Snowflakes Fall

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Last weekend was a difficult one for all of us.  The one year anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary brought up emotions and memories that painfully juxtaposed against the normally joyful holiday bustle.   Images of angelic faces and devastated families swirled around me all day.  But I didn’t need a reminder to be thinking of the Sandy Hook community, because I haven’t stopped thinking about them.  I don’t think any of us have.  It’s like the whole world has reached out our arms to give one big giant hug to the grieving.  I hope they feel it.

My community, also a “small Connecticut town,” organized an event that encouraged the lighting of luminaries on December 14th.  We participated and I found the experience very soothing.  With my oldest, who is aware of some of the details of the tragedy, I slowly scooped sand into 26 bags.  As we carefully placed in tea lights, I brought up specific names as their faces flashed before me.  Snow was falling as we placed the luminaries outside, and I lifted up my face to feel the tiny pings, the gentle reminder of the cycle of the seasons, and life.  Snowflakes have become a symbol of hope and healing in Newtown, CT, and I like to think that maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that it was snowing in CT that day.

To show support and encourage healing, Newbery medalist Patricia MacLachlan and illustrator Steven Kellogg used the symbol of the snowflake to craft their beautiful picture book:

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SNOWFLAKES FALL was written in response to last year’s tragedy.  It is a gorgeous book with a healing message.  From the publisher’s website (Random House):

“In Snowflakes Fall, Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan and award-winning artist Steven Kellogg portray life’s natural cycle: its beauty, its joy, and its sorrow. Together, the words and pictures offer the promise of renewal that can be found in our lives—snowflakes fall, and return again as raindrops so that flowers can grow.

MacLachlan and Kellogg, who are longtime friends, were moved to collaborate on a message of hope for children and their families following the tragic events in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012. Kellogg lived in Sandy Hook for thirty-five years—he raised his family there and was an active member of the community. With Snowflakes Fall, they have created a truly inspiring picture book that is both a celebration of life and a tribute to the qualities that make each individual unique.

In honor of the community of Sandy Hook and Newtown, Random House, the publisher of Snowflakes Fall, has made a donation to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund. Random House is also donating 25,000 new books to the national literacy organization First Book in the community’s honor and in support of children everywhere.”

“A snowflake.  A child.  No two the same – all beautiful.”

George Clooney and First Book

I think about George Clooney a lot, but it’s not what you’re thinking.  Well, sometimes it probably is what you’re thinking.  Because, really. But honestly, most of the time it is because of his philanthropy work, and specifically something he said in an interview a few years ago.

Really, I'm only in it for the philanthropy!

Really, I’m only in it for the philanthropy!

The reporter asked him how giving back came to be such a large part of his life. And George (I’m assuming he’d want me to call him that) said that from a young age, his father always took the kids with him whenever he was volunteering for something.  When the reporter asked if he’d enjoyed this, George answered honestly and said something like, “No, he dragged me kicking and screaming.” But he admitted that those early experiences helped influence how much he commits to philanthropic endeavors as a grown up.

I think of this every time I drag my own kids on do-gooder adventures.  It would be SO much easier to leave them home.  And it might even be more productive for whatever group I’m trying to help if they weren’t there.  But little by little, I see them moving into the asset column, and being less of the kicking-and-screaming liabilities they once were.  And always, I hear George whispering in my ear, “this is going to pay off later.”  (No, he doesn’t whisper other things…get your mind out of the gutter!)
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Recently we had the opportunity to help out an organization based in our town called hawkwing. From their website: “hawkwing is a Native American Federal non-profit 501(c)3 organization created to offer cross-cultural education while assisting the people of the Lakota (Sioux) Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota meet their basic human needs.  Each year, we conduct a major collection drive in order to bring basic need items to some 3,000 children and 500 Elders on the Cheyenne River.”
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The scale of this effort and the way it is organized is astounding.  We showed up at a warehouse that was packed with supplies and well-trained volunteers, and were greeted by hawkwing founder and president, Rochelle Ripley.  Each year in the late fall, Rochelle oversees the organizing of supplies and packing of a large truck, which then makes its way out to South Dakota for distribution.
Rochelle Ripley, the brains and heart behind hawkwing

Rochelle Ripley, the brains and heart behind hawkwing

As volunteers, we were given a sheet of paper which detailed the needs of a specific family group.  We then took an empty box and worked our way through the warehouse, picking out personal care items, toys, clothing, and sometimes shoes for specific people.
New toothbrushes went in every box

New toothbrushes went in every box

My kids had a lot of fun in the toy section, being directed to pick out “a toy for a 5 year old boy,” or “something for a 12-year-old girl who likes to draw.”  This made the idea of who we were helping very tangible for them.
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Donated clothing items and outerwear were brand new, and each area had a trained volunteer that helped make sure we were picking out the correct sizes and items.

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Many of the hats, scarves, and mittens were handmade

Many of the hats, scarves, and mittens were handmade

And then we came to MY toy area, the books!  It was just so thrilling to pick out books for the children, especially after learning that some areas of the reservation do not have libraries. 

Look at all the books!

Look at all the books!

The “book corner” volunteer had everything sorted according to age and reading level, and gave advice with the wisdom of a librarian (she probably was one!).  I saw many new books that I’d have loved to have gotten my hands on myself.

Middle grade/YA books

Middle grade/YA books

Picture books

Picture books

Knowing what kind of shape my children’s books are in when they get around to being donated, I asked where so many pristine, new books had come from.  The answer was that several of the books were purchased, at drastically reduced rates, from the organization First Book.

From their website: “First Book provides access to new books for children in need. To date, First Book has distributed more than 100 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families throughout the United States and Canada. First Book is transforming the lives of children in need and elevating the quality of education by making new, high-quality books available on an ongoing basis.”

And while I’m tooting First Book’s horn, as many of you know there are other equally great programs that are working to get new books into the hands of kids who might not otherwise have access to them.  Some of my favorites are: Book Train, which works to “[help] foster children discover great books – and keep them!” and Reading is Fundamental.

Rochelle pointed out that it is especially helpful when people donate money to hawkwing, because she can use that money to get so many more books through First Book than she can if the same donor bought books from a traditional retailer.

There are so many organizations and people using their powers for good in this world.  Pick one and get involved! Donate or volunteer!  You might just meet George Clooney!*

Also, if you are interested in current Native American culture,  I encourage you to check out Sherman Alexie’s book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, about growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation.  It’s a fantastic and eye-opening read.

*This is probably not going to happen. Sorry.

Feelin’ and Spreadin’ the Love

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Happy Valentine’s Day!  Did you know it’s also International Book Giving Day?  IBGD is a “volunteer initiative aimed at increasing children’s access to and enthusiasm for books.”  What’s better than sharing book love?

The initiative suggests spreadin’ the love in one of these three ways:

1. Give a Book to a Friend or Relative.
2. Leave a Book in a Waiting Room or Lobby.
3. Donate a Book.  
There are so many good programs working to get books into the hands of kids who would otherwise not have access to them, including:
As for me, I’ll be leaving a fresh copy of BOY + BOT by Ame Dyckman (illustrated by Dan Yaccarino) in a local pediatrician’s office.
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My favorite part of this book is when Bot finds Boy sleeping, and he thinks Boy is sick.  He takes the boy home where he gives him oil, reads him an instruction manual, and tries to change his battery.  I think kids headed into a check-up at the doctor’s will get a kick out of this.
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The International Book Giving Day’s website has a lot of other great ideas for giving.   They also have fun bookplates, some designed by big names in the biz, which you can download for free.  I chose one by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, (illustrator of the new picture book, I’M BORED!):
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I’m all for flowers and chocolate, but if my husband gave me a bouquet of a dozen books, that would be an amazing valentine!  Hope you all get to share and feel some love today.

Deliberate Kindness

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The holidays were different this year; more poignant, less frenzied.  As a mother of elementary school-aged kids living in Connecticut, it was impossible not to feel the wave of sadness emanating from Newtown.  The holiday-cheer-status-quo was elusive,  knowing that just miles away, so many families would never have a “status quo” again.

To help peel myself out of the darkness that seemed to be consuming me, I dug deep into family, and wrapped hugs around me like blankets. I also began to look around for “good news.”  It’s a little game I play with myself in order to keep from taking to my bed and staying there.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the movement news anchor Ann Curry sparked, encouraging people to do 26 acts of kindness to honor those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. (#26 Acts).  It’s been a joy watching so many people reach out to others, and to see the clever ways people have thought of to be kind to one another.

But performing “random acts of kindness” is not a new concept.  I’ve seen and and lived examples of this principle for years, and have been grateful each time a moment of kindness entered my life, or that I had a chance to be an agent of kindness myself.

So I got to thinking about people who were on this kindness band wagon, in big ways, before the words Sandy Hook Elementary became so heartbreakingly known to us all.

Kelley Faust is the President and “Chief Hope Officer” of Sunshine Hope, an organization that “creates ways for people to find support and friendship, seek refuge from stress, and feel better about their lives and the world around them.” How cool is that?  Here is their mission statement:

Sunshine Hope empowers individuals to live each day to the fullest by helping them build clear minds, healthy bodies and strong spirits. Through our online community, educational and thought-provoking content and inspirational products, we seek to spread hope and add joy to the world, one life at a time.

Kelley has written and published a book called THE SUPERPOWER OF ME. The description on her website says: “This happy, positive little book of possibility reminds children of all ages to believe in the power within themselves, to realize they are strong and resilient, to live, love, and laugh each day.”

Now who wouldn’t want their kid to have a book like that in their library??  Which is why donating a couple of copies of this book to BOOK TRAIN was a no-brainer for me.

Book Train is an organization started by author Lynda Mullaly Hunt, which seeks to “(Help) foster children discover great books, and keep them.”  In a very simple process, you send new books to a social worker, who gets them into the hands of a foster child.  I absolutely love the idea of giving a foster child something lasting that they can keep.

Lynda’s own novel, ONE FOR THE MURPHYS, tells the story of a foster child  who learns how to love and be loved in the home of the Murphy family.  One of the themes of the book is the idea that ordinary people can be heros.

So how about you? I hope to take a cue from Kelley and Lynda this year and look for deliberate and lasting ways to help people.  What will you do to be someone’s hero in 2013?