Be the change #30 – Change your diet (week 2)

Posted by on Jul 23rd, 2017 in Blog | 1 comment

Week two of eating mostly vegetarian.  Still not finding it hard at all.  I don’t miss the extra meat, and Al has been fine supplementing his meals with a little more meat as he feels the need.   Note that I haven’t given up my most-beloved indulgences:  a glass of wine with dinner almost every night, and dessert after dinner.  Our desserts aren’t usually fancy:  a dish of frozen yogurt, an ice-cream sandwich, a little dark chocolate.  I like to bake, though, and I will bake us something indulgent every week or two.  Last week I made tarte tatin for bunco and there was a little left over.  The week before I made a cherry pie.  Here are the past week’s menus:  Vegetarian Experiment Week Two.  As always, I am glad to provide recipes for starred dishes.

Be the Change #29 – Change your diet (week one)

Posted by on Jul 16th, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

I found a quick calculator that helped me to estimate my household’s carbon footprint.  Ours is about 12 tons per year.  Want to know yours?  Check out this LINK

Twelve tons seemed like a lot to me.  It takes about 63 trees to offset that much.  In the fall, we have so many leaves to rake that it FEELS like we have 63 trees on our little suburban lot.  But we don’t.  So, I researched the top ways to reduce your footprint…

1.       Cut down on air travel.  One round-trip flight between New York and San Francisco creates a warming effect equivalent to 2-3 tons of CO2 per person. 

2.       Walk or ride public transportation as much as you can.   Even if you drive a small car, and only drive 500 miles per month, your car is spewing about 1.7 tons of CO2 annually. 

3.       Eat a vegetarian diet.   

4.       Have fewer children.

Too late for that last one!

I admit I love to travel and will not be reducing my carbon footprint that way any time soon.  I already drive a fuel-efficient car and take public transportation to work.  But, I’m really worried about climate change and, in the spirit of my ‘be the change’ theme, rather than complaining about Trump pulling out of the Paris accord, I decided to try eating less meat.

My daughter and son-in-law have been vegetarians for years, so I know first-hand how do-able it is.  And I’ve never been someone who has to eat at lot of meat at every meal.  But, I do enjoy meat, so I just didn’t think I could go vegetarian, much less vegan.  I decided to try reducing my meat consumption by about 70%.  I’ve been on this flexitarian diet for a week now, and I’m not finding it hard at all.  And I lost a pound!  But, better yet, I’m reducing our carbon footprint by almost a ton per year.  I’d encourage almost anyone to try this.  I’ll publish my menus weekly for the next several weeks, and can provide recipes for starred items on request. 

Here’s a link to this week’s menus:

Vegetarian Experiment Week One







Did Augustine Invent Sex?

Posted by on Jul 6th, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

Well, an article in the June 19 issue of The New Yorker says he did.

I highly recommend the article as very interesting reading about Saint Augustine’s early life and how his thinking on the topic of sexuality evolved and became the foundation of the Christian position on sex.  In a nutshell, the author relates Augustine’s first adolescent experience with an involuntary erection to his later thinking on the topic of Original Sin.  Because we are unable to control our lust, we are fundamentally flawed and in need of salvation.

I have a few quibbles with the piece.  First, the description of Augustine’s education fails to mention a key figure: his patron Romanianus (renamed Urbanus in The Saint’s Mistress because some of my early readers found the name Romanianus confusing).

Second, their son’s budding adolescent sexuality was far from the only point of contention between Augustine’s parents, Monica and Patricius.

Third, the author states that Augustine “didn’t even bother to mention” the name of his mistress in the Confessions, implying that she was of little importance to him.  In fact, Augustine describes in the Confessions how very deeply he loved the mistress that I named Leona in The Saint’s Mistress.  He describes his anguish in being torn from her.  They were lovers for 14 years, and she was the mother of his only child.  I think it is indisputable that he loved her.  I interpret his reticence to name her as a way of protecting her privacy.

Fourth, as I portray in my book, Augustine contemplated chastity long before his conversion to Christianity.  In the period of the late Roman empire,  several cults arose that required chastity in their adherents, probably in reaction to the self-indulgence and debauchery of the era.  The Manichean elect, for example, were to be chaste.

Overall, though, I really liked this article.  It described Augustine’s thought process on the topic of sexuality in a way that was clear, correct and entertaining.  I liked how the author delved into the future saint’s past to help explain his keen interest in the topic.  Saint Augustine certainly knew lust and failed again and again at self-mastery, just as we all do.  He was brilliant.  And now he is holy.  But, he was deeply, fully passionately human during his life – a saint any of us can identify with.


Be the Change #28 – Protect Water Resources

Posted by on Jul 3rd, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

Al and I got a rain barrel this week.  For $85, we got the barrel, the spigot, instructions and a very informative lecture – not just on how to use the rain barrel, but about the threats to safe drinking water in Pennsylvania and what we all can do to protect our water resources.

The most important thing we learned is why our rain barrel is important.  We thought it was just a way of saving money during summer dry spells when we have a lawn and garden to water.  We hope it will be that, but it has the even more vital function of reducing the load on our sewer systems.

Water that runs off your roof into a downspout can contribute to storm sewer overload.  Storm sewer overload results in storm water being diverted into a Combined Sewer System, leading to Combined Sewer Overflow:  the discharge into our groundwater, rivers and streams of storm runoff mixed with untreated sewage.  Yuck!

Our rain barrel will allow us to collect rain water that otherwise would have gone into storm sewers, and then use it to water our yard during dry spells.  Rather than contributing to sewer overload, the collected rainwater will seep through the ground and return to our water supply filtered by soil and roots, as nature intended.  Now I feel virtuous as well as thrifty!

We learned many other ways to help protect our water resources. Most of them are pretty easy, and Al and I will be putting them into practice in the coming months.  Here are a few:

  1. Recycle used motor oil and anti-freeze, and other hazardous waste (here is information about hazardous waste recycling in Allegheny County: ZEROWASTE). NEVER dump it in a storm sewer, or you could be drinking it next time you’re thirsty!  If auto fluids leak onto your driveway, absorb them with kitty litter, rather than hosing them onto the street, where they will run into the nearest storm sewer.
  2. Always clean up after your dog. Do you want to drink dog poop that ran off into a storm sewer?  Neither do I.
  3. Limit your use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Water frequently (from your rain barrel!) or use mulch instead of herbicides as much as possible.  Use natural, non-toxic products.  Corn gluten meal is one natural weed killer.
  4. Use green cleaning supplies. Make your own, or use products such as Meyers or Seventh Generation.
  5. Limit your use of plastics as much as you can. I know it’s hard, but I feel newly committed after learning about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  Read about it HERE.

More information is available from the Pennsylvania Resources Council.  I strongly encourage you to check out their intranet site.

Be the Change #27 – Be Like Dorothy

Posted by on Jun 25th, 2017 in Blog | 1 comment

When she was in her 20s, Dorothy Day would have seemed like a long-shot for sainthood.  She lived a bohemian lifestyle including multiple lovers, an abortion and a child born outside of marriage – and this was in the 1920s, when society didn’t exactly shrug at that as we do today.  She was, at various times, either an Anarchist or a Socialist.

But…raised in a non-church-going family, Dorothy had had an interest in religion as a child, and her spirituality was re-awakened with the birth of her own child.  And her sense of social injustice had been kindled by her encounters with the poor and working class during her years as a pacifist, Socialist and suffragette.

As she approached 30, Dorothy became very attracted to Catholicism and received baptism in 1927.  Never one to do anything by half measures, she took very seriously Christ’s injunction to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and care for the sick and the stranger.

With Peter Maurin, she co-founded the Catholic Worker newspaper in 1933.  The Catholic Worker advocated for the poor and the working class.  Day and Maurin argued against both big business and big government, and tried to present an alternative economic vision that in many ways harkened back to early-19th century America: small farms, small businesses, widespread property ownership, and a reliance on the individual, the family and the community.

Day and Maurin advocated for the lower classes in their deeds as well as their words.   They embraced “holy poverty” in their own lives.  They refused to accept advertising in The Catholic Worker and the newspaper’s staff was unpaid.  Most of the proceeds from the Worker (which had a peak circulation of 190,000 in 1938) funded Hospitality Houses in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which provided food and clothing to the poor of the community.  They also founded Catholic Worker farms, where the sick and homeless could recover and the idle could find useful work.

The Worker’s extreme pacifism was unpopular during World War Two, and the newspaper’s circulation declined significantly.  Peter Maurin died in 1949.  But the Catholic Worker movement lived on.  Over 200 Catholic Worker communities still operate today, in cities and on farms.  Dorothy Day continued her life of writing, activism and holy poverty until her death in 1980.  She was first proposed for sainthood in 1983.  In March 2000, Pope John Paul II approved the case to go forward, which allows her the title “Servant of God”.  The formal application for sainthood was received by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2012 and is still pending.

What I admire most about Dorothy Day is her total fidelity to Christ’s words in Matthew 25:40: “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

What I find most intriguing about her is her opposition to both big business and big government, her ultimate rejection of Socialism as well as her rejection of rampant crony capitalism.  Did Dorothy and Peter imagine some middle way that could be unifying for our Divided States of America in the 21st century?  I plan to do some more reading on this topic, and I will report on it in future blog posts.

Be the Change #26 – Be Like Ricky, Taliesin and Micah

Posted by on Jun 18th, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

The man pictured at left is Ricky John Best.  Remember him if you ever think America has completely lost its way. 

On May 26, three men were stabbed on a Portland light-rail train when they tried to defend two young women from anti-Muslim harassment.  These men were heroes, every bit as much as our police, firefighters and soldiers, every bit as much as the passengers on Flight 93 on 9/11/01.  They were the kind of ordinary, decent guys who represent the best in America.  They deserve to be remembered.

Ricky John Best died in the train car.  The 53-year-old father of 4 was a Portland city employee and a 23-year Army veteran.  His son Erik said, “He died fighting the good fight, protecting the innocent.  Honestly, that’s what he probably wanted.”

Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, 23, died at a Portland hospital shortly after the attack.  A recent college graduate, he worked for the consulting firm Cadmus Group.  His last words were, “Tell everyone on this train I love them.”

Micah David-Cole Fletcher survived the attack.  Fletcher is a student at Portland State University and won a poetry contest in high school with a poem about Islamophobia. A friend said of him, “If there’s a march or protest happening, he’s the one calling me to see where I’m at…He’s just against injustice, that’s his personality.”

Another hero is Rachel Macy, who stayed with Namkai-Meche as he bled, praying for him and assuring him that he wasn’t alone. 

As for the attacker, he doesn’t deserve to have his name mentioned, nor to have his vile rant quoted.  He represents thoroughly anti-American values, is unworthy of the sacrifices of our heroes throughout our 241-year history, and deserves a lifetime in prison.

Ricky, Teliesin and Micah represent an America where the weak and innocent are protected, where religious and racial minorities are welcomed and respected, and where common decency is the norm.

They represent the America that crowdfunded $1 million for their families within just a few days of the attack.  They represent the America where hundreds gathered in a candlelight vigil to honor them near the Hollywood Transit Station where the attacks took place. They represent the Bilal Mosque in Beaverton, Oregon, which has also set up a fund for the victims’ families.

Rachel Macy reported that all 3 men tried to position themselves between the attacker and the two girls he was yelling at.  These were regular guys.  Only one of them was a trained soldier.  Any of us can do exactly what they did.    Here’s a link to a cartoon that describes in a simple visual what to do to defend our values of tolerance, respect and kindness towards all, just like Rick, Teliesin and Micah: FIGHT ISLAMOPHOBIA


Be the Change #25 – Be Like LeRoy

Posted by on Jun 10th, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

Two years ago next Saturday, white supremacist Dylann Roof was welcomed into a Bible Study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and shot dead 9 people, including the church’s senior pastor, State Senator Clementa Pinckney.

The tragedy set off a remarkable chain of events.

First, the relatives of the victims expressed forgiveness towards Roof only days later, at the hearing to set his bond. Read their anguished, redemptive statements HERE.  Their Christian forgiveness takes my breath away, humbles me.  I don’t know if I could do the same.

Second, at long last, the Confederate flag, which Roof had taken as his symbol, was removed from the South Carolina State House grounds, and moved to a museum, where it belongs.

At a white supremacist rally to protest the flag removal, a third remarkable thing happened, and that’s the story I want to tell here.

LeRoy Smith was the director of the South Caroline Department of Public Safety, and he was working the rally that day to support his subordinates.  It was a hot day, and Smith noticed an older white man who appeared to be overcome by the heat.

The white man was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a swastika.

Leroy Smith is African-American.  He had every reason to hate white supremacists. The rally had turned nasty, with catcalls between protesters and counter-protesters, some jostling, even some bottle-throwing.  So, Smith had his hands full, and had every excuse to ignore the white man’s distress.  But that’s not what he did.

Smith gently took the man’s arm, and slowly walked up him the steps and into the air-conditioned State House, murmuring reassurance and encouragement.

Photos of the two men went viral on the media.  When asked why he thinks the photos were so impactful, Smith responded, “Love.  I think that’s the greatest thing in the world-  love.  And that’s why so many people were moved by it.”  (Read the full New York Times report of the incident HERE)

If a black man can show compassion for a white supremacist, then surely we can love each other in spite of our political differences.  I call that radical love.  I challenge you this week to go out of your way to show radical love to someone who has hurt you, or someone whose political views are abhorrent to you.

Be the Change #24 – Random Acts of Kindness at Work

Posted by on May 27th, 2017 in Blog | 1 comment

We spend more time at work than most us do with our families.  For many of us, co-workers are a family away from home – and sometimes they can get on our nerves or hurt our feelings just like family members.  It can be hard to be kind.  It’s so easy to form cliques, or hold onto grudges and resentments. This week, following a nice, relaxing long holiday weekend, I challenge you to break out of the mold and practice at least one random act of kindness at work.

These 10 ideas assume that you work in an office.  Even if you don’t most, of these actions can still work for you.  Or think of your own!

  1. Bring in snacks to share. Bake cookies of muffins, or bring in a basket of juicy strawberries
  2. Offer to do a lunch, or coffee or tea, run for a co-worker who is heads-down on a deadline.
  3. Bring in flowers to brighten up the whole office. Put them in an area where everyone can enjoy them.
  4. Buy a couple of cheap umbrellas to keep in your desk to offer to co-workers who are going out to lunch or leaving for the day and have not brought one.
  5. When someone does great work, tell their boss, in person or via e-mail.
  6. Invite the new person to have lunch with you.
  7. Clean out the microwave, even if you aren’t the one who made the mess – and don’t complain to everyone in earshot about it. Just quietly clean it.
  8. Start a library in the break room by bringing in books or magazines that you’ve finished. (As a writer, this is my favorite one)
  9. Set yourself the goal of learning one new thing about one of your co-workers each day.
  10. Just generally treat others the way you’d like to be treated. Would you like to be greeted with a smile and a “good morning” at the beginning of the day?  Would you like to be cut a break when you make a mistake?  Would you like someone to ask how your weekend was, or how your sick dog is doing?  Well, then….

Be the Change #23 – Be Like Jane

Posted by on May 21st, 2017 in Blog | 1 comment

We’re going back in time this week, to 19th-century Pittsburgh.  If you’re a Pittsburgher, the name Swisshelm will ring a bell with you.  That’s right:  the namesake of Swisshelm Park and Swissvale Borough.

Jane Grey Swisshelm was born in Pittsburgh in 1815.  A committed Covenanter Presbyterian, Jane took her Christianity very seriously – and actively.  While still a child growing up in Wilkinsburg, she circulated a petition advocating the abolition of slavery.  As a young wife, she began submitting articles and poems to abolitionist newspapers. That alone would have been unusual for a woman of her time, but Jane took it a step further.  In 1847, at age 32, Jane founded her own newspaper, the Saturday Visiter (sic), funding it with her small inheritance. She was the first woman to sit in the US Senate press gallery.

The perspective of the the Visiter was feminist and fiercely abolitionist.   Jane was an adamant opponent of the Fugitive Slave act, and her passionate editorials were so influential on Allegheny County judges that no fugitive slaves were sent back South from Allegheny County after 1848.

As you might imagine of such a strong-minded woman, Jane’s marriage didn’t last.  In 1857, she left her husband, and in 1860 he divorced her on the grounds of desertion. She continued to publish the Visiter, and began another career as a public speaker advocating abolition of slavery and women’s property rights.  During the Civil War, she volunteered as a battlefield nurse.

Jane died in 1884 and is buried in Pittsburgh’s Allegheny Cemetery.

You don’t have to be a Presbyterian or a journalist or a feminist or a civil rights activist to be like Jane.  What I love about Jane, and the reason she is the subject of my next book, is her passion and commitment. She states in her autobiography that when she was confirmed at age 16, she made a covenant with God to “spend my whole life in any labor he should appoint, without a sign of the approval of God or men.”  She was, by all accounts (including her own), a difficult, stubborn woman.  But she had a deep moral passion that we could all emulate.  Be like Jane:  find a cause outside yourself that you are passionate about and commit yourself to action – even in the face of disagreement and disapproval.

Be the Change #22 – Be Like Carol

Posted by on May 6th, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

This is Sadie.  She’s the granddaughter of my cousin Carol.  Sadie takes ballet lessons, plays the cello and was voted Most Respectful Student last year.  She also has cystic fibrosis.  Like many people with a family member who has a chronic illness, Carol has become involved in raising awareness about CF and raising money for a cure.  Carol is a board member of the Western PA Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and she and Sadie’s many other supporters have formed Sadie’s Soldiers, which stages and participates in fund-raising events.  Check out Sadie’s recent newsletter Great Strides Walk Letter 2017 to learn about upcoming events.

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