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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fall Clean-Up

This fall, in addition to cleaning up fallen leaves and sticks in my yard, I am doing some interior clean-up. And unlike the never-ending chore of raking leaves, interior clean-ups actually have a conclusion and a visible result.

Recently I gave away a really nice glider chair. It had belonged to my parents, who rarely used it, and then to my dad. After he died, I agreed to have it shipped to my house because it was a nice chair and nobody else wanted it. Unfortunately, I never had a good place to put it, and it ended up in a corner of my bedroom. So I finally decided it needed to find a new home.

I also took a car full of miscellaneous 'stuff' to a local thrift shop run by an animal rescue group. There were clothes, a pair of Russian crystal candlesticks, a dream catcher, jewelry, a set of matching coffee cups and saucers, and a variety of other things. And I still have a stack of books to donate to the local library book shop.

I like to get rid of things, to declutter, although it never seems to make my house look any less full. But I've been giving some serious thought to moving to another state, perhaps as early as next year, so I am motivated to lighten the load. After all, why pay to have things moved, only to get rid of them in my new town?

I like to know that my no-longer-wanted items are given to organizations or people that can use them, so anything that is usable goes to a non-profit thrift shop, coat or shoe collection for the homeless, etc. Knowing that my things are helping someone else is a good feeling. I have never missed anything that I gave away, nor have I regretted disposing of something. Once it's gone, it's gone. I feel mentally 'lighter' after unloading items. I guess it's similar to the feeling I get after having my teeth cleaned every six months. 

 I know that spring is the traditional time for cleaning and decluttering, but this fall is an opportune time for me. Next on the list to be decluttered is the pantry, which is stocked with a dozen or more boxes of cereal waiting to be donated to the next food drive. Not much will be thrown away, but a general reorganization definitely is in order.

An added incentive for me to get rid of things is a possible relocation, perhaps as early as next year. No decisions have been made, but I am doing research, talking to people who live in the state I am considering, and checking out housing prices. There is no need to pay to have stuff moved, only to dispose of it in my new location.

Even if I decide not to move, it's always a good feeling to have a house and garage that are less cluttered. I believe that we need to declutter our lives from time to time, getting rid of surplus or unneeded possessions, and getting rid of people in our lives who aren't there for us, or who behavior or words bring us down. I try to surround myself with upbeat, supportive people, and have ended a friendship that caused me more stress than enjoyment.

We don't need people who are a hazard to our health (physical and emotional), attitude and happiness. My daughter learned this lesson the hard way. After several years of dealing with a friend's drama and jealousy, she ended the friendship. She, and I, are much happier with this constant source of irritation and frustration in her life. Similarly, I ended a relationship with a woman who verbally abused me and many other people, and who manipulated and took advantage of me. Again, am I much happier without this constant source of irritation in my life.

So don't limit your clean-ups to merely getting rid of old clothes an d shoes. Sometimes the best clean-up we can give ourselves is removing negative people from our lives.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Pretty in Pink

Yesterday I did the 2014 Albuquerque Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk, along with 15,000 other registered walkers, and I suspect, a good many who were not registered.

Although breast cancer has not (thank God) struck my family, this is a cause that I have supported for many years. In 2003, I completed the  3-day, 60-mile Avon Breast Cancer Walk from Santa Clara to San Francisco. Two years later, a friend and I did a 2-day, 26-mile walk. I have done the Albuquerque Making Strides walk three of the past four years, missing the walk the year my father died.

Although I was disappointed to learn that this year's walk had been reduced from the previous 5 miles to just more than 2 miles (it was advertised as a 3-mile walk), I still appreciated the opportunity to join a couple thousand people on a beautiful fall day to bring awareness, show support and raise funds.

As I waited for the walk to start, I was once again struck by the diversity of the walkers. There were fat walkers and thin ones; old and young; kids in strollers, elementary, middle and high school students, individual walkers and teams of walkers. A JROTC group handed out water and monitored the course. One man wore a shirt announcing that he was walking for his wife. A boy wore a bright pink shirt that said "Real men wear pink." A girl scout troop walked. I saw a man doing the walk on crutches, and another with a brace on each leg. One woman was in a wheelchair pushed by a family member. I saw many women wearing a pink 'survivor' sash that proclaimed their victory over this horrid disease. Walkers spanned many ethnic groups: white, black, Hispanic and Native American (I'm sure there were Asian walkers, too, although I didn't see them). This is as it should be, as breast cancer crosses all racial and ethnic lines. The most common color yesterday? PINK. There were pink T-shirts, pink tutus (including one on a Boston terrier), pink hats, pink shoes, even pink hair.

These walks are always very emotional for me. They are inspiring and they help restore my faith in a humanity that often seems to have lost its concern for others. For one morning at least, I was able to push aside the dark, painful acts that fill the news, and enjoy being part of a movement that celebrates the survivors, honors the deceased and offers hope to those fighting breast cancer. And this group raised $354,000 to help fund research, provide support to those suffering from breast cancer, and help pay for mammograms for women who can't afford them.

The Making Strides for Breast Cancer Walk is all about hope. And my hope is that some day, this walk will no longer be necessary.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pumpkins On the Rise

For as long as I can remember, autumn has been pumpkin season. Typically this means decorative pumpkins, jack-o-lanterns and pumpkin pie. But this year, the round, orange version of winter squash is making a real comeback. Pumpkin, it seems, is experiencing an explosion in popularity.

Apparently, pumpkin's popularity has been on the rise for several years. According to one food industry market research firm, sales of pumpkin-flavored foods have increased 234 percent since 2008. Sales of all pumpkin-flavored foods and beverages increased 14 percent from 2012 to 2013, according to market research firm Nielsen. A recent trip to Trader Joe's provided evidence of this increased popularity. I saw pumpkin-flavored coffee, granola, pancake/waffle mix and pumpkin bread mix, plus many more pumpkin-themed foods and drinks. Below is a complete list of pumpkin-flavored items offered by Trader Joe's, courtesy of The Gothamist:

1. Real pumpkins
2. Pecan pumpkin instant oatmeal
3. Pumpkin soup
4. Pumpkin bar baking mix
5. Pumpkin pancake and waffle mix
6. Harvest Blend salad with pumpkin seeds, pumpkin cornbread croutons, and pumpkin vinaigrette
7. Pumpkin kringle
8. Pumpkin cream cheese muffins
9. Pumpkin bagels
10. Mini ginger pumpkin ice cream mouthfuls
11. Pumpkin pie mochi ice cream
12. Pumpkin ice cream
13. Pumpkin bread pudding
14. Pumpkin pie
15. Pumpkin macarons
16. Mini pumpkin pie
17. Pumpkin cheesecake
18. Pumpkin croissants
19. Pumpkin waffles
20. Pumpkin cornbread croutons
21. Pumpkin Joe-Joe's cookies
22. Pumpkin biscotti

23. Pumpkin spice chai
24. Pumpkin cornbread mix
25. Pumpkin seed brittle
26. Pumpkin butter
27. Organic canned pumpkin
28. Pumpkin spice coffee
29. Pumpkin spice salted caramels
30. Iced pumpkin scone cookies
31. Pumpkin O's cereal
32. This Pumpkin Walks Into A Bar cereal bars
33. Organic frosted pumpkin toaster pastries
34. Country pumpkin spice granola cereal
35. Pumpkin cranberry crisps
36. Pumpkin butter
37. Pumpkin cream cheese
38. Pumpkin beer
39. Pumpkin seeds
40. Pumpkin ravioli
41. Pumpkin scone mix
42. Pumpkin dog treats
43. Pumpkin yogurt
44. Pumpkin spice tea

Never have I seen so many pumpkin-flavored items for sale, and not just at Trader Joe's. The World Market chain of stores also offers pumpkin scone mix, and I saw recipes this week for spiced pumpkin biscuits, pumpkin spice cookies and pumpkin cream soup.
Pumpkin spice beers are popular at this time of year, and how about some pumpkin spice beef jerky?

Some attribute pumpkin's increased popularity to Starbucks' introduction of the pumpkin latte a decade ago. Whatever the reason, pumpkin farms are booming. Pumpkin is making a real resurgence, after having been cultivated as a food crop in North America for more than 5,000 years. Pumpkin ice cream or doughnuts, anyone? Or how about a glass of pumpkin wine?

I am not a big fan of Halloween and jack-o-lanterns, but I have to admire this winter squash and its ability to reinvent itself after 5,000 years.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Morning Has Broken

I have never been a morning person, although for many years I got up at 4:30 a.m.

Dragging myself out of bed hours before the sun came up was never my idea of a good time. But I would feed and walk my dogs, go for a 3-mile run, then shower and get ready for work. My work day began at 7:30 a.m. I guess my body got used to waking up early, because I still frequently awaken long before dawn. I also inherited my parents' propensity for waking up very early every morning.

One recent morning I decided to get up rather than pretending that I would fall back asleep. It was still very dark outside, so after taking care of my dogs, I decided to go for a walk. After a few minutes, the sky started to lighten, and the hulking outline of the Sandia Mountains became visible. Then the eastern horizon began to turn pale pink and orange. 
After my walk, I took my small dogs for a walk, something I won't do until the sun is up due to the presence of numerous coyotes in the area. If they are near us, I want to be able to see them. After our walk, it was time for a cup of hot tea while I read the morning newspaper.

I actually enjoy being outside early in the morning, despite the grumbling about waking up so early. Especially at this time of year, the air is cool and crisp (45 degrees F), there is almost no traffic, and the day feels new and clean. Some mornings, I can see the mass ascension of hundreds of hot air balloons in the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Depending on the wind, some of them fly right over my house. Even without the balloons, however. I enjoy a wonderful walk on a beautiful fall morning.

In just a few weeks we will be forced to move our clocks back, which means the sun will rise an hour earlier. This is not a change I like, as this means I will wake up even earlier (my bedroom is on the east) and the sunset will set an hour earlier, making for long, dark evenings.

So I guess the only thing under my control is whether or not I choose to get up early and enjoy the quiet and solitude of an early fall morning in the high desert.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Donor Fatigue

I have 'donor fatigue.' I donate quite a bit of money to a variety of human, environmental and animal welfare charities every year. But this year, I feel anything but generous.

I attribute this to a couple of factors. First, I am facing some major home repair bills, including a new roof for my house and restuccoing of the house and the wall that surrounds my large back yard. Cost for this work probably will exceed $40,000. Second, I am really tired of being hit up for money on a daily basis. I started receiving Thanksgiving appeals in the mail more than three months before Thanksgiving. I realize that the need for feeding and housing the homeless doesn't stop during the summer, and I wouldn't have been put off had the appeals been based on that fact. But really, hitting me up, not once but repeatedly, for donations for Thanksgiving three months in advance? I have asked FIVE times to be removed from this group's mailing list, but I continue to receive mailings, the most recent one just yesterday.

My Facebook news feed, and my e-mail inbox, are filled with appeals for funds, many of them marked 'urgent' or 'emergency.' I have unsubscribed from several organizations' e-mails (which I never signed up for to begin with), and I have 'unliked' a lot of groups on Facebook. I simply cannot donate to every worthy cause.

Feeling overwhelmed by the number and intensity of demands for donations can lead to something dubbed 'donor fatigue,' described by as "a general weariness and diminished public response to requests for aid to needy people or donations to charitable causes."

I first heard about donor fatigue years ago when the news was filled with on-going reports about starvation in Africa. At first, people stepped up and donated, but when the problem continued without any seeming improvement, donor fatigue set in. This is one reason for donor fatigue -- a perceived lack of progress. For example, despite major advances in treating various cancers, there is no 'cure' and millions die from this horrid disease every year.

Fat salaries and compensation packages paid to executives of mega-charities are another reason for donor fatigue, as are a high level of 'administrative expenses' and reports of misuse of funds. Some so-called charities seem to exist only to raise funds. Years ago, I donated to CARE. However, I stopped donating, and have not given a dime since then, after I received weekly appeals for donations from this group. One day, I received TWO different appeals from CARE on the same day! It seemed that whatever money was raised was used simply to produce more demands for money.

I still plan to donate to my favorite organizations, but only when I want to donate, not in response to incessant requests for money. Donor fatigue has definitely taken hold. One of my favorite organizations, Memphis Area Golden Retriever Rescue (, has a large holiday fundraiser every year. It's done online, and I always make a generous donation in memory of my adopted golden, Gage. I never receive appeals for money from this group during the year, not even in its e-mailed newsletter. I wish more organizations would follow MAGRR's model. In the several years since I adopted Gage, MAGRR has always met and exceeded its fundraising goal. So this approach obviously is very successful.

So, non-profits of the world, give a thought to how donor fatigue is impacting your donors. While I may support your cause, I -- and many others -- don't appreciate being hounded for still more donations. We also don't like to see the money wasted on incessant mailings that could be put to use helping those you claim to help.