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. 


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

November KIVA Loan

November's KIVA loan goes to Guillermina, a 63 year old single woman in Santa Cruz Bolivia who has no children. Her business is selling empanadas and fruit drinks in the streets. She is enterprising, independent, dependable, active, responsible and hard-working. She has lived her adult life alone and lives in her own house made of brick which has water and electricity.

Her desire to improve her life led her to form a group of people with businesses like: plaster handicrafts, selling soft drinks, selling clothing, the selling fruit, selling tomatoes, a bookstore and cosmetic sales, to request a loan to improve their commercial activities. (She is seated in the photo)

Guillermina is dark skinned, has long black hair and medium stature. Her native tongue is Quechua and she speaks Spanish for her business. Her business is selling empanadas: which are a light pastry with a salty or sweet filling and either baked in the oven or fried, depending on the filling. The filling might be beef, chicken, fish, vegetables or fruit. The pastry is generally made of wheat flour, although she also uses corn flour and other grains. They are often eaten with a traditional fruit drink like mocochinchi (dried peach boiled with cinnamon and sugar), which is very sought after on the very hot summer days that come in Santa Cruz.

Guillermina walks with a basket filled with empanadas on one arm and a large thermos and a packet of plastic cups in the other. This under a burning sun that gets to 88-90 F degrees each day. She walks along the busiest streets of Santa Cruz.

This is her first loan with the institute in the five years since she started her business. Her dream is to have a snack bar. At the age of 63, having worked at hard physical labour for many years walking all day carrying a a heavy load is hard for her to do, and she needs a less strenuous way of making a living.

For these reasons Guillermina is requesting a loan to buy tables and chairs to expand her business so she can sell her empanadas and fruit drinks from a snack bar, rather than having to carry them through the streets all day. 

The KIVA partner in Bolivia is Emprender. Emprender has been working in Bolivia since 1999 and is dedicated to the development of its clients and the improvement of their quality of life. Emprender offers both urban and rural clients the opportunity to obtain financial products tailored to fit their needs and businesses. This include housing loans, salary loans, “opportunity” (short-term) loans, and student loans allowing young people to go on to obtain a college education. Emprender also offers free medical consultations and health classes given by trained doctors.

This is a Group Loan.  In a group loan, each member of the group receives an individual loan but is part of a larger group of individuals. The group is there to provide support to the members and to provide a system of peer pressure, but groups may or may not be formally bound by a group guarantee. In cases where there is a group guarantee, members of the group are responsible for paying back the loans of their fellow group members in the case of delinquency or default.

While the group's description features Guillermina and her business the other members of the group will each receive an equal share of the loan's total $3,250 to use to invest in their own business. As you can see from the photo, most are young people, some have very young children, but all are eager and will work hard to improve their family's lives. Please consider visiting KIVA and lending $25.00 to help a hard-working person in the Third World today.  

Sunday, October 12, 2014

October KIVA Loan



October's KIVA loan goes to the five women who make up the Danaya Group. All five women are married, average 38 years old and have three children. They live in the traditional polygamous families in the Djalakorodji district of Bamako, Mali. They know one another through neighbourhood ties, family and business. They have a variety of businesses. Sitan sells second-hand clothing, Maïmouna sells incense, Mariam sells hair extensions, Fatoumata sells spices and Aïché sells vegetables in the market.

Sitan, Mariam, Fatoumata, Maïmouna, Aïché
Sitan (sitting on the far left in the photo) is well-known in the community for selling second-hand clothing. She plans to use her loan to buy two large bales of clothing from Médine. She will then go house-to-house on foot selling the clothing, mainly to women in their homes.

Sitan expects to earn a monthly profit of about $55.00 USD, which will be used to pay for health care for her children. She hopes to increase the size of her business through having a larger selection of clothing to offer to her customers.  All the group members hope to increase the size and profitability of their businesses by improving their selection of merchandise. 

The group is working with KIVA's field partner, Soro Yiriwaso. This will be their second group loan. Soro Yiriwaso is a partner of Save the Children. Soro Yiriwaso's mission is to increase the economic opportunities of Malian entrepreneurs, especially women. Soro is a microfinance institution started by the Sahel field office of American non-governmental organization Save the Children. Soro lends solidarity-based credit to poorer borrowers, and was officially registered by the Ministry of Economy and Finance of the Malian Government in 2003. 

As a rurally-focused microfinance institution, Soro’s product portfolio is focused on two sectors: agriculture and commercial business. Agriculture loans include seasonal loans for groups of female farmers and individual loans for buying, stocking and commercializing agricultural products. 

The organization’s commercial loans include loans for entrepreneurs running small-to-medium sized enterprises who need working capital or additional equipment to grow and generate more income. Group loans are also available to support women involved in small business.  

We have extended loans to about 10 women's borrowing groups in Mali and found they are very conscientious in repaying their debts on time, and in every case they report the loan has enabled them to improve their business and financial stability through hard work and careful management. We're so happy to be able to partner with these dedicated women and help them, in our own modest way, to reach their goals of providing better lives for themselves and their families.  

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Terrorist in Training



Oh my heart is heavy, down in my boots today.

Our condo building is on the "ethnic" side of town. It's filled with people from everywhere in the world. The building is now 10 years old, has four floors, 186 units and is Y shaped. Beautiful landscaping, community garden. Totally mixed community, singles to young families to people in their 80s, and every race, religion, nationality and culture. Every neighbour I meet smiles and greets me, many have a hug for me. But every barrel seems to have at least one rotten apple, and this morning the stink was overwhelming.  

We woke up about 3:00 this morning smelling gasoline, but we couldn't tell where the smell was coming from. It seemed to be from both inside and outside. Tony checked the hallway and while it seemed somewhat stronger there we weren't certain. We debated about calling 911 to report it but it was so nebulous we didn't know what we'd even say. The air intake for the building is on the roof and if the wind is right it can pull in diesel fumes from trucks waiting at the nearby light at the intersection, or smoke from someone's fireplace. There's a convenience store just down the block, I thought maybe they were filling their gas tank and we were getting the fumes. 

We woke up to firetrucks and a hazmat truck in the parking lot and then police banging on the door. Some knuckle-dragging sociopath had gone around between 1:00 and 2:00 am and poured gasoline on the carpet in front of the doors of our Muslim residents, including the man across the hall from us. The hazmat team treated the gasoline so it won't burn, and we now have these ginormous fans in the halls vaporizing gasoline into the air. 

But the sickening part is that anyone would do such a stupid, evil thing to their own neighbours. Because the police say it had to be an inside job. Our building has a state-of-the-art security system. The doors are fobbed, each entry and exit is recorded, and the security cameras record no one entering last night carrying anything that could conceal a jerry can. Also someone would have to know the who our Muslim residents are and where they live in order to target them specifically. 

You know, assuming this malicious act was a response to the barbaric actions of ISIS in the Middle East, you have to ask, what logical argument could any sane person make for putting the lives of approximately 300 people who have absolutely nothing to do with ISIS at risk? One lit cigarette, one spark, and this building, salted with gasoline on every floor, hallways saturated with gasoline vapours, would have gone up like a box of fireworks. 

In such a fire the loss of life would have been catastrophic. There would have been no way we, or most residents could have escaped a firestorm in the hallways. 

The police are calling it a hate crime, but it's terrorism plain and simple. You, trogloydyte with the gas can. You are a terrorist. If you think burning people to death (including our neighbour's nine month old son) is not as brutal as beheading or shooting you've never worked in a burn unit.