Getting organized for Christmas…

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This project began as an idea in November, and despite not having much time to get organized I just decided to go for it – I mean how hard could it be to do one good thing a day, right? Well it turns out, some days it’s pretty hard. The days when you have 8 hours of work and a poorly child, the days when you just don’t make it out of the house. Of course there are always things you can do – an online donation is one of the easiest, but there are so many things I have missed out on due to being disorganized. There are plenty of toy drives I would have liked to give to, and I would have loved to pack a shoe box for Operation Christmas Child (which ran from Nov 17th-24th), send a care package to a soldier (note do not read the requests from soldiers unless you have some tissues handy!) and create some care packages for the homeless (a lovely idea from a friend). Unfortunately I have missed/won’t get time for these, but am just in time for Operation Santa in NYC – which can be done right up until Christmas Eve, so that’s on my radar for the next 2 days.

Today was one of those days with lots to do and so, I went down the online route again. I made a donation to an organization that I have been following for a while – Room to Grow based in New York City. They are dedicated to enriching the lives of babies born into poverty, especially in the first three years of their life. As well as online gifts, they also accept donations of new and nearly new baby and toddler items at the office, located at 54 West 21st Street, #401 (between 5th and 6th Avenue), Monday through Friday 10:00am – 4:00pm.

Whilst we have tried to keep presents to a minimum, our two-and-a-half-year-old will be getting spoiled rotten this Christmas (our closets are overflowing with gifts sent from friends and family in the UK). It breaks my heart to think about children the same age who don’t have the most basic of things such as a crib or stroller.  Today’s donation makes me feel just a tiny little bit better. I’m also feeling good about how well this project has gone and how many different people and organizations I have been able to support. I will be continuing many of the traditions throughout next year and beyond, however the main lesson from today is to get organized for next year!

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It’s better to give than receive…

Ugly Christmas Jumpers

Tonight is my second holiday party in consecutive days… the first was an ugly Christmas Jumper do, and tonight’s is little more swanky! To be honest, I’m too old for champagne two nights in a  row, so today I needed something fairly easy to do for my one good thing. I went back to my list of things I made at the start of the project and luckily there are a few things still on there that I haven’t managed to tick off, (still no coffee and cake for the Salvation Army woman for a start!) so I was saved.

To be honest, the idea came from this link sent to me by the lovely Claire (which has some other great ideas) but it has been on my list since the very beginning.

We regularly donate clothes to the local charity shops – either at Housing Works, a fantastic charity aiming to end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS, and who have provided services to more than 20,000 homeless and low income New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS since 1990, or the local Salvation Army (another fantastic organization who need no introduction). Since starting advent of good things I have also discovered a local church thrift store that also does much more than sell clothes – they provide some fantastic services to people who need them, including a food pantry and soup kitchen.

So today, we each sorted through our things and ended up taking 3 big bags of clothes, shoes and various other items to the local St Francis Church Thrift store.  We had to knock on the locked doors of the already-closed-for-the-day shop, but it was totally worth it. The man who accepted our donations was extremely grateful.

I really believe that to make room for new things in your life you have to get rid of the old – both physically and emotionally. And whilst we are trying to be a minimal as possible this Christmas, I am also heartened to see that the friends we have made whilst here in NYC have already started bringing gifts for my little one. So today we made room for Santa whilst helping people too.

The many benefits of running…

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This year’s NYC Marathon

Today was a gorgeous day in New York. Bright, sunny and cold. The perfect day for a run. So I pulled on my ‘sneakers’ (yes I have adopted that American term for trainers), and headed out to the park. It wasn’t a big run – I’m still doing a recovery plan after getting a stress fracture on my foot, but even a short run in the glorious weather was enough to give my mood a huge boost.

I joined New York Road Runners earlier this year, and completed my first 5-mile race in the sweltering heat of a New York City June. It was hard, but I loved it. And since fracturing my foot and not getting out there I can definitely feel the difference – physically and mentally.

Despite not running much at all, I was also lucky enough to get out and support a couple of good friends who ran the New York City Marathon this year – one of these fantastic women does it every year (apart from when she was pregnant so we can let her off for that!) and for the other it was her first time. Both did amazingly well and I’m so proud of them. I’m a long way behind them, but maybe someday…

a picture of me after my first 5 mile race in Central park.

After my first 5-mile run… on a very hot day!

Running also helps take my mind elsewhere, and whilst out there I was thinking about a great guy doing some fantastic work helping kids (and adults) get and stay fit in the UK. He often comments on how physical activity can make a real difference to kids – confidence and behavior-wise. So today, whilst running, I figured that a donation to the NYRR Youth and Community Services programs would be a good thing to do. The programs help people of all ages and abilities lead healthier, more active lives. The organization reaches more than 100,000 children each year, helping them to get moving, set goals and develop healthy habits.

I already felt good from my run this morning, the donation just doubles that good feeling.

Speaking of running… my ideas are running a little low now we’re getting towards the end of the advent period, so let me know if you have any ideas or suggestions.

Do you have a gift in mind?

Bloomingdales bear

I don’t know how it happens, but Christmas day sneaks up on me. Every. Single. Year. I thought that by counting down the days with advent of good things this year that it wouldn’t happen, but it has. And so, I have a few last minute gifts to get and not much time to get them.

So today I ordered a couple of these little guys. Very cute, and a bargain too. And for every one sold, Bloomingdales make a donation to the wonderful Child Mind Institute. This is a fantastic organization doing amazing things, and is the only non-profit in the USA focusing solely on youth mental health. Founded by a group of NYU psychologists, the organization is devoted to transforming mental health care for children all over the world to help them reach their full potential. If you have children, they are a great resource too, as I’m reliably informed by my good friend Dallas at Skilled With Kids, that they run some awesome (and free) parenting workshops.

Do you have any last minute gift ideas? What gifts are you looking forward to receiving? Does it make a gift even more special when it does good for someone else? Let me know what you think.

Oh, and one last thing, I will also be tuning into this Homeless Memorial from the Mission this evening. I can’t be there in person, but will be thinking about the homeless who never made it home.

From small acorns

Today I almost failed. But then again, today was more about being a friend, helping out someone when they needed it. By 5pm this evening I still hadn’t figured out what I was going to do.  But then again, today I heard a lovely story from that same friend about a tree in Central Park. It’s a tree that is very special to them, it’s where they got engaged, and where they found out whether their first child was a girl or a boy… They asked the doctor to write it down for them, then put it in a sealed envelope and waited until Christmas, and then took it to the tree to open it. They did the same with the second baby. It’s such a wonderful story, and a great way to find out don’t you think?

We too have a special tree. That one is in our backyard in the UK. When my little one was really young it was the best way to calm him down. We’d go to the back of the garden and sit under the tree, looking up at the swaying branches and the sky. It always worked. So much so, that on his first day of nursery school I told the teachers that if he got upset to take him out to the yard and look at trees. And they did.

My friend’s story of her special tree inspired me to make a donation to Million Trees NYC – an organization with an ambition aim to plant and care for one million new trees across the City’s five boroughs over the next 10 years. 70% of these will be in parks, on streets and other public spaces, and the rest will come from private and community organizations, and homeowners.

It was only a small donation, but as the saying goes: ‘From small acorns…’

Sharing my love of books

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I love to read. Always have. And luckily my son does too. The only problem is it means we have a house full of books – and in a 2-bed apartment with no storage that’s not a good thing. But books are one thing I don’t like to get rid of. Clothes? No problem. Toys? Absolutely. DVDs and CDs? Went a long time ago.

I just have an emotional attachment to books. I know I should embrace the Kindle – I have one, of course, but it just doesn’t feel the same as reading a book.

To help stem the flow of books into our house, I joined the New York Public Library a few weeks ago. My son is now always excited to take his books back and get new ones. And the library is a great environment. I spent part of this year volunteering with the NYPL (on adult literacy programs) and they’re a great organization, helping thousands of people who rely on them to discover new skills and ideas.

So today for my one good thing, I decided to donate some of our books to them. It’s not like I’m getting rid of them after all, just storing them somewhere else. I can read them any time I want and other New Yorkers get to read them too. Everyone wins.

Please note, if you’re inspired to do the same, books should be in great condition and not all libraries accept donations, so please check with your local one first before lugging your books a few blocks. Trust me…!

Oh, and as a quick aside, I saw this Improv Everywhere Epic Christmas Carolling surprise today and was totally inspired. If I could sing or play an instrument, a special carol performance would definitely be on the cards for someone this year. Maybe I should take up singing lessons in the new year!

Making a promise

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The terrible events that unfolded last night and throughout today in Sydney are heartbreaking. My thoughts are with those affected all over the world. Faith in humanity has been restored by the wonderful social media #Illridewithyou campaign. Thousands of people have now joined, showing solidarity in a time of tragedy.

I didn’t know it until late last night, but yesterday was the two year anniversary of the devastating events at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children and 6 adult staff members were shot and killed. I cannot begin to imagine what the parents of those children (and adults) have gone through, and are still going through to this day.

The school is less than an hour and a half from where we live in NYC, and I have to admit, it’s one of the things that worries me about bringing up my son in the USA. The truly devastating fact is, since Sandy Hook, there have been nearly 100 more school shootings. So last night I added my name to the Standing with Sandy Hook Promise, and today, for my one good thing, I have made a donation to the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation. Led by family members whose loved ones were killed in the tragic mass shooting, the foundation aims to protect children from gun violence so that no other parent experiences the loss of their child.

There was no official public memorial yesterday, but instead residents of Newtown, Connecticut asked people to perform acts of kindness to help promote good in the world and honor the 26 victims. What a wonderful idea – another way of promoting good in the most unbelievably tragic circumstances. Find the full story here.