As if I didn’t already have enough to read…

When someone on WordPress either “likes” my blog or subscribes to it, I try to return the favor by clicking on their link to see what they’re up to. I’ve discovered a lot of interesting people this way. But as my inbox grew fatter and fatter, I found that I didn’t really have time to read all these wonderful blogs. So I’ve gotten more selective. Quilters and movie buffs certainly have a lot to write about too, but I’m now limiting myself to bloggers who focus on writing. And there are a lot of those too. Yesterday I subscribed to a new blog and got my first post from him in my mailbox today.

I read it and loved it. So I’m sharing it. Happy reading.

Weight of the Nation exposes nefarious food politics

So the U.S. government started subsidizing corn and soy farmers—not fruit and vegetable growers, just the people who produced corn and soy. So if you’re a farmer, and you get paid to grow corn instead of broccoli, what would you do? The results of that little shenanigan are that fewer than 3% of American crops grown today are fruits and veggies, but over 50% of all farms in the United States pump out corn and soy.

I tuned in to the documentary Weight of the Nation on HBO because I needed something to kickstart my quest to lose weight. I figured some scary facts and figures about heart disease and diabetes might overcome my weak will power. And there were plenty of doctors who made those points.

But what it mostly did was expose to me the conspiratorial inner workings of U.S. agriculture. My idyllic (if tragic) idea of the American family farmer working against all odds to harvest crops in time to save the ranch from being repossessed by some villainous, mustachioed banker? I now know that’s just fodder for movies celebrating some American ideal that no longer exists.

The information from this program combined with everything I culled from “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” (a lecture I watched and commented on in an earlier post) made me realize how political the food industry is. We’ve become so dependent on our processed, pre-packaged meals that we don’t fully comprehend how far we’ve strayed from the naturally nutritional food our grandparents ate. (Okay, Grandma’s gravy swimming in bacon grease might not officially be considered healthy, but there was nothing in the list of ingredients that I couldn’t pronounce, making me wonder about its origins.)

I’m not by nature one of those sprout-eating granola-crunching types. I grew up on Wonder bread, Coca-cola, and Pop Tarts. So when I started buying whole wheat bread and limiting myself to one soda per week, I figured I was doing great.

But I’ve started reading labels more carefully, and it’s illuminating. Even whole wheat bread that one finds on the shelves in the grocery store has either sugar or corn syrup in it. And I dare you to find a salad dressing that doesn’t have either.

Okay, so I buy my bread from our local bakery and make my own salad dressing. Am I safe now? Apparently not. Once you get in the habit of reading labels, you begin to question everything. Which is good, of course, but quite inconvenient. I don’t have either the time or inclination to make everything from scratch.

I have started buying some organic produce and I found a schedule of the farmers’ markets in my area, so that’s a start.

But I still walk by Pop Tarts with a certain amount of yearning.

So much to write about…

There are two problems with being really busy: 1) you don’t have time to write and 2) because you’re so busy, you have a lot to write about, but you might forget some of the stuff that you want to write about before you have time to write about it. Here is just one of forty-seven topics I’ve been meaning to write about.

I ran my first board planning retreat last Saturday for the Berkeley branch of the California Writers Club (CWC), and we ended the day by silently writing for ten minutes answers to these questions:

1. What are my personal writing goals for the upcoming year?

2. What are my goals for the club in the upcoming year?

3. What’s my plan to reach those goals?

It was a good exercise for me, since I am looking toward the future with a tiny bit of trepidation.

I joined the writers club three years ago with the intent of becoming part of a writing community, which would make me feel like a serious writer. And I did become part of a wonderful group. And sometimes I even consider myself a serious writer.

But so much has to happen to keep the club running smoothly. CWC is a volunteer organization, which means there is always more to do than there are people to do it. Before you know it, you have a dozen hard-working folks covering fifteen different areas to ensure the programs maintain their quality and nothing gets overlooked. With all that time spent on club programs, how much writing do you think these volunteers are able to get done? I would be afraid to ask for fear that everyone would resign their posts to make time to write, which is, after all the reason we’re all together in the first place.

And because those people do so much, they burn out and need new recruits to take their places. And so it goes.

So as I begin my term as club president, I am making a promise to myself to keep an eye on the balance. I listed five items each under my writing goals and club goals, and I could easily have listed twenty more. But under my overall plan, I just wrote: balance, balance, balance.

And then I wrote a little note to check in with myself every Sunday morning to see if I’m minding the balance.

Wish me luck.

Tales from an AIDS/Lifecycle roadie

My good friend Dennis Madden recently returned from being a roadie for the AIDS/Lifecycle ride. His job was driving all the tables and chairs from one site to the next for the mess halls they create each morning and night so the cyclists can have two hot sit-down meals a day. To house all the cyclists and roadies, campsites are constructed and taken down every night of the seven-day ride. It takes a huge support staff and tremendous organization to make sure everything goes smoothly, and it’s all run by volunteers. The cyclists and roadies together raised 12.6 million dollars to provide critical services to those living with HIV or AIDS.

Dennis shared this story.

I had a new tent mate this year, Warren.  He is 68 and had a double bypass.  When I asked him why he was doing the ride he told me his son had come out to him 2 years ago. Warren realized he did not know many gay people and not much about the gay community so he wanted to learn.  He had no idea he signed on for a full immersion course.  I’m taking it as a sign that things are changing.

I had a really rough 3rd day.  I choose to call it the day of the “unfortunate incident.”  I hit a tree and tore the top off a 24 ft. truck that was fully loaded and people waiting on the other end.  The truck had to be completely downloaded and moved to other trucks.  To say I took it badly is an understatement.  I wanted to come home immediately because I knew I could not face my team.  Another member of my team, a 24 year-old, grabbed me and took me for a walk.  He told me that it was not about tables and chairs, not about other roadies, it was about him.  He is HIV positive and needs the services the organizations provide.  He said I needed to get back to work because he needed me.

I am humbled.  I am proud.  I am thankful for everything I have and am able to do.  I signed up for next year.

I’m proud of him too.

 More facts about this year’s ride:
  • 2,350 bicyclists
  • 600 volunteer “roadies”
  • seven-day journey
  •  545-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles
  • the world’s most successful AIDS fundraiser
  • participants from nearly every state and 11 countries

For more info, go to their website:

It’s the last time…

Last night I attended the 8th grade graduation at the school where I taught for 19 years.

I love the pomp and circumstance of graduations: the songs of youth and hope, girls with their hair done and in fancy dresses, boys looking uncomfortable in suits, speeches, hugs, and an air of excitement about the future. Many of them will go on to attend Berkeley High and so will not have to officially say goodbye to about half their classmates. But as one of the graduation speakers noted, it will never be the same. Parents and teachers chuckled at the drama of Nekhi’s words: “It’s the last time we will all be together as children.” But truer words were never spoken.

Eighth graders no doubt feel pretty grown up when they’re the oldest kids on campus. The girls certainly look like women in their elegant and sometimes revealing dresses, at least until they have to traverse the stage in four-inch heels to accept their diplomas. But they are young teens and about to be thrown to the bottom of the food chain once again in high school. And for the lifers who went to school nine years under the gentle care of a small private school and plan to attend Berkeley High, a school of over 3400 students, they will experience a radical shift in their environment. But even the kids who attend smaller public high schools or independent schools will never be those same eighth graders again. High school requires a certain amount of responsibility and in turn offers an independence beyond middle school life. So when they have their  reunion in four years, they will be different people, and in fact, will certainly no longer be children.

So, no, it’s not the end of their youth, and many of them will surely continue their friendships beyond middle school, but Nekhi’s words ring true: It’s the last time they will ever gather together as children.