Thursday, February 26, 2015

Buddha and the "Selfie"

Ah, the reviled "Selfie".  Some psychologists say the growing trend of taking smartphone selfies is linked to mental health conditions that focus on a person's obsession with looks. Researchers at Western Illinois University studied the Facebook habits of 294 students, aged between 18 and 65, and measured two "socially disruptive" elements of narcissism – grandiose exhibitionism (GE) and entitlement/ exploitiveness (EE). GE includes ''self-absorption, vanity, superiority, and exhibitionistic tendencies". People who score high on this aspect of narcissism need to be constantly at the centre of attention. Hence the constant selfies.  

In common parlance this is referred to as "orbiting one's own navel" and the intent is to pull others into the whirlpool. As much as you might love the person who posts the thrice daily selfie, or constantly revolves profile pictures from 20, 30, 40 years ago,  you can't force yourself to "like" them, or to join the chorus of "Wow", "Beautiful", "Stunning" and "Dream Girl!" especially when the selfies capture staged sullen, morose, depressing, 'I'm-thinking-throwing-myself-under-a-bus' expressions.  

There are days when a selfie of "Inner Me" would fry the pixels on your tablet, Poppet. But I am not sharing. Those are my moments and I am not inflicting them on you. In fact I am doing exactly the opposite. Sharon Salzberg explained it well. 
“We look at the Buddha to see ourselves. And we look at ourselves, not to see ourselves as separate and more wonderful than anybody else, [laughs] but we look at ourselves and basically see everybody.” 

Buddha wasn't a god. He wasn't fathered by any divine spirit. He was a man whose heart was broken when he realized that all of us, you, me, him, his wife and his newborn son would all suffer sickness, pain, sorrow, loss and ultimately death. 

He spent years seeking a cure for being human, only to learn there is none. We look at him, knowing that we too may seek miracles and wonders and cures for our humanity, but even though he reached enlightenment he died, as we will. His last words to his disciples were something like,  "Everything is subject to decay, continue to work with diligence." Even if we follow his teachings we have no illusions. None of us escape this world alive, but we can learn to cope.  That was his message. 

So having the faith we can do that we look at ourselves, not circling our own navels, like water around a drain, but in love. The first person we must learn to love, really love, and really accept, is ourselves. Not just at the way we look but at the broken heart inside, whatever it is and however it was caused. Not enough love, the pain of abuse or neglect, our prejudices, our tempers, our fears, our greed and selfishness, our never-good-enough-ness. (is that a word?)  

And when we really see and admit what lives within us, we see our anger is the same anger as that of the man who gives us the finger and cuts us off in traffic, our fear when the police car turns on his lights behind us a tiny taste of the fear the refugee feels, the need for a hour's forgetting that alcohol or drugs give the addict who grew up in an abusive home is one we all understand, even if it's just a ratty day at the office we're trying to escape when we grab a beer and the remote. You hear in others' prejudice not just hate - but fear. 

And in seeing recognizing and forgiving these in yourself compassion begins, for yourself and others. You learn to live without the need for so much affirmation from others. You aren't so needy. However we will not urge our views on others, for not all are willing to examine themselves and few have time or interest in looking into the Buddha-mirror. 

Not all are grateful for a map to an inner road, to a path untrod. Much easier to go post a selfie.  (If you know me in person you know how extremely difficult this is. I don't think there's another photo of me on here in my nine years of blogging.)



   

Sunday, February 15, 2015

What Not to Wear After 50

Alright Darlings, I'm doing something I hardly ever do, and that's reposting someone else's post, but only because it's brilliant and funny (which I'd love to be but aren't). If you don't believe I'm capable of such chicanery you're dead wrong. I can prove it by pointing to the original article here written by Michelle Combs who blogs at Rubber Shoes in Hell .

Honestly, I've been thinking about how to solve my wardrobe problem by buying a bale of burlap bags, and a spool of yellow polypropylene rope to use as belts but burlap is itchy as hell and that rope is made of oil which makes my eco-consciousness twitch like an eel on a harpoon, so I'm still dithering. I saw a 
dove-grey cashmere cardigan I liked at the upscale mall we visited on my birthday. It cost more than my entire wardrobe budget for the year. No doubt I'd look stunning in it but eyes would still pop at the Sobeys when I walked in wearing it, naked from the hipbones down because I didn't have enough $ left over to buy a three-pack of bloomers at the WalMart. Decisions decisions. 

Here's Michelle's advice for women over 50.

Google “what not to wear after age 50″ and you will have your pick of thousands of articles telling you what looks terrible on your old ass body. I want to point out to the writer who wrote the ‘No-No’ article, you need to remember you are writing for over 50 women, not preschoolers. I don’t think I’ve said “No-No” since my youngest was a toddler. We could spend hours studying the clothes we shouldn’t wear and the slang we shouldn’t use and the makeup techniques we need to retire.

Here’s me, weighing in on this topic.

You are over 50 for f%&k’s sake. Wear whatever you want. If you’ve made it to 50 and still need to consult articles on how to dress appropriately then you are so missing out on one of the best things about being over 50. One of the best things about getting older is realizing that we don’t have to spend our energy worrying what other people think and we get to be comfortable in our own skin with our own freak flags.

Still, there are a few things that women over 50 really shouldn’t wear:

The weight of the world. When you wear the weight of the world on your shoulders, you age. If you like the feel of the world’s weight and don’t want to give it up, then try scaling back a bit. Perhaps just wear the weight of a few of the smaller continents. For instance, I am only wearing the weight of Australia and a made up country called “Michelloponia”. I think it they have a slimming effect.

Shame and regret. So few people can carry this look off. Most of us just end up looking haunted or like we were forced to eat liver and onions. Shame and regret are especially hard to wear after fifty. Wearing shame and regret past fifty is one of those things that make your eyes all red and runny looking. The downward spiral just snowballs from there. Once the eyes get old lady looking, then you have to re-evaluate the wisdom of black eye liner. I say give up wearing shame and regret and fuck giving up on black eye liner.

Rose colored glasses. Oh, sweetheart, you know who you are. Those glasses do nothing for you. Not only do they make you look like you’ve been smoking weed for days, they also keep you from examining life and your surroundings realistically. Yes, reality sucks, but by the time we hit fifty, we need to suck it up, take those glasses off and dick punch reality into submission. Or just get some really big dark sunglasses instead. They cover all manner of sins.

Stiff upper lip. There is a time and a place for the stiff upper lip, but damn, it can’t be worn all the time. Too much stiff upper lip causes those funky vertical

lines between your upper lip and your nose holes. We don’t always have to be stoic. I’m not suggesting that you wear your heart on your sleeve, but that is a much softer look than wearing a stiff upper lip.

Too many hats. Personally, I can’t pull off wearing one hat much less many hats. I don’t have a hat head. My hair poofs out and my ears look like car doors when I wear a hat. Wearing too many hats just exacerbates these issues. When you wear too many hats, it’s easy to forget which hat you’re wearing. For instance, are you wearing the ‘no nonsense corporate’ hat when you meant to wear your ‘quirky and kicked back’ hat? We’re not getting any younger, you know. Sooner or later you’re going to accidentally wear your court jester hat to the gynecologist and then where will you be? I’ll tell you where you’ll be. You’ll be in an undignified position and wearing a stupid hat is where you’ll be. [Note:] I disagree. I know many older women who look smashing in a hat, not that I'm one of them, but then I look foolish in ruffles and flowery things, so you have to leave room for individual style. 

Resting bitch face. Hahahaha. Just kidding. Wear that one all you want.Although, it wouldn’t hurt if every once in a while, you had a welcoming and kind look on your face. At least that’s what I hear from other people. There isn’t anything wrong with getting advice about updating your look or what to wear, but we are just inundated with that shit, aren’t we? Who says what is appropriate? 

From where I sit, it seems ‘appropriate’ changes based on geography, social status, income and size. After a while, the advice becomes a confusing blur. I think I’ll just keep wearing my Keds and jeans and black tee shirts.

Oh, I do have one real tip. Stop wearing theme clothes. Seriously.
Michelle Combs


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

January KIVA Loan - Saving Lives and the Environment

Sampson & a chlorine dispenser
Samson lives in a home within Kawigawiga village in Ndhiwa sub County, Kenya with his family which includes 4 children. The community of Kawigawiga village collects their drinking water from Aora Odundu because there is no piped water supply in this part of rural Kenya. This water is easily contaminated with bacteria that can cause diarrhea and other water-borne diseases, often making Kawigawiga’s inhabitants sick and unable to work or attend school.

A new chlorine dispenser offers a solution to the burden of sickness caused by unsafe drinking water. The dispenser is installed at the local water source, where users turn a valve to add chlorine to their jerricans and then collect water as usual. The chlorine disinfects the water and provides residual protection from re-contamination. In Kawigawiga, 25 households will benefit from having access to the dispenser. Samson has volunteered to be the dispenser promoter, who is responsible for refilling the chlorine and encouraging the rest of the community to treat their water and keep themselves and their families healthy. There are 4 other volunteer promoters from the surrounding community who are part of this group loan: namely Siprose, Grace, Susan, and Maurice.

Kawigawiga village needs a loan to cover the costs of installing and maintaining the dispenser. Samson believes that the dispenser will help to alleviate water-borne diseases in his community.

The Kiva loan will be repaid by Evidence Action  on behalf of the community through the sale of carbon credits. Using the chlorine dispenser generates carbon credits by avoiding the need to boil water to make it safe to drink. Revenues from the sale of carbon credits to organizations and individuals wanting to reduce world carbon footprints will be used to repay Kiva lenders and also to make sure that Samson’s community can have access to safe water now and in the future.

About Evidence Action

This loan is part of Evidence Action’s Dispensers for Safe Water program, providing rural communities with access to safe drinking water by installing chlorine dispensers where people collect water. The dispensers enable community members to treat their water with chlorine to make it safe to drink.

Kiva loans are used to finance the installation, maintenance and refilling of chlorine dispensers. Evidence Action provides dispensers as in-kind loans to communities, represented on Kiva by dispenser “promoters,” who will help educate their neighbors about the equipment’s use and benefits, and refill the dispenser with chlorine.

Instead of these loans being repaid by community members, Kiva lenders are reimbursed by the sale of carbon credits. These carbon credits are generated when households use chlorine dispensers to treat their water, because they no longer have to boil it over wood-burning fires that release harmful greenhouse gases. This change in behaviour is monetized through the sale of carbon credits on the voluntary carbon market.

Here’s how it works:

1) Kiva borrowers grant the rights to carbon credits they generate to Evidence Action.
2) Evidence Action works with an organization called Impact Carbon to monitor, quantify and verify carbon credits, which can then be sold to individuals and organizations looking to reduce their carbon footprint.
3) Revenue earned from this sale is used to maintain dispensers and repay Kiva lenders.

A new way of thinking: Carbon as currency?

This post was authored by Michelle Kreger, Kiva's Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives.

During a recent trip to Kenya, my colleague and I had the chance to connect with the director of Dispensers for Safe Water at Evidence Action,  a deeply data-driven project looking at water purification adoption behaviours in rural Kenya. What started as a group of researchers seeking to understand the best way to encourage people to drink safe water, has now developed into an impressive non-profit scaling a proven solution to the problem of waterborne diseases.

Contaminated water causes illnesses like diarrhea and cholera that are a leading cause of death among children under five in Kenya. Researchers wanted to figure out how to lessen the burden of these waterborne diseases, but they also knew that they would face challenges with adoption: the mere availability of chlorine, filters, or other water purification technologies doesn’t necessarily mean that people will use them.

After several years of studying the behaviour of communities in western Kenya, they found that people were most likely to treat their water when they have access to free chlorine at a communal water source. After filling up their jerry can (a very common water transport container), people can administer a pre-measured amount of chlorine from a permanent chlorine dispenser installed at the water source. The research found that less than 1 in 6 households chlorinated their water without access to dispenser access, but more than half of households treated their water when dispensers were available. Equipped with rigorous research results, the group continued to build and improve on the operational model until they were ready to spin off a new organization – Evidence Action – and launch the project. Evidence Action is planning to provide access to safe water for over 25 million people in East Africa over the next five years.

After hearing Evidence Action’s story, we were immediately intrigued. And, as finance people, we wanted to know all about how they planned to fund it. To date the program had been funded by grants, but those grants were not guaranteed over the long-term. Because Evidence Action’s goal was to establish a sustainably financed service delivery model, they set up a voluntary carbon project so that they could generate and sell carbon credits from the program.

We wondered: what do carbon credits have to do with water purification? And, how could a water treatment program be  financed through a carbon credit program?

Thus we set about learning how water treatment and greenhouse gases are related. The idea is this: if people have access to low-carbon technologies like chlorine for treating drinking water, they are less likely to burn wood, gas, or oil to boil water to purify it. Chlorine dispensers therefore avert fossil fuel emissions, which can be quantified, verified, and sold as carbon credits.

We were intrigued but also skeptical. When we returned to San Francisco, we started looking into the project in detail. If we could confirm the potential of generating a revenue stream coming from the carbon credits for this project, then maybe we could fund the installation of chlorine dispensers as in-kind loans to communities in Kenya, which would be repaid by the revenues associated with their usage. Cool. But also a little crazy. 


Overall, we are confident that at the very least the loan funds raised on Kiva for these communities will be put to extremely good use - installing chlorine dispensers that have been rigorously evaluated and that will provide access to safe water for 636,000 people and save over 700 lives.

We also know that while we cannot be 100% certain about default risk for this project, we want to give it a shot as Kiva can - for some lenders - strike a fine balance between investment and philanthropy.  Whether these loans end up being repaid in full or not, if Kiva lenders choose to participate, at the very least they will have been part of a grand experiment to make water safe to drink, to save lives, to support the scale-up of a proven intervention, and to test the idea that debt funding can be tied to carbon revenue. So make a loan today!


Sunday, December 28, 2014

An Asteroid named Homo Insatiables

As the year glides toward its marker-designated-by-mankind end I have to admit a certain pessimism about the future of our species. While scientists have been warning of climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions with greater and greater urgency for the last 40 years, governments, industry and society have done little to address the problem. 

Industrial giants have used their money and power to defeat any environmental concerns. All they care about is making more money now and the future be damned. 

And we as a people have done little to nothing to rein in our own consumption levels, and to demand our governments enact environmental legislation. In fact all we have done is demand more and more and bigger and faster and shinier and newer and with one more feature/colour/button than six months ago.  

I'm not excluding myself. I cringe every time I reach for the 'Charmin', buy produce imported from Chile, Mexico and California, stand in the shower for an extra minute with the hot water pummelling the crook in my spine, and I make my excuses. 

We lived so low on the eco-pole for five years in our 120 sq ft "tin palace" that I'm begging off my eco-crimes on the grounds that it's taken me over two years to put 5,000 kilometres on my KIA, and that's with the oldest son driving it to Vancouver Island and back, which put almost 2,000 km on it. We eat very little meat, we are careful, conservative shoppers, and I wear my clothing 'til it's indecent to go outside. Right now I'm wearing a hippari top I made in 1979. The seams are worn right through in places, but it's so practical I can't bear to discard it. Nonetheless today we all collectively stand on the brink of the abyss. 

A new draft report by the the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that we are looking at the likely end of human civilization as increasing greenhouse gas emissions create “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems” over the coming decades. 

Global temperature is nearing the point when loss of the vast ice sheet over Greenland will be unstoppable. Along with melting Antarctic ice, sea levels will flood major coastal cities as well as coastal plains and low-lying and island nations.

One of the most feared consequences of global warming is the thawing of permafrost regions. A study in Science magazine warns that “even slightly warmer temperatures [less than is predicted in coming years] could start melting permafrost, which threatens to trigger the release of huge amounts of greenhouse gases trapped in ice,” with possible “fatal consequences” for the global climate. (As humans we aren't designed to breathe carbon dioxide or methane.)  

The human era of civilization coincides closely with the geological epoch of the Holocene, beginning over 11,000 years ago. The previous Pleistocene epoch lasted 2.5 million years. Scientists now suggest that a new epoch began about 250 years ago, the Anthropocene, the period when human activity has had a dramatic impact on the Earth. The rate of change of geological epochs is hard to ignore.

One index of human impact is the extinction of species, now estimated to be at about the same rate as it was 65 million years ago, when an asteroid hit the Earth. That is the presumed cause for the ending of the age of the dinosaurs, which opened the way for small mammals to proliferate, and ultimately modern humans. Today, it is humans who are the asteroid, condemning much of life to extinction.

The IPCC report reaffirms that the “vast majority” of known fuel reserves must be left in the ground to avert intolerable risks to future generations. Meanwhile the major energy corporations make no secret of their goal of exploiting these reserves and seek new ones to plunder, even in the most environmentally sensitive and vulnerable ecologically places on Earth. 

A day before it ran a summary of the IPCC conclusions, The New York Times reported that huge Midwestern grain stocks are rotting so that the products of the North Dakota oil boom can be shipped by rail to Asia and Europe.

The same is true in Canada. Grain sits in silos; farmers are unable to find railcars to ship their grain to ports or domestic markets, while tar sands products are shipped by the hundreds of thousands of rail cars daily to Asia and the USA.  "Oil transportation by rail is expected to jump to about 700,000 barrels per day by 2016 from 200,000 bpd in late 2013, the Calgary-based lobby group predicted Monday in its annual crude oil forecast."  [Financial Post; June 9, 2014] 

I used to want grandchildren. I don't anymore. Best not to bring children into the hell this world is going to descend into. 

"Only when the last tree has been cut, and the last river has been poisoned, and the last fish has died. Then you will realize that you can't eat money." Chief Seattle 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Feliz Navidad! Merry Christmas


Christmas is tapping at the windows, and it won't be long before it comes busting through. And once again we've been busy preparing the traditional Christmas feast.

Tex-Mex food became our traditional Christmas at a big family table at the Bluebird Cafe in Tucumcari New Mexico. Every year we'd make the long drive from southern Oklahoma to New Mexico to spend Christmas day with my older brother, who would make a similarly long drive from his home in northern Arizona.

And so, the prospect, year after year, of tamales smothered in mole, enchiladas, beans and rice turned these foods into the ones associated with the warmth of Christmas for me.

This year making the Tex-Mex feast been made easier by my discovery of a store called La Tiendona Market which sells foods from Latin America. And it's only about a km (about 1/2 mile) from us. I went through and bought foods I haven't been able to buy since I left "home" more than four decades ago. I actually was able to buy corn husks after wrapping my tamales in parchment for the last 40 years. I am one happy camper!   
So let's get to the sharing of the menu, and the recipes too, so that if you'd like to try one of these yummy dishes you can.  I'll add some food photos later. Yum! 

The Christmas dinner menu: 

Tamales with mole negro sauce
Sweet potato and black bean enchiladas with green chile sauce
Spanish rice
Refried beans
Corn chips
Guacamole
Green and black olives
Pomegranate juice mixed with sparkling Perrier for beverage
Mexican Hot Chocolate for dessert

Recipes Anyone?

Tamales - While tamales are traditionally made with two cups of lard, this recipe calls for one cup of canola oil, much healthier!  

Tamale dough
  • 6 cups Masa Harina
  • 6 cups Chicken broth
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 2 tsp salt 
  • 1 tsp baking powder
Tamale filling
  • 1 1/2 pounds extra lean ground beef
  • 1 tbs canola oil
  • 1 large red onion diced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper diced small 
  • 1/2 green bell pepper diced small
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 pkg taco seasonings 

3 dozen corn husks. Go through and make sure they are free of discoloration. 
Cut narrow ends of husks off and trim husks so they are about 3" x 4".  
Soak husks in warm water while you prepare rest of recipe. 

In frying pan heat oil til hot, add onions and bell peppers, add garlic last, then add beef and taco spices and brown. Pour off moisture and fat when beef is thoroughly cooked. Allow beef to cool while you mix dough. When cooled, put beef mixture into food processor and process it until it's a fine consistency with no lump or recognizable pieces of vegetable.

In large mixing bowl combine Masa, salt and baking powder and stir together. Add brother and oil and mix into a smooth consistent dough. Dough should be soft enough to spread easily on the husks with the fingers. 

Now, spread a layer of masa dough about 1/8th inch thick  onto a soaked husk with your fingers, leaving a 1/2" edge free of dough down the long side. Spoon a heaping tsp of beef filling onto the dough, then roll the dough so the seam overlaps, forming the tamale. 

Steam the tamales for 30-45 minutes. They are cooked when the husk peels cleanly from the dough. Serve with Mole Negro sauce. 

Mole Negro Sauce
  • 1 package taco seasoning 
  • 1/4 c chile powder
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 2 tbs tomato paste
  • 2 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1 corn tortilla, toasted and cut up (or six corn chips)
  • 1/2 cup blanched almonds
  • 2 TBS peanut plain butter
  • 1/4 c raisins
  • 2 tbs sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp Chinese five spice powder
  • 1 square baker's chocolate or 2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 c butter
  • stock or water
In a blender combine the almonds, raisins, sesame seeds, and process until fine.  Place in a bowl and put aside. 

In the blender, process the onion and garlic with water until they are smooth, add tomato sauce and tortilla pieces, process to make a paste.  Mix the two together, adding the peanut butter. 

In a pan, melt the butter and add the taco seasonings, the five spice powder, the chile and the mixture from the blender. Sauté over medium heat, stirring, for five minutes. Add a cup of stock and the chocolate. Stir over medium heat, adding stock to produce a sauce with the texture of heavy cream. (Or if freezing concentrate add half the stock, and add the rest at time of use.)  I swear this is the second time I've had to correct this recipe. I've made it so often I do it automatically, this time I looked at the recipe I'd just put on the blog and to my horror found I'd not said when to add the spice and chiles. 

---
These are a twist on cheese or chicken enchiladas and are fantastic!

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Enchiladas 

Green Chile Sauce
  •  1 cup light vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon  cornstarch dissolved in a little cold water
  • 1 generous cup chopped roasted green chiles, hot or mild
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp chili powder, hot or mild, to taste
Enchilada Filling
  • 2 cups cooked black beans, drained
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • lime juice from 1 lime
  • 2 generous cups cooked diced sweet potatoes
  • 1/2 cup chopped roasted mild green chiles
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder mild or spicy
  • Salt and pepper sauce to taste
Assembly
  • 2 to 4 tbs vegetable oil, as needed
  • 8 white or yellow corn tortillas
  • 4 ounces shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Method

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Choose a baking dish that will hold 8 rolled enchiladas. Make the Green Chile Sauce by combining the broth, cornstarch, green chiles, garlic and spices in a sauce pan and heating over medium-high heat. Simmer until thickened. Taste test and adjust seasonings. Set aside.

In the meantime, for the Enchilada Filling, using a mixing bowl, combine the drained black beans with minced garlic and lime juice. Toss to coat the beans and set aside. In a separate bowl combine the cooked sweet potatoes with the chopped green chiles; add the spices. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour about 1/4 cup of the Green Chile Sauce into the bottom of the baking dish.
To assemble the enchiladas, cook the corn tortillas one at a time, in a few drops of oil to soften them, as you stuff each one.

Lay the first hot tortilla in the sauced baking dish; wet it with the sauce. Spoon 1/8 of the sweet potato mixture down the centre. Top with 1/8 of the black beans. Wrap and roll the tortilla to the end of the baking dish. Repeat for the remaining tortillas. Top with the rest of the sauce. Top with a sprinkle of shredded Monterey Jack cheese.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the enchiladas are piping hot and the sauce is bubbling around the edges.
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Spanish Rice is dead easy - Cook the rice and add Salsa to taste; mild, medium or hot. 
Refried beans -  I'm doing the lazy cook's way this year and have bought a can. (Latin market - YAY!) 

Have a wonderful Christmas! May love be the most abundant seasoning at your table on Christmas day and every day!  



Sunday, December 21, 2014

KIVA Loan for Dec 2014

This month's KIVA loan goes to Zade, a sixty-one-year-old widow from the Roma community of Ashkali Kosovo. She lives with her five adult children and her grandchildren in a small old house that was badly in need of renovation and repairs. The family's main source of income was from the sons and grandson who do menial work for  very low wages. 

Roma people and ethnic Serbians have face a tremendous amount of hardship in Kosovo, and are still socioeconomically and politically vulnerable. During the 1998-1999 war, the fighting displaced an estimated 80-90% of the region’s Roma population. Today, Roma and ethnic Serbians living in Kosovo still face discrimination and are excluded from many aspects of society, including political representation and access to meaningful work which pays a living wage. 

The country is one of the poorest in Europe and many live in abject poverty, with 13% living on less than $1 a day, according to World Vision. In addition to being a post-conflict area, Kosovo has the lowest per capita income in Europe, averaging about $3,000 annually. KosInvest also sets itself apart by serving all ethnicities in Kosovo – working with Albanians, Serbs in the north and Roma populations.

Zade's house had little insulation and lost much heat in the winter. Every winter it cost a lot of money to buy coal to keep the house warm. Zade’s family could not afford to keep the house warm, so they suffered always from the cold and often were sick in the winter due to the lack of heat. 

Zade's first loan was used to repair and insulate her house. The improvements to her house have made it possible for her family to live a more comfortable and healthy life. Zade is very grateful to the KIVA lenders for their support. The loan that she was given was used to repair and renovate her home made her very happy. She was satisfied with the loan process and with the results. 

Since the home has been repaired she has started a  handiwork business from her home. Now, she is again asking for a loan, but this time it’s for her business, to enable her to buy fabrics to produce her beautiful lace table clothes and other linens for the home. 

She would like to be able to purchase material to provide better products and more variety to her clients. She hopes that she will be able to hire an employee and expand her business even further. She really appreciates this help and wants to thank all of the lenders for their continued support in helping her to generate income.

The KIVA field partner KosInvest started its operations in Kosovo in October 2001 as a micro-enterprise development division of World Vision, and has been a separate entity since January 2007.

KosInvest operates exclusively in rural areas in Kosovo, where two-thirds of the nation’s poor live. Through inclusive financial services, KosInvest aims to help marginalized and economically active poor families generate more income and improve their living conditions. KosInvest works in ethnically divided areas and expressly focuses on strengthening ties across these communities by promoting shared economic interests and building business relationships. As of December 2013, KosInvest had disbursed more than US $30 million in loans. Since it started providing loans, KosInvest has helped create over 7,000 new jobs.

KosInvest offers a wide range of loans, including loans for vulnerable populations, agriculture, and women-headed households. In 2014, KosInvest began offering a new livestock loan product that allows farmers to receive livestock or machinery directly, rather than receiving the loan amount in cash. This loan product is the first of its kind in Kosovo.

In 2011, KosInvest won the Social Performance Reporting Award in the Silver Category from the Microfinance Information Exchange (MIX). The organization is member of MIX, the Association of Microfinance Institutions in Kosovo (AMIK), and the Microfinance Centre, a regional microfinance network. 
  
It's rewarding to know you can reach out and in a small way help ease another's burden. After what the Roma went through in Kosovo, and how they are treated so unkindly by the world at large, a kindness now and again wouldn't go amiss. May you be blessed Zade.  

As you celebrate Christmas, remember those Christ urged us not to forget. Among the toys, fancy gadgets and gifts that will hit the closet and never see the light of day again, find it in your heart to donate $25 to your local food bank (Canada) (USA), the World Food Programme Zero Child Hunger in 2015, or KIVA.  

And lastly, giving is a gift you give yourself. Research is now confirming that those who donate their time and material wealth to others are healthier and happier. "It is one of the beautiful compensations of life," said Ralph Waldo Emerson, "that no man can sincerely help another without helping himself." Although philanthropy usually goes hand-in-hand with altruism, new evidence indicates that the giving of one's time or treasure makes the world a better place for both giver and recipient. 

Merry Christmas! 
  

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Lord Who Looks on the World with Compassion


Incredible Illustration by Tomi Um from Lion's Roar (see Blog Roll) 
Like all religions Buddhism uses stories and legends to illustrate its precepts and aspirations. One of Buddhism's most important tenets is compassion, both for oneself, and for others. 

In Tibetan Buddhism Avalokiteshvara ( "the lord who looks upon the world with compassion") is seen as representative of the compassion of all the Buddhas. 

According to the legend, Avalokiteshvara was deeply moved by the suffering of the beings he saw around him and he vowed that he would not rest until he had liberated all sentient beings from suffering. 

After persevering at this task for a very long time, helping suffering beings one by one, he looked out and realized there were a vast throng of beings whose sufferings he had not yet been able to relieve. His despair became so intense that his head split into thousands of pieces. 

The Buddha lovingly gathered the scattered pieces and put them back together as a body with eleven heads and a thousand arms, each ending with an open hand and an eye in its palm, so that Avalokiteshvara could see the suffering in the world and assist thousands of sentient beings all at the same time. 

The mantra associated with Avalokiteshvara is the one most Westerners are most familiar with, Om Mani Padme Hum, which is said to liberate all beings from suffering.

                                             ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Now we will tell a somewhat dry Buddhist joke, and if you "get it" comment on it. You might add "Holy Cow", because if nothing else Buddhists can take a joke. 

There is a story of a devoted meditator, who after years of focusing on Om Mani Padme Hum, believed he had attained enough insight to begin teaching. His humility was not yet perfect, but nonetheless he felt himself ready to lead others. 


A few years of successful teaching left the meditator with no desire to seek wisdom from others, but when he heard there was a famous hermit living nearby, he felt the opportunity too exciting to be passed up. The hermit lived alone on an island in the middle of a lake, so the meditator hired a man with a boat to row him across to the island. 

The old hermit received him graciously and the meditator was very respectful. As they shared tea the meditator asked the hermit about his practice. The old man said he had no special practice, except for the mantra of Avalokiteshvara, which he repeated all the time to himself. The meditator was secretly delighted, the hermit was using the same mantra he himself taught ~ but when the hermit spoke the mantra aloud, the meditator was horrified!

"What's wrong?" asked the hermit.

"I don't know what to say. I'm afraid you've wasted your whole life! You are pronouncing the mantra incorrectly!"

"Oh, dear!," the hermit cried. "That is truly terrible! How should I say it?"

The meditator gave the correct pronunciation, and the old hermit was very grateful. He asked the visitor to leave immediately so he could start chanting the mantra properly right away. On the way back across the lake the meditator, now brimming with confidence that he was an accomplished teacher, pondered aloud the sad fate of the hermit.

"It is so fortunate that I came along," he remarked to the boatman. "At least now he will have a little time to practice correctly before he dies." 

Just then, the meditator noticed that the boatman had turned quite pale and seemed dumbstruck, and he turned to see the hermit standing respectfully on the water, next to the boat.

"Excuse me, please," the hermit said humbly, with a deep bow. "I am so sorry to inconvenience you, but being old and and forgetful, the correct pronunciation has already slipped my mind. Would you please repeat it for me?"

"You clearly don't need it," stammered the meditator; but the old man repeated his polite request until the meditator relented and told him again the way he thought the mantra should be pronounced.

The old hermit thanked him quietly, turned and could be heard repeating the mantra very carefully, slowly, over and over, as he walked across the surface of the water back to his island. 




Bless Us All

In Charles Dicken's novel "A Christmas Carol"  the Ghost of Christmas Present takes the wealthy, greedy and bitterly unhappy Scrooge to the home of his underpaid and impoverished clerk Bob Crachit, where Scrooge observes silently and unseen as the family gathers for their simple and meager evening meal.

The irony is that while Scrooge has wealth beyond measure it brings him no pleasure. His only interest (to the point of obsession) is the accumulation of more wealth. He is so obsessed with maintaining possession of his money that he won't even spend enough to make himself comfortable. His dingy room is cold, his bread is stale, his meat the gristle end. The fire in the grate is lit only long enough to take the frost from the air. He is as emotionally barren as he is stingy. He ignores his one relative, he has no compassion for the widow, the orphan. His name is spat rather than spoken by those who have the misfortune of owing him money, and no one desires or scarce tolerates his company.

On the other hand, the Crachits, who make do on crusts and the generosity of the parish, are grateful for the little they have, make light of their burdens and enjoy a rich and loving family life despite the serious illness of their youngest child.

It is a perennial story which never grows old. There is an unending supply of Scrooges, not all of whom deny themselves luxuries, but nonetheless match his devotion to their fortunes and lack of compassion for their workers and the poor and vulnerable around them. And there's also an unending supply of Crachit families, working minimum wage jobs, trying to hold families together under burdens of sick children and too much month left at the end of the money. Scouring the pantry for another package of KD or can of soup.

Many movies and plays have been made of "A Christmas Carol". I confess Alastair Sim's portrayal  (1939) is probably my favourite, but tonight we watched (of all things) "The Muppets Christmas Carol" which stars Michael Caine. I'd never watched it, thinking, 'a bridge too far', but to my surprise found it quite wonderful. The music especially is sensitive and at times very moving. With that I am adding here a song Tiny Tim begins and the other Crachits join in on while Scrooge observes them on Christmas Eve. It's called "Bless us all" .

 


As we head into the Christmas season, 
God Bless Us Every One, 
and may WE share our blessings with others!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Meeting again on the myriad paths of life

For my father Charlie who passed through the door 29 years ago tonight, but who is ever with me.

"If you ask the cloud, "How old are you? Can you give me your date of birth?" you can listen deeply and you may hear a reply.

You can imagine the cloud being born. Before being born it was the water on the ocean's surface. Or it was in the river and then it became vapour. It was also the sun because the sun makes the vapour. The wind is there too, helping the water to become a cloud.

The cloud does not come from nothing; there has been only a change in form. It is not a birth of something out of nothing. Sooner or later, the cloud will change into rain or snow or ice. If you look deeply into the rain, you can see the cloud. The cloud is not lost; it is transformed into rain, and the rain is transformed into grass and the grass into cows and then to milk and then into the ice cream you eat.

Today if you eat an ice cream, give yourself time to look at the ice cream and say: "Hello, cloud! I recognize you.”

“I suffered for more than one year after the passing away of my mother. But one night, in the highlands of Vietnam, I was sleeping in the hut in my hermitage. I dreamed of my mother. I saw myself sitting with her, and we were having a wonderful talk. She looked young and beautiful, her hair flowing down. It was so pleasant to sit there and talk to her as if she had never died.

When I woke up it was about two in the morning, and I felt very strongly that I had never lost my mother. The impression that my mother was still with me was very clear. I understood then that the idea of having lost my mother was just an idea. It was obvious in that moment that my mother is always alive in me.

I opened the door and went outside. The entire hillside was bathed in moonlight. It was a hill covered with tea plants, and my hut was set behind the temple halfway up. Walking slowly in the moonlight through the rows of tea plants, I noticed my mother was still with me. She was the moonlight caressing me as she had done so often, very tender, very sweet... wonderful!

Each time my feet touched the earth I knew my mother was there with me. I knew this body was not mine but a living continuation of my mother and my father and my grandparents and great-grandparents. Of all my ancestors. Those feet that I saw as "my" feet were actually "our" feet. Together my mother and I were leaving footprints in the damp soil.

From that moment on, the idea that I had lost my mother no longer existed. All I had to do was look at the palm of my hand, feel the breeze on my face or the earth under my feet to remember that my mother is always with me, available at any time.” “This body is not me; I am not caught in this body, I am life without boundaries, I have never been born and I have never died.

Over there the wide ocean and the sky with many galaxies all manifests from the basis of consciousness. Since beginningless time I have always been free. Birth and death are only a door through which we go in and out. Birth and death are only a game of hide-and-seek.

So smile at me and take my hand and wave good-bye. Tomorrow we shall meet again or even before. We shall always be meeting again at the true source, Always meeting again on the myriad paths of life.”

~ Thích Nhất Hạnh, in his book No Death, No Fear
   Zen Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist.
   Plum Village Monastery

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The End of Suffering


In the middle of all the running there comes a time for absolute stillness. When it's necessary to stop and clear your mind of all the questions you've been asked, all the street signs you've followed, all the nights you've been too tired to sleep and mornings you've been too stiff to move.

There are layers of what we call "suffering". What we've been doing this month is "hurting", not suffering. It's a layer of pain laid over a fatigue deep enough to make us weep at times, but it is not suffering. Suffering is pain of the soul, the kind that comes at the loss of a spouse, a child, a loved one, or even the realization that the justice and fairness you took for granted as a child were never available to everyone, and are less and less available now to anyone. Suffering is being hungry, homeless and helpless to do anything about it. No jobs "to get", nowhere to turn and a compassion deficit in every direction.

Being unable to do anything about this lack of compassion for those suffering deprivation and want is what causes me to suffer, not my own minimal aches and pains. I can subdue my physical discomfort with a pain pill and some meditation. I need something more powerful for my suffering; thus The Great Bell Chant; also known as The End of Suffering, though I admit it brings me to tears as well.



If you don't see the embedded video click here: http://youtu.http://youtu.be/ja20ib2PljI 
Narration by Zen Teacher  Thích Nhất Hạnh, chant by brother Phat Niem, music composed by Gary Malkin.  Absolutely beautiful photography and vocals. 

Teacher Thích Nhất Hạnh (Thầy), who is 88 and has been frail for the last two years, suffered a severe brain hemorrhage on 11 November and is a semi-conscious state in hospital in Plum Village monastery and mindfulness practice center in France. The Plum Village Sangha ask for prayers for Thầy's recovery. 

Namaste

Friday, November 21, 2014

Dem Bones, Dem Bones...


This way to the Sling Museum
The last month has been incredibly wearing, physically and emotionally. Thankfully three months ago I had the great fortune of being able to access a medication I took successfully years ago, but which was pulled from the market, leaving me with a less effective and side-effect riddled substitute. My strength has improved substantially, for which I am profoundly grateful, or I'd be a puddle rather than a noodle.

At the same time, the fall I suffered a year last July seems to have triggered more growth on the bone spurs that are pressing against my spinal cord in my neck. I can't lift or carry anything, reach above my head, or exert any force with my hands without provoking hours of paresthesia in my arms and hands. I feel as if I'm holding a live electric wire and can't let go. It's affecting my fine motor skills, buttoning buttons, lining up zippers, gripping knives in the kitchen. What a nuisance! 

In mid-October we both caught the crud that was going around. It was just a few days of a sore throat and a runny nose for me, but for Tony, with his asthma, it headed straight for his chest and he developed a wheeze and cough. He was tired but never ran a fever or felt much worse than he usually does. Halloween night he was standing in the kitchen talking to me and he coughed. When he coughed he lost consciousness and went over backwards, hitting his head on the fridge door as he went. 

I grabbed the phone off the counter as I ran to him, and helped him sit up, as he was regaining consciousness by the time I reached him.

"What… how …What am I doing here?" he asked, looking around in a daze.  

I couldn't see any cuts on his head, though he had a walloping great red welt. I asked if he was okay. He answered yes, but he hesitated and then said his arm was broken. I dialed 911, and the nice EMTs arrived in a few minutes. 

We spent the entire night in the Emergency Department at the nearby hospital, where he had excellent care. Seeing that he has fainted, fallen and broken bones three times in the last twenty-six months the ER Physician put him on the urgent referral list to see an Internal Medicine Specialist. We had an appt in three days and since then we have had either a doctor's appt or a medical test almost every other day and we are just wrung out. 

I don't know what we would have done without elder son Ian. Tony needs the wheelchair - these hospitals are enormous - and I can't load the chair in the car or take it out again, and I can't push Tony, who outweighs me by 60 pounds, very far. The doctor's offices have been miles across the city and we've driven home after dark (which comes early this far north) and I do not see well after dark because of my cataracts. So !hooray! for helpful children who button father's shirt and zip mother's coat because we seem to be descending rapidly into childhood again. 

Sitting in the cardiology lab this week, we saw six or seven adult child/parent pairs, so I didn't feel quite so bad that Ian had taken the day off work to take Tony for his cardiology tests. But geez, I do wish I could zip up my own coat.  I did Tony's buttons in the cubicle, or tried, with grudging "help" from the impatient technician. They were done askew, and his shirt was hiked up to his shoulder blades on one side and wrapped around his sling  and I couldn't do a thing about it. Thank goodness his coat covered it. 

At the moment, crossing our fingers that no one calls with a new appt, we are open until the 28th. We have to organize a flu shot in there somewhere. Oh, the chest X-ray they did showed he had pneumonia, which neither of us suspected. Ten days on antibiotics and he has quit barking, but he is still black and blue all over, especially his right arm, which he broke just below the ball of his shoulder. Too close to the shoulder to cast, and with his medical complications they were reluctant to do surgery on him unless it's life or death, so he's dealing with a sling again. We now have a collection. We could open a museum! 

I'll put that museum idea off until tomorrow, right now I am going to just go to bed. No buttons on the pjs.