All About Gratitude

There’s a reason why I’ve been talking about gratitude all month: it’s important. It’s really, really important. Gratitude is what gets you through the hard stuff. Gratitude picks you up when you are low. Gratitude gives you perspective. Gratitude is security. Gratitude is love.

Gratitude has helped me through the hardest times in my life: when I was sick, when infant Max was not well, when I lost my dad, when my sister left, and it continues to help me through each time I go back to court to affirm custody of my nephew. We all face hard times and challenges: it’s the natural cycle of life. It shapes who we are and how we see the world.

even in our hardest moments, there is always something to be grateful for

For this Thanksgiving I wanted to reflect back on posts that outlined my message on gratitude. Here are a few I think you’ll love:

In Learning to Be Thankful I wrote about the practice of gratitude. About how it’s something you need to work at. A skill, just like writing, painting, or making music.

In Believe in Your Own Strength I shared some inspirational quotes about building up your self-esteem, why it’s so important, and how the hardest times are sometimes the best times to write what you’re great at.

In The Power of Intention I wrote about a time where intention, and my hopeless hope for a positive experience, helped me overcame a (minor) challenge as a parent, flying solo on a plane, with a rambunctious toddler.

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them." John F. Kennedy

This month in A Month of Giving I talked about PS I Adore You, Elephants, Sanitation & Security, and Drinking Water.

30 Days of Thankful: A Gratitude Project

And I talked about the 30 Days of Thankful project, which gave me a chance to reflect on the people, places, and things that I’m grateful for this year. And I shared links to my 2013 and 2012 projects as well as Cathy Zielske’s Blog.


Wherever you are, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!




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Make this: Abbie’s Amazing Pumpkin Pie

My sister Abbie has major kitchen skills. Seriously. Her pies are gorgeous AND they taste amazing.

Wow your friends and family with this down-home classic.

Just make it.


Abbie’s Amazing Pumpkin Pie


  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups canned pumpkin, mashed
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg plus 2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, optional



Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place 1 piece of pre-made pie dough down into a (9-inch) pie pan and press down along the bottom and all sides. Pinch and crimp the edges together to make a pretty pattern. Put the pie shell back into the freezer for 1 hour to firm up. Fit a piece of aluminum foil to cover the inside of the shell completely. Fill the shell up to the edges with pie weights or dried beans (about 2 pounds) and place it in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, remove the foil and pie weights and bake for another 10 minutes or until the crust is dried out and beginning to color.

For the filling, in a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese with a hand mixer. Add the pumpkin and beat until combined. Add the sugar and salt, and beat until combined. Add the eggs mixed with the yolks, half-and-half, and melted butter, and beat until combined. Finally, add the vanilla, cinnamon, and ginger, if using, and beat until incorporated.

Pour the filling into the warm prepared pie crust and bake for 50 minutes, or until the center is set. Place the pie on a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Cut into slices and top each piece with a generous amount of whipped cream.

Notes: click here for printable PDF of recipe.


Happy cooking!




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A Month of Giving: Water

Inspired by CZ Design’s 30 Days of Thankful project, this month I’m highlighting some of the amazing charities that deserve attention and support as we move into the season of giving. For more on the Thankful Project, which highlights the little things in our lives that we are grateful for, follow Cathy’s Blog or my Instagram. And here’s a link to my 30 Days of Thankful – 2013 Project.

I have re-written this post six times. Every time, it gets a little more inspiring (and a lot less depressing). For the sake of moving forward (and because it was promised on the first Monday of this month), here is the condensed/happy version of why water charities do really good things for people in need.



Water is the most basic human need necessary to sustain life. Without water, we cannot live, let alone thrive. It is a basic human right.

To be clear, water access isn’t an issue isolated to water-scarce places, like the desert. It’s also a problem in water-abundant areas, like rain forests.

Imagine, for a moment, that your entire day was centered around retrieving water to serve basic needs (like drinking, washing, cooking) for an entire family. Imagine if you had to walk to get it, several times a day. Imagine if it was visibly dirty. And imagine if drinking that water, which is necessary to sustain life, could also kill you and your children.

At any one time half of all people in developing countries are suffering from health problems due to poor water and sanitation. Many of them die because of it. Most of those that die are kids under the age of 5. It’s really, really, sad.

Good news!

Good news: there are a lot of amazing organizations out there that are working to change that. Here are two that I love.

Girls collecting water at nearby spring in Namawanga, Kenya

Girls collecting water at nearby spring in Namawanga, Kenya

Charity: Water specializes in small, simple water programs. Believe me when I say that – with all of my heart – these are THE ABSOLUTE BEST solutions for most of the developing world. Forget fancy technologies that can’t be repaired. Forget using rural populations as a test lab for the latest and greatest. We’re talking simple, effective, appropriate, sustainable projects that last. Donate to Charity: Water or start a fundraising campaign to help them help people all over the world.

Water for People specializes in community-driven drinking water projects in West Africa and Central America. They work with regional governments and institutions to partner and develop sustainable networks with appropriate solutions based on the needs of the community. They are very focused on effectively using funds to pay local people to design, build, and maintain water sources. They are smart. They are very dedicated. And they are effective. I have personal experience working with them and I’ll be honest: I was really, really impressed. Donate to Water for People or Take Action and volunteer to support this wonderful organization.

collecting data on a local spring in namawanga, kenya

collecting data on a local spring in namawanga, kenya with my friends: Tommy, Mary, Matt, (husband) Chris, and Molly

Low Budget Movie of my work in Western Kenya.

It’s weirdly embarrassing to show this. But it was a great project and I’m a significantly better person because of it. Here is a link to a video which summarizes my work in Namawanga, Kenya when I was a student at UMass Amherst working with Engineers Without Borders. This is what hooked me on development, on making a difference, and what fostered my dedication to making a difference in the world.

I’m sharing this so you can get a feel for the power of getting involved in something that matters. Something that will inspire gratitude. Something that will inspire you to find a cause that speaks to you, your family, where you live. The very act of doing something for others can be so powerful. And it can change you – for the better – if you let it.

Happy Monday, everyone!



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Holiday Crafting: Wreaths

This morning Max threw up in the ribbon section of Michael’s (our local chain craft store). There was a lot of it. And there were raisins.

I stood there for a moment, paralyzed and stunned. It kept going. In a moment of futility, I caught the third wave of throw-up in my hands, just to show the growing audience of staff members that I didn’t mean to make such a mess. Of course they only came over after I yelled a polite – “um.. help?” to get their attention. And they also stared, paralyzed, not knowing what to do.

Note for the audience: if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, I recommend two things: (1) Remove puke-maker from cart and get them closer to the floor. At least if you can’t catch it, you can reduce the splash. (2) You need paper towels and a plastic bag. Tell the gasping onlookers to get you those things. Also, the staff should get a mop.

While we were waiting for delivery of the paper towels and plastic bag, a very nice gentleman happened to walk by. Taking it all in, he slowly asked “UM… is … everything.. okay…?” Yes, I replied. Though I hope you’re not here to buy ribbons.


As we exited the store, my gaze met a flash of stink eye from one judgey woman who clearly thought that I was shopping with a half-naked toddler in the basket of the shopping cart in below-freezing temperatures ON PURPOSE. How quick we are to assume the worst in others. I flashed her an overly cheerful smile and exited, as Max admired his newly acquired toy trucks.

Of course, this all happened before I picked out of the supplies for the Pinterest Craft Party a friend is hosting tonight.

pinterest party wreaths

pinterest party wreaths; source: unknown

It’s not a lot of material: just the form, yarn, and some felt. But without the form (the one thing I didn’t have), there’s no way I can participate in this craft event.

I sulked, briefly, in the parking lot while I spot-cleaned my outfit with baby wipes.

Should I skip the party?

No effing way. But at least I considered it.

pinterest party wreath materials

pinterest party wreath materials

It was time to get creative. I found an old wreath from last year (when I attempted a hand-made holly wreath and failed miserably), found some ribbon, wire, and beads, and now I’m primed for a fun night of crafting and snacks with friends.

Thank goodness.

Crafting, creating, and making things with my hands is, for me, the same as doing yoga, taking a long walk, or taking a trip. It helps me clear my head, focus, create. And when I’m done, I feel rejuvenated. Ready to take on something new.

I’ll post pictures on Instagram tomorrow.

Wish me luck!



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A Month of Giving: Sanitation & Security

Inspired by CZ Design’s 30 Days of Thankful project, this month I’m highlighting some of the amazing charities that deserve attention and support as we move into the season of giving. For more on the Thankful Project, which highlights the little things in our lives that we are grateful for, follow Cathy’s Blog or my Instagram. And here’s a link to my 30 Days of Thankful – 2013 Project.


It’s not something we like to talk about, but improved sanitary services have helped developed countries become what they are today: safe, secure, healthy places to live and work. In fact, it wasn’t until the 19th century, in the midst of a cholera outbreak, that proper handling of sanitary services was linked to public health.

Nearly 160 years later, in 2014, 35% of the world’s population still lacks access to proper sanitary containment.

a latrine in the distance; namawanga, kenya

a latrine in the distance; namawanga, kenya

The whole story.

It’s not just about keeping people healthy. Lack of access to clean sanitation is a security issue for women and girls throughout the world. Personal dignity. Security. Do I need to say more?

Read this article: Me, Myself and the Loo: A Woman’s Future Can Rest on a Toilet.

It’s an incredibly important issue – if not THE MOST important issue facing more than a third of the world’s population.

What’s being done.

November 19th is World Toilet Day. Sponsored by the UN, this is the day where people around the world talk about the problem, solutions, and how to help. Go to the UN Website for World Toilet Day to see media links for TED Talks, conferences, and activist awareness events.

Here are 7 great ideas for improved sanitation in remote and under-served populations.

girls collect water at local spring, namawanga, kenya

girls collect water at local spring, namawanga, kenya

Photo credit: UMass Amherst Kenya Project Team, 2007 (including me).

Who’s making a difference. is a non-profit co-founded by Matt Damon and industry expert Gary White. Their vision: Safe water and the dignity of a toilet for all, in our lifetime. Their model is to work with local partners to develop sustainable, integrated, long-term solutions for water and sanitation. And they have helped to transform that vision to reality in hundreds of communities. To donate or get involved, go to

PATH and Defeat PATH is an international nonprofit health organization which has been making positive change across the world for more than 40 years. Defeat DD is an initiative through the PATH Institute, established in 2009 to provide information on diarrheal disease. “If you can’t talk about it, you can’t defeat it.” To get involved, go to To donate go to






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Wolf Pack


max as a wolf

max enjoying the best parts of his Halloween


For Halloween this year Max was a wolf.

Sort of.

Anyone with a toddler knows kids can require a lot of negotiation. With Max, it started the day after he turned two. Even if it’s something that they love to do, something they’ve done a hundred times, the ONE time you want/need them to get that costume on, they throw a tantrum.

Last year, Max insisted on wearing his New England Patriot’s jersey on Halloween, even though I bought him an expensive Pottery Barn Kids wolf costume that he wore – and loved – just days before.

Max-two costumes 2013

Max’s two costumes, 2013: wolf (part 1) and his Patriot’s Jersey


The same thing happened this year. We had three Halloween events to attend: a local family network party, Downtown Trick-or-Treat, and the actual holiday. I was prepared this time: the wolf costume from last year was purchased in a bigger size so it would fit him this year, and he had another Patriot’s jersey and superman t-shirt as backup. All week we talked about how he was going to be a wolf for Halloween. We practiced wolf howls and Max declared that him and daddy were going to be wolves for Halloween.

I felt confident we were ready to try again this year. But some things you just can’t prepare for.

I was helping with set up at our local family network party when Chris arrived with a wolf named Max and Cal as spiderman. Not moments later, in a flurry of excitement over wearing the wolf costume, Max took a corner too quick, fell, and burst into a furious (and slightly scary) cry.

Chris panicked, as he does when anything happens to his ‘little buddy’. He yelled at me a couple of times, and both times I responded with the same “I’ll be right there” response. Then he yelled:


He wasn’t. But this is Chris. And this is Max. And neither of them normally make any fuss about anything, so when they’re both upset – that’s when it’s time to pay attention.

At first Max couldn’t move his wrist at all. I could tell he was scared. We packed up our stuff and went outside, took off his Halloween costume, and did a full body check to see where he was hurt. The pain was definitely isolated to his hand. Naturally, Chris immediately began squeezing and poking it. More tears.

Let me take a look at him, Chris.

Hugs. Snuggles. Lots of kisses. He was scared about the fall and scared that he couldn’t move his hand. I called the doctor. But by the time we actually got someone on the phone, he was feeling better. We went back to the party.

Max two costumes 2014

Max two costumes 2014: The wolf (repeated) and Superman

Cal and I had a great time. His FAVORITE singer is Michael Jackson and his FAVORITE-favorite song is Thriller, so when that came on, we cut up the dance floor. Later we made crafts and ate snacks and had a great time. Max, on the other hand, was so frightened from the experience that he never let go of Chris’ shoulder (which was perfectly fine for Chris).

I think you can see where I’m going with this. Days later, we barely got the wolf hat on him and he SCREAMED when I pulled a brown sweater over his head for Downtown Trick-or-Treat.

This is an awesome annual event where all of the businesses hand out candy, play music, and really make it a festive, fun experience.

Max loved it.

He quickly learned how to trick-or-treat by yelling “TREAT!” In fact, he was so excited at the idea of acquiring ‘treats’, that he started collecting other items like his juice cup, our keys, and a selection of landscaping rocks. Yes, you read that right: landscaping rocks. It was all we could do to get him away from those.

But that was the last of the wolf costume, for sure. And that’s fine. I think the pictures alone justify the investment.. don’t you?

Max as a wolf 2013

Max as a wolf, 2013 (1 yr old)

Max Wolf 2014

Max as a wolf, 2014 (2 yrs old)


The wolf costume was purchased through Pottery Barn Kids (their 2014 collection is currently on clearance.. I already purchased next year’s costume!). The superman t-shirt was purchased through PS I Adore You. You can still purchase it for just $9.50 AND the cost of your purchase goes directly to childhood cancer research. That’s a win-win!






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Prescription for A Little Gratitude

CZ Design’s 30 Days of Thankful project gives you a chance to reflect on the people, places, and things that you’re grateful for. You can also follow along on Cathy’s Blog or follow me on Instagram to see what I’m thankful for this year. And here’s a link to my 30 Days of Thankful – 2013 Project.

I over-accomplished myself right into a funk last week. It’s a mix of writers block, task-list overload, and knowing there is SO MUCH MORE I want to do. The trouble came when I finally found some time to get things done, my brain went offline. I stared at the wall. Time passed. I accomplished nothing. And I got frustrated.

How annoying is that?!

By Saturday night, I couldn’t push myself any further. And that’s when it hit me: hold the phone- 30 Days of Thankful is here to help! What a perfect project to break me out of the funk and get back on the path of getting things done.

30 Days of Thankful with Cathy Zielske: 2014 Album; Page 1

30 Days of Thankful with Cathy Zielske: 2014 Album; Page 1

And it totally worked.

In my unscientific analysis of this “funk”, I have determined that the root cause of this dilemma/delay wass due to an imbalance of perceived need versus true need. In other words, I gave everything I had to some emotionally/mentally draining immediate needs and didn’t leave anything left for me. It happens.

Repair can come in many forms. Identifying and highlighting the people, places, and little things in life that you are grateful for is just one way to fix your funk.

30 Days of Thankful with Cathy Zielske: 2014 Album; Page 2

30 Days of Thankful with Cathy Zielske: 2014 Album; Page 2

30 Days of Thankful 2014 Photo Process

Allow me to head down my memory-keeping rabbit hole for a moment.

>This year I’m using my iPhone and DSLR to take photos. I then edit them in PicTapGo and save them to my camera roll. I use the edited file in the Collect Photo App to add a character-limited description of the photo and save that version.

>Once I have completed 5 days of photos, I upload those 5 days into the Project Life App, make a quick collage using the photos and Cathy Zielske’s digital cards, and save for future printing. At the end of the month, I’ll print them as 12×12 photos through Persnickety Prints and add them to my 2014 Project Life Album.

It sounds a lot more complicated than it is. And, honestly, if you do it every couple of days, the whole process is done in just a few minutes and you’re left wanting a little more.

iPhone Camera > PicTapGo App > Collect Photo App > Project Life App

iPhone Camera > PicTapGo App > Collect Photo App > Project Life App

But documenting gratitude is such an important exercise that everyone EVERYONE should do, I thought it would be nice to offer a simplified version of this project, for everyone who thinks I’m a little crazy with all of these album projects.

Lite Version of 30 Days of Thankful (aka. Gratitude Documentation for everyone)

Here are a few options to participate in this wonderfully fulfilling exercise if you’re not a memory keeper.

1. Check out Collect Photo App. Download app. Take pictures. Write words.

2. Askt App is a journaling app for iPhone with great reviews. Write words.

The value is in the act of identifying and talking about what we’re grateful for. If you do something with the results, great. If you don’t, you still have the benefit of the exercise.

What are you grateful for today?



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A Month of Giving: Elephants

Inspired by CZ Design’s 30 Days of Thankful project, this month I’m highlighting some of the amazing charities that deserve attention and support as we move into the season of giving. For more on the Thankful Project, which highlights the little things in our lives that we are grateful for, follow Cathy’s Blog or my Instagram. And here’s a link to my 30 Days of Thankful – 2013 Project.

It’s rare to find a perfectly matched celebrity and cause. This is one instance where perfection has been attained.

Saving Africa’s Giants premiers on Animal Planet on Tuesday November 18 at 10/9c. Here’s the pitch: “Can one person change the habits and mindset of an entire country? For most people, the answer is no. But when that one person in question is basketball superstar Yao Ming, then it’s time to believe in the impossible.”

Pledge to be Ivory-Free

Watch this show!

Basketball superstar Yao Ming has teamed up with the nonprofit organization WildAid to end the illegal trade of ivory through targeted, comprehensive public awareness campaigns that hit the heart of the populations who continue to purchase these products.

Why is this important?

Wild African Elephant populations have been absolutely desecrated by illegal poaching that has persisted, despite regulations and enforcement, since 1989. Every year 30,000 elephants are killed by poachers. At this rate, the wild african elephant will be extinct by 2020. That’s 6 years from now.

What can you do?

Take the ivory-free pledge. I was the 12,824th person to do so.

Watch the show on Animal Planet.

Share your pledge through social media.

Donate to WildAid.

Read more about it on Animal Planet’s Bites Blog.


As someone who has worked in nonprofit for nearly 10 years, I promise you that this cause – and this organization – is a rare bird. They’re VERY very good at public awareness campaigns that are respectful and effective. If you want to be a part of a cause that truly has the capacity and reach to achieve their mission, then you want to donate to WildAid.

Three cheers for very successful awareness campaigns and the genius nonprofit managers that craft them!






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The Complete Album “Me: the Abridged Version”

Me: the Abridged Version is a class led by Cathy Zielske through Big Picture Classes. It’s about telling your story in a fun, creative way. I think telling your story is important – not just for you, but for the people that love you. Join me on this short series of personal photo-journalism and see the pretty things my iPhone can make.

As promised, here is the final album of Me: the Abridged Version. I’ll be honest, it was A LOT of work. And I’ve had my fill of this project for a while. But, years from now, I know I’ll look back on this (as I do with projects from years ago) and I’ll be grateful that I did it. Maybe I’ll even do it again in a few years.

If you’re interested in doing this project but would like something a little less involved, I recommend using the same format, but limit the photos and journaling to one per letter.

Here is a complete list of the posts that I wrote about this project:

And the final album:

click photo to see the full album

click photo to see the full album

Click here to view this photo book larger

Note: I order all of my photobooks through PhotoBook America. I love the flexibility of their offline photobook software, the variety of readybooks they offer, the special pricing they offer is a great value, and the final print quality is fantastic. There are a lot of great photobook printers out there, such as Persnickety Prints and Artifact Uprising, that make exceptional quality books. I prefer Photobook America because of its value and because I don’t make digital books using Photoshop.

Happy book making!



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Be a Project Finisher

Over the summer I talked about my relationship with stuff as I embarked on a decluttering project. It was a massive undertaking. Between moving, shift in seasons, a downsized kitchen, and two turnovers in Max’s clothing size, we had a lot of disorganized bins and boxes in piles in our basement. Bins with baby bottles, dog toys, and my summer work clothes. Bins with holiday decorations and my winter clothes. Bins with craft supplies, coffee mugs, and important paperwork.

We’re very good at organizing our stuff before a move, so imagine my surprise when I started tackling boxes of chaos.  I spent days organizing stuff, culling out unnecessary stuff, and finding things for our yard sale.

I never finished.

It’s a habit I have – starting projects and never finishing them OR at least dragging them out for a really long time. Chris sometimes says that I just like to always have things to do. As if it’s an act of self-importance. I say it’s because I’m gearing up for some kind of endless winter where I might (gasp!) get bored.

> Sidenote: just in case you are wondering – is that a phobia? Yes. Thaasophobia is the fear of idleness. For me, it’s a symbolic fear. Sometimes I choose boredom over action just for a break. Then again, in that sense – ‘inaction’ could also considered ‘action’, because it’s a choice?

Well, I’m over it. Unfinished Roberts have become a stress point for me. And since I have the time and ability to see a project through, it’s time to move on.

So I started a new project.

Be a project finisher

the “finish projects” project!

The project-finishing project: where I complete all of the stuff that’s been hanging over my head.  Elise Blaha Cripe of writes a lot about setting goals. She makes them public as a way of affirming and legitimizing the lists. I REALLY like that idea, but as a chronic project-abandoner – it scares the crap out of me.

Time for a change.

I need a fresh start. A clean slate. A place where I’m free of all the things that hold me back. A place where forward (my word of the year) is the only direction to go.

When you set goals, it’s important to also set deadlines – especially when it comes to personal goals.

I started by writing the things that I’ve done in the last couple of weeks, to show myself that I can finish projects.


Then I wrote the things are hanging over my head that I really want to either finish or abandon in the next couple of weeks.


Then I wrote some extra stuff that I’ve wanted to do for a while, that would give me a change of pace if I got bored with the other projects.


So now I have shown myself recent successes, lightened the burdens on my mind by setting an achievable goal with a deadline, and gave myself some “bonus” work for extra credit.

I feel really good about these goals. And I look forward to checking some stuff off this list before November 15.

Wish me luck!



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