Monday, August 6, 2018

The Hunger Next Door

I haven't been posting much this year but, honestly, I've been dealing with some tough stuff and it isn't made any easier by the fact that I deal with health issues and with PTSD every day.  It's important to me to stay positive but it was reaching the point where I didn't have anything good to say, so I simply had to hush.

In the past year or so, I've written a few "guest" (in other words, unpaid) editorials for the local news rag and they wanted more free work from me.  But when I offered an article as long as it would be published anonymously, they refused.  I can understand that.  But I also couldn't put my name to the story because local folks know me, and I didn't want to deal with the shame and any attention my situation might get me.  

So, it has taken me awhile to decide to toughen up and share my little editorial here on my blog.  Undoubtedly my few intrepid loyal readers have probably all decamped by now but if this story reaches only one person who can reach out to one other person in need, then that will be enough.  Good Enough.  The way it should be.

I'm not asking for anything for myself.  Just look out for your family, friends, neighbors, local folks.  Share with others in any way that you are able.  It's all good.

Here's what I wrote that the local newspaper wouldn't publish without my name attached:

The Hunger Next Door

This is tough to admit:  I have been going hungry.

I don't mean "hangry" like those silly TV ads.  I mean hungry, as in often doing without enough food due to poverty.

It has only been through the help of a few thoughtful and observant friends that I have endured this difficult year.

Most people are unaware of my struggle.  Certainly when I went to church recently, no one would have realized that I was actually truly very hungry when I laughed off my growling stomach as merely the need for an early lunch. I didn't look any different from anyone else but then you don't expect a sign to appear over a person's head that says, "Please, help me, I'm hungry." 

There was a notice in the Sunday bulletin that the church was asking for donations for the poor but I was too uncomfortable to admit to being one of them.  And I was ashamed that I had nothing to give.

It isn't just me.  There are hungry people all around but we may be so busy about our own lives and so unaware of what it is like to go hungry ourselves  that we may not notice them.  And those who are hungry may be unlikely to tell you because it is an embarrassing thing to have to admit.

The painful fact is that hungry people may be right next door or maybe even in the pew beside you at church.   

How do we recognize those in hidden need?  Take time to listen to your friends and to your neighbors, to the relative that no one really likes, to the old man down the street who doesn't get visitors, to the student who always seems tired.  When you open your heart, you may hear the true need:  that person may be hungry.

It doesn't take much to help; just share that extra can of tomato soup from your pantry or give away the bountiful squash from your garden.  There is so much encouragement shared when the gift is given with a kind heart and only a quiet comment. 

Life is good.  It's up to each of us to make it better.


Thursday, May 17, 2018

When Waste Is Not An Option

Normally, I'm cautious.  Lately, I have had to be stringently vigilant.  Waste has not been an option at my house this year.  The old adage that my folks taught me when I was a kid has never been truer or more important than recently:
Use it up
Wear it out
Make it do
Do without
Perhaps I'd make a cross stich Sampler of those words if they hadn't already been embroidered on my heart. 

Last night's supper was surely about using things up and making things do.  I was "protein hungry" (something that other serious vegetarians may understand but that carnivores are unlikely ever to know), and I became aware that I really needed a bit of extra nutrition.  The food that I have on hand is limited and choices are few because there hasn't been any money at all for replacing pantry niceties, much less necessities.  All told, I've had a grand total of about$80 to spend on groceries in the past four months; everything else I've had has come from food donations.  To say that things haven't been easy would be an understatement.

But to return to the story of my supper: I was rescued by a simple decision I made a month ago when I was preparing lentil burgers to freeze:  I saved the leftover bean broth from when I strained the lentils to puree.  Truthfully, the broth was the result of a careless mistake:  I'd simply added too much liquid to the cooking beans but that cooking water from those beans just seemed too good to throw away.  I admit that I very likely might have been careless about such a matter in the past--it's far too easy to discard things (especially the results of mistakes) without thinking, isn't it?  I suspect that this is a bad habit that will only be broken by the painful knowledge of necessity; at least that has proven to be true in my own case.

Now I didn't know at the time how it would work out when I froze that bean broth but I figured it might be put to use in cooking rice.  Last night I had the chance to try it out, and it worked brilliantly.  I melted the frozen bean broth in the microwave and put it in the cooker along with the rice with enough additional water to account for the heavier starchy element in the broth.  The extra water was a good decision because it turned out that it really was needed--any less would have made for chewy undercooked rice.  As it was, the rice cooked just right but only barely so.

The rice was a lovely brown color and it had a rich, almost nutty, flavor.  It was so good!  And it served to quell that "protein hungry" feeling that had been nagging all afternoon.  (As I've mentioned in a previous post, rice + beans = complete protein; protein combining is a sensible way to approach meals as a vegetarian.)   I'm happy to think that there is leftover rice in the fridge for a meal today. 

Good stuff.  Very good stuff that might otherwise have been thrown out.  That makes me happy, too.  It doesn't take much care to keep instead of dispose.  But it does require thinking ahead, and it requires a willingness to experiment a bit in the kitchen.

One thing I've been keeping in mind in recent days is what a cook would have done during World War One when food supplies were scarce and no one could afford waste.  This WW1 notion came to me when I had to deal with two dozen donated large oranges that had to be used up right away but I had no pectin for making marmalade.  I had no way to go to the store and no money to buy pectin even if I could go and there was no means to refrigerate the fruit--thank goodness I had sugar on hand.  That's when I recalled an original WW1 era canning cookbook I was given many years ago.  Cooks back then made do without pectin.  If they could cook successfully using old-fashioned methods, I was sure that I should be able to do so, too, and I got busy cooking.

The marmalade madness that ensued was an interesting experience that required three days start to finish.  The resulting marmalade is such as I'd never tasted or made before (it's rather more like a heavy jam and the flavor is very tart) but which I am greatly enjoying and will continue to enjoy for months to come.  I subsequently made another batch of WW1 marmalade later when I was given lemons and limes, and I will surely be glad to make WW1 marmalade again and again and again in the future.  It's very worthwhile.  It takes only a small amount of effort, and it does not require as much active work time as it sounds like (although it does take place over a matter of days).

What can we do when there is only a little?  What can we do when nothing can be wasted?  How can we cope when we can't always choose what we want?  In our modern lives, we have all gotten well and truly lazy; that's something I find that I can no longer afford.  Not every experiment is as successful as my bean broth rice or my WW1 marmalade but that's okay; it's all about learning something new.  At the end of the day, I've come to see that working in the kitchen isn't about recipes so much as it is about cooking methods. I'm glad for those life lessons, and I'm truly grateful for the food on my table. 

Wisdom cannot be given; it must be gathered.
Life is good.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Say Not.....

Somehow I have managed to ignore my writing for this endless springtime.  It's not a "oh-I-should-have" kind of thing; it was more that I was staying in fallow ground. 

This has been a time of changes and endurance.  My car and refrigerator problems lasted rather longer than I could have anticipated, and it was only a few weeks ago that both were resolved through the help of a family member and of friends who spent both money and time willingly and generously.  For my part, I could only pray and wait.  I was, quite honestly, too afraid to hope for better days.  Good stuff can seem uncommonly  frightening sometimes.

I have learned new things out of sheer necessity--like how to candy citrus peel and how to make quite good oven-baked homemade corn chips. 

Should I share my most recent recipes with you?  Alas, I am not sure I should.  You may thank those people who have pirated from my blog in the past.  They are, incidentally, part of the reason for my recent reluctance to write.  Life has stolen quite enough from me already, and so it seems even more unfair for internet thieves to take what little remains.  (Yes, I DO check my blog traffic so I have noticed what has happened--it was an unpleasant surprise to find my work elsewhere.)  The things that I have left are my thoughts, my creativity, my words.  It would be nice if those could be credited when shared.

Should I come back and continue writing?  Well, I have enjoyed it so I likely will since there are those who read and listen and who are honest.

In the meantime, this is what was on my mind this morning:  a short poem by the Victorian English writer Arthur Hugh Clough who knew rather a good deal about dealing with adversity and endurance, about what it means to question and to believe anyway.

Say not the struggle nought availeth,
The labor and the wounds are can,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
And as things have been they remain.
If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
It may be, in yon smoke concealed,
Your comrades chase e'en now the fliers,
And, but for you, possess the field.
For while the tired waves, vainly breaking
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.
And not by Eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light,
In front, the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
But, westward, look, the land is bright.

Life is good.  Still.  Always.
It is all in how we see it.  Sometimes that seeing is an effort of will and an act of faith.


Friday, January 5, 2018


My mother used to say that sometimes we are set aside in life so that we may have the opportunity for reflection.  But it still confounded her that it seemed that I had been set aside by life at all times.  Honestly, it sometimes confounds me, too; and especially so lately when I have been confronted greatly by the need to endure.

The end of 2017 was uncommonly difficult.  My dear old cat Daisy went home to heaven on December 19.  My car broke down on December 23.  And my refrigerator quit working on December 28.

In the meanwhile I have been clustered round with stray and throwaway kitties that I cannot afford to feed but really must.  I'd only meant to fed Cleo and Byron.  But now there's Moonpie and another I've only seen from the back.

Life is full of trials and testing.  Perhaps it all wouldn't matter so much if there was money but of money I have none.  The car remains where I parked it two weeks ago.  There is simply nothing I can do about it.  The refrigerator stands unplugged and unrepairable.  I want to replace it with a dorm fridge but can't, although I found one on Craigslist for only a dollar.....after all, I can't buy what I can't travel to collect.  Oh my.  Oh well.  The only direction is forward.

And the weather has been cold.  So cold!  For a person with circulatory problems, the pain for hands and feet is horrid.  In a house set on a concrete slab with no insulation in the walls and the heat set on 60, you can just imagine how deeply chilling it can be.....but really I hope you can't.  It's not pleasant.

The interesting matter in all of these trials is that of solitude.

On December 29, I had to ask my good neighbor to carry me to the dollar store to buy cat kibble and toilet paper.  It was nice to visit with him and with the cashier who is friendly to me.  I have not seen any other person since.  Not one.  There's a friend who contacts me daily by text or by cell (we each check to see that the other is alive and kicking) but that's my only contact with the world (not accounting for the web, of course).

I am so grateful now when I think of all the time I have been sidelined by illness and other difficulties, when I remember the two years that I had to live in a bubble environment, when I consider how I was always expected as a child to remain quiet and alone in my room. 

Experience prepares us for things.  My experience has been in learning solitude.  I can imagine other things I might have preferred to have been ready for but this will do; this will do just fine. 

It's not hard being on my own.  I don't mind time in hermitage.  The world is still an interesting place.  There are movies and TV shows online.  There are books to read.  There is much to do.  And there is so much to plan for. 

I believe with all my heart that there is goodness to come.  Somehow.  It will take work.  I will pray for strength and I will keep moving forward, one step at a time.

Believe it or not, life is good.
Being set aside is not such a bad thing after all.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Reaching for Light

It's winter.  It's the sort of winter weather we don't often get a lot of in my little corner of South Mississippi.  In fact, I've seen perhaps five winters like this in the three decades I've lived on this little plot of ground.

Cold.  Strings of days with highs not reaching 40 degrees.  Long nights of hard freezes with temperatures in the teens and 20's. 

Now that might not sound like much if you're accustomed to it, but I'm not and I can't cope with cold anyway.  I shut down in many ways and I hunker down in the warmest space I can find.  It's hard to find a way to fight back against it.

One of the things that has been worrying me during the past weeks of cold is cats.  I've been caring for two strays. 

Byron (who was likely born feral) appears to be a Himalayan mix with lynx point markings; he's lame on a rear paw and fiercely independent.  I agreed to care for Byron so that he would stop being a bother to my good neighbors but I wasn't too happy when Byron brought me his girlfriend.  Cleo is a gray-brown tabby who seems to be a throwaway.  She obviously hasn't been treated kindly by others because she is fearful that hands are for hitting and because there is a BB pellet lodged near her little ribs.

Cleo, it turns out, is a cat of character.  She has stayed determinedly near me during difficult times this winter, and I've appreciated her empathetic presence.  Despite the cold, she won't agree to come in the house, so I've made a pallet for her on the porch with an old bedcover and a fake-fur throw.  Cleo sleeps there happily at night.

This morning, the sunrise was glorious.  The skies were clear finally, and the sun was bright.  When I went to feed the cats, they were not on the porch.  I saw them outside sitting next to a pair of sawhorses that I'd left after painting.  The kitties were seeking the sun, raising their faces to the light, basking in that small solar warmth.

But for Cleo that wasn't quite enough:  she had to try harder, to reach higher.  As I watched, she jumped up on top of the sawhorses to get just that little bit closer to the light.  And then she raised her face again in praise of warmth. 

Perhaps we should all be more like Cleo--braving despite fear, staying the course, and always reaching higher.

Life is good.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Unicorn and a Goal of Five

I like telling myself bedtime stories. 

Yeah, I know that sounds silly but, as a person who has a great deal of difficulty in getting to sleep, I've learned that if I tell myself long complicated stories with lots of details I will eventually become drowsy.  Typically I repeat the same bits of the stories over and over again because the details will help me nod off but also because I don't want to end the story.....if I do, I'll have to start a new one and that will leave me sleepless for a week.  Some stories will go on for months while there are endless revisions and re-tellings; there are other stories that I have come back to time and again for years.

Do you wanna know what the stories are?  Well, sorry, I'm not gonna tell you.  If I did, they wouldn't work so the secrets must remain mine to keep.

There's one thing I'd like to share, though, and it's something that I learned from a character in one of my stories.  Believe it or not, I can actually find out new stuff from someone who only exists in my own head! 

This fictitious elderly gentleman is a reliable person who is known for giving sage advice on making goals, and he tells the same thing to his employees as well as his family.  It's a simple plan to make a list of six things only.  Not four, not seven, not ten.  Six. 

The plan for the six goals works like this:  the first three items on the list should be things that you are reasonably capable of doing and that you can accomplish within the near future.  Working on those three things will give you a sense of ability so that you will comfortably be able to move on to other tasks.  The next two items should be more difficult and they will require more time to complete; you might even need to learn new skills or have to study to get the necessary knowledge.  Working on those two things will help you to become stronger and to find more faith in your will to achieve.  These first three goals will be constantly updating and changing, so you should expect them to be in flux.  The next two will necessarily remain longer on your list.

The sixth item is unlikely to change.  Ever.  It should be very, very difficult to achieve and the time it could take to accomplish is unlimited--indeed the sixth item may never be fully within your grasp.  It should be your deepest hope and your sweetest dream.  And you will call it your Unicorn.  You can have only one Unicorn.  Never more than that.  This will give you focus and keep you on course.  Although you might elect to tell others your first five goals, the Unicorn must remain a secret hidden in your heart; if you tell anyone, the Unicorn loses its power.

I've been thinking about the goals lists for the character in my story.  But I never really connected that to my own need (and admitted inability) to set goals for myself.  So in one of those silly Aha! moments that I tend to have while I'm chatting to myself alone in the car while driving to the Post Office, it suddenly came to me that perhaps I need to try to maintain a Unicorn and a Goal of Five.

Consistency has always been my hobgoblin.  I never do anything the same way twice.  When I make lists of things to do, I immediately rebel and turn entirely to stone.  Although I am utterly inconsistent, incongruously I am also deeply persistent.  The two sides rub together in me in the most irritating ways but I wonder if the charm of the Unicorn could work on me.  After all, it's a gift from my own imagination. 

Will I tell you if this works for me?  Probably not.  But I am sharing so that you can try it out for yourself if you like.  Maintaining a bit of whimsy along with some common sense seems like a wise way to face the world.

Life is good.
Go chasing after a Unicorn.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Gift of the Unexpected

Aphasia is simply a fact of life for me and has been so since I was about 27, and I forgot how to read.  When you're a PhD candidate, this is not a good thing.  Not at all.  My life as I knew it was over, and I had no choice but to do differently.

Ever since, I forget easily.  I turn my back, walk away, and it's like something has never been.  This can be a problem when it comes to things like laundry left in the washer or dirty dishes waiting in the sink.  I've even walked away in the middle of a meal without realizing I had do so.  I'm not ignoring things.  I've forgotten, quite literally, that they were even there.  It's more than a bit frustrating to find a proverbial trail of breadcrumbs from the unfinished duties of my days.  But there they are.  And I have to be honest enough to say that this sort of situation will remain unchanged as long as I am here on this planet.  Eventually stuff gets done.  (This is no complaint; merely an explanation--what I deal with on a daily basis is something most folks never have to know personally, and thank goodness for that.)

But sometimes there's joy in forgetting and finding again.  And this morning it made me laugh.

I should explain first that I've been plagued by the dustiness of my bedroom.  It's autumn; that's when I clean house.  Now I know that spring is the traditional time for cleaning but I believe that tradition is rooted in Northern climes where dust and detrious collects during the winter months while the house is shut up to keep the heat IN.  Here in the Deep South, especially here in South Mississippi, we have little winter (perhaps six weeks) and a great deal of summer (about nine months).  So it is autumn when I want to push the summer's accumulation out the door because the house has been shut so long to keep the heat OUT.  It makes sense when you think about it.  Plus autumn cleaning prepares home for the holidays.

A week or so ago, I gave the bedroom a good going-over with a damp dustcloth, from the ceiling fan down.  Picture frames, door frames, all those fiddly little edges that antique furniture tends to have, all the little bits and pieces that I enjoy displaying on every available I've said before, I'm no minimalist.  I like stuff.  Lots of stuff.  It makes me happy.

The problem was that I ran out of energy before I ran out of places that wanted dusting and, recovering as I still am from walking pneumonia, the rest of the cleaning had to wait.  This morning I didn't want to wait anymore--the dust bunnies in the corners and under the bed were showing their teeth. 

The bedroom is small-ish (about 9 X 10.5) and this house is very short on storage so the space under the bed serves as a prime place to keep boxes full of sheets and blankets and curtains.  The boxes I keep under my antique cast iron bed (the base of which is fully a foot off the floor and thus offers excellent space for storage) really haven't varied for twenty years or so, and that's the only reason I recall what is in them.  That's why I was surprised this morning to find more than 4 plastic bins under the bed.  There was also an opaque tote of some sort--big and quite heavy.....but what was it?  I didn't have any idea and certainly no memory of having placed it under the bed.

I peered inside.  Green, the sort of avocado green that was popular back in the 1960's.  That's nice; I like avocado green.  Satin.  Also nice; I've always loved satin stuff.  Brocade embroidery of delicate wispy leaves in deep gold; very pretty and something else I adore.  But what was this green thing exactly?  I had no idea.  And then light finally dawned when I fully opened the container:  it was an eiderdown!  A truly vintage German eiderdown!  It was the real deal, not like those new "down" blankets that are just tolerable and not really warm.  This was meant to be weighty and wonderfully warm for winter.

When I helped my German-born friend pack up her house last year prior to her move to Alabama, she was down-sizing seriously to move into a single room in her daughter's home.  Eiderdowns require space to store, and she knew her square footage would be severely limited.  Her family, she said, wouldn't be interested and wouldn't value it, so she gave that precious heirloom Eiderdown to me.  And I promised to keep it safe.  Well, I have kept it safe.....but I also forgot it.  And that's why it made me laugh out loud for joy this morning.  I'll be using that Eiderdown this short winter.

Friendship keeps us warm in more ways than one.
Life is good.

 Although I tried, I could not take a picture that would do this lovely Eiderdown justice so this simple snap will have to do.