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Showing posts from December, 2010

Great Causes to Adopt Before Year-End

Thanks to U.S. tax law, which allows one to deduct contributions to charity from tax totals, the vast majority of charities receive their largest total donations the last two to three days of the calendar year. Like me, you are probably receiving numerous year-end e-mails from charitable service organizations, asking you for donations. I receive so many of these emails, in fact, that I feel overwhelmed and powerless, because I cannot POSSIBLY donate to all these groups.  However, that feeling is a useless one, so I turn it around by thinking about what I can do, rather than what I can't, and by deciding not to criticize myself for making "small" donations. After all, what would someone rather have...none of $50 or all of $5? 

Many of us can make small donations, and by small, I mean even single-digit small. Take Unicef as an example. It has a matching funds program through December 31. If I donate $8, my $8 becomes $16.  Maybe you're reading this and thinking, "…

The Art of Adoption

My biological family never quite took the shape I  planned for it to have. The plan:  I would have two children. My brother and sister would each have at least one. There would be cousins at Christmas gatherings into the foreseeable future, just as there were at our Christmas gatherings of old. I would be happily married forever to husband Nº 1. My parents would live to a ripe, old age, enjoying all those grandchildren and their grandchildren's children, perhaps. You know where this is going, don't you?

My one child had no cousins. My parents' lives were shortened by unbeatable illnesses. Husband 1 and I, predictably, did not have a lasting marriage. This year's Christmas gathering was one I could never have imagined in my youth. My sister was absent, taken from us earlier this year. In my living room sat my brother, brother-in-law, and a close friend of mine. My son and his wife had flown to another state to be with a terminally-ill relative. A string of tiny colored …

Late! Late! For that important annual date!

I've made my own Christmas cards since childhood. In those "olden" days, I would color and address each card by hand, and ask my father for postage. As an adult, there were many holiday seasons when sending cards, much less making them, was beyond my means, thanks to the usual stresses of self-employment and single parenthood; my family's multiple December birthdays; illness--mine or a family member's; and a few years where my budget was so tight that it couldn't even include Christmas card postage. This year was going to be just right. I made my cards in October--October, folks! They were printed by mid-November. And then the illness card got played, taking me back to another childhood memory--strep infections.

Once again, I am mailing Christmas cards that won't arrive before Christmas.  Last year, I was smart: my card didn't have the word Christmas in it, so I wouldn't appear late with my mailing. Ah, deadline fever. What an irritating disease…

Education by Juxtaposition

My college art history professor used to test our knowledge of painters by showing us two slides at once. It might be Rubens next to Ribera or Van Gogh with Van Eyck. All periods and styles were fair game. Our job, as students, was to compare and contrast the pictures. What was similar? Different? How did the messages of each composition differ from or match its media naranja del momento? What could we learn from this pair that we could not learn by looking at them singly?

Lately, I feel as though I've returned to my beloved professor's class room. More and more, I see juxtapositions that make me meditate on the meaning of things.

Juxtapose 1: Chicken and Egg Economy
The U.S. Post Office is deeply in debt. They may have to cut service. My local post office during this busiest mail month of the year has only two employees handling everything. When one of them takes a well-deserved break, the clerk-to-customer ratio goes as high as 1 to 15. If they re-hired some of the employ…

A Thought for the Season

"Let me light my lamp," says the star,
"And never debate if it will help
to remove the darkness."
--Rabindranath Tagore

From Reverie to Reality--for a Moment

I've enjoyed turning my mind toward the Advent season. But, at times our "brave new world" bounces up into my face like a hard-to-conrol rubber ball. So, there goes my mind!

We have a new restaurant in town. Nice location, healthy food, pleasant atmosphere. I purchased a meal there last week and was given a special customer card. With this card, I can have a free 12th meal after buying 11. I can also receive a coupon for a free side dish. All I have to do is register online on their national chain's Web page.

Once I register, they will know: my name, state and zip code, e-mail address, the number of people in my household, my birthday, and whether or not I'm a vegetarian. Not exactly the contents of an FBI file, but to earn the promised discounts, I need to swipe my card in their swiper machine every time I dine. Thinking about that, I had an epiphany (not of a religious sort).

If I register that card and use it at this restaurant, I will be tracked. Hunters track…

Christmas Present, Christmas Absent

I was beyond fortunate in the childhood I had, surrounded by a loving family. Our togetherness at Christmas made the holiday complete for me. It was a union that felt both perfect and inviolable. As the years pass, however, togetherness is tested and must change its shape. As millions of others do, I face another Christmas with a new absence. The grandparents and parents have been gone for a while now. This year, the new absence will be my sister's.

One year, after our parents were gone, my sister said to my brother and me, "Let's keep this simple." We gathered at her house for a Christmas dinner of soup and cornbread. It was delicious--and so easy to clean up! She gave each of us a forcing vase with a narcissus bulb nestled inside. Attached to the vase was a paper with the lyrics to this hymn:

In the bulb, there is a flower: in the seed, an apple tree; In the cold and snow of winter, there's a spring that waits to be, Unrevealed until its season, something God a…

Christmas and Christ: Coming or Going?

Will Christmas come to you this year, or will you be running into it? Do you remember that phrase, "What would Jesus do?" This is a good time to ask that question.

Think back to what we call the First Century CE. Not one electric light blinked for even a moment in a land where gnarled olive trees granted fruit and oil, but little shade, where crops were planted and harvested--harvested, if there was enough moisture--by hand. A journey of 10 miles could take a few days.

What surrounded Jesus was poverty--poverty that damaged those who suffered from it. The very word, poverty, makes me wince. Until. Until I see television commercials for luxury cars, power tools, techno-toys, and diamonds. Until I see countless strings of lights wrapped around trees, roofs, and storefronts. Until I see ads in church bulletins asking for people to "play" wise men, shepherds, and angels. Yes, even that tradition keeps us from knowing the poverty that can free us from the commercial…