Starting a New Holiday Tradition

Well, here we are into the first week of Advent! In addition to the Sunday celebration services and advent candle lightings, that means baking, wrapping, decorating, and mailing.

I don’t know about you, but we still send paper Christmas holiday greeting cards each year. In the cards for people we feel close to, my beloved and I even enclose one of those obnoxious little letters sharing a bit about the year that we and our family had. We have moved many times over the years, each time leaving behind some treasured friendships. We also have family and very good friends on three continents – these notes show them how the grandkids are growing, and lets them know that we still think of them and want to keep up with them. Not everyone’s on Facebook.

A while back I saw a post on social media, suggesting that cards to soldiers and veterans be a part of the holidays for more families this year. In the face of recent events and so much international uncertainty, that sounded like an idea that was long overdue for me. My dad and both grandfathers served in the armies of their countries (USA and UK) and my husband’s father served in the US Navy. All of them served in time of war and spent holidays in far-away places.  I wish the world were a better place, and all our boys and girls in uniform could be home for the holidays. But I know some of them will be away for a long time, and some will never return. None of them made the decision to put our troops where they are. So, as I started addressing cards this week, I went online to get more info on how to send messages of holiday thanks and encouragement to our troops.

I quickly realized that I had missed the boat. That post? It meant to do it THEN, the day I read it, and not at my leisure a month later.

The annual deadline for the Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes campaign (through their local chapters) had just passed – it was December 2nd.  Valiant Veterans’ Operation Christmas Cards had a December 1st deadline,  and the Hugs for Soldiers’ Christmas for a Soldier annual campaign ended December 1st as well.

But, I learned it’s not altogether too late.

  • A Million Thanks has a Send a Letter program  where you can send letters at any time – including what might be belated holiday greetings – and they have other services as well. All they ask that you be uplifting and thankful in your notes.
  • And missing a holiday card deadline doesn’t mean there’s nothing at all you can do until next year. It tugs at our hearts that there are soldiers and veterans who will not be with family and friends for Christmas (or whatever holiday they celebrate at this time of year), but many are lonely or need support the rest of the year as well. Did you know you could get a military pen-pal? Write to thank a soldier at any time? “Adopt” a military family? Operation We Are Here  has quite a few suggestions. Soldier’s Angels also has community/group opportunities to reach out to deployed US military, veterans, and more.
  • You can also send or drop off cards to your local VA hospital (call first to find out the best way and time to do this). Some Veterans Administration facilities also need drivers, or have “needs lists” which they don’t use to solicit gifts, but offer as guidelines when asked – things as simple as new t-shirts and personal hygiene items.

So at least now I have a revised, two-pronged plan for my cards – sending some notes through the Send a Letter program now (and throughout 2016), and marking my calendar to write holiday cards before Thanksgiving next year to get them into the holiday flow.

Guess I’d better get to work.

Here’s wishing you all a blessed holiday season and a bright, hopeful, and peaceful 2016!

Posted in Faith, Giving Back, Ruminations | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Giving Season and the Thoughtful Giver

It’s that time of year again.

Since before Hallowe’en, US stores have been sneaking Christmas items onto their shelves. Blue and silver Hannakuh wrapping paper and red and green Christmas candies have appeared everywhere, and seasonal music has begun playing in our retail outlets and on TV commercials. Our mailboxes – electronic and snailmail – are filled with exhortations to purchase holiday gifts, and social media is full of ideas for celebrating whatever holiday(s) are part of our traditions. But they contain another kind of solicitation as well.

During the last quarter of the year, non-profit organizations of all types put on an annual push for donations. You have until the end of the year to make contributions that are tax-deductible for 2015, and they know this. The rush is on in early October to get to each of us first, in order to garner their needed pieces of the pie. The tax deadline and the season dovetail nicely together. We’re full of the spirit of giving, and many of us can receive some benefit for doing it as well.

In 2012, a group in New York had an idea for sparking charitable giving on social media, and Giving Tuesday (the Tuesday after Thanksgiving) was born. Very clever really, to do it after Black Friday and Cyber Monday – its own day, not conflicting with early shopping, and focusing on charitable giving. Today celebrates the fourth Giving Tuesday, and many non-profit and for-profit organizations have jumped on the bandwagon,. Your email, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media pages will be full of the logo above, which we are all encouraged to use to further giving efforts today. And so it gets easier to “do good.” Overall, not a bad thing.

When my beloved and I were in our peak earning years, our charitable giving was barely sacrificial – it was easy to do and opportunities were everywhere. We had United Way automatic withdrawals from our paychecks to our designated favorite charities. We supported some favorite local organizations and an overseas child, our children’s and grandchildren’s school and other fundraising efforts, our alma maters, and our local church. We certainly didn’t always take time to know as much as we might have about some of the organizations we supported.

Now that we have a more or less fixed income, we have to be a little more thoughtful about how we spend our charitable dollars, and that effort has been eye-opening. Of course we will continue to support the efforts of our grandchildren and the church we attend. We continue some designated giving to the schools that gave so much to us. But we’ve received mail solicitations from no fewer than thirty organizations in the past two months, and we can’t just throw money at all of them, no matter how much we appreciate their goals.

 So how do we choose?

Well, to start with, just because an organization is well-known, doesn’t mean it uses its donations well. It isn’t only Wall Street that pays top dollar to executives. And there are many other inefficiencies. It is stunning to see how the dollars you send are used. Thankfully, there are some easy ways to check on this. Some links for groups that watch charitable organizations are included below. Looking at their data may change how you see a few groups, and may make you want to support others more. I guarantee there will be some surprises.

Or, if you want to make a donation for fighting a certain illness, ask your doctor which organizations are best supporting his patients. Ask your pastor or school counselor which organizations are making a difference in your community. Donate to the local food pantry and women’s shelter. There is no end to the ways you can find the charities that are meaningful to you, who will treasure your gifts and use them well.

So, although it’s easier than ever to click and give, we are working this year to find the most meaningful uses for our donations, to really make those dollars count. I’m certainly not suggesting anyone shun the Giving Tuesday movement – it has been wildly successful. I’m just suggesting that you take a moment to think about which clicks will make the most difference in your world.

So Happy Giving Tuesday – May your season be bright and may all your gifts be thoughtful!


Here are a few links to Charity Watchdog organizations:

Posted in Blogging, Faith, Family, Finances, Giving Back, Ruminations | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Do I Really Have My Father’s Eyes?

BROWNIEAll my life, I’ve been told I had my father’s eyes. Family lore has it that a complete stranger came up to my mother at a county park when I was a baby, pointed to my rosy cheeks and impossibly pale blue eyes and announced that she had no idea who my mother was, but that I clearly was a member of my father’s family. Even other family members have confused my photos with pictures of my Dad’s sisters. (That’s OK with me – I think they’re all lovely.) The point is – the force runs strong in my father’s family.

Daddy and Me as toddlers

Daddy and Me as toddlers

Genetics are a funny and random mixed bag. My sister and I have inherited some of the same traits, but also many different things from each of our parents. My sister’s face is a clear reflection of our mother’s mother, and she got many more of Mum’s freckles than I did. She got Daddy’s natural athletic ability, and I got our mother’s preference to be alone with a book over almost anything else. We both inherited a great love of movies and music from Mum, and we both wear those bright, pale blue eyes from Dad.

1378678_10200726870915958_922495766_nI don’t remember my father ever complaining about his eyes until he was in his late 70’s and diabetes began to take its toll. My mother, on the other hand, had incredibly beautiful eyes, but was very nearsighted (myopic) and often had to hide them behind glasses. An injury to one of her eyes made contact lenses off limits. Taking her specs off meant she had to open her eyes wider to see, which had the effect of making her look inquisitive and even more attractive. The truth is, her eyes were gorgeous, but they were a trial to her.

Mum was a writer and, for a time, editor of a local magazine. Each month she wrote some article for the magazine, like a profile of a local business or personality, or a humor piece about life as a resident of our county. One of those pieces was called “Myopia Is My Way of Life.” In it she described her love-hate relationship with her glasses, and to this day it makes me laugh.

But as she aged, her eyes gave her additional problems – ones that could cause blindness if left untreated. In her sixties she developed cataracts (lens clouding) and the clear vision she relied on became fractured and unclear. An eye doctor told me that 46526_656823199152_1741297494_nmost of us get some progressive cataract distortion as we age, but the very nearsighted are often affected earlier. Mum had surgery to correct her cataracts and improve her myopia, and then did a little metaphorical tap dance because, as she said, her vision was better than it had been in her thirties. She bought some new books to celebrate.

Then, she developed glaucoma (damage to the optic nerve, usually caused by pressure). It was caught early, and for the balance of her life she put two kinds of drops in her eyes daily, to prevent further damage. Being a Scot, she was keenly aware of the financial cost of those drops, but she was even more aware of the consequences of failing to use them. Her vision was clear and her eyes were bright and beautiful until the day she died.

So, today I had a follow-up visit with the ophthalmologist. Follow-up, because my annual checkup with my optician (who provides my glasses for myopia) showed some suspicious things. First, I have cataracts starting. These will be monitored, and at some point in the not-too-distant future, I’ll have to have surgery. They don’t advocate the surgery when they first start, because, well it’s surgery after all, and so they’re cautious. But when I notice progression, it will be my turn to have the surgery, do a tap dance, and order some new books.

The other suspicion was that I may have the beginnings of glaucoma. Some more tests were done today, and I have yet another follow-up visit in a few months to see if I need to start the regimen of daily eye drops.  You can get crowns on your teeth, and they can build you new knees and hips, but we really only get one pair of eyes each – they need a little TLC.

As I was describing my doctor visit to my beloved tonight, I had a funny thought. It suddenly occurred to me that all my life, everyone has been wrong. In some very important ways, I have my mother’s eyes, and not my father’s after all.


Also see:

Posted in Health Issues, Retirement itself | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Symbols of Cities and Lands

Some landmarks are iconic – a single image of them conjures the names of the places they represent. They become symbols of their locations…


Like the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower in Paris…

China 538 - CopyThe Great Wall of China…

Blue - Tower Bridge and Blue Skies over London

Tower Bridge in London…

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The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco…

DSC_0335 (2)…or the Space Needle in Seattle.

What’s your favorite symbolic landmark?


This post was written in response to the WordPress Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge:  Symbol.  To see other bloggers’ iconic entries and get more info on these challenges, just click on the links! 

Posted in Photo Challenges, Recreation, Travelogues | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Land Meets Water

In May, my beloved and I went out to the West Coast for a family wedding, and took advantage of the time to do some travel and sightseeing in the Bay area and north.  These are some images from small hikes we took between San Francisco and Eureka.

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We could have stayed each place for hours, watching the surf bounce off the rocks and make patterns in the sand.


This post was written in response to the weekly Travel Theme challenge by Ailsa of WheresMyBackpack: Land Meets Water.  To see other bloggers’ beachy entries and get more info on these challenges, just click on the link! 



Posted in Photo Challenges, Recreation, Travelogues | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Ephemeral Nature of Days… and of Gratitude

Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word
Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from Heaven
Like the first dewfall on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where His feet pass
Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new day
– lyrics written by Eleanor Farjeon in 1931, to be sung to the Scottish Highland tune “Bunessan”


Here we are, once again, in Spring – the season of rebirth and new life.  The Vernal Equinox happened recently, and that means that day and night are about equal parts of each 24-hour span. It also means we’re well into Lent – a period of reflection and preparation for Easter for Christians around the world.

In the spirit of the season, I ventured outdoors today to find that it had snowed again in our little corner of New England this morning. Hmmmm. I walked around our yard and did find signs of life. A chipmunk scampered across the back yard toward shelter under our deck. Birds were picking through the debris on the forest floor for material to build nests. Buds and pods have started on trees, vines, and bushes. Tomorrow, the nests will be closer to completion and the buds will be just a little bigger, despite today’s dusting.


So I found myself humming the familiar words: God’s re-creation of the new day.


Merriam Webster defines ephemeral as lasting one day only, or lasting a very short time. My Lenten meditation today is on gratitude, and that’s what gratitude often is – ephemeral. We’re thankful for a moment or a day, and then the little niggling things get to us and we forget to maintain that feeling – It’s snowing; I’m cold. I’m tired of this weather.

And that’s exactly why, in the midst of an economic and worldwide depression, a vicar commissioned beloved British children’s author Eleanor Farjeon to write words for a new children’s hymn to a familiar tune (an old Scots melody also used for a popular Christmas Carol of the time). He wanted a psalm that would remind both singers and listeners to be thankful for the Lord’s bounty every day. That hymn is Morning Has Broken, later also published as the poem A Morning Song for the First Day of Spring.

Many people I know first heard the song when Cat Stevens recorded it in 1971, but I remember singing it in church in the 50’s and 60’s in children’s choir. I even got to sing the middle verse as a solo once in church. My daughter sang it at her uncle’s wedding. And the words have never been lost on me. Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning. So much to be grateful for, whatever else is going on in the world. Praise with elation, praise every morning.

 Don’t let that grateful spirit slip away. Renew it every day.


Thanks to “BilboKepa” for posting this montage version of the song on YouTube:


This post was written in response to the weekly Travel Theme challenge by Ailsa of WheresMyBackpack: Outdoors   and  to the WordPress Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Ephemeral.  To see other bloggers’ creative entries and get more info on these challenges, just click on the links! 

My previous Lenten posts:


Posted in Faith, Ruminations | Tagged , , , , , , , | 18 Comments