A Little Help For Your Friends

It happens to all of us. We hear through the grapevine that a friend is sick. Maybe this friend lives alone. Or maybe he has kids and no one else living in the house to help take care of them. Or maybe she has a spouse who’s at work all day, every day, or even out of town.

The Best Intentions…

Do you sometimes feel the desire to help out? But your own life is crazy full. Or you haven’t talked to your friend in a while so it feels awkward to call now. Or your friend lives too far away to get to.

Easy Ways to Make Good

Well, here’s an opportunity to make a list of easy ways to help. So get out a pen and paper (or your digital notepad) and jot down any of these ideas that sound right for you.

  • Small acts count. A lot. Even a one-time offering is very helpful. Maybe walk your friend’s dog. Or pick up the kids at school.
  • Build a little extra for your friend into your regular routine. You probably have to go grocery shopping for yourself. And most of us cook meals at least once in a while. It’s so easy to add your friend’s shopping list to your own. Or make an extra large batch of whatever you’re planning for dinner and give half to your friend.
  • Team up with others. This can seem like a real organizing time-sink. But no. You guessed it. You can do it all online from the comfort of wherever you and your digital device might be. Check out Lotsa Helping Hands or Food Tidings for starters.
  • Carrying on the online theme – seems to be easiest and least time-consuming – order something to be shipped directly to your friend. Flowers probably come to mind. But how about a book? Or a video?
  • Maybe a little pampering is in order. If you can’t give the time, maybe hire a massage therapist or manicurist to do a house call for your friend.
  • Does your friend have faraway family or dear friends who have time and desire for a visit to help out but need help with the plane ticket? Have you accumulated lots of miles on your favorite airline? There you go! Consider gifting miles to out-of-town helpers.

Of course, a visit or a phone call – even a short one – let your friend know you are thinking about them. And sometimes, when you’re sick, having someone reach out and acknowledge your pain can be the best support of all.

Share your ideas for helping a sick friend.

The Inspiring Poetry Slam

Often when I invite guests over to my home to share good company and good food, I’m running a little late putting the final touches on the food part. If so, I sometimes deposit my guests in the living room while I run around the kitchen getting it together. And sometimes a guest will wander over to my wall of books and scan my readings. I’ve got highfalutin novels standing next to 600 page works of nonfiction next to plays like A Raisin in the Sun leaning on volumes of chick lit. A couple of shelves are reserved for my favorite children’s books.

Sprinkled throughout are compilations of poetry, old and new. Periodically, in a quiet moment I pull a volume off the shelf and read a favorite poem, softly, out loud. I’ll bet this sounds familiar to those of you who love poetry.

Find Yourself a Poetry Slam!

So here’s an idea for a bolder approach, an inspiring approach, a let-it-all-hang-out-and-share-your-poetry-mojo-with-a-crowd approach. Find yourself a nearby poetry slam and share your voice.

What Exactly is a Poetry Slam?

Legend has it that the poetry slam got started 30 years ago in my sweet home Chicago. But nowadays, there are poetry slams all over the country. There are big ones that include an open mic portion followed by established talent that can take your enthusiasm to another level. There are smaller venues that might be just right if you’re a little timid. There are slams connected with charity events for those who want to combine their love of poetry with donations for a good cause. There are slams just for youth. And if you get really good at it, there’s the annual National Poetry Slam competition for the best of the best.

You can go solo or take the stage as a group. Want to sample some brave folks having fun? Check out you tube recordings of various poetry slam pieces. Here are a couple of recordings I like: this light-hearted group poem and this serious solo poem. Find your own favs. If you get inspired, do your own.

From the great poet Octavio Paz, a bit of his poem Between What I See and What I Say, that reminds me of what a poetry slam is all about:

To hear thoughts,
See what we say.
Touch the body of an idea.
Eyes close,
The words open.


Share links to your favorite poems and poetry slam experiences!

Providing Backpacks and the Things That Go In Them

Wednesday I was empathizing with parents marching their kids through the morning get-ready-for-school drill, complete with rounding up homework and school supplies. But some families have bigger worries when it comes to backpacks and notebooks and all the other tools kids are supposed to bring to school – they simply can’t afford them. More than 30 million school children have enough financial need to be enrolled in free and reduced lunch programs. School supplies are one more must-have beyond their means.

No Child Left Without Supplies

Fortunately, there are numerous charities that stand ready to help. Kids in Need Foundation is a national nonprofit that serves as a liaison between corporate and individual sponsors and resource centers around the country that give supplies to students in need. In 2015 they helped 4.8 million children. Take a look at their website for choices of ways to give. Or look online to find a local charity doing the same thing.

Do It Yourself

For those with the entrepreneurial spirit, check out Create the Good’s website where you can get detailed instructions on how to do your own school supply drive.

Geoffrey Canada, who devotes his life to improving education for poor children has said, “Poverty places not just one or two obstacles but multiple obstacles in a child’s pathway to what we would consider to be regular development – cognitively, intellectually and emotionally.”

A shoutout to all non-profits, for-profits and and just plain folk who are donating where it counts!

Share links to your favorite school supply charities.

Need Idea-Inspiring, Problem-Solving Help? — Get Thee to a Museum!

Our books this week took a kids eye view of growing an idea and solving a problem. But sometimes it’s not so easy and we need a little inspiration or a little help. We can turn to mothers, fathers, siblings, teachers, friends. But if they’re busy or just not coming up with what you need – try a MUSEUM!

Museums Inspire Ideas and Problem-solving

I am a big believer. Time and time again when my kids were little, a trip to the museum helped them grow.

There was the dinosaur phase. Books about dancing dinosaurs, stegosaurus toys, pterodactyl pajamas. But nothing compared to an outing to the Museum of Natural History to meet Sue, the T-Rex. There she stood, in all her glory, towering high above our heads, mouth gaping, sharp teeth bared. My kids looked back and forth from their little fingers to Sue’s enormous toes, they marched off the distance from Sue’s snout to the end of her lance-like tail. Thanks to Sue, the concept of scale became palpably real. Back home, the kids had an idea: Make a movie with their toy dinos and Small People dolls. Now the girls controlled the scale, using the camera lens to make their subjects look bigger and smaller.

There was the dollhouse phase. The Museum of Science and Industry’s fairy castle shimmered in gold and silver. But it was the Art Institute’s miniature rooms that were most fascinating. Tiny replicas of rooms from times along ago – British mahogany-walled reading rooms, French blue wallpapered dressing rooms, Japanese low tables behind sliding doors, colonial American stone hearths. Back home, the girls made houses of their own, primarily out of paper. Low tables and tall ceilings, elaborate staircases and colorful wall tapestries. Their creativity sparked by the museum’s miniature rooms, the design possibilities were endless.

Plan your visit to a museum near you

There are thousands of museums across our country welcoming us with open doors. Inside, you can walk around whimsical paintings and sculptures; or walk through an oversized human heart; you can walk into a replica slave cabin; or play a game of chance with a gene mutation slot machine. So next time you’re looking for an idea or itching to do some problem-solving…get thee to a museum!

Share your favorite museum exhibits!

Happy National Dog Day!

For all of you with a pup who…

begs to share your dinner

follows you into the bathroom

waits on the stair for your arrival

sunbathes with you on the couch

plays with you on the beach

gives you the death stare and won’t budge on his walk

ignores your other pets

let’s you dress her up

cheers for your favorite sports team

or cuddles with you on the couch ….

this one’s for YOU!

Share your favorite pup pics!

Filling the Empty Nest With Good Things

To all you newly minted empty nesters out there: How’re you doing?

If you’re feeling blue, here’s a missive of hope from one who’s been there. Happy days will be here again.

There is Life After Kids Leave!

Human beings are incredibly adaptive. So you’ve spent the last 18+ years directing your primary energy to someone who is now no longer in your physical sphere most of the time. Bit by bit, you will fill that empty space.


Have a pet? I do. He’s a 10-pound Havanese pup who thinks he’s my fourth child. I got him when my middle daughter was going off to college to fill in the empty-sistering that I was sure my youngest daughter would go through. Three years later, mission accomplished with the sibling, that pup attended and is still attending to my empty nester blues. For those who don’t have a pet, this might be the time to get one.


Have a spouse or partner? I do. With no child to share meals (sniff!), we can actually hang out at the dinner table or a nice restaurant for….well, hours. Or stay in bed late on a weekend morning. Or travel. Yes, the airlines now love me. There are long-distance friends to visit, extended family to catch up with, even a vacation to take sans kids.

Don’t have a partner or a spouse? Have friends? The meals, late mornings, and travel are open and waiting for you, too.

Recalibrating Raison D’Etre

So, all this is nice. But you may feel a lingering absence of…raison d’etre? I did. And, one of the greatest joys I’ve found is that I actually have time to do something for the world beyond my family. So you might want to think about that. Maybe dip your toe in the water. Maybe jump in full force. Here are some things my other empty nester friends have taken up: work at food pantries, tutoring at schools, mission trips to Haiti and Colombia. You can join the board of your favorite local charity or get involved in neighborhood improvement work. The opportunities are out there – you just have to reach out the tiniest little bit. Once you get started, the grapevine will be onto you and you’ll probably have more opportunities than you can handle. Word of advice: Don’t take on too much! But let yourself learn and revel in your new role as steward of something beyond your child’s growth.

If this doesn’t sound appealing, give yourself time. It will! ☺

Share your empty-nest activities!

Books: Share the Stories

Here’s a reprint to remind and encourage you to donate donate donate books. You’ll do a world of good!

My bookshelves are full to bursting. I use the library a lot but there are not so infrequent times when I purchase a new book for keeps. It sits on my nightstand for a while. Then it emerges at the top and gets read. Then it’s time to find a place for it on a bookshelf.

The Problem: Too Many Books!

That’s where the problem comes in. I’m full up. I try to shift books around, squeeze books in. I often end up placing the new book perpendicular to and on top of another.

The Solution: Pay it Forward!

There is another alternative. And I’ve decided to follow it. Let’s face it: Am I really going to ever read most of these books a second time? A resounding No. I like the comfort, the reminder of readings past. It’s a reader’s eye candy.

But I can have my eye candy and eat it, too. So here’s my new thing. Make two piles. Books that are Claire classics. That is, books that have been life-changing or life-defining to me. And books that I actually will read again. Put those in one pile. The rest…pass them along, pay it forward. There are organizations across the hungry for donations.

Used Bookstores

First of all, there are used bookstores. Powell’s is my Chicago neighborhood fave. There are versions of this all over the country. In the case of bookstores, you might even get a little cash out of the deal. In this case, your books will be resold. If you want them redistributed at no cost, leave them in the box outside the store where anyone can browse and take. Check online for local options.


Libraries are another good option. Your books will be available for reading by LOTS of people since they won’t be re-owned but borrowed.


Or you can give to organizations that distribute to those who might not be able to afford to purchase books on their own. Donation Town can put you in touch with your local place to donate.

Feelin’ Good

So, I’m off to deliver books to Powell’s. And my bookshelf is a think of beauty with my favorite books standing tall for me to see. I’m feeling good. ☺

Share links to book donation centers here!

Two for One: Civic Engagement and Summer Camp!

This week we’ve been talking about summer vacations in the country. We’ve also been talking about introducing our kids to their civic rights and duties. Wanna combine the two? Summer camps for this year are winding down. But if you want to get a head start thinking about next year, check out these camps!

Fun and Learning At the Same Time

Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp. YEA’s home page gets your attention: “Hello World Changer! Yes, we’re talking to You!” They put out the call to join in on an 8-day camp at one of three countryside locations: Massachusetts, New York State, or California. There’s the traditional camp stuff — hiking, games, and parties. There are also activities to help campers find and use their voices around issues they are passionate about.

Looking for a different location? Check out:

If none of these are just right but you like the idea, take a more in depth look on the web for something in your area. Light that fire within your kids. The whole world will benefit!

Share your favorite civic engageent summer camps!

Showing Our Girls: Yes We Can!

As I watched Hillary Rodham Clinton accept the nomination for President of the United States last night, I had flashbacks to scenes from my childhood. You know how memories, especially those from the long ago past, come at you in splintered pieces? Almost like still photos or film clips.

Miss America and Girls in the 1960s

I remember an annual highlight for me and my sisters was watching the Miss America pageant. I have an image of women parading across a stage in bathing suits. We scrutinized their looks: their hair, their eyes, their teeth, their clothing. And each of us would zero in on one young woman we wanted to win. Throughout the contest, for that one night, we wanted to be that woman and all that we had deemed so likeable about how she looked.

I remember watching the nightly news with my father. We were fans of Huntley and Brinkley (both men). I especially liked Chet Huntley. To me, he seemed so calm and serious, his dark suit and tie and his low measured voice made me feel so secure.

I remember the volatility of the Civil Rights Movement and of the Vietnam War and the 1968 Democratic Convention that took place in Chicago, my own backyard. The faces (all of them male) that flit across my memory: Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Richard Daley, Richard Nixon.

I remember elementary school, sitting quietly at my desk all day, diligently following teacher’s instructions, understanding that what was expected of me was good grades and good behavior. It paid off with Ivy League college admissions.

Stretching Our Horizons in the 1970s

In the mid-1970s, I was a young woman attending Yale University, a college that had been all-male just 6 years before I arrived. But I remember feeling that more was being expected of me than ever before. My teachers, men and women, pushed me to stretch my thinking beyond just “the right answer.” And though it was more of a backdrop than something I thought about every day, I was aware that during my junior year, Yale was being led by a woman, Hanna Gray.

I have a picture of Hillary Clinton on my phone. She looks barely in her 20s. . She is standing with Bill across the street from the dormitory I lived in for three years. The picture must have been taken just a few years before I arrived on campus. She is smiling, her chin jutting forward just a little, a look of self-confidence and of complete comfort in her own skin. She looks like she cannot wait to make her mark on the world.

We’ve Come A Long Way Baby!

Last night, Hillary Clinton accepted the nomination for President of the United States. I watched her in her white suit, her eyes shining, her not-so-low voice clear and strong. The images of influencers from my childhood flashed through my mind. I thought at that moment: The memories of the little girls growing up today will include Hillary. Her beauty and her power to make them feel secure. This moment will be seared on their minds, a snapshot that informs their sense of possibility, that drives their self-expectation, and impacts the choices they make.

Today, as I go about my work, Miss America, Chet Huntley, Hannah Gray, and Hillary Clinton are all perched on my shoulder, pushing the continued expansion of my own sense of possibility and self-expectation. We’ve come a long way baby. Thank you Hillary Rodham Clinton for shaping women across the generations, inspiring us to live fully in the knowledge that, “Yes we can!”

Share your stories of formative memories that shaped you.

It’s Summer: Take a Donation-Vacation!

We are full into the fun of summer sun. Some of us kick back at the hometown beach or pool or tennis court. But some of us are looking to experience something new – a new place maybe, a new culture perhaps. If you’ve got the itch for a new adventure but you’re still mulling over just where to land, you might consider a “donation-vacation.”

What Is A Donation-Vacation?

What exactly is a “donation-vacation” you might ask. Well, it’s simple. There are many places around the world in need of volunteers. To help build houses. Or clean up after a natural disaster. Or restore natural habitats.

Why Take A Donation-Vacation?

It’s a great two-for-one concept: you get to experience a new place and/or new culture; those in need get a new roof over their heads or nutritional food on their plate or whatever else you are providing by donating your time.

Here are some websites you might look at for starters:

Looking to take the kids along? Check these opportunities:

Want to combine a leisure vacation with a volunteer component? Check these sites:

Many hotels and cruise lines all over the world offer volunteer opportunities too. If this interests you, be sure to ask!

Just think how much stronger the world would be if we each, just once in our lifetime, took a “donation-vacation.”

Share information about other donation-vacations.