Remember those foods you hated as kids?

When I was a little, my mother would impose foods on me that simply did not pass muster. My younger voice would claim something was gross or yucky. Now, some of these same foods are delicious. Did my palate change or am I open too trying more foods? Maybe it is a little of both.

A good example is orange marmalade. It is a little bitter because of the sliver of orange peels, so as a child it did not measure up to the overly sweet jellies and jams. Now, it is a staple best used with peanut butter on an English muffin or cinnamon raisin bagel.

Another example is fried okra. Why would anyone want to eat such a thing? Now, if it is an available vegetable at a cafe or diner, it is a must order. One BBQ restaurant serves fried okra as an appetizer. The other excellent use of okra is in gumbo. So, this hard to pick vegetable is well-worth it.

Another vegetable whose taste had to be nurtured over time is collard greens (and turnip greens). I would not touch the stuff early on, but my grandmother imposed them on me, even teaching us how to cook them. Like fried okra, greens are a must order as a side at a restaurant.

My wife would add brussel sprouts and beets. Now, she loves them both and will eat pickled beets out of a jar. I can tolerate brussel sprouts, but beets remain a bridge too far for me. She can have full and sole access to the beet jar.

What are some of your adult-learned favorites? When did the tide turn in their favor?

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We measure environmental impact on adults, not kids

I have written several times about Sandra Steingraber. Who is she, you may ask? She is a biologist, ecologist, author and environmental advocate. Steingraber has spoken in front of the United Nations, the European Parliament and US Congress on the impact of chemicals on our environment and people.

Steingraber is a bladder cancer survivor which led her to her passionate advocacy. Bladder cancer is a bellweather cancer, meaning it is almost always caused by environmental toxins. Her home was in proximity to several chemical plants. In addition, her siblings and nearby cousins also had various cancers, including bladder cancer. A key factoid is she was adopted, so her cancer was not genetic and it came from exposure.

Steingraber has strongly advocated for kids on environmental issues. Her first two books called “Living Downstream” and “Raising Elijah,” using her son’s name, focus on these issues. A huge takeaway from her books and advocacy is we tend to measure the impact of environmental toxins on a fifty year old man, not children.

Why is this statement important? Kids are still developing their brains, so they are more susceptible to environmental toxins. Their lungs take time to fully develop as well. Plus, children are smaller in weight, closer to the ground, breathe more through their mouths and put their hands in their mouths with much greater frequency. If they touch something, it winds up in their mouth (remember the pretreated lumber playgrounds? – arsenic was used in the pretreatment).

Steingraber and other scientists’ analyses reveal toxins from chemical plants can damage us from air particulates as much as from seepage into the water. She notes these toxins settle on playgrounds, fields and trees, but then become airborne when the wind blows again. So, kids will often get exposed from what they touch or breathe in from what they scuff up from the ground.

I have seen her speak and have read both of these books. Her message resonates with parents. With the assault on environmental regulations by the current White House, her message is needed even more. Plus, she has another huge caution for all of us. As the climate warms, the impact of these chemicals will only get worse. She likens the earth to a crock pot that is warming these chemicals.

I encourage you to read her books. Her message is pertinent, loud and clear. It needs to be shouted from the rooftops, but especially from the playgrounds. We owe it to our children.

Finding your Roots

My wife and I have become fascinated by the PBS show called “Finding your Roots.” Historian Henry Louis Gates hosts three people of prominence and shares with them interesting things he discovers about their ancestry.

The show provides a rich and personal history lesson to the three guests and the audience. We have learned many things we did not know, especially when races and ethnicities intermingle or families flee bigotry, enslavement or persecution.

Here are a few of those learnings:

– every family has unusual circumstances or secrets that may not have been shared, as the information may have been embarassing, highly personal or even dangerous if others knew.

– there were some freed African-Americans living in areas of the South and more surprisingly, some of these freed African-Americans owned slaves.

– we knew of African-Americans that fought for the Union, but some fought for the Confederacy, and some of those fought for the Union after their City fell to the Union.

– Fascists and anti-Semites know no boundary. Some Jews escaped Poland from Polish anti-Semites long before they tried to escape the Nazis. Some escaped Russia for the same reason, then had to leave England to escape it there.

– it is not surprising for the guests to find different races and ethnicities in their background – the history is validated by DNA tests.

As examples of this last point, Bryant Gumbel found out he was about 10% European Jew. Suzanne Malveaux from CNN has multiple races mixed in, including Native American, French Quebec and sub-Saharian African. The comedian Fred Armisten found out his Japanese grandfather was actually Korean who fled persecution and was an acclaimed dancer in Japan. Larry David, who does a great Bernie Sanders impersonation, has DNA that makes him a distant relative of Sanders, which neither knew.

I encourage you to watch the show, even if you may not know the guests. Also, go on Ancestry.com and spend some time tracing your roots. It will suck you in, but do invest some time. History is fun, especially when it is yours.

One Black man influences KKK members to give up their robes

Our blogging friend Jill highlights weekly a few people who are shining lights in our world. Typically, these folks fly under the radar screen, as they do what they do to help people, not garner publicity. They are all about substance over optics.

Daryl Davis is one of those people. An African-American man, Davis has a mission to reach out and befriend members of the Ku Klux Klan. His goal is to change hearts and minds and he has successfully influenced over 200 members of the KKK to give up their robes, which he collects.

Davis grew up mostly outside the US as his father was in the diplomatic corps. He said his school classes included the children of other diplomats from around the world. So, he was gaining a very open-minded education interacting with others. He notes if grew up here, his education would have been either segregated or pigeonholed limiting interaction with diverse people.

Davis said he did not experience racism until his family moved back to the states. In fact, he did not believe his parents when he learned he was being maltreated because of the color of his skin. He was incredulous that people could be so cruel for such an inane reason.

Davis recognizes that bigotry has to be taught. No one is born hating or demeaning others because they are different from them. Their parents and other adults have to teach kids to be racist  or bigoted. So, he would seek to change those learnings by having open conversation. Per the link below, he says how can someone hate me without even knowing me?

He is an overtly friendly and approachable man. Having seen him laugh, I would say he is cherubic in a St. Nick like way. He does not insult, he asks questions and tells folks what he believes. When a KKK person said they burn the cross to light the way for Jesus, he would say you worship a different Jesus than I do. Jesus lights the way for you.

Through these matter-of-fact discussions, he gets people to think. He has studied the KKK and through reverse examples , he can illustrate the absurdity of certain claims. When he appeared on Bill Maher’s show, he astounded the other guests  into silence just to listen to what he had to say. For the longest while, even the host remained silent, which is rare for him.

Please check out the attached link to learn more about him. “Bigotry has to be carefully taught” says the famous Oscar Hammerstein song from “South Pacific.” The converse is also true. Let’s teach kids and speak with others about being open-minded. It begins with conversation. Thank you Daryl Davis for showing us how. You are to be commended.

http://www.npr.org/2017/08/20/544861933/how-one-man-convinced-200-ku-klux-klan-members-to-give-up-their-robes

A few Sunday Questions

Given today is a day of religious reflection in many circles, let me ponder a few questions.

Today I read about the Values Conference where US evangelicals meet. At the conference, Steve Bannon, the nationalist editor of Breitbart and former Senior Advisor spoke of war on the parts of the Republican Party that are more reasonable and offer some needed sanity. Why should folks heed this man when he speaks against those who dare question the President, saying they are placing our military in danger? So, the President’s decrying diplomatic efforts is not doing that? It is our right to question our leaders.

At the same conference, Harvey Weinstein is being vilified, but the focus is on Hollywood not reining him in and the fact he is a Democrat funder. Whether it is Weinstein, Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes or Donald Trump, using one’s power to sexually harass, demean, use or assault women is criminal. The President is highly supported by this group, even with his lying, cheating, stiffing and assaulting of others because he said he would do their bidding. So, my question is if Harvey Weinstein was President and appointed a conservative Supreme Court Justice would that make his exploits OK as it does with Trump?

In my home town, there is a lawsuit by a gay married music teacher at a Catholic High School who was fired after he got married to his partner, officially coming out. The Bishop says they cannot support an openly gay employee. The question asked by a Catholic father of a gay son is why should the church stop there? Why doesn’t the church fire all women who use birth control, all people who have had affairs and all people who have divorced which also violate the church’s rules? The father noted his son said no one would choose to face the ostracism, hate and discrimination unless they felt they were being true to themselves by coming out.

I am a practical person of faith. I think the over arching instruction to treat people like we want to be treated is the most important mandate. In the Christian world, this mandate is even called The Golden Rule. It can also be found in other religious texts. We need to be tolerant of our differences. Bannon has the right to speak out, but he should not be denigrating the right for others to do so.

So, regardless of what political or religious tribe we belong to, we belong to an even bigger tribe that interacts with each other on a daily basis. Let’s do our best to treat others as Jesus instructed. That is worth talking about at a Values Conference.

It is your call on whom to marry

I was fortunate that my future wife asked me to meet her for a drink after work. Yet, before that happened, two of her friends counseled her that I was not for her. We have been married for over 32 years now.

Often, it is the parents who stand in the way of matrimony between their child and his or her chosen partner. While I am sure some disastrous pairings have been averted or delayed until a better time, it is not the parents’ decision and often they are wrong in their initial assessment.

I have a relative whose parents did not want him to marry a young woman. In an all too common rationale, they deemed her unsuitable due to relative standing on the socio-economic strata. They have been married now for over 40 years and are parents and grandparents.

I have a friend whose parents felt the same about his future bride. In this case, the rationale was she was older and had a child. My friend and his wife have been married longer than we have and are now grandparents.

Yet, my favorite example are some friends who were not allowed to be married when they were young and in love. She was the daughter of a Protestant minister and he was Catholic. Religious differences are an all too common reason to deny marriage. These friends each married other people and had families. After they each divorced and a few years had passed, the young lovers got back together and married each other. They have been married now for 30 years and seem to still enjoy their renewed affection.

For matters of the heart, it is your call. Everyone else may advise you, welcomed or not, but it is your call on whom to see and be married to. I do recognize that a teen living under the parents’ roof needs to listen to parents’ counsel, whether you heed it or not. They do see things you may not. But, as you get older and are about to make a commitment, at the end of the day, it is your commitment, not theirs.

So, parents should counsel wisely and judiciously. Yet, the best we can do is teach our children good values and encourage thoughtful decisions. But, it is their life to live, especially when they make that important step of choosing a life partner.

When is the right time?

We should mourn the loss of innocent American lives at the hands of one shooter. We should offer our prayers, thoughts and support to the victims, injured, caregivers and their families and friends. And, we should demand from our lawmakers to act like parents and grandparents and to stiffen our gun governance.

NRA funded politicians, who unfortunately include the leaders of the two chambers of Congress and the White House, say now is not the time to discuss gun control. When is the time? The NRA is likely horse whispering in their ears to stiff arm the gun control proponents until the crisis abates. Then, lip service will be given to the subject as it is defeated once again, given the NRA’s ability to highly mobilize its confederation of zealous followers, even though they are small in number.

Speaker Paul Ryan has noted that it is more than a gun issue, it is a mental health issue. Two comments – it is a mental health issue, but make no mistake about it, access to guns is an issue. As an aside, there is an obvious disconnect between saying it is a mental health issue and supporting legislation that would kick twenty million Americans off their health plans, which include mental health benefits.

Now is the time to address better gun governance. It is actually passed time. Gun homicide deaths per capita in the US dwarf that of other western and non-western countries. When suicides are factored in, we look even worse.

I have written multiple posts over the years about better gun governance. Before summarizing them yet again, let me add what I have mentioned before – it is a mental health issue, it is a civil discourse issue, it is a safe gun storage issue, it is a violent entertainment issue and it is a drug crime issue which has infiltrated places of poverty. On the gun control side:

– background checks on all weapon purchases are essential,

– elongated waiting periods are also key, as this will help with suicide prevention and give time for authorities to track purchases – the Las Vegas shooter bought 33 highly lethal weapons in one year,

– finger printed trigger mechanisms (or the like) would prevent accidental deaths by kids and teens,

– ammunition needs to be coded so that bullets used in crimes can be traced, and

– like the expired Brady Law (another NRA victory), automatic assault weapons (and devices to convert semi-automatic weapons) have no place in non-miiitary settings.

The sad truth is the significant majority of Americans want the first two items to occur. Yet, nothing happens. Not only that, actions have been taken to make it easier to buy guns (if mental health is a concern, why did this Congress take people on Social Security disability for mental health reasons off the watch list for gun purchases?).

Now is the time. And, when you hear people say “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” the response is no “people with access to guns kill people. No gun, no gun death. No automatic weapon, fewer multiple gun deaths.