Teaching Philanthropy

My oldest child turns six today. She’s a terrific kid. Perhaps one of her best attributes is that she’s not at all materialistic. I suspect this is because the only television she’s ever watched is commercial-free PBS so partly she doesn’t even know what’s out there to want.

Whatever the reason, out of all of the presents she’s received over the past five years—dolls, doll houses, Play Mobil figurines and sets, craft kits, puzzles, games—the toy she plays with most, in fact, almost every day, is a set of 10 colorful nesting blocks.

She does all sorts of things with them. They have deep social bonds and alternating pecking orders, depending on their size and number. And while it’s a marvel to observe her playing with them, it’s also discouraging to think of all the toys and things that don’t interest her.

Several weeks ago, I began thinking about and planning for her 6th birthday. People started asking me what she wanted and it occurred to me that I really didn’t know. In fact, it’s entirely possible that she really didn’t know what she wanted herself.

Then the idea dawned on me that maybe this year, instead of birthday gifts, people could help my daughter support a cause. But what cause? More


Serving Others

We are living in strange times. This “Great Recession” we’re in may not qualify yet as a depression but the impact its having on all of us, without question, is depressing.

On a daily basis, I wrestle with the knowledge that I have great abundance in my life yet still want more. In fact, just last week, before attending our friends’ annual Epiphany party, I threw my own private epiphany party, unleashing a woe-is-me tirade on poor DH about all of the things in life that we haven’t yet achieved.

I could only view our glass as half-empty. I failed to see how full it actually is.

I have a hard time living in the moment. I pulsate in a constant state of projecting forward. I don’t know why I can’t be appreciative for the many blessings I have rather than the things I don’t. Instead, I live under the false pretense that offspring should do as well as, if not better More

It’s (Not) Beginning to Feel a lot Like…

…Christmas. I feel a bit Ebineezer-ish saying so but something’s just off this year and I can’t quite put my finger on what it is.

Since our kids are young —one just grasping the concept of Santa Clause, the other yet untainted by the truth—we’re still working out the details of Christmas in our house: how much is too much, what’s too little. We’re figuring out the finances of Christmas, establishing a dollar amount to spend on the kids and being creative with how Santa uses his portion (because filling a stocking gets expensive!) and what Mom and Dad do with the remainder.

Also because they’re young, or perhaps because we’ve sheltered them from commercialism, they don’t have many wants. Our daughter has asked Santa for just two things: a Sticky Mosaic More

When Good People Make Bad Decisions

For millennia, good people have been making bad decisions: Eve did it when she took a bite of the apple; Juliet did it when she married Romeo; Amelia Erhart did it on her final flight. It happens.

A week ago, I learned that Rugged Bear, a local children’s retailer, was going out of business. Ironically, my husband was the one who informed me of their upcoming liquidation sale.

We don’t buy our kids brand-name clothes very often. So far, we have been blessed with abundant, high-quality hand-me-downs and nearby consignment shops. Our kids’ clothing needs wont for nothing. They have a surplus in most categories and half the time, outgrow items before they even show wear.

So it was that I wandered into Rugged Bear on an unsuspecting Sunday, two days after their liquidation sale began and four days after my husband informed me that he’d been rewarded an unexpected bonus.

Shrewd decision making and rational choices have never been attributes I have pinned to myself. An hour later, I left the store with a bag full of final-sale items and a receipt full of superfluous things.

Granted, not all items purchased were frivolous, I did manage to make some good choices. But, when I was in the thick of the shopping frenzy, in the midst of a wealthy suburb, I admit that I was suckered in to selecting some things that I might otherwise not have. I got lured in by the  commentary of fellow shoppers. Here are the sorts of things I heard: “Where am I going to buy boys formal wear now that Rugged Bear’s going out of business?” “Ooo, look at this winter gear, it’s 80% off!” “I was just in here yesterday and already half the stuff”s gone.” DH is convinced these were all seeds, planted by the liquidator on behalf of Rugged Bear.

I got home and my hard-working husband was none too pleased that act one—prior to actually receiving the bonus check—involved buying deeply discounted children’s items from a store that heavily inflated the cost of their goods to begin with. In his words, getting 80% off of something that was 150% more than I might spend otherwise was not really a deal.

But that’s not quite how our discussion went. Just as I am not blessed with making sound decisions, DH is not blessed with having a laid-back disposition. Oh no, on the contrary, much like the impending outcome at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, DH had a meltdown.

It was perhaps one of our first major disagreements in ten years but it was of epic proportions. Of course it didn’t help that his fast-paced job had recently kicked into over-drive, nor that he was about to start a work week that might see him logging as many as 100 hours. But, it also didn’t help that I didn’t touch in with him first. Something we’ve grown accustomed to doing whenever it comes to making major purchases.

I think marriage may be one of the biggest decisions a person can make in life because with it often comes a series of other mind-boggling, life-altering, major decisions like having kids, giving up a career, combining finances, managing a household, working through issues and making mature, rational decisions on a daily basis.

First, you have to learn how to combine your lifestyles and then (if you’ve chosen the parent path) you have to figure out how to jointly raise your kids. Things you thought you saw eye-to-eye on before become points of departure. Freedoms you once enjoyed become luxuries you seldom participate in. The I becomes the we. Mine, ours.

For me, the greatest challenge has probably been giving up my job. And I’m surprised to admit it. I have never climbed the corporate ladder, never been on a major career track, I just landed good jobs and had decent success doing them. For the non-profit world, I earned a respectable salary and felt good about my place in the world. Yet I also longed, someday, to have the choice to stay home with kids. To have the luxury to be able to put my working life on hold and revel in being there when  I thought my kids would need me most.

What I didn’t anticipate was that the loss of financial freedom would be my cross to bear.

The feeling that any and all financial decisions need to be joint decisions; the idea that whimsical spending impacts far more than just my bottom-line; the concept that I am accountable to others and not just myself. These are hard for me and sometimes seem grossly unfair. I hate that I can’t treat DH to something because he’s the main one providing our household income. I don’t like seeking approval or permission to do things. It feels somehow suffocating. Somewhat belittling.

So a week has passed and the incident should be water under the bridge. DH and I have addressed it, talked about it, apologized for it and moved on except that I haven’t exactly moved on. Somehow this impasse, this lapse in judgment, this occasion of erroneous spending has been like Pandora’s Box. The lid has been lifted, the evils escaped. Perhaps my one remaining comfort is that Hope remains, right?

Continuing the Barefoot Journey






These are the first two Barefoot books I bought. One is a book with beautiful watercolor illustrations depicting a group of Masai children wandering through the Serengeti counting animals in English and Swahili. The other, is a magnificently illustrated book depicting a journey over the Silk Road from Xi’an to Kashgar. I gave these to our daughter when she turned two. A year later, shortly after my second child was born, I decided I not only needed more Barefoot books in our lives but I also needed to introduce more people to them, so I signed on as a Barefoot Ambassador.

The world of multi-level marketing is interesting and layered. It seems primarily populated by mom’s sequencing in or out of the work force or trying to supplement their household incomes. Big MLM companies include: Amway, Pampered Chef, Mary Kay and Avon. Smaller ones include Barefoot Books, Stella & Dot and Arbonne International. Starting out is very much like launching your own micro-business except the products are already established and there’s no overhead. Essentially, you get out of it what you put into it. Some people are wildly successful, highly motivated, and tirelessly active, others start out like a comet only to extinguish like a meteor a few months in.

For me, my kids’ library now is heavily weighted with Barefoot titles. I’ve organized school fund-raisers, hosted home book parties, had tables at holiday fairs and have made a commitment that nearly every children’s gift we’ve given in the past 3 years either has been a Barefoot book or a Barefoot product. Why am I telling you about all of this? Because I truly believe in Barefoot. The books are beautiful, the topics interesting and diverse and it’s something I can be involved in that I feel benefits my family in every way; whether I sell the books, purchase them for personal use or give them to others. I firmly believe that if we all broaden childrens’ horizons just a tiny bit more, we’ll help make the cultural gap even smaller.

So, if you don’t know Barefoot Books, I personally invite you to join me on the journey. As an added incentive, I’ll give you 15% off your first purchase (good until the end of 2010). Just enter this code: SCSHFT in the special offer box at check out. Or, if you’re already a Barefoot customer, share the code with as many family and friends as you’d like.

What are you waiting for? Kick of your shoes and go Barefoot!

Land of Plenty

Not where money growsNot only are we not keeping up with the Joneses these days, it seems we’re not even keeping up with ourselves!

Looking back, I marvel at the abundant privileges available to us as kids and yet  seemingly unattainable for our own children.  Somehow–during the same stage of life that DH and I are in now, as members of the same middle class–our collective parents were able to raise us in affluent, suburban communities, provide prep school educations, belong to country clubs, moor luxury yachts, own second homes, take international vacations and send us to a variety of private lessons, and they were not the super rich.

So if we’re in the Modern Gilded Age, I fear we’ve missed the yacht.

No matter how successful or accomplished we’ve been in our lives thus far, for some reason it feels like we’re always just getting by. So it came as a small comfort, while listening to an NPR report about current perceptions of wealth, to realize we’re not alone in our sense of shortcomings; while so many have so much, there are still far more with less. Of course, we don’t fall in to the $250,000 income bracket the report defined for today’s wealthy but based on wealth distribution world-wide, we have no room to complain. Don’t get me wrong here, I am deeply grateful for the blessings we have, it’s just that so much of what we grew up with ourselves still feels remarkably out of reach.

Unsurprisingly, today’s (American) rich don’t consider themselves wealthy because there’s always someone ahead of them and access to that information is just a mouse click away. As the report went on to disclose, beginning in the late 1980’s, the current generation of wealth began an era of conspicuous consumption. In the past 25 years, houses and mansions have grown twice as large and yachts are now three times their average size.

Which brings me to the impetus for today’s ramble. While attending a recent playdate with my four-year-old at the home of a new friend, the other mom was simultaneously busy preparing a full turkey dinner for a family of five. I assumed it was a charitable contribution for a mother in need but when I asked, she reported dryly that it was for a family the next (extremely wealthy) suburb over whom she used to nanny for. This new friend is busy managing the household for her own family of four, which includes homeschooling two young boys, ages three and six. The mother of the other family also manages her household and homeschooled her four children, all of whom have now integrated into the school system, yet she affords the choice not to cook. Instead, the family continues to hire my friend to prepare and deliver dinner to them five nights a week.

OK, so I’m not doing as well as our parents were 35 years ago and perhaps we’re not doing as well as some of our peers in surrounding towns either but hey, at least I am proud about cooking my own meals for my family, even if the fanciest we get is baked (rather than boxed) mac & cheese.

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