Saturday, September 23, 2006

Don't Have a Cow...Give One

Last week Richard Branson pledged $3 billion to fight the global warming that certain people in Washington are pretending doesn't exist. It does, it's a problem, and Branson is doing something about it.

Not long ago Warren Buffett gave billions to the Gates Foundation to fight a variety of diseases including HIV and AIDS. Some in Africa and Asia still try to pretend that AIDS is not a problem. It is, and Buffett and Gates will make a difference.

I can spell "billionaire" but that's as close as I'll ever get to the likes of Branson, Buffett, and Gates. Ah, but I can make a difference just as they can. My choice is a solution to hunger that brings with it self-esteem, economic self-relieance, and the essential concept of giving back in recognition of the gifts you've been given.

My choice is Heifer International. I first learned about them several years ago, and thought it was one of the best ideas ever. Don't just give people food, give them the means to feed themselves. Don't just hand them a month's worth of cheese, give them the cow so they can feed their children, make their own butter and cheese, sell the extra milk, and work toward self-sufficiency. People around the world – including right here in the United States – receive not only an animal but also training on how to care for it.

But the best idea – the one that makes Heifer unique and so effective – is the idea of "passing on the gift." People who receive a cow, or chickens, or rabbits, or a llama, or any gift from Heifer, agree to pass on the gift by sharing the animals' offspring with others in need in their community. Thus, the gift of self-reliance and self-esteem multiplies and spreads through the community.

So every year the largest contribution I make is to Heifer. As my business grows, so will my donation. I can't think of a better way to express my gratitude for gifts I've received than to pass them on to where they can make a permanent and positive difference for people who only want to care for themselves and their families.

If you have a favorite cause, start setting aside something every month to give. If you don't have a favorite of your own, consider Heifer. And pass on the gift.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Traffic Snarl

I make that sound on days like this when I try to get from one place to another in the D.C. morning slow. A "felony traffic stop" – whatever that is – had caused the closure of all lanes on the Washington Beltway. So even though I was going nowhere near the Beltway, that "police activity" brought everything within miles to a crawl.

I had a meeting scheduled but still plenty of time to get there. I watched, first annoyed and then snarling, as time marked by the unemotional numbers on my dashboard evaporated. At first, it was just that I would be a little late. Then I would be late enough to miss out on any of the convenient parking places. And then I would be schlepping all the way from the garage with briefcase and laptop. Grrr.

I sought comfort and calm on the radio. NPR offered more senseless death in Iraq and the recognition that we are trapped in a game of Whack-a-Mole as we shift too few troops from place to place. As the stench of the political campaign season filled my car I switched to music – classical is my choice for stress reduction.

Except that this morning WBJC was playing a harpsichord piece that could not have been Bach – it was getting nowhere except on my nerves. So I switched to WGMS and they had something that sounded like the Saber Dance on speed.

The numbers blinked at me with cat-like inscrutability. Now once I had trekked from the garage I would have to choose between checking email and reviewing my notes for the meeting.

The pace of traffic picked up slightly then lost momentum as quickly. I looked around and saw people on phones, others beating time to their own music choices, putting on makeup, and sipping coffee…all the usual driving-to-work activities. I wondered why people buy every possible derivative variation of white oval stickers for their cars. OBX was original. The next few for beach resorts were OK. But does every little town and activity need one? On the van next to me was a white oval sticker that said "Kensington" and under it "MD." Kensington, Maryland needs a sticker? They couldn't even come up with a clever abbreviation but had to spell it all out?

And now I could forget the email and might not even have a chance to review those notes – I would have to run in, grab the folder, and go.

Ah, Beethoven's 7th. Glorious and familiar, rollicking, powerful, and purposeful. Presented in its "splendid 40 minute entirety." The good news is that it is uplifting music that made me feel better. The bad news is that I should not even have been hearing it because I should already have arrived.

Finally, the last turn and clear road ahead. My 45-minute trip has taken an hour and a half. My cell phone barely intruded on Ludwig. I caught it as the last notes of my fugue ring tone died. I didn't want to talk to him anyway, and I could see the entrance up ahead…just beyond the long line of cars waiting at that traffic light that just turned red. A glance in the mirror showed it matched my face very well.