Friday, May 1, 2015

Day Five: To the Victor Belong the Spoils

This is what I have left after a week of Living Below the Line ... a half bag of Uncle Ben's. Slightly more than half a bag, actually, since I only cooked two cups dry and I still have some of that left, too. Tomorrow I'll make some, lengthy, insightful post about what lessons I'm taking away from this experience (and all flippancy aside, I have learned quite a bit). But for now, in these closing hours of the challenge week, I just want to mention a few of the physical changes I've noticed in myself after living like this for five days.

~~Most days, when meal time rolled around, I ate way too fast. And it was very hard to slow down, because there was this little voice in my head squealing "OMG! Food!" like a toddler on a sugar high. Of course, just like your mom always warned you, when you eat too fast you end up with a tummy ache. And I did. Frequently.

~~The lack of vegetable fiber (and other things, I'm sure) caused a definite change in the way my digestive system processed food.

~~The caffeine withdrawal headache finally disappeared by Wednesday evening.

~~Lethargy, although I'm not certain how much of that was nutritional and how much was lack of caffeine. It's surprising how much coffee and tea actually sustain me. Thank goodness I'm not a soda drinker or it could have been worse.

~~I didn't notice a marked decrease in cognitive abilities until today, when things like being more forgetful than normal, having to recount things three or four times because I kept losing count or wouldn't get the right number, making lots of simple mistakes that shouldn't have been an issue all made an appearance. It was frustrating to look at someone I've known for years and not only call them by the wrong first name, but completely forget their last name, Not cool.

I believe I had it slightly easier than some who've taken this challenge simply because I had a little bit more food at my disposal this week. The buying power of the dollar in the rural area where I live is stronger than in other, more urban areas. If I lived in a city -- London, NY, Los Angeles -- I would have had a horrific time feeding myself even half as well on $1.50 a day. Nonetheless, I went to bed hungry, got up hungry, and by the third day thoroughly disliked almost everything I had to eat. It may have filled my stomach, even if only temporarily, but it never satisfied.

But isn't that the point? No matter where you live, big city, small town, rural village, $1.50 does not provide enough nourishing food and drink to sustain you in a healthy fashion. Eventually your body begins to suffer. There are so many children in this world who live below the extreme poverty line. They may try to go to work or to school hungry, or they may not even have those options. Someone needs to help give them those options. Someone needs to help feed them and nourish them and give them hope for a brighter future. Because these children, these little ones who are stricken with hunger and disease and who never learn to read and write, they are our future. They deserve to have a future, one without pain and suffering.

Please consider a donation. Even a few dollars will help. And if you can change the life of one child, then this has all been worth it.

You can donate by clicking ==> HERE! 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Day Four = Turn Four

I'm not a NASCAR fan, but I've been exposed to the sport enough over the years to be fairly well-versed in the lingo. Today, for me, is the equivalent of Turn Four on the race track. I'm coming into the homestretch and the finish line is in sight. 

But what if you aren't the race leader? What if you aren't even in the lead lap? What if you're so many laps down that it's doubtful you'll even actually finish the race, stuck in the "left-turn-left-turn-left-turn" rut, with no hope of pulling ahead? 

Okay, I've exhausted the metaphor, but you see my point, right? I get to finish this five-day race, but for millions of children around the world, extreme poverty has wrecked them beyond hope. 

I skipped breakfast today, not an unusual occurance for me, especially if I'm busy. But I didn't skip a meal because I was distracted, I skipped it out of necessity because, despite what I thought was careful planning, I find myself running out of food. I had planned on eating whatever was left from the week for dinner tomorrow evening, but I found that I would have only been left with plain brown rice and a few slices of bread. Yes, I could have had toast, but by eliminating a meal and shuffling some ingredients around I can actually have my last pack of ramen with my last remaining egg, stir fried together.  

Even with so little left, I still have options. So many people the world over just don't have options. they run the race, but never gain in the rankings, never get ahead, never cross the finish line. I want to help give them options. I want to help break the left turn cycle. Won't you please join me? Even a small donation -- the equivalent of the cost of tomorrow's lunch -- can be enough to make a difference in the life of a child. And don't we all deserve a shot at the winner's circle? 

Wanna help? Clicky ==> HERE!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Humpday ... Two More to Go

Not that I'm counting down or anything, mind you. But tonight it was all I could do not to lick the glaze off my plate after eating. That would have been extremely uncouth. And unproductive, as it wouldn't have garnered me much in the way of edible mouthfuls anyway.  
So, what did I learn today? 

I don't want to talk about food anymore.

It's amazing, really how much of our lives, at least here in the US, are consumed with the making, eating, discussing, photographing, blogging about,and filming of food.  We create competitions around it. We earn awards for it. We go to special schools to learn how to prepare it exceptionally well. There are whole television channels devoted to the exploration of it.  We are told by the government how to eat healthy, and we are told by a myriad of "best selling" self-help gurus how to eat to lose weight, land that perfect job, romance Mr/Ms Right or improve our sex life with the significant other we already have. 

Food is everywhere, and it isn't until you can't partake in it that you become more sensitive to its proliferation. And today was the first time that listening to people discuss food began to bother me. Usually, for me, that kind of thing is easily ignored. The last two evenings I've sat beside people eating honey bourbon smoked sausages and fried chicken with only minor salivation. But the longer the week drags on, the more sensitive I become to what others have and, more specifically, what I do not. 

How discouraging it must feel to someone who doesn't have the money to participate in the overwhelmingly rampant consumerism found in a country such as the US. For someone below the extreme poverty level, who might be lucky to have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it could be emotionally as well as physically devastating.  

There's a light at the end of the tunnel for me. But for millions of people around the US and around the world, this just isn't the case. Won't you please join me in helping to end the disparity? Won't you please consider even a $5 or $10 donation? Every little bit helps, and if together we can change the life of one child, then this week will have all been worth it. 
You can donate online HERE.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Raw carrots and I share a rather jaded past. While most people I know would wholehearted grab a handful when on a diet or when wishing to eat something a bit healthier for lunch than Doritos or Butterscotch Krimpets, I personally would favor the more neglected vegetables on the tray -- broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, etc. But as I sit here at my kitchen table on the downward slide towards the end of day two of Living Below the Line, I can honestly say that I have never, ever tasted anything sweeter. 

I'd also like to confirm, in case there was any doubt, that I really don't like brown rice all that much. Especially by itself. 

Brown rice was my staple of choice for lunch today, along with some cooked mixed vegetables tossed in. But the vegetables didn't stretch nearly far enough and I had leftover rice which I either had to eat or be hungry. I actually threw some away. The rice I had eaten, coupled with the water I'd been drinking all day, lay congealed in my stomach like a glob of library paste. 

Sorry. Unpleasant and inappropriately graphic. Or is it? For so many people, just a simple staple like that brown rice is all they have to eat for a meal, maybe for the only meal they'll have on any given day. No vegetables. No meat. No seasoning. Just rice, or whatever they can get their hands on. I reached a point today where I was done eating, regardless of the fact that I was still hungry. I knew there would be some kind of alternative waiting for me when I got home. And the carrots, despite the fact that they normally only get 3.5 stars out of 5 from me, are right now the best tasting things in the world. 

But if all I had was that one meal ...if I didn't have that $0.29 bag of carrots in the crisper ... would I honestly look forward to the next meal? Extreme poverty robs you not only of the nutrition your body needs to remain healthy and survive, but it also robs you of variety, and of choice. Please help me bring health and nutrition and choice to those in need. Your donation, no matter how small, can help ensure that a child gets much needed food, as well as medicine, vaccines and educational supplies. Won't you please help make a difference in the life of a child?   

Want to help make a difference in the life of a child? Visit my Live Below the Line page HERE to make your donation, no matter how large or small. All help is greatly appreciated!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Day One: A Lesson in Moderation

As far as first days go, today wasn't too bad.Slight headache this evening, which I expected, since I actually quit caffeine cold turkey on Saturday, so this is Day Three without my morning cup of personality. Because I was able to procure inexpensive eggs, I had eggs and toast for breakfast, which helped though. Lunch was ramen and my afternoon snack was some carrots. 
By the time I got to eat dinner, which consisted of four of the little potatoes and half the can of pork-n-beans, I was hungry but not ravenous. I counted the slices of bread in the loaf ... if I get hungry tonight I can have a piece of toast as a snack, but unfortunately I don't think that can be an every night occurance or I'll run out of bread before the end of the week. 


A friend of mine in Southern California took my purchase list and did a price comparison in her local grocery store. Now, I have to admit, I tried to get as much "bang for my buck" as I possibly could, choosing straight-from-the-coop eggs and canned goods from the local bent-n-dent. Her purchase total was a staggering $20.67 as compared to my $7.31. Incredible. Which means if I find this challenging here ... 

According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to the ravages of extreme poverty. That is a shocking and heartbreaking statistic. So many young lives, so much suffering, so much wasted potential. Who knows what those young minds could have produced had they received the proper nourishment, healthcare and education.

Want to help in the fight against extreme poverty? Visit my Live Below the Line page HERE to add your support.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Round Two ... and I'm Broke!

Second round of Live Below the Line shopping this afternoon completed. I went to a local bent-n-dent and did well, I think. A loaf of whole grain bread for $1.00, a bag of brown rice for $1.00, a pound bag of frozen mixed vegetables for $0.99, a can of pork & beans for $0.39, a can of southern seasoned black eyed peas for $0.50, a can of seasoned diced tomatoes for $0.40 and a pound brick of margarine for $0.50. Total spent today was $4.78, for a grand total of $7.31.That means maybe one day this week I can splurge on a cup of coffee or a cup of tea with the extra $0.19.

The menu is all planned -- I think what will be the hardest to deal with is the lack of variety. Nothing flavored to drink at all. No meat, no spices or seasonings other than what's in the beans and tomatoes. I can imagine how having to deal with that every day indefinitely could quickly become discouraging.  And I'm very fortunate in that I live in an area where the cost of living is lower than in some places around the country and around the world. A friend of mine who lives in southern California said that she absolutely could not see how anyone in the Los Angeles area could survive on $1.50 a day. Here in rural Pennsylvania, our incomes may be lower but things cost less and our money stretches a bit further than it does in more urban areas. Nonetheless, it's still a challenge.

Want to help end extreme poverty? Visit my page HERE and lend your support with an online donation, or leave me a comment if you want instructions on how to send a check.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The First Round of Shopping ...

... is done. I've had lots of helpful suggestions from friends and co-workers, for which I'm very grateful. So far I have a dozen eggs for $1, three packs of ramen for $0.45, a bag of baby carrots for $0.29 and a bag of potato "fingerlings" for $0.79. $2.53 spent, $4.97 to go.
Want to donate to help end extreme poverty?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Living Below the Line

Psyching Myself Up to Live on $1.50/Day

I have often joked about things being a "first world problem." But over the last six months or so, I've found myself often assessing a situation using that very criteria. Having worked with the public most of my adult life, I've been afforded the opportunity to listen to my share of complaints and whining. And there have been times when I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying, "Do you understand how privileged you really are?" I have to remind myself of this, too, when I fall into the complaining trap -- when I whine because I'm frustrated with my cell phone and vow to get the one I really want next time; when I grumble because I live too far out of town for takeout deliveries; when I roll my eyes and grit my teeth because my internet connection is slow. 

First world problems. 

There have been times in my life where my family has lived paycheck-to-paycheck and that paycheck hasn't stretched quite far enough. We "robbed Peter to pay Paul" and did without any of the extras just so that we could buy groceries. Thankfully, we never fell below that extreme poverty line and we have recovered to a place where we are comfortable now. Perhaps that's why this campaign resonates so much with me -- because when I was at my lowest, when anxiety and worry kept me from sleeping at night -- it was the hopelessness that weighed on me the most. I never saw a light at the end of the tunnel. I want to help those who suffer from extreme poverty see the light at the end of the tunnel. I want to help give them hope that someday things will get better. I want them to know that someone cares. 

What is Live Below the Line? It's a campaign to fight extreme poverty worldwide. By agreeing to eat and drink on $1.50/day for five days, you help bring awareness to the ravages of extreme poverty and those who suffer because of it. There were several charities to partner with, and I have chosen to partner with UNICEF, a long-standing and well-known organization devoted to bringing relief to children and their families by providing food, vitamins, vaccines, clean water, educational materials and disaster relief.

I'm not going to lie ... next week is going to be difficult. I've already started planning out my menu and I've made a basic shopping list. I'm lucky that I live close to a bent-n-dent grocery store where I can purchase foodstuffs for cheap so my $7.50 will stretch just a bit further. Items are hit-or-miss there, so I have no idea what I'll find when I go shopping but I'm looking forward to that challenge, too. I know my week will end up being very carb-heavy, which is not something I'm used to, but I already know I'm getting fresh eggs for $1.00/dozen, which is fabulous, and a pound bag of frozen mixed vegetables for $0.99. Ramen is only $0.15 each and I can get a couple of bananas for $0.39/lb there. Cans of beans are $0.40 each. Rice can be had for less than a dollar. Oh, and a loaf of bread ... I may hit the regular grocery store day-old shelf for that, if they have any. 

So, having preached about first world problems, (sorry about that, by the way) will I keep my smartphone and my internet? Of course I will. And next week will be a tangible reminder of what's important and where my priorities should lie.

Want to donate and help me fight extreme poverty? Please visit my LBTL page HERE.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Today's forgotten Word-of-the-Day (thanks to The Word Museum):


A dishonest dealer in birds who "makes up" his wares, 
either by painting the plumage of live birds
or by fabricating bird skins, affixing false labels, etc.

Hard to believe this happened often enough to warrant its own word. 

However, I immediately thought of this video.  I give you the best visual reference of a bird-duffer that you will ever see:

Gotta love those Pythons. They set the standard. Best. Ever.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Magpie Tales #190

It's been a very long time since I did a Magpie. I'm a bit out of practice, but I loved today's prompt pic, so with my own pooch snoring away under the desk, I decided to give it a whirl. As I said, it's been awhile, so...

It was that feeling of being watched – that shivery sensation that makes your heart cough and the fine hairs on the back of your neck rise to attention – which caused me to first spot the dog peering through the hole left by the missing board in the fence. I'd often thought about repairing the fence, something that would have been taken care of the day after The Incident had Paul been here to handle it, but somehow I'd never quite gotten around to it. I try to pretend that my neglect is because I'm too busy, but truth is a much more critical judge.

I chuckled mirthlessly. The Incident. Initial caps. That how I think of it now, almost a year later. Still sugarcoating it, refusing to use the harsher words that defy my need to soften reality and make it more palatable, less frightening, seemingly less permanent. As a freelance writer, I knew the power of words, yet I had never been afraid of them, had never hesitated to call a spade a spade, until now.

Was it really almost a year ago? That stupid cliché about time flying certainly seemed appropriate, but for me, time hadn't flown. It had crawled, a slow agonizing progression across a dry arid desert with no oasis in sight. Each day bled mindlessly into the next, one never ending Sunmontueswednesthursfrisaturday. The only divergence from that course would be when old friends, so scarce these days, would take pity on me and pry me from the confines of this too-large-for-one-person house, forcing me to attend a dinner or a movie or to go shopping.

Then there were those times, like now, when I was reminded I hadn't yet repaired the fence.

I had been in the kitchen, lifting a freshly baked apple pie from the oven when I'd heard the odd noise from the backyard. I'd looked out the window … the grille of the riding mower had been resting against the fence, one of the rotting boards split and laying across the hood. Paul had been slumped over the wheel, motionless. I'd dropped the pie, grabbed my cell phone and ran outside, but it was already too late. The words “massive heart attack” had echoed in my ears long after the emergency room doctor had squeezed my hand, long after the minister and the funeral director had been called, long after my son and his wife had driven me home and tucked me into bed in their guest room, refusing to leave me alone that night.

I really had meant to fix the board. But each time I remembered it, each time I thought to add it to my to-do list, I revisited that day, and the pain which had receded to a dull constant ache would flare anew, bringing with it a fresh flood of tears and hours of I miss you's and I love you's and I wish you were here's and It's so hard without you's whispered to the familiar gentle ghost which resided just beyond my right shoulder.

I could hear that specter teasing me now as I reached for my glass of wine, my hand shaking so that the liquid sloshed out over my fingers. It's just a dog, Dee. I thought you liked dogs. I glanced across the yard again and forced a deep breath, my posture relaxing. The dog hadn't moved and I realized that he was too large to fit through the hole. But he could smell the chicken I'd put on the grill and was no doubt salivating. His ice blue, otherworldly eyes followed my movements as I flipped the meat and his ears perked when he heard the sizzle of the marinade hitting the flame. He suddenly shifted and sat, prepared to keep a watchful vigil, his face hopeful and still squeezed between the boards of the fence.

I wondered if he was a stray.

The house on the other side of the fence had been abandoned during the financial crisis of 2009 and had remained unoccupied ever since. A landscaper came once a week to care for the lawn, and someone checked the house periodically during the winter months to make certain everything was all right, but the home remained empty. I'd never seen the landscaper with a dog and no one else on the street had a pet quite that large. From where I stood, I couldn't see if he had a collar, but I decided against getting any closer. Just because he wasn't growling and snapping didn't mean he would be friendly if approached by a stranger.

I'd never had a fondness for large breeds, although my opinion had been formed by one lone experience with a Rottweiler named Bear who had fancied himself a lapdog and no amount of shoving or cajoling could convince him otherwise. Paul and I had toyed with the idea of getting a pet many times over the years, but had never agreed on feline as opposed to canine. Paul was a cat lover, something I most definitely was not. But I had campaigned for small dogs, more cat-like dogs, unobtrusive dogs which could be stuffed in a handbag or forced to wear a sweater on chilly mornings. Paul had not conceded, arguing that small dogs would yip and yap and get underfoot, since they weren't smart enough to know better, like cats.

It was an friendly disagreement that was never reconciled.

My own curiosity piqued, I determined that, if this dog and I were going to meet, he was going to come to me. On a whim, I decided to let the chicken do the talking for me. Retrieving a bowl from the house, I placed one of the chicken breasts I'd grilled in it and set it just off the patio in the grass. Then I took the other chicken breast over to the patio table with my glass of wine and sat down to eat … and wait.

I pretended to ignore him as I dined, all the while keeping him just in my peripheral vision, so I knew the moment he made his decision and retreated from his observation post. Several long minutes passed and I could hear him rustling in the bushes along the fence as he searched for a way into my yard. I smiled to myself and continued eating. By the shaking of the shrubbery which spilled over the top of the fence, he was headed in the right direction. It was only a few minutes later when I saw his head poke around the end of the fence by the street.

He hesitated, then skirted the perimeter of the yard, pressing himself close to the inside of the fence until he drew even with the bowl. I could now see he was a beautiful mixed breed: part boxer, part something I couldn't identify. His coat was a creamy white except for some dark gray on his chest and the inside of his hind legs, and he was thin but not starving, his ribs just barely visible. He was collarless, and he watched me pretending not to watch him for a long moment before raising his nose and sniffing the air. Satisfied with his exploration, he lowered his head to the ground and snarfled his way to the bowl, his eyes periodically lifting to fix on me, as if to reassure himself that everything was as it should be.

I remained seated, seemingly oblivious to his approach.

Reaching the bowl, he hesitated again, not skittish but cautious, perhaps a bit distrustful. My overactive imagination envisioned a myriad of tragic occurrences which could have led to this poor dog's arrival in my yard, and I was determined not to add to the list. I stayed silent and still, allowing him to assess the situation and come to his own conclusions.

You big softee.

I wordlessly shushed the ghost, my attention focused on my visitor. Either he concluded that he was safe, or hunger won out over better judgment, because seconds later his head was buried in the bowl and that chunk of meat was practically inhaled. When he finished, he licked his chops, then licked the bowl again, just to be sure he'd gotten every last bit. The bowl flipped and he sat down beside it, his head cocked in disappointment, as if waiting for something unexpected to happen. When it didn't, he rose and turned his attention to me. The ice had been broken and introductions needed to be made. He loped casually toward me. I merely dropped my hand to dangle over the side of the chair. He stopped and studied me a moment, then bowed his head and walked under my hand, allowing it to skim the top of his head and slide along his back.

A potent thank you. And in that moment, I knew I was lost.

He turned and retraced his steps under my hand a second, then a third time, after which he stopped and licked my fingers, then rested his chin on my knee. Those unsettling blue eyes looked into mine, and I swear I saw the wisdom of the ages reflected in them. This was a soul like mine – old, damaged, and alone. In him I could see love and loss. In him, I'd found a kindred spirit.

My hand slid along his side. There were a few burrs and a bit of mud. A bath was in order, and a trip to the vet and the pet store in the morning. I would, of course, advertise, but I knew without a doubt that no one would claim him. I spoke softly so as not to startle him, in a voice just loud enough for him and I and the specter to hear. “You can stay here tonight, once you're clean. And we'll see if we can find your owner tomorrow.” I scratched gently behind his ear. “Until then, you'll need a name, since I don't know yours. What shall I call you? How about Casper? You look like a Casper. What do you think of that?”

The dog merely sat and cocked his head again. If dogs could shrug their shoulders indifferently, I imagined he'd be doing it.

The specter, however, never answered.

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