Category Archives: body/mind

In Praise of What’s Real

I noticed this morning that the top story on Medium is basically a poor man’s version of Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture.” Thousands of people read this adaptation thinking it was a true story and a real person telling his thoughts as he acknowledged he was dying. It was just a 27 year old guy who may or may not have thought he was “being original” and who may or may not have realized he was paraphrasing a famous end of life message from a fully-realized person.

eastern sierras

So I went out yesterday on an adventure.

It was real.

Me, too.

amy january 2016 I’d rather have 5 people read my work for real than 500,000 read something I ripped off. I’d rather be me, than someone with tons of cosmetic surgery. If I am dying, I want to die at home with my family and friends.

If you are my friend, you are truly my friend. If you are my student, you are truly my student.

I wish for everyone to know who they really are, to be grateful for the immense gifts we are given each and every day of genuine life, of this beautiful world we live in, and of our true friends and those we love, and who love us.

mm mm good!

Gluten Free and Dairy Free Chicken and Dumplings

Hello, Hollywood and Redlands Woman here with a family- and man-pleasing recipe for dairy-free, gluten free comfort food! How do we make food that is healthy, comforting, affordable, and makes our family members happy? Focus on freshness, real ingredients, and read labels carefully if you are using prepared foods. There are a couple of “prepared” ingredients in this dish, especially Knorr chicken broth. The American version of this product has whey and wheat (gluten) products. But the Mexican version, at least as is currently sold, does not. And guess what? It is more affordable than the US-made Knorr cubes! You can always use your own or gluten-free-dairy-free stock or broth.

One of the recipes my grandmother made that was genuinely delicious was chicken and dumplings. She didn’t make it very often, but I remembered that the dumplings she made had parsley and maybe some other kind of green herb in them.

This recipe is similar to the one she made except no dairy (in the dumplings – she wouldn’t have put any in the chicken stew part) and no wheat!

First – the ingredients. For serious gluten-free, dairy-free eaters, I use Mexican Knorr dried chicken bouillon (buy in Mexican sections of supermarkets, it is a different formulation from US, definitely no whey) and Bob’s Red Mill 1-1 gluten free flour, and gluten free yellow corn meal.

Ingredients for Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Chicken and Dumplings

Chicken and Broth/Stew
2 T olive oil
1/2 C Gluten Free flour (Trader Joes or Bobs Red Mill)
4 bone-in chicken thighs, 2-4 drumsticks
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1/2 t Smoked Paprika
1/2 t Powdered Garlic (I use organic dried spices, they have more flavor)
1/2 to 3/4 C diced carrots
1/2 to 3/4 C diced celery
3/4 onion, diced
1 T fresh chopped parsley
1 T fresh chopped chives
4 C gluten free chicken broth (see above and picture)
1/2 C apple juice or cider
1/2 C unsweetened cashew milk or almond milk (it is thinner)

1-1/2 C Gluten Free flour (same brand as above)
1/2 C Albers or other brand yellow cornmeal (gluten free – it should be!)
2 T Vegan margarine (I use Earth Balance)
1 T baking powder (use gluten free)
1 t Kosher Salt
1-1/2 C unsweetened cashew milk
1-2 T minced parsley
1-2 T minced chives

Instructions and Pictures for Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Chicken and Dumplings

First, rinse chicken and pat dry. Cut off any excess chicken fat that is not needed (some provides flavor – you don’t need the large pieces that sometimes come on chicken thighs).

Then, combine 1/2 C gluten free flour, salt, powdered garlic and smoked paprika. This also makes a great coating for any meat or fish you would like to lightly pan fry.


dry ingredients for chicken

Then, dredge the chicken pieces in the gluten-free flour mixture. Heat the olive oil in a 5-6 quart heavy-duty pan for which you have a good cover. This is a 5 quart Mexican rice cooker I use for many dishes like this. It is lighter weight than a typical Dutch oven.

chicken frying

Fry the chicken in two batches on medium heat. Allow 7-8 minutes per side to brown it well. It does not have to be done in the middle because it will be returned to the pan later. After the pieces are nicely browned, remove to another plate.

vegetables ready to chop

While the chicken is browning, chop up your vegetables. This is plenty!

chopped vegetables

When they are done they will look like this (1st batch of browned chicken in background). Brown these in pan for about 4-5 minutes. While this is going on, make the chicken broth. I included a picture of the Mexican type so you could see what to look for in the store.

knorr gluten free dairy free broth

Chop up enough fresh chives and parsley to go into the vegetables and chicken AND the dumplings. Our market carries fresh, unpackaged herbs and spices – I included the chive one (.99 cents) so you could see the brand. These are crazy good in scrambled eggs.

chives and parsley

After you have chopped the herbs while the vegetables are browning, return the chicken pieces to the pot and cover with approximately 4 cups of chicken broth (see above) and 1 cup of apple juice or cider (I stole this one from Pioneer Woman … she’s all about dairy and wheat but the apple juice and cornmeal are goodies and not full of gluten/dairy).


chicken before dumplings 2

When you put the chicken, broth and apple juice back in, it should look like this. Cover and simmer on low- to medium-low for 20 minutes. While this is cooking, make the dumplings.

dumpling dry ingredients

Mix the dry ingredients together. Cut in the 2 T vegan margarine in with a fork. Dumplings are basically drop biscuits. So you have to give the “drop biscuit aspect” some thought. Pioneer Woman had a very good idea with the apple juice to enrich the stew/broth part of the dish. She also got that these ultratough or noodle type dumplings are bleeeah! With gluten free flour, you do not have to worry about “gluten-toughness.” These babies will be delicious, light and fluffy!

chicken before dumplings

Your broth and chicken should look like this. Pour the 1/2 C of cashew (or almond) milk in at this time.

dumpling batter

Your dumpling batter should look like this. Drop it by tablespoons on top of the chicken/broth/vegetables in the pot. Put the cover back on and cook at low heat for another 20 minutes or so.

If you open the cover and it looks like this — it’s ready to dish out and eat!

chicken after dumplings

And mmm! Good!

mm mm good!

Elephant Seals and the Circle of Life

At 7:00, I tell Bruce that if we want to see Big Sur, we had better get going. My plan is to drive north out of the fog and into the sun. We leave Moonstone Beach and about ten minutes later we have entered Hearst’s Maxfield Parrish fairy tale domain and I spot a sign that, for all my years in California, I had never noticed.

baby elephant sealIt’s the California Elephant Seal Rookery. “Should we stop?” I ask. I needn’t have, but we were just getting to know each other.

We walk toward the rocky, low beach. Below us is a small cove rough with black volcanic rocks circling smooth, tawny sand. Lying in the sand is a hideous, grunting, scarred behemoth. A 5,000 pound male elephant seal. His snorts and exhalations are gruesome yet wondrous.

The surf ebbs and flows, the water glittering bright green-blue in the early morning light. Out of the surf emerges a creature with a lovely face and large, soft brown eyes. This is followed by a sleek-furred, round body. She is the mate to the grunting, farting elephant-snouted monster breathing raggedly by the rocks at the edge of the cove.

Bruce looks at me and I at him. We’ve known couples like this. A beautiful delicate female mated to a brutish beast.

“It looks like he’s about to tell her, ‘bring me a sammich, bitch,'” I say.

Bruce agrees, and we start a tete-a-tete about this mismatched pair. The female elephant seal works her way slowly up the beach to the side of her massive mate, heaving her body from side to side in the wet sand. The word “rookery” echoes in my mind. I wonder if she’s pregnant, but I say nothing.

We decide to walk farther south down the boardwalk, and soon realize, this single pair is by far the outlier. On the beach are hundreds of elephant seals, from a distance appearing like gray and brown beach umbrellas scattered along the shore. Here and there are small dark forms squirming in the sand like tiny leeches: the pups.

Up close, the faces of the pups appear exactly like pit bull puppies. The females are a vast array of shapes, sea colors and sizes. Most of the males are scarred fur-covered torpedoes like the massive beast from the small cove.

We see just one other couple, a serious-appearing pair with a tripod and massive camera with a telephoto lens focused on the beach. We pass them and watch a large group of females and pups, with the males arrayed closer to us along the beach, sunning their vast bulk and lying in a row like hideous fat cigars.

At once, about twenty seagulls converge on the beach, shrieking and jabbing their wicked beaks at something. I think that perhaps one of the seals has some fish and they’re grabbing for it, but say nothing. It’s cool and Bruce has his hand around my waist, the newness of this a shivering pleasure.

The moment is snapped like celery by the sudden appearance of a fifty-five-ish blonde woman with a severe haircut, wearing khakis and a dorky blue windbreaker, who rises behind Bruce’s shoulder. “They’re after the afterbirth,” she says, grinning.

Bruce’s eyes flash, but he merely smiles.

“I’m a volunteer docent,” she says. “You’ve just witnessed something people come here for years to see. Usually they give birth at night.”

“Oh,” I say, “Wonderful.” Bruce’s eyes say something very different.

On the beach, the mother seal is circling her darling black pup desperately. I see a spot of blood on her flank, but no sign of afterbirth. A perfect sand circle has emerged and she’s energetically digging it deeper amid the flock of shrieking, fiendish gulls.

“They’ll peck at anything bright,” Volunteer Docent Woman says. “They want to peck the pup’s eyes. She’s protecting him.”

Her eyes shine like bright pale blue crazy pennies. I remember the mismatched couple from the cove we’d seen before, and tell her about them.

“Oh that cove floods. They can’t be there,” she said.

“Well, we did see them,” I say. She’s as certain of her facts as Dr. Quest in a Jonny Quest episode. She mutters a few more things, then directs her attention to the couple with the telephoto lens: they’re the experts. On the beach, the elephant seal mother continues to circle round her beautiful sleek black pup while the males grunt and fart in the sun.

As we continue down the boardwalk, we talk about Volunteer Docent. She had appeared out of nowhere, a frenetic jack-in-the-box stuffed with natural history and expertise, wedded not to human life, but to these massive animals by the shore.

Bruce says, “I thought she was going to demand that I leap down on the beach and bag and tag the afterbirth.”

I laugh.

“She liked you better than me,” he says. Likely; however the seals, she liked best of all and moreso, perhaps a massive orca waited offshore to take her true love.

We get back in the Jeep and head up the coast to Big Sur. While we sun ourselves on a high patio overlooking God’s country, a burned-out hippie asks Bruce, who is wearing a Longhorns t-shirt, “Are you from Texas?”

Of course he is. Philly, Texas.

In quiet moments, I remember the exquisite face of the female elephant seal, about to give birth. She’s far too lovely to bring that monster a sammich.

maui high school robotics room

Grief, Joy and Pride, all Mixed Together-Like

Gee whiz, shouldn’t that headline be “12 Ways Irving, TX High School Failed Ahmed Mohamed”?

Or, “Texas School Officials Apply Racial Profiling to Young Inventor.”

So, here is the Stillwater High robotics room in Minnesota.

stillwater hs robotics room

With all the boxes, circuit boards, backpacks, power sources and without a doubt, beeping stuff in there, the mentality that handcuffed and arrested Ahmed Mohamed in Irving, Texas would be calling in the Navy SEALS for support.

Here’s the robotics and engineering room at Maui High School:

maui high school robotics roomSo I’ve been looking at these fantastic projects and schools . . .

And I looked up what STEAM meant:

Adding “art and design” to “science, technology, engineering and math.”

I’m so proud of these students. Not just Ahmed, who is so praiseworthy, but also all the other hard-working, gifted young students learning and building and making. My heart is filled with joy to see how creative their educational experiences are.

By the way – is it possible for them to MAKE these things in isolation? Via some sort of remote, mobile app?

I have news for Peter Diamandis and the educational “Learning Management System” providers I’ve recently been in contact with: Learning isn’t “knowledge transfer.” It occurs by doing. How this can somehow be separated from personal interaction for things we actually make and do — is beyond me. Moving little pictures around on an app or watching someone build a robot is NOT the same as building one.

In order to learn how to write anything coherent that communicates, one must first read many different things, and must also follow all the steps in the writing process. They are more than just “in the absence of anything else, just write.”

But grief: I am not sorry for Ahmed Mohamed and his family. Their troubles have turned into what must certainly be a blessing. The horrible incident in Texas is paying off in plenty of education and awareness for others. I hope many teachers see this and realize the trap of unconscious (or conscious) racism, racial profiling, bias — and just plain being behind the times. I put those pictures of our young bomb-makers to show just how out of touch anyone at that school would be to see Ahmed’s clock project as a bomb. Also to show how irresponsible his engineering teacher was, to not help him present his project to the class — instead of telling him to hide it and not show others.

No, I’m grieving because when I was in third grade, somebody gave a chemistry set to our elementary school. It didn’t have enough supplies or equipment to outfit an entire class. It was really just enough for 2-3 students to use at a time. And of all the kids at the school, they gave the chemistry set to me. They put it in an unused room next to the library, told me to go one period a day and figure out experiments. I was even put in charge of inviting kids to do experiments with me. Of course I asked my friends to come along. I’m sure I left plenty of kids out that I should have asked. I was by myself the day I almost set the school on fire.

The best thing I did out of that set was grow hydroponic vegetables that were in the school office for at least two years. The worst? Almost setting the school on fire by setting parts of my lunch on fire.

Yes, back in the day, they let a 3rd grader play unsupervised with a Bunsen burner.

So, by the time I got to high school, I failed Chemistry. I was assigned a lab partner who referred to me as “Stupid American Girl” and who didn’t get what we were supposed to be doing. He didn’t believe in lab notes. I didn’t know how to stand up to him so I went along with his cockamamie schemes. We failed together.

So it just kind of breaks my heart to see these young women making things and building things.

My option was to paint and write. I did it, and I have made a lot of things.

But for me: I wouldn’t have been able to make something like Ahmed. Not after third grade or so. That was when it became uncool for girls to be interested in things like that. Girls needed to be interested in sewing, cooking, fashion, home decorating. It was suspicious even that I liked to read — not to mention the stuff I *did* read.

Yeah well, so I’m feeling sorry for myself.

I do wish this could have been me.


So, if you are an English teacher, familiarize yourself a little with robotics and engineering courses today. Go visit the robotics club or engineering classroom. Learn to recognize circuit boards, power sources and other commonly-used components. Educate yourself on things like Arduino chips.

Look into 3-D printing. See what can be made in addition to the endlessly-shown dumba** with the 3-D printed rifle. Most recently, it’s been Hershey’s chocolate. One of the experts in it thinks the biggest long-term use will be 3-D printed food.

I think my job is to bridge the gap between the generations. Those who came before, and those who will come after.

Yesterday I got into it with a gender-biased guy who thinks there’s nothing wrong with himself. Many of my friends continue to search for valid reasons why Ahmed was treated so poorly at his Texas high school. I’m sorry to say, there are no good or valid reasons, any more than it was right for my high school chemistry teacher to partner me with a failing student because he was sure I’d fail, too and furthermore it didn’t matter. It wasn’t any more right for one of our high school counselors to tell my friend to go to our local community college and “get her Mrs. degree.”

It’s like some of my recent interchanges with the “Learning Management System” people (Canvas, Blackboard, D2L, Fedora, etc.) Just as Peter Diamandis thinks that mobile technology will somehow make people learn (like … the existence of books makes people learn?) and negate the need for classrooms and teachers, these folks think that the ability to put a handout online, include a powerpoint, and have papers turned in via computer (or mobile device – hey!) constitutes improvement in learning. Without the human connection, testing and feedback: no. It doesn’t.

That’s a woman’s opinion. Because of how school was when I grew up – even with the opportunities I was given – I didn’t get the chance to build these things. And that makes me sad.



Real Mexican Food is Healthy

This is the first part of Google Image Search for “Mexican Food.”
Google Mexican Food As a woman, I typically think “the way to a person’s heart is their stomach.”

That’s why I took it upon myself over the years, to learn how to cook real Mexican food. Because it is so delicious! As to these images, what Google says is “Authentic” Mexican food as depicted on the upper left, is what’s typically served at fast-food restaurants operated by Mexicans in the U.S.

The middle picture is what children are taught to color in school (much like the unbelievable request of Minnesota schoolteachers for coloring images of “Speedy Gonzales” and “Yosemite Sam” covered by this educator’s lesson about how to make Cinco de Mayo a positive, educational time in school).

To put this into context, if I put “Italian food” into Google Image search, it would come back with cheese-laden thick crust pizzas and spaghetti and meatballs (surprise! – it does). Most people are aware these foods are not what are commonly eaten and served in Italy, and also that foods vary depending on region and town and … surprise! … family traditions and preference. They may even be aware that much food cooked and eaten in Italy is healthy, following a Mediterranean diet.

The picture on the right – the one that says “traditional” – that’s the real problem one. That’s not traditional Mexican food. It’s the Taco Bell Dog type of “Mexican food” and it isn’t just unauthentic, it’s unhealthy. It is similar to the foods served at El Torito (the chain restaurants), which are owned by Mexicans, but the restaurants serve what non-Mexican patrons request: cheese enchiladas with cheese unknown in Mexico, hard-shelled ground beef tacos laden with same bright yellow cheese (I think it’s Colby Longhorn) and cheese-coated rice and beans. The taco shells themselves are a clue. While these products are sold and eaten in Mexico, they are to real tortillas as Wonder Bread is to a great loaf of Italian or French bread.

Anyway, if all you’ve ever eaten of Mexican food is the type of dish served at chain restaurants, Taco Bell, or Del Taco, you’re in for a treat. Mexican food of the genuine traditional type is very healthy and delicious. PS – if you have trouble with corn, focus on meat and rice dishes.

First up: tamales. (Ta-mah-lay). I’m enjoying this too much. I really love cooking my Mexican food.

tamales-048Tamales are totally real. They are corn husks filled with masa and any type of filling the cook wants to put in them and then steamed. I had to look quite a while before finding real ones like this (tied on both ends in the pot before steaming). Pork is traditional in southern California, but chicken and beef are also used. It is always deshebrada (shredded), not ground “whatever” like what is in the canned tamales (Gephardt!). There are also sweet tamales, with raisins, coconut or pina (pineapple). You will see “cheese and green chile” ones everywhere, for the cheese addicts out there. Like most other countries in the world, cheese is used as a condiment or flavoring in Mexico, not the ENTIRE DISH or covering/coating every surface on a plate. Tamales prepared the traditional way with fresh masa are dairy-free and gluten-free.

mexican rice



Rice! This is one type of Mexican rice dish. This traditional or common type of rice is made by frying the rice in lard first (yeah, I know. I LOVE lard and do not consider it unhealthy in moderate quantities – yes of course vegetable oil may be used and in some places chicken fat is used). You make sure the rice is nice and brown (like “Rice-A-Roni”), then you put in a puree of seeded tomatoes, one strong onion, and some garlic. You cook this until the rice has absorbed the tomato puree and is dry. Then you add chicken broth to cover it all, and throw in some chiles (FRESH) any way you like them. I include cilantro and frozen peas & carrots right out of the 99 cent bag. If you are nuts you can chop up carrots and shell fresh peas. This all cooks and steams nicely and when it’s done? AWESOME. Also there is green rice, sometimes with epazote, which is hard to find and is often stale when found, and yellow rice and of course – white rice.

mexican beans


These are not “refried beans,” they are pot beans. But they are AS GOOD AS refried beans if cooked right. The person here has not sufficiently cooked the onion (it was from “Foodista” or whatever). But you can do this with almost any type of bean, though pinto beans are the “go-to” bean and black beans are of course, eaten, but … people who like black beans over pinto because they get them at Chipotle? Chipotle’s beans suck. I can’t stand fast food any type of bean or rice. Because I know how to make these beans which cost pennies per serving and put all canned forms to shame.

Wash some pinto beans, however many you like. Use a colander. Pick out any rocks, deformed, messed-up bean bits, and of course, dirt. Dump the beans into a good, heavy pot. Cover them with water – at least 3-4 inches worth. Add as much coarse-chopped white or yellow onion as you like. Stick a goodly-sized piece of lard in there. Turn the heat on. I add chopped green onion (scallion) and cilantro and at least one chile. Let this cook until the beans are soft. Be sure to add water so they do not burn. You can mash them right in this pot and do not need to add them to extra lard to refry.

Unless you’re like me. Salt at the end (it toughens up the skin if you add it right away). You will throw away the nutrition and the taste if you do the “pre-soak” advised on the package, either quick soak or “overnight method”. Just cook them.

I can’t say too much authoritatively about other stereotypes associated with today’s holiday of Cinco de Mayo, but I can say that what most Americans think of, and eat, as “Mexican food” is not only inauthentic, it is unhealthy, whereas the real foods that are cooked and eaten in Mexico are healthy and delicious. Mexican people eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, including numerous varieties that don’t grow well in the U.S. but grow great in Mexico. They eat foods focused on basic nutrition and do not waste a lot of food. They value delicious, real food cooked at home with love. Give those hard-shelled tacos and giant burritos a rest and try some real Mexican food for a change. I did not address “carnitas” in this post, but here is a good website with real recipes (these are definitely varying according to taste). I will take her on for the carnitas ANY old day.

My rice:

real Mexican rice

And the carnitas:

real carnitas


What It’s Worth: Living Life Well

A most-valued student once gave me one of the highest compliments I have ever received: “Professor Casil, you’re so humble.”

Whales off Dana PointI thought about that for days. I still think about it.

The young woman who said it, was herself, very humble, hard-working, kind and loving. Like many of my students, she had a full-time job, was attending school full-time, and caring for family members who were ill.

So the New York Times has paid to promote an article by David Brooks writing above and beyond himself. Brooks discusses the difference between being a fully-realized human being (the ones he says he meets about once a month — and he lives in one of the world’s largest cities) and being the person most of us are. Most of us don’t really live in the moment; we are seldom fully-present. Perhaps we are ever looking over someone’s shoulder to see the next person who will be more “important” than the one we’re talking to – now.

Something has happened to me over the past few weeks. Brooks discusses the transformative power of genuine love. I’ve had this — I have it still. I never thought I would have such love, though I felt overpowering love for Lali (Anthony). Unconditional love for Meredith. When I knew it was likely that Lali would be born with Down Syndrome, it was a kind of bridge. My heart went over to him and I fully-embraced that I would spend the rest of my life caring for him, making sure he was safe, making sure he would be the best he could be. And then he died. One of the only things that kept me going was the thought that his life should not have had no meaning. I knew he was given to us for such a short time for a reason; I’m still not a hundred percent certain what that was, but I know it’s got something to do with what David Brooks is writing about, what Carl Rogers spent his life uncovering: becoming fully-human.

Do listen to this (Undiscovered Colors, Flashbulb).

Brooks points out that growth occurs when we admit our weaknesses. How I have clung to my underdog status. How I have treasured feeling different from others. They all have husbands or wives who love and support them. They all have friends who care about them, not just use them. They don’t have to fight and scratch and claw and strive for the least thing. They weren’t born an orphan, they weren’t abused, they weren’t beaten and raped. They didn’t have a sub-literate maniac accuse them of murdering the person they loved the most in the whole world on the internet.

It did happen during the Writers of the Future ceremony. During my time, terrible things happened to me. One year, my beloved uncle died. Alan’s kids disrupted that ceremony. A very bad event (of the special type that happen to me) destroyed any enjoyment I may have had another year. I was never able to participate fully in the workshop. I was working too hard. One year, I drove back and forth daily. I went to the ceremony by myself.

Last year at the 30th Anniversary, I took Meredith and Kiele, who were immediately singled out as my 6′ + “Amazon daughters.” This was wonderful, and they had a great time. But I was overwhelmed by this feeling of sadness, longing and yes – resentment – as every single winner got up and thanked their families. Parents, thank you so for your support. Well mine have been gone for years and the one I had, I barely survived. Husbands and wives, thank you for your support. This is the 5:00 to 7:00 every morning writer, so I could get Meredith off to school. Friends, thank you for your support. Well, I did have that. But when we’re feeling sorry for ourselves, the blessings we do have become tiny and our injuries and hurts so very large. Yes, I was very happy for the winners and extremely proud of them, but at the same time (I’m different from you. Worse. Nothing good ever happens to me.)

So this past year, not only did I not feel alone hearing the proud and thrilled winners, I felt …


With the winners. At last. Kinship.

I can do this thing, I thought. We can do it.

I wrote in large part because of all those underdog things. I wrote because I was forbidden to speak as a child, unless I followed a careful script and performed complicated behaviors as desired. I learned to please others in ways so ancient and deep that I often am uncertain from where they come, whether or not they are “me” or they are some long-ago Amy, some long-ago Sterling, or farther back, other names, other places, other times. I felt this massive thing inside of me, often not me at all, that must get out.

And now that’s gone. It’s not about me, it’s about we. It’s about everyone. David Brooks shouldn’t encounter fully-realized humans once a month. He should encounter them every day. We should all encounter them every day.

We were talking about 9-11, we were talking about Baltimore. These things wouldn’t happen in a world with more fully-human people. Oh, I still cling to my special status as a wounded warrior. My skills are needed, I think, in this process — skills forged and honed in the fire of the culture of abuse,

I understand how the people feel in the streets of Baltimore. I understand the young students who are afraid and whose schools are closed. I understand the “thugs” who are taking advantage of the situation to make some money, have some brutal fun, and get some of their own back. I understand the people whose only way to be heard is to set buildings on fire and rampage through the streets. People who have never had the opportunity to enjoy the things others take for granted have ever-burning inner reservoirs of rage that is liable to simmer up and explode, just as Langston Hughes said. Students are flogged through his poetry, understanding little of it; it isn’t real to them. It wouldn’t become real unless they’d been themselves, ignored, abused, downgraded, disrespected, at all kinds of risk the “other” has avoided. We have millions in this country right now who’ve experienced far worse than nearly all of the Baltimore “thugs” have, and none of them are rampaging through the streets. They’re in school, studying. They’re at work, working. They’re with their families, enjoying the gifts of life.

That’s because they understand the things David Brooks is working out in his article. They understand it’s not about them, it’s about we. And it’s not about things or money or fame: the cake is a lie. It’s about learning to live. It’s about being fully-human.

Not Doing Your Job … and Nobody Else is, Either

turtles all the way downThe Weekly Standard joined the parade of publications covering (more or less) the Hugo Awards controversy. Writer Jonathan Fast concluded by stating the endless “culture war” controversies are “turtles all the way down”… in other words: there’s no way to tell where they started, and no end.

But there is, somewhere, a turtle all the way at the bottom who is bearing the weight of the world on his shell.

Jonathan’s main point was “Even the sci-fi awards have become part of it.”

And, I think this is another throe in the devastating trend that Mike Rowe identified as “The War on Work.” Fast began his article describing how a young man named Anthony Stokes received a heart transplant he’d been initially denied, because people advocated on the internet for the operation, averring that doctors were racist because Anthony was black; therefore he’d been denied the heart because he was black. As many people who’ve been in need of organ transplants know, there are some qualifying, and disqualifying factors that have been established — Anthony was initially denied due to a criminal record and poor school performance. He did get his heart – but lost his life last week, two years after the transplant. He died in a car crash, seeking to escape police pursuit.

Fast sought to say, “The rules weren’t followed – Anthony got an exception and somebody else did NOT receive a transplant, because people stepped in and advocated, stating he’d been denied due to his race.”

Certainly Anthony wouldn’t be the only person to receive a transplant only to “waste” the second chance at life. Of any race/ethnicity.

I thought about how messed-up things got for the transplant team at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, where Anthony received his transplant. With major publications like Huffington Post, Gawker and Ebony saying their facility was racist, they probably went through untold troubles. Physicians and nurses, unaccustomed to dealing with public accusations of racism and bias, took unknown amounts of time away from their daily work with patients. I don’t think it was just the person bumped back down the transplant list in favor of Anthony who paid a price. It was the whole hospital and community. Unknown numbers of parents and children who didn’t get the right care — children of any race, any ethnicity, any age, parents of any sexual orientation. It’s Atlanta, a city of half a million people. A busy hospital. Hearts are not the only type of organs transplanted there.

I don’t follow daily news about people who get into trouble because their personal lives and opinions vary from the demands of public advocates for various social positions. So, I hadn’t really known much about the situation with Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich, also mentioned in Fast’s article. In a nutshell, after a lifetime of work that positively influenced the world, last March, Eich received a promotion to CEO of Mozilla. After two solid weeks of controversy because Eich had contributed $1,000 to California’s Proposition 8 (“Defense of Marriage”) campaign … in 2008 … he resigned his position. The most recent entry on his formerly busy blog is dated as of his resignation. I followed him on Twitter … that and $2.25 will get you a cup of coffee. This cup is free at my house.

I just realized today that the anti-Chick-fil-A campaign ultimate results were a) probably to color the later days of founder S. Truett Cathy, who died last September at age 93 with controversy – he probably thought “I was just a guy who wanted to make and sell great chicken sandwiches and build a business”; and b) whatever that was all about, in the wake of Mr. Cathy’s death, Chick-fil-A continues strong. As most who know me know, I’m no advocate of fast food, but Chick-fil-A racked up $5 billion in sales and surpassed KFC for the top fast food chicken restaurant in the U.S. last year. So – Mr. Cathy’s controversial support for traditional marriage organizations did not result in fewer chicken sandwiches being made and sold.

Now, some may wonder, “Amy, aren’t you afraid of them coming after you?”

Well – they already have.

It started back in the 90s when we did Home Again Project in Redlands. Over my 10 years at Family Service, we were able to help over 1,000 homeless families find good places to live, get good jobs, and help their children get back on track in school. We even hired a formerly homeless dad who’d managed to help himself recover from substance abuse. He’d been certified as a drug counselor, and for two years, he did help many others with their battle with the deadly disease. Then he relapsed, unbeknownst to the rest of us for a time. He falsely accused his female supervisor of sexual harassment. I investigated this professionally, in accordance with training and company policies. I (and all the rest of us) did everything right under the circumstances. I estimate it cost me about 400 hours of work a year for the three year period during which the allegations went through various court processes. At the end, the man focused on me personally, and frightened me by trying to intimidate me. We called him “The Man With No Neck.” It was an accurate assessment. There’s no telling who didn’t get proper assistance or care during that time, when I was dealing with state investigators, countless lawsuit responses, lawyers and insurance people.

Then, this writer – and I don’t suck – this writer lost literally thousands of hours of productive work time and countless hours of sleep, and obtained a PTSD diagnosis because of the chap we call “Mr. Moron.” In an early example of what we see today with internet shaming and Twitter wars, Mr. Moron believed he could influence a custody battle by putting out a giant web page alleging that my now-deceased partner Alan Rodgers had murdered our baby Anthony. Anthony died because he aspirated his formula after being put down for a nap. He died in my arms. I had enough on my plate losing the baby I’d given everything up for, the baby I was committed to spending the rest of my life caring for (because he had Down Syndrome), and also to caring properly for my daughter Meredith. I did not need to see myself accused of murder of the most important person in my life, or see my beloved daughter also so-implicated (at age 12!).

It has taken me a lifetime to come to the point where I am today. This is what I understand. We, no matter who we are, have only a limited amount of time on this earth. What is it — what is the human tendency to do this type of thing — if it is not a desire for death and destruction, not life and living? People have 100,000 heartbeats a day, 35 million heartbeats a year, and a stunning – yet finite – 2.5 billion heartbeats during the average lifetime.

They say that “living well” is the best revenge. Mike Rowe advises people to stop looking down on those who do “dirty jobs” and recognize that not only do we all need those jobs to be done, but also the folks who do them, are among the happiest. Because they “get” what I just said about our lives being finite. It seems that it is the job of some of those who drive these endless controversies to do this. Or, fomenting these controversies is a way of avoiding doing some other work. My former employee who falsely accused his female boss of “sexually harassing” him didn’t want to do his job any more. He wanted time off, due to his addiction and probably other factors. He couldn’t handle it any more. His solution was to cook up these accusations so he could file for Workers Comp. He did, too! He got it for two years, and got free medical care and prescriptions. But then … it did all come to an end. He was ordered to pay it all back, and narrowly escaped jail time.

Because he wasn’t telling the truth.

He couldn’t pay me or the organization back for the endless hours wasted; he could never pay back his boss, whom he so brutally and falsely accused. He couldn’t give her back the unhappiness, stress, heartache, and confusion — he couldn’t give her back the sleepless nights. He couldn’t pay back the people who didn’t get the help they should have in the best way we could, because we were all so upset and confused by these false allegations.

Young people are having trouble on the job these days because they are so consumed by technology — smartphones, social media, videos, music, etc. As to those who may not be — well. There are always turtles. All the way down.

The economic cost: incalculable.



The Truth Is . . . Remembering Auschwitz

Plakat_wydany_przez_Zydowska_Organizacje_BojowaYou learn something new every day.

Today, I learned that there was a fierce Polish resistance to the Nazis, especially in Warsaw. This poster says “All people are equal brothers; Brown, White, Black and Yellow. To separate peoples, colors, races – Is but an act of cheating!”

It was made by Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa or ŻOB, the Jewish Combat Organization, which was part of the Polish resistance, which fought with untold bravery against the Nazi occupation during the second World War. The wall is the Warsaw ghetto wall, the hands meant to be those outside and those inside, joining together.

Pretty much all the ZOB members died. But they died fighting. A few survived to join the Warsaw uprising against the Nazis in 1944. A few even survived the war to tell their story to the world.

I thought about what it would take to make a poster with an SS company outside your door, roaming your streets, taking men, women and children — grandparents, babies — to a train — to their deaths. Shooting people down in the streets. Shooting little children. Setting your block on fire. Forcing you to starve in a tiny area of the city, worse than anything on LA’s Skid Row. I thought about what it would take to find a typewriter and write the desperate message sent by the Jewish resistance to their non-Jewish brothers and sisters over the other side of the wall. I thought about what it would take to speak to fat, self-satisfied, safe Britons and Americans – how one could try to communicate, like Szmul Zygielbojm – a Jew and member of the Polish government in exile, whose wife and child were trapped in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Szmul told his story to the London Telegraph in June, 1942, a story of murder, terror and death painstakingly gathered. And the Telegraph published it.

And nobody cared. That was it. The only such story at the time. Millions died. To this day, there are Holocaust deniers, and worse — the ones who do not care, the ones who are required to be told that Catholics also died, that Gypsies and gay people and disabled people were also slaughtered. Then, to them – it might slightly matter. For five seconds.

When I was a kid, I remember carving “JDL” (Jewish Defense League) in the top of a school desk in the RHS library. I saw myself as a Jewish resistance fighter, not even understanding what that meant.

I was with a man for ten years who denied anti-Semitic prejudice every time it was mentioned. He was in denial that he was with a dirty Jew. I have anti-Semitic letters from my own family; I was made to want to hate and deny my own self, my own family and blood. It was attempted to make me think there was something wrong with me, something wrong with my own people. Strange people, with strange customs.

Still, I carved “JDL” in the library table.

I can have some sense of what Szmul thought, when he did everything he could. When he told the people who were fighting the Nazis — the British, the Americans — of how bad things were. Telling them of things no sane human being could conceive. Impossible things. Who could imagine such brutality? Other than Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, and hundreds of others all over the world, including in this hemisphere. After notifying his superiors in the Polish government of their failure, he committed suicide. The manner of his death was either poison or gas. His remains have traveled; he now rests in New York after being cremated, making it impossible for him to be buried in a Jewish cemetery.

Are there enough of us “new people” now?

I do not know.

Still, I carve “JDL” wherever I can. Because that is who I am.

For this, on this day, hold your peace, stay silent. It was as Szmul knew. It is as we all know. But – our souls and spirits are eternal. No Nazi or fat, self-satisfied person who stood by idly when they could do something to stop it, can change that.

* * * *

Tosia Altman member of ZOB resistance in Warsaw Ghetto WWII

Tosia Altman member of ZOB resistance in Warsaw Ghetto WWII

Tosia Altman, born 1919, escaped Nazi-occupied Poland only to return with other Jewish youth group leaders to fight the Nazis. While in the ghetto in Warsaw, she organized other young people and established training kibbutzim and collectives – to train the other young people to fight. After weeks of fighting the Nazis during the Warsaw uprising, Tosia escaped capture by the Gestapo and returned to fight. The bitter fighting continued, with fire, gas and hand-to-hand combat with Nazis. She escaped the last bunker in the ghetto through the sewers. She hid in a celluloid factory outside the ghetto, which caught fire. She was badly-burned and found by the Polish police, who turned her over to the Nazis. She died two days later. She was beyond badass.



What to Do With That Giant Bag of Greens?

You’re at the market and you think, “That looks healthy!” but the bag is so huge!

Earthbound Farms Organic Deep Green Blends

Earthbound Farms Organic Deep Green Blends

Indeed, it is huge. The largest triple-washed bag of organic goodness from Earthbound Farm weighs in at one pound.

Remember when you were a kid, and eating plain spinach was “eeewwww!”

No longer … there’s a big difference between old-fashioned cooked-to-death spinach and delicious baby greens. Earthbound Farm sells several different green mixes that are good for salads and cooking. The Power Mix has baby kale, chard and spinach. Between baby and big kale, there’s quite the difference as well. Baby kale is tender … grown-up kale? Not so much.

Using half the bag (1/2 pound) for simple sauteed greens will serve two healthy green-eating adults. For four servings, double the recipe.

Sauteed Power Greens

  • 1/2 pound Deep Green Blend Organic Power Greens (baby kale, chard, spinach)
  • 2 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 3 cloves garlic – minced
  • 1/4 white or yellow onion, chopped fine
  • Sea salt and fresh pepper to taste

Mince the garlic and chop the onion. Set aside. In a large, heavy covered pot (I use my Mexican rice cooker – this would also work in a dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot with secure lid), heat the olive oil. Put onion in and saute until softened (only a couple of minutes). Add the garlic, saute a few seconds to mix.

Dump in the greens, straight out of the bag. Saute briefly in the olive oil. Cover with lid for 1-2 minutes. Lift the lid and continue to saute until greens are the desired degree of softened to your taste. The giant amount of greens will miraculously shrink to two serving-size. Salt and pepper at the end, also to your taste. Different flavors of salt and pepper will add interest (lemon, garlic, etc).

sauteed power greens


Super easy, super tasty, super healthy. And voila! The greens are eaten and won’t spoil.


Why My Gluten Free Bread is Making Me Sick!

Gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, soy-free … yay! Not.

gluten free bread from Costco

gluten free bread from Costco

How excited I was to see this excellent-looking pack of two loafs at Costco …

All I did when I got home was make a tuna sandwich and eat it. I continue to suffer the after-effects, a day later.

Gluten-free expert Jennifer Fugo explains what the problem is: the ingredients aren’t good substitutes for any kind of nutritious food. Gluten-free bread is bad for you: there’s no two ways about it. Rice flour has its good points: baked goods made with it are often more delicate and have a crispier crust than those made with wheat flour. Tapioca and potato flour, however, are 100% pure starch. If you’re eating “pure” you may have noticed some bad aftereffects of eating white potatoes, regardless of how they are cooked. These can include stomach pain, cramps, the unfortunate “gas” problem, and blood sugar crashes. Most people don’t down spoonfuls of tapioca flour, but this is exactly what it would do as well if eaten in quantity — and it’s usually found in quantity in gluten-free baked goods.

Good old white taters, and tapioca, are basically starch. Starch turns to sugar in the digestion process. Undigested sugars in your body ferment … voila! Gas. You are a one-person fermentation factory.

Another problem ingredient in gluten-free baked goods is Xanthan gum. What is it? I decided to find out.

The food additive Xanthan gum, which is becoming as common as the mysterious lecithin, is a “polysaccharide” (sugar) made from the secretions of a bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris. They make it in a chemical process that includes precipitation using isopropryl alcohol (rubbing alcohol). The “gum” is then dried and ground into powder, and later reconstituted to form the “gum” that provides the gluten-like thickening and texture found in commercial gluten-free baked goods. Oh! guess what the little dudes feed on to make their secretion? GOOD OLD WHEY. Of course! Whey, the “miracle dairy byproduct” – dairy waste that has found its way into every prepared food known to man and the main offender for those who are dairy-allergic, sensitive or intolerant (not lactose intolerant – DAIRY intolerant). The only things in whey, other than water (until it is dried) are the dairy proteins that the allergic, sensitive and intolerant cannot digest. Once the whey is dried, these concentrate to an unbelievable level. This is why those who are dairy-intolerant can usually eat a small amount of butter, which is mostly oil, and cannot eat margarine (nearly all commercial US margarine is in this category) made with whey without getting very ill. It goes without saying that products like “Cremora” and CoolWhip are nothing but high-fructose corn syrup-infused plastic containers of death for those who can’t tolerate dairy.

Rice flour and xanthan gum, as well as liberal amounts of actual sugar, are found in the “wonderful” gluten-free bread I found at Costco.

Some people may be able to eat some gluten-free baked goods as an occasional treat. They are not recommended for true healthy eating, and the ever-growing “gluten free” aisles at our supermarket are no substitute for eating real, whole foods: proteins, vegetables and fruits.

Here are some symptoms of problems after eating gluten-free bread:

  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Stomach cramps
  • Back pain (mystery type)
  • Food cravings for more and worse
  • Allergic “shiners” (dark circles or bags under eyes)
  • Skin problem flare-up (dry skin, oily skin, pimples, eczema/psoriasis)
  • Excessive tiredness/lethargy
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Flare-ups of immune-related problems – other allergies or even arthritis/joint pain

Sound familiar? Just like gluten-related problems. Because all of this STUFF is STUFF we’re not well-equipped to digest and eat.