Category Archives: health

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.

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 …

Kinship

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.

Shyness: Written 2002

Thanks to the long-term outage of the SFF.NET service which has taken down websites of numerous writers, Mindy Klasky sought out one of her older websites from the Internet Wayback Machine. I can’t link to Mindy’s current site – because it’s still unavailable!

I found copies of my original AOL website (during the time I didn’t realize I could have “amysterlingcasil.com” among many other things). There was plenty on there I’d forgotten. But this? This, I did not forget. This was written around my birthday in March, 2002. Unsurprisingly, I received criticism from individuals about this, mostly along the lines of “It’s no big deal to be shy and takes no courage whatsoever to overcome” and “it doesn’t matter what society tells minorities they are supposed to look like, they are a bunch of whiners.”

This documents the ACES before I knew what those where. This documents a form of self-recovery. This was written 3 years before I was diagnosed with complex PTSD (multiple precipitating incidents). This was written shortly before what truly was the high point of my life until the past 18 months, when I went to Kansas City for the Nebula Awards and John Starr and Zubin Contractor took care of me for a week. When I had for that brief time, people who cared about me, taking care of me, paying attention to me, listening to me, no additional outside worries or responsibilities.

Amy Sterling Casil 2002 Web Page Banner

SHY

Yes, it’s true. I was unbelievably shy as a child and had the self-esteem of a wet napkin. I felt ugly, unloved, and dumb. Not at all quick and smart. In fact, I felt most comfortable “making things” (as in my homemade books, forts of branches and rocks, and rickety treehouses). I enjoyed the sports I participated in, especially softball (I wasn’t BAD at any position and I was a pretty good hitter and shortstop), and dance classes. I spent countless hours scouring the countryside for exciting adventures, either alone with my BB gun (You’ll shoot your EYE out!) or with my friends. I remember finding the giant pack rat nest. He had built a little hut out of branches and rocks (sound familiar?) and I was positive that a small person lived in there.

Crouching in front of my pals, I peered into the door to the “little house” and saw light dancing off dozens of shiny things. As my eyes adjusted, I realized they were bits of broken glass, pop-top can tabs, and bottle caps. These were nested in a woven mat of old string and rubber bands. And it smelled nasty! Then the “little man” came out, rearing on his hind legs, reaching up with his arms, and baring what looked like three-inch, dark orange sabers. He was hissing! He came staggering out, and I shrieked and we all screamed and ran off. That was Pack Rat. As I ran away, I heard a familiar voice saying, “Surprise, surprise, surprise.” That made me laugh; it wasn’t so scary any more.

I fought – well, this is so feminine, isn’t it? – my first victim was a 5th grade boy who got “smart” when I was in 3rd grade, and I pounded him because that was what I’d seen the other kids do. But after that, I mostly got into it trying to defend my friends. I don’t recall ever initiating any trouble, but I do recall “defending” my friends from teasing and harassment. It wasn’t “teasing” by Junior High. I have to laugh these days when they talk about the problems in the schools. When I was in Junior High, I knew kids who would ditch and go across to the orange grove across the street and engage in what they now call “inappropriate sexual behavior.” We had a teacher who sat at his desk and smoked pot. In LA, I went to a Junior High where we had another pot-smoking teacher who assigned us to read SIDDHARTHA by Herman Hesse (in Junior High!). The “fights” were nearly all gang-related. It is true that back then weapons were mostly knives. But I knew what a switchblade was; I guess what amazes me is that now, people freak out about everything. I’m not saying that these fights are right. They’re not. But it is a completely false impression to suggest that there was “no violence” in schools during the 70’s, whereas now it’s a zone of armed warfare, teachers in terror over students bringing Uzis in through the metal detectors. I went to school during the 70’s, so that should provide some insight into my knowledge of “America’s Drug Problem.”

Years later, when I came to Family Service, the agency in Redlands where I was the director for nearly ten years, I saw a lot of my schoolmates: yes, as people coming in seeking help. I remember one dramatic fight in Junior High with a girl everyone was terrified of. She was much bigger than me, and her gang (race-related, but I won’t feed that to say “which race”) was after my best friend, looking to seriously hurt her. As in switchblade, broken ribs, etc. Many years later, her sister came to Family Service and I learned that the girl who’d led the fight was doing 20 to life in the State Penitentiary, a heroin addict, with six children she’d never see grow up.

This may seem rough. This may seem ugly. But I have never had a “sheltered” life. Parents today may wonder, “How can I protect my children against this type of thing?” The answer is: you can’t. They’ve got to live life just like the rest of us. I don’t think that I had a whole lot more self-esteem than the girl who ended up in the State Penitentiary. My age: her life is now, for all intents and purposes, over. People might say, “Amy, you’re a rich white girl, blah blah blah.” Yeah, I ended up as the director of the agency to which so many of these other kids ended up going, out of money, out of jobs, out of food, addicted to drugs, involved in domestic violence, running from the law. Their children are orphans, being raised by overwhelmed grandparents. I was raised by my grandparents. Rich? I never went hungry. Compared to people in economically stressed countries, every individual in America is “rich.” They have multiple pairs of shoes, television sets, and not one single person in this country needs to go hungry. If they do, it’s because they don’t know about the resources that are available, or because pride, or lack of transportation, or disability, prevents them from taking advantage of them.

I worked for so many years with people of all backgrounds that I almost sometimes laugh when I hear people lecture or hector about “diversity.” That’s not what this is about, but I guess that everybody can understand what “shy” is. It doesn’t matter what you look like or if your name is easy or difficult for others to pronounce — if you’re shy, you’re shy and that’s that. Shyness will prevent you from taking the initiative in doing so many things you want desperately to do. Being there for my friend during all those terrifying gang fights was a large part of helping me to overcome my crippling shyness. I discovered that I had physical courage; it’s not like I thought about it too much at the time. I think that’s what physical courage is: just not worrying. Things you have to think about in advance, like bungee jumping or skydiving? The way to get past that is to turn your brain off and just do it. I used that same process, little by little, in every aspect of my life. Dealing with friends, being in a group and saying more than two words? Turned off the “shyness fear.” Suddenly, everyone thought I was extraverted. Speaking in front of a group? Same thing. I found a way to just turn the fear off and focus on the audience. Maybe part of it is forcing yourself to stop worrying about what others think of you, and instead focus on others — what’s going on with them? How are they reacting? What do they have to say and offer? Rejection fears: I can’t tell you how horrible it was for me to put my work into an envelope and receive those rejection letters back. But after a while, I became able to use the very same process, telling myself each time, “If you don’t try, you’ll fail for certain.” Don’t be shy.

Another part of it was thinking, “Nobody’s better than anybody else.” Shyness is a natural personality trait, but it’s made so much worse by poor self-esteem and inner fears.

As far as the racial thing goes, I guess it makes me really angry. I truly feel that all people deserve the opportunity to do what they want to do in life — pursue the career of their choice, have the family life they want, attend the church they want to be a part of – or no church at all -, live where they want to live, and live free and happy. Because I am who I am, Family Service Girl, always having talked to and been with whomever I got along with, never having given more than a second’s thought to “he or she looks different, sounds different, is different from me,” my friends and acquaintances seldom, if ever, bring up topics of racial or ethnic denigration. I suppose, and as I said to one of my good friends the other day, “We can’t see ourselves as others see us.” You see, I recently realized that “Not everyone feels the same way I do.” I recently heard of a group of middle-class Caucasian individuals “going off” about “Mexicans” with stereotyped, ignorant comments galore. Not just one or two people, an entire group just having an “anti-Mexican” fest. I guess that’s like Cinco de Mayo in reverse. I occasionally hear people using the “N” word, and not in jest. When I was growing up, I desperately wanted to look like Snow White. Well, you can see my picture and see how “likely” that was to happen. I felt sluggy and hideous, a little chubby-cheeked blond girl who wanted to be tall and willowy with long black hair. But what’s that compared to a black or brown woman who constantly has pictures of blond, tall, willowy, blue-eyed women shoved in her face and is told, “That’s beautiful?” A young black man who’s snowed under by images of successful black athletes and entertainers — but what if he isn’t a great athlete, and he can’t sing very well, and what’s more — wants to do something different? I believe that everyone can relate to overcoming shyness, but I don’t know about these other things. It just makes me angry to think about it. I often hear the term “ignorance” used to describe bigotry and prejudice. I think that’s right. I think also that it’s willful ignorance. I believe that it does make bigoted, prejudiced people “feel better” when they put others down with no knowledge whatsoever of what they’re so cruelly babbling about.

What I believe most about this, what I see, is that when people categorize others this way, descending to the lowest, stupidest, most ignorant stereotypes possible, they are committing the ultimate act of disrespect. They are literally throwing other people away as if they were pieces of trash. When I teach, I see the shy student in the back of the class. Often, that student produces the very best work. Because of his shyness, the other students have absolutely no idea what their fellow class member is capable of. The shy student also loses access to what the others are doing and saying. The same process occurs on a larger scale with people who are ethnically bigoted and prejudiced. They automatically cut themselves off from ever being friends with, working with, or having their lives enriched by people who are of the groups they fear, disrespect and hate. As a society, the members of groups who are considered “minorities,” or have endured prejudice and bigotry, are enforced into that position of the shy student in the class — and in many cases, it doesn’t matter if they’re shy or not. I grew up in the day — along with the switchblades and gang free-for-alls at the flag pole, all race-related — when Diahann Carroll was the first black woman to star on a television series. I remember Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura on Star Trek. She was so beautiful and poised. They both were; in fact, I remember them the most of any women on television during those years when I was disturbing Pack Rat and struggling with my own shyness and self-esteem. I loved both shows, and they were my favorite female actors at the time. I believe that they were not just pioneers and role models for black American women, they were role models for all women. But prejudiced and bigoted people would not be able to see through that; to them, they would be “tokens” or there would be resentment against them based on some other racially-motivated “favorite.” In my home, I was encouraged to watch Diahann Carroll, because she was exactly as I said — beautiful, poised, and she played a professional woman and a single mother. Now — where am I today? Certainly not as lovely as Diahann Carroll, but I am a professional woman and a single mother. And when I have to, I can behave with poise and dignity. Today, I look at Halle Berry and often I hear comments about her gorgeous physique, but she has also proven herself as a talented actress. Maybe Halle Berry is the best actress working right now in films. Her beauty and her race receive a lot of comments, but she has definitely “overcome” those stereotypes. I look at her success and I feel incredibly proud. A whole new generation of young women can look at her, watch her films, and see someone who is not just beautiful, but a deeply-perceptive performer with class, talent, and intelligence.

For me, overcoming shyness only occurred when I was able to get a better sense of who I was, as well as deciding who I wanted to be. That does cross all barriers, and — I suppose on a small scale — as a non-Snow-White “dumb blond,” I understand what it’s like to be judged based solely on appearance. And judging based upon appearance is part of human nature. No one can escape that. Now I get to deal with being called “ma’am” and “Mrs. Casil.” Heaven love my students calling me by my first name without asking permission. Like Diahann Carroll, I have to quietly address issues of respect and dignity without causing hurt to others.

I’m still painfully shy. I feel ill every time it’s time to teach a class. I’ve heard other people describe “butterflies” in their stomachs. With me, it’s more like a clenching fist inside. But it’s been a long, long time since I’ve given in, wimped out, or otherwise sidestepped situations where I was uncomfortable or fear-filled. The fear never goes away. It does grow less as time passes. Familiar situations do make things easier.

Looking at brain theory and the theory of the mind (hey, I am a science fiction writer!), it’s now understood that we each “deconstruct” the world as we perceive it, then reconstruct it in our minds. No two people perceive the world in exactly the same manner. But even so, I do believe that we all perceive the world in ways that are similar, and we share common experiences and perceptions that are very like, if not identical, to others. Everything I’ve written about, from the “freaks” in “Chromosome Circus,” to Mel in “To Kiss the Star,” — Mel, there in her wheelchair, looking at her face in the horror that I dread; her face in that story is the face I see in my own mirror each day, because that’s what shyness and low self-esteem is — is really about accepting who you are and overcoming fears, self-doubt and the brutality of others. I suppose my anger derives from the brutality most of all. In the same way that people approach their environment and their lives, with no “intelligence,” but rather selfish, self-interested, “of the moment” reactions and decisions, so, too, are people discarded with no thought whatsoever. It seems to me that those who live their lives this way “deconstruct” the world, but they never put a thing but their own selfish concerns back together.

Overcoming shyness is not about brutalizing or hardening yourself. It’s about perceiving who you are and what you’re capable of doing, and not allowing the shyness to rule your life. Above all, it isn’t about telling yourself that you’re better than others. It’s about telling yourself that you’re a human being, just like everyone else, and that you can and do have something to offer. Real courage, not just blind physical guts, comes from recognizing who you are and making choices based upon your firmly-held inner beliefs and values, regardless of what others say about you, do to you, or even if they ignore you or mock you.

Amy Sterling Casil

Well: Chameleon.

Redlands, CA March, 2002

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.

 

The Secret to Young-Looking Women

Is love.

Amy July 2014To love requires a loss of self.

But what you gain in return is so much more.

Ron struck me to the core with his thoughts on writing and being a creative artist.

It’s called “Hard Work and Opportunity.” This is as we were raised; this is as we believe. Ron’s website has always been called “Persistence.” It meant sticking to what he said he would do and sticking to the hard work as a writer.

I always had the easy way. I never “suffered” to write. It was a joy to get up at 5:00 a.m. and write until 7:00 when Meredith woke when she was little. Always the writing was all that I had. I turned my back on it not because I was lazy, but because I thought it was a foolish thing to do. I thought “You have to work to support your family. You will make only a few dollars through this writing, so you’d better learn to earn your living and support your family well.”

Certainty was always a value to me — before now. I wanted to know. Wanted to know I was doing the right thing. Wanted to know that I was on the right path.

We cannot know this.

I have just enough ego to do this thing that I do. Others are hesitant. They don’t want to put their truest thoughts forward. They feel they’ll be mocked, or worse, ignored. I’ve been there, done that, and I’m here to say – it’s not that bad. If you love what you do, you’ll continue.

To write what it is you’re really supposed to write isn’t easy. It’s very difficult for people who don’t have the huge egos of some writers or commenters. It seems as though folks like this have lots of certainty. They have no doubt what it is they do is something worthwhile, and something worth others reading or listening to.

So it’s like Route 66. It was there. It’s still there. It’s not easy to find. It takes persistence and commitment. It might be easy to do the tourist spots. It’s harder to find the real road.

It’s a journey, step by step. It is love and commitment and courage all rolled in one. Some people may not understand the courage part. That’s because they’re not hesitant. They don’t fear mockery or negative commentary as much as others.

As to commitment, that’s the part that comes when you don’t know what to say — or worse — you do know what to say but you are afraid to go there.

That is, what it is. And love is the secret to young-looking women.

Free: available to all.

 

Women are Blessed

Some times you have to thank your friends for being there, and I will do that.

true love native americanBut did I really need to read yet another foul-mouthed complaint as to “who’s right and who’s wrong” liberally littered with the “c-word” and every other expletive and totally splashy as to how totally awful it is for women and how any man who wants to express that he’s a man or any type of … well, anything at all … he’s the “enemy?”

No, I did not.

So I remembered. First thing this morning, the moment this picture depicts occurred in my own house, in my own life.

And what a blessed thing that is. I’m waiting for someone to tell me “This is native American people, Amy. You can’t use a Native American picture to describe your own life and emotions.”

Oh.

Well, maybe not. Maybe I should find a couple of Rehab Generation specials embracing to illustrate.

I have told people what a freak I am. What a bizarre, strange, unusual, off-brand individual I am. Raised my daughter, fought through untold things, but here I am, complaining complainer with a Master’s degree, more work than I can handle, more than adequate food each day, living in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, blessed by my students, my friends, my family. Blessed to have been able to do just about everything any rational human being would ever desire to do. Blessed to be able to do what I love each and every day. Blessed with freedom. The freedom to express my mind, to be who I am, to wear what I want, to transport myself where I wish, when I wish.

I have friends around the world! I have been so blessed, so very blessed. What I write here is a blessing.

I do not have to fear losing 10 of 13 babies, like my great-grandmother. I do not have to fear being attacked late at night while living alone, by a terrible killer like my grandmother. I do not have to fear my house burning down and having to leave in the middle of the night and take a train to parts unknown, with no money or friends. Like my great-grandmother. I do not have to fear war and sudden attacks by enemies who hate me because of the way I look, the language I speak – like my grandmother.

I don’t have to bring glasses of scotch and cigars to nasty old guys who won’t even look me in the eye, like my mother.

I do not have to wait on rich women and “dress them” the way they like, like my grandmother.

I am the freest person imaginable. And I have the freedom to love. And I do.

We are living in the best of all possible worlds so far. And there are hundreds of millions of us! Among the nearly 8 billion in this world, more and more men and women join the freest of the free every day.

With great freedom comes responsibility, of course.

Just stop using the “c-word.” Because there’s people who really know what that is, who really have suffered untold depredations. And as much as this internet mess hurts, as hard as it is to not get a job, or not get a contract, or not get the attention we think we should –

We are blessed. We have been given the freedom from the daily struggle to feed ourselves, to survive, to make sure our children live … and what it’s about is learning to live and love and to help others do the same.

Not curse and rage and abuse just because you can.

Would You People Like Some Whine With Your Cheese?

I would like to address the issue that, when I comment regarding bad things that happen to others, I will refer to my own experience, use the first-person, and refrain from making broad statements using pronouns like “you” and “them.”

An unwelcome reminder of the ways in which abusive behavior tends to manifest in the sci-fi/fantasy “community” recently emerged in the form of Laura Mixon’s exhaustive, thorough and brutal (for those of us who are survivors) documentation of the multi-year abuse/harassment/intimidation/terror campaign of an individual that … well, nobody really knows who this person is. It’s a creep who convinced good writers over the past couple of years that they shouldn’t be doing their own best work. The person managed to get a lot of guilt and self-injury out of her/his targets. She/he forced a lot of people into serious self-harm, caused tremendous pain, and even got some victims close to suicide. Fortunately, no one known did take his or her own life to escape the brutal, vicious attacks.

I certainly thought about killing myself in 2007 when the individual we refer to as “Mr. Moron” decided to up the ante in Alan Rodgers’ custody battle by putting up a giant web page that alleged that Alan murdered our baby Anthony, and just in case that wasn’t true, I did it, or even my daughter (age 12 at the time Anthony died two years earlier). Then, he publicized it to mailing lists of up to 30,000 people. This wasn’t new information; it wasn’t true information. It was wild, vicious speculation, and just as the entire previous 10 years of other harassment/stalking/false accusations/assaults and threats had hurt mostly children and failing that, innocent women … this one went that way, too.

It was not that I was unaccustomed to such difficulties. As I noted above, the terror campaign had gone on for, in my case, 8 years, and in Alan’s case, much longer than that. His children never knew a life without fear.

Why, why, why, I’ve been asked – WHY would you put up with something like this? Why, because I’m 10-10 on the ACE scale (Adverse Childhood Experiences). As my best friend once put it, “When you live in Crazyland, Crazyland seems normal.”

Anyway, I was diagnosed with PTSD in 2007 because the web page that suggested I murdered my own baby pushed me over the edge into the real McDeal. I would not wish this on my worst enemy. Dying quickly by any means, and I do include fire, would be more merciful than full-on PTSD.

It’s inaccurate and unfair to suggest I went through this alone. I praise God every day that I did not, and am so grateful for my close friends and family who went through this with me. And I thank God that I was able to get help.

But here’s the deal. This stuff Laura Mixon has been documenting about has gone on for years. Many writers, readers, fans and even gamers were affected. As I said, some people even considered taking their own lives. Many are afraid to even reveal their names right now for fear of being attacked again. This is far from an isolated incident. It’s just the most dramatic one in recent years, and it affected many innocent victims.

So I will use the “you” word now. I will give a prescriptive directive. YOU – sci fi people – YOU people who think you are part of this “community” need to better yourselves beyond the level depicted by one of our best writers — the small town scapegoaters Shirley Jackson wrote about in “The Lottery.”

There’s a legal term, prima facie – it means “on the face of it.” On the face of it, the harassment and abuse Laura Mixon documented was absurd in its excess and brutality. It’s hard enough to get good work reviewed honestly — here was an individual trashing the best work of good-hearted, caring, goodwilled writers and it went on for years! Readers who spoke up honestly were attacked as well. This abuser should have been disregarded years ago and told “no” with each instance of abuse; instead, it seems she/he is up for a John W. Campbell award!

Well that is just so awesome for people who haven’t hurt anybody who are contributing decent, honest work to the world — work that might entertain and enrich the lives of others. People think that the writing isn’t associated with the individual; i.e. a complete and total bastard can write great work.

False.

How many hours did this individual spend harassing, trashing, stalking, threatening and abusing others? Countless.

How many thousands of hours does a real writer spend in the chair to do real work? Many more than the dedicated abuser, I am certain.

The years of my life I could have spent writing my best work that were lost to my abuser and harasser (who also contributed to the early, untimely death of Alan Rodgers, a writer so far above and beyond the abuser that the abuser cannot even conceive of the difference) are gone. I can never get this time back.

And neither can those abused and harassed by this nameless, faceless, genderless Campbell nominee whose work I’m relatively certain will be just about as “special” as the abuse she/he spewed.

We, as a community, owe it to ourselves to stop allowing these things to happen. We as a community cannot continue to allow the uninjured to passively sit by and let the injured such as myself once again take up arms and fight. I suffered silently for years, only speaking up when it was obvious that even when a court ordered the material removed from the internet, it wasn’t going to go away. I learned the sad truths of the “system” and learned that the only defense was …

to live life well. To be happy, to grow, learn, love and in the words of my good friend David Brin, yes – my friend David … thrive!

I’ll Teach You Your Animals (Sequoia National Forest)

bear at sequoia national park          It’s early in the Sierra foothills, with a pale sun blinking over tall ragged hills. Three Rivers is a tiny town strung along the Kaweah River. In any other place this would be a stream or a creek, but in dry California it’s a raging river.

Bruce and I pull into a two-pump Chevron station. My window is rolled down and the chill damp raises goose pimples all along my arms. A rangy black and white cat emerges from the station yard and calls out a greeting.

As we get out of the Jeep, Bruce says, “Big Tommy likes you.”

Big Tommy does indeed. I kneel and he immediately approaches, rubbing his cheek on my calves and ankles. I pet his hard black head as he purrs and my hand comes away greasy. He has white socks and a white tuxedo chest, but these are not white I see up close. They are the same color as the early morning clouds over the river.

“He’s greasy as hell,” I say.

“He’s been out all night,” Bruce says. “He’s got a lot of business to do.”

“He’s got girls up and down the river,” I say. “Caught a fish last night.”

“He’s running numbers,” says Bruce.

Big Tommy does have a rakish look. His green-gold eyes are narrow and cockeyed. I scratch his greasy head a few more times and we get back in the Jeep. On the way out, I see his lair – stack after stack of used tires back of the station. Big Tommy sleeps in oil and tire dust. The fishes sleep with him.

On the way up to the giant forest Bruce spins yarns about Big Tommy. His cousin is Big Ollie, the crime boss. Ollie’s vice isn’t girls, it’s food. They’ve corrupted Gambit, the sweet young dog. Now he’s their wheel man. Soon, they’ll introduce him to the numbers trade and girls and dope.

The gray ribbon of pavement winds up and up through thick, impossibly beautiful forest. Amid the pines are slender red trunks of young sequoias. Two or three are giants, burned deep at the roots, still growing outward and upward, miraculous survivors. The sun is a bit higher now, but the cold morning air knifes through me. My heart is tapping steadily inside, faster and faster.

We round a curve and in front of us is a young bear, ambling across the road. His fur is thick and black, sunlight glinting off his back and shoulders. He looks straight at us with his shiny black eyes as if to say, “What are you going to do about it?” and continues to the turnout on the opposite side of the road. We watch for a few moments. The Mini Cooper behind us stays longer. We continue on.

At this hour, the prime parking spot at the forest museum is easily gotten. I get Bruce’s poles out and my tool. With little discussion we set out on the Moro Rock trail. My memory says it’s a two-mile hike to the rock, but of course I’m not sure.

It’s a classic scout-type trail, well-cleared and easy, a narrow path of soft red earth and sand cushioned by decaying pine needles. The giants are scattered within the pines. At our feet are tiny, perfect flowers, pink and white.

We have gone no more than ten minutes when I sense something and turn.

“Whitetail,” I say – wrong.

It’s a heavy muledeer buck chasing a doe not ten feet from us, strong hooves pounding the forest earth, raising small clouds of dust.

“There’s something up ahead,” I say. Bruce’s green eyes flash.

general sherman          The forest deepens. I pick some miner’s lettuce and give a piece to Bruce. He’s no longer innocently trusting of things I might put in his mouth and I see the doubt in his eyes. But this is not bad, just a leaf with a slight crunch and lemony tang. Oh to be such an authority, able to survive at least two or three days in the wild.

The trail turns and rises ahead. Atop the rise are a lovely doe and delicate fawn. The doe is feeding in the grass beside the trail. The fawn looks expectantly at us, then back to its mother.

My heart stops. I raise my hand. Bruce stops and steps quietly beside me. We watch the pair for a few moments. They pass along and we continue. I want to tell him how this made me feel, that he knew exactly what I was doing and what was happening without words. But of course I haven’t the right words to say.

Beside us, a hillock rises, with patches of smooth granite between the trees. This may be too high for the giant trees; there are only pines and cedar on this side of the trail. We climb upward, up onto the rocks.

We stand in the sun, the only place there is warmth at this early time. All around are the smells of the forest. The loamy earth, pine sap and red-furred big trees. Big flat gray-white granite rocks dusted with lichen and pine needles.

His arm slips around my waist. His lips find mine. Time stops. I cannot feel my pack, my boots, none of it. It is just the sun’s warmth, the earth turning beneath our feet, his lips on mine, my hands on his strong back, his strong hands supporting me.

We part. His eyes are warm and brown and green, flashing in the sun.

There is a near-black suncast shadow against the broad gray rock. It is an outline of passion, searing and perfect.

Then comes the feeling again, as when the buck was chasing the doe. Steps behind his shoulder. We both turn, and a doe is stepping toward us, her eyes soft and curious. She stops no more than three yards away. Our eyes meet hers. Her body is strong and elegant, long neck curved, sleek legs cream and brown and white.

Afterward, we continue on and the forest deepens again. Because we have kissed, we are less observant. A young Marine passes us and asks if we saw the bear sleeping on the rock. No – we hadn’t. We double back and I try to get a picture. Another bear of about the same size as the one we’d seen crossing the road is sunning himself on a small boulder in the shadow of the pines, sleeping and stretching.

We go farther, winding through thick glades of fern and pine and sequoia, interspersed with small alpine meadows. Then I hear a sound like a tree falling.

It’s no tree – it’s Bruce, complete with bloody nose and cut lip. The Marine returns and asks if we need help. No – I’ve got my pack.

This is poetic justice of a sort, as I had tripped and fallen on my face two nights before, chasing Big Ollie the crime boss. So now we have matching swollen noses and fat lips.

We reach Moro Rock and climb halfway up the stairs, far enough to stand at the edge and look across to the edge of the world and the great Western Divide. It takes our breath.

“You were looking at my ass when you fell,” I say.

Bruce admits this is true.

“Let that be a lesson to you,” I want to say. But I do not. He has suffered enough for his transgressions. There isn’t even any water in the bathrooms, and the drinking fountain is dry. We must ride all the way back to the forest museum to deal with the blood and dirt.

We see many more things that day. On another bus, the others are crying out because there is a doe in the forest near the road.

I smile over at Bruce. His dimple is very deep.

Oh, the places we’ve been. The things we’ve seen.

God is talking.

I hear, but his words are to me, unsayable. At least, just yet.

We have stripped ourselves bare and with silent minds listened at His breathing place, felt His presence and seen His face. Heard his eternal voice and know.

The first name of an animal is us.