What a difference a day makes

Dear Sam,

 

Thank you for telling me about World Smile Day and for sharing your tip about thinking of things you are grateful for while brushing your teeth. I’m off to the dentist this week, so it’s not only made me feel happier but will keep me in their good books, too!

I don’t know if it’s because the weather starts to get wintery in October, but it seems to be a month that’s full of special days to help us motivate ourselves. The next one for your diary fits right in with our aim here of suggesting small steps to making a differenceMake a Difference Day.

Different ways to brighten someone’s day

It started in the US about 20 years ago and the idea is to encourage everyone to do something good for someone because small actions add up to big ones. It falls on the last Saturday of October (this year it’s the 27th). You can volunteer or help with a community project;  near me,  a litter collection is taking place and a Neighbours’ Lunch has been organised to help bring people together and tackle loneliness.  If you’re looking for something simpler to do, you could  improve someone’s day by giving them flowers or baking a cake.

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My Alzheimer’s Society mug says it all!*

Of course, I can’t write a post called What a difference a day makes without thinking about the song of the same name, so here it is sung by Tony Bennett – with a glimpse of Kermit the frog to make it even better – enjoy!

Much love,

Claire

* The mug is available from the Alzheimer’s UK shop

 

 

 

Looking back, moving forward

Dear Sam,

 

Well, what a tonic it was to spend time with good friends! Oxford was looking glorious, with the college gardens and parks at their most colourful, and I loved seeing the profusion of roses everywhere. As well as reminiscing about our student days, it was wonderful to look ahead and make some plans for our blog here at Staircase 9 17, too.  It was lucky that we came across the Turl Street Kitchen when we arrived, as it was the perfect place to start our discussions, with its combination of great food and coffee and its mission to support the local community.

The blog’s Home page has a new look

I’m glad we’ve made a few changes to the format of the blog and, as this year progresses, I’m looking forward to exploring our theme of wellbeing and ways of helping ourselves by helping others. Next month, we’ll start our new Friday Food for Thought series, where we’ll post an inspiring snippet to ponder. With that in mind, I’ll leave you with some wise words from Dr Johnson, once, of course, a student at Pembroke himself,

“Life has no pleasure higher or nobler than that of friendship.”

Well said!

Much love,

Claire

 

 

Spring planting!

Dear Claire,

 

I hope you had a wonderful trip to Florence – full of good food and wine and sunshine!

I’m happy to say the sun is out here now, and spring has finally sprung. It’s lovely to be able to get outside, walk in the park and breathe in the fresh air – the perfect thing to add a little happiness to the day.

It’s the season for planting, too. I’m not much of a gardener myself, but I know that people who love to garden often say that their garden is their happy place. Little did I realize, until I came across this article recently, that there’s evidence for the garden really being a place that increases happiness, because certain microbes in the soil have an anti-depressant effect!

Since my last post, I had a great experience working with a group of families from J’s school on a service project for a local urban farm run by Journey’s End Refugee Services. The farm provides a place for refugees to learn about agriculture and the business of farming, and grow produce to sell or to bring home for their families. I think there were thirty of us, adults and children. Between us we cleaned up debris, built three large raised beds for vegetables, put together a wheelbarrow, and sanded and painted picnic tables. All in three hours one crisp Saturday morning. We got fresh air and exercise, got creative and had fun, and met parents and children we hadn’t necessarily met before. There’s no doubt we all left as happier people that day – and hopefully we’d done a little to help some of our refugee neighbors as well.

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Nothing like planting to work up an appetite – so I’m happy to report that tomorrow marks the opening of our local farmer’s market. Fresh flowers and produce, home baked bread, locally brewed coffee – or beer! – and music and friends on a Saturday morning. Happy spring!

Much love,
Sam xx

Treat the Earth Well

Dear Claire,

 

Gosh. It’s quite sobering to think that even the humble tea bag can contribute to the plastic in our oceans. Blue Planet is also popular in the US and the prevalence of plastic in our world has become quite a topic of conversation here, too. It’s all very timely, because this weekend marks Earth Day, and the focus of their campaign this year is ending plastic pollution.

I was  heartened to read recently that since all stores in the UK introduced a 5p charge for plastic bags back in 2015, there has been an 85% drop in the number of single-use plastic bags given out by major retailers – and a 30% drop in the number of plastic bags on the seabed. So such initiatives really can make a difference.

It’s not just Earth Day this weekend, but also the first World Creativity and Innovation Day. So with that in mind I’ve been on the lookout for creative ideas for ways we can limit our purchase of plastics or re-use the plastics we do end up with in our homes. Here are three of my favorites:

  • Turn K-cups into seedling starters – perfect because they already have a hole in the bottom.
  • Switch from plastic straws to paper ones, or better still, go straw-free. Did you know that 500 million straws are used every day in the US? Enough to circle the earth twice!
  • And my favorite: Instead of buying that plastic container for your freezer, go out and treat yourself to an ice cream cone!

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I particularly like this one because in the middle of April, it’s still snowing in Buffalo!

Love,
Sam

“Treat the Earth well. It was not given to you by your parents,
it was loaned to you by your children.”
Kenyan proverb

 

A helping hand

Dear Sam,

How are you?  I’ve been a bit under the weather with a cold this week and I wanted to thank you for telling me about the TED talks. Being poorly has given me the perfect opportunity to put my feet up and make myself feel better by listening to the inspirational speakers.

In TED’s spirit of sharing, G and I have just joined Helpful Peeps, an online community where you can offer time, skills and knowledge to help other people out. I think their motto strikes a chord for us here at Staircase 917, Life is better when we help each other.  Where we live, people are looking for all sorts of help, from learning a language to advice about handicrafts, so there’s scope to offer support whatever your strengths may be! Apparently, there are members in more than 80 countries – do you know if they’ve reached the US?

And, thinking of the power of words to move and inspire, I’m sure you’ll want to join me today in wishing a happy 103rd birthday to Dylan Thomas. Here he is reading his Poem in October, written in 1944.

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.

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