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. 

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.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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.

A #GreatList and Giving Back

I have friends who are teachers, and friends of friends who are teachers, and family members who are retired teachers, and I’m so glad there are people out there who can do that sort of thing. I certainly don’t have the patience. Heck, I can barely handle my own two children sometimes, never mind 22 others. But despite (or perhaps because of) this gratitude-at-a-distance, one of the things that has always completely annoyed me is how much of their own money teachers have to spend to get some of the basic supplies they need for their classrooms.

I asked some teacher friends about this and here are some of the examples they gave:

The teachers get a classroom budget based on a per-student amount. Then I get $50 to buy my teacher supplies (pens, tape, post-its, chart paper, whiteboard markers, staples, etc. etc.) For the whole year. Obviously it’s never enough and I always spend hundreds of my own $$ on my own supplies each year. Ditto for students’ supplies. I have already bought some stuff for my students next year, plus replenished some of my own stuff on my own nickel, and it’s only July!

I always spend a ton of money on extras and supplies for things like dance costumes, building supplies for big projects like mousetrap cars or trebuchets. I also buy things for myself like baggies, alligator clips, a paper cutter, special paper, sharpies(!), magnets, etc. those things add up but make a significant difference in my quality of life as a teacher. There’s a lot more… I ended up expensing over $900 in supplies that my admin insisted I do and they found money elsewhere because they knew how much I had been spending.

I spend more on “luxury items” (my term). Most of what I spend is for books for my classroom library.

Books! I mean, c’mon. Books! Yes, some of the items in the above lists are more nice to have than absolutely essential, but I just don’t understand how we think it’s okay that a teacher is given only $50 for supplies like pens, staples, whiteboard markers, etc. How are these things not supplied by the school with care taken to ensure the very basics are available? On average, teachers spend $1,000 of their own money just to make sure their students have the resources they need to learn. 

(You’ll have to forgive me somewhat for being so indignant. It’s been that sort of week.)

In any case, there is a reason for this rant. I had an opportunity to partner with Great Clips, who have teamed up with AdoptAClassroom.org to help deserving teachers AND give families some help with back-to-school needs. (I know, I know, it’s only July. Stick with me here.) 

Great Clips did a classroom makeover for two teachers, fulfilling their wish lists and helping their classroom vision come to life. If you need a pick-me-up, check out the video (though you might want to have some Kleenex handy, because oy).

Before and after classroom makeover

Help teachers

If you want to help more teachers, Great Clips is giving you a chance to do that simply by downloading their check-in app. With every download, Great Clips will contribute to AdoptaClassroom.org (up to $20,000) to support teachers and students. You can get info about the app on their site as well.

We take the boys to Great Clips to get their hair cut, and Rich discovered their app a while ago. It’s totally awesome, especially if you have fidgety kids, because it lets you add your name to the waiting list. It’s not an appointment, so there’s no pressure if someone has a meltdown as you’re trying to get everyone in the car. It just lets you put your name on the list so you don’t have to wait as long (or at all) when you get there. You can also look to see how many people are in front of you and time your departure appropriately.

Help yourself

Support teachers and win your school supplies

And that’s not all! Between now and September 5, 2014, you can upload your school supply list to the #GREATLIST site for a chance to win your supplies. Daily winners will get their back-to-school supplies shipped free to their front door (up to $100 value). The contest is open to individuals 18 and older who are legal residents of the United States (including the District of Columbia) or Canada.

As well, if you enter you’ll get a coupon for $2 off at Great Clips with your confirmation email the first time you submit a school supply list.

Good deeds and good deals for everyone, wouldn’t you say?

 

Thanks to Great Clips for sponsoring this post and giving me another way to do a little bit of good in this world.

Waiting for Perfection

Thanks to Grammarly for sponsoring this post. Use Grammarly’s plagiarism checker because it also checks your grammar, and no one wants to be the person everyone thinks about when they post bad-grammar memes on Facebook.

I haven’t been writing a lot lately. Largely because of time—I’ll put 75% of the blame there—but also because the topics swirl around in my head and I wait for them to position themselves just so before committing to putting words to my thoughts. I only want to write if it’s meaningful. I only want to write if I get it right.

atwood-on-writing-perfection

There’s no such thing as perfection. I know that. And there’s especially no such thing as perfection in writing. Words are living, breathing things and a piece of writing is never truly done. It’s just finished, and the writer has to release those words to the world and let them continue to live on through readers. As you peruse the words and unravel their meaning, the words breathe. As you comment, continue to ponder, or share, the words’ breath, their very being, carries on.

Often, when I really have something to say, I will think and write and revise and think some more. I will edit and re-write and let the words lead me to making sense of my world. And when I finally let them go, I wait for the answer to one question: Did I get it right?

But there is no right. There is only right now. Whatever I write, whether I publish it or not, is my reality in the moment. It’s part of how my world evolves. The words I use and the paragraphs that form don’t have to be perfect. They don’t have to be right by anyone’s judgment. Not even by mine. Those words are merely part of the picture.

I know this, and something someone shared recently (that originally inspired this post but that I can no longer find) has reminded me of it once again.

I don’t have to finish writing. I just have to start.