Free the Toys

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How did Silver Surfer get trapped in a bag on our window sill? And why is he so desperate to escape?

It’s a convoluted tale, that began at the Northwest Denver Toy LIbrary. We’re fortunate that the toy library is in the basement of our closest Denver Public Library branch. We make it there a few times a month, and the kids each choose two or three toys to check out. Sam usually chooses something that complements his own toys, like the police station below. Isabel always chooses the noisiest toys, with our blessing since we’ll be able to return them in three weeks

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The concept of a toy library exemplifies the idea of playing well with others. Our toy library has been a free resource for Denver families since 1980, always run and stocked by volunteers. We’re usually there on Saturdays, and inevitably run into someone we know. Kids and parents end up playing, talking, and building community.

Sam has recently decided to let go of a few of his toys, in order to make room for more Legos, Trashies, and Nanospeeds. The toys that he’s willing to donate are all collected from Happy Meals, but it’s a great start. You can see that SpongeBob isn’t sold on the idea of leaving his happy home.

IMG_8558The problem is that SpongeBob can’t move to the toy library. Donated toys that aren’t brand-new, must include proof that they meet federal safety standards. SpongeBob and all of his friends don’t have papers, so we’ve come up with another option. In the tradition of The Toy Society, we’re going to start leaving the toys at playgrounds, parks, and other spots where a toy might come in handy. We decided to wrap the toys in bags marked “Free Toys” so the finders will have no doubt.

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Tomorrow we’ll start the great toy drop. Got any creative locations, where Silver Surfer and SpongeBob might find appreciative new owners? 

Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh

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We held a small party for Kings Day this evening. Well, very small in terms of number of attendees, but very grand in the areas of ruckus making, shouts of glee, mischievousness, and all around joy and love. I should have some photos from our celebration ready to share tomorrow.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking (again) about giving, and the many definitions of treasure. When we were making the crowns, Sam was digging through a bowl of treasures that I keep on my desk. It’s full of old buttons, beads, hairpins, and mismatched jewelry. Every piece is beautiful to me, but there are some that shine a little brighter. My favorite thing is a simple mother of pearl button. It’s special because it belonged to my Grandma Reese, but there’s also a quality to it that just shines, that makes it more interesting than any of the other buttons. Sam could care less about that button, but he’s in love with a small Chinese coin that came from an old earring of mine. We see the story of ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ repeated each day, at many levels.

We each have treasure to share with those around us, and our treasure is more beautiful than gold (and hopefully smells even better than frankincense or myrrh, you know, metaphorically speaking). Sometimes we forget the value of what we have to give – the value of our love, our attention, our energy, our time. And that our personal versions of intangible treasures are important.

Our Saturdays will be focused on giving this year, both tangible and intangible. I realized during December, our month focused on giving, that I wanted to be more intentional about giving consistently throughout the year, regardless of holidays or birthdays.

I also want to do more volunteer work, as a family. I was telling Sam about the idea of 26 Acts of Kindness, because I had paid for the coffee of someone in line behind us at the Starbucks drive through. His first reaction was so typical, “You shouldn’t give away our money!” We talked it through, and I explained that I wanted to do something nice because the lady in the car behind us looked so stressed out, and that we would still have plenty of money. Clearly it’s a conversation that needs to continue. I understand that young kids are naturally egocentric, but I want to be sure that we raise kids who are able to show empathy and who are able to share their own gifts with the world.

Since our current focus is on family meals, we’re going to look for some giving and volunteer opportunities that involve food and connecting with others.

Have you done any giving or volunteer work like this? How were you able to integrate your own unique talents? If you have kids, how were you able to include them?

A Deliberate Leap in the Opposite Direction

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There are some things one can only achieve by a deliberate leap in the opposite direction.
-Franz Kafka

On Christmas Eve, we made it to a church service, ate dinner at La Cocinita, and then drove around downtown Denver, admiring the lights. We were headed home, to make cookies and get cozy, when someone pointed out that we were driving past the skate park. Someone else said, “Let’s stop!”

I was the curmudgeon, resisting the new idea. It’s cold outside. Isabel’s in her slippers. The real skaters might not like kids running around. Can’t we just go home?

The majority won. It was cold, but once we started running around nobody complained: the puffy coats and bunny slippers functioned beautifully. Maybe we got a few leery looks from the other skaters, particularly because only one of us even had a skateboard, but who cares? And we were there for the first snowflakes of the evening- completely magical.

Rounding out this month, I’m thinking about the gift that the young, and the young at heart, continually give to those of us who are habitually stuck. If we listen, they’ll always push our thinking with their insistent questions.

Why?

Why not? 

When I stop and answer those questions honestly, I begin to take my own deliberate little hop in the opposite direction. And a hop is preferable to standing frozen in the way we’ve always done things. 

Are any parts of your life frozen? Why do you think you’re stuck? Why not try a new direction?

If you’re busy coming up with an exhaustive list of reasons to not try something new (too tired, too cold, punk skaters will look at you like you’re crazy, you’re only wearing bunny slippers), I hope you’ll consider tabling your why-nots for even a few minutes. Once you take the first hop, it may lead to jumping, skipping, bounding and someday leaping.

 

The Gift of Words

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I’m pretty soft hearted this season: every kind word and unexpected invitation seem to bring me to tears. The tangible gifts have also lead to mushiness of heart. Lisa sent one of the best presents ever – the word cards above are magnets, and remind me of all the important things in my life. Now there’s talk of painting a magnetic wall upstairs, just to showcase our important words.

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In other word news, I’ve got a writing assignment, which is sort of a gift from the synchronistic universe. I was taking a class on writing book reviews, which led me to reach out to the library services group in our district, and now I’m on the district book review committee! It’s my dream volunteer opportunity – I’ll get a stack of children’s lit selections each month, and after writing short reviews, I’ll be able to donate the books to the school of my choice. One step forward in my dream of giving away lots of great books to people who need them.

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I’ve got stacks of books to read during our winter vacation. Right now I’m hovering between a few books by Camille Paglia and Joyce’s Ulysses, with a promise to my sister to consider Cervantes. To push the stack a little higher, Celine brought me Introducing Malaguzzi yesterday, an intriguing gift of words that could keep my Italian dreams alive.

Have you given any great word gifts this year?

The Gift of Light

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On Friday we felt the absence of light, again. I saw Facebook and pinterest memes, with the exhortation – never forget December 14, 2012. My mind raced – what were the exact dates of Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, and the shooting at the mall in Gresham, Oregon just last week? Too many dates bleed together. Too many names, faces, bodies, literally bleeding together.

We need conversation and collaboration in order to survive as such a diverse group of people – we need to talk, and we need to act. Extreme positions on either side of the arguments leave us paralyzed, with more blood on our hands. We gravitate toward extremes in our views about gun control, in our support of people struggling with mental illness, and in our separation of church and state.

I wrote a longer post, that barely scratched the surface of these issues, but it doesn’t feel right to share it at this time. Instead I hope you’ll join me in celebrating the light that remains. I hope you’ll continue to see the light in each person you meet, and share the light that resides in you.

 

Hidden Gifts

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A pattern I’ve noticed over the past year, in each of our monthly areas of focus, is that perfectionism is my evil nemesis. I may have the purest intent – to spend quality time with my family, to try new things, to show gratitude, but I’m sunk when I start expecting unrealistic perfection from myself or others. I’m finding that it’s true in the realm of gift giving too.

I want to give… the perfect gifts – everything that people need and want. I’d send my husband on a trip around the world, and treat the rest of my family to the ultimate Hawaiian vacation (unless they live in Hawaii, then I might send them to Italy). A certain someone I know would get all the books her heart desired, and a year-long sabbatical to devote to writing. I’d buy laptops, iPads, Promethean boards, and crazy huge classroom libraries for every preschool and kindergarten teacher in Denver. I’d fund Reggio-inspired, Montessori, and expeditionary learning schools, all over the world!

I turn Oprah-esque in my mind, so that when I come back to earth, I feel like I don’t have enough to give. I’ve gone to such an extreme philanthropic fantasy, that my actual gifts and donations seem insignificant, never enough. My logical mind knows that it’s the thought that counts, that I shouldn’t get stuck in a never enough mentality, but logic doesn’t always come naturally to me. And it gets worse: sometimes when I don’t think I can give the perfect gift, I end up not giving anything at all.

I know it’s ridiculous, so I’d like to let go of it. And it’s funny – when I’m ready to let go of something, support and inspiration seem to appear at every turn.

I read this blog post by a woman who practices random acts of kindness on her birthday each year.  She shares lots of great ideas for giving, that don’t cost a lot of money.

And this quote popped up in my inbox today:

Our highest power is love, and it is one thing each of us has an unlimited amount of. How much love do you give to others in one day? Each day we have an opportunity to set out with this great, unlimited power in our possession, and pour it over every person and circumstance.

Love is appreciating, complimenting, feeling gratitude, and speaking good words to others. We have so much love to give, and the more that we give, the more we receive. 

-Rhonda Byrne

Love could be my best hidden gift.  Because it can be an unlimited resource. Because it can’t be lost or delayed in the mail. Because I can choose to tap into it at any moment. Maybe hiding it away is the ridiculous thing…
The time has come. Look under your chair. You’re on my Favorite Things show, and I’m giving you unlimited love. Please remember the word unlimited. You don’t need to hoard it or fearfully hide it away – host your own Favorite Things show and give away as much of it as you can, to every person that shows up, no exceptions. I also hope you’ll give love in a way that’s authentic and joyful for you – quietly giving is just as beautiful as a loud proclamation.

Book Love Give-Away

 

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It’s official – Melissa Taylor’s Book Love has just been released in print, so the kindle-less few (myself included) can flip through, underline, jot notes and dog ear to our hearts’ content.

I’m giving away one copy of Book Love, to celebrate our month of giving. I’ll do a random number generator based on comments that answer the simple question: What books are you loving right now?  

This give-away is without legal guidelines and disclaimers – I don’t know when I’ll do the drawing (which makes it even more random!), and I might give commenters extra entry points for obscure or unexpected titles. Let’s also say extra points for literary snobbery, just for fun. And on the flip side, double the extra points for graphic novel aficionados. Oh, infinite entries into the random give-away for all book lovers! Someday, when I have the means, I’ll give away at least one book a day…

In the meantime, one copy of Book Love may have your name on it, if you’ll woo me with your book recommendations. Once a winner is chosen, we’ll figure out the delivery details.