How To Be Helpful During the Holidays

Every year during the holidays Jonathan and I look for meaningful volunteer opportunities that we can do as a family.  It's not easy to find something that's age-appropriate for a little one. Yet we know there are many people and organizations who need extra support at holiday time.  

This year we struck gold with our idea, so I want to share it with you. It checked all the boxes: easy, fun, meaningful, and great for Aspen.

There is a medical rehabilitation center for low-income seniors in our town. We frequently see the elderly residents going in and out, some in wheelchairs, others brought by ambulances. On a warm day you might see several of them outside enjoying the fresh air, but they sit alone, not with each other. We've often remarked on them, and sent a silent blessing their way as we drive on by.

This year we went in to ask how we could brighten the holidays for the 50 residents, many of whom don't have family.

Our original idea was that we'd bake cookies, and make a little bag of goodies for each person. But the director explained that the staff dietician wouldn't appreciate that sort of sugary elfin meddling. (And wasn't I relieved not to have to take on that huge task? Yes, Virginia, I was.)

So instead, we promised to deliver a holiday card for each resident, to help each one feel more seen and connected. 

Aspen loves making art. So instead of buying cards, she threw a party, and got her little friends to join in on the homemade card-making. (See how I committed myself to making 50 cards, then quickly schemed up a way to outsource the work to little kids?) 

They gathered around our dining room table with a plate of fresh Christmas cookies and got to work. We had simple card-making supplies laid out, and holiday music setting a festive mood.  In about 90 minutes they'd made 54 cards, each one hand-written and signed by a little girl.

What was so great about this is that -- all disguised as a party -- the girls had an opportunity to reflect on how it must feel to be alone at the holidays, and then to reach out to a real human being with her words and artistry.

If you like this idea for yourself, but don't feel artistic, buy some cards at the store and hand-sign them with warm wishes. And if you want to make cards, but your kids are too young to write the text, do it for them and let them draw pictures on each one.

Here's how you can easily put together a holiday card-making party like ours for people of any age:

Card-Party Checklist

Pre-Party Planning:

  • Reach out to a senior center or hospital in your town to ask if cards would be welcomed. Find out how many they'd like.
  • Set the date for your party.
  • Invite guests. (8 was the right number for us.) I used E-vite, but next year I'll just email parents directly to make it even easier.
  • Purchase blank cards and matching envelopes. Target had packs of red ones that were perfect.
  • Purchase Christmas/holiday stickers. (Target)
  • Purchase festive paper plates, cups and holiday napkins to set the mood (again, Target for the win.)

Day Of:

  • Put out blank cards, stickers, colored markers and pencils.
  • Create little cheat sheets kids can use if they are still learning to spell. For example: Happy Holidays! You are loved. From your neighbor, Aspen, age 8.
  • Put out snack foods, plates, cups and napkins.
  • Put on holiday music.
  • Enjoy!

Of course, making a financial donation is also a fabulous way to help, and volunteering shouldn't just be a holiday gimmick.  You've got resources to share all year round, so don't miss the opportunity to make a difference in your own way.

Tell me your family volunteering ideas so I can help share them with others.

Happy holidays to you!

Love,

Jennie

P.S. Make it a double party by inviting the parents to stay while their kids make cards.

My Turkey-Free Thanksgiving

This is not a post about how to be a vegetarian at Thanksgiving. I just don't like turkey.

There. I said it.

I don't enjoy eating it. I don't enjoy cooking it. (Oh, the stress of the last-minute discovery that a table full of people will have to wait just a little longer for dinner.....)

I don't like carving it. 

And I most certainly don't like picking the carcass the next day for turkey soup. 

So, for the last few years I've served a gorgeous pork tenderloin with an autumn spice rub instead. The rest of the menu is totally Thanksgiving-traditional, but the main course is delicious, plus easy to make, serve, and enjoy for leftovers.

I won't lie. It takes courage to buck the turkey tradition.

Even Jonathan, no fan of the prepping, cooking and cleaning up of turkey, was aghast by my proposal the first year.  

He made me warn -- warn -- our guests ahead of time that we wouldn't be serving turkey. Presumably because such upsetting news should not be sprung on them upon arrival.  Or perhaps he thought they might not accept our invitation, and deserved to know in advance of making a decision. Oh, brother.

Since switching from turkey to tenderloin I haven't heard any complaints. And I've had more fun. One guest asked me to reassure her that I'd be serving pork again, not turkey this year, bless her.

You can see the full recipe for a 1-1/4 pound tenderloin from the Food Network, but here's the gist:

Mix together 1 teaspoon each garlic powder, dried oregano, ground cumin, ground coriander, dried thyme, and salt for 1-1/4 pounds of tenderloin. Doesn't that sound good?  It is.  

I figure half a pound of meat per guest. So do the math to determine how much of the rub to make for the size pork tenderloin you need.  Then gobble gobble.

Love,

Jennie

P.S. Know a brave hostess who might want a new twist on Thanksgiving turkey? Please forward this to her!

 

My 5 Favorite Non-Toxic Beauty Heroes

I signed up for Beauty Heroes over a year ago, and love the subscription service.  It helps me discover the best natural beauty products out there, at a huge discount.

You can read my original post about the company and the wonderful founder  here.

I'm always looking for non-toxic beauty products -- that work -- so my friends and I compare notes on which products we like the best. Here's the list of my favorite non-toxic beauty products that I met through Beauty Heroes. Thought you might like them, too.

When I told the founder of Beauty Heroes I was planning to share my favorite non-toxic beauty products with you, she offered to give My Happy Place Blog readers a discount at her online store. How nice is that!?! So if you want to give my faves a try, read on and grab the discount code at the end of this post. 

$27 for the mist. Pretty bottle, priceless.

Phia Imagination Energy Mist is hard to describe, but once you smell it you'll understand. I keep it on my desk and spritz my face when I need a happy pick-me-up. Luscious! 

 

 

$85 to look like you got a few extra hours of sleep.

$85 to look like you got a few extra hours of sleep.

Mangosteen Beauty Drops from Skin Owl is a night serum I might never have tried without Beauty Heroes, but it smells so bright and happy that I love it.  It features two high-powered cold-pressed oils that work their magic while you sleep. So you wake up looking perky and dewey.

$30 to look like you're glowing from the inside

$30 to look like you're glowing from the inside

Modern Minerals Moonstone Cream Highlighter Of everything on the list this is my favorite.  It's a subtle cream shimmer like none other. I put it above my brow bone and just under my brows. Along with a big smile it brightens my face.  And it comes in a cute little orb that's fun to hold in your hand.

$24 for black clay that'll leave you super clean

$24 for black clay that'll leave you super clean

Osmia Black Clay Facial Soap This stuff works! It's a small bar of soap that leaves my face feeling really clean and detoxed. And it lasts forever! It's so small it travels well, so I want one near my bathroom sink, in the shower, and in my travel bag.

 

$54 for a mask so pure and fresh you could eat it

$54 for a mask so pure and fresh you could eat it

Laurel Honey Berry Enzyme Facial Mask You know how there are all kinds of recipes out there to make your own facial mask from ingredients you have in your kitchen? And how easy and fun it sounds? And how you never actually do it? Here's how to get that I'm-putting-honey-on-my-face-aren't-I-such-a-natural-beauty feeling without the mess.  I love this mask. It nibbles off dead skin cells and leaves your skin bright and glowy.

These products are all available at Beauty Heroes, and you can use code: HAPPY for 10% off anything in the store through December. There's a lot to love, and I had a hard time narrowing down to my 5 favorites. Everything there is safe, healthy, and effective.  

Since the holidays are barreling toward us, think about the Phia Imagination Energy Mist as a great gift for a friend or co-worker -- and you!

Love,

Jennie

P.P.S. I haven't tried this one yet, but I'm dying to. A primer, it's supposed to make your skin look flawless.

P.P. S. My blog is about sharing things that make me happy in the hope they make you happy, too. I am not paid by any person or company for promoting products to you. I just love sharing my finds.

 

How To Make Old Friends

If you’re reading this it’s likely we’re friends.  Or that we have a friend in common.  That describes most of my readers, which makes me happy.

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately and what it really means.  I used to believe friends were like family. I wanted to believe that, but it’s not really true.  Friends will quit you, you’ll quit them, or together you’ll go on long silent unintended hiatuses. If we’re being honest, those things rarely happen with family.

In Friendkeeping, Julie Klam’s marvelous collection of personal essays about friendship, she posits that friendship can take many forms. But that regardless of the inevitable ups, downs, and separations short and long, the friendships women have with each other are a stabilizing force like no other. 

Click here for a link to Julie's book.

Click here for a link to Julie's book.

Reading Friendkeeping I got inspired to reconnect with an old pal. We’d become distant due to living a few hours apart and having young kids.

The warmth was still there. We blew each other kisses on Facebook once in a while, but the intimacy we’d shared during our younger single days in San Francisco was gone.  In truth, I didn’t really know her anymore. That made calling her out of the blue seem weird.

Not sure about you, but finding time to talk on the phone to friends is nearly impossible for me. First of all, I talk for a living. I’m on the phone or in person with colleagues and clients nearly constantly. 

When the workday is done I chatter with Aspen and Jonathan for a few hours before dozing off in her bed as I snuggle her to sleep.  When I rouse myself and stagger out of her room the absolute last thing I want to do is pick up the phone and gab with a girlfriend. 

Sound familiar?  Whether you have kids or work or not, I’m sure you've got your own version of overload that makes a real, juicy, human phone conversation a rare luxury. 

Remember being a teenager, twirling that coiled phone cord around your finger for hours? Going over the day’s events with your girlfriends? The same girls you’d just spent the whole day with, and with whom you’d reunite early the next morning? 

Talking on the phone meant sitting in one place and doing nothing else. Not just because multi-tasking wasn’t a thing back then, but because the phone was bolted to the wall.  Ha!

We were present with our friends back then and they were present with us, but we wouldn’t have called it that.  Talking and listening intently is just what we did.

Nowadays if I find two minutes while I’m flying around doing errands to talk with a girlfriend it’s usually rushed and superficial. More of a check-in than a conversation. I suppose that’s better than a Facebook Like, but it’s not the same as a deep connection. And if you go on too long like that with someone, you’ll find you’re just not that close anymore.

As Julie’s book got me thinking about some of the friendships I’d let lie fallow, I got sentimental about a friend or two and decided that, by golly, I was going to reach out and leave one of my old friends a voice mail. 

Are you laughing that I thought leaving a voice mail was the same thing as reconnecting? 

So I dialed. And what do you know? She answered the phone! We were so happy to hear each other’s voices. She’d just started a hike with her dog, and I had a break in my schedule so the timing was perfect.  It wasn’t weird at all.

She’d recently moved to another state, which meant our chances of seeing each other any time soon had plummeted. I hadn’t even gone to her going away party. Because. You know. Traffic. 

So we had a lot of catching up to do. Right away we were off the superficial and onto the real life stuff.  Which for her includes cancer in her family, and the fact that her child had just been diagnosed with a stinking rotten unfair affliction that he does not deserve, and that will be a challenge for him the rest of his life. We both cried feeling the weight of that. And we had a deep heart-centered talk.

It turns out I had a few helpful ideas for her.  And that being able to talk and unload to me that day, right when she did, eased her burden just a little bit. And it sure filled me up. 

Turns out we were still close. We just needed a few minutes of friend phone time to remember that. I’m so glad I called her.

Do you have a friendship that’s been wasting away?  Yep, that’s her. The one who popped into your mind when you read that. 

Since our talk I’ve been inspired to call or meet up with lots of old friends.  It’s so fun! The older I get the more my friends from long ago mean to me.  Even if I haven’t seen them in decades (Looking at you, Susan Loysen.)

Don’t read me wrong: my mom friends are the bomb.  I love every one of them. And I’m committed to fanning the embers of friendship now so rekindling later won’t be needed.  But it’s the Way Back Machine friendships I’ve been stoking lately.

Want to try it, too? Here are 4 ideas for you:

1.    Call a long lost friend. She’s probably not really lost, and I bet you’ll find you have as much in common as you used to, even if your lives have moved in totally different directions.

2.    Answer the phone. Next time a friend, old or new, rings you up, consider answering.  Talking live to hatch your next plan will feel more satisfying than texting. Hearing, “I can’t wait to see you later!” is a lot nicer than reading "C U There."

3.    Block out time on your actual calendar for an actual event: An hour of phone time. Spend it dialing up old and new friends alike.  Sit in one place while you do it, and don’t multitask.  

4.    Make a standing date.  I’m part of a wonderful group of mom friends that meets out for dinner at the same place on the first Thursday of every month.  It’s on our calendars so we prize and prioritize the date.

I hope just thinking about your friends has put a smile on your face. Thinking about you put a smile on mine.

Love,

Jennie

P.S. My next post will continue the friendship theme with a formula for easy get togethers with good friends.

P.P.S. Forward this post to an old friend to break the ice.  I’m guessing it’s thinner than you think.

Here's my bestie Emily Baker loving up on Aspen when she was three. We've been friends since 7th grade.

Here's my bestie Emily Baker loving up on Aspen when she was three. We've been friends since 7th grade.

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How Not To Get Sick

I did it again.

It was Aspen's first day of second grade, a big exciting day for all three of us.  I'd felt a tickle in my throat, sneezed a few times the day before.

I put it out of my mind.  "It's not winter,  I'm totally on my game. No way am I getting sick."

After we left her at school to get settled in with her new teachers and old friends I went to work like always. I had a big presentation to make to a group of smart, important do-gooders.  

After that was over I felt tired. Really tired.  "It's just the excitement of the day," I told myself. 

By the time we picked Aspen up from school (Yes, Jonathan and I both went. It was the first day! We're sentimental!) I was fried. A little achy, a little chilly, and really sore in my throat.

I chided myself for not getting on it the day before -- right when I'd felt the first tickle, the first suggestion that maybe a cold or flu was coming on.  But I'd been so happy and excited that getting sick was the last thing on my mind.

Right then I knew what I had to do -- and it wasn't take ibuprofen.  I started pounding my immune-boosting elixers, hoping it wasn't too late.  

And it worked.  By mid morning the next day I was all better.  

I'd done it again -- warded off a bad cold or flu before it had the chance to really get a hold of me and ruin a whole week.

This wasn't the first time I'd avoided getting sick. All through last cold and flu season I'd been on high alert. Whenever I'd get that sinking feeling that something might be trying to take hold to bring me down, I rushed to start my immune-boosters so I could beat the flu before it beat me.

 Here's how I avoided getting sick, and how you can, too.

1. Go lay down. Even if you have to bring your laptop and keep working a little, do it.  Your body needs every ounce of energy it can spare right now to fight off the bug trying to make a home in you. Get flat, stretch out, and let your body rest. 

2. Drink chicken bone broth.  Ever since I discovered this magical, delicious stuff last fall I have not been sick once. As soon as I feel like I might get sick I slurp down at least 16 ounces of organic bone broth.  It tastes great (your body knows what it needs) and provides your body with the vitamins, minerals and immune-boosters to heal itself.  

I wrote about the benefits of bone broth after going a year without getting sick.  I'm telling you, it really works.  You can read more here.

3. Drink lots of water.  Pretty sure you've heard this one before. But knowing you should isn't the same as doing it.  Give your body the chance to flush the invader out. For extra help, squeeze in some fresh lemon juice, my happiest habit, to help your body alkalize. 

4. Spray your mouth with colloidal silver. This stuff is a little controversial, so read up on it and decide what's right for you.

I'd heard of it for years and then read that Dr. Oz recommended it. It has antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties. I spray it in my mouth right when I feel something coming on and it's been part my successful cold-and-flu-avoidance protocol for several years.

5. Take an echinacea liquid.  At our house we take Wellness Herbal Resistance Liquid from Source Naturals. It's designed to support your immune system with a combination of herbs you've heard of including echinacea, elderberry extract, and goldenseal.  You could take straight echinacea alone, but this combination seems to really ward things off.  Jonathan swears by it.

6. Dissolve Oscillococcinum on your tongue (and don't bother trying to pronounce it.) It's a homeopathic remedy that fights fire with fire. I can't really explain how it works. You can read about homeopathy for yourself, but I think this particular remedy has some of the same properties of the chicken bone broth, which explains why it works so well.

7. Sip Elderberry Syrup. It has a concentration of boosters that kick your immune system into high gear.  Aspen asks for it by name when she feels like she might be getting sick.  It tastes like candy so maybe she just hopes she's getting sick.  

Those are my main tools that work for me. They're easy to get and easy to use.

But here's the real trick: You have to keep this stuff at home or at your office. Because to ward off a cold or flu you have to catch it before it catches you.

That means the first sneeze, the first achy feeling, the first whatever-sign-you-know-means-your-body-is-coming-down-with-something.  I can't emphasize this enough.  I'm not talking about sipping hot bone broth when you're already home with a temperature. You've got to start before the temperature soars.

So stock up now and be ready for battle.  Wishing you a healthy year like the one I'm planning.

Love,

Jennie

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