Buying Local

October 27, 2009

Every Saturday morning, a few members of my community walk a few blocks to the 32nd Street Farmer’s Market to buy our weekly fruits and vegetables. We feel that it’s important to buy at least some of our food from local farmers. Last week, we decided to take “buying local” a step further and buy all of our food locally. We weren’t sure how expensive it would be or if certain foods would be available so we tentatively planned a vegetable-heavy week of meals.

We planned to buy our fruits, vegetables, cheese (an essential in our house), and milk from the farmer’s market; rice, beans, tomato sauce, and flour from Punjab Groceries & Halal Meat, a local grocer; and our bread, English muffins, and dinner rolls from H & S Bakery.

As we awoke from our Friday night slumbers last Saturday, it became quite apparent that the weather would not be cooperating for our jaunt through Baltimore’s local food-stations. It just happened that the dreariest, rainiest, grayest Saturday that we had had since moving to Baltimore in August came when we needed to spend the entire morning outside. After bundling up in rain gear and grabbing our grocery bags (and a large thermos of coffee in my case), we headed north on Guilford to the farmer’s market.

As we walked around the farmer’s market getting drenched, we searched each farmer’s stand for the best prices for each of our items. The vegetable and fruit prices were, as expected, pretty comparable to what we had paid in the past, but milk, cheese, bread, jelly, and granola were astronomically priced compared to what we would pay at the grocery store. We paid nearly $15 for 3 half gallons of milk, bought the cheapest jam we could find, bought about 8 ounces of granola in place of cereal (for the week), and decided against buying cheese because it was expensive and they didn’t have the kind we wanted.

After the farmer’s market, we walked (again, in the rain) to Punjab Groceries and picked up our few items at the small store. After dropping off our various foodstuffs back at the house, we drove down to Fells Point for the bakery. Upon arriving, we were instantly surrounded by the delicious smell of bread, dough, and cakes. As we walked around the friendly confines of H & S, we realized that their products were much cheaper than at the other stores where we had shopped. We found it really interesting that buying some things locally (remember the milk!) was so expensive while other things were so cheap.

But wait, so, why does this all matter? Well, buying local products can improve your health (less preservatives, chemicals, etc.), it saves shipping resources like gas (read: GREEN), and it supports local farmers and the local economy. You can also ask the farmer more about what you’re buying. How is it grown? What’s the best way to prepare it? What will be in season soon? What won’t be? And WHEN WILL STRAWBERRIES COME BACK!? OK, that last one was just what I would ask, but you get the point.

If you would like more information, check out this website: Why buy local?

Oh, and by the way, don’t worry. We ended up buying fresh cheese at a Polish deli.

The Old Man and the Starfish

October 22, 2009

At the beginning of the school year, Cristo Rey’s principal gave each teacher a coffee mug. At first, I was a bit puzzled, if not pleasantly surprised, to receive this gift, but after I opened it up and read what was on the mug, I realized the thinking behind it. Here’s what it said:

The Old Man and the Starfish

Every day, an old man walked the beach with a pail, picking up starfish that had been washed i by the tide, and throwing them back into the sea.

One day a young boy stopped the old man and asked, “Why do you throw the starfish back? It doesn’t matter. They will only wash up on the shore again tomorrow.”

The old man picked a starfish out of his pail, threw it as far as he could into the sea, and replied, “It mattered to that one.”

So, when you’re frustrated and wondering, “What difference can I make?” remember this story. We may not be able to save the world or every starfish and the starfish may be back on the beach tomorrow, but we can make a difference to many today. I like to think that the boy, inspired, joined the old man and began to throw the starfish back, doubling the starfish saved.

Imagine how many starfish we could help if we all joined the old man.

A Hope in What I See

October 20, 2009

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Heb 11:1)

During my first week at Cristo Rey Jesuit, I wrote about a trip to Loyola Blakefield to join other teachers from Jesuit schools in Baltimore and hear Cedric Jennings speak. Mr. Jennings was the subject of Ron Suskind’s A Hope in the Unseen documenting his journey from Ballou Senior High School in southeastern Washington D.C. to Brown University.

At the time of his speech I had not read the book, but Mr. Jennings highlighted some very important points for teachers in inner-city schools. He told us that it was important for students to hear that they CAN succeed, reach beyond their comfort zones, and be pushed to grow. He encouraged us to stay positive and create an ethos of success in school and to be strong, believable, and consistently “there”. Relating to the book, he told us to help our students strive and reach for the unseen plateau.

One thing, however, that Mr. Jennings said that really hit home was to think in terms of your own child. He said to think, “I would have done that to/for my own child.” He pointed to his own mother’s guidance and steadfast love as one of the major reasons that he was able to reach so high in a place where most never dreamed of going to college and successful students were considered targets.

Now, after reading the book, I am able to see more of where Mr. Jennings was coming from in his talk. The biggest thing that I took from the book, however, was how difficult it was for him to adjust to life at Brown. Brown, at least in 1998 when the book was written, was not exactly a school known for its diversity and most of Mr. Jennings’s peers were Caucasians from suburbia. He struggled at first, finding himself behind educationally and ill equipped to interact socially in a college setting. But as his time at Brown went on, through his unbelievable will to succeed, he was able to persevere to graduate and make some life-long friends along the way.

So where does this apply in my work? Luckily, the students at Cristo Rey Jesuit don’t have to deal with all of the same things that Cedric Jennings had to. Luckily, at Cristo Rey, success is an expectation and encouraged, not a target for ridicule. On the other hand, however, many students at Cristo Rey must deal with many of the same outside influences that Mr. Jennings dealt with. I’ve made a concerted effort the past few weeks to remember that my students come from very different backgrounds than what I am used to. They are from low-income families, they live in the city, and most are not Caucasian. And that’s just on the surface. In many cases, the students have not had quality instruction in school up until coming to Cristo Rey. As I work with these devoted, persistent, and smart students, it’s easy to forget that, many times, their life experiences are very different from mine.

That being said, I see so much potential in the students at Cristo Rey. They have been given the chance to rise above the many negative influences that they face each day and most of them are taking advantage of it. They are realizing that they are smart, capable young people with bright futures if they continue to work hard. Sure, I’m concerned for them and their future and how they will adapt to college life, but if anyone can do it, it’s these students.

They may have and need hope in the unseen, but I have hope in what I see in them.

The Perfect Heart

October 10, 2009

Every week, our community plans two nights to set aside time to be together (it’s some of the intentional time in our intentional community). During Community Night, a different person each week plans a fun activity in which we can get to know each other in a more personal way. Activities have included arts and crafts, volunteering somewhere together, watching a movie and discussing it, and sharing more about our lives.

The other night, Spirituality Night, is when we come together to cultivate our spiritual selves. Stacey planned our last Spirituality Night and, at the end, shared the parable of the Perfect Heart. I thought it was very powerful and an important reminder. Here goes:

One day a young man was standing in the middle of the town proclaiming that he had the most beautiful heart in the whole valley. A large crowd gathered and they all admired his heart for it was perfect. There was not a mark or a flaw in it. Yes, they all agreed it truly was the most beautiful heart they had ever seen. The young man was very proud and boasted more loudly about his beautiful heart.

Suddenly, an old man appeared at the front of the crowd and said “Why your heart is not nearly as beautiful as mine.” The crowd and the young man looked at the old man’s heart. It was beating strongly, but full of scars, it had places where pieces had been removed and other pieces put in, but they didn’t fit quite right and there were several jagged edges. In fact, in some places there were deep gouges where whole pieces were missing.

The people stared – how can he say his heart is more beautiful, they thought? The young man looked at the old man’s heart and saw its state and laughed. “You must be joking,” he said. “Compare your heart with mine, mine is perfect and yours is a mess of scars and tears.”

“Yes,” said the old man, “Yours is perfect looking but I would never trade with you. You see, every scar represents a person to whom I have given my love – I tear out a piece of my heart and give it to them, and often they give me a piece of their heart which fits into the empty place in my heart, but because the pieces aren’t exact, I have some rough edges, which I cherish, because they remind me of the love we shared. Sometimes I have given pieces of my heart away, and the other person hasn’t returned a piece of his heart to me. These are the empty gouges — giving love is taking a chance.

Although these gouges are painful, they stay open, reminding me of the love I have for these people too, and I hope someday they may return and fill the space I have waiting. So now do you see what true beauty is?”

The young man stood silently with tears running down his cheeks. He walked up to the old man, reached into his perfect young and beautiful heart, and ripped a piece out. He offered it to the old man with trembling hands. The old man took his offering, placed it in his heart and then took a piece from his old scarred heart and placed it in the wound in the young man’s heart. It fit, but not perfectly, as there were some jagged edges. The young man looked at his heart, not perfect anymore but more beautiful than ever, since love from the old man’s heart flowed into his. They embraced and walked away side by side.

So, today, tomorrow, and every day, share your heart with someone.

Challenge Revisited: Community Communication

October 8, 2009

Before JVC began, I wrote about the challenges associated with living in a community (and an intentional community at that) with five or six people that I had never met. I wrote about the importance of communication and being able to talk about problems, expectations, and challenges.

JVC Baltimore Arrupe House 09-10

JVC Baltimore Arrupe House '09-'10

Now, nearly two months into our year in Baltimore together, our community of six is well on its way to a successful year. We were able to hash out our expectations, some ground rules, and communication guidelines at the very beginning and haven’t looked back since (in a good way of course). We have a weekly meeting to plan meals, social events, and community and spirituality nights; we have a chore wheel; and we continually strive to keep open lines of communication. So far, we haven’t had any major problems and we don’t expect to.

Last weekend, we traveled to Upper Marlboro, Maryland to meet with JVC East’s other southern cities for a retreat that focused on community. We met one-on-one in “Dyads” to go over each relationship’s progress. We talked about what’s been going well, what’s been a challenge, and where we saw the relationships going.

Afterward, we met as a group to talk about our community as a whole. We talked about what’s been going well, what we would like to change, and set some new goals. We decided to set a weekly “Simple Living Challenge” (e.g. only buying food from the local farmer’s market or cutting out TV for the week), focus more on the JVC value of spirituality, and be more present to each other on a regular basis. Both the Dyads and the group meetings were really important, meaningful conversations and, even though things have gone really well so far and it’s still very early in our year, they were a great way to check-in with everyone to talk about our mission as community members.

Earlier in the retreat, much to my surprise, Emily Rauer (now Mrs. Emily Rauer-Davis), a former teacher at my high school, St. John’s High School, and the current Assistant Director of Loyola University’s Campus Ministry, spoke to the group with her husband about their experiences with JVC. It was a blast from the past to bump into Emily, but it sure was good to see her and learn that she lives in Baltimore, too.

During the weekend, we also met with other JV’s working in similar jobs, called Apostolate Groups. My group was comprised of three other JV’s who also taught in some way. We discussed our experiences at our placements, what works with students and what doesn’t, where we see God at work every day, and the challenges that we face. We also were able to exchange some rather humorous stories about our work. It’s good to know that there are other people (other than Kelly at Cristo Rey with me of course) with similar experiences!


As for school and teaching, things are going swimmingly. I graded and returned my first assignment, passed in interim grades, and have continued helping with freshmen algebra tutoring and junior SAT Prep class. In Writing Lab, the sophomores began work on their narrative essays for English class. It’s been fun to help the students write them and see them formulate ideas. I’m really looking forward to reading some of them as their due date gets closer.

Well, that’s all for now. I liked posting the Dorothy Day excerpt last week and I think I’ll try to include some sort of weekly reading or story to give you an idea of what I’m thinking about and reflecting on.

Oh, also, last week, I made Lentil Burgers all by myself! It was a big step for me and I even added in some extra seasoning. Mum, you’ve taught me well! They were so good that I made them again last night. Well, that and we had a ton of extra lentils…

We Were Just Sitting There Talking When…

October 1, 2009

As my housemates and I head down for our JVC October Retreat, I’d like to share something with you. It’s how Dorothy Day ended her autobiography, The Long Loneliness and we used an adaptation of it during JVC Orientation. I think it speaks to what we are doing as volunteers and what countless others have done in the past to gain solidarity with others. It’s amazing how something can start so small with simple conversation and the desire for community and then become something much more with love and care.

Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness:

We were just sitting there talking when lines of people began to form, saying “We need bread.” We could not say, “Go, be thou filled.” If there were six small loaves and a few fishes, we had to divide them. There was always bread.

We were just sitting there talking and people moved in on us. Let those who can take it, take it. Some moved out and that made room for more. And somehow the walls expanded.

It was as casual as all that, I often think. It just came about, it just happened.

I found myself, a barren woman, the joyful mother of children. It is not always easy to be joyful, to keep in mind the duty of delight.

The most significant thing about the Catholic Worker is poverty, some say.

The most significant thing is community, others say. We are not alone anymore.

But the final word is love. At times it has been, in the words of Father Zossima, a harsh and dreadful thing, and our very faith in love has been tried through fire.

We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know Him in the breaking of bread and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship.

We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.

It all happened while we were sitting there talking, and it is still going on.