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What happens when you and your spouse’s names are similar on Facebook…

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Filed under: Funny

I’m back, suckas!

First things first: my bad. It’s been almost three weeks since I last posted. I know nobody’s suffering from my unintentional blogging hiatus, but I try to post something at least once or twice a week for my own sake, to keep the old brain working. I feel like a big collective “you suck” from the blogosphere is warranted.

But enough about how much I suck; let’s talk about how the past few days have un-sucked. There’s something about a three-day weekend that makes you feel like you haven’t worked in months. It’s freaking great. This was one such weekend. We were planning to meet up with Tom and Renata in old town Annapolis on Friday, but we all decided it would be too crowded, so we fooled around at the Annapolis Mall, seeing how far we could launch Hayden and Jack down the concourse in their strollers. (This was right before the mall closed and there weren’t many people around.)

As we strolled through the children’s section at Borders, we came across this book about the Obamas’ new dog. It was released April 23, nine days after Bo arrived at the White House. Among other things, it (fictitiously) recounts little Bo stealing the President’s letter-opener and being there for Michelle Obama’s organic garden opening. This crap happened like, yesterday! Then again, I guess it doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to write a children’s book (as Strong Bad would attest).

On Saturday, Drea and I ventured down to National Harbor and enjoyed walking the waterfront shops and sitting on the docks. It’s a huge place — condos, retail, hotel and convention center, and apparently a Disney resort and children’s museum coming soon. We ate Potbelly subs for lunch (so good) and checked out the American Market. It’s a charming place to walk around, and we want to come back with a few friends and take the water taxi over to Alexandria.

I played a wedding Saturday afternoon before we headed to my parents’ house to hang out with my uncle and cousin who were visiting from Houston. A fabulous barbeque dinner was followed up by our family’s new favorite game of “loaded questions”, where everyone in the group writes their answers to a certain question and one person has to guess who gave the answers. It gets pretty fun.

We went to church on Sunday and afterwards headed to Jason and Shannon’s to swim in the pool and eat Jason’s dual masterpieces — salsa and Texas style barbeque. A few of us ended up staying late, talking with Jason and Shannon around their kitchen table until after midnight. It was one of those luminous moments that reminds you how real everything is. Life is real, struggles are real, God’s redemption is real. Our friends are freaking awesome.

Late last week, I decided on a whim to reread Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. I read it about six years ago when it first came out, and it definitely encouraged/convicted me in different ways the second time through; I guess life has changed a bit since 2003. I think Don’s words are incredibly beautiful and true, and I’m immensely looking forward to his new book due out in the fall.

So yeah, it’s been a good weekend. Hope yours was likewise. More to come soon!

Filed under: Blogging, Books, Faith, Slice of life, , ,

(Co)-homeowners!

A few months ago, Drea and I decided to pursue buying a house with Tom and Renata.

What? A house together? Two families under one roof? Communal living? Eating meals together? Seeing each other every day? Don’t Tom and Renata have young kids that still cry and drool and crap themselves? Doesn’t Drew’s taste in movies, like, suck? Aren’t you guys going to drive each other crazy?

Well, we’re anticipating certain challenges, and we won’t be living without personal boundaries and privacy, but yep, that’s pretty much the gist of it!

Anyhow, we’ve spent the past few months looking for an affordable house that has the potential to be split into two private living spaces (one for each family), and one big shared space. This has essentially narrowed our critera to three-level townhouses. Since the Janes have kids, their bedrooms will be on the top level, Drea and I will have our space on the bottom level, and we’ll share the kitchen and living area on the middle level.

So off we ventured with Karen, our trusty agent, to look at a myriad of townhouses of all shapes and sizes, including one whose living room carpet was graced with a large brownish-red discoloration about the size of your average human being. (“Yes, I’m calling about your lovely townhome for sale in Crofton…would you mind explaining the murder stain on your floor?”)

Then there was “Farting Floors”, the house in Annapolis whose floors creaked in a way that reminded one of…well, you get the idea.

After seeing many more houses, we ended up putting an offer on a nice older townhouse in Crofton, but got wedged out by a cash investor. We bid on another townhouse in Odenton, but never heard back from the seller (who was evidently facing foreclosure if he didn’t sell…weird).

Finally, we think we’ve found our new crib. We signed a contract last night for a yet-to-be-built end unit townhouse in Upper Marlboro. And we are psyched! It’s slated for delivery in late July/early August, and we will be obsessively visiting the construction site to take pictures. Prepare!

Filed under: Slice of life,

Made in Cambodia

Last weekend I drove up to Bowie to buy some shirts for work. As I wandered through Sears, I found what I was looking for: some nice, classic solid colored polos, for only like $8. As I picked one up, I noticed the tag: “Made in Cambodia.”

I checked the tags of some different brands: Vietnam, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia. In looking around some more, I found that just about everything in the Sears men’s section was manufactured in a Third World country – probably in a sweatshop. (I did check later and learned that Sears ranked dead last in responsible labor/human rights issues compared with other department stores.)

It’s no secret that many big retailers use sweatshop labor, and as one who saw this as injustice, I had always been theoretically “against” it. But I guess it occurred to me for the first time last weekend that I was essentially funding this injustice by buying clothes from those kinds of stores, and that I could actually do something about it.

Whatever it is that makes people with relatively easy lives less sensitive to the world’s problems, I’ve apparently got a bad case of it. Derek Webb’s words come to mind: “Poverty is so hard to see when it’s only on your TV or twenty miles across town.” Or in my case, standing in a nice, clean shopping mall in the suburbs. But poverty was there in that polo shirt tag, staring me in the face.

At that point, I was just plain angry. I don’t know what pissed me off more – the fact that Sears (and they’re not the only ones) had concocted such an fine-tuned sales pitch to tranquilize our sense of social responsibility for the sake of low prices, or the fact that I’d bought into it for so long. In any case, a light went off; I realized that everything I’d been reading recently about world crises could be transferred from thought to action right then. I knew that not buying a shirt there wasn’t going to change the world, but I was pretty mad at Sears at the moment, so I walked out empty-handed, suppressing the urge to find the manager and let him know why I wouldn’t be shopping at his store anymore.

Our youth group used to have one of those cheesy brightly-colored banners you see in middle school classrooms. It said, “What’s right isn’t always popular. What’s popular isn’t always right.” Maybe it’s because it was displayed at youth group, but I’ve always associated this phrase with adolescence, that period of life where you’ll do nearly anything to be affirmed and accepted by your peers. While most of us at some point get over the popularity obsession, opting instead for personal peace and sanity, I wonder if this proverb still has meaning for adults? Perhaps if it was tweaked to say, “What’s right isn’t always efficient. What’s efficient isn’t always right.”

A young husband of average means, money is constantly on my mind. I only make so much of it, and naturally I want to use it as efficiently as possible. This generally means Drea and I buy clothes only when needed, and we try to buy cheap. But this weekend I reached a point where I had to confront the question of what my financial convenience was worth. Was being able to buy cheap polo shirts at Sears worth the price that others have to pay? Does a convenient lifestyle justify the means required to sustain it?

So, determined to take some kind of appropriate action, I’ve been reading up the past couple days about sweatshops and/or outsourced labor, and here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Not all outsourced labor is bad. There are companies who use overseas labor, but do so responsibly and ethically, paying fair wages and providing safe working conditions.

In extremely poor areas, working in a sweatshop is actually better than other viable alternatives. From Wikipedia:

It is also often pointed out that, unlike in the industrialized world, the sweatshops are not replacing high-paying jobs. Rather, sweatshops offer an improvement over subsistence farming and other back-breaking tasks, or even prostitution, trash picking, or starvation by unemployment. This is the case since most under-developed countries have weak labor markets.

Makes sense, but it necessarily invites the question of what an ethically-minded company would do in this situation. I would think they’d have two options:

  1. Offer local workers a slightly better alternative than begging, prostitution, or starving to death. Since they have nowhere else to go, freely pay them as little as desired, or don’t pay them at all. Retain workforce by threatening even greater abuse if they try to leave or form a union. Turn a grand profit.
  2. Recognize that you could go with Option 1, but in the interest of decency, pay workers a fair, liveable wage. Provide a safe working environment even though the country’s government doesn’t require it. Depending on how many people you can employ, maybe even reduce local crime by providing a sustainable livelihood for a portion of the population. Since cost of living is so modest compared to the US, your company still reduces costs by employing foreign workers.

I’m no expert on this stuff, and maybe I’m oversimplifying the issue, but it seems to me that companies who outsource labor to poor countries basically do one of these two things, or maybe a little of each.

There’s great potential for reform. One of the most helpful resources I found was this web page at Green America that provides an overview of sweatshops – why they exist, what everyday people like us can do to fight them. I think our nation is beginning to realize how universally destructive some of our consumption habits are, and what we can do to reverse the trend. I also can’t help but sense that God wants to save us from the self-defeating systems our collective sin has trapped us in. To think of the redemptive good He can do through and in us…

So this is me officially hopping on the bandwagon; I need to kick it up a notch on buying responsibly. I’m going to start off small – no more sweatshop-made stuff – and go from there. Heck, I already voted Democrat in the election, bought us a Prius, and – damn it, I don’t care if it is $45 a carton – organic milk just tastes better. I should’ve seen this coming… 🙂

Filed under: Current issues, ,