Sunday, July 28, 2013

My Undisciplined Hair

True confession:  I have given up on getting a professional haircut. I’m still pondering how to break this news to my hair stylist, a lovely woman, who has provided me with professional haircuts for fifteen years. But my hair has moved past even her ability to negotiate a truce. The problem is not the hair stylist, the problem is the hair.

My hair has always had a mind of its own. In my early teens, I had my Jewish hair straightened because I imagined that would make me look like the Catholic cheerleaders at my school who had perfect, straight, shiny, thick, horse-tail hair. My natural curls were referred to as “frizz” in those days. If it rained, I hid under the bed for fear of frizz. In my later teens and early twenties I became a “natural woman” (thank you Carole King for the lyrics) and wore my hair in long ringlets. I had big hair. It took up a lot of space. When I traveled I bought a second seat on the airplane just for my hair. I looked like a hippie, even though I wasn’t. People were always trying to sell me drugs, peasant dresses, curried tuna-fish sandwiches, and sandalwood incense. In graduate school, I found a good stylist and had my hair layered. It looked less unruly that way. It looked terrific in fact. I looked ethnic, untamed, creative, and intellectual. I was proud of my curly hair and considered it my best feature.

During the time in my life when I was pregnant, breastfeeding, and raising young children, my hair took some strange turns. Whenever I had a baby, my hair went dead straight. With no curl. Seriously. As I began to wean the baby, it would curl up again. Go figure. Hormones, you gotta love ‘em, right? The first time it happened, after my daughter was born, I actually had my hair permed because I could not cope with a new baby and straight hair at the same time. I had no idea what to do with straight hair. I think one actually has to comb it. When it happened again with my second child, I embraced my temporary straight-hair persona, grew my hair long, and cut bangs across the front. No one was looking at my hair in those days anyway. They were looking at my breasts, which I whipped out constantly and thrust into a hungry baby’s mouth.

Now that my hair has largely gone gray, it’s acting like Charlie Sheen on quaaludes at a Chuck E. Cheese Disneyland ride. It’s not the gray color that’s the problem. It’s the texture of my hair that has resulted from hormone tyranny and the fact that my hair can’t decide if it wants to curl up anymore or not, and if so (or not) how much. I guess it’s an aging thing. My hair has to decide from one moment to the next if it has enough energy to curl up. One side is still fairly curly. One side has lost a lot of curl and is more wavy, or maybe better described as limp (as in the deadness quality of roadkill). I have an interesting whirlpool configuration going on toward the back on the left side, where my hair lays flat and I can’t convince it to show any sign of life. I think that patch of hair is chronically depressed. It has not recovered from the agony of living through the Bush Administration (twice). It gives me a slightly crooked appearance (crooked in the sense of lopsided as opposed to crooked in the sense of Mafia warlord).

My new philosophy about my hair is “If it sticks out, cut it off.” That’s actually working surprisingly well for me. Even though I have not had a professional haircut in four months, I have received a number of compliments on my hair. So I think I’m onto something with my organic hair management method. I figure that it’s a win-win situation. If my hair looks like I just stepped out of a wind tunnel then at least I didn’t pay for it to look like that. I seriously doubt that my hair stylist could do anything with this mess that would please me. And I don’t want her to get hit by a stray punch as a result of stepping into the combat zone of me versus my hair. Since I have no interest in dyes, highlights, perms, or weaves, I am what I am. I will continue to take one day at a time, scrutinizing my mane each morning and deciding if I want to cut anything off. If anyone asks, I’ll tell them I’m cultivating eccentric old-lady chic. My husband and children should just be grateful that I’m not wearing a cat on my head. (Say, there’s a concept.) Don’t judge.

 This is me and my hubby a couple of weeks ago on vacation in SoCal. How's my hair?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Change in a Heartbeat

Just two weeks ago I had so many stressors in my life that I had started taking an herbal remedy called “Happy Camper” in an effort to maintain my equilibrium. I was panicked about my finances, a heavy workload with my grant writing, an elderly friend diagnosed with lung cancer and his wife, and challenges related to family car and medical issues. I feel humbled by the swift transformation of my circumstances.

When Ron and I went on a vacation to SoCal, I consciously put my worries on hold in order to enjoy a long-anticipated family gathering. This time last week I was in Laguna Niguel, where Akili and Tina live. Ron, Sudi, and I flew down from NorCal. Our daughter drove from L.A. My dad joined us after delivering a paper at a math conference in San Diego. We arrived on Thursday evening and went out to eat at a B.J.s Restaurant near our hotel. Ron and I indulged in gluten-free pizza and gluten-free beer. I also had a scrumptious Mediterranean Salad and Ron had one of his favorite treats, a B.J.s gluten-free hot chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream. We sat at a table where I could (surprisingly) hear most of the conversation. It was a perfect family dinner. Afterward I went to Akili and Tina’s apartment where I met their kittens, Jazzy and Rooka, for the first time. The kittens (now 11 months old) are adorable and entertainingly playful (climbing the walls chasing their laser light red dot). Akili and Tina were excited to show them off to us (so sweet).

On Friday we went to a spectacular beach, where I took a walk with Dad (saw a sandpiper) and watched my two magnificent sons swim far out into the waves (as only a doting mother can). After showering off at the hotel, I went on an excursion to the grocery store with Sudi and we bought food for dinner, which I then cooked at Akili and Tina’s apartment. It was Shabbat so I lit candles and Dad and I led the Kiddush over the wine and the blessing over the bread (Mom’s spirit hovered). During dinner Akili said he was seriously thinking of flying me down to SoCal once a month to cook for him (best compliment a Jewish mom could receive). After dinner we stayed up late drinking an excellent Malbec and playing a wild and racy game called Cards Against Humanity for Horrible People, now popular among 20-somethings. We played down to the end of the deck and the kids thought it was a riot that Grandpa won (he and Tina actually tied for choosing the most “favorite” answers). We laughed so hard. Akili is threatening to buy the expansion pack for the game and to bring it home at Christmas. I’m in!

On Saturday we took a walk around a lovely pond near Akili’s apartment. Afterward my daughter and I hung out for a bit at the pool at the hotel. In the evening we went to Tina’s parents’ house for a delicious barbecue (loved the view of the sunset). On Sunday we ate brunch at one of Akili and Tina’s favorite Mexican restaurants and then the other two headed home. Dad and I took a long stroll around a nearby air-conditioned shopping mall where he scored a free demonstration massage. Back at the apartment, the five of us played a cut-throat game of Scrabble and Grandpa won again (I was ahead in points when he went out and I had to subtract my remaining tiles so he beat me. Drat!) In the evening Akili bought us dinner at a restaurant near the ocean in Dana Point, where we sat outside and enjoyed a cool breeze. The lemon vinaigrette on my salad was sensational. Having one of my children actually treat us to a nice dinner was a first and I was surprised at how much I appreciated it. Akili was proud of himself for being able to pick up the tab (now that he is making good money at his job as a web developer). Tina drove us by the house in which she grew up because she wanted us to see it.

After Ron and I landed in Oakland on Monday we drove to Sudi’s apartment, where I had a chance to admire the progress of his little backyard urban garden (I wrote about it in May when we planted it), which is really taking off. We went to dinner at an extraordinary Ethiopian restaurant with Sudi and his girlfriend.

I returned home from my vacation feeling relaxed and calm. My children are thriving. My aging father is still in good health and I appreciate having had another opportunity to spend time with him. This week we moved forward with the process of modifying our mortgage, which will help us manage our debt, so I am not as stressed out about my finances. One of my grant writing jobs was suddenly terminated; and I will get paid for the hours I have worked, which will improve my financial situation for the coming month plus I am relieved to have my work load become much more manageable. My friend with the lung cancer is recovering from a successful surgery in which the entire tumor was removed and his prognosis looks good. The medical problems that concerned me were related to Ron’s health and he has made significant inroads in addressing them after visits to a couple of his doctors.

Stepping outside my day-to-day grind, going to the ocean (always healing and rejuvenating), and spending time with my wonderful children and my dad no doubt contributed to my improved state of mind. I would not go so far as to say that all my worries have vanished, but I am most definitely resting easier and coping better. I have backed off on the Happy Camper pills. I’m on a natural camping happy for now. It amazes me the way everything can change in a heartbeat. So this afternoon you will find me juicing apples from our prolific tree and canning some of our abundant peaches. Dinner tonight? Pesto made from homegrown basil. It’s all good. I wonder what awaits me around the next corner.

 Dad with the kittens.

Me and my hubby chilaxing.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Trayvon Martin On My Mind

Saddened by the results of the Zimmerman Trial (but not surprised), I want to run again the blog I posted after Trayvon Martin's murder last year. Here it is.

One day in 1996, when I was working a 9-to-5 job at Head Start, I received a phone call from my friend S., who lived about 45-minutes-drive from town. S., who is part Black and part Native, was in a panic because her son, R., who was maybe about 20 at the time, had called to tell her he had been arrested for “making an unsafe maneuver on his bicycle.” She begged me to go to the jail to make sure R. wasn’t mistreated or injured before she could get into town. She was terrified he would be beaten. It was late in the day and I was about to leave work to pick up my boys from afterschool daycare. My boys were about 8 and 4 at the time. I promised S. that as soon as I had gotten my boys I would go to the jail.

As I drove over to retrieve my own Black sons, I suddenly realized that I would have to explain to them why R., who often babysat them and whom they adored, was in jail. And to explain that, I had to explain why the police arrested him on a fabricated charge. And to explain that, I had to break the news to my children that the police were not always your friendly neighborhood helper if you happened to be a Black boy (or a Black man). And if I did that, it meant that their dad and I would have to have the talk with them, the talk that I didn’t think we needed to have until they were older, about the precautions that Black young men should take to attempt to stay safe in a racist society. It broke my heart. They were so young, so trustful.

We later learned that R. (who wore his hair in a huge fluffy Afro) had crossed the street in the middle of a block (instead of at the corner) on his bike. A police car immediately bore down on him. R. was in front of the house where he rented a room from our friend J. (who had a son R.’s age) and he was terrified when the police pursued him. He threw his bike on the front lawn and ran into the house. Within moments (this seriously happened), a half a dozen police officers forcibly entered J.’s house, with a snarling police dog and weapons drawn no less, threw R. on the floor, cuffed him, and accused him of resisting arrest! Meanwhile J. (who was physically restrained in her own home by officers) was screaming at the officers that they had no legal right to enter her house without a warrant. In the end, the city offered to drop all charges against R. if he agreed not to sue them. R. wanted to put the whole awful experience behind him and he agreed to the deal. S. didn’t want him to have a criminal record and the agreement would ensure that his record remained clean so she didn’t protest either.

Why am I remembering this story today? Because of Trayvon Martin of course. It brings all of my thoughts on this subject to the fore. The most insightful, moving, and downright useful words that I have read yet in the wake of the murder of this Black child in Florida were written by Touré in this week’s Time Magazine in an article entitled “How to Stay Alive While Being Black.” My Black husband takes exception to this overly dramatic and inherently defeatist title, and I don’t blame him, but the article behind the title is the most healing discourse I have yet read. I would dearly love to just put the whole article up on my blog, despite the copyright. I think this is where I’m supposed to tell you to pick up a copy of Time Magazine. Here is an inside tip:  the article has been lifted in its entirety and posted elsewhere on the Internet. (Click here to go to one of those places.)  I wish to respect the copyright, but I feel compelled to share some of Touré’s words because they touched me so deeply as the parent of Black children. He provides ideas about what to say to young Black boys about what happened to Trayvon, including excellent advice to Black young men regarding how to respond in potentially life-threatening situations. Here is an excerpt from Touré:

It's unlikely but possible that you could get killed today. Or any day. I'm sorry, but that's the truth. Black maleness is a potentially fatal condition. I tell you that not to scare you but because knowing that could save your life. There are people who will look at you and see a villain or a criminal or something fearsome. It's possible they may act on their prejudice and insecurity. Being black could turn an ordinary situation into a life-or-death moment even if you're doing nothing wrong.

There is nothing wrong with you. You're amazing. I love you. When I look at you, I see a complex human being with awesome potential, but some others will look at you and see a thug--even if their only evidence is your skin. Their racism relates to larger anxieties and problems in America that you didn't create. When someone is racist toward you--either because they've profiled you or spit some slur or whatever--they are saying they have a problem. They are not speaking about you. They're speaking about themselves and their deficiencies.

What if it's the cops who are making you feel threatened? Well, then you need to retreat. I don't mean run away. I mean don't resist. Now is not the time to fight the power. Make sure they can see your hands, follow all instructions, don't say anything, keep your cool. Your goal is to defuse things, no matter how insulted you are. We'll get revenge later. In the moment, play possum. Say sir. They may be behaving unjustly, but their lives aren't in danger. Yours is. If you survive, you will be able to tell your lawyer what happened. If you don't ...

I have often wondered if Emmett Till’s mother had had “the talk” with him before he left Chicago and went to visit her people in Mississippi in 1955, if something she said would have stuck in his mind and prevented him from risking and losing his life at the age of 14 by casually flirting with a white woman he did not know. If you don’t remember the story about Emmett Till, look it up. He was brutally beaten to death. His death was a significant event in the advancement of the civil rights movement. But if you were to ask me to choose between having my sons make history and having them alive and well, you can guess which result I would choose. I have emailed Touré’s article to my children. I do not exaggerate when I say that his words could quite possibly save their lives sometime (although I would prefer that they are never in a situation where they must use his advice). Thank you, Touré.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Wheel of Life Cycling + Indulgence of a Foodie

On the 4th of July, my friend Jessica came for an overnight with her daughter Callie, Callie’s fiancé Robert, and Callie and Robert’s two daughters, Aiden (6) and Kenzi (2). I baked cherry pies for them. I decided it was time (overdue in fact) to use up the last of my Butler Ranch cherries that I preserved in 1997. I made pies with some of the 1997 cherries last year for the Cherryfest launch of Memories from Cherry Harvest, but I still had three jars left. Now I have only one left, having used the other two on the 4th.

I’m a foodie. I confess it. Please indulge me. I have to relate what we ate on the 4th. Ron and our buddy Calvin made Calvin’s famous “Peterson’s Chicken,” which is chicken slathered in butter and garlic, doused in flaming white wine, and cooked fast and hot in a closed hibachi grill. Our friend Irma (who is Puerto Rican) made Arroz con Gandules (Rice with Pigeon Peas), the national dish of Puerto Rico; but she made it vegetarian so I could eat it. She put these huge Cuban olives in it that knocked my socks off. My friend Rani made excellent potato salad and coleslaw. We also had some green salad and an oversized old-fashioned sweet-and-cool seeded watermelon that Callie and Robert brought. Jessica arrived with an enormous zucchini she had grown in her garden and we sliced it up and marinated it in sesame oil, tamari, rice wine vinegar, onion powder, and garlic powder and we BBQed it. Heaven. OK. Enough (well, never enough, huh?). Back to the cherry pie. (I rock a surprisingly awesome gluten-free pie crust made with brown rice flour, almond meal, flax seed meal, and organic palm oil shortening.)

As we ate our cherry pie, Jessica and I reflected on the fact that we were eating cherries that I had put up when Callie was ten years old. There we sat at the table eating these cherries with Callie’s two little girls (Jessica’s granddaughters). Callie passionately loved those Butler cherries as a child and she vividly remembers her many visits to the Ranch while growing up. Even though we no longer live in that magical place for her daughters to experience it, we have a different sort of magical home, full of toys and books, and Callie’s daughters love to come here to play. And to eat cherry pie.

We tried to remember the first year Jessica brought her children to the Ranch. She said Sudi (my youngest) was a baby at the time. Since it had been over Labor Day Weekend, and we figured Sudi was about ten months old, it had to have been in 1992. Recollecting Sudi’s age and our arrival at the Ranch prompted Ron to mention that Sudi was born at home at the Ranch and when we discovered that we had never (could not believe it) told Jessica and Callie the story of Sudi’s frontier homebirth, we launched into the account. (That is a tale for another time.) Life is full of so many marvelous, improbably, and astounding stories.

Last night that baby Sudi, born at the Ranch nearly 22 years ago, performed as the headliner at a concert in Brooklyn. It was the first anniversary of Astro Nautico’s Freecandy monthly concerts. Astro Nautico produced Sudi’s LP You’re There (released June 12, 2012, just days before the release of my novel). Click here to download You’re There if you’re interested (ambient beats).

Callie and Robert will be married on Sudi’s 22nd birthday in October. Our beautiful children, grown into beautiful adults, raising children, performing original music. Callie now a parent of two beautiful children. Sudi now making a name for himself as a musician. The kids are alright. Sometimes I feel such overpowering awe as I witness the wheel of life cycling around.

Here is a photo of Ron with Kenzi in his lap and Aiden laughing maniacally after putting one 
of the cat's mousie toys behind Ron's ear. Aiden is missing her front teeth at the moment.