Friday, December 25, 2009


I had seen her only once before—the day when she came into the center to pick up birthday boxes for her two grandchildren and to ask if we could help the family for Christmas. That day I learned a bit about her. The boys’ mother, Krystyna’s daughter, died this year from a brain tumor. Krystyna, a woman near my age, was faced with raising the two young children and their older sister. With a thick Polish accent, she wondered aloud why some in her apartment building always seemed to get the help they needed but not her. “It’s not fair,” she said.

“We can put your name on our waiting list for Christmas help,” I told her, adding, “if we can help, we will call you.” I really wanted to help her. Every time I start identifying like this, I find I am pulled deeper into lives than is wise. By that, I mean I am haunted by a life that is not mine but that I imagine very well could be. That’s primarily the reason I left a social services job at the county a few years ago.

Since that time,I have learned to keep an open heart without becoming too involved. Krystyna was my test. Maybe, it was the grandmother thing. I don’t know.

So, as the time neared to start contacting the waiting list families, I was happy that our donors had been generous and we had plenty of toys and gifts left to give the waiting list families.

Krystyna showed up the first day. I saw her sitting off to the side. “Krystyna,” I called out to her, “is someone helping you?” “They say my name isn’t on the list,” she said. “Let me check,” I replied. As I flipped through the pages of names, I spotted hers. “There it is,” I said. “It’s okay,” I said, “I know Krystyna.”

When she had big bags of gifts at her feet, we hugged. Krystyna told me how the children had been baptized recently. “The priest found godparents for them,” adding with obvious pride, “a deacon!” I know little about their lives. I know she struggles. I know I would do the same if I were in her place. She and I share that—maybe little else—the grandmother thing. Life’s lessons always come at a price. And while I think of Krystyna’s struggles, I know it is best to focus on my own, knowing I can still keep my heart open for the time when the next “Krystyna” comes along.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Price-less Gifts

Gifts of remembrance are to quote MasterCard’s ubiquitous tagline, “Priceless.”

When you remember a person’s name or personal preferences, it can make his or her day, thereby becoming a gift completely price less.

The young clerk at the bakery near my work gives me a gift of remembrance each time I stop in. By the time my hand is on the shop door, she is reaching for a chocolate-iced cake donut. “Maybe I will try a muffin one day,” I say, as she rings up the purchase—86 cents. I hand her a dollar bill and toss the 14 cents in change into the plastic tip cup. Yes, I know chocolate-iced cake donuts are not on my South Beach Diet, but how can I resist when I am thus rewarded?

And I am again rewarded when at work I recall a donor’s name as she or he brings in a bag of gifts this busy season. Tom brought in bag of basketballs last Christmas for the kids in our programs, and this year I happened to be at the front desk when he returned with this year’s donation: 10 basketballs. “You must have gotten quite a deal again,” I said as Tom smiled broadly.

My boss says we all wear a big invisible sign around our necks that says, “I want to be recognized.”

I am beginning to understand just what she means.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Awesome Crimson Tide Christmas Present

Work with me here folks. I am supposed to be doing my annual Christmas Countdown and while one of my readers suggested I post a photo of the Christmas tree when I got it up, I'd rather post about a non-Christmas subject--football. Well, except I think I have found a way to tie the two together.

Here goes. I really was thinking about Christmas and visited some Web sites selling University of Alabama merchandise looking for ideas for gifts. No hints here, but I think the intended recipients are clueless since they don't usually read the blog.

But lo and behold, I discovered a new product which I think is worthy of comment. You see it pictured here. No intended gift recipient has a satellite dish, but I thought, "How neat!" Now you can show your team spirit and cover that boring dish with the Dishrag. I really liked the name too.

I will have some more Christmas posts--so many I am practically bursting at the seams. Only, I am so crazy-busy at work (I am one of Santa's Elves, after all), that it's hard to find time to write.

Meanwhile, Happy Shopping dear gentle readers.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Tide Swamps Florida

Pardon my brief deviation from the Christmas theme this morning, but in a way the University of Alabama’s rout of #1 Florida last night is an early Christmas present for the Tide Nation. Coach Nick Sabin coached like those with the big bucks hoped he would, and the players played with heart and desire. Doesn’t get better than this with college football. As much as I respect Florida’s quarterback Tim Tebow, his faith in God, and his talent, I just wanted to say to him, “Tim, there’s no crying in football.”

All is well—least football-wise. The New York Times summed up my thoughts: “In football-crazed Alabama, it will mark a return to order in the football universe.” Happy Sunday!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Sheila’s Christmas Countdown

I’ve written so many Christmas-related posts since I started blogging that I really am taxed to come up with something new. In my first Christmas post back on Nov. 24, 2006, I wrote about my favorite Christmas book. I won’t repeat what I said there except to say, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is still the best ever.

However, this year I will first be reading a recent book and invite you to read along--an on-line book discussion group if you will. The New York Times story on “29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life” (Da Capo Press) by Cami Walker focuses on the notion that generosity improves your health.

Each day, I see the good side of humankind in my job at a small, grassroots not-for-profit organization, the Humanitarian Service Project. If you want to see the other side, watch the news. It’s all there.

For me, though, I know the power of goodwill and generosity firsthand. My attention was immediately captured when I read the story about Walker's book, and a stop by the bookstore will be on my list of errands today. That, and a stop by the Christmas tree lot, which is a departure from last year when my little apartment had no Christmas tree. For the first time since 1971, I did not decorate a tree. Freshly single after 36 Christmases, the ritual was more than I could handle. However, as it is with most challenges, you adjust.

Despite a crazy-busy work schedule filled with long days (our Christmas Offering is in its own countdown to Christmas), I need a Christmas tree this year. If nothing else, I need to smell the fresh scent of evergreen when I wake up. I need a reminder that the promise of Christmas symbolized by the tree can still be in my heart.

Happy Saturday!