Mary Beth Writes

Last week I read this in one of the response letters in The Non-Consumer Advocate.  A reader named Sandy (October 1, 2017) said she felt inspired by watching - Living on One  “It’s about families in Guatemala living on one dollar a day. Amazing. … food for thought….”

Well, if you know me, you know it was one of the privileges of my life to be a volunteer and board member with MayaWorks. 

I traveled to Guatemala four times in the early 2000's. 

I watched “Living on One” and was gobsmacked. The guys live in Pina Blanca, not far from Aguas Caliente which is one of the MayaWorks weaving communities. I recognized one of the weavers in the show.

I had stayed with the family of one of the MayaWorks weavers for a long weekend two year in a row. Only 6 days living their lives, but boy, watching Living On One (dollar a day) took me back to those eye-opening experiences with those beautiful, gracious people.

Today I found what I wrote in 2004 about how to make corn tortillas.  Because if we make them ourselves here in the US we tell ourselves we saved maybe a dollar or two – until we understand not what we are saving, but what we are receiving.




 This is how you make tortillas in Central America.

 First grow a milpa of corn.  A "milpa" is the plot of land, about the size of a basketball court that your family owns.  Most of the planting, growing, tending, and harvesting of the corn will be done by hoe and machete

 When the corn is ripe, pick and husk it all by hand, then dump it in your corn crib.  This stash, for the most part, is what stands between your family and hunger until next year's harvest.

 Every afternoon fill a seed sack with a half-bushel of the dried corn. Whack this bag with a club until the corn falls off the cobs.  Pick through everything, separate out the corn, save the cobs for your cooking fire.

 Carry a dish tub of corn, probably on your head, to the person in your community who owns a "molina" - a steel grinding machine.  Pay her a nickel to grind your corn into meal.

 Back home, mix the cornmeal into water into which a little "cal" has been added.  Cal is ground-up limestone from the mountain; you buy it in the market because it helps cornmeal cook softer and faster. It also (this is so cool) adds trace amounts of calcium to your diet which is one reason Maya people rarely suffer osteoporosis even though they seldom eat dairy products.  

 Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer in a big pot over an outdoor cooking fire.  You do this outside because you can't get a pot that big to a boil on your inside wood-fueled cook top.

 Stir the pot from time to time to keep everything from scorching. About an hour later, pull the pot off the fire.  Cover it with a cloth, put it somewhere animals can't get into it. Let it cool overnight.

 In the morning you must make tortillas before your husband and/or sons leave for work.  Many men work an hour or two away, so leave they leave the house by 6:00 to 7:00. You need to have enough tortillas made by then so your men can fill their bellies, plus have another dozen or so tortillas for each to take with to eat during the day. 

 Stir the dough with your hands a bit.  Take a golf ball-sized lump of it, pat the lump flat, round off the edges, slap the tortilla on the hot flat surface of the stove top.  When it's cooked just enough, flip it over.  Be careful to not burn your fingers.

 Keep doing this until you have made between 5 and 25 tortillas for every member of your family.  The bigger the nutritional needs of each family member and the fewer other foods you have to give them that day -- this determines how many tortillas you make. 

 There are 12 people in the extended family with whom I stayed in Guatemala.  The mother of this family, plus her daughter-in-law work together to make more than 100 tortillas a day.  This takes about two hours each morning in and around all their other chores.

 The tortillas are delicious and filling.  They will be served with black beans if available (also grown on the milpa), perhaps a salsa made of tomatoes and/or greens and/or chilies. 

little kid in GU


 One of the things that struck me as I watched, helped (oh yeah, you can imagine how big a help I was...), and ate corn tortillas was this.  Is there any calorie gain in this process?  Doña Vicenta probably spent as many calories making tortillas as she gained from eating them.  Her husband and sons did the same, working in their milpas when they weren't working elsewhere.

 Here's the original human economy, isn't it?  Work hard enough to produce the food you will need to work hard enough to produce the food. 


 What's going on when eating becomes gluttony?

 Eating is what we do because we are earthly creatures assembled from earthly elements.  We get vitamins, minerals, and energy from the plants that grow up out of our earth, or we short-cut the process by eating animals that munched on the plants.   Eating is the on-going chemistry of the universe, with whipped cream and a cherry on top.

 What occurred to me as I did my comical best to pat out round, even tortillas (even is a hard quality to master), is this.  When food becomes a commodity that we purchase and consume, it's easy to buy too much, cook too much, and eat too much.

 I don't want to wax poetic about the labor it is to make tortillas, or any of the other life-sustaining foods most of earth's folks prepare and eat every day.  Doña Vicenta was certainly not sentimental about this work.  I wondered what else she could do with her life if 12 people did not depend on her for this.

 But she does it.  Her family comes and goes; they talk with her and each other. Morning rises in the aroma of fresh, warm, corn tortillas. 

 Maybe what we need to combat gluttony is not more self-discipline or a better reducing diet.  Maybe what we need is some appreciation for the food that arrives to our plate and our palate.



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Retired Chicken Observations 3/22-2018

Two things I have been thinking about lately. Both are related to retirement income and retirement adventure.

1. Last week Len and I went to our Social Security office to sign me up for Spousal Benefits.  It took me several run-throughs to understand what “spousal benefits” are. Since then I have talked to several other people who were also unclear on the concept.

My confusion was this. I was already getting Social Security based on my earnings when I worked (as opposed to what I did when I stayed home and raised kids. But let’s not go there now. Grrrr.)

Franc’s Wildly Successful Life

This is a long piece of writing and I am proud of it. If you don’t want to read it all – here are my take-way points about how my friend Franc lives well on a surprisingly small income:

Mindful Chickens 2/24/2018

1.  We did it!  We called, explained what we thought we needed to do, made appts, were home for the appts, rec’d the estimates about - fixing the gutters and getting the house painted.  I think one of the reasons we usually do it ourselves is because this process is so daunting and time consuming.

The gutter guy is coming next week; we are looking forward to no rivulets when it pours. 100-year old houses built on non-waterproofed rubble foundations, like George Washington, cannot lie about what’s happening outside your basement walls.

Mindful Chickens - The Snickerdoodle Edition

1. When we were sick in January (with flu and cold) Len used the CVS card that I had signed up for last year and then barely used.  He bought several OTC medicines plus a cool-mist vaporizer using that card, which saved us 20%. That was helpful.

2. While I was under the weather I signed up for Starz in order to binge-watch an Outlander season.  After I watched TV for two days I canceled the subscription, thus paying nothing.  This is the third year I have done this.  Why do they let me do this??

Frugal Stuff/ Flu edition 1/22/2018

1. I donated blood Friday morning. This is a free mini-checkup every two months; they take your pulse, temperature, blood pressure, and check your hemoglobin levels (iron). They send your blood to be checked for various diseases such as Lyme disease, West Nile, and Zika.

DO NOT donate blood in order to determine if you have a disease or not. If you think you might be ill, go to a doctor or clinic and deal with it. 

But, if you (like me) need an extra reason to be generous, the screening to give blood is not a bad perk.

Two Piquant Recipes, No Waiting

This is not a recipe blog. You may sometimes wonder what kind of blog this is, but I bet you have figured out we’re not here to cook. Still, sometimes I come across amazing recipes and today I want to share two of them,by referring you to the sites where I found them.

How do I find these sites, you ask? 

Simple. Google the name of two or three ingredients you would like to use up. This takes you to recipes that use those foods; you decide if you want to try them.

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