I'm up at my parents' house to write today's blog entry, once again looking after the dogs. It's quite lively up here; the temperatures are below freezing, and the Squirrel Scouts and I are having a fine time. Rikki and Sheela take turns at the window, watching the endless parade of squirrels, cardinals, chickadees, and other unidentified birds as they gather on the back deck to enjoy the corn and seed that my parents have left for them.
I have a love-hate relationship with winter. I love the holidays, I love snow, and I love the fact that everything I'm allergic to is currently dead. And I love the fact that this music station on the television shares odd bits of Christmas and toy-related trivia. (Did you know that stone yo-yos first appeared in Greece circa 1,000 B.C.?) However, I really hate being cold. So it's really very convenient, as far as I'm concerned, that I've recently been pointed to a number of places online where I can do good things for other people from the comfort of my own (or in this case, my mother's) sofa. And since one of them is relevant to the season and is therefore a bit time-sensitive, it seems to me like this is the time to write about them. I'll share some more of these trivia bits along the way, since quite a few of them are pretty interesting.
The first link is the time-sensitive one, which I learned of from my friend Irma. Let's Say Thanks is an initiative by the Xerox corporation to send holiday greetings to American service personnel stationed overseas. It's really very simple. Go to the website; select one of the postcards, which were all designed by children; fill in the information they request (your name and hometown); and click send. Xerox will take care of the rest, sending your card to a serviceman or woman in another country at no charge to you whatsoever. Also on the website, you can see postcards that were sent to the service personnel by celebrities, and read some of the responses the Let's Say Thanks program has gotten from those who have received the cards.
Trivia: The tradition of tinsel is based on an old legend about spiders whose spinnings turned to silver when they landed on a Christmas tree.
Next up is one that I've had on my links page since the beginning of the blog. Free Rice combines the ease of doing good online with the fun of building your vocabulary. (Some of us think that's fun.) For every word you correctly define, they will donate ten grains of rice to the United Nations' World Food Program(me) to help combat hunger around the globe. You even get a graphic representation of your winning streak; when you start to play, a wooden bowl appears on the right side of your screen, and every time you get a question right, ten more grains of rice appear in the bowl. 100 grains fills the bowl and starts a new one. It really makes you understand just how valuable a game this is. And most of the questions are not hard; I don't know too many people who are unaware that "vacation" is a synonym for "holiday" or that a "bug" is an insect. They do get a bit more difficult as you go, progressing up to level 60, but it's worth the attempt when you consider what the outcome will be. In my opinion, the hardest thing is stopping -- the game is a little addictive!
Trivia: In Hungary, the Christmas Eve meal can't be served until a twinkling star is seen in the sky. (I guess if it's snowing, they're out of luck?)
Free Rice is arguably the best known of the build-vocabulary-while-giving websites, but it's by no means the only one. If you'd like to accomplish something very different but equally important, there's Give Vaccines. Correctly pair up the synonyms and donate millileters of vaccine to protect needy children from infectious diseases. This one amuses me, because the questions tend to be recursive. I told it that "twelvemonth" was most like "year," and it then asked me to tell it that "year" was most like "twelvemonth."
Trivia: The famous poem "T'was the Night Before Christmas" was written in 1822 by Clement C. Moore as his children's Christmas gift.
Now, it may have escaped your notice, but I happen to be kind of fond of cats and dogs. As an aside, it's difficult to write a blog post when a puppy keeps trying to wash your hands. Anyway, when Debbie Tenzer told the fans of Do One Nice Thing about these next two sites, they caught my attention. They operate on the same principle as Free Rice, but in a different manner. At FreeKibble, answer a daily trivia question to donate ten pieces of kibble to a dog in an animal shelter. The down side is that there's only one chance to do this each day, but the up side is that if you get the question wrong, they still make the donation. At the sister site FreeKibbleKat, you can do the exact same thing to donate ten pieces of kibble to a shelter cat. Here's the thing that I find most impressive about this initiative: It was founded by an eleven-year-old girl, and has gone on to provide more than four million nutritious meals for shelter pets! (To my teenaged friends who are reading this, never let anyone tell you that you're too young to make a difference!)
Trivia: In Caracas, Venezuela, the streets are blocked off on Christmas Eve so that people can roller skate to church.
I've saved what is surely the best for last. The Non-Profits is essentially a clearinghouse of this kind of site, organized by category. Currently they list more than sixty causes and charities. You can decide which causes you really want to support -- they range from dental care in Nepal to planting trees to providing food for abandoned children -- or if you have the time to spare, you can go through and do them all. Every link opens in a new window, and all donations are paid for by advertisers and sponsors. Sometimes you have to click a button in the new window; for other sites, just opening that window is enough to generate the donation. A few of them are games; Free Rice, Give Vaccines, and the FreeKibble sites are all on there.
Trivia: In the 1700s, German Christmas trees were really just decorated tree branches hung upside-down from the ceiling.
Only two more blog posts until Christmas; seems hard to believe. Where did this month go? I haven't decided on Monday's subject yet, but I have something a little wacky in mind for next Thursday -- a personal reminiscence of a certain Christmas-themed little incident. Meanwhile, if you're on Facebook, please come and join the crowd at the blog's official page. I look forward to meeting some of you there!
Special thanks to Debbie Tenzer and my friend Irma for their contributions to today's post.