Monday, May 28, 2007

Off to See the Ponies...At the Beach

As it is Memorial Day weekend, we did what all people living within an easy drive of the ocean do and went to the Assateague National Seashore to be exact. And our plan was to go camping, not just join the legions of others being beachbums. And trust me, there were many, even though the water temperature hadn't even warmed to 60 yet. Only a few hearty souls ventured into the water...most bums were planted firmly in the sand. But it was sunny and warm, and is there really a better way to kick off the summer than by sitting on the beach, the sound of surf pounding in your ears, seagulls and kites overhead, and wild ponies romping across the sand?

Wild ponies? Oh yes, Assateague National Seashore is home to a colony of wild ponies, which really ups the ante on the whole beach experience. There might not be a boardwalk at Assateauge, but there sure aren't any wild ponies at Ocean City.

And wild ponies abound at Assateague. We caught our first glimpses as we drove into the park, right at the butt crack of dawn, in order to secure one of the last remaining permits for backcountry camping. In order to trudge 4 miles through sand with 25 pounds on our backs, we had to be at the ranger's station when it opened at 7:15am. Apparently there are many people like us who have warped ideas of fun. Trust me, 4 miles of hiking through sand carrying that amount of weight is not your typical walk in the park.

We then caught sight of two groups of ponies while renting a canoe and cruising along the bay side of the barrier island that is Assateague.

And later as we hiked off to our camp, a great procession of ponies came wandering down the beach, not the least bit bothered by the crowds. In fact, one of the ponies thought it a fit time to put on a show by engaging in a little bit of battle with another pony.

We ended up having a really good time camping among the dunes. Jeff built a great campfire of the beach and we had a delicious dinner of hotdogs, cherries, carrots, pretzels, trail mix, and s'mores. Mmm, mmm, good.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Giving Back

When Jeff and I made our budget for this year, we added a line for charity. We feel very fortunate to have the many advantages that we have, and we both feel that it's important to give back. As the adage goes, "To whom much is given, much is expected."

Unfortunately, we don't have the means to make the kind of substantial gift that most of us, I imagine, would like to make. We can't start a scholarship program, fund a building, or do anything on any sort of magnificent scale (at least not yet, right?). But at the same time, we wanted to feel that the money we could give would make a difference. We wanted to make sure the money we donated went to someone in need, not to paying some secretary to surf the Web at whatever organization we donated to. So we spent time coming up with a list of causes that were important to us, and investigating various charities to determine just how the money they received was spent. We each had a few pet projects that we donated to, but together we found one way of giving that we think is really something most everyone can get behind.

Our new favorite way of donating is through an organization called Kiva. What Kiva does is gather information from microloan organizations all across the world and compile it on one Web site. (You may have heard a lot about microloans this past year, as the Grameen Foundation, a microloan organization, was the winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.) You can then browse through the site and read about people who are asking for loans. Most of the loans are for less than $1500. It's amazing what that kind of money can do in most of the world. When you find a project/person that interests you, you can click on various links to learn about them, the microloan organization through which they are applying, and the conditions in the country in which they live. Then, if you desire, you can directly become a lender to this person. You can do it either through a paypal account or through a credit card, but all of the money goes directly to the person requesting the loan. (In the checkout process, Kiva asks for a donation to the organization but you can skip this or give them a couple of bucks, your choice.)

So you're thinking, whoa now, $1500 is still a lot of money, and why yes, you are correct. The awesome thing is that Kiva is not asking anyone to fully fund any one project. In fact, they recommend that you split your money between various projects. You can donate $25 to a project...or however much you feel like. So each person is funded by a group of people, and the amazing part is that in the end, you are very likely to get your money back! This is a loan, afterall, and the recipients pay it back. (I think the default rate is under 1%!).

Once the person who you've given money to receives the full amount requested, the loan is disbursed, and then you can track the progress of their projects and their repayment process through the journal section of the Web site. Once the money is fully paid back, the amount you donate is credited back to your account. You can then take it back, but even better in my opinion, is that you can then donate it to another person/project. So with just a very small amount of money, you can help people all over the world improve their lives. I think that's pretty cool.

So I encourage you to visit the Web site and consider becoming a "banker" to people in need. It's really interesting to see the different kinds of things people are doing, and it will make you count your blessings when you see what you have in comparison to others around the world.

If you don't see a project that interests you right away, go back the next day. Most loans are fully funded in just a few days, so new profiles appear every day. Here are links to three people whose projects we've chosen to help fund.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Pomp, Circumstance, and a Few Good Laughs

This past weekend we traveled up to Urbana-Champaign with my family for Gregory's graduation from the University of Illinois. I'd never been up there before so it was nice to finally see where he's spent the past four years.

The highlight of the weekend was the graduation ceremony of the School of Architecture, primarily because Gregory was chosen to be the undergraduate speaker. I must say I was extremely surprised when I heard that he tried out. You see, Gregory's not one of those kids who does something because it will look good on his resume, because others think he should do it, or because of any other superficial reason like that. Gregory's never been one to aspire to be president of any such club or the most over-achieving kid in his class. He does what he wants, how we wants to do it. So that meant that Gregory must have really had something to say.

I must also admit that I was quite surprised to hear that he was actually awarded the job of speaker. Not, mind you, because I didn't think he had something good to say or because I didn't think he'd do an excellent job. Mainly, I thought he wouldn't get it because I know my brother, and I know how most schools work. Gregory is funny, witty, and often irreverent. He's not sentimental and would not be giving the type of "look at all we accomplished, I love everyone so much, nothing will ever be greater than this" speech that many administrators want. In the end, I was wrong about the school. I was right about Gregory, however...he was funny, witty, and irreverent. And his delivery was great. I was most impressed. And I heard many compliments throughout the day I suggest you go visit his blog to watch the speech.

He's headed to Chicago for the summer to work for a firm that does architectural forensics (intriguing, isn't it?) and then to Ball State in the fall to start work on his master's degree. When that first day of class rolls around, I'll have two brothers who are officially more educated than I am. Damn, I have smart siblings!

Anyhow, it was a fun weekend, and I just wanted to say one more time...Way to go, Gregory!

Monday, May 14, 2007

A Mother's Day Tribute

In honor of Mother's Day and my own very special mom, I wrote this essay which appeared in the Christian Science Monitor on May 10, which also happens to be my mom's birthday.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Derby 133

It's been eight years since I've been in Louisville for Derby or even, for that matter, participated in any Derby festivities. During college, Derby always fell during exams, and in the places I've lived since college, it isn't quite the big deal that it is in Louisville. But this year I'd had enough of just turning on the TV for the two minutes and some odd seconds that it takes to crown a Derby champion, so Jeff and I threw a Derby party. Despite weather that wasn't as nice as we had hoped (cloudy and grey with temps maybe in the low 60s) and that thus kept everyone inside and not as mobile, we had a good time. Some people got their first taste of Derby and others were reacquainted with it. We had jackpots, trivia, and lots of food. I was off on Friday, so I spent the day cooking up a Southern feast. I thought everything turned out pretty good, and I guess our guests agreed as most of the stuff was gone by the end of the day. The menu included:

Cheese Tray (Goat Cheese, Brie, and Smoked Gouda)
Veggie Tray
Mini Hot Browns (I used rye and cut each slice into 3 to make them mini)
Chicken Salad on Cucumbers
Ham on Biscuits
Benedictine Tea Sandwiches
Deviled Eggs (1/2 Plain, 1/2 with Bacon & Scallions)
Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes (Bacon, Scallions, & either feta or goat cheese)
Derby Pie (my mom's recipe)
Bourbon Balls (courtesy of Kelly)

And thanks to my mom, we had plenty of authentic Derby decorations.

I invited people to wear either Millionaire's Row or Infield attire, and I was pleasantly surprised by all the fancy outfits...dresses and hats for the girls and button-ups for the boys. It was a fun chance to dress up.

You can check out my sweet hat in this photo.

Anyhow, I hope everyone out there had a fun time celebrating Derby and maybe even picked the winner and won a few bucks in the process.