Penniless, not Destitute or Indigent

Being penniless has not been as bad as the nightmare my imagination conjured. I choose the word penniless over words like destitute, or indigent, because those two words also mean without resources. For years I volunteered and donated to the local homeless shelter knowing, "There but for the Grace of God."

The Affordable Care Act aka "Obamacare" is a godsend. This year it made me eligible for Medi-Cal, which had been limited to Social Security recipients, and children. Upon becoming eligible for Medi-Cal, Kaiser Permanente re-enrolled me  on the smallest of technicalities. I had Kaiser the first three weeks of 2012, which were my last three weeks of seminary. This enabled me to go to the doctor today to get prescriptions refilled, and while I was there, a flu shot. No charge. On the county insurance for the indigent, my prescriptions were no cost, but it took getting a lawyer to go after the homeowners insurance of where I fell to get the necessary care for my back and neck. Prior to the last year of seminary, the cost of COBRA plus medication was astronomical.

Although I loathe asking for help, my circumstances have forced me to ask, learn, and be subject to the capriciousness of public assistance. My second year of CalFresh, food stamps in the old parlance, started without interruption in spite of my turning in the wrong paperwork. The worker and I went back and forth until we realized that we were talking about two different packets. Food stamps are great, except any goods that are not food, are not eligible. Soap, shampoo, toilet paper, laundry detergent, pet food, and any other non-food items in the store are ineligible.

My post earlier this spring, touched on all of this. I overcame my shame and applied for cash aid this time last year. Through a clerical error, it was taken away early this year. I neglected to follow up that post, which detailed some of the trouble. The aid was reinstated in April. That lasted until the end of June. In July, a representative from another program that I had been  limbo for told me an answer would take two months. I was expecting an answer in September. I preached a few times for small stipends during the summer. Knowing the cash aid would have been stopped for earning the stipends anyway, I let it go. Either were to have held me through August, which they did.

September came and went. So, too, October. Mid-November brought the realization that taking the other program at its word, even with diligent follow-up, was not in my best interest. I returned to the county office to reapply for cash aid, only to learn that the reason it ended in June was another clerical error.  The past few months have been exceedingly difficult. If not for the graciousness of the woman who has allowed me to stay, things would be  much, much worse. Now that autumn, or winter, has finally arrived I am even more grateful.

In the days leading up to  Thanksgiving, I was struggling. I spent too much early in the month on groceries; I was going into yet another holiday season without enough to buy raw materials to make gifts in time; Here was another season of being unable to donate; Here was one more season of not supporting my faith community to which I'm still unable to drive. Nonetheless, Thanksgiving did remind to be grateful, despite indigenous history. My list of complaints is a list of first world problems. I have healthcare that includes mental health, a place to sleep, bathe, and keep my laundry clean and inside. I regularly have access to a car. I have food and clean water, not only to eat and drink, but a place to keep and prepare the food. I have good weather the vast majority of the time. I had a few weeks in July in which I did not worry about the future. I have a dog who thinks it's the best day ever every single time she returns from her walk to find me home. I have a neighbor who walks her daily and keeps her when I'm not there so that the dog does not have to be kenneled too much.

I have faith communities that regularly invite and/or welcome me to their midst: the Pasadena Mennonites, a supper club, a new Buddhist sangha, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, the newly interfaith Peace and Justice Academy. I am grateful for dear friends and my parents who have been generous and encouraging. Kimberly, too. Recently, I posted someone's meme with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. It was the normal pyramid, but underneath, two new layers were added with a digital pen. The first meme added wi-fi. The humor was that it was under the very basic needs, implying that it was most important, the foundation. Next, someone added second layer below wi-fi. Bicycle became the foundation for the most basic need to be met. Therefore, in addition to the things I am grateful for listed above, I still have a bicycle and access to wi-fi. Life is, dare I say it, good.

It seems too much to ask, then, to stop being in limbo so that I can begin to move forward. I am going to house-sit over the holidays, but it is time to find another place to live. In the meantime, I take pleasure in the little things and stay focused and present each day. Most of all, I am not alone. I do have resources. My imagination conjured much worse. I am reminded of another quote I read often. "The misfortunes hardest to bear are those which never happen." -James Russell Lowell

Mom's Biscuits

Recently, my offering to a Sunday brunch pot-luck was a double batch of Mom’s Sunday biscuits. I knew from my childhood that this recipe resulted from practicing over and over for my grandfather until it was just right. I asked my mom to tell the story again, because family recipe stories can be as revealing as other life stories. I was not disappointed.

My grandfather, Paul, decided that my young mother would be difficult to marry off, so she  needed to learn a useful skill. A recurring theme in his relations with his four daughters, matrimony was a source of some anxiety in the immigrant family. Nevertheless, my grandfather decided to teach my mother to make biscuits in order to “attract a husband” when she was old enough. Paul qualified on that account, having served as a cowboy cook in his youth. The morning of a cattle drive in Northern Arizona in the early 1920’s, the assigned cook quit over an unknown slight.  Paul, a recent arrival from Mexico, volunteered for the position. Due to time constraints, restless cattle, and a lack of other volunteers, Paul took over the chuck wagon after the cook decamped. He learned on the job. Dutch oven biscuits, made in a campfire, became his specialty.

My mother recalled long Sunday drives after mass. As this was prior to Vatican II, no one was allowed to break their fast before church. Driving further and further into the desert north of Phoenix, they would take in the landscape. Appearing barren, the desert would reveal its colorful and often beautiful secrets. Still, everyone was hungry. An incorrigible tease, Paul would ask if a place looked good to stop. The other occupants in the car would say, “yes!” He would find something wrong with the site, and keep driving. This would go on a few times before he finally pulled over.

Once in an ideal spot, he would build a campfire. Paul would take the old cast iron dutch oven out of the car and place it in the fire. He quickly made biscuit dough and dropped spoonfuls into the oven. He covered the oven, and they would wait. My grandmother would have packed other picnic food, but those biscuits, slightly burnt from the oven, were my mothers favorite thing in her young life. The whole morning at mass, the interminable drive for what seemed like hours was worth it in the instant that hot quick bread melted in her mouth.

Carolyn was game for the biscuit making enterprise. He would whisper to her, “Isn’t it about time you practiced those biscuits? Remember, only one cup of flour.” The recipe would make just enough for four to six biscuits. Happily, she fell again and again for his ploy and eventually did perfect that recipe. It took some time, but she began to wonder exactly who was benefitting from all of this “practice.”

As one who fell for both my parents’ pranks and jokes again and again, it was good to hear that she, too, was a child once. My grandfather passed away after a long illness when my mother was twenty. Sweet memories of her childhood, when her dad was still healthy, were revealed in that recipe.

Unitarian Universalism in a Nut Shell

One of the topics that comes up from time to time is how to describe Unitarian Universalism. The old elevator speech. I use a more abbreviated version of this, but I think I will try to use the whole thing.

Unitarian Universalism started as two similarly progressive religions that merged in 1961. The two incorporated by agreeing on a set of principles that included insisting all humans have worth and dignity, and searching for religious or spiritual truths with integrity. Individual beliefs are very diverse. Membership and, more importantly, participation in the church community calls us to practice right relationship with one another. We can better adapt, adjust, and minister to, from the Latin ministrare, “to serve,” our increasingly complicated world.

Addendum 5/1/14:

Unitarian Universalism started as two similarly progressive religions that merged in 1961. The two incorporated by agreeing on a set of principles that included insisting all humans have worth and dignity, and searching for religious or spiritual truths with integrity. Individual beliefs are very diverse. Membership and, more importantly, participation in the church community calls us to practice right relationship with one another. Thus centered, our beliefs best influence our work for the common good.

— Thank you to Pope Francis for inspiring me to update the last sentence. It needed that little something.

Ideally this is to invite questions. What do you mean progressive? What kind of beliefs? What kind of principles? Why would I need or even want to go to a church?

The challenge was to write something with no negatives, i.e. this, not that. You can write to me to request my more cynical explanation of the above.



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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative