December 27, 2004

Now that you know where Ukraine is....

I'm half Ukrainian. For years I've told that to people when they ask what nationality I am and they've just looked at me and nodded and pretended to know what I was talking about. Then I'd explain that it's part of the Soviet Union (or was, depending upon when we're talking about) and they'd suddenly look quite on top of things and nod again saying, "Oh, Russia. Right."
But that's not at all what I wanted to write about.
Rather, I thought that perhaps I could start to compile some of the info. that I've found concerning the trafficking of Ukrainian women and the plight of orphans in Ukraine (tied together by the theme of severe poverty in Ukraine as well as in many other Eastern European countries).

About two years ago, missionaries to Ukraine came and spoke at our church, and though my dad has been to Ukraine several times, and though I identify fairly strongly with the fact that I'm of Ukrainian decent, it wasn't until I heard from these people first hand what it was like over there that I felt compelled to find a way to do something to help.

About a year ago, after reading an article by Kimberlee Acquaro in the New York Times magazine about the international sex slave trade I became not only incensed, but convinced that I should find out more, make sure others knew, and try to figure out what I could do to make a difference.
Within the past 6 months these two internal imperatives have been prompting me more and more frequently to study, to learn, and to do. So far, all I can say I've done is to tell others, and to support an orphanage organization that a friend (who has spent time getting to know several teens in a Ukrainian orphanage) recommended -- Orphans Hope. And here is some of what I've learned.

* * * * *
"More than 120 million people in Eastern Europe earn less than US$4 per day. Where old Soviet economic systems have been disrupted or discarded, there has been economic contraction and hyperinflation, which has wiped out people's savings and security. In Ukraine, over 60 percent of the unemployed are women, and of those who have lost their job since 1991, more than 80 percent are women. The average salary in Ukraine is about US$30 a month, but in many small towns, it is only half that." -- Trafficking in Women from Ukraine, by Donna M. Hughes and Tatyana Denisova (Dec. 2003) -- link to pdf file here

"Sixty five percent of cases of trafficking of women from Ukraine was carried out by organized crime networks. They traffic women because it is a high profit business with low investment. The networks are highly organized, have large-scale operations, and are connected to corrup officials. ...The size of the groups varies throughout Ukraine. The largest criminal groups in Ukraine with 20 to 30 members are in Odessa. In other regions, the groups are smaller, with five to six members. The criminal groups have territories they operate in, and are known to collaborate with officials who provide them with protection and authentic documents for travel. Organized crime groups have databases of potential victims for trafficking from sources such as applications from women for beauty contests or marriage agencies. The databases include photographs of the women, height, weight, and personality traits. Traffickers in Ukraine receive from US$800 to $2,000 per woman they deliver to pimps abroad. The value of the woman depends on her appearance and the destination country. The higher the development of the destination country, the higher the price that will be paid for her." -- "The Transnational Political Criminal Nexus of Trafficking in Women from Ukraine," Trends in Organized Crime, Vol. 6, No. 3-4: Spr.-Sum. 2001, Donna M. Hughes and Tatyana Denisova (link to pdf here)
"Can people really buy and sell women and get away with it? Sometimes I sit here and ask myself if that really happened to me, if it can really happen at all." - A Ukrainian woman who was trafficked, beaten, raped and used in the sex industry in Israel. After a police raid, she was put in prison, awaiting deportation.

"Tragic statistics show that within two years of leaving the orphanage at age fifteen or sixteen, 60% of orphan girls turn to prostitution, 70% of boys fall into crime, and over 10% take their own lives." -- taken from Orphans' Hope literature

December 21, 2004


Ganache is basically chocolate butter. I know, that doesn't sound at all appetizing, which is fine. It just means there will be more for me. Ganache is often used to ice cakes, though it can also be cut into squares or rolled into balls and then dusted with cocoa or sugar to make chocolate truffles. (Yes, that's what a truffle is, ganache.)

3/4 cup (180 ml) heavy whipping cream
8 ounces (227 grams) chocolate (pick a chocolate that you like the flavor of, but it should lean toward semisweet or bittersweet)

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon cognac or brandy

First break the chocolate into small pieces in the bottom of a bowl. Then bring the whipping cream (and butter if you choose to use it. apparently it makes the ganache shiny, though i make my ganache to eat, not to look pretty) to a boil.
Pour the whipping cream over the chocolate and (here comes the hard part) let it sit for about 5 minutes. (I'm always so tempted to start stirring, but when you stir too soon, you end up with a lumpier mixture.)

You can then use the ganache to ice a room temperature (or colder) cake or torte. (This recipe should cover one 9 inch cake.) Once the cake is iced, put it in the fridge for the ganache to harden.

Or, you can do what I do, pour the ganach into little bowls, set them in the fridge and pull them out to each straight later. :-)

If you'd like to make truffles, roll the cold ganache into balls (or cut it into squares) and dust cocoa (or some such) over them. Viola! That's all there is to it.

December 10, 2004

Christmas thoughts

"Ask Umbra" recently tackled the age old question, "Which is better for the environment? a once-live tree or a reusable plastic one?"

Personally, I'm hoping to find a way to make a larger than usual nativity set that we can place our gifts around and just skip the tree altogether. It seems a little crazy to me to celebrate the birth of God incarnate by killing a tree.

Do you feel like you're already drowning under a sea of STUFF? Are you worried that for Christmas you'll end up with a bunch more STUFF that you don't need or want? Why don't you suggest to your friends and fam. that they give donations in your name this year -- Gift ideas that may just make a difference .

November 17, 2004

I lost my dad today

Now before you start sending your condolences, I should tell you that we found him again. He was at the Salvation Army.

Let me back up. My dad has Picks disease. It's a bit like Alzheimers (they're both forms of dementia). In the beginning my dad just started to behave differently.

He was fixated on Ukraine. (His grandparents came over to the States from Ukraine.) Everything revolved around Ukraine in his mind. If he saw a homeless man, that reminded him of the homeless men in Ukraine. If he went into a post office, somehow that reminded him of Ukraine. He'd dance Ukrainian dances in the middle of large crowds. He speak Ukrainian (or, more often, a blend of Ukrainian and Russian, to people who had no clue what he was saying.

After getting him diagnosed, my parents moved to Colorado to be near my sis. Then we joined them so that we could help out as well. Physically, dad's pretty much fine. If you were to meet him, you'd think he was a healthy gent who had a few decades left in him. But once you start talking to him, it's suddenly quite clear that no one is home.

Dad has always had a good sense of direction. Even with the disease, he has been able to take my dog out for walks to the park and back without incident. Lately, the walks have been taking longer as he takes detours to search for coins in parking lots (his latest fixation). Sometimes a one hour walk stretches out to two or two and a half hours. But he has a good sense of direction. He always makes it back home.

Today I sent dad out at 9 to walk the dog. At 11 I noticed that he still wasn't back, but that wasn't incredibly worrisome. By 12 I thought that perhaps I should call his cell phone and call him home for lunch. Unfortunately, it turns out that my mom didn't get his cell phone attached to him before his ride came to get him. Dad was officially lost.

After driving around for an hour, Mom finally got a call from the Salvation Army. Apparently dad had shown up at their door saying that Mom was inside shopping and he was waiting for her. He waited a couple of hours before they finally figured out that he wasn't all there. They managed to procure a phone number from him and got ahold of my mom who then called me to the rescue.

When I picked him up, 5 hours after he had first left my house on his walk, the first thing he asked me was, "Meg, can I take your dog on a walk?" !!!

November 1, 2004

Abortion vs. other forms of murder

I just received an email from an old college friend urging me to vote for Bush. He said that the defining reason to vote for the man was abortion. (My husband finds this to be his defining reason for voting for Bush as well.)

It has mystified me that abortion can be so decisive to these people. But as I got thinking about it, I came to the conclusion that what I need to convince these people that President's can affect the lives and deaths of people in ways other than just abortion is statistics. I need some solid statistics that will show:

- how many people will die due to respiratory problems (or skin cancer, or ...) because the US did not sign the Kyoto Environment Treaty.
- how many people (not just Americans) have died in Afghanistan and Iraq due to American military actions?
- how many people (world wide) have died because of American consumption and waste? how many of these people, before dying, were forced to live their lives as slaves?
- how many people (world wide) have died or given birth to children with birth defects because Americans have chosen to eat food that has been sprayed with pesticides.

it's not as easy to track statistics like that. when a woman gets an abortion, two go in, one comes out. it's clear what happened. the cause and effect doesn't require much thought. the casualities are fairly easy to count.

but when a small baby dies because her mother had to work in fields sprayed with chemicals before she was born, there are a few more steps to make between my eating that food and that baby's death. the death is just as real. the child was just as innocent. but the ties between the cause and effect remain invisible to those who refuse to look.

October 29, 2004


A Cherokee elder sitting with his grandchildren told them, "In every life there is a terrible fight - a fight between two wolves. One is evil: he is fear, anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, and deceit. The other is good: joy, serenity, humility, confidence, generosity, truth, gentleness, and compassion." A child asked, "Grandfather, which wolf will win?" The elder looked him in the eye. "The one you feed."

* * * * * * *

On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, "Is it safe?" Expediency asks the question, "Is it politic?" And Vanity comes along and asks the question, "Is it popular?" But Conscience asks the question, "Is it right?" And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right. -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

* * * * * * *

Men pray to the Almighty to relieve poverty. But poverty comes not from God's laws; it is blasphemy of the worst kind to say that. Poverty comes from man's injustice to his fellow man. -- Leo Tolstoy

* * * * * * *

Without the knowledge of our wretchedness, the knowledge of God creates pride. With it, the knowledge of God creates despair. The knowledge of Christ offers a third way, because in him we find both God and our wretchedness. -- Blaise Pascal

* * * * * * *

If we could read
the secret history of our enemies,
we would find in each person's life
sorrow and suffering enough
to disarm all hostility.
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

* * * * * * *

How can you say, I have fulfilled the law and prophets, since it is written in the law: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself? Look, many of your brothers, sons of Abraham, are covered with filth and dying of hunger while your house is filled with many goods and not a thing goes out of it to them. -- Origen

* * * * * * *

Francis of Assisi taught me that there is a wound in the Creation and that the greatest use we could make of our lives was to ask to be made the healer of it. -- Alan Paton

* * * * * * *

It is one thing to say with the prophet Amos, "Let justice roll down like mighty waters," and quite another to work out the irrigation system. Clearly there is more certainty in the recognition of wrongs than there is in the prescription for their cure. -- William Sloane Coffin

* * * * * * *

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children... This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. -- Dwight D. Eisenhower

* * * * * * *

After the Western ideal of unlimited freedom, after the Marxist concept of freedom as acceptance of the yoke of necessity; here is the true Christian definition of freedom. Freedom is self-restriction! Restriction of the self for the sake of others! -- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

* * * * * * *

October 27, 2004

Made in America: My Story

Genre: Biographies & Memoirs
Author:Sam Walton with John Huey

Made in America: My Story is an autobiography of Sam Walton as well as the story of Wal-Mart. As Sam himself admits in his foreword, "I'm really the best person to tell the Wal-Mart tale, and ... --like it or not--my life is all wrapped up in Wal-Mart...."

Sam Walton and Wal-Mart
Sam was a consummate competitor. He loved the challenge of the fight. As Charlie Baum (an early Wal-Mart partner) said of him, "What motivates the man is the desire to absolutely be on top of the heap." He was voted Most Versatile Boy in speech club in high school. He was a guard on the basketball team his senior year when the team went undefeated and won the state championship. He was also the quarterback on the football team that also went undefeated and won the state championship. In college he was elected president of the senior men's honor society, he was an officer in his fraternity (Beta Theta Pi) and he was president of the senior class. He was also the captain and president of Scabbard and Blade (a part of ROTC). The list goes on, but I think you get the picture. There is nothing that Sam Walton set his mind to that he didn't achieve.

Though competition is what drove him, it was Sam's ability to take other people's ideas and refine them (or mix and match them) that really gave Wal-Mart a cutting edge. Sam wasn't afraid to try new things. If they failed, he backed out quick. If they worked, he continued to improve them even more. Some of the ideas that he lifted from others and which propelled Wal-Mart wildly forward were:

Discounting: a growing trend among stores in the 60's, Sam reduced the store markup in order to sell more product, what Sam called, "blowing an item out the door." (Target, Kmart and Woolco also started with this same idea in mind.)
Building a corporate culture: inspired by the Japanese, Sam introduced meetings that included a Wal-Mart cheer as well as crazy antics by management.
Profit-sharing: inspired by a sign in England, Sam started calling his employees "associates" and he gave them the ability to share Wal-Mart's profit either by receiving a cash pay out or stock when they left the company.

Sam was also a real people person. He was able to run people through the ringer and they came out singing his praises on the other end. Bill Fields, one of Wal-Mart's early managers who later became the Executive Vice President of Merchandising and Sales, described his first two weeks on the job, "I had been with the company about five days, and we were opening a store in Idabel, Oklahoma. We had thirteen days to open it, which is still a record. They worked me about 125 hours or more the first week. The second week it was getting worse."

When Sam went on buying trips with his purchasers, he'd make as many of them stay in a hotel room as possible. Once he even had 8 grown men share a room together. Keeping expenses down was a critical component to his competitive retailing vision and he was just as hard on himself as he was on his employees. (He was one of those 8 men that shared the hotel room.)
Sam's heart was so thoroughly invested in his retailing obsession that even family took second place. On vacations, it was a given that if they drove past a retail store (any retail store) they were going to have to stop so that dad could go in and investigate. Sam was constantly checking out the competition, searching out what they were doing right, and then adding that new found idea to his repertoire. In fact, when Sam found an employee working for his competition that he thought was particularly competent, he'd offer them a job in his own store.

Though Sam Walton went to church (and was even a deacon at one point), the true driving spirit within him was Free Enterprise. While wistfully considering possible futures for his grandchildren he lists: 1) finding a cure for cancer, 2) bringing culture and education to the underprivileged and 3) becoming missionaries for free enterprise to 3rd world countries. And near the end of the book, as he looks back contemplatively on his life, he says, "I am absolutely convinced that the only way we can improve one another's quality of life, ... is through what we call free enterprise -- practiced correctly and morally."
Unfortunately, though Sam seemed to have the best of intentions, many have called into doubt whether his version of free enterprise is indeed correct and moral. (But that is the topic of many other books.)
All in all, I was left with the impression that Sam Walton was an incredibly dynamic guy with a great ability to motivate people and to execute ideas. I think he honestly cared about his employees even though he ran them ragged. I think that he wanted to be the best at what he did, but that he also earnestly believed that by doing his best, he would be doing something special for his community and every community that Wal-Mart went in to.

Made in America
The tone of this book is akin to sitting down and chatting with Sam at a BBQ. I wouldn't doubt that he dictated his thoughts into a tape recorder and John Huey set them to paper. The book is replete with quotes from former (and current) employees, friends, competitors and family members. They round out the story well and give additional perspectives of what took place during the formation of Wal-Mart. It definitely gives the sense that Sam Walton was at heart a country boy.

Having heard of court cases that Wal-Mart is currently, or has been recently, involved in as well as looking through the literature of Wal-Mart's detractors, it is interesting to find points at which Sam betrays himself. A statement here or admission there gives away a sense that perhaps those detractors are on to something. And yet Sam is far too confident in himself, and so transparent in his portrayal of his life, that I am sure he was completely unaware of having opened himself up in that way. And though I am personally convinced that Wal-Mart has contributed to the economic bubble that America is now precariously perched atop, it is a problem that I don't think Sam Walton ever had any inkling of. In his mind he was a hero. He achieved vast savings for billions of people, giving them an improved quality of life, and he did it by the sweat of his brow; he gave his life up for the good of many.

If you're interested in stories of brave and creative entrepreneurs, in stories of apple pie and pig calls, in stories of people who make it big through incredible toil, then you will definitely appreciate this book. But I also think that Wal-Mart detractors can find this book helpful. Wal-Mart is the only big retail chain that was started by a single man. (Target, Kmart and Woolco were all started by corporations.) It is easy to lay blame on Sam Walton that might be more rightly placed on the corporation that is Wal-Mart. Reading the book helps to see Sam as the eager but fallible man that he was. Wal-Mart may be a global giant that is threatening to change the world as we know it, but Sam Walton was just a competitive country hick who put some clever ideas together to form a retail chain that has taken the world by storm.

September 25, 2004

Dollar Coins in the U.S.A.

While shopping at Trader Joe's in San Francisco the cashier asked me if I had kids. Confused but thinking that I was going to be offered some stickers to take to the kids I said yes. Instead of stickers, I was offered two dollars of my change in coins rather than bills.

Dollar coins are treated not as the currency that they are, but rather as novelty items. They're a treat for children, not a coin for every day use. At least, that is what the American public seems to think on the matter.

One paper dollar bill costs the government 4.2 cents to make and has a life span of about 20 months. One dollar coin costs the government almost three times as much to make at 12 cents per coin, but the life span of a dollar coin is 30 years. In other words, for the government to keep one paper dollar bill in circulation for the same length of time as a dollar coin, it would cost the government about 76 cents. Considering the number of dollar bills that are in circulation, Americans could save their government (and thereby themselves in taxes) quite a bit of money every year simply by using dollar coins instead of paper bills.

The vending machines that sell stamps in most post offices give dollar coins as change (though they don't accept them in payment, oddly enough). You can also get dollar coins simply by going to the bank and asking for them. (Granted, you'll have to exchange some paper money for them. Rob, my husband, usually buys $80 worth of dollar coins at a time.)

Simply by using dollar coins, you can expose others to them. The more people become comfortable with dollar coins, the more they may be willing to use them.

Come on, you reticent Americans. The Canadians have not only dollar coins, but two dollar coins as well! If they can do it then we bloody well can too.

September 22, 2004

Zucchini Flan with Tomato Coulis

This recipe is from the New York Times "Dining In" Section, September 3, 2003.

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, more as needed
2 to 3 pounds zucchini, washed and thinly sliced (i use the side of my grater)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon minced garlic (i don't measure. i just use lots)
5 eggs
1/4 cup cream or milk
4 medium tomatoes, preferably very ripe, cored and roughly chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon sugar (i use brown sugar or sucanut)

1. Put half the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add zucchini, a large pinch of salt and some pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until zucchini wilts and gives up its liquid; add 1 tablespoon garlic. Continue to cook until zucchini browns slightly. (mine never really browns, but it gets pretty wilty.)

2. Meanwhile, heat oven to 350 degrees and set a kettle of water to boil. Beat together the eggs, cream and more salt and pepper. When zucchini is done, let it cool slightly, then scoop slices into egg mixture, using a slotted spoon. Stir. LIghtly grease an 8 by 4 inch nonstick loaf pan in a baking dish and put in oven; add water to come as far up sides of loaf pan as is practical. Bake until flan is set, but still slightly jiggly in middle, about 30 minutes.

3. While flan cooks, make tomato coulis: Put remaining oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add tomatoes, remaining garlic, salt and pepper, Basil and sugar. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer about 15 minutes.

4. When flan is done, cool it on a rack for a few minutes. Invert over a plate and unmold. (I don't bother. I just scoop it out for everyone.) Cool until warm, then slice and serve with tomato coulis.

The recipe says "8 servings as a first course or light lunch" but my husband and I will pretty easily split this between us as our entire dinner.

September 21, 2004

Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith

Genre: Nonfiction
Author:Eric O. Jacobsen
Suburbs are a fairly new phenomenon. Before cars it was simply silly to consider building housing as far away from business as is the practice today. Most people had to walk or ride a horse drawn carriage to work, shopping, etc. and distances were spaced accordingly. (This is often referred to as building on a human scale.)

Today, however, the automobile has changed the landscape and a group of people called New Urbanists believe that it has been a change for the worse. Besides the environmental degradation caused by this new pattern of development, there are other, more social, issues at stake. Our cities aren't as grand or beautiful as they once where (Do you know anyone who would choose to visit Denver over Rome, or Pontiac over Paris?), they aren't as safe (Current redesigns of cities put fewer "eyes on the street.") and they aren't as conducive to building community. (How many neighbors can you stop and chat with when you're whizzing past in an automobile?)

New Urbanists have been around for over a decade, but for the first time (that I know of, at any rate) a Christian author has looked critically at the arguments that New Urbanists have made and has decided that not only should Christians support them, but should join wholeheartedly in the New Urbanist movement. Eric O. Jacobsen is excellent at stating the tenants of New Urbanism in a very concise, yet readily accessible way. But what I find even more exciting (and this is a step that I hadn't fully followed through on in my own study of New Urbanism) he ties their tenants to Biblical principles. He points out that evangelism, hospitality, even encouragement can all happen more naturally in a New Urbanist environment (as opposed to forcing these things in the suburban environment through programming and increasingly moving toward entertainment as a form of "worship").

I have lived in Colorado Springs (sprawl-o-rama) and in San Francisco (makes New Urbanists smile), and I've seen in my own life that these principals of architecture (of all things!) really do affect relationships. Sprawl is causing the average American to become lonelier, feel less connected, and to relate less often with people who are different than themselves (becoming more segregated than ever). I should point out here, for all those with a "small town" mindset, small towns are generally built on New Urbanist principals. It is easier to develop relationships in small towns not only because they're small, but because of the layout of the town itself. Suburbs, on the other hand, may have the same smaller amount of people, but are laid out such that community is much harder to come by naturally.

As Christians, we should be at the forefront of the New Urbanist movement. We have to have some means of running into neighbors that will lead to our giving of hospitality, making of friendships and sharing of the gospel. (I don't mean that we're accosting them with a gospel presentation every time we see them in front of their house, but passing by and meeting them in front of their house in the first place may later lead to a far more natural means of sharing the gospel later.) Meeting them on the sidewalk as we're walking to work/school/the store is a natural means of getting to know people (hence the title of the book).

New Urbanism doesn't mean that we all need to crowd into cities such as San Francisco and New York City, but it does mean developing our current cities in a more person friendly manner (on a human scale). This is not really a new movement at all, but a call to get back to basics. In Christianese, one might even call it "fundamentalism" in architecture.

Though I consider this a must read for most Christians, non-Christians may also be interested in this book, not only because it'll give them something to bug their Christian friends about, but because Jacobsen really does a fantastic job of synthesizing the issues. I’ve read a couple of different New Urbanist authors and of them all, I believe Jacobsen is the most concise and one of the better authors at getting to the heart of the matter in a way that makes the reader feel like they’ve had an “Ah ha! Now I get it!” moment.

September 20, 2004

Coming Home to Eat: the pleasures and politics of local foods

Genre: Health, Mind & Body
Author:Gary Paul Nabhan
While hanging out at a local, independent bookstore in town, I peered toward the "staff picks" table and eyed a book that I thought might be interesting. The book was called Coming Home to Eat. And as I sat in the store's big, overstuffed chair and began to read, I became hooked.

Gary Nabhan helped start the movement to save seeds, not genetically altered or hybrid seeds, but native seeds (as God had originally designed them). With a degree in agriculture, Nabhan has long been interested in the plight of family farms, the use of pesticides, etc. But at some point he began to see the value in eating foods that were grown locally as well as foods that were native to the area where he lived. With that in mind, he set out to eat locally (within 250 miles of his house) for one year. (If 4 out of 5 foods that he ate were local, he was satisfied with that.)

This book is a chronicle of that year. Written in a story format, he explores questions that both his friends and neighbors bring up as well as ones that nag at him personally. He tests the viability of living locally and admits to problems as well as to the overwhelming benefits (especially to the native peoples that live near him in Arizona and Mexico). When his story intersects with a political, social or agricultural issue, he delves a little deeper explaining the problems and possible solutions. He brought out facets of farming, cooking and eating that I hadn't even considered before (even though I've been investigating the organic vs. commercial issue for a few years now). And he brought in elements of food that I believe are true but seldom touched upon (such as the political or spiritual aspects of food and the land upon which it is grown).

Though Nabhan gives no indication of being a Christian in this book (If I had to guess, I say he was "spiritual" without committing to any particular religious affiliation.), he seems to have a far better sense of the ties between God and God's creation than most Christians I know. He recognizes the intimate place that food has in our lives, as well as the value of a connection to the earth. (While reading the book it dawned on me that here in Colorado we might pray for rain to end this drought so that there won't be watering restrictions for our lawns, but how often do we pray recognizing that the weather affects the food we eat? Seldom if ever, I suspect. We have a vague sense that the farmers aren't doing well, but we don't feel it personally, as if our own food resources were at stake... as if we could truly starve without rain.)

Nabham includes a quote from a manifesto produced by the Minnesota Institute of Sustainable Agriculture that sums up the local food issue fairly well, "When we buy local food, we are supporting community health: a network of farmers, food processors and fellow customers who live and work in our community, our regional landscape and our local economy. Personal health... and the health of the environment is at stake: Local foods do not generate the same pollution and waste the same energy as foods that are trucked, shipped or flown in from far away. [By eating locally] we are protecting our wildlife habitats, our waterways, and workers who are also our neighbors."

Lily's Ghosts

Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Author:Laura Ruby
Lily awoke to find that all three pairs of her shoes had been filled with strawberry jelly. What could it mean? Was her dead Uncle Max trying to tell her something?

When Lily and her mom move into an old family house, Lily begins to discover that there are a few skeletons in the family closet. Unable to get any answers from her mother or her Great Uncle Wesley, Lily and her new friend, Vaz, attempt to unravel the mystery behind strange phone calls, moving dolls, and well, that strawberry jelly in the shoes.

Lily's Ghosts will put a smile on your face. Laura Ruby introduces us not only to Lily's world, but to the world of the ghosts as well, some of whom don't seem to realize yet that they’re long dead. As Lily helps a ghost set things right, she also helps to improve her own life as she enables her mom and herself to settle down in one place for a change.

Lily's Ghosts is easy to read and despite the fact that it is a ghost story, its not all that scary (a little confusing at times, but then again, it is a mystery). I'd recommend this book for readers 10 and up. (I'm 35 and I enjoyed it.)

A Peculiar People: the church as culture in a post-christian society

Genre: Religion & Spirituality
Author:Rodney Clapp
Overview of the Book

Since the days of Constantine, the church has "enjoyed" a time of power and influence. Even in the United States, a nation that allows for the freedom of religion, Christianity has been the de facto state religion until only recently. But in the past few decades, much to the consternation of many who call themselves Christian, this tacit relationship has been not just threatened, but almost completely broken, leading to what is today referred to as the culture wars.

Rodney Clapp believes that the current climate, in the midst of these culture wars, is a good opportunity for Christianity to come to terms with itself. Many Christians operate under the impression that America is (or at least, recently was) a Christian nation. (In fact, much of the world sees the U.S. that way). But Clapp devotes a fair amount of time to his postulation that America could be better defined as a gnostic nation.

Clapp begins his book with an explanation of how the Church has gotten to where it is today (a point where many see it as largely irrelevant and useless). He then argues in great detail what the church should be: a people of God, a nation, with its own culture, its own language and its own customs. He by no means is referring to our current consumer-oriented christian culture (where Christians wear WWJD bracelets and speak in Christianese). He encourages the church not to become something new to fit with the times, but to rather recognize what we already are, and to take hold of the advantages that provides (advantages such as the tool, perhaps even a weapon, of forgiveness).

The type of church that Clapp is arguing for is most likely not what you might guess. He is certainly not saying that we need to be bigger and better as Bill Hybels (pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois and in some ways the father of the American mega-church movement as well as the seeker-sensitive movement) would advocate, nor is he encouraging the marketing gimmicks of Rick Warren (author of The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church). Rather, he’s encouraging the church to be the church: a group of people, learning together to follow God and to love each other.

Concerns -- Possible Problems You May Encounter in reading this book

One struggle I had in reading this book was that though Clapp uses familiar words, he uses them in a way that is unfamiliar. He really should provide a glossary of some sort so that the reader won’t get tripped up on his choice of words and miss his message. I’ve tried to compile a mini-glossary on my own (both to better help me understand what I’m reading, and to help my husband and others who are reading this book). Please note, the definitions listed below may not be exactly what Clapp meant when he used these words, but I tried to develop each definition based on context.

Political: Don’t even begin to think of this word in terms of Democrat vs. Republican (or whatever your country’s main political parties may be). When Clapp uses the word political (as well as I can figure) he is referring more to issues of national import, national identity, and national history (and in this book, the nation that is being discussed is the Church).` Unfortunately, I think that in a couple of instances, Clapp does use the word “political” to mean what we often consider it to mean (taking sides in a partisan setting). Which only adds to the confusion when one comes across this word.

Liberal: When we consider the word liberal, we often think in terms of partisan politics. Democrats are considered liberal. The media is considered liberal. Homosexuals are considered liberal. But when Clapp using the word, he’s harkening back to the origin of the word liberal from the Latin, liber, meaning free. In other words, independent. A right wing Republican can still be considered liberal in Clapp’s definition because it has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with one’s view of the individual. A person who believes that their relationship with God is solely between them and God and not for perusal or input from other’s is liberal.

Retrenchment: I still haven’t figured this one out. If you’ve read the book and think you have a handle on this, please add it to the comments section. I know it has to do with the response of some Christians to the culture wars. And I know its a bad response. I think it has to do with trying to get things “back to the good old days” but I’m seriously not certain of that.

Kudos -- Specific Reasons You Should Read This Book

Narrative Logic: Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon have written a book called Resident Aliens. In it, they describe a concept called “narrative logic.” Though I think they define the term better, I think Clapp does a better job at delving into various topics and showing how that narrative logic comes to play. All three of these authors that Jehovah God is a God of history. He has shown himself to and through his people and the story of his people has been recorded in the Bible. This narrative, then, guides the logic the church should use in making decisions (How do we relate to each other? What is our purpose? Who is God? How should we respond in this instance? etc.)

Purity of the Church: In the denomination that I am currently a member of, one thing that is promised upon entrance into the church is that I (the entering member) pledge to pursue the purity of the church. Despite the fact that we all say this, I think that we rarely do it (or even have any clue what it means to pursue the purity of the church.) Reading books such as this one, in my opinion, are a step toward that end. The book doesn’t lay out specifics of how a church should look (such as stating how many and what kind of meetings should be held each week, or stating which kind of music should be played), but gives a general outline (from many different perspectives so that if one doesn’t click with you another might) of what church is and how it should look. It should be a place of love and forgiveness, of community and of practicing together, in a safe place, how we should be living out in the world.

Good Group Discussion Book

Though this is a good book to read on your own, I suspect it would be exponentially better when read and discussed with others. Practical applications could better be drawn out. Difficult sections could be explained or argued about until they make better sense. And the topics that the book addresses are good to have brought up in church settings. As the church we should be mindful of who and what we are. We shouldn’t assume that we can glide through “church” without ever taking it seriously. (We often leave the serious business to the paid staff.)

Though I think a non-Christian might find this book interesting, it’s certainly directed at Christians. I believe that this book would be appreciated by anyone that likes to sift through ideas, concepts and philosophies. For those that don’t like sorting through the nitty-gritty, I’d recommend reading this book out loud with someone else so that they can help do that sorting (since I believe you’ll still find value in the activity).

September 19, 2004

John Kerry and George Bush -- cousins

The New York Times mapped out the genealogical relationship of Bush and Kerry today. (unfortunately, it appears that the newspaper didn't post the genealogical mappings on their website.)

They are:

9th cousins twice removed descending from Edmund Reade (1563-1623) of Wickford, Essex.

10th cousins once removed descending from Henry Herrick (1598-1671) of Salem, Mass.

10th cousins once removed descending from Thomas Richards (d. 1651) of Weymouth, Mass.

10th cousins twice removed descending from John Dwight (1601-1661) of Dedham, Mass.

11th cousins once removed descending from Rev. Edward Bukleley (d. 1621) of Odell, Bedfordshire

Half 12th cousins once removed (?) descending from Richard Clapp (b. 1528) of Sidbury, Devon

12th cousins twice removed descending from Henry Sherman (1510-1590) of Dedham, Essex

14th cousins descending from John Manning (d. 1543) of Downe, Kent

September 9, 2004

Nurture by Nature : Understand Your Child's Personality Type - And Become a Better Parent

Genre: Health, Mind & Body
Author:Paul D. Tieger, Barbara Barron-Tieger
When I had my first child I kept him mostly to myself. Others would offer to hold him but I'd refuse them, not so much because I wanted my little bundle to myself, but because it just seemed that he didn't want to go to anyone else -- for others he would fuss, for me he would settle right down in grand contentment. When my twin girls came along, I more than happily passed them off to others, not only because I was exhausted and needed a break, but because they were just as likely to cry, or not, for others as much as they would for me. They clearly didn't care who held them. Even as infants my kids made clear statements about their preferences and in so doing gave a peek into their personalities.

Lamentably, when others confronted me about my child rearing habits, I didn't have any outside sources to back up my theories about the differences in my children. Now, at last, I've found something that supports my hunches. It's a book called Nurture by Nature : Understand Your Child's Personality Type - And Become a Better Parent by Paul Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger. The book first helps parents to try to identify their children's personality types (as well as their own) and then describes expected behaviors, attitudes and needs of children by type.

Unfortunately young children can’t take personality tests themselves, so determining your child’s type is done through observation and comparison. My son's profile fits him so well that it seems like the authors had been watching him and had written down things about him that I had thought were unique to him alone. In the same way, the profile for my personality type fit me so well that it even described specific events that had happened to me as a child (such as sitting at the dinner table for hours after the meal because I refused to eat something). For my twin daughters, however, I'm less convinced of their type and have yet to find a profile that fits them as well as the ones for my son or myself. All the same, what I have discovered about the twins so far has already helped me to better encourage and discipline them.

Each personality profile describes not only over all characteristics of a specific type, but also how that personality will be manifested at various points in the child's life from infancy through adolescence. Though I haven't found the infant characteristics very accurate (at least for my kids), the preschool and school-age descriptions have, for the most part, been right on. The authors point out possible problem areas (such as the tantrums that my son threw in preschool), reasons for the problems (difficulties with transitions), and means of avoiding or dealing with the problems that will set the child at ease rather than demanding something of them that doesn’t fit their personality needs (like taking time in advance to prepare the child for upcoming transitions rather than forcing him to deal with them without warning).

My mother's philosophy in raising my sister and myself was fairness. Whatever I got, my sister got exactly the same thing or something comparable. But my sister and I aren't alike. As children we had very different strengths, weaknesses, and needs. Nature by Nurture helps parents to identify the differences in their children and raise them more fairly not by treating them the same, but by treating them more in line with their personality types.

I'd highly recommend the book. In fact, I found several copies online for under $4 dollars (though it looks like the price has since gone up) and bought extra copies to hand out to friends and teachers. I still have to see if it'll get me through the teenage years, but I have high hopes.

Wal-Mart Values (the Wal-Mart paper in progress)

“Wal-Mart’s business was built upon a foundation of
honesty, respect, fairness and integrity.”
-- from Wal-Mart’s statement of ethics

Sam and Helen Walton opened the first Wal-Mart store in Rogers, Arkansas in 1962 (the same year that Kmart and Target got their start). Though the chain initially grew at a slower rate than its competition, in the 1980’s its growth took off. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. opened the first SAM’s club in 1983 and the first Supercenter in 1988.

Unlike most retail chains, Wal-Mart’s identity is closely bound up with the image of its founder. Though Target and K-mart were both started by corporations (the Dayton company and the Kresge corporation respectively*), Wal-Mart was begun by a charismatic, and extremely competitive, country boy. As Sam himself admits in the forward of his book, Made in America, “my life is all wrapped up in Wal-Mart.”

Because of this, many people ascribe to Wal-Mart values that they have first attributed to Sam Walton. Sam grew up in a small town. He was a deacon at his church (before Wal-Mart took over his life). He had four kids and he enjoyed hunting. He appeared to be a Christian, all-American, family man. And if Wal-Mart was built by Sam and Sam was true to these values, then doesn’t it follow that Wal-Mart is a Christian, all-American, family oriented kind of business?

Though Wal-Mart does make a pretense of being these things when there might be a financial benefit to doing so, it’s fairly clear that Wal-Mart exists to make money. And if more money could be made from presenting a different image, I have no doubt that Wal-Mart’s image would change in a heartbeat.

Sam Walton

“I don’t know that I was that religious, per se, but I always felt like the church was important.” -- Sam Walton, Made in America

Sam went to church and was even a deacon. He felt that it was important to raise his kids within the church and explains, “Church is an important part of society, especially in small towns. Whether it’s the contacts and associations you make or the contributions you might make toward helping other folks, it all sort of ties in together.”

It’s interesting to note, however, that whenever Sam mentions church in his autobiography, it’s in relationship to community or values (both of which he used toward commercial ends). God doesn’t appear to be part of the picture.

The man lived, breathed, and ate retailing. In fact, he was so thoroughly invested in his retailing obsession that even family took second place. On vacations, it was a given that if they drove past a retail store (any retail store) they were going to have to stop so that dad could go in and investigate. Sam was constantly checking out the competition, searching out what they were doing right, and then adding that new found idea to his repertoire. And when Sam found an employee working for his competition that he thought was particularly competent, he’d offer them a job in his own store.

The man would work until 10 pm on a saturday night (this after getting to the office at 3 am to prepare for the Saturday morning management meeting) and then get up Sunday morning and go back to work. (I assume he'd leave work just in time to show up for the church service?)

Though Sam Walton might have claimed to be a Christian, the true driving spirit within him was Free Enterprise. While wistfully considering possible futures for his grandchildren he lists: 1) finding a cure for cancer, 2) bringing culture and education to the underprivileged and 3) becoming missionaries for free enterprise to 3rd world countries. And near the end of his autobiography, as he looks back contemplatively on his life, he says, “ I am absolutely convinced that the only way we can improve one another’s quality of life, ... is through what we call free enterprise -- practiced correctly and morally.”

Spiritually the man was bowing at the alter of retail, but before his employees and the public eye, he gave God and country lip service. Bob Ortega writes in his book, In Sam We Trust, “Once the satellite system was up and running, the annual meetings were broadcast to all the stores.... Every year, the production got more involved, the meeting longer, the flag-waving more intense. In 1989, the meeting began with videos of patriotic scenes played on three giant screens as 7,000 people recited the pledge of alledgiance; then, as the lights came up, a prayer followed, led by Walton at the edge of the stage, down on one knee, head bowed, and Wal-Mart baseball cap in hand.”

Perhaps Sam’s sense of spirituality can best be described in what has become known as “the Sam Pledge” (written by Sam Walton and described by him in his autobiography), "From this day forward, every customer that comes within 10 feet of me, regardless of what I'm doing, in this house, I'm going to look him in the eye, I'm going to smile, I'm going to greet him with a -Good morning,' or a Good afternoon,' or a What can I do for you?' - so help me Sam!" Sam saw himself as the god of Free Enterprise in America.

Walmart Values

“When Sam Walton founded Wal-Mart Stores, he established
the ‘Three Basic Beliefs’ to which we remain firmly committed:
* Respect for the Individual
* Service to our Customers
* Strive for Excellence
The Three Basic Beliefs go hand in hand with the integrity and
ethical conduct that is the foundation of our business.
-- from Wal-Mart’s statement of ethics

Wal-Mart claims to have respect for the individual, but I’m not sure which individual they’re referring to. They certainly couldn’t be referring to their employees. “Wal-Mart faces lawsuits in 30 states for allegedly forcing hourly employees to work overtime with no pay,” according to a Washington Times article. Wal-mart has fought against the unionizing of it’s employees several times, even to the point of shutting a store in Quebec down rather than have to deal with the union. And a UC Berkeley (pdf) study has determined that Wal-Mart’s employee practices cost the state of California as much as $86 million annually in health related and other assistance costs.

At the same time, the individual that Wal-Mart claims to have respect for couldn’t be those who are manufacturing the products they sell, either.

*George Dayton opened Goodfellows in 1902. In 1903 the corporate name changed to the Dayton Dry Goods Company, and in 1910 the name changed again to simply, the Dayton Company. In 1962, The Dayton Company opened the first Target ("a new idea in discount stores"). Kmart evolved out of Kresge's, which was started in 1899 by Sebastian Spering Kresge. The Kresge corporation opened the first Kmart discount department store in 1962.

March 29, 2004

"What we're saying is, culture matters. I think one of the most important questions facing Americans is, how do they preserve their culture with this onslaught of new people and new cultures diluting what we are and who we are?" -- Dic Lamm, former Colorado governor and candidate for the Sierra Club's board of directors.

#1 What does "Americans' culture" have to do with the environment? Isn't the Sierra Club an organization dedicated to preserving the environment? What am I missing?

#2 What's so great about the American culture that we would want to preserve it? Are our hamburgers so bad that the influx of tamale eaters would threaten our fast food industry? (Well, one can hope, I guess.)

#3 Whatever happened to "give me your tired, your poor" and the whole melting pot idea? Have we finally blended into such a perfect mix that we can't risk having anything else added to the pot?

Oh, and btw, Lamm didn't even JOIN the Sierra Club until a few weeks before he announced his candidacy for the board. Talk about a man of integrity!

January 26, 2004

Stop slavery now!

You may think that slavery is a thing of the past. Think again. The NYT (my favorite source) had a horrifying story on sex slaves. Buyers are looking for younger and younger children (even infants) to force into sexual slavery. These people are not prostitutes, who willing engage in sex for money. Rather, these are people forced into service, who receive no payment for what they do, who are severely abused and who are threatened with death (either to themselves or their family members). And they're not just in far away countries. It is estimated that there are 20,000 trafficked in the US alone.

January 19, 2004

I save quite a few tid bits for my blog. Actually getting them up here, on the other hand, is a bit more of an endeavor. (Its so much easier just to play neopets.)

Back in the November 4 edition of the NYT there was a horrifying article about factory workers in China.

Shen Yunxiang worked for Hisun Pharmaceutical (one of China's leading exporters of pharmaceutical products -- with prices Western manufacturers cannot match). He and his brother-in-law were told by the company to clean up some waste that had collected beneath the factory. Within minutes his brother-in-law passed out. By that evening he was dead. Mr. Shen has since had migraines and lung congestion that doctors are unable to diagnose. Another worker was sent down the next day to finish what Shen and his brother-in-law had been unable to do. He also died.

"Internal reports by local and national environmental investigators have found that each year, Hisun and other nearby companies release 3.6 million tons of water laden with organic and inorganic compounds that receive little or no processing."

Another worker's daughter was born with birth defects, which they attribute to the toxic conditions the mother worked in. The parents named their daughter Hisun so she would always know the cause of her deformity.

There's another article from September 16th's NYT (these are all from 2003, btw) about a Korean farmer, Lee Kyung Hae, who killed himself at World Trade Organization talks in Cancun.

“Give me the strength to accept the things I cannot control, the courage to change the things I can control, and the wisdom to know the difference between the two.” --The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr (despite the fact that its more often attributed to anonymous)

January 9, 2004

Geez, I haven't posted since October. I'm so lame.

Well, here's a great article on Christmas Trees. This time I'm just plain cutting and pasting from the NYT since I suspect you won't be able to access the article in a few days. (But if you'd rather check out the original, just go here.)

Q: What is the environmental impact of the loss of evergreens for Christmas trees?

A. In countries like the United States, where there is a big industry that grows Christmas trees rather than having thousands of people raid natural forests, growers say that the loss of the trees' services to absorb greenhouse gases is minimized.

But Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, argues that tree farming is really the lesser of two evils. He points out that the trees have a short replacement cycle, harvested every six to nine years, and are grown quickly with chemicals to suppress competing flora, stimulate growth and kill pests. These herbicides, fertilizers and insecticides run off and add to water pollution, Dr. Hershkowitz said, and birds are deprived of food.

The frequent disruption of the soil also releases the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, he said, "so much of the benefit of growing Christmas trees in terms of absorbing greenhouse gases is undermined," he argued.

Proper disposal of used trees is also important. "If burned, they generate nitrogen oxides, which contribute to smog, and even properly chipped and mulched, they release carbon dioxide," Dr. Hershkowitz said.

Alternatives present their own problems. "Artificial trees come overwhelmingly from nonrenewable petroleum-based products, and refining them also produces some of the most hazardous chemicals," Dr. Hershkowitz said. If practical, it would be better to plant a growing tree in the yard and decorate it for years, or skip greenery altogether, he said.