Stretching Your Donation Budget: Mystery Shopping

A few weeks ago, I decided to try something that I’ve been curious about for a while – mystery shopping. The idea has intrigued me for years, but when my kids were tiny, I was intimidated by the thought of managing my kids while trying it out. But now that they are a bit older and I have some more free time, I decided to go for it, hoping that I’d earn some extra gift cards for my “donate fund”. So this month, I tried two different mystery shopping programs. I’m still waiting on payment for the first one, but the second was amazingly easy, and I have earned $25 so far. So I thought I’d share details in case you’re interested in expanding your budget, too!

Mobee is a mystery shopping company is really simple to navigate. All you need is a smartphone and their app. That’s it! You find jobs, take pictures, do reports, and earn (and redeem) gift cards all through this app.

Basically, here’s how it works. You download the Mobee app. Open it up, look at the map of your area, and see what mystery shop jobs are available. (Note: in my area, most jobs seem to be released on Wednesdays at noon, so if there isn’t anything right away, just wait a few days). Jobs that are available show up as an orange dot, and jobs that will be available soon appear as a grey dot. If there is an assignment near you that looks interesting, just head over and accept the mission, complete the task (usually 10-15 minutes, answering questions and taking a few pictures with your phone), and get paid! Your money posts to your account as soon as your task is reviewed – in my experience, typically in two business days. Reward opportunities include gift cards to Target, eBay, Old Navy, Walmart, iTunes, and more. (You can even use your rewards to make donations to organizations like the Wounded Warrior Project and Ronald McDonald House Charities.) When you redeem a gift card, it is emailed to you instantly. Just open the email and have the cashier scan the barcode at checkout. I’ve done it twice this week and it worked perfectly!

A more of my honest thoughts …

Cons:

– You can’t save a job for later, and you can’t accept it until you’re at the location. If you’re out and about and shopping, or if you live near a lot of stores, it works great. If you live in a rural area and would have to drive a long way to do a mystery shopping job, it might be pretty tricky.

– The pay isn’t a ton. Most jobs range from $1.50 to $3.50.

– Since most jobs (in my area) are released at the same time, by the time I do one or two, the other jobs are usually taken up, so I can only complete a few jobs per week.

Pros:

–  Although the pay isn’t very high, it’s pretty good when you consider how fast the jobs are to complete. If I can earn a few dollars in ten minutes by answering questions about a store I shop at anyway, I consider that a good use of my time.

– You usually don’t have to spend any money. A lot of mystery companies require you to buy something, then you wait to be reimbursed. Most of Mobee’s missions do not require a purchase, and if they do, that is clearly stated before you begin. I recently had a mystery shop at a store that required a $2 minimum purchase, and the pay was around $3.50. I looked at that store’s ad and found something on sale that I needed to buy that week anyway, so the job was totally worth it for me.

– They offer bonuses. Right now, you earn an extra $1 after your first trip, $2 after your third, $3 after your seventh, $5 after your fourteenth, and $20 after your thirtieth. There are also store-specific bonuses. As the first jobs take a bit longer than later ones (because you’re getting the hang of the program), it’s nice to have little bonuses to make up for the extra time. They also give small bonuses for things like your first visit to a store, or for traveling outside your normal area.

– The rewards are instant. This was SO helpful to me this week! I had already earned $25 and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it yet. But I was lucky enough to stumble across a bunch of 90% off clearance at Target this week, so I started cashing out my rewards. This morning, I redeemed a $10 gift card and gave myself a challenge: how much could I buy with that $10? Look at the haul I was able to get! (This is why I bargain shop!)

10-mobee-shopping-trip

(Guess what schools need? School supplies. Guess what women’s shelters need? School supplies. Guess what adult ESL classes need? School supplies. I could go on and on … but seriously, almost every organization that I’ve donated to needs school supplies. This is a fantastic time of year to shop! You can donate these things right away, or do what I do – start a “donation stash” that you can draw from when you find out about a local organization that needs some help.)

If you’ve decided you’d like to try Mobee, just go to the app store and download it! And right now, they have a refer-a-friend promo. If you enter my code (5DQG) when you sign up, we’ll both get a bonus $3 when your first mission is approved. Which, if you shop the way I shop, means we can both get a pile of stuff that looks like this:

3-mobee

So have fun mystery shopping!! Be sure to let me know if you have any questions, and if you’re able to donate some cool stuff with your Mobee gift cards, come back and share with us!

(Note: this isn’t a sponsored post. The cool people at Mobee have no idea I’m writing this. I was just really excited to find such an easy way to earn gift cards and wanted to share. And if you happen to use my referral code when you sign up –  that would be awesome! Thanks!!)

Practice Compassion

From Trash to Treasure: A DIY Dog Toy from Old Shirts

Around two years ago, I stumbled across a fun tutorial: making dog toys from old shirts. Let me make something clear: I am NOT particularly crafty. I like to experiment and try different things, but it’s not an area where I have a lot of natural talent. But I decided to give these a try. I had lots of friends help me. And we made a big pile of dog toys to take to our local pet shelter before Christmas. They were thrilled with the donation – they told me that they had had a Girl Scout troop donate them the previous year, and the dogs LOVED playing with them and chewing them.

Shirts to yarn to dog toys

Fast forward to this week. I have an exciting new opportunity at my Church. Twice a month, I get to help run an activity for 8 and 9 year old girls. Although sometimes we will do things just for fun, our focus is on helping these girls to learn, to grow, and to look outside themselves to serve others. This week was the first activity that I was in charge of, and this immediately came to mind. If you need a Scout or youth group activity, if you are an animal lover, if you have some old clothes that you don’t know what to do with – here is a great project for you!

All you need are some old shirts, scissors, and the ability to cut and braid. When I say old shirts … I mean REALLY old shirts. Do you have any that are so stained, pilled, faded, or torn that you hesitate to even donate them? Perfect! That’s just the kind you need to make a perfect toy for your dog – or, as we did, to donate to animals in a shelter. (A simple craft that makes a free service project – I’m in!) So grab an old shirt or two, and let’s go!

From trash to treasure- A simple DIY dog toy using old t-shirts

First of all, we make “yarn” out of our shirts. Why don’t we just cut them into strips? Well, you certainly can, especially if you’re making tiny toys. But remember that the fabric will be significantly shorter after braiding it, so just cutting the shirt into strips doesn’t give us much to work with. By making yarn, you have a lot more flexibility in the sizes of toys you’re going to be making.

So get your shirt, lay it flat on the counter, and cut it up! You want your strips to be roughly an inch apart from each other. IMPORTANT: do NOT cut all the way through. Stop cutting about an inch from the top.

Transforming a shirt into yarn

This is the part that seems tricky, although it’s really not. Once you’ve cut the shirt all the way up to the armpits, you need to start the yarn process. To begin, go to the very top of your first strip. At an angle, cut across the first strip all the way to the end. This breaks loose your chain. Then open up the top of your shirt. See how the cuts are now at an angle from each other? Just cut (at an angle again) from one slit to the next. And you’ll see that your shirt begins to coil – instead of strips, you have yarn. Cool, huh?

Uncoiling the yarn

Just keep cutting and coiling (I stop about halfway through to roll my yarn into a ball so it doesn’t get tangled) until you get to the end.

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Now here’s where I kinda wing it. When you get to the armpit part, you can cut the rest into strips, or call it a day and throw the top out. But I have found that it’s really easy to just grab the top piece and continue to spiral cut my way around the shirt. When you get to a corner, curve around and keep going. When you’re done, you just need to trim the corners off of your yarn. I am able to cut an entire shirt into one huge piece of yarn, and I only end up with a few little scraps.

Turning the top of a shirt into yarn

When all your shirts are cut up – time to braid! You can experiment with lengths and thicknesses. I found that braiding six strips together makes a small braid that is perfect for puppies and tiny dogs, while braiding twelve strips makes a good thickness for bigger, older dogs. My girls had fun experimenting with loops at the end (for tug-of-war), mixing colors, and trying different lengths.

If you want to be really crafty, you can use almost any fabric! Someone donated a sheet to our project, and I cut it into big strips. I even used the bottom of my daughter’s jeans to make denim yarn! I hacked at the knees (where the holes were) and folded up the cuffs to make shorts for my daughter. And then I took the bottom pieces and treated them just like a shirt. I loved the denim yarn – this is perfect for dogs who really like to chew.

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So there it is! Trust me when I say if I can do this, you can do this. And so can kids! I found that some of the 8-year-olds struggled a bit with the cutting-at-an-angle part, but with a bit of adult help, all of them were able to do it. And they LOVED working together to braid. So if you’re looking for an activity to do with a group of kids or teenagers, ask people to give you their oldest shirts, grab some scissors, and start cutting! The dogs at your local animal shelter will thank you.

Finished dog toys

 

It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year!

Okay. Maybe it isn’t ACTUALLY the most wonderful time of the year. But it’s one of my favorites? Why?

SCHOOL SUPPLIES ARE ON SALE!

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “This girl is really weird.” Well, yes/ I am. But mostly, I’m thrifty. I love being able to donate items to people in need. School supplies are needed by SO many different people and organizations. And this is the time of year to stock up!

I have already been hitting the sales for Operation Christmas Child. This year I’m packing 32 shoeboxes, so I need to stock up. But as I have been shopping, I’ve been picking up extras. Pens on the clearance rack for less than a penny each? Bought hundreds. (Okay. Over a thousand. Ahem.) “Penny deals” at Office Max? I shopped the sales for my kids’ school supplies, then bought items at a penny apiece for my shoeboxes. And always, I felt the need to grab more. I just wasn’t sure why.

But this week, someone reached out for help on my neighborhood’s Facebook page. Her husband’s work is arranging a school supply drive for an elementary school in an underprivileged area. It immediately caught my eye, so I offered to help a bit. And as I researched the school, it caught my heart.

Y’all, there are over 40 languages spoken at this school. 40!! Can you imagine sitting in a classroom where no one else speaks your language? Can you imagine being a teacher, knowing that you cannot communicate with your students (or their parents)? Can you a school where 95% of the students are receiving government assistance, and likely cannot afford the very basic list of supplies that the school has asked for?

Within 30 minutes of my home, kids know that they are going to be headed back to school empty-handed.

That is not okay with me.

And suddenly, I knew why I’d had the feeling to buy extras.

I bargain shopped a bit more. I price matched. I told managers what I was shopping for and politely asked if I could go over their “item limit”. And this … this is what I was able to do with $35.

Donating School Supplies on a Budget

 

This isn’t extreme couponing. This didn’t even take me that much time. I just shopped smart, I kept my eyes open for clearance deals and great sales. And hopefully, this labor of love will be a blessing to dozens of kids.

As I was pulling together my donations, I thought of the teachers who taught in this tough enviroment. And suddenly, I wanted to do something for them. And although it’s simple, this made me so happy to do. I looked on the school’s website and counted the faculty and staff (because those aides and those specialists and those secretaries – they deserve our thanks, too). Then I bundled up my school supplies into little gifts. Such a small thing, but hopefully enough to let these wonderful people know how much they are appreciated. These little bundles, along with homemade cards that my kids and I put together, will be waiting for them in the teacher’s lounge.

Simple gifts for teachers

Whatever your circumstances, can I encourage you to consider joining in my school supply challenge? Whether that means picking up an extra package of glue sticks on sale, or hopping from store to store to stock up – whatever you have the time and the means to do – there is always, always going to be someone who needs your help.

So get out there and do some good today.

Serving with School Supplies

 

Teacher Appreciation Week

This morning, I volunteered in my daughter’s class. I arrived a few minutes early and had the opportunity to observe the classroom for a few minutes.

When I walked in the door, the teacher asked the helper of the day to welcome me to the class. This second-grade boy pulled out a chair for me, looked me in the eye, and said, “Welcome to our class, Mrs. Daley.”

She taught him that.

I watched as she helped the students analyze a story they had recently read. They discussed the main ideas and important details. They talked about the message that the author wanted to share.

She taught them that.

I looked around the room and saw not just academic ideas, but inspirational messages. I saw positive reward systems. I saw reminders of kindness. I saw the evidence of a classroom full of children who were learning not just to be smart, but to be kind, and to be courageous, and to be compassionate.

She taught them that.

It is Teacher Appreciation Week. And this week, we say thank you.

Teacher Appreciation Challenge

You might have already pulled together a gift for your child’s teachers, but if you haven’t, I pulled some ideas for you earlier this year. Here are some suggestions for you, regardless of your budget:

My budget is $0. If you don’t have any extra money to purchase gifts, don’t worry! You don’t need any money to show appreciation.
* A thank-you card. I taught school for two years, and let me tell you something: a thoughtful card was a treasured gift! I would save them in my drawer and re-read them when things got stressful. Thank a teacher who has blessed you, or thank a teacher who has helped your child. Be specific – it’s always great to hear what you’re doing right! And let your child help; those little notes are priceless.
* Make a small gift. If you happen to have craft supplies lying around already, you might be able to make something that a teacher would really appreciate. For instance, many teachers write thank-you notes after teacher appreciation week. If you have scrapbooking supplies, you can make handmade greeting cards for the teacher to use. Thoughtful and practical.
* Volunteer to help in the classroom. If you do this, make your offer very specific. A generic “Let me know if I can help” is less likely to be taken up on than an offer like, “I know how busy you are, and I’d like to help! For Teacher Appreciation Week, my gift to you is 2 hours of after-school help. I am happy to cut, glue, grade, copy, laminate, or whatever you need help with! I’m free every Tuesday afternoon – please let me know what day works best for you and I’ll be there.”
* If you have young children and want to make their teachers laugh, this free printable has the potential to be funny! I’m planning on doing this with my kids, and I can’t wait to see what they say!

My budget is tight. Here are some gift ideas that are $5 or less.
* If you enjoy cooking, bake a treat. You can even make a healthier snack, like homemade granola or fruit leather. (Note: I’d only do this if the teacher knew me.)
* I love this idea of turning a bottle of soap into a clever gift. As a teacher, there are LOTS of germs floating around. A nice bottle of soap or hand sanitizer is a practical gift that is guaranteed to be used.
* This Redbox gift basket is such a fun idea! You can keep it simple and cheap, or you can add a few small things to it (like popcorn and soda).
* All kinds of things (from nail polish to a candy bar) can be turned into a fun teacher appreciation gift with a clever gift tag. If you’re not very clever, no worries – me either! That’s why I love sites like this one that round up lots of fun ideas.

I have a little more to spend. If you’d like to spoil a teacher a bit, here are a few more ideas. (Keep in mind – you can always ask around and see if any parents want to chip in and buy a group gift.)
* Gift cards. I can’t tell you how touched I was, as a brand-new teacher, to get a $25 Outback Steakhouse gift card and a $25 movie theater gift card during teacher appreciation week. I was floored! As in intern teacher, I was earning $900 a month and helping support my husband (who was in grad school). To be able to go to a restaurant and to a movie … it was such a treat!
* Buy an experience. Teachers work hard all year taking care of others – it’s time to give them the opportunity to do something for themselves! A manicure or pedicure … tickets to a museum or an exhibit … even something like rock climbing or skydiving could be fun. (I’d only do something like that if I knew the teacher fairly well and was pretty sure he or she would enjoy it.) You could even check out a website like Groupon and find something that looks fun and different.
* Put together an end-of-the-year “survival kit”. Anything you already know the teacher likes (soda, candy, etc.) is great. You can also add items that you know teachers go through a lot of (school supplies, hand sanitizer, etc.). A search on Pinterest will give you lots of suggestions! In fact, I made this Pinterest board to get you started! There are lots of cute, creative, cheap ideas on there to get you thinking.

Bouquets of School Supplies

Does anyone else remember the movie “You’ve Got Mail”, where Meg Ryan talks about wanting a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils? I have always loved that line. So we took that idea and ran with it this year! My children and I love giving gifts not just to their main classroom teacher, but to aides, music teachers, art teachers, etc. They all work so hard to teach our children – and as I learned this year as a preschool music teacher, it keeps you on your toes to have a new group of kids coming in and out of your room every half an hour. They deserve a gift too – and this one was very inexpensive! I have been watching clearance racks, and was able to put these bouquets together for under $2 each. But even if you don’t have time to bargain shop, this is something simple you can put together for under $5. It’s nothing fancy. This isn’t going to sweep across Pinterest. But my kids loved assembling them, I loved getting their teachers a gift that they can use – and as my preschooler proudly handed his bouquet to his teacher this morning, she seemed truly touched that we thought of her for Teacher Appreciation Week.

No matter your budget, can I ask you to join me in this week’s challenge? Let’s thank a teacher! What ideas to you have to add to our list?

An Important Life Lesson Learned from the World’s Ugliest Scarf

Lately, I’ve been in a bit of a rut. Rather unsatisfied with life.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who feels that way sometimes.

I know that my feelings are partly due to our recent move. We have a lovely new home in a wonderful neighborhood. The schools are great. We have many fun things to do within easy driving distance of our home. We have met so many good, kind, friendly people. But … I am someone who likes having roots. And two months hasn’t been quite long enough for me to put down roots.

So I’ve been going through the motions of daily life, but not very happily. As I wash the millionth(ish) dish of the day, as I vacuum the dog hair off of the stairs, as I dust, as I scrub, as I cook, I have had the same thought over and over.

“This isn’t what I want out of life. I want to be doing something more.”

More.

What is that “more”?

I’m not exactly sure. But as I’ve been trying to figure out what this “more” is that I want to be doing, I can let you know one thing: it does not involve housework. It involves … writing a book, perhaps. It involves sponsoring an orphanage in a third-world country. It involves connecting with people who share the deepest desire of my heart: making this world a better and a happier place, one act of kindness at a time.

And here, somewhere in between of a sink full of dishes and a bookshelf that needs to be dusted, I haven’t been able to find this “more.”

But I’m trying.

An Important Life Lesson Learned from the World's Ugliest Scarf

So yesterday, I took my son with me to run some errands. There is a new Michaels in our town, and off we headed, coupon in hand. As we wandered through the aisles, looking for felt to make our Star Wars Light Saber Popsicle Holders, I ran across the yarn aisle. I haven’t done anything with yarn since college, but I have been thinking about getting some kind of loom so I could teach my kids how to crochet simple hats. These would be great to add to my shoeboxes or blessing bags, and I thought it would be a good fine-motor skill for them to develop. I spotted the most simple loom – four pegs, just wide enough to crochet a scarf on. And it was cheap, and I had a coupon. Done.

I moved on to the yarn, and – yay! – skeins of soft yarn were on a “Doorbuster” sale. 70% off? Done. As I looked at colors, my son got excited.

“Mom, are you going to make ME a scarf?”

Well … I honestly hadn’t planned on that. But seeing the joy and hope on his face, I couldn’t help but say, “Sure, buddy. Pick your color.”

We settled on yellow AND black (“A bumblebee scarf, Mom!”), grabbed a few more skeins for future projects, and checked out. We came home and got busy with other projects, and then nap, and then a play date, and then dinner. And suddenly it was after 8 pm, and my son was asking (for the tenth time), “But Mom, when are you going to start my scarf?”

With a fair warning that I wouldn’t have time to finish it, I had him gather the supplies together for me. My plan was to figure out how to do it, and then let him help. I started working, and within a few minutes, I had the hang of it. And all kinds of ideas were running through my head. I could make scarves for my shoeboxes! I could give them to the homeless! Hey, maybe I’ll get so good, I can sell them, and use the money to buy more stuff for my shoeboxes! This is going to be the best hobby ever!

And then I looked … and I realized something.

This scarf. Was. UGLY.

Beginning a scarf

The thing is, with a loom this big, you’re supposed to use REALLY fluffy yarn. The thought had vaguely occurred to me, but, you know. 70% off. I thought if I doubled it, it would work out just fine.

I stared at the few rows of hideousness, all visions of crocheting fame flying out the window. It doesn’t even look like a scarf! It looks like … well, something that my 5-year-old would have done. Certainly not something that could be considered clothing. I sighed.

And then I heard a gasp.

“Mom. Look! LOOK! It’s … it’s a BUMBLEBEE SCARF!”

And I looked.

Not at the scarf.

At my son.

He was absolutely thrilled.

Apparently, I was making his dreams come true.

I smiled. And I kept going. Because apparently, this ugly scarf … it’s going to be enough.

I did a few more rows, then put it away as my husband and I put the kids to bed and worked on a few things around the house. I forgot about our new project.

But my son didn’t.

This morning, as I began preparing breakfast, he asked eagerly, “Mom, while you cook my eggs, can you finish my scarf?”

I started to chuckle. First, that he thinks that I’m coordinated enough to handle a hot pan, flipping eggs, AND a crochet hook all at once without scalding or impaling myself. And second, that he feels so secure in my love for him that he didn’t think I had anything better to do with my time than to cook for him and to make him a scarf.

And then I stopped in my tracks.

And tears came to my eyes.

And I realized something.

In this search for “more” … in this quest for fulfillment … in this desire to change the world … in the middle of this passion to make the world a better place, one act of kindness at a time …

I had forgotten.

I had forgotten that there is really, truly nothing better for me to do with my time than to cook for my son and to make him a scarf.

Because if I could change the world … this is what would be happening. In every single home where a child lived, there would be someone who has nothing better to do than to cook breakfast and to make a scarf. Every child would know this. Every parent would know this. And with that love, with that security, with that confidence, that parent and that child would walk out the door together, ready to bless everyone in sight.

I began to look around my kitchen, and I began to see things. The dishes left in the sink from last night were a remnant of the meal that I had prepared. My family had eaten. We had discussed our day, we’d made plans, we’d set a family goal. We’d left that table full and happy. That time in the kitchen, those chores that I often dread – they were an investment in my family.

Fruit bowl

The fruit bowl on the counter was full. And it was full because I had taken the time to grocery shop with my son the day before, teaching him about healthy food choices that give our bodies energy. And as I peeled and washed and chopped, I was teaching my children to invest in their bodies and their health. I was giving them the strength they needed to step out the front door and change the world.

Every meal. Every dish. Every hug and kiss and song and prayer. Every story. Every tangle brushed out of long hair. Every ride to school, or to swim lessons, or to a play date. Every shopping trip to buy clothing or food for growing bodies. Every bit of unpaid, unnoticed, thankless service.

They all matter.

Every single one.

This message is for you, exhausted new mom who feels like you do nothing but feed and clean and burp and rock.

This message is for you, young dad who has forgotten what “free time” feels like because every extra minute you can find is dedicated to your children.

It’s for you, teacher who spends day after day after day trying to instruct and correct and protect and guide children who are not your own, but who you love with all of your heart.

It’s for you, who spends your days brushing tangles out of hair, breaking up arguments, folding piles of laundry, bathing little bodies, and cutting food into tiny pieces.

This message is for you.

What you do every day: it is enough.

You are enough.

By all means, take a break when you need it. Reach outside yourself to serve and to make a difference. Find your passion and pursue it. Do what you can do to make yourself strong and happy. Because if you are strong and happy, your family will benefit.

But then come back. And fry another egg. And know that in that small act, you are changing the world.

And maybe … just maybe … you can even crochet an ugly scarf.

Ugly scarf

The Shelter Challenge (Updated)

I’m back, y’all!   

(Only I’m in Colorado now, not Texas. Am I still allowed to say y’all? I hope so!)

These past few months have been busy. They’ve been chaotic. They’ve been a little bit rough. And I am so, SO excited to be back to writing and sharing with you! Life still isn’t 100% settled, but I’m hoping to be able to share weekly service challenges with you once again. And frankly, I’m ready to stop thinking about myself and start looking for ways to make a difference in my new community.

So this week, we repeat a previous challenge. And since we’ve done this before, I’m going to give you a few options: Easy, intermediate, and difficult. Are you in??

This week, we’re going to reach out to a local shelter and see what we can do to help! And for me, being new in my community, I’m starting from scratch again. I am so excited!

Simple Ways to Serve Your Local Shelter

To begin, everyone has the same assignment. Are you ready?

Find an empty box.

(Seriously. That’s it.)

Just get an empty box and leave it in a closet somewhere. As you find out what your local shelter needs, this will be where you’ll put your stash. When the box is full, time to donate! So simple.

And now, our three other ways to help a local shelter. Easy, intermediate, or difficult – what are you up for this week?

So first, the easy plan. If this is your first time participating, you just have two things to do. First of all, do an internet search: simply type in your zipcode and the word “shelter”. Then find something that touches your heart. Homeless shelter? Shelter for families? Temporary housing for teens? An animal shelter? Just pick one. And then step two: find out what they need! Often, you can find a wishlist online that you can simply print. If not, make a quick phone call and ask what the items are that they need the most. Write them down and stick the list somewhere that you’ll see.

That’s it!

I am a firm believer that the first step to making a difference in our community is simply knowing what our community needs. From there, helping will be much easier!Serving as friends

Okay, ready for the intermediate plan?

If you’ve participated in our shelter challenge previously, you already know what your local shelter’s needs are. So this week … time to do something about it! Here are my ideas for you:

* Set aside a cash budget. Then start bargain shopping! Does your shelter need new bedding? Check your local department stores (with coupons, of course) for sales and clearance deals. Do they need canned food? Scour your weekly ads and see how far you can stretch that budget.

* See what you already have in your home that you might be able to donate. Have a surplus of canned food that you probably won’t use before it expires? Share it with someone who is hungry! Have clothing that no longer fits? Let it go, and let it bless someone who does not have the means to buy new clothing. But please, please be mindful that you are not donating junk. Secondhand clothing? Totally fine. Terribly ripped and stained clothing? That will likely end up thrown away. I read this powerful article (and the buzz it stirred up on Facebook) almost two years ago, and it stuck with me. Donating things that our families would use if we still have the need for them – awesome. Donating garbage that we just can’t stand to throw away though – that just causes more work for the volunteers who sort through donations. When in doubt, give the organization a call and ask! Some organizations will accept tattered clothing to cut into rags, and some will have to take time to sort and throw it away. Just be mindful of what you are giving and take a moment to be sure it will be a blessing, not a burden.

* Get your friends to help you. I can’t think of a better way to make a difference than to reach beyond your own influence and let others help! As I’ve shared with you before, my friends and I have done everything from throwing a baby shower for charity to making blessing bags, and it has been so awesome. Tell your friends what you are gathering together, and see if anyone has anything else to donate.

* Advocate. Even if you have no money and almost no time, you can do that! Just let people know what the needs are in your neighborhood. Chatting with a coworker or a neighbor? Mention your local shelter and their needs. Are you on Facebook? Share a link to your local shelter’s Facebook page or wish list and encourage people to check it out.

Even if you are not in a financial position to help right now, you might be able to share the information with someone who can help.

The Quarter Challenge 005

Okay. There are our easy and intermediate challenges. Are you ready for the advanced challenge??

Volunteer.

I know that time is precious. I know that you might not think you can commit to helping a local organization on a regular basis. But often, their most desperate need is for volunteers. Women’s shelters need babysitters so the moms can attend work and training classes. Homeless shelters (and youth shelters) need mentors. Animal shelters need people to play with and walk the pets. Food pantries need volunteers to stock shelves and fill orders. Many organizations need people to do simple tasks like answer phones and help with paperwork.

They need your time.

If you are in a season of life with a few extra hours a week, make a phone call and see who you can help!

New mom care package

So there is your challenge for this week! Here is my personal plan:

* Find a local women’s shelter, homeless shelter, and animal shelter
* Start a “donation box” to collect needed items
* Donate at least one bag of items

What about you? Have you done our challenge before? How are you going to participate this week?

On a Writing Break … Sort Of!

Hi there, friends! I wanted to take a moment to check in with all of you and fill you in on my life a bit.

My family is getting ready for a move to another state. It is exciting, it is terrifying, it is BUSY. My stress level has been very high for the last month or two, and I have found myself constantly sick and tired. So for the next little while, I’m backing off of several things … including writing. As much as I LOVE this little website and sharing new ideas with you, I truly need to take some time to focus on my family, my health, my sanity … and selling a house. And settling into a new one. And learning a new area. But before that, spending some quality time with my Texas people. (Sob.)

So what does that mean? Less posts around here for a while. But I’ll still be on Facebook, and if you would like to hang around, look on the right-hand side of this page. Scroll down a bit, and you’ll find a handy spot to enter your e-mail address. It will automatically send you an e-mail when I post.

Thanks for joining me on this journey, everyone! I can’t wait to come back less stressed, more rested, with a clear head and a heart ready to give and serve with you.

P.S. Please feel free to keep asking me questions! Need an activity to do with your kids? Looking for a way to spread kindness in your community? I always welcome your questions and your comments!

On a break

What’s Your Word for 2016?

So sorry about the late New Year’s post, friends! I got pretty sick last week and thought I’d spare y’all the rambling thoughts of a feverish woman, slightly loopy from medication. This week, luckily, I’m feeling great, and so excited to share some thoughts with you.

For those of you who have been around here for a year, you might remember last year’s New Year’s post. For the last several years, rather than choosing New Year’s resolutions, I have instead chosen a word.

That’s it.

One word that I’d like to focus on for the entire year.

And it has been AWESOME.

I have never, ever stuck to a New Year’s resolution. I am not terribly great with goals. But a word? Just one word to focus on? Even I can do that!

In 2014, my word was “hope”. I began the year facing a scary surgery, and hope was something that I desperately needed. And during that long and difficult year, I clung to hope like an anchor. As I continued to battle challenges (both physically and emotionally), I kept hope in my mind and in my heart.

In 2015, my word was “savor”. I felt a bit silly choosing that word, but after a year of challenges and struggles and pain, I desperately wanted to begin to enjoy my life again. I particularly wanted to relish this season of life with young children. The years are flying by SO fast, and somehow my baby is almost kindergarten age. So I wanted to make 2015 a year to savor. And I did. Not every day, certainly. But many days. I stopped to savor moments. I paused to create memories. I said “yes” when I would have rather said “no” to one more book, one more song, one more goodnight hug. And it was a beautiful way to focus my year.

2016

So 2016 is here. And I’m going to get real here, y’all: I am a little bit afraid of 2016. My husband and I decided to accept a job opportunity that he received. It should offer a much better quality of family life, and I am hopeful that we will get to spend more time together than we have in years past. But it means a move. It means saying goodbye to my friends who have become like family. It means leaving my new home. It means leaving my wonderful job teaching preschool. It means starting over in a new place. And guess what I don’t like doing? Starting over.

But I’ve realized that I get to choose.

I get to choose if I am going to dread this move. I can decide that I’m going to hate my new home. I can loathe the weather. I can whine about all of the changes in my life. I can mourn the loss of my friends. I can throw a pity party when I leave my job.

Or I can make another choice.

I can choose to be happy, wherever I am.

Is it going to be that simple? Goodness, no. Am I going to be successful at this every day? I highly doubt it. I anticipate that I will struggle with this. A LOT. In fact, this is likely going to be a real stretch for me many days this year.

But I have made a choice, and I need you to help me stick to it.

I have chosen that wherever I am, I will be happy.

And not just that … but wherever I am, I will find a way to make the world a better place. I will find someone to bless. I will find a way to brighten and cheer. I will not just survive, but I will flourish. I will learn more about myself, I will become more confident, and I will use my strengths in ways that will make life better for others. I will love myself, and I will help others to love themselves, too.

Bloom

In 2016 … my goal is to bloom.

And I can’t wait to see what opportunities await.

Are you joining me in choosing a word for this new year? What is your word for 2016?

Christmas Decoration Apprecation

Hi there, friends! I apologize for the two week gap in writing. I have been very busy, as I’m sure you all have. This is a wonderful time of year, but SO busy! I hope your holiday season is a beautiful one.

Lately, my kids and I have found ourselves taking the long way home when we’re driving in the evening. They LOVE looking at all of the Christmas lights and decorations in our neighborhood – and so do I! I am so grateful for those who take the time (and the money) to make the neighborhood look beautiful. So this week, we are going to repeat one of our challenges from last year: we are going to tell our neighbors thank you!

Thank you treat

It’s pretty simple: just print off our free printable tags (or make your own cards and tags). Attach a treat of some kind. And then drive around your neighborhood, looking for beautiful decorations! You can doorbell ditch the thank-you note (that’s what we did last year, and my kids LOVED it). You can leave it in a mailbox. Or you can knock on a door and meet a new neighbor. How you choose to do it us up to you; just take a few minutes to say thank you. I am willing to bet most people do not expect any thanks, but will probably be delighted to get a small token of appreciation. Because we ALL like to be appreciated, don’t we? So go out and make your neighborhood a little bit happier tonight!

Christmas decoration challenge