Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Gift of Life

It’s the holiday season so I know you get them too.  Appeals for money from every possible type of charity there is.  Who do you share your post tax income with?  How do you choose?

Before being laid off, we gave to many of these charities every year, often without reading about them, without knowing where the money was going.  We still give to charities but, since 2009, our criteria for giving have changed.  We’ve had to be more careful about what we give and which charities get the nod.

Here are the 4 groups we support and why:

  1. Heifer International– Heifer’s gifts aren’t fruit baskets or silky scarfs or fine wine.  They are grounded, living gifts that help indigenous people become self-supporting, able to feed themselves, their families and sometimes, their whole village.  This year we donated enough money to buy three flocks of chicken and two honeybee hives for people in other countries.  These gifts will keep on giving for years after they arrive in their new homes.

    Give a gift of life through Heifer International.

    A gift of chickens can feed a family or a village or both

  2. Sunday Breakfast Mission–  The Sunday Breakfast Mission started small – feeding holiday dinners to homeless and jobless men in Wilmington, Delaware.  Last year, this charity served more than 200,000 meals to hungry men, women and children and provided shelter for close to 300 people . Sitting in my warm home, with my full refrigerator and my full life, I know that this is one charity I have to support, no matter what.

The first two charities support people.  The next two support the planet.

  1. The Audubon SocietyAnsel Adams once said, “It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.”   I’m not ashamed to admit that I support this organization precisely because it does fight our government; it does insist that our elected officials and the 1% of this nation that continues to get wealthy off the entire country’s resources be held accountable for the damage they are doing to our planet. If we don’t stand up for this world, the ecosystems, wildlife habitats and the birds and animals who live in them, with us, who will?
  2. Nature Conservancy – this organization fights to protect ecologically important land and water in every state in this country and in 30 other countries around the globe.  Donate to Nature Conservancy and help buy endangered land and waterways, help to build coalitions between governments and between and with the residents who live in the area.  Their work is rooted in science, their conservation projects are practical and their outcomes are there for every one to see and enjoy.

There are other charities we support in smaller ways, like the Ocean Conservancy and the Sierra Club.  We still drop money in the Salvation Army buckets and give gently used clothing to the Goodwill but we like the 4 charities listed above because their work will live long after our money is gone and our lives are over.

If you have a little extra cash burning a hole in your pocket this holiday season, you might want to think about sharing it with charitable organizations like these and with people who need food, shelter, and livelihood a whole lot more than they need a new car, a new phone or a new toy.  You might think about giving the gift of life.

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THINK Before Buying Holiday Gifts

Okay, I know Black Friday is upon us.  I know some of you are getting up very early or staying up very late to get the best bargain on the latest toy, game, boots, fill in the blank.

But before you dig your credit card hole a bit deeper, before you create a huge pile of “stuff” that will be opened with glee and tossed aside without a second thought, I am asking you to think.

That’s right, think.  Drop the pen.  Put down the list.  Stop perusing flyers and catalogues or crawling web sites and take 5 minutes and ask yourself just one question?

What gift did you get 20, 30 or 40 years ago that makes you smile, right now?

Was it the most expensive?  The biggest?  The latest?  I will bet you it wasn’t.

Over the years, I have been given many big, expensive gifts – jewelry, exotic vacations, works of art.  Nice gifts but not my favorite gift, the one I am smiling about right now.  For me, that gift was a used rocking chair.

A big Christmas gift without a big price tag.

My favorite Christmas gift is this rocker restored by my husband.

My husband found it on the side of the road, put out for trash pick up. Carefully, lovingly, he restored the oak to its full glory.  Removing the shredded fabric and compressed batting from the coiled springs, he rebuilt and recovered the seat with warm, rich velvet.

This oak chair sits, today, in my sewing room.   I see it every day.  I sit in it, often, when I am doing finishing work on clothing or a craft project.

The total cost for this wonderful gift could not have been more than $10 but I remember crying when I saw it by our tree.  Do you remember getting a gift like that?   Not made in China or Taiwan?  No batteries required?  Not mass-produced? Lovingly made by someone you know, just for you? Those are the gifts you remember, you cherish.

If I go back even further for favorite holiday memories to when we were kids, the highlight of our Christmas morning was finding a big juicy orange in the toe of our stocking.  Sounds ridiculous but there it was – five kids racing for the mantle (yes, a real fireplace mantle) pulling down stockings and pulling out the candy cane and walnuts, to get to the bottom, to get to the orange.

Why would an orange be such a big deal?  Oranges weren’t available in December in the North.  No one was trucking them up from Florida or across the country from California.  Back then, an orange was a rarity – a real treat.   Definitely not a big ticket item but a childhood moment I treasure, a wonderful memory of holidays gone by.

Want to have happy holidays filled with warm memories?

Don’t spend too much money on too many things that no one will need or treasure even two weeks after the holiday has come and gone.  Think…and get gifts that really speak to the young, the old and the in-between people you love.  This year, build some holiday memories yourself, memories that will make you smile, 30 years from now.

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My Sustainable Life

Who knew that when I started learning to live on my 2 1/2 acres almost 20 years ago that my lifestyle would become…dare I say it…popular?

As an executive at a multinational corporation, I was literally laughed at whenever one of my peers found out about my hobbies. I was odd man out, you see.

I hated golf.  I really couldn’t stand the pretensions of the “oenophiles” I was forced to travel with.  And I really loathed back stabbing, expense account dinners where the targets of the next round of lay offs were discussed as we plowed through enough wine and food to keep at least one of the “peasants” gainfully employed for 3 months.

I loved (and still love) raising my own fruits and vegetables.  I own chickens and if my husband ever loosens up a bit, will have a goat or two in the back yard, as well.

My life in the dirt began when I tripped over one small book one Saturday morning.   The Victory Garden by Jim Crockett.  Almost 50 years old, Crockett’s book is still hailed as one of the best books for beginning gardeners and it still has pride of place on my gardening book shelf.

Over the last 30 years, with the help of books like Nancy Bubel‘s Seed Starters Handbook, I now raise all my own seeds.  This past summer every plant in my garden — 5 varieties of tomato, 2 types of pepper, 2 of cucumbers and 2 of eggplant and zucchini – were all started in my basement along with butternut squash, lettuce, spinach, basil and parsley.

Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening and Patricia Lanza’s book on Lasagna Gardening, helped me expand my knowledge and increase the size of my garden 5 fold.  I use cold frames in the spring and fall and a combination of raised beds and row cropping to increase my yield.  And I learned a whole lot about what I can raise and what I can’t.

I’m aces with tomatoes — all heirloom or organic seed — from Grow Italian or Territorial Seeds.  My blueberries yield over 60 quarts every year and my Montmorency cherries are a close second with 50 plus quarts.  Pear trees are just starting to bear fruit and the pluots are eagerly anticipated every summer.

But my fig trees are good one year and not so good the next.  And the peach and apple trees bear really bad fruit – spotty and buggy.  Cantelope grow beautifully in my soil but taste like dirt.  Broccoli Rabe comes up fast and easy but flowers before I can harvest it.

Early days for tomatoes, peppers, cukes, squash, and onions.

The garden when you could still see the ground.

Potatoes love the soil but always fall prey to Colorado Potato Beetles and wire worms.

Knowing what I can’t grow upset me when I was a younger gardener but this old girl understands that knowing what she can’t grow is even more important than knowing what she can.  Why?

I no longer waste time or space on those veggies and fruits that just are not going to produce.  I spend that time honing my skills at growing and harvesting the myriad of foods that like my soil, my weather, my temperatures, wind and rain.

So as winter approaches, I spend time gazing at the pill boxes full of seeds that are resting in my refrigerator.  I plot and plan what I will grow and draw a garden diagram I know I will never follow.  And I spend quiet hours re-reading the books by my old friends that have helped me create this sustainable life of mine.

And every day, I give thanks for being able to live as I do, in harmony with the natural world.

 

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Who’s Afraid of Social Networks?

I have this friend who is afraid of social networks.

No, really, it’s a friend, not me.  She’s afraid of who is out there, who is “listening” and who will be targeted for some unspeakable act.  There are some who say her fears are legitimate.

But most people don’t seem to be afraid.  In fact, according to a Pew Internet & American Life study, Facebook users are more trusting than people who are not members of the social networking site.

A Facebook user who uses the site, “… multiple times per day is 43 percent more likely than other Internet users and more than three times as likely as non-Internet users to feel that most people can be trusted.”

Does that mean that using social media like Facebook is safe, free from any risk?  No.

Social networking, like any other communication tool, can be used for dark purposes.   That thin slice of our society that engages in crime has always found ways to turn ordinary items into weapons they can use to seek money, to seek revenge or just to seek satisfaction.

But that’s not news.  The saga of good guys and bad guys hasn’t changed much since human beings started writing about who killed whom. What has changed is the weapon.  To the very small minority who use whatever they can get their hands on to commit crimes, social networks are just another hammer or knife or gun.

To the rest of us, social networks are a way to share thoughts, ideas, and opportunities.   The power of this tool, the accessibility, has opened doors to people who can and are changing the world.  No matter what you think of them, the Occupy Wall Street movement has found a voice and a way to affect change using social media.

Don’t want to engage in politics online?  How about using social networks to help find a cure for cancer?

Watch this TED talk and you will see that social media is being used to open up opportunities that were never dreamed of.  Scientists, doctors, and researchers around the world are using social media to collaborate on finding cancer cures.   This was not and is not financially viable, not feasible, not happening any other way than via social networking/media.  And Jay Bradner is not the only one using this incredibly powerful tool.

Pick a topic.  Do a search.  Find a group of like-minded people from around the world who are thinking and talking about just what you are interested in.  That’s the power of social media.

Do I sometimes think about who else is out there?  What they might be doing with what I write?  Sure.  Then I move on.

It does not pay to cede control to a faceless, nameless character who might, just might find me on Facebook or Linked In or Twitter.  I will not become an intellectual prisoner any more than I will become a prisoner in my own home.  I am not afraid of social networks.  Maybe she shouldn’t be either.

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Thoughts on Winter & Darkness & Politics

I am starting to fear silence again, filling it with sound, running from whatever my head or heart is trying to tell me.  Does this happen to you?

These are the moments when I cannot sit still.  My eyes move from place to place.  My skin itches.  I must jump up and fill the time before….before what?  What could my inner self have to say that so frightens my outer self?

In the past, these moments have led to insight.  In the past, these moments meant personal growth. But what am I supposed to learn this time?

I feel too old to learn, too sure of the knowledge that my time has passed.  I am walking slowly toward death, my own, my loved ones but death nonetheless.

Maybe it’s the coming of winter, the rare October snow we just had.  Maybe it’s the approach of daylight savings — long, dark afternoons into longer, darker nights.   Maybe it’s my feeling that I am no longer the all  powerful wizard of my early days, the one with all the answers.

Maybe it’s because I fear this lesson has much broader implications.

The future keeps crowding into the present – the outside world into my small, sweet corner of it.  Our world, the world I grew up in, the world we hippies and peaceniks changed, the world we loved, was proud of, is disappearing.

Spinning faster and faster away from me, it has moved on its axis to a place of, “I’ve got mine; the rest of you, go away.”  This world is a foreign place for me and I hold no answers on how to fix it.

How I wish I was still that wizard of my younger years and able to make the coming years as rich and warm for my daughter and grandchildren as they were for me.  How I wish the future would not loom on the ever darkening horizon of financial woes, economic downturns.  How I wish our “elected officials” would actually do more to earn their pay and less to get re-elected.

Politicians have lost their way.  Honor no longer goes with the job; passion for what’s right, not what’s personally enriching has disappeared, replaced by greed and guile.

Perhaps this is the lesson I am being forced to learn — there is no easy way out of this huge and frightening mess our country is in, no easy way to close the gap between the ridiculously rich and the grindingly poor.  Perhaps politicians should have to face only one test to run for office.

Do they have a terminal illness?

If only the dying were allowed to run for office, maybe, just maybe it might help them focus on what’s truly important instead of what’s expedient.

 

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