Monday, April 29, 2013

Back to the Future, or Maybe Forward to the Past

We seem to be in a strange place right now, or maybe all societies are constantly measuring themselves against the real and imagined past to assess the present. I see us longing to turn back the clock in weirdly conflicting ways.

First, the positive. I’m encouraged by our conversation on work and the material world. It feels like we rode the wave called progress and now here we are, out to sea on a floating mound of plastic and toxins, working around the clock without any chance to rest. The prophets among us call us to turn off our devices and read books, and have conversations. How old school!

I’m getting used to unhomogenized milk in glass bottles. I remember the milk box on our porch at the duplex in Erie when I was seven, but I don’t remember the chunks of milk. It has always been kind of, well, not chunky in my lifetime, and retro milk is sort of odd, texturally, but so, so delicious.  I read about how harmful plastic is – you do, too, I know – my god, we go to war for the petrochemicals that end up housing our milk for a few weeks – that’s insanity, right there. The fact that it leaches a toxic soup into our food, and is filling the ocean with its broken-down-pellety self, eaten by seabirds and leviathans until they starve… that’s past insanity, that’s evil.

There’s a big buy local/cottage industry movement afoot, and again, that’s more turning back the clock, saying a collective NO to the idea of economies of scale. It seems that only a few benefit from the transition to a box store economy. Producers, consumers, communities and resources are not among them. To stick with milk, who is better off in our plasticized, homogenized dairy world? Not the cows, certainly. Not people, who are ingesting hormones, antibiotics and petrochemicals, even if our government subsidies make milk cheaper. Not the land, where manure runoff is an environmental catastrophe. Not local farmers who don’t get paid enough to live on. But way up at the tippy top of that ladder is a few fat cats.

So I think those are wise movements, and I guess instead of framing them as retro, we can say we’re moving forward to a more thoughtful way of living. Americans seem to care more about how their lives impact the world, whether or not buying a cheap t-shirt at Walmart leads to a death by crushing or fire in a massive factory in Bangladesh or China.

But there are other efforts in the works that feel to me like we’re un-evolving. The way we pay for work is one of them. We’re racing to some kind of serfdom system, allowing, insisting! private and public employers drop wages until people qualify for poverty programs, and then we’re furious with people for qualifying for assistance, because… they’re lazy. We have more people living in poverty now than we did when President Johnson began the war on poverty, and more inequality than the Old World when our ancestors swarmed to America for a fresh chance. We are so segregated by wealth that a child’s zip code is a greater determiner for success than any other. That’s pretty vintage of us. Countries in our situation have seen revolutions. But I guess we’re still in that poor-people-are-lazy time in our national thinking. The buy local/cottage industry will help us reverse the trend, but alone, that will take more time than we have. Too many Americans are living in cars and under bridges.

Which is a pretty irrational time to be restricting reproductive services, but that isn’t stopping us. 

We also seem to be very eager to take justice into our own hands. Let’s all have our own weapons, and trick out our kids with bullet proof vests, and live like they did… when? How far back do we have to go to find a society with no law and order? I think we’re talking The Iliad, although we might look to Yemen and Somalia for current references. It’s wild how rational people think they are. Someone just this weekend was telling me how angry he is about Obama. What do you mean, specifically? I asked.
You know, he wants to get rid of the Second Amendment.
I said, You mean repeal the Amendment? Change the Constitution?
He nodded. That’s right.
But the president can’t do that. Only Congress can draft a change to the Constitution.
I know, he said, nodding deeply, and indicating that the president is so outrageous, so power hungry, he was going to try to do it himself.
My friend, if you are stockpiling weapons to take over the country, let me say that you are the last person I want taking over our country. And if you’re arguing that the Founding Fathers wanted violent offenders and the violence-obsessed to be cleared to buy semi-automatic ammo over the internet, then you should be seriously questioned.

And the one that really gets me thinking is this idea that we should all strive to be independent. You know the rhetoric: I built that, socialized medicine makes us dependent on government, etc. Again, that’s crazy talk. Even the pioneers, who loaded up their bumpy wagons with tooth-breaking biscuits and headed out into wolf lands relied on each other in inter-connected ways.

We are no different. The teacher of my child is dependent on taxpayers for her salary; on her principal for a positive environment; on the state and federal government for specific standards that inspire her to work hard, but also respect her; on the parents of her students for valuing education, for reading to their kids and taking them to mind-enriching places. She is dependent on the free market for food, housing, energy and a car. She is dependent on the government for her retirement, for drivable roads or a bus or train, for clean water and air. Her local, state and federal government depend on her to pay taxes, and to live safely and within the law. The restaurants in her community depend on her and her colleagues to eat in them occasionally, as all the other businesses in her community would shut down without customers. The parents in her district depend on her to do well by her students, to enlighten them, excite them about learning, provide a community for them to know and love their classmates. The kids in her class depend on her to give them a chance to live up to their potential, and to instill in them a love of learning by rewarding intellectual risk-taking and creativity.

This inter-dependence asks a lot of all of us. And certainly sometimes people refuse to do their fair share, and we have to decide to either carry them or let them starve. Sometimes we have to pick up their trash, pay for their children's shoplifting, provide addiction counseling to their brothers and sisters, or chemotherapy to their impoverished parents. But that's a lot different from fantasizing that we're all living our individual lives, and because of our good choices, we shouldn't have to pay taxes or living wages to our employees, or watch out for each other.

We are interdependent. Our work, children, food, environment, justice, everything is interwoven, and creates a whole. We are at our best when we consider these things together, and when we strive to move into the future, learning from, without worshipping or rejecting out of hand, the past.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Youngstown Cash Mob Sings I Am The Walrus

Countdown to our Saturday Cash Mob at Walrus Subs in Austintown! This is another new kid on the block, and judging from their Facebook posts they’re having a blast creating tasty-looking sandwiches and pizzas. The restaurant is not wheelchair accessible, but if the weather’s good, they’ll have a tent outside. We’ll be there from lunch through dinner – stop by to put your name in for a gift certificate from Sugar Showcase.

Youngstown Cash Mob
Sat. 27 April, noon – 7:00 p.m.
Walrus subs

1305 S. Raccoon Rd., Austintown
Philly Cheesesteak, Gyros, Pizzas, Vegetarian Subs

As if that weren’t enough happiness, this falls on National Cash Mob Day! It’s been fun seeing what cash mobs around the country are up to. The Webster (Mass.) Cash Mob will be working along with their local business alliance at a community clean-up. The North Rockland (NY) group will visit a local hardware store and a luncheonette whose owners’ homes suffered damage from Hurricane Sandy. There are hundreds of cash mobs around the country, working to refocus attention on homegrown businesses and community building. 

For our May Cash Mob, we invited nominations from outside our usual geographical range, in wider Trumbull and Mahoning Counties. It’s our hope that folks will be inspired to create more cash mobs in our region, so we don’t have to spread ourselves too thin. But it will be great visiting Niki’z Pub in Niles on Sat. May 18. Here were the other terrific nominees and the words of praise that came in with their nominations:

End of the Commons General Store, 4366 Kinsman Rd., Mesopotamia
I love to stop there for penny candy and ice cream.

Enzo’s Restaurant, 2918 Elm Rd., Warren
Enzo’s has delicious food and the owners are invested in the community, supporting activities for young people in the city.

Gardener’s Green Thumb, 157 W. Market St., Warren
An adorable little shop downtown selling great local goods.

Hopewell Farm & Craft Market, Mesopotamia, Northern Trumbull County, a therapeutic community farm. You can buy maple syrup and fresh eggs, as well as a great selection of art and crafts. The wood shop is turning out some incredibly nice cutting boards and wine racks. The farm is a place of healing for up to 40 mentally ill adults. And it is a beautiful place. You will feel good when you are there too.

Myrddin Winery, 3020 Scenic Ave., Lake Milton
This little boutique winery is located off of SE River Rd. about a mile and a half south of Mahoning Ave. Being located on the banks of the water affords a great view and relaxing visit.

Nona’s Family Closet, 36 Youngstown Warren Rd. (Rt 422 - Pinetree Square Plaza), Niles
Nona's is a well stocked, exceptionally priced clothing resell store.

North Lima Business & Shopping Complex, 11836 South Ave., North Lima
It is the old South Range high school, and consists of 30 small businesses and a restaurant. Each classroom contains personally owned business.

StoneYard Grill, 41 S. Main St., Niles
The food is absolutely delicious.

Tykes Toybox, 1600 Salt Springs Rd., Warren
They sell both new & used Little Tykes & Step 2 Toys. Because a lot of the used toys, such as playhouses & climbers, are already assembled, they also offer delivery.

The Shenango Valley Cash Mob continues to thrive, and is inviting us to their third event this Thurs., a two-for-one cash mob at Clarencedale Cake and Designs by Gee in downtown Sharon from 5:30-6:30 p.m. They meet afterwards to share a drink and conversation and plan the next event. Cheers!

One of many great things that’s come out of our online presence is the way Facebook allows us to share news about locally owned businesses that are opening, or moving, or (sadly) closing. Dorian Books, the site of our very first cash mob, is remodeling, and invites us to come and help lighten their load at significant discount. And farewell to nominee Second Time Around in Austintown; we wish the owners good journey as they relocate to a warmer climate.

If you come to Walrus Subs Saturday, please stop by to say hello. Whenever you buy something, we encourage you to think local first. It’s great for Youngstown in so many ways.

Thanks for helping us spread the word.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


I pulled these two recipes from my old metal box last week. They were clipped from newspapers, Ginger Creams from the Oshkosh Northwestern Holiday Recipes insert, which I dissected every year, slipping the recipes into the back of my box. This one is at least a dozen years within, by now, attributed to Judy Mehn of Berlin. She has my thanks. I needed to bake something quick quick and discovered no butter in the house. They are super easy, moist and cakey, spicy good, although they look like brownies, so I was worried about the decoy effect. I don’t think anyone was mad at me.

The Maple Pecan Oatmeal Bars are like sophisticated blondies. Also quick and easy, and remarkable, especially with real maple syrup. It’s worth it, I promise.

Ginger Creams

1 c. sugar
1 c. shortening
2 eggs
1 c. molasses
1 c. boiling water
1 tsp. soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
3 ½ c. flour


1 c. powdered sugar
1 T. milk
½ tsp. vanilla

Cream sugar and shortening; add eggs and mix well. Add molasses and water to which soda has been added. (Splatter alert!) Add dry ingredients, blend well. Pour into greased 15x11” jelly roll pan. Bake 375 (the time isn’t listed, but when they’re ready an amazing smell will rise from the oven, and the center will just test done. About 20 min.) Drizzle with glaze.

Maple Pecan Oatmeal Bars

2 ¼ c. oats
2 c. flour
1 ½ c. packed brown sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
12 T. butter, melted
1/3 c. maple syrup
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla

Combine 1 ½ c. chopped pecans and ¼ c. packed brown sugar.

1/3 c. maple syrup

Combine oats, flour, sugar, baking soda and salt, mix well. In small bowl, combine butter, syrup, egg and vanilla, add to oat mixture. Press evenly into lightly greased 9x13” pan.
Sprinkle brown sugar/pecan topping evenly over dough, pressing down lightly. Drizzle with maple syrup.
Bake 35 to 38 min. or until edges are set but center is soft. Do not overbake! Try to wait until they're cool. Just try.