Sunday, June 30, 2013

Letting Go of Mandela

Every day someone else on Facebook posts a false media report stating that Nelson Mandela has died. As of today, he is still clinging to life, fighting to recover from a lung infection at the age of 94. I hope that he recovers and spends a little more time with his family and his country, if that is what he wishes. But if he does not recover, this is not a tragedy. The man is 94 years old and look at all he accomplished! I think the false reports of his death are evidence that people are rehearsing for the loss of him; practicing living in a world without a live Mandela, yet rich with his legacy.

I wonder if Mandela clings to life because of all the prayers engulfing him and all the wishes for his recovery swooping down on him from around the world. I wonder if he finds it difficult to transition when absorbing so much love and grief from so many people, so many spirits holding him in their embrace.

Ron and I hired a babysitter and went to the Oakland Coliseum in 1990 to see Mandela, just to be in his presence, to hear him speak. We and about 60,000 other people were there. To say his life is an inspiration is an understatement. He was the voice of truth and justice. He was silenced for 27 years while locked away at Robben Island. But it was the trial of his life there that forged him as the truly great leader needed by his country. I imagine him on Robben Island sometimes, I imagine him wondering if he would die there. I imagine him struggling to find a way to make use of his time; developing his philosophies about conflict resolution, mediation, healing the deep wounds of South Africa, and the power of forgiveness.

He lost everything. He came  back from nothing. He was more than vindicated in his lifetime. Prisoner to President. So many of us in this life make our sacrifices, follow our passion, speak truth, take a chance, and believe that we will be one of the lucky ones who meets with success. How many dissidents have been murdered? Silenced? How many dreamers have shot the moon and then failed to achieve their dream? How many arrested and lost in prison? How many who do not achieve what they set out to do? Mandela is our symbol that sometimes it is possible for a man with enormous dreams to realize those dreams. He is our symbol of perseverance, triumph, the possibility that truth and justice will prevail in some instances. His journey, his success, his ability to overcome such overwhelming odds, inspires us to be the best that we can be. It inspires us to hope.

We don’t want to let that go. We don’t want to say good-bye to this extraordinary man, this leader, this visionary, this highly evolved spirit in our midst. I think Mandela has such a fully evolved spirit that no further evolution is needed for him in this life. If it is finally time for him to leave, then so be it. We must release him, let him go. He has already given humankind so much. Perhaps we should discontinue our prayers for his recovery and instead send prayers for a peaceful transition for this warrior for justice and equality. Perhaps he is ready to lay down his shield. I send him my love, and my wishes for whatever he wishes, for an end of his choosing, befitting the greatness of his spirit.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Multicultural Families

A couple of weeks ago an online Cheerios commercial depicting a multicultural family went viral on the Internet. The mom was “white,” dad was “black,” and their “biracial” daughter poured Cheerios on the dad’s chest (while he was napping on the couch) to keep his heart healthy. It was adorable. It went viral mainly, unfortunately, because of all the haters. Bigots came out of the woodwork to post so many nasty comments on the YouTube ad that General Mills disabled the comments feature. But they refused to take the ad down and it’s still available for viewing (and is being aired on TV now too). Yay for General Mills. Here is the link.

Soon after the hoo-ha started, another YouTube clip went viral that was a spoof on the original. It depicted a “white” mom talking to a “biracial” daughter about Cheerios and heart health (just like in the original ad) and then the child went and poured the Cheerios on her other mom, who was “black.” It was a lesbian couple! The last line of the ad was one mom calling out to the other mom to remind her to disable comments when she put the clip on YouTube. Too funny. Here is the link.

This week a website was launched called “We Are the 15%” started by a cross-cultural couple (Michael Murphy and Alyson West) in response to the Cheerios ad fiasco. It’s a simple website, which is a repository for photos of multicultural families. The people who started it have invited cross-cultural couples and multicultural families to send photos of their family to the site and the photos will be posted. Here is a link to the site. A gallery of photos of these beautiful families is growing daily. As is the number of multicultural families.

The Murphy & West website takes its name from the statistic from the 2008 U.S. Census Update, which counted the number of “new inter-racial marriages” (the term used on the Census) at 15%. I have not bothered to track down more recent data, which I have no doubt would show an even larger number of multicultural families, especially when you consider the numbers of cross-cultural gay and lesbian couples who have not been allowed to legally marry yet, when you count unmarried heterosexual couples as well, and when you realize that it’s been 5 years since the 2008 update. Not to mention all of us older folks in cross-cultural relationships who are not “new” couples.

I found out about the We Are the 15% website from my friend Gayla, who is part Chinese and part Finnish and is married to an Anglo/Euro Canadian. Their multicultural daughter is my goddaughter and their family is Jewish. When Gayla posted the link to the website on her Facebook page she said “In my world we are the 85%.” Gayla’s sister, also married to an Anglo/Euro guy, has three biological multicultural children and six adopted African American children. You can see why Gayla says her world is about 85% multicultural. Gayla’s world of the 85% is my reality as well. My children are Jewish, Christian, European, African, and Native American. I know a great many cross-cultural couples and many multicultural children. Heck, there are two multicultural children living in the White House. Also their dad!

My son Akili has been with his girlfriend Tina for over 5 years and I have no doubt they will marry some day. Tina is half Anglo and half Latina. Their children will have to check every box on the ethnic identity form except Asian – unless they do what I have started doing and decline to state as a matter of principle. I no longer wish to look at cultural background in terms of “race” since I think that’s a false and divisive fabricated social construct. I like to think in terms of different cultures.

Attempts to categorize people by “race” are tenuous and misleading. For instance, how do you classify people from India or Pakistan – what? are they Asian? seriously? Or Middle Eastern people, such as Palestinians? Are they classified as “white,” so would that be like Anglo/Euro? Huh? Or Filipinos who are largely Asian and Native. Or Mexicans who are largely Spanish and Native. And how does it work that Jews are categorized as Anglo/Euro? If we are so Anglo (that dominant culture), then how come we can’t get into the country club (if you catch my meaning)? Furthermore, many (if not most) African Americans are actually part Anglo/Euro and/or part Native. Let’s be real. Once you scratch below the surface, it’s all mixed up, and it turns out that more people are multicultural than not. I think we’re looking at a figure closer to Gayla’s 85%. I love it! So from where I stand, well, in the words of Louis Armstrong, “It’s a wonderful world.”

Here is a 2008 photo of our multicultural family. A classic photo that is one of my favorites.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Why I Just Say No to GMO (and Roundup)

It amazes me when people ask me what’s so wrong with genetically modified food. What’s not wrong with it? GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are plants or animals created through gene splicing that merges DNA from different species, creating unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial, and viral genes that cannot occur in nature. Virtually all commercial GMOs were developed to withstand the application of herbicides and pesticides, chiefly Roundup made by Monsanto.

The bottom line is that GMOs have been sprayed (massively) with Roundup. The most significant genetic modification that Monsanto has made to selected food crops is a modification that has made them immune to Roundup. The whole point of this is that if you have corn, for instance, that does not die when you spray Roundup on it then you can spray the heck out of the corn field to get rid of all the other weeds and not kill your corn crop. These GMO crops are called “Roundup Ready.” The crops presently modified in this way (according to the Non-GMO Project) are alfalfa, canola, corn, soy, cotton, papaya, sugar beets, zucchini, and yellow summer squash. For this reason, I have become extremely careful to buy only food products labeled non-GMO or organic (which means they contain no GMO ingredients) that contain any of these ingredients. Continue reading to learn about the impact of Roundup on the human body.

A peer-reviewed scientific study released in April 2013 confirms that toxins in glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup (a Monsanto product) directly contribute to gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. (Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome, Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff, 2013.) Well, sheesh. I didn’t need a study to tell me this. Although I have always avoided the use of Roundup, I now live in a neighborhood where people regularly spray this toxic stuff to keep the weeds down in their parking strips. Sadly, although I spray my weeds with plain white vinegar, I can’t escape the toxic Roundup that laces my environment.                            

Studies done in Germany on the impact of GMO food on animals have produced the exact same behaviors in the animals that are identified as autistic behaviors in humans. If you want to choose a culprit for the rise in autism, don’t be pointing your finger at vaccinations. Look at the food we are eating.

The chemical glyphosate, which is a key ingredient in Roundup, is frightening. Many recent scientific studies provide insights into the effects of glyphosate on the human body. It triggers all the health problems listed above. Glyphosate alters the chemistry of the body and disrupts the P450 (CYP) gene pathway, which manufactures enzymes that assist with the formation of molecules in cells, as well as breaking them down. CYP enzymes detoxify “xenobiotics” from the body. Examples of “xenobiotics” are chemicals found in pesticides, drugs, and carcinogens. Glyphosate inhibits the ability of the body to manufacture CYP enzymes.

The CYP pathway supports many important biological systems within our bodies. One of the many detrimental things that happens when we are exposed to glyphosate (i.e., Roundup) is that we lose the normal ability to respond to the neurotransmitter serotonin. The loss of the ability of the body to respond to serotonin directly results in, among other things, overweight/obesity, depression, and Alzheimer’s. Monsanto knows all about this and that glyphosate disrupts the CYP gene pathway, resulting in illness and disease. One has to wonder if Monsanto and pharmaceutical corporations making big bucks aren’t in bed together. Seriously. The same major financial institutions that own major biotech and food corporations also own most of the major pharmaceutical companies. Fidelity investments, State Street Corporation, JP Morgan Chase, and The Vanguard Group own all major food corporations as well as pharmaceutical companies. Our food industry is basically designed to make us sick. You can do something about it. Shop and eat consciously.

In addition to the list of GMO crops I offered above, I also want to give a heads up about other foods that are contaminated. Many animal products, such as meat, milk, eggs, cheese, and honey, can be contaminated because of GMOs in feed (so buy organic). I am proud to live in Mendocino County, the first county in the country to ban GMOs through legislation (despite a huge campaign to defeat this legislation when it was on the ballot bankrolled by none other than Monsanto). Note also that there is a list of “monitored crops,” for which suspected or known incidents of GMO contamination have occurred and those which have genetically modified relatives in commercial production with which cross-pollination is possible. These monitored crops include:  chard, beets, rutabaga, Siberian kale, bok choy, mizuna, Chinese cabbage, turnip, rapini, tatsoi, acorn squash, delicate squash, patty pan squash, flax, rice, and wheat.

If you go to the website for the Institute for Responsible Technology, you can download a Non-GMO shopping guide to help you find foods with no GMOs in them. Thislink should take you right to the shopping guide. And for more details about what food substances have GMOs in them visit the Non-GMO Project website at this link.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Unpacking Grandma's Suitcase

Or “Why I Can’t Get Rid of It.” I have dragged a vintage (circa 1950) Samsonite hard suitcase around with me from one storage rack (in my home) to another for longer than I can remember. It’s on a shelf in my garage right now, smiling at me.

I believe this suitcase once belonged to my grandmother, who passed it along to my mom. I don’t actually remember my grandmother ever using it, but I seem to remember Mom referring to it as “grandma’s suitcase.” When did I acquire this possession? At least 35 years ago. Maybe 40. I may have perhaps even used it once when I travelled to Europe as a teenager. I have now had it in my possession for more time than either my mother or my grandmother.

Why do I still have grandma’s suitcase? Suitcase design has progressed light years beyond an entirely impractical 1950 Samsonite. It’s heavy and it doesn’t hold very much stuff. I will never use it again. No one else will either. I once offered it to our local community theater as a prop and they said they already have more vintage suitcases in storage than they need. I nearly asked them if I could take a look to see if any of theirs matched the one I have, but I restrained myself.

Truth? I have a pretty good idea why I have so much trouble letting go of this suitcase. It has to do with my strongest and most profound memory of the suitcase from when I was a little girl. I vividly remember seeing it open on the bed in Mom’s once-bedroom in the house she grew up in one afternoon when our family was visiting my grandparents. Perhaps Mom was packing it for us to return home or perhaps she was unpacking it at the beginning of our stay. Or perhaps she had simply opened it to get something out.

Whenever I recall the image of that suitcase open on that bed, a host of memories floods my senses. I can smell the many scents of my grandmother’s house. The lavender soap in the bathroom. The percolated coffee and fried bacon in the kitchen in the morning. Scent of heavy wooden furniture. Mothballs in the coat closet in the front entranceway. Spice in the pantry with the glass doorknob. The leather smell of my grandfather’s recliner in his den.

That suitcase. I can hear the traffic in the busy street that ran past the front of the house and I can very nearly feel myself tucked into a bed in my grandparents’ bedroom where the sound of the cars rushing by in the street below was most pronounced. I can see the sunlight pouring in the window at the stairway landing where my grandmother kept fragile glass objects that reflected the sun in marvelous ways. I can hear my grandmother playing ”April Showers” on her piano, the only tune she could remember from her brief stint of taking piano lessons as a girl. Marvelous green lamps with prismic crystals that threw rainbows. I remember the feel of the living room carpet. The metal milk box just outside the kitchen door. The bright red cardinals in the large tree outside my mother’s girlhood bedroom.

That suitcase. The intricately carved Victorian dining room furniture and how my brothers and I loved to crawl around under that dining room table with the enormous bulbous legs. The breakfast nook with the high wooden benches where my grandfather would sit to eat his cereal and read the newspaper before he went to work and I would wake up very early, before anyone else in the house stirred, to sit with him while he ate and ask him questions. (Why did he work on the weekends when we visited? I have no idea.) Barton’s Almond Kisses – my grandmother’s favorite candy. Cantaloupe before dinner – a slice on a plate for each of us before the meal was served. Oh that house. That suitcase open on the bed in that house.

My grandfather built that house for my grandmother and they lived in it their entire married life. After my grandfather died, my grandmother sold the house and moved into a much smaller home. Ever since she sold the house, I have had a fantasy of building one just like it and living in it. That never happened. But I have the suitcase. I realize that I don’t need the suitcase to unpack the memories, and yet I can’t let it go. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

June Cherries

June always takes me by surprise. In the winter months I reach a point when I start wishing for hot summer and the bounty of my gardens. I long to go in search of roses, tomatoes, squash, and strawberries with my clippers and my basket. And summer seems so far away. Then suddenly it’s June and summer is on my doorstep.

Even though the Butler Cherry Ranch closed in 1998, when June arrives, I still catch myself thinking that I need to call Butler’s. Back in the day, I called Butler’s on the first of June to find out when they thought the cherries would be in. It varied from year to year, but was always sometime in June and lasted a couple of weeks. I would keep checking back, and when they announced the first day of cherry-picking, I put it on the calendar. I usually took the day off work and kept the children home from school for the first day of the season. For one day we dropped into a time-warp throw-back to agrarian culture when the children got pulled from school to harvest the crops.

Life didn’t get any better than the first morning of the first day of cherry picking at Butler’s. Throngs of people would turn out. Children running through the orchards and climbing the trees, shouting with glee. Everyone eagerly talking about what they would do with their cherries this year. Pointing to the Royal Anne’s – best jam ever. Because we lived just down the road from Butler’s, I often took my children back later in the week to pick again when it wasn’t so crowded. The sense of community on the first day was wonderful and so was the serenity and beauty of picking when no one else was around.

One time, when we stood at the top of a hillside of cherry trees glistening in the early morning light, my children with their baskets on their arms, poised to pick, little Sudi, probably four at the time, piped up, “It’s so perfect here. I can see all the way to Tahoe.” We had recently taken a family vacation in Tahoe, which, to him, was the quintessence of paradise.

Another year, Akili plunged into the cherry orchards (and there were acres and acres and acres of them) head first in what could only be described really as an orgy of cherry picking. By the time we had picked our share and headed for the weigh-in, Akili was covered from head to toe in cherry juice. It was running down his legs, his arms, and his chin.

I have a photograph somewhere of my young daughter, braids flying, basket filled to the brim, tearing down a lane between laden trees at top speed. Dappled in sunlight. The very image of a magical country childhood.

Not my pie, but I have often baked ones
that looked just like it
George Butler charged a dollar per pound for the cherries and promised not to weigh anyone before they left. Good deal because we ate our share. I had such a weakness for Butler cherries that I always came home with way too many. We ate them fresh for a week or more and I baked several pies. But the bulk of them got put up in canning jars and frozen in freezer bags after being pitted. I wore surgical gloves to pit the cherries because otherwise the cherry juice dyed my fingers black. It often took me as much as a week to get them all pitted and put up. I made pies from them throughout the year, rationing them in the end to take me to the next picking season in June before they ran out. My recipe was simple. I added honey, lemon juice, and a little cornstarch to the cherries and used my grandmother’s simple pie crust recipe. Nothing beats a homemade cherry pie with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.

On special occasions, usually when we had enough visitors at the Ranch to lend a hand, we cranked fresh ice cream in the ice cream maker. We had a rule that you had to crank if you wanted to eat. Many hands made short work of the chore. And I do believe that the energy of those who cranked went into that ice cream and made it super delicious.

Now that I think on it, I am inclined to say that homemade cherry pie with hand-cranked vanilla ice cream is the taste of the good life. And that’s the flavor of June that I find in my mouth as I write these words. Is anyone else hungry?