One of my favorite quotes is by J.R.R. Tolkien: "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." Here I'm giving glimpses of all I am deciding in the time that is given to me. Enjoy! All pictures and posts are mine, thank you! Please ask permission for photo use.

Monday, December 31, 2012

update on the chubs

Remember this post? Where I found out that Chubby, aka Quattro, my favorite neighborhood kitty was in a loving foster home? I went to visit Chubby the other day, and I'm pleased to say that he is happy and healthy and safe!

The little guy even let pet him. He was very timid and shy at first, hiding, then slowly coming out, gradually gathering up courage to sniff my hand, and eventually letting me pet him.

I was so thrilled, elated, ecstatic, etc. to see Chubby; how could the visit possibly be any better?

Answer: kittens!!!

Chubby was sharing his space with three kittens, also being fostered and readied for adoption. Playing with them was so much fun (they are HILARIOUS when they're doing back flips to get a feather toy, and I love kittens because they--most of them, anyway--are quick to purr and give you love and let you hold them and pet them as much as your heart desires).

Finally, there's a new cat in town! I've named this little one Cocoa Nib. At first I thought she was a kitten when I first saw her months ago; it was dark, and she really is such a tiny thing and at that point she looked real ragged and thin. Her coat is looking much better these days, and I think she's put on some weight! She's a real cutie, that Cocoa Nib.

I'm spending New Year's Eve quietly this year. Soon I'll attend a yoga class that is meditative, promotes mindful relaxation, and encourages the free flow of chi or prana. I'm willing this state of mind and body to carry over into the New Year with me. I've already set in place some resolutions for a simpler year ahead, and I've read some really great blog posts (such as The Kind Life and Kris Carr's Crazy Sexy Wellness) that have been inspiring when it comes to prioritizing what matters in the year ahead. Tomorrow I'll write in my journal, spend time with a few friends and family, and fit in some good book reading and exercise. Whatever your plans are for New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, and the year ahead, best wishes for lasting peace, simple pleasures, improved health, much happiness, and abundant love for you and yours.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

green noodle goodness

I love to eat different kinds of foods; growing up with a chef (dad) in the house was an incredible gift and provided my sisters and I with palates that crave diversity and complexity. I get even more excited when I learn how to make something I absolutely love to eat.

My friend Villa and I used to work together, and she used to bring in these fabulous green noodles for lunches. After she first let me try some one day, every time I saw green noodles I'd get all excited for another taste. I begged her to tell me how to make them, and she was more than happy to oblige! They are surprisingly easy to make, and oh-so-delicious to eat. I've made them for a variety of family and friends, and they are always a hit.

I don't actually have a recipe written down; it's one of those recipes that was explained by telling stories, that doesn't have exact measurements, but is simple enough to remember and hard to get wrong (the best kind of recipe in my mind!). Here's my version of Villa's green noodles:

  • 16 oz of uncooked whole wheat spaghetti
  • 1 pound of organic fresh baby spinach
  • plenty of fresh organic basil
  • 8 oz of queso fresco (buy organic or hormone-free if possible!)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt
  • garlic powder

Boil water for your pasta. While your water is boiling and while the pasta is cooking, start adding fresh spinach and basil to a blender. Don't pack it in too tight, but fill it up almost all the way to the top. Next, add equal parts of olive oil and water to the blender so that the spinach is able to blend. You don't want to add too much, because you don't want your noodles to be too soupy; however, you want to add enough so that when you end up blending ALL of that spinach and basil together (start small and keep adding more and more spinach and basil), you'll have a nice liquid mixture that's not too thick and not too thin. After you blend the spinach that is in the blender and more room is created in the blender, add more spinach and basil and blend. Repeat until you have blended all the spinach and basil, and then add your queso fresco and blend well. When your pasta has finished cooking, drain well and put back in the pot. Add your green spinach/basil/queso fresco liquid to the pasta in the pot and start cooking over medium heat, stirring constantly. You want the pasta to start bubbling, and once it's started bubbling for about a minute (keep stirring!), it will be done. As it's heating up and you're still stirring, add salt and garlic powder to taste. After you've seasoned it and as you're cooking it, the green noodles smell phenomenal. And wait until you've had your first bite!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

December decor diary

This is my third day home from work this week, and all I want for Christmas is to be rid of this @%*! virus. I'm disgusted with myself; I can't imagine what others would think if I were out in public, looking and sounding as egregious as I am, sniffling and sneezing furiously, panicking to find the nearest tissue.

I'm in my home all day and all night, depressed because the sun was shining brightly outside today and I really, really do need to get back to the office so I don't fall behind in my work. Being stuck inside my home all day does mean that I get to organize somewhat when I'm not feeling too puny, and it has made me appreciate little spaces I normally overlook.

Above: I hung this hand-made gift from a friend to brighten up my mood--a little friend to be trapped inside the house with me!

Above: a photograph of my grandfather from when he was younger sits on a bookshelf. One of the (few!) nice things about being sick is that I get to catch up on books. I've just finished For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund.

Above: a sweet elephant from Ten Thousand Villages and a lucky white buffalo from South Dakota sit on top of my DVD cabinet (that I built myself!) next to a book called To The Arctic, which is a beautiful, photography-filled conservation love letter to, well, the Arctic (by Florian Shulz, who was gracious to sign my book after a marvelous presentation he did at a conservation breakfast during an Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City, Utah).

Above: a picture of my mom holding me while we were in England and a picture of my grandfather when he was much younger.

Above: organization excites me--I can't tell you how much I love organized but fun spaces that aren't too stuffy or perfect.

Above: sketches from my late cousin, Tim, adorn the walls and put a smile on my face.

Above: plants make me very, very happy.

Above: my sister gave me this picture and I adore it.

Above: little details make spaces more personal.

Aside from a lovely wreath on the front door, I don't have any sort of Christmas decorations up--no tree, no lights, no nothing. I wasn't prepared for the holidays this year, but it's not too late to start, right?! Especially when one is sick and has limited activity opportunities. The problem is that I simply don't have Christmas decorations--well, hardly any. This might be as pathetic as I feel right now, but I honestly needed something to do while I'm in the house all day. I have these sweet ornaments that were made in Bangladesh that I purchased from Ten Thousand Villages during a Community Shopping Night (a percentage of the proceeds went to help a local animal shelter). I placed them on a scarf that I'm doubling as an autumn/winter table runner, and ta dah! Christmas decorations...sort of...

What's better than Christmas cheer to help cure colds, eh? Maybe this isn't better, but it's certainly on par for me--there's nothing like a good pair of warm, fuzzy slippers to make you feel better when you're down in the dumps. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

creamy pumpkin quinoa

I'm sick. I feel horrible. I'm home from work. I've foregone holiday parties and happy hours, and the only thing consoling me right now is the couch, tissues, hot tea with Manuka honey, and well, food. Growing up, I never lost my appetite when I got sick. The same is true today. It's rare for me to stop eating when I'm sick, so when that's the case, you know there's something seriously wrong with me. At all other times, I'm ready with knife and fork in hand.

I thought I might try cooking a new recipe today to make me feel better. I saw this VegNews recipe for Creamy Pumpkin Quinoa, and thought it sounded like a marvelous dish to try. I learned two things with this endeavor:

  1. I really hate cooking while miserably sick. I don't recommend it. 
  2. This recipe makes a super delicious, yummy, healthy dish that tastes gourmet and yet is very easy to make.
So at least the end result was yummy! The original recipe is here: I increased it because I had a 2-cup container of pumpkin and wanted to use the whole thing, plus I wanted to use my entire onion I had on hand. Here's my version of the recipe:

  • 3 cups water
  • 1.5 cups quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 1 whole sweet onion, diced
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 cups pumpkin (BPA-free)
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • 1/4 + 1/8 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1/4 + 1/8 tsp dried thyme
  • 4.5 tablespoons nutritional yeast
I basically made it the same way: Bring the water to a boil and add your quinoa and onion; cover and reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes. Once simmering is done, remove from heat, add remaining ingredients, and stir well.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

a thrill of hope

I'm usually siding with Andy Williams. To me, this is the happiest season of all, the most wonderful time of the year. My name means Christmas, and I'll celebrate that all December long!

Yesterday, however, made me feel like a Christmas tree whose every colorful light had all burned out. The news of the elementary school massacre in Connecticut ripped my heart out and left me in some distant black hole.

I rarely have Saturday mornings all to myself, and today was one lucky day where, before my day really begins, I have a morning free, just for me. I wanted to make a run to the quaint farmers' market in Del Ray, and so very early this morning, when the sun was just starting to come up and the morning had that beautiful soft glow that I love, I got up out of bed, bundled up, and headed out.

On the way, I noticed flags at half mast, and my heart sunk a little. Why didn't I just stay in bed and sleep? I thought to myself. As I ordered a maple spice almond milk latte at St. Elmo's Coffee Pub, I felt weary; okay, it was early in the morning and I was still waking up, but as I waited for the drink, listening to the milk being steamed and all of the people in the pub sharing laughs and cheerfully engaging in conversations, I looked down and noticed this morning's papers, the front pages covered with sorrowful pictures of victims' families, headlines that screamed tragedy.

I had arrived too early, and the market wasn't quite open. I left the coffee pub, hot drink steaming in hand, and sat outside by myself in the cold, and in the quiet. The Quakers sit in silence to listen; they listen for the Truth to speak to them and for the Light to be kindled in them. It is something that I admire so much in Quakers--that they have a "deep commitment to peace, simplicity, truth and equality."

My high school Humanities teacher once told me that I possess a strong sense of empathy and an urgent desire for justice. My therapist once told me that I have the heart of an activist. It could be the Latina blood in me, but it doesn't take much to get me fired up about something, and I definitely am a very passionate person. This isn't always a bad thing, and in fact I feel that it pushes me, in a good way, to try and do good in the world. Sadly, it also means that I take tragedies of the world far too personally, and it doesn't take much to break me down when I hold the sorrows of others too close to my own heart.

I once felt overwhelmed with empathy for a cockroach in a zoology lab in college. My fellow lab partners and I were measuring metabolism by injecting dye in cockroaches and then taking hemolymph samples. We sort of put the cockroaches to sleep by putting them in a jar and exposing them to carbon dioxide, and we would use the needles when they were "asleep." Some woke up too quickly and would panic, or some students were just so careless when taking samples, that the cockroaches were so badly injured from the needles that by the end of the lab, most of them were slowly dying. If I feel sorry for a cockroach (and that takes a lot, even for me!), imagine my devastation at seeing on television people jumping out of the burning World Trade Center towers, at seeing a rabbit whose back legs were smashed by a moving car slowly drag itself off the road, at hearing about elementary school children being gunned down.

The farmers' market opened, so I picked up my latte, still sipping it in silence, and headed towards the square where some vendors will still putting everything in place. And something changed in me. The warmth and friendliness of everyone at the market, even on this very cold morning so early that the sun wasn't properly up, started melting the icicles inside of me. A happy Golden retriever, who knows nothing of a gunman in Connecticut and only knows the world around him, was eagerly awaiting treats from a gourmet dog bakery vendor who was more than delighted to please the pleasant pooch. I bit into an apple cider doughnut, and then a raspberry chocolate scone, and I noticed the happiness, holiday cheer, and caring vibes that were radiating all around the Del Ray community.

On the drive home, I stopped my car to let a mother and her small child cross the street, laughing as the little boy was slowly making his way across the crosswalk in his tricycle and his mom was trying to get him to pedal faster so he wouldn't hold up traffic. I saw squirrels eagerly digging up their stored nuts in a schoolyard, trying to fatten up before their winter hibernation, only thinking of survival. And it hit me--we survive. We have to keep moving, because if we stop, we might never start again. Suddenly, I was so glad to have pulled myself out of the warm bed. I almost never get this time to myself, to really think, and reflect, and take note of the present. Isn't that what I'm trying to work towards? I reminded myself.

I drove down King Street in Old Town Alexandria, looking at all of the lights on the windows of stores, seeing holly and pine garlands draped over doorways, and remembered that it is Christmas. Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas started up on the radio (you may be sick of it, but it's never old to me!), and I thought to myself that this is the day I will watch Love Actually, one of my all-time favorite holiday movies that is all about hope, forgiveness, and possibility. Then Josh Groban started singing Oh Holy Night, and the verses resounded in my head with an everlasting truth:

A thrill of hope
The weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn

I am not so naive to think that the families and friends of the victims in Connecticut feel hopeful right now, that their weariness is relieved by Christmas, or that they will ever fully enjoy a Christmas season in the near future. I can only pray that they find some sort of comfort and relief somehow, some way.

I do know, that for me, I've had my good cry, I've had my moment of silence, and I must, for my sake, look towards that new and glorious morn. I look for the grey rain-curtain of the world to roll back, I look for white shores, and a far green country under a swift sunrise (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King).

This is one of my favorite parts of the Return of the King movie, below. Here's to hope.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

happy endings

I love a good happy ending. There are plenty of melancholy songs and films that I absolutely adore, but deep down my heart is always hoping and wishing for a happy ending.

We had a lot of neighborhood cats in our neighborhood. I liked to name them and look out for them whenever I was driving through the parking lots, because I'd grown affectionate towards them and they kept out of everyone's way--not a bother or a nuisance at all.

One in particular, my favorite, I named Chubby. He was a roly poly kitten when I first laid eyes on him, struggling to get out of a dumpster as I approached but too, ahem, rotund to really heave himself up and out. I saw him frequently with another cat named Shades (he looks like he has little sunglasses perched on his head--and he also has a black heart on his nose!). The two were as thick as thieves, cuddling together, hunting together, playing together, and it seemed they were protective of each other.

One day, Chubby disappeared. I never saw him again, and I feared the worst. My heart was broken, and I also felt bad that Shades lost his buddy, his mate. Soon enough another cat became friendly with Shades, but their dynamic really wasn't the same. Chubby was gone, and sorely missed at that.

Last night, I saw two women setting up behind some bushes some little "cubbies" that were lined with hay to provide warmth, covered in plastic garbage bags to protect them from rain, and filled with food and fresh water. I started talking to them, and learned that they helped trap the cats for TNR purposes (Trap, Neuter, and Release). They had had a lot of success with trapping the cats and spaying or neutering them, and some even became tame house cats and found good homes. This type of work is so valuable, because, although I love to see the sweet little kittens, their lives are incredibly hard, and most likely many of them won't make it to adulthood. They might starve, get hit by a car, get attacked by a stray dog, or even get poisoned by people who see the cats as nuisances.

Apparently many of the cats that I'd seen and named had found good homes and/or had had successful releases back into "the wild." Pirate Kitty, whom I named because of the two black patches over his eyes, was called Gizmo by his rescuer. Another cat I called Cookies and Cream was also known as Thelma; one of the women thought he was a female, but discovered upon trapping him that in fact he was a male cat! She liked the name Cookies and Cream, but still calls him Thelma because that's how she always knew him. We talked and talked about all of the different cats we had seen over the past year and laughed because we both had named them and noticed certain behaviors among the different cats.

I mentioned that I still saw Shades very frequently, and wondered if he had ever been trapped. She called Shades by another name, Skinny Tail, and said she had trapped him and neutered him, but that he didn't like life indoors and had escaped and continued to live on the streets. I summoned up the courage to ask about my beloved Chubby, hoping I wouldn't be disappointed. "Shades used to hang out with this one cat, who had one patch over his eye..." I began. "Quattro!" she cried! She explained that he lived with her, and she had named him Quattro because he was the fourth in his litter, but absolutely loved my name for him. Apparently, she had seen Chubby and Shades together and they actually lived together in her home!

She showed me a picture on her phone of Chubby and Shades in her bathroom sink, curled up around each other with Chubby looking ever protective of his friend Shades. I almost cried I was so happy, so flooded with relief after assuming for so long that Chubby was long since dead. She could see how joyful I was, and laughed, assuring me that "the Chubs" was doing just fine. "He's fatter than ever!" she said, chuckling.

Sadly, Shades did abandon his friend to live back on the streets. Perhaps he felt caged in and wanted the freedom. Chubby, on the other hand, is happy to get regular meals delivered to him, I'm sure.

I ran into Shades the other night, and normally he would have bolted away, but for once, as I was saying in a low voice that it was all right and I wouldn't be bothering him, moving as slowly as I could, he stood and looked at me, and waited until I had moved away to continue on his way. Perhaps he knows I'm sending love and affection his way.

And my Chubby? Happy in a loving home, which is all I could ever ask for. I'm seriously hoping the woman follows up on her invitation for me to come see him one day. Even if it never happens, knowing he's all right, having seen him sprawled out on her carpet (in another phone photo) looking for all the world as a carefree cat should, I know that I too will be just fine.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

simple minded

Remember that old Quaker song, Simple Gifts? It talks about the gift of simplicity, and when you attain simplicity, it sets you free.

Lately I've been working toward simplifying my life. I've felt bound by my various commitments and was always the go-to "planner" for various acquaintances. I've almost felt caged in by everything around me (if you've been reading my blog, you've probably read hints that this past season of autumn has been beyond hectic for me, and I'm finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel).

So I'm taking steps to live simply and simply live. It's not the easiest process in the world, and it requires me saying no to a lot of things I normally would say yes to, as well as carving out a lot more time for me to reflect and figure out a plan--yes, even a plan to be more simple!--for how I can go about implementing these changes long-term for a more healthy take on life.

There are many ways one goes about simplifying, and these are just a few examples of what's been working for me:

  • Created resolutions that help me stay on track and posted the list on my fridge.
  • Downsized my calendar, which surprisingly forced me to stop overbooking myself (and lightened the load in my purse!).

  • Gave a lot of unused items and extra baggage to Goodwill (you WILL feel lighter when you do this--I promise!).
  • Read an excerpt from Minimalism for Grandparents--it's totally applicable to me, and I'm not even close to being a grandparent. This book has just released TODAY and you can purchase it on your Kindle for only $9.99 (available through Amazon). I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to work towards minimalism (the kind that's right for you--not your neighbor, friend, mother, etc.) in a meaningful way.
  • Started reading The Simple Things, a British magazine that is chock full of reminders of how to step back from the crazy, be present, and find enjoyment in, well, the simple things.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

stop the littering

Today I went to the animal shelter to volunteer after a long hiatus. I always forget how much I absolutely love socializing with the cats, giving them love and affection, and seeing all of the new animals (today there was a turtle, a dove, a chinchilla, rabbits, birds, and a whole lot of new cats I didn't recognize!).

I always make it a point to visit the older cats first, since so many people are drawn to kittens and I want to make sure the more mature cats who might not get as much attention get some TLC. At long last, I ended my visit by going into a small room that held eight--EIGHT!--kittens. Soon they were clamoring over each other to get to me, rubbing on my legs, playing with my shoelaces, gently nibbling on my fingertips, and two were even climbing up my back and hanging out on my shoulders (like little pirate parrot kitties).

I couldn't stop smiling and my heart was melting to receive just as much love from these kittens as I was sending to each of them. And yet, even after ending my visit on such a high, I had a sadness that deep down could not and would not go away.

The thing is, even after such a long absence from volunteering at the shelter, I saw some cats that still had not found homes. Many people want to adopt a cute little baby kitten, and an older cat is unattractive to them. Others don't want to adopt two cats, and some of the cats are siblings that shouldn't be separated. Perhaps a cat has had trauma, or never received enough love as a kitten (he or she could have been born a stray). Perhaps the cat was never properly socialized, and has a hard time coping with its new surroundings and the multiple strangers it sees.

All of this applies to dogs, too. There are just too many cats and dogs and not enough loving, healthy, happy homes. Thankfully, the shelter where I volunteer has an "open admission" policy, which means they don't turn away any animal. They only euthanize those animals that display severe aggression or behavioral problems, or have terminal medical problems. According to their website, "as long as the animal remains healthy and behaviorally sound, he or she will have a space in our adoption program."

Still, that's not a permanent, sustainable solution. Those animals that are still at the shelter--who have seen others come and go for months--they too want a home. Every new animal that comes in (and believe me, there's never a shortage of homeless animals) means new competition. Humans definitely aren't the only species with a population control problem.

I know it's semi-cheesy and I'm copying a bumper sticker I saw in Charlottesville, VA a long time ago, but I'm going to say it anyway.

Don't Litter. Spay or neuter your pets.

Monday, December 3, 2012

savory pumpkin soup

Happy December! I'm breaking in the last month of the year with another modified Vitamix soup recipe. Don't be fooled into thinking that pumpkin makes this soup sweet--this is a savory soup, unlike the acorn squash soup. After so much pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin lattes, and other sweet pumpkin treats during Thanksgiving, it's nice to let pumpkin show off its versatility and shine as a savory star.

Here's my take on the Vitamix's Holiday Squash Soup (veganized, of course!):

  • 2 cups veggie broth
  • 2 cups pumpkin (if it's not fresh, make sure it's BPA-free!)
  • 1 shallot (or 1/4 onion), peeled
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (or hemp milk or soy milk)
  • 1/4 medium apple, seeded
  • 1/4 tsp dried sage
  • 1/4 tsp dried rosemary
Blend in the blender until smooth, then heat and serve. YUM!

While prepping, I was blasting John Williams' main themes from Jurassic Park (one of my all-time favorite movies for so many wonderful reasons). As I type this post, I'm blasting Josh Groban's "You Are Loved," and I'm reminded of when my college roommate, Genevieve, and I would blast this song in our apartment and sing it at the top of our lungs. What's better than a warm cup of soup, Josh Groban serenading you, and fond memories of a wonderful friend? Happy December!

P.S. Not tuned into Packing Lust? My former college roomie, Genevieve, has a fun blog to follow: There's some reading material for when you're sipping on soup!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thanksgiving zoo trip - part 4

The final part in the four-part series of zoo trip pics!