Sunday, May 27, 2007


Kiva - loans that change lives

Can the cost of a meal out, or a movie with snacks, be a force for peace in the world?

In 2006, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to a man named Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank for their work with microfinance: not small business loans, but TINY business loans, often less than $1,000. Over the next several months, I became interested in news stories about microlending, and the idea that an amount of money that seemed small to me could aid an entrepreneur in a developing country to improve the prosperity of a business, a family and a community.

What an appealing idea. But, until I heard about Kiva, I knew of no way to add any of our own resources to the effort. That changed yesterday when I sat down at my computer to learn about this amazing organization.

Kiva is a non-profit group that lets me (or you) connect with and loan money to small businesses in the developing world using a computer and the internet. From their website, you can help sponsor a business of your choice for as little as $25 (charged to your credit card). Your contribution is consolidated with those made by other lenders into a loan of as little as a few hundred dollars and loaned, through a micro-credit organization, to a specific borrower for a specific need.

This is not a donation; it is an unsecured loan (with the possibility that it cannot be repaid), made for a specific time period with a specific repayment schedule. When the loan is repaid, you can choose to reinvest with a new borrower or to withdraw your funds.

I won’t try to explain more than that - the website does a WAY better job than I can. I WILL say that exploring the website and setting ourselves up as micro-financiers was fun, interesting, and rewarding, and the website is designed to keep it that way: profiles of borrowers and lenders (you can see profiles of others who have lent to “your” borrowers); a link to your portfolio, showing the status and analysis of your loans; journals describing the progress of the borrowers.

For Odel and me, as full-time RV’ers, the Kiva website is an inspiring way to participate in a larger community effort for positive change - without the need to be anchored in a physical community. I see it as a direct opportunity to wage PEACE, and I am most grateful.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


In Sacramento, our ex-hometown, I am always inspired to experiment with new recipes. Here I know where the "ususual" ingredients can be found: Trader Joe's, the Sacramento Food Co-op, and the best of the grocery stores. Here I know where and when to find the farmer's markets.

Here we socialize with family and friends - around food. Claire and Patrick, my teenage niece and nephew, are vegetarians, while all the men in the family are carnivores, so planning for family gatherings inspires a bit more creativity than usual.

AND, here in the urban environment, we have broadband access on our aircard, so surfing the web for new recipes is fast and fun.

Time, access, and socializing: all the ingredients for creativity in the kitchen.

Not long ago, I began experimenting with quinoa, a quick-cooking grain similar in size to couscous (which is a pasta). Quinoa cooks in 15 minutes, and has a chewy, nutty texture and taste that both Odel and I like - and great nutritional attributes: a complete protein (unusual in the grain world) that is lower in carbs than other grains. Quinoa is available in both red and white - the red is more chewy (like other whole grains); the white is more tender (similar to pastas). I prefer the red.

My favorite new recipe using quinoa, named Aztec Platter, came from a website I had not explored before: Fabulous Foods.

Aztec Platter - isn't it a great name? Easy, quick, delicious, vegetarian, and potluck friendly: makes plenty, good looking (see the photo above), served at room temperature, and containing nothing to incubate bacteria if it sits out for a few hours.

Last night's dinner was Aztec Platter accompanied by Aidells Chicken Teriyaki & Pineapple Meatballs (you buy 'em fully cooked) heated in a saucepan with Trader Joe's Thai Yellow Curry Sauce. Yum! And quick. If you want to try Aztec Platter, I've posted a link to the recipe in my FAVORITE RECIPES section on the left of the blog.

Fish sauce is another exotic ingredient that I keep it on hand for a shrimp soup we like. Though the soup uses very little of the fish sauce, there is absolutely no substitute for the flavorful, pungent, aromatic liquid. So I wondered... what else can I use this for?

I found the answer on the website for Eating Well magazine, which I immediately added to my "Favorites" list. Tropical Cucumber Salad mixes three yummy ingredients - "seedless" English cucumber, mango and avocado - with a quick, easy dressing. If you want to try this unusual, refreshing, quick salad, click on the new recipe link I added to FAVORITE RECIPES (left side of the blog). By the way, you can find Thai Kitchen brand fish sauce in any well-stocked grocery store in the Asian food section.

Oh, and one more recipe... We first tried the Tropical Cucumber Salad with a delicious crockpot dish that uses yet another unusual ingredient: ginger preserves. I had to wait until we returned to California and found an upscale supermarket before I found the preserves. The recipe (posted) calls for Robertson's brand; I found and used James Keiller "Dundee Ginger Preserves". The Ginger Chicken (served on brown rice) and Tropical Cucumber Salad were a perfect pair.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007


It has been a week since my last post, when we visited beautiful Yosemite National Park. Cal Expo RV Park, our home for the next month, could hardly be more different!

We are parked in a huge gravel parking lot with RV hookups and night lighting that is akin to that of a major shopping center or sports venue: bright light in every window all night long.

On the upside, we are within steps of Sacramento's wonderful bike trail along the American River; we can walk to movies, shopping, the bank, restaurants; and we are close to friends and family.

Because it was our hometown, Sacramento is a good place for us to do all sorts of things we put off during our travels: get the oil changed in the Jeep, schedule minor repairs (or major, which - happily -we don't have this time), shop at favorite stores - all packed in around a busy social agenda. Couldn't tell it from these photos, though!

Here is Luna in a typical evening display of relaxation. She is comfortable at Cal Expo - can you tell? And Odel, in the upper photo... the big grin is because he is grilling hamburgers for our dinner, one of his favorites. So, in spite of the uninspired surroundings, we manage to have a good time!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007


Yosemite is trembling with the sounds and sprays of mightly waterfalls this spring; there isn't a place on the valley floor where you don't hear water.

So many national parks are well hidden, especially the canyons and valleys. You can be within 1/4 mile of the Grand Canyon and not know it is there. The Badlands in South Dakota come as a huge surprise as the rolling, grassy prairie splits open in front of you.

Coming into Yosemite from the south is similar. Along Hwy 41, the curvy road rises several thousand feet through heavy forest to the park entrance. For another 30 miles or so, it's just another mountain drive, with an occasional lovely valley or granite outcropping - nothing to suggest the proximity of the breathtaking vistas so nearby.

Just as a few granite outcroppings and knobs begin to appear, you enter the long, dark Wawona tunnel. On the other side, facing east, there it is - Yosemite Valley from one of it's most lovely and famous viewpoints, Tunnel View. Half Dome in the distance, Bridal Veil Falls thundering endlessly... wow, you know you are in for a treat.

All of the famous falls - Yosemite, Vernal, and Bridal Veil - are so mighty this spring that it was not possible to approach closely without being drenched by the spray. Though it was a too cool to want to get wet, it was a perfect day for hiking and we toured the valley floor on foot and by shuttle bus.

It definitely is not summer yet, and the high elevations of the park are still snow covered. The roads to Glacier Point and Tioga Pass haven't opened, and the cables used by hikers to climb to the top of Half Dome are not "up" for the season. Snow that melts during the day and runs onto the roads freezes at night.

The springtime blooms of the dogwoods are outstanding. Stands of white dogwood were impressive, but the few pink dogwood near the cottages on the way to the Awahnee Lodge were outrageous. Every branch, large and small, was covered with pink blossoms.

As always, photos fail. The physical sensations - the constant sound of water falling or rushing or gurgling, the warmth of the sun on our shoulders and backs, the little breeze, the scent of blossoms, the cascades of white petals from the dogwoods - none of it can be captured, and it all contributes to a day filled with a sense of freedom, calm and well-being. We LOVE the national parks!