T-shirts in the News: Must they always be controversial?

We follow news about T-shirts. We are in the T-shirt business. That we should follow such news is a small part of how we roll. But lately T-shirt news seems to be all bad news, bad manners, and bad taste.

Remember when we landed a space probe on a comet? Maybe not but you do remember the “shirt storm” caused by the pin-ups t-shirt worn by one of the scientists involved in the Rosetta Mission. And then there was that whole ‘meninist’ T-shirt backlash. Meninists are men airing (or in this case printing) their grievances with feminism. Kurt Cobain’s suicide note found its way into print on a T-shirt. And just this week, the New England Patriots, even after their exciting victory, embarrassed themselves recently en parade waving tasteless Ts.

We recognize that the T-shirt is the personal billboard, and thus will always be political, but must it always be controversial?

good_newsDesmond Tutu writes in his book Made for Goodness, that the reason the news is so full of bad is that we react to it because it is such an affront to our true nature. He describes our nature this way: “We are made for goodness. We are made for love. We are made for friendliness. We are made for togetherness. We are made for all of the beautiful things that you and I know. We are made to tell the world that there are no outsiders. All are welcome: black, white, red, yellow, rich, poor, educated, not educated, male, female, gay, straight, all, all, all. We all belong to this family, this human family…” It is beautiful. And it is true that we take notice of things outside of this sphere of beauty because those things are so very different from ourselves.

While the Reverend may not be an expert on T-shirt design, he does know something of human nature. Bad news (and often bad taste) gets our attention. If a Google search for T-shirt news is any indication, controversial T-shirts get more air time than the sweeter T-shirts that say things like “Support Girl Scout Troop #32” or “The Smith Family Reunion.”

Maybe the prevalence of tasteless T-shirts will cause its own backlash in beauty and beautiful T-shirt design? Maybe it already has. We like to think so.

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Super Super Bowl Superstitions

As a t-shirt company, we are hip to the beauty of sports team T-shirts. Of course you will sport your finest sports paraphernalia during the Super Bowl this weekend. Your love of your team, it is as plain as the logo on your chest.

Or maybe you are the superstitious type. For you, your team colors symbolize more than just team pride. You don your jersey so that you can somehow influence the order of the NFL football cosmos. We thought we’d uncover this mysterious tribe of mystics by taking a look at some of the more prevalent Super Bowl superstitions.

“According to a poll released in January [2014] by the Public Religion Research Institute, about half of all Americans believe that some element of the supernatural plays a role in sporting events.” (http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/01/31/for-some-fans-super-bowl-has-supernatural-twist/) Half!

PatriotwingPlayers have rituals around everything from the pregame meal (Super Bowl Champion, Peyton Manning is known to have a very specific meal of chicken, pasta, a baked potato, broccoli, and Gatorade before every single game, St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford’s pregame meal consists of threes – 3 PBJs, 3 stalks of broccoli, 3 slices of pineapple – anything in three groups of three) to music (some players steep themselves in it, others avoid it like the plague) to the famous Aaron Rodgers beard-pull.

Fans have their own rituals. We’ve got the Super Bowl stock market indicator, game day socks (unwashed and undefeated), prayers, face paint, curses, dances, special seating during the game, special hats (what is the football version of the rally cap?)…you name it.

In a new article in Psychology Today we find support for our wacky behaviors: “Your team is depending on you. You’ve got to help them win. If you get any of this wrong, your team will lose and it will be your fault.” There it is! In black and white. My team needs me.

Sadly though, it’s not quantum theory, the butterfly effect, or The Benevolent Universe at work here. Psychology Today explains: “Humans and other animals have evolved to learn to recognize our effects on the world around us. We behave and look for how the world responds. We develop beliefs that what we did caused the outcome. We do something, something else happens, and we assume that we were the cause. Psychologists have often studied operant conditioning to understand how people and other animals learn about action and response. In operant conditioning, an animal performs a behavior and then receives a reward (usually food). Soon the animal is repeatedly performing that behavior.”

But don’t lose heart. The article ends this way: “…Put on your jersey and go join your friends. Even if you aren’t the cause, it feels good to be with friends and family during the big game. Besides, you’d hate for your team to lose if you don’t wear your jersey. You’d never live that down.” (www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mental-mishaps/201501/superstitions-and-the-super-bowl)

Have a terrific Super Bowl! Go Patriots!

image attribution: By Dhern029 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

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Top Ten List for the Importance of Making Lists

If you are anything like me, your inbox, Facebook, and Twitter news feeds are  jammed with lists: 5 Ways to Banish Negative Thoughts for Good, 10 Things You can Do Right Now to Grow Your Small Business, 15 Ways to be Happier in 2015. The list goes on and on.

Lists are everywhere! You might have a Google Doc of To Do lists open right now. Or you might do things the old-fashioned way and use paper and pen (many business coaches recommend both). Your smartphone, your fitness app, your brain are all set up to help you get through your day by making lists.

To_Do_ListThe most successful small business people I know make lists. They keep little notebooks in their pockets and check things off.  Who knows, they may even give themselves little smiley faces when they check things off their list. (I love the idea of Kevin Camisa giving himself smiley faces for his accomplishments!) Smiley faces or no, the fact is lists work.

Here’s why:

  1. Lists help relieve stress. Write it down on paper and let it go. This will give you a sense of moving forward and of releasing worry. You don’t have to fret about it anymore, it’s on your list!
  2. Lists help you achieve your short term goals. If you keep track of them, they are much easier to achieve!
  3. A good list will outline small steps you need to take in order to get where you want to go. “Studies have shown that people who write things down tend to get things done.” (http://immatureentrepr.hubpages.com/hub/creating-list)
  4. Lists give you direction. If you start to feel lost, just refer to your list.
  5. Lists make your long term goals more approachable. See #2. The act of simply writing them down makes them real. See #3. Creating a list of small actions you must take that lead to your long term goals will give you a clearer picture of the steps to get there.

Here is my favorite list of top 10 tips for making lists (from Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines):

  1. Write down every single idea you have, no matter how big or small
  2. Always carry a notebook
  3. Find a list method that works for you. Doodles, bullet-points, charts what suits you best?
  4. Make a list of small, manageable tasks to complete every day
  5. Mark off every completed task – you’ll find making each tick very satisfying
  6. Make your goals measurable so you know if your plans are working
  7. Set far off, outlandish goals. What do you want to have achieved by 2020? How about 2050?
  8. Include personal goals in your lists, not just business
  9. Share your goals with others. You can help motivate each other further
  10. Celebrate your successes then make new lists of new goal (http://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/top-10-tips-for-making-lists)

Branson (or his writer, but maybe it was actually him, he strikes me as his own list maker) wrote this top 10 list in relation to New Year’s Resolutions. “I have always lived my life by making lists. These vary from lists of people to call, lists of ideas, lists of companies to set up, lists of people who can make things happen. I also have lists of topics to blog about, lists of tweets to send, and lists of upcoming plans.

Each day I work through these lists, and it is by ticking off each task that my ideas take shape and plans move forward. As the new year gets started, lots of you will be busy making resolutions. If you want to stick to them, I suggest making them into lists.” (http://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/top-10-tips-for-making-lists)

FastCompany put together a great little video for making To Do lists. Put watching this video at the top of your list.

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Keeping Warm in Winter: It’s for the Birds

With apologies to our favorite customers in the South (or maybe just envy), we thought we’d take a look at a more Northern subject this week: keeping warm in winter. Earlier this week, most of New England was having a bit of an arctic blast with temperatures plummeting well below zero and windchill factors increasing the regional penchant for indoor winter activities such as watching the Golden Globes and playing with the Benedict Cumberbatch Name Generator.

We seem to be having a proper New England winter this year, so we are beginning to wonder about our feathered friends out there at the feeder. How do birds keep warm in winter? We dress in layers starting with comfortable and colorful t-shirts, of course, but how do birds do it?

Like us, birds are warm-blooded – which almost always means that they have to work to keep themselves warmer than their environment. They do this in primarily the same ways we do using feathers (layering), huddling, and fat reserves.

feathersLike multiple layers of clothing, bird feathers are terrific insulators. Downy feathers, just like cotton fibers, are great for trapping pockets of warm air next to the body. When birds puff up, they trap even more warm air. We do this by adding another shirt to our ensemble.

Huddling is something we do, too (though sometimes we call it cuddling). By scooching close to one another (imagine sitting with a friend at a hockey game, believe me, you are going to scooch) birds consolidate their body heat and expose less of their surface area. At night many birds roost, or crowd together in tight places to share body heat (we do this, too, but this is a G-rated blog post, so we won’t go into it here).

And finally, fat reserves. Birds store up on fat reserves early in the season. Even small birds can build up fat reserves “to serve as insulation and extra energy for generating body heat. Many birds will gorge during the fall when food sources are abundant, giving them an extra fatty layer before winter arrives.” (http://birding.about.com/od/birdingbasics/a/howbirdskeepwarm.htm) This is something we also do which may explain the prevalence of sweet fatty treats during Thanksgiving and the early winter holidays.

Whether or not you agree that this cold weather “is for the birds,” we, like the chickadees and titmouse at the feeder, can do something about it. Keep warm.

 

 

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The Benedict Cumberbatch name generator and the Sources of truly Creative T-shirt Design

Brandenburg Copperwire, Bodybuild Toodlesnoot, Benadryl Clavichord, Rumblesack Coggleswort. Nonsense. Or something potentially more elementary, my dear. These polysyllabic phrases are the random spawn of the Benedict Cumberbatch Name Generator.

If you are someone who is easily amused, the Name Generator is just the ticket to help you get over the bad feelings created by a disagreement with your boss/employee/peer/spouse/computer/to do list/hangover. If you are a deep thinker, you might start to wonder about the art (or lack thereof) of this type of computer generation. Or you might just continue to be amused.

Either way, we started to wonder about the art of computer generation and things like DIY design t-shirts. Whatever happened to the days of hand-drawn design?

Mona_LisaWe did an online search and came up with things like the Kurt Rambis screen-printed T-shirt on Esty. Rambis played basketball for the Los Angeles Lakers in the 80s and later coached the Lakers, Knicks and Timberwolves (not at the same time). Why anyone would want his image on a T-shirt is a mystery – until you see the shirt! It is a hand-drawn, old school marvel that makes Rambis look like KC from KC and the Sunshine Band. And what is not to love about that? The t-shirt design is an original work of art. It is no Mona Lisa, but we love it.

Which makes us wonder: Does a t-shirt design have to be hand-drawn by a real person (instead of a computer) in order for us to love it? Not necessarily. Like beauty, good t-shirt design (whether hand-drawn or computer generated) is in the eye of the beholder.

Thus the sources of truly creative t-shirt design can definitely include computers. After all, we, real people, are behind those computers. And computer programing is its own kind of art. Granted computer programming and graphic design are completely distinct forms of expression, but both are forms of expression. And we all know that the t-shirt is the perfect vehicle for forms of expression.

We gotta get back to it. Bumblebee Cottagecheese, Rumblesack Cuckooclock, Muffintop Coggleswort….

 

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Holiday Cheer and Best Wishes to All!

seasons_greetingsOf all the months of the year, December might just be the very pinnacle of political correctness. We wish a generic ‘Happy Holidays’ to friends and strangers alike, we bake without peanuts or gluten for our allergy-prone loved ones, we toast without tipple with our teetotaling relatives, our holiday meals feature vegetarian and vegan options. We can sum up the month in two words: be have.

We are on our best behavior. And well we should be, there are many important religious, pagan, and secular holidays in December. The following holiday list represents just the frosting on the tip of the iceberg:

Dec 10 – Human Rights Day
Dec 12 – Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Dec 16 – Hanukkah begins
Dec 17 – Saturnalia
Dec 23 – Festivus
Dec 24 – Yule
Dec 25 – Christmas
Dec 26 – Kwanzaa
Dec 28 – Guru Govind Singh Jayanti

Given such a list – and this is just a partial one – we run the risk of offending anyone and possibly every one. With this kind of risk in mind, we thought we’d just go ahead and walk that fine line with as many holiday jokes as we could muster.

– It was Hanukkah and the tiny village outside Budapest in Hungary was frightened that they may not have any latkes because they had run out of flour.

Rudi, the Rabbi, was called upon to help solve the problem. He said, ‘Don’t worry, you can substitute matzo meal for the flour, and the latkes will be just as delicious.’

Sarah looks to her husband and says, ‘Samuel, you think it’ll work?’

‘Of course,’ Samuel replies, ‘Everybody knows Rudolph the Rabbi knows grain, dear.’ (http://www.guy-sports.com/humor/saints/hanukkah_jokes.htm)

– What did the big candle say to the little candle?
I’m going out tonight!

– Just saw a Pagan worshiping the Winter Solstice. He was dressed in a stag’s skull and animal skins. I thought “Deer God…” (http://www.sickipedia.org/other/random)

– Once a person was drowning in sea. He immediately started praying to Lord Ganesha. Lord Ganesha immediately appeared, looked at him, and then started dancing. The person was confused and angry – “Lord, I am drowning and you are dancing” Lord Ganesh says – “Son, at my immersion, you also danced like this”. (http://www.speakingtree.in/spiritual-forums/god-and-i/one-of-the-oldest-ganesh-chaturthi-jokesenjoy)

– Why is it getting harder to buy Advent calendars?
Because their days are numbered.

– Why should you never invite a team of footballers for Christmas?
Because they are always dribbling.

– What did Adam say the day before Christmas?
It’s Christmas, Eve.

– What does Santa suffer from if he gets stuck in a chimney?
Claustrophobia!

– Why does Santa have three gardens?
So he can ‘ho ho ho’!

– Why did Santa’s helper see the doctor?
Because he had a low “elf” esteem!

– My mother once gave me two sweaters for Hanukkah. The next time we visited, I made sure to wear one. As we entered her home, instead of the expected smile, she said, “What’s the matter? You didn’t, like the other one?” (http://www.festivefever.com/hanukkah/jokes.htm)

Wishing you good cheer and the very best for 2015! Happy Holidays!

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Numbers, Lists and New Year’s Resolutions for Small Business

This is the time of year for numbers: top ten lists for 2014, count down to 2015, eight candles of Hanukkah, twelve days of Christmas, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens…you get the picture.

For small business it’s also a time for taking stock and planning ahead. Some of us already have projections far into the future; others of us are just trying to make it to January 1st. Regardless of your degree of business acumen, we all have hopes and plans for the new year. Let’s take a look at some recommended New Year’s resolutions for small business for 2015 – and possible ways to keep them.

Huffington Post encourages, “The New Year is a chance to start fresh and make changes to bsuccessetter your personal and professional life. Start working on your business resolutions right now, adjust them as needed in the New Year, and watch them become a reality in 2015!” and gives the following essential New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. Decide how to grow.
  2. Get small business certified (especially if you’re a woman, minority or veteran who owns and operates 51 percent or more of your company)
  3. Make sure your company is loan-ready.
  4. Update your technology.
  5. Have an exit strategy. Here are the details.

Here are recommended New Year’s Resolutions from Monster.com:

  1. Involve others in goal setting and planning.
  2. Keep goals in front of yourself and everyone one else.
  3. Communicate more and in more ways.
  4. Talk less, talk later and listen more.
  5. Focus feedback on the future.
  6. Be a model.

Monster goes on to say that “These resolutions remind you that you are not a just business owner thinking about a new customer, profit margin or monthly P & L — you are also a leader. All of these small business tips, when put into practice, will make you a more effective leader and a more successful business owner too.

Like many New Year’s resolutions, this list may seem a bit daunting. Remember that they don’t necessarily require any special skills. They may require a change in mindset and most likely a change in habits. The effort involved is worth it — for you, your team and ultimately your results.” Here is that Monster article.

Business New Daily gives us these (though they are for 2014, many of them still ring true):

  1. Get the most “bang for your technology buck”
  2. Adopt mobile payments
  3. Get closer to customers
  4. Make customer service a priority
  5. Focus on marketing efforts
  6. Revamp social media strategy
  7. Be SEO- and data-savvy
  8. Perform a security audit
  9. Prevent employee fraud
  10. Become more nimble

You can read the full list details here. Among these three lists of resolutions, this one from Business New Daily gives the best actionable details that include things like organizing your inbox – something you should probably consider before you start counting those five golden rings. The actions you take now will bring you closer to your resolve for 2015.

We like the Huffington post list for newbies. This is great advice for small businesses just starting out. We love the Monster list for the way it recommends you involve (even recruit) your employees in goals, planning, and communication (we love our employees).

We wish you the very best for the holidays and 2015!

 

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Shelving the Elf on the Shelf

The Elf on the Shelf is a fairly recent phenomenon. Depending on your age and whether or not you have small children (or nieces and nephews) you may not have even heard of this delightful little…well how shall we say it? The Elf on the Shelf is something between a home wrecker and a spark of inspiration.

According to Wikipedia “The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition is a 2005 children’s picture book… The book tells a Christmas-themed story, written in rhyme, that explains how Santa Claus knows who is naughty and who is nice, and describes elves visiting children between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, after which they return to the North Pole until the next holiday season. The Elf on the Shelf comes in a keepsake box that features a hardbound picture book and a small soft toy in the form of a pixie scout elf.”

elfSeems harmless enough. But let’s look at both the home-wrecking and the inspirational aspects of this little creature. For many, the Elf on the Shelf is just plain creepy (he’s naughty and manipulative). He is a little spy for Santa, and spies, even great spies like Philip Seymour Hoffman in his swan song, A Most Wanted Man, are a little creepy. We don’t always know or understand their intentions, which are not always good.

Matt Pelc writes in HuffpostParents about a villainous invader in “How the Elf on the Shelf Ruined Our Christmas” (you can read it here). “The elf is always watching” has a creepy Orwellian Big Brother feel to it. The modern equivalent might be The Capitol spying on our favorite characters in the Hunger Games (as much as we love Donald Sutherland, President Snow is not exactly the quintessence of holiday spirit). Yahoo News calls the Elf on the Shelf  “the greatest fraud ever pulled on children” (here).

And certainly if you look with the perspective of caring parents trying to rear their children in today’s society, the thought of using Big Brother or President Snow in the guise of a plastic toy does not bode well for the next generation of parents – or kids. For many,  permanently shelving the Elf on the Shelf might be a good idea.

But in terms of inspiring young minds and nurturing the holiday spirit of wonder, the Elf of the Shelf is a winner. The game of hiding the elf is fun, it inspires creativity and maybe even good behavior, if you’re lucky. But we trolled the Internet for good things about the Elf, and  found all kinds of compromising images of…well, this article is G-rated, so let’s just switch to the Polar Express shall we?

The Polar Express is an award-winning children’s book written in 1985 by Chris Van Allsburg. It is the story of a doubting young boy, who embarks on a journey of self-discovery (to the North Pole, of course) and finds that the beauty and wonder of life never fade for those who believe. This message of belief seems somehow preferable to the Big Brother thing.

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Small Business Saturday – Buy Local, Buy Small

Here at Comfort Colors, we are all about the weekend. The clothing we sell is primarily the comfy casual garb of laid-back weekend afternoons. Saturday is one of our top two favorite days of the week. And Small Business Saturday is fast on its way to becoming our favorite out of a month of Saturdays.

Only in its fifth year, Small Business Saturday, even wedged as it is between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, is starting to hold its own. As a small business, we are pretty pleased with the way this wonderful weekend day is shaping up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALet’s take a look at the super holiday shopping sandwich: Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. Friday shopping was plagued by tech problems and massive outages. According to Venturebeat.com, “The top 50 ecommerce websites were slower overall this year compared to last, suggesting customers were frustrated even if they could get to their favorite shopping site.” (http://venturebeat.com/2014/11/30/black-friday-2014-e-commerce-desktop-pages-were-20-slower-than-in-2013-mobile-pages-were-57-slower/)

Cyber Monday, the other slice of bread in the sandwich, broke all previous single-day spending records. CBS News reports: “E-commerce sales hit a record $2.68 billion on the first business day following the Thanksgiving Day weekend, up 17 percent from the previous year, according to data from Adobe Systems and confirmed by Forrester Research.” (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cyber-monday-sets-a-record-for-online-sales/) Marketland.com reports online spending was up by as much as 15.7% over last year. (http://marketingland.com/2014-cyber-monday-e-commerce-results-15-9-last-year-email-driving-majority-online-orders-109656)

Now let’s get to the meat in this sandwich. Regarding Small Business Saturday, Forbes writes: “A report from the the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and American Express – the Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey – revealed that 88 million consumers “shopped small” on the day, up 14.9 percent from just a year ago. According to the survey, more than two-thirds of the U.S. population were aware of Small Business Saturday (67%). Additionally, of the U.S. consumers who were aware of Small Business Saturday, a reported $14.3 billion was spent with independent retailers and restaurants on the day – an increase of 2.1 percent from $14 billion in 2013″(http://www.forbes.com/sites/nicoleleinbachreyhle/2014/12/02/small-business-saturday-2014-stood-strong-among-communities-and-small-businesses/)

This is what we like to see. Small Business Saturday stimulates locally-owned shops that create jobs and nurture growth in our communities. For every $100 spent at a national chain store, more than half of that money leaves the community. But for every $100 spent at an independent locally-owned shop, almost three quarters of that money gets reinvested into the community. (source: http://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/op-ed/2014/11/28/small-business-saturday-arizona/70096704/)

“Small businesses are critical to the stability of our local communities and growth of our national economy. We are confident that the broad national support for these businesses will continue well beyond November 29th.” (http://www.forbes.com)

And national awareness is growing! American Express, the originator of Small Business Saturday and leader in the Shop Small movement, offers some pretty great tips for helping your small business jump on this small-is-beautiful band wagon. You can read them here and start to make plans for your own local impact in the future.

 

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Charitable Giving – What is the Best Way to Do It?

Every year right around the commencement of the holiday season we take a look at charitable giving. Inspired by our founder Barry T. Chouinard, a very generous role model indeed, we are keen to give. Being a small business, we are particular about how and where we do our charitable giving.

We love to give locally. Giving is often most fulfilling when done in person (this might sound selfish, but it feels great to be able to see the immediate result of one’s good deeds); this is not always possible. Time is a huge factor, especially around the holidays, so many of us give in other ways.

charitable_givingSome of these other ways are not always as easy to track, so we thought we’d take a look at a few of the more popular online hubs for charitable giving: Charity Watch, GiveWell, and Charity Navigator. All have very rigorous criteria in place for identifying and evaluating charities. Each of these organizations has provided considerable support of the needy.

Charity Navigator lets you browse among highly rated charitable organizations by category. Animals, humanities, education, environment, health, human services, international, public benefit, and religion. It lists charitable organizations that are trending right now – from Wounded Warrior Project and Heifer Project International to World Wildlife Fund and Save the Children. There is something for everyone here.

Charity Watch does not have the greatest website, but “Of the approximately six hundred charities currently rated by CharityWatch, only a select number qualify for our listing of Top-Rated charities based on our rigorous analysis.” You can see their Charity Rating Criteria here.

GiveWell also had a grading system and lists only its favorite organizations that received the highest marks.

Unfortunately, each of these charity hubs has also done a considerable amount of mud-slinging at other charitable organizations – which does not seem very charitable at all. But like anything good and like everything published online, more research is warranted. GuideStar.org provides detailed information about every single IRS-registered nonprofit organization here, which might be a good place to start.

But please do not be discouraged from giving, and giving as generously as you can. If you are hesitant about giving online, volunteer! Genxfinance.com gives us this on the benefits regular volunteering:

You’ll find the consistent presence of a regular service time to be a calming, stabilizing force in your life, and you’ll find yourself looking forward to seeing those individuals that you work with. Volunteering your time can heighten your levels of satisfaction, and you can be proud of the effort you put into giving back to your community. Service opportunities may also be a great way to connect with friends and family members, as you can all go volunteer at an organization together — which maximizes your satisfaction and, more importantly, your impact. (http://genxfinance.com/giving-to-charity-time-vs-money/)

This holiday season, when it comes to charitable giving we encourage you to follow your passions, do a little bit of research, make a commitment, and share the love! That is what the holiday spirit is all about.

 

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