Monday, August 26, 2019

Act 4: Deseret Industries

This post marks my fourth act of service, as well as the 10% mark of my goal of 40 acts of service before I turn 40 next summer. It feels good to be plugging away towards my goal, it feels good to be looking beyond myself a little, and it feels good to know that I am contributing in whatever small ways I can.

One thing I have begun to enjoy as part of this project, is trying not to hyper-plan everything, and sometimes leaving a little space to see what service opportunies arise as I go about my day. Sometimes that works really well (like donating to Tim's Tiny Toys in my first week), and sometimes that means that I get all the way to Thursday or so without having found a way to serve someone yet. That was what was happening the week before last, and, as I was getting ready for the day, things were feeling a little dire on the old service front. I wanted to do something, but I just couldn't figure out what! That was when I happened to walk into my closet to get dressed, and thought: "there's a lot of stuff I don't wear in here. Why not go through it all and donate what I don't use?"

Me in my closet with the 26 lbs of clothes I donated to Deseret Industries. 
Friends, I spent the next couple of hours sorting through just about everything in my closet, and I pulled out about 26 lbs (or 12 kg - yes, I absolutely got on the scale with that big sack of clothes!) of clothes that I don't want or wear anymore. And that's not counting the pile of clothes that were too worn to give away. I rediscovered a ton of clothes that I forgot that I owned, and have been enjoying wearing them again. It feels a little funny that instead of feeling like I lost 26 lbs of clothes, I ended up feeling like I gained a lot of new outfits, but such is the human brain. Or at least this human's brain.

Okay, I'm feeling the need to clarify at this point exactly how I came to have almost 30 lbs of excess clothes just sitting around in my closet. The simple answer is that I keep my clothes for a long time. Case in point: the shirt I'm wearing in that photo is about 7 years old, and the skirt is.... 17 years old. I've always done my own thing style-wise, so my clothes are never really out of style, because they were never actually in style in the first place. So clothes get a much longer shelf life when the only thing you're worrying about is if they are whole, clean and still fit. But it does also mean that things have a tendency to pile up in your closet. Or my closet, as the case may be. The other part of the equation, of course, is that I've had four babies over the lifespan of this particular wardrobe, so my body has been a lot of different shapes and sizes over that time period. As it naturally should.

I debated a little back and forth about whether or not this "counts" as an act of service, when it clearly benefits me so much, and must just be a drop in the bucket for an organization as big as Deseret Industries (more about them in a minute), but I don't think there is a rule that service can only be a good thing for the recipient, and not for the giver.  I quite like the idea of a service transaction where everyone comes out happy. It feels like it sort of balances the scales somehow, if that makes sense.

I debated a bit back and forth about whether or not I was going to donate to Deseret Industries, given that they are the go-to thrift store and donation point in my area, and I did look around a bit for other organizations to give to. But in the end, convenience and familiarity won out when I found myself on the same street as my local DI with my sack of donations in the trunk. They have a donation drive-through, guys.

I am happy to support Deseret Industries in their efforts. They're a thrift store, which is just a good and useful thing for any community to have (imagine all of the unnecessary waste going into landfills if we didn't have a way to pass along the things we didn't personally need anymore), and they also have programs that help people prepare for, and find their way into the workforce. They also do a lot of worldwide humanitarian aid. You can read more about the work Deseret Industries does here, and if you live in the Western United States and want to donate something, you can see their donation guidelines here.  I should mention that DI is run by my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but anyone is welcome to donate or volunteer with them.

All of my service has been fairly anonymous and comfortably faceless up to this point, and I have to admit that I kind of like it that way. I'm nervous that people will think that I think I'm somehow better than the people I'm trying to help, and I'm also just an introverted soul who gets a little uncomfy outside of her comfort zone. In the words of The Animals (although, let's be honest, it will always be Nina Simone singing it in my head): "I'm just a soul whose intentions are good, Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood." But, I'm going to try to challenge myself a little bit to serve in ways that are a little more visible and interactive. And outside of my house. ;)

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Act 3: American Civil Liberties Union

This post is a little late because I found it a little difficult to write - and life is just busy!

We're down to our last week of summer, and our days are going fast, so we're trying to squeeze in whatever fun we can before school starts in nine days (not that I'm counting (I am totally counting)). We've played in the river up in the mountains, had a picnic in the garden, planted roses, made some art, watched a lot of Avatar, gone to the movies, had lots and lots of friends over and just about eaten our way through a Costco-sized box of ice cream. It has been pretty great!

This past week was busy enough that I probably could have given myself one of the 12 passes I've allowed myself for this year-long project, but I've been distressed enough about the ICE raids and detention centers at the southern border of the United States that I felt like I had to do something. As an immigrant and a non-citizen myself (I'm a permanent resident of the United States), I tend to keep my head down where politics are concerned, especially immigration politics. I'm uncomfortably aware of the privileges I enjoy as a white European immigrant whose foreignness is more charming than it is threatening. The Americans around me have met me with nothing but friendship, love and inclusion, and I am reluctant to come across as an ungrateful or critical guest - which, at the end of the day, is essentially what I am.

But it hurts to see families being separated and people suffering in inhumane conditions. And I feel such a need to do something. So I donated to the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Listen, I originally wrote quite a long post about my thoughts and feelings in regards to the current immigration situation. But it didn't feel quite right somehow, so I let it sit for a few days while I tried to work out why, and this is what I came up with: I don't want to be divisive. I see a lot of problems in our society stemming from our propensity to divide ourselves into "us and them," and it causes nothing but more hard feelings and bitterness. I know the loveliest people on both sides of The Great American Political Divide, who say the unloveliest things about people on the other side. But we're not going to improve anything by pointing fingers, dishing out blame and "othering" our neighbors to the point that we can't talk to each other. We need to build bridges across the divide, find common ground and a common purpose to work towards. To go a bit John Lennon: "it's easy if you try."

Anyway, back to the American Civil Liberties Union. I chose to donate to them this week because I believe they are an organization that is genuinely seeking to bridge that divide. In essence, the ACLU is an organization that works within the court system and legislature to "defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and the laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country". They are both non-profit and non-partisan. You can read more about the ACLU and what they do here. Sometimes I completely agree with the cases they take on (voters rights! Privacy protections! Religious freedom!), and sometimes they're defending the rights of individuals or organizations that are completely reprehensible beyond comprehension to me (like the Ku Klux Klan...). But I admire that they are willing to work  to ensure that no one's constitutional rights are being violated and that everyone is treated fairly. 

As someone who believes laws and fairness, they are an organization that really resonates with me. So, you can imagine, that when I learned that they are working to protect the rights of immigrants, I felt really good about donating some money to ensure that everyone gets a fair hearing. I like that the ACLU are working towards both helping individuals have proper representation now, as well as seeking longterm solutions through advocating for necessary changes in legislature. I'm happy to add my small drop to that bucket. You can read more about immigrants' rights from the ACLU here - and I recommend that you do. Being informed is key. 

Bonus! One of my friends from college is now a teacher and an education advocate extraordinaire. Her hard work and passion for helping her students is nothing short of inspiring. So when she posted on her facebook page about preparing for a new school year with 36 kids in her class, many of which come from pretty tough backgrounds, I sent her a little donation for "pencils, Kleenex and Diet Coke". Teachers are incredible people. Go love on one today. 

Friday, August 2, 2019

Act 2: House of Hope

Four babies' worth of maternity clothes.

This week I donated my maternity clothes to the House of Hope. Let's  briefly put a pin in the implications of any woman giving away her pregnancy wardrobe (I promise I'll get back to that!), and focus on the ladies at the House of Hope for a moment.

The House of Hope is a non-profit, residential treatment facility for women dealing with substance abuse. What I find particularly valuable about the House of Hope is that it is a facility where the women are able to bring their children to stay with them while they receive treatment. Keeping families together whenever possible is so vitally important, and must take away so much stress and anxiety for the women, allowing them the necessary headspace to focus on their treatment. I especially love that the kids receive therapeutic care too. So many of them have been through so much, and both need and deserve to address the challenges that living with an addicted parent has brought to their little lives.

I don't have a lot of personal experience with substance abuse addiction, but I have felt its effects close enough to know how devastating it can be for a family, especially for children. And I do know what an ongoing struggle it can be, both for the addict and for everyone who loves them. So when moms and their little ones decide that they're ready to fight this dragon, I feel like the least we can do is help and support them in whatever small ways we can.

I first discovered House of Hope several months ago, when a neighbor was collecting donations for them. I didn't participate then, but looked at the wish list on their website, and noted that maternity clothes were on it, and decided that that's what I wanted to do with my own pregnancy wardrobe when the time came to pass it along.

First baby!
 Although we have felt for a long time that Elijah is our grand finale, it has taken me a while to fully make peace with the fact that I'll never those maternity clothes again, because I'll never be pregnant again. I'll never meet a brand-new human and hold them in my arms, knowing that they are ours again. No more quiet moments with a sleepy newborn. No more watching my older kids fall utterly head-over-heels in love with a new little sibling. It's a lot to say goodbye to.

We were so excited and so ready! to be parents. 
 And yet: it's time. Both for all of the logical reasons I know in my head:

  • That's a lot of 9 lb babies and  c-sections for one body! 
  • We're getting old and that window of fertility is just getting smaller and smaller. 
  • I can't keep having babies just because I love newborns. 
  • One high-risk pregnancy was plenty.
and the reasons I feel in my heart:

  • It feels great to own my own body again. 
  • I'm excited to see what life holds for me after the tiny kid stage. 
  • It just feels like we're complete now.

After baby number one we went from professional maternity photos to selfies in the bathroom.
No less excited and delighted about adding each new little person to our family, though.
So while it is a little bittersweet to say goodbye to those special clothes and everything they symbolize to me, it feels like a gift and a privilege to be able to pass them along to a group of mamas that are fighting such a tough and valiant battle. I'm so impressed and inspired by the efforts and sacrifices they are making to give their babies a better life.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Act 1: Tiny Tim's Toys

Thank you, Tim's Tiny Toys!

I entered into this week with a solid plan for an act of service I've been wanting to do for a long time, but then that didn't quite work out the way I thought it would, and I found myself casting about for a new way to make myself useful to someone.

I made it all the way to Friday before finally settling on what I wanted to do. I think  the combination of it being my first week and wanted to start things well, and the service I had planned to do not quite panning out was throwing me off a little. It was hard to find something that felt like just the right thing to kick this off this year of service. Which is silly, because all good things are good things, right? Every drop in the bucket counts!

In the end, instead of me finding "just the right thing", just the right thing found me. 

I took the kids out to lunch on Friday, which is pretty unheard of, because I try at all costs to avoid taking them anywhere on my own. But on Friday I just wanted a salad and to not have to make anyone another ham sandwich, so I loaded them all up and took them to Culver's where we were all happily snarfing down our lunches when a very nice gentleman came up and introduced himself, and asked if he could give the kids some toys. He then went on to explain that he was a volunteer with an organization called Tiny Tim's Toys, and their sole purpose is to make toys and give them to kids. He clarified that they usually bring them to kids around who don't typically have access to toys, as well as to children in hospital. And sometimes, they like to give them to local kids, just because. It's all volunteer run, and no one gets paid. Obviously, (although this gentleman didn't even so much as hint at it) they rely pretty heavily on donations to keep it all going. If you're local, you might also like to know that they invite volunteer groups to come in and help them make the toys. 

After my three lucky kids had each been given a nicely made wooden car, I knew that supporting Tiny Tim's Toys would be my first act of service. So I looked them up online, found that they accept donations via PayPal and sent a little love their way. Who doesn't love an organization whose sole purpose is making kids happy? 


Before Tiny Tim came along and saved the day, I did a little research into ways to volunteer and serve from home, and found a lot of ways to contribute. There are so many ways to make a difference and opportunities to do good, that it is honestly a little overwhelming! Fortunately, I've given myself a whole year and a minimum of 40 opportunities to try some of them, so it's really just a matter of picking something and making it happen. Here's a little taste of what I found:

  • I started with Just Serve. Just Serve is a service opportunity hub where organizations can post their volunteer needs, and volunteers can see where and how they can serve in their communities. You should know that  the website is run by my church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), but you should also know that it is available to anyone, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. There are a lot of opportunies to dig into there, although I did notice that a lot of them are looking for ongoing volunteer relationships, rather than one-off service opportunities. 
  • Operation Warm (a great organization that I will be looking into later) offered this list of 25 volunteer jobs to do from home. A few cool ones that stood out to me: transcribe historical documents for the Smithsonian, knit or crochet afghan squares for Warm Up America, write a note for someone undergoing chemo therapy, volunteer to translate for Translators Without Borders. At 25 items, it's not the most comprehensive list out there, but it's got some items that seems both fun and worthwhile. 
  • Smiliar to Just Serve, Create The Good  connects volunteers with volunteer opportunities. Create the Good is run by AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), so there are a few things I'm not old enough for (ha!), but otherwise there is a good variety of ways to get involved. 
I'll leave it there for now, but hopefully I can come back with more volunteer ideas and opportunities as I go. See you next week!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

40 Acts of Service

Me and my face, preparing for The (slightly less) Big 39.
I'll be 39 tomorrow.

Birthdays always make me a little contemplative and navel gazey, but this one even more so. Of course I've been thinking about getting older, noticing more little lines on my face that I know will only get deeper, and knowing that I'm well on my way from being a young person to a middle aged person, regardless of how old I actually feel.

My uncle (who is in his 70s) says I'm still young, so there.

Having accumulated a degree, a husband, four children, a house (and a mortgage!) and am impressive array of household goods, I feel like I've managed to check the majority of the boxes you're "supposed to" have done by this point in life, and I have to admit I feel quite good about that.

Mine is a good life, and I am so very grateful for it. It hasn't always been an easy life, as just having celebrated the third birthday of our little boy who is no longer here reminds us, but oh!: it's a good, rich and beautiful life I have been given.

Which brings me to the biggest thing I have been thinking about in regards to my birthday: when I have been given so much, what am I giving back? I believe in service. I believe in taking part in your community and giving back where you can. I believe in "if not me, then who? If not now, then when?" As a Christian, I believe in " Inasmuch as ye have done it into one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me*". I believe that that world is not going to get any better unless we stand up and do something.

So I have decided that my 39th year is going to be my year of standing up and doing something.

I want to celebrate my 40th birthday next July, knowing that I have made a contribution to this world, and that I have made service and philanthropy part of who I am. I want my children to see that part of being a human is stepping up and taking responsibility, maybe especially when it's not glamorous or fun.

I'm throwing it back old school with a good old-fashioned Project Project project (remember when I used to do those?) where I will undertake something and then write about it as I go.

Here is the plan:

  • I will make this coming year, leading up to my 40th birthday a personal year of service. 
  • Over the space of that year, I will perform at least 40 acts of service of varying size and intensity, at a rate of roughly one per week (that leaves 12 opportunities for life to get busy, or for an act of service to stretch over several weeks if necessary). 
  • When a cash donation is the best way to support a cause or organization, I'll give money. However, I am making it a rule for myself that I can't just give money every week. Giving money is easy, and I want to engage more deeply with the various people and organizations I come across this year. I'd like to learn, to get involved and get my hands a little dirty. Also our finances might not be able to handle me giving our money away every week. 
  • Each act of service has to be a new one. If I fall in love with an organization or a way to serve along the way and want to keep working with them, that's wonderful. I'll keep doing that. However, I will not be counting an ongoing relationship as a new act of service. I want to find 40 new ways to serve.  
  • Every time I serve, I will write a blogpost about it. I'll do this so I can have a record of what should be a pretty memorable year, so you can follow along if you're interested, and also so I can highlight a number of organizations and individuals trying to make a difference in the world. Maybe this  could even help some of you will find an organization that you'd like to work with too?
And that's it!

Before I end, I really want to highlight that I'm not doing this so you'll think I'm wonderful. I'm doing this to fulfill a strong desire that I have to contribute. Serving others makes me happy, and has been a lifeline to me at several difficult stages of my life. I'm happy when I'm busy, and happy when I feel useful. So while you could say that this whole thing is almost a little selfishly motivated, say that because I'm doing something that I love, not because I'm trying to attract your attention to how great I think I am. And hopefully, once your attention has been attracted, we can quickly deflect it to all of the great ways that you serve too. 

Thanks for reading! I'm excited for you to help keep me accountable in the year to come. And if you happen to know of any great organizations that I might want to look into, locally or globally, please let me know. 

*Matt 25:40

Monday, April 1, 2019


Elijah at eight months old. 

Before I can write about much of anything else around here, I have to tell you about our newest family member: Elijah.

He's somehow already eight months old, and planted solidly at the heart of our family. We absolutely adore this happy, wild little kid with his easy smile and goodnatured little ways. Espen half-jokingly calls him "The King", which, considering the way we schedule our days around his needs, sneak around quietly while he's napping and let him eat from our plates, is really not too far from the truth. Fortunately, Elijah adores us right back, and is never happier than when his siblings include him in their games and make him one of the gang. He loves singing, tickling, roughhousing, walks in the stroller, taking a bath and going to bed. Above all, Elijah loves food and eating and all activities that include those two things.

In other words, Elijah is a pretty standard baby. But what feels completely non-standard (although, of course, most of us feel this way about our own kids) is how much sheer joy and happiness this little person has brought into our lives. I rejoice in being his mama each and every day.

And that is something that has felt different this time around: now that we're not completely overwhelmed by the terrifying newness of parenthood, or utterly exhausted by having two tiny people under three to chase after, having a baby is actually a genuinely delightful thing. Okay, at this juncture I feel like I need to clarify that all of our babies have been delightful little sources of enormous joy, and being their mom has been my absolute favorite thing in life. But this feels like the first time in my journey in motherhood where I a) am not utterly overwhelmed by other little people that need constant care and supervision, and b) I just feel comfortable and confident in my own abilities as a mom. I know what I'm doing! I've got this! And I think that a happy and comfortable mom makes for a happy and comfortable baby, so we have just fallen into a routine that is, well... happy and comfortable.

Of course it's not all sunshine and rainbows: Elijah' nap schedule is constantly getting messed with because I have to wake him to pick Gwen up from school or to take kids to their after school activities. Sometimes he wakes up at 4 in the morning for no discernible reason and decides to squawk in his bed for the next 90 minutes. Sometimes I don't get a shower because I have to hold my teething, and therefor, screaming baby all day long. But, I know how to do those things. Even when it's hard, it's never actually impossible. Sometimes I do have to call in the cavalry (which usually means Nick) because I just can't be multiple people in multiple places at once, but nine out of ten times, I find a way.

It has to be said that Elijah gets a lot of the credit for all this happiness and contentment around these parts. He is just an unusually happy, chill and easy baby. He gets fussy when he's hungry or tired, but other than that, he's really just a remarkably "good" baby: he's friendly and loves people, he loves to eat, he's happy to play on his own, he's been sleeping through the night since he was about 4 months old, he actually gets excited when we put him in his carseat, and the list goes on. 90% of the time, Elijah is just a joyful little soul, and the other 10% is generally when we've kept him awake for too long, or he's hungry*. You know, user errors.

So, that is our Elijah. At a stage in our life when so many of our peers are raising teenagers and squaring up to the possibility of becoming grandparents in a few short years, we feel so happy and lucky to back in the world of nap time and diapers. Being a parent has been such a huge blessing in my life, and I absolutely love that we get a few more years in that priceless "little kid" phase before they all grow up on us. Elijah is our grand finale, and we couldn't be happier he's here.

*Also, when I don't let him play with my earrings. 

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Pottery Analogies and The Enemy of Good.

Okay, gang: I am just going to sit down and write something, just so that I have written something. I've thought about writing a new post pretty much daily since my last post six-ish weeks ago. I have this problem, you see, that I want the things I write to be good and beautiful and engaging and funny and wise, and when I am a mere mortal who is woefully out of practice with this whole writing/blogging thing, that can be a tall order.

Honestly, this is a common theme in my life: I don't like to do things if I can't do them well, so I don't do them at all, and guess what that means? I don't actually do any of the things I want to. Which is kind of a rubbish way to live.

Someone once said that "perfection is the enemy of good", and someone else said that "perfection is the enemy of done", and I have been thinking a lot about the truth of both of those statements. Because what good is always striving for perfection, if it means that your lofty goals are so paralyzing that you don't actually accomplish them, or even anything like them? What good does it do me to aspire to be a person who writes, if I don't actually write anything longer than my own signature?

There are ways to deal with this, I think. I've been taking a pottery class for the past 18 months or so, and I can promise you that exactly nothing I produce is like the flawless ideal I have in my head. I'm getting better as I go, but there is a definite wonk to just about all of my pieces. Sometimes that's difficult for someone like me who struggles with being bad at things, but I enjoy pottery so much that I'm willing to not be good at it, just so I can keep learning. There is so much value in being good at being bad at something, and it's a skill I really want to learn.

Here's the kicker, though: I'm actually not a bad writer. If I may be ever so humble, I would even go as fas as to say that writing might be one of my few natural gifts. I started writing for my own enjoyment more or less as soon as I could write, and I really haven't stopped until just a few years ago, when life knocked my feet out from under me to the point that it has taken me years to find them again. But I am so out of practice now, that it feels like writing is something I'm no longer good at. I suspect that those same principles I'm learning at my pottery class apply to writing as well: just like the wonky pots I produce at the pottery wheel, there are going to be some wonky posts while I relearn how to do this thing.

Hopefully this means that at some point I'll write an actual post, instead of just a series of posts about how I'm going to write a real post "sometime real soon, guys!" I feel as self-conscious about putting this out into the world as I do about showing anyone my pottery (which probably explains why I have given away exactly one bowl to a friend who is as loving and supportive as they come), but I think it has to be done. So consider this post my somewhat wonky offering to you, my loving and supportive friend.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Writing Again

Still here, still posting makeup-less selfies. 

I have a quiet house to myself on a January afternoon, which seems like as good a time as any to shyly and slyly mark my return to writing and blogging after an absence so long that we have had time to add a whole other human to our family (the run on sentences are still here, though, don't you worry). More about him soon - he is pretty great.

I haven't been writing because I haven't known quite what to say. I've been in doubt as to whether or not I actually have anything worthwhile or constructive to contribute to the never-ending conversation that is the internet. I have certainly left behind any aspirations I ever had to be a lifestyle blogger (you know, like an influencer, only five years ago) and guide you all with my sage opinions about succulents and how to style a bookshelf.

But here I am, after everything that has happened and all the time that has passed since this blog was a pretty substantial part of my everyday, tentatively brushing away the metaphorical cobwebs and wondering if now might possibly be the time?

I never stopped writing in my head. I thought about sitting down and typing words into this computer  for weeks and months and probably even a couple of years. The words kept on forming and chaining themselves together in my mind, even when I just allowed them to leave as simply as they came.

I want to start keeping some of them now. I want to catch hold of some of those words before they drift away and see if I can turn them into something worthwhile. I don't know what that's going to look like. I feel out of practice, like the words are all stiff and not quite my own yet. But I want to try. I might write three blog posts and let this whole thing drift into hibernation again. I might start an internet revolution with my prolific and inspirational wordsmithery. I might write a book. I might fail a lot, but I'm going to try even more.

Whatever this becomes, this is where it begins.