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Why Small Business Saturday is good for you and your community

Small Business Saturday is November 30 this year, and it offers a perfect chance to get out of the house, discover your town’s hidden treasures and give back to your local economy. This celebration of small businesses was created in 2010 by American Express to open minds to the high-quality and unique products small businesses sell and encourage consumers to be conscious of where they buy.

Participation by both businesses and consumers in Small Business Saturday has grown every year, allowing for more opportunities for everyone to get involved. Here are three reasons why Small Business Saturday will be a fulfilling and fun way to spend part of your long Thanksgiving weekend.

You can be a tourist in your hometown.
It can be so easy to get caught up in our daily routines that we rarely take time to enjoy all the fun our communities have to offer. Small Business Saturday gives you a chance to break the routine and uncover all the goodness local businesses create. By exploring your town’s small businesses, you might find your new favorite place to get coffee or buy the coziest sweater you have ever owned.

The cool thing about being a tourist in your own town? When you find a shop you like, you can visit as often as you want—maybe it’ll even become a part of your daily routine.

You’ll build a sense of community.
Small businesses are an expression of the dreams and aspirations of your neighbors. When you become a regular at their shop or restaurant, you open the door for enriching community relationships. Whether you live in a small town or a dense urban area, you can feel more connected to your home by becoming friends with the business owners and the patrons who make your town unique.

Support your local economy.
The value of a thriving small business environment to a community is immeasurable. Small businesses provide product diversity, personalized customer service, local hiring opportunities and much more. And when you spend money at a local business, more of your money stays in your community than if you shopped at a chain store.

Mark your calendar for November 30 and enjoy everything your community has to offer.

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October is National Fair Trade Month!

Tomorrow marks the first day of October, a month in which we celebrate and raise awareness about the fair-trade movement and its effect on our global economy. 

What is fair trade, you ask? According to the World Fair Trade Organization, it’s “a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade.” The fair-trade movement promotes proper wages, inclusive practices, and 
safe working conditions for employees. 

Many communities who produce fair-trade products are often in need. There are plenty of ways in which you can support fair-trade producers and organizations. The following list should give you some inspiration on how to incorporate the fair-trade movement into your life.

1. Purchase fair-trade products.
Look for a fair-trade symbol, like the one pictured here, when shopping for ethically sourced products. You can find fair-trade versions of just about everything you buy: clothing, home decor, kids’ toys, etc. Encourage your friends and family to join you in your fair-trade journey as well.

2. Shop for fair-trade groceries.
So many of your kitchen staples can found in fair-trade versions. From coffee to produce to herbs and spices, you’ll be sure to snag some great finds. If your local grocery store doesn’t stock a fair-trade product you’re looking for, be sure to ask an employee if they’d consider carrying it. Buying fair-trade groceries supports farmers and allows them to keep producing food that’s good for you and the global economy.

3. Spread the word about fair trade.
You know the phrase, “spread like wildfire?” Well, the fair-trade movement can’t grow unless people like you tell others about it. Use hashtags like #FairTradeMonth or #FindFairTrade on your social media posts. Talk about fair trade and its benefits to your friends, family and coworkers. Word-of-mouth is an incredibly powerful tool, and you can use to help continue a movement that’s changing the world for the better.

4. Donate to places that support fair trade.
By giving what you can to organizations that support fair trade, you’re helping strengthen the communities it impacts. A cacao farmer in Ecuador gets to keep making a living wage because of people like you who donate. Giving back to fair-trade nonprofits helps communities rise above the poverty line.

Fair trade is a wonderful cause to support. By dedicating a whole month to raise awareness for it, you can make a big impact. Try any of these ideas to get started being a champion for the fair-trade movement.

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3 Ways Cooking Boosts Your Emotional Well-being

Sometimes after a long day at work or school, it can feel so tempting to order takeout and crash on the couch. While occasionally treating yourself with food from your favorite restaurant is delicious and fun, the benefits of cooking your own meals will nourish you far beyond one meal. 

You absolutely don’t have to be a pro in the kitchen to feel the positive impact cooking can have on you and your family. Even cooking novices can create tasty, simple meals while enjoying the meditative nature of making wholesome food. 

Here are four ways that making your own meals can support mental health.

Cooking is a structured creative outlet.
Working on a new recipe requires focus and flexibility, which gets your mind in a creative space. The steps of a recipe provide structure to ease you into the creative process without being overwhelming. For those new to cooking, simple recipes with clear instructions can open a door to the wide possibilities of cooking without generating anxiety.

Food builds connections between people.
Cooking is one of the oldest and most universal ways people show others they care about them. People cook together to bond, celebrate special events, support others in difficult times and much more. The act of making nourishment for other people strengthens relationships, and seeing others enjoy the food you create boosts self-esteem.

The effort of cooking has a tangible reward.
One of the best parts of cooking is getting to eat the yummy food you just worked so hard to make. That instant reward for hard work makes people feel fulfilled by giving them the satisfaction of doing something with concrete meaning. It can be extremely affirming and uplifting to know your efforts can create real, useful results, and cooking is a great way to get that affirmation.

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What’s your giving story?

Every act of giving has a story. What is yours?

#MyGivingStory is a social media storytelling contest created to foster a public conversation about generosity and to inspire more people to give.

Would you share a story about how and why you give to the causes you care about? The stories can be about you or someone else, about giving of time, money, goods, or skills, and what inspires you. Contestants will have the chance to win a number of prizes throughout the month, with the winning story writers receiving grants up to $10,000 to give to their favorite nonprofit organization!

Entering is as easy as 1, 2, 3…

1. Write or record your #MyGivingStory: Think of a story or experience that inspired you to give, choose which format you will use to tell your story (written essay or video), and write or record your story.

2. Post your story: Go to the contest page and click on “Submit Here.” Select the nonprofit that would receive a grant if your story wins and upload your story.

3. Share your story on social media! The more votes you get, the better your chances of winning one of our prizes!

For more information, click here.

For those who are under 14, click here for more information. 

Direct people to vote in the online gallery. The 10 stories with the most votes will become the Finalists and submitted to the judging panel, who will select the winners. Some additional tips and requirements: ¡ #MyGivingStory is open to legal residents of the U.S., who are age 13 and older. ¡ Written entries must be between 150 and 1,200 words and may include a photo. Videos must be between 30 seconds and 5 minutes in length and under 100 MB in one of the following formats: AVI, MOV, WMV, MP4, MPEG, FLV, 3GP, and 3G2. All entries must be original, unpublished works. Only one entry per entrant. As part of our community, we hope you might take a few minutes to reflect on why giving matters to you, share your story in the #MyGivingStory contest, and, of course, consider naming us as the recipient of a grant if you win one. There’s no time like the present! Submit your story today and share so we can help celebrate how and why you give back! 

*Each day, one lucky participant will be chosen by a random drawing.*

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6 Ways to Practice Thankfulness this November

The month of Thanksgiving has arrived, and many are eagerly awaiting their plates of turkey, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole. However, this month is also the time to recognize your blessings and give thanks for them. 

According to Robert Emmons, practicing gratitude can “amplify positive emotions, such as joy and contentment.” In the month of Thanksgiving, when’s a better time to do so? We’ve come up with some ways in which you can give thanks this November. It’s a great way to stay a little cheerier when the weather starts to cool down.

1. Keep a gratitude journal.
At the end of each day, jot down what moments stood out to you. Explain why you’re thankful for them and how they affected you. Examples can include the sun shining when you woke up or a friendly driver letting you merge during rush hour. 

2. Talk about good moments in your day.
This is a great way to learn about your loved ones’ days. Try going around the table at dinner and having each person say a few things they are thankful for that day. These quick tidbits will likely turn into fun stories you can look back on as memories.

3. Tell your loved ones you appreciate them.
If you think about it, your loved ones probably do more for you than you realize. Take a moment out of your day to send them an email or a letter about why you’re grateful for them. They likely won’t be expecting it, which will make it even more special. Who knows? Maybe they’ll soon return the kind gesture.

4. Look for silver linings.
Everyone has days where seemingly nothing goes the way they want it to. If you’re feeling down on your luck, check yourself, and remember all of the blessings in your life. Maybe it’s your family, or a job you love or your partner, or all of the above. You just need to remind yourself you won’t always feel down, and to look on the bright side.

5. Look around you.
People tend to feel more gratitude when they’re empathizing with others. It can be hard to be thankful when you’re focused on your own narrative. Try looking outward. There will always be someone less fortunate than you, so consider that when you feel like complaining. If you feel so compelled, you could also donate to those in need.

6. Thank yourself.
Have you been trying to live a healthier lifestyle or spend less money? Maybe you just did the laundry that had been piling up? Take a moment to thank yourself for taking care of you. Reward yourself for meeting a goal. Self-care is just as important as caring for others, so be kind to yourself as well.

Thanksgiving is a time to recognize everything you’ve been blessed with. Acknowledge that this November, and know a little “thank you” goes a long way.

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Celebrate National Family Literacy Day!

This Friday, Nov. 1, is National Family Literacy Day, and kicks of National Literacy Month. It was first designated in 1994 in order to raise awareness of the importance of family literacy. By encouraging and educating parents and caregivers, National Family Literacy Day aims to instill a lifelong habit of reading in children. 

Studies have found that the earlier parents become involved in their children’s literacy, the longer lasting its effects will be. Parental literacy participation is also a known predictor of a child’s achievements in his or her adolescence and adult life. 

If you’re looking for ideas to celebrate National Family Literacy Day, look no further. We’ve come up with a handy list your family will love.

1. Plan themed family reading nights.
Reading can be an incredibly engaging experience, so why not try making it more interactive? Build a “spaceship” fort in the living room while reading books about astronauts, or pitch a tent in the backyard when you read stories about nature. The entire family will get a kick out of immersing themselves in the story, and it will make your kids excited to read.

2. Have your older children read to their younger siblings.
This is a great opportunity for your more advanced readers to explain larger words or break down summaries to their siblings. They can take turns reading sentences or chapters so everyone has a chance to improve their reading skills. This not only helps your children’s minds grow, but it also is a great way for them to bond as siblings.

3. Read books “popcorn” style.
Choose a book for the family to read together, then start reading a few pages at a time. The reader then picks another family member at random to read the next pages. It keeps everyone engaged so they’re prepared to be called on to read. Pop a bowl of popcorn to enjoy a fun-themed snack.

4. Call in long-distance family.
If your kids have grandparents or other relatives out of town, consider calling them or video-chatting them to read to your kids. Your kids will get a kick out of hearing from their loved ones, and your relatives will likely be thrilled to be involved in your kids’ reading development. Simply call them beforehand, and agree on a book you can both pick up from your local library so your kiddos can read along.

5. Read a book, then watch the movie.
Most people tend to say that books are better than their movie adaptations, so test out this theory with your family. Read a book together, and later watch its movie version. Afterward, you can discuss the similarities and differences, and take a family vote on which version was better.

Reading as a family is one of the best ways to grow closer together. Both you and your kids will look forward to evenings spent engrossed in a story. It sets them on track to be lifelong readers, which is a skill that will help them in more ways than one.