If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I love talking to social entrepreneurs — particularly adoptive parents who find innovative ways to connect with and help the countries where their children were born. Lisa Scott is one such person. She found my blog one day and dropped me a line: Not only are we both from Nova Scotia (she still lives there), but each of us is privileged to be raising Ethiopian daughters.

When Lisa shared the launch of her new business, Second Life Ethiopian Artisans, I knew I wanted to tell you about it. Lisa has curated a gorgeous collection of handmade Ethiopian goods, and some may be ideal for your holiday gift lists. Plus, Lisa’s own story is pretty fascinating… 

Scott Family

Zoe Saint-Paul: Congratulations on your new business, Lisa! Everything about it is right up my alley. What inspired you to launch Second Life Ethiopian Artisans?

Lisa Scott: Thank you! This business was a slow and natural evolution. It originated during my first visit to Ethiopia as a new mother. In 2008, I travelled with my husband and 5-year-old son to Ethiopia for a month to meet our daughter and prepare her for the journey home with us. Our primary concern was her adjustment, but we also wanted to use our time there to learn about Ethiopian culture firsthand.

Like many adoptive parents, we were firmly committed to maintaining our daughter’s culture. We live in Eastern Canada where our city has fewer than 1,000 Ethiopians, and only about six kids adopted from Ethiopia. The community here has been so loving to our family, but opportunities to come together are limited. I felt the need to travel back to Ethiopia and experience more of the country, and this opportunity came in 2012 when I volunteered with Canadian Humanitarian. It turned out to be one of the most valuable experiences of my life.

I travelled with a group of people, including several doctors, to do medicals on children, and my role was to do presentations on grief and loss to the guardians of orphaned children. I was allowed into the lives of so many women, mainly grandmothers, who wanted to share their grief around the loss of their child and their desire to help their grandchildren deal with it. It connected me face-to-face with the different degrees of loss for these women and children. I, too, had lost my mother as a child, and my daughter had lost her birth mother through adoption, so I was proud of the work and honored to do it. While I was there, I found time to visit carpet makers, weavers, and art galleries. I brought home bags full of treasures — and while I didn’t know it at the time, this was the birth of Second Life Ethiopian Artisans.

The adjustment home from this trip was difficult. There was so much to process and I jumped right back into my professional life supporting vulnerable families at a pediatric hospital. I wouldn’t trade the trip for the world, but I knew it wasn’t something I could do regularly. I couldn’t really talk about it with anyone — even my family — because it was too hard to verbalize. What I could share were the amazing gifts I bought home. They gave me an opportunity to share stories of the people I met and the culture of the country.

Second Life Toys
ZSP: For any budding entrepreneurs out there, can you share what the process was like to get this business off the ground?

LS: The recommended way to start a business is with a business plan. I consciously didn’t do that. Not that I advise this approach; it depends on your expectations. I wanted to share the high-quality handmade products made in Ethiopia and to show consumers that you can get some of the best quality goods in the world at a fair price and provide fair working conditions. I also wanted my son and daughter to hear the daily dialogue of doing business with Ethiopians, and for them to understand both the process of importing, as well as how it translates to quality of life in that country.

I started to research the importing process and the access to goods. I thought long and hard about the name of the business and the image it would project. I knew I wanted to start very small, and to feel the direction of the business and respond accordingly. My first shipment arrived in the fall of 2013. I financed the shipment on my own and, through word-of-mouth, I sold out. I resorted to more of a plan for my subsequent orders: I sourced out a graphic artist to take photos for the website and began a catalog of products. I tailored my order to the quickest sellers and took a bit of a risk on some of the items I had no experience with, such as household goods like throws, towels, and tablecloths. The household goods have been crazy popular, and this fall I’ve been developing the next stage of business: wholesaling.

My word of advice when starting a business is to be conservative with your financial risk and follow your gut. I started this business while I was still employed part-time. I left that job recently, for a variety of reasons, but I never expected to have immediate personal revenue from this business.

Second Life Ethiopian Towels
ZSP: Where do you source your products, and how do you select them?

LS: Fibers have always been one of my main loves, and during my first trip to Ethiopia, I visited the former wood-carrying women who were working in a cooperative as weavers. The products they produced were outstanding, and I was buying one for everyone I could think of. The weavers work in a compound at the base of Entoto Mountain, where so many women carry wood to earn a living. These women were producing, on average, two scarves a day and were involved in all aspects of running the business. Their children were in a preschool on site, and they all had access to health care. Each season, these women release a new line of colors and patterns and I select from them. It’s very difficult to choose which ones, and sometimes I get them all! This year, these weavers also fulfilled a custom order for my business: Together we designed and produced a child’s striped scarf in four different colors. The proceeds from the sale of this scarf will go to vulnerable children in Ethiopia through Canadian Humanitarian.

The jewelry came to me through my cousin — also a mom to a beautiful Ethiopian daughter. During her last trip to Ethiopia I asked her to pick me up some interesting jewelry — and she delivered! My socks were knocked off when she told me how this jewelry was being produced on Entoto Mountain by women living with HIV. I took the little brochure provided with the bracelets and started an online search. Once I made contact, I reached out to another business that worked with this group to ensure the organization was sound and fair.

The third group of artisans came to me via word of mouth. Internationally known for their superb products and world-certified as fair trade, I felt they were a great fit for the types of products I wanted to showcase. My first order was a few scarves from their catalog, and my orders have increased each time.

I purchase products that I myself would want to wear or have in my home. The older I get, the less I buy — but I want the best quality and something meaningful. Every piece I carry is something I would purchase myself and would be proud of to give as a gift.

Second Life Jewelry
ZSP: How often do you get new products in? Would you recommend anything in particular for the holidays?

LS: I get orders in the spring, and in the fall for the holiday season. The products take quite some time to produce, so I typically order three months in advance. It’s hard to make recommendations, as I love everything!

In the under-$30 price point, the earrings are beautiful. Hoops are very fashionable at the moment, and the hoops have beads of silver, copper, and brass, so they go with everything. And who doesn’t love a scarf? Grandma, babysitter, teacher, sister, aunt, or uncle. They are easy to ship and no sizing necessary. Our scarves are made from hand-spun Ethiopian cotton or silk, hand-dyed and hand-woven.

The runaway hit has probably been the organic Omo towels. You’ve not felt cotton until you’ve touched these. The hand towels are popular in the bathroom and the kitchen and make perfect hostess gifts. You can wrap one around a bottle of wine or a bag of coffee and have a one-of-a-kind gift. The larger towels can be used for so many things: In our home we use them as bath towels — they easily wrap around my 6’5” husband, dry quickly, and just get better with each wash. Most of my customers have been purchasing them as couch throws, tablecloths, yoga mat blankets, and baby blankets. They’re beautiful and feel so good that I find customers looking for a reason to buy them.

Lisa Scott and Daughter

ZSP: What are your dreams for Second Life Artisans?

LS: My dream is that this business will never waiver from its roots and spirit. I want the products to speak for themselves, for my customer to never look at a mass-produced product the same way again. I also want people to feel connected to the people behind the products by knowing the stories behind what they buy.

On a personal level, my dream is that this business will allow my family to continue to discover Ethiopia and build relationships there. My daughter is Ethiopian-Canadian; I am not, but through the miracle of becoming her mother, I fell in love with her birth country. So much is gained in love and life through adoption, but so much is also lost. I cannot replace all my daughter has lost, but I can show her that her family is invested in her culture. My dream is that this business will generate enough income for us to make regular visits to Ethiopia and that both of my children can participate in knowing the artisans and in selection of our goods. It would be pretty neat if my kids’ first jobs were working for Second Life Ethiopian Artisans.


Lisa, thanks so much for sharing the story of your inspiring new business! I love how you’re finding a way to incorporate Ethiopian culture into your family’s life. I must say, those towels sound divine and are now on my Christmas list! I’m eyeing a few other things for gifts, too.  

I hope SlowMama readers will consider supporting businesses like Second Life Ethiopian Artisans this holiday season: Not only will you end up with handcrafted, high-quality items, but you’ll be helping lives on the other side of the world. Besides her website, you can connect with Lisa on Instagram, too.  

Images: Lisa Scott




Have you heard of Soylent? (No, not that soylent…) It’s a new Silicon Valley product — a nutritional supplement of sorts — being touted as the answer to all our food needs. Basically, you just blend up a drink of this gritty beige powder, add some of the oil the company sends with it, and you’re good to go: all the nutrients your body needs, with no grocery shopping, slaving over a hot stove, or taking time to prepare meals.

The New Yorker interviewed one of Soylent’s creators:

Rhinehart, who is 25, studied electrical engineering at Georgia Tech, and he began to consider food as an engineering problem. “You need amino acids and lipids, not milk itself,” he said. “You need carbohydrates, not bread.” Fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals, but they’re “mostly water.” He began to think that food was an inefficient way of getting what he needed to survive. “It just seemed like a system that’s too complex and too expensive and too fragile,” he told me.

Rhinehart is wrong. Food is not primarily an engineering problem; it’s a cultural keystone and a huge part of what it means to be human — not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. The philosophy behind Soylent is exactly the opposite of the Slow Food approach: Soylent’s creators view food in a strictly utilitarian way, and human beings as machines. In their view, all we need is nutrients, optimized for functioning, and we’re set.

Slow Food, on the other hand, emphasizes what the Soylent makes miss: pleasure; hospitality; comfort; and an abiding connection to memories, traditions, culture, the land, and each other. Gathering around a table of flavorful, wholesome food does a lot more for us than simply provide nutrients. (And even there, holistic nutritionists would disagree with the makers of Soylent that food is merely the sum of its parts: There is general agreement that eating whole, complex foods is superior to popping vitamins.)

I agree with Michael Brendan Dougherty, who wrote about the “tyranny” of Soylent in The Week, when he says:

What Soylent’s proponents don’t seem to understand is that food cannot be reduced to mere nutrition anymore than all of movement can be reduced to simple exercise, or sex and parenthood to mere reproduction (although in the latter case, the more strenuous socialists have tried!). Mealtime is a place of communion, conviviality, even sensuality. It is where we learn to be human.

Sure, there are days I wish I didn’t have to put meals on the table — what parent doesn’t fantasize about that sometimes? — but reaching for something like Soylent? Nope. Frankly, I can’t imagine Soylent ever really catching on, except among the kind of guys who created it. Or maybe it will become a popular weight-loss product? For anyone tempted to try it, though, I’d just recommend getting a Vitamix instead: A nutritious, delicious smoothie will make you feel a lot more human.

I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but I’m curious: Does a product like Soylent give you the willies, or do you think I’m making a big deal out of nothing? Would you ever buy a meal replacement product like this?

Image via Pinterest


Bossy S
Have you heard about the “Ban Bossy” campaign? Lean In, a women’s empowerment organization founded by Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg, and the Girl Scouts have teamed up to ban the word “bossy” — and I mean, “remove it from the lexicon” kind of ban. Here’s their reasoning:

When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a “leader.” Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded “bossy.” Words like bossy send a message: don’t raise your hand or speak up. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys—a trend that continues into adulthood. Together we can encourage girls to lead.

I don’t doubt this is true, and I get the point of the campaign. Double-standards still exist, and I’m all for girls’ empowerment. I want my two daughters to grow up self-assured and confident: I want them to have strong leadership skills — however that manifests, given their temperaments and abilities — and I don’t want them to be undermined by prejudices, stereotypes, negative attitudes, or unfair expectations. But will banning the word “bossy” really help our girls be confident leaders?

Growing up, I was called bossy on occasion, and I’ve been called bossy plenty of times as an adult. The only times I’ve cared is when it was true. Sometimes I was being outspoken or direct or taking leadership, and sometimes I was actually being bossy. I know the difference because I was taught the difference. Girls can be bossy; boys can be bossy. The word has an actual meaning, and it’s not the same as leadership or confidence. I agree with Forbes  contributor Micheline Maynard when she writes:

For one, bossy isn’t only a word that applies to women. It’s gender neutral. There are plenty of bossy men out there, too. Bossy is bossy — dictatorial, unyielding, telling people what to do and expecting them to do it without any input.

Bossy is not the same thing as being a leader, even though Sandberg might view it that way. Leadership is an entirely different category. There are bosses who are leaders, and bosses who are bossy. We’ve all worked for them. We know the difference.

While it’s probably true that females are labelled “bossy” more often than males — I tend to call bossy men “tyrannical” — I’m still not sure how it helps anything to start a campaign to ban a word. What word will be next? (And while we’re at it, what will happen to Tina Fey’s best-seller Bossypants?) 

H Out for a Walk
I get that “Ban Bossy” is a catchy, memorable, sound-bite-y slogan. It works well in digital media, and it’s a way to focus attention on something simple and specific in hopes it will affect the larger problem. But I just don’t see how sending the word “bossy” into a permanent time out does much to address inequalities between boys and girls.

Instead of banning a word, how about focusing on what real leadership is about — confidence, courage, standing up for what you believe, magnanimity, service, bringing out the best in others, sharing your talents, being direct, being your best self, encouraging others, etc. I guess that doesn’t make for a very good slogan, but the bottom line for me is that banning “bossy” just doesn’t address the issue. 

Lots of people will be jumping on this bandwagon, though, because who doesn’t want to support empowering girls and eradicating gender stereotypes? The Ban Bossy campaign has already recruited the likes of Beyoncé, Jennifer Garner, Jane Lynch, Condoleezza Rice, and Diane von Furstenberg — extremely successful women, most of whom were apparently called “bossy” themselves. Which makes me wonder: Could it be that a little adversity can actually help us become more confident, successful leaders? It’s certainly been the case in my life…but that’s another matter. 

What do you think? Are you apt to get behind the Ban Bossy project, or do you think it misses the mark? (Or is it me that’s missing something here?) 

By the way, if you’re interested in the topic of leadership, I interviewed Alexandre Havard about leadership for TruthAtlas a few months ago. Want to keep up with SlowMama? Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Pinterest.

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul


Tomorrow is National Adoption Day, and to mark the occasion, I was invited to interview Rachel Crow — The X Factor standout, Nickelodeon star, and Columbia Records recording artist. Since I don’t have a television and don’t listen to a lot of country music, I didn’t know much about Rachel, but wow, the girl impressed me. Sweet as anything, articulate, mature, and passionate about making a difference — I had such a fun time speaking with her!

Rachel, 15, was adopted from foster care as an infant. Raised on a farm surrounded by country music, she began singing as a toddler and entered talent contests at local fairs. By the age of five, she had decided to be a performer, and at 13, she packed her bags and headed off to Los Angeles with her family. She wowed Hollywood — and the rest of America — at an audition for the first season of The X Factor and was a top finalist in the competition. She soon signed a record deal with Columbia Records/Syco and has gone on to act in numerous Nickelodeon shows, one of which she’s now starring in. This girl is no joke, friends.

Before I share a bit more about my interview with Rachel, I want to share four facts about National Adoption Day — which of course means so much more to me now…

  • It’s celebrated annually on the Saturday before Thanksgiving and held during National Adoption Month (November).
  • Its purpose is to raise awareness of the more than 100,000 children in foster care waiting to find families.
  • It also draws attention to the more than 26,000 children each year who turn 18 and age out of the foster care system without families of their own to support them in the future.
  • Since the day’s inception in 2000, and thanks to the efforts of many people, more than 44,500 children have been adopted from foster care on National Adoption Day. That number amazes me!

As for my interview above with Rachel: I had 10 minutes with her, and the the funny thing was, I totally forgot it was being recorded to video while we were talking (since I was on the phone). I was sitting on my daughters’ messy bed, hoping the two of them wouldn’t bang on the door in the middle of my conversation.

Anyway, excuse the pauses in the interview — there was a lag in the sound at times — and my um’s and the ah’s… My live interviewing skills could use a little work. Also, my voice sounds so nasally! But I think everyone says that when they listen to themselves, right?

Enjoy the interview, and join me in wishing that National Adoption Day tomorrow will help to unite many children in need with loving families!

Thanks to Valerie Cardaci at Connect360 Multimedia for inviting me to participate in National Adoption Day’s collaborative effort with bloggers.

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Zoe & Daughters

To mark World Breastfeeding Week from August 1-7, many bloggers have been sharing their breastfeeding stories online. There’s even a new blogger-launched campaign getting press called “I Support You,” started by my friend Jamie Grumet and two other blogger moms, inviting women to show their support for each others’ choices when it comes to feeding their children. (Read more about “I Support You” here, here, and here.)

Not long ago, I wrote about why I think breastfeeding continues to be a controversial subject. That post followed my own story about why I “dry”-nursed my adopted four-year-old daughters, which tens of thousands of people so far have showed up here to read. If the general topic of breastfeeding sparks interest, debate, and judgement, adoptive breastfeeding takes it to a whole other level.

Rachel Garlinghouse — a new friend of mine and a blogger, author, and adoptive mother of three — just wrote a great post about why she wanted to breastfeed her adopted babies — but didn’t. Her reasons? Adoptive breastfeeding is still uncommon, there’s little support for it and few resources, and it takes a lot of work. Her last reason really struck me:

Finally, the truth is that some women don’t feel that they have earned the right to breastfeed a baby. We didn’t create ’em, grow ’em, birth ’em. We didn’t endure morning sickness, stretch marks, heartburn, weight gain, sleepless nights prompted by an ever-filling bladder. Our scars aren’t physical. Instead, many of us quietly battle disease, infertility, miscarriage. We have to prove our worth as a parent to our adoption agencies with background checks, home inspections, interviews, questionnaires, and training. We are questioned at every turn. To commit to breastfeeding takes an immense amount of confidence and dedication, which is hard for some adoptive mothers to come by when the journey to motherhood has been nothing but knock-after-knock, question-after-question, demand-after-demand.  Some perceive that adoptive breastfeeding is un-natural or inappropriate for the woman who hasn’t birthed the baby (“some” including social workers, the child’s biological parents, friends, family, and health care professionals).

Sad, but true.

Even I — the eldest of 10 breastfed children and a “crunchy” mama to be sure — wasn’t very knowledgeable about adoptive breastfeeding. I had planned to use donor milk if we were referred a baby. I didn’t know much about inducing lactation naturally and never imagined the role nursing could play in the attachment process of adopted toddlers and preschoolers. Live and learn, right? It makes complete sense to me now why an adopted mom would consider breastfeeding and how she can (try to) make it happen.

Promoting breastfeeding is important: Generally, it’s the healthiest option for a child, and it’s one of nature’s ways for a mother and child to bond. But there are many good reasons women choose (or have to take) alternate paths. My daughters weren’t breastfed as infants. I’m sad they missed that, but I’m also extremely grateful that, in a country where children frequently get sick and die in such circumstances, their first mother was able to obtain hospital-grade formula for them.

No matter how you feed your little ones, what matters most is the love and care with which you do it. And when there are so many mothers around this world who struggle just to keep their children alive, it seems to me we should be grateful we even have these choices and support each other along the way.

If you ever need support for your feeding choices, feel free to reach out to me and my contributors here at SlowMama, or any of those compassionate mamas behind the I Support You movement.

Image by B of me and my “dry”-nursed daughters

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Evening Horizons Necklace from India

I’m kicking off the week with a fabulous giveaway: a gorgeous brass-bead necklace from Noonday Collection!

I’ll tell you more about the organization in a minute — but first, a big thank you to Theresa Hudson, who works with Noonday, for offering this piece of handcrafted jewelry to SlowMama. Made of thread and brass beads by a fair-trade artisan group in India, I love that this necklace can be worn with a cocktail dress or a t-shirt and jeans — it’s so versatile. I know it also looks great on just about anyone, since I hosted a trunk show for Theresa a couple of weeks ago and got to see it in person. (In fact, I had to order one for myself.)

I’m not only impressed with Noonday’s collection but its mission — and how far the organization has come in two short years. Founded by a Texas-based mom who adopted from Rwanda, Noonday was born after she decided to sell some fair-trade goods from Uganda to raise money for her adoption. Now, Noonday carries items from nine countries: India, Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Madagascar, Peru, Guatemala, Ecuador — as well as the United States (made by a group of Tibetan refugees).

Noonday Collection

Noonday assists orphans in two major ways: directly, by giving 10% of trunk-show sales to adoptive families who host them; and indirectly, by supporting artisans in developing countries who want to keep their families intact. You can read more about Noonday’s mission here.

Noonday Collection

My friend Theresa was drawn to work with the organization because of her love for their mission, born of personal experience: An adoptive mom herself, the term “orphan” became very real to her when she and her husband adopted their son from Romania 12 years ago:

Noonday caught my attention…while I was reading a blog. There I saw an opportunity to have a business that had a substantial impact on the global orphan crisis. Noonday uses fashion to give people in vulnerable populations an opportunity of their own to have things we so easily take for granted. As we know, all people desire the dignity of work, and all parents want to clothe and feed their kids.

I couldn’t agree more. Noonday seems to be a win-win for every party involved — including those of us lucky enough to wear the pieces. I have some favorites, like the Zoe necklace (of course!) and this Indian stacked arrow necklace. The line of jewelry from Ethiopia uses recycled metal that has been melted down from war weapons and turns it into pieces like this gorgeous necklace and this cuff. Talk about making something beautiful out of something ugly! The tea towels would make a great gift, too. I also fell for this hat, modeled so well by my adorable daughters above.

Noonday Collection

Be sure to take a look at Noonday’s wide selection. I’m already thinking about Christmas presents!

Noonday Collection

So, here’s what you need to do in order to win this stunning necklace: Leave a comment telling me about one of your favorite travel experiences (even if it was just a place in your own home town); for an extra chance to win, follow me on Pinterest, Facebook, or Twitter and come back here to tell me in the comments. I’ll announce the winner this Friday in my Pull Up a Chair post. (This giveaway is open to readers in continental North America only.) Good luck, friends!

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul


A Word of Thanks

May 8, 2013

Happy Face

When I took a deep breath and hit the publish button on Monday morning, I could not have imagined my post about allowing my preschool-aged daughters to nurse would receive such a response — let alone such an overwhelmingly positive response. I’m pretty blown away.

Since I can’t respond to every comment in a timely way, I want to say a big thank you to each of you who took the time to write encouraging and supportive words and to share your own stories, either in the combox or via personal message. I learned a lot from reading your responses; some of your comments made me tear up. While it did feel strange at first to allow my daughters to nurse — especially given that I’ve never breastfed before, and wasn’t ever expecting to — it also felt like no big deal. It was just another way to meet my daughters’ needs and do everything in my power to make them feel safe and secure — and to help them attach to me as their mother. So to have such kind words said of me and my decision is a real gift. Thank you so much!

If you’re someone who found my post to be off-putting or bizarre, I get it — I really do. We all feel comfortable with what’s familiar — and nursing an older adopted child for the sake of comfort and bonding is definitely not something you hear or read about, let alone see. And yet, it makes perfect sense when you understand the needs in adoption (and attachment in general). When it’s you sitting with your own child, in your own home, trying to be the best mother you can be, you make decisions you may never have considered before. Perspective changes everything.

Last Friday, I wrote about how I want to take my love for (and experience of) adoption and use it to support other moms. Writing about this decision was one way to do that: I want other adoptive mothers to know that this can come up and that they can set aside any discomfort and nurse their child if they so choose. And I want all mothers to be encouraged in the choices they make to nurture their children — especially those choices that go against the grain or aren’t what family members, friends, or the culture at large consider to be the “norm.”

Your supportive words will make this Mother’s Day — my very first — extra special. I’m definitely inspired to write more about attachment, bonding, and healing in the days to come.

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul



I grew up with a mother who was constitutionally unable to bury her head in the sand when she saw an injustice or noticed something that needed to change. Despite the fact that she was raising nine children at the time (eventually ten), she took action: She ran committees, spearheaded campaigns, wrote letters, led meetings, and even ran for local office. She wasn’t afraid to speak up, even if other people rolled their eyes or didn’t get it.

This apple didn’t fall far from the tree: There’s an activist in me always clamoring to get out. It’s tempered by my pragmatic side and a tendency to be diplomatic, but it’s there, and has shown itself in different ways over the years. Eventually I’ll do more with it, I’m sure. These days, though, I’m thinking about the ways I can help my girls develop their natural sense of justice and compassion as they grow up. I want them to have the confidence to stand for what they believe in and to know that their voice and actions can make a difference.

Each of us has some area that calls to us — education, the welfare of children, human rights, healthcare, poverty, the environment, agriculture, the arts, etc. And although many of us don’t have the time or inclination to picket or march on Washington, there are many ways to advocate for change and teach our children to do the same: write letters, emails, and even blog posts; engage our social media circles; fundraise, volunteer, and share info with friends and neighbors; donate time, talent, and money; join a group or committee; exercise the right to vote…the list goes on.

It also helps to know what your natural inclinations are when it comes to making change. Here’s a fun little quiz (put out by the same people who did The Story of Stuff) to help you discover what kind of changemaker you are. It was interesting to think about what personality traits might drive my involvement or help me be successful in making change.

Do you think of yourself as a changemaker, or even an activist? How do you teach your children to be aware of the wider world and the important issues out there?

Image: Tattly (via Pinterest)

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Ethiopian Truck with Goods

Charitable giving is big at this time of year, but if you’re struggling financially and feeling strapped, it’s easy to think you can’t spare anything. I’m fighting this myself: Our own bank accounts are recovering from two trips to Ethiopia, adoption costs for two children, and a significant reduction in household income, since I’ve suspended my paid work right now to take care of the girls.

Still, giving is important, and we’ll find ways to donate small amounts to a few favorite causes. There are many worthwhile organizations out there doing great work — locally, nationally, and internationally — and it can be really hard to choose where to put the few dollars you have. So I thought I’d share three of my own guidelines for giving this year…

First — and this is something I’ve really had to drill into my brain — no amount is too small. Such a cliche, I know, but many of us feel that $5 or $10 is just too insignificant to bother with. Why whip out the credit card or check book for something so seemingly insignificant? But having worked with nonprofits a good deal of my professional life, I can vouch for the fact that most charitable organizations survive — and thrive — on such small donations. Of course, if you can give more, great, but giving just $5 or $10 really does matter.

The second thing that helps is to go where your heart leads — and not to be afraid to branch out and give to something new. What’s calling to you this year? Perhaps you personally know people doing things you want to support, or there are organizations with missions that directly affect people or places dear to your heart. Maybe it’s just something you saw on the news that made you reach for a tissue. Sometimes I think it’s easy to forget those in our very own backyard. Giving from the heart means being intentional about it and allowing a need to speak to you.

Third, it helps a lot to think of what you can sacrifice for the donation you’re going to make. For example, if you eat out a few times a week, maybe you can forego one of those nights and donate that $30 instead. Or maybe you’ll be getting a work bonus and can donate 10% of it. Perhaps you drink Starbucks every day and can do without it one day a week for four weeks, then donate that amount. Doing it this way really helps me realize I can give something if I shift where I’m placing my dollars. And if you’ve got kids who are old enough to understand the concept, get them involved — perhaps they’d be willing to forego desserts for a week or donate some allowance money. If you let them pick a cause they love, they’ll be excited to give.

What are your guidelines for giving? Any charities or causes you’re particularly drawn to this year?

P.S. This is the perfect place to mention my friend Jamie’s Christmas Stocking Project. Jamie started a foundation to aid children and women in Ethiopia — a cause naturally near and dear to my heart. This year, Jamie is encouraging good folks like us to take the dollars we might spend on some stocking stuffers and give the gift of clean water to those who desperately need it. She’s working with an amazing woman named Sister Donna, who has devoted her life to the poorest of the poor in southern Ethiopia and alerted Jamie and others to the great need for water filters there. The $10 that you might spend on a few stocking stuffers can literally save the life of another family. Here’s more info with an easy link to make a donation.

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul