‘Twas Twain’s Maui

January 12, 2019

I’m back from Maui and my heart is happy to have traveled there. It was relaxing to bask in the sunshine, enjoy the warmth of the island, and marvel at the lava-red sunsets. I still have a few Maui blog posts to write and will write them and line them up for the next couple of days so you can travel vicariously with me! img_7310‘Twas Mark Twain whose heart was captured by the great beauty of Maui way back in 1866. Mark Twain was Missouri’s famed son. He was a quick-witted American writer, journalist, humorist, entrepreneur, publisher, lecturer, silver miner, world traveler, popular public speaker, and keen observer of life.  One of the most influential American writers, he painted word-portraits of the world he lived in.  He was only 30 years old when he traveled to Maui, Oahu, and Hawai’i Island.  Clearly, he had a great time:

Twain hiked through Hawaii’s beauteous jungle. He surfed naked on a wooden surfboard. He rode horseback across the plains.

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When Twain visited Maui, the Hawaiian Islands were a full 93 years away from American statehood.  Hawai’i wasn’t even a US territory when Twain traveled there. It became US territory in 1898 and became the fiftieth state in 1959.  Back in 1866, the islands were known as the “Sandwich Islands”, so named in 1778 by Captain Cook after the man who sponsored Cook’s voyage, the Earl of Sandwich.

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Twain spent five weeks in Maui during an overall four-month visit on the Hawaiian Islands and for the rest of his life, he longed to return.   I had prepared the following excerpts before traveling to Maui, hoping to share them with my fellow traveling friends on the day we went to Haleakala Crater and National Park.  I thought the following Twain quotes would be inspirational because Twain climbed the same crater we were at and described it as the “sublimest spectacle” he had ever seen.  However, sharing what I had prepared was not to be while in Maui, so I am now sharing my selected excerpts from Mark Twain below, along with some of my photos.

On the trail: Haleakala Crater

Haleakala National Park: above the clouds at 10,023 ft (3055 m) above sea level.

“I went to Maui to stay a week and remained five. I never spent so pleasant a month before, or bade any place goodbye so regretfully. I have not once thought of business, or care or human toil or trouble or sorrow or weariness, and the memory of it will remain with me always.”

“The native language is soft and liquid and flexible and in every way efficient and satisfactory–till you get mad; then there you are; there isn’t anything in it to swear with,” he wrote.

No alien land in all the world has any deep, strong charm for me but that one; no other land could so longingly and beseechingly haunt me, sleeping and waking, through half a lifetime, as that one has done. Other things leave me, but it abides; other things change, but it remains the same. For me its balmy airs are always blowing, its summer seas flashing in the sun; the pulsing of its surf-beat in my ear; I can see its garlanded crags, its leaping cascades, its plumy palms drowsing by the shore; its remote summits floating like islands above the cloud rack; I can feel the spirit of its wooded solitudes; I can hear the splash of its brooks; in my nostrils still lives the breath of flowers that perished twenty years ago.
– Samuel M. Clemens (Mark Twain), Paradise of the Pacific, April 1910

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This is the most magnificent, balmy atmosphere in the world–ought to take dead men out of grave. -quoted in Mark Twain in Hawaii

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Poet, Botanist, Birders, Librarians, and Educators

January 5, 2019

Poet, botanist, birders, librarians, and educators….Yes, that’s quite a line-up of front stage performers and they happen to be the company I am keeping in Maui!

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There are six of us exploring this green oasis of an island together. It’s an exciting group to be with. Everyone has his or her area of expertise and so our island time is also a great opportunity to learn from one another.

Randall is a botanist. From him, I am learning so much about trees and the lush flora around me. Sounds odd, but I had never heard the term “tree scar” until I heard it from him. Now the expression seems to be a common description, a part of being in the tree world. Below you have a great example of a tree scar I observed at Ahihi Bay. The lowermost fronds of this tree eventually die and new fronds grow above it. The dead fronds drop off and leave a scar in the tree. Tree scars create patterns and can be very beautiful like the cordate scar below. The tree was covered with this heart-shaped pattern.

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We went to the historic town of Lahaina yesterday. We took two cars and it was decided that when we arrived in Lahaina, we’d simply all meet at the Banyan Tree. I was secretly wondering how we would find the specific banyan tree rendez-vous. Really, I need not have been at all concerned about finding it. The banyan tree, our meeting point in Lahaina, is the largest banyan tree in the United States. This Banyan Tree was planted in 1873 and now covers an entire acre! It’s super hard to miss! And it is quite impressive.

The banyan tree spreads by way of aerial roots! The aerial roots grow thick and then eventually reach the ground. The original massive trunk is in the middle of the park and there are a total of 16 major trunks all belonging to the parent banyan tree. Below you can see a detail of the famed Banyan Tree.

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While roaming around Lahaina, the old whaling village which hit the height of its whaling boom in the mid 1800s, Rick and I went to the Plantation Museum. We also found a great bookstore and, thanks to Kelley and Jack, we discovered a beautiful art studio featuring the art of Vladimir Kush

Kush, a surrealist painter, sculptor, and jewelry maker, creates a metaphorical and mythical world filled with dragonflies, butterflies, ladders, water, trees, and human figures. His work seduces you to enter a creative, delightful, sometimes disturbing, always wondrous world of clouds, animals, eggs, embryonic forms, butterfly windmills, and banana hammocks.

While ambling about, Rick and I also found the historic Pioneer Hotel, now a Best Western. It’s been around since 1900 and overlooks Lahaina harbor and the Pacific Ocean. We sat in the quiet inner courtyard, enjoying the breezy shade and marveling at an antique seafaring canoe. Below is a detail from the carved masthead of the Hawaiian outrigger canoe displayed in the Pioneer Hotel courtyard. The photo captures one eye of a don’t-mess-with-me creature fearlessly facing the sea and leading the way.

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Below: a statue in front of the Pioneer Hotel. This fellow demonstrates how your ears and nose keep growing as you age.

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Our birder Kelley helped us identify birds at the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge.  Kealia is the year-round home for two of Hawaii’s native and endangered waterbirds: the Hawaiian coot with its gorgeous white forehead and the Hawaiian stilt. We were fortunate to see both.

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The boardwalk was lined with great explanatory panels. This panel has a painting of a Hawaiian coot in the foreground.

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Beach alongside the Wildlife Refuge:

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After the wildlife refuge, we went to Iao Needle. There are no trails leading to the Iao Needle.  The photo was below was taken from an observatory deck.  The hike we went on led us along a river with boulders and swimming holes, rushing rapids, and lush vegetation. Below is from the information panels:

The traditional name for this 2,250 foot high peak is Kuka’emoku. The peak is known as the phallic stone of Kanaloa, Hawaiian god of the ocean.

During periods of warfare, the peak was used as a lookout by warriors. It was here that some of the Maui warriors retreated from the forces of Kamehameha I during the Battle of Kepaniwai.

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Maui Magic

January 5, 2019

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On our first full day here, we went snorkeling at Maluaka. It had been years since I last snorkeled. And that was back in Thailand.  So, when I entered the warm waters of Maluaka on Wednesday here on Maui, it took me a little while to get used to having a mask on and breathing into the little snorkel tube that juts up above the water.  Kelley led the way to the coral reefs.  Rick took off in a completely different direction.  Jack, thankfully, stayed close by me, until he was certain I felt comfortable using my snorkel equipment.  I’d say it took me about ten minutes to feel like the sea was my home and that the tube wasn’t going to fill up with water and cut off my oxygen supply.  Once I was confident, I entered a sea world where flying and swimming merge, where schools of colorful fish swim by, and where enormous sea turtles swim gracefully.

My buddy and protector of the day, Jack McHenry. Jack is also one of my dedicated blog readers. Mahalo, Jack!

The water here is calm and clear, making it easy to observe marine life.  How I wished I had an underwater camera.  But I don’t, so my memory will have to hold the vivid colors of the tropical fish and my words will have to suffice to share what I saw during the hour and a half snorkel experience.

I saw Angelfish, butterfly fish, trumpet fish, yellow tang, sea urchins, wrasse, and reef triggerfish in these coral gardens.  The most exciting for me was to see the giant sea turtles swimming by or to see them burrowing or hovering on the sea floor. I also saw and learned the Hawaiian name for the Rectangular Triggerfish, which is Hawaii’s State fish:  humuhumukunukunuapua’a!

Humuhumunukunukuapua’a: Hawaii’s state fish

And a sad word on the coral reefs at Maluaka: they didn’t look good.  I look back on my Thai experience of snorkeling along the coral reefs there and clearly remember that the coral was vibrant and very healthy.  That was a long time ago. Perhaps it has changed there, too?  The coral reefs I saw on Wednesday in the protected marine area were clearly dying.  Much of the coral dying has to do with climate change as well as human use of chemical sunscreens.  People going into the water are encouraged to wear water-shirts or zinc or titanium sunblocks instead of chemical sunscreens. Even in small amounts, chemical sunscreens are highly toxic to coral and fish. How I wish there could be a world wide ban on chemical sunscreens!

And so you don’t leave my blog in a complete state of coral-despair, the next day, Thursday (yesterday), we went to Ahihi Nature Preserve for more snorkeling. This time I chose not to snorkel and instead did a solo walk on a lava trail so that I could focus on taking some photos with my Leica. Meanwhile, the others in my group went snorkeling and reported that the coral at Ahihi Nature Preserve looks much healthier than what I saw in Maluaka the previous day.

And here are a few photos from my lava trail solo time.

I have to include a foot-foto. Perhaps this type of photo proves I really walked this beach of black lava stones.  And you can be sure that I took my shoe off just for the photo and put it back on before walking on this rougher-than-pumice stone lava beach.

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Lava and Coral Collage with Shell Fossil in Lava Stone:

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Black lava in the foreground:img_7044

How in the heck did a caper plant and flower (photographed below) make it to Maui all the way from the Mediterranean island of Pantelleria?l1410143

Here in Maui, I see tropical plants, in their natural environment, growing to be at least ten times larger than when grown as indoor houseplants back home.

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Interesting how this photo of my lava cairn looks like a black and white photo when it is not.

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I will never understand why people feel the urge to carve their names into trees.  Aina, don’t you see?  You’ll be the death of this tree?

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Sunglasses, Sunhat, Frangipani (or Plumeria as it is called here in Hawaii):

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Granola for the New Year

December 29, 2018

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It’s raining here in Ocean Shores. Been raining nonstop for some time now.  I bravely don my rain parka, tighten up the hood, and dash out to the garden to pick a variety of super greens (mustard greens, spinach, chard, kale, collards) to clean, steam, and make the spinach ball recipe as seen in my previous blog post.  These greens are the tough Super Heroes of the winter garden, standing bravely against the winds coming off the ocean, the relentless sheets of rain that fall sideways, the hail, and the onslaught of hungry moisture loving slugs. Here at the coast, until we get a deep frost sometime in late January, the greens grow tenaciously in the garden.

But this post is about GRANOLA.  And this post makes me think about a question I have.  What makes a recipe yours?  How many alterations later can you claim the recipe as your very own?  Since I am clueless on the subject, if you have any input, I’d love to hear your comments below.

I refuse to buy granola.  I find it is too sweet.  Store bought granola practically makes my teeth shiver from the cloying sugary morning kick it delivers.  I have collected many granola recipes and this one included here is my favorite.  The original recipe was given to me from my friend, Betty.  If Betty is looking at this recipe, she may ask herself if this is her recipe because I have altered it slightly.

This is the perfect batch to make for the new year!  Make it now and enjoy it through the first days of the new year. It lasts a good two weeks in a sealed container.

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Granola Recipe

5 Cups rolled oats
1 C unsweetened large shredded coconut flakes
1 C Wheat germ
1 C Walnuts
1 C Almonds (I use slivered almonds)
Sunflower Seeds (half cup) and Pumpkin Seeds (half cup)

2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
¾ C Vegetable Oil (I use Olive Oil!)
¾ C Honey and Maple Syrup (equal mixture of both)

Preheat 350 degree oven. Mix above ingredients together in BIG bowl. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Spread half the mixture on one sheet and the other half on the other sheet.
Bake, stirring @ 5-10 minute intervals in the beginning. Then in the last 10 mins. Stir every few minutes until brown (light)

IMPORTANT: I keep rotating the sheets every time I stir.  The sheet on the bottom rack moves to the top rack and the one on the top goes to the bottom.  Or you can just bake one sheet at a time and skip the rotations.
Careful on the last 10 minutes it can burn quickly.
Let it cool and store in a tight container.
Each batch takes +- 30 mins.

Serve with milk, almond milk, soy milk, hemp milk, or yogurt. Don’t forget to add your fresh fruits and dried fruits. Sliced bananas, chopped apples, raisins, and fresh blueberries are my favorite toppings.

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Winter Solstice 2018

December 22, 2018
Contrary to wanting to sit in stillness, I find myself rushing to post today’s writing.  My goal is to post this before the last rays of this short day recede beyond the horizon. Today, here in Ocean Shores, the sun will shine for only 8 hours and 25 seconds.
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Winter Solstice this year comes with the promise of a full moon, and a meteor shower later tonight.  But best of all is that, here at the coast, we have clear skies with a few billowy clouds and no light pollution.
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Winter Solstice is an invitation to slow down.  It is an invitation to listen, to be attentive, to savor what little light comes our way.  Winter Solstice is glancing out the window and admiring the Winter Trees.
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Winter Solstice is bundling up and taking a brisk walk. Winter Solstice is a bright burning fire in the wood stove and a cup of hot tea.
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I am including a poem, Winter Trees, by William Carlos Williams, as well as an anonymous poem, followed by some of my favorite winter solstice photos I’ve taken over the years.

Winter Trees by William Carlos Williams

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.

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From the reaches of the north,
a place of cold blue beauty,
comes to us the first winter storm.
Wind whipping, flakes flying,
the snow has fallen upon the earth,
keeping us close,
keeping us together,
wrapped up as everything sleeps
beneath a blanket of white.

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Biophilic Spheres

December 15, 2018

Over the course of a few years, I witnessed the jungle-like biodomes of Amazon’s headquarter campus emerge from the ground on Seventh and Lenora. I curiously observed the three spheres billowing out from the raindrop-splattered window of my bus.  I eavesdropped and heard my fellow bus riders-turned-critics unhappily refer to the spheres as Bezosballs“.  I giggled and googled.  Yes, I giggled at the critics’ comments.  And I googled turn-of-the-last-century black and white photographs of the old Denny Regrade, as seen from 7th and Lenora, fired my imagination, and marveled at this current transformation of Seattle.

For a long time, I resisted going inside the spheres.  I’m not a part of the Amazon world (or am I?) and questioned why I would want to visit this employee lounge and workspace.  To be honest, negative thoughts concerning Amazon’s monopolistic behaviors had me planting my feet firmly far from the spheres, not wanting to go there.  But finally I succumbed to my curiosity and stepped inside the biophilic spheres with my friend Anna. I’m so glad I did because only now can I fully appreciate these conservatories and workers’ green lounges in the heart of the Denny Regrade!

The spheres have meeting spaces and can seat a total of 800 people.  They are of biophilic design, meaning they incorporate nature into the built environment.

The three glass domes are covered in pentagonal hexecontahedron panels (see the shape below) and serve as an employee lounge and workspace. The architects looked for biologically inspired patterns.  I found this pattern motif to be incredibly fascinating!  If you look at each of the photos where you see architectural structure, you can see this pentagonal shape repeated again and again.

Biophilia is defined as follows:

Biophilia (according to a theory of the biologist E. O. Wilson) is an innate and genetically determined affinity of human beings with the natural world.

Biophilia is the theme running through the spheres. The word refers to the rich natural pleasure that comes from being surrounded by natural organisms.

Spheres: Origins

The Spheres are a place where Amazonians can think and work differently–surrounded by plants.  In their design, we were inspired by biophilia: the idea that humans possess an inherent love of nature and other life forms.  But what began as a concept for adding plants to the work place evolved over time into a lush botanical conservatory, home to thousands of tropical plants and trees. Today The Spheres offer nature immersion for its visitors working in the heart of the city.

The domes house 40,000 plants. The plants were not taken from the wild, but cultivated in various nurseries. The bulk of plants were cultivated in massive greenhouses on the Eastside.

Your Brain on Plants

We created The Spheres to give Amazonians a chance to refresh and restore themselves. Imagine a work conversation happening near a waterfall or a flowering wall of orchids.  Even short doses of nature have been proven to boost well-being. Immersed in greenery, we’re more relaxed and alert–we can think more creatively.

Much like a climbing vine or the veins of a leaf, we wanted The Spheres to be built of highly detailed, organic shapes. There are no corners in nature.

Smart Sustainability

Our new buildings in The Regrade, including The Spheres, are heated with recycled energy. This district energy system captures heat at a non-Amazon data center in the neighboring Westin Building Exchange and recycles that heat through underground water pipes instead of venting into the atmosphere.  Nearly four times more efficient than traditional heating, this innovation saves energy and makes long-term sense. Meanwhile, the energy we recover is enough to heat about 365 homes each year.

District Energy

How does the system work? Warm water from the Westin Building runs through underground pipes to a heat exchanger in the Amazon building, Doppler. From here, heat recovery chillers raise the temperature of the water, which is used to heat three campus buildings with two more planned for the future.

A note on “biophilic design”:

Last month, global report by Human Spaces into the impact of workplace design revealed that, “employees who work in environments with natural elements report a 15 per cent higher level of well being, are six per cent more productive and 15 per cent more creative overall”. Some call this ‘biophilic design’ – the introduction of natural elements into the built environment – but the term perhaps risks over-complicating something profoundly simple: people just feel better when they are closer to nature. And the office shouldn’t be an exception.

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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.

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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

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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!)

Capers

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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Winter Beauty Berry (above)

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

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

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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.

Amin

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.

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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):

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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.

REST IN PEACE

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.

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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

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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

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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

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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–

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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

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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!


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