Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Yearning for simplicity

Sometimes my yearnings tap me politely on the shoulder and I turn to look them straight in the eye. On other occasions, they loom before me, rending moot my choice of whether to look. And - this last option being the least desirable in my mind - sometimes they sneak in the back door, lurking until I stumble upon them, half-frightened, half-amused. Recently my yearnings have been of the latter, sneaky type. My yearnings have surprised me - in their content, their frequency, and their intensity. So intense I ache, so frequent I drown in emotion.
I have always loved the city - its vibrancy, diversity, architecture, and people. I love being surrounded by people and activities because I derive energy from them. But lately (and I believe this yearning has been sneaking up for a good many years), I yearn for a quiet life where I form a connection to the land I live on, and participate in a close-knit community. I long for simpler times where days were spent in physical labor. A time with no ipods, facebook, cell phones, email, or blogs. A time where people sat and really communicated with one another. A time where people did things slowly and enjoyed the process in addition to the end product. A time when people knew where their food came from and felt their souls' connection to God's creations. A time when people were still and did not seek out endless distractions.
If my yearnings had free reign right now, I would pack up and move to a farm, grow my own food, write snail mail, rock on my front porch, sit and talk with a few dear neighbors and friends, and sew my own clothing. Some may say this is turning my back on the inventions and creations that are meant to improve life and make it easier. But I say that in many senses, these very things have caused me to move beyond what is spiritually good for my soul. Cell phones, facebook, email, and blogs are supposed to help us stay connected with one another. But I feel disconnected. My spirit is splintered into competing factions, creating spiritual disharmony. I feel chaotic because of the many things I have to do to keep up. I feel like life continues to get busier and busier in an interminable spiral. I have no time for stillness. I intensely desire to step back and denounce it all. But I don't think that's the answer. I need to focus on simplifying life, cutting a deal with opposing factions. I believe it's important to discover how to live in an increasingly (and unnecessarily) busy life. That is my challenge and, I think, our generation's challenge.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Claire Koltko: Culinary Creator of the Century

Is there such a thing as a cake-maker hall of fame? If so, we're putting Claire Ellen Koltko down for first place. Claire knows how to:
a. throw an amazing birthday party
b. make an amazing birthday cake
c. make you feel amazing on your birthday
d. all of the above

Please see exhibits below for evidence of this amazing cake-making talent that Claire possesses in such abundance. Here's to Claire, our own claim to hall of fame. She's a marvel. She's a wonder.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The way translation should always be

I just couldn't help myself. I almost died laughing.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Unintended consequences

As I have moved toward eating more locally grown food, many people have brought up the idea of unintended consequences. In such a globalized world, our actions taken in a local context may quickly expand to affect the most far-flung reaches of this planet. May I pause to remind one and all that no man is an island. Or so they say. I have heard statistics which say that if x amount of people began to buy all their food locally, y amount of people in developing countries will be flat on their faces, having lost their livelihoods to the whims of Starbucks dems. I actually don't doubt these statistics, and they have caused great introspection and consternation. I'm still tring to learn more and figure out which path is best. The following short article helped me to see another side of the issue.

"By purchasing local vegetables instead of South American ones, for example, aren't we hurting farmers in developing countries? If you're picturing Farmer Juan and his family gratefully wiping sweat from their brows when you buy that Ecuadorean banana, picture this instead: the CEO of Dole Inc. in his air-conditioned office in Westlake Village, California. He's worth $1.4 billion; Juan gets about $6 a day. Much money is made in the global reshuffling of food, but the main beneficiaries are processors, brokers, shippers, supermarkets, and oil companies.
Developed nations promote domestic overproduction of commodity crops that are sold on the international market at well below market price, undermining the fragile economies of developing countries. Often this has the effect of driving small farmers into urban areas for jobs, decreasing the agricultural output of a country, and forcing the population to purchase those same commodities from abroad. Those who do stay in farm work are likely to end up not as farm-owners, but as labor on plantations owned by multinationals. They may find themselves working in direct conflict with local subsistence. Thus, when Americans buy soy products from Brazil, for example, we're likely supporting an international company that has burned countless acres of Amazon rainforest to grow soy for export, destroying indigenous populations. Global trade deals negotiated by the World Trade Organization and World Bank allow corporations to shop for food from countries with the poorest environmental, safety, and labor conditions. While passing bargains onto consumers, this pits farmers in one country against those in another, in a downward wage spiral. Product quality is somewhat irrelevant.
Most people no longer believe that buying sneakers made in Asian sweatshops is a kindness to those child laborers. Farming is similar. In every country on earth, the most humane scenario for farmers is likely to be feeding those who live nearby - if international markets would allow them to do it. Food transport has become a bizarre and profitable economic equation that's no longer really about feeding anyone: in our own nation we export 1.1 million tons of potatoes, while we also import 1.4 million tons. If you care about farmers, let the potatoes stay home."
-- Steven L. Hopp

Check out www.viacampesina.org.

Monday, September 8, 2008

When green means green

Apparently the Japanese are a bit overzealous about conservation, or perhaps the "green" message got lost in translation. All I know is that in the Tokyo zoo's best efforts to go green by conserving water, things turned green. They received the message "use less water" and applied it religiously, forgetting to notice the superfluous amounts of algae spawning in the polar bears' bath. Voila green polar bears. A breed all their own.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Last week I saw the play Resurrection, which - by the way - I highly recommend. In thought-provoking ways, the play opens windows to an African American male slice-of-life. As the week passes, I find my thoughts caught in the revolving door of analysis. My mind has become consumed with slavery and self-imposed slavery, causing me to question whether there is any type of slavery but what we impose upon ourselves.

The play chronicles a brief history of blacks in America. It speaks of the princely backgrounds from which American slaves were stolen. From riches to rags, to spite the common adage. From these heights, Africans descended to the status of slaves and mere property. Emancipation and civil rights freed them from the more obvious and explicit forms of slavery. But slavery and bondage live on in equally despicable manners. African Americans may no longer be slaves to ignorant white men, but they continue to be slaves to addictions of the mind and body: drugs, violence, food, poverty. Each man in the play has his own slavery that he is struggling with, whether it is heroine, HIV, prison, or poor eating habits.

While African American males may be more likely to be imprisoned or suffer from diabetes, the situation is not unlike our own plight (and I speak with the royal we here). We come trailing clouds of glory, yet we subject ourselves to the great enslaver every day. How easily we allow ourselves to forge chains and be led quietly down. We are told that we are "free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil." We are free to "act for [ourselves] and not to be acted upon." Even when we are physically in bondage, we still have the gift to choose. In contrast to physical slavery, bondage of our minds and emotions comes primarily from ourselves and our poor use of agency. Through those acts of choice, we enable ourselves further continual action, ensuring that we are not acted upon. In D&C it says, "Release thyself from bondage," which suggests that we have a responsibility to act deliberately to release ourselves and keep ourselves free from the sins that so easily beset us. In this sense, we can be like Ammon and his people, dedicating all our study to delivering ourselves from bondage. But my question is, at the most fundamental level, if we are using our agency correctly, can we ever be in bondage? I'm not saying one way or the other, it's just something I've been thinking about. Is there any real and ultimate form of slavery besides that which we ourselves cause?