20 books and 20 lbs (week 19): EHRMAGERD

I was really hoping that giving myself a challenge like this – losing 20lbs and reading 20 books in one year – would somehow force me into the discipline of posting weekly about my progress. AND THEN I HIT A WALL SHAPED LIKE SALMAN RUSHDIE.

Holy cow.

This. Book. Is. Slow.

I’m speaking of course, of “Midnight’s Children”, Rushdie’s 1981 novel about the life and times of some of the children born simultaneous with the creation of India as an independent state. I had originally reached for “The Satanic Verses” (which I’d bought when it first came out and almost immediately put down because I had trouble getting into it). DH deflected me to “Midnight’s Children” because he’d heard it was an easier read than “Verses” and he had enjoyed “Midnight’s Children” when he read it. He failed to mention that it was on his SECOND attempt to read it that it stuck. Sigh.

I’m finally past the 2/3 mark in the roughly 500pg novel, so I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Expect that this will not be a positive mark in my review, when I finally FINISH THIS BOOK and can move onto book #5 for the year. (Which I really need to do, lest I just bonk on this part of the challenge.)

As far as the attempts to lose weight go, I’ve spent the last few weeks trading up/down 1-2lbs…or sometimes even just a few oz. I haven’t done anything dramatic to my diet, and trying to get more walking time in to train for my Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk in September has been only semi-successful. Work commitments for me and/or DH have done a good job of derailing a lot of our best shots at training time.

We’re now 1/3 of the way through the year and I’ve dropped a little more than 1/3 of my goal – I’m down about 7lbs right now. Of course, I still feel like I’ve plateaued, so I have to do more there.

The one area where things really have been coming together nicely is with my #plankaday. As of yesterday, I had 3 consecutive weeks of #plankaday for at least 2min! I consider that a nice victory, although the next step beyond this is to aim for 2:30. Ouch. I can feel the ab burn even before I get down to my forearms!

So, in summation, life has been busy, but when I’m not at work or doing stuff with the family, I’m hip-deep slogging through “Midnight’s Children”. I will finish this book soon (before it finishes ME), and then I’ll grab book #5. With any luck, I’ll even manage to drop another pound or two and find my way off this plateau (in a positive direction, of course!).

The marathon before the marathon

Today I managed to reach – and then beat! – my stretch goal for fundraising in support of my marathon walk. I can’t really describe the feeling I got when I realized that I had raised more money than I’d ever raised in one event…and I’m still rather astonished.

The event, for those who didn’t follow my walk last year, is the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk, a fundraiser for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI). DFCI is monumentally instrumental in researching and treating cancer, especially cancers that afflict children. When I saw the ads for the walk last year and decided (only 8 week prior to the event!) that I would try to walk 26.2 miles, I felt like I was probably getting myself way in over my head. But as I walked past each mile marker with the picture, name and bio of some sweet child who was in the fight of their life, I knew I was there to make a difference.

2011 Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk Finish Line

The view coming into the finish line in Copley Square, September 2011…ahhh!!!


I chose the marathon walk because I knew I’d never be able to RUN a Boston Marathon, but I figured I could walk it. And it wasn’t without pain (oh my, there was pain), but there was the angel with the ibuprofen at the lunch tent and there was the knowledge that there were people doing the full marathon walk with braces, canes, etc., and…ALL MY EXCUSES ARE INVALID.

The entry point for this year’s walk was $300 – you had to put down a credit card and if you raise less than $300 by the time they do the final tallying post-walk, the difference is charged to your credit card. Last year, getting to $300 was pretty easy, and I have enough experience raising money for Races for the Cure that it never occurred to me to be worried about raising so small an amount. Even in a recession, people are generous about giving even small amounts (and sometimes large!) when it comes to cancer and kids. Plus, given how DONE I am with the Komen folks, this is now the charity that I will target for all my personal fundraising efforts. Narrowing things down to one event per year is good, narrowing it down to one I can trust is even better.

This year, I wanted to go big and make “Pacesetter”. The Pacesetter designation is for walkers who raise a minimum of $1250, and there are varying degrees of Pacesetter, based on how much you raise (one star is $1250, two star is $2500, etc.). I tried to figure out how to handle things, and I knew that fundraising on a grander scale would be needed, so I engaged the Corporate Social Responsibility folks at my office, as well as the walk organizers, and I set up to do some events on-site at work. I had to get everything approved by work, and I had to get the events that would be considered “official” approved by The Jimmy Fund folks, too, so I could borrow a banner and some other materials to show that this was indeed a legit fundraiser.

My coworkers were fab about supporting me – some donated online and others donated through the events that I ran. Some did both. My family kicked in a bunch of money. My friends, solicited through e-mail and Facebook status messages, kicked in more money…and shortly after breakfast this morning, I reached my goal. At this time, I have nearly $1300 in, with another $67 still *somewhere* in the Boston mail system.

I’m tired from all the fundraising, since that seems like it was a huge exertion all on its own, but I have to say that it was a brilliant time and I’m really proud that I was able to bring in so much money for such a worthy cause. I’m still able to take donations, but I’ve deliberately chosen NOT to solicit via my blog because I’d like to keep this space free of appeals for money. If you want to donate, feel free to comment and I’ll get back to you. Otherwise, no worries.

So now I can focus on my neglected training schedule, in order to keep myself from limping my way through the course this year. I finished the first “marathon” for this year’s walk, and now I’m on to the second. Here’s hoping that the actual walk is easier than the process of getting there…

Recovering from Komen-maggedon

It’s been a rough week. Of course, it’s probably been rougher for the folks at the top of the Komen National HQ, but they deserve all they get for having been so monumentally stupid as to make a high-profile change to their grant “eligibility” without having spin doctors at the ready. That’s just Marketing 101, folks.

So, now we have a problem. How do we still donate to breast cancer-related organizations? How do you know who you can trust to be a good steward of your money? They’re tough questions, but the latter – in particular – can be applied to any philanthropy, really, and this is just as good a time as any to be reminded of that.

Having been a regular of the Komen Races for the Cure for 16 years, having raised thousands of dollars for Komen (mostly for DC, but some in Massachusetts), and having encouraged friends to donate their money or their time to the cause, this whole s**tstorm puts me in a bind. So, I’ve had to re-evaluate things. Thankfully, an interview last night on WGBH with the Executive Director of the MA Komen affiliate triggered my memory and that cleared my head A LOT on the subject.

What she explained is that the affiliates – the regional arms of the Komen organization – are licensees of the Komen name, but they’re locally operated and they give locally. When you do a local RFTC in, say, Massachusetts, your fundraising efforts go to the MA Komen. That means that 75% of what you raise stays in YOUR neighborhood/area. (I knew this but was conveniently forgetting it, because I do the Global/National one most frequently, and the sheer size of it throws me off sometimes.) The other 25% goes back to National to fund research and other grants.

WHAT THIS MEANS: if you want to give local, one option is to do the local RFTC or donate to the local Komen. Some of your money will go back to the National organization. The local Komen affiliate SHOULD have a list of who receives grants from them. For example, the MA Komen was extremely forthcoming in putting out their list of grant recipients. If your local Komen doesn’t have that list, don’t be shy about asking…if you still want to.

But what if you’re just ready to burn your pink ribbons and don’t want to deal with Komen? That’s okay, too. Again, I shall refer you to the aforementioned list of grant recipients. You can always donate directly to them, bypassing the middle-man and getting your funds to exactly the organization you want to benefit. This is one of the reasons I always duck-and-cover, if not belly crawl, away from United Way fundraisers – I’d much rather give directly to the organization I want to fund than a larger organization whose overhead costs I question.

As someone who frequently gives to charities and who does typically 2-4 fundraisers a year (some of which are in-kind donations, like food drives), I always encourage people to know who they’re giving to and who will benefit. If you can’t get the answers that satisfy you and actually ANSWER your questions, move along. There are plenty of other organizations that are very transparent and forthcoming because they know that’s more likely to get them donations than if they just do a bunch of handwaves and tell you not to worry about how they’ll spend your hard-earned cash.

Another way to make sure that you’re an informed donor is to check out what others say about a charity you’re considering donating to. Charity Navigator is fantastic for that; it has objective ratings of charities based on their overhead costs, how transparent they are, etc. It also allows for people to post their feedback on interactions with the charities – good, bad and indifferent.

I’ll leave you on this one last note: not all Komens are bad. National has its issues (perhaps a newsstand full of them), because they’ve changed their mission and don’t know exactly how to express that without stepping on more landmines. I still think that National has lost its way and the only way I’d want them involved in things related to my uterus is if they suddenly expand the organization’s mission to include uterine cancer. Otherwise, they have no business getting involved in politics related to abortion. Period. That said, the local Komen affiliates have minds of their own and many of them (including the MA one) were fighting behind the scenes to get National to reverse course on the “new eligibility” requirements that suddenly cut out Planned Parenthood’s grants. Please do consider donating locally – whether to the local Komen affiliate, the local Planned Parenthood clinic, or some other worthy organization.

No matter what, please don’t get the impression that the breast cancer riddle has been solved or that there’s only one way to donate to help those in need; it’s just not the case. We still have plenty of work to do, and there’s no requirement that anybody put their money into an organization they don’t trust to be good stewards with those funds. So choose wisely, but please continue to choose. Many people still need help, and it would be a shame if people were turned off giving to a fight that’s not over yet…