Saturday, December 31, 2011

'12 is going to be better.

That's what my uncle said after having a heart attack about a week ago: "'12 is going to be better." And really how could it not be after a heart attack? But I think 2012 is going to be my year too. I start art school on January 17th, I'm going to get my vaccinations so I can become a nurses aide eventually, Chris will get through another year of school ... yes, this coming year ought to be a good year. But it's going to be a tough year--you know why? Because Chris and I are instituting ...


There were so many reasons I had to get off Facebook. One was that I just couldn't stand watching yet another one of my high school friends purchasing a home while I was stuck in perpetually-broke status. Don't ask us about our credit card debt--we won't tell you how bad it is. We're stuck in dead-broke renter mode with no signs of recovery in sight. So screw you, old high school friends who can afford houses. We're paving our own path.

I did my New Years resolutions on the blog last year. This year we're just focusing on the Year of Austerity ("Operation: Hair Shirt" for those of you familiar with the great British comedy "Yes, Minister"). But what is this going to entail, you may be asking? First, most money will go to paying down debts. In addition, we've been terrible about giving money to church since our return from Marfa, so strangely enough our Year of Austerity includes a return to tithing. My experience has always been that the more money you part with for a good reason, the more God seems to give back to you. That's a little "Prosperity Gospel" (which, seeing as how I'm Orthodox, you can guess how I feel about that), but it's been true in my experience. Moving on, all purchases save the usual groceries and gas have to be approved by the Committee, which naturally consists of the two main members of the household. Dogs and cats do not get a vote. That's just how it goes.

We're taking inventory of our massive piles of stuff, and clothes are coming in as the #1 thing that we don't need anymore of. (Should I face the unfortunate reality of a faulty chair tearing a hole in the butt of my jeans, the Committee will undoubtedly approve the purchase of a new, reasonably-priced pair.) The #2 thing we don't anymore of is film, followed closely by cameras. Time has allowed me to sort out which cameras I enjoy using and which ones lie around collecting dust, so to eBay I will go (eventually) in the hopes of making a little money off the massive collection. Lots of excess will be toted off to the local thrift store, which will also be the first stopping point for things we need. Books and CDs can be sold.

My friend Bre once talked about a "pantry challenge," where you can only buy fresh fruits and vegetables and things like milk and otherwise live out of your pantry. We've agreed to give this a shot for Lent to help de-emphasize that the season isn't just about not eating cheese but also about using money and food more wisely. I may blog more about that as the Lenten Spring draws closer.

I should add that we're not in dire straits. Money is just massively mismanaged in our house. So on this the last day of 2011, I've made my final purchase of some books, and that's the last thing I plan to put on my credit card for a long time. Here's to a better '12!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I'm Over Christmas

I'm over Santa Claus.

I'm over movies that talk about the "Christmas spirit" while ignoring that it's a religious holiday.

I'm over people who spend $4000 (on average) shopping for presents.

I'm over Black Friday shootings, pepper-sprayings, and other assorted violence.

I'm over last-minute shoppers making it next-to-impossible to buy two frickin' picture frames (okay, so maybe this whole blog post is personal).

I'm over fighting through impenetrable traffic just to get to Walgreens.

I'm over commercials questioning the masculinity of any man who would dare ask for Christmas presents. (I'm truthfully over questioning masculinity in general.)

I'm over militant "Merry Christmas" people. It's just more Christian to take whatever's said to you without grumbling than to act like a dick because someone said, "Season's greetings."

I'm over people who think I'm not Christian because I said "dick."

On the other end of the spectrum, I'm over so-called "edgy," "in-your-face" people who throw up crap like this:

I'm over the classy folks three blocks away who put up a pentagram in lights on their house. Good use of electricity, kids. You really got God's goat there.

I'm over people thinking I'm not in the right mood because we still haven't put up our Christmas tree.

I'm over people being hungry and homeless on Christmas.

I'm over Christmas being celebrated as a non-Christian holiday.

What I'm not over is the thought in my mind that Christmas: The Secular Holiday and Christmas: The Nativity of Christ are two separate things. I know it's not good (read: not Orthodox) to feel this way, but I can't turn it off that easily. My thinking is as flawed as I am.

Still, I'm over Christmas. Bring on the Feast of the Nativity of Christ.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Undoing the Damage, part 3

Look what was waiting for us on the porch when we got home from Christmas with Chris's family:

We don't know who left it for us, but I think it's sweet. :)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Speaking of Joplin, MO ...

When we stayed in the Holiday Inn off the highway, this is what was waiting for us in our room:

Joplin has become a dear place since the tornado. Think of it and pray for it as often as you can.

'Tis the Season

Now that I've notoriously said that we ought to be ashamed of charity, I'd like to issue a retraction. Because this story brought tears to my eyes:

Anonymous donors pay off Kmart layaway accounts

Kudos to those lovely people who paid off accounts in Joplin, MO. They're in my heart especially.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Undoing the Damage, part 2

Cookies are the answer.

Wait, what was the question?

How do we assuage the pain and isolation of suffering people like Rachelle Grimmer and the woman from Boston?

Besides the unbelievable sadness, two things stood out in the story of the Grimmers:

Oscar Cuerrlar, a carpenter and neighbor in the Laredo trailer park where they moved in the spring, said he brought the family grilled fish and chicken after Grimmer's request for food stamps was denied ... 
Manager Janie Rodriguez's office was next to Grimmer's [RV] lot, and the two became close. 

Considering that more news is coming out suggesting that Rachelle Grimmer was indeed mentally ill, probably nothing could've stopped the shooting. However, not everyone in dire straits is going to do something that drastic. You'll hear many a person complain that we don't know our neighbors anymore, but usually that's an example of how Americans are isolated and make and break friendships more easily than they used to. But Rachelle Grimmer had neighbors who cared for her and helped take care of her. They knew her. They knew her situation. In the end they were powerless to stop it, but their kindness and friendship won't be forgotten in heaven.

I don't even know my neighbors' names.

So, after shaking off a few days of depression, I set to work in the kitchen making gluten-free, vegan molasses cookies for the neighbors.

They didn't have to be gluten-free, but I wasn't about to go buying wheat flour and risk getting sick. Neighbors will never know they're gluten-free anyway. 

Yes, it's an extremely small gesture, but it's our little beginning. One of our neighbors wasn't home, and we still don't know the name of the other one, but Chris says we're now more likely to say hi whenever we see each other. Hopefully we'll all slowly get to know each other better. 

I have my doubts that either of my neighbors are needy, but frankly you never know anymore. In this supposedly improving economy, people of any class can end up penniless because of getting laid off or being unable to find a job. Our neighborhood is predominantly minorities and renters (students), and I can say safely that we've never lived anywhere where our neighbors were guaranteed to be secure and wealthy. 

Yes, it's a very small gesture indeed. But considering what a notorious recluse I am, it's a big step forward for me. 

"Think globally, act locally." Very locally. I feel like I've run out of eloquence (if I ever had any), but I think we could all do tremendous good if we just knew the people who live closest to us.

Friendly Snuggle Dogs

Undoing the Damage, part 1

I got some inexplicable negative comments on "We Ought to be Ashamed" that I can't make heads or tails of, so I've deleted both my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I say that because the Loquat doesn't have a particularly wide gentle-readership, so chances are low that anyone will know that I'm coming to the conclusion of my talk on the subject of the shootings in Laredo. Without the benefit of social networks spreading the word, I may be the only one satisfied by the written end of my thoughts. So be it. (And I'll probably be a better person for not being on Facebook and Twitter all the time.)

Anyway, my answer to the question is very small, but I believe in the cliche, "Think globally, act locally." The answer ...

... is cookies. Vegan, gluten-free, soft, molasses cookies. With navy beans (yes, you did see a can of those in the picture). And a heaping spoonful of my new maple sugar. Cookies. 

Overly simplistic, yes. 

I'll explain more when the baking begins. 

Finally, apparently I need to say something. I never said that if we just stopped sinning everything would be fine. The Theotokos never sinned and was still subject to death. Only Christ can save us and can end all the terrible problems the world faces. Poverty, hunger, starvation will not cease until Jesus returns and makes all things new. This I believe, and I believe in facts, not opinions. But Christ also called us to be a city on a hill, and with the Light of Christ we should take care of those in need regardless of faith: "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another" (1 John 4:11). Sometimes it's hard to see the icon of Christ of in other people (just ask me right now), but we were all made in the image of God and deserve each other's love regardless. I don't mean to sound preachy--I'm reminding myself as much as anyone else. Lord have mercy on me, a sinner. 

More on cookies later. Jesus is the answer--cookies are His emissary. ;)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

We Ought to be Ashamed, part 2

I think I said some things in my last post that I didn't quite mean to say. You'll have to forgive me--by the time I finished "We Ought to be Ashamed" I was shaking so badly I was having trouble typing. This wasn't out of anger, it was out of dread. I really don't mind having unpopular opinions--it's sharing them that takes the wind out of me. End result: I didn't sleep a wink last night, and now I'm here issuing retractions I spent all night thinking up. Yes, I could just edit the original post, but I don't really like making corrections that cover my own tail. I'd much rather say that I got some stuff wrong with as much humility as I can muster.

First, I sincerely hope I didn't imply that Rachelle Grimmer was not responsible for her actions because of the duress the family was under. No matter how desperate circumstances are, there's no excuse for holding up a welfare office for seven hours, then shooting your two children and yourself. This doesn't mean I don't feel pity for her and her situation. Things got awful and the worst possible choice was made. I believe her children Ramie and Timothy are playing at the feet of the Theotokos, as is the end for all children who die too soon. As for Rachelle, pray God have mercy on her and forgive her just as you pray God has mercy on you and forgives you.

Second, I think I may have come across as blaming Society and The Government for what happened. This was not my intention because blaming society and the government means, essentially, "I blame everyone but myself." Not that they're without fault. What kind of society is so germophobic that restaurant crews have to throw out leftover food rather than giving it to the poor? What kind of government throws its neediest citizens under the bus in favor of more profitable lobbies? The more important question I wanted to ask was this: What kind of people let a member of the group go so woefully without in a land of plenty? Looking back on our time in Marfa, I see this more clearly--a town of 2000 people divided into three groups: the art contingent, the tourism contingent, and the poor. The threat remains that the more affluent (like, oh I don't know, me) will eventually drive out the poor who have lived there for generations just so we can have our own little slice of paradise in the West Texas desert. The fact that I only talked to the rich Anglos and never to the poor Hispanics isn't society's fault or the government's fault--it's my fault.

Finally, I think I caused all the confusion by trying to express my theological beliefs un-theologically. Two things I gleaned from church inspired my thinking. One is the Orthodox belief that only animals do the will of God, and the extent to which they do evil (killing each other, spreading disease, etc.) is not their fault but our's because of the Fall. The other thing is what our priest always says on Forgiveness Sunday (the first Sunday of Lent): We go around the church asking each other's forgiveness because our sins hurt everyone, not just those who seemed to be hurt directly. He often cites the example that Hitler's sins affect everyone, whether directly touched by him or not. So I may have not explained it well, but that's why I believe we're all responsible for the heartbreaking poverty I talked about in the original post. Mankind brought sin into the world, and this is one of the many forms it's taking.

I want to say more, but this post has already gone on longer than I wanted. I'll harp on later.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

We Ought to be Ashamed

Let me quote you something from Frances Moore Lappe's Diet for a Small Planet:

I've had no income and I've paid no rent for many months. My landlord let me stay. He felt sorry for me because I had no money. The Friday before Christmas he gave me ten dollars. For days I had nothing but water. I knew I needed food; I tried to go out but was too weak to walk to the store. I felt as if I was dying. I saw the mailman and told him I thought I was starving. He brought me food and then he made some phone calls and that's when they began delivering these lunches. But I had already lost so much weight that five meals a week are not enough to keep me going.  
I just pray to God I can survive. I keep praying I can have the will to save some of my food so I can divide it up and make it last. It's hard to save because I'm so hungry that I want to eat it right away. On Friday, I held over two peas from lunch. I ate one pea on Saturday morning. Then I got into bed with the taste of food in my mouth and I waited as long as I could. Later on in the day I ate the other pea.  
Today I saved the container that the mashed potatoes were in and tonight, before bed, I'll lick the sides of the container.  
When there are bones I keep them. I know this is going to be hard for you to believe and I am almost ashamed to tell you, but these days I boil the bones till they're soft and then I eat them. Today there were no bones.

Sound like the problems of a third world country? This woman was from Boston. Boston.

When I read this in Diet for a Small Planet years ago, I cried. Then I wrote it down in my journal so I'd never forget. But forget I did, at least until I stumbled across a story about a shooting in Laredo, TX, at a welfare office--a story that contained sentences like these:

Grimmer would walk down the highway after midnight and beg closing crews at restaurants for food they planned to throw away.  
Oscar Cuerrlar, a carpenter and neighbor in the Laredo trailer park where they moved in the spring, said he brought the family grilled fish and chicken after Grimmer's request for food stamps was denied ...
... the family was in clearly dire straits even by the standards of Webb County, where the per capita income of $13,600 is among the lowest in the nation. By most accounts, Grimmer didn't come close to scraping together near that much money.

 No, this is not an excuse for this woman shooting her two children and then herself. That will be between her and God. But will we not also be forced to answer for the abject poverty that goes unnoticed around us?

The Christmas season has always traditionally been the feel-good season, the season where you drop a check in the mail for charity and feel all warm and fuzzy inside. But I realized today that charity is something we ought to be ashamed of, not proud of. I'm very guilty of feeling like a saint after giving a pittance to charity. Then I go and squander the rest of my money on useless items for myself. What a saint I am.

We're awfully quick to blame God for all the terrible problems in this world: "Why did God let that happen?" Have we lost all humility? What shameful pride! The woman from Boston and Rachelle Grimmer are our fault--MY fault. Since when is it God's fault that I live in a warm home with plenty of food and pay no heed to the desperately poor who may be as close to me as next door? Whose fault is it? The government's? The 1%? Adam and Eve's? MINE--MY fault.

You and I allow others to get so desperate that it's easier to shoot themselves and their children than go on living. 

The fact that charities need to exist is a terrible shame a black mark upon our world. The fact that we only care about the poor at Christmastime (often so we can get in those last-minute tax deductions) is nothing to get warm, fuzzy feelings over. I'm afraid I haven't written the hopeful, happy Christmastime message that we so gluttonously devour. What scares me is that I think I've written the truth. And I write it not just for other Christians like me (although I think we shoulder the biggest load in this), but for everyone of any and no faith.

Jesus said the poor would always be among us, but He left it up to me to realize that it's my fault.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Art of Bread and Why My Life Sucks

So I'm on the King Arthur Flour website because I hear it has gluten-free stuff. And it does--I ordered me some ancient grains flour that looks mighty fine. It's just annoying that on the same page as the gluten-free flour, they're trying to entice you to buy a fine complement to it: 16oz of vital wheat gluten. Thanks, KAF, for being sensitive to my major and still very new dietary sensitivities.

But that's hardly what brings me to the Loquat to gripe this early in the morning. Just being at the King Arthur Flour website is enough to make one sick at heart. They've so perfected bread-making that I can't help but feel a little left in the dust. I used to enjoy bread-making heartily: I'd make whole grain breads and pick up weird flours to add to them (I still use mesquite meal, which adds a wonderful caramel-y flavor--I recommend it to all you gentle readers). While I may be a gluten-free baked-good goddess (though I certainly don't let it go to my head), I still haven't dabbled in bread. I know what I'm up for, though: disappointment.

But maybe not. Truth be told, I wasn't very good at making wheat bread. If your idea of good bread was a 3-inch thick, infinitely dense loaf, then I was your man. If you wanted something you could use for a sandwich, or say you wanted to make toast that wasn't brick-like, you'd best look elsewhere. It was gluten that did the rising, and I wasn't very good at harnessing it. So perhaps a gluten-free bread will prove to be my ... uh, what's the opposite of a downfall? I don't want to say uprising--that sounds too revolutionary (though very bread-appropriate).

Still, it's the accoutrements of bread-making that makes one jealous, envious, and slightly depressed. Look at this, and this, and this!! Oh, how I long just to need them! But what I really need is just another non-stick bread pan. I still need to do the de-glutenizing kitchen re-do, so I need less time at artisan bread websites at more time at Target.

Did I ever mention I bought a $300 stand mixer with a bread hook that I haven't used once? Did you know you can get a bread machine for $5 at a garage sale, put it on the dough setting, and have it do all the work for you? Craig's List, here I come.

I know I'm an expert griper. I actually don't think my life's that hard. It's just that I used to imagine myself as an expert bread maker, and now seeing all the awesome things available to expert bread makers and knowing that I can't eat that bread is a little disheartening. But griping is more amusing than coming onto the Loquat and saying, "There's lots of nice things in the world, but my life is great." That would definitely keep you coming back to this piece-of-garbage blog. My life isn't great: It's very frustrating, annoying, and different right now. But I feel like I could find joy in gluten-free bread baking if I'd just shut my big ol' complainy yap and give it a try. No, it won't rise like wheat bread, but perhaps it'll rise more than the housebuilding material I passed off for bread so often. There's always hope that I'll work better with xanthan gum than I did with gluten (both externally and internally).

Here's to Hope, gentle readers.