31 March 2007


Ok guys, I'm having a template crisis. Do you like the look of this one or the previous one better?

23 March 2007


Generally my encounters with panhandlers here in Denver would go something like this: I drive up to a red light and see a guy in his thirties holding a sign, big bag of stuff sitting beside him. Of course he's standing on my side of the road, and of course I pull up right beside him. I don't read his sign because I'm busy adjusting the radio, searching for some essential (like chapstick) from my bag or otherwise averting my eyes and attention. It takes every ounce of my will to NOT look at him and to NOT think about giving him a buck. I sit there quite uncomfortably until finally the light turns green and I can drive off, leaving my conscience behind.

When I lived in Russia it was a different story. For one, I walked everywhere, so when I encountered someone begging I couldn't adjust the radio or pretend I didn't see them and drive away. Besides that, I don't think I was asked for money by anyone younger than 65, and it was almost always a woman. It is my understanding that the city is strict with keeping homeless kids off the main streets, but I guess babushka's are not so easily swept under the rug. It was a no-brainer to give the elderly woman whatever I had in my pocket when she asked. Periodically, though, I would still just walk by or refuse her change, and my conscience would kill me until the next time I had a chance to give.

While over on that side of the pond, we visited Prague. Oh Prague...the beggars really beg there. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw for the first time a man prostrate on the cold cobblestone road with only the palm of his hands looking up at me. It was uncomfortable to see him so low, waiting for help. In Prague I realized that what it takes for me to give unquestioningly is for the person to be on his knees. It's sad sight, yet so inspiring for my ego.

So am I waiting for the people of Denver's street corners to fall prostrate? To publicly humiliate themselves (even more)? From my moral Mt Olympus (where I play god) one important point has escaped me: I am not responsible for his actions (how he spends the money), but I am responsible for mine. If I am asked for something and I have it, I should give it freely. If I do not give and he goes another night without food, it is my fault. If I give (no strings attached) and he chooses to spend it on getting drunk, the consequences are his.

I've also reasoned that, well, there are shelters. Why don't they go there? I don't know all the facets of this debate on panhandlers, but I think that it is not as simple as sending them to the neareast shelter. So do I think we should all give a dollar to anyone who asks? I really don't know. We all have to make that decision for ourselves--what is the best thing we can do for our society and for that person.

The following passage by Shmuley Boteach has inspired me to see that the issue is actually quite simple. It is from his book 10 Conversations You Need To Have With Your Children. Everytime I see someone on the street corner and have a mental debate to give or not to give, I think of his chapter on "Bestowing Dignity" where he gives an example of an encounter he had with a homeless man asking for money:

As we were making our way along, a black man approached me, and I noticed he had a brown paper bag in his left hand. I could see a bottle peering out from within the folds.

'Hey, man!' he said. 'Got some change?' I stopped walking, reached into my pocket for a dollar, and gave it to him. As I put it into his hand, I said, 'Listen, please use it for something good.' And he said, 'Oh, I will! I will!' And I said, 'No, seriously--you're way too smart to blow it on booze, you're way too smart to throw your life away. Try to get back on your feet. You know this isn't who you want to be. I can see that you have a gentle heart.' And he said, 'Thank you, man! Thank you! God bless you!' And I said, 'God bless you too.' Then I rejoined my family and we were on our way.

As soon as we were out of earshot, my daughter said to me, 'Why did you give him a dollar when you know he's going to spend it on liquor? You are corrupting him. You know your words aren't going to help him at all.'
And I replied, 'I didn't give him a dollar to buy him food or to buy him booze or anything like that. I gave him a dollar because when a man is reduced to asking, he has lost his dignity. None of us, God forbid, should be reduced to asking. There's a Jewish prayer, 'Please help us that we never have to ask anyone for our daily bread.' I gave that man a dollar to show him that I wouldn't walk by him as if he didn't exist, which would have robbed him of his last shred of dignity. I wanted him to know that he wasn't invisible, and I wanted to acknowledge him as a fellow human being. By giving him a dollar, I bought myself the chance to confer dignity on him. And when people feel dignified, they sometimes shape up their lives--they feel as if they have betrayed their own dignity.

'He's probably buying a drink right now,' my daughter said.

'It's possible,' I said. 'And I can't control that. But I did the best I could. I asked him from the bottom of my heart not to waste the money on drink; to stop squandering his life. in taking the time to tell him he had value as a man, I was trying to inspire him to change. I spent less than a minute talking to that man, but who knows? That brieftalk might be the catalyst that prompts him to try to get back on his feet.'

Man cannot live without dignity, nor should he live without making every effort to confer it on others.

I tell my children: 'Every human being has value, and every human encounter is a fresh chance to let him know it.'

To me it couldn't be simpler or more right. Now I can't say that I'm going to give a little speech every time I hand over a dollar, but I will smile genuinely, ask God to bless him, and perhaps ask the guy to spend it well. Hopefully God will be pleased to bless others through this simple act.

08 March 2007

recipes please

Hi everyone! I need some vegetarian recipes (preferably vegan: no cheese, milk, eggs) for meals and/or desserts. I have some good cookbooks, but it's hard to go through them and try to decide what might be good. We like just about anything.

I'll get things rolling and post a couple:


5.5 cups vegetable stock or water
2 Tbsp sugar, divided
2 cups thinly sliced or shredded green cabbage
3/4 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion
2.5 cups diced, peeled raw beets
1.5 cups diced, peeled raw potatoes
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups tomato puree
2.5 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp chopped fresh dill
1.5 tsp salt
pepper to taste

Bring 1/2 cup stock or water and 1 Tbsp sugar to a boil over high heat in a large soup pot. Add the cabbage, carrots, onion, and celery. Cover and cook over high heat, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are crisp-tender. Uncover and cook until the liquid boils out and the vegetablesbegin to brown and stick a bit, stirring almost constantly. Add the beets, potatoes, and garlic and cook and stir for about 30 seconds. Add the remainder of the stock and the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, partly cover, and simmer 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the vegetables are tender.
Serves 4-6.

Carrot Cake

2.5 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
2.5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup warm water
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups grated carrots

variations to add: 1/2 cup raisins or 1 cup flaked, sweetened coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 13x19 pan. To further ease removing the cake from the pan, line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger in a medium bowl. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine the sugars, water, vegetable oil, and vanilla. Stir in the carrots. Add the dry ingredients and mix until well blended. Pour the batter out evenly in the pan. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes. Cool for about 10 minutes, then turn out carefully onto a rack and cool completely. If desired, frost. (I haven't tried the frosting yet.)

Citrus Frosting
8 Tbsp margarine
2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 to 2 Tbsp lemon or orange juice

Cream the margarine. Sift the confectioner's sugar and gradually beat into the margarine. Add enough lemon or orange juice to give the frosting good spreading consistency.

I got these recipes from the cookbook "When You Fast...Recipes for Lenten Seasons" by Catherine Mandell.