Friday, May 31, 2013

A Perfect 10

Finished the season on the sideline.

  It's not shocking news, really. I've been hinting at it, and toying with it for months. Some might say for years.

  But I'm making it official. My basketball sneakers have been hung up. For good.

  It's not as difficult to say those words, or type those words, as I thought it would be. Maybe because the signs have been pointing to 'retirement' for quite some time.

  The injuries were one thing. But the mental outlook was quite another.

  Most of you know, I was on the sideline a great deal this past season. Your body not holding up, not allowing you to do your job, spoke volumes. There was nothing more frustrating than not being able to do what you wanted to physically.

Fan art from my second year in Italy.
  But still, some might not want to end their career on the sideline. And I just could be stubborn enough to try something like that. There had to be more than a faulty back to push me into the real world.

  Mentally and emotionally, I was ready. My mind and my heart were screaming to me that my basketball career had run its course. The lifestyle, the constant moving, the uncertainty, has worn me down. I guess I've had enough.

  Ten seasons overseas is perfect anyway, don't you think? I've always been a stickler for balance and a little square that way (my nice-and-square SAT scores, for example -- exactly the same in both the math and the verbal).

A fun moment -- All Star game warm up -- Poland.
  Ten is a nice round number. Ten seasons gave me plenty of time to play basketball, the game I fell in love with as a little girl, the game that helped give me confidence and an identity, the game that has provided me with so many opportunities -- to see the world and meet incredible people, for a living!

  But now it's time for the next chapter.

  And before you ask, 'well, now what are you going to do?' Let me just say that I'm working on it!

  There are a lot of different directions I can go. So I am hoping to take some time this summer, weigh my options, and figure out what will be the next best step for me. But be certain that I will keep you all posted.  

Ready for what's next!
  So it's official now. No going back! Barring some unforeseen events, and a near-miracle, I'm done playing basketball as a professional.

  The great thing about basketball however, is that you can play whenever you want. But it won't be the basketball that I miss. I can find that anywhere.

  Being part of a team, and the competitive spirit, is irreplaceable. So here's to joining a new team...

  I'm ready, and excited for what is next. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Food Supply Summary: the Farm Bill, Monsanto, and GMOs

Jon Stewart explained the ludicrous Monsanto Protection Act.

  We're going to run the US Food Supply gamut today. But it's long overdue!

  Every week it seems, for the past few months, there has been a GMO-related development hit the news wire. With each and every story, I fully intended to give it attention, and write a blog focused around it. But it's in-depth, involved stuff that takes time to get a hold of. So weeks passed, and the the stories mounted.

  Just now, in the past few weeks, there have been significant developments, in the battle for GMO labeling, the expired Farm Bill, and Americans' (and the world's) growing disgust for the Big Ag super-power Monsanto.

  I'm going to touch on a lot of areas; hopefully spread the word, clarify any confusion (yours and mine), and encourage conversation.
  • First up, the passage of the 'Monsanto Protection Act'.
  Officially named the 'Farmer Assurance Provision,' this law was quickly nicknamed the Monsanto Protection Act by opponents when the details of the law were analysed (apparently it's all about language in Washington).

March Against Monsanto in Melbourne.
  Under the guise of farmer protection and public safety, this provision was conveniently snuck into the must-pass budget bill in March. The Monsanto Protection Act gives biotech companies, GM seed distributors (such as Monsanto), and their new, untested products, free passes.

  Prior to the law's passage, because of potential lawsuits (and I would hope public safety), biotech companies had to get permission from the US Department of Agriculture to plant new genetically engineered crops.

  Now, with the Monsanto Protection Act in play, the USDA is required to allow the planting of new genetically engineered crops while the agency conducts further review.

  Unfortunately, once the seeds are planted, it's a little difficult to undo any harm that my be discovered after the fact. And once a law has been set, a precedent has been set as well.

  Once the public was made aware of what had really transpired, there was quite an outcry. Imagine, it's like saying, 'go ahead and put those potentially dangerous food additives on the market while we keep studying them to see if they make people sick'. (We kind of already do that, but that's another story.)

  Rightfully so, the people were mad.

  Now, there is an attempt to repeal the Monsanto Protection Act. Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley has introduced an amendment to the Farm Bill (which will be discussed further down the page) that would completely repeal the biotech industry's free pass. Sen. Merkley will be introducing the amendment to Congress in the coming week.

  Sign the petition to communicate your disapproval of the loophole here.
  • Second up, GMO Labeling Wins and Failures.
  Monsanto and GMOs are becoming part of the everyday vernacular. That is a good thing. We are making progress!

  The problem with GMOs in the US, is that they're unidentifiable. Because of uncertainties about safety, GMOs are required to be labeled, or banned, in 64 countries throughout the world. Over the course of the last several months, a lot has happened regarding the US GMO labeling battle.

  Of course, it was narrowly defeated in the November election in California (Prop 37). But GMO Labeling is becoming an ever-present debate. At the state level, over 65 bills have been introduced in 2013 regarding GMOs, and the majority of them about labeling. 20 states are working to get GMO labeling initiatives on their ballots.

  Last week, the Connecticut Senate approved a GMO labeling bill, and is awaiting vote by the Connecticut House.

  Senator Barbara Boxer and Representative Peter DeFazio have introduced a mandatory labeling law to be voted on as a part of the Farm Bill. The law would require food manufacturers to clearly label any product containing genetically engineered ingredients, or else the product would be classified as “misbranded” by the FDA.

March Against Monsanto in Las Vegas.
  Public opinion is growing. Over the weekend, more than 2 million people in 436 cities in 52 countries rallied in protests against the seed giant Monsanto and genetically modified food, in the 'March Against Monsanto'.

  Because of growing public opinion and demand, many Food Companies are Seeking non-GM Ingredients. Customers are asking for them, and they are trying to comply. But in the US, roughly 90% of corn, soybean, canola and sugar beet crops are grown from genetically engineered seeds. So you can imagine it is quite a challenge for companies seeking non-GM ingredients.
  • Thirdly, The New Farm Bill is finally nearing a conclusion.
  Every five years, Congress passes a bundle of legislation, commonly called the 'Farm Bill' that sets national agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and forestry policy. The Farm Bill has been expired since September 2012. Finally, a new version is currently being discussed in the House and Senate.

  Here are six ways the Farm Bill affects us. It dictates:
     - Which foods are grown and raised in the U.S.
     - Which American farmers and ranchers produce our food
     - In what quantities our foods are produced

     - What kinds of food ends up on grocery store and food bank shelves
     - Food prices
     - Who can have access to the food.
  It's expensive, and it's a big deal.

  Right now, the House and the Senate are deciding the Farm Bill's future. Our food policies for the next 10 years are being decided.

  As it stands today, there are several significant developments that could stem from the 2013 Farm Bill (including the GMO labeling vote discussed earlier): 1) huge cuts in food stamps for the poor, and 2) will end potentially expensive expansion of federally subsidized crop insurance.

  Also worked into the Farm Bill is a preemptive attempt to take away individual state's rights: 'Monsanto Protection Act 2.0'. Inserted into the Farm Bill 2013, the 'King Amendment' -- introduced by Iowa Representative Steve King -- would revoke the ability of individual states to pass GMO labeling laws.

  If passed, this could be the MOST IMPORTANT aspect of the Farm Bill.

  The Monsantos of the world see the writing on the wall. With non-GMO campaigns gaining more and more popularity, and labeling laws becoming a familiar sights on election ballots throughout the country, it's just a matter of time before states begin passing their own GMO labeling laws.

  Go here to voice your disapproval of the Monsanto Protection Act 2.0.
  This one hits close to home. Another preemptive attempt by the biotech companies to strip Oregon counties of the right to ban genetically modified seed and seed products from being passed. The bill passed the Oregon Senate with a 17-12 vote, and been referred to the House Rules Committee. Further action: TBA.

  These things make me confused, and frustrated to write about. But this is the system we have allowed to develop. It makes you wonder, why are these insanely rich biotech companies getting so many helping hands from our government?

  If we want to make any changes, we have to be diligent and attentive to the policies our elected politicians (they work for us!) put in place. Although I'm growing tired of the constant petitions, I am thankful we have them. It allows us to voice our opinion to our senators and representatives. Sign them if you agree (Monsanto Protection Act 2.0 and Repeal the Monsanto Protection Act).

  I know, it's a lot of information to digest. But stay informed and involved. We're making progress!



Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Adventures in Maui

All geared-up, and ready to zip line!

  Apparently I'm weird. I went to Hawaii alone.

  I guess if there's something you want to do, something want to see, you have to be willing to go it alone.

  After a long winter and spring filled with cold, windy days in Dunkerque, and potentially (or more-than-likely) a gray and wet spring/early-summer in Portland, I needed some sunshine and some heat.

  So I off I went to Maui.

View of Lanai, from my lanai.
  I've traveled solo to all corners in Europe. And never with any issue. I expected nothing different in Maui. I had been twice before, was familiar with the area, and unlike places I've visited in Europe, I could even speak the language!

  The entire island of Maui is filled with gorgeous sights and thrilling adventures. I only had a few things in mind though: go to the beach, lay by the pool, go paddle boarding a time or two, and maybe find a zip line adventure to partake in.

  Sure there were other things I had in mind, but my must-do list was short.

Lahaina Town
  I stayed Lahaina. Probably the most popular, most tourist-laden town on Maui. But that was fine by me.

  After several weeks of searching, and dozens of websites visited, I found a fabulous oceanfront condo (that didn't break the bank either).

  Every morning was spent watching the daylight come up over the Pacific during breakfast, and nearly every night, watching the most amazing sunsets over dinner. The three-hour time change to the Hawaiian time zone made early mornings and early evenings the norm. The only time awaking before the sun is easy and painless. If only it could always be like that!

  I really had everything I needed and wanted at the condo's ocean side pool. During my seven days in Lahaina, most of my time was spent either there, or overlooking the pool from my lanai. I couldn't have asked for more!

The famous Banyan Tree.
  Lahaina is a great little town. The historic center is a fun area to explore: walking the shoreline, shopping, or finding a treat to spoil yourself with.

  I thought May was a great time to visit. Warm, sunny weather like Hawaii is known for (yet not too hot or humid), but not overrun with crowds like you can find during other months.

  During the winter, Maui is great for whale watching. Over the course of my stay, I didn't see any whales, but when I paid close attention, sea turtles were all over the place. I could never snap a picture of them -- they must have a camera radar! 

Me & my instructor, Chyna.
Paddle Boarding
  Otherwise known as Stand Up Paddle, or SUP, I had been wanting to give paddle boarding a shot for over two years.

  At home, it's a common sight on Lake Oswego in the summer. And during my two seasons in Dunkerque, you'd see a brave soul bearing the cold North Sea water on a paddle board on occasion. It was constantly around me, tempting me, and I wanted to give it a shot.

  I called up Maui Wave Riders and booked myself a lesson. I was a little nervous for my lesson. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to do it. Here I am, this professional basketball player, and what if I couldn't even get up on the board? I had no idea what to expect, but was determined to give it my best shot!

  My instructor, Chyna, gave me a quick run-through on land of the stance, the paddle stroke, how to turn, and of course how to get up on the board. Before I knew it, I was up on the board, paddling away. She joined me on a board of her own, and off we went.

Always looking for a basketball court. Not a bad backdrop.
  I had a blast on the water. It was tough on your body -- your lower legs and your feet -- but it was also very calming. Chyna pointed out different things to be on the lookout for: ranging from eels and coral below us, to wind changing direction and how to maneuver through waves, to potential sharks off in the distance.

  Paddle boarding was unlike anything I had ever done. I loved every second of my first try, so much so, that I went back out on my own a few days later.

  My second time paddle boarding was a little rougher than the first. Since I had to carry the board about a quarter mile to the water, I wanted a lighter board. So I grabbed a shorter board. That turned out to make all the difference in the world. I could feel, from the second I got on all-fours to stand up, that the shorter board was much less stable. As a result, I found myself in the water a time or two (or three or four).

Hanging out by the pool.
  The first day, I didn't fall at all. The second day, no doubt, I gave passers-by a few laughs as I tumbled into the water.

  Even with a few falls, I still had fun. I learned a little more, and got more comfortable on the board. Having a shorter board, coupled with rougher water, definitely required more focus on my part. But I had a blast, and am officially a SUP fan! 

Zip Lining
  Zip lining was the second, and last, adventure I really wanted to do while on Maui. The weather had turned a little rainy and blustery on the island for a few days, so zip lining had fallen off my radar a bit. But with just a few days left in my vacation, and with the weather clearing back up, I found a zip line company nearby. I called up Paradise Eco-Adventures and booked myself a last-minute zip line tour.

Just off the platform.
  The tour was atop the hillside overlooking Lahaina, so the views and scenery were amazing. Paradise Eco-Adventures is also associated with an organic farm that you tour prior to zip lining. It was interesting to hear about the farm and what they grow -- dragon fruit, pineapple, bananas, papayas and sugar cane. While the farm tour was nice, I was there to zip line!

  Each person got four runs down the 450 foot long zip line (but the group I was with was given an extra run for free). I really don't do things like zip lining (in fact I remember saying that to the guy who helped us get geared up). The last time I could remember something like that was on the playground in elementary school.

Pretty awesome view from the zip line platform of the farm and the ocean.
  But zip lining was a blast. I loved it.

  The first few runs, I came in way too fast and felt like I could go flying off the end of the platform. So after adjusting my technique (from cannonball style to a 'starfish'), I felt like I had a little more control. (I have video, but haven't been able to get it to upload!)

Maui Eats & Treats
  I had a whole list of Maui Eateries that I wanted to try. Unfortunately, there's only so many times you can eat in a day, so I didn't get to them all. The local places I did try, were awesome. If you go to Lahaina, the following are highly recommended:
  • Aloha Mixed Plate - Great location. Great food. Great prices. 'Authentic' Hawaiian food and combo plates.  
  • Honu Beach Seafood & Pizza - Next door to Aloha Mixed Plate, so same great location. I'm
    One of the many gorgeous sunsets. From Honu Beach.
    not sure why, but I was craving pizza. Lucky for me, there was Honu down the road. Awesome pizza, with a little asiago flavor on the crust. Prices were more expensive, but they gave me free macaroons for having to wait (like five minutes).
  • Star Noodle - Off the beaten path when it comes to Lahaina because it's on the hillside that overlooks the ocean and Lahaina Town. It's an Asian fusion place that specializes in Pad Thai -- which is what I had. Good stuff!
  • Shark Pit Food Truck - I had to try a local food truck, and I'm so glad I found the Shark Pit in Kaanapali. Chris, the owner/chef, cooks everything himself on-site. He has an organic farm on the hillside, and all his dishes come from his freshly-picked farm items. I had the Eggplant and Mushroom Burger on a taro bun. Delicious.
  • Ono Gelato - Who knew I'd have to go to Maui to get authentic Italian Gelato!?! Believe me, this is the real deal. And I have to admit, I went here more than a couple of times. Initially, I went because I wanted to try their 'Big Island Mac Nut Crunch'. But it was sold out, and wouldn't be ready for another two hours! So I settled for a 'Maui Mokka' and Coconut swirl. Both were fantastic. Later in the week, I eventually tried the Big Island, which was great as well.
Rainbows galore on Maui.
Maui's Spendy
  Vacations are expensive. That's why they're vacations: they don't happen every day, they're special. But Maui is especially pricey.

  My first day on Maui, I went to Safeway to get food for what I thought would be the week (but actually turned out to be a couple days), and walked out with $76 of nothing special. The bill on trips to the grocery store adds up much more-quickly on Maui. But I didn't want to eat out every day, as that adds up even quicker, so the grocery store was a must!

Walking into Lahaina.
  Entertainment in tourist destinations will obviously cost you a pretty penny. The list of potential adventures to go on in Maui is endless. But unless your pockets are bottomless, you have to put a limit on what you actually do. 

  Outside of the things I did, there's also: snorkeling, scuba diving, trips to Lanai or Molokai, sailing, jet skiing, biking Haleakala, and so on. The idea of doing everything is a good one, but you're made to put a value on the things you really want to do.

  Other random highlighs of my week in Maui:
  • Runs in the humidity - I think adjusting to high-humidity is just as hard as adjusting to high-altitude runs! 
  • Kapalua Coastal Trail - easy, trail to hike right along the rocky coast in Kapalua. Awesome views.
    Along Kapalua Coastal Trail.
  • Failed beach attempts - Every time I tried to go to the beaches north of Lahaina, I ended up turning around immediately because the weather turned bad, roughly five miles outside of Lahaina. I guess I was destined to stay in Lahaina! 
  • Solar eclipse - I was lucky enough to be in the only part of the world where the solar eclipse was visible on May 9th. I saw it on the reflection of a DVD. 
  • Sunsets - One of my favorite things about Hawaii, is that each and every day at sunset, everyone seems to stop what they're doing and take in the beautiful scene.
Zip lining!
  There were a few things I wanted to do, places I wanted to see, but some places I didn't feel were okay for a woman traveling by herself to go. That's one of the downsides of traveling solo. Watching the sunrise and biking down Haleakala, the drive to Hana, more-remote hiking, or snorkeling in a cove all would have been awesome. But I guess there's always next time!

  My final day came, and it was time to leave. Always the worst day of vacation. You never want to go. But I did exactly what I set out to do, and had a blast every second I was there.

Mahalo Maui!

Lots and lots of pictures below! 

Condo view.
And at sunset.
Looking towards Kaanapali.


Kapalua Coastal Trail.

Kaanapali Beach.

Kapalua Bay.

Dragon Fruit Farm.

View of Lanai.
Banana plant.