Holiday cheer in red cups

Miserable day and evening in NYC

Miserable day and evening in NYC

Today was a miserable day in New York. The tops of buildings disappeared in the drizzle, the Empire State Building was missing from view and you needed wellies and an umbrella to go anywhere.

I had a few things in mind for my last one good thing. This year (for the first time ever), I managed to resist buying myself a few little treats whilst doing the Christmas shopping, which means there was a bit of money left over in the budget… so we have a few extra presents to give to the toy drive at Central Park Zoo. We also picked up a bag from Polarn O. Pyret which we can use to send clothes to needy children (a great idea – every time you buy new clothes, you can pop the outgrown ones in the bag and send them off).  But in the end, I decided to spread a little holiday cheer in my own little community. I went to Starbucks, filled up a gift card, then left it behind the counter to treat the people who came in on a  miserable Christmas Eve to free coffees. I hope it makes their Christmas Eve. It made mine.

This advent of good things challenge has sometimes been hard, sometimes been annoying, but always worth it. I’m just glad it’s Christmas Eve, the last deeds done, the presents have been wrapped and Santa is one his way…! Have a great Christmas everyone.

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Day 23 – Santa fail…

Post Office

So today I was all geared up and excited for my Operation Santa duties. It’s a great initiative which a lovely friend introduced me to. You get to be ‘Santa’ for a needy child who has sent a letter to the man himself, by buying the things they have requested and returning to the post office with them wrapped, and then pay to get them shipped. It also happens to be at one of my favorite buildings in the city, the post office on 8th Avenue. The building itself is beautiful, but it’s the quote that gets me every time: ‘Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.’ A bit classier than anything the Royal Mail has come up with (including The Real Network!)

I packed every piece of official ID I have – my passport, social security card, US visa, employment authorization card, bank cards, you name it – I had it. Apart from a drivers’ license or other state issued DMV ID (I don’t have an American one and my British one doesn’t count apparently), so they wouldn’t let me take part. I felt so sad as there was a HUGE pile of letters waiting to be answered. Seriously, it was about a foot high – and with 2 days left to go and only one other family there taking part, I doubt they are going to get answered. Despite my pleas, they just wouldn’t let me do it. ‘Rules is rules’ as they say.

Luckily, my brother wanted to do a bit of extra toy shopping and that provided me with a chance to rectify the morning’s epic fail and complete a one good thing (although I have to admit it was slightly less satisfying). So the inevitable trip to FAO Schwartz took place. We found the big piano, but didn’t have a go as there was a line of children waiting and I don’t think they would have been happy with 2 grown adults playing chopsticks! A gift was purchased and at the register there was a chance to donate to Toys for Tots, an organization trying to bring joy to disadvantaged children this (and every) Christmas. I suppose the outcome is the same – a chance to share some joy by buying a child’s toy, but the donation felt too easy, and I really wanted the personal touch of answering a letter. So I’m already planning for next year and applying for my DMV ID…

Getting organized for Christmas…

RTG_LogoTagLine

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!

A comforting purchase

Comforters

My brother is flying in to New York for Christmas tomorrow and I’m so excited. And so is our little one – he’s more excited about ‘Uncle Paul’ coming that he is about Santa. As excited as I am, getting a two bed apartment ready for a visitor means there are always a few last-minute errands to run, and so today we needed to buy a new comforter (a quilt to me and you).

I had found some great ones at the usual places… Pottery Barn, Ikea, Crate and Barrel. However, inspired by my one good thing a day project, I decided to source a comforter from an organization who give back – and found a great example at the Company Store, who are dedicated to ‘bringing comfort to homeless children’. They have teamed up with Family Promise and for every comforter they sell, they donate one to a homeless American family. The child gets to keep the comforter as they move out of a shelter and into permanent housing, a unique symbol of comfort and hope, in a situation that usually has none.

I feel very lucky to be able to simply buy things whenever I need them (and believe me I am trying to buy less and less these days), but at least by sourcing products that make a difference, I feel a little more comfort myself.

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…

Marathon

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.