Archive for the ‘Make a Difference’ Category

Pine Ridge: Seeds of Hope and a Buffalo Snack

Friday, October 14th, 2011

Tonight, the ABC program, 20/20, devoted its entire program to Pine Ridge, the town and the reservation, Land of the Lakota,  in southwestern South Dakota. On Hidden America: Children of the Plains, Diane Sawyer rode a horse, wore a dancing shawl, and met Lakota in schools, business, law, and recovery. Those she interviewed painted a story with seeds of hope in a community awash in alcoholism, diabetes, and teen pregnancy. If there can be a Lakota Spring and a better future for Lakota children, these are the people who will help make it happen.

There’s a food angle in Sawyer’s portrayal of Pine Ridge. She covered it in two ways.  First, a Subway restaurant opened on Pine Ridge and a customer exclaimed that she hadn’t eaten a cucumber since she couldn’t remember. The report portrayed the restaurant as offering veggies in a food desert.

Second, the report featured the Tanka company, a home-grown Lakota business that makes and sells buffalo and cranberry-based snack sticks, sausages, and hot dogs, no doubt inspired by the traditional tribal mainstay, pemmican made of pounded buffalo meat and dried wild berries. The products with such names as Tanka Wild, Tanka Bars, Tanka Bites, and Tanka Dogs are gluten-, nitrates-, msg-, and hormone-free. Sawyer reported the Tanka Bars are available at 4000 outlets around the U.S., including Whole Foods. I’m making a trip there tomorrow to find a Tanka bar and have a taste.

To be continued….

 

Just Right at Home

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Gale Steves has more than a hunch. She has an educated observation that wherever you live right now might be just right. You see too few closets and no decent office space?  Gale sees where there’s more storage and how you can set up a working space, all in the home where you are.

For a wider glimpse of Gale’s work, see her recent column at aarp.com. For a 360-degree vista, check out her book, Right-Sizing Your Home: How to Make Your House Fit Your Lifestyle (New Century Design).

(Full disclosure: Gale hired me as an editorial intern for her as food editor of “American Home” magazine when I was a pup in the workforce. She’s an amazing source of good ideas, the latest trends, and just plain fun. And, she’s still a friend and creative professional quite a few years later.)

Gale has right-sized her own home, a NYC apt, and influenced design choices for millions, currently as a home consultant, formerly as editor-in-chief for “Home” and in key positions in New York’s publishing world. She sees home in a practical light, encouraging you to make the space work for you instead of trying to live up to outdated definitions of a particular room or piece of furniture.

Nothing like a True Friend

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

A dear friend passed away a few weeks ago. I wrote about Martha in early May (See May 6, 2010). By coincidence, kismet, or simply how things have a way of working out, about the time of Martha’s passing, my octogenarian mom lent me the book, A Walk by the Sea, written by Joan Anderson, known hereafter as ‘the author.’  Mom had received the book from a friend of hers to whom Mom has been a mentor. They are true friends.

The author is a 51-year old woman at a crossroads in her life when she meets Joan Erikson, who with her huband, the psychologist, Erik Erikson, formulated elegant theories of human development. The author met Joan as they each walked on the beach near their homes. Joan, then 91, became a beacon to the author toward how to live the rest of her life.  Joan Erikson’s friendship along with her vibrant outlook and zest for life, helped the author to make bold new choices  and move into a productive, creative tension between action and contemplation. It’s a sweet spot of balance to live into, never to hold.

Martha and I became friends when I was just beginning my professional career as a writer.  She was into her second act as an interior designer. The corporate position she left behind had brought recognition and creative satisfaction. As a prelude to her independent design business, Matha traveled around the world absorbing color, texture, and light.  For the next 37 years, she gave back the color, texture, and light to her clients and to her friends.

Martha was a beacon to me, though as in all friendships, at times, I resisted her wisdom. Long will I draw upon her wisdom and belief in the ‘right idea. as well as knowing when to wait and when to act. But, always, move toward action.

Part of the celebration of a friendship across the generations lies in that the elder can openly receive the younger, not only as a mentee, but as a true friend. The author illuminates this with joy. I am thankful for Martha’s friendship and the lessons of being a friend to her.

Haiti: Action and a Reading List

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

The Wall Street Journal’s 1/20/2010 Front Page has a couple of lines about Haiti’s earthquake. They direct the reader to pages A8 and A10 where there are full-page stories. Mia Farrow writes about better disaster response on the Journal’s Opinion Page.

Life goes on.

The best action is to send money to the reputable organizations who have long worked in Haiti and are best equipped to help people right now. I recommend Partners in Health, Dr. Paul Farmer’s Boston-based organization and the subject of Tracy Kidder’s 2003 book, Mountains Beyond Mountains . (I have no financial stake in either Partners in Health or in Kidder’s book.)

I find myself seeking to learn more about Haiti.  How did this country so close to the beaches of Florida become what even before the 2010 earthquake the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere? Edwidge Danticat writes from her experiences as a Haitian-American, born in Haiti, raised in New York City. Her books, including Breath, Eyes, Memory

Edwidge Danticat's novel of life in Haiti and New York City

and The Dew Breaker,

A daughter learns about her father's part in Duvalier's violent regime.

capture both the immigrant experience and the heartbreak and promise of Haiti.

I’m reading, Graham Greene’s The Comedians, set in the mid-20th century in Port au Prince. From the news of the last week, I recognize the Olafson Hotel, the presidential palace, and Petionville, the upscale area the earthquake crumbled along with the rest of the city.

A portrait of Haiti under the dictatorship of "Papa Doc" Duvalier

Madison Smartt Bell’s All Soul’s Rising, next on my reading list, captures Haiti in its struggle for independence from 1791 to 1803. It’s the first in Bell’s trilogy of Haitian independence that includes Master of the Crossroads and The Stone That the Builder Refused. The author makes his own suggestions for books about Haiti, both by Haitians and non-Haitians at

“…the narrative power of history.”

in the 1/17/2010 New York Times Book Review (you may need to register to get access) and in the 1/15/2010 Huffington Post.

Playing for Keeps in Pakistan and Afghanistan

Monday, December 21st, 2009

Greg Mortenson seems more like an avatar, the embodiment of a principle, than a real live, flesh-and-blood human. He is a hero to me and I got to see and hear him in person December 18, 2009 in Bloomington, Minnesota, where I was one of a thousand people who came to be inspired and left energized.

Greg travels with friends, including his chihuahua.

For anyone who dreams of world peace and has a secret desire to save the world from poverty, violence, and ignorance, Greg seems too good to be true. He lacks sarcasm and breathless self-promotion.

Greg Mortenson greets students in Korphe, Pakistan, the village where the Central Asia Institute built its first school with the support of Haji Ali, Mortenson's mentor and inspiration.
Greg Mortenson greets students in Korphe, Pakistan, the village where the Central Asia Institute built its first school with the support of Haji Ali, at left, Mortenson’s mentor and inspiration.

How ya gonna get your brand out there without those?

He does it and has been for 17 years. Humble, earnest, tenacious, and possessing a gentle sense of humor, Greg builds relationships and schools and more in isolated tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Since 1993, he has spent 75 months, more than six years, in the two countries. His first book, Three Cups of Tea, is required reading for top military advisors, including Secretary of Defense Gates, and all US Special Forces troops serving in Afghanistan. Greg’s work to promote peace through education, especially for girls, has brought him to the short list of people who deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.

Under the flag of the Central Asia Institute, based in Bozeman, Montana, he raises money to build schools in the same areas where the Taliban, Afghanis, and troops from the US, Britain, and many other countries vie for hearts and minds. The thing is, Greg credits his success to tribal elders. It’s left to the rest of us to credit this remarkable man for showing how one person can and is making a difference in the face of what seems impossible.

Tribal leaders try out the playground swings at Afghanistan's new girl's high school, built by the community and Greg Mortenson's Central Asia Institute.

A recent example:  His organization set a goal to build the first high school for girls for five provinces in Afghanistan, the same area that’s home to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. The CAI gave themselves 20 years to make it happen.  It took just one year and includes a playground. Elders from another area expressed an interest in building their own girls’ high school and were invited to meet at the new school. Before the meeting began, the men insisted on seeing the playground and in minutes, they were swinging. Old men who have lived through 30 years of war and strife were playing, joyfully. They quickly approved a school in their area; the playground to be built first.

Follow Greg Mortenson on Twitter.