Monday, April 29, 2019

It's Not Just Stuff

I know.  I know.  I shouldn't read online comments that people make.  But I do read them.  Don't you?  I read one today that made me really cross.  

The poster said quite blithely that you could and should judge people on their possessions--that if a person cared about having things then they could not be trusted to care about people.  

I shouted at the computer sceen:  So unfair!  Not true!  I love people but I also enjoy having some things.  

This is an issue that I've been faced with more than ever during this difficult past year when I've had so little money that I've gone weeks without toilet paper.  It has been a time when meals were very thin indeed; sometimes I have been hungry.  And the few people who have spoken with me have asked me why I didn't sell this thing or that thing.  

I believe that they meant kindly but they didn't understand:  the things that they said I should sell have little monetary value but their presence in my home makes me feel comforted, makes me feel as though somehow at least one little piece of my world isn't in the center of the maelstrom that is my life.  Yes, I could sell that pretty plate from my dining room for $2 but the cost to my peace of mind would be much higher.  

It isn't a matter of greed.  It's a matter of continuity and of visual confirmation that things are okay, that things will continue to be okay, that somehow there is still hope.  

When I was a kid, we moved a lot.  A lot.  My mother would give me a small box and tell me that I could take only what I could fit into it and nothing more; everything else would be left for the trash man.  It was often heartbreaking, and thus I could never allow myself to fall in love with dolls or really enjoy a toy because I knew I might not be able to keep it forever.  Perhaps I still live in fear of the existential pressure of that small box.  

As a young adult on my own, I still moved house often.  Before I ever unpacked the necessities, I went right to decorating.  I hung curtains, put pillows on the sofa, and placed a picture or two on the walls.  Only then did I bother with cleaning the bathroom and putting the kitchen to rights--those things just didn't matter as much as setting my heart at rest.  If some space in the house was pretty and pleasing, I didn't mind living almost anywhere.  I still feel that way.  

Things can give a sense of belonging.  And sometimes they fulfill a sense of simple longing.

A few years ago when I was preparing for a yard sale, a family member noticed my collection of hair barrettes; she said I was too old for kidstuff and that I didn't need those things and that I should sell them to someone who could use and enjoy them.  I gulped.  I held my breath.  I emptied the drawer of barrettes.  I sold them.  And later when I was alone, I cried.  The one who had really needed those barrettes was me, even if I didn't wear them.

Without consciously realizing that I was doing so, little by little I re-filled that dresser drawer with pretty hair jewelry--barrettes and hair sticks and scrunchies.  Dollar store stuff, nothing fancy, certainly nothing that cost more than a dollar or two.  But it was shiny and pretty and satisfying.  Why do I need it?  Ever since I can remember I was told that I was ugly, that my sister was the pretty one.  And I remember that no one would brush my hair even when I was little--I desperately wished for that; it seemed like the greatest sort of caring.  Now I'm an old lady, and I still sometimes wish someone would brush my hair.

I'd rather not believe that my family was unkind, and I do know that they were busy dealing with troubles of their own.  Things happen, and we have to move on.  I can't go back to being a little kid but I can soothe the child in me with a barrette every now and then.  I don't have to wear them; I just like imagining.  And, yes, sometimes I give them away to real children because they need to feel pretty as well.

There are other things I keep.  One of the important things is a feathered owl mask hidden in the bottom of my dresser drawer.  No one else knows it's there but I do and I know why.  

Women of a certain age might remember a long ago fantasy TV show; there was an episode that took place at a fanciful costume ball where two characters wore feathered owl masks.  I watched that romantic show with more than a little longing.  

Only in my mid-20's I had become incurably disabled and I was housebound.  Realistically I knew that I would never go to a costume ball or even on a normal date; I knew that my life was doomed to disappointment in the future and there was nothing I could do to change that.  But I could still dream; and when I found a feathered owl mask at a flea market, I paid the dollar for it without thinking twice.  The mask was enough.  It was my deep and unfulfilled wish but it was also a dream I could hold in my hands anyway.  More than that, it was my secret defiance against everything that kept me chained and unable to fight otherwise.

The dresser that holds my barrettes and hides my owl mask is another important thing.  It originally belonged to my grandmother.  Granny was a tall skinny woman who had to wring from life what little it would give her.  She was never pretty, never had a chance to be.  That's what my mother remembered about her mother-in-law, and she often wondered why on earth Granny had chosen to buy the gently feminine dresser that didn't suit her; after all, Mother said tartly, Granny was so tall that she had to bend over to see her face in the mirror.  

I know why Granny chose that dresser.  She needed it just the way I do.  Maybe she wanted more than life gave her.  Maybe that dresser was her fist raised in defiance of those who couldn't see that her as anything other than an old hardscrabble immigrant farmer's wife.  But Granny could dream.  Her dresser is proof.  Those small secret symbols make the hard corners of life less sharp, more easy to bear.  It doesn't change reality at all but it invites a dream and encourages a hopeful smile.  Granny's dresser reminds me that I should dream, too, despite knowing that dreams don't truly come true; it's healing to wish and to ponder.

Sometimes things aren't just things.  They are symbols.  They quietly remind us to endure, to have courage, to keep the faith, to keep going, to reach out in hope.  

In this past terrible year and a half, I have had no money at all--not for necessities and certainly not for niceties.  I've held on hard and gritted my teeth while I felt like grim death.  I have done absolutely nothing for myself beyond survival, and sometimes little enough of that.  I reached a point where I had no hope and where I couldn't allow my self to wish.  It hurt too much.  Recently I realized that this was wrong.  No matter how poor I am, too much of doing without joyful things is wrong.  

I became aware of this when I saw a barrette on the main page on eBay.  It was a China cheapie--a shiny rhinestone snowflake, and it was on auction for a ridiculously low price.  The auction was ending within seconds.  On a whim, I bid.  And I won the pretty barrette for seven cents.  Seven cents.  It felt like seven hundred dollars.  The good it did me was worth much more.  

Oh, how I enjoyed waiting and watching for that snowflake barrette to come in the mail.  It was something to look forward to and that was so important because I had had nothing to anticipate for such a long time.  When it arrived, I was stunned at how pretty it was.  The barrette stayed on my worktable for a long time just so I could look at it every day to admire (to be honest, it's still there glittering under the light).   And little by little, I've been recovering the drive to keep fighting.

So that's why I was upset by reading that thoughtless online comment.  We have no right to judge others, and we certainly should have nothing to say about what other people choose to own.  Sometimes they actually need the seemingly unimportant things they hold.  In truth, we can only understand others by listening to their stories and by watching what they do.  That's something we should all afford to do, and it's something we should make time for.  

Sometimes someone's stuff is the essence of their courage and the basis for their hope.  No one should shame them for it.

Life is good.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The $10 Dilemma

Recently I ended up in a place where nobody wants to be:  the ER.

Now I tend to avoid medical personnel as often as possible because I'm tired of having to explain my health issues to doctors who just don't get it.  But that was neither here nor there last Sunday night because I could not breathe.  Really couldn't.  I'm accustomed to dealing with asthma but this time I couldn't get it under control.  After hours of struggle, I decided that I needed help.  And I'm not a person who is likely to ask for help unless the situation is dire.

So at nearly 11 PM, I drove myself to the hospital because there was no one to take me.  I won't trouble you with the stories about how the warning light on my car was saying that it was nearly out of gas or about how I'm night-blind and couldn't find the entrance to the parking lot.  

Maybe I also shouldn't talk about how the nice folks at the ER ignored the fact that I couldn't breathe and instead tested me for other things while they left me sitting around for four hours waiting while they ran the tests again because they were freaked out by the results.  On the ailment they were testing me for, a score of zero is normal and four is dangerous.  My level was at fifteen.

So the doctor was fussing at me.  Didn't I know I needed medication?  Yes.  Why wasn't I taking it?   No money.  That was no excuse, he said.  I sighed.  Later he came back to my room with the wonderful news that I could get my scrip filled for just $10 at Wal-Mart.  He was so pleased with himself for coming up with that idea that he looked like he had pulled a rabbit out of a hat.

What could I do?  Explanation was futile.  This guy obviously had no idea that $10 is a LOT of money, so I thanked him and promised faithfully to take my medicine.  I meant it.  After all, I'm no fool; I know those test results are dangerous.

(By the way, they never did treat my asthma.)

Wal-Mart is pretty much my idea of Hades.  Or maybe just the Temple of Mammon.  I refuse to go there unless it is a last resort (like when my printer runs out of ink).  But I dragged myself over there to fill my prescription.  

There was no line at the pharmacy counter but I still had to wait and wait and wait.  Since my bones were aching per usual, I decided to take a seat on the sole waiting bench next to an elderly woman with a very full shopping basket and she started chatting the way that folks here in the South do and that I generally enjoy.  She told me that she had to get presents for her various neighbors but she said waspishly that she wasn't willing to spend more than $10, and she wondered if they might want the candles on a nearby display.  Her tone made it clear that she didn't much like her neighbors.

I didn't think the candles were worth $10 but didn't like to say so.  Instead I said that a present like that would brighten the day and warm the heart for her neighbors, and that it was very kind of her to think of them.  It's better to say something nice, isn't it?  But, to tell the truth, I was tearing up because I was thinking, "oh my, what I could do with $10!" because there won't be any Christmas at my house this year and I already know it.  I really wish I could give presents to my kind neighbors but I have nothing to share.

Then the lady pointed out a large bakery container of Christmas cookies on the bottom rack of her shopping cart--also $10 (surprising how that amount kept repeating itself).  She told me that she had dropped them and that the cookies had spilled on the floor.  She had shoved them back in the box.  They didn't look broken, she said, so she was just going to put them back on the bakery shelf.  "That would be okay, wouldn't it?" she asked me, because she would just get another one.  

Why?  Why would anyone do such a thing?  Would you want to buy food that had fallen on a filthy high-traffic floor?  But I didn't say that.  I suggested that she turn the container in to the bakery clerk and explain that it had been opened.  Presumably my horror showed on my face because she decided to resume shopping after that instead of talking with me.  

By then I was actually crying.  Why do people think it's okay for someone else to have to accept something they wouldn't touch themselves?  I don't understand it--it's like the long-expired food that turns up in food donations.  If you won't eat, why give it to someone in need?  Are they less human than you are?  Yes, I have eaten expired food this difficult year.  I didn't want to but it was what I was given and it was all I had.  I have sometimes been so very hungry.

While I waited on the bench, other people sat down, one after the other, and complained about spending money for the holidays.  I responded as pleasantly as I could, although I really had nothing to say on the subject, and I certainly didn't want to admit that because I was spending $10 on a prescription, I would be doing without toilet paper and several other necessary items this week.  

Once more, I am reminded that I don't live like other folks.  Maybe my values are way out of whack, I guess, at least the way this world looks at it.  I'd rather be kind whenever I can.  It costs nothing and it can do a lot of good.  I'd rather be honest when making mistakes, especially if someone else might be harmed.  I'd rather keep trying to look for hope in the holidays, even if there's none there for myself. 

Life is good.
And we can make it better.
I decline to give up.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Hearing and Listening

"It was a raccoon," my neighbor said with certainty.

I tried again to tell her the facts of what I knew, "But....."

"No buts.  It was a raccoon, and I am sure of it."  And then she began to detail her experiences with raccoons.

I nodded politely and agreed that no doubt she knew best because I was taught (and quite correctly, too) to respect my elders.  But, you know what?  She didn't know.  She didn't know, and she surely didn't know best because she hadn't heard all the facts.  

We're all like that sometimes, aren't we?  We theorize ahead of the information and we shoot from the hip believing that we know best.  What we should be doing is listening and not merely believing that we've heard it all.  I am as guilty of that as anyone else.  It's a lazy habit, and I believe that it's a result of the way we receive pre-digested news bites and potted previews of information.  We learn little or nothing and wrongly suppose that we have heard it all.

It's good to reflect on that so I can try to improve myself.  But the fact of the matter is that it doesn't address the mystery that I was trying to discuss with my neighbor.  I assure you that the answer is Not "raccoon."

I first noticed the signs of the mystery last week when I was looking outside my bedroom window at my bottle tree.  I've mentioned my bottle trees (a Mississippi tradition that I love) here  before several times, most notably when someone marauded one of my bottle trees and stole antique bottles from it.  (You can read about that in this post.)  This time, a bright blue antique bottle lay at the base of the tree.

I refuse to believe that a raccoon is the culprit.  Why?  The most notable reason is that a different bottle had been substituted for another one that was missing.  It's clear glass when all my bottles were color.  It's a bottle I've not seen before.  I have no idea where it came from.  And that is just creepy.  

A raccoon seems highly unlikely to bother to (or to be able to) reach four feet up to slip a bottle down onto a 4-inch long twig to say thank you for the bottle it has stolen.

The bottle tree that is at the bedroom side of my house is not easily visible from the driveway and it is obscured by shrubs and the like.  You have to know it is there before you notice it.  

I should also say that my driveway is about 600 feet long and there is a heavy treeline that obscures my house and most of my yard from the road.   And you pretty much have to know that there's a house here before you notice it as well.  My two-acre property is a quiet and secluded place.  I am very alone here.  That's why the next thing that happened startled me enough to try to talk to the neighbor.

My half-grown kittens Frank and Dolly are unaccustomed to seeing any person but me.  If someone else comes by, they dash away to hide silently.   They only do this when they see a human being.  That's why I knew what had scared them in the middle of the night when they were sitting on the sill of the window that looks out onto the bottle tree.  There was a sudden thump as they jumped down and then complete silence.  They never leave me in the middle of the night like that.  There had to be someone outside.

I kept as quiet as the cats were doing, and I didn't want to look out the window to betray my presence.  I listened, and heard nothing.  But it occurred to me that I didn't even hear the night birds and the frogs that are usually quite noisy here.  All was silent.  

Since then I've noticed a couple of things shifted around in my yard--like the big plastic chairs that are in front of my workshop.  They have been moved a few feet away from where they have been for some years.  And this happened several days after the strange bottle turned up on my tree.  Someone has been here.

There's no concrete proof that I can offer that anyone else would understand.  No one notices the little details here but me because almost no one is ever here but me.   During this past month, I've seen only three people.....and now I'm trying to figure out one mystery.

I'm watching carefully.  I'm listening cautiously.  But I wish I had been heard when I was trying to tell my tale.  And I hope that my mystery visitor never returns.

Life is good.
Be vigilant, and stay safe.

Friday, November 23, 2018

The $3 Thanksgiving

This has been one whale of a tough year.  Still is tough, to be honest, but I'm trying to overcome.  

And here come the holidays, oh my.  I no longer wish to be asked to join anyone's celebrations because those just make me feel even more isolated than I already am.  Crowds make me confused and uncomfortable even on a normal day.  So I don't mind being on my own.  Truly.  And I really like choosing my own odd little "borrowed" holidays (like Tanbata when I borrow a stalk of bamboo from my neighbor's yard and I light sparklers after dark).

But this year, I have not celebrated any day at all (not even my own birthday) because I could not.  There was nothing.  Nothing at all.  Nothing to celebrate with.  And I was desperately sad. But I was also often just plain hungry.

It was all too hard, too shaming, too much of too little until I just sort of collapsed in the middle for awhile.  I have found it very hard to recover my bounce.  

This month, I vowed to change when Guy Fawkes Day (another one of my borrows) came around.  Sometimes we have to change our own minds while we change our circumstances.

I splashed out $1.35 (yes, I went without something else to do so--no laundry soap now at my house) at the dollar store for oatmeal to make parkin (a chewy, oaty sort of gingerbread, traditional in some parts of the UK for Guy Fawkes).  But I could not afford the syrup the recipe requires.  Instead, I used persimmon butter that I had made when neighbors gifted me with a bag of fruit.  It was lovely parkin, and I enjoyed it.  That the only celebration I had but at least it was an act of defiance in the name of hope.

Then I had Thanksgiving staring me down.  

What to do?  My pantry is still quite bare, and even the local food bank could not be of assistance.  In fact, when I went there last month I received a notice that they were low on food and that I could not expect help again for more than six weeks.  They had little enough to give me that day:  six cans of veggies, two loaves of out-dated bread, and a jar of peanut butter.  

They also had a huge bunch of fresh collard greens that were loaded with cabbage worms.  The worker apologized profusely and said I didn't have to take it but I told her that I was grateful, that bugs were natural, that I could cope.  And I did cope (despite some screaming and squealing as I cleaned the leaves) because I was too honest-to-God hungry to say no.  I made a dozen servings of collards to freeze, and am enjoying them while sternly refusing to recall the worms.  You might be surprised to know how desperately you wish for anything green to eat when you have had to do without.

So, Thanksgiving.....I've been lucky enough to be able to spend about $5 on food every week this month so I had a tiny bit of this and a little bit of that:  a couple of onions, two very small potatoes, eggs, and home-made frozen leftovers.  I made a plan based on that bounty, and then I went to the dollar store to spend $3 on the rest:  a sale-priced can of creamed corn for 33 cents, a can of jellied cranberry for $1, and (my big splash-out expense) $1.50 on sale-priced cream cheese.  

Was my supper any good?  

Yes, of course!  And part of what made it good was the effort of planning to make something out of very little.

Celery with cream cheese
Salt-roasted potatoes
Boiled onion with cream cheese sauce
Dressing with cucumber (like stuffing but vegetarian)
Corn pudding
Cranberry sauce
Persimmon hand pies
.....and the inevitable mug of tea

A week or so ago, I had made half a dozen small casseroles of cucumber dressing when I found a bag of clearance sale cucumbers for $1 at the grocery and I used one of the loaves of bread from the food bank to put it together with.  It would have been better with some cheese but there was no money for a big purchase like cheese (believe me, anything that costs $2 is a big purchase).    I've also got quite a few stuffed cucumbers in the freezer--yes, you can cook those things.  Our ancestors certainly did.

The persimmon hand pies were made from the fruit that my neighbor gifted me.  I'm still trying to use up the last of those persimmons!  And I'm not complaining--I'm grateful.  

There really was such bounty from small things!

What I did not expect was that a friend from a local church would show up on Thanksgiving morning with a bag of food.  More bounty:  canned corn and beets and aparagus (oh my!) and water chestnuts (yes!) and olives.  Rice, beans, a box of pasta (all of which I had been out of).  A jar of pickles.  She said that it was all she could find from donations at the church.  I don't know if she understood how touched I was or how much this means or that I truly was filled with gratitude.  

Yes, I cried.  And I began to think ahead to Christmas supper.  I suspect that I'll be saving the asparagus and the water chestnuts for that.  Maybe the pickles and olives, too.  I'll work hard to imagine something special.

It's nice to have something to look forward to.  I could not have gotten this far without the kindnessof friends and neighbors.

Life is good.  
We have to remember to live in hope.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Going North in the South Bound Lane

I was on my way home today from running some errands  when I saw something horrifying:  an elderly man driving a car headed up the off ramp of the Interstate.  He was trying to head North on the Southbound lanes.  Cars coming off the ramp stopped and beeped and tried to caution him.  Cars headed East and West on the cross road stopped and beeped--I was one of those.  Even a school bus stopped.  There must have been 15 vehicles trying to get his attention but to no avail.  Very scary.

But for me the thing that seemed even scarier was the response that I got trying to communicate with the 911 operators. 

The local operator wouldn't send the city police (the most immediate choice) or the county sheriff (the next nearest) because the problem was with the Interstate (even though the car was on the part of the road running through town).  No, she had to transfer me to Highway Patrol, and heaven only knows how far away their cars might be.

I could not make the HP operator understand that I was NOT on the Interstate; I was on the the crossover bridge headed East.  But she kept asking me for the nearest Interstate mile marker.  How would I know?  I told her the exit number and the name of the town.   She wanted me to describe the car's make and model; I hadn't been that close and I only saw the color.   She said they would try to look into it.  

I had done the the best I could do; at least I tried.  But it was so frustrating!  I prayed for the safety of that elderly man and for those in traffic around him.  

It was when I got home that I remembered that this was the second time in the past month or so that I had had to report a traffic situation to 911, and I had gotten a lackadaisical response the previous time, too.  I realize that these folks are in a high stress profession but it shouldn't be this hard to report something hazardous.

The previous time I called was about a woman whose car was stalled at a traffic light intersection on a State highway.  It's a really busy road, and traffic was backing up for at least a quarter mile in either direction.  Again, I was on the cross road, so I went about my business at the Post Office and assumed that someone would give her a hand--this is the South, after all; there's usually some Good Old Boy who would be willing, at the very least, to push the car to the verge.  But nearly ten minutes later when I left the PO, she was still stuck at the light, so I called 911.

I explained the situation but the operator couldn't figure out which agency to call because that stop light is right on the city/county limits.  She had to dither awhile trying to decide whether to route my call to the police or the sheriff.  And she made me explain three different times which side of the stoplight the woman's car was on so she could decide who she should send out.  

Seriously, how hard is it to get help before something goes wrong?   One difficulty in communication is something that can happen to anyone.  Two times in a row seems like the beginning of a pattern of incompetence when it comes to deciding the matter of jurisdiction. 

I am really not impressed.  Not at all.  

Life is still good.
.....but sometimes I think it could be better.

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.