almost muffins

I say almost because I kinda forgot an important ingredient.

See, when you make muffins – even awesome muffins born from the cinnamon walnutty goodness of last post’s cookies – it’s kinda important to have some sort of ingredient that works together with the other ingredients and does some sort of scientific thing that not only helps it to taste awesome but makes it rise and makes the texture fluffy and lovely.

It’s a leavening agent. Yes, ladies and gents, I forgot the baking powder AND the baking soda. I am a very smart cookie.

But I’m a nuff nuff muff muffin.

They taste really really good, don’t get me wrong. They taste just as good as the cookies. (maybe even better. I don’t have a direct comparison. We ate all the cookies already.)

I get this feeling I’m missing something in my life. Flour one day, baking powder the next… I don’t know what’s going on. Baking still calms me down and makes me happy, but I think I need to … re-evaluate or something. Journal more. Be more. Just be.

This is why it’s a good thing that holidays are around the corner. This is also why I’m trying not to freak out about the fact that I’ve got two exams in the next two days, and I’ve been procrasti-baking and procrasti-cleaning and procrasti-tooling around on the internet for the past week. Or so.

It’s ok. I have almost-muffins. And hot chocolate. And Glee.

I’m ok.

And I’ll be even more ok when I visit my Oma on Friday for her birthday.

It’s a pretty special occasion. She’s turning 21! No, that’s me next year. She’s… thirty! No, no one needs that freak out again. Or do they?

40? She is looking pretty good for her age.

Keep going… Ok, no, we’re actually going to stop there. Let’s just say that it’s rude to ask a lady her age, and my Oma is grand and wonderful and mature and sometimes giggles like a schoolgirl with me and my sister and our mum.

And her party is going to be so much fun! But I can’t think about it until after my exams.

Well, after these two anyway. I do have another (yep, I chose four subjects that have exams in my first year of university) but it’s not for a couple of weeks and I’m going to smash it out of the water. Just like I’ll smash these and the one I did today.

Ok, time to stop talking about [exams] and tell you about these muffins you absolutely have to make.

Just don’t forget the baking powder. And soda.

P.S. Please tell me about them! I was totally going to make a new batch but I’d run out of walnuts. And dates. And there weren’t any apples. And my nose is cold. And this blanket is warm.

Make these.

Date-Walnut Muffins

125g butter, softened

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

1 egg

1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste

1/2 cup greek style yoghurt (I’m sure other plain yoghurt would work just as well)

1/2 cup milk

1 cup walnuts, chopped

about 3/4 cup dates, chopped

2/3 cup flour

1/3 cup ground almonds

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Beat the butter with the sugars until light and fluffy. Add the egg and the vanilla and scrape down the bowl, beating until fluffy again. Stir in the yoghurt and milk.

Using a spatula, fold in the dry ingredients (you can sift ’em first if you want to … or not…) and the walnuts and dates. Scoop tablespoonfuls into patty cases lining muffin tins (I have a feeling these would be brilliant in the kind of huge, Muffin Break-esque texan muffin incarnation. Try it. I dare you.) Bake… in a 180 degree oven… well, mine took about twenty-five minutes but I don’t know how leaveners change the baking times. So, check them regularly. Then eat them.

I know what I’m having for breakfast.

snickerdoodles, revisited

I like a clean kitchen. I like a clean environment in general, actually. My parents are probably reading this (hi, mum and dad!) and thinking, who are you, hijacking my daughter’s blog like this? Because when I was younger, my room was always the messiest in the house and I hated doing dishes. One of my official jobs was cooking recess food (cookies, muffins, etc.) for everyone and my mum used to say I could leave the dishes for her to do. I think mostly that was because otherwise I wouldn’t start.

BUT especially since I moved out of home, I’ve really appreciated a clean kitchen. I’ve realised (to my mum’s non surprise, I’m sure) that it’s so much better to cook in an already clean kitchen. Then, it’s easier to clean as you go, and everyone’s happy! Especially when you live in a house with other people.

I’ve also realised that the tidiness of my room reflects and is based on the state of my life. For instance, over the past few months, my room has been super messy. I’ve been distracted and everything’s been hectic, what with uni, assignments and studying, work, and trying to keep my head above water, eat well and sleep properly.

It’s been weird. Good, bad, in between, but things are getting better, looking up. Especially since I’ve been baking more. So here’s a recipe that’ll help many a bad mood and down day. It warms you up when it’s wet and cold outside and it’s perfect to have a few with a cup of chai, because although they are snickerdoodles, which are pretty damn awesome on their own, they are chai spiced snickerdoodles, which are even better.

I love snickerdoodles. So when bake me away‘s Jessica posted about these (and Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond featured them on her Web Awesomeness weekly post) I HAD to try them. Had to. I really had no choice. None whatsoever.

Plus, my housemates deserve cookies. Just ‘cos they’re awesome.

Chai Spiced Snickerdoodles

Adapted from Bake Me Away

Spice Mix:

2 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp ground ginger

2 tsp ground cloves

2 1/4 tsp ground cardamom

1/3 cup sugar

Combine and set aside.

Cookies:

2 3/4 cups plain flour

3 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

250g butter

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 large eggs

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one by one, beating each in well. Scrape down the bowl.

Add half the flour and the baking powder and mix until almost incorporated. Add the rest of the flour, the salt and two tablespoons of the spice mix. (For extra spiciness, and I’ll probably try this next time, is don’t add the sugar into the spice mix. Add in two teaspoons of the spice mix without the sugar, then mix the sugar in at this point.)

Mix until just incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate about half an hour (I kept it in the fridge overnight, then left it out about half an hour.)

Form into golfball sized balls (I got eighteen) and roll in the spice-and-sugar mix. Bake about twenty minutes in a 180º oven. Let cool on a rack and try not to eat them all before your housemates get any.

day five – LBTL

It’s the last day! Whoohoo!

In other good news, I reached my fundraising goal (although if you’re still interested in fundraising, you are most welcome, and the link is here. Otherwise, you can donate to one or two of my friends who are also living below the line this week: Roberta or Miranda. Miranda’s going for two weeks on less than $2 a day AND no furniture. You go girl!)

Plus, Live Below the Line Australia raised over one million dollars in total for anti-poverty initiatives in East Timor, Papua New Guinea, Cambodia and in our very own country (since when were we the ones who needed help? More on that one later.)

Okay, so I think a recap of my week is in order. Here we go:

What I had to start out with:

750g pumpkin @ $1.98/kg = $1.48

Approx. 1.4kg potatoes = $1 at the fruit and veg market on the discounted table

Approx. 1.2kg tomatoes, approx 1/4 of which was mouldy by the time I got to it = $1, see potatoes

Approx. 1.4 kg of assorted nashis and I think they were royal gala apples = $1, see tomatoes

200 homebrand teabags = $1.99

500g large spiral pasta = $0.59

1 small head garlic = $0.49

1kg homebrand plain flour = $0.95

250g homebrand salted butter = $1.41

Total = $9.91

Day 1

Stewed apples and pears = $0.20

2 cups tea $0.02

Pumpkin and potato soup with flatbread, x2 = $1.70

Total = $1.92

Woke up late-ish, made soup and flatbread to take to work. Worked five hours, then took my soup to a TEAR group meeting, where two other people were also living below the line. We had much discussion on war and poverty, and didn’t really get anywhere with the hard stuff, just that it’s hard and we have to keep thinking about it and working out better ways to live and work for a better world.

Day 2

Stewed apples and pears = $0.20

2 cups tea = $0.02

Pumpkin and potato soup with flatbread = $0.85

Pasta with potato and pumpkin = $0.38

Total = $1.45

Woke up at 5.30 in the am to go to uni. Not recommended when you aren’t eating as much as you usually do, because I felt like crap pretty much the entire day. Not so much hungry as my stomach was getting used to having different things, and less than usual. Drank lots of water, because it helped wash the bile down that kept coming up. Not a great day overall.

Day 3

Stewed apples and pears = $0.20

2 cups tea = $0.02

Pasta with potato and pumpkin = $0.38

Potato and pumpkin soup with flatbread = $.85

Flatbread, munched on during the day = $0.14

Total = $1.59

Went to uni again today. I actually felt much better today, got some fresh air on my walks to and from the train station. My friends kept offering to let me cheat, but I held my ground. Ah, hot chocolate. We meet again soon! Also had some really interesting conversations with my classmates. One of my friends was arguing that we should be grateful for our position in life and be thankful for what God’s given us. I said that it doesn’ t count as God’s gift if we took it from other people. God made us all to be equal and we’re not living that way.

Day 4

Stewed apples and pears = $0.20

2 cups tea = $0.02

Tomato soup with flatbread, x2 = $1.28

Total = $1.50

Worked again today. Noticed much more than Monday my proximity to food. So glad that in two days, I get to drink coffee again. Also noticed I was more crotchety than usual. Either the lack of food/sugar or the constant reminders of my privilege were getting to me. gah! One day to go. Huge uplifting feeling when I saw that I’d reached my fundraising goal. Again, you guys are awesome!

Day 5

Stewed apples and pears = $0.20

2 cups black tea = $0.02

Pasta with pumpkin and potato, x2 = $0.76

Total = $0.98

Woke up at 5.30am again. And again, not a good idea. I almost puked on the train, and I don’t even have that much to puke! I’m really, really glad that as of tomorrow I get to put sugar and milk back in my tea. Sorry, Mum, black tea just doesn’t do it for me. I’m studying now and kinda wanting a snack but you can do this erin, pull through, one more day. It’ll be interesting to see how I go tonight; I have a birthday party! It’ll be fun regardless of the food situation, though.

I have to say, I’m already thinking about next year, how I can go better, fundraise more, change my lifestyle so that it’s not just geared around one time a year where I remember the 1.4 billion people living below the extreme poverty line but that it’s  a part of the direction of my life and my vision.

I want to thank each and every one of you, my readers, for sticking with me through this. I know a lot of you personally; I don’t know all of you but I really appreciate it. A special shout-out to everyone who donated. You guys are incredible!

day four – LBTL

So I know I’ve been banging on about this a lot, but, well, it is kinda my life at the moment. But hey, just so that you don’t think that a) I’m a raging b*tch or b) I’m superhuman, yes, it’s hard. And so I thought I’d answer a few questions that people have been asking me about Living Below the Line.

What do you miss the most?

Coffee. Followed closely by sweets and sweet snacks. It’s just being able to eat whenever I want. I can’t because I have to save it for the next meal.

What’s the hardest thing about it?

You know, I’d originally thought that working around food as I do would be the hardest and it is hard. Especially today when we had cake scraps to pick from, and it’s day four and I really just want to eat cake. And I’m sick (getting over a cold) and that’s been pretty difficult too. Early days for uni, wanting to curl up and go back to sleep. But the hardest thing – harder than no coffee, early mornings, no snacking, no flavour – is that every single time I think to myself  ‘man, I just want a cup of coffee’ or ‘Can I just cheat? just a little?’ there’s this voice in my head that goes ‘Suck it. You know that there are 1.4 billion people who have to do this every day, with even less food because they have to spend their money on other stuff as well.’ The hardest thing is not being able to feel sorry for myself, and then realising how good I have it, how spoiled I really am.

What’s the best thing about it?

Fundraising! All the amazing people who have donated, thank you. All the amazing people who are about to donate, all you have to do is click here! No, kidding. I REACHED MY FUNDRAISING GOAL! YAY! And it’s all for an amazing cause – to help people get out of the cycle of poverty. Education is really good. Be grateful for your education! Utilise your education! Don’t skip class or nap during lectures! It doesn’t take much to make me grateful, sure. Just a week of hunger, longing and beating up on myself.

One day to go!

Tomato Soup

This isn’t a concrete recipe. Just take some tomatoes.

Slice them in half.

Roast them for about half an hour.

Put them in a blender.

Cover them with water. Add a little bit of butter.

Blend.

Eat with yesterday’s flatbread, dreaming of a better world.

day three – part two – LBTL

One of the things that was really difficult for me this week was that in living below the line, I was doing probably as much harm as good. Sure, I’m raising money for ant-poverty initiatives, for education to help people get out of the cycle of poverty, something better than just throwing money at the problem and thinking that’s my bit done. This is a way to help change my outlook on life so that I think about my actions and how in every way I can do better, in every way I can act righteously (more on that later). It’s made me think and it’s made others think. I’ve had some really interesting discussions regarding whether people can buy me food (no) does this mean it’s ok for me to steal (no) does free food, such as from food vans, count (yes) can I use the veggies from my garden (unsure, but we’ll say no just in case) and it all basically revolves around the fact that I’m not just doing this because I have to, it’s a choice to raise awareness for myself and others.

These are all good things that happen because of this initiative. But to live on less than two dollars a day in Australia, I’m supporting organisations I don’t like or want to support. I’m buying unethical produce.

See, to afford enough food to feed myself for this week, I had to buy no-name brands. Flour, butter, pasta. Sure, I got my fresh food from the fruit and veggie market, but only because it was on special – in the discounted section. I was lucky in that way. But what home brands do, the brands like coles smart buy or Woolworths home brand or Black & Gold, they lower their prices, get monopoly over the market, then when it’s all theirs, they’ll jack up their prices so they get more and more money, while conning the producer out of what’s theirs.

And that’s just a part of it. So while I love what Live Below the Line are doing in terms of awareness and projects, it kinda sucks in this sense.

I don’t know what the answer is. We do what we can, and we let God take care of the rest. Although I have to say, what we can do is much more than we give ourselves credit for. We make so many excuses but we could be doing so much more for those less fortunate than ourselves.

I mentioned in my earlier post today about the fact that I have lots of food and everyone, while it’s lovely that they’re taking notice and caring about whether or not I’ll faint, doesn’t really get it. I feel like I’m cheating a little, because I really do have enough food. That said, it’s less than what I’m used to and I have to ask myself, how much of the time do I eat just because I feel like it and how much because I’m actually hungry? I’m not saying that eating is bad – I love food, and I love eating. I often eat too much just because it all tastes so good. But we complain (and by we I mean me) about the lack of this or the fact that we have to have our second-favourite flavour milkshake or whatever, and we’re just covering up the fact that we’re spoilt, western brats.

But we do what we can. And we’re all working on our personal issues and hang-ups. No one is perfect; we just strive to follow Jesus as closely as we can.

Flatbread

Adapted from Julie Goodwin’s LBL recipe

300g plain flour

30g butter

Water

Sift the flour in a bowl and make a well in the middle. Melt 20g of the butter and place in the well, and add water (not too much). Stir, adding more water if needed, until it’s shaggy and mostly stuck in clumps. Knead until it forms a smooth ball.

Melt the rest of the butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Take a small piece of dough and stretch it out (you can roll in if you want it to end up a little prettier) until it’s fairly thin, and fry in the butter. Repeat with the rest of the dough (you can fry several flatbreads at a time).

Dip in your soup and imagine a better world. It can happen!

day three – LBTL

I dreamt about food last night. I think it was a sort of Masterchef type deal, where you had to make a meal out of what they had there. I don’t remember it much, except the food was delicious.

See, the funny thing is that everyone assumes that you just don’t eat much on Live Below the Line, but there really is enough food for five days. Most of it’s carbohydrates, yes, it’s not all nutritionally the best for you, but there’s plenty. There’s even taste in most of it, from the garlic, the natural sweetness of the fruit, the salted butter. Not much variety, but there isn’t often variety in many people’s food.

The problem here is, that the people who live below the extreme poverty line, those that actually live on $2 a day, day in, day out – they don’t get to spend it all on food. They have to spread it out between food, bills, transport, medicine, every little expenditure throughout the day.

How can we let this happen in our world? How can we make someone choose between feeding her whole family or allowing one child to live, sacrificing meals for medicine? Walking kilometres to get to a source of clean water that won’t make them all sick. Sharing a tap with 200 other people, eating the same food, day in, day out, and very little of it, too.

‘In order for evil to flourish, all that is required is for good men to do nothing.’ – Edward Burke

What I am doing is a small, small effort. But it is an effort. And I am continually striving to turn my life to God, and to people – to do better every day.

Please make an effort. Donate here.

And thank you to all who have already donated – it means so much to see that people care.

Pumpkin and Potato Pasta

This is another of my staple meals. As you can see, lots of carbs for energy, but not much protein. I think that spinach would make a good addition, pine nuts, salt and pepper and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. Take out some of the potato, perhaps. But it does smell good – all that garlic!

250g pumpkin, peeled, deseeded, cubed

500g potato, scrubbed, cubed

30g butter

3 cloves garlic

250g pasta (I used large spirals)

Chop garlic finely. Heat the butter in a saucepan over medium heat and fry the garlic, pumpkin and potato until crispy and tender (I think perhaps baking would work better, but this was fine for me).

Heat a large saucepan 2/3 full of water until boiling, and tip the pasta in. Cook approximately 7 minutes.

Add about a cup of starchy pasta water to the pumpkin and potatoes. Drain the pasta and combine the two. Eat immediately, while still hot, with thoughts of starving children on your mind.

day two – LBTL

I had the unpleasant experience this morning on the train of simultaneously feeling like I was about to throw up and also faint. I was trying to choke down my black tea (sorry Mum; I just don’t think I’ll ever enjoy it. Although that could be the fact that it was homebrand) and not gross out my fellow passengers with projected bodily fluids while getting kinda dizzy. Not a fun experience. I realised also, I’d forgotten to put my iPod on, so I was in silence for the entire ride. Not like me, I have to say.

I crawled out of bed this morning to my stewed fruit, reflecting that in Papua New Guinea, many people don’t have stoves, so wouldn’t actually be able to eat what I was eating. Boiling the kettle, which probably took much less time than it would in other areas, where they’d have to use a small fire. Maybe they had electricity, if they were lucky.

On my way from the train station to uni, and all I wanted to do was curl up in bed, then get up sometime in the late morning, make myself a cup of hot chocolate and curl up in bed with a good book and a cookie. Well, no, I couldn’t and that was a good thing. Apart from of course, not being able to afford it this week, I also have the amazing conundrum of a Western late adolescent – being able to go to uni but not wanting to be there.

I am so lucky. Here, I get to go to uni. It’s practically free – I don’t have to pay until I can afford to pay. I can study anything I want to study. I can talk about the Bible and debate ideas and proclaim my faith. I’m not in any danger of persecution. I don’t have to worry about people killing me or my family or friends because of what we believe.

I get to prolong my education, which increases my chances of a job that will provide for me and my family. Not only that, I can study for the sake of studying. I don’t have to worry at this stage about skills promotion or finding a job, because a) I already have one, and it provides for my need;s b) the government gives me money when I am in need; c) there are jobs abounding for people who didn’t go to university and d) I don’t have a family to worry about, people I have to provide for. I just have to look after myself.

To this end, I ask that you give some of your undoubtedly hard-earned money (or if not, some that you get from the government) to this cause. To letting people who are less fortunate than I (there but for what I don’t know, not God’s grace because they have that too – there go I. And there goes Jesus.) have an education that will allow them to get out of a cycle of poverty. To a system that gives life, not one that leads to violence, death and destruction.

Here is where the money goes. Thanks for coming along with me on this journey.

day one – LBTL

Day one of living below the line of extreme poverty.

Feeling in stomach – surprisingly full

Feeling in mind – weird

Feeling in soul – quirky.

So, day one. I got up at about nine because I had to make soup for lunch and dinner before I went to work. For starters, I don’t generally bring lunch to work, because I get to eat there for free. Also, I find it odd making soup at nine in the morning.

Anyway. So I made my soup, I made my flatbread, I ate my previously stewed apples and pears – I stewed them last night because I knew I’d need them for my breakfast – and I drank my black tea.

It’s a surreal experience, working around food but not getting to eat any of it. I mean, I don’t usually eat much of it, but I am allowed coffee when I want it, and I get to make my lunch out of pretty much anything I’d like in the fridges and freezers. The thing I think I’m most missing at the moment are sweets – I couldn’t afford sugar and I am so looking forward to breakfast because it means apples and pears, and the natural sugars in them. Hooray!

What I’m not looking forward to is breakfast at six in the morning and being hungry again four hours later. I’ve had to factor in a flatbread snack so I don’t faint. Or something.

Tonight I was at a TEAR young adults action group meeting and we were talking about just war. I’m not going to get into the whole discussion at the moment, because it would take up the whole post (and then some) but we got to talking about how the small things matter too: in peacetime, when the authorities take everything they can from those they rule over, just because they can. How my food choices, my lifestyle choices, are the direct or indirect result of violence, and how violence needs to be reversed not just in war-torn countries but in our country, in our cities, our communities, our lives and our mindsets. We need to think differently than we do now, or nothing will change. Thanks to campaigns like Live Below the Line, to organisations like the Oaktree foundation and Avaaz, we can. We can try to change our minds, and then we might see changes in the wider sphere, and maybe even our world one day.

So my mind is whirling through all these things, but my feeling is a little blank. My soul. I don’t know if by doing this I’m doing anything – I know that I’m raising awareness and money and all that but I don’t feel changed by this experience. I suppose this is the result of my instant gratification culture, the way I’ve been accustomed to getting what I want, when I want. I have to be patient and remember that it’s not about me. It’s about the people in Papua New Guinea who don’t have the luxuries I do. Like microwaves, ovens, lights, kettles. Maybe they do, I don’t know enough about their situations, but I was thinking as I made my tea this morning, maybe this is too easy.

Thoughts to ponder, for sure, but for now, I am grateful for a full belly and the promise of another tomorrow. And thankful for a lovely soup which I didn’t expect to be as satisfying as it was.

Please donate, once again! It goes to education initiatives in Papua New Guinea, to help the people help themselves out of poverty. It’s a long road, but it’s worth it.

Roast Pumpkin and Potato Soup

500g pumpkin, deseeded, peeled, cubed

250g potato, washed, cubed (skin on)

2 cloves garlic

20g butter, melted

Toss the cubed pumpkin and potato in the butter and place on a baking tray, in one layer, with the peeled garlic cloves. Roast at about 220ºC for about twenty minutes. Take out and place in a pot (I melted the butter in a pot, tossed the pumpkin and potato in it and then returned the roasted vegies to the same pot). Cover with water and blend with a stick blender. Serve with flatbread.

living below the line

For the next five days, I will be living below the extreme poverty line for my food. This means I will be living on $2 a day.

I’m not sure whether I’ve mentioned this before, but now that it’s imminent, I’m freaking out just a little bit. I’ve got all my food together, my meal plan done up, my total figure totalled. I’m freaking out a little, to tell you the truth.

I will be eating a LOT of potatoes. They were on special at the fruit and veg market, so I have over three kilos of them.  I have lentils. I have tomatoes and I have some apples and pears that I’ll be stewing up for my breakfast, as well as the flat bread I’ll be making with my kilo of flour and butter.

I have teabags, so at least I won’t be without my caffeine. So no, my house mates won’t kill me. Yay! On the other hand, I couldn’t afford milk, or sugar, so that’ll be an experience. Mum, I know you like black tea, but I’ve never really gotten into it. Maybe this week I’ll develop a taste for it! Could do worse I suppose.

Freaking out a little… or, a lot… I don’t know how I’ll go on this food this week. I don’t know whether I’ll get super run down from lack of protein or lack of calcium. I’m hoping it’s ok if I forage, though. We have a veggie garden. At least I got given some mint a little while ago, so I can have peppermint tea.

SO my list of ingredients this week is:

Potatoes

Tomatoes

Apples

Pears

Lentils

Flour

Butter

Pumpkin

Garlic

Teabags

I’m kinda scared. But I’m also pumped. Pumped to raise awareness of poverty issues, pumped to raise money for people in real need, not in fake I-wish-I-had-a-pair-of-designer-jeans (or shoes, or socks, or whatever else… yes, I’m talking about myself here.) Pumped to do something, even this small thing.

So again: here is the link to donate to my live below the line campaign; it also includes some info about where the money will be going.

Please donate, and if you don’t, please at least read about it. And maybe when you’re done, check out how high you are on the global rich list. You might be surprised.

the hunger games

The Hunger Games (and its following books, Catching Fire and Mockingjay) are a trilogy by Suzanne Collins, and they are a shot to the heart. The story is set in a post-apocalyptic North America, where the country is drastically shrunk by rising sea waters and is now called Panem, a country made up of the Capitol and twelve districts. Each year, a boy and a girl are drawn from each district to participate in something called the Hunger Games.

Our heroine is a girl called Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers to take her sister’s place in the games. This is because the object of the Games is to be the last one left alive. Yep, these people pit kids against each other (keeping in mind the children could be anywhere from twelve to eighteen years old) for sport. And everyone has to watch and celebrate the victor.

I don’t want to spoil the books for you because I really think you should read them yourself. I stayed up past midnight for three nights, one for each book. I told myself each time that I wouldn’t do that, I’d read some and save the rest till morning, I’d be a good girl. I never lived up to these promises though, because these books just caught my heart.

The thing about these books, though, is that they are about our world now. We in the West are the rich Capitol, whose children are safe and who don’t see the Games as bad, just as entertainment. Operating under the motto Panem et Circises, as long as we are fed and entertained, we don’t look past the screen to see the pain and suffering of the rest of the world. The Districts, who feed and support the Capitol, who once rose up against them but were crushed and are now continually stamped all over by the Hunger Games and the order of the system, are the Second and Third Worlds, struggling to survive and doing anything to keep their families alive.

There is a part in the books where the people who had previously won the Hunger Games are asked to vote on whether there should be one more viewing, one more Games, where the rich Capitol’s kids are made to play. And the consensus is yes. These people who have been crushed all their lives, who fought to survive people set out to kill them, who had to live with the consequences of killing and being hunted, who lived through a revolution, decide to keep the cycle of violence alive – just one more time, because revenge is sweet and it’s the only thing they can think of to take their minds off the pain.

That we live in a world where this happens is no good for anyone. That we think that violence and death can somehow solve problems, heal hearts and minds, vanish guilt and ease pain, is a product of what our world has become and it’s what’s keeping us all sick, keeping our world spiralling downward.

See, after I’d finished reading the last book, crying at the end because it’s not all black and white, and every death is etched in the minds of those who executed it, I was reading the paper and I saw the articles written by people who had lost loved ones to terrorists and people who were so downtrodden and in pain, the only way out that they could see was to inflict that pain on others. And they thought that more death could heal their hearts. Not that they could forget the pain but that revenge could somehow soften the blow.

That we live in a world where violence is the answer, that death solves problems, that we cannot see what harm we are doing to ourselves by living this way, makes my heart sore, and it was all I could do yesterday not to burst into tears over the dishes.

I’ve never felt the pain of losing a loved one to a deliberate attempt to cause harm. I don’t know how it feels. But when I see this pain and heartache, I turn to those who have and have come out with love, arms open, forgiving and full of grace. This beauty that can come from the ugliness of violence and hate pierces my heart and reminds me of the hope that I find in Jesus.

These are the people that give me hope. These are the people that, if I were ever in a situation to choose between vengence and justice, I would turn to to point me towards the Way, the Truth and the Life.

September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows: particularly their reaction to the recent killing of Osama bin Laden

A story in the book Plan Be by Dave Andrews. Just buy the book, we’ll talk later.

Jarrod Mckenna

There are more, but for now just check these out. Forgiveness is hard, but love is the only way.