Eat What You Have

casserole

Early Wednesday morning, we drove two towns up the freeway to visit the local food bank.  It turned out to be a giant warehouse, staffed by a volunteer crew of senior citizen ladies.  One of them seemed to be supervising the woman driving the forklift, moving pallets in, out and all about.  The rest of them appeared to be standing around doing nothing.

Although we had received some food from a local church earlier in the week, clients are only permitted to visit once a month.  However, the grapefruit, bread and two bags of canned goods clearly won’t last the three of us for a whole month.  And, to be honest, what we were really hoping for was a bag of potatoes.

Well, we struck out on the potatoes.  In fact, the food bank did not give us any food at all.  What they did provide us with, however, was even more valuable:  Information on the locations and times of local food distributions.

I had called in advance and was told that I’d need to bring three bills, preferably utility bills, displaying my name and address.  This is required as proof that we maintain a permanent residence in one of the counties that the food bank serves.

As simple as this request seems, it turned out to be a big headache for us.  For one thing, we live in the parsonage of a church and don’t have our own utility bills.  For another, the post office does not deliver mail to our door; the church rents out a post office box.  Thus, any bills we can show the food bank will list our P.O. box number, not our physical address.  We could live anywhere, for all they know.

My very resourceful wife dove into our files and dug out a notice from the State of California informing me that I had exhausted my unemployment benefits and that I am out of luck, Chuck.  We also brought our car insurance bill and a printed pharmacy receipt for one of my prescriptions.  I crossed my fingers.

Driving around to the back of the warehouse and dodging the forklift’s crazy zigzag through the parking lot, I ducked into the office.  The bored clerk at the desk seemed to be examining her fingernails.  I explained about being unemployed for eight months, having zero luck finding a job and running out of unemployment benefits.  She, in turn, explained that, despite having food stacked up to the roof of the warehouse, none of it is distributed onsite to hungry people.  They provide food to charitable organizations only.

She sent me next door to sit in a meeting room and wait for an eligibility interview.  There were two clients ahead of me:  A white woman in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank mounted on the back and a black woman who appeared to be her friend.  Like me, both of them were grossly obese. I find it ironic that, these days, we fat people are the ones who end up begging for food.  Some days I think that God must have a warped sense of humor.

When it was my turn, I stepped into a tiny office, where I introduced myself to the intake worker.  Barbara appeared to be older than my mother, who recently turned eighty.  I told my story again and presented my documents for examination.  In addition to being knowledgeable, Barbara is one of the kindest people you could ever hope to meet.  She explained that a post office box address is not a substitute for a physical address.  When I described our situation, however, she agreed to accept the documents even though doing so constituted bending the rules more than a little.

Barbara made copies of all my documents and of my driver’s license.  Noting the birthdate on my license, she told me that her son was born the day after I was.  “Your mother and I were doing the same thing that day!” she gleefully observed.

She handed me a mimeographed calendar for the month, filling in the date squares by hand with the locations of food distributions in my area.  I then took the page from her and began making notes in the margin as I asked her questions about how to get to these places and what time I needed to show up.  As she was out of eligibility cards, she kindly wrote my eligibility information on a small piece of note paper and initialed it so that I would have something to show on food distribution days.

This morning, we attended our first public sector food distribution in the parking lot of the local welfare/social services office.  We arrived about 40 minutes early, assuming that many people would be lined up to obtain food prior to the weekend.  As needy folks ambled in, they stood around chatting or leaning on their vehicles, waiting for the food boxes to arrive.  Soon enough, a truck pulled up bearing the logo of the very food bank we had visited two days ago.  The line shuffled forward to a sign-in table set up in the parking lot.  When I reached the table, the woman sitting behind it told me to print and sign my name and list my physical address on the sign-in sheet.  That was all.  No documentation needed, no ID, no anything.  I then stepped up to the truck, from whence the delivery guy handed me down a 25 pound box of food.  I thanked him, and he informed me that they would be back with more food boxes in two weeks.

As each person approached the truck, she (or he, although I think there was only one other man in line) was asked how many people were in her family.  If the answer was anywhere from one to four, the guy handed down one food box and reminded the recipient to carry it low, using the handles, to avoid back injuries.  Two women who were there together told the guy that they had ten people in their family.  They received three food boxes.  I heard another customer waiting in line telling her friend that the family of ten included the recipient’s own four children plus four homeless kids who she had taken into her home.  I felt even more humbled that I already was.

Breaking down the food box at home, we found three bags of dry beans, three bags of rice and two boxes of spaghetti, along with cans of soup (chicken noodle and vegetable beef), tomato sauce, vegetables (whole tomatoes, green beans, kernel corn) and applesauce.

I expressed my excitement at having a pot of beans again this week.  My wife doesn’t eat beans, but Pastor Mom does.  An ongoing issue is that there are very few foods that the three of us will all eat.  When Pastor Mom worked her bean magic (onions and garlic appear to be important to this process) this week, I think she only had a single serving herself.  My wife doesn’t like leftovers, but I do, and I made four meals of the pot of beans.  I ate them hot the first day, cold the second day and as bean burritos (with the addition of jalapeños and vegan “cheese”) the third and fourth days.

I am learning to eat what we have.  This is a big change for me, as I am used to engaging in all sorts of wasteful food behavior such as eating what I like best and leaving other things to rot, padding the grocery list with my favorite items even though we have plenty of other stuff in the pantry, and replacing items I enjoy as soon as they run out, before they run out, or even when a thought enters my head that they could possibly run out in the next month or so.  It was not unusual for me to tick off my wife royally by starting a new grocery list the minute we got home from the supermarket.  Those days are gone for us, and, quite frankly, I feel stupid for ever having participated in this type of nonsense.

One thing we are learning is that there are some essentials that are not available through food distribution programs.  Even making efficient use of the supplies of rice, beans, pasta and canned veggies that we receive, we still need to purchase items such as fresh vegetables and fruit, milk and bread.  We are learning to live with less fresh produce and to make better use of the canned stuff that we had formerly eschewed.  We still have to buy two types of milk, almond milk for me and 2% milk for the others.  I must somewhat sheepishly admit that I have figured out that I can do without the almond milk.  I don’t need it for protein, as I get plenty of that from beans and from our periodic purchases of tofu, vegan cheese, Boca burgers, TVP deli slices, etc.  I use almond or soy milk in my hot tea, but honestly, it’s over a hundred degrees almost every day now and I’m mostly drinking iced tea.  If we don’t use the almond milk for cooking (mashed potatoes, for example), the only thing I really need it for is breakfast cereal.  As long as I stay away from cereal, it is an expensive purchase that we can easily avoid.

As for bread, I predicted that the food distribution programs would provide us with white bread (which is what my wife and Pastor Mom like) and that we would still have to buy the much more expensive vegan whole grain bread for myself. The complete opposite turned out to be true. I have an entire loaf of vegan seed bread (from Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard) sitting in our freezer so that it does not rot. I figure that I can take two slices at a time directly from the freezer to the toaster. What we end up having to buy is fresh white bread for everyone else in the house. We actually go through bread rather quickly here, as we are always making sandwiches for my niece, my nephews, their friends and local homeless people. We feel blessed to be able to do this.

The plan I am working on for now involves doing my best to include both protein and starch in each meal, along with vegetables as often as possible.  In this way, it seems quite reasonable to maintain my vegan diet on a very limited budget and a lot of donated canned goods.  And yes, I have it in the back of my mind that I may have to give up my vegan ways if I remain unemployed several months down the road.  As I mentioned, we need to eat what we have.  Nevertheless, I plan to keep my vegan diet going for as long as I am able.

As an example, this is how my meals panned out today:

Breakfast:  Grapefruit, toast with vegan “cream cheese,” ½ peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  The grapefruit was given to us; the vegan cream cheese is a very occasional purchase that I consider a treat.  Plenty of protein from the cheese and peanut butter.

Lunch: “Cantina potato.”  This dish is named for a baked potato dish that I enjoyed at the Grand Sierra Resort’s Mexican restaurant when I played in a regional Scrabble tournament in Reno three years ago.  Although their version included a lot of cheese (I hadn’t yet gone vegan then), my version is “kitchen sink” style, i.e., I throw in whatever we have available.  The basic recipe involves baking two or three small to medium potatoes (seven to nine minutes in the microwave), seasoning them liberally with black pepper and garlic, and then throwing all manner of junk on top of them.  Today, I used garbanzos and two veggie burger patties (my protein) along with a can of carrots and some salsa verde out of a jar.  This is a very filling and satisfying meal.

Dinner:  Casserole (see photo above).  Again, I rummaged through our cupboards for likely looking canned items.  The recipe changes every time, but this is how I prepared it tonight:

1 can tomatoes (keep half the liquid)
1 can red kidney beans (or any kind of beans), drained
1 can kernel corn, drained
¼ of a small onion, chopped
½ cup vegan Monterey jack style “cheese”, diced or shredded
6 slices canned jalapeños (optional)
garlic powder and Italian seasoning to taste

I recommend sautéing the chopped onion with some garlic in olive oil before adding to this recipe, but I am a lazy so-and-so and used it raw.  I liked the crunch it provided.

If you use whole canned tomatoes (as I did), I recommend cutting them into quarters.

The jalapeños are not at all necessary, but I like the robust, spicy flavor they lend to this otherwise rather bland dish.

Of course, if you’re not vegan, you can use any kind of soft cheese in this recipe.  I only used half a cup because the vegan stuff is danged expensive.  Feel free to use more for a cheesier experience.

Place the tomatoes with half the liquid in a microwave-safe dish.  Season with garlic and Italian seasoning.  Add the onion, the beans and the jalapeños, if used.  Add the corn last, then sprinkle the cheese on top and season with more garlic and Italian seasoning.  Bake in microwave for 3 to 4½ minutes, depending on your wattage.  When the cheese melts, the dish is done.

The beans and cheese provide your protein, the corn adds a starch, and the tomatoes contribute a vegetable to your daily total.

When this dish comes out of the microwave, it smells like a pizza in Mexico.  Yep, those jalapeños were plenty hot.

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Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard

food bank

The long-term unemployed often find that they must make many adjustments.  For some, this may mean moving to another city or a distant state in the wake of losing the family home to foreclosure or after being unable to make the rent.  Extended family and friends may find themselves stuffing together into small living spaces as an alternative to homelessness.  Young folks may despair at the necessity of returning to the parental nest, while the more mature among us may find ourselves couch surfing, pursuing house sitting arrangements or searching Craigslist for ever more roommates.

Paying for utilities can become problematic.  Americans living in the Northeast and Midwest are grateful that the cold, snowy winter is now gone, for a few more months anyway.  Even here in California, low income families regularly experience difficulty in paying the gas and electric bill.  I remember how, nearly twenty years ago now, as a single guy working for a low hourly wage, I moved into a new apartment only to be warned by my next door neighbor that her electric bill had been exceeding $500 per month due to the need to run the air conditioning constantly in our hot summer.  To avoid such a calamity, I sweated through the summer without turning on the A/C.  When winter arrived, I discovered that the heat had been turned off because the previous tenants had run out without paying the bill.  My landlord refused to assist me and I was unable to soften the hearts of the utility people.  So I piled on the blankets, quilts and coats at night and managed to get through without incurring heating costs.  I couldn’t help but wonder how the poor survive in the below-zero temperatures of Minnesota and the Dakotas.

Living in the parsonage of a church, we get a front row seat to some of the adjustments that the jobless and homeless are forced to make.  Homeless Guy #2’s on-again, off-again relationship with his wife is currently off again.  Although he’s been living in his car, I understand he’s now indoors, sharing living quarters with one of my nephews.  They share similar interests, such as construction, carpentry, barbecuing, playing the guitar and singing, so it seems to be a good match.  Both are unemployed.

Homeless Guy #1 still shows up at our door quite often.  He may ask to use the church rest room or to do some odd jobs for a few bucks.  The other day, he rang our doorbell in the morning and again at night.  The second time, he asked for three dollars in exchange for a small plastic bag containing a few soda cans that we could supposedly redeem.  We told him no because the cans weren’t worth anywhere near three dollars, because we’d have to drive two towns over to take them to the recycling place, and because we were more than a little annoyed that he had woken us up for that.

Homeless Guy #1 still lives in a tent in the far corner of his mother’s back yard.  However, he seems to have acquired a tentmate, his cousin, whom we’ll call Homeless Guy #3.  Number Three showed up at our door on Sunday to beg for ten dollars for food to get by until he gets his disability check.  We told him that none of us are working and that we can’t spare ten dollars.  We offered him a peanut butter sandwich, which he gratefully accepted.  We gave him two PB&Js, two bananas and half a package of cookies, and sent him on his way.

Homeless Guy #2 has been spending a lot of time over here lately, working hard on badly needed repairs to the church building and doing a wonderful job.  The church has been paying him for his labor and we have been keeping him fed.  As for Homeless Guy #1, we heard him yelling and carrying on from the other side of the fence late last night.  We are aware of his anger management problem, which became manifest in banging and kicking the fence, accompanied by a lengthy string of obscenities, not a few of them directed toward the church and the “holy roller” occupants thereof.  I thought about calling law enforcement, but instead we simply locked the doors, knowing that eventually he’d calm down and go to sleep in his tent.

When I stepped out of the shower this morning, I immediately identified the sound of visitors.  My niece, nephew and little grandniece were here, and soon enough my nephew’s girlfriend and her sister showed up.  My niece had overdone it at the gym and needed us to babysit Little One for a while so that she could take a hot shower and assuage her sore muscles.  Pastor Mom headed to the kitchen and started cooking pancakes and eggs.  We never know who will show up here to be fed, whether family, friends or local homeless people.

Now that I’ve been out of work for eight months, we find ourselves having to make an increasing number of lifestyle adjustments.  For the first time in our married lives, my wife and I have only one car between us.  And we finally had the cable TV turned off, keeping only internet service so that I can continue to search for jobs online.

But food is where it has started to get really interesting.  We try to stick to our monthly food budget, but some of that money has a way of going toward other things, and we sometimes go over.  My wife says that my veganism is costing us too much, and she is probably right.  Even limiting purchases of things like veggie dogs, meatless meatballs and vegan margarine, we still have to buy almond milk and tofu for me.  It doesn’t help, my wife points out, that I refuse to eat eggs, one of the cheapest sources of protein around.  Canned beans are also cheap, so I am working on eating more of those instead of placing Boca burgers, TVP “chicken” and tofu on the grocery list again.

Today, however, we crossed a line for the first time:  We visited a local food bank for a handout.  I’m in new and unfamiliar territory now.  I have never had to ask for this kind of help before, and I didn’t quite know what to expect.

The main food bank in this area wasn’t distributing today and, anyway, we aren’t sure whether we have the right documentation that is required to cut through their impressive red tape.  When I called, they suggested that we visit a particular church a couple of towns over.  When we did so, they informed us that they had suspended food distributions because it would be another month or so before they receive another food delivery.  They sent us to another church, the big Presbyterian one that, ironically, is right next door to one of the largest supermarkets in the area.

Walking down the path from the parking lot, I found my way to a door labeled Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard.  Upon opening said door, I was told to wait my turn outside and that someone would come get me shortly.  There was one client ahead of me.  In just a few minutes, an intake worker came out with her clipboard and forms.  We walked over to a bench near the church playground and sat down.  Somewhat sheepishly, I volunteered my story of having been laid off, having run through my unemployment benefits and having been unable to find work despite my best efforts.  She empathized, but none of that information appeared to be necessary.  All she needed was the names and Social Security numbers of everyone in the household, our address and my phone number.  Then she handed me the form she had been working on and sent me inside to collect my food.  This seemed almost too easy.  I mean, aren’t they supposed to make this humiliating or something?  Where was all the red tape from the big area food bank?

grapefruit

In the office, I sat across the desk from another volunteer, who looked at the form, made a quick phone call, and hollered out to the guy behind a movable divider (yet another volunteer) to make up a food package for three.  Meanwhile, near the door were bins of grapefruits, to which I was urged to help myself.  I could hardly believe it.  I am crazy about grapefruit and try to eat one every day!  But how many should I take?  Ah, now the humility was really kicking in.  I explained that we have never had to ask for help of any kind before and that I have no clue as to how many grapefruit would be appropriate for the three of us.  After all, I said, I don’t want to take more than my share and thereby leave others without.  Take as many as you want, I was told, as they’re just going to go bad.

Indeed, some of the grapefruit had seen better days.  Most of them, however, were in perfectly fine condition.  They didn’t look like store-bought grapefruit, either.  They seemed to have been recently plucked from someone’s tree, with pieces of stem and a leaf or two still clinging to some pieces of fruit.  I filled up one plastic bag, was invited to take more, and filled up a second bag.  In all, I took away fifteen grapefruit.  Apparently, they were just glad that I took them off their hands.  One might say that I obliged heartily, as there were only a few grapefruit left in the bins when I got done with them.

The guy behind the divider called out to ask if I would use some powdered milk.  “I guess so,” I said tentatively.  “I’m very grateful to take whatever you have available.”  I hadn’t even seen powdered milk since I was a child and my mother kept some on hand in case of blizzards.  “You can cook with it,” added the clerk behind the desk, helpfully.

The packer pushed a dolly out from behind the divider, loaded with two grocery bags filled to the brim with what appeared to be all kinds of stuff.  The items I could see sitting right on top were a loaf of seed bread and a large package of chicken.

The client who had preceded me returned to say that her car wouldn’t start and to ask if anyone had jumper cables.  I couldn’t remember whether we had any, so I texted my wife, who was waiting in the car.  No, we don’t, she informed me.  Meanwhile, my predecessor helped me wedge the two huge bags of grapefruit in between the grocery bags on the dolly.  I dragged it back down the path, my wife loaded the food into the car, and I dragged the empty dolly back to the office.

I thanked the staff once again, and they informed me that I am eligible for food once per month.  I am welcome to come back in July, they said.  I appreciate it, I told them, but I truly hope that I don’t see you fine folks again next month.

But I know that we probably will.  And I can only thank the Lord that there are such generous people and organizations to help out the poor in our local community.

We were lucky today, one of the workers at Mother Hubbard’s informed me.  Today they had eggs.  Most of the time, they don’t.  And indeed, when we unpacked the bags onto the kitchen table, there among the incredible variety and quantity of food was a half-dozen eggs.  Along with a 2½ pound package of boneless chicken that still had a supermarket’s $8.75 price label stuck to it.  There was a package of four large parmesan hoagie rolls and a baggie of loose muffins and pastries.  There were two cans of tuna, two cans of green beans, a can of kernel corn, a can of fruit cocktail, a large can of spaghetti sauce, a tiny can of tomato paste, a Ziploc baggie full of rice and another of dry beans, a jar of peanut butter, a squeeze bottle of strawberry jam, a bag of pasta, a whole bunch of Ramen noodles and instant soup cups, a can of pork ‘n beans, a small package of roast beef and a box of breakfast cereal (peanut butter and chocolate flavored, of all things).  There were also numerous snack items, such as a little package of pretzel sticks with soft cheese for dipping, a granola bar and, my wife’s favorite, a large box of Cheez-Its.  And that’s just the stuff that I can remember without conducting an inventory.

With my wife and Pastor Mom being meat-eaters who aren’t much for veggies, and with me being a vegan, I feel confident that we will make the most of the food we received.  I was particularly thrilled to discover that the loaf of seed bread is vegan.

I mentioned to my wife that we can expect to have an interesting time planning meals to make the most of the food items we were given.  She agreed, pointing out that whatever we don’t use we will surely pay forward to help feed those who come to the door of the parsonage hungry and hoping for a meal.

Einstein Was Wrong

“She has 20/20 hindsight” was one of my mother’s favorite expressions in my formative years.  Eventually, I began to understand what she meant:  That people look back and realize their mistakes when it is too late to correct them.

I guess I have a hindsight astigmatism or something.  Most of the time I think I did the right thing, so why am I constantly flummoxed when the result is less than what I expected?  Perhaps I am not critical enough of myself.  At least the 20/20 hindsight crew gets to enjoy a pity party as they bewail their stupidity of days gone by.  My vision impairment, on the other hand, seems to be a failure of clairvoyance.  I can’t seem to predict the effects of my actions with any sort of reliability.

Switching over from my mother’s bromides to my father’s pearls of wisdom, it is he who likes to remind me that Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing you’ve always done and expecting a different result.  Really?  Then how do you explain slot machines and lottery tickets?

Back in college, the guy who lived across the hall from me used to refer to this phenomenon by the shorthand SSDD (“same shit, different day”).  Surely we don’t get locked into behavioral patterns because we’re so thrilled with the results we’ve been getting.  Perhaps we are all inertia addicts, unable to resist the magnetic pull of the familiar.  (Is there a twelve-step program for this?)  Or maybe we actually do expect that things will change for the better even if we keep lumbering down the same old road.  Perhaps people really are crazy, à la Joseph Heller and Billy Currington.

Hope and Vicissitudes

I have a suspicion that expecting a different result from the same actions may be attributable to a combination of hope and our understanding of the vicissitudes of life.  The Puritan work ethic teaches us that if we do what is morally right and good, we will be rewarded in the end (if not in this life, then in the next).  My cynical parents like to say “let no good deed go unpunished.”  So, assuming that we will be slapped in the face for our good deeds, we are urged to turn the other cheek in the hope that they won’t hit us again.  And if they do hit us again, then by golly, that’s attributable to the shortcomings of evildoers who fail to see (or don’t give a fig about) the purity of our motives.

Indeed, among the many attractions of religion is the way that faith gives us hope.  And it is hope, of course, that is our vanguard against the despair brought on by life’s seeming randomness.  Although Einstein famously remarked that “God doesn’t play dice with the world,” it often seems that, even when we do everything right, we still end up rolling snake eyes.  This results in things like Xanax, Dr. Phil and books titled When Bad Things Happen to Good People.

So how are we to get from one day to the next without falling into a pit of Sartrean despair?  Certainly not by having 20/20 hindsight and realizing that our problems are all the result of our own stupidity.  On the contrary, the answer is to “keep on keepin’ on,” to chug right along with what we’ve been doing and hope that things will change for the better.  Perhaps my spouse/children/boss will start treating me better.  Perhaps my talents will finally be recognized, my knight in shining armor will ride up to my door and I’ll buy the winning Power Ball ticket.  Or, if nothing else, perhaps after a good night’s sleep, things will start looking up in the morning.  In the words of Scarlett O’Hara, “after all, tomorrow is another day.”

Einstein was wrong.  Doing what we’ve always done and hoping for a better result tomorrow is the only thing that keeps us sane.

 

Eureka

An elderly gentleman and I, walking from opposite directions, arrived at the door of Denny’s at precisely the same moment.  I could see through the window that the place was fairly crowded.  My job interview was just down the street, and with more than an hour to kill, my wife and I had planned on a leisurely breakfast.

I reached for the door, intending to hold it open for the old man.  “No, let me get it for you,” he insisted in a gravelly voice that I could barely understand.  He wore a dirty jeans jacket and sported a long white Santa Claus beard.  I could see that his mouth no longer had much in the way of teeth.  It was obvious that he was homeless.

My wife and I entered the lobby of the restaurant and the old guy followed behind us.  Immediately, a server flew out from behind the counter and began shouting at him.  “Get out!  Get out!  I mean it!  Get out of here right now or I’ll call the cops!”

“What?  Why are you gonna call the cops?  What did I do?” protested the man.  The server was so upset that it seemed she was about to physically push the guy out the door.  Hearing the ruckus, a manager walked up behind the server and began yelling “Just go!”

The old man turned around and left.  My wife and I were aghast.

As we passed the table nearest the door on the way to our own booth, a breakfasting gentleman snickered, casually offering “Maybe they didn’t like his after shave?”

After we sat down, my wife suggested that the man may have been in the restaurant earlier in the morning, perhaps bothering patrons.  It’s possible, I responded, but more than likely he’s been around many times before and is well known to the staff.  The main thing, I said, is that the guy obviously has no money.  The restaurant, I added, has no use for anyone who is not a paying a customer.  We agreed to buy a to-go breakfast and take it out to him after we ate.

We sat at a window that looked out on one of the city’s primary thoroughfares.  As we sipped our tea and waited for breakfast to arrive, we had a good view of quite a few people hanging out on the sidewalk, leaning against buildings and occupying the doorways of businesses that had not yet opened for the day.  It was easy to see that homelessness is a big problem here.

In Greek, the word eureka is an exclamation meaning “I have found it!,” most notably attributed to the ancient scholar Archimedes, who legend tells us ran down the street screaming the word upon making one of his mathematical discoveries.  But for many dwelling in the city that goes by so inspiring a name, the only thing found is a profound sense of hopelessness, coupled with agonizing efforts to merely subsist from one day to the next.

Although Eureka is located within the borders of California, it seems far more oriented to the Pacific Northwest.  Located near the northwest corner of California, about two hours’ drive from the Oregon border, the climate of Eureka reminded us more of Portland or Seattle than it did of Los Angeles or even of our own hometown, about 300 miles south.  Although it wasn’t raining, the sky was overcast and a chilly breeze blew through the streets.  It was at least twenty-five degrees cooler than the weather we had left at home yesterday.

Many of the homeless we encountered were bundled up in layers.  I could not help but wonder how they ended up stuck outdoors, where they slept, what their stories are.  The one encouraging sign was that we saw no police harassing them  or chasing them away.

So here I am in my jacket and tie, ready to face a panel interview for a middle management position.  As my wife and I ate breakfast, we discussed our finances for the month of June.  What was left of my unemployment checks is now gone.  We need to begin digging into our meager savings immediately.  I agreed to visit the food bank two towns over to see what they can give us to stretch our funds a little longer.  We marked our calendars for a local food distribution scheduled for the end of June.

For now, at least, we still have money.  After being unemployed for eight months, we are not broke yet.  And if we’re frugal, we know we can stretch what we have for another six months or more, through Christmas and even into 2015.

And we counted our blessings.  After all, we don’t have to dress in layers to stand in the cold wind and be chased out of any place where there is a chance of scoring a bite to eat.  Everything really is relative.  It is difficult for us to feel sorry for ourselves when the suffering of others is manifest right before us.

We paid our bill and prepared to order a to-go breakfast, hoping that a bite of hot food might cheer up he that is turned away from every door, from any hope of succor.  We looked up and down the street for any sign of the bearded old man in the dirty jeans jacket, but he was nowhere to be found.

… thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother.  But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth.  –Deut. 15:7-8 (KJV)