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#WritePhoto Thaw

December 21, 2017 12 Comments



Crimson mittens kept our fingers warm as we marched up the hill in the forrest. Our lunch was still heavy in our systems while we trudged through the snow on the icy path looking for firewood. The night before we had slept at our grandparents’ cabin, full of memories, old books, letters, and games. We sifted through the boxes of photos, finding some that had been taken of our childhood visits. Those black and white images of our grandparents before their hair turned white flooded us with sentimentality.

We sat next to the fireplace telling stories and laughing about our youth until we had consumed all the dry wood. Watching the embers die and darkness descend was like witnessing the energy drained from those gentle ancestors who left us this cabin. They spent their lives in remote isolation, content with nature’s schedule. The grandchildren came for a month every summer, but returned to the city for the rest of the year.  Now that they were gone we came out on winter holiday to take care of the place and decide what to do with it.  It was the first time we had seen the place in winter.  It was the only time we had been there without our grandparents.

We found a few pieces of dry wood tucked into a cranny in the rocks.  We carried enough back to the house to make one more fire.  This time the stories turned solemn, and spirits joined together in a mutual sadness and loss.  We had busy lives, rarely stopping to reflect.  None of us gathered our own firewood or even cleaned our own houses in the city.  Our family was warmed in the glow of the fire, and let go of the daily grind.  We recognized the loss of our grandparents was also the loss of a way of life none of us had embraced.  The cabin contained traditions and memories that were melting like the snow, dissolving into the earth.  This year the thaw will wash away most of our family’s connection to this place.  It is possible to gain a fortune and lose it again many times.  Once time is gone, it will never return.



Please join Sue Vincent each Thursday for a photo prompt on her Echo.  Read, comment, or write your own story, poem, or essay here.  The responses are many and varied.

House Plant Happy

January 17, 2017 1 Comment

kitchen bromeliad

kitchen bromeliad

dining table

dining table

Growing plants is a joy and an art. I enjoy gardening outdoors, but lately I have been reading about improving air quality indoors with house plants. I used to have a large variety of plants in the house, but during the last few years I tried growing orchids.  They are beautiful while blooming, but require very consistent and careful care in order to make them bloom again.  I have killed a couple, and finally after over a year barren, one is sprouting a new flower.  I will not expand on my orchid collection.  I don’t think I have the appropriate amount of patience, and they don’t really want to live in Arizona.  I read that lavender and English ivy are extra active at cleaning the air at night, so I bought those two for my bedroom.  As soon as they were in place I noticed how happy they make me when I see them.  I am sleeping very well, but am not sure the plants really contribute to that.  They are cheery and alive.  If I take care of them properly they will grow and fill my space with more fragrance and clean air.  What is not to like? They are little happiness producers.

I did some transplanting and moving of the existing house plants before I ventured out to the nursery to purchase a few more living decorations.  I did not want to splurge much financially, and even less on space.  Lucky for me, small tropical plants were discounted as were the small bromeliads.  My entire purchase, complete with new pots and saucers, and a new hanging uranium for outside, was just over $50.  Now my whole home is upgraded.  The green dashes of optimistic color cheer me up and remind me of the power of nature to survive.  I do have a very green yard outside the windows, but bringing these little living jungles inside has changed my mood.  I am uplifted by their presence.

Winter doesn’t last long in Tucson, but during the dark time of year we need a little light and cheer to remind us that spring is right around the corner.  I fill the humming bird feeders and light the fire in the wood stove. while darkness turns slowly to light.  I listen to beautiful music and light a few candles in the evening to create a cozy feeling. The plants have added a sweet touch to the space. Do you grow houseplants, gentle reader?  Do you have a favorite?

Alexa's palm tree

Alexa’s palm tree


Heart Healthy Winter Drinks

January 16, 2017 1 Comment

Delicious ways to warm up the drink menu

Cafe Book Bean

Here are 10 comforting cozy drinks to sip on by the fire.
As a bonus they are heart healthy and easy on the waistline, in case anyone over-did the feasting 🙂

184832349Mulled Cranberry Cocktail

Simply flavor cranberry juice with a little ground cinnamon and cloves, bring mixture to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer.

images-2Dark Chocolate Cocoa

Use almond, soy, or hemp milk – that is low in saturated fat. You can also use fat-free cow’s milk or 1 percent milk. Make your cocoa with dark chocolate, this is an added health boost!

Spiced Cinnamon Cider6a00d8358081ff69e20168e5ddf801970c-800wi

Wrap whole cloves and whole allspice in a small piece of cheesecloth and add it to a saucepan of apple cider along with a few cinnamon sticks. Set on a stove burner and turn the heat to low; the spices will bring out the flavor of the cider as it…

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Nuts for November

November 6, 2015 2 Comments

I had a fire in the wood stove last night, officially welcoming the winter to our house. This week we welcomed the nutcracker and some mixed nuts to the kitchen. I am not sure why I feel so much satisfaction in nut cracking, but I do. It slows down the process and makes me appreciate the taste of my nutty prize when I manage to crack the shell and extract it.  This time of year we start to eat nuts more often because they are featured in seasonal fall dishes as part of a healthy harvest.  Arizona grows wonderful pecans and pistachios, two of my favorite crops. Both are healthy and add rich flavor to all kinds of dishes.

We are big fans of cheese and pear combinations, so this month I will make us a pear pecan roquefort cheesecake.  That has to be a winner with those ingredients.  Brussels sprouts have arrived on the stalk as a favorite vegetable, so  we will try the pistachio cranberry sprouts as a savory treat as well.  Nuts always make appearances in cookies and sweets, but this year I want to try the extravagant pumpkin pecan cobbler.  This will be right up our alley for dessert, and a new way to use both November favorites, pumpkin and pecans.

This weekend we have a neighborhood potluck party.  I plan to take some soup, but this pineapple cream cheese spread covered with pecans is so cute I think I will make one of those for the party too.  It is simple, but looks really festive.

Trader Joe’s brings out small cans of  exotic nut oils this time of year which I enjoy using to add rich flavor to all kinds of dishes.  Using walnut or pistachio oils for roasting vegetables delivers fabulous punch.  Gravy based in nut oil is lovely and mysteriously rich. I still like butter, but like to variations that nut oils can bring to the fall table.  Evidence keeps piling in about the benefits of including nuts in the diet.  While I do believe the research I am nuts for nuts because they taste so great.  Do you have a favorite nut, gentle reader?

fall harvest

fall harvest



Winter is the Season of the Water Element

January 14, 2013

The elemental nature of winter coincides with water. Diet and activity can make a big difference to our health during the cold season. Water and the kidney meridian will determine if you are easy going and flowing, or timid and fearful. Your basic constitution, your resilience, is found in the health of your kidneys. During winter it is important to cover the head, neck, and abdomen to stay warm. It is helpful to eat a diet that includes some ginger and cranberries, to preserve the water balance in the body. Nettles are an herbal remedy that also works very well as a balancing tonic. You can simply drink tea made from nettles, which has a very mild flavor, but a powerful effect.

If you have too much water you will feel sluggish and swollen. Too little will result in bitterness and brittle bones. All the organs depend on the kidneys to balance PH and electrolytes. During winter the kidneys are most vulnerable, prone to deficiency or excess. This causes a stagnation of all the organ functions. this sluggish state causes depression and confusion. Simple movements such as the qigong above, twists and bends the area of the kidneys to bring fresh circulation to the adrenals and kidneys. This one is simple to follow, but there are many examples you can learn. TCM is becoming more popular in the US because it works. Try it. You might like it, and your renal system will thank you for it.

Krampus, Shmutzli, and St. Nick

November 26, 2012 2 Comments

The 6 of December is St Nicholas Day. In Europe the popular Krampus, also known as Shmutzli in Switzerland, is St. Nick’s full time side kick. In Austria Krampus is much more popular than the saint, representing old time winter. I have been in Vienna on Krampus night, when people dressed more or less like gorillas run around with big sticks frightening pedestrians. I also saw 6 Krampuses on Austrian television creating a hexagon with the big sticks and circle dancing. The Euros are not afraid to link the ancient religions to the present day. In fact, that is what makes them Euros. They may not know the enitre history of traditional local customs, but they have an strong affinity with preservation of  provincial attitudes and ancient practices. The ancestors make them do it.

In Switzerland Santa is paid by neighbors to come to your house and scare you on Dec. 6.  Your parents give him alcohol and tell him all about your worst behavior.  Shmutzli is with him carrying a sack of ashes.  My friend Edith lived at the end of Santa’s route in her village, so he was pretty schnockered on schnapps by the time he arrived at her home.  She remembers he smelled like alcohol and pretended to put her in his sack to haul her away from home for bad behavior, of which he knew every detail.  She was really scared of St. Nick.  During the three weeks between 6 Dec. and 25 Dec. the kids conspicuously make efforts to amend the problem disobedience chastised by St Nick that frightening night.  On Dec. 25 the baby Jesus will fly through the window to leave oranges and walnuts to well reformed children.  The customs vary from place to place, with the Swiss love of regional tradition and language.  What is the same about all the places I have visited during the dead of winter in Europe is a community effort to scare away the winter blues and share light.  They still have plenty of real fires on the streets roasting real chestnuts and warming up the spiced hot wine they serve in seasonal huts set up for the purpose.  These pop up specialty bars often sell a regional specialty they make each year at the time.  There is a big effort to create warmth outdoors with food, alcohol, festivals, fires and lights.  These efforts are less personal and more spread across the community, with less focus on the large material haul (or obligation if you are the parent), more on the party atmosphere shared with neighbors.

We Americans may be overlooking some important lessons about stress, greed, and balance that Krampus represents.  By teaching kids that a never ending stream of new material objects flowing steadily, but gushing and flooding the world in December, is the key to satisfaction and fulfillment we may be creating a new kind of Christmas monster.  I am in favor of importing Shmutzli to the US, as a new superhero action figure and video game.

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