March 2011 Archives

Over on Amazon, there is a blog called Al Dente all about food and cooking gadgets and the like. The discussion for the past couple of days has been about the "eat on $7 a day" challenge. It is based on the maximum amount a person would receive in food stamps per day.

In fact, as published on that blog later, the amount really comes to $7 for one person, $12 for 2, $18 for 3, or $22 for 4. And there are some weird restrictions. You can't use anything you already own, except for salt and pepper.

OK, even though I think that "only salt and pepper" thing is stupid, I'll buy the premise for a moment. But then I did some quick math. $7 for one person is $49 a week. It's $210 per month. For two people it is $84 per week, $360 per month. For the four person level, it's $154 a week, $660 per month.

Folks, I know LOTS of people (many, many young couples with kiddos) who are spending far less than that and getting by.

I will grant you that if you have 6 kids (assuming that $22 per day is the max--is it? I don't know) that you would run into trouble. It's expensive to feed those mouths. And if a bunch of them are teenagers? Even more!

But the fact remains that we want to eat at a level far beyond what is necessary. My sister and I have repeated discussions about this. We grew up in homes where basically the same 7-10 dishes were served repeatedly (roasted chicken 2x a month, meatloaf 2x a month, spaghetti 2x a month, etc, etc, etc.). Now we want more variety, more food, more FUN!

I'm not saying that's wrong. But I AM saying that we have strayed from any understanding of what *basic* cooking/living really is. We have added luxuries unknown to even our own mothers' generation and begun to think them necesseties.

Look, the DH and I really do live on a budget only $40 a month different from the one given in the blog. Our line in the sand budget is $100 per week. And that includes soap, toilet paper, dog food, cleaning supplies--you know, everything you normally buy at the grocery store. Plus I regularly feed extra folks--the grandgirl is here for lunch every day, random people come to eat with us all the time. Eating out goes in there, too. Same budget.

I suspect the people who look at those numbers and cannot believe anyone could eat on a number "as paltry as that" have one of two issues:

1. They never cook at home. Eating out is expensive. Buying steak at the grocery (on sale! I never buy meat unless it is on sale!) is expensive. But nowhere NEAR as expensive as buying a steak at a restaurant. I love to eat out! LOVE IT! But it is spendy. No doubt about it.

2. They live in a big city, either east or west coast. Groceries are probably a lot more expensive in New York or San Francisco. Living here in beautiful Texas, I am sure it is way cheaper to shop for food. While I may wish for a Trader Joe's (please, please, please!), I am lucky to be able to shop at Tom Thumb, Kroger, Aldi, and Wal Mart--all within a 6 block radius of each other. Grocery heaven! With just a little looking at the ads each week, I can shop specials like there is no tomorrow.

Or, note to self, they could live in a really tiny town with nowhere to shop but the IGA. But I don't think, in this case, this is the problem. I don't think the author of the Amazon blog lives in Tuna, Texas with no really good grocery.

And there I think I have hit on the real problem for folks depending on food stamps for groceries: the lack of this same ability to shop the sales. And, frankly, the lack of experience in food and menu planning with a budget.

I live in the largest city without mass transportation in the US. Yep, it's a fact. Am I appalled by that?--well, probably not as appalled as I would be by watching buses with 2 people on them zooming around town. It is a problem, if you are living in the Rising Sun Motel over on Division, and you have no transport to get to the grocery store. What do you do?. You walk across the street to that icky little convenience store where bananas are $1 each, instead of 37 cents a pound over at Kroger. And if you are living over at the Rising Sun, where would you keep your food and what would you cook it on anyway?

THAT's the quandry. How do we fix THOSE problems? And the answer isn't up the $7. 'Cause trust me, the convenience store would just start charging more for those bananas.

It makes me crazy.

From St. Teresa of Avila, words of wisdom


Thou knowest better than I myself
that I am growing older and will someday be old.
Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking
I must say something on every subject and on every occasion.

Release me from craving to
straighten out everybody's affairs.

Make me thoughtful but not moody;
helpful but not bossy.

With my vast store of wisdom,
it seems a pity not to use it all;
but Thou knowest, Lord,
that I want a few friends at the end.

Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details;
give me wings to get to the point.

Seal my lips on my aches and pains;
they are increasing, and love of rehearsing them
is becoming sweeter as the years go by.

I dare not ask for improved memory,
but for a growing humility and a lessening cock-sureness
when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others.
Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.

Keep me reasonably sweet, for a sour old person
is one of the crowning works of the devil.

Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places
and talents in unexpected people;
and give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so.


It's good to have young friends

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Sitting here thinking about how good it is to have friends who are significantly younger than I am. It changes my perspective on things. It makes me reflect on what I could be doing differently. And it means there will be someone to actually attend my funeral.

Looking at the new starts of my son, his friends, and the kids of my dear friends, I think back over 30+ years of marriage and contemplate the lessons that God teaches us over time. I see areas that I wish I had taken better care of over the years. I see big stretches where God's grace alone kept us going (and here we thought it was US!). And I even see lots of things that we did right. Thanks be to God.

The one thing that I have learned--scratch that, that I'm STILL learning--is that it is important to appreciate and care for what you have right now, not when you have a "nicer house" or "better things". In going through some of the pictures that my mom had stored away, I came across some pictures of my Mama Warren and Pop's house. This was a house that radiates peace in my memories. I loved it there. I thought it was beautiful.

When I looked at the pictures, I was taken by how spare it was in reality. They didn't own a lot of stuff. It was so plain. But to my eyes, and soul, as a child, it was beautiful.

And then it hit me what it was about the house. It was clean. It was orderly. It was taken care of. And that order brought peace, calm and restfulness.

That is something that I've never been particularly good at. My mom, as beautiful, talented, gifted and loving as she was, wasn't good at it either. And it is a habit of being that I wish I had cultivated much earlier in my life. I wish that my home had been more of a sanctuary and less of a train station.

Look, I know that some families thrive on movement and chaos and activity. And it bothers them not at all that their home is disorganized and crazy. But it has always bothered me. I don't want to replace my memories with memories of a perfectly cared for home. But I wish I had developed the habits early on that would have made it better.

Sometimes I think that we won't get those better things we long for until we prove that we can take care of what we've got. What's the point of nicer things, if you don't develop the habit of taking care of what you have now? When the nicer things come, you'll be tempted to either not use them (and keep them "for nice") or you'll treat them the same way that you treated everything you had before, and they'll soon be not so nice.

My grandmother's stuff was not expensive, but it was all taken care of well. She owned nothing that wasn't used.

Still all these years into a common life, I struggle with this. I am still in the process of sanctuary making.

I just wish I had started earlier. Because by now, maybe even a few of my grandmother's habits would have been established in me. And I want to (only when asked, only when asked!) encourage that in my young friends.



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