Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Have a cow

What do you buy for the person who has everything? Or who returns every gift received. Or who is just impossible to please.

Instead of giving them something to eat, wear, watch, play with, or put on a shelf, how about something that should make them feel good while doing good.

Like a cow. A goat. Honey bees.

Now that gift-giving season is upon us, I decided to shun the madness of malls and retailers who started Black Friday during Thanksgiving dinner.

This year, I shopped at Oxfam America Unwrapped. I could just as easily have gone to Heifer International or Give a Goat.

All of them offer ways to give a gift that helps to end poverty and contribute to sustainability in places near and far.

I had the fun of trying to decide whether to buy a “hill of beans” for a subsistence farmer or honey bees for rural farmers. For someone else, it was a tough decision between a goat that thrives in tough environments or helping to start a village savings group.

Beyond animals and implements for better life in remote villages, there are many other compassionate charities that offer the gift of gift-giving to donors:

  • Seva – Sanskrit for selfless service – focuses on the prevention of blindness around the world and on Native American community health. Gifts range from restoring sight through cataract surgery to honoring Native elders to training female health care workers. 
  • Rescue Gifts touts “holiday gifts that save lives.” Its best-selling gifts are warm blankets that go to displaced families and maternal health care for women living in a crisis zone with few, if any, medical facilities.
  • Charity Gift Market allows you to buy real goods that you can give to your loved ones to use or wear. The website provides “socially conscious shoppers with a marketplace of goods created and produced by charities, with all profit returning to the charity to support their work.”
Gift-giving in this fashion – a symbolic gift or one that benefits a charity – seems on the rise. At least that’s the impression I get from the many alternatives found through my web searches. One caveat: always check out the charity before you decide to “buy.” CharityWatch is a good place to start.

Happier shopping…and the happiest of holidays, no matter which ones you celebrate.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Look, up in the sky!

It’s no bird. It’s no plane. It’s...it's…the International Space Station.

And it's speeding over my house.

In the pre-dawn sky, the space station looks about three times the size and brilliance of any planet; its speed faster than any airplane. NASA says it's the third brightest object in the sky, after the sun and moon. 

You may not be able to see Russia from your house, but you can certainly see the International Space Station. That’s because NASA will tell you exactly when, where, and for how long it will appear in your neighborhood.

With its Spot the Station program, you can sign up for free text or email alerts that arrive a few hours before the space station passes over your house. 

I tried it out Saturday morning, having received a NASA alert Friday night. I stumbled out of bed just after 5:00 and parked myself in the driveway. I bundled a winter coat over my jammies and stared into the darkness.

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Sore neck. Nothing.

Then, there it was! At exactly 5:33 AM. Appearing in the western sky. Disappearing to the southeast. Visible for four minutes. Just like NASA said.

More than 200 miles above Earth, a space station crew of six men were carrying out Expedition 34, which began November 18 and will end March 15.

On the ground, it was cold, dark, and quiet. I waved and went back to bed, smiling to myself.

There are many ways to engage with the International Space Station. Visit its website for video and audio feeds, to follow the astronauts on Twitter and other social media sites, find educational resources, and play the interactive games.

Space may be the final frontier, but NASA is doing a great job of bringing it to your home and into your living room.