Galapagos Journey

People say that, in Life, it is not the destination that matters, but the journey itself. I found that so true yesterday as we navigated from Quito to Isabela Island, Galapagos. This week, also, I am changing my blog name to Bananas and Sea Lions. 😊

After ten forms of transport, starting at 4:30 AM in Quito yesterday, we finally made it to Isabela Island. However, it was the journey I will remember most.

We said goodbye to Bea, our Spanish translator for the week, and began to navigate ourselves to the Galapagos. Bea planned an incredible week for us in Quito, Chilotoa, Papallacta. We were so blessed to be with her, so when we found out she was going to be in the Galapagos this weekend? Well, we kinda tagged along, but had to cut the umbilical cord since we're not BC students. 

So, Tim and I are winging the Galapagos. A “go with God” journey in that neither one of us had the time to plan the trip in full detail, and sometimes enjoy the unplanned nature of excursions, leaving room for spontaneity. This is risky, I know, but at every turn, there has been a smiling face to help us, and all I can do is marvel at Life's beauty -- both natural and human. 

Finding a taxi to get to the pier at Puerto Ayura? No problem. Someone else’s tour guide took us under their wing and got us a ride.

When we told him we had no tickets to the boat sailing from Santa Cruz to Isabela — the longest and most important part of our journey — he told our driver to take us directly to a travel agent. Of course, it is “high season” and we had no idea we’d have trouble getting tickets picturing something like a Woods Hole in Martha’s Vineyard. I heard the grim news in a detached way, knowing we’d get there somehow.

Well, Puerto Ayura is not Woods Hole to Martha’s Vineyard. Actually not even a little bit. When we explained to our travel agent, Ariel, that we had no tickets, his eyes bulged. “Today is a very busy day. High season. I’m sorry,” he said looking down. “But I will try.” Right there about sums it up for me. No, no, no! Impossible! But I will try. My life’s message. I’m terrible at taking no for an answer so just said, “Muchos gracias!”

One — I wanted to thank him in advance for getting us not one or two but FOUR tickets, keeping the faith that it would happen.

Two — that’s all I really know how to say!

Right away, Ariel called ten different people, but hung up the phone each time with a sad look on his face. Then he jumped on his bike to talk to friends at the pier, returned and called more people. After about 45 minutes, he hung up the phone with a smile, “We have a boat!”

Thrilled and relieved, we left, walked around the pier, had lunch and met Ariel back at his office, which consisted of two desks, two chairs, a few hanging wet suits, a giant poster of the Galapagos, stacks of free maps and a whirring fan, struggling to blow enough air to cool the sweat dripping all over us. Tim and Josie were both wearing jeans in the 200 degree weather. No comment.

At the exact time of 1:30, we headed back to see Ariel who then walked us to the pier to meet his friends. The pier was chaos, but in a beautiful way. Security in the Galapagos is at every checkpoint. God forbid you have some random piece of fruit lying in your bag that will carry over a stowaway bug that will then run amuck on the most delicate ecosystem in the world.

After we got to security through the airport, they lock tied our bags so no one could put anything into the bags after that, and they sprayed pesticides all of the bags in our overhead compartments. Walking from the airport into Galapagos National Park, we had to step into a foamy solution to clean our shoes. I thought it was a puddle at first so I dodged it. Josie and Frankie both yelled at me, “Mom! Step in it!” 


Side note: Did I tell you they charged us $20 each at the airport before embarking on the plane? $100 each upon arrival to Baltra Airport to get into the Galapagos? Another $10 each just to step foot on Isabela Island? It costs us $520 just for entry fees? Another “uplanned” feature of our trip.

Stepping off the tiny boat taxi that precariously carried us and our bags one on top of the other at the bow of the boat, we were greeted by iguanas and sea lions bathing in the afternoon sun. We saw sea lions who had climbed up onto boats docked in the harbor. The people here are used to it. They’re not afraid of humans. All they care about is to basque in that sunny spot. And they do. 

The rule here is to stay 2 meters away from the animals, but that’s hard, particularly when they’re walking right up to you! Also, no flash photography. It startles them. 

Yes, we did finally arrive at Hotel Albemarle to enjoy the sunset, but the day itself, filled with adventure, meeting people, relying on others, having faith, sometimes fighting, and overcoming odds is what really matters in Life.

Yes, it is about the JOURNEY!

(Although nice to have finally gotten here, too, and to see Bea again here on the island.)

Bea with a couple of friends!

Bea with a couple of friends!

What's Your Spiritual Age?

Dreams are funny things. I hardly remember mine these days, but have found myself in multiple cinematic features this week while sleeping! Maybe it’s the new ProgestAvail I’m trying at night to help balance my hormones, but last night’s dream was strange.

I met a younger version of my mom. 

She was 32 years old, and as petite as Jackie Kennedy, with an elegance and smile I cannot describe. In my dream, I was a solid 51-years, strong and wise, watching her relax in the room talking about her children and my dad. I marveled at her beauty, fixated on that aspect although I wished I had paid more attention to what she was saying. LOL. Her skin like cream, and her black hair flowing around her face, a light exuded from her that I had never seen before. I appreciated this woman before me, and all she had endured in her life and was about to endure. She had yet to suffer through my dad’s lifelong battle with cancer and heart disease. She had yet to embark on her doctoral program. And she had yet to witness the loss of many dear friends from this world. Her smile revealed that innocent beauty that youth will accentuate. She had yet to wrinkle and gray.

On the flip side, I sat there as a 50+ woman, in a stage of my life where the I have heaps of Life lessons in my experience, and a few more wrinkles because of it. 

On a most basic level, this dream informed me about getting a new perspective on “aging”. What does “aging” mean and what is our relationship to our “age”?

First and foremost — 

Aging is not a disease, and should not be treated like one.

Second, how old are you really?

I read once that we have three types of ages:

  1. Chronological Age — Number of years since you were physically born into this world. 
  2. Physical Age — How old your body really is based on its vitality (or maybe measured through telomere length, an interesting test).
  3. Emotional Age — The age we act and think.

I found the whole exercise fascinating because our “age” paradigm needs to shift big, especially as the chronological numbers climb higher. ☺️ 

Also, I would like to add a #4, and this one, I believe, should be #1.

Our Spiritual Age 

Our Spiritual Age is beyond the calendar, the bone density and our emotional state. “Aging” has a negative connotation, except in this Fourth Age. The spirit, perhaps, prepares its journey for beyond what is in this life as we “get older” in chronological age. Hopefully, it is awakened within each of us in this lifetime. Some people have moments when they connect to the part Beyond the Physical Plane. I remember mine. I was in a church with my sister, and I felt something magnificent for the first time in my life. I was a cherished and loved soul, boundless light and energy, not just a physical being. Do you have a moment you felt “spiritual” or, some might say, “born again”?

Our Spiritual Age won’t follow the definition of a physical “continuum” because there is no “age” here. But it will be an aspect of our true beings that grows more profound as our bodies appear to be in physical decline, and it is precisely why the “aging process” needs to be redefined. 

I remember bitching about something in my job with a friend a couple of years ago. Not a highlight in my life, but I was stressed to the max. She said, “Watch those negative thoughts! They’ll shorten your telomeres.” This woman, “older” by our aging terminology, has a face that beams with light and beauty. She gently reminded me that negative thoughts, feelings, stress — all bound in a physical reality — will age us more quickly. I can’t judge her spiritual age, but I’ll bet it’s strong.

We both laughed. I felt my face soften as I laughed. 

What if the stresses of life and our negative thoughts actually propel the physical aging process? 

All the more reason to find your spiritual bliss and live there instead!

Don’t tarry too long in the physical world of “aging” (although I promise a few fun blogs about how I play there). 

Shift the paradigm of “aging” and what that means. 

Aging is not a disease, but an opportunity.

Don’t buy into anyone else’s program of what that means for you. Instead, tap into what is beyond innocent beauty or stressed-out wrinkly skin. Tap into the soul that does this Life in a unique way. It sees the good. It helps others. It never loses hope. It connects to Love. It dances, even when the body creaks. It smiles, even in the midst of fear. It embraces and spreads goodness, no matter where it goes. 

Shift your perspective.

I bet as we mature in Spiritual Age, the telomeres get real long.

My Suitcase Lesson

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Packing for a week-long business trip can bring out the worst in me. Pairing shirts with pants. Finding the right shoes for the San Francisco weather. Wondering if my colleagues will think that shirt is professional enough. 

My butt can’t even squeeze into those pants I wore last year!

Nothing like pulling together outfits for 6 days with people who look like they’re off to shoot a Hollywood fitness video to walk you down the path of insecurities. 

Don’t get me wrong. I love my colleagues. But, from my perspective, they all live the “healthy life,” glowing from the energy they get from practicing what they’re preaching. I respect and admire them, but am also pretty intimidated by them. 

Why does this happen every single time? Why do I allow myself to feel small around wonderful people I love? 

In all spiritual practices, we are asked to stay rooted in our own relationship to God. In yoga, we find our focal point. We lose our balance when we look over at another person’s mat. Looking at others is irrelevant and detrimental to the practice and journey. A person of faith has his/her own faith, in spite of others. This rooting into our connection to the Deeper, the Greater, is where we can stand firm when the winds blow. The deeper the connection, the less likely any wind of change will snap our tree. 

Insecurities about how I might look is just a symptom of something deeper. It’s not about how I actually physically appear to others, and whether I’m pleasant-looking or not. That doesn’t even matter. Insecurity about how we look is a symptom of a deeper insecurity where we are not connected to ourselves, or a deeper space where insecurity can’t exist. When I am rooted in that space, I don’t fret about anything. I’m grounded in my faith, unshakable, unstirred by the activity around me. I speak from a place of confidence and trust, because the Greater is guiding me. And, frankly, I don't give a shit about what others think about me.

But my ego loves feeling insecure, and getting trapped in the pettiness of appearances. Inevitably, I lose my focal point and fall over. Insecurity of any kind reminds me that I’m not rooted. 

So I stop packing and take the time to sit in that wider space where I can open up to why I’m here on this Earth in the first place. 

For a few of us “sensitive” ones, waking up in the morning and realizing that we’re all collected on this global sphere spinning on an axis in an ever-expanding universe can be alarming. Not that I let myself grapple with this reality too often, but when I do, a deep stirring takes place. I can either freak out or rest in the knowledge that something Greater brought me here to this place in this time. I choose the latter. And that Something Greater (call it what you connect to — language is a funny thing, and let’s not judge how others name the Love) remains with me along the entire journey of my being. I am never alone even though I might feel alone, and God’s got my back.

My journey here is about love, but the world is full of distractions. The world itself is a distraction!

So let's sink into our hearts today and know we are Loved beyond our tiny imaginations and petty insecurities. We are powerful spiritual beings having a physical experience. Don’t let the garbs and physical entrapments define us or lead the day. Allow our souls to lead our bodies.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:3,4

We are here for a reason. We are given opportunities every day to connect with the Greater. Be firmly rooted above all else in your faith, and let everything else take care of itself. Once I lock into that place, what emanates from me is an energy of love, trust and confidence, not insecurity.

My soul calls the shots.

So, thank you, empty suitcase for helping me see that this week.

Fasting for Freedom from Self

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I’m in a fasting period right now, wrestling through a lot of issues.

Have you ever fasted?

Fasting is a tradition in many religious and spiritual practices, and has even seeped into wellness circles as a therapeutic means for certain illnesses because of surfacing research. "Intermittent fasting" has grown pretty popular, actually. 

The concept from a traditions perspective is centuries-old and bound in the principle that we are spiritual beings having a physical experience. Detaching from the physical world, be it in terms of not eating or drinking, or abstaining from the usual physical habits in a conscious way, does seem to enliven a part that exists beyond the bodily frame — let’s call it spirit or soul. 

I have indulged in the Baha’i Fast for over 25 years. I see it as an indulgence and not a deprivation because magical realities surface for me during this time. I find when I put myself in close connection with what is beyond this physical world, or deeply internal for me, an awakening takes place. This year, I'm admitting that I'm not super sure I like the woman I am right now. A pettiness has crept into my everyday. A constant fretting over small stuff that doesn't really matter. I'm struggling a little, as the soul microscope gets turned on. 

 “[T]his material fast is an outer token of the spiritual fast; it is a symbol of self-restraint, the withholding of oneself from all appetites of the self, taking on the characteristics of the spirit, being carried away by the breathings of heaven and catching fire from the love of God.”

Staying connected to that deeply powerful space of Spirit opens me up in ways I seem to be shut away from when I'm running around on the hamster wheel of my life. A detachment takes place. A freedom. When I close the door of expending energy to satisfy my body’s appetites, other interesting doors open. 

Closing that door of routine, however, has never been easy. Before the fast, I have profound anxiety. I start plotting and planning. What will I eat to sustain my energy? Will I get my caffeine fix? How will I work out? And there’s no way I can maintain those daily habits. It all has to shift because I can no longer go mindlessly into my routine. Everything stops and finds new direction. Forcibly so. At first, I kick and scream. NO! I love my habits. I’m good! I’m ok rushing around for work, pulling over for my afternoon coffee, busying my mind and body with all things physical. I’m good! 

But if I allow this shift and acquiesce a little to the new routine, something beautiful takes place.  I relax into a trusting mode, something much larger than my ego, a place of mystery that knows even better than I do what is best for me.

It is in that connection to the Greater, I find a more sustainable joy than I could get from shopping or eating or any of this physical world’s fleeting offerings. So I begin to rest here for the time being and try to allow my “ego” to burn away and give space to a peace. No yelling at the guy who cuts me off on the highway. Detached! No freaking out when a work issue rears its ugly head. Detached! (Well, working on that.) No frantic concern about the infinite conflicts in the world right now. Detached! (Well, actually, I'm not at all detached from that, but praying for severity in compassion for all people, and asking to be guided in a constructive, less contentious, direction.) 

What good am I to anyone if I’m locked onto my hamster wheel of routine, frantic all the time? This time forces me to go a little deeper, "Why have I clung to this hamster wheel for dear life?"

So I jump off, take this time to refresh, and end up looking at everything from a new and different perspective. I usually end up asking myself, "How did I get to this obnoxious place?" Lol.

And then I try to cherish the perspective from this new place, shift some things around and see the experience a a gift.

Some important notes about fasting:

  1. If you have an eating disorder, don’t even think about fasting! Have the sense to know yourself and not mistake a spiritual time with an opportunity to starve yourself. Also remember that going without food can trigger brain chemicals for anorexics that result in highs that are physically addictive. Again, not the point. 
  2. Consult with your physician before embarking on a fast. Some doctors think the whole thing is crazy and unhealthy so be discerning in whom you consult with. Be sure they understand the concept from a spiritual perspective. On the flip side, no fasting if you're physically ill, elderly, pregnant, having your period, traveling. Fasting is physically rigorous and not for everyone. Again, know yourself and don’t be stupid about it.
  3. Find a community. Sharing the experience with other people can be encouraging. I have a few friends I connect with during this time. Also, FB pages I’ve joined that connect people from all over the world can be an amazing experience.
  4. Allow what happens. In this spiritual space, stuff — self-realization —  comes up. It’s not always pretty. Maybe you become more aware of a behavior or an attachment. Don’t judge yourself. Let this time be encouraging and nurturing of your deeper Self. We all have to clean the dross off our mirrored selves. Wipe away and find that glorious place that reflects the Light within.
  5. Indulge your spirit. Write. Pray. Meditate. Relax. Do something to help someone else today. Walk into that coffee shop and pay a coffee forward for someone else. Sing, even if you suck at it. Dance unabashedly. Listen to someone with opposing political views from your heart. Really listen. Tune into deeper and deeper connections until you hit the big question. Why are you actually here in this world? What is your purpose? Take the time and go there. Get the answer and just do it once and for all, whatever comes up for you.

Who actually is this spirit having a physical experience?

Go and find her (or him)!

23&Me, Myself and Gram

My grandmother, a petite woman who lived to 96 years old, had a mind filled with imagination and genius. As a child, I listened to her talk (for hours and hours) about everything from the weather, to the latest book she was reading, to politics and back around again to something scientific. A bright woman with an active mind, she also used to blame everything on the “genies” – those damn invisible forces. Circa 1970.

My mom would roll her eyes whenever Gram talked about the genies, which was my cue to dismiss my grandmother as nuts….

…until I was a teenager, and boldly confronted her about these genies.

“Who are these genies, Gram?”

“Well, they’re what make us do what we do,” she said.

“And how exactly do they do that?” I asked, pressing her. (How crazy was she?! I needed to know.)

She then went on and on about Watson and Crick, our heredity, and how the “genies” are in charge of a lot.

“Do you mean ‘genes’?” I squealed. “Like DNA?”

“Yes, genies,” she repeated.

Why the woman called them "genies" all those years was beyond me, but the mystery had been solved.  

Genes do matter! They determine not only our hair and eye color, but also our proclivity towards disease and even behavior. Yes! It all started making sense to me. My Gram died in 1996, and I can’t help but think how excited she would have been about the mapping of the human genome or the development of a company like 23&Me.

I’m pretty sure I inherited her scientific curiosity, and took my own 23&Me test because if science can tell me something about my "genies," I want to know. I have to admit I’m not a fan of giving so much personal information to the giant genetic database in the sky, so recommend using a fictitious name if you decide to buy a test. I didn’t, but wished I had. My ideal self, however, still hopes they’ll use the data to advance medicine so I try not to obsess about having given them my real name (FYI: There are gene variants that make me more susceptible to over-thinking things like this, by the way.).

So, back to my test.

Here are the 9 main things I learned:

1.     We have a long way to go. I feel like I bought the first television in the neighborhood, and it only has one channel. 23&Me gets better with more people testing. The more data we have, the more answers we can get. Right now, it’s rudimentary. Yes, with this gene, based on the polling of 8,000 people with the same gene, you’re 1.8X more likely to crash your car. It’s good, but it’s not as good as it will be.

2.     Run the Data Through Data Interpretative Website. I used and to run my 23&Me raw data. It’s an inexpensive way to highlight key information from your report.

3.    I am part Native American. I knew through my sister and her research on that I had Mi’kmaq in my heritage. 23&Me confirmed this for me. It also confirmed that we’re all basically world citizens.

No one has “American” genes, by the way, except Native Americans.

4.     Type II Diabetes will be my curse. I’ve got every possible gene coding for Type II Diabetes, for whatever reason, so this information will guide me to eat accordingly. Gotta stop eating chocolate at night -- even though it's 80% dark chocolate. :(  I’ll also start supplementing with nutrients that increase insulin sensitivity to the cell, like chromium and alpha-lipoic acid.

5.     Longevity gene not there. Bummer. I wanted to live to well past 100. I will now have to do this in spite of the gene that says I won’t.

6.     Carry the Red Hair Gene. The duh factor. My daughter has red hair and I don't.

7.     Optimistic, Empathetic and Handles Stress Well. Yup.

8.     Higher Risk of Speech Development Delay or Impairment. Might have helped knowing this in the 2nd grade when I couldn’t pronounce my S’s or R’s and had to endure speech therapy.

9.     The Beauty of Epigenetics and Nutrigenomics. One of the biggest red flags in my report was that I’m homozygous for C282Y, hemochromatosis. This is a disorder that can cause serious health hazards for post-menopausal women (me). At my age, I should have high ferritin levels, but I actually don’t. The doctor was surprised I carried this gene because my ferritin levels were not high at all, but explained that my diet and lifestyle were helping me.

Just because we have a genotype,  doesn’t mean everything is set in stone. So getting your DNA results doesn't have to be terrifying! A burgeoning field called Nutrigenomics studies the effects of foods on gene expression. Still in its infancy, this field of study will help us eat for our genotype.

Food is still the best medicine.

My grandmother, a food minimalist, ate in a quirky way with her black coffee, oranges and egg yolks. Perhaps she already knew how to eat for her genotype.

I loved my Gram, and think of her every day.

And in me, her "genies" live on...

PS -- Always feel free to contact me if you have any questions! Nutrigenomics is a baby field, but rife with potential to help us be our best selves.

My FB Breakup 😢

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Dear Facebook,

We have to talk to you about our relationship status. It’s not you. It’s me. You’re great. I mean, you give me all kinds of information. You keep me entertained. You know how much I love that video where the cats all jump sky-high away from the cucumbers, terrifed – ALL OF THEM. LOL. 😂 What is that all about, anyway? I still don’t know. Or the German Shepherd who talks like a human, begging for bacon. LMAO. I can’t stop watching that one.

You help me stay close to the people I love. You know how it gets. I'm busy with work and forget to check in with my friends. How else would I know Aunt Lorrie has gone to Florida to see my mom, or that my co-worker just adopted a new dog? And I can’t believe Pat just won that dance competition! She’s so awesome!

And your gentle birthday reminders! You keep it all so organized for me, that giant calendar in the sky. Where would I be without you nudging me through email? “Hey, it’s your friend, Judi’s birthday today!” I would forget! And I’d feel like sht the next time I saw her. Now I can smile and say, “Did you have a nice birthday?” and feel so damn proud of myself because I put that red balloon emoji on her wall. 🎈Facebook, you’re so awesome. 👏🏼 

Oh oh oh – and you just know me so well, which is crazy! You know I love to see all of the latest dieting trends and have to know what Aviva Romm is up to these days. You know I love jewelry and elephants and photography and “on sale” and soft sweaters that look so great online but come half-sewn from halfway around the world. How do you know I’ll fall for that? Those sponsored videos appear like sweet gifts, as if you’re telling me, “I got you. I know what you like. I’m always here for you.”

Facebook, you just know me so well.

But lately it’s been rough. Please know it’s not you. It’s me. You’re perfect! But I have to figure some stuff out. I’m not sure I like who I am lately when I’m with you. I scroll down right past the Darwin Awards videos looking for political news. I’m watching my cohort of friends polarize into this side and that side. You seduce me with posts that bait me for comments. Yeah, I blame Trump for all of it. Divisive little monster. See? That’s not even who I am. I don’t call people names. Little-handed orange-toned freak! Do you see what I’m saying, Facebook? I'm tired of hitting the angry button. 😡 Facebook, I don’t like who I’ve become when I'm with you.

Please know it's not because of Twitter, that over-simplified forum, or Snapchat, which makes me look like a cradle-robber. And you know I'm not artsy enough for Instagram. You're still my fave, Facebook.

But I’m a unifier by nature, and you're not unifying right now. Usually I empathize with just about everyone. I see all sides to everything, and can keep it light and humorous. Not lately. Not since January 20. Now I’m spending too much time crafting witty zinging retorts to passive aggressive “friends” who call me “racist” or “snowflake liberal out of touch with reality”. Grrr. I blocked two people. Just two. Like a stink bomb went off and I just came into my house and closed the door. I don’t need that in my life.

But I don’t want any of this conflict anymore. I want you to continue to inform and update me, but I can’t piss fight with my Flanders Elementary School 3rd grade classmate I haven’t talked to in 40 years. It's not who I am.

So I’ve got some ideas for us because I’m not quite sure if you’re a nourishing food or a drug addiction.

So here is my new game plan on Super Bowl Sunday:

1.   Twice a day. I don’t need to have you every 5 minutes, although that can be very exciting. So what if all my friends are watching the Super Bowl and commenting on every play, connecting us all together in some silly cosmic way. And I don’t need to “go live” with every whim, especially when Frankie’s friend decides to share her live video while she eats a cupcake after school. That’s not necessary. Twice a day. This will keep me in the birthday loop and informed of newsworthy events.

2.     Read, not react. The articles are great! They range from National Review to NY Times. I’ll catch up with the key players. I’m free to comment, of course, but if I sense my heart racing a little faster, I won’t touch those keys.

3.     Be a Change agent. FB can be my community bulletin, corralling me with my local peeps so I can be more involved. For this, I will always love you and will gladly let you assist in driving this movement forward. I love showing up at the West Hartford Town Hall with a thousand other people who knew to gather because of you.

4.     Post to uplift. The die is cast. The fray is alive and well. No changing anyone’s polarized views, but we can inspire and uplift one another with what is commonly human (sometimes). We’re all born. We all die. Lots of crazy in between. I’ll stick to what is “uplifting” for now. Everyone loves a  sunset and puppies that sleep by a baby’s side. My Trump is not your Trump. I get that. Fighting about that won’t help anyone.

It’s been a crazy up and down, Facebook. The passion is just too much. You know how you can get me going, and it’s not always healthy. Even my husband and I are fighting about how I spend too much time with you, and I hide you when he comes into the room!

But I don’t want to lose you. And I love you, Facebook. Don't be upset. I'm not going to change my status. I still want to be in a relationship with you.

But I need to clean up my timeline.

Can we just be friends? ✨✨👫✨✨ ❤🇺🇸

PS -- I hope people will share our story! I bet we're not alone.

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Yes, I Am a Racist

Image Credit: Getty Images

Image Credit: Getty Images

Today I was called a “racist”.

I wasn’t upset at all. I replied, “Yes, I AM a racist!”

If, by daring to point out the blinding whiteness in our existing administration makes me a racist, so be it. I am a racist.

My issue is not with the whiteness. I come from a long line of whiteness. My issue is that we will die if we only eat Wonder Bread. I am unsettled, to say the least, that a sliver in the pie of our country’s rich diversity is now running our country.

This week was challenging for me. Every time I witnessed Trump boldly deny rights to millions be it healthcare, freedom of choice, safety from war-torn lands, religious freedom, I wanted to vomit. I thought, “Who is this clown?”

There are so many issues I want to protest that my head has been spinning all week. But, on Friday, when Trump signed the Executive Order denying entry to refugees and immigrants, and then, on Saturday, when people with legal papers were detained at JFK, I cried.

For a moment, I even lost that fight in my own soul.

I get it. My beliefs aren't your beliefs. I spend my life trying to uphold and honor other people's beliefs. I don't have to push my personal agenda.

But this gap between Americans is a rough one, and I'm thinking the only way we'll come together is if North Korea points its nuclear missile right into our cow and corn middle. Then maybe we'll start to see how bringing together our great and diverse nation is a necessity.

I probably have my parents to thank or blame for my passion for diversity -- be it cultural, religious or ideological. My mom had amazing intellectual curiosity, traveling everywhere as a teacher with her high school students through American Field Service. She also welcomed anyone and everyone into our home while I was growing up. Mrs Appletree and her daughter from Germany came and lived with us for a period of time, fleeing abuse by her husband and afraid to go home. Tony, Nereida, Heida. Names of people I had to share my bathroom with at different times in my childhood because my mom and dad opened up our home always .

But one of my most significant memories was in 1975, after the fall of Saigon. My parents sponsored a family from Vietnam. The Trans. They brought with them their many children and I spent every weekend with my parents sprucing up their apartment. We painted, collected furniture and clothing, shopped at the grocery store. I played with Tien, who was about my age. She didn’t speak English, but why did that matter? We would smile at each other, and play catch outside with a ball.

I think my mom still has the two stuffed turtles they brought from Vietnam as a thank you. My parents helped change their lives. The turtles symbolized the greatest gratitude they could show, apparently.

Fast forward, the Trans are making America great, weaving another thread of cultural diversity and immigrant success into our national tapestry.

They came here on a boat, escaping a war-torn country.

Today, they prosper.

This is the American ideal. This is the American dream.

I know why many Americans want to turn away Muslims. I get it. They’re scared. People are scared that foreigners are taking their jobs or, worse, going to plot to kill us. We read articles of Syrian men raping women in Paris. Or laws changing due to the influx of Muslim citizens. I get it. It’s fear. It’s real. I feel it, too, sometimes. So I’m not going to pretend I don’t get scared about the world contracting into a giant mess of angry, starving, radical peoples.

But I refuse to let fear run my life.

And I ask all the Americans who keep the fear of Muslims alive. Do you even know a Muslim personally? Have you heard a story of a Muslim immigrant? I am flagrantly saying “Muslim” and not “refugees from predominantly Muslim countries” because we all know it is Islam that we fear. We see burkas and terrorists and quotes from the Koran that scare the sht out of us. We hear stories of women being beaten as part of Sharia Law. We want to protect ourselves from another 9/11. I get it. I feel it. I sympathize.

But honestly – most Muslims do not embody these values. I challenge anyone who is afraid of Muslims to go talk to one. Stretch a little. It’s not going to be easy at first. But I guarantee the commonalities will rise up. When you whittle it down, shedding the pretense and ideology, you realize we all want the same things in life and that it’s OK that we don’t all believe the same things. Not sharing the same beliefs doesn’t mean the "other" is the devil or dangerous. It just means we all have some learning to do. And many Muslims have to also learn that America isn’t the Great Satan based on what they see on TV. Just because our president sits on a golden chair talking about stealing the only resource, oil, from Iraq, doesn’t mean that we are the Great Satan. It doesn’t!

Please do not judge me, a human being, based on how the media portrays my president.

Because prejudice and fear go both ways.

You are not the only one afraid.

Trust me. I took a class on Women in Islam back in 2005 and I struggled. I was like "What the Actual Fck" at first. But then I stretched. I asked my friend, Sumera, to wrap me in a hijab and we went to the mall. I disagreed with much of what Sumera believed, but I listened. 

I went to the mall looking all Muslim, and watched people treat me like the plague, especially as we marched through the lingerie section at Macy’s. I felt what she feels every day. Most importantly, I listened, and I let the experience sink deep within my heart because that’s where change happens. Find the commonality. No one wants to watch their child die from war or starvation or stranded on a beach because they were turned away from the comforts America has to offer.

This life on earth isn’t always easy, but guess what?

We can try to isolate ourselves over here in America, but we’re all spinning on the same beautiful planet. Eventually, we are going to have to learn to live together and stop waging war on one another. It’s inevitable.

The “other” is our “brother”.

So, why not strive to be the America that sets the stage for how we can live together – peacefully and with prosperity? Why not stretch with me as we learn something new about the people we hate and fear?

My America goes beyond the comforts of limited beliefs and broadens world-views. We are, after all, a collection of world-views, not just one white bread one. Our American freedom empowers us to live peacefully in a pluralistic society, not pompously under the regime of a single belief system.

So call me a racist. I don't care. I know I am.

Just remember, we can’t make America great again by turning away the tired, the poor and the huddled masses.

They ARE America!

Women, the Lifeblood

Yesterday I decided that all news is “fake” news.

I spent the day in DC with hundreds of thousands of colorful and beautiful people, a vibe of kindness and generosity, yet the media chose to focus on crude and dangerous comments from Madonna and Ashley Judd. Oh, I get it. Madonna probably couldn’t resist the opportunity to inflame, and Ashley Judd just let her raw roar. As women, there is a lot of raw and a lot of roar so going unleashed feels mighty good sometimes. I learned yesterday, however, that the media will report what it chooses will get the most clicks and ratings.

Our feminine power comes with responsibility, ladies. We need to wield it with dignity and grace. Otherwise, our message falls on deaf ears and we get relegated to histrionics and “emotional warfare” this world refuses to take seriously. 

So here’s my “news” take on yesterday because it’s the only “real” news I can offer.

I traveled to DC on a crowded bus that left at 2:00 AM Saturday morning from Trinity College in Hartford. Leading our charge was our bus captain, Sarah Raskin, a combination of intelligent, organized, patient and kind that I can’t even describe or begin to understand. Susan King, her co-captain, was also there sacrificing her time and energy to make sure people were safe and comfortable. They did everything from passing around food, beverages, and buttons to collecting tips for Nelson, our bus driver. Our little bus microcosm consisted of women and men, young and old, different cultures. You might say, a slice of West Hartford/Hartford.

Multiply our bus by the 1200 or more other buses pouring into RFK Stadium on Saturday morning and you’ve got the march. Rather than give you a blow-by-blow of my day, I’ll talk about 2 things that struck me.

The shortage of places to pee. Let’s face it, this came as no surprise, but power plays took place over where and how to pee. For one, we could see hundreds of port-o-potties lined up around the Capitol, all cordoned off and protected by police. Like water to a person dying of thirst, those potties taunted us. We stood and begged the cops to let us pee. Nope. Not your potty, Ma’am. These were for the Trump Inauguration. I get it. Maybe we needed to be a bit more generous than 1 potty per 10,000 women, but it forced some of us to get creative (what happens in DC stays in DC). It also awakened some men, like my husband, who couldn’t resist the urge to start his own chant on our behalf. “Our bladder, our choice!”

Some of us who had to pee. :)

Some of us who had to pee. :)

On the flip side of the armed men protecting the Inaugural potties from the begging women, there was the incidence at Union Station. I ran to the restrooms only to find, yet again, an hour or longer wait for the Women’s Room. I glanced over to the Men’s Room line. About half as long. So I jumped over with women cheering me on, “Join the Movement!” They laughed because there were no men in line, and we all do crazy things when we gotta go. Then a beautiful thing happened. A man showed up and walked right to the front of the line. He had no idea there was a line of women waiting to pee. He looked up so confused, and actually started walking back to the end of the line. All the women laughed and pushed him forward. It was his bathroom, after all.

That moment, for me, encapsulated the sentiment of the entire march. Needing to express our needs and push the envelope a little, but doing it in a way not to exclude others. We fight for our rights, but always with grace and dignity. By nature, we are inclusive beings.

White men speak up. As we walked towards the march, the energy was vibrating high with chanting, singing, cheering. The whoops and hollers of solidarity would come in waves, starting from God knows where and rippling like a baseball spectator wave across the crowd, giving me chills as I walked through such an energetic and considerate crowd. People handed out posters and we grabbed them. One poster read, “Women Are Perfect,” and depicted a young black woman on the front. Later, as we waited for half our group to use the bathroom, our friend, Mike, stood with this sign as the marchers marched by. The response shocked even me. Women stopped to take his picture. Black women, in particular, stopped to hug him and call him their “new best friend.” He was stunned.

I said, “How many middle-aged white men do you see holding a sign affirming women and a black woman at that?"

In that moment, our own perspectives broadened.

Tim commented, “That makes me sad, actually.” How could we live in a world where there is such a lack of affirmation for WOMEN that a sign would elicit such a reaction?

Well, we do.

And that’s why this march was so powerful. Because half the world is female. And half the world goes unheard, unrecognized.

Women, no matter what their political leanings, are women. Women are amazing. Women want to be heard. Women are the foundation of society. Women need to be empowered. Women are the bedrock.

This march lifted women up.

A new wall.

A new wall.

Frankie getting creative on the wall.

Frankie getting creative on the wall.

The political agendas seemed different for everyone. 

Most beautiful singing voices ever!

Most beautiful singing voices ever!

Haha. "I didn't know it was an animal rights march." -- Mike Baxer joking with us.

Haha. "I didn't know it was an animal rights march." -- Mike Baxer joking with us.

Little girl finds her voice. 

Little girl finds her voice. 

But that thread of commonality – hear the female voice -- wove deep within this massive crowd, which is what made it so peaceful and successful across the globe.

We boarded the “Love Train” from Union Station to RFK (that’s what the riders smashed in there like sardines called it), and headed back to the bus. Thousands of pink-hatted women flowed to their buses like vibrant blood through the arteries of an ailing human body, revived and invigorated for the future.  

I expect this to be the beginning of a new era for all women and men, including those who sit at a different political table because what happened yesterday is way more powerful than politics.

What happened is Life at its core.

So, thank you, Donald Trump, for pissing us off just enough to remind us who we are, and where we need to go from here.

We will speak now.