Tag Archives: kayak

Secrets from the highest-grossing Cookies for Kids’ Cancer bake sale

On September 11, 2010, Richmond, Va., was host to the highest-grossing bake sale in the two-year history of Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. I was proud to have had a hand in the event and recently was asked to write a recap of what made it so successful. Here’s what I sent the nonprofit:

The Japanese have a form of martial arts called “Aikido.” It focuses not on punching or kicking your opponents, but rather on using your opponents’ own energy to gain control of them or throw them away from you.

Our sale wasn't slick. We were all about hand-painted signs and banners.

Anyone who has ever faced pediatric cancer will tell you that – despite being an abhorrent coward – it’s a powerful opponent. Medical professionals use surgeries and toxic treatments to fight it. Friends and families use hope, love and prayer (among other things).

But imagine if we could redirect cancer’s own rage and power right back at it? This, I realized recently, is exactly what Cookies for Kids’ Cancer does.

On August 22, 2010, Cookies for Kids’ Cancer Founder Gretchen Holt Witt posted this status update to her Facebook page:  “It wasn’t good news. It was awful news. We start high-dose chemo on Monday morning. My heart is literally shattering into a million pieces. But I’ll pick myself up and go at it again. Liam needs me. He needs all of us. Pray for him and hold a bake sale.

Those words were read 300 miles away in Richmond, Va. And just 20 days later – in direct response to cancer’s attack – a handful of bake sale coordinators, a dozen “team captains” and hundreds of moms, dads, caring souls, big-hearted businesses, kids, scouts and students raised more than $34,000 to fund pediatric cancer research. Every dollar earned was matched by a grant from “Glad to Give™.”

Our best bake sale tip: Tell a story
The single biggest takeaway from our successful Richmond bake sale is: Tell a story. Think of it as practicing Aikido. Speak and write powerful words about the sickening blows that pediatric cancer intends for the most vulnerable among us, and then just stand back and watch as the world rises up and redirects that force and fury right back at cancer.

Our children – with aprons around their necks and signs in their hands – earned more money than grown-ups ever could.

Here are some other things that contributed to our team’s success:

Act quickly. Gretchen’s heart-breaking plea gave us a sense of urgency, and our fresh emotions translated to dollars. If something compels you to raise money for Cookies for Kids’ Cancer (a diagnosis, a surgery, a relapse), act swiftly and you will be rewarded for it. Set your bake sale date just weeks, not months, away. Don’t give volunteers or donors much time to ponder their participation. Just share the story, then say, “I really need your help in two weeks.”

Ask and you shall receive. There is something about pediatric cancer that is so, so wrong. Speak the words “kids’ cancer,” and people will do almost anything you ask.

We asked for an anchor location and the Carytown Merchants Association gave us a mile-long shopping district and merchants that donated a percentage of their sales. We pleaded for bakers and Gretchen’s former employer – CRT/tanaka – volunteered its staff for a 12-hour baking blitz. We asked for industrial ovens and got the Mixing Bowl Pastry Shop. We asked for cookies and got 6,000 frozen cookie pucks from Jacqueline’s Gourmet Cookies.

We asked for anything and everything – public service announcements, cardboard boxes, big photos of affected families, gift bags, donation jars, rolls of kraft paper and mistint paint for banners. When it was apparent that our sale was going to be big, Amber van der Meer (mother of Richmond warrior Ber van der Meer) simply told her “Caring Bridge” subscribers that we needed another corporate sponsor. The next day, Qdoba Mexican Grill donated a thousand entrée coupons (a $6 value; we sold them for $3 a pop). If you have any need, simply tell your story, flash the Cookies for Kids’ Cancer logo, and ask

Use what you’ve got. We had a talented media relations professional, so news of our city-wide bake sale was on all three network news shows, local newspapers, blogs and a popular radio station. (See links below to listen/watch.)

WINN Transportation donated the first-ever Cookies for Kids’ Cancer Mobile Bake Sale Trolley

A family connection to WINN Transportation earned us the first-ever Cookies for Kids’ Cancer Mobile Bake Sale Trolley that conducted business-day visits to some of Richmond’s most generous companies as well as a popular, outdoor lunchtime plaza. A vacant restaurant turned into the first-ever Cookies for Kids’ Cancer Drive Thru. Girl Scout volunteers helped us score two grocery store locations that otherwise wouldn’t have allowed solicitors! And our children – with aprons around their necks and signs in their hands – earned more money than grown-ups ever could.

Call on every kind-hearted, hard-working person you know!

Recruit what you need. Look holistically at all the skill sets you need. A major event needs: sales people (able to secure locations and make big asks), team captains (to recruit volunteers and staff a single bake sale location), a publicity person and/or spokesperson, people with corporate connections, a professional baker, a financial person (to tally dollars), and a local family or two willing to be the courageous face of pediatric cancer in photos at every sale location.

Use social media and technology. We used Facebook and e-mail to plead for team captains, volunteers and bakers. An online “First Giving” account made it easy for friends to contribute to our specific from afar. A Facebook post simply wishing for a single donation in the memory of a former classmate, Scott Newhouse (who died of cancer at age 12 back in the 1980s), generated hundreds of dollars in long-distance pledges from Scott’s former classmates, warming the hearts of his mother and brother. Facebook posts on the walls of contributors thanked them for being a “good cookie” and included a link to the First Giving page.

Got trolley?

A coordinator’s blog told the story behind the event and everybody involved found a way to link to it and to the blogs and journals of families fighting cancer. A Facebook event page was created and featured excitement-generating updates (new locations, new donations) and hundreds were invited to “attend.” A week before the event, a Flip camera was used to create a music video of several families painting dozens of banners and handheld signs in preparation for the big day. The closing message said simply, “September 11th for Gretchen and Liam the Brave.” The video captured the spirit of our sale and the event preview was watched by hundreds on Facebook and YouTube. Our media genius used Twitter to tweet about our latest news or needs.
Keep it simple. Cookies for Kids’ Cancer can be a lemonade stand, a bike-a-thon or a pub crawl. It can be whatever you have the passion to make it. The magic of our Richmond bake sale was its simplicity. We might have had a media machine behind us and a trolley with professional banners, but we were anything but slick. Cookies for Kids’ Cancer allows for local creativity and local customization. Our volunteers felt that. Our sale was about cardboard signs and hand-painted banners. It was about teams of moms running up to cars at stoplights with baskets of cookies, and about kids in smudged aprons spontaneously setting up new, little sales locations on their own and glowing at the results. After just a few hours, our bake sale tables had the look of a favorite stuffed animal.
A million amazing moments
The Richmond sale was unbelievably inspirational for everyone involved. (Watch the video of sales held in Carytown.) Several mothers approached our team captains asking, “How can my family get involved in something like this?” One woman bought a pile of cookies. After listening to our sales pitch on the need for better treatments she said, with tears in her eyes, “I know… I’m a nurse in a pediatric cancer ward.”

Two young harp players randomly set up across the street from this sale to busk for cash. Later a rainbow appeared despite a lack of rain. At the end of the heavenly day, we learned we'd surpassed our goal & sobbed with gratitude at the generosity we'd seen.

A young college student expressed her delight at our cause, explaining that she was a pediatric cancer survivor. A Hispanic man on a bicycle gazed at an image of Ber van der Meer in the hospital and handed over a crumpled bill. When a volunteer encouraged him to take a bag of cookies, he shook his head and said, in broken English, “I just want to help.” As he rode away, she unfolded the bill and discovered it was a twenty. Her Facebook status at the end of that day said what we all felt: “What I know for sure: more people are generous than not.”

 Relevant links: 



Georgetown via the C&O Canal

Any parent knows that a “Year of Wellness” ought to include a night away from the kids. Todd and I got that last week, and we made the most of it with our new touring kayaks.     

Lockhouse 6
Todd found the perfect place to stay: Lockhouse 6 on the historic C&O Canal. Less than two hours from Richmond, Va., the lockhouse is precisely what we’d sought. After discovering it online, Todd burst into my home office in such a way that I was sure some Lady Diana car crash thing had happened. (“Is your computer on?!”) It took me at least 20 seconds to realize that no catastrophic world event had occurred. (“It’s on the canal! On the canal!”)    

Lockhouse 6 on the C&O Canal

Built in 1829, the restored lockhouse has witnessed the travels of millions. That fact is made abundantly clear by the fabulous photographs, gallery, scrapbooks and library inside. I’ll tell you what: some volunteer out there loves Lockhouse 6. And their passion for its historical significance is infectious.     

The canal was mucky with algae at Lock 6, so we put in at Lock 5, just down the way.     

Off we went, in the direction of Georgetown. We’d hoped to paddle to Georgetown for dinner, but were advised by former Olympic kayaker (who helps to oversee Lockhouse 6) that it was probably too long a paddle. On his recommendation, we headed for Fletcher’s Boathouse.     

The canal is lovely, but initially there seemed a lot of noise pollution from the adjacent Clara Barton Parkway and screaming jets above, tracing the Potomac into D.C. The din was less noticable, however, after encountering four noble blue herons with speckled breast feathers that, up close, resembled a chieftain’s regalia.     

We reached Fletcher’s after about 45 minutes of easy paddling. From the maps we’d seen, we knew that the boathouse was about halfway to Georgetown.     

So… should we grab a snack at Fletcher’s, paddle back and then drive to Georgetown for dinner? Or should we exceed the expectations of an Olympian and go for bust – paddling to dinner in Georgetown?     

 Georgetown it was.     

Locking up in the heart of Georgetown

Paddling to dinner
We spied steeples as we approached the city and wondered how many people on the historic canal had identified Georgetown’s skyline that very way.     

After being photographed by half a dozen surprised pedestrians, we reached Lock 4, in the heart of Georgetown. Todd locked up the kayaks, as you would a bicycle.    

Minutes later, we emerged onto M Street – Todd in cut-offs, I in my workout clothes clutching a half-eaten quart of blueberries and a life vest. Not exactly what you wear to split the vegetarian sampler at Zed’s Ethiopian Cuisine. Damn…    

So we went someplace else that I can’t mention because my new dietitian knows about this blog.  (We had lunch at Zed’s the next day.) 

Over dinner we concurred that paddling into Georgetown for dinner is exponentially better than driving in.    

After perusing an art gallery, we raced the sunset “home,” paddling those 4½ miles like mad and stopping only to stare down an urban doe.   

Setting out from Lock 5

As always, if you enjoy this, please subscribe (top right).


It’s Official!

 It was confirmed yesterday that there are ants in my minivan.

 Also, I received notification that I’m the official winner of the “Life… supplemented $10,000 Year of Wellness Video Contest.”

 Oh. Thank. God.

 …since I already spent the money, told everyone I knew and started this blog about winning.

Will the kayak/prize money arrive before the credit card bill?

 Take the “Confirmation Reaction Quiz.”  To celebrate, I invite you, dear 24 subscribers (and the 16 of you who were mysteriously referred to this blog yesterday by the “Obama Scandal Exposed” website), to live vicariously through me by taking the “Confirmation Reaction Quiz.”

This quiz is based entirely on information in my confirmation letter and/or gleaned from Google searches using the names of my future dietician and life coach. Imagine the choices you might make given the information in my confirmation letter, then contrast your choices with mine. (Since this blog lacks a quiz “widget,” allow me to clarify that, in all cases, my correct answer was the last.)

 Question #1: When will the $5,000 check arrive?
(a)    In 4-6 weeks
(b)    Before the credit card bill (with the new three kayaks on it) is due
(c)    After the credit card bill (with the three new kayaks on it) is due
(d)    If the answer isn’t (b), who really cares because my family budget is screwed

 Question #2: How much of the $5,000 check does my accountant say I can actually spend?
(a)    Half of it.
(b)    All of it. (Survivor Richard Hatch didn’t pay taxes, so I won’t either.)
(c)    None of it.
(d)    $1,675 of it.

 Question #3: What is the coolest thing I found out about the dietitian who will provide me with eight phone consultations?
(a)    He was the national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association for six years.
(b)    He invented Flintstones vitamins and can arrange for me to get a year’s supply of just Bettys. (OK, that’s not true.)
(c)    He published a book on nutrition and knows Montel Williams. (I swear I did not make that up.)
(d)    He attended The Second City in Chicago.

 Question #5: What did I find most interesting about the life coach who will provide me with six phone consultations?
(a)    She and I used to have the same career.
(b)    She’s Martha Beck, and she can’t wait to tell me, exclusively, why she wears a candy necklace. (Again, not true. But a girl can dream, can’t she?)
(c)    She’s in her thirties, single and without kids – therefore highly qualified to counsel me on how I might have had more fun in my thirties.
(d)    She’s had repeated surgeries for a benign brain tumor. (Here’s the weird thing: my mom died 20 years ago from a benign brain tumor. So maybe there’s some cosmic reason why my life coach is a brain tumor survivor.)

 Question #6: Who should I hire as my personal trainer?
(a)    A trainer at my current gym.
(b)    A pro who can give me affordable lessons in something I’ve always wanted to learn, like tennis.
(c)    Prince Daniel of Sweden. (Wikipedia’s “personal trainer” page lists him as one of seven “notable personal trainers,” and I’ve decided that I must have him.)
(d)    There is no correct answer. I have no idea who to hire. What would you do?  The only criteria are that this that person has to cost approximately as much as a gym trainer, and I get to see him/her weekly for six months. And, obviously, he/she has to be an exercise specialist of some kind. And he/she can’t be located in Sweden. But he/she can be Swedish. And he/she may wear a crown. If he/she chooses to.

 Please provide your personal trainer recommendations in the comments section. And, as always, subscribe (top right) if you enjoy this blog (and understand that it has nothing to do with exposing an Obama scandal).

 DAYS KAYAKED: 4 (including one romantic sunset trip with just my husband)

Christmas in July, Under the Evergreens

“Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” Some people know that as the Scout Law. I know it as my husband. Todd is an Eagle Scout who started working for the Boy Scouts of America two days after he graduated college, more than 20 years ago.  

 There’s really not a word in the Scout Law that doesn’t apply to him. Seriously. (And, for what it’s worth, I’m grateful on a daily basis for my insanely good fortune.) But for the sake of this blog post, allow me to focus on the word “thrifty.”  

 The afternoon after I picked up the kayaks, “the boys” (Todd and our 13-year-old son) arrived at the location of our riverside rendezvous. They burst from Todd’s car to examine the kayaks – still bound to the minivan roof and looking radiant.  

 Having just returned from a week at Scout camp, Todd wasn’t so “clean.” But the guy is always thrifty. That’s why I really can’t describe the joy of watching him step back to behold his new, quality, touring kayak – a Perception Carolina 12, one he never would have purchased for himself – and the Yakima roof rack system that will make transporting all this gear a cinch. This guy lives for this stuff. But he would never justify buying it. Not when his 19-year-old canoe is still serviceable. Not when he can borrow a good roof rack when he needs one. Not when there are college funds to grow.  

 It was so appropriate that Todd unstrapped those kayaks under some towering pine trees, because it might as well have been Christmas for him. That memory, for me, will remain a highlight of winning this contest.  

Christmas under the evergreens

 Within an hour, our entire family was suited up for a two-mile kayak journey on a tidal, flat water creek that feeds Virginia’s James River.  

 Both girls delighted in having boats that, for the first time, allowed them to reach the footpegs and propel their kayaks with greater power. Even our 55-pound hound mix, an avid boater, came along for the inaugural family kayak trip. He was between my legs, in one of our older kayaks that has a gaping cockpit.  

 Todd was the last to launch and as he came gliding up behind us I heard him declare, “Love it! I love it!” I thought he was talking about our whole family being out there in kayaks. To my surprise, he was celebrating having a new, fast, smooth boat that held its line effortlessly.  

 Save your kids from nature-deficit disorder. Care to follow our example and, as Richard Louv says, “save our children from nature-deficit disorder?”  

 Here’s the kayaking gear we have and where we got it:  

  •  Two Old Town Voyagers (11’1” sturdy recreational boats with a large cockpit for easy in and out; these were our first two kayaks, thoughtfully purchased two years ago; they remain terrific boats, if a little heavy)
  • One Perception Carolina 12 (Todd’s new touring boat, 12’ long; being “thrifty,” we snapped up a demo model (gently used at 10 demo shows) and saved more than a hundred bucks)
  • One Perception Tribute 12 (I think of this new boat as “mine”; a touring boat designed for smaller paddlers, light enough for me to carry and the cockpit is lower at the hips for an effortless stroke; our nine year old can reach the footpegs in this one, however, so it’s hers until she grows)
  • One Perception Acadia Scout (designed for kids, this 10’ basic boat has a capacity of 150 pounds; it weighs only 25 lbs. and our girls were launching it and carrying it with ease; a lovely little boat the kids can grow with)
  • Assorted paddles (three Carlisle Day Trippers, one Bending Branches Sunrise and one Bending Branches Splash, a kid’s paddle, for our youngest)
  • Yakima roof system (featuring the Big Stack as well as lock cores so sketchy people don’t take the system off our car in the middle of the night; we live in a city)

 Every bit of this – old and new – was purchased at Appomattox River Company, the largest canoe and kayak specialty store in the country. These folks even sold Todd the 19-year-old canoe I mentioned in our winning wellness video. They have expert staff, great prices (cheaper than the retail prices on the hyperlinks) and they’ll cut you deals if you buy used or demo boats and/or multiple boats.  

 As always, if you enjoy this, please subscribe (top right).  


The Blog Photo Controversy & a Life Coach Advocate

I launched this, my first-ever blog, on Monday. Today’s Friday. Here’s what I’ve learned:

 Wellness blog photos should be chosen carefully. A hip friend who owns a modeling agency complimented me on the photos in my blog (taken last summer when I was having a good day). This pleased me greatly. Another advised that I should post a realistic “before” picture, taken today, to inspire others to become “well” and follow my example. She argued it will be especially persuasive when contrasted with a healthier “after” photo taken in 12 months or so.

 Okay, here’s what I look like right now. I have:

  • a Lands End bathing suit that is shot. (Three years ago, when my favorite (sort of expensive) suit turned up in Lands End Overstocks, I lost my mind and bought four. They were like seven bucks. I figured I’d wear my favorite suit for years …failing to realize that the elastic in older suits starts to go even if you don’t wear them. Incapable of throwing out “new” suits, I persist in wearing them.)
  • a green and yellow polka dot Sierra Mist promotional bandana on my head,
  • scaly, scabby, bleeding poison ivy on both shins,
  • a flabby tummy and poor posture,
  • bruises on my inner thighs from clinging to a West Virginia rope swing that I completely lacked the upper body strength for, and
  • a hot-pink splint on the tip of my index finger for a ligament I hurt painting a shed. (I chose pink since my girls want me to be more feminine.)

 Do you really want to see that? Well, there is no way in hell I’m taking or posting that photo. Maybe, just maybe, after my first consultation with my weekly personal trainer, I’ll share stats that demonstrate I need wellness. Like that body-mass index or whatever number it is that says you’re too fat and lack muscle.

Life Coach Martha Beck

 Life coaches might be legit. The “before” photo friend also stuck up for life coaches, citing Martha Beck. Martha Beck is a life coach?!? That lady who wrote Expecting Adam, a book I loved, about her son with Down Syndrome and how his existence improved her life? That totally smart, together, wise soul is a life coach? I had to find out. So I went to her website and, sure enough, she’s a life coach!

 Therefore, I hereby declare that if Martha Beck is selected to provide my “six life coach consultations via phone” I will gleefully accept them. And happily pay taxes on them.  (But I will ask her why, on her homepage, she wears a necklace seemingly made from a Twizzler, six white gumballs and a Ghirardelli chocolate square. I can only surmise that it’s somehow life changing.)

 Taxes stink. My accountant e-mailed yesterday saying how much of my $5,000 cash will have to be given to Uncle Sam. It’s more than I thought. Which stinks.

 Kayaks bring joy. Today I pick up the three new kayaks we bought with our (anticipated) winnings, and tomorrow we have our first family outing!

 P.S. I don’t really know why I’m even blogging because I’m still not the “official” winner of this contest. But, as always, if this amuses you in any way, please subscribe (top right) because I’m not going to harass friends and family much longer.

Confessions of a Wellness Contest Winner

It hasn’t even been a week since I was notified that I’d been selected as the “potential Grand Prize winner” of the Life… Supplemented $10,000 Year of Wellness Video Contest and already I’m feeling conflicted.


 I have to declare my winnings to the IRS. Sure, I’m getting $5,000 cash. But the total wellness prize package is valued at $10,000, and I’m gonna have to pay taxes on all of that. So, really, it’s like getting $2,500 cash. But, hey, that’s still a wad of cash!

 I couldn’t help myself. I spent the money. If you’ve seen our winning video, you know we said we’d spend our winnings on three more kayaks so the whole family can paddle together. We weren’t kidding. Two days after faxing back a signed winner affidavit, I placed an order for three kayaks (including cockpit covers, paddles and a killer roof rack system to carry it all). The good news? It all came in at under $2,500. The bad news? Um, Life… Supplemented hasn’t even confirmed that I’m the “official” prize winner yet.

 I might actually have to get fit. Within 20 minutes of posting my “I won!” status to Facebook, a good friend offered up this typical comment, “Outstanding!! We won’t recognize you soon…congrats!” You won’t recognize me soon? Why? Oh… crap… are people going to expect that I’m gonna lose my belly fat and get all healthy now? Not that I don’t want to lose my belly fat and get all healthy. I just don’t want people to expect it.

 I’m fearful about the whole “life coach” thing. Winning this contest entitles me to “six life coach consultations via phone.” This scares me. I knew a person in college who became an “executive coach.” After securing my email address, he/she regularly inundated me with annoying promotions, imploring me to buy his/her book RIGHT NOW to boost his/her Amazon rank or to watch his/her 45-minute morning show interview. After becoming a Facebook friend, this “coach” bombarded my News Feed with inane self-promotions. Within a week of becoming friends, he/she created his/her own Facebook fan page and then repeatedly BEGGED all “friends” to become “fans.”  He/she remains the only person I have ever “unfriended.”

 As a result of that harrowing experience, these are my thoughts about the life coach:

  •  Can I just give this life coach to someone else? Someone who needs a life? (No, the prize is not transferrable.)
  • What if, after one consultation, I decide the life coach stinks? Do I have to keep the life coach? Must I really pay taxes on the life coach?
  • What if I blog about how much the life coach stinks and the life coach reads it? Will the life coach’s feelings be hurt? Will the life coach secretly conspire to ruin my life?

 Stay tuned. (And if you like what you’re reading, subscribe (top right button), share this link and/or make it a “Favorite.”)

I’m a Winner

Last week, I received an email from a sweepstakes company saying, “We are writing to you today regarding the ‘Year of Wellness Video Contest’ offered by CRN Foundation and to say Congratulations! Your entry … has been determined to be the potential Grand Prize winner! The prize you are eligible to receive is $5,000, eight registered dietitian sessions via phone, six life coach consultations via phone, six months of weekly personal training sessions, and one year’s supply of vitamins and/or other supplements.”

Quickly disregarding the word “potential,” I realized that I needed to start a blog as soon as possible.


 Here are my Top Five reasons:

 1)      To entertain people. I’m a youngest child. This is pretty much the reason we exist.

 2)      To make other contestants feel better. Four other finalists believed they were “this close” to being selected. Sadly, official contest rules state that “Non-winning entrants will not be notified.” So, in the spirit of good sportsmanship, I’m blogging about my win so that fellow contestants will find this blog, discover how completely awesome I am, then share this link with their friends and family to prove that they aren’t losers, but instead were unknowingly pitted against a well-honed wellness video contest machine.

 3)     To document if Life… Supplemented’s three pillars of health (healthy diet, vitamins & supplements and regular exercise) really do create a healthier lifestyle. And also to share wellness tips and advice that I learn as a result of this contest.

 4)      To get a book deal like the “Julie & Julia” chick. Just kidding. But one of these days, when I figure out where my passions and America’s interests intersect, I’m gonna be the next Ephron sister.

 5)      To keep a promise. During my finalist teleconference, I told the contest sponsor that, being a professional communicator, I could easily blog about my “Year of Wellness.” In that interview, 50 percent of my score was based on “my dedication to and enthusiasm for personal wellness, my involvement in the online community and willingness to and enthusiasm for engaging other individuals in a Year of Wellness.” I think my blog offer clinched this thing, and I definitely don’t want to go back on my word. Hell, I still feel guilty about the time I was working at AID Auto Store in my teens and kept a free air pressure gauge belonging to a customer who bought the required case of oil but didn’t want the gauge.

 So, come along with me as I embark on My Year of Wellness.

 (You know what? It doesn’t bode well that we’re both embarking on this wellness journey sitting on our butts in front of computer screens. So, in the spirit of wellness, I recommend that we all eat a salad, pop a vitamin and go for a walk!)