Your Value

Not having a job or an income changes a person’s perspective about self-worth.  I remember being 16 and working for minimum wage, which, at that time, was $8.00/hour in my state of California.  I would shop for groceries and see an item I wanted that cost $8.50.  Knowing that it would cost me more than an hour of my life to buy such an item, I would usually pass.  I was able to quantify my time on earth in dollars, and I would value my life accordingly as an American consumer.

As I got older, obtained a college degree and got a job with a fairly good living wage, I would still make many purchasing decisions in the same way, using the same formula.  I’ve never had a savings so any purchase would rely on funds in my bank account at the time; I would do the math to see if the value of my life in hourly wages would warrant such a purchase.  Many times, I would conclude that my life and my work could not equal the value of the thing I wanted and I would get depressed.

As part of a generation that could identify the alphabet letters based on their products before we could spell, (K for Kellogg’s, M for Mattel, T for Tide etc.) it is no wonder that my adolescence and adult life propelled me into a life and self-worth based on consumerism.

For a number of years, my purchasing power somewhat agreed with my self-worth.  There was a time when I didn’t have to think too much about the clothes I was purchasing, the restaurant where I was dining or the couch that I was buying.  I had a fairly new car, a nice apartment with furniture and a decent job that allowed me those things.

Unemployment changes all that.  And, when combined with a few relationship failures or other life-altering events, like, for example, the birth of a child, the result can be a little confusing.

I don’t think that any of us have ever really believed that a person should be valued by what job they’ve had or by how much money they’ve made.  Americans have been seen for too long as a people who are hell-bent on taking the next advantage.  I, personally, have met a lot of Americans, and I’ve never met anyone who fits that description.  Even those I know who are still stuck in the consumer age are finding enlightenment unprecedented.

I haven’t bought myself anything new in over a year, with the exception of some badly needed boots, a discounted bed, some books, some socks, a few tools and some underwear.  In my most recent move, I went to the thrift store for a new book shelf, a consignment shop for a kitchen cabinet and scored a free table from my parents.  I can’t remember the last time I went “shopping” except to buy groceries.

Maybe our wants and “needs” are determined by our income and our capacity to fulfill those wants and needs.  I no longer think of myself as a consumer.  I can’t walk into a big box store and go crazy.  I used to buy candles, trinkets, necklaces, vases, pillows, clothes, lotions, cosmetics, bathroom décor, decorations, ornaments and a myriad of tchotchkes on a weekly basis.  Now, if I’m in a big box store, it’s usually for toilet paper.

Before I came of age and started buying all these things that made me feel like a dues-paying adult, I used to spend my money on things like my education, theatre visits, art, music and books.  My first “real” purchase that I had earned my own money for went to a 12-candle, free-standing candelabra garnished with “magic” stones.  I had still lived with my parents at the time and they wouldn’t let me burn candles in the house.  It was nothing except art for art’s sake.  I had kept it for twelve years after moving out and regret greatly that I have no idea where it ended up.  I can’t even remember if I gave it to a friend or donated it to charity.

Now that I have no income, not only can I not buy the insipid purchases that I used to make but I can also no longer buy the things of whimsy.  In fact, I don’t buy “things” at all.  I buy groceries and pay my bills.  I still drive that car that was once new.  My furniture is second-hand or at least 10-years-old.  My books, my real luxury that I can’t let go of, are mostly used.  And to say that this is an incredible shift in my reality is an understatement.

I have never been so happy.

I have not traveled or bought theatre tickets in a long time.  I am not up on music.  I don’t indulge in “fine dining.”  I can’t remember the last time that I hosted a party.

For the first time in my adult life, my value comes from who I am and what I do, not by how much money I make or my displays thereof.  The worth of my day is not determined by a to-do list or a benchmark.  I don’t have a 401k or heath care but I also don’t have a supervisor looking over my shoulder determining my productivity from one day to another.  Some days I write.  Some days I plant flowers and vegetables.  Some days I transplant trees and pull weeds.  Some days I make breakfast.  Some days I don’t.  Some days I scan family pictures and share then with my mom’s cousins.  Some days I build stairs in the garden. Some days I prune bushes.   Some days I drink too much wine and smoke too many cigarettes.  Some days I make jam.  Some days I plan for the future.  Most days I just hope for the best.

If you are facing a financial change that worries you or even paralyzes you with fear, I am here to tell you: fear not.  You will face hardship.  You will have a period of considerable adjustment.  You may even have an identity crisis.  You may undergo a world of mishaps that you had never hoped to face.  But in such a journey, you may even find you.  And what makes you happy.

If this lesson in poverty has taught me anything it’s that my happiness index has in no way been tied to my financial index.  In many ways, it has been quite the opposite.  Since I have had to let go of the hardship of money, I have gained, in real, quantifiable amounts, a happiness that I never could have imagined.

You may be next.

Justice Begins at Home

e“I’m not here to justify the cause, or to count up all the laws; that’s all been done before.”  -David Foster, Linda Thompson and Peter Cetera.

In the past few days, social networking sites have been inundated with one particular video, a video about Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda.  The video has gotten so many hits that internationally syndicated radio shows and television programs are picking up the issue and discussing it.  This video has taken “viral” to new levels, experiencing fame that even Antoine Dodson failed to garner.  The fact that an issue of social justice, rather than a novelty video, has taken a lead in web fame is at least a step in the right direction.  It is a sign that people might be waking up and becoming more willing to entertain such issues.  It is a great blessing.

I find it suspect, however, that, in just a few short hours, millions of Americans have spent thirty minutes with a video, and, afterward, they’ve decided which side of a conflict they fall on in a major geopolitical issue that they previously knew little or nothing about.  After a short video, many have now pledged their undying allegiance.

Joseph Kony deserves to be arrested for crimes against humanity.  He absolutely does.  He absolutely should be arrested.  And he should be tried in the International Criminal Court for the crimes that he has allegedly committed.

But here is where I dissent from many of my fellow Americans:  While Joseph Kony’s tactics are abhorrent, criminal, vile and evil, I know that Uganda is not a single-sided issue and I will not pledge support for Joseph Kony’s arrest at the expense of other issues in that region.  The Republic of Uganda is ruled by the internationally recognized Yoweri Museveni.  His rise to power has been pock-marked by a number of sordid affairs, many of them amounting to very much the same tactics that are featured in the Invisible Children YouTube video, tactics that Joseph Kony has used to gain his own power from his own rebellion.  Hurt people hurt people.  What has been happening in Uganda has been happening for a number of years.  It has been happening on both sides of the political spectrum and neither side, or any splinter groups, can claim that their hands are clean.  And frankly, much of what is happening there, is a result of our policy at home.

The Republic of Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa, bordered on the east by Kenya, on the north by South Sudan, the west by the Democratic Republic of the Congo and on the Southwest by Rwanda.  Many people have seen the Oscar-nominated Don Cheadle movie “Hotel Rwanda” and much of the knowledge we have about the conflicts in that region come from that movie.  I hate to admit it, but because geography is a sadly sagging subject in American education, a lot of what people know about the region comes from Hollywood films like “Blood Diamond” and “The Constant Gardener.” A small handful of people have taken note of other issues in that region.  Because of an under-funded publicity campaign, a few people took notice about the conflict in Sudan and the brutal civil war that has been raging there.  Others can attest to an education about the Western influence in the Congo from reading the acclaimed book “King Leopold’s Ghost.”   There has been so much ink spilled about the conflict in that region of the world.  But there is still an incredible ignorance about the history of the region, the layers of the reasons for conflict, the massive weapons proliferation and the multi-sided, multi-faceted pain that has plagued the regions and nations involved in what’s been happening in Uganda for generations

Yoweri Museveni is not a decent man.  Neither is Joseph Kony.  Support for Museveni’s dictatorship at the expense of the LRA amounts to favoring one brutal regime over another.

Americans are very powerful people, who, when they put their mind to something, can change the world.  Let’s not squander our power for naught.  Our collective ignorance about Joseph Kony and Uganda is insurmountable and won’t set us free.   A 30-minute YouTube video can’t provide the knowledge or background about an international issue to even begin lobbying for righteousness or remotely start preaching for justice.

International issues are difficult.  Conflict is a hard to nail down. I am for peace.  I am for fairness.  I am for justice.

But justice begins at home.  Before each person in the USA is ready to get involved in the international politics in Uganda, maybe we should first look to ourselves for improvement.  Look at our education system.  Look at child care in this country.  Look how we treat our prisoners, our protesters.  Look at how we tend to our hungry, our elderly, our disabled, our poor.  Look at how we brutalize and disenfranchise women in this country.  Look at how we treat our animals.  Look at our foreign policy and the conflicts we are already involved in.  Look at our environmental policy (or lack thereof) and our collective degradation of the earth at home and abroad.  Look first at those in need in our own county.  Look first at our own glass house before we cast stones.  Decide where your voice is needed.  Raise it there.

If even a fraction of the people in this country who have watched the Kony2012 video, found enough passion to take notice of our own issues, the whole world would be a better place.  I remember Barack Obama walking to the podium in Grant Park, Chicago on November 4th, 2008, to give his presidential acceptance speech and to pledge that we would live by “our power of example rather than our example of power.”  Whether we think that our current administration has lived up to such a promise, the people of this country still can.  If we are truly going to make a difference abroad, we must first make a difference at home.  Justice begins at home.

How to Make Orange Marmalade

How to make orange marmalade

 

 

Whether you are a seasoned canner, a professional chef or trying to can for the first time, this “recipe” is for you!  It’s easy and the result is divine.

A lot of marmalade recipes require you to wait a day, refrigerating some crazy mixture overnight for thickening.   It doesn’t have to be so involved.  You can make marmalade in your home kitchen on your day off.  I assure you, if I can blog about it, you can make it.

My only caveat I offer is that oranges differ in sweetness and juiciness from one to the next.  I am going to give you ratios (much in the way a person might make a cocktail) rather than measurements.  Like humans, each orange is individual.  It just doesn’t make sense to try and throw in 3 cups of this and 2 cups of that when the basic ingredient varies so much on its own.

You will need:

A big bucket or bag of oranges (Does your neighbor have a tree? Go ask for a bag!)

Sugar

One lemon for juice

Powdered Pectin (just have it on hand)

Canning Jars and lids

A few large pots

A blender or food processor

A few bowls

A spoon

A cup

A ladle

A large-mouthed funnel

Tongs

A few towels

A pot holder or two

Start by peeling the oranges and place the wedges and pulp into a large bowl, selecting about 2 in 5 for nice rinds and keep the rinds aside.  Wash the oranges on the outside for the ones in which you want to keep for the rinds.  I can’t attest to rind science.  I just use the ones that are the most orange in color.  You can choose your rinds with any science you feel is necessary.

If peeling is difficult, cut away the rinds with a knife.  A lot of recipes call for removing the pith (white stuff under the rind) but don’t worry too much about it.  Traditional marmalade has a special bitterness and the pith makes it that way.  It’s yummy!

While peeling, try as much as possible to open up the orange and look for seeds.  If you miss a few, no worries, they float and they don’t tend to blend.  You can pick out the ones you missed later.  When the mixture is in the pot, you will see little gray-colored seeds surface.  Remove them as you catch them.  If you give someone a jar of marmalade with a seed, they will know that the marmalade was authentically homemade.

Throw the pulp and wedges from your bowl into a blender or food processor and pulse until juicy.  Not too-too much.  Leave it a little pulpy.  Throw into a pot and set on simmer.  Set the burner somewhere between 3-6, depending on the heat efficiency of your stove.  Repeat with the oranges until you are out of oranges or out of space in the pot.  (It’s okay to use two pots if you run out of space.)

Take the saved rinds and cut into strips, adding them to the orange pulp directly.

Add about a cup of sugar for every five to six oranges.  It could be more or less, depending on the oranges’ sweetness.  Don’t get stuck in the recipe.  Take a spoon and taste it if you aren’t sure.  Just be careful: it’s hot.  If you like it sweeter, go crazy.  There’s no harm in that.  If you like to be more conservative, the marmalade will be a bit tarter and that’s fun too.  If it turns out really tart, tell your friends and family that you made it “British-style” and they will smile at your international esteem.

Watch your pot bubble.  After about 15 minutes, it will foam.  That’s perfect.  But you will want to skim off the foam.  Scoop it off with a spoon and dispose of it.  Or add it to some 7-up and make a nice treat.

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After you skim off the first level of foam, you have at least ten minutes before you have to do it again.  Let yourself enjoy a glass of wine or some ginger ale.

While you are enjoying your refresher, start a large, empty pot of boiling water.  This is what you will boil your filled-jars in, so make sure that the water will cover the jars and use a clean pot.  Also, start heating your glass jars in the oven at a very low heat- 205 degrees or less—this is to ensure that the shock of the marmalade heat won’t break the jars.  Wash them first.  Additionally, boil the canning lids that are appropriately-sized for your jars.

Scoop off any more foam that may have surfaced.  You may have to repeat this step several times.

The marmalade is almost ready after the foam has subsided. It might take an hour or two.  At this point, judge whether or not you approve of the thickness.  You can wait a while and boil down the mixture or you can add pectin if you want a thicker mixture right away.  If you add pectin, start by throwing in a few tablespoons and wait about 10 minutes.  If you don’t want to add pectin, it may be a while.  Pour yourself another refresher and call a friend you’ve been meaning to get back to.  Check on the pot and stir it occasionally.  If you are still not happy with the thickness, add another few tablespoons of pectin or continue t wait but remember that it is similar to Noodle Roni and it will thicken a bit after cooling.

Once your mixture is a desired thickness, lay down a towel for your finished-product to sit on.  Set a pot holder on the sink.  Place a hot jar on the pot holder, a funnel on the jar and ladle the marmalade into the jar, grabbing a lid with the tongs and securing it, screwing the ring on right away.  Make sure it is tight.  Use tongs or canning tongs and place the sealed jar into the hot water bath.  Repeat until you are out of marmalade or jars.

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The jars should stay in the hot water bath for at least 15 minutes.  If you are like me and don’t have a giant pot, you may have to take some out to put more in.  Take note of the jars that went in first and rotate accordingly.  When the jars come out f the pot, place them on the towel to cool.

If things went according to plan, you should start to hear the jars popping shut after about 20 minutes.  You will want to remove the canning rings the next morning, after the jars cool, so that you can check the seal on the jars.  If you have a few that didn’t seal, put them in the fridge and eat within a week.

That’s it.  You’ve made marmalade.

 

Now for my social commentary:

Most people who live in the suburbs have at least one or two people on their street with fruit trees in the front yard.  My parents happen to have an orange tree that they share with their next door neighbor.  As I’ve noted in a previous blog, the tree hangs over their yard.  They pick the fruit that grows on their side.  Since I have been house-sitting for them and walking their dog, I have noted at least 10 other orange trees in the neighborhood, six lemon trees, two limes and a pumelo in their neighborhood.  This is just what’s in the front yards.  Today, I saw gardeners kicking the pumelos to the curb for green-waste pick up.  What a loss!

A single orange or lemon tree could supply a small neighborhood with enough citrus to get through a winter.  Canned, it could last even longer.  Even though my parents have access to an orange tree ten yards from their kitchen, s small step from their garage, they have a bag or oranges from the grocery store in their fridge.  Why?

My parents have done better than most suburbanites and at least know their next-door neighbor.  When I told them that I wanted to turn the un-used oranges into marmalade, my dad took me next-door to meet Gavin.

“Hi,” I said with my father at my side, feeling 15 again.  “I’m gonna be house-sitting while my folks go on vacation.  I was wondering if I could trade you a few jars of marmalade for a few buckets of oranges.”

“Sure.  Go right ahead.”  Gavin said.

Most people can’t use all the fruit from their tree.  Gavin didn’t care if I took a few buckets of oranges.  From his perspective, I doubt if he would have cared if I had taken all the oranges.  If even a single orange had been picked that season, I couldn’t tell by looking at the tree.

Suburban foliage is fairly diverse.  In older neighborhoods, like my parents’, the trees and shrubs are mature enough to bear fruit.  But unlike in my town, nobody here seems to be involved in any sort of food-sharing or in a local food movement.  As far as I can tell, all the fruit here has gone unpicked.

It’s not like people have stopped eating oranges and aren’t interested in citrus.  In the early part of the 1900s, an orange was a common Christmas gift in New York City.  It was seen as a very generous offering.  The fruit had to travel all the way from Florida, usually by train, and they were valued as a real treat.

I can only take a guess at the reasons for so much wasted food.  This Northern California neighborhood has seen a lot of turnover in recent years because of the foreclosure crisis.  A couple of the houses with fruit trees are vacant, so trying to get permission from the owner to pick the fruit could be quite a process.  Further, for more recent home-owners, as well as for renters, the occupants likely inherited the trees, and, not planting them themselves, may register a fear of the unknown that gives them hesitation about picking the fruit.  I can identify a lemon tree and a pumelo but perhaps I am taking my tree-identification for granted.  Not everyone can look at a tree and know that’s its produce is edible.  Perhaps it’s simply the relative affluence of the neighborhood and its proximity to a number of grocery stores.  When people don’t have to pick their own fruit, why would they?

What worries me most is that maybe these trees remain full because of a combination of all of the above but mostly because no one is talking to each other.  Surely there are people in the neighborhood who know what an orange tree looks like.  And surely there are people who would love a free orange or two.  I keep hoping that the suburban-isolation phenomenon has been making progress, that slowly people are taking baby-steps towards community.  Perhaps that process is going a lot more slowly than I had hoped.  I just can’t believe that I’m the only person who wants oranges and is willing to foster a relationship with a neighbor to make it happen, but maybe that really is the case.

And what’s sad and alarming is that oranges are a simple pleasure, a nice addition to a lunch.  They are a simply commodity.  The whole neighborhood could be stacked with Vitamin C and it’s not happening.  There isn’t a citrus scarcity here but what if there were?  And worse, what if there was another kind of scarcity, a scarcity of another resource more precious, like water or fuel to heat a home?

In my neighborhood, we know each other and help each other out of requirement.  We have a gas station in town but if someone needs something beyond a pack of cigarettes or a snickers bar, unless they are up for driving 20 miles to the nearest grocery store, they are knocking on a neighbor’s door.  Eggs, milk and sugar have become neighborhood commodities, something we all share willingly.  I know all of my neighbor’s names, I know their children and I know their pets.  They know me.  In the event of a real tragedy, I have no doubt in my mind that we would all live together and die together and that together, we would fight trying.  I hope that it never comes to that, but I know that if it did, my neighbors would have my back.

But my parent’s neighbors have no idea how to share their citrus.  Sad.

A home cooked meal

I just finished watching Mark Bittman’s TED Talk on “What’s Wrong with What We Eat.”  It was a wonderful way to spend an 18 minutes and I highly recommend it.  He goes into a brief history of the American Evolution of food, which, to me, was a stark commentary about the evolution of the American family meal.

 

Much ink has been spilled about the American diet and our relationship to food.  Michael Pollan, famous for his books “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” “The Botany of Desire” and many other good ones, has called our current food crisis “A National Eating Disorder” in his work with The New York Times and in other writings.  Everyone has a different theory about the best approach to fixing the food problem, the scarcity of it, the lack of nutrition, the inhumane treatment of animals, our ostracization from what we put into our bodies, the ballooning issues of obesity and other eating-related diseases etc.  Some states, like California, are starting initiatives to label genetically modified foods.  Some organizations, like the US Congress, have decided to label items like pizza a “vegetable.”  Most school children have no idea that potatoes are a plant and that they grow in the ground.  Many of us have hardly an idea about what we put into our bodies and where it came from.  The whole thing can be a bit mind-blowing.

 

I worked in a high-end coffee shop for six years after graduating high school.  There have been many novelty mugs produced with the phrase, “Give my coffee and no one gets hurt.”  For those of us that have a caffeine addiction, we know that our waking hours can be somewhat dicey.  Now imagine dealing with those people for eight continuous hours every morning.  There were more days that I hated my job than didn’t.  We had a running joke among the baristas that if someone mouthed-off to us, we’d just give them decaf. 

 

The day I knew that I could no longer work in the food-service industry is still very plain in my memory. After six years of an impeccable record in customer service, I finally lost it.  The customer ordering his drink was not the usual kind of caffeine-deprived masochist that we were used to.  Not only was he rude, he was racist, insulting and inflammatory.  I looked down at the milk I was steaming and had a moment of clarity (or insanity, depending on how you see it).  As he insulted my friend from Barcelona and told her that she should go back to Mexico, where she “belonged” and where people could understand her, I snapped.  I stopped what I was doing, delayed the other customer’s drink orders, looked him squarely in the eyes and said, “When you order something from someone that you intend to digest, you are essentially putting your life into someone else’s hands.”

 

I walked back to my manager, gave him my two week’s notice and told him what I had done.  If I hadn’t just received a company award for customer service, he probably would have fired me on the spot.  The man I had addressed with vehement venom never did complain.  Maybe he saw it the way that I did:  it was absolutely the truth.

 

So many of us in this country accept meals from strangers.  A recent study by the USDA found that the number of Americans who eat at least one food or beverage obtained away from home in the course of a day is 33 percent higher than in 1977-78.  It’s precarious.  So many of us put our lives into someone else’s hands on a daily basis.

 

I have been staying with my parents for the past two days.  They are going on vacation and I am going to be house-sitting for their pets.  I arrived a little early to visit.  I haven’t been home to stay in a very long time and it has been amazing.  I had forgotten what an incredible cook my step-mother is.

 

We didn’t have family meals together every night but we had many of them often enough.  Like most working mothers, my step-mom found it difficult to balance work and family, sometimes sacrificing the latter.  But she had always been an incredible cook and always made sure that we had healthy food to eat.  Now that she is retired and has time, her craft in the kitchen has only gotten better.

 

Last night we had dinner together.  Roast pork, a green salad, steamed veggies and a baked yam.  It was divine.

 

Growing up, we had always had at least a few meals per week together, which was quite a feat for a family of four children and two adults.  But my step-mom made sure of it.  She knew where our meals came from and she took pride in preparing them.

 

At my own home, in my adult life, my partner and I have breakfast together as much as possible and dinner together almost without fail.  Most of what we eat, even what we consume when we are not at home, we have prepared at home.  Much of what we make, we grow ourselves.  I know where my food comes from and I take comfort in that. 

 

I understand that this is an anomaly.

 

But what if it weren’t? 

 

What if more people in this country spent the time to break bread together?  And spent time investing in a relationship with what goes into their bodies?  I think that most people would find comfort and have less anxiety if they had an inkling about what, exactly, they were digesting.  According to a study conducted by Washington State University, families that share meals together more frequently have a higher rate of success socially, martially and academically.  In short, families that share meals together stay together, make friends together and get smarter together.  Perhaps that’s a leap but I don’t think so.

 

And I’ll go even further.  I believe that families who take a complete interest in their diet, whether it be vegetables from their own backyard, milk from their own dairy cow, or, perhaps more accessible,  meals that come from a farmer that they trust and have a relationship with, will have a better relationship among themselves and with their food.  The healthful intake that people make an effort for will benefit themselves and their family many fold.

 

We definitely have a problem in this county.  We definitely have a relationship with food that needs tinkering.  But what if the solution to our “national food disorder” isn’t another low-carb diet?  What if it could be as simple as knowing where our food comes from as being able to feed our families with that knowledge and sit together once in a while?

 

On the Bus, Off the Wagon

We spent the weekend in the city, in San Francisco.  We had the pleasure of visiting my partner’s best friend, a bartender, and his boyfriend, also a bartender.  Like all bartenders, they are aspiring to other titles but find the trade very lucrative.  It was a weekend of indulgence.

As a writer in the city, I couldn’t help but see the romance of the Beat Generation all around me.  As I watched Muni buses and cable cars pass, I thought about the honorary-Beatnik Tom Wolfe’s “Electric Kool-aid Acid Test” and considered his observations about what it means to be “on the bus,” a kind of commentary about living a purposed and held existence.  (As a San Francisco aside, the book is also the defining reference for the band-name “Furthur,” the Grateful Dead continuation band.)

Our friends live in an apartment with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge that most people only get to see in movies.  They live on the top floor and have roof access.  Getting to stay there was like being royalty, or, at the very least, like having a ton of money on prom night.

It was a stark contrast to my day to day.  My life aspires to a zero carbon footprint, or even higher.  My partner and I reuse almost everything we can, recycle what we can’t and have the wisdom to know the difference.  Like so many like us, we think about where our purchases come from, how many petroleum miles it took to get to us, and we forego a number of things due to its costly impact on the environment and future generations.  Coffee and chocolate always present a moral dilemma.

My partner and I adhered to almost none of it this weekend.  For one thing, we drove to the city.  We ate Thai food, with its off-season vegetables and imported delicacies.  We shopped, deciding on Spanish wine, even though we have some of the most esteemed wines nearby in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys, many of them organic and/or biodynamic.  We did, however, buy local cheese because the Cowgirl Creamery kicks ass, but we cancelled that out with a chunk of Spanish Manchego as well.  We had coffee and chocolate.  Our hosts spoiled us, insisting on paying for things we in no way could afford.  We obliged at every opportunity.

We did touristy things, even though our proximate upbringing didn’t warrant the need for it.  We had fallen completely off the conservation wagon.  We visited the Walt Disney Family Museum, a tribute to the life and art of Walt Disney—an amazingly beautiful tribute to both.  Every art aficionado should witness its splendor.   For me, the treasure of the museum is a letter from Diego Rivera to Walt Disney about the art and craft of cartoon drawings.  Not known to most people, Walt Disney was highly esteemed by his artist colleagues.  There is even a picture of him and Salvador Dali out boating together.  But whether for high-brow art experience or just for a day of childish fun, it is a museum not to be missed.  We also visited the Japanese Tea Gardens, which has one of the most amazing catalogues of bonsai and ornamental tree-crafting anywhere in the world.  The care and attention to detail that has gone into the maintenance of such wonder is without a single lack of detail.  The grounds make me want to aspire to a more meticulous gardener in my own doings.  I can’t say enough good things about both locations.  We took pictures in Golden Gate Park and sang in a tunnel near the Academy of Sciences.  We even found ourselves at a few bars, a couple of times at the Pilsner Inn.  What fun!  It was pure guilty-pleasure.

As a sustainability writer, I feel I should find a way to make an excuse for myself.  The liberal guilt should kick in at any second.  But I will be honest: I have no excuse and it was really, really fun.

I recently started reading “The Dirty Life” by Kristin Kimball.  At one point, the author, a New Yorker and self-proclaimed “city girl,” laments to her almost-husband about their state of “poverty.”  He aptly replies that, “We’re smart and capable people. We [Americans] live in the richest country in the world. There is food and shelter and kindness to spare. What in the world is there to be afraid of?”  If I ever needed a reminder of that, this weekend was it.

Due to unforeseen circumstance, my partner and I have lived on $16 for the past 3 weeks.  We dipped into our “apocalypse food supply,” eating canned food and dried beans and rice.  We recently moved so, having no vegetables planted in our own garden, have had to settle for the already-planted Swiss Chard for nearly every green vegetable at any meal.  High in iron though it may be, chard gets boring.  We recently branched out and foraged for Miner’s Lettuce for a green salad. Unforeseen poverty begs necessity.  Still, was a very nice salad.  And it was a good test of our foraging ability and food-storage choices.  We got bored but we didn’t go hungry.  We are truly blessed to live in the country of one of the greatest experiments of man and womankind.

This weekend’s adventure was the polar opposite to our sense of scarcity.  Our dear friends aren’t exactly the San Francisco Nuevo Riche.  They aren’t programmers or financiers.  The glorious apartment that they inhabit comes from a number of years working as the building manager, and a few moves as different apartments became available.  Our dear friends are very much “working class.”  But they are working class in a different sense of the term than I have recently come to know it.  What I understand now, that I maybe didn’t understand before, is that the working class in urban American, is much, much different than their counterparts in rural America.  Again from the book, “The Dirty Life,” Kristin Kimball notes that people in cities, even internationally, have more in common with each other than they do with their own rural countrymen.  I have to agree.

I worry about whether or not my just-planted lettuce made it through last week’s snow; our city friends worry about whether or not their cab driver is charging them a fair fare.

If I could file a single complaint about the view from their balcony, it would be the serious lack of foliage.  Aside from the trees along the sidewalks and a few parks in the distance, the color green was all but lost.  There were empty roof tops as far as the eye could see.

On Sunday, when we were reluctantly ending our stay with them, we had a lot to discuss.  I told them about the New York City transit that has started to maintain bus-top gardens, a project of New York City designer Marco Antonio Castro Cosio’s graduate thesis at the NYU.  The project and its foresight is, indeed, “on the bus” and (just for the fun of another literary cliché), pushing the envelope furthur.

For a city that is consistently ahead of the curve when it comes to progressive issues, I was very surprised to see the significant lack of edible or roof-top gardens, especially because the surrounding areas are so gung-ho about food security.  There was a glaring amount of unused space that could easily be put to productive food-growing, or, at the very least, made out to be a wonderful space for flowering plants and ferns.  Organizations like the Friends of The Urban Forest are working to bring San Francisco up to speed on the part of the “green revolution” that actually includes things that are green, but efforts towards growing have to involve the entire community and cannot fall on one organization or another.  We all have to take stock in “greening” our communities.

I will be glad to return to my rural home, a place of community involvement in all senses of the term, a place where so many things grow green that it has to be a part of everyday life.

By the end of our trip, I think I had convinced our hosts to work out a plan for a roof-top vegetable garden.  We had already pointed out several edible plants at the park where they held soft ball practice.  It may take some effort, but I have visions of sugar plums dancing in my head…or at least a few tomatoes.  For all the art that the city of San Francisco has to offer, there is a host of empty canvases on the roof tops of many buildings.  The possibilities for gardens are endless.