December 28, 2008

Wrapping up the Loose Ends

At long last, now that many of you may have forgotten about it entirely, I can report on the final results of the giveaway portion of my Holiday Donation Drive. There was a bit of a delay because I didn't hear back from one of the first people picked so, once the time allotted had passed, I had my mom dip into the hat of names again.

I'm delighted to announce that Mom24 at 4everMom and Renee at Bearable Deals each won a $20 Starbucks gift card, which are headed out to them tomorrow in the mail. Also going out in the mail tomorrow is Toni-Lynn's gift card as the top referrer. Congratulations to each of them and many thanks for participating!

All I've received as a receipt from Second Harvest Food Bank is an email, so I don't really have anything to provide as evidence of my donation. Because, frankly, if anyone is skeptical about it, my copying the text of the email here won't offer much in the way of proof. I believe Second Harvest will send me something by snail mail eventually, so if anyone is truly suspicious of my sincerity in reporting to you that I made the donation, you can say so and I'll post what I get. But I know that I made it, I know that AmEx already processed the charge and I know that anyone who knows me will not doubt this.

I want to remind you that there are still a few days for you to make a donation to your charity of choice in time for it to count in this tax year, if the tax deduction is important to you. (Personally, I don't itemize, so it doesn't matter.) As one person pointed out in the comments during the drive, many employers will match all or part of your charitable donations; this is an incredible way to make the most out of your donation dollars. My employers in the past have done this and I always took advantage of it. I currently don't have that benefit available to me, but if you do, I encourage you to look into it now if you never have before.

As the year draws to a close, I keep thinking, "What next?" More than one person has said to me during the course of this that they really identified with the dilemma I expressed in my initial post about the donation drive regarding knowing who to give to when there are so many worthy causes out there and so many opportunities for people looking to take advantage of the generosity of others and our innate desire to help.

I'd be curious to know what causes and groups and charities you think are worthwhile and how you support them. Is giving money the way to go, because agencies like Second Harvest can make so much good from so relatively little? Is volunteering better because you're giving your time? Does a combination of both suit you? How do you decide where to spend your time and money when it comes to helping others? So many questions, almost as many as there are needs out there. I hope you'll share your thoughts so we can have a discussion on where the giving goes from here.

December 27, 2008

One More for the Road...or Home

Last week I took a break from the BFL because it was just too hectic to get my picks done in time for the Thursday night game. Because I didn't post my picks, I didn't have the chance to share with you that I was the Week 15 MVP. And because things were also hectic for Ms. Amy, I don't have a badge to put up for you, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

The Week 16 MVP was Instamom (and she's welcome, since my not participating practically, you know, handed the win to her). I believe that may make us tied for the most number of wins this season so this last week in the season is important to establish an ├╝ber-MVP. Or not, if we both tank, I suppose. Anyway, here they are, one last time:

St. Louis @ Atlanta
New England @ Buffalo
Kansas City @ Cincinnati
Chicago @ Houston
NY Giants @ Minnesota
Carolina @ New Orleans
Cleveland @ Pittsburgh
Oakland @ Tampa Bay
Tennessee @ Indianapolis
Detroit @ Green Bay
Jacksonville @ Baltimore
Seattle @ Arizona
Washington @ San Francisco
Miami @ NY Jets
Dallas @ Philadelphia

Sunday Night Football
Denver @ San Diego
Total score tiebreaker: 42

I've also missed a couple weeks of game-day recipes, but I've got one for this week.


(photo by: Romulo Yanes for Gourmet at epicurious.com)

This Spinach and Cheese Strata is something I added to my Epicurious recipe box more than a year ago and haven't made yet. What I like about this is that it's simple, it will feed a number of people and you have to make it ahead of time, so then you can just stick it in the oven on game day at the end of the first quarter or so. I would probably make a few changes to it -- by using broccoli instead of spinach (because a certain brother doesn't care for spinach much) and adding some bacon (because, well, why wouldn't you?) -- as I see in the reviews that other people successfully altered the recipe to suit their tastes. Enjoy if you give it a try!

December 21, 2008

The Results of My Holiday Donation Drive

Thank you so much to those who came to participate in my holiday donation drive. And a super big hand goes out to those who worked so hard to get other people to come comment. It was great to have so many new people stopping by and, of course, I would be delighted if some of you decided to come back every once in a while!

So, on to The Results. A total of 126 unique commenters were eligible for the giveaway drawing and 14 different people were tallied as having referred people to comment. Each referral got a separate chance for the Gold Card for each person they sent, for a total of 48 entries. Anymommy and Toni-Lynn were the superstar referrers, combined sending more than half of those people; I'm very grateful to them both.

I could have used a number randomizer to chose the giveaway potential winners, but that just seems so impersonal to me. I'm a "pick names out of a hat" kind of girl. And let me tell you, it takes a long time to cut out 174 little slips of paper! I actually got a hat and put the little slips of paper in, first for the gift cards and next for the referral Gold Card, and had my mom (an impartial party here if ever there were one) draw for us.

The two potential winners for the gift cards have both been notified by email tonight, and I will share their names here as soon as I hear back from them.

I can, however, share with you that the winner of the referral Gold Card was.....anymommy! It was a bit of a thrill to see her name on the little slip of paper that my mom handed me, because I know what a complete Starbucks nut she is.

But, I have to go outside the rules here a little at this point, for two reasons. First, as anymommy mentioned in her comment, while she lives in Washington state, at the moment she's in Saipan, in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. In case you're wondering, it's a beautiful island in the middle of the Philippine Sea, a.k.a The Middle of Nowhere. There happen to be no Starbucks there, which I think could be seen as a small personal tragedy. So her Gold Card will have to wait until she's back home -- there's really no point in having a one-year membership that she won't be able to use for a couple of months yet.

Second, as I was cutting out all those strips of paper I kept seeing Toni-Lynn's name over and over again, and I just knew that if she wasn't selected she was going to have to get a card, too. That kind of effort has got to be rewarded! Congratulations to Toni-Lynn and anymommy and thank you again for your help.

So I'm happy to say that we have a total of four winners for the giveaway. Of course, the biggest winner, I hope, is Second Harvest Food Bank. There were 129 comments counted toward the donation -- I decided to add in the comments that came in after the official finish -- and because I like round numbers, let's call that $130.

You may have seen that there was a comment that offered to add a latte's worth of cash to the pot, which came from the girlfriend of my brother (known around here as B2W3 because he's the Best Brother in the Whole Wide World). Well, she just bought a rather expensive latte! I'm putting her down for $20 -- she can afford it and I'm sure B2W3 will kick in at least half of it. :-)

That makes a total of $150 that has been donated to Second Harvest of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties in honor of all the commenters that came to take part. I have requested a receipt that I will post when I receive it, just to assuage any doubts (Mr. Garcia) that I really did do what I said I was going to do!

Thank you all again and I hope you have a wonderfully bright, festive, safe and enjoyable holiday time.

December 12, 2008

My Big Holiday Donation Drive, Now With Added Caffeine!

It's that time of year when thoughts turn to holiday traditions; family, gifts, food and fun being chief among them. For most of us, that is.

I'm fortunate. I'm fortunate and I know it, and every day I'm thankful for it. And times like what people are going through right now, in the U.S. and elsewhere, make me feel both fortunate and impotent on a daily basis.

I give. I give often and freely, both as often and as freely as I can. I don't give to every person or group that asks, but I try to focus on the things I see as important. This is an impossible thing, of course, because our priorities shift and change as time and situations change, and what's important to me isn't necessarily important to someone else.

But there's a healthy degree of cynicism in me that I can't shake because it seems like nearly everyone has their hand out at one time or another for one cause or another, and I'm left wondering how we got to a point where there's such great need for so many things every single day and how many of them are people playing an angle and trying to make a buck. For the clearly legitimate causes, it seems like it's a never-ending well of need that just gets wider and wider.

I've had it hammered in to my head that I have to plan for my own future, so I can't justify simply handing over every spare dollar to every cause I encounter, even if my heart is telling me to do just that. In that mythical, perfect world, I could do just that and I'd know that there would be help for me when I needed it. However, we all know that we don't live in that world and it would be foolish to not look ahead to my own well-being and be judicious about balancing saving and giving.

But when I think about how many people are going hungry in a country that has so, so much, it makes me queasy. I know there are parents out there every day having to decide between feeding their families and paying their bills, and people who really don't know where their next meal is coming from, neither of which is something I've ever had to face. The older I've gotten, the more I appreciate how my mother was able to balance what should have been a comfortable income against life circumstances and make sure that we were never without, and probably even had more than we should have. There are too many people, and that number grows every day now, knowing that they're not going to make that balance happen.

As much as I like the Toys for Tots and Family Giving Tree programs (the latter of which I participate in every year and I think it's very important for the people they serve), it's the idea of people going hungry at a time when so many of us are buying expensive, indulgent things for each other that is getting to me the most this year.

To that end, I'm hoping you will help me determine the amount of money I'll be giving to the Second Harvest Food Bank this year, as a part of my company's holiday giving efforts. Inspired by something AmyInOhio did in October for Blog Action Day 2008, I'm asking for you to comment on this post and ask other people to do the same.

For every comment (one comment per person and verifiable email address) to this post made between now, December 12th at 6:00pm PT, and December 19th at 6:00pm PT, I will donate one dollar to Second Harvest Food Bank. It would be fantastic if you would tell us in your comment the state and/or country where you live.

To sweeten the deal, I will be giving away Starbucks $20 gift cards to some lucky commenters*; one card if there are 100 comments or fewer by the end of the period, two cards if there are more than 100 comments by the end of the period. If you guys blow the lid off of this and there are 200 or more comments by the 19th, I'll give away four cards. And if you get someone else to come here and leave a comment, telling me by name that you sent them, there will be an additional incentive. One commenter who has sent at least one other person come here to comment on this post (and they name you in their comment) will receive a Starbucks Gold Card membership in addition to a $20 gift card.

If anyone who wins a gift card so wishes, they can instead choose to have me add that amount of money to the Second Harvest Food Bank donation total.

So there's a chance here to give a lot of money to a good cause and get some freebies for yourself at the same time. With the advent of Twitter and the like, I know you can reach out to a lot of people, and I hope you will. Thank you in advance for spreading the word and doing some good. If you're curious how far the donation will go, check here. I'll plan to provide updates as we go along giving the progress of the donation total.

*The fine print (sorry): All comments must have a name and verifiable email address to be counted. The Starbucks gift cards can only be sent to commenters in North America. The Starbucks Gold Card can only be sent to a commenter in the U.S. Comments world-wide, however, will count toward the donation total. Anonymous or inappropriate comments will not be counted, either for the donation total or the giveaways, and will not be allowed. Comment are moderated so they may not show up immediately. All winners will be contacted by email, so a valid email address is required and you will have three days to reply with a regular mail address that must be in the area described above. Any international winners will be notified and given the chance to have the card amount added to the donation total in their honor. One person could win both the Gold Card + $20 gift card and one of the other $20 gift cards...which would make you the most popular kid in school. The maximum amount that will be donated by me for this post is $500.

December 11, 2008

This Still Throws Me Every Time

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Thursday came upon me WAY too quickly this week. Again. No time for much in the way of pleasantries, here are my picks (in mint green, in honor of finally meeting Kirsten of The Norwindians this week!):

New Orleans @ Chicago
Tampa Bay @ Atlanta
Washington @ Cincinnati
Tennessee @ Houston
Green Bay @ Jacksonville
San Francisco @ Miami
Seattle @ St. Louis
Buffalo @ NY Jets
San Diego @ Kansas City
Detroit @ Indianapolis
Minnesota @ Arizona
Pittsburgh @ Baltimore
Denver @ Carolina
New England @ Oakland
NY Giants @ Dallas

Monday Night Football
Cleveland @ Philadelphia
Total score tiebreaker: 38

Please come back, MVP badge, we miss you around here!

December 06, 2008

Cooking Up a Winning Formula

On Thursday, I was so pressed for time to get my picks posted before the first game started that I didn't have time to deal with my game-day recipe. (Didn't know I was doing that? Huh. Where have you been? Check this out for the reason.) And it's a good thing that I got them in, because I'm currently in first! Um, with seven other people.

Anyway, a few days later I still hadn't found just the right recipe. PsychMamma to the rescue! She mentioned that she has a drawer stuffed with recipes she has clipped out of magazines; she said there are 10,381 of them, and I really hope she's only kidding. Somehow, out of the morass of possibilities, she picked out two just for us.

This was my favorite of the two, since it's the one I'd most like to eat! It looks both tasty and easy, and would be just right for a game time snack. Or, as PsychMamma isn't a football fan, for any social gathering. :-) If you decide to give it a whirl, I hope you'll come by and tell us how it turned out. I don't think I'm going to be able to make it tomorrow, but I am definitely going to try it soon. If you're lucky, I'll share the other one soon.

Goat Cheese Pizza Bites

Serves 6 - 25 minute prep time

2 1/2 c. green or red grapes, halved (or cherry tomatoes if preferred to fruit)
1 T. finely chopped rosemary
3 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. store-bought pizza dough
8 oz. soft goat cheese

Preheat oven to 450F
Toss together grape halves, rosemary, and 1 T. olive oil and set aside.
Divide dough into thirds and stretch each portion into a 10" circle.
Place rounds on grill or in the oven until cooked through, about 6 minutes (flip halfway through if on the grill).
Sprinkle grapes, goat cheese, and remaining olive oil on crust.
Heat until the cheese begins to melt (about 5 minutes).
Cut into bite-sized pieces.

Note: I often just spread all the dough in a jelly roll pan, bake and then cut into bite-sized pieces.

December 04, 2008

And To Think, I Used To Like Thursdays

Time certainly does fly, doesn't it? It flies just like a wing-footed wide receiver on a tear for the end zone. How's that for a sports metaphor, huh? Like a flash, we're back to Thursday, yet again, and I'm all a'dither because it's time for picks already.

It occurred to me sometime this week that I was in such a rush to post my picks last Thursday (Thanks again, NFL network!) that I completely forgot to include a recipe to make for enjoying during the games. Not that I have been at all successful in making either of the ones I have included, once Sunday rolled around -- something always seems to interfere with those best-laid plans.

But I am undaunted! This week's recipe is...going to come in another post because I have simply run out of time to find the one I want to use. Don't like it? Register your complaints here; it's their fault after all.

And on to my picks. Last week's late games were a complete and utter disaster for me, so I'm hoping for a better result this week.

Oakland @ San Diego
Jacksonville @ Chicago
Minnesota @ Detroit
Cincinnati @ Indianapolis
Philadelphia @ NY Giants
Cleveland @ Tennessee
Atlanta @ New Orleans
Houston @ Green Bay
Miami @ Buffalo
NY Jets @ San Francisco
New England @ Seattle
Kansas City @ Denver
St. Louis @ Arizona
Dallas @ Pittsburgh
Washington @ Baltimore

Monday Night Football
Tampa Bay @ Carolina
Total score tiebreaker: 43

You want to join in? Too bad. I don't want you to. Don't make your own picks. Don't go to Instamom's site. Don't link up your blog and leave a comment. And don't, whatever you do, go see the wonderful spreadsheet that the equally wonderful AmyInOhio makes for us each week to track the games. Don't even think about it. Do it and I'll have that wing-footed wide receiver leave cleat marks up your back.

December 03, 2008

The HoGGIEs - Kid-Friendly Edition

While everyone was out actually doing their post-Thanksgiving shopping, I took a break from my gift idea series. I found that very few people were staying home and, you know, reading blogs. I'm assuming they were all out there spending their hard-earned money on bargains. Yay for the economy! But now it's time for a new edition of The One Ping Only 2008 Holiday Gift-Giving Ideas Extravaganza, the HoGGIEs. Yay for gift-giving!

Next up as a fictional HoGGIEs gift recipient is my friend, Kirsten (formerly known as Mama Ginger Tree) who now makes her bloggy home at The Norwindians. She and I actually live closest to each other out of of all of the people over there in the Mo-mmy Blogger Lovefest, yet we have never actually managed to meet! We are hoping to rectify that soon.

One trip to Norwindia, and you will realize how central Kirsten's kids and husband are to her life. (That's NOT to say that anyone else I've "gifted" here or have yet to feature isn't the same way, it's just the first thing that comes to mind when I think about Kirsten.) So when I looked in the CB2 online catalog for what kind of gift I would select for her, it had to be something that she would share with her family.

Recently, in her Sunday's Simple Pleasures series, Kirsten posted a great picture of her whole family gathered on the couch in their jammies, enjoying a cozy fire on a rainy day. That picture was the inspiration for the gifts I ended up choosing for her.



A set of these Spoon Coffee Mugs, with a cute "hip pocket" for the spoon, and Comic Appetizer Plates, which just happen to have the same accent color, seem like just the ticket for a young, active family like hers. I'd arrange them in a basket with packets of gourmet hot cocoa, some "Yum" nibbles (like maybe some Mint Chocolate-Covered Oreos...) and some orange cloth napkins if I could find them, wrap the whole thing in cellophane and tie it with a big ribbon in that same orange accent color.

This falls into the family gift category, for which you want to find something that everyone in the family can use and enjoy. You know the kids are going to be getting a ton of toys from their family already, so while I love buying toys, that wouldn't really be a "family" kind of thing and they probably don't need any more this time of year. Something like a gift certificate to a favorite restaurant just for the adults can be nice, but then you're practically handing them a bill for a sitter, too, unless you know they've got built-in care. What I like about putting together a gift like this is that it isn't a pre-assembled set but goes together in a workable way and is just fun.

Go forth and gift!