Living Below the Line: Challenge Accepted

Editor’s note: David recently participated in the Live Below the Line Challenge. Read on about his week below (and be grateful keeping your pantry unblocked).

Day 0

“This one’s 86 cents.”

“This one’s 88, but it’s slightly bigger.”


This is how Steph and I made our way around Winco today. In the bulk section, there’s “Bet I can get closer to exactly a pound without weighing it,” and “You’re on,” and debating the merits of bananas over other fruit, and whether a loaf of bread was a good idea.

Then we went home and tried to eat all the perishables in the fridge. How are we going to survive a week without salads and fruits? Or granola and yogurt? Tortillas or even bacon? Funny the things we think of as “essentials.” Well not this week. Essentials are rice and lentils and oatmeal. Salad’s gonna be a hard one though. There might be some foraging happening later this week…

David's Grocery List

Day 1

Ran into this dilemma today, not unanticipated, but still tough: I work in a café. Steph and I had already discussed whether or not I could partake in the free meals we’re offered at work. We decided no. But then all day I was surrounded by food, and especially this gorgeous coffee cake sitting on the counter in front of me all shift. I resisted. But… I must confess, what I couldn’t resist was the coffee. I mean, I’m a barista. How could I pull espresso shots all day and not partake? I don’t have that kind of will power. Plus I’m a blogger. And if you’ve never seen me writing whilst not hopped up on caffeine, it’s not a pretty picture.

So coffee, or the lack thereof, is no longer a part of the challenge.

Day 2

“Don’t rinse that!” I called hurriedly to Steph as she started to wash a pot used for pasta sauce. She had the same thought at the same moment, and so we poured beans into the pot to cook them for tomorrow. Can’t waste anything! Even leftover tomato paste. Maybe I’m getting overly concerned about still having food to eat on Friday. It’s hard enough being a grazer, as we both are, and coming home only to see the blocked door to the pantry. No admittance. Not for the rest of this week. Drink some more water. It’ll fill you up.

It might not be helping that we’re keeping our usual routine going. Which meant ultimate Frisbee yesterday evening, and an hour long swim this afternoon, and probably hot yoga tomorrow. I might waste away to nothing…

It’s only Day 2. Get over it David. You’ll be fine.

Day 3

Steph went foraging today. Dandelions and other greens, and they definitely made a nice addition to a baked potato for lunch and pasta for dinner. Oh, and eggs and toast for breakfast. I had forgotten we had eggs we could use. Was a welcome discovery. Not enough though. We went to hot yoga tonight, after swimming for thirty minutes at the gym, and almost the moment I got in that heated room I felt lightheaded. It cleared up after a bit, but talking to Steph afterwards, apparently both of us had been seeing spots and feeling dizzy at the beginning of class.

So we spent the drive home discussing food. Saturday is going to be an epic day. I think breakfast and brunch are both happening, and we’ll go from there.

Day 4

“Lead us not into temptation…” I broke under the strain. I was feeling right next door to rubbish mid-morning at work, and the realization hit me that it was probably because half a bowl of oatmeal was just not gonna do the trick. So I caved. Accepted a free breakfast burrito. I’m not sure what penance I can do to make amends, but I’ll have to figure something out. Although it was “free,” so there’s maybe some wiggle room for me…

It’s funny the impact that a lack of certain things can have on you. Calorically we could probably be ok, and maybe if there were no other options it would suffice. But there are other options! Glorious options! My kingdom for a giant bowl of fruit. Or gummi bears. Either way.

Day 5

I was better today. Maybe the guilt/calories of the breakfast burrito yesterday served to carry me over the finish line. Oatmeal, again, to start the day, a baked potato, and beans and rice to round out the day. And an egg or two. Steph has impressed me a few times this week by creating meals that almost let me forget we’re eating the same thing day after day. A necessary trick during a week like this.

Day 6

We celebrated today. The end of the Challenge. Blew twice last week’s budget… on a single meal. Breakfast of Eggs Benedict and a Belgian Waffle. That was perhaps the most eye-opening moment of the week, as I handed my card over to pay for it. The realization that we had eaten for five days (barring a slight blip on my part) on a budget of $15. And here we were paying the equivalent of ten days’ budget.

But that’s the West for you. Disposable income gives us a taste for luxury. Live without it for a time and you gain a sense of perspective.

Further reflections to follow. But right now dinner is calling. Not sure yet exactly what it’s gonna be, but I know it won’t contain rice, lentils, or black beans. Beyond that…


David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

Vive le Mariage Gay?

We knew the French were a nation of liberal bourgeoisie bon-vivants, but now this?

I jest. But in case you missed it, last week France became the 9th European country, and 14th globally, to legalize gay marriage.

Now, I’m not here to argue the relative merits of the pro- and anti- sides in the debate. Or even discuss the debate. This isn’t a blog about that. Pick your favorite liberal or conservative blog and troll the comments for some great one-sided views on the issue. But then that can’t be helped. It’s a divisive topic at best, and daily protests during the week leading up to the vote in France attest to that. I only lead off with it because the story got me thinking tangentially. Thinking about paradigm shifts and changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes, and above all, our perceptions and how we view the world.

mariage gai

Attitudes do change. Issues that at one time were stigmatized, or even taboo, eventually are allowed into the light of day, and, through greater exposure, then pass through the stages of tolerance, understanding, and acceptance. It’s a trend that repeats itself at various times and in various places. The Civil Rights and Women’s Suffrage Movements here in the United States are two examples, and are examples that have been repeated, or indeed were preceded, in various regions all over the world. It’s not so very long ago those movements happened and yet, those of us born into a world shaped by them can hardly imagine the previous status quo. We’re even shocked when we hear of other countries that haven’t reached that point, that practice racial segregation or don’t allow women to vote.

Perception has changed so much on these issues for us that, while undercurrents of non-tolerance may run here and there, the prevailing sentiment is one of acceptance. But all it takes is a little time. Change the f-stop on the lens, lengthen the exposure. It’ll all turn out alright.
And so acceptance is gained. And yet we can’t seem to parlay that shift in how we view one social issue to a shift that encompasses all social issues.

I was cycling through town a couple days ago, and as I slowed approaching a stop sign a homeless man called out to me. I was focused though. In a hurry to get somewhere and didn’t want the awkwardness of a forced conversation. I had my headphones in as well, so I used them as an excuse to ignore him. But he called out again, and again, and the third time, when I looked up he smiled and said “Nice bike.” He didn’t want anything, only to share a moment. I was the one who had imprinted certain pre-conceived notions and experiences onto the situation.

And I thought to myself, What happened to your own tolerance? Sure you get burned once in a while when you put yourself out there, as not everyone lives up to the ideals we may have as human beings, but you can’t take that scar and apply it across an entire social strata. I’m still working on it. It’s a sometimes difficult lesson. Awakening and tolerance and knowing that everybody deep down struggles with the same issues.

Everyone’s different, yet everyone’s the same.

Thoughts on a napkin, or better yet, in the comments thread of this post.


David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.