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.

Making a promise

SHP2

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.

Big Yellow Taxi (tipping)

IMG_3451

We all have good days and bad days. Since being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s my bad days come a little more regularly. I don’t know if it’s the chemicals in my body or the chemicals in the medications I’m taking, but I definitely feel a little lower than usual.

Luckily I have a cheeky two year old, a hilarious husband, a fluff ball dog, some great friends and a job I love to pull me out of the fog. And now I have my good things too. That’s another one of the reasons for doing this… I know how good I feel for doing these little things – and having something every day keeps me bobbing along. So not entirely altruistic…

Today has been one of those lower days… But luckily I did something that for no cost and no effort really boosted my mood and helped someone else too…

First, I just want to say that I never complain. Never. It’s a British thing I think, we put up with bad service, mutter under our breath and when anyone asks if everything is ok we smile and day ‘of course’! Maybe it was my bad mood, or maybe it is something to do with the fact that I’ve been in New York for over a year now and I’m toughening up, but today, when we visited the holiday train show at the New York Historical Society for the second time, and for the second time one of the exhibits wasn’t working, I asked for a refund. I was surprised when the guy said ‘Sure’!

So on the way home we ‘passed it on’ and used the refund to give a much bigger than normal tip to our taxi driver (according to my numbers whizz of a husband it was a 360% gratuity!). I had the best response yet… After we’d got out and he realized what was going on he gave us the biggest beaming smile ever. He was so happy, smiling, giving us the thumbs up and waving. It made me feel great again.

Got any ideas for me? I’d love to hear your suggestions for my ‘one good thing‘.

A donation to my own back yard

When we left the UK, the thing I was most worried about was not having a garden. With a  dog and a 2 year old, it seemed like a pretty important thing to have. Luckily, we now have a huge, 843-acre back yard…  with 21 playgrounds, 2 ice rinks, a zoo, a real live turtle pond, a boat house and so much more…it’s called Central Park.

Dog in the snow in Central Park

Our dog enjoying a snowy Central park

We go there at least once a day – in sunshine, rain, snow, hail, wind… and every day we love it. I recently noticed some great ads in the park which alerted me to the fact that the park relies on donations from the public to keep it looking it’s best. Central Park Conservancy is a non-profit organization that contributes more than 80% of Central Park’s $37.5 million annual budget. So today’s one good thing is a donation to ‘my own back yard’.

Autumn in Central Park

Autumn in Central Park

The best bit is, that from now until December 31st, a group of generous donors will match every dollar donated, up to $250,000. So my $50 donation (which works out at less than 14 cents per visit for us) has been doubled to $100. If you’d like to join me and donate to America’s most visited park, you can do so here.

I know my money will be well spent. Soon, Conservancy Staff will shovel up to 6.5 million cubic feet of snow from 58 miles of Central Park paths, put down 80,000 pounds of sand to keep the paths safe, and hang 18,000 lights in Harlem Meer for us all to enjoy.

Central Park Zoo

Family fun at the Central Park Zoo.

We’re lucky to have such an amazing back yard. It’s important to help keep it that way.

Can you feed one more for Christmas?

Mince pie

Mmmm mince pies

Everywhere I go right now I’m bombarded with images of holiday food. And it looks delicious. For health reasons I’m following a strict AIP Paleo diet at the moment, and with no grains, eggs, dairy, sugar, nightshades (tomatoes, chillies, potatoes, peppers, eggplants and more) allowed, I often feel a bit sorry for myself. I mean, who doesn’t fancy a good old fashioned Quality Street or M&S mince pie whilst wrapping presents? Today was one of those days.

I was also looking for inspiration for my one good thing. Luckily, some friends and fellow bloggers came to the rescue with the following ideas. And they’re food related too. Perfect.

No Kid Hungry – right now 1 in 5 kids in the USA is going hungry. A shocking statistic. This charity is dedicated to ending child hunger and can provide 100 meals for a donation of just $10. If you have $10 to spare, this is definitely a good way to make the most of it.

One More for Christmas – Did you know that for less than the cost of one portion of Christmas dinner (£16, in case you were wondering), you can feed a child for a whole year? Mary’s Meals is a UK organization behind the ‘One More for Christmas’ campaign, and for a donation of £12.20 you will feed a child at a place of education in some of the world’s poorest communities for an entire school year.

I did a quick online donation to each and felt good for the rest of the evening – even without a mince pie.

Lollypop, lollypop

Yesterday it rained, and rained. This morning we woke to a dreary grey sky and more rain. It was almost like being back in the North of England. Except the people weren’t being quite as friendly. I think the bad weather brings out the grumpiness in New Yorkers. So today I decided to spread a little holiday cheer for my one good thing. 

I bought a cheap bag of lollipops (or dum dums?!) and handed them out to everyone I thought needed a little pick me up.  I gave one to the grumpy security guard in my local supermarket, and one to the guy selling hats and gloves (and trying to stay dry) on the street. As the rain turned to snow I took my dog for a walk in Central Park and continued with the handouts. To the dog walkers bracing themselves against the blizzard-like conditions, to the guy who’d popped to the local store in his flip flops and got caught out by the snow, and to the doorman standing out in the cold to help others get inside quickly.

Reactions ranged from bemusement to joy. Some people were blasé (or maybe they were so busy they didn’t look up to notice what I had handed them). My only negative reaction came from a woman in the park who told me she didn’t eat sugar and handing out ‘balls of sugar was hardly a good deed’ and that I should ‘think of something else’! I should have known. It is New York after all. My best reaction came from the Traffic Cop on the corner of my street doing a great job in miserable conditions. She literally beamed at me.

I hope I managed to spread just a little bit of joy on this dreary grey (and snowy) day. I know it made me feel better.

Make an old lady very happy…

I’ve had some great messages of support via text, email, Facebook, Twitter and on here too. I’ve also had some suggestions for things to do. So if you’re looking for inspiration to do one good thing, here are a few ideas from this wonderful printable Random Acts of Christmas Kindness advent calendar which was sent to me by my lovely friend Dallas at Skilled With Kids.

Tape change to a vending machine

Pay for a stranger’s coffee

Donate books to the library or hospital

Give treats to the postman

There are also some fantastic ideas from the Karma Army in this book.  From leaving a sweetie on each seat in the cinema and giving someone on their way home bacon and eggs for the morning after, to buying toys for a maternity ward and telling staff to give them to whoever needs them… the book is full of personal stories and snippets and have given me some great ideas to keep up the momentum for the rest of the month. In fact I’m using one of their ideas today – but I need your help!

First a bit of background. When my mum and Dad first got divorced we moved into a tiny house in a not-so-salubrious part of town. It wasn’t a great house – the front door opened straight into the living room and the always-freezing-cold bathroom was off the kitchen. Me and my brother had to share a room and there was no garden – just a back yard we shared with our next door neighbor, Jessie.

Jessie was an elderly lady who was probably the happiest, friendliest person I have ever met. She had a bright yellow front door  to match her sunny disposition and a kick-ass rocking chair. Me and my brother loved spending time at her house (and fighting over that rocking chair). I assumed Jessie had passed on a while ago, as to my eight year old self she seemed very, very old. But I recently learned she is still alive and well – and best of all I managed to get her current address, so today for my one good thing I’m sending her a Christmas card this year. But that’s not all. I would really, really love it if she got a pile of cards from people all over the world (i.e. you lot) to simply wish her a Merry Christmas. She really is a lovely lady and I just know it would make her Christmas. I don’t want to put her address on here, but if you send me your details (or leave them in the comments), I will forward them to you and in return I will happily send a card to someone you want to wish a really, really special Christmas to too.

So let’s make an old lady very happy. And Jessie too. Thanks in advance.

A dog is for life…

According to recent research, pets really do know it’s Christmas. And this adorable video by the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home showing puppies preparing for their first ever Christmas certainly shows they are enjoying it.

Christmas puppy

Battersea Dogs and Cats Home puppies enjoying the holiday season…

Inspired by the Battersea campaign, a visit to PetCo on the school run home gave me the perfect opportunity to my one good thing today. There was collection for shelter animals – a chance to spread cheer to our four legged friends in need. It was a reminder that animal shelters all over the world will be filled with cats and dogs this Christmas.

The donation bin was looking a little sad with a few chew toys and a collar in there. So I dropped in some food, and one of these great bars that operates a one for one system and gives a treat to a pet in need for every bar sold…

DogsBar 2

There are plenty of ways you can help out animals around the holidays – you can even do it from the comfort of your own home through the fantastically-named Santa Paws. In the past five years, Santa Paws Drive has raised more than $55,000 in toys, treats and donations for shelters all over the world – from Greyhound Rescue in the UK to the only animal shelter in Afghanistan.
And Battersea Dogs home is also asking for help with donations – you can go online to donate a present to one of their 400 dogs or 250 cats.

If pets really do know it’s Christmas, surely they deserve a little holiday cheer too?!