Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Difference A Week Makes

Last Sunday we woke up to falling snow. (Because that's what happens when we celebrate Easter in March.) Unfortunately, it didn't accumulate beyond the initial dusting, so there were no snow people or even snow angels this year -- the kids were soooo very excited and then soooo very disappointed -- but it did make for some darn fun frolicking outside before getting dressed for church.

This weekend we turned our clocks ahead. Besides the temperature being much warmer than it has been (so much so that I went barefoot in the house for the first time since I Can't Remember When), just having an extra hour of daylight this evening has made me feel like a new woman already. Well, that and the fact that I'm finally joining the gym here. (It took me four months after Jack was born to get into the gym in Cyprus, but Sophie turned two years old in February. It's, umm, about time.) Okay, that and the emergency pedicure I gave myself after the shock of seeing my neglected, winterized toenails in the glow of the late afternoon sun.

In more ways than one, I feel like I'm coming out of hibernation.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Both (the Movie and the Memory)

Great news for fellow fans of Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, at least if you read this post before Saturday. For two more days, the movie version is on BBC iPlayer! (I missed it on BBC One this past Sunday night but found out yesterday that it's available on-line for seven days after airing.)

This gorgeous adaptation of the book was filmed on location in Botswana and directed by Anthony Minghella (The English Patient, Cold Mountain). Minghella died of a hemmorage following surgery just last week. This was his last film, and it is truly beautiful. (Perfect, according to McCall Smith himself.) More good news, according to this tribute by producer Amy J. Moore on, is a continuing 13-episode series being filmed later this year, thanks to the BBC and HBO. Woo-hoo!

This afternoon, watching the No. 1 Ladies movie on my computer with the curtains drawn against the pouring rain, felt very much like certain afternoons at Kijabe when RVA student/staff friends would gather at my place for hot beverages, some form of chocolate and a movie -- afternoons made all the more enjoyable by being together and blocking out the rest of the world for a few hours. Back then, our escape was out of Africa. Today, I was transported back to it. And when the movie was over, the sun was shining -- even here in England, a world away.

I highly recommend it!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Shopping? Ethically?

Last May, I wrote a post called Another Wal-Mart Customer Bites the Dust. I didn’t go into details, but I did give the link to the documentary Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price we had just watched, and I declared my intention to never, ever shop at Wal-Mart again. We’ve been back in the States just once since then, over the Christmas holidays, and although it meant going without certain items and paying more for others, I’m proud to say I stuck by my resolution.

For those of you who are interested, especially if you live in the States and shop at Wal-Mart regularly, The Wal-Mart You Don’t Know is an article on (from December 2003 -- how much further down the scale have things slid in the five years since then?) that goes into details from the suppliers' perspective. (The Wal-Mart movie gives the employees' and local competitors' perspective.)

Thanks to Lissa at Here In The Bonny Glen for posting the link to the article. Here are a few excerpts:
Wal-Mart is not just the world's largest retailer. It's the world's largest company -- bigger than ExxonMobil, General Motors, and General Electric. The scale can be hard to absorb. Wal-Mart sold $244.5 billion worth of goods last year. It sells in three months what number-two retailer Home Depot sells in a year. And in its own category of general merchandise and groceries, Wal-Mart no longer has any real rivals. It does more business than Target, Sears, Kmart, J.C. Penney, Safeway, and Kroger combined. "Clearly," says Edward Fox, head of Southern Methodist University's J.C. Penney Center for Retailing Excellence, "Wal-Mart is more powerful than any retailer has ever been." It is, in fact, so big and so furtively powerful as to have become an entirely different order of corporate being.

Wal-Mart wields its power for just one purpose: to bring the lowest possible prices to its customers. At Wal-Mart, that goal is never reached. The retailer has a clear policy for suppliers: On basic products that don't change, the price Wal-Mart will pay, and will charge shoppers, must drop year after year. But what almost no one outside the world of Wal-Mart and its 21,000 suppliers knows is the high cost of those low prices. Wal-Mart has the power to squeeze profit-killing concessions from vendors. To survive in the face of its pricing demands, makers of everything from bras to bicycles to blue jeans have had to lay off employees and close U.S. plants in favor of outsourcing products from overseas.

Wal-Mart, which in the late 1980s and early 1990s trumpeted its claim to "Buy American," has doubled its imports from China in the past five years alone, buying some $12 billion in merchandise in 2002. That's nearly 10% of all Chinese exports to the United States…

Steve Dobbins has been bearing the brunt of that switch. He's president and CEO of Carolina Mills, a 75-year-old North Carolina company that supplies thread, yarn, and textile finishing to apparel makers -- half of which supply Wal-Mart. Carolina Mills grew steadily until 2000. But in the past three years, as its customers have gone either overseas or out of business, it has shrunk from 17 factories to 7, and from 2,600 employees to 1,200. Dobbins's customers have begun to face imported clothing sold so cheaply to Wal-Mart that they could not compete even if they paid their workers nothing.

"People ask, 'How can it be bad for things to come into the U.S. cheaply? How can it be bad to have a bargain at Wal-Mart?' Sure, it's held inflation down, and it's great to have bargains," says Dobbins. "But you can't buy anything if you're not employed. We are shopping ourselves out of jobs."

... "Year after year," Carey, a partner at Bain & Co. (the global management consulting firm), says, "for any product that is the same as what you sold them last year, Wal-Mart will say, 'Here's the price you gave me last year. Here's what I can get a competitor's product for. Here's what I can get a private-label version for. I want to see a better value that I can bring to my shopper this year. Or else I'm going to use that shelf space differently.' "

Carey has a friend in the umbrella business who learned that. One year, because of costs, he went to Wal-Mart and asked for a 5% price increase. "Wal-Mart said, 'We were expecting a 5% decrease. We're off by 10%. Go back and sharpen your pencil.' " The umbrella man scrimped and came back with a 2% increase. "They said, 'We'll go with a Chinese manufacturer' -- and he was out entirely."

… Wal-Mart has also lulled shoppers into ignoring the difference between the price of something and the cost. Its unending focus on price underscores something that Americans are only starting to realize about globalization: Ever-cheaper prices have consequences. Says Steve Dobbins, president of thread maker Carolina Mills: "We want clean air, clear water, good living conditions, the best health care in the world -- yet we aren't willing to pay for anything manufactured under those restrictions."

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

Amazing service at church today. The pastor opened with these beautiful reminders of Truth:

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

That's good news for everyone, the kind that puts the good in Good Friday. Each hymn, each prayer seemed exactly what I needed this morning, but this song stayed with me all day:

I have placed all my hope in a crucified man
In the wounds in his side, his feet and his hands
I have traded my pride for a share in his shame
And the glory that one day will burst from his pain

I’ve abandoned my trust in the wise and the proud
For this fragile, mysterious weakness of God
And I dare to believe in his scandalous claim
That his blood cleanses sin for who ever
Will call on his name
Live or die here I stand
I’ve placed my hope in a crucified man

I believe as they beat on his beautiful face
He turned a torturer’s chair to an altar of grace
Where the worst we can do met the best that God does
Where unspeakable hate met the gaze
Of unstoppable love
At the crux of it all there he hangs
I’ve placed my hope in a crucified….

Man of sorrows, man of grief
Will he stay beyond belief?

When the purest and best took the force of our curse
Death’s victory armada juddered into reverse…
And either we bow or we stumble and fall
For the wisdom of a suffering God
Has made fools of us all
I gladly admit that I am
But I’ve placed my hope in a crucified …

Man of sorrows, man of grief
Will he stay beyond belief?

I have buried my life in the cold earth with him
Like a seed in the winter, I wait for the spring
From that garden of tombs Eden rises again
And Paradise blooms from his body
And never will end
He’ll finish all he began
Creation hopes in a crucified man

When I stand at the judgement
I have no other plan
I’ve placed my hope in a crucified man

Like the thief nailed beside him
I have no other plan
I’ve placed my hope in a crucified man

(Words and music by Graham Kendrick)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

What's the Sign for "Wouldn't Hurt... Might Even Help" ?

Ever since Jack was a baby, he's loved watching television: Baby Einstein, Sesame Steet, Thomas the Tank Engine and sports of any kind. For her first two years, Sophie could take tv or leave it -- but no more! Her new love and daily request: Signing Time. *There's singing time and dancing time and laughing time and playing time, and now it is our favorite time -- Signing Time!*

I've been thinking a lot lately about what society is going to look like when my kids are young adults. Funny, how American parents of our generation (and socio-economic demographic? maybe) are sooooo into providing broad-exposure for our kids in terms of educational experiences during their early years. Wouldn't it be nice if we extended that to include varied cultural experiences (leading up to and including the teen years) as well?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


I've been reading some great stuff on other blogs these last few weeks but haven't been able to summon the emotional energy to write honestly about the things whirling around in my mind and weighing on my heart. So, like the kid who realizes he can't win a race and quits before he has a chance to finish, I haven't written at all. To use a different analogy, sitting down at the computer has felt kind of like looking at one of those documents where you have the ability to read the text but can't add to or alter it in any way.

I do intend to get back into the swing of things, so I'm going to write a little something every day or so for the next little while, even if it's not heart-level and doesn't require the time/space I usually need in order to write coherently. But in the meantime, I want to share the links to specific posts on other blogs that have encouraged and challenged me during this time:
  • My friend Lissa at Here in the Bonny Glenn is an author, mother of five and unschooler extraordinaire. In this post, among other things, she talks about two of the aspects of parenting that I find most challenging: exercising the right kind of patience and dealing with the need/desire to be in control. (Edited to add: There's an intriguing, extended conversation going on in the comments.)
  • Months and months ago, through Lissa's blog, I came across Testosterhome, a mother's blog about life with five sons. I've never met Rachel, and to be honest I don't think I've ever left so much as a comment on her blog, but hers is one I check regularly. She expresses herself effortlessly, it seems, and often she writes things I've thought and felt but can't find the words for myself. I love this post about coming to terms with finding satisfaction in some of those less-than-glamorous tasks that mothering involves.
  • Ever since I wrote about watching the CNN special called God's Warriors, I've been hooked on the Random Reflections of Greg Boyd. I'm in the middle of his book called The Myth of a Christian Nation, and what I've read so far is hitting home scripturally, philosophically and politically, in that order. I'm going through it slowly, with a highlighter in hand -- I'm finding it that profound. Recent posts on his blog that have been particularly challenging for me (since recognizing this summer my deep-felt belief in pacifism) are his series on why he's a vegetarian and the current one, reconciling the violence of God in the OT with the self-sacrifice of Jesus in the NT. (I don't think I've ever heard anyone deal quite so honestly with this topic, and it's going to be interesting to find out where he's going with this. These links are to the first post in each series, but hopefully -- if you're interested -- you can find the remaining posts from there.)
  • On a less provocative note, here's Lopez Living, the blog a friend we knew in Cyprus. She and her husband now live in the Arabian Peninsula. This post beautifully describes the potential impact that American women can have on international women without ever leaving home. (I couldn't agree more.)
Happy reading! I'll try to write again soon.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Fortunately For Me, My Addictions Are Few

After a trip Matt comes home with a full flashcard, a suitcase of clothes to be washed and sometimes, depending on the country, a stomach bug. He always tries to bring a small souvenir for Jack and Sophie, and he does a great job of finding lovely things for me. This time he was in Thailand, and in addition to several gorgeous gifts from the night market, he also came home with the first three seasons of The Office! So now, once the kids are asleep each night, I'm trying really hard to only watch a few episodes at a time...

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Signs of Hope

Whew! It looks like the political rivals in Kenya are going to work together after all. What a relief. What an answer to prayer! It took more than five weeks to agree and merely a few moments for them to sign the deal brokered by Kofi Annan, but it will take much, much longer for the country to heal.

Kenya and her people have a steep road ahead. Dealing with the logistics of lost lives, destroyed property and vanished incomes. Dealing with the needs of 600,000 people displaced from their homes -- refugees in their own country. Dealing with memories of violence and the fear and/or (for those who participated in the chaos) shame that remains. Forging a new path in self-governance, incorporating the needs and views of all the people. Facing the issues of land rights. Rebuilding a damaged economy. Forgiving horrible, horrible wrongs and moving on in peace, justice and hope. This is an opportunity for real soul searching.

Please continue to pray that Kenya's leaders will seek to serve the people rather than lording power over them and that the citizens of Kenya, many of whom are believers in Christ, will live out the miracle of God's grace and forgiveness especially during this critical time in their country's history.

In other news -- much less urgent but still uplifting -- it looks like spring is on its way to England. The sun is coming up a bit earlier each morning, which makes waking up feel much more natural if you know what I mean. This week our neighbor's cherry tree burst into pink. Our daffodils have bloomed in the front garden. Buds are forming on various trees and bushes in our back garden, and the forsythia my Mom gave me for Christmas the year we moved here has begun to bloom as well. I think I'll be wearing camisoles and knee socks for a long while yet, but warmer weather is at last on it's way.

Thank God!