Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Value of a Life, and Zucchini Fritters

The lovely Athena from A Field of Dreams awarded me a Blog of Substance award. I'm humbled to receive this considering that I've been the world's most unpredictable post-er lately ... but I'll try to have substance today, and pass the award on next time (so I have a good reason to get my arse in gear and write again).

I've mentioned before how I was raised by parents who were both frugal and extravagant when it came to money.  We pinched pennies at the grocery store, but my father drove a Mercedes Benz.   We patched clothes, but I went to dance and piano lessons.  We ate, but we went on a family vacation every summer, often to some international (Spanish-speaking, because my dad was from Spain, via Cuba) destination.  I inherited this somewhat bipolar approach to finances; from a young age, I evaluated and appreciated things in terms of their monetary value, pinching pennies at home so that I could afford the occasional big ticket items for my family (and, so I'm not kidding myself, the occasional Frapuccino).

Which makes being a professional-turned-SAHM a bit of a psychological challenge.  How do I appreciate the value of my work if I'm not being paid?  And then, how do I reconcile this kind of value with the fact that I'm bleeding money these days without replenishing the family bank account?  There are the usual expenses, of course, and then there was a small car accident earlier this summer, and a speeding ticket that will require a court appearance (I'm really not a reckless driver ... don't judge me on the basis of these two events!), and little outings with my son (like the trip to a place in our town that serves high tea for children -- his request), and the things (mostly consumables) I buy because I'm home wandering the streets, and ... well, you get the idea.

To make matters worse, there is the small matter of the potential salary cut I'd be taking if this job offer does come through ... and the fact that almost every other job people have been sending me is at a range lower than where I was before.  Does this mean that my potential value on the market is really so low, even if I were making money to contribute to household expenses?  Was my former position a fluke?

It sounds mercenary to think in these terms, but it's hard not to when there are bills to be paid, and when I seem to keep generating so many of them myself.

And yet, when I think of the value of others, I don't think in those terms at all ...

My friend who is in heart failure has been struggling over the past week with a balloon assist, with various meds, and finally with an external pump to help his heart recover.  None of this has been proving particularly successful, and they finally decided, today, to go forward with a transplant.  So they're waiting for a heart to "harvest," possibly as early as within the next 24 hours.

It's a very strange feeling to be praying for someone's death so that someone else might live, but that's where I am right now.  The world would be a measurably darker place without my friend; I need him, selfishly, to live.  His two little boys and his wife, who are among the most wonderful people I know, need him.  His fellowship needs him.  His friends need him.  And yet, how can I tell the universe (or whoever happens to be listening) that his life is worth more than the life of someone who might be a potential donor?

These fritters are supposed to be inspired by Southern cooking, so I'm posting them here in honor of my friend, who is a stay at home dad and probably the best example of Southern hospitality I know.  One of the things that I love about him (among so many things -- his centeredness, his faith, his generosity) is that he seems not to question the value of his contribution to his family and to the world; he's comfortable knowing that his living makes a difference.  Though it's almost a morbid thing to hope for, I hope that there is someone out there who can live on in him through their heart.  I know that he would take good care of it, and put it to the best possible use.

Zucchini Fritters

2 c. grated summer squash or zucchini
1/4 c. all purpose flour
1/3 c. cornmeal
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Press the squash between layers of a clean tea towel to get rid of excess moisture. In a bowl, mix all the ingredients together. It should form a sticky mass. If at first it seems dry, continue to stir—the salt will cause the zucchini to ‘sweat’, and it will get wetter.

Drop heaping spoonfuls onto the parchment paper, and then flatten with the spoon to form 2-3 inch rounds. You don’t want these to be very thick, as we want them to crisp up.

Bake for 15 minutes or so, until the fritters are deep golden brown on the bottom. Then broil on high for 2-3 minutes, until the fritters are completely crunchy on the outside, and still give a bit on the inside.
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  1. I'll say a prayer for your friend. What a terrible situation all round. I plan to make this recipe tonight and give a toast in his honor.

  2. Such a heartbreaking post. I've been thinking about your friend ever since you first mentioned him in a post. I hope that things work out for the best.

    And I completely understand the money/work issues that you're grappling with. Every job posting I see, I think "But I used to be paid three times that..." and then I remind myself that I'm CHOOSING to do something different. That money isn't everything.

  3. Yes, this really is heartbreaking. I am thinking of you and your friend. He sounds wonderful, and a good role model for the rest of us.

    Some days I try to see if I can go all day without spending any money. It is really hard. Even when I stay home and don't go anywhere I end up ordering the highchair on the internet or sending photo printouts to my relatives.

    I think about it sometimes, leaving my position and staying home. It requires a mental shift towards family symbiosis that is hard, truly recognizing that there are multiple roles that contribute differently to the family but are all equal in value to the goal of a happy and rewarding home. I know several women who are good at really understanding and being comfortable with this. But I also know people who are more conflicted. A friend of mine who also has a PhD and does some part-time consulting is comfortable on the day-to-day part, but worries a lot about the "what-ifs", such as if her husband left her or retirement.

    Your last level of pay wasn't a fluke. Remember, you were a living example of how life needs to be more than just a paycheck. Half the salary but double the happiness is a total win. Would you want to work on Wall Street where you sell your soul but earn millions? Me neither.

  4. I will be praying for your friend as well. I grew up with similar values, scrimping where we could, but spending money on quality things that would last, and taking a family vacation once a year.
    I've done something similarly, and I'm slowly doing that now, of all things, with glasses. My husband seems to like buying the cheap ones, to save money, but they break quickly after we've brought them home. So I'm slowly buying new ones to replace them, they are pricey, but none of them have broken.
    I agree with InBetween, try not to fall into the trap of placing your value on what you earn, or what your job title is. That is what you do, not who you are and your value is in who you are. Your contribution to life and others goes far beyond what you do or do not do for a living.
    My mom was a SAHM, and I am so very thankful. She was there for me when I needed her, she taught me how to be a good person, to love others, treat people with kindness, and she helped me pass my science and geometry classes. She also did not live beyond 52, so I am grateful to have squeezed every moment of time I had with her. You are worth more than what any job can possibly pay you.
    I love your recipe, I'll have to try it when I get my next box, which will most likely have plenty of zucchini.

  5. I hate blogger. Just left a long comment that I was proud of. Eaten by blogger.

    Jist of post: hard to differentiate between how you value yourself and the value that society in terms of salary place on you.

    Hope for the best for your friend. To have one person lose so much in order for another to gain. Had a friend who's mom just had a lung transplant. Long process. Not if, but when the body will reject the organ. Summer is supposed the best time for transplants. Lots of accidents, sadly.

    Recipe: YUMMMY!

    Blogger, please don't eat this comment, too!!! (Runningmama from more room in my heart)

  6. Hey J, I've been trying to think of a what to write on this post for a few days now. What do you say to someone who's wondering how to reconcile the death of an unknown to save a friend?

    I don't know what to say to that. I really don't. Except that I don't think it's wrong to hope that someone else's death might benefit others. I would so want my own death to mean life for other people. I truly hope that when I pass from this world parts of me can stay to save others. That would be a wonderful thing. Hoping for that is not hoping for someone's death, just that their death could mean life. Everyone dies. People die every day. It's a wonderful thing when their death can be so meaningful.

    I'm so sorry for your friend and his family and for you and your family going through this. I truly cannot imagine. I hope that a transplant is found and that everything happens safely. I'm keeping you all in my heart and in my thoughts.

  7. Your family upbringing in terms of finances sounds a lot like mine, as does the difficulty in adjusting to no salary after, er, making one. They're difficult waters to navigate.

    And I'm so sorry to hear about your friend. The truth is that people die who very simply can't be saved. And there's no rhyme or reason to it. But the fact that they can actually GIVE life after death...it's a pretty powerful thing. (And though it's a terrible thing to contemplate, I wish more people ticked that box on their driver's license).


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