Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

The horror of eating oatmeal... or why rich people in Illinois find it tough to eat on $25/week.

edit: I put up this post a few days ago. Then I took it off because I wasn't sure if I wanted to leave it public.

And then, I saw this article in the Spectator today. And of course, I agree with most of the article. My heart goes out to people who can't afford to eat healthy foods. I absolutely support people being able to use more dignified means than food banks in order to get food on the table. But how in the world is it that "average Hamilton family of four needs $701.89 a month this year to buy basic foods that meet nutrition recommendations" ? Not diapers, not formula, not take-out food... just your basic groceries.

My original post is below.



Every so often I look at apartmenttherapy for ideas. They've usually got some creative and inexpensive ideas for decor, beautiful small spaces, great storage solutions, inexpensive DIY projects.

But unless food in the States is always way more expensive (and in my experience, it's cheaper), this sensationalist "could you eat on $25 per person per week" link is ridiculous.

Especially this part:
Illinois Food Bank Association is participating in Hunger Action Month as part of a nationwide effort to engage communities to take action to end hunger. From September 22-28, the eight executive directors of IFBA, community leaders and members of the media will be taking the $25 Challenge to highlight the struggle that families in Illinois face in accessing nutritious food. This blog documents the emotional and physical struggles of the $25 Challenge in their own words.

I'm all for people receiving more money for nutritious food. I do think many people don't have enough to eat well, especially when food allergies or disabilities prevent them from eating certain things or shopping by themselves.

What frustrated me was the prejudiced and ignorant generalizations of these "leaders":

This unbelievable blog has these wealthy community folks blathering on about how
  • they now HAVE to eat oatmeal and rice (their arteries, however, are screaming with joy!)
  • what terrible emotional ramifications come from having to think about the money they're spending on food (quellle horreur!)
  • all they can picture is a month full of carbohydrates and skipping meals (seriously?)
  • how disheartening and inconvenient it is not being able to buy lunch every day (amazing how that isn't in the Constitution...)
  • and my favorite tidbit from one person coming off the "challenge" -- "I can't wait until tomorrow so I can enjoy some greens, sweet potatoes with brown sugar, turkey and dressing, with gravy, corn muffins, peach cobbler and iced tea. I will pass up my usual Dr Pepper for some Georgia-style sweet tea." With the possible exception of the turkey, NONE of those items are very expensive to make. Greens are cheap, especially southern-style ones. Cornmeal is cheap. Sweet potatoes are cheap, cheap, cheap and nutritious! And joking about how much she's going to enjoy her alcohol instead of Dr. Pepper when this is over, when she's talking about feeding people on food stamps...Is this lady serious? (Unless she's not talking about the cocktail, but regular sweet tea, which I would point out is a little cheaper than that Dr. Pepper she's been downing).

Our grocery budget has been $25/person/week for about three years. We don't grow our own food (except some oregano and basil on my kitchen windowsill). We shop at the grocery store and the farmers' market. That includes entertaining people now and then and even the (occasional) bottle of wine.

And it's not because we can't afford to spend more. Except for a couple months (which I'll talk about later) this is pretty much what we've spent on food a month since we got married. That includes when we were both working full-time, when one of us was in school, and when we both went back to school. It never had much to do with our income - just what we needed to spend.

Neither of us slaves over a hot stove all day. Neither of us does really labor-intensive meals or eats strange food. It's usually spaghetti, pizza, fish, burritos, egg salad, soup, caesar salad, corn on the cob, chicken and rice, tacos, stew, steak and baked potatoes, lasagna. All pretty typical, quick stuff. I like baking quite a bit- ginger cookies, biscotti, muffins, biscuits - but don't usually have time to. I don't bake my own bread or anything like that (although the "artisan bread in 5 minutes a day" was fun to try). I get most of my recipes off Recipezaar or Allrecipes or the Better Homes and Gardens cookook. I think I'm pretty normal in what I do and don't eat. Yeah, the Brie and the ribs and the wine and the wings are occasional treats, but we do those once in a while too.

For the last month, we decided to try eating mostly vegetarian -- (just to stop basing our diet so much around red meat). We've found TVP (veggie protein) is cheaper, and soy burgers are more expensive, but it averages out about the same cost as meat. (I know some can't eat soy).

A few months ago, we looked at our budget and said:
"Hmm, we can now afford to spend more on food. Should we up our budget by another $50 or $100 a month or so? a little more brie and masi valpolicella, perhaps???"

And then we went "nah, there's no real reason to. this is actually a pretty good number for us. more would just lead to more indulgences/calories, which we get enough of."

I can see why people in official positions who were "taking this challenge" find it hard. If you buy lunch everyday, haven't looked up or learned basic cooking skills, or ever shopped according to a budget or a list, you may think this is difficult... I guess I'm just living in a completely different world.

Now...... half of that, $12.50 a week per person ($100/month total for two people) when we first moved here was tough. We had no choice. Sustaining that is pretty much impossible - even with the economy of scale that happens when you have multiple people in the same household. But even then you can afford whole wheat bread, peanut butter, eggs and romaine lettuce. You can afford ground beef (on sale) and pasta and sauce. But that's just stretching it too far.

But $25/week is doable. And I'm sure we'll end up spending more at some point. But it's rarely that I hear of anyone breaking the $500/month range for a family of four. Maybe that's just my Mennonite and Irish and German roots and the attitude that thrift is a good thing. Or maybe I just don't have enough conversations about this - grocery budgets don't really come up in everyday polite conversation!


However, I also suspect it's part of how we keep bumping up the culturally accepted minimum of what we "need" and we've forgotten that the fact we have oatmeal or rice or potatoes or chicken drumsticks to eat is far more than a lot of people in the world, or a lot of our ancestors, could ever dream of. And as every generation wants "just what we had, but a little better for my kids" we're going to keep unreasonably increasing the baseline... unless we each make a conscientious effort to look at what's reasonable, what's moderate, what's good for the planet and good for other people.


(One luxury I look do forward to when we have the space is getting a chest freezer... and then being able to buy a grass-fed, hormone-free, locally raised quarter-cow for $2.40 a pound, cut and wrapped. that's a win-win-win-win for me!)

All that said, I'm quite fine with food getting more expensive and more local. I'm fine with the price of food going up and having to spend more because of considerations like fuel and growing seasons and ethical treatment of land and animals and people.

But the "horror" of eating oatmeal seems pretty overrated and ignorant to me, no matter where you live or what generation you come from.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

so long, good posture!

in the list of things that i really enjoy doing.
that i don't have to do, but i'd do them for free anyways.

there's a certain type of job.
the kind of jobs that are jobs, that take work and sweat and time....but are also intuitive. Things come together, the pieces always fit, and you always figure it out. And when it's done, you feel really good. Productive and alive and accomplished, even if it's on a small scale.

making websites is also really high on that list.

i used to do websites way, way back before the dawn of time typing in html, and then in a few basic programs circa 1999. My skills have in no way kept up with the array of programming and programs possible for the past decade.

(extra points if you got the "array" pun).

and i get to redo a website today as part of my job, in a program they were already using but i haven't really worked with. but it's intuitive and it's coming together, and it's getting done. so it's a good day.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Meet Rob.

Rob Wilco is the newest member of our family.

He's a mature, resourceful 5-year old bearded dragon with soulful eyes and an inquisitive personality.

He likes dandelion greens, baths, and long walks around the house.

He likes warm places and basking on his log.

He likes being scratched under the chin.

He does not like it when Bucky Katt gets jealous and shoots murderous looks across the room, nor when she tries to bask in the warmth of his light and gets too near his tank.

And Rob's very favorite thing, ever?
Being wrapped into a "beardie burrito" (inside a little blankie), and then falling asleep on your lap with a little of his head and his tail peeking out. Tonight he fell asleep so soundly he didn't wake up when I put him back inside his tank.

Welcome to the family, Rob.

(One day we'll get Satchel, too.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

these guys


are coming back today.


(This picture's from the Hamilton waterfront)

They're a couple people from Alabama who we met hitchiking through Hamilton last month. (One of them even wrote a post about how great Hamilton people were).

Ther destination? Quebec City, possibly Montreal. They got there - and now they're on their way back.

And they're staying with us for the night!!! I'm looking forward to it.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Thanksgiving weekend it is, apparently.

Just a sample of our more boring (read: family-friendly ;) ) bits of conversation:

Last night, at Rebel's Rock (great authentic Irish place tucked inside an unlikely-looking building on King)...

Meredith: "Wow, Jarod, I'm glad I ended up with someone I can guiltlessly eat a full plate of fries in front of... even when you're not eating anything. "

Today, after grocery shopping and buying kilos and kilos of meat in bulk...


Jarod: "Thanks for dividing up and putting all that meat away when I was cleaning. It's really nice to have that done right away."

We may be an odd couple, but I sure like it that way. Conversation more often that not involves food and we're still enjoying each others' company.

It's a good weekend.

I never thought THIS e-mail would be worth reading.

I thought it had just slipped past the spam filter.

The title began with "Size Does Matter" and I slipped almost automatically into "check-delete-scrub eyes out with lye" mode, but as I was checking, I read the rest of the title.

"Size Does Matter. The Longest Novels"

Turns out it was just some site I'd ordered textbooks from sending me a list of weighty tomes to read.

And a good thing too, since I've just finished four (ridiculously good) thousand-page novels in the last month. I was considering re-reading this series that I own, but I've already read it twice.

Maybe I'll check out this one or this one out from the list at some point. And I have always wanted to read The Count of Monte Cristo and The Once and Future King too.

And maybe I'll get around to finally obtaining a library card so I can literally check them out ;)

But for now I'm going to read a much-shorter Terry Pratchett novel in a few hours and enjoy every minute of it! :)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

you wouldn't like me when i'm angry.

Although i haven't slept for 30+ hours at this point, i'm actually pretty happy.


Due to lots of carrying-stuff over the summer and working more physically demanding jobs than i have in years, Mer has Hulk Arms.

I didn't plan for said Hulk Arms, it just sort of happened.

I have more muscle than when I was going to the gym five/six days a week in Toronto and taking the subway everywhere.

My heart rate got up to 200+ yesterday as I got to the top of our stairs carrying 40 pounds worth of groceries from five minutes down the street.

I now walk about 40 minutes total most days.

And for the first time since 2001 or so, I have this thing called "triceps." Weird. I didn't even know they were still back there, and I didn't even try to get 'em. And my back doesn't hurt constantly anymore either.

Now I just need me some Hulk Hands and we're all set here... to see Lou Ferrigno, Leonard Nimoy, Bruce Campbell and more this August!

(Though I do walk by a display with these most days as well... these would be cool too...)

Who knows how long said arms will last, but for now, all the better to.... carry more stuff with, I guess?

Friday, June 26, 2009

other people's pocketses...

for my birthday earlier this month, i got a little bit of money.

and a place near my house, which typically sells rather expensive leather jackets, was selling the last of some styles for $49.99 each. So I picked one up - a nice leather blazer in brown.

With some left over, I contemplated buying a second jacket - but I already have a black one, so it would have been a bit wasteful. Besides, I didn't have quite enough, and I didn't want to spend anything in addition to that birthday money.

Well, two days later, I was at work (painting) and the client was planning for a garage sale, so I picked up a black leather jacket for $3. All it needs is one of the buttons replaced. It seems a bit light for leather, and there's no tags telling me the material - but if it's a fake, it's a good one. And for $3 - how can you go wrong?

Since it's hot as blazes outside, I really have little use for it right now, though. But yesterday I thought I'd go through the pockets. I found

- the missing button (yay!)
- several perfume samples
- a receipt from a restaurant
- some plastic wrap, bunched up
- and two fancy tea bags wrapped in plastic wrap

This tells me a few things and lets me speculate on a few more - fun, if not too serious.

First, it was probably the sister from L.A. who owned the jacket, seeing the tea bags were pricey brands I haven't seen, even in Toronto, and the perfume samples high-end. Second, they're likely a bit frugal - taking your own tea bags with you instead of ordering at Starbucks, and having leftover plastic wrap from a snack or more tea. The receipt tells me they probably don't save their receipts, since it would be tucked in a purse or wallet. The missing button being saved was a good thing. And finally, them not checking the pockets before selling probably indicates the amount of things they have to sell and a tendency not to dig too deep into one's past.

This morning it began to rain, so I wore that jacket to work, but left it there since it was so hot. (I used the umbrella for shade on the way home, and saw a cute little lady doing the same). And not having carried a purse, my jean pockets had a wallet, a shopping list, some keys and a tissue in them.

What would your coat pockets have in them? What about your jeans?

And perhaps most importantly, what would that say about you?

Monday, June 22, 2009

a little church-work humour.

and most probably won't laugh at this, but...

last week at work, i heard Wayne talking about how he held onto all his clericals from years long past, and my ears perked up:

And my request went something like this:


"Heyyy... Wayne, can I borrow a green/"ordinary time" stole? I'm doing a wedding for a nominally religious family and as a favour I said I'd do the robe thing... I already have the both-Catholic-and-Protestant-looking alb, but you know clericals don't normally go with the Pentecostal game plan... green's the right colour right? I looked up this Ordinary Time stuff a while ago" (and i gotta say, we probably lost something by dropping the church seasons and the meanings of the different colours in our tradition)


And of course I could borrow them.

But it's just hilarious that... only when one works at a PAOC church (i typically wear jeans and t-shirts/conducting weddings would generally call for a skirt suit in most settings) with people of all flavours of Christianity can one borrow a Presbyterian stole from her co-worker to go with her Protestant/Catholic alb for a wedding as a favour to the nominally religious but nothing strongly family who wants nothing more than for nobody to be particularly shocked or surprised by the lack or appearance of clericals.

okay, perhaps only i find that little story hilarious, but it was funny at the time.


(for those wondering why i would bother, or that it is somehow dishonest for the jeans-and-t-shirts set to wear clericals, i think it's fair to use and wear these items as a respectful nod to different traditions - also looking at the roots of PAOC and two thousand years of church history

(the alb is a neutral garment used through many centuries and most types of churches. Pairing it with the similarly neutral general stole that doesn't denote any priestly rank is also respectful, historically appropriate, and genuine to my credentials - licensed, not yet ordained - as well)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

yesterday, we celebrated Father's Day

so we went to the Harbour Diner on James North, and for the same price or better as most other places, had a phenomenal breakfast.

and then some friends I haven't seen in years (who have moved from South Africa to London to St. Catharines -- and now are moving to Hamilton) came over, which was excellent. They even got to meet another Londoner who just moved here as well. We did dessert at Williams and walked by the waterfront trail. Again, phenomenal.

Ah, but Father's Day wasn't till today. so today, our whole day was free! what to do, we asked ourselves?

First, lunch with some people at La Luna. Good stuff, as always.

And then... it was time to waterproof the tent (and stay outside while it dried!)! Yep, the giant 13-person tent someone kindly donated for our trip to Cornerstone Festival this year.

For those who haven't visited the Broughton castle, our tiny back yard is basically parking, so this is all in our front yard. And in general, it was a perfect, quiet afternoon. There was lots of food and reading involved, and squirrels and macro photographs. I'll let them speak.


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Definitely a good afternoon :)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

a little baby bat was sleeping on our wall sunday morning

















(the picture is clickable to make it much larger)

he must have been separated from the rest during the night and tucked in where he thought was a safe, quiet little corner.

i noticed him while i was coming in early that day
and pointed him out to a few folks

so, through the morning one person was guarding him (so he didn't get squooshed by well-intentioned defenders of their family)

then some parents showed him to their kids

some teenagers came up and looked at him

some seniors commented on how amazing this little guy was

(and most people walked by unawares.)

i've grown to have a deep respect for bats (a great deal of that thanks to Anna) - their amazing adaptations, the amount of insects they eat, the wonder of echolocation. they're incredible little creatures, and as st. francis would call him, "brother bat" does nothing but good for the environment and my surroundings, so i'm very content to let him be.

and just as this little guy was waking up (too busy with all the people going by, I suppose) , we snapped a couple pictures (thanks, Mary!) and left him alone. (someone who received the pictures forwarded me them today at my request, with the sweet message of "you're gross!" Thanks, semi-anonymous Office Manager ;) ).

And he was gone this morning - hopefully back with the Bat Pack.

While reading the ysmarko blog today, found these two pieces of fun

Photo in need of a caption (hilarious!)

(my favorite captions tied between "Michael Stipe’s thinking place," "New Approaches in Grief Counselling," and "Apparently the yellow man group wasn’t as big a hit as the blue man group!." Though the short-but-sweet "Father...?" is the caption that won.

The surviving church as a single scorecard via Jon Acuff @ SCL (awful, but hiliarious. But.. too often terribly true, unfortunately.

e.g. +2 points if "Your church has a singles ministry but it's combined with the college ministry which creates opportunities for conversations like this:

Student: "My roommate bought a microwave for our dorm room. I love being a Freshman!"

Single: "My 401K is underperforming." = +2 points")

again, terrible, but oh-so-often too true.

happy tuesday! i had the FRWYs new muffin+coffee in the morning (because they were OPEN! on my way to work today) and it was excellent! nothin' like fair trade coffee and walnut streusel to launch you into your day!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

every drop of rain turns to crystal...

It's a big storm. I can see lightning, and dark clouds cover the sky.


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But while it's raining, the clouds are rolling east. It continues to pour relentlessly in front of the window while the full face of the sun shines in the cloudless sky behind it.

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(all these pictures are from today during the storm...)

We're finishing up cleaning. We made pizza on the barbecue, and we're listening to some good loud music. I can't believe Haste the Day is still around. I saw them a few weeks after they got signed, and most other bands from that era are long gone or morphed into other entities.


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Bucky, however, has decided not to participate. She's done her part of spring cleaning, as she's been brushed and combed till her winter coat's almost gone. She even put in overtime to contribute some extra hairballs all by herself this morning.


So we struck a beggar's agreement with B-Katt:

She can stare at the invisible shadows on the wall while we have 10.7 minutes to do whatever we want, and then we'd better come right back to finish watching a movie and lavish our attention on her.


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and perhaps in the 10.6 minutes I have left, I'll put on a little Blindside next...

(the Swedish doesn't always translate well, but this song works for me)


When I remember...

A cloud moves in, rain falls, thunder strikes
And sunshine breaks through the clouds
I can cry out of sorrow and joy
Every drop of rain turns to crystal in the sun

So wash my eyes, my clothes
My skin, my bones
My soul, my feet, my love

I'm not forgotten...

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

for an unofficial video, this is incredible

done by a currently unemployed filmmaker/photographer, it took him 2 weeks and about $75 in supplies. it's creative, it's different, and it's done well. good job, Ross.

Death Cab for Cutie - Little Bribes from Ross Ching on Vimeo.



(if the video doesn't work, click the photo below to be taken directly to his website).