Posts by April Greene


It’s not your lack of skill, it’s your lack of confidence… stupid!

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How this creative director turned “no skills” into “no problem”

On Idealists in Action, we love to tackle your biggest obstacles to doing good. One we hear a lot is, “I don’t have the skills or knowledge to start something.” This week, we’re taking that behemoth down.

“In 2010 I was in the middle of a failing sabbatical,” begins Derick Tsai, founder and creative director of hip content development studio Magnus Rex.

“The brutal truth was I had bumped up against the limits of my abilities. I was going to have to drastically up my game if I had any hope of realizing my projects. In an unfamiliar space and out of my depth, I was reduced to moping around in sweats all day and constantly stressing about running out of money.”

“Then something woke me up and put everything into perspective.”

How did this visionary artist rise from the depths of not knowing to a new pinnacle of creativity? Read his story on GOOD.

 

Tell us about a time you didn’t know what to do, but turned rock bottom into your launch pad.

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What can you learn from your parents’ passion project?

We recently learned of a Canadian holiday called Family Day, celebrated in many provinces on the third Monday in February. We second the notion that recognizing the importance of family is, well, important, and are pleased to pay homage this week to clans large and small, given and chosen, with Family Week on Idealists in Action.

The value of parental wisdom is too often underestimated. We got four Idealist staffers to ask their ‘rents for advice on about starting, maintaining, and getting the most out of a passion project.

Don’t be shy.

From Kurt Olson: computer programmer, cub scout leader, skier, maple syrup artisan, fisherman, amateur evolutionary anthropologist, gumbo aficionado, and (what he’s talking about here) folk musician. Also, dad of Idealist Communications Intern Rebecca Olson.

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Kurt and Becky

I started learning to play the accordion when I was 40 years old. I often think about how much better I would have been if I had started earlier. My advice to people who want to start any kind of passion project is to start today! (Although no matter when you start, it’s never too late.)

Another piece of advice is don’t be shy. If you’re lucky enough to meet someone who shares a common interest with you, you should make the effort to get to know them. Someone might say, ‘Hey, you should stop by sometime.’ You should always follow up with them.

I’ve also learned that music really is all about people: making friends jamming, playing, teaching, learning, forming a “band.” It’s all about the community you create when you play and share your music.

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Find strength in empathy.

From Mary Ellen Mooney Hurley: vegetable goddess, empathizer extraordinaire, looks good in a hat, and possibly mother to the world—but definitely mother of Idealist Software Engineer Derek Hurley.

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Mary Ellen

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Derek

I grew up in an upper middle class family that never had to worry about making the choice between eating and paying bills, and I married into a similar lifestyle. But when that ended abruptly, I found myself wondering how I would meet all my financial obligations and still be able to feed myself healthy, nutritious food.

I went back to college to obtain my BS in rural sustainable sociology to better understand the obstacles those in need face daily. When I moved to the island of Kauai to finish my studies, I got involved with a local garden that supplies the main food pantry with produce. I have since taken over the operation, helping to feed over 300 families weekly, for free, with nutritious green vegetables.

My advice is to get out and get involved in local support groups dealing with the underprivileged. See what they face daily and look inside yourself—you’ll find the passion it takes to give unconditionally to others.

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Stay open to possibilities.

From S. Amelia O’Leary: registered nurse, crocheter of comforts, total hottie, and mom of Idealist Community Affairs Manager Megan O’Leary.

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S. Amelia and Megan

My passion project began when I learned to crochet at 20 years old. 30 years later, as a labor and delivery nurse, I was shocked to learn that there was little or no support for families that came into the hospital expecting to deliver healthy babies, but instead experienced neonatal loss.

I wondered what could I do to help in these times, and began crocheting baby blankets that parents could use as keepsakes to remember their lost child. I never knew that what started as a hobby would become a part of my career and provide me with a deeply moving way to connect with others.

My advice for those considering starting a personal project is to keep your eyes and hearts open to the possibilities of where and how your passion could be of service to others.

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Focus on the goal.

From Steve Davidson: former aeronautical engineer, psychologist, and investment consultant; current Ironman, productivity guru, world traveler, and hot tub enthusiast. Also, dad of Idealist Community Manager Kim Davidson.

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Steve’s Ironman tat!

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Kim and Steve

One man’s opinion: You only do a hobby if you enjoy it. You do a passion whether you enjoy it or not.

For me, this has not just been about becoming sufficiently fit to complete an Ironman. I found that all the training and preparation has enhanced my overall well-being. How I feel. How I relate to others. How I accomplish other tasks. My outlook. Everything.

One of the big challenges of triathlon is one that’s true of life in general: you never know what you are going to get on a given day: in this case, it might be wind, rain, heat, etc. But with preparing for the Ironman as with any other big project, I can offer this advice: begin with the end in mind. Have a clear, compelling goal.

Want to ask your passion-project-having parents for their advice and share it with us in the comments? We know you do!

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My Mom’s 20+ Years Of Writing Letters To Her Kids

My mom is an ever-loving maverick.

Septuagenarian bicyclist, landlord of historic homes, singer in the choirs of churches she’s not a member of… the lady has always rocked life with gusto and generosity, and very much to her own beat.

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Me and Mom in Colorado in 2013

This could not be better illustrated than by the over 20 years of letters she’s faithfully written to me and my older brother.

The story goes like this:

My bro went away to college in 1992, and our mom started writing him a letter each week to keep in touch. A single-spaced, front-and-back letter, type-written on a typewriter. (To preempt the question that often comes next: yes the typewriter is electric, but Mom has actually never liked it and would prefer to go back to the even older days of manual!) When I moved cities to start college six years later, she began copying me on the weekly letter—yes, with carbon paper—and mailing a copy to each of us.

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A sampling of letters from throughout the years (all begun with “Hi Miss”—my mom’s salutation for me)

Sometimes the letters are embellished by hand-written notes in the margins, the odd enclosure (newspaper clippings of interest; a piece of fruit leather), or stickers and doodles on the back of the envelope.

The content of the missives, too, is always up for grabs. A weekly edition is never without whatever family news Mom has recently generated or become privy to, but additional discussion topics range from current events to timeless philosophical quandaries to the insight her book club buddy had at last week’s meetup.

I couldn’t commit to combing all 780 letters I have squirreled away in various files and folders in time to write this post, but even a random sampling through the troves turned up gems like this:

RE: The water restrictions placed on Colorado residents during times of drought: “Can only water lawns twice a week now for three hours each. HELP!!! How will this place look without that green carpet? The grass helps hold in moisture for the trees, too, don’t forget. I say: flush your toilets less! Shower less before sacrificing our lawns!” —August 19, 2002

RE: My brother, just before his marriage: “You are a powerful person and have the ability to do wonderful things for your new family. I’m thrilled that you have taken on this responsibility. Though I do have to say that the two of you seem awfully serious to me; Dad and I were far more playful. But your situation is sooooo different, as are the times. I just hope you’ll play together, too. Play is so important.” —May 9, 2004

RE: This and that? “Bonjour! Ah, that word brings back 8th grade memories and a wonderful French teacher. I still remember several French words which come in handy for crossword puzzles. Say, what would you think of a seven-foot guy who makes his living dealing with bail bondsmen, insurance frauders, vehicle stealers and more—living in our backyard cottage? Pretty colorful, you’d say? Even exciting?? He doesn’t like people to know where he lives (of course), and think of the added security we’d feel with him here!” —January 19, 2014

People often have a hard time believing me when I tell them about my mom’s letters. As a younger person, her practice didn’t seem out of the ordinary, but of course as I’ve gotten older, the unusual factors that combined to birth and maintain such a habit have risen to my consciousness: my mom’s great dislike of the telephone and (subsequently) the Internet; her unbending commitment to staying in touch with her far-flung kids—without breathing down our necks; and her drive to write 1,000 words a week—meaningfully and entertainingly—while claiming to be a terrible writer.

Mom’s letters have kept a quiet but enduring lifeline between us, undisturbed by time or space. They’ve allowed me insights into her history and personality that I doubt would have been revealed during phone chats or over email. They’ve certainly given me something to look forward to in my mailbox each and every Thursday—a particularly happy thought during weeks when I’ve been fired, dumped, or sick. Whatever’s been happening, Semper Fi: the letter will always be there.

Of all the reasons to laud these weekly missives, the one I’ve had on my mind the most lately is how grateful they remind me to be of my singular mama. She’s about to be 71 and in kicking-good shape, so I hope to have a couple more decades of letters coming to me. But even if her last letter was the last ever, I’d be set for life with all she’s committed so far.

Mom, if I ever have kids, they’re getting a weekly letter, too. Hopefully snail mail will still be around.

Which of your family’s traditions blows your mind? Share with us in the comments.

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A child psychologist’s tips for encouraging kids to be practical dreamers

We recently learned of a Canadian holiday called Family Day, celebrated in many provinces on the third Monday in February. We second the notion that recognizing the importance of family is, well, important, and are pleased to pay homage this week to clans large and small, given and chosen, with Family Week on Idealists in Action.

You’d be hard pressed to find the parent who says, “I want to squash my kids’ dreams every way I can!”

Every dad and mom worth his or her salt wants their children to grow up creative, stimulated, and dreaming big, and they make every effort to encourage these traits. But at Idealist, we’re all about good things getting even better, so we asked child and family psychologist Aparna Sampat for her tips on encouraging kids to imagine without borders.

Here are three zingers we pulled from our interview, straight from the doc herself:

1) Ask, don’t tell.

When young kids are drawing or coloring, they usually start out with everyday sights: say a tree or a house. But if the tree is round or the house doesn’t have windows or doors, a common reaction from parents is, ‘Oh honey, that’s not how you draw a house/tree. Let me show you,’ and they proceed to draw it the ‘correct’ way. This can really stifle creativity; it makes kids think things have to look a certain way to be ‘right.’

So instead of correcting them, try asking questions. ‘Oh, you drew a tree? Tell me about it. Does it have leaves? No? Okay, cool, a tree without leaves. Would a bird like this tree?’

Provocation will make them imagine more, and having to explain their design will get them to think more about its form and function.

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If you can’t quite tell what’s going on in Junior’s picture, try asking him to explain it.
(image courtesy Shutterstock)

2) Couches are for sitting?

I was in a family’s living room once and their two young boys were wreaking havoc on the couch—pretending it was a pirate ship and jumping on and off. The mom became irritated and concerned that they’d damage the furniture or the floor, so she admonished them: ‘Couches are not for jumping; couches are for sitting.’

While I sympathized with the mother’s concerns, I had to think: are these kid ever going to be able to see things outside the box? Where will they be able to exercise their imaginations? They’re at the age when we develop a sense that multiple perspectives exist and not everyone is thinking what we’re thinking—when a banana can become a phone, etc.

The problem for the mom in this case was not that her boys were being imaginative, but that they might be destructive—yet that wasn’t the problem she addressed when she disciplined them. She could have explained the actual issue and given them a choice between playing more gently on the couch or picking another place to play—without so narrowly defining what household objects are ‘for.’

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There are lots of “right” ways to sit on couches.
(image courtesy Shutterstock)

3) Use your words.

On the street once, I saw a boy who clearly wanted to get a hold of his dad’s cell phone. The dad took a moment to retrieve it from his pocket, and the boy swatted his hand with impatience. In response, the dad swatted the kid’s hand back! The message he sent there was: when you’re frustrated, it’s okay to lash out instead of crafting a productive reply.

To encourage his son to build his powers of creative communication, the dad could have said, ‘Whoa! Are you frustrated? Did you want this phone sooner than I could give it to you? Tell me how you’re feeling.’ Even if the child just nods in reply, that exchange is a good way to demonstrate how clear, calm communication can help solve problems, but that it does take practice.

When we act out physically instead of taking the time to think about and articulate our problems, we blunt our creativity and put up a wall between ourselves and others. The self-expression that kids—and all of us—can cultivate through our words is usually a more useful tool than an open palm.

 

Sampat sums it all up by saying, “Kids’ minds start out boundless. They don’t impose limits, even unintentionally. So all we have to do is not shut them down.”

“Just think: what would my kids be creating right now if they didn’t think they could do wrong?”

How do you encourage the kids in your life to be practical dreamers? Tell us in the comments.

Dr. Aparna Sampat is a licensed psychologist who works with children, adolescents, young adults, and families in New York City. She can be reached at asampatphd@gmail.com.

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It’s not all bad: 3 uplifting blogs about family

We recently learned of a Canadian holiday called Family Day, celebrated in many provinces on the third Monday in February. We second the notion that recognizing the importance of family is, well, important, and are pleased to pay homage this week to clans large and small, given and chosen, with Family Week on Idealists in Action.

Families are nothing but trouble.

I think this is the conclusion you’d have to come to if you were a visitor from Mars and wanted to cobble together an idea of what “family” means. If you took even the most cursory survey of the United States’ cultural output—from the the Kardashians and Hiltons in tabloids, to the good-but-depressing literature of Shirley Jackson and Jonathan Franzen, to TV talk show hosts from Donahue to Ricki Lake—it would be hard not to arrive at the notion that families are the root of all our problems, cause us nothing but consternation, and are often best escaped from.

With this static always in the air, I think I felt a bit like a visitor from Mars a few months ago, when I stumbled on a blog written by a guy who actually seems to enjoy his family life—and enough to write about it! With sincerity and humor! I pinched myself.

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(image via The Art of Manliness)

I subsequently got lost in The Art of Manliness’s “Relationships & Family” section for a while, fascinated by posts like:

Seeing a guy so psyched about his family that he feels compelled to spend a lot of his time writing a good-quality blog about it gives me palpably more hope for our collective future.

Another feel-good read I tripped on was a short post by The Healthy and Fit Homeschool Mom, entitled “Breakfast for a Hardworking Man”:

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(image via The Healthy & Fit Homeschool Mom)

When was the last time you read something as sweet as this?

The author elaborates a little more on her family’s simple but affectionate breakfast rituals, but the sentiment is well summed up in these three lines left by a commenter: “When I was a kid my dad left work at 5:00 am. My mom was up with him and made him a hot breakfast, just like she did us before school. It was such obvious sacrificial love.”

Are you trying to make me cry??

I’ll just share one more, which is a triumph of a bit different sort.

Jen Bauer blogs about life with her partner Kendra and their three children on Adventurous Moms. While it’s not all fun and games (there are definitely posts about life under DOMA, conception difficulties, and the legally-necessary act of adopting her own daughter), Jen’s chronicles are largely expressions of biophiliac enthusiasm about life with her family.

Take this recent snippet from the Outdoor Adventures tab:

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(image via Adventurous Moms)

Here in New York City, we’ve been decrying this winter’s dumps of frozen detritus—but Jen and company are turning snowflakes into lemonade and choosing to tromp around all joyfully in it together. I, for one, could take a lesson.

Well, there you go. Three top-notch blogs to make even the most jaded and curmudgeonly among us remember that there can be a lot more to family than arguments, grudges, and annoying holiday travel.

There can also be radiant, irrepressible, joyous love.

Tell us why your family’s not a bummer!

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Chiditarod: America’s coolest food drive / shopping cart race?

At Idealist, the sporting world is not our usual beat. The Olympic Games, however, hit us where we live as an inspiring, international gathering of outstanding individuals and teams. So we’re taking this opportunity to pay homage to excellent athletes, winter beauty, fun games, and a host of other concepts we could tie (even tenuously) to Sochi. Welcome to Olympics Week on Idealists in Action.

If you’re like me, you’ve been looking for most of your life for a combination charity food drive, beauty pageant, costumed shopping cart race, pub crawl, talent show, nonprofit fundraiser, and (most importantly?) chaos generator.

Luckily, the Chiditarod is here to answer our call.

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Chiditarod competitors get down in 2013
(image via Chiditarod Facebook)

In the grand traditions of the original Iditarod dogsled race in Alaska—and the urban genre-founding San Francisco Urban Iditarod and New York City Idiotarod—Chicago (get it? Chi-ditarod?) started their own race in 2006 and has since become a strong presence on the now-nationwide annual urban Iditarod scene.

How do they stay so strong?

  • A winning premise. At its heart, the Chiditarod is a costumed shopping cart race through two Chicago neighborhoods, scheduled to coincide with the kickoff of the actual Iditarod. Teams of (human) participants roll decorated carts filled with 60-plus pounds of food for donation through the streets for up to five miles—rain or shine—and encounter checkpoints, contests, bribe-happy judges, and sometimes friendly sabotage attempts along the way.
  • Some great add-ons. The Chiditarod tradition has grown to include such additional highlights as a t-shirt, patch, and poster design contest; companion bowling fundraiser event called the ChiditaBowl; and a summertime Kiditarod for the little ones.
  • A very worthy cause. By encouraging its community to donate food and cash beyond the outlays required to participate in the race, the Chiditarod (itself a nonprofit organization) has donated over 80,000 pounds of food to the Greater Chicago Food Depository and $40,000 to organizations that provide immediate hunger relief or work for food justice.

This year’s Chiditarod is on March 1. Ladies and gentlemen, start your carts.

Chiditarod registration closes this Saturday, February 15. If you’re in the Chi-Town area and want to sign up, or if you just want to read more about the event’s history and gawk at some funny photos, hit up their website.

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People in the Global South are wearing impossible t-shirts

Following last Sunday’s punishing Super Bowl, we came across this interesting Mental Floss article that gave us pause. It begins:

After a Big Game in any sport, fans and players are going to be clamoring for commemorative merchandise, often just minutes after the game ends. To meet this demand and cash in on the wallet-loosening “We’re #1″ euphoria, manufacturers and retailers produce and stock two sets of t-shirts, hats and other merchandise, declaring each team the champ.

Huh! So that means the world is now in possession of a great grip of “Broncos: Super Bowl XLVIII Champs”-printed textiles, yeah? What on earth can be done with them?!

Apparently, until 1996, the suckers were just incinerated. What a waste! But since then, the nonprofit World Vision has been collecting and distributing the swag to less affluent people overseas.

This interesting infographic tells the tale:

nfl infographic updated1 Where Does The Merchandise Go From Losing Super Bowl Teams? [INFOGRAPHIC]

Interesting infographic courtesy of Blue Soda Promo

The recycling/waste-not-want-not aspect of this strikes us as pretty cool, but it’s also a bit weird, isn’t it? Or at least a bit surreal. All over the world, every year, more and more people are wearing clothes that appear to be commemorating major American sporting events—but they’re all completely fictional.

What’s your take on all this? Tell us in the comments.

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VIDEO: Portland rocks the MLK Day of Service

This past January 20th, the Idealist video team traversed the neighborhoods of Portland, Oregon to visit some awesome service activities happening as part of the MLK Day of Service. The thousands of volunteers they encountered clearly did a lot of good for the organizations they were helping, but they also told us it wasn’t just about giving back—it was also a fun, easy, rewarding endorphin rush.

 

 

It’s always great to serve on MLK Day, but remember that orgs need help all year long. You can search for thousands of ways to give back in your community, while getting some ‘good’ yourself—just visit Idealist.org/act.

How did you serve on MLK Day this year? Would you describe it as easy and fun?

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All-male, gender-bending, Deep South dance troupe prances right into our hearts

At Idealist, we love good ideas of all kinds, but especially those that turn commonly-accepted notions on their heads, get us to confront our beliefs, and (maybe) stir up a little trouble. To honor ideas brave and bold, and inspired by Sydney, Australia’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas, we welcome you to Idealist in Action’s Dangerous Ideas Week.
As Prancing Elites‘ captain Kentrell Collins says, “It’s OK for a woman to put on tights and play football, but when a man wants to put on a leotard and tights, it’s a problem.”

So what’s an all-male, gender-bending dance troupe from Mobile, Alabama to do?

WERK.

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Prancing to glory!
(photo via MemphisRap.com)

Prancing Elites have worked super hard in the almost 10 years since their founding: bringing their life-affirming art to new audiences; helping people rethink stereotypes about men, the South, and Spandex; and bringing back J-Setting just in time for Beyoncé to make the “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” video.

Along the way, they’ve garnered a lot of Idealist-approved street cred. Highlights include:

  • Getting tweeted about by fan Shaquille O’Neal, who sent 200,000 people to a YouTube video of theirs in 48 hours.

Today, we celebrate Prancing Elites’ continuing dedication to their ideals, art, and individuality—whether the reception they face is happy or hostile. Go, guys!

Has your self-expression ever caused a stir? Tell us about it in the comments.

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