Thursday, August 28, 2008

Let Me Thank You For Your Time

I wish I’d written the lyrics to Alabama’s song “Forty-Hour Week”. My eyes tear up every time I hear it. I’ve got blue-collar DNA, and the last few years, I’ve had the privilege of working in close proximity to men and women who work with their hands building and retrofitting the infrastructure of this nation. It has been an amazing experience.

I don’t know why these last years were such an eye-opener. I grew up around people in the trades. My dad was a mechanic and a heavy equipment operator. His formal education stopped after the eighth grade, but informally, he never stopped learning. He read Popular Mechanics, automotive manuals, the dictionary, and the grocery-store-premium set of encyclopedias my mother collected when I was in middle school. He could fix anything, and since we always lived in remote areas, far from places big enough to have repair shops, people would come by to have him look at their car or washing machine or lawn mower and see if he could fix it. He always could.

My husband grew up working with his hands and made college and mission money working as a carpenter. He spent twenty-five years of evening and weekends making a polyester purse out of our old sow’s ear of a farmstead, starting with plumbing, then wiring, then tearing out walls, installing cabinets, and finally, installing flooring. Our oldest son, from an early age, showed an amazing ability to visualize mechanical and electrical things, diagnose problems, and make repairs. He’s worked for years as a Ford technician. It wasn’t until my youngest son came along that I realized not every male on the planet comes with the innate ability to fix a washing machine. Or put together a pre-cut, pre-finished book case.

About ten years ago, my husband worked for a contractor who liked to bid on difficult stuff, and he (husband) got to do some fun (his word) jobs that were one-of-a-kind, usually involved danger, and always had some knotty logistical problems that had to be solved before they could even begin.

I was offered the job as his job-site secretary because of my writing skills, as the owner had delayed the job and everyone knew the contractor would be making a claim. I was in charge of documentation. I left a perfectly wonderful job in education to do that, and I’ve thought many times in the intervening years how lucky I was to have the chance to live in the world of industrial construction. I didn’t have to work in the rain and the snow with the rest of the crew, but I shared the long hours and walked down the same soggy path to the chilly sanican.

I saw the dedication these men had and their grace under pressure. I witnessed their skill in solving problems, in translating the lines on a set of blueprints into a solid, working, three-dimensional reality under the worst of conditions. I felt privileged to sit in the job shack and support their efforts.

So, here’s to you, the blue collar workers of America. This Labor Day, I thank you for your service. We would not be the nation we are without your work ethic, your know-how, your willingness to solve those problems and get ‘er done. In your honor, here’s a link to Alabama’s “Forty Hour Week”

Return to The Neighborhood

Monday, August 25, 2008

Baking in Bolivia

In my last posting I blogged about how flipping burgers is the major source of funding for SWAN's microcredit capital. Today's posting is about one lady who has received a loan through SWAN.

When Terry traveled to Bolivia in January to begin the first round of microcredit assistance, she and her Bolivian operative, Sonia, felt that the speediest way of finding an initial pool of elegible women would be to approach LDS bishops in the area and ask them to contact the most needy in their wards, tell them about the opportunity, and let them know about the informational meeting SWAN was holding to explain the microcredit program and requirements.

Elizabeth was one of the women who attended that first meeting. She and her seven children live in a one-room shack in a very poor area of town. (The picture is of Sonia in front of Elizabeth's house.) Elizabeth's husband abandoned her for another woman and offers no support to his children.

Elizabeth filled out all the paperwork to make application for a loan of $300 to purchase an oven, some baking pans, and the supplies to begin a bread bakery. As they read over the application forms, Terry and Sonia felt that Elizabeth’s situation was dire and that she should receive the first microcredit after she completed the self-employment workshop taught in a series of four classes by local representatives of the LDS welfare department.

It should be stated here that these microcredits are available to women of all faiths. The classes are taught by an entity with LDS connections because that was what was available without charge. Terry found other humanitarian organizations that had a similar resource, but all would have charged a per-person fee that would have seriously cut into available loan capital. Similarly, the first class that received instruction was largely LDS because that was an easily reachable demographic. Word of mouth has already spread news of the opportunity, and the second class will have a completely different representation of faiths.

Back to Elizabeth: She took the twelve-hour class and then Sonia went with her to purchase what was needed for her new business. Few people in Bolivia have ovens in their homes, so they purchased a free-standing propane oven. They also bought large baking pans and the necessary supplies.
Because Elizabeth’s house is so small, a neighbor allows her to keep the oven under an awning, which allows her protection from the elements while she’s baking. Each day after school, her children help her do the prep work for the next day’s work, and she rises early to have the bread done in time for her customers’ early meal. Her clientele are the people of her area, which is so poor that there hasn’t been a bakery situated there before.

Elizabeth’s bakery has been able to sustain her family. She is able to feed her children and pay back her loan. In a country with no social safety net, no welfare system at all, that has to be counted as success.

Back to neighborhood

Friday, August 22, 2008

Burgers for Bolivia

It’s the end of the summer and that means that the Pattie Wagon shuts down. Every Wednesday, from May through August, my daughter Terry parks her concession wagon in the parking lot of the hardware store and opens for business from eleven a.m. until seven p.m.

The owner of the hardware store lets Terry borrow electricity and use his dumpster, and the townspeople stop to buy burgers and meatball sandwiches because they know the proceeds go to fund microcredits for poor women in Bolivia through SWAN (Serving Women Across Nations). Terry also funnels Pattie Wagon money to OFDC (Opportunity Fund for Developing Countries) which supplies mosquito nets, malaria medicine and school supplies to children in Kenya and Nepal.

Terry says one of the bonuses of working at the Pattie Wagon is that people who come to eat share stories of other grass-roots, people-to-people, helping going on in the world. Most everyone has a sister-in-law or a cousin’s friend who has seen a need and decided to do something about it. Everybody smiles a lot as they talk about it.

Terry served in Bolivia as a missionary in 1987 and returned to Montero, Bolivia, last January to set up SWAN as a legal entity. She said that it was amazing how doors were opened so that process could happen without impinging on the money earmarked for microcredits.

To date, SWAN has been able to extend microcredits to thirty Bolivian women. Before they can apply for a business loan, the women have to take a twelve-hour business management class. In searching for some agency that could offer this class without soaking up microcredit capital, Terry approached the LDS Church Welfare Department and found that they had just such a class available and would not only send someone to teach it, but would also provide notebooks and supplies.

SWAN has a director on the ground in Montero who administers the loans, makes sure the money is used for the purpose for which it was intended, and coaches the ladies about good fiscal practices. Meanwhile, Terry and her children, and other family members occasionally, are busy flipping burgers, getting together a fund for another round of microcredits.

This coming January, Terry will again head to Montero. She’s taking her husband, Matt, who will do dental work in rural clinics by day and will build a classroom by night so women who are bootstrapping up with the help of SWAN (CISNE in Spanish) can have a consistent place to have their classes and support-group meetings.

This summer, the Pattie Wagon, plus regular donations from people who have adopted this charity, has generated enough income to fund another thirty microcredits.

Next time I’ll tell the story of Elizabeth and the business she began with her microcredit.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Carp at your Service

An odd, expensive, little service offered by a single beauty salon in Alexandria, Virginia, was covered nationwide, lately. I read about it on the internet, but it was also detailed in my small-town daily. The service is a fish pedicure.

The fish involved are garra rufa, commonly known as doctor fish. They were first used in Turkey and had become popular in some Asian countries before Yvonne Hair and Nails salon introduced them to America.

The fish are small, perhaps an inch long, and have no teeth. They feed on dead skin, and when presented with a pair of feet in an individual, warm-water foot bath, they immediately swarm around, gumming off areas that a pedicurist would otherwise remove with a razor. The treatment lasts from a quarter to half an hour, after which the customer gets a standard pedicure.

All the articles I read seemed to have been picked up from a single source: AP. The article says that the service has been offered for four months, and in that time five thousand pedicures have been given. (That’s at $35 for fifteen minutes, $50 for half hour.) Each foot tank has about a hundred fish in it, with the salon’s stable (school?) of total fish numbering about a thousand.

I was trying to do the math about how much money the salon would have made that first four months, considering the investment was about forty thousand. I also wondered how voracious the fish were, because to run that many people through, it seems as though the fish would be required to eat on demand all day long. My observation of fish, gleaned from several spectacularly unsuccessful fishing trips, is that fish have definite times when they’re willing to eat and other long stretches when they fast.

Pedicures seem to be so popular, nowadays that even some of my granddaughters have had them. I’ve never had one, not even a regular, non-fishy, pedicure. However, when I was a teenager, we used to swim at Falks Lake all summer, and I remember many times when I’d have to shake my feet, because some little fishies were nibbling my toes. The water was so clear that I could look down and see them. I can still remember the tickling sensation, just like the patron described in the AP article. I didn’t realize it then, but I was way ahead of this particular beauty curve.

Return to Neighborhood

Friday, August 15, 2008

Serving in the Campground

Our family has two major campouts each year: Memorial Day and Labor Day. We camp close to home, always at the same places.

Memorial day, we camp at recreational property owned by our stake that sits on the Stillaguamish River. It’s a beautiful site and over the years has been developed to the point that two sets of missionaries have been called to staff it. They preside over the work parties that come from nearby wards and stakes to cut wood, beat back the blackberry bushes, and build all the amenities that make camping more enjoyable. (In western Washington, that generally means a roof of some kind, and the 30- by 50-foot cabana is the thing that draws us there during the perennially iffy May weather.)

The first missionaries we met there were old friends from a neighboring ward. They said they had been at loose ends after returning from their second mission and heard that people were needed at the recreational property, so they volunteered. Two years later, on our annual campout, we found that they had been replaced by two couples. One was from Texas. I can’t remember where the other was from, but I’m sure it was equally dry. They were handling the rain just fine, and were doing great things with the campground. Of course there were tractors and chain saws involved, and the elders seemed to enjoy that.

Our other family campout is up in the mountains at a National Forest Service campground. At the entrance to the campground, the first two or three campsites are occupied by camp hosts. These are volunteers who, in exchange for free ‘rent’ at the campground all summer, work for a few hours each day keeping the grounds tidy, collecting fees, selling wood and renting boats.

These volunteers do a great service to campers, because their volunteerism keeps fees lower and puts more ‘in charge’ bodies at the campground to meet the needs of visitors. We have always found them to be courteous and available.

Some of the federal agencies that have campgrounds contract with private companies to supply them with camp hosts. In these campgrounds, the hosts get their camp site for free, but they’re paid for the maintenance work they do. You can go to to find out about that.

Other state and national parks use volunteers, and here’s a site that lists open positions by state:

Or, if you think the recreational missionary sounds like a good thing, talk to your bishop. However, as you wait for your call, keep humming, “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go.”

Return to Neighborhood

Monday, August 11, 2008

My Favorite Service

My guest blogger today is my brother, Ron Shook. He teaches at Utah State University, and it was he who thought up this clever way of covering 'Service' for yourLDSneighborhood. Much as I would have liked to have written it, I let him do the honors.

Dr. Ron Shook writes:

Once in a while, everyone should read poetry that’s fun, that’s easy to read and understand, and that kind of rolls off the tongue as you say it (You really need to read poetry out loud). The “great” poetry of the world tends to be heavy, full of meaning that’s hard to extract, and often, depressing as all get out. So, we get

I wander through each chartered street
Near where the chartered Thames does flow
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe
...William Blake

That’s from his poem “London.” Don’t get me wrong; Blake is well worth reading, very strong, very profound. One of the best poets in history, in fact.

On the other hand, though, we have this:

I give you now Professor Twist
A conscientious scientist.
Trustees exclaimed, “He never bungles,”
And sent him off to distant jungles.
Camped beside a riverside,
One day he missed his loving bride.
She had, a guide informed him later,
Been eaten by an alligator.
Professor Twist could not but smile,
“You mean,” he said, “a crocodile.”

...Ogden Nash

I won’t bother to argue what makes good poetry (My definition is “What I like”). Instead I’d like to introduce you to one of the best readable poets: Robert Service (get the tie-in to this blog?). His poetry can be very strong, especially when he’s writing about war, but what he does best is to write long narrative poems that sound wonderful, with plenty of internal rhyme, perfectly regular cadences, and story lines that are scary (Ballad of the Black Fox Skin), rollicking (The Cremation of Sam McGee), or tragic in a non-tragic way (The Shooting of Dan McGrew).

After more years than I care to count, I can still remember the opening lines of The Cremation of Sam McGee.

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold.
The arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold.
The northern lights have seen strange sights,
But the strangest they ever did see
Was the night on the marge of Lake LeBarge,
When I cremated Sam McGee.

Read it aloud. Notice how it rolls along, almost of its own accord. And don’t you want to find out how it ends? I could recite the final lines too, but that would give it away.

Literary chaps of the kind who dwell in universities, would say, “It’s skillful, but it’s not great art.” My response would be, “So what?”

So, do yourself a service. Google up Robert Service and read some of his poetry.

All quotes are from memory and approximate.

Liz here:

Here's a site to get you started.

Then, if you'd like to read more about Robert Service, here's a website devoted to him.

Back to the Neighborhood

Friday, August 8, 2008

Erasing the Carbon Footprint

Last time I blogged about the service offered to hobby farmers by local meatcutters who have mobile slaughter units that travel to the farms and convert the animal on the hoof to rump roasts and hamburger in the freezer.

This is a boon to family economies in rural areas, but this service is offered only to non-commercial ventures. You cannot raise a herd of cattle and have the mobile slaughter unit come in and process meat that you hope to sell to a restaurant or grocery store, because meat sold to the public has to be processed in a facility that is inspected by the U. S. Department of Agriculture, and USDA inspectors don’t travel with small mobile slaughter units. They didn't until now, that is.

I live in western Washington State, a place that is green in more ways than one. In more arid areas, it takes several acres to sustain one cow, but in this verdant pasturage, you can easily sustain two cows per acre. Hundreds of small farms surround each community, and many of these farms are owned by people who are trying to make a living off of the land. They have found many niche markets, such as raising goats and making goat milk soap, raising lavender and herbs, cultivating berries for retail sale, or making cheese. These are all labor intensive, and the more second-job-friendly pursuit of raising beef has been unavailable because the nearest USDA slaughterhouse is too far away. Even if they could afford to truck their cattle that far, small farms often don’t meet the minimum number of cattle required to use the facility.

Enter the second ‘green’, the one that means environmentalism. Washington has always been in the earth friendly vanguard, and a small band of farmers in my area got to looking at the carbon footprint created by trucking cattle to a far off slaughterhouse and then trucking the meat back to local markets. If there were a way to have a USDA inspected mobile slaughter unit, this would do away with unnecessary carbon emissions. Even better, local markets would benefit from grass-fed beef, and more small farmers could utilize their fields by growing beef cattle.

According to Seattle Magazine, in 2002, a group of farmers in Skagit (my county) and Island Counties got together with USDA and set up just such a unit. There are now three in Washington serving small farmers. New Mexico and California followed suit, and in September 2007, according to this article, each of those states had one.

There’s another great article about the mobile slaughtering unit in the San Juan Islander. And, you can see a picture of it at the Lopez Community Land Trust newsletter.

This is a paradigm shift and an example of ingenuity at work to kill two birds—one economic, one environmental (not to mention the cows), with one stone.

Return to the Neighborhood

Monday, August 4, 2008

A Service for Gentlemen Farmers

Ideas for what to blog about on my Service Blog come to me in odd ways. This one came as I was on Francis Road, a winding county road that cuts through farmland and is the back way from Mount Vernon, where I work, to Sedro Woolley, where I live. I got behind a mobile slaughter unit and thought, aha! I have intimate knowledge of what a service that is.

At the beginning of my Mother Earth Decade, from about 1974 to 1984, I was determined that, when we got our farm, we would do everything ourselves, including slaughtering and butchering of animals we raised. I had read lots of books and, to practice, we bought half a pork and prepared to cut it up ourselves. It had been scalded and scraped, so the skin was still on it, and as we laid it out on the kitchen table, it was all there: half a snout, half a face, one ear, one eye, two legs (one front, one rear), half a body, and half a tail.

I drew dotted lines on the pig carcass to match the ones in my cookbook showing cuts of pork, and my husband waded in with a meat saw. We ended up with some extra parts, including the half-head and hooves, but we did well enough that I was confident we could do the whole thing, from live pig to wrapped-in-the-freezer, when the time came.

Fast forward two years. We’ve got the farm. We’ve got the pig. The pig has grown beautifully on reject cannery corn and is now ready for slaughter. We’ve re-read the books. We have the barrel filled with water and a fire under it for scalding. We have a tripod with a winch set up over the barrel so we can manage the dead weight of the pig. We have a sheet of plywood adjacent to the barrel to provide a clean surface, since the pig has created a muddy sty of his pen. My husband puts some grain out and, when the pig obliges by tippy-toeing up on the plywood and begins munching, hubby raises his rifle to his shoulder.

Now, my husband has done this before. He knows where he needs to place the bullet. However, he hasn’t reckoned on the pig bobbing his head as he smacks his lips over the nice last meal we’ve provided. Blam! He pulls the trigger at just the wrong moment, and, instead of the pig folding up its legs and dropping on the nice clean plywood, he heads for the tumbledown barn that is representative of all we’re trying to do here, squealing all the way.

The kids and I stay up by the tripod and scalding barrel while my husband follows the pig to the back of the barn. Blam! Blam-blam! Blam-blam-blam! I began to wonder how many bullets he has in the magazine when, finally, there is silence.

A moment later, the mighty hunter appears in the barn door and says he needs help. He has been trying to drag the pig through the barn, but can’t manage by himself. We add our combined strength, but pretty soon it is obvious that we will never be able to drag the pig to the scalding barrel. By that time, the water is simmering, so moving the barrel will be no small task, either. We end up skinning the pig, rather than scraping it, a process not covered by the books we've read.

That was just the first of a series of experiences, all equally instructive, that convinced us that it was worth the money to call the mobile slaughter unit. They offer a great service, driving up in a big truck, dispatching the animal, taking care of whatever needs to be done as far as hide and innards, and driving away. A week or so later, you go to their office and pick up cardboard boxes of frozen meat, all wrapped and labeled. Then you take it home and put it in your freezer.

However, I'm glad we had the experience as a family of providing meat for the table from start to finish. Our children learned early that, when you order a Big Mac or some chicken nuggets, they don't appear by magic at the drive-up window. There's a process which involves an animal dying and a lot of work for someone before it gets to you, and we wanted them to have the chance to consider that as they bowed their heads and gave thanks.

Return to Neighborhood

Friday, August 1, 2008

StoryCorps' Service to America

Today I thought I'd blog about the Service that StoryCorps is doing to capture the oral histories of everyday Americans and preserve them for posterity.

I’ve been listening to StoryCorps stories since they began broadcasting in 2003, not because I was a StoryCorps junkie, but because it was on the particular station I was listening to on the way to work.

However, I am a family history nut. (I even have two blogs dedicated family history--
one for family and one for a wider audience.) That’s why StoryCorps moves me every time I hear the weekly segment on NPR.

Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps, began with a sound studio booth in New York City's Grand Central Station. Feeling that everybody’s story matters, he made it possible for children to bring in parents or grandparents and interview them about what life was like when they were young; for husbands and wives to tell stories of how they met or overcame obstacles; and for participants in momentous moments in history to relate their part in that particular grand scheme of things.

Since that beginning in 2003, StoryCorps has traveled around the U.S., and over 35,000 normal, everyday people have visited a StoryCorps booth or mobile sound studio to interview family and friends. The stories they tell are anything but ‘everyday’. Some of the stories are poignant, like the one of a man who worked as a sanitation worker in Memphis and who marched with Martin Luther King just before his assination. Some are gripping, like the one of an immigrant braving dangers to come to America. And, some are hilarious, like the story told by the 94-year-old lady about her mother giving her an inflatable bra to help with a self image problem when she was a flat-chested young lady, and how it almost caused an international incident while she was flying over the Andes in an unpressurized airplane.

After each interview, participants are given a free CD of the session, and the content is preserved at the Library of Congress. Segments are chosen to be aired on public radio and the web.

StoryCorps is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind. You can read about it by going to the StoryCorps web site. Find out how you can be involved, either by moving and shaking so that a mobile sound studio comes to your area, by traveling to a StoryCorps site, or by using an at-home interview kit.

On the
StoryCorps web site you can also listen to segments that have been broadcast or sign up for podcasts. Or, you can order the book Listening is an Act of Love, which is a collection of stories from the project.

Check it out! You’ll be richer for it.

Return to Neighborhood