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26 Acts of Kindness

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12/21/2012

It's been really hard for me to wrap my head around what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School less than a week ago. Normally, I'm one who takes note of these horrific stories and then tries to shut them out of my world, avoiding the news so I don't internalize the hurt and suffering.

But this time, watching horror stories on the news day after day and hearing stories of viciously murdered kindergarteners has really broken my heart. The mama in me imagines Colin as an elementary school-age kid, and I literally have no words. Just tears.

So when I heard that my favorite former anchor of the Today Show, Ann Curry, had started a movement via twitter about doing 26 random acts of kindness to commemorate the 26 lives lost in this tragedy, I knew I was in. The tricky part is that with a sick baby and a potential snow storm today, we can't venture too far from home. So we have to start small, with things we can do from home or that require very minimal travel.

Many of you know that in my former life, before the days of stay-at-home-mommy hood, I was the volunteer coordinator at a local nonprofit. I've seen first-hand the wonderful acts of kindness that others can do, and I've already made an effort to teach Colin by example. We've delivered food and purchased Hanukkah gifts for the less fortunate.

But all of those projects have revolved around upcoming holidays, and I love the feeling of doing good because we want to. Not because we're taking part in an organized program or because others are doing it to, but because it's a right and an honor. Because it feels good to give back, and in the wake of such a monumental event, it's a great way to turn something terrible into something positive.

So Colin will help - mostly by being the cute baby that makes others smile, while his mommy does the typing, the driving, the paying and the giving. Here are our first five of our #26 Acts of Kindness:

1) Donating clothes. This is something we do regularly, and I already had a pile of stuff brewing in the closet, so it seemed like a great way to start! Because of our lovely germ-fest going on, we're going to deliver them on Sunday when daddy can watch the dude. We take our clothes to The ARK's Thrift Shop, where ARK clients can shop using vouchers and any money from other sales goes directly back into their budget to fund the awesome work they do!

26 Acts of Kindness photo 1

26 Acts of Kindness photo 2

2) Colin is so lucky to have four wonderful and worldly-wise great-grandparents. And because we live far away from them, we don't get to see them all that often. I thought one of our 26 Acts should be something nice for them, because honestly, if they weren't around, we wouldn't be either! Plus they are the greatest, so here is what we did:

26 Acts of Kindness photo 3

 #26 Acts #2: Going online to order and surprise C's great grandparents with photos from his six month portraits - it will definitely brighten their day"

3) This one is my favorite so far. In my work at The ARK, one thing we heard from recipients of aid from the food pantry was the exorbitant cost of diapers. And having a baby myself, I know - diapers are a necessity. So we ventured out for a (not-so) quick errand this afternoon in between Colin's naps, and here is what we did:

26 Acts of Kindness photo 4

If you can't read it, it says, "#26 Acts: #3 Diapers are expensive! Please take and use this gift card to help defray the cost if you are in need of some assistance, and pay it forward by doing something nice for someone else." I hope that whoever sees it takes the message to heart and only takes it if they need it, instead of just seeing it as free money. While we were at Target, we did #4 too.

4) Buy 26+ grocery items for a local food bank. We chose to buy food for the JUF Uptown Cafe's pantry. I talked to Colin while we walked through the grocery aisles about why this mitzvah was important. I am pretty sure he was just interested in the cereal boxes, but hopefully he absorbs some of this :) Below is the face of a boy who needs a nap... 

26 Acts of Kindness photo 5

26 Acts of Kindness photo 6

And 5) I've been thinking of one of our pals a lot this holiday season. She's been out of town since before Thanksgiving visiting her family, because her dad has cancer, and she wants to help him and her mom and spend as much time with him as she can. We miss having her and her baby girl around, and we hate to see their family face this kind of pain during the holiday season. Since Colin and I can't cure cancer as act number 5, instead I helped Colin send his first bouquet of flowers to a girl, his pal L, who has a sick grandpa.

26 Acts of Kindness photo 7

I think we are off to a great start!

So, here is the fun part.

Post a comment on my other blog Adventures of the Fried-baby with your idea of a way to do something kind for others that costs $26 or less. Not only do I appreciate your ideas, but on Sunday, I'll do a drawing using a random number generator to pick a winner, and that winner will get a $25 Amazon Gift Card (since they don't sell them in $26 increments) to use to pay it forward to someone else!

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Chanukah: At Home and Abroad

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12/20/2012

Chanukah: At Home and Abroad photo

Every day coming home from work, I walk through the Christkindl market, that bastion of holiday cheer and wonder. Above the glittering lights, the mingling aromas of German food and mulled wine, the general buzz of effervescent cheer stands a steel menorah, courtesy of Chabad. The stark menorah in comparison to the intensely sparkly everything else makes for quite the juxtaposition. “Do you have Chanukah songs?,” non-Jewish co-workers ask me, “why, yes we do.” Songs sung in a minor key, far from the carefree jingle jangle of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”. But when someone new asks me the story of Chanukah, the response shines as bright as the most shimmering decoration. 

A holiday celebrating miracles. A holiday celebrating light in the midst of a very dark time. Chanukah (Hannukah, Hanukah...) gives us a reason to reflect on the miracles in our lives. I see it as an opportunity, looking at the horrific, senseless events of last week, to shed light on tragedies and try our best to discover within ourselves how we can face such horrible events with sympathy, empathy and caring. And it’s another moment to reflect on how faith factors into our everyday lives. 

I encountered a little miracle while living in France a couple of years ago. My new friends had never celebrated the holiday before and didn’t know much about it, so I took it upon myself to throw a Grenoble Chanukah party. And what is a Chanukah party without latkes? I soon came to the daunting realization that no, I’ve never made latkes before and yes, the recipe called for boiling hot oil. This could only end in disaster, right?

I stood up to my fears and marched to the Makolette, the kosher market in town. Maybe I wanted to give the affair a little extra Jewish “umph” or maybe I was feeling incredibly lazy, but I walked out of the store with a box of Manischewitz latke mix, feeling happy as a clam. 

A bottle of French Crisco and a few terrifying instances of burning oil flying off of the pan later, I had a pile of latkes any Jewish mother would be proud of (maybe). I set my table and added the necessary accoutrements of applesauce, sugar and the ever-present Chanukah classic, frozen pizza. As my friends started gathering at my apartment, we dined and delighted in the sounds of the “Hava Nagila” playlist I’d compiled prior to their arrival. My British, German and American guests fawned over my magnificent latkes (ha!) and it was an evening I’ll not soon forget. In a town entrenched in gorgeous, lavish Christmas spirit, the time I got to spend sharing my holiday and little bit of tradition with people who saw it all with new eyes is a memory I look upon fondly. 

That night also marked the beginning of my first holiday season away from home, not to mention my first holiday season in a foreign country. Before signing a seven month contract to live in France over the course of a school year, I never considered just how lonely it would feel being away at holiday time. Even living in a town ensconced in light and cheer, surrounded by plenty of new friends, there’s something a little isolating about being away from one’s nearest and dearest that time of year. But being able to share a little bit of my upbringing and my Jewish life with my abroad family brought the little miracles of this holiday to light in a heartfelt way that took me by surprise.

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