Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The power of one

I will start by admitting that I am not good at keeping up with the news. I enjoy reading novels, magazines and various things online (blogs, articles, facebook posts etc.) but I don't like to watch or read news stories.

The biggest reason for this is that I don't like sad stories, and generally... the news includes sad stories of people who got killed, or injured, people who died in war, or other various bad things that happen fairly often in this sinful world we live in.

This is not to say that I never know what is going on in the world. Blake reads news fairly often, and lets me know some of the headlines of the day (even when they are sad... even though I ask him not to :-P). Also, you would be surprised how much news you can learn just from facebook and blogs. If it is big enough, everyone is talking about it... so I hear about it too!

However, there is a category of news that I really enjoy reading and am happy when I stumble upon it: hero stories. The stories where someone steps out and does something great and changes another person's life in the process.

Today I ran across two hero stories (links at the bottom to learn about them from the news) and I felt they were worth sharing, they were that good.

Apparently there is something about huge cliffs that appeal to people as their preferred way to end their life. In Australia, there is a guy who lives really close to one of these cliffs, and using binoculars can actually see people on the cliff who are contemplating this end. If he sees this, he actually goes to the cliff and talks to them and invites the sorrowful stranger back to his house for tea. He admits that not everyone is open to this, and he has seen people reject his help and his offer... but many more are thankful to have someone who cares. With his quiet presence and willingness to be there for them, people walk away realizing that life is worth living.

There is a similar story of a guy in Japan who walks to a popular cliff twice a day in hopes of deterring people there from committing suicide.

Each of them has stopped over 100 suicides, and the Japanese guy goes a step farther and actually keeps in contact with each person he has rescued, still checking on them and showing them that someone cares.

What an amazing calling! I love that there are people out there who literally devote their life to helping strangers. I actually think that in some ways, knowing that it is a random stranger who wants to do this makes more of an impact than the organizations set up to do the same thing. If I knew that the person helping me was doing it because it was their job, I might not believe that they truly cared about me. A random person stopping to talk to me about how I am feeling is very different.

It also reminds me of my most haunting psychology class that I had in college- basically the class showed numerous examples of how we, as people, tend to think that someone else will take care of it (whatever it is), and sometimes that means that nobody does.

There is something called the bystander effect. Basically, if there are a couple of people who are witnesses or experiencing the same thing, we wait until someone else acts before we act. But since we are all waiting for someone else to react... nobody does. If, on the other hand, someone takes responsibility, and starts asking those around to help, everyone mobilizes and sees how they can help.

A tame example of this was done as an experiment: the people who were going to participate in this experiment thought they were waiting for it to begin (it actually took place during the "waiting" time.) Smoke started coming out from under the door of another room into the waiting room. If the participant was alone, they always alerted the scientists. If the participant was waiting with other people (people planted by the scientists to not do anything), then many times they did nothing.

The less tame examples included people getting seriously hurt or killed while others stood around doing nothing.

Ever since that class I have hoped that if a situation like that came up, I wouldn't be the one to do nothing. I will no longer assume that someone else will take care of it. I want to be like these guys who stop suicides all the time (not exactly like them, but just taking the power of one). We can't help everyone... but we can all help someone. Many people who attempt suicide have said that if someone even smiled at them, they might not have done it. So... smile! Reach out to people in need! (I am saying this to myself too). I think the world would be a better place if everyone took this attitude of looking out for people to help.



Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Great Big Bear weekend

Big Bear
Blake and I spent last weekend up in Big Bear, where his parents have a cabin. It was such a nice weekend!

Honestly, there was very little that we did there that we couldn't have done at home, but I think weekends at home too often turn into errand running busy weekends, where being away from all the housework and responsibilities allows for more relaxation.

We both (yes, Blake too!) spent a good amount of time just sitting outside reading. Reading outside surrounded by trees and forest is definitely superior to just reading at home.
Big Bear

Big Bear

Other "could do at home but better here" activities included some wii games and a board game, as well as our fantastic meals. The meals were especially good because unlike home, where we generally try our best to eat healthy... for Big Bear we planned to eat more fun meals. We got there late Friday night so our first meal there was breakfast the next day. We had peanut butter banana pancakes (had never made these particular kind of pancakes before, but they were great), bacon and eggs. For lunch we had seven layer dip and chips (yep... as our meal!). For dinner we set up the coals (not without a few tries) and grilled bison steaks, potato, corn and artichoke. It was all delicious treats. Okay, I know for a splurging weekend, nothing sounds all that bad... but the meals were planned in a brainstorming what would be best for _____. The above meals is what we came up with. (This might be partially due to the fact that we generally like how we eat at home, so don't need to do anything that different).

Big Bear

Big Bear

Now, there were some things that we did that we couldn't do at home (at least not with what we own). We did play horseshoes... but that was somewhat sad... I won! I got two points, compared to Blake's one, and this is after a long time of playing. So we decided it was time to quit this game and try something else. (Also, Blake said it was no fun playing with me... I admit that I am not that great... but he wasn't playing that well either... since I won! Maybe he was trying to not make me look bad... or maybe playing with his brother and dad makes him try more because he doesn't want to look bad to them? Not sure... but I do know that playing horseshoes for 30-40 minutes with your high score being a 2... isn't the most exciting game).

We also played badminton. This was a game that we enjoyed! We actually were fairly closely matched. Overall, Blake won more games, but I got one or two in there as well. After 4 or 5 games (guessing here), I said we should just rally. My logic was mostly that in a game, your goal is for the other person not to hit it, but I wanted to practice actually keeping it going. We were doing so well that I decided first to count how many times we could hit it before it dropped. Then (because I am a goal setting kind of person) I said that I thought we should keep rallying until we hit it 50 times without it hitting the ground.

For the first bit of this, it seemed I had set too high of a goal, but then we made it to 33. Somehow this sparked a determination in both of us that we WERE going to make this badminton goal if it took us all weekend! We kept playing, and got many more around 29 to 31... but always seemed to lose it. At one point we had a great rally, and I asked Blake how high we had gotten (after the first couple times, he took over counting) and he said 42. So close... and made us so much more determined! With a few breaks in between to get dinner ready, we kept trying... and we made it! On the last hit Blake hit the birdie to the ground and said 51! At this point, triumphant after 3 or 4 hours of playing, we were done with badminton for the weekend.

Our furry friend Roxie also enjoyed the weekend. I spent sometime training her to catch a Frisbee midair, and she was actually getting pretty good at it, as long as I threw it near enough to her. She enjoyed running around and chewing on sticks, but she actually gave us the most entertainment when Blake was watering the trees on their property.

Big Bear

Big Bear

Big Bear

Roxie was running around, having a good time, chasing the frisbee etc. Then I guess she got hot... because she decided to get wet... and muddy. I was cracking up and grabbed the camera. Eventually we made her get out, and we put the wood chips back (don't worry Lori, it looks fine, we cleaned up after her), and then laughed some more at the muddy mess she made of herself.

Big Bear

Big Bear

Big Bear

Big Bear

Big Bear

There was only one thing I would have wished was different... the moon. Strange, I know, but there is logic to this. You see, we like seeing meteor showers, and trying for that elusive chance to see a shooting star. But here, in Orange County, star visibility is low. VERY low. So we had talked before that someday we should plan to be in Big Bear for a meteor shower, so we can really enjoy it. When I asked my mother in law about the cabin's availability, last weekend was the last spot open for the summer, so we took it. Only later did Blake find out that luck was on our side and there was actually a meteor shower taking place Friday and Saturday! Except... it was also a full moon. We are talking spotlight bright moon. Honestly, visibility was about as good as we have here normally, that bad.

We still wanted to try (figuring that we can sometimes see them at home) so we brought out a sheet from home, put our air mattress on it, and stared at the night sky. Friday night we saw 3... and Saturday night we saw none (maybe one out the corner of our eyes... but not really). This was the results of one of the better meteor showers of the year... sigh. Though, we are planning on asking about next year getting a group together at Big Bear to watch this shower together, when the moon is predicted to be a lot less bright.

Overall, still a great relaxing weekend.

p.s. To my mother in law, who reads this blog, thank you for letting us enjoy your wonderful cabin for the weekend. Even if many of our activities could be done at home, they were so much better away from home. We truly appreciate it!

Repost of Anita's post

A little less than a month ago our coordinator made a post that I was really thankful for, explaining why it takes so long to get a referral for a child to adopt when there are millions of orphans in the country.

I know that I have been asked many times why the referral is expected to take so long, and I try to explain it as best as I can, but as an adoption coordinator and an adoptive mom herself, who can explain it better than her?

After reading this post, part of me was thankful for how long it takes, because it could mean that some of those children that might have been referred are instead getting to stay with family, and that is a good thing. Anyways, I hope you enjoy learning a little more about the process in country before it even starts to involve us in the United States.

Copied from http://gillispiefam.blogspot.com/2011/08/how-hard-is-it-to-find-2-orphans.html

"One of my awesome families mentioned today that her family had a hard time understanding why it would take so long to adopt two orphaned boys. How hard could it be to find 2 orphaned boys in a country where there are estimated to be a million orphans? As I wrote out just how hard that can be, I thought maybe others might like to know what goes into it. I think it's common for folks new to international adoption to naively assume it should be an easy thing.

Here's the deal....

1. We don't try to "find" orphans. There is a huge amount of "luck" (fate, destiny, whatever you want to call it) involved simply for orphaned children to ever be known outside of their village.

2. There is NO centralized system in Ghana to track the orphans in the country. No list of kids in orphanages--not even a complete list of orphanages themselves.

3. If two orphaned boys are identified, the first thing we're going to do is try to see if they can remain with their family (immediate or distant)! Second, we're going to see if the boys could possibly be adopted within Ghana, domestically.

4. If the boys can't be adopted domestically and can't stay with biological family, the known biological family has to be counseled about what adoption is (and what it is not). There are LOTS of reasons why a family--even if they can't care for their children--does not want the child to be adopted.

5. If the family wants the boys to be adopted, they also have to know and accept that they will profit NOTHING from giving the boys for adoption. No gifts. No sponsorship. No ongoing support from the adoptive family after the children are in America. Nothing.

6. Even if the immediate family understands all of this and still wants the boys to go for adoption, the head of the family and oftentimes even the village chief must also agree. [Not a legal requirement, but a cultural one, to be sure.]

7. If all of that falls into place (and that is a lot) we have to hope that the boys are in a region that allows adoption (some do not) and that if the region allows adoption, the officials there are not corrupt (some are).

8. If ALL of that happens, THEN these boys could be recommended for adoption by Social Welfare--being made free for adoption."

I am going to add a postscript here as well- after step 8, people are contacted mainly in order of how long they have been waiting, also keeping in mind the perimeters that they specified on healthiness, age, sex of the child etc. So even if a child makes it through all the hoops to be able to be adopted, they might not come to our family because other people have been waiting longer or they might be too old for what we are looking for.

It could be a long wait. The silver lining is that most families don't wait over a year for referral. I know, small silver lining, but I hold on to that as a reasonable timeline, and some kind of direction for my life, and if it is shorter, yay! If we happen to be one of the over the year ones (sigh) then I trust it is for a reason, and God wants Blake and I to enjoy more non-kid time together and for me to spend more time with the students I encounter.

As of May 12th, Anita had shared this:
"Do you know how long our longest waiting family has been waiting? Less
than 5 months! At the beginning of the year we had a family who had
waited 22 months for referral. Even last week we had a few families who
had been waiting over a year. But now we're making referrals to
families who have only been waiting 5 months! Several families this
year have received referrals almost immediately because they were open
to children over six; and all of our "long-waiting" families have now
been matched."

Definitely a positive! And that information also gives me hope. You can see from the ticker that we are obviously not the longest waiting family at the moment (especially since as of May 12th I don't think we were even on the list!) But people are getting matched, children are getting referred, and our time will come. :-D

Friday, August 12, 2011

Free Money

So this post is kind of an infomercial... but I want to preface it by saying that I waited quite a while before posting on this topic to make sure that it was legit, and not just from other people's statements, but my own.

A little over a month ago, I heard about this site called swagbucks. Bottom line, is that when you use swagbucks as your search engine, you can earn swagbucks that can in turn be redeemed for prizes and giftcards.

Knowing that I really had nothing to lose in this experiment, I set up an account (which was really easy to do) and started searching via swagbucks. My searches, for the record, include stuff that I could just go to a bookmarked page or just type in the url, but I figure one more search can't hurt, so I will "search" for gmail, etc.

Anyways, in this month, I have earned and redeemed 50 dollars at restaurants.com and 5 dollars at amazon.

Every 400 I can get the restaurant.com certificate. Disclaimer on these is that they won't pay for the whole meal (someone has to get something out of it, after all). But last night we had dinner (very tasty) at Wolfgang Puck Bistro. It was a 50 dollar meal, but we only paid 25 because of our restaurant.com certificate. Each of their certificates comes with certain limitations, for example, ours was we had to spend 35 dollars to use the 25 certificate. But still... half off a nice meal isn't bad by me!

For amazon, it is every 425 (I think) for a 5 dollar giftcard. But there is no limitations or you have to spend x amount, I just get 5 more dollars toward my kindle books, just from using this search engine!

This is not to say there are downsides- I will be honest and upfront: you have to screen your searches more closely. It is second nature to me now, but sprinkled throughout the searches that you actually want are sponsored searches- they say they are sponsored if you are looking for it, and you can avoid them easily, but you can see why this search engine can give you money... because many people probably click on the ads, and those sponsors are happy.

I also want to say that all of my earnings have not just been from searches. I earn 3 additional swagbucks daily by 1- using their toolbar, which I don't mind doing because it makes it easier to use this search engine to search, 2- doing the daily poll earns one, 3- clicking on the surveys page. I have done a few surveys, but I usually don't qualify, but just clicking on the page to do them earns a buck.

In addition I have watched swagtv- which earns you a couple dollars for every 10 or so clips you watch. I have done their no obligation special offers, where I click no for all of them and are rewarded for my time with 1 or 2 swagbucks.

If I was so inclined, I could use their coupons, and earn some for every coupon I redeem. I also could do trial offers, or daily deals and get more, but I haven't done any of these yet. I haven't done the coupons because they aren't things that we could get from Sprouts, and the trial offers and daily deals haven't been worth it to me yet, but I wouldn't be opposed to them.

At this point, I have decided to rotate doing the restaurant.com and the amazon cards, but consider that in about a month, I have gotten 50 dollars off of meals that Blake and I will eat at, and 5 dollars at Amazon. This is legitimate and a fun way to stretch our dollar.

Here is a news report talking about swagbucks:

If this made you interested in signing up... you can click HERE or on my link on the right underneath my books.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Squirrels, preparing for the winter- part 2

Bit of background:

Last summer, we had loads of tomatoes,and we were giving them away like crazy. I even brought a bag to a doctor's appointment last summer in the pure effort to give them away. Even so, there were tomatoes that went bad in our cupboard because we didn't get to them. We only preserved 3 jars of pasta sauce, but didn't think much about it.

Last winter, when our Red Octobers were done, and our tomatoes were all gone, we were sad that we had to start using cans of tomatoes and spaghetti sauce from the store, when we had everything we needed to can and preserve our own when we had a lot of them. (I use tomatoes in dishes all year long, particularly in soups during the cold months.) So when we planned our garden, the question of surplus tomatoes came up. We hated the waste when we had too many, but the thought of having our tomatoes in soups and dishes in the winter was a tempting prospect.

This spring, we planted a lot of tomato plants knowing ahead of time that we couldn't use them all, but intentionally planning on canning and preserving them for the winter months.

In previous posts, I showed the quantity of pasta sauce that we made. So when we picked on Saturday and got another large batch of tomatoes...



... we knew that we needed to preserve them again. However, this time, we decided to just do diced tomatoes for soups. (I also got a few more from my parents too).

Phew was it a lot of work!

First, we had to peel all of them (this bowl of the skins should give you some perspective on just how many we had to skin):

The small ones we kept whole, the larger ones we quartered. Here is what the pot looked like, just filled with tomatoes!

After we brought it to boiling, it was ready to be put into jars and then a hot water bath. Here is the results of our efforts:

Now we have 9 jars of tomatoes for winter soups, and if our plants keep producing, we will likely do another batch this way.

I am fairly sure that the commercial cans of tomatoes don't have seeds or as much liquid. Our jars have chunks still, but honestly are mostly the liquid, but my logic is even a jar of tomato liquid with a few chunks will add that good flavor to the soup.

In other cooking news, we have tried two more Ghanaian recipes... but we didn't love these either...

We made pancakes, but the recipe called for nutmeg, and although we learned from the meat pies and significantly reduced the nutmeg from what the recipe called for, it was still enough that we didn't love them. Edible... but only okay.

Yesterday, we tried a recipe for oven baked fish. It is topped with a mixture of spices, garlic, onion and pepper. Blake enjoyed it, but it really was too strong for me. Blake says he would eat it again, but knowing that it was too much for me, it is less likely that we would make it again.

I am happy that we keep trying their foods, but I am really finding that they like strong flavors. At least, stronger flavors than I like.

Though, I do want to point out in the above picture that my own recipe really turned out good with the green beans. I combined them with leeks, soy sauce, ginger and orange, and I really liked how that turned out.

Last thing of note is that we reorganized our grain/bean section of the cupboard. I like it so much I wanted to post it as well!

This is a significant upgrade from having all those grains in bags. Easier to find, and thus easier to use.