25 Reasons to Make 2018 My Year to Loss 25 Pounds: 1, That Little Girl

My first reason for wanting to loss weight this year is so obvious that I almost missed it. The truth is, I have so many important people in my life, so many goals, dreams and commitments that 25 is an easy mark. Realizing that truth is the very thing that brought me back to the foundation of the work to transform my life. I’ve decided to begin this journey in community, because I know that together, we can achieve anything. And, if along the way you want to join me for your own reasons, I’ll be here for you.


There is a picture on my desk taken when I was about six or seven. In the photograph, I have a fine row of tiny, white Tic Tac-sized baby teeth. This is my little girl, the exuberant indomitable inner child personified. I see her as both a historical obligation to correct the generational trauma I’ve inherited as a descendant of the black-Latina-African diaspora and a joyful ward under my protection. It is my prevailing duty to see and care for the precious child, to treasure her as my dearest child. This I do for my own healing and for that of future generations that will be transformed by this act of mindfulness.


In the moment captured in the photograph, I am happy, healthy and glowing. That is why I’m beginning my quest for health by retracing my steps, remembering what I’ve forgotten, and unearthing my buried treasures. I’ve come back to this particular innocent child to give her the life she deserves. She is my first reason for losing 25 pounds this year.


Stir the Masses: The Necessity of Art (Part VIII)

There is nothing like art to wake us. Art has the power to get under the skin, splinter nails and moisten brows. Hang a urinal on the wall and get a rise (No pun intended). Draw a comic the Prophet and get blasted out of this life. Paint a portrait using multiple perspectives and challenge convention. Art is noise. Art is a thumb in the nose of static notions.


Art and revolution are long-time companions. Militant art directs movements by giving people motivational images, reflecting their thoughts and capturing possibilities: You could be her; this could be you. We need art to energize us. The United Farmworkers Union employed an iconic eagle as their emblem; the Black Panther Party and Mao’s China used art to manipulate, agitate and propagate a message (not necessary in that order).

It was Honoré Daumier, who in the late 18th century glorified the masses of the “Third-class Carriage” even while giving us a peek into the lifestyles of the first-class passengers. I relish neither classification, because poverty is the domain of those who do not own their destinies. Calling attention to disparities is the domain of artists. Take Goya’s criticisms of public figures through allegory and blatant representation of government atrocities, which led to public outrage. Likewise, satirical political cartoons have been the voice of dissent since the American Revolution.

Art also has unintentional consequences. Take the writer Nicolai Gogol, whose most famous, and nearly seditious work, Dead Souls, foreshadowed the fall of the monarchy and led to political strife when it was published in 1842. In fact, Gogol, a nobleman, believed in the crown and serfdom—he did not expect Dead Souls to be interpreted as criticism of the state. For Gogol, he was simply depicting Russian life. Ironically, he was unable to “correct” his book though he tried, twice, to create a second volume; in frustration, Gogol committed suicide by starvation, proving we cannot control Art.


Rebecca Solnit assures us that artists have a place, poets have a place—and protests have a place. Without art, she implies, we succumb to dichotic thinking, viewing the world and everything in it as binary opposites, rather than complicated, nuanced situations that we have the power to impact.

Art is no trivial matter. It is skillful, thoughtful, daring and courageous work that must be done. Whether imagery or words, film or created objects, performance or free association—these are the pillars of a thriving society. Art is not merely the purview of advertisers and marketers. Art belongs to us.


Wives’ Tales: Winter’s Cold Brew

Medicine is not only what can be bought with a prescription. Medicine can be grown in a garden, found on the herb rack, and prepared in the average kitchen. After our national and unsuccessful war on drugs, (more than 55,000 people died in 2015 from accidental opiate overdoses many of which were prescribed drugs; that number is expected to be topped in 2016) it’s time to look into traditional forms of healing to soothe the pain.

Since I was a girl, my mother would stop along the street in New York City to show me plants growing out of the cracks in sidewalks, or springing up along hedges. My mother would tell me the names of the plants and how to use them. Her wisdom is increasingly useful to me as I find that Western medicine does not always work in the way we need, want or expect. Sometimes, a little help from Mother Nature’s pantry is needed. Here’s a recipe that has gotten us through the bitter winter colds in resilient health. Try it.


Winter’s Cold Brew


In a quart pan, combine the following ingredients in cold water:

Star Anise, 3-4 stars

Cinnamon, 1 stick

Jamaican Allspice, 10-15 pearls

Clove, 15-20 pins

Fresh Ginger, ¼ cup, thinly sliced

Heat the mixture under the lowest flame possible. It should take about an hour to boil. When the infusion is roiling, add 1-2 tablespoons of Echinacea let that boil for 8 more minutes (Okay to use 2 tea bags in lieu of fresh herbs). In an 8-ounce cup, add fresh lemon and honey. Strain the brew into the cup, and drink it as hot as possible. The various herbs and spices work to boost the immunity; many act as analgesics and astringents to soothe a sore throat, reduce and expectorate mucus and clear a stuffy head. You can drink as many cups a day as necessary to abate cold symptoms.

Stay healthy, and happy healing!


The Art of Reconciliation

I don’t know how to fix things. I don’t know how to make things work again once they fail. I’m no engineer. I am a tinkerer.

I know how to listen. I listen with my ears. I listen with my mind. I listen with my memory. I listen with my heart. I listen with my intellect. I listen with my emotions. I listen with my eyes, my experience and my pen.

Each listening hears differently. Each listening possesses its own attunement. Listening is a teacher, a healer and a decision maker. Listening is passive and active. Listening is an ancient form of communication, a dance with the moving molecules of existence.

How do we listen to one another? How do we listen to the beloved? How do we listen to God, to history, to our deepest self?

These simple questions, unpacked, can tell us about how we hear and process the world.

In many religious traditions, a time of quiet contemplation, reflection and solitude are prescribed for a special kind listening and hearing to happen. The challenge in contemporary society like ours is to value and consecrate time to the practice. We unfortunately view quiet and solitude as suspect, luxurious or superfluous. Without dedicated time for listening and stillness, we cannot hear our highest calling—we are not able to listen for our next steps. And, instead, we fill all of our time with noise, in essence, censoring our own receptors from the deep hearing our souls need to thrive.

With what do we fill our lives? For some, life is endless talking without pausing to digest, listen or consider. Next, we permit ourselves to be saturated in the constant bombardment of media from televisions, radios and other sources of media. We are addicted to social-media platforms, unable to eat a meal without a device in one hand, consuming tasteless food and ingesting unexamined content with our eyes. Whether we fill our time with other people, fictional or factual content, sounds in any form, we cannot reconcile without some sort of retreat into solitude and serenity. In the second episode of the deeply grotesque and compelling series, Black Mirror, the main character tries to lie down silently in his room; unable to shut down the endless stream of programing that is forced upon through all of his waking hours, he shatters one of the many screens lining the walls of his room. Even this does not afford him even a temporary reprieve from external stimulation.

The metaphor in the episode is only partially hyperbolic. We are under the constant pull of instant news, messaging and reminders. Only when we are about to burst will we try to shut the devices down—even then, we may not be able to sever ties to the technology that plugs in to the noise. We may not pay in the literal sense that the show depicts, but we come close. Serenity, the show suggests, becomes the domain of the wealthy, but I’m not sure that the wealthy are any better at getting quiet or sitting in stillness.

We all need to step back from life, devices, Internet, news, chatter, magazines, regularly. For some, a daily retreat in the form of meditation or prayer is necessary; for others, a periodic abstaining from external stimulus or a foray into nature will suffice. The dedicated time needs to be intentionally gifted to the self, an official offering of the heart, for renewal to happen. If we don’t make a conscious choice, our bodies and minds will often decide for us. That can be a very painful process.

Clearly, I am not an expert on how to patch up broken moments. I am a woman who was once desperate to repair important relationships, holding to an uncompromising optimism about outcomes and drowning out the pain with business. The surrender for me came when I could no longer exact effort, forced into isolation by physical ailments and immobilized by emotions owing to my inability to repair the damage to important relationships. At that time, I found the opening into radical acceptance, a place of listening and hearing, a knowing that was the entirety of the experience—sitting with my pain with my raw emotions. At first the solitude and quiet turned into an enormous dragon, my monstrous failures eating me alive. Gradually, the dragon settled into a protective guard dog, alert and vigilant, yet utterly gentle and loving, a new experience of the self.

Now I seek moments of solitude, reflection and silence regularly. Cultivating the practice of retreat in myself, I allow for serenity and stillness, to make the necessary peace with my life. Peace requires turning the external world off periodically. We can lose so much of ourselves in the process of life. We are prone to forgetting our priorities when we don’t make time for introspection. The process of retreat is necessary for compassion and healing and opening. The reconciliation with the self, returning the self in loving kindness is the only possible way to find peace. We must cultivate that peace in ourselves.


Gratitude: A New Year’s Resolution


This year I’ve not made any New Year’s resolutions, something that in the past had often marked the metaphorical turning point in my life, the cyclical chance to begin anew with the start of the calendar year. Even without a resolution, however, I still inhaled deeply in 2016, all too ready for a change and excited to feel a cool bit of crisp newness, a turning away from the past. I haven’t planned to go to the gym or dance or go to church more though those things sound nice. As I thought about ways to say goodbye to a most difficult year, one that included unemployment, health issues, a foot in a cast and the death of my beloved, estranged sister, resolutions seemed trivial. I didn’t want to make myself any promises that I wouldn’t keep. I didn’t want to waste time consumed with myself. What I wanted most was relationship. I wanted to face the portal of time represented in the New Year with love, with the practice of gratitude, to attempt to really see who and what is right in front of me and the blessings offered.


I am grateful for my nephew’s first unguarded smile as he leans into me for a picture beneath the Redwoods. Thank you.


I feel gratitude over the rain thickly blanketing my garden and the earth after these long many years of drought. Thank you.


I close my eyes and hear my niece’s robust laughter and the way she clings to me at bedtime, not wanting to close out a day of sharing. Thank you.


I am grateful for my steadfast companion who stands by me through the sadness and joy that life heaps upon us in blizzards as seamless as the seasons. Thank you.


I give thanks for the meditation and prayer practices that rebalance me daily. Thank you.


And then there is also the open heart and keen intellect to be counted as bounties in times of fleeting health. Thank you.


This list goes on and on, counting each friend, naming the lessons and seeing even the tiniest of gifts in difficult situations and the transcendent ones alike.


To whom do I give thanks, this contemplative gratitude? Often it is to God in a soft acknowledgement to the sky where a Red-tailed hawk circles above our home surveying her territory. At other times, more directly aware of the richness of my life, I thank people. I thank the children for playing with me. I thank my friends for a visit. I send thank-you notes in acknowledgement of any gifts or small kindnesses. This practice is transformative. Thanking God is a wordless endeavor of the heart; in our hearts words are elegant braille in God’s hands. With people, we have to put the words together. We need to hear it to feel it and match the words with the deeds and awaken to present moment and each other.


Gratitude requires skill, practice and technique. When done correctly, our loved ones can feel heard, seen and appreciated. Use her name when you say, “I’m so glad you’re here, Lissa.” Make sure you look him in the eyes when you, “I really liked how you said that, Max.”


We all need to feel valued. Showing gratitude is one small but important way to esteem the people who bring us happiness. When we recognize and honor the sources of our blessings, we invite more. That is why in the mornings I greet the birds or the rain with the same enthusiasm as I do loved ones. This is our time. Make it special by appreciating the people all around. Don’t wait. Speak from your heart today.


Thank you.

Children and Board Games Go Together

These days, video games are all the rage with young people. They’re everywhere and really fun. They’re exciting because they move fast and give big rewards for achievements. They have their place in our society, and I’m sure they’re not going anywhere. Board games, on the other hand, have to prove themselves. Most aren’t portable, take longer to play, require a time commitment and multiple players. They also have something not too many video games provide: built-in skill sets that provide several forms of intelligence and offer a tactile experience that supports the development of well-rounded individuals. That’s why I’m advocating for classic-board games, and some new ones, that the entire family can play.

Here’s what the traditional board game can do for you:

•    Literacy that translate directly to math and English skills. Many board games require reading at regular intervals. Instructions for learning a new game are dense and require analytical skills involving step-oriented processes. It’s also a great opportunity for adults to coach children with reading and following instructions.
•    Even simple games require some strategy, which is working on higher-level cognitive reasoning. Even choosing which piece to move or what play to make in a game of Sorry is a life skill. Board games require making long-term plans, or at least thinking ahead several moves.
•    These games help build emotional resilience and patience. It may not seem obvious, but learning how to lose can strengthen character. Chances are, a child who plays board games will lose once in a while. They can learn that losing is not the end of the world, and that there’s always another opportunity to win if they don’t quit. This helps with regulating emotions and keeping life in perspective.
•    Even small children can setup and clean up a game. Particularly with children around four-years, participating in the prepping and clearing stages teaches them responsibility. Sometimes asking for them to put away just four pieces can yield unexpected results like cooperation, initiative and problem-solving skills. Also, they may also like having all the pieces around the next time the game is played.
•    Maybe one of the most important reasons to play board games is to have family time. Making a ritual of sitting around the table talking, laughing and having fun can only lead to memories and deepening friendships. Conversation is built into most games. It’s an hour well spent.

Nothing prepares people for reading the “fine print” in life like board games. The more complicated a game is, the more rules; the more rules there are, the more navigational capital gets stored for when it counts, like applying for jobs and college or buying a house. If you’re new to board games, I recommend you start with these: chess, Sorry and Carcassonne. Hal’s picks are backgammon, Stratego, and Go.


Laugh for Life: The Benefits of a Good Guffaw


“A vegan and a Big Mac walk into a bar…”


I don’t know the punch line for that joke, but I do know that laughing is good, and that most of us want to laugh when we can. For example, on a recent social call, we spent an afternoon with friends who made us laugh nonstop. For about four hours, we laughed at jokes, each other and ourselves. The afternoon left us feeling lighthearted, energized and glowing. Imagine my delight when I found out that laughter is better than an anti-depressant pill. Now I’m on the hunt for my next big laugh. I hope you’ll join me.


Have you ever laughed so hard that your face hurt and the skin behind your ears got hot and your cheeks ached? If you answered yes, endorphins were coasting through your veins, and you were happy, truly and simply happy—naturally. That is what laughter is all about. There’s a reason why people feel light, balanced and happy after a day with friends. Friends are awesome, especially if they make you laugh. What’s more, I’m convinced that laughing makes us look and feel younger and more vibrant.


As it turns out, this is not just my fanciful idea. There’s plenty of research that confirms that laughter really is good medicine. Don’t take my word for it, investigate positive psychology and see what you learn. And, there’s also such a thing as laugh yoga, which focuses on daily laughter techniques. Because of what I’ve learned, I’m adding laughter to my list of 2015 goals, and here’s why you should, too:


  1. Just look at someone who laughs a lot. What do you notice? Laughter peels the years off of our faces. When we’re laughing, we’re literally working countering gravity, pulling our face muscles up—they’re tightening, drawing up and flexing, and we’re shining and beaming like a porch lights. We are meant to do this. We are meant to be bright, our eyes cleared with tears of laughter.
  2. Laughing is great exercise. This is in intuitively true. Think about it. When we laugh hard for even five minutes, what happens to our bodies? First, abdominal muscles contract, and who couldn’t use some free sit-ups? Next, some might experience shortness of breath or other physical sensation caused by peals of laughter. This is like running around the block because it’s aerobic, only you don’t need to shower afterwards, unless you’ve been rolling around the ground in utter jocularity while at a picnic, which actually sounds quite awesome. During all of this, the brain and other muscles in the body are getting fresh oxygen. Clearly, this is a superior method of staying young. Simply laugh off the years.
  3. Another benefit of laughing is that apparently we can’t hold two emotions simultaneously. That means we must choose to be positive. We can turn the tide of our emotions by exercising the positive ones. When we do, chemicals in the brain and body are altered. We can’t hold grudges while we’re laughing. So we  essentially free ourselves with laughter. Laugh long enough and all your troubles will be forgotten. That sounds marvelous to me.


Now that I understand some of the benefits of laughter, I’ve been looking for more things to laugh at in my daily life. In dance class, I’m quick to laugh when I make a mistake, and it makes the time more pleasant, the learning easier. It also means I can bounce back more quickly from uncomfortable situations. I start looking for the humor in my actions and thoughts and take myself a teensy bit less seriously, because life is more fun when I’m laughing.


Curious about how to get more laughter in your life? Check out Dr. Madan Kataria’s video introduction to Laughter Yoga: Laughter Yoga Video



Eat Your Way through West Texas: A New Twist on the Great American Road Trip


We recently took a road trip to visit family in another state. Along the way we discovered bits of our country and ourselves, which is really what road trips are all about. We discovered that West Texas is a visually stunning place. Driving east as you leave the Painted Desert you encounter picturesque landscapes, filled with enormous skies, juxtaposed against shacks and huge cubes of baled cotton. Big cities are few and far between, so you’re just as likely to see towering silver silos, as you are to see zebras (no kidding!). You only have two things to remember: first, don’t speed through any small town in Texas unless you’re hankering for a speeding ticket (there really wasn’t a single town where we didn’t see a sheriff parked outside of town between the 40-mile and 70-mile speed-limit markers). Second, when you’re in Texas, you’ve gotta eat the local food, because they really do food in a special way.


This was nothing like the road trips of my childhood, when I was packed into the car along with my sisters and our mother’s basket of carefully wrapped food. Nor was it a tedious quest for food, lurching from Wendy’s to Carl’s trying to pick food that would not upset our stomachs, a circumstance we endured just a few short years ago. To our delight, Yelp has transformed our culinary experiences, and thereby our lives, especially when we’re on the road. No longer do we need to make the requisite fast-food stop. A little WiFi and patience is all it takes to find the perfect meal when it might otherwise seem you’re in the middle of nowhere. That, plus the fact that gas is spectacularly cheap in Texas, makes it easy to go just a bit further down the road to feast like lords and ladies and forever forego meals in a bag.

So, next time you’re in Texas, keep your eyes open for Longhorns, llamas and goats on your way to our three picks for good things to eat with friends:

  • First Stop: Lubbock, Texas. The Cast Iron Skillet is totally worth a detour if you’re hungry before 2pm. We only had the opportunity to breakfast there, but I can tell you we were fully satisfied even as we pined for the fried okra that was two hours into a non-existent future. The Cast Iron Skillet is so good, they close right after lunch. They don’t even have to wait around for the dinner crowd. When you cook like that, you can be demanding. Service is courteous. Food’s served hot and delicious. I recommend the Chicken Fried chicken with a biscuit—the batter is spicy, peppery and crispy; the biscuit is flaky, a winning combo. You can also take a pie or some brownies home.


  • The unexpected treasure in Burnet is Crazy Gal’s Café. They serve delightful coffee; it actually stands up to cream. They offer a very nice menu and friendly service. The decor is fun and provides a distraction while you wait. I recommend the egg sandwich, cherry pie, which is made with almond extract, and the pancakes. Yummy!


  • Last stop: BBQ, anyone? If you like meat, buckle your seat belt, dress casually and arrive hungry. Lest you think I only eat breakfast, get yourself some world-class BBQ at Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que in Llano. They serve the best BBQ chicken on earth. This is no exaggeration. This place is all about the food, and mostly, I mean meat. Wait in line outside before you get to the pit where a guardrail keeps the minions from grabbing a tempting morsel off the grill. Seriously, Cooper’s pit is designed to make your mouth water because it’s impossible to decide what to order when confronted with 12 choices of perfectly cooked meats, including goat and turkey and all the usual selections. This unfortunately, is not a vegetarian friendly establishment, so if you don’t at least eat chicken on occasion, give this place a pass, but send your meat-loving friends. It’s also not a place for purest. Meats are arrayed on one enormous grill—together. And at Cooper’s, there’s only one pot of lip-smacking wet dip for all of it. You can, however, ask for it dry and top off from the homemade BBQ sauce available inside. The picnic style-tables inside mean you might make a friend unless you’re a family of ten. All the meats we sampled were tender, cooked to perfection, seasoned with numerous herbs and spices; this was an all around hit. The turkey was unreal, and the pork ribs were as good as my mom’s Dominican-style slow-roasted pork shoulder—now that’s a compliment. Beans with bacon, pickles, water and sauce are all free sides. I recommend the coleslaw—I think that might be vegetarian. If you can’t get to West Texas any time soon, I hear Cooper’s delivers.

Maybe you’ll discover your own treats and surprises on your next road trip. Coming together around food is something most of us enjoy. It has a way of opening our hearts. That’s why it’s a treat to have local food prepared with care. I’m not sure when I’ll get back to Texas, but the memories of passing forkfuls around the table, laughing with friends and family and planning the next meal before one has ended, persists. Even now, I long for the feeling of connection at the table—and another bite of pie.

The Guilt-Free Garden: A Water-Saving Suggestion


In California, three years of bone-dry, rainless weather are making many of us start to think outside the box. Harvesting greywater is not something most of think of doing. In fact, in this country, we’ve had the luxury of flushing clean, potable water down the toilet for decades now. But, things are beginning to change as more areas experience drought, fire, flooding and other drastic climate change. My latest practices are motivated by my love for my edible garden. So in addition to the many small changes we’ve made this year—simple things like replacing all the faucet and shower heads with low-pressure ones and reducing the number showers we take by half or better—we now keep a 4-gallon bucket in the shower.


This is how to make a bucket work for you. If you run the water to let it warm up before showering, collect that first cold flow directly into the bucket. When the water warms, start the shower and stand in the bucket. Once you’re wet, I recommend you shut the water off while you soap up. Rinse off, and collect a bit more in the process.


When you see the bucket quickly fill with the run off, it inspires you to shorten those showers. After all, the goal is not to fill the bucket, but to see what might have otherwise been wasted. Some of the unexpected benefits of bringing a bucket into the shower are:

  • Shorter showers! More awareness brings its own changes
  • There’s more water for your container plants and garden
  • You can use it to flush the toilet, too

After the shower, we cart the bucket to the garden, where we use it to water our vegetables first, and the extra goes to any flowering plants. When you do this, a new mindfulness takes hold, and the garden is happier; I can breathe easier, too, knowing that I’m doing all I can to conserve this precious resource.


A Beneficiary of our Greywater
A Beneficiary of our Greywater


You may want to check out other ways to harvest greywater: http://greywateraction.org/greywater-recycling