How we divide

We were making copies using the ditto machine in the teacher’s resource room of our school.

When the teacher’s aide – we kids called “slap jaw” – walked through the intoxicating fumes of the duplicating solvent to talk to us.

She asked us where we were going to high school – we both replied Sullivan. She pulled out her copy of the Gale Echo – our school’s yearly black and white booklet and opened it to the centerfold exposing the pictures of the graduating 8th graders.

Slap jaw thrust the paper and a pen towards me and asked me to autograph my light-greyish picture, saying I would be famous one day.

You were standing next to me, my sister, my desk mate in our “gifted” class, my friend for as long I could remember, our fate sealed by our shared initials R-F-R, your dark-greyish picture next to mine.

5th_grade_b_w

 

I remember looking at her, looking at you, then looking at her again. Perhaps I had a stupid smile on my face, thinking she just forgot, a simple oversight, she was an old white woman.

I remember that pause – that moment it took slap jaw to realize she should ask for your autograph too, but it was too late. She exposed our differences.

 

Freshman year of high school, I was labeled white for the first time. I’m not white. I’m a child of immigrants.

 

I played basketball in high school.

We played all-white suburban schools outside Chicago. We played all-black south and west side schools in Chicago.

To some, I looked more like suburban white than south side black.

My sisters of basketball.

When I fell in love with a black man from the west side, he told me I wouldn’t be accepted by his people. To his family, friends, and neighbors, I was white.

I remember feeling my love is no different.

 

In high school, I labeled myself a half-breed – something I heard or read someone call a Native American whose parents weren’t both Native.

But was I a half-breed German or a half-breed Cuban? What half of what breed would I be?

30 years later I received my AncestryDNA® results. I remember looking at the colored blobs over parts of the globe where my people came from.

The European continent was aglow in a rainbow of blobs.

90% of my DNA is European Mutt, my ancestors traversed the lands from Spain east towards Poland, from Scandinavia, south to Italy and Greece.

The other 10% comes from the continents of North and South America, Africa, and West Asia (the middle east).screen-shot-2017-01-20-at-7-54-12-am

 

The complicated mess of my DNA is a result of wars, colonization, slavery, revolutions, migration, immigration and everything in between.

My DNA unites, rather than divides.

I may not look like you. Our phenotypes make us look different to each other. But when we look inside we will find our similarities.

 

Aloha

2016 – Year in Review

img_9560Why do some people feel the need to review past events?

I don’t know the answer to that question – so I will use this platform to explore why I feel a need to review the last year…

This isn’t going to be a chronological listing of events – this won’t be a rehash of my FB posts or favorite Tweets.

I do not want to talk about my feelings towards world events – I think we have all experienced enough of that.

I do want to share a significant event from my 2016 that I feel exemplifies the journey we all face as humans.

My life’s journey has been colored by a syndrome some of us may experience once, twice or thirty times in our lives – the Grass is Greener Syndrome.

blog-pics-1200x675-greener-grassYou know what I’m talking about…

It may be the there-must-be-a-better-place-to-live-than-here syndrome.

It may be the there-must-be-a-better-job-than-this-job syndrome.

It may be the there-must-be-a-better-partner-than-this-partner syndrome.

And so on and so on – you get the picture.

I personally think this type of questioning is positive. It allows us the opportunity to reevaluate our lives to figure out what needs changing or what needs a little readjusting. I wrote a post in July that describes how I feel restless when the need for change arises…

This syndrome may be manifested by that nagging voice in your head or on your shoulder that sometimes is so loud you can’t think straight.

I have realized this voice is a reflection of a part of me that isn’t satisfied.

In 2016 an event helped me let go of those nagging voices.

giphy.gif Helped me brush them off…

For years, I wondered what it would be like to live in Hawaii. For years, I have thought Seattle is not my home. For years, I thought there must be a better job.

My restlessness was quieted by an opportunity to work for my employer on a 3-month project in Oahu.

I lived and worked in what many believe is paradise for 90-days.

I not only had the amazing opportunity to live in a place I have dreamed about since I fell in love with Magnum P.I. in the 80s but work in a different part of my organization. I got to see how green the grass was on the other side.

I fell in love with the Ko’olau mountains. My favorite drive was from Kaneohe, on the windward side, north to Kahuku along the Kamehameha highway. My favorite little grocery store  Ching’s in Punaluu, was on the way, where they have the best butter mochi and spam musubi on the island. The best curry is at Fiji market in Kahuku.

But that’s not all.

img_9337In March of 2016, I found out I got accepted to an MFA in creative writing program.  It was the next step in my lifelong journey of becoming a writer. So while in Hawaii, I not only worked full-time at my job, I had a full course load of homework assignments to do. All this while on an island my brain considered as a vacation spot.

It was hard.

After two months, I missed the Pacific NW, my cats, my fiancé, my house, and all things familiar.

hawaii

I got island fever. But, being isolated, or sequestered, on a rock in the middle of the planet’s largest ocean gave me time to reevaluate and refocus on those things that are important to me. I no longer have that nagging voice telling me life is better somewhere else. Life happens wherever you go.

I realized rainbows are created at the interface of sun and rain – you need to walk through a storm to get to the rainbow.

I have quieted my Grass-is-Greener voice – for now.

I’m still open to opportunity and change.

In the words of the poor man in the Holy Grail – I’m not dead yet!

I am thankful to work for an organization that created a program where employees can apply for opportunities to work in other parts of the organization to gain skills and work in different cultural landscapes. My organization not only has an amazing mission but truly respects and appreciates its hardworking employees. If you want to check out a little more about what I do for work – see my LinkedIn page.

Did you know life happens in paradise? I wrote about my experience in a blog called 90 days in paradise. Please check it out.

 

 

Day 69 – Thanksgiving

img_6960

Today I give thanks to this happy couple. My parents – circa 1969 at Banff or Glacier NP. They represent what the United States of America is all about.

A country of compassion.

A country of opportunity.

A country where an economic refugee from Germany and a political refugee from Cuba, could meet, fall in love, get married, and carve out a life and raise a family.

All of that happened in a little neighborhood on the far north side of Chicago called Rogers Park.

They embodied the American Dream.

My dad, a craftsman, opened a business with his brother and my mother went to school to become a registered nurse. It took them a little over 20 years to buy a house, which by that time my brother and I were in college.

But it wasn’t all peaches and cream – if I may use that cliché.

My little nuclear family was a place where two very different cultures collided.

Yes, collided. No melting happened in the pot of my family. Although, you could argue German and Cuban DNA did blend to create my brother and me. But that is another story…

From our little experiment – I am authorized to say the American melting pot is a farce, a fantasy, a disillusioned idea.

What does it mean to melt cultures together?

What does it mean to have no diversity?

What does it mean to have no differing opinions or perspectives?

What if there was only one color in a rainbow? Blue bow? Red bow? Purple bow?

Take a walk in the woods, snorkel around a coral reef, canoe along a river through a rain forest.

In nature there is only diversity. An ecosystem is made up of diverse creatures. From microscopic plankton to huge whales. Life on Earth thrives on biological diversity. Any time one organism takes over a habitat – the ecosystem becomes imbalanced. Disease, mass die-offs, decreased food sources.

coral-reef

Life on Earth thrives on biological diversity.

Why should it be any different culturally?

In my little family, we didn’t blend cultures. We didn’t create a new culinary genre where  sauerkraut is paired with arroz con pollo, lechon asado, or ropa vieja. Although bistec milanesa or empanisado (breaded steak) was very similar to wienerschnitzel – and this little Cuban/German girl loved both.

Dad never learned how to dance the Cuban son – mom never learned to polka. Neither learned the other’s language. A version of English is what we spoke in our household (although I always say English is my second language).

Dad thought my Cuban family yelled too much. And Mom thought my German family didn’t like her because she was a “darkie.”

For better and worse, my parents stayed together until my Dad’s death in 2013. Despite their outer dysfunction – the communication challenges, the short bouts of yelling, followed by years of silence – deep down inside, they loved each other.

As I approach my late 40s, I have finally realized what my parents gave me.

Cultural sensitivity, an ability to be patient with and understand people with accents, a mysterious morphological make up that allows me access into a diversity of groups, and the consciousness to see the humanity shared by all of us.

So I give thanks for them and for this country that made it all happen.

I only hope I can share their gifts with others.

Aloha!

 

 

Day 59 – Super Moon

img_0108

Dear Super Moon,

You looked splendid tonight. Your rouge-like aura when you first emerged above the horizon made me wonder if you were a bit angry. Did Mars tell you something that pissed you off? Did he tell you that you are not made of rock, but of cheese?

My sweet, you do look beautiful when you are angry. The rush of lunar blood through your valleys gives you a glow of life – of – dare I say – passion. Was that your energy rushing through me? Spreading a renewed sense of vitality, of clarity.

As you ascended your rouge softened to a light pink then an angelic halo of creamy white draped over you like a beautiful, silky shawl. Did you forgive him?

Oh Super Moon, I need your wisdom tonight. I offer you a gift of plumerias, yellow and white, floating along your beams across the ocean. I send you a message in their sweet perfume drifting towards the heavens.

Please teach me how to wax with confidence, to embrace my intelligence, to honor what my eyes see, and to have courage to speak my voice.

Please teach me to take those words I hear from people who wish to keep me down below the horizon of my potential and turn them into wings.

Please remind me to be strong when these events make my energy wane.

If this is too much to ask for one night, I understand.

In the meantime, I will look for you every night, for another lesson.

Aloha.

Day 50 – Life Happens in Paradise 


Ah paradise, you are my Shangri La, the place where there are no worries, food is plentiful, play no work, and I will never get old.

Who am I kidding? Not you I hope. 

The food is not free. The housing isn’t either. And there are chores to do. 

Thanks to my neighbor monopolizing the washer/dryer – I get to experience Laundromat in Paradise.

The only difference to the laundromats of my past is – it is an open air laundromat. The temperature inside is the same as outside, unless you are standing next to the dryers.


The machines are the same as when I lived in Rogers Park and went every weekend with my mother to the laundromat on Howard east of Western Ave. 

Today I am reminded of that time. When the dryers take all your quarters.

Today I am reminded that life happens wherever you live. The ups, the downs, the beauty, the ugly.

Unless you modify your definition of paradise – you will never find it. It will always be a fantasy because there is always dirty laundry to wash.


Aloha!

Pause, Regroup, Go

The pause happened before my 45th birthday last year.

Field trip to Bandelier National Monument.
Field trip to Bandelier National Monument when I was only 43.

Thoughts started badgering me:

What am I doing with my life?

Is this where I want to be?

What have I accomplished?

Is this all there is for me?

I’m almost dead!

My older friends laughed  and called me “youngster” and “silly.”

But I know this restlessness.

I get restless when I need change – not want – but need. For me change is not only an opportunity for growth, it is growth.

The first time I felt this need I was about 12 or 13. I had fallen in love with San Francisco while visiting relatives. Chicago wasn’t my #1 city anymore. I was in love with the Mediterranean climate, the friendly people and the food. Unfortunately, due to my age and other factors, the move wouldn’t happen until I was 21.

City by the Bay

After a few months working at a biotech company, I applied and got accepted to graduate school in the Monterey Bay area just south of SF. I was following my dream of becoming a marine biologist – inspired by Jacques Cousteau.

California was wonderful, I didn’t want to move, but as my graduate career was ending, jobs were hard to find and the techies from Silicon Valley were beginning to make the Monterey Bay area too expensive to live. Through some connections I learned there may be jobs in Seattle – so, at age 25, I moved out of necessity – which is a different kind of need than restlessness.

City by the Sound.

I rolled into Seattle on July 1st, 1996 (yes 20 years ago today!). Life would be good for awhile – but restlessness found me 6 years later, when I was 31. It was a moment in my life where I felt everything stagnated: bought first home, married first guy and got my first permanent job, by age 30.

I lived in the suburbs of Seattle. It felt sterile, isolated, and unfriendly. The marriage began to remind me of my parents marriage.  In short no bueno. I knew there was more to life than what I had and I got out.

While the marriage was ending, I moved from the suburbs of Seattle into the city. A place where I could walk to cafes, to grocery stores and to a beautiful urban park with a lake, trees, and an occasional bald eagle. I felt more comfortable in the city – it reminded me of my city-kid roots.

When I feel restless my first reaction is to runaway and this one was no different.

I wanted to give up:

Everything I was doing

Everything I had accomplished

I wanted to:

Move

Getaway

Leave without a trace…

But that wouldn’t be responsible, it would be a short-lived happiness followed by extreme anxiety.

Third birthday of author...
Third birthday of author…

I needed to regroup, reevaluate, and reassess, my restlessness. I needed to ground my thoughts, take several deep breathes because I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t let down my younger self, and give up on her dreams and aspirations. But what had I not accomplished?

I achieved my goal of moving to Cali and becoming a marine biologist. I spent time at sea studying fishes in Alaska. I now have a great job, I own a house in the city and I have a terrific fiancé.

So what am I to blame this bout of restlessness on?

I look to astrology for answers (cuz sometimes it helps.).  I am a Sagittarrian and Sagittarians are described as travelers, philosophers, and adaptable. In short, I needed a change of scenery, more education and transition my avocation to a vocation.

For education I decided to GO back to school in a discipline complimentary to science, art. My medium is writing and on many levels I have always known I was a writer and have written in some capacity since I was a teenager. For the last 4+ years it has been my avocation. I have taken several writing classes, but they left me wanting more. Finally, I applied to a Masters of Fine Arts program – got in – and hope to graduate with an MFA in creative writing (focus on nonfiction) in 2018.

I’m working on a change of scenery – to a place my younger self wanted to live thanks to a TV show with a hot guy driving a red Ferrari – so I’ll write about it if it happens.

I embraced my feeling of restlessness. I worked to fully understand where they were coming from and I am making changes.  Life feels more fulfilling and I feel less old.

Challenging Status Quo

On Monday I decided I was going to do something different in my life.

It began when I wanted to add a cover image to my LinkedIn account. I know, nothing big, especially because I’m not sure what the value of my LinkedIn account is, and I’m pretty sure no one in my “network” cares about the cover image on my LinkedIn page, at least, not as much as my FB friends would care if I changed the cover photo on my FB page.

My niece learned of my true identity...  But is she right?
My niece learned of my true identity… But is she right?

It was the process of finding the image that mattered. Into my disorganized iPhoto library I went, to look for one of my favorite photos from a trip I took to Scotland in 2013. I scrolled through hundreds of photos. Some I wondered why I hadn’t deleted. Others, I wondered why I hadn’t printed and framed. Then came the photos of people, of me and my partner, in particular.

“We looked thinner back then.” he said,  while sitting on our sagging couch, a few feet in front of the HDTV, cable box, and Blu-ray player, remotes splayed across the scene, as he looked through the pictures on my laptop with me.

He was right. I saw it too. The milliseconds the images were up on the screen was enough time for our brains to pick up on the fewer inches of pudge that wrapped his mid-section or my back-section “only a year ago.”

The last year was fraught with so many – I need to work out more’s and I need to drink less beer’s – that it sounded like a broken record. Obviously, we were eating, sitting, drinking and wishing, more than we were sweating, walking, standing or doing.

So I went to the gym on Monday morning and sweat. I was sore on Tuesday, but I went to the gym again. I stayed away from those tantalizing carbs. I didn’t stop at Grateful Bread – whose current scone is the best in Seattle. I didn’t “celebrate” my second day at the gym. On Wednesday, I was feeling good, so when I went out to lunch I had a lovely cup of white bean and pesto soup with a think slice of homemade bread  and shared a little pizza with my partner at Element in the UVillage. Simple, small, healthy but loaded with carbs. The rest of the day I felt bloated . “Damn I think I do have gluten intolerance,” I thought after feeling massive in a pair of jeans I squeezed into the next day. Those jeans that were a little big “only a year ago.”

Was it all the traveling I did? My dad’s death? The “too hot” summer in Seattle? The amazing IPAs of the Pacific NW that I just can’t seem to stop drinking, especially during the “too hot” summer in Seattle?

Why did I gain weight?

I got lazy. My mind was not aware of my growing girth. My mind was too preoccupied with the stress of life. I failed at balancing recreation and work. I failed at balancing being active with being sedentary.

When my mind finally recognized that the girth of my ass had grown, I played a game with myself. Telling myself – “It’s not that bad.” or “I can work that off in no time.” Was I buying me some time? Or killing me softly, slowly?

My niece somehow knows of my challenges with the evil - Status Quo.
My niece somehow knows of my challenges with the evil – Status Quo.

I am going to the gym, I am starting to be conscious of what I am eating and drinking. I have a birthday coming up and I will not be “one year younger.” I’m challenging the status quo – I’m challenging the way things are or have been. I’m challenging the sloth within.

What are your challenges with status quo? What are your plans of action to defeat it? No plans? That’s okay, sometimes we just have to “do it,” to “act differently than usual,” to create the change we all so desperately want to achieve.

Challenging Status Quo – make it your mantra too.