Saturday, July 26, 2014

Age is Just a Number

Alice has grown up in our society and listened to the rhetoric.  It is a society of youth, in spite of the unmistakable bulge of Baby Boomers who are passing through like a bull in a china shop.

So many of her contemporaries do Botox, injecting poison into the facial muscles, rendering the user unable to move her forehead or express facial emotions.
Others have boob jobs, leaving these foreign saline bags to permanently stand at attention, even when the rest of the body is in repose.  Equally hard to fathom.
Or the truly desperate ones who have face lifts or any one of the myriad procedures that are available for a price.  All targeted at rendering the woman with a face that is a blank, unmoving page, rather than one filled with the rich text of her life.

This whole youth thing seems so silly and trivial.  Faces are smooth while necks are wrinkled.  Ditto with hands and the skin on arms.

What happened to the pride one should feel at having made it this far?  Still filled with yearnings and feelings and the capacity for joy.  Not solely from grandchildren who harken to days past, but from friendships that ripen in the days ahead until filled with sweet juices.
Friendships rich in shared stories of making it through the obstacle course of life.  Why can’t that be beautiful, too?  Why can’t the lines in a face … that hint of the stories untold … be touched with gentle fingertips that trace each line with admiration rather than derision?

Our bodies are merely the vehicles that carry us through this life, this diversion, this time spent … here in this place.  Some have the misfortune of being riddled with disease or maimed, but they are still miraculous in their creation and their fortitude and sheer strength and will of survival.

It is the shallow person who seeks only the beauty of youth. Or the artificial deception foisted upon us and received justifiably with sheer disbelief.
And it is the genuine one who looks beyond the superficial layer, and seeks to touch the essence of the strength that carried the person this far.  Still standing.  With stories to tell that haven’t been told; feelings to share that have long been dormant; desires yet to be discovered; pleasures waiting to burst free.

To the genuine person, then, goes the prize of the “real deal” and not the cheap forgery of what used to be.
And that’s why Alice now believes that age is just a number. 

It’s not about taking advantage; or looking for money.  It’s for the pleasure of those who are not fooled by the stiff, expressionless faces; or the boobs frozen in the upright position; or the bodies invaded by hoses that suck out unwanted parts. 

Alice believes that love and pleasure and joy are timeless.




Sunday, July 20, 2014

Shades of Grey

Last Friday Ramon Torres told me to “fuck off.”   

There I was … walking on the road below my house.  Mr. Torres and his band of bright-eyed idealists were standing next to the only entrance to the Sakuma Farm Office where workers come to get their pay.  The “bright eyes” were handing out flyers; stirring up the dissension that already hangs over our community like a dirty cloud of smoke.

Mr. Torres, the group’s leader, was arrested last year for domestic violence.
FACT: Ramon Torres, the president of Familias Unidas por la Justicia, was arrested by Skagit County Sheriffs on August 30 for assaulting his wife (Case Number COOO62705) at the farm workers camp at Sakuma Brothers Farms. According to the arrest report, Torres had pushed his wife, Deanna Torres, as well as “hit and pulled (her) the previous day.”

Perhaps I was lucky he just spat the “fuck off” at me instead of pushing me down.
The Gringo shall be better prepared for Ramon, cobarde wife beater, next Friday.

The “bible” for Ramon and his band of rabble rousers is a book written by my “adopted son” Seth Holmes, who came to our valley a decade ago to write about the Triqui workers from Oaxaca.  It would become the dissertation for his doctorate in Anthropology.  He was already a physician. 

Seth is a brilliant, compassionate man, who has stayed in my home a number of times.  He and his book are pictured below.  He is currently an Associate Professor at UC Berkeley.
One page in the summary of that book is written about me.  And the leader of this group of rabble rousers tells me to “fuck off.”  He obviously didn’t get the memo.

*** A copy of that page is included at the very end of this post. ***

Everyone knows many of the workers from Oaxaca are illegal.  Third party groups do the actual hiring and checking of SS #s so the farmer has deniability.  The farmer always used to provide free, primitive housing for the workers and their families.  Local churches could have helped with the housing, but they were busy pouring money into Guatemala … for all the good that did.

Nonetheless, it was a strange kind of win-win for everyone.  These workers had a job and could support their families.  Some stayed on after the season to work at the farm or in other local places that regularly hire illegals, rented apartments in the area, and their children streamed into our schools.

With the education they gained, many of the children grow up to have better jobs and better lives.  Our country benefited because our produce remains affordable; and the workers pay into the Social Security system (with their bogus SS #s) but they never collect.  The farmer was able to stay in business in spite of rising prices for everything.  Our residents have the pleasure of living in a lovely farming community, with views from our windows like this …
. . . rather than places like Arizona where old farms are now retirement communities like this …
There are certainly some problems with this arrangement:  (1) The workers received low wages for hours of back-breaking work; (2) Local schools are now burdened with a glut of kids who have no support system at home and slow down the class progress for everyone; and (3) Local hospital ERs are so full of illegals without health insurance that those of us who pay taxes and do have insurance have to wait five hours sometimes instead of one.

But it has worked and we have all managed.  The Oaxacans are nice people – shy and most generous -- and only some have learned English (their third language after Triqui and Spanish).  The kids, with their shiny black hair and big brown eyes, are just like any other kids.  They laugh and play ball and have fun like kids all over the world.

The farmer, Steve Sakuma (pictured below), has often told the story of how this group is the last in a long line of foreign workers.  Early ones came from Norway or Russia; later ones from some Asian countries; and these mostly illegal workers are from Oaxaca.

By the way, this “farmer” is also a retired US Army Colonel who served his country for more than two decades, and deserves our respect for that.  

One would think the instigators would have picked a better representative, to cut a deal with a man like Steve Sakuma, than a hooligan like Ramon Torres, who hurts women and sprays local residents with obscenities.
If I were Sakuma, I would not even waste my time talking to that group.

But that is his business.  For me, a long-time resident who loves living in this county, there are many benefits to how things have worked.   And the frosting on the cake is that in the summer I get to buy delicious, just-picked berries, at an affordable price.  Sakuma berries are the very best!
Last year, this group of outside instigators, with Seth’s book in hand, picked this particular farmer to boycott, convincing the workers to strike and causing much upheaval in our community.  They want to unionize the workers, which seems beyond ludicrous to me.

These instigators don’t really care about the workers.  Many of the Oaxacans can’t understand them anyway.  Many farm workers lost their jobs last year. 

This year, thanks to the instigators, the farm workers and their families have lost their free places to live.  Their quarters were dismal at best, but at least they provided protection from the elements, a way for the family to be together, and a sense of community for the people. 
Now, they sit freshly painted and remodeled … and empty.

The farmer knew they were coming back this year, so he built a fence around the farm office down the street from me.  It reminded me of Auschwitz; I didn’t understand.  Until Friday when the Group Leader demonstrated he is nothing but a hot-head who wants to cause trouble instead of getting a job.

While I sympathize with the people that Familias Unidas Por La Justicia “claim” to represent, I resent their intrusion into my neighborhood, especially when I walk on the same road every day. 
And Mr. Torres picked the wrong older woman to brush off with an obscenity.  Tomorrow I’m buying my first can of mace.
This issue of illegal workers and poor treatment and low wages is not a simple one.  But one that is so entangled with large segments of our economy.  If all 11 or 12 million illegals were to disappear tomorrow, the crisis in many of our industries would be catastrophic for our country.
There is no black and white … this is right, that is wrong.  There are many shades of grey here.  And the last thing any of us here need are outsiders to come into our community with the sole purpose of stirring up trouble.

I was so proud of the book this amazing young man wrote.  Have so much admiration for the person he is and what he’s accomplished. 
It is sad to think the success of his book has harmed the farmer who was generous enough to allow him inside and to harm the community that welcomed him with open arms.

Click on Read More to read the excerpt from Seth's book

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"Special" Brownies

Two days ago, the first legal pot / weed / cannabis / marijuana / Mary Jane shops opened their doors in Washington State.  It’s great living in such a progressive state.  If one is gay, you can be married here.

If you are going to die anyway, you can speed up the process here.  And if you want to serve special treats at your social gathering, you can buy the ingredients here.  Legally.  Come back to the Five and Dime Willie Nelson.

The Plethora of Products


Plus Washington is a beautiful place and we are thankfully a liberal state … which means our Christians are not the Holy Roller Right Wing Nut types.

It was my intent to buy just a wee bit of the weed to make a batch of "special" brownies for an Open House we were hosting.  But, alas, the line formed at 4 am.  By the time I arrived, at a more civilized hour, they were sold out.

Nonetheless … not to be dissuaded by this simple set-back, I have written this post as intended.  After all, it is simply missing one tiny element … which will be acquired in the very near future.

Bellingham, the home of Western Washington University, has the largest, best stocked shop for this category of products.  They even have candy bars and lip gloss, which seem terribly original.
However, I prefer to shop more locally, and my town of choice is a place “up-river” called Sedro Woolley.

Just the name conjures up the image of the movie with that great song with the banjo and the guitar.  So I have included that as part of my email distribution of this post.

The farther “up-river” one goes … the more relevant to the movie the area becomes.  Thus I try to limit my “up-river” travels to not too far east of Sedro Woolley.
And now … to the heart of the matter.

The recipe and directions that follow were taken from The Stoner’s Cookbook which is available on the Internet, and filled with a plethora of recipes for other healthy options.
. “Special Brownies”
Prior to beginning the baking process, one must first convert the key now-legal ingredient into oil so it can be effectively absorbed into the batter.  We do this by following the instructions below:

Cannabis Oil

6 cups olive oil or canola oil
1 ounce cannabis buds, finely ground, or 2 ounces trimmed leaf, dried and ground

In a heavy saucepan (or a double boiler), slowly heat oil on low heat for a few minutes. You should begin to smell the oil’s aroma. Add a little bit of cannabis to the oil and then stir until it is fully coated with oil. Keep adding more cannabis until the entire amount of cannabis is mixed into the oil. Simmer on low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove the mixture from the heat and allow it to cool before straining. Press the cannabis against a metal strainer with the back of a spoon to wring all the oil out of it. Save the oil in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 months and throw the leftover cannabis in the compost pile.

And now … just look at these … with the added touch of freshly picked berries.

Recipe for “Special Brownies”

1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons THC oil
5 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 ½ tablespoons light corn syrup

In a heavy saucepan (or a double boiler), slowly heat oil on low heat for a few minutes. You should begin to smell the oil’s aroma. Add a little bit of cannabis to the oil and then stir until it is fully coated with oil. Keep adding more cannabis until the entire amount of cannabis is mixed into the oil. Simmer on low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the mixture from the heat and allow it to cool before straining. Press the cannabis against a metal strainer with the back of a spoon to wring all the oil out of it. Save the oil in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 months and throw the leftover cannabis in the compost.

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon applesauce
3 egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla

1.    Preheat oven to 350°.

2.    In a small bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Set this aside.

3.    Pour the THC oil and the chopped chocolate into a double boiler over high heat. As the water boils in the lower pan, whisk the chocolate and oil until melted. Remove from the heat, and whisk in the corn syrup, brown sugar and applesauce. Stir in the vanilla and egg whites. Beat the mixture until smooth, and then stir in the flour mixture until you get a smooth consistency.

4.    Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Pour the batter into the pan. Bake for 20 minutes. The brownies are ready when the center of the top is almost firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack. Enjoy these chocolate treats!

30 minutes; 6 servings; Easy (unless you partake of the ingredients during the process)

Enjoy!  And enjoy both the youtube cartoon and the very original version of "Dueling Banjos"




Friday, July 4, 2014

A says: "Take Your Meds." B wants to respond: " ... and the Horse You Rode in On."

This post is an update on meds for mental health.  Some people still “joke” about the issue, like posting on facebook, “Are you off your meds, again”?  Or, “ ... just take your meds.”  It’s usually because my brain processes faster … or they are simply ignorant or mean … and shall dine at the Karma CafĂ©.

So many shootings lately are reported with a quote somewhere that says, “He was off his meds.”  Makes it seem like a lot of people do that:  stop taking the prescription drugs that are supposed to be helpful and grab a gun instead.

I think they do that because the drugs that were prescribed were either not helpful or the side-effects were worst than the initial problem.  It’s so much easier to just grab a gun.

My experience is so limited, since I am mildly bi-polar (I guess; there is no test that says you are – another great scientific advancement in this age of Viagra), and I got lucky that the “right” med for me was prescribed after less than a year of being brain-dead.  And it’s not a medication from the list for bi-polar people.

The drug of choice is Lithium, which should have been taken off the market decades ago.  It’s so bad for the body and screws people up something awful. So, no wonder people don’t take it.  And the replacements are even worse, I’ve read.
Instead of the deadly Lithium, which "friends" have actually encouraged me to use, I take a low dose of Lexapro, which is a mood stabilizer.  It is a Serotonin re-uptake inhibitor, which means that my “normal” brain takes back the serotonin it creates.  Serotonin is what makes people feel happy and a sense of well-being.  So when your brain sucks it back up, you feel like crap.

However, I noticed that this drug was working too well and it seemed as if I had too much of the “feel good” stuff in my brain.  And when one feels good, the filter that prevents one from saying what one thinks …. Just withers up and doesn’t work at all.

So I carefully reduced my dose a couple of days a week for several weeks and kept track of how things were going.  They were great!  So I reduced it some more … and then …. Blamo!  Not so great.

It’s an on-going very calculated process that requires paying close attention.  Something that probably few people have the patience or desire to devote so much time for making constant adjustments.  And most doctors are just guessing.

That’s too bad, because the results are amazing.  When you get lucky and find the medication that does the most good with the least collateral damage, it pays to never for a moment take feeling great for granted.  The awareness is always present that it can be snatched away … just like that.

My message, then, for people on meds or people who have friends or loved ones on meds … is to be patient, find the correct medication for you and the right dose.  Give your brain time to adjust to these powerful chemicals.  And then deal with the side-effects.

The one side-effect of Lexapro for me is that food has become like the Holy Grail.  All the things one knows should be consumed on rare occasions become weekly obsessions.  Chocolate rules!  And continues to come in more and more flavors:  the latest of which is Lindor Coconut Chocolate Truffles (thank you, April).  The bag is the color of a gift box from Tiffany’s.  And the little individually wrapped jewels inside are divine.

Last year I lost 35 pounds because food was the last thing on my mind.  Then I switched meds, and voile! It’s all back.  Last year my friends hounded me because I looked too frail.  This year they just wonder what the hell happened.

And no one has a clue.  That every single day … along with whatever is on the agenda … is the ever-present reminder:  remember to take the pill; try not to have fabulously fried tiger prawns and French fries when a Caesar salad would do just as well; and filter what you say -- even to those with the double-digit IQs.
Perhaps that’s why I’m so sensitive when some inconsiderate boob makes a remark about “not taking your meds.”  That person has no idea how complex that issue is for me and for at least 25% of the population … a number that is low now that so many military people are coming home with PTSD.

My Marine Veteran friend, who has PTSD, is funny and wonderful and fascinating because he is intelligent, well-read enough to discuss everything, and makes me laugh.  If he remembers to “take his meds.”

If he forgets … he can be scary and unstable and does crazy things.  Like so many others who came back after deployment with that little acronym few people bother to understand.
I’m sure having PTSD because you were sitting in a vehicle with your best friend and having an IED explode, pulverizing your best friend and seriously wounding you … is a lot more serious that being mildly bi-polar.

My friend is lucky to be alive.  He lives with pain and carries shrapnel in his body as a permanent reminder of what happened that day in the desert.  So I figure he deserves my patience and understanding and asking him, “Do you have your meds with you”?

How hard would it be for other people to just be thankful they didn’t have an IED blow up under their vehicle and cut this guy some slack?  And do the same with so many of those who are coming home with wounds we can’t see.

Perhaps one day ... hopefully in my lifetime ... it will be just as easy to simply be kind to those people on meds of any kind.  People with whom we share this tiny speck in an infinity of space.