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…

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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.

Sharing my love of books

Advent-blog-pic

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!

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.