Posts Tagged ‘generosity’

“If you keep an open bough, the singing bird will come.”

That was a poster I had in my room as a teenager.

Each year, around New Years weekend I make space for the year to come:

  • I transfer birthday, anniversary and other commemorative occasions to my new calendar (my one remaining paper-based calendar – the birthday reminder/pretty art calendar in my home office)
  • I go through the cupboards and the refrigerator and toss things that are past their usability
  • I go through the medicine cabinets and do the same

Then, sometime soon thereafter I go through the rest of the house – clothes, decorations, and, for me the bibliophile, the Big Deal – the Purging of the Books.

A friend had told me that bibliophiles past 50 must institute a rule of ‘one in, one out’ lest they become buried under an avalanche of books.  While not rigorous in that application, my rule is “no new book shelves” – so my books have to fit their current space.

For those readers in the Chicago area, I’ve stumbled upon a great resource the Chicago Books to Women in Prison project.  This group (which also has a Facebook page) collects paperback books (no hard covers allowed) and ships them to women in prison.

I LOVE taking my books there as it seems like a triple win:

  1. Most obviously, I achieve my goal of clearing space for new books to enter my life
  2. The books I am releasing get recycled – they will be read again – and most likely more than once
  3. It’s a tiny mitzvah -a good deed, bringing joy to someone who could really use some

Maybe you don’t live in Chicago.  Maybe you’re not much of a reader.  But I’ll bet there is something in your house that you have too much of it, that might be useful to others.

I feel pretty sure that we don’t own our stuff – it owns us.  So if you want to invite spaciousness, newness, and exciting opportunities into your life, you might try creating an open bough on which those bluebirds of happiness can land.

At a minimum you’ll have less stuff to tend to and thus more free time.

Do you do any routine “purging” of stuff?  When? What? How?  As always, I really want to know – so add your comments to the conversation!

And may the singing birds you attract this year delight you and surprise you with goodness.

If you keep an open bough, the singing bird will come

If you keep an open bough, the singing bird will come

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We had a bit of a windstorm here on Monday.   They call it a ‘derecho’ and near as I can tell it was like a flattened out tornado with Category 3 force hurricane winds.  It took out electricity to over 868,000 homes in the Chicago area including mine.

I had two and a half days of no electricity and it was a learning experience.  I learned that much as I like to think of myself as living simply (heck, I don’t even watch TV) that I depend on electricity a LOT.  I got to experience (not learn, I knew this part) how much I HATE heat and hot weather (give me 30 below before Chicago’s summer heat and humidity).

I learned what it must have been like for my grandparents before the Rural Electrification Act provided them electricity – you go to bed when the sun does and get up when it gets up.  I wasn’t used to an 8:30 bedtime, but reading by lantern light quickly grew tiresome.

I’ve  learned the value of INCREDIBLE neighbors/friends.  My across the street neighbors came over while I was at work and moved all the food in my freezer and fridge to their extra refrigerator.  Then invited me over for dinner to boot.  They are beyond kind and thoughtful – just incredible human beings.

I learned how lucky we are, we Americans.  How spoiled.  How much we (I) take for granted.  How much having all the time Internet access is something I rely on.  How reading has been coming in second – a distant second most times.

I’m glad that some of my spiritual work is slowly seeping in. That I was grateful to our utility company for the great job they did, rather than bemoaning ‘my’ loss (we were all in this together, for sure).  I’m glad that my response when the electricity came on hours before my out-of-town guest arrived was gratitude, not “it’s about blippin’ time”. 

And I’m thinking a bit about how I live my life – here in this world – when I could be chasing ‘busy balls’ with my kittens or lying on the lawn watching the clouds go by. 

Though as John prine pointed out – just being is hard for many of us:

“Why is it so hard
just to sit in the yard
and look at the sky so blue.”

For me this was the longest I’ve gone since I was a teenager without electricity.  For some people – people in this country, not just third world nations – this is a way of life.  While I want to live more simply and sustainability I want that living to involve lights at night, all the time Internet and coffee in the morning here in my house (much as I love Starbucks).  I’m grateful that, for now at least, that is what I have.

If you’ve had some power outages I’d love to hear what you learned.  What did you miss most? Least? What will you change after what you’ve learned?  I really want to know!

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It’s Community Day here at Taking it to the Streets

My friend Bill is a very prolific, talented gardener.  Each year his garden gets better and better (and one cool aside – he gardens in the Community Gardens provided by his town as he lives in a condo).  He’s also a very shy guy – probably the shyest person I know.  So he grows LOTS of really good veggies and has himself and me to give them too. 

I try to do my part, but I can only do so much!

So my job is to find friends of mine to whom to give his great veggies.

My friend Trish is an amazing handywoman – a true Ms. Fix-it.  From installing microwaves to fixing faucets – even to trimming the wings on our friend Annemarie’s parrot, she can make things better.  And she does – spreading her talents far and wide.

Each of us has things that are easy for us – whether it’s veggies, fix-it skills, or (if you’re me) words – there are things we have lots of that we can help others with.

I work in a building that has two banks in it and they have a little TV-like screen that shows financial news near the elevators.  I wish they had a broader purview, but I guess bankers think that IS the news so it’s what works for them. Anyway, there was a news story today about how cost-cutting retailers are doing better because “frugality is still very popular.” Um, yes, by necessity since the bankers and rich robbed us, yes, it is.

But a positive outcome about the “fad” of frugality – a part that I hope becomes a heartfelt trend not a means to survival – is that we all get to share more.  As Karl Marx said “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” 

I like sharing and I’ve noticed that it must be a human trait.  If you’ve spent much time with toddlers you’ve probably encountered their sometimes forceful desire to share what they are eating with you.  A trait I find particularly alarming, though I so admire the intent.

So now in the beginning of the prolific garden season I wonder if you are sharing from your garden, or getting goodies from your neighbors, co-workders, family or friends.

And I wonder what you are sharing – or could share.

And hey – if you’re a reader, like me, here’s something you can share – books to women in prison.  Check out the Chicago Books to Women in Prison site and maybe plan a two-fer deal for a rainy weekend this summer – get rid of stuff AND get good karma by helping out women in prison who wish to better themselves.

Sharing.  It’s more than a post-crash fad.

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Wednesday is Community Day here at Taking it to the Streets

And today I am presenting to you, my first ever guest bloggers!  I asked my adult nephew Jonah P. Keegan and his wife Nayumi Mitsuka Keegan to write about what we can do to help Japan.  Here’s their post:

As you watch the tragic aftermath of Japan’s massive earthquake unfolding, you may be wondering how you can help.

Our family has relatives in Sendai we hope are safe, but still have not been able to confirm their survival.

If you are in America, or the Western Hemisphere, it might seem difficult to do anything effective, or find a cause that will make a different on the other side of the world. But, there are things you can do, whether contributing cash, or leaving comments for Japanese at home and abroad struggling to deal with the vast destruction in their homeland. Whatever you can afford, or feel comfortable doing, your thoughts, prayers, and messages do matter, and they will make a difference.

Rather than list some of the trustworthy programs already working to help the people of Japan, I will point you to the Christian Science Monitor, which has assembled a great list:


One of the fastest ways to help is with a text message to either the Red Cross or Salvation Army, both of which are active in major Japanese cities and many local communities. To donate to the Salvation Army, text ‘Japan’ or ‘Quake’ to 80888. Text ‘RedCross’ to 90999 to donate to its fund set up in response to the disaster.

 I hope you will keep the people of Japan in your heart as rescue & recovery efforts continue, and the threat of radioactive contamination remains.

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It’s Ideas/Information day here at Taking it to the Streets

One of the tenets of my hippie youth that I very quickly outgrew (as did most of my peers, albeit in perhaps differing ways) was a distrust of and disdain for money.  I’m a fan of money in the same way I am a fan of other tools – it is a means to get things done.  Much as I may enjoy bartering, money has always struck me as a particularly efficient means of exchange and meaningless in and of itself.  I’m always befuddled by people who would sell out for money (love, for sure, but money – you kidding me?). And equally befuddled by people who seem to embrace poverty as more holy or pure – nah, it’s just more —- well, poor!

My pastor talked about this book at church two weeks ago and it reminded me that I had the book but had not read it – so I remedied that.  Wow, am I glad I did! Very thought-provoking.  the heart of the book is revealed in the chapter titles for chapters 3 and 4:

Scarcity: the Great Lie
Sufficiency: The Surprising Truth

“greed and fear of scarcity are programmed; they do not exist in nature, not even in human nature.  They are built into the money system in which we swim.”  And “Adam Smith’s system of economics could more accurately be described as the allocation of scarce resources through the process of individual greed.” – those quotes are her take on a book by Bernard Lietaaer called “Of Human Wealth”.  She sums up the Scarcity myth as having 3 components:  1) there’s not enough; 2) More is better; and 3) “That’s just the way it is”

What if we DIDN’T believe any of these?  What would life look like then?

Well, check out the chapter lead-in for the Sufficiency chapter:

“When you let go of trying to get more of what you don’t really need, it frees up oceans of energy to make a difference with what you have.  When you make a difference with what you have, it expands.”

She talks about an indigenous South American tribe, the Achuar, for whom “wealth means being present to the fullness and richness of the moment and sharing that with one another.”  Or, as she says later in the same chapter:

“I suggest that if you are willing to let go, let go of the chase to acquire or accumulate always more and let go of that way of perceiving the world, then you can take all that energy and attention and invest it in what you have.  When you do that you will find unimagined treasures, and wealth of surprising and even stunning depth and diversity.”

Her three truths of sufficiency  to counter the three lies of scarcity are:

1) Money is like water
2) What you appreciate appreciates
3) Collaboration creates prosperity

My brother taught me that first law when we were young wild hippies.  Our friend Kate got stuck in Denver (don’t ask!) and he sent her a plane ticket.  We were young and poor and I wondered how he had the money – well, he didn’t really – that was his rent money, but what he said stuck with me – “that’s how it works, you know – you have to give it away to get it, then it just flows to you.”  He was right.  I think I’ve written before on the power of tithing and/or generosity so let me just say here – it works.  And as Lynne Twist says “The happiest and most joyful people I know are those who express themselves through channeling their resources – money, when they have it – on to their highest commitments.  Theirs is a world where the experience of wealth is in sharing what they have, giving, allocating, and expressing themselves authentically with the money they put in flow.”  Agreed!

For Maxim 2 she invokes Buddha, who ” told his followers that whatever they chose to give their attention, their love, their appreciation, their listening, and their affirmation to would grow in their life and in the world.”  So when we focus on lack and on stuff  – well, that’s all we get.  That’s not where I like to place my focus.

As for the third maxim “In reciprocity there is a nourishment and joy: I am there for you and you are there for me.”  I’ve recently had several friendships that were NOT reciprocal – and I know what that feels like. But virtually all of my close relationships are wonderfully reciprocal, collaborative and joyous.  Lynne Twist also says ” We find sufficiency and sustainable prosperity when we think of our resources as a flow that is meant to be shared, when we put our full attention on making a difference with what we have, and when we partner with others in ways that expand and deepen that experience.”

Wow – I am looking at both the book and the clock – I’ve only written about HALF of what is in this very thought-provoking, action-producing, passionate book (and it’s getting late and this is already wordy enough).

So let me end with a Mary Oliver quote:

“What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?”

And think about that.  Shop? Kvetch? Spend more time at work? OR, make a Kiva loan, buy a family a bunch of chickens through Heifer, help your neighbor shovel snow, spend time with your precious children, write your book, help out at your church —– and on and on and on.  All we have is love and time and health people.  Let money be your enabler, not your god.  Do good rather than seeking goods.  And read this fabulous book!

Now tell me – is “money a conduit, a way to express your highest ideals”, a “currency of love a committment, expressing the best of who you are” or is it “a currency of consumption driven by emptiness and lack and the allure of external messages” in your life?  What do you want it to be?

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It’s Wednesday, so it’s Community day here at Taking it to the Streets.

You might recognize the title – it’s a quote from Karl Marx.  Like Jesus, he said radical things that have gotten woefully twisted into bizarre aberrations of the speakers intent.  And like Jesus, if you take his words at face value they make a lot of sense, right?

I’ve just come through a powerful few months where the power of community felt life-changing.  When my not-then-yet-46-year-old friend Becky got diagnosed with liver and bone cancer in October I initially felt helpless. She and her partner Annemarie have been close, cherished friends of mine.  They’re also enough younger than me so that my protective Big Sister genes seem to get triggered.  Now there was Big Trouble brewing (way worse than when the neighbor kid smashed my brother’s head into the frozen snow – I KNEW what to do about that – beat the hell out of that kid!).  No easy answers. What to do?

“from each according to their abilities”.  My dad said when I became  a Life Coach “Diane, I just don’t get this one on one work for you – since you were three years old you’ve been in front of a group of kids saying “C’mon, kids, follow me!”. Tis true.  And, like my mother I tend to like to communicate. A lot.

So my abilities lay in organizing a way for us to communicate and quickly form a community – Facebook! From there we could easily organize to meet the other needs our friends had with a wide group of community members (our FB page, Becky & Annie’s Support Team, currently has 275 members).

We could ask for help (We need healthy dinners.  We need someone to walk their dog.  We need a ride for Becky to another hospital.  We need a wheelchair.) – and someone who COULD do this, and was WILLING to do it, would spring forth. 

Most of us are way busy already.  Many had husbands, wives, partners and/or kids, pets or several of the above for whom to care. Some had cancer themselves.  We all have very different skills. And likes/dislikes.

I found that the hands-on nursing care in Becky’s last two days of life was not something I felt comfortable with – no matter – we had others who willingly jumped in.  We each gave from our hearts, from our abilities, what we were able to give and (hopefully) no more. 

I am a big fan of technology – it’s how I’ve made my living on and off since 1981 and in my personal life while I’m very much a minimalist about the material world, I am NOT a minimalist about my electronics as they provide me a gateway to the Internet and thus to the world. 

Like with the revolution in Egypt (was that cool or what??) technology was both an enabler of our efforts and an expediter.  We got tech support from my nephew in Atlanta, contributions to our fund from Alaska, words of encouragement from London.  People who didn’t know Becky & Annie personally, but knew one of us, joined the tribe. It was my first-cousin-once-removed, Michele, who suggested we set up a monetary fund to help defray costs – she lives in Albany, NY, doesn’t know Becky or Annie and barely knows me.  Technology enabling community and community enabling healing.

We’re using our Support page now to stay together as a community for the fundraiser one of the people on the team volunteered to set up.  I suspect we’ll stay together after that – at least for a while as we walk through our own grief and try to do whatever we can to assuage Annie’s grief.

How about you?  Has the Internet in general, Facebook in particular, helped you create community?  Do you see instances, maybe at your church/mosque/synagogue or community groups where Karl Marx’s dictum is working pretty well?  I’d love to hear about YOUR experiences of community.

We’re stronger together.  a lot stronger.

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These three ways of making a difference have been on my mind:  charity, micro-lending and (new thought to me) social business.  All are ways I can make a difference in the world. 


Simply giving money, time or things to someone with no expectation of return.  This is still probably the bulk of my giving.  I find it important to give from the heart, not to be tied to returns – i.e., the tax deductability of the charity for me should not be a driver (should I stop helping a family member in need because I can’t ‘write it off on my taxes’?) nor should any outside proscriptions (some churches – thankfully not mine – believe you should give all of your tithe to them.  Not for me, thanks!). 

I notice even with charity my favorite one is one that empowers people to be self-sufficient:  Heifer International (www.heifer.org ).  Giving a poor family farm animals helps them to be self-sustaining – I love that!  And I love giving animals on the behalf of family or friends.  My beloved father doesn’t want gifts any more – he has what he needs and would just rather not get stuff.  So I get my farm-raised Dad animals – but not for him!  I love this!

Charity has a very important place in the world, but it’s not the only way to give, which leads me to Sharing-my-Abundance Method #2.


Muhammad Yunus, author of “Banker to the Poor”, is the father of micro-lending, for which he won a Nobel Peace Prize.  Micro-lending works on the principle that the poor don’t want handouts – they need a hand up – often a very small ‘hand’.  His first loan was $27 to buy a goat.  That enabled the woman to whom he lent the money to create a business to sustain her family.  So micro-lending provides poor, typically third-world people with small loans with which they start micro businesses.  The payback rate on these loans is well over 90% (no foreclosures or bankruptcies here!).  Yunus had very innovative ideas when he formed Grameen Bank – loaning primarily to women (they need to support their children so they’re very diligent), doing the loans in groups of women – having several women with disparate businesses form a support pod, and including education and support in the process. His thinking is truly revolutionary!  Whilst I could support Grameen Foundation, I have found Kiva to be fun and easy.  You can make loans to people using a wide variety of criteria (continent, country, gender, type of business, amount needed, etc.).  The loans are done in $25 chunks.  So one borrower may have multiple lenders – Kiva handles all the paperwork, et al. So far I’ve made 7 loans – several are fully paid back, the rest in progress.  Oh yeah, these are LOANS so you receive interest on them.  You can take your money and go home. Or you can re-lend – up to you!  I think it’s so fun to change the world with the money I could easily blow on dinner out that I just keep lending.  In fact this year I’m doing a loan a month and I’m letting a different  family member pick the recipient each month.  Why?  I’m kind of like the dope-pushers of yore – I’ll give them a hit for free and hook ’em for life! that’s my hope at least. 

Social Business

This concept is totally new to me!  And deserves its own post – watch for next Tuesday night/Wednesday morning installment of the IDEA post (remember, I”m doing posts on different categories, five days per week!) for more on this highly intriguing new idea.  I just finished Yunus’s newest book “Building Social Business” and I think I also need to let it percolate more – it’s truly revolutionary idea-wise! 

I”m a great believer that money is energy and it likes to circulate. I don’t give away money in order to get more – even at my most self-serving that seems icky.  That said, that’s EXACTLY what happens.  You get what you give!

I’ll end with my favorite story about that principle.  I may have told you this before, but it’s such a lesson for me – I hope it is for you too.  It’s true because it happened to me!

I was walking to the train one night very late, crossing the Chicago River on a bridge where beggars love to stand as you can’t dodge them unless you want to play in traffic or swim.  An old man limped over and with a beautiful Irish brogue asked for some money for “coffee”.  I reached into my wallet and found a $1 bill and a $20.  Darn! Had I a $5 or maybe a $10 I would have given that, but too cheap to part with a $20, I gave him a buck saying “ah, with that beautiful brogue, of course I’ll give you a dollar!”.  He smiled and said “May it come back to ye ten times over!”

I thought nothing of it, felt happy to have given a buck and went home.  The very next night, when I returned from work, in the mail was an envelope from “The Republic of Ireland.”  Hmm.  Opened it up and there was a check for EXACTLY ten dollars (“ten times over…”) for a VAT tax I had paid months before and totally had forgotten about. 

Damn! I should have given him the $20!

True story.  But you know what, friends?  I ‘get it back’ way way way more than ten times over.

What does giving look like in YOUR life?

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