Thursday, December 28, 2006

Busy, protecting you

I am a worrier.

If you believe in nature over nurture, I worry because my father and by mother are both apprehensive and it’s engrained deep within the double helix that is my DNA.

If you instead believe in nurture versus nature, I worry because I have seen my concerned parents wring their hands over small and not so small incidents all my life.

If you believe in astrology, I am a worrier because I am a Capricorn, and that’s what Capricorns do besides being sure footed and having a singleness of purpose.

I worry all the time. I worry that something is going to happen to someone I love, or that something is going to happen to me. I worry Luca will hurt himself playing soccer and that my family is not safe in Mexico City. I worry if a friend expresses anything less that ecstatic joy. I worry that we forgot to close our garage door.

If, according to my own beliefs (expressed with vehemence in my recent blog entry “people do”) people really can change; and according to my most recent blog entry about New Year’s resolutions a New Year’s resolution can graduate into become second nature, then that means that I can decide to stop.

My New Year resolution for 2007 could potentially be “worry no more.”

And if I say “but, it’s who I am” then I’m doing the very thing I rage against in my entry “people do”. I’m throwing in the towel. Turning my lazy back on the nearly limitless power of human potential.

So why is it hard for me to even consider letting go of something that could be making me sick?

Because I believe that if I worry about something I can worry it out of existence. I believe that most things I worry about won’t happen precisely because I worry about them. My worry is a protective shield, an undetectable force that swirls around the people that I love and accompanies them wherever they go like a halo on an angel’s head.

And the fact you probably think that is ridiculous doesn’t worry me at all.

Friday, December 22, 2006

New Year Resolution Guidelines

I like to pick simple resolutions. If you can’t keep them past February 15, what’s the point?

“Drink more water” was the 2004 resolution.
“Read more nonfiction” was 2005. (Now I hardly ever read fiction. I lost my taste for it.)
“Use sunscreen every day” was 2006.

On years where I’m feeling enterprising, I pick more than one. “Sleep eight hours a night most nights” or “see my family more”.

One of my favorites was “do one new thing a month”. Being an animal of habit, I get nervous when Luca, in an attempt to avoid traffic, takes a shortcut, altering our usual route to work. This resolution encouraged me to try rock climbing, which I now love, ride a bicycle and join a gym, not to mention branch out when going to restaurants, even ordering dishes I wouldn’t have initially considered.

I have two resolutions for 2007 (well, two that I’m comfortable sharing.)

The first one: take a multivitamin. Based on my research I go back and forth on the merits of doing so but the general consensus is that it’s a really good idea. (Just make sure it doesn’t have too much vitamin A, and that if it has iron and you have small children in the house they can’t get to it.)

The second: eat less sugar. Not no sugar, just less. Call me a chicken, but I don’t think I would have picked to do this without a chance to practice. Besides choosing a simple resolution, sometimes I start early just to determine if it’s something I can truly commit to. I wouldn’t want to let myself down.

Bring on the New Year.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

People do

I concede there could be exceptions. Maybe I don’t mean the person you thought had stopped doing hard drugs and is now nowhere to be found. Nor the guy who cheated on his wife. Again.

But I do mean your friend. The one you tactfully point out to that that thing he does is actually kind of self-destructive, to which he replies, “I can’t help it. I’m too old to change.”

Inevitably, someone says it with a sigh and a shake of the head.

People don’t change.

Saying “people don’t change” is a cop out. It’s so defeatist. It’s more than just pessimistic. It’s fatalistic. It’s like saying there is no point to the exercise that is life. It’s turning your back on you, on your ability to be better, to grow, to learn the lesson. It’s giving up on the (flawed, but oh, so hopeful) human race.

I’ve heard “people don’t change” so many times that it never occurred to me to question it. But, guess what? I know for certain that people do. I’m the closest person I can point to. My husband changed me. My work changed me. I know that in many fundamental ways I’m the same person I used to be twenty years ago, but also know that in other – equally fundamental ways – I’m not the person I used to be. Sometimes for the worse (for example, I used to be more of a fighter), but mostly for the better (for example, I used to be more of a fighter.)

People change through being dedicated to something. They change when they are loved. They change when they decide it’s time to, when whoever they are is just not working anymore.

Of course, change is not always a good thing. People often change for the worse. All I’m saying is that if it’s possible for people to change for the worse, then it’s at least just as likely for people to change for the better.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Am I not here?

Once I tell you about her, you’ll start to see her everywhere.

She is the Virgen of Guadalupe, and protects all Mexicans. She belongs, of course, to the catholic religion, but Mexicans who aren’t catholic adore her too.

I guarantee you will see her beautiful image wherever you see someone from Mexico. In the corner restaurant (behind the cash register), a cab (hanging from the rearview mirror), the gas station, a picture over the doorframe, a small gold medal hanging around someone’s neck. You’ll see her in a small shrine at the side of the road, on a screensaver, even on someone’s bicep, in a full color tattoo.

The Virgen of Guadalupe is the mother of all Mexicans. She is often called a Queen. You will, in fact, occasionally see her depicted with a crown, but I don’t think she likes that, as she’s the Virgin of the people. Her favorite flowers are roses.

The first time she appeared, in a miracle officially recognized by the Vatican in 1745, she did so in a cloak that you can see today, protected between two panes of bullet-proof glass, in a church built especially for her. This basilica was erected in Tepeyac, originally a site of an Aztec temple dedicated to Tonatzin (Earth goddess, mother of the gods and protector of humanity). Today, this Basilica is the most visited Catholic Church in the world, next to the Vatican.

The Virgen of Guadalupe is one of the factors that made possible the assimilation of the Aztec and the Spanish cultures, quite possibly the reason why I’m in the world today.

Today, December 12, is her birthday. Millions of faithful gather for processions, prayers, songs, dances, and fireworks to honor "La Madre de México". If you want, you can buy red or pink roses and put them at the foot of anywhere you see her image. Or, even where you don’t. She’ll know they are for her.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Chile, frijol y tortilla

I can't believe I haven't written about this before.

Here it goes: There is nothing Mexican about Taco Bell.

Mexican food you eat in California is not Mexican food. Burritos are not Mexican food. Nachos are not Mexican food. The yellow cheese you see on Nachos is not cheese. (But, I digress.)

Mexican food has soul. It’s restoring. (Chicken soup? Add dry chile ancho to the broth. Now you’re talking.) It will breathe life into you. It cures hangovers, but is also known to aid in the mending of a broken heart. Mexican food is not to be confused with Tex-Mex. This is not judgment on Tex Mex - I'm not saying it's bad (or good.) It's just not Mexican.

Mexican food is vital and the triumphant result of an assimilation of very different cultures. It’s old world (corn, zucchini, beans, avocado, cacao, potatoes) and new. We do not glob sour cream on everything. We do not use shiny liquid processed yellow gook. We do not encase whole meals in a fluorescent green flour wrap.

Mexican food is 2,500 different types of chile (you've heard about jalapeno, habanero and chipotle, but there is also poblano, guajillo, chile de arbol, and another 1,494). It’s cilantro, corn, tamarindo, epazote, frijoles, huachinango, papaya and corn tortillas instead of bread. Huevos rancheros, sopes with potato, chalupas with beans, chicken tamales, tacos al pastor; but also carnitas, nogada, tinga, chicharron and even chapulines. Pipian, adobo, sopa de tortilla, caldo de pollo, quesadillas, carne asada, barbacoa, pozole. Bud negro, albondigas, guacamole, nopales. Jicama, tuna, ensalada de naranja, mango with chile piquin, lemon on everything. Arroz a la mexicana, pescado a la Veracruzana, mole poblano, cochinita Yucateca, camarones al ajillo. For dessert not just flan, but platanos al horno, cocada, rompope, pina dorada, nieve de sandia, and capirotada. And there is so much more. To really know Mexican food, do yourself a favor and travel across Mexico.

Will I think less of you if you eat at Taco Bell? No. Just don't judge Mexican food by tasting something that isn't.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Liquid wisdom

I had read that tea is really good for you, because of the high content of flavinoids (antioxidants that come from plants). Catechins, found in green tea, pack a more powerful punch than vitamins C and E; and studies find that tea reduces the risk of several cancers, including skin, breast, lung, colon, esophagus and bladder.

Tea also reduces heart disease, as it helps block the oxidation of bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol, improving artery function. It also reduces the risk of hypertension. (Source: Harvard Women's Health Watch).

For these reasons, I tried to drink it for years. I just couldn’t pick up the habit. I’d fill a cup and leave it, untouched, on the table. Then, recently, coffee started getting on my nerves (literally). I vowed to give it up and turned to tea to take the edge off. I noticed tea was offered everywhere – and most frequently with a choice of flavors, from mint (more of a tisane – more about that later) to earl grey. I even found that if I followed a meal with a cup of tea it curbed my sweet tooth. I was suddenly the proud owner of a three-cups-of-tea a day habit (a welcome replacement to my former two-coffee-several-chocolates-a-day habit.)

Soon after this took root, Luca went to China and brought me back a tea set, which included seven beautiful boxes of loose tea that you spoon into a tall cup with a built in filter. Every morning, we enjoy a speedy, mini tea ceremony. I look at the leaves (some are tight little balls that unfurl in the hot water and turn into flowers), smell the fragrant steam, and glance through the newspaper as it seeps. Then I sip it. It’s outlook transforming.

This morning, as we drank, Luca asked me what tea was, and if there was a “tea plant” (one of his favorite musicians, Ivano Fossati, has an album titled “the tea plant”.) It turns out that there is. (And I’m embarrassed I didn’t already know this.)

“Similar to the way the thousands of different kinds of wines all come from grapes, the thousands of kinds of teas all come from the same plant, Camillia Sinensis. The differences in taste, color, shape and smell are a result of different soils, climates, harvesting and cultivation processes. The types of tea are basically broken down into White, Green, Oolong, Red, Scented and Pu'er, the biggest difference between them being the degree of 'oxidation' in the process, (oxidation is often incorrectly known as "fermentation"). Oxidation happens when the membranes in tea cells are broken down (by rolling, tumbling or tossing), mixing the cells' polyphenols and the enzyme polyphenolase, which acts as a catalyst in oxidizing the polyphenols by oxygen. The leaf is bruised and darkens (like a banana), and starts to acquire unique flavors. The trick is to halt the oxidation process the perfect moment when the best flavors have been acquired. Green tea is not oxidized at all, whereas Oolongs are partially oxidized (look at a brewed leaf and you'll see a green center with red tinged edges from the oxidization) and Red tea is 100% oxidized. Lastly, the category Red tea is often called Black outside of China, leading to much color confusion.”

(Source: )

Any infusion that does not come from Camillia Sinesis (such as chamomile) is not a tea but a tisane.

Brewing tea is an art. To do it properly, different infusions require a different temperature and different seeping times.

According to the Japanese “If man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty.”

You can’t help but feel particularly bad for poor Lewis Carroll’s Alice, in that famous tea party she attended, uninvited:

“Take some more tea”, the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
“I’ve had nothing yet”, Alice replied in an offended tone, “so I can’t take more.”
“You mean you can’t take less,” said the Hatter. “It’s very easy to take more than nothing.”