Friday, December 30, 2005

But I Thought The Paint Was Wet!

by Dan Miller

There is a story about Russia in the days of the Czars. In the park of St. Petersburg Winter Palace there was a beautiful lawn, on that lawn a bench, and next to that bench, two guards. Every three hours the guards were changed. Yet no one could explain why these guards were guarding the bench. One day an ambitious young lieutenant was put in charge of the Palace Guard. He started wondering and asking questions. Finally, he found a little old man, the Palace historian.

“Yes,” the old man said, “I remember.” During the reign of Peter the Great, 200 years ago, the bench got a fresh coat of paint. The Czar was afraid that the ladies in waiting might get paint on their dresses. So he ordered one guard to watch the bench while the paint dried. The order was never rescinded. Then in 1908, all the guards of the Palace were doubled for fear of a revolution. So the bench has had two guards ever since.”*

Every once in a while it’s wise to ask, “Why am I doing this?” The modern definition of “insanity” is to continue doing what you have been doing and yet expecting different results. Are you ignoring years of experience and knowledge only to continue doing what you have always done? If you want different results, you will have to do something different. If the paint dried years ago, move on!

* Paul Lee Tan, Th.D., Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations

There is an old adage that says in essence, “If the horse is dead, dismount.”

Saturday, December 24, 2005

In Memory of My Beloved Pet Cinnamon

Posted by Picasa

Animals Possess Souls Too

Pope John Paul II: 'animals possess a soul'

When Pope John Paul II declared in a public audience in 1990 that 'also the animals possess a soul and men must love and feel solidarity with our smaller brethren' some people must have thought this was a new teaching, unaware of the Holy Father's scholarly familiarity with the authentic Hebrew texts.

When he went on to state that all animals are 'fruit of the creative action of the Holy Spirit and merit respect' and that they are 'as near to God as men are', animal lovers in the audience were ecstatic!

The Pope mentions the special relationship of mankind with God as being created in His image and likeness. 'However,' he goes on 'other texts state that animals have the breath of life and were given it by God. In this respect, man, created by the hand of God, is identical with all other living creatures. And so in Psalm 104 there is no distinction between man and beasts when it reads, addressing God: " Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth." The existence therefore,' the Holy Father reminds us, 'of all living creatures depends on the living spirit/breath of God that not only creates but also sustains and renews the face of the earth.'

This discourse caused a stir around the world, and was especially encouraging to Catholic animal welfare groups which had begun to despair that anything 'animal friendly' would ever be heard in Rome.

submitted by Prayer Network Member, excerpt from Animal Liberation Front

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Feast of Stephen & Other Christmas Traditions

by John Loeffler

Good King Wenceslaus went out
On the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even.

O.K., Christians of the world: Church history for one hundred. When is the Feast of Stephen and to whom does it refer? (Pause for hemming and hawing.)

It's December 26, the day after Christmas, when the death of the church's first martyr, Stephen, is traditionally commemorated. Trivial, yes, but most Christians can't give me the correct answer.

My preoccupation with this began a year ago, when I found myself sitting in an evangelical church in early December listening to the singing of Christmas carols. "Could the church have lost its mind?" I thought. It has become so much like the world.

In the ancient church, Christmas was celebrated on... Christmas. Everything prior to that was a preparation for the big day but Christmas itself wasn't celebrated until midnight, December 24th, when the Christ child was welcomed into the world.

Christ wasn't actually born on December 25th. The actual date is a subject of debate. But in 336 a.d. the church set the date at December 25th (Julian calendar) to offset the pagan celebration of the winter solstice at the Saturnalia, much as churches today have "harvest parties" to offset what is becoming an increasingly occult Halloween.

Following the time of the apostles, the early church began to develop organization and worship in five major centers around the Mediterranean: Jerusalem (naturally), Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Rome.

Just as the Jewish calendar had an annual series of liturgically rotating feasts that God ordained in the Old Testament, so the form of worship in the early churches rapidly developed into a liturgical calendar centering around the Lord's Supper, which originally they all shared in one form or another.
Distance caused the different liturgies to diverge in the selection of prayers, requirements and customs, but after the Great Schism between the Roman and Orthodox churches in 1054, the liturgical form of worship was still retained. The western church followed the Roman rite (the Mass) and the Orthodox churches followed the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Both still today have major portions of their rites in common.

The Roman church developed a hierarchical structure centered around the papacy and the bishops. The Orthodox churches developed a more networked approach, centering around the bishops, all of whom were in affiliation with each other in what were called autocephalos or independent churches, who reported to a Metropolitan.

During the Reformation, the Lutheran church retained the form of the Roman liturgy and much of the church structure but corrected what it believed were non-Biblical errors that had crept into the Roman church over the centuries. The Anglican church likewise retained the church structure and worship.

Other Christian groups opted to throw out all of it in favor of different, more simplistic and often stark forms of worship. In retrospect, they may have thrown out the baby with the bath water, retaining only key dates such as Christmas, Easter and possibly Pentecost. Some introduced a few new ones, such as Reformation Sunday.

In trying to counter the secularization of its holy days, the church is having a difficult time because it has forgotten the origins of its celebrations.


In western churches the four Sundays prior to Christmas were called Advent, coming from the Latin verb advenire, meaning "to come towards."

The church was decorated in purple, along with the priest who wore the same color, signifying penance. Prior to December 25th, the church was in a period of penance, preparation and anticipation of the Messiah's birth. Fasting was observed several times a week. All of the hymns and prayers reflected this repentance and preparation; a period of darkness into which the Lumen Christi (the light of Christ) must come.

Scripture readings from the Old Testament and the Gospels matched the season, such as the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah and Gospel passages about the ministry of John the Baptist preparing the way for Christ.

Hymns included "On Jordan's Bank the Baptists Cry" and "O Come Immanuel" but never a Christmas carol. Christ had not yet arrived.

Then Cometh Christ's Mass

For centuries the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve was a radical change from the previous four weeks—this liturgical text became the centerpiece of a number of Baroque and classical compositions.

Christmas itself means Christ's Mass—the mass celebrated on Christmas Day. The church was decorated and ablaze with lights. Colors had shifted from purple to gold and white and the traditional green/red themes. Much incense was used. Christ had finally come. This was a time of great celebration, and hence the use of the word "feast" to designate the day.

Other Christmas Traditions

The Middle Ages saw the beginnings of liturgical dramas (often called "mystery plays") designed to portray Biblical stories surrounding Christmas. Recall that the majority of the population of Europe at the time was illiterate and so the mystery plays provided a method of teaching Biblical things. Over the centuries the mystery dramas started to become profane and secular in nature (sound familiar?) and so performances in churches were eventually banned.

Also, manger scenes (or crèches as they were called in French) began to appear, and it was a Christmas custom for every family to visit the crèche.

The Advent Wreath

The custom of the Advent wreath evolved in northern Europe. The wreath has four candles: three purple and one pink. In some cases, three red and one white candle are used.

One candle is lit on each Sunday of Advent at dinner time and the family sings "O Come Immanuel" prior to the blessing. The third Sunday of Advent is a different color, signifying that while we are still in darkness, there is hope and the light of Christ is coming.

In the western church it was called Gaudate (gow-day-tay) Sunday, meaning we should rejoice, for there is hope.

In America, the tradition has started of adding a white candle in the center on Christmas Day to signify that the light of Christ has come into the world.

Some Lutheran churches reverse the Advent wreath process, using a ring of candles, one for each Sunday of Lent prior to Holy Week. Sunday after Sunday one less candle is lit until finally, on Good Friday, the center Christ candle is extinguished.

There are as many Christmas traditions as there are countries and centuries. Many had strictly Christian origins. Others are a mix of vestiges of pagan custom adapted into Christianity. This, and the observance of Christmas itself, has been the source of much debate, which is not the subject of this article.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas ranks as part of the regular Christmas carol fare. So what are they? They are the days when Christmas was traditionally observed, between December 25th and January 6th. January 6th was the Feast of the Epiphany, when the three Wise Men finally arrived, thus the twelve days when Christmas was celebrated.

In some places presents were given each day of the twelve days instead of tearing into a big wallop of presents on December 25th. Traditionally the Christmas tree went up on December 24th in the evening and came down on January 6th.

The Feast of the Holy Innocents is celebrated on December 28th, commemorating the children who were killed in Bethlehem as Herod sought to destroy the child Jesus.

Santa Claus

Santa Claus means Holy Claus, short for Nicholas. The word "santo" is "holy" in Latin as well as its descendent tongues, such as Spanish and Italian. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, St. Nicholas was born in the ancient city of Patara. As a youth he traveled to Palestine and later became Bishop of Myra. He was imprisoned during the persecution of Christians under Emperor Diocletian and was later attendant at the First Council of Nicea in 325 a.d.

Legend says that he showed unusual kindness to the poor and the weak; oftentimes leaving things for them while they were asleep. In the Middle Ages he became patron saint of charitable fraternities, children, and other things as well as patron saint of the City of Moscow, Russia. After the Reformation, the legend of St. Nicholas died out everywhere except in Holland. It migrated to the U.S. with Dutch Reformed Christians.

Later in Germany, St. Nick would traditionally arrive on his Feast Day, December 6th. A man dressed as St. Nick would go door to door loaded with a giant sack. To those children who had been good during the year, he gave presents. To those who had been bad, a lump of coal was their lot. "How did he do that?" the kids would wonder.

St. Nicholas's red outfit was derived from the red colors bishops wore. The modern version of St. Nick originated in a series of Thomas Nast engravings, which appeared in Harper's Weekly between 1863 and 1886.1

Other Traditions

The Night before Christmas was first published in 1822 and picked up widespread popularity and republishing. During Queen Victoria's reign in England, tree decorating was well under way. Martin Luther is reported to have been the first person to actually put lights on a Christmas tree. (One can only speculate whose house was the first to burn down as the result of a Christmas tree.)
In 1880, Woolworth's first sold manufactured Christmas tree ornaments and they caught on very quickly.2

In Mexico and southern parts of the United States, Las Posadas has been a major tradition, which is now spreading in popularity. Las Posadas sees children going door to door asking for shelter, just as Joseph and Mary did when Mary was about to give birth to Jesus. The answer from the person who answers is always a negative head shake and the response, "no posada" (no shelter). Candles placed in paper bags (luminarias) serve as chains of lanterns on the ground leading up to the doors to show the expectant couple the way.

Rudolph, the genetically mutant reindeer, is a latecomer and has absolutely no religious significance whatsoever. In 1939, Santas at Montgomery Wards gave away 2.4 million copies of a booklet called "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." 3 It was written by Robert May, an advertising executive in the store. In 1949, western singer Gene Autrey did a musical rendition of the poem and it became an overnight best-seller.

Christians today tend to fight the ongoing secularization of their holidays. Some have rejected anything to do with them, saying they are not Biblically ordained. Others have tried to go back to keeping the Jewish feasts instead. It should be pointed out that the New Testament doesn't really ordain anything other than the Lord's Supper. But it does not prohibit it either, and under grace Christians are free to honor different days if they wish.

Those families who want to keep Christ as the center of Christmas may find it easier to do by understanding the various symbols that have been used to celebrate Christ's birth through the ages and using them to retain the uniqueness inherent in the mystery of the incarnation: the birth of the Son of God.
* * *

This article was originally published in the December 2000 Personal Update NewsJournal.For a FREE 1-Year Subscription, click here.

Who Were The Magi?

by Chuck Missler

Each year, as we approach the holiday season, our preparations for Christmas include revisiting the events surrounding the birth of Our Lord. Bethlehem,1 the shepherds, and the angels are familiar to us all. But not much is generally known about the mysterious "Magi" who came to worship the infant Jesus. The following background may be helpful to stimulate conversations around the fireplace as our thoughts turn to this incredible event from which we measure our very calendar.


Most of what we associate with the "Magi" is from early church traditions. Most have assumed there were three of them, since they brought three specific gifts (but the Biblical text doesn't number them). They are called "Magi" from the Latinized form of the Greek word magoi, transliterated from the Persian, for a select sect of priests. (Our word "magic" comes from the same root.)

As the years passed, the traditions became increasingly embellished. By the 3rd century they were viewed as kings. By the 6th century they had names: Bithisarea, Melichior, and Gathaspa. Some even associated them with Shem, Ham and Japheth-the three sons of Noah-and thus with Asia, Africa, and Europe. A 14th century Armenian tradition identifies them as Balthasar, King of Arabia; Melchior, King of Persia; and Gasper, King of India.

(Relics attributed to them emerged in the 4th century and were transferred from Constantinople to Milan in the 5th century, and then to Cologne in 1162 where they remain enshrined.)
These are interesting traditions, but what do we really know about them?

The Priesthood of the Medes

The ancient Magi were a hereditary priesthood of the Medes (known today as the Kurds) credited with profound and extraordinary religious knowledge. After some Magi, who had been attached to the Median court, proved to be expert in the interpretation of dreams, Darius the Great established them over the state religion of Persia.2 (Contrary to popular belief, the Magi were not originally followers of Zoroaster.3 That all came later.)

It was in this dual capacity, whereby civil and political counsel was invested with religious authority, that the Magi became the supreme priestly caste of the Persian empire and continued to be prominent during the subsequent Seleucid, Parthian, and Sasanian periods. 4

This article was originally published in the November 1999 Personal Update NewsJournal.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Somalia's Islamists - New Crisis Group report


Somalia's Islamists

The international community will only succeed in countering the threat of jihadi Islamism in Somalia if it addresses the real needs of the country: restoring peace and essential services, and helping Somalis establish a broadly inclusive government of national unity. Otherwise, international actors may continue to score victories in their battles against terrorism in the Horn while losing the wider war. Since the collapse of the government in 1991, there has been a rise in Islamist reformist movements, the majority of which are non-violent and opposed to ideological extremism. In fact, Islamist extremism has not become more widespread because of Somali resistance, not foreign counter terrorism efforts. International actors should therefore make clear that their counter terrorism efforts are aimed at a handful of criminals - many of them foreigners - not the Somali population at large.


Crisis Group reports and briefing papers are available on our website:


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

60 Things That Are Happening Right Now

I received this a few years ago when it was being circulated via email. I came across it tonight and it touched my heart again. I hope it brightens your day. -- plk

60 Things That Are Happening Right Now While You Are Reading This Page.

1. Somebody is very proud of you.
2. Somebody is thinking of you.
3. Somebody is caring about you.
4. Somebody misses you.
5. Somebody wants to talk to you.
6. Somebody wants to be with you.
7. Somebody hopes you aren't in trouble.
8. Somebody is thankful for the support you have provided.
9. Somebody wants to hold your hand.
10. Somebody hopes everything turns out all right.
11. Somebody wants you to be happy.
12. Somebody wants you to find him/her.
13. Somebody is celebrating your successes.
14. Somebody wants to give you a gift.
15. Somebody thinks that you ARE a gift.
16. Somebody hopes you're not too cold, or too hot.
17. Somebody wants to hug you.
18. Somebody loves you.
19. Somebody admires your strength.
20. Somebody is thinking of you and smiling.
21. Somebody wants to be your shoulder to cry on.
22. Somebody wants to go out with you and have a lot of fun.
23. Somebody thinks the world of you.
24. Somebody wants to protect you.
25. Somebody would do anything for you.
26. Somebody wants to be forgiven.
27. Somebody is grateful for your forgiveness.
28. Somebody wants to laugh with you.
29. Somebody remembers you and wishes that you were there.
30. Somebody is praising God for you.
31. Somebody needs to know that your love is unconditional.
32. Somebody values your advice.
33. Somebody wants to tell you how much they care.
34. Somebody wants to share their dreams with you.
35. Somebody wants to hold you in their arms.
36. Somebody wants YOU to hold them in your arms.
37. Somebody treasures your spirit.
38. Somebody wishes they could STOP time because of you.
39. Somebody praises God for your friendship and love.
40. Somebody can't wait to see you.
41. Somebody loves you for who you are.
42. Somebody loves the way you make them feel.
43. Somebody wants to be with you.
44. Somebody wants you to know they are there for you.
45. Somebody is glad that you're his/her friend.
46. Somebody wants to be your friend.
47. Somebody stayed up all night thinking about you.
48. Somebody is alive because of you.
49. Somebody is wishing that you noticed him/her.
50. Somebody wants to get to know you better.
51. Somebody wants to be near you.
52. Somebody misses your advice/guidance.
53. Somebody has faith in you.
54. Somebody trusts you.
55. Somebody needs your support.
56. Somebody needs you to have faith in them.
57. Somebody will cry when they read this.
58. Somebody needs you to let them be your friend.
59. Somebody hears a song that reminds them of you.
60. Somebody needs you to send this to them.

-- Author Unknown

Quote of the Day

"Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest." -- Mark Twain

Thought For The Day

The Secret of Giving
(by rick bowles, sunny russ)

In this life we all go through hard times
When we struggle and pray for a lifeline
Just needing someone
To show us the way

To you the glass might seem half empty
But it's half full to those without any
So hold on to hope
And try to have faith
Oh, you've got to have faith

If there's just one secret to living
Whoever you are
It's learning the meaning of giving
With an open heart/with an open heart

If you offer the best part of yourself
Even when you don't have anything else
Honest and true
It'll come back to you
Love comes back to you

Repeat chorus

With your arms wide open
The world opens wide
And you'll believe it deep inside

That there's just one secret to living
Whoever you are
It's finding that true joy in giving
With an open heart/with an open heart

( recorded by Reba McEntire)

Friday, December 9, 2005

Thought For The Day

"The critical ingredient is getting off your butt and doing something. It's as simple as that. A lot of people have ideas, but there are few who decide to do something about them now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. But today. The true entrepreneur is a doer." -- Nolan Bushnell, Founder of Atari Computer

provided by Staci Stallings' My Daily Insights

Thursday, December 8, 2005

5 Ways to Avoid Holiday Debt

DEBTSMART®: 5 Ways to Avoid Holiday Debt
by Scott Bilker

Scott Bilker is the founder of and the author of Talk Your Way Out of Credit Card Debt, Credit Card and Debt Management, and How to be more Credit Card and Debt Smart. Send your questions about money, credit, loans, mortgages, or debt, to him at: Scott Bilker, PO Box 563, Barnegat, NJ 08005-0563 or online at:

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas people are going to spend $121.4 billion using their credit cards!

The key is not to let this debt stick. Don't allow yourself to get buried by that debt or spend the next year paying off the purchases from this holiday season.

How are you going to pay for the gifts?

Credit cards of course! I'm sure many people are going to criticize me for even suggesting such an idea.

I can hear it now, "Scott, are you crazy? Don't use your credit cards, USE CASH! I thought you were the anti-credit-card guy?"

I'm not the "anti-credit-card guy," I'm the DebtSmart® guy. It's not the credit spending that's going to put you into debt. It's the "spending" itself.

If you're going to spend $1,000, then it doesn't matter what you actually use to pay that $1,000. You can use cash, credit, or gold bullion. Once it's spent, it's gone!

The key is to be smart about how you pay, and using your credit cards is very smart. There are many good reasons to use your credit card for shopping. Here are a few:

  • Interest-free grace period

  • Purchase protection (ability to do chargebacks)

  • Building credit worthiness

  • Automatic extended warranties (on some cards)

  • If your cash is stolen, it's gone! If your credit card is stolen, and you report it right away, you don't lose any money (or at least a limited amount).

  • You may be able to get additional discounts.

  • Rewards such as rebates and other perks.

What keeps you out of trouble is that you stick to a plan. If, for example, you plan to spend $100 on a television and end up spending $200 only because you can use a credit card--you'll be heading for trouble.

Over the years I've been following a few easy steps that have helped me enjoy the holiday season without having to worry about its cost. It's my hope these suggestions can also help save you money as well.

1) Decide how much you can afford to spend.

This is clearly the most important step. Before heading to the store, you must know the total amount you can afford to spend. The total spending for all gifts.

The average amount people spend is around $1,000. That also falls right in line with the response from DebtSmart readers who participated in our survey on 10/24/01.

It's not the amount you spend that counts. It's just important to know your holiday spending limit.

When thinking about your limit, keep in mind how much you would pay if you were going to use cash. In other words, how much money can you have available to pay for this holiday's spending when the bill arrives in January?

2) Make list and stick to it.

Now that you have a dollar limit in mind, you can start to make your list. Larissa and I have been using an Excel spreadsheet to help with our list.

I created a shareware version of this spreadsheet for your use. You can get it by clicking here.

Feel free to distribute the spreadsheet to your friends and family to help them plan a holiday budget.

The spreadsheet lists everyone on our gift list. It shows the person, gift, and cost. The "Star" column indicates if the person still needs a gift. If there is a star by their name, then their gift has been purchased. Once you enter a number in the cost column, the star disappears.

Enter everyone into the worksheet. If you don't have Excel, simply create a list by hand, and estimate how much you want to spend for each person by entering a dollar figure in the "Estimate" column.

After you're done with these estimates, check the estimate total. That total should not exceed your original holiday spending limit. If it does, you'll need to go back and make some adjustments. Refer to your detailed estimate list while shopping, stick to the numbers, and you'll be sure not to go over your original holiday-spending limit.

Revise the list yearly and make a printout. Carry that printout around starting in September just in case you find something on sale that will make a great holiday gift.

3) Contact your creditors for better deals.

This is the best time of the year to make your credit card banks beg for your business! Many people feel at the mercy of their banks, but that's not the case. The banks are at our mercy.

Give each bank a call and let them know that they're going to have to give you a deal or you won't use their card this year. Tell them you want 0% for 6 months on purchases or else you'll use another card that will give you that deal. See what happens; you have nothing to lose and you know the rest of this beaten cliché.

I find that 50% of the time, I'm able to strike a deal with one of my credit card banks. If they don't, then I simply use another card!

Give them a call right now!

4) Take advantage of department store card incentives and then transfer the balances.

Again, I hear people saying I'm crazy for using a high-rate department store card! And again, I say that you just need to be smart about doing it.

Every year I get offers from many department stores for discounts if I use their card--discounts that are 10%, 15%, or more!

I do use these discounts. However, I make sure I transfer my balance from the high-rate department store card to a lower-rate credit card before any interest is charged. This way I can take advantage of the discounts plus get low-cost financing.

5) Pay off the card in full when the bill arrives (if possible).

Ideally, you should pay off all credit card charges, in full, when the bills arrive. If you stick to your plan, then you'd have spent within the holiday-spending limit.

This limit should be based on how much money you'll have when the bills arrive. So, in theory, it will be easy to pay everything off right away. Of course, this doesn't always happen, for many reasons.

That's why it's important to use a credit card that's going to give you a few months with no interest on purchases. This way, if something does delay your ability to pay in full right away, you can have a little time, at no additional cost, to pay off those charges.

Is it worth all the work?

Yes, indeed! Say you spend 3 hours of your time juggling all the transactions, doing the balance transfers, and calling your banks. Most likely you're going to save at least $60 by being DebtSmart. So that's $20 per hour!

Is it worth $20 per hour?

I think so.

Monday, December 5, 2005

What would your parents say?

What would your parents say to you if they were paying for your education and you brought home this report card?

Final Report on 9/11 Commission Recommendations ♦ December 5, 2005


Task ------------------------------------------------------- Grade
Radio spectrum for first responders --------------------- F/C*
Incident Command System -------------------------------- C
Risk-based homeland security funds -------------------- F/A*
Critical infrastructure assessment ----------------------- D
Private sector preparedness ------------------------------ C
National Strategy for Transportation Security ----------- C
Airline passenger pre-screening -------------------------- F
Airline passenger explosive screening ------------------- C
Checked bag and cargo screening ------------------------ D
Terrorist travel strategy ----------------------------------- I
Comprehensive screening system ------------------------ C
Biometric entry-exit screening system ------------------ B
International collaboration on borders and document

security ---------------------------------------------------- D
Standardize secure identifications ----------------------- B

So why not write a letter to your Senators and Congressman and let them know what you think of their performance?

View the entire report at:

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Take the Hype out of the Holidays

by Richard Ellis

Do you remember what Christmas was like when you were a kid? I'd hear the weatherman on TV track Santa's progress from the North Pole and telling me I needed to get to bed. I'd listen for the sound of reindeer's hooves on the roof. I spent days wondering what was in those brightly wrapped packages under the tree. The first one up on Christmas morning? It was me. Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be the most stressful, especially for your kids. Here are some suggestions to minimize their stress.


Keep your routine as much as possible. Everything about Christmas disrupts our routine. But routines are what makes kids feel safe and secure. You don't have to go to every holiday party. Avoid dragging the kids on all day shopping sprees in noisy and crowded malls. They'll get tired and cranky. If they do, you know they are feeling the stress too!


It's the season of sweets. Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas are when we indulge. Fast food family meals become more common because of all the extra tasks. Control their sugar intake. Serve healthy meals even if it takes more time.
Time Out

Take some time to rest. Turn off the TV with all the commercials specifically intended to get your kid hyped about what he's getting for Christmas. Go for a family walk or bike ride. Take a nap. Build a snowman. Rest.


Focus on the true meaning of the holidays. Carry on religious rituals and family traditions or create some new ones. Emphasize the Christmas is about giving along with getting. Choose to help a less fortunate family and involve your kids in that process.


Set a limit on spending and stick to it. No child needs everything they want. Many families create unnecessary financial stress lasting for months because of the inability to say NO now. Purchases on credit will keep costing you long after the child becomes bored with that toy.


Kids from single parent and step families need special attention. It is critical that the adults communicate about schedules, gifts, and holiday activities. It may not be easy to do, especially if hard feelings exist, but conflict between adults creates stress for the kids. Allow kids to express their feelings about disappointments related to the non-custodial parent. Realize that being separated from either parent is hard for children.

My expectations? I'm dreaming of a white Christmas. Just like the ones I used to know. When I was a kid.

Posted: 11/30/2005

(c) 2005 Richard Ellis.
(c) 1996-2002, Heartlight, Inc.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Crisis Group Shocked at New Ban on Sidney Jones



Crisis Group Shocked at New Ban on Sidney Jones

Brussels/Jakarta, 25 November 2005: “The International Crisis Group is shocked and mystified by the decision of the Indonesian government to ban Sidney Jones, our South East Asia Project Director, from entering the country,” Crisis Group President Gareth Evans said today.

Jones was denied entry on Thursday as she was returning to Jakarta from Taipei, where she had accepted an award from TIME magazine on behalf of Crisis Group, which had been designated in TIME’s 10 October Asian edition as one of “Asia’s Heroes 2005” for its work on conflict prevention and resolution.

Jones had been expelled from Indonesia in June 2004 by the government of Megawati Soekarnoputri but welcomed back in July 2005 by the Yudhoyono government. She had obtained a work permit and a residence permit without difficulty, and all signs were positive that Crisis Group would be allowed to continue its work in analysing sources of conflict and extremist violence in South East Asia.

A Crisis Group report on the Aceh peace process, issued on 15 August 2005, the day an accord between the Indonesian government and the Aceh rebels was signed in Helsinki, was praised inside Indonesia and out as identifying issues that needed to be addressed to keep the peace on track. Another report, published on 13 October, on violence in Poso and Maluku, became required reading as a series of violent attacks erupted in Poso in October and November. The most recent report on the region, on violence in southern Thailand, published on 18 November, was also well-received.

“I’m just baffled,” said Jones from Singapore. “I had no warning of any problems, have no idea why this happened, and don’t know when or if I’ll be able to return.”

Contacts: Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) 32 (0) 2 541 16 35
Kimberly Abbott (Washington) 1 202 785 1601
To contact Crisis Group’s Media Unit please click here

The International Crisis Group (Crisis Group) is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation covering over 50 crisis-affected countries and territories across four continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.

No money for college? One town's reply.

This is an example of what can be done when people have the hearts and minds to make a difference?  If it can happen in Kalamazoo it can happen in your town too.  plk
No money for college? One town's reply.
By Yvonne Zipp | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor
- Bryan Whitmore, a senior at Kalamazoo Central High who has a talk-radio show and raps under the name "bry2fly," is planning to study broadcasting after graduation.  He had found a scholarship that would help him pay for college, but "it wasn't a lot."  His mom works at the Old Country Buffet and his dad, a former roofer, is on disability. 

But Bryan's college plans just got a big boost.  He's eligible for a new scholarship, available to the school district's graduates, that will cover 100 percent of tuition and fees for any public university or community college in Michigan.

"I'm going to be the first one in my family to go to college," says the fourth of six siblings, who has a message for the donors: "Thanks for the scholarship, guys."

The Kalamazoo Promise is the gift of an anonymous group of donors.  

City officials believe it has the potential to revitalize this former manufacturing hub in southwest Michigan.  And in the long term, they hope the program leads to a better-educated workforce and an increase in everything from public-school enrollment to housing prices.

Kalamazoo is only the second US city, after Washington, to offer full-tuition scholarships to its graduates.

"It's really a noble effort," says Edward St. John, coauthor of "Refinancing the College Dream" and an education professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.  "It's a novel program with respect to promoting economic development and retaining the city's stature.

There's a powerful incentive structure to keep more families committed to being in the public school system."  This city of 77,000, like many in Michigan, had grown accustomed to weathering tough economic news - from layoffs at Pfizer to projected increases in home heating bills of up to 71 percent.  The area has been struggling to hold on to manufacturing jobs since the 1980s, when Checker cabs stopped rolling out of Kalamazoo.  "Right now, the immediacy of it is, we have hope.

About a dozen states, including Michigan and Massachusetts, provide merit-based scholarships to academic achievers.  But critics of those programs, including Professor St. John, say that the money ends up going to more affluent students who were college-bound anyway.

For example, a 2002 study by Harvard University found that Georgia's HOPE scholarship program, the oldest in the country, increased access to college by only 4 percent.

Other states have followed the lead of Indiana, which adopted a need-based program that offers tuition to low-income students who sign a pledge to abstain from drugs and alcohol.

In addition, private philanthropists, such as George Weiss, have singled out individual high schools for scholarship grants, and others, such as the Gates Foundation, follow a need-based model.

Time is the only factor in the amount a student receives: A child who enrolls as a kindergartner will receive 100 percent of his or her tuition and fees.

"We're really excited about it," says Linda Greer, a single mom whose eighth-grade daughter, Meghan, is a straight-A student.

Still, Dr. Brown and others acknowledge that the community will need to step up to continue to improve the quality of education and to ensure that more minorities and economically disadvantaged students will be able to benefit from the Promise.

At a community celebration Tuesday for the Promise, Mayor Hannah McKinney said she would gather community leaders, school-board members, and other interested residents to discuss how to best support the new program.

Summarized by Copernic Summarizer


Friday, November 25, 2005

NCMEC Missing Child Success Story

Just a reminder -- you could help reunite a missing child with is family just like the store clerk in the story below. Just take a moment to look at the photos on the NCMEC missing children banner posted on PointOfView316. Thanks

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

Missing Child Success Story

November 18, 2005

On October 10, 2004 a man called to report his 13-year-old son was missing. The child had been living in Florida with his mother and had recently moved to California to live with his father. His mother visited with him before school started and he did not want her to leave. During his first semester of school in California, the boy’s grades had dropped and he was upset by two deaths in the family. The boy ran away without leaving a note or contacting his parents and only took a bag of clothes, food, his father's bike, and some change with him. The father believed his son might be in the local area or could be trying to find his way to his mother. NCMEC created a poster of the child and it was sent to the child’s father and his Junior High School principal. The father knew his son frequented bookstores and had distributed posters to various bookstores in the city early one day. Within four hours of the distribution, his son was seen by a store clerk and reported to the police. The child’s father called NCMEC and reported that his son had been located.

For more information about NCMEC, please call 1-800-THE-LOST® or go online to

· for child safety information, an international database of missing children, and other NCMEC resources

· for animated, 3D Internet safety games and lessons

· for reporting child pornography and sexual exploitation, including unsolicited obscene material sent to a child


Thursday, November 24, 2005

Save the Date: Cover the Uninsured Week 2006


Cover the Uninsured Week 2006 will take place May 1-7! We hope you will join concerned citizens from every sector of society for activities designed to help people living without health insurance.

Building on the momentum of previous Cover the Uninsured Week efforts, Cover the Uninsured Week 2006 will mobilize thousands of business owners, union members, educators, students, patients, hospital staff, physicians, nurses, faith leaders and their congregants, and many others in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

There has never been a more important time for the nation to come together on this issue. Visit often for updates on this year's plans and to find out how you can get involved. a project of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Copyright © The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation   All rights reserved

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving.
Posted by Picasa
As we take a momentary break to give thanks may we continue to remember those in need. Happy Thanksgiving and Thank You for your conitnued support Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Along With 'I Do' Comes a Chance to Say 'We Care'

Along With 'I Do' Comes a Chance to Say 'We Care' - New York Times
Published: November 14, 2005

JENNIFER VAN ZANDT'S wedding in Key Largo, Fla., had all the trimmings: Friday night party, Saturday celebration, drinks, dancing and merriment. And something else: rather than taking home a commemorative box of chocolates or a trinket, the guests helped save a few manatees.

When Mrs. Van Zandt and Derek, who is now her husband, started planning their nuptials last year, they knew that they wanted to put the money they would have spent on favors to better use.  "We thought it would be nice to give to a charity rather than an item that no one looks at again," said Mrs. Van Zandt, who works in asset management in Manhattan.

Mr. Van Zandt's mother had died from a painful battle with lymphoma over the winter, so the couple considered donating the money to cancer research in her memory.  But his mother, an animal lover who lived in San Diego, would have chosen a more cheerful outlet, they thought.

So in lieu of wedding favors, the bride and bridegroom donated $203.91 to the Save the Manatee Club, a Florida charity that rescues the endangered species.  The couple's 130 guests each received a sugar cookie in the shape of a palm tree with an attached message about the charity.

The Van Zandts are one of many American couples who are now including charitable giving in their wedding celebrations.

According to the I Do Foundation, a nonprofit online organization that links engaged couples with charities, 10 percent of all such couples this year will include some form of philanthropy in their wedding, be it a donation to a charity instead of favors or giving a percentage of their wedding registry spending to a charity.

The organization, founded in 2000, expects to handle at least $600,000 in donations this year, more than three times the donations it received in 2004.  That amount is most likely to be higher than the couples had originally planned to spend - $26,327 is the American average now, although the total tends to be larger in cities.

"There is enormous excess in planning a wedding," said Sharon Elaine Lewis, the publisher of Washington Weddings, a bridal magazine covering the District of Columbia and its suburbs.  Americans are marrying later in life now, and the princess-for-a-day bridal culture has given way to a more divalike atmosphere, where brides in designer dresses demand far more than a reception at the fellowship hall, and nearly anyone can spot a Bridezilla at 20 yards.

With the large wedding bill comes an awareness of the potential excess, said Bethany Robertson, who is the executive director of the I Do Foundation.

"Today's couple is already living together, has furnished their kitchen and is looking to do something special."

Brides are also opting to donate their dresses to resale organizations, with profits going to causes like breast cancer research or financing a homeless shelter.

Summarized by Copernic Summarizer


Internet Matchmaking: Those Offering Help and Those Needing It

Just you, your computer and the desire to help is all it takes to make a real difference to those in need.  plk
Internet Matchmaking: Those Offering Help and Those Needing It - New York Times
Read the entire article at:

WHERE can I deliver a truckload of clothing?"

Tom Wales, a stock trader in Ridgewood, N.J., was oozing frustration when he posted this plea on Sept. 13 on the New Orleans site of, which offers free access to local classifieds and discussion forums.

Mr. Wales's 15-year-old daughter, Tori, had led a clothing drive at her high school for victims of Hurricane Katrina, but neither the Red Cross nor the Salvation Army, overwhelmed themselves, wanted her carefully organized bags.

So Mr. Wales rented a truck and drove to Louisiana himself.  "The big bureaucracies didn't fit what I was trying to do, but I didn't know where to go," Mr. Wales recalled.

One of the many people who responded was Brendan Hendrix, a boilermaker who had quit his job to help New Beginning Outreach Ministries in Greensburg, La., in its disaster relief efforts.

Mr. Wales and another parent, Bob Edelman, arrived in Greensburg on Sept. 18, finding they were not alone.  Rental trucks from Boston and New York, as well as two volunteers from New York City, had also found their way there via Craigslist.

Scores of Americans like Mr. Wales had pioneered a new kind of philanthropy in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  Spurred to do something more personal than writing a check, they turned to the Internet, which linked people who wanted to help with those who needed it, often with no relief agency acting as a middleman.

Established sites like Craigslist and Yahoo Groups took on new purposes, while charity neophytes created dozens of new sites.

"Each major news event generates new phenomena online, and the new thing with Katrina was the spontaneous and distributed offers of personal charity," said Lee Rainie, project director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project in Washington.  "This is a new age of directed, individualized giving that is not dependent on existing agencies, and it has already become embedded in online culture." 
The flexibility of online organizations proved particularly compelling because citizens were reacting, in part, to reports about the difficulties faced by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other large relief groups.  "People in such large numbers probably wouldn't have gotten into their own trucks except for that media storyline," Mr. Rainie said.  Sites like Craigslist also had plenty of users ready to mobilize.

"We are well known and have a category structure that covers all basic human needs, things like jobs and housing," said Jim Buckmaster, the chief executive of Craigslist.  "We quickly started new sites for cities like Baton Rouge and Shreveport."

The variety of activity on Craigslist ranged from pet rescue and food donations to offers of jobs, housing and volunteer services. The site also connected two like-minded mothers, one in California and one in Mississippi.

The result was an effective blog called Hurricane Katrina Direct Relief (

One of the mothers, Victoria Powell, is a tax lawyer in Madison, Miss., about three hours north of the coast.  She knew the situation in the small towns to the south would be dire.  "I asked myself, What would a mother do?"  "You'd get a Band-Aid kit and get started."  So she drove to a few shelters to find out their needs.  She collected contact names and addresses, then went on Craigslist and asked people to ship to the shelters.

In Santa Cruz, Calif., Grace Davis, a former biotechnology worker turned journalism student, saw Ms. Powell's post and set up a blog to advertise her S O S. Soon Ms.

Their success stories included supplying shelters with goods; getting pharmaceutical supplies donated by manufacturers directly to clinics; arranging for firefighters to donate equipment; and spurring donors to support a deli owner, Sunny Wilson, who was feeding dozens in her small Mississippi community for nothing.

Another Internet site that served as an information clearinghouse, with at least five million page views, was the KatrinaHelp Wiki (  This effort (a "wiki" is a site that anyone can add to and edit) was started by 20 volunteers around the world who had worked on a similar site after the tsunami in South Asia, according to a co-founder, Rob Kline of Seattle.

The wiki first focused on its PeopleFinder database (a technology eventually adopted by Google) and then on ShelterFinder, one of the few comprehensive lists of shelter information available.

Summarized by Copernic Summarizer


Monday, November 14, 2005

Senate Fails to Reform Inequitable Agricultural Subsidies

When you mention the words "agricultural subsidies" to residents of urban areas the first response is often a comment on wasteful government spending.   However, the truth is not so much that the subsidies are wrong in concept but that the failures lies in who is benefiting from them.  plk
Senate Fails to Reform Inequitable Agricultural Subsidies
Read the entire article at:
Just 8% of U.S. farms--the largest industrial farming  operations--receive the vast majority of government subsidies each  year, while family farmers in the U.S. and abroad are driven into poverty.

The US Senate once again missed an important opportunity to reform an agricultural subsidy program that is rife with fraud and abuse by voting down the Grassley-Dorgan amendment to the budget reconciliation bill.

An amendment introduced on the Senate floor on November 3rd by Sens. Charles Grassley and Byron Dorgan would have capped farm payments at $250,000 and eliminated the loopholes that have allowed megafarms to collect more than $1 million in subsidies.

In the budget reconciliation effort, both chambers of Congress were tasked to find $3 billion in savings from the agriculture budget, mainly from three programs: anti-hunger, conservation, and commodities.

Current US subsidies are calculated based on acreage and the volume of crops produced, so the largest industrial farms receive the most subsidies and gain the most advantage from loopholes in the law. This built-in incentive to produce and expand creates surpluses which cause prices to fall, putting smaller farms at a disadvantage. While large farmers benefit richly, small family farmers— here and abroad—struggle. In fact, according to the USDA, fewer than half of all farmers and ranchers in America collect government subsidies. And of those who do, a small percentage (8%) receive the great majority of the payments (78%).

“Congress should fund a sustainable farm program, not one that hurts family farms by encouraging consolidation and overproduction,” said Moore. “Instead, today’s move demonstrated the power that a small number of farming operations have in maintaining an antiquated farm program.”

Summarized by Copernic Summarizer


National Collection Week for Operation Christmas Child

November 14th thru 21st is National Collection Week for Operation Christmas Child
Each year, Operation Christmas Child operated by Samaritan's Purse delivers gift-filled shoe boxes and shares the real meaning of Christmas with millions of children living in some of the most challenging regions of the world.   You can read more about this wonderful undertaking at: and please consider supporting their efforts.  At little gift goes a long way in the heart of a child.

Payment order counts when saving money on your debt

DEBTSMART®: Payment order counts when saving money on your debt
by Scott Bilker

Scott Bilker is the founder of and the author of Talk Your Way Out of Credit Card Debt, Credit Card and Debt Management, and How to be more Credit Card and Debt Smart. Send your questions about money, credit, loans, mortgages, or debt, to him at: Scott Bilker,PO Box 563, Barnegat, NJ 08005-0563 or online at:

A big myth in credit card and loan repayment is to “start with the smallest debt” and work your way to the largest.

I have been asked repeatedly about this debt-repayment strategy during radio interviews and directly, and the only reason that I can think of that some people may pay the smallest debts first is purely for psychological reasons. They want to feel like they’re wiping out their debt, and it may seem faster to start with the smallest debt. But the reality is that it may take longer.

The advice that one should “start with the smallest debt” when applying payments should never be used as a rule of thumb. Paying the smallest debt first is only good when the smallest debt happens to be the debt with the highest interest rate. If that’s not the case, then paying the smallest debt first can be a costly mistake.

The least expensive way to apply payments to your debt is to pay the most toward the highest-interest-rate loans (that’s the rule). Here’s an example that illustrates exactly what’s going on:

Say you have two debts: $11,000 at 18% APR with a minimum monthly payment of $220, and another loan of $7,000 at 6.9% APR with a minimum payment of $140. You also have a total of $500 per month available to pay toward both loans, and you want to apply the payments in the most efficient way to each debt.

Strategy 1: Pay the smallest debt first.

The most you can allocate to pay toward the “smallest debt” is $280, because you must make minimum payments of $220 on the larger debt ($280+$220=$500). If you make the payments in those amounts, the “smallest debt” ($7,000) is paid off in 27.07 months. During this time, you are paying $220 toward the $11,000 debt, which will now have a balance of $9,180.

Since the “smallest debt” is paid back, you can put the total $500 toward the remaining debt. And with that payment, it takes 21.64 months to finish repaying it. The total time you’re making payments is simply 27.07+21.64=48.71 months. Each of those monthly payments totals $500, so the total amount to repay the original debt of $18,000 is $24,355 (48.71 months x $500).

Strategy 2: Pay the highest interest rate first.

It would be nice if you could use the total $500 and pay it toward the 18% debt, but you still must make minimum payments on the other loan. So the payment structure begins with $360 being paid toward the $11,000 debt and $140 toward the $7,000 debt. Notice that the total payments are still $500.

With these payments, the $11,000 debt is paid back in 41.18 months, and the remaining balance on the 6.9% loan after this time is $2,380. Now that the high-rate debt is repaid, you use the total $500 toward the remaining debt, which is then completely paid back in another 4.84 months. The total repayment time is 41.18+4.84=46.02 months and the total monthly payment is still $500 for each of those months, bringing the grand total of paying back the loans to $23,010 (46.02 months x $500).


The bottom line is that the pay-the-smallest-debt-first strategy cost $24,355 to repay the original debt, and the pay-the-highest-interest-rate-first strategy cost $23,010 in total payments. By applying the payments toward the highest interest rate first, the amount saved is $24,355-23,010=$1,345! What a difference the payment order can make—that’s a HUGE chunk of money! You could buy an entire, top-of-the-line, multimedia Pentium computer system with that, or 270 McDonald’s value meals. The best part of the strategy is that you’re paying the same amount per month and using the same checks and stamps; the only change is how much you apply toward each loan.

Thought For The Day

'If you want to know my identity, don't ask me what I do or where I work. Rather, ask me what kind of person I'm becoming or how I'm fulfilling my purpose in life.'
-- Dan Miller -- Author Career Counselor

Friday, November 11, 2005

Lessons to Live By


This was written by an 83-year-old woman to her friend.

Dear Friend,

I'm reading more and dusting less. I'm sitting in the yard and admiring the view without fussing about the weeds in the garden.

I'm spending more time with my family and friends and less time working.

Whenever possible, life should be a pattern of experiences to savor, not to endure. I'm trying to recognize these moments now and cherish them.

I'm not "saving" anything; we use our good china and crystal for every special event such as losing a pound, getting the sink unstopped, or the first Amaryllis blossom. I wear my good blazer to the market. My theory is if I look prosperous, I can shell out $28.49 for one small bag of groceries.

I'm not saving my good perfume for special parties, but wearing it for clerks in the hardware store and tellers at the bank.

"Someday" and "one of these days" are losing their grip on my vocabulary. If it's worth seeing or hearing or doing, I want to see and hear and do it now.

I'm not sure what others would've done had they known they wouldn't be here for the tomorrow that we all take for granted. I think they would have called family members and a few close friends. They might have called a few former friends to apologize and
mend fences for past squabbles.

I like to think they would have gone out for a Chinese dinner or for whatever
their favorite food was. I'm guessing; I'll never know.

It's those little things left undone that would make me angry if I knew my hours
were limited. Angry because I hadn't written certain letters that I intended to write one of these days. Angry and sorry that I didn't tell my husband and parents often enough how much I truly love them.

I'm trying very hard not to put off, hold back, or save anything that would add laughter and luster to our lives. And every morning when I open my eyes, tell myself that it is special. Every day, every minute, every breath truly is a gift from God.

-- Author Unknown

Monday, November 7, 2005

I'm Back

I took a little vacation last week and celebrated by ?? birthday.   I'm back now just in time for tomorrow's elections.  Prepare yourselves there's a lot to talk about.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Macedonia Becomes World's First 'Wireless' Country

An example of what can be acchieved when government and industry work together to invest in a society.  It can be done.   plk
Macedonia Becomes World’s First ‘Wireless’ Country

Working with the Government of Macedonia and the private sector, the Academy for Educational Development  ( AED )  has helped transform Macedonia, once the least developed of the Yugoslav republics, into the world's first 'wireless country' of its size or larger.  
Through a grant from USAID, the AED project Macedonia Connects worked with a local Internet service provider to connect every one of the country's 460 primary and secondary schools to a wireless network. Now each is outfitted with a computer lab, and the students are connected to the world.

"Our project team had the technical vision of how the network we created for the schools could be expanded to benefit the entire country," said Dennis Foote, vice president and director of the AED Center for Applied Technology.

Microsoft provided valuable software packages and licenses to the government of Macedonia, and Motorola contributed necessary hardware.

Already, private companies are poised to take advantage of the new system."

Another result of the Macedonia Connects project was a steep reduction in the costs associated with Internet access.

According to Glenn Strachan, who directed the project for AED, there is now more competition among Internet service providers in Macedonia, prices have dropped, and "the Internet is accessible to students, teachers, and the general population, rather than just the wealthiest section of society."

For more information, contact Glenn Strachan.

Read more about AED’s work in Technology Applications, or visit the homepage of the AED Center for Applied Technology.

Summarized by Copernic Summarizer


As energy prices soar, a city finds ways to cut the cost

It doesn't always require a lot to save energy, just a little common sense. plk
As energy prices soar, a city finds ways to cut the cost |

Conservation consultants John Pierson and Parthiban Mathavan were able to save New Haven Public Schools $1.1 million in energy costs last fiscal year by simply 
deciding that a mild winter morning does not require full-blast heat at the 50 schools they monitor.  Stopping that saved $600,000 the first year.

Summarized by Copernic Summarizer


So You Want To Volunteer for Disaster Relief -- Think About The Details First Before Rushing Off

This is a must-read article for anyone considering travelling to a disaster site as a volunteer. plk
When Disaster Strikes: Considerations for Helping Relief Efforts
From: Action Without Borders, Inc.
When disasters strike, many of us look for a way to contribute to the relief of the victims. Our desire to help can surface whether the disaster is natural, such as a hurricane or earthquake, or human-caused, such as a refugee crisis, or even some combination of the two, like a drought-induced famine. As we struggle to find ways to help our fellow human beings in places that are often far from our homes, we must weigh our options, and our feelings, carefully. The decision to head to a disaster area is not one that should be taken without first considering the complexities of the situation. This article gives you a few issues to think about as you look to get involved in the disaster response. By Eric Fichtl, Editor at
Helping Out Close to Home Often,
the fastest way to assist disaster victims is to donate money to a charity that is responding to the disaster. 
Many charities specialize in providing relief in acute disaster areas, yet they face significant financial outlays to get their staff, equipment, and supplies to the affected regions.  Your donation helps put experienced disaster responders on the ground, and gives them the tools they need to help victims recover.

If you aren't in a financial position to donate, you can still help the relief effort in a variety of ways, often right in your own community.  For instance, you can contribute to the disaster response by collecting supplies to send, by volunteering at the local office of a charity that has sent staff to the affected area, or by organizing other initiatives in your community that raise awareness about, and funding for, the relief effort.  Such efforts shouldn't be downplayed:  Running a food drive, organizing a benefit, collecting clothes and supplies, or lobbying community leaders to support the relief effort can all generate tangible results for disaster victims.

Idealist's Volunteer Center can give you tips on getting active in your area.

For some people, donating money or volunteering locally feels too passive, or may not be financially possible. Seeing images of disaster often prompts an urge to head to the affected area and assist victims directly.  However, if your response is overly emotional and underestimates the complexity of working in a disaster area, you risk doing something rash for which you are unprepared, and you could damage the relief effort in the process.  While there are opportunities to take an active role in disaster response, there are several crucial issues that would-be disaster responders must first consider.

Cost-Benefit Analysis
Despite your initial sense that you aren't in a position to donate money or volunteer locally, bear in mind that volunteering to respond at the crisis scene isn't going to be free, either.  The costs you incur just to get to the disaster area may ultimately be a poor allocation of valuable resources, especially if you end up sapping scarce supplies once you arrive in the affected region.

On the other hand, you may be a more effective responder on your home turf rather than out in the field: If you're in school or college, or in a company, religious group, or union, think of the number of people you have the potential to involve in the disaster response just by raising your voice and steering your combined efforts.

If you truly think it's worth the cost for you to head to the field, there are other important issues to consider as well.

"Victims don't stop being victims just because they're no longer in the news."

Going It Alone vs. Going With Support
Individuals with special knowledge and specific skill-sets can undoubtedly improve relief efforts, often by plugging short-term holes in the existing efforts.  But quite soon after a disaster, individual responses can also lead to the unnecessary duplication of efforts and can run into significant viability problems.  Relief agencies are effective in part because they have significant support infrastructure behind their field programs to ensure that their efforts can be sustained for the longest possible period.

If you have local knowledge or special skills, there is a good chance that a relief agency will have a way to incorporate you into their relief effort.  Although you may confront some initial bureaucracy by joining a larger effort, you will likely be able to sustain your efforts much longer working with a dedicated team supporting you.

Are you physically prepared for this?

Despite your best intentions, your presence may compound, rather than alleviate, the problems in the disaster area. Disaster areas are usually characterized by a severe breakdown in the supply of food, water, medicine, and shelter.  Likewise, you may need special clothing, transport, and other equipment just to get into the affected region, let alone stay there. 
Are you emotionally prepared for this?
There's more to disaster relief work than physical challenges. Disaster survivors who have lost their homes, possessions, and loved ones, or who have witnessed acts of violence and degradation, are likely to suffer feelings of anguish, anger, remorse, and pain, and may experience symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In other words, disaster victims have physical as well as emotional needs, and relief workers must attempt to address both.  If you aren't emotionally prepared for the overwhelming stress of working in a disaster area and assisting disaster victims, you may experience many of these emotional conditions yourself. Action Without Borders/ created a resource for aid workers that helps them prepare for the special stress that they typically experience in the field, available at  If you do head to the field, keep tabs on the emotional well-being of yourself and your fellow relief workers: the ability to remain emotionally stable in trying circumstances is crucial to the success of the relief effort.

Are you "legally" prepared for this?

Though it may be the furthest thing from your mind in the aftermath of a disaster, you need to consider the legal regime of the country where the disaster has occurred. It's important to realize that the chaotic images you see of the disaster area may be quite localized, and that the laws governing that region may otherwise be in effect, even if these seem to be an impediment to the urgent response.

By All Means, Volunteer. But Consider the Timing.

Despite your initial desire to help, you may be far more effective as a long-haul volunteer rather than a first responder.  That is, long after the disaster's immediate aftermath, as the victims struggle to rebuild their communities, they will still need assistance. And that may be the best time for you to head to the region, especially because many of the more immediate challenges no longer inhibit your ability to help out.  The extra time may also allow you to improve your knowledge of the local language and customs, which both increase your ability to assist the victims.  Volunteering your skills as a teacher, a builder, a doctor, or any number of other professions can offer affected communities a resource that they may never have had before, or one that was tragically lost as a result of the disaster.

The point of highlighting these concerns is not to discourage you from getting involved in a disaster relief effort, but rather to try to ensure that you get involved in the way most suited to your abilities.