Texas, part 4 of 7: Video with Cancer Survivor Shelly in San Antonio

Kristin and I got up early and went for a long run on the River Walk. I said to her, “Why don’t we live here?” I always say that, when we discover stuff like how there are bike trails all around Denver, or it’s warm all winter in Mesa, or there’s a health-food store on every other corner in California.

Then when we were packing up after our class at a beautiful church out in the woods, we got in the car and it was full of…..mosquitoes! Ahhhh. THAT’S why we don’t live here. We slapped ourselves silly on the drive to Houston and escaped with, oh, only a dozen mosquito bites apiece or so?

My favorite thing about Southerners is their openness—not just to us, but to each other. I remarked to Kristin later that what struck me about all my Texas classes, but especially Houston, was that I’d be talking to someone about a problem she was having, and the person behind her in line would poke into the convo and say, “I can help you with that.”

For instance, a 26-y.o. woman who just completed treatment for ovarian cancer, bald and swollen from steroids, wants to eat whole, raw plant foods. But she’s on disability income. I talked to her about joining a co-op and the woman behind her in line said, “I’ll tell you exactly where the co-ops are–let’s talk.”

The community that builds around the movement we’re in warms my heart. I love seeing GSG readers form co-ops for the group buy. These things, as I write in the Intro to 12 Steps, are more valuable than just hooking up with resources. The women I met early in my search for answers were my teachers, my guiding stars. I learned so much from Charlene Stott, Brenda Corbridge, Gwen Lund. Now I stand on my own two feet, but I see them around town and I feel great affection for them.

Talking to Shelley really made my day. She’s not only recovering from breast cancer and chemotherapy by embracing antioxidant-rich foods, but she’s had some other exciting “side effects” of nutrition treatments, which has flowed to her young-adult son. Watch my very short video with her:

tennis and brain tumors and green smoothies

If I’d had my camera with me, I’d have taken a photo of one of my fiercest tennis opponents, whose name is Kristy. I haven’t played her in a long time; she plays for a club in North Salt Lake that we sometimes lose to (whereas we beat everyone else). She’s my age with 4 kids, so we bonded.

The last match I remember with her, we were playing singles and were tied in the second set after I’d won the first one. The rest of our teammates had finished their matches, and we were still going because we’re both baseline players and our rallies were interminable. It began to pour rain, so we had to drive to indoor courts, where our whole teams watched us finish it off. I won, but she is really good and I told her I’d love to play with her, for fun, sometime.

Today she was at my club for a match and she said, “I’ve been looking for you!” She told me that she’d had surgery for a brain tumor just two months ago. A neighbor friend of hers said, “I am bringing you a green smoothie every day for two weeks before and after your surgery.” She did so, and Kristy is playing competitive tennis now less than two months later! She looks healthy and beautiful.

Kristy didn’t know what a GS was, but she’s a convert now. The neighbor sent her to my site, where Kristy said, “Hey! I play tennis with that girl!” She got my course and now has Hot Pink Smoothie for breakfast every morning. (Beets. Carrots. Dates and more. Perfect electrolytes, perfect fat/carbs/protein ratio, all raw, and now I REALLY AM SCARED IF I HAVE TO PLAY HER AGAIN! Might just be the competitive edge she needed.)

Kristi’s neighbor, if you’re reading this, I LOVE YOU. I love love love to hear stories of people helping each other in crisis—rescuing folks we care about with good nutrition. We can’t prop people up forever if they don’t want to own responsibility for their own care. But we can get them started, get them addicted to the way they feel when they get 15 servings of raw vegetables and fruit in their diet every day.

As I’ve written about on this blog before, it’s a great way to serve someone who is facing a scary diagnosis or a surgery: tell them you’re bringing green smoothies every day for the foreseeable future. Last year I did that with my friend Lisa after her shoulder surgery, and with my neighbor Kris after she had brain surgery. My teammate Laura has taken GS to her wheelchair-bound neighbor who has a debilitating disease her sisters and mother have all died of, for a few years now, and she’s far outlived anyone’s expectations and believes that’s why.

Love you all who serve others. Share here if you have an experience with that!

The Sunflower Orphanage, Peru Part 4

I have much more to tell you about our trip to Peru and especially the Sunflower Orphanage. In the swings (THANK YOU to GSG reader Patti for these photos!) are Purfita, Dayana, Janina, and me.

Janina is so cute and sweet, but she is impish and lets you know EXACTLY how she wants things to be! Dayana makes beautiful jewelry and drives a hard bargain. But she also wrapped a set of earrings up with gobs of paper and tape, and she and Janina presented them to me as a gift.

When I think of how badly I would like to take one or more of these girls out of Peru, I have to turn my brain away from the thought before my heart shatters in a million pieces, as impossible as that is.

The day we finished building this swing set, it rained all afternoon. The kids, though, took turns swinging all day long and into the night. No swing ever stood still. Classmates stood above the orphanage looking in, jealously. Some of these kids have never been in a swing. (Don’t worry, they figured it out. It didn’t take them long to learn to yell, “Empujame!” Push me! And to jump out at the height of the motion.)

In this photo with Cristofer, who is 7 years old and new to The Sunflower, whom Emma and I adore, we are hauling grass and rocks away before we built an outdoor wash basin. Cristofer rode in my wheelbarrow over and over, and it’s easy to carry him since he’s the size of a 4-year old! Seventeen percent of kids in Latin America are malnourished and Cristofer came as one of them. Now he gets three meals a day thanks to the generosity of Americans who sponsor kids at the Sunflower, run by two of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.

I looked high and low for a humanitarian organization that is truly dedicated to the welfare of street children and orphans, where virtually all of your money reaches the intended cause. I already know the founders. But I wanted to go there to see it, touch it. And I asked the kids, the intern, everyone, lots of questions. This organization, and this amazing home, is the real deal. Let me tell you a couple of examples of why I love this place:

One day I was pushing kids in the swings and Gabriel saw one of the teenage girls get into a swing with a big handful of grapes. He stopped his swinging and walked over to her, to ask for some. She give him half. Then he went back to swinging but noticed 5-year old Janina standing nearby. He slowed his swing to a stop, silently reached over and gave her half of his grapes. Then he started swinging again.

He never even knew I saw this. I never saw a fight the whole time I was at the orphanage. I never heard an argument, never saw meanness or selfishness. (I wish I could say the same about my own kids.) These children were rescued from savage abuse. From hiding and trying to survive in the jungle. From begging on the streets. From alcoholic parents. Many of them don’t even know their own birthday, how old they are. Many have no memory prior to age 8 because of that magnificent ability the body has to protect us from horribly painful memories.

Nora is an MD and PhD cancer researcher at the famous Houston MD Anderson Clinic. She came with a GSG reader (and often translated for us, including letters to the kids as we left, since she is a native of Argentina). Nora decided during the trip to sponsor a beautiful, quiet girl named Margot. (That means she pays the $37/month that covers Margot’s meals, and Nora is going to skype with Margot and send her clothes and shoes.) Margot was confiding in Nora the gossip at the Sunflower. “Papi Leo,” she whispered, “might convert this place to be an orphanage!” Margot ran away from two previous orphanages. At the Sunflower, the gates are always open, but no one has ever run away. The kids seem very genuinely happy to me.

Margot has no idea the Sunflower IS an orphanage. To her, it’s just . . .


Here’s where you sponsor one of the kids:


Hello from 13,000 feet up in the Andes: Part 2

Our 11-day trip to Peru will soon be over, and it’s officially the only long trip I have ever taken where I wished I could stay. Emma and I have fallen madly in love with 34 little brown children. We just went to church with them, where some of the girls were wearing Emma and Libby’s old dresses, which delighted Em. I have seen my daughter learn and grow in a profound way (her Spanish has  improved in a quantum way because she’s so motivated to express herself to the orphans). Today we visit babies in a hospital in Cusco and give them the donations we brought.  Babies go home wrapped in newspapers there, because the families are so poor.

One thing I won’t miss: the kids all call me Shakira, and I have had to respond to demands to ¡CANTA! and ¡BAILA! oh, I don’t know, 200 times? After singing Hips Don’t Lie and Underneath Your Clothes a few times, and doing Shakira’s hip-shakin’ thing, I decided that Ritchie Valens’ La Bamba would be more appropriate to sing. The kids vastly prefer my dancing to my singing. The adults called me Barbie (including random strangers when I went running every morning, ” ¡Hola Barbie!”). Apparently the only two people the orphans and even most of the adults have been exposed to, who have long blonde hair, are Shakira and Barbie? At first the kids would take my long hair and drape it over their heads to pretend it was their hair, and they’d surreptitiously pull out a strand of my hair to keep. Then after a while they got bold and would beg me to cut off a lock of my hair. (That’s where I draw the line.)

On New Year’s Eve we had a huge party for the kids at the orphanage, with live music, crafts, fireworks like I have never seen before, and a traditional feast the expedition volunteers paid for. The younger ones could barely prop their eyes open at the end of the night but, when asked to go to bed, pleaded, ” ¡Por favor, no!”

I met the most gorgeous 4 y.o. boy, Marco, who has cerebral palsy, and I held him and danced with the others for a couple of hours to give his mother a rest. His mother Kynet had apparently been told what I do in the U.S. and asked me, shyly: Will you help me with nutrition, for Marco? She was the cook at the orphanage until carrying Marco on her back tied with a shawl (all the women here do that) became too much for her.

Yesterday I had a meeting with her, with my friend Van translating, as my Spanish is adequate but I don’t have the sophisticated vocabulary for everything I wanted to say.

Kynet is very poor and has no education, but she is one of the most motivated, intelligent, loving mothers I have ever met. She talked about how Marco’s father (her common-law husband) said, “I will never smile again until my son is well.”

Kynet juices carrots and beets for her tiny boy, who is the size my children were at 15 months. She then adds the pulp to rice–brilliant!–rather than throwing it away. She didn’t know that brown rice is much more nutritious than white rice, and the grama of the orphanage, Eunice, told her where to buy it. We discussed high calorie and high nutrition foods such as avocado and banana to feed Marco more of. I taught her how to sprout seeds and raw nuts, and I emphasized the importance of raw foods. Kynet uses a cheap blender, because Marco cannot masticate food so she blends most of it. I am going to talk to BlendTec: between us we will get a Total Blender to Kynet. I told her she is a wonderful mother, smart and attentive, the mother God chose very specifically for Marco.

Marco has winces with pain when he eats anything slightly cold or hot because of impacted teeth needing extraction. The anaesthesia used by locals could put Marco in a coma, so a pediatric oral surgeon is needed, and one does not exist in the entire state of Cusco. My friend Van and I talked for a minute about how to get such a doctor to fly to Lima, and pay for Kynet and Marco to go to Lima. Kynet looked us both in the eyes, back and forth, and whispered in Spanish,

“I plead with you.”

The love of a mother. It is profound. It made tears well up in my eyes, in Van’s, and in Kynet’s, and I have the same reaction writing this. As difficult as life will be for Marco, a severely handicapped boy in a third world country, whose father makes $200/month, his eyes shine from all the love he’s given daily. The 34 children of the Sunflower Orphanage break my heart even more.

I have had much to reflect on during many hours of physical labor at the orphanage.   We planted a vegetable garden, ploughed and planted a wheat field, painted dorms, hauled rocks, built a swing set, built an outdoor sink. And played with the children, read to them, did arts and crafts with them, loved them up. If only you could love and touch and physically give enough to a child in a week to shore up a lifetime. It takes $30K and 2 years to get a child out of a Peruvian orphanage, only if you’re lucky.

Primary among my reflections has been how significant parents are. I cannot really describe for you the effect on me–and more importantly, on my daughter–of spending an intensive week serving and loving children who have no mothers, no fathers. The children are fascinated by parents and grandparents and grilled me endlessly about mine: How old are they? Where do they live? Do you live with them?

I will post a photo of my meeting with Kynet, Van, and Marco when I get home. Give your children, if you’re blessed to have them, an extra hug from the GSG readers who are here. All the children of the world deserve parents.

thoughts on service

I don’t know about you-all, but I have a lot of sick people in my life right now. A couple of my tennis-club girlfriends are having serious issues affecting their ability to play–these being women in their 30’s and 40’s–like ovarian cancer and blurry vision suspected to be a brain tumor. Another of my good friends had brain surgery a few weeks ago for an aneurysm, and was told that her veins look 70 years old. I could go on, but suffice it to say that I seem to be surrounded by folks getting cancer, thyroid problems, gout, and many other issues.

This weighs heavily on me. In my community, people know each other well because most (far more than 75%) belong to the same church, so either we go to church together, or we know the few who don’t. My church, world-wide, has a well-run system to make sure that no one is without a regular visitor to check up on them and help meet their needs. There are welfare systems in place for those who hit hard times, and if you are ill, WATCH OUT–the women’s organization will be all over you with loads of casseroles, treats, and all manner of food items!

I watched my girlfriend who has a 16-inch scar on her head (and her really long, curly hair gone now but growing in beautifully already). She and her husband are very well known in the community. He is a rather famous local recording artist, and she is one of the kindest, service-oriented people I know.

So people wanted to help. Every time I’m at their house since her recovery I see things that I know she does not want to eat. LOTS of homemade “stardard American diet.” She loves plant food, would be vegetarian except for (1) her love of occasional shrimp, and (2) the fact that her husband likes his meat and she likes to oblige.

In this community, you can find yourself wondering what you could do to help–with so many others lovin’ this family up. (I’m on a list to babysit their youngest child, but they never take me up on it . . .)

Well, my way to help when someone has surgery, or is bedridden, is GREEN SMOOTHIES. It’s unique and it’s appreciated more than another plate of “goodies.” However much they want–a pint a day, or a quart. Sometimes the spouse wants some, too. I’ve had a wonderful experience with helping people in this way. Even if they aren’t interested in nutrition, they seem to always appreciate the smoothies and always want to give me feedback about how much better they feel, drinking them. Sometimes they keep the habit up, themselves, after they recover.

I also get the sense that of all the food that pours into my girlfriend’s house (the one with the aneurysm), they appreciate and anticipate green smoothies more. Very frankly, the last thing people need when they are SICK is more of the food that helped get them that way. You’re never more motivated to make lifestyle changes than when you’re ill.

This isn’t to criticize the way so many show love with food, because the givers’ hearts are in the right place. Once I read a rant by an extremely overweight person about how she wished people would not give her chocolate and other junk food for various occasions requiring gifts. She called it “abuse.” Is it abuse to give an obese person a box of chocolates?

I’ll leave that question hanging out there. Fact is, all I want to say is that if you make green smoothies every day for yourself, you already understand something most people don’t. You’ve learned the “highest and best use” of your kitchen time. When your life allows it, double that and take some to someone else you know would benefit. (If you’re shy, ask them first. Or just take them a pint. Explain why you think it might benefit them.)

It’s a gift of your time and energy (and it isn’t free, of course). But as people are wringing their hands right now about flu and H1N1, you can do something during the winter and holidays to HELP instead of hurt their health. It’s pretty easy and people are SO grateful.

I’d love to hear your story about taking GS to folks who are suffering with health problems to give others ideas and motivation. Or maybe you’re a recipient of that service?

My dear friend Laura converted to GS a couple years ago and has taken them to a woman who is wheelchair bound and blind from a degenerative disease. Her ability to swallow is severely impaired. She is such a blessing to her friend. How about you?

thanks, Mom

I would just like to take a minute at the end of this Mother’s Day to honor my own mother who is halfway across the world in Milan, Italy, serving and teaching people there, with my dad.   My mom and dad are the epitome of health and work long days doing meaningful things they love, not slowing down a bit just because they’ve retired.    My mom is  always learning and growing.   Last year,  she  digested 17 books on the pharmaceutical industry and the way it has controlled and harmed the public’s health.   Then  she went on radio shows and presented to community groups to teach people to put their faith somewhere else besides mainstream medicine.   She is an incredible reader, teacher, and presenter.   I wish you could hear her speak: before she left for Italy, she studied Italian on her own so intensively that she gave part of her farewell speech in Italian!

My dad can (and has!) beat me running races, despite the fact that he is 64 years old.   He owes my mom a big thank you for helping him be so healthy, feeding him a plant-based diet for the 43 years they’ve been married.   He has plenty of risk factors, including having worked as a young adult spraying Malathion in his grandfather’s cherry orchards, not even wearing a face mask.   But he is crazy healthy, and his love of running and his good diet must be the reasons!

I want to be like them when I grow up,  I want to make them proud, and I want to raise my children to be worthy of the great legacy they’ve given us.   Thanks for setting a great example to me, Mom!   Happy Mother’s Day!