Is refusing to sell a gentile kosher wine, kosher?

I heard off-Passover season wine has corn syrup. 

Wearing my Christmas cap, I went to my usual liquor store. The store is handy – a couple blocks away.

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah – I celebrate the Jewish holidays and asked if he had kosher wine for the community candle lighting.

He said not and I went to the next store down and there was an ample selection.

The question is, if my neighborhood guy does carry Manischewitz but didn’t sell it to me because I wasn’t Jewish is that a violation of my civil rights?

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Bridging social and cultural divides one community at a time

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Documenting the Women’s March in Cheyenne, Wyoming was a big eye opener for me.

What’s been on my mind lately is how intentional communities can help bridge socio-economic divides. Over the years, I have learned that my influence is pretty much confined to communities and organizations that are closest to me.

What spurred me?

Rather than sitting back and arm-chair-quarterbacking, I prefer to be a part of the action. I was 15 when my activist efficacy began to develop. Being from Wyoming, my early influences were Republican. I’m still atoning for my first vote being for Richard Nixon in 1972, but I digress.

Back in January, I wanted to make last minute plans to check out the Washington DC Women’s March that followed Inauguration Day 2017. I facebooked east coast friends and colleagues, but their basements and couches were spoken for by others making the trek.

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Around 2,000 participated in the Cheyenne, Wyoming Women’s March.

I had friends and neighbors who attended the main DC event and other marches around the country and resigned to sitting this one out. Meanwhile, a friend and colleague who, at the time, directed a Laramie, Wyoming-based activist organization asked me to document Women’s Marchers heading to nearby Cheyenne – my hometown. I make documentary movies, mostly about social change topics.

I hopped on the charter bus packed with mostly women, their allies and a bunch of signs and placards. We rumbled over Sherman Hill to Cheyenne where we unloaded and trekked up Capitol Avenue to the Wyoming Supreme Court Building lawn along with a 2,000 others.

Not a big crowd compared to metropolitan urban area standards, but for a city of 60,000 it was a gigantic turnout. Besides that, it was familiar being in my hometown.

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I joined a bus load of Wyoming women and their allies walking in the Women’s March in January 2017.

It was surprising to see and visit with friends who turned out – some long lost from childhood, some not so much – mostly colleagues. We shared insights about social oppression, which is the last thing I expected to be talking about with high school classmates.

Noting that social change efforts are happening in a conservative place like Wyoming, it was then I decided to use what little influence I have to bridge socio-economic divides.

I live in a cohousing community – dubbed by some of my neighbors as a grand social experiment. After living here for a few years and volunteering for the National Cohousing Association, I’m convinced that intentional communities – including cohousing – are one way to help bridge cultural and socio-economic divides one community at a time.

The aura around various aspects of social and economic “privilege” is subtle, having experienced it most of my life. Breaking into a cohousing community hasn’t been easy, particularly since I didn’t know much about it in the first place.

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My grandfather living in Wyoming was detained in California after Executive Order 9066 was signed.

Being a Japanese-American Baby Boomer, I grew up under the post World War II anti-Asian sentiment. My grandfather and uncle were detained in California shortly after FDR signed Executive Order 9066. My aunt was able to get them released back to the middle-of-nowhere Wyoming.

Later, while in college in Boston, my aunt wasn’t allowed into Canada due to sedition laws.  While I may speak proper English with an American accent and am a third-generation Yankees fan, I continue to find myself as the brunt of privilege, which is a separate story.

My partner in crime, Diana, and I moved here from a nearby market-rate two-story townhouse  a few years after the cohousing community had formed, was developed and occupied. A home in the community became available when the owner died. It was ground floor, no stairs and wheelchair accessible, which turned out to be important when I was in rehab recovering from a debilitating illness. Turned out, cohousing was a better fit than I imagined.

The founding group self selected themselves and were in the swing of things by the time we joined the community, which was good and bad. It was good in that we didn’t have to be involved with the organizational nuts-and-bolts decs-and-docs furniture-selection phase. It was bad in that the community was in a rhythm and not very open to new voices and ideas.

Since I’m usually one to jump right in and roll up my sleeves, it was pretty clear that my newbie role was to sit back and watch. Even today, I only participate at the minimum level and waiting on the sidelines until it’s my turn. That’s starting to happen with some of the founding shakers and movers backing off for one reason or another making way for newer neighbors like me.

A house is a house, but the community part is an entirely different component compared to the traditional subdivision structure where neighbors can choose to stick to themselves, paint their garage any color they want and otherwise bowl alone.

Complicating the social culture is that of market rate vs. affordable housing owners. The city housing authority provided free/cheap land to developers in exchange for 40% affordable homes. We were able to qualify for the local government affordable housing program and soon learned what it’s like to be “one of them.”

Collaborating with 3 dozen strangers over the years set in their ways is hard work. It’s a trick juggling regular life and community life and figuring out the balance. Having bought and sold two market rate homes we soon found that living in a house that is governed by a different set of rules was a big eye-opener.

Affordable homeowners are restricted by a set of rules in exchange for the low purchase prices. Some examples, appreciation values are limited compared to market rate-units, as are sales prices.

Being part of an affordable housing program, coupled with stereotypes about people who reside in affordable housing creates oppressive language – “charity cases,” “think different”, “lower class,” “no pride,” “don’t fit in,” ad nauseum. Those are long-engrained attitudes that are difficult to reverse even for the most progressive and socially aware.

For background, a cohousing community consists of individuals and families that choose to work with a developer to build a cohesive neighborhood consisting of privately owned homes and shared common spaces. Everyone lives independently, but share in some of the chores of maintaining their community.

How can cohousing bridge the cultural and socio-economic divide?

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Marches and speeches are the start, social change begins when individuals act.

The current political climate doesn’t help things. Whether liberal or conservative, the national mood amplifies how individuals deal with their own perceptions about differences among people with regards to protected classes of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability and subjective measures like social and economic class perceptions.

The political climate makes it okay to unmask deep held oppressive beliefs and at the same time, forces others to step out of their boxes and learn how to be allies for people they may or may not know.

Unless communities and their members are intentional about unpacking their self-perceptions of privilege, “on the job” training can cause hard feelings. In my experience over the years, facilitating and being facilitated about diversity issues oppressors don’t like to be called on their sh*t by the oppressed.

I’ve learned to choose my fights, but it’s hard to let comments and passive aggressive behavior slide. Cultural competency is a long, ongoing process and it takes some stumbling and falling, losing friends and making new ones.

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At a recent conference, diversity on the screen and behind the camera was one of the topics discussed

I’ve been presenting at a lot of different meetings lately. I just returned from an arts conference and a project outreaching to Native American youth, before that on an audio/video expo panel discussion that evolved into conversation with the audience about diversity, before that cultural competency workshops at a Tennessee affordable housing conference and the national cohousing conference.

The topic is certainly of interest to people, but these presentations were very high level “add-ons” to the content, with polite discussions. I was approached by attendees who agreed that they intellectually understand the importance of being more inclusive, but didn’t know how to change themselves and subsequently their organizations. They were eager to learn.

Feedback like that is encouraging, and I’m hoping folks got up out of their seats went home and began conversations in their groups, communities and organizations about what they can do to help close social and cultural divides.

What if each of us changes the way we look at the world and how we accept people who are different from ourselves?

The simple answer is to infuse cultural competency into the day-to-day tasks of the community. Cohousing communities are operated and maintained by the residents who join teams to manage the common house, maintain the common open space and the finances.

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The National Cohousing Association has national and regional conferences at which topics of diversity are standard on the meeting agenda

cohousing vision statement has some mention of “valuing diversity.” When I talk with forming communities, I ask them to have frank and honest discussions about what influenced their views about diversity and some ways the vision can be implemented. Governance based on shared responsibility, rotated leadership, and adopted community norms about accountability are big departures from majority rule and top-down decision making.

There’s an entire industry that has cropped up around consensus decision-making, cultural competency and meeting facilitation.

That’s easier said than done, but if carried out efficiently, inclusivity happens without a “program,” diversity training or more meetings.

In my experience, settling into any neighborhood is stressful enough. What if you’re asked to jump right into discussing personal issues and views around the American Dream, money, race, class, gender identity and sexual preference? That adds an even more complex layer to neighborliness. I’d say mostly on the governance level when talking about home owner association fees, decisions about when individual “rights” end and the community “good” begins.

The best things about cohousing are the neighbors and the worst things about cohousing are the neighbors.

Don’t get me wrong. There are lots of positive things about living in a community – plenty of really great neighborly support if a ride is needed to the store, or help needed to move furniture, care giving for sick neighbors. Friendships are formed, informal barbecues happen spontaneously and formal community events are planned around holidays.

I’m also lay-developing an intentional community in Cheyenne, where those discussions will take place and will be key to forming a resilient group of neighbors. Alas, those discussions have made it as far as the facebook page and haven’t popped up on the radar screen ahead of water, curb, gutter and street construction issues.

I’ve taught cultural competency and diversity workshops over the past 15 years. Most recently, I’ve adapted the curricula for intentional community audiences. At least from the feedback I’ve received, participants gained a better understanding that while the bricks and mortar of cohousing are buildings where residents live, the members who form a community are the most important aspect. The intentional community mantle can overlay any housing configuration.

While my cohousing living experience hasn’t been perfect – maybe none of them are – the intentionality brings neighbors together to work through tough issues – even though some may be on the petty side, they might as well be matters of life and death.

The upshot? If there’s a community configuration that enables conversation among divergent opinions, intentionality is a good thing, but individual effort must be put into understanding the perspectives of others and changing personal courses of action.

Social change through cohousing is a steep uphill climb constrained by American social/cultural norms.

The American Dream, bigger being better. We are driven to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, make a lot of money and make it to the top. Community founding members should have frank discussions among themselves about why cultural norms create roadblocks for the advancement of caring and interactive communities beyond what is familiar.

Cohousing communities, by definition, bring diverse people together. The only group to fully self-select who will be in the community, are the founding members. People may intellectually “value diversity”, but diversity doesn’t always play out, considering the typical cohouser is white, educated, high income and high-perceived social class and a woman.

Forming community members should discuss what they would be willing to give up – attitudinally and/or financially – to include diverse members. In one of my training sessions, I met a couple people from a forming community that is having this discussion and they decided to take some of the capital gains from their personal home sales to buy down houses to make them more affordable.

Reaching out to people different from oneself is a challenge and cultural brokers may need to be engaged. In my workshops, for example, attendees practice ways they can look at their personal histories and make changes so as to become more inclusive as opposed to only believing inclusivity is a good idea.

Personal introspection doesn’t end once the houses are constructed and residents unpack their boxes. Over time, the community evolves and residents need to keep unpacking their personal histories and values as families move, people pass away and new neighbors arrive.

While fair housing laws preclude discrimination, communities can provide information about the community, expectations of membership in the Homeowners Association (HOA).

Professional and lay cohousing developers can choose to make personal transformations. There are markets other than those of the “typical” cohouser, particularly in gentrifying and abandoned neighborhoods. Culturally competent developers expand their markets by finding easier outreach paths into diverse communities.

As a cultural broker myself, I know that the approach gets results and opens doors without the appearance of “tokenism.”

What are some next steps?

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Hang out with people who are outside your usual circles.

Step out of your comfort zones to start.

Who do you sit next to in church? Sit next to a stranger.

Who do you call to go out for coffee? Ask someone you’ve wanted to get to know better.

Do you stand up as an ally? Take a risk when you hear offensive comments in the grocery store line.

Social justice marches and political elections may be personal inciting incidents that bring people together.

Whether or not you choose to take on the difficult task of becoming more culturally competent, it’s when individuals collaborate and alter their behaviors that bridges are built to close social and cultural divides – one community at a time.

June 2014 – Acupuncture and Yoga

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My friend and colleague Michael Conti shot some yoga footage for my “Aging Gratefully” documentary series.

It’s been about a year since I started to hit the wall. No energy, lost a lot of weight. I even missed the Mighty Fudge Halloween party last year. As an update, I’ve noticed a few things lately.

My hair has become quite curly. My across the sidewalk, Jim, got a haircut, which is notice that I need a haircut. I usually let it grow out fairly long, but this time around it was curling up in the back.

I asked Riley at my haircut place about it. She said that there isn’t any hard evidence, but she has noticed that as men’s hair gets grayer, it starts to get curlier. She said, in her experience, it’s mostly men and fewer women.

Since I’ve been getting acupuncture every week, I thought it might have something to do with that. Apparently straight hair follicles are different that curly hair follicles and they get changed.

The last few weeks, my acupuncture treatments have included electro-stimulation for the Post Herpetic Neuralgia that’s settled into my left scalp and forehead.

In my case, e-stim entails an acupuncture treatment known as “surrounding the dragon.” Needles are placed into several points – generally on the crest of my head, on the eyebrow, in the cheek and in the temple-area. Micro-power leads are attached and low current flows through.

My observation, only two of the acupuncture practitioners I’ve seen are okay with the e-stim treatment. All the others see it as “non-traditional” which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Electric fish were used by the ancient Egyptians to relieve pain. The fish were placed over wounds. In the 1930s, acupuncturists in China refined the treatment using the acupuncture needles and batteries.

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Electro-stimulation treatment at the Southwest Acupuncture College

It is more of a Dr. Frankenstein – type treatment, but seems to work pretty well for me, but maybe the e-stim caused my hair to curl like when getting too close to lightning causes hair to stand on end.

The acupuncture clinic has also been aggressively treating my Interstitial Pneumonia. According to acupuncture theory, the lungs and skin are closely related since they are both exposed to the air.

I’ve been going to acupuncture since May. I don’t know if the treatments have been doing any good, but there has been remarkable improvement based on my x-rays.

The first one was taken when I was first transported to the Intensive Care Unit before the biopsy surgery in December.

My tissue samples were sent to the University of Michigan and turned out I had some exotic but “everyday bug” that was controlled by archaic sulfa drugs. Back in the early days of HIV, it was the type of pneumonia AIDS patients would get.

I was on high doses of steroids when I was carried from the hospital to the ambulance and taken to rehab. When I was released and a little stronger, the March xray showed pretty good improvement.

I was then tapered off the steroids and began acupuncture.

The second X-ray was taken later this summer after I’ve had 12 weeks of acupuncture treatments. My lung doctor continues to be amazed at my recovery, since in his view at the time, I should be dead by now.

I’ve been melding old world medicine in the forms of acupuncture at the acupuncture college clinic for my lung problems, neti pot flushing to rinse out my sinuses, gin soaked raisins for joint pain; with modern medicine through my insurance HMO.

I've been melding old world medicine like acupuncture with modern medicine.

I’ve been melding old world medicine like acupuncture with modern medicine.

The reason I’ve stayed with the same insurance carrier over the years is the HMO is one-stop shopping. I’ve had the same primary care doctor for many years and access to others in his group if I can’t get in to see him.

The main downside is the hospital and emergency services are located 15 miles away. That was a big hassle when I was laid up early in 2013 – 2014.

Anyway, there was a NPR radio segment on “Science Friday” yesterday about how smartphone apps are changing how health care is accessed.

That’s been very handy for me.

The Kaiser Permanente smartphone app is very handy for keeping track of my health.

The Kaiser Permanente smartphone app is very handy for keeping track of my health.

I use the KP app on the phone which is the same user inner face as the computer. I can access my health records, write to my docs. On the computer I can make and cancel appointments.

The best part is being able to communicate by email with my doctors. Over the past year, I’ve developed a long list of them from the main doctor, to surgeons to rheumatologists, to pulmonologists. They’re all pretty good at writing back and that saves on co-pays and trips to their offices.

It’s amazing what they can tell from blood tests.

In addition to keeping track with the app, I’ve been able to combine old world and new world medicine together successfully. I downloaded my health record and put it in my acupuncture health file.

That’s been useful since the herbalists there are able to see how my regular doctors have been treating me and can suggest acupuncture and herbal alternatives. KP offers acupuncture, but its clinic is pretty far to the east of me so I haven’t tried it.

There are also phone apps for acupuncture meridians.

There are also phone apps for acupuncture meridians.

The Southwest Acupuncture College Clinic is a lot like an HMO. Based on a patient’s needs, there are a variety of practices offered from acupuncture – needles, moxabustion; body work – shiatsu, tuina, cupping; herbal medicine; pain management and combinations of those practices. I have a smartphone app about the acupuncture meridians.

I’ve heard about people who refuse to use modern medicine in favor of traditional remedies.

There’s a reason people used to die when they were 40.

There’s room for both approaches in the same treatments. My post herpetic neuralgia got better with acupuncture and electrical stimulation and blood letting. My Kaiser doc put me on prescription drug neurontin and the combo has been reducing the pain.

I've been trying some kitchen remedies like gin - infused raisins for joint pain.

I’ve been trying some kitchen remedies like gin – infused raisins for joint pain.

Lately, I’ve heard about soaking golden raisins in gin for joint pain and arthritis. I haven’t asked my medical docs about it, but will report to them if I find it effective.

I made up a batch and have been eating nine gin-infused raisins daily.

I’ll report back any changes in my stiff fingers battered up from sports abuse and autoimmunity. A couple of my friends have reported that the raisin – gin concoction was effective.

The Little Yoga Studio is, in fact little, but has a great welcoming environment for beginners to expert yoga practitioners.

The Little Yoga Studio is, in fact little, but has a great welcoming environment for beginners to expert yoga practitioners.

My Kaiser doc did recommend the Neil Med / Neti Pot. I bought the starter kit for a couple bucks at the pharmacy and it worked instantly for my sinus dripping / nonallergic rhinitis. I use it a couple times a day with a couple shots of the prescription flonase in the morning.

Did I mention I’ve been going class at the Little Yoga Studio two or three times a week?

BOULDER, CO - SEPTEMBER 2: Lindy Cook and Alan O'Hashi pull weeds from the garden of the community with other residents September 2, 2015 at Silver Sage Village. The active adult cohousing community for those 55 or older is setup like a usual condo community with every person having their own place, but the sense of community is what is unique. (Photo By Brent Lewis/The Denver Post)

BOULDER, CO – SEPTEMBER 2: Lindy Cook and Alan O’Hashi pull weeds from the garden of the community with other residents September 2, 2015 at Silver Sage Village. The active adult cohousing community for those 55 or older is setup like a usual condo community with every person having their own place, but the sense of community is what is unique. (Photo By Brent Lewis/The Denver Post)

A month or so ago, a Denver Post reporter caught wind of the documentary I’m making about “aging in community”. The principle photography is done, but there are a couple stories that need updating and I’m gathering up some photos for extra coverage.

The movie is based on my “aha” experiences and perspectives learned after being pretty sick to the point of having the “end of life” and drastic “heart lung transplant” conversations with my doctors back during the summer of 2014. My colleague interviewed some of my Silver Sage Village neighbors about their perspectives about aging in an intentional community like cohousing.

The Denver Post article came out yesterday – the beginning of Labor Day weekend. There’s another chapter in this saga which marks the one year anniversary of me taking yoga classes.

In this town, that shouldn’t be too earth shattering at all. For a Wyomingite, it’s not the usual way to while away the hours. There’s an advertisement to attract former Wyoming people back to the state that says something to the effect that “we have latte’s and yoga” which are why an expat like myself should move back.

Yee Haw – git a long little downward facing dogie!

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A “dogie” is a neglected calf that is eventually rescued and looked after.

Over the past 10 years or so, one of my annual missions is to take footage of all the entertainment along the Bolder Boulder route. The 2014 acid test was whether or not I could complete my usual task and finish the 10K. All went well, but I needed to take a swig of O2 going up the Folsom Street hill into the stadium.

A month later, I was given the okay to put the supplemental oxygen aside while weaning off of the prednisone. My chest x-ray in June wasn’t that great, and my lung doctor wasn’t very optimistic at all. That’s when I also started with aggressive treatments at the Southwest Acupuncture College Boulder Campus. I attribute my miraculous recovery to that, which is another story.

In retrospect, the Bolder Boulder probably wasn’t the wisest thing to do, since my percent of oxygen was around 80 percent, which was pretty good, considering a couple months earlier it was in the 60s and 70s. I had gained back some of the 37 pounds I lost laying in the hospital for a month and half and I noticed the lost weight right a way since my inner knees didn’t ache.

Anyway, I was still very weak and had trouble lifting the milk jug out of the fridge and still not very stable on my feet, having taken a tumble on the step going into Silver Sage Village. I finally could push the clutch pedal on the Eurovan and I started driving, which also wasn’t a very good idea.

My occupational therapist had me trying to do push ups against the wall and half push ups on the floor. I couldn’t do either. Sit ups were painful because of the scarring from the leaky intestine ulcer that was also repaired. I didn’t want to lift weights or go to a gym. The OT couldn’t do anything more for me. When I relearned how to walk and my gait was straight, she turned me loose.

I was picking something up at McGuckin Hardware on the Sunday afternoon before Labor Day. I noticed the The Little Yoga Studio next door. There was a woman inside working on the computer at the front desk. They were closed, but she told me to take a schedule from the box by the door.

Being a Boulder guy, I wasn’t a yoga guy. Many years ago, Comcast used to have Core Power Yoga on TV in the mornings. I did that for awhile, then the practice started to include weights and equipment, which seemed out of context.

That gave me some knowledge and experience with the basic poses. Since my body was totally out of whack, I thought yoga would be more balanced than going to a gym, plus I only needed a mat – although I had sticker shock when I saw mats cost as much as $85. I needed to get stronger and more flexible. Shortly after Labor Day I made my first visit.

I really didn’t know what to expect since it was my first time in organized yoga practice, I thought it was more meditative, but I have come to learn that the Americanized versions of yoga are very different from it’s 5,000 year old traditional roots in south Asia. I was also surprised to learn that yoga in America is an 18 billion dollar a year industry. The yoga industrial complex includes, clothing, mats, equipment, food. In Boulder, you can’t turn around without your water bottle whacking into a yoga teacher.

Ronald McYoga

Ronald McYoga

I got a deal for yoga at one of the other studios in town. Turns out that was part of a yoga franchise – McYoga. It was a huge place with showers, a store with branded merchandise. That wasn’t for me – some of the same teachers work there, too.

My initial reasons for going to yoga class a couple times a weak were totally health and medical related. Some of the teachers give little dharma lessons at the beginning of the class.

At the beginning of one class the teacher gave a bit of a rant about how westernized yoga moved away from the traditional tenets, which wasn’t a good thing. and that there should be more attention paid to the original teachings.

That brought to mind an NPR radio story I heard six or seven years before, about a group in Fairhope, Alabama that wanted to take the original spirituality out of yoga and replace it with Christian spirituality, since they liked the asana part – physical aspects – of yoga, but not the meditative part.

At the time, that struck me as odd.

Now that I have more of an interest it really strikes me as odd.

I also remember this story because I mnemonically link it to a former basketball player from Fairhope who played at Wyoming named Quentin Higgins.

Afterwards, I talked to the teacher about this, and turns out there’s quite a bit of information out there about the topic of non-yoga yoga. I watched a documentary called “Yoga, Inc.” which was mostly about the lawsuit between yoga mogul Bikram Choudhury and some of his teachers about unauthorized uses of his yoga pose sequences.

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Om

The yoga classes are helpful for me physically. I was going a couple times a week with a day of recovery time in between. I now try to get there four or five consecutive times with a couple days of rest between. But also, I want to be around the practice more which is insightful. My journalistic curiosity always gets and best of me and I’m now researching American yoga for another documentary project.

I’m learning that horse has left the barn and there must be some other angle that hasn’t dawned on me yet about putting yoga back into yoga. I talked with a pal of mine about it. He said that whether India repatriates yoga is important from a historical perspective, but from a yoga perspective, he said, “Any yoga is good yoga.”

This Santa Claus is the nexus between Christmas and yoga.

This Santa Claus is the nexus between Christmas and yoga.

The reason I like the Little Yoga Studio is because the teachers tell a story to go along with the day’s class.

Today the teacher mused that the December holiday season pushes everyone to be extroverts which can be stressful. For introverts like me it was fitting that the day’s practice focused on grounding. It was helpful for me mentally and physically.

Considering last year on Christmas and New Years, I was flat on my back at the Good Samaritan Hospital recovering from emergency surgery, I’m much better.

My robot care givers - monitors that check out how I was doing at any moment.

My robot care givers – monitors that check out how I was doing at any moment.

I really can’t remember what I did on Christmas 2013 since I had undiagnosed sepsis and had no appetite, lost 30 pounds, apparently pretty drugged up.

This December holiday season, a friend of mine, Med, is in rehab at Manor Care in north Boulder and likely there over Christmas and New Years.

I pop in on him whenever I drive by.

From experience, being laid up is lonely and because of societal pressure the holidays seem to be lonelier than all the other lonely days in confinement.

I was at Manor Care in Denver and was in a craft class where we painted Bronco balls.

I was at Manor Care in Denver and was in a craft class where we painted Bronco balls.

I did two weeks time at the Manor Care in Denver after my four-week hospital stint. When I stop by to see Med, there are certain sights and smells that bring back fond memories, which is a little strange to me.

I was finally sprung from there in time for the Super Bowl. Wheel chair and walker restricted.

This Christmas I’m mostly back to health and fully upright. Yoga has helped me regain my strength and balance. I now find myself over-reacting to “symptoms” that I notice in myself. You hear about people who “over-use” the medical care system and now I know why – prevention is the best medicine.

I’m now one of those people.

Fortunately, my doctors are open to consultations using email and phone calls. It’s amazing to me how much they can tell from blood tests. I am grateful for all the health care providers from the CNAs and docs who kept me alive. They barely keep a person kicking, but that’s good enough.

My Coca Cola Santa doll makes an appearance once a year.

My Coca Cola Santa doll makes an appearance once a year.

Even though I prefer to live in the present, I do have some remnants of Christmas past including a stocking made by my mom and a Santa Claus from my dad. He worked for Coca Cola for 40 years and passed Santa dolls around the neighborhood.

Back in the day, Coke was known for the Santa Claus Christmas ads – now culturally incorrect.

He only gets out of the box for a week or so every year and he’s still in pretty good condition.

The Coke tree ornaments in the image are also Coke advertising premiums.

The cat from the angel-cam. The angel was a project of my mom's.

The cat from the angel-cam. The angel was a project of my mom’s.

My mom had craftsy Christmas projects every year. I still have a crocheted angel that hangs atop the tree. She must have starched then ironed it.

Both my parents are gone now and so have the Christmas traditions.

Coming up with new traditions is easier said than done.

Waiting outside The Little Yoga Studio.

Waiting outside The Little Yoga Studio.

For those of you who have your parents still around, spend some time talking about the future and not just about estate planning but more importantly tradition planning.

Before you have family meetings like this, I suggest taking some yoga classes.

Today, looser hips and thighs have made me more aware of my root chakra – bring on the Christmas havoc!

Meanwhile, I’ll be continuing to “age in c(OM)unity”.

On the Road: Total solar eclipse and advanced umbraphilia

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Click on the image and watch the total eclipse movie. Thanks to Jeff Geyer rigged a filter and recorded totality.

The total solar Eclipse-a-palooza happened on August 21st and stretched coast to coast from South Carolina to Oregon.

Not knowing what to expect, I became a born again umbraphile.”

One who loves eclipses, often traveling to see them.

I’ve had a mild case of umbraphilia. Over the years, I’ve seen several partial eclipses through the pinhole cameras we fashioned out of grocery store boxes in grade school.

Looking at a picture of the eclipse was better for my eyes, but the experience didn’t cut it for me.

In 1979 there was a total eclipse when I was in Lander and the paper-frame eclipse glasses were first commercially available. In fact, I still had them in a box and took them with me.

After August 21st, my umbraphilia has become aggressive.

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Looking at a picture of the eclipse just wasn’t cutting it for me.

For background purposes, eclipses happen when the moon orbits between the earth and sun which casts its umbra – shadow – on the earth.

The fact that the moon orbit around and the earth and the earth / moon orbit around the sun have to perfectly line up is very amazing to me. Total solar eclipses are evidence to me that the universe isn’t random.

The eclipse totality cover image was shot by my neighbor, Henry Kroll, in Arthur, Nebraska. He shot in available light with a stopped down lens through a slight haze.

I made plans with a group of friends to head to Glendo, Wyoming, but the enthusiasm among my crowd waned and it ended up being just me on another solo adventure.

Since I could only be in one location for the eclipse, I wanted to make a home movie based on video and photos taken by my friends and neighbors from across the country.

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Columbus was revered in what is now Jamaica because he “predicted” a total eclipse in 1504.

It was a strange experience.

I can see how 14th and 15th century people would have been freaked out during a total eclipse. There was a war between the Medes and the Lydians in 585 BC that supposedly was stopped because of a total solar eclipse.

Columbus dazzled the people in what is now Jamaica with his eclipse “prediction” in 1504.

These days, big-time celestial events bring people together – family reunions, informal gatherings, and community festivals. Everyone I know who saw the eclipse became an umbraphile.

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McGuckin Hardware in Boulder recalled Y2K.

There was quite a bit of sensational hype about getting ready for the eclipse akin to nuclear war preparations or the Y2K scare. I bought into it. Not knowing what to expect, I brought along:

  • 10 gallons of water – there was water all over the place
  • camping toilet – there were port-potties all over the place
  • gas stove and cooking equipment – there was food for sale all over the place
  • fueled up the car three times – there were gas stations open all over the place

Nonetheless, I headed out on Saturday morning. The roads were clear and a straight shot to Cheyenne. My rounds include a stop at the Paramount Coffee Shop for a boba tea. I wandered across the street to Phoenix Books and Music to visit Don McKee.

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The 2nd state Beatles “butcher” album

He had a 2nd state “Yesterday and Today” record album that I bought on an impulse. I intended on returning to pick it up on Monday after the eclipse, but didn’t make it until much later.

My friends, the Keenans, are breaking in a new service dog named Moose.

They live in north Cheyenne. They weren’t home, but through the miracles of technology, they took a movie of me on their porch and texted me about stopping in to visit them at Culver’s. Bill headed to Wheatland on eclipse day.

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Bill, Susan, Alek and Moose

On my way out of town on the Eclipse Trail, there were bootleggers selling T-shirts and eclipse glasses for inflated prices, thinking there would be no more. The Cheyenne facebook garage sale page had eclipse glasses listed for $20 to $40 a pair.

I got back on I-25 and uneventfully pulled into Glendo. My first stop was Howard’s truck stop. I go there whenever I drive by for my favorite road meal.

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I came here with Matt Mead and his son, Pete, who recommended the fried taco.

The biggest disappointment of the weekend was when I learned that the deep fried tacos are no longer on the menu. “Amy doesn’t work here anymore, ” the lunch counter matron said.

I’ll have to settle on a new “go-to” food item.

My friends Doug and Carrie Quinn have 60 acres in the Glendo city limits and staying there was my destination. Carrie is originally from Glendo. They were renting out spots for RVs, tents and cars.

Doug, Carrie and couple of their friends were busy greeting visitors.

It soon became so busy, that a bunch of others including myself were drafted into being parking lot attendants.

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I worked at the Cheyenne Frontier Days carnival for a newspaper column.

This gig was a throwback to my carnival days when I learned that I was pretty good at getting people to give me money for nothing. I worked in the pop-the-balloon game during Cheyenne Frontier Days many years ago.

There was an umbraphile next to me from Germany who traveled to Glendo. He travels all over the place to watch total solar eclipses. He said, “You get hooked.”

I wanted to get there early to take in the festivities. Saturday night was hoppin’ in Glendo. There was a street show with the Jalan Crossland Band.

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Del trips the light fantastic with Cooper, Sally and Katy.

I whooped it up with Del and Sally Lummis. They were part of my original party and weren’t going to come, but decided otherwise at the last minute.

There were a lot of people like that who jumped in the car and made a quick road trip.

I didn’t get a chance to look around much because parking cars was so much fun shooting the breeze with eclipse goers. Besides, I’d been to Glendo many times before and being mostly a land-lubber, checking out the water wasn’t appealing to me.

On Sunday morning a steady flow of vehicles from all over the place stopped for information. There was quick-get-away parking that cost $20 and free parking in Glendo State Park and the Glendo Airport. The free parking spot exit was bottle-necked.

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In Glendo with 50,000 of my closest friends.

Traffic was heavy on eclipse day. Glendo did a great job organizing the crowds. The population swelled from 225 to 50,000. At least that’s what one t-shirt said. I walked into town early in the morning looking for something to eat.

Downtown Glendo isn’t very accessible, which is a good thing because foot traffic is encouraged. I walked over to check out the morning action.

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Angler’s and $5 coffee

The few food places had lines around the corner and rather than join the crowd, I went into Angler’s Rest thinking there may be some bar food.

No food, but asked to refill my coffee. The bar keep said it was $5, which I thought was pricey even for eclipse prices. He said everything was $5 and I might as well get it with a shot of whiskey. I haven’t had Irish coffee for a while.

I made my way back after cruising by the souvenir stand, which was nearly sold out. I’m a skinny guy and don’t wear the large sizes.

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Part of my parking lot attendant group.

I wasn’t in the mood for a T-shirt. They were the iron-on designs as opposed to silk screened and settled on an under stated Glendo cap. Some of the others had slogans like, “I blacked out in Glendo.”

After parking a few stragglers, I set up a 360 virtual reality camera and turned it on about 15minutes before totality and made a VR movie which can be viewed online and in goggles through a smartphone.

One of the guys in my group, Jeff Geyer, rigged up his camera with a filter and captured the totality.

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Slow moving traffic

As advertised, after 2nd contact, cars streamed out making for traffic jams throughout the night.

I lingered with my crowd and decided to venture out around 3pm, thinking traffic may be less.

My play all along was to return on the back roads. Everyone else had that idea, too. My first mistake was heading north to Orrin Junction and go through Lusk. Once I got to the exit the traffic loosened up until just south of Torrington.

I ran into bumper-to-bumper slow moving traffic on Highway 30 and cut over to Chugwater on Wyoming 312. Then I saw all the taillights on I-25.

Traffic moved along, but I didn’t get back to Boulder until midnight. All things considered, the trip was a good one. It was fun parking cars and meeting some new people.

The next total eclipse is 2019 in South America. After that, there’s one in North America in 2014. Those two events are incentive enough to keep taking my medicine. Umbraphilia will keep me young.

No matter what your memories are about the eclipse, I hope they are fond ones.

Winter 2013 – Note to self: don’t get sick in December

In the fall of 2013, I decided to enroll in an Affordable Care Act health insurance policy. Everyone was written a letter by their health insurance companies giving policy holders a little time before then end of the year when all insurance plans expire.

Little did I know how close all those would be to home until I enrolled under ACA and was also a recipient of more than my fair share of medical care during the hectic Obamacare transition period.

For most people, there wasn’t much of a transition if covered on the job or some other public program.

I don’t think most people who have real jobs and a personnel office that annually negotiates group insurance realize that insurance actually lapses at the end of each year keeping coverage, apparently, seamless.

Nor do I think most people in insurance groups bother to read their coverage fine print.

Back when I had a real job, I was surprised to learn that as a single guy, in my group plan, I was covered for maternity care.

But when it was explained to me that to spread around the risk, I am obliged to pay to help cover my colleagues who have families or may want to start one. I viewed it as being a good community member.

This was in the 1970s – 1990s and it has been that way since. Now that I’m self employed, I’ve had to annually negotiate m y policy.

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) began to point out what they considered to be unnecessary coverage, like maternity care for single guys.

As a quick primer, the ACA was proposed by President Barrack Obama approved by the US Congress and signed into law March 23, 2010. It set up centralized health insurance exchanges where users who weren’t covered by their employer, the Veteran’s Administration, Medicaid, Medicare, or some other program could sign up for health insurance.

Of the US population in 2015, 49% are covered by their employers, and 43% by some other form of coverage leaving around 8% needing health insurance coverage including self employed people like me.

Other than mandating health insurance for all as a means of diversifying the national insurance pool, there are provisions like not being denied coverage for pre-existing conditions and young people being covered under their parents’ policies until they are 26.

I’m one of the self-employed people who has had the same insurance carrier for the past several years. My insurance is routinely “cancelled” when the company annually changed the terms and conditions, deductibles and more times than not raised the premium prices at the end of the year.

I could either take the new plan or be cancelled. I always opted to stick with my carrier, but had to call up every year to see what options I had. Generally, I settled for higher deductibles to keep my payment close to what it was before. In my estimation the insurance industry is a big legal ponzi scheme, if you ask me, but thank God I have health insurance!

… and I knew I wasn’t going to get dinged for a preexisting condition.

People who are shocked or surprised that their policies are routinely changed tossed out letters from their insurance carriers as junk mail.  In March of 2012, I was informed that my insurance would be grandfathered under the ACA if I wanted to go that route – keep my doctor and everything in tact.

Pioneer that I am, I set up an account on the Connect for Colorado Health exchange website and after a few delays and glitches, was a approved for a way better plan from my existing carrier for less price.

So I was “double-covered” with my existing policy and my new ACA policy because I didn’t quite trust the new system.

I finally gained confidence in the ACA and canceled my higher deductible plan which was a good thing.

Politicians have been trying to “Repeal and Replace” Obamacare since its approval. I chuckle when I see the political action committees running ads on TV about the small group of folks who claim to have fallen through the cracks when they didn’t take personal responsibility to take care of their health insurance business during the one-year window during which they had a chance.

Rather than be accountable for their irresponsibility, Obama and all the other socialists are to blame for their current misfortunes.

You know what?

Obamacare, socialism, public / private partnership – whatever you want to call ACA, have nothing to do with reality. Health care reform only has to to do with people like me who were flat on their backs pushing the hospital room call light hoping a nurse’s assistant will come by to empty the urinal or patch a bed sore.

Truth is, Trump, McConnell, Ryan or any other politician can’t help anyone, let alone improving advice individual patients get from their doctors and their staffs. Anyone who disfavors ACA hasn’t been sick lately.

Before I get into the gory details, I have to tip my hat to health care workers in the trenches, namely nurses and certified nurse assistants. The world wouldn’t turn without them. I’ll jump ahead a bit and say that I’d never really had a hospital stay before and after being flat on my back for six weeks.

I couldn’t walk, stand, wipe my butt. The nurses and CNA’s were there to meet my every need, particularly when I got very low and bummed out.

This raises another big topic of self advocacy. Being flat on my back, I was complacent and didn’t advocate for myself as much as I should have. My partner in crime, Diana, was a big advocate. She questioned what was happening and kept on the nurses and doctors, to their annoyance.

She brought over a couple friends and neighbors, Nicki and Evie who also had experience advocating and helped particularly early on when I was first admitted.

I can’t say enough about having a strong advocate. I’m pretty sure, my doctors weren’t waking up in the morning wondering how I was doing.

Over the course of the fall and summer, I was being treated for various types of pneumonia and eventually went to the hospital. I was quite out of it because I had lost a lot of weight – eventually 30 pounds – had no energy or stamina, and no appetite.

What happened next is a bit of a blur, but, my lung doctor did a biopsy to figure out about my pneumonia.

Did I mention the morphine pump?

Meanwhile, I was on steroids which led to a perforated ulcer and stomach contents were leaking into my body cavity causing sepsis. I don’t know this as a fact, but I’ve been told that I was not given much chance of making it through the emergency surgery to patch up the ulcer – mostly because of the lack of eating and general indifference, translated into “failure to thrive.”

I read through my medical record and I was also classified as anorexic. That sounds worse than it is. It means I was very skinny.

So I have this emergency surgery and am being fed pablum through a tube bypassing my stomach and intestines while the ulcer patch heals. This causes me to lose weight and strength. I’m flat on my back between ICU and a regular hospital room and rehab for six weeks.

Since my parents died a few years ago, celebrating the winter holidays have been different every year. I wrote a stage play about this which was produced by Hitching Post Theater a few years back – I’ll have to dig out that story.

This was no different being being in a hospital with the second tier help on duty.

This stint in the hospital was good in that when the biopsy results came back from the University of Michigan, the results figured out about my lung condition as being an auto immune pneumonia now being treated by steroids, which is a good thing – particularly for those of you who had to deal with my hacking and coughing over the summer and fall.

Not so good with the ulcer recovery, I still had a rubber tube sticking out of my stomach that was. removed after a week. So getting to the bottom of my pneumonia was good, the state of my physique, not so good. Then I was kicked out of the hospital.

Meanwhile, I can’t stand, walk or otherwise take care of myself and I’m lifted into a wheel chair and strapped into an ambulance to go to rehab at this place in Denver.

Unable to move on my own, I start sliding out of the wheel chair and bouncing around like a rag doll. I felt like the dead guy, Bernie, in that bad movie “Weekend at Bernies”. The driver pulled over at the cooking school on Quebec and got me repositioned before getting to the rehab center in Glendale, which is a neighborhood in Denver.

The rehab center was an hour from Boulder, served mostly geriatric patients and I was the youngest one there. It was good meeting some folks from Denver.

This rehab center has it figured out. Everybody there gets about an hour or two of rehab each day and the other 22 hours, they feed everyone high protein and lots of carbos. It got a little monotonous plotting out the day based on meal time.

I am totally amazed that I received enough physical and occupational therapy after two weeks to walk out – albeit with a walker, compared to when I arrived as a total invalid.

My diet was simple – eat anything, particularly high protein and sweet stuff – a lot of rare steak and ice cream floats. It takes a long time to gain back wright. I was up 15 pounds during rehab and stabilized after getting 30 pounds chubbier.

After being out of captivity since the first week in February 2014 and getting stronger every day I was getting back in to the swing of things. Being self-employed, I had many ongoing projects.

I think it’s also an Asian thing to be totally self reliant – but this experience has taught me that it’s okay to ask for help. Many thanks to Michael and Barbara for keeping mud in my entrepreneurial cracks over the past couple months of my recovery.

After being out of rehab for a week, I attended the Boulder International Film Festival over President’s Day weekend – I’m on the BIFF Board of Directors. It was my first outing “off campus” since Dec. 16th – prior to this, I was in an ambulance, hospital, ambulance, rehab center, in my condo.

I’m also back in the editing booth – I cut together a tribute to Shirley MacLaine that screened Saturday night at the BIFF.

It’s been a big wake up call for me, particularly about big picture issues – mostly around downsizing and relationships with people.

Small picture issues, I’m now more serious about plotting out some exit strategies for projects I head up and handing off projects to others and getting ready to “retire”.

Even though I’m mostly recovered, I’m still planning for a long road ahead, I still consider myself “disabled” and will likely be recovering for awhile. I may be out and about, but I anticipate plenty of limitations.

I still encounter steps and small inclines and places without banisters or elevators that I didn’t notice before.

My message to the politicians? Keep muddling through the ACA because here’s no turning back.

 

 

Best Burgers in Wyoming?

mountain inn mountain view

Not many choices in Mountain View, but this place was pretty good.

I’ve been doing some research about the “Burgers of Wyoming.” A while back, I put out a note asking what place serves the “Best Hamburgers in Wyoming.”

Here are the 23 counties designated by license plate number with my picks and some suggestions from others.

Where in Wyoming have you eaten a pretty good ‘out of the way’ burger – that burger tucked away in a hole in the wall? (No national chains, please!)

1. Natrona County – Wonderbar in Casper. The place has changed hands. Is the food still the same, worse, better?

2. Laramie County – Two Doors Down all in Cheyenne. I originally had down the Plains Hotel, but that place has been going through some transitions lately.

3. Sheridan County – Wagon Box Inn in Storey; Rib and Chop House Sheridan – 1/2 pounder and try the squash casserole

4. Sweetwater County –

5. Albany County – Altitudes in Laramie

mangy moose riverside6. Carbon County –  The Virginian – The Bronc Stomper, open face burger topped with red or green chili – the fries are hand-cut. The Mangy Moose (not to be confused with the Teton County Mangy Moose).

7. Niobrara County –

8. Platte County – Howard’s in Glendo, recommended by Matt and Pete Mead

9. Big Horn County – The Hyattville Cafe – 1/2 pound mushroom – swiss

10. Fremont County – Gannett Grill in Lander;  Red Willow in the Wind River Casino – Mushroom Swiss Burger at Casino prices!

13. Converse County – The Koop in Douglas; The mushroom swiss burger at the Depot – add salad and soup

15. Hot Springs County – Butch’s in Kirby (closed on Sunday and Monday)

16. Johnson County – Dash Inn – The Bacon Cheeseburger with potato wedges and gravy in Buffalo

17. Campbell County – 

18. Crook County – 

19. Uinta County – Mountain View Drive Inn; Goin’ South in Lyman

20. Washakie County –

silver dollar bar cody21. Park County – Silver Dollar in Cody. I still like the Irma, but they allow smoking in the bar and the second hand smoke permeates the restaurant.

22. Teton County –

23. Sublette County – Stockgrowers in Pinedale; GRB – Daniel

This is a good start – what are your choices – if you have alternates to the ones listed, let us hear about them.

 

South Africa’s Memel Global community: A challenging place to walk your talk

Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself – Leo Tolstoy

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Be the change you wish to see in the world – Mohandas Gandhi

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I followed Gandhi’s strategy for as long as I could. There came a point in our struggle when the brute force of the oppressor could no longer be countered through passive resistance alone … We chose sabotage because it did not involve the loss of life, and it offered the best hope for future race relations. – Nelson Mandela

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When I cleared customs in Chicago, the Homeland Security guy was more interested in how my visit to South Africa went than the packaged beef Biltong – potential contraband – I had in my bag.

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Biltong is sliced spiced meat, similar to jerky. Click on the image and check out my pilot episode about my South Africa impressions.

“Did you know Gandhi got his start in South Africa?” he asked as he scanned my passport. This was the line for travelers with no checked luggage so we weren’t holding up people. “If I did, I’ve forgotten,” I answered. “I’ll do some research after I return home.”

My research resulted in a “pilot” travelogue of my recent trip to South Africa. You can check it out here.

When I was in South Africa, the latest news was about the unearthing of a new hominid’s remains – Homo naledi – in a South African cave. South Africa is one of the first places on earth occupied by humans.

That was 300,000 years ago.

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The British defeated the Dutch who trekked north, but encountered local resistance to the Zulu tribe who were eventually surrendered.

Fast-forward from prehistoric times through 17th and 18th century British and Dutch colonization and the 1994 fall of apartheid, South Africa is racially integrated, but social and economic equities are slow to improve living conditions for all.

I’m investigating a third story for the “Aging Gratefully” documentary series about the connection among cultural traditions, aging and the role of a community in native and non-native cultures.

Little did I know that Mohandas Gandhi might have been South Africa’s most controversial immigrant.

Gandhi’s work later inspired Nelson Mandela.

Come to find out, Gandhi formed a couple intentional communities in his efforts to improve life for Indian immigrants in the early 20th century.

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The Phoenix community near Durban was purchased by Gandhi.

As a young lawyer, he purchased the Phoenix community near the town of Durban on the Indian Ocean. The community was influenced by the Catholic Trappist order and it’s simplistic monastic lifestyle.

Later, he partnered with a Johannesburg farm owner and formed the Tolstoy community named after the Russian author who was also his friend and colleague.

Jews, Muslims, Christians and Hindus lived and worked together in Tolstoy to eliminate discriminatory practices against other minority immigrant groups.

That brings me to my story about the possibilities of melding traditional community customs and rituals around multi-generational care for elders into contemporary indigenous society.

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Memel Organics is a permaculture CSA and gathering place for Memel Global.

To check things out, my travels took me to an intentional community development effort in South Africa called Memel Global, which is also the site of a organic community permaculture garden.

Not knowing what to expect, I tagged along with my neighbor and Memel Global project architect Bryan Bowen of Caddis Architects and his colleagues, Jamison and Molly.

They are working with Steven Ablondi and his wife Cindy Burns as they develop their project in the town of Memel and the township of Zamani in the Free State Province of South Africa. Steven and I are friends and colleagues on the National Cohousing Association board.

South African communities generally consist of towns like Memel, which under apartheid were inhabited by the white minority.

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Memel Global constructed some “rammed earth” houses in Zamani.

Adjacent townships like Zamani were the homes to the black majority who were were relocated there, in many cases, arbitrarily dividing traditional tribes and breaking up families.

Township homes have been government provided since the 1950s. That practice continues today.

Memel Global first focused on the SheWins non-governmental organization that empowers women and girls to transform their communities and meet their social needs.

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Marley Hauser works with the SheWins soccer program.

Marley Hauser, a volunteer from Vermont,  originally arrived to be a soccer coach. In the “other duties as assigned” category, she’s helping develop a sanitary napkin manufacturing process for SheWins. The plan is to fill a community need and at the same time employ some people. The unemployment rate is at least 50 percent.

Memel Global is involved in a wide-ranging list of projects from housing for families and the elderly to while supporting health to primary education to sports programs to the arts.

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Shakes Mafanela works with the SheWins track team

Isaac “Shakes” Mafanela from the township of Soweto adjacent Johannesburg works with the SheWins sports program. His after school efforts include soccer and track teams.

Shakes was also my guide for a couple days. I was interested in township life and he showed me around Zamani and Soweto.

Memel Global has a wide-ranging mission. I’ve initially narrowed the scope of one documentary project down to community building and cohousing that taps into tribal culture and family traditions.

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Pieter Lombaard is a fellow filmmaker documenting Memel Global with Mark and Bright.

Over time, I hope to collaborate with a fellow filmmaker I met in Memel, Pieter Lombaard. He has a production company in Pretoria. So far, our story hasn’t become crystal clear.

He has been documenting Memel Global for the past couple years. Currently, he also is working to get artists to come to Memel, set up residencies and teach skills to local aspiring artists – painters, musicians, dancers.

I couldn’t have picked a more complex place than South Africa, but there’s a huge need for affordable housing.

The housing patterns made 50 years ago exist today. After apartheid, the government constructed township housing with the good intention of improving living conditions.

Even though separations based on race are technically no more, the reality is, South African society is separate but equal based on social and economic class.

Township residents are trapped with no other housing options since they can’t develop any equity.

Like Native Americans on reservations, township members don’t own their land but rather it is held “in trust” by the government.

In the United States, it is possible for tribes and tribal members to take their land out of trust status, which is counter-productive because they give up their sovereignty rights to the surrounding state and federal governments.

In South Africa, there are isolated pilot programs like one in Capetown that re-appropriates land to the occupier. Memel Global is working with the Memel town government to build housing on some of the uninhabited urban plots.

In my way of thinking, the path of least resistance would be to create a pilot project. A group of culturally related families would organize themselves into a community and jointly purchase the site. An outside funder – likely donors – could then finance and help the community construct the homes and common spaces. There could be a variety of ways. and combinations to deed land to the occupiers; swap property from government ownership elsewhere to the Memel site.

Why culturally related?

Having worked extensively with Native American tribes – particularly the Northern Arapaho – I am aware of the importance of ritual and clanship and how those define contemporary communities and physical territory. At one level, the Northern Arapaho Tribe governs for the common good, but at a deeper level, there are clan and spiritual overlays that cause conflicts and not apparent to the outside observer.

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This Zamani resident would like to upgrade her housing, but can’t because the government owns the land.

I wanted to find out if that was also true in this particular part of South Africa. Shakes introduced me to a family in Zamani. The matriarch of the house explained that she would like to improve her housing conditions and expand her living area, but was not able to do so because the land and her home were provided by the government.

When asked whether she would move into a new community. She said she had other relatives who would move to Zamani and live in a community but only if members consisted of her family members. There could be a larger community of many clan-based subcommunities. This was the traditional social pattern before tribes and families were dispersed during apartheid.

The traditional way of living for South African tribal members is not only tribal based, but also family based. This is evident in the township housing design. The plot of land is fairly large. On it is a main building that has a living area and a master bedroom and bath and in some cases a kitchen.

In the back is generally a detached accessory dwelling unit that has three rooms. The uses vary from bedrooms, to a kitchen, to office space depending on family needs at any particular moment. There is detached water source and toilet. As for this Zamani family, there is an open space behind the house where the family performs rituals.

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In Soweto, one of the accessory dwelling rooms by the one I stayed as a guest was converted into a traditional medicine doctor’s office.

I stayed the night in Soweto with a friend of Shakes. That house was a similar layout. One detached bedroom was occupied by a family member, the second was an office space for the woman of the house to practice her traditional medicine and the third was an Air B&B-type room where I stayed.

Deteriorating housing and an inability to keep up with demand remain unintended legacies of apartheid more than 20 years after former President Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress came to power after the nation’s first multiracial vote.

Since that time approximately 4 million homes have been built by the national government. That may seem like a lot, but construction has not been able to keep pace with demand from an ever-growing population in both the rural and urban areas.

Unauthorized settlements are spring up near towns and townships, including the informal community of Foster near Memel and Zamani by settlers unwilling to wait for the government to get around to providing promised housing.

In 1994, the housing backlog was nearly 1.5 million. The need has swelled to well over 2 million as the population has grown by over 13-million people.
The middle class also victims of the housing crunch.

There are 15% of South Africa’s 15 million households earn enough to secure a private mortgage, but difficult to secure because the land can’t be collateralized.

About 60% earn less than R3500 or $270 per month and qualify for government housing. But because of the construction waiting list, those homes won’t be constructed anytime soon.

The middle class makes up 25% and includes law enforcement officers, health care providers, educators and the military. They fall between the cracks because they earn too little to qualify for bank financing and make too much to qualify for government housing. This group would be a good market for the intentional community pilot project.

How might cohousing help South Africa meet its housing gap?

Boulder Senior Cohousing Communities

Lindy Cook and Alan O’Hashi pull weeds from the garden of the community with other residents at Silver Sage Village. The active adult cohousing community for those 55 or older is setup like a usual condo community with every person having their own place, but the sense of community is what is unique. (Photo By Brent Lewis/The Denver Post)

The American cohousing template generally includes one or more people who are burning souls and strong advocates. They recruit other members who want to develop a place to live with others, own their private homes, and at the same time agree to maintain jointly owned spaces such as the common house and courtyard.

Cohousing community members are usually unrelated and may or may not share common values or rituals. That’s typical in American society that emphasizes pulling oneself up by their bootstraps and keeping to one’s self.

Cohousing, in a sense, pounds rugged individualism square pegs into community-based round holes.

Cohousing created around South African cultural norms may be a way to bring together tribes and families, which traditionally are more community oriented – a natural fit.

In the bigger picture, in a place like South Africa where social integration is a relatively new way of life, is cohousing a way to bring racially and culturally diverse multigenerational communities together?

Potentially, yes.

Using cultural brokerage, it’s possible to create a variety of black sub-communities: some traditionally family-based, some based on members from different traditions who practice their rituals elsewhere.

For whites and blacks to live together in a consensus community will take a special group of people willing to leave their cultural and social baggage behind.

Cohousing in America tends to be occupied by a white, liberal, educated, upper income demographic and encouraging diverse communities is a huge challenge.

Living in any intentional community is hard work, let alone living in one with neighbors way different.

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My first top in Zamani was the shebeen with Mark and Bright.

It’s not like being an accidental tourist for a week, or living in the college dorm for a semester. It’s day in, day out, month in month out.

It’s a lifestyle commitment.

Nonetheless, one thing all have in common is a need for interpersonal relationships at many levels including the care and respect friends and family particularly as we all get older.

The Memel Global communities approach is a step in the right direction and rekindling some of the South African intentional community flames.

Ghandi once said “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Supporting projects like the very ambitious Memel Global community is a great way to walk your talk.