Saturday, January 30, 2010

Snow Day!

We never quite outgrow the excitement that a looming snowstorm brings, do we? Maybe if I lived in an area that is accustomed to snow falling by the foot, things would be different, but here in Dixie, four inches is measured as a storm of such proportions that the small-town hustle and bustle comes to a screeching halt for at least a day, possibly two.

Let's see . . . milk? Check. Bread? Check. Candles? Naturally. Gas logs working? Yep. Batteries and flashlight? Sure. Cocoa and those tiny li'l marshmallows? You betcha.

Ready for the onslaught.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Helping Out, Part One

I'm not a big believer in New Year's resolutions. Overall, I think they have a tendency to be made too big and sweeping to be practical, so people fail to keep them, then feel bad about failing to keep them. Nothing but a round on the ol' negativity wheel and really - who needs that?

But I had thought that I'd like to write once a month about some way to improve the life of others. In my experience most of us want to help make our communities better places to live and work, but we're not entirely sure about how to accomplish that. There are many small things that we can do and I had wanted to devote some space throughout this year to making some of them better known and (to be truthful) use them as a jumpstart for my own actions. For instance, I'm dropping off a box of clothes and household items with Goodwill, who does great work in my community.

Then there was an earthquake in Haiti. A big one.

What to do in the face of such overwhelming tragedy? The sheer scope of the terror and misery is bone-cracking. Not many of us can (or are willing to) pack up and head into Port-au-Prince to move bricks and ladle soup, but we want to do something. Good.

First, don't be put off by thinking, "What's the use? I only have a few bucks and that won't do any good when the problem is so big." Au contraire and nonsense. Drops of water are small things, but get enough of them together and you get an ocean.

Second, don't be put off by thinking, "The money won't even get to the people who need it anyway." Sure, you need to be careful about who you send money to, but I can heartily recommend both the American Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders, both of whom do great work on a daily basis and really kick it up three notches when disaster hits.

Third, don't be put off by thinking, "I don't even have a few bucks to donate." Fine - look around your own backyard. Take some clean, old clothes to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Throw three composition books and a pack of pencils in your cart and drop them off at the closest elementary school - they'll know how to get them to a kid who needs them.

We can make the world better. Even if it's only a tiny little bit, doing something beats the everliving snot out of doing nothing.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Speaking With Your Feet

No, I'm not advocating trying to teach your toes to talk - or even trying to teach yourself how to write/paint/sculpt with your feet. Rather, the title of this post is more along the lines of the old adage of "voting with your pocketbook," a course of action to which I subscribe.

Simply put, spend your money where they treat you well. Customer service is still alive and well in the United States and businesses that know the importance of treating the customer with respect deserve to be patronized. By the same token, the ones that don't deserve to go belly-up.

Don't tell me that you have to trade with a particular business because it's "the only game in town." Usually, it isn't, although you may have to look around a little. (OK, your utility company might be another story.) All too often, we put up with poor treatment because we think we don't make a difference. Pish and tosh, I say. Call the company when they treat you well - I guarantee you'll get a positive response. (In part out of shock. Hardly anyone compliments a company or business, so expect a little suspicion and outright skepticism at first.) And yes, politely yet firmly voice your disappointment when they neglect to treat you properly. (The "polite" part is important - insulting someone's family lineage is no way to win an argument and your opponent will rightly think that you're a blockhead.)

Folks are fed up just now. I live near (but not too near) Charlotte, NC which was a major banking center until the meltdown hit. Suddenly, mega-banks (you know, the ones that were deemed "too large to fail.") were taking bailout money, yet not making loans to get that money in circulation. Frustration turned to indignation when the higher-ups continued to take bonuses for driving companies to the brink of disaster and for continuing mass layoffs.

So think about this. Speak with your feet - bank elsewhere. It's past time to look at the small, solvent community banks. The ones that didn't make the high-risk, subprime loans and therefore, didn't need bailing out in the first place. You know, the ones that were responsible with depositors' money. The ones that are run by folks in your community, not in glass skyscrapers several states away. Think George Bailey rather than Mr. Potter.

Watch this and see what you think.