Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Day the Soup Ran Out

Today is the day the chicken soup ran out. And still, my chest continues to grind out ugly pneumatic music, alternating between a rhythmic rattle to remind me at every turn that something is wrong, dreadfully wrong; and a wheeze that makes me look around to see who else is there in the room with me (answer: no one).

Though I long to stay in bed, I force myself up and out of my soft, warm, flannel cocoon. It is a kind of a test: am I well enough to work today—to cook and do housework?

This is the way I have lived my life in the sick zone since becoming a mom. If my hands and legs respond to basic commands, I’m well enough to be up. If not, not. You just can’t tell from a prone position.

So today, on the day that the soup ran out, I test my limits, moving with slow caution to see what I can do, what I will do, because will has everything to do with it.  The phrase, “weak as a kitten,” comes to mind without much thought about what this actually means. Is a kitten weak? Do I care?

The soup has run out and I need soup, as any mom knows, and I’m a mom and surely know this. I need soup to get well—to get back the strength that will get me back into the workforce, where I need to be. Back at my desk at Kars for Kids and also at my other full time position: Resident Mom.

So working by rote, I gather the ingredients I need to get well: a can of chopped tomatoes and one of kidney beans, an onion, 6 cloves of garlic, and a red bell pepper. Squash and carrots and potatoes, too. I know what I need because I’ve made this soup so many times I can put it together in under an hour with no thought whatsoever.
(photo credit: Moshe Epstein)

(photo credit: Moshe Epstein)

(photo credit: Moshe Epstein)

(photo credit: Moshe Epstein)

It’s not art in the bowl. Not like my chicken soup which is practically speaking an all-day process. But it’s good, it’s healthy, and it warms me from the inside out.

I ladle out a bowlful and breathe in the steam. “This will make me well,” I think. And there is satisfaction in knowing that the power was in my own two hands, all along.



•    1 red pepper
•    1 onion
•    6 cloves garlic
•    3 Tablespoons olive oil
•    3 carrots
•    3 potatoes
•    3 vegetable marrows or zucchini (kishuim in Hebrew)
•    Frozen chopped spinach
•    1 can chopped tomatoes (agvaniot kubiot in Hebrew)
•    ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
•    3 liters vegtetable stock or parve chicken soup (marak adif in Hebrew)
•    ½ cup broken spaghetti or other pasta
•    1 teaspoon oregano
•    ½ teaspoon basil
•    ¼ teaspoon thyme
•    1 can kidney beans, rinsed, drained
•    Grated cheese for serving



1.    Chop in food processor or by hand, the garlic, onion, and red pepper. Sauté on medium heat in olive oil until onion is translucent.

2.    Chop carrots and thinly slice potatoes and vegetable marrow either in food processor or by hand. Add to pot along with 3 liters of vegetable stock or 3-4 heaping soupspoons of soup powder and 3 liters boiling water), a handful of frozen chopped spinach balls (I like the type that is frozen in clumps), the canned tomatoes, and the crushed red pepper.

3.    Bring to a boil, then turn heat down and cook, covered, for 30 minutes to 45 minutes or until potato slices are almost tender.

4.    Add pasta and herbs. Turn heat up and cook until pasta is al dente. Add beans.

5.    Serve with grated cheese.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

On the Side of Love

I don’t so much choose what to write about as my subjects choose me. A lot of the time that means I end up writing about really grim stuff. Not today.

Today, a lovely feel-good story grabbed me by the arms and wouldn’t let go. It was a trailer for a movie called The Drop Box and the minute I watched it, I knew I had to write about it.

The Drop Box is the story of the Give Out Love Orphanage in Nangok; a rough, blue-collar neighborhood in Seoul, South Korea. Baby abandonment is common here and hundreds of unwanted infants are abandoned to their deaths each year. Pastor Lee Jong-rak thought to save at least some of them and to that end he set up a drop box where people might leave their unwanted babies.

"The Drop Box" - Documentary PROMO from Arbella Studios on Vimeo.
The pastor wasn’t sure anyone would follow through, but a slow steady stream of babies began to arrive, some with their umbilical cords still attached. The babies came with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and a host of other physical and mental deformities. Thirty-two babies have been dropped off since the drop box was set up in 2009, though “just” 21 are in residence today. Each baby gets an enormous amount of love from the Pastor, his wife, and the devoted volunteers who offer their time at the orphanage.

But not everyone is happy.

The child welfare people got wind of the orphanage after seeing a television special. They say there are too many people living in this four-bedroom residence. They say that conditions are sanitary. They say the anonymity of the drop box encourages child abandonment and robs the children of knowing their biological parents.

In an interview with the LA Times, an orphanage volunteer, Peter A. Dietrich said, “Rather than look at what he can bring, they focus on what he doesn’t have. The enormity of [Pastor Lee Jong-rak‘s] mission hits you between the eyes. I don’t know anyone who goes there for the first time and doesn’t tear up.”

I concur. There’s so much wrong with the world and here is one man, at least, who is trying to right some of those wrongs. It’s a little like bailing out a boat with a teaspoon. But it’s something.

It’s that same something that had me claw my way into a job at a nonprofit that provides mentoring services for children. I’ve earned my living by writing for the past decade, but until I took the job at Kars for Kids, I didn’t feel my writing made a difference. Now I do.

I love reading the success stories of the children we help. The letters come on a daily basis through interoffice mail, from grateful parents and from the children themselves. We give these children a way to steady themselves as they make their way through childhood and on into adulthood. We get them through with a lot of love.

And love is an international language, understood by all, whether in an orphanage in Seoul, or at a summer camp in Upstate New York. I’m proud to be on the same side as Lee Jong-rak: on the side of love, bailing out the world, one teaspoon at a time.