Tuesday, December 4, 2012


(Photo: crazy quilt of my life and travels)

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” ~ Aristotle

Amidst the laws of nature in the scientific field of study called “complexity” (termed the “science of the 21st Century” by Stephen Hawking) is the phenomenon of emergence.  Emergence can be explained as complex patterns and behaviors arising from simple parts combined in various ways. It is the innovative combination and recombination of simple building blocks which become more complex than the original entity. Examples familiar to many would be flocks of birds or schools of fish moving as one organism in graceful yet random patterns; ant colonies consisting of individual ants, each with simple tasks, together creating organized and complex habitats; global metropolitan cities with ever changing demographics; the stock market with its complex unpredictability and organized chaos; hurricanes devastating coastline communities or fizzling over the ocean; complex computer technology developing from a simple language of “0” and “1”;  and atoms combining into a molecule (i.e., hydrogen and oxygen becoming water) possessing amazing properties unlike either atom.  Also, unlike an organization of individuals that has a leader at the top—like the conductor of an orchestra or a general in a battle—emergence systems operate from the bottom up. No one bird in a flock or fish in a school guides the group, although there appears to be a few rules they do follow—keep going the same direction, don't get too close or too far, and get out of the way of danger. The individuals can adapt, evolve, encourage and reorganize ever-increasing diversity and complexity in patterns and behavior. If this subject fascinates you as much as it does me, there is a book written by John Holland, a professor of psychology as well as computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan, titled Emergence: From Chaos to Order that may be worth your time.

I ponder the concept of emergence in relationship to food and art. Put five or six common ingredients together (butter, flour, cream cheese, eggs, vanilla, and sugar), bake for one hour and you have created a cheesecake worthy of rave. Add together random strokes, splatters or drips of various paint colors on a canvas and it could be as exciting as a Jackson Pollock. Combine small scraps of colored fabric (which in and of themselves are too small to have a purpose) and sewn together, they become a quilt offering warmth, cover and design.  The many combinations in patchwork (piecing fabrics together) are mathematical and magical. From random crazy quilts to geometric Amish designs (such as square within a square) the concept of emergence is made evident.  A quilter can take a simple square and recombine it in so many variations and colors that it defies its original simplicity. It becomes quite complex, and I love that.

My Amish style quilt of simple squares and rectangles

Recently, I acquired bags of fabric scraps at a textile fair (Tactile Textile Arts Center) and was inspired to create something useful. Design ideas began emerging from simple squares and rectangles, it was plain fun! Researching on the internet for patchwork patterns, I discovered five wonderful blogs/websites that were inspirational in helping me. In the interest of sharing here they are:

  • Mama Love Quilts – Nicole is a brilliant textile artist! I am in awe of her creativity and color sense.
  • Quilt Story – Two sisters, Heather and Meagan, share their creations in a homey welcoming way.
  • Fave Quilts – a website dictionary of designs and ideas for quilters.
  • Quiltville – Bonnie is a master at putting scraps together and making do!
  • Piecemeal Quilts – Sandi finds the art of cutting up fabric into little pieces and then recombining them a joy.  
Botanically inspired fabric squares sewn into a simple quilt.

On an emotional level, I find a heartwarming metaphor of emergence woven into each human being similar to the craft of patchwork quilting.  Random pieces and parts of ourselves (both colorful and plain) can combine into complex more creative aspects of ourselves and something more useful. The human brain contains billions of neurons and each individual neuron connects with 10,000 other neurons; this makes for incredible complexity. Interestingly, a computer element generally only has contact with 10 other elements. It is possible that human consciousness arose from the complexity of these neuron interactions, where no single neuron is in charge. I believe we all are a complex patchwork of the Universe’s purpose. Truly, our whole is greater than the sum of our parts.

Holland, John. Emergence: From Chaos to Order. Paperback. Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus Books, 1998. Print. 

Quilting websites and blogs

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Liebster Award 2012

Last year I began blogging. Over 181 million other humans are doing it and it is easy. One does not need anyone’s permission or a license or a publisher or a certification or degree or any money, for that matter— just a keyboard and a simple blog platform and, presto, one can begin writing and self-publishing. It is the ultimate form of democratic freedom—to have a voice and put it out into the universe unhindered. With a free blogging platform, a simple soul can share with the universe anything she (or he) desires—from books to recipes, joys or sorrows, memories or haunts, along with beautiful pictures and photos. It is as joyful as journaling, wrapping oneself in thoughts or ideas and watching them taking shape—fingers pressing pencil to pad, or in my world, letter keys producing typeface onto a computer screen. Thoughts come spelling out as words, sentences and paragraphs. I only had the tiniest, most microscopic, little itsy-bitsy agenda: to share—soft gentle things that I have gleaned worthy over the course of my life in the context of the place where I live. Things such as healthy food and recipes, positive growth and organic gardening, hobbies and recreation, places visited, movies, stories, reflections and hope. A middle-aged woman sharing simple mundane things laced with a little lesson or piece of information. But my enthusiasm began to wane after a year when I compared my blog to other seasoned bloggers who were more clever, more artistic, making money advertising, and had a following—an actual readership. Bumble always says, "Nothing is true by comparison." Yet I knew I was terribly green and not in an good environmental way but in a amateurish "need to get my act together" way. So my posts became fewer and I did not feel that I measured up. Like any living thing in the earth's ecosystem, in order to survive I needed to find my niche.

Yesterday, Arti from Ripple Effects tagged me in regards to the Liebster Award. It is an award for new bloggers that do not have a huge following (under 200) and, yes, that would be me. I have two followers, one being my husband, Bumble, and the other must be Arti from Ripple Effects. Someone actually read my posts and felt something. A connection was born. Having a mom of German decent, I quickly assumed Liebster meant favorite or beloved or sweetheart and indeed it does in the case of the Liebster Award. In the spirit of the Liebster Award, a person's blog that was tagged for the award must in turn tag other blogs, like a chain letter. And like any chain letter where one hopes to receive a special blessing, here is what people tagged for the Liebster Award are supposed to do: First post 11 facts about yourself, then answer the questions the nominator made for you (Arti proposed 7 questions). Next, you create new questions for the bloggers you nominate if you want. Then you choose fledgling blogs to nominate, and be sure to link them to your post. 

11 Facts about me

  1. I was ostracized and treated terribly in middle school and to this day I am a loner wary of humans.
  2. My first love was dogs, second love was horses, third love was snow skiing. . .
  3. My grandfather, John, was an illegal immigrant (he was a stowaway on a ship from Scotland).
  4. My mom once told me if you want to be happily married, then marry a Jewish man. I finally listened.
  5. Nature is my church or synagogue, I go there to meditate and pray.
  6. My 2nd marriage taught me what love really means.
  7. I have a terrible time remembering people’s names, yet I can hear a voice (or song) and identify the owner. 
  8. I love education, but after my long devotion to it, never landed the job of my dreams.
  9. I was unwed and pregnant at 15 years old and a mother of a baby girl at 16 years old.
  10. Parenting is the hardest job you will ever do, and grand parenting is easy.
  11. I believe in karma, I cannot make a mistake without the lessons bashing me over the head immediately.
Now, my answers to the 7 questions that Arti from Ripple Effects posted for us:

1. What do you think of literary prizes? Good idea or bad?

Good idea. When I was studying library and information science, I learned there must be a certain set of criteria in which to evaluate a book, resource, or piece of information to determine whether it is credible, reliable or just plain good. Questions must be asked: Who is the author, what is his/her reputation, who is the publisher, what are their credentials and affiliations, if scientific is it current and timely, has the piece been acknowledged, nominated or the winner of any literary award from a scholarly group of peers? From a Pulitzer Prize to a Newberry Medal, a book or article that has received such recognition does seem have merit. Yet I must say with regard to the fable The Emperor’s New Clothes that just because a certain intellectual group believes something is there doesn’t always make it necessarily true.

2. If you could write any sort of book, what would you write?

A group of short story memoirs thinly disguised as fiction interwoven with nature’s ecological principles.

3. Describe your ideal home library/study.

A fireplace or Franklin stove anchoring the room, a large L-shaped contemporary desk complete with computer and printer, books and resources spilling out of built-in bookshelves, a colorful globe, plants, old worn leather chairs, good lighting and a window, filing cabinets, inspiring artwork and pictures, an additional space in a corner for my sewing machine and textiles, my cat and my husband.

4. Name two new authors whose work you think will last the test of time, and explain your choices.

Cheryl Strayed, because her prose is filled with ballsy honest raw human emotions. More humans should be this brave about what is going on inside them, we would have more genuine connections. Read:  Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail or Torch.

Sharman Apt Russell, because she writes about nature with such elegance that you see it again in a new light. Her deep research is a librarian’s dream. Read:  An Obsession with Butterflies: Our Long Love Affair with a Singular Insect or Anatomy of a Rose: Exploring the Secret Life of Flowers.

5. Which books do you hope to get for Christmas?

I do enjoy those big heavy coffee table books filled with photos that I cannot afford. One on my list would be: Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel by Eric Boman. Iris Apfel makes being herself and dressing in her amazing wardrobe the best art form of all—being living art.

6. What’s the last book you did not finish and why?

And I Shall Have Some Peace There: Trading in the Fast Lane for My Own Dirt Road
by Margaret Roach.

Margaret Roach is a devoted and brilliantly self-educated gardener. I could not wait to glean knowledge from a kindred spirit. I am a master gardener with 25 years of experience, an MS degree in environmental studies, and have spent many years working in the horticultural field never choosing the corporate fast lane. However, midway through the book (even though some of the prose was lovely) I was not grasping the point and became disappointed with the self-possessed rambling. It was not a biological or emotional learning experience for me. I believe the author was blessed to have this book published because of her connection to Martha Stewart and her enterprise. I wish I had connections, but alas I am wary of humans (see fun facts #1).

7. Would you accept 20 books that were absolutely perfect for you and dependably brilliant reads, if they were also the last 20 books you could ever acquire?

Well, if you mean by “acquire” that they would be mine to keep, does that mean I could still go to the library and borrow and read as many books as my card will allow for the rest of my life as long as I technically did not acquire them? If I could still read library books, then perhaps yes, I would be awfully curious to see the 20 books that were absolutely perfect for me. I am a curious animal like my cat.

OK, now to tag other new bloggers (with less than 200 followers) for the Liebster Award. I only know of one fairly new blogger: http://nomading.tumblr.com/  by Melinda S. (Her last name is withheld until she gives me permission to post it).  I love her writing and adventures, and like me, she does not advertise her blog on FB or any other social media that I am aware. I invite her to answer the 7 questions that Arti posted for me and, of course, share her 11 fun facts.  Good luck to everyone and may the chain of blessings begin.

http://www.dazeinfo.com/2012/03/10/number-of-blogs-up-from-35-million-in-2006-to-181-million-by-the-end-of-2011/  (sourcing information from NM Incite)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanks giving

Lately, especially during long walks on crisp sunny Colorado mornings, I realize how fortunate I am and I say it out loud thank you Universe, thank you God.  I offer up my gratitude for being a very lucky women:  I have a kind husband who is my dearest friend, a little backyard garden that produces organic food, children who are grown and healthy and offering the world great services, a sturdy mid-century modern home that is almost paid for, a solid college education that helps me understand the ways of the world, a strong body that keeps going without injury, and rocket bombs are not raining over my head. I am very grateful.  Of course, there were many years in my life when things were not so good:  when I wasn’t married to my best friend but an enemy, when I lost a home I helped create to my ex-husband’s gambling debts, when I was worried how to feed my children and whether the divorce scarred them for life, and often I wondered if I would ever find love again. There is a line in the book and movie “Out of Africa” written by Isak Dinesen (aka Karen Christenze Blixen) that goes like this: God made the world round so we would never be able to see too far down the road. Sometimes in life we do not know the good (or the bad) that may befall us in our future. 

The holidays have arrived and I do love to prepare food—heart-warming healthy food. It feels satisfying and well, it just feels like love. And I do this job pretty much 330 days a year (I rely on leftovers to fill in for the other days). Yet, I must say, after preparing Thanksgiving Dinner for four decades—preparing the large tedious turkey dinner with more side dishes than a hooker has high heels—it no longer excites. Rather, it depletes me and the monthly budget, and adds a bit of stress (what size turkey should I get this year, who has the best free-range birds, how many bags of fresh cranberries do I need, how many vegetable casseroles is enough, will the gravy turn out, pumpkin pie or apple or both, what if I don’t have enough funds in my bank account, how many will I feed, on and on). Sometimes I wonder why women often do not get a holiday on a holiday. They are busy working in the kitchen making holiday happen for their family or loved ones. Rituals are lovely and very important, but for those who create them they can be tedious. Maybe there should be a new ritual that a woman who prepares Thanksgiving dinner at her home one year must not be a allowed to do it again for another 5 years—it must be passed around to others before it comes back to roost. Or perhaps after a certain age we just pass the whole mess on to the younger set. I could get behind this wholeheartedly.

Truth be known, I am really not that crazy about turkey. It is fairly high-maintenance poultry to prepare—it requires brining, basting or cooking upside down for a few hours, and even enveloping in some space-age clear bag. Upon consumption, turkey triggers a L-tryptophan reaction leaving one resembling the smokers in a hazy opium den. Perhaps, the football results may further add to the guest's depression. On the other hand, I do adore the mashed sweet potatoes, moist stuffing and pumpkin pie, but not the awful over-eating we all are guilty of on this day.  And let’s not forget the grueling clean-up—the challenge of finding the right size plastic container to store the leftovers in the fridge hoping everything fits, and the never ending scrubbing of casserole dishes, pots and pans.  I cannot imagine what is must have been like for my mom (or her mom’s generation). These women did not have the helping hand of an electric dishwasher which super cleans all our plates, glasses, goblets and silverware with ease.  Another reason for us to be thankful.

I wonder what stuffing a turkey and ourselves has to do with expressing gratitude. Is it the ritual of breaking bread with family and friends? Perhaps it is the gift of the cook to the family—saying here is my enormous spread, come partake and make your selves sick with gluttony and me with exhaustion—that we should be grateful for along with the bountiful gifts that nature (and the food industry) provides us. I suppose I am just questioning things more now. Why do we have to do this every year (in addition to the big Christmas/Chanukah celebration) because our cultural history requires us to? Earlier in my life I was just so dang eager to please, be a good mom, and feed people. Why can’t we take an occasional sabbatical from the rituals? Seriously would the sun not come out tomorrow? Would the Thanksgiving police show up at the door?

I can conjure up only one positive to preparing the big dinner—good old leftovers. Those leftovers finally pay off for all the work up front—all the planning, shopping, washing, preparing, chopping, cutting, sauteing, mashing, whipping, rolling, baking, serving and finally cleaning up. All I had to do after Thursday ended was throw together a hot turkey sandwich with cranberries and gravy for the next few days.  That was the leftover blessing.  Yum.

I hope everyone enjoys a great Thanksgiving this year and finds good reasons to be grateful. I hope you express gratitude for the cook/s (even if the dinner turns out slightly different from a Norman Rockwell painting). Lastly, if you really don’t feel up to it maybe this year you can take a break and go to a little French restaurant for Thanksgiving instead of hosting the whole affair at home. To be sure, I have witnessed some very happy unstressed people breaking bread at a great local French restaurant in Denver. The cost was less than what one spends at the grocery store and you probably would not miss the preparation and clean-up either. You may miss the leftovers but it would be a good trade. And I promise the sun will come out the next day. 


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Ambivalence over the harvest

My peaches from the harvest
September is upon us and today, the day I am writing this, is Labor Day.  Bumble is enjoying the day off and he comes into the computer room where I am typing and says, “Close your eyes and open your mouth.”  I do just that. And in an instant I recognize the sweetness coming from the pubescent and globular textures of fresh raspberries he has picked from our baby bush and dropped upon my tongue.  Glorious burst of what magenta would probably taste like.

It has been a very long hot summer in Denver. Right now I can barely keep up with using the ripened fruits, tomatoes, cucumbers and eggplants. Yes, another ratatouille dish and my old cucumber and vinegar salad for dinner.  For me, harvest time comes with a tremendous ambivalence. On one hand it is a blessing I am very grateful for—all the bounty that has manifested from the fruits of our gardening labor— sometimes more than we can use readily. I barely need to visit the grocery store these days and we are eating many more helpings of vegetables and fruits every day. Yet on the other hand, harvest time marks the end of the grand growing season, and I know that one day, when the last eggplant, cucumber or tomato is consumed, there will be no more. No more organically-grown vegetables and fruits from this tiny piece of land until next year.  There is a sadness that comes over me.  I know that this creative process of watching food grow and mature and fill one’s stomach will cease for a few months.

Cucumbers, zucchinis, onions harvested

Canning and pickling is a wonderful way to extend the gifts from the garden ‘tis true, but the canning process makes for a hot and sweaty kitchen.  Freezing a few items for later on is easy. I freeze my basil leaves in tiny sandwich bags, first rinsing and drying the leaves and then divvying up the leaves into several ziplock bags. I make sure to squash out any air in the bag to avoid freezer burn. They store like flat envelopes in my freezer. Later I unzip a bag of frozen leaves and crumble them with my hands before they land gently in my tomato sauce. They are as green as the day they were picked and almost as fragrant.

Peaches on pancakes

Generally Bumble and I consume most everything we grow—we have large appetites for fresh food.  The harvest gets whipped up into some soup or dish that I have concocted. When there is a surplus, family and neighbors are the beneficiaries, whether they want to be or not. The little Green-gage freestone peach tree Bumble planted for me seven years ago gave us the juiciest, most delectable fruits this year.  These treasures were completely free from any pest damage (except one or two that were taken by the squirrels).  It was peach week here a while back, and we had peaches on everything: whole wheat pancakes, chicken breasts, and in a salsa atop cheese quesadillas. Yesterday was the apple harvest.

My apple harvest on Labor Day

The apples made their way into an apple crisp (I am hopeless making pie crust). Tonight it will be brie cheese and apple slices, tomorrow fried apples and pork chops. The apples will also benefit our neighbors when we bring them paper bags filled with these tart green balls.

It is such a strange feeling this ambivalence—the joy and gratitude of at all the gifts of the harvest mixed with the sadness for a season ending.  The yin and the yang Taoist Taijitu, the push and pull of the tides, the sun and the moon, all signifying the opposing forces—the ambivalence of life.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A road trip and another check off the bucket list

A happy barn we saw on the road
We were feeling stale and flat like old brittle bread.  Now, of course, we are grateful for our home, garden, swimming pool and cat, but we needed a scenery change and inspiration after the Olympics ended.  We were a little aimless and blue.  A different perspective, a getaway, a mini-vacation was manifesting in our minds.  However, this trip could not be costly because we do not have the funds.  At the last minute we came upon a solution—a weekend road trip in our own state to absorb different scenery and breathe different air and be inspired.  But what would be the destination?

Right now there are 58 of them located in the Unites States of America (and two U. S. territories). Twenty-seven states have at least one, in addition to American Samoa and the Unites States Virgin Islands.  Alaska and California have eight; Utah has five;  Colorado has four; Arizona, Florida, Nevada, and Washington have three,  Hawaii,  Montana, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming have two; and Arkansas, Idaho,  Kentucky, Maine, Michigan,  Minnesota,  New Mexico,  North Carolina,  North Dakota,  Oregon,  Ohio,  South Carolina, Tennessee , Virginia,  American Samoa, and U.S. Virgin Islands have just one.  I have visited 17 of them and Bumble tops me having visited 28. Know what I am writing about? It is our beautiful National Parks showing off the best piece of nature available throughout North America and the surrounding oceans.
The National Park Service preserves unimpaired, the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations (U.S. Department of the Interior).
The Organic Act of 1916 (love that name) created the National Park Service, which was intended "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”  There are hiking trails aplenty for taking one’s soul searching for a spiritual offering that only nature can bring, and visitor’s centers which will educate the tourist about the ecosystems, geology, history, flora and fauna of each unique park place.

Our National Parks are not to be confused with our wonderful National Monuments (numbering 101) , National Historic Parks (numbering 45),  National Historic Sites (numbering 89), or National Preserves (numbering 18).  These are great adventures too, but the National Parks and visiting all 58 before I pass into the wild blue yonder, are on my bucket list.  Bumble is half way to this goal and I am thirty percent there.  I look forward to each visit with the curiosity and excitement of a child asking in the car, “Are we there yet?”

To prepare quickly for the road trip, we harvested some of our peaches and grapes, bought a bunch of cheese, filled our water containers, packed an overnight bag, and dropped our cat off at the Pet Hotel.  Next, we filled the gas tank and headed out. The drive was delightful.  We left Denver and traveled west through Glenwood Springs, past the historic town of Redstone, over the McClure Pass into an agricultural region of our state called the North Fork Valley (Paonia, Hotchkiss, Crawford) that is making the healthful transition towards growing organic produce. We delighted in a wine tasting at Stone Cottage Cellars, located on a hill off the highway to Paonia. It is proud to be the second highest altitude vineyard in America. The wines were incredible and the stone structures were charming and built by the proprietor.

Stone Cottage Cellars in Paonia, CO
A view of the vineyard and the mountains surrounding the North Fork Valley
Living Farm Cafe and B&B in Paonia, CO
Serving local produce and meats at the Living Farm Cafe

We rested at a B & B called The Living Farm Café (on Grand Avenue in quaint downtown Paonia) owned by the Gillespie family that has farmed in the area since 1938. The café specializes in serving harvest appropriate organic meals that offer gluten free, dairy free, and vegetarian options.  The rooms were homey, spotless and simple with comfortable inviting beds adorned in crisp white sheets and patchwork quilts. The folks were easy going and friendly! To cool down on a hot summer evening we walked down to Ollie’s Ice Cream Parlor and had a few delicious scoops.

On to our final destination—the North Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  It is a magnificent and ancient Precambrian carving of the earth by the river and is surrounded by the Pinyon-Juniper woodland community and big sagebrush.  The fragrance of the air is a glorious mixture of pine, juniper, sage and sunshine that I adore.  Hopefully, my photos can say a thousand words of how utterly beautiful this canyon is.  For over two hours, we never saw another human being (except the ranger at the station). We could hear two climbers across the canyon shouting “on belay or off belay;” but without our binoculars we could not see them on the rock face.  When we embarked on the 3 mile loop trail to “Exclamation Point,” a female elk immediately made her presence known (no time to get my camera out), crossing the path only yards away.  This elk crossing was precursor of many marvelous views to come of this awesome canyon.  At Exclamation Point our hearts pounded as we looked over the cliffs to the thin silver sliver of the Gunnison River below. I have not been to the Grand Canyon National Park yet but this view was spectacular! Exclamation Point!

Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Another view of the canyon
The sliver of the Gunnison River far below
The sliver of the Gunnison River far below

On the way back to civilization we soaked in the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool and stayed at the historic Hotel Colorado, the same hotel President Teddy Roosevelt had frequented often. We sat out on the veranda overlooking the region’s red-rocked mountain and sipped a cocktail. It was a view unlike the backyard at home and we felt like we had been somewhere. The trip was like hitting a refresh button and we were enchanted by the experience.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

TMTV (Too Much Television) or Watching the Olympics

I am embarrassed to admit it but I have spent the last two weeks watching television over four hours a day. But without the chocolate-covered cherries. Since I was a kid, observing the telecast of the Olympics has been a highpoint in my life. The visuals have stayed with me – moments of grace, strength and beauty performed by Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamil, Mary Lou Retton, Nadia Comaneci, and the Soviet darling, Olga Korbut. In the midst of the cold war with U.S.S.R. in 1972, a little sprite with pigtails named Olga would melt the hearts of the American media and public. Everyone was smitten by her. Gone were the geographical boundaries and political differences, all that remained was her engaging smile and amazing feats. She conquered gymnastics with charm, charisma and fearlessness; and her performance changed the face of gymnastics forever. She would go on to become ABC’s Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Year.  I can still see her routine in my mind’s eye.

Olga Korbut on balance beam 1972, courtesy Google Images

To me, the Olympics are the most motivating and invigorating event to grace my television screen (even with the annoying and cloying commercials). Watching the best of the best perform in a sport—any sport—is immensely inspirational. We know it takes thousands of hours (and days) of serious commitment to perfect a sport and to hone the machine that accomplishes that sport—the body.  Years or actually decades of years are invested. There are injuries, illnesses, accidents, time and money constraints that can interfere with one’s goal. And when you see the people who show up against these tremendous odds— well, it just is something else: it is magical.

Gabby Douglas on balance beam 2012, courtesy Google Images

There are so many stories that left me inspired and teary-eyed, and I know everyone who watched the summer games has a special affiliation for an athlete or a team that touched them. We all rooted for athletes from our land and other countries too, because it was about the individual's or the team's effort not their geography. I will not  forget the first Sunday morning I spent watching the Women’s Cycling Road Race. It was held in typically-British wet weather complete with slick shiny roads and water droplets on the cameras; and the thrill of the final sprint at the end after hours of bike riding by Marianne Vos of the Netherlands crossing the finish line inches ahead of Elizabeth Armitstead of Great Britain.

Marianne Vos at the finish line, photo courtesy Google Images
And I must say Great Britain gave us quite an Olympic show. They were not only great hosts but awesome performers as well, ranking 3rd in the overall medal count (after the U.S. and China) winning 29 Gold, 17 Silver, and 19 Bronze medals. They did their land proud and so did we. An amazing 46 Gold medals were won by the United States athletes who include: Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin, Allison Schmitt, Nathan Adrian, Matthew Grevers, Tyler Clary, Katie Ledecky, Dana Vollmer, Rebecca Soni, Gabby Douglas, Alexandra Raisman, Dave Boidia, Ashton Eaton, Allyson Felix, Sanya Richard-Ross, Jennifer Suhr, Brittney Reese, Claressa Shields, Kristin Armstrong, Kayla Harrison, Vincent Hancock, Jamie Lynn Gray, Kimberly Rhode, Serena Williams, Jordan Ernest Burroughs, Jacob Stephen Varner, and U.S.  Men’s And Women’s Basketball Teams, the Women’s Beach Volleyball Team of Misty May-Treanor and Kerry Walsh, Women’s Football Team, Women’s Gymnastics Team, Women’s Eight in Rowing, Men’s and Women’s  4x200m Freestyle Relay, Men's and Women’s 4x100m Medley Relay, Men’s and Women’s Doubles Tennis, Women’s Track and Field 4x100m and 4x400m relay, and Women’s Water Polo.  Furthermore, the U.S. captured an additional 29 medals each in both the Silver and Bronze categories—for a total of 104 medals, putting the U.S. at the top of the medal’s count.  China was 2nd in the medal count with 38 Gold, 27 Silver and 23 Bronze for a total of 88. I am utterly proud and inspired for our teams and each and every performer and athlete from every country present at the London Olympic Games.

The Amazing Michael Phelps, photo courtesy Google Images 
Equestrian Jumping, photo courtesy Google Images
Misty May-Treanor and Kerry Walsh winning gold, photo courtesy Google Images
In sync - synchronized divers, photo courtesy Google Images
Oscar Pistorius taking off, photo courtesy of Google Images
Colorado Olympian Missy Franklin, photo courtesy Google Images

Each day that I spent watching these athletes inspired me to get my sneakers on and run longer and faster or to put on my tank suit and swim harder and better. They say there are two types of motivation: Intrinsic motivation which comes from within and is the desire to do something because we find it enjoyable; and extrinsic motivation which comes from outside stimuli such as praise, awards or financial gain. The high-level of competition exhibited in the Olympics is a curious balance between these two kinds of motivation: doing something because it feels fabulous when you do it well, and then doing it harder because you may win that shiny round medal for your country and get well paid for a commercial.  All I can say is that these athletes from around the world motivated me to get off the couch (when I wasn’t watching them perform on TV, that is).  It was a good thing after all – all this television watching.  And when it ended, I was quite sad and felt a bit empty. But I take heart; in less than two years I will be watching the Winter Olympics held in Sochi, Russia, in February 2014. That’s when I will probably get out my snow skis and make better turns. Gotta go do some laps.



Monday, July 23, 2012

Zucchinis – gotta love ‘em

One zucchini plant taking over my yard
A while ago I was pondering world hunger and among the solutions I came up with was to provide every needy family or community one zucchini plant (climate permitting). One plant would quickly grow to elephant-sized proportions and provide endless vegetable matter.  It can be eaten raw, stewed, sautéed, stuffed and roasted, or baked into moist and delicious breads.  Adding grated zucchini to a cake batter makes it moist and delicious without imparting any strong flavor.  I make a chocolate zucchini cake that is too die for (but I don’t tell anyone the secret ingredient for fear they won’t eat it).

Zucchini truly is not a difficult vegetable to swallow; it has a fairly bland taste like many vegetables in the Cucurbit family (not strong like broccoli from the Brassica family). It makes for great culinary company when mixed with onions, garlic, basil, fennel, tomatoes, or other squashes. Here are some fun facts about this vegetable:

7 Fun Facts About Zucchini
  1. One average-sized zucchini is just 25 calories (17 calories per 100 grams) and they are fat-free and cholesterol-free.
  2. Zucchini is a good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C and manganese and has more potassium than a banana. 
  3. They also contain the B-complex group of vitamins like thiamin, pyridoxine, and riboflavin.
  4. The beautiful yellow flowers are edible – fried squash blossoms are epicurean delights.
  5. Wash your zucchini but don't peel them because most of the nutrients are in the skin.
  6. Every year there is a Zucchinifest celebrated in Obetz, Ohio, with food, music, motorcycles, parade and pageant. This year it is set for August 23-26!
  7. In France and England the zucchini is known as the courgette.
To finish off today’s tribute to the “Z” plant here is a quick and easy recipe for zucchini soup.  Put in the blender or food processor, it is a take on Vichyssoise (blended cold leek and potato soup) and can quickly make use of all those enormous zucchinis a gardener is faced with every day.

Zucchini soup - ready to serve!

Blended Zucchini Soup (need an electric blender or food processor)

6-8 Cups of sliced fresh zucchini (wash and scrub but leave skins on for color)
1 large onion sliced (or 2 medium onions)
3-4 leeks cleaned and sliced
3-5 thinly sliced Yukon gold potatoes
2 cloves of fresh garlic

1 quart container organic chicken broth
1 quart container organic vegetable broth (only need half quart)
¾ - 1 Cup milk (or half and half)
A handful of fresh fennel chopped (or substitute chopped fresh basil, oregano, or dill)
Olive oil for sautéing
Salt and pepper

Step one: saute all the veggies, then add the broth.
In a large soup pot add in about 3-4 tablespoon of olive oil and sauté the sliced potatoes, onions, leeks, and zucchinis over medium heat. While the vegetables are cooking add salt, pepper, and ½ of the chopped fennel or basil. Stir often and cook until veggies are starting to get soft but zucchinis still have beautiful green color (about 5 minutes). Add in garlic and sauté for a minute.  Next, add  the chicken broth and ½ container of vegetable broth to the pot.  Bring to boil and simmer gently for about 5-7 minutes or until the potatoes and zucchinis are tender yet still have vivid color. Remove from heat. Next, transfer approximately ¼ of this vegetable/broth mixture to the blender. Blend until fairly smooth – pour blended soup into a large bowl (or another pot) to save while blending the remaining ingredients in the pot in batches.  Place all blended soup back into pot. Add in the milk or half and half.  Stir and serve topped with chopped fresh fennel or basil.  This soup can be served at room temperature or hot.
Zucchini soup served with fennel and bread.


Friday, July 13, 2012

A Prayer for Politics

A Sculpture at Shidoni Foundry in Santa Fe, NM
Dear God (or the Universe or the Holy Spirit or Buddha or Allah or whomever) please spare me the upcoming ugly battle on TV (and Facebook etc.) for the next presidential election. American democracy is a wonderful thing and we are fortunate to live in the U.S.. We can have our opinions and hopefully learn to be respectful of others viewpoints. But during an election year does it have to be so downright nasty and mean-spirited when they are expressed? I cannot bear witness to the upcoming fight and the good vs. evil propaganda.

It is like a high school football game with the “we are better than they are” attitudes. It is a win/lose scenario of “let’s get nasty and injure” our opponents. I have seen some awful behaviors from both parties—along with examples of truly humanitarian behaviors—trust me neither one is better they are, just different. Can we wrap ourselves around differences or is fear and loathing going to abide?

People seem to blindly borrow their political party affiliations from their parents (or spouses or church) instead of doing real research -- reading up on both sides and investigating the different platforms. Do you really know what each party stands for in the political arena? Do you really understand economics, deficits, foreign policy, or the banking and monetary system? Do you know the reason there was a financial crisis and an Occupy Wall Street movement? Do you understand what the wars cost? Do you know why the employment rate has continued to drop over the last 6 years? These are some tough subjects to absorb and they require much time and energy. Would you be willing to read several books and views from unbiased information sources? There appears to be a filter in the mind which blocks any meaningful knowledge from entering the brain if that information comes from the opposing party or team.  Speaking of high school again, do you remember the high school debate team? Debates were democracy in action and they had an educated presentation unlike the mud-slinging of political commercials. We actually listened to both sides of our classmates’ arguments and thought it through. Well some of us did.

History tells us that a politician, Joe McCarthy, damaged hundreds of people because they supported social  programs and he feared communism would take over America. Likewise, Americans adored President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (he was elected to office four times) when he assisted the country with his social programs during the depression. The difference may be in historical timing and intention or striking a meaningful balance for the needs of the people. And to borrow a quote from the book Dreamers of the Day by author Mary Doria Russell: “When it comes down to it, I don't have much in the way of advice to offer you, but here it is: Read to children.Vote. And never buy anything from a man selling fear."

In the 1960s, I saw many people injured and killed in the fight for civil rights trying to end discrimination against African Americans. Five decades later, I am utterly proud of this country for electing an African-American as President of the United States. We have come a long way since Thomas Jefferson penned these words in the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these Truths to be self-evident that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

I believe a great democratic country needs a sprinkling of social programs and social consciousness, a support system for productive and environmentally-respectful industries that do no harm, a respectful space between government control and an individual’s rights, a good legal system with trial by jury, a balance of power in the government, a lack of greed, a publicly owned television/media network, a plan to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves for whatever reason, and good old-fashioned understanding, kindness and acceptance for all the differences in our vast human population (both at home and abroad). We the people of the United States of American have come so close. Perhaps it is the last few that are too idealistic and, so I turn to you.

Please God make us all kinder in our politics and able to work together for a better world.





Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Declaration of Independence (the 1st draft was good)

Our 13 Original Colonies
Two hundred thirty six years ago, leaders among the thirteen original colonies of America decided they needed to formalize their notion of breaking away from the “mother ship,” Great Britain. A handful of brilliant men decided to write a resolution of independence that could be signed and voted upon by the leaders of the colonies with the desired goal to create a group of independent states called the United States of America. 
These men had ideas about governing the land in which they were living, and concepts and changes that might improve the rights for all. The ideas needed to be formulated and recorded on paper.

The colonies were experiencing unjust control unfettered mercantilism and taxation without representation heaved upon them from across the Atlantic Ocean. They saw inherent injustices in Great Britain and Scotland between the wealthy landowners and those who did not own land. Benjamin Franklin felt that private property ownership for all men, which was commonplace in the colonies, allowed for more equality and equity. Private property ownership was an important concept in the new fledgling democracy. In addition, Thomas Jefferson was a believer in human rights and freedom and wanted to see the practice of slavery come to an end.

This Declaration of Independence, was drafted and edited several times, and presented on July 2nd. It was written, for the most part, by Thomas Jefferson as part of a “committee of five” (Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams) and began with powerful prose:

When, in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the Causes which impel them to the Separation.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

It took two more days for the declaration to be formally adopted by 12 colonies. There were two key points in Jefferson’s original document that some men wanted revised and removed: the first was a critical reference to the English people (fair enough), and the other was his denunciation of slavery and the slave trade. Jefferson's original draft was more humane and true to his fine words above (See Page 3 of the Declaration of Independence below).

Unfortunately, it took another 89 years for slavery to be abolished and for Jefferson’s famous prose of equal rights for all Men to finally be awarded. In addition, it took women until 1920 to be granted a voice and the right to vote. I am digressing, back to the Declaration of Independence. Another two weeks (July 19, 1776)  passed before  the declaration was finally approved by the colony of New York. And on August 2, 1776, it was signed by all the necessary leaders. However, the American War for Independence (the Revolutionary War) would rage on for five more years before the United States would be an independent and free nation (with the signing of the Treaty of Paris with Great Britain in 1783). It is interesting how the date of July 4th on which we commemorate America’s independence is not really indicative of the actual historical truth of our independence, this change took a long time to occur.

Page 1
Page 2
Page 3
Page 4

July 4th is the designated national holiday and is celebrated with fireworks, flags, barbeques, parades and other summertime activities shared with family, friends and the community. On this day we are 185 days into the year and with only 180 left; this is the pinnacle of the summer season. The story of our country at a moment in time (early July, 1776) is an excellent example of the evolution of important ideas, the time it takes to put these into actual practice, and what a democracy and freedom for all really means.

This year, with many forest fires simmering in our area of Colorado, it may not wise to set off sparklers or firecrackers but watching a movie about this period in our history may be another way to enjoy the holiday. Here are three movies that might deepen the experience:

John Adams (HBO TV series) – won 4 Golden Globes and 13 Emmy Awards

Hooper, Tom, dir. John Adams. Perf. Paul Giamatti and LauraLinney. HBO Films, 2008. Film.

The Patriot (Movie/DVD) – nominated for 3 Oscars

Emmerich, Roland, dir. The Patriot. Perf. Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger. Columbia Pictures, 2000. Film.

1776 – (Film version of Broadway musical) 

Hunt, Peter, dir. 1776. Perf.William Daniels and Howard Da Silva. Columbia Pictures, 1972. Film.

Claude H. Van Tine, The Causes of the War of Independence (1922) p 318

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Thank You Nora Ephron

 Chinese Phoenix rising from the ashes - Courtesy Google Images

It was back in the 1980s and I needed a location change after the deaths of my mom and of a three-year love affair.  I moved rather hastily to a picturesque little town, Ashland, Oregon, to make a fresh start. The town’s name seemed to imply a good place where fallen phoenixes could arise from their burnt-out selves. Ashland was home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and many other "off Bard's way" theatrical productions. It had a nearby ski mountain, a local lake, a lush park, vineyards and colorful Victorian houses -- with all this charm I decided to plop myself there for a spell and enrolled in the local college.  My niece, Gretchen (a psychologist), always said that before one of her patients considers suicide, she suggests they simply try moving to a new place and making a fresh stab at life instead of a bloody stab at one’s heart. I always thought this was sound advice and felt that I was making headway (or heart way).

My friend Pauline lived on a little farmstead or what some call horse property in the nearby town of Talent. One night, in my behalf, she rented the movie, Heartburn, based on a story by writer and humorist Nora Ephron; it was great medicine.  I laughed, I cried, I related, and I no longer felt alone and foolish in my misery. A human can heal amongst the people who have shared the same travails. Misery does indeed love company (and being in the company of Meryl Streep seemed bearable). Nora did more for my broken heart with that story than months of analysis. She made me see the ridiculous humor in the most horrific human shortcomings and offered up a dose of hope. Like the itsy bitsy spider – after being assaulted by the rain she gets up and climbs the water spout again.

Years later Nora Ephron cracked me up again with the story and movie, When Harry Met Sally. Here is a classic film about befriending and being honest with the opposite sex, quite a challenge. And many more years later my granddaughter and I watched the movie, Julie and Julia. We loved the two stories that were intertwined and set around the love of food (and a food icon); we could not wait to get into the kitchen and cook something afterward. And how could we forget her powerful story of Karen Silkwood that was brought to life in the movie Silkwood by Meryl Streep and Cher.

Nora Ephron was so many things: humorist, journalist, writer, screenwriter, playwright, producer, director, award-winner, mother, wife, sister, cook, and to me a woman’s woman. She had a way of being honest about the humanness in all of us and making us laugh aloud at our problems and silly selves, all while whipping up a bowl of Pasta Carbonara. This is something to applaud. Last evening, I found out that Nora had died, and I was so saddened at the loss of this amazing funny woman who could shed laughter and light on so many humans and their foibles. What an enormous loss. In tribute to Ms. Ephron, let’s devour one of her books and delight in watching one of her movies. God be with you Nora and thank you for your gifts!

Imaginary Friends
Crazy Salad
The Boston Photographs
Scribble Scribble
Wallflower at the Orgy
I Remember Nothing: And other Reflections
I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman

Silkwood (writer)      
Heartburn (writer, novel)     
When Harry Met Sally... (writer, associate producer)     
Cookie (writer, executive producer) 
My Blue Heaven (writer, executive producer)
This Is My Life (director, writer)
Sleepless in Seattle (director, writer)
Mixed Nuts (director, writer)
Michael (director, writer, producer)
Strike! / The Hairy Bird / All I Wanna Do (executive producer) 
You've Got Mail (director, writer, producer)
Hanging Up (writer, producer)
Lucky Numbers (director, producer)
Bewitched (director, writer, producer)
Julie & Julia (director, writer, producer)


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sharing recipes, sharing the love.

Sharing Fish by Thomas Cooper Gotch courtesy Wikimedia Commons
There is a unique genetic quality that appears to run in my family, like muscular legs and nice eyes: every blood relative loves to cook—grandmother, mother, sisters, nephew, nieces, daughters, sons, and grand children.  The siblings in my family have often said, “Yeah, our childhood was nuts but the food was awesome.”  My mom grew up on a small farm in northern New Jersey with her immigrant parents and she was raised to be a fabulous cook. There was an intertwining importance that she placed on good food, proper cooking and health, and this “language of love” made an impact that seemed to transfer on to everyone. Furthermore, I was fortunate to have grown up in the same neighborhood as my Home Economics teacher who taught us the simple basics of cooking in 6th through 8th grade. Not only did I have her as a teacher in school but I could observe over many years her strong tradition of cooking for her family from her husband’s garden and preparing the food in traditional nutritious ways.  I was blessed with some great role models. I will never forget in class sautéing thin slices of onions and celery in a little homemade butter with green peas, making “Oriental Peas.” After tasting what was prepared, I started loving vegetables in a way that I never had before. Who knew celery, onions and peas tasted so sweet and yummy together.

When I am feeling a little lost about things in life, my go-to creative place is the kitchen and/or the garden. Pardon the pun but I get grounded outside in the garden and then fulfilled with delicious food in the kitchen.  Another behavior that helps me through any down-in-the-doldrums day is sharing great food with people I love and who love me in return. That said, my niece Vicky and I have been sharing some easy yet delicious recipes lately. One of Vicky’s friends is from Italy and, thus, she has eaten some marvelous food with a great Italian spin at the hands of her friend. She was sharing with me the taste sensation of cooking her friend’s Italian chicken cutlets' recipe and I was drooling just listening to it over the phone. I had to have that recipe—the saliva needed satisfaction. She shared it with me; I was as excited as a dog with a butcher's beef bone. Both Vicky and I cook from the hip, which means to say we sometimes say a handful of this and a pinch or two of that. So forgive me because I had to transfer handfuls and pinches into common measurements when I typed up the recipe to share. I believe it is close to its succulent success.

When my grand-daughter Tay visited on Saturday, we could not wait to fix up this chicken dish. We almost swooned from food passion after consuming these cutlets. What sets them apart, we believe, is the minced fresh garlic and Italian parsley which co-mingles with the bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese to make a very crispy crust on the outside yet maintains a tender moist inside. Without further ado I am sharing the recipe and a few photos of Tay preparing Vicky’s friend's Italian Chicken Cutlets.

Cooking the Italian Chicken Cutlets

  • ¼ C. peanut oil or a good vegetable oil for sautéing (unless you have an allergy to peanut oil, using it really puts a "crisp" on the chicken and the flavor is divine)
  • 4 range free/hormone free chicken breasts (pounded thin between plastic wrap and sliced into strips)
  • 2-3 eggs beaten with a little milk, salt and pepper (use a large bowl)

  • 1 cup Italian bread crumbs (your favorite brand --make sure they are fresh and not a few years old)
  • 3 T. of flour
  • ½ C. of grated or shredded Parmesan cheese (I think I had freshly shredded on hand)
  • 3-4 T. FRESH Italian Parsley minced fine (use more if you love a hint of green all over)
  • 4-5 cloves of FRESH garlic minced (use more if you love garlic)

Soaking chicken tenders in egg mixture

Rinse chicken breasts in water and dry lightly with paper towels. Place one breast at a time between two large pieces of plastic wrap on a flat surface and pound them with a rolling pin until they are of even thinness. You can get some angst out pounding away at chicken breasts. Next, slice the breasts into thin strips about 1 ½ inches wide. Place chicken strips into the bowl containing the egg mixture and let them sit there for about 20 minutes to ½ hour.

Meanwhile, while chicken is taking an egg soak, on cutting board mince up the fresh garlic and parsley. Next, combine garlic and parsley together with the rest of the ingredients (breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, and flour) in a wide casserole type container, I used a glass casserole dish. Make sure the garlic, parsley and cheese are spread evenly throughout breadcrumb mixture which will coat the chicken strips.

Dip egg soaked chicken into breadcrumb/cheese/garlic mixture

Here is the fun messy part. Take a few strips of chicken out of the egg mixture and roll them around in the breadcrumb/cheese garlic mixture and set aside until all pieces are well coated (see photo above). Heat the oil in a large frying pan on medium/high heat until a drop of water skitters across the pan and sizzles. Fry about 4-5 chicken strips at a time (this keeps the oil at a good high temperature) for about 3 minutes per side (the length of time depends on your stove -- my gas range transfers heat differently than an electric range).
Sauteing until golden brown and crispy
Transfer the cooked strips onto a cookie sheet and place in a 250 degree oven to keep warm until all of the chicken is cooked. Look for a golden crisp crust on outside but still moist and tender inside. The chicken will continue cooking in oven. Do not overcook! We served them with fluffy mashed Yukon Gold potatoes and fresh carrots. Too die for delicious!
Seconds anyone? Nope they did not last - yummy
I guess Pillsbury was right with their slogan "nothin' says lovin' like something from the oven."