Give Thanks by Doing Good

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My grandmother instilled a lifelong practice of expressing gratitude. Whether it’s a handwritten note, an email or merely uttering those two simple words, giving thanks is important.

Not too long ago, my husband asked me to bake something for Russ and Louise, two vendors he befriended at the Farmers Market. It was so heartwarming to watch Russ open the box and take in the smell of a freshly baked apple pie. Small tokens of gratitude not only make others feel appreciated, but it can make you happier and change your attitude about life as well.

With one week to go before the Thanksgiving holiday, we ought to consider doing a little more to show appreciation for our many blessings. Spend extra time with your family. Donate to a favorite charity. There are many families who lost everything during Hurricane Sandy. Even though soup kitchens typically see an increase in donations over the holidays, charitable organizations along the East Coast are going to be besieged with people who have been displaced by the storm. Consider donating time, money, food or all three. Check out this useful Gothamist article for specific ways to help in the New York City area.

How will you make this Thanksgiving more meaningful?

As for myself, I have decided to volunteer with a mentorship program, dedicated to raising the aspirations and self esteem of young women and girls. I am so thankful for the mentors who, through their own examples, have taught me to approach everything with integrity, hard work and kindness. Now it’s time for me to pay it forward.

Thanks, and be kind.

Everyday Saints

Perhaps we all can’t be saints like Mother Teresa, but there is so much we can do to help others in our own individual ways.

Today is All Saints Day, and as I follow the media coverage of the Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts, I give thanks to all of the saints who are taking food, water and other supplies to those whose lives have been upended and in some cases obliterated by Hurricane Sandy. I have been so proud to see my former colleagues with the Progressive Caucus of the New York City Council busing food and water and coordinating other efforts to provide relief to residents of the areas hit hardest by the storm. New York City residents looking for ways to help should visit this site http://nycservice.org/  for a comprehensive list of volunteer opportunities from donating money, goods and services to cleaning and restoring the city’s parks.

Even if you don’t live in a hurricane-effected area, there are plenty of other ways to be an everyday saint. Rake leaves for your neighbor.  Bake someone a pie. Drive a neighbor to vote on election day or volunteer to watch their kids while they go to the polls this Tuesday. Love your family.

Make the effort, no matter how big or small. Devote a few minutes or a couple of hours to making someone else’s day a little better and a little brighter. These acts of kindness may not always be easy, and may even come at a small personal expense. But it’s worth it. Experience the superiority of love over selfishness.

Thanks, and be kind.

make a difference day

Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day and Secretary’s Day are among the holidays created by Hallmark to sell greeting cards. This Saturday is “Make a Difference Day,” a holiday created by USA Today Weekend to sell newspapers. Still, just as Hallmark holidays can make mom, dad or another loved one feel appreciated, I think “Make a Difference Day” has some real potential.

Say something nice or even better do something nice this weekend. Help a neighbor. Help your parents. Help a friend. You can make a difference through small random acts of kindness, such as opening doors for others, paying someone a sincere compliment or removing fall leaves and annoying solicitations from your neighbor’s stoop. Bake an everyday cake for a friend. Make someone a meal.

Or go big. Really big. Make a commitment to volunteer. Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers Big Sisters and tutoring at a local school are perennially popular options. Contact your favorite nonprofit or community organization and find out what they need. Give your time or make a donation to a cause you believe in. Just do something!

There may be a shortfall of jobs in the US. There may be a deficit of dateable men in New York City according to my single friends. Some days my patience runs short. But there’s no shortage of good deeds to be done.

As for me, I’ll be helping my roommate Eilon document crate diggers at the WFMU Record & CD Fair this weekend. OK, so this isn’t your typical, feel-good, help-an-old-lady-across-the-street kind of good deed, but I’ll be assisting my roommate with one aspect of a long-term photography project that really means a lot to him. Eilon is incredibly talented, and it will be fun to see how he does what he does.

Be creative. Make a difference in the life of someone else this weekend. Be kind.

public displays of confection

I know my baking is a success when my roommate says: “That’s good. Get it out of here.”

This afternoon I couldn’t resist testing a recipe for lemon zest sugar cookies before class. I’ve been looking for something tasty and sweet that would travel well between my kitchen in Brooklyn and Chicago where my boyfriend lives. Homemade food is a great gift from the heart, whether it’s for a special occasion or no reason at all. In fact, spontaneous acts of baking are my favorite.

The sugar cookie recipe is from Big Girls Small Kitchen via one of my favorite blogs, Design Sponge. The result is a plate full of sunshine. It’s the perfect combination of moist, old-fashioned sugar cookies – the likes of which grandma used to make – with just the right touch of lemon zest to brighten anyone’s day. I suppose the cookies are actually quite analogous to where the recipe came from; Big Girls Small Kitchen is a blog developed by two childhood friends who grew up on the classics (Joy of Cooking, Betty Crocker) and are now twenty-somethings taking a fresh approach to compact kitchen cooking.

Now, for the record, it must be stated that none of the cookies I made from this batch will ever make it to Chicago. My boyfriend is away at a conference this week, but I just couldn’t wait any more (I only saw the recipe four days ago, but upon looking at the awesome food photographs, you will wonder how I made it this long). After all, one of the best things about sugar cookies is that you probably already have all the ingredients you need in your kitchen. Also, in another act of full disclosure, the recipe says it yields 20 cookies, but if you’re like me and can’t help but run a couple of cookie dough taste tests (for quality control, of course!) the yield is more like 16-18.

Make these cookies for someone you love, a neighbor or a stranger. Keep ‘em local or ship them off. In any event, try not to eat them all yourself. Be kind.

Giant Chewy Lemon Sugar Cookies

Ingredients
2 ¼ cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 sticks butter
1 cups sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1 egg
1/3 cup coarse sugar

Instructions
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. Sift the flour, salt and baking soda together.
3. Cream the butter, 1 cup of sugar and lemon zest until very smooth. Add the egg and continue to beat until fluffy. Pour in the dry ingredients and mix until just combined — don’t overmix.
4. Spread the remaining 1/3 cup sugar onto a shallow plate. Form balls out of the cookie dough 2 inches in diameter and roll them through the sugar. Arrange on a cookie sheet 4 inches apart
5. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until just the edges are golden. The tops of the cookies should remain pale. Cool completely on the cookie sheets before removing to a plate.