Monday, May 30, 2011


Some people plan their charitable donations, keep their receipts, and get a little break on their taxes every year. I wish I had the organizational skills to do that, but I have a more haphazard approach to charity. I don't keep track of what I give, and I don't get receipts for it. It's kind of random, but in a way, I like it that way. I like to get unexpected surprises, and I guess I feel like I'm giving someone else a little something they weren't planning on.

You might almost say it's Nora Roberts' fault. I don't remember which book it was, but one of her heroes threw all his charitable requests into a drawer, and then, once a year, he would just randomly pull out requests and write hefty checks. He didn't look at whom he'd given to before or favor any particular organization; he just drew names.

I really liked that approach. There are so many groups out there that do great things, and I feel like most of them are deserving. I can't help all of them, so I do my giving by impulse. Maybe I bring furniture, clothes, or snacks to the women's shelter. I routinely drop stuff off at Goodwill, and I don't wait around for a receipt. I volunteer to help with projects and activities. I feed stray animals and have birdfeeders and birdbaths in my yard, and sometimes I take bread or crackers out to the woods and strew them for the animals out there to find. I toss money into the basket at church (the only consistent donation I make). Twice I've set up book swap shelves in the teachers' lounges of the schools I've worked at, and saved up enough books to fill the rack before I put it together. I also donate books to the swap shelves of the public library in town and the library on post. I try to find homes for things rather than toss them into the trash. I recycle at home and at work. I've cooked (and scheduled others to cook) meals for families in crisis. During my tenure in various clubs, I've organized fundraisers to support various charities and scholarships. I've also been active with Relay for Life over the past 13 years.

I would also point out that prayer is, in my view, a form of charity, and possibly the sincerest form of charity because it truly is anonymous to the recipient. I believe in the power of prayer, and I know there have been times when my life has been blessed in times of crisis by the people who lifted me up with their prayers and positive thoughts. I really believe the universe benefits when people are sending out positive energy on the behalf of others.

I don't really like telephone solicitation, mostly because I always try to say yes, and then I really have to be organized to follow through with my promise or pledge. I'm much happier if there's a website I can go to when apporoached and make an immediate donation with plastic. Then there are the checkout charities. You know the ones I mean, the "Would you like to donate $1 for Jerry's Kids" as you're presenting your payment for the groceries you just bought. My rule is, if they ask me to donate, I do. I love to put canned goods out for the post office food drive, "buy" jeans passes at work by donating for various causes, and support my children's school fundraisers. If you're selling raffle tickets, I'm the girl to approach. I never win those things, but I feel like I've helped if I've purchased tickets, candy bars, cookie dough, or gift wrap. Don't get me wrong. I understand that a concentrated gift to one particular target does a great deal of good, but I'm not in a position to give an amount that would make a substantial difference to anyone.

Neither am I bragging. I know it might sound that way, but really, what I'm trying to say is that every little bit really does help. Times really are hard now, and I fear that things are only going to get worse. So I stock up my pantry, clean out my closets, and give my time or money when I can.

If you feel guilty that you're not helping enough, I urge you to look at what you're doing. I'll bet you're helping a lot more than you realize. If you've done any of the things I've mentioned above, or anything like them, you've aided a charity, whether it was personal or professional. It may be haphazard, but it's still charity, and it's always appreciated. And remember that old saying: Time IS money. If you can't give goods, you can always give services. Change the World: Volunteer!

Saturday, May 21, 2011


When you work in an elementary school classroom, the one thing you can guarantee is that there are always pencils that need to be sharpened. And if you don't want your jaw to rattle all day with the sound of the electric sharpener (a noise akin to that of a dentist's drill, to my ears), you might sharpen them yourself with one of those 50-cent sharpeners that gather the shavings in a self-contained holder. There are 24 students in the second-grade classroom to which I'm currently assigned, and between their wanton destruction of the pencil population and their heavy hands when it comes to putting pencil to paper, pencils need to be sharpened at about the rate of six per minute.

As I was sharpening the latest batch this week, it occurred to me to wonder why pencils are usually yellow. Not just yellow, but the orangey-yellow of Velveeta cheese. I know you can buy pencils in every color of the rainbow nowadays, and with any picture or words, glitter, velvet, and other embellishments you can imagine, but if you go to the store to buy cheap pencils in bulk, they are going to remind you of Kraft macaroni and cheese. Why? Who decided that was the color pencils should be?

Furthermore, why are erasers always pink? Pink erasers and orangey-yellow pencils don't even match, but if you look up clip-art of pencils, nine times out of ten, they'll be yellow pencils with pink erasers.

There are a lot of these unspoken rules about what we agree things should look like. My daughter says that all pizza should be pepperoni. As proof, she points out the fact that whenever you see an illustration of a slice of pizza, it is invariably topped with little reddish-brown circles of what is clearly pepperoni.

All babies have blue eyes. Well, Caucasian babies. Except mine, who were all born with murky gray eyes that were clearly destined to darken and never had a hint of blue in them, regardless of the myriad blue-eyed relatives on both sides of the family tree.

I listened to a teacher berate a child who had colored leaves purple, saying that was not a color that occurs in leaves. In fact, it is. I don't know the name of the plant, but I have seen it for sale at Walmart and its leaves are purple. (I know this doesn't support my topic, but it's kind of the inverse of my point, so I left it in.)

Who eats eggs sunnyside up? I'm an over-easy gal myself. (Hmm, maybe that's not the best way to put that.) Pictures of eggs? Sunnyside up.

How about cupcakes? Cupcakes always have pink frosting. The weird thing is, a lot of the time they have cherries on top, but I've never had a cupcake with a cherry on top. Of course, sundaes are always shown with hot fudge, and cookies are always chocolate chip. Maybe chocolate trumps everything else.

Apples are always red. We know that apples can be green or yellow or even pink, but when we draw apples, we always color them red.

Don't you feel bad for oranges? They don't even get their own name; they have to share it with their color. Why don't we call lemons yellows or limes greens? Could it be that oranges are just that unique that the color was named for them rather than they being named for the color?

Why are school buses yellow? Why are tractors red (when they're not John Deere green)? When did car manufacturers agree that they could paint cars in colors other than black?

Look at any picture drawn by an elementary school child and notice that the sun is always angled across one of the top corners of the paper, with huge spiky rays extending from it. Have we ever actually seen the sun look like that? I doubt it, but we've all drawn the sun that way. Furthermore, we most often draw the moon as a crescent, even though it only appears that way about a fourth of the time. Is it to distinguish it from the sun?

I guess it boils down to a form of shorthand. We portray things the way we most often see them, and then we know exactly what we're talking about. When we see an egg sunnyside up, there's no doubt we're talking about an egg. If we see an oval, it could be an egg, but there's always that tiny shred of a chance that it might be something else. If it's yellow, it must be a pencil.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


I heard on the radio a couple of weeks ago that one of the major publishing houses was trying to figure out a way to limit the number of times a library could loan an e-book before having to renew its purchase. My initial reaction was critical of the idea, but then I started thinking more about it, and now I believe the publishers have the right idea.

E-books are more popular than ever, and those of us who own e-readers are always looking for good free content. Naturally, we might look to our local public libraries to give us access to the hottest new releases, but electronic loans are a very different concept than physical book loans. Think about it.

When you borrow a book from the library, you have one copy of it in your possession for two weeks, usually. During that time, no one else can borrow the book. Maybe you return it early, probably you return it on time, and possibly you return it late. The amount of time you have the book determines how soon someone else can have it. Perhaps your library buys or leases several copies of the same book because there's a huge demand for it. Even so, the number of readers of each book is limited. People who really want to read it may lose patience and buy a copy, and sometimes friends will share a hot new book within their circle of readers. Publishers count on the fact that our impatience to get our hands on a certain book will bump their sales.

With an e-book, one could theoretically loan it to thousands of people at a time. There's no profit in that for the publishers, and let's face it, the bottom line is the need for the publisher (and of course the author) to sell as many copies of the book as possible to generate revenue and royalties. It makes sense that publishers would look for a way to limit the number of times an e-book could be shared before the rights would have to be re-purchased. The numbers being tossed around in the radio piece seemed unrealistic to me (26 uses per purchase, figuring on the number of times a hard copy would be loaned in a year). I agree with the idea of rights being tied to the number of uses rather than a time-frame; again, one could theoretically loan an e-book thousands of times in a very short period. However, repeated purchasing of loaning rights also brings up the question of the library's budget--the more money being spent on rights to ebooks, the less money there is for other library needs.

So what's the solution?

My suggestion would be to charge a nominal fee for e-books, maybe $1 per rental, and split the money between the publisher and the library. I know that would likely entail some changes in how libraries are run and funded, but we have to keep up with technological advances and adapt old ways of doing things to new possibilities.

There will still be plenty of us who will buy actual books that we can hold in our hands and read, and share with our fellow readers. I'm reminded of Capt. Picard on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. With some sort of e-books available to him, he still preferred to sit in his quarters and read his beautiful, gilt-embossed hardcover books. Likewise, I can't imagine gathering my grandchildren around me to read to them from my Nook, color or not. There is a time and place for each type of book, and we can have plenty of options with each. All we have to do is figure out what's fair for all the parties involved in e-reading. If everyone gives a little, everyone can gain a lot. There's plenty of room for compromise.