Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man.  

~Benjamin Franklin

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Quiet Time

My blog has been extremely quiet lately, what with school and the holidays.  In addition, my adult children were both Christmas babies so we also had two birthdays to celebrate.  

We had a white Christmas here in Virginia and, although I dislike the cold, it was very pretty.  My husband and I and our daughter are all getting ready for a change of scenery.  Next month, our daughter will be heading to Costa Rica for a study abroad program while we are going to the island of Hispanola which contains the nations of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.  We will be spending a few days in the Dominican Republic for a much overdue vacation and then will be crossing the border for a quick visit to see all of our friends in Haiti.  As a result, I won't have much time to blog as we prepare for these trips.  

When we return, I plan to get more active with my blog.  Of course I'll be posting about our trip, but I'll also be sharing my first quarter goals.  In the meantime, I hope everyone has a wonderful New Year and I'll see you in 2011!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Quote for the Day

"I made no resolutions for the New Year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me." 

~Anaïs Nin

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

Wishing all my readers a very merry Christmas!

Monday, December 20, 2010

R.I.P. Reb

We lost another of our pets yesterday - our last barn cat Johnny "Reb."  2010 has been a cruel year for animals on our farm.  I'm hoping for a better 2011.

We rescued Reb when we first moved here, over 7 years ago.  I'm not sure if it was his gorgeous blue eyes or his very distinctive raccoon-like ring-tail that first got my attention, but once I got to know him, he had my heart.  For Reb's full story, go to my hubby's blog.  Reb will be greatly missed.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Quote for the Day

"Love the animals, love the plants, love everything.  If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things.  Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day.  And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love."
 -Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas, Advent Conspiracy, and Alternative Christmas Ideas

I've really dropped the ball on my Christmas series.  My intention was to post regularly about the frenzy that occurs during the Christmas season.  However, a variety of events have kept me from doing a thorough job of it.  (School being the most time consuming.)

I've also found myself a bit caught up in the craziness of this time of year.  As December 25 approaches, I find myself worrying that I need to buy additional gifts.  Last night I became most concerned about purchasing gifts for some children in our extended family.  I always buy them gifts but haven't don so yet.  Then I remembered past Christmases, when I've watched them tear into gifts on Christmas day.  It seems to go on for hours, with the children casually tossing aside gifts that I'm sure the purchaser put a lot of time, thought, and money into.  Once a gift is open, it's rarely enjoyed, but put aside so that the next package can be opened.  Thinking about this orgy made me realize none of the children will notice that I didn't buy them a gift.  In fact, I'm pretty sure the gifts I purchased from past Christmases were never used.  What a waste.  And what a poor message to send to children.  Plus, often this frenzy of opening and discarding presents tends to send the children into a mood of over-stimulation, with the end result being unhappiness for everyone around.

So now I turn my attention to Advent and Advent Conspiracy.  Advent is the period of time when many Christians around the world begin a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of Christ's birth on December 25.  In the western world, this celebration has become, rather than a time of anticipation and joy, a time of dread and stress.  Americans especially have turned a time when we should be celebrating  and spreading the peaceful and loving message of Christ into a time of mass consumption.  Black Friday has become the day that marks the beginning of the season, a day when the goal is to get deals on items no one really needs (or wants) and the result often is crippling debt. 

Advent Conspiracy reminds us there can be another way, that we can celebrate the season by worshiping fully, spending less, giving more, and loving all.  It's not about being a Scrooge, but is about being more mindful and caring with our gifts.  Each year at Christmas, Americans spend a staggering $450 billion on gifts and many of those gifts are purchased more out of obligation than out of need or love.  Advent Conspiracy asks that we think about buying just one less gift and to apply the money where it is actually needed and can make a difference.  

There are a number of great organizations where the money usually spent on unwanted and unneeded Christmas gifts can often mean the difference between life and death.  Heifer International is a wonderful organization that provides farm animals to families around the world.  The families are taught how to care for the animals and when the animals reproduce, the offspring are given to other needy families.  Truly a gift that keeps on giving.  Another good charity is Blood:  Water Mission.  This organization helps provide clean drinking water in parts of the world where clean tap water is unavailable.  They also work to provide sanitation facilities and fight against HIV/AIDS.  Kiva is a micro-lending organization that provides capital to entrepreneurs around the world.  Money that is loaned goes to help individuals and companies fund business that provide income to poor families.  Although it is not guaranteed, the money is typically paid back to the lender, making it available to lend to another good cause.  It's another gift that keeps giving.  In addition, look at charities in your own community - for the homeless, the hungry, and the victims of domestic violence,   A good site to use when investigating a charitable organization is Charity Navigator.  

As the big day approaches and we go about buying gifts and spending money, let's keep these things in mind.  Remember that not all the world's citizens are caught up in the holiday frenzy and that their Christmas wish is to have food, shelter, and clean water.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Quote for the Day

“A man is what he thinks about all day long.” 
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas and the Environment

Christmas is a wonderful time of year, both as a religious and as a secular holiday.  While Christians celebrate the humble birth of the Messiah, many non-Christians see it as a time of year to gather together with friends and family, to share hospitality and love.  What become problematic is the over-consumption that takes place this year.  In our efforts to please our loved ones and to conform to society's norms, we engage in a frenzy of shopping, seldom stopping to really think through our choices.  We have come to equate Christmas with "stuff" rather than with "love." 

Annual total Christmas spending is estimated to be around $500 billion, with the average American spending over $800.  Most of this spending is for presents that go under the Christmas tree, items that we think we and our loved ones *need* for Christmas.  The truth is that many of these items are not needed (nor even wanted) and the vast majority of it will go to landfill within six months.  

The manufacturing process wreaks havoc on our environment.  In order to get the raw materials necessary to create the goods we demand, trees are harvested from forests, oil is pumped from the ground, various minerals are mined from the earth.  Extra gasoline is used to transport these raw goods to the places where they are turned into plastic toys, electronic devices, and other in-demand trinkets.  Needless to say, the manufacturing process itself leads to all sorts of toxic waste.  Once ready, the products are again shipped out, using more of our precious petroleum fuel.  In addition to the actual presents, we also consume resources and energy to make the packaging for the products, the bags to carry them home in, and the wrapping that we add before putting them under the tree.

Much of what we buy ends up in landfills.  Of course the packaging is the first to go, then the unwanted items, then those that break, and finally those that are no longer desired due to planned obsolescence.  Those items end up slowing breaking down into chemicals that leach into the ground and into our water sources.  Chemicals from landfills include:  arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel, benzene, choloform, ethybenzene, toluene, and xylene, just to name a few.  To learn more about the dangers of these chemicals, go here

Now that we know what happens to all the gifts that are exchanged at Christmas time, maybe it's time to rethink the quantity and quality of what we give.

Photo source:

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Quote for the Day

"Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity." 

~ G.K. Chesterton

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas and Our Global Neighbors

Very few of the items we buy at Christmas (and other times of the year) are made in the United States.  While I often hear people complain about jobs that have shifted overseas, I know most would not want those jobs as they come with a heavy price.  Further, some of those same people, while complaining of jobs moving offshore, also insist on low prices.  We want to make decent wages and yet we want to pay little for the products of labor.

According to BusinessWeek, China is the largest single source of American imports.  This year an investigation by the National Labor Committee at one Chinese factory revealed that 

the factory recruits 16 – 17 year old high school students — mostly girls – to work during the summer for 15 hours a day, six or seven days a week for just less than one dollar per hour. On top of that, employees were found to working in wretched conditions. Apparently, one-thousand workers were packed into small and uncomfortable 105 by 105 foot rooms. Also, fourteen workers are forced to share primitive rooms. They sleep on narrow bunker beds.
In 2007 and 2008, 14 to 15 year old children were reportedly recruited to work the 15 hours a day. The company prefers hiring women, as they are allegedly easier to control. In average, shifts start at 7:45 AM and end at 10:55 PM. The food the factory serves is discounted from their already low wages. In addition, employees are strictly forbidden to talk, listen to music, and use the bathroom during work hours. Workers who violate the rules or make mistakes are forced to clean the bathrooms. Workers are allowed to leave the premises during regulated hours only.
One worker is quoted saying:
“We are like prisoners. It seems like we live only to work. We do not work to live. We do not live a life, only work.”
Chinese manufacturers are under pressure by U.S. corporations to mass produce toys, electronics, and other items as quickly and cheaply as possible so that Americans and other westerners can get that latest, "must have" toy or gadget.  

Another investigation revealed that " manufacturers --which served a handful of global players, including Walt Disney Co, Bandai and Hasbro Inc -- paid 'little heed to the most basic standards of the country.' 'Instead of concentrating on improving product safety and workers' lives, companies spend their energy creating beautiful pamphlets on social responsibility, disputing critical reports and shifting blame."

Some critics point out that families in third world nations feel fortunate to have the jobs they do, that without them, they could not feed their families.  While this is often true, westerners are supporting brutal conditions by insisting on low, low prices.  Rather, we need to learn to consume responsibly - buy less junk, more quality items - and to insist on living wages and decent conditions for those who labor for us.

Many of the things we buy, both the necessary and the frivolous, are made by people living and working in inhumane and slave-like circumstances.  Next time you're shopping, try to find out where some of the items in your basket are made and then consider the people who made them.