Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Charitable Giving Dilemma

Sifting through my mail on Saturday, I couldn't help feeling overwhelmed and even a little ganged up on. Here's what was in my box:

  • An urgent contribution form from Planned Parenthood
  • A request for money from my county library system foundation
  • A letter from the art museum wanting me to pay more to upgrade my membership
  • An invitation from a group I volunteer with asking for $50 to attend a fund-raising dinner
  • An invitation to renew my membership at a gym I haven't belonged to in a year because I joined a gym closer to home
  • A letter urging me to become a member of the Sierra Club by paying a membership fee
  • An urgent contribution form from the Democratic Party
Seven requests for money all in one day! Seven good causes clamoring for my attention and dollars!

It was with some feelings of angst that I threw out all but one. (Well, actually, I had no feelings of guilt or anxiety about tossing the gym membership renewal. If the company that ran the gym hadn't closed the facility near me, I wouldn't have joined a different gym in the first place. Besides, gym membership, though certainly beneficial to me, isn't exactly a charitable cause.)

I feel sorry for all the good causes out there. I'm sure they're stretched thin for dollars in these bad economic times. Unfortunately, so are many of us! I hate being constantly bombarded with requests for money, and I have to wonder if some of these organizations couldn't realize some savings by sending out less frequent mailings--say only once or twice a year instead of every few weeks?

To save my sanity, I've decided to follow advice I read somewhere about concentrating charitable giving on just a few causes. I've picked the causes that are most personal and local, and/or are related to my interest in literacy. (Though I also contribute to the American Red Cross when there's a large natural disaster.) Using my criteria, the one request I kept to consider this time?: The dinner for the local group I volunteer with.

How do you make decisions about charitable giving?

Monday, September 20, 2010

How Happy Are You?

I just finished reading Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner. (Subtitle: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World.) Weiner is an NPR correspondent who has traveled extensively. His book is interesting, informative, entertaining, and funny. I recommend it highly. Did you know that Bhutan measures Gross National Happiness? According to the World Database of Happiness, the U.S. only ranks #23 out of all the countries of the world. High scorers are more apt to be cold, rather than warm, countries. At the top? Switzerland, Netherlands, Denmark, Costa Rica, and Iceland!

Creativity is a factor in happiness. So is trust of your fellow human beings, reasonable (dare I say low) expectations, acceptance of failure, strong ties with family and friends, and enough money to meet basic needs.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Finding Time to Write: It Does Get Easier, I Promise!

Though I've been writing full-time for ten years now, and could conceivably work whichever days I please, I still count Mondays as the beginning of my work week. It's a habit I'm used to and see no reason to break. Still, I seldom start work before eleven or noon since most weekday mornings I do yoga or step class at the gym. Despite the late start, I usually write 4 - 5 hours each day. If you are reading this and thinking "Boy, she's got it made. I only WISH I had that kind of time to exercise and write," you'd be right. But here's the thing: I didn't always have it so easy.

When I first started to write--more than twenty years ago--I worked full-time as an elementary school librarian and was a mom with a newborn and a toddler. I considered it a good writing week when I could scrape together 1 or 2 hours a few times a week during nap times, after the kids were in bed, or on weekends. I envied those writers who didn't have to work at outside jobs, and whose time seemed more their own.

Having lived through those exhausting, yet exhilarating years, I have something I want to say to those of you currently trying to find time to write while grappling with the demands of family and outside jobs: You, too, will live through this and come out the other side.

I say this in hindsight, of course. Because, just like you, I was often frazzled during those early years of writing, working another job, and being a mommy. But I'm here to tell you that there is light at the end of the tunnel! For now, it's enough to give to your writing the few hours you can spare. Even just a few hours of writing per week will add up to a book if you keep at it day after day, week after week, month after month. And though you'll undoubtedly suffer through numerous rejections of your work--I know I did (and still do)--if you persevere, your writing will improve, and someday you WILL get published. In the meantime, do whatever writing you can each day and week, enjoy your children, try not to get too discouraged by the inevitable rejection slips, and be grateful for all the small wonders and joys we experience every day, but sometimes forget to take note of.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Most Important Tasks (MITs)

I love a good self-help book, so several weeks ago I read a book my son recommended called The Power of Less by Leo Babauta. (The author has a website, too.) I picked up a few useful tips for being more efficient and effective with my time and was reminded of things I know are good practices (like only checking email a couple of times a day), but that I sometimes fall out of the habit of doing.

My favorite tip: The setting of daily MITs (Most Important Tasks). The author recommends limiting these to three per day, and linking them to your work and also to new habits you want to create. (But he suggests you only work on changing one habit at a time.) This is a great practice. I usually only include one MIT that takes several hours to complete (my daily writing goal). The other two MITs are tasks I can complete in 10 - 20 minutes.

What practices do you find useful for keeping yourself on track with your writing or other goals?