Happy Hanukkah 5779 ~ Nights 1 & 2

Looking ahead and making note of the fact that Hanukkah falls early this year, on December 3, 2018–i.e., the evening of the December 2nd when converting from our Jewish to the secular calendar–didn’t prevent it from sneaking right up on my busy family and resulting in a Night 1 scramble.

We nearly missed observing Night 1 altogether. There was a late remembrance of the date. Thankfully, we had birthday candles in a cupboard and made a very quick observance of first evening of Hanukkah. We did better with Night 2, even with it falling on a school night.

Like most modern Americans, we positively swim in stuff. This year, my plan for eight nights of Hanukkah festivity is to alternate a shared gift one evening with a night of family activity the next.

Relaxed play time together is more precious than even Lego sets!

Don’t worry, though. The material gifts planned for Hanukkah 5779 are all Lego related, so new bricks will abound. We’re adding on to Bricklyn, our family display/play space located smack dab in our living room.

Yeah, my “design scheme” for our home is decidedly eccentric eclectic.

Lego Ninjago City set 70620 Hanukkah box buildLego Ninjago City set 70620 Hanukkah book manualGift number 1 and 2 was the hefty Lego Ninjago City (set 70620). As of Day 2, which follows Night 2, remember!, the 4867 piece set is not even halfway built, but that’s okay. Why rush a pleasure?

Happy Hanukkah, dear readers! May your family bask in a warm, bright glow this holiday season.

Note: Originally posted photos were all from previous years’ celebrations. I haven’t gotten a single current picture off of my phone yet, and none of them are particularly pretty. I’ve been too busy playing with the new Legos like a sensible person. Added Lego toy photos in update.

100% Canadian Chicken, Wendy’s boasts at American drive through

While slightly outside my usual areas of interest, this struck me as comment-worthy last week. I noticed this ad at a Wendy’s hamburger chain drive up kiosk. The rotating range of ads was displayed on the video screen that now accompanies the microphone and speaker.

Wendy's Canadian chicken - 1.jpg

All White Meat Chicken Strips, Made with 100% Canadian Chicken!

Never mind that the calorie count alone should send a wise person running, and no need to chide me for giving in to the temptation of fast food on a busy afternoon. It’s a rare indulgence, and I didn’t order chicken strips anyway.

But, isn’t “100% Canadian Chicken” an odd boast for an American chain restaurant?

The first Wendy’s opened in Columbus, Ohio in 1969.

I’m all for food products containing 100% of whatever they are purported to be. Actually, I believe it is my right as a consumer to get what the label claims is inside. I’m also more inclined to feel good about a Canadian farm animal as food product than, say, a Chinese or Brazilian one, but that could just be my cultural bias expressing itself.

Here’s some proof that Canadians care about their fast food chicken.

Admittedly, I’m in a position to act on my values and purchase higher quality food grown closer to home and via sustainable methods. For years, our family has purchased via the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model as well as relying upon Farmers to You for access to 80+ farms in our local food system.

The odd visit to Wendy’s aside, I care about the origin of the food I eat and what I feed my family. Is that the heartstring the Wendy’s ad was trying to pluck?

I’m wildly curious: does anyone else wonder what the marketing department was trying to say with this ad? How do you respond to the promise of 100% Canadian Chicken?

Vote because it is your civic duty; your freedom depends upon it

Many reasons have been given for “why” each of us should vote. There’s really only one: a representative government cannot exist without input from the people. If we don’t accept our responsibility to speak up at the polls, we’re literally asking for the oligarchy to usurp our agency.

define oligarchydefine agencyUnless you are seeking to overthrow our entire system of government, you need to vote to make our republic work. Even if you are happy with the status quo, you should be expressing your pleasure with a vote for the incumbent(s). If you object to what Washington is doing, complain after you get yourself to the polls to put your opinions in writing!

USA flag - 1The United States isn’t a direct democracy, of course, but a representative one wherein we elect others to do the work of governing on our behalf. Whether you are for or against the size of the current government and its many agencies, your role in the system remains unchanged. You vote as a signal for your representatives to follow.

Failing to vote is really a failure to uphold the American value system as a whole. It suggests that our founders were mistaken when they rebelled against monarchy and taxation without representation. Not voting is a demand that someone else usurp your power; specifically, your right to self-governance.

USA flag flying on pole OhioThis right is the linchpin to what made America great. I’d argue that the ideas that “all men are created equal” and that our leaders are only “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed have been our most valuable export. When only a minority of American citizens exercise the right to vote, we really aren’t acting like a nation of free men and women with any justification for world leadership.

You want to make America great “again”? And I disagree, by the way, with the use of the past tense in that statement!

  • Vote in every election, not just presidential ones every four years, but also for local matters.
  • Vote for what you believe, not against someone or something you’ve decided to unilaterally hate.
  • Use your mind to evaluate the issues; plumb your soul to balance practical realities against thorny moral questions.

I voted Election sticker - 1Vote because you can, and because you owe it to your nation and its continued successes, for yourself, and for every other American besides.

Your freedom depends upon it! Not because someone else is acting to take it, but because you are considering giving it away through inaction.

Let freedom ring; give it your own voice.

And if you couldn’t be bothered to vote when you had the right to do so, don’t even try to engage in political debate with me. I consider you to have abdicated the right for me to hear your opinions by your inaction on Election Day.

Café notes: Coffee, the Congo, and Lynn Nottage’s play, “Ruined”

I had a great cup of single origin Congo Ituri coffee at the mall last week.

NZ restaurant espresso - 1This is remarkable for several reasons:

  • First, I was at the mall.*
  • Second, I got a great cup of specialty coffee therein.
  • Third, my beautiful pour over arrived with a side order of coincidence.

I simply haven’t the foodie palate or terminology to give you a better explanation for why my cup of coffee was so great, but the barista on duty that day was particularly knowledgeable. He probably prepared my cup with great skill. Certainly the flavor profile of the beans and the roast landed right in the sweet spot for my tastes.

What struck me as I sat down in the café with my cup and opened my library book was the coincidence. Here’s the top of the first page of Lynn Nottage’s play, Ruined, setting the scene:

“ACT ONE, Scene 1: A small mining town. The sounds of the tropical Ituri rain forest. Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

The tropical Ituri rain forest? It rang a bell. I went back up to the café counter and read the menu board once more.

That day, the Nordstrom Espresso Bar was offering a Congo Ituri microlot coffee in the light roast** I prefer. Probably why I’d chosen it from amongst several offerings, including a light roast Kona I’ve enjoyed before.

I drink Ethiopian Yirgacheffe pretty often, and regularly select it preferentially, but I haven’t hit upon another African region for beans that’s become a steady favorite. I’ll certainly seek out more Congolese coffees moving forward, however, on the strength of this one notably wonderful cup.

But here are a few painful questions that I can’t answer, all stimulated by the tough subject matter of Nottage’s play that I read while sipping said cup.

  • How sustainable is coffee cultivation in DR Congo?
  • Does coffee cultivation there typically help the Congolese people, and especially the vulnerable women of Congo whose plight is underscored in Ruined? Is it a path helping average people rise above the legacy of the nation’s bloody civil wars?
  • Are major brands like Nordstrom and Starbucks doing enough to support the individual coffee farmer in the Democratic Republic of Congo? Or are these rich corporations paying less than they should for their beans because they’ve got the might to get away with it?

Honestly, I can’t answer any of these questions after a few days of searching.

Coffee is a delight to me. It is one of my daily pleasures, and, yes, a minor addiction. Coffee is also one the world’s most valuable legal commodities, like petroleum or precious metals. It’s big business on the order of tens of billions of dollars per year, and the needs of the coffee plant itself dictate that it be grown in what are often unstable, developing regions.

It can be hard to evaluate for oneself whether a coffee purchase meets one’s personal standards for ethical sales, environmental sustainability, etc.

Thanksgiving Coffee bean package of Ethiopia YirgacheffeThanksgiving Coffee, an artisan roaster I’ve patronized many times, encapsulates best what a consumer like me seeks with their motto: Not Just a Cup, but a Just Cup. I want to drink great coffee, but I’d prefer not to do so on the backs of modern day slaves.

Nottage’s Ruined is not, I should add, a play about coffee. Its setting is a bar/brothel, and beer, whiskey, and Fanta are the beverages I recall from the script. The subject matter is intense, and should be painful to anyone with an interest in social justice. Or to anyone with a heart.

Like other works I’ve read/seen by this playwright, Ruined is a story about women getting by in a world where someone else wields most of the power. It’s a tale of making do with one’s terrible circumstances, and coming to terms with it all as best as one can.

One needn’t look as far as the Congo to find such injustice and resilience, either. We’ve got plenty of it here at home in America. One of the best plays I’ve seen performed this decade was Nottage’s Sweat*** at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Aside from being a masterful work in and of itself, Sweat also inspired an “immersive transmedia” art project This is Reading in Reading, PA, the Rust Belt setting for that tale of struggle.

It can be hard to unravel the threads of thoughtful consumption in an era of broad scale multinational trade. You could give up completely, or simply begin where you can: by asking questions, and by sharing what you learn. My quick research into coffee farming in the Congo led me to more new questions than answers. Yours may yield better fruit.

Where we all benefit is by calling attention to those with less power than ourselves, and making even small efforts to do them good. Our strength increases with numbers; so, too, does our ability to enact positive change.

*The mall is not my natural habitat.

**As I understand it, it is easier to identify the flavorful nuances of a particular bean when the roast is lighter. I think I’m looking for extra complexity in my cup.

It’s a common misconception that dark roast coffee is “stronger” in every way than light. Roasting destroys some of the caffeine in the beans, so breakfast blends are usually a medium roast to maintain their power to perk!

Dark roast coffee has a deeper color, but it isn’t stronger in every sense of the word.

A few days later, I found two distinct Reserve varietals from different regions of the Congo at a local Starbucks with a Clover machine (used for making specialty single brews and not offered at most locations.) I enjoyed a cup of Idjwi Island Reserve, but not quite as much as the Nordstrom Congo Ituri.

But NOT the world’s second most valuable commodity, as you’ll see misstated all over the internet. My brief bit of research suggests that was true back in the 1970’s or so, but hasn’t been factual for quite some time. If you want to read more, try this article.

***And, in what has been my favorite performance in years, I must draw attention to the quiet dignity of actor Carlo Albán who traveled with Sweat from its world premiere at OSF to New York City. He played an often nearly invisible busboy in the play, usually reacting to the “bigger” characters swirling around him, and did it with such a beautiful, aching intensity that I was frankly honored to spend a few hours with him at an OSF dinner later on. I’m not the only one who was similarly affected by Mr. Albán!

New England’s glory is autumn: musings on a Hallowed Eve

At some point if you’re lucky you realize you’re old enough that half your life has happened after college. For me, that also marks the division between growing up “at Home” in the American Pacific NW, and then living for almost two decades in the Northeast, first in Central* New York, then still further eastward until I ran out of land and stopped just short of the Atlantic Ocean.

While Home is still where my heart resides, autumn is the season when I most appreciate living in New England. I find that my otherwise least favorite chore—driving on the region’s rarely planned, oft overcrowded roads—becomes a source of radiant joy on crisp, clear fall mornings.

garden view of bench on frosty autumn morningI am the sort of person whose heart really does feel swollen to bursting in the face of beauty. I get moved to tears easily and often, especially by evidence of the enormous capacity of human beings for goodness and generosity. I literally jump for joy when I get excited. I’m not what you might call “hard to stir” at any time. And yet…

Simply passing along our suburban lane these past few days has been a wonderland of well-framed vistas, with all credit due to Mother Nature. I may hate the new McMansions thrown up around the corner, but even they look fantastic bedecked with pots of purple mums and overhung by turning leaves in yellow, orange, and blazing red, mirrored by their fallen comrades drifting the street below and browning into dust.

With the ground heavily frosted this morning, I stole a moment I couldn’t spare in the yard to snap a photo of rimed flowers, drooping toward death, yet somehow more magnificent than ever in their regal fading.

Frost rimed flower and fallen autumn leavesThe best photos, I’ll never capture. It is the empty road embraced by fiery foliage that stirs me, moves me, but can’t be caught. I’ve always loved the promise of whirring along en route to the pleasures of a destination, and it is this combination of robust kinetic energy within the season of winding down and wrapping up that makes these moments so momentous for me.

I hope someday to return Home to stay, resuming the mantle of grey days and soft, cool mist that is my birthright. I miss the sight of constant, snow-capped mountains swathed in evergreens, and even the ubiquitous rain. But, if I do depart, I will always miss New England’s blazing autumns. These daily miracles will remain forever etched on my soul.

Happy Halloween, dear readers!

*Not “Upstate” New York, which means somewhere else in the large state that also happens to house that glory hog, New York City. This is a distinction quite dear to those who live near my alma mater. I went to college in a rural part of the state, where cows outnumbered even students. Our little village didn’t even host a gas station.

Here’s where I can’t help but make a terrible and rather inappropriate joke, so I’ll keep it below the fold. Stop here, children. Continue reading