Tuesday, November 27, 2012

new tradition: "giving tuesday"

I'm skeptical of 'traditions' I've never heard of or that didn't exist more than 50 years ago. There is no vetting committee to validate whether something is actually a 'tradition' or not. More often than not these 'traditions' are made up by some marketing firm in an attempt to guilt people into parting with their money so the marketing firm's customers can create another off-shore account in Grand Cayman. (See 'Black Friday.')

However, there is a new 'tradition' in town, one that I can actually get behind. It involves spending money, but it doesn't involve making other people leave their families on a holiday to go work in retail so other people can run around like crazy people buying things before someone else can snatch them away. Instead of being about consumerism, it's about philanthropy.

Today begins open season on Giving.

The Giving Tuesday campaign was initiated by two lead charities to encourage a national day of giving back during the holiday season. According to the #GivingTuesday website, it is a day to celebrate a culture of giving rather than a culture of getting.

We Americans take some flack for our consumerism, but giving back is as much a part of the American psyche as mindless shopping and $5 lattes. The United States ranked #1 on the 2011 World Giving Index published by the Charities Aid Foundation, with an unprecedented World Giving Index score of 60%. 

However, charities cannot afford to lose traction when getting the word out about their needs. According to a new survey by Blackbaud (a company that advises nonprofits on fundraising), almost half of existing donors said they plan to give less or to fewer charities this holiday season. The average donor age is around 65. By using social media, the Giving Tuesday campaign hopes not only to encourage giving, but also to engage younger donors and enable them to be more actively involved in the causes they support.

Over 2000 charities or groups supporting charitable projects have registered as partners with Giving Tuesday. However, any charity is fair game - need knows no holiday and your favorite charity will be happy to receive your donation whether or not they are official partners. 

Blackbaud will analyze the impact of Giving Tuesday to help nonprofits understand its success and practical lessons for going forward. As a company that puts its money where its mouth is, Blackbaud is also donating $10,000 to a foundation that encourages innovation in philanthropy. 

As a former nonprofit manager and fundraiser, this is an encouraging move. As a former Blackbaud employee, it is especially gratifying for me personally. It feels good to know you have done something that matters. And as a charitable giver, this gives me yet another kick in the keister to do my part. 

So I am going online right now to make some donations. And for the record, if I'm on your Christmas list, don't worry about what size I wear or which color I would like - green always looks good, the size of a donation is always a perfect fit, and - an added bonus - it never, ever needs dusting.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

my own dos equis: from waiting to XX years of love

I have always had a fear of being wrong.

Somehow that never stopped me from being cocky and opinionated. Especially in my early 20s, when I preferred anything that was different, non-traditional, abstract, odd. Including men, which I preferred older. Much older.

I sneered at traditional column houses, platinum-trimmed bone china, and station wagons. I shunned shiny faced boys straight out of college. Modern architecture, geometric dinnerware, quirky stick-shift foreign numbers, and someone with laugh lines and a little graying around the temples - these were more to my liking.

If I had married in my early 20s, my hypothetical (and hopefully older) husband and I would have registered for china, purchased a car, chosen a house.

But what I liked in 1986 is not what I would want now. Our tastes change. Had I had married in my early 20s, I'm pretty sure by now I would have donated the dinnerware to Goodwill, ditched the car, and run screaming from the no-longer-contemporary house.

Which makes me wonder: How would the hypothetical husband have fared?

Hopefully we would have grown together and suited each other as we aged. But...what if we didn’t? What if our marriage became as outdated as the Aztec-themed dinner setting I liked when I was 23? What if he stopped growing? What if I made a mistake?

They never talk about this stuff in fairy tales. What happens after the “happily ever after”?

Fear of making the wrong choice kept me single for a very, very long time. Honestly, I thought I would never marry. It just seemed too risky. And I didn’t trust myself very much. It took a lot of living and a lot of mistakes to get to the point where I could even like myself. Until then, there was no way anyone was breaking through my shell. Better to be alone and content than married and miserable.

Then one day, just when I’d given up for good, the unthinkable happened. The right person walked through the right door at the right time. I looked at him and saw an attractive man who was confident and successful. He looked at me and saw an attractive woman who was confident and comfortable in her own skin.

Boy did we have each other fooled!

He was fresh out of a failed marriage and a stalled career, starting over in every way imaginable. He had seen “ever after” and found it wasn’t necessarily a happy place.

I was a bag of insecurity and doubt, tied up with guilt and fear. I was terrified of “ever after” and had written off relationships for good about four months before we met.

We made absolutely no sense together.

So of course we fell head-over-heels in love.

Twenty (XX) years later, my tastes have changed dramatically. My house has four columns in front. There is gold-rimmed porcelain in the china cabinet. I drive a minivan.

And every morning, I wake up next to The Most Interesting Man in the World  - my own dos equis - with his graying temples and a spark in his eye. The man I will never outgrow because we keep growing together.

Together we have built (and rebuilt) careers, a home, a family, a life that is richer in love than I could have ever imagined.

It’s nice to know I wasn’t wrong about everything.


Follow me on Twitter: https://twiter.com/cindicf

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

if vampires can shine, why can't i

Quick, who said this:

After eighteen years of being utterly ordinary, I finally found that I can shine.

Unless you live under a rock, you probably guessed it's Bella of "Twilight" fame, the awkward girl who finally gets her shiny wish. The last movie in the series is coming out this week, so there are Bella quotes and pictures everywhere.

As a previous rock dweller, I will admit I had not seen any of the movies until recently, when my 10 year old requested a Twilight movie-thon. I am now sufficiently caught up. Forever.

Ok, so I wasn't blown away, but I wasn't disappointed either. I hear the books were better, but the movies were well made, fun and surprisingly wholesome for monster movies. It was refreshing to find love, romance and commitment still have some value in the age of hook-ups.

And who knew vampire dwellings could be so posh and artful and filled with light? Totally jealous.

So, back to Bella. Before meeting Edward, Bella felt like a misfit - different, displaced, an outsider. The possibility was within her to shine the whole time. Other people saw it in her, but she didn't. It took an outside force - the love of someone totally unexpected - to awaken her to the possibility of a different life. In the process, she discovered value in herself. She had things to offer Edward (ok, and Jacob) that were never thought possible. Being open to the possibilities changed everyone around them.

And so it goes in our own lives. There are people and situations we encounter in life that challenge us, enhance us, transform us. Whether knowingly or unaware, they serve as a catalyst to forever change our outlook, our perceptions, our locations, and even our character DNA. Our hope in life is that we can impact at least one other person in such a significant way for the better.

Those who touch us and those we touch are not necessarily one in the same. When they are, magic happens. Not Hollywood magic, but ancient magic, deep and strong. The kind that pushes us out of the armchair and catapults us into the unknown.

Sometimes we fly together. When that happens, it takes our breath away. It awes us that someone can care that much about us, is willing to invest in us, and wants to walk beside us. Even when it is messy and inconvenient. Maybe especially then.

Other times the catalyst sees us off and becomes a memory instead of a companion. Some catalysts serve a purpose and are meant to be left behind peacefully in the past. Maybe it was a nice experience. Maybe it was a devastation. Either way, it opened a door, a window, a portal, or shoved us out of the way and onto another road. One that made all the difference.

When we mix the two up, we can stall. Sometimes we try to drag people or things or scenarios forward with us instead of leaving them in their proper place and perspective. The "what ifs" haunt us and taint our present. While we would not be in our present state without them, it is often difficult to leave the past behind.

An old Roman poet named Catullus (whose name sounds delightfully like 'catalyst') described it as an inability to "put away a long love".  Even when that "love" is something pretty ugly, there is comfort in its familiarity. The whole "devil you know..." conundrum. It's hard to let go of that devil when you think it's the last secure thing you'll ever have.

Ironically, letting something in the past hold us back - whether regret or guilt or longing or even something that was good - can keep us from living into the fullness of what is before us. Even worse, it can keep us from having hope.

In Bella-speak, that drags us back into being utterly ordinary and keeps us from shining. In country-speak, it keeps us in a rut, which is just a grave with both ends knocked out.

Not even vampires live in graves these days. Don't know about you, but I'd much rather be in the posh glass house on the hill, even if it's just metaphorically speaking.

Friday, November 09, 2012

tiny little hairs

I can't believe I had to learn about this from a man.
I read women's magazines and blogs. I write a women's blog, for heaven's sake. We hold nothing back, right?

We find it easy to tell everything we know about love, sex, love without sex, sex without love, men, menstruation, menopause, mental health, menus, recipes, weight loss/gain, careers, career equality, career moms, home school moms, young moms, old moms, choose-not-to-be-a-mom...the list goes on and on. 

But apparently we keep some things to ourselves. 

For example, little tiny hairs - hello?!? Why didn't you tell me? Why did I hear about them from Bill Cosby, America's Dad? 

Oh, don't sit there and pretend you don't know what I'm talking about! If you are over 35, you need to just 'fess up. If you're under 35, you're forgiven, but you should take note. You'll need to know about this. Soon.  

Body hair was never a problem for me before now. Most of my ancestors were pretty WASPy. From them I got red hair, pale skin, and invisible eyebrows. The rest were Native American. From them I got the ability to go long periods without shaving my legs. I would have liked a little melanin and my mom's cheekbones, but guess those weren't in the genetic cards.

Scientifically, redheads have the least hair of all the hair colors. There are lots of famous redheads now, but being redheaded in the 70s and 80s was not fashionable. I would have gladly been a little more hirsute if it meant I looked like Farrah Fawcett or Brooke Shields. It took a lot of years for me to embrace the fact that I would never look like a celebrity.  (Well, maybe Kathleen Turner or Carrie Fisher - but not in the Body Heat or Jabba bikini years...phooey.) 

Just when I'd made peace with my pale aging hairless body, I felt them. 

Little tiny hairs...growing on my face. Just like in Bill Cosby's comedy routine. Except for women. Except...not funny!

I couldn't even see them at first. They were elusive, sneaky little buggers, taking advantage of my aging eyesight and limited dexterity.

Finally I broke down and bought a 15x magnifying mirror and a really expensive pair of tweezers. I still couldn't see them indoors, even with the mirror. I took my trusty mirror and reading glasses outside into the sunlight - bingo! Nasty black (!) hairs were springing from my chin, some of which I hadn't even felt. 

I was surprised at how long some of them were. There was even one on my neck the length of a toddler hair. I wondered why no circus had recruited me to be their bearded lady. And I was thankful my husband is farsighted in more ways than one. 

Nowadays, I keep my mirror and tweezers in my purse. That way I can take advantage of the sunlight in the car. When my husband drives, I gladly sit on the passenger side and do a little personal maintenance. 

The first few times I did this, he was shocked. (After living with me for so long, it takes a lot to shock him.) I believe he said, "Ugh, are you going to do that where EVERYONE can see you?" 

Obviously not EVERYONE could see me. Just the truck drivers cruising beside us on the interstate, and I'm sure they had way more interesting things to look at than a crazy old woman plucking facial hair in an SUV. 

And obviously I couldn't give a fig if anyone saw me, because I just told everyone on a national women's website about it. I'm sure you forgive me.

As I forgive you for not telling me about this. 

Just promise me there are no more nasty surprises coming up. I mean, I'm 48...what else could there be! 

What was that...? Wait....are you serious?

Sigh, on second thought, maybe ignorance is bliss.  

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

why I am not voting this morning

I’ve never been much for politics. I tend to shy away from controversy, from debates, from disagreements.

I’m no dummy. I have a Mensa card in a drawer somewhere if you want proof. But that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily smart in practical ways.

For one thing, I feel like I need to know all the ins and outs of a political topic in order to discuss it at all. I shouldn’t feel this way. Most people have no problem talking about things they know nothing about. That’s pretty obvious, with all the misinformation and snow jobs blowing around this time of year. Perfect morons seem to be able to make a decision, come down as black-or-white on the issues at hand. Why do I have such trouble?

Partially because I’m an empath. I feel what others around me are feeling. Sometimes this is a blessing, but other times it is a curse. I tend to see both sides of an issue and have feelings about both because I know people on both sides. (I'm even worried about my use of the word "moron" in the previous paragraph.)

This leads to a lot of internal conflict. So much so that the thought of adding external conflict is almost unbearable. I imagine everyone I know, left and right, unfriending me on Facebook, shunning me at church, and excluding me from parties.

It seems people who tout “tolerance” the most have plenty to go around until you disagree with them. Then you get labeled. I don’t do labels. (Ok, now I really regret using "moron.")
Also, I’m not used to discussing politics. Our family didn’t talk much about it growing up. We pretty much knew which presidential candidate our parents voted for. But we never really talked about candidates or issues or even political parties as a family. If we did, it wasn’t memorable.
I had best friends on both sides of the aisle. One friend came from a large Anglican family; her mother was president of the Republican Women’s Club. Another friend came from a larger Catholic family; she wore McGovern/Shriver campaign buttons to school in the second grade. At least I was surrounded by examples of active political women from a young age.

My sphere of political diversity and empathy continues today.

Much of my family and some of my friends are very conservative. Some of them are on the radical right, like “I believe Barack Obama is a Muslim non-citizen who loves to kill babies” radical. But most of them just have strong beliefs in God and country and family, and believe in voting their conscience and their values.

Many of my friends and some of my family are very liberal. Some of them are on the radical left, like “I believe Mitt Romney hates all women/Mexicans/gays/Big Bird/fill-in-the-blank” radical. They also have strong beliefs in God and country and family, and believe in voting their conscience and their values.

So here I am, stuck in the middle again. I have little-to-no patience for people who insist a vote for Romney is a vote for misogyny, discrimination, and the 1%. Just as I have little-to-no patience for people who insist a vote for Obama is a vote for Islam, socialism, and the end of the family.

So what is a sensitive-but-thinking girl to do?

When I feel lost, I go back to basics. I consider our history, the founding of this great experiment of a country. When asked what type of government we had, Ben Franklin cautioned, “A republic…if you can keep it.” Ben was no saint and was considered a lowbrow for thinking ordinary people said anything worth listening to. He was the only person who signed all four founding papers – the Declaration of Independence, the treaty with Great Britain, the treaty with France, and the Constitution. He didn’t agree with everything in each of those documents, but trusted the compromise of “joint wisdom” to be superior to the fallible thoughts of only one mind.

Somehow “joint wisdom” has kept this country going for 236 years, through nearly endless foreign conflicts, a brutal civil war that should have ended the great experiment, and two world wars that could have ended freedom for all forever.

But they didn’t. The experiment continues in spite of our brokenness, our disagreements, our disparity of beliefs.

I find great hope in that. I find hope in the people I love, in the people I meet at church and at Starbucks and at the homeless shelter and at the arts fundraiser. I find hope in this great experiment of a country, in the faith of the founders and of the reformers who risked life and limb so there would be a United States of America and so I as a woman could have a voice in it.

And now to the question of how I could possibly consider not voting this morning. Because this morning my daughter looked at me and said, “Mom, please wait until I get home from school to vote. I want to go with you.”

So I will vote this afternoon. With my daughter by my side, I will enter the poll and cast my vote without regard to who might agree or disagree with my choice. And when we find out the results, either on Wednesday or sometime before January 20, 2013, I will have the same hope as I do today.

Because my hope is not in Mitt Romney or Barack Obama.

My hope is in you. 

Thursday, November 01, 2012

saying goodbye to a saint

Today, we bury a mother. Her name was Patricia. But her family called her Gigi.

She isn’t my mother, or grandmother. She is a mother once removed, mother to my husband’s first wife, and grandmother to our children.

Her daughter and I share the same name, the same town, the same children and grandchildren, and, at different times, the same husband.

I have known Gigi nearly 20 years. In all that time, even when I first came into the family – the second wife, the step mom, the other Cynthia– she made me feel part of the greater whole. She embraced me, helped me fit in, helped me belong.
I loved her grandchildren – and now great-grandchildren - as my own. I embraced her daughter.  I suppose it is easier to accept someone who loves the same people you do. Or maybe she was just that gracious to everyone.

She was a Proverbs 31 kind of woman. She was confident in what she believed and she lived in the truth of it.  She had a tremendous faith in God that carried her through the illness and death of her beloved husband and one of her sons. She stood strong with those she loved as their lives fell apart. And she helped them stand as they rebuilt them.

She was an active woman. She never stopped, and she ran circles around people half her age. She went to every recital, every marching band competition, every graduation. She took care of young and old; her house was open to all. She always had a ready meal, a ready hand, and a ready hug. Even for me.

We were pretty sure she’d outlive our generation. Hoping, maybe. Because as long as she was around, her family had a rock to lean on and a safe place to fall.

When illness struck her, it struck hard. No one saw it coming. It was incurable, ruthless, swift but not swift enough to avoid suffering. A suffering she did not earn.

Today, she suffers no more.

It is fitting that we celebrate Gigi’s life on All Saint’s Day, the day on the Christian calendar that gives Halloween its name (“All Hallow’s Eve”). For we are no longer mourning her illness or even her death.

Oh, there is much grief and heartache and disbelief. There will be tears aplenty for lost time, for missing the sound of her voice, for her empty chair at weddings and birthdays and holidays.

She will be greatly missed. But today we celebrate her legacy that lives in all who knew her, and the newness of life she lives in now.

Because this saint isn’t just marching in – she’s running!