Saturday, August 23, 2008


If you haven't yet seen the Paris Hilton "ad" responding to the McCain camp using her in their ad, click here and watch it:

Great stuff. Really great stuff. I have newfound appreciation for Ms. Hilton.

It appears that the criticism of Barack Obama is actually going to center on his popularity. I guess the argument is that a lot of people like him and that's bad...

Can someone explain to me why we should be suspicious of the fact that Senator Obama is drawing a crowd?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Learning What It Is To Be Poor

I went to a Poverty Simulation yesterday. Jerry, one of the amazing organizers at Communities Creating Opportunity (CCO) asked if I wanted to go, and I jumped at it. Though I wondered how it would be. I've been to exercises like this that are designed to help one understand the plight of others, but they are often heavy-handed and didactic.

This one was not. It was tremendously well-done. An organization called MACA (Missouri Association for Community Action) has put together a whole experience. If you want to read about it, their website is Click on "poverty simulation."

We were each given an identity when we arrived. We went to our family groups, where we had a whole packet of stuff. There were sheets of information about our family: what our income sources were, what our bills were (when things had to be paid, etc.), etc. You got "transportation passes" and an EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card if you had benefits like food stamps or other aid. You got some possessions which you could pawn, if you had to.

Our family was not on the lowest end of the income scale in this country. We had two cars for four people, and monthly income of about $1700, including disability and food stamps.

The exercise is conducted in fifteen minute sections, each representing a week. You have to figure out how to get to where you need to go, do all of your shopping, pay your bills, go to work in that fifteen minutes. And you need a transportation pass to go anywhere. If you work (I was the father in the family and I worked), you needed five transportation passes for each week of work. We started the week with six. I went off to work with my five, but then I couldn't go to the bank to cash my check. I had to go to the check-cashing store and pay extra to buy more transportation passes. And I only got one bill paid, because I ran out of time. Up went my blood pressure, and I wondered what it must be to have to decide how to get places, which bill to pay this week, whether you should pay the bank or the check cashing stand to cash your paycheck, since you don't have a bank account.

Of course, it took three weeks to save enough to pay our mortgage. We did finish the month with some money, but we encountered no contingencies. Some families arrived at the bank to find that they had outstanding loans. Some were given green cards which informed them that they had had an accident, or the car broke down, or some other contingency that wreaked havoc upon their income.

Oh, and there were thieves afoot. I dropped twenty-one transportation passes on my chair and went off to do something else, and they disappeared. We got to buy them back from the gentleman who stole them.

I was amazed at how much stress I felt from the beginning of the exercise. We tried to prepare beforehand, but we found ourselves running around some of the time trying to take care of things. And we surely cheated, borrowing transportation passes from one another in the middle of the room. If I were really stuck at work with no transportation, I'm not sure my mother-in-law would materialize out of thin air to get me to Point B.

I am a pretty aware person, I think. I think about, and pray about, poverty in this country. But it was eye-opening to walk in the shoes of someone who is struggling to get by day to day. I've certainly lived hand to mouth before, but never with a family, and I've been blessed with good health and a good education. I've been privileged, in other words. I'm privileged now.

So, of course, the question is "how can I use my own privilege to improve the lives of others?" Working on it. All suggestions honored and appreciated.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Tyranny of Tomatoes

In the past week and a half, three people have given me tomatoes. One person has brought tomatoes three times--my neighbor, Franco, who is the loveliest person I've had the pleasure of living next door to in a long time.

I have a lot of tomatoes. Garrison Keillor, the great Lutheran sage, has a wonderful monologue about tomato season in Lake Wobegon, which includes leaving bags of tomatoes on neighbors' porches, ringing the doorbell and running away. The tyranny of tomatoes. We wait and wait for them, but when they arrive, they can be a little overwhelming. And then they disappear.

There's probably an interesting analogy to be drawn between fresh, local tomatoes and enthusiastic new church members. I don't think I'll draw it. Use your imagination.

I'm ever so grateful to receive all of these tomatoes. I truly, truly am. I can't drive yet, and there is no grocer in my neighborhood, so fresh food that comes to the door is a Godsend. I'm almost out of the leftovers of all the meals I cooked with my mom. Almost--there's still a slice of quiche left. I had to throw out the dregs of the meatloaf we cooked a week and a half ago.

I'm just not sure I can eat all of these beautiful tomatoes. I'm not sure I should eat them all, because I'm not good at eating just a tomato. I prefer to put tomato slices between two pieces of toasted wheat bread with mayo and bacon. Now that's a good summer sandwich. Healthy, too...all those fresh tomato slices...and, um, bacon and mayo.

The other thing that is delicious with tomato is fresh mozzarella. Give me enough tomatoes, and I can go through an 8 oz. ball of mozzarella in a couple of days. All you need is fresh basil (I keep a plant in the house at all times) and balsamic vinegar to make a nice little vinaigrette. Recipe for a nice little balsamic vinaigrette: drop a crushed clove of garlic in the vinegar, add some herbs, a dash of sugar, and salt and pepper. Let that sit for a half hour or so, fish out all the big chunks, and wisk in olive oil. Simple and delicious. Add a bit of dijon mustard if you like.

I do love tomato season. I just hope pretty soon it gets back to being running season, or it's going to be "buy bigger clothes season." I really must learn to eat a tomato all by itself.

With maybe a sprinkling of fresh parmegian cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Holy Wholly Holey

I had surgery last Tuesday. That was a first. "Major surgery," said the paper they sent home with me from the doctor's office. I think that just means they make a reasonably big incision. Which they did. One side of the abdomen to the other, coming dangerously close to Linus, and if you don't know what that means, it's just as well, though I will say that it isn't shorthand for some anatomical part. Dirty mind. Tsk tsk.

It's been almost a week, so I am now forgetting that I still have this hole in my abdomen and sometimes I stand up a little too fast and am sorry. I remember whenever I try to roll over in bed. Sleeping on your back is overrated. Other than that, everything is going swimmingly. My friends and my parishoners (not at all mutually exclusive categories) have been quite lovely. I've got new plants to kill and cards and a basket full of goodies, including an eye shade that has come in handy several times already.

And my mom is here, which is so nice. I do love my mom, and so far we've been together nonstop for over a week--except when they were making my new scar--and we are still liking each other. And we've seen movies. We watch a movie and then we watch another one.


If you haven't seen Juno yet, get thee to thy Netflicks queue.

The Water Horse is very sweet.

The Other Boleyn Girl was an interesting look at the wives of Henry VIII. I'm glad I didn't pay $10, though.

Up the Yangtze, which we saw at the theater, is a terrific exploration of the gradual flooding of the Yangtze delta as the Three Gorges Dam is completed. Two million people will be displaced by the time the project is finished.