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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Skipping the Christmas Hoopla

Maybe it's a sign of old age. Maybe it's the incessant ads screaming about "the perfect gift." Maybe it's the fact that I have no family with which to celebrate Christmas. Maybe it's the fact that the push to spend, spend, spend now starts in August.

But this year, more than ever, I just don't care about Christmas. As I got older and had more trouble controlling my weight, I greatly reduced the amount of baking I do. Gone are the days when I would bake several kinds of cookies, along with a 3-pound batch of fudge. I stopped sending out Christmas cards a few years ago. I gave away my large artificial tree this year, along with a bunch of lights and ornaments. My family stopped exchanging gifts years ago because everybody has everything they need, and if they want something, they just buy it themselves.

I do enjoy buying special things for others if I find something I know they will like. For example, I mailed a few items (special tea, coffee beans, honey from Quebec) to a friend a couple of weeks ago. The package was stolen from her mailbox by some slimy cretin before she could retrieve it. I'm sure the lowlife thief will really enjoy some English tea!

I doubt that I will do any decorating at all. I have some items that I usually set out, but this year I'd bet they will remain in boxes in the garage. Even my 40-50 CDs of Christmas music hold no appeal this year. I know I won't prepare a special meal. Even donating to my favorite charities -- organizations that I have supported for several years and that do wonderful work in their respective areas -- doesn't appeal to me. I have a list of charities to which I want to donate some money, but so far I've given to only one of them. These groups don't demand more and more money as some do, with never-ending appeals for money. And I know the money is well spent. But donating, which used to make me feel good, doesn't hold the same appeal any more. I did donate two bags of food to the local food bank last month, but that's all I have done.

Christmas is more and more just another day. So for this year at least, I think I'll just skip all the hoopla and enjoy a quiet day at home with my dogs.

Friday, November 29, 2019

I Am Done with Thanksgiving

I think I'm done with Thanksgiving.

Well, not with the holiday, but with preparing mounds of food. This year I bought an 11-pound smoked turkey. All I had to do was heat it for a couple of hours, and prepare some side dishes.

I had planned to have the big meal for lunch, but rather than turkey, I fixed a pizza. The turkey didn't get cooked until early evening. None of the side dishes got prepared. Even the fresh green beans I had steamed a couple of days previously remained in the refrigerator. Once dinner was over, I cut the meat off the turkey, put the carcass (or as much as would fit) into my slow cooker to make some stock, and washed the dishes that couldn't go into the dish washer. 

Gone are the days when I would make stuffing, gravy and mashed potatoes from scratch. Gravy now comes in a jar, stuffing in a box and mashed potatoes in another box. I don't prepare or buy a dessert either. Cooking for one isn't worth the effort any more. 

A few of my online friends commented that they went out for their Thanksgiving meal, or got burgers to go. I'm not much of a burger person, but I think next year I will scout out some local restaurants that are open on Thanksgiving. Or maybe I will attend the free Thanksgiving meal provided by a local food pantry. I volunteered at the pantry for a couple of years, and I enjoyed working a shift as a server at the holiday meal on two occasions. It's open to everyone -- the homeless, those who don't want to or who are unable to cook, anybody who is alone on Thanksgiving. So that is a possibility. Or maybe I will go away for the holiday to someplace warm.

I'm not, of course, giving up on the idea of counting my blessings and being thankful for all I have. Those are things that should be part of our lives every day. Thanksgiving has lost so much of its uniqueness over the years. Now it is little more than a speed bump during the mad rush to find "the perfect gift."

So just maybe the time has come to give up on the idea of cooking a lot of food just for myself. Several years ago, I drastically reduced the amount of baking I do for the holidays. Since I retired, I have no one at work with whom to share the fudge and several kinds of cookies I used to make. And I haven't prepared a big meal for Christmas day for a few years.

I refuse to subject myself to hordes of pushing, shoving, noisy people at the mall as they search for "the perfect gift." I pick up things for a friend in another state as I come across them during the year, but otherwise I have no one for whom to shop. So I focus on the real spirit of the season, of donating to those less fortunate. And of course, I continue to enjoy listening to my close to 50 CDs of Christmas music.  

We'll see how I feel about cooking next Thanksgiving, but after so many years I think it's time to simplify the day and focus instead on feeling grateful for what I have.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Be Thankful and Be Happy

As we in the United States prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, please remember that "Gratitude turns what we have into enough."

So I wish you enough. Enough love. Enough warmth. Enough joy. Enough friendship. Enough challenges (but not too many). Enough opportunities. Enough successes. Enough failures to keep you humble.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Finding Your Something

This is an updated version of a post from 2018. I think it is still very relevant.

I once read a Facebook post from someone who is passionate about animal rescue.

He encouraged people to, in his words, "find your something."  He mentioned groups of people who have found their something by making cat toys, blankets for dogs and cats in shelters, and coats for animals. An online friend has found her something by knitting beautiful, soft blankets for cats waiting in her local animal shelter to be adopted. A group of photographers found its something by taking quality pictures of animals available for adoption to make them look their best to potential adopters who view them online. One photographer creates beautiful images of children in foster care awaiting adoption. A musician I know has used her talents to draw attention to -- and donations for -- the homeless in her city.

The author encouraged individuals to find their something -- whatever it may be -- that will allow them to help in a way that is meaningful to them. Not everybody can pull animals from animal shelters to be sent to rescue groups. But nearly everyone has a skill that can be put to use helping a wide array of non-profit organizations. 

Some organizations need people with legal skills, or who can handle their accounting needs. Can you walk dogs to give them a short break from their kennels? Can you work with undersocialized animals so they become more comfortable around people? Can you help rehabilitate orphaned or injured wildlife? Perhaps you can organize a pet food drive where you work, or in your family. Sometimes children will ask that guests to their birthday party bring donations of pet food for a local shelter, rather than gifts for the birthday boy or girl. And there is always a need for foster homes to care for animals until they are adopted.

You might also find your something in helping other people. A friend in Texas worked as a court advocate for children in foster care. Maybe you can provide a much-needed break for someone caring for an elderly relative. Can you hold a holiday food drive to collect non-perishable food items for a local food bank or pantry? Collect gently used coats, gloves, boots and hats to donate to a homeless shelter? How about a toy drive for Toys for Tots so underprivileged kids can enjoy a nice Christmas? Maybe you would like to volunteer at a food pantry. I did that on a weekly basis for two years, and it was extremely rewarding. Another online friend finds great joy in painting rocks with a variety of characters and hiding them for kids to find. The local food bank offers volunteer opportunities of as little as 3 hours, with no long-term commitment. A couple in my neighborhood frequently walks the streets picking up discarded cans, bottles and other trash. The possibilities are endless, and you can surely find something that fits your abilities, interests and available time.

When I lived in Houston, I belonged to a church that had a Christians in Action group that performed acts of charity for those in the community who were struggling. People were invited to 'adopt' a family in need and purchase items, including an aluminum roasting pan, for a complete Thanksgiving dinner. We did something similar for Christmas. Anybody in the church who wanted to participate was asked to take a wish list off a tree and purchase the item/s for that person. I remember how good it felt to buy these items, knowing they would brighten the holiday for a family or individual child. Fortunately, the church made it easy for us to "find our something."

My something now is photography. Not only does it bring me great joy, but all the proceeds from sales of my calendars and prints are donated to the Elephant Crisis Fund to help protect the elephants that are so important to me. Helping elephants is my something. Serving as an occasional volunteer photographer for local animal rescue groups is my something as well.

It's a great feeling when we find our special something, regardless of what we do to help. Each of us has a talent or a passion. It's up to us to find that something and put it to good use. 

What something can you put to work in service to others?

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

A Nation Divided

Abraham Lincoln once famously said, "A nation divided against itself cannot stand."

These seven words have seldom had greater importance than at the current time in our country's history. I have been around for more than six decades, and never have I seen this country as divided as it is now. Just think about it. America is divided over the economy, race, gender, and a variety of social issues. Can and will this country overcome these vast divides and come together again for the survival of the nation? Only time will tell.

We have, of course, Republicans versus Democrats.

But we also have
  • liberals vs conservatives 
  • urban vs rural 
  • red states vs blue states
  • straight vs gay 
  • rich (the 1 percent) vs middle class and poor 
  • white men against those who threaten their longstanding dominion, i.e., women and minorities
  • those who believe in science vs science deniers 
  • climate change believers vs deniers 
  • Christian fundamentalists vs those who believe in separation of church and state
  • gun law reform advocates vs Second Amendment apologists
  • pro-life vs pro-choice advocates
  • men vs women
  • baby boomers vs millennials
First, let me make clear that not all of the individuals in a given population feel/think/act/vote the same as other members of that group. There are, for example, straight people (the majority, I venture) who feel that members of the LGBTQ community should have the same rights as straight people. Similarly, not everyone who lives in the South shares the same political feelings, or opposes gun law reform or is an evangelical.

What concerns me, in addition to the massive polarization of the country, are attempts by some to force their beliefs on others. If you're an evangelical Christian, great! But don't try to force the rest of us to live according to your beliefs. You don't like it when radical Muslims impose their beliefs on others, so why do you think it's OK for you to try to force me to live according to your beliefs?

The same argument can be made for either side in any debate. You live your life, and let the rest of us live ours. America is not, and never has been, a Christian country. It was founded to allow its citizens freedom to practice whichever religions they choose. Yes, this country traditionally has had a Christian majority, but we are not a Christian country. We have freedom of religion, but we also should have freedom from religion. There should be no state-sponsored religion, a point about which our founding fathers felt strongly enough to include it in the US Constitution.

There seems to be little effort being put forth to try to find compromise or middle ground among both politicians and everyday citizens. Compromise is an absolute for people living in a society. Why are baby boomers and millenials sniping at each other? Both groups have much to offer this country, from their experiences to their youthful energy and ideas. Name calling and insults seem to be the order of the day. And it certainly doesn't help when the president of the United States engages in a steady stream of daily insults and name calling.

I am hopeful, but not optimistic, that our citizens and politicians will come to their senses and work together to find common ground. We  as a nation have many issues that deserve our attention. Fighting with each other will not help solve them. We must ask ourselves how we have reached this point in our history. How have we sunk so low that partisan politics and a growing divide have brought us to the brink of destroying our nation? And just as important, what are we going to do about it?

Sunday, November 17, 2019

A Nation of Whiners

When did the United States become such a nation of whiners?

The biggest whiner of all, of course, is the current occupant of the White House. He is constantly whining that this person or that person is unfair to him, or the news media is unfair, or a court decision is unfair. Or he complains that somebody was 'mean' to him. Without a doubt, he has the best whines, the biggest whines. No president in history has ever had better whines. What is he, four years old?

But public whining seems to have become the national pasttime. Two companies (Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods) have recently started marketing plant-based burgers and sausages. I really like the Beyond Burgers (I haven't had a chance to try the Impossible Burgers yet). I'm not vegan, or even vegetarian, but I do my best to avoid eating meat from any four-footed animal. So I was thrilled when the Beyond Burger hit the market. Sometimes I feel like having a burger, but I have resisted. (Knowing that eating a bunch of beef will give me a stomach ache makes resistance even easier). Now I can cook a Beyond Burger, eat half of one, and not feel guilty ... or sick.

But what do I see in online comments about these revolutionary foods? Comments that they're too expensive. They aren't available in some small town in the US or Canada. Why aren't they available in Luxembourg or Costa Rica? Why isn't there a low-sodium version? A low carb version? A keto version? A kosher version? An oil- or pepper-free version? A gluten-free option? In short, why isn't there something to satisfy the dietary demands of each and every person?

Most ridiculous of all are those who whine that the buns aren't vegan. The cheese isn't vegan. The burgers are cooked on the same grill used to cook regular beef burgers so they aren't really vegan. The company that produces the plant-based burgers doesn't control the type of buns or cheese served by the restaurants that sell these non-meat foods. Nor does it control how or where they are cooked. But by all means, whine away!

How about people support these companies for coming up with products that are cruelty free and closer in taste, texture and appearance to beef burgers than anything else on the market? And plant-based products are better for the environment, too. I guess it's just easier to whine.

Whining can become a habit, a very unattractive habit, in a short amount of time. We all whine on occasion, but let's try to check ourselves whenever we feel a whine coming on, OK? The world will be a much happier place if we do.

For me, when I read all these whiny comments, I am sorely tempted to respond with "Waah! Waah! Waah!"

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Getting Old

Am I old?

That's the question I asked myself recently. Mentally, I don't feel old. I still feel mentally sharp. I'm engaged with the world around me. I travel several times every year, including trips overseas. I keep up to date with current events. I recently started to learn a new photo editing program, and there is another, more complex program I am working on. I read 30 books or more every year. I use Facebook regularly, I have an online photography shop, and until I deactivated them, I had both Instagram and Twitter accounts.

Physically, I admit to some health issues such as bursitis in both hips (something I've had for 20+ years), osteoporosis, and vision issues in one eye. But otherwise, I'm in good health. I'm not obese. I don't need supplemental oxygen. I don't need a walker, a cane or a wheelchair to get around. I'm not diabetic. I walk 3 to 5 miles every day. My blood pressure is excellent. Yes, my hair is totally gray, but so what? I could have my hair colored if I didn't want gray hair. But it looks good on me, so it will stay gray. I'm not as thin as I once was, and I'm trying to drop a few pounds. But it's not a major issue.

And what defines 'old' anyway? Age is just a number. What is considered old varies from person to person and from culture to culture. The definition of 'old' has changed over the years in the United States as well.

When I was a young adult, my parents seemed old to me when they were in their late 40s. As I approached that age, being 40-something no longer seemed old. Today, I admire 'senior citizens' who remain active and engaged. On a trip to Costa Rica a few years ago, I was surprised to see a woman and her 80-something year old mother who had recently recovered from a broken leg. She wasn't able to do some of the walks, but she was there, she was engaged and she was having a good time with her daughter. My physician's mother, 87 years old at the time, fell and broke her hip while chopping wood on a winter day. 

Some people are old in their 40s. Others continue to be active into their 80s and beyond. There is no government chart that says that one is old at age 55 or 60 or 70. We all age differently, depending on genetics, the environment in which we live, health issues and how we take care of ourselves.

Loss of mobility and independence often are used to define when someone becomes 'old.' But there was a woman in my father's assisted living facility who was probably in her late 40s-early 50s. I didn't consider her old, but she had some health challenges and she chose to live in assisted living. Our definition of what it means to be old is an ever-changing target. Yes, I get stiff after sitting for a while. I have arthritis in my hands. Both of those things are more common in people of a certain age. But I'm not yet ready for the rocking chair or the nursing home. I take care of my house and my yard. I shovel snow (fortunately a rare thing where I live). I pull weeds and I rake leaves. I take care of multiple dogs.

I am a firm believer in the adage 'use it or lose it.' I believe that my lifetime of physical activity (33+ years of running every day), hiking (although less strenuous ones than before), and daily walking, along with my efforts to keep my brain engaged, both are contributing to my good health. My family has a history of Alzheimer's disease, so I am more committed than ever to doing whatever I can to minimize the risk of contracting that horrible disease.

So yeah, I guess I am old in a chronological sense. I have some age-related physical signs. But my mind is still sharp. I certainly don't feel old. And I think that's the biggest part of getting old.