Friday, February 27, 2015

Is Your Volunteer Service Worth It?

I posted previously about the notion that in service, you will be trampled upon.  If you've ever been involved in any kind of volunteer activity, you know that sometimes, unfortunately, there comes a moment when you stop in your tracks and say "what the heck am I doing this for?"  There are days when you really feel beat up in doing good.  Before you throw in the clipboard and walk away, take a step back, breathe, focus, and re-evaluate.

Take a step back.  How much of your time and energy are you putting into this activity or organization? Is it so much that you are taking away valuable, needed time from your own personal pursuits in a negative way?  Obviously, when volunteering, you are giving of that primary, finite resource of time, but is it to the detriment of other things you hold important?  If so, how can you manage your time better?  Perhaps limit the number of hours you spend on the activity on a daily or weekly basis, whichever is more appropriate.  I know some people who hold Board and leadership  positions in organizations who set "office hours" to handle emails, phone calls, and administrative tasks.  Find a way for your time to be spent in a valuable way.

Breathe.  A friend of mine who is a life coach and wonderful spirit, reminds me to do this simple thing. Darrilyn of Delicious Life Coach, even wrote out instructions on how to do it - who knew we could be better at this natural thing? But it's kinda required for life, so its a good thing to improve.  [BREATHE]

Remind yourself of your purpose. So many times we get into an organization to do good - teach children to read, save the whales, plant trees, build playgrounds - and then we get embroiled in the politics and procedures and personal motives and we lose our focus. All the sudden we're fighting to be the queen of the hill, waving our supposed purpose as our flag, as an accessory.  In everything, make sure you can see the "why," not just yourself in the media clip.

Re-evaluate. This might be the hardest part of all, especially when doing something you love.  Re-evaluate your purpose and that of your organization. Are they aligned in the way you thought they were?  Perhaps you thought you'd be building shelters for the homeless, but come to find out the organization is about painting the walls of mansions. Now, next question: which is it easier to change, your purpose or the organization's?

Volunteering is supposed to be easy, right? Show up, hand out a few canned goods, everyone's happy, and you get that warm, tingly feeling in your soul. And then you decide to help organize the canned food drive and find the shelters to support, then you've got to go to meetings, and get, like, actually involved.  And then you realize this volunteering thing is work. And someone's got to do it. And it's okay if it's you, just make sure its the work you want to do.

Join the conversation on Facebook: Just Piddlin' with Frances

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Winter of the Super-Scarf

It's cold. And I'm not listening to those "oh, but if its not windy" and "but if we lived in Chicago" and "the cold is refreshing" winter-optimist.  To them I say - I don't care about the wind, why would I go to Chicago in the winter (though I'm looking forward to being there this summer) and Rum Runner's are refreshing. It's cold.  I don't even go get the morning newspaper (yes, I still get a real paper newspaper) without hat and gloves.  Thus this has become the year of super long scarves.

The thing about super-scarves? They really don't take a lot of time to make. Probably less than some of my normal sized scarves. For the super-scarves you need really chunky yarn and a big hook.  Here's my two so far.
Black & White Floral Super Scarf
This black and white with flowers scarf (about 10 feet long) can be made in maybe two hours. It took me a bit longer than that while I played with a design, length, and the looseness of the stitch.  It's key to do the stitches a little loose so that the scarf flows and is soft.  Secret tip - the flowers are already attached to the yarn.

Multi-Green Super Scarf
My WIP at the moment is this multi-green scarf, it's about 8 feet long.  It's working up really quick when I can sit and do it.  Another episode or two of Empire and I should be done. (Which by the way is a hard show to stitch through because you've got to stop and check out Cookie's dress, sing along with Jamal...)

Want to make your own? Here's a few tips.

How long to make our super scarf? Stand up, reach your arm up high. Your stretched out height - that long.

How wide to make your super scarf? Because its so incredibly long, it doesn't have to be that wide, I would say less than or really close to a foot.  Unless you want to go with the Lenny Kravitz crazy-super-scarf, which I think looks so fantastically fun!
Lenny Kravitz & his crazy super-high scarf!
What yarn to use? Obviously, something chunky. But something soft. This thing will be right on your face and neck and shoulders.  And I don't think you can always tell by feeling the yarn in the skein, you might have to stitch a test swatch and check it out, rub it on your arm or against your cheek.  The gauge and looseness of the stitches will also make a difference.

What stitch? Both of these were done in crochet.  The black and white in single crochet; the green in half-doubles, doubles, and singles. But really - whatever you think best shows of your yarn. It doesn't have to be complicated.  As for knit - I only know how to knit, so I would have to go with that.

What color? You could go conservative with a match-your-coat color or go wild! It'll be a cold cold day when you wear it, so maybe a color that folks can find you in a blizzard. I'm thinking a bright bright pink or red for my next one.

Have fun! 

Join the conversation on Facebook: Just Piddlin' with Frances

Monday, February 23, 2015

Currently… Taking Advantage of a 2-Hour Delay

Last week, I was crossing my fingers for a snow day. It was my tired mother’s plea for the closest I’m going to get to a vacation for a while.  On Tuesday, we got one.  Then a “no after school activities” day and – here’s a new one – a Saturday snow day where everything, most importantly, my son’s swimmeet, was cancelled.  Today, we have a 2-hour delay.  It’s easy to laze about for the extra time, but here’s how I’m making the two hours productive.

Sleep in just a little bit. The kids would love to sleep an extra two hours, but that really throws off their schedule. And then our whole scramble awake, sleepily get washed up and dressed, rush through breakfast, forget our lunchbox and run out the door routine gets pushed back two hours. So I let them sleep in a little, about an hour for the high schooler since she (we) get up so dang early on a regular day.

Get a few chores done. The extra time in the morning is great for getting in a load of laundry, cleaning rooms, taking out the trash.  And finding those papers that are due back to school today.

Rhyming. Dr. Seuss’s birthday is March 2 and his family is releasing a new book, What Pet Should I Get? in July.  Writing a Seuss-style rhyme is a fun way to fill the morning (and shhh…work on writing skills and creativity).  Inspired by The Guardian posted rhyming challenge.

Cooking breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  With the extra time this morning, I cooked grits (yumm!) and bacon for breakfast, made spaghetti for lunch, and have already started dinner.  The collards are on the stove, the roast is in the oven.  These were going to go in the crockpot while I was out today, but I’m cooking them the old-fashioned way since I’m home a little longer.  Imagine – dinner might hit the table before 8 pm.

Writing. An all-day in-school event was cancelled due to the delay so that opens up my day until this afternoon. Here’s to making these found hours productive.

What do you do with your 1 or 2 hours school delays?

Join the conversation on Facebook: Just Piddlin' with Frances

Friday, February 20, 2015

A Day in Flight at Udvar Hazy Center

If you ever happen to be out by Dulles Airport, plan a little extra time to stop by Udvar-Hazy Center, a satellite extension of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.  The center is located in Chantilly, about a 10 minute drive from the airport.  There’s no entrance fee (we parents love that) but there is a parking fee of $15, not too much to ask for admission and since it’s out in the middle of nowhere, you do have to park in the lot. 

I’m not a space expert by any means, but who isn’t intrigued by the wonders of flight?  The two hangars house all kinds of aviation machines: helicopters, airplanes, even the space shuttle Discovery, along with other flight history artifacts.   We were there about 1 ½ hours and only made it through half the museum, so you definitely could spend a good amount of time there.

My father was in the Army and often talks about flying in helicopters.  At the museum there were old military helicopters, from the Vietnam War era, which had the kids wondering if those were the kind their grandfather talks about (who knew they were even paying attention to his stories.)  There were also countless other military machines, illustrating the discovery and history of flight.

When we got to the space shuttle, Discovery, the kids’ questions surprised me. What is it? Where was it going? And they were amazed by the video of one of the launches. It occurred to me that perhaps they’ve never really seen this thing take off.  I’m sure folks of a certain age, like me, remember the big deal it was, enough for school teachers to scramble to get the TV in their room, to watch a launch.  The Discovery flew its first mission in 1984 and was retired in 2011.  In a little less than 30 years, had space travel become such the norm that we weren’t all gathered by the TV to watch it take off (or was I just not paying attention)?  Either way, it was an awe-inspiring thing to see the space shuttle up close.

Along with all the planes and helicopters, there are also two flight simulators.  Tickets are $7-$8 per person for about a 5 minute experience. (Yes, a bit price-y if you’ve got a big family, but since we didn’t pay admission and I was in a good mood that day, we went with it.)  We chose the fighter jets option, paired off two per “airplane.”  One person is the pilot and the other, the gunner.  The kids and I screamed and laughed the entire time as our jets escalated, dropped, and rolled – these things actually do turn 360 degrees.  It was a hilariously good time and proved that, for the security of our country, none of us should be in military flight.

Fun artifacts? The answers to questions such as: What do astronauts eat? What do astronauts do all day in space? And questions you probably never thought about, like: How do astronauts go to the bathroom? Do the women astronauts even bother to put on lipstick?

Of course, we had to buy the requisite astronaut freeze-dried ice cream.

Join the conversation on Facebook: Just Piddlin' with Frances

Monday, February 16, 2015

Currently... Hoping for a Snow Day

I've bought my coffee, creamer, and eggs and have cases of Girl Scout cookies. I am ready to be snowed in.  And, for once, I am hoping that the weather man will be right!

It's not that I really need a day locked in with my kids. But I'm ready to have my calendar erased for a day. Just one day. I thought it would be today, because today is a federal holiday, but apparently, high school basketball coaches don't really care about the birth of our Founding Fathers.  And you know how it is, once you get dressed, churn up the car and drive someone to practice, you might as well run some other errands and next thing you know, you're in Target buying Valentine themed socks because they're only $2 and it's 1 o'clock by the time you get home and you realize you've not done anything you planned to do today.  Add this to a crazy weekend, that also became busier than expected, as always.  So when do we get a break?

One of my BFFs and I have said, "enough, we need a mom vacation!" A break from dishes and laundry and homework and asking husbands about their day at work or long-distance calls to husbands working out of town for weeks at a time and sports activities and all the stuff that makes a mom feel like getting a manicure is some type of vacationing nirvana.  So we looked at our calendars to figure out when we are going to take this wonderful, mom-only, umbrella-drink hosted vacay.

Well, there's the six kid birthday weekends to cross out because mom can't miss a birthday.

And no to Mother's Day because that's the day the family gets to choose what mom should do.

Then there's spring break and Easter, can't be gone when the kids are out of school or on a pretty major religious holiday.

Then there's the grandparents' vacation because who else will watch all these kids while we're gone?

Oh, well, now we're up to the first day of school and we've got to be around for that.

And there's no way dad is going to be able to get Halloween costumes together.

Yes, please weatherman, please be right. It seems like being locked in my house in 10-degree weather is my best vacation option right now.  At least there's rum.

Join the conversation on Facebook: Just Piddlin' with Frances

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Write a Letter a Day

In a box somewhere are all the letters I received from my husband while I was in college. In the summers, there were letters from friends. After graduation, more letters with different return addresses as friends moved around, embarking on the next stages of our lives.  All this was of course, way back then, pre-Facebook and texts, in the long-distance calls that charged by the minute era.  And even now with the instant gratification of a status update of your BFF's lunch, there's something special about getting an envelope in the real mailbox, with familiar handwriting, that isn't a bill.

I always say I'm going to get better at sending notes and cards, because it's actually something I like to do.  Every now and then, I'll see a card that makes me laugh or I think will make someone else laugh and I'll drop it in the mail. I'm really good at picking out belated-birthday cards.  I think thank you cards are especially sweet. I'm trying to be more intentional about it this year, just because. I did okay for January.

I read about a write-a-letter-a-day campaign for the month of February, tied to Valentine's Day or because the originators weren't convinced that anyone could make it much past 28 days, I'm not sure. I liked the idea of it, I've actually tried it before on my own. It is a commitment, as doing anything every day is, but it also becomes a little bit of fun.

You want to join me?  Take up that challenge - to write one letter or card in your own handwriting and mail it with a real 44-cents (or is it 45-cents now?) or Forever stamp in a real mailbox.  It's already the middle of the month, but it doesn't matter.  Even if you don't get everyday, you can get in a few.  Pick your favorite number and write that many letters by February 28.  Start today.

Join the conversation on Facebook: Just Piddlin' with Frances

Monday, February 9, 2015

Currently... Distracted

It's the middle of the afternoon and I'm trying to catch up on my day. You ever have those days? It seems like the whole day is open and you're going to get a bunch of stuff done. And then somebody calls you, then someone else sends you an email you have to respond to right away, and then you've got to go out for something and next thing you know.... here come the school buses. Today was one of those days.  So I'm currently catching up because of the distractions of my day.

Raccoons.  This morning while I was drinking my coffee, I saw a huge thing in the tree, screamed and alerted the kids and the dog.  It was high up in the tree so it could've been any kind of tree-climbing thing - a bear, a monkey. Turned out it was two big fat raccoons. Note - animal control will not come for "normal acting" raccoons.  So now, they are somewhere in my yard.  I'm a bit nervous for my dog and kids.

Emails. I've been trying to decide if it's more efficient to answer all my email during certain concentrated times throughout the day.  It seems like a good plan, rather than checking in and responding whenever I'm bored or procrastinating. I've found it helps if I log out when I'm done, because it's just enough effort to remember my password and sign back in that I won't bother.

Phone calls. Remember way back in the day, before we wore our phones attached to our hands and you could not answer the phone without having to explain why you didn't answer the phone?  Now, if you don't pick up by the third ring, the person on the other end is so frustrated that they have to leave a message and you better have an excuse note as to why you didn't answer.  And, apparently, "I didn't feel like it" or "I was watching Shark Tank" does not cut it.

Texts. We know we all get distracted by texts since there's entire campaigns and phone gadgets to get you not to check or answer your texts when you are driving. And - like your phone calls - if you do not reply within 5 minutes, you better have a really good excuse.  If you're driving? You've got to do the #X thing so people will know you are driving and can't answer. Which leads to my confusion: aren't we not supposed to be texting and driving, how do you type #X?  And more important - why, why are we so impatient that I must tell you why I didn't answer your text right away about what is the name of that guy in that movie?

Getting my kid from the busstop.  See item #1: Raccoons.

Join the conversation on Facebook: Just Piddlin' with Frances