Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Happy Birthday Cesar Chavez

Cesar Chavez, leader of the United Farm Workers Union

One of the highlights of my time on The Longest Walk was to be at the United Farm Workers Headquarters at La Paz, located in Keene, California. Keene is just East of Bakersfield in the mountains, right near Tahachapi pass on California Highway 58.

Today, March 31st, happens to be Cesar Chavez’s birthday. he passed in 1993. Chavez was the leader of the United Farm Workers Union and is considered a liberator of sorts to the Mexican American people who worked as fruit and vegetable pickers. Cesar, along with Delores Huerta, ran the United Farm Workers and started the union after multiple attempts to join with other labor organizations to bring better working conditions and better wages and benefits to the membership. I had the extreme honor to meet Richard Chavez, Casar’s brother while I was at La Paz. I also met a grand son, and Dolores Huerta fed us and donated lodging in the form of a large meeting hall when we spent four days in Bakersfield. Ms. Huerta is still active and keeping the fires burning through the Dolores Huerta Foundation, who sponsored our stay.

Delores Huerta

The problems are age old. The workers were exploited, plain and simple. Labor contractors would hire the farm labor. They were told they would be paid a certain wage. Often, the quoted wage was not paid, and whatever was paid was minus many deductions. Deductions for bus rides to and from the fields, deductions for housing that was provided, but was a tarpaper shack with no amenities. Deductions for goods, food and staples, bought at a company store at extremely exorbitant prices.

These inequities continued for years and years. Every attempt at organizing the workers or to hold a strike for the reversal of these atrocities was thwarted by the growers who hired goon squads to keep their thumbs down on the workers.

"Si, Se Puede", the slogan for the UFW, and the Obama campaign.

The history of exploitation of farm workers in Texas and the lush growing valleys of California is legendary. The fight still goes on today. In the past couple of years, the problem of immigration has been discussed. The immigration discussion is not about people from all over the world that want to immigrate to the United States, it is about Mexican, Latino and South American people who are solicited by the corporations to work for low wages to maximize their profits and are never held responsible for the workers being here.

Cesar Chavez certainly was a hero to the people. His methods were completely nonviolent. This trait he learned from his Mother. He convinced the people that no matter how hard the opposition to their organizing efforts pushed, the membership would withstand it and the strike continued. Concessions were finally won on front after front and conditions did improve under Chavez’s leadership.

The flag of the United Farm Workers

Cesar was born into a family of farm workers and lost their family farm to foreclosure when he was 10 years old. The family traveled from crop to crop and season by season went to work. When the work dried up, they would move to the next area where there was work. Most of the time, the wages earned were barely enough to drive to the next work site. Many times, the family went without nourishing food. Having experienced this life first hand, Cesar decided to devote his life to making the conditions better for the farm workers who were caught in this cycle.

As the Union leader, he didn’t get rich, but rather took a small paycheck and demanded the other union workers do the same. He felt that to help the workers and understand their problems, he and the staff should not be above them in wages or benefits. It is by this example that Chavez was so successful. he identified with the people who he was trying to help.

His methods were spiritual as well. He prayed and meditated. he would think things out and not react to every problem without thought and discussion with the rank and file of workers. One of his most epic moments was a period of time when he withheld food and fasted to make his point. Taking personal action over violence.

Bobby and Cesar on the last day of the 24 day fast.

At the headquarters at La Paz, where I had the honor of visiting, there was a foothill that he would climb to collect his thoughts. It was here that he fasted for 24 days. Robert Kennedy, another public servant, was there to help him break his fast. Chavez said that to fast and suffer was one way to set an example to the membership to show them that he was not above them and that all men and women should have an equal opportunity to survive without want of basic needs of food and shelter.

We stayed at the UFW headquarters at Keene for two days. They fed us breakfast, lunch and dinner. We camped out for the most part. Some of the Elders were given small houses to stay in. I slept and camped in my van while there. It is quite a beautiful place. Our host, a caretaker named Danny Romero, said to make sure if I ever traveled through the area again that I stop by and say hello. There would never be a problem to put me up for a night or two if I was in the area.

Earlier on the Walk, we went through a small town in California’s Central Valley called Delano. We have a Delano in Minnesota and it is pronounced like Franklin Roosevelt pronounced his middle name, that is, Dell’-Ah-No. The small valley town was called Dell-Ah’-no. More of a latin flavor. Delano is where the Chavez family lived when Cesar was younger. When he made up his mind to attempt to start a union and work the rest of his life organizing and trying to better the lives of the farm laborer, he chose Delano to be home.

At a place now called 40 Acres, there is a hall with a kitchen and a house. It is a beautiful piece of land with palm trees. The area is surrounded with almond trees and grapevines for many miles in every direction. I am understanding that Cesar Chavez’s wife, Helen, is ill and being taken care of at this house by family members. The Walk people stayed at the hall. Some slept inside, some camped outside. Local volunteers came and donated their time and effort to feed us. They brought water and told stories. They shared their lives with us. I met two fine people while at 40 Acres. Kari and Johnny. Their last name escapes me right at the moment. They cooked a meal for about 100 people all by themselves, providing everything from their own pockets. Later in the Walk, Kari called me as i had given her my phone number. I told her to call if she ever wanted to see how the Walk was progressing and she did. She told me that she had been at a Sweat Lodge ceremony and that they prayed for all of us. The gesture was from the heart and I cried when she told me.

One day in Delano and two days at La Paz. Three days of the two months that I spent on the Walk. There were many days like these throughout the journey, and although I had to return home to mend from the lung ailment, my heart will be out there on The Longest Walk.

The above is a reprint of a story I wrote last year commemorating the birthday as United Farm Workers leader, Cesar Chavez.


Cesar Chavez Gravesite at LaPaz near Keene, CA.

A year has passed since I was on The Longest Walk II. I vow to someday return to LaPaz. Maybe this summer as we attempt to travel across the country with Grandchildren in tow. Maybe a stop at LaPaz is in order to tell the children the story of a great leader of the people.

HERE is a site with many pictures of LaPaz in the mountains near Keene, CA.

Peace to All as All life is Sacred.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Just Checking In

Well, we got the moving all done. Barb, with some help, did the actual physical moving of most of the stuff. I did some moving, but not much. I'm staying real busy unpacking and organizing and trying to find stuff that Barb unpacked and organized, (as if that made any sense). But all is here in our new place.

We're back in Wisconsin and it feels great! We were along the shores of the Great Lake Superior as recently as last May. We moved to St. Paul, MN into an apartment last June first and figured from the get-go that we wanted to figure out what, where, how and why we will live. I wanted to get back into Wisconsin as the car insurance and all that stuff was registered there. Barb wanted to be closer to the Grandkids. We both wanted to be home owners again. The last place we owned was over seven years ago. We've been renting since then.

Renting isn't so bad. In fact, it is somewhat desirable using the idea of not having anything to pay for to fix like furnaces and kitchen appliances and the like. But it does squash any idea of real privacy and making things convenient for yourself like making holes in the walls to hang shelving or decorating in some respects.

Anyhoo:-), like my friend Batmo always says, we decided to buy, things fell in our favor and we're here in River Falls, WI. In fact, our property is right up against the experimental farm of The University of Wisconsin River Falls.

We're in town, but kind of at the edge of town, and the farm field and forested area right behind our place makes it seem like the country. It will never be as rustic as Ashland was, with the woods, the big lake, the animals and all, but it is pretty doggone nice as far as the view out the back window. I'll post some pictures any day now, probably as soon as I find which box the camera is in.

I better find that camera soon. We're gonna christen this place with a gala dual birthday party this weekend for my Grand son, DJ, whose birthday was March 25th, and spousal unit Barb, who celebrates her birthday all month even though the actual date is the 28th of March.

Grand daughter Yoody and I do the same thing in May. Our birthdays are exactly a week apart. We get Strawberry Shortcake twice as we both like it a lot!

So, just checking in, changing my blog post so you'll have something more to read. Not real exciting I know, but I felt I had to do something. Let me get a few more things unpacked and situated here in the new digs and I'll get back to a more normal existence. In the meantime, take care and be well, and of course Peace to all of you.

Oh, one last thought. If you haven't done so, please take a look at the Crow Creek blog/website. It is vastly improved and announces this years Crow Creek Commemorative Motorcycle Ride which takes place in June. We're using good ole Blogger as a website until such a time we can afford a web designer. Works pretty well. Check out the nice buttons and T-shirts on the merchandise link.

Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Spring, Time to Move

Yes, Spring is in the air. It went from cold and winter and snow and ice to temperatures in the 60's. The weather folks are saying this warm spell, 20 degrees above normal for this time of year, will be here for at least the next two weeks. Thunderstorms might happen next weekend as the temps rise into the 70's. In Minnesota!!

I hope it does. I don't mind a bit when the snow piles melt and the frost comes out of the ground and we can set up gardens and ride the motorcycle.I just went in to the bike shop yesterday and told the service manager that I wanted to get my bike out on April first. It's been in a warm, heated storage space all winter. Now, they will change oil and look it over and I'll get it out and start riding.

Folks down south ride all year. A friend in Florida calls and brags about how he never puts his bike away. Oh well, I could do that. I have done it. I lived in Grand Junction, Colorado a while ago. I had a Harley Davidson back then. I rode during all months. And a few times, I loaded the bike up and took myself and the bike to Texas and New Mexico and rode as it snowed up here in the Northland.

This winter is the first in about 20 years I didn't go anywhere. Oh, I did go to Cleveland, but that's hardly the tropics. And the purpose was a little different than vacation being as I was in a treatment program. No, the change was a good one. I guess I accept the fact that I am getting somewhat grounded and staying around the house. Grandkids that become your best friends will do that to you.

We did venture into some new territory. We bought a house and we'll be moving after Friday. The moving process will take a couple of weeks as we don't load everything up in one load and go. We'll get the living stuff down, beds, dishes, cookware, linens, clothes; then move all the other crap over time, cleaning and sorting as we do it.

We are fortunate to be able to buy when the economy is so crazy. But I am on a fixed income. I didn't lose my "job" of being a disabled Veteran. I used a benefit the VA gives me for a guaranteed home loan with no money down. Since I've been renting, my home buying will raise my monthly rent a little, but not so much that we couldn't do it.

I guess I am lucky to have the benefit, but I'd much rather have my health and be working than trying to stay alive long enough to see my Grandkids grow up. We'll see if The Creator has this plan in store for me.

Anyway, I'll be scarce for a week or so. Just lettin' you fine folks know that we're moving. Seems to happen a lot is Spring. My phone number and e-mail will stay the same. I'll let you friendly types who send me stuff from time to time know my new address on a less public mode of communication.

Peace to all.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Brother Can You Spare a Dime

This oldie was originally written during the depression (1931) by Yip Harburg, who was later blacklisted during the McCarthy era.

I’m getting old. Everyone is. Time and motion wait for no man, or so says one Reginald Perrin, a character from a British sitcom of some vintage. And I’m not old enough to remember the great depression of the 1930’s and the stock market crash and run on banks in 1929.

If my memory is intact enough to remember my history lessons from my grade school days, there were grown men jumping out of windows in an attempt at suicide because they lost everything in the stock market crash. People went to the bank to get their life savings out and the banks had no money. I wonder why the government didn’t give them the trillions of dollars, or the equivalent in 1929 dollars, to bail them out?

I’ve read some about it. I’ve heard stories in my youth from my Mom, Dad, Aunties and Uncles about how bad it was. Now, in 2009, the economy is the word. People are feeling the effects. regular folks, white privileged folks, that have never had to worry about being unemployed are losing their jobs left and right. They say they’ll have to cut back.

During the 1930’s depression, so many people were homeless because they lost their jobs and income, then their homes. They lived in their cars where they stopped as they had no money to buy gasoline to power them to anywhere. They lived on the streets. Food was begged for in soup kitchens, shared in community pots and stolen from windowsills and gardens.

This wasn’t the extent of it. This is what it was for so many. Compared to the 1930’s depression, this economic slump is nothing. Even the poor shop in the same grocery store as the people with money. They may buy different things to stretch their dollars, but they shop shoulder to shoulder.

A bathroom and running water is available, publicly, to almost every person in America. Every Wal Mart and McDonald’s has a bathroom. And in each of these, they use potable water to flush the toilet. You can drink the water, and not get sick, right from the faucet, and it is even heated. Imagine, warm water flowing freely, and you get to use all of it you want, and the economy is bad.

Being poor is relative. Having a depression is relative. In my last post about a public arts high school and a friend of mine, I started the story by mentioning my worldly possessions on the auction block. I remember once in 1976 we were so broke I couldn’t pay the rent. I had an old Toyota, a 1962 Corolla, and I had to sell it. I couldn’t afford advertisements in the paper. I wrote hand printed posters for bulletin boards but no buyer came forward. I ended up going to a car dealer and sold a perfectly good automobile that was easily worth $2000.00 for a check, written to me that day, for $400.00.

I was willing to give up some material things, and sacrifice them, and be humiliated by the buyer, so my family could enjoy shelter and food.

I know it’s a tough go for so many. It’s not a concern for others when you or your own family is struggling with financial problems. But it seems that not too many I know are willing to part with anything to get through the tough times. Or for that matter, willing to do what work they could to have some income.

I once sorted tomatoes as day labor to receive a check after eight hours at minimum wage. My wife has worked jobs for half the minimum wage as the government said she’d make tips and didn’t need to be paid the actual minimum wage. That was the law in Colorado. I’m not sure if that’s still how they do it or not, but they did in the early 1990’s.

I’ve sat on a bench waiting for my name to be called for a job that paid the minimum allowed by law and expenses taken out for a ride to the site where the ditch digging was taking place. I’ve sold my wife’s diamond earrings, the ones she didn’t want in the first place because she thought them extravagant, and other items of value that were just that, items. Fishing gear, hunting rifles, bicycles, clothing. You name it, I sold it.Things we certainly could live without. Be damned at the hard work and expense of buying them. Give them away for a pittance to maintain a semblance of order in the way of food and shelter.

My point is that the media and folks sit and talk about their money and the way it ebbs and flows into and out of their pockets, bitching and complaining about how bad they have it. There are others that have had it worse for years, right here in the United States.

Ask the tribal people who live on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation at Ft. Thompson, SD. The poorest county in the nation. Ask the Black woman with a couple of kids whose husband is in prison for the crime of having black skin. Ask the Mexican who was born in this country and is a citizen, not that it makes a difference where they were born as they are all human beings, who can’t speak very good English.

There are people right here in America that suffer and have been suffering for a long time. A loss of income and a shortfall in a portfolio is of little consequence to me. Sell the car, eat rice every day. We did it. Mac and cheese every meal for dinner. Cheap cereal with raw milk from the neighboring farmer, stale white bread with peanut butter. Meat? What meat? Boil the dishes, we couldn’t afford soap. That went for the laundry, too.

No, I didn’t live during the great depression. And my small time hardships mean nothing compared to those that really suffer and have suffered throughout the young life of this Nation.

If this strikes a chord with you and you take offense, then so be it. Disagreement is okay. Want to blame someone, a political party perhaps? I know the Republicans are blaming the Jimmy Carter administration for the housing collapse. It seems right to complain that trillions of dollars are going to the banks as we allowed the manufacturing of goods to crumble into ruin in this country, all for the sake of the very money that you hold so precious now that the economy has taken your jobs.

Like the wars we have fought, society has allowed this to happen. As long as you had yours, it was okay to squander jobs and hire the Indonesians to answer your calls to your credit card companies over billing issues. We let them take the industry to Japan and now China for the cheaper labor.

It may be too late. We may not have the material things we had in our future. The soothsayers are saying it can get worse while faux news is telling you to buy stocks so the rich can stay as rich as we’ve made them, forever.

Not sure I can end this rant in any sensible way. It’s a problem for sure. I just sold my soul to the devil. But I’ll feed and house someone who needs it. All I want is to see the need. If it comes to that, then there will be a time when I can’t do it either. I’ll go back to eating rice and boiling the water we drink.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Fame, I'm Gonna Live Forever

I sat by the side window in the hallway and watched the back yard fill with people. Just about everything I owned was out there on large hay wagons the auctioneer had hauled to the house to display the items being sold. Items too large just sat on the ground. The farmers rallied around the tractors and mowers and equipment, the women around the boxes of kitchenware and knick knacks.

We had not recovered from the financial disaster of my heart attack and subsequent open heart bypass surgery. We had to sell a lot of our belongings to stay solvent a while longer. We kept things that were dear to us, but allowed the sale, by auction, of everything not detrimental to living in our home. We kept one set of silverware and one set of dishes. We were going to function, but without extra anything. This was in the Winter of 1988-89.

An old Farm Auction poster, similar to what we had in 1988.

I sat there alone that day because my oldest daughter, Maggie, was having an audition in Duluth, MN, some ninety miles North of Pine City where we lived. The audition was for entrance into a special arts high school that was opening in Minneapolis. Based on the New York Art school and made popular by the TV show, “Fame”, Minnesota was opening a school of this type on Spring of 1989 and daughter Maggie, a high school sophomore, wanted to go.

Remember the TV show, Fame?

She had been involved with theater and was in every school play that was produced while she attended Pine City High School. She put her heart and soul into it. She tried to be the best that she could be and was always one of the prime movers when it came to being a thespian.

The audition took place on a Saturday. Just so happens, on the same day that Myron Haug scheduled and advertised for our whole house auction. I stayed behind. Barb took Maggie and her two younger sisters to Duluth so Maggie could attend the audition. This was the third in a series of applications she had to do. I remember her working so hard and doing all she could. She really wanted to get accepted into that new concept school. They were only going to have 75 students in that first class.

We waited a few weeks, but then the notice came and sure enough, Maggie was accepted into the new high school for arts education.

She was due to move into the dormitory for the Spring Semester. A sixteen year old, leaving home and attending a live in school, applying her chosen craft. There were other students, all with their dreams. Media Artists, painters, potters, sculptors, actors and actresses. All young kids. All pioneers of such a program.

The auction was over and we lived in the house we had built for ourselves for a few more months. But it was to no avail. We never recovered financially. We had just acquired the debt of building this homestead and furnishing it when I had this heart episode. We tried, but failed, and in February of 1898, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. We were told we cold have kept the house, but I wasn’t too keen on living in the small town and having to face the banker, grocer and other people I had owed money to on a daily basis.

That was one reason to move away and abandon our dream, the other was the mother hen, Barb, not satisfied with the first born being in that school dormitory 75 miles away in the big city. We decided to give the house back to the bank and move to St. Paul. Barb wanted to keep a better tab on the new school and our sixteen year old daughter. We found a suitable apartment and moved early in 1989.

Turned out that Maggie, who we never questioned about her desire and drive to become an actress, was fine. It was Maggie herself who came home one weekend and told us that there were too many kids just wanting to party and live away from home and that they weren’t serious enough about their art. She wanted to come home and live and she did after one school quarter. She attended Highland Park High School after that and graduated from there in 1991.

We had made the move and the family was intact. we had hardly anything of our former selves as far as possessions went, but that was okay. We are a family. We stuck through it all. It got worse after that. Just six days after Maggie graduated high school, she was involved in a terrible automobile accident and lost her life. That changed our lives forever.

Yesterday, I was on line and an instant message popped up from a young old friend. I say a young old friend because Alyssa, my friend, is only sixteen, but she has been my friend for three years now. She told me she had been auditioning for Perpich. Perpich is the name of that arts high school now, twenty years later. Rudy Perpich, a former governor of Minnesota was instrumental in getting this project off the ground. When he passed, the school was renamed the Perpich Center for Arts Education

The Perpich Center for Arts Education. Golden Valley, MN.

Rudy, who passed in September of 1995, was an a dentist and a politician. A member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, what Minneotans called Democrats back then, he served as the 34th and 36th governor of Minnesota from December 29, 1976 to January 4, 1979, and from January 3, 1983 to January 7, 1991. This was the longest tenure among the state's governors. He was also the state's only Roman Catholic governor and the only one to serve nonconsecutive terms.

It was his vision to have such a school in Minnesota.

My friend Alyssa mentioned Perpich and I knew exactly what she was talking about and quickly told her the story of my daughter being in the first ever class at that art high school.

Alyssa sent me the link to her media arts piece that she used as her audition. I’m going to post this at the end of this article for all to see. I am proud of my young friend. I believe it takes a certain resolve and a special talent to even apply for such a school. Not all kids are capable and not all kids are willing to do the work, to apply themselves, to put forth the effort.

This is my friend Alyssa as she appears on Facebook.

I hope Alyssa gets in. And if she doesn’t, I’m sure she’ll proceed another way to make her dream come true. Earlier, just last year at the Minnesota State Fair, Alyssa showed me an art sculpture she created that won an honor. It was displayed among other works from other students throughout the state. After some looking, we found her piece. A wire affair of a seated musician playing a guitar.

I know that Alyssa has talent. I am also impressed by the fact that she certainly isn’t stereotyped into a niche of the common high school student. She is well read and quite open minded to learning about life as well as her school subjects. I was proud to have her march with me as we stood for peace at the Republican National Convention which was here in Minneapolis last September.

Good luck Alyssa. I hope you make all your dreams come true.

I was instructed to make sure I read the words on the sidebar describing this video. Here they are, in her own words:

Everyone has a face that acts as a window to who they are. A face tells the story of your inner most being. As you can see there is more than one face to this girl. She came into the world as an innocent ...

As I wrote this, I became aware of this irony. My daughter was in the first class that ever attended this school. It was innovative and cutting edge for its time in 1989. Now, 20 years later, the governor of Minnesota is entertaining the idea of closing it down as a way to cut the budget for the state. Alyssa may be a member of the last class to attend this school.

Here's the story about the possibility of closing:

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Justice Served in America

Remember the post I did a few days ago about the pay phone charges from a pay phone at the VA? I posted it on February 21, 2009, not that long ago. The phone I used had the Qwest logo on it, and the bill I received from Qwest for using it for a short, less than three minute, long distance call seemed rather outrageous at $21.16.

Well, I wrote to Qwest and got a response. Then, after a few days, yesterday in fact, I received this e-mail from them:

Dear Mr. Spado,

I was able to get more information regarding the credit card call that you placed. This call was placed on a contracted private payphone at the VA Hospital. These rates are the tariffed rates approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Minnesota. The breakdown for charges is as follows:

Automated Credit Card Call $8.50
Per minute rate $1.29
Payphone Surcharges $0.60
Property Imposed Fee $6.50

While the charges are valid, I am willing to split the cost of the call since you claim that you were unable to get a rate quote from the operator. Please let me know if this is acceptable and I will have a credit issued to your credit card for $10.58. I apologize for any inconvenience you have experienced.


Margaret Xxxxx
Sr. Billing Analyst

I accepted the compromise and will take the $10.58 that they are offering. But I am more aware now of what the charges can legally be when using a pay phone for such a call in a pinch.

On my recent trip to Cleveland, I called home quite a bit. I had a pre-paid calling card issued by Sprint and didn't use my cell phone at all. As long as I used the card and called from a regular land line, the charges were simple. But when I used it from a pay phone, they tacked on an additional $1.29. That took valuable minutes off the value of the card.

I did see one pay phone that had a sign on it that said that a long distance call from that particular phone would be $1.00 for the first four minutes.

I used the instructions and dialed the area code and number, in this case, it was Barb's cell phone number. The automated voice told me to, "Deposit one dollar for the first four minutes." I did this and was finished with the call before the four minutes were up and there were no further charges. I wonder if the VA would consider getting that service on the pay phones they contract for their building in Minneapolis when the same type of call costs $21.16?

Maybe a letter to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. I wonder who regulates the Commission? Maybe a few words to the VA, letting them know what a call costs from their lobby to a loved one, or a bookie, or even a drug dealer. Oh, that's right, they give you lots of drugs right there in the same building.

Anyway, all is worked out. I got some redemption from Ma Bell. I didn't argue the point, but in the breakdown of the billing, there is a charge for "Automated Credit Card Call". There was nothing "Automated" about it. I dialed and an operator answered. The billing analyst recognized the error of the operator that didn't, or wouldn't or even couldn't, tell me what the call was going to cost before I made it.

Tell Ma Bell just where it's at

Tell Ma Bell she's a too darn fat

Tell Ma Bell that ya ain't gonna pay that bill

Copyright: Bruce Anderson and The Dump and Shortcake Band, 1976

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Life as a Diabetic

As many of you know, I am a diabetic. Type 2. They used to call this adult onset diabetes. I think I was diagnosed about 12 years ago. I would have been an adult as I would have been 47 years old. The diagnosis wasn’t a surprise. Diabetes runs in the family. My Grand mother on my dad’s side of the family had diabetes and so did my dad. My sister, who is seven years older than I am, has it. My Grand father on dad’s side had it too.

Grandpa Alphonso Spada lived until he was 77 years old and died of Cirrhosis, lung problems and complications from diabetes. The three vises. Smoking, eating and drinking. I would only hope, or maybe not, that I live to be 77.

Grandma Mary Masi Spada lived to be over 100 years old. She passed soon after she had a foot amputated from diabetes complications, but she was already over 100 years old when that happened. She lived more of her life as a diabetic than she did not being a diabetic. She lived with my Aunt Angie, who is a diabetic, and kept her own apartment in the lower level of my Aunt’s house well into her nineties.

She cooked her own meals and obviously took care of herself and her diabetes. I don’t recall exercise being a big part of anyone’s life in the family. My dad never took a walk that I remember. He passed 25 years ago, in November of 1983. He was 63 years old and heart failure, from complications of diabetes, was stated as the cause of death.

Since being diagnosed. I have tried numerous times to beat this disease. I learned a lot about it and what is happening in the body when you have it. I learned what needs to be done to control it. By having diabetes under control to some extent, a person can ward off the nastiest of effects that are caused by the disease.

Heart failure, stroke, blindness, loss of limbs by amputation to name a few of the more drastic physical maladies that are caused by diabetes. I already have heart disease. My heart problems started in 1985. I was 36 years old when I had my first heart episode. They called it a heart attack because when they took a blood test, the test showed enzyme changes that will associate with having a heart attack. Not every heart attack is writhing on the floor gasping for breath. Some are subtle and in my case, I had some pain in my chest, but it didn’t double me over. This article might shed some light on the blood enzyme topic.

My heart history is quite extraordinary. A heart attack in September of 1985. They used the balloon angioplasty and tried to open my clogged arteries with these balloons. That lasted for about six weeks. That balloon treatment collapsed and they tried it again. Six weeks and another try. It was of no use. My arteries needed bypass as each time the balloon restenosed, or collapsed, I had another enzyme change, another heart attack or episode. In January of 1986 I had a triple bypass operation.

My heart was taken out of my body and patched. I recovered nicely and went on about my life for a number of years.

Again in 1993 I had a heart episode similar to the ones I had in the 1980’s. This time, they let me lay in a hospital bed for a week and did nothing, telling me that the place in my heart that was causing me the pain was on the right side of my heart and in the back and I could live without surgery or intervention. I did recover, and I have a small piece of dead heart tissue from that.

In 2003 I had chest pains again. This time I was airlifted from Eureka, California to the VA hospital at Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA. I got another triple bypass surgery. The surgeon was so proud that she opened my chest cavity using the same scar that I had from the 1986 procedure. It looks like I only have one scar, but I know I’ve had two surgeries.

Since that fateful day in 1985, I have tried on and off to change my diet, lose weight and add regular daily exercise into my daily routine. I have had success here and there for periods of time, but invariably I went back to old habits and stopped daily, or regular, physical activity and stopped eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables and lower in fat.

With diabetes, carbohydrates are the culprits. All carbs have sugar in them, not just cake and ice cream and those delicious doughnuts and cookies. I have to watch how many servings of carbohydrates I eat as well as balance the amount of fat and protein in my overall diet. That realistically means eating less of everything, smaller portions, and balance the amount of each. Along with what I am eating, exercise like walking or bike riding must be part of the equation.

I have done this like a yo yo as well over the years. Sometimes reaching great success. Sometimes dropping the whole program and stuffing myself into heavenly oblivion with large quantities of everything that is bad for the diabetic. Plenty of cookies and milk, ice cream, cake and pastries, rich fatty meat and pasta, potatoes and rice in excess. I’d load my bread with copious quantities of butter.

At other times, I’d walk three to four miles every day, eat a balanced diet and actually lose weight naturally. My blood glucose readings would be normal for periods of time. The blood glucose is measured by taking a drop of blood and placing it on a slide. A small meter measures the amount of glucose in the blood. Here is some information about blood glucose.

I was given pills to help me with bringing down the blood glucose levels. I was suppose to help myself with the diet changes and the regular exercise while taking the pills. When I went off to Cleveland in January for a 5 week stay there, I was taking two different kinds of oral diabetes medication and my blood glucose levels were still high. By walking 2-3 times every day for a half hour or longer each time, and by eating a balanced and much smaller diet, richer in fresh fruits and vegetables, I managed to lose about 10 pounds. This weight loss triggered a drop in the blood glucose. This made the amount of diabetes medication I was taking be way too much. I went from taking four glyburide pills, two in the morning with breakfast and two before dinner, and two 1000 mg tablets of Metformin per day to taking one glypizide in the morning, and two 500 mg Metformin. That was quite a reduction in medications and that is the dosage I am on right now.

I understand the importance of keeping up the regular exercise. I understand the importance of staying on a balanced diet and not over indulging in the “bad” foods. I see the results and I do feel better. More energy and better circulation. And I can feel it.

With diabetes, I have experienced neuropathy in my legs and feet. This is a numb tingling feeling in my toes and bottoms of my feet. I get terrible stinging pain sometimes, like a hot needle, being poked into my toes. Since I have brought my blood sugar levels into the proper range over the past two months, I have seen this sensation diminish drastically. I am losing weight at a slow natural pace. The weight loss makes me feel good physically and mentally.

I also know that stress plays a big part in the glucose level. I don’t know how it does this, but I know when I’m stressed out, I tend to eat more and more often, and I don’t care what I am putting into my pie hole. I’ll eat a whole carton of chocolate almond fudge ice cream when I’m not even hungry. When I have reduced stress in my life, I can be more focused on the change of eating habits and not overindulge. I’m sure there is a more scientific explanation, but all I know is this is what happens with stress and the accompanying depression, anxiety and feeling of low self worth.

I guess I am writing this as a way of helping myself. If it is helpful to others who suffer with diabetes or know someone that suffers and it helps them too, then that’s a good thing. Like anything, feel free to take what you want or need and leave the rest. I help myself by narrating what I’ve been through and this helps to keep me motivated to add these drastic lifestyle changes into my life and make them habits.

I mean, it is a beneficial habit to snack on carrot sticks. The habit of eating the aforementioned quart of chocolate almond fudge ice cream every evening in front of the TV is not a good habit to have. These wholesale habit changes are the ones I need to start and keep. It won’t let me live forever, but it will let me live until I die.

Briefly, here are some of the changes I have attempted to make into habits this last go round:

I eat a bowl of what I call fortified oatmeal every morning. I take my pills on a schedule and make this great tasting oatmeal. I’ll put the recipe at the end of this post.

I eat only whole grain bread, in moderation, and do not use any butter or other spreads. I like mine toasted. I find that a great tasting whole grain bread toasted and free of butter or other spreads tastes great.

I try very hard to not eat anything after dinner. If I do have a snack, it is one thing like a few graham crackers or a bowl of sugar free jello, but no sitting around watching TV and making trips back and forth to the kitchen. One snack and that’s all.

I walk once per day, about an hours worth, at least five times per week. I do this at the Mall of America. In my own anal retentive way, I counted the paces. Did you know that once around the MOA and following the contours of the outside ring of stores, it is 1720 paces? When I was in Cleveland, I walked off 10 paces and then went back and counted the one foot tiles and found in 10 paces, I cover 24 feet. (when I’m walking faster with longer strides, this is more like 25-26 feet, but I use the 24 feet as a reference and measure of the distance I cover).

This 1720 paces times four times around is about 6880 paces. Divided by 10 equals 688 10 pace 24 footers, or 16, 512 feet. There are 5280 feet per mile, so, I walk approximately 3.12 miles, and that is not counting the paces to and from the bus, light rail station and into and out of the building itself. I get quite a workout, but it takes effort.

I’d much rather it be nice enough weather outside to walk right out my front door or ride my bicycle on the many miles of paved bike trails here in the Twin Cities area. In a month or so, after I move to River Falls, WI, I’ll have a walking/bike path right outside the back of my home. I can walk endless sidewalks through town and through the University of Wisconsin campus which is close by. Trails along the KinniKinnick River, as this trout stream traverses through River Falls, are close to my house.

The beautiful Kinnikinnick River in Wisconsin.

Lastly, to write about this subject is important to me. It motivates and inspires me. I would hope that there are others that will express their triumphs and tribulations with diabetes or other problems in their lives and use these pages as a place to comment or vent. Submit a post of your own and I’ll publish it here. Maybe this will turn into another blog altogether with many authors. A forum of sorts for self help and helping others by support, reading about others and how they deal with specific problems, sharing ideas, recipes. Anything.

I don't use that big slab of butter on mine, but I bet it tastes good!

I’m on a roll and want to add these habits into my life. I believe it is never too late to take the first step, and when I fail, I take another first step and go on from there.

Here is my fortified oatmeal recipe:

I measure 1 Cup, and a little more, water into a small sauce pan

I add a Tablespoon of Flax seeds, Golden or Brown

I add a Tablespoon of Oat Bran into the pan

I take some walnuts and put them in there. (I don’t measure, I get about 15-20 pieces)

I use 1/4 Cup of fresh blueberries, (use strawberry pieces or other fruit if you wish)

I bring the water to a boil and stir. Then I add 1/3 Cup of oatmeal. My oatmeal is a mixture of equal parts of oat meal, barley meal and rye meal.

I stir it until it boils for a moment, then put the lid on, turn off the heat and let it stand for about 15 minutes.

I scrape it into a bowl and enjoy it. I use a little soy milk, but I also eat it just like that. I enjoy the flavors of the nuts and berries and try to taste all the goodness. I put my spoon down between each mouthful and use a small teaspoon and not a giant tablespoon to eat.

I drink a full 12 ounce glass of water when i am finished, then go brush the flax seeds out of my teeth:-)

The water helps with the use of the oat bran and adds to keep you hydrated.

Peace to all of you.