Bee is for Ballare

October 17, 2014

“Everything in the Universe has rhythm.  Everything dances.”
~ Maya Angelou

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Most people know that honey bees pollinate plants and crops, build houses out of wax and produce honey.  But did you know that honey bees communicate to each other by dancing?

Honey bee colonies typically contain one queen bee (a fertile female), thousands of worker bees (non-fertile females) and several hundred drones (male bees, present during the spring and summer months).

The worker bees are named appropriately, as they do virtually all of the work: cleaning the hive, feeding the kids, caring for the queen, building honeycombs, guarding the entrance, cooling and ventilating the hive, and foraging for nectar, pollen, water and propolis (plant sap).

After returning from a successful forage, the workers communicate to each other about what they found by performing a dance, known in bee research language as the “waggle dance”.  The waggle is a figure-eight style movement that describes the quality and location of good foraging sites.

This form of interpretive bee dancing also comes in handy when a swarm is in need of a new place to live.  When the time comes to choose a site for a new home, scouting workers fly out in search of the best locations.  When the scouts return, each group makes its case for its favorite site to the other worker bees by dancing.  Part of this process involves some bees delivering head butts to those bees dancing in support of a site they don’t like.  When a dancer receives enough head butts, she stops, thereby decreasing the support for that particular site.  Eventually, only one site has dancers remaining, and that location becomes the new home.

Now scientists are using bee dances to learn which types of land management are most effective at improving habitats for bees and other wildlife.  In a study published this last spring in the journal Current Biology, researchers found that bees were more likely to dance for land sites that had been targeted for intense efforts at environmental restoration, rather than sites with less stringent environmental regulation or sites that had received low-level restoration efforts.   The bees also preferred the sites that had not been mowed, those where weeds were allowed to grow.

Over the course of two years, the researchers observed and videotaped the bees through special hives that had been built against a glass window in the laboratory.  The angles and movements of each dance were measured, as were the travel habits of the bees.  Observing the bee dances was found to be more effective at accurately informing environmental policy than satellite surveys and other remote methods of observation.

So, the next time you watch West Side Story, remember that neither the Sharks nor the Jets can claim victory.  When it comes to a dance-off, the bees have it.

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My friend Bonnie shared some baby bok choy with me.  Baby Bok Choy with Big Noodles in Broth was the tasty result.

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Baby Bok Choy with Big Noodles in Broth
Baby bok choy combines with store-brought broth, cooked udon noodles and eggs to make a delicious and simple meat-free meal.  Prepared, packaged udon noodles can be found in the refrigerated section of your grocery store.  I used Annie Chun’s Organic Japanese-Style Udon Noodles.  You can also find dried udon noodles in the Asian section of your grocery store.  Prepare according to package directions.

4 to 5 bunches of baby bok choy
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons organic soy sauce
2 eggs
2 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth or miso broth
12 oz (340g) cooked udon noodles
(if using Annie’s, that’s 2 individual packs)
Freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

Thoroughly wash baby bok choy.  Cut tops and set aside.  Chop stems into 1-inch chunks.

In a non-stick skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat, add oil.  When oil is hot, add stems and stir about 2 or 3 minutes or until translucent.  Add tops and stir 2 minutes or until tops are wilted.  Add garlic and soy sauce and push bok choy to edges of pan.

Break eggs into center of pan and stir to scramble.

Add broth.  Bring just to a boil, add noodles and reduce heat.  Stir with a fork until noodles are just heated through.  Add pepper to taste.  Serve hot.

Serves 2

Oki Doki Carciofi

October 7, 2014

“Silly is you in a natural state, and serious is something you have to do until you can get silly again.”
~ Mike Myers

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A friend of mine who lives in Italy once asked me to explain the meaning of “okey-dokey”, the colloquial English language expression for “o.k.”.  I told him the term is similar to the Italian “va bene”, but that it is rather old-fashioned-sounding.  To be truthful,  answering someone with the words “okey-dokey” always seemed kind of goofy to me.

As a young adult, the importance of appearing cool at all times, even when alone, was paramount.  However, now that I’m a bit older, I have come to realize that a little bit of goofiness now and then is not a bad thing.  In fact, less seriousness and more silliness can actually be beneficial to your health.

A link between laughter and the healthy function of blood vessels was first discovered by researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center in 2005.  Their findings showed that laughter increases the blood flow by causing the inner lining of blood vessels to dilate in a manner similar to the benefits of aerobic exercise or the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs like statins.  The benefits of laughter, however, are spontaneous and have an immediate effect.

According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter causes the release of beta-endorphins in the hypothalamus gland, leading to the release of nitric oxide, which dilates the vessels, in addition to protecting the heart by reducing inflammation and preventing the formation of cholesterol plaque.  Laughing has also been shown to reduce stress hormones as well as to boost the number of anti-body-producing cells, leading to a stronger immune system.

As a yoga instructor, I like to utilize the benefits of laughter by including a pose known as “Happy Baby” (Ananda Balasana, in Sanskrit).  Happy Baby pose is easy to do.  It helps to release the lower back and stretch the hamstrings, all while reclining on the floor.  My version of Happy Baby also includes a bit of laughter, which lifts the mood and benefits the heart.  Don’t do this pose if you are pregnant.  If you have a neck or knee injury, check with your doctor first.

How to do the Laughing Happy Baby:

1)   Lie down on your back, on a rug or yoga mat.

2)   Bend the knees and bring them toward your chest.

3)   Reach up and grab the outer edges of your feet.

4)   Stack your ankles directly over your knees, so that your shins are perpendicular to the floor.

5)   Flex the feet and pull down, drawing your knees out and toward the floor, on either side of your torso.

6)   Breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose, filling your lungs completely.  As you exhale, laugh heartily: “Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!”, expelling the breath with each “ha”.  Do this, inhaling through the nose and exhaling with hearty laughter, at least three times.

~~~

Baby yourself with a little laughter.  Try this simple pose once a day.

“A person who knows how to laugh at himself will never cease to be amused.”
~ Shirley MacLaine

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Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Artichoke Hearts: cheesy, creamy, artichokey, yummy!

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Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Artichoke Hearts
(Panino alla griglia con formaggio e cuori di carciofi)
Not your everyday grilled cheese, the addition of artichoke hearts to this comfort food classic adds a tasty twist.  Be sure to use plain artichoke hearts, not the marinated kind.

1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 (14 oz) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
Sourdough bread slices
(you will need 16 small or 8 large slices of bread)
Butter, for frying (4 or more tablespoons)

 

In a medium bowl, mix cheeses, mayo and chopped artichoke hearts until well combined.

If using large slices of bread, cut in half, making two.

Spread about 3/8 cup of the filling between two slices of bread.  Press down a bit with your palm.  Finish with the remaining filling and bread.

In a large skillet, griddle or frying pan, over medium-high heat, melt butter and swirl around the pan to coat.

When butter sizzles, carefully add the sandwiches, no more than two at a time.  Cook a few minutes until bread is golden brown, then carefully flip with a spatula and cook the other side until bread is golden brown and filling is melted.

Serve warm.

Serves 4 to 8

 

See the Light

October 1, 2014

“Every moment of light and dark is a miracle.”
~ Walt Whitman

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A new sunrise is on the horizon.  A company co-founded by former engineers at Tesla and Nasa has developed a new smart light bulb.  Called the Alba (the Italian word for “sunrise”), the bulb contains sensors that track motion, room occupancy and ambient light.  These sensors enable the Alba to reduce or increase its light output and even to make that light warmer or cooler, depending on available natural light and time of day, as well as whether or not someone is in the room.  This “smartbulb” will use 60% to 80% less energy than a regular LED bulb.

The concept makes sense, not only regarding our energy use as a society but also for our personal mental, emotional and physical energy use as well.  Too often we run on a constant level of power all day, without paying attention to the needs of the moment.

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is in charge of the body’s response to our environment.  It regulates the functions of internal organs such as the heart, stomach and intestines as well as some muscles, skin and glands.  It causes our heart rate and blood pressure to rise or fall, depending on our situation.

The ANS has two different ways of responding to the moment.  The sympathetic nervous system kicks in if we are under stress or afraid.  It raises blood pressure and heart rate, slows digestion and releases adrenalin.  Our parasympathetic system, which takes over when we are relaxed, slows the heart and pulse rates, lowering blood pressure and facilitating digestion.  These responses evolved in order to help us to run, if we were being chased or facing some other dangerous situation, or to conserve energy, rest and digest our food, if all was well.

The modern problem with these systems arises when our minds keep us in a constant state of full power, via our sympathetic nervous system, by constantly focusing on past situations of stress or on fears of stressful situations in an imagined future.  The present moment may call for rest, relaxation and conservation of energy, but we are on full power thinking about what happened six months ago or what may happen tomorrow.

In order for our nervous system to work as intended, we must be able to see the light of the moment.  Chances are, the present moment does not require a stress response.  We must retrain our minds to let go of anything but what is now.

A good way to teach your mind to stay in the present is to practice conscious breathing.  Taking deep, full, rich breaths by inhaling, if possible, in and out of the nose, can help to facilitate the parasympathetic response, slowing the heart rate and pulse and lowering blood pressure.  Also helpful is to make the exhaling breath just a bit longer than the inhaling breath.  This helps because the heart beats more slowly when we exhale, so extending the exhaling breaths helps to “convince” the body that we are safe and relaxed, allowing the parasympathetic response to take over.

Another exercise to encourage an awareness and focus on the present moment is to practice conscious breathing while also maintaining a soft visual focus on a single point in the distance.  Softly gazing at one point in the visual field and letting the surrounding areas blur can help to keep the mind and body relaxed and in the now.

Both of these exercises, practiced one or more times a day, can help to retrain the mind to stay focused on the present, so that the nervous system and the body’s other systems can do their jobs efficiently and, in the process, help us to be happier and healthier.

“Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness.”
~ James Thurber

Let your inner light become a smartbulb.  Keep your mind’s eye focused on the now.

~~~

The Alba starter kit contains two bulbs and sells for $150.  It is available through Stack Lighting.  Visit stacklighting.com for details.

~~~~~~~~~

Cheesy Mashed Potato Portobellos will keep you focused on the present delicious moment.

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Cheesy Mashed Potato Portobellos
These tasty mashed-potato-filled mushrooms make a scrumptious side-dish for omnivores or a lovely lunch or vegetarian main course when paired with greens.  Use organic potatoes so that you can include the skins; they contain lots of nutrients.

4 large portobello mushrooms
Extra virgin olive oil (for brushing mushrooms and potatoes)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 large or 4 medium organic Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed (1 & 3/4 lbs)
Butter (optional, for surface of potatoes)
1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika

Preheat oven to 375°F

Clean portobellos with a damp cloth.  Remove stems and discard or save for another use.

Brush/rub with olive oil and lightly season with salt and pepper.

Place rounded side down on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, make mashed potatoes:

Rub surface of potatoes with butter or olive oil and pierce deeply with a fork.  Place on a paper plate or paper towel and microwave until super fork-tender (sticking a fork into potato is easily done).  This will probably take 7 to 10 minutes on full power.  Cook for 5, then check, then for 3, then check, and so on.

Chop cooked potatoes into chunks and let cool a bit.  Add potatoes to a bowl with yogurt, cheese, chives and paprika and mash/combine with a fork or potato masher.  Taste and add salt to your liking.

Divide mashed potato mixture among the portobellos, mounding filling inside cavities to create a rounded dome.  Return filled mushrooms to oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until surface of potatoes is beginning to brown and crisp.

Serves 2 as a meal,  4 as an appetizer or side dish

Equal Day for Equal Night

September 22, 2014

“The length of a man’s outspread arms is equal to his height.”
~ Leonardo da Vinci

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Fall, also known as autumn, the season of apples, falling leaves and all things pumpkin spice, has arrived. As I look out of my window, the battle between those falling leaves and the cleanliness of my backyard seems far but equal.  Moments after the gardener drives away, the large tree that holds court in the center of the yard blankets the ground with a fresh layer of golden brown soldiers, as if to say, “Your move, leaf-blower man.”

The first day of the fall season is referred to as the Autumn Equinox, named as such because it is one of two times during the year that day and night are of equal length.  The first day of spring, or Spring Equinox, being the other.

The international sign for equality (=) is less than 500 years old.  It was first introduced in 1557 by a man named Robert Recorde.  In his book, The Whetstone of Witte (1557), the Welsh mathematician explained his reason for using the two parallel lines of equal length:

“… to avoid the tedious repetition of these words: “is equal to”, I will set (as I do often in work use) a pair of parallels, or Gemowe, lines, of one length (thus =), because no two things can be more equal.”

The word Gemowe derives from the Latin geminus, meaning twin, as in Gemini, the astrological sign of the twins.

The symbol was not popular at first.  It took a couple of centuries for Recorde’s equal sign to win out over other symbols that were in use, including a pair of vertical lines.  But win out it did, and Robert Recorde’s version of the equal sign was found to be better than, not equal to, the others.

The leaf battle still rages in my backyard.  For the time being, the tree has a decided advantage.  So, I will surrender, to both falling leaves and the annual pumpkin spice invasion at Trader Joe’s, and enjoy the seasons for what they are.  All things being equal, winter should come to my rescue in a few months’ time.

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Simple Caramel Sauce uses equal measurements of butter, brown sugar, regular sugar and cream.  Drizzled over cool ice cream or warm spice cake, it is a yummy treat, whatever weather the fall season brings.

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Simple Caramel Sauce
Because this recipe uses equal measurements of its main ingredients, it is easily doubled.  This topping makes just about anything taste scrumptious!  Use butter and cream from grass-feed cows and organic sugar for optimum quality and flavor.  This recipe is pretty fool-proof.  You can experiment with substituting lemonade or limeade for the cream.  I’ve also used one type of sugar instead of two, with good results.

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons packed organic light brown sugar
3 tablespoons organic sugar
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Place ingredients in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Let mixture bubble for exactly one minute (it’s o.k. to stir a few times while it’s boiling, but I try not to).  Remove from heat and pour over cake, quick bread or whatever else you desire.  Let cool a moment or two before pouring over ice cream.

Makes about 1/2 cup

Sheer Energy

September 15, 2014

“Sunlight fell upon the wall; the wall received a borrowed splendor.  Why set your heart on a piece of earth, O simple one?  Seek out the source which shines forever.”
~ Rumi

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Here in California, where September and October are often our hottest months, the fact that the summer season is a week away from ending seems to be true only by the calender.  On sweltering days such as these, the thermostat is witness to the Sun’s enduring power.  So, in tribute to our mighty Sun, here is some super cool news about solar energy:

Solar panels that you can see through:
Researchers at Michigan State University have developed a see-thru solar panel.  Called a Transparent Luminescent Solar Concentrator, it can provide power without harming esthetics.  These solar energy producing cells can be placed over windows, buildings, cell phone screens or any other device with a clear surface.  The transparent nature of these solar cells is created by using materials that only absorb light waves from the Sun that are invisible to the human eye.

The Future of Solar Energy is Bright:
According to a recent article in Forbes magazine, solar energy will be the central driver for our future economy, providing huge opportunities for investors.  Within 20 years, the United States will be able meet between 50 and 100% of its energy requirements from solar power.  The cost of solar panels is dropping exponentially and energy storage methods are improving rapidly (capturing the Sun’s power during the day and being able to use it through the night).  Best of all, the Sun is a democratic power. Energy from the Sun is free and the poorest countries in the world are often the sunniest.

The World’s Largest Solar Plant is Now in California:
The Ivanpah Electric Generating System became operational just before Valentine’s Day earlier this year.  At full capacity, the plant produces enough electricity to provide 140,000 homes with clean energy, which is the environmental equivalent of getting 72,000 pollution-making cars off the road.

Leading by Example:
In April of this year, the Obama administration launched the Capital Solar Challenge, which directs Federal agencies, military installations and Federally-subsidized complexes to develop and deploy solar renewable power on Federal rooftops, covered parking and appropriate open land, as well as municipal buildings and Federally-assisted housing in the Washington, D.C. area.  In fact, the installation of solar panels onto the roof of the White House was completed in May.  The U.S. Department of Defense, the single largest consumer of energy in the United States, has committed to deploying 3 gigawatts of renewable energy, including solar, by 2025.

Solar Works:
Solar jobs have grown by more than 50% since 2010. In 2013 alone, the global solar industry expanded by 100%, resulting in 2.3 million jobs worldwide.  Jobs in the solar industry start at around $27,000 dollars (minimal education and less than 2 years experience).  The solar careers that are most in demand now are Solar Installation Engineer, Solar Panel Sales, Solar Maintenance, Solar Electrician and Solar Project Designer.

“To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

As the dark half of the year approaches, give thanks for the Sun and its virtually limitless power and potential.

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Hibiscus Gelatine is a sophisticated and refreshing end-of-summer treat.

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Hibiscus Gelatine
Topped with fresh raspberries, this delicately-flavored dessert makes a lovely palette cleanser between courses or a cool and refreshing not-too-sweet end to a meal.  You can also experiment with other teas, such as Earl Grey, green tea or flower/herbal infusions such as rose or lavender.  You can double this recipe for more servings.

2 cups water
2 organic hibiscus tea bags
1 envelope unflavored gelatin (such as Knox)
3 tablespoons organic sugar (or to taste)
Fresh raspberries, for garnish

Heat water just to boiling and pour over teabags in a heatproof glass or ceramic bowl.  Let steep until dark red in color.  Remove tea bags (squeeze liquid from teabags back into bowl) and discard.  Measure out about 1/2 cup of the liquid into a small, shallow bowl and chill until cold.  Set aside remaining tea.

Remove bowl of chilled tea from fridge.  Sprinkle envelope of gelatin evenly over surface of cold tea in bowl.  Let stand about 5 minutes (this is called “blooming” the gelatin, as it will expand and soften).

Heat remaining tea in a small saucepan over low heat.  Stir in sugar until dissolved.  Stir in bloomed gelatin and stir until dissolved (check by dipping a spoon into mixture – there should be no granules).

Pour into individual goblets or dessert bowls.  Chill overnight in fridge.

To serve: top with raspberries.

Serves 2

 

 

 

Street Heart

September 6, 2014

“The bread that you store up belongs to the hungry; the coat that lies in your chest belongs to the naked; the gold that you have hidden in the ground belongs to the poor.”
~ St. Basil

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The Street Store is a one day, rent-free, open space pop-up clothing store designed as a new way to make used clothing donations available to people who are low-income, have no income or are homeless.  Each event takes place on the street and is organized and managed by the local community.  Clothing, shoes and accessories are brought to the space the day of the event and hung up on cardboard signs that also function as clothes hangers.  The signs turn a sidewalk, fence or wall into a temporary shop display.  Volunteers receive the donations and help with display and then assist those in need with wrapping up the items that they choose.  In this way, the recipients of the donations are able to look over what is available and choose what they want to take, which is a more dignified way for them to receive help.

The first Street Store took place in Cape Town, South Africa in January 2014.  The concept was developed in conjunction with a homeless shelter by two advertising agents, Kayli Levitan and Max Pazak, as a way to streamline the giving process and bring the dignity of individual choice to those in need.  The Street Store is not a clothing drive, but a one day event.  Those donating and those receiving attend the event simultaneously.

Regarding the initial event, founder Kayli Levitan tells this inspiring story:
“On our very first day, we were standing around waiting for donations.  We were so nervous that no one would arrive.  Suddenly, a man dropped off one item.  About 2 minutes later, a gentleman came past in a shabby suit and completely broken shoes.  He asked what was going on and told us that he was going to a job interview.  He didn’t need clothes but desperately needed shoes.  And, by luck or fate, the one item that had just been donated was a pair of men’s leather shoes in his exact size.”

The Street Store 2

The creators have now made the project available online for anyone to host in their own community.  Many successful Street Stores have already been organized in cities around the world.  If you would like to organize a one-day Street Store in your town, visit thestreetstore.org to apply.  You will receive a dropbox link with access to how-to instructions as well as designs for t-shirts and marketing materials.

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Coco Mocha Milkshake gets its kick from the addition of a bit of strong coffee to coconut milk and chocolate ice cream. The flavors of coconut and coffee go surprisingly well together.

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Coco Mocha Milkshake
This sophisticated and scrumptious milkshake is a simple combo of light coconut milk, super-premium chocolate ice cream and good, strong coffee with a hint of vanilla.  If the ice cream is frozen hard, let it soften just a bit before blending.

1/2 cup light coconut milk (unsweetened)
1/4 cup strong coffee or espresso
2 cups (1 pint) super-premium dark chocolate ice cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine ingredients in a blender.  Blend until smooth.  Pour into two glasses.  For a thicker shake, place glasses in freezer for a few minutes.

Serves 2

By the People

August 28, 2014

“When you skip voting, it’s not rebellion; it’s surrender.”
~ Leah M. Reynolds (PACE voter registration campaign)

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The First Vote (A.R. Waud)
Cover of Harper’s Weekly
From the November 16, 1867 article:
First Black Vote: Though there would be still so many rivers to cross and mountains to climb, this was indeed a glorious, inspiring, landmark event.  We can sense the many years this gray-haired man has waited for this moment to cast his ballot.  In line are others, including a military man.”

 

The government of the United States of America is a government of the people, by the people and for the people.  Our leaders are elected to represent us and it is our job to cast our votes, not just for President, but in every election, in order to hire every official who would work for us.

People in many communities feel that they are not being represented by their leaders.  Unfortunately, they often do not bother to go to the polls and elect those who might do a better job of serving them.  If your leaders are serving the interests of the few, that is probably because those few are the ones who go to the polls and vote.

The national media is perpetually focused on Presidential elections.  While most writers and news entertainers are doing stories on possible 2016 candidates for the Presidency, we have a mid-term election approaching this November.  Many folks don’t bother going to the polls in the mid-terms because they don’t realize that the Presidency is only one branch of our Federal government, which is only one part of our system of multiple governments.

The United States of America is a federalist system and, therefore, is made up of 51 separate governments (50 state governments plus the Federal Government).   The Federal Government is made up of three co-equal branches: The Legislative (Congress), consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives; the Executive (President); and the Judicial (Supreme Court).  The President is elected every four years, but many Senators and House members come up for re-election during the mid-terms.

The Presidency is the most visible branch of our Federal Government, but it is only one part.  Congress passes laws and budgets, authorizes funding (including military spending), approves Presidential appointments of agency heads, judges and ambassadors. Congress also oversees our Intelligence services, like the CIA and NSA.  Supreme Court judges, accountable to no one, are appointed for life by Presidents but approved by Congress.  If the Supreme Court strikes down a law, Congress can pass a new one.

The state and federal legal systems are completely separate.  Each state has its own elected governors, state legislators, commissioners and judges.  Governors, state legislators, mayors and city councils all make policy that affects your daily life.  Some state and local judges are appointed, but many are elected.  In some towns, Sheriffs and Police Chiefs are elected positions.

Only 10% of eligible residents in Ferguson, MO voted in the last city council election.  The District Attorney, who oversees the Michael Brown shooting case, is up for re-election this November, in the mid-term elections.

Every election cycle there are the predictable calls from those in the “Fight the Power” business for the people to teach the powerful a lesson by staying home and not voting.  To those who would dissuade citizens from participating in their own government, I would answer that, when you refuse to vote, the only thing you are demonstrating to those in power is that they have nothing to fear from you.  After all, it was your vote, or your choice not to vote at all, which put them into power in the first place.

Our country has a long history of brave men and women who have died fighting for the right to vote.  There are those in state governments around the U.S who are still attempting to restrict and limit voting for certain groups.  Ask yourself this: if voting doesn’t matter, why are some working so hard and spending so much money to prevent it?

These are the lines to vote in Soweto during the first free elections in South Africa.  This is what voting after a long, hard-fought battle looks like:

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No, our system is not perfect and our candidates are not perfect.  But, the goal, awkwardly but artfully stated in the Preamble to our Constitution, is for We the People of the United States to form a more perfect Union.  The idea was not that we would someday arrive at a perfect government, but that we are forever moving toward that goal.

So get moving! Tweeting is not voting; posting on Facebook is not voting; yelling at the TV is not voting.  Register, vote.  You are the government.  Do your job.

“By your stumbling, the world is perfected.”
~ Sri Aurobindo

~~~

Here are some resources to help you vote in the coming elections:
Vote Riders is a non-partisan group that helps citizens with Voter ID laws, etc:
http://voteriders.org/about/voteriders

State by State election guide:
http://www.eac.gov/voter_resources/contact_your_state.aspx

Voter Registration deadlines by state:
http://www.rockthevote.com/get-informed/elections/voter-registration-deadlines.html

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If you always vote for hot when it comes to peppers, you’ll love Pineapple Habanero Salsa.

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Pineapple Habanero Salsa
This super-hot but tasty and refreshing salsa is not for timid taste buds.  Be careful chopping habanero peppers.  If the juice from the peppers gets on your hand and then you touch your eyes or some other sensitive area, it can burn.  Wash your hands thoroughly afterwards or, better yet, use plastic gloves.

2 cups pineapple chunks (very small chunks)
1 cup diced cherry or teardrop tomatoes
1 fresh habanero chile pepper, diced fine (about 1 rounded tablespoon)
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger root
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
Salt to taste (I used about 1/4 teaspoon)

Mix all ingredients together in a glass or ceramic bowl.  Cover and chill at least 30 minutes or until serving time.

Serve with corn chips or as an accompaniment to fish, chicken or shrimp.

 

Alla Famiglia

August 20, 2014

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
~ Anatole France

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As I sit writing this week’s post, my cat Folsterman relaxes on top of the desk, next to my computer.  He likes to rest his paw on top of my left arm as I type.  He occasionally looks up into my eyes and meows.

I have had Folster and his sister, Sofia, as part of my family since they were just one day old.

Twelve years ago, I had just pulled into the grocery store parking lot when I noticed a shopping cart, empty except for a small shoe box sitting inside.  Something told me to look in that shoe box before I went in to shop.  My instincts were correct. Inside the box were four tiny, just-born kittens, apparently abandoned without their mother.  I took the kittens to the local emergency pet hospital, where the on-duty veterinarian examined them and told me that they were about one day old.  She gave me some kitten formula and showed me how to feed them with a bottle, then how to wipe their little backsides with a warm, wet cotton ball afterwards.  Apparently, the mother cat does this with her tongue to help the kittens go to the bathroom after eating.

The next several weeks were filled with bottle feeding (each kitten had to have a separate bottle, every two hours, at the correct temperature), cleaning them and trying to keep them warm.  One kitten died in my arms within the first three days, possibly because he had no mama cat to snuggle up to and he got too cold.  After this heartbreak, I had to create make-shift incubators to keep the remaining kittens warm.

I successfully kept alive the remaining three and taught them to eat solid food, use their litter box and become fine, upstanding feline citizens.  I found a home for one of them.  The remaining two, Sofia and Folsterman (Folster, for short), have lived with me ever since.

As they have had a human mom since all but day one of their lives, they imitate me in many ways.  They like to watch television; they reach out to pet me like I do them; they are quite talkative.  Sofia likes to sleep with her head on the pillow and her body under the covers, like her mom.  When I am not feeling well, Folster sits next to me.  He also chases intruders out of the yard.

I was watching a football game the other night when I noticed Folster doing something strange.  He had taken a mouthful of his food from his bowl in the kitchen and carried it in his mouth, bringing it all the way into the living room and depositing it next to the couch, where he proceeded to eat it.  I couldn’t figure out his reason for doing this at first.  Then, it hit me.  I laughed out loud, realizing that he was going to the kitchen, getting his dinner and bringing it to eat in front of the TV, just like he sees me do almost every night.

When people hear my story of finding and raising these kitties, they often remark, “They sure are lucky that you found them.”

I have woken up each day with Sofia and Folster, shared my life with them, snuggled with them and grown with them for twelve wonderful years.  They are family.

I am the lucky one.

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Folster loves cheese, but not just any cheese.  He prefers sharp cheddar, Parmigiano-Reggiano or Manchego.  We have the same tastes.  Cheddar Cheese Chips are tasty, cheesy, easy-to-make snacks for human cheese lovers to enjoy and perhaps share with their animal friends.

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Cheddar Cheese Chips
These can be made with good Parmesan cheese as well as sharp cheddar.  Serve as a tasty garnish with salads, soups, etc.

You will need:

8 0z of freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese

Heat a 10-inch non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Using one rounded tablespoon for each chip, make little piles of grated cheese in the pan, using a spatula to lightly flatten and shape the cheese into 2 to 3 inch rounds.  Cook until golden brown (about 2-3 minutes) then flip carefully with the spatula and cook other side.  Do not leave the pan unattended.  The cheese can smoke if it starts to burn and set off your smoke alarm.

Drain chips on paper towels  and store in a covered container.

Makes 24 chips

Love the One You’re With

August 12, 2014

A note about this week’s post:
I wrote this week’s blog post yesterday afternoon.  Just before posting, I read about the death of actor/comedian Robin Williams from an apparent suicide.  He had recently been suffering from severe depression and had struggled with alcoholism and drug abuse for many years.  I lost a dear friend to these same struggles several years ago.  At the time of his death, he had many friends and family members who cared about him and were trying to help him get better.  In spite of the love that surrounded him, my friend felt hopeless and ended his life with an overdose at the age of 23.  I wish with all of my heart that he could have stuck around long enough to recover – that he could have made it through the long, dark night to see the light of dawn – that he could have made just one more call for help.

If you are having thoughts of suicide or if you believe that someone you love might be at risk, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255.

~~~

“The acceptance of oneself is the essence of the whole moral problem and the epitome of a a whole outlook on life.  That I feed the hungry, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy… all these are undoubtedly great virtues… But what if I should discover that the least among them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all the offenders, the very enemy himself – that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness – that I myself am the enemy who must be loved – what then?”
~ C.G. Jung

meditation

Too often we are the most demanding, the most critical and the least forgiving of ourselves.  We feel it is a virtue to look for the positive in others.  However, if we do the same while looking in the mirror or looking within, we see this as a lack of humility.  In so doing, we turn any attempt at self-acceptance into yet another criticism.  The virtue of compassion that we are encouraged to feel for our fellow humans, animals or plants, is too often seen as a character flaw when applied to the self.  We are told to forgive the transgressions of others, yet somehow we expect ourselves to be perfect and, when we prove to be fallible and human, we are usually our own harshest critics.

I am a firm believer in making a “good things list” as an exercise in gratitude and recognition of the blessings that surround us.  It is equally important to find gratitude for that which is within us.

Make an “I Love You Because” list for yourself and update it regularly.

List all of your special talents, the things you do best.  Find ways to use your unique abilities to help others as well as yourself.

Pick one thing each day that is beautiful about you, either a physical quality or something else, and give thanks for it.

Tell yourself “I love you” at least once per day.  Even if you are uncomfortable doing this, even if it feels silly or you feel you are not being sincere, say it daily to yourself anyway until you feel it in your heart.  If you cannot express your love sincerely to the person with whom you are closest (you!), how do you expect to be believed when you express your love to another?

Make a list of all your accomplishments over the years, the things you’ve overcome and the ways you have learned from your mistakes and grown.  Keep this as a reminder that, in order to succeed, one must be willing to risk failure and that failure is how we learn.  Each failure then becomes another accomplishment on the road to achieving your goals.

“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”
~ John Steinbeck

~~~~~~~~~

Treat yourself to Spiced Fig Lassi, a twist on the traditional yogurt-based drink from India.

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Spiced Fig Lassi
This delicious version of the Indian blended drink is made with yogurt, heart-healthy figs and spices.  Served chilled, it makes a yummy on-the-go breakfast, midday snack or a cooling accompaniment to hot and spicy foods.  For the best flavor, choose very ripe figs for this recipe.

2 cups fresh ripe figs
1/4 cup organic sugar
2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger root
A pinch of nutmeg
A pinch of allspice

Peel and chop figs and add to blender with the sugar.  Puree until mostly smooth.  Add yogurt and spices.  Blend until well mixed and very smooth.

Serve well-chilled.

Makes about 4 cups

No Sleep til Pluto

August 4, 2014

“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aid, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

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The term “moving toward a new horizon” is used to describe a journey to new ways of thinking, living or being, usually indicating an improvement in one’s current situation or a change of things for the better.  However, if you are the planet Pluto (oops, I mean “icy dwarf planet”), the new horizon is moving toward you.

The New Horizons space probe was launched by NASA in 2006 in order to study Pluto, its five known moons (Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos and Hydra) and objects within the Kuiper belt (a region of our Solar System that extends beyond the planets).  On its way, New Horizons, the first probe to travel to Pluto, has already journeyed over the storms and around the moons of Jupiter.  Flying by Jupiter also assisted the probe by providing a mid-course gravitational assist (kind of like using Jupiter’s gravity as a sling-shot to propel New Horizons on to Pluto).

New Horizons will encounter Pluto on July 14, 2015 and the probe has had to make six course corrections along the way, the most recent a couple of weeks ago.

When we as individuals are moving toward a desired goal, in search of a new horizon, things don’t always go smoothly.  More often than not, one encounters unexpected delays, unanticipated roadblocks and unplanned-for circumstances.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  Those difficulties, big and small, test our desire and resolve.  They often help to steer us down an ultimately better path, even if, at first, we experience frustration or disappointment.

If you are trying to do something new, to make a change for the better or bring a new idea into being, remember to keep your eyes on the prize.  If you are forging a new path, the way will not be well-worn and smooth by nature of its very newness.  You should expect bumps in the road and, like the New Horizons spacecraft, make the necessary corrections and keep going.  One day at a time, put one foot in front of the other; do something every day to move yourself forward toward your goal and eventually, the new horizon will find its way to you.

~~~~~~~~~

Wake up your taste buds with this vegetarian version of the classic Southern-style gravy made with coffee.

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Mushroom Red Eye Gravy
This veggie version of Red Eye Gravy is super flavorful.  Serve for brunch over polenta, grits or mashed potatoes.  I stirred mine into 2 cups of cooked quinoa and it was amazing!  Omnivores can try it over steak, as both coffee and mushrooms compliment the flavor of beef.  Be sure to look for the Fair Trade Certified symbol on your coffee.  See the link to Fair Trade USA at the right, under Elaborations, for more info on Fair Trade.

2 & 1/2 tablespoons butter
8 oz of cremini or button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced thin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 cup strong coffee
1/4 cup water
Salt and black pepper to taste

In a medium-sized sauté pan, over medium high heat, melt butter and add mushrooms, stirring constantly until mushrooms release their liquid.  Add the smoked paprika and a pinch of salt.  Add coffee and stir to incorporate mushrooms and butter and deglaze the pan.  Stir in the water and bring just to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, to reduce (gravy will be thin).  Taste and add salt and black pepper to your liking.

Makes about 1 & 1/2 cups (with mushrooms)