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Saturday, March 6, 2010

This is it!

After about a year of thinking about it, I'm shutting down FBB. I thought for a long time that I was just taking a break but now it's clear that it's over. I think of entries and write them in my head, like I used to, but now they float right out of my brain after I've "written" them. They don't linger like they used to, pestering me until I put them on the page for you all to read. The reason, I think, is clear.

I started this blog a few years ago as a way to make me write, on a daily basis, and as a way to counter my corporate existence. Now, I write daily on my scripts and I no longer have the corporate life. Weird how that works. Perhaps the blog willed my new life into existence. Now when I have thoughts that I might have explored in the blog, I explore them in my stories or jot them in a journal to be explored another time. The personal exposure got me into a bit of trouble as well and turned me off of the full disclosure feeling of the blog. But again, a script is as personal as writing can be and everything I am not putting down here will end up at some point on the page.

Thank you dear friends and readers! This site will remain archived at: http://fluffybunnybutts.blogspot.com/.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

It's About Franken Time

Last year, my boyfriend looked up the closest House and Senate races in "winable" states and donated to the Democratic candidates. He donated enough to get invited to all the fancy parties and two nights ago, we went to a Los Angeles victory party for Al Franken, the junior senator from Minnesota. It was hosted by Skip Brittenham, one of the most powerful entertainment attorneys in the business, known for his acquisition and merger deals (like Pixar/Disney) but who also still represents stars like Tom Hanks. His lovely wife Heather Thomas is best known for her starring role on the TV show "The Fall Guy" with Million-Dollar Man Lee Majors.

Their house is on a tree-lined street in Brentwood (between Westwood and Santa Monica) behind an unassuming wall that unless you really thought about it, would never suspect was the entrance to park-like gardens and an iconic and beautifully appointed Hollywood mansion. After depositing the car with one of the dozen valet guys, we went inside. The theme was a country fair. The tables were covered with red and white checkered tablecloths and held jars stuffed with sunflowers. There was cotton candy, popcorn and fried chicken. Clusters of red, white and blue balloons rose from ribbons tied to the ground. A clown on stilts juggled balls and a temporary tattoo artist awaited customers.

We got a couple of beers and decided to explore the grounds. Big beautiful dahlias and bright geraniums lined the lawn while huge trees canopied above. An ivy covered fence revealed the entrance to a tennis court. I snapped a few photos of us there but had decided that it wouldn't be kosher to photograph the whole house and lawn – even though I desperately wanted to! We decided to make our way towards the house. As we approached, we recognized our host who we both had looked up on the Internet. "There he is!" my guy said and Skip turned to shake our hands. We thanked him for having us and asked about the back gardens. He said "go on through the house, there are more people back there."

As we went through the door, we were asked by a man if we had wristbands – obviously the demarcation of who is allowed entry to the VIP party – and my boyfriend simply replied "Skip told us to go on through." And so we did. The house was amazing! Although we could only see a small portion, it was immediately recognizable as one of the Spanish Colonial Revival mansions that were so popular in the 1920's and 1930's. It was magnificently understated with its terra cotta tile floors, arched doorways, vaulted ceilings with rustic wood beams and Moorish detailing in the columns and windows. It was decorated in reds and yellows, Persian carpets, Mission revival furniture and filled with paintings and Chihuly sculpture. Absolutely gorgeous!

It opened up onto a tiered garden in the back. Umbrellas at tables and flowers were reflected in the swimming pool and beyond, the hills of Santa Monica and the ocean. We walked towards the small group of people gathered around tables on a small lawn. We immediately recognized Kevin Nealon (also of Saturday Night Live fame) and Jason Alexander (from Seinfeld). Looking at name tags, we picked out several big-time industry players including Thomas Schlamme (more commonly known as Tommy Schlamme) – a ubiquitous TV director and producer of The West Wing. Then, standing by himself at a table, I saw Martin Sheen.

Being a huge fan of The West Wing, I walked over and said hello, told him I was a fan of his and loved the show. We must have chatted with him for about twenty minutes. He even offered to get us drinks at one point! He was sweet and gracious and interesting. I always suspected that he was given his anti-war convictions and political activity, but he was truly delightful. He asked where we were from and when my boyfriend said he was Kurdish, he told us about accompanying a UCLA professor to Syria on an archaeological dig – he found a dog's jaw bone – and all the lovely Kurdish people he'd met. He then told us how he met Al Franken 30 years ago on Saturday Night Live. He was the guest host, Apocalypse Now had just come out, and Al Franken was a regular writer and performer on the show. Interestingly enough, the governor of California at the time was Jerry Brown who is running for the office again in the upcoming election. Martin says he's endorsing him.

We eventually excused ourselves to allow other people to talk to Martin and discussed which other celebrities to meet. None seemed nearly as alluring nor as approachable. As we were sitting there, I recognized a woman I'd had in an acting class many years ago who is now on SNL as well. I said hello and she introduced us to her party, Ariana Huffington and her daughter! My boyfriend was now officially starstruck. Finally, we were ushered back out front. Al was eventually going to give a speech and needed to mingle a bit with the non-VIP crowd. Still marveling at our good fortune, we were able to meet Jason Alexander and his wife, who borrowed a pen from me, before recognizing Garrison Keillor (Prairie Home Companion), Lawrence O'Donnell (MSNBC political analyst) and late-comer Conan O'Brien.


We joined the crowd around Senator Franken for photos and snapped one with him. Then, the speeches began. A few friends told funny anecdotes about his long road to Capitol Hill and one made a pointed observation that Franken is the only senator (who isn't married to a former president) to win on his first run. Martin read a speech prepared by Norman Lear who was there momentarily but must have decided he was too old to stand around for three hours. Before he started, Martin stammered a bit for effect and then said "I want this house!" to a big applause.

Then Al told a good story about being criticized by his opponent for taking "Hollywood" money. He noted that his opponent was taking money from big oil and big pharma and big tobacco and how all of these industries wanted something, nay expected something, in return. The Hollywood money, by contrast, was coming from his friends. People who wanted nothing in return, just to support a man they believe in. Then, he shared some of his time on the Hill so far and how he's made inroads with Republican senators by telling stories about the Hollywood people he knows. Turns out, no one is immune from being starstruck. Lastly, he promised to fight for health care reform and a public option. The number one cause of bankruptcy in America is health care and 2/3 of those people have health insurance.

After the speeches, there was a raffle and we won an autographed picture of Senator Franken being sworn in by Joe Biden. I took a picture of Franken autographing it. I turned around and saw another actress friend of mine. What a surprise. We chatted for a bit and then she took a picture of us with Martin Sheen who was now being mobbed by fans. At some point, Martin asked what kind of food there was. People pointed and asked him what he wanted. He said "all of it!" But he couldn't leave, he was mobbed. I took off and grabbed a Caesar salad, a box of popcorn, plate of fried chicken and corn on the cob and brought it back to Martin. He said he need a soda and as I spun off, he shouted "Coke, with ice!" I brought back two. He was very grateful. We said our goodbyes and said had been a pleasure to talk with him. He agreed. On the way out, we took a caramel apple for the road. The party was over. Now, as the buttons said, "It's finally Franken time."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

It's never too late to be what you might have been

I just finished reading Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell's latest book, and like his previous books, The Tipping Point and Blink, it's a fascinating look into why things are the way they are (one of my favorite subjects!) In Outliers, Gladwell debunks the myth that people are successful because of their "individual merit." Using established research and case studies, he shows that culture, family, luck and timing are powerful factors in whether a person is successful. It's very interesting and it made me think quite a bit about my own culture, family, luck and timing. It's not a self-help book so there isn't a chapter on "What to do if you didn't get the right combination of the four factors" but he does demonstrate that knowledge is power and if you understand who you are and how you came to be that way, the more you can change the outcome.

Here's an example from the book, very briefly encapsulated. In the nineties, Korean Air had three times the number of fatal accidents of any other airline and was on the brink of being shut down. It was discovered that because of the culture and the language, the co-pilots were not able to directly tell the captain when there was a problem. Here was an issue that would seem to stem from mechanical or technical problems but was actually a cultural problem. It was solved in two ways. One, the roles were switched so that the captain was in the co-pilot's seat and the junior pilot would fly the plane. That way if there was a problem, social protocol did not prohibit frankness. Two, the language of flying became officially English. Without the social stratification built into the language, it was easier for everyone to speak plainly without fear of offending.

As you might expect, people who are nurtured in their talent and interests while young, tend to be successful in those areas especially if culture, timing and luck were also on their side. It can be difficult, if not impossible, as an adult to put yourself in a situation where you can get the practice and confidence necessary to be good at something new. If that pursuit goes against how you've been raised or your culture, it is also more difficult. Or if you're born in a time when that field is extremely competitive, it will take more luck to get in. Luck is what you call all of those times when you were given access to equipment, training, contacts, information, money, a mentor or some other leg up that other people didn't get.

It's probably not a coincidence that I started this blog at around the time that I stopped acting and went back to work in marketing. I knew that I wasn't yet on the right path and must have known that the blog would help me focus on that quest. In another stop on the journey of self-discovery, I've just this week turned down what is basically the best job offer I've ever had. The non-profit that I had been working for pro-bono asked me to be their Director of Marketing and Communications, a brand new position. I had presented a plan for how to strengthen the brand, establish processes for the company and develop a strategy to grow the business over the next couple of years. I would have worked with some of the brightest and nicest people I've ever met and been able to make a tangible difference in education.

The problem is that marketing is not the path I'm supposed to be on. It's something that I'm naturally good at but no matter how much I accomplish, I never get any satisfaction from it. At the same time my inner critic keeps wondering why, if I was meant for something else, I'm not already doing it. Why is it so hard for me to know what I really want? I found the answer in Outliers. People who are successful are assisted by external forces in such a way that they don't have to wonder what they are supposed do with their lives. Mozart, Bill Gates, Michael Phelps and almost every movie star there is, were doing what they do when they were children. They had discovered their talent -- or it had been discovered for them -- and the four factors colluded to put them on a path to success before they were even old enough to ask what they wanted to do. In reviewing my life, I realize I've been all over the map, and back again.

Here's a synopsis:
Child: Wanted to be a teacher, Shirley Temple or the President of the United States; my mother wanted to take me to auditions but my dad said no.
Jr. High/High School: Wanted to take drama and was not allowed, my dad said it was stupid.
Jr. College: Took engineering classes because my dad made me; thought I might want to be an attorney (to blend my love of issues and performing) and got a job at a law office; considered acting school but believed I should be properly educated; started taking improv and acting classes on my own.
College: Dropped engineering for Women's Studies (which cost me the financial support of my dad); thought I might want to be a politician but continued to act; considered getting a masters in education; got feedback from professors that whatever I did should involve writing.
Post-college: Worked at creative agencies as a project manager (and although good at it, I was miserable); enrolled in acting classes and started performing in plays and short films.
Nearing 30: Quit my job to be an actress, moved to Los Angeles and planned to give it five years before re-evaluating; started to become friends with my mom following my parent's divorce.
35 to now: Worked in marketing and got laid off twice and felt like every interview and offer was a death sentence; continued to write scripts and make short films; offered a free place to stay for the next 2+ years by my mom.

Obviously, I have three strong interests: Politics, education and filmmaking. Politics is too nasty for me and frankly I'm not very good at saying the right thing at the right time. I'm also quite happy expressing that part of me on the blog. I decided long ago that I didn't want to be a teacher but the job I'm turning down would have allowed me to make a difference in education with my marketing skills. That made the decision very difficult because unlike other jobs in marketing, this one might have actually fulfilled me.

Filmmaking, though, has definitely persisted as the strongest interest. I remember seeing Goodfellas and Thelma and Louise in the early nineties (Jr. College era) and saying to myself "I'd do anything to make movies like that!" The reason I didn't plunge into it then or at every other opportunity is because of my upbringing, which is a very valuable thing to know. I also noticed something else in my list. All of the careers I've been interested in utilize the skills of communication, performance and persuasion; Teachers, politicians and attorneys all need these skills in abundance. Despite his misguided advice, my dad has told me he recognized these things in me at a very young age.

Of course, even a person who already knows what their talent is and has been put on the path to success could mess it up. What I think is the biggest obstacle to success, however, is fear. I can't imagine what fears might have sabotaged the success of Mozart or Gates or Phelps but I know that I am a long-time victim of fear. Fear is what has kept me in marketing and away from what I really love! I've been hiding in jobs instead of taking the plunge into the unknown, where the things I know are scarier than the things I don't know. The two layoffs might, in retrospect, be seen as the luck and timing I needed because they've made it more difficult for me to hide. So I've decided to stay at mom's for the next couple of years, make movies, write scripts and see where it leads me.

Monday, March 9, 2009

How to have a clean house

When I lived in San Francisco, three people who visited my apartment asked me for the name and number of my cleaning lady. They couldn't believe it when I told them I didn't have one, that I kept my place clean and organized myself. It just so happens that my mother is a clean freak and I was raised to share that responsibility. Like eating healthy and exercising regularly, I've come to realize some of us were lucky to be taught these things by our parents and some of us were not. I don't intend this post to be preachy at all, it just occurred to me that I've been asked on more than one occasion, "How do you do it?" So here is the answer. There are three rules to keeping a clean and tidy house and they seem pretty easy -- stay organized, don't make a mess and clean regularly -- but they can seem next to impossible for some folks. It's about breaking habits and building new ones. These are also in order of importance. If you complete one and two, three is easy. If you don't, three will be so difficult that you won't make it.

1) Stay organized
Part one: Everything has a place that makes sense. It's important that everything belongs somewhere. If you can't put everything away even if you wanted to, then you have too much stuff or not enough places to put it. Also, if there is no absolute clean and tidy state that you aspire to, you will always live in filth and clutter. Additionally, the place where everything goes has to make sense. If it doesn't, you'll never remember where anything is and you make it far more difficult on yourself to remember where things go. I have a stack of attractive boxes in my office that hide ugly office supplies. In the summer, I rotate out winter clothes from my closet and put them in a plastic tub that goes somewhere out of the way. In the kitchen, I have utensils for cooking near the stove, dishes near the sink and silverware near the dishes. Coffee mugs are near the coffee maker as is the coffee and tea, etc. Another advantage of organization is that when other people are at your house, they can put things away for you. Neato!

Part Two: Keep things put away. Now that you have a system of where everything goes, this is much easier. It also forces you to get rid of things. My mom has a rule: if something comes in the house, something else has to go out. Your place is not an eternally empty vessel. Plus, everything in your house collects dust so the most you have, the dirtier your place. I have a box for Goodwill that also sits in the same place all the time. When it's full, I donate the items and bring it back empty. Donations are tax deductive, much less hassle than selling and it helps your community. I don't advocate throwing anything useful in the trash but if that's the only way to get rid of something, do it. Back to putting things away. This is critical. I have a small chair by my closet because I like to pile clothes when I'm trying on outfits but as I said, it's a small chair. It limits how much I can pile before forcing me to hang them up. I know it's a cliché but it really is easier to put things away immediately than to save it for later. Every morning or every night, make it a habit to tidy. Put everything away, do the dishes, hang the towels, etc. It's wonderful for the mind to refresh your environment every day.


2) Don't make a mess
I think people who were raised with mothers who acted as maids (or who didn't clean at all) have a hard time with this one. They're hardwired to believe that someone else will clean up their messes. You have to train yourself, brainwash yourself, to counter these thoughts with the opposite. If you have the thought to throw something on a chair or the floor instead think "put it away!" If you have the thought that a spill or mess doesn't matter or someone else will get it instead think "clean it up!" Taking a minute or two throughout the day to be tidy will save you hours of cleaning on the weekend and give you a cleaner house all the time. The second part of not making a mess is being careful. It just makes sense: if you don't make messes, you won't have as much to clean up. I understand that kids change this picture but these are valuable lessons to teach children as well. Not to chastise but to train. If you make a mess, you have to clean it up so be careful. No one is going to do it for you!

Another aspect of not making a mess is being aware of what's making a mess for you. When it's windy outside, close the windows to keep dust from blowing in. Down furniture and comforters make quite a bit of dust so substitute with synthetic "down" if you're not happy to clean up after it. If you have items in your house that leak or drip or otherwise make a mess regularly, fix them or replace them. Are you tracking in dirt on your shoes? Get a better mat outside for cleaning shoes or take them off at the door.

3) Clean every week
Cleaning has to be part of your regular routine. I tend to do it on Sunday mornings. Those are mornings that I'm not anxious to get out of the house, or anxious to get out of my pajamas. Pajamas are great to wear while cleaning, by the way. They're comfortable, I'm not as worried about getting them dirty and when I'm done, they go in the dirty clothes basket and I go in the shower! I find that cleaning is a great time to get some thinking done and I quite enjoy it. I make my coffee or tea, crank up the music or put on a movie, open the shades to get some light in and get to work. First, I take the sheets off the bed, change the towels in the bathroom and get the laundry started. Then I sweep (or vacuum) and wash the floors (on hands and knees, it's the best way!) After that, I wipe all the surfaces with a damp cloth (no point in dusting before you clean the floor) and scrub sinks, toilets and tubs. If you don't have time to do everything every week, split it into two or even three weekends. The point is to do it on a regular basis. If you have kids, make them help. We always had to help clean the house and my brother and I are both very tidy because of it. I try to keep it simple in terms of equipment. I use a tub that I fill with only a few cups of hot water and change whenever it's dirty and an old kitchen sponge for floors first, then the sinks and last for the toilet, before I throw it away. It's a great time to change the kitchen sponge and throw the old one under the sink for the next weekend. If you clean regularly, the house is not as dirty and this can be done quite quickly. Every week/month, choose one room and move the furniture and clean behind and underneath everything.

I also think we should make an effort to clean with natural products for a couple of reasons:
1) It's better for your health and the health of your family to not use toxic chemicals in the house.
2) It's better for everyone's health if the toxic chemicals you use are not rinsed down the sink into our water supply.
3) It's better for the health of the planet if these toxic chemicals and products are not produced at all as some of them have more toxins in the byproducts than the actual product you're using.

Here's the list of my cleaning products: Hot water, vinegar, baking soda, coconut oil, rubbing alcohol. Kitchen and bathroom floors get hot water with a little bit of vinegar; it's a great disinfectant and leaves no residue to pick up dirt. Hardwood floors are cleaned with a a pea-sized amount of coconut oil in hot water; it conditions the wood and leaves the floor shiny without any residue. I also use coconut oil to clean the stove. It magically dissolves hardened oils without any scrubbing. It's amazing! I use the baking soda to scrub the sink, tub and toilet. You can use rubbing alcohol to clean mirrors instead of glass cleaner. All of these products are cheap, non-toxic and effective. I actually use coconut oil for cooking and for my skin so it's always in my house. I use apple cider vinegar because it smells nice and I keep it around for my salad dressings. I seriously urge you to look at the chemicals in your house and consider whether they are really necessary. A friend of mine started a company, Eco-Me, selling kits online to make your own natural products that are even better! Check out the site for more information on why using natural cleaners is so important.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Using my skills to rebuild America

I don't have to tell you that a lot of people are losing their jobs these days. I was laid off last year from a job that I had just relocated for. It seemed like the perfect time to volunteer my services, expand my skills and network with other people in my field. I was excited to find Taproot, an organization that assembles teams of professionals to tackle a specific need for a non-profit. Taproot utilizes the skills that you've spent your career developing and applies them to non-profits who desperately need but cannot afford your expertise. They've developed a system that keeps the project on track so that it doesn't become more hassle than it's worth. You can request to work for organizations that appeal to you and are able expand your skill set by applying for more than one area of experience.

I've worked in marketing for ten years and while I'd been moving in the direction of being a brand strategist, it wasn't something I could call myself yet. After the orientation, I was interviewed by Account Executives and selected to work on a project in that capacity. Through this experience, I learned about a new business sector, had the opportunity to work with talented people that I would be thrilled to work with again and was able to push myself to deliver a brand strategy that everyone was excited about. Never in the corporate world have I encountered such a pure dedication to a project and to a client. Every time we met as a team, we were impassioned and energetic about what we could do for our client. It showed in the results and in the way we won them over, from skepticism to praise.

Around the same time, I met a woman at a dinner party who worked for an education nonprofit. She'd been thinking about applying for a Taproot grant but hadn't yet done it. I've always been very passionate about education so I volunteered to help her out and ended up writing and producing a brochure and then writing and releasing a press release for her company. They were both great experiences that gave me confidence in tackling something totally new and in being able to commit myself and deliver. As it turned out this company was looking for marketing leadership and were very impressed by the work I did for Taproot. I don't know yet if I have the job but I can say for certain that working and developing my skills was infinitely more valuable and rewarding than sending out resumes.

If you've been inspired by our new president this past month, consider donating your skills to a nonprofit – especially if you've been laid off, your hours cut back or your freelance work has dwindled. Taproot operates in seven cities and needs professionals in project management, marketing, creative services, human resources, information technology and strategy management. Or just volunteer the next time you hear someone say they need help. Let's rise to the challenge set forth by Obama of helping each other make America stronger.

Monday, March 2, 2009

I'll take hope over fear any day

Today on Marketplace, Kai Ryysdal was speaking with Edward Miguel who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley. His most recent book is called "Economic Gangsters." Miguel's commentary on the new appointment for health secretary was focused on how difficult Republicans might make it for Obama's administration to get heath care reforms passed in congress.

One has to wonder if there are more than economic ideology differences at work on either side. Even Rush Limbaugh said about the stimulus plan: "I don't think it's designed to stimulate anything but the Democrat Party." Recent economics research suggests Limbaugh may be right on the politics.

Miguel says that in a recent economic study he conducted in democratic Uruguay, people who directly benefited from government programs enacted during a similar economic crisis were "15 percentage points more likely to voice support for the political party implementing the program." It's certainly not surprising that people would vote for a political party that has made their life better. And isn't that the whole point?

Republican majorities in Congress passed the largest expansion of federal government health spending in decades with the Medicare Prescription Drug Act of 2003, with strong support from President Bush.

The party who bangs the small government drum and cries "socialism!" at the mention of government funded programs? Did they pass this legislation to secure the votes of elderly Americans in the 2008 election? This explains all the animosity, finger-pointing and name-calling towards Obama by the Republicans. They're peeved because the Democrats are poised to steer this ship in a direction the American public might actually be happy about and want to continue on. They're pissed because their guy fucked up and they couldn't come up with anyone genuine enough to make us believe they care.

If Obama's reforms work, it's not just the economy that will get a boost. People will recognize the role government played in their ability to secure benefits like health insurance and reward his party at the ballot box later on. Millions of Americans who came of age in the Great Depression became loyal Democrats for life, rewarding the party that created the New Deal. President Obama promises a new set of programs, starting with the stimulus and extending into health care and beyond.

It starts to become clear, now, what the truth is behind the ugly rantings of Rush Limbaugh. He has said that he hopes the socialistic policies of Obama will fail but contends that he doesn't mean he wants our economy to fail. In the middle of an economic crisis, two wars and impending environmental doom, how is it possible for our President's "policies" to fail without it also adversely affecting everyone in America?

Socialism is a red herring. It's nothing more than a scary word that most Americans don't understand but have been taught to fear. The Republicans have usurped the word and are attaching it to anything Obama does. What is really going on is that the Republicans are afraid that Obama's policies won't fail and that they will make better the lives of millions of Republican Americans who may reward the Democrats with votes for years to come. This is why he can't be trusted.

We should be frightened, Limbaugh says, of someone who is this popular the world over. (Would he say the same thing if he was the subject of so much adoration and optimistic enthusiasm?) Obama is only trying to improve our lives so that we will continue to support him! We should fear a politician who cares what we think, a man who calls for hope, hard work and thoughtful, intelligent solutions.

Naturally the party that was willing to manufacture information about the threat Iraq posed ito launch a costly and unsupported invasion and occupation would be suspicious of someone who seems to be doing what is best for Americans. The same people who ran on a platform of staying in Iraq and Afghanistan for as long as necessary are now criticizing Obama for staying for two more years, calling him a war monger. They are continuing their ever so effective campaign tactic of calling the other guy exactly what they are.

Both parties will tell you that the other lies, cheats and steals to win and has ulterior motives. It seems that by politicians' own admission, none of them can be trusted to care about us. So let's say that all politicians only care about their careers, their party and their reelection and whoever speaks for either party is a willing and eager accomplice. Let's agree that both sides are equal in their motives – pursuing their own ideology at whatever cost to the American people. We are left with two parties, one that is pushing fear and another that is pushing hope. Which do you think will be more productive for our country and our souls? The Republican party is apparently led by Limbaugh, a man who believes our President is violating everything we hold sacred and intends to turn us into a slave state. He preaches fear and hatred and divisiveness.

The other, the Democratic party, is currently led by a Obama, a man who preaches hope and our ability to make the world a better place. He asks us to look into the future and imagine the world we want to live in and then work with each other to make it so. The more the Republicans try to expose the ugliness behind the motives and tactics of the Democrats, the more it just shows us how untrustworthy all politicians are. What they don't understand is that the election of Obama was not about a man, it never is. Americans don't vote for people, we vote for ideas, we vote with our hearts. Fear will never win out over hope. If they tear down Obama, the only thing they can accomplish is to tear down our belief in the government. If they do that, the result will not be Americans rushing to the polls to vote Republican. It may, however, prompt the even more feared specter of a third-party candidate swooping in and stealing our attention and our loyalty. Then things will really get interesting.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The true cost of everything

A friend of mine recently had to take her daughter to the emergency room for stitches. After the procedure, the doctor gathered up the metal utensils she'd used and threw them in the trash. My friend, a very environmentally conscious young lady, was horrified and questioned the doctor about it. "Yeah," she shrugged, "it's cheaper for us to throw them away than it is to sterilize them." How is this possible, my friend wondered? Surely there must be someone in the world that could use this metal. "Did it get recycled? I asked. She said it went right into the garbage, medical waste. "That shit gets buried," she said. Wow.

In this month's National Geographic is an article about "The real price of gold."
This metal, that has nearly no uses other than ornamentation, has been soaring in price since 9/11. As the economy of the world becomes more uncertain, people up their hoarding of gold. The article says that all of the nuggets of gold in the world have been mined or are totally inaccessible. What's left is dust. One of the largest commercials mines in the world digs for particles of dust so small that 200 would fit on a pinhead. Technology has made it possible for man to separate these tiny particles from rock but at great cost to our environment.

On one island in Indonesia, a volcano, once 1,800 feet tall, is now a gold mine a mile deep. To mine one ounce of gold (the amount used for the average gold ring), 250 tons of rock have to be relocated. To accommodate that rock, hundreds of acres of virgin forests are razed. The chemical runoff is dumped into the ocean. The company that operates this mine pays the local government to offset the environmental damage but everyone knows that in 20 years, the gold will be gone and so will the funds flowing into their homes, churches, schools and hospitals. What will be left is total environmental devastation.

That doesn't even take into account the human devastation that these industries are causing already. 25% of the world's gold is mined by enterprising individuals who camp in mountains by the thousands without any sanitation. They pour buckets of mercury-tainted water into the rivers even as the deadly element cuts their own life short. I can't help but think that the reason it's cheaper to throw metal into a landfill in America is because the true cost is being absorbed by someone less fortunate. Only when the cost of this devastation reaches our shores will it be too expensive for us to waste.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Suicidal maniacs

Last week, a young man in Portland, Oregon took his own life. But before doing so, this unlikely murderer bought a semi-automatic weapon and went on a shooting spree that left two teens dead and seven wounded. One of the dead and five of the injured were foreign exchange students from Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala, Taiwan, Italy and France. The dead girl's parents will fly to the United States to pick up their daughter's body. Can you imagine the horror these families must feel at the insanity that is our country?

Other countries issue traveler's alerts if there's been recent war or terrorist activity but there is never an alert issued for traveling in the U.S. "Warning: you may be gunned down at any moment by a suicidal maniac." We live in a country that finds it totally acceptable to lock people up without rights if they are suspected to know anything about terrorist activity but vehemently defend the individual's right to buy a gun designed for killing lots of people in a short period of time and using it indiscriminately against U.S. and foreign citizens.

While the Republicans are hammering at Obama's every move, no one is even talking about this ever present assault on our mental, moral and physical well-being.
Imagine the sorrow of the family of this young man who never expected him to become a killer and yet having found a note left to his roommate explaining how to sell his belongings for cash and "sorry," can only now remember their son as a murderer in the first degree. All during the presidential campaign, the Republicans painted Obama as a crazy hammer and sickle wielding liberal while they waved the constitution in one hand and a semi-automatic in the other.

It's no wonder the rest of the world thinks we're gun crazy. My cousin from England is finally coming out for a visit this summer after about ten years of coaxing. She was terrified, she said, of being gunned down and wanted to avoid the cities. We were planning to drive up the California coast into Oregon and to Portland to visit my brother. I remember saying to my mom that Portland wasn't really even a city, things like that didn't happen there. I guess I was wrong.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Home-brewed gingerberry Kombucha

I surprised a friend the other day after offering him a glass of homemade Kombucha. "Kom...what?" he stuttered, adding that he didn't realize I was the "make your own food kinda gal." I explained that Kombucha, while not studied by the USFDA, has been around thousands of years and that before refrigeration, our ancestors survived on cultured and fermented foods. There are many people who believe that our bodies need these living foods, filled with cultures and bacteria and organisms, to properly digest our food, absorb nutrients and otherwise be healthy. My mom made and drank Kombucha over a decade ago when she cured herself of adult onset asthma.

When she reminded me of it about a year ago, I started buying it at the store. GT's Synergy Kombucha has a story it from the founder that credits the Kombucha with saving his mother from breast cancer and I loved the gingerberry flavor, with ginger and blueberry juices, but it cost $3.50 a bottle. Someone I knew who was making their own gave me a Kombucha SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) and I started making gingerberry Kombucha, which is what I offered my friend. He was surprised at first, not used to a fizzy, fermented tea drink but he liked it. He drank it down saying "wow" the whole time. Then he asked how to make it.

Making Kombucha is so easy. I make a one gallon batch each week, yielding 12-16 servings that would cost at least $50 at the store and it costs me about $6. I'm making it for myself and my mom and we both drink a glass every day. I make gingerberry flavor just like Synergy but you can drink it plain or add any fruit juice you want to it when you drink it. If you've never tried it, try the Synergy brand and see if you do. Then, find someone who makes it and get yourself a SCOBY. Every batch yields a new one.

Here's how to do it:
You'll need a one-gallon jar, four mason jars with lids, a fine mesh strainer that fits into a glass, a glass, a spoon and a chopper/food processor.

You'll also need a Kombucha SCOBY, a gallon of filtered water, ten black tea bags (no flavors), one cup of sugar and a glass of Kombucha as the "starter."

The first time, you'll wash the jars, rinse in very hot water and dry. You'll put the Kombucha SCOBY in the gallon jar with the starter. Since you haven't made any yet, will need to add a bottle of GT's organic raw Kombucha to use as starter.

Then, boil the gallon of water in a large pot. Take it off the heat and add ten black tea bags and one cup of sugar and stir. Let it cool to room temperature. When the tea is room temperature, put the jar in the sink and cover the opening with the mesh strainer. Pour the tea in and the strainer will catch the tea bags. Cover the jar with a lint-free towel, securing with a large rubber band and put it in a warm, dark place.

In 7-10 days, take the cloth of of the Kombucha jar and push the SCOBY down with a regular spoon to get a spoonful of Kombucha. Taste it to make sure it is tart. It will smell and taste like a bit like apple cider vinegar. If you're ready to bottle, make another pot of tea like above.

When the tea is cool, put one mason jar in the sink. Get the mouth of the Kombucha jar close to the jar and pour, filling it with Kombucha. Do that with the other three and that should leave you with the Kombucha SCOBY and starter in the large jar.

(Note that with every batch, your SCOBY will grow a new layer that can be peeled off and given to a friend with very clean hands and put into a Ziploc freezer bag with some Kombucha. Or you can just leave it but it will ferment more quickly.)

Then pour the new batch of tea into the Kombucha jar, cover with the linen and rubber band and put it in its dark cupboard for another week. Easy! If I'm going out of town and won't be able to bottle the Kombucha, I put the jar in the refrigerator to slow down the fermentation. You can also, instead of making a new batch, store the SCOBY and the remaining Kombucha in a large Ziploc bag in the refrigerator for several weeks.

OPTIONAL: Once you've bottled the Kombucha, you can add fruit juice. I add blueberry ginger because it was my favorite GT Dave's flavor. To do it, I defrost 3 cups of frozen blueberries the night before. Then I chop them in the food processor, put them in a strainer over a tall glass and press the juice out with the slotted spoon. I peel a 2-3 inch piece of fresh ginger root, cut it into chunks and chop in the food processor. I put the ginger into the blueberry juice and let it sit for a few hours (usually while the tea is cooling). Then strain the ginger and press the juice out so you're left with ginger-infused blueberry juice. Pour a small amount of it into each mason jar of Kombucha.

The most important thing to remember is that the Kombucha SCOBY is a living culture and must be treated in a sanitary way. Always wash your hands and use clean utensils and jars. Also, Kombucha has a reaction with metal and will turn it black so it should only be stored in glass. And don't forget that the only thing that should ever be in your Kombucha brewing jar is black tea, Kombucha and the SCOBY. The fruit juice is only added in the bottling. I recommend drinking Kombucha on a empty stomach rather than right after a meal. It does have a small amount of caffeine in it (from the tea) and is slightly alcoholic so it makes your tummy buzz when you drink it. Enjoy and let me know if you notice any health benefits!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The possibility for miracles

It was September when I moved into the little apartment upstairs at my mother's house. Her husband is a quiet and reserved guy, an electrical engineer who builds circuit boards by day and reads electrical engineering magazines at night. We share an intellectual curiosity and can talk about things that my mother is not interested in. He pores over my National Geographic magazines and we swap podcasts and talk about the latest scientific discoveries.

The election was really heating up in September as Palin has just been thrown into the ring. Every night at dinner, my mom and I would compare notes on what stupid thing Palin had said that day or what incredible thing was going on in the Obama campaign. Her husband reacted to our conversations but didn't comment, which is not unlike him. I wasn't sure that he was on our side and got the sense that my mother even, didn't know who he had voted for. An early voter, he'd already sent in his ballot but as a registered Republican our mailbox continued to receive propaganda from McCain campaign and the NRA (even though there are no guns in our house). It went on like this for months.

After the election, in a casual conversation about Obama, my mom's husband finally broke the silence and remarked on something my mother said about Obama being so smart and precise with his words. "That's why I voted for him," he said, "because he's a nerd and it's about time we had a nerd in the White House." It's not just that he's intelligent, although that by itself is a major coup for intelligent people everywhere. It isn't only that he's incredibly well spoken, weaving together powerful imagery and wise quotes from leaders past with inspiration and ideas that will rebuild our country. What makes Obama stand out is that he is intellectually curious. He doesn't make decisions based on a personal feeling, religion or party politics. As President of the United States, he will pursue the ideals that our country was founded on with the zeal of a scientist on the verge of discovery. He'll consult experts, examine all the facts and surround himself with the best and the brightest to make the decisions that will shape our future.

During the process of appointing his cabinet, I rejoiced in each nomination reacting with "yes" "right on" and "of course." The assault on reason (at least in the White House) has finally subsided. Many nominees are more qualified than their predecessor and in some case more qualified than all of their predecessors. Many are people who are leaders in their field and are already running labs or schools districts or organizations in that capacity like Dr. Steven Chu for Energy Secretary, Eric Shinseki for Veteran Affairs Secretary, James L. Jones for National Security Advisor, Arne Duncan for Education Secretary and Tom Daschle for Health and Human Services Secretary.

My father, an insufferable sexist, had infuriated me after the election by positing that Obama won because he's "young and handsome" just like Kennedy and that's what "the women" want. I reminded him that women alone didn't get Obama into office and his theory didn't explain Eisenhower, Reagan or Bush Sr. Months before, my dad he said that Obama was capable of doing as much for this country as FDR, but now his inner cynic was trying to tell him that he was just a hot guy who duped the ladies.

Yesterday, I had a conversation with one of the couples living next door, a four-tour-Afghanistan Army Ranger veteran and his 8-month pregnant wife. They had been out shopping for a couch and remarked on how difficult it was to get help anywhere. No one working at the shops cares about the customer, they said. I agreed, having just been to Radio Shack where I waited patiently for my receipt while the boy at the counter watched a TV show on a screen behind me. I said these people were lucky to have jobs and maybe Obama will inspire people to get to work. The vet said he was a pretty political person but had voted "the other way" and was still in the 12-step grieving process. He said people whom he's met said they voted for Obama because he's black and they wanted to make history and he thought that was ridiculous. True, I said, "but these are the same people who voted for Bush because they thought he'd be fun to have a beer with." Ha, ha, the Vet laughed, "That guy IS a partier!"

But when I told him about how Obama had revamped the White House site with a blog and weekly video address to the nation, that he's going to post all legislation that he signs five days in advance to allow for comments from us, and that he wants to hear what we want him to do in office -- opening up forums on topics like health care -- I got his attention. I then told him that Michelle Obama plans to focus on helping veteran's transition back into their lives after returning from war, a cause she has already devoted years to. "I didn't know that," he said, "wow, I'll have to check that out."

While many people have been writing off Obama's popularity as a fan reaction to a novel candidate, other people were quietly rooting for the guy with the big brain to make it to the White House. On Marketplace yesterday a critic of Obama, David Frum author of "Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again," said he thought his stimulus plan is bad but acknowledged that the problem Obama brings up is real and no one on his side of the fence has offered a solution. "We said the Bush economy was the greatest story never told. We dismissed those who disagreed as 'whiners.'" But in reality, wages are stagnant and health care costs are rising to "devour potential wage increases." To me, that is what makes Obama so exceptional. Like a scientist, he talks about issues plainly and factually. He wants to fix what's broken and is willing to consider the best solution. He knows the power of collaboration and utilizes the latest technology to open up his administration to anyone with a good idea. You disagree with his ideas? Fine, let's hear yours.

And so it begins, the most exciting presidency in fifty years. Obama is awakening the American public from our cynical slumber, imploring us to believe once again that we can do anything. Not by saying that he'll be a better president than those who came before him but by asking us to believe in ourselves, instead of a politician. Yesterday, I watched a video about the Youth Ball where a young woman said, "I hope he doesn't disappoint us and not turn out to be this god." But our disillusionment comes from a misplaced belief that once we vote in our leaders, our job is done. A feeling that we are entitled to be taken care of by our government that is, like a parent, in charge of our well-being and has no right to be questioned. This is not a parent-child relationship; this is a government of the people, by the people.

Obama said yesterday in a statement, "On this Inauguration Day, we are reminded that we are heirs to over two centuries of American democracy, and that this legacy is not simply a birthright -- it is a glorious burden. Now it falls to us to come together as a people to carry it forward once more." It's a stroke of genius. It's not a matter of whether he'll disappoint us; it's a matter of whether we'll disappoint each other. Obama is already, every day, making miracles. He makes it easy for me to reach out to my neighbor, a person I'm friendly with but have opposing political views from, and invite him to participate in his government.

I vividly remember watching Obama's nomination speech. I drank down every word like the thirstiest person in the world. For the first time in eight years, someone that the world was listening to was speaking the truth about the challenges that our country and our generation face. I nodded and said "that's right" out loud like I was in a Baptist church. My inner skeptic tried, a few times, to caution me against too much enthusiasm but it didn't work. He has returned the presidency to what it is meant to be, a leadership position and we are the people he's leading. We are the people that are going to perform the miracles. He is the leader that will inspire a generation to think differently about its government and its role in the world than any before. There's a photo gallery of the people that will work in the White House and I'm struck by how youthful the group is and how few are career politicians. I feel that these people are as enthused as I am about the future and also believe in the possibility for miracles.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The book is better

I recently went to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button after hearing, as I'm sure you have, that it was really good. Oscar season is difficult for me because I have such high expectations. These are supposed to be the best movies of the year coming out between Thanksgiving and Christmas and yet most of them are disappointing. Ben Button was beautifully shot, looked expensive and had two big stars in it but I thought it was a bit of a bore. The whole time I was thinking I couldn't wait to read the book. I wanted to luxuriate in the story a bit more but the movie just kept trucking through time periods and costumes and CGI'd ages.

There was very little humor even though the whole situation is fraught with potential hilarity. And somehow the characters end up being devoid of likeability, I wasn't moved at all by their situations. I found it to be too long and slightly depressing. The next day, I was at the bookstore and found the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald of the same name and read it. It was completely different from the movie. A different time period, different location, without any of the main plot points, and, it was silly. It couldn't have provided any ideas for the film. Harrumph, I thought, I was so looking forward to the book!

Then a few days later, quite by accident, I picked up a book in the same bookstore called "The Confessions of Max Tivoli." It's a novel about a man who ages backwards, has an epic love story and takes place in turn-of the-century San Francisco. How wonderful, the story I was looking for and it takes place in my beloved San Francisco! I read it in a few days and loved it. It has much more similarity to the movie's story than the F. Scott Fitzgerald short. In fact, the author Andrew Sean Greer said that he didn't even know of the short when he wrote the book but was relieved to discover how different they were. He says on his website that the production company tried to buy rights to the book in 2004 but he didn't want it to be made into a film. It makes me wonder if the writer, then, modeled his script after the book but with just the number of changes required to avoid a lawsuit.

What really boggles me, though, is why Greer didn't sell the rights to the book? His name and the book have come up in hundreds of mentions of the film anyway, with many people saying the book is better – a common remark about books turned into movies. So why not take their money and let them give us a better movie? He could have insisted it have a different title and could even opt out of the credits but still pocket the cash. In any regard if you liked the movie but though it would be a better read, I recommend "The Confessions of Max Tivoli."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Article 1 - The right to equality

I've wanted to write about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for a while now. I have a calendar from Amnesty International on my wall that has an article from the declaration on each month and I've found it quite inspiring. I'm finally writing about it because today is Human Rights Day and the 60-year anniversary of the Declaration being adopted by the UN General Assembly. If you've never read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights before, I strongly recommend it. It's incredible to consider the rights that 48 nations agreed every human deserves to have. It's certainly far from perfect but is part of a vital conversation that has existed for thousands of years.

There's a lot of activity on this day this year. For one thing, Amnesty International and the ACLU are relentlessly reminding Obama that he promised to shut down Guantánamo. They want him to do it on his first day. For another, gay rights supporters have named this day Day Without a Gay and have pledged to call in "gay" to work and instead spend the day volunteering for a good cause. I'm not doing it because a) I don't have a job and b) I already spend every day volunteering, but I wholly support the idea. I think it's fantastic.

For millions of people on this planet, these rights are merely an idea, nothing that they have ever actually enjoyed. It's the reason that I believe the election of Obama caused such a worldwide phenomenon. In the days after the election, I read stories and heard first or second hand from black Americans who either voted for the first time or voted for the first time believing our political process can work. People whose children, as young as five, watched the election results with gleeful anticipation as if expecting to see a miracle happen right before their eyes. Indeed, to many in this country and abroad, what happened on election night was a miracle.

We elected a man who inspired us, made us hopeful about our country and made us feel powerful in our own ability to affect change. To much of the world, that has viewed the United States as the expression of these universal rights, that we overcame our history of black slavery and struggle for civil rights to elect an African-American as president is proof that these things are not merely ideas. They are ideas that we put into action every day. I don't think we can underestimate the profound impact that an event like this will have on the world, especially on the younger generations. To people all over the world it signaled hope that they too could make a difference and that their own struggle for human rights is not in vain.

While I admired McCain for his elegant concession speech, speaking of Obama with respect that he rarely afforded him throughout the election, there was something about the way he mentioned the "special significance" his election held for African-Americans that made me flinch. Looking at the nearly all white audience, some with anger on their faces and some shouting and booing, it seemed to me that they might hear, "If you're pissed off, you can blame the blacks." It seemed to me that his election signaled a similar but opposite thought in some; that the dominance of whites is over, not just in the U.S. but all over the world.

There was much talk after the election about the Republican base is now limited to the south. Half of Republicans now in office are from the south and the highest increases in voter turnout were in the south. It was speculated that it was due to blacks who had never voted before, thanks in part to the huge effort by the Obama campaign to help people get to the polls. But in fact, there is reason to believe that the record numbers were also due to whites voting to keep a black man from becoming president. There has always been an enormous fear by those of the dominant group(s) about what happens when those that are not, get more rights. In the same way that it took women 80 years to get the vote and how hard women had to fight to gain the right to a college education, gays are now fighting the same fear over what happens if they should be allowed to marry.

I really like this music video that Amnesty International sent me about the Universal Declaration and have decided that I will spend today editing the video that I promised to make for Amnesty International. I encourage you to spend the day thinking about how you can promote human rights. Write a letter. Volunteer. Voice your opinion. Get involved.