Tag Archives: gift

Tough glove

When I was growing up on the East Coast quite a few miles from the shore, my mother carefully taught me about tsunamis. Just in case it was ever relevant, you know.

She bequeathed her knowledge of tsunamis to me like one of those ugly little magic pebbles in stories that the protagonist carries for years and years until they save his life or enable him to achieve the goal of his quest.

“When you see the water retreat, don’t follow it. Don’t get curious and pick up wriggling fish that are left on the beach. Get away from the water as fast as you can, because there will be a tsunami.”

Probably she was thinking of the 1960 tsunami that hit Hawaii, when 61 people died.

Fortunately, I have yet to use this magic pebble of knowledge. But because this information had been drilled into me so carefully, I paid special attention to the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, just in case I could learn anything else.

Indeed I did: That in the aftermath of great destruction, work gloves are of great importance to personal safety as one climbs through the wreckage. I had never thought of that before, but my soft fat paws, which I use intensely to earn my livelihood as a desk jockey, would be in great danger from broken wood, glass, and metal. Having only once handled wooden pallets and recoiled from the splinters and nailheads projecting from them, I knew I needed hand protection.

4013_Claw_v1-328x438For weeks and months after the terrible events in Japan, I anxiously scoured the internet for the “best” gloves. I decided that industrial gloves looked the ideal in terms of cut resistance and impact dissipation. Big, strong, hefty hand gear meant for first responders and rescuers, they surely would protect my squishy paws from the aftermath of a disaster.

But for almost three years afterward, I hesitated to buy them, while they languished on my wishlist. I was puzzled at my own behavior, because buying gloves seemed like a no-brainer.

Finally, some months ago I thought about the 7/7 bombings in Britain, and thought about what if something similar happened to me in the subway. Eventually, I thought about my purse, which only seemed roomy before the prospect of gloves arose. My headlamp is in there already.

WellsLamontGlovesThen last week it all gelled for me. I went down the block to the hardware store and bought much thinner, lighter, less bulky gloves that would fit in my purse.

My reasoning was that it is better to have two gloves in the hand, so to speak, than a pair at home. If I were home and a disaster were to occur so terrible as to separate me from my purse holding my identification and money, I would surely not have the time or ability to fetch out a pair of bulky industrial gloves. Thus, I choose to have disaster gloves that I can carry all the time easily. Like carrying a headlamp, a pair of coated knit gloves, light but tough, is an easy step to take for emergency preparedness.

But if you are or know a first responder or rescue worker, I can think of no better addition to the daily work gear than the Hexarmor gloves I lingered over for years.

Christ’s money

As you probably have noticed, the header on my blog shows three magi (mages, Wise Men) happily hustling along with their gifts for the young Christ, who is out of camera view to the right with his mom.

The traditional Christmas nativity scene or creche is a mashup of the story in the Gospel of Luke (the manger, the angels and the shepherds) and the story of the Wise Men in the Gospel of Matthew. The Wise Men probably showed up months or even years after the birth of Christ. That is why King Herod ordered all the boys in the region two years and younger to be slaughtered. It had to take some time for the rumors of Christ’s birth to travel across the land, for the Magi to do their astrological calculations, for them to travel to meet Herod, and then to find Jesus.

The gifts of the Wise Men are now considered quaint, if not actually incomprehensible. Gold famously was called a “barbarous relic” by the economist John Maynard Keynes, and relatively few people have seen it in the coin form that was probably given to Christ and his family. Myrrh comes in hard little brown chips a little paler than instant coffee crystals. Frankincense is small firm irregular blobs shaped like Nerds candies, but they are the tan, slightly translucent shade of boogers. Pure myrrh and frankincense aren’t self-lighting like incense sticks and cones; they are resins that need to be placed on burning charcoal to make fragrant smoke.

Lydian Lion One OunceHowever, like salt or peppercorns used as money in other times and places, all three of these gifts met the characteristics of money: Portable, divisible, durable, fungible, and a store of value. These substances are completely useless to a child — but extremely useful in funding the care of a child. Indeed, some have speculated that the gifts of the Magi were used to support the family during their years in Egypt. So what the mages were giving was money.

God is spirit, as St. John writes, but he also was a little kid. It’s dreadfully expensive to raise a child, even when there are no iPads to buy them, because the poorer you are, the higher the proportion of income you spend on food, so that having to feed another mouth, even a young one, can be quite a blow. The wise men may have been a little strange about astrology, but they knew about money.

Unless one belongs to a church that preaches prosperity theology, one hears among people of faith a concerted attempt to make one feel guilty about one’s comfort. One cannot be a servant to both God and money, and the love of money is a root of evil, and one should not store earthly treasures. Hermit saints like Seraphim of Sarov and Mary of Egypt who lived in destitution are held up as examples.

But this kind of preaching is as unbalanced as prosperity theology. We are called to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” It is irresponsible not to manage one’s money carefully when one has children. In this era of modern medicine where people grow old slowly and die even more slowly, it is irresponsible not to save up money for the time of disability that most people face in old age.

What is more productive than austerity preaching is to teach ascetic questioning, to challenge ourselves: Do I really need both television and internet? Do I really need clothes I do not wear? Do I need a new computer? Do I need a little gadget singing in my ear all the time? Do I need that bag of flour? Do I need that bar of soap? Do I need that pencil? Do I need those plain cotton underpants? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe we should go commando!

Some traditions call the Wise Men kings, although there is no scriptural evidence that they were kings, or even that there were exactly three of them. What is clear is that they were pretty wealthy. And this shows in the mosaic header I use on my blog: They are richly dressed in heavy, multicolored robes and red Phrygian caps; they carry fancy containers and not simple earthen pots; and they are depicted in a scene of luxury, a dreamy golden sky with delicious fruit hanging down from date trees. (If you have never eaten a whole date and not one of those crumbly pebbles, you have missed a real treat.)

Critically, above all, they are offering their gifts to God, the King of All, who normally doesn’t need anything, but as a baby desperately needs material support.

And, as Christ says, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” and “whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.” When we look into one another’s eyes, we are seeing God in them. So in the midst of the commercialism and greed of the Christmas season, I want to affirm that in the spirit of self-questioning, the act of gift-giving, and enjoying doing so, is nothing to be ashamed of and can indeed be an expression of respect to God.

We, too, are spirit, and we, too, are flesh. We are both physical and nonphysical. As was God. So let us take an attitude neither of unrestrained materialism or unthinking renunciation, but instead follow a truer path of asceticism, which is questioning, and challenging, and taking action.

motherofgodnourisheroflife

Christ was a baby who needed milk

 

Thinking of buying? Think about buying.

This anonymous condolence verse is all wrong. We are not just our souls!

Loving friends! Be wise and dry
Straightway every weeping eye,
“What ye lift upon the bier
Is not worth a wistful tear.
‘Tis an empty seashell, — one
Out of which the pearl is gone;
The shell is broken, it lies there;
The pearl, the all, the soul, is here.”

Our souls are part of us along with our minds and bodies. Our selves are not just intellects inhabiting meaningless bodies, the way the above verse claims. However, on the other hand, we are more than chunks of meat that think and feel. We have both physical and nonphysical elements united together, each being (only) part of us.

The tragedy of death is not really that of the bereaved losing the deceased. The tragedy of death is the separation of the body, which is (merely) part of us, from the non-material element of our selves, which is also (merely) part of us. Death breaks us in two. Dead bodies are indeed worth weeping over, every bit as much as live bodies deserve to be loved and hugged and cared for.

This is on my mind in relation to, of all things, the “holiday” shopping frenzy. More than in previous years, I’ve been reading a lot of business news stories about Black Friday, Thanksgiving store openings, and the expected tens of millions of shoppers. This has led to some thought about some of the purposes of this blog.

Because of my belief that we are composed of both material and non-material elements, I mean two things when I examine an item closely in this blog. I say that goods can be good, that the material world is worth enjoying, that matter matters. But beyond this, I am also saying that the material world should be examined closely and enjoyed with real thoroughness, awareness, and, yes, suspicion. If you are going to own something, then really choose it, own it with respect, use it, enjoy it, appreciate it, and don’t let it own you. And real enjoyment of our possessions entails taking a close hard look at things we want but do not own yet. And so I take a close, appreciative, respectful look at things I long for but decide to deny myself. I do not blanket condemn the physical world.

However, the sickness of the holiday buying frenzy is that no objects are contemplated and examined for their goodness and their meaning; they are not appreciated or truly wanted; they are only grabbed at, seized, barely looked at for a minute or two. They are mere entertainment, never truly enjoyed.

This acquisitiveness, this greed, this materialism, is a mirror image to the idea that we are nothing but souls in shells, ghosts in machines, intellects inhabiting meat. Both attitudes show disrespect to the physical world. And both are wrong.

Evanescent. Scent.

120px-Guinea_Pig_closeupWhen the internet was much younger, I tried to participate in various forums and lists.

The only success I had was on the now-archived list alt.guinea.pig.conspiracy, which ran on the premise that guinea pigs are planning to take over the world. To grasp the belly-shaking humor, you have to have witnessed guinea pigs, as they often do, quietly going into a back corner, facing away from the room, and putting their heads together in a secret conclave inaccessible to stupid human beings.

Aglaonema_commutatum2In contrast, I was a thread killer on Aroid-L, which is about the family of plants that includes such familiar household inhabitants as the incorrectly so-called pothos and such rarities as the corpse plant. A conversation would go along fine until I posted something, and suddenly it would stop. Probably that was because the list is inhabited by scholars of botany and serious collectors of obscure species, whereas I was but a frankly ignorant enthusiast for aglaonema, a very common ornamental more easily, and also improperly, called Silver Queen (which is actually the name of only one variety). I imagine that I must have written things so simple-minded that there was nothing to be said in response.

However, I never provoked a crowd as I did on a forum about fragrances, Perfume of Life, which is inhabited by fanciers of scent both male and female. It was, I can say ruefully, my greatest success on the internet, as measured by the firestorm it set off.

Clive Christian No 1 for WomenThe thread isn’t on the revamped new site, so I must explain that my offense was to declare forthrightly that I live in a tiny SRO (where I still am today) with a shared bathroom and no kitchen, but that I was considering buying a bottle of “the most expensive perfume in the world,” Clive Christian No. 1 for Women, not because it was costly but because I sincerely liked the rather dark, large, dramatic scent a great deal. That amount of money (it was $740 then) was, and is, not nearly enough to raise my standard of living, but it seemed spendthrift to put so much into a bottle of ephemeral perfume when I had so little money to my name; yet where my accommodations are so spartan, it seemed a worthy pleasure. And so I asked what people thought.

The thread exploded with agitated perfume collectors approaching the topic from all imaginable angles. People got really upset at me. Probably they took it personally that I had unwittingly revealed to them how much money they themselves had spent on their own collections. Astonishingly, the thread rapidly surpassed 5,000 reader hits. Apparently not only fragrances but collectors thereof are volatile! The commotion so traumatized me that I fled all forums and lists to this day.

1001609_LFTEAROSEET4_A_400And so it is with great qualms (please don’t flame me) that I introduce to you something I have wanted for years but until quite recently mistakenly thought was out of production: The simply named Perfumers Workshop Tea Rose.

In the 1970s, my mother used to wear this summery, somewhat herbal, scent of tea roses, and it was really very pleasant on her, indeed far more consistently pleasant than she herself was. Also pleasantly, it was, and still is, inexpensive. You can get four ounces, an enormous amount, for less than the price of a pizza. It’s a simple pleasure of evidently enduring appeal. (Did I already ask you to please not beat me up for telling you about Tea Rose? Please don’t beat me up.)

However, I own many scents already — admittedly a fraction of what real collectors have — and before I found out that Tea Rose was still in production, my little herd of fragrances had come to include a bottle of a fabulous, tremendous rose poetically called La Fille de Berlin (Daughter of Berlin). It is the most recent release of the house of Serge Lutens,la-fille-de-berlin-main which is not a household name but is known for subtlety and artistry. It’s the kind of scent where, as perfume collectors are wont to say, when one tries it, one’s nose becomes glued to one’s wrist. You can buy a sample of it at Luckyscent.com.

I seriously doubt Tea Rose can stand up to La Fille de Berlin, although it would be fascinating to do a comparison. Really, I would be buying Tea Rose out of nostalgia and curiosity. And so, sadly, I conclude that it would be a waste of money and space to buy Tea Rose. It would make a fine present for a Secret Santa to give to a woman, so I encourage you to consider it, and it is inexpensive enough for you to try if you want the evocative scent of summer roses at the holidays. But I must show some self-discipline: I have no space for another rose.

Forsaking all others: To choose a charity

I have pretty well decided on this. I still struggle, however, and you may too, so I am writing about it. That is, I concentrate my charitable donations on only two organizations, with the exception of small donations now and then as a favor to friends, and turn down all others.

To say this in the face of the recent terrible storm is not easy. I strongly believe that if you do not already have an existing plan for donating to selected charities, you should give to the relief efforts. But if you have an existing plan that takes up virtually all the money you have allotted to charity, you need to think carefully, because whatever you give to one group comes out of another group’s pockets.

I suggest that if you believe that human need in times of disaster is so compelling that it is incomprehensible or immoral not to give to relief efforts, then a relief agency should be your main charity of choice all year, every year, to the exclusion of other causes, because disaster happens constantly and everywhere. When one person is made homeless because of an apartment fire, he or she is no less homeless than one person made homeless among thousands due to a storm. I do not believe it is right to give only to famous disasters.

In relation to this topic, I have a party question, or, rather, a set of questions, that causes people in the vicinity to turn and look. These have the dual traits of being a just a bit invasive yet allowing people to boast, which is ideal for party talk. You should try this. People may stammer a bit at the start, but their ultimate responses are fascinating.

Namely, what is the thought process that went into choosing your favorite charity over others? There are so many deserving causes out there – why did you choose your favorite cause? And why did you choose that particular organization over others that have the same goals? Even if you give to many charities, there is probably one that got more money than the others. For what reason or reasons?

After all, how can you say that clean drinking water should get more money than preventing child abuse? Or how can you say that a ballet school should get more money than a university? Should relief efforts for an earthquake take precedence over cancer research? How can you deny all the worthy causes out there? How can you judge between them?

There is a huge range of responses, and we all should contemplate why we want to spend our money on the organizations we do. For one of my friends, it is tax simplicity with no particular emotion. His employer has an arrangement with one particular disaster relief charity, and withholds pretax money from his pay and gives it to the organization. For another friend, the specific unique nature of one charity moved her so much that she wanted to give all her donations to it alone; there are no other organizations like it. Another friend has an emotional stake in a particular cause, but she chose one organization in particular because of its special methods, which she believes are the most effective means of getting things done for the cause. And one friend chose a very local charity so that she can make unannounced visits to see what they are doing.

For me, efficiency in use of money is key. I chose my #1 charity because there is only one category, one cause, where I have deep enough knowledge of the topic to decide confidently which particular organization is most efficiently run. Oddly, it is not the field I work in, of which I know only my little corner; instead it is the one field, rather obscure, where I can look at an IRS Form 990 (the tax return for nonprofits) and understand what I see well enough to compare organizations.

I chose my #2 charity, a very tiny one, because I have observed them in person and know a couple of specific items they need. I can have these items direct-mailed more cheaply in bulk than if the group purchases small quantities from local stores, and I know that they will use up these things completely. The efficiency of my gift is total.

If you are only giving to a charity or charities with small gifts here and there, you are not doing yourself any favors, and you are not doing the organizations a favor. Asceticism, i.e. discipline, is needed here. Give a lot, and give with focus.

Research shows that when people give a significant percentage of their income, they are happier. So be generous.

Furthermore, if you are giving to more than a few causes, then you are wasting money, because it costs charities a surprising amount of money per person per year to maintain their lists and make appeals. The more you focus your gifts, the fewer the organizations you give to, the more money goes to your cause.

Charity Navigator says,
“By concentrating your giving among a few outstanding charities, your donations will do more good than if you contributed small gifts to a wide array of charities.”

However, now that I’ve picked a couple of causes to commit to, I find it’s still hard to resist appeals from other organizations. There are constant disasters riveting the world’s attention. There is one charity that sends such wonderful pictures causing me so much delight that I once spent a couple of hours going over their elaborate mailer before deciding not to donate. Other causes I feel great sympathy for, even passion, but I am not able to evaluate them as well as I can my chosen causes. It is difficult to turn them all down, but it is the only way not to dissipate my efforts and waste the money.

But many people have no organizations at all that they are able to evaluate, or they lack a sense of the causes that are out there, so they do not even have any organizations to evaluate. So I am going to present some links I have found helpful.

Do they still say “HTH” on forums? “HTH.” Hope this helps.

Cutting edge

As you may have noticed, I am drawn to basic tools without moving parts or electronics. When I gave up my community garden, I gave away all my tools, even my spade, except for pruning shears (for maintaining cut flowers) and… a hoe. I just could not give up an example of technology that is “perhaps preceded only by the digging stick.” And one never knows when TEOTWAWKI will happen.

$7250 fish knifeSimilarly, I have “a thing” for kitchen knives. Kitchen knives can range from the humblest paring knife from the dollar store to a precision and quality (and price) that most people never imagine. For me, knives cry out atavistically, reminding me of the multimillion-year-old archaeological broken rocks that captivated me as a child imagining hominids in a quiet savanna skinning their dinner. I am fascinated enough that I bought and read an entire book on selecting and maintaining kitchen knives.

Olduvai_stone_chopping_tool_at_British_MuseumI don’t like to think about knives as weapons, no matter how beautifully crafted. And I hardly know outdoors life well enough to think of what sort of knives would be useful. When I see the letters “EDC,” I think of “eau de cologne,” not “everyday carry,” as knife fans use the acronym. But I do enjoy looking at kitchen knives.

I like to think of knives used for delicious creations. When I visited the convent, I thought of what gifts might be appreciated, and imagined that the nuns would need quality kitchen knives. (They didn’t. Monastics need items that get used up.) In the car just after an elderly nun picked me up at the bus station, I asked out of the blue, without explanation, “Do you have good knives in your kitchen?” Incredibly, she didn’t ask why; she didn’t recoil, thinking I was a psychopath out to kill them all; she merely said “Yes, we do.” And as I checked for myself, indeed they did, old but good. Monastics take a vow of poverty, but when they really need a durable object, they get solid if moderately priced quality.

Ultimate utility KnifeAs you know from my earlier posts, I have no kitchen. So I have no use for a kitchen knife. But today I want to introduce you to the Shun Sora Ultimate Utility Knife with a 6″ blade. The shape is so unique that I cannot help wanting one. I particularly daydream about making BLTs with it, following the promotional copy, slicing the tomatoes as thinly as possible to make them juicy, using the rounded end of the knife to spread mayonnaise on the bread, and cutting the whole sandwich in half without squashing the bread or tearing the bacon, as a lesser knife might do.

Alas, I can only wish I had one. I will not buy one just to marvel at it and feel its balance in my hand, not even for a gift, because I am friends with no engaged couples and there is nobody else I would give such a gift to. (I send the nuns almond flour and rubber gloves. But that is another story.) I simply want to call this knife to your attention because it would be a wonderful thing for your own kitchen, or a handsome gift to someone who could appreciate it. And I can’t use it.

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