Annual Day of Giving: Nonprofit Love

Image from Big Day of Giving

Image from Big Day of Giving

Since I got introduced to several local nonprofits while interning at a local paper in 2011, they have always held a special place in my heart. It was my time at Vox Sacramento that motivated me to organize a fundraiser for them and blog for them when I could. I loved that I could embrace my love of writing and get involved with my community at the same time.

Of course, my life got kind of crazy in 2012 when I had Cecilia and everything else was placed on hold for a while. Now that she’s nearing two, I’m getting back into the community because it’s something I’m going to encourage when she’s old enough. It makes me equally happy and proud that Sacramento is home to so many different art, education, health and community improvement organizations.

I know how the dedication these volunteers have for their organization/charity and I know that it’s incredibly rare that they are financially compensated for all the work they do. But that’s not why they do it, they do it because there is something pushing them each and every day to give back to their community and help where they can.

The annual BIG Day of Giving is a 24 hour event that takes place from 12 am – 11:59 pm on May 6, where nonprofits can raise an unrestricted amount of money for their organization. Halfway into it, and Sacramento has already raised over a million dollars for various local organizations. Amazing!

I like to do my part by sharing nonprofits that are both local and afar that are shaping an amazing community. You can visit BIG Day of Giving to make your donation for a specific charity, or you can pick from categories like “Arts & Culture,” “Community Improvement” and “Education.”

Here are some nonprofits that make me smile:

Image from 916 INK

Image from 916 INK

Founded in 2011, 916 INK is run by volunteers that get the youth in Sacramento more involved in the literary arts. They hold readings featuring work by children, encourage grade school students to make comics (which appeared at the Sacramento Free Comic Book Day) and also work with Plaid Zebra Films to make short films of the young authors. Pretty awesome work, eh? You can find out more about them by visiting Giving Edge and you can donate to them directly on Big Day of Giving. Check out all the stuff they do and get updates on Facebook.

Image from California Food Literacy Center

Image from California Food Literacy Center

Also founded in 2011, the volunteers at California Food Literacy Center educate the community about food and making smarter food choices that will lead to a sustainable life. They teach classes, partner with other awesome organizations like Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services and Soil Born Farms, and organize events such as the Sacramento Food Film Festival.  Donate to them directly on BIG Day of Giving and connect with them on Facebook.

Image from The GreenHouse

Image from The GreenHouse

Founded in 2002, The GreenHouse volunteers focus on the emotional, spiritual, intellectual and physical development of under-resourced youth and their families in North Sacramento. They encourage active involvement in the community and participate in neighborhood beautification projects. They just renovated their Clubhouse (for which they are holding a Grand Opening on June 13th) and they are hosting Kids at Heart – Community Awards Auction & Dinner – on Saturday, May 31. Donate to them directly on BIG Day of Giving and see more of what they do on Facebook.

Have a favorite Nonprofit you would like to share? Post in the comments and connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google +  and Pinterest!

Yo Momma Monday: Ashley Weeks Cart

yo momma monday

Meet Ashley Weeks Cart, 30, from Southwestern Vermont. She runs Cartwheel Farm with her husband James, and she is mama to two beautiful girls (Addison (Sunny) who will be turning five next month, and Courtland (Kaki) who is two and a half), a super mutt they call Hanna Banana, a puppy named Gladden, a potbelly pig named Penelope (“Penny” for short), a flock of five hens – Bunty, Edwina, Dora, Nemo and Ginger and an angel dog – their beloved three legged dog, Ursa Bear, who lost her life to cancer.

Before Ashley and James were introduced to the world of parenting and farming, they lived in Los Angeles and Ashley attended USC, where she received her MA in Curatorial Practices in the Public Sphere. She also ran a reusable bag business with her sister at the time.

Photo taken by Ashley Weeks Cart

Photo taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the photo for the link.

After Sunny was born, Ashley and James returned to the East Coast to be closer to their families. Both attended College in the Berkshires, so they moved back to Williamstown, MA for the first two years, and that is when they decided that they wanted the rural life. So they bought a farm across the border in the Green Mountain State.

“James’ family had a farm growing up, and we really loved the idea of our daughters learning about where their food comes from and the responsibility and care that comes from owning farm animals and tending a vegetable garden. That was all possible with this little property.”

Photo by Theron Humphrey. Click on the picture for the link.

Taken by Theron Humphrey. Click the photo for the link.

Both Ashley and James are photographers and Ashley does freelance work on the side. Her introduction to photography began when she was just a kid, and would spend hours tooling away with her dad’s Nikon SLR. All of that playing and shooting paid off, because now she connects with her readers through her photography on her blog.

” I have albums of black and white photos of our pets and house growing up that I shot with that camera from back in 70s. It was totally a hobby, but it brought a lot of joy. It wasn’t until after college that I got back in to photography. I was working at another small liberal arts college that allowed me to take one course a semester.

Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the picture for the link.

Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the photo for the link.

I took a film photography class, and loved hiding out in the dark room and relearning how to really use a camera. When we moved to California we invested in our first digital SLR, and after our oldest daughter was born, James and I really began to want to better master our camera as we were amassing a slew of baby photos.

When we moved back east, I developed a great relationship with a local professional photographer and she really helped me take my work to the next level. I try to pick up my camera and shoot every single day. I learn something every time I do. Practice practice practice is the best advice I can give. That, and shoot in manual mode. Just do it. Your photos will be world’s better once you get a hang of it.”

Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the picture for the link

Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the photo for the link

Ashley started her blog Blog a la Cart when she was still living in LA and was the first of her group to have any children. With James working all day, she felt alone and overwhelmed, and she needed a creative outlet that would get her thinking about more than changing diapers and feedings.

“Honestly, I write about whatever inspires me at the moment – there is no real rhyme or reason to my blog content – that space is ultimately an outlet for me, so I write about and share what is most impacting me at the time. Sometimes is as simple as a room makeover, other times it’s more serious feminist issues that I’m struggling with as a parent/mom.

Taken by James Cart. Click the photo for the link.

Taken by James Cart. Click the photo for the link.

I try not to be influenced or alter my point of view to please anyone but myself since that space was born very much out of a need to better support myself. I love that people share in that space, but it’s ultimately about being true to my voice and story.”

Since Ashley has a full-time job, her photography and blog are both done on the side. They are  creative outlets for her, and while she admits it can be tough balancing family, work, the farm and her creative business, she loves what she creates and is grateful to have both there to supplement their lives.

Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the photo for the link.

Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the photo for the link.

“I have a truly amazing partner. I would not be able to do all I do without him in the mix, providing the balance and support that I need. He is the girls’ primary caregiver, and does the lion’s share of the cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping etc. This enables me to work a day job full time, and then come home and spend time with my girls and have meaningful family time, before spending my evenings editing photos for clients or writing content for the blog.

There is no way I would be able to keep everything in balance without James helping carry the weight. I think people don’t consider enough how their choice of life partner will be one of the biggest, most impactful decisions of their entire lives. People want the pretty wedding and storybook romance, but don’t often consider the long term weight of that decision. I feel very lucky to have been able to grow into adulthood with James by my side (we met at his 20th birthday party in college) – we’ve been able to make some huge decisions and changes together and we really compliment and balance each others strengths and weaknesses.”

Penelope. Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the image for the link

Penelope. Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the photo for the link

Of all the things her girls have already learned on the farm, she hopes that they will always have a respect for their food and the cycle of life. Both have already experienced the loss of a family pet they cherished and loved and they know where the food on their table comes from.

“We don’t shelter them from this, and they have a very thoughtful and honest perspective on death and life (for their age). I love that they understand that our Thanksgiving turkey comes from a turkey farm and must be killed before we can eat it for dinner. It’s not just some plastic wrapped lump from the grocery aisle.

Taken by Theron Humphrey. Click the image for the link.

Taken by Theron Humphrey. Click the photo for the link.

They know the sweetness and joy of picking blueberries right off the bush. They understand that maple syrup comes from the veins of a maple tree as they themselves have collected the sap and watched it boil down into that sugary delicacy. They’ve hand turned apples to cider. They’ve weeded and sweat and and pulled fresh carrots from the ground. There is something so simple and yet so very important from these lessons that we get to make a part of their everyday.”

Ashley’s best advice for working parents (whether it’s in or outside of the home) is to carve out time for yourself. She likes going to the gym or for a run or a walk once a day. It’s not only good for her physical health, but it’s good for her mental and emotional health as well. She also loves crafting, and shares many tutorials on her blog.

Turning apples into cider. Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the image for the link.

Turning apples into cider. Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the photo for the link.

“I have trouble sitting still, so I build in crafts and projects to any free time I may have on a weekend or evening. I love working with my hands, and it’s fun to be able to involve my children in the projects when possible.

Mostly, I would be happy to spend my days knitting and listening to audiobooks – but it’s good to mix it up. I learned to quilt last year, and that is a dangerously wonderful, time-consuming hobby. I hope to be able to do more of it when my children are older – as it also demands a lot of stuff and space (iron, cutting table, sewing machine, etc.) whereas knitting I can keep in my handbag for a down moment waiting at the doctor’s office or pharmacy, etc.”

Photo by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the photo for the link.

Photo by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the photo for the link.

In the future, Ashley hopes to expand her photography portfolio and hopes to capture more maternity and childbirth moments. She wants to master tomato growing, to include alpacas or other fiber animals in their farm family so she can spin her own wool and she wants to bake a truly authentic loaf of French bread. Her favorite thing about everything she does is the impact it makes on other people.

“My favorite moments happen when a reader emails me to say that something I’ve written or shared has touched them in some way, either by making them feel not so alone, or validating their feelings, or even getting them to think about something in an entirely new way. Those emails send me over the moon.They bring me so much happiness.

Sugar. Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the image for the link

Sugar. Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the photo for the link

And with the photography, I love getting feedback that I’ve captured a client or their family in a way that really represents them. Getting positive feedback on my work keeps me motivated and makes me feel like I am making a difference (however small) in my community.”

And as for the impact she has felt from her children, and life on the farm:

Picking strawberries. Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the image for the link.

Picking strawberries. Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the photo for the link.

“There are SO many ways that motherhood has changed me, mostly it has given me deep respect for my own mother and the  mothers around me as I am so acutely, personally aware of the challenges, joys, heartbreak, and perspective that motherhood brings. It’s humbling and inspiring and I am so very grateful everyday that I get to call myself a mother to my little girls. It’s the hardest thing I’ll ever do, yet I am eternally grateful that I get to have this kind of experience and perspective and love in my life.

And the farm has connected me to life beyond my family in really meaningful ways. From the flowers to our vegetable gardens to our chickens, I am tuned in to the life cycles and seasons of life on the farm. I recently read “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver (everyone should read it!) and it has really inspired me and further enforced in me why James and I made the choice to buy this home and raise our girls this way, connected to their food and this place.”

Painting by Rebekka Seale. Click the image for the link.

Painting by Rebekka Seale. Click the image for the link.

You can read Ashley’s blog Blog A La Cart to find out more about raising a family on a farm, and you can also view her portfolio there. And check out her video about life on the farm! If you want to hire Ashley to take your photos, you can e-mail her and you can connect with her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

If you are an awesome mama or you know one and would like to be featured in this series, don’t be shy! Leave me a comment, e-mail me and connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google + and Pinterest.

Meet the Maker: Jess Van Den from Epheriell

meet the maker

Photo from Jess Van Den

Photo from Jess Van Den

Meet Jess Van Den, 32, from Sunshine Coast Hinterland, Queensland, Australia, who runs her own handmade jewelry line, Epheriell, and also founded Create & Thrive, an excellent resource for creative business owners. Create & Thrive has become a huge part of my research and reading for both my blog and my creative business projects I’m working on, and I’m so privileged to share her story with you.

Jess has not only one Bachelors degree, but three of them – in Science, Arts and Education. Before she decided to turn her love of jewelry making into a full-time career, she worked as a traveling Science communicator for the Queensland Museum and her last position was a Manager at a Math and English tutoring center for two years.

She got into making jewelry in 2008 and started out buying components at Spotlight (the Michaels of Australia) and stringing pieces together.

“I didn’t really have any skills, but I slowly learnt more and more – and after taking a weekend silversmithing class, my course was set!”

At first, Jess was simply selling jewelry because she had so much of it scattered around and thought “maybe I can sell some.”  Her decision to make it a career was accidental, and might just be one of the best stories I’ve heard to date. She and her husband got married in 2009 and wanted to travel around Australia in a camper for a year.

“We converted an empty courier van into a camper over summer, but I had a huge saga of dental problems at the same time that prevented us from leaving. I had no job, so I just threw myself into the biz… and, well, the rest is history as they say. We never did get to go on that trip… but we will, one day!

Beautiful earrings from the Earring of the Month club. Photo from Jess Van Den

Beautiful earrings from the Earring of the Month club. Photo from Jess Van Den

Her decision to name her jewelry line Epheriell was easy and simple, as it was an online alias she used for many years. She says it’s the mash-up of “ephemeral” and “ethereal,” meaning “lasting for a very short time” and “extremely delicate and light in a way that seems too perfect for this world,” respectively.

A “greenie” from the way back, Jess ran a now-defunct blog called Sustainable Suburbia before starting her jewelry line, so its only natural (no pun intended) that she is dedicated to finding recycled sources for her jewelry. She struggled to find sources at first, but finally found a 100% recycled silver.

“I was keen to find a recycled source. All my sheet and wire is now 100% recycled. I’d love to find a source of recycled sterling silver chain, too, but that hasn’t happened yet.”

Photo from Jess Van Den

Photo from Jess Van Den

Like many small business owners, Jess loves the freedom that comes with running her own business, but does admit that she does panic a little when business slows down a little, which fortunately does not happen to her too much anymore.

“Enough years have taught me that things always pick up again!”

After running her jewelry business for a few years, Jess decided to start Create & Thrive as a source of practical advice from people who thrived (again, no pun) in their handmade businesses. She wanted to get writers that were a part of the handmade business community and she will actually be welcoming six new writers in 2014!

Photo from Jess Van Den

Photo from Jess Van Den

“There is a lot of advice and info out there written by coaches, consultants, and marketers… but not so much written by people actually walking the talk of running a handmade business day-to-day.”

Jess and her husband, Nick, work in two rooms in a converted barn (she really is a greenie!) and her studio takes up the wall of one room. She has a desk with her computer and another desk for all of her jewelry work. She also has a soldering and buffing station outside.

She recently took a digitial sabbatical for a few days, which she credits for improving her workflow and she wrote about all the changes she is making here. She says that her routines, calendars and schedules ensure that she stays on top of everything, and even though it may not all go smoothly, she is usually able to get everything done.

Yup, that's an old barn. Crazy, eh? Photo from Jess Van Den. Credit: Paul Harris

Yup, that’s an old barn. Crazy, eh? Photo from Jess Van Den. Credit: Paul Harris

“I also have a fabulous Assistant Editor for C&T – Megan Eckman – and I don’t know what I’d do without her.”

Jess names jewelry designer Megan Auman and Business Strategist and writer Tara Gentile among her many mentors, but she can’t pinpoint where her inspiration comes from. She says that sometimes an idea will pop up fully formed in her head.

“Other times I’ll sit down with my sketchbook and deliberately doodle until I come up with something I want to turn into reality. My morning walk is always a good idea-generator, too.”

When Jess is not busy creating beautiful jewelry and motivating small business owners with Create & Thrive, she loves to read and is currently on her third Kindle. She’s mostly drawn to the indie fantasy/paranormal romance genre and science fiction, her first love. An amateur triathlete, she also runs, swims or cycles almost every day.

Her new bike! Photo from Jess Van Den

Her new bike! Photo from Jess Van Den

Photo from Jess Van Den

Photo from Jess Van Den

She and Nick also love going hiking, and traveled through all of the National Parks down the US West Coast this year. They have traveled all over the world, and Jess takes a little something from each place she has visited.

“There have been so many amazing places – each one with something unique. I loved snorkeling off the islands in Fiji; taking a helicopter ride over the Great Barrier Reef at sunset; walking the streets of Paris and New York; hiking amongst the Redwoods in California; swimming in Crater Lake in Oregon; playing in the snow in Whistler, Canada… and the list could go on. The world is endlessly beautiful and I only wish I could see all of it before I die.”

Jess says that anyone who hopes to venture into the world of silversmithing should simply “just start playing.” She recommends taking an in-person course (something you might be able to find on Skillshare) and she also recommends checking out Flourish & Thrive for the business aspect, as she says they are focused on helping jewelers grow their businesses.

Nested Necklace. Photo from Jess Van Den

Nested Necklace. Photo from Jess Van Den

Looking into the future, Jess hopes to grow Create & Thrive and to reach more people with the same mindset she has now – to give them practical information and advice to make their handmade businesses a success. When asked what she liked the most about the handmade community, she said “the warmth and support.”

“People are part of our community because they have a passion for what they do, which I love.”

She wants people to realize that they don’t have to stick with the same day job day in and day out, if it’s not something they love and enjoy doing.

If they have a passion or an idea that they want to turn into a business, they owe it to themselves to give it a red-hot go. After all, what’s the worst that can happen? You fail and keep doing that job. But if you make it work, you get the satisfaction of waking up every day knowing you’re doing something you love, following your own path. No-one’s going to do it for you – it’s up to you. If you want it, go for it!”

Entwined Oxidised Urban Eco Earrings. Photo from Jess Van Den

Entwined Oxidised Urban Eco Earrings. Photo from Jess Van Den

Find about more about Jess and her beautiful jewelry by visiting her at both Epheriell and Create & Thrive. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. My Meet the Maker series appears every other Wednesday and you can find out more about these lovelies by visiting me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. I would love to keep this going as long as I can, so if you know of anyone who would be a good fit, let me know!