Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lenten Beauty

On Ash Wednesday I was looking for something to give up. Chocolate was out of the question - I'm a Catholic, not a martyr. So I began thinking of an alternative.

Lately, I've been struggling with vanity. Now that my cancer worries have declined, I find myself increasingly concerned about the "worry lines"on my face... I don't like the pigment changes in my skin caused by the flushing, I hate the way my clothes hang; you name something about my physical appearance and I'll tell you what's wrong with it.

Vanity: otherwise known as "pride" under the seven deadly sins, or "hubris" in ancient Greek tragedies; irrespective of what you call it - being overly caught up in your own appearance is one ugly vice. 

Then it came to me - what about giving up wearing make-up for 40 days? Wouldn't that help with this vanity thing? Wouldn't that make me be a better role model for the teenage girls I teach every day? It's not like I even wear a lot of make up to begin with - but what I do wear is corrective, so facing the world without it was such a jarring thought that it screamed Lenten sacrifice to me.

Then, I told my mom my idea. I thought she'd be all for it, but she simply responded, "Life is hard enough, why pile on more sacrifice? Why not pledge to meet the challenges you already have in your life in a more positive way, rather than creating new challenges for you to overcome?"

And my mom, a polio survivor, knows a lot about challenges and sacrifice. Her words made sense, and became even more clear as I spent the day with her at Reins Therapeutic Riding Stables - where she keeps and rides her horse Andy.

Giving Andy a Post-Ride Treat
Reins specializes in therapeutic riding for children and adults with all different types of physical and mental disabilities - and several of the stable volunteers are disabled themselves. I've been involved with the disabled community my entire life, so being at Reins is completely comfortable for me. 

Mom and Andy
Watching my mom on her horse - pretty much riding without the use of her legs - reminded me what true beauty is... it's about being comfortable in your own skin, and doing what makes you happy - irrespective of what others might think. My mother has never let her disability paralyze her in life; she's always followed her dreams. 

Whether I wear make up or not, is besides the point - it's what I chose to focus on... and for the next 40 days I'm going to do my best to celebrate the unique beauty that is mine.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

February Break in CA

Mom's Backyard Today:
74 degrees and sunny

I'm lucky enough to be back in paradise at my mom's house in Fallbrook, CA for February break. I have spent the last couple days lounging around with our dogs and hanging out with my mom, sister, and stepdad.  Since Gary and I can't have dogs where we live... I'm really trying to soak in all the canine cuteness I can while I'm here.

My alarm clock...
Can you tell Bently stole Charlie's favorite toy?
My mom's backyard has several statues... including this little angel
Bently smelling the flowers
Lil and I picking some oranges in mom's backyard

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Love Poem...

I shared this poem today with my seniors... it's one of my favorite "love poems" - Happy Valentine's Day.

Poem: "I Love You Sweatheart," by Thomas Lux 
from New and Selected Poems: 1975-1995 (Houghton Mifflin Co.).

I Love You Sweatheart
A man risked his life to write the words.
A man hung upside down (an idiot friend
holding his legs?) with spray paint
to write the words on a girder fifty feet above
a highway. And his beloved,
the next morning driving to work…?
His words are not (meant to be) so unique.
Does she recognize his handwriting?
Did he hint to her at her doorstep the night before
of "something special, darling, tomorrow"?
And did he call her at work
expecting her to faint with delight
at his celebration of her, his passion, his risk?
She will know I love her now,
the world will know my love for her!
A man risked his life to write the words.
Love is like this at the bone, we hope, love
is like this, Sweetheart, all sore and dumb
and dangerous, ignited, blessed - always,
regardless, no exceptions,
always in blazing matters like these: blessed.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Puppy Love

"Cheese" the Dachshund
I turned on the TV a few moments ago, just as "Cheese" - a long haired golden Dachshund - was prancing around the circle at the Westminster Dog Show. It made me smile, giggle and cry a little, all at the same time.

You see... on Saturday I'll be flying home to California to visit my family, and my dogs. 

And while "the boys": Bently (Whippet) and Charlie (long haired black Dachshund) will be there, along with my sister's baby Lil (a tiny Chihuahua) ... my little girl Gretchen - a long haired golden Dachshund (who by the way looked remarkably like "Cheese" in her youth) - will be missing.

Gretchen died a few weeks ago, and for the first time in 16 years, I will not be greeted by her waggling tail (and I do mean "waggling" because she wiggled as she wagged), nor her deep throaty bark as I slide through the door with my luggage. The house will be different without her.

Perhaps it isn't a coincidence that the Westminster Dog Show is being held on the eve of St. Valentine's Day, for there are few things more wonderful than the love of a dog. In fact, my first word was not "mom" or "dad", it was "aboom" which was the name of our Westie. (Her real name was Abby, but "aboom" came pretty close for a toddler.)  In a way, you could say that Abby was my first love... my first experience with pure devotion and unbridled joy. Abby and I were inseparable growing up, and I can honestly say that she was the best friend a little girl could ever want. It's true what Dean Koontz says in A Big Little Life: A Memoir of a Joyful Dog:

Abby and I - Enjoying Dad's Nightly Bedtime Stories

“No matter how close we are to another person, few human relationships are as free from strife, disagreement, and frustration as is the relationship you have with a good dog. Few human beings give of themselves to another as a dog gives of itself. I also suspect that we cherish dogs because their unblemished souls make us wish - consciously or unconsciously - that we were as innocent as they are, and make us yearn for a place where innocence is universal and where the meanness, the betrayals, and the cruelties of this world are unknown.”

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Vedge Restaurant in Philly, PA

Last Friday, Gary and I went to Philly for an early Valentine's Day dinner.

The last time we went into Philly, we had a wonderful meal at Barbuzzo Mediterranean Kitchen and Bar, followed by an amazing concert (Owen) at North Star Bar and Restaurant. When we came out of the bar, however, we found that our car had become part of a crime scene - and we ended up waiting hours before the detectives released it.  

Our car is the silver Mazada; the black car with the bullet holes in the windshield belongs to a drug dealer involved in the shoot-out that we thankfully missed

Luckily for us, Friday's trip into Philly was all about the action packed flavors of Vedge, a new vegan restaurant, instead of the action packed streets of the "City of Brotherly Love".

Opened in Fall 2011, Vedge is an modern vegetable restaurant
by Philadelphia Chefs Richard Landau and Kate Jacoby
The dishes at Vedge are "globally inspired" but feature locally grown produce. The restaurant is tapas style and recommends 3 plates per person, which allows you to venture out and try interesting items you may otherwise pass up in favor of a "safe" entree. And trust me, you'll be grateful for the culinary freedom since Vedge has so many interesting sounding combinations, you're not sure where to start.

Vegan (no animal products at all including milk, egg, cheese, butter etc) sounds scary, and tasteless - but forget the tofu... Vedge focuses on flavorful vegetable  concoctions, which are so wonderful that you don't even miss the usual hunk of meat that comes with most upscale dinners. We ordered two dishes off of their regular menu, and four dishes off of their "dirt list" - which is a daily rotation of dishes using only organic vegetables from nearby Lancaster farms:

- portabella cappacio, salsa rustica, arugula crema, olive oil, capers, crostini
- grilled seitan, black lentils and mushrooms, creamy horseradish, kohlrabi
- brussels sprouts, shaved and grilled smoked mustard (dirt list)
- crispy cauliflower, black vinegar, kimchee mayo (dirt list)
- grilled shittake mushrooms, soba noodle salad, menma, cucumber, cilantro, scallion (dirt list)
- black kale, grilled garlic, preserved lemon aioli, balsamic hazlenuts (dirt list)

brussels sprouts

Our favorite dishes were the portabella cappacio, brussels sprouts, and grilled sietan.

The portabella slices were firm in texture and tasted like soft, velvety veal - with a nice salty kick from the salsa and capers. The brussels sprouts were chopped rather than left whole, and slathered in a savory, smoky mustered sauce. The seitan (derived from the protein portion of wheat) was well seasoned and worked perfectly with the rich mushroom and lentil stew. (Why people eat tofu instead of seitan is beyond me; seitan is denser, "meatier", and more flavorful than tofu.)

If the main courses were a harmony of flavors - the desserts were Vedge's opus. (Note: the dessert small plates aren't as "small" as the entree versions - we ordered four dishes, but three is probably the magic number.) For dessert, we had:

- cheesecake, meyer lemon marmalade, clementine juice, blood orange supreme
- sticky toffee pudding, salted carmel, vanilla-bourbon ice cream
- apple cake fritters, waldorf salad, cider caramel
- ice cream trio: peanut butter and jelly - popcorn - strawberry cheesecake

The "best dessert award" was a tie between the sticky toffee pudding and the ice cream trio.

The sticky toffee pudding was reminiscent of a fluffy cinnabun, and the vanilla-bourbon ice cream on top gave it just the right hint of punchy flavor.

The ice cream trio (peanut butter and jelly, popcorn, strawberry cheesecake) was just plain wacky... and delicious. The creamy consistency not only tasted like the real thing - but delighted our taste buds in a way that usually only the best artisan ice cream can.

Vedge is definitely worth the drive to Philly, and one great romantic epicurean adventure.