Saturday, November 28, 2009

What's your code? The Christmas challenge, part 3

In the decidedly un-Christmassy (but excellent) HBO series, The Wire, characters Bunk and then Omar had this mantra: A man's gotta have a code.

So as I plunge into the holiday season this year, I ask myself, what's my code? How will my values be reflected in my spending choices?
Here is my informal checklist. With my gift-giving this year, I want to:
  • Give things to those who need them.

  • Give time, affection, hospitality to those who do not need stuff.

  • Try to support local businesses, artisans, farmers.

  • Will my purchase support a good cause?

  • Think quality. What items will last to be used again vs what will end up in a landfill.?
  • Can I repurpose existing goods?

  • Will my gifts be a nice treat, provide creative or intellectual stimulation? Will they keep someone warm?

  • Will the recipient enjoy the gift or feel burdened by it?

  • Can I be a wise steward of our family finances or will my heart sink in January when the bills come in?

Armed with my code, I set out today to do some shopping. Here's where I went:

  • to three garage sales (made purchases at two)
  • one consignment shop (did not buy anything)
  • three thrift shops (made modest purchases at each)
  • to a very good used book store (bought four books -cough - not necessarily all as gifts.)
I stuck to my code. I purchased from local businesses, I have an eye to repurposing some of the items I bought, I have not sent money overseas, I have not added to the waste stream, and I spent very little money.
Mission accomplished.
Note: One bonus at Old Saratoga Books is Sam, the store cat, who will quite happily sit on your lap while you browse through a book. Much better shopping experience than long lines at the mall.
Photo credits go to Old Saratoga Books, from their website and blog.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Rethinking the holidays, Chapter 2

Having a wonderful time; glad I'm not there...

Just looking at this picture gives me the heebie-jeebies. How did our society become so bovine?

Hey, folks, remember that trade deficit with China? It's in your hands, baby. Ya don't gotta buy all that stuff. You really don't.
To be clear: I think giving small, meaningful gifts at Christmas is a charming tradition, one I plan to continue. But let's pause and think before we grab some piece of foreign-made, possibly toxic, crap just because we think it will make our gift recipient think better of us.

NPR's Planet Money has this take: "Economist Joel Waldfogel says giving gifts people don't want isn't just bad for the recipients, it's bad for the economy."
Check out Mr. Waldfogul's book, Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays. And when I say "check out", that's just what I mean. You do not have to buy it. Use your local library and borrow a copy on inter library loan if they don't own it. You can do this on line in most places.

Here are some other reading suggestions to help you re-think how you will spend your time and money this year and beyond:

A book that actually lives in our own home library is Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season , by Jo Robinson and Jean C. Staeheli. This book changed my thinking when I read it a number of years ago.

All of these books can be borrowed through public libraries or purchased used at modest prices. A few simple web searches can help you find other interesting books along the same lines.

Yesterday, I asked my youngest son what he might like for Christmas. This 22 year old bachelor who lives on his own in a humble apartment (and to my mind could use a number of things) answered, " A pan of lasagna and a batch of chocolate chip cookies."

Ah, my sweet. Music to my ears.

Stay turned for more holiday suggestions that won't hurt the environment, your bank account, nor the nation's economic trade imbalance.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Making the holidays more green and less red

So come this Friday morning, this is where I won't be. Not that we ever were a family that went overboard for Christmas. My poor children, now grown, not a single video game ever came their way on Christmas morn. Somehow, they survived.

Throughout this season, I hope to share some ideas for making the holidays more meaningful, more green, and more loving. Please feel free to chime in and share your good ideas, too.

Let's call this first installment: Charitable Giving.

Most of the people I know don't actually need very much new right now. My two lovely sisters and I often talk about getting rid of stuff, not accumulating more. Perhaps you know folks like that, too.

So how about putting your gift money toward a meaningful charitable gift in honor of a family member or friend? Think about what your loved one values, and pick a charity that reflects that.

Not sure which charity is a good one? There are some excellent research tools on line. Check out Charity Navigator, or the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Guide, for a start.

So here's my riff:

For that friend who is always a gracious hostess: a donation to a homeless shelter would be fitting.

For the art lover: support a small local museum or an arts and crafts program for needy kids.

For the gourmet cook: donate to a food pantry or a soup kitchen.

For the animal lover: the SPCA could use some help.

You get the idea.

We've all heard that times are pretty tough for non-profits right now. So please consider doing some real good this year. And you won't even have to get in line at 4:00 a.m. in order to do it.

(Hint to my family members: as a teacher, I've had a soft spot for Girls Hope Boys Hope for some years. Also, my little village church is struggling to pay its bills. And their roof needs fixing.)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Moondancing and giving thanks

I took this photograph earlier this month as I was staying at work later than usual. I was attending the induction ceremony for the new National Honor Society students from our high school that evening. Daylight savings time had just "fallen back" and the late fall day had been clear and warm. Seeing this spectacular moonrise, I drove to a nearby overlook behind the high school for a better view. It was so beautiful that I lingered there for quite a while, quietly breathing in the cooling Adirondack air.

For the NHS ceremony this year, the list of new inductees included two of my former students. As a special education teacher, this is not something that I get to see very often. Both boys have worked hard to overcome their very different learning challenges and their induction was indeed a wonderful moment to witness.

I have tucked that evening into my list of blessings to be thankful for this year. With the full moon rising over the lake and mountains, watching the proud faces of my former students and their parents, in that moment the world felt full of promise and beauty.

Turn back the calendar to August 2008 and here is another moonrise I photographed. The setting was San Gimignano, Italy, a medieval hill town in the Tuscan countryside. The HH* and I were visiting and vacationing with our daughter, an army specialist, who was stationed in Italy at that time.

Since then, our Molls has completed a deployment in Afghanistan. She is, as I write now, briefly back in Italy but will very soon be returning to the US. Her safe return from a war zone is quite high on my list of blessings for which I am giving thanks this year. But I will also give thanks for this special memory, for this magical night a year and some ago, as we stood together in the stony plaza of a medieval hill town, watching an eclipse of the moon over an ancient landscape.

Our son-in-law phoned last night to say our Molls is due home on December 2. That just happens to be the night of the next full moon. That will be, in the words of Van Morrison, a marvelous night for a moondance.

For all of the fresh young faces in my life: for my own three grown children, for my daughter-in-law and my son-in-law, for grandchildren Margie Moo and 'Lexi Loo, for our nieces and nephews and their beautiful children, for the students I have been lucky to know and grow with, and for the HH who shares it all with me, I give many, many thanks.

*HH = Handsome Husband

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bee Balm Gal - the comic strip version

We had a staff development presentation at school today.
We sat passively in rows all morning.
The presenter talked a lot. Sometimes, she turned her back on us and read aloud from her power point slides.

Her presentation was about new ways we could get our students
to become more engaged in their learning.
( Sigh.)

Note: The Bee Lady image comes from:

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Indo-German Adirondack Chicken Chowder

After yesterday's trip to the Ballston Spa Farmers' Market, here was the soup we had for supper last night. I'm calling it Indo-German Adirondack Chicken Chowder. Odd name, pretty nice taste.

My influences, I think, came from Margaret Roach at A Way to Garden. Her blog planted the appealing idea of curry on a drear winter night. I was also inspired by the yummy corn chowder made last weekend by my young friend over at Artistic Eatables.

At any rate, here's what went into the pot:
  • onions, garlic, and celery, sauteed in olive oil.
  • cut up Adirondack Blue potatoes and three white carrots with one conventionally colored orange one.
  • the diced up remains of a chicken-Reuben casserole (the main ingredients of which were boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese.)
  • I added equal parts chicken broth and organic creamy butternut squash soup.
  • Then I added some cumin, coriander, and a healthy shake of curry.

I let all that simmer a bit and then served it up with some warmed bread.

I will wager that this exact soup has never been made before. (Does anyone in their right mind put sauerkraut and curry in the same dish?)

Somehow it all blended nicely. The HH* only had one complaint: he didn't like the fact that the carrots were white and the potatoes were blue. He granted that the taste was good, but requested no more camouflaged vegetables...

* HH = Handsome Husband

Saturday, November 7, 2009

At the Ballston Spa Winter Farmers' Market

I love going to the local farmers' markets on Saturday morning, when I can remember to get myself up and out for them. This year, our village market is going to try to keep going through the winter by opening once a month in the cooperative extension building. In nearby Saratoga Springs, they have a somewhat larger market that is open every Saturday in winter
Upstate New York has a short growing season, but there were still some good eats to find at today's market in Ballston Spa. Here's where my money went this morning:
  • Mr. Martel of Blue Moon Sharpening Service put a new edge on three of my favorite old kitchen knives. With turkey-carving season upon us, I try to get my knives professionally sharpened around this time of year.
  • For produce, I chose some lovely baby lettuces, a small acorn squash (along with a free recipe for Apple Filled Squash) and two varieties of potatoes, one with gold flesh and some Adirondack Blues. I love the name.
  • Baked goods, from three different vendors, included a chocolate almond zucchini dessert bread, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (proceeds to go for the young seller's college fund - how could I not?) a whole wheat crisp bread, and a seasoned French bread made with local and organic ingredients.
  • I also bought a homemade asiago cheese, artichoke, and spinach dip, intended to be served warmed.

So supper tonight will be a hearty chicken soup, starting with some leftover chicken, to which I will add some vegetables and my newly purchased local potatoes. I will serve it with the locally made French bread and warmed cheese spread, with a choice of one of the chocolaty things for dessert. And tomorrow, maybe I will try that apple filled squash recipe... Yum!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

On Galumphing Golden Retrievers and Tow-headed Tots

On Saturday afternoon, I took our wee beasties to Saratoga State Park where there is a corner used as an unofficial dog park. Most of the dogs there have heads bigger than our entire dogs, but our gals still enjoy a bit of off-leash time there. So here's my vignette of the day:

Thirty-something guy is throwing a tennis ball to his tall galumphing golden retriever, who eagerly chases it time and again. The guy stops to rest the dog and chat with an acquaintance. Dog waits a minute, eyes fixed on his owner, then perceives there is no ball toss imminent. Dog turns away and spies autumn leaves drifting down from nearby trees and begins to attempt to catch those in mid-air. Dog spends the next few minutes happily leaping about, snapping left and right as the leaves flutter past...
We have two sweet little fair-haired girls in our lives: lovely granddaughter Margie Moo on the west coast and equally lovely step-granddaughter 'Lexi Loo in Oklahoma. The trouble is, they both live great distances from upstate New York. With their ages at 2 1/2 and 4 respectively, grandmothering from afar takes some planning. I am always trying to think of some little thing I can send them for upcoming holidays to let them know that they are in my thoughts.
So here is what they'll be getting from Grandma for Thanksgiving:

We have here a small storybook each; two Tom Turkey and Priscilla the Pilgrim Girl sticker paper doll books, and each will get a sweet little handcrafted wooden turkey made in Germany. But shhhh - don't spoil the surprise!

How do you keep in touch with your far away little ones?