Freckles in April

Friday, September 11, 2015

A Week of Helping to Make the World a Better Place - First Responders, Soliders and Veterans

From our trip to Fort McHenry in June

I feel like, for me, anything related to September 11 will always be "too soon."

Like that 2010 film Remember Me with a surprisingly not wooden Robert Pattinson and the lovely Emilie de Ravin where (SPOILER) he dies in the attacks at the end. I was on board with the movie until that point and then I had to turn it off. "Too soon," I said.

Today my 2nd grader brought home an I SURVIVED book about the September 11th attacks. I shook my head, "Too soon."

But it's been 14 years. I guess, for some people, it's not too soon?

Anyway, as I've been reflecting today and seeing other people's thoughts on social media I've run across a few charities I wanted to highlight.

National Fallen Firefighters Foundation | A charity devoted to remembering fallen firefighters and providing resources to those they left behind.

Fisher House Foundation | Among other things, you can donate your airline miles to bring family members to the side of injured or ill service members.

Wounded Warrior Project | Helping wounded service members find education and employment, among other services.

Operation Gratitude | Today would be a great day to write a letter to a man or woman serving our country.

Various 9/11 Charities | A great list of charities doing good for or in behalf of those affected most by the attacks.


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Thursday, September 10, 2015

A Week of Helping to Make the World a Better Place - Climate Change

Another Aaron snap from our road trip

Climate change is one of those things that I was relatively unconcerned about until recently. When I lost my religion I started thinking about all the various post-mortal options now open for my consideration, including reincarnation. When I thought about that one I had an immediate negative reaction. "Oh I sure hope not," I thought, "It's only going to get more polluted and melty around here."

That was a big lightbulb moment for me.

Even if reincarnation is not a thing, we should still be treating the earth as though we have to come back to it in 60 years. Because no one wants to live on a planet that's polluted and melty.

Once I realized that I actually AM concerned about climate change I had a " what?" moment. I'm not a big factory. I don't dump chemicals down storm drains. Aaron works from home and my boys take the bus to school so we don't drive much. What can I, suburban housewife in Mesa Arizona, do to help climate change? I need a list!

So I googled. And I made a list.

Turn off lights. You've heard this one before (and so have I) but sometimes I need a reminder. I stopped in the middle of typing that sentence and went to turn off three lights. It's really easy to just forget but it's also easy to get back in the habit of turning off lights when you leave the room. I've heard of parents charging their kids for electricity when they forget to turn off a light, which I think is a genius way to help them realize that they are consuming something of value and they need to be mindful of that.

Replace your bulbs with energy efficient ones. Not all at once or anything, but as they burn out just start to replace them. You'd be putting in new bulbs anyway so you may as well put in ones that help cut your energy costs and aren't so hard on the environment.

Recycle, reduce, reuse. We were visiting friends at some point in the past year and their city didn't recycle. That blows my mind a little. Recycling isn't a perfect process but it's still a good way to reduce waste! Also, please enjoy this Recycle Rex video.

Recycling is important but I think reducing and reusing might be even more so. Be mindful about what you spend money on. Think about the energy and environmental cost. A more minimalist life makes for a cleaner house, a happy budget and less pollution and waste.

Compost. We had a compost bin in our last house and I loved taking all our vegetable peelings and stuff out there. Time to get another one! Our city will drop a compost bin off at your house for $5 (which is refundable when you give the bin back). Your city might have a similar program- call and ask!

Be smart about your transportation. If you live in a city with awesome public transportation, great! Use it! If not, carpool whenever possible. Or ride a bike! It makes a difference. When the weather is nice here we like to walk or ride bikes to visit friends. Exercise + environmentally friendly!

Eat less red meat. Last year The Guardian wrote an article about how giving up red meat would be better for reducing carbon emissions than giving up your car. The environmental cost of raising cattle for meat is staggering! It's also a change that's not too difficult to make. I need my car to function but I do NOT need red meat. We eat it once a month, if that, and we don't particularly miss it.

Be conscious in your food choices. Organic, local produce can be hard to find (I feel you) but the environmental impact is way lower. As demand grows, so do the options! Ask your local grocery store to carry more organic options. Shop at farmer's markets for local produce. If you're in the Phoenix area, check out Backyard Farmer! Fresh, local, seasonal produce delivered to your door by the people who grew it. It's phenomenal.

If you have the budget, take a look at your house. Did you know that you can use a blower to shoot more insulation into your walls and attic if there isn't much in there? You can also switch out windows for more energy efficient ones. It will help reduce heating and cooling costs AND energy loss.

Pick up garbage. Last year my neighbor friend and I gave our kids some plastic grocery bags and latex gloves and took them around the neighborhood to pick up garbage. We talked to them about being community helpers and helping the earth. They had a great time, the neighborhood got cleaned up, and our kids got to do a good service. It's a good way to get your kiddos involved! Just watch out for broken glass- it's freaking everywhere.

What are you doing to try to lessen climate change? Anything you'd add to the list?


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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Week of Helping to Make the World a Better Place - Helping the Homeless

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area where homelessness is rampant. At Christmas we'd always take BART into the city to see the lights and glitter and there were a few times we took paper bags filled with food with us to hand out to the homeless we saw. Some were old, some were young. Some had animals with them. Some had pleas for help written on cardboard and some were just trying to get some rest in the small space they had created for themselves.

It left an impression. My heart still breaks a little when I see a sleeping bag on the street or someone pushing a shopping cart full of their belongings down the road. Here are a few things we can do to help ease the burden of homelessness-

Do a Google search for local shelters to see what they need. The closest one to me has a website complete with a list of things they need, like toys and sanitary supplies, as well as an option for donating money or sponsoring something specific, such as public transportation for a week for a person trying to find a job.

Keep a few items in your car. Last winter I saw a skinny young man- a boy, really, he had to be barely out of high school- begging on a street corner. He had a ragged backpack full of stuff hanging off a bony shoulder and he was shivering with cold. I was just down the street from a TJ Maxx so I ran and bought a sweatshirt. As I was stopped at the light opposite from the boy I saw a man climb out of his truck, take off his sweatshirt, hand it to the boy with some cash, and then drive away.

Ever since then I've kept the sweatshirt in my car, ready to hand out if I see someone who needs it. I've also got a few granola bars and a couple water bottles. And, ever since reading this incredibly thought-provoking blog post, I've started keeping a handful of $5 bills in my car. I recognize that some of the people I have given things to are likely scam artists but that's a risk I'm willing to take in hopes that I'm also occasionally helping someone who is really in need.

Volunteer. Soup kitchens, shelters, Habitat for Humanity, etc. They do the good they do because of volunteers.

If you're local, you can donate bottled water to the homeless to stay hydrated while the heat rages. Visit the city's hydration donation page for info.

Support your local library and needy libraries. Libraries are an incredibly valuable resource for homeless people. They can use the tools there to find a job or gain the skills necessary to find a job in the future!


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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Week of Helping to Make the World a Better Place - International Literacy Day

As a lifelong passionate reader it blows my mind a little bit that illiteracy is such a huge problem in 2015. According to there are 775 MILLION people around the world who are functionally illiterate. Over half of them are women. That doesn't just mean they're missing out on the joy of kicking back with a fantastic book on a slow Sunday, it means they're incapable of performing some of the most basic tasks associated with daily life and, more importantly, employment.

Today is International Literacy Day, a day meant to increase awareness of the scope and problems associated with illiteracy in hopes that, eventually, it will be a thing of the past.

So I'm going to briefly tell you about three of my favorite books.

What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson | I've read this book over and over and over. It's about a love that transcends heaven and hell (and I always bawl my eyes out) but it's also a fascinating look at the afterlife. The author spent years researching different views and beliefs about what happens after death then he wove them all together into a beautiful vision that makes me reach for this book again and again.

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman | Another book I've read a hundred times over the years. Catherine's father is determined to marry her off but she's not interested. She's sassy and clever and uses her wits to run off every suitor that comes her way. She spends several weeks trying to come up with her own unique swear word. She throws her sewing in the privy. When I was younger she was everything I wanted to be as a teenager!

The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt | Ok this isn't like a lifelong favorite or anything because it just came out but I have literally read it every night for the past 2 weeks and it's still funny. There's a crayon who renames himself "Esteban the Magnificent" and we all snort laugh every. freaking. time. It's a follow-up to the enormously successful The Day the Crayons Quit, which is equally awesome.

In honor of International Literacy Day I'm going to donate a copy of each of these books to a needy library.

Donate Books | I mentioned yesterday that media mail is a super cheap way of sending books. Just wrap them in brown paper or throw them in a box and you can ship them for like a quarter of the price you'd pay to ship anything else. It's amazing. So head on over to and check out their info on needy libraries. Then, pick a fav book and send it to someone else who might appreciate it!

Support book-related charities | Or, you can always donate to my fav charity, Books for Africa. Fifty cents sends a book to a child in Africa- not too bad for 2 humble quarters. Or, check out this list of 150 literacy and book related charities for one that feels like a good fit for you.

Read to others | In college I volunteered with an adult literacy program. Now I go in to my kids' school once or twice a month and help students with their reading. There are local shelters that are always looking for tutors or people to read to the kids who are staying there. There are tons of opportunities to go and help others learn to read or gain an appreciation for books!


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Monday, September 7, 2015

A Week of Helping to Make the World a Better Place - Helping Syrian Refugees

From the petition

This past weekend I was looking over my editorial calendar and thinking about the stuff I had planned for my blog for the week and I just...couldn't write it.

The images from that beach in Turkey have been haunting me. I was talking with a couple friends about it and Katie put my thoughts into words-

I hate it. I hate that someone can just be born into a whole life of perpetual trial and starvation and violence and fear. 

It makes me angry and angsty and sad. And the thing is, I can feel horror and heartbreak and all those emotions but what's the point if I'm not doing something about it? Feeling bad doesn't help anyone.

So this week I'm going to focus on 5 different issues and talk about action items that you (yup, YOU!) and I can do right now to help make the world a better place.

And I'm going to start with the Syrian refugee situation, because that is the one that made me cry last night. If you're not sure what exactly is happening over there, this article does a great job of summing up the conflict and its causes.

If you have some cash to spare, Public Radio International put together a short list of 5 fantastic charities that are doing good work with the refugees. If none of those sound just right to you then do a Google search for "ways to help Syrian refugees" and a million other lists will pop up. People are really trying to help right now and there are a lot of ways you can contribute.

If you'd like to donate some books, visit this site for instructions. Media mail tends to be really cheap so sending a book or two (especially if you're just pulling out ones you already own) should be a fairly affordable way to do good.

If you're in the UK and have some spare room, there are unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who need foster homes. Add your name to the database if you'd be willing to take in a child or sibling group.

If you have a babywearing sling that you're not longer using, donate it! Information over here.

If all you have to give is your voice, then the International Rescue Committee has a blog post about things that need to be done and includes a link (down at the bottom) to a petition to call for governments to make refugees welcome.

If you've run across any amazing charities doing work for the Syrian refugees, share them in the comments!


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