Saturday, September 26, 2015

Live Below the Line Challenge 2015

This year I did the Live Below the Line Challenge with my students in my Non-Traditional security course.  It was an extra credit assignment, only a handful did it but that was great improvement from two years ago when only one student did it.  I miscalculated in the store and at the checkout had to give back the eggs I had planned on for breakfast.  Overall it was a pretty easy five days.  First, the exchange rate has changed since the last time I did the challenge so $1.50 a day for 5 days gave me about 1 euro more to spend.  Also, the dairy prices are rock bottom in Estonia because of the Russian sanctions (in protest of EU sanctions) and the expiring of EU milk quotas (long live supply and demand!).  A liter of milk was only 39 cents and I got a jumbo pack of sliced cheese (500 grams) for under 2 euros!  The mayonnaise was only 18 cents! It wasn't even on sale.  I was really confused why it was so cheap until I tasted it. Of course I still had to take some cost cutting measures.  I got the old bananas for half off and the old meat for half off.  I ate the meat quickly to avoid digestion problems like last time when I stretched out the old meat over the 5 days.

While it was a pretty easy 5 days (I don't usually spend a lot on food anyway) it was a good chance to reflect on the unfortunate situation that so many people find themselves in around the world.   Of course solidarity is meaningless unless action comes with it.  Hopefully I'll take advantage of the opportunities that I have to help others so they can live above the line.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Make it a million!

I have been a fan of many of President Obama's foreign policy decisions, but his recent decision to take in an additional 10,000 refugees from Syria is one I cannot accept.  10,000?? That isn't even a drop in the bucket.  I suggest making it a million!  The Middle east is a hell hole and it cannot be ignored by the US because an ocean keeps the refugees away.  While locals are ultimately responsible for the success and failure of their countries and regions, the West shares the blame as well. Western intervention, extending back to the British empire when they drew up those crappy borders have had an incredibly destabilizing impact on the region.

Besides the responsibility for the bad situations in the Middle East the US has a moral obligation as well. While Germany a country of 80 million is taking in some 800,000 refugees the US, a country of 315 million is taking on just 10,000.  (if the US were to take as many as Germany it would be over 3 million refugees).  Given the fact that the US is the richest country on earth and is built not on ethnic nationalism, but civic nationalism it would be better able to handle the large flow of refugees.  Here is an interesting article that goes over the refugee process in a bit more detail.  For the US this could and should be the next Marshal plan.  Another op-ed that argues for taking more than just 10,000 can be found here. For the US this means opening up the budget and providing the cash to get things off the ground.  Get the centers, staff, jobs, and support systems in place and donate more money to the UN.  The US will also need to fast track the refugee relocation process.  Radically reduce and simplify the security clearance process and other regulations to make things possible from a logistical standpoint. After World War II the US rose to the occasion  to help Europe rise from the rubble. 

For obvious reasons the US is not able to remake the Middle East and solve all of their problems (the Iraq war being the case n point).  What the US can do is help hundreds of thousands of refugees rebuild their lives by inviting them to do it in the United States.  I hope the US will rise to the occasion and prove that it is the city on a hill it claims to be.

Family fun

Summer for us ended with a trip from my parents and little sister Lynne.  We did a lot and had a blast. This is at Nõva, a famous beach that Maris has been talking about for years.  The legend has it that the sand squeaks when you walk on it, it didn't for us but it was still beautiful. 

 We had a nice trip to the Tallinn zoo.  Our daughter was just as interested in the balls as she was the leopard.
 My parents stayed at the Laulasmaa spa, very nice and relaxing place right by the beach.

Our daughter loved spending time with Grandpa!

 It had been two years since I had seen Lynne, she served an LDS mission to Toronto and got back a few months ago.

 They were here for the re-independence day on August 20th, while at the top of the town hall we saw military troops marching and singing into the main town hall.

We wanted to go to the top of the Olemiste church, but it was closed because it was a holiday.  Lucky the view from the Town Hall was just as great.  Most of the summer had been cold and rainy.  About a week before they came it turned nice and was nice every day.  It turned cold and rainy the day they left.  

 Inside of the Town Hall.

I took our oldest child to Sweden with my parents and Lynne on their way back to the US.  Swedish meatballs were everywhere.  They were pretty good, but Sweden doesn't rival Italy in terms of vacation food.

 Skansen is an incredible open air museum that also had animals.  Our daughter had a blast and we all had a blast watching her.

 One nice little boy gave her a potato chip.

 I had been here before about 6 years ago with my friend Bryant, I especially remember this little garden.

 Stockholm is super beautiful.

 This is a cage where the bears were!  In one place our daughter was looking through a window and said "mõmmi" just then a large brown bear walked right in front of her window.

This is a miniature of what it looks like, if anyone finds themselves in Stockholm I recommend Skansen! 

We also went to the Vasa museum which is super awesome as well.  It is just an old boat in the middle of a museum, it sounds a little dull but it was really interesting.  It was my second time and hopefully not the last.

The best part of course was seeing Mom, Dad, and Lynne.  Thanks for the great visit we miss you!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Adventures with the children

It is fun with kids! I do not want to live a life without my awesome little kids. There is just this special spark with them. 

There is a relatively new playground down the street next to an old empty schoolhouse. Our daughter likes the workout machines, especially this one:

There are nice walking paths that we love. 

I use a front pack for the baby to get off road. 

Exploring is the best kind of learning I think. I often let her go in front of me.

Here is a nice view of the old hospital being remodeled. It is now a family doctor center and an old folks home. It is humongous and mostly empty. But being remodeled. Hopefully it will be a spa and a hotel or something for Matthew´s parents to stay in when they are visiting. :)

This is a skiing hill. In the summer people roller blade, run and ride their bikes.  

We had our bread and water picnic and rested a little.

I am not sure what these things are for but they are good for climbing. 

Nothing better than muddy puddles! (See Peppa Pig.)

Some funny looking plants: 

We love finger paints! A better way of doing it is in a bath tub. 

Finger paints are also used as body paints in our house. Not just hands but also tummies, legs, face...

Art does not have boundaries.... literally:

This is how we travel:

So this is what we do!