Free Rice

Dear Claire,

We had an amazing time in Italy, thanks! And believe it or not Duolingo was the app we used to learn a little Italian before we went. I thought it was very well designed, and definitely made the learning fun. I can’t say I took it to the gym, but putting it to use while walking around Rome in 40-degree-plus heat was perhaps as much of a workout!

I discovered something I didn’t know about Rome, too: it’s the headquarters of the United Nations World Food Programme. And since we’re on the topic of online learning, have you heard of their game called Free Rice? Their mission is two-fold:

  1. To provide education to everyone for free; and
  2. To help end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people for free

It’s essentially a general knowledge quiz, and for every question you get right, an advert pops up – and that advert generates 10 grains of rice for the world food programme, which goes to feed the hungry.

So: an online game that helps improve your learning and benefits a good cause all at the same time. Such a clever idea.

Safe travels. I hope you have a lovely vacation!

Love,
Sam

Language lessons

Dear Sam,

 

Welcome home! I hope you had a fantastic time in Italy?

I know you’d been learning some Italian before your holiday – did you get a chance to try it out? Following your good example, we’ve also just booked a short trip to Italy later this year, so I’ve been brushing up my Italian, too. I find that Duolingo  is a fun way to practise – have you come across it? It’s a game-based language learning system that offers a huge choice of different languages –  as well as Italian, French and German you can try out Welsh or Norwegian,  to name just a few.  Amazingly, since it was launched about 5 years ago, more than  1.2 billion people worldwide are now using it to improve their language skills. I’m also a fan because of the ethos behind Duolingo –  the belief that learning another language can open up opportunity and mutual understanding and the pledge that the lessons will always be free of charge, so that everyone has equal access to the opportunity to learn.

If, as in my case, a little pre-holiday exercise is needed, it’s good to know that according to a recent study, learning a language while you are at the gym can help you retain the new information more easily.  An incentive to  give more that just the grey matter a workout, perhaps!

Much love,

Claire

 

In the summertime

Dear Sam,

Buon viaggio for your trip to Italy.  I’m taking a break during August, too, so I’ll be back here on 1st September. I hope we’ll both be inspired by our travels and full of fresh ideas!

Much love,

Claire

 

Kids and kindness

Dear Claire.

 

Happy summer! I  think this is the week when the children break up from school in the UK, though they’ve been out here for a few weeks already. Which means we’re at that moment when, after those first heady days of the holidays, comes a question that I’m sure you’ll recall: ‘What can I do?’

I just read an article in Parents Magazine here that had several inspiring answers to that question, and also speaks to the mission of our blog: How to Raise Happy Kids: Commit Acts of Kindness.

Another popular activity here for kids is to set up a lemonade stand. It’s a fun way for them to get outside, learn a few business skills, earn a little pocket money for themselves … and I know a few families where the kids pick a charity to donate half their profits to. There are plenty of helpful articles online about how to set up a stand, but I quite like this one: So You Want to Start a Lemonade Stand.

Of course, it’s just the ticket for someone who needs a little refreshment after a walk in the park, and the perfect opportunity to sell some of your bake sale brownies, too!

Love,
Sam

PS We’re off on our trip to Italy soon, so will look forward to catching up again when we’re back.

“Fresh air impoverishes the doctor”

Dear Sam,

How is your Charity Miles fitness regime going? Well done in signing up for it – I think anything which offers an incentive to exercise can only be a good thing and if you can help others at the same time, even better!

Locally, there’s something along the same lines called The Good Gym, where people go running together and combine the exercise with helping their community by gardening or perhaps visiting an older person who lives alone. It’s a win-win for all involved and I think it’s really inspiring to see such a clever but simple idea in action.

Although, as you know, I’m not much of a runner myself, I’ve been enjoying getting outside into the sunshine lately. Have you heard the Danish proverb, “Fresh air impoverishes the doctor”?  It struck a chord with me as I certainly find that going for a walk is a simple remedy if I’m feeling tired or uninspired or, indeed, a bit overwhelmed by the day’s news. Even a short walk in the park where I can focus on the trees or birdsong can help me reconnect with the present and put worries or problems into perspective. It’s also free and you can enjoy a coffee or an ice-cream at the same time – perfect!

Much love,

Claire

 

 

Charity Miles

Dear Claire,

Thanks so much for sharing the recipe for your bake sale brownies. The challenge in my household will be making sure enough of them actually make it to the bake sale! And then of course comes the other challenge of working off the calories!

I’ve come across a solution, though, in the form of an app that I’ve just downloaded to my phone, called Charity Miles. When you walk or run or cycle, the app tracks your activity and then for every mile, a donation between 10 and 25 cents goes to a charity, depending on the activity. The money comes from corporate sponsorships, and there are several charities to choose from (the Alzheimer’s Association is one of them, as well as the Nature Conservancy, Habitat for Humanity, Autism Speaks and several others). I thought it was a fabulous idea to encourage you to exercise (which as we know has a positive effect on mood and happiness) and to make a difference to others at the same time.

For me it’s the perfect time to try this, as the good weather starts to kick in and we head out for cycle rides and walks in the park. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Happy summer!

With love,
Sam

Bake Sale Brownies

Dear Sam,

It is very difficult to find the words to respond to some of the things which are happening in the world at the moment, isn’t it? All of us in the UK are still recovering from the incident in London last week; today everyone is talking about the result of yesterday’s election and what that may mean for the future.  I think you are absolutely right that in times like this we need to focus on goodness and kindness and to draw closer to each other not move further apart.

For today’s post I’d planned to share a recipe with you and recent events have made me realise that sometimes getting on with an absorbing, homely task like baking can be a good thing to do when you’re a bit overwhelmed by the news.  Adding some happy music in the background while you work helps, too, I find.

I’ve called the recipe Bake Sale Brownies as it’s my fail-safe option when I need to produce something to be sold at a charity fundraiser or event. I am definitely under the curse of recipes going horribly wrong when you need them to work for an important occasion, so I like to do something I know won’t let me down. Here’s all you need to know if you’d like to give them a try:
Ingredients

UK
125g butter

6 tablespoons cocoa powder

2 eggs

6 tablespoons self-raising flour

1 x 100g bag of choc chips- milk, white or dark

250g cups sugar

US

4oz or 1 stick  butter

1/2 cup cocoa powder (not hot chocolate)

2 eggs

2 cups self-raising flour

1 x 3.5oz. bag of choc chips- milk, white or dark

1  1/4 cups sugar

Method

Heat the oven to Gas 4/ 180C/350F.

Grease and line a 20 x 25cm /8in x 10in. baking dish.

Mix the eggs and sugar together.  Melt the butter in a saucepan with the sieved cocoa powder.  Allow to cool slightly, then add to the sugar and egg mixture and stir gently.

Sieve the  flour over the top of the mixture and fold in; do not overmix. Add the chocolate chips, combine well and pour the mixture into the baking dish.

Bake for 35 minutes.  When they come out of the oven, the brownies will be squishy in the centre but will firm up as they cool.  When cold enough, cut into even portions. Decorate, for example with icing (powdered) sugar as shown in picture, or with white chocolate piping in a pattern or wording relevant to the charity event.

You can sell the brownies individually or box them up in sixes for more profit! They freeze well, so you can bake batches ahead of time if you need to make a large quantity. Don’t forget to save a few to enjoy at home with a cup of tea.

Much love,

Claire

 

Memorial Day

Dear Claire,

I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to write this week, given the terrible events in Manchester. It’s simply heartbreaking, and it’s possible to feel quite helpless. But at the same time, many people have been saying that we have to remember how much good there is in the world. And that got me thinking back to why we started our blog – to try to promote that good, and share small ways in which we can all pull together to make a positive difference.

This weekend there are a few ways we can do so over here. It’s Memorial Day on Monday, which is a day to remember those who have died while serving in the military. It’s also the perfect day to say thank you to a veteran – and to that end I loved the ideas in your last post about simply picking up the phone or writing a letter.

Another Memorial Day tradition is to put together a little reminder of home and some creature comforts for those who are serving overseas, by building and sending care packages. The US Postal Service actually provides free shipping suppliesAnd you can click here for some inexpensive ideas for contents for care packages.

Of course, these are nice ideas for any time of year.

This Sunday is also the Buffalo marathon, which comes right past our house. So our way of spreading a little happiness that day will be gathering with our neighbors to cheer on the runners at their 22 mile mark, spray them with water and hand out watermelon and orange slices. This weekend usually marks the start of summer, so let’s hope the weather cooperates!

I know you too have a long holiday weekend coming up. Enjoy, and I’ll look forward to hearing from you the next time.

Love,
Sam

It’s good to talk…

Dear Sam,

 I hope you enjoyed the Buffalo String Works concert and I’m sure you were very proud of J and his friends; it sounds like a wonderful initiative and I love the fact that the universal language of music brings everyone together.

Speaking of J, I expect he’ll be spoiling you on Sunday as I believe it is Mother’s Day in the US? I hope you have a lovely day and I’m sure you’ll be thinking of your own Mum, too. As you know, we had our own Mother’s Day here in the UK back in March; these red-letter days are a perfect chance to catch up with people who are important in our lives, aren’t they? That reminded me to tell you about  a great project I read about the other day which recruits volunteers to telephone older people who might not have a lot of friends and family for a regular chat. The Silver Line  is one of the charities in the UK which runs a scheme like this but, of course, you don’t need to volunteer formally to be able to reach out to someone  who might enjoy some company or a chance to talk. By picking up the phone – or writing a letter – we can all brighten someone’s day very easily.

Do you remember that when we were at college, we had to go to a phone box to ring people – how much nicer for students these days to be able call from the comfort of home using their mobile phones!

Much love,

Claire

Strings and things

Dear Claire,

Well, that’s something I never knew – that reading for just six minutes can reduce stress by 68%. We must have been so relaxed at Pembroke! And probably didn’t appreciate it 🙂

In answer to your question about Oxfam, while we do have Oxfam America, they don’t operate charity shops (aka thrift stores) in the same way here. There are plenty of opportunities to get involved and volunteer though. And plenty of thrift stores run by other organizations such as Goodwill, the Salvation Army and ReStore, a part of Habitat for Humanity. I’ve been traveling since Easter, but this weekend we’ll be taking the results of our de-cluttering off to one of them.

Now to something else we’re doing this weekend. As you know, J is a violin player, and  on Sunday the studio he belongs to, Suzuki Violinists of Western New York, is performing a concert in support of Buffalo String Works. We have quite a diverse refugee population here in Buffalo, and the mission of Buffalo String Works is to help displaced children build community through music – a common language that they can all share, despite the different countries they have come from. Teachers volunteer their time and the children and parents in our studio have been collecting and donating used music and instruments. This is the second year of the benefit concert, and some of the children from Buffalo String Works are coming to perform as well. The concert is called From Children to Children. I’m inspired by the idea of teaching children how they might use their talents to give to and learn from each other, so that hopefully they will continue to do so as they become adults.

I hope you have an inspiring weekend ahead, too!

With love,

Sam