Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Our First Christmas with Zach

We are well into the Christmas season but it is far from over as we celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas. My parents were married on January 6th, 1946 so finishing up the Christmas season on the twelfth day was part of my Christmas growing up. When Fran was just a baby we were concerned with Christmas becoming overwhelming and after an inspirational sermon by our pastor, Fred Warnecke about celebrating the 12 days of Christmas we decided to make that a family tradition and have been opening gifts, visiting friends, having a special meal/food or attending a museum/movie/event on every one of the days of Christmas. It gives us the opportunity to take advantage of after Christmas bargains and eliminates some of the stress of having everything done before the 25th. Also taking some time to enjoy each other's company rather than just gift giving has become an important part of our celebrating the season.

Now Fran is grown, married and has her first child, Zach, and like many new parents she wanted to start her own Christmas tradition. So on Christmas morning we went to her place, had the traditional breakfast that her husband, Josh has always had, and opened gifts there. They are continuing the 12 day tradition but there was still plenty for Zach to open from his grandparents and godparents. My son Hugh, Zach's godfather, experienced this first adult Chrsitmas responsibility - putting toys together on Christmas morning.

Zach is only six months old but he already loves everything about Christmas. He loved being involved in the preparations from wrapping presents to cookie baking to having an advance peek at his gifts before they were wrapped. He loves the Christmas tree and he is enjoying all of his new gifts. Here are some pictures on Christmas morning.

Zach sat on his father’s lap opening gifts on Christmas morning. This was one of his favorites – The Fisher Price Laugh & Learn Learning Toolbenchfrom his godmother.

Here is another favorite – also from Aunt Sonny –one part of the Vtech - 3-in-1 Smart Wheels. He is ready for this part but has to wait a while for the ride on. Yes, the gift was from Aunt Sonny but Grandma gets to hold him playing with it.

Here is Zach smiling with his mother – A big Christmas smile.

Our friends, Parikshit, Umang, Shalini and Saumya joined us on Christmas Eve for a traditional meal and Umang brought a present for Zach and I – a gorgeous set of books that we will enjoy together. They include The Mittenby Jan Brett, In Grandma's Armsby Karen Katz (She’s a favorite of both Zach and me) Love You Forever and Hide and Seek Colors. Thank you, Umang! Reading together is something Zach and I love to do together. Although he seems to like eating the books as much as reading them sometimes. Saumya is almost 2 and calls Zach “baby.” I wonder what they’ll call each other next year. They are both lively and I can picture some raucous celebrations in the future.

We had a wonderful Christmas with family and friends and the season continues as we plan for our neighbor’s wedding on New Year’s Eve, finishing up the cookies before we gain too much more weight and a visit to the Montclair Museum for the Cezanne exhibit that ends this week.

Since Christmas day Zach has been enjoying some of his new toys which are finding a home at our place. I think Zach is developing an appreciation for music. All the toys these days seem to play music. And so yesterday I brought Zach to the piano and played Mary had a little lamb. Hhhmmm...he really liked the piano... I should call Patrick and have it tuned....then it will sound even better.

There is something more than special - its spiritually uplifting about celebrating a baby's first Christmas. Everyone around Zach seems to be in their own pensive state experiencing this moment in a new way. As we approach the New Year we are full of the wonder of Christmas and excitement for all that will be new ahead of us. I have enjoyed writing this blog so much this year and I look forward to sharing more about grandparenting in 2010.

Enjoy the rest of your Christmas season everyone and Please share your comments about your Christmas celebration in the Comments.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Wishing You Joy, Pride and Resilience

Dear Friends,

I wish all of you a joyous holiday season and a blessed New Year. This holiday letter is being posted both at Marion Conway – Nonprofit Consultant and The Grandma Chronicles. Later this week I will offer my Christmas prayers at the Christmas Vigil for all of you who work with nonprofits, those I have worked with, all whose lives you touch and grandparents everywhere.

The snow blanketed us over the weekend and we will have a white Christmas in our neighborhood. It is dazzling albeit cold. This is my grandson Zach’s first Christmas and the whole family is enjoying watching him look at the lights on the tree and the various preparations going on. He really wanted a Christmas cookie on cookie baking day but its not quite on his diet yet. He got to play with some Christmas toys still in their cardboard holders before they were wrapped on wrapping day.

For me Christmas is a time of reflection and of joy. This has been a difficult year and 2010 will hopefully be better but it certainly will also be full of challenges. I have seen resilience this year both in my work and at home and so I plan to not only reflect but to relax and enjoy this holiday time and take the time to refresh the resilience we will all need for 2010.

Having a baby around (Zach is six months old) does seem to give you the extra oomph that keeps everything moving along. We bask in the wonder we see in his eyes and wonder ourselves what he is thinking and noticing. We take care of our health and enjoy Christmas shopping in a new way. We cherish every moment family is together. I can’t help thinking about families in homeless shelters or troubled homes and I know that some of the most generous people I have come across this year are those on the front lines of social service organizations.

At the lighting of the National Christmas Tree earlier this month President Obama said “this tradition that has come to represent more than any one holiday or religion, but a season of brotherhood and generosity to our fellow citizens.” How true.

When I think of how many lives have been impacted by the nonprofit community that I know both in person and online I realize how privileged I have been to work among this group. This year I wish you joy, pride for all you have done this past year and resilience to do even more next year.

Here is the picture of my husband and I with our grandson, Zach that we sent with our Christmas cards.

And here is my favorite picture of the zillions we took for Christmas pictures with us. This one now greets me on my computer desktop.

May You Have a Blessed and Joyous Holiday,


Monday, December 14, 2009

What Will You be Called as a Grandparent – Here’s a Little Help

What’s in a name, anyway? My daughter wanted my husband and I to be called Nana and Pop-Pop which is what my husband’s parents were called because her husband’s parents were already Grandma and Grandpa and she wanted us to be called by something different. I protested because I did not want to be called Nana which sounded old and old fashioned to me. I am a traditionalist at heart but I don’t like to be old fashioned or thought of as being old. I insist that I am still middle aged which I admit is getting to be a tougher sell every day.

My husband wanted to be called Pop but Fran said it did not match with the Grandma I am insisting on. My grandson, Zach (six months old) and my husband have become great friends - they really enjoy each other’s company. It is a joy to watch them interact. I can see them becoming quite a tag team. Pop really seems like the right fit and just recently my daughter said that Pop was fine. Wow! I am really happy about that because I know it makes my husband happy, it is easier to say, and indeed it just seems like what he should be called.

One of the things that is a topic of discussion when you are still a “grandparent-in-waiting” is what you will be called. It may be a surprise to some people that this is actually a parental decision – or so they think. In reality whatever a child begins to call you may stick and that is why so many grandparents have some unusual monikers. But we can certainly influence our name by using our preference at an early age.

On Grandparents.com I moderate a group for New Grandparents and the group attracts new and expectant grandparents. When introducing themselves they often talk about what they will be called and I have been surprised at the wide variety of possibilities. Some are from their family cultural origins or what their parents were called. Some want something young, playful and fun sounding and others want to be thought of as warm and comforting. You need a name that goes with your “ambiance” after all. It is actually more difficult to choose a name as a grandparent than as a parent. Mommy and Mom seem to cover all the bases but not the case with being a grandmother. Our role is non-essential and so we are allowed much more latitude with our name.

Amazon.com has a number of books on this subject and you can link on them by clicking on the links or ads below. The holiday season is a good time to lighten up and enjoy everything we have to be thankful for. Here are some good “Lighten up Helpers.”
You Can Call Me Hoppa! The Grandparents' Guide to Choosing a Name that Fits
The New Grandparents Name Book
The Big Book of Grandparents' Names

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A "Green" Update to a Timeless Toy - EnviroBLOX

A timeless toy for children is a building toy. All children enjoy blocks, Legos Tinker Toy, Lincoln Logs or any building set. At A Time to Play Holiday Showcase I got to see up close a modern green version of building blocks - EnviroBLOX by Cadaco toys. This award winning new idea featured on the Today Show and Regis and Kelly is really quite creative. The building "blocks" which are made of cornstarch are flexible, biodegradeable and nontoxic. When they are moistened with a sponge they stick together. The fun part for me is that they change shape so that you can build them into whatever shape you want. They come in sets of various sizes and each set has suggested designs to build. EnviroBLOX are recommended for Ages 4 and up.

I have been staying away from reviewing videogames and electronic gadgets and sticking to discussing toys that grandparents will like and may even play with with their grandchildren. EnviroBLOX fits that bill. I highly recommend them.

You can order order EnviroBlox and other items that I have reviewed at Amazon.com. Click on gifts under labels in the sidebar and see all of my recent product reviews with links directly to Amazon.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

This Holiday Season Is a Good Time to Begin the Path to Philanthropy with your Children

I love blogging – so much in fact that I have two very different blogs – Marion Conway Nonprofit Consultant where I blog about topics of interest to the nonprofit community and The Grandma Chronicles where I blog about grandparenting. I never thought that I would have the same post on both blogs but here it is. I started to put my thoughts together on this topic for my consulting blog and then, it came to me...This topic works for both blogs!

The topic of teaching children to be philanthropic is an important one to me and I believe it is something that starts young. The word Philanthropy is derived from Ancient Greek and means "to love people". Philanthropy is the act of donating money, goods, services, time and/or effort to support a socially beneficial cause. Webster’s definition resonates with the holiday season: “goodwill to fellowmen”

I started to do some research for this post on the web and was happy to see that there are wonderful resources and ideas available. There was even a blog post from Beth Kanter a year ago that I contributed to on this subject.
Kids and Philanthropy: Teaching Your Children To Be Charitable by Beth Kanter

We should be thinking about philanthropy as a core value to teach children. It is an important part of wholeness in adult life and it should be something that just comes naturally. That is my basic philosophy. So just as we teach the importance of education to our children by helping with homework, providing enjoyable educational experiences, encouraging and rewarding working hard in school there is the parallel in philanthropy.

Children learn about philanthropy by example, by doing things themselves and by being taught about it. We start with the very young by teaching and practicing caring and sharing. Older children participate in community service and contribute their time, talent and treasure as we say in church. There are so many things that we can do with children to develop a spirit of community service. Whether it be volunteering at a local food bank or raking leaves for an elderly neighbor there are opportunities everywhere in our everyday lives.

If you want your children to be enthusiastic about participating in philanthropy then it has to be something that is of interest to them. It may be in helping poor children or the environment. It may be supporting children who are very sick. You may have your own interests – I know I have mine – but it is a good idea to explore with children how they would like to help others and then for them to have as much of a hands-on experience as possible.

At our church all ages participate in our holiday giving program. Young children decorate Christmas cards and small trees for the elderly. Older children help stuff Christmas stockings with a variety of supplies for men at a homeless shelter. The teens participate in cooking a special meal for the homeless shelter that is served with tablecloths, flowers and a festive theme. The hands-on experience with philanthropy is an important part of their development.

The hands-on experience I remember most with my son is that for his Eagle Scout project he collected sleeping bags for children in Newark to use for summer camp. He also collected money and arranged a big discount with Coleman to buy sleeping bags. The day he and fellow scouts went to Newark to unload the sleeping bags from the delivery truck some teens were getting sleeping bags for a trip that weekend. I think my son has always appreciated his own sleeping bag a lot more since then.

Sometimes our children have set the example for us. When my son was a freshman in high school he came home and TOLD us he was going on a trip to help re-build a burned Black church in the South during his Spring vacation. My husband decided to take a week of his vacation and go with him and several years later my husband and I went together. My daughter has a caring spirit and when she works with young children she is particularly thoughtful of a child that needs a little extra personal attention that can make a difference. She is much more the touchy feely type than I am and I know she touches the lives of children she works with in an important way.

Teaching the concepts – Many people in my generation were brought up not knowing anything about family finances or giving. Looking back my parents were generous with their time, talent and treasure. I was oblivious to the treasure part but I could see the time and talent part. We have taken a different tack with our children. They know about our giving patterns and that it is spread across local, national and international causes. They know the local organizations where we are involved very well. They know that we have priorities for our giving and that charities are named in our will. When our children were young we made matching gifts to charities that they gave to and this encouraged them to give even more. They know our “philanthropy philosophy” and as adults are forming their own. When my son started working he immediately made a commitment to make a contribution to KIVA with every paycheck. He has his own philanthropy philosophy and it developed as he was growing up.

Our philanthropy manifests itself differently at different stages in our lives but it is important at every stage. For children and young adults it can be bursting with energy and innocence and a spirit true to the origins of the word. There is no time like the holiday season to start. Kayta Andresen from Network for Good offered a fantastic idea last holiday season in Beth Kanter’s post: "Give with your kids day. "She suggests giving a child $25 to donate to a charity. You can help them research the type of charities they are interested in online.

Learning to Give - offers lesson plans, activities and resources to educate youth about the power of philanthropy

Foundation Center - Youth in Philanthropy – An extensive list of online resources is available

Games for Change - Lots of video games are avaiable for teaching children about philanthropy on topics ranging from serving the poor to the environment

A favorite book of mine on this topic is Raising Charitable Children by Carol Wiseman.

A special note to grandparents: One of the things that grandparents do is fill in some blanks as parents have busy schedules. This is an excellent responsibility for grandparents to take a leadership role in and find things you can do together with your grandchildren than enrich your lives and that of others.

Enjoy the Holidays and Live Philanthropically,