Issue 4: choosing diversity | lots of cooking content | learn from Alexandra Acevedo View in browser
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Issue 4: November 6, 2019
choosing diversity | lots of cooking content | learn from Alexandra Acevedo

OK, y'all—before you read this essay, I want you to know that it is very different than the first three. If you're new here, I don't tackle such heavy topics every week! 😏 I started this project to find my voice as a writer, so I'm exploring different topics and writing styles as we go, and you get to tell me what you love and hate. So if this is too heavy, please let me know. If you want more stuff like this, reply and tell me! I'm extremely passionate about this topic and knew I'd write about it at some point... this just happened to be the week. I know some of you will disagree, and that's OK! Next week, we'll get back to our regularly scheduled content. Maybe. Y'all know I write these things fresh every week, so I have no idea what is coming next. 😁 Thanks for reading! 

[9-minute read]

The other day, we were grocery shopping at our neighborhood market. The building’s footprint is the size of a Costco. From the outside, it’s nothing special—its wood-paneled walls have seen better days, and the packed-out parking lot is plastered with faded signs reminding customers of the rules—grab your cart from the cart return before you go inside, no photography and no credit cards (debit or cash only). 

But inside. Inside is a wonderland of treasures, featuring an overwhelming selection of fresh produce, seafood, coffee, meats, dairy, wine and beer, whole spices, dry goods and an array of house-made offerings. Our favorites are the olive and onion focaccia bread and pecan maple granola. There is also a bakery, buffet, florist, confectionery. We do as much of our grocery shopping here as possible, stopping by the tiny Kroger in town (nicknamed “Communist Kroger” for its extremely limited selection) for our weekly loaf of Dave’s Killer Bread, which has ruined other breads for us forever. 

But back to that trip to the market the other day. 

Julia loves this place. I let her help me put each veggie in our bags, which thrills her, and it is always packed, giving her plenty of people to wave at and lots of babies to point out. 

As I weaved through the crowded aisles, exchanging smiles with the people I squeezed by, I thought about how significant visiting this market will be in our kids’ childhoods. Something I haven’t mentioned about this place is its emphasis on being a global market—not only because of its diverse food offerings, but also in its staff and clientele. 

Just around the corner from the market is the city of Clarkston, which is known as “the most diverse square mile in America.” In the 90s, it became a popular destination for refugee resettlement. Consequently, there are people from literally all over the globe who live in our backyard, and many of them work and shop at the Your DeKalb Farmers Market. Each employee wears a nametag that relays what languages they speak (some I’ve never even heard of), and we always hear conversations between workers and shoppers in multiple languages. I’ve overheard an African woman dressed in traditional clothing explaining to her grandchildren how she’ll use fresh ginger in a dish. I’ve exchanged smiles with countless Muslim women juggling produce and their screaming babies. And my child and I have been showed tender kindness by a cashier who made a special star sticker out of red tape after he rung up our groceries. 

I can’t help but wonder how simply visiting this market and having positive interactions with people from all over the world will impact my children’s worldviews. I remember traveling internationally for the first time in college and having my concept of the world completely turned upside down. Later, I spent a ton of time in the neighborhoods I used to lock my doors driving through—worldview rocked again by the kindness and generosity I received in those communities. Each time, assumptions, fear and judgment melted away with the illumination that only physical presence in a place can bring. 

Unfortunately, most of these early experiences of connecting with people outside my normal circles involved a pretty huge savior complex. While these experiences did help me overcome misinformed perspectives, I entered into the communities of people in poverty eager to fix problems, share beliefs, give advice and snap a profile picture before bothering to learn anything about the systemic issues that caused their problems in the first place. I’m afraid my interactions with these people were condescending and perhaps even damaging. Too often, our presence in these communities is centered on our own experience rather than recognizing the dignity and humanity of the people there. 

What will it be like for my children to grow up seeing people from all over the world grocery shopping just like our family, rather than only coming in contact with these people in the context of "helping" them? Could this small thing possibly help our kids avoid developing an unnecessary fear of others or a prideful savior complex? 

It seems like such an inconsequential thing, but I can’t help but believe experiences like this will affect everything about who our children become, from their friendships to their faith. My greatest hope is our kids will develop respect for people who are different rather than fear or pity. Fear and pity both breed oppression, and if we can do this one small thing as parents to help create a world with less oppression, that’s a win in my book. 

+++

I promise I am not trying to be sanctimonious with this, but I want to push you to think about this simple grocery shopping experience in contrast with the way most white Americans live. 

Our daily lives are separated in just about every way from people who don’t look like us. Where we shop, where our kids go to school, the parks we visit, where we attend church. Our lives are so separate that we even avoid driving through neighborhoods where poor people or people of color live because we fear that they want to hurt us for some reason (can I challenge you to evaluate if assuming people want to harm a random person driving through their neighborhood, just because they are poor and not white might be illogical and even morally wrong? 😬). 

We are raised believing this separation is what is safe, expected and acceptable. Most of us would never think these assumptions are damaging to anyone. 

+++

I’ve lived life both ways—separating myself from others and embracing a more diverse experience. I believe choosing to put yourself in places on a regular basis where you’ll rub shoulders with people who look, speak, think and act differently is the better path. In addition to broadening our perspectives and dispelling some unfounded fears of others, it’s a more interesting way to live. You'll also meet some amazing friends. 

On a more spiritual level, something about this lifestyle has helped make me aware of a subconscious belief that I am the center of the universe (I’m not). It’s also revealed a God who calls me not to singlehandedly save the world, but instead to live humbly in it, doing my best to see His masterful creativity in every person I encounter.

Making tiny choices to embrace diversity may feel a little stupid at first because of the smallness of it. But I promise that over time, it will change the way you think. And changing the way we think is the beginning of changing the way we interact with the world as individuals—and eventually as a society. 

+++

All of this, of course, is coming from a city girl who has the opportunity to pursue more experiences like this because of where I live. But everyone can choose to pursue a life that embraces diversity, even if you live in a more homogenous place.

We can…   

  • Choose to read books, listen to podcasts and follow social media accounts from people who don’t look like us or are from different countries or backgrounds.
  • Purposefully make friends with people who have different political and religious beliefs.
  • Choose a church that prioritizes racial, socioeconomic or other types of diversity (look for churches that have diversity in leadership, not just in the congregation).
  • Try grocery shopping at a different store and smiling at the people we meet there. 
  • Refrain from making racial, socioeconomic or body type jokes at all, but especially in front of our children.
  • Reach out to that mom in our child’s class who looks different or is from a different background than everyone else.
  • Use critical thinking to realize the vast majority of people are not out to get us and that most people are getting through life just like us—raising kids, making dinner, worrying about money, struggling with relationships, feeling lonely. Interact with others with this realization in mind, actively acknowledging and fighting against our negative biases toward others. 


WHEW. Like I said, heavy thoughts. Please reach out if you have questions about any of these ideas. OK, time for some happies!


Love, Jill 

Spotify kids music station

We use our Google Home to play music all the time, and I'm always on the hunt for the right words to say to trigger a good Spotify playlist. Asking Google to play music from Spotify is a little more limiting than doing it from the app, so it can be frustrating at times. 

With kids' music... man. There are some terrible stations out there! 🤣 However, I randomly stumbled upon a great one the other day—a station based on the song "Frére Jacques" by an artist named Raffi. It won't let me share a link to the station for some reason, but you can look it up! To play on Google home, just say, "OK Google, play Frére Jacques." 

All the songs on this station are calm and not annoying. It's a good mix of familiar sing-alongs, instrumental xylophone versions pop hits and kids' songs I haven't ever heard, like this gem all about being hungry, something I relate to. 

Recipe: Kale and White Bean Soup

It's SOUP SEASON!! 

Although to be honest, I'm the kind of person who eats soup all year long. I love a one-pot meal. 

This soup one of my favorites. It is super flavorful and has a leafy green in it, which makes me feel good about myself. 🤣

One note before you read the recipe. Some of y'all are gonna see anchovies and either want to omit them or skip the recipe altogether. Let me let you in on a secret: anchovies are an amazing ingredient. You should be jumping to cook any recipe that includes anchovies! They add a deep, complex, savory flavor... and you're adding such a small amount that you will NOT taste anything fishy, I promise. Find them on the aisle with the canned tuna—I like to buy the one in the glass jar so I can reseal it. 

Remember, with soups, you will never be able to pick out the flavor of individual ingredients because everything cooks down and works together to create new flavors! So if you hate onions or anchovies or any other ingredient (unless you have dietary restrictions, of course!), be brave and don't omit them from your soup. Your tastebuds will thank you! 😋 

Kale and White Bean Soup with Rosemary

From Milk Street Magazine 

Start-to-finish: 45 minutes 

Serves 4 

2 15-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 

1 yellow onion, chopped

8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

4 anchovy filets, minced 

Red pepper flakes, to taste

2 quarts chicken broth (forever promoting Better than Bouillon instead of broth) 

2 springs rosemary (I have a rosemary bush at my mailbox but it's OK if you don't have any. I've made this many times without it and it's still amazing! Don't spend $5 on it at the grocery store) 

Parmesan rind

1 bunch lacinato (aka dinosaur) kale, stems removed and leaves torn into bite sized pieces

Grated parmesan 

Lemon wedges

Olive oil 

Salt and black pepper, to taste 

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add onions and some salt and cook until they begin to brown, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic, anchovies, red pepper flakes and cook 30 seconds more. 

Add chicken broth, rosemary, 1 cup of the beans and the parmesan rind. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove and discard rind and rosemary sprigs. 

Add remaining beans and kale. Simmer 5 more minutes. Season with salt and lots of pepper. Serve with parmesan, olive oil and lemon wedges. 

How to cut onions

I'm always amazed at the various ways I see people cutting onions. Some of y'all's methods!! 🤣🤣🤣🤣 I promise I'm not judging. I just want to help make everyone's life easier, even when they don't ask me to. 🤐🙃😳 #enneagram2

So anyway, I wanted to share this video with you in case you see a recipe like the one above and think, "ugh but I have to cut up an onion." I learned a couple things watching this, too—very informative and quick! 

My favorite knife for chopping
Calphalon Contemporary 8" Chef's Knife

Having and knowing how to use a chef's knife will make your life so much easier! We purchased this knife almost 8 years ago and still use it daily. I like the weight of it, and the handle is comfy. It's not an expensive knife, but it gets the job done! 

$28.69
Get it
The "10 things" game

Sooooo.... I don't know about you, but every single person in my home is messy. I can't even pretend I'm not. We always keep our kitchen and bathrooms pretty clean, but each of us continually leaves a trail of stuff everywhere we go. Every night, I look around and think, "How did it get SO MESSY in here?"

Sometimes picking up feels overwhelming, and I have issues with executive function, so I struggle with knowing where to start. My mom taught me this "10 things" trick, and I use it almost every day.

"OK, just pick up 10 things and then you can be done." It's enough to help me get started and see the end result is possible. 

Then, of course, I never actually stop at 10 things—once I start, I can't help but finish! Picking up the whole house honestly just takes about 15 minutes when I make myself get started. 

For those of you who don't struggle with this, it probably sounds weird and/or pathetic, but if you're like me, tricking yourself into being productive is so essential. Let me know if you try it. 🤣

Alexandra Acevedo is one of my dearest friends. We met at church in Mobile, Alabama, and she and her family are incredibly important to us. Alexandra is one of the smartest, kindest people I know. She has fed me delicious meals a million times and was the first non-family member to watch Julia for us. Her husband Jonathan inspired Scott to study for his Professional Engineering exam, and their son Amir is an exceptional, hilarious, brilliant little dude. 

To go along with this week's essay, I wanted you to learn from Alexandra because of her experience as a woman of color, Spanish speaker and Puerto Rican. Those things aren't a complete picture of who Alexandra is, but she is graciously willing to discuss them freely. 

I hope Alexandra's thoughtful answers to my questions help paint a picture of what it's like to walk in her shoes! 


My name is Alexandra Acevedo, and I'm 33 years old. I'm happily married to Jonathan Calderón (I still use my maiden name, and that's a headache, but I won't change it because it is part of my identity) and I have a wonderful son, Amir, who is 9 years old. I am a stay-at-home mom, and I enjoy every second of it. Also, I love to cook and try new recipes. In my spare time, I like to read Latin American literature—magic realism is my favorite genre. And I love social media. 

I can say I love God above anything else, and I just want to do something that matters. In my pursuit of purpose I have found a place to do what I love at 3Circle Church-Midtown in Mobile, Alabama. I see myself as a instrument of reconciliation. Every week, I simultaneously translate our Sunday's gathering to our Spanish speaking members and help connect them to the English speaking community. We have a Spanish speaking small group and I greatly enjoy and appreciate differences among us... we all speak Spanish, but we come from many countries. 

Q&A

  1. Q: You're from Puerto Rico and very proud of your heritage. Tell us what you love about PR and some of the things you miss the most about living on the island. Share a recipe with us?? I know you love to cook. :) 
    A:
     Puerto Rico is a beautiful country, and I miss every part of it. What I miss most about living in the island is my family. My parents, grandparents, siblings and extended family live there. I also miss our food, our music, our festivities and celebrations—Christmas time most of all.
    I long for the chance to talk to the people around me, like when you go to eat out or waiting in a line. It is hard being surrounded, but feeling alone. It is not easy to communicate when English is your second language. Jokes are not funny, and trying to explain myself is so hard that sometimes I just quit. 

    Alexandra's AMAZING flan
    Y'all, I typically don't care for flan, but Alexandra's is absolutely incredible. I've had it so many times and it's making me tear up thinking about how much I miss my friend thinking about this recipe. 
    1/4 cup sugar
    1 can evaporated milk
    1 can condensed milk
    1/2 package cream cheese
    3 extra large eggs
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    Heat oven to 350F. In a small saucepan over medium, heat the sugar, stirring constantly, until it turns into caramel. Pour the caramel into a 9-inch round pan.
    Mix all the other ingredients in a blender and pour over the caramel. Place a the round pan into a high-sided baking dish filled halfway with water. 
    Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. 
  2. Q: Can you educate us a little on the history of PR and its relationship with the US? What challenges is Puerto Rico facing today? 
    A:
     Puerto Rico is a commonwealth territory of the United States of America. In other words, we are a colony of the USA since 1898. Before that, we were a colony of Spain for 400 years. We do have a Governor, Senate and House of Representatives. We have a voice, but not vote in the Congress. Puerto Ricans living in the mainland may vote for the President, but islanders can't. We have American citizenship by birth right. Our currency is the dollar, our education system is the same as in the mainland and we have Spanish and English as official languages, but Spanish is primary. 
    Puerto Rico is facing many challenges, such as fighting corruption, embezzlement, poverty and so on. In 2017, Hurricane Maria brought devastation and destruction, but the government failed to perform their duty to protect and put the people first. However, Puerto Rico is thriving and fighting for a better future, for dignity and respect for the people (for example: #rickyrenuncia).
  3. Q: When and why did your family decide to move to the mainland? What has it been like for you since relocating--positives, negatives? Do you have a story you could share that would really put people in your shoes and make them think? 
    A: 
    We moved to the mainland in June 2013 because Jonathan was recruited by Alabama Power as an Electrical Engineer. It has been quite a journey with ups and downs. There have been plenty of great experiences here—I need constant medical care, and here it has been top notch; Amir's education is excellent; we have a church that loves us and we love them; and Jonathan has a steady job with many benefits.
    Jonathan got his job straight out of college, so we came here empty-handed, taking a chance. We miss our family and our island dearly. It is really difficult to become an outsider of your own extended family, watching everything that happens to them through a screen. I wish we can have it all, but here in mainland we have stability. 
  4. Q: You are bilingual and Spanish is your first language—your skills have always amazed me. You've shared with me before that when you first moved, you were not as comfortable speaking English. What would you want people who only speak English to know about what it's like to move to a new place and learn a new language at the same time? 
    A: 
    Moving to a new place and immersing in a new language at the same time is tough and only for the bold. Everything is exhausting, even going to store to buy groceries or making a phone call. It is not an easy task to try to leave behind part of yourself in order to be accepted, because my language is part of my identity. Sadly, many people have the wrong perception, instantly assume different things, and put me aside.
    Kindness is a universal language, we don't have to speak the same language to show respect. Just because I don't speak English fluently does not mean I am not smart, or funny or friendly. I truly want to belong to a place full of acceptance and love, where I can learn from everybody else, but at the same time show who I am with out feeling vulnerable or afraid. 

Book recommendations from last week's question...

"I'd love to hear people's book recommendations—a book that changed you in some way." 

  • Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner: Called a “magnificently crafted story . . . brimming with wisdom” by Howard Frank Mosher in The Washington Post Book World, Crossing to Safety has, since its publication in 1987, established itself as one of the greatest and most cherished American novels of the twentieth century. Tracing the lives, loves, and aspirations of two couples who move between Vermont and Wisconsin, it is a work of quiet majesty, deep compassion, and powerful insight into the alchemy of friendship and marriage.
  • Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom: Maybe it was a grandparent, or a teacher, or a colleague. Someone older, patient and wise, who understood you when you were young and searching, helped you see the world as a more profound place, gave you sound advice to help you make your way through it. For Mitch Albom, that person was Morrie Schwartz, his college professor from nearly twenty years ago. Maybe, like Mitch, you lost track of this mentor as you made your way, and the insights faded, and the world seemed colder. Wouldn't you like to see that person again, ask the bigger questions that still haunt you, receive wisdom for your busy life today the way you once did when you were younger? Mitch Albom had that second chance. He rediscovered Morrie in the last months of the older man's life. Knowing he was dying, Morrie visited with Mitch in his study every Tuesday, just as they used to back in college. Their rekindled relationship turned into one final “class”: lessons in how to live.
  • The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning: Many believers feel stunted in their Christian growth. We beat ourselves up over our failures and, in the process, pull away from God because we subconsciously believe He tallies our defects and hangs His head in disappointment. Brennan Manning reminds us that nothing could be further from the truth. The Father beckons us to Himself with a “furious love” that burns brightly and constantly. Only when we truly embrace God’s grace can we bask in the joy of a gospel that enfolds the most needy of His flock—the “ragamuffins.” 
  • The Anatomy of Peace by The Arbinger Institute: From the authors of Leadership and Self-Deception comes a new edition of an international bestseller that instills hope and inspires reconciliation. What if conflicts at home, conflicts at work, and conflicts in the world stem from the same root cause? What if we systematically misunderstand that cause? And what if, as a result, we unwittingly perpetuate the very problems we think we are trying to solve?
  • The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton: A modern-day Confessions of Saint Augustine, The Seven Storey Mountain is one of the most influential religious works of the twentieth century. It tells of the growing restlessness of a brilliant and passionate young man whose search for peace and faith leads him, at the age of twenty-six, to take vows in one of the most demanding Catholic orders--the Trappist monks. At the Abbey of Gethsemani, "the four walls of my new freedom," Thomas Merton struggles to withdraw from the world, but only after he has fully immersed himself in it.

This week's question:

What's everyone listening to right now? Music, audiobook, podcast—give us your recs! 

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