D.I.Y. Fridays – D.I.Y. Video Inspiration

by Nicole Wines

This week’s D.I.Y. Fridays post is a resource post. We are sharing three awesome, short videos about D.I.Y. lifestyle. These are just for a little inspiration, to show you the amazing things you can do with your own hands, and a little time and dedication. D.I.Y. can be life changing!

When it comes to learning how to do something, the internet is amazing. You can find quality D.I.Y. tutorial videos that help illustrate the steps to do pretty much anything with a simple search on any free video site or search engine. Some sites, like Vimeo, even have their own D.I.Y. and educational channels. Feel free to post links to more videos that inspire you in the comments section of this post!

50 Machines for a DIY Civilization – An Open Source Ecology
A short clip highlighting a company that is making open source plans for simple and necessary industrial machines that people can build themselves. Why pay for something made out of plastic that’s going to break if you can build it, durable, on your own! Open Source Ecology also provides over 100 instructional videos and provides links to their plans on their vimeo channel.


Made by Hand / No 3 The Beekeeper
Inspirational, urban beekeeper from New York City. She loves herself some bees!

One in a series in “a project from bureauofcommongoods.com, Made by Hand is a new short film series celebrating the people who make things by hand—sustainably, locally, and with a love for their craft.

Local farmer Megan Paska has witnessed beekeeping as it morphed from an illegal (and possibly crazy) habit to a sustainable, community-supported skill. Mirroring beekeeping’s own ascendance, she found more than just a living: “This is the first time in my life when I’ve just felt absolutely on the right path.””

Shelter
“Shelter is more than a roof over your head”. Lloyd Kahn talks about and shows his hand-crafted home, and what a D.I.Y., sustainable lifestyle means to him.

Don’t forget to share your favorite D.I.Y. videos as a comment on this post.

D.I.Y. Fridays – Building a Cold Frame

by Nicole Wines

The first Raíces cold frame, under construction.

The first Raíces cold frame, under construction.

It’s been a mild winter in central NJ.  The warm days have us already anticipating the beginning of our planting season, really just a few weeks away for the cool weather crops.  We just worked out our seed order with a group of gardening friends and Raíces Eco-Culture supporters and can’t wait to get planting this spring.  There are probably still a few more freezes and frosts coming before we start spending long days outside again, but just because this isn’t the height of the gardening season it doesn’t mean that we aren’t working on our micro farm plots.  For many gardeners, the winter months are for planning and preparing for spring, reflecting and researching, learning, studying and taking the time to work on projects, like the one featured in this post, to enhance their garden spaces.

In 2012, the Raíces crew cultivated enough produce from our small patches of land that we were able to feed ourselves mostly from our own garden plants.  Whatever we couldn’t grow enough of, we could find in abundance at the farmers’ market, all organic and locally grown.  We weren’t looking forward to the winter, when our gardens would lay dormant and empty, and we would have to venture to the local food co-op for our organic produce.  But as the traditional growing season came to an end, we became inspired to figure out how to extend our gardening season into the winter so we could continue to eat fresh, homegrown food.

Floating row covers help protect a winter lettuce crop from freezing.

Covering crops with floating row covers protected our plants from the first frosts of the season and allowed us an extra harvest of black beans, green beans, lettuce and heirloom tomatoes.  Plans for a greenhouse or high tunnel rolled through our minds, but without the materials or the amount of land needed to get to work on that, we adapted our ideas to the scale of one of our garden plots.  We chose a plot that is filled with raised beds and decided to begin building removable cold frames to turn our beds into mini-green houses.

Our First Cold Frame/Mini Greenhouse

Our First Cold Frame/Mini Greenhouse

We completed our first cold frame in November and so far it’s kept the soil in the raised bed from freezing and a set of carrots, kale and lettuce growing inside of it this winter.  When we harvest in a month or two, we will be able to plant a seed bed inside, a few weeks earlier than we normally would in our climate zone.

There are many benefits to building your own cold frame.  You can custom design it according to the size you need, you have a better idea of where your materials come from, you can extend your growing season and keep garden critters out and when it’s installed in your garden, you can look at it and say “I made that!!!”.  If you get started now, you could make a few before the beginning of spring, and start planting a few weeks early.  Ours was made almost entirely out of recycled and reused materials (except for the caulking).  There are many different designs and plans available online, but for a little inspiration, we wanted to share how we made ours:

Materials Used

  • Building a cold frame/mini greenhouse.

    Building a cold frame/mini greenhouse.

    2” x 4” lumber (untreated is preferred, but since the cold frame doesn’t come into direct contact with the soil, there are some types of pressure treated wood that aren’t as risky that could be used, like “Nature Wood” or boric-acid treated wood.  Just please do your homework and assess the risk vs. benefits for yourself!)

  • Plexiglass
  • Screws
  • Caulking gun and caulk (optional for sealing gaps)

 

Steps to Building A Cold Frame, Raíces Style

  1. Cutting plexiglass sheets to the right dimension for our frame.

    Cutting plexiglass sheets to the right dimension for our frame.

    Measure the raised bed that the cold frame will be attached to and record the dimensions.  Our raised bed plot has eight raised beds, with eight different dimensions, so we have to remeasure for each cold frame we make.

  2. Determine the height of your cold frame.  We wanted to grow kale, lettuce, kohlrabi and carrots.  Once we rested the cold frame on our raised bed, we wanted at least two feet of growing space for the kale.
    Placing the plexiglass sides in the coldframe.

    Placing the plexiglass sides in the coldframe.


    Our soil came to about 4 inches below the top of the bed so we decided on a 20 inch tall cold frame.  For shorter crops such as radishes and lettuce, a shorter cold frame would do.

  3. Measure and cut your 2” x 4”s.

  4. Assemble wooden frame with screws.

  5. Our frame was made from reused and recycled materials. The outside was made from plexiglass sheets that had been in storage waiting to be reused for over 15 years!

    Our frame was made from reused and recycled materials.

    Measure dimensions of top and sides and cut plexiglass to those dimensions.

  6. Drill holes for screws and screw plexiglass (carefully) into inside of frame for the sides and outside of frame for the top.

  7. Seal with caulk as needed.

  8. Rest frame on top of raised bed.

  9. Hook and eye latches attach the cold frame to the raised bed and help keep unwanted garden critters away from our plants.

    Hook and eye latches attach the cold frame to the raised bed and help keep unwanted garden critters away from our plants.

    Install hook and eye fasteners to keep the critters out of your new mini-greenhouse/winter gardening cold-frame.

  10. Plant seeds or seedlings, keep them watered, watch them grow and enjoy your own homegrown winter veggies and herbs!

LINKS & RESOURCES

Raíces Cultural Center Receives Arts Grant to Continue Annual Cultural Legacy Festival

The new year has brought Raíces Cultural Center news of being awarded a program grant from the Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission to continue the annual Raíces Cultural Legacy Festival. The 2013 Cultural Legacy Festival will celebrate art, music, dance, culture and history with a day of workshops, demonstrations, displays, film screenings and performances.  Selected teaching artists will also offer workshops open to all members of the community in the months leading up to the festival.

Performer and teaching artist Gina Ferrera demonstrates the gyil accompanied by festival participants Remy and Victor at Cultural Legacy Festival 2012.

Performer and teaching artist Gina Ferrera demonstrates the gyil accompanied by festival participants Remy and Victor at Cultural Legacy Festival 2012.

This is the fifth year that Raíces Cultural Center was awarded an arts grant from MCCHC and we are grateful for the Commission’s continued support.  Raíces also wishes to thank the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State and the National Endowment for the Arts for recognizing the importance of providing support for artistic, historical and cultural organizations in our local communities, allowing them a means to deliver educational and culturally enriching programs, events and experiences to their communities.  It means a lot to us to be able provide the opportunity to excellent NJ artists to teach, share and create.

Liz Lopez Velez conducted hands-on visual arts workshops for children and families and helped to organize the Cultural Legacy Festival 2012.

Liz Lopez Velez conducted hands-on visual arts workshops for children and families and helped to organize the Cultural Legacy Festival 2012.

To be notified about updates and details of the Raíces Cultural Legacy Festival 2013, you can subscribe to our blog, sign up for our general email list or both in the sidebar of this page.

This program has been made possible in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts; through a grant provided by the Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission/Board of Chosen Freeholders.

D.I.Y. Fridays – Adventures in Soapmaking

by Nicole Wines

Our soapmaking teacher, Hayley, demonstrating how to make a batch of cold process soap.

Our soapmaking teacher, Hayley, demonstrating how to make a batch of cold process soap.

(NOTE: This is not an instructional article, this is about our own experience learning how to make soap with a teacher.  Making soap involves chemical processes and can be dangerous if not done properly.  Raíces recommends finding someone who already can teach you and walk you through the process.  If you’re dead set on trying it out on your own, remember that websites exist that offer some not so great advice so make sure that you are getting your information from a credible source.  Our awesome soap teacher and friend Hayley McHendrey, highly recommends Kathy Miller’s soap making website for all of your soap making needs…thank you, Hayley!)

I “made” soap once.  I heated up a block of soap from the craft shop on the stove, added some dyes and essential oils and poured it into pretty shaped molds.  It was fun and the soap was beautiful…but I later discovered that I hadn’t really made the soap.  I had used “melt and pour”.   It made for a fun afternoon with friends, but in actuality someone else made the soap, I just decorated it.

Measuring out the acids (oils) for cold process soap.

Measuring out the acids (oils) for cold process soap.

It would be years before I would learn what it really meant to make soap.  Last spring, I brought a ten-pound bag of purslane from the Raíces gardens to a friend of mine as a treat for her chickens.  I was happy simply to find a new use for this edible “weed” that grows so prolifically between our veggies and greens.  Really, taking these plants off our hands was doing us a favor, but my friend had brought gifts to exchange in trade.  Homegrown garlic, her first batch of pesto for the year and a bar of handmade, delicious smelling soap.

Hayley’s soap was beautiful, it had a marble design with purple and black swirls.  It was too beautiful to use.  It sat on my soap dish for show.  I kept using my regular oatmeal soaps, for months, thinking I would save my new marble soap for some special time.  In the meantime I would enjoy looking at it and smelling it every time I stood at my sink.  But the day came when I ran out of oatmeal soap before making it to the store to restock, and there was no choice but to use my special bar of marble soap…and I made an instant vow to myself to never buy industrial soap from the store again.

Francisco getting ready to melt the congealed oils.

Francisco getting ready to melt the congealed oils.

It wasn’t that it seemed to be any better of a soap than what comes out of those plastic wrapped cardboard boxes.  It wasn’t the fragrance or the colors that got me.  It was knowing that my friend made it, by hand, with love.  It was knowing the ingredients that went into it and where it came from.  It was knowing that it wasn’t filled with chemicals that I couldn’t pronounce.  I knew that from that moment on, I had to make the switch to homemade soap, I had to learn more.

My Raíces co-director, Francisco, felt the same way. The next time he washed his hands at my sink, he walked out of the bathroom smelling his hands and asking, “Where did you get that soap?”.  When he learned that it had been made by someone we knew, he exclaimed, “I have to learn how to make this, let’s do it”.

Hayley guiding Francisco through the soap making process.

Hayley guiding Francisco through the soap making process.

Hayley seemed as eager of a teacher as we were students and it was no problem to set a date to move on our latest D.I.Y. adventure.  She sent us a list of supplies we would need to bring: olive oil, safety goggles, an apron and thick kitchen gloves.  She had already ordered bulk buckets of coconut and palm oil and sodium hydroxide (or lye).  We would be making cold process soap, saponifying oils using a complex chemical reaction, or creating a salt out of our mix of fatty acids (the oils) by the adding of a base (the lye).  This is one of several processes for making soap.  Other processes include hot process and fully boiled process.  The cold process is one of the simplest and is called cold process because the chemical reactions that occur do so without the use of heat.

Mixing two colors for a marble effect.

Mixing two colors for a marble effect.

The steps seemed very simple, but had to be done with care.  Measuring out, mixing and cooling the lye with water (we did not make our own lye, but that is on our list of D.I.Y. projects for the future), measuring and melting the congealed oils, lining the molds, blending the lye into the oils until it was the perfect consistency (done by eye of course or as we say at Raíces “ojo de buen cubero”), adding minerals and essential oils for color and fragrance, pouring our soap into the molds and wrapping them up in blankets to hold the heat of the chemical reaction took up an entire afternoon-half a day’s work for three ten-pound batches of soap.  Half a day of working with a smile, knowing that after a just few weeks of curing we would have enough handmade soap to last ourselves and our families for months.

We were hooked.  Now I would take my vow to not buy industrial soap one step further, I would make it myself from now on, with natural ingredients, essential oils, and natural coloring agents.  No surprise ingredients, no chemicals in the finished product (the lye is gone once the saponification process is complete), no separate packaging around each bar.

Raíces soap cut and set out to cure.

Raíces soap cut and set out to cure.

After meeting with our teacher Hayley again to cut the batches into bars and seeing the swirls of color hiding inside, I was so excited to start using our Raíces soap, but was told we had to wait another four weeks for the soap to dry, cure and harden.  It was a rough wait, smelling the scents of the essential oils while rehearsing next to a table filled with standing bars of soap.  It was well worth the wait though, now that we know where our soap comes from and how it is made, getting clean has never been so much fun.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCE: Kathy Miller’s Soap Page

 

MORE PHOTOS FROM OUR DAY OF SOAPMAKING

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D.I.Y. Fridays – Raíces Roots Style

by Nicole Wines

D.I.Y. stands for Do It Yourself.  Why D.I.Y.?  Very simply, doing things yourself is one way of taking control of your life.  By learning, making and producing things on your own, some things which you may use every day in your life, you also take a larger responsibility for your role in the consumption of goods and resources in our world.  You have fun doing it, you learn and acquire skills and knowledge, you understand how things work and are made, you take pleasure in sharing the results with your family and friends.

Coldframe/Mini-Greenhouse made from recycled and reused materials being installed at the Raíces Eco-Culture Micro Farm.

Coldframe/Mini-Greenhouse made from recycled and reused materials being installed at the Raíces Eco-Culture Micro Farm.

I was inspired to start the year off with a new column on our blog and spread the D.I.Y. love after reading Sadie’s D.I.Y. Friday posts on the All Natural Me blog.  I’ve always enjoyed making things myself, but became hooked on the idea of making/doing/fixing/creating things by hand after I saw the results of our commitment to grow food this past summer.  The Raíces Eco-Culture Micro Farms were truly micro, probably about 1/20th of an acre total, but we were able to grow chemical-free produce for 4 families and donate over 100 pounds to local food organizations over a seven-month stretch.  This abundance convinced me that we can easily take control over more processes in our lives.

Harvesting green beans on the Raíces Micro Farm.

Harvesting green beans on the Raíces Micro Farm.

If you make something yourself, you know more about what goes into it.  The energy, the ingredients or materials, the time.  You’re more likely to use and appreciate something made by hand.  D.I.Y. isn’t new, it’s natural.  It’s the way our ancestors lived, making the things they needed in order to live their every day lives.  It’s the way many cultures around the world continue to live, to this day.

Making coquito, a traditional Puerto Rican holiday egg nog type drink made with coconut.

Making coquito, a traditional Puerto Rican holiday egg nog type drink made with coconut.

To encourage our readers, friends and community members to take control and try some D.I.Y. projects of their own, each week we will be posting a “D.I.Y. Friday” blog article.  Some will highlight some of our own Raíces D.I.Y. adventures, some will give step by step instructions or recipes, some will compile resources for diving deeper into the D.I.Y. mentality.  The photos of projects included in this post are a sneak preview of what we will be posting about in the coming weeks.  We hope that you will try some of the projects and when you do, that you enjoy the time spent building, learning and creating!

Our wonderful soap-making teacher Hayley showing us how to cut the soap blocks.

Our wonderful soap-making teacher Hayley showing us how to cut the soap blocks.

 

A Holiday Message from the Raíces Directors

collage_2012_02   Seasons Greetings to all our friends, staff and supporters. On behalf of all of us here at the Raíces Cultural Center, we hope your holidays are filled with joy, blessings and much love!

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2013 promises to be a pivotal gear in Nature’s mechanism for positive change. Let us all begin to focus on humanity with more compassion and love, to start with, and then use the latter to continue to heal our wounded Mother Earth.

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Let us all plant a seed of peace and unity, cultivate it until it blossoms and grows to cover us all with understanding!

Peace and blessings,

Francisco G. Gomez & Nicole Wines
Co-Directors, Raíces Cultural Center

The Eco-Logic of First Peoples

by Francisco G. Gómez

A few days ago I attended a screening of “The Economics of Happiness” at the behest of a friend. The film, in a nut shell, addresses the “New” trend called Localization, which appears to be very similar to an old First Nations practice. First Peoples always practiced localization, way before activists gave it a trendy name.  Permaculture, coined by Bill Mollison, for natural methods of growing food, amongst other things, is another catch word for an age old practice of First Peoples.

According to Helena Norberg-Hodge, producer of the film and founder of the International Society for Ecology and Culture, one of the key factors in solving the global environmental crises is localization. Communities are coming together to re-build on a more human scale, ecological economies based on a new paradigm, what Helena calls, an economics of Localization, but is it new?

Russel Means, now deceased, but still a voice and champion of indigenous rights, has been talking about Localization from the spiritual perspective of culture for a very long time now. Perhaps non First World Peoples, you know the ones that are considered trouble makers like Russell was, are conveniently overlooked because of their unpopular views about other matters not of an environmental nature? It appears that Russell tried to look at everything under the sun through the lens of balanced culture, an ecology of culture, you might say. He says, “…Everything, everything belongs to everyone. With that philosophy as “primitive” as it may sound is how we live in this land…” see: http://www.republicoflakotah.com/2010/thanks-giving/    

Helena’s work in Ladakh is admirable in deed and after reading her paper “The Pressure to Modernize,” http://www.localfutures.org/publications/online-articles/the-pressure-to-modernise , I can see why Russell was so concerned about the continued detrimental effects of morphed European intervention in his culture and what’s left of Lakotah lands. And, while Helena, from an outsider’s view, mentions briefly Ladakh’s very rich history in the old world of commerce, she says:

“…Leh was for centuries a centre of trans-Asian trade. The Ladakhis themselves traveled both as pilgrims and traders, and were exposed to a variety of foreign influences. In many instances they absorbed the materials and practices of other cultures, and used them to enhance their own. But it was never a question of adopting another culture wholesale. If someone from China came to Leh, the result was not that the young suddenly wanted to put on Chinese hats, eat only Chinese food, and speak the Chinese language.”

I can see where Russell was making a case for the same reasoning that Helena points out, as that outsider, but from his personal experience as the “other,” an individual that was born into outside intervention and lived it till his death. He says:

“It takes a strong effort on the part of each American Indian not to become Europeanized. The strength for this effort can only come from the traditional ways, the traditional values that our elders retain. It must come from the hoop, the four directions, the relations: it cannot come from the pages of a book or a thousand books. No European can ever teach a Lakota to be Lakota, a Hopi to be Hopi. A master’s degree in Indian Studies or in education or in anything else cannot make a person into a human being or provide knowledge into tradtional ways. It can only make you into a mental European, an outsider.”

On his homepage, http://www.russellmeans.com/ in the main menu click the -speeches- tab and read “For America to Live, Europe Must Die.” It’s obvious that Ladakis, like the Lakotahs, weren’t ready to be Europeanized, but it happened!

By this time you’re probably saying “dude, what’s your f_ _ _ ing problem?” No problem, my inquisitive Eco-friends, just lengthy concerns about why some people are listened to and why others aren’t. I know, it’s just like that, you may say, get over it…I don’t think so! The main bone of contention would be to ask “who cares who tells the story of First World intervention, environmental and cultural catastrophes as long as it’s told?”

Well, Evo Morales, you know the president of Bolivia, the guy whose face looks like it should have been on one of those American nickels minted at the turn of the nineteenth century, said in the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Talks:

“The budget of the United States was 687 billion dollars for defense, and for climate change, to save life and humanity, it was only 10 billion dollars, this is shameful!”

see clip at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/apr/10/bolivia-enshrines-natural-worlds-rights

Bolivia, needless to say, no longer receives any financial climate assistance from the U.S. since Evo opposed the Copenhagen Accords. Meanwhile back on the farms in the countryside of Bolivia, farmer Pedro has seen acre after acre of his avas (beans) die because they were affected by First World environmental pollution and global abuse. What gives, one might ask! Perhaps Evo should be making statements like that in six or seven different languages like Helena, maybe he should even decide to make a film so he can get his point across and be acknowledged for his great insight? I don’t think so! It appears that he’s from the wrong side of the planet and his views on the subject of global climate change are less than desirable for the powers that be. Then you might ask, hey, wait a minute, man, what about that plump little brown lady, you know, the one with the super sized red dot on her forehead who lives on the other side of the world? She’s talking about the same things that Helena’s talking about, isn’t she? Marvelous woman that Vandana Shiva, a true warrior of the environmental movement in India and across the globe. Helena gave her a few minutes in the Economics of Happiness; I asked myself, why not more?It’s amazing how Vandana came to bat for the thousands of farmers in her country, especially the ones that committed suicide after Monsanto screwed them over. Their stories will be told firsthand by surviving spouses and children with limited recourse to sustain themselves. But, kudos to Vandana because she had the cojones (balls) to tell the evil empire of Monsanto to get out of Dodge, oops, India that is.

After seeing the film it seems ironic that this highly acknowledged, honored and very intelligent woman born in New York, but raised in Sweden, would have to tell the Ladakhi people not to feel bad about themselves! Much to its detriment, little Tibet was opened up to the outside world way before 1978. Almost 900 years, from the mid 10th century, Ladakh was an independent kingdom, the dynasties that ruled during that period descended from the kings of old Tibet. During the early 17th century under the famous king Singge Namgyal the kingdom attained its greatest geographical expansion and glory. During that time period Ladakh was recognized as the best trade route between the Punjab and Central Asia. For hundreds of years caravans traversed the area carrying textiles, spices, raw silk, carpets, dyestuffs, narcotics, and other goods to the Central Asian towns of Yarkand and Khotan. Leh was the midway stop on this long trek, and as such it developed into a very diverse center of culture and business; its places of commerce were busy with merchants from distant countries, even though Helena makes no mention of this.

Of course the latter is telling, and speaks to the issues of Culture Shock and the impact of Europeanization of First Peoples in a negative way. Opening up the world to altered perceptions can be very deceiving when one is not aware of the true First World, in this case, American reality. Well, a few trillion dollars of American tax payer’s money to bail out the very people and corporations that screwed those very hard working American taxpayers, brought the chickens home to roost! The Middle Class said, “Hold up, something’s not kosher here!” They were soon downsized at their jobs, lost their homes and many even found themselves homeless. So much for the American dream. Sounds like a twist to “Bye bye Miss American Pie,” only the well intentioned hardworking citizens of this country, in many cases, found themselves taking the last train for the coast, but even Sandy messed that up for them too. Sounds a bit like Ladakh, but just in a different way, you might say!

The idea of culture shock brings to mind a personal experience I had when I was but a child in the 4th grade. My parents felt that I would acquire a better education by attending parochial school, boy were they wrong! I can still remember my friend Carlitos, a peruvian kid who had arrived to live in America at the start of the school year. Back in those days there were no E.S.L. or bilingual classes like there are today. As a matter of fact, there wasn’t any need for them being that Carlitos and I were the only two latinos in the class, and he, like Evo Morales, looked like he should be on a nickel too. To boot, he was the smelly kid in class, that didn’t help his already jeopardized situation in an all Anglo classroom. But, the thing that really hindered him the most was the fact that he didn’t speak any English at all. Of course Carlitos and I became very good friends being that I spoke Spanish and English. I couldn’t understand completely back then what he was feeling, I couldn’t, I didn’t look like an Indian, but I did have a Spanish name and that was bad enough.

Anyway, I recall that our teacher was this inhuman nun called, I think, Sister Mary Frankenbitch. I believe she was from the same order as the nun in the Blues Brothers, you know, the one that walked on air like J.C.. It turns out that one Spring day Carlitos and I were talking in the back of the classroom, that’s where we were made to sit, and all of a sudden Sister Frankenbitch comes floating down the aisle and grabs Carlitos by the earlobe and stands him up. She made him stretch his arms out and turn his palms upwards. Like magic she made a ruler appear and whacked Carlitos on the hands so hard until he began to cry. To this day I don’t know why she didn’t do the same to me, perhaps because I was Anglo looking and I spoke English, I can’t really say. Needless to say, that’s the day I began to question religion and decided that I would find a way out of that school. It was my first true experience witnessing the plight of the “Other;” culture shock in it’s purest form. It’s also amazing how Carlitos learned to speak English within the next four to five weeks. I believe that perhaps Eco-logic is something intrinsic in First Peoples, but it might simply have been survival strategies on the part of Carlitos. As it turns out, by the end of the school year I managed to get myself expelled from that school and relished the idea of going to public school; of course this turned out not to be much better in the years of the 1960s.

The Harvard anthropologist David Maybury Lewis in his Millennium documentary series, “Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World ” episode  #1 “The Shock of the Other,” stimulates  reflection and inspires a new look at what the modern world can learn from tribal societies as we enter the new millennium. It explores the values and different world perspectives that hold many  tribal societies together. It presents tribal peoples in the dignity of their own homes and captures their customs and ceremonies.

David seems to be extremely preoccupied with the impact his research and intervention as an anthropologist might have on the culture of the “Other.” He too believes that Europeanization has had severe repercussions on First Peoples. He brings this to light when he visits Spain and shows the effects of a mechanized society that has impacted the environment in such a horrific way. But then, this is nothing new to us here in America, is it?

Note: A screening followed by a discussion of “Millenium: Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World – The Shock of the Other” will take place at Ruthie’s Bagel Dish on January 7th, 2013 at 7pm. Sponsored by the Raíces Cultural Center. For more information about this event visit: http://www.raicesculturalcenter.org/sustainability.html

What does this all mean, you may ask? Well, when we use the “New” catch words like Localization, Permaculture, Transition or any of the other trendy environmental vocabulary that  are frequently on the lips of activists and the simple lay person who sees a need for change, let’s ask the question, “Where did those words really come from?” The Eco-logic of First Peoples would give a little twist to Willy’s writing by reciting, “A rose by any other name is still a rose, but doesn’t smell as sweet!” And, you may ask, isn’t it faulty judgement to question the best intentions of people who do good in the world? I don’t think so, but you can be the judge of that!

Messages from the Storm Front

There was no power, hot water or communication other than our cell phones, praise the powers that be for that. The night seemed to last forever, with the torrents of rain and wind gusts that at times wanted to tear the roof off my house. Of more concern were all the trees that surround my home; I silently prayed for many hours that one would not fall and hurt us as we became exhausted from the suspense of waiting to see if we would be spared!

Rt.18We woke up early morning on October 30th, the day after Sandy kicked the shit out of the Eastern Seaboard, especially New Jersey. As the light of day shown through the clouds and the eeriness of a gloomy sky loomed over us, we decided to walk from Paulus Blvd. down route 18 north to the Albany St. exit that connects Highland Park and New Brunswick. I thought as I opened the front door of my house and looked at my front yard and neighborhood, that we had really suffered a catastrophy, given all the downed electric lines, fallen trees and debris everywhere. As we got to 18 and began to walk, I realized that we hadn’t experienced anything in comparison with the devastation we witnessed along the Raritan River.

DebrisOf all the horrible things most of us, who experienced the storm, have seen by now, one thing has come back to haunt me over and over again. When the Raritan had swollen beyond its capacity, it threw up a veritable assortment of plastic bottles, cans, different types of balls, condoms, rubber tires and a whole host of other objects that weren’t natural to the river. It brought a strange feeling of foreboding and a memory of a commercial I had seen many years ago when I was a young man. It so happens that there is a clip of that old commercial and I have linked it here:

The tear in the Indian’s eye reveals a message of ecological truths that didn’t seem very important to many people living in the 1970’s, but it was already on the minds of concerned individuals who foresaw the future and decided to bring it to light in the public media of the time, something not normally done in that period.

As we stood on the sidewalk overlooking the Rutgers boat house opposite the Nicoles music building on Douglass campus across rt.18, the sense of eeriness intensified; it was as if the river had purged itself of what it could no longer hold within. We were now the Indian with the tear in our eyes, but the act of dispelling the poison upon us was warranted. It took some help from Pacha’s (Gaia’s) wrath to understand what was  shamefully hidden for so long. Standing before the incredible amount of refuse, it felt as if the inconsiderate people in the commercial, throwing their garbage from the moving car on the highway, had done so to us. The great Raritan River, with the help of Pacha, was just saying it was tired of being crapped on/in and wanted to let us know it in a very horrifying way!

Sandy may be one of many children born of the rape of Mother Earth by global climate change, a volatile seed which we helped plant. And, there are many scientists that say that it’s too late to change the harm done. Perhaps this is true, but this possible reality begs the question “Can we individually begin to create a consciousness of personal change to make our transition and that of Pacha less painful?” For those optimists who believe a reversal may be possible, the question might seem more appealing. Ultimately, the answer resides in each one of us, and if you believe that it is your responsibility, perhaps even duty to create ecological change, then let us not wait for Pacha’s pain to impact and influence our decision.

HoeI drove down Rt. 18 on the northbound lane yesterday; there were crews of electricians, trucks, hoes and public workers cleaning up the mess we’ve made. The Raritan looked calm and peaceful. It felt like Pacha was temporarily recuperating from her ordeal. I looked over and beyond the length of the river; I wanted to see if the indian was anywhere in sight, but when I happened to look in my rear view mirror I only saw his tear again in my reflection!

Why the Ancestors?

by Francisco G Gómez

Ancestor Altar

Ancestor altar on the stage of New Brunswick’s Crossroads Theater in the 2011 Raíces production “Festival for the Dead”

For most people the ancestors are a picture on a mantle, a necklace that grandmother left in her will, a pen knife that belonged to their beloved dad or an old guitar that a favorite uncle passed down to them before he entered the hereafter! Sights, sounds, smells and a whole host of other stimulus bring back that particular remembrance of those that came before you.

Memories of the dead contain many ways of honoring or venerating them. Marc Cohn’s interpretation of the “King” really brought this home when I first heard Walking in Memphis. One of the stanzas in the lyrics reads:

“Saw the ghost of Elvis On Union Avenue. Followed him up to the gates of Graceland, then I watched him walk right through. Now security they did not see him, they just hovered round his tomb, but there’s a pretty little thing waiting for the King, down in the Jungle Room”

We may never really know what motivated Cohn’s notion of seeing Elvis walk through the gates of Graceland or ever understand what it is that awaits the King down in the jungle room. Perhaps what’s most inspiring and touching about these lyrics is that in Cohn’s mind he sees the Ghost of Elvis somewhere and somehow in his remembrance.

Aumbao Wa Ori: Song for the ancestors

Aumbao Wa Ori: A song for the ancestors

As the Day of the Dead approaches, I reflect on how much we humans have forgotten the importance of those that came before us. As you pass cemeteries in the cities, suburbs and countryside, you see row after row of headstones for the dead. You also see sporadic wreathes and flowers, occasionally some type of memorabilia left at a gravesite. You may even notice older grave sites that haven’t been attended to for some time. It occurred to me that after a generation or two memories of the dearly departed are left for specific days like birthdays, date of death, holy days or any other days for remembering individuals that mean or meant something in your life.

We’ve even been programmed to believe that the dead are relegated to places like graveyards, mausoleums or urns where the deceased’s ashes are placed after cremation. Perhaps that’s why most modern day people view the dead with such finality.

Boveda: Altar for the Ancestors

Boveda: Altar for the Ancestors created for Raíces Cultural Center’s 2011 Día de los muertos/Day of the Dead art exhibit “Art and Ancestors”

Given the fast paced life that most of us lead, there never seems to be enough time to sit daily at a given time and place, to break bread and possibly talk about our ancestors. Is it no wonder that generations to come will never really know who grandma or grandpa were.

What makes remembering ancestors so cold and impersonal on the one hand and warm, nurturing and spiritually sustaining on the other, you might ask? In a world of religious fanatics, agnostics and atheists, that’s a rather difficult question to answer! No criticism here on the latter, we are all entitled to believe or not believe the way we wish. But, if we respect, venerate and revere our ancestors in an untraditional way that is alien to western thought of the dead, we could understand that what we hold most memorable about ancestors emanates from our mind, from the essence of that remembrance.The way we choose to express the remembrance, as you may have already understood, is expressed in many different ways, and rightly so.

Ancestor Altar

Ancestor altar created for Raíces Cultural Center’s 2011 Día de los muertos/Day of the Dead art exhibit “Art and Ancestors”

As November 1st. approaches, and the Day of the Dead comes closer, you may want to reflect on your loved ones who have passed, Those that made a lasting impact on your life and possibly were instrumental in molding the person you are now. Remember, their physical bodies may be gone and yet their energies will live on forever. Maferefún to the ancestors!

NOTE: This was posted one year ago on the last version of our blog, leading up to our 2011 production “Festival for the Dead”.  In celebration of el día de los muertos, or the Day of the Dead, we are reposting with photos from our Festival for the Dead and Art and Ancestors projects.  Please leave your comments and questions on the article.  Tell us how you honor your own ancestors.  What do you do to remember them? 

 

Guanábana – One of Nature’s Miracle Fruits

by Francisco G. Gómez

Guanábana

Guanábana leaves in the middle of all the fruit.

I just got back from the beautiful island of Puerto Rico last week and I must say that the natural course of life presents many undesirable events that lead to a greater understanding of why those events ever happened at all. I was on the island because a loved one died after a long and debilitating illness. That illness could have been managed and perhaps even cured with organic approaches to eating and health, but I could never get that individual to see how wholesome and live foods were the solution to her health problems.

Doctors and the medical establishment have distorted the truths about health so much and for so long that sick people listen with an unbending ear, even when they know that they’re in the last stages of life. Gullible people will take that last shot of insulin or dose of chemo because it might prolong life one day longer and because traditional practices of medicine endorse it. Holistic and alternative approaches to disease seem alien and primitive to those that accept the medical establishment’s well orchestrated pharma commercials, and as we might surmise, they’re in league with the American Medical Association.

Anyway, these are truths that most knowledgeable and informed people have taken the time to study and evaluate. And, if unhealthy and healthy individuals alike would take the time to understand their bodies and the signs, signals and alerts that are given well before disease sets in, then they could easily control or even reverse their physical afflictions.

Guanábana FruitEnter the miracle fruit Guanábana (Annona Muricata), better known as Sour Sop in the English language. The latter is less than appealing to the ear but very powerful in its efficacy. In a study published in the Journal of Natural Products in 1996, compounds extracted from the Guanábana seed proved effective in fighting colon cancer because of its cytotoxicity to the affected cells. Adriamycin, a well know drug prescribed by doctors sympathetic to big pharma was found to be 10,000 times less potent than Guanábana. Breast, prostate, liver cancer and a few other types of cancers are also susceptible to the miracle fruit. What’s even more interesting is the fact that Guanábana when taken produces no negative side effects like most chemo prescribed drugs.

Just recently a health care worker that takes care of a neighbor of mine who is sick with Alzheimer’s disease came to my home because she heard that we love herbs, plants and trees that have curative properties. She explained to Angela and me that her mother was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer that has spread throughout her body. Angela had just gotten a batch of fresh Guanábana leaves that her nephew had brought back from the Caribbean. She gave them all to the care worker and explained the process of preparing the leaves to make a concoction that her mother could drink as an alternative to chemo therapy. In just one month of taking the Guanábana mixture, the mother’s cancer has gone to stage 3 and she is feeling much better without all the side effects she experienced with the chemo. I too brought back leaves from my recent trip to the island and have given her more so she can continue to help her mom.

In Cuba we learned to make delicious refreshing shakes from Guanábana. You can go to any Cuban restaurant, and if their menu is legit, Guanábana shake will be on it. In Puerto Rico their is a pleasure refreshment called “limber,” it is made in an ice cube tray from many different types of fruit and flavors, one of them being Guanábana. The milk is extracted from the fruit and prepared in a mixture with ice. Some people even say that just swallowing the seeds produces curative reactions in the human body.

The Universe generates an incredible force, strength, power…call it what you will, that maintains all living things and is responsible for the continued evolution of the same. Inquisitive people throughout the ages have called this force magic, essence of creation, chi, meditation, prayer and several other things. They have even anthropomorphized it in an innumerable amount of gods, spirits, demons and other unearthly entities. But, it seems that there is no real name to describe this force that does what it does in such a perfect way.

I remember my mother always told me to bless my food before eating it; she said it would go down better and nourish me, no matter what type of food it was. It appeared that she was right at the time, given all the crap I ate as a young man. Much later I learned that the blessing was in the way the food was grown, harvested and consumed. Don’t get me wrong, I still go to the diner every now and then and remember what mom told me to do; I better!

Nature provides all the healing substances we need to maintain good health and even reverse disease. The problem is that we have placed too much faith in modern medicine and have stepped away from age old remedies. The medicine woman/man has almost completely disappeared along with the wealth of knowledge and wisdom he/she possesses. Perhaps it’s time to be less trusting of the bill of goods we are sold, and look at how we can use organic foods that abound in Nature as a method of prevention and cure for disease.

Guanábana may not be for everyone, but it certainly can’t hurt for those individuals who have been unfortunate enough to contract such debilitating diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. And, for those who find themselves in good health, it probably could complement the other positive things an individual is doing right to maintain homeostasis. After all is said and done, it’s worth a try!

UPDATE: Where to Find Guanábana / Soursop