The Rat Pack

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Photo: Rogelio A. Galaviz C.

“The Rat Pack” came to be known as the team of five well-known entertainers: Frank Sinatra; Dean Martin; Sammy Davis, Jr.; Peter Lawford; and Joey Bishop. Many of today’s young people have no clue of who they were, except perhaps for Sinatra, but to me they represented an era of the mellow early 60’s.
Although I was a child and recall civil rights struggles of those times, I associate The Rat Pack with my beloved maternal uncles. They were medical professionals and successful entrepreneurs who gave me a sense of belonging and security. Each had their work, but also leisure time to appreciate the bonds of family.
I’m musing as I wait for a flight to Dallas where I will present “Learning by Choice and Discovery”, and The Rat Pack remind me that we have forgotten the value of play. Self-care is a popular term, but we’re usually too busy to do it!
My uncles’ lives seemed to have a balance of golf, flying planes, playing cards, family time, and work; and I don’t know if they had less stress or just managed it better, but times seemed easier, at least to my young mind.
Have our stressed-out lives killed the benefits of play? If we examine the Finnish schools, they give “brain breaks” to students every 45 minutes. They don’t seem to have issues with hyperactive and disruptive students. Finns give 5-week modules in a variety of skills and have recently dropped the silos of “subjects”; instead, they have opted for more thematic and interdisciplinary approaches to education.
Becoming a teacher in Finland is considered an honor, as they tend to be in the top 10% of their class, and upon deciding that they wish to teach, must study their subject specialty at least to achieve a master’s degree. The students attend school starting at a later age and are at school only 20 hours, so there is more time given for collaboration and evaluation of each student. They only subscribe to ONE standardized exam at the completion of their formal education; that is, ONCE in their compulsory education. Yet, as a nation, the Finns do quite well relative to international competition.
Becoming a teacher involves perpetuating the ethics and trust of the community to help each student discover-through experiences-where their strengths and preferences lie.
Maybe it is the long-delayed ascent of spring, but play seems correlated with happiness, and we have a lot of unhappy, very overstressed adults and young people. It seems that a pill is prescribed for every malady, but it does not provide a cure. Maybe we should give play a turn. Before we forget how.
This weekend is the first halal lifestyle event in America; it is the I Heart Halal Festival at Navy Pier. If you can, check it out and see the many vendors representing food, fashion, finance, personal care products, and travel. After I indulge in the cuisine there of many cultures and collect coupons for brands I’d like to try, I’m taking time to play for 3 days in Wisconsin before buckling myself into new projects. Recharge, reset, and realize the healing that only a connection to nature and its Creator can give.

 

The Year That Dreams Come True

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Sunrise-St. Thomas, USVI

Amid the many sad headlines, I have found a means to fortify my resilience by manipulating mindset through the mantra that this is “the year that dreams come true.”


In retrospect, it started when a one-way flight to Phoenix to find an auction deal on a car for our son resulted in a powder-blue Ford Mustang, which I drove back to Chicago. It sparked a recollection that I’d naively hoped that I’d find a Mustang on my driveway on my 16th birthday. The reality though was that I was the eldest of six in a middle-class family, and I was not even allowed to test for my driver’s license until I was 17 and ready for college. Yet, I enjoyed that ride from Phoenix because the car, the engine, the handling was everything I’d expected. Since then, I repeated that trip to acquire for myself a Mercedes SUV. Chicago winters are particularly caustic to cars, and now mine has no rust.
It occurred to me that through much of my life, I’d put off and delayed many wants and dreams. Whether due to finances, work obligations, or family responsibilities, I realized this year that my mortality could be approaching and I had better start knocking things off my bucket list before I no longer could. Nagging little reminders of my physical limitations were becoming evident too, even with attempts to be athletic. Rust can take many forms.
Realizing that it is through small, consistent habits that great changes are made, I have for over a year, almost daily, been using the Duolingo app to learn Spanish. Granted, I could invest more time and effort to expedite progress, but I have progressed and retained a degree of written comprehension that has benefited my work, and it has advanced my expectation of myself to be somewhat competent in several languages. I admire polyglots and was particularly impressed when my husband and I took our first cruise this year to the Caribbean. The assistant cruise director was completely fluent in English, Italian, French, Spanish, German, and Portuguese. The Caribbean has been on my wish list since I was a teenager, and I’m glad that we chose this time after the islands suffered from hurricane damage because one of the excursion vendors said, “Thank you; we haven’t worked in 2 ½ months.”
A cruise was something our son was pushing us to try for over a year. Not sure if I would be an unlucky victim of seasickness, and haunting anxiety of disaster, as influenced by the movies Jaws, The Poseidon Adventure, and Titanic, I delayed making the commitment until we could book the trip with points. During the first 5 minutes of sensing that the ship was moving out of the Port of Miami, I gripped the edge of the dining table, trying to look demure as I struggled to keep down a few bites of salad while listening to my giddy spouse, but I was fine for the entire 7 days.
Even my daughter and her husband joined the bandwagon, and they reserved a shorter cruise; but since their itinerary began before ours, we met them in Fort Lauderdale the day of their return which was also the day of our departure. It was our best adventure and we look forward to more.

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Deira- Old Dubai

It seems like I am cheating winter this year. Shortly after the cruise, I booked a business trip to Dubai to attend the world’s largest halal food trade show along with a colleague. We packed the week with meetings and only had the last day to be tourists whereby we visited a beautiful mosque in neighboring Abu Dhabi and my niece, who also lives in Dubai.

 

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Abu Dhabi, Sh. Zayed Mosque

Our meetings took us to all parts of the city; we fulfilled the dream-come-true-desire to eat camel milk ice cream and drink some deliciously flavored camel milk products, but we did not have time to check out the beach. Regardless, it was a successful trip, and it reconfirmed the value of mindset.

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The Vice President, Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is greatly admired by the populace, has embarked on a mission to counter the depressive state of the region. The approach is reminiscent of how we educators value positive expectations. He has articulated and set in motion initiatives to bring happiness to the people. And as about 97% of the population are expats, the need for harmony is necessary. As one person told me, “Bad attitudes are not tolerated here.” Even my niece confirmed that she and her husband love living in Dubai. People work hard there, but it is safe. Several stories were shared by various individuals that related how no one steals, even when wallets, phones, and briefcases are left unattended. Doors are not locked, and women and children are given priority seating on public transportation. If men transgress to those seats, they are subject to fines. Women feel safe even at night. Also, I was impressed with the cleanliness of all public areas and noted a robust economy. Eating, drinking, smoking, and chewing gum is not permitted on public transportation. On a Tuesday evening, a mall was bustling with families shopping and dining out. Most malls and restaurants are open quite late, and they do seem to have happy people. It reminded me of the 1970’s when we had a middle class with expendable income.
Before leaving for Dubai, I’d went to Macy’s to buy shoes. To my surprise, only some sizes were available, and the signage indicated that other sizes were only available online. JC Penney only had a limited supply of shoes as well. It was opposite to when Gorbachev was amazed to see the quality and quantity of produce in our grocery stores under the Reagan regime. That was a time of prosperity, and no one can convince me that what was then is now. No one seems to be calling it, especially since the 1% is doing so marvelously, but the rest I believe are struggling. Even our young people who may be doing well if they are gainfully employed may have anvils of debt that will burden them and prevent their progress for a very long time.
The headlines are troubling here, but Asia is rising and the global economy is growing. Isolationism and protectionism have never benefited anyone long term. History students know that, but our leadership apparently never studied or retained such lessons.
Positive mindset and people working toward a better global society, albeit with certain challenges, give hope. Read this pdf! Government in 2071: Guidebook It is a guide by which educators and policymaker should study.
A reason we chose to attend the Dubai Gulfood trade show was that although we see data reflecting prospering halal industries abroad, particularly in Europe and Asia, there is scant evidence of it here. Yet at this trade show, there were 163 U.S. exhibitors. When we spoke with them, it was clear that they were there to solicit business for export, but some of the largest expressed no interest to produce halal products or label them here in the U.S. We found it sad and felt a bit angry.

Since we were among trusted locals, we asked them about how they perceived the U.S. under the current administration. Frankly, they said, “Well, we feel that since you voted for him, you deserve him” (though I did not). For although they follow our news, we are just too far and removed to even care about. Bigger and better news is happening elsewhere. We have lost our former status and influence.

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A reflective moment…

Meanwhile, I’m going back to making this the year that dreams come true, as I’ll be sharing my vision for education and steps that teachers can take to help students prepare for the future this April in Dallas and Chicago.

 

Halal Food, Farm, and Family

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Qi House

Halal Food, Farm, and Family
Formerly, if I ever set a vegetarian entrée as our main course, I’d get a lot of grief from my tribe. We have always had the blessing of being able to afford halal meat and poultry. And with being somewhat landlocked, relative to the oceans, by Chicago, and concerned about pollution, I prepare limited amounts of wild caught fish and seafood. However, my nest is nearly empty now and my last residing child often eats out, so my husband has become more open-minded about choosing lighter fare.
Additionally, recent years’ marketing campaigns have pushed consuming protein into consumers’ minds. We’ve convinced ourselves that with more protein, we would magically transform into muscle abundant, toned, and tanned models of physical perfection. Not. True. Overconsumption seems to promote aging and cancers, and through reading Dr. Steven R. Gundry’s book, The Plant Paradox, that I only require a mere 21 grams of protein on average per day. That may be found in a can of sardines, not at each meal.IMG_1367
I’d first learned of Dr. Gundry and his position on lectins through a YouTube video, and his work is also mentioned by Dr. Mercola. Lectins are large proteins (gluten is one of them) which are described by him as “sticky” in that they bind with other sugars, acids, viruses, and fungi, and may create inflammation and weight gain. I’ll admit that I’m having some aches indicative of leaky gut, and although avoiding lectins entails many restrictions initially in food choices, at least his protocol is temporary. Phase 1 is merely three days to jump-start a break from lectins, and the science seems to back it up. He also wrote of things that resonated with my own attitudes about eating foods in season and ideally local.
Did you know that many over the counter painkillers destroy the gut lining and the microbiome? Fortunately, I try hard to avoid any medication, unless the suffering warrants it. At first, the Plant Paradox Protocol seemed very restrictive, but I’d learned which foods are high in lectins and decided that although I tend to eat many of them regularly, I could listen to my body to determine if it was able to take the risk. Apparently, cooking lectin-foods greatly reduces the impact of them, so I can still enjoy eating legumes and vegetables with lectins weakened through cooking. There is a wealth of information in his book, but let it suffice that it makes sense to me.
Also, I realized that in the autumn we tend to carb-load; and in the winter, we should deplete these extra fat stores. Like bears, when the first dreary, cloudy, cold weather struck, I felt like hibernating and I told my family to wake me in April. Yes, I just want to crawl under a heavy, warm comforter-unless escaping to California or Arizona-until spring.
Of course, I can’t do that because there is much work to do; I work every day and rarely take time off. Be it something for pay, or something to help friends, family, organizations I volunteer to assist, or my house (old houses need work!), I always have things to do. Last week though was an adventure to visit an Organic Valley coop member’s dairy farm in Reedsburg, Wisconsin with my friend Yvonne Maffei of My Halal Kitchen. Organic Valley was so kind to put us up for the night in the hilly terrain of La Farge, Wisconsin at the Qi House, designed by local legend Theresa Marquez, and she has thought of every detail. Even the kitchen chairs had seat cushions with bees embroidered on them! Theresa is a leading activist in the organic movement and is committed to connecting research to our health. That was what we’d talked extensively about in a previous visit for which she was so generous to share her time and insights.IMG_1408
I’ve been blessed to have lived many lives, in a sense, because I have lived in urban Chicago as a young child, was raised in an affluent suburb of Chicago, moved to the city’s Gold Coast after earning my bachelor’s degree, lived in the Middle East at one point, and returned to suburban living while raising children, working full-time, and earning a graduate degree, but I’ve longed to experience what life on a rural farm would be like—at least for a while. I wish to have spent more time, but Amy and Marques of Jumping Jersey Dairy Farm were inspiring to me.IMG_1406.JPG
They have both Holstein and Jersey cows, but in reading Dr. Gundry’s book and from other sources, I have learned that although Holstein cows offer the most (7-8 gallons) milk per day, and are preferred by dairy farmers for this reason, they have the A-1 casein protein that seems related to allergic symptoms in people who have such sensitivities. I have noticed some joint pain at times when I’ve had dairy products, but perhaps foolishly still indulge in them. Jersey cows, the brown ones whose origins are from southern Europe, tend to have A-2. But don’t be fooled because some brown cows may not be pure bred and have both A-1 and A-2 genes. Remember biology class genetics? A-2, A-2 is what these farmers are testing for and would like to raise because they know the science.
In our discussions, we also realized that meat from their organic, grass-fed cattle could easily be certified Halal with a bit of guidance.
I’m looking forward to returning to their area for a conference early next year, and hope to acquire more knowledge and insights on organic farming and farming culture. Apparently, the Sociology major I was in my youth is still studying subcultures.
And now, time to cook broccoli and sautéed onions.
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Health is Wealth

Picture1 Plenty of olive oil, halal meat and poultry, gentle exercise, sleep, and I try to use organic produce. Joy of joys! I’m back from my annual physical with great news that my C-reactive protein (CRP), which indicates systemic inflammation, is the lowest the doctor had ever seen!

These results are a gift of good genes, but I also attribute them to my lifestyle. As I am self-employed, I have the ability to design my day. Not many people enjoy that luxury, but it certainly can be done with planning. I feel like Superwoman and am charged up!

Another mainstay of my habits is to indulge in quality organic coffee, served black, and I typically keep a filtered water bottle close by. And I share this with you so that you can check your own habits because although the body can compensate for some assaults in dietary choices, it is best not to drive it toward too much acidity. Now that the autumn clouds are rolling in and we are less likely to process vitamin D from sunshine, our immunity typically pulls back. Sweets, processed junk, and too much food take a heavier toll.

Let’s face it, life gets more stressful in these months too, but I have effectively mitigated that with prayer and reading Qur’an. Also, it is important to like what you do, for how you spend your days is how you spend your life. Make it grand! Learn, love, share, and remember the special people in your life.

For those near Chicago, Whipping Up An Income (for Entrepreneurial Women) may be for you. It will feature Yvonne Maffei of My Halal Kitchen and Susan Labadi of Genius School, Inc. It happens this weekend, so get your tickets now.

Summer, Summer, Summer Time!

SAMSUNG Summer, Summer, Summer Time!

With one son gone to Italy for a stint teaching English, we have swapped in our nephew who arrived early for our daughter’s August wedding. It promises to be an interesting summer, especially with Ramadan starting next week, as it will have the longest days of the year for fasting.

Due to family—and extended family—obligations, business took a backseat, but I’m back on track. Though I enjoy the benefit of a flexible schedule, sometimes I have to put a hard stop on letting other people map my course. It is one of the banes of working from home; but between the weather (seems like Northern Europe-rainy) thwarting my usual outdoor activities (biking, tennis, golf, and walking) and prioritizing family, I realized that I was neglecting my life design vision and it was time to retrench and do some strategic planning.

My group of entrepreneurial-minded women deserves so much credit for helping to objectively critique, give advice, and share resources. We brainstorm to find answers to a variety of hurdles. Probably the most valuable though, is the accountability it entails. I find myself rushing to do what I’d intended to have done before the next meeting just before deadline. Don’t most of us work this way?

In our last gathering, it seemed to be a common phenomenon to have naysayers, problems with focus, scheduling projects, and keeping family from resenting our business activities. When the efforts result in low returns, it is hard to convince family that the work is worthwhile. Yet, we know that priming the pump is necessary and that solid planning builds a firm foundation. Those who persevere and keep refining their strategies are able to stay in the game.

I recall Maya Angelou revealing that to write she often sought out a motel room and a bottle of bourbon to allow herself the chance to focus and work uninterrupted on her writing. I’ve dreamt of remote artist retreats where I could focus and let my thoughts pour out (without the bourbon) to complete projects long held in mind but unable to nail down due to distractions. However, my family is not ready to cut me loose to that extent yet. I’ll just have to find a way by pushing through with whatever constraints are there. For most people, they have regular routines and set schedules. One of the things I do like about my life though is that schedules change daily, and I resist, or more accurately rebel, against routines. It keeps me fresh.

Discovering technologies, learning new buzz terms, meeting people doing interesting things, these are what excite me and I am lucky to be part of it on a global scale. I’ve always felt that the whole world is home, and that there are many things to explore. With technologies today, I can experience it from the comfort of my home, and stay on top of trends. This is how I can help others as well, and I deliver a wealth of insight to my clients based on these observations.

Fortune has come to me from the wonderful people I have been blessed to meet and work beside. It is a privilege to train, advise, and promote folks doing important work in Education and the Halal industries, and soon you will see a new website for the American Halal Association with a Halal directory. Stay tuned for more, as I have entered into an accelerator program!

Change Perceptions: Make ‘The Strangers’ Yours

Anyone can be Muslim

The picture you see is my family celebrating an Eid camping trip after Ramadan in 1998. The red, curly haired, very Caucasian peanut just secured his driver’s license today, and he is a towering 6 foot, 2 inch (183 cm) tall Muslim.

When people see him with brown skinned kids at school, they are very surprised to learn that he is indeed Muslim because most people think of Muslims as ‘Other,’ meaning other than ‘Us.’

Typically, the image that comes to American’s minds is that a Muslim is Arab or perhaps Asian, although a large proportion of Muslims are in fact from African descent.

I believe this is significant to how we tend to value the lives of Others, and in particular to the political perspectives and policies toward the Middle East and Central Asia in general.
What should be known is that anyone can be Muslim. It is not an ethnic or nationalistic reference; rather it is simply a comprehensive religion on the continuum antecedent from Judaism and Christianity that guides the lives and identity of about 1.6 billion people (23% of the world’s population), according to a 2012 Global Religious Landscape report from the Pew Research Center.

Most disconcerting though is a more recent Pew Research Study referencing How Americans Feel About Religious Groups. The study was conducted May 30-June 30, 2014, and cites feelings towards religious groups on a scale of 0 as cold to 100 as warm. A 50 would reflect no particular positive or negative feeling about a religious group. In this report, prior to the Gaza spectacle, Muslims were dead last compared to all other groups, including Atheists. Forty-One percent of respondents placed scores of 33 or below for Muslims, which I find pretty sad and perhaps not representative of where I live.

Fortunately for my family, we live in a relatively affluent suburban Chicago setting with an abundance of educational institutions, houses of worship for many religions, and a fairly large non-segregated population of Muslims. Many of them hold advanced degrees and professional employment.

In retrospect, I noted that when the U.S. economy took a hard pullback a few years ago, it seemed that store clerks were friendlier than they’d been in the past. Looking around the malls, I found a greater percentage of Muslim patrons making purchases than other shoppers. Maybe the cashiers were the first ones to realize the value of Muslim purchasing power.

Even yesterday, I was acknowledged with a smile and friendly “Hi there!” initiated by non-Muslim women in two separate incidents while walking through parking lots at the local community college and at Whole Foods Market. I felt hopeful that the gloomy implications informed by the Pew reports were not representative of every part of the United States.Strangers

With this data though, I am asking everyone to help make ‘The Strangers’ documentary a reality. My friends, Abdalhamid Evans and Salama Evans, who are also on the founding team of the American Halal Association, have been working on a film project which is critical to changing erroneous perceptions about Muslims. Their story about a misfit group of hippies who stumbled upon Islam, converted, and created a community about 40 years ago in the town of Norwich, UK, is a story which needs to be told. salama-profiledownload group-copy-300x175 Please read about their amazing story and see them in the film trailer. Then give a bit of help to this project and share with your friends. It could make a positive move toward reigniting compassion, illuminate hearts, and dispel the ignorance out there. At least get a T-shirt and warm things up for the next Pew report. knees-300x174 http://halalfocus.net/the-strangers-documentary-essential-viewing/

The Trials

220px-Kent_State_massacre The Trials
Ramadan typically entails much reflection about one’s life and deeds, and this one has focus, sadness, and frustration over the increasingly dangerous situation in the Middle East.
From my memories of living under occupation in the West Bank of Palestine in segmented episodes over the 80s and 90s, recollections on the uprising in Tahrir Square and subsequent coup in Egypt, the massacres of civilians in Syria and Iraq, famine in Sudan, and smoldering discontent of citizens in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, there is a heaviness to this Ramadan like none other.

Fasting seventeen hours a day has not been as fearsome as anticipated, but neither has it been very productive. Mercifully, the cooler than normal temperatures are interpreted as a favor. I have many tasks to do, but I am not burdened with the worry of deadlines. My days typically start at 11 a.m. and end at 5 a.m., with an hour nap sometime between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. The disruption in normal working schedule gives me the night to attend taraweeh prayers at the mosque where I hear the recitation of Qur’an, and I have the chance to read, put time into my social media assignments, and write.

Listening to Qur’an is like putting salve on the heart’s wounds, and making supplication for the ease of people’s suffering may seem shallow in power. Yet, I am reminded of the Qur’anic ayah, “…Allah is the best of planners…” (8:30).

Though the situation may at times seem hopeless, I am also reminded that God gives the hateful people ample opportunity to rectify their deeds. When they eschew choosing compassion and are blinded by base desires, they set judgment against their souls.

A range of criticisms and areas of misunderstanding about Islam are explained quite well by a blogger I reference here. I hope it is useful.

Meanwhile, I highly recommend an hour long panel session from the Aspen Ideas conference, titled “What Will The Map of the Middle East Look Like?” In it, one of the experts cited our collective angst when our own government sanctioned the murder of 4, only 4, Kent State demonstrators. Think how people in other countries feel when whole groups of innocents are murdered by armed authorities?

When will people realize that we are one human family? Compassion is the weapon against hatred, and it is slipping from society.

It strikes me that the only solution is to stop the financing of war machines and mediate grassroots parties into a semblance of democracy or shurah, which is recognized Islamically as dialogue and collective decision making between relevant parties. Even the historic Iroquois League set the example of this model’s value, and the forefathers of our Constitution saw its utility.

This is my humble contribution to suggest that violence and military intervention are ill advised, but a framework of society building could best resolve the mess.

In tandem with this understanding, I learned of the death of one of my elder cousins. Over the years, he’d been what could be described as down and out, and he became typically inebriated and had failing health. Not many of the relatives cared to maintain contact, and he quietly lived out his days downstate until he peacefully passed away in his sleep.

What I consider his greatest achievement was that he patiently endured his problems and maintained a heart of gold. In spite of the cynics around him, through our occasional conversations I could tell that he stayed compassionate; and he leaves an adult daughter with the same quality.

Success has many definitions, but I think the greatest success is when one leaves this life Pure. Ultimately, the rites of Islam aim to purify us, and a soft heart is a good reflection of the quality of purity in a person.

May our hearts stay soft, our supplications answered, and may we endure our trials with dignity and with steadfast faith. Amen.