Saturday, December 31, 2011

Thursday, December 29, 2011


Just a sign of the times:
Normally when I go to the library website to download an electronic book to my Nook, there are several hundred titles immediately available. (Our state-wide system allows access to a few hundred thousand titles, but most of these are checked out at any given moment.) Today when I went online to look at what I could get today, there were -- drum roll, please -- 31 books not checked out!

Everyone who got an e-reader had gone online and checked out everything they could get their hands (or wi-fi) on. This will even out over the next few weeks, but it was interesting.

I am the go-to guy for e-readers at the local library at the moment, and I have been fielding calls and holding mini-classes or one-on-one training sessions all week. I am even getting fairly comfortable with Kindle, even though I don't own one, because I have been showing so many people how to use theirs.

Going ,,, going ...

Although not a business person, I read the business pages from time to time. You may have seen that Sears [+Kmart] had a bad Christmas season and is in real trouble. One recent article listed it among ten brands that are likely to disappear within the next year or so, and the company already announced that over 100 stores would be closing.

Today we heard that the store in Baraboo, our nearest Sears outlet, is among those that will disappear, probably this spring. It is not a big mall anchor store, but it is a real store, not just a small outlet. Around 50 people are likely to lose their jobs as a direct result, but the impact will be greater. The store is one of the largest taxpayers in the village of West Baraboo, and if the building remains unoccupied, the reduced tax income will create other problems. So we hope that someone else will move in soon.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The rest of the story

This is the Feast of St. Stephen, honored as the first Christian believer to die for his faith. There are a bazillion Stephen/Steven/Steve's who have been an important part of my life, and I think of them all today.

Of course, this is the "feast of Stephen" mentioned in that mysterious Christmas carol, Good King Wenceslas, of which one usually hears only the first verse and wonders what on earth it has to do with anything. The feast of Stephen connects it to the Christmas cycle, and the entire story is one of charity and connects it to the spirit that we all wish would mark the season. Here again are the lyrics and "the rest of the story."
Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night,
Though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight
Gath'ring winter fuel

"Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know'st it, telling.
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh and bring me wine,
Bring me pine logs hither.
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither."
Page and monarch forth they went,
Forth they went together,
Through the rude wind's wild lament
And the bitter weather

"Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, my good page;
Tread thou in them boldly.
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian folk, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing:
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.
As you can see from this photo, although there was a hint of the white stuff left this afternoon, it is not exactly deep and crisp or even:

But even without snow, there were blessings. One of our Christmas blessings this year was a new flamingo to decorate the fire number sign at the entrance to the drive. Several years ago, Peggy decorated one and we discovered it at the end of the sidewalk on Christmas morning. This year she sent Rich over in the dark of Christmas Eve to deliver it. And here it is ...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Happy Hanukkah/Feast of Dedication

And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter.

And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon's porch.

John 10:22-23

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Stilll looking for the perfect gift?

It's one of the times of year when we pack up clothes and such to donate to St. Vincent de Paul or Goodwill. Friday I took about a hundred children's books that the library had collected to be distributed to kids in our area to brighten their holidays. And I ran across these reports in the news:
Though a recent American Red Cross survey found that donors plan to cut back on gifts, not charity this holiday season, several major nonprofits have reported decreases in contributions.

From toys to cans of food; loose change to big checks, donations are on the decline this year. And the problem is that as donations decrease, the need for help increases.

Paul Grogan, president and chief executive office of The Boston Foundation, told the Boston Globe he isn't surprised this fact, or by disappointing numbers in donations, considering the current state of the economy.

“They also underscore the level of need we face this winter, at a time when aid coming to the region for critical winter needs is being cut sharply," he said.

The Marine Corps Toys For Tots Foundation in Connecticut's Kings County is just one local example of that national concern.

The group collected about 18,000 toys and $40,000 in donations last year, but reported that this year only 6,200 toys and $24,000 had been collected.

Food banks across the nation have also seen a drop in donations.

Martha Buccino, the vice president of Philabundance, a Pennsylvania-based food shelter, said that its food donations have not been keeping up with the rising demand, stating the organization was down approximately 32 percent from last year, and 40 percent from two years ago.

''That's something that is very sobering," she said.

Food concerns on the West Coast continue to grow as well, with the San Diego Food Bank donations dropping 54 tons, according to NBC .

"Our total food drive donations last year was 656,247 pounds of food so we have a long way to go to reach last year's total," Chris Carter, San Diego Food Bank spokesman, told NBC. "We are also concerned because we use the Holiday Food Drive to build our food supply for the winter months, but this year the food is going out as quickly as it is coming in."

And in regard to one of the most well-known ways to give, those famous red kettles have been tossed less coins then usual this year.

As one telling local example, The Nonprofit Times reports that the Salvation Army kettle donations are down 22 percent this year in Massachusetts alone.

Even the convenience of virtual donations aren't bringing in expected amounts very quickly. The Salvation Army's national internet campaign Online Red Kettle has reached just 20 percent of its $3 million goal as of today.
The places mentioned in this article are perhaps not near you and you may know no one there. But there are families nearby that are having a hard time, too. So if you have a chance and a nickel to spare, I encourage you to give to a local food pantry or to some other organization you know and trust to help deliver help to people where you live this year. If it matters to your finances, the donations may be tax deductible.

And, of course, if you have already given -- as I assume all of you have -- thank you!

Here's a little music from the Glee kids. The song was written originally to raise money during the drought-induced African famine of the early 1980s, and you will hear the references to that, but the clip itself shows that there is need here as well.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


We had a bit of snow last night, enough to cover the ground, more or less. It is 16 degrees this morning (about -9 C), but supposed to warm up to just above freezing. So what's on tap for the day?

Holiday housecleaning! (Yay?)

Next Friday a whole houseload of Scharbach-kin will arrive for the weekend:Helen and Jay from St. Paul; Lucy, Armand, Rebecca and David from Chicago; John and Chelsea from Oklahoma/Texas. Peter is due from Mississippi this weekend. So we are doing the prep for landing.

I have to get my room and bath cleaned up and ready, and I am going to bite the bullet and use the opportunity to get the dreaded closet in better shape. The bathroom needs some serious re-organization time, too, and the toilet and shower need cleaning and probably scalding. Shelves to dust, year-round tchotchkes to put away, seasonal tchotchkes to be put out, seasonal linens to be washed and readied. All that kind of stuff.

Why, then, you ask, and it is perfectly reasonable of you to do so, am I blogging rather than slogging away at this? But you already know the answer to that, don't you?

This heated bird bath, our gift from Helen and Jay, keeps the water warm enough to prevent ice from forming and provides water for birds during the winter. Tom got it set up about a week ago, and it has proved very popular. If you look very carefully at the rim on the right side (your right side) of the bowl, you can see a little bird, all fluffed out and enjoying the warmth. Thanks, Helen and Jay!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Happy St. Nicholas Day

Today, December 6, Catholics, Orthodox and some other Christians celebrate the memory of the fourth-century bishop Nicholas of Myra (now a part of Turkey). He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas, itself from a series of elisions and corruptions of "Saint Nikolaos". His reputation evolved among the faithful, as was common for early Christian saints. It is easy to see how his feast, so close to Christmas, associated him with that feast.

The Carmelite community I used to belong came to the United States over a hundred years ago from Germany, and among the traditions they brought along with them (as did the Germans who had already settled in Wisconsin) was the celebration of St. Nick's feast on December 6 with the giving of small treats. This year I am continuing the tradition by making candy for the staff at the library.


There was a dusting of snow on the ground this morning, but the weather report doesn't call for any significant precipitation this week. Yet winter is clearly on its way. The signs are everywhere.

My least favorite sign? The cats are using the litter boxes regularly and I have to scoop those out every morning.

Favorite sign? Migratory birds. The bird feeders are covered with birds this morning, and on our way to Portage Saturday evening we saw huge flocks of sandhill cranes flying over. At first we thought they were geese, and I had commented about how many there were -- wave after wave after wave. When we got closer, we could see that they were cranes, not geese. I saw more yesterday afternoon on my way back from Madison. It is a beautiful sight. The sandhills are not considered endangered, being instead the most numerous cranes in the world. But you don't have to be rare to be lovely.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

And now for something serious ...

On the first of December, World AIDS Day is celebrated. This day is an opportunity for people to unite in the fight against HIV/AIDS, to remember those who have died of the disease and to celebrate accomplishments, such as increased access to treatment and prevention services.

Today, despite advances in HIV treatment and in laws designed to protect those living with HIV; many people do not know the facts about how to protect themselves and others from HIV or about the stigma and discrimination that remain a reality for many people living with HIV. World AIDS Day is an important reminder to individuals and governments that HIV has not gone away – there is still a vital need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education.

The theme for World AIDS Day 2011 is "Getting to Zero." After 30 years of the global fight against HIV/AIDS, this year the focus is on achieving 3 targets: Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths.

It is estimated that 33.3 million people have HIV worldwide, with 1.2 million persons who are living with HIV in the United States, according to the Center of Disease Control (CDC) estimates. This number is expected to continue to increase over time, as advances in treatments prolong the lives of those who are infected and more people become infected with HIV each year. Despite increases in the total number of people in the U.S. living with HIV infection in recent years, the annual number of new HIV infections has remained relatively stable. However, new infections continue at far too high of a level, with approximately 50,000 Americans becoming infected with HIV each year. Worldwide, the rate of new infections, or incidence, has decreased. In 33 countries, the incidence has decreased more than 25 percent since 2001, including countries in the hardest hit areas of sub-Saharan Africa.

The CDC estimates that one in five people living with HIV in the U.S. are unaware of their infection. This highlights the importance of reaching all infected individuals with HIV testing and prevention services. HIV can be transmitted in three main ways: sexual transmission; transmission through blood; and mother-to-child transmission. These three routes of transmission work in tandem to affect segments of the population. The number of infections resulting from each route will vary greatly between countries and population groups. HIV counseling and testing are fundamental for HIV prevention, as is access to essential commodities such as condoms or sterile injecting equipment.

According to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, "Stigma remains the single most important barrier to public action. It is a main reason why too many people are afraid to see a doctor to determine whether they have the disease, or to seek treatment if so. It helps make AIDS the silent killer, because people fear the social disgrace of speaking about it, or taking easily available precautions. Stigma is a chief reason why the AIDS epidemic continues to devastate societies around the world."

Discrimination against those infected with HIV/AIDS includes both the fear of getting the disease and also negative assumptions about people who are infected. AIDS-related stigma has had a profound effect on the epidemic’s course. The World Health Organization cites fear of stigma and discrimination as the main reason why people are reluctant to be tested, to disclose their HIV status or to take antiretroviral drugs.

"We can fight stigma. Enlightened laws and policies are key. But it begins with openness, the courage to speak out. Schools should teach respect and understanding. Religious leaders should preach tolerance. The media should condemn prejudice and use its influence to advance social change, from securing legal protections to ensuring access to health care." Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations.

I know people who have been living with HIV for many years, and I know people who died because of AIDS. My hope is that no one who reads my blog is at high risk for contracting any sexually transmitted disease. It is my greater hope that everyone make sure that they and their loved ones are at zero risk. Do what you need to do, please.