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.

Becky

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.

***

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.

***

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!

*****

Do you like to spread good ideas? Do you like connecting dots and people? Join Idealist on March 11 as we launch a new global movement for action and change!

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Real love letters: My mom’s 20+ years of writing to her kids

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.

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.

*****

Do you like to spread good ideas? Do you like connecting dots and people? Join Idealist on March 11 as we launch a new global movement for action and change!

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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.

Art of Man

(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:

Snow

(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!

*****

Do you like to spread good ideas? Do you like connecting dots and people? Join Idealist on March 11 as we launch a new global movement for action and change!

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New card game brings death to the table

This week’s spotlight: all things death.

 

Can’t make it to a Death Cafe? Try talking about end-of-life issues in the comfort of your home with My Gift of Grace.

“We spend most of our lives avoiding thoughts of mortality, which means that when we have to talk about illness and death, we’re unprepared,” say the folks at The Action Mill, a design firm who recently produced a conversation game that encourages people to talk about end-of-life issues. Called My Gift of Grace, it’s part of the firm’s “contribution to the growing movement to unhide death.”

So how does this game ‘unhide’ death and how could doing that benefit us?

My Gift of Grace is a set of cards that come in three categories: Questions (“If you could plan three things about your own funeral, what would they be?”), Statements (“The worst part about being at the end of my life would be…”), and Activities (“Visit your local cemetery. If you see an employee, ask them what it’s like to work there.”).

Players use the cards to start short discussions with others in the group and to keep notes on; when the game is over, participants are encouraged to keep the cards handy as reminders of the conversations they had.

As for the benefits, the designers cite encouraging giving, better focus on the present, and increasing understanding, for starters:

Anyone can get the game and play it, but we’re designing My Gift of Grace to be given as a gift. Giving is good for us. Generosity makes us happier and healthier and creates social connections.

The game itself is just one part of the social support network we’re designing to help people get unstuck and have important conversations that can help us get perspective and focus on the things that are most important to us in the here and now.

Sharing how you think about the end of your life is also one of the most important gifts you can give to the people who are close to you. Letting them know how you feel about end-of-life issues can save them from a lot of guilt, trauma, and expense down the road in the event they need to make decisions for you.

Read more about the purposes behind and development of My Gift of Grace on The Action Mill’s Kickstarter page. For info about ordering the game when it becomes commercially available (hopefully this month), see MyGiftOfGrace.com.

Have you opened conversations about end-of-life issues with your community? Did the experience help get you unstuck?

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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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Put a bid on it: How a Portland, OR auctioneer is keeping the city’s nonprofits afloat

Johnna Wells BGF photo

Johnna at the 3rd Annual Shake It Til We Make It fundraising auction and event for The Brian Grant Foundation,
held last year at the iconic International Rose Test Garden. (Photo credit: www.iamatrailblazersfan.com)

Every weekend for nine months out of the year, auctioneer Johnna Wells stands up in the center of a room filled with hundreds of people, sometimes thousands, and tries to raise the most money possible for that night’s nonprofit.

Her auction chant is automatic at this point; the mental juggling is all about reading the body language of the bidders at key tables, making sure she gets the minimum amount for the donated goods, and sustaining the energy of the crowd.

It’s become second nature for Johnna, who is admittedly shy otherwise.

“I’m more uncomfortable in a room of ten people than a thousand,” she says. “But once I get up there and get a microphone in my hand, it’s almost like my superhero cloak. I feel at home, and less exposed in that way.”

From artist to auctioneer

Johnna’s been around the rapid-fire auction environment her whole life. Her mom and dad owned and operated auction houses in Coeur D’Alene and Post Falls, Idaho, which specialized in antiques and collectibles.

As kids, every day after school, she and her brother would help their parents get read for the weekly Friday night auction, and every Friday night, they would listen to the patter of their dad’s bid call, rolling out their sleeping bags in the clerking room while buyers checked out with their treasured wares.

“It seems nerdy, but it’s an interesting and cool community of little vignettes of stories and lives,” she says.

But Johnna outgrew the family business as she got older. After studying art at the University of Idaho, she moved to Portland and began a series of art-related jobs ranging from window dressing to jewelry design. During this time, she started to question whether or not she could continue to pay the bills as an artist—and if it was fulfilling her desire to do good in the world.

Then her dog died back home. On a whim, she quit her jewelry store job, got on a plane, and chose a seat that happened to put her next to two old-timers who’d known her grandparents and told her tales of days long ago.

“Sometimes it feels like once an action is put in motion, you know you’re on the right track when the rest of those pieces start to fall into place and remind you that you made the right decision,” she says.

She ended up staying in Idaho for the summer. Coincidentally, her father’s health took a bad turn and she further learned the ins and outs of the auction method when her parents opted to leave the family farm and move into a condo. It was during that summer that she decided to go to auction school and, afterward, apprentice at a local fundraising auction company back in Portland before starting her own business.

Portland’s powerhouse fundraiser

Now Johnna is one of the seven percent of women auctioneers around the world, and a 2005 International Auctioneer Champion.

Her company, Benefit Auctions 360, works with a variety of Portland nonprofits including Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, Cascade AIDS Project, and the homeless youth organization p:ear.

The fundraising auctions, which Johnna likens to “original crowdfunding,” are anything but small affairs. Throughout the course of the year, her team works with each nonprofit to strategically plan and promote each auction and event. Venues range from art museums to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum; performers have included local and famous musicians alike, from Julianne Johnson to KISS; and donated goods run the gamut from an original Gus Van Sant photograph to being a roadie for the band Rush.

This spring alone, Benefit Auctions 360 has raised a total of $14 million—and they’ve made their own donation to every organization they’ve worked with. For many of city’s nonprofits, the money they raise in one night is what keeps their doors open throughout the year.

“Years ago, I had my very first auction with p:ear. Seconds before I took the stage, Executive Director Beth Burns came over to me. She put her hand on shoulder, squeezed it firmly, and said, ‘We’ve barely got any money in the bank. So don’t mess this up,’ ” Johnna says. “I was shocked, but it really set the tone early on for how important this work is.”

Johnna is successful any way you look at it, but she doesn’t let it get to her head. In fact, she’s anything but comfortable.

“There’s always the potential to make whatever you’re doing bigger and better. And there’s also the potential for it to unravel at the seams. It all depends on you,” Johnna says. “I’m scared every day that I’m not doing the right thing, that I’m not doing my best. I think that’s a good thing. It keeps you on your toes and makes you work that much harder.”

Check out the Benefit Auctions 360 blog for tips on fundraising, auction planning, and more.

Follow them on Pinterest for auction and event ideas.

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