Monday, December 27, 2021

A Modest Lesson for a Better Life

There are many things you are taught by your parents that remain a part of you during your entire life. One of the best lessons my parents taught me was that no matter how bad things are, someone is worse off and you should do what you can to help. This help can be goods, money, or simply using your time to assist using the talents you have. As we head into 2022, it is time once again for me to establish my base level getting for the coming year.

When I worked for the Department of Defense, one of the extra duties I was given was to head up the annual Combined Federal Campaign for my location. If you’re not familiar with CFC a program designed to solicit monetary contributions from all federal employees for the coming year. One aspect of the program is that you, as the donor, can select specific charities you want to receive your money rather than it going to a central fund for a slate of pre-selected donees. Because of this, local charities who normally would have been left out of such a nationwide program in the past can take part simply by submitting the proper paperwork. As one who helped manage the CFC, I was part of a group that reviewed this paperwork annually to ensure that the charity met governmental regulations. One of the biggest was overhead to benefit ratio.

This ratio is very simple to understand. It is the percentage of total donations that went to cover the overhead costs of the organization versus the amount that went to the people the charity was supposed to help. I am sure we’ve all heard of the charity that spent all their money on overhead and gave zero dollars to Haitian disaster victims it was supposed to help. One of the biggest failures of understanding is that just because a charity is nonprofit does not mean it is non-salaried. In fact, many charities spend millions on their staff overhead, and covering personal expenses (housing, travel and meals) while spending very little for those who were supposed to benefit.

Armed with this experience, I became a better donor in the years since. Every December, I select three charities to give money to for the next year. Aside from checking out their overhead figures, I also contact the charities that make the first cut and ask them if it is possible for me to donate anonymously and not be placed on our mailing list. 

I will never forget a $50 donation that I made to a charity, named for an American coin denomination. I was immediately deluged with requests for additional money. I wrote them several times, asking them to remove me from the mailing list, but to no avail. Now, fifteen years later, I still get at least one solicitation from them a month. It goes directly into the shredder. I know by now they have spent far beyond the $50 I gave them originally, but rather than accepting that, there was a push to get even more money. I can’t blame them. I just don’t want to be part of it.

After I get an assurance, I set up an automatic payment which is sent every two weeks to the charities I chosen. If it any point during the year I receive mass mailings requesting more money, I write them a simple letter asking to be removed from the mailing list and reminding them of my initial contact and their assurance that I would not be added to any such mailing list. If I continue to get more solicitations, I remove them from my list of donees and split the money among the remaining charities. It may sound harsh, but if I’m sending them a donation which, instead of going to their stated aim, is being used to solicit me for more funds, I don’t want to be part of it. It’s nothing less than a self licking ice cream cone. 

I will not list the charities that I chose for 2022 here. Some would agree with the ones I chose, others might think of charities they felt were more worthy. Since I think charity is a personal decision, which should be done quietly rather than shout it from the mountaintops, I will omit my decisions and just encourage you to give to whoever you feel will do the most good.

Besides those I select to get regular donations, there is one charity that I have always donated to rather randomly throughout the year. That charity is Modest Needs. I found out about them many years ago, and I liked what they did and feel they do it most effectively.

The Modest Needs organization is there for people who need a single short time bridge because of unforeseen or uncontrollable circumstances. For example, someone may have gotten behind on bills because the company they work for cutback their hours or maybe an unexpected medical expense that is ripping a hole in their budget. Modest Needs checks out the requester’s story and documents it. Then the approved case is placed online with thousands of others. You, as a donor, have a choice. You can read the individual cases and choose specific ones to donate to, or you can place the money in their general fund and allow Modest Needs to make the choice. 

What I like best about Modest Needs is getting to see what the actual need is not some sort of generality written by an advertising wonk. You will always find at least one need to which you can directly relate. Also, you can request to see the closing statement of the case after it is fulfilled. You actually get to see the change you made it happen. What a great way to feel good about what you’ve done.

For further information on how Modest Needs operates, I encourage you to check out their website. 

We live in strange times, and the need to connect with others on a personal level has never been greater. Charity is one way to connect—after all, you can always find someone who needs and will appreciate your help.

NOTE: You may have noticed that for the month of December I am once again making weekly blog entries. It is a resolution I made to get back into the writing groove and shrug off the funk of the last eighteen months. I think we all need to shake off some funk and, to paraphrase John Steinbeck, get the world back to spinning in greased grooves.


Monday, December 20, 2021

MacBeth - the Best Puppy Ever

On the seventeenth of this month the best puppy in the world, MacBeth, was born. It was a month later when I met him for the first time. There’s lots of information on the web about how to pick the best puppy out of a litter, but the one thing MacBeth did from the very beginning was wrap his paws around your arm when you held him. Instant endearment.

He quickly got bigger and was always eager to explore everything that was around him, from the lake to the snow. He also loves to travel, particularly when I take him to places where dogs don’t normally get to go like the Hard Rock Cafe in Gatlinburg. Once he completed his Canine Good Citizen class, I used that to get permission for him to stay in a rather well-known chain of hotels that rarely allows dogs. The CEO was nice enough to provide me with a letter granting him admission. There’s a certain amount of stuff you can get away with in life if you are well behaved and cute. He is both.


I can only remember two negative instances in his life. One was when he dug up a bush in the front yard. Before I discovered that, he ran into the house excitedly with mud covered paws to brag about what he had done while covering a tan colored carpet in mud as he went. The other was when I let them eat several garlic bread sticks before I ran out of the store. Luckily, we were keeping him in his crate when we went out as part of house breaking. I will leave the details to your imagination, but suffice it both he and the inside of the crate were coated. When I first saw him, the look on his face was so pitiful. 

I worried during my time in Kuwait that he might forget or lose some of his attachment to me. But when I came home, I went to public school to pick him up, and as soon as he saw me, he leaped over the half door that separated the puppy area from the lobby and nuzzled me excitedly. He didn’t forget. But that kind of welcome is something that I’ve gotten used to because that is how he greets me every time I walk into the house. If I am going anywhere, he also always expects to go along. I can’t say I discourage it, he is splendid company. 

As he has gotten older, a lot of health issues have not plagued him, except for one that was genetic. He has slowly gone blind. I realized it when he had issues in dim light and then they asked me to no longer bring him to doggy daycare because it simply wasn’t safe for him. Later, we were going outside to play fetch, and he took off running and ran full force into a large tree in the front yard. He made a sound that terrified me. I took him to the University veterinary hospital but gladly he was okay. Later, I took him to a veterinarian ophthalmologist who told me there was nothing that could be done for his eyesight. It was a sad reality. 

The ophthalmologist spent a lot of time telling me he was healthy and happy other than his sight issue. It wasn’t until I was going home that I realized the point the doctor was trying to make was there was no need for him to be put down simply over being blind. That thought never entered my mind, but I guess many people see it is the only alternative. I really don’t understand why.

I still play fetch every day with MacBeth. We go into the backyard, which has trees only along the edge, and after I throw the ball, I tell him which way to go in order to find it. He’s a smart dog and figured it out right away. I’ve also added a motion sensitive light to the location where his food bowl is so that if he gets near it, a light comes on that helps guide him the rest of the way. It works, but he never really had a problem finding food.

As I write this, MacBeth is laying on the floor near me snoozing. He may think because he is laying in front of the door he's guarding me. Let him think what he wants; I appreciate the company while I write.  By the way, did I mention he goes out at night and fights crime? 

I can only wish that everyone who adds a dog to their family gets as lucky.

"Hey, wait!  He's thirteen now and you still call him puppy?"  Yes.

In his heart and mine, he'll forever be a playful and loving puppy.



Other MacBeth related blog entries:

Three-Day Weekend ... A Trio of Dog Tales

Shut Up and Let The Dog Drive

It Is Nice To Be Missed, But It Is Even Nicer To Be Loved

I Got a Fever, and the Only Prescription...Is More Cowbell!!

Echo Part II: Alexa Moves In

Still At It

Still Too Damn Cold To Hit It On Two Wheels

Best of the Blog – The Deep South

I Don't Know From a Double Dribble, But I Do Know an En Passant

Kinda Like Running Into a Burning Building -- Well, Someone Has To

Did You Hear the One About the Welshman, the Brit and the Yank?

What's In a Name? A Little of This a Little of That...


Monday, December 13, 2021

An Itty Bitty Door to the Universe

I was sitting in my car waiting on my puppy MacBeth (he was getting a mani/pedi) when I saw the little bookshelf near the door. I immediately knew what it was having seen them on TV shows, but this was the first one I had ever seen in the wild — a mini book exchange.

Basically, these exchanges are a collection of books in a weather proof bookcase and you are free to take one to keep (or return) or leave one. The hope is the library will be self-sustaining and provide a variety of books for those who use it. When I saw this on TV, the owner encouraged people to leave a review in the book when you returned it to the shelf. Since they are outside, they are open 24/7 and is great for folks strolling through the neighborhood ,although you can also drive up to the ones I have seen so far. 

This one was chartered to a group called the Little Free Library, and it was a deluxe version boasting both an adult and children's shelf — although I wondered why the kids' books were on the top shelf versus the bottom, where they could be easily reached by a child. 

I looked up the LFL's website, and it has an easy-to-use search engine which revealed there were fifteen libraries nearby.  Impressive. It is impossible to be a writer without being a reader and I support initiatives like this that puts books in people's hands.  

Take a minute to visit the LFL site to see if there is one close to where you are — if so, drop by and pick up your next favorite book.

To my fellow authors, I challenge you to do what I did — donate one of your books in the libraries near you and expand your readership. I have eight more books to drop off at the ones near me.


Thursday, December 9, 2021

What Animal? A Koala.

In May 1980, I watched as Father Guido Sarducci stood outside of Paul McCartney's London apartment and tried to get Paul to come out for an interview. According to Don Pardo, it was Paul's 122nd day without marijuana, and it took about three quarters of the show before Paul finally showed up and answered Fr. Sarducci's questions. Of course, all his questions led back to Paul's marijuana usage with the good father continually adjusting the questions to work around Paul's objections. Here is part of the interview 

I only bring up this interview because it a great example of how good interview should work — with the interviewee and the interviewer interacted on a personal level with the interviewer eventually getting to the questions he actually came there to ask. It doesn't work much like this anymore. In fact, most interviews looked pre-scripted and to a large degree are so edited by the time that the viewer sees it they might as well have background music and graphics added, ––no wait that just happened didn't it?

Anyway, I recently got an email from an Internet journalist who wanted to interview me regarding my last book, POMSILv2. Over the years, I've been interviewed several times by various journalists, bloggers, and podcasters and except for the podcaster, most of them are not what I would think of is a real interview. This journalist, like many before her, wanted to send me a list of questions and allow me to pick ten out of the twenty or she sent. Then, I could work on them at my convenience, and send the meticulously edited responses back to her. 

Even though I had done this in the past, I didn't do it this time. What's the point? If I will not be challenged in a give-and-take exchange which explores things I may have included in my answers, am I doing anything more than writing a bit of a selective autobiography? Considering that I'm a writer of fiction, don't I have an unfair advantage going into that? I guess the bigger question is when did we get this lazy about interviews to where they are nothing more than self-aggrandizing promotional opportunities. Sure, the person granting the interview is attempting to drum up interest in their latest project, but at one point we had people interviewing who were skilled enough to find something more in the interaction.

I can remember great interviews I've read or seen over the years where the person conducting the interview actually took the subject into realms they never intended to go into. Sometimes it allowed for fresh revelations about the person being interviewed like Frost's interview of Nixon. Then sometimes the interviewer and interviewee were so diametrically opposed you watched with interest waiting for the fireworks –– Alex Haley's interview of Norman Lincoln Rockwell. If you've ever read a great interview, you walked away with the satisfaction of having learned something new that was unavailable any other way. Now, interviewees are paid millions to regurgitate whatever their publicity manager tells them to say.

I don't know, maybe I was just in a bad mood when I read the request but if I'm going to do an interview, I want to be interviewed not answer a questionnaire. I would advise anyone on the web who is seeking to make a career out of interviewing people to return to the basics and the interaction of one person with another. As I look over the list of questions I was sent, I can see several that would be good openings for someone to ask additional questions clarify and more deeply explore. Unfortunately, those are questions that'll never be asked, given this format.  

FWIW, Goodreads does have a variation of this that I do like.  A single unconnected question from readers, that appear from time to time.  Authors can optionally submit a space limited answer. It is a simple, single bite meant to whet the appetitie. It works.

For now, I will spend the rest of my afternoon mulling over the most interesting question Father Guido Sarducci asked Paul: If you could be any animal, what would you be? So many possibilities, and that simple choice would provide so much insight. Pity I've never been asked that question in any interview.

Note: The point of Paul submitting to an interview was to introduce his new video. Maybe that's why I really didn't respond to the interview request. I don't have a new video to release. Maybe next time.