Friday, July 22, 2011

#46 - Giving from the checkbook

I've always thought that it is important to give something to organizations that are important to you ... whether it's time or money.  However, I know that my monetary donations tend to be fairly random and impulsive.  Many charities do planned drives either at the holidays or during the summer, and, because my income does have limits, I tend to pick one at that time and ignore other - just as worthy - causes.  So, my goal this time was to choose a different charity each month for a year (August of 2010 - July of 2011) and give them a monetary gift.

I didn't set an amount to give to each.  The largest gifts went to my undergraduate university and my former high school's scholarship program; both of these institutions gave me a scholarship based on purely on academics when I was younger and really needed the cash.  In the case of the university, I hadn't even applied for the scholarship; it was one that the professors nominated and chose the student recipients.  The smallest amounts were given in October ... I made sure to put something in the donation box at every museum that I visited while I was in London ... those gifts may have been smaller individually; however, I'm sure that they added up to as much as I spent most other months on a single organization.

So, what did I support (aside from London museums)?  The largest category was educational related ... my graduate university program, my undergraduate university, my high school scholarship fund, the local PTO where I live now, the classroom wish list for the town I live now.  I guess you could say that I'm all about learning!  I also gave to several medical research causes and some animal related groups - one charity combined those two ... Guiding Eyes for the Blind ... a group that trains service dogs.

I enjoyed doing this goal, but I don't think I will continue to monitor that I spend on at least one group per month.  It did have the unfortunate effect of increasing my junk mail ... and it was interesting to see how quickly some of the national groups sent second letter to ask for another gift.  I expect that with some random exceptions my gifts will continue to go mainly towards education.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

#78 - Sharing a secret

Sometimes it's wonderful to share something that's bothering you with a close friend and get "absolution" from worrying about it anymore.  My friend Nina is wonderful for this ... she's even recently learned the Latin phrase for "I absolve you" to make it sound even more official!  She's wiser than I and has learned that a lot of the little day to day things that individuals fret over just don't matter that much in the long run.  She even will absolve perfect (and imperfect) strangers, so if you're in Ely and need rid yourself of some guilt, stop by the Kess Gallery.  I think they need to advertise it - fine art, framing, jewelry, absolutions with no waiting.

However, other times, you just need to get something out of your soul where it's been festering and out into the world, but you don't really want to share it with anyone you know for whatever reason.  Perhaps that's why people used to throw bottles with messages into the sea.  Nowadays, you can use a postcard to the same effect.  The very interesting site - Post Secret - takes anonymous postcard submissions from ... well, who knows.  The postcards are displayed on the site - fronts only.  I don't go look at the site often, but when I do - there are always some that make me laugh and others that make me weep (sometimes because I recognize myself in them).

Today, I mailed in a secret ... I feel a little better about it already.  Like the secret attached itself to the postcard and is leaving too.  If you want to send one in yourself, the address is:
Post Secret
13345 Copper Ridge Rd
Germantown, Maryland 20874
Your secret will be anonymous, treated respectfully, and maybe you'll feel a little better when it's gone.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

#60 - Books I Own But Hadn't Read

As anyone who looks at my list of goals can tell, I read lots of books.  I guess that it's something of an occupational hazard of being a librarian ... you get to see all of the new and interesting titles go across the desk and want to read them.  Many of the books (especially new books) that I read are from the library where I work.  However, I also own 6 very full bookcases of titles at home ... and then there's the cookbooks and the stragglers in boxes and on corner tables ... well, you get the idea. 

Basically, I end up buying something whenever I go into a bookstore.  A good share of the reason for purchasing for myself is that I want to support the authors that I love to read.  I want them to keep writing (and not working anywhere else), and I understand that they need the royalty income to do that.  So, if I think that I'll be rereading a book that I took home from the library, I'll probably purchase it. 

The other part of buying for myself is that it's my chance to browse and choose titles that I know nothing about.  When I purchase for the library, almost all of my decisions are based on a review that I've read.  That's dandy, but the trade reviews often have enough plot to color my perception of the book.  However, there's a delicious thrill in opening a new book that you know absolutely nothing about and being sucked in by the first sentence.  And, yes, I run into duds this way, but I've also found treasures.

Anyway, with the bulk of my reading coming from the library - and, yes, I do observe the due dates - I don't always get a chance to read books that I buy (or get as gifts) in a timely manner.  When I started working on my goal list, I had a stack of about 30 titles - both fiction and nonfiction - that I hadn't read.  That was just too many for where they were sitting, so I added the goal of reading 15 out of the stack. I finished both the 14th and 15th from the pile last night.  They ranged from the memoir of a high school friend's father to light humor to fantasy to history.  Even though the unread stack is still fairly high (due to some recent gifts), I think I'd better get back to library reading now ... I've got books due on Monday!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

#88 - An evening at the opera

I've always had this somewhat romantic view of going to the opera ... it was glamorous and incomprehensible and probably just a bit too cultured for my farm girl roots.  Plus, there's the cliche of the screechy soprano shattering all of the glass in her immediate vicinity as she reaches for that high A.  However, I grew up listening to classical music (ironically, when you look at my first statement, since that's what Dad had on the radio in the barn), and I've always loved the melodies.  So, on the idea that live performances are usually more powerful than recordings, I decided I should give opera a try.

Happily, I didn't need to save up for a trip to the Met in New York.  There is a wonderful music festival/camp for extremely talented young people that happens every summer within easy driving distance, and they give performances for the public throughout the three week duration.  International performers are invited both to participate in the shows and give classes to the students.  This year, one of the featured programs was a short Puccini opera - Gianni Schicchi.

As a novice to the opera world, I would recommend this particular show as a starting point.  It was a straightforward comedy about a rich dead man's relations scheming to change his will to favor themselves.  They enlist the participation of a local con artist - Gianni Schicchi - who gives them each what they ask for and all of the rest of the estate (the best parts that none of them were gutsy enough to claim) to himself.  The music festival did project subtitles (for those of us who don't speak Italian), but the simplicity of the storyline meant that if you were watching the action and missed a few lines, you could figure it out from the context.  It's also a one-act opera; so if you decide that you don't enjoy opera, you won't have to sit there for hours.

In fact, there was even an "opening show" consisting of two pieces of chamber music performed by students.  The first was Cristemi by Puccini.  I found the mood of this piece to be rather bittersweet - a definite contrast to both the work that followed and the opera of the evening.  The second was "Duetto for Cello and Bass" by Rossini.  I thoroughly enjoyed this one ... I had never thought of either Cello or string Bass as particularly playful instruments, but this piece definitely let that side shine through.  After an intermission where the lobby refreshments featured cannoli (yum!), we went back for the opera.

I enjoyed the show quite a bit.  I even recognized the aria "O mio babbino caro".  One of the friends that I attended the show with commented that sometimes the songs are more beautiful if you don't know the actual words.  This song is a case in point - basically she's saying "Dad, he's cute and I want to marry him, so do something about it".  The cast was lots of fun to watch as the greedy relatives scheme and Gianni Schicchi (who is of a lower class) ends up securing a dowry for his daughter to marry one of them.