Sunday, September 27, 2015

Magpie Tales #287

As always, much gratitude to Tess for entertaining our Muses.





It’s her.

I can’t believe it. After all these years, there she sits, furiously typing away on her laptop, completely oblivious to everything around her.

Completely oblivious to what’s right in front of her.

Completely oblivious … to me.

What if she looks up?

I’ve only pictured this reunion hundreds and hundreds of times in my head, in my dreams, and this – standing outside a nondescript internet café in an uninspiring city in Germany with my face pressed embarrassingly to the glass – is definitely not the way it’s supposed to go. Germany? What the hell is she doing in Germany anyway?

I mean, I’m not even supposed to be here. I barely speak the language well enough to order lunch, I don’t have warm enough clothing with me and I haven’t been home in weeks. But when Gupta’s wife went into early labor, the assignment fell into my lap and I was diverted. Lucky me.

God, she’s still gorgeous. I wish she would look up.

It’s been -- what? -- maybe ten, eleven years since that summer; that whirlwind, head-rush, heartbreaking summer when I lost my virginity and my heart and my sanity to a whip-smart girl from Topeka, Kansas at a three–week artist-in-residence workshop for teens. I remember stepping off the bus that first day, a mildly terrified 17-year-old with a camera and an attitude. She was standing in line at the registration table reading a brochure when she looked up and saw me. Her smile … God, her smile was brilliant! And I was so hopelessly lost.

Penelope. That was her name. I remember asking her what her parents were thinking, naming her that. She’d pretended to be offended, then said it made her unique, as if she needed a name to accomplish that. And she used her full name, too, because she hated the nickname Penny with a passion, although her hair was the appropriate color, a deep, coppery auburn, silky soft and smelling like fresh peaches.

She was there because she’d won a scholarship; she was going to be a writer, the next Dorothy Parker or Virginia Woolf. It wasn’t unusual for me to find her camped out under a tree, reading or writing. But always, she’d see my shadow, or hear me approach and she’d look up and smile.

That look, that smile, like I was exactly what she was hoping to see, made me feel like I was somebody, not just a skinny kid with a decent eye for composition and a passion for grunge music. She asked my opinion and actually listened to what I had to say. She laughed at my jokes, scolded me when I was being an ass, and introduced me to a world of female writers which my misogynistic high school curriculum had chosen to ignore. She taught me to dance, I taught her to fish. She taught me to play poker, I taught her to water ski. She showed her support for my work with her praise and with her constructive criticism. I read every word she wrote.

I still do.

Our connection was immediate and, for those three weeks, we were inseparable. On our last night at the workshop, while everyone else was roasting marshmallows and discussing plans for senior year, we slipped away from the crowd to lay on a blanket under her favorite tree and stare at the moon. She thanked me and told me our friendship had made her a better writer. I thanked her for being the best subject I’d ever photographed. We came together with an urgency; I kissed her and held her and loved her for the first time … and for the last. And afterwards, as we lay spent and sleepy, making wishes on stars, she looked up at me with that smile, just a bit sadder, and promised she’d never forget me. The next morning, without fanfare or breakfast or exchanging addresses or even saying goodbye, she returned to Kansas, and I returned to Denver, a little bit older, a little bit wiser, and forever changed.

I never heard from her again.

She’s still typing, her fingers flying over the keyboard in a desperate attempt to keep up with that bullet train that is her mind. People are starting to stare at me now. I can feel their eyes on me, wondering if I’m a stalker, a threat to the peace and tranquility of this lazy Sunday afternoon. Let them call the police. Maybe the commotion will break her concentration and she’ll look up and recognize me, come running out to throw her arms around me and beg the officers not to arrest me.

I wonder … does she ever think about me like I think about her?

Does she ever dream of me at night? Does she ever sit across the table from her date as she sips expensive wine, wishing it was me sharing her dessert? Does she ever seek me out, “Google” my name to find traces of me or my work lounging about in the ether? Does she wonder if I’m married, or if I’m happy? Does she ever look back on those three weeks with fondness or longing or even regret?

This is silly. I should rap on the window and get her attention.

I should walk into the café and show her the photo, ask her permission to use it.  It’s a really good photo.

I should walk in and offer to buy her a coffee or dinner or invite her to run away with me.

I should tell her that I’ve read every post she’s ever uploaded and every short story she’s ever had published. I should tell her that I follow her on Twitter and that I’ve pre-ordered her book from Amazon.

No, no. What I really should do is just walk away. Forget permissions. Delete the photo. Pretend this moment never happened. Leave the past in the past, turn around and go get on with my life.

Please … just look up.

# # #

For more Magpie Tales, clicky clicky ==> HERE!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Magpie Tales #284

It's been almost two years since I've participated in the Magpie Tales community, but this image has been occupying an open window in my browser since it appeared three weeks ago and I've finally allowed it's influence to come to fruition. As always, my deepest gratitude to Tess for her inspiration and her willingness to tempt our Muses.



It seemed presumptuous to label a first-time destination as such, but then she’d never had this feeling before, like she’d been in this place – had stood on this very spot – a lifetime ago.

Several lifetimes, actually. Eight generations, if the genealogical researcher she’d hired was to be believed. He’d come highly recommended, and she’d seen the records herself, had photographed them for her own personal posterity.  Besides, Lord knows she paid him enough for his efforts, enough that he was now on a family holiday in Ibiza while she stood at the top of Mam Tor, the bitter October wind slicing its way through her clothes, like it was rending her garments and she was standing there naked, exposed for all the world to see. But she wouldn’t trade places with him, wouldn’t walk away from this for any sunny beach or all the money in the world because this … THIS … was what she’d been searching for all her life.

The valley below was still lush and green, the warmth of the early autumnal sun giving it the strength to fight off the encroaching winter for just one more day. The raw beauty of the landscape and the sheer power of nature’s force displayed in the thunderous clouds above left her breathless and speechless and shivering, both with cold and emotion.

Behind her, she could hear the other hikers talking and laughing as they unpacked lunches and settled in to rest. But she didn’t want food. She wanted to kneel down and sink her fingers into the fragrant, loamy sod along the side of the path, to burrow deep into the dirt and connect on a primal level with the earth. She’d never considered herself a pagan, and had rarely entertained thoughts of ecology or conservation or environmental protection. Yet she had never been more aware, and she imagined, in that moment, that she could feel the earth beneath her feet hum with the vibrancy of a hundred thousand seasons past. Was it a mere flight of fancy that she sensed a collective consciousness, the perceived memories from an untold number of travelers over that ancient stone path which now danced on the edges of her normally cynical mind, toying with her sense of logic and begging her indulgence? The very idea made her heart pound a concussive beat in her ears.

She was overwhelmed.

A thermos cup of steaming tea was pressed into her hand and she instinctively wrapped gloved fingers around it, instantly appreciating its warmth. “Here, drink this. It’ll help.”  She’d listened to that deep, melodic baritone all morning as their guide, Andy, had regaled them with local history and folklore. Now he stood beside her, the vapor from his own beverage curling and roiling until his exhaled breath dissipated it, only to have it reappear on the inhale. He took a sip, then nodded toward the vista spread before them. “Impressive, innit?”

She had no words that would adequately convey what she was thinking and feeling, so she settled for a simple nod.

As if cognizant of her emotional state – and perhaps he truly was – his voice gentled to a mere whisper, isolating their conversation from the other hikers and imbuing a reverence to his words. “Y’know, when I was young, I couldn’t get out of this place fast enough. I had big dreams, big plans. I was going to move to the city and tackle the world.” He chuckled to himself. “And for a while, I succeeded. University and a job in London, conferences all over Europe. But later, after the shine had worn off, I realized I needed to come home, to rediscover who I was at a basic level.”

She pursed her lips despite the smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. “And you never left?”

“And I never left,” he confirmed, his answering grin lighting up his face. “Everybody belongs somewhere. For some people, it takes a lifetime to find that place. Others may find it, but don’t have the luxury of making it their home. And some poor sods, they remain forever lost. I’m one of the lucky ones … I’ve always known where my heart called home, I just forgot … no, not forgot. That implies it was out of my control. I refused to acknowledge it for a while.” He hesitated, then said, “I think you’re one of the lucky ones, too.”

She returned her gaze to the landscape, wanting to burn the image into her memory, fully knowing the camera on her iPhone could never, ever do it justice. But more than the image, she desperately wanted to capture the feeling, the rightness of it all, so she could take it with her and then, wherever she went for the rest of her life, she would know exactly where Home was, what it looked like and smelled like and felt like.

As he turned to go back to the others, Andy leaned close, pressing his shoulder to hers. “I know an estate agent in Castleton, if you’re interested.” Then he wandered back to the laughter and his waiting lunch, leaving her staggered by a rush of possibilities.

As the sun broke through the clouds, bathing her in golden light, she closed her eyes and began to mentally compose her letter of resignation.

#  #  #

For more delightful Magpie Tales using this prompt, put your cursor HERE and click.  To read the community's work using other prompts, please visit Magpie Tales.

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.