Wednesday, January 27, 2010

January Book List and Day 13 of News Fast

Hi everyone,

One of the things I'm doing this year (thanks to the AwesomeNote ipod app, which has been hugely helpful in notetaking and keeping track of things) is keeping a list of books I've read. I wanted to share the list for the month of January:

War Trash by Ha Jin
Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
The Cripple and His Talismans by Anosh Irani
Khabzela by Liz McGregor
The End of Overeating by David Kessler
The Foreign Student by Susan Choi
Bookkeeping for Dummies (not finished yet)
Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith
The Full Cupboard of Life by Alexander McCall Smith

Although I probably won't have time to think deeply on this blog about each one, I'll try to give really short summaries of each in the next few weeks. How about you? Have you read any interesting books this month?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Butternut Squash seeds

Jo Hunter Adams

I wanted to share with you the awesomeness of butternut squash (sorry that I never appreciated it before, mom and dad...). I tried this Butternut Squash Soup Recipe, with the only modification of roasting the butternut squash rather than boiling it with the other ingredients. I also roasted the seeds (for about 15 minutes) with a tiny brushing of olive oil and a little salt. The seeds are crunchy and nutty and feel like a treat. The soup was also great.
So, for those of you suffering through the Northern Hemisphere winter, take heart! Root vegetables and gourds have potential!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Meal Plans: Day 10

Jo Hunter Adams

Inspired by my brilliant sister-in-law on our visit to South Africa, Eug and I have been trying out meal plans as a way of avoiding eating out and keeping our grocery bill down. Our CSA has ended, which means the glorious unpredictability of our food supply has given way to a genius, foolproof plan for eating well and saving money!

What's been useful about the process so far is that it's helped us try out a couple of new meals every two weeks (and see what we like and what we don't). Don't you find that you have a psychological need to full an empty fridge? Our genius plan reassures me that we have enough food for the full two weeks, even if the fridge looks like it's emptying out. On evenings where we're not to excited about cooking, we have good simple fast options. As a bonus, it makes it easy to eat very little meat.

Wow, I used the word "easy" a lot in that paragraph! Going back to the public health ideas about behaviour change and self-efficacy, it's most likely that we will make changes that we feel are manageable. Gradual change and simple options tend to be more manageable than deciding to make gourmet meals every night. So here's to good, simple, cheap food!

One unexpectedly good recipe from the last two weeks:

Adapted from Lentil Loaf
Prep Time:
45 MinCook Time:
50 MinReady In:
1 Hr 35 Min

1 1/8 cups green lentils
2 1/4 cups water
6 slices white bread, torn into small pieces
2 or 3 eggs
1 cup vegetable broth water
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian herbs/marjoram/basil
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup grated cheese

Combine lentils and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer until tender, about 40 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C). Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan.
In a large bowl, mix together 2 cups cooked lentils, bread, eggs, broth or water, tomato paste, basil, garlic powder, black pepper, parsley, olive oil. Spread into prepared pan. Add some cheese or nuts for extra taste.
Bake for 40 minutes. Sprinkle top with grated cheese or bread crumbs, and continue baking another 10 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Should we try to make sense of terrible events?: Day 9 of News Fast

Jo Hunter Adams

I noticed that my usual sense of mild indignation at the "state of the world" is much diminished during these two weeks of fasting. It makes me think of the bumper sticker that reads "If you're not outraged then you haven't been paying attention". My sense is that there's a space for that outrage in short, action-filled bursts, but it's not helpful when it's a low-ebbing sense of frustration.

My perspective on the earthquake(s) in Haiti is also altered by the fact that I haven't seen pictures or read, as I would otherwise have done.

I wanted to share some thoughts I heard on the questions that one sometimes asks when such a huge, inherently unexplainable, tragedy occurs.

1. Asking "why?" is sometimes an attempt to insulate ourselves from recognizing our own vulnerability-- if we can suggest why something happened to someone else, maybe it'll feel less likely that tragedy hit us. But the reality is that hard times will hit all of us, albeit in different ways.

2. Asking "why?" cannot lead to anything good (a sense of peace, a sense of how to prevent future tragedy, etc). It'll lead to anything between paralysis and devastating pain.

As such, evil and tragedy are not to be understood, they're to be actively combatted.

Action, in this case, seems to mean prayer, money, and time.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Day 7

Hi everyone,

Just a quick post today. I made it through Day 6 (or 8, depending on how you count the weekend), mainly because I had to be accountable to you guys.

In week 2, my hope is that I'll be able to build some moments of pause into my day. Here's to a good week!


Monday, January 18, 2010

Your Planner and Bank Statement as Moral Documents: News Fast Day 6

Jo Hunter Adams

About a year ago I wrote about jubilee and economic justice. 2009 seemed to be a year of consolidation: paying off debt, learning to eat a bit differently; it was also year of awesome family gatherings. 2010 begins a new season-- our finances look different (and we no longer own stocks), we are both in different jobs, and becoming parents in May also signifies a major change in our lives. It's a good time to think about living intentionally.

Perhaps that's why Jim Wallis's description of our planners and our budget as "moral documents" seemed particularly pertinent. The question that this brings is "Does the way I spend my time and money reflect my core values?" It's very helpful for me to ask what it means to spend much of the week at work-- both for the time spent there, and for the time that remains. I like these questions, particularly when I (or Eug and I) reflect on choices that may be counter-cultural. Radical decisions seem much less extreme. If I believe in jubilee and in economic justice, how does that play out?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Day 5, Fun and Drudgery

We've all heard it takes 30 days to break a habit. I'm on day 5 of the news fast, and I've decided it makes sense to fast for 30 work days (rather than calendar days), mainly to break the habit of seeking something relational from the internet "community". This week I've been discovering that some of my desire for community is satiated by facebook, blogs and news sites (aaah, the comments section of the NYTimes...) but that that's really not where I want to see those desires fulfilled. After the thirty days, I'll see what I can start reading again.

Which brings me to this story of how we experience much of our lives and relationships at work every day: A couple of weeks ago I heard a story on NPR about the relationship (or non-relationship) between pay and productivity.

When people get paid to do something that they used to do for enjoyment, scientists found a lot of people totally stopped doing that thing. In the context of work, I interpreted the question as: does getting paid actually amplify a sense of drudgery? One answer seems to be that one should not work long-term only for money; it's not enough of a motivation to bring satisfaction.

This seemed applicable to my work, so my goal is to reserve a couple of hours in my work week to catch up on the "big picture" of why I'm doing the work I'm doing. I've decided to use that time to keep up to date with the literature in the field and affirm my work in that way. What could it mean for you?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti and News Fast Day 4

I'm on to day 4 of the news fast. I heard about the earthquake in Haiti and am praying for people there. I considered breaking the fast to find out more, but I decided instead to try to focus my prayers on Haitians I know.

How do you react to tragedy that is distant? What is your role?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

News Fast Day 3, and Growing

So, it's day 3 of the news fast and it's getting more difficult. I have plenty of time to think and write, which is great, but I also have a sense of being out of touch. I realized much of my knowing what's happening in friends' and family's lives depends on Facebook, rather than actual interaction.

I am also thinking a lot about being pregnant and becoming a parent in a city (and country) that's both expensive and very hardworking. The responsbility of doing things right-- planning right, eating right, exercising right, working right, sleeping right, avoiding stress-- can be overwhelming in a society that prides itself in having options (and perhaps any society). I've realized it's not a burden that's worth carrying, but it's also a burden that's hard to let go of!

In the midst of a lot of choices, my hope is that we can live below our means in the smallest place we can handle, continue to live without a car; and try to expose Little Blob to everything that's awesome about Boston- the beautiful gardens, great summer feel, the diversity, our church, friends, and being nearby Eug's family.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Day 1 and 2 of News Fast

Jo Hunter Adams

I've been learning about different kinds of fasting recently, and given my pregnancy I didn't want to fast from food. At the same time, I've been thinking about my news addiction (is that too strong a word?) and it felt like it was the thing I could release myself from for the next thirty days.

The fast includes all news websites, my Google Reader, as well as Facebook.

Reading news tends to be a means for me to avoid something, particularly work. It takes a lot of my time and I tend to talk and think a lot about it. I'm excited to step back and figure out what is useful and helpful in my life and what isn't.

In "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" Barbara Kingsolver wrote about how we tend to live vicariously and be affected by news that actually need not affect us. I'm sympathetic to this view. It's tremendously hard to focus on the present, and be present to whatever is happening in the room that you're in at that moment.

I've tended to believe that being informed, understanding current events and reading good news sources are all very important for me to be able to live a socially responsible life. Yet when I take stock, many of my more deeply held views on socially responsibility and current events come from books written well after the fact, rather than daily news sources. I'm not exactly sure at what point observing life and actually living it come in conflict with one another. I certainly want to understand issues where I can add my voice or respond in some way (even if the response is just on this blog). But I also what to be fully engaged in the relationships and interactions I am in the midst of.

So here's to the next 29 days! I'll let you know how it goes.

A Not so Tiny House

Earlier in 2009 I wrote about our dream of having our very own tiny house. Part of our dream was about much more than the house itself (though tiny houses are supercool): it was a desire for a home, for the benefits of simplicity, for monthly bills that we could handle.
In December we found ourselves with all those desires fulfilled, although fulfilled with a sense of "now and not quite yet."

We didn't arrive in South Africa with the intention of buying a house, although we hoped to learn what we could to prepare to do that in the future. But we found ourselves in Observatory and fell in love with it. It's very close to the center of Cape Town, has a university feel, and is generally exactly what Eug and I like.

Miraculously, among the few houses we saw in Observatory, one was within our price range. It's a two bedroom semi-detached house we really loved, and were able to make an offer and sign on the day we left South Africa (see the white house on the right). We'll be renting it out in the short term, but it seems like a huge step towards our vision and hope for our future.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Eugene has been working on starting something amazing, and he's letting me come along for the ride! Conferre Designs is looking for contributions for its first publication, set to post in March.

For the first issue:
Do you know people doing great things "Working Locally, Thinking Globally", in Boston? We'd love to interview them! You can nominate yourself to be interviewed, also!


I'm just back from South Africa where I was impressed by all the creative ways that my family was making things beautiful- from my sister's family's nightly fireside "fun times", to incredible collections of succulents and orchids in my brother's home, to photography, to knowing how much meat to bring to the braai and creating wedding centrepieces. Particularly as I prepare for our first baby, I felt a little nostalgic for all the homey things that, being here in Boston, I don't seem to have learned just yet.

I was recently encouraged on this front, and I wanted to share for those of you who are coming at creativity and beauty from a faith perspective:
1. Sometimes you can just do something beautiful for God. Leading in culture doesn't mean focusing on art as a means to an end.
2. Practice is better than perfection. If I keep practicing, I'll inevitably improve.
3. Inspiration and creative growth can be supernatural.

Eug has a special calling to creativity as a designer and problem solver, and I felt inspired to keep on at this blog as an exercise. What about you?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Theories of Behavior Change

I'm able to write posts on the train to work now, which means you can expect a post twice a week: on Tuesdays and on Fridays.

This past year has included a lot of changes. One of these was giving up our car after it broke in august.
One of the reasons we were able to make this change was Eugene was just starting out as a freelancer and so no longer needed to commute to work. We live within walking distance of Eugene's family and can borrow their car, or a Zipcar, in a crunch.

In public health one of the most powerful theories around behavior change regards self-efficacy: we follow through with what we think we think we can handle. Albeit somewhat cynical, it's hugely effective in gauging what change can work and when.

We certainly won't be without a car forever, but it's one change of 2009 that I'm really excited about.

To come: Some developments after our trip to South Africa!