One of Jane’s many gifts was the ability to really listen to others. She went far beyond cursory greetings and polite nods of the head; instead Jane paid attention and asked meaningful questions. She also remembered that your second cousin had been ill, or your older cat was having a hard time adjusting to the new kitten.
Now that families and friends update one another through texts, quick emails and the increasingly rare phone call, the need to be listened to, the desire to be really heard is greater than ever. And it’s not just folks comfortable with technology who are exchanging information, but not connecting. There are many people of all ages and socioeconomic areas who simply don’t ‘do’ technology. Those neighbors and relatives and coworkers want to be heard, too.
The next time a stranger starts talking to you about their 17 year old cat, or how amazing hair styles are, or what they think of the flavor ice cream you are buying – just stop everything and listen. Listen to their story not as a busy, important, tired, hungry, disinterested stranger. Listen as if this were your loved one, as if it might be you in a few years, or as if it has been you when you were lonely or excited or just talkative. Listen as if this human being is worthy of being listened to.
Some of the most beautiful stories come from people we don’t even know – or those whom we think we know, but rarely hear. These glimpses into the hearts of another person can touch our lives in ways we would not have imagined and their faces, voices, and personal experiences can remain a part of us forever – if we simply take a little time to listen.
Please share some of the wonderful stories you have heard from someone in a ticket line, or when searching for an ingredient on the store shelf, or while walking dogs at a park. And please feel free to share the ways in which you have reached out to another human being through the simple but profound act of listening.
… make a casserole.
That might sound frivolous, especially in light of the magnitude of many family challenges and problems that take place every day, but the simple act of caring for someone with a hug and a hot meal can make a real difference.
If cooking isn’t your thing, or if you live hundreds of miles away, or if you really cannot spare even one more minute no matter how your heart goes out to someone facing a crisis, consider the following options:
- Make arrangements for a local contact to pick up a meal that you have pre-ordered and paid for from a restaurant the family likes.
- Mail gift cards (for a local grocery store, fast food restaurant, or coffee shop) directly to the person or family going through a difficult time.
- Ask mutual friends living in the area to bake something and be willing to pitch in for the cost of the ingredients and their time in the kitchen.
- Ship a box filled with canned soup, a box of crackers and a package of cookies along with a cheerful card – and maybe a pretty bowl or a silly spoon.
- Purchase a subscription for a meal delivery service – or fresh fruit, tea, desserts, coffees, etc. – for someone facing a long recovery or a family dealing with financial challenges due to an illness or catastrophe.
If, however, you are handy with a whisk and potato ricer, you might prefer to cook up a favorite recipe or two that folks can use right away or freeze for a later meal. Below are links to some of our favorite comfort foods:
Please add your own recipes, links, and suggestions for foods that can be easily shared with anyone who is struggling – near or far.
Summertime is upon us and with it, the the 241st birthday of the United States on July 4th. Creamy potato salad, grilled burgers and dripping popsicles will probably be on the menu; friends and families might gather to play tag, swim in cold mountain creeks, or simply doze off on a hammock, and deafening booms and enchanting, cascading, shimmering colors will fill the night sky … it is quite a birthday celebration, and it happens every year!
But how do we as individuals celebrate our birthdays? Do our best four-footed, or two-gilled pals brighten our day? Or is it by meeting a close friend or two for a swanky dinner or home-cooked meal? Or is being pummeled by giggling children at dawn who bring breakfast in bed, complete with spilled coffee and slightly burnt toast the best celebration ever?
Unfortunately, for many people, birthdays are simply another day to be sick or homeless or alone.
Jane was very aware of this loneliness and was adept at making other people feel special, so it was no surprise when she began baking a monthly birthday cake for a local ‘soup kitchen’. Jane would bake and frost a cake for the folks who were celebrating a birthday during that particular month – complete with a candle and singing. She often talked about how important it is to humanize those impersonal labels – homeless, poverty, illness. And she believed that to be forgotten, to have no one to celebrate your birthday, your existence – that doesn’t always have to be the case. It is possible to do something about it.
Family friend and former co-worker Alice works with developmentally challenged children, and came up with her own caring way to let her students know that they are treasured: She makes little goodie bags for each of them on their birthdays. With a trip to the dollar-store, she is able to fill one of the 3-for-$1 gift bags with a snack cake, noisemaker or toy, colorful pencil and small notebook, and candy or gum. There is always a personal note inside the birthday card and a big hug for the birthday boy or girl.
Although fireworks and ice cream and games in the lake are fun ways to recognize the country’s birthday, it is easy enough to celebrate our fellow human being’s birthdays in smaller ways – a birthday cake, a card, a hug – that are no less important.
Please feel free to share the ways in which each of us can let our neighbors know that we are glad that they were born. Thank you!
This post was inspired by Katherine’s actions – Thank you!
The wisest travel advice we’ve ever heard is, “Take half as many clothes, and twice as much money.” That might be why savvy travelers carry less luggage and wear clothing with more pockets than the average tourist.
With or without those over-sized pockets, as folks take advantage of good weather and saved vacation days, they can find plenty of opportunity to make a difference in other people’s lives while on the road and out of town.
The following five ideas are simply starting points; please share your thoughtful travel ideas in the comments section below.
- Buy locally made souvenirs from independent vendors, local markets, or from shops like One World or 10,000 Villages. You’ll support a craftsperson/artist while having a unique, region-specific treasure to remind you of the great time you had.
- Pack your less than favorite – but still nice – clothes. When you arrive at your destination, buy locally made clothes to wear and enjoy, donating your clean but no longer loved clothing from home to folks who would appreciate it.
- If going to an area where the residents struggle with poverty, pack small toys, one-size-fits-all gloves, or little notebooks and puzzles to give to any children you might meet. These small items are a better choice than candy or chocolates because they may not have regular access to dental care, or there could dietary/religious factors to consider.
- Take an instant camera along. New models are small, colorful and under $100. The instantly developed pictures are fun for kids to make silly faces for; exciting for people who don’t have access to cameras/their own pictures to see, and the completed photos can be given to the subjects themselves to keep or share with their family and friends.
- Upon your return, consider sponsoring an endangered animal, family in need, conservation effort, etc. in the area you just visited. Look into giving gifts of service/action to family and friends back home instead of plastic doodads from a tourist-trap. Some good choices like Heifer International or SEVA Foundation can be found at Charity Navigator. Sometimes it’s easier to learn about the needs of a country or region firsthand, and then take action.
No matter where you will roam, or how you plan to travel this year, there are many ways in which you can make every day of your vacation one of service, gratitude and compassion – it all begins when you tuck a little hope, a little light into your luggage.
It’s been a little while since we last posted on this site, but not due to complete inactivity on our parts. We’ve been catching up with the busy-ness of life; the care and feeding of family, friends, careers – but then, you already know all about such things. We’re just glad to be back; grateful for the opportunity to share some pleasant news and helpful information with one another.
One of Jane’s many gifts was a softness that she shared with all living things. Her ability to soothe and heal a variety of animals was a beautiful thing to see. She once explained that she did nothing more than provide a safe place for rest, a little food and water – and time. That may be true, but there was a peace within her that baby bunnies and small birds trusted, allowing themselves to be gently picked up after being wounded by a cat or falling from a nest.
In following Jane’s example of caring for these vulnerable creatures of the woods and fields, lakes and sky, we have shared some of the ways in which you, too can learn about and help animals in need of, as Jane used to say, “a soft place to land”.
- Baby Birds (Nestlings)
- Golden Retriever Rescue
- Baby Bunnies
- Sea Turtles
- Animal Rescue
Please add your suggestions for reputable sources for animal rescue and education in the comments section. Thank you.
(contributed by Susan Ray)
Although April is actually National Poetry Month, it’s never too soon to delight in the song, the truth, the joy, the diversity that is poetry.
Mona/Jane kept books of poems at her bedside always. She found comfort, peace and wisdom in poetry that was especially welcome at the end of the day. Mona/Jane loved the beauty, the melody of the words, and encouraged those new to poetry to enjoy the fun of the language. She shared her gift of connecting with the poet by inviting new readers to imagine what the poet might have seen, felt, experienced when writing.
A few of her cherished, better known poets were W.H. Auden, Christina Rossetti, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Rainer Maria Rilke, Walt Whitman, Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and perhaps her favorite, Robert Frost.
On Jane’s Day of Service this February 28th, consider the following ways in which you can share Mona/Jane’s lifelong love for poetry:
- Memorizing a poem that holds special meaning to you
- Reading poetry aloud to your child’s classroom
- Posting an uplifting poem on the bulletin board at work
- Sharing your family’s favorite poetry with the elderly at a local nursing home
- Sitting down and writing some poems of your very own
Hast thou named all the birds without a gun?
Loved the wood-rose, and left it on its stalk?
At rich men’s tables eaten bread and pulse?
Unarmed, faced danger with a heart of trust?
And loved so well a high behavior,
In man or maid, that thou from speech refrained,
Nobility more nobly to repay?
O, be my friend, and teach me to be thine!
You are always welcome to contribute your ideas and suggestions in the Comments below, and please join others in sharing your poetry and photos of the ways you’ve chosen to participate in Jane’s Day of Service on our Facebook page:
(contributed by Susan Ray)
Mona/Jane adored babies. She always believed that each new, fresh, wonderful child welcomed into the world brought with him or her a bright hope for the future. She always said any baby could grow up to change the world for the better.
As an only child, she had a very lonely childhood, so always dreamed of one day having a home filled with babies and children and love. One of the programs she hoped to become more involved with were those allowing volunteers to hold and comfort very small and/or very ill babies.
Although some medical centers welcome ‘cuddlers’, some hospitals prefer the community care for these most fragile of babies in other ways, such as crocheting blankets for them, knitting caps, donating preemie diapers to the family, or by taking advantage of other less hands-on, but just as necessary opportunities.
If snuggling with these tiny bundles of sweetness and hope is something that you’ve always wanted to do, please check with your local medical community to find the ways you can best support the newborns in need of so much love and care and cuddling. Below are a few links to get you started:
So, there you are on Jane’s Day of Service – or any day of the year – sitting in the line at a drive-through, feeling impatient and hungry and distracted by all of the to-dos still left un-done on your list. You glance into the rear view mirror and it’s an older couple, or a scowling businesswoman or a young man looking out the window absently. And then you remember that everyone has a lot on their minds and in their hearts.
Paying it forward is as easy as asking the drive-through person peering at you from the window how much the bill is for the car behind you. Then you pay for all or part of their ticket. If you can spare a buck or two or five – that’s OK. If you don’t flinch at buying the 15 burgers and drinks for the soccer team the woman behind you was picking up – go for it!
Just be sure to say, “Please ask them to Pay It Forward, too. Thanks!”
And there it is – you have made someone’s day a little happier; you’ve surprized a stranger with a good deed – and ideally inspired them to do the same in their travels. Mona/Jane would be delighted!
Please share the ways you’ve paid-it-forward, and your reaction to having been the recipient of such thoughtfulness. Do you have additional ideas, suggestions, ways more people might take part? Please share them with us!
(Contributed by Susan Ray)
Jane’s Day of Service on February 28th, is the perfect time to begin your garden and/or volunteer with your local community garden! Mona/Jane always said that the winter months are perfect for perusing seed catalogues, and ideal for reviewing notes from last year’s garden to learn which plants flourished and which varieties might have struggled. Snowy days offer the best opportunity to reassess, to dream, to plan – and to order early lettuce and unusual green bean seeds!
Mona/Jane loved to share her garden with family and friends. As her granddaughter-in-law and I can attest, every plant came with information and a tutorial. Mint, sage, thyme and savory are all in the same family of plants. Carrots like stone-free, loose soil, whereas squash is practically a weed, so it will grow almost anywhere given space and sunlight.
Finding the place in the yard where a plant is ‘happy’ is vital, as is knowing each one’s characteristics. For example, tomatoes are delighted when borage, peppers and basil share a large container pot, but those same tomato plants will suffer if cabbages and cauliflower are not grown some distance away.
One of the many ways you can take part in Jane’s Day of Service is by planting a few flower or vegetable seeds in a flower pot on your windowsill or get involved with your local community garden. If you have no interest in plants beyond enjoying the fragrance of a flower, you can adopt a garden in New England, in Cincinnati, Kansas City, New York City – almost anywhere in the US.
Another option if you are one of those special and much-appreciated Green Thumbers is to teach current and new generations about the benefits of gardening by becoming a Master Gardener, or by teaching a class to local 4-H members.
If you’d rather not commit to a garden, but enjoy crafts, love spring and find joy in brightening other people’s gray days, you can easily make living baskets for friends or as gifts to drop off at a senior center or youth home.
One of Mona/Jane’s favorite projects was creating grass and flower filled baskets for living Easter or Mother’s Day baskets complete with miniature rakes, benches, and dyed eggs.
These are really quite easy to make and can be as simple or as extravagant as your time and imagination allow.
- Begin with any size basket – thrift stores have plenty to choose from during the colder months.
- Line the inside with a hole-free plastic bag. Make sure there are no splits or tears that might allow water to seep through later.
- Fill with good quality dirt, then plant wheat berries or grass seed.
- Water generously, but do not make a soup of seeds and dirt.
- Place basket in sunny place and keep moist, not wet – and out of the reach of pets if indeed you’d like a healthy crop of green in approximately two weeks.
- As the grass grows, you might need to ‘mow’ it occasionally with a pair of scissors.
- When ready to give the basket as a gift, poke the stems of cut flowers into the soil, tuck miniature eggs beneath the lush grass, or place small figures, and/or gardening tools on low-cut plots of grass. (If feeling especially gardenny, include small, living flowering plants such as miniature daisies or carpet tulips, etc.)
- Be sure to include a note about the need to provide sunlight and water for the plants, and ways in which the contents can be composted and recycled.
This is a fun way an individual or a group can participate in Jane’s Day of Service and share their love of gardening and flowers with folks who might need a little more sunshine in their lives. It’s relatively inexpensive, but the happiness it brings is priceless!
Please let us know how you used your love of plants and/or crafting to take part in Jane’s Day of Service. We’d love to see – and share – your photos, too!