Spread a Little Sunshine: Volunteer

It was a rhythm, a cadence that played over and over in my head even in my sleep during the third week in March.

…plastic first, face down, pin up, close hatch, push button, watch compression, pop!…

And now you have a 2 and 3/4” shiny button.

If the machine didn’t eat it. Randomly.

One button takes about three minutes to make if you’re flying in your zone.

Two buttons per child, 800 children plus staff, maybe there’s someone helping write each person’s name on the backs and organizing them into classroom groups…you figure about infinity number of hours volunteered so that these kiddos can remember the composer and artist of this year’s Fine Arts Festival.

The buttons were colored by the kids, assembled by moi and became collector’s items.

Well, I still have mine.

They remind me that I was part of making magic when I volunteered at my children’s elementary school.

I really encourage you to think about volunteering some time this year. Anywhere.

During my 15 year hiatus, I dabbled in a variety of areas and also trained incoming parent volunteers. The most important thing they needed to know was how to pace themselves.

If your first round of helping with crafts in the kindergarten room left you feeling dazed and frazzled, you may be happier helping the school librarian sort her shelves or making phone calls to organize some awesome assemblies.

If you jump into the fun new thing and burn out in two months, we’ll never see you again; so some years I gave more and some years I gave less. You just do what you can where you are.

So only say “yes” to what small thing at a time feels doable. Saying “no” is completely acceptable and will give you the confidence to stay long enough to find your niche.

Once you are happy here, you won’t want to leave.

Even when your last kid graduates.

Where to begin and how to choose, you ask? There are so many places and people who could use an extra pair of hands.

You know you if are in the right place if it brings you joy.

If you come home from an hour of walking dogs at the Humane Society, are you refreshed and exhilarated or are you tired and a wee bit resentful of your time?

Perhaps you’d enjoy filling boxes at the local food bank or staffing a holiday soup kitchen. You could clean up litter on the beach or help your neighbor cut her grass.

Larger projects include getting involved with Habitat for Humanity or Hospice or the foster care system. You could mentor teens in crisis, visit the elderly, or provide job training for vets.

When disaster strikes, you can fill sandbags or hand out clean water or plant a tree.

Where ever you decide to begin, remember to take it slowly and keep your eyes open. Usually one opportunity leads to many others.

I myself was happy to cover a school in chalk drawings and glittered opera masks. We played Mozart and danced the Bunny Hop and planted gardens and in general turned the place upside down.

Just begin somewhere.

Make the world a better place, one small act of kindness at a time.

The place will never be the same, because you showed up.

To honor your favorite charity or volunteer spot, please advertise it in the comment box below. Tell us all where the good things are happening and let’s boost awareness of the variety of opportunities world-wide to lend a helping hand.

Culling Your Chaos

If there’s one thing I know, it’s how to de-clutter, organize and clean.

It’s not work to me, it’s a lifestyle. You, too, could train yourself to do it by having five kids and living in a tiny house that you are not allowed to leave. You either will drown in Happy Meal toys or you will take a shovel and send everything not nailed down flying out the door.

If you can’t see the forest for the trees, it’s time to buy a chainsaw.

Empty space is gorgeous.

It’s not empty at all.

It’s a literal and deliberate expansion of your horizons.

Procrastination is a popular and exhilarating way to do anything, which is why your resolutions list had on it, somewhere near to the bottom, “get organized”.

You couldn’t possibly.

It was on last year’s list too, right? How’d that work out for you? Do you know what the missing link is? That’s right. The trash man. Remember my little happy song to him last month? Not a coincidence.

I want you to stop putting stuff into boxes with cute little labels and sticking them away somewhere.

It’s time for some radical house therapy.

Every day for the next four weeks, take one drawer, one shelf, or one corner, and get rid of every single thing you don’t need, use or love to pieces. And I do mean passionately.

Set a timer for 15 minutes. Set a trashcan on your left. Set an empty trash bag for donations on your right. Take a deep breath, roll up your sleeves and push the start button.

Remove everything from the space. Momentarily enjoy the view. If you put nothing back at all, would this space feel nice? Think about it.

Now take each item and ask it the three questions.

You really only need and use one set of bowls. So keep the set that makes you happy and donate all the others.

Half of your tupperware is missing lids. They’ve been around the block a few times. Keep what you can actually use and toss everything else.

The sweater you kept because your mom gave it to you but it never fit quite right and you shoved in the back of your closet? You don’t love it and you won’t use it. Donate. Along with all the clothes that don’t fit you right now, even if you love them.

Because you can’t use them. So you don’t need them.

Only tackle a small enough space that when your timer goes off you can wrap it up and walk away. Everything landed back in the space or in the trash or the bag.

Take the trash out immediately to your large outside receptacle. Seal up the donations bag, put it in your car and drop it off the next time you pass a charity drop. Under no circumstances should you open either bag again, or leave it in the house.

And unless you are a very releasing family, never have a garage sale. Nothing plays with your head worse than a stranger offering a quarter for what you know you just paid $50 for.

Everything makes you feel a certain way. These feelings are what’s at the heart of your home. If that groovy purple velvet jacket fits you and you wear it and you love it, guess what? Every time you see it hanging in the closet, you will feel happy.

If your mother gave it to you and it fits but it’s not your style and you are uncomfortable every time you put it on, then it needs to go. You feel guilty every time you see it. You are donating a piece of laundry, not your mother or her love.

And now you are free of that negative feeling, too.

By the end of the month you should see a significant shift in the feel of your home and your head. You will be surrounded only by things that you handle regularly and bring you great joy.

You know that you are only committing to 15 or 20 minutes a day, tops.

Less things to clean and easier to find what you do have means you will redeem those minutes in hours of free time!

You might even be able to park in your garage again.


Yes, this is adorable.  But there will be chaos at playtime and tears at “clean your room” time.

How many toys do you need? One. At a time. Try it.

Stuck at the Gym

I was tricked. Hoodwinked. Bamboozled.

It was the old bait and switch and I fell for it like the naive softy that I am.

One of my besties needed support and backup and accountability because she had decided that now was the time she was finally ready to go to war, mano y mano, with her weight loss goals. She was about to enter the arena and she needed me.

Of course I had her back.

So I joined her gym.

Because she said it was the only place she could do it.

And another girlfriend who worked there got me a discount so I wouldn’t have guilt over spending the diaper money on it.

I would never have considered becoming a gym rat.

I had five kids and still felt reasonably fit. I could chase them down, wrestle them into pajamas and sit on them till they fell asleep. I was burning thousands of calories per hour just nursing the baby. I was bench pressing 35 pound toddlers and doing high hurdles over baby gates.

I didn’t have any weight loss goals.

Which frustrated the muscle-bound personal trainer who signed me up for the membership.

A lot.

“What would you like to accomplish here?” he asked, pen poised to write down my future progress. “How many pounds or inches do you want to lose? How many miles do you want to be able to run?”

“Look Mr Incredible,” I replied, “I’m here for my friend. She needs a workout buddy. When I get bored, I’ll leave.”

I thought maybe his pained look had more to do with his stretchy pants than any personal concern over me. I handed him a towel for his sweating brow.

“Research shows that people are more likely to keep coming when they have a goal to meet,” he insisted.

“Well then,” said I, “so long as you keep us entertained, we’ll keep coming.”

This was about 13 years ago.

My bestie met up with me twice.

But I kept getting sidetracked into trying new classes and machines and TV channels.

I’m stuck.

I would call myself “accidentally fit”.

And it’s all her fault.

And as I’ve gone around this block for a while, I would like to give a shout out to the excited newbies who show up en masse to the gym every January.

Thank you for entertaining me.

The pair of ladies sauntering on treadmills, discussing private business in loud voices should please just go around the corner for coffee. We can all hear you right through our earbuds. And yeah, we reckon Tony should marry her, too.

The cute little thing who showed up in full makeup and nice hair had better not look like that when she leaves. She had better look like she was hit with a tsunami during a heat wave. This is not a singles bar.

And the guy with the tight shorts and the three-day stubble who keeps dropping his 500 pound barbells on the floor like thunder and then standing there waiting for applause…no. You’ve obviously reached your weight loss goal. You can go home now.

The people who get my applause are the ones keeping it real.

The new moms, the elderly, the overweight and the physically recovering. You guys are the gym gladiators. You’ve decided to own the body you’re in and make it stronger.

You showed up.

Keep it coming. You can do it.

You have my respect.

And I’m rooting for you.

The Hike

Fresh Air, Exercise, and Family Time. What better way to kill three resolutions with one stone than a hike in the great outdoors?

Everyone has a great outdoors they can walk in, even if it’s the local mall.

The criteria: A, you must actually leave your house and B, you have to drag a family member along, even if you have to borrow one from a neighbor. You don’t need any special equipment or fitness level.

If you can walk, you win.

Hubby and I enjoy hiking and it’s usually our Saturday morning workout of choice. We made it a habit years ago and it never fails to bring a nice balance to our week, our marriage, and our attitudes.

We bring many things along with us on our walks: anger, frustrations, worries, sadness, hopes, ambitions. Depending on how our week went, we apply hills or plains to the matter. Sometimes a long discussion is called for and others demand an hour of silent thought as we pass small lakes or valleys full of oak trees.

As we climb the steep path heading east, we are temporarily blinded by the sunrise. Once we have summited, the view is of mountain range after purple mountain range. Breathing deeply the tangy scent of California sagebrush, we slowly turn west and catch a glimpse of the distant Pacific.

The perspective puts everything in our minds into a manageable place.

But this is also about spending quality family time.

If only my family thought so.

The kids come along when their schedules permit but it should be noted that they are more eager to join the hike if there is a Starbucks at the end of it. That is usually a Sunday morning jaunt.

Daughter B will be whining at all uphills. Son C is guaranteed to run all downhills. Son A will be trailblazing through the brush, ignoring all public warning signs. Son B is scaling a boulder the size of a Buick, defying gravity and his mother. Very likely, someone will be bleeding by the time we head home.

Daughter A just makes sure her schedule is too full to join us. We walk too fast for her photographic talents anyway.

I imagine we make as much noise as a community garage sale as we walk along the dusty trails, trying to bond over blisters. Once in a while we see coyotes or foxes or mule deer or rabbits. Tarantulas. Quail. A rattlesnake here and there.

But for the most part, the wildlife, sensing imminent doom, vanishes and leaves us to it.

A lot of people bring along their dog. They may be on to something. The dogs are always enthusiastic, encouraging, and obedient. Sure, they may be relieving themselves on every square inch of great outdoors, but let’s hear it for an A+ attitude.

I’ve found it’s the little things that make a family hike memorable. Forgetting water in August. Not wearing gloves in February. The wardrobe miscalculation that results in walking five miles with a grand mal wedgie.

But you are creating memories out of a day that will never come again. You are getting some exercise and fresh air and sharing it with people you love.

You are headed for the nearest Starbucks like cattle stampeding to the watering hole.

But at least you got there on your own two feet.