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Scientists are predicting the Perseid Meteor Shower will be extra-spectacular this year, with up to double the usual number of meteors – up to 200 per hour!

Arb and I are probably not going to get to see them: the forecast is for clouds and rain a good portion of the night.  If any of our dear readers manage to take in the sight, I’d love to live vicariously through your reports!

On May 15, 2012, Arb and I took possession of the house we now live in.

Back in early April 2012, literally the same day we closed on the house, I started looking on Petfinder for a dog.  We were going to have a fenced yard, and I had always wanted a dog.  Arb grew up with dogs, but I had never had one.  Arb wanted a Sheltie.  I wanted a senior, because I love older dogs, and because they often have trouble finding homes.  My search for a senior Sheltie brought up exactly one result.  I wrote the rescue right away, explaining that we were interested but we couldn’t bring her home until we actually had the home to bring her to.  The rescue took a loooong time to write back, but eventually, the week before move-in, we were invited to meet up with her foster mum at the local Petsmart.

It wasn’t quite love at first sight – Shadow was kindof a mess, with mats the size of golfballs in the fur behind her ears and behind her armpits.  And she was a little bit shy.  But then she stuck that adorable pointy nose under our hands and demanded pettins, and our hearts went poof, and we decided she had to be our dog.

EXIF_JPEG_T422

Arb meeting Shadow for the first time

We brought her home four years ago today.  She has absolutely blossomed in confidence and happiness – and beauty, once we took her to the groomer and got her mats shaved off.  (No more mats since then due to Arb’s rigorous program to teach her to accept brushing (which involves a lot of high-value treats)).

shadowpill

She has mastered the herding dog stare when she wants you to do something:

shadowdisappoint

And somewhere along the line, I accidentally trained her that if she did a nice down-stay, I would give her just about anything she wants:

ShadowWag1

They told us she was 10-ish when we got her, but there’s no way she’s 14 now; she still zooms around the yard barking her fool head off like a puppy.

ShadowPirate

Thank you for being our dog, Shadow, and happy GotchaVersairy!

Shadow5

fmf

As the fire continues to rage around Fort McMurray, Alberta, it’s natural to want to help, and Albertans – and Canadians, and others around the world, are stepping up in a heart-opening outpouring of generosity.  Over and over again, authorities have emphasized, the best thing you can do is donate to the Red Cross or other NGO involved in the effort.  Donating goods, or showing up uninvited to volunteer, can often cause more trouble to those on the ground, than your heartfelt contribution can ever be worth to them.  Edward McIntyre, who was involved in disaster relief efforts in the Slave Lake fire in 2011, and the Calgary floods in 2013, explains why, in his piece,  When Helping Hurts: Why you should never donate physical goods during a disaster:

[…]why more organizations don’t accept physical goods. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Warehouseing and sorting donated goods is a logistical nightmare
  • Individuals affected often don’t have anywhere to store donated items
  • The majority of donated items are not fit for redistribution for health and safety concerns
  • Costs for shipping & storing donated items often outweigh the cost of buying new
  • Donations rarely fill the actual need at the moment
  • NGO’s such as the Red Cross have pre-existing agreements in place to fulfill the basic needs of food, shelter & clothing
  • The collective buying power of an NGO can stretch your dollar further

In Slave Lake, for example, many generously and sincerely donated items ended up having to go to the landfill for these reasons.

Volunteering without a clear plan can also cause problems, especially when conditions are life-threatening: rather than helping, unsolicited volunteers can take trained workers’ attention off the job at hand, and onto wrangling people.  And if conditions turn dire, it can just mean more people to rescue.

So what can you do that will actually help?  McIntyre suggests:

1. Make a financial donation to an NGO involved in the relief effort

We always have a hard time with when it comes to giving financially to an organization but this is the absolute best thing you can do. The Canadian Red Cross does need assessments on every individual and endeavors to provide for their specific needs. This includes getting them back to work by providing items like work boots and specially items such as prescription eyewear or medical aids. Their support often stretches out for years and when you donate to an financial appeal the money is earmarked for that and only that.

The Canadian Red Cross has setup a financial appeal for the Alberta Fires and you can donate here https://donate.redcross.ca/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=1951&ea.campaign.id=50610

The Salvation Army also has an appeal here https://secure.salvationarmy.ca/registrant/donate.aspx?eventid=197650&langpref=en-CA&Referrer=http%3a%2f%2fsalvationarmy.ca%2falbertafires%2f

2. Help others on an individual basis

If you see a direct ask or need from a family or individual and you have the means to provide it, please do so. Just be cautious about spreading the word and collecting more then they need.

3. Volunteer

This can be tricky as everyone wants to help but in these times skilled and highly trained individuals are required. Keep an eye our for calls for volunteers from reputable organizations and remember that volunteers will be needed for months to come.

4. Thank the Volunteers

I can tell you from personal experience that volunteering during a disaster is extremely taxing. You work long hours, get very little sleep and being there for people effected means you also carry their emotional burden. Volunteers may not always be willing to talk about their experiences but taking the time to thank them for their service can provide much needed energy and prevent burnout. During the Slave Lake fires comedian Tracy Morgan invited volunteers to attend his show free of charge and it gave me the mental break I needed to push through another week.

One doubt people often express about donating cash to charitable organizations is that these organizations will use some of their donation for administration and/or fundraising, rather than their money going to those in need.  It’s a valid concern; relying as it does on the goodness of people’s hearts, the charitable sector is ripe for exploitation by the greedy and unscrupulous.  But, having examined the audited financial statements of literally hundreds of charitable organizations as part of my work in a previous job, I can tell you that while it does happen, it’s exceedingly rare.  And between that broad exposure, and my specific experience volunteering for a variety of charitable organizations from tiny to very large, I can also tell you, that having some of your donation go to administration and fundraising expenses, is actually a Very Good Thing.

Some charitable organizations are very small, and have no, or almost no, administration and fundraising costs, because they’re basically just a handful of passionate, dedicated volunteers.  Never underestimate the good these small organizations can do – it can be amazing!  But as an organization grows and develops, and becomes capable of bigger things, it needs more and more time from skilled people to keep it running, both at its charitable purpose and also behind the scenes.  And if you want significant, ongoing contributions of time from people with specialized skills, you eventually have to start paying them.

Probably the first paid position you’ll have is an office person.  Somebody to answer the phone, handle the mail, manage the financials and the website, coordinate the volunteers – and that person is fundamentally necessary to growing your organization and keeping it running smoothly, but because she’s not involved directly in doing the organization’s actual charitable work, you have to count her pay as an administrative expense.

Or maybe you have some paid staff who do specialized work towards the organizations’ charitable purpose.  That’s great, you can count their pay as a program expense.  But who handles their payroll and human resource needs?  Do you take them away from their specialized work, and make them double as HR and payroll, or do you get a HR person?  Guess what, she’s an administrative expense too, even though without her, nobody would get paid, and so nobody who needs money to eat would be coming to work for very long.

As your organization grows further, your one office person is going to get progressively overworked, and if you don’t get her some help, she’ll quit.  So maybe now you have an admin support person, and a web person, and a volunteer coordinator, and a HR person, and a financial person – and at this point you’ve got enough people that you probably need a manager or a director.  All administrative expenses.  Grow enough, and those individuals eventually become teams, all of which need team leads, who in turn need somebody to coordinate them.  And whether it’s helping homeless animals or running a symphony orchestra, even though none of these people may ever touch a dog or a violin, and have to be counted as administrative expenses, without them the organization wouldn’t be able to function at its present level of scope and complexity.  Paying for specialized people to invisibly support the visible work of the charitable organization, is not a misdirection of your donation, or the charity “keeping” some of your money; it’s an investment in the organization’s continued effectiveness.

 

When it comes to musical taste, I guess you could say Arb and I are a little… odd?  We’ve shared our love of classical and choral music quite a bit, but then we also like the hard stuff.  Here is a whole group of young people who seem to feel the same way:

Viva Vox Choir from Belgrade was formed almost ten years ago by a group of high school graduates who, together with their music teacher and conductor, Jasmina Lorin, wanted to continue the wonderful musical cooperation they had in their high school choir. The choir got its current name in 2005, and in 2009 they introduced beatboxing in their performance, which, along with song arrangements written by the members of the choir, formed the unique sound that made them known throughout the globe. The sound  of Viva Vox choir has undergone a number of transformations, and today it is characterised by authentic a cappella (voices only) interpretations of pop-rock and alternative music, accompanied by beatbox.

And for the goth in me:

And finally – this doesn’t work quite as well because they have cultured voices and sing very much in tune, but for sheer audacity it takes the cake:

Can you find the grey kitty?

V knows how to make a blanket fort. Fiona does not.

 

Can you find the grey kitty?

This makes Fiona sad, and V smug.

 

It also makes Fiona curious.

It also makes Fiona curious.

 

Very curious.

Very curious.

 

Which displeases V immensely - which makes Fiona smug.

Which displeases V immensely – which makes Fiona smug.

Arb may not be such a fan of Silent Night, but it will always be special to me.  In my church while I was growing up, we would end our Christmas Eve service by all getting out of the pews to stand in a huge circle around the sanctuary.  We’d pass out candles, then turn out all the lights, so there total darkness except the Advent candles at the altar.  Somebody who had perfect pitch – usually my mom – would sing the first note, and then we would all join in, and sing Silent Night a cappella, in English and German, while passing the flame from candle to candle around the room.  After it was done, we’d all stand in reverent silence for a little while, then the lights would come back on and we’d blow out our candles and put on our coats and quietly file out into the normal world again.

As Arb said last week, we’ve sung Silent Night in choir every year since we joined.  It is getting a little old – I wouldn’t mind a new arrangement – but this year our concert at the women’s prison made it new for me again.  Here’s the arrangement we always use – this video is in Swedish because our director is Swedish and she likes this arrangement by the Swedish composer Anders Öhrwall.  We do it generally in English, and sometimes in other languages.  I usually sing the solo.

Our choir has a ‘sister’ choir at the prison; this was a joint concert with them.  The women’s choir took the solo line together and I joined them to add a bit of power.  We did the middle verse multiple times, in multiple languages: we sang softly on “ooo”, as we were joined by a prisoner who sang in French, a couple prisoners who sang in Cree, an off-duty guard who came in on her day off to sing in Ukrainian, and the chaplain who sang in Afrikaans.  Finally, another prisoner had composed a rap to be spoken over us.  Each soloist – even the guard – got applause and cheers.  As we did our last verses with the rapper, the room fell silent except for the sobs of a couple prisoners in the second row who held one another as they openly wept, then as the rapper finished the whole room burst into rapturous applause and cheering.  Even the on-duty guards allowed themselves to smile.

It’s funny.  I hate everything prisons stand for, and I don’t believe in Christmas, but that night I felt the Christmas spirit for the first time since I was a child.  And it’s real.  That sense of community, that despite our differences we’re all family, even if only the most distantly related, is something we need to carry with us out into the cold night, and keep in our hearts the whole year.

So…

Wishing you joy, whatever holidays you may or may not celebrate at this time of year.  May your days be merry and bright.

 

 

Us folks at DWR seem to be all full of Holiday sweetness and light and goodwill, this year.  Just to reassure y’all that we haven’t gone totally soft, I’d like to share this video with you.  It helped me earlier in the season, when I wasn’t ready for celebrating yet, and I needed an antidote to the hype and the cheer and the carols my co-worker was playing at her desk, with the speakers up on the cubicle walls to be sure everybody could share and enjoy.

For everybody who’s just not feelin’ it…

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