Friday, December 25, 2015

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Why We Take Presents to the Neighbors

I'm sure I could find the specifics of this story if I searched the blog thoroughly, but, frankly, I don't feel like it. I can tell the story just as well without using specific names and specific towns anyway.

It was at the second Christmas in our current house, I believe, that we decided to start giving presents to our neighbors. Our neighbor to the south has lived here longer than we have, and we're friends with her now (food presents are always an icebreaker). Our neighbors to the north have come and gone; we've have really great neighbors and really terrible neighbors in that house. When students lived next door, they would play music so loud that we once even had to call the police. When we showed up that Christmas with a cookie mix from Women's Bean Project and talked to them for a good while, we got along swimmingly ... and the loud music stopped.

We dropped off some sweet bread (not to be confused with sweetbreads), coffee, and peppermint cocoa for the kids at our northern neighbors' house last night, then sat on the porch and reminisced.

And that reminiscing wasn't necessarily pleasant.

All this started when I found a news story about a woman in southern Texas who took hostages in a welfare office and concluded this by killing her two children and then herself. She had been turned down for food stamps because she falsified how much she made. More details came out over the week: She lived in a broken down trailer (possibly rent-free, thanks to a generous landlady--Lord, give the world more of those!) that had a tarp where the roof should be. The landlady checked in on her a lot. Another neighbor brought her food occasionally. No, these people didn't stop the tragedy, but they helped a woman in need. And I realized, I don't even know my neighbors.

If you hear what neighborhood I live in, you think it's one of the more stable, well-off neighborhoods in my town. And it is ... until you get to my street. Remember my last blog post? Neighbors who came by without costumes for Halloween? It's a safe neighborhood, but it's not the well-off section of it. The people west of us complain about the university being too close to them and demand the streets be closed off so no one can park near their houses on game day. My section? Well, the cheapest grocery store in town was nearby, and it was closed down by the I-35E expansion. I know I miss it--I miss the fresh tamales that would show up there occasionally. But the truth is, we're now in a food desert.

After reading about that woman, we began giving presents. Started with homemade cookies. Moved on to soup mixes from Women's Bean Project. Now, I surprise my neighbors with bread every now and then. We use my bread machine's big loaf pan for the northern neighbor because they have a big family; we use a divided pan that makes two mini-loaves and give one to our neighbor who lives alone and keep one for ourselves. (Chris and I have discovered the hard way that, if we don't eat the bread right away, it'll go bad. Less is more here.) I was inspired by the stupid red cup debacle (kill me) by several pastors to get both my neighbors and a homeless person a cup of coffee. Still have to find a homeless man, but both our neighbors have been coffee'd, and this afternoon we'll give the southern neighbor nut butter that Chris made (thank you, honey) and bread that I made (thank you, bread machine). And then we'll take her out to dinner on Christmas Day because her S.O. is visiting daughters in Boston (thanks for being open 365 days a year, Bagheri's).

Sorry to end on a dark note, but remembering that woman certainly dampened our mood as we sat there on the porch and hugged. I don't want anything like that to happen again. Not on my watch.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Halloween 2015

I'm a really sensitive person, which is why I should never read the comments on articles. Especially articles about couples without children. Because invariably there's someone who wants to talk about how marriage was made for having children and how children (in large herds, preferably) are a blessing from God. I guess that's the only way God can bless you--screw me, I'm cursed!

I began my marriage childless-not-by-choice and have ended up, after 11 years blissfully wed, childless-by-choice. And I'm not cursed, unless you count the severe depression that would've made me a terrible mother. I don't even consider that a curse, really--it's just a thing I have to deal with. Now that I'm out of the Church of Fecundity, I'm starting to see what God really expects of me. There are two psalms (that drive me mad whenever they come up) about how having lots of kids is great ... and serving the marginalized appears in the Psalter about a billion more times than that. And if that means turning on slightly scary music, sitting on the front porch, and giving children a pair of fun-sized Butterfingers each, then we're your couple!

I loved Halloween this year. We've lived in our house five years and only done it twice. The first time, we had a pumpkin carving party for all the single adults at church, and whoever was nearest the door handed out candy when the doorbell rang. This year it was just us because I'd grown tired of being the neighborhood recluse. I put on my shirt with an MRI of a brain on it (which was covered up all night by my cardigan because it was cold), freaked out when kids showed up while it was still light out, and actually managed to do things occasionally without the help of my husband. He was there--I love his company--but I didn't need him to do everything for me.

I actually think the cutest kids were the ones I dealt with alone. First to show up was a family of four with one extremely excited little girl, who kept telling me that, "WE CAME FROM ALL THE WAY DOWN THERE!" while pointing down the block. (We live on a long street.) No costumes, but we don't live in the ritziest part of town, so it surprised me more when kids showed up in costume than when they showed up without. A lone girl came after that with no costume but with a sparkly candy bag, and she was so sweet. Later on, after dark, Chris was wrestling with a frozen pizza while I sat on our welcome bench, and a family of five rolled up: one I don't remember, 2 Elsas, 1 Anna, and at the end, helped by the smallest Elsa, a Spider Man who couldn't have been more than 2 years old. I remember saying, "Oh, Spider Man!" sympathetically because he was clearly shy and I understood that feeling. I wish I'd commented on the old school coolness of the kid who dressed up as Chucky, but I failed to. We had our fair share of teenagers. One group came using backpacks to hold their candy (whatever), but one in that group didn't even have that: He held out his hands like he was receiving communion from me. "Receive these Butterfingers ..."

We were surprised when it all wrapped up around 8:30 and we still had candy. So the next day, we went to church and cried over the All Saints Day readings, and then before heading to brunch we left the rest of the candy (well, we held back just a few for ourselves) on the neighbor's doorknob. And that was Halloween. And I loved it. And I want to do more to make our neighborhood a community.

Next year, Instax pictures (these kids have probably never seen instant film before) and the option of a musical instrument instead of candy. This is mostly for kids with allergies, but secretly I hope to have sheer cacophony going up and down the street and some annoyed parents. ;)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

But I Don't Want to be an Advocate!

All the sudden, I became an anti-death penalty advocate.

Twitter is basically my connection to the world (thanks, agoraphobia), so I began to take meaning in petitioning government officials about inmates on death row. I also petitioned my representatives about hunger policy both in the US and worldwide.

It all has a very hopeless feel. The bajillions of people I'm watching on the death penalty list seem to be the victims of state governments who value death over mercy. As for hunger advocacy, my reps seem more interested in cutting spending. Sigh.

I curl up on the couch every day and snuggle in with a book, but I can't stop thinking. Three different people have told me I think too much, but I can't seem to turn that off. I'd do anything to be able to change the world, but various illnesses keep me down. Writing letters and emails is easy (well, comparatively--you handwrite three letters begging for clemency in a row and you're going to get drained). It's the hard work of love that I really want to do though, and I have a back and several mental conditions that say otherwise.

What do I care about? I want to care about my own little society--just this little corner of Texas. (I also care about West Texas--it's hard to leave behind.) I joined a Facebook group that looks out for Denton's homeless and transients. I care about my lower-middle class neighborhood and how the only grocery store within walking distance has shut down. I worry about my neighbors because they have a slumlord for a landlord. I care about setting up a Little Free Library in the front yard filled with English, Spanish, and bilingual children's books (I need to do a post just on the little library). I care about Columbia, MO, and its homeless and the grad students at Mizzou. That's when things start getting too huge for me. I've been depressed lately, and I think I'm doing it to myself.

I just wanted to be kind.

I'm well known for self-important blog posts, so I apologize if I come across as the "poor me" version of that girl who penned the article about being too sexy to live a normal life (look that one up if you want to really despair for humanity). In the meantime, I should probably go back to bed.

(Apologies also for being rusty. My eyes bugged out when I realized I hadn't blogged since July.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Monday, June 22, 2015

Sabbath Redux

You will be surprised, I'm sure, to learn that someone as lazy as myself has had to scale back my Sabbath ambitions tremendously. Possibly too far--I still think we should live without at least some screens for a day. But yeah, we don't completely disconnect anymore. Shame. Chris really liked just sitting around and reading all day (a tradition that was even growing on me), but sometimes homework for RN prerequisites takes priority.

So what do we do? Something wonderful. We say the Daily Office: Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline. It's a great way to spend a Saturday, moving with the rhythms of the Church. And it's nice to just sit together and throw out the things we're thankful for and the people who need prayers in the designated spots. Gives us something to do besides our usual morning and evening prayers.

Sabbath is great. Just don't ask about Friday fasting. Eek.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Do YOU Know Where My Coptic Orphans Packet Went?

Because I think the only person who knows is asleep, and he worked a 12-hour shift last night and I don't want to disturb him. It's not like I can think of anything to say to my sponsored child anyway.

Oh, update? Eyes are much improved. It was not Cogentin causing the problem, but good, ol' Trilafon. It was doubled on the same day I was put on Cogentin, so I guess it's easy to see how we could all become confused. But I'm back on the dose of Trilafon I was on before, so all is well. Sort of. I still have to put steroid drops in my right eye, but my vision is becoming clearer all the time. My appointment next month is for new glasses instead of just seeing what kinds of junk is floating around my eye!

Hold on, I see a blue folder ... dammit, it's just our tax return. I'll never find this packet.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Working on It

Well, this week I have an ophthalmologist appointment to deal with my terribly screwed-up eyes. I usually don't have medicine problems, but a 1 mg dose of Cogentin has ruined my vision! I got it because I was shaking so badly thanks to Trilafon, and the shaking did stop. But it's been a while before I could see what I was reading and writing. So things are getting a little better ... except for the excruciating pain in my eyeballs whenever I wake up. I'd really like to keep my eyes, so pray this is a minor fix.

Our weekly traditions continue on, and at Friday dinner, Chris said, "This is my favorite meal of the week." I was surprised and happy that an idea I'd commandeered was worth it! Sabbath still continues, but I'm get lax about my phone. I woke up Saturday with 18 emails. (Something must be done!) I ended up just sitting on the couch for a while and listening to Johnny Cash read the New Testament. Doesn't suck to just sit and listen.

All our meals seem to end with tangerines. Not a bad way, but I'm ready to branch out and eat fruit at more times than just Friday and Sabbath dinners.

Okay, I've really got nothing to write about except that my eyes have gotten less cloudy and I can sort of see again. Left eye's okay, but right eye seems to have lost some acuity. I may also need bifocals (colonoscopy at age 30, bifocals at 31--am I prematurely aging?).

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Friday, March 27, 2015

Hungry Friday #3

Chris is asleep, so it's my job to bake this week's bread. Soon enough, the sweet smell of the brown sugar cinnamon mix I got will be wafting through the house, making everyone happy. Today I'm using our double loaf pan in the bread machine, and we'll give one of the two loaves away to a neighbor. After all, this is the prayer we pray every Friday and Saturday night:
Bless, O Lord,
this food we are about to eat,
and we pray you, O God,
that it may be good for our body and soul
and if there is any poor creature
hungry or thirsty walking the road
may God send them in to us
so that we can share the food with them,
just as Christ shares His gifts with all of us. 
(H/T to Celtic Daily Prayer.)

But until fruit and bread is served, we fast. Not too hard for Chris today, since he got off work at 7AM and is now getting his hard-earned sleep.

Chris likes the rituals we've created for our itsy-bitsy family. He feels that fasting is necessary for us simply because Jesus said it was. As for me, with my plethora of illnesses, I feel like this is a fast I can do. I admit to drinking Starbucks this morning, but my pills create such an acidic environment in my gut that I have to eat or drink just a little bit of something substantial to keep from getting wildly sick. Chris also likes Sabbath because he doesn't think about work, he doesn't think about school, and all he has to do is to catch up with the books he doesn't have time for any other day of the week.

I like these rituals too. Every other Friday, I have to become coherent enough to put a bread mix in the machine and set it to work. That's a big deal for someone who's frequently too tired to move. It does make me feel a touch valuable when I don't do too much in the house (the Roomba does all the heavy work). When I'm done here, I'll probably pick up some stuff strewn about the living room. In the evening, I'll light the candles, say the Shabbat prayer above (since I'm the lady of the house), and Chris and I will talk. There's something about just having bread and fruit and cheese that makes you want to linger at the table--a fancier dish would require more attention on the food.

I wonder if I'm doing Sabbath in the spirit for which it was created. Yes, it was created for a sort of holy rest, but I'm setting up so many rules around it that I wonder if I've missed the point entirely. I like that we do the whole daily office together on Saturdays when Chris doesn't work and at least part of it when he does work. I still think laundry and dishwashing should be avoided. My ideal Sabbath is enjoying simple meals together while chatting and sitting on the couch reading books. Oh, and the blessed Sabbath nap. Can't forget that. Then Sunday comes (and I hopefully won't have pinkeye) so we can go to church and break Sabbath.

Does all this seem weird? Even I'm not 100% sure why we're doing this. But it's working, somehow. Anyway, gut Shabbos and Hungry Friday to all!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Still Testing the Waters

Before he departed for work, Chris said to me, "I like Sabbath, but I like this idea better." The mysterious this idea is Hungry Friday, which I stole from the Episcopal Relief & Development daily Lenten meditations. In fact, you can read it word-for-word in the last post. So, like many things we've recently added to our lives, it's not original. There's no harm though, I think, in taking inspiration from someone else's clever ideas.

I think Chris's first Sabbath was a little overwhelming for him. What can I say? It's hard to disconnect from the world for a day. I don't think I helped him, sadly. I hope that this week will be different: Less sitting around studying heavy tomes, more board games. We have boatloads of board games that have never been played. We polished off Sabbath the last time with a game of checkers, and I wish there had been more of that: more laughing, more talking, more telling the dog he couldn't play because this was a two-person only game (the downside of sitting on the floor).

But this is not the story of Sabbaths future and past--this is about the new thing we're trying. I stopped eating after our Thursday night meal, much like the guy who introduced the notion to us did. Chris works tonight, and since his work is strenuous he'll have a meal over the course of his shift. Together, we shan't eat until Friday's meal of fruit and bread. The bread-making is a little upside-down: When Chris works weekends and has to be there Friday night, he makes a Mark Bittman sandwich loaf which is SO GOOD. On the Fridays he comes home from work and crashes until afternoon, I take a box of King Arthur Flour bread mix (golden brioche this week--just one stick of butter!), put it in the bread machine, and let the magic happen. All that to say that Chris works harder than I do on most things. ;)

So why do this? Chris and I both agree that fasting is important--it's a post-Orthodox thing. Problem is, we just haven't been doing it. So this Friday is our feeble attempt to right that. I also have motives. When it was at its coldest, I'd take my Anglican rosary and sit in the garage, praying to the Virgin. I didn't wear shoes or socks or a coat, and I began to get a feel for what the homeless experience on cold days with no warmth. Hungry Friday is akin to that, and yet it terrifies me. I always excused myself from fasting because my insulin levels are twice what they should be, but it occurred to me that there are people on the streets who have diabetes and no food plus no place to store their insulin. Do I want to know what suffering is? Try that on for size. I know that fasting one day a week won't give me great insight into what it's like to be hungry--I don't pretend it will. Choosing to be without one day and living without every day are two different things entirely. I hope I can get something out of this besides an inflated head.

Don't worry--we won't be turning off our phones or computers--that's Sabbath stuff. It'll be a normal day, except only water and tea are allowed. Anyway, wish us luck!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Eine Gute Woche!

"A guten voch!" is what Mirka's sister Devory shouts after Mirka and Rochel when they leave her apartment after spending Shabbos there in Barry Deutsch's Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite. (Seriously, you gotta read these books! They're so great!) It basically means "have a good week", and I say it to you after celebrating a ... well ... okay Sabbath here in Tejas.

My vision of Sabbath conceivably lasts too long: It's supposed to take up all of Saturday and end after church Sunday morning. If you couldn't tell from the picture I posted Friday night, it sort of starts Friday night (or afternoon if Chris is working) with the bread, fruit, and cheese meal I showed you. However, I'm still free to get the Facebook out of my system until midnight.

But sometimes the best laid plans go awry. My sore throat continues to worsen, and Chris had a day at work that was downright disturbing (and no, I can't go into details), so I ended up on the phone with my mom last night, effectively ending Sabbath. And here I am now, on the computer before I've said Morning Prayer or gone to church, which I wouldn't do anyway because of my blasted throat. Insomnia's just a hoot. Where would I be without it? Not up at 4AM writing blog posts, that's for certain!

We're still sorting this out, but the last two weeks of Sabbath were substantially better than this one. I don't know why. I still prayed and read and ate simple meals and rested, but it lacked the revolutionary feel of that first week. I still maintain that the best part of Sabbath is getting away from Facebook for one measly day, so that was a success. But rather than bore you with the details of why I don't think it worked (my med change? lack of desire to read? I don't know), here's something that caught my attention last week:

Fridays are hungry days. Most weeks I fast after dinner on Thursday until
dinner on Friday. I fast because I practice a rule of life that requires it. I've
found no better practice to remind me of the suffering of the hungry and
my need to live within the limits of simplicity. Fasting is a way of making room--room for God, space to help us understand the cravings that driveus to want more than enough. When time allows it, I bake bread on my hungry Fridays. I use a recipe
that will require my time and attention for the whole day and yields
two loaves. With one loaf I break my fast, savoring the flavors of this
sacramental food. I give the second loaf away to a neighbor, a friend
or to someone in need. This practice serves as a reminder that there is
always enough if we live within our limits. By going hungry for one
day each week, I can make room in my life to answer Isaiah's call to fast.
In hungering in solidarity and sharing bread with the hungry, I feel
a partnership in God's work of loosening the bonds of injustice.
- Ragan Sutterfield

That's from the Episcopal Relief & Development's Lenten meditations. They've been a joyful read, and I really liked the idea behind "hungry Fridays". That said, I've been reluctant to fast recently because of my crazy insulin levels. But reading this meditation, it occurred to me that there are people who don't regularly get a meal who have diabetes. If I feel discomfort over having nothing just because my insulin's high ... what's worse? So I'll at least try hungry Fridays, adding it to the whole calendar of the Sabbath weekend. And maybe one day I'll make it to church, too!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Friday Night Fruit and Bread!

... and cheese!

I'm beginning to feel like I should rename this thing "Chandler's Sabbath Blog" and give up the Loquacious Loquat nonsense. So do forgive me--I swear I'll have something interesting to write about later (unless you want me to sit down right now and tell you about my throat infection).

Before I've turned off the computer, I want to show you what my ideal Sabbath meal looks like. I won't go into details about it now (probably will on Sunday), but here's a nice picture of our dining table.

Note that the Sabbath candles are lit (even though it's not sundown yet--you do what you can when your husband has to report to work by 6:30). Fruit, bread, and cheese: A nice, simple way to welcome the Sabbath rest. And big kudos to Chris, who took time out of his busy schedule today to make his awesome sandwich bread.

Shabbat Shalom to everyone, and don't forget to set your clocks forward Saturday night!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

First Sabbath

One of my favorite prayer books is Celtic Daily Prayer. Flipping through it one day, I found a section on Shabbat and some information on how the early Celtic Christians observed it. Apparently, Celtic Christians observed the Sabbath on Saturday, broke it after the Eucharist, and worked the rest of the day Sunday. So moved was I by this that I gobbled up books on Christian Sabbath-keeping, and I worked my way mightily through one yesterday as I observed the Sabbath for the first time.

I sort of got used to the notion when I was Orthodox. We were advised to keep the Lord's Day (Sunday, of course) differently than the other days of the week. We still observed the Sabbath on Saturday (or at least said we did), but the Lord's Day took precedence. And guess what? I sucked at it. I got very restless on Sundays, feeling that the hard part (church itself) had been done, and that the afternoon would be best spent unwinding with Super Paper Mario. But the Celtic way made sense: Rest up and pray and read before the Eucharist, then do light work afterwards. Light work: like blogging. So I gave it a shot.

I'd say Sabbath was atypical, but really it's sort of half-typical: I was on my own for most of the day. Chris got home from work; handed me a croissant, a soy white chocolate mocha, and my pills; and passed out until 3:00PM. So I was on my own. Next week he won't be working, although we'll be having my bebe niece's first birthday party, so we'll see how things go. Here were the ground rules:

ALLOWED: Kindle, iPod, HVAC, lights
NOT ALLOWED: Phone (except for the weather and the Electronic Common Prayer app), TV, WiiU, computer, email, Facebook--oh my gosh, especially Facebook!--knitting, exercise

Doesn't taking away knitting sound cruel? I figured that making hats for the homeless was pretty much my job, and I knew I'd knit all damn day if given the chance. I needed quality time with the books on my Kindle.

Time has never moved more slowly. Amazing how time works when you're not staring at a computer all morning. I read my Bible, said morning prayers, prayed the Catholic rosary for the first time, prayed the Anglican rosary for the billionth time, and devoured books. Around noon, I had a simple lunch and returned to my Sabbath-y endeavors.

Then things turned bad.

I had been informed by the adorable graphic novels called Hereville that naps on Shabbos/Shabbat/Sabbath are more restful than regular naps, so I laid down on the sofa ... and couldn't even keep my eyes shut. Too many homemade chocolate chai's, I'm guessing. So I went back to reading, which was beginning to feel like work (remember what's not allowed on the Sabbath?) until 2:00PM, when I'd promised myself a treat. The Roomba started up (no Sabbath for the robot vacuum), and I put on my headphones and turned on my iPod (now a collector's item!), which was filled to the brim with hymns.

By the time Chris got up, I was a mess. Ideally the Roomba would do its job and then dock at its charging station, and then we'd empty out the day's collection of dog and cat hair. However, it decided to spend a good half-hour under the couch, getting tangled in wires and making terrible noises. So Chris found his lovely wife on the couch in a complete state of enflustermalation (I said it, so it's a real word now). He picked up the Roomba and docked it himself.

(Now might be a good time to mention that the Roomba is so adverse to docking that it's been running today for 2-1/2 hours. I may have to go save it from itself.)

Then Chris and I had our usual early dinner since he had to work again, and I ate too much, and everything ended on a low note. But I must say--one day without Facebook? PURE HEAVEN. So the cycle shall continue, hopefully with better results as time goes on.

Despite the Roomba totally harshing my mellow, I'd say the first Sabbath was a success. There was a little desire to be on the computer, and I might have stared longingly at my knitting, but it was a lovely, lovely day. So yes, more on the experiment as we read more and experience more.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

My New Pinterest Board

This has been a lousy week, but I'm getting over it. I wish I were at church today, but I decided in advance not to go when I probably could've. Chris and I will go on Tuesday morning. Meanwhile, the Roomba is running all over the living room and kitchen so I don't have to do any work, and I'm tempted to join the dog lying in the sunshine.

But first ...

Check this out! Hats for Homeless. It's my new Pinterest board. :)

When I started knitting on the looms, I had no idea what to do to with all the hats I wanted to make. I had no clue that in a few years I'd be hoarding huge amounts of yarn in various places around the house: the garage, the guest room ... oh my gosh, the poor guest room!
The fate of all knitters.
And over the years of knitting for the homeless, I've become quite the expert in what kinds of yarn to use after extensive online research. (Acrylic is best, but all that yarn hoarding has resulted in a treasure trove of wool. Oops.) I still get embarrassed that I don't do "real" knitting; but I've tried that, and I can just get a better, more even stitch on the looms. For the hats, I just do a quick loop-around, meaning I can get a hat done in a day or so. I can do actual knit and purl on scarves and prayer shawls. But it's time to think bigger: Enter Hats for Homeless. 

I plan to have that board be devoted to two things: 1) easy things that can be done craftily, and 2) my learning of the art of crochet. To make more hats, of course. I worry about my precious metal hooks (for the looms) being taken from me at airport security, so I've got some rather large, plastic crochet hooks that I want to be able to use on a plane to pass the time. (Idly reading and pretending to be asleep just aren't working for me.) I'll get some basic sewing stuff up there eventually (probably after I hit "publish" on this post), but if any gentle reader has a suggestion for things to pin, send me a link, by all means! 

Don't be surprised if the board is named "Purl of Great Price" by the time you see it. I'm rather hyped up. Anyway, get crafting! You could save a life this winter!