Sunday, December 28, 2014

On Newness

At this time, in the darkest days of winter, when the year turns, we think about what to do new, what to do different, in the coming year. I had a conversation with Sudi this past week that bears repeating. Telling me about the film “Boyhood,” he said he thinks I will like it but he thinks it will make me sad. “Why is that?” I asked. “Because it’s about children growing up and leaving home and then they’re gone and the parents are wistful and nostalgic for the days gone.” I replied that I am not sad that my children grew up and left home. I miss them, of course, and I also miss the babies, children, and teenagers they once were. But I love having adult children. They change my life all the time. They introduce me to new things and inspire me to be different, to do things differently. For instance, while Sudi was home, he spent an evening with me and Ron in Ron’s newly created office in the back bedroom listening to vinyl record albums on Ron’s turntable. Sudi took a journey in Ron’s record collection and pulled LPs at random to listen to various tracks that interested him. He and Ron talked music. I listened. I had forgotten how fat and juicy the sound is on an album played on a turntable. How many years has it been since I have spent an entire evening simply listening to albums, without doing anything else at the same time? It took me back to my college days. I even had a cat sitting on me and purring (then snoring).

My adult children introduce me to films, food, wine, information, books, ideas, current events, people, places, and more and more. They stretch my horizons, my thinking, my perceptions. While I’m a creature of habit in significant ways; at the same time I am a bit of a change junkie. I need that mental stimulation. Hence my enrollment in my holistic nutrition program, which I love. One of my inspirations for going back to college at the age of 59 to earn my nutritionist certification is my friend Carey Weng, who enrolled in Harvard Divinity School at the age of 60. (The father of our friend Gayla, Carey passed away in 2010.) I have dreamed of being a nutritionist, and in February I will officially become one. I don’t have to stop being a writer or stop doing the other things I already do, professionally or otherwise. I will just add nutritionist to the mix. I’m “setting out in the evening” with this new direction.

It takes little to shake things up, gain new perspectives, and grow in good ways. For all the years we have lived in our house, I have never quite landed here, never felt at home. But oddly, after moving back in, rearranging the furniture, and repurposing the rooms, I feel more comfortable here. This house feels more like mine. I have made it more my own with some of the smallest new and different things; such as moving all my books into my study and dissolving the library (turned it back into a formal dining room as it was meant to be).

Newness is not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be, of course. Although it’s good to keep ourselves thinking, changing, growing; on the other hand, something different is not always a good thing. I have two dear friends who have been widowed this past year. Learning to make a life again without their husbands is not the kind of difference that provides benefit. At the Jewish new year (Rosh Hashanah), we say to one another, “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year, a sweet year,” and we eat honey to invite in the sweetness. We never know from one year to the next who will be with us still, who will be gone, and what changes will transpire. When we put our house on the market last winter, our neighbors across the street were unhappy at the thought of losing us. They have two young boys with whom Ron and I would often converse in the course of our daily doings. But by the time Ron and I took our house off the market and decided to stay, these lovely neighbors had put their house on the market. The husband took a terrific job in another town, a job too good to pass up, and they moved. Now their house is for sale and ours is not.

While many things beyond our control may buffet us this way and that, we choose where these things will take us. We steer in and out and around. We choose to change course. We choose the lessons to take away and the lessons to leave on the table. We choose how to do it different, what new things to embrace, and the ways in which we wish to change ourselves and our lives. We also choose what to keep, what to do in the old way, what not to change at all. Ron sent Christmas cards through the mail the old-fashioned way this year and he still gets a newspaper delivered to our mailbox every morning, while I emailed a holiday letter (as usual) and I read the online news from a variety of media outlets every morning. On the other hand, Ron has a Smartphone that does lots of tricks and I hardly ever use my cell phone, which is an antique flip-phone that lives in my car in the garage. Seriously, the Smithsonian wants my phone when I’m done with it. Some things are worth keeping and some worth changing – it’s all in making the conscious choice rather than being carried in the current without thinking about where we wind up.

Starting new can happen at any time, on any day, in any moment. Starting new does not belong exclusively to New Year’s Eve. Any day we can wake up in the morning and decide that we will change the pattern. While life throws bunches of unexpected events at us, to a great extent we have the ability to create our days, our years, and our lives. So instead of wishing you a happy new year, I think I will wish you a new year. Straight up. Good new.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Gifts We Bring to the Feast

I have wasted too much time spinning in frustration that I have not become the famous author I once dreamed I would be, with all my manuscripts published and all those books selling well. I don’t know why I thought I was so special that the hand of providence would touch me with the magic of a far-reaching distinguished literary career. I worked hard for it and I do have some talent. But life rarely turns out to be what we imagined.

I have a friend who makes the most extraordinary handmade paper, foldout books, and what she calls “portable altars,” which are foldout collages with spiritual themes or with memorabilia honoring a person who has passed into spirit. I have a friend who makes mosaics of exquisite beauty inset on furniture, in decorative pictures, and as part of everyday objects. I have a friend who plays guitar and sings to knock your socks off. I have a friend who cooks the most delectable dinners. I have friends who paint, garden, quilt, write, dance, photograph, sew, make wine, play soccer, build houses, interpret dreams, grow lemons, and are knowledgeable about so many things. I know people with such talent, who are at the top of their game at an enormous array of amazing and various pursuits, who are super accomplished at something the way I am accomplished at writing. Are any of us famous? A few are, in their field. I am famous within a 20-mile radius of my house. Stay with me as I veer off in an unexpected direction. Trust me. This is related.

There is a 1987 Danish film called Babette’s Feast, based on a story written by Isak Dinesen (AKA Karen Blixen). It was written and directed by Gabriel Axel. Here is the link to a trailer. Let me see if I can summarize the aspect of this film that applies to my line of thought. A French refugee named Babette arrives in a Danish village to work as the housekeeper for two aging spinster sisters. They cannot pay her but she works for room and board. There is an allusion to a mysterious terrible bloody political upheaval in Paris that took the lives of her husband and child. She has a gift for cooking and she uses it to cook delicious restorative food for the aging ill and poor people of the village. She takes soup to the housebound and a hot evening meal to the sick. In this way, over a period of 14 years, she becomes a part of village life in a quiet, devoutly Christian, out-of-the-way place. Then she wins the lottery in France. (An old friend buys her a ticket and gives it to her and it’s the winning one.) So Babette announces that she will cook a super-gourmet French dinner (a feast) for the spinster sisters who took her in when she was destitute, as well as for some of their family and other friends in this little village. She sends to Paris for the exotic ingredients she needs to cook the feast. All those invited to the feast have been kind to Babette. (There is a great deal more to this story.) Babette cooks an extraordinary feast. Afterward, the sisters assume that Babette will return to Paris. But Babette reveals that she was formerly the head chef of the Cafe Anglais, the finest restaurant in Paris, and she tells the sisters that dinner for 12 at the Cafe Anglais costs 10,000 francs, precisely what she won in the lottery. One of the sisters says, "Now you will be poor for the rest of your life," to which Babette replies, "An artist is never poor." Ah yes, the wealth of the imagination. 

I tell this story, Dinesen’s story, because I am touched by the concept of using one’s gifts, one’s talents, simply for the delight of those who inhabit one’s corner of the world; just as Babette uses her gift to delight those in her immediate community; not just with her feast, but also (mainly) with the 14 years of cooking for the ill and aged. So it is with me and with most others who are so gifted. We each have our domain in which we are, in fact, extraordinary artists and therefore never poor and therefore fortunate to have something to contribute to the feast. We continue to do what we love, what we know, what we do well, for the benefit of the small circle of people whom we have the pleasure to touch with our lives. We share our gifts for the delight of dear ones, acquaintances, strangers-in-passing, and the many others who cross our paths.

I am not famous. I have not made a big splash. Few people have read my books or my blog; but some of those who have read my words found something meaningful in those words, which I so painstakingly and lovingly crafted. Whom did I craft them for? Honestly, for whomever would read them. I have tried so hard to make my work matter and I have so often felt that it didn’t, it hasn’t. Lately, I feel that all of it has indeed mattered, that it does matter; and I am at peace with where my gift for writing has taken me. I can reconcile the version of the self I have become with the self I wanted to be. I have touched lives. Fewer than I had wished, but enough. So it is with all of us as we use our talents for one another – to delight and comfort, praise and support, communicate with and stimulate to thought, share life and break bread, celebrate and mourn, give a laugh and pass on information, etc. and etc. That in itself is enough purpose to it, enough accomplishment. Such is the nature of the gifts that each of us brings to the feast of life.

Babette prepares food for the feast.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

On Race, Cops, and the Future

I have a black husband and children (who, although multiculti, would usually be viewed as black by a police officer), and black nieces and nephews, so trust me, I am outraged by and terrified of racial profiling and police brutality. At the same time, I don’t see any justification for demonizing police officers. I am appalled by the divide that has opened between the Black Lives Matter Movement and law enforcement. It has gotten to the point at which a police officer who publicly expresses a need for change is called a traitor by others in law enforcement and where someone like myself who speaks up in defense of police officers is lambasted by lefties (those who did this are not even black, by-the-way).

How have all police officers suddenly become racists? That type of blanket stereotyping is what racism is all about, isn’t it? When we stop seeing people as whole individuals with value and start not really seeing them at all then we have a dangerous “ism” going on. All police officers do not use excess force. Police officers work hard and don’t get paid enough for it, like other ordinary folks. On top of that, police officers regularly risk their lives at their job, which is hard on their families as well as the officers themselves. How is it OK to literally or metaphorically beat up on hardworking public servants? I fear that liberals have a knee-jerk reaction to authority and too easily view law enforcement as an evil machination of the power structure. C’mon people. Some police officers are racist, some are not, like everyone else. Some police officers use undue force, some do not. Many police officers have not received proper training, which can result in tragedy. Some are ignorant. Some are well-trained and sensible. When I was arrested peacefully protesting the manufacture of nuclear weapons at the Lawrence Livermore Lab in 1983, the arresting officers I encountered were careful, restrained, respectful, and well-trained. I had a brief, deep, genuine conversation with one of them while he was cuffing me and leading me away for transport to jail.

No genuine dialogue can happen in the midst of violence. Violence simply breeds more violence. I am mystified as to how a violent protest will solve the problem of police brutality or racism. How are the violent protests supposed to address the injustice meted out in the courts in Ferguson and NY? How do violent protests inspire change? So people are angry. I get it. They need to grow up and formulate a constructive response. Everyone needs to communicate. Communication is not head-bashing, mace spray, rubber bullets, punching one another, storefront windows being broken, and theft of TVs and sneakers. We need creative solutions and alliance. We need rallies like the one that happened yesterday when the mothers of slain black boys and men spoke out in the Capitol.

Not all protesters are looters. Not all police officers are racists. All of the above have the capacity for transformation through peaceful means. I am heartsick that we, as a nation, seem to have managed to grossly simplify a complex dynamic, deeply rooted in the shameful history of this country spanning centuries. Brown and Garner are the latest in waves and waves of unjust murders going back and back and back. There have been so many, too many to name them all. Too many mothers’ sons. I fear for my own sons. I also have friends and relatives who are fine police officers, who went into law enforcement to preserve the peace and to help people. Seriously, who could possibly believe that people go into law enforcement with the express goal of killing black boys and men? Jon Stewart recently said, “You can truly grieve for every officer who has been lost in the line of duty in this country, and still be troubled by cases of police overreach. Those two ideas are not mutually exclusive. You can have great regard for law enforcement and still want them to be held to high standards.” Thank you. Because I mourn Brown and Garner does not mean I have no regard for the sacrifice and hard work of police officers.

I am hopeful because the discussion of training for police officers is now in the limelight. Officers need better training in how to diffuse a tense situation, how to de-escalate a confrontation, how to make good decisions when lives are on the line. They need training in appropriate response. Also, officers need to be screened better when they apply to become officers. Not everyone is cut out for law enforcement. It takes a special kind of person. Those who have served in combat in the military and who suffer from PTSD are, in my opinion, not an appropriate choice as police officers. A couple of years ago an incident occurred in Sonoma County where an Iraq War combat vet (known to suffer from PTSD) who was a police officer killed a 13-year-old child playing with a toy gun because the officer misinterpreted what he was seeing. I don’t think that someone with PTSD from combat should have been in that situation to begin with.

We are a country at war with itself and the war is between our history and our future, not between blacks + protestors and police. A country built on the violence of genocide, slavery, and racism needs a lot more than better training for police officers to achieve peace, equity, and justice. I am outraged by the deaths of Brown and Garner, and I am outraged by so many other deaths that preceded. Racism is the disease that has caused these murders. Only 12% of the U.S. population is black but 23% of people killed by police officers are black. The numbers tell the truth. There is only one way to successfully fight racism and that is constructive dialogue. People need to tell their stories to one another and they need to listen to each other’s stories and they need to hear. I believe that the power of stories is our only way out of this mess. The racist foundation of this country requires more than education to be replaced with a viable alternative, it requires change of heart. We need to feel each other’s pain on a heart level, not just a head level, and we need transformation to result.

The lives of our children down through the generations depend on this peaceful dialogue. It will not happen while people are hurling bottles and epithets at one another. I am for my black brothers and sisters and I am for hardworking police officers.  These are not mutually exclusive, as Jon Stewart points out. I can support both. Moreover, it’s not about them, them, them. What “they” need to do. What “they” need to change. It’s about us. We must be the change. You and I must change. Let’s start.

Richmond, CA Police Chief Chris Magnus standing in solidarity with protesters. 
He was reprimanded and criticized for wearing his uniform to do this. I applaud his courage.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Life Happens

It was one of those life happens kinda weeks. Yesterday I spent the afternoon at a remembrance for our friend Scott. We celebrated the extraordinary person he was and the exemplary life he led. Scott was diagnosed with cancer in July and a brief four months later, at the young age of 61, he passed into spirit peacefully in his own home on the land he loved in Mendocino County, my homeland, one of the most spectacularly beautiful places in the world. Scott was so hale and hearty, lived so cleanly, drinking pure water and breathing clean air, that one would have anticipated that he would live to be a hundred, but one would have been wrong. Life happens in unexpected ways.

Yesterday was also the fourth birthday of my precious goddaughter Stella, a miracle in the form of a brilliant little person if ever there was one. Stella’s mom, Gayla, was nearly 50 years old when Stella was born. Stella is her only child and I never imagined Gayla would choose to embark on motherhood at that age, particularly since her husband is in his 60s and has two grown children. But Gayla is a young 50-something and she and her husband are having a blast raising Stella. Gayla sent me a vid of Stella dancing gaily in her fairy princess costume, singing happily on her birthday. The center of the universe for her well-educated, smart, creative, and adoring older parents, Stella is a remarkable little girl. She almost didn’t come to be, but life happens in astonishing ways.

On Wednesday night this past week, one of the four enormous old oak trees in my half-acre yard fell down. It was a tree that had been suffering from drought for a very long time and had an almost entirely hollow lower trunk. When I looked inside that tree after it fell, I wondered what had been holding it up. The crazy thing about it was that it fell as if placed on the ground gently by a divine hand. It did not fall on my house, my fence, my propane tank, or any of the many fruit trees I have planted in my yard in recent years. It fell carefully between my young almond tree, my young cherry trees, and my most beautiful seasoned dogwood. It fell a few feet short of the fence so that it does not block passage around the yard. It fell so perfectly, so beautifully, that I’m not feeling any urgency to have it cut up. It laid itself down peacefully and died. I will forever connect in my mind the loss of the tree with the loss of Scott. The tree fell exactly one month to the day after Scott passed.

At the event to celebrate Scott, I saw a few mutual friends who attended Akili and Tina’s wedding in September. That was the last time I had seen them, at a joyous and fun life cycle event. My contemporaries, who have gone through thick and thin with me, for better or for worse. Yesterday, I talked to Casey, the niece of Scott’s widow Linda (one of my dearest longtime friends). Casey did a tremendous good deed by coming to the event from Florida with her two-year-old. Oh how Casey’s daughter, that sparkling little sprite, cheered up Linda and us grieving old folks. The last time I saw Casey, she was a little girl herself, playing on the beach in the vast Pacific Northwest with my children on a joint family vacation. Now she is grown, married, and a mom with a child the same age that my Sudi was the last time I saw Casey. Time passes as surely as the ivy climbs the wall.

I have to holler, laugh, howl, cry, and wonder at how life happens. These precious and unique babies born, riding through childhood, dancing in their fairy princess dresses, finding their way in the world, getting married, doing both ordinary and extraordinary things, many of them having babies that they raise to do it all over again. Generation after generation of us, sometimes remembering back and back and back and back to the ancestors, all those who came before; and more often not remembering anything or else remembering so little. Losing so many memories of all those good times had, and also losing memories of hard times better forgotten. All those children born, trees falling, weddings celebrated, dear ones dying always too soon. And it keeps on and on in this way that could be a pattern but could be complete chaos. Who knows? Each time I turn the crystal of life in my hand and look through it I see a different configuration through its many facets.

I can’t keep up. It all goes by too fast. It’s too crazy or difficult or miraculous to grasp. I try, but I spend my whole life trying. There is really no sense to be made from it other than what we fabricate to create meaning, there is only the going through it with sometimes immeasurable delight and sometimes bottomless grief and sometimes of no consequence either way; only the experiencing it. Enjoying the delicious bowl of soup, the transcendent slant of orange golden light at sunset, the embrace, the touch, the fragrance, the laugh, the song, oh just the quiet voice and nothing more even. All of it. So complicated and yet so simple. And here we are. Thrown together. I wake up every morning. A tree is standing and then it’s not. I will take it. I will take it all for as long as it lasts. Life happens. 

I am not a photographer. This is not my tree. It's an image I pulled off the internet 
of a broken oak tree to show how graceful and beautiful a broken oak can be. 
Mine is a beauty too.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Mystifying Ruination

Why does a person deliberately allow a thing of beauty, created with masterful attention, to crumble to dust? I cannot comprehend.

Last spring a lovely family moved to our neighborhood. I often stop to speak to one or the other of them when out on my morning walk. Soon after they moved in, I noticed that they placed two exquisite, carved, dark wooden desks in front of their house along with several carved wooden chairs. One of the chairs has elaborate orange and rust-colored brocade upholstery set into the back and the seat. This furniture is placed under a spur of roof that shelters the “porch,” however the front of the porch area is open and completely exposed to the weather.

I was surprised to see this magnificent furniture left out in the sun during the summer, but I imagined that eventually the owners would take it inside. Not so. It remained outdoors on into what is now the rainy season. These beautiful pieces of antique furniture have been touched by the damp and this week they are slick with rain.

A few days ago, I saw the woman who bought the house and I asked her what was up with the antiques outdoors. She explained to me that she collects antique furniture and that her previous house was much larger than this one so she doesn’t have room for all the antiques inside this house. She and her husband enjoy sitting outdoors so they decided to enjoy their antique desks and chairs outdoors until the elements destroy them.

Wait, what?

I asked her why she doesn’t give them away or sell them. She said they are too valuable to just give them away (wait, what again?) and that selling them is too complicated. She explained to me that you don’t just sell antiques, that you have to hire an antique broker to value them and sell them for you. They don’t want to go through the hassle of selling them. She said they would rather enjoy them outdoors until the pieces are ruined. I didn’t ask her what they would do with them after that. Maybe take them to the dump, I guess.

I don’t get this.

Every day I walk past these extraordinary pieces of old, old furniture that a craftsman spent hours and hours building, that contain history, beauty, precision, care, and, let’s put it out there – love. I am mystified as to why someone would allow these beautiful pieces of functional art to die. In my world, the splendid things that people create are precious. Perhaps the owners of the doomed antiques would rather “use them up” themselves than allow someone else to have them and appreciate them. I am speculating. I cannot fathom the logic of this. 

I had to write about the doomed furniture because the situation disturbs me. I am tempted to steal the furniture. To rescue it. But that is unethical and against the law. There is some sort of lesson here. I am still working out what it is. I have started speaking to the furniture when I pass. Comforting it, as I would a dying friend. I see no reasonable resolution to this situation. It will end badly, I fear, for both me and the antiques.

None of these chairs pictured below is the brocade orange chair soaking up the rain today, but they remind me of it. The second chair is sort of the style and the wood is similar to the one dying. The print pattern on the first one reminds me of the pattern of the fabric, but it's not that color. It's more the color of the third chair. Just to give you a taste of it. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Transformation and the Ephemeral

Transformation does not exactly capture the concept I have in my mind. Maybe it’s reversal or shift. Maybe it’s simply change. But the other word that keeps coming into my mind is ephemeral, which the dictionary defines as transient. Fleeting. Gone in a flash. But I am thinking more about how things change in a flash. Could be gone. Could be different. Could be not what we had thought at all in the first place. Unexpected or unfair or miraculous. Our reality is how we perceive the world and it can change in an instant. Things that are not what they seemed have forever fascinated me.

Yesterday I ran out on what I thought would be a quick errand at the end of the day. Even though it was chilly, overcast, and threatening rain, I just slipped into my flip-flops. I had been working in the yard and was hot so my feet were warm. I would only be gone a few minutes. I did my errand, returned to my car, turned my key in the ignition and my engine did not start. I turned the key a second time while calculating in my head how long it would take AAA to come, or how long for me to find someone to come get me; and how quickly my feet would freeze in those flip-flops. I don’t think I sat in the car more than 60 seconds before there was a knock at my window. “Do you need a jump start?” a man asked. He and his two friends pulled their truck over. I had jumper cables. They started my car like superheroes, and I drove home. Don’t you love it when people are nice, are human, are considerate and thoughtful and helpful? What could have been a pain-in-the-ass situation (involving frozen feet), turned around that fast.

Another dead battery story. Once, about ten years ago, our family spent a lovely day in Mendocino by the ocean; and late in the afternoon, as it was getting dark, we prepared to drive back home. We were in the Odyssey van and the battery was dead. I called AAA and they gave me the number of the only shop in Mendocino that provided emergency road service for AAA. I called the shop and the mechanic who answered said he couldn’t help us out for another 45 minutes. But then I realized that we were actually parked right in front of his shop. I could see him in his office talking on the phone with me. I pointed this out to him and waved. He waved back, and repeated that he couldn’t help me for 45 minutes! But I have jumper cables, I said. Just come out for a few minutes with your truck and help us out. No, he wouldn’t do that. He said he’d come out in 45 minutes. What? So I left the hood of the van up and stood next to it with the jumper cables in my hand and waved at passing cars. Before long, a thoughtful person stopped and gave us a jump start. I was wearing a Raiders sweatshirt that day and the person who stopped said he couldn’t leave a fellow Raiders fan in distress. I wonder if my Raiders sweatshirt would prove as useful these days (although they did win their first game in over a year on Thursday – Go Raiders).

What is my point, huh? I’m pondering how ephemeral life is, and how changeable. I’m pondering the swiftness of transformation. I’m pondering how quickly a situation can change. I’m pondering circumstances. Permutations. Separate realities.

Moving on from car batteries to life and death…. Ron has a friend who was diagnosed with cancer eight years ago. At the time he smoked and was a negative-thinking person. He was resigned to dying of cancer and had no fight in him. But somewhere along the way he changed, and he also got lucky. His cancer went into remission. He quit smoking. He chose to have a positive attitude. He transformed. Nowadays he’s sort of a different person. Things went well for him. So then I think about my friend who died of cancer three weeks ago. Why didn’t things go well for him? He fought hard, was determined not to surrender to the disease, kept a positive attitude, and lost his life. I have friends who died of cancer and friends who recovered from cancer. How does it go one way for one person and the other way for another?

How often have I thought something was gone only to have it return? A lost ring, found miraculously in the most unlikely place. A Native friend who lost his seat on the Tribal Council in the recent election, but this week the tribal judge overturned the election because a candidate was cheating and the election will be held again and perhaps my friend will retain his seat after all. A person I thought I would never see again and then our paths cross. A loved one dying who survives. A plant that was declared extinct and then, a hundred years later, it is discovered growing on a remote hillside.

The permutations of direction that any given situation can take amaze me. Is this the famous Schrodinger’s cat? At any given point in time we do not know what is in the box so we must assume that everything is in the box until we open the box. Life is fleeting and full of surprises and it turns on a dime. All the more reason to take a moment to pause and give thanks for the good things and the people we love and the times we have cherished. I believe that Thanksgiving has evolved and that Thanksgiving is no longer about pilgrims and Indians and survival and genocide. It’s not even about turkey, corn, and pumpkins. It’s about giving thanks. So, dear reader, thanks for reading my weekly ponder once again. I am honored to touch your life with my words. 

Transformation happens. Carry on.

A joke I swiped from Facebook that is pertinent to today's blog:

Sunday, November 16, 2014


Some of you will remember a 1981 movie with Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn in which they spend two hours eating dinner and talking. It’s now a cult film for my generation. The stories, mostly those of Gregory, are so fascinating that the audience remains engaged even with no apparent action. It’s sort of a strange thing about that film – the viewer wants to enter the conversation. Yesterday I had brunch with a small group of friends whom I have not seen in quite some time and we had a dinner-with-Andre kind of conversation that sprawled beyond the meal table and tumbled into the garden as the afternoon unfolded.

Our eclectic group included myself and Ron, another couple in which the guy is Black and the gal is Jewish, a married lesbian couple, and a friend who is half Black and half Japanese and her partner who is Jewish. Before we ate, I took a moment to reflect on the fact that until recently (historically) all of us risked being killed for being in these relationships. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, all of us have children in multicultural relationships as well. Although we come from quite different backgrounds and cultures, we have many shared interests, one of which is gardening and food production and another of which is nutrition and health.

Around the table we went, sharing the latest events in our lives. One couple had recently traveled to Lithuania for the once-every-four-years Baltic Song Festival held by Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. This massive festival of local song and dance, emphasizing national culture and folk music, is a symbol of nationhood for these countries that have fought off Soviet domination. Our friends talked about the crisp delicious beers, the table fifty yards long featuring a variety of rye breads baked according to the customs in regions all over the Baltic, the singers and dancers who performed, singing the sunset in together with thousands and then singing the sunrise up hours later. One of the women who traveled is Lithuanian and she had never been to her land of origin. When they visited the town in which her grandfather grew up, she found a photograph of him hanging in the local museum!

Ron and one of the other men at the table have retired in the past year and some of the friends wanted to know what they do now. The other man who retired joked, “I go to the post office, buy a stamp.” I boasted that Ron has become a professional newspaper-reader. Retirement is a concept. Will I ever get there? One of the friends just landed a new job over the summer. He’s a computer tech. He told us that a person at the company interviewed him and then took him to a computer room and pointed to things and asked him to identify them; like a router and a server. Hilarious. I went on a riff about being asked to identify a chair, a lamp, a file cabinet. After our friend had correctly identified the router and the server, the guy turned to him and offered him the job on the spot. I guess they were in need of someone who could tell his ass from a hole in the ground. Wild.

When I shared a few aspects of my studies to earn my holistic nutrition certification, the whole crew was off and running talking about food, cooking, healthy eating, what makes us sick, and what makes us well. One of our friends had read an article about research that shows that people who live in a close-knit community live longer and stay healthier. I explained a few basic concepts about the detrimental impact of stress on health. It makes sense that people in community feel better because they have a fine resource to help them relieve stress. In fact, they probably have less stress to begin with because of the comfort of living in the embrace of a caring community. We discussed the ways in which we each relieve stress, which prompted our hostess to break out her dark chocolate (four varieties!), woo-hoo.

Our hostess has spent the last few years researching fish farms. She is an extraordinary gardener and she is now interested in developing a sustainable fish farm in her back yard, using the fishy-poo to fertilize her gardens. She has studied what fish eat and how to grow the kind of insects that the kind of fish she wants to farm will eat and how to use fishy-poo as plant food and how to pasteurize straw to grow mushrooms. In the middle of this discussion we adjourned to the yard to see the fish farm she was building back there and to admire her vegetable gardens. She converted a quarter of an acre of lawn into a mini-farm.

Out back, surrounded by brilliant purple and green chard and cabbage, lemon trees, and bright orange nasturtiums on the mini-farm, I fell into conversation with my Black-Japanese friend about what causes cancer and how tenuous our lives are; how important to enjoy and appreciate our friends since the future remains a mystery. We could have swapped stories of irony, stories of miracles, stories of tragedy, inspiration, and beauty for hours and hours. But the shadows of evening began to gather and all of us had our busy lives to return to.

One thing that strikes me about our afternoon is that we didn’t discuss politics much, except as related to the politics of food production. I have so many friends for whom politics are a primary topic of discussion. It was refreshing to go deeper to the things that will really change our lives and make a future, such as sustainable farming. I am convinced that the political world is not where real change will happen. It will happen in our back yards and over our fences and in the heart and the soul.

I’m rambling. Sorry for that. What am I trying to say here? Something about what it means to have plenty, what it means to protect our food supply. Something about friendship. Something about how mysterious and enormous and fascinating is the wide, wide world. Something about the magnificently inquisitive human mind. Something about passion, and learning from each other, and eating real food, and making real food, and sharing real food, and real conversation, and real life. Something about being grateful for bounty. Thanksgiving coming.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Failure to Launch

This week my husband and I made a hard decision. We decided to live in our house. For the past year we have been preparing to move. We did some repairs and deep cleaning and put our house on the market during the winter, and then we proceeded to clean this enormous house every fifteen minutes to show it to prospective buyers. What a royal pain in the pa-toot.

I hoped that a move would improve our financial situation. Let me break this down for you. When my oldest child went away to college in 2002 we owned our property at the Ranch free and clear and we had no debt. By the time our youngest graduated from a pricey private art college in 2013, we had taken out a first mortgage, then a home equity line of credit, then multiple Parent Plus loans, then we paid tuition on credit cards and borrowed through the wonderful Hebrew Free Loan Association. I think Ron and I were solely responsible for the rebound of the economy. Don’t send thank-you notes, send money.

Both of our sons received scholarships; however, based on our middle class income, the scholarships did not cover the full cost of tuition and, of course, no living expenses. There is a thing called the EFC:  Expected Family Contribution (cynical snort laugh). Don’t even get me started talking about the cost of a college education and how the college system leeches off the middle class. Everyone wants to talk about student loan debt; what about parent college-for-kids loan debt? After Sudi graduated, we refinanced our house to roll our loans into the mortgage at a lower percentage rate. None of our children have any student loan debt. We assumed all of it and I’m fine with that. I’m proud that I put three children through college and they came out debt-free. It is the singular greatest financial accomplishment of my life. The second-greatest is maintaining two cats who spend most of the day sleeping.

Now our house is mortgaged to the wing-nuts, Ron had to retire to deal with his health issues, and I chose to provide entertainment by running around like Chicken Little screaming omygod omygod omygod how do we pay our bills? The most sensible plan of action appeared to be to sell this big house and move to something smaller to reduce our mortgage. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But the market in our area is as dead as Dick Cheney’s brain. Our house has lost value. The few houses on the market in the price range that we could afford are either 1) smaller than my file cabinet, 2) in bad shape (is that duct tape holding the sink to the wall?), 3) in unsavory neighborhoods (flight path of the airlift helicopters coming and going to the hospital), 4) have salmon-colored shag carpet throughout that would cost so much to remove that it would defeat the purpose of downsizing, or 5) have a backyard consisting entirely of concrete and a birdbath (if I were a bird I would feel naked in that birdbath with no leaves to hide me). House-hunting is clearly a whole other blog topic.

After a therapeutic session with my loan agent at the bank, which resulted in the conclusion that my present mortgage package is so terrific that I would be better off shooting myself than moving right now; and after a deep conversation about the meaning of life with my theologian-realtor; and after a dark chocolate binge punctuated by a heart-to-heart conversation with my husband; we took the house off the market.

So we are moving back into our house. I am unpacking the boxes and boxes and boxes in the garage and putting things away in new places. We are repurposing our rooms and rearranging our furniture. I am enjoying all the fun and excitement of moving without the stress of moving. Unfortunately, I’m back to the stress of our precarious financial situation. But, you know what? I confess that part of my decision to stay in this house was connected to the tragic death of a friend of mine last week. As I witness the agony of his wife, my dear one, as she struggles to cope with this overwhelming loss, I find myself more able to put my precarious financial situation on a back burner. Other things in life are simply more important. I will count my blessings and rehang my pot rack.

My adorable albatross.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Perspective: Contemplation at the Day of the Dead

I have a 60-year-old friend who is dying. His wife, one of my dearest friends, is only a couple of years younger. It seems to me that she is painfully young to lose her husband. Although, I have other friends who lost their spouse when much younger than that. My childhood friend Glenn died at 39 and his wife was pregnant with their third child at the time. There are so many people for me to remember on the Day of the Dead.

Trying to do the math to calculate about my grandmothers, I figure that my maternal grandmother must have been about 60 when my grandfather died. He was around 63. I used to think Grandpa was old when he died, but from where I stand today, I think he died young. Perspective. My other grandfather died within a few weeks of my birth, when my father was only 25, and my grandmother was in her fifties. My daughter is 30 and not only is her father still alive, so is her grandfather (my dad), who is 85 and in excellent health for an old guy. How fortunate is that? How fortunate for me, at 60, to still have my father? This good fortune is not lost on me.

When I was a teenager, we lived across the street from a family with a son the same age as I and two daughters. The wife’s aging father (the grandpa) was in failing health and lived with them. One day an ambulance appeared at their house. I watched it pull into the driveway from our kitchen. I assumed that something had happened to the wife’s aging father. But no, that was not the case. The husband, who was in his forties, had died of a massive heart attack. Grandpa was still alive and the children had lost their dad. What a mixed-up and ironic tragedy. This woman was left widowed, with young children, and her dear old dad still living.

In the summer of 2015, it will be ten years since my mother passed. Talking with my father this week, he said the hardest times for him are joyous family events because he wishes Mom was there to celebrate with him. He would have liked to see her enjoy the event. All of us would have loved to have Mom at Akili’s wedding. Dad says he goes to these celebrations for both of them, taking Mom with him in his heart. I remember my grandmother once telling me that she considered herself my grandfather’s “ambassador on earth” after he was gone and that she was living for both of them. I take a little bit of Mom with me to these events as well. She was certainly with me in my heart at Akili’s wedding, along with a number of other people; a crowd of spirits milling about in my heart.

I have lived with a chronically ill husband for many years, knowing how diabetes progresses, fighting that progression every step of the way. Recently, in the context of a worship service at synagogue, the rabbi said, “If you have had to handle a life-and-death situation in the past year, stand up.” I stood. I never really think about it, but I have regularly saved my husband’s life when his blood sugar has dropped dangerously low; usually in the middle of the night, while everyone else is sleeping (except the lady who answers the phone at 911 who held my hand, metaphorically speaking, on one particularly bad night). Saving my husband’s life is routine. That sounds funny. It actually is funny, or would have to be, otherwise I would be addicted to Prozac.

Every day that I have my husband here with me is a gift and I cherish my time with Dad. I try not to squander these gifts. It should not take age and ill health, however, to keep us honest about feeling grateful for the presence of those we love. There are no guarantees. We could lose anyone anytime at any age. The only antidote we humans have to counter the unstoppable rush of death is the determination to live joyously and well in the present; to love, to dance, to laugh, to appreciate and enjoy one another, to savor the sweetness with delight. So that when death comes, it robs us only of the future and it cannot touch our precious past.

Mt Fuji at Sunrise by Hidenobu Suzuki.
I saved this gorgeous serene image a while back and had no occasion to share it, 
but it seems to fit with today's blog.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Dark Chocolate, the Superfood

I wasn’t always the chocolate-obsessed woman you see before you today. In my youth, I would invariably choose a fruit pie over chocolate. I even wondered what the hoo-ha was about chocolate. Then menopause hit me with a tsunami of chocolate lust. I have never looked back. Dark chocolate (at least 70% cacao) is the most important meal of my day.

Happily, dark chocolate has miraculous health benefits, which I am about to share with you; but before that, some key qualifiers. First, let’s be clear that when I say dark chocolate I mean good quality, organic, at least 70% cacao (the darker the better) chocolate. Second, to gain the health benefits of chocolate, you should limit consumption to no more than an ounce a day. The lower the sugar content the better, and don’t buy chocolate made with milk. Buy organic chocolate only. Commercial chocolate not only contains toxic substances, but it does not contain cocoa sourced from sustainable farming that provides for the preservation of the land and a fair livelihood for the farmers. Inorganic chocolate = exploitation.

That said, why is dark chocolate good for your health?

The sugar added to chocolate masks cocoa’s inherently bitter taste, and bitter foods (like kale and arugula) are super-strong antioxidants. Many of the health benefits of dark chocolate stem from the antioxidant flavonoids it contains. Chocolate comes from the cacao plant, which is extraordinarily rich in flavanols, a type of phytochemical that is a powerful antioxidant and a terrific anti-inflammatory. Two of the main causes for disease and aging are oxidation and inflammation. Oxidation, the result of oxidative stress, has many instigators, including toxins in the environment as well as the toxic load we carry from stress, anxiety, and depression. Chocolate is high in certain flavanols, which are also found in green tea, apples, grapes, and berries. Dark chocolate keeps good company. Let’s look at some specifics.

Dark chocolate has a positive impact on our neurotransmitters that regulate mood and sleep. It’s not surprising that dark chocolate improves sleep, since it contains a large amount of magnesium, a mineral that increases the body’s ability to engage in restorative sleep. However, the caffeine in chocolate may keep some people awake. I can’t eat chocolate any later in the day than 1:00 PM or it keeps me awake at night. That’s a good thing for me since it prevents me from eating more than a few squares of dark chocolate a day.

Dark chocolate protects against heart disease, lowering the risk for heart attack and stroke. It releases a chemical messenger (nitric oxide) that improves arterial blood flow, increases arterial dilation, and reduces platelet clumping. It is important to know that the casein in milk prevents the absorption of dark chocolate’s flavanols. This is why you should not eat chocolate with milk in it or eat chocolate alongside milk. Dark chocolate also protects the heart because of the way it is digested, which will be discussed below.

Dark chocolate lowers blood pressure, according to a recent study conducted in Italy. Study participants ate three ounces of dark chocolate daily. A control group of similarly healthy people ate the same amount of white chocolate. Dark chocolate contains flavanols and white chocolate does not. The people who ate the dark chocolate had a significantly lower systolic blood pressure reading after fifteen days of eating the chocolate.

Dark chocolate decreases insulin resistance, a critical risk factor for Type II diabetes. Cocoa improves insulin sensitivity according to research published in Endocrine Abstracts (Farhat, 2014). Dark chocolate improved insulin sensitivity even in people who did not have diabetes. The study concluded that eating a little dark chocolate every day might significantly contribute to the delay or prevention of the onset of diabetes in pre-diabetics. Furthermore, researchers (Mellor, Sathyapalan, Kilpatrick, Beckett, and Atkin, 2010) discovered that one ounce daily of dark chocolate improved the arterial health of diabetics by increasing HDL (“good cholesterol”), without affecting weight, insulin resistance, glycemic control, or inflammatory markers. Furthermore, in another study, researchers (Yasuda, Natsume, Osakabe, Kawahata, and Koga, 2011) found that dark chocolate consumption lowered LDL (“bad cholesterol”).

Dark chocolate improves mood and reduces depression. People suffering from depression often crave chocolate, and for good reason. The impact that the flavanols in dark chocolate have on neurotransmitters (e.g., serotonin) can make us feel better and more positive. Evidence-based research shows that dark chocolate decreases depression (Bunce, 2007). It creates the amino acid tyrosine, which is a precursor to a chemical cascade that results in feelings of euphoria (Ross, 2002).

Dark chocolate is helpful for people with chronic fatigue syndrome. In a small study in England, 1½ ounces of 85% cocoa dark chocolate was given to a group of participants with chronic fatigue syndrome every day for eight weeks. Participants reported feeling less fatigued after eating the chocolate.

Dark chocolate can alleviate the discomfort of PMS. It releases calming endorphins that reduce anxiety. The high magnesium content can lift mood, reduce water retention, and reduce cramping.

Dark chocolate improves the ecology of our digestive tract and contributes to a strong immune system. Dark chocolate is loaded with fiber and is therefore largely indigestible. Undigested cocoa fiber ferments in the gut and releases substances that feed beneficial gut microbes, including probiotics (e.g., lactobacillus, which is also found in yogurt). The numbers of beneficial probiotics increase in the gut after the introduction of cocoa; while undesirable microbes, like staphylococcus, decline in the presence of cocoa fiber. (Reynolds, 2014). Coming down with a cold? Eat dark chocolate! You have to love this.

The dynamics of how the digestive tract processes cocoa is fascinating and has a larger impact than simply building the immune system. Dark chocolate is good for your heart because of that fermentation of cocoa fiber by gut bacteria, creating anti-inflammatory compounds that improve blood vessel function. Researcher Katherine Harmon Courage writes (March 2014) that research suggests that beneficial bacteria that reside toward the end of our digestive tract ferment both the antioxidants and the fiber in cocoa. These microbes create the anti-inflammatory compounds that are linked to the ways in which dark chocolate benefits cardiovascular health. Magic. OK, science. But isn’t science magical?

Eating a little dark chocolate every day may improve thought processes of people with mild cognitive impairment, according to a study in Neurology Journal (Aug. 2013). Dark chocolate has been shown to keep the aging brain sharp, warding off dementia, by increasing blood flow to the brain. Moreover, its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties are virtually unmatched for enhancing cognition for people of all ages and in all stages of health.

Forget the cod liver oil, I'm bringing home the dark chocolate. But before we get carried away (oh yeah, dark chocolate causes euphoria), remember the rules about eating chocolate:  1) at least 70% cacao (the darker the better), 2) no milk in it or with it, 3) 100% organic (made with an organic sweetener too), 4) the less sugar in it the better, 5) eat in moderation (about an ounce a day). I play by the rules and I savor my daily dose. Me and my good-quality dark chocolate, we're going to live to be a hundred together, sharp as ever, blogging onward. Yum.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Things a Woman Should Have by 60

Last week one of my 20-something Facebook friends posted a link to a blog entitled 25 Things a Woman Should Have by 25. It was a pretty good list, albeit heavy on the fashion element. It got me thinking, and I decided to write my list of things a woman should have by 60. I couldn’t keep it to 25. I guess by 60, I expect a lot out of life. Below is my list, in no particular order. I keep thinking of more things to add, but I’ve called it quits for now. What would you add?

1) A healthy relationship with high-quality dark chocolate.
2) Retirement savings and no credit card debt.
3) An excellent skincare routine and a brilliant dermatologist.
4) A flattering bathing suit.
5) An exercise regimen that is fun and something to look forward to.
6) A stack of books by the bed.
7) A reliable car plus membership in an automobile association that will send help for any emergency road situation, at any time night or day, within 30 minutes.
8) Abundant proof of competence at your chosen profession.
9) A toolkit with basic tools hidden away where no guy can find it to co-opt tools at his whim, ruin them, or lose them.
10) More than one close woman friend who has been through hell and back with you.
11) Peace with the parents (dead or living).
12) Frequent opportunities to dance.
13) Children of your own who communicate with you regularly, or someone else’s children who think you’re rather special.
14) Grandchildren, the prospect of grandchildren, a dog, a cat, and/or a Betta fish (depending on your level of tolerance for noise).
15) An herb garden and a place to grow tomatoes and basil in the summer.
16) Warm boots.
17) A sympathetic hair stylist.
18) A Thanksgiving tradition.
19) An honest car mechanic.
20) A favorite beach.
21) Good scented soap.
22) A book group.
23) The ability to enjoy time alone.
24) An emergency first aid kit in your handbag.
25) Enough favorite, easy recipes to last at least a week without repetition.
26) The ability to speak more than one language.
27) A creative accountant.
28) Ongoing real appreciation for the work you do.
29) An apple a day.
30) A toolkit for stress management that includes both physical activities and herbal supplements (Ashwagandha, ladies).
31) A nearby place to go for a walk among trees.
32) A Rain Shower showerhead.
33) Fancy underwear.
34) Fuzzy house socks in an assortment of colors.
35) A home that you love.
36) A funny movie that you watch at least once a year and never tire of.
37) Soft Egyptian cotton sheets and a down comforter.
38) A cast iron skillet.
39) Reading glasses in every room of the house.
40) A favorite getaway location.
41) A magic masseuse.
42) A beautiful big basket to take to the Farmer’s Market.
43) A loving partner or the memory of a truly loving relationship once had.
44) A fun hobby you’re totally good at.
45) Photo albums that make you laugh and cry.
46) The ability to say “no” without feeling guilty.
47) An ever-changing current favorite song to sing along to at the top of your lungs while driving alone in your car.
48) Fresh flowers on the kitchen table every week.
49) Gratitude for the joys experienced so far, reconciliation with the losses, and the conviction that more wonders are yet to come.
50) A future to look forward to, the ability to be present in the moment, and an avalanche of wonderful memories to savor.

One of the most beautiful moments in my life so far – dancing with my son at his wedding. He chose the song. A perfect moment for a 60-year-old mom. I hope this link works for you to see us dancing.  Mom's Dance with the Groom

Sunday, October 12, 2014

School Lunch Wars

The health of our nation’s children is playing out on a quiet battleground. Every school day, school cafeterias in this country serve up 30 million lunches and 13 million breakfasts paid for by taxpayers. One would think that providing children with nutritious food at school would be the best place to make an impact on lifelong health and to stop the obesity epidemic. First Lady Michelle has thrown her back into this one. But once again corporate greed prevails. Food biz giants want their profits at the expense of the health of our children and they won’t give up ground without a fight.

One in three American children is obese or overweight. Right now. Projections indicate that in less than 15 years half the adult population will experience impaired health because of overweight/obesity (i.e., diabetes, heart disease, hypertension). Interestingly, some of the impetus behind improving school lunches in the past came from the military, which was having trouble finding enough fit young people to serve. In 2009, the Department of Defense reported that more recruits were turned away for obesity than for any other reason.

In 2010, the Obamas promoted the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. This bill placed new restrictions on food available to children at school based on guidelines for healthy eating. Passing the bill not only involved gaining approval from congressional reps, but also from manufacturers of food sold to schools, nutrition experts, and the cafeteria workers (who convinced children to take, try, and eat food on a daily basis). The Act passed, but when implementation began, things fell apart. The Republicans faulted the Democrats for getting behind Michelle to enforce heavy-handed, government-regulated rules about what children could eat at school. Food moguls hired lobbyists to work to derail and dilute the regulations. And the food moguls have the School Nutrition Association (A.K.A. the cafeteria workers) in their pocket. In public, the SNA pretends to be behind the Act, but behind closed doors it is the biggest critic.

As part of the Act, in 2012 school lunches were required to meet a host of new standards, including offering twice as many fruits and vegetables as previously. Starchy vegetables (read French fries) did not count. Believe it or not, there is a starchy vegetable lobby! But the biggest flashpoint of the war centered around pizza. Schools spend more than $450 million each year on pizza, the most popular cafeteria food. Prior to 2012, pizza could be served indiscriminately in school lunches because the pizza sauce on a pizza, rather than being counted as two tablespoons of tomato paste, could be counted as eight tablespoons of tomatoes (a vegetable). This may remind some of you older folks of the days when Ronald Reagan was raked over the coals for claiming that ketchup could be counted as a vegetable in school lunches. The 2012 changes associated with implementation of the Act no longer counted tomato paste as any type of vegetable. The SNA flipped out. I guess, cafeteria workers could not figure out how to design meals and prepare food that children would eat without the crutch of pizza. Furthermore, they didn’t want to try to get children to eat all those new fruits and veggies required.

Yay for Director of Food Policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest Margo Wootan! She turned the opponents to the 2012 regulations into fools by stating in the media that Congress wanted to pass off pizza as a vegetable. Unfortunately, the pizza-makers lobby was strong and rules regarding how pizza sauce and tomato paste were classified were diluted by lawmakers. Regulations were changed and pizza can be served with little else of nutritional value to offset it.

When the 2012 regulations went into effect, cafeteria workers and schoolchildren across the country staged their own local protests to the new rules. Some children refused to eat the extra fruits and vegetables. Interestingly, the children who refused the extra fruits and veggies and brought brown-bag food from home instead were more often from affluent families. The children living in poverty ate the extra helpings of fruits and veggies far more readily, and were grateful to receive them. In fact, participation in the free lunch program (for low-income students) increased in the wake of the new 2012 regulations. As a vegetarian, who has spent a lifetime cooking delicious food dominated by vegetables, I have to say that most people who don’t eat a vegetarian diet have no clue how to cook vegetables in a delectable way. No wonder the children pass up these delights on the school lunch line. Vegetables and fruits are the best things going if you know how to prepare them. Sheesh.

By 2013, the Republicans and the wave of anti-government right-wingers had seized on the school lunch wars as something requiring their attention. Don’t let government tell children what they can eat. Conservative media sites have had a field day attacking Michelle and the Let’s Move! campaign. Wait, what? I guess Michelle is too momly for them. They don’t want to eat what Mom puts on the table, it seems. All this opposition could have a devastating effect when the Act comes up for reauthorization in September 2015. All of Michelle’s hard work could be for naught. It’s entirely possible that the Republicans, corporate giant food moguls, and cafeteria workers (who are being manipulated by the food moguls) will pull the plug on efforts to improve the nutritional value of food provided to children at school. If the Republicans gain control of the Senate at the midterm election, the Act will likely be gutted, and the war the Obamas have been waging against childhood obesity will essentially be lost.

Education of children and families about what foods will make them feel great and give them the gift of health is desperately needed. People need to vote with their forks. 

On Friday I attended an evening service at my synagogue. It was followed by a potluck dinner. I brought a Mediterranean cucumber and tomato salad to the potluck. I also brought several packages of organic seaweed snacks. I opened the seaweed snacks and left them out on the table. Within minutes, the children at the synagogue had devoured the seaweed snacks as if they were the most marvelous delicacy. That’s what I’m talking about. Nutrition happens!

Wait, what? Are the carrots and grapes supposed to make it 
OK to serve chicken nuggets and Oreos as lunch? Appalling! 
And what about the non-food meal of only nuggets and Oreos? 
Do we even care about our children's health?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Wedding Notes

I thought that writing about the wedding beforehand was sufficient schmaltz from a mom with a son getting married, but quite a few of my blog readers have asked me why I didn’t write about the wedding afterward. I guess you all want to share in the good time, so here is a reflection on the wedding, this time from the other side.

The whole week in SoCal was full of enjoyable events and memorable times. Ron and I drove down with Sudi on Wednesday. The long drive through the parched Central Valley (so sad to see the devastation of the drought) afforded us time to chat with Sudi and get caught up on his doings.

On Thursday we hooked up with my dad and my brother Bill and went over to Akili and Tina’s lovely new apartment to check it out. They can even see the Pacific Ocean from their balcony on a clear day. I took the opportunity to pull Akili and Tina aside and give them the quilt I made for them as their wedding gift. Giving them the quilt was emotional for me since I put so much love into it. Some of the material in the quilt came from Akili’s clothes from when he was a little boy (yup, I saved some of them). The front of a Hopland Bears T-shirt (from Hopland Elementary School) was sewn into it along with the front of two other T-shirts from Akili’s boyhood. There was material from the dresses I wore when I was pregnant with him and material I have saved all these years that I inherited from my mother – material she had used to make curtains for the house I lived in until I was eleven years old. Other material was selected because it would be significant for Tina – shoes, red hot chili peppers, sock monkeys. Akili and Tina have a sweet little personal thing about sock monkeys. My first cry of the weekend came when I gave them hugs with their wedding quilt.

Thursday was the rehearsal dinner. My youngest's girlfriend and my daughter's boyfriend traveled to join us for the rehearsal dinner. On Friday, a few of us went to Newport Beach. We lolled by the glorious ocean for hours; longer than we had intended because it was just so gorgeous. Ron remained at the hotel waiting for his family to check in. By that evening the Reed family contingent had arrived – Ron’s sister Wanda and husband Rick, our niece Denise, nephew Keith and his wife Shana; also my stepson Brian rolled in from St. Louis. By Saturday, everyone from our side of the family/friends had checked in at the hotel. We were ready to party. The most raucous party of the evening occurred in Sudi’s room where they engaged in a loud, wild, competitive game of cards with Sudi’s younger cousins (teenaged children of my brother Dan and my first cousin Deb).

By the time the actual wedding day dawned, we had been celebrating for days. Ron and I spent the morning of the wedding watching football with our Fantasy Football League – one of the rare occasions when so many of us from both sides of the country were in one location. We turned the football off after lunch and cleared the room so we could get fancy and beautify ourselves to see our son married. I could have worn a potato sack and flip-flops and everyone would have told me I looked fabulous because I was glowing with such happiness. I didn’t wear a potato sack, though. I wore a fancy outfit that was comfortable and Tina’s florist helped me put a gardenia in my hair. I never looked more respectable. Even my fashionista daughter approved. (She looked spectacular as always.)

We arrived early at the wedding venue and so did the rest of the family so we had more time to visit. I spent a pre-wedding hour in the “bar” watching football with the guys, of course. Photos of everyone dressed up were taken. The guests took their seats. My dad was ushered down the aisle first by Dan’s youngest son Ben (Dan’s other two children were in the wedding party). Ron and I followed. Then Tina’s mom and Akili. Then the wedding party walked. There were about a dozen bridesmaids and a dozen groomsmen so it took a while for everyone to take their places. The flower girl was Tina’s four-year-old niece and she was a hit; so poised and adorable, accompanied by her little cousin, the official ring bearer (although Sudi actually had the rings). Tina’s niece refused to call Akili “uncle” until he officially married Tina.

I expected I would make a fool of myself crying when Tina came down the aisle. Well, I was not alone as it turned out. Everyone was crying. She was so beautiful and so happy; and her Dad, well he was the picture of happiness. Knowing how important Tina’s dad has been in Akili’s life, it was extra special to see him hand his daughter off to my son. Our friend Jim officiated. He was not only the best man at our wedding (Ron’s and mine), but he had been present at Akili’s birth. Jim said some excellent words for the occasion, finishing up by telling the bride and groom that he believes we should strive to live a life of which we can be proud and that their relationship is an exemplary relationship of which they can be proud. He also shared that when planning for their wedding, Akili had told him that he could not imagine the world without Tina in it. Tina spoke her words to Akili. Then it was Akili’s turn. Akili’s words to Tina included “I never  thought I would find a girl that likes cars, football, video games, cartoons, and beer, but somehow there was you.” He also told her that she inspires him to be a better person. When Jim asked for the rings, Sudi pretended he couldn’t find them, patting his pockets and looking confused. Then he laughed and produced the rings. Rings exchanged, Jim pronounced them husband and wife. Akili and Tina do not often show affection publicly. They are private that way. So I have never seen my son kiss the love of his life for real. But he sure gave her that real kiss before they walked back down the aisle. Any romantic would have swooned over that kiss.

As we returned to the reception area, a mariachi band (friends of Tina’s mother) began to serenade. They were exceptional. Dad and I soon began to dance with Tina’s mother and her cousins and women friends. We danced to that mariachi as the sun set on a golden day. There were cocktails and hors d’oeuvres and we were shepherded in to dinner. Tina’s dance with her dad melted me and Tina’s mom as we wept together at the parents’ table. But I have to say that my Macy’s mascara held and I didn’t look like a raccoon. Akili had chosen the Beatles song “In My Life (I Love You More)” for his dance with me. Dancing with him to that tune was one of the sweetest moments of my life.

The dinner was delicious. I went around and talked briefly with all the guests who were my family and friends. I wish that I had been able to meet all of Tina’s family and her parents’ friends, but there was just “not world enough and time.” Everyone was so happy that we danced and danced and danced all night. Many people told Akili when they left that it was the most fun wedding they had ever attended. There is so much more that I could write about the wedding. But this is already a lengthy description. I hope this account was enjoyable for you to read and satisfies the wish of those of you who wanted to hear more about the wedding. I thought that I would be sad afterward; let down because it was all over. But I’m not. I feel as though my life has shifted into a new place. Crazy, huh? I pray that Akili and Tina continue to live a charmed life of their own making.

 Our immediate family.

Me and my dad. Love this guy to bits. So fun to party with him.

A snapshot of the quilt I made -- laid out on my bed at home.