later.)
  • If you're interested in theses issues beyond your community - or if you're interested in more national or global issues - expand your net a bit with your research.  It might be harder to get personal, community-level information from organizations beyond your backyard, but you can still learn about what they do and who they serve through their websites and annual reports.
  • Mostly, though.  Figure out what matters most to you -- and GIVE.

Now. . .

Let's talk a minute about sites like GuideStar and Charity Navigator -- sites designed to provide good, solid information about the inner-workings of charities.  If you are looking to make a significant personal gift (let's say . . . over $10,000) or if you work for a foundation, then - by all means - do your due diligence and take a look at the financial statements and 990s of charities you're considering. 

But.  If you're just making regular, personal charitable donations of $25, $100, or even $1,000 . . . skip that step.  Seriously.  Just give.

And I could go on and on (and on) about the evils of equating operational overhead with poor nonprofit management (because I would need a stage-sized soapbox for that one) -- but, instead, I'm going to leave you with this most excellent TED talk from activist and fundraiser Dan Pallotta.  (I know it's 18 minutes on the day before Thanksgiving, but this is totally worth watching if you really want to change the world.)

In the meantime . . . GIVE!


A Special Guest with a Special Mission

A few weeks ago, an old friend put out an announcement on Facebook:  a young man from New Jersey was setting off on a 3200-mile trek across the country to raise money and awareness for . . . water.  His journey was going to take him right across Michigan -- and he was looking for places to stop and shelter along the way.  Including . . . Kalamazoo.

No brainer, right?

Mission close to my heart.

Young man my own son's age.

Empty guest room.

Sign me up to support him!

James arrived last night.  Tired and hot from a long day's journey -- but bubbling with enthusiasm and energy.


It was a delight to spend a few hours with James -- learning about his mission and background.  He's an amazing young man!  He has chosen to backpack across the country carrying 10 gallons of water (that's 90 pounds!) in support of (mostly) women and children around the world who must walk far distances each day for their water.  James planned his route to include areas in the US with water insecurity issues -- and he spent several days in Flint, Michigan last week, learning about the Flint water crisis and volunteering with various organizations there.

James hopes to raise $75,000 during his trek.  All funds he raises will go to repairing broken wells in the Mara region of Tanzania (where James has done work in the past), as well as providing training for well maintenance.

Find out more about James and his journey here.  You can also follow his progress on Twitter or Facebook.  And, if you can, please consider a donation in support of his mission.  

It was truly a delight to connect with James.  He gives me HOPE for the future (something we can all use there days), and I am so pleased we got the chance to meet him.

And now . . . he's off!  Watch for him out on the roads this summer as he heads west . . . for water.



Take Action: Money Talks

After the election, and during this bizarre transition phase, I remain particularly troubled by threats to causes and issues I care about most: the environment, women's rights, civil liberties, anti-discrimination, and access to health care.  

It's overwhelming, really.  Because the threats are everywhere -- and real.  

I've decided to put my money where my heart is . . . and give to organizations that will continue to champion these causes that I hold dear.  And you know what?  A whole lot of other people are doing the same thing!


In fact, this article from The Atlantic, written shortly after the election, explains that donations to organizations like Planned Parenthood, Sierra Club, the ACLU, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations have just gone through the roof.  Another article, this one from the Washington Post, speaks of the "unprecedented" levels of giving after the election.

It seems that many of us want to DO SOMETHING.  And making donations is a way for us to respond positively and concretely to a very disturbing situation.

There's even a term evolving for this motivation to give:  rage donating.  According to this article in the Boston Globe, "rage donations" have become an anti-Trump movement.  The concept has even spawned a website - RageDonate - designed to harness the power of anger to deliver real change.  Their tagline? Get mad and help others get even.  They feature actual DJT quotes . . . and then select non-profit organizations threatened by each quote for rage donations.  Check it out.  It's empowering!

My Take Action Challenge to you this week is this:  Consider the causes and issues you hold most dear, then donate what you can to organizations working to champion those causes and issues.  And remember -- EVERY donation helps -- no matter the amount.  Just . . . put your money where your heart is!

As for me?  I'm funneling my charitable giving dollars to the following organizations:

  • American Civil Liberties Union - because I want to protect our constitutional rights and processes
  • Planned Parenthood - because I care about women's health and access to affordable health care
  • Sierra Club - because I care about the environment AND I believe climate change is real
  • NPR - because I care about aggressive news coverage - now more than ever

Want to take action?  GIVE!


Even Your Darkest Night


Sometimes . . . bad things happen to people.

Job loss.

Kid trouble.

A bad diagnosis.

The death of someone close.

Life's hardest challenges rain down sometimes.

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This week, Carole (who needs our support right now, by the way) asks us about Ten Things to Do to be Supportive When Someone Dies.  I'm going to extend that sentiment a bit  . . . to Ten Things to Do to be Supportive When Someone is Going Through Hell (no matter what the Hell happens to be).

  1. Be there.  Yes.  It's uncomfortable to reach out and talk to someone who is going through hell.  It might even be a little scary.  Do it anyway.  Be there.
  2. Think. . . about how YOU might feel in the same hellish situation.  What would YOU want?  How would you wish your friends would treat you?  Then do that.
  3. Check in.  Ask how they're doing.  Ask what they might need.  Ask if they need to talk.  Ask if they want to share a bottle of wine.  And keep checking in.  (Because once isn't enough.)
  4. Listen.  Let them talk.  Let them ramble.  Let them cry.  Ask them if they'd like to share their story.  (Bring the Kleenex.)
  5. Go outside YOURSELF.  Because, y'know . . . it's not about YOU right now. 
  6. Don't just offer help; HELP.  It sounds supportive and all . . . if you say, "Let me know if I can do something."  But that's Not Helpful.  (Not really.)  Because that's just putting the ball in the suffering-person's court.  Instead . . . HELP.  DO something.  Call . . . and say, "I'm at the grocery store right now; what can I bring you?"  Don't wait for a request; just . . . help.
  7. Stay in touch.  Call.  Send personal notes.  Write emails.  Visit.  Bring wine. And stay in touch for the long haul.
  8. Bring food.  (Preferably in containers that don't need to be returned.)  Because people need to eat.  And food prep is hard when you're in pain.
  9. Remember . . . that grief and shock and pain . . . are different for everyone.  No judgement.  Just support.  We each follow our own path when it comes to grief and "dealing with it."  Understand that, and honor someone else's journey.
  10. Share your memories and hopes for tomorrow.  Because it's important to remember a shared past -- and to look toward a brighter future.

This topic is not the cheeriest . . . but life (and, sadly, death) happens to all of us . . . and it's best we support each other through even the darkest nights.


Join the fun!  Sign up to recieve Ten on Tuesday prompts here - or read other lists here

Friday Gardening . . . In a Different Garden

Several years ago (almost 10, actually), I became certified as a Master Gardener.  Here in Michigan,* to get that certification I took a semester long class through Michigan State Unversity Extension, suffered through weekly quizzes and a final exam, and performed 40 hours of volunteer service related to horiticulture.  (I was basically an indentured servant to the Master Gardener Giving Garden -- a very cool small working farm that grows - and then gives away - over 14,000 pound of fresh produce each year.)


To STAY certificed as a Michigan Master Gardener, I need to complete 6 hours of continuing education and 15 hours of volunteer service each year.

I have no problem AT ALL with the education hours part.  The entire reason I decided to become a Master Gardener  . . . was because I LOVE learning about gardening.  


When it comes to the volunteer hours, though.  Well.  Let's just say I'd rather spend time in my own garden!  I have just not found a Master Gardener project that I'm passionate about doing.  I do things to keep my certification up -- but I usually don't really like doing them.

This year, I decided to try something a little different.  I decided to "adopt" a garden bed in Bronson Park (the public park/"community square" in downtown Kalamazoo) as part of the larger Kalamazoo-in-Bloom project.

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In some ways, this is a perfect project for me!  My favorite parts of gardening (in that Zen, everyday-maintenance kind of way) are weeding and deadheading -- and that's just what's called for in adopting and caring for a park garden bed.

Plus - the location is very convenient for me, and the timing is completely open -- as long as I keep my bed looking neat all summer long.

And I figured . . . extra deadheading and weeding will give me more time for mindful thinking and relaxation! 

Volunteer hours + Convenience + Work I Like Doing + Mindful Relaxation = Win! Win! Win! Win!

So far, my experience is pretty much living up to expectations.

I'll have no problem getting my Master Gardener Volunteer Hours this year. (Win)

I was right about the convenience and the timing.  (I even got a "Bed Adopter" parking pass for the downtown meters, so Extra Bonus Points.) (Win)

I do like the work -- although the bed is one of the ugliest in the park.  (I am not allowed to design or plant; just weed and deadhead.)  (This kills me every time I see it.)  (Win . . . if I don't look too closely.)

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Mindful relaxation?  Not so much!  Turns out . . . there's a big difference between gardening behind my fence at home (which is very relaxing and peaceful and private) and gardening in a busy public park!  I now garden with OVERLY friendly squirrels (like . . . not even slightly afraid of me AND expecting food please), inquiring children, talkative walkers, and a whole crew of homeless men who live in the park during the summer and love to chat.

It takes some getting used to.

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But I'm committed!  (And see?  This is how they make sure you keep your garden bed looking good!)  (Talk about public accountability. . .)

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Here's another bonus:  Some of my new park-resident friends tell me jokes!  Here's one from earlier this week:
    Q:      What's the difference between in-laws and outlaws?
    A:      Outlaws are WANTED!

Enjoy your weekend!


* Each state has their own Master Gardener certification/re-certification requirements, just in case you're interested!


Power of the Purse

There's a cool new women's group here in town -- Women Who Care Kalamazoo

The premise is simple:  Once each quarter, women get together for a one-hour meeting in a convenient downtown location (with a bar; natch!).  They learn about 3 local nonprofit organizations, cast votes, and then . . . each writes a $100 check to the winning organization. 

It's all about pooling resources to make a difference for organizations - and, ultimately, people - in our community.  It's about . . . caring.

The three women who dreamed up Women Who Care Kalamazoo hoped they could convince 100 women to join their effort.

Last night (the second meeting), there were 190 women in the room!

Gathering . . .


socializing . . .


listening intently . . .


to heartfelt presentations about good works.


And, at the end of the evening, one of those organizations walked away with $19,000 in funding!


What a great way to spend an evening after work.  Friends.  Philanthropy.  Wine.  Doing Good.

The power of the purse!

Sharing the Bounty


My work for the last 23 years has been in the field of philanthropy -- or, etymologically, "the caring of man." Essentially, philanthropy involves caring for, nourishing, improving and enhancing the quality of life for human beings.

Yeah.  I'm a professional bleeding heart . . .

Anyway, there are several issues that are particularly close to my (bleeding) heart:  women's issues, literacy, expanding access to the arts, conservation, hunger and food insecurity.

In November, as it gets closer to Thanksgiving (here in the US), we start thinking a little more about bounty . . . and plenty . . . and food.  We acknowledge what we have . . . and we share the excess.  Food drives for local food pantries seem to be everywhere this time of year.

Tom's place of work had one earlier this month, with prizes going to the floor bringing in the most food (based on weight).


The cost of admission to my Fall Master Gardener conference last Saturday was a donation to the local food bank.


And this weekend, the Clark family sponsored their 5th annual food drive in my neighborhood.

Opportunity is everywhere!  I hope you'll look for ways to donate food to your local food bank or pantry not just in November, but throughout the year.  (Because food insecurity is not seasonal!)

As you can probably tell, I'm very enthused about Carole's Ten on Tuesday topic this week:  10 Items Your Local Food Pantry Can Use

  1. Essential, nutritious foods that families like to eat - breakfast cereals, applesauce, fruit juice (preferably in cans), dried fruit
  2. Non-perishable food items - rice, canned vegetables and fruits, canned potatoes, dry lentils and beans
  3. Protein-rich options - canned meat (chicken, SPAM), pasta sauce WITH meat, beef stew, corned beef hash, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter
  4. Whole grains - oatmeal, granola, pasta, rice, couscous
  5. Hearty foods - canned soups, canned ravioli, canned chili WITH meat
  6. Fresh vegetables (from your garden or the market) -- check with your food pantry to make certain they'll accept fresh vegetables (ours does!) and to make delivery arrangements
  7. Pet food - basic cat and dog food
  8. Baking staples - flour, sugar, raisins, vegetable oil, chocolate chips
  9. Condiments - salt and pepper, basic spices, ketchup, mustard
  10. Non-food items related - dishwashing detergent, sponges, paper towels, toothpaste, hand soap, lotion

(And. . . just remember. . . no rusted cans, glass jars, or food past its expiration date.  Think twice before you pull stuff out from the depths of your own pantry.  If you don't want it, chances are the food bank won't want it either!)

This fall, share your bounty with your local food pantry! 


Join the fun!  Sign up for Ten on Tuesday here, and check out other Ten on Tuesday lists here.


Doing Good


I'm a firm believer in . . . Doing Good.  You know.  Making the world a better place.  Smiling at people.  Making eye contact.  Really listening.  Volunteering to help.  Donating money.  Lending a hand.  Spreading sunshine!


 This week, Carole has us thinking about the Good Deeds we did this week.  Here are a few of mine:

  1. When I was putting gas in my car last week, the guy next to me was having some serious problems with his debit card.  And he was stuck.  Really stuck.  And it was 103°.  I gave him some money for gas -- and a cold drink -- so he could be on his way.
  2. My friend Sandie's garden was part of a Garden Tour last week.  I helped her with last-minute weeding and deadheading before the tour.  She told me I was like a little bee . . . flitting from plant to plant and working magic with my little pruning scissors.
  3. I packed Tom's suitcase for his trip to India last weekend.  He's perfectly capable of packing his own suitcase, but I like to help him get ready for his trip.  It keeps him calm, and I can make sure that his shirts are folded and packed with love. 
  4. I complimented a woman's new hairstyle at the gym.  She beamed.  I don't know her, but it didn't matter.  It's always wonderful to hear something flatters!
  5. I provided a listening ear for my sister.  Sometimes people just need to be heard, y'know?
  6. I volunteered to work a Saturday shift at the yarn shop next month.  I don't mind a Saturday once in a while during the winter months, but it's a big sacrifice for me during the summer.
  7. I remembered to ask a proud new Grandma if she had any photos of her new grandson.  (She did.)
  8. I pick up Jenny's . . . leavings. . . on our walks.  (Always do. . .)
  9. I repaired a split seam on Tom's very favorite (and very oldest) pair of shorts. (Now they should be good for ANOTHER 15 years.)
  10. I recycled . . . and composted . . . and took a load of stuff to Goodwill.

How about YOU?  Did you spread some sunshine this week?




The Freedom to Read

We are in the midst of a very special week!  Yes, my friends, it's Banned Books Week!


Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  Held each year during the last week in September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information, while highlighting the harm of censorship --- even when the information and ideas might be unpopular or . . . difficult.  Banned Books Week is all about the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox - and unpopular - viewpoints for any and all who wish to read them.

Banned Books Week teaches about the danger of imposing restraints on the availability of information in a free society.


As an avid reader (of both contemporary fiction and the classics), I'm always interested in seeing how many banned books I have read!  Here is a list of the most frequently challenged classics:

  1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
  3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  6. Ulysses by James Joyce
  7. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  8. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  9. 1984 by George Orwell
  10. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

As for me, I've read 9 of the 10 books listed above.**  I'm grateful that, at some point in the future, I'll be able to read the 10th (Lolita) if I so choose!

Celebrate Banned Books Week.  Check out the website for more information.  Go to your library or bookstore.  Grab a banned book -- and enjoy the freedom to read! 

** Truth be told, I struggled with Ulysses.  Really struggled.  I didn't read all of it.  (Really. . . has anyone?)