Can you make your Wind-Up Flashlight Sing?

Solar and Hand-Powered Safety Flashlight

Solar and Hand-Powered Safety Flashlight

When is a flashlight not a flashlight?

When it joins the orchestra!

While this sounds like a joke that some of the kids would get up on stage to tell on Camp Cabaret Night, it is quite soberly a fact. To get everyone in the act, our compere Diarmuid, set challenges for to make music from unusual, not to say eccentric, sources. It is perfectly possible (Liam proved it) to make a joyful noise from a wheel wrench! It reminded me a little of a higher pitched tuba. Wind-up flashlights are not only practical and eco-friendly, they can also be pressed into musical instrument duty and make a delightful whizzing sound when wound. Continue reading

Lehman’s Irish Connections…2 stories

Some stories are too good not to share, so I just have to pass along this funny little one from my sister Becca, who recently returned from her honeymoon driving around the Irish countryside (yes, I was exceedingly jeClonony Castlealous). She and new hubby Michael drove by a small castle and decided to turn around and see if they could go inside (many of the old castles are open to the public as they are owned by the Irish government). This one, Clonony Castle, happens to be owned privately, by an American (or Canadian? I’m not sure) woman and her Irish husband. Her expertise is in restoring centuries-old buildings and they are slowly restoring this castle to its original appearance (built in 1500).

After chatting a while, they asked Becca and Michael where they were from, and Becca mentioned Ohio and Amish Country. The couple then exclaimed, “OH, we just got a catalog from a place in Ohio’s Amish Country … it’s a hardware store called Lehman’s!” Continue reading

Wild in the City

When I moved to town from the country a few years ago, this backyard was one of those pristine, closely clipped lawns with a lovely flower garden in the midst of it. Not anymore. The flower garden this year grew corn and beans and squash, and wild sunflowers graced the back of the garage. Smaller oil type sunflowers grew on the south side of the patio, mixed in with millet and whatever else was in that cup of birdseed I scattered there.

Lambsquarter grew to amazing heights in the well prepared soil of a raised bed. It’s loaded with seed right now and bent over from some serious rains. It still looks lacey and delicate from a distance – never mind that the stem is as thick as small fencepost. How I’ll get it out of the garden, I don’t know yet. I might have to hire a tractor to pull it out.

And under the lambsquarter? Purslane! Lots of it. I had to pull some away from the peppers to give them some sun. Dandelions are scattered here and there over the whole place, but mostly under the plum tree, where I’ve instructed my groundskeeper (nephew!) to never mow. He’s learned to not pull “weeds” unless I have told him to and he knows to never put poison of any kind on the grass. Or what remains of the grass.

This year I was pleased to find a patch of panic grass sending its pale yellow flower and seed heads in an orderly scramble upwards. Less pleasant was an invasion of bindweed or wild morning glory. I love the little flower, so let it grow for awhile when it appeared… oops. It hasn’t quit spreading yet and I know that once it gets started, it’s very hard to get rid of.

Mallow, with its whitish to purple blossoms and little green “cheeses,” grow in almost every corner there is – and in my backyard, there are lots of corners! Along the back fence grows a weed that I have never found the name of. It’s rather pretty with tiny yellow flowers early, then three clusters of seeds that explode when they’re ripe, sending them across the lawn to settle in for next year. I’ve been very stern with them, keeping them in that one area, but it takes a lot of weed pulling to convince them.

So now you’re thinking I must be some kind of nut, else why would I purposely let my backyard go to weeds? Continue reading

Bezaleel – Making Connections

Bezaleel means “under the shadow of God” and is the name of a school in Guatemala where Galen Lehman did volunteer work in July, 2008. #4 in a series of posts on what he learned there.

People have told me I’m hard-working, responsible, task-oriented. Compliments? Maybe not!

Being “task-oriented” means I measure my worth by how much I’ve accomplished. A day with a lot of things crossed off my list is a good day!

In Guatemala, I learned to measure the quality of my days by how I had strengthened my relationships with others.

Maybe I had no choice! Work in the mountains of Guatemala moves at a different pace than it does stateside. Supplies were seldom adequate. The project leader usually showed up five minutes after the announced start time. Laughter over practical jokes like smearing paint on each other often distracted us. We arm-wrestled for bragging rights, and other things. (I lost the right to carry our room key in an arm-wrestling match. But, at least I didn’t lose my favorite pair of pants, like my friend, Lydell, did.)

After a few days of this, I started to figure out that I needed to focus on the relationships and let the work get done at its own pace. We went to Guatemala to work. But, the real value of the experience was the friendships we made along the way. The best parts of my trip were not “getting things done.” The best parts were things we did together.

Like the afternoon when a few of us slipped away from the group for a long, lazy coffee. Or, teaching our K’ekchi’ hosts to sing “When the Lion Sleeps tonight” in English, a language they didn’t know. Or, when three us worked through a tropical rain storm vainly trying to put a nice brushed finish on concrete we had just poured. In the end, we gave up on the brushed finish and settled for something we jokingly called the “Guatemala Rain Finish.”

Since I’ve been back at my “real” work, I’ve tried to hang onto the idea that it’s OK to settle for second-best if you can have some fun along the way. It hasn’t been easy.

This world is a little more demanding than that world was. And, I’m learning that all my co-workers already know what’s wrong with task-oriented people like me. Apparently, I’m locally famous for charging off to the next task while people are still talking to me and for not hearing them say “Good Morning!” because I’m too deep in thought.

But, I’m hoping I can stick with it. I want to do the best work possible. But, I also want to remember that the people are know are more important than the work I do.

Week: Read about how to make a difference.

Click here for more information on Bezaleel.

Learn more about Mennonite Central Committee, a non-profit relief organization.

Learn about Guatemala.

Walking lightly upon the Earth takes ‘neighbourly cooperation’

Here in the British Isles we refer to our vacations as our holidays. This goes back to the root ‘holy days’, those days within the ecclesiastical and liturgical calendar when even the lowliest of labourers would get their chance of a rest. I’ve just got back from my holiday and my spirit is certainly refreshed and revived.

With the cost of gas being high both in the USA and Europe – we are paying €1.33 a litre – I am grateful that we decided last April to attend a music camp that was less than 100 miles from home. With no wilderness in Ireland to really compare with what is available in, say, the North American West, camping on a low-impact, light-upon-the-Earth site is our homegrown alternative.

The Earthsong Camp is an eight-day music camp and admission includes a smorgasbord of workshops in drumming, dancing and singing. It’s family friendly with a very strict no alcohol, no drug, no cell phone, and no electronic music policy. It was rare to even see someone smoke tobacco. Continue reading

Feathers: A Summertime Saga

In the distant undemanding past, in those trouble-free days B.C. (Before Children), unburdened as we were even by cordless telephones, car alarms or e-mail, my wife and I were given a fluffy eiderdown comforter as an anniversary present. I expect it cost a fortune as my mother, the donor, was typically generous with this kind of thing; it certainly seemed big enough, sitting there all boxed up on our porch one afternoon, like a smallish hippopotamus packed for transport. I fancied the FedEx driver must have felt grateful to get half his van freed up for the trip home.

Interestingly, the comforter after being unpacked started to expand itself even further until it assumed its full pneumatic grandeur, an impossibly soft slab almost as thick as our mattress and considerably broader.  A Colossal Comforter.  We were impressed.

I still remember the look of serenity on my wife’s face when she wrapped the thing around herself to give it a test-drive: the poor woman nearly melted with delight.  She was instantly warm – toasty, snuggly, deeply warm, maybe for the first time since we’d moved up to Northern California from balmy Los Angeles a few years previous. Continue reading

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Chili Salsa: To Your Health!

Dear Readers,
It’s almost time for back to school! Whether you are relaxing together or working together, time spent with your children talking and listening, is essential when they are young so that as they grow up, they feel they can still come and talk to you about the everyday things (plus the really important decisions they must make). Make sure you take time to hear about their day, any challenges they’ve had and support to get their homework done. Work on building a good routine these first couple of weeks and the rest of the year will go much smoother.

One of the things I look forward to this time of year is working together in food preservation. Breaking beans, husking corn and picking tomatoes have been a regular task done by my mother, my aunt and myself. It’s a lot of work and I appreciate more each year the time and effort that many of you spend to enjoy your results when the snow is flying. I’ve received several calls on tomatoes, specifically on salsa recipes, and thought you might enjoy the following information I found from a co-worker in Huron County, Ohio, Deb Angell.

Tomatoes have long been recognized as a fairly good source of vitamin C and they contain a smidgen of beta carotene. But until recently, we didn’t realize the antioxidants that make them a favored commodity for fighting many diseases. Experts urge people to eat more tomatoes and tomato products, at least 5 servings per week. The key is lycopene and you get the best results from this anitioxidant when it is heated or cooked to release its best form. Continue reading

The Year of Living Thoughtfully – A New Beginning (Part I)

Journal Entry, Thursday, July 03, 2008
Clean, pack, label, lift, repeat.  Not exactly a shampoo bottle, but there is a sameness that is noticeable long about the fortieth time and it’s becoming my mantra.  The boxes that the admin assistant at work saved and sent home with me (bless you, Valda), which seemed far too numerous before, are in danger of becoming too few!

We are in Day 7 of the 9 that each of us has off during which we have committed to getting my roommate of several years moved to a new house.  The layers of Oscar Madison-ness are being peeled away, and although the herniated discs in the bottom of my back are reminding me I should be taking more breaks, the suddenly emerging empty spaces urge me on. Continue reading

Bezaleel – Who are You?

Bezaleel means “under the shadow of God” and is the name of a school in Guatemala where Galen Lehman did volunteer work in July, 2008. #3 in a series of posts on what he learned there.

Most of the time I was in Guatemala, we were working members of the K’ekchi’ “culture group”.  In North American terms, I suppose you would say they are the “K’ekchi’ Indians.”

They are direct descendants of the Maya, and have a strong and proud tradition.  One of the most entertaining times we had was meeting with a K’ekchi’ elder, told us some of their legends.

According to tribal myths, corn was the food of the gods.  One day, a mouse stole some seeds and hid them in his hole. A fox dug up the seed and ate it.  When he excreted the kernels, they grew and flourished (fertilized, as they were, by the fox’s dung).  That is their version of how corn came from heaven down to earth and how the Maya found it. To this day, corn is a mainstay of K’ekchi’ diet.  We had corn tortillas at every meal.

One of their traditional gods is the moon, whose changing phases were integrated into their calendar.  We learned that tortillas are round and white, and baked on a round stone, as a reminder of “Mother Luna”.

To us, those traditions seem silly.  And, as the elder told us the stories, he laughed and winked as if we were sharing a good joke.  It seemed that even he recognized that they no longer held value for his people in today’s world.

But, outmoded or not, traditions define who we are.  Our connection to the past gives us security and a strong foundation in a world of shifting values. The K’ekchi family I stayed with (shown here) most assuredly did not believe the old Mayan god myths.  But, they still made round corn tortillas at every meal on a round stone over an open fire, just the way they had been made for the last 2000 years.

Our host family had a traditional home made of wooden slats.  There were no windows, but light streamed in through cracks between the boards.  The floor was dirt.  The roof was corrugated tin.  Corn was planted on every square foot of land.  A single faucet in front of the home provided running water.  The bathroom was a latrine in the cornfield.

Within the last 10 years, they had gotten two things that dramatically changed their lifestyle:

Continue reading

Deer in the garden

Note from Web Master: The following was posted as a comment to a post. I have moved it to the questions section. My sincerest apologies to SouthernFlower for the difficulties and will respond personally.

Hello. I am new to this blog, but am not sure how to post a question. Unfortunately, this is not a resonse to this post, however, I am hoping someone can help me with a problem. I have deer getting into my garden. I really don’t want to erect a 7 foot fence or use any smelly chemicals to get rid of them. Does anyone have any suggestions? Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.