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: 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.


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 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

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. 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. 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.

Fair Trade: What to wear?

Being a woman, I think it is required that thinking about clothes take at least 2-3% of my brain space (though for some women, this number might be more like 50%). Okay, maybe I’m being stereotypical. I know some guys who think a lot about clothes too. As much as I really don’t care about clothes, I do find myself sometimes envying a friend’s cute outfit and feeling the compulsion to buy something more fashionable and trendy. This happened right before our recent trip to California. We were meeting a client, who is kind of a big name in Hollywood, and having dinner at a fancy restaurant. My self-esteem dropped instantaneously: I don’t know what to wear to a fancy restaurant! What if he thinks my dreads are gross? What if I’m not trendy or hip enough? I don’t know why it really mattered, but I gave into the “need” for new clothes and got a few pieces from Kohl’s.

I don’t know if it’s something ingrained in human nature, but it’s so easy to compare ourselves and the way we look and dress to other people. What is that old statement? Clothes make the man? My guess is that because clothing is such an important aspect of our society, and because we obviously need to have some clothes, buying clothes is something that we don’t really think about unless we are considering whether the pants make our butt look big.

It’s very easy to forget that a human being made those jeans and that that human being probably can’t afford to buy those jeans. It almost becomes a joke to say that the $3 shirt was so cheap because it was probably made in a sweatshop or by some little kid somewhere. I am so guilty of this! I realize the day before an event that I need black pants, don’t have any and only have 20 minutes in my day to get a pair. It’s easy for me to justify that I need the pants and so I just have to buy them and not think about how they were made.

My intention for writing this topic is not to guilt-trip anyone for buying clothes at Wal-Mart or any other store for that matter. I don’t think guilt-trips are going to help anything. Instead I would like to encourage people to ask this question more often: “How was this item made?” And along with asking that question to consider that every dollar we spend is a vote for the kind of world we want to live in. I am writing this for myself as much as anyone else. I have too many shirts and I can easily get suckered in to buying another shirt because it’s cute without thinking about where the shirt came from.

So obviously, one of the solutions is to buy fair trade clothes. That’s a great option, but I would also suggest that a lot of us, myself included, have more clothes than we need and we should make more of an attempt to just resist the urge to buy. Try not to use shopping as recreation or a treat on a bad day. There are other ways to cheer yourself up.

Another solution is to buy second-hand clothing as much as possible. This is something that the hubby and I have been trying to implement, but it requires a bit more work and forethought than simply running to Kohl’s on a whim. It’s important to pay attention to clothing needs that might be coming up. For example, I recently noticed that Brad might be needing more polo shirts soon. With that at the back of my mind, when I found brand new Gap and Express shirts at a garage sale for $4 a piece I knew I had to snatch them up. When buying clothes, the best advice is to not buy anything you don’t need, but when buying used clothes, sometimes you have to buy some things that you think you might need soon. And need is an important word, though there are plenty of times when I think it’s okay to buy second-hand clothes just because you like it. Watching what you buy and how those purchases affect others doesn’t mean never enjoying an item of clothing. But you also don’t want to buy a bunch of jeans just because they are $1 each and then realizing you have 20 pairs of jeans. Trust me people. Less laundry is better. Along with that thought, it’s easier to keep track of what clothes you need when you have less clothing.

One final solution is to make your own clothes. I try to make practical items when I knit, things I will actually use. But it probably isn’t possible to make all your own clothes, especially if you have lots of kids. In any case, I find it helpful to at least try to sew a few things so that I realize how much work actually goes into making my clothes.

More Resources

Fair Indigo: Lots of fair-trade clothing with stories from workers. There is also a line of fair-trade and organic clothing. Prices comparable to Macy’s.

Pristine Planet: Not the best website, but a fairly large selection of sustainable, organic, and fair trade clothing.

Philip Sawyer: Incredible shirts designed by a relative of ours, made by well-paid workers and artisans in Vietnam.

Shopping for Second Hand Clothes: Great tips on how to buy used clothing

Made in L.A.: A documentary following three women as they battle with their employer, fashion retailer Forever 21, for essential labor rights.

Social Frays: Gentrification

As Brad and I are looking into our options for moving to Chicago, we have had a lot of good discussions about gentrification. This all started when we were listening to a segment from This American Life where a Lawndale (yes, the Lawndale we want to move to in Chicago) resident complained about gentrification in the area, specifically noting that she could tell that Lawndale was gentrifying because of all the white people walking their dogs. And I thought, “Wait. I am white. And I have dogs. So if we move to Lawndale, will the residents just see me as one of those people.”

Wikipedia describes gentrification this way:

Gentrification, or urban gentrification, is a term applied to that part of the urban housing cycle in which physically deteriorated neighborhoods attract an influx of investment and undergo physical renovation and an increase in property market values. In many cases, the lower-income residents who occupied the neighborhood prior to its renovation can no longer afford properties there.

The last thing that I want is to be a part of a movement that is forcing low-income residents out of their homes and into areas with even higher rates of poverty and crime. There are, however, lots of different viewpoints surrounding the issue of gentrification. Some people say that by bringing in businesses and wealthier homeowners, the economy of the neighborhood is improved: people can find more jobs, schools improve, crime decreases. Often times, the government provides grants and low-cost loans so that current residents can move into newly built/remodeled houses or condos. On the other side, as I originally said, many of the residents are forced to move to a new neighborhood because they cannot afford the higher rent or property tax.

This history of gentrification all begins with the creation and design of cities. Many of the neighborhoods that are currently being gentrified were originally built for the middle class and blue collar workers. The idea behind cities in general is to create a lot of housing and public services for a large concentration of people who are intimately involved in the local economy. After the end of Word War II, with greater number of people owning cars, it became less important to live near one’s work. Suburbs were created, and with them, the phenomenon of white flight.

Starting in the ’70s and ’80s wealthy young adults of all races began rejecting the suburban sprawl for the appeal of the city. Their return is gentrification. This is the position Brad and I find ourselves in: we know that we want to live in the city rather than the suburbs. That kind of lifestyle, closeness of resources and neighbors, and public transportation appeal to us. We also know that we don’t want to isolate ourselves from lower-income neighbors. We would like to live in a lower-income neighborhood in order to be an active part of that neighborhood. We don’t want to separate ourselves from the poor. But we also don’t want to be seen as part of the problem that is increasing poverty for our neighbors.

The best solution may be living in the neighborhood and fighting for quality, low-cost housing. The Lawndale Christian Development Corporation builds low-cost housing for Lawndale residents. The Stevens Square Community Organization has built $70,000 lofts in Minneapolis. I don’t think adding a Gap and Starbucks to Lawndale is going to help much, but change can happen if so-called gentrifiers truly become neighbors.

More about Gentrification:

Flag Wars: a PBS documentary about gentrification in Ohio

There Goes the Neighborhood: a book about racial and social tensions in four Chicago Neighborhoods

Gentrification a boost for everyone: a USA Today article discussing whether or not gentrification really forces large numbers of people to leave their neighborhoods

Fair Trade: Coffee

I used to work at Starbucks, so I know my coffee. Wait. Ignore that. I know the sickly sweet drink with 8 million pumps of vanilla syrup or layers of white mocha (goo?) or an inch of whip cream on top that Americans call coffee. For real, I once had a customer come in and order a cappuccino made from heavy whipping cream. Do you know how much that stuff splatters when you steam it? Don’t even get me started on the drinks made from egg nog or maple syrup. I guess I’m getting a little bit off track. Sorry.

Real coffee, the dark brown stuff that comes from your coffee maker, actually originally grows on a bush, as bright red berries! No really. It’s true. Bright red. What you want to make your drink is actually inside the berry, the seed or the coffee bean. And these beans are green. Green. The beans are then roasted to varying degrees. That is when they turn brown. Starbucks says that the longer you roast the beans, the stronger the flavor. That’s what “dark roast” means. My husband (and I) would argue that there is a point when you’re just burning the heck out of those suckers and the result of a “dark roast” often becomes simply a cup of hot water that tastes burnt.

Now, if you want a good cup of coffee, the best thing to do is to buy the whole beans and grind them yourself. An even better way to make coffee is to buy the green beans (no, not green beans, you weirdo), roast them yourself, grind them right before you make the coffee, and enjoy. Green coffee beans will last a long time on the shelf, but roasted coffee beans start to go bad after seven days (even if they come in the special Starbucks bag or you put them in the freezer or any other method of preservation).

Now I know you’re are saying to yourself, “That’s a lot of hard work for a little cup of coffee.” And it is, but (please notice me getting on my soapbox) making your cup of coffee is a lot of hard work even if you are not the one working. Someone has to tend to the coffee plants, clear the land, pull the weeds, harvest the berries, procure the beans, roast the coffee. You may only see the barista pouring you your cup of joe, but a lot of people had their hands in producing that drink. Most of those people worked long hours for very little money.

Global Exchange says this: Many small coffee farmers receive prices for their coffee that are less than the costs of production, forcing them into a cycle of poverty and debt.

Because coffee is in such high demand (America drinks 1/5 of the world’s coffee), many farmers clear their land of traditional crops to feed their families (corn, tubers, leafy greens) in order to grow coffee for export. If the farmers cannot recoup their losses, they not only have no grown produce to eat, but they cannot afford to buy food to feed their families.

Fair trade changes that because companies that sell certified fair trade coffee make sure that their laborers are paid a fair wage and work under fair conditions. Do you see a recurring theme here? Fair. So I’m just going to say it: drink fair trade coffee. And it’s even better if it’s organic because that means the workers didn’t have to harm land or themselves by using harsh chemicals. Fair trade and organic is more expensive than buying Folgers in the can, but a way to get your coffee as fairly and cheaply as possible is to buy fair trade and organic green coffee beans (about $4-7 a pound) and roast them at home.

Want to learn more?

Oxfam Resources: Includes reports called Mugged: Poverty in your Coffee Cup about the international coffee crisis and Just Add Justice about bringing fair trade to your community

Roasting Coffee on the Cheap: how to roast your own coffee at home using a $15 popcorn popper (this is the way Brad does it)

Want to buy fair trade coffee?

Pura Vida: fair trade, organic, shade grown – all the good stuff

Seven Bridges Cooperative: where we buy our organic and fair trade coffee beans to roast

Just Coffee: a Christian organization that works with poor communities to share Christ and help them develop economically through fair trade coffee – w00t! It’s the Kingdom in your cup!

Josiah Community

This past weekend Brad and I visited Chicago for a number of reasons, but probably the most important reason was a meeting with the Josiah Community. This is a group of folks from Chicago who are coming together with a vision for a building in North Lawndale. This building, in fact:

The vision of the Josiah Community is to transform this building into a L’Abri-style learning center for urban ministry and spiritual growth. Also, the top three floors will offer 45 cohousing units. What is cohousing? Cohousing is a architectural development style that centers around building community. In a cohousing community, each individual or family owns his own living space (a house or condo) but also shares a good deal of space with the rest of the community. The plan for the Josiah Community project is to have a shared kitchen and dining room (where members can enjoy dinner together each night or eat dinner in their own condos, using their own kitchens), playroom, music room, tool room, laundry facilities, garden, dog run, canning/food storage room, and a lot more that hasn’t been figured out.

The whole purpose of cohousing, and of the Josiah Community in particular, is that we would be a true community. A hundred years ago, folks lived in small towns and worked together to build the town. If someone needed a barn built, everyone would come together to accomplish that task. Women would work together to can the summer’s harvest. Families would share tools and that responsibilities of watching the children. Cohousing seeks to create that sense of shared responsibility and support.

Another important aspect of the Josiah Community is making a strong impact on the outside community, our neighbors in Lawndale. Lawndale is a low-income area with a lot of social, spiritual, and financial needs. God is doing incredible things there, especially through the work of Lawndale Community Church. It would be wonderful for the people in Lawndale to see Josiah Community as a place where they can go and find people that will love and care for them no matter what. This is the prayer.

The final part of this project is the Josiah Community learning center, where people can come from around the world to stay in the guest rooms or hostel and learn more about spiritual development, social justice, and urban ministry.

I came across this project somewhat by accident (or probably not so much by accident) and the concept floored me. I would love to live in a place with other Jesus followers, learning and sharing with each other, as well as trying to make a difference in a very struggling part of Chicago. The Josiah Community is just starting out, but let me tell you, this is an amazing bunch of people. We just met for a few hours last Sunday but I already feel like I have known these folks for a lifetime. They are incredible, smart, passionate people who are really trying to seek out God’s will for their lives and this building. Brad and I are taking the plunge to become a part of this project. It is our prayer that it will turn into a reality.

Brad and I were able to get a tour of the building, and it was absolutely incredible! This is on the fifth floor, where Brad and I would like to get a unit. There is enough ceiling height here to create lofted space. The glass block in the windows will be knocked out and used for shower walls. Huge windows with photovoltaic awnings will take their place. The goal is to having the building create enough energy for itself, and even to sell some electricity back to the grid. And did I mention there will be a canning room in the basement. Oh, it makes my heart flutter!

This is the view from one of the windows. Look closely and you can see the Chicago skyline.

So right now the goal for Brad and me is to get an apartment in Logan Square, which is a bit north of Lawndale, a bit of a nicer area so that we can adjust to city living before taking the plunge in Lawndale. Once we are in Chicago, we will continue meeting with the Josiah Community and being part of the process to bring this vision to reality. And there is still room for more people to join us (hint, hint)