Homeless

And then, with a crash, work and home lives collide.

Invisible Child: Dasani’s Homeless Life

On Monday, the New York Times published a phenomenally detailed, five-chapter article titled Invisible Child: Dasani’s Homeless Life — an intimate portrait of one homeless child and, by extension, her family. At the start of this story, Dasani is an 11-year-old living in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, full of promise. At its end, she is nearly 13.

This little girl and her family were my neighbors in Brooklyn. I recognize her mother, Chanel, from the photographs — I used to pass her by on my way home through the north end of Fort Greene park. The children would be playing on the exercise equipment (the same bars that Dasani used for pull-ups) and I would dart around the socializing adults and parked umbrella strollers on my way to that “other New York” the writer speaks of, farther “east along Myrtle… [to] the shaded, graceful abode of Fort Greene’s brownstones”.

To Have and Have Not.

The portrait of Dasani, while beautifully rendered, is not gentle. It reveals a little girl of uncommon strength and intelligence, with forebearance and determination and gumption that have been painfully earned. A child who effectively shoulders burdens more responsibly than many of the adults in her life, doing the best she can with what she knows and sees and longs for. At 12, she is a parent-figure to 7 siblings. She takes refuge in her school. She seizes opportunity with both hands, but has so many other sets of hands ready to pry her grip open.

I ache to know what will become of this child, and of her siblings. And of “the vast and invisible tribe of more than 22,000 homeless children in New York”. So many of them are not “uncommon” — bright, spunky, loving dreamers, currently destined to a seemingly-endless multi-generational cycle of poverty. When violence or neglect or drugs or alcohol or sexual assault or the endless crush of hopelessness have taken their toll — what then?

“What then” is that we’ll lose some of those children to early death, to promise snuffed out by life without a refuge of “home”. We’ll see some in foster care, hungry for scraps of love and care. Some few will beat the odds. And we’ll see some at Covenant House, those who hit the bottom with nowhere else to turn, who are yet brave enough to trust in strangers.

But without real, systematic, policy-based change and a wide social structure that capitalizes on the compassion of every person to put wholesome food into hungry bellies and provide safe spaces for the most basic needs of life — a clean washroom and a warm bed — while pouring light into shadows and helping starved souls find a reason to hope, there will be nothing more. We will continue to throw away living people, children and toddlers and babies who, if allowed to be their best selves, could offer so much to us all.

That’s Entertaining

I love to entertain, but I’m not much of a “party” person. I prefer modest gatherings of people who meet Anne Elliot’s definition of good company — “clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation,” and are generally of a disposition to have themselves a good time.

I knew this, of course, when I decided to host my first Christmas party in a decade this past weekend, and was most pleased to develop a guest list of good friends who all had a few things in common: a love of making music, a personal investment in social justice issues, laid-back attitudes to housekeeping and personal comfort (which meant that they wouldn’t take much affront at the size of my living room), and a delight in good food.

The former meant that there was a great deal of conversation (particularly about labor, education, homelessness, housing, and religion), some fine singing (with accompaniment by the piano and the ukulele), and a generally cozy atmosphere, while the latter meant that I could indulge in some interesting new recipes. Apart from a few of my personal stand-bys, almost every dish I served was sourced from Food 52 – a new-to-me cooking community website that claims to be “helping people become better, smarter, happier cooks.” Yes, please!

The menu, for those curious about such things:

  • Hot mulled cider
  • Cranberry Apple Sparkling Punch (I used Forelle pears in place of apples for the ice floes)
  • Gingered Lime Punch (I replaced all of the lemon with lime, and made this non-alcoholic by subbing extra dry gingerale for the vodka. I used double the amount of fresh ginger for the syrup and didn’t strain the solids from the pitcher, which gave this a kick and kept it from being too sweet.)
  • Alton Brown’s hummus topped with toasted pine nuts and preserved lemon, served with fried pita
  • Assorted antipasti (my houseguests arranged the Peppadew peppers stuffed with whipped ricotta and honey, but everything else came straight from the olive bar at Whole Foods)
  • Vegetarian Lentil Chili (made with red lentils instead of brown)
  • Butternut Squash and Black Bean Chili (doubled the beef, substituted green chilis and ancho powder for the adobo)
  • A variety of breads for dipping, including a fragrant herb bread made by one guest, a sweet cranberry nut bread made by another, and custard-stuffed cornbread from Marion Cunningham’s LOST RECIPES
  • Rum Apple Cake (made with Brandy instead of Rum, thanks to my not knowing the difference, and with flour instead of almonds as we ran out of time for grinding)
  • Plates of sliced fresh fruit and simple cookies

Everything seemed to go over quite well with the guests, though I wish I’d remembered to refill the pitcher of Gingered Lime Punch half-way through the night. There wasn’t much leftover food — the vegetarian chili went home with vegetarian guests, those with the longest drives took the leftover fruit bread as their travel breakfast — but what there was has been put to good use: the remnants of cider and punch were reduced to syrup for pancakes, the sliced fruit and ricotta+honey sauce were perfect breakfast toppings for Irish oatmeal, and the cornbread became a decadent base for Monte Cristo sandwiches when served alongside warm soup. I’m going to poach the champagne-soaked pears and serve them over gelato on Thursday when my parents come to visit — provided they’re still firm enough to hold up. (If not, I’ll try my hand at a purée of sorts.)

If the success of a party can be measured by laughter and empty dishes, this one was tremendously so — even with all of the bittersweet musical theater songs sung on request!

Thanksgiving CSA

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This morning I collected my first “winter food box” of 2013 from Farmer Ted and the team at Windflower Farm in upstate New York.

I’m thrilled with the gorgeous fresh fruits and vegetables received just in time for Thanksgiving — golden potatoes, tiny sweet potatoes, carrots, red and yellow onions, broccoli and cauliflower florets, leeks, salad greens, winter cooking greens, butternut squash, a dried bouquet garni, apples, cider, and two-dozen fresh eggs.

A good portion of this will be used for a feast this Thursday, but I’m looking forward to turning the cider into apple butter, and the squash into soup.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Autumn Indulgence

I love to cook and bake. Along with that, it turns out that grocery shopping is the only kind of shopping I like. (Buying yarn is not “shopping”, it’s “investing in my happiness”.)

I don’t often purchase baked goods at market — I’d rather bake my own cakes and breads and cookies and muffins* — but I have one exception. If I’m out for a Saturday morning shop, lugging spices and teas and pet supplies and groceries around Morningside Heights before breakfast, I’ll purchase an apple bundle to savor on a bench in the park between the Farmer’s Market and home, counting on the ice cream not to melt while I watch a few lazy leaves fall.

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Wouldn’t you?

* I leave the pies to the rest of the ladies in the family, though. My pie crust is terrible.

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I like running. Finally.

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I like running.

That is impossibly weird to write, because a year ago I loathed everything about running. Even six months ago I only tolerated the activity, because it was good for me.

But now?

I dislike putting on the clothes. I struggle to find two hours in a day for the stretching and running and cooling down and being unable to move after working so hard and the longer-than-usual shower to stretch out the sore bits from just 35 minutes of exercise. I’m tentative about the first few minutes while trying to find a stride, which makes me anxious to start.

But I run with a smile on my face. When a big band tune pops up on my playlist, I fit fancy swing dance steps into my running gait. When a flock of starlings take flight from the baseball field in my park, I laugh. When RunKeeper announces my time and distance and pace every five minutes, I try to kick it up a notch with a serious sense of fun. When “Call Me Maybe” starts to play, the woman who hates pop music giggles and runs faster.

Every time I go out for a run, I realize what I’m capable of. I’m learning what markers matter — that it’s about how much time I put in and how steadily I work, not about how far I (can) run or how fast.

Three years ago I was so sick that I couldn’t climb a flight of stairs without passing out.

In April, I ran a 5k in agony, almost the last person to cross the finish line — which I couldn’t have done at all if my best friend hadn’t held my hand and coaxed me through the last mile.

Today I ran up six flights of stairs with my arms in the air, moving without a break for 30 solid minutes — even through the hyperventilation part-way through a hill. And I saw a gorgeous sunrise from the top.

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I like running. I am a runner. And I’m going to be a distance runner.

In January of 2015, I’m going to run the Walt Disney World Half-Marathon — because the happiest place on earth is the place to try what seemed impossible yesterday. This is my commitment post — I’m making it public so I can’t back out.

I can’t imagine wanting to.

I kind of can’t wait to lace up my shoes tomorrow.

P.S. Mom, you ask me what I want for Christmas every year, and I never have a real answer. This year I do: a package of super-cushioned low-cut running socks, and a subscription to Runner’s World, please. :)