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Life Arts

Gifts That Speak Volumes

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For the last several weeks I have been busy exploring ways we Americans can think outside the box this holiday season. I’m trying to edge us away from our cultural obsession with consumerism.  Ironically, I’ve been aided in my quest by the sharp nosedive the economy has taken, and the stultifying effect it has had on spending of any kind.  Recent articles I’ve written have covered worthy projects, volunteer opportunities, and how to locate and purchase American-made goods.   At this very moment, I’m wearing a pair of Okabashi sandals. After hearing about Okabashi from a reader, I included them in an article on patriotic spending.  Then, I felt compelled to order some for myself. I’m happy to report that they are everything that their satisfied customers claimed:  remarkably inexpensive, colorful, lightweight, and incredibly comfortable. Best of all, when you flip them over, you’ll spot three words that are much beloved but increasingly rare, “Made in USA”.   

There are many out there who find themselves still wedded to the traditional “let’s go buy something at the mall and wrap it up” mentality.  I’m not ready to write you off.  There are creative ways to take care of those on your gift list that will leave both you and yours feeling good and won’t break the bank.

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If simply making a bunch of donations isn’t enough, consider picking out some wonderful books to give as presents. Bonus points for locating and patronizing an independent bookseller, another dying breed!

Biographies, Autobiographies, Collections of Stories of People Making A Difference
In recent years, these books have become my passion. Reading about fascinating people and the way they got where they are today is inspirational literature at its best  because it makes you think – about yourself, about where you’re headed, and whether that’s really what you want to be doing. A good book can change your life. This is a sampling of books that made an outsized impression on me in the last several years. Most of them have been around for a while, but that doesn’t diminish their appeal. Send me your favorites and I’ll append them at the end of my article.

Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times by Amy Goodman and David Goodman

The Impossible Will Take A Little While, essays by activists, edited by Paul Rogat Loeb. This was recommended to me by Rob Kall once, when I was running out of steam in this activism ‘thing’. It worked!

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Banker to the Poor, Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty, by Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus. I understand little about economics. It’s not necessary in order to see how this man changed the lives of literally millions of poor families around the world

Mountains  Beyond Mountains, the quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a man who would cure the world, by Tracy Kidder. Recommended by my daughter, Ariella; another keeper.

The Pact, three young men make a promises and fulfill a dream, by Drs. Sampson Davis, George Jenkins and Rameck Hunt.  The true story about three inner-city youths from Newark who stuck together, turned their lives around, and went on to accomplish great things.

Pour Your Heart into It – How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time by Howard Schultz, Chairman and CEO of Starbucks, and Dori Jones Yang. Interesting to learn about this amazing entrepreneur and committed philanthropist.

My Soul Looks Back in Wonder, Voices of the Civil Rights Experience, by Juan Williams

Sit Down Young Stranger, One man’s quest for meaning, the biography of John Graham, president of the Giraffe Heroes Project

Stick Your Neck Out—A Street-Smart Guide to Creating Change in Your Community and Beyond by John Graham. These last two books make a nice two-fer:  one talks about how to bring about change and the other talks about why it matters.
    
Books that will have you looking at (your) life in a brand new way

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The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a natural history of four meals, by Michael Pollan. Also recommended by Ariella, this provocative book got us all thinking about what we eat, what our food choices mean, and whether we want to keep eating that way.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a year of food life, Barbara Kingsolver (about her family’s attempt to live off the land in rural Virginia

Your money or your life, transforming your relationship with money and achieving financial independence, by Joe Domingues and Vicki Robin. Especially timely now.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)
 

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