Do you know where the food you eat comes from? Maybe you should...

I have a habit of always wanting to know things at a deeper level. Take for instance the food I eat. I want to know whether the tomato I had in my salad was genetically engineered or grown pesticide free in a local farm or miles away in Chile. Or if the salmon I had for dinner last night was farm raised in Arizona or wild caught in Alaska. Finicky? No--I just don't like the idea of eating fish that grows up on a farm or eating fruits that are engineered in a lab. I am the granddaughter of a fisherman after all and the daughter of a mother who keeps a tight garden! (PS some of the wild caught fish is far more nutritious and safe. And genetically modified fruits and veggies are causing concern.)

I want to know if the farm hands that helped plant and harvest the fruits and vegetables I eat are being exploited or treated humanely. And, I do want to know if pesticides, hormones or antibiotics were used in the food my family and I eat. Is the apple I give my kids genetically engineered? How safe is this stuff? Is the orange juice I give my kids in the morning laced with pesticides? Looks like Tropicana and Minute Maid have a little problem with fungicide, a dangerous pesticide banned in the US but not in Brazil or Mexico where much of our oranges used for juicing come from. As an 11 yr. old organic farmer asked in a powerful Ted lecture: Do you want to pay the farmer or the hospital?

Knowing is empowering. What and how we eat is ground zero for good health. While many of us have a plethora of choices in this country, many of these choices are based on environmental and societal factors. Education, access and affordability are among the key factors that come into play whether someone can make a healthy choice. Think of the urban deserts where you can buy all kinds of sugary drinks that pass as fruit juices and malt liquor-laced ices and not one edible delicious apple to snack on or a green park to run around in? Sometimes the odds are stacked against those of us who want to make healthy choices for ourselves and our families. Which is why the Tedx Manhattan event, "Changing the Way we Eat" was so powerful. Remarkable, really!

Be still. Listen...

Almost two decades ago, a young man named Carlos gave me a book that changed my life. The Alchemist by Paolo Coehlo came at the perfect moment. I mean all books come at the perfect moment and when minutes after meeting him, Carlos just went into his bag and gave me the book, I was ready to heed its message: the universe is always conspiring on your behalf, it never ceases to send messages to get on track with your purpose, to align with your gift and dreams. If you are still, you can hear more clearly.

"To realize one's destiny," writes Coehlo, "is a person's only obligation."

Today's beautiful message from the 21 Days of Inspiration that I have been participating was a sublime reminder of that timeless message.

"When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it's bottomless, you begin to discover that it doesn't have any resolution, that this heart is huge, vast and limitless. You begin to discover how much warmth and gentleness is there as well as how much space."  Pema Chodron

Yes, somewhere in PA, there is a little girl named Martini...

And somewhere in the Dominican Republic, there is a little girl named Breast, I am not making this up!

In an effort to be creative, some parents are making it very difficult for kids to go through childhood without being ridiculed at best, bullied at worst. Take the case of a little girl somewhere in Pennsylvania whose Latino parents decided on the brilliant idea to name her Martini. Yes, like the cocktail. It's not just Jay Z and Beyonce and other celebrity parents who get a little creative. Things have gotten so out of control that in some countries, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic for instance, that lawmakers are looking to ban whimsical or plain "crazy" names. Why would you name your daughter a body part, Breast or young son, a car brand, Toshiba? See the story that I wrote for Mamiverse:

A more considerate mom: Luz Maria & baby Aaron
What’s in a name? Plenty. Take the recent flap over Jay Z and Beyonce’s bouncing baby girl being named Blue Ivy. Some fans were left wondering why the music power couple would choose a color associated with less than happy feelings and others praising the Ivy part as “classic.” People have strong feelings about names and are not shy about sharing them.

Parents have even stronger feelings about names and take the responsibility of choosing one very seriously. And with good reason. Recent studies found that people with “white sounding names” such as Molly and Daniel were 50 percent more likely to be contacted for job interviews, so a lot more is riding on your child’s name than just being unique. His or her professional success may be in the balance. There's more.
I photographed these leaves at the High Line Park, Chelsea, New York City

"In all things of nature, there is something of the marvelous, " Aristotle
Jersey Shore
On a beach outing to celebrate my big sister's 50th birthday, we woke up to mist and fog in the morning ocean. I declared, how beautiful and mysterious, look the clouds have come to visit. My big sister says, it's creepy! We were both right.

New year, new job! I am elated to share that I have a new & exciting job

It's been difficult not to share what I think is one of my dreams come true: to edit a magazine whose mission is to provide stories that promote the health, fitness and wellness of women of color. I will write some more about this new adventure, but here it is, ladies and the good gentlemen who follow me: I am the new editor of Heart & Soul magazine. Besides the mission of the magazine, I'm elated too because I'll be working with someone I have long admired, the talented journalist George Curry, who among many career highlights was the former EIC of Emerge magazine.

Here is Richard Prince's scoop on the announcement of the sale of the title and my coming on board:

Heart & Soul was first published in 1993 as part of a joint venture between Reginald Ware and Rodale Press. It was later owned by BET, Vanguarde Media and, more recently, Edwin V. Avent.Heart & Soul was first published in 1993 as part of a venture between Reginald Ware and Rodale Press. It was later owned by BET, Vanguarde Media and, more recently, Edwin V. Avent.

Sandra Guzman, Formerly of Latina, Named Editor-in-Chief

A group that includes veteran journalist George E. Curry has purchased Heart & Soul, a health-and-wellness magazine targeting African Americans, and named former Latina magazine editor-in-chiefSandra Guzman its top editor as part of an effort to broaden its focus.
"Racial and ethnic minorities constituted 91.7 percent of the U.S. population growth between 2000 and 2010 and are projected to make up a majority of the country’s population by 2042," a Wednesday announcement said. "By broadening its audience, Heart & Soul becomes the only national publication that targets multicultural women ages 21 to 55 in the health, fitness and wellness category."
Sandra GuzmanSandra GuzmanIn her biography, Guzman lists herself as "an award winning, multi-media journalist with many years of experience in broadcast, newspapers and magazine journalism. I’ve labored in them all …," she said. ". . . I was also a former Associate Editor at the New York Post, editing 10 special feature sections for the paper including, Tempo, a section I created that covered the city’s Latino community."
Guzman is one of three former Post employees with lawsuits pending against the newspaper, accusing it of racism and sexism.
She will be "the primary person responsible for guiding 'Heart & Soul' into a new era," Curry writes in the first issue under new management. "She begins her association with us by writing this issue's cover story on three, 30-day challenges that will change your life. . . . Guzman, who was born in Puerto Rico and reared in New York City, prides herself on both her Black and Latino heritage."
The news release began, "Heart & Soul magazine, an 18-year-old national wellness publication, has been purchased by Brown Curry Detry Taylor & Associates, LLC (BCDT), a media content company based in Silver Spring, Md.
"Clarence I. Brown, BCDT president and CEO, announced today that the company acquired all assets of Heart & Soul Enterprises, LLC, the parent company of the magazine, from its owner, Edwin V. Avent, a Baltimore-based businessman."
No purchase price was disclosed.
" 'We are excited about our acquisition of this important brand and readers will quickly notice a revamped, first-rate edition and a more engaging digital version of Heart & Soul,' said Brown. 'We will focus on repositioning the brand back to fitness, health and wellness and broadening the content, the audience, and the advertisers.'
". . . BCDT, which stands for Brown, Curry, Detry and Taylor, was formed by four highly-respected media and marketing veterans: Clarence I. Brown, George E. Curry, Patrick H. Detry and Pamela E. Taylor.. All the principals have past ties to Heart & Soul. Brown was responsible for daily management of the magazine when it was owned by BET, Curry was editor of Emerge when Heart & Soul was part of the BET magazine group and Detry and Taylor provided consulting services to Edwin Avent, the former owner."
Avent announced on Oct. 11 that he had resigned as president and publisher. The Hollywood Reporter announced later that month, "An ambitious new TV broadcast service targeting African Americans in the southern United States called the Soul of the South Network plans to spend at least $10 million by early next year to launch in at least 50 markets offering entertainment, sports, news and cultural programming."
Avent is chairman of the new network’s parent company, SSN Media Group.
Kendra Lee is remaining as executive editor and Debra Moore, associate art director at Emerge when Curry was editor-in-chief in the 1990s, is creative director. Yanick Rice Lamb, the previous editor-in-chief, is now editor-at-large. Curry is executive vice president/content and editorial director.
Avent has told Journal-isms that the magazine, published six times a year, has a circulation of 300,000.

On gossip and other tricky social behaviours....

So a new study out of UC Berkeley has found that gossip is good for you. According to researchers, talking smack about someone is good for social order. What's next? A study that shows that that big Macs and super sizing fast food meals are good for our cholesterol? Having worked at a newspaper known for publishing what was once the most important gossip page in the country, I saw how gossip, and the business of gossip, worked from the inside. Once you witness how sausage is made, well, you know the rest.

Gossip. Vicious, dirty gossip can cause much more than heartburn. As a kid I will always remember some of my old neighbors, the ones without jobs, who spent the whole day out their windows keeping track of all that was going down on the block. Yea, their nosy bodies kept the thieves in check, but, their chatter also destroyed reputations and relationships! Of course, many of these gossip mongers failed to keep their own homes clean, if you know what I mean. As a kid, I always found gossip, or bochinche, as it was called, vulgar. But who is judging? I mean, I am the first to admit that I have gossiped. And funny enough, I end up in an industry, media, that is -- at the core -- all about gossip. Ugh...

Healing your wounds may mean you don't bandage them...

Children can teach us so much if we really, really listen. A young child who is cut will scream harder if the cut is bleeding. In their young mind, they believe that all their guts will pour out of the wound it it's not covered up and quickly! A bandage, to their thinking, will prevent hemorrhaging--death even! The smallest of cuts, no matter how tiny, needs to be patched up then kissed for good measure. Besides a lot of loving patience and humor, I learned that new parents will need lots of band aids on hand to survive the young years.

But, do we really outgrow this instinct to cover our wounds? I'm talking about emotional wounds of course. Just like most physical wounds need to be aired out to heal, so do many of our emotional cuts, inflicted in places where we do not necessarily bleed, but for sure feel.

As we age we're still like little kids preferring to patch things up, sweep under the rug, hide in the closet these wounds that deeply hurt and scare us. We figure later, maybe, we can deal with them. Many times we pretend that they are not even there. You see, to face our wounds-- to air them out -- is to have to deal with them and be vulnerable and who wants that? I don't. Who wants to walk around all open and naked. I don't.

Gil Scott-Heron's moving memoir about a man named King and a holiday in his honor

"...A change in people’s hearts is even more difficult to gauge. There has to be some sign from those who represent them in a society where folks live together without touching. There has to be some assurance that they have learned that people who showed the world did not present offerings that only people outside our country needed. Certainly recognition of a Desmond Tutu or a Martin Luther King by panels of objective individuals pointed out the value of those they honored beyond the constrictions of geography; that the work they did, in essence, came from this or that community but was of value to all mankind..."

Continue reading's excepted from Gil Scott Heron's memoir, "The Last Holiday," now available from Grove Atlantic books. 

Thought provoking.
Worth a read on this most sacred of holidays.

Believe in the dream...

"I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality"...  From Dr. King's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech

Sisterhood by Glenn Daniels
It is not necessary to blow out the other person's lantern to let yours shine. -- Swahili proverb

The Get Ahead Guide for the 21st Century Woman...

"Professionally, Latinas continue to be chronically underpaid and underemployed. We are collectively at the bottom of the pay scale. A 2010 study on the gender wage gap found that Latinas have the lowest earnings of all--averaging at $509 a week versus the white male weekly earnings of $819. In the new millennium, it's still a white man's world. All women, regardless of race and ethnicity, earn less than white men, even in occupations that are traditionally considered "female." 

Discrimination is real. 
Sexism is real.
Racism is real.

Count yourself lucky if you you haven't been on the wrong side of an 'ism...."  ...Notwithstanding all the cliched ideas about gender and culture that can stymie your personal and professional success, many of the roadblocks we have to overcome are self-imposed. I call these cultural idiosyncrasies and I explore six of these cultural complexes in Chapter 12, Finding Professional in my book, "The New Latina's Bible."

While sometimes it's others and the perception they may have of you, your skills, talent and intelligence to keep you from climbing, there are instances where we are the ones perpetrating tragic self sabotage!

Could you be infected by any of the dangerous cultural complexes that may be keeping you from climbing the professional ladder? See how many you can identify in your life:

Don't put limitations on how you want your life to unfold...

From birth to the age of nine, the view that I woke up to every morning was to this glorious blue of the Caribbean Sea. Yes, there was a horizon, but I understood that the world wasn't flat and that I could leave the island and live great adventures. Then, at the end of third grade, and without warning, my mom packed our tropical dresses and my sister's and I took a flight up north to New Jersey. Rather than an ocean of blue, my view from my tenement window became urban blight. In other less positive eyes, this horizon would have been depressing and debilitating, but to my young child's imagination, it was just as beautiful and filled with potential. My childhood best friend John John and I would sit on the fourth floor fire escape right outside my bedroom window and talk about the world beyond our neighborhood, which was deemed a dysfunctional cesspool of drugs, violence and welfare dependency. However outsiders defined this block, rightly or wrongly, it was our world, and though we loved it much, we also deeply understood that there were many adventures ahead of us and it was up to us to make them happen. My mother, from Puerto Rico, and his parents, from Ecuador, brought us to America seeking a better life for themselves and their children. Therefore, living in the land of milk and honey, we knew were destined for greatness. Letting the immediate dysfunctional world- inside our homes and outside, limit us was a non issue.

I'm still trying to figure out with John John what it was that we possessed inside our little hearts and minds that allowed us to flourish despite the racism, sexism, debilitating poverty, homophobia we experienced. John, one of the most brilliant people I know, is today armed with a PHD and is school principal. I am an Emmy winning journalist, author of two books, and hundreds of newspaper, magazine articles and essays. I live in the City of my dreams, the one that I would look at adoringly from my rooftop in Jersey City and that I envisioned one day would be my home. I live the life that I always dreamed about. Not all of my life journey, which continues to manifest, has been pain free and easy breezy. Some of it has been very rocky, painful and scary. But, I carry on, like a good daughter of my mother and father. A child of a resilient island. A survivor of ancestors who were enslaved. And an indigenous people who were massacred.

Life has tested my resolve, as I am sure tested the men and women who came before me, as I am sure it tests yours. I have seen myself in precarious financial and emotional situations, not unlike most people. But, here's the thing: I am living my dharma. Are you? I've never given up on me or my dreams. Have you?

Offer love. Receive love. Acknowledge love. Above all, learn how to get better at love. Love is worth cultivating.

I read once that love is an art form. And that proper training is needed in order to love properly. Both ideas resonated deeply with me because as I look around, I see that as a society, we have lost sight on how to love right. Dating and domestic violence rates are at an all time high. Arguments, drama and nasty between lovers, friends and family are rampant. Everywhere. In all neighborhoods. And tax brackets. Seems like the drama is not just in reality television shows or behind other people's doors, it is in our very own living rooms. (Perhaps that is why Americans are so obsessed with reality shows? Maybe we all just need a hug and some therapy?)

I get it that many times choosing to love and to receive love are things that are easier said than done. That  good love only happens in soap operas or fairy tales. How does one accept the right kind of love if one is accustomed to being loved the wrong way? I am reminded of the story told to me recently by a friend who witnessed a mother slapping her crying toddler. When the mom saw her baby's tears, she quickly rubbed the tears away and kissed the baby girl's cheeks and told her she loved her. What kind of message was this baby getting about love? What kind of message was this mother sending?  That love hurts, that those who love us hurt us? That love is both pleasure and pain-- ya think?

For many of us, when we look inside ourselves, we don't really believe that we are lovable. We've come to belief the false notion that we don't really deserve to be loved right? That perhaps we really don't have the capacity to love. The root of these distorted notions may have been set during those early years. And while it's really worth digging, it's also helpful to start shifting that perspective. Like now...

For as long as I can remember, I've been seduced by love--familial love, platonic love, romantic love, passionate love-- love of all sorts. I love love songs, love poems, love letters. Books on love. Thing is, I want to love  and be loved right. And I know that I am not alone. As a society, we spend much of our time looking for love, offering our love, receiving love, trying to understand love, and learning how to love ourselves. We are eager about love as a subject, this I know. But sadly, we spend very little time learning how to love. Dr Tim Brieske's beautiful and moving conversation about love gets at the core because it starts with conscious loving of the self. It's a gem worth listening to as are the two books I mentioned earlier, The Art of Love by Erich Fromm and Thich Nhat Hanh's tiny treasure, True Love. But what is right love? Wrong love? What does it mean to love properly?

"A new sense of self dawns when your belief in yourself is secure," Deepak Chopra

I like my shadow...
At the intersection of our mind and body is our spirit and when this holy trinity comes together, there is a beauty and joy that is delicious, even wondrous. Life and all its drama-- violence, neglect, chaos, abandonment, and betrayal-- does a good job at smashing us into little pieces, disconnecting us from ourselves. As a result of time, the literal for some, metaphoric for others, and our painful pasts, many   walk around, shattered. On the outside, for most people, you'd never, ever know. They are like beautifully manicured lawns in a high end neighborhood, their external lives are pretty and maintained but on the inside is a universe bursting with dysfunction. On the one end of the spectrum are those who of us who are hyper focused on our physical and external worlds represented by the professional success, money, status, fame, glory, tight abs, and even a tighter buttocks. On the other end of the scale are those whose focus is only on the spiritual and the divine and become hyper focused on their spiritual lives, abandoning the body and the external world. These people define the secular world as something that is superfluous, even, in some cases, evil. Money, status, and the body are neglected. In Spanish, it's called, "se dejan abandondar..." Can you see how disjointed and separate a person like this is? This disjointed life serves no one. Bringing both parts of ourselves together is attainable. Wholeness is accessible to each of us, not just the evolved or enlightened gurus. And the great news is that it can start today, now, if you allow it.

I came across this gem of a book."Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul: How to Create a New You," written by the insightful Deepak Chopra which explores this very topic and shows us ways to tap our wholeness. I wanted to share a passage:

Martha's Vineyard

You have no need to travel anywhere--journey within yourself. Enter a mine of rubies and bathe in the splendor of your own light. --Rumi 

Happy 3 Kings Day...

Today in Latin America children and adults celebrate a holy day, the Epiphany or Tres Reyes Magos, the day in Christian lore when three foreign men bring gifts to baby Jesus.

In reality, it's become another excuse for a day off, and a day for kids to get more gifts. As a kid in Puerto Rico, I never got a visit from Santa, to us, he was a fat guy who lived up north. The slim and brown Reyes, however, rocked our world in the Caribbean. The night before Epiphany, we'd place grass and water for the camels, and Winston cigarettes under our beds. (Mom was a smoker then and that is what she said the three kings needed after such a long trip!) How un pc to leave cigs for the wise men. Hey, but they did leave gifts under our beds, take the grass, drink the water and leave half smoked buds!

It was a good ol time. Enjoy the day.

On forgiving in the new year...

When I read that one of the most painful questions short of our own death is that of forgiveness, I was flashed back to a conversation I had with a friend who was on his death bed. He'd decided to stop taking the drugs that were keeping his cancer at bay, and face death with a dignity that was both fearless and inspiring. I sat with him on the morning of his transfer from the hospital where he was receiving treatment to the hospice where he would wait for death. I remember that asking him how he was feeling would have been a weird question. Instead I wanted to know what was going through his mind knowing that death was imminent, seconds away. A man who was so dignified on his death bed, whose grace was inspiring, to me, possessed a wisdom that I wanted to understand. My friend held my hand gently and told me this: I have forgiven all the people who caused me pain. If I could leave you with one lesson, it is this: forgive. Do not walk with a heavy heart. The lightness and peace that comes is the one that you want to live with everyday. It feels wonderful. Life has little worth, he said, if you don't forgive. My friend died three days later, but his words remain with me.

This is the time of year when on many people's resolutions list is that of forgiveness. It is both a simple act (and those who have forgiven understand how simple it is to just let go) but the process is often long, difficult, painful and complicated.  One thing I know is that forgiving is not forgetting or excusing. It is deciding that you are no longer going to carry the pain of what happened in your life. That you will not allow the act that hurt you define you, hurt you, consume you, make you feel good or bad, or whatever. It is about ultimately feeling empowered that you will not let it happen again.

My Essential 10 for the New Year

If you incorporate these ten essentials into your daily life, 2012 has the potential to be a little sweeter, healthier and more meaningful. Why not make this year not just about surviving but thriving? Create a new year filled with purpose, meaning, and healthy living. Above all, there is one ingredient that will never fail: love. No matter how complicated the equation or situation, love is always the right answer.

1.  Carve out a holy moment with yourself.  In the busyness of survival, we just go and go and go.  Work. School. Kids. Family. Eat Sleep. Repeat. Reconnecting with our essence through meditation, walking in nature, a warm bath in the morning or at night is a great way to stop, take stock, and keep moving.  There is beauty, power, wisdom and sanity when you tune in.

2.  Find meaning in the mundane. Is your list of daily tasks filled mundane? If so, try a different approach. Even the most banal of chores can be elevated to glory. Grocery shopping can be a wondrous experience if you think about the sacred nature of eating and feeding yourself and your family. Same can be said of cleaning, paying bills, etcetera. Take those daily tasks to the next level.

3.  Move your body. How many times have you heard this? If you just walk for 30 minutes a day, it will make a difference. Our bodies were made for moving and our muscles will suffer atrophy of we don't use them. Over time, it spells trouble.

4.  Drink more water. The latest report from a controverisal lawsuit between Pepsi and Mountain Dew reveals that Mountain Dew can turn a mouse into gel! Sodas are pretty much chemical garbage. Remember you are not a car engine, you are a living organism. 'Nough said.

5. Nourish your true passion. Is it painting? Cooking? Writing? Shell collecting? Whatever your deepest passion is, it is yours and yours only. Respect it. Honor it. Don't judge it or let others belittle it. And if you are not making a living doing what you love today, remember that it doesn't always have to be so. Carve out some time cultivate your passion each day.

Happy 2012!

May yours be filled with all kinds of beautiful.