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Years ago when my kids were young, I found holiday satisfaction by placing "Giving Trees" in a couple of retail stores to gather holiday gifts for children in state custody--before becoming foster kids. We did pretty well, with the ornament tags requesting specifics for the different age groups in the county children's shelter, temporary shelter homes, and group homes for Christmas. I think the most heart-wrenching story I ever heard was the little 9-year old boy whose father was in jail and who did not know it was his birthday when we visited him with an extra-special gift.
I wanted to participate in a Giving Tree experience this year, but finances were tight. Even so, I scooped a group of five tags from the tree at church one Sunday with the goal of filling the wishes for a family with such simple requests: dress shirts, blouses, warm jacket, shoes, and movie tickets. All the tags were for one Spanish-speaking family within the local church membership called a Stake. Expecting more elaborate requests, I was humbled by the little stack of cards but sad that I really didn't have the resources this year to do it all myself. Though I may be short on funds at times, I'm never afraid to ask people to support a cause! This became my Giving Tree technique for 2015. Spread around the opportunity to family and friends. I sent out the list to all of my family and extended family members, spoke with my horseback riding friend and to her friend visiting from LA. In the end, I was able to pool the resources of eight people: myself, Mom, three daughters, and three friends to get all the gifts for this sweet family. Another family member, niece Caroline, helped to wrap them up in style. This Sub for Santa opportunity will undoubtedly stay with me for years because it took more effort to bring everyone together than if I had gone out to purchase gifts with my own funds. As Caroline and I wrapped the clothing and movie tickets in early December, I felt the warm satisfaction of having pulled of a little miracle. With present circumstances, I definitely took more cards from the Giving Tree than I should have. But, I was able to facilitate a little miracle for the family who received our gifts. Next time, even if I can supply the gifts on my own I will opt for this collaborative method---there's more joy when working on a common goal with family and friends. Thank you and Merry Christmas to my Sub for Santa (aka: Giving Tree) collaborators! Cash from: Mom, Sheridan, Meredith, and Grace and Belinda. Movie Tickets from: Linda. Appreciation to:Caroline for help with wrapping.
What can I say more? My Daddy, veteran Carl H. Steffens, Sr. made the fortuitous choice to serve as a U.S. Navy pilot at Alameda Naval Base in the early days of Silicon Valley. Along with thousands of others who came in the late 1950s, these mavericks created and changed the world after their service with the advent of Silicon Valley. So very grateful to him for his sacrifice of four years keeping our country free and safe, and now to my son-in-law, Private Tom Ames, for his service in the U.S. Army.
Do an act of service today to honor our veterans and our active-duty service men and women!
So I adopted a dog two weeks ago, the same week that my youngest daughter, Gracie, married her best friend, Tommy. Which was the day before my son, Brody, and his wife, Laura, gave birth to their twin girls, Lily Maria and Charlotte Louise. Which was a few days before I purchased a home with my oldest daughter, Sheridan and her husband, Mike. Which was the same week my middle daughter, Meredith, was looking for an apartment so she could move out of her dad's place and adopt a pup of her own, a German shepherd named Rex. Which brings me back to the point of the story, adventures with my adopted rescue dog Rosie, formerly "Summer."
Now I have a whole new schedule. No more sleeping in 'til the very last second; there's a furry friend on the bed who needs to be walked before work. No more throwing the running shoes on right when I get home; dog has to go first or she flips out. It's okay, I will adjust and it's all worth it. Unless...I actually DO get flattened by a mountain bike on the trail next time we head that direction. Sheesh. The trail signs in the foothills clearly and graphically remind cyclists that walkers have right-of-way, with a reminder that bikers and horseback riders must yield. Rosie and I were minding our business, enjoying the crisp fall air along the pathways trail in Los Altos Hills, when without the slightest warning a headphone-clad, scruff-shaven mountain biker comes screaming down the hill. Not able to figure out his intentions, my adoptee and I freeze to stay out of his way--knowing that he is in the wrong. He glares at us, sniffs, and goes skidding sideways to avoid us by only a few inches. In a terrified squeak, I manage "hello," hoping to get at least an "oops" out of him. No way. He speeds up and I then I take license to squawk a choice derogatory term. For which I felt justified, until today.
It was equally gorgeous outside, so Rosie and I had to partake of the trails again. Still gun-shy from the near miss on Thursday, we decided to try another route, where we were less likely to share the trail. Not so. This time, it wasn't a mountain bike, but SIX road bikes whizzing by on single track. I remembered the j--- from before and gave the first guy in the group a sneer, paying forward what the j---- mountain biker did to me. Hmmmph, I thought. I'll be darned if we get rammed off the trail again.
Either they sensed my brush-off, or they were simply nice people--thank goodness. Each and every cyclist in the group as they went past said "Hello!" and "Have a great day!" Niceties like that, and the guilt came rushing in. By the third well-wisher I was smiling instead of sneering. That's all it took to restore my trust in trail cyclists again. The abruptness of the earlier encounter melted away and I felt quite cowardly for giving the rudeguy a nickname. These six cyclists with their kind words and smiles softened my heart while traveling the trails. Rosie and I will remember this bright spot and use it for inspiration, hoping for the opportunity to make someone smile the way a group of six macho cyclists did for us in the hills today.
Rosie the shelter dog takes in the stunning architecture and trails at Hidden Villa in Los Altos Hills, CA
The Power of Half: One Family's Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back, by Kevin Salwen and Hannah Salwen. 2010, Houghton Mifflen Harcourt.
"Do Something: A Handbook for Young Activists," by Nancy Lublin. 2010, Workman Publishing.
"How to Make a Difference: Over 1,000 ways to serve at home, in your community, and in the world," by Catherine E. Poelman. 2002, Shadow Mountain.
160 Ways to Help the World: Community Service Projects for Young People," by Linda Leeb Duper. 1996.
"Chicken Soup for the Volunteer's Soul," by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. 2002, Health Communications, Inc.
"Giving is Living: 101 Ways to Practice Effortless Generosity," by Marnie & Tisha Howard. 2009, Hatherleigh.
"Make a Difference: America's Guide to Volunteering and Community Service," by Arthur I. Blaustein. 2003, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
"Take Action! A Guide to Active Citizenship," by Marc Kielburger, Craig Kielburger. 2002, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
"The Idealist.org Handbook to Building a Better World," Idealist.org with Stephanie Land. 2009, Action Without Borders.
"Volunteering: The Ultimate Teen Guide," by Kathleen Gay. 2004, Scarecrow Press.
Words that Work
Mercy, n. 1. kindness in excess of what may be expected or demanded by fairness; forbearance and compassion 2.) the power to forgive or be kind. Syn.tolerance, favor, compassion.
"All of us want to do well. But if we do not do good, too, then doing well will never be enough." ~Anna Quindlen, A Short Guide to a Happy Life.
"I know not what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be truly happy are those who have sought and found how to serve." ~Albert Schweitzer, quoted in The 8th Habit by Steven Covey.
Slog, vi. 1. to make one's way with great effort; plod 2. to work hard at something; toil. ~New World Dictionary
Make a Difference...
Use the Good Works Blog as a resource to inspire everyday acts of good will, or to explore volunteering and community service in your world.
1.) In the World: Write letters to anyone(!) serving in the military, organize or participate in a blood drive, write letters and emails to elected officials to vote for specific environmental initiatives.
2.) In the Community: Gather new socks and underwear for a nearby homeless shelter or resource center, gather non-perishable food (especially during summer months) for a food bank, offer to sing and/or play an instrument at a convalescent home.
3.) In the Neighborhood: Offer to rake your neighbor's leaves, collect trash at nearby park, bake a special cake for a friend when it's not their birthday!