Posts by Rebecca Olson


5 Tips For Living Outside Of The Judgement Of Others

When haters try to discredit your ideas, it’s best to just ignore them.

For those times that you just can’t though, you have to learn how to live with that judgement present. One of my all-time favorite inspirations for not caring what people think about you (aside from my dad, of course) is Julien Smith’s The Complete Guide to Not Giving a F**k. After establishing that judgement is just a part of life and not everyone has to like you, Smith poses the following suggestions to help you “get back your self-respect in five easy steps.”

Here they are:

1. Do things that you consider embarrassing.


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2. Accept, or deal with, awkwardness.

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3. Refuse boundaries.

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4. Tell the truth.

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5. Begin your new life.

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And there you have it. Remember, no one ever changed the world by trying to fit in. So, go out there, be you, and make a difference!


What real-life do-gooders inspire you to be yourself outside of the judgement of others?

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Help Maha And Hikmat Give Secondhand Clothes More Sparkle

An ongoing experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?

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By teaching sewing skills to women like this participant in their fall workshop, Second Chance hopes to provide economic independence to women in rural areas of Lebanon. (photo courtesy Second Chance Facebook)

Meet Maha and Hikmat

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Maha, left, and Hikmat
(photo courtesy Hikmat Al Khansa)

Sparkle jeans. Dip-dye. Metallic piping. Maha Mrad’s got more style in her manicured little finger than many of us have in our whole closet.

Maha’s obsession with fashion started when she was about 10. Her cousin was drawing pictures of dresses in her sketchbook and they caught Maha’s eye. Though her cousin’s interest turned out to be more fleeting, Maha’s been designing interesting outfits and patterns ever since.

As a student at Haigazian University in Beirut, Lebanon, she found a way to connect her passion for fashion with her studies in social entrepreneurialism.

With a partner, friend and fellow student Hikmat Al Khansa, she’s laid the groundwork for a new social good business, Second Chance, which will revamp secondhand clothing into eco-friendly recycled and upcycled fashions.

“I put together the idea and sent it to Hikmat with a feeling that she’s gonna laugh about it,” Maha says. “Surprisingly she liked it and we went through with it.”

Maha, Hikmat, and eight other student collaborators at their university have been working on the model and marketing plans for Second Chance. After they finish their degrees, Maha and Hikmat plan to go into business together to make their idea a reality.

“She’s the best partner I could think of,” says Maha.

The intention

While thrifting and DIY fashion may be commonplace in the US, in Lebanon and many other countries around the world, buying new and designer clothing remains a status symbol that makes shopping for and buying secondhand clothing unpopular.

Because of this, Hikmat explains, “It’s hard for Lebanese people to admit to buying used clothes even if they do it frequently.”

Second Chance hopes to make over both the clothes themselves and the reputation of previously-owned clothes by upgrading outdated garments with stylish twists. With help and training from a well-known designer, Maha and Hikmat plan to hire women from rural areas around Beirut to do the sewing and redesigning.

“We’re trying to show people that it is okay to wear secondhand clothing,” Maha explains. “Wearing such clothes can be trendy and helpful to both community and environment. It’s not something to be ashamed of.”

Obstacles

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Some of the custom designs created for Second Chance’s 2013 pilot exhibition (photo courtesy Second Chance Facebook)

In fall 2013, Maha, Hikmat, and their fellow student collaborators launched a pilot program of Second Chance and organized a 10-day training workshop for seamstresses.

The result was a fashion exhibition featuring over 70 unique designs. While reception was good, the students sold fewer clothes than they were hoping to.

Maha takes the lack of sales at their initial exhibit in stride, saying, “The biggest lesson I learned is to be more patient and not make an obstacle of myself. It’s all about the attitude.”

As students, Maha and Hikmat are still learning about business management and intend to get Masters degrees in management before they launch Second Chance.

In addition to finishing school, they also need to find partnerships with more established fashion designers or brands to help build their reputation. For their pilot project, they enlisted the help of a local tailor to train the women (rather than a famous designer).

When Maha and Hikmat make a real go of it, they’re hoping to get a big-name designer involved to help increase their visibility.

“People here are all about appearance and prestige,” says Maha.

How you can help

  • Do you know of similar projects in the US or elsewhere around the world that Maha and Hikmat could learn from?
  • Are you connected with a well-known fashion designer or existing clothing brand that wants to get involved in a social good project in the Middle East?
  • Are you or do you know a lawyer in Lebanon who can offer advice to Maha and Hikmat as they set up their business?
  • Do you know of a potential marketing or advertising firm that could offer professional branding services to Second Chance?

Reach out to Second Chance through their Facebook page.

Are you a practical dreamer with an idea that’s just starting to take shape? If you’d like to be a part of this series, or know someone else who would be a good fit, email rebecca@idealist.org.

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Our favorite 13 posts of 2013

Or not.

It’s hard to come up with a favorites list when everything we post is our favorite. But here are some stories we think deserve some extra love in the New Year.

For our #13, we want to hear from you! What was the most memorable, inspiring, or supremely awesome story you read on our blog this past year? Tell us in the comments below.

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Uplifting billboard says don’t cry, pout, tells you why

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The Joy Team put up this billboard at NE Glisan and 27th in Portland, Oregon to spread acceptance and hope during the holidays.
(photo courtesy The Joy Team)

The holidays are a time to be grateful for the good things in our lives, but for a lot of people this season of celebration can also stir up feelings of loneliness and sadness.

To combat these winter blues, The Joy Team out of Vancouver, Washington has created a new billboard campaign to spread messages of acceptance and hope.

Here’s a sample:

  • You are so freaking awesome.
  • We believe in you.
  • Celebrate.
  • Cultivate your awesomeness.
  • Something wonderful is about to happen.

Nice work, Joy Team! I feel better already.

What encouraging message would you put on a billboard?

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Kevin Bacon-approved last-minute gifts

If you’re too late to do your holiday shopping online (or just don’t want to), there’s still time to hit up your local shops for that perfect Christmas, Kwanzaa, or New Years present.

Shift Your Shopping, a national grassroots campaign to promote strong local economies and businesses, will even sweeten the deal if you decide to keep your purchases close to home before tomorrow. Shop at one of 40,000 participating local and independent businesses across the country and they’ll donate a portion of that sale toward a charity of your choice.

By giving twice through Shift Your Shopping, you’ll also get on Kevin Bacon’s “nice” list (which you’ll have proof of if you print off some of these “Kevin Bacon approves the charitable nature of this gift” tags).

The actor/celebrity/philanthropist’s charitable initiative sixdegrees.org has teamed up with Cause Town, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), and American Independent Business Alliance (AMBIA) to get tons of local businesses and shoppers on board for Shift Your Shopping.

You can learn more about how Shift Your Shopping works by watching this fabulous video starring the totally-not-Kevin-Bacon “Melvin Macon.”

Need some ideas for socially-conscious gifts before you hit the stores? Check out our Idealist “good” gift guide.

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Our Top 10 “good” gift ideas

Hanukkah came super early this year, but if you’re still shopping for Christmas, Kwanzaa, or New Year’s presents, we have a few tips on where to find “good” gifts at the last minute.

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1. The NYC Taxi Drivers 2014 Beefcake Calendar: Featuring sexy/silly photos of the city’s most awesome cabbies as captured by freelance photographers Phil Kirkman and Shannon McLaughlin. All sales benefit the University Settlement which helps immigrants find housing and educational opportunities.

2. You Be My Heart: This indie music treasure trove is a compilation featuring artists like Horsefeathers and Maps & Atlases. All sales benefit 826 Valencia, Dave Eggers’ nonprofit which fosters creative writing skills in children.

5. Artlifting: An online art gallery featuring iPhone covers, paintings, and other original pieces made by participants in Common Art, a Boston-area art therapy program for homeless and low-income individuals.

4. The Tutu Project: When photographer Bob Carey’s wife Linda was diagnosed with breast cancer, he started taking pictures of himself in pink tutus to make her laugh. Compilations of his gorgeous self-portraits are available as Ballerina (book), calendars, and photo prints benefiting The Carey Foundation for Women with Breast Cancer.

3. Teal Cats: Make it a “Meow-y Christmas” with a spray-painted ceramic vintage cat figure. With every purchase, The Teal Cat Project will make a donation to one of their partnering kitty-cat rescue organizations.

3. The Wire Poster Project: Your favorite quotes from “The Wire” illustrated as typographic posters designed by artist Oliver Munday. All sales benefit the Baltimore Urban Debate League.

7. Adventures in Feministory “Groundbreakers” Mug Set: Cozy mugs decorated with portraits of inspiring women, like Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space. Sales support the feminist nonprofit Bitch Media.

8. That’s So Gay! trivia game: Perfect for the game nerds in your life, this trivia game features 2,400 questions on LGBTQ history and current events. LGBTQ groups are encouraged to sell the game as a fundraiser.

9. Shop Clean List: A directory of clean-powered U.S. retail brands, how much renewable energy they use, and where it’s sourced (some top-scorers are Toms of Maine, Fat Cow, and Venture Snowboards).

10. Mighty Girl Gift Guide: A girl empowerment holiday gift guide with toys to encourage “smart, confident, and courageous girls.” Search by age or by category (like building toys, science, arts and crafts, and dolls/action figures).

For more gift ideas, check out this GOOD post on how to shop with a conscience this holiday season.

What “good” gifts are you excited about this year? Join the conversation on our Idealist Facebook page or in the comments below!

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Q: Want a cool way to raise money & reach new people? A: Try Quiz for a Cause!

QFAC-logoThe beer-loving trivia nerds at Geeks Who Drink have a standing offer to help nonprofits and organizations raise money and reach out to new audiences by tapping into their collective benevolent geekiness.

It’s called Quiz for a Cause and for the price of free, organizations can partner with Geeks Who Drink to collect a small entry fee from participants who come out to their regularly scheduled quiz events.

The featured organization usually raises between $200-$400 per event, and even better, they get a few minutes on the microphone to talk up their mission and get in good with a whole new group of potential donors.

Quiz for a Cause event organizer and self-identified dork Eric Kohen says this opportunity to tap into the highly-coveted late-20s and early-30s young professional crowd is really the big payoff for nonprofits who participate in QFAC events.

“You can make a little bit of money from the door, but the greater good comes from getting your message out to a whole other demographic that you might not otherwise reach,” he says.

Quiz for a Cause is available in 27 states and has raised money for all kinds of nonprofits and community organizations.

“From animals to stolen people to gay lacrosse teams, it’s cool we can help out so many different causes.”

Want to generate some extra cash and buzz for your cause? Email Eric at info@geekswhodrink.com.

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The Reconstructionists: A yearlong celebration of amazing women

As 2013 draws to a close, we’re taking some time to pay homage to Idealists who’ve made a commitment to doing good across 365 days. 

Portrait of Maya Angelou by Lisa Congdon

The portrait of Maya Angelou was the hardest.

Illustrator Lisa Congdon says that it was partially her struggle to capture the poet’s essence that made the finished product turn out so well.

“I was able to capture her decently in the end because in the beginning I was ready to rip it up,” she says.

But most of her portraits come out a little easier than that. Lisa paints a different one every week as part of The Reconstructionists, a yearlong collaborative art/writing/history project she started with Brain Pickings founder Maria Popova.

Every Monday in 2013, an inspiring woman has been featured on their website with a hand-painted portrait and a micro-essay about her life and work.

Named for twentieth-century novelist Anaïs Nin’s idea for “woman’s role in the reconstruction of the world,” The Reconstructionists celebrates women who have reconstructed “our understanding of ourselves, the world, and our place in it.”

It’s featured some well-known feminist figures of the past like Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt, but many subjects—like Patty Smith, Diana Nyad, Janette Sadik-Khan, Joan Didion, and (of course) Maya Angelou—are still alive and well (and changing the world) today.

Lisa and Maria decide who they’d like to feature on a week-to-week basis depending on what’s going on in the news or in history or what’s been on their minds. With only 52 weeks in the year, they can’t pay homage to all the women they’d like to, so they focus on picking someone whose story is important to them.

“In that way it’s a personal project for us,” Lisa says.

While this is Lisa’s first time working on a collaborative project, this isn’t her first rodeo when it comes to yearlong projects. In 2010, she shared her collections through A Collection A Day, which is now a book. In 2012, she featured more of her artwork in 365 Days of Hand Lettering.

All of her yearlong art projects have been started through blogs. Lisa says she’s liked sharing The Reconstructionists this way because it’s “educational for people and low-pressure for us.”

“When you do a blog, there’s an expectation that you’re going to post every week,” she says. “It puts a self-imposed deadline and structure on personal work that might not exist otherwise.”

When asked if Lisa has a project in the works for 2014, she’s a little noncommittal.

“There are a few things stewing in my head,” she says, laughing.

What women inspire you?

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How the Natural Burial Company is putting old ideas about death to rest

Each day, people like you have ideas about how to make the world a better place, but don’t know how to put them into action. To help you take the first step, we’re profiling individuals tackling issues that are important to them, one step at a time.

This week’s spotlight: all things death.

Cynthia and some of the wicker coffins and acorn-shaped urns which break down easily in the soil.

Cynthia with a selection of her company’s biodegradable woven coffins and urns.
(photo courtesy Cynthia Beal)

Two weeks after she registered the Natural Burial Company name, Cynthia Beal was diagnosed with cancer. Worried that she might be her first and last customer, Cynthia walked in the footsteps of future clients by writing out her wishes to be laid to rest under a cherry tree in a biodegradable coffin.

She never made it to the cherry tree, but she did take another journey.

Through the process of planning for her own death, Cynthia says she reached a deeper understanding of how being in the business of natural burials could help customers and families like hers through the somewhat misunderstood process of being buried in this way.

“I realized my friends and family knew what I’d meant about natural burial, but no one—not they or the professionals—really knew exactly what to do,” she says.

Founded in 2004, the Natural Burial Company sells biodegradable and eco-friendly coffins, caskets, and ash burial urns. Constructed mostly from wicker, wood, and recycled newspaper, the coffins are designed to break down quickly in the earth, returning the elements of the body back into the surrounding soil system and the plants and trees that rise above.

These coffins, woven from seagrass and sugar cane, break down easily in the soil.

Seagrass and cane coffins.
(photo courtesy Cynthia Beal)

As she slowly worked to build her business, Cynthia was challenged by the public’s general lack of knowledge about end-of-life options and rights, as well as by dominant end-of-life industry monopolies on distribution.

Many existing cemeteries and funeral homes didn’t know how to offer natural services like a vault-free burial with biodegradable coffins. They didn’t believe there was any demand for this, either.

Working as a natural and organic grocer for 14 years, Cynthia knew this wasn’t the case. She planned to use the same strategies employed by the organic food movement to promote natural end-of-life products and services.

“Because of my natural products experience, I knew customers would want to have this kind of option. But I could also tell that the cemetery was the main bottleneck to going forward—sort of like when we needed more organic food choices but didn’t have the farmers to grow them yet.”

Giving new life to old cemeteries

Supplying natural coffins was relatively easy, but providing natural graves for her customers was a lot more complicated.

The newly emerging natural burial movement needed more information about sustainable burial practices to get cemeteries on board for this kind of management practice. Cynthia partnered with the soil sciences department at Oregon State University to build the curriculum for a first-of-its kind online course focused on sustainable cemetery management.

By teaching current and future cemetery business operators as well as policy makers, she hopes to change the dominant narrative of cemeteries today.

Trees mark the graves of the dead at a natural burial site the UK. (Photo credit Cynthia Beal)

Lush, young trees mark graves at a natural burial site the UK. (photo courtesy of Cynthia Beal)

“Without knowledge, we can’t make wise group decisions. Without research, we won’t ever know the potential for cemetery pollution, or be able to compare the post-burial costs of buried materials, or transition them to sustainability.”

And what would a sustainable cemetery look like exactly?

“Not all of us value highly manicured lawns and sterile, wildlife-free ‘zones of vegetation,’ and we don’t have to do cemeteries that way, either,” she says.

So, more like a park with flowering trees and bushes instead of a golf course.

“Cemeteries are the places we go to honor the lives of others we care for, to remember the people who helped build our communities. Cemeteries shouldn’t be just uninteresting parking lots for the dead that get abandoned to the taxpayer someday.”

On death and dying

Ultimately, Cynthia hopes to change the way we think about the bodies of our dead.

“I think one of the main challenges for us is that we don’t really see death in our daily lives the way our grandparents once did. And because we don’t encounter it, we don’t talk about it,” she says.

Changing our somewhat squeamish attitudes about death and dying is also an important step to building safer and more sustainable burial practices.

“When we realize that we’re walking around in bodies that were soil before they turned into us—and that we’re just borrowing the elements while we’re alive, and that we should return them in good condition when we’re done with them—we’ll have come a long way toward understanding the real cycle of life.”

Would you consider a natural burial? Why or why not?

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Move over, Movember. It’s time for Dinovember.

Dinos big and small team up to write this blog post.

Dinos big and small teamed up to write this blog post.

Two parents in Kansas City wanted to make some magic for their kids and ended up starting a nationwide creative craze.

Refe and Susan Tuma, the parents behind Dinovember, came up with an idea to help their kids “see the real world with a sense of wonderment” by setting up elaborate scenes around the house.

During Dinovember, toy dinosaurs come alive at night and do naughty mischief: breaking plates and spilling food, spray-painting the walls, getting stuck in the freezer while stealing ice cream.

Kids find the dino scenes in the morning, freak out, and play for hours.

The Tumas encourage all parents (and kids and people without kids) to participate in Dinovember. In a Fast Company article by Jennifer Miller, they offer tips on how to join in the fun while sharing their thoughts on taking risks, being creative, and making your own magic:

1. You Don’t Have to Pay for Play. The Tumas haven’t spent a dime on Dinovember. All the props—from the dinosaurs to the cans of spray paint—were already in the house. This forces them to get creative with what’s already available.

2. Make It More Than Child’s Play. Your project may be silly, but it’s still art—and worth no less than that novel you’re writing. “We rarely have time to work on our own projects,” says Refe, whose wife is an artist as well as a full-time mom. “But Dinovember is a way to combine our kids and our desire for creative pursuits.” In other words, if you take your project seriously, it might just provide that artistic outlet you crave.

3. Make (Them) Believe. When the Tumas started Dinovember last year, their oldest child was completely convinced the dinosaurs were real. A year later, she’s wised up. “We can see in her eyes that she knows what’s going on, which is why we had to escalate,” says Refe. And how. He and his wife spray-painted the walls. “She knows Mom and Dad would never graffiti the living room,” Refe says. But would a dinosaur? Not out of the question.

4. Make a Mess. Speaking of spray paint, take risks! Defy convention! “Repainting the walls is a small sacrifice to keeping the fun going with our kids,” says Refe. The same thing applies to dirtying the kitchen or breaking common household objects in order to make the dinosaurs appear responsible. Tuma and his wife have found new freedom in their non-adult behavior. “It reminds us that our stuff isn’t as important as our kids,” he says.

Read the full article to learn more about Dinovember or visit Dinovember’s Facebook page.

What projects or ideas do you have that could use some magic?

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