Hope for Our ‘New Hope’ Clivia

A sign of life in the New Hope clivia miniata that I had given up for dead.

The ‘New Hope’ clivia that froze solid in the garage earlier this winter has risen like Lazarus from the dead. This weekend, I spotted new growth! It’ll take some time for it to regain any form, but this is a horticultural miracle and I’m going to run with it.

I had placed it in the garage to force it into dormancy, when a deep freeze rolled in, and I forgot to bring it inside. 

My first thought was to compost it and call it a loss. But instead, I brought it in the house, pruned off all the dead foliage, gave it a deep watering, and placed it under the grow lights. 

The odds were overwhelmingly against it recovering, but the South African New Hope clivia is a rare and beautiful plant, so it was worth a try.

Yesterday, I decided it was time to give up, so I brought it in the kitchen to remove it from its pot and toss it. But when I removed it from its pot, I saw that the root system was healthy, so I cut away all the dead, dried leaf matter from the base, and behold – new growth! I gave it a good feeding and another deep watering, and it’s back under the grow lights.

It makes me sad to eat plants when I see how they strive to live. There’s no doubt that they want to survive, just like us. Vegan haters often joke that vegans are no more merciful than carnivores – after all, we kill plants to eat them. Vegans scoff at this criticism, but sometimes I wonder. Just sayin’.

My husband brought home another beautiful phalaenopsis. This is a pretty white with dark pink markings. It and the one he brought home two weeks ago are healthy and in full bloom. It’s wonderful to have blooming tropical plants in the house in the middle of winter.

In the hope that this incredibly mild winter keeps up, yesterday I started a large flat of Italian parsley seeds. If things go right, I can place it outside in April as a big bowl of fresh parsley seedlings. What a way to get spring started.

Live in peace.

Wheatgrass Shots, Rumi, and a Cat Named Mango

A new flat of wheatgrass sprouting in our kitchen.

Mango Brown!

I took a photo of the new flat of wheatgrass we have sprouting in the kitchen. I can never get over how fast wheatberries germinate and grow into lush, green spreads of healthful food. It doesn’t have to be refrigerated, it doesn’t go sour, it needs nothing but a little water, and if you cut it back for juice or an addition to smoothies, nine times out of ten it grows back once.

Any health food store carries hard red winter wheatberries in the bin section for about $2 a pound. This is a great bargain considering the price of organic, dried wheatgrass powder. Even the best quality powder won’t contain as much vital vitamins A, B6, C, E, K, and potassium, iron, copper, zinc, niacin, thiamin, and protein as fresh grass.

Soak your wheatberries in warm water overnight, then plant in a tray with a little soil. You want a generous layer of soaked wheatberries for a really dense carpet of wheatgrass. A thin layer of soil will do. Keep it watered and near a bright window, where the light will jumpstart chlorophyll production. It’s ready to harvest when about 6 inches tall. This only takes about a week. When you’ve used up all your wheatgrass, compost the soil, which will be thick with roots. Start a new tray with fresh soil.

I’m not going to lie about the flavor. It’s not great. But barley grass is even worse (I stick to barley grass juice powder). Plus, if you take your wheatgrass in shots, it’s not so bad. Adding wheatgrass to a smoothie can only boost nutrient content, but I think the way to go is to juice your wheatgrass, then slam it down.

If you’re really feeling like you need a boost of vitamin A, add some Hawaiian spirulina to your wheatgrass juice. Again, it won’t taste like candy. Hold your breath and slug it.

It’s January 20th, and we’ve settled into the gray days of winter. It’s been remarkably mild, but I’m feeling the sun’s absence in a big way. My summer tan is all gone. Those great blonde highlights in my hair have grown out. The boat is wrapped up, the kayak is gathering dust, and our garden parsley finally died.

I’ve been wearing jeans, boots and long sleeves for months. The ground is too cold to go earthing. My feet miss the ground and the air. All our fruit and veggies come from the market, not the garden. I’m feeling sorry for myself. Blech.

This is utterly trivial, but I’m going to throw it out there. There’s an account on Instagram that I’ve fallen in love with. Check out @justmangobrown. Mango Brown is a Bengal cat whose guardians just love him to pieces. It’s so inspiring to watch their vids. Mango loves them, and they love Mango. I’ve never seen such a loving bond between humans and cat.

I’m allergic to cats. I just hate that I can’t enjoy them. But I get real satisfaction from watching Mango and his Dad and Mom – especially his Dad, who is so wild about him – talk to each other, cuddle, touch, kiss, go for walks, hang out at the beach, share food, and just connect. They even went to Disneyland together.

Have you ever read the poetry of Rumi? It’s exquisite love poetry. Rumi often wrote of the ‘Beloved’, as meaning not one object of desire, but as the whole of creation. The depths of his spiritual vision extend beyond romantic or familial love. Everything is included. 

His writings provide testimony that global peace and harmony could be attained if we were to see everyone – human, animal, insect, and planet – as the Beloved. How can you harm any, when all are loved?

When I watch Mango’s Dad sing to him, it’s easy to see that Dad is singing to the universal Beloved. That’s what touches me. And the fact that Mango is a furball of unyielding cuteness doesn’t hurt.

While you’re on Instagram, check me out at @barbiezendog. I don’t have any amazing cats to post about, but you can get a taste of Buddhism, adorable dogs, great books, yoga, some memes, ginger beer, Godzilla (I/m a big fan), mangos, vegan hauls, kefir, kombucha, hippie clothes, garden reports, our times on the boat, travel, food, tea, and flowers. All good things.

Live in peace.

‘Fierce Grace’

Ram Dass

Until spring arrives and we get busy in the gardens once again, you’re going to hear from me about films I’ve seen. Other than hugs and kisses, reading, meditating, attending classes, nurturing houseplants, creating vegan meals, sprouting wheatgrass, doing yoga, and cuddling with the floofers, great documentaries and other films are what keep me sane indoors until the blesséd growing season returns.

Last night, we saw the documentary ‘Fierce Grace’. A definite two thumbs up for this one. ‘Fierce Grace’ is the life story of Ram Dass, one of the most world’s prominent spiritual leaders of the late 20th century-to present.

The film gives a light treatment to his early life. He was born Richard Alpert to an accomplished Jewish family in Boston, attended prominent universities (including Wesleyan, my alma mater), worked as a professor at UC Berkley and eventually Harvard, fathered a child, met Tim Leary, tried LSD, gave psilocybin to a student and was dismissed from Harvard, traveled to India, met Neem Karoli Baba, took refuge, became his student, embraced spirituality, changed his name, wrote books (including the seminal 1971 book, ‘Be Here Now’, a copy of which I own), became a guru, came out as bisexual, founded the Hanuman Foundation, joined the faculty at the Metta Institute, worked as a therapist, moved to Maui, and gave away his money (up to $800,000 a year).

But this film focuses largely on the years since Dass had a catastrophic cerebral stroke in 1997, at the age of 65. The stroke left him paralyzed on his right side and suffering permanently from expressive aphasia – an inability to form complete sentences or recall certain words. He’s been wheelchair-bound and in physical and speech therapy in the 20 years since.

The stroke thrust Dass into a very dark depression. He said afterward that he had lost all connection to God: spirituality didn’t interest him at all. He felt no love for himself or others. He was angry that the stroke had happened to him. He indulged in a lot of self-pity. His wonderful mind was closing down.

But slowly, and with determination, he came back from that cold, cold place. He emerged with an enlightened mind and a desire to instruct others who have suffered devastating losses. He called the experience ‘fierce grace’. He then wrote revolutionary books like ‘Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying’, ‘Paths to God: Living the Bhagavad Gita’, ‘Be Love Now’, and ‘Polishing the Mirror: How to Live from Your Spiritual Heart’. And he agreed to be filmed for this documentary.

What I love-love-love about Dass’s life story is not his many accomplishments, but his common humanness. As advanced a being as he is, he has lived a life as fraught with mistakes and obstacles as anyone else’s. He never did nor does he now elevate himself to the level of mystic or holy man, even though he is considered both by millions.

My personal history is also replete with what our culture calls ‘success’ – stable family, reasonable wealth, academic accomplishment, world travel, successful careers, authoring, publishing, teaching, etc. – but it also includes chapters that I’d like to strike from the record. Dass’s life reinforces my belief that aspiring to live with compassion and seeking the face of God are not impeded by a mixed personal history. Despite who I am or who I’ve been, I may still strive to wake up and walk with the seekers, all of whom are like you and me.

We are all human, and we all fall. I’ve understood this for a long time. Understanding it has made it possible for me to encounter people who harm or deceive me, and yet still love them and not respond in anger or retaliation. 

Rage and revenge accomplishes nothing. By living in anger, you only make a hell for yourself. Responding to each person and event with pure love and compassion has made it possible to rise from the ashes of whatever hardships have come my way. It’s made others’ lives holier. It’s made my life holier.

And even when the darkness comes – and it does, as it did with Dass – there’s a craving to climb out of that cold place and walk in the light again. So, we work our way back to higher consciousness, and once we have, we share what we’ve learned with others. And in the process, continue to learn ourselves.

I’m very fortunate to have access to films like this one. They’re out there, but not everyone knows about them. I keep stumbling across these gifts and gathering up their messages. Each time the ending credits roll, I ask myself why I’m such a lucky girl. Who keeps throwing these amazing stories in my path? Films like this one teach me how to ask questions, love purely, reach for truth, spread peace, extend compassion, and live honestly.

Peace and love to you.

‘Orange Sunshine’

Saw another great documentary film last night. ‘Orange Sunshine’ follows the birth and development of a 1960s, California-based movement called the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. This group of young seekers came together in a communal living situation to explore modes of spirituality and eventually, to elevate human consciousness using psychedelics.

Members of the BEL used psychedelics and they manufactured and distributed them. In the course of time, their mission became to expand the consciousness of every human on the planet through the use of hallucinogenic drugs. They built their own labs for the manufacture of LSD (‘Orange Sunshine’ being their most popular product), and traveled to Afghanistan and India for the best hash oil, which they smuggled into the U.S. and disseminated across the country.

This group took a lot of risks. During this era, the Nixon administration was obsessive about its ‘war on drugs’. At the height of the frenzy, a person found carrying a tiny amount of marijuana, even for the first time, was imprisoned for years. BEL was on the government’s radar. Eventually, federal investigators used phone tapping and other means of surveillance to arrest and convict many members of BEL.

But prior to the shutdown, BEL members lived in a near-paradise. They rejected current culture. They tossed aside the 19th and 20th-century blueprint of success: go to school, graduate college, secure a career, marry, have children, pay taxes and mortgages, work until you die, or retire.

BEL members worked their land, had their babies in bed, shunned animal products, rejected capitalism, occasionally lived in teepees, exposed politics and politicians, lived in love, made lifelong friendships, explored their spiritual selves, found truth, got high, glimpsed God, and endeavored to share what they’d discovered with others.

They made and sold affordable psychedelics and used the profits to manufacture and sell more affordable psychedelics. Their aim was not wealth: part of the profits went to supporting their community, but the lion’s share of the wealth was rolled back into the production and distribution of psychedelics for everyone.

Whatever your views are on the use of psychedelics as a means of spiritual ascension, BEL embodied the apex of the human spirit. It took courage to drop out of a society that controlled so completely. Rejecting racism and sexism in a period of history when racism and sexism were national institutions meant cutting yourself off from family, friends, and any means of societal support. Refusing to go to war meant risking prison. Flying drugs across the world carried the threat of life behind bars.

This was not a group of moderate, slacktivist drop-outs. BEL meant business, and stayed focused on their goal – to turn on the world. While the whole world was not turned on by BEL’s work, many, many people were. More people continue to be today. BEL still exists, not as its former self, but as an art community and spiritual center in Laguna Beach, California. I’d like to visit there soon.

We are in a universe that is in the process of unraveling itself, revealing itself to us. Whether we use psychedelics or meditation or spirituality or academics or pure love to tune in to the frequency, we can rest assured that if we are looking for God, however we approach it, we will eventually find the target.

There is a gossamer-thin veil between this grind of a material life - structured by society and sanctioned by culture - and this mysterious thing called ‘truth’. Our cynical and sophisticated understanding of the world - with its buildings getting taller and its automobiles getting shinier - blocks the efforts of those who aspire to transcend technology, culture, religion, capitalism, science, racism, sexism, ignorance, and even Self. But movements like BEL will forever try to crash through the roadblocks.

I recommend this film, obviously. It’s free to watch on Gaia television online.

Live in peace.

Sleeping Outdoors, and a New Kokedama

The new sprouter came last week! The unrelated barley grass juice powder ended up in the photo.

Started a new book this weekend: ‘Second Nature’: The Inner Lives of Animals’.

Our new sprouter came yesterday! It’s already filled with soaked mung beans that are beginning to sprout. Although the sprouter is not made for growing microgreens, I’m going to try it. I’m thinking of sprouting some arugula in it.

Started a new book this weekend. ‘Second Nature’: The Inner Lives of Animals’ by ethologist and activist Jonathan Balcombe is not a new release, but it’s one I haven’t gotten to yet. So glad I found this one.

Over the weekend, I picked up a nice Staghorn fern for only $8. I had a big, beautiful staghorn fern once, but lost it to black spot fungus, a common disease of Staghorn ferns. When I saw this one, I thought I’d give it another try. Staghorns are incredibly dramatic and very hardy indoor plants that can go outdoors in the shade in summer. Make sure to keep a Staghorn consistently moist.

When I got it home I realized I could create a Kokedama with our new Staghorn. Just think ‘string garden’ when you hear the Japanese word ‘Kokedama’. What you do is create a ball of soil and moss that is firm enough to hold itself together with nothing more for support than a few wraps of string. 

The plant – usually a moisture-loving fern – is planted in the moss ball, and the finished work is hung by string from a ceiling or window. It can also be placed on a beautiful dish. It’s watered by dipping the ball in water. Japanese garden design is so gorgeously minimalistic.

Aside from camping, do you ever sleep outdoors? I used to, often. Imagine falling asleep under the stars, and waking up feeling completely calm and connected to the Earth. The sounds of life, which some try to block at night – dogs barking somewhere, crickets and cicadas, breezes, the hum of distant traffic (if the wind is right), birds fluttering in bushes – make me relaxed and drowsy, and because of the sounds’ stimulation, my dreams are more active and interesting when I sleep outdoors.

It’s January now, but I’m thinking of sleeping outdoors again, at least part-time, starting in spring. The odds are overwhelmingly against my husband wanting to do the same, unless we were to sleep in our tent. 

But to me, outdoors means nothing between you and the universe. We’ll see if I can convince him to join me for at least one night.

Sleeping outdoors: another reason to get excited about spring.

Live in peace.

Coconut Aminos – Good: Table Salt – Really, Really Bad

I develop obsessive relationships with some of the niche health food store products. When agave hit the scene, I sweetened everything with it. Yerba was my tea of choice for a long time. Before I was vegan, I made yogurt and cheese from local goat’s milk and cooked with ghee. I jumped on the folic acid bandwagon and sprinkled wheat germ and flax seeds on granola. I ate bowls of soybeans dressed in Bragg aminos and melted chao slices on grain bread. The list could go on for days.

In many cases, I derived no noticeable benefit from the latest food trend. In other cases – like daily, sublingual B12, for example – the benefits were undeniable. But there’s good, healthy food and supplements and then there’s snake oil, and we’re all susceptible to being fooled.

Over time, I’ve separated the wheat from the chaff. Some of the standby items that work beautifully with my body chemistry include sublingual B12 daily, Hawaiian spirulina, maca, bananas, coconut water (great hydration), blue corn, raw and roasted veggies, turmeric, Himalayan pink salt, morning banana/mango smoothies, barley grass juice powder, wheatgrass, pressed tofu, plain rice, homegrown sprouts, nut butters, fists full of fresh homegrown Italian parsley (amazing diuretic, great for bloating when you’re on your period), and coconut aminos.

Two years ago, my naturopath ordered a complete blood panel and reported to me that I am allergic to bananas. I LOLed. I eat more bananas than the Great Apes, and they give me lasting fuel and no tummy problems. The results of this blood work also showed that I’m allergic to tomatoes and chocolate. Forget that. I eat both in abundance with no issues. 

A month after the test results came in, my insurance company sent me a letter stating it was ‘concerned’ about my blood work. I may have Crohn’s disease, it said. I should get checked out. I tossed the letter in the trash.

I’ve let my body tell me what it needs. I throw something new at it. Sometimes, it throws it back at me. Sometimes, it likes it and keeps it. Coconut aminos is a keeper. I used Bragg soybean aminos for years, and then heard about the trend in coconut aminos. So of course, I tried it. I love it.

I add coconut aminos to everything, from mashed potatoes to popcorn. Whipped with agave and garlic, it makes the best salad dressing in the world. My husband loves coconut aminos too, although he doesn’t know it. I use it instead of salt or soy sauce in food I make him, and he hogs everything I make.

This is the man who, when I met him, declared that iodized table salt is a food group, and he used lots of it. Iodized table salt is dead food – not even food – that’s nothing more than manufactured sodium chloride, harvested from the residue of crude oil digging, laden with synthetic chemicals, and bleached until it's white. YUCCCCCKKKKK.

Organic coconut aminos is fermented coconut sap, period. It has a rich, salty, barley-like flavor. All the good minerals and biotics present in coconut are preserved in coconut aminos. There are no chemicals, bleach, or crude oil residue. In other words, it’s actual food.

Coconut aminos are a relatively new addition to my diet. I haven’t noticed nor do I expect to notice any effects on my metabolism or health. I just know that these aminos are the best, purest condiment for enhancing the taste of food. I’ve known all my life how toxic table salt is – my dad wouldn’t allow it on the dinner table. He called table salt “poison”, and never touched it.

I get my aminos from the place where I do much of my pantry shopping- thrivemarket.com. A membership to Thrive Market is $59 a year, and pays for itself in the first few months. Just check it out to see what I mean. No, this is not a sponsored plug for Thrive Market. I just want to share something great I’ve discovered with other health foodies.

Live in peace.

Surviving Until Spring

Here’s one corner of our winter home filled with plants. Some are the summer potted plants that we’re overwintering – like aloe vera and banana. There are some hippeastrum in here too, in various stages of bloom.

This is an interesting time of year for the indoor gardener. It took years for me to recognize patterns, and now that I see them, I no longer struggle with the inevitable.

It goes like this: at the end of summer, I haul in all the potted plants that can be overwintered indoors. This includes citrus, some herbs, food trees like avocado, mango, banana, papaya, and geranium and lemongrass. Some are placed in the sunniest window in the house. Some are placed under grow lights.

Within the first month, they all go into shock. Leaves go brown and drop by the hundreds. The plants look sick. Soon after, insects like mealybugs and fungus gnats infest the weakened plants. Mealybugs are hard to beat, and the heavily affected plants go into the trash. Out comes bowls of apple cider vinegar to combat the gnats.

By December, some plants have stabilized. They’re shadows of their summer selves, but they’re alive. Others are still on the decline. By January, decisions are made: the plants that are clearly giving up, those that won’t make it to spring, are discarded. The remaining plants are rearranged a bit, pruned of dead growth, and given a little nourishment.

These are the plants that will see another summer. From January onward, they are slowly improving. At least they’re done dropping leaves. They know, as we do, that we are moving closer to the sun now, and they’re responding.

From January forward, I don’t change a single thing about their lives. I don’t move them to another part of the house, I don’t suddenly start watering them more, I don’t give them much nitrogen. They’ve stabilized right where they are, and to change their care now would kill them.

Two years ago, I had a gorgeous avocado tree that I had grown from a pit. In one year, it was nearly 4 feet tall, with leaves like elephant ears. In autumn, I brought it indoors, placed it in a bright window, and pretty much neglected it. It got very little water. Dust collected on the leaves. But the tree, as lonely as it was, was robust and happy.

The following March, I decided to put it in the kitchen sink, give it a deep watering, a feeding, and a cleaning. It looked beautiful. It was the best avocado tree I’d ever grown.
A week later, it was dead. As soon as I returned it to its window, all fed and watered and clean, all its leaves dropped and it shriveled up. It most definitely did not like the attention. 

Sitting in its little window, receiving nothing more than benign neglect, it went into a kind of happy, safe stasis that I disturbed by trying to pamper it. It was a huge mistake.

We kill our plants with kindness. We kill them by not listening to them. Outdoor plants that come indoors for winter do best with the least amount of care. Being smarter than we are, they know that summer is their time to play: winter is time to rest. Don’t forget them completely, but for the most part, leave them alone.

Our Mexican lime tree is doing great: I throw a little water at it a few times a week and leave it exactly where it is. It has not dropped any leaves since the big drop last fall. I let dust collect on the leaves. No food. It’s good with what it has, and to give it more would do it in. Like me, it’s staying under the radar, and waiting for spring.

Each winter, I manage to successfully carry more summer plants safely through to spring. But it’s been a trial-and-error endeavor. I still regret that magnificent avocado tree. But another pit has taken root. This one looks good. Only 69 days until spring.

Live in peace.

Tilikum Dies in Captivity, Hyacinths and Orchids, Turmeric Tea, and Falafel Cravings

Tilikum. He lived and died in captivity.

My husband bought a new orchid for our home altar

Glass forcing jars with red hyacinth bulbs

Turmeric chai latte was on the menu all weekend

I pulled the hyacinth bulbs out of the downstairs fridge this weekend. They’ve been in there since September 30, and are ready to force. So, I grabbed all the glass forcing jars and got them started. In about 3 or 4 weeks, they should all be in bloom. I picked a red variety this year. All the bulbs look happy, and each one is showing signs of life. I’d say a mid-February riot of indoor blooming hyacinths is a good thing.

Just before the snowstorm hit us Saturday, my husband made a run for wood for the stove. He came back with wood and a gorgeous pink Phalaenopsis. It’s uncanny how he and I operate on the same mental frequency. I had been thinking that our home altar needed an orchid, and I was visualizing a pink once. And there it was. He’s an amazing soulmate.

I was in a falafel mood this weekend. It’s been a while since I made falafel, but a sandwich of those crisp, spicy, vegan balls of goodness, topped with cucumbers and fresh vegan tzatziki, was calling my name. Lunch today is another falafel sammich with tzatziki and cukes.

We also roasted turnips, carrots, onion, and garlic and just hogged them as is. We’re doing the root veggie thing a lot this winter. Again, I kept a kettle of hot tea going all weekend. This time, it was turmeric chai latte. Completely warming, soothing tea. Just right for a snowy day at home.

Tilikum has died at SeaWorld. A drug-resistant bacterial lung infection ended his life. For 33 years, he for all purposes lived in a bathtub, performing idiotic stunts ("killer whale entertainment") for stupid, cruel people under the control of an entity whose only interest is and will ever be financial gain. 

At age 2, Tilikum was torn from his mother in the wild, and taken into captivity. Tilikum the baby went from shock and fear to frustration, and inevitably, to adult psychosis, as any intelligent, emotional being would. His life was a torment. His death was a release. 

Please, don’t ever give SeaWorld a nickel of your money.

Live in peace.

Jonathan Balcombe, Sea Shepherd, and Japanese Veggies for 2017

Ethologist and author Dr. Jonathan Balcombe. I just bought a used copy of his 2010 book, ‘Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals’, and can’t wait to start it.

I’ve become completely impassioned with the thoughts and writings of ethologist and author Dr. Jonathan Balcombe. I just bought a used copy of his 2010 book, ‘Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals’, and can’t wait to start it.

Last night, at home, I revisited the application I completed almost two years ago to do volunteer work with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The 2015 application was my second. In 2010, I completed the same application, then set it aside. Now, I’m again trying to decide how to merge this longtime desire to go to sea – in search of driftnet ships, in particular – with my role as wife, mom to two floofers, and full-time publisher.

I doubt my husband would love the idea. And I would hurt to be away from him. If I have a regret to look back on, it’s that I didn’t grab the chance to go before I married.

But Sea Shepherd also offers volunteer work on shore-based projects. This might be the answer. It’s not direct action, but it’s still part of the solution. I’m going to complete and submit the application for shore-based work this weekend. Sea Shepard has been doing amazing activism since 1977. Check it out at seasheperd.org.

Not coincidentally, right now I’m listening to orca and humpback whale sounds. If you haven’t put in some earbuds and listened to these beautiful recordings, you should. It makes classical music sound like squawking.

I picked up some turnips, beets, and carrots for roasting this weekend. I also grabbed a few Kalamata olives to add to the pan. Keeping fresh veggies in our winter diet is the work at hand now. There’s no food coming from the garden, and fresh vegetable prices continue to increase.

We decided on new Japanese crops for the 2017 garden: Yamato Sanjanko cucumber, and Mitsuba parsley. I’m also going to grow a large pot of Penang, a lemony Thai basil. We’ll order the seeds this month. I’m counting the hours.

Live in peace.

Meet Baby Thor


Ermahgerddddddd. A colleague’s gorgeous cow, Clarice, gave birth over the weekend. Meet little Thor, one of two bulls born on the farm in the past few days. If the image of this little nubbin doesn’t melt your heart, I don’t know what to tell you: I can’t help you.

In other news, two additional mango pits have germinated. Let’s hope these will be the golden eggs. I so want a mango tree.

That is all.

Live in peace.

Rava Umpa for Breakfast

Going vegan changes the landscape of food in ways I never imagined. Breakfast when I was vegetarian was either non-existent, or orbited around a cereal (like granola), fruit, some kind of porridge, bread, or toast. Traditional ‘breakfasty’ foods, minus the meat.

Rava upma is a common breakfast in India. Simply put, it’s a bowl of cooked lentils or semolina, spices, fresh vegetables, and shredded coconut. It’s higher in carbs, and low in fat. It fuels you up for many hours, is free from animal products, and is yummy. It’s become one of my favorite meals. Sometimes, I’ll slice a fresh mango or banana over the top.

I encourage anyone, vegan or not, to give Indian breakfast foods a try. They are complete and balanced meals, free of the sugar and trans fats that permeate American breakfast foods. And they are so satisfying. In winter, they’re warming: in summer, they’re cooling.

This morning’s breakfast was homemade hummus and blue corn chips. Lots of protein and fiber there. I make hummus with plenty of garlic. In summer, I add our garden parsley and basil too. Not an Indian dish, but quintessentially vegan, and it feeds the soul a lot better than a fast food or coffee shop breakfast sandwich.

Live in peace.

Elephants, Sprouts, a New Chindi, Garden Planning, and My Vegan Anniversary: A Purposeful Start to 2017

Spicy Green Bean in Glastonbury is an awesome, funky space that serves what I have decided is the best veggie burger in Connecticut. Amazing Boho atmosphere here.

Tibetan goor goor cha. I kept the tea kettle on all weekend and sipped hot goor goor cha from morning to night.

We harvested the pineapple from our old pineapple plant, and the plant’s crown is now suspended in water. Hoping it will sprout roots and we will have a clone of the parent plant.

We enjoyed a wonderfully quiet, intimate New Year’s weekend. There were naps every day, lots of time with the pups, hugs and kisses, and much good food. I spent Saturday afternoon with my best pal Sunny, and discovered an amazing eatery that meets all my needs in a place for great grub and fascinating atmosphere.

My husband and I picked and ate the pineapple from our old plant, and are now trying to germinate the crown and have a new pineapple plant to love. Got lots of indoor gardening work done; tossed the plants that died (including the Meyer lemon, but which I didn’t ditch – it’s in the hospital hoping for a resurrection), found that the wisteria seeds had germinated, potted up one Thai Black Stem banana tree in a bigger vessel and put it in the kitchen, and moved the Basjoo banana trees together into one large pot. The pomegranate seeds I planted a few weeks ago also germinated. And the giant, mutant avocado pit that a friend gave me from her lunch has put out a fat root.

My husband built closet shelves for the cookware that was cluttering the kitchen cupboards. We took down our Christmas decorations, except for the Moravian star outside by the front door. It glows so warm and beautifully after dark, and is so simple and geometric, that I think we’ll keep it around through winter. I roasted root veggies every day, ate a lot of beets, watched football, meditated, listened to great music, and read a good book.

Rohinton Mistry is my current favorite contemporary author. I’m reading Swimming Lessons: Stories from Firozsha Baag, a collection of shorts that are set in an apartment building in Mumbai and revolve around the residents’ lives there. Short stories are quick and satisfying. Sometimes, I just feel like enjoying a tale from start to finish in 25 pages instead of 500.

I also got back into using my neti pot this weekend. Pretty much everyone I know is sick and snorky now. My colds always settle in as sinus infections. Sinus infections make me utterly miserable. My last one was 3 years ago, and I will never forget it. Last week, I was getting a bit congested. I right away went into Rambo mode and started using the neti every single day.

Without missing a beat, we started discussing the 2017 food gardens. A few decisions were made. We will not be growing melons this summer. As satisfying as it is to grow our own, good, organic melons are plenty affordable in summer, and last summer, we couldn’t eat enough of our homegrown (as hard as we tried) to make the effort worthwhile.

We will have a raised bench, greens garden just outside the kitchen door. We’re thinking 6 feet long by 3 feet wide, at waist height, set aside for Italian parsley, arugula, and lettuces. This will make grabbing greens for salads, sandwiches, and smoothies easier. Sometimes, I go for greens 10 times a day in summer, and trudging down to the gardens each time is a pain.

With all the space the melons would have used, we’re going to try two Asian veggies that we’ve never tried before. I’m poring through the Kitazawa seed catalog for ideas.

Yesterday, January 2, I celebrated an anniversary. On June 2 of last year, I transitioned from a vegetarian diet to an Ahimsa vegan lifestyle. I’m not going to preach here: let’s just say that it was the best choice I ever made. I celebrated with a massive bowl of roasted bok choy and beets with hot cous cous. Yummmmm. So thankful.

One of my awesome Christmas gifts was a beautiful chindi made from recycled materials – namely, colorful old saris and used hemp. Since a chindi is used as a floor pillow, I placed it in the living room. The dogs promptly adopted it as a big, comfy bed. My beautiful little floofers.

I also received a large (15-inch) stone elephant sculpture from Thailand. Everyone who knows me knows that elephants are my spirit animals. They embody my two favorite qualities - strength and compassion. I would take a bullet for an elephant any day of the week. I love this sculpture. Even as I’m purging material things from my life at a dizzying rate, I know this will not be one of them. It gives me joy whenever I look at it. Total keeper.

Why am I buying wheatgrass powder for smoothies when I could easily sprout my own super-fresh, nutrient-packed wheatgrass on the kitchen counter? I answered that question this weekend by starting a tray of wheatgrass sprouts. Sprouting is so easy. I have no idea why I didn’t think of this a long time ago. Next up: fresh barley sprouts.

Live in peace.

A Good, True, and Beautiful World: A Message for 2017

In one day, 2016 will be done. Don’t waste time looking back and grieving losses. Every moment of consciousness is a mixed bag of joy and sadness, success and failure, life and death, gains and losses, courage and fear. We continue on.

More than ever, we have an imperiled planet on our hands. You know the laundry list: environmental ruin, political corruption, social injustice, illiteracy, proliferation of nuclear weapons, armed conflict, global overpopulation, international terrorism, poverty, hunger, animal abuse, human trafficking, and more. The truth is, if the actual nature of our predicament was to made known to any one of us, it would be completely paralyzing. We’re in deeper trouble than we think.

The privileged classes – that’s us – have a tremendous obligation to attempt to deconstruct the sick world we have helped create. The road to healing will be a narrow one, and probably an uphill one. There may be violence and suffering: there will certainly be resistance.

Let’s start with our children. Public education is a failure, a system of indoctrination under the control of corporations, whose interest in the young lies in creating the next generation of wage earners and tax payers. State and private universities must encourage studies in philosophy, language, and art instead of functioning as trade schools that mobilize young adults for careers in cost accounting and bank branch management.

We need to unleash our creativity, especially in literacy, philosophy, and language. What we cannot say effectively, we cannot communicate effectively. We can conceive of it, but we can’t communicate it, and hence, we are powerless.

We must cut through the illusions that keep us in the dark – illusions of materialism, scientism, rationalism, male dominance, sexism, racism, xenophobia, and institutions that guide us to our destinies without our consent. In other words, business as usual. We are sleepwalking through our lives - going to college, starting careers and saving for retirement, marrying, consuming, going into debt, having children, paying taxes, divorcing, and nurturing addictions. The time is here to wake up.

Morale courage is the battleground over which the struggle will happen. We must stop being afraid to rise up and call bullshit when we see it. We cannot continue to be afraid to grab the levers and push the buttons in the control room. We must empower ourselves to stand up in social and political situations – even sensitive ones – say, “Bullshit”, and then demand change.

I believe there will be only one chance. The engines are running low. The runway is before us, there is only one approach, and we must land or crash. A good, true, and beautiful world is not a hippie hallucination of utopia. It was the state of this planet and its inhabitants before we fouled our own nest.

The muse is there: we just need to open our ears, and open our eyes. And then roll up our sleeves. We don’t have the luxury of centuries of gently unfolding time with which to slowly correct our mistakes and create a bright new world. This is a fire in a madhouse.

Reach for moral courage and start the work. Organize your vision for a new world; a world as real as anything we know, and infinitely better. It isn’t that the world is tired and played out. It’s waiting to be fixed. It will be a tough fight that will bear down on us. But I fervently believe that we are up to the challenge.

Live in peace.

Buddha Nature Versus the Cultural Mind

I came across a quote this morning that’s so full of truth and revelation that I must share it:

“Nature is busy creating absolutely unique individuals, whereas culture has invented a single mold to which all must conform. It is grotesque.”

These are the words of the late Krishnamurti, an India-born philosopher who influenced many with his doubts about the existence of enlightenment. He was a brilliant man who sought truth and justice.

This quote says it all about all our combined struggles. It is a flawed system indeed that takes the mind of a newborn, someone whose consciousness has just come online, and forces it into narrow parameters of behavior and thought.

Culture tells us from the moment we exist what we may do, say, think, eat, wear, hate, fear, condemn, praise, seek, reject, approve, and love. We never come to know our true selves.
Who would I be, I ask myself, if, for the first 18 years of my life, my mind not was harshly flexed to fit into the confines of my father’s staunch Roman Catholic worldview? If I hadn’t been raised as a ‘girl’? 

What if I had not spent 12 years in a competitive, private Catholic school system? If I hadn’t been deluged with images of glamour and lip gloss and make-believe beauty that girls are expected from puberty onward to achieve?

What if my parents, teachers, and companions weren’t there to instruct me on who to trust and love, what to aspire to, what future to plan, what god to worship, which eggs to place in which basket?

I was lucky, at 18, to get college scholarships that freed me from dependency on my parents, and my dad in particular - who wanted me settled at a private Catholic university. Instead, I went to an ultra-liberal private university called Wesleyan, a campus that encourages exploration, individualism, and experimentation.

I studied feminism, culture, Buddhism, Christianity, literature, philosophy, culture, and physics. I traveled a lot: Hong Kong, France, England, Ireland, and Scotland, where I did full semesters at universities like Trinity College, University of Edinburgh, University of Dublin, and Cambridge University. 

I took three degrees: a bachelor’s in journalism and English, a master’s in English literature and language, and another master’s in comparative lit in a broader field of humanities. I wrote two theses - one grounded in feminism, the other in philosophy.

But the damage was done, as it is to us all. Every new thought or experience I had stood side-by-side with a voice that told me I was stepping out of bounds. That never stopped me from exploring wholeheartedly every single creed and new sensation that I sought, but the voice was – and is - my constant, meddling companion.

My long journey as a Buddhist has included seeking a way past the voice and returning to true Mind. I’m not sure that it’s possible, given that my very brain, at a cellular level, has long been torn from its original nature. This original nature is what we call Buddha nature. It’s that simple.

Culture changes. But the beating heart of it stays the same: a set of guidelines of behavior and beliefs that are arbitrary and meaningless, yet enforced like pure truth. Many people live their lives never questioning it. My father was one of them. He died immersed in mental anguish and fear, and I believe, a lot of regret.

Watching his death unfold, I observed that as we die, a curtain is pulled aside, and we see truths we’ve never seen before. We see beyond culture, identity, language, and ideas. The truth-seekers dance with joy at the encounter: but those like my father, who buried their lives in ideology and cultural canons, do not. I loved my father, but he didn’t give his magnificent mind any room to dilate, nor his heart any chance to grow.

We are all unique and miraculous. I can’t think of a better pursuit than to strive to return as much as possible to that one true self, the One that was, before we went online. It’s the work of a lifetime.

Live in peace.