Friday, June 26, 2020

We Have Got to Do Better

Nature grounds me, lifts my spirits, calms my racing thoughts. It isn't even a conscious experience, which actually makes it even more effective... I simply breath slower, deeper, and am soothed, restored, by the sight of flowers, of closed buds, and fading petals, of resilience and frailty, of the balance of forces, the bonds we share. My garden shows me, literally and figuratively, how we are connected, how a garden bed can be representative of our greater world, for better or worse.

To grow, sometimes it’s necessary to dig deep, and tear things down, start again. Pull up hate and racism by the roots. Tear out broken systems. Clear a path for justice, for better ways. Don’t let old growth and bad seeds choke the life out of the garden. It takes work, it takes a bold vision, and learning better methods, it takes maintenance, nurturing, listening, observing, to help a garden grow. First, I pulled out the things the goats and chickens could safely consume, and shared that with them. Then I pulled out the bits that would be good for the compost, like nitrogen rich pea shoots, vines, the dry calendula. Lastly, I pulled toxic and nuisance weeds and those went straight to yard waste... those will come back, again and again, so we will just keep tearing them out. Then we added new soil... time to plant, again. It was easier when I asked for help.

When my boys were in Montessori, I loved the method of teaching that began with self, then grew, expanding outwards, encompassing more and more of the world. It works in so many ways to remind me how I can learn, how I can expand my growth, my caring, my intentions, outward, in wider and wider circles. When I begin in my heart, in my own garden, then reach to my family, friends, and community... my best efforts ripple out further and further, connecting me to the world, and the world back to me, so that I can see the whole world in my heart, in our garden.

From this point of view, knowing we are connected, I want the world, all people, protected, respected, nurtured, healthy. We all contribute, we all work, we all have our gifts and voices to lend, and if we are educated, if we can expect equity, justice, opportunity, then we return those, and more. Healthy, we can work more efficiently, we can create, and relax, we can participate in making life better for all. Without fear, without insecurity, we are better neighbors, able citizens, and we can enhance our own lives, and the lives of everyone around us. I am not naive... I know there are cheats, and bad players, I know some people will have advantages, and others will take advantage. Every pretty garden has weeds, slugs, leaking pipes, decay. Every society, like every garden, needs care, maintenance, attention.

Well, I think I've made my point here. The world is a garden. Let's weed, and water and plant seeds. And if all of this was sufficient, then I wouldn't have a lot more on my mind, grieving my heart...

I don't know where to begin...

When I was in fifth and sixth grade, I was bussed to school. I was a token minority in a mostly white neighborhood school, at a school that was really nice. And by the time our class was ready to move to junior high, our school district wanted the same, mostly white children, to bus to an inner city school. It was newly built, and supposed to be "good, diverse, integrated." We rode our school bus, to see the new school, where we were told we could continue our education with our friends, on a campus "designed" for the future. The bus left our pretty school, with the trees, and open campus, and drove into San Diego, through old neighborhoods, passed gang tags, liquor stores, right up to a tall block structure, with metal gates, no windows. It was hard, cold, barren. It looked fortified, and a whisper traveled between us, "Ooh, this must be the prison." Imagine the cognitive dissonance we experienced when tall, steel gates opened and the bus pulled into an asphalt yard, and we were invited out. We honestly thought this was a mistake, that we'd been taken to an actual prison. We stood in our rows, and administrators came out of the building to welcome us, to encourage us to choose this school. We were eleven and twelve years old, and we were not impressed, not comfortable. We were walked into the building, shown classrooms, taken around the whole place and back out to the yard, "Does anyone have any questions?" asked the principal. Well, we'd seen "big kids," and we saw no more playgrounds, no more windows and trees, and being small, and young, I was certainly thinking it: Bullying, trouble. I was so glad someone dared to ask, "Does your school have, like, bullies, or gang stuff?" We stood, almost huddled, in the shadow of this menacing edifice, and the principal sucked in his breath and blurted, too insistently, "No. Absolutely not. We have no issues, because this is a safe place, and we care about your safety..." And behind him, maybe 100' away, the gates opened and three police cars rushed in, halting urgently, and six officers jumped out of the patrol cars, running into the building. No sirens, but lights on the cars flashed brightly in the noonday light. We were loaded back onto the bus, and as we pulled away, our faces were pressed to windows. Armed men were loading handcuffed big kids, but really just kids, like us, the Black and Mexican kids in this class of mostly white children... loading those children in the backs of squad cars. I decided then and there, No way.

Even at 12 years old, I could see that this place was designed and built for a hopeless future, for a system that determined to raise, not expectations, but fear, hostility, isolation, and division. I wasn't keen to face bullies, but I was far more chilled by the thought of being locked up at school, guarded from the outside by people who assumed we belonged in walled yards. It was like a decorative rock-bed garden, with cinder blocks, concrete, where all growing things, outside of the prescribed squares, are sprayed with herbicide. It looks orderly, and clean, but only the pretty specimens have a chance, and everything else is suspect, poisoned, hidden. Conform, or be removed, know your place, or be pulled out, be quiet or be crushed. It's what the district designed and built, what society, White society and culture expected, a solution...when I read about the School to Prison Pipeline, I don't doubt it, or refute it, because I saw it firsthand.

"American Uprising," painting by Kadir Nelson.

This experience, and many other instances of being racially profiled (or ethnically profiled, because there is still confusion about the words we use to describe prejudice, bigotry), having been bullied, harassed, and streamed/tracked (automatically being turned away from college prep and honors courses, even being forced to take "easy classes." "Low-track classes tend to be primarily composed of low-income students, usually minorities, while upper-track classes are usually dominated by students from socioeconomically successful groups. In 1987, Jeannie Oakes theorized that the disproportionate placement of poor and minority students into low tracks does not reflect their actual learning abilities. Rather, she argues that the ethnocentric claims of social Darwinists and the Anglo-Saxon-driven Americanization movement at the turn of the century combined to produce a strong push for "industrial" schooling, ultimately relegating the poorer minority students to vocational programs and a differentiated curriculum which she considered a lingering pattern in 20th century schools." Tracking is basically segregation in "integrated" schools.) All of this... all of these informed me, and shaped me, and stay with me. And still, I meet people that tell me, "I don't see color." "It's better now." "You don't look Mexican." "But, you are white." "Pocha." "Guerra." "Gringa." "What are you?" "We always had groups at school, like the surfers, the nerds, the beaners. It was all cool. It was no big deal." "He doesn't have to fix the mess he made, because he's a Mexican. Free ride." "You people." "Drop dead, wet-back!" Still.

I try not to write for my children, about their personal experiences. I try, at least, to keep personal information and opinions, points of view, my own. I don't want to speak for them. But, I want to speak about my concerns for them, about them. I want to address the issues I face as a mother of children, now young men, and a daughter, that are not seen as White, that are a shade darker, a bit ethnic, "quirky, different, aloof, dress "interestingly," have long hair, are tall for their age, look older than they are, are precocious, don't make eye-contact, flinch, pace, stim, don't read facial expressions well, shy away from confrontation." I am talking about Intersectionality.

My children are ethnically "different," and they are behaviorally "different." They are on the Autism spectrum, and that's something some people are not aware of, or have even dismissed because they perceive "how normal they seem." But others notice, and comment, and eye them suspiciously. Being Hispanic, Latinx, being Autistic, this makes them vulnerable, targets. Even in this lovely community, this "liberal" town, we have friends, also intersectional, ethnically "different," behaviorally "different," that have been targeted, singled out, harassed, and abused by local law enforcement. Report it? Know that from inside of law enforcement, those friends were cautioned against making formal complaints, because "There would be retaliation." Autism spectrum issues are hard. We don't want a "cure," we have figured things out, and we are doing fine... until we leave home, and then the world finds ways of reminding us they are not the same, of challenging us to fit in, to assimilate, adjust, to overcome, to conform, or be removed, know your place, or be pulled out, be quiet or be crushed. And I fear for them. Not openly, not wringing my hands and wailing, because that would crush them, too. Besides needing to give them the warning that BIPOC parents give their children, about being extra polite, extra proper, extra careful, extra submissive, and to know that law enforcement is not likely to be there to protect and serve them, because of Autism, we have to also not overwhelm them with concerns about their instinctive sensitivities to sounds, touch, to change, to confusion, to anything irrational, or unreasonable.

Ok... here's the thing... Police are trained to say, "Stop resisting! And laws protect police when they shout this at anyone being detained, so if you flinch, or recoil, if you cry, or turn in pain, fear, confusion, the police can escalate their force, increase the pain, the confusion, and act like you are resisting, treat you like a bad guy. Our police and sheriffs are heavily armed, they look hostile, they assume individuals they are confronting are hostile... it's all set up, in place for looking for and anticipating "bad behavior," and reacting with violence. I'm not a journalist, and I'm not going to cite all of my statements. That's not me being lazy, it's me saying, there is evidence, there are statistics, this is truth: Law enforcement profiles, White citizens discriminate and call 911 for any little thing that upsets them, police have bad eggs, and a code of protecting each other, and my children, Black men and women, and boys, and girls, Gays, Bi, Trans, disabled, all of the Others, the intersectional, the poor, the homeless... all of them are being treated badly, poorly, unfairly, cruelly, inhumanely, unjustly. It's in our culture, it's in our laws, it's in redlining, tracking, it's policy, and law, it's our history. How long have we been cutting school budgets, and defunding education? How many nurses or counselors are on campus vs police or security? How much training does a person go through before they are set out, armed, to Protect and Serve? Why do we pay taxes, and billions of dollars are directed to armored cars, body armor, weapons, chemical weapons, that are being turned on us, on Black women, on Black men, on boys, girls, journalists, homeless people in wheel chairs, people at home, asleep... At a young man that was walking home, and looked suspicious to someone?

Have you read about Elijah McClain? He was detained on his way home from picking up an iced tea for his brother. He's dead. He's the whole reason I am trying to say something, the reason I'm telling you my experience, my worries, the things I know, and the things I am learning. He is the reason I am in terrible grief, and mourning, and scared for my children, and why I want to pull up hate by the roots, and tear out the system that is broken, unjust. It makes me angry that we even have to analyze the details, question his actions, his tone, what he was wearing. I've seen the bullshit responses from people about George Floyd, that he had a record, he was criminal, he did this, that, all to dehumanize him, all to dismiss the outcry, and the fury. He was too human to be a hero? He was flawed, so settle down? Forget that! He was a human being, and should have had equal protection under the law. Period. Breonna Taylor should be alive. Atatiana Jefferson should be alive. Aura Rosser should be alive. Stephon Clark should be alive. Botham Jean should be alive. Philando Castille should be alive. Elijah McClain should be alive.

We give our police billions of dollars to do one job: Protect and Serve. And now I have lived to see military police helicopters flown tactically above peaceful protesters, marchers attacked by poisonous gas, corralled and herded, shot, beaten, run over, and we pay for this protection, this service. We say we can't afford to pay for college educations, to reduce tuition, to erase college debt. We say we can't afford to give people healthcare, to even keep a system of giving people a chance to pay for affordable health insurance. We say prisons can be private and can earn a profit. We say we can't pay for school nurses, or to house the homeless. We say we can't treat mental illness, or drug addiction. We can't keep voting polls open, plentiful. We can't pay a living wage. We can't give equal pay, or equal rights. We are building a cold, hard garden, poisoned, broken, bigoted, and mean, neglectful, abusive, prejudiced. Are social services and safety nets really radicle? Are they actually extreme left wing idealism? Where would we put "Human decency? Justice?"

Last summer Elijah was walking home and someone thought he looked suspicious, called 911. Elijah was listening to music, moving his arms, minding his business, like my boys do. He was confused, unsettled, by the police that approached him, grabbed him, like my boys would be. He objected, was scared, like my children would be, like I would be. The police, three armed men, took him to the ground, restrained him, and his last words were, "I can't breath. I have my ID right here. My name is Elijah McClain. That's my house. I was just going home. I am an introvert. I'm just different. That's all. I'm so sorry. I have no gun. I don't do that stuff. I don't do any fighting. Why are you attacking me? I don't even kill flies! I don't eat meat. But I don't judge people, I don't judge people who eat meat. Forgive me. All I was trying to do was become better. I will do it. You all are phenomenal. You are beautiful. And I love you. Try to forgive me. I am a mood gemini. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Ow, that really hurt. You all are very strong. Team work makes the dream work... (crying) Oh, I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to do that. I just can't breath correctly."

Every move he made, every flinch or recoil, in the dark, under the weight of three armed men, was treated as an act of resistance, because someone thought he "looked, "suspicious."
How do I teach my children to not look quirky, or to not react to being grabbed, pushed, sat on, beaten, called names, spit at, kicked, profiled, stalked? How do I comfortably watch them leave the house, and not think of Elijah McClain? For justice, it should not matter that he wasn't "on something," that he was really sweet, that he was young, a gentle soul. He should have lived, he should have been respected, protected, no matter his history, his look, his confusion, or resistance. But to this mother, to me... it matters, and I think of him, like my own children, and I want him to have his whole life before him, to be making music, and dancing his way home, free from fear, safe from hate. It matters to me that I see him, recognize his being "just different," like my children, and I can't stop feeling horrified. We simply must defund the police, stop spending billions to escalate fear and suspicion, we must tear out this broken system and hold ourselves to higher expectations, better goals, we must clear the way for justice, so we can have peace. I need this to be a better world, for all of us, and that can't be asking too much.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Soothing Greens and Daydreams

Except for the neighbors incessant jack-hammering, and regular running of his Bobcat, it's absolutely soothing and green outdoors.

I'm sorry for mentioning the jack-hammer. But it's hard to dismiss.

I haven't made a vodka tincture of the mimosa. I wish I could remember what made me think of buying vodka at all. It was definitely for some kind of a homemade tincture, but the inspiration escapes me. And I don't think I even like vodka. It makes me think I am sipping a cool glass of medical lab work.

Sorry about that. Not a pleasant image, and maybe you like vodka. Sorry.

What the heck kind of mood am I in, anyway?

Now! Here is something. Green. Okay, but not necessarily "soothing." I was going to share these a few days ago, and ask the collective minds of the Internet, "Why is my potato growing tomatoes?" At least I knew to be wary of them. They grew from distinctly, and large, nightshade blossoms, and that makes them toxic. Last night I was visiting a new to me Instagram account, and lo! She's got potato tomatoes, too! Honestly, this is a favorite experience for me... finding answers organically, by chance, so this was great. She found an article that describes the phenomenon being as rare as a two headed calf. Wikipedia has more to say about these true fruits of the potato plant.

Okay. Enough with the toxic plants, two headed calves, and jack-hammers.

The soothing green of pumpkins on vines, beneath the shade of broad green leaves, and a true story...

A Pie Pumpkin, brought home last October, escaped notice all through the holidays. Somehow, it slipped quietly away from the entry display for Halloween. It sat, small, unnoticed through Thanksgiving. Sometime between Christmas and Ground Hog Day it moved under the guest bed, and fell sound asleep. Then came Spring, and all the stirrings to freshen home and garden... boxes to the attic, rubbish to the bin, raking, sweeping, and sorting, and that's when we spied Pie Pumpkin, again. At last, the little orange orb, still firm and bright, would fulfill a marvelous destiny. Pie Pumpkin is coming full circle, and the garden is full of her descendants; bright, firm orbs that are just beginning to speckle orange.

Maria baked a cake for her Dad, her "Cool, and really smart" Dad. I should remind her to add notes to the Vanilla Cake Pan recipe, which also happens to be vegan. She made some small substitutions, like using lemon extract, and adding strawberry lemonade and fresh strawberries to the frosting. It had such a bright, Spring flavor.

This tiny rose was a gift from Ruth, a few years ago. It would be so happy planted in the ground. I want to create something sturdy and tall for it to grow up. I am imagining a bower, loaded with these rosy, strawberry lemonade blossoms, and decorating Maria's cake with the flowers.

Ruth brought us a beautiful little orchid when she came to celebrate Max's commencement. I took it upstairs, thinking it would be happy with the other three plants that, miraculously, are living, even thriving! I kill house plants. I kill outside plants, too, but it's not as traumatizing, somehow. I am a go-with-the-flow gardener. Flowers go to seed, tomatoes pop up! The lawn is mostly well mowed weeds. I love hardy specimens, native plants, things we can eat, or fall in love with. Nothing too precious. Nothing manicured, or needy. My dear friend, Anna Banana, gave me the anthuriums. They're from a nursery we love, Barrels & Branches. I can't believe it still looks well. From the same nursery, I brought home African violets, which, given our family history, feels inevitable. African violets are what Velascos grow. When I see them, I see my tias, my Abuela, my tios, my primos, and their primos. Sooner or later, I was going to have them en casa, tambien. I am pleased, and greatly relieved that they are not only alive, but have actually grown.

I could grow. I could become an indoor plant lady, but I can't deny my nature, my easily distracted, forgetful tendencies, the terrible track record I have. But. I could try harder, I suppose. If I weren't so prone to lapses in effort, absent-minded spells when everyone had better know how to fend for themselves, lawn and fruit trees included, then I would be in a lush greenhouse home. Soothing, flourishing, with maybe an indoor fountain, something tiled, and trickling gently, surrounded by verdant specimens, trailing leaves, maybe birds, too. I satisfy these daydreams by following real Gardeners, capital G Gardeners, like Black Girls Gardening, and Gardeners that bother with things like soil ph, fertilizing, pruning, like Hilton Carter, creator of green interiors. I meditate on the pictures of greenhouse specimens from Barrels & Branches.

God. I hope I don't kill this little orchid.

I have a success story to share... I was seeing different adaptations for businesses to meet with clients, bring in customers, and still keep people safe from spreading viruses. I remembered that Geoff has made clear acrylic devices before, and I posed the question: Could we make some kind of sneeze guard, like a clear, table top voting booth set up? Then we could have close-up social distancing. Alex and Max talked about designs and configurations, and Geoff placed an order for acrylic sheets, then he and Alex heated, and shaped the clear plastic. It works! Max and Alex made a couple more, and then Max had his friend, Lucas, over. Table top gaming has returned to the Bird House! We have table top personal protective equipment, and its a game changer!

It's apple time, again. It's our tenth Apple Anniversary, actually. Last year we opened the gates, and invited everyone over for apple picking. I miss that. We will still share, but there won't be a potluck, or a garden full of friends. Summer adventures will be closer to home... much closer, like just at home. I'm so fortunate, so thankful... we have plenty, we have each other, and soothing green gardens, and cats, and memories, and all the stuff to make new memories. Picture this... next year, all of us under a bower of strawberry lemonade roses, and about to slice into Maria's pink frosted cake. It's a picnic, and everyone is invited. We are running around the garden, laughing, and making marvelous plans for summer. There is room for everyone, and plenty to share. Stay the night. We'll light campfires and watch a movie, then listen to the owls.

Monday, June 22, 2020


A posy is small bunches of flowers, a tiny bouquet. I thought it was just a pretty way of saying flower. I am thinking of when I was a little girl, and the happy way I felt about sweet alyssum. I loved that they were plentiful, and how people didn't seem to pay them much mind. I could not go around picking someone's roses, cutting dahlias or gladiolas at will, but alyssum is abundant, it grows freely, here and there. Each stem is a posy, with dozens of teeny flowers, and as fragrant as a perfume, warm honey. They made me feel abundant, like even with a handful, I was filling all of my senses with as many posies as I pleased.

Our wildflower garden is full of posies! Well, maybe not full, exactly. We sowed the mixed seeds in poor ground, and counted on the rain and sun to do the rest. There are not many, but enough to fill my senses. Some flowers are blooming singularly, others in clusters, looking just like true posies of blossoms. I am tempted to cut them, to press some, keep some in vases. But there are so few, and what if it's their end? I want them to last all summer. Most flowers give more when they are cut, deadheaded. Besides, I can't always be outside to enjoy them. A few to bring inside would be so nice. I will definitely let them go to seed, and add mulch to the ground, then wait, expectantly, for next year's posies.