On the Pains of Xeriscaping: Toward Waterwise Living

It’s hard to have an ugly yard in California. Many residents in Southern California pride themselves on lush gardens with blooming flowers and Tennessee Bluegrass, but for environmentally-conscious people, watering thirsty plants in this hot arid land is untenable. Add the challenge of the dry Santa Ana winds from inland that desiccate the land and summer temperatures that rocket to the triple digits for weeks at a time. Basically, transforming a garden to a waterwise feature is not easy in the high deserts of Los Angeles County.

Owing to SoCal’s intense heat, gray water makes inhospitable ground for new plants, even adapted species and natives. The water here is mineral rich, causing calcification to household appliances like dish and clothes washers. One needs imagination to maintain efficiency will modifying a typical garden to a draught-tolerant, water-wise and creature friendly environment. Like all major changes, the transformation is not always easy to bear, to see or experience. Homeowner’s curb appeal may be temporarily reduced. That’s why many people pay gardeners and landscapers to do the work. But not me! I like to feel the dirt under my nails and the strain of my back as work this good earth.

Gardening always embodies mindfulness: One must pay attention to everything. I learned that the earth here is packed solid as rock in summer–especially without persistent watering. The soil is dense and claylike and water does not penetrate the top layer. It remains on the surface until the sun and wind evaporate it midmorning. The earth acts like a terra-cotta planter; roots cannot penetrate the solid surface. This hurts plant roots and hinders growth. All this means a gardener must use plants that will tolerate less water and consolidate plants in areas where water is used efficiently. Even so, to keep such a garden content, soil amendment is required.

Among the challenges of xeriscaping a property is adapting to the local conditions and climate as well as finding plants and arrangements that optimizes water use, while minimizing the demands for potable water, an increasingly scarce global commodity that is essential for life. I don’t mind the awkward transitions; xeriscaping my property gives me hope, because I can model a patient approach to land stewardship that embraces the local environment and creates a sustainable environment for all of us.

A happy draught-tolerant Palo Verde tree after soil amendment for better drainage.

Edissa is cultivating an organic edible garden and xeriscaping her SoCal property.

Don’t Miss “Screenagers” (Streaming Thursday, Sept. 10th!)

Dear Beloved Parents and Friends,


I’m writing to day to share this important and beneficial resource for all of our families during COVID-19. Our youth are all experiencing the loss of crucial socialization with their peers; students of all ages are struggling with online learning and engagement with new technologies without previous support systems; and parents and families are grappling with the challenges of balancing work, study, community and free time with the use of technology such as video games, tablets, computers, TVs and other devices. In short, we’re inundated with electronic media.


Join us for a free streaming of the documentary Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age by filmmaker and Primary Care Physician Dr. Delany Ruston. This family film addresses the concerns and needs of the average American family experiencing fallout of the Coronavirus global pandemic. This webinar event is sponsored by Intivix in San Francisco, and includes a one-hour screening, followed by a 45-minute moderated discussion with Licensed Clinical Social Worker Ali Tabb, who will answer questions from parents and children about how to adapt to our current circumstances.


For Secure Webinar Registration to Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age visit:

https://www.intivix.com/ScreenagersDigitalAge

Thursday, September 10th, 6:30-7:30PM PST

Facilitated Discussion: 7:30pm-8:15pm PST


Join us for this special family event sponsored by Intivix founder Rob Schenk, a parent of a 7th grader who works with community members in his capacity as Sensei at Aikido Institute of San Francisco.

Get Uncomfortable! (Unlearning Oppression: Lesson 20)

Another week, another inexplicable shooting of a black person. And still it is very difficult for many White Americans in the United States to accept America’s racist foundation–as old as our country. The simple, difficult truth is that that our government invested long ago in the myths we unconsciously live by. But, like a concentric circle, our actions ripple through time and touch lives in myriad ways that we may never understand. Even so, we can begin to awaken from the stupor of willful ignorance–abandon the dark caves and step into the light of day. We don’t need to dwell in the past, to acknowledge it.

We all know it happened. Slavery happened. So did a whole bunch of other unfortunate historical events. Even if our grandparents did something, we don’t need guilt or shame–just awareness and consciousness about the legacy we’ve inherited. Denial won’t change the truth. On the other hand, Radical Acceptance can help us come to terms with the total and complete truth of our collective and personal histories. In fact, a contemporary, unapologetic approach to truthfulness allows us to recognize and reconcile our personal truth with those of our community. This can bring healing and restore lost trust and hurt where we need it most: In our hearts.

Lesson #20: Watch the documentary, The Uncomfortable Truth with your accountability, church, sangha or reading group. Discuss how the legacy of slavery has impacted all of our lives. Explore how individuals in your group confront their personal and ancestral truth in a healthy and safe manner.

The work of creating a just society requires a commitment from all of us. If we each own our own stuff, take responsibility for our words and actions and tell the truth, we’ll have a roadmap for a new dawn. We deserve that. Our children deserve that. The truth matters– no matter how uncomfortable it may be.


Featured Photo by Jason Reyes for Living Artist Project

Contributing Writer Edissa in her home art studio, thinking of ways to connect to her neighbors with compassion and kindness.

Boundaries: An Important Complement to Healing

As part of our ongoing discussion of healing our own ailments, it’s time to consider the ways we invest in our well-being. As the old adage say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I believe it. Whether it’s PTSD, a physical injury or an emotional trigger point, the more an element of pain is activated in our bodies, minds or psyches, the more we are primed for recurring illness. That’s the law of the land. In a sense, our pain receptors, physical nerves, emotional buttons and hyper vigilance to trauma get atrophied in the “on” position.

In the same way that we cannot heal a sprained ankle by running on it, we cannot cure ourselves if we continually reactivate our pain receptors. Unfortunately, by design, our pain receptors are more easily activated than our joy and happiness and positivity receptors owing to our wiring that enables our auto-responsive defense mechanisms. In other words, we are built to feel pain quickly and easily so we can get out of the fire fast, with the least amount of damage. This generally works great most of the time. But, many of us unconsciously keep the fire burning when we don’t need it, and constantly insert a hand in it to see if it’s still hot. You may laugh even if you’ve done it yourself.

Maintaining a strong physical, mental or emotional boundary is akin to dousing the fire that threatens to consume everything in your path. So why are so many of conditioned to believe we have no right to personal boundaries? This is a rather important question to explore with a mental health practitioner if possible. And, even if counseling is not possible for you in this moment, I give you full permission to put up health barriers that protect and insulate your emotional, physical and mental health from any and all forms of disease, harm and dangers, including all of the following.

Learn to create, protect and enforce Your Personal Boundaries in all these areas:

  • Toxic people: relatives, family, friends, coworkers and strangers
  • Physical threats: aggression, micro aggression, trauma, violence, sexual assault and abuse from people or animals or other entities
  • Predation: energy vampires, financial drains, sabotage, time waste and unreciprocated/one-way investments that deplete your resources and ability to thrive
  • Personal harm: activities, foods, sounds, media, relationships or areas that trigger negative sensations, fatigue or the release of stress hormones
  • Learn to understand what are Healthy Boundaries with this worksheet

Of course, there are many ways to enforce our personal space to protect our loved ones from injury. Mindfulness, awareness and contemplation are important tools for discerning where the fires are, so that we can give them our loving attention. Just as you wouldn’t allow a child to run in front of a car, you get to erect a beautiful boundary around yourself that reduces any future harm and pain, so you can concentrate on healing past situations. Once you you are able to protect your boundaries as part of your routine self-care, you can look to remedies like tea, medication, therapy or Reiki to bring your equilibrium into a normal range.

Reiki Master Edissa is working to heal from 49 years of life as a Black Woman.

Photo by Ashton Huntsman for Living Artist Project

Communicate with Intention (Unlearning Oppression: Lesson 18)

Recently, I received a beautifully written “Out-of-Office automatic reply” that opened my heart with compassion and awareness. Without delving into too many details about the message, the author outlined her circumstances and the nature of her personal challenges; explained how her situation was impacting her work and her ability to respond to the needs of others; and requested the readers’ understanding and patience. Her message caused me to pause, breathe and re-read her note. It was obvious to me that while her message wasn’t longer than the usual content, the care and self-awareness required to write such a missive were unique.

She showed that she cares not only for herself and her immediate family, but that she also respects anyone who may try to communicate with her through her work email. Her impressive mindfulness is important aspect of communication. That she outlined a course of action and that her relationship to the reader is clearly important and worth her careful consideration were additional dimensions of her active good will. With deliberate thoughtfulness and kindness, she coveyed the boundaries she needs to thrive. For the reader there is no mystery, no loss of focus or confusion. She effectively eliminated any misunderstandings that may arise owing to lack of skillful communication.

“Pathway”

Lesson 18: This week, before you pick up the phone, answer an email or leave a voicemail, take a breath to make sure you are calm and able to respond with good intention, so that you can communicate your message with love and kindness. Rely on your Accountability Group if you feel challenged by any emotional aspects of the communication

While not sufficient in itself, it is commonly accepted that the “Tool of Intention,” often utilized in prayer, meditation and contemplation, has the transformative capacity to improve outcomes. Whether intention is used for physical, mental or spiritual healing, intention sets a pathway to communication that relies of love and spirit to transmit good faith and harmony. During these trying times, we could all use intentional communication to ask for what we need, reduce harm and show good will.

Contributing Writer Edissa Nicolás-Huntsman at home, healing and working toward Social Justice

Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 16): See’s Parable

One day, a rich and powerful White Woman invited a Black Woman from her church to work at her Famous Nonproffiting Feminarchy because she had demonstrated her character. During the Black Woman’s interview she was asked questions that did not pertain to the job, and most of the interviewers appeared to be angry or unhappy. She smiled and answered all the questions politely and with a bit of humor. Perservering through the Institutional Gatekeepers, she became a loyal and hardworking employee. Generous with her time, resources and support, she got to know the eight women where she worked four days a week, (not five). After two years, they seldom included her in conversations and sometimes snickered as she approached their groupings. When she left a meeting briefly, she returned to inexplicable hostility, which she valliantly attempted to ignore in order to participate. That summer, at their annual Professional Development Training, the White Facilitator attributed all the negative personality traits of the type to this Black Woman, while reserving all the positive traits of the same type to a White Woman across the room. The Black woman ran out on the second day of training, weeping. No one followed her out. No one checked in with her. A week later, this Black Woman believed she would eventually win over every woman in their small team, so she stopped at See’s Candies during her lunch break to buy dark-chocolate balls and mints, a favorite combination of the women in her office, but which she herself didn’t eat. In a sweet email, the Black Woman explained that she had left a special treat for everyone in the kitchen. At five o’clock, the Black Woman stopped in the kitchen to wash her mug and noticed that all the mints and all the chocolates were gone, but no one had thanked her or mentioned her contribution. The End.

Lesson 16: Learn how to identify and interrupt Microaggressions when they are enacted near you. Use the resources below and your accountability group to unlearn microaggressions and reduce instances of their harmful effects on Black, Indigenous and Latina women in your workplace.

Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 15): Form a Personal Accountability Group

Radical times, demand radical measures. Too many people live and work in isolated bubbles. In good times, our social circles insulate us from danger, change and uncomfortable truths. When closed social networks work best, they protect children, elders and the most vulnerable among us. When they breakdown, they lead to cycles of violence, insulation from external influences, prevent accountability and foster the sheltering of vile habits that can be toxic to our society. The social circle can be a beautiful family, or an impenetrable fortress of misdeed and dysfunction.

What would it have looked like if R. Kelly’s team of enablers challenged him by saying “no,” and setting limits to their involvement in abusing, trafficking and abducting girls and women for decades? Similarly, would an accountability team for Harvey Weinstein prevented numerous rapes and abuses? It’s time we stop looking backwards, and move toward remedying the accountability fissures in our society that lead to great harm. We have the power to hold each other to high standards well before harm is inflicted.

Creating a better, more just society, requires us to move beyond our primary circle of influence into spaces where community members, coworkers, friends and teachers play an important part in our choices. Accountability groups are particularly important to many Americans when they’re part of professional networks, like real-estate agents and tech innovators, who rely on each other to meet monetary and performance quotas. These worker remain in constant dialogue in order to expand services, develop working programs and promote healthy communication that apply directly to their financial bottom line. Unfortunately, most of the accountability is limited to projects with profits and not enough energy is invested to accountability for behavior and action.

Lesson 15: Seek out and form a formal a committed accountability group. Include people outside your family and immediate social circle, which is often not strong enough to counter social norms. Look to your church, sangha and professional networks, especially including people from different areas of your life, and if possible, of varied identity, ethnic or cultural background. Check in regularly about your agreements.

John Brown’s accountability network consisted of abolitionists in several states, who helped organize slave escapes, advocated for the abolition slavery and fought racism in the US.

These days, it’s simply not enough to move in the world without getting feedback from a group of conscious peers. We can all stray, misinterpret or fall short of our own best practices. We need good people who will not flinch at truthfulness. In the near future, all children will learn about preventing oppression in primary school. Until then, adults must invest the time and energy necessary to unlearn bad habits while remaining accountable for our words, deeds and actions. Accountability isn’t easy, but we’re definitely capable.

Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 14): July 4th Peace Action

It is a known fact that Indigenous Women experience a disproportional percentage of the violence in American society. The consistent predation on Indigenous women in the United States is an example of Violent Racism in action; the sustained, documented and permitted murders is Government-sanctioned lynching of our courageous Earth defenders. Indigenous Women and girls’ disappearances go unnoticed, uninvestigated unprosecuted and unquestioned by those in authority. Their murders are equivalent to the ongoing lynching of black men and women. This has to stop.

Let Indigenous Women and Girls Thrive!

Your Radical Solidarity is required to bring renewed and continued attention to the plight and condition of Indigenous communities in our country. We must make amends, reparations and heal the historic harm imposed on the original People of this land.

Lesson 14: Dedicate July 4th to non-violent remembrance and action for Indigenous Women, Girls and Families who have been historically hurt, raped, massacred and disappeared since Europeans invaded North America. Honor them with prayer, donations, awareness and respect. Avoid fireworks, gunfire and other militaristic displays of aggression as a show solidarity with Indigenous communities suffering and mourning from trauma, deprivation, cultural destruction and grief.

Here’s a short lists of organizations that you, your family and church can donate resources, time and support now more than ever. Unfortunately, the Indigenous community is also hit hard with Covid-19 because of historically-imposed Systemic Racism. From everything I understand, Indigenous people were steadfast allies to enslaved Africans during legal American Slavery. Let’s do our part for them, now.

It is time for the United States of America to follow suit with the Canadian Government‘s move to give the necessary attention, money and resources to the plight of disappeared, murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. We need accountability at all levels of Federal, State and Local government to protect our Indigenous communities from further harm. Start with your support and donations this July 4th.

“It is no longer good enough to cry peace; we must act peace, live peace and live in peace.” ~Native American Proverb

Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 13): Stop the Labels!

Everyone likes to be called by their name. Almost no one likes their name to be mispronounced, changed or shortened by anyone other than their immediate family. And yet, so many people impose egocentric perspectives on our names. Worse, many people in our society openly express outrage, discomfort and blatant bigotry against people with Non-white names. This practice of Othering impacts most immigrants, Indigenous people and African Americans, who use naming as counter-cultural reclaiming mechanism for self-valuing: After Slavery, wherein most black people were given names by slaveholders, Black people collectively have reclaimed naming rights. Essentially, I want you to “Say my name.”

A temporary sign, labeling those allowed to walk on the street. The sign appeared for two days before disappearing again.

And still, we have even bigger problems than that: As a society, we are so comfortable with the status quo, we’ve forgotten the basic respect that begins with learning our student’s name. Labeling is pervasive in the workplaces, classrooms and interpersonal dynamic spaces like the Black Lives Matter Human Rights Movement. Even in smaller groups, like an email list, people resort to acronyms and other inventive labels to avoid saying individual names. Unfortunately, this is not a universal practice–White People are excepted. That said, large groups of us are lumped together, unnecessarily: For example the new label BIPOC. Such labels are a product of White-Anglo Saxon hegemony that dictates which names will be said aloud, and who gets a label. I don’t want to be consolidated into a convenient group. I want to be seen as I am.

Lesson 13: Practice learning and using individual names for all the people in your community. Avoid lumping people into groups when you can relate on an individual, personal level.

It’s time to drop the labels. Let the individuals in your social, neighborhood, church and work networks identify themselves. Take the necessary time to be in community with those closest to you. You’ll find it’s not as difficult as you imagined and that when you take the time, people will appreciate your authentic curiosity and willingness to learn.

“A flower grows in compost.”

“We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired.” ~Audre Lorde