The temperature has plummeted overnight, but it’s cozy inside our kitchen and already the windows are starting to fog up. We’ve been busy at the stove, starting the morning off with french toast and tea. Even though I smother my pieces with peanut butter, bananas, real whipped cream and maple syrup, I notice the poppy seeds on the crust. I like the nutty flavour and make a mental note to buy the same kind of bread again. It’s that easy. I taste something I like and decide I want it again without thinking twice. No problem.
After breakfast, Stan sends the girls downstairs to get potatoes for Edna Ruth Byler’s Cinnamon Roll recipe. While the potatoes soften in our pressure cooker, my husband stands at the kitchen counter, hands poised at the keyboard ready to re-vamp our meal planning. At my request, my sister sent me the running record she keeps of all the meals she’s made for her family. The entries are divided into categories (beef, chicken, vegetarian, other, etc.,) so Stan reads off the recipes and waits for our responses. “Asian salad bowl? What’s that?”
“Yes! Leave it on. It’s like fresh spring rolls,” I say, bouncing Vivi on my lap, waiting for the next one.
“Mushroom Quinoa Lasag…”
“Nooooooooo!” the girls interrupt in unison, while dancing on the couch for their sister.
The keyboard clicks in response.
When we finish with the revised list I’m tempted to appear casual and nonchalant. It’s taken Stan ten years of suggestion to bring me to this level of organization–and I’ve resisted it the whole way. I’ve often countered his attempts with a superior tone, pointing out how I’m free-spirited and thrifty; able to think on my feet in the grocery aisle, and creative with discount items. But now that he’s still buying the groceries he figures he’s got a little more leverage and so here we are, reviewing a list including everything from chickpea coconut curry to enchiladas. The maddening part is I’m pleased. I can’t even pretend my fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants method is easier, or even tastier. I’m also reminded how much choice we have in what we eat. Mexican food one day then Tanzanian the next? Fruit from all corners of the globe? Fresh vegetables even though it’s -40? No problem.
The potato dough is soon ready to knead and while Belén, Susanna and Stan have a circus with gluten, I start chopping onions for the slow cooker. We’ll have beef vegetable stew flavoured with rosemary for tonight’s supper. They fold and stretch the batter until satiny, while I wonder how much meat to add. One pack isn’t quite enough so I open up the other package I pulled out of the freezer. No problem.
And then, because the smell of cinnamon and sugar and yeast (this is their annual bake-with-wheat-flour event) almost drives me crazy, I start working on my own gluten-free version. I’m not sure I have all the ingredients–the pecans are the best part of this recipe–so I go to the pantry to check. There’s a kilo of pecans on the bottom shelf. No problem.
While dough rises we start watching Living on One. I thought we might be able to clean up while listening to the documentary in the background, but now that the film is rolling, all of us are standing stock-still, eyes on the screen. Created by four college students, the documentary shows what it was like for them to live on one dollar per day in rural Guatemala, “battling hunger, parasites, and extreme financial stress but find[ing] hope in the inspiring lives of our neighbors.” I’m skeptical at first–what good can privileged 19-year-olds who go “camping” for a couple months do?–but am soon softened by their storytelling. Much of it reminds me of our years spent in Bolivia; the diarrhea, the fleas, and hitching rides through lush canyons. Like them, I also benefited from my neighbours generosity: Doña Sabina and the warm tamales from her clay oven, Doña Estela teaching me how to wash clothes by hand, and Don Juan’s stories of indentured servant-hood for Spanish hacienderos. At one point during the movie I tear up and Belén turns to study my face. “Are you crying, Mom? Why are you crying? Wait. Guys! Mom’s crying.”
I’m thinking of Dona Lucia’s resilience when she admitted she doesn’t always know how she will feed her children the next day. I’m thinking of Antonio’s laughing eyes when he told me he knows what it’s like to fall asleep with an empty stomach. I’m thinking of the fourteen and fifteen year-old mothers who will never see a high school textbook or read a novel. But I’m also thinking of wild honey found in the woods, the peanut harvest, fresh eggs, wandering chickens, wild horses, waterfalls, watermelons, and women who bathe, cook, tend children, do laundry, pick lice, gossip, laugh and do all of life together. In fact, I can’t really explain why I’m crying. It’s not pity, exactly. I understand material wealth, education, and opportunity don’t guarantee well-being. All I know is my kitchen windows are steamy with abundance, while brave and wise people, real people, go without enough.
A while later Susanna says, “Sometimes I just want to rush out and give everyone money. Everyone who needs it.”
Her dad says, “That’s nice; I just want to clarify though… Whose money?”
“Your money,” she responds without a beat. And then, “But I don’t know where to find them.”
I know what she means. When people, like us, can reach for anything we need, no problem, while others reach but grasp nothing, there is a problem. And yet, what can we do? How do we find these people? Which causes do we donate to? Does the money even get there anyway? If it does, might it do more harm than good? And shouldn’t we be investing in the needy close to home? The marginalized in our own neighbourhoods?
The cinnamon buns are ready. We have a taste test; mine versus theirs. “Oh, it’s so close. Neck and neck,” Stan reports after trying them both. “I’d say it’s a tie.” If he’s feeling amorous, he’s in luck. That compliment takes him to first base at least. I love it when people pretend my gluten-free baking is delicious.
The next day we will wake up to full cupboards once again. We will pick one dinner, out of the 72 options we’ve typed out, and then sit down to our meal made for four–though we could stretch our food stores to feed 140. But we will be thankful. We will pray. Susanna will go on-line to look for another sponsor child. We will feel content with our square footage, with our furniture, with our opportunities. We will remember what we watched and talk about it again. We will give. We will feel life is unfair. We will feel lucky. We will feel helpless. We will feel burdened. We will feel ourselves slip into the sea of everyday excess. We will go down with our eyes open to keep from drowning in our comforts and the apathy that runs deep. We will hope some of this makes a difference. And we will eat cinnamon buns.