All My Children



Every year at this time, I share the story of a special charity that I support. Someone once said that “Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts,” and I believe that’s true. It’s important to me to make the holiday season about how we can help one another in a dark and cold time of year.




This year, I’d like to tell you about my children. I am blessed with a family of stepchildren and grandchildren, all of whom I love dearly, but there is another family I hold in my heart. I have supported ChildFund International for years, and am now on my fourth sponsored child: a boy, Nikhil, in India. He has the same birthday as my stepson, Nick, September 10–that feels right to me. A connection from his family in India to my family here.




Here’s how it works: you select a child to sponsor on the ChildFund website, and they connect you with pictures of your child, and news of their progress. You learn about the geography of their country, the community structure and their social beliefs. You can write letters to your child, and they will write to you. Beyond material assistance, a bond is formed with a little person in need.




When my last sponsored child turned 19, finished school, and began working with his uncle, I was asked to take on a special case. This family was so poor that they couldn’t afford the father’s diabetes medication. He was unable to work, so the family had no income at all. The first photos of Nikhil broke my heart.




He was so thin, and shy, and fearful. All big eyes, looking frightened. Just a few years later, the letters, report cards, drawings, and photos show so much improvement! He stands tall and happy–even smiling! Nikhil and I correspond and I send photos of my family. His social worker sends me photos of the supplies he purchases for himself and his family with our birthday and holiday gifts. He’s so thoughtful–always a sari for Mom and work pants for Dad, and chocolates to share with his friends.




It’s been years now, and Nikhil is growing up, too. I’m always sad when I have to let them move on, but there’s always a new life to work with.




I usually sponsor a child from age 5 or so to 18 or 19. Chandra was my first, and Nikhil won’t be my last. They are all emblazoned in my memory.




“It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air.”–W.T. Ellis



Watch a short video about ChildFund here. 


Simple Giving

happy new year 2015 with christmas hat on sandy beach with wave - holiday concept

photo from istock 

Each year, when the family is gathered together, we talk about our plans for the holidays. In recent years, inspired by how a friend and his family in Switzerland found a deeper meaning in Christmas,we have agreed to celebrate in a simpler way.

Skyline view of the old city center of Bern, Switzerland (an Unesco World Heritage Site) during a winter twilight. Some snow visible on the rooftops of the buildings. Between the houses, the spires of the most imposing churches of the city can be spotted, as well as the dome of the Switzerland's Parliament House. HDR Image.

photo from istock 

My friend and his family live in a tiny storybook village. I’ve been there, and it’s magic. Their new way of celebrating began when their son, Theo, came home one Christmas Eve from college and told the family that he had heard the local village butcher was going out of business, and closing that night. As a family, they totaled up the cash value of their presents, and decided to return them. Instead, they brought the cash amount to the butcher and his wife in an envelope that very night. Their business was saved. They all cried with joy.


photo from istock 

And so it goes. Instead of the rush to buy gifts and spend money for things we don’t truly need, we focus on giving from our hearts. There are so many creative options! Last year, some people read aloud from passages or poetry that are favorites.

My aunt gave blankets to the Sioux Native Americans to help them get through the winter. One person crafted a lovely handmade ornament for our tree, others made donations to Greenpeace, or did acts of kindness, such as visiting shut-ins. We all shared our stories at the table, and it was a very uplifting and joyful time. Noisy, too!


photo from istock 

We do like to keep the tradition of giving gifts to the children, as a symbol of the gifts of the Magi to the Christ child in the manger. As they grow up, we’ll explain the significance of this. So our little Luke, Vidal, and Richard Thomas will all have gifts. That’s half the fun–watching them open things so joyfully!

Frank and I are gifting a live pig to a family through our favorite charity, Heifer International. Hopefully, he’ll be on his way soon. Livestock gives the village the gift of independence, and the piglets are shared in the village to spread the abundance.


We’ll also share photos of our “adopted” child in India, a little boy named Nik (just like my stepson, Nick!) through Childfund International. Not only does he share Nick’s name, but they share a birthday: September 10th! His father is so ill with diabetes that he can no longer support the family. Now they have money for insulin, and clothes for Nik so he can attend school. I’ll even show the family Nik’s report card.


Watch a Childfund International video here. 

I chose the title of this post to be the same as the name of a wonderful book by Jennifer Iacovelli, the author of Simple Giving: Easy Ways to Give Every Day


Jennifer began a blog, Another Jennifer, in February 2010, to explore the topic of philanthropy and what it meant. As a fundraiser for a non-profit organization for several years, she was getting frustrated with her progress in raising money to support good works, and urging legislators not to cut public funding.


Jennifer Iacovelli

Her book, Simple Giving, takes her blog one step farther. She hopes to inspire readers to do more giving in ways that are meaningful. Giving doesn’t always mean writing a check. It can be taking the time to write to your legislator about an issue important to you, or bringing doughnuts to your local fire department. You might check on an elderly neighbor, or just write a thank you note to someone who has done something for you.

“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”

–Henry James

In addition to Jennifer’s simple suggestions for daily acts of kindness, she shares some ideas for charitable giving to organizations you might not have heard about before. There’s Nearby Registry, a website that allows you to shop for unique gifts from local shops and nonprofits. Or To The Market, an online marketplace that showcases handmade goods created by survivors of abuse, conflict, and disease.


Molly Bears makes weighted teddy bears –so they feel like you’re holding an infant–for families who have experienced any form of infant loss, free of charge. Climate Counts holds companies accountable for their influence on climate change. Ark Project Now is based on the movie Evan Almighty, when Steve Carell’s character asks Morgan Freeman, who plays the role of God, “How can we change the world?”

And Morgan Freeman replies, “One act of random kindness at a time,” and writes the abbreviation, A-R-K, into the sand with a stick.

Lovely young brother and sister write words in the sand together

photo from istock 

One person can make a difference; one person can change the world. Let me know what you choose to write in the sand, and how you’ll bring hope to people who may have lost theirs.  I’ll share it here, and on my Facebook page.

Happy Holidays.

Word "Hope" handwritten in sand at beach.

photo from istock 

The True Spirit of Christmas

There’s something so touching about Christmas trees.  It’s not just the beauty of the lights and the ornaments.  It’s the tradition of creating a beautiful display that stands for something bigger than ourselves:  a renewal of light and love, and the memories of all the Christmases that we’ve enjoyed through the years.

The display above is one I did several years ago, inspired by a Russian Folk Tale called The Snow Maiden.  You can see her silhouetted in the white cathedral between the trees.  It celebrates my Russian heritage, which makes it all the more special to me and my family.

Something I look forward to each year is decorating a tree for the Nantucket Whaling Museum’s Festival of Trees.  More than 80 brilliantly decorated trees designed by local merchants, non profit organizations, community members, school children and artists are displayed at the museum at 13 Broad Street from November 30 through December 31st.

This year, I indulged my love of dogs:  all kinds, from Poodles to Bassett Hounds to Golden Retrievers!  The tree celebrates all things doggy, everything from paw print ribbons cascading through the greenery to a dog’s best friend, his bone.

It’s all great fun, and a delight to be involved with so many creative and talented people at the museum.  I hope you’re able to make a visit this year!  Learn more at the Nantucket Historical Association’s website.


I’d like to share a story with you that means a great deal to me.  About 12 years ago, my good friend Theo, who lives in Switzerland, told me about a Christmas with his family. The Swiss celebrate on Christmas Eve, when they decorate the tree together, light candles, open gifts and enjoy a sumptuous meal.  His son (also Theo) had just come home from college for the Christmas holidays.

Soon after their celebration began, Theo, Jr. explained that the local butcher and wife were closing their mom and pop store and tonight was their last night in business.  A new “chain store” had come in, and was slowly but surely ending their village life as they knew it.

“We all have so much,” he said.  “I’d like to return all of our gifts, and give the money to the butcher.”

The family quickly tallied up the value of all the presents and were shocked at the total. Theo, Sr. came up with a couple of thousand in cash to match the amount.  As a family, they all went to the butcher’s shop that night and presented their gift.  You can imagine the scene:  tears of joy and overwhelm from the butcher and his wife.  Everyone felt complete peace as they walked back home in the snow.

The very next Thanksgiving, I discussed this story with my family and we were inspired to make some changes to our own holiday. We wanted to create a celebration with meaning, rather than just gift-giving.  We agreed that children should still receive gifts, to commemorate the Three Wise Men and the Christ Child.  Anyone who had something already that they just HAD to give to another should do so.  Or a tiny token could be given, such as a small handmade ornament.

We realized quickly that no money had to be spent:  visiting a lonely or elderly person and giving them the gift of one’s time was just as valid as a donation to a favorite charity.  The possibilities were endless, and each person was asked to report back at Christmas dinner to tell their stories.

It was the best Christmas we ever had!  No one had the usual fatigue of being up all night wrapping, or wracking their brains about what to buy, or complaints about the traffic and the crowds.  We were refreshed and excited to hear everyone’s story.

The gifts were varied and profound:  one person sent the Sioux Indians in the Dakotas warm wool blankets to help them get through the harsh winters, another sent a large donation to Greenpeace, a water buffalo was sent from Heifer International to a lucky family overseas.  One person went to a nursing home and gave their gift of time, another made amends with a friend over a past dispute, and someone gave a ride home to a very elderly woman with too many grocery bags and placed them all in her home.  I loved this story because the woman’s name was “Grace,” my mother’s name.

We delighted in how this made us all feel in touch with the spirit of the season and especially with each other.  This year, like others, Frank and I will be purchasing a heifer through Heifer International.  Their motto is “peace begins when hunger and poverty end.”  Visit their website at and consider giving your own gift of peace to a community in need.



May you all feel the true spirit of Christmas in your own holiday celebrations, and enjoy the love of family and friends throughout the new year.  LOVE LAUGH HUG! (repeat)

In the Spirit of the Season: Gift Giving

There is such joy in giving generously to family and friends!  My Seven Simple Steps for a Sustainable Holiday, below, can help to make your holiday both happy and environmentally friendly.  I also share a link to the National Resource Defense Council for their 50 Great Gift Ideas, all focused on saving the environment.  Perhaps one or more of these ideas will be just right for you and your family.

  1. Put your money to work helping others and the planet with a “life-changing gift”, such as Heifer International, or ChildFund International.
  2. Be socially conscious with gifts that promote fair trade.
  3. Use energy efficient LED holiday lights to add sparkle. (Install a timer!)
  4. Give locally made products, help reduce the impact of transportation.
  5.  Purchase greeting cards printed on recycled materials with vegetable
    based non-toxic inks, or send email greetings.
  6. Give gifts such as gift certificates or theater tickets – they don’t require a
    lot of gift wrapping.  Avoid wrapping with glossy or metallic paper.  Colorful fabric or reusable gift bags are an environmentally friendly alternative.
  7. Choose toys that do not require batteries. Instead choose gifts that stimulate a child’s imagination without impacting the environment. For more on sustainable ideas for your home, visit our newly redesigned website at

More than 50 extraordinary holiday gift ideas from the National Resource Defense Council!
More than 50 great gift ideas from NRDC all aimed at saving the environment. From defending polar bears to protecting clean water … from reviving rainforests to promoting renewable energy … you will find the perfect gift for a friend or loved one who cares deeply about our planet’s future.  Follow this link to learn more!