Cooking as Therapy

December 11, 2018

In my last blog post, I included some photos of some dishes I made last weekend and I mentioned that cooking is therapy for me.  I think a lot of people can relate to cooking as therapy.  In this blog post, I will include some recipes for you.

Thai Shrimp Coconut Curry

What you should know about this dish is that I made up this recipe. I’ve made enough Thai dishes that I have a feel for which ingredients go well together in a Thai curry dish. I wonder if my friend Joon Joonwong from Bangkok will laugh when he sees my recipe! (He reads my blog!)  Many Thai dishes call for sugar. Instead of sugar, I use roasted sweet potatoes. They give the sweet taste without having to use processed sugar and by roasting them, they don’t completely melt in this dish. Instead, roasting the sweet potatoes gives the potatoes a firm texture.  Plus, sweet potatoes have good nutritional content and are healthy to eat:

Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene). They are also a very good source of vitamin C, manganese, copper, pantothenic acid and vitamin B6. Additionally, they are a good source of potassium, dietary fiber, niacin, vitamin B1, vitamin B2 and phosphorus.


Peel and cube two sweet potatoes. Toss them in olive oil, crushed garlic (about 4 cloves of garlic), salt, and pepper and roast them in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about a half an hour or until they are cooked through.

Chop one yellow onion and saute it in coconut oil.  (I made the saute directly in my Le Creuset Cast Iron Pot, pictured above).

Slice one green pepper and add to the mix above and saute it.

Peel and slice about 6-8 large carrots.  When the onion is translucent and the green pepper softened, add carrots to the above mixture.

Meanwhile, add the contents of one can of coconut milk to the onion, pepper and carrot mixture.  The carrots will not yet be cooked through when you add the coconut milk.

Add two-three tablespoons of Green Curry Paste to the saute mixture and the coconut milk (Thai Kitchen brand is the one I used, see photo below). The paste has ginger in it and is very tasty.

When the sweet potatoes are roasted, add them to the mix.  At this time I also add salt and one tablespoon of sambal (use more if you like spicy!). Sambal is a Thai pepper paste which I buy in Pike Place Market, but is available at most stores in the Seattle area. The one I use is Huy Fong Foods Sambal Oelek Fresh Ground Chili Paste. It comes in an 8 oz bottle.

Add the juice of one lime.

Simmer the curry. Stir it often.  When the carrots are cooked (or soft), add shrimp. Use fresh shrimp or, if frozen, defrost first.  How much shrimp did I put in?  A lot!  At least 12-14 large shrimp. They were not in their shells, but still had tails on. Cook the shrimp 3 to 4 minutes. Doesn’t take long. Don’t over cook. Cooking time depends on the size of the shrimp.

Serve with brown Thai rice.

Vasiliki’s Greek Salad


Lucky me! My friend Vasiliki has had me over for lunch a few times recently.  “Let me just put together a salad.” And voila, she puts together a salad so good that I have to reproduce it, again and again.  “Oh, it’s so easy. Everyone makes salads like this, don’t they?” She actually thinks everyone makes salads this delicious!

Add the following in a bowl (you can decide the amounts of most ingredients).

Feta Cheese (cubed)  You can buy really good feta cheese from Trader Joe’s.  Not sure where Vasiliki gets her feta. I’ll have to ask!

Cherry tomatoes (sliced in half  or Roma tomatoes if you prefer)

Celery (slice about 4-6 stalks very thin).  Don’t be shy. Use a lot of celery!Vasiliki strips the celery of the long threads before slicing them.  This completely alters the texture of the celery, leaving it crunchy but not stringy or hard to chew.

Green Onions/Scallions (5-8 scallions, chopped)

Black Olives (Vasiliki tosses them in whole and you have to spit out the pits as you eat!)


Garlic (Vasiliki uses garlic salt. I use a little freshly chopped garlic) Warning: Everyone will know you just had Vasiliki’s Greek Salad.

Dress the salad with extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and oregano.

Mamma Gallo’s Spinach Balls



This recipe is one of my favorites and makes a great appetizer! It’s healthy and a great way to eat your greens! I will include my mom’s original recipe and you will also see in my notes below that I have adapted it in many ways.

One of the biggest adaptations is that I only sometimes use spinach. Often, I use all sorts of Power Greens that I grow in my garden: kale, chard, mustard greens, collards are the ones I love most. I harvest the greens, steam them, cool them, squeeze out the excess fluid and replace them with the spinach in the recipe below.

Honestly, who needs polpette/meatballs when you can have these?

20 oz frozen spinach, chopped (Fran’s version: fresh spinach/power greens such as kale, chard, mustard greens, or collards steamed, cooled and squeezed of its excess liquid)
7 oz package of Herb Stuffing Mix (Fran’s version: about two cups of Italian seasoned bread crumbs)
3/4 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
1 tsp garlic, finely minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 eggs, beaten
1/4 lb butter, melted (Fran’s version: I never use butter. Instead I use olive oil)

Salt and Pepper to Taste

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Finely chop the greens. Saute the onions and add the garlic to the saute at the very end. Mix all ingredients together and make into walnut-sized balls.  Note: if mixture is too wet, add more breadcrumbs. If mixture is too dry, add one extra egg. It should be very easy to form firm balls Line a baking dish or cookie sheet with parchment paper and place the walnut-sized balls on the lined baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350 F


Winter Light

December 8, 2018

Clear skies, scant clouds, crispy cold days, and frosty nights lead me towards the essence of the Winter Solstice.  At the ocean side, under the comfort and warmth of my feather bed, I sleep with the window wide open, while Rick sleeps a fitful stint on the sofa, wracked with the facial nerve pain of shingles. I wake up to the churning of the waves several times during the night, wondering how he is tolerating lu fuocu di sant’Antoniu, the Fire of Saint Anthony, as shingles are called in Sicilian. The cold air and clear skies bring him no relief. I drift back to sleep, somewhat ashamed of my own comfortable and strong body as I dip into my dreams. I dream about my dad. I dream about my maternal grandmother. I dream they are with me, talking to me, giving me advice, guiding me lovingly. My dad stays close to me in my dreams, but my mother does not.  As in real life, my father’s presence looms large in my dreams.  I look into his green eyes, his dark sun-kissed North African-like skin, and I smell the scent of his skin. In my dreams.  I feel peace when he comes to sit beside me. My grandmother cracks me up with her worrisome looks and her fretting over matters that seem trivial to me.  My father’s calming presence overrides her worries.  If only I could make these dreams last forever.


The sun comes up. The sun casts long winter shadows. I ask Rick to bundle up and go for a walk with me on the beach.  I am a planner. My mind is often at work.  Yoga keeps me present.  Yoga, teaching, meditation, reading, cooking, hiking, and writing all keep me in the present moment. And walking on the beach, a mere 34 degrees Fahrenheit with a stiff wind cutting into my white rain-and-wind-proof coat, shoves me into the present.  The coat makes me look billowy, but the coat keeps me warm, so it doesn’t matter, really.


We go back home and Rick heads over to the comfort of his new friend, the sofa. He draws the blanket up to his neck and he sleeps fitfully. Ramsay Hunt Syndrome produces pain that is exhausting.  This could linger for six weeks.  A terrible virus that may have affected the hearing in his left ear.  Antibiotics and antivirals are the name of the game. Sleep heals. As he sleeps, I go out into the garden and harvest our healthy greens:  mustard greens, chard, kale, and collards.  I come in the house and I cook up a storm. Cooking is my therapy. The ocean house smells of heaven and ocean. I wonder if Rick dreams of Michelin-starred kitchens as I cook and create divinely tasting foods.

L1410076Below: A delicious Greek salad that my friend Vasiliki makes for me when I have lunch with her. I have memorized how she makes it and I make it now and think of longevity!


I transform super-greens, fresh from the garden, into vegetables balls.  They are easy to pack for my lunches, easy to plop into the mouth!



And back in Seattle, yesterday I went for a walk at Green Lake, my own front yard.  Throngs of people were walking, jogging, bundled up, and enjoying the winter light.

L1410084purple beautyberry

Winter Beauty Berry (above)



I went out with my Leica and captured a red maple leaf, hanging by a thread, glistening in the sun.


I am certain my Maple Leaf was the last of its kind on earth.


Three spaces still open for Montana Walking Lightly Ranch Yoga and Snowshoeing Retreat, February 15-18, 2019 in Whitefish, Montana (fly to Kalispell and our shuttle will pick you up and take you to the ranch.  Shuttle included in the retreat fee. Snowshoes provided.). More INFORMATION

La Pina Ro’

November 24, 2018

My maternal grandmother, La Mama Anto’ gave light to a child nearly every three years or so. She repeated this pattern ten times. To give light to a child is a Sicilian expression meaning “to give birth”. By the time her tenth child was born, my grandmother’s eldest child was already married and had children of her own.  The eldest of my grandmother’s ten children was named Rosa.  She was lovely, hardworking, and had a cheerful disposition.  We nieces and nephews lovingly called her La Pina Ro’.

Rosa passed away yesterday at the age of 101 years old.  I imagine Rosa being welcomed into heaven by my mother and her other siblings who made the mad dash to heaven early on.  As is the Sicilian custom, Rosa’s funeral and burial took place within twenty-four hours of her death.

I pray Rosa is resting peacefully after a long one hundred and one years of life on earth.

SB_1356359485I met La Pina Ro’ for the first time when I was ten years old, on my first trip to Grotte.  She was recently widowed when I met her in Spring of 1972. She was clad in black from head to toe. Her daughter Pina, young and still living at home, was also dressed in black, black being the color of mourning.

My Nonna didn’t have a shower in her house.  In order to bathe, I had to go down a steep ladder and into a musty-smelling damp wine cellar, where there was a large old-fashioned wash basin that my mother would fill with a mixture of boiled hot water and cold tap water for my much-dreaded bath. Water was precious so my mother filled the wash basin with about five inches of water and I had to climb in and get clean. I was ten, but, under the circumstances, my mother had to help me bathe.  As my mom washed me, I stared at Papà Vivi’s suit that hung in the cellar right next to the tub: dark gray trousers, white shirt mottled by the passing of time, and a black vest.  I was very frightened of the hanging suit.  My grandfather had already been dead many years by 1972 and there was his suit hanging in the basement cellar.  Thankfully, my mother bathed me, for I would not want to be alone in that cellar for a single moment.

La Pina Ro’ made my life much easier by offering to have me come over to her house for my showers and to wash my hair.  Her house was not far down the medieval labyrinthine streets in the oldest section of Grotte, but she had a modern shower and a water heating unit that needed to be turned on about thirty minutes before the bathing ritual. She was quite proud of her shower and water heating unit.  She even had a hair dryer for me to use.

20. GrotteRosa invited me to spend the night with her, too.  Her house was built out from one of the original grottoes the town is named after. Going back hundreds of years, perhaps to prehistory, the early inhabitants of Grotte lived in the grottoes. My aunt used her grotto as a wine cellar and for storage.

29. Pasqua 1988

When I spent the night at her house, I slept with her. If my memory is correct, I remember we had to climb a steep ladder to get upstairs to her room.  We snuggled in bed.  It was April and there was a chill in the air, but the bed was warm and super comfortable.  She had placed hot water bottles at my feet under the covers and I felt toasty warm.  As we lie in bed, she asked me if I knew my prayers in Sicilian and I said, “No.”  That night, our feet warmed by the hot water bottles, La Pina Ro’ patiently taught me to pray the Hail Mary in Sicilianu.  Again and again, she had me repeat the prayer in the ancient language of my ancestors.  Again and again, I prayed the words Rosa taught me until my eyes grew heavy and the prayer was deeply etched into my brain:

L’Avi Maria

Avi Maria, china di razzia
u Signuri esti cu Vui
Vui biniditta siti ntre fimmini
e binidittu esti u fruttu di vostru utru, Jesu.

Santa Maria, Matri di Deu
priati pi nuatri piccatura
accamora e nta l’ura da nostra morti.


She turned off the lights.  The room was the darkest dark I had ever known.  We were sealed in a cocoon of deep silence.  As I was starting to drift into sleep, she asked me, “Fra, ti scanti?”  “Fra, are you afraid?” She must have sensed that I was the kind of child who was afraid of my own shadow, certainly afraid of my deceased grandfather’s suit hanging in the cellar in my grandmother’s house, perhaps afraid of the depth of this Sicilian night.  But on this dark night, deep in the heart of Grotte,  I was not afraid.  I had the warm loving comfort of my Pina Ro’ next to me, my Sicilian prayers memorized, and the protection of Mother Mary in my heart.


11. Grotte

Long before I met La Pina Ro’, I already knew so much about her.  My mother always spoke of her with deep respect.

One story I have of Rosa is that when she was engaged to be married, the custom was that her fiance would spend evenings at her house in the company of her entire family.  There was no television, so he would have to be creative and find a way to entertain the family.  Apparently, my mother, who was just a child, became the source of entertainment for the whole family.  She had a certain way of mispronouncing words, as many children do, so the family would say, “Pippina, what do you call a baby horse?” And my mother, who was just a little girl with a speech impediment that she would outgrow, was clever and she would avoid shouting out the word for pony, puddriddru, because it was hard to say and she knew she’d jumble up the word. Instead, she’d say cavaddru, the word for horse, because it was much easier to say. Everyone would howl with laughter because she was so funny.

Rosa started sewing at a very young age.  When Rosa was twelve years old, she sewed a suit for her father. She created the pattern by herself and she cut the material.  Furthermore, she sewed the entire suit by hand!  Her father proudly wore his suit to Sunday mass and Rosa became the talk of the town. She became a sarta, a seamstress.  In Rosa’s case, she was a child prodigy seamstress.  People lined up at her parents’ house on Via Confine to have Rosa take their measurements. She’d hand-sew beautiful suits and dresses for her clients.  She worked diligently and voluntarily gave all the money she made to her parents.

One day, Papà Vivi (her father, my grandfather) went to the neighboring town of Racalmuto to buy Rosa a sewing machine as a surprise. He carried it home on his back, all the way from Racalmuto to Via Confine.

Rosa was sewing when she saw her dad carrying the sewing machine into the house.  He heard her whisper to herself,  “Beddra fosse si fosse pi mia.”. A literal translation would be, “It would be beautiful if it were for me.”  Suddenly her father walked right up to her and placed the sewing machine down and said, “Rosa, my first born, this is for you!”  She began sewing for everyone in town.

Papà Vivi owned a sulfur mine. He rented it out and made sizable profits.  When Rosa was 12 years old, he had a savings of 18,000 lire in a private bank.  My cousin, one of Rosa’s sons, says that 18,000 lire might have a value of close to a million US dollars today.  My grandfather was able to buy Rosa a house and all her furniture outright when she got married.

But back in 1929, something really bad was about to happen.

Back in America, Wall Street crashed. After the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the whole world spun into financial crisis. Banks were collapsing in America. Banks in Italy also failed at alarming rates and collapsed. Worldwide depression of the early 1930s hit Italy very hard in 1931.

The story of the Licata family’s lost wealth goes like this:  a woman came to the Licata house on Via Confine to have her clothes made and she talked about a rumor she heard.  She said, “Private banks will be going bankrupt!”  Papà Vivi’s face went pale.

Papà Vivi went to the bank the next day to withdraw just 500 lire to see if the bank was indeed going bankrupt.  He received his withdrawal of 500 lire without a problem.

My grandfather had no way of knowing that the banks were allowing their clients’ monetary withdrawals and proceeding as normal to avoid suspicions of the coming disaster. The banks knew they were in crisis mode. That night, my grandfather decided that talk of bankruptcy was simply not true.  Three days later, he lost his entire fortune as his bank collapsed.  When he thought he was completely alone, he broke down and cried.  He was inconsolable. It was his darkest hour.  He thought he was alone, but his wife and all his children witnessed his emotional breakdown.

Lagrime ‘mare.  Bitter tears.

That is how Rosa described Papà Vivi ‘s tears. Rosa would never forget this day.  She vowed to make herself stronger for the most precious person in her life, her father.   She, the eldest of this large family, would not let her father crumble.  She would see to it that her family would pull through.

My grandfather Vincenzo Licata (Papà Vivi):


Morning to night, Rosa sewed for her clients with an unwavering resolve.  There was no field work for her.  Instead, she sat at her sewing machine morning and night, sewing to help her family out of this financial disaster.  She tried desperately to pull her father out of his deep depression.  Life became incredibly difficult. Papà Vivi got very sick. And Rosa sewed and sewed, the whir of her sewing machine echoing throughout the house, the rhythmic sound of the fast moving machine spilling out onto the narrow cobblestone streets of Via Confine.

She pulled the family through the depression.  And there is much more to her life.  She was incredibly loving and raised her own family.  She had deep faith in God and felt blessed to count among her children a son who became a priest.  Her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren are the loveliest family members ever. In her later years, she developed dementia and her children tended to her with the steadfast love and respect she earned.


Rosa Licata

October 12, 1917 – November 22, 2018

24. Pasqua 1988Below is an article from the local paper, celebrating Rosa Licata 100th year of life from last year.  Translation in English follows.


Nonna Rosa compie 100 anni!
Gli auguri della comunità cittadina

L’Europa era in pieno Primo Conflitto Mondiale. La Russia viveva la drammatica Rivoluzione d’Ottobre. Tra i tragici eventi che funestavano quel periodo, in una abitazione di Grotte si verificava un lieto evento: nella famiglia Licata veniva alla luce una bambina, cui era dato il nome di Rosa. Era il 12 ottobre 1917 Sopravvivrà a quel conflitto e vedrà, da signorina, le vicende dell’altro confitto ancor più drammatico, la Seconda Guerra Mondiale. Ed in tutte le difficoltà che la vita le presenterà, Rosa Licata troverà i1 modo di farsi coraggio, accudire e far crescere i propri cari con quell’amore che solo una donna forte e tenera sa dare. Oggi al superamento della soglia dei 100 anni – un secolo di vita -, accanto alla signora Rosa vi sono i suoi figli e nipoti a festeggiarla con il classico augurio “Buon compleanno!”: “Nata a Grotte nel lontano 1917 Licata Rosa, nota ai più come la za Rusidda”, compie oggi i suoi 100 anni! Donna di profonda fede cattolica, l’unico “peccato” è che sia arrivata a questa veneranda età segnata dalla balorda malattia senile, ma amorosamente assistita e circondata dai figli Don Vincenzo, Giovanni e Pina, che ne rendono omaggio insieme a tutti i nipoti e pronipoti . Tutta la comunità cittadina si stringe attorno alla signora Rosa per augurarle tante altre candeline da spegnere. Gli auguri dell’Amministrazione: “Cent’anni fa nasceva una donna speciale: la Sig.ra Rosa Licata alla quale il sindaco Paolino Fantauzzo, la presidente del consiglio comunale Rosellina Marchetta, gli assessori e consiglieri tutti, formulano tantissimi auguri”. -Carmelo Arnone 12 ottobre 2017

Translation of the above written last year on Rosa’s 100th birthday:

Grandmother Rosa is 100 years old!  Congratulations from the community of Grotte.

Europe was in the thick of World War I.  Russia was living out the dramatic October Revolution (also known as The Great October Socialist Revolution).  Among the tragic events that were unfolding, a happy event was taking place in a house in Grotte: a baby girl was born to the Licata family.  They named her Rosa.  It was October 12, 1917.  She would survive these conflicts and she would live to experience, in her youth, the coming of yet another more dramatic conflict, the Second World War.  And in all the difficulties that life would present, Rosa Licata would find a way to become courageous, to look after and raise her own dear family with the kind of love that only a tender and strong woman knows how to give. Today on her reaching 100 years of age, a century of life, her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren are with her to celebrate with the classic congratulatory “Happy Birthday!”   “Born in Grotte in the far off year of 1917, Licata Rosa, more popularly known as “za Rusidda”, became 100 years old today! A woman of deep Catholic faith, the only “sin” that she may have ever committed at this venerable age, is to have fallen victim to dementia. She is lovingly assisted and surrounded by her children, Don Vincenzo (Father Vincenzo), Giovanni and Pina, whom with her grandchildren and great grandchildren, bestow great honor to her.”  The entire community of citizens (of Grotte) gather closely around la signora Rosa to wish her the occasion of many more brightly lit birthday candles.  The Administration’s congratulatory wishes are: “One hundred years ago, a special woman was born: Mrs. Rosa Licata, to whom the mayor Paolino Fantauzzo, the President of the Community Counsel Rosellina Marchetta,  and all the community assessors and counselors send their best wishes”.

Gratitude to Mother Earth

November 22, 2018

Prayer for the Great Family

(after a Mohawk Prayer)

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.

-Gary Snyder


A short note about the Mohawk People:

The Mohawk Indians were farming people. Mohawk women planted crops of corn, beans, and squash and harvested wild berries and herbs. Mohawk men hunted for deer and elk and fished in the rivers. Traditional Mohawk foods included cornbread, soups, and stews, which they cooked on stone hearths.

And a short description of Gary Snyder:

Snyder’s writing focuses on environmental concerns and Zen Buddhism. He is an environmental activist who is known for his simple, clear style, as well as his first-person descriptions of his experiences in the natural world. In 1975, his collection Turtle Island was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

Gary Snyder is an American man of letters. Perhaps best known as a poet, he is also an essayist, lecturer, and environmental activist. He has been described as the “poet laureate of Deep Ecology“. Snyder is a winner of a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the American Book Award.

Lastly, here is a definition of Deep Ecology:

Deep Ecology is a holistic approach to facing world problems that brings together thinking, feeling, spirituality and action. It involves moving beyond the individualism of Western culture towards also seeing ourselves as part of the earth.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Horses of the Vikings

November 11, 2018

The Icelandic horse has been around since Viking times.  It is one of the most purely bred horses in the world. No other horse has been introduced to Iceland since the Vikings settled there in the 9th century.  If an Icelandic horse is brought outside of Iceland, that horse will never be allowed to return to Iceland. Race horses who compete in other countries are sold after the competitions. There are even strict regulations about bringing saddles or riding boots from another country into Iceland. By law, the breed has been bred pure in Iceland for more than 1,000 years. And because of this lack of contact with other breeds, Icelandic horses have very few diseases.

The Viking parliament Althing forbade horse imports to Iceland as far back as 982 AD, to prevent the degeneration of the stock.

Traditionally, the Icelandic horse was used for herding sheep, transporting hay, and carrying fish from sea to village. They were originally bred for farm work.


The Icelandic horse is the only horse breed in the world that has five gaits.  Other breeds walk, trot, canter, and gallop. In addition, Icelandic horses can also do what is called tölt:

The Tölt is a natural, fluid gait of the Icelandic Horse, during which at least one foot always touches the ground. Foals often tölt in pastures at an early age. The tölt is an extraordinarily smooth four-beat gait, which allows the rider an almost bounce-free ride, even at 32 kmh (20 mph). It is said a rider can drink a pint while riding, without spilling a drop. The footfall is the same pattern as the walk, but is much faster, almost as fast as a gallop.

I rode a horse and got to experience the tölt and the ride really did feel bounce-free and smooth.


In addition, the Icelandic horse can perform a flying pace:

The Flying Pace is a fast, high speed gait (48 kmh – 30 mph), during which both legs on one side of the horse simultaneously touch the ground. The gait is used for short distances, and can equal the speed of a full gallop, thus it is the primary gait used for racing. Being a two-beat gait, at one interval all four hooves of the Icelandic Horse are suspended off the ground during a flying pace. Riding at a flying pace is considered the crown of horsemanship.

Below are some facts about the Icelandic horse:

  • Even at full maturity, they are pony-sized. They are 4-5 feet tall and weigh 600-900 lbs.
  • Pound for pound, they are the strongest breed in the world.
  • Icelandic horses have heavy three-layered coats protecting them from the freezing temperatures of Iceland.  They shed the coats in the summer and became very sleek.
  • They can appear in 42 different color combinations, with more than a hundred variations.  Their coats can change colors according to the season. They can also have blue eyes.
  • They tend to be very easy going and friendly, docile, easy to handle, and they form affectionate bonds with people and with other horses.
  • They are traditionally raised in herds, which helps them develop social skills and high intelligence.
  • They are not trained nor ridden until the age of 4. Their structural development is not complete until the age of 7.  Icelandic horses can be ridden for 25 years, or until they are 30 years old.
  • An ancient burial custom, Icelandic horse owners were buried with their horses.  If the horse did not die in battle with its owner, it would be killed and then buried next to its owner. Many grave sites have been found containing bones of a human body and of a horse lying side by side.
  • The breed is very long-lived. There are known cases of Icelandic horses living to be 42 and 56 years old.
  • Mares and stallions are fit for breeding until the age of 25.  In most other horse breeds, fertility decreases at 15 years of age.
  • The Icelandic horse has no natural predators so they do not spook easily and are of a very gentle nature and show no fear of humans.

The Icelandic horse was venerated as a symbol of fertility in Norse times. They were considered supernatural in Norse mythology. They were said to be able to transcend mortal and immortal worlds and they carried the dead to the afterlife. Horse spirits visited humans in their dreams and relayed messages from the gods. Horses acted as intermediaries, connecting man to the supernatural world of gods and goddesses. Horses had the ability to carry the gods across various worlds and the gods trusted them to do this transcendent work.

In Iceland, I assigned a god or goddess to every retreat participant and we all had to do a little research and present our findings to the group.  I was Nott, goddess of the night.  Nott had a magnificent horse called Hrimfaxi, whose name means Frosty Mane.  Hrmfaxi was responsible for creating night.  Hrmfaxi would pull Nott’s chariot and as they rode across the skies, his legs created night.  His breath became the frost covering the grass and the trees.

There was also Skinfaxi, whose name means Shining Mane, who was responsible for creating day.  And there was Odin’s horse, whose name was Sleipnir.  He was the most famous of the Norse horses.  Sleipnir had eight legs and was the fastest of all horses. He never  tired.  He carried the dead to Valhalla, which is the Norse mythology equivalent to a Christian heaven.  In Valhalla, souls dine with the gods in the great hall of Odin, the king of the gods.

Back to modern times, I want to tell you a little about a horse whose name was Raven. She was so named because of her color.  Her body was black as a raven and her mane was the same color as my hair. She was six years old and just starting her formal training. Already she was showing much promise to be a race horse. Raven is extraordinary in many ways.  She is a healer. My entire group witnessed something incredible.  One of the women in our group had been thrown off a horse back in the States and had experienced serious physical injuries. Though her physical injuries have healed, she was left with emotional trauma from the accident.  Well, Raven sensed this and literally reached her big beautiful face out to do her healing magic.  The two connected and the emotional trauma healing started taking place. It was the most moving human and horse connection I have ever witnessed in my life. I will never forget Raven’s deep intelligence, intuition, and kind heart:


And finally, because I teach yoga, I should also talk about the Horse Pose, Vatayanasana. It is one of my favorite poses. There are actually two poses with this name. The one I generally teach looks like a wide squat or a sumo player’s stance. Perhaps you prefer to call it a plié? Horse pose benefits Hamstrings, hips, thighs, quadriceps, and knees. It is also very grounding and is said to connect us to the Root Chakra (feet and legs connection in terms of body and earth in terms of connecting to an element) and the Sacral Chakra (pelvis in terms of body and or water in terms of connecting to an element).

What I love most about Horse Pose is how strong it makes me feel! Maybe also because I am Sagittarius. And one may wonder if this pose is the actual horse or is it the rider?  And the answer, as one of my equestrian loving yogis said, is BOTH.  Horse Pose is both rider and horse, as the two should be deeply connected and ONE when riding.

A Glimpse of Icelandic Art

November 9, 2018

While in Reykjavik, my group and I stayed at the Hotel Holt.  I am attracted to this hotel for many reasons, such as its location which is right in the heart of the city. The hotel is within walking distance to the city’s main sites, museums, cathedral, coffee shops, pubs, restaurants, and main shopping street.  And the staff is extremely helpful, kind, and welcoming. However, the main reason I love this boutique family-run hotel is because of its art collection!

Hotel Holt houses Iceland’s largest private collection of art.  There is a collection of 1,560 works of art, though you will see “only” 460 works of art on display.  We were given a private art tour,  led by the very knowledgeable Hotel Holt office manager, Marissa Sigrún..  What I will attempt to do here is to include some of the photos I took of the artwork and give my impressions of them.

My apologies for not having written down and not knowing the artists’ names.  And my apologies for not capturing the paintings in their entirety. Some of these works are quite large and so, in some cases, I focused only on a portion of the art work.  Also, I want to say that the paintings were illuminated by lights that sometimes cast a shadow, so the photos are not perfect representations of the artwork.  Lastly, I’m not an art historian and, in fact, I hesitated to post this blog, but I so want to share these beautiful works of art with you and share the feelings invoked within me as I look at them.  I hope the artwork below will speak volumes to you, too!

The texture of the paint in the painting below is so incredible!  The texture lends itself to the landscape and the action within the landscape! You can almost see the waves moving, the boats rocking, and the man’s working movements. The paint texture gives a sense of perspective to the mountains. Mountains beyond mountains grace the background.  And the colors are reflective of the color palette we see everywhere in nature in Iceland.


Humble work, hard work, necessary work, the work of a farmer, the sacredness of planting and harvesting. I believe here, the farmers are harvesting. And this work of art gets me thinking about how difficult it must have been for the Icelanders to gather enough food to suffice for the winter months back in the day when there were no geothermal powered greenhouses and easy year-round shipments of fruit from warmer sunnier climates. I love the standing farmer’s hands and his face, so serene and, yet, filled with concentration.


Below is a portion of a larger piece of artwork.  The whole work shows a family, including the father. The family is enjoying a picnic on a fine Icelandic summer day.  This is perhaps a very romantic notion of a picnic in Iceland.  The mother, traditionally clad and probably a very hard working robust woman, looks so relaxed and her baby is adorable, fast asleep on mamma’s shoulder, perhaps grown drowsy from the summer sun warming his/her face.

The light in Iceland is very special.  As I’ve said before, you can’t go to Iceland and take a bad photograph.  The sun’s rays hit differently. They come in a different angle. Colors appear vibrantly pure and so you really do see these shades of purple and light blue as captured in the painting below.


The painting below is of a mountain and moss. In the past, I went to Iceland during the last two weeks of September when the moss is at its best in terms of color and when the lichen and the field flowers come alive with color.  I think this artist captures the landscape colors beautifully!


Below is one of my photos from a few years ago in Iceland.  You can see what I mean about color.  These are the colors that are so vivid and present in the Icelandic works of art:


In a land where landscape is so inspirational, it is not surprising to see these breathtaking landscapes created on canvas. How is it possible that this landscape also carries emotion?:


I felt that this photo I took in Iceland a few years ago is another example of how the colors found naturally in the landscape also found their way onto the canvas. The photo below and the painting above match in color:


Beautiful pastoral scene. A hard life within a harsh landscape that also offers up so much beauty and strong community.  Here, the women are at rest, alongside the resting cow:


I love this one.  Hunger being satisfied by a bowl of hot soup, a soup so hot that this man has to perhaps blow on his spoonful to cool it a bit.  I imagine the hot bowl or small tureen warming his hands and his legs.  I imagine the kind of hunger he feels, the kind of hunger that comes after a day of hard work.  I imagine how the soup will warm his chest and his belly. This painting reminds me of the various kinds of soup I have had in Iceland: delicious tomato soup, lobster bisque, lentil soup, leek soup, pumpkin soup, potato soup, vegetable soup, and asparagus soup…and it makes me want to make a pot of soup right now!


This painting was perhaps one of my favorites! It is enormous and sits in the lobby.  Please imagine this canvas stretching boldly across a wall in a hotel lobby. I see fire and ice!  I see lava flowing, glaciers, geysers, hot springs, black lava beaches, waterfalls, fissures in the earth, movement, hidden people, Kali energy, destruction and birth, Thors’ hammer Mjölnir held high as a symbol of power, geothermal energy, and new land forming.  The feeling is pure chaos and yet the chaos is contained. I see a merging landscape captured by form and color.  The entire canvas is shaped like the island of Iceland and gives me a feeling of mystery and adventure.  For me, it’s a wild and crazy, scary and tempting piece of artwork! I could look at it for hours:


And next, after getting off that wild carousel ride above, we enter another world, that of three women gathered and processing fish.  Beautiful colors, gorgeous and strong women, lively and serene colors, communal work, workers who work in harmony and live in harmony with the land, life-giving fish, tradition, hope necessary to get through the dark winter months that are certain to come again:


We saw many works by Kjarval, Iceland’s most beloved painter:

Jóhannes S. Kjarval (1885-1972) was one of Iceland’s most accomplished painters. Kjarval drew and painted from an early age and studied art in Iceland to the extent it was available. He was 25 years old when he went to Copenhagen to study with the aid of his beneficiaries. Kjarval never shied away from experimenting creatively. Icelandic nature was an inspiration to him and within it he created a mystical world of hidden people. Icelanders adored Kjarval and this complex artist’s body of work is interwoven with the Icelandic national spirit.

I am pretty sure the painting below is by Kjarval.  The concept of hidden people is mysterious and, whether or not you believe in their existence as Kjarval did and as do many Icelanders today, the very idea of hidden people brings us into a mystical and invisible world.  The artist Kjarval recounted how at times, when he was out in nature with easel and paints on hand, he was unable to paint because the hidden people would thwart his efforts. They would throw pebbles or rocks at him until finally he’d have to pack up his easel, paint, and brushes and leave the scene.

Below you can see what I think of as hidden people. This painting is vast in scope and has so much mystery in it. It also has a sense of wind or a storm brewing, if only for a brief moment, with the promise of a rainbow at the end of a spate of rain and gusts of wind. Fire, ice, clouds, hidden people, waterfalls, lava brewing and flowing, a cold landscape with elements of heat.


The last landscape below looks like a lunar landscape.


The painting below is one of the few works of art in the Hotel Holt’s Icelandic art collection that is done by a foreign artist.  The artist is Danish:

The lobby and lounge of Hotel Holt has seascape works from Icelandic shores by Danish painters Carl Locher and Vilhelm Arnesen who accompanied Frederick VIII, king of Denmark, on his visit to Iceland in September 1907. You’ll also find two seascapes by Frants Landt from his journey to Iceland in 1936 as well as the painting Færeyskur sjómaður / Faroese Sailor (1963) by Faroese painter S.J. Mikines. 



Dear readers, I’d love to read about your insights, and your impressions on the artwork you see here.  Please comment below. -fran

Slideshow from the Land of Fire and Ice

October 23, 2018

The following slideshow is of our recent yoga retreat in Iceland. It is a trip I hope to offer again and again.  The slideshow is set to the music of the Icelandic group Low Roar and the song playing is called Breathe In.  The words go well with the experience of being in the Land of Fire and Ice.  The melody seems to carry the mystery and stark beauty of the landscape.  Most of the photos in the slideshow are mine, but a few come from some of the other photographers in our group.  I believe all the photos capture the light that is unique to Iceland!  Being so far north, the sun’s rays hit at an angle, which, when captured by camera, makes every person holding a camera appear to be an extraordinary photographer.


We did yoga every morning and every evening, though you will not find a single picture of our yoga sessions.  We immersed ourselves in our practice.  In our yoga sessions, we became warriors, molten lava, geothermal energy, and pure rays of northern light.


It was a pleasure to see friendships deepen and new friendships forged.  As the week progressed, everyone in our group appeared to become more luminous. Was it the relaxing and cleansing aspect of the yoga practice?  Or was it the hot springs?  Or perhaps it was the hiking?  Could have been the pure spring-fed water we drank directly from the tap? It was probably a combination of all of these ideas and more.  All I know for sure is that the retreat was a great experience, one that I will never forget.

Turn up your speakers for this 6 minute slideshow of our retreat in Iceland:

Iceland: Yoga in the Land of Fire and Ice 2018 from Fran Gallo on Vimeo.


Laugarvatn Hot Springs

October 17, 2018

Today was one of those perfect days which I think I’ll replay in my mind again and again. The day started at 6am when my alarm went off.  I made coffee, read the news online, checked email. Then, I went off to teach yoga.  This morning’s yoga was focused on the chakras.  Chakra Yoga was followed by breakfast.

At 10am, we left our cabins for Laugarvatn.  There we hiked a hillside in a wooded area. Along the trail, there were panels with depictions and Icelandic instructions for various stretches recommended while hiking.  After the hike (and the stretches), Einar drove us to the hot springs of Laugarvatn on the Golden Circle.  We first enjoyed lunch, a beautiful spread of delicious fresh vegetables and fish.  Some people in my group enjoyed bread which was baked using geothermal steam.  I have tasted it in the past and it is delicious.  After eating, we enjoyed the hot springs of Laugarvatn.

The hot springs are located in a lakefront spa, featuring natural steam baths, outdoor mineral pools and a sauna. There are various temperatures, one being especially hot. Soaking in geothermal springs is very healthy.  At Laugarvatn, we soaked in a natural pool lined with rocks. While inside the steam rooms (both wet and dry sauna rooms), we listened to the sound of the bubbling hot springs coming from deep within the earth

Every so often, when the heat became too intense, we bravely walked over to Laugarvatn Lake, which is right next to the springs, and took a very fast dip in the 40 degree Fahrenheit water! Every bracing dip came with a yip and a few loud shouts.

The day ended with a second yoga session (a focus on postures to strengthen bones) followed by another delicious dinner (three bean salad for the vegetarians and lamb for the others).

I am including some of the benefits of soaking in geothermal healing waters:

Anti-Ageing Properties  Hot springs are also recognised for their anti-ageing properties. Bathing in a hot spring increases the production of collagen and tightens the elastin within the second layer of the skin.

This leaves your skin looking both firm and youthful.

Other minerals such as calcium, lithium, magnesium and even radium also help improve your skin.

As geothermal water cools, it saturates and then forms into a white mud. This form is completely hypoallergenic and has anti-ageing properties that can firm the skin, reduce pores and revitalise appearances. It is also effective against rashes, sores and skin problems such as dermatitis and psoriasis.

Respiratory Problems  As well as improving your skin, taking a dip in a geothermal spring offers many additional benefits to your overall health. As mentioned above, sulphur is a common mineral found in hot springs.

Sulphur can help treat respiratory problems such as asthma, and it can help clear excess mucus from your lungs.

Pain Relief  Moreover, the heat and buoyancy of a hot spring is very therapeutic for your body. The buoyancy helps to reduce the body’s work load.

As the body is focused on the sudden heat, the nervous system’s sensitivity lowers and the heat becomes a form of therapy for sufferers of muscle pains and arthritis.

Soothe sore muscles and chilly limbs.

Better Blood Circulation Bathing in hot springs helps to boost blood circulation. As the skin soaks in minerals such as calcium and sodium, hydrostatic pressure increases.

This increases the flow of oxygen to our bodies and boosts blood circulation, keeping your body fit and strong.

Increases Endorphins Our bodies absorb minerals in the water which stimulate the immune system and strengthen it. These minerals enhance the production of endorphins within the body and this interacts with receptors in the brain.

Think of it as a “happy chemical”, endorphins release a positive feeling and relieve the body and mind of stress whilst alleviating tension in tired muscles.

Overall, regular geothermal bathing can help normalize your body’s functions and nervous system whilst drastically improving your skin’s condition.

My lovely cabin mates Keira and Colleen.

There’s a whole lot of magic going on here in Iceland!



Langjökull Glacier

October 16, 2018

Cold weather wears down batteries fast.  On the Langjökull Glacier, I was able to get one quick shot before my camera battery died. It is of Lisa and Rich walking in a near white out, walking to the edge of Iceland’s second largest glacier.

Einar guided us on our hour hike in the freezing temperatures. The snow and wind blotted out the place where you would normally see the edge of the glacier.  We followed the tracks of the snowmobiles and the occasional flag indicating the way towards the glacier.  The glacier visit was thrilling!

Actually, we were so bundled up that I don’t think anyone really felt cold. Under my layers, I was toasty warm.  Once we got back to the bus, I was able to get to my other camera and took a few more photos. The photos below are almost identical, but taken moments apart. You can see that the light changes constantly. One second it could be blizzard like conditions and the next moment, a blue sky peaks through the clouds.

Back at the cabins, we pet Orvar’s elderly dog, the sweet Dexter! After eating a late lunch, we soaked in the hot tubs and then did yoga.  I have not taken a single yoga photo, but Kevin got this shot of our yoga space.Kevin also took this shot of our cabins:


I read the following poem (and a few others after yoga today). I am not sure of the Icelandic author’s name:

Storming Weather

Boisterous cold wind

Frozen sun fully exposed

Advancing snow storms

Land of Fire and Ice

October 14, 2018

I’m in Iceland with a dynamic group of yogis.  Yesterday was our first full day and last night we saw the Northern Lights.  Just like that, it was 10:00pm, we were all exhausted from our travels, many of us were already snuggled into our various cabins when I heard my phone buzz twice. I dragged myself out of my warm bed and read two texts from Einar:

There are Northern Lights now!

It is fabulous.

I jumped out of bed and woke up my sleeping cabin mates by shouting out, “The Northern Lights are out!!”

I texted the group:

Look outside.  Northern Lights!

Kristin texted me back:

On my way out! Thanks for the heads up!

And my text again to Kristin:

Knock on the cabin doors!

My cabin mates and I put our coats, scarves, hats, and gloves on over our pajamas. We pulled our boots  on quickly and out we dashed.  I knocked on the cabin doors next to us, waking up most of our group.

We walked down a dark lava-graveled road and marveled at the green threads of solar flares beaming across the star-studded sky. Little by little, most of our bundled up group converged on the dark road.  The night sky was alive with Northern Lights. It was 36 degrees Fahrenheit, but the Aurora Borealis lights were firing up my mind, warming my sense of wonder.

Sometimes, when something like this happens, I wonder to myself, “How can anything beat this?”  I should know that kind of thinking is useless because there is so much to marvel at in this life, so much to see, and so much to experience.

Well, no photos of the Northern Lights, but plenty of other photos from this Land of Fire and Ice! Enjoy the photos and comments below:

This Icelandic Horse’s name translated to Raptor. She was named Raptor for her beautiful color (her coat is black). She is 6 years old and very affectionate and gentle. We fell in love with her. Notice how her mane and my hair match!

We went to the Kerid Crater. The water depth ranges from 21-42 feet deep. The Minerals from the surrounding soil help give the lake its aquamarine color.

with Keira

Next Stop: tomato growing greenhouse visit and tomato soup lunch.

Warm Geysir steam (Keira and Colleen)

Gulfoss and a sliver of a rainbow.

Cindi’s photo of an Icelandic horse. They are so gentle!

Lisa’s capture of Geysir spouting!

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