The Definition of Luxury is Survival

A couple of weeks ago Connor was sitting at the kitchen table with a pencil in his hand. “Mom,” he asked, “how do you spell ‘Dear’?” I spelled it for him. “How do you spell ‘Santa’? How do you spell ‘Christmas’? How do you spell ‘Ewok Village’?”

He was writing a letter to Santa, of course – actually writing it, on his own, and spelling some of the words himself, which made me incredibly proud. After I finished laughing, of course, because this child is nothing if not specific in terms of what he wants. A LEGO Ewok Village. For Connor, that’s the ultimate gift.

I’m aware of the luxury of this, of course. Not all kids, even those in my own city or country, are going to get something as fabulous as a LEGO Ewok Village. (Mind you, neither is Connor because that particular set costs $300 and there are limits to what I think a six-year-old who already owns at least half the LEGO in the world needs to get as a Christmas gift, but there will be LEGO under the tree for him.)

For many children, even the most basic items are a luxury. The simplest essentials, such as clean water and nutrition, are necessary to help children survive in unforgiving environments. As most of you know, my particular pet cause is mental health (followed closely by ovarian cancer, which my mom had – and beat!). And I’ll tell you a secret: I find it hard to relate to some of the developing-country stories. It’s not that I don’t care, or don’t know anything about the challenges many developing countries face. I guess it’s just that those challenges are so far from my own experience that I almost can’t imagine what it would be like. But today I want to share some of those challenges and offer some help, because if there’s one thing I do relate to is the desire to make this a better world. (I even have a whole category on my blog for it.)

Here’s the deal: Your kids might want LEGO or…whatever it is that girls want this year. But for many people in the world the ultimate gift is not the hottest toy or trendy tech item, it’s possibilities. UNICEF has a campaign they’ve dubbed “unBOXing Possibilities,” as in unboxing possibilities to give children the opportunity to go to school, protect newborns from illness and provide children with the basic nutrition they need to survive.

That’s quite a different sort of gift, wouldn’t you say? One that can literally change a child’s life.

UNICEF’s Survival Gifts are the actual products children will receive. Once purchased, UNICEF will pull the product from the warehouse in Copenhagen and send directly to people in the field.

I shared this idea with Connor (explaining why it was necessary) and asked him which gift he would choose to purchase. He chose therapeutic milk.

Therapeutic milk

 

Unicef-therapeutic-milk

I suspect a large part of why this one appealed to him is that he is a big milk drinker, and his little brother is definitely in a milk phase right now. “Milky, milky!” is something we hear from Ethan often, so we make sure we don’t run out.

That’s not a luxury all parents have, of course. Heartbreaking, and quite scary when you think about the nutritional implications for those children.

Therapeutic Milk is a powder-based product that when mixed gives moms the ability to feed their babies. For 25 packets, it’s only $20. So we bought some therapeutic milk from the UNICEF site and helped 12 children and hopefully taught Connor something in the process. (I had asked Connor why he chose that gift, in particular. “So the babies have enough milk and don’t die,” he said. “It’s better to live than to die.” Sometimes the lesson really is that simple, I guess.)

Here are some other Survival Gifts that are in need this year. If you want to purchase one, you can do so in honour of someone and have that person sent a card letting them know of your donation.

Blankets for babies

 

Unicef-baby-blanketThis seems like a simple, cotton blanket that would be second nature to us, but it can mean safety and comfort for not only babies but moms too. Imagine if you didn’t have something like this to comfort your newborn.

Blankets for babies are only $22, and that gives 3 babies a cozy welcome.

Bed nets

 

Unicef-bed-netIn Africa, one in six child deaths is due to malaria. This insecticide-treated net is a simple, effective way to save so many lives. For only $9 you can send 2 bed nets to a family in need.

Plumpy’Nut

 

Unicef-plumpy-nutThis is another Survival Gift that seems so simple, but that provides much-needed nutrition to children. As we’re planning parties and holiday celebrations full of snacks and food, this is such a big reminder of how $10 can give malnourished children food just to survive. If a child has Plumpy’Nut 3 times a day, they can gain up to 2 pounds in one week!

Other options

On the UNICEF shop site there are tons of other options so you can personalize your choices, like soccer balls for a sport-loving child or Art-in-a-box to go along with the crafty gift you’re putting under the tree. While we’re buying the hottest new toys or stocking the fridge with extras this season, these are gifts that can feel like a luxury to moms and children who need them. 

To see what an effect UNICEF Survival Gifts are having for the recipients, check out www.youtube.com/unicefcanada for real-life experiences. You can shop from there too. Or join the conversation at #unBOXPossibilities.

If you do decide to add a Survival Gift to your Christmas to-do list this year, come back and tell me about it, would you? A better world gets even better when we share these good things we do with each other.

Disclaimer: I was compensated for this post, but I’ve chosen to put that money towards Survival Gifts for children in need. 

No to Bill 10: GSAs Make Schools Safer

The more I see bad things happening in the world—whether in my country or not—the more I find myself getting riled up about injustice. The things happening in the US lately make me question our very evolution. How do things end up this way? When prominent media figures in Canada get taken down, I take a small bit of smug satisfaction in something greatly overdue (but mostly I support those women he hurt before he got caught and applaud their bravery for speaking out, in whatever form they wish to do so).

This week in Alberta some things hit the metaphorical fan when the government introduced Bill 10, which would allow the province’s school boards to reject students’ requests to create a peer-support group known as a gay-straight alliance (or GSA). Supporters say it would reduce bullying and save lives.

Maybe it’s not backwards thinking and discrimination. Maybe, just maybe, they really do think this makes kids safer. I think they’re wrong, and so does the research.

Ask your MLA to say no to Bill 10

According to Safe Schools Alberta: “A recent UBC study showed that odds of homophobic discrimination and suicidal thoughts were reduced by more than half among lesbian, gay, bisexual boys and girls in schools where a GSA has existed for 3 years or more. On top of that, heterosexual boys were half as likely to attempt suicide as those in schools without GSAs.”

Frankly, I’m sick of people allowing their personal beliefs and prejudices to make our society less progressive, less inclusive, and less safe. In a move very unlike me, I wrote to my (Progressive Conservative) MLA, Sandra Jansen.

Ms. Jansen,

I have never before contacted my MLA for any reason, but I am compelled to do so today regarding Bill 10. I was appalled to find out it was sponsored by the MLA for my constituency.

I don’t know why it matters who sponsored it, as it has ended up before the legislature regardless. Maybe it’s because it seems like something someone else would do – someone who is not in touch with the values I and those in my community hold, or someone whose perspective is swayed by something I’m not subjected to every day. But this is Calgary. This is 2014. That anyone representing a community as diverse as ours in a city this size and this much on the world map would think this type of bill is okay appalls me.

I am a married (straight) mother of two boys – 6 and 2. My older son has just started grade 1 this year, and I have no idea whether he might ever be in the vulnerable position of needing support from a club like a GSA. But if he does, I would hope that type of support would be something offered without question or prejudice.

The fact that young people want to form these sorts of groups to welcome and support each other, regardless of orientation, gives me hope for our future. The fact that an educated, elected member of our legislative assembly, with a background in journalism no less, would present something that would prevent these groups from receiving the support they need makes me despair for all the progress I thought we had made towards accepting people’s differences and rejoicing in what makes us unique.

So many of your constituents don’t support this bill. Please reconsider your own support and do your part to ensure it goes no further.

– Robin Farr

 

If you’re an Alberta parent and would like to express your own displeasure about Bill 10, you can ask your own MLA to say no to it here.

Automagic photo sharing (+giveaway)

A couple of weeks ago I posted about the Locket app and how I’ve been using it to collect memories and photos of the boys. I filled up the fall months and already have some tree-decorating pictures in there for December.

The other piece to this is a frame that will display those photos to a family member or friend who’s far away (or near by, I suppose – I don’t know about you but I don’t do a very good job of visiting people in the next community over…).

I sent this frame to my sister and her husband, who live in another city and don’t get to see the boys all that often. The photos I’ve added to the app appear (automagically, as Connor would say) on their frame and lets them stay up to date on what we’ve been doing.

Locket frame by NixPlay

Ethan bowling

It’s pretty cool, actually. Once my sister turned it on and connected to WiFi, that was it. I just add photos and they get all the new ones on their frame. She also set it up so that it comes on automatically when it detects motion and goes off if it detects no movement for 5 minutes.

Locket frame by NixPlay

Connor with his new cousin

We haven’t done this yet, but you can sync up to 10 users on one account, so my sister could get photos of my nephews and new niece as well if my other sister and brother used the Locket app (available on iTunes). Photo sharing made super easy – I love it.

Want to give it a go? The Locket app is free (and it develops an e-timeline and a photo book as you go – visit www.lifelocket.net for more information), and I’m giving away a Locket frame, which is designed by NixPlay. The Locket Frame is available in three different sizes: 8”, 12” and 15” and if you want to get straight to it (Christmas present, perhaps?) you can find those through the shop section of the Locket app.

 

Disclosure: I am part of the Timewyse Locket blogger program with Mom Central and I receive special perks as part of my affiliation with this group. The opinions on this blog are my own.

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Ten Thousand Villages (+ Giveaway!)

I got a little gift in the mail this week and I want to share it with you (both literally and figuratively). Ten Thousand Villages asked me to tell you about their personal accessories (earrings, necklaces, bracelets, scarves etc.), which I’m happy to do.

Ten Thousand Villages is a fair trade retailer (the oldest and largest in North America) that sells personal accessories, home decor and gift items made by artisans from around the world. Here’s their mission:

Ten Thousand Villages creates opportunities for artisans in developing countries to earn income by bringing their products and stories to our markets through long-term, fair trading relationships.

I’ve been a Ten Thousand Villages customer for a long time (as have many members of my family) and I have several pieces of their jewellery. Here are some of my favourite accessories from their current collection, including their 2014 holiday guide.

Summer rain necklace 

summer-rain-necklace

Twisted silver cufftwisted-silver-cuff

Stony garden bracelet

stony-garden-bracelet

Starlight splendour ring

starlight-splendour-ring

Silver moon scarfsilver-moon-scarf

River rocks scarf

river-rocks-scarf

Planet cluster necklace

planet-cluster-necklace

Hoopy loopy necklace

hoopy-loopy-necklace

Forest floor earrings

forest-floor-earrings

Falling leaves earrings

falling-leaves-earrings

Crimson scarfcrimson-scarf

Want a piece of Ten Thousand Villages jewellery for your own? I’m going to give away one of these gentle forest bangles, which features hand-hammered embossed leaves on silver-plated metal.

gentle-forest-bangle

To enter this Ten Thousand Villages giveaway and maybe score yourself a little early Christmas present, complete the Rafflecopter form below.

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Locket Full of Sunshine

Every day for the first year of Connor’s life, I jotted a little note in a calendar we had made with pictures of him as a newborn. (Well, not EVERY day – I started when he was a few weeks old and we had the calendar done, but you get the idea.) I noted what we had done that day, his firsts, what he had started eating – all the usual new-mom stuff. We took lots of pictures too, and at that point my husband was still using our real camera. Of course when Ethan was born things were different.

Ethan, as loved as he is, has suffered the second-child baby-book fate. I think I actually got a baby book for him, but I couldn’t tell you where it is and I’m pretty sure there’s not much in it. Like his brother though, he does have a special keepsake box where I put things I want to save – pictures he draws, his boarding pass from his first flight, a snip of hair from his first haircut.

I love those boxes and will continue pulling them down from the top shelves of the boys’ closets to add to their contents (even if, in the end, I’m the only one who will appreciate the memories they bring back). But I haven’t been very good at doing anything with pictures and the day-to-day memories (which, thanks to iPhones, we have a lot of). Until now.

I’ve been using the Locket app, which I really like. I wasn’t sure if I would, since so many memory-capturing solutions seem to be great in theory but not so easy to use in practice. Locket lets you collect photo, audio, video and written memories and then presents them as an e-timeline or a photo book.

Here’s part of Ethan’s photo book. In this timeframe alone, he’s gone from his second birthday to having a Star Wars movie night with the big kids.

Locket photobook page5

Locket photobook page4

Some of those are just pictures I’ve taken and added to Locket later, and some of them are based on prompts in cards in the system.

Locket sample card

They’re based on yours kids’ ages, so the ones for Ethan are appropriate for toddlers, while the ones that pop up for Connor have more options. Here are a few pages from Connor’s photo book.

Locket photobook page3

We played with the questions one day and he loved answering them and seeing the book about him come together.

Locket photobook page2

Locket photobook page1

Locket photobook page6

I appreciate an app with personality, and Locket includes little messages along the bottom or while saving new content that make me smile (“Did you take time for yourself today? Just curious.” or “1000 figurative words being saved.”) as well as tips for taking photos and videos.

If you’re trying to figure out how to collect memories for your kids and electronically save all those masterpieces they bring home from school, Locket is definitely one to check out. And it’s free!

Locket home screen

The usual disclosure: I am part of the Timewyse Locket blogger program with Mom Central and I receive special perks as part of my affiliation with this group. The opinions on this blog are my own.