Reverse Trick-Or Treating In Action

Today was Halloween and our 20-month old, Grace, got to trick-or-treat for the first time. OK, technically the second time but last year at eight months and not walking she really had no idea what was going on. Needless to say, she did not get to eat her candy last year (and I did!).

Cute as a button in her butterfly costume from Old Navy, Grace and her neighborhood buddy, Braylon, went door-to-door up and down our street. We had signed up to receive a Reverse Trick-or-Treating kit from Global Exchange. At each house Grace handed out a card with information about lax conditions in the cocoa industry plus a mini piece of Alter-Eco’s delicious dark chocolate.  Our neighbors are pretty socially aware so I don’t think fair trade is new to any of them, but sampling something delicious is a great incentive to change anyone’s buying habits.

Grace and Braylon reverse trick-or-treating (note the flyer in Grace’s hand)

The fair trade chocolate eyeballs from Divine chocolate we gave out at our house. Yum!

Why Yes I Do Compost!

This past summer I asked you, my readers, if you composted. I shamefully admitted that I did not compost, despite some past half-hearted efforts that had failed. I am proud to let you know that we have been a composting family now for about two months and, come spring, I think our garden is going to be very well-fed

I don’t know what my problem was. It seemed like so much effort to get over to Metro to pick up one of their Earth Machines.  Somehow I assumed there was no way it would fit in my car so I finally asked my dad to go pick one up for me in his truck. When he did and brought it to me I felt foolish to discover it comes apart into three pieces and would have easily fit in the trunk of my VW Jetta.

Once I had the bin, I had no more excuses. I found a flat corner spot in the backyard tucked behind some nandina bushes so it wasn’t too visible but still got plenty of sun (the heat helps the contents break down) and was close to the back door (to make it easy to get to on cold winter days).

We’ve been so excited about composting around here that the bin is already almost full. We keep an empty cat litter bucket under the kitchen sink and throw in all non-meat, non-dairy scraps. It fills up once or twice a week and then we dump it. We also throw in some yard waste as the instructions that came with the Earth Machine advised using a mix of green (fruits, veggies, bread) and brown (leaves, sticks) waste for the optimal environment. We still use our yard waste bin from the city for things like weeds, since apparently the seeds don’t die in the Earth Machine. If you throw weeds in you risk encouraging more weeds next year when you spread the compost, something I don’t need more of in my life.

Another side benefit is we are producing a lot less garbage. We already used the smallest available curbside bin but I estimate it’s about 1/5 less full as a result of rerouting food waste. That’s a big plus for my husband, who has to empty the kitchen garbage that much less often, not to mention the benefit to  landfills.

If you’re not composting yet but have thought about it, learn from my experience. I put it off for years thinking it was too much of a hassle to get started, let alone to do it daily. Setting up the bin took about 15 minutes. I spend 5-10 minutes per week taking out the compost and washing the bin. I think I can spare the time and I know come next spring, when that luscious compost goes onto my yard, it will be worth every second.

Gratitude For Today

In these uncertain times I’m grateful for so many things. Here are a few things I’m thankful for today.

1) The vibrant fall leaves.

2) My daughter’s giggles. Nothing is sweeter.

3) A drop in gasoline prices. It’s so nice to have good news come from somewhere, even if it is the gas pump.

4) Stroller Strides. I work out with this amazing group of moms who encourage me plus I get to spend that time with Grace.

5) Friendly neighbors on my street. I love it that we all wave at each other.

6) The UPS truck. It’s always exciting to see what that day’s box will bring plus Grace loves to watch it drive away.

7) Coffee. I look forward to two hot cups each morning. It’s a delicious, inexpensive treat I savor.

8) My supportive husband Steve. When I’m discouraged or anxious, he never fails to cheer me up.

What are you grateful for?

Can’t We All Just Get Along? Or At Least Play Nice?

I have been disheartened lately by the barrage of negative ads, phone calls, news coverage, campaigners at my door, and the daily stack of campaign mail. Maybe it’s always like this but this is the first year I’ve been so immersed in campaign coverage. It seems to be more negative than ever. To top it all off I was virtually-attacked by a “friend” on facebook (an acquaintance, actually) for my choice in presidential candidate. Her confrontation touched on my faith, my standing with God, my wisdom, my judgment, my intelligence, and the list goes on and on. I also have had some nasty comments posted on my blog in response to posts I didn’t even think were political. I welcome comments that challenge my views on my blog, but I don’t post them unless they’re respectful. Why does it all have to get so dirty?

When this election is over and the winner is known, we all have to live together. How are we going to move ahead after viciously attacking each other? I don’t know how the candidates will do it – whoever wins president, the other one will still be in the Senate. Are they just going to act like neither said all the things they both, in fact, said?

I do have some hope. Quite a bit in fact. Last night we had a good friend over for dinner while his wife is out of town. Over grilled salmon we discovered he’s on the fence of who to choose for president. We had a really interesting discussion of the pros and cons of both candidates, hesitations we each had about both candidates, etc. It was wonderful and engaging even when we disagreed. I don’t know who he’ll vote for but I’m grateful we talked and he challenged me to look closely at why I support my candidate.

I also had a good discussion with a friend during a girl’s weekend at the beach a few weeks ago. She’s a Republican and, in all earnestness, I asked her why. She’s an intelligent woman whom I trust and so I honestly wanted to hear how she arrived at her political views. Because I asked in openness, not in an attempt to sway her or attack her, she responded openly herself and we had several healthy conversations during the course of the weekend. She helped open my eyes to things I hadn’t considered, as did our friend at dinner last night. Thank you to both of you for that.

The key as I see is not swaying everyone I know to share my views. Instead we should all be striving for open, earnest dialogue where we don’t agree. We have so much to learn from each other. When we violently attack, we shut people down, eliminating any chance of true dialogue. I hope the candidates can figure out how to do this. More importantly, I hope I can be someone who does this.

What’s In A Swag Bag?

The UPS man has been showing up at my door almost every day lately. Each time he’s either bringing me new products for Bambootique’s trunk show or free samples from a fair trade company for the swag bags which every attendee will receive!

Some of the samples from the last trunk show

I’m not good with surprises (just ask my husband Steve!) so I thought I’d give you a sneak peek of what will be in this year’s swag bags. These are some of the companies who have donated free products and money-saving coupons for the bags and they’re great!

The trunk show is Saturday November 15 from 10am-4pm and Sunday November 16 from 1pm-5pm. If you’re in the Portland area and want to come, contact me for an emailed invitation complete with my home address and a money-saving coupon good only at the show. You are welcome and so are your globally-minded girlfriends (and guy friends, for that matter!).

Voting In Oregon Is Fun

I love Oregon’s vote-by-mail system. About three weeks before elections our ballots come in the mail. Then we the voters get to pick when and where we vote. No long lines on election day. No hanging chads. No realization in the polling box that I have no idea how to vote on the Tigard-Tualatin School levy or who to choose for city council.

Steve and I have a long-standing tradition now of holding our own “voting party.” We don’t invite anyone else, just the two of us, take-out pizza, a good bottle of wine, the voters’ guides, a laptop computer and our ballots. We actually look forward to our “voting party,” which we held last Wednesday night. Online we referred to the Oregonian’s voter’s guide, the Oregonian’s endorsements, the city of Tualatin’s website and good ol’ Google.

It took about two hours to finish our pizza, wine and ballots. We had some hearty debate about whether to choose Gordon Smith or Jeff Merkley for Senate (they each got one vote from our household) and whether or not to approve Tualatin’s parks and rec measure (no – seemed to include too many unnecessary extras).  We shared our disgust with all of Bill Sizemore’s ridiculous measures.  We agreed that we needed to support the extension of the Tigard-Tualatin school levy and emergency services levy.

Voting in this manner turns the election into an informational process for me. I wouldn’t have known anything about our city council members but, because many were up for reelection, I read about them online and know what they stand for. If the levies I voted for pass, I’ll know where that part of my tax dollars are going.  I appreciate our state’s system which allows me to become informed in the comfort of my home, with my ballot in front of me and trusted resources at my fingertips.

No matter what type of voting system your state has, make sure you vote this year. It’s important for you, your community, and, more than ever, for our country.

The Faces Of Fair Trade At Bambootique

October is Fair Trade Month, as declared by Transfair USA, the only third-party certifying body in the United States of fair trade products and one of twenty similar organizations worldwide. The focus they’ve chosen this year is The Faces of Fair Trade. Fair trade is powerful because it connects producers directly with consumers. Here I share a few of the artisan faces behind Bambootique’s products. The life of each artisan is directly impacted through her involvement with fair trade and the opportunities fair trade offers her and her family.

Zoila is a young Mayan woman from Central Guatemala. She works with the non-profit Proyecto Eco-Quetzal to produce eco-friendly, traditional Mayan candles.

Jurina runs a fair trade purse workshop, where she and several other women produce bamboo purses made with local, sustainably raised bamboo.

Ritu is a young, single mother from Nepal whose husband abandoned her shortly after their daughter was born. She and several dozen other single mothers produce beautiful beaded jewelry and knitted bags, in a society where women on their own have few economic opportunities.

Okinaj is a young indigenous woman in northern Argentina. She’s part of the indigenous Wichi group, a people who have experienced incredible hardship. Okinaj and her fellow artisans collect and dry local seeds which they turn into beautiful pieces of wearable art including beaded necklaces.

Anna is a Liberian woman who has found employment and a livable income through a coconut oil cooperative. The coconut oil is used to produce Anti-Body skincare products.

Remember every time you see the words “fair trade” on a product you are purchasing, you are directly having a postive impact on the farmer, producer or artisan behind it. Thank you for supporting fair trade!

Connecting Locally

In light of the current economic crisis facing our nation, I decided to start volunteering at our local food pantry. Maybe the connection isn’t obvious, but all of the news I’ve been reading about people struggling to make ends meet made me realize how disconnected I am to needs in my own backyard. I spend so much time and energy trying to raise awareness around the situation for poor women in developing countries while remaining disconnected from my neighbors experiencing similar hardships.  I had to change that.

Yesterday was my first afternoon to volunteer at the Tualatin Schoolhouse Food Pantry near my home. I showed up at 3pm at the portable classroom converted into a social services center. My arrival coincided with the pantry’s opening time.  Already 6 or 8 families and individuals milled about in the small waiting area, sipping hot coffee and politely taking small bites of the free chocolate cake sitting out. I was put straight to work packaging day-old bread into clear plastic bags, then moved on to dividing 25-lb bags of sugar and rice into 1-lb quantities. I spent several hours working alongside a handful of other regular volunteers, packaging food in an area adjacent to the waiting area.

Occasionally I’d catch the eye of a young mother juggling several small children or an older man waiting patiently. I’d smile. Sometimes the target of my smile smiled back, sometimes they looked away.  I didn’t talk to anyone besides the other volunteers. I didn’t have a chance since my role as a new volunteer was limited to food packaging. But after my two-hour shift was up I left feeling a connection simply because every person who entered those doors was seen. They were seen by me. They were seen by Mike, who runs the food pantry and knows many of the clients by name. They were seen by the other volunteers and they were seen by each other, their neighbors also coming in to pick up some groceries to help stretch their pay check just a little bit further.

So often people in need are simply invisible. Poverty pushes people to the fringe of society and it can be hard to come back if no one knows you’re out there.  The food pantry provides nutritious foods to people in my community who need it.  Even more than that it serves as a connecting point to put members of my community in touch with one another, so that nobody remains unseen. I’ll be back on a Monday afternoon soon and I can’t wait.

To find out about volunteering at food pantries or donating food to a pantry in your area go to Feeding America or, if you’re in Oregon, Oregon Food Bank.

Taking Organic, Fair Trade A Step Further

Soon we saw that money going to women brought much more benefit to the family than money going to the men. So we changed our policy and gave a high priority to women.

– Muhammad Yunus, Founder of Grameen Bank and the man who made micro-lending a worldwide phenomenon to combat global poverty

Last night’s Cafe Feminino Coffee Festival at the Bagdad Theater was an eye-opening event even for this fair-trader.  The debut of the documentary Strong Coffee: The Story of Cafe Feminino was the centerpiece of the evening and a powerful vehicle to tell the story of this effective organization.

The power of fair trade is becoming more broadly understood. Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world, second only to oil. It’s a $5 billion a year industry but less than 10% of that stays in the communities that actually grow the beans, the most labor-intensive part of your cup of joe.  Most coffee farmers live on $2/ day or less. Raising coffee is back-breaking work, with little or no mechanization and all the work done by hand. Ever picked blueberries? It’s fun…for about 20 minutes. Then you start to realize how slowly your big bucket is filling with those little berries, your back starts to ache and that’s enough for today thank you very much. Picking coffee is like picking blueberries except the plants grow much taller (think small people stretching very high) and many coffee growers walk several miles to their farms each day. Exhausting!

Until fair trade and organic coffee premiums became a possibility for high-quality coffee growers, they sold their beans to coyotes, middle men who paid low, often unlivable prices per pound. Fair trade and organic premiums have given farmers worldwide a chance to break free from coyotes and moneylenders and get a fair price.

The founders of Cafe Feminino, coffee importers from Vancouver, Washington, discovered that those premiums didn’t necessarily trickle down to the women and children in the families. Abuse rates remained as high in 70% in some communities they bought coffee from in Peru. So in partnership with women coffee farmers in their communities, Cafe Feminino was born with the core value of buying fair trade, organic coffee only from women coffee growers. The land has to be deeded in the woman’s name, she has to do the work on her farm and the payment for the coffee goes into her pocket.

The co-op in Peru started with 464 women the first year and now has grown to over 1000 members 5 years later. The model has expanded to other countries including Mexico, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Ethiopia. A portion of the premium paid is reinvested in community projects like books for children and health projects.  Abuse rates have plummeted as the women have gained self-respect as well as value in their husbands’ eyes. Some of the women farmers are single moms, who now are able to use their incomes to send their children to school. The transformation has been quick and deep.

Cafe Feminino recognizes that the women they buy from want the same thing: respect and to have their contributions to their families and communities valued.  That’s what women everywhere want. That’s what I want. That’s what the artisans I buy fair trade handicrafts from want. Now that we have certification for fair trade and organic, I’m thinking the next movement should be “certified woman-made!” That way we’d know every coffee dollar we spend is not just good to the planet and bought at a fair price but goes straight into the hands of mothers.

Cafe Feminino sells their green coffee beans to roasters all over the world but especially in the Pacific Northwest. You can find their roasted beans in Portland at coffee shops like K&F and Kobos, as well as at Trader Joe’s. I enjoyed a cup this morning and it was fabulous!

Everyday Just Living Home

Who Or What Do I Trust?

These are uncertain times. Everyday it seems the Dow drops lower, the powers-that-be come up with a new “rescue” plan, and the political candidates both swear they can get us out of this mess.  My husband and I have watched our long-term, hard-earned investments plummet in value, some lower than the original purchase price. It’s enough to make my stomach turn.

But then if I pause and really think about it, when was my financial foundation ever secure? The answer keeps coming back to me: never.  Placing my hope, my trust, my sense of security in finances is always shaky ground, no matter how high the strength of our portfolio might be on any given day. It’s easy when times are good (which they have been for a long time) to forget how volatile financial markets are. Financial markets aside, just about anything else I put my trust in is just as unstable. One day it might be my house – a fire could burn that to the ground. Another day it might be friends or family – tragedy could strike at any time. Other days the facade of well-being might be my health – which anyone who has been diagnosed with an illness knows can be gone in a flash.

I’m not trying to be morbid. In fact, I think I tend to be more pollyannaish than anything most of the time. But today I’m feeling realistically joyful. Why? Because all this uncertainty has brought  me back to the truth that can not be shaken by anything. My trust and my hope lies in Jesus Christ alone, as much as I forget that when other things seem somehow more real.  This week though, everything else seems so fragile and if nothing else I’m grateful to be reminded to “not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34, RSV)  And why not worry? Because “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8, RSV).

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