New post up at the new blog.

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Moving

Along with moving to Chicago, I am moving to a new blog. Check it out.

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New Home!

Hi friends,

I’m sure you’ve all been wondering what I’ve been up to. Well, the short summary is that Brad and I successfully moved into our new home in Chicago. We LOVE our apartment, our neighbors, living in the city, and living near family (who have recently gotten us out of several binds). Not everything was smooth sailing but the move and settling in has probably gone as well as it could.

I spent last week applying for one job (it was a five-step application) and finally got an offer on Friday! So I am going to be working with an after school program in a neighborhood on the south side with one of the highest rates of poverty and crime in the city. I will have twenty-two kiddos to love on and care for. Don’t worry: I will share more details about our move and my new job in the future.

Most of all, I wanted to point you to my new site: justsimplicity.net. I’m hoping to make this a more focused blog on living simply and promoting social justice, so invite your friends to read. I’m going to be posting there every day – God willing – with practical ways to make the small steps to impacting the world. So check it out! I’d also appreciate any suggestions of things you would like to read about!

I’m hoping to keep up this site too and write about more personal topics here.

Absolute Chaos

For everyone who’s wondering where I’ve been at, I’m knee deep in sorting through all our stuff for a big moving sale this weekend and then for the move itself. So I may not get back to posting regularly for a few weeks. But I will give some updates here and there. Wish me luck!

Picky Eater

This is my dog, Maki. Her name is Machiatto, like the coffee drink, but we call her Maki, like the sushi. She is a little ball of crazy, half chihuahua and half boston terrier. We feed her every day at noon, and this is what her bowl looks like when we first feed her (please note that there are three different types of kibble: round, square, and triangle).

This is the bowl after she has finished eating. Yeah. My dog does not like the round kibble. Apparently the square and triangle kibble are too amazing to even bother with the round. Yeah.

Should I file this under vegetarianism?

Homemade: Watermelon Granita

Summer = watermelon.

But sometimes I get a little over-excited about watermelon season and start to buy watermelons before they’re really at their peak. This happened a couple weeks ago when I bought a seedless (seedless was my first mistake) watermelon. It was definitely not juicy enough to warrant summer watermelon excitement. So what do you do with an entire non-juicy watermelon that no one is going to eat? I first considered just tossing it…until I found a recipe for watermelon granita.

Watermelon granita is like watermelon sno cone but way better. It’s a good way to get rid of a watermelon but it’s a little time consuming for my taste. That’s why I got my husband to make it. 🙂

Here’s what he did:

Chop up the watermelon.

Then blend it.

Then strain it.

Then add the zests and juice of two limes. After you use them up the limes look like this.

You also add a sugar syrup mixture. Stir it all together and stick it in the freezer. After two hours the granita will start to get slushy. After that point, you need to stir it every half hour or so. If you don’t stir, it will just turn into a rock of watermelon ice, so stirring is essential.

I forgot to get a picture of the final product so here’s one I found on teh intarweb.

Feed to little children and they will eat it like this…

…and scream very, very loudly if you take it away from them.

Watermelon Granita (from Grow Organic, Cook Organic)

  • 1 whole watermelon
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup water
  • finely grated rind and juice of 2 limes

Cut the watermelon into quarters. Discard most of the seeds, scoop the flesh into a blender and process the watermelon quarters in small batches.

Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a small pan, stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved. Pour the syrup into a bowl. Allow the syrup to cool, then chill until needed.

Strain the watermelon puree through a sieve into a large plastic container. Discard the melon seeds. Pour in the chilled syrup, lime rind, and juice and mix well.

Cover and freeze for 2 hours until the granita mixture around the sides of the container is mushy. Mash the ice finely with a fork and return to the freezer.

Freeze for a further 2 hours, mashing the mixture every 30 minutes until the granita has a slushy consistency.

Fair Trade: Chocolate

Chocolate has been around since at least 1100 B.C., when people in central America fermented cacao beans into an alcoholic drink or mixed it with strong spices. Wikipedia explains,

The majority of the Mesoamerican peoples made chocolate beverages, including the Maya and Aztecs, who made it into a beverage known as xocolātl, a Nahuatl word meaning “bitter water”. The seeds of the cacao tree have an intense bitter taste, and must be fermented to develop the flavor. After fermentation, the beans are dried, cleaned, and roasted, and the shell is removed to produce cacao nibs. The nibs are then ground and liquified, resulting in pure chocolate in fluid form: chocolate liquor. The liquor can be further processed into two components: cocoa solids and cocoa butter.

Cocoa in all it’s forms was considered a luxury item among the Mayas and Aztecs and also when it was first introduced in Europe in the 1500s. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that people in all walks of life had an opportunite to eat chocolate.

Chocolate as we know it is made of a mixture of cocoa solids, cocoa butter, and sugar, milk, and/or vanilla. Dark chocolate contains at least 70% cocoa (solids and butter), sugar, and sometimes vanilla.  Milk chocolate contains up to 50% cocoa, milk, sugar, and vanilla. White chocolate contains up to 33% cocoa, sugar, milk, and vanilla. Often producers at an emulsifying agent like soy lecithin, but this can be left out to keep the chocolate purer and GMO-free.

I found this information from Wikipedia particularly interesting:

Vegetable oils and artificial vanilla flavor are often used in cheaper chocolate to mask poorly fermented and/or roasted beans. In 2007, the Chocolate Manufacturers Association in the United States, whose members include Hershey, Nestlé, and Archer Daniels Midland, lobbied the Food and Drug Administration to change the legal definition of chocolate to let them substitute partially hydrogenated vegetable oils for cocoa butter in addition to using artificial sweeteners and milk substitutes. Currently, the FDA does not allow a product to be referred to as “chocolate” if the product contains any of these ingredients.

Though all this information on chocolate production is interesting and informative, what’s most important is the people behind the chocolate. There are approximately 50 million people working in the chocolate industry today.

The New American Dream website (which is my new favorite website) says this:

Most of our chocolate comes from the Ivory Coast region of West Africa, where cocoa production is an enormous part of the economy. In Ghana, 40 percent of the country’s export revenues come from the sale of cocoa. Unfortunately, very little of the profit goes to the farmers who grow the cocoa beans. Cocoa farmers receive about a penny for a candy bar selling for 60 cents.

In fact, the difficulty in making a living at cocoa farming has spawned an increase in child and even slave labor drawn from poor neighboring countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin and Togo. Children and other workers are forced to work long days picking and processing cocoa beans (it takes 400 of these pods to make just one pound of chocolate). Very few of the children have the opportunity to attend school.

So it is more than likely that the chocolate in Kit Kats, Snickers bars, etc. are made, at least in part, from the labor of child slaves. I’m certain that companies like Nestle and Hershey aren’t purposefully buying children and using them as slaves, but they aren’t entirely guarding against it. And should we feel guilty for eating Kit Kats? Until these big corporations step up and monitor their sources more, yes. Maybe not the Kit Kats we ate before we knew about the fair trade issues, but we, as wealthy Americans, are a part of this machine that runs on the sweat of poor, hungry, people and there probably should be some guilt in that. But that guilt should inspire change! Does that mean that we never eat chocolate again? No! There are lots and lots of great companies out there who are producing chocolate for the benefit of the people harvesting the beans! And I think that it’s incredible that we can choose to use our dollars to support these people.

Is fair trade chocolate more expensive? Yes, $3.50 or more for a bar of good dark chocolate. But the expense is good, in my opinion, for several reasons: 1) We know that more of our money is going to hard-working people. 2) We can keep companies in business who are doing the hard work of playing fair. 3) We learn to make desserts of other things like fresh fruit and spices (mmm…ginger cookies). 4) We may eat less chocolate but when we do, it is really, really good chocolate and we can enjoy it all the more.

More Resources

Stop the Traffik’s Chocolate Campaign: learn more about child slavery on cocoa farms in Cote D’Ivoire

Divine Chocolate: owned and operated by the farmers of Kuapa Kokoo in Ghana

Dagoba Chocolate: our favorite organic and fair trade chocolate

Fair Trade Chocolate on Chocolate.com: Fine unique fair trade chocolate products including chocolate-covered oreos!

New American Dream: A list of fair trade chocolate products including cocoa powder and chocolate chips

Kingdom-made: Community, Part Three or “How are you doing today?”

Perhaps it is a southern thing, or maybe just an American church thing, but every church I’ve ever been to has a team of “greeters” – people at the church on Sunday mornings with the specific task of saying “hi” to everyone who walks in. Several churches we have gone to have the specific goal of having each person who comes in be greeted three times before they get to their seat.

I’m not going to name names, but Brad and I used to go to a church where people would greet you by asking “How are you?” By the time I said “Good, and you?” they had already turned to greet someone else. So my response turned into “Good, and….oh.” It was as if they didn’t realize they had just asked me a question. In this same church, greeters were always men and only ever shook hands with the men. I don’t know how many times I stuck out my hand to a smiling gentleman only to have him look straight through me as if I weren’t there and then shake Brad’s hand with gusto and move on to the next person. Suffice it to say, we don’t go to that church anymore.

Okay, I’ve got my criticisms out of my system…maybe, we’ll see. What I really want to talk about has to do with this verse:

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12:16

I think this verse has a lot to do with having real conversations with people. I kind of hesitate to use that word – real – because I heard it a lot in college, as in “We need to be real with people.” Maybe it’s still a useful word, even if slightly overused.

So what does all this have to do with living in community? It would seem that God calls us to share openly with those in our communities both the good and the bad things we are going through. When someone asks us “How are you doing today?” it should be an invitation to a conversation rather than a simple greeting. We need to be open to rejoicing and mourning when other people in our community are in the midst of one or the other. In the past and in some cultures still today, people built deep relationships with the people who lived near them. They watched each other’s kids. They built each other’s houses. They shared tools. They farmed together. They cooked together. They absolutely depended upon each other for survival, and so they were intimately intertwined in each other’s lives.

Personally, I’ve never lived in a community like that, but somehow I miss it. I have this desire deep inside to share life with other people, to talk about things that matter, to smile when I’m happy and cry when I’m sad. I feel like it is a need ingrained in me to be able to drop by a friend’s house without having to make an appoitment a week ahead of time and to have people who feel like they can do that with me. From what I’ve seen and heard from other people, that desire doesn’t just exist in me. I think that these kind of close relationships are a basic human need.

Friends who have been to the middle east describe a wonderful spirit of hospitality. Everyone is invited in for tea. Greetings are just the beginnings of conversations that can last for hours. There is no watching the clock or rushing to the next appointment. You rejoice together. You mourn together.

Obviously the community that Jesus and the New Testament authors described isn’t an easy thing. It isn’t easy to mourn with someone. It isn’t easy to resist the busyness of the world in order to make room for someone who needs a real friend right now. It isn’t easy to let other people know about your worry and pain.

To have community, however, we need to know one another intimately. We need to be able to have those wonderful, joyful conversations and those difficult, painful conversations. I don’t think that God made us to live life alone. We truly, deeply, really need one another.

Social Frays: Human Trafficking

I recently listened to a message by Steve Chalke, director of Stop the Traffik, at Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids. This was one of those life-changing sermons that I’m not sure I will ever get out of my system. The essence of Chalke’s message was 1) to call attention to the vast number of people being sold as slaves today – Chalke says the estimate is 5 jumbo jets full of people being sold every day, and 2) to remind Christians that all people, everywhere, are made in God’s image and loved by Him. Therefore, it is our responsibility as human beings, but especially as Jesus-followers, to cry out “Stop, in the name of Jesus, STOP!

One estimate says that there are over 27 million people living in slavery today. Wikipedia states that the global slave trade is “estimated to be a $5 to $9 billion-a-year industry.” Children in Africa are sold to make chocolate. Children in Pakistan and India are sold to make rugs. Young women are sold in Thailand and the Philippines as sex slaves. People from all over the world are sold to Canada, the U.S., and Britain as sex or labor slaves. No country escapes from this problem. Often poor families are promised that their children will get a good education or job only to sell the child for as little as $10 and never hear from him or her again. More often than not, these children are forced into long hours of physical work or prostitution.

It’s really hard for me to believe that slavery still exists in our modern-world, and it is especially hard to believe that there are an estimated 14,500 people trafficked as slaves into the United States every year. Each of these 14,500 people (which is by the way, the number of people who live in the small town I currently call home), has a name, a face, a family, and a story. And each of them is loved by God. Wouldn’t it be great if it was the Christians who stood up and said that this has to end? What kind of a story would that tell the world?

More Resources

If you do nothing else, please download and listen to the message entitled Stop the Traffik by Steve Chalke.

HumanTrafficking.org: A website with lots of country-specific information about human trafficking. Lots and lots of resources. There is also a hotline number for people in the U.S. to call if they suspect human trafficking.

FreeTheSlaves.net: Another great website with lots of information and ways to get involved. This organization actually supports liberators in the various countries who physically free slaves. Awesome!

Stop the Traffik: A coalition of grassroots organizations aimed at ending global slavery. This website has a lot of information of slaves used to make chocolate but their main efforts are to raise money for their various member organizations. If you’re looking for a place to give money to stop the slave trade, give it here.

Not for Sale: A book by David Batstone. The subtitle is “The Return of the Global Slave Trade and How We Can Fight It.”

Human Trafficking: A compilation of several short documentaries on human trafficking. These videos will give you the key issues involved in slavery.

Homemade: Pesto

Saturday night, Brad offered to make dinner, and I’m never one to turn down that offer! He’s actually a much better cook than I am because he’s more meticulous and pays more attention. I already had the meal planned out, so that was a bonus.

I had been reading about homemade pesto from lots of online friends, and since I got a basil plant at the farmers market a few weeks ago I wanted to try it out. Though my basil plant is flourishing the most out of all my plants, I still didn’t have enough fresh basil leaves. I pulled the largest leaves off the plant but wanted to leave the little ones and let them grow. My goodness! Fresh basil smells and tastes delicious! I added a bit of dried basil leaves.

The basil goes in the food processor – I guess I am using that a lot more than I used to – along with olive oil, pine nuts (or walnuts, but I prefer pine nuts), garlic, Parmesan cheese (please, not from the green can), and salt and pepper. Then…whir.

And…ta da! Pesto goodness. So much better than the jarred stuff. Fresh and light and tasting of summer. Pour the pesto on any kind of pasta and enjoy. You can also spread a little bit of pesto some bread, add cheese and make the most delicious grilled cheese sandwich.

Basil is actually my favorite herb because it is so good on everything, from pasta to sandwiches to breads…I’m very glad that I can grow my own and enjoy it all summer long. I’m hoping to make a lot of this pesto-y good stuff and can it for the winter months when I’m craving summer flavors. That’s the goal any way. I actually have a list of things that I want to stock up for winter, and I’m hoping with the move and everything that I will find time to get the canner out.

Pesto (recipe from allrecipes.com)

  • 3 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped pine nuts
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor, blend together basil leaves, nuts, garlic, and cheese. Pour in oil slowly while still mixing. Stir in salt and pepper