A Twist on Valentine’s Day

Valentine's Day heartsEvery year February 14 is Valentine’s Day, a Hallmark holiday that traditionally includes cards, chocolates, flowers, and often dinner out and perhaps a new bauble or other token of affection.

Ash cross on woman's forehead

This year February 14 is also Ash Wednesday, a Christian holiday that marks the beginning of 40 days of fasting in preparation for Easter, the most important holiday in the Christian calendar.

That coincidence of the two holidays gave me inspiration to look for a way to observe both of them in some compatible way.  A way to move from a strictly Hallmark holiday to a holiday in the spirit of II Corinthians 13, often referred to as the Love chapter. The last verse may be the most well known: So faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not forgetting my husband on this day of romance. He will receive a card with just the right sentiment, selected after 45 minutes of sifting through cards with texts ranging from syrupy sweet to barely appropriate humor. He deserves the perfect card. Each year I search for it. He is the reason my life is so rich I can think of ways to be generous to others–to share faith, hope, and love with others.

The specific inspiration for the twist came from alerts of new Internet stories about the countries I have lived in. Reviewing them keeps me in touch with a variety of aspects of life–political, cultural, religious–in those countries. The posts I received most recently about Madagascar gave me an idea for the twist.

Before I describe it, I’d like to introduce readers to Madagascar. Briefly.

Madagascar is the world’s fourth-largest island. The curves of the west coast of Madagascar match the curves of the east coast of the African continent, just to the west. Without the benefit of more detailed knowledge of how the supercontinent of Pangea rifted, it’s reasonable to assume the island broke away from Africa, but it’s more complicated. In fact, the land that corresponds to the island of Madagascar broke away along with a larger landmass that eventually moved northward and collided with what became the continent of Asia. That collision formed the Himalayan Mountains at the northern edge of the Indian subcontinent. During that land migration, the island of Madagascar broke away from the northward-moving landmass and drifted back toward Africa. Wikipedia includes an animation of the breaking apart of Pangea which shows these rifts and movements.

lemur sunning himselfThe extended period of time that Madagascar drifted first away from Africa and then back again resulted in the incredible variety of unique plants and animals of Madagascar. My favorites are the lemurs, ranging in size from as small as a mouse to as big as a baboon. Dream Works’ Madagascar film franchise helped popularize the lemur I believe is most widely recognized: the ring-tailed lemur. Distressingly, Scientific American reported in January that the ring-tailed lemur population has plummeted 95% since the year 2000.

Lemurs are not all that Madagascar is losing. The agricultural practice of slash-and-burn has contributed to the loss of 90% of Madagascar’s forests. But the practice has more than agricultural significance. Because the ash left behind after the burning enriches the soil, the practice has cultural value as it is associated with wealth and prestige, a powerful combination of motives difficult to overcome.

red silt in the rivers of MadagascarA secondary loss from the slashing and burning is the erosion of the soil which settles as red silt in the rivers and flows into the ocean, making it look as though the island is bleeding.

Economically, Madagascar in 2016 was identified as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. The average annual income in Madagascar is only $1,000. Madagascar’s agricultural industry, including fishing and farming, employs 82% of Madagascar’s labor force. Other industries–including textiles, mining, and tourism–are growing, but a combination of factors including food insecurity, fluctuations in investment from outside, and political instability have made for a rocky road. In its 2002 election two candidates, the then long-serving president, Didier Ratsiraka and a challenger, Marc Ravalomanana, claimed victory, which led to a political crisis, resolved eventually in favor of the challenger. But seven years later, the military took over. Elections were reestablished in 2013. Since then, Hery Martial Rajaonarimampianina has served as president.

The idea for my Valentine’s Day twist came from the several alerts about people in Madagascar who had received micro-loans from Kiva.org, an international nonprofit, founded in 2005 and based in San Francisco, with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. It is possible to loan as little as $25 to a project through Kiva.

Here’s my proposal: In addition to following whatever romance traditions you have established with those special people in your life, consider sharing your faith, hope, and love through a small loan with Kiva to someone in another part of the world–or even to someone within the United States–to be part of another person or family realizing their dreams.

I have added my contribution to the loan requests of Clarisse and Ernest of Madagascar.

Photo credits:

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Readers Write-Making Ends Meet

The Sun banner

Each month, The Sun magazine offers fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, and photos in a black-and-white format without advertising. Each issue includes provocative ideas from people of science, religion, philosophy, the arts, or a combination. Each issue also includes Readers Write, a feature compiling nonfiction submissions from the magazine’s readers on an intentionally broad topic. Occasionally I submit pieces for consideration. More often, I write essays on the topics too late to submit them.

This piece should have been submitted by March 1, 2015, for consideration for the September 2015 issue.

Is ignorance bliss? Or does a positive attitude beget positive results?

I married for the first time at 20 years old. Too young. And to the wrong man.

But the first few months felt like success. I’m still trying to figure out if it was because he and I were actually on the same page working towards the same goals or if I just didn’t know enough to recognize failure when it stared me in the face.

We were both still students, though set to graduate with our bachelor’s degrees within five months. We each had part-time jobs. His salary paid the rent. My salary paid for groceries. That’s all the expenses we had, and we had them all covered. At least for the six months our student loans were deferred and the four months of grace on our car loan. We didn’t have a plan for what we would do then. We just thought we’d figure it out when we needed to.

My part-time job was very part time. I worked 16 hours a week at 70 cents an hour. After withholding, my take-home pay each week was $7.67 cents. So long as I had three pennies to round the amount up to $7.70, I could cash the check at the Black Hawk bar next door to the movie theatre where I was an usher. The bar wouldn’t hand out pennies, and I didn’t want to settle for $7.65. Because that was all I had to buy groceries and all the other non-grocery items, such as toilet paper and shampoo, each week.

We got our checks every Friday evening. Saturday mornings, I headed for the warehouse grocery store in town with my detailed list of necessities. In order to stretch the money, I picked up canned and packaged goods first. Each shopper was handed a grease pen on arrival with instructions to write the prices on the items as we picked them up. I am amazed now at the trust the store placed in all its customers. But it never occurred to me to write anything other than the listed price. The act of writing also helped me total up the prices as I walked up and down the aisles.

Once I had the cans, boxes, and paper products I needed, I calculated how much money I had available for meat. Ground beef was about 49 cents a pound in those days, chicken was even cheaper, but only sold as a whole bird, and a package of hotdogs was also 49 cents. So for every dollar I didn’t need for canned goods, I could buy two pounds of beef, two packages of hot dogs, or a chicken. That determined the proportion of meat to rice or noodles in the meals I could prepare for the upcoming week.

It never occurred to me to complain that I had so little money. I had what I had. And that had to be enough. So it was.

 

 

Eight-Week Challenge: Week Eight Results

Week 8

Last week of the eight-week challenge is done! Whoo-hoo! Again, thanks to Danielle for inspiring others and me to take on this challenge.

I wish I had done better, but I’m pretty darn happy with having met the first goal, at least as measured by my body-mass index, for the entire eight weeks. And for cleaning up that backlog of unread magazines.

As a reminder, here are the goals I set for the eight-week challenge:

  • eat more nutritious food with fewer empty calories,
  • read at least five magazines each week to clear out my backlog of unread magazines, and
  • write at least 500 words (raised to 750 words once the magazine backlog was cleared) per day for at least five days each week.

Healthy Eating

I tried one more twist on my eating habits this week, mostly to provide easy-to-prepare meals for my husband: I signed up with Blue Apron.  Our daughter-in-law signed up first, and after the first week she received three invitations for one free week of meals to share with others.

She shared one with us. The following Friday a refrigerated package arrived with everything needed for three meals-for-two: Serrano Pepper & Goat Cheese Burgers, Lemon Chicken & Green Beans, and Sweet Corn & Tinkerbell Pepper Pizza. I’ve cooked up the first two. Hubbie approved, though he did turn down most of the vegetable side dishes. More for me, so I can’t complain, though I would like him to eat more balanced meals, too.

I went ahead and had the burger the first night, though I fantasized about replacing the meat with a quinoa burger. I cooked up both chicken portions the next night, but left one for Hubbie to eat this week. I supplemented my meal with the rest of the summer squash he wouldn’t eat and the leftover veggies from the previous meal.

So now I have three invitations to send out to others interested in trying out Blue Apron. Interested? Let me know.

Exercise

The weather is getting warm here–one day was over 100 degrees by 9 a.m. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration to get sympathy. But I didn’t always get up early enough to walk while the heat could still be beaten. So I missed my goal more often than I met it. I managed to get to at least the half way point more often than not, so I count that as a half win.

Writing

My writing goal to write at least 750 words at least five days a week took a big hit this week. Too much to do again. The bright light in this area is that I was able to finalize a couple of first drafts. And I realized that one reason I haven’t reached the point of sharing my writing is that my standards are higher. A year ago, I shared anything I managed to complete that had a beginning, middle, and end. But now I know that showing, not telling, is important. And the really difficult piece, admitting how I feel or felt about the story, has been a big challenge.

But I’ll keep working.

Overall

AverageAs a wrap-up for the eight weeks, I calculated the averages for my weight/body-mass index, number of steps walked, and number of words written (for at least five days of each week), to see if the overall picture is closer to my goals than the last week’s results.

I like it! At least there is no red.

 

 

 

Readers Write-High School

The Sun banner

Each month, The Sun magazine offers fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, and photos in a black-and-white format without advertising. Each issue includes provocative ideas from people of science, religion, philosophy, the arts, or a combination. Each issue also includes Readers Write, a feature compiling nonfiction submissions from the magazine’s readers on an intentionally broad topic. Occasionally I submit pieces for consideration. More often, I write essays on the topics too late to submit them.

This piece should have been submitted by January 1, 2016, for consideration for the July 2016 issue.

This year marks 50 years since I graduated from high school. One of the buildings that housed the high school back then no longer exists. A grocery store fills that block now. The primary building still exists (see below), but serves a completely different function.

MHS

I loved my classes, except for one. Physics. Now I’m not saying I didn’t like physics. I didn’t like my physics class. I never got the chance to discover whether I liked physics.

And that’s because the teacher ignored all the girls. He assigned the boys to seats in the rows closest the window and the girls to seats on the opposite side of the room. And then he talked only to the boys. He didn’t even make it convenient for the girls to daydream by looking out the windows.

If one of the girls raised a hand and asked a question, he’d tell us we didn’t need to know the answer. If we pressed him by asking if there would be a question on a future test, he’d tell us that didn’t matter. We were only going to look for a boy to marry anyway.

The boys loved the guy. Maybe they even learned some physics.

I don’t think any of the girls ever complained to anyone other than one another. We were used to things not being fair by then.

I’m going to my class’s 50th reunion. Maybe I should test out just how much physics those boys learned. Any ideas how I could do that?

 

 

 

Readers Write-Right and Wrong

The Sun banner

Each month, The Sun magazine offers fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, and photos in a black-and-white format without advertising. Each issue includes provocative ideas from people of science, religion, philosophy, the arts, or a combination. Each issue also includes Readers Write, a feature compiling nonfiction submissions from the magazine’s readers on an intentionally broad topic. Occasionally I submit pieces for consideration. More often, I write essays on the topics too late to submit them.

This piece should have been submitted by May 1, 2014, for consideration for the November 2014 issue.

More than 40 years ago, I lived and worked in Tehran, Iran. While there, I met several members of a Jewish Iranian family. I dated one of the younger sons of the family, Abraham, throughout the two plus years I was there.

I never expected more from the relationship–just pleasant company and someone to explain aspects of the culture that confused me. I never expected to see anyone in the family again, though I kept up a correspondence with Abraham until the Iranian revolution disrupted most communication between Americans and Iranians.

Seven years after I left Iran, while I was working as a consular officer at the US Consulate General in Stuttgart, Germany, I learned that Abraham had been arrested by Revolutionary Guards shortly after the revolution got underway. He was executed by the ruling regime. I cried myself to sleep for days afterwards.

I learned of Abraham’s death through one of his nephews, also named Abraham, who had managed to escape Iran and settle in Los Angeles with his family. Most of his larger family, including his father, Abraham’s brother, had also settled in Los Angeles. When they learned I was trying to find Abraham, the nephew gave his phone number to the person I had asked for help along with the invitation for me to call him. When I called, he pretended to be Abraham, but I knew the voice was wrong. After a few tentative comments, he asked if I had heard that his uncle had been executed by the government. I asked him who he was, and he admitted he was the “other” Abraham.

A few days after that conversation with Abraham the nephew, he called me. It was about 2 a.m. in Germany so I wasn’t really awake when I answered the phone. So when he asked me to help his wife’s aunt get a visa to the US, I agreed and then immediately realized this was not a good idea. The aunt had previously been refused a visa in another country.

I told my boss about the telephone call that morning ,and she advised that I contact Abraham to tell him I wouldn’t be able to interview his wife’s aunt, that she should instead return to the consulate where she had applied before.

Abraham tried to change my mind, referring to my friendship with his uncle and the hospitality his family had shown me. I continued to refuse, and in the end he said he would instead tell his wife’s aunt she should apply in Madrid.

In Madrid? It didn’t make any sense to me. And that made me suspicious. What was going on in Madrid that would make Abraham think it was a place his wife’s aunt might get a visa? Should I mention this strange conversation as well to my boss? Or should I just forget about it? I didn’t really know anything. I only had suspicions.

I said nothing.

A few months later, I learned that a consular officer in Madrid was arrested for fraudulently issuing visas to Iranian citizens in exchange for money.

Was I wrong not to have said something? After all, it was likely officials in Washington had already begun to suspect the consular officer given the short time between my conversation with Abraham and the officer’s arrest.

Or was I right to have said nothing since to do so might add to the grief of a family who had meant so much to me when I lived among them?

 

 

 

 

 

Readers Write-Houses

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Each month, The Sun magazine offers fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, and photos in a black-and-white format without advertising. Each issue includes provocative ideas from people of science, religion, philosophy, the arts, or a combination. Each issue also includes Readers Write, a feature compiling nonfiction submissions from the magazine’s readers on an intentionally broad topic. Occasionally I submit pieces for consideration. More often, I write essays on the topics too late to submit them.

This piece should have been submitted by February 1, 2016, for consideration for the August 2016 issue.

My grandfather made the downpayment on the house my parents moved into when they married, a one-story, two-bedroom bungalow on a quiet, two-block long street–Dudrey Court–in the county seat. The house was big enough for the first four children while we were all under ten–boys and girls shared bedrooms in those days–but my parents hoped for five children, which would be difficult to manage without a third bedroom.

Anticipating that fifth child, Dad converted the attic of the house into a third bedroom. My sister and I moved upstairs and the boys kept the downstairs room. Both rooms were now large enough for three children.

But the fifth child turned out to be twins, two boys. While the boys’ bedroom would work for a couple of years, Dad decided we needed a bigger house. I didn’t want to move. My friends lived in the neighborhood. And I really didn’t want to move to the other side of town. If we moved further south, I would have to switch schools, and that would mean not having the same orchestra teacher, Mr. Pulicicchio, I had had since fourth grade.

I don’t think my parents were eager to move from Dudrey Court either. After looking at a few houses outside the neighborhood, my dad made a decision that surprised everyone. He placed an offer on the only house on Dudrey Court that was for sale, a two-story, two-bedroom house across the street. That house was on a larger lot than our house, large enough to add two more bedrooms at the back of the house.

For another year, four of us shared a bedroom again, but this one had a walk-in closet so big my desk fit in it, giving me as much privacy as I needed. During that year, Dad added two more bedrooms, a master bedroom for Mom and Dad, a small bedroom for the twins, and once again my sister and I moved out of the shared bedroom into our own.

For more than 60 years Dad lived in one of those two houses on Dudrey Court. We kids enjoyed those houses, too, but we grew up and moved away, coming back to spend time in that second house for holidays. Grandpa made a good choice when he selected the house my parents first moved into.

 

 

 

Eight-Week Challenge: Week Six Results

Week 6

Six weeks into the challenge, and my progress remains positive, though always with something just beyond my easy grasp. Something worth striving for.

As a reminder, here are my goals for the eight-week challenge:

  • eat more nutritious food with fewer empty calories,
  • spend one day a week reading the backlog of magazines sitting on the end table (changed to read an average of five magazines each week from the backlog, now completed, so I’ve dropped the reporting), and
  • write at least 500 (increased to 750 since the magazine backlog is gone) words per day for at least five days each week.

Healthy Eating

I have been experimenting with ways to make my plant-based meals more interesting. For salads, I’ve added a variety of flavored vinegars including a great orange flavored one I found at Trader Joe’s. To complement it, I add orange segments to my salads, something I learned to do years ago when a church in my home area that hosted an annual spaghetti dinner found fresh tomatoes to be too expensive to use in their salads one year. They substituted oranges that year. It was so popular the church continued using oranges instead of tomatoes ever after.

Several months ago I purchased a spiralizer which I use to turn zucchini into a spaghetti substitute. Before I switched my diet, I would top the zucchini swirls with meatballs and sauce. Now, I add thinly sliced onions and julienned green peppers and stir fry them in coconut oil (long believed to be bad for health because it has saturated fat, but more recent studies indicate it has significant healthy properties). I add lentils, beans, or nuts for protein, and top it off with salsa. Today’s variety was a western salsa that included corns and black beans.

Writing

I increased my target for writing from 500 to 750 words each day at least five days per week since my magazine backlog is gone. And that is proving to be my challenge. My hope was to use the challenge to get more done on my memoir, but more often than not, I’ve been writing posts for this blog to get above 750 words. I’m pleased with having written more here, but disappointed that I can’t seem to get past the plateau I reached a few weeks back with my memoir draft.

I’m considering starting a  new project, a children’s book, instead of trying to plod on with the memoir. Perhaps I can bang some new thoughts from my brain by looking at things from a new viewpoint. And I have a built-in audience to try out the children’s book idea in our grandchildren.