From “The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor,”

It’s the anniversary of the printing of the first known book. In the year 868, Wang Chieh printed the Diamond Sutra, a Buddhist scripture, on a 16-foot scroll using wood blocks. It was discovered in 1907 in Turkestan, among 40,000 books and manuscripts walled up in one of the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas.

Diamond Sutra_Jingangjing

And, from Wikipedia, the image, above, and this information,

A page from the Diamond Sutra, printed in the 9th year of Xiantong Era of the Tang Dynasty, i.e. 868 CE. Currently located in the British Library, London.


Ideas about aging and care of the elderly are very culturally specific things, are they not?

retirementlane-main_fullIn the USA, where independence and individuality are part of our national character, studies show that the vast majority of senior citizens here desire to “age in place.” This means they wish to stay in their communities near family and friends and to stay in their own homes living independently for as long as possible. Some opt to “downsize” by moving into a smaller home, once their children are grown, and some may move into retirement communities, where they have options for a continuum of care that range from independent living to assisted living to skilled nursing care on the same campus.

Most, however, do not live their last years in nursing homes, according to the stereotype of aging in the USA. Neither do most live with their grown children late in their lives, as has been the tradition in China, although that arrangement is not entirely out of the question in the US. Today, in both countries, however, ideas about privacy and personal space  may make it less desirable to have multi-generational households.

meaaa-top_tittleThere is a network of Agencies on Aging throughout the USA that provides information and assistance on a wide range of issues for our elders. The Mid-East Area Agency on Aging (MEAAA) serves four counties in the St. Louis region, and one of their programs delivers a nutritionally balanced mid-day meal to participants. These seniors may be disabled, or homebound in the short term due to illness, injury or recovering from a stay in the hospital.

Mayors for Meals 2009

Mayors for Meals 2009

The meals are prepared in a commercial kitchen and delivered by a roster of dedicated volunteers. Often the meal is the primary nutrition for the participant, if they live alone and are unable to shop and prepare their own food. Often the volunteer is the only person the participant will see during the day, and so this program feeds the body and spirit.

mayors-for-mealsEach year MEAAA works with area Mayors to get them involved in the meal delivery process. Here is a link to photos from “MEAAA Mayors for Meals 2009.”

Here is a link to the Web site for MEAAA, with information on their programs and services assisting adults through the journey of aging.

Here is a link to the Web site from the State of Missouri on the origins of the Agencies on Aging across the United States. If you have not heard of the Agencies on Aging, please take the time to learn about them and never hesitate call on them to assist your family as your elder members require services to remain independent for as long as they desire. There is an Agency on Aging to serve every area of the USA.

Five Days Till Christmas

December 20, 2008

c 1916 Blanche Fisher Wright, illustrator

c 1916 Blanche Fisher Wright, illustrator

“Christmas is coming,
The geese are getting fat.
Please put a penny in the old man’s hat.
If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’ penny will do.
If you haven’t got a ha’ penny, God bless you.”

These are the words to an old English nursery rhyme (a child’s poem), the source usually attributed to “Mother Goose”. Mother Goose is depicted as a country women, who is the author of traditional English language children’s stories and rhymes. According to one source*, “Mother Goose first appeared as a character in a French poem in 1650, but was not associated with a compilation of published nursery rhymes in English until more than a century later. Since then, both the character and the series have achieved an iconic status in children’s literature.”

There is a melody that can go with this particular rhyme, and I’ve heard it recited, sometimes sung, since grammar school. The illustration here is from a book called The Real Mother Goose, published in 1916. It shows the well-dressed young boy with his own needs filled (traditional evergreen wreath to decorate the hearth and goose in basket ready for the oven) reaching into his pocket to give his penny or ha’ penny (literally, half-penny) to the blind, old man, who is obviously in need, begging with his hat held out for charitable donations. The sentiments of the rhyme and illustration tell what the most basic aspect of Christmas spirit is supposed to be about–generosity, feasting, and celebration. It may be easy to forget that with the frenzy of holiday consumerism.

In the tradition of generosity (which should part of our lives every single day, anyway), there are often particularly seasonal ways of giving this time of year. For example, at Lawrence Group, where I work, we “adopt” a needy family through a local charity each year and the employees donate new toys, clothes, household goods, and food, plus some cash, for their Christmas gift. My husband’s employer, Mid-East Area Agency on Aging, also does this, but with a special twist, with more personal meaning to me. 

Over the years my husband and I have done special fund-raising at Christmas time for the agency to raise money to fund a meals program for the elderly. These are senior citizens, who are sadly in dire financial situations, with literally no other family or source of a nutritious meal. On Christmas, the usual delivery from “Meals on Wheels” is suspended so their own volunteers, who do this every other day of the year, can spend the holiday with their own families. The agency steps in with hundreds of volunteers of its own, including a local hospital kitchen and staff, who join together to take on the meal preparation and delivery on Christmas Day. Often the volunteers also have a potted poinsettia donated by a local florist to deliver with each meal, as well as hand-made Christmas cards from local school children. Whole families get involved in this activity, and for many it’s part of their annual tradition. This is a huge operation–it covers four counties in the greater St. Louis area. I’ve done it with my niece. My step-father got special recognition one year for standing at the hospital entrance for hours in the cold wind, with snow up to his knees, directing the volunteers (in their cars) to the hospital kitchen entrance.

As part of the fund-raising for this operation, John and I have “built” a pretty impressive Santa suit over 22 years, adding a new and better piece each Christmas to make the costume more enchanting (and believable) to the children we visit to raise money to help pay for the Christmas meals food. Several local families with “deep pockets” have hired us each year for 22 years to pay a visit to their family party on Christmas Eve. They are so generous knowing that the money, all of it, goes to this great cause. We have watched babes in arms grow and have their own children over this time. I have been the designated “Santa dresser” and “Santa driver”. I sit in the car, alone, waiting for Santa to complete one visit and then drive him to the next. It’s a worthy cause, and I love to hear about the reaction of the children, but I’m ready to retire from my duties.

As much fun as it is, it’s also a LOT of pressure. One year St. Louis had a huge snow storm on Christmas Eve day, and we had to lease a four-wheel drive vehicle from our own, personal funds to get safely and surely around to all the parties. Another year, just as Santa and I were leaving our house to start our rounds, the elastic in his red pants gave out, and Santa’s “drawers” dropped to his ankles. Glad that didn’t happen at someone’s house during a visit! We quickly found suspenders, fixed the costume, and were on our way. (Note: Always have at least one back-up for each costume piece!) It also takes a lot of genuine loving effort to remember children’s names, what they want for Christmas from Santa, etc. The families often send a letter in advance to let Santa know about these things. I test Santa in the car as we drive between visits. Whew!

So, last year was our final year of doing this. We know someone else will step in to take over the job, and we are due for a quiet, relaxed Christmas Eve at home together (our first ever). Here is a photo of John in his Santa suit, taken last year, for posterity. I hope your houses are warm, your pantries are full, and your families well. If so, don’t forget to reach out to those who are experiencing harder times. It’s especially difficult at this time of year for those who are in need either financially or emotionally. Oh, and from our house to your house, whatever traditions you celebrate this time of year, HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Santa Claus

Santa Claus

*For more information on Mother Goose visit

This nonprofit site helps US teachers in high poverty schools get supplies for their classses. The link here will take you to a simple search for classroom projects asking for assistance, like

seeking books
supporting kindergarten

There are projects listed for St. Louis-area schools (where I am in Missouri), but the organization is open to every public school in the USA. I first learned about it from a story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. That’s the good news! As always, help when and where you can.

I should kick my own behind for feeling deprived at having to wait a few weeks for some nice thing I want for my home decor. The western China development project called “Land of Love, Water Cellars for Mothers” really puts things into perspective. You can read about it in English at the link below. The rolling text on the left of the screen tells the story.

This is a government sponsored project. The Web site says, In October 2001, “Land of Love, Water Cellar for Mothers” was written into White Paper on Poverty Alleviation in China’s Rural Areas by the State Council. At the end of 2001, it was listed as one of the “top ten news items about Chinese women”, and in November 2003, it was selected as one of “China’s top ten public welfare brands”. Then, in November 2005, “Land of Love, Water Cellar for Mothers” was awarded “China Charity Prize”.

I have a strong feeling as I read the plight of these women and their families, as I sponsor a child (through Childreach) in northern Shaanxi province, one of those with chronic lack of rainfall, high evaporation, and water shortages that is served by this charity project.

If you can give anything at all, please do (every bit helps). If that’s not possible, could you at least forward the link to create awareness? Thank you so much.

The Little Bit Foundation

October 4, 2008

The Little Bit Foundation is a non-profit organization in St. Louis that provides clothes & school supplies to 3,000 of the neediest children in 12 of St. Louis’s inner-city schools. Their online gift store offers numerous ways to give starting at $5 for socks, $10 for underwear, on up to sponsoring a school.

None of us can do everything, but each of us can do something (a Little Bit).

As the Web site says, “The reality is that poverty affects every aspect of a child’s life.”

Atlantic Monthly article, How the West Was Wired