Archive for the ‘coastal living’ Category

Whidbey Island Visit

October 16, 2017

My weekend seems to have begun on Thursday evening when I went to see the dress rehearsal for the opera, The Barber of Seville.  It was delightful!

Then on Friday, after teaching a morning yoga class downtown, I went to Whidbey Island for two days. We were blessed with gorgeous autumn weather and we went hiking at Ebey’s Landing.  It’s one of my favorite hikes.

L1400087You can see the trail goes along a cliff overlooking the sea! Wind, sea, cliffs, prairie, forest, fields, views, history, a nearby historical graveyard, Ebey’s Landing has it all.  L1400089

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Fields along the hike:

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Gigantic strands of kelp on the beach:

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After the hike, hungry as ever, we headed over to the Front Street Grill in Coupeville for a Penn Cove clam dinner.  The clams were the best ever, done up Thai style in a coconut milk sauce.  Then back to Linda’s to rest and relax.

Linda’s decor is magical and festive:

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On Saturday, I woke up to an exquisite sunrise.  Luckily, I dashed outside to get a photo because the spectacular show didn’t last very long:

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The sunrise was the perfect opening scene for the one-day private home-style retreat I led that day.  We had an all-levels active Hatha Yoga session in the morning, followed by a delicious lunch and an invigorating walk to Meerkerk Gardens.  In the afternoon, we enjoyed a long restorative yoga session. For some crazy reason, I decided to transport all my bolsters over from Ocean Shores to Whidbey for the afternoon restorative session.  Glad there was space in the car for them!  It made for a wonderful session!

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Meerkerk Gardens have a grand collection of rhododendrons and plenty of other trees, including maples, which were in full autumn splendor:

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Hope you are enjoying this Autumn Season!

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October Splendor in the Garden, at the Coast

October 1, 2017

I went out to the garden to cut flowers for a bouquet.  Before stepping outside, I wondered which flowers, if any were to be found, would work for my bouquet because it is so late in the flowering season and most flowers have already done their blooming. It is already the first day of October and the leaves are starting to turn red so you can imagine my delight at finding many blooms for my bouquet!

How can flowers make me so happy?  Flowers and sunshine!  Below are the flowers I cut and you can see the bouquet I created from the autumn blooms.

The hydrangea below is a very special type called Ayesha Hydrangea.  One of my favorite aspects of this hydrangea is the cupped petals.  Each petal looks like a little spoon.  When it rains, each petal holds a drop of water.  The flowers are heavy and precious!  Sadly, I’ve heard another name for this species of hydrangea is called “mop-head”.  I hesitated to include that bit of information.  I don’t like the name.  It takes away from the beauty of this remarkable flower. Everyone who sees my Ayesha instantly falls in love with “her” and wants a cutting or a start of this bush.  I need to buy some rooting hormone and get some promised starts started!

Long ago, I taught a little girl by the name of Sophie.  She was very young and yet her parents insisted she learn Italian from me.  We are talking some 20 years ago.  I believe Sophie was four years old at the time. So I taught Sophie Italian using the TPR technique.  Total Physical Response technique is a method used to teach children language, using physical responses and physical exercise as a means to engage in interactive learning.  It worked well with Sophie! In return, in lieu of payment in cash, her father, a landscape architect, paid me in bushes, rare flowers, and trees!  Talk about a cool barter system!  This rare Ayesha hydrangea is one of the plants I earned in the teaching/plant barter.  After 20 years, Ayesha is still thriving and as beautiful as ever.

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Here are a few other hydrangeas in bloom today, October 1st.

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Other flowers to make it into my vase were fuschias and the fronds of Lucifer Crocosmia.  You can correctly suppose the flowers of Lucifer are a hellish (or heavenly) RED.  I didn’t have the heart to cut the last of the crocosmia flowers, especially the rare yellow ones that seem to bloom only every other year (also part of the teaching/plant barter deal).

Below are the last of Lavatera (Mallow) flowers. They also made it into the vase.

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The rhododendrons have already set their gigantic buds for next year’s spectacular flowering performance!  I am a garden nut for good reason.  Flowers are my garden’s song.  Flowers are life unfolding!

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And the bouquet!  So pretty.  I was surprised to see how well the white single petaled anemones did this year.  They made it into the bouquet, too.

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Sunshine, don’t be fooled!

Big fat billowing clouds give no hint of the sudden squall that will soak me, within seconds, to the bone.

Upon arrival to the beach, a blue kite dances in the sky, a girl with yellow boots frolics in the sand, chasing waves.

Sweet youth mock me not!  Like a child, I search for moonstones and agates and fill my pockets with gems.

The grass seed-heads on the dunes are illuminated by the early October sun.

Today’s clouds, a painting waiting to be painted.

This is your lucky day! This is my lucky day!  Ours to celebrate!

Happy October!

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To Fish or Not to Fish

August 20, 2017

This past weekend, I went fishing at the mouth of the Columbia River with my friend Jayne and her family.  Jayne’s nephew, Matt Chandler of Get Hooked Northwest Guide Service, is the skipper and fishing guide of the boat we were on.  Matt is the best skipper and guide ever!  Not that I have anyone else to compare him to because the only times I have gone salmon fishing have been with him, but his patience and teaching skills are commendable!  He really cares about us, keeps us safe, does his best to ensure that we have an overall positive and exciting experience.  He does his best to make sure we catch our quota on the fish and is very ethical when it comes to all the rules and regulations concerning the fishing industry. He is also deeply respectful of the river and the life it holds.  The river, the fish, the clients are a part of his livelihood.

We did our best, but Jayne and I didn’t actually reel in any salmon this year.  It was not for lack of trying.  However, fish or no fish, we still had the best experience ever.  I had the opportunity to meet more members of Jayne and Matt’s extended family and enjoyed getting to know them.  At the end of the fishing day,  Matt’s sister-in-law Kathryn gave Jayne and me one of her freshly caught salmon because she didn’t want us to go home empty-handed.  I was deeply moved by her gesture of kindness.  Once I realized that I just might not catch a salmon this year, I started planning in my mind how I would go to Pike Place Market to buy myself a salmon. Kathryn’s generosity and thoughtfulness didn’t make that shopping trip necessary.

So I didn’t have to go through the moral dilemma of fighting with a beautiful salmon, or of watching the beautiful creature taking its last breath of air before a quick end to its life.  No, all I had to do this time was quietly thank Kathryn’s salmon for its life and will do so again as I prepare to cook it for dinner tonight.

I eat mostly a plant-based diet (and fish/seafood).  I know you will think me strange, but sometimes it even breaks my heart to pull up a perfect head of lettuce from my garden or to pull up beets whose green leaves look so happy growing in the sun.  Imagine the magnification of these thoughts when I pull a salmon out of the water.  I would have liked to reel in a salmon, but, frankly, there was a part of me that felt relieved I didn’t have to go through all the inner dilemma of actually catching a fish.

Yes, strange me, I can’t wait to salmon fish again next year.   I already know that, if invited again, I will go. I will fish responsibly.  I will not waste.  I will be filled with gratitude for the life of the fish. I will also most likely go through the roiling dilemma of a person grappling with taking the life of another living creature fighting for its life.

Below are some photos from the fishing trip, along with a few related facts..

Below: arrival at the fishing pier.  Up at 4:45am.  At the dock just before 6am. Fishing by 6am.  Astoria, Oregon at the mouth of the Columbia river is such a gorgeous spot!

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7 Facts About The Columbia River  (from sparkpeople.com)

The “Columbia River” is one of the more magnificent rivers in the United States. The river’s headwaters actually begin inside Canada, but the majority of it flows through Washington State and along the Washington-Oregon border before emptying into the Pacific Ocean. A great deal is known about this important natural resource, but here are 7 facts you don’t know about the Columbia River.

1. 498 miles of the Columbia River’s total length of 1,243 miles is found in Canada.

2. Cape Disappointment marks the northern edge of the mouth of the Columbia River. It received its name from British Captain John Meares who had searched for the river, couldn’t find it, and determined that it didn’t exist.

3. More than 40 percent of all wheat that is exported from the entire United States is at one time or another barged down the Columbia River.

4. There are 14 hydroelectric dams that produce power on the Columbia River, three of them lie within the borders of Canada’s British Columbia.

5. Despite the fact that the Columbia River starts in Canada and flows south into Washington State, the first 200 miles of the river actually flows northwest from its source.

6. The largest dam on the Columbia River is the Grand Coulee Dam. The original planned height of the dam was to be between 200 and 300 feet, during construction the planned height of the dam was changed to 500 feet high.

7. The three Columbia River dams that are found inside Canada, Mica Dam, Duncan Dam and Hugh Keenleyside Dam, were all built in the late 1960s and early 1970s and were required as part of the Columbia River Treaty between the United States and Canada. They are all mainly used for water storage, although power production was enabled at two of the dams years after they were completed.

The Columbia River is a great source of hydroelectric power and recreational opportunities. It has developed into one of the more important resources that the Pacific Northwest has and is used to the benefit of the entire nation. There are a number of worthwhile attractions and locations to visit up and down the entire length of the Columbia River.

Below: Kathryn looking out at the rising sun on the Columbia

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Sunrise:

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Sunrise casts its golden light over the Astoria-Megler Bridge.  The bridge is actually green but the sun makes it appear golden. The bridge stretches 4.1 miles across the mouth of the Columbia.  It’s a cantilever through-truss bridge made of steel and cement.  Construction began in 1962 and the bridge was completed in 1966.  It is very high on one end to allow ships to pass under on their way to and from Portland, Oregon.

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Below are a few facts about salmon  (from Defenders.org).  The most shocking fact is that salmon are down to 3% of what the numbers where at the time of Lewis and Clark!  No wonder we are restricted in what we can catch.

Salmon is the common name for fish in the order Salmoniformes. They live in the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and are anadromous, which means most types of salmon are born in fresh water, migrate to the sea, and return to freshwater to reproduce, or “spawn.” Salmon appearance varies greatly from species to species. Species like chum salmon are silvery-blue in color while some have black spots on their sides, like the Atlantic salmon. Still others, like the cherry salmon, have bright red stripes. Most of these species maintain one color when living in fresh water, then change color when they are in salt water.

Diet

In general, young salmon eat insects, invertebrates and plankton; adults eat other fish, squid, eels, and shrimp. Unlike all other salmon, the sockeye salmon has a diet that consists almost entirely of plankton.

Population

Did You Know?

Beaver ponds provide critical habitat for juvenile salmon.

It is difficult to estimate population numbers due to the large number of species and wide geographic range. However, population numbers in the Atlantic Ocean and in parts of the Pacific, as well as the Colorado River, have dropped drastically from what they were historically. In the Colorado River, for instance, salmon numbers are down to 3% of what they were during the time of Lewis and Clark.

Behavior

Most salmon are anadromous fish, meaning they are born in freshwater (rivers or streams), travel to and live much of their lives in salt water and return to freshwater to spawn. After spawning, all Pacific salmon and up to 50% of other species die within a few weeks. The salmon that do not die can spawn two or three more times.

There are a few species and subspecies of salmon, like the Danube salmon and the kokanee salmon, that spend their entire lives in fresh water and never migrate to the ocean.

Reproduction

When the female reaches the place where she will lay her eggs, she makes a depression in the riverbed with her tail, and then deposits her eggs in this depression. She waits for males to fertilize the eggs, then covers the depression and moves on to make another. Females will make as many depressions as it takes to lay all their eggs (up to seven depressions).

Our skipper Matt Chandler (standing) with his nephew Jimmy and his dad Jim.

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Fish on!  Matt helps Kathryn net her salmon.

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Stellar Sea Lions

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Summer Yoga Celebration

August 14, 2017

We held our annual Yoga on the Beach Retreat at Little Renaissance this weekend.  The forecast called for clouds, cool temperatures, and rain.  However, the cooler temperatures of 65 degrees, free-of-forest-fire clean air, and the blend of sometimes cloudy and sometimes sun-drenched skies made for a perfect weekend, weather-wise.

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We had yogis from Tucson, Arizona, Eugene, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington.  What a lovely yoga-filled weekend it was!  Below you will see some photos as well as some of the readings participants shared on Saturday evening.

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Here is a reading on healing, read by Paula, written by Rachel Remens:

Healing is not a work of perfection or expertise. We are all healers. We heal with our wholeness, our humanity, all of our life experience, even our wounds. Our own wounds make us gentle with the wounds of others and able to trust the mystery of healing, not as a theory but from lived experience. Our vulnerability connects us to the vulnerability in others in compassionate and loving ways.

Healing is actually a worldview, a cosmology…. For a healer, the world is not broken and in need of fixing… the world is hidden. Everything and everyone has in themselves a hidden wholeness, a potential for growth, a dream of themselves. A healer reminds people. A healer befriends dreams. A healer is a feeder of dreams.

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I read the following by Danna Faulds:

It only takes a reminder to breathe,

a moment to be still, and just like that,

something in me settles, softens, makes

space for imperfection. The harsh voice

of judgment drops to a whisper and I

remember again that life isn’t a relay

race; that we will all cross the finish

line; that waking up to life is what we

were born for. As many times as I

forget, catch myself charging forward

without even knowing where I’m going,

that many times I can make the choice

to stop, to breathe, and be, and walk

slowly into the mystery.

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Gene read the following, written by Emily Carson:

Make of your Life a Flame

Blaze the path that burns for you. Light it up with your intention, with your willingness, with your intensity. Don’t just flicker here—burn.  You are not a light about to go out.  You could be here resolutely, absolutely.  You could burn every step you take.  You tread too gingerly on this planet. Scorch the earth where you walk. Be the fire that lives in you. You try not to offend, not to disrupt, not to upset, but for what? So that you will look behind you one day and see no footsteps?  Leave a trace here; the earth can take it. And your fellow humans, they can take it, too. They may be bruised and scratched a bit by your vitality at work, but we all get knocked around a little bit. It is still worth it. Make of your life a flame. It will destroy things, but only those that are ready to go.  Make of your language a torch. Let it light as well as burn. And make of your footfalls a purposeful path, a real and intended way. Change all the places you walk by changing the way you walk. Change the people you see by the way you look at them, with your tongue and your words. Change the planet; it will only evolve.  And I’m not saying you should intend this transformation; you should intend only your own intensity. Whatever happens then is right. Blaze your path. You are not living enough yet; your vitality is still squelched. Destroy everything in your way. Bless the earth that you scorch. Thank it for the chance to be alive, and leave it knowing it was there for you and you made the most of it.

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And the following poem was read by Melissa, author unknown:

Today

Outside my window a new day I see, and only I can determine what kind of day it will be.

It can be busy and sunny, laughing and gay, or boring and cold, unhappy and gray.

My own state of mind is the determining key, for I’m only the person I’ll let myself be.

I can be thoughtful and do all I can to help, or be selfish and think just of myself.

I can enjoy what I do and make it seem fun, or gripe and complain and make it hard on someone.

I can be patient with those who may not understand or belittle and hurt them as much as I can.

But I have faith in myself, and believe what I say, and I personally intend to make the best of each day.

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A Simple Mantra

May 24, 2017

So Hum

We breathe in.  We breathe out.

We inhale and silently and hear SO.

We exhale and silently and hear HUM.

Two words create internal sounds that bring us to reflections of beauty.

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So Hum (also spelled Soham). This Sanskrit mantra is made of two simple words which bring us to truth.  I AM THAT.  THAT I AM.  I am the beauty I see around me.  I am a reflection of the trees, the pond, the sky, the trail, the yogis bursting with life, and the exquisite property so tenderly loved.  I identify myself with the universe.

So Hum. The images tumble forth.  The yogis in the group become poets before my very eyes:

Iridescent blue of the damselfly on the pond, SO HUM

 (photo by Rick)

(photo by Rick)

Dark water, red leaves, blue dragonfly SO HUM

The barred owl casing the robin’s nest, SO HUM

(Rick's photo)

(Rick’s photo)

Eye of the owl  SO HUM

Purple blossoms falling on the grass SO HUM

Creek crashing through the sea SO HUM

Moss on the temple  SO HUM

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The color Chinese red on the house door  SO HUM

Path leading to the house where we do our yoga

The skittering wind  SO HUM

Beauty and artistry of the carved wood  SO HUM

(photo by Rick)

(photo by Rick)

Hummingbird by my red bandana  SO HUM

Kathy (wearing her red bandanna) and Dayna

Kathy (wearing her red bandana) and Dayna

So we took a day to experience the glorious nature of Vashon Island and revel in our unique surroundings.  We enjoyed a morning session of Hatha Yoga, followed by an organic lunch made with love from Karen Biondo, farmer of La Biondo Farm & Kitchen on Vashon Island. The weather was fine enough for us to eat at a long table outside, the inviting forest formed a backdrop to our meal.  After lunch, some of us went on an hour hike to Fern Cover and others took naps, walked solo around the property, rested, read, socialized, took time to stop and be.  Some forged new friendships.  After lunch, we met at the temple and meditated.  We also did some standing yoga on the temple grounds. Then we brought our  yoga session indoors again and finished up our yin session with a long shavasana.  A perfect day in so many ways.

One of the entrances to the Chinese Tea Merchant's House, where most of our yoga took place. Gigantic doors open up to the landscaped garden and forest beyond.

One of the entrances to the Chinese Tea Merchant’s House, where most of our yoga took place. Large doors open up to the landscaped garden and forest beyond. (Photo by Milo)

Rhododendron (photo by Rick)

Rhododendron (photo by Rick)

Leaves and Light (photo by Milo)

Leaves and Light (photo by Milo)

Lunchtime! (photo by Fran)

Lunchtime! (photo by Fran)

An exceptionally fine May day! We ate our Salad Nicoise at the outside table. (photo by Fran)

An exceptionally fine May day! We ate our Salad Nicoise at the outside table. (photo by Fran)

A hike to Fern Cove (photo by Fran)

A hike to Fern Cove (photo by Fran)

Rick reads poems at Fern Cove, at the end of Mill Creek Trail (photo by Fran)

Rick reads poems at Fern Cove, at the end of Mill Creek Trail (photo by Fran)

My playful friends!! (photo by Leslie S)

My playful friends!! (photo by Leslie S)

Yes, our chef gone upside down in headstand! (photo by Leslie S)

Yes, our chef Karen turning the world  upside down in headstand! (photo by Leslie S)

Rick's photo of us doing yoga outside of the temple!

Rick’s photo of us doing yoga outside of the temple!

End of the day...shavasana (nice enough to have doors open to the land and forest of Vashon Island.)

End of the day…shavasana (nice enough to have doors open to the land, fresh air, and forest of Vashon Island )

NEXT VASHON DAY RETREAT WILL BE HELD MAY 20, 2018.  NEVER TOO EARLY TO SIGN UP!  (just let me know in your comments below if you’d like to reserve your space and I will be in touch with you!)

And I leave you with a poem I read to the group on Sunday:

Prayer for the Great Family (after a Mohawk Prayer) Gary Snyder

Gratitude to Mother Earth, sailing through night and day–
and to her soil: rich, rare, and sweet

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Plants, the sun-facing light-changing leaf
 and fine root-hairs; standing still through wind 
and rain; their dance is in the flowing spiral grain

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Air, bearing the soaring Swift and the silent
 Owl at dawn. Breath of our song
 clear spirit breeze

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Wild Beings, our brothers, teaching secrets,
 freedoms and ways; who share with us their milk;
 self-complete, brave, and aware

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Water: clouds, lakes, rivers, glaciers;
 holding or releasing; streaming through all
 our bodies salty seas

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to the Sun: blinding pulsing light through 
trunks of trees, through mists, warming caves where
 bears and snakes sleep–he who wakes us–

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to the Great Sky
 who holds billions of stars–and goes yet beyond that–
beyond all powers, and thoughts 
and yet is within us–
Grandfather Space.
The Mind is his Wife

so be it.

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A very special place, indeed!

Christmas Growing Up: Indiana 1960s

December 27, 2016

When I was growing up in Indiana in the 1960s, Christmas meant time off school, time to play in the snow and make a snowman. I always received Perfect Attendance Awards in school, mostly because I was healthy, but also because, even if I had a tummy ache, my mom ignored my complaints and sent me off to catch the bus. Unfortunately, as soon as Christmas vacation came around, I usually got sick and spent the first day or two in bed with the flu.

Christmas time meant a family drive to Chicago to see the Christmas decorations in the shop windows along the Magnificent Mile, a one-mile stretch of shops on North Michigan Avenue between Oak Street and the Chicago River. I loved my Dad fiercely as he fearlessly drove alongside big trucks and thick traffic to get us safely into the heart of the big city. We splurged on paid parking, but we saved on meals: mom packed her homemade impinialata (olive onion bread) and had prepared plenty of hardboiled eggs. In our family, there was no driving adventure without at least a dozen hardboiled eggs in tow. (Years later, the first time Rick went on a road trip with my family, when offered a second hard boiled egg, he asked me, “What’s with the eggs?”) In the big city, bundled up as I was, my little feet always got painfully cold and my dad had to give me horseback rides up on his shoulders! The Christmas decorations looked especially beautiful from up high.

Christmas meant having the whole family together. It meant dad coming home early from work at the Indiana Toll Road on Christmas Eve. He entered the house, bringing in snowflakes and a gust of freezing wind, holding a gigantic basket filled with jam, cured meats, mustards, nuts, various types of cheese, crackers, fresh pears, dried fruits, and deluxe chocolates. He proudly handed the basket over to us as we unwrapped it and inspected its rich contents. He won a gift basket year after year for being one of Indiana Toll Road’s best and hardest working employees.

We loved Christmas because it meant my dad had a few days off work and we got to spend every waking moment in his lovely company, all of us! We played his favorite opera and Sicilian folk music records on the turntable. He told us stories of the old country, he sang for us, and he smiled his beautiful contagious smile as he and mom made homemade sausage. The sausage meat mix was ground pork, flavored with salt, cracked pepper, oregano, aniseed, and red pepper flakes. I begged for bits of raw seasoned meat before it made its way into the sausage casings via the hand-crank machine. Again and again, mom and dad patiently swatted my little hands away. Those were the happiest of times.

Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at St. Stephen’s was packed with other large Catholic families. Some families were so big, they took up a whole pew. My family -seven of us always arriving late- took the back row. Why were we late? Because mom always had one more chore to do, one more dish to prepare, one more item to put away, one more daughter to dress, one more door to lock. Dad waited patiently in the car. He sat rubbing his gloved frigid hands together and kept the engine running, the car warming up, the windows frost-free.

No one saw our new outfits at Midnight Mass. We kept our heavy coats on during mass because it was so cold. I felt like an Italian-American Eskimo, but at least I could snuggle deep into my coat and doze on and off, unnoticed, during the long late-night mass. The priest, rather than celebrating the many people attending midnight mass, scolded those who only showed up for the holiday masses. I counted the seconds for mass to end. Mom stood at her full height, which was not very tall at all, proud of her well-dressed, bundled up daughters and her handsome husband, proud of the fact that my family never missed a single Sunday mass throughout the year. We were not the ones being scolded. Dad had a smirk on his face as he remembered Midnight Mass of his boyhood at Santo Rocco back in Grotte, where he, the cute blond prankster, tied all the widows’ black shawls together so when they made to leave, their shawls fell off their shoulders in one big tangle! What a commotion! He dared repeat his prank every year and no one ever figured out who the prankster was!

After mass, we came back home and opened gifts under the artificial silver Christmas tree that we, as a family, had proudly assembled and decorated with tinsel and mom’s ancient Christmas ornaments from Grotte, Sicily. The ornaments were hand-painted, made of delicate glass. How carefully we handled them, knowing they were mom’s treasures. She’d certainly kill us if we broke one.

The other treasure was the nativity set my family had brought over from Sicily. On the days leading up to Christmas and for days after the holiday, I loved to say goodnight to baby Jesus before going to bed. I could stare at the tiny figures for a long time and study the faces of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the three kings, the sheep and the cows. The figures of the nativity cast a spell over me. Their faces held magic, a mystery that was too profound for me, a mere child, to understand. The nativity set, I knew, represented the rock that held my family in a steadfast knot of faith.

After midnight mass, we were each handed a wrapped gift from under the tree, while an electric light-gadget facing the silver decorated tree went round and round, magically casting colors and turning the silver tree and tinsel into a spectrum of red, blue, green, gold, and orange.

When I was little, my big sisters told me that Santa was a hoax and that the gifts from Santa actually came from mom and dad. I cried because what they told me was dreadful. How could they have come up with such a cruel story? I told my mom what I had heard. My mom sternly told me that if I continued to believe in Santa, I’d keep getting gifts from him, but that if I chose to believe that he did not exist, Santa would then stop bringing me gifts. It didn’t take genius-brains to figure out what I was supposed to do. I continued to receive gifts from Santa until I was 12.

I received dolls and toys until I lost interest in them. Most of the dolls came from Aunt Lily. Aunt Lily did not have children, so she splurged when it came to gift giving for her brother’s children. She was my godmother and adored me! She brought gifts for all my sisters, but I thought my gifts from her were always super special. I secretly believed she loved me more than anyone else in the world. When I lost interest in dolls, I started receiving practical gifts: underwear, socks, a winter coat, boots, a sweater, scarf, hat, mittens, flannel pajamas, slippers, and long underwear. We children received clothing items to keep us warm during long Indiana winters.

Mom cooked and baked for days before Christmas. We children were given the difficult jobs, like cutting onions and peeling garlic. Can’t believe I am divulging this embarrassing detail, but she made us girls wear hairnets in the kitchen! Serious eating began for my family on December 24 and continued for the next 24 hours. On Christmas day, Mom put a sea of fold-up tables together in the basement and then came the tablecloths, one tablecloth overlapping another. Out came her finest plates, the best glassware, and polished silverware. The concept of potluck did not exist in my family. If my mom was hosting Christmas, she made the entire meal. My dad’s sisters came over and helped with the finishing touches.

The gathering was no fewer than 20 people. We began with a pasta dish, usually lasagna or spaghetti with meatballs, followed by Italian Sausage with roasted peppers and onions. There was always a potato salad with hard-boiled eggs, a baked ham, salad, homemade bread, olives, and dad’s homemade wine. The meal went on and on. I will never forget those Christmas meals!

We ate with gusto and we all drank wine, including the children. Everyone talked and laughed at the same time. The noise level kept going up. My boy cousins could really tuck the food away into their bellies. Watching them eat pleased my mom to no end! The adults and the children all sat at the same table and we all interacted with one another.

At some point, eventually, my mom and the other adult ladies would clear the table, quickly do the dishes, and pull out the baked cookies! Someone started a pot of coffee. Even though I was allowed to drink wine, I was not allowed to drink coffee. A well-kept secret was that Aunt Lily let me drink coffee when I spent the night at her house. I kept my word to Aunt Lily and I never told my mother. I loved how the coffee made my heart pound! I always loved the smell of coffee. It smelled of comfort, warmth, of happiness. It smelled of home. My home.

And out came the desserts! Mom’s Sicilian Fig Cookies were the best. Mom called them cucciddrati. I think she made them from memory because I never found her recipe for them (recipes are below, just before the photos). The best part of cucciddrati is that they are topped with a frosting made of butter, confectioner’s sugar, and milk, and topped with colorful nonpareil sprinkles. Mom also made Anisette Cookies. Nonna Licata used to send a box of baked cookies for Christmas. The treasure in Nonna’s box sent to us from Grotte was the cobaita, a pure-goodness-almond-brittle that my grandmother made with sun-roasted almonds from her orchard. They tasted of Sicily!

Mom also made Sesame Seed Cookies, which are called giugiuleni in Sicilian. These hard cookies were delicious dipped in coffee. When in my mother’s house, I dipped them in milk. At Aunt Lily’s house, I dipped them in coffee!

Don’t forget we lived in Indiana, so a bit of the Midwest came into the dessert scene. Alongside the almond cobaita, the dried fig filled cucciddrati, and the sesame studded giugiuleni, mom presented her freshly made Hoosier delicacies such as potato chip cookies, or jello embedded with either cottage cheese or miniature marshmallows.

And NUTS! Christmas was not Christmas without a huge bag of roasted nuts. By the end of the evening, there were piles of nutshells on the table. My dad would crack nuts for me because I didn’t have the strength to crack a single nut. I couldn’t even crack open my favorite almonds and hazelnuts! As my dad cracked the nuts for me, he’d tell his stories!

After the gargantuan meal, the adults played card games. Sounds of coins, banter, laughter still fills my ears. It feels like yesterday when I watched the adults become as playful as we children were. Sometimes we all formed a circle or a train and did Sicilian folk dancing. We’d move the tables so mom and dad could dance the tarantella. They were so light on their feet. Sometimes we children played “chase” and if you got caught, you nearly got tickled to death. The adults told jokes not meant for children’s ears. We were sent off to play, but we hid nearby and listened. We had a hard time understanding the play on words and the various puns in their slurred fast-clipped wine-dipped Sicilian dialect. The jokes went over our heads.

My mom would tell her animated played-out funny stories for all of us to hear. Every year, her bawdy stories grew more embellished, more dramatic, more comical!  She told her entertaining stories about flatulence happening at the most inopportune moments.  One of her stories, which took place at the Italian-American picnic grounds, was about an unfortunate elderly Sicilian immigrant lady, about to sit on a toilet seat, surprising a bird that was taking a dip in the very toilet she was about to sit on.  Mom also had a pocketful of stories about the many colorful characters back in Grotte.  Her stories filled every corner of our humble home with resounding laughter. Every Christmas, our house became a palace, complete with a banquet hall, a ballroom, and a court jester!

My Christmases as an adult are now quiet, the way I have grown to love them. This year, Rick and I spent three exquisite days at La Push, Washington on the Olympic Peninsula. The weather treated us well. We enjoyed cold crisp frost-and-sun-filled days, took long walks, enjoyed each others’ company, caught up on sleep, read books, watched the sunrises and sunsets, and savored life as it is today. I find I do not yearn for the Christmases of my childhood, but every Christmas I do say a silent prayer of thanks to my parents and my aunties for giving me the gift of Christmas memories I will carry in my heart for as long as I live.

And below are photos from our fabulous Christmas this year at La Push, Washington on the Olympic Peninsula.

Haystacks in the sea

Haystacks in the sea

Looks unreal. Color untouched, clear skies, cold day at La Push

Looks unreal. Color untouched, clear skies, cold day at La Push

My Winter Long Shadow against the frosted grass

My Winter Long Shadow against the frosted grass

Rays of sunlight spill into the forest trail on our hike

Rays of sunlight spill into the forest trail on our hike

Another long shadow selfie: shadow against unblemished sand

Another long shadow selfie: shadow against unblemished sand

Long Shadows Across Grass (color untouched, just as I saw it!)

Long Shadows Across Grass (color untouched, just as I saw it!)

The author of this blog (Fran) and Rick

Selfie: The author of this blog (Fran) and Rick at La Push

Ice Puddle I

Ice Puddle I

Ice Puddle II

Ice Puddle II

Eye: Quileute Nation Totem Detail

Eye: Quileute Nation Totem Detail

Mist and Sea

Mist and Sea

Pink Sand makes for beautiful art

Pink Sand makes for beautiful art

Rich Red Drift Wood Against Sand

Rich Red Drift Wood Against Sand (unbelievable naturally occurring colors!)

Reminds me of my family's "steadfast knot of faith".

Kelp Strand: Reminds me of my family’s “steadfast knot of faith”.

The road leading to La Push

The frosted curvy road leading to La Push

Sunset at La Push

Sunset at La Push

Long Dark Nights of Winter

December 6, 2016

Winter Solstice comes early to Little Renaissance.  Every year, we celebrate a Hatha Yoga Winter Solstice Retreat on the first weekend of December at Little Renaissance.   We celebrate early before the busy-ness of the holiday season takes hold.

Winter Solstice is a time of quiet firelight, a time to nurture dreams.  The dark clear nights reveal the bright stars.  Late at night, I can sit quietly in the hot tub and see shooting stars trailing across the  sky.  I celebrate the shortest day and the longest night of the year with a wonderful group of yogis.  We anticipate the rebirth of the sun and contemplate our own spiritual rebirth.  We see this time of year as a turning point and a time of year to renew energy.

I look out the window and see the garden boxes through sheets of rain.  The garden boxes look spent from having produced so generously all summer long.  Gratefully, the soil lies resting, patiently waiting for the warmer and brighter days of spring.   The resting soil of the cold winter days and nights reminds me that the future holds promise, always.  Come spring, seeds will germinate and take root.  Likewise, I believe the future will manifest our visions and dreams.

For now, while we wait for the rebirth of the sun, we stand still.  Winter Solstice is a time of repose, a time to light the wood stove, stoke up the heat, soak in the hot tub, sit quietly surrounded by lit candles, delve into a good novel, and dream.

Below are photos from our past weekend’s Winter Solstice Yoga Retreat.  This group of yogis has been coming to Ocean Shores biannually for 10 years running!

The dunes leading to the Pacific Ocean beach

The dunes leading to the Pacific Ocean beach

Carol and Skye walking past driftwood

Ready for winter winds: Carol and Skye walking past driftwood

Pretty driftwood log

Pretty driftwood log

Vast Ocean Beach

Vast Ocean Beach  (Skye and Dan)

Remnants of an old boardwalk

Remnants of an old dock

Group Shot I

Group Shot I

Group Shot II

Group Shot II

A Forest Takes Root in the House

A Forest Takes Root in the House

Collage I put together from Skye's photos

Collage I put together from Skye’s photos

Second collage I put together using Skye's photos

Second collage I put together using Skye’s photos

Sweet Summer

August 29, 2016

Summer time is my favorite of all seasons.  It comes after so much anticipation and seems to be over in no time at all.  Included in this email are some of my favorite photos from this summer, including some from this past weekend in Cle Elum and Roslyn.

I truly love taking photos.  And living in Washington state makes taking a great photo easy to do.

A visit to Vashon

A visit to Vashon and a hike on Shinglemill Creek Trail

Biondo Farm tomatoes!

Biondo Farm tomatoes!

Heritage Tomatoes (Biondo Farm)

Heritage Tomatoes (Biondo Farm). It was a 95 degree day so we missed out on Pizza Night at Karen Biondo’s farm (who wants to fire a 700 degree oven on a 95 degree day??)

Dahlias Forever!  Karen Biondo's farm

Dahlias Forever! Karen Biondo’s farm

We saw a wonderful paper art show at the Blue Heron Art Center (Vashon Center for the Arts). The new art center is magnificent!

We saw a wonderful paper art show at the Blue Heron Art Center (Vashon Center for the Arts). The new art center is magnificent!

Got my horse fix today in Roslyn

Got my horse fix today in Roslyn

Cosmos in Roslyn at the Farmer's Market

Cosmos in Roslyn at the Farmer’s Market

FRUIT: gifts of summer!  Roslyn farmers' market

FRUIT: gifts of summer! Roslyn farmers’ market

"fishnet" stockings...shadow on my leg in the beer garden in Cle Elum

“fishnet stockings”…shadow on my leg in the beer garden in Cle Elum (thanks, Nellie, for the idea)

Old mining town..on our way to the historical cemetery in Roslyn

Remnants from an old coal mining town..on our way to the historical coal miners’ cemetery in Roslyn

Stehekin!

Stehekin!

Stehekin hiking buddy: Winnie!

Stehekin hiking buddy: Winnie!

My other Stehekin hiking buddy: Leslie!

My other Stehekin hiking buddy: Leslie!

Relaxing at the cabin: Stehekin

Relaxing at the cabin: Stehekin

Have to include a foot photo:  soaking our hot feet when we break for lunch

Have to include a foot photo: soaking our hot feet while we break for lunch

Fantastic Rivers of Stehekin

Fantastic Rivers of Stehekin

Green and Trees at Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island

Green and Trees at Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island

Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island

Flowers at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island

The Japanese Garden at the Boedel Reserve on Bainbridge

The Japanese Garden at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge

 

Living Your Yoga

August 17, 2016

Mostly I’d like you to enjoy these photos.  I believe these photos give you a good sense of the feel of Yoga on the Beach Retreat at our home and sanctuary, Little Renaissance on the Washington coast.

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The weekend yoga retreat at Little Renaissance is always held in August.  It is an annual event, one we have run every year since 1999! Generally, the weather is warm enough for us to enjoy at least one session of yoga on the beach.  While it was in the 90s in Seattle, it only hit a high of 70 at the coast.  In the morning, when we would generally go to the beach to do yoga, it was 49 degrees one morning and the second morning, we were immersed in the beach fog that covers this area much of the summer.  Beach fog and drizzles made for indoor yoga. Even so, a 70 degree high at midday on the beach is very nice and we got to enjoy a long walk on Saturday.

We enjoyed our walks on the beach and we had lovely retreat participants!  Good company, our organic garden produce used as ingredients for the meals, music, lots of yoga and lots of exploring of yoga toys/props including inverting on a sling, long walks on the beach, fair weather, hot tub, lots of visiting deer, bucks, and fawns, AND whale sightings on Sunday made for a very special weekend!

Mark your calendars for next year’s annual Yoga on the Beach (never too early to sign up!):

The Next Yoga on the Beach Retreat: August 11-13, 2017

Walking on the beach

Walking on the beach

Rick soaking up the rays

Rick soaking up the rays

Delicious meals made from organic garden produce! (Carrot soup)

Delicious meals made from organic garden produce! (Carrot soup)

Trees, Beach, Ocean, Sky!

Trees, Beach, Ocean, Sky!

Reaching for the sky

Reaching for the sky

Hanging out!

Isaac:  Hanging out on the outdoor sling!

Bev: More fun on the inversion sling!

Bev: More fun on the inversion sling!

More yoga props: Backless Yoga Chairs!

More yoga props: Backless Yoga Chairs!

Music

Music

Triangles on the beach (was too cool this year to do a yoga session on the beach in the morning)

Triangles on the beach

Pure Energy!

Pure Energy!

Isaac and Fran: a quick dip of the legs

Isaac and Fran: a quick dip of the feet!

Relaxxxx

Relaxxxx

A Soaring Heart

May 18, 2016

Permit me to be mysterious….on Sunday I held a one-day yoga retreat on a magical rain-forested island in the Pacific Northwest.  The day was filled with yoga, the beautiful company of lively  yogis/friends, a gorgeous environment, a healthy delicious lunch made of fresh local ingredients, fresh moist oxygen-filled air, and a hike along a dense forest decorated with moss and ferns.  The air was rich.  We did yoga, nourished ourselves with a hearty Salade Nicoise (made with lots of love), went on a hike, and did a meditation.  Below you will find two poems we shared during the day and some photos from our retreat.

Stone Path

Stone Path

During the morning yoga session, I read the poem below by Chief Dan George.  The poem speaks of a deep love of earth and life.  The poem suited the retreat day and the environment perfectly.  It is delicate, grand, and sensitive in nature:

My Heart Soars

By Chief Dan George

The beauty of the trees,
the softness of the air,
the fragrance of the grass,
speaks to me.

The summit of the mountain,
the thunder of the sky,
the rhythm of the sea,
speaks to me.

The faintness of the stars,
the freshness of the morning,
the dew drop on the flower,
speaks to me.

The strength of fire,
the taste of salmon,
the trail of the sun,
And the life that never goes away,
They speak to me.
And my heart soars

Maple Tree: Heart Chakra of the Property

Maple Tree: The Heart Chakra (center tree) of the my friends’ private property

Maple Tree II

Maple Tree II (The Heart Chakra Tree)

And while on our hike with the group, I asked Rick to read the poem, Lost, to the group.  No one could have read my fellow-Hoosier-Washington-transplant David Wagoner’s poem better than Rick Clark!  He sustained a captive audience as he read the poem with gusto, humor, curiosity, and a touch of drama.

Blurred, Action-Packed Hiking photo in the thick of the rain forest

Action-Packed (and blurred!) Hiking in the thick of the rain forest (some retreat participants stayed behind and enjoyed reading, resting, napping, walking solo).

Below is the poem “Lost,” by David Wagoner from Collected Poems 1956-1976 © Indiana University Press.

Lost

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

Wooden Lantern

Wooden Lantern (Our Meditation Hall)

Yes, a Pacific Northwest Gem

Yes, a Pacific Northwest Gem (meditation hall)

Sacred Yoga Space

Our Sacred Yoga Space

Thank you to Tricia Jewell for taking this photo of me

A big thank you to Tricia Jewell for taking this photo of me.

Oxygen-filled environment, thick with trees and ferns, but you will never be LOST!

Oxygen-filled environment, thick with trees and ferns, but you will never be LOST!

Salad Nicoise (view link for recipe)  Note: Recipe on link is not necessarily the exact version of what we had, but it is the foundation for your salad nicoise!

A somewhat blurred photo of our salade nicoise..see link for recipe below

A somewhat blurred photo of our salade nicoise.  Other plates held chunks of tuna, lettuce, various dressings, and olives to complete the salad.  Fresh bread and plenty of delicious fruit complimented the meal.

If you were not present at this retreat and find it of interest, please let me (Fran) know if you’d like to join me in a future day retreat at this unique gorgeous private setting by commenting below.  I will then be in touch with you.

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