Thursday, May 31, 2012

More on Health

After posting my Wellness Wednesday feature yesterday, someone commented on this photo that I put up on facebook:

It was a great illustration of how clueless we are when we eat food, especially restaurant food.  We usually have no idea how many calories we're consuming, nor do we know how foods compare to our daily recommended intake, nor do we realize how long our bodies take to burn calories (especially those of us who lead sedentary lives).

I got thinking about the latest restaurant in our community, the Olive Garden, and how excited residents were to have this new chain outlet so close to home.  After perusing the online Olive Garden menu, it reminded me how bad this restaurant is for our community.  Here's an example:

Someone hankering for a classic meal of fettuccine Alfredo will consume a whopping 1220 calories and 75 grams of fat (of which 47 grams are saturated fat) at dinner.  If that same person decided to have dessert as well, the white chocolate raspberry cheesecake will set him or her back 890 calories and 62 grams of fat (36 saturated).  These two items already exceed the daily recommended calories and fat for an entire day for an average-sized women who leads a sedentary life.  According to the University of Maryland Medical Center's online calculator, such a woman should not exceed 53 grams of fat per day.  Just one of these dishes already exceeds that.  According to Livestrong, depending on age and activity level, women should consume between 1600 and 2400 calories per day.  Less active women should consume even fewer calories.  And I haven't even approached the topic of appropriate sodium intake.

So if someone showed restraint and only consumed the entree and the dessert (meaning no appetizer, no salad, no bread, and no calorie-containing beverage), they would likely have consumed more than the calories and fat recommended for that day:  2110 calories and 137 grams of fat.  Breakfast and lunch would have to be skipped to stay somewhat within recommended calorie intake levels.  Of course, individuals don't have clean their plates; doggie bags are always available.  However, how often do we do that?  Most of us push ourselves to eat that last bite because, well, it just takes so good

The occasional treat is fine, but I often see people returning again and again to restaurants with meals that have similar calorie counts.  I suggest you go to the Olive Garden's nutrition facts page (or check out any chain restaurant's menu online) to see for yourself how out of whack the calorie and fat contents are for typical American restaurants.  

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wellness Wednesday

Laundry Detergent
This post is for my readers who are parents of small children.  Many of the conventional laundry detergent manufacturers have come out with single-dose laundry detergent capsules.  According to this story, these capsules can look extremely appetizing to children - they look like candy.  So far this year, 250 cases of children ingesting these products have been reported to poison control centers.  Of course, as someone concerned about our health and the environment, I recommend staying away from most conventional laundry detergents in the first place.  But for those of you who do purchase the products found in most grocery and discount stores, please make sure to keep those convenient single-use packages (and all other chemicals) out of the reach of children.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Sirens of Consumerism

I blog quite a bit about living a simple, sustainable life.  But I'm not immune to the lure of consumerism.  In the United States and the rest of the "Western" world, we are constantly bombarded with advertisements and other enticements that are designed to reach the deepest recesses of our minds through psychological manipulation.

I liken the culture of consumerism to the call of the mythic Sirens.  In Greek mythology, the Sirens were creatures with beautiful voices that would lure sailors to their death.  Their songs were irresistible and sailors would risk crashing their ships on the rocks in order to hear them.  Walter Copland Perry, a British writer, concluded that "their song, though irresistibly sweet, was no less sad than sweet, and lapped both body and soul in a fatal lethargy, the forerunner of death and corruption."

Consumerism (and, more specifically, shopping) is akin to the sirens.  I, too, am seduced by the message of the marketeers.  I hear them calling me, telling me I can be more beautiful, more feminine, more glamorous, if only I buy their products.  The flash and glitz catch my eye - there's a new style or color or fabric that is the must-have of the season.   I forget all that I stand for, all the sweatshops and suffering and exploitation behind the product, and how last year's trends are now resting at the bottom of countless landfills.  I grab a handful of hangers and head to the dressing room.  Yes, the marketeers are right.  I must have a new outfit; it will complete me, make me something I'm not...yet.  I head to the cash register, plastic card in hand, already anticipating the thrill of wearing my new clothes.  It's then that I realize, I have fallen into that fatal lethargy, I've crashed on the rocks, and the sirens have won.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Thoughts on Memorial Day

Arlington Cemetery & Wasnington Monument
Today in the United States we are observing Memorial Day, a day to remember the soldiers and sailors who have fallen in the line of duty during wars and other military actions.  These men and women who served our country deserve to be remembered for their sacrifices.

We must also remember what war means on a global scale.  While we in the US see the decorated men and women returning from overseas and mourn over the flag-draped coffins and precisely laid-out tombstones of those who don't return, we don't experience what war means to the rest of the world.

For most of the rest of the world, war means more than the possibility of grown sons and daughters not returning home.  For many in overseas conflicts, it means loosing their homes altogether, being displaced into refugee camps, often for the rest of their lives.  It can mean a destruction of infrastructure that interferes with the ability to have electricity, clean drinking water, or even food.  It can mean having children kidnapped and forced into military service.  It can mean becoming, or witnessing a child become, what is called "collateral damage" which occurs when military weapons miss their target and hit civilians.  This happens more than we realize.  War can mean children surviving the horrors of war but having missing limbs or disfigured faces and/or bodies or experiencing PTSD.  Or, for women, it often means the certainty of being the victim of brutal gang rape (which is used as a weapon of war). 

Although this day was created to honor the men and women who died while serving in the US armed forces, it is often a time when we glorify war.  Rather, as we consider the global consequences of war, we should strive to identify ways of nonviolent conflict resolution and then work to ensure those solutions are put into action.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Quotes for the Day

"The belief in the possibility of a short decisive war appears to be one of the most ancient and dangerous of human illusions."
~Robert Lynd

"No more wars, no more bloodshed. Peace unto you. Shalom, salaam, forever."
~Menachem Begin

"They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."

"Wars are not acts of God. They are caused by man, by man-made institutions, by the way in which man has organized his society. What man has made, man can change."
~Frederick Moore Vinson

"You don't make peace with friends.  You make it with very unsavory enemies."
~Yitzhak Rabin

"There is no way to peace; peace is the way."
~A. J. Muste

"I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, 'Mother, what was war?'"
~Eve Merriam

"A great war leaves the country with three armies - an army of cripples, an army of mourners, and an army of thieves."
~German proverb

Friday, May 25, 2012

Farm Friday

Unlike when I was a child, deer are not rarities.  On any given day or night, you're likely to see a deer (actually many deer) on our farm.  They're beautiful animals and I love to watch them run and leap over fences.  However, they love most of the vegetables we grow on the farm.  As a result, we have to put up white mesh electric fences around a number of our gardens.  These fences are battery powered and when we first stated using the fences, we would expend one battery per garden per year.  The batteries are rechargeable, but there is a limit to the number of times they can be recharged.  The good news is that my husband discovered these:

Now our batteries are continuously recharged via solar cells, thus considerably extending the life of our batteries.  (Hmmmm...maybe I should have made this a sustainable living post.)  I love how we are able to not only generate power from the sun but are able to reduce the number of batteries that will end up in landfill.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Philanthropy 101

One Dollar
Add caption
Many people have big hearts and, when they hear of a need, immediately open their checkbooks to help satisfy it.  However, many others are skeptical of charities, afraid that their hard-earned money will be squandered and not used to help those in need.  I recommend that both groups pause for a moment and investigate the organizations that are asking for money.

Two excellent websites, Charity Navigator and GuideStar, can provide detailed information on how charities use donations.   Charity Navigator rates organizations with stars from one to four.  If the organization you're researching doesn't have four stars, don't give up on it.  There are many reasons why it might not have the highest rating that don't have anything to do with how donations are handled.  GuideStar offers copies of the 990s (the IRS tax return for nonprofit organizations) for hundreds of thousands of nonprofits.  There are other organizations that provide information on charitable institutions; just Google "something like charity watchdog groups." 

If you cannot find the organization you're researching on a watchdog site, contact the organization.  Ask them to send you a copy of their 990 and any other pertinent data.  If they refuse, find another similar organization that will.

Once you have the financials for an organization, look to see what percentage of donations goes to programs and what percentage goes to administrative expenses.  According to CharityWatch (another watchdog organization), at least 60% of funds should go towards programs.  A highly efficient organization will spend 75% or more on programs.  In addition, look to see that it has low fund-raising and administrative costs.  Although it does cost money to run a nonprofit, to pay staff and purchase office space, equipment, and supplies, and to purchase marketing materials, etc. for fundraising, these costs should not be a large percentage of monies spent. When I give, I want to make sure that the money I sent is actually going to help the individuals in need and not to give a big paycheck to the CEO.

I recently learned that organizations such as churches, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of worship are not limited by designated giving.  That is, when someone gives money and specifically states that money is to go to missions or the benevolent fund, a faith organization can actually spend that money any way the pastor, rabbi, or administrative council or board deems fit.  Therefore, if you do not automatically receive a budget for your house of worship, ask that one be provided so you can see how tithes and offerings are spent.

There are many other things you can do when making a decision to support a nonprofit organization.  However, these tips should help point you in the right direction when your heartstrings feel a tug and you want to help.  

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wellness Wednesday

Legs of a young man running
HBO and the Institute of Medicine, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, as well as a couple of private organizations, produced a series that focuses on the food and weight issue among Americans.  The series can be viewed in its entirety here.  Unfortunately for me, my internet connection has not cooperated and I have not been able to view the entire program.  

One interesting (and frightening) fact I learned is that medical studies (i.e., autopsies) have shown that children who are overweight or obese already show physical signs of heart disease as a result of their weight problem.  Thus, the current childhood obesity trend is doubly alarming.  Not only is it likely that these children will continue to be obese in adulthood and suffer from the associated debilitating diseases, they will have already experienced early damage to their cardiovascular systems before reaching adulthood.  These findings underline the importance of teaching children as young as two or three to eat healthy foods and to engage in regular physical activity.

For those of you with decent internet service, let me know what you think of the program.  

Friday, May 18, 2012

Farm Friday

Lady Virginia "Ginny"
I'm still trying to get caught up around the house and farm since I returned from Haiti and school ended.  (Not sure if I will ever really catch up.)  So I'm sharing a photo my daughter took of the best farm girl there is, our dog Ginny.  Ginny is my constant companion and is always up for anything, be it picking potato bugs off the potato plants, cutting herbs for our CSA, or just taking a nap.  Yesterday she hunted down and caught (and unfortunately, in my opinion but not my husband's, killed) a small groundhog.  My husband said the groundhog had been eating lettuce in one of our gardens, so he would have eventually eliminated it.  If I go into one of the pastures where she is not allowed (the goats don't like her because I think she looks like a wolf to them), she will patiently wait by the gate for me no matter how long I'm gone.

Ginny is also the smartest dog I've ever known.  At one point, when my daughter was taking her to agility classes, she knew about 50 commands - and this didn't include things like "Ginny, do you want to go for a walk?," which is her favorite question.  Ginny knows which animals belong on the farm and which do not, which explains why she knew to hunt the groundhog but to never hurt the chickens.  She knows she can chase squirrels and crows, as well.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wellness Wednesday

The pink slime scare made Americans question both the origin of and ingredients in ground beef.  Pink slime turned out to be processed leftovers from a cow carcass (such as connective tissue) that is made edible through a sanitation process that involves the use of the gaseous form of ammonium hydroxide, a chemical used as a household cleaner when in its liquid form.  About 70% of ground beef contains pink slime.  What many Americans don't know, is that pink slime is also used in hot dogs, lunch meats, pepperoni, and other processed meat foods.  However, the meat industry's problem goes deeper than pink slime.

This article from Grist reveals more dark secrets in the meat industry (which includes poultry).  Apparently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture allows the following chemicals to be applied to meat to sanitize it and make it safe and edible, without any labeling requirement:  calcium hypochorite (also used to bleach cotton and clean swimming pools), hypobromous acid (also used as a germicide in hot tubs), DBDMH, also called 1,3-dibromo-5,5-dimethylhydantoin (also used in water treatment), and chorine dioxide (also used to bleach wood pulp).  Although the USDA requires additives like salt, spices, and lemon - that is, natural additives - to be listed in the ingredients list for foods, the chemicals don't have to be mentioned at all.  

Rather than questioning why meat is so unsafe for consumption, the USDA instead helps out the meat industry by allowing it to treat food with what sound like very dangerous, unnatural, and unhealthful chemicals without having to reveal those ingredients to consumers.  The USDA's head of food safety said, "I don't think your average consumer probably knows a lot about how food is produced."  Maybe we need to dig beyond the pink slime scandal to find out exactly what we're putting in our bodies.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

Beautiful Pink Gerbra flower

"There is only one pretty child in the world, and every mother has it."
~Chinese Proverb

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Big Day

Today was a big day for our family.  Our son graduated from college with a BA in History - just like his mother. :)  We are very proud of him as he worked hard to make it happen.  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

It's Official

Grad Cap
After 2 1/2 years of hard work, it's official - I've finished my master's degree program!  Before I left for Haiti, I knew I would be missing an entire week of school (that's a lot when it's an 8 week course), so I worked extra hard to submit my final project ahead of time.  The day I returned, I had one small online discussion board I had to participate in so I got that done at 9 p.m. Sunday.  Yesterday, I checked my grades and saw that all of my assignments had been graded!  So, I've officially completed and passed all of my courses.

Commencement is this Saturday but I won't be attending.  Why?  Because our family has more good news:  Our son is graduating from college with his B.A. in history!  This time next year, two more family members will be graduating:  My daughter will be getting her B.A. in conservation studies and my husband will be completing seminary.  Education is a family affair around here.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Monday, May 7, 2012

Visit to Haiti

Missionaries and Stateside Staff for Danita's Children
For my regular readers, I want to let you know that I haven't abandoned this blog.  I went to Haiti for a staff meeting at the orphanage, Danita's Children, that I do work for.  I had scheduled a few posts to be published during my absence so it didn't look like I had quit blogging, but Blogger has been experiencing some problems with its new design and those posts didn't get published.

As always, it was amazing to be in Haiti and to spend time with the children and to see all of the changes that have taken place since I last visited.  I feel honored to be able to work with such wonderful people who have great hearts for the people of Haiti.  

It was a long visit (and trip - you can't get there from here, at least not easily), so I have much to process.  In the meantime, I need to play catch up at home and to start working on some of my new assignments.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Quote for the Day

"Kindness and compassion towards all living beings is a mark of a civilized society.  Racism, economic deprival, dog fighting and cock fighting, bullfighting and rodeos are all cut from the same defective fabric:  violence. Only when we have become nonviolent towards all life will we have learned to live well ourselves."

~Cesar Chavez

Friday, May 4, 2012


This is a fantastic TED Talk that a friend shared.  Jason Roberts shows how to accomplish the impossible and to make the world a better place.