Brahma-Upalabdhi, and Plant Gratitude

Last night, two weeks after her death, I dreamed about our loved one who has gone to the Pure Lands, to the precious mind of Clear Light.

We were standing and facing each other, our eyes very close. She was speaking holy words to me, but her voice was so soft, I could barely hear them. Yet I knew that she was speaking prayers. Her face was radiant and smiling, even though it still carried the ravages of her final illness here on Earth. When she was done speaking, she pulled me to her and pressed her cheek against mine. We held this physical connection for a while, and then she was gone.

This vision tells me that she has achieved Brahma-upalabdhi - perfect peace of mind and freedom from her identity with the material world – and is preparing for rebirth. The karmic forces are being activated, and she’ll soon transition to the next life.

Have you ever been with someone as they died? As the mind begins to dissolve, and the person eventually becomes unconscious and the mind totally empties, you can see, in the final vision of death, a radiance like a brilliant, peaceful light. Peace enters them and follows them to the end like a shadow that never leaves. His or her body has worn out, but there is a bliss all around that softens the agony of life and death.

I told my husband about this vision this morning, and it comforted him. We both miss her so much, but it’s clear that she’s transitioning to a rebirth.

Our garden arugula is now bushwhack-worthy. Yesterday, I went to cut some for a salad. It’s already at a size where it’s starting to get tough. The arugula bed as thick as a shag carpet. So, I picked a lot (today’s lunch includes an arugula salad), but it looks like we’ll need to plant another patch soon if we want tender young arugula through June.

Speaking of taking from your garden: I thank each plant as I harvest from it. You know my thoughts on plant consciousness. It’s just a simple act of gratitude and acknowledgment of how plants love and feed us all in so many ways. 

They give us oxygen, medicine, food, fuel, shelter, purified water, connection, and beauty. They give us pleasure, and an excuse to be in the wild, where we all belong. From the bottom of my heart - thank you, Mother Earth.

Live in peace.

Hungry Banana Trees, and a Turon (Banana Egg Roll) Recipe

This weekend, I’ll be giving our banana trees their first taste of pure potassium since they arrived last autumn.

Bananas are huge potassium feeders. Commercially-prepared banana tree food is basically a little nitrogen, a little phosphorus, and a lot of potassium sulfate. They appreciate nitrogen and phosphorus too, but it’s potassium they crave. Lots of potassium, and lots of water.

I picked up a bag of pure potassium sulfate (not commercial banana tree food) last week and added a half cup to a quart of distilled water, and let it sit to form a potassium ‘tea’. I’ll dilute this further and use it to feed the trees. I’m feeling a little skittish because I’m not sure about potassium-to-water ratio, so I’ll start with low doses of potassium and see what the trees themselves tell me. Don’t want to burn these beauties.

Speaking of bananas, I’ve found a recipe for plantains that’s vegan and completely incredible, especially if you have a sweet tooth like me. Turon is a hugely popular snack and dessert in the Philippines, where, like soft pretzels in the U.S., you can get at most street vendors in addition to cafes and restaurants. It’s basically an egg-free banana egg roll.

It’s deep fried, so if you’re not an oil user, stop reading here. I don’t love cooking with oil, but it’s necessary when making Turon. Just don’t eat them too often and I think we’ll all be fine.
For two people, take four ripe plantains, peel them, cut them in half in the middle, then cut the halves in half lengthwise. Carefully roll each piece in brown sugar. Take eight spring roll wrappers, and wrap - just as you would any egg roll – each sugared piece of plantain. Seal the edges of the wrap with some water.

Deep fry the banana rolls in one cup of untoasted sesame oil, turning once, until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the rolls and drain on a towel or bleach-free paper towels. Meanwhile, add ½-cup of brown sugar to the hot oil, stir to combine, then return the rolls to the sweetened oil. Turn them a few times to get them coated in this hot caramel mixture, then remove and place in a big bowl. Optional: sprinkle with sesame seeds, toss them well, then hog them all.

These are definitely not health food or superfood, but they’re a yummy vegan sweet for times when you really, really deserve to give yourself treats and bananas. I’d say you deserve it every day loves, but I don’t want to see your blood sugar skyrocket.

Live in peace.

Medicinal/Ceremonial Cacao, and Vegan Sandals that (Literally) Feed Others

A vegan sister has turned me on to a source for cruelty-free summer sandals, and I’m going to share it here, it’s that good.

For $15.99, you can get a gorgeous pair of dragonfly-themed, vegan, flat sandals, and the proceeds from the sale provide meals for homeless and other disenfranchised U.S. veterans. 

So, with each pair you buy (I bought two, one for a friend), you’re turning your back on the cruel and toxic leather industry while providing nutrition for someone who needs it; someone who served in another senseless, killing war and has returned home broken. I call this a triple win: another animal won’t be stripped of his or her skin so that we can wear it on our feet (YUCK); a brother or sister is fed; and we get to walk in the company of dragonflies.

Check it out here: https://theveteranssite.greatergood.com (look for the ‘Take Flight Dragonfly' sandals)

Cacao is emerging as a big part of my morning tonics. I found a source for ceremonial grade cacao called Firefly Cacao, based in Ecuador. Small, organic farms in Ecuador, Belize, and Tanzania produce the sacred cacao beans that become cacao paste for ceremony.

The ‘bean to bar’ chocolate movement is growing fast. Everyone loves chocolate, and there’s a reason for that. Cacao is considered food of the gods by indigenous cultures, who use it for ceremonies honoring spirit gods and Mother Earth. Cacao is sacred food. Our bodies know this. But commercially produced chocolate has been stripped of most of cacao’s beneficial properties, leaving us with little more than an addiction to processed sugar.

Pure, ceremonial-grade cacao imparts to us all the constituents of the cacao leaf with none of the sugar. Confession: I’ve always loved great coffee, and I still drink it, but much, much less than I used to. Even in summer, I start my day with a hot drink, be it coffee, tea, or tonic. Hot tonics have been my choice lately.

My morning tonic of late is inspired by Mojo Mecca and is a compound of coconut milk, Firefly cacao (Belize origin), turmeric rhizome, ginger root, maple syrup, maca powder, cinnamon, and hot distilled water (I’m loving the new water distiller). This is a warm, rich, spicy, vegan morning drink that’s high vibe and completely nutrimental.

Cacao is known by indigenous Guatemalans, Ecuadorians, Mayans, and Aztecs as a potent medicine that opens the heart chakra. Science shows that it is high in magnesium, increases dopamine, stimulates the pineal gland (hence its use in ceremony), sustains energy, and is alkaline in the body. It’s high-vibrational food, heart medicine that possesses a great spirit. It’s bliss food.

Check out Firefly cacao at https://ceremonial-cacao.com.

In the garden, we’re looking at cool temperatures and lots of rain for the next 10 days. Veggies don’t like too much of that, and neither do I. This is not going to aid young, sun-loving food plants with getting established. Fungal infections can set in with constant moisture. The greens beds are loving it, but the tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplant, squash, and all the Asian veggie plants are not happy right now.

I’m waiting patiently for the turmeric plant to arrive. How I wish we could grow turmeric year-round here. I’ve been using more and more of it this year. At $25 a pound, organic turmeric rhizomes are expensive. Plus, nothing beats fresh-from-the-garden food, grown-with-love, peace, and reverence.

Live in peace.

Shadow Shit, Turmeric Plants, Papaya Trees, and Spring Smudging

We’ve had zero luck germinating papaya seeds and turmeric rhizomes, so this week, I ordered a young papaya tree and a turmeric seedling.

This is not to say that I’m giving up on growing my own from seeds/rhizomes. They’re still in pots, getting regular waterings and plenty of warm sun. But it’s been months with the turmeric and at least 6 weeks with the papaya. Summer is almost here, and it’s now or never. If our seeds and rhizomes decide to sprout, then we’ll have two pots of turmeric and more than one papaya tree. So, it will be a win either way this goes. It’s all about perspective.

Most of the veggie seedlings (about 95 percent) survived last week’s transplant into the food gardens. This is amazing good luck. Often, tiny veggie seedlings don’t like transplant. But I think the quality of the seed you start with matters (we use Franchi and Baker Creek Heirlooms) as well as the condition of your soil. Some gardeners plant their seedlings and then walk away, believing nature will take care of it all. Seedlings are like newborn infants: they need lots of attention at the beginning. After a while, you can relax your parenting.

We have an exploding patch of lettuces. Tomorrow, for a party, I’m bringing a huge bowl of our garden greens for a fresh salad. To it, I’ll add our garden chives, parsley, basil, and some young arugula. I’m so thrilled that we’re eating lots of our own garden food so early in the season.

Last night, my friend Chloe introduced me to a new expression - ‘shadow shit’. We were having a great discussion about self-work – becoming the best version of yourself that you can be. Good physical health goes a long way toward that goal. But often, the forgotten element is our emotional fitness.

We all have those subtle or not-so-subtle emotional issues that influence every decision we make. Sometimes, those emotions are just too painful in the body. Instead of traveling deep into that darkness to rid ourselves of the old hurts, old disappointments, and old trauma, we just distract ourselves with other, usually self-destructive things, and live lives of mediocrity. Traveling into that darkness is also painful. But it’s only by doing so that we can emerge again, healed and ready to love the world.

Chloe was talking about this ‘shadow work’ when she used the phrase ‘shadow shit’, and I burst out laughing. ‘Shadow shit’ is such a spot-on term. We all have shadow shit. Maybe it was a duplicitous friend, a disloyal lover, an abusive or absent parent, schoolyard teasing, or even a nasty, controlling boss who made our lives hell for a time. Whatever it is, to finally lay it to rest, we must go off alone, and travel to that dark place.

Anyway, ‘shadow shit’ is my new favorite expression. It gets to the core of the matter. I love precise language. Sometimes, white, college-educated liberals like myself get infatuated with pretentious language. Language doesn’t need to be swanky to make the point. Keep it simple and direct. Shadow shit.

This weekend, I’ll be working on our outdoor shrine. There are red flowers to plant all around it, and a large stone that we’re going to place under the Buddha. And yesterday, I had the idea of asking my amazing husband to build a simple shelter for the statue. I’ll have to draw up a blueprint. He’s so patient and loving about my bursts of creativity.

We’re also smudging the gardens this weekend. We burn incense in the gardens all summer long, but spring is the time for smudging. Where our food grows, food that’s going to nourish us and our loved ones, there’s no room for barren energy. A spiritually clean garden produces spiritually clean food, and feeds us all.

Live in peace.

Impermanence and Mediation as the Path to Understanding

I have a close friend who is going through a divorce. She and her husband of nine years have two children. He asked for a divorce four months ago – a move that stunned her and has left her very, very angry.

She’s looking for relief from her anger, which is causing her suffering. She’s a curious new Buddhist, and is hoping that there are teachings in the Dharma that can help her navigate her way through what’s happening and what's to come.

There are. It’s significant to recognize that for a Buddhist, marriage and divorce are mere concepts. Marriage is not real; neither is divorce. Neither is permanent. Like concepts of gender, race, age, and family, marriage and divorce are illusory things that are ever changing, breaking apart, and appearing and disappearing.

The Buddha taught that change is inevitable and therefore clinging is destructive. In the case of divorce, something that seemed very real and whole has broken in two, and revealed itself to be unreal; another concept of ours that reality doesn’t admit.

There are three destructive emotions that can come in the wake of divorce that I’ve seen acted out again and again to varying degrees: anger, jealousy, and greed. The real suffering that comes from divorce are these negative emotions. Blaming each other for the failure of the marriage, greed in terms of splitting up the belongings of the family, and jealousy in terms of competing for the love and approval of the children or when an ex-spouse finds love with someone else. All bad.

The reality of divorce is that you do lose the stability, cohesion, and support of marriage. There are benefits that come with a stable marriage. When these benefits are torn away, there is such a thing as righteous anger. But that anger should be as impermanent as the marriage was: in other words, it should soon disappear.

Through clinging, by holding on to disappointment, by keeping anger alive - for months, and in some sad cases, years – we continue to suffer. But when we break away from these emotions and the suffering that comes with them, we’re free to move forward.

My friend is clinging to anger. The Buddha taught that clinging – attachment – is at the root of all suffering. All is transient. Stability is an illusion. If my good friend can accept and live with reality and not cling to her ideas of what it should have been, and release her anger at not getting the things she believes she should have gotten, she will fly free.

I have no specific 'divorce' advice for my friend, but I did suggest she return to using her maiden name. I heard a Buddhist teaching on divorce years ago, in which the lama said that women sometimes hold on to their husband’s surnames for years after they’ve divorced, for no reason other than they are clinging to their former identities as wives.

Maybe these women are ashamed about returning to single status. They may say how they have disengaged from their ex-spouse, but if they’re still using his surname after they’re no longer married, this is an unhealthy attachment. If these women met this decision in honesty, they would admit that the reason they're still using their ex-husband's names is that they want to continue to identify as married persons or persons who have at least been married. Ego and self-loathing is behind all that thinking. There is nothing wrong with being single again. Find your truth in that.

Aside from this, I don’t have much advice for my friend. But I know what meditation can do under any circumstances, and for anyone, and so I suggested she take a meditation course.

Through meditation, we break attachments to the illusory (conceptual) self. Our way of looking at reality changes. We experience life as it really is – impermanent and not under our control. We gain a clear awareness of the pitfalls of attachment.

We’re released from thoughts of the past or the future. We come to the wisdom that love is not attachment, and attachment is not love. Whatever suffering that comes from divorce can be ameliorated through understanding this. This is where meditation is of great benefit for people going through divorce or any other change.

If my friend studies and practices the Dharma and meditates daily, her suffering will end despite the dissolution of her marriage. But if she launches herself into a new relationship in hopes of angering her spouse, makes mercenary grabs for spousal and child support, watches him on social media, conducts character assassinations behind his back, pits their children against him, and wishes him the worst for years to come, her suffering will continue. HER suffering will continue. What a waste of life that would be.

I just sent my friend the 2017 schedule of meditation meetings at the Buddhist Faith Fellowship in Middletown, and the Sangha where I go each weekend. There, she’ll find the truths in the Eternal Laws and Pure Reality, and though meditation, develop an awakening mind.

By releasing her husband and her illusions of marriage and divorce, she will blossom. She’ll experience the purest and most complete love there is – the love of the Buddha. Her anger will fall away. She will separate from her husband in a beautiful and loving way, and the love can still remain. Her life will move forward in love and compassion for all.

Live in peace.

Spanish Lavender, a New Yellow Clivia, and a Day Trip to the Ocean

The Good Hope Clivia from 9GreenBox arrived in perfect condition. 9GreenBox rocks.

The hibiscus went a little dry one day (my bad), but it’s recovered and is blooming beautifully.

A very cool variety of aloe. I’ll keep these indoors: I’ve had aloe burn in the summer sun.

I love the architecture by the shore. This is a cool little boat shop at Captain’s Cove marina.

The gorgeous view from a dock at Captain’s Cove. After a walk around, my husband and I had lunch at the marina, and then checked out used boats for sale.

Garden update: this weekend, we picked up a mature specimen of tickseed, a pretty perennial with a not-so-pretty name. Tickseed produces bright orange flowers all summer long, and it naturalizes, which means it gets bigger and better with each season. 

Belated birthday gifts from my husband included a big pot of Spanish lavender and three large rosemary plants (he also bought the tickseed). I moved some chives from the food gardens to the flower beds (chive flowers are gorgeous), and put the three Basjoo banana trees into the front garden.

Spanish lavender has a potent fragrance with big purple flowers. Munstead lavender is most commonly found at nurseries, so when I found this rare beauty, it was a no-brainer. I might go back for another. There’s no such thing as too much lavender.

We planted more organic red peppers (I’m really feeling red peppers this year) and some more Genovese basil, I planted up an interesting variety of aloe for the kitchen, and continued to work on our outdoor shrine.

The spot where our birdfeeder hung all winter, dropping sunflower seeds everywhere, is now covered with young sunflower plants. I’m going to leave them as is. There’s nothing wrong with an unexpected patch of pretty sunflowers in bloom.

I hung the big, new macramé plant hanger outside the front door: it’s holding a blue-glazed pot of succulents. The pink geranium my Mom gave me last autumn went into a conical wicker hanging basket near the rear of the house.

Yesterday, my husband and I spent the day at Captain’s Cove, a Connecticut marina with lots of fun distractions – shopping, food, and a great view of the ocean. It was our first oceanside weekend since last summer. We both forgot how gorgeous ocean air is, how beautiful and soothing the rhythm of the waves is, and how much we both feel most at home and ourselves when we’re close to the water. He did some boat shopping: I went knee-high into the water, communed with seagulls, and slurped a Bomb Pop. It was a great way to greet summer. We went home feeling revived.

On Friday, we received delivery of a new Good Hope clivia, a rarer yellow variety of one of my favorite indoor plants. I bought in online from 9GreenBox. I was stunned when I opened the box. It’s a big (8 leaf) and healthy clivia. For $19.99 and free shipping, there’s no better deal. Any nursery would sell a yellow clivia of this size with a price tag of at least $50.

9GreenBox is a giant commercial grower. They send healthy, sound cultivars and guarantee their viability. This week, I’m buying a papaya tree from them. I’ve had no luck trying to germinate papaya seeds.

My hibiscus is doing well, but I’ve learned that it needs a LOT of water. I neglected to water it one day and the next morning, it was drooping hard. It’s recovered, but plants never like that kind of stress. I’m keeping a watering can right next to it and now, whenever I pass the hibiscus, I hit it with some water.

All but the string beans are in the food gardens. The upcoming trip to Ballecks will fix that. Once they’re in, we start laying down compost at the base of the plants and let the nitrogen do its work. It’s an unusually cool 55 degrees today, but we’re heading back into the 70s tomorrow, and it looks like we’ll stay warm from then on. I think it’s going to be a great season.

Live in peace.

‘The Man Who Quit Money’ and the 2017 NYC Pride March

Another great documentary just found me. ‘The Man Who Quit Money’ is a short (25-minute) film about the life of Daniel Suelo, who, 12 years ago, left jobs in computer technology and medicine to experiment with a new way of living: completely without money.

Suelo relinquished his role in the American economy after, as he explains, he observed nature at work - a perfect system that is beautiful and balanced and stays that way without currency. Like others, he also grew tired of living in a credit-debt economy, where worries about money take up too much space in the brain.

He’s been living a traveling lifestyle, although he’s narrowed things down to two campsites that he frequents. A tent is his shelter. For food, he not only eats the fruits, veggies, and herbs that Mother Nature offers, but also, as he described it, “dumpster dives” (don’t be grossed out - we toss away way too much good food). Occasionally, he receives food through the generosity of others.

He doesn’t worry about health. His years in the hospital system showed him that we are positively obsessive about health. Add that to the money worry, and we are a society that does a lot of worrying.

He also observed the chronically-ill elderly, who were habitually kept alive long after death would have naturally occurred. They were miserable and left to anguish for months and even years past the point where nature, in its wisdom and kindness, would have released them from their suffering.

Nature doesn’t allow suffering to drag on as we do. Nature, as Suelo says, “doesn’t stand for it”. Our ‘medicine’ prolongs suffering to absurd and costly extremes. Nature has great compassion: we have little. Suelo is in good health and is well fed, and he hasn’t seen a doctor in more than 12 years.

Most of all, he’s very happy. He sleeps when he’s tired, eats when he’s hungry, gets plenty of sun, walks every day in fresh air, and makes friends all the time. He has an intense reverence for the sun, air, water, and the natural world – these priceless things we take for granted. This former 40-hour-a-week wage earner made the break, and he’s not looking back. It’s an awesome story.

Check out Suelo’s blog on a money-free life at www.zerocurrency.blogspot.com.

I’m heading to the Pride March in New York City in June! Wesleyan sent out invitations to its alumni network to go as a large group representing Wesleyan’s LGBTQ community at the 48th annual march, and I registered.

I’ve always wanted to participate in the Pride event, and to go as part of a team representing our Wesleyan LGBTQ colleagues makes it even more meaningful. The bus there is free for alumni, and just $10 for those who didn’t have the good fortune to graduate from an incredible university like Wesleyan. Sorry, but I’ve always been super proud of my alma mater!

In the garden: last night we planted the ‘Give-Away’ food garden. Mosquitoes were rampant, so we moved quickly to plant and then gave everything a deep watering. This weekend, we’ll put up the trellises and supports and feed the veggie plants some pure nitrogen.

I noticed in my travels through the gardens that the sweet mint is coming back big time.  Summer would not be summer without tons of sweet mint. It makes a yummy, cooling sun tea. I add it to smoothies and fruit, summer rolls and salads, pesto and sandwiches, rice, veggie burgers, and hummus. Steeped overnight in water, it makes a refreshing hair rinse that leaves my hair soft and smelling gorgeous. Gawd I love summer.

Check out the film ‘The Man Who Quit Money’ and consider joining the Pride March in NYC on June 25. Both are excellent ways to further your awakening.

Live in peace.

Give-Away Food Garden, and Fermented Tofu (Chao 酱豆腐, 腐乳)

Just though I’d hook you up with a photo of last year’s garden watermelon. I forgot how beautiful and sweet it was. We decided not to grow melons this year. This photo may change my mind.

Last night we picked up organic, non-GMO seedlings (Bonnie Plants is producing them this year!) for what we’re calling this year’s ‘Give-Away’ food garden. We’re totally invested in our Asian food gardens this summer, but we share lots of our garden food with friends, neighbors, and the local food bank, all of whom would probably think that Mizuna, Tatsoi, Thai Pink Egg tomatoes, and Komatsuna are a little far out. So, we’re growing the familiar foods for these good souls.

For the Give-Away food garden, we bought Brandywine Yellow, German Queen, and Cherokee Purple tomato seedlings, all big, beautiful, prolific, heirloom, indeterminate tomatoes.

There are two kinds of garden tomatoes - determinate and indeterminate. The determinate variety gives one big yield of tomatoes all at once, typically in August here in Zone 6. Indeterminates give an ongoing yield, beginning in July and continuing through early October.

I always grow indeterminates. I think determinates are great if your reason for cultivating garden tomatoes is to make a big batch of tomato sauce at the end of summer. But if you munch tomatoes in salads and sandwiches every day, then you’ll want them coming in all summer long. You can still gather some up over the course of a couple of weeks and make fresh sauce.

We also bought a bunch of red pepper seedlings. I’ll eat some of those myself. I love sweet red peppers. We also got habanero and Santa Fe hot peppers, Straight Eight cucumbers, yellow squash, and Japanese eggplant (friends won’t know they’re Japanese). And that does it for the Give Away garden.

Last night, I gave all the new seedlings a deep feeding of nitrogen and magnesium. Today, it’s going to reach 95 degrees, so they’re out back, in partial sun, soaking up the summery weather. They’ll go into the ground this weekend.

I also meant to pick up more sunflower seeds, but the nursery was sold out - in May! I asked the nursery manager if this was a mistake, and he told me no – that for some reason, sunflower seeds are hugely popular this year.

The individual mind is part of one great consciousness – don’t doubt it!

So, I’ll order Franchi seeds, unless Franchi is also sold out. There’s going to be lots of sunflowers everywhere this summer. How amazing is that?

This weekend, I’m starting, for the first time, a batch of Chao, or fermented tofu. Also called aged tofu, Chao (the Vietnamese name for this regional food) is hugely popular in Southeast Asia. Like hot dogs in America, Chao is found everywhere, from roadside vendors and restaurants to people’s homes. I never tried it during my stays in Korea or China, but I’ve always been curious.

It’s not difficult to make, so I’ll be picking up some fresh, firm tofu from Garden of Light tomorrow. We already have the other ingredients – rice wine, chili pepper flakes, pink or black salt, black pepper, and coconut sugar.

It takes a few weeks to ferment and keeps for a couple of weeks in the fridge. It’s often fried in sesame oil and served with daikon, fresh ginger, and greens, or added to Miantiao sauces. Fermenting makes it silky smooth and buttery, but it’s said to have a very potent fragrance and taste. I’ll keep you posted on progress.

Politics rarely makes its way to this blog, but this morning’s news feed has me livid, and I must speak my truth.

As a lifelong news journalist of the Woodward and Bernstein tradition, I’m taking deepest offense to reports that President Trump wants reporters who probe Comey’s memo on the Flynn investigation to face arrest.

This is a danger flag of epic proportions. Any attempt to silence the press is a totalitarian maneuver that threatens our First Amendment protection of free speech, symbolic speech, and free press. Criticism of the government - political speech - is a constitutionally protected right.

This is ‘The Red Pencil’ - the despotic censorship of Imperial and Soviet Russia. We’re approaching something grave here. If you’re not worried, you should be.

Lastly, I got word this morning that my autosomal DNA test is now in the Ancestry.com laboratories being processed. One step away from finding out what I’m made of! Couldn’t be more psyched.

Live in peace.

Dreaming of Phan Xi Păng


Anyone who knows me knows that the top item on my bucket list is to spend at least 6 months in the Vietnam countryside. I’m obsessed with this exotic and completely compelling country. I’m also curious about Hanoi, but it’s in the gorgeous natural beauty of the Vietnam countryside where I must live for a while.

I’m always surfing the net for information on Vietnam news and culture, and today, in my online travels, I found this amazing blog all about Vietnam. Here you go. You’re welcome:

Sunflowers in the Food Gardens, Banana Popsicles, and a Clever Hot-Weather ‘Zhāo’

We decided last night to get some of our veggie plants in the garden and herbs and flowers in the flower beds before the temperatures reached the 90s today. Two new Munstead lavender plants, a spent Easter lily, fuchsia and pink impatiens, and sunflower and cosmos seedlings were all placed in the front flower bed.

Our seedlings of Thai tomatoes, Thai watermelon, Thai eggplant, Thai red and green beans, Chinese eggplant, Franchi cucumbers, and yellow squash took their places in the side food garden.

I also made the executive decision to buy more sunflower seeds and plant them throughout the food gardens. Two reasons: sunflowers attract those great pollinators the bees, which we need around our food plants, and; I have gone crazy for sunflowers. I always loved and grew them, but this year, my love has become obsessive.

Planting bee-attracting flowers among food plants is an effective way to bring pollinating bees to the veggie and fruit plants, where they’re needed. Plus, sunflowers are just beautiful anywhere you put them. And at summer’s end, they provide rich food for birds. Everyone wins.

My husband carried the enormous urn containing our two fat Thai Black Stem banana trees to the front entrance of the house, where they’ll stay until autumn. This is their first taste of fresh air and sunshine. I love their looks. It doesn’t get much better than banana trees outdoors around the house in summer.

Next up, this weekend, the Basjoo banana trees will go in the ground at the front of the house. We have three healthy trees that will be planted in a tight cluster, where, hopefully, they’ll form a beautiful mound of tropical goodness. I’m probably more psyched about this than anything else. We’ve been nurturing these trees since infancy last October.

Today its climbing to 90 degrees, with full sun. All the blinds are drawn and curtains are closed at our home. I learned this while staying in China one summer – a hot-weather Cantonese ‘Zhāo’. During the heat of the day, thwart the sun’s rays from pouring in and heating up the house by completely blocking them. The house stays cooler all day, and at night, when the sun is down, open all the windows and let fresh air move through. No air conditioning needed.

My husband will want to turn on the air conditioning soon, but I hate AC and put it off as long as I can. My strategies for living comfortably in hot weather include drawing blinds and closing curtains, refraining from cooking and using any heat appliances, drinking fresh water and hot tea, eating lots of water-rich fruit, and exercising moderately and later in the day. I love love love hot weather. I never feel more alive than right now.

Speaking of hot weather and China, I’ve successfully veganized a recipe I learned while in China that sweltering summer. Strangely enough, this is a hugely popular summer treat in Lagos, Nigeria, where it’s made with canned ‘pike’ milk. 

I did an easy substitute of coconut cream for the milk. Acquire some popsicle molds from a friend and hog these yummy, buttercup-yellow, potassium-packed beauties all summer long.

Creamy Banana Ice Cream (Lagos, Nigeria)
Four super ripe, spotty bananas
1 12-ounce can coconut cream
¼ cup agave
1 teaspoon vanilla or natural banana extract
Coconut milk

In a blender, puree the bananas, coconut cream, agave, and extract until completely smooth (about two minutes). Add coconut milk during the blending process if the mixture is too thick. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze. To remove the popsicles from the molds, run under hot water for a few moments. Eat with impunity.

Live in peace.

First Green Meal of the Season, and Thoughts on Lao Tzu’s Writings

Last night’s dinner: a coconut carrot salad filled with our own garden greens.

We celebrated the new growing season last night by hogging a ton of our young garden greens for dinner. I made a simple carrot salad with raisins, Bragg’s aminos, agave, and Veganaise, then tossed in several hands full of our garden lettuces, arugula, and Italian parsley, and topped it all with some fresh lime juice and shaved coconut. I don’t even remember eating it. I think I just inhaled it. After a long winter of imported market greens, our fresh garden food was pure bliss.

Early this morning, all the plants were brought outdoors for good and the grow lights were shut off. Today is May 16. There are no more frosts in the forecast. Today it’s going to reach 80 degrees. We’re getting some unusual heat this week – in the 90s – and then it will settle down to typical late-May weather.

If you’re in Zone 6 and haven’t yet planted sunflower seeds, right now is the time. Sunflowers grow steadily but slowly. They’re the quintessential summer flower, and it’s nicer to have them blooming in July than September. I planted sunflower seeds all around the house last week. I plant to plant even more.

We can plant all our veggies in the next week. If you’re starting from seeds, I hope you’ve already germinated them. If not, and at this point, it would be best to buy young plants.

Bonnie, the commercial nursery plants brand found everywhere from Wal-Mart (yuck) to better garden centers, has introduced a line of organically-grown veggie plants for gardeners.

At about $4 a plant, it’s more expensive than at-home seed germination, but so worth it if you must buy plants instead of sow organic seeds. You and your loved ones are going to eat these veggies: buy organic and grow organic.

Last night, I grabbed my copy of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching and curled up on the couch. It was a windy, cool night; perfect for reading. The Tao Te Ching, the bedrock writing of Taoism, is pure jewel consciousness. Thirty minutes with it, and I feel completely restored.

I came across this familiar excerpt:

“If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself; if you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.”

Self-transformation is the heart of the Buddhist path. More than anything, we humans resist the truth that the disappointment, anger, resentment, frustration, and longing we feel is entirely generated by ourselves, in our own corrupted hearts. The suffering we experience is a direct and fixed result of our refusal to love purely, forgive completely, and accept unconditionally.

Look within and ask yourself if your heart is pure. It’s easy to convince ourselves that we have no conceptual overlays or patterns of conditioned habits - that our motives are honorable - when in fact we have agendas that have nothing to do with love, Dana, compassion, joy, or Bodhi mind.

In Pali, the word for this kind of self-delusion is Kilesa. Kilesa is a defiled mind, driven by unwholesome desires, a mind that obscures clear seeing, a mind that is a hindrance to its own happiness. We see it all the time and everywhere: people who cling – sometimes for years - to anger, restlessness, remorse, agitation, revenge, and obsessive and regressive thoughts. Their relationships are defined by drama. Their precious and impermanent energies are poured into conflict and confrontation.

Desperately, they reach for distractions – excessive consuming (shopping, overeating, overdrinking), baseless dissention (with family, friends, and strangers), drugs, alcohol, sex, obsessive exercise, self-deprivation, tattoos - anything to divert the mind from its own restlessness.

They bring tremendous suffering to themselves, then blame others for their suffering, when their suffering was born in and nurtured to maturity in their own minds. This is bad Sankhara – mental formations that cling to illusions at the expense of reality. In Buddhism, this is the cycle of Samsara from which we all must free ourselves. And we can.

By transforming our selfish impulses into Metta (pure love), by embracing Anatta (non-self), and striving for Bodhicitta (pure mind), we release ourselves from suffering. When we transform ourselves this way, we transform those around us. They, in turn, transform those around them. In the course of time, the pure love of the Buddha lives in hearts everywhere.

Transforming self, as Lao Tzu described, is the most powerful of Buddhist practices. Let’s all contemplate our minds, bodies, and feelings. Let’s embrace lovingkindness and the reality of non-self. We are all one. The awakening starts and ends within.

Live in peace.

Eagle Cam!


The DC eagle family is back and thriving. Eaglets are growing fast. Check it out! 


Meyer Lemon Tree, Coral Hibiscus, Distilling Water, and Dying in Bhava

‘Orange and Vanilla Agua Fresca’ hibiscus, a birthday gift from my husband.

Another birthday gift – a mature Meyer lemon tree! Here it is getting its first feeding in the kitchen sink.

And another awesome birthday gift – a water distiller. Love it.

If you have enough birthdays, everyone around you starts giving you groovy presents that you really love. When we first met, my husband would give me jewelry that I’d never buy or clothes that I’d never wear. After a few years, he figured things out, and now, birthday gifts are awesome.

This year, aside from the Ancestry DNA test that I’m still waiting for the results on, he gave me two incredible plant gifts: a giant coral hibiscus (variety ‘Orange and Vanilla Agua Fresca’), and a mature (approximately 4 foot) Meyer lemon tree. Living gifts, yay!

Last winter, he heard me whining pitifully about a friend’s greenhouse full of hibiscus. There’s no room in our lives right now for a new greenhouse, but there’s plenty of room for a new hibiscus. It’s a beauty. Orange is one of my favorite colors.

I’m crazy excited about our new lemon tree! The Meyer lemon tree my mom gave me last summer didn’t survive winter in the house. The Mexican lime has also finally died. Citrus is tough to keep happy in New England. They can’t winter outdoors, and they don’t like it inside the house at all.

This new lemon tree is mature, and that could mean that it will be stronger and might survive the winter. But I don’t want to think about winter in May. The tree is outside now, where it’s a bit cool for citrus (about 60 degrees), but will soon be soaking up that hot summer sun. A tree of this maturity will probably give us Meyer lemons this season.

I have a new Megahome water distiller! It steam distills, then filters one gallon of our well water at a time. No more commercial spring water of questionable source, no more plastic bottles (although we recycle all, better to not buy plastic in the first place), no more water sitting in plastic bottles leeching chemicals for months at a time, and no more cost.

We ran it for the first time on Saturday. The amount of visible impurities left behind after distillation and filtration left me speechless. It was absolutely gross. This is the water I cooked with? I’ll take well water over city water any day, but to finally see the pollutants that comes out of the faucet with our water has utterly cured me of consuming tap water. Yuuuccckkkk.

I also got a new half-gallon stainless compost bucket. Now we have two in the kitchen and one near the kitchen door outside. You need a lot of compost vessels when you eat as many fruits and veggies as we do. We’re constantly filling and emptying them into the compost pile.

There’s garden work to do. I have yellow squash seedlings that need to be planted now, succulents that must be potted in a large concrete urn by the side of the house, impatiens that must be planted in the front flower beds, and a potager to organize. In a couple of weeks, all the hot-weather veggies go in the gardens. The clematis is vining up the arbor and needs to be tied. Happy work.

Our loved one has been released from Dukkha and her worldly ties. Her final days here were full of family and music, and she transitioned peacefully, with her son holding her hands and playing her favorite spiritual songs. She died at home, as she wanted, with those who cherished her by her side. With all her heart she loved life, but she gave herself bravely to death, and she left in a state of Bhava, knowing that she was completely loved. May she have an auspicious rebirth.

We’re on the cusp of the season, loves. Very soon, summer will be here and the food gardens will be going strong. There will be flowers to cut for bouquets and fresh veggies for dinner. We’ll take off our shoes and keep them off until September, maybe October. The beach and the sun are waiting. Let’s all be happy, at peace, and grateful. Great things are coming.

Live in peace.