Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Story of Stuff

Ever wonder how we became a nation of consumers? Annie Leonard lays it all out in her fun and informative video, The Story of Stuff.

If you are like me, by the end you will be scratching your head and looking for ways to cut back on how much you buy. I really just wanted to shred my credit card and go on a no buying binge. I began to wonder if there is anything that I really need...besides food, shelter, and water. Do I really need the latest Counting Crows CD? Or that new plastic lawn furniture? I will never look at a discount or big box store the same way again.

For the first time, I saw how consumerism works from the beginning of the cycle (but it's not really a cycle but linear where we always need more raw materials to produce the disposable goods) to the end - me and my stuff. It's scary how fast we are using up, polluting, and contaminating our planet.

The website gives practical tips to curbing our buying habits and helping our planet. Watch it today. You'll be glad you did. It's a real eye opener. Thanks to my wonderful husband, Todd, for finding The Story of Stuff so I could share it with all of you here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Molly, The Invincible Horse- Another Hurricane Katrina Miracle

Please watch Molly's story.

The video speaks for itself. It's truly worth the time. Molly is the embodiment of strong spirit and what can be accomplished when we use our knowledge and resources to help one of God's precious creatures.

Molly survived Hurricane Katrina only to be attacked by pit bull terriers shortly after her rescue. Her right front leg was devastated. In most circumstances this would mean death for a horse. Thanks to the staff at Louisiana State University, Molly is alive and well. They amputated her leg and gave her a prosthesis - the first of it's kind.

Now she works as a therapy horse to inspire young people and others with disabilities. If you think all hope is gone out of this world, Molly, the doctors and compassionate individuals who helped her will renew your faith.

Thanks to Margaret McGlaun for telling me about Molly.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman - How Not To Learn To Kill

By discussing and studying how soldiers and law enforcement officers are trained to kill, Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman believes we can begin to understand the connections between our children, an increasingly violent society, and violent entertainment.

I recently stumbled on an interesting book. On Killing - The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. I wouldn't normally buy a book of this sort but I thought it would provide valuable insight into a character in a novel I'm writing. Joe is a Vietnam vet with issues and I needed to understand those issues to get inside his head.

The Pulitzer prize nominated book by Dave Grossman was full of the insight I needed but it was also so much more. As the mother of five children, I became engrossed in his analysis of the techniques the military uses to train new soldiers for combat - this triad of conditioning includes these concepts: desensitisation, demoralization, and denial.

He points out that after WWII commanders noted that only a small percentage of the soldiers actually fired their close range weapons during combat. So during the years between WWII and Vietnam a training was devised to overcome a soldier's reluctance to kill. This included closely simulated combat and targets that look like and in some cases bleed and explode like human bodies. After the implementation of this type of conditioning the individual soldier's fire rate increased from around 10% in WWII to 95% in Vietnam. According to Grossman this is called "the quick kill response" or "operating with the safety off".

In his book he lays out sound reasoning to demonstrate that "we" as a society are teaching our children to operate with the safety off.

Children as young as six years old spend hours a day playing video and computer games. Their slightly older brothers and sisters are playing, too and totally engrossed in life-simulation (RPG) games. Some are fun like Thrillville - where kids build, design, and run their own amusement parks. Some are slightly provocative like The SIMS - where the child build their own people and the worlds and situations they live in. For better or worse they are God in the SIMS world. They decide if the SIMS character has a happy life or if they live or die.

Then their are the games like the Grand Theft Auto series (and there are many others. This is a lucrative genre) which through RPG format use the same conditioning techniques as the military but without the safe guards and controlled setting.

Lt. Colonel Grossman believes that these games are a factor in the rise in non-discriminant violence among young people. They desensitize the child to acts of violence against other humans (and animals). They demoralize the simulated victims of the violence (an example is the picture at the left taken from Grand Theft Auto) and they teach kids to deny the consequences of their acts. After all they're not real people so it's okay...until the day they transfer this conditioning to life. An example of this would be the Columbine High School Massacre of 1999.

All of this sounds doom and gloom but it's not. Thanks to Lt. Colonel Grossman's research we can be armed with the knowledge of how people learn. We can identify the "smoking guns" in our homes. And we have the awareness that we can do it differently.

Say no to violent video games - specifically games that involve the killing and demoralization of other human characters in real life or combat settings.

Say no to violent movies - movie violence is only useful if it shows the fullness of the situation. This would be a movie like Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan which are horrific but actually are deterrents to violence because they show the emotional and societal consequences of the acts. Gratuitous torture movies, like the ones that have recently flooded our theaters have no redeeming value and teach us to gain entertainment value from the painful death of another.

Pay attention to the ratings on games - know what you are buying and giving permission to your children to play. Educate yourself first.

There are many factors upon which the web of a violent society depends. This is only one but think about how much would change if we eliminated just this one type of violent stimulus from our children's daily routine. As John Lennon said, "Imagine."

On Killing is valuable reading for anyone with influence over a child and a fitting gift for any parent. Lt. Colonel Grossman uses his experience as a West Point psychologist, as a solider and a scholar to write a compelling book. He should be commended for presenting this provocative thesis. He has his critics and some do not agree but as a mother his work resonated with me. Read it and decide for yourself.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

One World Cafe - Where Everybody Eats

If your visiting Salt Lake City, Utah take a moment and go to One World Cafe, a different kind of restaurant that believes in the right of all people to eat a sustainable meal. Their mission is to end hunger in their community one meal at a time. There is no set menu and no set price for the food. A customer pays what they feel the meal is worth and if they can't pay they can volunteer time in exchange for the food.

One World Cafe is part of a growing trend - restaurants who serve the community as well as serving food. The meals are prepared by chefs with organic ingredients that are available that day. The menus are evolving, tasty and nutritionally complete. At One World Cafe there is a brochure that contains suggested donations for the food and staple items are complimentary. Unlike a soup kitchen, no one knows if you are paying or eating for free or using a voucher earned by volunteering. It's a hand up not a hand out. Dignity not degrading.

These cafes in cities like Salt Lake and Denver, CO are visited by people from all walks of life. The well-to-do come for the freshly prepared food and leave a little more in the donation box. The working poor get a balanced meal for a fair price. The impoverished wipe tables, do minor repairs, work in the garden, sweep the floor and even meditate and pray in exchange for a voucher. By eating and interacting together during meal time, the learn about each other. It quickly becomes apparent that we are all the same, with the same basic needs and desires.

I am so intrigued by this concept. I haven't stopped talking about it since I discovered it. I think my city could benefit from this type of restaurant. I'd love to be the one to open it. Denise Cerreta, the founder of One World Cafe and the One World Everybody Eats Foundation, is available to help people like me get started. She's posted a plan for new establishments on her website and is there as a mentor if needed.

Can you imagine? Please read more on the One World website. There is too much good information to put here. This is so simple and pure - everyone is entitled to food. Don't you agree?

Friday, June 6, 2008

CASA Volunteers - The Voice Of At Risk Children

On any given day more than 100,000 foster children are waiting to be adopted. More than that are hoping for reunification with their families. The foster care case workers are overworked and overloaded with more children than they could ever hope to help.

As a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) you can fill that need and be the voice for a child that is otherwise lost in an unforgiving system of experts, courts and revolving door homes.

The official CASA website is quoted as saying...In 1977, a Seattle judge conceived the idea of using trained community volunteers to speak for the best interests of abused and neglected children in court. So successful was this program that soon judges across the country began utilizing citizen advocates. In 1990, the US Congress encouraged the expansion of CASA programs with passage of the Victims of Child Abuse Act.

This was one year before I became a foster mother. I remember hearing about the fledgling CASA program in Wyoming, where I lived. My foster daughter did not have a CASA appointed to her. I sometimes wonder if the times she was before a judge if this advocate might have been able to secure more help for her and her family. Maybe she could have gone home to her parents instead of being pushed into possible emancipation and an eventual move cross-country to live with relatives she barely knew.

Today, CASA have grown to a network of more than 59,000 volunteers that serve 243,000 abused and neglected children through 900+ local program offices nationwide. Their advocates, also known as volunteer guardians ad litem in some jurisdictions, are appointed by judges and act as officers of the court. Judges rely on the information these trusted advocates present.

When a CASA is involved the recommended services are most always approved by a judge. A child with a CASA volunteer is more likely to be adopted or reunited with their birth parents when appropriate. CASA children are less likely to reenter the Child Welfare System. CASA's give a voice to a child that has none in a system that is designed not to hear their small pleas.

Recently, on National Public Radio I heard the story of a young girl who'd languished in the Child Welfare System. Her mother, a drug addict, had turned her over the county saying that the 13 year old girl was mentally ill and had attempted suicide. None of it was true, except that the mother wanted to be free of the responsibility of her child.

The young girl stayed in a mental facility for six months with minimal evaluation and no one listening to the truth of her life. Eventually, a CASA was appointed to her and after one meeting with the volunteer she was rushed into court, declared a ward of the state and given a suitable foster home. She will be entering college this fall and the one constant in her life since her abandonment has been the relationship with her CASA. In her words, "She saved my life."

It's not alway that dramatic. CASA's don't have delusions that they can fix the world but they can be there when no one else is. That is VERY important in these children's lives. There are CASA chapters all over the country eagerly looking for volunteers. They train and equip the volunteers with all the knowledge they need to nurture and protect these children while they are in this precarious situation. Maybe you would like to help by becoming a volunteer yourself.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Summer of Excess - Accomplishments and Blessings

Yesterday my oldest son finished high school. I'm very proud of him. He's the artist type, the creative, esoteric type that sees little use in a formal education. School was a struggle, not because he couldn't do it. He's among the smartest in his class. It was a struggle because for a perceptive, visionary young man the traditional education system offered him nothing of value.

I believe he's graduating to prove to everyone that he didn't really need anything they taught within the walls of his high school. His diploma will be an anti-accomplishment and his future accomplishments a way to thumb his nose at the establishment. And that's okay, in the long run, those are the people, the mavericks, who grow up to change the world. They are full of big ideas that don't fit into the mold of single-minded society. All I can say is, "That's my boy!"

As we watched the coverage of the end of the democratic primary, I told him, "You have two things to remember this day by. It's the day you finished high school and the day your candidate (and mine) won the nomination for president." They are both historic events.

Another event I'd like to mark is the wedding of Jimmy Nettles and Tina Thompson. I was honored to stand at Tina's side as they pledged their love to one another. The love emanating from the two of them was almost overwhelming, so much so that I stopped looking at Jimmy's face after I felt tears welling up to match his emotion.

The bride and groom sang "Only God Could Love You More" to each other and I don't think there was a dry eye in the house. Congratulations to Tina and Jimmy. I believe they will share many happy years together, learning and growing, nurturing and loving each other. Not to mention they will have tons of fun because they enjoy each other so much. What more could they ask for?

I know the winding path Tina's walked to find this love. Nothing is by chance. Each step, though some were painful, were laid out by God. This was a joyous stepping stone, one that I hope leads to many, many more like it.