holiday Quotations

Mid-Holiday Thoughts

mountains in Alaska-a holiday picture

Ten favorite quotations

I am a collector of quotations. To my mind they are the ideal collectible. They don’t take up space on your mantle or bookshelves, and they offer wisdom and encouragement when you take them out. Plus, they are easy and often useful to share. So without further explanation and in no particular order, here are ten of my current favorites:

  1. He that is good with a hammer tends to think everything is a nail. –Abraham Maslow
  2. I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance. — e.e.cummings
  3. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence , then, is not an act, but a habit. — Will Durant
  4. All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure. — Mark Twain
  5. Work is love made visible. –Kahlil Gibran
  6. There are some problems you cannot solve in a million years unless you think about them for five minutes. –M.L. Goldberger
  7. You’re never a loser until you’ve quit trying. — Mike Ditka
  8. When a man’s willing and eager, the gods join in. — Aeschylus
  9. Success is on the far side of failure. –T.J. Watson
  10. Doors are interesting. They open. They close. And the doors we open and close each day decide the lives we lead. –Flora Whittemore

May your New Year be blessed.

Until next time,

Birds Birdwatching Christmas Nature

Remember the Christmas Bird Count

Tundra swans on a foggy, snowy morning. Grand Island, NE.
Tundra swans on a foggy, snowy morning. Grand Island, NE

What is the Christmas Bird Count?

As Christmas draws ever nearer, I linger over photographs of snow and recall living in Nebraska and participating in the Christmas Bird Count there. The Christmas Bird Count is just what it sounds like–an annual event in which volunteer bird watchers identify and count birds in their local areas. The counting follows a strict protocol and has been done for over 100 years, yielding an accurate bird census that gives ornithologists critical data on species abundance over time.

The whole thing is administered by the National Audubon Society, with local organizers responsible for the count within their assigned area. The specific day of the count is determined locally, but must occur between December 14thand January 5th.

All over the Western hemisphere, the Christmas Bird Count sees volunteers spending all or part of the designated day tramping around outdoors, identifying and counting birds. Every year the information gathered is compiled, turned in to the National Audubon Society and added to a database containing over a century’s worth of avian census records.

Participating in the Christmas Bird Count

To participate in the Christmas bird count is a privilege that I enjoyed when I lived “up North”. There was something vastly satisfying about seeing for myself the diversity of wildlife that persevered in eastern Nebraska despite temperatures below freezing and the lack of abundant food that characterized the winter months.

My experience was in Nebraska, but yours could easily be close to wherever you live.  Find out more at the National Audubon Society webpage.  You will see that the number of areas surveyed is nothing short of staggering. North America has the greatest density of census “circles”, but there are are also circles in Central and South America.

Take a closer look at the map of 2018-2019 sites here. (The Audubon map is interactive. If you click on a circle, you will see the local organizer’s name and contact information.)

Whether you watch birds or photograph clouds, do make time this season to get outdoors and enjoy the wonders of nature in the winter, wherever you live.

Until next time,

best Christmas Christmas plan successful holiday

Finding the Perfect Christmas Gift

Two approaches, Three criteria, One perfect gift

How do you find the perfect gift?

Two approaches

Wrapped Christmas giftsThere are two distinct ways to approach holiday gift giving, practiced by two different sets of people. In any given family, one approach or the other will tend to predominate. Perhaps it’s genetic. The two groups are the List-makersand the I-dunno-ers.


Some families love lists. Their approach to gifting works like this: You write down a bunch of stuff that you’d like to have, covering a range of prices from small to semi-extravagant. Then, if you are male, you give it to your wife. If not, you pass it to the Keeper of Lists. Or simply mention the items on it as often as possible to anyone willing to listen. (The method used varies depending on the family in question.)

Sometimes List-makertradition can lead to conflict when a family member marries outside their gift-giving culture. Our family is entirely composed of I-dunno-ers. My older son married a lovely and energetic woman from a long line of List-makers. Those of us on this side of the family tried to provide her with lists. But coming, as she did, from a tradition where even men can produce decent potential gift lists, she must have been sorely frustrated by our feeble attempts at telling her what we want.

In her List-makerfamily, shopping was the name of the game. As a virtual non-shopper, I always found her ability in this area incredible. Her fun was not in receiving gifts. Due to her list, she knew she would get a nice selection of things that she wanted and could actually use. Her fun came from hunting for items to give others.

When I shopped with her, we went from store to store as she looked for specific items from gift lists. I mainly tagged along. When she spotted a really great deal on an item from someone’s list, the hunt ended. “Score!”


By contrast, everyone in my family was an I-dunno-er. Our list-making skills were poor, and we lacked the shopping gene altogether. (Undoubtedly my fault.)

“What would you like me to get you for Christmas?” I asked my youngest son.

“I dunno,” he replied.

“How about a gift card to the home improvement store?” I thought this was a great idea. He and his bride had bought a fixer-upper.


“Cash? Then you could spend it anywhere you want,” I encouraged.

“I don’t want cash or a gift card, I want a present. Something to unwrap.”

“Okay, I’ll try to think of something,” I said, discouraged. But if he wouldn’t help me with his gift, perhaps… “Any idea what I can get your Dad? He’s so hard to buy for. When he wants something, he just gets it.”

My son didn’t grasp the enormity of the problem. “I’ll help you find a present for Dad.” He promised easily. “You don’t want something he knows he wants. You want to find something he doesn’t even know he needs or wants until he unwraps it, but then he’s like: ‘This is just what I need’ or ‘It’s just what I wanted.’ Those are the best presents.”

‘That’s easy for you to say,’ I thought. But I kept my mouth shut. When in desperate need, it didn’t do to disparage those offering assistance.

Something you don’t even know you want until you unwrap it.

A great description of the perfect gift. (It wasn’t a lot of help three days before Christmas, but still, what a goal to shoot for.)

Well, for my loving husband I finally settled on something I knew he would like, but wouldn’t buy for himself. Earlier that year, he’d bought a new robe. Loved it. The first time we washed it, it was accidentally thrown in the dryer and shrank eight inches. He is six-three, so that was a big deal. He’d been making do ever since.

So, I found a new robe—that was easy, just asked my shopper daughter-in-law where to go. No muss, no fuss. But what about my son? What did he need that he didn’t even know he wanted? I had no clue.

Three factors to consider

Shopping with my son again the next day—only two days until Christmas—he and I discussed how he’d arrived at his gift choices for his wife. (He’s good at this, just not an early-bird.) Between us, we identified three basic factors to consider when gifting someone. I found them very useful guidelines. Maybe you will also.

First, the Fun Factor—Things you can play with are better gifts than things of a more practical nature. Thus, clothing often counts as fun for women, but seldom counts for men. And while new kitchen items rank well with the chefs in the family, those of us who don’t love experimenting in the kitchen… well, you get the idea.

Second, the Memory Factor—a gift based upon something you remember your giftee said, maybe in passing, once upon a time. These items show that you listen and that you care. A winning combination.

Third, the Recognition factor—something that shows you recognize the kind of person your loved one wants to be: sexy, outdoorsy, a gourmet chef, intellectual, a techie, whatever. Note that the Memory Factor and the Recognition Factor combine to make the Romance Factor…but for purposes of analysis, it is better to keep them separate.

Three primary factors, three bases if you will. If you can tag all three in one gift, all that remains is home plate… Will your loved one unwrap it and suddenly be aware he’s wanted it all along?

The perfect gift

I think my son hit a home run that year, plus bonus points for extravagance. He bought a pair of kayaks so he and his love could go out on the water together. Maybe he’s found another bonus—his gift carried the promise of time spent together. That’s important, and melds into the Romance Factor. Like I said, he’s good at this.

So I was supposed to find something—with no help from him—for Mister Gift-master. A tall order, but I thought I might have succeeded. Their fixer-upper had a huge backyard. He’s the outdoorsy, let’s-do-something type. So I got him a nice set of Bocce balls. (Since he is male, I figured I’d have the As-seen-in-a-Godfather-movie bonus going for me as well.) The next day, I found out how I’d done.