Extending the Table

It happened again tonight. I was putting the finishing touches on a humble meal when one of my sons let me know he was bringing a friend along home for dinner. Funny how it’s always the simple meals that get the extra plates set out for. Tonight it was vegetarian pasta. Other times it has been pancakes and eggs, or rice and beans. Part of me always wants to say, “Not tonight. Bring them when I can make something special.”

Here’s the thing about me – I LOVE to cook! When time and money are not an issue, I will spend days planning and cooking elaborate meals for events and parties. And while that is all fun and good, I am learning to swallow my pride and set extra plates out when there is not a feast. Toss some more beans into the pot or put some more garlic bread into the oven. We think we need to share the best and perfect parts of our lives when those in front of us just want to share what we have in the moment.

Love is best given in the present. It cannot wait until everything is perfect but it gives as if the expiration date were tomorrow. Love invites others into the messy and the real-time moment of now. And, I promise you, it fills hungry bellies with a feeling that satisfies long after the food is gone.

Butternut Squash Curry

butternut squash chickpea curry I came up with this dish a few weeks ago and loved how the flavors of fall and the bounty of the earth came together in a heart-warming and belly-filling sort of way. It is both vegan and gluten free, an important aspect for certain dietary restrictions in our house.

1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 large or 2 small onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons oil
1 can Garbanzo beans
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 Tablespoon Curry powder
1 chili or jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced
2 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1-2 cups water
Salt, to taste

Heat the oil and add the onions, garlic and chili pepper. Stir fry for several minutes and add the tomatoes and curry powder. Stir well and add the cubed squash, 1 cup water and garbanzo beans. Cook over medium heat for 20 – 30 minutes, adding more water if needed. Check for tenderness – you don’t want to overcook the squash. So much depends on the size of your cubes and the heat of the pan. Remove from heat and sprinkle with cilantro. Serve over rice.

Diversity

The air was thick and sweet with the scent of spices. Hindi music played overhead as my eyes took in all the things I had not seen for so long – bumpy Bitter Gourd, Asian Pumpkin, Lychee, Potol, Phuchka shells, all bringing back memories of the curries my friends used to make or trips to the market during our days in Bangladesh. I soon realized, however, that my son was not having the same experience that I was. While I settled on a can of sweets and picked out dried red chilis to make our favorite beef curry, he was feeling most uncomfortable. He had figured out that he was the only white kid in the entire store and he was sure everyone was staring at him.

He may have been right. Either way, I didn’t try to talk him out of his feelings, nor did I rush to finish or send him outside of the store to wait on me. I let him sit in his discomfort. I let him experience, in a very small way, what it is like to be a minority.

Parents, the landscape of our country is changing. It is important that our kids not only know minorities and have friends who look and think differently than they do, we need to be intentional about getting our kids into spaces where they are the minority. True diversity is not having a friend or two of color. True diversity can only happen when we are so surrounded by others who are different from us, that we begin to feel, in some small way, what they feel. We must push ourselves deeper into this discomfort so we begin to experience in a teeny tiny way what those labeled as “other”, experience 24/7 in this country.

Only then, perhaps, we and our kids, will begin to understand the narrative that was first whispered, and now roars, past our ears.

Happy Hispanic Heritage Month!

Crochet Taco Baby Rattle surrounded by Cactus, Snake & Avocado crochet rattles

Earlier this month, I met a friend for lunch at a little local restaurant that serves Papusas. Ours were the only white faces in a sea of golden brown ones. As Spanish flowed all around me, I poured hot sauce and cabbage slaw on my papusa and gave thanks that my world can be so full of flavor.

Hispanic Heritage Month began this week. Beginning Sept 15, it runs until October 15. Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Chile all celebrate Independence Day during this month.This is a time to celebrate Spanish speaking countries and recognize how much beauty and goodness they bring to our world.

In case you were wondering, Hispanic means coming from a country where Spanish is spoken, and includes Spain. Latino is anyone from a country south of the US border. The two terms cannot be used interchangeably as one refers to language and the other geography.

Large portions of our land used to belong to Mexico – Texas, California, Nevada, Utah, most of Arizona, about half of New Mexico, about a quarter of Colorado, and a small section of Wyoming. It is important to remember those who once walked these lands and laid the groundwork for much of what we have today.

Every year, more than 1 million migrant workers leave their homes south of the border to work on farms across the US. They plant the fields, tend the crop and, finally, harvest and pack much of the produce that we consume daily. My mom and aunts share stories of growing up on my Grandpa’s farm in Michigan. Every summer, workers would come from Mexico and work in Grandpa’s field, picking tomatoes and cucumbers. Today, these workers spend long days in the sun, making far below minimum wage, around $7500/year. Many migrant workers also work on farms in Mexico, where much of the produce is exported to the US. There they sometimes make as little as $7/day. Remember those tired hands the next time you reach for your bag of greens in the market.

Hispanics contribute greatly to the work force of our country. While they are well known in the restaurant and food industry and we might think of them every Taco Tuesday, they also keep our meat processing plants operating. But they bring so much more than this and can be found at work in our schools, hospitals, landscaping companies, construction, in our government and much much more. They serve our country, with 1.2 million being veterans of the US Armed Forces.

Hispanic households are an important factor economically. They own and operate over 4 million small businesses across the US and are seeing growth rates of 31.6%, while other businesses are growing at an average of 13.8%. They account for a large portion of American spending power and contribute billions to Social Security.

I cannot imagine The United Sates without our Hispanic brothers and sisters. They bring much needed flavor and light and we do well to not only celebrate with them, but to celebrate them!

 

World Gratitude Day

September 21 is World Gratitude Day.

We practice gratitude because it doesn’t always come naturally. As we practice gratitude we discover that it keeps hope alive and softens the frazzled edges that come from living in a fractured world. Here at Kahiniwalla, we have numerous reasons to practice gratitude each day:

  • The kindness of the people of Bangladesh. They are our teachers when it comes to living generously and welcoming the stranger.
  • The 12,000+ women across Bangladesh who work hard to create Pebble heirlooms. They sit side by side, yarn spilling across their laps as friendly banter spills from their hearts and community is knit together in love.
  • The fantastic staff who run the Pebble Headquarters, who answer our questions, often putting in long hours to get a needed shipment out to sea for us.
  • The hundreds of stores across the US that stock their shelves with Pebble products.
  • The customers, new and old, who buy Pebble for the precious little ones in their lives.

Like an invisible web, we are all connected. Trade can be beautiful when we remember each other, give thanks, and let all we do be done in love.

 

 

Embracing Change

Fall Leaves Changing ColorChange seems to literally be swirling around me these days. Brown leaves are already dancing around my back yard. The tomato plants are yielding less and less as the days grow shorter. By the end of soccer games, I’m wrapped in a blanket to ward off the chill of the night. The weather, the schedule, even the pace at work is changing as fall rolls into our lives. I don’t know about you, but change can be difficult for me. Even good change catches me by surprise with the upheaval it brings into the fabric of our lives. Here are a few things that I find helpful.

1. Acknowledge the change. Sometimes just a simple thing like sitting on the porch for 5 minutes, and giving myself time and space to acknowledge what is going on gives my brain, body and mind a chance to catch up with each other and is calming.

2. Grieve any losses the change may bring. For some, this is obvious. If you are experiencing an empty nest for the first time, it will be easier to pinpoint your loss. But small changes bring loss as well, and even for good change, this awareness is essential. For example, I love having the kids back in school. I thrive in routine and order that the school schedule brings to our lives. But I lose the chance to have my morning coffee outside in the soft morning light. I lose at least an hour of sleep every night, as I now get up super early so that I can still have my coffee (in the dark) and do my yoga before taking my youngest to school.

3. Celebrate the good things that the change brings. That 10 minute drive to school that results in a mature conversation with an often grumpy teenager. The bag of crisp juicy apples from the local orchard. The beautiful sunset during the soccer game. For me, it helps to keep a “grateful journal” and jot down a few things every night that were specific to the day I just lived.

4. Organize. Especially when the results of the change make life more chaotic and crazy. I find that taking a few minutes to make lists and plan out my week help take a lot of daily pressure off. Simple things like planning meals and then cooking double so I can stick a meal in the freezer for another week or have leftovers for lunches is a big help.

5. Practice Mindfulness. When our body is stressed, we take short, shallow breaths. Something as simple as mindfully breathing, taking deep breaths in and deeper breaths out can instantly reduce stress and slow down our heart rate. It allows us to return to the present with a deeper ability to engage in the moment. Also, drink water! Water helps to flush out cortisol, the hormone produced by stress. Increase your water intake and use those moments to gratefully remember your connection to the earth and all living things.

Change is inevitable but it does not need to knock us over. With a little care, we can navigate change with grace.

The Thing About Silence

I always loved walking my kids home from school. Now that they are older and independent, I miss those sweet ten minutes of undivided attention where we would talk about their day as we walked the 3-1/2 blocks home. One day, we were walking behind another group of kids, and I couldn’t help but overhear one kid bullying another. Though this happened years ago, I remember their faces as if it were yesterday. His sweet round pudgy face, ringed with dark curls, eyes down on the road, while a younger boy with large brown eyes and similar dark curls was laughing loudly and calling him gay.

As we turned to walk down our alley, my inner conflict was roaring so loudly, I’m surprised my kids didn’t hear it. I’m a quiet person and don’t like to put myself into other people’s business. I most certainly do not like to tell someone that they are wrong.

BUT his eyes and his sweet little face!

AND my kids were watching and how did I want them to treat people?

AND I was convinced that God had created each person and loved them so deeply and that was all that mattered today.

So I turned around and marched up to the little taunter and we had a conversation loud enough for everyone around us to hear. I gently but firmly told him this was not okay. That God had made and loved each person so deeply that it doesn’t matter if this boy was gay or not. No one deserves to be treated this way.

There is a lot of hatred, bullying and racism being spoken loudly and publicly these days. Listen up big people, little people are listening more than you realize. What you say is important but don’t forget that your silence speaks volumes as well and right now, it shouts a message to those around you. Choosing to be silent when witnessing racism and bullying has the same effect as being overtly racist or a bully yourself. You communicate to your people, including your children, that your race is superior and that bullying others is okay. Silence makes you an ally of one side or the other. There is no happy medium with silence.

We choose life by choosing words that give dignity. We bring healing to a broken world when we choose words that give hope. Choose words, instead of silence, because our little ones are listening.

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Gerber Photography.

The Power in Your Pocket

We don’t have to be wealthy to change the economy of our neighborhood.  A business degree isn’t necessary to lower the unemployment rate. If we have money in our pocket and buy things, we are job creators. That 1% at the top would like for us to believe that they are the job creators in this country and that to enable them to open up more jobs, they need more tax cuts and benefits. But think about it, even if they choose to expand and hire more workers instead of lining their pockets, it is not sustainable unless enough of us are purchasing those products. You can read more about this here. We hold incredible power in our hands.

Even if our budget is limited to the basic necessities of life, we can choose who we help create jobs for by choosing where we spend our money.

We can frequent your farmers market to ensure local farmers and bakers stay in business.

We can choose to eat at the taco truck or local diner to ensure that families in our home town can keep paying their bills.

We can meet our friends at a coffee shop run by a mom and pop nearby instead of lining the pockets of some CEO at the head of a large chain.

Hire the electrician who is just starting his own business.

Somebody’s got to cut our hair every now and then. Why not make sure it’s a local business owner?

Buy our bicycle directly from someone who actually cares about your neighborhood.

Order coffee beans from someone who knows the farmer who grew them.

Buy gifts from the quaint little shop in town where the owner loves to tell you stories of the people who crafted them.

We must stop waiting for someone at the top to make this country great, improve our neighborhood, make our lives better. It starts with us.

Let’s be thoughtful…be purposeful…spend with intent…love our neighborhood well.

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Gerber Photography.

 

 

Turning Strangers into Family

Bangladeshi BBQ MealToday is Eid al-Adha, the festival of the sacrifice. Muslims around the world gather in memory of Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son.

I remember being a young exhausted mother of a wall-climbing toddler, with a second child on the way. We had just moved into a new apartment in Dhaka, Bangladesh and barely had our boxes unpacked. The morning of Eid, our toddler had us up bright and early, as usual. It wasn’t long before we heard a knock on the door. Much to our surprise, seven gentlemen from seven other homes in our apartment building, were standing there, eager to invite us to each of their homes to celebrate the holiday with them.

We were humbled and honored to be their guests. And we did, indeed, visit every one of their seven homes that day. Each family shared their finest feast food with us. We were welcomed to their table, even though we were different. Foreigners of a different faith. Speakers of a different language. Welcomed as family.

I’m sitting here today with a lump in my throat that will not go away. I get goosebumps on my arms as I remember their kindness, their generosity, their welcome. I cannot help but contrast it to how my country is treating those who are foreign, those who are different.

When we lived in a Muslim country, we never spent a holiday by ourselves. We were always treated as family. Here in our “Christian” country, many immigrants never see the inside of an American home. Here we too often treat them as the “less than” and automatically assume they have broken laws to be here. Our “Christian” nation is in a frenzy, trying to rid ourself of those we believe do not belong here, stooping to unspeakable violence and indecency.  Last week in Mississippi alone, nearly 700 people were rounded up by ICE, leaving many children without parents to come home to on their first day of school.

Most of us agree that the system is broken. But any system, broken or not, can only go so far to make or break a country because a country is made up of individuals. As individuals, we can open our doors wide.  We can practice hospitality and turn strangers into family.  My Muslim friends taught me that family is any human being who is near you. So let’s keep an eye out for our family. Let’s make sure they are safe and that they know we see and value their humanity. We don’t have to wait for the system to change to become the change that our country desperately needs right now.

Eid Mubarak. Happy Festival!

 

National Avocado Day

It’s National Avocado Day!

Here are some things we have learned about avocados.

  1. The Avocado Tree is a tropical evergreen and never goes dormant.
  2. Avocados are loaded with vitamins, healthy fat, more potassium than bananas and no cholesterol and can actually help lower cholesterol.
  3. 86% of avocados are grown in Mexico. This equals 1.52 million tons. That number is so big I can’t even picture it. 3,000,000,000 pounds.
  4. Avocados are grown in California, Florida and a few other states, but on a much lower scale. If the border were to close, we would run out of avocados in three weeks.
  5. Americans eat an average of 7 pounds of avocados per person per year. Not so long ago, it was 1 pound per person.
  6. This surge in American consumption has made avocados more valuable than cannabis in Mexico. On one hand, this has created many jobs. On the other, it has caught the eye of cartels. Many farms are forced to pay exorbitant fees to cartels for “protection”.
  7. Avocados need a lot of water to grow. It takes around 70 gallons of irrigated water to produce one pound of avocados in the US. In Chile, it takes 97 gallons and in  Mexico, it takes about 32 gallons of irrigated water.  In contrast, it takes 10 gallons of water to produce one pound of strawberries (in California).
  8. California’s avocado peak season is May through August. If you buy an avocado during a different season, you can be sure it is imported.
  9. 1out of 5 avocados carry bacteria. Always wash the avocado before cutting and peeling. If you need it to ripen faster, put inside of a brown paper bag for a few days.
  10. The seed of an avocado can be use to grow a cute houseplant.

Avocados, to put it in a nutshell, are so good for us and create a lot of jobs, yet take a lot of resources and, in some places, people’s lives are daily in danger for the love of this fruit. If any of these things concern you, you can eat less, buy as local as possible, buy fair trade if possible and, as always, eat mindfully. Remember the hands that planted, watered and harvested your fruit.