A true Gift-giver's guide to the holidays

I love the holidays. Truly I do. But I'm also known to be quite the nag this time of year. I want to know where you shop, how you shop, why you shop, and whether you truly have the giving spirit or are a closet shop-a-holic looking for a reason to spend.

So. Where'd ya shop? Did you venture out on Thanksgiving night to wait in the cold for Wally World to let you in and enter the mayhem known as Black Friday? My daughter went in one store for several minutes. Got caught in a crossfire of crazy shoppers ramming carts. Left without buying anything. So proud of my girl.

Times are tough. So many people out there shopping for bargains aren't doing so because they're irresponsible. They do it because it is the only time they believe they can afford to do it. Not true, really, but thanks to the mass media, they are bombarded with messages that convince them otherwise. 75% off. Really? Off what. It's not ignorance. It's not gullibility. It's just pure human instinct. To be like others. To have what they have. If that means getting up at 4am and traipsing to the local box store for a giant flat-screen TV, so be it. My problem is that it might actually be a good thing for all of us, if the TV were made here. But, it's not.

So here's my annual holiday rant, part 10.

Give a gift that keeps on giving. And make it the first gift on your list. It's what I do every year. I set my holiday budget. That's all we can spend. No credit cards. And then, from there, I make a list. And number one is always a worthy one. This year it was the community food bank. Just the idea of celebrating Chrismakuh with a houseful of people, great food, music, conversation... while there's a family JUST LIKE OURS out there wondering where they will find a meal for the next day. It sickens me. Not that my small gift each year will earn me the CNN hero award. Not hardly. It simply means for every dollar I gave, $9.50 worth of food was provided to a family that needed it.

I hear good people whine about just not having anything to spare this year. Because their number one priority has to be their own family first. Sure if you're talking food, shelter, clothing. But when you hear that in the Apple Store... well... no need to defend that one.

I put a call out to friends and family for their favorite causes. A few responded, so I can add to my own. So before you utter those infamous words "not this year" think about what your small gift could mean. Think hard. Then pick a cause this year.

And Donate.
Here's a few for you LA folks:
Los Angeles Youth Orchestra
Or Mrs. Leserman's classroom
(Thanks Amy... nothing like blatant self-promotion there)
How about children in need of highly specialized medical procedures like my friend Ira's suggestion, the Little Baby Face Foundation. Or if you're in the Northeast, the Jimmy Fund could use your help.
Here in Tucson we have a sadly wonderful place serving children who've been abused, neglected, victimized. Casa de los NiƱos. Holds a special place in my heart. Or one my neighbor suggested, Youth on Their Own, dedicated to helping homeless youth finish school and empower them to become positive and productive members of the community.
There's always the American Cancer Society. We could all use one more Birthday.
Or a roof over our heads. Habitat for Humanity
Anyone familiar with CCFA? Check it out here. Crohns disease.

I'm guessing no matter where you live, there's an organization that needs your help.

Shop your local merchants.
No, not Wally World. Auntie May's quilt shop. Uncle Joe's bait shop. You get the idea.

Dine at locally owned restaurants. Don't assume because they've always been there, they always will be.

Discover the world of arts and crafts. Head to the o.co and check out worldstock. Artisan crafts from around the world given a fair trade outlet online. Yes, even artisans here at home. Jewelry, carvings, hand-made furniture. And the artists get the profits, not wall street.

Still can't stand to part with your cash? Lend a hand at community events. Whether it's a toy drive or local fundraiser, get involved. Be a part of making a difference.

And don't walk by the Salvation Army pot looking anywhere but at the bell ringer. Look them right in the eye, smile, wish them happy holidays and put your damn money in there. I don't care if it's a penny. Ante up.

It wasn't too late for Ebeneezer, and it's not too late for you. Or any of us. The Occupy movement is sending a message, and that's ok. But if we want to really regain our power, if we really want to be a force to reckon with, we need to start lifting each other up instead of waiting for the 1% to send the elevator back down.

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