Sep 27, 2016

Sore Loser: Hewlett Packard (HP)

An Open Letter to Hewlett Packard (HP) 

I have been buying HP printers for years. I have also been buying after-market ink cartridges for years. They work great, they are one-fourth the ridiculous cost of HP products, and the companies (the ones I’ve used) stand by their product.

A couple of weeks ago, my HP OfficeJet Pro 8610 with completely FULL ink cartridges (bought from HP competitors) suddenly quit working. My printer insisted that my cartridges had failed. Every single one of them. At the same time. 

This seemed pretty fishy to me, but I contacted the company from which I bought them a few months ago. They informed me that HP had discreetly updated certain printers (I never authorized this update) and the only purpose of this “update” was to render my after-market ink cartridges useless. Thanks for looking out for your customers, HP.

The ink company is sending me brand new cartridges that will work with this unnecessary update. They are choosing to show they WANT my business.

But now, we’ve been without a printer for almost two weeks. We have to run to the library with documents on a flash drive so my kids can print things for school. Yesterday, my high schooler accidentally put the wrong history document on the flash drive and didn’t realize he printed the incorrect one at the library until late last night. The assignment is due today. 

Too bad he couldn’t print the correct one after realizing his mistake, like normal families. Apparently, it’s more important that HP make their customers think their ink cartridges are a bad product so we’ll all bow down to a corporate giant and shell out $50 for ONE BLACK INK CARTRIDGE. 

One out of four necessary to the machine. That’s some profit margin, HP.

If you want my business for ink cartridges as well as the printer, then compete for it. Give me a reason to buy yours instead of after-market. But do NOT covertly tell my printer, that I paid my money for, to not use the carts I paid to put in there. That is not the way to earn business. That is manipulation and deception, and I can only hope that it will bite you in the rear. I also hope this letter will serve as an instrument to help it along.

I hope to see a public apology to the customers of HP for being sore losers in the ink cartridge industry. I will say that if this happens again, this is the very last HP printer I will ever own. And I’ll make sure every person I know is aware of the disturbing tactics of this company.

***UPDATE: HP has retracted its pervasive update and allowed my printer to work again with my cartridges. At least for now. They even (sort of) apologized for not communicating well (ya think?) The wording they used about how they were "protecting" me from "cloned" cartridges was absurd as an excuse for what they did, but the VERY positive side is they heard from enough customers (like me) who said "NO" to a corporate giant trying to squelch competition. Bravo, HP customers! 

Sep 25, 2016

An Open Letter

To the nice black man with the sweet little family in the grocery store parking lot today:

I just want you to know that I softly wept on the way home.

When I walked out to my car, you were helping your family get out of yours. You had parked just to the left of me, and as I approached my trunk with my groceries, I was smiling when I saw you.

I saw what you did next.

You had already started to turn to help your young son, but then you stopped, changed direction, and intentionally set your attention squarely on me. You met my smile with your own and then a kind, "Hey! How you doin'?"

This really is a fairly common exchange between decent people. But for some reason, the obnoxious touts of racism that are thrust on decent people via the media these days have really been very suffocating.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that racism is still alive and well in the hearts of some people in this country - and that's true on both sides.  But the level to which the problem is elevated for political and propaganda purposes is about as nauseating as it gets. Half the time people are afraid to even use the COLORS black or white (as in fabric or paint) for fear of offending someone.

Now, Sir, I would not say that I have ever actually believed what I'm about to say. I've known many people, black and white, who absolutely do not fit this. But I will admit that there are times when I wonder...times when I've listened too much to the perpetual droning on about how much hate is on both sides. There have been times when I've wondered if every black person that sees me despises me because of my skin color. I've wondered, "What do they think of me? Do they think I hate them because of their skin?" Do you think those thoughts, too?

You know, when you're told "they hate you" enough, you start to wonder.

And then I see someone like you. Someone who went out of his way to greet another person just as an equal, as a fellow human being. Because we are exactly that.

And then I realize that the propaganda machine has succeeded only in making stories that are so sparse and infrequent into these major headlines to get us to click on that link. And if we're not careful, we believe the problem is bigger than it really is.

Again, not saying there aren't changes that should be made. But I think most of the problems are with the political and propaganda engines more than within the hearts of most people.

Thank you, Sir, for reminding me of that.

My encounter with you and your family today was like a cool drink of water to me.

Cleansing. Healing. Refreshing.

Apr 5, 2016

Bird's-Eye View

I've been watching  a neighbor's tree all winter long.

It's not incredibly large, but when it fills out in the late Spring, its leaves are a brilliant, glowing red from which I cannot look away. Throughout the winter months, I snag a glance at this tree every time I drive by, hoping to see the red buds sprouting from the tips of the seemingly dead branches. I love this tree. If I drive by at a certain time of the late afternoon, I find myself hoping that the sun will hit it from behind and ignite the fire of color.

Note: this isn't the tree I'm watching, but it looks like this one. I wanted to avoid having to explain to a police officer that I really wasn't being a creep by photographing my neighbor's house.

Living in North Georgia, I have really begun to appreciate having four distinct seasons. I marvelled at them at first, since I really had only known two seasons in South Texas: hot and hotter. We moved here at the end of October almost 14 years ago, and the leaves were changing, the air was crisp, and it lasted for months!

Then was ushered in the longest, coldest, iciest winter I had ever experienced. I was used to two-week-long cold fronts that, although cold because of the wind coming off the Gulf of Mexico and usually rainy, which made for a more complete misery, their short duration made them bearable. Then we would have relief, get close to 80, thaw out, and maybe do it again. I even have memories of a balmy 85 degree Christmas Day in shorts!

But this particular winter, I remember marking two whole weeks where we didn't get above 32 degrees, day or night. When our thermometer read -3 degrees early one dark morning, I knew the DH had moved me to Alaska by mistake.

And now, after having gone several months of cold, mostly gray winter, I begin to notice yellow sunshine pouring through the woods at certain times of the day. Daffodils and irises have begun to make their grand entries into the landscape, and the birds have begun chirping is Spring!  I notice the contrast of the white dogwoods against the darkness of the surrounding pines. The dogwoods have been there all along, but they seem to have just appeared overnight, like a maiden in a fairy tale's forest, weaving through the towering timber.

Spring is upon us - promising warmth, longer days, and new life at every turn.

I once again find myself in a Spring season of my life right now...things are changing, some more drastically than others. My little boys are becoming young men right before my eyes. It is a mystery to me how something can be so welcomed and so terrifying at the exact same time. How does one reconcile this?

There was a Spring season when I had nothing but diapered babies and preschoolers in my care. Everything about all the life was new to me then. Burp cloths and sippy cups and pacis, oh my! Parenting was as much learning as it was doing. Everything from figuring out what to do when they got sick to how to help them sleep to when and how to discipline took a learning curve. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world, but there was definitely a newness to life that was both exhilarating and exhausting.

It was then a summer season of life when I had all elementary-aged kids to teach and love on. Life was slower, more intentional. The days were long, but it was much easier than when they were younger. They were filling out - developing their skills, their minds, as well as their physique. Instead of diapers and nurseries, it was baseball fields and crawdads in the creek. Discipline was all about consistency rather than finding what works. They understood what was expected by then, and that made all the difference.

Then we moved into a winter of teenage boys. This wasn't as difficult as I had previously feared it might be (thankful to a merciful God in heaven above for that!) but it was a phase I was ready to move through quickly. Hormones are difficult for females (this I knew all too well), but it's just as hard for boys - just in different ways. We were managing aggression rather than drama.

But now, I feel like we have seen the next season begin to emerge from its cocoon.

After this school year is over, I will no longer have an elementary student in my home. They will all be college, high school, and middle school. So bizarre. I can remember feeling so numb at the thought of having one child (excuse me - "student") at the middle school building at our church. This fall, we will not have any at the elementary building at all.

My spiritual life has followed much the same pattern, actually. There was a Spring of new ministry and exploring new and uncharted spiritual lands. Then a summer when much development and rapid growth took place in so many ways. Oh, how I look back on those years with the deepest fondness and gratitude. The last several years have been a fall and winter time for me spiritually. Not that I haven't grown at all or that I've been in the dark the entire time, but the lessons I've learned there were harder. Many of the difficult things I learned of but felt completely unable to do anything about. I felt dormant. These were lessons of waiting. How I have longed to move out of them...into the bright sunshine and fresh, warm air.

Now, I feel I am entering a new spiritual Springtime. My eyes have been opened to a daily, consistent, and impactful ministry that I can do from home that hits every single area of hurt in which I had been broken in the winter. This endeavor is called Trades of Hope. The excitement and anticipation of what God will do with this effort has me on the edge of my seat right now! Newness of life after a somewhat darker spell of longing for it.

The other day, we had our first feels-like-Spring day. On my way home, I noticed a bird on a wire overhead. The image of a bird on a wire has always spoken to something deep inside me, but I never could put my finger on why...until that day. Others might have a different interpretation of the idea, but here's what I discovered it means to me.

The wire is a place of rest. The bird needs neither shelter from inclement weather nor a tree for a nest. It's not caged, it's just enjoying a place of peaceful repose. She feels safe there and catches her breath.

When I get to write, it's the wire for me. I'm passing through; I have places to go and things to do, but I just get to perch here for a bit, enjoy the bird's-eye view, notice things that I otherwise would fly over, and I get to rest. I can even now picture myself on that wire...warm breeze, clear sounds, motions are all beneath me, nothing close. Wide-open view.

I've enjoyed taking a few moments to notice this bird's-eye view of my life. It causes me to appreciate where I've been and where I'm headed. Thanks for taking a rest with me. Time to fly.

Mar 6, 2016

Trades of Hope

For much of my adult life, God has afforded me a love of words and a strong desire to communicate particularly through the written word. Sometimes He blesses me with the spoken word too, but those allowances seem to require special occasions. Nevertheless, God has given me a voice, and I have wanted to use it for a long time - I just didn't know how. Or for whom.

About four years ago, God opened my eyes to the issues of human trafficking in this country. I was appalled to learn that the city of Atlanta had become the national hub for child exploitation because we have the busiest international airport in the country. I learned alarming statistics to which I had been previously oblivious, but they shattered my heart into a million pieces. I shared with our Sunday School class at the time in an effort to make others aware, and then wrote this piece to share with my facebook friends.

Since then, a cloak has been pulled back which has revealed the severity of worldwide slavery of all kinds. Bonded slavery. Child slavery. Forced labor. Trafficking. Domestic servitude. It really is overwhelming.

Additionally, my heart has been massaged to the point of bruising over orphans all over the Russia, Ukraine, Haiti, and Africa. Many times (more than I ever imagined before) orphans are made not because both parents die, but because neither parent can feed their children. So they are forced to give them up for their children's survival. Imagine how difficult that would be to love your child, but know if you raise her yourself, she will starve to death.

"Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world." James 1:27

So I was always left with the same thing I imagine a lot of people feel...what can I do about it?

In my quiet times with the Lord, I have been asking Him for a while to open my eyes now to what He wants me to do with this information. Surely He was not breaking my heart without reason. What was a homeschool stay-at-home mom (with kids still at home) supposed to do to end slavery and worldwide poverty?

Turns out He did have something in mind. Go figure.

Trades of Hope is an organization that was started in Florida about five years ago by two friends and their grown daughters. It is a missional company, meaning they are a for-profit company with a mission-minded heart. The founders' philosophy is that a sustainable business is a better long-term solution over charity. It's the "give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach him how to fish, feed him for a lifetime" mentality. I happen to agree with that.

What this company has done is to make connections with multiple ministries that are already in place in 16 different countries around the world. These ministries are on-the-ground, full-time organizations that are committed to Fair Trade principles. Depending on the need in that particular area, they provide skills-training for a livelihood for women (and some men) who would otherwise be in the pit of extreme poverty and all the living hells that can come along with that. Many of these organizations also provide for education for the artisans' children, medical supplies, etc.

Fair trade organizations work to:

- pay a fair wage in the local context
- support safe, healthy, participatory workplaces
- provide 50% pre-payment for orders placed
- build long-term relationships
- provide ongoing education and training
- ensure environmental sustainability
- provide equal opportunities for all people, particularly the most 

- respect cultural identity
- build long-term, direct relationships

Trades of Hope has come alongside these organizations and provided a market for the artisans' handmade items. In a country like Haiti, with 90% unemployment, there are not many people able to buy a beautifully made beaded necklace or bracelet like this one:

See the painted, smooth beads? Those are made from the clay dirt in the Haitian mountains. This same clay is made into cookies and baked in the sun to feed their children when there is no real food to give them. The striped-looking beads? Those are recycled cereal boxes cut into strips with a paper cutter. Then they roll them up into beads, some are painted, glued, baked, and strung into beautiful jewelry.

Because of the devastating economic situation in Haiti, you can imagine there aren't many buyers for these beauties. So Trades of Hope came along and said, we'll order several thousand of those; here's half the money up front so your artisans can get their supplies. When the order is fulfilled, we'll pay the other half and have them shipped to the United States, where women buy jewelry EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. without even thinking twice about it.

Now, this kind of order is placed every single month because people in the United States are buying the product!

The lady that started this particular ministry I just described started out with just four women building beads and necklaces. Today, she has over 300 employees in Haiti, mostly women who were determined to keep their own children rather than handing them over to an orphanage. I heard her tell the story of one woman who followed her daily for weeks asking for a job because she didn't want to give up her daughter. There wasn't a place for her for a while, but eventually, Shelly was able to hire her! Trades of Hope and those selling and buying these gorgeous pieces of workmanship helped her business grow. And lives have been changed forever.

Have you ever thought about why some of the jewelry we buy is so cheap? I'm not talking about the gold and diamonds we buy; I'm talking about the everyday jewelry we get at the mall or a department store. It's because many of these things are made in countries and through businesses that employ sweatshops. You would be surprised if you did a search of all the companies and countries who use them. A sweatshop is defined as a factory that pays woefully low wages (think $2 per day), requires their employees to work ridiculous hours (I read about one sweatshop that allowed the women to leave every two days to spend a day at home) and provides unsafe work conditions.

Using companies that are committed to Fair Trade avoids perpetuating these issues and instead supports a living wage, hope for a future, and dignity for women who would otherwise never experience these things.

Trades of Hope helps to employ over 6,000 artisans in 16 different countries. Talk about making an impact!

By golly, I think this is something I can do that will actually, physically, monetarily, and spiritually attack these problems at their root. I can do something, by selling these products for her, that will afford her the opportunity to thrive rather than just try to survive.

I'm all about that.

If you are too, or just want more information, you can visit my website, read about the artisans, drool over their beautiful creations, and purchase them for yourself.

Talk about a win-win! You get to wear beautiful things, and she gets a fair wage she and her family can live on. Together, we can use our voice to speak for her. For all of them.