Total Gratitude Tuesday: Volume XIII

Oooh we’re ending the year with volume 13! Lucky for me, 13 is usually a lucky number for me.

It’s Tuesday, at least for a little while yet, but I had a HUGE week and I have so much to be thankful for!

Christmas was very nice. It was low-key and I got to spend time with most of the people I love best – some before Christmas, some during and some after. That’s actually the best way for me to celebrate the holidays; in a kind of week-long low-grade celebration. We didn’t have a white Christmas but hey, you can’t have it all!

Christmas tree

I’m still hard at work trying to figure out what’s going to be my best side hustle (the blog being my primary hustle, of course). I’m proud to say I finally figured out the hardest part of it all – namely that I am more comfortable working from home than from outside the house.  I have put out feelers for a couple of online jobs. One I haven’t heard back from yet. Another involved a pretty complicated three-part test. For that one, I passed the first part, but then failed the second part. I was discouraged but I got notice yesterday that they’re giving me the chance to study again and retake the test! But most of all – the day after Christmas I made the leap and joined KEEP Collective as a designer! If you haven’t heard of them, KEEP is a sister company to Stella & Dot – they sell amazingly gorgeous bracelets, necklaces and key fobs that can be customized with a huge variety of charms called “keys”. I’ve been to several KEEP parties, absolutely loved the products and finally decided to just make the leap. It’s a bit scary, especially since I’ve done direct sales before with less than stellar results. But I’m excited! If you want to check out KEEP, go here. One of the challenges KEEP made for us designers was to come up with a word that will define our coming year. It took me awhile but I figured out what mine was: Peace. Peace within myself, peace with the outside world, peace with others and peace with life in all its confusing, messy glory. Peace.

peace keep

I also had a wonderful opportunity to blog for an organization I really believe in last week – Oxfam. If you aren’t familiar with them, here’s a whole bunch of great info on their “Unwrapped” program to help families in developing countries get food, hygiene and business tips: And check out my blog post here. It was a thrilling opportunity and I am so glad I had the chance to work with them.


And I got to see “The Nutcracker” ballet for the third time this Sunday afternoon with my best friend. It was so nice to have a girls’ afternoon out with her. She’s one of those people who just “gets” who I am and I feel really comfy around. That isn’t always an easy thing for me. And the ballet was just absolutely magical! It always makes me feel like a little girl again.


It was a really good week. And this week promises to be just as good! I hope you all have a beautiful week and a very happy new year! I’ll see you in 2016!

Much love. – Mama Bear

Archie the Goat - with Gift Tag

Give a gift that keeps on giving with Oxfam Unwrapped

This is not a sponsored post; it’s just something I feel passionately about. When Oxfam reached out and asked me to help, I was more than happy to do so!

When the holiday season comes along, we often give extra thought to helping others. Every year we spend lots of time and money trying to find the perfect gift for those we love most. We each want to find a gift to give a smile and some comfort and happiness to someone that we cherish. But how often do we get a chance to give a gift that ultimately changes someone’s life or makes an impact on an entire community? Oxfam’s Unwrapped program is a great way to do just that! And there are gifts to fit just about anyone’s budget!


Archie the Goat - with Gift TagOxfam provides livestock to farming families all over the world – from Honduras to Somaliland to Malawi. Livestock can help families in so many ways. For instance, a family that receives a goat will have nutritious milk to drink and it can help set them up in a business selling their produce, giving them a chance at a secure livelihood and steady income. Oxfam can provide two goats for breeding, allowing families to grow a herd of their own goats!


Goat - Case Study Image

photo by Rachel Walsh

This is Zarou Houssa from Niger, one of the poorest nations in the world. Zarou’s family was identified by her local community as being one of those in desperate need of support, so Oxfam gave her a goat. And now she’s a businesswoman! According to Zarou:

“Before receiving my animal, life was difficult. My husband had nothing either. We had a goat two months ago that gave birth and we now have four. Now I am taken care of.”

The goats’ milk provides nutrition for the Houssa family, and Zarou is able to make goat cheese which she sells at market. This provides income for the family for necessities like food, medicine and school fees. And of course, as the goats reproduce, there will be lots more goats for Zarou to sell or pass on to others in her community in need of help. And it all began with one goat!

Mozambique: Food Security (Malhalhe)- Unwrapped Goats
                     photo by Abbie Trayler-Smith

An Oxfam goat is a wonderful gift. The goats are locally sourced, fully vaccinated, fit, healthy and ready to provide families with milk to drink and sell (and also manure to boost crops!). The families are also given business training to help them get the best possible price for what the goat produces. And when the goat has babies, those kids can go on to help another family in the community or they can be sold to raise money for the essentials the family needs. This gift supports Oxfam’s Making a Living (ML) projects. Check out all of Oxfam’s animal gifts here.


Soap - Image Gift Tag

That’s right – this gift can save lives! Oxfam is a recognized leader in making sure people get access to clean water and hygiene products like soap, and in developing countries, soap can save and change lives! Every day 1,400 children die from diarrhea, but handwashing with soap can reduce the incidence of diarrhea by nearly half. Last year Oxfam’s work helped 1.25 million people with sanitation and hygiene, greatly reducing the spread of disease. In addition, over 3 million people affected by emergencies benefited from health promotion activities, such as teaching children the importance of handwashing.


Binta Boukary and her Daughter
Binta Boukary and her Daughter – photo by Abbie Trayler-Smith

In Ouallum Province in Niger, Oxfam has been providing soap and helping to improve the health and hygiene of the people there, including people like Binta and her family. Before Oxfam became involved, lack of sanitation and knowledge of good hygiene put children’s lives at risk, including Binta’s little daughter. When Binta’s daughter became ill, Binta took her to a treatment center. She received health care and was given a hygiene kit containing Oxfam soap. Such a simple thing but one that makes a profound difference in the lives of so many! According to Binta,

“Today my little girl is well. I’m really pleased with what I learned about hygiene and nutrition. I learned to wash my child, to wash her hands every day. The conditions here have really improved. I’m able to work again.”

Informal settlement Madaba

                   Madaba – photo by Sam Tarling

To provide the gift of hygiene products and hygiene training, check out Oxfam’s Emergency Necessities page here.


Pile of Poo - Manure Image Gift Tag

Huh? That was my reaction, too – but this really is an amazing idea! A pile of poo from Oxfam isn’t just any ol’ pile of poo. It’s a tried, tested, 100% natural ideal mix of manure, organic fertilizer and also training in eco-friendly farming techniques to help the family grow better crops! And this means the family will enjoy regular meals, a better diet and be able to earn income for life’s necessities.

Around the world, 1 in 8 people go to bed hungry every night despite there being enough food around the world to feed them. Climate change has made life so much more difficult for those in need. Droughts and floods are more frequent, making growing seasons more unpredictable. All of this means that millions of people are going hungry every day. Oxfam is helping out with this by supporting small scale farmers all over the world grow enough food to feed themselves and their families. Last year 500,000 people benefited from their support and received help to improve their crops, goods and services!

Indonesia Climate Change 2007
Indonesia Climate Change 2007 – photo by Tom Greenwood


Bio-fil latrines, Doe Community, Liberia
Bio-fil latrines, Doe Community, Liberia – photo by Andy Hall

Ida Swen lives just outside Monrovia, Liberia. She has seven children. Next to her home is a flourishing garden of cassava, corn and ochre. It produces enough food to help supplement Ida and her family’s diet. But thanks to Oxfam’s bio-fill toilet, the garden will be even bigger! The specially-designed toilet not only keeps the family healthier by providing better sanitation, but it houses African nightcrawler worms, which feed on poo. The by-product of this whole process is used as compost to help the family’s garden grow even better! Ida says:

“We had been suffering without a toilet. Now I am very happy and proud to have one. And with this toilet, I will definitely be able to grow more food.”

Oxfam’s Pile of Poo gifts can be purchased here. This gift supports Oxfam’s Making a Living (ML) Projects.

All of Oxfam’s Unwrapped Gifts are tax-deductible and you can print a gift card or send an e-card to show your loved one that you helped someone in need in their name. So you still have plenty of time to find the perfect gift for someone you care about and to help someone in the developing world make a better life for themselves, their children, and their community. One small gift really can make the world a better place. And really, isn’t changing the world a better gift than another tie or ugly Christmas sweater?

See the entire catalog of Oxfam’s gifts online here.

Much love and best wishes for happy holidays! – Mama Bear




happy birthday

Total Gratitude Tuesday: Volume XII

It’s Tuesday again – I’m not even sure  how it got here this quickly again! I’ve been meaning to post again but with Christmas and everything else going on, the days are just flying by! Then again, that’s just more reason to keep to my “16 in 2016” goals! 

So anyway, this week I’m grateful for:

Christmas Tree

Oh, Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree…

I’ve finally gotten into the Christmas spirit. Well, mostly. I will admit, I liked Christmas a whole lot better when I was a kid, or when my kids were younger. It’s lost a bit of its luster as I’ve gotten older and lost family members. I miss the days of helping the kids write letters to Santa and watching “Rudolph” on TV and seeing their excitement as they went through the toy catalogs, circling all the things they wanted most. I miss the days of watching my grandma get ready for Christmas – she was someone who truly loved the season. I even miss hearing little feet running toward the bedroom way too early on Christmas morning because they just couldn’t wait to see what Santa had brought. But then I realize that the lesson I’ve learned now that my kids are older and my parents and grandparents are gone is that the holidays really are precious, and you really never realize how few of them you’ll have that are Norman Rockwell perfect. And these new holidays with grown up kids are fun in their own way. Now we get up later (I’m okay with that), and we really cherish the time we have together. Lots of times once everyone’s done visiting extended family, we come back together over snacks and a glass or two of wine and laugh and play games together. I’m not gonna lie – Black Friday and the hordes of shoppers and traffic and all of that still kind of grates on my nerves, but in some ways, the holidays are richer now than they ever were before. And for those of you who still have little kids, enjoy these moments. But rest assured, you’re going to have some amazing holidays when they’re older, too.

I’m also grateful for clarity. I’ve been bouncing around for months and months trying to figure out what else I could do as a side hustle to make a bit of money until I decipher the whole blog monetization/how to become a writer thing. I realized quite awhile ago I liked the flexibility of working from home, but deciding you want to work from home doesn’t really narrow things down much. And for awhile I started applying for all sorts of things – surveys, product testing, sweepstakes, freelance websites – and really wasn’t getting anything substantive to consider as a job. I was almost ready to start applying for “real” jobs in the area. Then I realized that I needed to expand my thinking a bit. I don’t have to find one option that will pay me a million dollars (although that would be really awesome). Since I’m a Jill of All Trades anyway (or a multipotentialite, which is what they call folks like me on the amazing website Puttylike), it makes sense for me to do a little bit of whatever catches my fancy. And that’s precisely what I’ve decided to do. I’ve applied to do chat customer service (because I hate talking on the phone), and also to submit content for a travel writing website and I have a couple more irons in the fire. I haven’t heard back from all of them yet, but it feels good to know that I have a lot of options. And as long as I keep an open mind and stay receptive to new opportunities, the sky’s the limit!

happy birthday

And this weekend marks the 28th time I’ve been able to celebrate my husband’s birthday with him. The first one we were just friends, although I had an insane crush on him at the time, but by the next birthday, we were 7 months pregnant with our oldest child, and the rest is history! He really is part of just about everything that I’m grateful for – he’s supportive of every one of my dreams and all the crazy whims, too. He’s smart, funny, dead sexy and the most generous person I’ve ever met. It’s an incredible blessing to be married to your best friend, but even moreso when you get to spend most of your life with them! I love him so much that I’m not even throwing a fit about going to Dick’s Last Resort to celebrate. I’ll report back if I survive it.

us buffett

Happy Birthday, Gef!

Have a great week!

Much love – Mama Bear


16 in 2016

Back from a long hiatus – sorry about that, folks. Allow me to explain, or at least try:

Recent world events and the social media and real-world response to them have kicked my hibernation urge into high gear. Actually, they’ve exacerbated a depressive episode I was already knee-deep in. My tendency when I get depressed or overwhelmed is to just hibernate and go inward. I spend a lot of time deep in thought, trying to counter the negativity I see on the news, on social media, in the world and even in my own head, with lots of positive thinking and a healthy dose of self-care. What I don’t do is reach out (usually) and or write – at least not anything fit for public consumption. We all know how that nasty bitch depression works – it saps every bit of energy and drive that you might be able to muster up and on top of that convinces you that a) nobody cares b) nobody wants to hear what you have to say and c) things aren’t going to get any better. Now that I’m blogging about positivity and happiness, I have the added burden of feeling like a total impostor when I get depressed and can’t summon the usual antidote to my gloomy “demon voice”.  I’d like to say the clouds have passed, but they haven’t. I’ve just finally struggled out enough to change my perspective a little bit. I know depression’s never going to leave completely; it’s just how I’m wired. So I choose to look at it as a relative that I’m forced to live with but really can’t stand the sight of. Since neither of us has the luxury of moving out, I’m just going to try to go about my life and deal with it the best way I can. It’s like those old sitcoms where the roommates drew a line down the middle of the apartment. I know at some point that bitch is going to cross over on her own side again and until then, I’m just hunkered down trying to keep a sense of humor about the whole thing. But I have resolved to try harder to keep up with the blog, in spite of my “roommate”.

Now, on to “16 in 2016″…


I picked up the phrase in one of the Facebook blogging groups I belong to (not sure which one). A fellow blogger was inviting other bloggers to join her in setting 16 blogging goals for 2016. I loved the idea, but as I am a great lover of lists, I decided to expand on it a bit and apply it to my life in general. So here are my 16 in 2016 (Note: these are not resolutions because I always break those; that’s why I chose “goals” instead.):


  1. Write at least 2 posts a week on each blog in addition to my weekly features.
  2. Read through my mountain of blogging books/articles/worksheets/workbooks on how to improve my blogs.
  3. Find at least one seminar, workshop or conference to attend.
  4. Find a way to monetize each blog.
  5. Develop a product for this blog.
  6. Reach at least 500 subscribers for each blog.
  7. Find a side hustle that’s a good fit for me.
  8. Make my personal monthly financial goal by the end of 2016.
  9. Schedule guest bloggers for each month.
  10. Find a good platform for scheduling posts, content, etc.
  11. Work on my blog roll to help other bloggers get exposure.
  12. Submit to at least 5 websites.
  13. Host at least 2 giveaways on each blog.
  14. Take a grammar refresher course.
  15. Write something every single day, even if it’s just for me to read.
  16. Get more freelance work.


  1. Size 14 by June 14!
  2. Reach my Fitbit steps goal at least 5 days a week.
  3. Cut out soda.
  4. Cut down on sugar.
  5. Cook at least 4 nights a week.
  6. Find some kind of fun, physical movement that I can do every day.
  7. Start using that damn CPAP more regularly.
  8. Make sure to keep up on all my yearly check-ups.
  9. Don’t beat myself up for the days when I’m not perfect at all of this.
  10. Yoga!
  11. Drink more water.
  12. Get more sleep.
  13. Get outside more (except during allergy season).
  14. Meditate.
  15. Keep up the regular gym visits!
  16. Less TV/cell phone/social media and more reading.


  1. Stop saying “yes” to things that make other people happy and start saying “yes” to more things that make ME happy.
  2. Just stop trying to make other people happy, period. If it happens naturally, that’s awesome.
  3. Realize on a cellular level that not everyone’s going to like me. And be okay with that. And stop chasing the ones who either don’t like me or won’t treat me right.
  4. Try to reach that Goodreads Reading Goal this year, and start with all the unread books I already have.
  5. Finally get that damn Paris scrapbook done! (And the other ones, too!)
  6. Pay more attention to how extra time is spent and try spending it on things I want to do rather than letting mindless tasks suck it all up. Prioritize.
  7. Finally figure out how the hell to use Adobe Photoshop.
  8. Stop debating politics/religion/etc. and limit exposure to social media/news/etc. Seriously. Stick to that.
  9. Stop being so fucking serious!
  10. That to-do list about organizing your music collection and photos and keepsakes and such? Get on that.
  11. Mindfulness – work on it.
  12. Journal every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
  13. Those places that you always say, “I’ve always wanted to stop there but just never did”? Go!
  14. Check off some of those items on your genealogy to-do list.
  15. Start the Guerilla RAK and Little Free Library projects.
  16. Spend more time volunteering.

Now, here’s where you come in. I want to see YOUR list of 16 in 2016. It can be any list of goals you want to share. You can post them in the comments here, or you can post them to my Facebook page or come join The Happy Tribe group on Facebook and share it there! Or if you’d feel more comfortable just sending it to me, send it to I’d love to read it!

Much love. – Mama Bear


bar mitzvah

Total Gratitude Tuesday: Volume XI

Whew! This week’s been a long one but I have so much going on and so much to be grateful for, so let’s get right to it!

First of all, I’m grateful for all of you – the people who read and comment and share and basically just support me no matter what. I haven’t been posting a lot lately, although I’ve managed to get TGT posts every week. So thank you for sticking with me through a prolonged dry spell. I’m happy to say I think it’s coming to an end – more on this later.

I’m also grateful to have a couple of lifelong friends who know me so well it’s almost scary. (In fact, it probably IS scary for them sometimes!) I’m not always the easiest person to be friends with, and I know that. I hibernate when I get depressed, get overwhelmed easily and basically suck at keeping up contact with people, so I’ve put them through their paces for the past few decades (or more), but these two ladies have managed to do it and I’m so incredibly grateful to have them in my life. Val, Amanda – you’re the best.

I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love getting snail mail, and it’s even more fun when it’s pretty to look at! This week, we got this lovely invitation to my second cousin Z’s Bar Mitzvah, which is coming up in January – and check out the fancy wax seal on it! I do a lot of mail swaps on Swap-bot and often use wax seals but I rarely ever get them in return. And to top it all off, it means we get to attend our first Bar Mitzvah (although we went to a Bat Mitzvah last summer for Z’s sister). I’m always thrilled when I get to do something that’s out of my ordinary experience (plus it needs to be said, my cousins are the absolute BEST!) and since I’m not Jewish, this is all new for me. I wish more people were curious and accepting of differences rather than afraid of them. There’s been an awful lot of talk in the news lately that’s disturbingly xenophobic and sometimes outright racist and it really makes me sad. I’d hate to live in a world full of people that looked and talked and thought and believed just like me. I’m blessed to have a family that’s made up of white people, black people, mixed race people, Catholics, Jews, Christians, Atheists, Humanists, and every type of sexual orientation, which in my book, makes us a true all-American family. And you know what? When we don’t get along, it’s got nothing to do with any of those external labels and everything to do with just everyday human nonsense! 🙂

bar mitzvah

And speaking of family and mail – I love getting Christmas cards, but I have to confess that there’s one that I especially look forward to. It’s from my uncle, and aside from the fact that he’s a really cool uncle (all of mine are), his handwriting looks almost exactly like my dad’s. There’s a little initial shock when I see it come in the mail, but even so, it always thrills me to see it. It’s like there’s a little bit of Dad still here with us. Plus I have amazing family members like my uncle still with me, so it’s a win-win!

ed christmas card2

And finally, I’m thrilled for the opportunity to spend some quality time with some of my favorite folks this weekend, including my youngest niece when I hosted a Keep Collective party with my sister-in-law. It wasn’t a big party, but what struck me was that it’s actually more important to have a few real friends in your life than to have many acquaintances that you can’t really depend on. It’s amazing how the simplest things in life bring the greatest joy!

And that’s been my week. I hope yours has been amazing!

Take care. – Mama Bear


Total Gratitude Tuesday: Volume X

It’s Tuesday! And wow – I’ve got a lot to be grateful for.

First of all (and most of all right now), I got some really good news from the doctor today. The health issue that I had discussed in an earlier post, has pretty much resolved itself. I had a pretty big ovarian cyst that had me plenty worried over the last couple of months. I went in today fully expecting I’d find out that I had to have surgery to remove it, or even something worse, only to find that it has shrunk to 1/3 of its original size. All on its own! So my best friend made a comment that my lady parts must be pretty badass – and I’m inclined to agree. Sometimes I take my body for granted, and sometimes I’m actually pretty hard on the ol’ girl but you know, it’s gotten me through 45 years of living, given me 3 beautiful children, and fought off all manner of foreign invaders, including MRSA, depression and now this candy-ass cyst. I don’t mind telling you, I really feel that a weight’s been lifted off my…er…shoulders… 😉 (And a HUGE thank you to my husband for being my rock, as always.)


(Okay, so I’m missing the biggest part of this nifty little set, but two ovaries wandering aimlessly wouldn’t be as cute, would it?)

Also grateful that this week, I was featured on a blog called “Coming Up Roses”, which is written by Erica Ligenza. Erica’s blog has lots of awesome fashion tips and gorgeous photos but she also has a feature called “Operation Beautiful” in which she showcases everyday people and asks them to take a hard look at what makes them feel beautiful. And I’m one of the ladies featured in volume #21 here.  (Note: if the link isn’t working right now, come back later.) I think it’s an absolutely wonderful idea and I love that she’s doing something positive to help those of us who might not be classically beautiful see the beauty in ourselves. And while you’re there, maybe submit your own story and you might be featured on the blog, too! Thank you, Erica!

operation beautiful

And finally, I am grateful as I get older that I’m realizing the quiet beauty in the little things. Things like fake sneezing to make a baby smile, and belly-laughing while you play games with your kids, and holding hands with your sweetheart, and seeing twinkly lights at Christmastime really are what life is all about. We tend to think it’s the big gestures, the big moments that will stick in our minds forever, but sometimes the smallest moments bring the greatest joy.

I hope you have a beautiful week.

Much love. – Mama Bear