Friday, November 28, 2008

Christmas Is Coming!

funny pictures of cats with captions
more animals

The kitty in the Santa suit looks just like our little Riley -- if Riley would let us dress her up -- same disgusted look I imagine she would have. Too funny! Have you made your list? Checked it twice? I'm heading off to the post office on Monday with the first of the boxes. I'm helping Santa!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Twilight of Thanksgiving

The day has lengthened into eve,
And over all the meadows
The Twilight's silent shuttles weave
Their sombre web of shadows;
With northern lights the cloudless skies
Are faintly phosphorescent,
And just above yon wooded rise
The new moon shows her crescent.

Before the evening lamps are lit,
While day and night commingle,
The sire and matron come and sit
Beside the cozy ingle;
And softly speak of the delight
Within their bosoms swelling,
Because beneath their roof to-night
Their dear ones all are dwelling.

And when around the cheerful blaze
The young folks take their places,
What blissful dreams of other days
Light up their aged faces!
The past returns with all its joys,
And they again are living
The years in which, as girls and boys,
Their children kept Thanksgiving.

The stalwart son recalls the time
When, urged to the endeavor,
He tried the well-greased pole to climb,
And failed of fame forever.
The daughter tells of her emprise
When, as a new beginner,
She helped her mother make the pies
For the Thanksgiving dinner.

And thus with laugh and jest and song,
And tender recollections,
Love speeds the happy hours along,
And fosters fond affections;
While Fancy, listening to the mirth,
And dreaming pleasant fictions,
Imagines through the winds on earth
That heaven breathes benedictions.

~William D. Kelley (1814-1890)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving Countdown Continued!

We are another day closer to Thanksgiving. Do you have sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving? How do you prepare them? Here's a recipe I cut out of the Houston Chronicle years ago. I made it the first time to take to a Holiday pot luck.

Cranberry Apple Sweet Potatoes
  • 1 (21 ounce) can apple pie filling
  • 2 (18 ounce) cans sweet potatoes, drained and cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 (8 ounce) can whole cranberry sauce
  • 2 tablespoons apricot preserves
  • 2 tablespoons orange marmalade
Spread pie filling in 8 x 8 x 2 inch baking dish; arrange sweet potatoes atop filling. Mix cranberry sauce, preserves and marmalade. Spoon over potatoes. Bake uncovered in a 350 degree oven 20 to 25 minutes. (Original recipe from Chronicle reader Mary Nita Wing)

You'd guess correctly if you figured I've made some adjustments to the recipe over the years. I put it in a much larger baking dish (I guess can sizes change). I also mix the sweet potatoes with a little brown sugar and a 1/4 cup of bourbon (you could use rum) to give the recipe a little more zing. It makes a pretty dish and has all those wonderful autumn colors and foods I think of when I think Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thanksgiving Countdown

I thought I'd start a Thanksgiving Countdown and offer you a few recipes for the coming holiday. The first is Butternut Squash-Apple Soup (you know I love soup). Apples are the perfect autumn food and Butternut Squash is the perfect color for autumn. When I was growing up in New Mexico one of my favorite things was to drive to Pena Blanca and the Dixon apple orchard and buy apples and cider. The orchard is north of Albuquerque in a beautiful valley. Wonderful place for a picnic. Nice memories for me. Back to the soup! This recipe is a combination of a couple of recipes I found - one in Bon Appetit and the other in the Witch in the Kitchen cookbook by Cait Johnson.

Butternut Squash-Apple Soup
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup chopped onion (about 1 medium onion)
  • 2 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed (about 6 cups) (I buy one large butternut squash and let it go at that!)
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 2-3 cups (or more) vegetable broth
  • 2 cups filtered apple cider or apple juice
  • 1/4 cup apple brandy
  • Freshly grated nutmeg and ginger
  • salt and pepper to taste and perhaps a little fresh thyme
In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil and add the minced garlic and chopped onion. Saute the onion and garlic until golden then add the vegetable broth, apple cider or apple juice, brandy, diced squash, sweet potato, and apple. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer covered until squash, potato and apple are tender. Add spices. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat. In small batches, carefully puree the soup in a blender or food processor until very smooth. (I prefer a little chunky.) Watch the amount of liquid. You can always add more juice/cider/or broth at the end if you want to thin the soup.

Ina Garten has Butternut Squash and Apple Soup that is very similar. She uses more squash (2 large) and more apples (about 4) and less liquid (2 cups of water to cook and adds 2 cups of apple juice or cider at the end after the soup has been pureed -- again with the idea that you can add liquid at the end to make it the consistency you want). Also, she adds 2 tablespoons of mild curry to the soup.

You get the idea! It is a beautiful and tasty soup for the Thanksgiving season.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Temple Trek Two

Some months ago I posted about a Saturday we spent “Temple Trekking” with a colleague of mine. We spent two weekends with her discovering the international city of Houston. This post covers the second weekend.

Our first stop was the Chung-Mei Buddhist Temple. We started in the temple garden.

This young monk is tapping on his “Mokugyo”.

This young monk is napping instead of tapping on his “Mokugyo”, or “Wooden Fish” used to set the pacing of chants. His face conveys the deep peacefulness that many of us are working so hard to find. Maybe if we just sat for a bit and relaxed into the present moment, we would find what we are seeking.

Young apprentice monk with his begging bowl.

One of twelve young monks with a zodiac symbol. I had to have a picture of the dragon.

On the temple steps.

No pictures were allowed inside of the temple. It was much like the Jade Temple except there were three Buddhas on the altar: Shakyamuni Buddha, Amitabha Buddha and the medicine Buddha - Bhaishajyaguru. Instead of pews there were kneelers. There was a small museum area where the story of Kuan Yin was told.

Chung-Mei Temple has a tea room -- FoGuangYuan Tea Room. A drop of water, it is a place for people to sit down and enjoy a cup of tea, and talk about Buddhism and Ch’an. The name of Ch’an Abode - a drop of water - tells us that we should appreciate what we have around us, cherish and be grateful. Tea drinking has an important place in the traditions of Ch’an Buddhism, great monks have attained enlightenment through drinking tea. When people come for a cup of tea they can also attain the wisdom of Buddha’s teaching.

On the suggestion of Rev. Hong, who was an excellent hostess, we ordered three pots of tea, an order of Chinese pancake (small six wedge puff pastry) and an order of Ju-Yi sandwich (made with fresh baked bread, mushrooms, corn, a special blend of herbs and served warm). Everything was delicious. The tea was especially good. My favorite tea was the special fruit tea -- a delicate blend of apples, pineapples and jasmine flowers. The aroma was divine. Kao Shan Tea (high mountain) is a green tea that is grown in the mountains of Taiwan. Only the top tender leaves of the plant are used to make the tea. The third pot of tea was called Black Forest and included blueberries. Mr. Dragon and I need to go back and try out more of the menu -- there is a Prosperity Tea and a Chinese Mint Tea; Prosperity Rice (seven grain special temple blend brown rice with veggies) and Longevity Rice (very dark rice that is cooked with seven grains and beans giving it a distinctive color and flavor and includes veggies and tofu). After our tea we were off to our next stop - a Hindu temple.

The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is the first traditional Hindu shrine of its kind in the country. It’s a massive, sprawling, but resolutely graceful temple, made out of hand-carved white marble from Italy and limestone from Turkey. It’s all turrets, arches, and flags outside and carved likenesses of Hindu gods on the inside. The marble is cool under your bare feet. We had such a good time as we called out to each other as we recognized the Hindu gods -- a nagini, Vishnu and his avatars, Ganesh, Brahma and oodles of others.

Our Saturday came to a close much too swiftly. Soon our friend would be off to China and Beijing to study for a year. We do hear from her and about some of her adventures. She is thinking about starting a blog -- yippeee!

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Pink Penta from Musashi's Garden

I love tea. It's one of my favorite things. I collect tea pots. (That's another picture for another day. They are still under plastic!) There's just nothing like a nice, hot cup of tea to warm the heart and calm the spirit. Here's a nice email from the Daily OM about tea. Enjoy!

Savoring Ceremony
Tea Rituals

Coffee may be the power beverage that gets us revved up in the morning and fuels us when we’re burning the midnight oil, but tea is the drink we turn to when we want to relax and be refreshed at the same time. Black, green, white, herbal, hot, or ice cold, tea is more than a soothing beverage. It can be a ritual, a cultural experience, and even a spiritual practice.

The reverence for tea has inspired ceremony in many cultures. From the spirituality of Chanoyu, the Japanese way of preparing and serving tea, to the sharing of Maté in Latin America, tea rituals are for celebration, ceremony, and relationship bonding. In China, tea rituals are part of many wedding ceremonies with the bride and groom serving their elder relatives in a show of respect and gratitude. The Chinese art of drinking and serving tea has been a source of inspiration for poetry and song. The Russian custom of chaepitie has inspired a unique style of teapots, caddies, teacups, and cozies. The samovar, a special brewing device, has become the symbol of the Russian tea ceremony and an object of art in its own right. Iced tea, popular in the U.S., as well as other parts of the world, is a modern ritual bringing cool relief on a sweltering summer day.

You can turn your own tea time with a friend into a simple ceremony by preparing your tea with the intention of offering nourishment and good wishes to the other person. When you are seated together, rather than drinking your tea right away, look at one another and express your gratitude and appreciation for your friendship. When you pour the tea, again intend it as an offering. Drink your tea slowly, savoring its flavor and aroma. Let its warmth or its coolness soothe your body. When you are finished drinking your tea, thank your friend for taking part in this nourishing ritual with you. Whether savored in the presence of another or tasted alone, the custom of drinking tea provides a soothing pause in our hectic world. Drinking tea can be a daily ritual that brings inner calm and clarity to the body, mind, and soul.

For more information visit

Monday, November 10, 2008

Remembering Mac

It rained all day. It was as if Mother Nature was crying over the loss of another of her beloved creatures. Mac, the Houston Zoo's two year old Asian elephant died the evening of November 9.

Mac was special. He must have been put on earth to bring a smile to everyone's face. It was a job he took willingly and with lots of gusto! A trip to the zoo meant the first stop was to see Mac.

Playful and mischievous there was never a dull moment around Mac. Watching Mac eat a watermelon was a real treat. He loved them. When he was finished, there was nothing of the watermelon left.

We have some wonderful memories of Mac. I've added my tears to those of Mother Nature's. Mac was easy to love. He brought a lot of joy into the world and he will be missed. The pictures here were taken by Mr. Dragon on our many visits to the zoo.

Here is the press release from the Houston Zoo:

"Mac, the Houston Zoo’s 2 year old Asian elephant whose mischievous nature endeared him to thousands of Zoo guests died last night following a brief struggle with the elephant herpesvirus.

We are aware how important Mac has become to our family of Members, Donors, Volunteers, Guests and the entire Houston community and we know that you share in our grief. Thank you to everyone who has supported the Houston Zoo and shown an amazing amount of affection for Mac in his two years at the Houston Zoo.

The Zoo’s veterinary medical team immediately began administering Famciclovir, an antiviral medication that has shown some limited success in past elephant herpes cases. “Veterinarians administered two doses of Famciclovir over a period of about 7 hours. The early indications were encouraging. Mac’s appetite rallied and he took some water. Despite the early intervention and the best efforts of the Zoo’s keepers and veterinary staff, Mac passed away at approximately 8:30 last night with his mother Shanti and his Aunt Methai at his side. The keepers and vet staff gave Shanti and Methai time alone to mourn Mac’s death.

Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) is a recent discovery. The virus was identified in 1995 by researchers at the Smithsonian National Zoo and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Many animals and humans carry herpesviruses throughout their lives and never become sick. For reasons not fully understood, herpesviruses can come out of latency and circulate through the bloodstream. Most elephants are able to fight the virus and survive when it comes out of latency. Calves appear to be most susceptible to the virus after they have been weaned.

Herpesviruses are not limited to elephants in zoos; herpesviruses are found in wild elephants. In fact, wild elephants in Asia have died from EEHV. The Houston Zoo, the AZA, the International Elephant Foundation and other zoos and institutions are supporting the effort of the National Elephant Herpesvirus Laboratory at the Smithsonian National Zoo on testing and treatment for the disease that will contribute to the long-term survival of the species in both zoo and wild populations.

There is no cure for herpesvirus in animals or humans. It is only when an elephant is demonstrating clinical illness that zoos are able to detect the EEHV virus in blood or tissue. There is not yet a direct test to detect elephant herpes virus in a healthy animal with a latent (hidden) infection.

Mac was born October 1, 2006 at the Houston Zoo and set a birth weight record for Asian elephants – 384 pounds. Playful, intelligent, curious and mischievous, Mac quickly became a favorite of Zoo guests and staff alike. Mac enjoyed interacting with his keepers and proved to be a good student, learning more than 30 “behaviors,” activities that provided exercise for him and gave his keepers the tools they needed to care for him.

We understand that Mac’s passing will have a significant impact on our entire Houston Zoo family and we share in your grief. Thank you for your love and support of Mac, and the Houston Zoo elephant family."

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Soup's On!

I am pleased to report that we now have a fully functioning kitchen. We cleaned all weekend -- cabinets, counter tops, floors -- and have successfully fought the plaster dust and won -- at least in this one room. It is cooling down here. A high of 76 today. I know. For those of you in cooler northern climates you think I'm nuts to call 76 cool, but believe me -- it is! No humidity. We can open the windows and doors and think about making some soup.

I have canceled most of my magazine subscriptions (there's that clutter thing again). However, I continue to take my favorite cooking magazine: Fine Cooking published by the Taunton Press. They have special editions throughout the year and the recipe I want to share with you is from 101 Quick And Delicious Recipes published Fall 2003.

It is called Garlicky Tortellini, Spinach And Tomato Soup and is so quick, easy, pretty and tasty it's almost a sin! The recipe says it serves two to three although Mr. Dragon and I can get two good meals from this recipe with a little left over. If you have tortellini in your freezer, a hunk of Parmesan cheese, and a can of diced tomatoes on the shelf, all you'll need to do is pick up a bag of spinach and a bunch of basil (or raid your garden) on the way home for this terrific soup. It takes just minutes to pull it all together.
  • 2 Tbs. unsalted butter (I use olive oil.)
  • 6 to 8 cloves garlic, chopped (I also add onion - to your taste.)
  • 4 cups (1 quart) homemade or low-salt chicken broth (I use vegetable broth.)
  • 6 oz. fresh or frozen cheese tortellini (I am especially fond of Buitoni Portabello Mushroom & Cheese Tortellini.)
  • 14 oz. canned diced tomatoes, with their liquid
  • 10 oz. spinach, washed and stemmed; coarsely chopped if large
  • 8 to 10 leaves basil, coarsely chopped (I don't use as much basil -- to your taste.)
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, preferably parmigiano reggiano
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic (and onion) and saute until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Add the tortellini and cook halfway, about 5 minutes for frozen pasta, less if using fresh. Add the tomatoes and their liquid, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook just until the pasta is tender. Stir in the spinach and basil and cook until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve sprinkled with the grated cheese. How about rosemary and olive bread and a small salad to make the meal complete?! Enjoy!

Thursday, November 6, 2008


I guess your first questions are what is TNC and AEDM. TNC is The Next Chapter where the group is reading and discussing Soul Coaching by Denise Linn. AEDM is Art Every Day Month - a group the lovely Leah from Creative Every Day put together to get us motivated to be creative. I signed up for both of these groups with the best of intentions, but life (or the universe) sometimes interrupts what we think we would rather be doing. I tend to listen to the universe or I get a headache! So, when the contractor called and said they could begin repairing the damage from Hurricane Ike, we said come on.

Here's a picture of one of the walls that had the drywall and insulation removed after getting wet from Ike.

The two humans (Mr. and Mrs. Dragon) and the fur babies are the only things not covered by plastic or dry wall dust. YUCK. But, things will get back to normal (whatever that is) and we will have a new paint job in the living and dining rooms. We will take the opportunity to clear the clutter (one of those Soul Coaching suggestions) and really clean the house (more Soul Coaching). We've been spending a lot of time on our balcony listening to the birds and watching the squirrels (Soul Coaching again) while the dust and dry wall fly inside the house. Guess I've been more with the TNC group than I first thought. I'm just doing things in a slightly different order!

One of the suggestions in Soul Coaching is to set up an altar. We have two altars in the house. One large one near the front door (covered in plastic) and this small one in the bedroom. I love the St. Francis. He reminds me of nature -- animals -- birds -- that we are all in this adventure together. The candles are ritual candles -- one for health and one for my guardian angel. There is a small piece of obsidian on the table -- a gift from a dear friend of some 40 years -- to remind me of the earth and to keep this Gemini grounded. Also on the table a small tag that says Bless My Cat.

As for AEDM -- I haven't finished the collage I started in the organic background class I took with Paulette Insall. You guessed it -- all my supplies and working area are under plastic. However, I did pull the canvas out and placed on my focal points. The Buddha is a photo we took in Maui many years ago and the lotus is from clip art. They are both just sitting on the canvas as I decide if this is the final placement. I will have a few words on the canvas: Listen With Your Heart.

And I am crocheting dolls for my two little girls in California. Aren't they cute?! They were designed by the same woman who designed the Favrielle dolls. My fingers are itching.