Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

Finding Fine Art (www.findingfineart.tumblr.com) was created by visual artists for visual artists and art lovers alike.

The blog is co-managed by Jessica Torrant (who I went to junior high and high school with) and Sarah John Afana from the west coast.

They have started a movement called “Fine Art Friday”, which is a weekly promotion of Fine Art on Twitter, Tumblr, Etsy and Flickr. The idea is that one day a week people should show their love of art by sharing their favorite work through social media websites. Today, November 5, 2010 is the first official Fine Art Friday.

In honor of that, I would like to feature a local artist named Catherine Breer. She is a mother of two who lives in Freeport, Maine.

From Catherine’s website, www.catherinebreer.com, she paints “landscapes of Maine and New England, abstracts of intricate floral patterns, and 3-dimensional works in whimsical shapes and designs with a bold and vivid palette which is the hallmark of her style.” Catherine’s work has been exhibited in galleries and homes around the world.

The image I am featuring is called “Peaks Castle” and it is available for purchase through her website.

Gouache on Paper
22″ X 30″ image, 30″ X 40″ framed

I know Catherine from when I used to work at a non-profit. She and her business partner, Annie Darling, do a lot to give back to the community. If you would like to purchase prints, cards or calendars please visit the Annie Catherine website at www.anniecatherine.com.


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Even though my son is only in pre-school, we are already dealing with peer pressure. When I took him to the movie “The Princess and the Frog” in the theater, he loved it. When he went to school some of the boys in his class told him “Princesses are for girls.” All of a sudden he did not like it any more.

With both of our sons being so young it made me start to wonder, are there things that we could be doing now to help limit the influence of peer pressure as they grow older?

Mary O’Donohue has a thirteen year old son and an eight year old daughter and is also the author of “When You Say ‘Thank You’ Mean It… and 11 Other Lessons for Instilling Lifelong Values in Your Children”, which was just released this week. It is a month-by-month guide that helps parents teach their children values in a way that will stick with them.

Peer pressure is something Mary addresses specifically in her book because it seems to affect every child, and knowing how to deal with it can make all the difference in a child’s life.

Here are the questions about peer pressure that I asked Mary and her answers:

Karla: How can you let your child know that they can really come to you about anything and that you will not judge them?
Mary: The answer for me is consistency. If a child comes to Mom or Dad with something small that they have done, like accidentally breaking a glass, and their parent overreacted and gets upset, that sets a stage for them to be afraid to tell next time. But if we as parents give that consistent acceptance and love, I believe, and have seen with my own children, that it builds a trust between parent and child.

Karla: How can you nurture your child’s self-esteem and build a strong relationship with them?
Mary: It starts with self-respect, which I believe is different from self-esteem. There are so many things in our society that are meant to promote self-esteem in children – like all children who participate in a sport get some kind of trophy so no one will feel bad about themselves. This does not make a lot of sense to me because the kids know who won or lost the game, so does the trophy for last place mean anything to them? Self-respect on the other hand is about having a deep and abiding sense of who you are as a person, and accepting and honoring yourself. It does not matter if you bring home a trophy – it does not matter if you lose the game – what matters is that you love yourself and you show the same respect to yourself that you would show to another person. As parents, I think we often fall into the trap (I know I did) of telling our kids they are the best soccer player in the world, or the most talented artist, etc… But I have learned that it only puts pressure on kids – to think that they have to be the best or it is not good enough. So praise is important, but honest and supportive praise means more to a child than constantly telling them they are the “greatest, prettiest, or smartest.” I think this kind of loving encouragement really helps to build a strong relationship between parents and children.

Karla: What can you do if you think the friends your child has chosen will influence them negatively? How can you encourage friendships that you think are positive?
Mary:  I think as parents we have to prepare for situations like this by letting our kids know that influence can go in both directions – in other words, though the other child may do things like lying to the teacher in school, or stealing a classmate’s book, your child can be the positive influence on his friend by living his values in his everyday life. Values are powerful and you can let your child know that if he holds onto his values – like self-respect and integrity – he can show his friend that lying and stealing are things he is not comfortable with and will not be a part of. This will show the other child that in order to share a true friendship with your child, he might be the one to change his behavior. So peer pressure can work in a positive way too.

Karla: Should you talk to your kids about what peer pressure is? If so, what do you say and how young is okay to talk to them about it?
Mary: I talk to my kids about anything and everything I think they might encounter in their day-to-day lives. I have found with my own kids that five seemed to be the age when they started to understand situations like this. I think concepts like peer pressure can be very abstract to a child, especially a preschooler. I always try to find ways to make things like this more concrete for my children. I would suggest that you bring up situations where they might experience peer pressure. Maybe at recess, when the teacher is not looking, they might be encouraged to participate in taunting another child, or other children might suggest to your child that he write in a library book just “to be funny.” Then act out these situations so they get a chance to think about how they would feel and what they would do – in the same way an adult might rehearse for a presentation at work, trying to anticipate what questions might be asked, etc… Give the child a chance to “rehearse” what they would do so they will not be caught by surprise and give in to the peer pressure. I have a very effective exercise in my book in the Inner Strength chapter called “Three Reasons” where parents are encouraged to bring up specific situations where peer pressure is a factor – like being encouraged by a classmate to make fun of someone – and the child is asked to come up with three reasons why he or she would not want to participate.  A child might say “Number 1, that child being bullied is my friend. Number 2, I do not want to hurt that child’s feelings. And number 3, Bullying is just plain mean and I am not a mean person!” Doing this in advance of actually being in the situation gives the child power. They are prepared – so they are not as vulnerable to peer pressure.

Karla: How can you teach your child to stand up for what they believe in, especially when you are not particularly assertive yourself?
Mary: The antidotes to peer pressure are self-respect and inner strength. Kids (and adults) may be affected by what others think of them but they do not have to be influenced by the opinions of others. What matters most is what a child thinks of himself or herself. Also, having a source of inner strength to draw from – like knowing they have a loving family, can make all the difference.

Karla: Any other helpful tips you would like to share with us?
Mary: The thing I tell my children every day is that values are powerful and if you live your values, you can make a difference in the world.

Mary’s book is available on Amazon.com, in Borders stores and at Barnes and Nobles (online and in stores.)

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Image by nerdcoregirl via Flickr

Tyler Clementi, student at Rutgers University, committed suicide after the online broadcast of a sexual encounter of him with a man. Students Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei have been charged with invasion of privacy. Clementi’s family says it hopes the tragedy will serve as a call for compassion.

We live in an increasingly diverse society. We need to teach our children to live, learn and work in communities that will be more diverse even than what we are used to. The kids who are more open to differences will have more opportunities than those who are not.

We need to teach our children to respect differences and to learn from others. That tolerance means treating others like you would like to be treated.

  • Children watch and imitate their parents. The best way to teach your kids tolerance is to be tolerant yourself.
  • Talk to your children openly and often about tolerance and respect.
  • Give your kids opportunities to work and play with lots of different children with lots of different backgrounds.
  • Purchase or check out from the library books, toys, music, art and videos that encourage tolerance.
  • Point out any unfair stereotypes to your children and explain to them why they are so unfair.
  • Answer your kids questions about differences honestly. It teaches them it is okay to talk about differences as long as it is done with respect.
  • Help your children feel good about themselves. Kids who feel bad about themselves are most often the ones to make others feel bad.

At my son’s old pre-school he had a friend in his class who had two moms. He never even questioned it as being different because he had known the little girl since he was two. Let’s all do what we can to make sure that the generation of children we are raising now are much more tolerant, accepting, and compassionate than the generations before them.

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Cover of "I.O.U.S.A.: One Nation. Under S...

Cover via Amazon

This past weekend I watched an interesting and scary documentary called I.O.U.S.A.

The film is nonpartisan and follows former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker as he travels across the country explaining America’s unsustainable fiscal situation. It is an in-depth explanation of our growing national debt and what its consequences will be for our country and for those of us who live here. It says America is being burdened by an expanding government and military, an increase in international competition, over extended programs like social security, and debts to foreign countries like China that are becoming impossible for America to honor.

Throughout history, the American government has found it nearly impossible to spend only what has been raised from our taxes. The film warns that America must change its spending habits or we will face a huge economic disaster. Interesting that this movie was released in 2008, right after the economists are saying our last recession began (December 2007).

The scariest part for me was when one of the people being interviewed brought up how when you are a person and you die, your debt goes away. But when you are a country, you pass your debt on to the next generation. It is like we are running up a giant credit card bill and are leaving it for our children to have to take care of.

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Warren Buffett, extremely successful investor and one of the world’s richest men, and Bill and Melinda Gates, former head of Microsoft and his wife, held a dinner in New York City with some of America’s super, super-rich.

They sat around a conference table and took turns discussing what philanthropy meant to them. Over the next year, they held two more dinners – one in New York and one in San Francisco. Hoping to spread to places other than the U.S. they held another dinner in London and Bill Gates traveled to India and China on his own. At these dinners and discussions the billionaires encouraged each other to sit down, work out how much one’s children needed and then decide what to do with the rest.

In June, the campaign was officially unveiled. America’s billionaires were invited to take a “giving pledge” by writing a public letter – available on the campaign’s website (http://givingpledge.org/) – promising to give away at least a half of their wealth. Forty billionaires – worth a combined $230 billion – signed a “giving pledge” to donate at least 50 percent of their wealth to good causes. Buffett himself pledged to give away 99 percent of his estimated $47 billion fortune, much of it to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Buffett contacted 70 of America’s richest individuals. Two people have changed their wills as a result of his phone calls but he also received some Noes. Fortune magazine estimates that if the people on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans all made the pledge, an additional $600 billion could flow to non-profit groups – twice the amount Americans gave last year. Gates believes that only 15 percent of wealthy Americans currently give away large amounts of money.

Larry Elison, co-founder of the technology company Oracle and estimated to be America’s third-richest man after Buffett and Gates, also pledged to give away 95 percent of his fortune.

I am going to list some of the names of the billionaires that I know of that made the pledge because I think it is important that they be recognized:

  • David Rockefeller – patriarch of the famous dynasty
  • Michael Bloomberg – the New York mayor
  • Charles Feeney – Duty Free Shoppers owner
  • Ted Turner – CNN Founder
  • Eli and Edythe Broad – Los Angeles philanthropic couple
  • John and Tashia Morgridge – former boss of technology giant Cisco Systems and his wife
  • George Lucas – of Star Wars fame
  • T Boone Pickens – Texas oil man
  • Barry Diller (broadcasting mogul) and his wife Diane von Furstenberg (fashion designer)
  • Barron Hilton – hotel heir
  • Ronald Perelman – investor

The most up-to-date and complete list can be found at the campaign website (http://givingpledge.org/#enter)

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Did you know that some Good Will locations are now accepting computer equipment?

Here is some information from their site:

Goodwill Industries encourages businesses and individuals to donate their new and used computers. Since 2004, Goodwill Industries and Dell, Inc. have worked together to responsibly recycle unwanted electronics at no cost to the public. To date, the Reconnect partnership has collected more than 96 million pounds of electronics.

Simply take your unwanted electronics — any brand, any condition — to a participating Goodwill store or donation drop-off site. Goodwill will refurbish or recycle the equipment, benefiting communities and putting people to work. There is a list of accepted items on their site http://reconnectpartnership.com/items.php

In its sixth year, the Reconnect partnership is expanding its reach across the United States, allowing more people to keep their electronics out of landfills. As of April 2010, over 1,900 Goodwill locations were participating in the Reconnect partnership.

To make the donation process a smooth one and — most importantly — protect your privacy and prevent identity theft, Goodwill recommends you remove all data from your computer hard drive before donating a computer, with the exception of the operating system. To find out if there is a Goodwill near you that accepts computer equipment go to http://reconnectpartnership.com/locations.php

The new large Goodwill in South Portland near the Maine Mall is one of the locations that accepts computer equipment. I have a printer I will be dropping off this week.

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Homelessness and Poverty

One of our son’s best friends just got a new house. Kids think if their friends get something, they should too. He asked me when we were going to get a new house. I told him that we were not and that we should be grateful for the house we have. That so many people do not even have a home.

When you think about, we really do live in such big houses today. Most of our parents grew up in smaller houses and shared bedrooms with their siblings. When did we start expecting to keep moving to larger and larger homes?

As if the television were listening to our conversation, a news report about an area in Ohio came on NBC. This area is one of the poorest areas in the country. The story featured a woman who is trying to run a food pantry and soup kitchen to feed them all. It also featured two families – one family with a mother, father, son and daughter all living in a trailer with no running water and a single mom and her three children who are living out of their car. This caused all sorts of questions from our son. He could not understand how that family could not have a home. Even though I had told him there were families who were homeless only a few seconds ago, it obviously did not sink in as much as actually seeing a family in that situation did.

Another part of the story was an interview with the Governor of Ohio. He himself grew up extremely poor in that area of the state. He spoke about a prejudice for poverty and a selfishness that people have that is accepted by society these days.

Some people do believe that poor people are lazy, unskilled, substance abusers that have a victim mentality. In reality, less than ten percent of the homeless have addictions or mental disorders. Most are people with some skills who have worked most of their adult lives, but have fallen out of the system due to lack of jobs, family breakdown, or poor health.

America is supposed to be the most compassionate country in the world, but people are hesitant to help people now because we think we are being ripped off. We think we pay our taxes which pays for welfare so we have done our duty. Our own finances are tight so we do not think we can help. I know that I blogged about shutting off our cable. It strikes me now that for so many families cable was never an option, they worry about having money for food or electricity instead.

This all made me think about what our family can do:

  • Buy local. By keeping our money in our town, state or country we are creating jobs for our neighbors who need them.
  • Donate to the food banks and food pantries like the one featured in the story. Because of the recession these places are more in need than ever before.
  • Donate clothing. If something is just sitting in my closet, someone else could be using it who really needs it more. Plus I will be de-cluttering my closet at the same time.
  • Volunteer. Before I had kids I volunteered weekly at a development center for children in Portland. Most of the children were refugees from Somalia or Sudan. In the almost five years since I have had children I have only volunteered a day or two here or there. What am I doing? It is more important that I volunteer now so that I can teach my sons a life of service and giving back.

After the story was over I tried to discuss what we could do to help with my son. One of my suggestions was that instead of gifts for his birthday this year he could ask everyone to bring one unwrapped toy that we could donate. I explained how he has so many toys and so many children do not have any. Even though he was very concerned about the family without any home on tv, he was not a big fan of my idea. He very quickly and furiously started shaking his head back and forth to say no.

Yet the last time I told him we needed to go through his books and toys to clean out some we could donate, I had to pull him back. He wanted to donate everything he did not play with any more so I had to explain to him that we need to keep some of his old toys for his little brother. That might not be a sign of brotherly love, but at least it is a sign of progress.

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