The Year of Zen

It started off as a joke. 2018 would be my “Year of Zen”! It was a joke because, if you know me, I am very loud, very active, and very opinionated. Slowing down, meditating, and actually listening to my inner voice had been missing in my life for some time. This is probably why I was feeling like I was losing myself and my life was becoming out of balance. I realized that I missed the quiet things I loved doing. So I officially declared 2018 my “Year of Zen”. It is often hard for me to admit when I need to change aspects of my life. This post is a perfect way to become comfortable with admitting when things need to change.

First, I thought I had to be a writer to have the honor of sharing my stories with people but I have come to realize that I’m not a writer, I am a storyteller. Maybe my stories will resonate with people or maybe they won’t, but as part of my new journey that fear cannot dictate whether I share them or not.

Next, I became dedicated to personal growth, finding strength in myself, and not feeling the self-inflicted pressure to be perfect. I’m going to slow down and be less high-strung was my declaration. Acknowledging this was the easy part, figure out how I was going to execute it was a whole other seemingly impossible task.

Finding stillness to become reacquainted with myself came in the form of meditation and yoga. Yes, yoga. It was painful at first…very painful…to sit with myself for even 5 minutes was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. But the pain turned into peace and I feel a real sense of growth everytime I can be truly present in a yoga class or actually sit for the meditation practice without the thoughts of my to-do list running through my head.

I thought a natural step in the direction of finding peace and strength in my life would be to start to do the things I loved before having kids. Reading is something I love doing. As I began reading one book, then another, the orchestra of these strong, smart voices started to guide me. It started with Gabrielle Bernstein’s Judgement Detox, then Brene Brown Braving the Wilderness, then Cait Flanders The Year of Less, then Rachel Macy Stafford Hands Free Life. Right now I’m entrenched in Katrina Kenison The Gift of an Ordinary Life. Each day I would take tid bits from each of these beautiful writings, opening myself up to be transformed by their words.  Each one brought stillness and peace to my life, while also encouraging me to stay true to myself. While reading this book, I came across a phrase, three words,  that really summarize what this year for me is all about: a year of opportunities for transformation.

Now I want to set the record straight, I still say the F-word way too much, I’m still an animal on the tennis court, I will still give my opinion when asked, and I still talk in an octave above most people, but I’ve found a place of strength that I can go to that brings a sense of calm to my heart that wasn’t there before.  My quest for Zen is in its infancy but we all have to start somewhere.

If you take the time to read my stories, don’t expect perfection. What you can always expect is a story about a moment that touched my life, my heart, and possibly touched the life of another.

The Impact of a Gift That Gives Back

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What do you do with an idea? by Kobi Yamada is a book I received as a gift from a friend a few months after I started the charitable organization Party In-kindness. I periodically read this book that sits on my nightstand. It still makes me feel happy every time and so thankful that my friend thought of me when she read the book.  It bring me happiness because the book really gives us all the power to turn our ideas and dreams  into a reality. It empowers and teaches us that even the simplest of ideas can change the world. My friend knew that my nonprofit and this blog were my simple ways that I wanted to impact others in my community and potentially change the world around me, and gave me this thoughtful gift to help inspire my cause.

When Shani and I came up with the idea for Party In-kindness, that’s all it was, an idea. It was our dream to help our community incorporate giving in their everyday lives. Since the beginning, this dream did not mean just giving a lot of money to make an impact, but incorporating giving into people’s daily routines.

My friend’s gift of Yamada’s book meant so much to me because it truly had meaning and thought behind it. The power of that $14.99 is my true message.  The gift didn’t cost much, and  it didn’t take her a long time to buy, but her small, thoughtful actions continue to make an impression on my life. And isn’t this the point? If we work together we can create memorable, impactful, inspiring moments for those in our local shelters, those who need food assistance, families going through tough times, and unfortunately the list goes on.

Each individual has the power to create one moment that touches another person and then together we can help so many. And you can incorporate it into the activities you already do on a daily basis. Do you own a business? Live in a neighborhood? Have a weekly moms group? Have a yearly holiday party? Or do your children participate in an afterschool activity? Chances are, you answered yes to at least one of these questions. And if you ask just 10 people to take the $15-35 they would spend on a hostess gift, birthday gift or food item and ask them to instead buy a warm pair of PJs,  a backpack, or a book for a child, you (and your guests) just made a significant impact.

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I would challenge you in 2016 to get a group of family or friends together in whatever way makes you happy and ask them to bring a small item for a cause that you feel connected to. See what happens. If you need help finding a charity that matches your love, Party In-kindness can help connect you, get you started and encourage you through the process.  Whose life will you impact this year and how?

#habitofgratitude

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Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday. Good food, family togetherness, some good wine, and no gifts. Did I mention how much I like the NO GIFTS?! There are no expectations from the kids for anything but seeing cousins, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other extended family, and seeing a Turkey on the Table™. When I say a “Turkey on the Table”, I used to mean something you eat with your mashed potatoes and stuffing, but for my family it has come to mean something entirely different.

It didn’t happen on purpose, instead it happened during my “exercise” with a girlfriend which equated to quick walks down the trail by my children’s school between my 3 pick up and 3 drop off times, squeezed in between laundry and errands. It happened during talks on these walks about wanting my children to be more appreciative for the things they have and not on the things they wanted or “needed”, and to value Thanksgiving the way I do.

After much research we saw how much gratitude plays into a child’s happiness; when you focus on the things you have instead of the things you don’t, your whole view of the world shifts. In various research the practice of gratitude shows to improve health, grades in school, building relationships, and the way they face adversity.

Why wouldn’t we want to instill this in our children?! As parents, we spend so much time correcting bad habits: biting nails, picking their nose, chewing with mouth open, leaving the toilet seat up (can you tell that I have boys?). It feels so much better as a parent to help instill GOOD habits. I believe that being grateful (the inner feeling of good things received) AND thankful (outwardly showing appreciation for things) is one of the very best things we can teach our children. It costs so very little to instill gratitude, and it gives them SO much.

Think of all the time and money we spend on piano lessons, karate, tutors, and sports, if we could take part of that time to dedicate to children being thankful, they would see benefits with better grades, better health, less toxic emotions, and a happy heart. Isn’t that what we want most for our children?

I wasn’t looking to start a business (I can barely take a shower and put on make up most days), but I was looking to start teaching the habit of gratitude with my children. My walking partner, became my business partner, and after much research, we decided that we wanted to help all parents start the habit of gratitude. Turkey on the Table™ was born out of love, the desire to spread thankfulness, the hope to give back, and wanting to share that with others.

After 26 days of Thankful Feathers (the daily log of their gratitude) the children will complete with our Turkey on the Table™ product, they will dig a little deeper on the things they are grateful for. It is easy to come up with one or two, but by day 24 you will be surprised to see what they start coming up with. After Thanksgiving, I know that my children will not hesitate to start making their Christmas lists with the newest XBOX games, but maybe while doing so they will also be thankful for the warm bed they will sleep in that night.

Written By Kerry Maunus

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Kerry lives in the East Bay of San Francisco (but still considers herself a midwesterner at heart). She resides with her husband, her 3 crazy boys, a dog, and a cat. She loves date nights with her husband, drinking wine, and spending her weekends on the many sports fields cheering on her boys.

A Very Special Letter…Written the Old Fashion Way

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Recently my grandfather was honored for being one of the oldest living veterans to serve our country at Iwo Jima. As part of the ceremony they simulated “mail call”, an important part of life for our service men and women far away from home. As part of this ceremony, the veterans’ families were asked to write letters to them as if they were still in the service. The following is what I wrote my grandfather:

Dear Grandpa,

As spring comes to a close and summer is upon us I find myself thinking about your plentiful vegetable garden. As a child I looked forward to tending that garden with you and picking vegetables so Grandma could make fresh tomato sauce. The image of the counter top covered with home grown tomatoes, zucchini and salad is forever etched in my mind. Walks in the yard and exploring all of the nooks and crannies of nature was a regular Sunday occasion. It made me feel safe, loved and most of all helped me to appreciate the importance of family.

While writing this letter, knowing you are worlds away, I want you to know how thankful I am that you are one of the brave men who protect me and our country. Your bravery and willingness to sacrifice your life exemplifies the type of man you are. You are the foundation of our family and I pray for you.

I am sure you are missing your family but I can’t imagine it is more than we miss you. You are on my mind and in my heart as day to day life continues on in your absence.

As I work hard to raise my children, I will forever remind them that their freedom is because of men like you. Teach them that this great country they live in where they have the opportunity to be whomever they want to be in this life rests on the backs of men like you. Thank you for being a symbol of strength, sacrifice and bravery. Thank you!

Love, Melissa

With emails, text messages, and all the other technological means of communication, I couldn’t remember the last time I had written an old fashioned letter.  However, writing the letter made me think about the feeling one gets when receiving a heart-felt card in the mail (yes, snail mail). Why don’t we do this more often? And if it feels good for us, in the comfort of our own homes, to receive a letter, how must it feel for those serving our country overseas?

After writing that letter I realized what a great exercise this would be for families. As parents we are constantly looking for ways to teach our children to give back. With hectic lives, after school activities, giving to others often takes a back seat. This activity is something you can do at home together and make it fun. You can decorate the cards with your children, and give them a voice by asking what they would like to say to the men and women who fight for our country. There are also many charitable organizations that collect letters and cards to send to our military. As a family you could give back to the brave men and women by sending them your (and your children’s) words of encouragement, strength and help to create a connection to their homeland. How long has it been since you have written an old fashion letter?

Charity Through Example

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When we are young, there are people in our lives that guide us towards the person we will become. They are our role models, and we often look to them for direction, encouragement, and the right and good way to live. For many of us, myself included, it is our parents who fill this role. As a child, my parents seemed like super heroes. They could do no wrong in my eyes and, as I grew older, I tried to live my life through their example. They continue to be hardworking, caring individuals and continue to teach my siblings and I what is important in life. Through their actions, I learned how to treat others equally and with respect, to help those in need, and to always try to find the good in others. I have learned what it means to live my life for others because of their example, and I will always be grateful for that lesson.

Growing up, I didn’t have the words to properly describe how my parents lead me towards the mindset that I have today. This past year, however, that all changed when I moved to Denver and took a job as a teacher at a private, Jesuit high school. This school is not only focused on providing students a rigorous college preparatory curriculum, it also encourages the full development of each student by guiding them academically, spiritually, and teaching them the real world application of their lessons. They are encouraged to participate in various service projects that help serve the communities of Denver. The motto of this and all Jesuit institutions is “Men and Women for Others”, and the students begin to understand the meaning behind this phrase through their four years at the school. They transform into intelligent, self-aware young adults that actually want to participate in community service opportunities offered through our school. They want to give back to their own communities; they want to be the best version of themselves in order to help their neighbor. They wouldn’t have been able to do this, however, without the guidance and support of those around them, including their teachers, families, and especially the Jesuit priests that work at the school. They’ve learned through example to truly embody this motto by making it a part of their lives.

Working at this school has finally given me the language with which to define what my parents did for me when I was young, and it has made me want to lead through example as well for my students. Being a man or woman for others can be taught in many different ways, but it must be a mindset and a lifestyle. This means participating in the big things, like serving at the food bank, signing up for a service project, or planning a charitable event, but it also means to give back every day in different, smaller ways. If we are more mindful and purposeful in our daily actions, as well as those larger opportunities for change, then we will be making a difference every day. Every act can be a charitable one if we live our lives for one another. Being kind to a stranger, giving your child or spouse encouragement about something they are working on, or holding the door open for someone – these may seem like insignificant acts, but in reality these are the acts that keep us grounded. These are the acts that make the larger charitable acts seem not only more accessible but worth it.

Teaching this mindset through example is something we do everyday, even if we don’t realize it. I am not a parent, but as a teacher, I have to always remember that my students look to me for guidance and emulate my behaviors and actions. Likewise, I tried to imitate my parents’ charitable way of thinking by trying to do the same with my own life, taking their (sometimes unintentional) lessons to heart. And the same can be said for all parents. Think about it – if your kids observe you donating clothes or food, they understand that this is the right thing to do. Similarly, if you have a mindset that charity is a lifestyle, they grow up with that mindset as well. By teaching through example, you can show your children what being a man or woman for others truly means. After all, it’s our everyday subtle actions that they seem to pick up on the most, why not make sure they are rooted in positive and thoughtful intention?

Written By Megan Turilli

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Megan currently lives in Denver with her boyfriend and her cat, teaching, practicing yoga, and drinking homemade beer!

Five Easy Giving Traditions Every Family Should Start This Year

Rice balls, my grandfather’s infamous bunny ears at Easter time, an orange in my Christmas stocking, day-long Sunday family meals, cutting the Torrone candy, pulling the tag off a Christmas tree for a family in need at our local grocery. Although some of these things may make no sense to you, these are just a few of my favorite childhood traditions.

Traditions create beautiful, unique memories. From childhood we look forward to our traditions and count on them throughout the year. We pass them down to our children and share them with our spouses and friends. When looking back at some of my favorite traditions, I realized that most of them have something to do with giving, whether it be giving the gift of food (I’m Italian, of course there is food involved), love, or unforgettable moments. This is why traditions around giving are extremely important. These are five easy giving traditions you can implement this year.

Number 1. As summer comes to a close, it is time to go “school shopping” for a new backpack and the list of supplies needed for the upcoming year. As you’re shopping, have your children pick out a backpack and fill it with the same list of supplies for a child going back to school who can’t afford a backpack and school supplies.  This simple act gets your children involved in giving. It also teaches them the value of the backpack and supplies you are purchasing for them (because many children aren’t aware that having a backpack and supplies for school is a privilege), all while empowering them to help others.

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Number 2. Have a summer BBQ and instead of asking your guests to bring a potato salad, juice boxes, beer etc, ask your guests to bring an item for a charity that you support. Together with your children, come up with a creative donations display. It will be fun for them to help you create it and watch it evolve as donations are added. For example, you could create book shelves with crates and fill the shelves with new books you ask your guests to bring for donation.

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Number 3. A child’s birthday is an exciting time. Each year they pick out a theme, make their guest list and can’t wait for the goody bags. We take for granted that every child has the opportunity to have a birthday party but the reality is many can’t afford one. When you and your child are picking out the paper cups, plates, napkins, balloons and cake ingredients get an extra set and create a “birthday box” for a child. Make their birthday wish come true.

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Number 4. As winter approaches and you and your children are in need of new winter coats, hats, scarves and gloves take a moment to think about the children who can’t afford these items. You could donate last year’s gently used winter attire, purchase something new, or do both! Our children grow out of their coats. That coat will keep another child warm this winter.

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Number 5. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times of the year! BUT one of my least favorite activities is taking my children to the grocery store to get all of the items I need to make my Thanksgiving dinner. Make two lists this year. Give one to your children and as you go through the grocery store have them shop their list while you shop yours. The items on their list will be donated to the local food bank. Your children will take pride in knowing they shopped for the meal and helped another family celebrate Thanksgiving. You could even go one step further and make the time to drive to the food bank with your children. They can put the grocery bags either in the bins or ask a representative to weigh them. It is fun for the children to see how much their grocery donation weighs and then maybe next year you try to top the weight.

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By making giving a tradition in your home you demonstrate through action what it means to help others. Each one of the traditions I mentioned opens the door to a valuable conversation with your children. When we lecture our children, they most often tune us out. However, if we can involve them in charitable actions in simple and fun ways, we are simultaneously teaching them about the world and making them excited to take part in making it a better place. If you think about it, the impact is huge. By participating in these traditions, our children can’t help but learn the value of helping others. They then can take these lessons and pass them down to their children. Let’s teach our children to be an inspiration to others and to share the privileges they have in their life. The value of this is priceless. What giving traditions will you start this year?

My Shelter Experience

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Comfort, Safety, Pride. These are the distinct feelings I get when walking into my home. Due to the hustle and bustle of everyday life, these feelings sometimes go unnoticed, but I always come back to the gratitude for the sanctuary I call home. I have lived in many different homes, in many different types of neighborhoods, but no matter the size and location they have all been a place I could call my own.

When I think about what home truly means, my mind wanders to those people who do not have a home. Just a fifteen minute drive, in both directions, there are many families who are homeless. I get pretty fired up about this topic, especially when it comes to homeless children. So recently I organized a week where we would provide food each night for the families living in a local homeless shelter.

A side note, most homeless shelters rely on the community to help with meals. This particular shelter’s budget for food is only about $1,000 a year to feed at least 7 families in the summer months and many more in the winter months. Yes, they get some support from local food banks, but they really depend on community support. Now I don’t know about you, but my Safeway bill comes close to that amount….per month.

This information shocked me so greatly that I sent an email to twenty five families I know and asked if they wanted to participate. Four nights filled up quickly and my family took the fifth night. This was the easy part. Then, a few surprising and unexpected things happened. First, I was surprised that others had reservations about bringing their children to the shelter. People started to ask questions: Is it safe? Are you bringing Noah (my 5 year old son)? What should I expect to see? To be honest, I hadn’t thought twice about taking Noah. I wanted this event to be a learning experience for him and to make charity a family thing, not just something Noah sees Mommy doing.

Maybe I should mention that I had been to this shelter on two other occasions. Party In-kindness (if you are new to the blog, that is my non-profit organization)  worked with the shelter to drop off Mother’s Day gifts for the moms living there and the other was an official tour of the facility because I had been working closely with them. My perspective was different than those going for the first time, so I knew this hesitation had to do with their inexperience with shelter work. I felt a light needed to be shed on the positive aspects of exposing children to this very real way of life.

And, with a lot reassurance, each family took their children. A good decision in my opinion because of the overwhelming privilege in which our children are surrounded.  I reminded them that most family shelters are made up of families just like mine and yours who fell on hard times and just needed a little help to get back on their feet.

So our night came and my son jumped right in playing with the children as I started to prepare the meal (well, open up the Chinese food containers). Now before you picture me as a woman who preaches, but doesn’t practice, I will explain my lack of four-course meal cooking. I had taken a poll from the families and Chinese food is what they requested to eat on the evening my family came. So these cardboard boxes filled with the best Chinese food in town spared them from my mediocre cooking skills. Anyway, Jessica, a mom of 6, came to the counter. We had chatted earlier in the week when I helped another family serve their meal. She had been there the longest and was very quiet and sweet. She came to the counter to get seconds for the kids and said, “I’ve been living here for almost a year and this was one of the best weeks of meals we’ve had.”  It was like she reached into my chest and took hold of my heart and hugged it, tight.

There are many families, just like Jessica’s who need your help. Be a facilitator amongst your family and friends. You will be surprised that your neighbors and friends want to help but don’t know how. You will be surprised that your children can handle the emotions connected to charitable work. Teach them, reassure them, and you will be surprised how the experience will change you and those around you. Think about these families the next time you open your front door, arms heavy with groceries. Think about them the next time you open your refrigerator, or sit down to eat a meal with your family. What can you do to help and encourage those around you to do the same?

Always being asked for a donation?

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I was sitting in bed last night waiting for an episode of “Law and Order” (my favorite show) to come on while reading my emails. One email in particular stood out from a good friend of mine who fought breast cancer and won. In her email she explained how, for the first time since her battle, she would be participating in the Avon 39 The Walk to End Breast Cancer and raising money for her cause. It made me think back to three years ago when my whole view on these types of donations was changed forever.

I never really stopped to think about what these donations meant to the people asking for them. That was until one of my best friend’s son got Leukemia.  Freak’n Leukemia! He was diagnosed in early summer of 2012. One of our close friends put a team together for the local Light The Night Walk, which takes place in October every year. It is a walk to raise money for research to fight childhood cancer, to show support to the families fighting the disease, and to memorialize those lost in the fight. Participating in this event was just one more way to show support to our friend, to Noah’s best buddy, to others fighting this battle whom we now had such an heart wrenching awareness of. It wasn’t just about walking together as a team, we wanted to raise as much money as we could. We felt like it was our way of doing something, of helping in a tangible way. And it was.

There is also another very important piece to this. When you make a donation to a cause that is important to a friend or loved one, whatever the amount, you are saying “I believe in you. I stand behind you in your fight. WOW how great it is that you are turning a terrible situation into a way to help others”. OK, I know that seems like a lot to say by just entering an amount into the computer, but I bet if you stopped to ask that people receiving the donation will say.

In my giving journey, I’ve learned that whatever your donation is, matters, whether it’s $1, $5, $100 or $10,000. When you click on that button to give, the amount isn’t what the person on the other end sees. They see someone who wants to help them and recognizes what they have been through. And that realization has no price.

However, when we get requests for donations, there is a certain struggle that we find ourselves in. After entering our credit card information, we struggle to decide an appropriate amount to give, thinking to ourselves “What IS appropriate? Am I being cheap? Should I be more generous?”. Finally, we close our eyes, click the submit button, and feel as though our money has been sent into an abyss. But trust me, it hasn’t.

By not deleting these requests, and taking the time to participate, you are making a difference in the life of others. It’s an easy way to give back. Even though it may not be your cause or your charity, it is another person’s cause, another person’s charity (and sometimes we should think about people other than ourselves, right?). So, going forward, will you click “donate”?

How to Touch Another Mom’s Life with the Power of “Thank You”!

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As moms, we rarely hear the words, “thank you.”  Let’s imagine for a moment an employer who informs a new employee of their “thank you” policy: we only say “thank you” and show our appreciation for your hard work one day out of the year. Who would work there? It would have to be the most gratifying (or simple) job in America to sign on knowing that. Even still, people like to hear that they are doing a good job whatever the “job” may be. While not simple, the job of being a mom definitely seems to fit into this category.

Mother’s Day is all about thanking moms. I admit I really look forward to Mother’s Day. It’s a day that I can express to my own mom, with words and gifts, what she means to me. I try to make up for all of those years I never said “thank you” as a child.  Instead of “thank you,” I was constantly complaining about all of her rules. She was strict, but looking back at my childhood I am so grateful for that.

I also love being on the receiving end and hearing my children say “thank you mommy.” They wait with bated breath for my reaction as I open the homemade gifts they made for me at school. Their eyes shine when I tear the wrapping paper off the gifts they picked out from their one yearly trip to the store with my husband. Seeing what they chose is always interesting, but the look on their faces is what always means so much more to me. Moms out there, please take a minute and think about that moment.

However, there are hundreds of moms who will wake up on Mother’s Day and will not receive a token of appreciation for being a mom. They are moms just like you and I, working hard to raise their children, trying to do their best to teach them right and wrong but with one big difference, these women and children are homeless and unfortunately, they do not have the simple luxury to celebrate their vast achievements in motherhood.

Every community has family shelters, shelters for women and their children, domestic abuse shelters, the list goes on.  Imagine you could create that “thank you” moment for another mom or that moment for a child when he gives his mom a gift and says “thank you.” Well…you can! And, it’s easy!

Ok here we go. You are planning to have a party for you and your girlfriends. Ask them to bring one lip gloss, a nail polish, a small hand lotion, and a small hand sanitizer or any other cute “girly” thing you yourself would want to get in a gift bag. At a convenience store, or your local grocery store,  those items I mentioned add up to about $20-$30. You don’t even have to make a special trip – just pick up these items at that week’s grocery run or trip to the pharmacy.

As the host, you will provide small gift bags and little note tags. The tags are for notes of encouragement your guests will write to the mom receiving the gift bag (because as moms who doesn’t like – and deserve – to hear words of encouragement?). On a daily basis I need words of encouragement when handling the trials and tribulations of motherhood! Imagine the effect those kinds words could have on a mother who is struggling with homelessness.

Then you can Google the shelters in your area (unfortunately, you will be surprised at the amount you will have to choose from). Call them up! Let them know what you are doing and ask how many women live there. This is so you know how many bags to make. Obvious, I know, but we are busy moms and I want to lay every detail out so you don’t have to! From experience, I can tell you they will be more than thrilled to get this donation.

You and your friends can assemble the bags at the party while chatting over drinks and appetizers. All while making a difference in the life of another woman. I am sure you have these kinds of get togethers. I know I do. I love hanging out with my girlfriends. Aren’t girlfriends the best? Now we can turn hanging out together into a way to give back, into making a difference in the life of another woman. Book clubs, girl’s nights out, cooking clubs, bridge clubs; you name the occasion, it’s possible to organize this meaningful activity. If you begin to schedule these get togethers now, you can do this in time for Mother’s Day!

Once you’ve created the gift bags, take pictures of them and share what you did with your children. Talk about why you did it and how it made you feel. You can even get your kids involved, making it a yearly tradition with your friends or family.

I’m sorry if this blog entry seems a bit “how to,” but I wanted to drive home the point that this kind of giving activity is so easy yet so impactful. Through my charity, Party In-kindness, my girlfriends and I have assembled Mother’s Day gift bags for our local shelter and it was one of my favorite events of 2014.

Even though it’s one day out of the year, having my family thank me on Mother’s Day shows me that they appreciate the work I do every day nurturing and caring for them. I say “work” not because it’s a chore to me, but because while it is a joy, it is also hard and demanding day to day. Think about the mothers that do not have the opportunity or means to get this reinforcement from their families. Know the power of  a “thank you.” Know you have the power to create that moment for another woman. Will you touch another mother’s life?

Who’s your teacher?

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Shani and I have been friends for two years. Now that may not seem like a long time to you, but in this short amount of time I have learned a few things about how important our friendship is (cue sappy friendship spiel). Shani literally keeps my type A personality under control. She is my sounding board, my friend, my voice of reason, the ying to my yang in affairs that pertain to our nonprofit. Ok, that may sound dramatic, but it is true. If you met us, and didn’t know us, you would shake your head a bit. Our backgrounds, personalities, and cultures are very different. Not that any of that matters, and we are a perfect example of that.

One day, when Shani and I were driving back from delivering pajamas to a homeless shelter that serves women and children, she asked me a pretty profound question: “You ever wonder why you and I are in the position in life we are in and those women and children we saw today are in that situation??” WOW. Long pause.  Ummm…. All of the time! We chatted about it the rest of the ride home and then we got lost in our “stay-at-home” mom roles. School pick up, laundry, empty the dishwasher, the kids’ activities, dinner, talk with the hubby, bedtime, bills, maybe a tv show. But I’ve been thinking about this question ever since.

My conclusion is it’s all about teachers. Ok, there are many reasons but I believe this is a big one. Teachers! Not just school teachers. Although SHOUT OUT to all the effective school teachers out there. YOU RULE! It’s our everyday life teachers that shape our decisions and therefore our path. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how we’re looking at the “glass”) some of us have teachers that cross our paths that unknowingly steer us in a direction away from the path destructive behavior. Or for some, maybe towards it.

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For example, let’s get back to my friendship with Shani. Shani teaches me so much because she had such different teachers and life experiences than me. Even though we met in our 30s (I’m still in my 30s, by the way)  I’m learning more and more from her everyday. As I think about Shani, there are also so many other teachers in my life. My mom, who I spent most of my childhood fighting with only to realize that she may have single handedly saved me from a downward spiral. My dad and his peanut butter crackers (if you read my first blog entry, “Charity Starts at Home”,  you would know what I mean). My sister who is a good person, accomplished in her career, and a strong woman – her decision to get a tattoo in a conservative Italian family taught me to be a bit less opinionated.  My daughter who taught me that life is short, it’s precious and can be taken away from us at any moment – it is because of her that I try to be as happy in my life as much as I can while I can. The list goes on.

Why am I sharing this question with you? Why am I boring you with a list of my teachers? It is simple. Ask yourself that same question Shani asked me. Why? Because it makes us think of those who are less fortunate. It gets us thinking about being thankful, aware of the good people in our lives and the bad. And it makes us think about what we can do to better the lives of others. Who are your teachers? And who will you teach?