Xanadu

Our Mexican Escape

 

IMG_0101Xanadu was Kublai Khan’s summer capital during the Yuan dynasty in China. Xanadu is also the name of a very bad movie made in the 1980’s. The only good thing that came from the musical flop starring Olivia Newton-John and the Bee Gees was the name and concept of “Xanadu”. It evoke’s both mystery and fantasy with the promise of dreams come true.

I also have a summer home that I escape to each year, but it’s not in China.

Twelve years ago my husband and I flew to Mazatlan, Mexico with our thirteen year old daughter for a quick vacation. Four days of fun, sand and surf, amazing food, balmy breezes, and crystal swimming pools made us realize we’d found our perfect getaway. So we took a bit of Mazatlan home with us in the form of a timeshare.

One of the best decisions ever!

IMG_3431Mazatlan is our home away from home. We love the people, continually revel in the beauty of the resort and the sunsets, and enjoy exploring the food and the city—but it’s the peace and quiet that brings us back each year.

IMG_0124Both of our professions involve lots of people, time, and being on call. The only way we really relax is to leave the country for a while. When we are in Mexico, we are truly unavailable. And it’s wonderful.

There is an old Spanish Proverb that says it all:

“How wonderful it is to do nothing, then rest afterward.”

IMG_3433Our vacation dreams come true every time we return to our Mexican escape in Mazatlan. Sometimes just knowing it’s around the corner gets us through difficult seasons of over scheduling or trying times. Once we step on that plane to fly down, the stress falls away, problems disappear, and we’re giddy with the thought of another week in paradise.

Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay is an exceptional resort in the realm of timeshares. We wouldn’t trade ours for any other in the world.

The tequila is pretty good too.

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Offal

Not Awful

off2The word “offal” originated in England as a combination of the terms fall and off, and was used to describe almost anything that wasn’t used during processes of preparation and manufacturing—i.e. byproducts of grain milling, stalks and dust from tobacco leaves, and the less valuable portions of butchered animals and hides.

Nowadays the word is mostly used in connection with animal innards. Synonyms for offal include trash, garbage, and rubbish. But one person’s garbage, could be another’s treasure.

Here in the U.S. there’s often squeamish resistance to consuming offal—like tongue, kidneys, intestines and pigs ears. We consider them dog food, not people food.  But other organs like liver, bone marrow, and tripe are more familiar to us, and possibly eaten on an infrequent basis. The rest of the world is more conservation focused, and/or economically motived, to consume every part of the animal possible. Their diets regularly include many parts of animals we consider garbage. The times though, are a changing.

Anyone who watches Food Network and the Travel Channel in the last few years knows that transforming bizarre bits of animal parts into gourmet dishes has become quite vogue. This new trend is perhaps the networks fault for publicizing it so much, but offal turns up on celebrity chef shows all the time now. A few have even made it their platform like Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern; Close to the Bone: Surgeons and Chefs; or any one of Anthony Bourdain’s shows as he travels around the globe eating things we wouldn’t touch.

I enjoy watching Chopped on the Food Network. Although bizarre foods have been highlighted as a special theme in several shows, now regular Chopped competitions have mystery baskets that often include offal like pork bungs (aka rectum), pigs ears, and chicken feet—things I thought were inedible. Nevertheless, what those chefs did with awful, i.e. gross, animal parts was amazing. So much so I would actually eat (or at least try) every one of their dishes.

Then there are those who go too far…as in blogger Lucy Moore, who restricted herself to organ meats and entrails for an entire year and wrote about it. Some of her recipes included: “crispy pig’s ear salad, rosemary kidney skewers, stuffed veal hearts, pig kidney stroganoff, lamb’s neck curry, and pasta with blood and tomato sauce.” And if you’re really that interested, you can check out her page yourself. Even adventurous me is overwhelmed by that menu.

The truth is: I love food, all of it—and I’ve never shied away from trying anything. Although I will draw the line at reptiles. Rattlesnake was good—tasted like chicken—but alligator is just a fishy reptile—and there’s nothing good tasting about that.

So be adventurous. Take the awful out of offal and try a new recipe. Organ meats are nutritious and highly valued in other parts of the world. Join the latest food trend and don’t waste that tidbit—turn your trash into tapenade; your garbage into gourmet; and your rubbish into roux!

After all, you only have your dinner to lose.

Inquiry

The Way to Self-Honesty

Women Food GodNobody explains getting in touch with suppressed emotion like Geneen Roth. She’s my favorite nonfiction writer. Geneen is candid and engaging as she takes readers through a roller coaster ride of experiences offering viable solutions to hidden problems. Although her books are primarily aimed at weight-loss and overeating, the concepts she presents are applicable to all forms of coping and addictive behaviors that stem from suppressing emotions—whether the individual is aware of the emotions or not.

In her most popular book, Women, Food and God, Geneen shares a process called “Inquiry” that helps uncover the hidden feelings that drive compulsive behavior. Instead of trying to change coping mechanisms, she encourages readers to simply start noticing what is right in front of them, and to pay attention to what they are actually feeling in that moment—don’t think, judge or have an opinion about it—simply get curious and explore the feeling itself. She writes:

“..unmet feelings obscure our ability to know ourselves….being with feelings is not the same as drowning in them. With awareness (the ability to know what you are feeling) and presence (the ability to inhabit a feeling while sensing that which is bigger than the feeling), it is possible to be with what you believe will destroy you without being destroyed…when sadness is explored it may turn into a lush meadow of peace. Or that when we allow ourselves to feel the full heat of anger without expressing it, a mountain of strength and courage is revealed.”

She’s right. This way of exploring emotions in lieu of burying them is new, but worth the effort.

The process of Inquiry helps me stay in the present moment even when I feel uncomfortable and want to grab a chocolate bar instead of being honest about what’s going on. I learned at a very young age not to express uncomfortable feelings—so that everyone else could be comfortable around me. But suppressed emotion is a tenacious slave driver.

Now that I know about Inquiry, I no longer have an excuse to not acknowledge what I’m feeling (my poor husband!). It’s very freeing to know that whatever I feel—it’s ok. Period. Good, bad or ugly, feelings are just that…feelings. By acknowledging them I am free to make choices in the present moment that are in alignment with my core values and principles: like eating healthy, watching less TV, and drinking less alcohol.

Quality of life is based on what I do with the hand I’ve been dealt. When I deny emotions instead of acknowledging them—they become a hidden engine that drives my choices in unhealthy directions. Honest reflection and expression through Inquiry sets me free to choose life.

What’s not to like about that?

Ungulates

i.e. Giraffes

giraffesI think giraffes are cool. Part of a diverse clade of large mammals called ungulates, they use the tips of their toes to sustain their entire body weight while moving. Giraffes are the tallest living terrestrial animals, and chew their cud like cows. Their name refers to the camel-like shape and leopard-like coloring. I had a close encounter with a couple of these ungulates last spring.

My daughter, Zoe, and I were visiting relatives in La Quinta when we decide to check out the nearby Living Desert Zoo & Gardens. Throughout Zoe’s life we’d been members of and visited many zoos and animal parks throughout the United States. One of the highlights of these diverse establishments was watching and sometimes participating in feeding the animals. Over the years we’ve hand fed, buffalo, elephants, deer, llamas, emus, and a variety of other critters. So when we saw the giraffe feeding times listed in the Living Desert brochure, we timed our walking tour to be at their pen at the right time.

I couldn’t imagine how one would actually feed a Giraffe, but as we approached their area, I was delighted to see how close we were going to be to the gentle giants. The Giraffes were in a pen that was lower than the surrounding area. A raised wooden platform with railing gave them easy access to whoever was standing on it.

My heart pounded as Zoe and I climbed the stairs and waited our turn. Volunteers handed out fresh carrots and said if we kept our backs to the rails, they’d take pictures of us feeding the giraffes. We thought that was a great idea, so we faced the volunteers, backed up to the rail, and each held up a carrot.

Immediately two huge heads loomed over us and whisked the carrots away with long nimble tongues. Startled at first, Zoe and I shrieked with laughter as the two creatures continued foraging from our hands. They moved with graceful intent focused entirely on getting as many carrots as possible. Their large furry heads were just inches from my face and I was thrilled, albeit a little intimidated.

When Zoe ran out of carrots the two giraffes ganged up on me. I was in full encounter mode by then and fearlessly offered the remaining tidbits with joy. Zoe thought it was hysterical.

Feeding giraffes by hand was an amazing experience, and I loved sharing it with my adventurous daughter.

Of the even-toed ungulates such as cattle, pigs, giraffes, camels, deer and hippopotamuses, I definitely have a soft spot for giraffes!

Jean-Pierre De Cassaude

Plumbing the Depths of the Present Moment

 

GodMy days used to be fueled by a sense of unending tasks and too little time. I was driven by the past and worried about the future. When I worked full time it took two hours every night for me to relax and mentally unlock. Switching to part time work helped, but I still felt constantly driven by the perceived needs of family, friends, work, and church.

Then I read a little book that changed my life: Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean-Pierre De Caussade, a seventeenth century Jesuit Priest. This little gem is a compilation of his letters and teachings, mostly to the nuns at the French convents he oversaw. De Caussade’s message was simple: trust God in the present moment and leave the results, good or bad, up to Him. Period. It’s the ‘Be here now’ principle with ‘and trust God’ added to it.

To abandon myself meant I trusted God to show me what needed to be done each day and to let go of everything else. If I started to feel pressured because I wasn’t meeting my expectations in time management, I simply gave the problem to God and trusted that whatever needed to be accomplished would be finished in His timing. My new mantra was “there’s always enough time”.

Funny thing happened—I relaxed. Focusing on the present moment freed me to be more engaged with others, more efficient in what I did, and more content with the ups and downs of daily life. There’s freedom in letting go of the future. Only God knows what a day will bring forth, and today was really all I had. If I did my best today, the future would take care of itself. So I fully embraced whatever I was doing each day, whether work, play or cleaning house.

When I found myself stressing again, I’d stop and think: “What if this is exactly what God is doing right now? What if I am right where I’m supposed to be in this moment?” That simple change in perspective effected a paradigm shift in responsibility. I’d stop worrying, embrace the moment, and let go of all future expectations.

By abandoning myself to Divine Providence, I let God be responsible for the results—my responsibility is to be fully aware in the present moment, and to be available to His leading. I know He will be with me, whatever happens in the future; and everything I need to handle it will be right there with us in the sacrament of the present moment.

Hunchback of Notre Dame

A Writer’s Inspiration

notre-dame_paris-france_angel-and-shadow_img_5097In 2014 my husband and I spent an amazing week in Paris. Our quaint hotel was just around the corner from Notre Dame Cathedral. We were so mesmerized with the ancient beauty and deeply reverent atmosphere that we kept returning to learn more and attend vespers with the local French people.

On one of those visits, as I was leaving the Cathedral I happened to look up into the alcove above the massive doors. Light fell across an angel statue perched on the high ledge and cast a distinct shadow on the side wall.  The silhouette looked exactly like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

I stopped, put fingers to lips, and gasped—was this the inspiration for Victor Hugo’s most famous character?

Seeing that shadow made a lasting impression and has become the inspiration for looking at the world around me differently. I’ve become a ‘note-aholic’—or perhaps a true writer—because writers must be able to see beyond the surface of what’s happening around them and take note of interesting facts, scenes, and people for possible development later.

Stephen King found the inspiration for his first successful novel, Carrie, working as a summer janitor at a high school.

Edgar Allan Poe’s inspiration for his dark, most well known poem, The Raven, was a real raven his friend Charles Dickens kept as a pet. Poe was fascinated with the intelligent, aggressive bird that spoke like a parrot and used it as his muse, changing its oft repeated phrase “nobody” to “Nevermore”.

J.K. Rowling’s inspiration came from a train ride:

“It was 1990. My then boyfriend and I had decided to move up to Manchester together. After a weekend’s flat-hunting, I was travelling back to London on my own on a crowded train, and the idea for Harry Potter simply fell into my head.

I had been writing almost continuously since the age of six but I had never been so excited about an idea before. To my immense frustration, I didn’t have a pen that worked, and I was too shy to ask anybody if I could borrow one…

I did not have a functioning pen with me, but I do think that this was probably a good thing. I simply sat and thought, for four (delayed train) hours, while all the details bubbled up in my brain, and this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who didn’t know he was a wizard became more and more real to me.

Perhaps, if I had slowed down the ideas to capture them on paper, I might have stifled some of them (although sometimes I do wonder, idly, how much of what I imagined on that journey I had forgotten by the time I actually got my hands on a pen). I began to write ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ that very evening, although those first few pages bear no resemblance to anything in the finished book.”

Simple everyday life is filled with all kinds of writing inspirations and possibilities. I’m most excited about the little “aha!” thoughts that pass through my brain like “that would be a great name for an antagonist.” Now I make a note of it.

An NPR news story about the increasing population of giant pythons in Florida was my inspiration for the blog post Boa Constrictors and Pythons. Then as I was sorting through old photos to find that great pic of my Dad with the snake, I came across pictures of Zoe with her bunnies which reminded me of our rabbit adventures. They were quickly turned into another post.

I’m no longer concerned about finding topics for the remaining letters of the alphabet for the second half of this A to Z Blog Challenge.

All I have to do is pay attention to the world around me—and let the inspiration roll….

 

Kline Widder Rabbits

A.K.A. “Mini Lops”

Rabbits 2
Pepper, Ginger & Cinnamon

It all started with the vegetable garden. A friend told my husband, Jack, that “rabbit tea” made the best fertilizer. Amazed at the vibrant green vegetables that came from the first batch, we heartily agreed.

“If we had our own rabbits,” Jack surmised with glee, “we’d have an unending supply.”

That weekend the classified ads presented the perfect solution: “Large hutch & Mini Lop Rabbits—Free to good home.” We had no idea what a Mini Lop was but fell in love at first sight. Three lightly mottled rabbits with pudgy faces and small floppy ears were in their new home by nightfall. We named the mother Ginger, and her two children Pepper and Cinnamon.

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Zoe & Ginger

The semi-tame rabbits were very gentle with our four year old daughter, Zoe. She loved to reach into the hutch and pet them, but they’d squirm when we held them. So Jack made our small back yard rabbit proof and we let all three roam and forage during the day. Zoe enjoyed playing with them in the yard, but every night Jack and I scrambled to catch each frisky critter and put them back in their cage.

The hutch was one large long wire cage that sat several feet above the ground on wooden legs. Gathering the Rabbit poo easy, but moving the rabbits in and out was not. They were smart buggers and didn’t like to be caught. So Jack made a sturdy wooden ramp they could run up and down instead.

By the time we realized that Pepper was a boy and divided the hutch into “his” and “her” sections we already had our first batch of babies on their way. Females are pregnant for only 31 days before giving birth. We provided straw and shavings for the girls around the estimated delivery time, but they ignored it until the night before giving birth when they pulled out large quantities of their fur and created voluminous soft nests. Each doe had two babies, and by the time they were three weeks old we had four cute little fluff balls to play with. Pepper was confined to solitary on his side of the hutch and had to take turns being in the yard without the girls.

We eventually sold the babies for $5 each. While the entire experience had been fun, we weren’t going to let that happen again.

One afternoon a few months later I went out in the yard to put the girls back into the hutch and was shocked to see a third rabbit that was not Pepper in the yard with them. Our rabbits couldn’t get out, but this frisky little guy found a way in. Who knew Santa Barbara had rogue rabbits? I put the girls in the hutch, and waited for Jack to get home to discuss what to do, but the next morning our unwelcome guest had disappeared on his own. We never did figure out his secret entrance, but 31 days later we had another, larger litter from each girl.

Rabbits 4Zoe was thrilled. She loved all her little bunnies and would name each one. Her favorite of the seven new babies was a fat rolly polly little guy she named Bunny-Buns.

Once again we found homes for all of the little ones.

One morning I went to let Pepper out for his turn in the yard, but he didn’t budge. Speaking softly, I nudged him and found he was stiff as a board. I burst into tears and ran into the house. Zoe asked what was wrong. I said “Sweetie, Pepper’s dead!” I reached out to comfort her but she pulled away and replied matter-of-factly “Oh Mom, it’s just a rabbit.” I stopped crying and just stared at her as she calmly went back in to her room to play. Oh well. Now Ginger and Cinnamon could be out in the yard all day.

A couple months later on a cold foggy morning I went to let the girls out of the hutch and found huge furry nests beside each of them. Four fragile newborn bunnies were lying directly on the cold wire grate with five more babies safely inside one nest; the other nest had four more wriggling newborns.

I immediately scooped up the still, icy forms of the four outsiders and ran into the house. “Zoe!” I yelled as I ran to the gas wall heater and tried to warm them. “The rabbits had babies!” Our hearts leapt as the little ones began to stir. . . . all but one of them lived. I put the three squirming newborns into the nest with their five warm brothers and sisters, and Ginger begrudgingly accepted them all. Cinnamon only had four in her nest.

We had twelve more little Mini Lops.Rabbits 1

Female rabbits don’t go into heat—they are always open to male advances—so there’s no natural rhythm to their breeding. This time some phantom male had found his way in and out of the yard without our notice.

Ten Weeks later, much to Zoe’s dismay we once again found homes for all of the bunnies. Fortunately, we found a preschool that wanted six.

Rabbits 6This was also the end of our time with Ginger and Cinnamon. By now we had more rabbit tea than we knew what to do with, and Jack and I were definitely done raising rabbits.

An ad was placed in the paper: “Sweet female Mini Lops with large hutch—free to good home.”

We smiled and waved as we watched the unsuspecting new owners happily cart them away.