Sunday, January 26, 2014

Chinese New Year

Every year at this time, the Chinese Zodiac grabs our attention.  One year is waning and a new year is ready to slide into place between January 31 and February 4.  We are just about to leave the lucky-for-some Year of the Snake, so that the Year of the Horse can burst onto the scene and capture the limelight.

I remember being a kid and having our favorite Chinese dinner with my parents at Minnie's in Modesto.  We lived in Merced, but drove the 80-mile round trip because the food was so good and my dad was fond of the pictures that lined the walls of the bar on the way to the restroom.  All paintings of lovely young Asian women with a key part of their upper torso uncovered by the colorful kimonos they were wearing.   It was apparently a "guy thing" even for a man who brought his wife and little girl there for Chinese dinner.
While my father was ogling the pictures on the bar walls, I was fascinated with the paper place mats that revealed I was not only a Cancer according to the Astrological calendar, but also a Rooster in the Chinese Zodiac scheme of things.  How could I be both? And where did this Chinese Zodiac business come from anyway?
So ... order some Chinese take-out, grab your chop sticks (or fork if you're inept with manipulating those exotic little bamboo sticks like I am), and enjoy the story I am about to tell you.
In Ancient Times, the Chinese had developed so many things ... except a calendar.  It was time to fix that.  So the Supreme Emperor (aka King of Everything) decided to make his own calendar.  A most unique idea:  12 year-long cycles, each named after a different animal.  He decided to hold a  race across the Realm's Raging River.  Each year, for twelve years in a row, would be named after the first twelve animals in the order they reached the other side of the river.  From that point until the end of time, the Chinese would have a calendar, known as the Chinese Zodiac.  In this special calendar each animal would be featured in the same sequence and the cycle would repeat itself every twelve years.
The Supreme Emperor was very wise.  This was a very good plan.
Word spread throughout the realm and the animals all gathered at the starting line:  the Rat, Cat, Snake, Dragon, Ox, Rabbit, Monkey, Tiger, Pig, Dog, Sheep, Horse and Rooster.  The Emperor raised his arms and yelled "Go!" and there was a great rush of animals plunging into the Raging River.
If you want to find out how the story ends, simply click on "Read More" below:

Monday, January 20, 2014

Being Real

In my last post "Better Days" I mentioned being Real.  The definition of "real" is up to the person using or hearing the word.

The source of the word, however, is the much loved children's classic "The Velveteen Rabbit."

I am trying to be Real.  It is hard.  I just hope the last sentence is true.

By Margery Williams
"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room.  "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse.  "It's a thing that happens to you.  When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but Really loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt? asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse for he was always truthful.  "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse.  "You become.  It takes a long time.  That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.
Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get all loose in the joints and very shabby.
But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Better Days

Today is the half-way point through the first month of the new year.  Capturing how it feels to be here are some lyrics from an old Melissa Manchester song, "Better Days" recorded in the 1970s.

"No more tears left to hide.
We have made it through a long and lonely night.
Better days on our side.
Oh it looks as though we're doing something right."
The year began with the dietary challenge of going both sugar-free and gluten-free for a month.  It was a rocky start:  morning coffee tasting like motor oil; a can of olives for lunch; and Vodka in Coke Zero.  The last item was an effective, although odd tasting, diversion ... but not a healthy one.
I'm a cook, a good one.  So I made pot roast with meat and vegetables, and chili with carrots and celery, and served them both over rice.  We resumed having a salad with our evening meals.  And my lunch guests this week were served sugar/gluten free indescribably delicious prime rib and a baked potato.  (The Local Oracle expressed shock at how much butter I actually put on a potato.  I had to remind him, "I am always truthful.  I am an honest person.  Strange at times, but honest to the core.)
This Gluten-free thing, which I "believed" was downright loony, turned out to be the best thing I could have done for my body.  This body that will carry me through the rest of my journey here responded almost immediately by telling me "Yes!"  And then whispering, "What took you so long?"
Digestive issues and leg pains that have plagued me for decades are gone.  I sleep better.  I even feel better than before ... which didn't even seem possible when I committed to do this "silly" dietary thing.
So ... thank you Gluttie for telling your compelling story at the moment I was ready to listen.  You have changed my dietary choices for the rest of my life.  I shall be forever grateful to you for your annoying persistence.
The frosting on this "cake" is that my favorite drink of all time, a Sapphire Martini straight up (with extra olives on the side, not pictured) is the healthiest drink choice on the planet.
The sugar-free part is impossible for me to do completely.  I can give up most foods with processed sugar and corn syrup.  But the sugar in my coffee creamer will just have to figure out how to make peace with my otherwise sugar-free choices.  The quality of my life has always been more important to me than the quantity of my life.  It's simply a personal choice.
Bottom line:  The Gluten-free "fad" is real.  If you can spare a month or at least 2 weeks to eliminate all gluten and wheat (the biggie) from your diet completely, it's worth a try.  What's 15 or 30 days in a person's lifespan?
I will never eat gluten again as long as I live.
That takes care of the lyric for the body:
 "Oh it looks as though we're doing something right"  
But it leaves the mind in tact, complete with screwy brain chemicals and a low dose of medication to stabilize my moods.  Read on only if you are truly interested in the pursuit of better days for the mental health portion of life.
Note:  There are no cute pictures in this next section.  It is very long.  Time is a valuable commodity; it is ultimately all that we have.  If playing Candy Crush is your choice of how to spend your free time, or you have no one in your world who might have mental health issues, please do not waste that precious commodity by clicking on the words "Read More" below.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Canes, Lanes ... and Zoey

The time has come for me to use a cane when I walk on uneven ground or in crowds.  Mysterious medical issues allowed me to walk for 2-3 miles on a flat road.  But, when I stepped in soft sand on the beach at Bandon, down I went.  That's when I knew it was time.

The Husband and I went to a Specialty Wood Shop in LaConner and I bought the perfect cane made of brown twisted oak.  I tried it in the store and loved it immediately.  That would take care of my everyday needs just fine.

I also needed a walking stick for walking on uneven country lanes, beaches or trails.  So I sought help from the Local Oracle, an eccentric older-than-dirt 83-year-old man I've loved for decades.  The incomparable Dick Dixon, a Science teacher in Mount Vernon for so long that he's had everyone in town in his class at one time or another. 
Mr. Dixon, came over to lend me his favorite walking stick.  It looked like a long shovel handle for a giant, with his name burned into the wood.  A sweet gesture, but it's just not the look I was after.
You see ... I invited The Husband (aka Pete or RG) on a two-night romantic get-away at this beautiful place on a near-by island that I found on VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner).  I loved it from the moment I saw it.  The "Cottage" is pictured below:
Privacy, gardens, king suite and river rock fireplace.  Trails along the bluff over-looking Puget Sound and down onto the beach.
The Husband, however, said "No."  He didn't want to go with me.
Oh well ... so much for late blooming romance.  It was merely a temporary set-back.  I was going to spend two nights in that lovely place come hell or high water.
All I needed was a walking stick so I could walk the trails by myself, without falling and breaking something, only to remain undetected until the Spring Thaw.  And the engraved shovel handle offered by my old friend was not my style for this adventure.
So today I also bought a walking stick that suits me perfectly.  It's distinctly different, sturdy, made with twisted sweet gum wood, with a nifty loop that goes around your wrist so it doesn't slip away.  It is perfect!
This memorable day got off to a rocky start when our 9 1/2 year-old bunny, Zoey, fell over this morning and had to struggle to get back on her feet.  Oh no!  Not our sweet Zoey!
I called the vet immediately and got an appointment at 2:00.  Then The Husband (RG to the Bunny Peeps) told me I had to go alone because he chose instead to attend a trivial meeting of a group that accomplishes nothing that he is not even a member of.  What?!  (WTF? actually ...)
Did this mean RG was not going to hold sweet Zoey in his arms in the car while I drove us to the vet?  Apparently not!  I had to take her in the cold wire carrier that I have on hand. I knew she would be afraid, but ... "It is what it is," I told her.  This time it was going to be just Zoey and me.
Some nice man helped me into the vet's office and set her carrier on a table between two chairs.  I could see poor Zoey shaking and afraid of the 20 lb. office black cat glaring at her, and the unruly boxer straining at the leash to get a closer look at my sweet girl.
Inside the exam room, the vet said her heartbeat was 310 instead of 250 because of her fear in the cage, instead of being in the comforting arms and hearing the voice of RG -- the one who chose to abandon her.
She got a steroid injection and two different meds in the hopes that whatever caused her to fall over could be healed before it got any worse.  We just have to wait and see.  That's when the vet told me about the correlation between the age of rabbits and people based on the life expectancy of both rabbits and large dogs (over 90 pounds). 
That means The Princess is 93; Zoey is 76; Racer and Benji are 68; and Chico is 61.  Residents of the Geriatric House of Rabbits, captured in pictures and cute write-ups by RG, and run by BL (that would be me).  Yes, folks, the secret is out. 
Anyway, Zoey and I got help out to the car.  She's home and doing fine so far, being consoled for all she endured by her partner, Chico.  RG came home for 5 minutes, then left for another meeting.  Meanwhile, tomorrow Zoey starts on a regime of three daily doses of two different meds.
She'll make it, though.  Zoey and I learned today that we're both tough and determined, and neither of us needs RG anymore.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

What Single Word Defines You

A speech my granddaughter wrote for a public forum in school.  Edited slightly for this venue. 

Written by Guest Blogger Tara Heuple, a Senior in High School
The word she selected is Strong
Sometimes being strong is the only choice you have.  I've seen strength shown in many people.  I was fortunate to go to Africa on a family trip last year and I saw strength on so many different levels.  I met a lady who walks three miles many times a day just to provide water for her family.  I met kids who walked four miles just to get an education.
They are strong in a different way than I've ever seen, and I admire them so much.  Not only on that trip did I realize how fortunate I am, but I also discovered my passion for helping less fortunate people.  I have a dream one day to make a difference in their lives.  I saw their strength ... which brought out my own.

Sometimes being strong is the only choice you have.  My inner strengths were tested when I found out my parents were getting a divorce.  At that point I had to believe in myself to be strong.  Not only for myself, but also for my younger sister.  I found myself on an emotional roller coaster frequently.  Looking back I realize that everything was going to be okay.

With my experience, I am able to listen with empathy and help people going through a similar situation.  One of my passions is helping and "being there" for others.  When I can share my strength with them, it warms my heart.  I believe hardships like this bring out inner strength.

Sometimes being strong is the only choice you have.  Being diagnosed with Scoliosis was not an ideal thing for me to hear ten years ago.  Eventually I accepted it and found my strength to accept that I was different from others.  I wore back braces for five years of my life.  I also endured Scoliosis Surgery.  Spending a long week in the hospital, having two metal rods fused to my spine.  And recovering for six months.

The rods in my back do cause me quite a bit of pain.  But they remind me that I am a strong individual, and I can overcome so many things.  That was probably one of the worst situations I've been put in.  But I discovered one of the most wonderful things about myself:  I am stronger than I think.

I stand before you today with your knowing I've seen poverty first-hand.  Knowing that I come from a broken family.  Knowing that I have two metal rods fused to my spine.  But also knowing that my experiences will help me reach my goals and dreams
Sometimes the only choice I had was to be strong.
Note:  I am so very proud of this beautiful spirit who is my granddaughter.  Dorothy Haase

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Dusty Strings Harp

On a clear, chilly January Monday a friend and I drove to Freemont (near Seattle) to pick up the harp I was going to rent.  I had decided this was the time in my life to learn how to play that beautiful instrument.

After all, I've read music my whole life and I've played the piano for decades.

I also played the guitar for years -- in high school, when I was at UCLA, and even when I lived in Suburbia in the 1970s.  If I had not played the guitar in the stairwell for hours every night when I was in college, perhaps my grade point for my freshman year would have been higher than a 1.2.
Neither my friend nor I had ever been to Freemont.  But we had Map Quest, so we were in good shape.  The friendly folks at Dusty Strings (who make the best harps in the United States) told me where to park and how to find their store.
I forgot the name of the place to park, some Asian-sounding business, but remembered the address where Dusty Strings was located in the basement below another business.  My friend navigated and at 12:30 p.m. I found a great parking spot right in front of the Silent Heart Nest Restaurant.  Sweet.  It sounded sort-of-Asian; had exotic smells wafting out of the place; and didn't even have a parking meter!  How lucky can we be?!
We had to cross two busy streets.  The traffic was awful there and we were crushed inside a mob of people crossing with us.  My primary concern was not being knocked over by someone and then run over by a car.  The cane(s) I need have not been found yet, so I am a bit unstable when walking.
We had the address of Dusty Strings (3406 Freemont Ave N.)  They even have a wonderful website: .  Sure enough, we found the place, went down the stairs, and were absolutely blown away by the sight before our eyes.  We both simply stood there for a moment, trying to take it all in, with the sound of a banjo playing in the background.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Move Over Dr. Oz

Day 5 of my new sugar-free AND gluten-free regime, instigated by Suggie and Gluttie  -- from the last Skagit Leeks Post "2014 - Free at Last" -- is coming to a close.  A reason to celebrate.  I'm alive and had enough strength to walk a mile in 37 degrees today.  Then came in and made the most delicious Pot Roast with onions, carrots and celery.  Served with gluten-free rice and a glass of heart healthy red wine. The whole experience was sublime.

You already know Day 1 was saved by the discovery that Vodka and Coke Zero are both sugar and gluten free.  Well ... to that list we can now add:  eggs, organic heavy cream, butter and black olives.

Sounds promising, doesn't it?  Although not quite as "healthy" as I used to eat before I decided to really commit to Eating Healthy!  But, with an open mind to this new toxin-free approach to making dietary choices, I'm liking this a whole concept better than when starting on Day 1.

Day 2 brought a change to my morning coffee routine to include two Sweet 'n Lows, along with a healthy dose of Organic Valley Heavy Whipping Cream.  The carton reads:  "We give our Animals the Greenest Pastures and they give you Delicious Cream."  And all this time I've been missing out on this healthy, organic alternative to bottled creamer!

The only snag is that 1 TBS is 50 calories.  What an odd way to measure cream.  Who would ever use a single tablespoon?  I have no idea how much I pour in, but it is delicious.
The same goes for the butter.  I love butter!  In fact, I put almost 2 cubes of butter in the big batch of potatoes I made on Day 2 until they tasted just right.  Normally a little sour cream does the trick, but alas, sour cream has sugar.  So ... it's sugar-free gluten-free butter for me from now on.  This is another odd one:  1 TBS of butter is 100 calories, so 2 cubes of butter have to be 1,600 calories.  Hmmm ... seems like a lot, but they are healthy calories from happy cows.
On Day 3 I had 1/2 banana with my coffee for breakfast, then didn't have time to figure out what was safe to eat for lunch, so I just skipped it.  By 5 p.m. starvation had set in.  But lo and behold, The Husband brought in an 8-can box of black olives.  I love black olives!
In fact, they were so good, I ate a whole can.  And they, too, are totally sugar-free and gluten-free.  I was really getting the hang of this new dietary regime.  Without yet doing any research.  Simply by using common sense, rooting around the kitchen, and reading labels.  Oh!  The whole can of olives are only 300 calories.
The label reads:  "Fun at your Fingertips!  Eating smart is easy.  Our Pearls taste great, are naturally cholesterol-free and contain fewer calories and less fat than potato chips.  So eat well and have fun."
There you go.  Low calories AND cholesterol-free.  I bet Sapphire Martinis straight up with extra olives on the side are one of the healthiest things on the planet.
Tomorrow will be challenging.  My friend and I are driving to Seattle to get my harp which is waiting and has my name on it.  We will lay it gently on the cushy back seat of her beautiful new Lincoln.  But then, we need to find a place for lunch.
She suggested Marysville or Smokey Point.  The only place I've ever been in Marysville is Albertson's where I get 8 pieces of dark meat fried chicken which I eat in my car.  Not all 8, of course, but at least 3 hot juicy greasy ones.  Not sure if fried chicken has any sugar or gluten in it, so we better not take the chance.  And I thought Smokey Point was the name of a Rest Stop on I-5.
Last Saturday the woman who chopped off my beautiful long nails reluctantly painted them with a coat of silver glitter over the polish.  They are short, but quite pretty.  Hopefully short enough to pluck the strings of my new harp.  In addition to telling me "people don't use glitter on their nails except during the Holidays" -- advice I ignored -- she also told me a bit about the Chinese calendar:  January 31, 2013 to January 31, 2014 is the Year of the Snake.
Since I'm a Rooster, she said the Year of the Snake was very good for me.  I had no idea! After the Year of the Dragon, which absolutely sucked, I stopped paying attention to such things.  Although The Husband, who is a Dragon, had a wonderful year during the Year of the Dragon.
He even got a special award in recognition for his tireless hours of volunteer work in a variety of environmental areas.  He took water samples in the Samish River for years; planted trees and counted dead fish to protect the environment and endangered species for the future; and still does a number of things to keep the Fidalgo Bay delicate ecosystems in balance.  He goes out on chilly, blustery days to count smelt eggs, minuscule as they are.  I'm so proud of his accomplishments and the well-deserved award.
No awards for me, but the intriguing possibility of having 25 more lucky days left.  What great news!  That means cajoling lilting sounds from the strings of my harp; rejoicing that my computer is working again; having a healthier body; and maybe one day actually feeling better ... which both of the Healthy Hucksters promised when I began this journey.
Coincidentally, Suggie's flight from Peru to Seattle got held up in Houston, so she'll be a day or so late.  Bad weather she claims.  I think she's afraid to come home where her poor, aging mother has been struggling so hard to keep her body healthy, free of toxins, and fit.
That's all for now ... stay tuned.


Saturday, January 4, 2014

2014: Free At Last

A new year is fresh and untarnished; a time of hope.  Shrugging off the tattered coat of 2013 and slipping into the pristine cape of 2014.

Resolutions seem silly in my mind.  But sometimes the New Year is the perfect time to try something daring, such as renting one's first-ever harp at Dusty Strings in Seattle and picking it up in two days.

The last night of 2013, we enjoyed the very best prime rib we've ever had.  This year I chose to follow the simple recipe shared by Mike Sato, a friend who also writes:  Salish Sea News and Weather  and Salish Sea Communications.  (Google them to find the links to both blogs.)

His Recipe:  Two-rib roast, salted liberally and bound with rosemary two days in advance and let sit very lightly covered in the fridge.  Let it come to room temp before putting into a 450 oven.  120 internal meat temp - after about an hour - is medium rare.  Then LET IT SIT for at least 30 minutes before carving.  (If you have questions, as I did, ask Mike in the comment section of his blogs).


I made a bit of sauce from the drippings:  butter, flour, beef bouillon, cream, dash of Worcestershire.  Heavenly!  Thank you Mike Sato.

With that kind of send-off, 2014 had to be a winner right off the bat.  Especially since, as the year ended, I felt fantastic -- the best I've felt in my life.  Wake up happy; go to bed happy.  Happy, happy, happy.

Except, as luck would have it, I committed to two daughters that I'd go sugar-free and gluten-free for the whole month of January.

The first daughter (let's call her Suggie) is a Certified Health Coach who is wonderfully healthy and fantastically fit.  She has claimed for years that if I would eliminate sugar from my diet, I would feel better.

The second daughter (let's call her Gluttie) has been eating gluten-free for maybe two years, and has been a real pain to cook for when she visits.  When I find a gluten-free recipe, I rejoice.  She also eats little sugar, and has been peddling her dietary discoveries since the beginning.  A woman on a mission.

Yet this time Gluttie got me with her compelling story about her amazing recovery from being sick to running marathons.  She, too, looks healthy, glowing and fit; and did indeed run 2 marathons in 2013.