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

Happy new beginnings

Dear Claire,

I hope you had a lovely festive season and that 2018 is off to a good start. We had a very pretty white Christmas here, but it was so cold that some days it literally took your breath away. We still have snow on the ground, with probably more to come. So I am dreaming of spring!

That’s why I’ve posted a picture of daffodils today. They symbolize both happy memories and new beginnings – just as we look back and look ahead at the time of new year. Of course, being the national flower of Wales, they remind me of you, and I’ve been reading a bit about their meaning in other cultures as well.  In China, they represent good fortune; in Japan, mirth and joy; and in France, hope. Apparently in some Arabian countries, the daffodil flower is believed to be a cure for baldness! And is it true that in Wales, there is a legend that whoever finds the first daffodil of the year will be blessed with gold rather than silver in the months to come?

Over here, the daffodil is the symbol of the American Cancer Society – a symbol of hope that a cure might be found. At this time of year people are beginning to work on fundraisers called Daffodil Days, through which you can buy bunches or potted flowers and even chocolate daffodils in support of the Society’s work. People are taking orders from now until early February, and the daffodils are delivered in the middle of March.

I also read about the Great Daffodil Appeal in support of Marie Curie in the UK. This seems like a great volunteer opportunity if anyone has a couple of hours to spare.

I’m looking forward to continuing our letters to each other this coming year, sharing ideas and learning a little along the way.

Happy new beginnings…
and much love
Sam

A word in your ear

Dear Sam,

I’m really pleased to hear you had a good time in Italy – so did we! We’re just back from Sicily and I enjoyed playing Free Rice to pass the time while we were travelling. I think it’s a great idea to combine a game with such a good cause, so thank you for letting me know about it.

While we were away I also enjoyed having a bit more time for reading. For the flight, I took something absorbing but light, one of  Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels, Black Sheep. Being in Sicily, I also packed one of Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano mysteries, The Patience of the Spider, and it was fun to see some of the places we’d visited appearing as part of the plot!

When I’m on holiday I usually take an audio book with me, too. Recently, I’ve listened to several, including the wonderful Barchester Towers , on  Librivox – have you come across it? It’s a great source of free recordings read by volunteers, either chapter by chapter or as whole works. And, if you feel inspired to join in, you can become involved as a volunteer reader if you choose.

What’s on your reading – or listening – list for the autumn? Or, the fall, I should say!

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.

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

Souper Bowl

Dear Claire,

What a wonderful volunteer opportunity in Dementia Friends, and one dear to your heart, I know. I love all the different ways you can choose to participate. I checked to see whether there’s an initiative over here – and there is. Take a look at Dementia Friends USA. They are literally just beginning to put state licenses in place, so there’s rather a long way to go to match your numbers. Let’s hope it takes off!

On a very different note, I thought of you this past week when I saw a news story on the Six Nations Rugby tournament. We had the Super Bowl here last month. It won’t come as much of surprise to you that I’m not exactly a devotee of American football, but what was interesting was something they did at J’s school to benefit our Western New York food bank. They put two large bins in the entrance lobby, each representing one of the teams in the Super Bowl. Every child was asked to bring in a can of soup to deposit in the bin of the team they thought would win. As it turned out, it was a virtual tie between the two teams… quite the prediction, when you think that for the first time in Super Bowl history the teams did in fact tie and had to go into overtime! Anyway, I thought this was a clever idea for any group who might want to collect food donations for a food bank or shelter or another cause. They called it the “Souper Bowl” 😊.

You’d need something different in the UK, of course. Perhaps the Canned National (groan)! Not quite sure what you’d do with the Six Nations!

With love,

Sam

PS Guess how much food the students collected  for the food bank? A whopping 2000 lbs! So the principal rewarded the students with a late-start day, which just happened to be the day after everyone stayed up to watch the game….

 

Forget me not

Dear Sam,

I love the idea of internet search engines which support good causes – what a great example of an easy way to make a difference every day. I’ve started to use everyclick.com and linked the searches to support Alzheimer’s Society. Which brings me neatly on to what I wanted to tell you about today…

I chose Alzheimer’s Society because I’ve been volunteering for them since last year.  I’d been thinking for a while about ways to broaden my horizons and start doing something new and I came across the opportunity to be a Dementia Friends Champion.  I know how hard it can be for people who are living with dementia and their families and this sounded like such a good idea; Dementia Friends attend a free session to learn some key facts about dementia and then agree to carry out an action to help make life easier for those affected.  This can be as simple as wearing the Dementia Friends’ badge – which features a forget-me-not flower – and spreading the word about the scheme.  Those who want to become more involved might volunteer, like me, visit someone with dementia or perhaps sign up to take part in a research programme.

I did some training to become a Champion so that I can run the information sessions and I’ve really enjoyed every one I’ve done. The groups have ranged from friends and family to staff at a nearby dental practice and members of a local church.  Volunteering has made me polish up some rusty skills and acquire new ones and it’s been very rewarding. I love to be told at the end of a session that someone has learned something which has opened their eyes and it’s done me good to be reminded time and again of how kind and caring people really are.  It needed a bit of courage to make the call to offer to volunteer, but I’m so glad I took the plunge.

At the moment in the UK there are about 1,800,000 Dementia Friends. Do you know if there’s a similar movement in the U.S?

I’ve found that the sessions go particularly well when there’s something nice to eat on offer. I might just take a few Welsh cakes next time. As we know, they’re a great way to seal a new friendship.

Much love,

Claire