America the Beautiful!

It’s been a while, since I sat down to write something thoughtful. Forget about the daily email traffic, and posts on social media. WordPress is where I share my self-inspired “non-chatty” thoughts.

I am glad though, that I am breaking this writing block with something dear and exciting. About America the Beautiful! There are so many reasons I have come to love America. Obviously, there is an ounce of sad news and sad people that shape this nation. But there is so much beauty in and about this country, its peoples and societal norms.
Especially today on this snowy day, I am reminded of the generosity and uniqueness of the American spirit. The huge snowstorm that started last night, with sleet and frozen ice, left some places in the North East without power. I live in The Independence State of Pennsylvania, which is among the areas caught up in these snowstorms. Exactly as I thought out loud the night before the storm, “I hope these indefatigable snowstorms do not leave us without power. It’s freezing up here!” But Lancaster, PA folks are not that fortunate;  left without power! Trees fell and damaged cars! Some colleges have asked students to return home until the weekend, when hopefully the power cuts will be sorted out. Terrible!
Yet, the American spirit is already alive and kicking. True, the State government is up and about, reassuring its peoples that help will come through as fast as possible. Good job and comforting! But the American social spirit of good neighborhoodliness is rolled out already, too! A good friend, in Lancaster posted on her public profile, an offer to any Lancastarians who need a place to warm up or charge their phone. The America Red Cross has set up soup kitchens and places to warm up and charge phones. And many more folks are coming through. This is America! This is the collective spirit that defines America, transcending individual(s) sentiments of bitterness, xenophobia, discrimination and hate. Those negative spirits do not define America!
Personally, I take moments like this to reflect on and ponder over the American Spirit of giving, reaching out, sharing and positive healthy living, both in my neighborhood and my American family. I live in a suburb in the Poconos. My neighborhood has plenty of “stay-at-home moms”, who I have met and interacted with, while waiting at the school bus stop. They are pretty much of mixed identity: Latina, Black, White and Arab. They are wonderful people. If I got to the bus stop late, after my son came back from school, I would trust that one of them would not leave him on his own. At times, I get a call from any one of them, in case were are late to the bus stop in the mornings. Plus, they usually help out anyone with kids who need a ride to the bus stop, for instance, if there is a 2-hour delay and mommy has to go off to work before the bus comes around, or when kids get off the bus and need a ride. They are sweet people.
Then, there is my American family. With all the drama of each family, there is a beautiful spirit among  my [son’s] American. We laugh, we share, and we party together. There is an openness among them that is beautiful and welcoming. They do not make me feel like “a foreigner”, typical of plenty of folks with whom I have interacted. Perhaps because, they are well traveled, or because they lived in New York for-ever, the most multicultural US city. They have met and interacted with folks from all walks of life, I assume. Of course the “open secret that, Grand dad – my son’s father’s step-dad, who raised him, is Puerto Rican.
Perhaps a better illustration of  “America the Beautiful” is its diversity in food, clothing, languages, culture, origins, beliefs, recreation activities, tastes, fashion, interest, power, knowledge -endless list! I have endless experiences of things  deemed “archaic” by some in this country and other “modernizing geographical spaces”, making their way “back to the future” as trendsetters and ‘PC fads’. Goes to prove that, it is often the innocence of limited knowledge or the individual(s) dogmas that make that make people shun any experiences alien to them and/or pass judgement. For instance, the mothers at my son’s bus stop and I were talking about women stuff, when one recalled ‘the olden days’, when mothers delivered at home or on the road before they got to the health center. I told them, those ‘olden days’ are ‘now’  in my country of origin, Uganda. Indeed true as well, here in the United States, where “young trendy mothers and couples” now choose home births with Doula or midwives. Another friend in Georgia told me about ‘the olden days’ when people used kerosene lamps for light. I let her know that those “olden days” are still “present days” in Uganda, and I bet in rural America. Yes! Some parts of this country, folks use boreholes as a source of water, and wash their clothes from the barks of trees without access to a washer!
It is amazing that plenty of stuff often deemed traditional, archaic or rudimentary are now en-vogue! Picture this, folks are paying more money for membership to co-ops instead of shopping in large chain stores, for the love of easier access to more“farm fresh” or local farmers produce. Others are spending extra monies for organic produce at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Earthlight, and other large chain store that have an “organic foods section”. Ironically,  American food producers, large funders and their intellectuals activists are pushing GMO into countries of Africa in the name of “creating food security”, without issuing the same caution to consumers that is availed to the American public.  While more Americans are embracing “small [eating or shopping] is beautiful [from organic section or co-ops], plenty of Africa is moving toward mass quick production and large chain stores, including in Uganda.  Some of us have taken trouble to concern and inform ourselves of “what we eat or where we shop, and are carefully and consciously picking what we eat, so we can live longer cleaner lives, sans health disasters that have befell America, especially, high obesity and high heart diseases. Though, it is still a challenge to communicate the dangers of fast food eating and colored juices to many in Uganda. Last year, 2013, Kentucky Fried Chicken open its first franchise in Uganda to divided opinions: screams of “hell no” from plenty of Ugandans in the Diaspora vis-a-vis “bring it on” by plenty in Uganda. In South Africa, I noticed a huge consumption of deep friend fast food and colored and sugary goods, especially in the “most affordable” Shoprite supermarket, which has also set up shop in Uganda. While McDonalds and Coca Cola, two of the largest brands of quick and fast food/beverage addiction are losing market share in America, they are reaping huge sales outside the United States.
Fortunately, America the Beautiful, one can get a wide net of fresh, health, conscious and fairly-traded products. Almond, hemp or flax milk is available, so is Tofurky in place of real Turkey meat. We have access to gluten free pizza, meatless anything for the meat lovers with real meat problems. It is possible to eat food not fried in oil, but if one wants to, there are plenty of options of non-animal oil – canola, coconut, olive, sunflower, vegetable and more. We can fill our refrigerators with a variety of fruits and vegetables, and our shelves with plenty of nuts – almond, cashew, pistachios, walnuts, groundnuts, to feast on daily. We can stay gluten-free forever, and feed on raw food effortlessly!
And if you heard that “traditional marriage and family is out of vogue” in America the Beautiful, don’t believe the hype! No! Marriage is not about two people coming together, making a decision to love one another through sickness and health! Marriage is a family affair, and family as a community and clan affair. I recently witnessed a beautiful moment of two families of their soon-to-be married children coming together to review the marital contract that their two children were about to enter. The families went over what is expected of children to each other as a married couple, and to their families;  how to conduct each other once married, and what each owes to the other and to their families.  It was beautiful! It reminded me of what marriage was always about in Uganda, where I am from. Not about “blissful everyday moments”; in fact plenty of folks found themselves and found love after they were married, and stayed together as lovers not for convenience till death separated them. It was about, the meanings of marriage to the family the newly-wed were to form, and to their families of origin. It was also about their belonging in society, not “behind self-gazetted closed doors”.
At heart, I am a traditionalist, when it comes to culture and community. But then again, I am only human after all. We all pick and choose what appeals to us, and how to make it work for us….And, that’s what defines America the Beautiful!

Check this out:

“They may have been touted as the ultimate diet food during the low-fat/no-fat craze of the late 1980s and 1990s, but don’t be fooled. Rice cakes can have a glycemic index rating as high as 91 (pure glucose has a rating of 100), making it the kind of carbohydrate that will send your blood sugar on a roller coaster ride. This is bad for weight loss and for your health.”

That’s right….It is the Rice Cake…my son’s [paternal] grandma’s favorite snack. She likes them too much. Fortunately, I have rejected the taste of them on my tongue even when my son put it on my mouth. I knew there was something to it, like most  American processed snacks. They are too good to be true. 
For one thing, I am so proud of myself. I go to the grocery store, and walk through those aisles with colored juices and processed foods without picking any ONE of them! It is empowering to resist all the temptations of picking up a bag of chips, plantain peanuts, granola bars, chocolate bars, alphabets, a large bag of frozen french fries (at ONLY $2.99) and all of that I call “junk” And they are available everywhere – healthy and regular aisles! Instead, I stuff up on fresh veggies and fruits, 100% juice (but I might be suspending some of it), fresh salmon, eggs, a couple of meatless frozen dishes, oat and corn cereal, almond milk, coconut and soy yogurt (taking a break from Almond yogurt) and canned beans, peas and carrots and garbanzo chick peas. I will not tell you what my bill comes up to. But, think “twice”, what it takes to feed healthy decisions for a family of two. But, eating health is way not under a $100 bill.  Still, I try the best I can to eat as health as possible, shouldering the cost. It is a smart investment, for myself and my son.
I have a five-year old, who needs to grow up with the value of “eating healthy”. I have boasted several times that I homemade ALL my his meals when he started supplementing breastfeeding with solids at six months. I boiled or grilled carrots, squash, peas, apples, plums. Then pureed each on its own to make meals for my son, which I would then froze, and serve whenever he was ready to eat. Since then, I started out on a strict diet for him, primarily vegetarian. I am not much of a meat eater, but don’t be surprised to catch me enjoying a piece or two in places where meat is a routine. Plus, he was lactose and wheat intolerant, and got lots of hardship constipation, and restless days and sleepless nights. Not even prune juice, plums and tomato juice broke it easily.  Plus, because American food is rather bad by international standards- I kept most of it away from him. You know these a whole list of popular American foods and beverages banned in Europe but ONLY served in America, right?
Yet, my dietary routine for my son and I suffers peer and social pressure. Depending on where we are, we might not be able to get certain things and have to supplement. In South Africa, we could not easily find Soy yogurt, except a very small stock in Woolworths, when in was available. So, baby had to adjust to cow milk yogurt. In Uganda, it was predominantly cow milk yogurt, so we settled for the “nutritional content”. In fact, there is so much eating I can really control, especially when I leave my son in the hands of child minders at home, at the neighbors and at school.
 In Norway, he ate his first meatballs in Norway at the daycare, even though I had told then that my son does not eat meatballs. In Uganda, he had plenty of bread and had sugar added to his tea, even though I laid down the script from the start of our arrival in the country. But my objections got “lost in translation”.  I could not help it! So, I made up the excuse was, it was all natural and fresh food, except for a few times I took him out to enjoy American food. Yes! We had our outings at Javas Cafe or Endiro Coffee – the latter being the favorite! for the most part, he fed on corn and millet. Tried to keep rice at a distance – but my family has a different take on eating. They are not into fastidious  “organic”, GMO, fat and no unnecessarily food color eating. Typical of many places around the world that  tend to associate imported processed foods as “better than local”. Think  how well Coca Cola thrives internationally with all its food coloring, caffeine, over and above water – the most healthy natural drink!. 
Which brings me back to rice cakes and gluten free. So, does it mean that, if it is not wheat it is ok? because it is Gluten or fat-free or less fat, then it is supposedly healthy? My son’s grandmother tends to think so. Well, I do not buy into it….and turns out, my suspicions were right on the Rice Cakes. –good for nothing kinda food. So, I will stick to making my own meals or making sure my purchases are too far from these “eat-quick-easy options”. They are harmful to your body and blood system…and can get so addictive. Plus, I will get all my nutrients from fresh and healthy eating. Just because we are back to America with its plenty of options and quick fixes don’t mean we should start consuming it all. Even if it says “gluten free”, I still check on the content table…to make sure the ingredients and nutritional content is right…. and so should you!w