November Holiday

I’m currently in Las Vegas. It’s our Thanksgiving break, and I flew down with H and K on Tuesday night after school.  There was a grand plan to join the airline catering demonstration and enjoy the airport lounge, but alas it was not to be. I was happy to settle for spicy mac and cheese.

I showed up to the flight wearing my #3 Wilson jersey, and rather than leave it to chance this time I asked the gate agents if they were going to call for priority boarding for jerseys. The man at the counter said yes, you just have to listen for it. Oh, maybe that’s my problem, I haven’t been listening hard enough to get priority boarding.  Well, they boarded priority boarding, first class, and when they called to seat group A, I told them I didn’t hear for the call for jerseys. The woman at the jetway said, oh, yes, that’s in group B!  So I stood aside, and she called group B, and a bunch of group B people stepped into line.  I was like, wtf, so I stepped into line, and after checking a few people in, she called for people wearing jerseys to board. I was definitely the only person in the entire airport wearing the jersey, which is maddening given Russel Wilson’s march towards the MVP this year. Anyway, getting called in the middle of group B doesn’t feel like “priority boarding.”

Whatever. We rented a Chevy Malibu and drove to my folks’s house. The next morning, I was feeling sick, which is annoying because I had just gotten over something. I stayed in bed as my family enjoyed such family traditions as casino bingo and chicken wings.

The following day was Thanksgiving Day, which is my favorite holiday, but seems frought now that we know that the “Pilgrims ❤ Natives, Kumbayah” fiction is a rather cruel decades-long whitewash of the atrocities committed by the Separatists against the Pequot tribe. So now, especially that I don’t eat turkey or sugar anymore, it made sense to decolonize my celebration. I made pansit and mustard greens for the feast, as well as mashed potatoes and stuffing.

Mama made her apple pie, sweetened with ripe bananas and persimmons rather than sugar. I think next year there will be mushroom gravy, and potage.

We spent most of “black friday” hanging out at the house; I took another afternoon nap while K and H met friends and hung out in town. Later that night we shopped at the outlet mall; I bought a sweater for work. I had planned to buy nothing to protest capitalism, but in my defense it was 70% off.

Today is our last day in Vegas, we fly home tonight. I’ll be back again for the Christmas holiday, but my sister and brother-in-law will be visiting his family in New York.

Happy Holidays, everyone; hope 2020 is more fun and prosperous for all of us.

Bayani Mari, requiem in paradisum

My favorite memory of my cowsin Bayani is from over 30 years ago. Even though we lived very close by, we didn’t see him much. We did care for him and wanted to be with him, but there were some boundaries that the adults kept that we kids went along with even though we didn’t understand.

One time, when he was around 10 years old, cowsin Bayani needed a ride somewhere important, and the adults in his life couldn’t swing it. I remember we were happy to go pick him up and give him a ride to where he needed to be.

I remember it was a sunny late summer or early fall afternoon, and us kids were sitting in the back of the van. My sister and I were clowning as usual, and Bayani seemed shy or at least not very talkative.  I remember that he was happy to be with us, and that he had a deep Mari chuckle, the same one his dad and all his sisters have, the same chuckle that my cowsins in Daly City have.

As adults we reconnected on Facebook, and we were glad to find each other. We didn’t find a way to reconnect in person, mostly because of the distance between us. I was either in Seattle working, or living in California; his life was in the Thurston County. I think he felt hurt that we weren’t a bigger part of his life as he was growing up, I certainly regret that as well.

I admired Cowsin Bayani’s adventures, catching salmon. I think he struggled sometimes, and the last time I saw him post on Facebook, I wanted to post him some words of support. However, it was late at night, and I figured my encouragement would land better after a good sleep and some perspective.

The following day, I got a message from a relative in Canada, who forwarded me the sad newspaper article. Bayani Mari, my first cousin, had died on a highway in the early morning. He was 42. Eternal rest grant unto him o Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul rest in peace.

Recipe: Potage

I first ate potage when I was studying in Avignon in the fall of 1993.  I asked my host mother what the magical green soup was, and she laughed and said it was just potage.  It was thick, green, complex, and had some beautiful olive oil floating on top. When I asked why there was olive oil floating on top, she said “it tastes good.”

My host mother and brother encouraged me to use the last scraps of bread to mop up the last of the sauce on my plate; considered gauche in France but we didn’t care. We used the Italian term, “fare la scarpetta.”

One day, the potage was so good, I started doing “la scarpetta” to the last of drops of it, thickly clinging to the bottom of my soup bowl. My host brother, Christophe, who was my European table manners coach, told me wearily that we don’t far’ la scarpetta with the soup course.  My most mother Madame di Nicola didn’t miss a beat; without a word she picked up a scrap of bread and told Christophe, “well, we do now!”

Madame di Nicola didn’t share her recipe with me back then; I wasn’t really cooking at the time. But she did tell me it’s an improvised recipe, just steamed or boiled vegetables, flavored with garlic, onion, and herbs, whizzed together in a blender. I remember she told me that some people add potatoes, but one small potato is the maximum. The look on her face told me that people that added more than one small potato were not behaving properly.

Serve potage hot, at the table drizzle the best olive oil on top. Black pepper or parmesan cheese sprinkles are optional. Apparently in northern France they’d top it with cream or butter, but nobody’s perfect.

My recipe is also not a recipe, just some constraints. Yesterday I steamed a bunch of broccoli and celery (enough to fill the blender) and whizzed them in the blender with the steamer water and four cloves of raw garlic. I toasted some cracked black pepper and heated some olive oil in the soup pot. Then I realized I didn’t really want to sauté anything, so I just dumped in some dill and then poured in the minty green soup.

And that’s it; serve it with olive oil.

I recently found out that Madame di Nicola passed away peacefully surrounded by her family. May the joyful memories of her time with us stay with her family and friends, and continue to bring them joy. May she rest in peace.


“Constraints” is a word that I learned to love in graduate school, when I was studying linguistics.  I don’t remember why.  Here are some constraints that I follow.

Diet: Diabetic pescatarian.  No sugar, no fruit juice, no land animals. I did this originally to cut back on calories, and I’m sticking with the land animal ban just because I don’t like industrial meat production anymore. I’m actually sticking to seafood that’s lower on the food chain nowadays, and I’m enthusiastic about farmed oysters; they are not just renewable, they are restorative.

Kitchen: Natural, inert, reusable. Iron, steel, glass, wood, silicone… I’m trying to get away from plastic, both disposable and reusable. This is both to avoid BPAs and to reduce my contribution to the landfill.

Coffee:  Fresh roasted, fresh ground, served in ceramic. No rancid beans, no disposable cups.

Lunch:  Bentos. No disposable packaging. Real dishes and flatware. Able to eat at room temperature (no need to keep refrigerated, no need to wait for a microwave).

Entertainment: Brown People Exist. I’m no longer interested in movies with a Whites-Only cast. They can keep telling those stories, but I’m done watching them.

Language Learning Products: Practice the actual Four Skills. I don’t use or endorse any product or study supplement that isn’t listening, speaking, reading, or writing.  I don’t endorse memory quizzes, translation drills, multiple choice games, or unscrambling activities.

Language Learning Media: Only consume media that you enjoy.  Some people can watch soap operas, feature length movies, and read novels in the target languages.  I don’t like any of those things in my target languages, so I don’t bother. Me, I like short stories, fables, children’s books, and news casts. The point is, if you’re just surviving it rather than enjoying it, the language is probably not sticking to you.

Set lists: Be your own jukebox. People who don’t give a shit about the ukulele as an instrument will beg me to play ‘Over The Rainbow’ & ‘What A Wonderful World’ medley as if I was their jukebox, and the answer is no. If you play folks the one song they remember, you’ll be stuck playing that for them for the rest of your lives.  Say no.  Publish your “do not play” list, and stick to it.  While I’m at it, young violin players should avoid Pachelbel’s Cannon in D.  Singers, don’t let anyone talk you into singing The Rose, or Wind Beneath My Wings.  Don’t ever play anything just because “everybody knows it.”  Everybody, in that case, doesn’t know shit.  It’s your instrument, you set the playlist.

Shoes: Barefoot is best.  Remember how we recoil at the thought of Chinese foot binding?  Well, most of us have shoe-bound feet, deformed by the narrow shape of our shoes, causing pain and weakness in our feet, our knees, our hips, and our spines. Our shoes squeeze our toes together so that they touch; our arch supports atrophy the arches that we as a species have evolved over a millennia, and our raised heels both shorten our tendons and encourage us to heel-strike.  Screw that.  Now, I’m barefoot as much as possible, and wear chanclas in public when I can get away with it.  For work and the gym, I’ve bought shoes that allow my toes to spread, allow my feet to bend where they want to bend and allow my heel to hurt if I’m heel-striking, so that I learn to stop doing that.  So now I’m wearing expensive, weird looking shoes, but my feet are much stronger and healthier.  Vivobarefoot, Vibram, Xero, and Tadeevo are the shoes I’m wearing now. Don’t forget to walk on train tracks, not on a tightrope, and to maintain that J-shaped spine.

(to be continued)


I didn’t start this post with a coherent topic today, just some journaling. But now that I’ve written it, it seems to be all about representation.

Equity and cultural competence.  We read a great article this week about equity education. The main points were:

  1. The “cultural celebration” model is not stopping racism, that schools should actually be teaching about equity;
  2. That it is the privileged people that need equity education, not the marginalized communities; and
  3.  Although teaching equity may feel “political,” choosing to not each equity is in itself a very political choice.

The article started with an anecdote about the scholar surveying the brown kids, and hearing that they are frustrated with continuing racism and discrimination in their lives at school and how the multicultural celebrations that the school puts on don’t serve them or address any of their grievances.  Later, the scholar learns that the multicultural celebration is the creation and joy of the principal, Jonathan, who was shocked to learn that the brown kids resented it.

I’m sure that Principal Jonathan has good intentions; my intention is not to blame him. But maybe he doesn’t have the cultural perspective or the preparation necessary to meet end goals of his program. His ethnicity is not named in the article; whether or not that was intentional, the effect is still political.  It strikes me that the people that create multicultural programs meant to address justice are most often privileged white people, for whom cultural diversity is a topic that has been brought to their attention; they have the privilege of spending most of their waking hours not thinking about culture clash.

Some of us, on the other hand, were burned by culture clash at a young age, and spend most of our waking lives conscious and in constant analysis of culture clash. On the rare occasions we do find a “safe space” to let our guard against culture clash, the it’s such a relief that it’s often euphoric.

Maybe some people that have experienced racism and discrimination personally, and have dedicated their careers to equity and cultural competence should be the ones creating these programs.

You know, we do let privileged people into our “safe space” once in a while, let them have a glimpse. For some of them, it’s challenging; they feel threatened in our safe space.  I’m thinking specifically of the time some of my white peers when to a lucha libre show in central California, and the goons of the lucha libre were portrayed as ICE and Customs and Border Patrol, soundly booed upon entrance.

At the time I chose not to help my white peers process those feelings; honestly I still have a hard time relating to their discomfort. I don’t doubt it though. People of Color often feel discomfort in spaces where our white peers feel safe. That’s part of being a cultural group in America.

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and (secret) Cultural Competence.  The word “diversity” has changed a lot over my career. It used to be that “diversity” itself was seen as a challenge, a problem to be dealt with. Later, “diversity” became a cover term for “brown people,” to the point that my colleagues were calling the brown kids “diversity kids” and “students of diversity.” At other times, “diversity” itself was the goal; that we want to increase our “diversity.”

Nowadays, diversity is just a fact of life; it’s amoral. It’s something we have whether we like it or not, and it is possible, even likely, that environments and institutions can be culturally and ethnically diverse and also white-normative at the same time.  Euro-centrism and white supremacy were always the problem.

I like the idea that we should teach equity, that there are injustices in society that can be corrected.  I also like the idea of teaching cultural competence; that all of us (including the privileged majority) can be taught to be good citizens of a multicultural society. Our white friends will soon be a minority in this country, maybe more of them can choose a society where minorities are not marginalized.

We don’t have to teach diversity, we are a diverse population, whether we like it or not, and racism still exists regardless. Do we have to teach “inclusion?” Making everyone feel “included” is a nice goal, but if I don’t feel particularly “included” in an ugly sweater faculty Christmas party, who is it that needs “inclusion” training? When monolingual faculty feel threatened about hearing Spanish in the faculty room, who is it that needs “inclusion” training?

I’m not that impressed with inclusion.  For me, ending discrimination in education, employment, housing, and law enforcement is the priority; those are the justice issues. We can deal with feelings of inclusion as well, but that to me is the icing on the cake. We have to bake the cake first.

A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood.  I really admire Fred Rodgers. I was enthralled by his congressional testimony on behalf of PBS and his advocacy for education (and yes, inclusion!). I think he was a prophet we didn’t know we had; a great soul who walked among us. Hearing people’s personal stories of his insight and kindness makes me tear up a little.

Do you know, as a kid, I couldn’t relate to him? Could not. The TV show made my skin crawl a little, just in it’s slow pace and lack of pay off.  When my younger peers were enthralled to watch him, I learned to just wait it out; just endure the boring show and later there would be Muppets.

I’m not saying this to disparage Mr. Rodgers, or to say that I’m a soulless monster. As an adult I’m fascinated by his life and legacy. As a young kid in the 70s I didn’t connect with him. My point is that well meaning white men can have the best of intentions and the purity of heart of Mr. Rodgers, and the resources and scope of PBS, and still not connect with every kid.  What a blessing Mr. Rogers was to so many kids; I didn’t have that same experience.  I wonder what it was like.  I wonder how kids these days feel when watching the new Blues Clues with Joshua de la Cruz; I wonder if I would have been drawn to a Filipino American image on the television.  The strongest connection I had to a television personality was to Fozzie Bear.

Side note.  Looking at Fozzie Bear now reminds me of a bucket of the old Kentucky Fried Chicken extra crispy chicken.

Notes from Native American Week. Sondra Samonte Segundo was a guest speaker at work yesterday, I was struck by a few things she said. First of all I thought her art, her story Lovebirds, and her songs were enthralling, and I loved the pride she took in her language, her culture, her drum, and her cedar hat.

She said she sends her step son to O’Dea and that she is glad to speak at a religious school, saying (paraphrasing) that indigenous people knew Jesus before colonization, that they knew that Creator send his son to live among us.

Later, when someone asked how she can not be angry at the US Government and the Church for their atrocities, she said, “Jesus wasn’t a colonizer.”  I’m pretty sure the kids missed the power of that statement, but my jaw dropped and I saw many of the adults with the same reaction.  Later she said “Creator didn’t make the borders.” Again, a quote that went over the heads of many, but absolutely crackling with social commentary to people like me.

“This is the Way.” I subscribed to Disney+ so I can watch this show, and I found myself rushing home last night to catch the third episode. It’s some space fantasy, a gritty 1970s Hollywood western, super violent, and… and an astoundingly effective appeal to cuteness. In addition, although there are many characters on the show, there are only three human faces, all supporting characters.  One of them is a European actor, another is African American man, and the third is Iranian American, and they’re all bad guys.

So the total of streaming/television shows that I actually like is up to three:  The Mandalorian, the Good Place, and Star Trek Discovery.  All three have a magical/spiritual philosophical element, all three have diverse casts, whose diversity reflects the Los Angeles that I know. I’m so over the days of whites-only Hollywood casts; those productions actually stress me out now.

Anyway, it also strikes me that I’m watching all three of them as if they are broadcast television; seeing the latest episode the day it comes out and waiting a week or more for the next one. I’m old fashioned that way.  The only kid of binging I do nowadays is binge grading.

Lost Ukulele

I had been looking for my soprano ukulele for days. It wasn’t in the trunk of my car. Wasn’t in the apartment. Wasn’t in my classroom. This morning I went to the storage unit and it wasn’t there either.

I drove to the ukulele store in Fremont, you know the place. The same place I had picked out the lost ukulele years ago. I told everybody my sad story; did I misplace it? Was it stolen? Did I leave it somewhere? I don’t know. I just don’t know.

The employees understood how sad I was; a lost instrument is a dread that musicians understand. Some of us are animists; we see our instruments with souls of their own. Others of us see our instruments as a place where our own souls live; losing an instrument feels a little like losing yourself. In a bad way.

I picked out another ukulele, which was just like my lost one, except that it had a cool Polynesian pattern printed on the face. It came with a cool carrying case. It felt nice in my arms and sounded right. I put it on my credit card and walked out.

I got to my car, feeling both relieved that I had a new ukulele, and also still ashamed that I had lost the original. I wondered what I’d do with my day. I decided to go to Bauhaus Coffee to grade papers. Fitting, I thought, Bauhaus is the last place I remember taking my old ukulele…

Then I wondered if Bauhaus is actually the place I lost my ukulele. I called them and they said no, nobody has found a ukulele… except, wait a second, actually yes, there’s a ukulele here. I started my car and drove there immediately, and parked in a loading zone.

My ukulele was in its soft case, on the counter behind the cashier. I had to wait for the needy people in front of me to order what might have been the first coffee drink in their lives, they had so many questions. Finally they left and the cashier handed me my ukulele. I was so happy and grateful and wanted to tell the cashier how relieved I felt, but then my enormous belly swiped a stack of biodegradable plastic water cups and they scattered all over the floor. I apologized as I picked up the cups and then left before my belly could knock over anything else.

I got back in the car and had a new problem; now I had my cherished old ukulele back, plus a very similar new ukulele with a cool Polynesian print on the face and a super cool bag. I keep them both, right?

I drove back to the ukulele store and returned the cool new ukulele and its cool new bag. I got back to the ukulele store before my ukulele store parking expired. I felt a little sheepish but the employees, all musicians themselves, felt relieved for me and were happy to make the return.

When you buy a ukulele, you should feel enthralled. You should not feel, as I did, a mix of relief and shame. Someday I may lose the ukuleles I own due to theft or natural disaster or extreme stupidity, and have to buy a new instrument just to fill the void. I’m sure I would have loved the new instrument had I kept it, but I probably would have never stopped missing the old one.

I own five ukuleles now; they serve different functions and I need them all. Two are travel ukuleles (a soprano for practice, tenor for performance), two serious instruments (one is a tenor, the other is a concert that has electronics), and then I have a cheaper, glow-in-the dark waterproof instrument that I keep in my classroom for emergencies. At this point I’m happy with my collection, and if I buy a new one it will probably be out of lust; instrument lust.

At least, I hope it will be out of lust, and not out of loss.

Seal of Approval

Yesterday I was standing on a beach on Maury Island, looking across Quartermaster Harbor to the Burton Peninsula on Vashon Island.  There was a break in the hard drizzle, and the sun was still high in the sky and on the water.  I saw an eagle, a seagull, and some kind of diving bird, which rose above the water, and then punched the beak first to snatch a smelt or a herring out of its path.

My friend J had asked for a singing lesson; earlier that day, he had asked me what a melody was. Anyway, we’re standing on the beach; actually it was probably a rocky tide flat, as barnacles clung to every rock.  I ask him to sing Happy Birthday to me, we play “match pitch” and “knock over that object with your voice;” you know, the usual first voice lesson. At one point we were both singing “I Will Survive.”

Anyway, the best part was that a face popped out of the water to watch us. It was a small, dark face that was the same color as the dark ripples in the water.  “Is that a seal?” I ask, and my friend said, “Yep, that’s awesome.”  And we continued our lesson.

Later, back at the house, we were talking with a L, who has lived on that property for years. Yes, he said, that seal pop’s his head out of the water when I go out there to sing. He told of a nephew, who was also down at the water singing, and had also been startled by a face in the water.

Seal Portrait Session

Apparently this seal investigates human singing. Seems reasonable. If I lived on that island I’d be singing to that seal all the time. I would call him Seal, and sing Kiss from a Rose to him.  I have always wanted to be on a first name basis with any marine mammal, outside of nutrias.

I’d like to imagine that the seal enjoyed our singing lesson, or that it approved.  It didn’t complain, at least.